Despite their self aggrandizing opinions of themselves, I have never trusted Rovers. To hear them tell, you would think they were equals to the gods themselves, but I would beg to differ. Although they are wont to give themselves airs, they are not that highly skilled nor is their intelligence to be commended. I fear that I cannot, in good faith, recommend their services.
I was commissioned by the King's advisor on behalf of Thael Thaeltrn University of the Occult to retrieve an object from one of their mages. This mage, Belnar Tallindar, was, for reasons unfathomable to me, residing in an Orcish settlement. My duty was clear, as a Crown Beadle of Altoria, I must go where I am bidden regardless of the hardship or dangers. Such is my oath, and I am an honorable man.
I was provided with five well armed personal guards plus a young mage alleged to be competent in both offensive and healing magics. Unfortunately, there existed no reliable map to the settlement of Leaning Rock and so we were forced to enlist the aid of a guide.
The Rover who offered his services was reputed to be a legate of Clan Fengraesi. One would think that with the similarities of our professions, (as a Crown Beadle, I was essentially his counterpart), that we could have had much lively and interesting discourse during our travels-but no-such was not to be the case.
This Rover, one Bevan Nkru Fengrays, spurned my every attempt at conversation. He was most condescending in his attitude towards our entire group, although I felt he was particularly abrupt with me. Undoubtedly this was prompted by professional jealousies. Though I had expected the common bond of our professions to give us reason to fraternize, he spoke but rarely to me, and then most oft in a contemntuous manner. No doubt he was afraid of exposing his incompetence. He must have realized that a man of my worldliness and acumen would have quickly ascertained his inadequacies if we had, indeed, spent time in conversation.
For all his seeming bravado, it was I who was forced to take the initiative and insist that we embark forthwith. Bevan is a procrastinator. His contention that waiting three entire days before setting out, "to avoid goblin patrols", was obviously a mere pretense to avoid the uncomfortably wet weather conditions. A crown beadle of Altoria is made of finer stuff-I scoff at adversity-and, as I am the agent of the Crown and he a mere hireling, we set off on schedule.
Other than having to make one slight detour due to an unfortunate mudslide, we initially made good time. Although I remained ever vigilant, I observed no indication of goblin presence. Bevan, of course, to validify his previous contention that there were goblins in the area, insisted on perceiving every broken twig and overturned pebble as goblin spoor. He actually suggested that we dig our way through the mudslide rather than take the convenient side trail that I discovered.
I have an uncanny sense of direction. I have oft thought that I would have made quite a name for myself as an explorer and cartographer. The side trail, although somewhat narrower than the trail Bevan was familiar with, led in essentially the same direction. If traveling in the Wild Lands were simply a matter of following a well marked trail, one would not be apt to hire a guide. If one purports to be a guide, he should be familiar enough with the lay of the land to not be discomfited by an unexpected obstacle.
On the third day the rain let up. Bevan's predictions of a goblin ambush had come to naught, and my trail now joined with one well traveled. He had the humility to confirm that this trail would, indeed, take us to the vicinity of Leaning Rock. Now his dire predictions were of confrontations with Torvalds.
If you have traveled near the borderlands, you have undoubtedly observed these creatures. Relatively harmless, they are often seen near highways, dressed in their ill tanned pelts and what cast offs they have found. It is their wont to make a show of brandishing their weapons, but they are, in truth, a cowardly breed and unlikely to approach an armed party. I was surprised at Bevan's obvious apprehension. I do not think most Rovers are so easily intimidated.
I did observe some interesting piles of stones that Bevan, and one of my guards who had traveled in the Wild Lands previously, identified as ambit markers of the Torvalds. These piled stones were unmistakably the handiwork of a creature of at least some intelligence. In each case, there was one stone placed to balance, somewhat precariously, on top of a base stone or stones. Bevan claimed that each individual Torvald had his own signature, so to speak, in constructing these interesting artifacts. I do not know how much credence to give to this account as I believe Bevan to be somewhat of a fabulist.
In the interest of scientific study, I endeavored to ascertain how stable these constructions actually were. I was quite surprised. It took deliberate effort to dislodge the balanced rock. Bevan, of course, feigned alarm at my actions, in an attempt to frighten the others and undermine my authority.
I was able to reassure them though, and we continued on our journey. There are many strange occurrences in these mysterious Wild Lands. Even the weather and climatic conditions can take on bizarre aspects. As we continued along the trail a heavy ground fog rolled in. The way ahead was comparatively clear, but our back trail became almost completely obscured. We were apparently traveling just ahead of a storm front, for I could hear thunderclaps and caught occasional glimpses of lightning flashes behind us. Fortunately, we were lucky enough to keep ahead of the storm.
I am sure that if we had only continued on the course I had set we would have come upon a crossroads leading to Leaning Rock. It was with great misgiving that I allowed myself to be convinced by Bevan to cut across a desolate stretch of unnatural appearing forest. The trees grew in grotesque forms from soil blackened and stained by what I scarce dare imagine. An unpropitious moment of poor judgment on my part, I admit. As the leader of our group I should have kept my own council and not listened to the Rover, even though he was purported to be the 'expert' on traveling through these Wild Lands. His insistent claims that we were now heading away from our destination swayed my resolve to continue on the well traveled road and set us on a course of subsequent disaster.
It was obvious to me that our new route was through a dangerously open landscape. With only the twisted and stunted trees, which provided us with little cover, we were easy targets for any marauders, goblins, or bandits alike. Bevan used this as an excuse to force our entire group to march at an unforgiving pace over the rocky terrain.
Perhaps if we had taken a rest, as I suggested, at the only hospitable place we encountered, we might have made a better show of ourselves when the attack came. But no-not only would Bevan not agree to halt, he adamantly refused to even allow a brief stop to refresh ourselves at the small pool we discovered. He even went so far as to fabricate a story of that particular pool being placed there by goblins to poison travelers. I thought it best not to controvert the issue, even though I realized the absurdity of it, finding it preferable to present a united front for the men, who were beginning to show great apprehension.
It is my belief that underlings must see one as always in complete control of the situation. Without someone to look up to, someone who inspires confidence, the plebeian peasants who take up mercenary work, quickly falter and quail in the face of danger. Therefore, I thought it prudent to appear to countenance Bevan's ascertations. It was a good ploy, for once the men saw their leader in accord with this Rover that I had so foolishly followed, they were at least somewhat mollified. Since we were beyond being able to turn back, it seemed that the least I could do was to try my best to allay the fears of the men and give them some hope. At this juncture, I felt it would be best for morale if I feigned confidence in Bevan.
I am unsure of when I first became aware of the goblins. I'm quite sure it was before I was struck with the rock. I'm almost positive that it was I who gave the warning cry to our men. I'm afraid the blow to my head has made it difficult for me to remember precisely what happened during the battle. I do recall my valiant attempt to create an ambush for any goblin that should make his way into our midst. Burying yourself in the dirt is an old and honored trick among seasoned adventurers. It gives you the advantage of surprise when you leap out at the enemy from concealment. My grievous wound must have overcome me at this point. I do not recall much else. It was fortunate for me that the young mage observed me in my efforts and was able to locate my strategic place of concealment after the battle. I shall be forever indebted to him.
My hand-picked guards had comported themselves admirably. Even though Bevan had chosen to take a stand at the top of the only hill in the vicinity, foolishly leaving us completely exposed, we had still managed to fight off the horrid goblins. Not without incurring some casualties, I am chagrined to confide. We lost one guard, Stevin Bidwell, to a well placed arrow. Genson Hooke received a grave wound to his leg, which was already beginning to fester, and yet another guard would likely never again have the use of his right eye. The young mage, Weyden Sanders, suffered from extreme exhaustion.
Near at hand lay one of the foul beasts, pinned to the ground with Bevan's own sword. I deemed it advisable to question the hideous creature to ascertain the likelihood of subsequent beleaguerment by our repugnant adversaries. Bevan's obdurate attempts to dissuade me from this course of action only firmed my resolve.
It has always been my belief that it behooves one to see that one's education is a continuing process. I pride myself on the many and diverse subjects I am conversant with. Having read Rexroth Arne's illuminating treatise on the subject of interrogation, I was confident in my grasp of the proper techniques. The interrogation did not go well. I enlisted the aid of Vidor, one of my guards. He was a staunch individual and seemed well up to the task. I was impressed with his creativity and resourcefulness, especially considering that he had not been formally trained nor educated in these techniques. I'm sure these methods would be more satisfactory with beings with higher intelligence. We were able to coerce from it the location of his cohorts. If not hampered by time constraints, I'm sure we could have ambushed the lot of them. Unfortunately, Vidor inadvertently dispatched the depraved creature before we could extract any more information.
It was with great difficulty that we continued on our mission. The men could not bear to leave their fallen comrade's remains in this goblin infested wilderness, and so they carried it with us. Genson, too, was in need of assistance, his leg being of no use and beginning to putrefy. Young Weydan recovered much of his strength and did what he could for our wounded.
I did not let on how serious my head wound was. I pride myself on my stoicism. Only for brief periods did I allow myself to be carried by the men.
Eventually Bevan managed to find the correct trail leading to Leaning Rock. We were welcomed with open arms by the picturesque Orcish villagers. Their local healer was amazingly adept. Genson may actually regain the use of his leg. And I am pleased to report that the Fates did indeed restore Stevin Bidwell to us.
I am pleased to say that the village chieftain agreed to send a trading party back with us. This relieved me of the task of dismissing Bevan Nkru Fengrays. Anticipating my intent to terminate our agreement for his services, he simply slunk out of town during the night.
All in all, it was a most successful venture. Tallindar chose to return with us also, to safekeep the strange contrivance he had discovered in an ancient burial mound. Such is the life of a Crown Beadle of Altoria. It is not for the weak willed or milksops. But for a man who wishes to test his mettle against all odds, to travel to exotic places, to experience all that life has to offer-then this is the perfect profession.