Into the Hills (Cloudsteel - 2)
June 18, 2020, 6 p.m.
Outside Arx - Oathlands near The Cloudspine - Stoneburner Hills
Comments and Log
After Operation Corpse Hideout, our intrepid adventurers now know where to find the Golden Foot Tribe. It's a few hours hike through the hills: easily managed by those familiar with the Red Mountains. Thanks to the scouts in the group, they're able to find traces of the trails the shavs themselves took, both bringing the group nearer to the camp and giving them ample warning when they're getting close.
They settle in a copse of trees on a hillside, roots covered in moss and sparse bush growing up all around; a good place to observe. Tucked into the space between two of the rolling hills is a camp. And it could truly be little more than thus. This is a nomadic tribe: one that sets down roots for a season or two (perhaps a year or two) before moving on. They live off the land rather than farming or tending herds. Hunt, forage, then find someplace new... even if it means ousting whoever was there before.
There are tents, campfires, horses, and a few makeshift buildings. Young men and women roam the edges of the encampment in a lazy patrol.
Regrouping at the copse of trees seems like the best of plains so far, especially when they are now encroaching upon the camp of the shavs that are trespassing on Blackram lands. Seeing that there are a number of tents and activity not only in the camp but on the edges, Gaston asks the two skilled scouts with them, Emlyn and Rowenova, to try to stealthily move forward to provide the others a more accurate number of potential enemy combatants that they may end up facing. This would help dictate their next course of action against these invaders.
While no stranger to the wilderness of the Red Mountains, Estelle is quite willing to follow after those more freshly versed in this terrain. Though she does feel a bit more sheepish about all that time spent with books while her young peers where ranging outside. As the party reaches the lightly-settled encampment, the Mercy glances around to the others quietly for some sort of cue as how to proceed further before peering out from the copse to try and see more of the people milling about the tents.
Cahal scans the scene with a faint frown. "It doesn't look like they know we're around." he glances to Estelle and then to Gaston. "What do you want to do?"
Cerys seems fairly at home ranging around the Red Mountains as they make their way towards the camp. While not particularly stealthy, she's at least at ease in the wilds. Looking first to Cahal, then to Gaston, she nods, "They'll likely not miss any scouts for at least a few more hours, maybe days. Patrols can stretch out across a pretty wide stretch."
"If they outnumber us by a lot, I think trying to talk to them would be the best option. Or, we can just leave and bring back our troops from Cloudspine. But I prefer to avoid what bloodshed we can, especially our own people." Gaston says quietly in answer to Cahal's question before nodding his head to Cerys, "Hopefully that means they are in a more talkative mood."
Cahal gives Cerys a brief smile at her answer before nodding at Gaston's answer. "I'd rather not see a whole tribe killed. They can't all be guilty. So. I suppose I should walk down there and see what happens then? That way you can all pull off a daring rescue if they aren't feeling talkative."
Estelle listens closely to the others, before speaking in a soft suggestion. "Perhaps we might be able to identify their leader? And then seek an audience with them to see ust what it is they want and if we can come to terms." Her brow furrows with some concern after looking over what she can see of the tribe members. "Though if there are a great number of them and they have already shown their willingness to just kill us... Perhaps the soldiers' presence would offer a stronger negotiating position?"
"We can always just kill their combatants and let the rest go," Amund remarks, his voice icy as steel. He has Sandstalker in hand, and that sword is gripped firmly, especially at the suggestion they can't all be guilty.
Emlyn heads back to the others after making sure that the bodies are nice and hidden. He, notably, doesn't throw in his two cents worth just yet considering what he's been up to.
Emlyn checked perception + investigation at difficulty 25, rolling 2 lower.
Then Emlyn does speak up. "They're only patrolling the edges of the camp. We could... slip in through the gaps easily enough. Or kill their combatants and let the rest go," Emlyn says, agreeing with Amund. "Rowenova and I already neutralized their own scouting party." He's rather stone-faced about it all.
"Did you get an opportunity to get a count of how many fighting capable men and women they had?" Gaston asks as Emlyn reports back to them on his brief scouting excursion. The tall Blackram then says to everyone, "Just killing their combatants and leaving the rest go will leave unresolved bad blood between this tribe and us. Whether it is a couple of years from now, a decade, or a couple of decades, they will come back here with a blood vengeance. I rather resolve this conflict permanently." Turning his attention to Cahal, Gaston nods, "You're the better negotiator than I am but I will go with you, I am not sending you in alone and since I am the Voice, I should be there.
"I hesitate to split us up- it seems that our togetherness will keep us safer." Estelle opines after Gaston outlines a way forward, having nodded in agreement with the concern regarding the spawning of a cycle of violence. "It also may show some of the advantages of unity, and standing together." She blinks at Emlyn's news before nodding, seeming to mute her curiosity for the time being at least.
"They are raiders, they understand strength. There isn't another language that could properly convey why you want them out of your lands. But it is your land, and we will do as asked." Amund sheathes his blade, glancing from one side to another as he falls silent. It's not the plan that he likes, but it is the plan they'll try to follow, after all.
Cahal listens to all of them with the same serious expression in his eyes. "I dont deny that they need to see strength Amund." he says afterwards. "But if we dont deliver terms how are they ever going to have any option but fighting to the last? This whole problem, here now, is because they went with that tactic instead of asking first. If this fails, we can still kill them all. Can't really change our mind about negotiating after killing them though." to Estelle he says "Theres no harm in us going together. Just so long as there is someone who can tell Teagan whats happened." He gives a little sigh. "Well. I suppose I'd best put on my prettiest smile. Don't hit anyone Amund."
Emlyn checked wits + investigation at difficulty 27, rolling 0 higher.
Falling silent after hearing Estelle, Gaston seems to be contemplating, "I didn't want to risk everyone just in case things go badly but... it may give us a better chance to break out of there with us all together. Rowenova can keep an eye out for us too from the outside and return to Cloudspine in case it does go badly." There is a look to Amund before the tall Blackram shakes his head, "They may be Shav raiders, Sir Amund, but they are also people. If they disagree forcibly, I am sure we will have plenty of chances to cut them down." Gaston nods his head to Cahal as both seem to echo the same thoughts, "Unless there are any other concerns or objections, lets go show ourselves."
Emlyn spends a good minute thinking about the number of heads he saw. He looks at Gaston and furrows his brows. "There's about... perhaps three or four dozen adults. We'd be overpowered easily, so don't count on having too many chances to cut them down, cousin." Emlyn considers Gaston's proposition about showing themselves, and he hides the gear that he stole from the dead shav earlier. "I'm sure they'll be just thrilled to see us," the redhead says wryly.
Estelle nods in agreement with Cahal and Gaston, the former's remark about the prettiest smile drawing a thin smile. She shakes her head at the Lord's question, before tacking on, "If it helps our cause, I don't mind seeing to any sick or injured they may have in need of treatment." Taking a deep breath, the Mercy steels herself.
"I wish I could have that much optimism and idealism, but people still torture and butcher their enemies without a second thought. At least I'd give them worthy battle." Amund rests his forearm against the guard of his sword, nodding at the numbers that Emlyn gives. "Good enough odds for me, to be honest. I think I can handle about two dozen."
"If you want to hang back to provide us with an escape plan then thats fine too Emlyn." Cahal says to his brother with a smile. "If thats what feels best. We have to show trust.. but not that much trust."
"I'll stick to keeping my mouth shut and just watching hands and movements, if that's alright. Just to make sure one bad seed doesn't get us OR them slaughtered," Cerys murmurs with a nod towards Gaston. She glances around the group, then nods to Estelle.
Estelle stands a bit straighter after that bracing breath, before letting her arms hang more loosely at her side, no weapons to worry over. She smiles encouragingly around the group before falling into step behind Gaston and Cahal, more a presence than presenter.
Amund is in the back of the group, as he's the most armed. His hand is wrapped around Sandstalker's hilt as the wind sweeps along his cloak. His steps are quiet but swift. Ready for a fight if need be, even as there is a sidelong glance to Cerys for that statement.
With his helm tucked under his arm and his greatsword sheathed across his back, Gaston starts moving out before nodding his head to Cahal, "Since you'll be doing the talking for us, let's see if we can get their Chief to come towards us to talk instead of us going into the heart of the camp." He then looks towards the others, "No one draw their unless I call for it or if they attack us. Do not fall for a feint in case they try to test us, or to give them an excuse stating that we struck first."
Emlyn nods at Gaston's orders, but he doesn't seem enthused about staying behind to ensure an escape route, as proposed by his elder brother. He falls in line behind the others and looks the perfect pacifist. "Aye, cousin. Nice and calm as could be unless we have a reason not to be," he says.
Cahal waits for the rest of them to get sorted out, nods that he agrees with Gaston's instructions and is ready, and then starts walking down towards the camp. His hands stay clear enough of his axe to make a point (but not so far away that the weapon will be difficult to draw in a hurry) and he's careful to put on the same confident attitude he'd own when walking into any business meeting. The one that says you are absolutely in control here even when you're not. He picks a direct path that will get spotted well before they arrive and he makes it clear, the moment any question is asked, that they are only interested in discussing their presence with those in charge. He sticks to good old Arvani too. No point letting them know their secret languages arent so very secret.
As the party descends from the trees and down the hillside, a call goes up from the village. For those that understand Oathlands Shav, it's a lot of 'Hey!' and 'Come here!' and 'WE have visitors!' type stuff. Shouts of alarm, but not ALARM. They're curious, mildly concerned, but not ready to go to war. Not yet. The patroling 'guards,' however, are starting to congregate and move forward to meet everyone. They have hands on weapons as well, but nothing drawn.
"Doesn't sound like a military engagement yet." Amund remarks as he stands by the back, letting the others sort out the wordy part of these transactions. His attention shifts to their surroundings, taking stock of what's around them in order to prevent ambushes. There might be hiding spots for bowmen, after all.
Meeting Amund's gaze with a hard stare of her own, Cerys follows along with the group. She sticks to her word and keeps her mouth shut and just tries to look as placid as she can. Small smile in place, but she's also a fighter and thus in that state of readiness.
Walking forward in full confidence instead of looking like he's skulking around, Gaston's eyes look to the movement at the village and then the guards that are starting to gather. Seeing that weapons aren't drawn, that puts him a little more at ease with their current plan. "If there are, I trust Rowenova will have them handled if it becomes necessary. Her skill is extraordinary." This is murmured back to Amund before he falls silent. Despite being the Voice, it seems like Gaston is more than content with Cahal doing most, if not all the talking. Not wanting to divert attention from his cousin to him during these 'negotiations'.
Estelle keeps up a warm smile, though the unfamiliar words keep it a more muted expression for fear of causing some issue or complication.
While he doesn't understand Oathlands Shav, Emlyn looks to and fro with the same curiosity as the Shavs. Maybe they're just normal people living their best lives too. He tries to put on a gentle smile, nodding to them. Nothing to see here, totally not the dude that killed your scouts.
There probably are ambushers. Cahal certainly assumes there are. Safer that way. When the guards start gathering up he gives them an uninterested, and slightly bored look, before demanding. "Tell your leaders that Blackram wants to talk."
Cahal checked charm + diplomacy at difficulty 25, rolling 45 higher.
"It's not a matter of distrusting Rowenova's skill. These people know the lay of the land. I'll simply await." Amund nods to Gaston, though that hard stare from Cerys just prompts the knight to shake his head to himself.
Maybe it's the swagger or maybe it's the fact that Cahal doesn't seem like a threat. Oh, sure, Golden Foot knows whose lands these are... Or who -thinks- they claim these lands. Tribes like this don't believe in that land ownership nonsense. The approaching guards look among each other and confer quietly in Shav before one of them steps forward (either a senior member of the tribe or just their chosen speaker for the moment) and gestures with a jerk of his head to the group. "This way," he says in accented Arvani.
They'll be lead through the camp where they find that Emlyn's guestimation of the numbers were right. Somewhere between three and four dozen adults and an indeterminate amount of children. These are a hard sort of people: used to a life on the road, used to weathering hard weather and raids from other clans. The Spring months (and likely the hunting grounds they've chosen) have been kind to them and almost all look healthy and well-fed.
It's not difficult to determine destination: one tent, tucked underneath a massive oak, seems to be the one all others radiate from.
Estelle smiles a little more confidently when they're not immediately attacked, and negotiations appear to be on track. She does keep a sharp eye on the healthy looking tribespeople, attempting to ascertain that they are indeed as healthy as they appear. Though it does seem likely that the sick would be sheltered in any one of the huts.
There is a nod from Gaston to Cahal when the senior guard motions for the group to follow and he moves with the escorts into the village. As they walk to the tent that is their destination, the tall Blackram is looking around the village, seeing how they are living and what state the people are currently in. Anything that may be a potential bargaining chip when the negotiations begin.
Rowenova checked dexterity + stealth at difficulty 25, rolling 32 higher.
After having heard the numbers and the plans and so on, Nova slinks off to where she can keep an eye on the progress of the Blackrams, doing so from somewhere afar and covering them like a guardian seraph with Halfshav arrows (which are not raining yet and are reserved for in case things go awry).
Cahal follows, along with everyone else hopefully, to the suggested tent. Whilst the others are looking for health and other details Cahal is looking for the tell tale signs that would mean the tribe shares at least some traditions with them. He's particularly hoping that there will be proper hospitality practiced. As they follow he takes the opportunity to try to draw their guide into conversation, hoping to work out some details about their leader(s)
Emlyn checked perception + investigation at difficulty 25, rolling 9 higher.
Cerys checked perception + survival at difficulty 25, rolling 21 higher.
Cahal checked perception + investigation at difficulty 25, rolling 22 higher.
Estelle checked perception + survival at difficulty 25, rolling 3 lower.
Gaston checked perception + survival at difficulty 25, rolling 21 higher.
Amund checked perception + survival at difficulty 25, rolling 2 lower.
Rowenova checked perception + survival at difficulty 25, rolling 23 higher.
!135As they're led through the camp, the group gets a lot of looks. There's also plenty of murmurings happening around them. It's clear word has spread of -who- they are. Or at least who they represent in some cases. It's clear to most that they live well: well-fed, well-clothed, well-equipped. However, some of the group begin to pick out other details.
Some of their clothing, some of their weapons... they're mis-matched or ill-fitting. And it's in that way of something taken off the body of another. Some of it is clearly forged and some not. A mix of things, then. Some perhaps from raiding people of the Compact and some perhaps from fights with other tribes. Sure, a tribe like this could certainly barter and trade for things from those who have an established forge, but it likely wouldn't be ill-fitting, or bear markings and insignia that have been worn away as if by someone trying to obscure them.
Their guide is tight-lipped the whole way. Either by being a judgemental so-and-so or because he doesn't feel it's his place. The group may also realize -- Rowenova certainly notices from her perch -- that the rest of the patrol has ranged out behind them, trailing them a number of paces behind. When they finally reach the tent, the guide pulls aside the curtain -- looks more like a woven rug converted into one -- and jerks his head to indicate they should go in. "Enter," he says firmly, just in case they missed the point.
Rowenova takes mental note, leaning sideways and head nudging Sir Floppington with her own wolf-framed noggin. The good boy wags twice after such affection before they are right back to paying attention to the ongoing scenario below.
Rowenova takes mental note, leaning sideways and head nudging Sir Floppington with her own wolf-framed noggin. The good boy wags twice after such affection before they are right back to paying attention to the ongoing scenario below.
Emlyn is carefully observing everything. He looks at the things that some are wearing, his lips twitching slightly - but not forming into a smile or frown either. He's keeping his opinion to himself for now but he follows closely behind the others, staying alert in case there's trouble. Something is wrong here.
"I'm staying outside." Amund declares to the man who not-so-politely asks them to enter. "It's my orders. You know how it is."
Estelle remains among the quiet observers, simply following after Gaston and Cahal as they are in the lead. At the unnecessary imperative, she smiles gratefully back at their tight-lipped escort. "Thank you!" Not entirely unaware of the potential peril, she does try to sneak a glance into the tent ahead of them.
As they arrive at the tent, Gaston nods to Cahal to let his cousin walk in first before following him inside.
Entering was the entire idea so Cahal doesn't even think about it before he ducks inside. His eyes skim the interior and then he makes space for the others to move after him. He starts friendly enough with introductions "I'm Cahal Blackram." a gesture to Emlyn. "My brother, Emlyn." then to Estelle, Gaston and Cerys "My Cousins, Gaston, Estelle and Cerys" before ending with Amund "and this is Sir Amund." Then he folds his arms across his body and his tone goes far more matter of fact. "You saw us to be weak because of our part in the crusade far to the east. But we're not. We have enough warriors to outnumber this clan several times over and thats not even counting the young, the old, and the ones who just couldn't cut it. If you had come to us to negotiate the right to use this land, we could have talked, but there isn't much space for negotiations with a party that murders those who aren't even warriors. We don't recognise your claim on these lands and its time you left."
Cahal checked charm + diplomacy at difficulty 30, rolling 3 lower.
Emlyn checked composure at difficulty 15, rolling 11 higher.
Emlyn is introduced as Cahal's brother, and he looks shiny with pride, practically. Then suddenly Cahal takes a different stance on the entire thing than Emlyn would have guessed, and he puts a hand over his mouth, looking down at the ground briefly as he considers escape routes after all.
Within the tent the group will find themselves facing not a man, but a woman seated on a pile of furs. She's in her mid-thirties if one were to guess and she bears a number of scars. She's mid-meal, chowing down on a haunch of something or another. She's dressed in finery, but it's almost in mockery of the Compact's nobility. A gown that has been sewn in patchwork of other gowns. Mismatched jewelry. Even a crown... yet it's a crown woven of young wood and a pair of small, spring antlers that arc up and away from her brow. The others present around her are dressed in various hodge-podge leather and (likely stolen) metal armor: men and women alike.
She continues eating, not even acknowledging Cahal throughout his speech. When he's done, the minutes wind out at length while she just eats. When she's done, she tosses the bone off to the side. Only then does she look up and regard him, lazily. "Sit. Eat, drink, partake of my guest right." She bares her teeth in what might pass for a smile, but holds an edge of that threatening sort of feral nature one might expect out of a predator. "That is what you call it, right? I do hope you've brought gifts to petition with."
Amund grunts an approval at Cahal's words, staring across to the man outside the tent. He crosses his arms. Guest right has been given, so he has no business disrespecting it.
There is no visible reaction from Gaston after he hears Cahal's approach, his head nodding as if agreeing with what his cousin is saying and the hard line that is being taken. If he is surprised to see that the leader of this group is a woman, the tall Blackram doesn't show it. He was almost tempted to speak up after she mentions gifts to petition with but for now, Gaston is able to keep a rein on his own tongue. He has placed his full trust in his cousin, Cahal.
Cahal supposes he cant blame her for the power move of making them wait. He waits it out, not seeming all that bothered by the endless minutes, before the chieftess finally speaks. The offer of guest right shifts his demeanor into an easy smile. "The pledge to prevent harm upon each others during the time spent as a guest? Yes, thats guest rite, although the exact ritual varies depending on which part of the world you find yourself in." he takes the suggested seat and reaches to take a piece of the food and a swig of the drink before he continues. "We aren't here as petitioners Chieftess." another bite of the suggested meal. "But, in the spirit of being a good guest, I brought something for the table." Lotties confectionary. Never leave home without it.
Emlyn checked perception + empathy at difficulty 30, rolling 7 higher.
Cahal checked perception + empathy at difficulty 30, rolling 10 higher.
Gaston checked perception + empathy at difficulty 30, rolling 13 lower.
Taking a seat next to Cahal, Gaston also reaches out to cement the guest rites if it even if he feels that there is a chance that it will not be honored. Picking the simplest thing which would probably be bread, the Blackram breaks a piece off to eat.
Emlyn doesn't sit, he stands. But oddly enough he looks rather intrigued by the Shav leader. He looks her up and down, sizing up the accoutrements of her outfit. Finally, he smiles at her. A proper smile that isn't so much a baring of teeth. "We are honoured to partake of your offerings."
"You brought food," the woman replies to Cahal in a flat tone. "How droll." She looks around to her people, then gestures to the Blackram contingent. "They think we can't feed ourselves so they bring us food." That isn't, at all, what was implied... and it's clear she knows it. But it's also clear she doesn't care.
When she turns back, the antlers on her crown casting shadows, she leans in a bit towards Cahal since he speaks for the others. Much of the mirth is gone from her features. "If you wish to make demands of us, it will take more than food. Golden Foot has thrived in these lands for generations and we will thrive even once Blackram is returned to the dirt."
That suggestion about the food earns the sort of mild amusement from Cahal that occurs when one party outsmarts another in a game of strategy or politics. When she leans towards him to add her own words he continues to politely (albeit with manners more suited to the north than the oathlands) work on his meal. "If you've thrived its because you've been careful about who you call enemy." he lifts his eyes to the woman, doing his best to project confidence whilst also looking for clues about which of the two options is closest to the truth. "Your choice to risk Blackram's anger, when we have rarely been stronger, means you are either desperate or recklessly ambitious."
Cahal checked charm + diplomacy at difficulty 25, rolling 13 higher.
Chewing on the bread slowly, Gaston leans back in the seat he took as he watches the woman, waiting to see how she reacts to what Cahal had said. As he had hoped, there is no need for him to speak up as his temper is much shorter than his cousin's.
"You make a lot of assumptions, Cahal of Blackram," the woman says, leaning back to lounge in her furs. "But tell me this-" and she looks over everyone gathered. From face to face to face. "Why can Blackram not just... let us have these lands? It would incur no loss of life, no anger, and we're already here and doing so well."
Before there can be the expected (to her) claim of 'because it's our lands,' she leans forward. "There's something in those mines. Something you want. Right now, it's mine." In theory. "What will you give me to let it go? To go through the hassle of moving my people?"
"I think we are wasting our time here," Amund remarks, after the back-and-forth seems to lead them to the same place they started from.
Emlyn looks at his brother uncertainly. "You have given us nothing for these lands. You have simply claimed them as your own, and you demand gifts from us that you should have given us to begin with. You insult us with your patchwork gown and treat us as your subjects." Emlyn's words are sharp, pointed. But not angry. He is just stating a fact. "What you're doing here is pure insult to injury. I think you know how it would look for a noble House to let Shavs invade their land and lie down and accept it."
Cahal doesn't actually go to make that claim in return to her question. Instead he lets Emlyn and Amund put their own comments in before matter of factly telling her. "Give us redress for the miners your people murdered and you will be in a position to negotiate. Although my brother makes it clear how difficult you've made that with your actions. We can talk of forgiveness. It may even be possible for you to stay. But as it stands.. We can't even begin." He lets that drift for a moment, aware that the others are eager to leave. "I've told you how you can avoid the upcoming fight. Now its in your hands."
"Think of your people." The quiet one finally speaks, after he finished the piece of bread he plucked from the table. Gaston's eyes are still focused on the woman with the decoration crown, his face passive and calm for the moment.
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