January 7th -- Via
Moira slipped into the boiling, oil-scented waters and let them wash the blood and sweat from her tired limbs. She had dim recollections of a former life in a distant land where bathing had been something she'd taken for granted, a life of duty and honour. Oh, sweet Fontan...
Though leagues unmeasured and the ocean's deeps lay between this barbarous, ungoverned city and her family home, the latter was never far from Moira's thoughts. How many long years had passed since she sat in judgement on the transgressions of others? How many since she'd commanded men? How many since she'd sat in her hall with her sister Brigdha and her beloved daughter Rhidhana?
That had been before the darkness came upon her, the curse of evil which destroyed so much that was good in Fontan and forced her to pass a judgement for which she could never truly forgive herself... the rule of law had been her religion and yet to preserve her realm from tyranny and insanity she had set aside all that she believed.
She had taken the law into her own hands, not as elected Supreme Justice but as self-appointed Avenging Angel, and with her own blade had struck down that darkling sorcerer who through guile and deceit had sought to reshape a realm in his own twisted image. Oh the act was sanctioned, and the warrant of execution sufficiently vague that any case against her would have been in vain even ignoring her political connections and influence. But there was a line that no judge should cross and to Moira's mind she had done just that.
And how her family had paid for her arrogance. Their estates in Negev were long-since surrendered, their once revered name forgotten and all that they had worked to build was as dust on the wind.
There was a knock at the door of her lodgings.
"Who is it?" her mood lightened as she focus returned to the present.
"I'm here to give you your massage miss," the door opened and a young girl entered, probably no more than seventeen years of age.
"Help yourself to wine lass, I've a mind to soak a while longer" Moira waved to the nearby table where a jug of thick wine sat amidst half-a-dozen cups and assorted parchments. Uppermost was a map showing the lair of a particularly vile group of beastmen whom she'd despatched earlier in the day.
This was now here life, just a simple adventurer free to travel as she willed, the reach of her sword the limit of her justice.
January 10th -- Via
A day and a night passed as Moira lay in the deepest swoon, her body bloodied and bruised from her epic battle with the ogre chieftain Uthric Jfar. Even by the standards of his kind he'd been a monstrous brute, armed with a wicked war cleaver and dressed in patchwork finery borrowed from a dozen or more wealthy merchants.
It had been Moira's misfortune to be scouting the mountain passes when the raiding party set upon her, the brutish Uthric thinking her a fine morsel for his table. Rumour had it that he preferred to dine on young virgins, but an ogre's palate has never been that choosy and any young lass would suit if she had a firm bit of meat on her bones.
In the desperate fight that followed Moira was certain she'd killed at least two of her attackers, but a lone woman in the open stood little chance against a half-dozen assailants of whom the smallest was close to twice her size. Valiantly though she fought there was little uncertainty as to the outcome and so when Uthric himself caught her a blow with his crude warhammer that would have shamed any blacksmith Moira dropped to her knees, head swimming with pain as she collapsed into darkness.
Her last idle thought was as to how they'd most likely use her carcass, and ogre's base needs being many and none of them for the squeamish.
It came as something of a surprise when Moira finally came around to find herself lying in a soft bed, covered with furs and a damask coverlet. The fever had broken and the strange recuperative powers for which the Dubhaine women were famed were already working their peculiar magic. Within another day she was back on her feet and eating as if her life depended on it.
Her rescuer was a quiet middle-aged woman dressed in a tight-fitting black tunic and hose, her greying hair hanging in a loose ponytail. The style was a strange mixture of the military and clerical and Moira assumed she'd been a warrior in her youth.
"Thank you for your kindness ma'am, I should by rights be steaks on an ogres table by now," Moira cleared her plate and emptied a cup of ale.
"I know who you are Moira Dubhaine, though perhaps you'd prefer that I didn't," the woman poured her more ale.
"I haven't been known by that name in many years," Moira studied the amber liquid distractedly, remembering the many strange paths which had carried her here from Fontan.
"My name is Reia and I was there the day you crested the ramparts at Tokat, one of Lord Sulliven's paladins. It was a fine day to be Fontanese," and the dauntless spirit of a Lion burned in her eyes.
"Aye, that it was," Moira looked at the woman, picking out the faded scars of ancient battles...
Uthric and his band had been preying on isolated travellers for some weeks now but their villainy had recently escalated to raiding caravans and the good burghers of Via were at their wits end as to what could be done. The city took great pride in its independence, founded as it was on a steady flow of trade between Caerwyn and Asylon, but that independence came at a price: the city had no standing army nor any knights of distinction who could be counted on in times of crisis.
Via needed a hero. A hero courageous or foolhardy enough to take on a band of ogres single-handed, and preferably useful enough with a sword to carry the day.
Moira for her part was always happy to face death if for those few brief moments she could forget the terrible crime which had forced her to abandon her noble status and travel in disgrace to this barbarous land, her sovereign claims now restricted to the circle of her steel. Perhaps she might even for a moment recall her honour which had until that time stood beyond reproach. And on this occasion it helped that she had a grudge to settle.
Finding the bandit lair proved no mean feat, for despite their size and brutish demeanour ogres are cunning masters of woodcraft completely at home in the wilderness. It took all the considerable experience Moira acquired hunting Elven agents in the dense forests of Sirion to find a concealed path to the isolated cave system the beasts called home, and even then taking the sentries unawares put her wiles to the test.
Two black-feathered shafts from the darkness unbarred her way and the dauntless adventurer slipped within, her eyes swiftly adjusting to the gloom. The stench of carrion and refuse threatened to make her gag as she stealthily navigated the warren of tunnels, but she remembered her honour in that moment and with the petrifying lion roar of her youth she burst into Uthric's hidden hall: a whirlwind of slaughter cut through his stunned henchmen as sword in one hand and axe in the other she rained death and destruction on all who stood before her.
"Me Uthric Jfar, you dead meat," the monstrous ogre's words were crudely slurred.
"And I am Moira Dubhaine, but you may call me death," and true to her word Moira turned the ogre's hall into his tomb.
January 22nd -- Golden Farrow
Moira felt a certain sense of awe as she caught her first glimpse of the buttressed walls and sturdy gates of Golden Farrow. Though the defences lacked the murderous efficiency she seen at Parm or the sheer bulk of Oligarch, the city within outshone the capital of any realm on the East Continent. It was a veritable hive of wealth and power and commercial activity.
How had such a mighty redoubt come to be here in Dwilight, a continent which was still considered a colonial backwater by many of the longer established lands?
She took a deep breath and adjusted her kit, the wolfshead sword of Asena and the rosewood longbow, the skinning knife with its vicious hooked edge and the quiver of black-feathered bodkins. Moira wondered what old Duke Aeneas would think to see her dressed in the tangle of leather and studs which served as armour - a far cry from the impenetrable black plate she'd worn in battle. Still, she'd found a contentment as a freewoman that the command of armies and meting of high justice had failed to bring.
And whilst she served in this distant land, harrying evil in the wild places, she didn't have to think of that black horror which had sought to destroy all she loved and to defeat which she had rendered the heaviest judgement of all...
"What think you of such a city Reia?" she turned to her sombrely-dressed travelling companion.
"Any realm would be pleased to boast such a jewel Mistress," Reia brushed a lock of greying hair from her forehead.
As the pair finally passed within the great gate, bustling with caravans from across the west, Moira realised how provincial their adopted home of Via would seem to the city's corpulent merchants and finely robed nobility. Not that the former Supreme Justice of Fontan thought any the less of that frontier city and the brave Watchers who kept the passes through the Barrow Peaks open. Via might well be a backwater in the politics of Dwilight, but without her courage the road to Echiur would be barred and the reach of the Zuma would run unchecked to the northern plains.
Indeed Moira had herself hunted dread things in those lonely valleys, beasts from the deep forests where the sun barely casts a shadow and horrors haunt the night of such dread that most men could not dare name them for fear of invoking their wrath. She doubted there were many here in this vibrant city who could survive such perils, but then again who knew what secret horrors lurked within?
Only time would tell...