The party continued their recovery from the battle in the Ice Temple. Despite the cold outside, the room they stayed in was tolerable. Elemix’s generous use of Leomund’s gave the party both safety and a comfortable environment. No ill dreams came to the party, but there was a sense of unease. Did they do the right thing? Would they be able to save Ixian and raise Hidmeel? Would they be able to return home soon? Would they ever see Renee again?
In the afternoon of the second day, Elemix heard the sound of the icefall parting. Someone was approaching…
Elemix readied himself and alerted the others that someone was approaching.
A male voice called out, “Hello? Anyone there?” His voice was clearly of a Periphery noble accent. Elemix could barely hear, “Sergeant, cordon off… …gets in or out. Corporal, confirm to the lieutenant…guest…unknown danger.”
At Elemix’s urging, Emmeline rose. She looked around confused. Then she called out, “Hello? It is Lady Emmeline with Wizard Elemix and Justicar Typhon Ne. Who is there?”
“M’lady, this is Captain Sir Jean-Francois Crozet, Captain of the Guard of Axiney Keep under the command of Lord Etienne d’Axiney. My troop was sent here under order of her grace Lady Rivanon, Baroness d”Uzec. She sent us out several days ago, but the storm prevented us arriving until today.” he said with a loud booming voice.
Elemix responded. “This is Magus Elemix. We are coming down.”
With that Elemix gathered his things and dropped the magic of the hut. He then proceeded with Typhon and Emmiline to meet with the Captain.
Upon reaching him Elemix smiled and said, “Well met. It is good to see a friendly face in this hard place. Why has the Baroness sent you so far north?”
“To rescue you. It seems you do not need rescuing, but more of an escort. We encountered several hill tribes on the way here and it appears a at least two large forces are gathering. Our prisoner indicated that one once followed her – hard to believe that honestly. The other group apparently wants her dead.” he added.
“What prisoner do you speak of?”
“She is at our base camp. She told us you were up here. Her claims are absolutely ridiculous, though it is clear now that you are indeed here. She fled from us at first, but she was easy enough to capture and subdue. She calls herself Phair Illythia, a priestess of the Najree Tribes but she does not look like them, sound like them, or is anywhere near the age she should be. We assumed this was a trap or she was mad.” he said most directly.
Sir Crozet was young, perhaps a bit older than the party. While Elemix thought he had seen him once, he could not place the location. Emmeline had not met him, but recognized his colors as the second son of the Baron Crozet who held fief to the foothills of the mountain approaches to the Eastern High Pass leading into Arrisey. It was his father who properly ruled the forestland to the east of the pass toward Faou and who was a rival once to the former Duke for controlling the route to Faou. He nominally was bound to the larger Duchy of Derrien like Uzec was.
He added, “She also warned of a pack of monsters hunting her. We are most definitely being watched, by multiple parties.”
“She is telling the truth,” replied Elemix. Upon seeing the surprise in the captains face Elemix continued.
“It is a long story. We had best be leaving soon, but if we can I want to help someone who was captured by some of those monsters. Though I don’t know of he still lives. His name is Ixian and he helped lead us here before he was captured.”
“With all due respect, those are not my orders Magus. Ixian, whomever he is, is not my problem. You and yours on the other hand are. We’ve already been harassed by the natives and it has only been by the grace of Aarith that no one has been killed. Whether the girl is telling the truth or not, we cannot tarry here long. If you wish, we can bring the girl with us. Or release her if that is what you want. But I cannot spend lives on the rescue of a foreigner.” he said bluntly.
Elemix knew the reality. It was highly likely those creatures had skinned Ixian alive mere moments after Elemix and the group had left him. What’s more it had been days. Ixian was almost certainly dead.
Elemix couldn’t help but feel significant regret. He hadn’t known the man long but Ixian had seemed to be honorable, and he had only wished to rescue his comrade.
“I understand of course,” Elemix said looking defeated. Then he turned his attention again to the prisoner.
“You mentioned one prisoner. What of the young girl that would have been with her? She was perhaps 13 or so?”
The Captain looked confused momentarily, “That is the prisoner. There was no one else with her.”
So it worked, thought Elemix.
“Then we should speak with her,” he said. “How far is your camp? We are rested and ready to go.”
“A couple leagues west of the north face, just past the eastern opening of the North Azenkuul Pass. It will take three hours to get there, perhaps two and a half if the weather holds.” he replied.
“Very well. Let’s head out,” replied Elemix. He let Sang take to the air then. He knew his comrade had missed flying these past several days.
The ground was covered in thick snow. The way they had came – where Ixian had disappeared – was cut off. A dozen men with heavy horse waited outside the temple entrance. Carefully closing the door behind them, the party headed north-west down the north face toward the Uzec camp. Upon arrival they saw some dozen additional soldiers and a fortified campsite on an old dwarven ruin. The Captain ordered his men to call in the scouts and to prepare to leave within the hour. The troops seemed to recognize the party and they were welcomed with warm food and drink.
The Captain brought the party to a pavilion tent where the 13-year-old Leeta sat tied and gagged – at least she looked somewhat like Leeta. She was clearly uncomfortable – if stoic. Her hair was black like Phair’s had been, but her facial complexion and eyes were the same as before. On her face were red-stripped markings. Some kind of face-paint perhaps. When she looked up, her eye looked deep with wisdom.
“Release her,” Elemix said at once. “She is no enemy of ours.”
“It is on your head Magus. She tried to bewitch the scouts that first encountered her.” He motioned to one of the men who removed her bonds. She looked at them with a certain hatred, and then when looking at the party warmed up. “Elemix, Emmeline, Typhonie! It worked – after a fashion. Are you all okay?”
“We are. Thank you. Are you OK,” asked Elemix.
“Please do not harbor any I’ll will towards these men. They have traveled far and this land is dangerous. They meant only to keep themselves as safe as possible while searching for us.”
He then turned to the captain. “And let me humbly thank you and all of your men for making this journey.” Elemix bowed slightly and held his arm across his chest as a sign of respect.
“We are. Thank you. Are you OK,” asked Elemix.
“I will survive,” Leeta said.
Elemix then said to her, “Please do not harbor any I’ll will towards these men. They have traveled far and this land is dangerous. They meant only to keep themselves as safe as possible while searching for us.” He then turned to the captain. “And let me humbly thank you and all of your men for making this journey.” Elemix bowed slightly and held his arm across his chest as a sign of respect.
With that the men stepped out, with the Captain saying, “We’ll be leaving after the last patrol arrives. You may have your privacy.”
Once the men left, Leeta said, “I will harbor no more ill will to them then they do to my people. Perhaps less.”
“Thank you. It seems your faith has been rewarded, and in that so too will the faith of your people.
As for us, I think we had best leave with these men and return South. Will you be okay, or shall we see you safely to your people?”
Em knelt beside Phair, gave her a hug and kissed her cheek. “I will you good fortune. May your goddess always be with you.” She let the girl go and sat back. “May I contact you from time to time, via dreams?”
She replied, “I think so. I slept. I think I am human still in body, if not spirit. I have the feeling the goddess won’t let me change. That door is closed. My…benefector…who gave her life for me did that, but I owe her. I have to go back and unite the Nejree. But without Ixian or Hidmeel it will be hard to do so. And the Old Men still don’t know, nor understand. I won’t survive without help. The villagers have found out I…we…Phair Valleja I mean. That she…we…still live. I am still me, Leeta, the child of a winter hag with the memories of human girl, the memories of torture by the hag, and the life memories of Valleja. She gave me a name Phair Illythia. Leeta was my nickname. If I can pray the night without interference, I can raise Hidmeel and Ixian should we find him.” she said.
“Then let’s talk these men into letting us get you back to the cave. At least we can get you to Hidmeel now,” Em said.
The girl nodded and grabbed her things. Stepping out of the pavilion, the party was updated by the Captain, “we’ve spotted the last of our outriders. We should be able to get going soon. In three days we will be back at the Keep where hot food awaits.” Pairs of riders kept returning to camp, while Elemix noticed a single rider coming up from the south pass.
“Who is that,” Elemix said to know one in particular while looking in the riders direction.
The captain noted, “It looks like an outrider from the Keep. We’ve been keeping in contact via riders. Likely a status update. we’ll know in 15 minutes.”
“Ser,” Emmeline said as she approached the captain, “how did the Baroness know to send help?”
The knight replied, “I was not informed to that. I just follow my orders.”
“Regardless your information was good. Most of us lay near to dead these two days past. Did you encounter a lot of trouble with the tribes in the area? I know you said something about harassment. Was there fighting?” Emmeline asked.
Elemix had thought to ask the same question but had surmised that perhaps somehow Renee had reported. Still, when Emmiline brought up the point he thought on it again and wasn’t quite so certain. It was possible that Vorn had communicated with someone, but Elemix would have thought Vorn would have tried to reach him.
He dropped the thought from his mind for now as he needed to focus on the task ahead. They needed to help Phair and her people quickly and then get back home. There was much to be done.
“There has since winter. Nothing major. Raids and such, but with the goblin threat driven off, the old hill tribes are returning. Some never left, but simply stayed out of the goblins’ way. That said, there are rumors of goblins on the move in the north-west having been blocked at Uzec, and unrest toward the north-east and the settled tribes near Dol and Matigon. What is for certain is that there is something brewing far north that is causing the others to migrate south. We’ll keep the line held. The twin forts of Fort Defiance and Fort Intrepid on either side of the Silverrun near Azenkuul are manned, if understaffed. Are you ready to leave then?”
“We need to make certain this young lady reaches her people. To do that, she will need help. I understand you have orders and we need to leave. But Phaer is fully a priestess of the gods of her people, despite her youth. She can raise back, if her goddess allows, one who came to aid her but fell in battle. If you allow her time and freedom to do this we can make a step toward fulfilling our promise to help her, while also not delaying you overmuch,” Emmeline said.
The Captain nodded, “I cannot force you to come. We can wait for up to three additional days, and then we must leave.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Emmeline said. She went to Phaer Leeta and told her they had a few days. If she had what she needed to raise Hidmeel, then they should do that now.
“If we get to the temple, and Hidmeel is returned to us, he could help us track the Old Men. At least he told me he could avoid them; he might be able to do the opposite.” she said.
It was odd hearing the girl. She spoke intelligently, with experience, but with a child’s voice. Emmeline thought, did something similar happen to Matildë?
“Perhaps. Let’s first be certain that Hidmeel will return to us at all,” Emmeline said cautiously. There was always the chance the spirit would not return.
“He believes in the goddess. She cradles his soul and he awaits us. Let’s go!” she answered.
The Captain said to the party, “While I can’t stop you from going back, I don’t recommend it. I will lend you horses as send an escort of two men back with you.”
“That assistance is most welcome. We will be back as soon as possible,” said Elemix.
The party began the journey back with two outriders joining them, Delan and Goddard…