Making of a Realm

Beauties, Beasts and Boars

(a page out of the journal of Ameno Uzume)

4712, Spring / Summer
We spent a few days recovering at Oleg's Trading Post coming back from the fifth expedition. Takeshi showed Oleg the gold nugget we brought back, and Oleg's layman opinion is that it's probably gold – but just in case, he'll take it to a jeweler in Brevoy, to determine how pure it is. 

The next morning, as Oleg was leaving in his wagon, someone else was coming in. I was sitting around the yard, tuning my shamisen, and so was the first to spot him, but judging by how quickly the rest of the group appeared, they must have seen him coming as well. A man bringing a destrier by the reins, tall and fit, and with a spring in his step that told of agility despite his size. His clothing was finely made, black expensive fabric studded with tiny emeralds. He was also carrying an odd-sized sword – not quite a bastard sword, but too large to be a longsword, obviously custom made. Still sitting at my spot, I muttered for my detect magic spell, but nothing seemed to emit an aura. As he crossed the gate, with a quick salute to Oleg's leaving wagon, I saw his shield too, but couldn't recognize the symbols on it – five dragon heads, of different colors. So what did I do?

Of course, I jumped off my seat and went closer to greet him. My brothers and Svetlana joined us in no time.

He took a long look at the three of us, gave us a grin and immediately said we were far from home – Minkai would still be a long way. I was surprised: not only did he identify our country of origin, but managed to narrow it down to the province! A lucky guess? He seemed to be familiar with Oksana's origin as well: he asked if she was Ulfen. 

(sidenote: later Oksana would tell me not quite, but it was a close enough guess)

He introduced himself as Roggeth Halzn, and said he had heard about the bestowing of charters to explore the Greenbelt. So he decided to stop by, do some business with the Stevensons, and come meet the new neighbors. He seems to have an estate somewhere North of here, in some undisclosed area. According to himself, he's traveled around plenty, and that's how he could tell from where we were. With pleasantries exchanged, he let go of the destrier's reins (the horse went to the stable all by himself) and made a bee line for the kitchen to talk to Svetlana. We saw him emerge later on, carrying some sort of sweet bread or cake, and leave as quietly as he had arrived.

Once he was gone, I bolted for the kitchen to ask Svetlana about him. She told me that yes, he seems to live somewhere North, she's not really sure where, and he sometimes stops by – seems to have a sweet tooth for her desserts. I had to ask – where was Sir Halzn when the Stevensons were being bullied by bandits? Svetlana replied that he doesn't stop here as often as that. She's heard about the one time some bandits decided they were going to raid his estate… and apparently that's the last anyone's heard of them. The man seemed obviously capable, but the way he spoke and carried himself, he also seems to have very little care for what doesn't concern him directly.

The rest of the afternoon was spent quietly. Summer will be coming soon, and the days are longer. Brothers were off to train, Oksana was talking to her pet owl, and I was left to care for my shamisen and my nails. We reconvened in the evening to discuss the following expedition, the sixth since we've arrived. Looking at our map we can tell we have not found every edge of the Gnarled Marshes and there's still plenty of ground to cover closer to the frontier. We planned our path carefully and we're expecting to be gone another month or so.

The next morning, with a bag of holding stuffed to capacity with trail rations, we set off once more.

At first the going was very easy – we're mostly crossing territory we've explored before, on trail rations and water, hunting whenever our stock began to dwindle. As we've seen these territories before, not much trouble to be had as we went - the odd bandit patrol, animals here and there, but not anything that would give us too much fuss. I feel like it's wrong to rob the bodies of the people we defeat… but from a strictly pragmatic point of view, it's the logical action to take. The dead will not need the equipment they carried when they were alive, and that's always something we can sell or use. Coin, both for outfitting our future kingdom and ourselves, is an urgent necessity. In some sort of poetic justice, the weapons these bandits used to terrorize people will be put to better use elsewhere is quite redeeming. 

As we trailed between known ground and unexplored land, I could see a pattern emerge in the terrain. The bog is less damp and less dense at the edges, as would be expected, becoming muddier and less stable as one ventures further to the center. By my accounts the Gnarled Marshes sit dead center in the Greenbelt, and occupy a reasonable portion of land. We know fey inhabit some of it, and that there are places someone's tried to settle before, with limited success. 

Still, the farther west we went, the worse the Gnarled Marshes became. When we first began exploring it, the bog was somewhat depressing to be in, but with time I managed to let go of my discomfort and look at the bright side: how beautiful it looks in some places, the fact it's home to the wonderful fey, how peaceful it is… but on the west side, around our twelfth day of expedition, my heart and good spirits began to sank. It was no marsh. It was not even a bog – it was an authentic swamp, complete with soggy ground, clouds of insects that might well eat you alive if you crossed through them, and sickly trees poking lamely out of the mud. This was the hardest we ever had to scout for a place to sleep, because everywhere you stepped, you sank to the ankle. When it became darker as the night went by, keeping the fire going was a challenge, and the shadows of the trees seemed to be clawed fingers reaching out for you.

The following day, when I thought it couldn't get worse, it did: along with everything we had before, it began to smell. Dying plants most likely, the closest I could recall would be rotting cabbages. And when you're marching about you can't really cover your nose all the time, especially because that would imply you have to breathe through your mouth and you're likely to swallow one of the monstrous horseflies buzzing around! 

I was about to ask Takeshi if we could turn back – there was obviously nothing here we could use and our morning trek was nothing if not miserable – when we stumbled into a clearing. I didn't know it then, but I was about to see one of the saddest things I've ever laid my eyes on.

The "clearing" I'm describing here was not truly as you'd find in a forest, but simply a portion of slightly more solid ground surrounded by those dead-looking trees and vegetation. At the very center of this clearing there was a pond or natural well. We could hear no birds or animals, but the insects were having the time of their lives: the pond seemed to be a paradise for breeding flies and mosquitos. I was reminded of the calm we experienced just before the dragon went by, yet I didn't look up at the sky for the scene that awaited us on the other side of the pond. From where we entered the clearing, it appeared to be a dead horse. We eyed one other, and when nobody had any insight to offer, we began to go around the pond carefully, an eye on the corpse and another on the waters. On approach, the dead horse revealed itself to have been pure white… and there was a hollow mark on its head. Despite the plethora of insects around, the body was very much untouched. And the stench we were feeling came mostly from the pond, not the corpse.

I was puzzled at first by the hollow on its head. Like someone had extracted a little bit of the skull. Then it struck me. I was looking at a dead unicorn.

Without touching it, we tried to inspect the body to the best of our capabilities. Takeshi determined there was no visible way the beast could have been killed – no injuries except for the hollow mark on its forehead, and the horn was likely removed after it was dead. For my part (and Oksana backed me up), I could see no traces of magic, but there was a great sense of wrongness emanating from here. And in a way that I cannot really describe, I wasn't surprised there was. This was wrong. We could sense it, and so could the insects, and that's what was keeping them away from the body. Neither me nor Oksana are knowledgeable enough to venture a clue on what or whom might have done it… but evil fey kept coming to mind. Just in case, I warned Takeshi and Nagata not to come too close to the water. 

It felt bad standing there beside the dead unicorn for how horrible it was to behold… but when we eventually left, it felt bad not to investigate further. Without any clues we could find, there was nothing else we could do… but I still marked the spot on my map.   

Now well and depressed, we kept plowing through the swamp in dead silence. After a while there was no point in complaining about the smell, because we accepted it was not going away so soon. One would think we'd get used to it, but just when we seemed to start noticing it less, it became more intense. Smelly, dark, damp swamp with a dead unicorn in it. All I could do was sigh. Some of the most difficult days of our journey followed – we were irritable somewhat, and nothing in the surroundings seemed capable of cheering us up. At one point I would have welcomed some sort of threat to break the doldrums. 

And at one point, I thought Oksana was truly taking leave of her senses. She kept whispering at us about some kind of "heat wave" or "displacement" she was seeing, but whenever she pointed it out and we followed her finger, there was nothing there. Takeshi shrugged it off as swamp gas, but Oksana kept insisting it wasn't gas. More like a shimmer or what you see in the distance above the road in a hot day. Nagata asked if she'd been drinking our absinthe, and she told him off. Even at camp, when I went to bed and she took my place, she claimed she could see it! I thought she was losing her mind…

… until I saw it too! Just as she described, popping here or there for a few flimsy seconds, usually not long enough to point out. Just as soon as you spotted it, it was gone! I joined her efforts in trying to make my brothers see it – because it looked nothing like swamp gas. Or rather, it could have been swamp gas, only… where was the source? No bubbling in the mud, no worsening of the smell. I finally managed to get Takeshi to see it, but Nagata thought we were all nuts (and told us so repeatedly), he kept missing it. Bear agreed it looked like something that happens naturally… only in an extremely unnatural sort of way. I'm not sure if that makes sense. For how quick it was to fade away and pop up again, we could never see it long enough to study it. But we threaded carefully all the same. 

Eventually our path took us out of the swamp, and into a forest of large trees, and the shimmering seemed to stay behind us. Much like the poor unicorn, without any further clues, we had no way of investigating the phenomenon, and we were all more than happy to leave the swamp behind. 

Delving deeper into the woods, and by our account reaching the frontier once more, our spirits lifted a little bit. The ground was easier to walk and the stench was gone. Colorful mushrooms grew from the bark of several trees, shiny green dragonflies and a rainbow's worth of butterflies replaced the ugly buzzing horseflies, and the trees here were obviously healthy and young. Takeshi was eyeing them carefully, likely still wondering where we could set up a lumbering operation. We would soon find out, just the next day in fact (21st of our expedition) that it was a really bad idea to collect lumber here.

We came upon a wall of very tall trees. And I mean a wall – they were growing so close together they formed nearly a palisade around a pleasant clearing. Upon closer examination, the space between trunks seemed to widen – I can't really explain how. From a distance, I would say not even I could slide through them, but on approach they seemed to make room, just enough for Takeshi and Oksana to cross into the clearing. Once we stepped through the trunks, I scratched the word "clearing" in my head, and replaced it with "grove" – verdant bushes of edible berries grew tall and plentifully all around, vines and hanging flowers forming a kind of dome filtering some of the sunlight and leaving us in pleasant, cool twilight, mushrooms of shapes and sizes I'd never seen before forming whimsical patterns all around the trunks… and at the center, there was a woman. She was clad in what looked like living leaves and vines, and her orange hair seemed to be made entirely out of petals. Even without asking I knew this was a dryad, and if we were standing here in her grove it was because she willed it that we might pass. 

I'm not sure there is a protocol to addressing the higher fey, but gaping at them is probably not it – so I did the only thing I could think to do: followed in Takeshi's footsteps and bowed respectfully. She regarded us with some suspicion, despite the fact she let us in her grove. She spoke to us in the same voice nightingales sing in, and introduced herself as Tiressia, inquiring afterwards about what we were doing here. I'm glad Takeshi decided to speak – I didn't mean to be rude, but she looked so beautiful it was hard not to stare. Brother Bear explained about the chart, and that we were exploring these lands, looking for resources and allies to build our new kingdom. We meant no harm to the beauty of nature around us, but we required lumber to build with. Could she possibly point us to an area where we could acquire materials without bringing harm or disrespect?

(sidenote: very sly, brother Bear. Perhaps not overly subtle, but certainly sly.)  

Tiressia nodded gravely and told us she understood our predicament, and even told us of an area where we would be able to collect wood from older trees, without disturbing the balance – she gave her blessing that we do our lumbering there, and there alone. There would be plenty to collect, she said, and likely enough to meet our needs. Of course, as we were here, we asked her also about the things we had seen in the swamp – the unicorn's corpse, and the shimmering. She shook her head gravely at this – signs of the First World, she called them, a world older than the Material Plane, left over from the gods' first creation. Certainly evidence of evil fey. She also told us about something called a scythe tree further South. A specific tree that has been causing trouble and disturbing the balance, advancing further and further towards her grove. We offered our services, but she chuckled at that, saying she would gladly take the offer, but that as we are, she fears we would be walking to our deaths. For the time being, the scythe tree is under control. One day, however, it will not be, and on that day, she would like to have us on her side. We will need to toughen up some to go against that.

And that's when Nagata addressed the treetops, saying "Is that what happened to him?" I looked up to see a half-goat man hiding amongst the branches. Probably he was there the whole time, and only Nagata's trained eye managed to spot him. Tiressia agreed – the man was her consort, and was wounded badly from his efforts in battling the tree. Takeshi of course offered his healing spells, and we agreed to return to deal with this problem, once we are sure we can emerge victorious, or earlier if the situation becomes so dire addressing it can no longer be postponed. 

We left Tiressia's grove with the forest literally parting for us to pass. It was amazing! Trees simply leaned or moved out of our way! 


Journeying back, and as always trying to make the best of our expedition time, we decided to take a different route on the return home. Instead of following the edges of the marsh, we ventured further into the woodlands. The river we saw before seems to curve South. We became fairly sure it would be Skulk River – Nagata and Oksana had heard of it before.

Two days into our trek following the Skulk, however, we came upon an odd and creepy construction. An arm of the river seemed to be barred by a large dam or dyke. At first and from afar, we thought we might be gazing at a very industrious family of beavers. But as we approached, we saw something that the average beaver would never have used for construction: dead bodies.

I asked Takeshi if there was any chance we were actually looking at a beaver dam in which some unfortunate fellows' corpses got stuck while going downriver. He shook his head sadly at me, and told me the bodies were truly incorporated into the dam – their inclusion as a… err… construction material, let us say, was deliberate. Studying the margin, Nagata solved the mystery. He told us he could see tatzlwyrm tracks. With a relatively safe place for eggs or young to stay put and don't get dragged downriver, and a source of… err… food… we reached the conclusion it must be a nest.

We had already encountered tatzlwyrm during a previous expedition. In fact, we were paid quite a sum for the head of one. (sidenote: comparatively, it wasn't the best deal we ever made, but light weight in your pockets is better than no weight. Especially as we had only been here for a while, and our finances were not to be spoken of in fear they might prove too jarring and depressing for civilized conversation) If this was a nest, we weren't about to leave it alone and allow more of those to appear.    

Now the only issue was, how could we destroy it? Oksana thought of dousing it with the absinthe I still have, and lighting it on fire. Nagata tried to light up a torch to set it aflame, and Takeshi, closest to the dam, upstaged him by snapping his fingers to conjure a tiny spark amongst the driest branches. I had my doubts the damp wood would catch, but sure enough, there was smoke… and then Takeshi stopped snapping his fingers and took on a battle stance. We stood ready – something was coming. Bear struck at movement close by, in the water, like a fisherman trying to spear down a fish. But the water provided the tatzlwyrm with cover. Nagata went in next, having spotted a second creature right at the water's surface – Nagata was probably surprised and got bitten, but repaid in kind. Farther from the margin I began playing for courage, as Oksana started hurling snowballs. 

It's not often that Takeshi forsakes his naginata for the katana. That usually means the fight has already grown too close for comfort, so when I saw him drop one and draw the other I knew he was in trouble. Before we could do anything, the thing had him in its jaws, and Bear was being held in midair. I yelled at the tatzlwyrm, but I must have somehow botched the spell or misjudged the thing, because it completely ignored my efforts. And afterwards, of course, came the cloud of noxious gas. No matter how many times Takeshi squirmed and slashed at it, the creature wouldn't give him up. 

Nagata must have noticed Bear having trouble then – he had verily made mincemeat out of his adversary, and looked back right in time to see Takeshi being lifted by the maw. He ran toward the tatzlwyrm wakizashi first, going straight to his aid. At least I'm positive that was the intention, because the right wakizashi bit Takeshi instead of the tatzlwyrm. To his saving grace, the left wakizashi found its mark. His will broken, I yelled at the tatzlwyrm again, and it finally let go of Bear. A final strike from Nagata, and it was gone. 

Once we had caught our breath back, we finished dismantling the nest. One of the bodies we managed to pull away still carried some valuables. (sidenote: I am sure Takeshi and Nagata agree with me, that this is too close to graverobbing for comfort. We still need both every clue that we can get, and every gold piece that we can grab.) Among which there was a scroll case, and within it, a map of some sort. It showed a portion of the Greenbelt – that much we could tell, or even which portion, since we recognized some landmarks. A route was marked on it, and the note "STATUE" at the end of the trail seemed to be the final objective.

Curiosity may have killed the cat. But not the Bear. Or the Monkey. Or even the Cricket. And certainly not the… Oksana. (sidenote: find a nickname for Oksana soon.) 

So deeper into the woods we went. I like camping in the woods rather than the marsh for all the obvious reasons, plus it gives me a greater feeling of security. The trees in the Gnarled Marshes were smaller and thinner than the ones we find here, by far. And while the Marshes are beautiful in their own way (except for that swamp bit, which was smelly and sort of spooky) nothing really beats a good woodland. Takeshi told me during our evening meal (trail rations… so many trail rations…) that it's in this territory that he would like to build a lumbering mill, with Tiressia's permition of course, and under the promise that we will plant a new tree for each we cut down. Looking at the abundance of wood around us, it sounds very reasonable. But I'm more concerned of how we might honor such a promise. We are four people to all of this territory, and unless we gain a good deal of respect from our future citizens, we cannot expect they will keep our promises. I've never heard of a lumberjack having qualms about cutting down a tree, but also never heard of one that bothered to replace it.

The following day, and carefully studying the route, we finally reached the statue. I must confess (and no disrespect is meant here, ancestors and Shizuru and Erastil) at first it looked a little… wrong. It was a statue alright – fifteen feet tall, depicting a creature with the body of a man wrapped in leathers and furs, and the head of a great stag with large and wide antlers. If Takeshi hadn't told me it's one of the representations of Erastil, I would've never guessed it. And, indeed, not much further ahead of it there was a ruined building which once was likely a hunters' lodge. But the shape rang a few disagreeable chimes with me. I kept thinking about that first bandit we interrogated, and how he depicted the Stag Lord's ever-present helm. I asked the others if it might be related, but until we see the man for ourselves, a common shrug is all we can do as a reply. Still, Father Kavken might want to learn about this. I updated our own map, and we decided to head there. By our accounts, we shouldn't be far.


I am very pleased to report that my first diplomatic assignment went smoothly and was quite productive! We have formed a successful alliance with another kingdom!

Sort of…

Well, perhaps not quite. But it was fun.

After a night camping in the statue's vicinity, on the 26th day of our expedition, we once again dove into the Marshes, hoping to make a bee line to the Temple of the Elk. It was nearing late afternoon when we spotted the ruined buildings – the days are growing longer now, and we have the benefit of more hours of sunlight. We moved closer to investigate. At the worst, it might be a fairly dry place to camp.

But as soon as we could see the door (or what had once been a door), we noticed the ruins must be inhabited. The creature we saw sitting by it was part man and part frog. Big, round bulging eyes spotted us from atop a green, nearly oval head, and he scrambled onto his webbed feet. The animal (sidenote: or at least I hope it's an animal) at his side also roused to life, big enough to serve as a mount for the other, four-legged, sharp-fanged and gooey-looking. Nagata drew the wakizashis and Takeshi was reaching for the naginata. Yet to me, this fellow looked in everything the part of one of Minkai's senior citizens, baking himself in the Sun, waiting for someone to come around and play mahjong, and hoping the teenagers across the street don't come bother him.

I was especially pleased when, after bringing himself to a stand, that person waved its bare hands and grumbled something on the lines of "peace". I halted my brothers with a quick gesture, and stepped forth to try and parley. 

It wasn't easy. As I approached, I recalled stories of the swamp frog-people – boggards, I believe they're called – and realized the probabilities of the man knowing any common tongue would be slim. I tried to make myself understood through gestures and pantomime, and albeit slowly, I began to understand who he was. He called himself Garuum, and the… other one was Ubagub (if that is a species, name or type of creature is another issue), and he claimed to be King of this place. As I recall, boggards live in clans, and a young man is allowed and entitled to defy the chief for his place at any given time. And Garuum, from what I understood, fancied himself chief. The thing is, he didn't win. Didn't even make a dent, considering the tone of his grumbling. His mighty challenge to the standing leader ended with Garuum riding Ubagub away from his clan fast, as the bulk of it was running right behind him. Garuum escaped, and decided it was easier to claim the unclaimed, rather than try to wrestle power from the chief. So he declared himself King of this place, and lives here with Ubagub peacefully.

This I transmitted to Takeshi. The boggard obviously didn't want trouble, and he would probably surrender at once if we were to challenge him. Takeshi said it's okay if he keeps this area, in and around the ruins, so I told him Bear was a King also – of the surrounding lands. And we came in peace to visit his kingdom. Body language is different enough to become confusing but I think he was pleased – he let us sleep in the ruin and even made an effort to further chat with us. Among other topics, we managed to inquire about another of our quests in the Greenbelt – the monster boar Tuskgutter. Garuum knew about it alright – said the thing never ventures too close to his Kingdom but he's seen it in the area, when he goes out to hunt his dinner. It should be somewhere near.

The following day we bade Garuum and his pet goodbye. I was in a really good mood after that. Considering we didn't share a common language or physiology, I believe we struck a good deal, and even managed to get our points across. I doubt I have the physical appendages necessary to ever truly learning to speak boggard, but it's encouraging, to me, that we succeeded. When our kingdom is formed, I will petition Brother Bear to become Grand Diplomat!


My good mood was bound to continue throughout the day. When we reached the Temple of the Elk again, we were in for an inspiring view. Considering how shortly ago we saw the place abandoned and derelict, father Kavken managed a tiny miracle. Gone were the lichen that covered the tiled floor, and the stairs leading to the cave were already being repaired. The pool was pristine, and the massive elf figure cleaned and more defined. When we arrived, father Kavken was at work still, whistling a tune and looking very happy. 

He received us as old friends, and offered us each a seat, a cool drink and his attention. He seemed very interested in the statue, and once we told him of how close it was, he asked if we could be bothered to escort him there. Of course we can – but first, as Takeshi reminded, we had a boar to catch. We agreed. No use risking running into the beast with Father Kavken in tow. We were quite sure we'd find it close by, so we promised to return once it'd been dealt with. It would give the good father some time to finish what he was doing and prepare for the trek. 

You would think it should be easy to find a boar the size of a man. And, true enough, it took Nagata's eyes just a short while to find the great boar's tracks. We still spent two days following the creature through the woods, always on the lookout, and we ended up stumbling into it. Because Monkey will be Monkey.

It was the evening of our second day hunting – 30th of our expedition – and we were ready to give up and set camp. The tracks became confusing at one point, and Nagata was sure this was a place of common passage for the beast, but he couldn't tell one set of tracks from another, or discern which was oldest. Hungry and tired, we figure we'd look for a place to set camp nearby, go without a fire, and hope the beast would come by here again. 

Takeshi was evaluating a thicket of trees a little farther away as a possible place to make camp. Nagata went the exact opposite way and discovered a cave. I remember I asked him how safe (and clean) the cave was. I wasn't very keen on finding, for example, a milipede crawling through my bedroll during the night. Nagata said it was fine, in fact that it was perfect to hide in, as he stuck his head inside… and then his voice suddenly died in his throat. I figured he'd found the cave was crawling with bugs, but then he said two words that sent us all into battle mode.

He said, "Found it."

Then he rushed backwards as the largest boar I've ever seen charged at him from within the cave!

It was a scary battle for Nagata. He was, no pun intended, on the beast's snout most of the time. Fortunately, the added distance gave Takeshi an edge, and he managed to impale the thing on his naginata before long. The two boys were hit, but nothing dire compared to some wounds they've sustained before. We collected the boar's head… and had some of the rest for dinner – we had just felled a perfectly reasonable boar, we weren't going to pass on the chance! Ha! Take that, trail rations!

With this risk out of the way, within three days we were returning to the statue with Father Kavken. He seemed delighted – according to him, this place is consecrated ground, and that means it's a safe area, both for us who now stood there, but also any who will. No violence can occur in the clearing around the statue, and no harm can touch those who sit within. For our service once again to his faith, Father Kavken explained, he would call the blessings of Erastil upon our weapons, that they may strike more fiercely for the following seven days and nights.

As tired as I was, this was too good a gift to waste. This still wasn't the time to head home.

Once we left Father Kavken back at the temple, we continued to explore the woodland areas. Erastil's blessing came very much in hand during that time. It is no great deal when you have several hunters to one boar, regardless of how large the boar it is. When you have several boars for as many hunters, however, things can become quite complicated. During one afternoon in particular, I recall, we were surprised by four. At least I was – one of them slammed me on the side so fiercely it nearly threw me to the ground! It was a tough fight. And the tougher they become, the more I realize how careful I have to be when standing around. My music helps, but if I stand too far away, I can't use magic to help the meleers. On the other hand, I get too close, I will become a target, and a liability for Monkey and Bear. I saw Takeshi take a bad risk to come save me. That's not the point of me being there. 

Live and learn, I suppose… fortunately we all got out alright. And well enough, for soon, we would have to contend with even more problems.



DO buy a good pair of shoes. Stay away from the latest fashions and go to the nearest guardhouse and purchase a set of theirs. I abandoned my sandals days after we got off the ship. Not only were they digging into the skin between my toes, once the mud began, it was pointless to wear them.

DON'T forget your beauty kit. Just because you're in the middle of nowhere you don't have to look like a savage – a bard must arrange to look her best, one never knows when diplomatic skills will be useful or a performance may be forthcoming. My nail kit and my hairbrush are especially precious to me.

DO arrange things in a way that you are in good terms with a cleric. Not only will they patch you up, they can also conjure water. And you will want a bath. Desperately, sometimes. Now if only we could arrange a way for the gods to bless us with hot water…

DON'T forget your instrument. It will be a source of income and it can save your life. Bring spare strings if you play a string instrument, repair kit if you play a drum, cleaning apparatus if you have a flute, for instance. However, if you play the temple organ, maybe traveling is not for you.

DO play with your food. Believe me, nothing you try to do to a trail ration will make it taste worse, so feel free to experiment with ingredients you forage or hunt for.

DON'T disturb the locals, even if they look disturbed to begin with.

DO learn where within your group you should and should not be. The more fights I get into, the more I'm convinced that being a battle bard is much like building a house: location, location, location.

DON'T wear white. Prefer dark colors. It makes you less visible and it's easier to launder. 

DO invest in proper storage. Before we got our bag of holding, we had to carry everything on our shoulders. You may think carrying thirty pounds is a walk in the park. Talk to me again four days later.

DON'T bite off more than you can chew. If you can avoid a fight by staying still for a while or giving the threat wide berth, it's preferable. You won't tire as quickly and who knows how long you'll be out…

DO set watch. Even if it's just two of you. I can't tell how many times it saved me some grief having someone else guard me while I slept. 

DON'T eschew weapons. A bard shouldn't have to carry one, but one fact Takeshi never had to teach me about military tactics is, regardless of how many cons there are, if push comes to shove, you'll want to have something to hit them with. And you are not going to use your instrument to bash someone, unless you play the tambourine, in which case it is hillarious.

DO make business. Often you'll be presented with opportunities to run other people's errands for them, or sell your skills for gold or favor. When I first traveled away from home never did I think someone might pay me to collect a basket of berries from behind the sunset, yet that gold came in so very handy…

DON'T miss opportunities to meet new and interesting people. Just make sure they don't want to kill you first.

DO learn more languages. And improve your mimicry. Inform yourself on local rude signs before trial and error loses you some teeth.

DON'T underestimate how much you can sleep. Miss Ai, who taught me how to write, sing and dress my hair used to boast about how she could look perfectly fresh after only four hours of "deeper meditation". No, Miss Ai. I regret to inform, Miss Ai, that "meditation" has to be "deeper" and longer after eight hours of walking up and downhill. Between expeditions I had "deeper meditations" that lasted me nearly the whole day. I've had "deeper meditations" from which not even the grumpiest Bear could rouse me. Insomnia? I used to complain to Grandfather that the paper on my window was so thin I could see the moonlight and it kept me from "meditation". At this point in my life I can very much "meditate" in the middle of a Summer festival in a large city, behind the dumpling stand, with the trash bin and the family dog on either side, as the Minkai Imperial Orchestra marches down main avenue with every single instrument off-tune. I could "meditate" through that. Right now, I gladly would!


Pdscosta BlackJill

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