The Elmwatch Barrow (Adventure II)

1115 SC, Twenty-eighth of Starbright

Every man of faith must at one point in his life undertake a test. It could be physical, mental, or spiritual. For those dedicated to the church in Leathad, it happens to be all of them, as each member of the clergy is required to go on a mission trip to wherever the gods deign to send them. As the gods’ words are interpreted by the senior priests, usually they are sent to unforgiving and cold places such as the Grieving Moor, commonly known as the frontier to the common folk.

“Bringing light to the darkness,” muttered Hawkins as his breath froze in the cold mountain air. It was a common saying for those of the faith, and a mantra they would use to get them through hard times. “The people must say it every day on the frontier if each day was as hard as this,” Hawkins thought. His trek over the mountains was uneventful, but also unforgiving. No savage beasts or uncultured barbarians accosted the small caravan - only the bitter cold and forlorn wind.

Now, having just passed the old structures of Fort Deadwind, he could see the entire expanse of the Grieving Moor laid out before him, bathed in the golden glow of sunrise. It was simultaneously more and less than he had expected. There was more color where he thought there would be none, and it looked just like many lands he had seen before. The edge of hostility he had expected simply did not exist.

“Doesn’t look as bad as you thought it would, does it?”

The rough voice from beside him broke him from his contemplation of the frontier. He turned to face the source of the voice and found himself looking at the caravan’s guide, a hearty man named Beren.
“It looks like just about every other new place I’ve seen, if we’re being honest here.”

Beren chuckled, a deep, warm sound. “Aye lad, it does indeed. I think the same thing every time I cross these mountains.” He placed a meaty hand on Hawkin’s shoulder. “Don’t let it fool you, though. You get to where you’re going and you stay there, afore you get swallowed up by the wilds.” His warning given, Beren ambled back to check on the single wagon the so-called caravan had brought with them.

Out of habit, Hawkins brushed the dirt off of his travel robes, despite the fact that the robes themselves would most likely be unsalvageable due to the amount of grime coating them. After taking several minutes to rest, the caravan moved down the slopes to the village of Elmwatch. From what he was told, a decent sized church had been built in the village, and that was his destination. He wasn’t sure if the local priest had asked the Church for more help, or if the Church had decided to simply send someone. It wouldn’t be the first or the last time the Church had thrown their weight around.

Hawkins was unsure of how he felt about the Church’s leading members. On one hand, he was entirely entrenched in the belief that faith could help a great many people. He had seen it firsthand, and helped many people along the path. On the other, what use is faith if those who follow it were bent to its design instead of being led to it on their own? How much faith could a man truly have if that faith was thrust upon him with no recourse? These thoughts would trouble a great many folk back home, and was perhaps one of the reasons that Hawkins had been sent to the frontier. Hopefully he’d either meet his demise or find new converts. Either way, a desirable outcome for the Church. “Serves me right for running my mouth around the wrong folk,” Hawkins mused.

By the time the sun had reached its midway point on its journey across the sky, the small caravan was entering the village of Elmwatch. If he looked hard enough, he could see the distant spire of the crumbling fort that used to overlook the village back in ages past. As he was a mere priest and not exactly in his physical prime, Hawkins was firmly in the rear of the caravan. With them being so close, the group had ceased to worry about any cohesion and simply went their own ways within the town.

Outside the main road leading to the great elm tree in the center was a sight most curious to Hawkins. A man with grim eyes and a club stood watch over another man, who was caged and seemingly intoxicated. Everywhere he had been, convicts and criminals were housed within a specific building, not out on the road. His curiosity got the better of him, and Hawkins hailed the man with the club.

“What’s this about, then?” he asked, trying - and failing - to seem nonchalant about the matter.

The guard tapped on the bars with his wooden club, causing the man inside to groan and hold his head. “Ol’ Renfrew here decided he was hungry enough to eat the seed crops meant to be planted for the next season,” the man spat on the ground. “We’re all hungry, and we’d been just a little hungry until harvest. Now, though? We’ll be rationing food for the rest of the year because of one lout’s greed.”

Hawkins had no idea what kind of schedule farmers worked on, or when harvest actually was, but he assumed it was a grave sin to eat a seed crop. “Why not exile him or something like that?” he asked.

“Simple,” said the guard, “we need the labor come harvest time. None of you travelers are gonna be stickin’ around to help, so we need every able body to lend a hand. My own son’s nearing ten, and you can bet he’ll be there when it’s time.”

To Hawkins, this was unheard of. Even in the farms around Leathad, there was no shortage of labor. If it was needed, unskilled labor was often hired by the farmers themselves in order to get the harvest to market. A child doing oftentimes backbreaking labor just to survive? Hawkins shook his head. It was not his place to judge the customs and punishments of people he had never even met.

“Could you direct me to the church, perhaps?”

Looking Hawkins up and down, the man nodded. “Should’ve figured you for one o’ them priestly types,” he pointed towards the center of the village, “go under the elm there in the center, and it should be northeast of that. It’s a church, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding it around here.” The guard laughed, as if it was a joke at Hawkins’ expense.

The village proper was much the same as many he had passed through on his trip to the frontier. There were all the usual buildings like a blacksmith, carpenter, and even a tannery on the outer edge, to prevent the stench from wafting into the center of the town. As he passed by, the people at first seemed aloof, even standoffish. Eventually, however, he would meet the eyes of the townsfolk and give a slight smile and nod, and receive it in return. Perhaps these people were not prejudiced against outsiders, simply wary of people who might seek to do them harm. Almost as though these folk were just like anyone else in the world, aside from their choice of settlement.

The guard had indeed been correct; the church was very easy to find once he was in the shadow of the great elm tree. It was old, but proud and well-maintained. Whoever the presiding priest was obviously cared a great deal about the building and what it represented. A small garden wrapped around the side of the stone structure, although it looked as though someone had trampled a portion of it recently. Much to his alarm, Hawkins noticed the lack of a sigil on the church - a sign chosen by the presiding clergy to represent the most prominent deity in the region. Normally, a church without a sigil was an ill omen, a sign that those within the church had been branded as heretics of one sort or another. Pushing aside his apprehension, Hawkins opened the large front door, pleased to feel how well-oiled the hinges were; they made barely a whisper as the door slid open.

At the far end of the church, past several rows of pews, a plainly dressed priest was finishing a sermon from the pulpit beneath a rather plain window. He and the priest locked eyes and exchanged nods, but the sermon continued to its completion. Hawkins slid into the rearmost pew and observed the congregation that had gathered. Almost everyone wore the simple, plain clothes of a farmer or general laborer, but there were a few notable exceptions. A short, broad figure sat towards the front, obviously one of the mountainfolk, or dwarves, who were quite rare this far into the frontier. She was smiling, and from the soot stains on her clothing she appeared to be the blacksmith. A broad-shouldered man sat beside her, his arms folded and his gaze focused more on the materials of the pulpit than the priest or the sermon.

The priest himself was an aging man, with very little hair but eyes as blue as the ocean bordering Leathad. His voice was powerful enough to carry through the church, but was warm and friendly. Despite his age, he seemed to be in excellent physical health. Maybe he had some secrets to share on that matter, as the trek across the mountains was far more difficult than it should have been for someone as young as Hawkins.

The sermon ended, and the congregation began to file out after shaking hands with the priest. The short blacksmith gave Hawkins a smile and nod as she passed, running her hands over the hinges of the door on her way out. Hawkins approached the priest, only to stop a respectful distance away after seeing he was involved in a conversation with the broad-shouldered man.

“I think there should be time next week, if that is agreeable to you,” he overheard the priest say.

The man scratched the stubble he had growing before nodding. “I think the shipment comes in a few days from now, I should be able to have it ready by then.”

“Thank you, Marn, I appreciate everything you do to help these old bones.”

The man, Marn, laughed heartily, “Are you talking about this church or you, you old wight?”

The priest joined in laughing and shrugged. “Perhaps both! Give your wife my blessings as well, would you?”

The two exchanged handshakes, and soon enough the priest waved him over. “Welcome to Elmwatch, brother,” he spoke. His conversational tone was just as pleasant as Hawkins expected. “I hope you didn’t have too much trouble coming over the pass.”

Hawkins gripped the old priest’s hand firmly, surprised by the amount of calluses present. “Only what could usually be expected from a long and dusty road, or so they tell me. I’m simply not as accustomed to it as I had hoped.”

The priest nodded, “the Church always sends the hearty, hale ones out here to preach the good word. You’re practically a spitting image of me when I was your age,” he chuckled and patted Hawkins on the shoulder, “not to worry, you’ll look like me before too long. My name is Graham, it’s a pleasure to have another member of the Cloth out here.”

“I’m called Hawkins, and it most certainly is a long way from home.” Hawkins rubbed his chin, looking over the aging priest and his wry, knowing smile. “Tell me, Graham, did the Church send you out here because-”

“Because I questioned the establishment a little too loudly? Eschewed the heavy-handedness of the Church proper in their dealings?” Graham gave Hawkins a sad, slightly conspiratorial smile. “It sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it? I saw this mission of mine as a punishment at first, too. Same as the priest here before me, and I’d assume the one before him. Eventually, you’ll see it as enlightening. These simple, hardy folk of the frontier have a certain charm about them, once you figure out the best way to reach them with your sermons.”

“And how do you reach them?”

Graham ran his hands over the sturdy, well-made pulpit. “By preaching practicalities, lad. You’ll learn in time. The folk here don’t have time to, let’s say, ‘appreciate’ the normal doctrines the Church has us preaching. It’s simply so far removed from what goes on in their daily life that they have no frame of reference for it. How would you go about collecting donations from a man who hasn’t seen a real silver coin in his whole life?”

Hawkins thought for a moment, back to all the lessons on communication and building rapport, and came up empty handed.

Graham grinned. “As I said before, I was the same way. It’s the community, my boy. The wealth of this town is in the community. Become a part of it, and you’ll never be poor. The only donations the townspeople can and are willing to give is their labor. I can’t tell you how many times Marn has fixed the leaky roof or shown me how to care for the wood of the pulpit and pews.” Graham brought his hands up, palms facing the sky. They were covered in calluses and small scars, the marks of manual labor. “In return, I help out physically as well as spiritually. If you live here, your hands cannot afford to be idle.”

“What of the gods?” Hawkins asked.

Graham shrugged. “What of them? Most people here have never heard of half the deities they preach to back in the capital. The only god these people care about is survival.”

“Is that why your church bears no sigil?” Hawkins asked with what he hoped was an unconcerned air. Depending on the old priest’s answer, this conversation could go poorly. Most people do not take kindly to being accused of heresy.

The aging priest snorted and laughed heartily, “It’s not as if people can’t tell it’s a church!”

Hawkins begrudgingly had to agree with that statement. The stone structure was far unlike anything else in the village, and the imposing elm tree casting its shadow was always a telltale sign. In fact, the only major difference between this frontier church and many back towards civilization was the lack of a sigil, which might not necessarily denote the presence of heresy. Who would have time to gather the materials for the ornate symbol required, let alone the labor needed to create it up to the Church’s draconian standards? What would even be a sigil for survival, a man fending off a wolf with a stick?

For a moment, Hawkins joined in on Graham’s mirth, amused by the absurdity of trying to apply standard Church doctrines to a place as unique and unforgiving as the frontier. The shared moment passed quickly, as a mouse-like shuffle of feet and a quiet cough drew the attention of the priests. Behind them, an ancient-looking woman had approached. To Hawkins, she looked as though she already had at least one foot under the wychwood, so to speak. Her skin was leathery and wrinkled, dotted with liver spots and other signs of a long and hard life.

“Deepest apologies, my lady,” said Graham, offering a bow, “we did not mean to be jesting before the preparations required for this evening.”

Not knowing who this woman was or her station, Hawkins followed suit with a small bow of his own. As he stood, he noticed the woman was dressed almost exactly the same as the rest of the townspeople. Sturdy, well-worn and patched clothing that had seen many winters. Shoes that provided more protection than comfort. The only thing he saw that might have been considered out of place was a carved wooden bracelet around her left wrist. As a member of the Church, Hawkins immediately recognized the wood as being from an elm tree. “I am truly saddened for your loss, ma’am,” Hawkins said, his voice somber.

The old woman fidgeted with the bracelet for a few moments before nodding. “I appreciate it.” Her voice was almost unsuited for her crone-like persona she seemed to embody. Hawkins could tell that her voice could easily carry as well as Graham’s had during his sermon, and was even more smooth and melodic. She would have made a fortune singing for nobles in Leathad. “It’s amusing,” she continued, “Catriona and I carved these bracelets for each other five years ago, thinking that we each wouldn’t have much longer for this realm. I had just come down with a sickness, you see. We figured I would be the first to depart.” A tear rolled down her cheek, which she quickly wiped away. “We never thought it would be her.”

Graham leaned close to Hawkins and spoke in soft, gentle tones. “This is Annag, currently the oldest living resident here. She has seen generations worth of events shape this town. Her sister, Catriona, passed away just last evening.”

Hawkins did some estimations and raised his eyebrows. The further away from the capital you went, the shorter the average life expectancy was, and each life became a little more cheap. For anyone to have lived this long out here was nothing short of a small miracle. He wondered what type of woman it would take to survive in these harsh climates, and how that must have shaped her.

Graham moved forward and gently took Annag’s hand in his own, and spoke to her quietly enough that Hawkins could not hear the words being exchanged. After a moment, he stepped back. “We’ll have everything prepared before sundown, I assure you. We’ll see you on the road to the tower.”

Annag nodded, causing several more tears to fall onto the cold stone beneath her feet. “Thank you, Graham,” she said before turning on her heels and making for the door. Her footfalls could only barely be heard by the two priests.

“I know your road has been long, friend,” Graham said to Hawkins, “but I need to prepare Catriona’s body for burial. If you have the strength, another set of hands would be useful.”

Truly, Hawkins was exhausted. Aside from an hour of sleep in the covered wagon each passenger received in the caravan, Hawkins had been walking since sunup early that morning. However, his curiosity towards preservation practices here on the frontier overrode the protests of his aching body. Holding his hands out, Hawkins smiled warmly. “Of course I’ll help. After all, this will be my town soon enough as well.”

A smile spread across Graham’s face. “I’m pleased that you think so. Beyond the door to the right of the pulpit you’ll be able to clean up. I’m sure there’s a clean frock in there that should suit you well enough.

True to his word, Hawkins found a basin large enough for him to bathe in, and enough water and soap to handle the grime of the road. He debated starting a fire to warm the water, but decided against pushing Graham’s hospitality so far after he had asked for help in the important task of preserving the recently deceased. The water was cold, but the shock of it helped Hawkins shake off some of the fatigue caused by the road. With his body scrubbed almost raw, Hawkins dressed himself quickly and moved towards what he assumed was the church’s undercroft.

As the young priest shuffled down the stairs, a snippets of a conversation moved towards him. It sounded like Graham instructing someone on how to dress during a burial preparation. “Tie the smock behind you, tightly enough that it won’t simply float away from your body when you move. Ah, use a bow in the back, so the strings don’t get caught on anything. There you go. Now wash your hands again. Yes, for the second time, you’ve been touching your face.”

All in all, it was standard practice for the clergy who handled these things. Sanitize your workspace as much as you can, keep yourself clean, and use the proper tools for the job. Back in Leathad, a variety of esoteric chemicals were kept on hand to preserve bodies, so Hawkins was interested in seeing what processes were used on the frontier. He stepped into the room and was immediately taken aback at who was in the room. Graham stood by, watching a young boy who was no older than eleven wash his hands thoroughly. Behind them, covered by a shroud, a body that was undoubtedly Catriona was waiting on an embalming table.

Hawkins strode over to Graham, his fists clenched at his sides. “I know this is your church,” Hawkins started, his voice hissing out between his teeth, “but is it wise to expose a boy so young to such a thing? What would his parents think?”

Graham’s eyes betrayed nothing, and he simply smiled. “That boy there, Tonnen, trampled the garden out front. Accidentally, mind you, and I harbor no ill will towards him. These things happen. His mother brought him forward to apologize, and he offered me his labor for two days in exchange. This is the thing that needs doing today, and tomorrow we will repair the garden.” The older priest folded his arms across his chest and leaned towards Hawkins, so that the boy could not overhear. “Tonnen saw his father butchered by bandits last year, over a pig. They nearly got to him before the militia could drive them off. I watched him crush a man’s skull with a rock, Hawkins. He was ten. Death is simply another season here, coming along with the changing of the leaves.”

Chastised, Hawkins looked at his feet. “I apologize, Graham. I overstepped.”

Graham shrugged. “The Moor is a strange place, especially on first arriving here. I’ve had to learn things I never thought I would do in my life.” He gestured to his right hand, which bore a ring of calluses around the thumb and forefinger.

“You’ve been using a sword?” Hawkins said, almost incredulous. It was unheard of for a member of the clergy itself to wield a weapon, let alone use one long enough to have their hands hardened from it. There were Church Knights, of course, but they were few and far between.

“Sticks aren’t as effective at killing goblins,” he said simply. “An old mercenary broke his leg on a trail not too far from here, decided he would live out the remainder of his days in our humble town. He taught us enough to let us defend ourselves, should the need arise. Much to no ones surprise, it did. Everyone in town practices from the time that they’re old enough to hold a blade - or appropriately weighted stick. You’ll be expected to do the same.”

Hawkins thought about the implications. The Church would frown heavily on a priest picking up a weapon. But would the gods look favorably on one who refused to arm themselves in order to protect their flock? Would it be better to be seen as an oathbreaker by mortal men speaking for the gods, or as a coward by the gods themselves?

As if he could hear the internal struggle within Hawkins, Graham nudged the new priest and urged him to wash his hands again and put on a smock. Hawkins realized that Graham most likely had the exact same dilemma he was facing right now. The old priest obviously hadn’t been smote by some divine power as soon as he picked up a blade, so that might put to rest some of Hawkins’ fears.

After cleaning himself and donning a smock, the three moved over to the embalming table. Graham drew back the cloth covering Catriona’s body, and they said a quick prayer. As the prayer over the dead was usually personal in nature, Hawkins let Graham lead and simply repeated the words. After this came the long process of cleaning every inch of the body, so that preserving it would be easier. For his young age, Tonnen seemed quite interested in the academic portions of human anatomy. Graham happily explained the different bones and ligaments in the human body, and explained what could cause several different ailments that Catriona most likely had at the time of her death. A strange affliction had taken hold of this woman at some point in her life, and Hawkins had never seen anything like it. Graham explained that it was a disease common in the Moor, but exceedingly rare the closer you were to the capital. Most disturbingly, it appeared as though a handful of issues that had plagued Catriona before her death were relatively simple things that could have been treated within weeks back in Leathad. The Grieving Moor was truly living up to its name, even in these small things. All in all, the process was highly informative, even for someone as educated as Hawkins.

Next, and by far the most interesting process to Hawkins, was the preservation. Graham directed Hawkins to grab several jars and a strange needle-like device from a shelf. This device was cleaned with a fluid from one jar, and then further sterilized by a small flame burning on a piece of elm. As it turns out, the process Graham ended up utilizing was very similar to the one used in Leathad, with the major difference being that instead of soaking the body in a basin of this fluid, he used the needle to inject it directly into the body.

“It saves time, as we would have to let the body rest for quite a while within the fluid. Time is precious here, and we don’t like to extend the grieving process if we can help it,” he explained. “Not to mention the amount of liquid it would take to complete the embalming that way.”

The embalming fluid was a mix of several plants and minerals that were abundant on the frontier, as paying someone to acquire the same type used in Leathad would be far too expensive and time consuming. In some ways it was better than the original, and fell short in others. You work with what you have in the Frontier, as Graham was constantly trying to hammer home for Hawkins.

The process was slow, and took most of the day and a full jar of fluid to finish. Once Graham was satisfied, Hawkins and Tonnen moved the body to a pallet made of elm planks and covered the body in a slightly more ornate burial shroud. Hawkins wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his sleeve, as the room had grown warm and stuffy after the many hours of work.

“What was that bit you said to Annag about meeting her on the edge of town, Graham?”

Graham stretched and sighed heavily. “The undercroft, and the only space sectioned off for the graveyard is… full,” he said, a touch of sadness in his voice. “So, we’ve been using the space under the old fort to bury our dead.”

Again, Hawkins could feel an ember of anger begin to burn within him. “The roots of a fort are deep, Graham. How are the gods supposed to look upon our dead and guide them to the afterlife from such a depth?”

After such a long day, it seemed as though the well of Graham’s patience was starting to dry up. “We do what we need to in order to help those still living move on, Hawkins. The community over the individual, always. I ask each and every next of kin if they assent to this arrangement, and I have never had any protest, because they understand. Something you must do quickly if you are to thrive in the Moor. Otherwise, you are a burden upon those around you. Burden yourself all you like, but dragging others down with you is unforgivable.” Graham pulled off his smock and tossed it into a nearby hamper. “And frankly, if the gods cannot see the souls of the dead no matter where we place them, perhaps they do not deserve to be our gods at all.”

His piece said, the older priest stomped up the stairs, his steps sounding like the final nails being pounded into a coffin.


Mere hours later, Hawkins was helping the young Tonnen carry the pallet to the edge of town. As expected, Graham and Annag were already waiting, carrying on a quiet conversation. However, a few feet away a man in a hunter’s garb was leaning against a tree, his eyes closed as the last rays of sunlight pierced the clouds. Seeing them approach, Graham broke away from Annag and moved to greet them, all traces of his earlier impatience gone. The old priest gave them a smile.

“It’s not too long to the fort, but we’ll take turns bearing the pallet. It works better that way.”
Hawkins and Tonnen both nodded, their expressions somber. Dropping the pallet bearing someone’s deceased relative would be a horrendous mistake. “This,” Graham gestured at the man reclining against the tree, “is Kahrden. He’s a local hunter and tracker, and he’ll be guiding us on the way to the fort.”

Hawkins furrowed his brow. “Are attacks common on this road?”

Graham shrugged. “Not particularly, but I’d rather not take the chance.”

“The priest is smart,” spoke the hunter - Kahrden. Now that he had stepped a bit closer, Hawkins could see he had a slightly exotic look about him. His eyes were more almond-shaped than most, the color was a bit brighter, and in general his features were sharp. He carried himself with confidence born from experience, and moved with grace. “Something has been stirring up the goblins lately. I doubt they’ll have pushed this far west yet, but you never know.”

As the sun started to sink below the horizon, the small group moved towards the watchtower looming in the distance. Surprising Hawkins, Annag easily kept pace with the group, never leaving the side of the elm pallet bearing her sister’s corpse. For the duration of the trek to the tower, Hawkins had the constant feeling of being watched. Despite Kahrden’s wry smile and assurances that he had nothing to worry about, the priest couldn’t help but feel uneasy.

Once they had moved closer to the fort, Hawkins could see the remains of the original structure. The tower still stood proudly against the assault of time, but the outer walls were almost nonexistent. The sunken dome shape of a barrow was easily recognizable, and Kahrden moved ahead of the group to make sure the barrow was clear of any threats that may have taken up residence. Graham lit torches and placed them strategically within the barrow. Kahrden and Graham exchanged a few words before the hunter ascended the old watchtower.

Deciding this was one of the last chances he would get, Hawkins beckoned to Annag. “Are you sure about this, my lady? This barrow is deep, and if the gods cannot see-”

“Hush,” she said, cutting him off. “If the barrow was good enough for the valiant soldiers who held this fort in ages past, then it’s more than enough for my sister. She would have been honored to be placed beside them.” She reached out and patted Hawkins’ arm. “You’re young, and you have plenty to learn about how we do things out here. Keep close to Graham and I, we’ll get you sorted out in no time. Well, maybe focus on Graham for the time being.”

“What?” asked Hawkins, giving Annag a questioning look. The aging woman merely gave an amused grin and rattled her elm bracelet in response.

Moving into the barrow wasn’t as claustrophobic as Hawkins had feared. The space had been widened to accommodate the influx of new burials, but measures had been taken to avoid defacing any existing murals or tombs. Catriona was placed between two of these tombs, one belonging to a “Barander” and the other “Korovan, Knight of Vilo-” with the last few letters being worn away.

Hawkins and Tonnen stood in silence with their heads bowed as Graham performed the burial rites. Annag wafted smoke from a set of charred elm bundles over the body of her sister and spoke a few words of her own before holding her hand one last time. After taking a deep breath, Annag covered Catriona’s face with the burial shroud and exited the barrows, quietly sobbing.

Graham approached the pair and ushered them outside, mentioning the fact that they don’t want to be away from town at night for too long. Outside, the moon was bright enough to light the way once the torches were extinguished, and Kahrden softly bounded down the steps from the watchtower. He was moving quickly but not rushing, and something about his demeanor suggested he was doing his best to avoid alarming anyone.

Kahrden and Graham were engaged in a hushed conversation when Hawkins approached them.

“-very recently, from what I can tell. The stench in unmistakeable,” he overheard the hunter say.

“What’s going on?”

The priest and the hunter both turned to Hawkins. Graham drew in a deep breath and pulled Hawkins away from the rest. “Kahrden found signs of goblins in the watchtower. They were in there rather recently, and I trust his judgement on the matter. I suggest we head back to town at all haste.” Not willing to argue the point, Hawkins nodded and made sure Tonnen was keeping pace.

Along their journey back to town, that feeling of being watched was still present, although nobody else seemed to notice or care. In fact, Graham was picking up sticks seemingly at random and discarding a great many before settling on one that fit his unknowable criteria. Much to Hawkins’ surprise, the old priest handed the stick to him.

“Have you ever held a sword before, Hawkins?”

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Weave the threads of fate.