Last month, the Little Prince, my brother, my dad, and I took a walk in the woods as the expression goes. It did NOT go as planned, but fun was still had despite the equipment issues and the weather turning against us. The rest of the month will be a photo essay, of sorts, of our trip. I hope you enjoy!
And then the Littlest Prince was two
Dear Littlest Prince,
You are two. Such an amazing age. Such an amazing time to be a toddler tornado. You’re a force to be reckoned with your big laughs, big cries, big mischief, big everything, while still in a little package. Don’t worry, though, it’ll all even out in the end. Every day you’re learning and growing. Soon, sooner than we’ll be ready for, you’ll be adventuring through this life like your two big brothers. They certainly are doing a great job setting the example for you to follow.
You are two. It seems like too small number. It can’t really do justice to the amount of growth and life and adventure you’ve already lived. How has it only been two years? Then again, how has it already been two years. Didn’t you just arrive last week? Weren’t you just a newborn the other day? Wasn’t your first birthday yesterday?
You are two. And the last year saw so many firsts for you. Your first trip to mammoth and your first time playing in snow. Your first plane ride, followed quickly by your first night in a hotel, unplanned even as our flights got messed up and we found ourselves stranded in Chicago for a few hours. Your first trip to Kings Canyon, a place that holds almost magical importance to our family. The kingdom is our fictional and literal home. Kings, for a lot of us, is our heart’s home. The mountains may call to us, but that canyon and that river scream at us in thundering echoes, demanding our attention. You have no idea what I’m talking about, but you will.
You are two. And I’m so excited for all the adventures you still have ahead of you. I know they won’t all be easy but the Queen and I and your two big brothers are always doing our best to help guide you along. Well, almost always. I mean, your big brothers adore you of course but they might occasionally work against you. Brothers. So it goes in this kingdom, this circus, this whatever this family is from day to day.
You are two. You are loved. That’s what it comes down to.
May you have a wonderful year.
Love you littlest one.
The Campaign, part 4
It wasn’t a tree, as Dorian had feared, but it wasn’t much better. Zanth led the companions a small alcove, little more than a depression against a rock wall, likely where storm runoff had carved away the ground over the years, but was ideally situated for giving them protection from almost all sides and keeping them hidden through the night. Still, the ground was more damp than not and if a storm passed in the night it could leave them in a tricky spot. Zanth assured him there was no chance of rain. He was almost always right so Malland and Dorian kept their grumbling to a minimum. As it was, they were exhausted and ready to bed down anywhere Zanth said was good enough.
They took turns on the watch and the sun began to warm the horizon without incident, which they were all thankful for. Rifling through their packs they scrounged together enough of a meal to ease their hunger but realized they’d need to hunt or find a town before too long. They’d planned on being home and their packs weren’t exactly overflowing with provisions.
“Alright, what does that rest of that note say?” Zanth asked.
Malland pulled out of his pocket and reread what’d he read the night before. Then continued, “That’s it, except this signature at the end. I think it says ‘Lord Fendall.’”
He passed the note around and Zanth and Dorian both agreed that’s what the signature likely said. Then Zanth asked, “Isn’t he the seat of power for the mountain region west of here?”
“That sounds right,” Malland said. Dorian grunted in agreement.
“Well, that’s settled then,” Zanth stated with a sad smile. “I guess we have to go find out why Lord Fendall wants us captured. I certainly don’t remember running afoul of him recently. Do either of you?”
Both Dorian and Malland shook their heads.
Zanth squinted into the surrounding forest. From where they were stashed only the tops of the nearest trees were visible with just the slightest hint of the warming sky beyond. While he let his gaze drift through the canopy he made a few quick mental calculations and once he was decided he addressed his friends again. “I think there is a town about a day’s journey from here where we can resupply. Let’s head there first and then we can track down Lord Fendall.”
They packed up their gear and Zanth led them back through the dense forest. It was slow going at first but then they came across a game trail, Zanth said it was a likely last used by a bear, and their progress sped up some. They only stopped once, for a brief lunch, before Zanth stopped them as the forest began to thin out. They could see the smoke from home fires drifting lazily into the sky and they could faintly hear the hustle and bustle of small town life. Mothers called to their children. Merchants hawked their wares. It was peaceful and the trio took a moment to soak it in. It was what they’d hoped to come home to the day before. It was a peace they may not know again for quite some time and could easily shatter just by showing their faces in the little town before them.
Zanth asked under his breath, “Ready?”
Dorian and Malland nodded and the three walked confidently forward. As far as they knew, they had nothing to fear in this town. News of what had happened the night before couldn’t have beaten them there. So, there was no need to skulk about, there was no need to be any more cautious than normal.
For a time, it seemed like they wouldn’t have any trouble. Nobody asked them who they were or what they were doing in town. But then they tried to barter for some food to fill their packs and the prices were outrageous.
“Well, what do you expect?” Said one merchant. “Nobody here is going to sell to the likes of you for a decent price. This is food for our neighbors. Selling to you means one of them might go hungry.”
With a sad shake of his head, Zanth pushed Dorian onward. The dragonborn had begun to growl low in his throat and that wouldn’t serve any help in this situation. They would just press on and find someone who would sell to them for a reasonable price or they would find their own food. The last year on the trail had made them quite adept and hunting and preserving. But, seeing as they had a few more gold coins than they’d started the previous night with, it amused all of them to spend Lord Fendall’s gold on the provisions that would help carry them to the man that was trying to hunt them down.
The Campaign, part 3
The sound of the posse grew louder. Torch light splashed on the walls a couple streets over. Zanth pierced the darkness with his elven eyes but couldn’t make out how many were coming yet. There were too many buildings in the way.
“We’ve got nothing to fear,” Dorian growled. “We were in the right here.”
“That’s never been a problem for us before, right?” Malland scoffed.
Dorian chuckled in response. He’d been joking. A Dragonborn, a Tiefling and a Half-Elf, the three friends rarely were given the benefit of the bout, even in their home town. Now that they’d been away for a year and at least one powerful person didn’t want them around anymore, it was hard to see anyone taking their side in this mess.
Zanthalaso sighed and returned his attention to his friends, “Let’s search these fools for some sort of clue and then get the heck out of here. I don’t like what I’m hearing.”
Dorian and Malland how learned to trust the half-elf’s hearing long ago. The three companions quickly stopped and rifled through the pockets of the dead men at their feet. Standing at nearly the same time they all produced the same results, 5 gold coins. Malland was the only exception, not only did he have the gold coins, he also had a note. Catching the light from the moon, he read aloud, “This contract is for the capture, dead or alive, of the Half-Elf known as Zanthalaso, the Dragonborn known as Dorian, and the Tiefling known as Malland.”
“Well, that’s cheery,” Dorian stated flatly.
“Indeed, and now let’s get out of here before we have to find out how many other people in town received the same payment,” Zanth replied.
“There’s a signature here at the bottom,” Malland said, squinting down at the paper in his hands.
“Fine, we’ll look at it later, but can we go? Whether they’ve been paid or not, I have zero interest in spilling the blood of the people I’ve called neighbors.”
Zanth, not waiting for a reply and knowing his friends would follow, turned on his heel and headed away from the coming posse. Dorian and Malland exchanged an amused glance. Malland stashed the contract into a pocket and the two of them followed after their friend.
Dorian whispered, “I’m not sure what he was waiting for anyway. I was waiting for him to take the lead.”
“Right,” Malland agreed. “He doesn’t have to get so upset about it.”
Zanth had only gone a short distance before pausing in the shadow of a building for his friends to catch up. Once the trio were together, Zanth quickly and quietly turned down a side street and began leading them from shadow to shadow until they had reached the outskirts of town. Just as they were about to cross the open field and head into the forest beyond they heard an angry outburst from behind them. “They’ve found the bodies,” Zanth confirmed grimly.
Malland pointed to the forest and said, “Lead on. We’ll follow.”
The half-elf took long, graceful strides into the moonlit field. He was across and had been swallowed by the darkness of the forest before Dorian and Malland were halfway. They weren’t worried, though. Zanth would scout ahead and find the best route and then come back to them and show them where he wanted them to go. It was how they’d spent the last year and they quickly fell back into the routine.
After travelling for an hour, sometimes along game trails and sometimes completely across wild country, they reached a part of the forest that was so dense none of the moon’s light filtered through the canopy. Dorian and Malland stopped short, waiting for their eyes to adjust. Zanth called quietly to them from a short distance ahead, “I’ve found a good place to rest for the night.”
“I bet it is a tree,” Dorian grumbled.
Malland sighed, “I was so looking forward to my bed.”
the campaign, part 2
The three friends finished their next round and the round after that. They said hello to some neighbors they hadn’t seen sense they left. They made small talk with some others in the bar they weren’t as familiar with. They ordered a bit of food and polished the course off with a final round of ale. Mostly, though, they were biding their time. They expected to be ambushed in some fashion leaving Fireside Inn and they were hoping by stalling the four men who wished to cause trouble would grow frustrated and either stalk off or make a mistake when they did try to spring their trap.
An hour or so before dawn, with the sky not yet showing signs of the sun’s approach, Malland, Zanthalaso, and Dorian said their goodbyes and made their exit. They acted drunk, staggering and talking boisterously of their recent exploits, egging each other on, but all the while their swords were loose in their scabbards and their eyes darted here and there. A decent array of stars and a bright moon provided some light but also created an abundance of shadows. Zanth’s elven-vision gave him a slight advantage but none of three wanted to get caught off-guard.
It was Zanth, though, who gave the warning as he spotted the heat signatures of two of the men hiding in a darkened doorway. As one, swords were drawn and the three friends created a circle so they wouldn’t be blindsided. The other two men detached themselves from different doorways and the four advanced on the companions.
“This is a mistake,” Zanth called to them.
“That may be,” their leader replied, an edge to his voice, “but you aren’t wanted here and we’ve been paid to see to it that you leave.”
Dorian said, “There’s a tavern full of people behind us who feel differently, strangers. It’s far more likely that you aren’t wanted in town.”
One of the other men scoffed, “Just look you. Bunch of freaks.”
Dorian growled low in his throat again. Malland closed his eyes long enough to concentrate on casting Darkness. He wasn’t a magic user, but as part of his condition, part of his curse, he had the ability to cast two spells. Zanth, trying one last time to not spill any blood in their hometown, raised his sword at the leader and said, “Whoever has paid you, has paid you only to die. Tell us who it was and we’ll go see them ourselves. You do not need to do this.”
“Yeah, we do,” was all he said before stepping forward with a long sword clutched in his hands.
Malland cast Darkness and a fog pushed away from his circled friends to envelop their attackers. There was a call of surprise from within the fog.
“You obviously haven’t been well informed about us,” Zanth called out.
“They aren’t even wearing armor,” Dorian stated quietly so only his friends could hear him.
With a yellow, half of fear and half of battle rage, the leader burst out of the fog swinging his sword. Dorian easily blocked the strike with his own sword and then turned the block into a strike of his own, slicing through the man’s exposed torso. He went down with a grunt and did not get back up.
The remaining three came out of the fog more cautiously. The last one through saw their leader had already fallen, and immediately turned tail and fled back into the fog. The two who remained exchanged blows with Malland and Zanth. The far more experienced friends easily out-matching the strangers. One fell to Malland’s sword and the other fell to Zanth’s.
The fight over, Malland dispersed the fog with another moment of concentration and a wave of his hand. Zanth and Dorian checked the men they’d fought and came up shaking their heads. All three had died.
“Such a waste,” Zanth said with a heavy sigh.
The friends were just discussing what they should do next when they heard shouting and the sound of many more people headed their direction. The one who’d fled had gone and fetched a posse.