Northern Kerrandi, Whisperwood,
Spring, 11th Day of Promised Journeys, 4,028th Cycle
The half-elf Warden, Ezra Two-leaf, was awakened in the middle of the night by the sounds of caravan guards yelling.
Ezra looked around and saw caravan guards and Trylos, the half-folk caravan master, moving about with torches in hand yelling for Tomas. Ezra remembered that Tomas was one of three merchants travelling with the caravan back to the capital city.
Ezra walked to where the others had formed a circle around something on the ground they were all looking at.
What Ezra saw was horrifying.
There was blood everywhere near the side of the dirt road, just a few paces from the edge of the treeline. Ezra could see what appeared to be bits and pieces of a man’s body; a torn arm and a large piece of flesh lying in the middle of the pool of blood. A bloodied trail led into the thick woods.
“It’s Tomas,” Trylos said. “I recognize the ring on that finger.”
“This is the work of Wildclaw,” a nearby guard stammered in fear.
“Aye,” another guard added. “It’s said that Wildclaw is the fiercest bear in all the North.”
“And that he’s rabid and has gone mad because of it,” a third guard said.
“Rabid or not, this Wildclaw must be dealt with,” Trylos said. “or, he’ll keep hunting us down as we make our way through the Whisperwood.”
“Perhaps I can help find Wildclaw and hunt him down,” Ezra offered. The others looked at the half elf like he had gone mad.
“We know you’re a Warden and all,” Trylos began to say. “And that you supposedly slew an Owlbear in the Northwoods with a single arrow while running. But even this rabid bear might be a bit more than you can handle. I can double the watch from here on. We should be leaving Whisperwood before sunset tomorrow. I can ask Commander Voors of Northguard Castle to send his best hunters to put an end to Wildclaw once and for all.”
“And risk more lives?” Ezra offered. “Send one of your best guard with me and I—”
“I’ll go with the Warden,” a nearby voice said.
Everybody turned to see a man dressed in steel corselet and a chain hauberk standing nearby. A large greatsword was strapped to his back. He held a loaded crossbow in both hands. His dark brown hair was tied in intricate braids popular with the warriors of Paelas, the kingdom to the south. He looked to be in his late thirties but had the build of a younger man.
“Ah, Javis Storm,” Trylos said. “So good of you to offer your services considering the amount I pay you to help protect this caravan.”
“So what’s your story?” Ezra asked in a voice above a whisper as Javis and he followed the bloody trail deeper into the woods. The twins moons offered enough light for Ezra to see by, but he knew Javis would have a tougher time seeing in the dark. “They say you’re a wanted man back in Paelas.”
“What business of it is yours?” Javis asked with a hint of disdain.
“I suppose not much,” Ezra said. “But seeing as I am a Warden, it is my job to know the whereabouts of all the wanted criminals in the Tri-Kingdoms. What, exactly, was your crime?”
“I murdered someone,” Javis said matter-of-factly.
Ezra regarded Javis closely and of how he stated his crime without a hint of remorse in his voice.
“I don’t believe you.”
“Because murderers don’t go about risking themselves by protecting caravans,” Ezra said as he crouched down to inspect a small game trail. “Murderers would be more willing to protect a fat merchant, or a tyrannical lord against assassins perhaps, but not a caravan. That’s more responsibility than a murderer would want to take on.”
“Are you certain you’re a Warden and not a sage?” Javis asked.
Ezra smiled. He pointed to a large part of the forest which opened up to the blue sky above. The trees were more spread out while thickets dotted spaces in between the trees. The Whisperwood lived up to its namesake here. Ezra suspected enchantments, but he wasn’t certain. The forest seemed to absorb sounds around him. Even at night, a forest is rarely quiet. The constant droning of crickets, wolf howls, and the occasional hoots of a night owl all breathe life into a forest long after the sun has set. But in the Whisperwood, those sounds are but soft murmurings, which gave the forest a haunted quality about it.
The pair made their way through the forest. When Ezra spotted the remains of a large ancient tree which grew into twisted formations around several other smaller pine trees, the half elf decided to climb to get a better vantage view.
Javis stayed on the ground and carefully scanned the dark forest for any sign of the rabid, Wildclaw.
When Ezra reached the top, he readied an arrow and looked around.
Below him, he could see the skeletal remains of what must have been the largest giant to have ever lived. It’s bones were now petrified, but when it lived, the giant must have stood some forty feet in height!
In his youth, Ezra had heard campfire tales about beings taller than giants that once existed on Terramyth, but he thought the stories were simply that, tales used to scare young children like him.
A slight movement on the other side of the giant’s remains caught Ezra’s attention.
From inside a large bush, Ezra spotted Wildclaw. The bear tried to blend into the bushes, but Ezra’s keen eyesight, a gift from his elven side, allowed him to catch sight of the hiding bear.
Suddenly he spotted Javis moving towards the bear’s position. At the same moment, Wildclaw burst out of the bushes and charged straight at the sellblade.
Javis quickly raised his crossbow and fired, but his aim was too high. The bolt flew past the charging bear.
Wildclaw came up to Javis and raised itself up to its full height of nearly eight feet!
With a roar that may have sounded like thunder had the forest’s enchantment not quelched it, Wildclaw took a powerful swipe at Javis.
The sellsword barely avoided a deadly rake that would have gutted him.
Javis dropped his crossbow and drew his greatsword. He then swung at Wildclaw, cutting it across its side.
Ezra let loose an arrow that grazed the bloodthirsty bear.
Wildclaw took another swipe at Javis. The sellblade tried to counter the bear’s attack but was raked across his corselet instead. One of bear’s claw tore through the steel armor, drawing blood!
For what seemed like an eternity the three fought on.
At one point, Javis was struck again by the feral bear. Meanwhile, Wildclaw managed to sustain enough damage that would have felled a lesser bear.
Just when it seemed that Wildclaw was about to strike at Javis, Ezra fired an arrow that struck the rabid bear in the back.
The arrow buried itself up to its fletching.
Wildclaw’s legs gave way. With a roar of anguish, Wildclaw, the great rabid bear of Whisperwood fell over and died.
Ezra climbed back down and made his way to the wounded sellblade sitting on the ground next to the slain bear.
The half elf examined Javis’s wounds. “You’ll live to fight another day,” Ezra said.
When the two emerged out of the woods, the others from the caravan quickly ran up to them.
Trylos could see the bloodstains on Javis. “Well, what of the bear?” the half-folk caravan master asked.
“Wildclaw is dead.” Ezra said. “Javis here fought bravely. Without his help, Wildclaw would still live to hunt these woods.”
Javis placed his hand on the half elf’s shoulder. “It was Ezra who slew the bear with a shot from his elven bow. He is the bearslayer!”
Suddenly everyone in the caravan began to chant the word, “Bearslayer” as they congratulated both Warden and sellsword for their deed.
As Javis started to walk away to find a place to rest and heal, Ezra stopped him.
“Is it true what they say about you?” Ezra asked.
“What do they say?”
“They say you once served in Shadowhall’s City Watch. But you were caught in bed with the wife of your captain. And because of that you escaped execution and fled to Kerrandi.”
Javis’s silence was answer enough for Ezra.
“Was she worth the risk of dying?” Ezra asked.
Javis stared back at the half elf. His eyes spoke volumes.
“Trust me, she was worth the risk.”