Bandits of the Black Talon
Cedany Watsdoter (aka Crabs)
|Age:||Race||Branch||Weapon||Key possession||Distinguishing traits|
|28||Human||Firebrand||Two-handed sword and bow||A left shoe||Ambitious|
|1. If outmatched, fight only if flight is impossible or to protect others.||1. Unfair power structures are the root cause of all suffering in Althea, and they must be fought.|
|2. If not under immediate threat, bolster security, supplies and relationships.||2. Most Bandits and some rare individuals already understand the state of Althea and what must be done, but everyone can be brought to see the truth.|
|3. If the chance appears, encourage cheer or joy in self and others.||3. Survival trumps all else.|
My name is Cedany Watsdoter. I was born to a turnip farming peasant family. As a child I saw armies come through and destroy our turnips and the crops of our neighbours. Sometimes it was our army; sometimes it was the army of our enemies. There was little difference. The nobles of our region taxed us to the point of desperation, starvation and disease. If we resisted, the knights would come and chastise us with their swords, knives and fire. My brothers and sisters and I bear many scars from these lessons. They would tell us that peasants paid taxes for protection and to honour their lords, but in the cold winters, as army companies scavenged unhindered for food, this seemed laughable. When I was 15, I was seized as “taxes”, when my parents had nothing else left to give, and taken as a servant to the local fort. While I was in the fort I saw the stark contrast between the lives of the knights and merchants and the squalor, poverty and suffering of the peasants and townsfolk. Yet through it all the knights and nobles talked about their honour, their valour, and how wonderful they were for protecting their people. This hypocrisy of the knights rankled: representing honour but acting with so little if it. There was one honourable noble amongst them who was relatively even-handed in his own dealings, but he did not, nor could he, speak out against the greater injustices. I was lucky to be assigned to him, as he was kind, and would speak to me of philosophy and human scholarly delights. Yet even he claimed access to my body as a kind of tax for protection from the other nobles and knights. I made some friends amongst the servants, but particularly with the steward of the fort. She saw in me a daughter lost to a wasting disease years ago. She taught me something of letters, healing and herbs, and I leant a lot of management skills from observing her run a large establishment. Despite these tentative allies, I was not happy with that life, and longed for freedom. So, I secretly stole a sword from a disorganised squire and haphazardly trained with it, mimicking the training I saw the knights undertake. When enemy knights took the fort, I hoped for a moment that they would be a liberating force. Witnessing the slaughter and pillaging that took place, and lucky to find myself alive if beaten and bruised, I was quickly disillusioned. That night I escaped with the sword and a small amount of food and money in the confusion and celebrations, and made for the hills. I skirted the outskirts of my family farm, but found the farmhouse burnt to the ground, my families bodies, broken and burnt, scattered around. Though it was fraught with danger I buried them together in a shallow grave, building a cairn over the top. Then tightening my belt I left the land of my forefathers forever. I travelled carefully, sometimes journeying with gypsies, and sometimes travelling a ways with poachers. This journey forced me to learn more about living off the land and reading strangers’ intensions. I made some lovely friends along the way, some fellow travellers; others landed folk, like farmers, servants and priests. My time in the noble household of my land gave me skills to blend into most company, though little could be done to disguise my servants clothing. I fell in with a band of mercenaries for a while, and learnt more of the knife and sword, but I work for no man or woman, and left shortly afterwards. Inns seemed like a possible place of work and safety, but the reality was less than ideal: violence, sexual assault and indentured servitude were rampant. And killing innkeepers or too many of their customers was liable to attract dangerous attention. I did my best to help people in need as I journeyed. I have a fondness for the innocent and the vulnerable, for small children and cats, and for all mistreated creatures. Innocence is so fleeting, so dangerous and yet I long to protect it. It reached the point where I could no longer accept the hypocrisies and inequalities of our world and its inhabitants! I could not say that all knights, nobles and merchants were hypocritical despots, but my trust and respect needed to be earnt, and earnt hard. I had heard the bards sing secretively of the Bandits of the Black Talon, of their genuine honour and valour, so different to that attributed to nobles and knights. I decided to investigate them, and if they were worthy of my assistance join their ranks. Also, pertinently, I needed to put food in my belly and shoes on my feet, and my other options, as an uprooted peasant woman, were not palatable. Having made my decision I journeyed to Black Talon forest.
The day was closing when I found myself at the edge of Black Talon forest, the soft light of sunset framing an old man sitting on a riverbank near the edge of the forest, so old he seemed to be made of wrinkles. Hearing me approach he turned his cheerful face to me, sharp eyes peering out from between the crumpled skin and proclaimed: “You seem like a strong lass, I have a massive carp on the end of this line! If you help me catch him, we can share his tasty flesh!!” Laughing at his abrupt manner I scooped up the fishing net beside him, waded into the rivers edge and deftly slipped the net around the colossal carp. We decided to set up camp for the night by the riverside. I lit a fire and he began cooking some of the succulent fish he had caught that day. As I smelt it’s delicious scent I grinned: “Can you hear me salivating from your side of the fire, old man?” As he removed the fish from the fire, I pulled out my supplies. Juggling the hot fish flesh, we shared the last of my bread, hot mint tea and a few fresh honey cakes. Later that evening as we lay back beside the fire to look upon the stars, gluttony sated, he sharply proclaimed, “The Bandits you seek have a camp deep in the forest, but beware, they are protected by an unforgiving forest spirit.” Turning my head to gaze at his dark profile against the darker forest I could not see his expression. “I am not afraid of some forest spirit” I boldly exclaimed. “More fool you, Watsdoter” he sighed. “You have been kind to an old man struggling with a hefty fish, and so I will give you some advice: do not eat anything or drink anything of the forest unless you have been accepted by the spirit of the forest.” The next morning I headed into the forest and walked for six days, and could not find the bandits lair, nor could I see any way out of this eerie forest. The forest seemed to be tricking me, shifting trees, rivers and mountains. At last the day came where my food supplies ran out. Despite having become a capable forager and hunter I could find nothing sustaining beyond dappled moss. Then it was once more evening, and I was so tired that I lay down in a thicket and fell asleep. The next day there was an abundance of game, and juicy fruits, luscious mushrooms, and tasty looking tubers were to be seen at every turn. I resisted temptation and continued my search but still no signs appeared that any person other than herself was in these woods. Then it was once more evening, and I was so tired that I lay down in a thicket and fell asleep. The next day passed in much the same manner, and that evening, as I was again about to lie down beneath some bushes, I saw a faint glimmering through the trees, and arose and went towards it. My head was spinning lightly from hunger, and my knees felt weak, but onwards I went. Time and space seemed to shift, and when it stilled I stood in a small clearing, sun shining down warm on my skin, a light breeze heavy with the scent of fresh water making my nostrils flare. On the other side of the clearing was a sight to make the staunchest maiden blush. Lounging in a hot spring were three very attractive, very underdressed men. Their hair was long and glowing with health, their skin looked smooth and stretched across taut muscles. Their eyes gazed suggestively into mine, their lips curling at the ends in welcoming smiles. Their clothes were strewn across the clearing, nobles garb and armour tumbled willy-nilly. But, the paragons of manly allure where not what set my knees a wobble. Piled on trays around the spring were shining apples, ripe strawberries, haunches of roast meat dripping in steaming juices, pots of tea and honey strewn amongst fresh dates, and turnips roasted to perfection. One of the men stood, skin steaming as the hot water ran down his torso, and held a welcoming hand out to me. “Come, join us, soak your worries away, sup with us on this feast, we shall not let the forest spirit harm you. Let us worship you with our bodies, and take you back to our castle, where one of us will take you as our wife to rule over our kingdom,” he crooned. As tempting as the delectable food and offer of comfort were, I hesitated, and as I wavered saw from the corner of my eye a stooped servant carrying soft clothes for drying over to the hot springs. The gorgeous man standing steaming bent down to heft an apple, flinging it at the servant, crying ”Be gone foul servant, this wonderful lady should not see your form.” The two other alluring men in the springs laughed, tipping back their heads revealing the elegant sweeps of their necks. But I was unmoved. All attraction to food, men, and bathing were gone. With righteous rage I sprang forward to the side of the poor servant and cursed the men in the hot spring, calling into disrepute the nature of the parts of them hidden by the water, and the size of their mind. Having been spurned the sumptuous men began hissing and frothing at the mouth. I quickly drew my blade, pushing the poor servant behind me, and was glad, as the men transformed into massive river crabs, and the feast into filthy mud. The claws of the crabs were huge and the clacking shook the branches of the trees around us. I hissed at the servant to run, which he did, stumbling over his own feet in his haste. As I stood there trembling, poised to flee, a voice echoed through the clearing: “You are stubborn, Cedany daughter of Wat.” “If you defeat these horrendous river crabs and then complete the task I set you, I will show you the way to my beloved bandits. However if you flee now or fail my task, you will not live to see another dawn.” The voice was cold as the darkest winter night, and I did not doubt its sincerity. Taking a steadying breath, I assumed what I hoped was a defensive stance. The crabs scuttled quickly towards me, taking aim at my head with their mammoth claws. Ducking and weaving I managed to avoid the first two river crabs, but the third missing my head with his claw, struck a glancing blow to my right shoulder. My sword nearly fell from numb fingers, but I screamed and held tight. With a desperate lunge I was through the scuttling legs and running to the other side of the clearing. Spotting a large elm tree weakened by a lightening strike, I formed and idea. Running around the crabs, I sprinted for the tree. As I leapt up the trunk, relying on years of tree climbing as a child, a giant claw thumped below me, bark flying. I could hear the tree creaking as I clambered out onto a limb stretching into the clearing, my face and arms covered in scratches and cuts from the twigs and leaves. One river crab was attacking the trunk of the tree trying to bring me down, but the other river crabs could see that I was just in reach of their claws if they stood on the tips of their legs. Dancing on the branch, avoiding the claws scoring the branch heavily, I tried to land with all my weight at each leap. Terror was sharpening my already good balance but I needed this to work! With an almighty crack, the tree fell, and I with it, down, down on top of the two river crabs below. Launching myself out of the way of the falling trunk and rolling away from the flailing legs of the trapped foes, I scrambled to my feet to face the remaining river crab. We circled each other, trying to look for a weakness, and as I wiped blood from my eyes I saw an opportunity. Quickly leaning down to the ground I scooped some mud up and flung it at the eye stalks of the river crab advancing on me. Running right at it, ducking blindly waving claws and slashed my sword across the base of his eye stalks, spinning to my right and jamming the point of my sword into the base of it’s primary claw, levering with all my might. It popped out with a gruesome splurt, and I threw myself back out of the way of the wildly thrashing remaining claw. Picking up one of the branches on the ground I used it to protect my head as I moved in to finish the crab. As I pulled my sword from the shell of the last river crab, wiping the goo off on my tunic I heard the voice once more, this time from behind me: “Impressive for a peasant” I turned to find a glowing woman draped over the braches of an oak tree on the opposite edge of the clearing. “Now, to live, you must solve this riddle: 3 peasants are standing in a queue. There are 5 caps available, 3 white and 2 black. Each is given a cap, they cannot see their own, only the ones on the heads in front of them. Each is asked what colour cap they are wearing, each responded in turn: The peasant at the back said “I don’t know.” The peasant in the middle said “I don’t know.” The peasant at the front said “I know what colour my cap is!” What colour was his cap?” I furled my brow and said “Hmmm, easy! His cap was white!” The spirit’s eyebrows soared, exposing the glowing pools of light that served for eye. “Are you sure you don’t want more time to think about it?” she exclaimed. I knew my mind and shook my head. She leapt from the tree, tumbling to her feet in front of me. I recoiled, alarmed by her sudden proximity. She “You have passed my trials and are welcome in this forest, Cedany daughter of Wat. Travel along this creek for a day and you will find the Bandits of the Black Talon.” As soon as she spoke the mood of the forest changed, becoming welcoming and peaceful, and a creek could be heard cheerfully babbling through the trees on the other side of the clearing. I turned as a patch of my favourite mushrooms shot up from the ground in my peripheral vision, salivating out of control. When I turned back around the spirit was gone. After drinking my fill in a nearby stream and eating the mushrooms toasted over a quick fire I followed her directions and finally came across the bandit camp. The bonds of camaraderie I have found in the Bandits of the Black Talon have been a revelation. Peasants, fallen nobles, all are welcome if they will work together for our survival, and for justice, and for the world we hope for. I have honed my fighting and woodsman skills, training with men and women toughened and made experts by hard lives. The tactics we use are not “fair” but our cause is virtuous, and we must fight for our own survival and to bring justice and change!