No Ranger Stands Alone (book)
No Ranger Stands Alone
A Ranger Fable
Scribbled by Snarfers FuzzyFoots Translated by Striderr Slayn
As I can recall it, I was a young Halfling Ranger. Not even the Rank of Scout had I earned yet, but no mere Novice was I. Truth to tell, those days were as they are now. I was more content to spend the day napping lazily in the shade, enjoying the day, watching as Kalika saw fit to harangue Novices, as she is known to do from time to time. At any rate, it was a day like most others. Warm, not overly so, more like the kind that imbues in one a sense of peace, and a desire to nap in the shade beneath a comfortable tree, as I was doing.
Now I knew it wouldn't be long until Kalika turned her attention to me and told me to go find something to do. Truth to tell, I could spend all day lying around and watching Kalika, a lovelier lass I have rarely met, and the few that have surpassed her beauty have also been Elves. Must be the ears. At any rate, I sleepily gathered my things. I blew her a kiss while she was distracted with evaluating the training of yet another novice. It wouldn't do to have her know my feelings for her, but that's neither here nor there as my grand poppy used to say.
Now as it was such a warm day, as I mentioned earlier, and I much more preferred to nap than actually work on my training, as I also mentioned earlier, I thought perhaps I would take a little walk outside the city and find a nice quiet spot in the woods for a nap. The trip to the western gate was quick and uneventful, unless you're the sort that counts dodging piles of Yak droppings, not to mention the caravans themselves, as excitement. Heading out the western gate and through the fields, ignoring all the Novices and their chatter about goblin treasure and the latest rumors of who is receiving preferential treatment from the Guild leaders, I wandered about in search of a quiet spot for a nap, as that was the sort of day it was.
I wasn't all that far from the Gates when I spotted a path I had not seen before and, being young and not at all the sort to shy away from a new adventure or a spot of exploring, I decided I would take a walk down the new path and see what I could see. Besides that I could see in the distance, a very large tree that looked perfect for laying under and having a short nap.
Well, I don't know if it was a longer walk than I first thought, or if the tree kept moving away from me as if a mirage. Trees are known for that sort of trickery you know, but soon enough, as I looked around me, I knew I was lost. Not just lost as in "oh dear, it'll take a little effort to find my way out again". No. Lost. As in "By a Dwarf's beard, I shall never find my way home again!" Nothing to be done for it of, course. Luckily for me I was a ranger, as I mentioned before, and not one to panic.
I admit however, I did scream a few objectionable words at the sky, cursing loudly and soundly the evasive tree I merely sought to nap under, as all good trees are born for.
As it turned out, Screaming loudly in the forest is a bad idea. Especially when one is lost and has no idea where they are either. My screams must have been mistaken by the local wildlife as a mating call as I heard my scream repeated on the wind. At first I thought it was merely an echo, but I quickly realized echoes don't make the bushes rustle, nor the leaves on the trees either. It was to be the first of many realizations I was to make over the next two days.
First things first, I said to myself. The first step was to build myself a little shelter from the quickly approaching darkness. Being a Ranger and all, as I mentioned earlier, I quickly had myself a rather nice lean-to built amongst the trees, just a step or two from the path, in case someone happened by in the night and was kind enough to help me find the way back out. I attempted to light a small fire to stay warm by, and keep away the animals I could hear in the bushes close by.
Notice I say attempted; you would think being lost in the woods as I was, foraging enough dry firewood to build a small fire would be an easy chore. Not bloody likely. It seemed I had managed to get myself not only lost, but lost on a night when the rains were fit to drown a fire had I managed to start one before the rain started anyway.
I awoke the next morning tired, hungry, cold, stiff, from sleeping on the ground, and wet, from sleeping in the rain. It seemed my hastily constructed lean-to was not up to withstanding the winds that came with the rains during the night. Gathering my equipment, I decided to strike out in the general direction I had come from, hoping it would lead me back to a familiar area. I don't know if I was disoriented by lack of sleep, or if all the trees in the forest had decided to rearrange their normal positions, as they tend to do for amusement from time to time; but after several hours of wandering and hollering for help, I was still lost, only more so than before. Luckily I had yet to actually see any of the local wildlife I could hear sneaking through the brush to either side of the trail I was following.
Not very long after I had that thought (actually right after I had that thought), I heard the rustling in the bushes next to me grow louder, and a snarl that can only be described as the sound of someone dragging their fingernails across a piece of slate. You know the sound, the one that makes every muscle in your body tense up, and makes you grit your teeth, and make you want to make noises that sound something like "nngghhh nngghhh! nngghh!"
As I spun to face the source of the sound, I had just enough time to see something very large, brown, and furry leap out of the bushes and smack me square in the chest, knocking me to the ground. It then bounded off to the side of the trail, and sitting there, as if daring me to move. Well, this creature obviously had never met a Halfling nor a Ranger before, We are both well known for our ability to hide when necessary. In a flash I crawled off the path and into a largish bush nearby.
Well...perhaps this creature had seen a Halfling or a ranger before, as it just sat there; and with a maniacal glint in it's eye, made a strange grunting noise as if it were snickering at me! I, of course, knew it was time to make a stand against this creature. I just hoped it wouldn't be my last. Stepping from hiding, I quickly drew my broadsword and said to the creature, "you may want to call for some help, you nasty, vile, scruffy looking whatever you are! For you shall soon die!"
This of course was a mistake, as the creature quickly and loudly let loose with a warbling cry that was immediately answered by similar cries from not very far away.
Waving my broadsword in the air, I quickly closed on the creature, only to be knocked off my feet by a solid hit as it leapt into the air and, once again, smacked me in the chest. The creature circled around me, making strange chirping noises as if it were giggling at me. I managed to jump to my feet and I faced the creature as it circled me. There we were, circling and circling on the trail, when suddenly, the creature was distracted by some noise.
Never being one to not take advantage of a situation I quickly attacked the creature, stunning it. I followed up with another strike and the creature fell, at my feet, dead. Not wanting to waste anything from the kill, I quickly skinned the creature and stuffed its' pelt into my backpack. No sooner had I stood upright again, another of the creatures struck me in the back, once again knocking me back to the ground. I believe this to be their preferred method of fighting. Swiftly regaining my feet, I looked about for the source of this new attack and saw not one, not even two, but three of these cowardly creatures.
I screamed loudly and rushed headlong into battle.
My scream must have distracted the creatures as I landed a killing blow on one of the creatures. The other two displayed some basic intelligence and attacked me together, knocking me to the ground and my broadsword from my hand. I cannot recall how long I lay on the ground suffering blow after blow, as I tried to fight back as best I could having only my hands and feet to use as weapons.
It seemed like hours, but must have only been a few minutes, when suddenly it seemed as if they had grown bored with this sport and as if one, they jumped back into the bushes and scurried away. I managed to drag myself to my feet, and after regaining my broadsword, began to assess myself for damage. There was a lot of it. My hunting leathers were in shreds, and my skin underneath wasn't far from it, either. I painfully foraged up a few roots and herbs, and putting them in the cooking pot that also doubled as my helm. I once again set about making a fire, with more success this time.
Once I had the fire going I quickly made myself a poultice of the roots and herbs and applied it to my wounds. Agony is all I can say to describe the feeling I had as the poultice did its job. Pure, unrelenting, unadulterated agony. I think I may have gotten a couple of items in the recipe wrong, but how was I to know? I'm a Ranger not an Empath, I told myself.
Exhausted, I sat next to the fire and waited for the next attack to come from the creatures I could still hear in the bushes. I didn't have to wait long. I think they may have been discussing strategy as the same two that had run away from me before were now back. And with lots of help as well. Once again I screamed and charged into battle and once again they quickly knocked me off my feet, disarming me in the process. They began to pound on me with their forelegs, striking me again and again and causing a great deal of damage not only to what remained of my armor but to me as well. I couldn't bear it any longer, I wailed in agony from the blows I was receiving, and from the burning of the poultice I had applied earlier. I don't know what it was about the noise, but it actually caused them to stop beating me. They all drew back as if unsure what to think of the sounds I was making.
Seizing the moment, I began to wail louder, gibbering and moaning in a combination of fear, pain, and rage. They retreated far enough for me to retrieve my broadsword, and grab my cooking pot/helm, that was still suspended above the fire. Fortunately I was wearing my heavy leather gloves, so I didn't burn my hands on the helm. Unfortunately, in my haste, I neglected to empty the helm before putting it on. I was soaked in hot water and the remainder of my crude poultice managed to get into my eyes.
I began to scream again, louder this time, and that was enough to force the creatures into a full retreat. If I hadn't been in such pain it would have been comical to watch these creatures scrambling, falling, and climbing all over each other, trying to get away from me. Ignoring the pain coming from every fiber in my being I threw myself into battle. I fought with every last reserve of my strength and managed to kill most, but not all of the creatures. Those few that remained limped and crawled away as best they could, and quickly disappeared once again into the brush.
As best as I could, I gathered more wood for my fire. It would be dark soon and hopefully the fire would help to keep the creatures away during the night. That night I slept not at all, sitting with my back towards the fire so the creatures wouldn't attack me from behind, and attempting to convince myself to apply what remained of the poultice to my new wounds.
Morning came early, and so did the return of the creatures. They must have learned a lesson or two from the previous day as they now had dozens of friends to help kill me. I slowly stood, drew my broadsword, and prepared to die. I can't recall how long I stood fighting that morning but I do recall many, many, creatures still facing me. Finally I dropped my broadsword and fell to the ground in exhaustion, two tall shapes leaping from the brush behind me. I also recall the scent of flowers, like my mother grew when I was young. I knew I had died, or was so close to it. It no longer mattered. I also recall the twanging sound of two bows being loosed, and the sound of two arrows hitting their targets.
I drifted between a netherworld of consciousness and unconsciousness, still smelling those flowers, and hearing voices drift around me saying things like, Is he dead?" "My, look at all of them! He must have really ticked someone off" "They're running, keep firing" "I have him covered, kill the blasted things" "Better grab him, I'm running low on arrows," "take mine, you can cover us on the way out" and then I felt myself being lifted, and again I smelled those flowers, and the sensation of movement, the wind and the sun on my face.
I regained consciousness once, but it was like waking from a dream, the sun in my eyes giving a halo to the face of the rescuer carrying me. An Elf. A female Elf. I was in love. "Hodierna! Am I dead?" I heard myself asking. Then I once more succumbed to the darkness.
I can dimly recall moving from the sunshine and wind into a tunnel or something of that nature. Now as I am a Halfling, I would normally have welcomed the safe, enclosing, comforting solidity of the dirt around me. However, given the state I was currently in, it was not a good feeling at all to go from the outdoors to the indoors. I can also recall voices. A male's voice --Hard in tone, spoken quietly with a force that would guarantee being heard, even as a whisper. A female's voice --Melodious, warm, gentle and caring. I can't recall exactly what the voices said. I do recall they were extremely agitated about something.
I also recall more sounds of battle, the painful snarl of the creatures in the darkness, and the sounds of the male -- cursing as he stumbled about, trying his best to fight these creatures in the near darkness. I also recall being placed on something hard and slightly damp and being pushed in to a very uncomfortable position, as if someone had hidden me on a ledge or in a crevice in order that they might join in the battle. I regained my senses briefly once, and saw by torchlight the creatures dancing in the shadows, the male waving his broadsword to keep the creatures at bay, already a few dead or dying at his feet. I also saw the female, or rather the back of her head. Her bow at the ready, guarding me yet on the lookout for a clear shot to help her companion, her hair spilling over her shoulders and gleaming in the scant torchlight. "Hodierna!" I cried out.
Once again, my consciousness left me.
When I awoke the next time, I was in the Crossing Infirmary. All around me were people crying in pain. Empaths were running in frenzied directions fetching herbs and potions and healing the wounded. It was utter bedlam as it still is today. Slowly and carefully I turned my head to see, two rangers, judging by their dress, and the fact they were both wearing longbows, slung across their backs in Ranger fashion. A Human male, and an Elven female, both were conferring with an Empath in hushed tones. As I turned to get a closer look at them I let out a cry of pain causing them both to whirl about. "Ah! He's awake finally" said the male. "Poor little guy" the female added.
I looked closely at them, and scratched my head. "Are you the ones who rescued me?" I asked. "Yep, that was us." replied the male. He held out his hand and I shook it as he continued, "They call me Striderr, as well as other things from time to time," He said as he winked at me. "This lovely lady here is Wispra, a friend of mine, and now of yours as well I'd imagine." "I'm Snarfers, Snarfers FuzzyFoots" I replied weakly, "but my friends call me Snarfy and I believe you two can call me that as well."
"Tell Me Snarfy, why did you call me Hodierna?" Wispra asked me kindly. I blushed and squirmed about, as I'm known to do when asked for answers I really don't want to give, took a deep breath, and replied looking Wispra squarely in the eyes, "I thought I was dead and I knew I wasn't but I knew I wasn't quite yet safe and I looked up and saw a halo around your face and I have this thing for Elves and I thought you were Hodierna and she's my patron and I thought I was going to die again then everything went black and I'm hungry."
Wispra just chuckled and patted me on the head, "Well, don't worry about that, Striderr's gone to get you something to eat. Hodierna is a fine patron as well as a fine example of Elven kind, and you're a cute little guy and all. I'm flattered but I'm also married, sweetie."
I just blushed and squirmed even more as Striderr returned with a bag full of what turned out to be lemon and herb tarts, my favorite. He tossed one to me which I, shamelessly, began to devour and set the bag down next to me. Since I was starving, so much so I had forgotten my manners and hadn't even voiced a thank you, I went through most of the bag before long and stopped stuffing myself long enough to see Wispra stand up and hug Striderr. She said she had to meet someone. She kissed me on the cheek before leaving. Striderr sat on the examining table with me and we talked a bit about what had happened.
He tossed me a pair of Gweths. "Here, In case you get lost again" he said. "I wasn't lost" Striderr chuckled and said, "I know, you were just exploring right?" "Well, maybe I was lost, but only a little!" "You were lost in the old abandoned hunting preserve." He said. "Hardly anyone goes in there because it's so easy to get lost. When Wispra pointed out the smoke to me I thought it best we come and check it out." He grinned at me. "By the way that was a smart idea to light that signal fire."
I blushed and said, "uhmm it wasn't a signal fire, I just couldn't find anything other than greenwood for the fire to keep those creatures away during the night. I didn't have time to put it out when I woke up." I blushed again.
He stopped to think that over and he chuckled to himself a bit shaking his head slightly from side to side as if he were pondering the combination of luck and the gods.
In as calm and solemn voice I could manage, as is my habit when speaking of important matters, I told him "You are now my friend. I owe you my life and I will someday return the gift of it that you have given me."
"No need to, Snarfy. As you've said I'm a friend and I know you'd have done the same for me." He stopped for a moment thinking, "But, there is one thing I will ask of you. Help other rangers. Do what Wispra and I have done for you. Ask Kalika about the ranger oath sometime." He chuckled to himself, tickled me in the ribs and added, "Once you and the other novices stop drooling over her. She is a married woman, you know."
I blushed, mightily embarrassed that he should know of my feelings for Kalika. I think he knew what I was thinking as he just gave me a lopsided grin and said, "Don't worry, I think all male novices get a crush on Kalika when they join the guild." "One day remind me to take you up to Langenfirth to see how the females react to Tolle." He gave me another lopsided grin and waved before darting out the door and disappearing into the crowd.
I saw him again, though never predictably. I kept my promise and helped other Rangers and in turn was helped by still others. It was through this that I learned the true meaning of his request. Though the Ranger is a solitary person we are drawn together in a common purpose and desire. We may spend most of our time in solitude, but no ranger stands alone.