Reynald was only two days ride from his ancestral home; a home he had not seen since he was nine. The weight of his father and brother’s deaths still hung on him, but not as heavily as the realization that he was now Baron of a troubled land that he barely remembered and knew little about.
The small winding road he was on was well-travelled, but Reynald knew that did not mean it was secure. Even in the relatively settled lands of Kaldor, bandits and wild beasts were an ever-present danger. He had just left the caravan he had been travelling with this morning at the crossroads, trusting his training to see him through the short final leg to home.
Only a few hours into what was turning out to be a very nice day, Reynald came around a bend in the road to find himself confronted with quite a spectacle. He advanced slowly, taking in all that he could see, his agile mind plucking conclusions like ripe fruit from the vine.
A small trade caravan lay before him. He could see three wagons, with a few more disappearing around the next bend. The lead wagon had an enormously fat merchant with pig-like features perched atop it, looking down at the scene below him with attempted regality.
To the left and a little in front of the lead wagon was a circle of men- caravan guards by the look of them. Six men with clubs and spears surrounded another man. In addition, there were two more guards laying at the edge of the circle, unconscious or dead, and a third guard clutching a brutally broken arm, making a high-pitched shriek and dragging himself away from the conflict on his butt.
The man in the middle of the circle was quite a sight. An enormous man of obvious barbarian heritage, at first glance you might take him for a bandit that was being repelled by the guards. But, Reynald’s sharp senses knew better. For one thing, the giant was wearing the remains of a cloak that matched the one’s being worn by the guards. For another, he was entirely unarmed. He appeared to be wounded in one arm and possibly somewhere on his torso, but he ignored the wounds, breathing heavily and warily watching the men around him.
The little drama playing out before him didn’t add up for Reynald. Fortunately, he had more at his disposal than just an inquisitive mind. While he approached, Reynald lightly touched a few of the men’s minds. At that, things became clearer. The giant, somewhat simple-minded, barbarian was a new hire and currently being accused of stealing small, but valuable, objects from the caravan. He was being used as a scapegoat by one of the more established guards, and he was defending his innocence… quite strenuously.
From Reynald’s point of view, there were two tragic consequences of the current conflict. The barbarian’s death would be quite a shame- he had extraordinary fighting skills… and he was actually innocent. More to the point, the pig-face merchant was too stupid to realize that letting this fight play out would only sign his death warrant. As far as Reynald could see, the barbarian would likely take out two or three more guards before he was overwhelmed. At that point, they would kill the barbarian even if ordered not to- out of fear and spite if nothing else. Then the caravan would continue, down six or seven guards. It wouldn’t survive the week in these woods, and soon, the baubles the merchant was so worried about would be adorning the fingers of some bandit.
Reynald sighed. Although not quite within the borders of his barony, he was certainly a noble in the kingdom of Kaldor, and it was often a noble’s duty to protect his subjects from their own stupidity.
An hour later, after some quick talk, a few veiled promises and threats, and a forced and somewhat painful confession from the thieving guard in question, Reynald was riding down the road, paced by his new companion, the barbarian called Gryf.
Reynald was pleased with himself. He had settled his first conflict as the Baron of Kobing. His teachers would be proud of the subtlety and skill with which he used his unique gifts. And the barbarian was a fine warrior, and although not too bright, he recognized that Reynald had saved his life and was properly grateful, offering to travel with him and fight by his side should he need it.
Reynald had a feeling he was going to need it.