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Winter Wonderland

A Winter Stroll | Valjier Town

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The buzzing of workers filled the early morning, the sun just cresting over the first snow capped trees and bathing the frontier town in a pale light. Men and women alike trudged through slush as they loaded box after box onto the tall, spike wheeled carts which were lined up just outside the town proper. The winds were shallow, keeping the biting cold at bay but whistling the tale of weather to come. "Ten more minutes! Not a second longer!" A young man yelled, his expensive fur and wool attire marking him at a glance as one of the merchants which had commissioned this caravan. Frankly, Kurt couldn't wait to be away from Valjier Town - he had lived here all his life, and not once had he ever gotten used to the cold. His physical traits played some part in that, underneath his bulky winter clothing was a frame which struggled to put on weight; tall and thin his body lacked any natural insulation and he was prone to bouts of shivering even while bundled up. 

Kurt had organized this whole expedition, gathering like minded sons and daughters of Valjier merchants and pooling their resources to make a baggage train to greener, in this case quite literally, pastures. Kurt himself was the son of an apothecary, part doctor and part merchant Kurt had little doubt his wares and his skills would be far more valuable in Union City then they were in Valjier. It was foolish to venture out just as winter was beginning, but the pressure the parents of his conspirators were putting on had caused some to second guess. Better to force their hand and leave then allow them to be swayed by debates throughout the harsh winter. 

"The flyers we put out garnered some interest, but do you think we have enough guards?" A portly woman asked Kurt, her chubby cheeks bright red from the cold.  Kurt put a hand on her shoulder, smiling wide - a gesture that made his features look slightly predatory. "I assure you, we have nothing to worry about." Empty platitudes, every word. Kurt had no skill or understanding for warfare, and had minimal experience on the road. He had hired the first guards who had arrived, assuming any who offered was capable - a risky proposition when lives were on the line, but if it worried Kurt at all he showed none of it.


Vaasa wiped the rapidly freezing tears from her eyes, waving one final goodbye to her father standing in the doorway to the only home she had ever known. Barely five feet tall and wrapped tight in a green cloak Vaasa looked quite amusing as she trudged through the snow toward the shoveled path, the staff at her side working as a walking stick to help her pull her way through the snow banks. Slung over her shoulder was the sling bag which held all her travel possessions, a few books, a few changes of clothes and the considerable wealth her friends and family had pooled to help her on her travels. 

Eventually she made it to the cobblestone road, her boots and staff clicking on the stone as she made haste toward the caravan; she did not want to be late! Her rapid movement caused her cloak to billow, catching the light wind and slowing her movement as she struggled to keep her hood on. A part of Vaasa couldn't wait to be away from the harsh weather, even if she had never actually seen anything else - just once she'd like to wear a light dress, rather then the layered dress and thigh high boots she wore now; to say nothing of the massive fur lined cloak. 

"Ah, Vaasa!" A voice called out as she arrived at the caravan, her eyes meeting Kurt's as she searched for the source. "Lovely as ever, I see." Kurt teased, his wolf like expression always making Vaasa a bit uncomfortable. There weren't many girls in her and Kurt's age group, and he had always over played his compliments and advances. Of course, his interest in her had been what allowed her to hitch a free ride on the caravan he had been planning for months, so it wasn't without it's benefits. "Kurt." Vaasa replied, inclining her head. Her voice was unusual, with a raspy scratch and a deeper tone then her appearance would suggest. "Where can I put my things?" Vaasa suspected he would suggest his carriage, but to her surprise he motioned her toward one of the passenger carriages. "You will have to share with the guards, I hope that is okay?" Kurt asked, his predatory gaze fading to the more business like expression he often wore. Vaasa nodded in reply, climbing into the large carriage and setting her bag under the bench seat. "We will be leaving in ten minutes, make yourself comfortable." With that Kurt shuffled off back to his duties, leaving Vaasa alone in the carriage. 

Removing her hood Vaasa stroked her long dirty blonde hair, trying her best to make it presentable after the wind had tasseled it. Free of her hood Vaasa's features became apparent, with her softly pointed ears poking out from her thick, dark blonde hair. Her facial features were unusual for the region or a half-elf in general, the high cheek bones and small nose noted of the race were present but they were joined by full lips and downward angled eyes with heavy lids, giving her an appealing mixture of the elf and human which Vaasa had little interest in flaunting. 

Her hair settled Vaasa rummaged through her cloak, removing a pair of simple, thin round framed reading glasses. Soon a book was pulled from her pack and her legs pulled up onto the bench seat, her heels tight to her backside and her thighs being used as a rest for the large tome which she absorbed herself in, the rest of the world and it's distractions fading into the background as her mind focused. 

@Vilhardt @The Courier @AngryCacti @Moon Owl

Edited by Winter Wonderland

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Valjier was a frozen wasteland. The only things that could thrive were the insects living inside the dead trees and the trees that were slowly dying. And of course the snow mongrels which prowled about in the dead woods, and the pockets of civilisation. Even in such dread circumstances, life seemed to find a way regardless.

 

Aelene had come for the payout and the experience. Money was money, and she quite frankly enjoyed the unpredictability of adventure. Moreover, the nature of this journey was that it allowed plenty of time for her to rest and meditate while the convoy was not under threat.

 

She came equipped with a small satchel containing her wand and various pieces of reading material. Over a layer of tightly woven woolen robes that plastered her skin like bandages, she wore a heavy knee-length snow coat and a full-face snow mask to shield her from the blistering cold. As the various townsfolk were preparing to set off on their journey, she approached the main storage carriage. Peeking inside, she found several rows of peoples’ personal belongings compressed in luggages and boxes. Climbing inside, she weaved between the various items and found the ladder to the roof. With gloved hands wrapped tightly around the cold steel rungs, she climbed up to the top of the carriage. The higher ground gave her a greater view of the entire caravan, something which would come in handy for surveillance. Settling onto a comfortable flat portion of the roof, she crossed her legs and sat, putting her satchel down by her side. She began to meditate.

 

For now, all was at peace in the world around her. She knew with relative certainty that it wouldn’t last, but she relished every second of it nonetheless.

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8gZv52f.jpgStepping out from his lodging, the brisk morning breeze served to awaken Larian's slumbering senses. He stood a moment, soaking in the surroundings while inhaling the refreshing air before determined steps began to carry him onward. He pulled his hood down and did his best to cover himself with his long black coat, using it as a shelter from the frost. A small distance away, people were busy running back and forward, packing and supplying the caravan with cargo and other necessitates for the journey ahead.

The caravan consisted mostly of merchants that sought to seek their fortune in Union City. There were some other civilian passengers that had manage to hitch their way along for the journey. Guess each of them had their own reasoning for wanting to travel from Valjier Town to the much larger Union City. While he could not really blame them for wanting to relocate from the small town, there was something peaceful about the simple life he had witnesses during his stay. 

He would not have minded staying for a bit longer before having to depart again.

Knowing that the road to Union City might be perilous and an attractive target bandits, the organizers had put out notices for caravan guards to attend them during their travel. It was fairly low risk work, a nice change from the usual more treacherous work. Thus Larian had signed on as a guard. As he had initially suspected, not many had offered their service in the defense of the caravan.

It was understandable, for to travel such a distance during winter was not common for a reason. Many things can go wrong traversing the land in such climate. The wolves were especially hungry this time of the year and while they likely not attack a caravan, starvation could make them bold.

However, he hoped that the trip would prove uneventful.

Arriving at the wagons, he greeted the workers and made his presence known to his employer, a merchant called Kurt. He was informed that they were just about to depart and thus without delay Larian proceeded to enter the carriage that had been designated to him and the other guards. Entering he noticed that someone had arrived before him, however it was not one of the other guards. While he had not spoken much with the other guards, he had at least been able to greet them if only briefly prior to their departure. 

He glanced over towards the woman while unpacking some personal belongings and finding a suitable place for his two-handed steel sword. It served as tools of his trade, thus he had taken care of oil the blade properly and wrapping the edge in a thick layer of fur covered leather in order to protect it from the cold.

For what use is a guard wielding a dull blade? 

After settling in briefly his attention shifted more towards the woman, who surely had noticed his entrance however seemed somewhat occupied by the large book that she had placed in her lap. He contemplated the reason for her to have been placed in the same carriage as the guards, perhaps she was there to supervise them on behalf of their new employer? From how little mind she seemed to have given him until now, he thought it unlikely. 

"I'm Larian, I've been hired to ensure the safety of the caravan until we reach Union City." He paused a moment, watching for any reaction from her in response to his words. 

"May I ask who you are? If we are to travel in the same carriage, we will surely find comfort in each others company to pass the time." He made an effort to smile towards the woman. It would serve them both to get off on the right foot, after all. 

Edited by Moon Owl

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“Oi!” A man raised a hand in a half wave to the convoy leader as he walked through the loading areas as fast as the icy slush would let him. 

He was dressed in a oversized, patched jacket of indiscernible color that was padded with as many layers as he could comfortably fit underneath. His boots were made of old, waterproofed leather and came up almost to his knee in order to stay above the winter snows. Unlike the merchants, there were no fine furs or special fabrics on his person. He had a thick, blue, wool scarf wrapped around the lower part of his face. It helped shield his skin from the cold and had the added effect of muffling his words just enough that he had to raise his voice to be heard over the surrounding commotion.

“Good mornin’, sir.” He held out a hand in greeting. Whether or not Kurt took it, he continued. “I’m Ainsworth- we met earlier. I’m reporting in for the job before we head out.”

It was good to be back on the road. It wouldn’t be much longer before the winter blocked the roads from Valjier and the only way north was the pricy ticket of an airship seat. The snows were weeks away at best. A busy convoy was a familiar and welcome sight for him. He had made the mistake of getting trapped in town last winter and wasn’t keen to repeat the experience this year.

The guard carriage was already filling with people when Ainsworth arrived. He swung his pack off his shoulder with a grunt. The bag was a lumpy, canvas affair with a flap at the top and straps for his bedroll at the bottom. It was as old and patched as his jacket was, but with less pockets and more stains. There were already two people talking inside the wagon, though Ainsworth didn’t recognize the girl. He hopped up into the wagon and threaded past them, offering a muffled, “Mornin,” in order to stash his bag under a free shelf and retreat out into the cold again. 

The wind tousled his hair and blew a few strands that had escaped his low ponytail into his face. Outside, against the side of the wagon, there wasn’t much to break up the weather. Above the edge of the scarf, his ears- human- were turning pink with the cold. He rubbed his hands together until some feeling returned to his fingertips then snapped a few times until a small flame materialized, hovering above his palms. He cupped his hands around the spark and sighed as a bit of warmth seeped through his threadbare gloves. Idly, he glanced about to see if any others were coming while still keeping an ear on the surrounding conversations. The convoy was bound to leave soon, but surely they weren’t the only guards for a procession of this size.

X

Edited by AngryCacti

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 A frosted thistle held steadfast, numbing the pain across his gum line on this brisk day as Fitz hurriedly bundled wood and piled it into the caravan. He swept the sweat from his brow as he finished preparation for departure, fervently and without question, the dirty bear fur matting down against his brutish figure as it draped across his chest. There was no mistaking this man as a merchant, no, instead he held the tells of a woodsman. His face was weathered by the cold, cracked and red. His long brown hair held together by a band around the back, growing into a curly reddish goatee which crept across his cheeks. Most would have thought that the man was in his late thirties, and they weren't to blame, but the caravan all knew him as the young man Fitz, a hard working lad who had been orphaned by an older couple at a young age.

 What really caused him to stand out was his smile. It was warm, innocent, and still showed the essence of youth, complimenting his age of twenty-one. He spent his last few minutes with a group of children, laughing gleefully with them and bidding them farewell. The youngest two, a set of twins, were scooped into his strong arms and kissed on their red cheeks. The girls giggled, coming to a halt as he set them down, their sad eyes begging him to stay from behind their ginger locks. The oldest of the children, a boy of only twelve, handed him a gift. A poor mans violin, known amongst gypsies as a Hurdy Gurdy.

 "Pa wanted you to have this."

 The lad Mathew explained, giving Fitz the instrument. He took it with pride, and warmth in his heart, and said his goodbyes.

 "Take care of your sisters. I'll be home before next winter with medicine for the old man.... Be strong, I love you."

 Mathew teared up, losing his strong posture; the girls exploding into sorrow as Fitz said goodbye. He let out a hefty sigh before nodding in affirmation that he had to go; wrapping his new instrument in cloth and stashing it beneath his pelt. The band of merchants were prepared to leave, trying to hurry him onto a convoy. He hadn't been hired on as a body guard per say, but Kurt had requested that a huntsman accompany the caravans, and as an apprentice, it fell on Fitz to oblige. In honesty, most of the merchants had requested him by name, or the nickname they had given him two years prior. 'Hero'. It was cliche, but Fitzroy had grown into it. He had saved a large haul of livestock from a rabid bear, the one who's pelt he wore abroad, saving three elder huntsman and two children. The bear had pinned Fitz, sinking it's teeth into his left shoulder, and Fitz had sunk an axe into its throat, or so the story went.

 Either way, here he was, trudging through the slosh towards his escort. An odd fellow played with flames affront, and Fitz raised a brow, nodding in greeting as they passed. He noted another unfamiliar face nested atop the main caravan, surely another hire on, and when he entered inside he spotted two more people. First was Vaasa, an unexpected sight, but a familiar one. Her father was a woodsman himself, and Fitzroy had worked under him a few times, learning the valuable skills he offered the lad. Still, it had been years since he had seen her last. Quietly, Fitzroy took a seat beside her, keeping his space as he shifted a curved hand axe to the other side of his belt. 

 "Pardon me.. Hope I'm not intruding."

 Fitzroy apologized, looking and nodding at Larian as he extended his hand, having missed his previous introduction.

"Name's Fitzroy. Fitz for short. Please hold the bastard jokes.. I've heard em all."

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Her focus did not last long. 

The first guard to grace her presence was an outsider, not in the same way Ainsworth was an outsider - foreign but familiar, a man she had seen around town though she knew he was not native. No, Larian was all together new; not least of which was his heritage, his large ears standing prouder then her half breed ilk. Vaasa closed her book as the man spoke, his line of questioning innocent enough Vaasa flashed him a soft smile, returning his effort at being friendly. "Vaasa Hweilan, i'm a local hitching a ride on my journey to Umbra." Vaasa said, though any further discussion was first interrupted by the aforementioned Ainsworth, stashing his equipment before heading back out into the harsh weather. 

Fritz followed shortly thereafter, Vaasa had known Fritz most of her life and while they were not 'friends', after all Fritz was a few years older, that did not change that he was a familiar face and a man her father seemed to trust. His presence calmed Vaasa some, there was some trepidation in being in a carriage full of strange, armed men. Plus, Fritz was a 'Hero'. Vaasa stifled a soft chuckle as she thought about the nickname as the large man squeezed his way into the carriage and took a seat on the same side of the bench as her. The nickname wasn't without merit, his action was heroic - it was just such a grandiose assertion, it was hard not find amusement in it when looking at the friendly bruiser. 

"No intruding at all, Fritz. A friendly face is always welcome." Vaasa said, her tone a little brighter and friendlier then it was with Larian. Vaasa wondered exactly why Fritz was tagging along, she couldn't imagine the man leaving the village and his 'sibiling's' behind - at least not without good reason. A part of her wanted to blurt out the questions that plagued her mind, but while Fritz was a friendly face their relationship was hardly close enough to ask something that personal - at least for a bookworm like Vaasa. 


"Mount up everybody! Cargo is loaded, we leave in two minutes!" Kurt yelled, his voice carrying impressively over the growing shriek of the wind. With that Kurt took his position as lead driver, settling into his seat and mentally preparing for the hours of bumpy roads that were to come on this first day of many toward Union City. Once everyone was aboard the journey would begin, and Kurt only hoped it would be an uneventful one. 

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All at once, the grinding of wooden wheels against frozen stone jarred Aelene out of her meditative state. She looked up and peered around at the endless whiteness that surrounded them. In the distance, small grey shapes prowled along the mountain ridges. Wolves for sure, but not near enough to be a threat just yet. As the caravan plodded on, she found it immensely difficult to concentrate from the random potholes that the carriage kept driving into. With a sigh of relent, she picked up the satchel and flipped open the hatch that led to the baggage car. Swinging down the ladder gracefully, she landed between a pair of suitcases. In an adjacent car, she heard a buzz of activity. Likely the other hired guards taking the opportunity to mingle. That was fine. Aelene enjoyed the calm that the baggage car provided. Finding a comfortable spot, she took her coat off and placed it on the ground as a makeshift mattress. She proceeded to sit on it and rested her head against the chilly wooden wall of the carriage. She shivered. In her open palm, a ball of fire formed, about the size of a tennis ball. She bounced it between her hands, warming the surrounding environment. As they set off on their journey, Aelene stared into the far wall, thinking on the people she had left to be here.

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The final call came from the center of camp. The commotion of loading and preparing was replaced with yells of “Load up” and “Let’s go!” The crack of whips and the noise of laden pack animals replaced the thuds of heavy crates and the scraping of ice and snow. 

Ainsworth snuffed the spark in his hands and climbed up to the driver’s seat of the wagon. The rung was slippery with ice, but it was a easy motion to swing himself up and into place. The seat was a flat bench at the front of the wagon, sheltered from the worst of the weather by an overhang, and big enough for two to sit comfortably, though he was the only one there at the moment. Behind him, a hatched panel to the warm interior sat ajar, letting out conversation and offering the interior passengers a modicum of a forward view. He slid it half open and called to the back, “All in?” 

The two shaggy, long hair oxen that were characteristic of southern convoys shook off the snow that gathered on their broad backs and pawed at the ground, anxious to move along with the flow of the convoy. As he gathered the reins, Ainsworth noticed a thin stack of folded blankets tucked under the seat where they would stay dry. He smiled. It was a small gesture, but whoever prepared the caravan did so with a small kindness. 

“Haw!”

The call came from further up the line. If everyone was in the wagon, Ainsworth snapped the reins to get the oxen moving, calling, “head up!” The wagon lurched forward with a slow groan of wood and the crunching of slush underfoot to slot into the convoy procession. It wouldn’t take long to leave Valjer behind once they got going.

Movement on top of an adjacent wagon caught his eye. Ainsworth turned his head in time to see a figure drop down through the top of the wagon and vanish inside. His eyes narrowed. It was an odd place for anyone to be sitting. He thought about telling the group, but he didn’t want to deal with the consequences if he called an alarm on a convoy member. If the figure was trouble, they couldn’t do much alone on the road. The only things they would be seeing for a few days were trees. If anything, the main concern of the convoy should be bandit attacks. Any road north this time of year was susceptible to an attack by some starving bandits hoping to pick off an easy kill. The thought would not have even came into his head if it weren’t for the small number of people that had applied for the job. Even with the new arrival- the solid young man with the bearskin- the guard wagon seemed oddly light. He could have sworn there was another who was supposed to show.

He shook his head, dismissing the ruminating. Nothing to do now but wait and see what happened. He whistled a few notes of a tune from under his scarf and turned his attention back to the road.

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He nodded in response to the woman's introduction. For what reason a local hitchhiker had sent to the guard wagon was not clear to him, however Larian did not ponder about it. Instead turned his attention to the new entry into the carriage, he halted himself from making a loud remake about the guy's name when he make a remark about it. 

"Indeed, a friendly face can brighten one's day." Larian spoke in agreement with Vaasa before locking hands with the fella. While he did not in particular look like your average mercenary or blade for hire, he looked hardy and strong enough and surely Kurt would not risk putting people in harm's way if he did not think they would be able to handle the situation. 

The caravan had begun to make their way finally, slowly leaving Valjier behind them. At times he would peak outside to check that everything was okay, while he was not expecting any trouble at this stage of their journey, it did not hurt to keep an extra eye on things just in case. He continued making some small talk with the people in the wagon, trying to pass the time best he could.

Boredom was a luxury when it came to his profession. 

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