The small group of adventurers in the corner looked battered and bruised, but also unexpectedly upbeat. The celebration revolved around bad puns and undead. “He sure was a pain in the neck”, “Bite me”, and “Up to our asses in rats and bats” are some of the comments heard floating away from the table.
One of the elves at the table noticed a commotion at the door to the in, and inebriated though he may have been, still recognized his name when it was used.
“Does anyone in THIS bar know where I can find a ranger named Reddur!” the newcomer yelled over the din.
Reddur stepped behind one of his companions saying “Hide me.”
For such a tiny elf, Riell had no problem holding Reddur up above her head and waving him back and forth while yelling “He’s over here!” to the searcher. Laughing as he approached, all could see that he wore the livery of a bonded messenger.
Mumbling “Traitor” as he was put back down, Reddur motioned to the messenger. “Who wants to know? And they can’t prove it. No one saw me. I think I’ll have another mead.”
“Paternity suit” Siegfried asks suspiciously?
“No, I don’t think so. It’s from my grandmother, Loredral. She’s says one of my cousins needs some help. Kind of a short, sparse note for her to have sent me. Just that and directions to a place to meet.”
“Do you want company on the trip.”
“Nah, it’s just a days ride there and another back. Hopefully won’t be too eventful.”
“Hopefully those won’t be famous last words either,” Rori piped up with a laugh as Reddur staggered out after the messenger.
“Should we make him wait till he’s sober?”
“Where’s the fun in that?”
The ancient forest through which Reddur wandered contained some of the oldest trees on the continent. Oaks that had seen the passage of kings and kingdoms. Giant sky-elms that seemed to scrape the clouds as they floated by. Weeping willows shadowing the cool forest pools and glades. All of this did nothing but emphasis to the ranger that he really should not have drunk so much yesterday. If he can’t enjoy scenery like this and the quiet that accompanies it, he should at least have someone with him he can blame.
“The horse?” he ponders aloud, “Is there some way to blame the horse? “
Based on the disgusted look from said animal, that would not go over very well.
As the day progressed, Reddur was able to rule out the forest, his friends (though that one almost worked) and himself as possible culprits. The Lord Mayor was still in the running, along with undead in general and various ungrateful barmaids. He knew better than to even contemplate blaming his grandmother. She was more than capable of taking him out the last time he saw her and he wasn’t about to ask for a rematch.
“Besides, she’s spooky,” he said aloud.
“Who’s spooky,” she asked, causing Reddur to almost fall of his horse.
“Damnit! Stop doing that to me!! I’m the freaking ranger in the family. “
“And I’m your grandmother.”
The elegant and ageless elven mystic stepped down from the tree limb where she had been waiting.
“Join me,” she said, leading the way to secluded glade, “we have much to talk about. Family secrets you might say.”
“Wonderful. If I remember by history correctly, the last time one of us used that phrase was just before the succession wars. Please tell me we are not going to go through that again?”
Laughing, Loredral shook her head. “No, these secrets are of a closer nature. They apply only to myself and my descendents.”
Looking out into the woods Lorendral spoke “A few hundred years ago, when I was young, oh so young we lived in much farther south than today. We actually ranged to the jungles at the end of the continent. Those areas are still unclaimed by man, so we had free reign among the trees there.
“As a child, I would roam wherever the wind took me. And as would happen, one day an ill wind blew me into danger. The panther that attacked me should have killed me. It did maul me, but then stopped. I thought it must have heard my father or some other hunter. It backed away, then almost sullenly disappeared into the undergrowth.
“My parents found me, lying there injured and brought me home. The wounds healed slowly, but I was soon able to continue my wanderings, but with a bit more care and caution.
“Several years later I disappeared for a time. No one knew where I went and I had no memory of it. One moment, I was in the village, the next I was in the jungle again and a month had passed.
“The next time, it was a year.
“The next time . . Well, I wasn’t away when I changed.”
“Changed, grandmother?” he prompted after a time.
“Yes. The panther was a lycanthrope. Since then, I have been able to control the change. I have learned to recognize it coming on, and even when it happens, I’m in control of myself in the changed state.”
Reddur stuttered, “So does that mean I . . .”
“No. It’s not that strong in you. But it is there. That’s probably one reason you are so attuned to the forest. Even more so than most elves.”
“But my cousin that you mentioned in the note? Is he the issue? Is there a rogue lycanthrope in the family?”
“No.” she whispered. “His entire branch of the family is my secret alone. Which you share now.”
As she looked down, a juvenile panther padded out of the woods behind her.
“Your cousin would like to go adventuring with you.”