August 16, 1720, Midnight

Our heroes reached Oleg’s Trading Post less than a half-hour ahead of the Tuscaroran raiders. As the gate slammed behind them, Tess and Rhodri ran up onto the walls, shouting alerts for everyone to wake up and the musketeers to get into position. As their people began exiting the tunnels connecting the stone huts, Liadan gathered the mothers and daughters to form medical support and (magically assisted) bucket brigades in case of fire.

Looking out from the walls, Rhodri spotted fourteen figures coming over the retaining wall at the western edge of the ridge. The raiders spread out to the north and south, splitting into groups of three, each group bearing a long pole of some kind. The Mad Bear, and another, female, Indian held back, as the four squads charged the wall.

As they neared the wall, the rear runners slowed, choked up on their ends of the pole, and rammed the butt into the ground, allowing the leader of each crew to run strait up the wall with the pole as a support. In moments, three Tuscarora warriors were leaping over the palisade to confront the small fort’s defenders.

Seeing their intent, Rhodri took aim at the last of the four crews, planting an arrow in the kneecap of the lead runner just as his pole-bearers were starting to plant. His wounded knee buckled mid-stride, just as the pole-bearers were beginning to plant the pole. With his momentum arrested, the sudden downward pressure on the pole launched him nearly ten feet into the air, only to fall back onto the knee, leaving him severely crippled and out of the fight.

Up on the wall, Tess, makeshift spear in hand, and the two musket squads (by which we mean two muskets with a squad of loaders), stood waiting. Sadly, even at such close range, the musketeers were pretty bad shots. As bullets (and the occasional opportunistly thrown rock from below) whizzed by their heads, the three assailants lashed out with short-handled fighting spears. Rhodri spun and put another arrow through the back of one of the attacker’s knee, nearly (but only nearly) knocking him from the wall.

Back below, seeing that his plan had succeeded, more or less, the Mad Bear charged. Two of the pole crews swung their logs his way and within moments he was also up on the wall, leaving a deep, bleeding gash in Rhodri’s side.

Kressle-v-MadBear.JPGAs soon as the bear was away, Siclare dashed out the back of the fort and ran over to where they had spotted the native woman breaking off from the main group of attackers earlier. Siclare found the woman leaning casually against a tree, arms crossed over her chest, dispassionately watching the battle unfold. After a moment of sizing each other up, the woman greeted Siclare in her own language, and explained that she was technically in charge of this raiding party, and sufficiently fed up with Mad Bear’s repeated failures that she had to come out and see for herself. More importantly, she was quite surprised to see not a single white face defending the fort, and women apparently giving the orders.

Up on the wall, things remained tense. Rhodri was bleeding badly. One of the musketeers had fallen to a Tuscaroran spear. Two more attackers had just surmounted the walls. Three of the attackers had been knocked down into the inside of the fort, one with both of his knees shot out from under him, where they were promptly pummeled into unconsciousness by the small army of ex-slaves waiting inside. And the Bear was staggering under a barrage of eldritch blasts from Liadan.

“Hasn’t this gone on long enough?” Siclare asked the woman. Making another comment lamenting the Mad Bear’s stupidity, the woman agreed, and, jogging a few steps forward lobbed a tomahawk, lodging it between the bear’s shoulder-blades.

With a cry of “Treachery!” Mad Bear turned, right into the line of fire of both muskets, which promptly scattered his brains all over Rhodri’s best shirt.

Striding forward, the woman shouted something to the other Tuscarora, causing them to stand down — promptly dropping their weapons and kneeling. Liadan, with some difficulty, convinced their host to open the gates and let the newcomer and the disarmed Indians inside to share a meal with them and discuss terms of…what? Surrender? Peace? At the bare minimum it would establish guest rights.

Oleg lead them into his house, banging the door opened loudly to wake his wife and gruffly announcing “Guess whose comink to dinner!” Tess grabbed Thond and pulled him into the kitchen to help the beleaguered woman whip up something appropriate for a midnight snack. While the three of them went to work, the others sat down at the long table to begin discussions.

Their guest, who introduced herself as Bittercress, asked how it came be that this fort, which they had taken to be an outpost of the colonies, was being run by a native woman (clearly seeming to think Siclare was in charge) and populated entirely by blacks, and that the one white man seemed to be taking orders from them. After a long, incomprehensible rant about faerie queens and changelings and stealing children from Liadan, Tess came in with bread and salt to begin the meal, and explained that they were looking for a place where they could live in peace, free from the influence of the imperial colonies.

Bittercress responded that her people were looking for the same. Once her people had gotten along with the colonies, and even intermarried with them, and even fought and captured people of neighboring tribes to work as slaves for the colonials. Then, eight years ago, when she was still a girl, something had happened that brought them to war with Carolina colony. They had lost…badly. And those still loyal to their chief had fled north. Since then they’d been wandering and raiding, trying to find a place free of imperial rule. In the last year, though, their chief had taken to drinking incessantly. “Never far from a bottle,” she said. Leaving her and the Mad Bear to lead their few warriors out to hunt or steal what their tribe needed.

Bittercress asked her hosts what they called their “Tribe”, which apparently set Tess off.

“We’re an autonomous collective,” Tess said. “We’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune. We take it in turns to be a sort of executive officer for the week, but all the decisions of that officer have to be ratified at a special bi-weekly meeting. By a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs, but by a two thirds majority in the case of…”

Liadan cut in to explain that they were, or might one day be, a colony of the Faerie Court of Winter, subjects of Medb, the Faerie Queen of Air and Darkness. This, of course, raised many questions as to whether these faeries she’d been going on about earlier had the same notions of colonization as the Imperials — forcing people off of their long-held lands, forcing them to adopt new laws and customs and religions, and so forth.

Siclare suggested that perhaps they should speak with the chief of the Tuscarora, and that, since their goals were similar, form some kind of formal alliance (probably by marriage) for mutual defense against the colonies. Bittercress agreed that she could lead them to her village in the morning.

Liadan added that she could conjure up some very good faerie wine as a gift. Tess, who had a lot of experience with alcoholics from being the daughter of a miner, pointed out that the worst drunks typically either grew more angry the more they drank, or else would wake up the next morning having forgotten all about what you’d been discussing. With a sigh, Liadan agreed to take him the fey-wine equivalent of near beer instead.

To be continued…