Caleb kneels next to the trap and tries to examine the wound as best he can without extricating Charn's leg. "Let me take a look. With any luck, we can get you out of there and hit the road again without divine intervention."
"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken
Eryndir had been performing his usual scouting tasks, alternating between taking point ahead of the group, doubling back to make sure they weren't being followed, and moving off the beaten path to the left and right of the group, to scan their surroundings.
While Able tends to Charn, Eryndir circles the party, creating a five-meter perimeter and scanning the horizon for anyone who might have set the trap.
Charn can feel the jarring pain of the trap in his leg, but his concern is somewhat ameliorated by the fact that the trap is simply iron - not an Ankheg.
Caleb is able to examine the wound. The mandibles, a much better word that he settles on instead of jaws, have managed to avoid the bone and only rend the soft tissues. Tending the wound will be a simple formality that Caleb can attend to once the mandibles are opened back up.
Eryndir doesn't see or hear any ambushers. Yet.
Able also moves away from the site of the trap, preparing for hunters to be drawn close. Hopefully they only check the traps every few days and weren't counting on a war party. But hope was a gossamer web easily broken and Able was a realist. He expected trouble.
Eryndir completes a circle on their perimeter and moves to Charn's side, kneeling. He offers the horizon another cursory glance and then looks to the trap.
"As I am not gifted with raw strength, I hope there is some release mechanism. I hope to not have to pry this trap off of your leg..."
He examines the mandibles of the trap, hoping to find some manner of release catch.
Eryndir is easily able to find the catch. The mechanism of the mandibles drops a latch in place once the trap is sprung. The latch is released by pushing further down on the trap rather than pulling away as a beast or a man in combat might do. Eryndir does so and the mandibles fall freely to the ground. Charn's blood on the stylized bear trap catches the last rays of light as Caleb manages to stuff and bind the wound. Charn's going to have a tender left leg for a bit. Caleb can't help but think that the restorative power of the roads might help were they closer to civilization.
Able briefly considers the trap. Unlike the relatively low and broad teeth on normal bear traps, these mandibles were very thin and very tall - Charn was punctured high on his calf rather than around his ankle. Perhaps it is simply some genetic memory in the Tiefling's ancestry, but Able imagines the traps would be extremely effective against bipedal creatures with preservation instinct as opposed to quadrupeds with simple fight or flight responses.
Eryndir mutters a curse as the sun drops below the horizon. Though easily able to see in the dark, he knows that if they are going to have company, dusk is a likely time for an ambush.
The elf cleans Charn's blood from the mandibles to the degree he's able and begins an attempt to reset the trap.
"If whoever set this traps finds it sprung, they will likely try to track and hunt us down."
He pauses in his effort.
"I see two options. First, we reset this trap and obscure our tracks leading away from this spot to discourage any who would try to find us. We continue to the Watchtower and report the incident, then follow whatever orders we are given."
A mischievous glint flickers in his eye and a small grin crosses his face.
"Or, we leave the trap sprung, exaggerate our tracks leading away as though we are fewer in number than we are and perhaps more gravely injured than we are. Ensure our tracks lead to an advantageous spot, lay an ambush of our own, and turn the tables on whoever hunts us..."
"This trap isn't intended for intelligent prey. Whoever left it was certainly careless but not clearly malevolent. We're waiting time. Are we going to reach the tower tonight or are we making camp?" Able had no fear of the dark - he was more at home there than the people who would hurt him.
"We should camp. The terrain will be difficult enough to navigate in daylight. I do think, however, that we should take time to prepare for unwanted visitors. A decoy camp, perhaps, that would draw out any who might seek to harm us, with an obvious set of wounded tracks from here to there. We can then array ourselves elsewhere, hidden, until we can determine the intentions of those who set this trap."
Able signs. Setting up camp is a lot of work normally. Setting up two camps would be even harder. "How about I camp here and pretend I'm trapped and you get ready to jump out if anyone looks in on me." Able knows there are people that hunt at night, but it still doesn't seem likely that anyone would check traps tonight. Able had enough people who were out to get him to surrender to paranoid delusions like Eryndir seems to have.
The Wood Elf nods. "That does seem easier, yes, if you do not mind being the decoy." He glances towards Caleb and Charn. "If you two do not mind a bivouac outside the clearing, I can keep watch and rouse you should we have unwanted guests."
The night brings no comfort to the travelers. Two full days of travel left them feeling each pebble in their shoes and each creak in their bones. The soreness of a long hike and a dangerous environment prevented all but the most momentary of rest.
By the time the light of dawn illuminated the leaves in the wood, every traveler had been awake for at least an hour, if not longer. They began the last leg of their journey quietly, with nary a word spoken between them.
The first to react to the smell was Able. The revolting smell of death combined with the unmistakable aroma of fish oil was enough to elicit an audible gasp. It didn't take long for the rest of the travelers to discover the body. Evidently, the Ankheg Mandible traps were a recurring problem in these woods.
Impaled through the rib cage was the corpse of a halfling. Whereas Charn had suffered only superficial bleeding to the soft tissues of his calf, the halfling likely breathed his last through the ragged holes in his chest. Evidently a merchant of some kind, the halfling had two jugs strapped to a pole which he had carried on his shoulders in the same direction the travelers were going. When the trap was sprung, the halfling dropped the pole and shattered one of the two jugs. Salt, fermented fish, and aromatic herbs had attracted the attention of a small colony of ants now cleaning the Ankheg trap.
The remaining jug had stayed intact.
Eryndir reacts viscerally to the stench of commingled fish and death. He recovers quickly, though, and looks upon the rotting corpse with an air of detachment. Kneeling a short distance from the grisly tableau, he runs his eyes over the scene, examining.
"Can't leave this for the commies." Able begins searching the body for valuables.
Eryndir stands and scans the horizon for unwanted visitors out of habit. He turns to the others.
"If the halfling was headed towards the Watchtower, someone there may wish to know of this. Perhaps he has kin to whom we can return his wares. And if not, perhaps they will still fetch a price."
He glances at the medallion of the Feudal Order. "Seems likely he was at least acquainted with Gladestrider's people."
Charn regards the mangled halfling grimly and observes, "Not an end I would wish on anyone." Looking around, he wonders, "Do we have time to give a proper burial before we move on?"
Able looks hard at Charn, then looks over at Eryndir, then finally the heavens above. He wasn't sure how he had fallen in with people that were so committed to burying the dead, but he had. If Charn hadn't suggested it, someone else would have. Able tries a new tactic.
"We probably don't have time. But we're close enough that once we determine what's happening at the keep we could send someone back to deal with this. We should figure out why the traps are here and how this unfortunate creature got mixed up with them. I don't think his cargo is particularly valuable, and even a gallon of fermented fish won't feed an army for long. I don't think he was planning on spending much time on the road."
"Able makes an excellent point. If this halfling had any kin, a shallow roadside grave would not do. We can bring his remains to the Watchtower. He can either be buried there, or his bones can be sent to those who might mourn him."
Eryndir begins making a makeshift sack from a bloodied halfling cloak.
Eryndir pauses in his preparations and, in one swift movement drapes the bloodstained cloak he had been fashioning into a sack over the corpse of halfling.
"Something is not right with this. The body should have attracted more carrion scavengers than just a few ants. We should not disturb the remains until we have had an opportunity to report this to the Watchtower."
He looks to the others. "I agree with Able. We should press on, now. The only moment we should spare is to check Charn's wound and ensure there is no fester. Then, on to the Watchtower."
He looks to Caleb, who he expects is far more proficient in Medicine than he is.
Charn grimaces, but acquiesces. "Let us inform the Watchtower, then, and fulfill our obligations."
Abandoning the grisly scene, the travelers make their way forward across the uneven and rocky terrain. The underbrush remains thick and difficult as they proceed.
The road cutting through the wood becomes visible only about 50 yards away. Placing two feet on the tangible evidence of civilization's mastery of the frontier lifts Caleb's spirits. Ten minutes of a brisk walk later and the travelers arrive at the foot of a watchtower. The building itself is extremely unusual as it is only three stories tall with an open roof behind crenelated stone barricades. The tower's other unusual feature is the extremely sharp cliff that it rests within. Fully half of the watchtower would be hanging off the edge of the cliff but for the additional semi-subterranean floors exposed by the cliff face. Looking over an incredible vista of the exposed north, the three story watchtower can easily see for several dozen miles of wilderness. Eryndir can even see the farm where he escaped the communists from here - distant though it may be.
At the base of the watch tower a table with an officer's luncheon sits, complete with still steaming tea and a chilled glass with a hint of moisture siphoned from the ambient humidity in the last vestiges of summer. Ten feet from the table an orc is strapped to two trees. His right arm and leg are bound via leather pulled tight around a nearby oak while his left arm and leg are bound to another. He hangs roughly two feet in the air with his head bowed. He shows signs of a rather severe beating. As near as the travelers can tell, he is alive.
Slightly farther away, a Gladestrider Irregular Sergeant is overseeing several junior soldiers as they stomp on a mixture of clay and straw. Eryndir knows the junior soldiers are young skirmishers from the pelts they wear as uniforms. For whatever reason, the soldiers are mixing cob to be used in construction of some sort.
Distantly, a griffon's cawing can be heard. No one greets the travelers.
"Well this is a fine welcome," Able mutters to no one in particular.
Eryndir makes his way towards the sergeant and brings his fist to his chest in an offer of salute. "We come from the Outpost on assignment from Archdruid Taron. Where can we find the officer on duty, so we can report?"
The Sergeant, a dwarf with a ruddy nose and a beard too dirty to be inside of regulations, looks up at the wood elf. His return salute is somewhere between lazy and indignant.
"She'll be out shortly. You and your friends can sit near her mess." The dwarf's lazy saluting hand goes from his chest to gesture vaguely toward the orc. There is only one chair available in that general direction.
One of the skirmishers, a halfling, evidently does not meet the Sergeant's approval. The Sergeant delivers a surprisingly swift kick to the halfling's bottom, sending the trooper sprawling into the wet clay. "We're mixing cob, not dancing to one of your damn melodies. Don't do a jig, mix it like I told you, Porrin."
The dwarf turns back toward the travelers. "See any greenskins on the road?"
Able doesn't care for the dwarf's casual abuse of power or his apparent disregard for his prisoner. But he also doesn't care to start a fight. He moves over to the indicated chair and helps himself to the chilled beverage.
Eryndir narrows his eyes at the sergeant's treatment of his charges. He shakes his head summarily when asked about greenskins and joins Able at the table, though he does not touch anything upon it.
He stands next to the table and waits.
It isn't long before a wood elf woman wearing a loose fitting commander's uniform emerges from the watchtower. The right side of her face bears a brutal scar extending from the bottom of her eye down to her jaw. It is obvious that her jaw was shattered by whatever caused the injury and that it did not grow back the same way. Despite the extra room in her garments and the distracting facial injury, she has a je ne sais quoi that commands respect.
She walks directly to Eryndir, giving him a formal salute. "I am Commander Erendi Highleaf. This is my garrison. I know you are a member of the Irregulars, but we have not yet been acquainted." She returns her hand to her belt, her thumb looped behind the strap of leather. While the other travelers can see Eryndir is several inches taller than Highleaf, he will forever recall thinking that she was taller in this moment.