The Champion's Companion Ch. 01byBlknMild611©
This story has been made significantly better by the tireless efforts and editing of IMcRout.
Marcos Panthi had a problem, not a serious or immediate crisis, but a definite situation in need of some kind of reconsideration.
He was a knight in foreign lands well to the west of his home territory.
He was dark haired with short curls and deep dark pools of eyes, many people never noticed there were no whites to them at all. His weathered skin gave him the appearance of being from the southern area of the Menthino. Tall and muscular he had a gangly look about him, but moved with the fluid grace of a long time ranger.
He didn't appear to be a knight, his armor was beyond 'minimal' consisting of single hand sized plates sewn into soft, near skintight Safi leather that covered his upper and lower arms and legs, as well as half cut pieces for the top of his hands and feet. The leather was dyed black covering his entire body below the eyes and matched with only slightly stiffer leather boots split at the toe.
Over this was a sleeveless hooded black robe whose openings on the sides extended to the bottom just above the knees. Most people outside of Menthino would think him an assassin by his garb, but assassins cover themselves with normal clothes to blend in. The clothes and armor were actually the all black of the Menthino light Infantry. Most knights and officers in the light infantry usually at the very least wore Calvary armor for protection but Marcos was unique and understood better than most the spirit of light Infantry.
If Marcos had had foresight, he would have opted for a light grey robe instead of black. If he went any further north into the mountainous highlands even now in the heat of summer there would be enough snow to make hiding very difficult.
Nevertheless, it wasn't time to worry about that, at the moment he was tracking prey or to be precise a band of 'Amazons' who he was paid to kill or drive off. He didn't know how many, but about half a dozen is what the tracks and his senses told him. He had been forced to move in the early morning hours to track the elusive band, since they moved in the very dead of night.
Now with the sun just about to come up he was brought up short. Just over the ridge he was nearly atop was the bands campsite that as yet he hadn't seen before. A finger jutted off the ridgeline for a short quarter mile stretch. It was almost unnaturally flat and completely snow free. It was large enough for hundreds to fit upon and was covered in various sized rocks with bald patches showing obvious frequent use.
At the moment a single barbarian woman was there idly sitting with a fire dug into the ground letting her smoke rise, obviously she was confident. However, that was also the problem, the rest of the group was gone, and Marcos could only be fairly sure they weren't already behind him.
Marcos had been following this group for about two days from a requested favor by the independent city-state of Osmuun. The city sat near the western border of Menthino in the south and its only claim to fame was a decent working river dock deep and safe enough for ocean trade. He caught up to them three days north of the city in dense woods where hamlets and villages quietly farmed the summer harvest. The band had left these populated areas for the northeastern mountainous corridor yesterday. If they continued, Marcos would be tracking over a glacier and steep-walled valleys in these highlands until they came out of the mountains to the river valley of the fertile Ort, the wide fast boundary river between Astrokos and Menthino.
If this woman was any indication then this band must be confident, and unaware of him, to be hunting for food before entering these dangerous wilds.
Plenty of old creatures lived in these mountains from rock ogres to mountain elves, drow, minor dragons, and demon forms all scattered in pockets. The corridor is the only 'safe' route from the independent lands south and west of Menthino to the Ort since it skirted the mountains and was unfortunately quite barren. Stopping this group before they reached the river to commence their adulations would save time, however the corridor could be an excellent kill zone if and only if he could get ahead of them.
Amazons for most countries are a problem.
When the Astrokos Empire controlling all the lands fell, it really stemmed from problems with its women. The Empire was a paternal society that compounded the problems of sexes by fostering an extreme chauvinist bias against any feminine or 'weak' elements. Women fled to the wilderness from the society creating a sub-culture of 'Amazons' that was constantly persecuted. When a new god came to the world, it brought a new religion celebrating femininity, death, and fertility. Instant social chaos arose throughout the Empire.
The troublesome barbarian Amazons, tall muscular grey-eyed silver haired pale northerners, who ran into the wilderness so many years ago, became the refuge of the 'Priestesses' when the followers of the Empire's patron god Minun, the deity of power and chaos, persecuted them.
The enclaves and moving temples these 'Sisters' carved out of the wilderness under constant pressures and attacks had the weight of half the population secretly behind them.
Religious sites at rivers and shores where women bathe and worship the Goddess at the end of their cycle slowly became widespread in all lands. Another social response triggered was the female pirate, women seeking asylum or safety made their way to the shores and disappeared with ships crewed entirely by women. From within the Empire grinded to a halt as every waterway leached its population, spread discord into the homes, and discontent into the streets.
Nobody knows when the Empire really fell. The northern lands are still called Astrokos to this day. Astrokos still erects self-serving stone and bronze monuments proclaiming its eternal power and glory.
Now the goddess 'Dark Mother' brought forth so long ago rules the world. She rules it alone as a goddess of death. She ruthlessly pushed aside followers of other gods, and sent her own champion after their champions and children of any new gods until there was no more but only her and her children.
For humans she is the embodiment of war, violence, fertility, maternity, and a death that seeps away. In the northland, she is simply prime evil. To the night creatures, she is worshipped as the 'Night Mother'.
In Marcos' homeland of Menthino, privileged nobility worship the Dark Mother openly in temples more directed to her death aspect. Normally these are infested with assassins who are allowed rest for the simple responsibility of 'serving' the crown and collecting secrets. In the capital, secretive temples focused on her fertility and maternal aspects were built over fresh flowing supplies of water. Guarded by amazons and presided over by priestesses the temples did the job of keeping the faith alive in the old-fashion way among all women by celebrating the menses, birth, and womanhood.
Amazons are a problem like any living weapon that outlived whatever original purpose it could have had. Some are good for the population; attacking criminals, and working for bounty usually, they are 'Warrioresses'. 'Huntresses' fulfill a completely different role. They hunt for worthy males who will breed strong daughters. These women surround and attack travelers in one-woman ambushes either forcing a fight or 'herding' them to where all the women can attack. The purpose is testing a Huntress' honor repeatedly from the weakest to strongest in the group until the male is brought down and harvested.
Men rarely return and all too often, the Huntresses take away the bodyguards leaving the old and weak or any women they find. Castration and, or death on a lonely road is an easy result of failing to prove worthy of the encounter. However if a man does survive the contest of strength he is drugged with powder through the skin to raise his virility, and potions that make him much more sensitive. Then men are 'forced' to inseminate the Huntress who made the capture. If the male can reasonably impress the group, a lifetime of sexual slavery at a remote temple enclave after ritual blinding is his new future. Villagers do not usually have the problem of bandits AND Amazons.
However, where the band Marcos is after went Goddess only knows.