Leonidas and Deno made their way cautiously up the grassy, lightly forested hill towards the sound of wood being chopped. As the senior paladin, Leonidas was in the lead, his left hand resting on the pommel of his sword. Deno was his designated novice initiate, a young man who was learning quickly the ways of their paladin fellowship. It was Deno’s responsibility to carry his master’s shield and also to wield the crossbow that the order had entrusted them with, loaded with a bolt blessed to do extra damage against evil creatures. They did their best to move quietly, but everyone knows that being stealthy is not a paladin’s forte.
As they crested the hill, they came to a portion forest that was somewhat level and had been partially cleared. A neat pile of logs had been stacked upon a two-wheeled oxcart. Next to this was a large stump that a woodsman was utilizing as a chopping block to trim small branches off of the fallen trees. But it was the woodsman himself that caught the attention of the paladins. He looked orcish, with dark olive-green mottled skin, but was far more heavily muscled than any orc the paladins had ever seen before. He was also not hunched over as most goblinoids tended to be, but instead stood taller than many human warriors they had encountered. He had tossed his tunic on the oxcart, and in his belt was a hatchet. In his hands was a two-handed wood axe with a well-worn handle. There was also a sword leaning up against the oxcart. This was not a weapon that had been neglected and mistreated by somebody who didn’t know how to wield it. It was a wicked sword, glistening in the sunlight and boasting the most grim and sinister curves either paladin had ever seen.
Leonidas held his finger up to his mouth to signal his companion to be silent. Deno nodded his head and tightened his grip on the crossbow. A surprise attack was not what either man was preparing for, merely to get a better position to ascertain what they might be up against. Leonidas concentrated on the woodsman to divine whether or not this was a creature of ill-intent. He slowed his pace as he realized that the orc-like person was in fact evil in nature. Just then Deno stepped upon a dry branch that was lying on the ground and there was a light snap.
The woodsman had his back to the paladins, but his ears perked up and he turned to look over his shoulder. Seeing the two paladins among the trees in the tall grass the orc slowly turned and set his axe down against the stump. His left hand reached over and with a smooth, flawless gesture he took hold of the sword and placed it against his leg. He smiled with a sort of sneer and said something to the paladins in a language they didn’t understand. Sensing that they didn’t understand, he said something in yet another language.
Leonidas shook his head and said in Illyrian, “We do not understand you, but we already know that you are a creature of wickedness. It is our duty to fight evil wherever we find it!” Leonidas placed his hand on the handle of his sword but did not draw the blade from its sheath.
The woodsman turned the sword against his leg and said in heavily accented Illyrian, “You are trespassing, sir. These lands belong to my lord, the Baron of Leperstadt. You are in Slothjemian territory now. Whatever I might be or not be, I belong here. You are the lawbreakers.” The woodsman pointed to the paladins and said in a sinister tone, “If you draw that sword, I will have to kill you both. Remove yourselves from my lord’s estate.”
The two paladins looked at each other quickly, and then back at the woodsman. Leonidas stepped forward and began to draw his sword. The woodsman reacted more swiftly than the paladins could have anticipated, and with a lightning-fast motion he took the hatchet from his belt and threw it at Deno. The blade hit the initiate in the forehead with a wet crunching sound and with such force that Deno’s head was snapped violently back, killing him instantly.
Leonidas hadn’t fully drawn his sword as he looked over and saw his apprentice falling. When he looked back at the woodsman, he didn’t see him. Leonidas looked around frantically and couldn’t see where the orcish monster had gotten to. He knelt on one knee and tried to see if he could restore some life to his comrade, but alas it was too late. Standing quickly, he held his sword and took the shield from where it had fallen next to Deno. He turned again trying to see where the woodsman had gone.
The area was eerily quiet. There was a light breeze that blew through the trees and the grass rustled as though to warn the paladin of his impending doom. Leonidas turned from one side to the other trying to tell from whence his opponent would strike. For the first time in his life, he was fearful and awash in uncertainty. He paused and tried to focus his thoughts on locating the evil he had first sensed in the woodsman.
The woodsman’s sword plunged into the paladin’s back and severed a number of ribs as it sliced effortlessly through Leonidas’ body and out through his chest, cleaving the paladin’s armor as if it had been made of thin strips of ham. Leonidas could feel the hot breath of the woodsman on the back of his neck as the creature said in a gruff sort of growl, “I told you to leave. You should have left.”
Leonidas felt the life draining from his body and struggled to speak. “I’ve never encountered your kind before. What are you that has taken my life?”
The woodsman gave a low, fearful chuckle. “You never encountered us because we stayed out of your temples. And you would have been better off not having left them. I’m a jor, you arrogant man. And you will have died a trespasser.”
The jor slid the sword out, and along with it removed the paladin’s heart. The dead man flopped into the tall grass, lifeless as the logs on the oxcart. The jor walked back to the stump and set the sword down against the cart. Taking up his axe again, he resumed his work clearing his lord’s lands. “What a waste of talent.” he muttered under his breath. “They should be hunting down those imperium tyrants instead of lurking about targeting us simple folk. They fully deserve what’s coming.”