You rush through the forest, twigs cracking underfoot and branches swiping at your face. You ignore it all, for your task is urgent. The inn keeper's son is deathly ill, and only you, among the townsfolk, was brave enough to enter the haunted wood in search of the healing herbs.
Brave or foolhardy. Even you aren't sure which.
These are ancient woods. Generations of fireside tales warn of monsters and ghosts, shadows that lurk beneath the trees, malevolent presences that haunt the hollows. The villagers do not dare to stray from the road that crosses this mighty swath of forest, and even on the road they travel with caution, blades at their sides, torches in hand to ward off the darkness.
The burbling of a stream leads you forward, quiet at first, so much so that you wonder if it might just be the whisper of the wind through the leaves above you. Soon, though, it grows clearer and louder, and the fresh smell of water permeates the air. You come upon a pool, fed by a waterfall that cascades over mossy rocks. You know the healing plant grows besides such waters, but though you search, you see none of the silvery leaves you seek.
You are about to turn away in sorrow and defeat when you spy it. There, by the base of the falls, a sprig of a plant grows from a crack in the rock. Alas, you are on the wrong side of the water.
After a moment, you plot a course, jumping rock to rock. The way is perilous, and with every leap you fear you will slip and land in the icy water, but soon you are only one rock away from your treasure.
The last hop is the longest by far. You draw a breath, steel your nerves, and leap!
Your feet make the stone, only to lose traction. You slide, your arms windmilling. For a moment you hope you might regain your balance, but then you hit the water with a great splash.
The cold knocks the air from your lungs. For a moment you cannot breathe or move, sinking beneath the surface of the frigid stream. You are about to despair when something grabs you by the back of your shirt and yanks you out of the water.
Coughing, you find yourself slung over the shoulder of a man in a hooded cloak, the same color as the forest shadows. He lugs you to shore and sets you down, dripping and spluttering.
Your heart quickens. This is one of the wandering folk, the mysterious Rangers who travel from place to place rather than having respectable farms or shops in a village. What is one doing here and what does he want with you?
Bright eyes consider you from beneath his hood. At first, you shrink back from his piercing gaze, but after a moment your fear dissipates. His face is weathered and stern, but his eyes are kind and his movements calm. You sense he means you no harm.
"Not many dare the venture through these woods. What errand brings you so far from the forest road?" he asks.
You explain your quest, and he nods.
"You will not get far soaking wet and cold. Come. Let me make you a fire."
He sets to work, gathering fuel for a blaze, and soon you are drying by a crackling campfire, steam rising from your clothes. The Ranger offers you a drink from his flask, a sweat, rich liquor that warms your chest and lightens your spirit. He sits beside you for a while, smoking a pipe and softly singing in a tongue unknown to you. After a bit, he rises and strides away, disappearing into the trees.
When he returns he carries a leather pouch which he passes to you. You open it up and smell the enlivening fragrance of fresh herbs.
"These should be more than enough to heal the boy. I will escort you to the path so you will not lose your way."
You thank him for his help and aid him in extinguishing the fire. Then together you set out through the woods, eager to get home again.