The day began as any other. The sun peeking in through the east woke you from your sleep, you stretched, yawned, and went about getting ready for your day. After a hearty breakfast, you polish your axe and pack your gear onto your horse to head towards the Perfectly Normal Forest.
It's a very pretty ride to the forest, about half an hour long. Birds sing in complex harmony, the sphinx waves hello as you pass it's resting spot, and you manage to rescue another girl in a red cloak that was being chased by a wolf. That makes three this month, you think to yourself. Not a bad haul.
Once you get to the woods, you notice something different. You can't quite put your finger on it, but the woods feel... odd.
Puzzled, you say aloud, "Something's odd."
As it has always happened, you feel rather than hear the response from the trees. They all speak at once, but with common words. You've become quite adept at sorting out the difference in voices and tempo to understand the message that they communicate, but this time it seems harder.
THE BALANCE HAS BEEN DISTURBED. THE WOODS NO LONGER LIVE BY ONE RULE. THERE ARE TOO MANY.
As you listen to the trees, you realize what is wrong with their voices. There are too many of them. Looking around, you note that the trees are a _lot_ closer to each other than they used to be. Riding back to check, you notice that the trees have advanced past the boundary that has been the edge of the forest for as long as you can remember.
This is bad.
Asking the trees what they would have you do, they reply,
SEEK THE KING. THE ROYAL FAMILY HAS THE POWER TO RESTORE THE RIGHT. HURRY. WE CANNOT STOP THIS. IN BUT A FEW WEEKS, ALL HOPE SHALL FADE.
And you're off.
Riding hard to get to the kingdom, nothing odd happens for a decent length of time. At the end of the first day, however, you spot a farm out in the distance bustling with activity. Curious, as it's starting to head towards sundown and farmfolk would usually be heading inside by now, you ride closer. As you near, you realize what is actually wrong. Orcs!
The resulting fight is a little hazy in your memory, but you recall fighting to get inside through a few orcs, and then being able to fight with the farmer, his daughter, and his two sons well enough to fight the orcs off. As you think back on it, you realize that the daughter was actually surprisingly good in a fight. Odd, you think. Usually you're supposed to rescue the women, not the men. Eh, you're not in your usual neck of the woods. You suppose customs can change from area to area.
As you're preparing to ride off again, hoping to get a decent bit of travel in before you stop to camp in a few hours, the daughter approaches you. From the look of her pack and her equipment (she's even got the sword she used in the fight! Where she managed to dig that out of, you have no idea.), she's about to ask you to take her with you.
One of the farmer's daughters approaches you as you prepare to leave. When she gets about ten feet away from you, she sets her feet. "I'm going with you," she declares.
You look at the girl and blinks. "Really, now?" you say, a little bemused and a little stern. "And what would your father say about this plan of yours?"
She smiles, and waves towards where her father is still patching up one of her brothers from the fight. "He's right over there," she points out. "You can ask him if you want, but he's not going to stop me."
You glance over at her father. Sure enough, he waves and nods at you. "Be that as it may, it might be better for you if he did. Strange things are abroad... not to mention the perfectly normal things, which are usually worse. Out in the wild, your family cannot aid you."
"There are strange things right here," she mentions offhandly, noting the recent destruction of the orcs. "And I don't seem to need their aid."
Raising an eyebrow, you smile. "You're certainly spirited, I'll give you that much." You consider. She would be welcome company, and she did seem to handle herself fairly well... but she can't know what she's getting into... "There is more out there than Orcs, you know. Older and more dangerous creatures. Some may laugh at your sword, even if you wield it well."
She looks behind her at the farm, which still bears the marks of the orc attack. "And they are just as likely to be here. Have you asked yourself why orcs would attack a perfectly peaceful farm?"
Forced to admit her point, you nod. She smiles slightly, then takes a moment to get her own horse ready. A final goodbye hug to her father and family, and you're off.
You ride in silence for a decent while. Smalltalk comes every once in a while, but for the large part the ride is uneventful for several hours. Eventually you feel comfortable enough with each other that you chat more during the ride- talking about the city that you're riding to, and about the king and the princes. The topic drifts to the Forest, and you humbly admit your own role in keeping everything neat and tidy within it's borders.
Decently soon, however, you come across an odd sight. Two men, identical looking and in royal garb, each with what you assume to be a manservent riding next to them, are coming down the road on opposite sides, looking like they are trying as hard as possible to look like they aren't travelling with each other but can't manage to get ahead of the other to pass them.