14 Growth 508 (cont’d)
The party is gathered in the shadows at the base of the keep, between the tower and the keep proper. Mõrvar uses his sorcery to conjure an invisible hand place a grapple on the roof of the one-story keep building. Everyone climbs the knotted rope onto the flat roof.
Once everyone gathers on the roof, Savaric stealthily makes his way about, scouting out the area. He finds no other way into the keep, but does find two slots cut into the stone roof where smoke comes wafting out. The slots are two small to climb down through. He returns to the gathered party and reports his find.
Rilka sniffs the air and determines that she smells woodsmoke and cooking meat coming from the vents. Mõrvar speculates on the existence of a secret entrance and exit from the keep, used by the warlord to escape should his hold on his minions grow lax. No one else seems as sure about that. Regardless, the only entrances into the keep seem to be a shuttered window at the rear and the double-door at the front. The front of the keep is watched by a pair of guards. The window could be seen by those encamped to the rear of the keep.
Conversation stops as everyone but Mõrvar hears the front door opening. Surm and Savaric cautiously approach the front of the building. Below them, they see two men emerge. They walk past the sentries and then cautiously make their way in opposite directions around the keep, both men keeping to the shadows. Surm reports back to the others while Savaric follows one of the men around the top of the building until he meets up with his compatriot at the rear of the keep.
One says to the other “You see anything?”
“The old man’s getting paranoid.”
The other shrugs and the two start making their way back to the front entrance of the keep.
Savaric rejoins the party at the far end of the keep roof, near the tower. The party discusses their options and present, and then discard, various plans. Finally, they decide to have Savaric check out the area behind the keep. The half-orc climbs down the knotted rope, nearly falling but heroically catching himself along the way, and lands in front of the shuttered window. He hears the sound of commotion and drunken laughter beyond the shutters and can smell the aroma of cooked meat wafting from between the cracks of the shutters.
Surm stealthily makes his way to the front of the keep to peer down and check out the front. He can still hear commotion beyond the double doors and one of the sentries says to the other, “We really got the shit end of duty this time, huh?” The sorcerer then makes his way carefully back to the others, just as Savaric arrives back from his excursion below.
The half-orcs both indicate that, based on Surm’s earlier figuring, that they have about a quarter hour to go before the witch is able to summon the demon again. Once again, the party discusses various options for how to proceed. Time is slipping away. Finally, Savaric announces that the witch could start her summoning at any minute.
Spurred to action, Surm, Rilka, and Mõrvar climb down the rope to the shuttered window while Savaric makes his way to the two air vents and clogs them with cloaks. Then he regroups with the others down below at the window.
While waiting in the shadows near the window, Mõrvar hears heavy footsteps coming down the stairs to the rear of the tower. Savaric and Surm hear increased activity in the keep beyond the window. A strong voice calls out from within “Throw open the door and assemble!” Soon the air is filled with horn blasts and the various encamped warriors start to stir and gather at the front of the keep.
As Surm begins to work at the rod that bars the shutter closed, Savaric returns to the top of the keep and retrieves his cloaks—smoking the assembled warriors out is obviously not going to be necessary as they are gathering to march. Once he returns to the group, Mõrvar uses his sorcerous hand to retrieve the grapple. By this time, Surm has jimmied open the shutter.
With the window now open, the party sneaks inside the keep. Surm ducks under a nearby table while the others keep to the shadows inside what is obviously a kitchen area. Surm emerges from beneath the table and joins the others along a wall. At each end of this wall is an arched doorway. Surm peers around one doorway while Savaric peers around the other.
Each of them see into the main hall of the keep. On the other side of the wall is a dais on which stands a large, wooden chair. In front of the dais are a man and woman. The man is large with a craggy face and a whaler’s beard. He wears scale mail and carries a beautiful battleaxe. The woman is lithe and raven-haired, more than a little attractive, and appears to be wearing no armor. The man says to the woman, “The host is gathering.”
Suddenly, the woman pivots and casts a spell in the direction of Savaric. The half-orc turns pale and flees to hide beneath the table, putting it and the wall between him and the source of his sudden fear. The man strides toward where the half-orc was standing and encounters Rilka waiting for him. She takes the opportunity to strike at the man while Surm steps out from behind the wall to confront the woman.
Mõrvar casts a ray of enfeeblement at the man engaged with Rilka. It seems to have little effect on him. Surm casts tendrils of fire from his hands to burn the woman, to little effect but to gain her attention. Rilka attacks the man while Mõrvar attempts to enfeeble him again—once again, to little effect. Savaric emerges from under the table and, though shaken, engages with the man as well. The woman turns her gaze upon Surm, crushes something in her hand, and her eyes begin to glow like coals. Surm recognizes the spell as “burning gaze”. The man, engaged with both Rilka and Savaric, attacks (and misses) Rilka. Surm decides to step forward and attack the woman with his spear, dealing a fair amount of damage.
Savaric attacks the man and misses, followed by Rilka, who does much the same. Surm attacks the woman again and deals more damage to her. She shrieks in anger. Mõrvar changes his position and engages with the woman, striking her down with his weapon. The man continues to trade blows with Rilka.
Mõrvar moves again and attacks the man from behind, missing him. Rilka continues to miss the man as well. Savaric, recovering from his irrational fear, attacks two-handed, with much success. As the other three engage the man, Surm runs to the front doors and bars them shut.
Mõrvar attacks the man, missing him yet again. Surm runs to the fallen woman—presumably the witch—and searches her body. He finds two pouches, a kukri, and a dagger on her when he also notices a small red spider scurrying away. He attempts to step on it, but it is too quick for him. Rilka finally hits the man—presumably Magrathar and staggers him. Suddenly, his eyes go dark and he roars in anger as he moves forward to attack the half-orc.
The warlord hits Rilka hard, her innate ferocity barely keeping her conscious. Meanwhile, Surm throws a ray of frost at the spider, causing it to stoop scurrying, turn over, and curl up its tiny legs. Finally, Savaric deals a savage blow to Magrathar, followed by a huge by Mõrvar. The warlord falls—followed by an exhausted and injured Rilka.
Surm, ever thorough, stomps on the spider’s corpse. He takes a moment to look inside the pouches he removed from the witch‘s body. One is filled with coins, while the other contains a small, clear crystal. He pockets both pouches and returns to his friends. Noting Rilka’s condition, he retrieves a scroll of healing and brings her back to consciousness.
As Savaric goes about and decapitates the bodies, the barred front doors begin to shake. The party can hear a voice beyond the doors shouting “My Lord! The host is assembled!”
After a brief discussion, the party decides that their best bet is to impress and intimidate these mercenaries. Rilka and Savaric position themselves on either side of the door and Surm stays out of sight. Mõrvar stands in the center of the hall with globes of light (provided by Surm) dancing about his form. He has also collected the heads of Magrathar and the witch. Savaric throws upon the bar and he and Rilka gently pull open the doors, careful not to reveal their presence.
Beyond the door is a gathering of mercenary warriors. Mõrvar, in the eldritch light of his brother’s globes, pronounces, “I have slain your witch. I have slain Magrathar. The Schir demon is free-willed. Disperse or I shall set him free upon you!” Meanwhile, Surm is using his magic to whisper through the crowd “The demon is free! We are in danger!”. Mõrvar uses his own magic to carry the head of Magrathar forward, displaying his trophy.
Suddenly, a shout arises from beyond the doors. “Demon!”
Rilka and Savaric shut the double doors and the party gathers in the main keep to plan for this new development. The demon is apparently on the rampage outside. Horns begin to sound and the troops start to rally. Mõrvar strips the scale mail from the warlord’s body while Savaric takes his axe. Mõrvar then takes up the two heads once again. The party goes to a set of wooden doors that obviously lead into the tower. Inside they find some discarded barrels of ale and some unused tables. There is a door leading to the stairway and a trap door in the floor. Above the trap door is a simple pulley apparatus.
Surm opens the trap door and casts his dancing globes of light down into the darkness below. Inside, he can see more ale casks and grain sacks—and the packed bodies of a number of women. He calls down for his mother, “Hilda?” A tentative answer comes up from below—“Surm?”
Everyone comes out of the basement—fourteen women in total, including Hilda Ulrich. Rilka introduces herself and Savaric to the refugees. She fills in the group on current events. Hilda and Surm embrace, while Mõrvar keeps his distance.
Surm goes upstairs and finds a locked door on the second level. The stairs continue up to the third. He borrows his brother’s Traveler’s Any Tool to pick the lock on the door. He turns the lock and lets himself and Mõrvar inside. It appears to be a pretty standard bedchamber with a moderate-sized chest at the foot of the bed. While Mõrvar searches this room, Surm heads up to the third level. Once there, he again picks the lock of the door.
Opening the door, he reveals a room with a large pentagram painted upon the floor with an altar at its apex. A scattering of cushions line one wall. Surm searches out the room and finds a secret compartment within the altar. Inside, he finds a rolled-up piece of parchment and a velvet pouch. Inside the pouch is an assortment of gemstones. The parchment is written in Tradespeak and details a ritual used to activate the Crystal of Pentharic, an artifact that contains, allows temporary control over, a Schir demon. A diagram on the parchment matches the crystal he found on the witch’s body. He takes his finds and returns to the second level to meet with his brother.
In the meantime, all Mõrvar has found of interest in the room is a map of Jossia. Surm comes in and unlocks the chest. Inside is another assortment of gems, a bag full of coins, and an exquisitely-made short sword. These are gathered by the brothers as they discuss whether or not they will keep the loot or turn it over to King Alrik. Surm feels that they should turn it over to the King to build their prestige within the clan. Mõrvar could not care less for the prestige within the clan.
Surm looks through an arrow slit and sees no sign of conflict on this side of the palisade. He can also hear no sounds of battle. Rejoining the others on the ground floor, they all decide to send Savaric out to assess the situation.
The half-orc ranger runs across the field to the palisade and then creeps forward toward the open gate. Beyond it he sees a small body of warriors being addressed by an obvious leader. The leader says “It is decided” as one of the assembled warriors shouts an alarm and points toward Savaric. The half-orc quickly pulls the line attached to the pulley that closes the gate. He hears a male voice call out from the other side “Hold! We would parley! Tell your sorcerer we would speak!”
Savaric runs back to the keep and reports to the others. After a brief discussion, the party heads out of the keep and to the palisade. Rilka and Savaric make their way up to the right side of the gate, while Mõrvar and Surm make their way up to the left. Surm keeps low and out of sight and casts a set of dancing lights around his brother’s head.
One of the warriors assembled below steps forward. " I am Kragar, son of Vortan. I lead these warriors. We would parley with you. We wish to leave this place and go to Rosemeedt. Our quarrel with the Aethyngs is done, but they lie in wait along the pass. We wish to have leave to go. "
At Surm’s prompting, Mõrvar asks “Do you offer restitution to the king?”
There is much murmuring amongst the men below, but Kragar steps forward again. “We will fight for King Alrik for a season. We will help protect the Aethyngs as they rebuild. Do you speak for the King?”
Mõrvar “I will send messengers to the King with your proposal and they will return with his answer. Prepare horses for my messengers.”
The men below start scrambling and gathering mounts from the various horses milling about the battlefield. The party climbs down from the palisade and gathers to discuss this new development and their future plans. They also discuss whether or not to give the loot found in the keep to King Alrik or to keep it for themselves. They decide to give the loot to the King. It is also decided that Surm and Savaric will return to Aeth with the mercenaries’ offer.
Surm and Savaric cautiously make their way through the gate in the palisade to the waiting mercenaries. They are given mounts and are allowed to ride out of the valley unmolested.
As the two make their way out of the valley, they cautiously approach the first likely ambush point. Surm calls out a hail to the Aethyngs. They are told to halt as the Aethyngs assess them and their situation. They are then approached by a warrior who later gives them the password and location of the next ambushes. The two carry on down the pass with this information in hand and eventually make it back to Aeth.
Once in Aeth, the two adventurers seek out King Alrik. They find him in the longhouse. Surm informs him that they have slain Magrathar and the witch, taken the warlord’s keep, and that the demon has been slain once again. He also informs him of the offer of the remaining mercenaries.
Alrik is moved by this news. War is no longer coming to his village, thanks to the Ulrich brothers and their companions. " The gods, and Yülthn, have smiled upon you, and through you, on Aeth. it is a hard thing to admit one was wrong. But I should not have cast you and your brother out so long ago. "
Surm accepts this apology and tells the king that a word from him would go a long way toward making he and his friends more accepted in the village. Alrik assures him that he will do what he can. Surm then asks for an escort of soldiers to take him and Savaric back to the keep. Alrik tells him that to seek out Frey, a warrior stationed outside. She will gather a force to take with them and give news to the ambush points to return to Aeth, that the threat is over.
Surm and Savaric gather up the promised warriors and start heading up the pass to the keep. When reaching the checkpoints, Surm has the ambushers join their ranks. Soon, a large contingent of Aethyngs arrive at the keep.
Surm has Frey “handle” the mercenaries. She leads the Aethyngs to surround the gathered mercenaries and Kragar follows her instructions to stay within the circle until they return to Aeth and he and his men are oathbound to the King.
In the meantime, Savaric has gathered mounts for his companions, as well as an abandoned cart to haul away the looted supplies from the keep. He then returns to the keep and searches the kitchen area and the dais in the keep, finding nothing of interest.
Mõrvar approaches his mother and reassures her that she is safe. She thanks him.
All of the refugees and loot from the keep are loaded into the cart. Then the cart and its escort head down the pass and back to Aeth.
15 Growth 508
By the time the entourage reaches Aeth, dawn has broken. As the party enters the village, they can see that people have already started gathering. Whispers of their deeds reach their ears. They make their way slowly to the center of the village where King Alrik awaits on a small platform.
Surm strides forward and announces to the King all that they have done, and that they have brought supplies and treasure back to him. King Alrik proclaims that the gods are smiling upon Aeth and upon her benefactors, the Ulriches and their half-orc companions. Without their efforts, war and bloodshed would have come to the village once again. A feast will be thrown in their honor tonight. Whispered messages are cast about in the crowd, saying that the Ulriches are heroes. Cheers go up and the people begin to gather about the wagon. Shouts of “Hail Alrik” and “Hail Aeth” echo about the square. Some of the villagers come buy and clap the party on the shoulders in thanks. Even Lothar Ulrich gives the brothers a nod of respect.
Surm approaches the King again and asks if they may keep the armor and weapons they found on Magrathar. Alrik says that they are the spoils of war and that they may, indeed, be kept.
That day, Mõrvar asks Rilka, who is an armorer, to clean the scale mail they took off of Magrathar. Savaric claims his finely-wrought battleaxe. When Rilka is done, Mõrvar takes the armor and approaches his brother Content Not Found: lother-ulrich encampment. He tells him that he wishes to give him the armor out of respect and to bury some of the hard feelings between them. Lothar does not take the armor, saying that his respect cannot be bought. But he does acknowledge that some of his respect has been earned by Mõrvar and his companions actions.
also approaches his mother once again. She slaps him, hard, saying “That was for Kromas”. Then she embraces him, saying “And that is for coming home.”
That night’s festivities in the longhouse are raucous and joyful. People come around and congratulate the party on their success. Alrik makes a series of increasingly incoherent speeches about the victories they have won. Though food and drink are scarce, the Aethyngs throw a fine feast and celebration of the hard-won victory that the party has brought to Aeth.