10 Growth 508 (cont’d)
The party looks down into a valley that is filled with various encampments. At the far end of the vale, is a long, wooden palisade with a large wooden gate in its center. They can see large torches and the movement of men in the firelight atop the gates. The smell of cook fires, wood smoke, and sweat fills the air. The party is gathered at the foot of the vale, discussing and debating their next move. They eventually decide to have Savaric look for a trail up into the mountain wall to the side of the valley for a trail that could be used to circumvent the camps. But before he can act on it, the party spies the arrival of a couple of perimeter guards coming in their direction. They all fade into the darkness and back away from the perimeter. One of the guards hears something, but his companion dismisses it as nothing and the two move along.
After the close call, Savaric starts to quietly make his way across the rocks of the mountain wall. Meanwhile, Surm Ulrich and Mõrvar Ulrich start quietly making their way along mountainous perimeter of the camp toward the palisade. Rilka hides near the entrance to the valley.
Surm and Mõrvar quietly sidestep the light of the fires and the rocky terrain, making their way all the way to the palisade without being detected. Along the way, they observe that there are no banners associated with these soldiers and that they seem to be a group of individual camps as opposed to a unified military force. These are mostly likely clanless mercenaries. At the palisade, the twins decide to climb over it, using the angled corner where wood meets stone to their advantage. Mõrvar tried to climb up but managed to fall off of the structure, alerting a guard at a nearby campsite. The two stand still, depending on the shadows to protect them, and the guard moves away. Surm has better luck, nimbly making his way up the palisade and gazing out over the other side. There, in the moon light, he can see the shadowy outlines of shacks lining this part of the valley. Beyond them is another wooden palisade, its gate alight with torches and obviously guarded. Beyond the palisade, the young sorcerer can see the upper stories of a keep tower. Mõrvar throws a rope up to his brother, who secures it to the palisade, and makes his way up the rope. The two then scamper down the palisade and begin walking around the perimeter of this other encampment.
Meanwhile, Savaric finds an elevated trail along the wall of the valley. At first he has trouble lifting himself up to the ledge, but finally manages to get it. He begins following the trail down toward the palisade. Looking down, he can see various campsites and can hear drunken singing and guffaws issuing from others. The half-orc quietly makes his way down the rocky trail, hoping that he can follow it enough to discover if it will allow him to bypass the camps below.
Surm and Mõrvar make their way in the darkness toward one of the structures. They are brought up short by a man’s voice. “You’ve already had your rations, now move on.” Surm can make out a shadowy figure, holding something in his hand. The sorcerer tells him that they’re not after his ration and the figure tells them to move on. The twins move on. Arriving at another structure, a mud and wood affair with a thatched roof, they can hear light snoring within. Mõrvar spots a figure coming down the perimeter with a torch in their hand. They still have time, but while Surm goes into the structure to talk to the inhabitant, Mõrvar elects to stay outside and watch for the guard.
Surm creeps into the shack to find a heavy-set form lying on the floor, sleeping. He sneaks up to the form and places his hand over the snoring man’s mouth. The man stirs and Surm warns him not to scream, that he’s not going to hurt him. The man acquiesces and Surm removes his hand. Surm learns that the man’s name is Rathic and that he is a skaald, a loremaster/storyteller. He was taken by Magrathar while he was traveling and it apparently amused the warlord to have a bard in his midst. This area of the compound is filled with slaves, about a hundred. Some are from Aeth. Rathic has been trying to keep the slaves’ spirits up, but it is hard. Food is scarce—they get one ration of food in the mornings and fights have broken out over the rations. Rathic has befriended a man named Vorthar, an apparent brute of a man. Each of the palisade gates have a contingent of about 5 men. Overall, there are probably two hundred soldiers outside in various camps.
Meanwhile, Mõrvar sees that the approaching patrol guard is going to be able to spot him. He can tell that it is armed figure, probably female. He ducks inside the hut to find his brother and the slave talking. He then hears the approaching footfalls get louder, but then fade into the distance. Surm is forming a plan. If Rathic can gather up some insurrection-minded slaves, then perhaps they can attack the guards from this side of the first palisade when the Aethyngs come marching upon the keep. He and Mõrvar leave some weapons with Rathic, burying them within the shack to conceal them. Rathic will distribute them to some of the slaves and will be prepared to attack the guards once the commotion of battle starts. Surm also tells him to find a slave named Ren and warn him that King Alrik Brytagsson is coming. Rathic is not to mention Surm or Mõrvar to Ren. Once the weapons are concealed, the twins head out into the darkness to creep their way back to the foot of the valley.
In the mean time, Savaric has made his way about 2/3 down the valley toward the first palisade. At this point, he decides to turn back and reunite with Rilka at the foot of the valley. Soon after, they are joined by Mõrvar and Surm. The party then makes their way out of the valley and back to Aeth.
In Aeth, the party meets with King Alrik Brytagsson to report what they’ve seen. He seems pleased with their work, telling them that they have done well. A discussion of various plans ensues, with one coming to the forefront. A small party will go through and eliminate the checkpoints along the way, ahead of the Aethyngs. Then that party will sneak along the goat trail around the warlord’s army and get inside the slave area. Once the Aethyngs arrive, they can help lead the slaves to revolt and open the palisade gate. The Aethyngs will then slaughter as much of the warlord’s army as they can and then pull back, hopefully with the freed slaves and the lead party intact. The companions agree to be that lead party. Alrik tells that the Aethyngs can march in three days.
13 Growth 508
Over the past three days, the party has encamped outside the village of Aeth, resting and tending to each others’ wounds. Finally, it is time to march.
As evening falls, the party comes upon the first checkpoint. The only light they have is that of the waxing, nearly full, moon. Rilka and Savaric, being half-orcs, can see in the darkness. They approach stealthily and confirm that there are four guards at the checkpoint—last time there were only two. Savaric manages to find a upper trail along the mountain wall and creeps along it toward the other side of the guards. As he gets to the end of the trail, one of the guards is alerted by the sound of falling stones under the ranger’s feet.
“Who goes there?” he cries, drawing his weapon. The others pull their steel as well. Further back, in the shadows, Surm casts a spell and the sound of goats fills the small pass. One of the guards puts a hand on the alerted man’s shoulder and tells him to calm himself, that it is only a mountain goat. They all seem to be on edge.
With the element of surprise, the party goes on the attack! Rilka and Mõrvar spring from the shadows and attack the guards. Savaric attacks with his bow from the shadows and Surm fires his crossbow. In the course of the action, one of the guards yells “Ambush!” and attempts to retreat. He is eventually brought down. Another guard casts down a sunrod, coating the area in light. Finally, after a tough fight, the guards are brought down and the party is victorious. They take the weapons and armor of the guards and move on.
They then move on toward the second checkpoint. They come upon the guards in a bend in the trail. This time there appear to be two on the rises around the trail, two on the ground. The party approaches cautiously, hoping to have the element of surprise on their side. This checkpoint is taken with more ease than the first; the party’s ambush is much more successful. After a relatively brief skirmish, the party is once again victorious and the checkpoint is taken. These bodies, too, are looted and an intact, unlit sunrod is taken.
The party proceeds toward the third checkpoint.
TO BE CONTINUED