Our cast of players…
- Achmed (Dave): Human Thief, level 2.
- Albrecht (Rick): Human Priest, level 2.
- Pioden (Craig): Elf Warrior/Wizard/Thief, level 1/1/1.
- Tether (Dan): Human Warrior, level 1.
- Tomas (Alan): Human Paladin, level 1.
Total XPs awarded from the previous session: 600
After spending one final night in the Weeping Forest tavern, you arise early and are greeted by the sight of the warm spring sunshine seeing off the last of the rapidly melting snow. Avoral’s promise has come to pass and the joy of this new beginning is almost palpable.
Once you have stowed your gear aboard Tarquin and Sorrow, the grateful villagers turn out to bid you farewell. You are struck by how thin and emaciated many of them look and hope that help in the form of supplies will arrive soon. They have nothing to offer you for the journey other than their thanks, and many of them stay, waving, until you have passed from sight.
The road leading west to Hadler’s Gap is of better quality than the one you arrived on, following in the large part the ancient east-west thoroughfare than runs along the borderlands with the northern nations. In many places the ancient and cracked stones are still visible through the overgrown grass and the going is by and large good. However, your own lack of supplies hampers you every step of the way and you are continually having to stop and forage for food. Luckily for you, although you can take the boy out of the farm you can’t take the farm out of the boy and Tether proves to be a capable outdoorsman, trapping a couple of rabbits and even managing to find some wild new potatoes for the pot. However, it is still early in the year and provender is hard to come by.
So it is that after fully four days on the road you arrive in good shape but hungry at the large village of Hadler’s Gap. The first sign that you are near your destination is the appearance of orderly and neat farms to either side of the road. As you descend into the village, you can see from your elevated vantage point that it straddles a north-south road and is bustling with activity. There are three village squares along with facilities for dealing with caravans, traders and merchants. The most central square seems to have the remains of a bazaar in it which, being late afternoon, is in the process of packing up. The village is surrounded on three sides by forest and to the west of the town a stream runs north-south. To the north-west of the town is a hill surmounted by a ruined keep. This was, and still is, the frontier of the empire, but it is clear the fort has served no meaningful defensive purpose for decades.
Hunger drives you on and you move at double speed along the road and into the village itself. The first building on this side of the settlement is a modest, albeit stone-built, temple set back slightly on the right hand side of the road. The roughly oblong temple appears squat and windowless, but its double bronze doors are open and you can smell a faint waft of incense issuing from within. Looking closer, you can see that the temple is dedicated to Justicia, a goddess of law and order. On the other side of the road are a series of private dwelling which, judging from their appearance, are in a prestigious location. Just beyond, you can see the first of the village squares, surrounded by buildings large and small.
Hungry as you are, you are all keen to press on into the village itself, with the exception of Tomas, a man who takes his devotions to the gods very seriously. Brusquely waving you all on, he makes clear his intention to satisfy the mind and soul before the body and tethers Sorrow to the hitching post outside the temple. Proceeding inside, it takes Tomas’ eyes a few seconds to accomodate to the gloom but soon enough he can see that the interior is plain and basic. A large statue of the goddess occupies the far end of the temple, illuminated by two braziers, one to either side. In front of the statue is an altar, on which offerings of fruit and spring flowers have been placed. Apart from a couple of supplicants deep in prayer, who from their dress Tomas takes to be locals, the temple is empty.
Kneeling before the statue, Tomas meditates upon the travails that have beset you all since you met at Fairweather. Deep in prayer, he is oblivious to the comings and goings around him, as various villagers and travellers enter and leave, and a robed figure, presumably one of the priests, enters from a door at the rear and busies himself with tidying up the offerings on the altar before returning to the room beyond. All seems to be a picture of piece and tranquility as Tomas rouses himself from prayer and leaves the temple, looking to catch up with his comrades.
Driven by more mundane matters, the rest of you in the meantime have come across the first of the village squares, just beyond the temple of Justicia. As well as the usual collection of private dwellings, on the left hand side of the square as you enter is a building advertising itself as Garren’s Mercantile, a trading post of some kind, while on the right hand side is the Hall of the Prancing Unicorn, an Inn. The latter has extensive yardage at the rear for caravans and from the open doors you can hear the sound of good-natured carousing mingled with the smell of what seems to you to be the most glorious cooking.
Without a moments hesitation, you all proceed inside and are assailed by all the noises, smells and sights that you have been craving while on the road. You senses struggle to take it all in at once, although modest compared to the great drinking halls of the north, this is on a scale that you have not seen for many weeks. Sun-hardened caravan guards, blades at the ready, tell tall tales at the bar to anyone who will listen, each more unlikely than the last. A pair of eager farm lads dice with a sharp-faced trader, while a pair of fat merchants look on, hiding their amusement in their mugs. A bard, half-elven by the look of him, sits near the fireplace singing ballads to a half-interested crowd while serving girls weave and dart their way through the throng, plates of steaming potatoes and mugs of ale and mead held high. Tether makes a move to join the dice game and is brusquely gestured back with a hand signal under the table from the trader, much to the increased merriment of the merchants looking on.
As you are taking this all in, one of the serving girls whirling past points you towards an empty booth. “Sit yourselves down over there and I’ll be with you in a moment.” Taking your seats and unslinging your heavy packs, you gratefully settle down to watch the sights and sounds around you. When the girl returns she briskly takes your order and arranges a private room for you for the evening plus stabling for Tarquin and Sorrow. Within moments, your own steaming bowl of potatoes has arrived, dripping with melted butter and with a large loaf of crusty bread plus mugs of ale all round. You fall on the food with gusto (possibly sparing a thought for the starving villagers you have left behind, possibly not) and it is halfway through this seeming feast that Tomas arrives, standing awkward and unsure in the doorway, scanning the room for you. You beckon him over to join you.
Once you are satiated, you tip your server nicely and she arranges for one of the lads to help you carry your gear up to your room. The room is spartan but clean, arranged with bunks for six. The lad looks insulted at the derisory tip from Achmed, although not a miserly sum he clearly expects better from wealthy adventurers such as yourselves, and stomps off downstairs leaving you to unpack and plan your next moves.
At Tomas’ urging, you all agree to go to the temple of Justicia with him to see if the priest there has any information on the troubles that Hadler’s Gap has reportedly been having with a marauding ogre and kobolds. On reaching the temple, it appears much as it did when Tomas left. Quiet and calm with a slow but steady stream of supplicants coming and going. Proceeding inside, you quickly located the robed figure Tomas saw earlier who seems amicable enough and introduces himself as Father Donovan.
You quiz him about the reports you have heard of the troublesome ogre and Father Donovan shakes his head. “No one here can understand it. There’s been an ogre living in a cave to the south of Hadler’s Gap for many years. Logbrag is his name. We left him alone and he left us alone. Occasionally one of the farmers reported some sheep had gone missing but that was as far as it went. I may be a priest of Justicia, but I’m a pragmatist,” he confides in a mock whisper, a glint in his eye. “As well as that a tribe of kobolds lives in the hills around here and there has been peace between us for many years. I’m not saying we allow them into the village of anything,” he hastens to add, “but we even traded with them sometimes and now they seem to be in league with the ogre attacking and waylaying caravans into and out of town.
“I don’t really know much more than that,” he apologises, as you start to question him further about this and whether or not he is aware of any active cultists in the area. “Maybe you should arrange to talk to our head man, Amzel, he may know more.” Thanking him for the information he has given you, you tell him that he can contact you at the Hall of the Prancing Unicorn should anything else come to mind.
By the time you leave the temple, the sun has set so you decide to return to your lodgings before carrying on your investigations. The common room in the Prancing Unicorn is much as it was when you left. Some of the guards and traders have left and new ones have arrived to take their place. You get the impression that the place is one of continual coming and going before retiring for a quiet evening in your rooms.
In the morning you all breakfast heartily before asking the locals for directions to where you can find Amzel. You are directed to the old watchtower on the north-eastern edge of the village via an alleyway that leads up the side of the temple of Justicia. It is only a short walk and you can hear the sounds of the bazaar getting underway somewhere behind you. When you arrive you can see that the watchtower, although not in as ruined a state as the keep on the hill, has seen better days and has now largely been converted into a private dwelling. Adjacent to it is a squat, stone-built building which, judging by the bars on the windows is the town gaol. Sure enough, as you approach, two fresh-faced men in leather armour and carrying spears and stout cudgels emerge and set off down the path toward you deep in conversation, scarcely acknowledging your presence as they pass.
Deciding on the direct approach, you walk straight up to the tower’s only door and knock. After a short pause a small hatch opens in the door and a beaky nose attached to a wizened face pokes out. Albrecht comes straight to the point: “Amzel? Yes? We’re here to solve your problem with the ogre attacking your caravans.” Somewhat startled, the man opens the door but seems friendly enough although a little taken aback by your directness. “Who are you?” is all he can initially manage.
“We’ve come from Dundra to help and we have some, errr, experience in these matters,” Achmed interjects, trying to be helpful. At this, Amzel’s face clears, “are you the ogre slayers of Dundra we have heard so much about? Gentlemen, your reputation preceeds you. Praise be to Justicia that our prayers have been answered!” With you all looking somewhat smugly at each other, he says, “let us go together to see Dwurthim, our Shire Reeve. He will be greatly pleased you are here.”
Amzel takes you to the squat gaol built into the side of his tower and straight in through the front door. Inside you can see a cluster of cages for the keeping of prisoners and, dominating the room, a large man with his feet up on a desk in the front of the gaol. Behind him are racks for the storage of spears, some neatly stacked shields, and a pitted board on the wall that has three throwing knives sticking out of it. Several “wanted” posters with crude drawings of the suspects on them serve as the only decoration.
Swinging his feet off the desk as you enter, the man welcomes Amzel and introduces himself as Dwurthim, the local Shire Reeve and co-ordinator of the village guard. All six of them. “It’s been a long time since the army patrols came through here,” he explains. “We do the best we can.”
At your questioning, the two eagerly tell you what they know, expanding a little on what Father Donovan has already told you. It is largely caravans that are being attacked, both north and south of the village and it seems to make little difference whether they are full or returning empty. The attacks are characterised by extreme and unusual aggression and brutality, even by the standards of ogres and kobolds, and especially so in the case of the local tribe who have been largely peaceful for years. The only person they know of from the village who has been killed was Parkad the furrier. He was on a trip north with one of the caravans – “a man with more money on him than sense in him,” they add – when it was waylaid by Logbrag and a group of kobolds. One of the caravan guards survived to flee back to the village and reported something very odd, the ogre appeared to have painted himself black, but the man was half delusional with fear and they don’t really know what to believe. There is no doubt, however, that trade through Hadler’s Gap is being badly affected and if the attacks keep up the caravans will simply find an alternative route, which would have severe repercussions on the village itself.
You question the pair about the ruined keep, hypothesising that someone or something is using it as a vantage point from which to spot the caravans. Dwurthim tells you that he occasionally sends a patrol up there and they have not reported any unusual activity but he can’t rule it out of course. The two are concerned about the fee you will command for your services and Achmed assures the pair that it will be “no more than you can afford.” Slightly reassured, Dwurthim offers you two of his men to lead you to the cave where the ogre was last known to have made his lair. It’s only a couple of hours hike to the south and fairly easy to find but they will help you to locate it quickly.
The pair enquire as to where you are lodging while you are in town and assure you that your choice of the Prancing Unicorn is a good one. “There’s nothing wrong with the Watchful Wyvern,” says Dwurthim, but it’s a locals’ place and some of them are a bit stuck in their ways. They work hard and play hard,” he shrugs at your quizzical looks. You make arrangements with Dwurthim to set off first thing in the morning. He assures you that his men will be waiting for you and both Dwurthim and Amzel wish you success in your endeavours.
You decide to spend the remainder of the day using some of your hard won loot to purchase some extra gear. A day of wandering around the bazaar and visiting an assortment of hard-nosed merchants ensues, and you come away lighter much of your ready cash but heavier to the tune of much additional armour and weaponry. Achmed in particular manages to locate a very fine bow indeed, clearly sold off here by one of the passing caravans. Pioden nearly matches this with his purchase of an army-issue longbow pawned by a deserter from the military academy at Khor’mot. It even bears the seal of the imperial guard!
Worn out from your day of hard core shopping, you return to the Prancing Unicorn to plan your expedition tomorrow.
To be continued…