Ninmonth 27 (continued)
(tenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)
With full waterskins, the party ignores the unexplored tunnels and returns by the paths they know to the stairs. They ascend to the first level of the shrine. There is a brief discussion about how to escape the teleport trap, but trial quickly proves that they need do nothing special, they simply walk forward down the hallway and soon find themselves in the intersection between the wine-making room and the priest’s quarters.
Their goal is the kitchen but they pass first through the entrance chamber to gauge the time of day and find it to be early morning, dimly lit with the sun not yet high enough to clear the mountaintops. That fits what their bodies are telling them about the need for breakfast.
In the kitchen they find enough wood, flour, fat, salt, and water to make a reasonable breakfast of griddle cakes, and don’t even have to unpack their camp gear. Thrud insists that they all drink deeply from his wine cask, as he will not be taking it with him. There is very little food left over in the kitchen after breakfast is apportioned – perhaps enough for a lean lunch, but certainly not enough for a five-day trek back to Rhoona.
They have the key to the grain stores, which contain more food than they can eat – but also more food than they can carry. Morgan doesn’t expect that her plow horse is waiting patiently at the trail head, or even alive by this point. There is a hand quern in the kitchen, and they could grind the grain into more portable flour, but a trial run suggests that will take hours and hours, if not a day to make enough flour to take with them. Finally, Odleif suggests that they not grind the grain all the way down to flour for camp-bread, but rather just crack the hulls. Now that they have plenty of water, the cracked wheat can be boiled into a porridge over a campfire, and two hours’ work will get them enough for tonight and tomorrow’s breakfast at least. If they can get out of the mountains into the hills, they can hunt for game. They take turns eating, grinding, and packing, and by mid-morning they are ready to leave.
With no horse to ride or carry gear, all of their loads are re-assessed and re-assigned. Odleif, as ever, carries the lion’s share of water, for with his boots, he is like their own personal camel caravan. Ember, entrusted with the party’s treasure, carries the bag of holding. Morgan resigns herself to packing, rather than wearing, her plate armor. Thrud is feeling loaded, and not from the wine he drank. Rather, he is carrying nearly 800 coins, which is his own personal treasure plus what he collected from the warrior defenders of the shrine. He has to admit that he will not be able to carry all of it and still keep up with the party. Morgan tells him to forget it, as it has to be less than his share of what Odleif is carrying, but he shakes his head and goes off to think for a bit.
When Morgan calls out that it is time to get marching, Thrud returns with a plan, for which he asks Bhelgarn’s assistance. The two of them stand on the narrow ledge outside the cave entrance to the shrine. With Bhelgarn belaying, Thrud carefully makes his way up the nearly vertical mountain face, driving in pitons as he goes, until he reaches the manticore ledge. Once there, he clears a space from the bones and fur-balls in the back of the small cave, then places two sacks with all his accumulated coins as far back as he can, covering them with bones and loose rocks. He removes the pitons on the way down.
“What, are you coming back for that?” asks Morgan incredulously.
“No,” says Thrud happily. “But my children will – I will tell them of this place and they will seek it to earn glory and find their arv, their fødselsrett, ya?”
The party sets off in the mid-morning in good spirits. Dwelling on thoughts of children and their own legacy is more pleasant than thinking about their upcoming confrontation with Xanathon, certainly. At the trailhead there is no sign of the horse beyond days’-old hoofprints going in all directions. Lunch is on the narrow mountain trail, and they are fortunate to have cooked, though cold, leftover griddlecakes without having to unpack their camp gear and with no wood to be had even if they could.
By evening they have made it out of the steepest mountain switchbacks and knife-edge trails. They camp early in an alpine valley, at the first place there is enough scrub-brush to gather for a fire, and cook their cracked wheat to make porridge. It is filling enough but exceedingly bland, and they are all looking forward to the next day’s hunting. Morgan sets the watch schedule before they turn in for the night. [one half day’s travel from shrine to Rhoona]
(eleventh full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)
[Note: Free from the influence of the shrine, Odleif has a good night’s sleep, and in the morning, he has advanced to 6th level. He gains the xx NWP]
[Note: Free from the influence of the shrine, Morgan has a good night’s sleep, and in the morning, she has advanced to 5th level. She gains the ability to cast spells of third level – but still doesn’t know any! She is, however, now able to summon two magic missiles when she casts the spell.]
[Note: Free from the influence of the shrine, Ember has a good night’s sleep, and in the morning, she has advanced to 6th level. She gains the ability to cast spells of third level, and awareness of the specific prayers for Detect Magic, Mother’s Eye, and Fireball. She will no longer earn experience for casting orisons.]
[Note: Free from the influence of the shrine, Wolfbane has a good night’s sleep, and in the morning, she has advanced to 5th level. She gains the ability to cast spells of third level – but still doesn’t know any! ]
[Note: Shaken from his encounter with the Spectre, Thrud had been drained down to 3rd level. After a good night’s sleep, however, he has recovered enough to advance to 4th level.]
[Note: Free from the influence of the shrine, Poncerius has a good night’s sleep, and in the morning, he has advanced to 4th level. He gains the NWP of Danger Sense]
The party awakens in their mountain valley. In the early morning light the alpine flowers are pretty, but they are all wondering whether there is any food to be had about. Over their breakfast of cracked-wheat porridge they discuss their plans for the day. Fluffy, Bhelgarn, Poncherius, Wolfbane and Pooches will tend camp for the morning, while Odleif, Thrud, Morgan, and Ember spread out and look for food. The plan is to meet back at camp by mid-day, hopefully with enough food for a quick lunch and eventual dinner, and then get in a half-day’s march along the caravan trail to Rhoona.
Odleif heads upland into the mountains that ring the valley, ranging far until he finds a salt lick. He improvises a snare from the party’s supply of rope, then works his way along the cliffs, tracing the salt layer to several other outcrops and setting snares by them as well. Finally he finds a high point from which he can survey the land beneath him, in the hope of seeing some prey animal he might take with his bow. After a few hours, he retraces his steps, finding every snare but the last one empty. [Set snares, hunting, woodland survival, roll is 6 meals found]
The last snare is in a curious state – the rope frayed and broken, the area of the lick torn up, covered in blood and feathers. Casting about, he finds a hind-quarter haunch of mountain goat, snare still around its hoof. As near as he can make it out, he caught a goat, but then some huge bird of prey found the goat and ripped it apart, consuming or carrying off most of it but dropping the leg. Still, a leg in the hand is worth more than a goat in the bush, so he heads back to camp content.
Thrud heads southeast roughly along the trail, but checking the thickest tangles of scrub he can find. It is fall and nearly everything has been eaten, hoarded or is rotten. After a full morning of searching, he has found only a handful of dry, wizened blueberries. Not worth much by themselves, at least they can be added to the cracked wheat porridge for a bit of flavor. [Survival, Coastal Forest. Roll at disadvantage is 0 meals].
Morgan travels in circles around the camp, increasing her distance at each circuit and looking for game. Eventually she comes upon a pika warren. Approaching from downwind, she is able to shoot a single pika before the rest bolt. She waits a long time, but they do not venture forth again. Not much eating, but in their current situation they will need every bite. [Survival, Forest. Roll at disadvantage is 1 meal.]
Ember goes to the southwest, down into the valley floor, looking for seeps and streams that run through scrub tangles. After a morning of work, she emerges dirty, muddy, and hair full of twigs – and has filled a large sack full of mushrooms! [Mycology, roll is 7 meals].
Back at camp, the party has a wonderful lunch of goat and mushroom stew. [total 14 meals – 8.5 eaten is 5.5 left]. There is even enough left over to save and combine with the last of the cracked wheat for dinner. Camp is broken and they march for the rest of the afternoon, across the open valleys and up and over steep passes. Some of the broader and deeper valleys have thick stands of pine and fir trees that line the trail, but the steep slopes and passes are just dry, dead grass.
Morgan calls for a halt in a valley dense with mountain spruce. She gathers firewood as camp is made, but hears the sound of something large snorting on the other side of a rock outcrop. Returning silently to the party, she gathers a few of the fighter types and seeks out the source of the noise. As they creep around the edge of the rocks, they come face to face with…the old plow horse!
The horse is covered in plastered mud and dust. It is clearly dehydrated, with pinched skin and froth around its mouth, dried salt around its eyes, but is otherwise in good condition. It follows them eagerly back to camp and gulps down water so fast that Morgan has to give it only a few swallows at a time, making it wait before she allows it to drink a bit more. As the party sits around the fire after dinner, they take turns inventing fanciful tales of what happened to the horse and what it did to survive out here in the wilds.
the party ends still in the mountains, at one full day’s travel from shrine to Rhoona
It is after midnight when Morgan, on watch, hears a growling, screeching, and wailing. She moves back along the trail through the woods until she comes upon two huge owlbears. The creatures appear to have been following the trail, perhaps even following them, but are currently scratching at one another and buffeting each other with their wings. She can just barely make out that one of the ’bears has clutched in its paw a goat leg, flesh picked off down to the bone. This appears to be the point of contention, as the one without it tries continually to wrest it from his companion. When she returns to camp, Morgan chides Odleif that it looks like it was the owlbears that “got his goat”.
After Morgan, Bhelgarn, Poncherius, Thrud, and Odleif have armored up, they return along the trail. The owlbears are still fighting. The party whistles and shouts to attract their attention. Without hesitation the two owlbears cease their hostilities and charge through the trees at them. By the time they reach the party, one of them has succumbed to several rounds of missile fire, and the second one does not last long in melee.
Odleif tries a few sample cuts and finds the ‘bears covered in thick muscle, marbled with fat. He licks his lips. “Fetch me lantern!” he says eagerly. "I gots some dressin’ t’ do." Skinned and field-dressed, even one of the huge owlbears is as much meat as they can carry, and more than enough to see the entire party back to Rhoona.
(twelfth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)
After a breakfast mostly consisting of owlbear bacon, the party continues south along the caravan trail. All morning is spent passing through the alpine valleys, but from their mid-day camp they can see down the long slope sloughing off the mountain sides into the highland valleys below. Morgan has insisted that everyone carry their own gear, as the plow horse is still recovering from dehydration and it will do no good to load him and then have him founder.
It is late afternoon when Morgan, walking ahead, crests a ridge and sees a group of three ogres coming north along the caravan trail. She darts back quickly before they can see her and warns the party. They retreat a bit along the trail until they find a place where some boulders offer natural concealment and plan an ambush. With the wind direction as it is, it is likely the ogres will get a whiff of them, or the horse, soon after crossing the ridge, so it is decided that the ambush needs bait. Fluffy volunteers.
When everyone is in place, Fluffy ascends to the crest of the ridge and waits. When she judges the ogres are at just the right distance, she climbs on top of a rock and shouts down at them, “Who dares approach Fluffy’s hill? Ogreries? Silly ogreries? Fluffy is on rock, on hill, so Fluffy much bigger than all you! You better run from Fluffy, stupid ogreries!”
At first the ogres look up at her, dumbfounded that anyone so small and alone would dare challenge them. When they finally realize what is going on, they start to chortle and guffaw at her impertinence. This incenses Fluffy, and she hops up and down on her rock, shrieking insults shrilly. One ogre, perhaps craftier than the other two, attempts to sidle his way up the trail, thinking to beat the others to the halfling and so claim her as his meal, alone. When the other two realize what is going on, they stop laughing, and begin racing pell-mell up the trail, throwing elbows and jostling to be first at Fluffy.
At this, Fluffy jumps down, turns and runs back ahead of them.
As she sprints down the trail, Fluffy can hear the ogres coming after her. With every stride they are covering three times the ground, or more, as she is, and they are closing fast. She fears she has misjudged the effect of her chain armor on her speed, and begins to shout, “Now! Trappy now! NOW! NOOOOW!”
The lead ogre is less than ten yards behind Fluffy when the party stands. Odleif and Morgan each get off bow shots, and the ogres halt their charge, confused by the appearance of so many foes when a moment before it had been a single halfling they were chasing. Then Ember calls out, “Ved smia av Glöð!” She makes an overhand swing of her arm, and when her hand reaches the height of her waist a sound rings out like a hammer falling on steel. A single spark flies forward, drifting lazily toward the knot of confused ogres. When it lands at their feet, it erupts in an fiery explosion so intense that all three of them are knocked to the ground. The force of the explosion is accompanied by great gouts of flame, and the caravan trail and nearby rocks are charred, the ogres burned.
After the roaring of the fires fades there is silence for a moment. Then the ogres climb to their feet and start racing away from the party. Odleif and Morgan fire one more shot each, just to convince the ogres to continue their retreat. As they disappear over the ridge, one of them can be heard lamenting in broken Common. “Magic no fair! Bad halfling wizard burn poor ogres…”
The party takes a brief rest and then moves on. This time Odleif is scouting ahead, to pick up any sign of the ogres, but he reports that they went off-trail shortly after running away, and he sees nothing more of their tracks for the rest of the afternoon. The trail has now come off the mountain slope and into the heavily eroded ridge tops and dry washes of the hill country. In the early evening they make camp in a valley bottom.
Ember has been turning things over in her mind all day. In the shrine, she warned Thrud that the spirit he contacted could have been malevolent, could have been lying. But now, having had some days free of the evil influence of that place, she is recalling a tale. She heard it as a novice, when the sisters would tell tales at night. It was the tale of a giant who had hidden his heart so that he could not be killed. A young hero, the son of a king, was able to find the heart and squeeze it until the giant died, thus rescuing his brothers and a princess besides. Now, squeezing the gem is out of the question – they have tried many different ways to destroy it and have not found anything that can harm it. But if there is truth in the tale it may be that the spirit of the Khan was telling Thrud truly that the key to making Xanathon vulnerable is to bring the soul gem near him. Tonight, around the campfire, Ember tells the tale to the party.
after two full day’s travel from shrine to Rhoona
(thirteenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)
[Note: During her rest, Ember learns that she has now been granted use of the spell Forge of the Mother, which will allow her to temporarily make weapons more potent.]
The day’s travel is the long and arduous climb up the side of one valley, across the dry uplands, down into the next valley, and across the valley floor. If the valley wash is dry, keep going. If a stream is running, fill the skins. Then repeat the process up the next valley side.
This goes on all day. The only encounter comes in the afternoon, down in a thickly-forested valley with a permanent stream, when Odleif, scouting in advance of the party, comes upon two giant weasels lapping water from the stream. Their summer coats of dusty brown are greying – in a month they will be pure white. They are downwind of him and seem not to have noticed his presence. At first he reflects on how valuable their furs will be in the winter, when he could trap them, skin them, and sell the coats as ermine. Then he laughs to himself, thinking of his share of the platinum coins alone in the strange magic bag carried by Ember. He watches them a good while until, having drunk their fill, they move on. Then he returns to the party and leads them across the stream.
In the late afternoon the caravan trail swings east and finally follows a valley rather than cutting across it. Although they are in the valley, they are still climbing as the floor rises and the walls descend. Eventually they emerge on the slope leading to the mountain pass that will take them to Rhoona. There is still daylight enough to push on, so Morgan says they will continue and make camp in the pass itself. But Pooches grows agitated, whining more and more frequently, stopping and sniffing the air. Finally he stops altogether, sits down on the trail, and barks at them as they walk away.
Ember turns and goes back to him, kneels by his side. “What is it, boy? Something not right ahead?”
He turns and looks back across the way they have come, whines again.
“Is it Iris?” she guesses. This time he barks, two short, choking barks. “She’s still out there, isn’t she?” More whines.
Ember stands and looks down at the dog. When he found them a week ago he had been starving, and covered in mud, dried blood, and burrs. Now his coat is sleek and shiny – for early on Fluffy stole Wolfbane’s hairbrush and she has been brushing him whenever the mage is sleeping. He has put on weight with them, and gorged himself on owlbear meat in the last two days. He looks to be in better condition now than when they left the pyramid. And if Iris is still out there, somewhere, she surely needs him more than they do.
“Okay, boy,” she says. “Go find her. Go find Iris!”
Pooches jumps to his feet and starts jogging back along the caravan trail, away from them, with the long, loping strides of a wolf that will be running all night.
“Glöð be with you,” whispers Ember, just before he disappears from view.
They camp as planned in the mountain pass, though with one less of them on watch for the night.
The party’s progress after three days of travel from the shrine
(fourteenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)
The party spends the morning climbing, and then descending, the narrow mountain pass that is called the “Vestfjord Gap”. On their way down they can see the waters of the fjord far below them, as well as the thick band of dense forests that border the fjord. The city of Rhoona itself is too small and distant to be seen at this point.
The rest of the day is spent crossing the rugged, sparsely forested hills. Morgan and Odleif are expecting to see patrols or scouts for the Ducal Guard, but none are encountered. Some speculate the situation has already been resolved, others that Draco simply isn’t expecting the dwarves to come from this side. Morgan has previously expressed that she doesn’t believe the dwarven army is coming, but now she is curiously silent on the subject.
The party’s progress after four days of travel from the shrine
(fifteenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)
The party travels along the pine-covered ridgetops of the hills. By mid-afternoon they have passed the ravine where the forces of the temple ambushed them. After that, when there are breaks in the trees, they can see the farms and fields clustered on the north shore of the fjord, and, across the fjord, the buildings of Rhoona. The fjord itself has numerous fishing vessels traversing its waters.
By late afternoon they are emerging from pine stands more and more often, and Morgan worries that they will be spotted from the farmhouses or by any scouts for the guard. Fluffy, slower than most of them but always difficult to see outside, remains on the trail but the main party parallels the trail, working their way from copse to copse. When they spot a familiar stone farmhouse and adjoining barn, Morgan unloads their supplies from the plow horse, points it at the trail, and slaps its rump. Confused at first, by the time it reaches the trail it has its bearings and soon is walking in the direction of the barn.
It is not long after that when Morgan calls a halt for the day. They camp off the trail, in a particularly rugged and densely-forested location that is nonetheless near the village on the north shore. Their campsite is on a hill overlooking the fjord and Rhoona. Although they are surrounded by fields and holds, this patch of land is too rocky and steep to make good cropland or pasture, so there is little chance of the local farming families coming upon them by accident.
After a fifth day of travel, the party arrives at the village on the far shore of the fjord from Rhoona
(sixteenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)
After an uneventful night, the party wakens early. There is a long discussion of whether they should attempt to return to Rhoona or not. In the end, it is decided that it is too dangerous – they will almost certainly be immediately set upon by either the Ducal Guard, or the Cretians, or both. If they go, it will have to be either at night, or with all of them invisible. Still, they need information – they need to know what is going on in the city – how is the Duke, what is Draco doing, how close are they to war?
After breakfast it is decided that Thrud and Ember, who know the language, will be sent into the village on the north shore, invisible, to gather information. They should be able to find out most of what the party wants to know just by eavesdropping on conversations.
Thrud and Ember do some quick exploration of the village. The docks must have been active in the pre-dawn, but all the fishing boats are out now and there are just a few old men and women there repairing nets. The town dairy farmers are similarly mending tools – having gathered their summer hay, they milk all morning and then have little to do these fall afternoons. It is quickly apparent that the only place to gather information in the village will be in the taverns of inns, of which there are several.
Their first impression of the tavern is that it is huge for the few customers gathered. Ember soon realizes that it was built for the summer caravan trade but is beyond anything needed for local use. A few grizzled men cluster at the bar and sip their ale slowly as they talk, while the large public room sits empty and dark. Near the door are hung posters – reasonably accurate sketch drawings of Morgan and Thrud, less representative pictures of Ember, Poncherius, and Odleif. The sparse text declares them to be criminals and enemies of the state, and offers a large cash reward for information leading to their capture.
Behind the bar are posted copies of the Ducal Decrees. Four of them Ember recognizes – taxes must be paid in beer, horses must be ridden backwards, the declaration of war with the dwarves, and no fires after sundown. One, however, is unfamiliar. She checks the date – after their departure from Rhoona – and then reads the proclamation in its entirety:
“Whereas, the riders of Rhoona must be capable of great and heroic deeds in the imminent war,
and whereas, the condition of their steeds is of utmost importance to the success of the cavalry,
it is hereby decreed that all meat items in the town – to wit, beeves, sheeps, and fishes – shall be declared horse-feed!
Any human found to be consuming said meat, or feeding other than said meat to his steed, shall know the wrath of the Duke!
Such is the word of the Duke of Rhoona."
The mood in the tavern is pretty grim. The men talk about the approaching dwarven army, how long it will take to get to Rhoona, what will happen to the city if it does not immediately capitulate – whether the dwarves will merely loot it or will want to burn it as well, whether the father-flung communities like theirs will be spared. All of the men have kin in the city, and they discuss their plans to get them out. The timing is the tricky part. All of them have boats, or access to boats, but if they make their rescue attempt too soon, before the fighting begins, the Guard could confiscate their boats or even arrest them for sedition. There are rumors of more than one wealthy city merchant who even now sits in the Ducal Guard prison for trying to sneak their family out of the city – apparently Draco considers any public expression of concern about the coming assault to be treasonous. So it will be best to delay any rescue attempt until the fighting has actually begun and the Guard are occupied – but by then it may be too late, and how can they land their boats without being swarmed by refugees?
In each tavern they visit, the talk is the same, variations on this. But in the last one, there is a different angle to the conversation. There, a burly man with one eye claims that the Duke is dead – and has, in fact, been dead for weeks, since his last public appearance. The man says Draco Stormsailer has murdered the Duke and is issuing the decrees in his place. While there is some disagreement among the men in the tavern about this, a few support this man’s claim and even the ones who don’t agree have to admit that it is possible. Ember is chilled to think that the Duke may be dead, and has to keep reminding herself that they saw the Duke alive, and that after four of the proclamations had already been issued. She is curious about why the man is speaking ill of Draco though, and why the others are tolerating such talk. No one in the city dared speak that way. Is it a sign of the desperateness of the situation, or merely that this village is not under the thumb of the Guard?
Ember and Thrud stay until the afternoon, then return to the campsite to report on what they have learned. The situation is discussed over the campfire, long into the night, by everyone except FluffyKitten, who bores quickly and goes directly to bed. It is agreed that they need to arrange an exchange of the gem in return for Xanathon removing the curse on the Duke. Between a description of the shrine and the name of the spectre, it should be obvious to Xanathon that they have the gem. For as much trouble as he took to guard it, it must be very valuable to him. So most of them agree that negotiating a trade – gem for cure – is possible. The hard part will be arranging the transfer, since they can’t do that in town. Eventually, it is agreed that Ember and Thrud, still invisible, will board a boat on the morrow and attempt to reach Rhoona to send a message to the priest. Ember and Thrud retire early, with plans to take the middle watch.
(seventeenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)
At midnight, Morgan (who was on first watch), wakes Ember and Thrud. They watch over the camp until a few hours before dawn, then wake their replacements and walk into the village. They arrive before dawn, just as the fishermen are preparing their boats for the day. Most of the craft are small, with two or three men on hook and line, but there are a few larger trawlers. Ember chooses one of these – both to have less chance of them being discovered, and more chance that the boat will actually dock in Rhoona to sell its catch at day’s end.
They spend all day on the boat in the fjord, listening to the men and watching as they lower and raise nets, adjust the sails, row, gut fish, and gossip. They are only a few hours into the day when they learn that there are no plans to land in Rhoona. Over the last week, anyone that has docked in Rhoona has had their boat seized (“temporarily requisitioned for the extent of this brief conflict”) by the Guard. There have even been two attempts by the Guard to seize the ships of the village, but fortunately it is obvious when they are crossing the fjord and every seaworthy vessel in the village was long gone by the time they arrived. Apparently, the scouting forces of the Guard are crippled by the deaths and ill health of the meat-fed horses, so they have taken to using fishing vessels to patrol the fjord road, which is assumed to be the route the dwarven army will take to arrive at Rhoona. Other ships are being prepared to fight off an amphibious assault, should the dwarves try that, and still others have simply been impounded to prevent people from fleeing the city. All the fish that are caught today will be brought back to the village, as every day for the last week a Guard-approved vessel has arrived to take them to the city. So far, the prices have been fair, so the fishermen don’t complain much. They are worried that Draco will start paying less once it is clear that they can’t sell their fish on the open market any more. But then, they are more worried that in a few days’ time Rhoona will be burnt to the ground and the Rhoonese enslaved by the dwarves.
When the talk turns to the Duke, they have a different theory than the one-eyed man of the day before. All of the fishermen on this boat agree that the Duke is suffering from an inherited form of insanity that has afflicted his family for a century. This has never been publicly disclosed since the sickness has never before appeared so openly, but the oldest among them attest that the Duke’s father, once a great man, went mad at the end and had to be put away – and that was how the young Duke came to power! Now it seems it is his turn, but without an heir there was only Draco to take over from him.
Tired, queasy, and smelling of fish, Ember and Thrud leave the boat when it docks in the village in the afternoon and make their way back to the hidden camp. Morgan is frustrated that they were unable to deliver the message to Xanathon, but quickly sets to work devising another plan. Eventually they agree that Ember will write a message to the temple of Forsetta, asking them to deliver a second message to the temple of Cretia. The message to Xanathon will read “We have your soul gem, taken from the shrine at the mountain pass. Khan Khaquor sends his regards. If you want the gem back, bring the Duke with you to the third copse west of the village on the north shore. Come at noon tomorrow. Come alone. Remove your curse on the Duke and we will return the gem to you.” Ember, using Wolfbane’s inks, writes the letter by the light of the campfire, and then a second letter to the temple of Forsetta asking for its delivery. All that remains in the morning is to convince a fisherman to deliver it.
(eighteenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)
Before dawn, Ember (now visible) goes down to the village. She has borrowed a robe from Wolfbane and bound her hair differently to look as little like her wanted poster as she can, and she wears her holy symbol inside her robes. Thrud, invisible, accompanies her. She finds a fisherman preparing to set out alone in a two-man boat with a step-down mast. Her initial offer of 5 gold coins is rebuffed, and the man nearly walks away – and then counters by asking for fifty gold.
“Fifty!” she asks incredulously.
“Oh, ya. Fifty would pay for my boat, should the Guard take it, and what’s more gives me an incentive not to turn you over to them for the reward.”
Put that way, Ember decides to accept – but specifies that it will be twenty-five now, twenty-five when the man returns with proof the message has been delivered. They shake on it, a packet is handed over, and the man sets out across the fjord.
While Ember returns to the camp, Thrud lingers invisibly in town to listen to rumors. All the talk is of the great dwarven army. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who actually saw it approaching along the fjord road. Depending on who is doing the telling, it is either hundreds or thousands strong, dwarves clad in bright plate armor glinting in the sun. Some versions have them pulling huge siege engines, others accompanied by hosts of crossbowmen mounted on mules. Everyone agrees that they are only a few days away.
What follows is a long, tense day of watching the boats on the fjord – followed by anxious excitement when the man is seen to be returning in the afternoon. Ember is dispatched to meet the man at the docks. He turns over a simple leather pouch, tied closed at the top with a fancy knot. When asked what is in the pouch, he shrugs and says he does not know – he was just told by the Forsettan priest to hand it over.
After working a bit on the knot, Ember finds no easy way to open it, so resorts to borrowing a cleaning knife from the man and slitting the bag open. Inside is a scrap of parchment and a small silver coin. The parchment reads, “Message delivered. Don’t trust Xanathon!” The coin is a mystery, but proof enough to warrant giving the fisherman the rest of his payment.
Back at the camp, the coin is discovered to be of Cyndician mint, which is even more of a puzzle – until Ember recognizes it as the coin Morgan took from her to give to Brother Eric is his disguise as a beggar [see Post 41].
Now there is nothing to do except prepare for meeting Xanathon at noon on the morrow!