By Brian Flood
Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr
Month of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
They arrived individually or in small groups. Adventurers – that special breed of person that seeks reward and fame through danger and, occasionally, death. None knew what challenges lay before them. They only knew that the path to fulfill their personal goals brought them on that pleasant spring day to their present location – Kendall Keep.
Kendall Keep was a remote outpost on the far eastern border of the Kingdom of Cormyr. Its strategic location – along the East Way trade road on the eastern edge of the Hullack Forest – made it an invaluable asset in securing trade traveling from the heart of Cormyr eastward thru the Thunder Gap pass of the Thunder Peaks range, and vice versa. It was also rather famous for another feature – the Caves of Chaos.
The Caves became a well-used adventurer locale in the early 1350’s. The Lord of the Keep, Macsen Wheldig – himself a retired adventurer – encouraged adventurers to ply their trade in the Caves and in the nearby area. After several years, the humanoid tribes of the Caves were either eliminated or driven into hiding. And so, peace and stability reigned in the small fiefdom for many years.
And then tragedy struck. In 1360, the Tuigan Horde, a massive army of nomadic horsemen, invaded the lands of eastern Faerun. They cut through the eastern lands as a hot dagger slices butter. King Azoun IV of Cormyr saw this threat for what it was and made ready to meet it in a grand clash of arms. He marshaled the Purple Dragons, the standing army of Cormyr, and also summoned his Lords and their private companies of men-at-arms. Then the King, together with the assembled armies of other nearby lands, rode forth to battle the Horde.
King Azoun’s Crusade of the Alliance defeated the Horde in the Second Battle of the Golden Way, which occurred in the land of Thesk. During the desperate struggle, King Azoun himself slew the Yamun Khahan in single combat. The victorious armies of the Alliance returned to their native lands and immortal fame.
But the victory came with a price. Lord Macsen’s entire contingent was annihilated in the climactic battle. He and his men were buried among the other soldiers of the victorious Alliance armies.
And so, rulership of the Keep fell to Devereau, a loyal henchman to Macsen who was left behind to serve as castellan until his liege lord returned. When rumors of the tragedy filtered back to the Keep, Devereau held out against them for as long as he was able. After a time, however, the castellan and the vassals of the Keep came to accept that their Lord, and a great majority of their husbands and sons, would never return.
That was ten years ago. Since then, Devereau continued to rule the Keep as its castellan. He refused the idea of serving as Lord and continued to look for a worthy citizen to claim that title. The Keep continued to serve as a loyal outpost to Cormyr. And despite three attempts from marauding humanoids and bandits, the Keep remained in friendly hands.
It was to this border outpost that our heroes arrived as unmet strangers. Although each adventurer’s arrival was slightly different, many aspects were very similar.
The East Way road ran east to west through the area surrounding the Keep. The Hullack Forest provided a “pocket” in the center of which lay the cleared lands of the Keep. Further to the east, a small tributary paralleled the road for a short distance before turning south. Small, well-tended fields dotted the area within twenty score yards or so of the elevated fortification.
Even from the road, the Keep was an impressive sight; a mighty castle perched on a flat-topped hill. A path winded its way up the steep slope, passing beneath the frowning guard towers until it reached the main gate along the eastern wall. Crenellated battlements lined the thirty-foot high walls, offering plenty of cover for archers to attack any foe coming up the exposed path. As each adventurer drew near, a clanging, as of a great gong went up from one of the towers that overlooked the path – clearly, their approach had been noticed.
They continued on their way, their backs itching as they tried not to think about deadly arrows suddenly being launched in their direction. Following the curve of the path around to the side, they came to the great gate – a raised drawbridge flanked by forty five-foot high watchtowers. Glancing at the ground to either side, the adventurers noticed that the ground was set with spikes and strewn with caltrops – obviously anyone approaching by a means other than the cleared path would meet with great difficulty. The fissure that served as the moat appeared to be several stories deep.
As they approached to within a dozen or so paces of the moat, a guard on roof of the rightmost tower hailed them. “Halt!” cried a male voice. “Who goes there? Friend or foe?”
Each individual responded with the word ‘friend’. This sparked a shouted question from a guard on the roof of the left tower.
“What is your purpose?”
In reply, each traveler responded with his or her reasons for coming to the Keep. Some gave the complete truth, while others chose to give a ‘slightly modified’ version of their purpose.
The guard from the first tower resumed the questions by shouting, “Name?”
Once again, each visitor replied, giving his or her name.
“Right!” Came the response from the second guard. He then immediately disappeared from sight.
Moments later, the drawbridge slowly lowered with many groans and clanks from its great chains, revealing a lowered portcullis. The adventures stepped out onto the lowered drawbridge and glanced down. They took note that the bottom of the moat was filled with fluid that possessed a bluish-grey film. The guard on the leftmost tower reappeared, precipitating the departure of the guard on the rightmost tower.
After a few more breaths, the portcullis slowly rose, creaking, clearing the way for the visitors to step off the drawbridge and between the towers. About ten feet ahead waited the final barrier to their entry; a set of sturdy double doors made of thick wood reinforced with iron bands. Each door had a barred window that is apparently blocked from the other side.
The shutter at the back of a barred window in the right-hand door opened and a woman’s face appeared. The woman silently scrutinized the visitors for several long moments of calm deliberation. Finally, she spoke, saying “Welcome to Kendall Keep.”
She looked each arrival up and down, her eyes resting thoughtfully on their exposed weaponry. “I’m Sabine, the Gatekeeper,” she went on. “This is a peaceable place. We don’t like brawling in the streets, folks stabbed in the tavern, or anything like that. We follow the King’s laws here, so I will ask you to bind with peace-string any weapon larger than a dinner knife. You do this by tying each weapon to its scabbard or to your belt – your bows must be unstrung, as well. Your may keep your staves as long as you use them only for assistance when walking and do not wield them in aggression. I must warn you that being found with an unbound weapon is grounds for arrest and immediate expulsion not only from the Keep but from the entire Forest Kingdom. If you are here in answer to the Castellan’s call for adventurers, you may, of course, apply for a royal charter of arms, providing you remain in the employ of the Keep.” Sabine then passed short lengths of string through the bars and waited until each visitor had peace bonded his or her visible weapons. She nodded in silent approval to those who chose to bond their concealed arms, as well.
After their weapons had been bonded, she continued. “Keep your weapons bonded within the walls and stay out of trouble, and you’ll find the Keep a home away from home. Stir up trouble and you’ll wish you’d never come here. I guarantee it.”
With that, she disappeared from the window, closing the shutter behind her. A minute later, there came the sound of a bolt being drawn back and a key being turned. Then the door swung open, permitting entry into the Keep itself.
It also allowed a more complete glimpse of Sabine, who then stood on the other side of the double doors. She was a fit, attractive woman who appeared to be have seen at least thirty summers. She wore a suit of chainmail with a multi-colored tabard. Upon the tabard and the shield is a coat of arms. A purple dragon rampart, on a field of white dominated the upper left diagonal of the heraldry while a green letter “K” superimposed over a white castle on a field of purple filled the lower right diagonal. An unbound longsword hung in scabbard on her left hip.
Sabine stepped back to allow the visitors and any traveling companions to enter a long, narrow courtyard. The courtyard stretched almost forty paces north-south, with an westerly lane at the southern end, and six or seven paces east-west. A thirty-foot high wall defined the eastern side. The gatehouse was located in the center of the eastern side and a forty five-foot tower marked the southeast corner. The southern wall was a continuation of the eastern wall – a thirty-foot high wall with a walkway and battlements at its height. Across the courtyard, a long building defined the western boundary of the narrow confines; it stood twenty feet in height and had battlements that faced the courtyard. Two sets of double doors marked its front. The northern wall was most imposing. Its forty five-foot height dominated the courtyard and provided a murderous advantage to any enemies unfortunate enough to be caught in the narrow lane. A sixty-foot high tower anchored the northeast corner of the area.
The gatekeeper raised her voice to be heard over great noise created by the closing of the portcullis and the drawbridge. Gesturing to the northernmost set of double doors on the long building, she said, “That would be the stables. And that would be the warehouse,” she explained while pointing to the southern set of double doors.
“The inn and the tavern border the market area,” she continued. “You can get there by following the south wall along until you reach the western end of this outer bailey. The Green Man Inn is on the eastside of the market square and the One-Eyed Cat – that’s the tavern – is on the north side. Jadale, the militia lieutenant, will meet a few days hence with those who have come in response to the Castellan’s call. Fare you well, and remember all that I told you.” With one last stern look, Sabine left the visitors to their own devices.
The newcomers with mounts and pack animals made for the stables. Tella, the stablegirl, explained that stabling would cost 5 silver pieces per day – or one gold if the rider desired fresh oats for his mount in lieu of common manger hay. She further offered to store any tack and harness for the mounts either in the stable or in the warehouse.
After taking care of any mounts, the visitors followed Sabine’s directions and passed along the southern side of the outer bailey. Enroute, they noticed signs for a smith and a quartermaster as well as several dwellings that appeared to be living quarters for the Keep’s citizens. Passing through a narrow alley, they discovered themselves in a large open area located in the southwestern corner of the Keep.
The centerpiece of this market was a large fountain, its water splashing from a marble statue carved in the shape of a nymph. A few permanent merchants’ booths were set against the western wall of the courtyard – which was the standard thirty foot height common to the outer bailey. A sign on the northernmost building depicted a white tomcat with an eyepatch; a sign over one of the eastern buildings depicted a simple drawing of a human figure, all in green.
Entering the inn, the visitors met Calista, the innkeeper. They also found that daily weekly room and board (meals and a two bed room) would cost them one gold piece while a ten-day rate would cost a mere eight gold pieces. A pallet for the night in the common sleeping room came at a cost of a single silver piece; a blanket for the pallet could be rented for another silver piece each night.
After procuring their lodging the separate characters moved to the tavern to quench their thirst. Thus began the process of meeting the Keep’s citizens as well as other visitors. This process continued over the course of several days until the day of the meeting with the militia lieutenant. Several of the people they met were worthy of note.
Of those that answered the Castellan’s call there were eight. Alain was a local boy with a eye for sharp dress. Baulin was a dwarven axe-for-hire, looking for work. He spent much of his time with two other companions; Torin – a rustic half-elven archer-priest of some sort, and Velgardrin – a dwarven priest of battle. Amiel was a beautiful, charming and graceful woodsman with some obvious martial training; she shied from discussing details of her past. Declan was a quiet, withdrawn mage with a brogue accent and a knack for anything involving flames. Malk was a charismatic, graceful young man, who was also gifted with musical skills. Salik, the final member, was a slightly built and darkly clothed roguish individual.
Only two others claimed long term occupancy at the inn. The first, a tall, exotically dressed woman known only as Third apparently hailed from some distant land of warrior women and spoke very little of the Common tongue. The other was Aseneth, a black-robed young woman with a pale complexion and a fixation with all things that were dead.
The visitors also learned that Calista, the innkeeper of The Green Man, was married to Wilf, the proprietor of the One-Eyed Cat tavern. While Calista saw to the upkeep of The Green Man, her husband Wilf ran the neighboring One-Eyed Cat. Both were lifelong residents of the Keep and their daughter Ebb was married to Jolan Lum – a serving member of the militia and one of the other long-serving Keep families. Jess, the young serving girl, waited on customers at the tavern and did whatever chores are required at the tavern or inn.
Several notable personalities emerged from those first few days. Cob, a local hunter, is a frequent customer of the One-Eyed Cat. Mouse, the halfling locksmith, is another. Rafe, the heavily muscled blacksmith; Abercrombie, the fiery head of the chapel of Helm; Kimber Lum, the youngest of his clan and a dedicated woman-chaser; Jocelyn the tanner and her fiancé, Quince Brakenbury the tailor; Reece the cobbler, a quiet, semi-retired veteran; all of these individuals and more frequented the tavern nightly.
On the evening of the 14th day of Mirtul, the summons came. All those seeking to answer the Castellan’s call for adventurers were to meet at highsun the next day with Jadale, the militia lieutenant, in the Hall of Justice – a chamber within the Keep’s fortress.
The content of Company of the Silver Claws is the property and copyright of Brian Flood, and are not to be published or redistributed without permission.
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