By Brian Flood
Chapter 7 - The Adventure Begins
Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr
Early Morning, 16th Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
The new day dawns upon the lonely Keep. Spring is clearly in the air and a light breeze blows through the open door of the One-Eyed Cat.
The companions enter the tavern one by one, bringing with them their adventuring equipment from their rooms in the Green Man Inn. Cob the hunter is also in attendance, anxious for his duties as the party’s guide. A hearty breakfast is served – compliments of Calista, the cook. Bacon, fried eggs, and freshly baked bread provide an ample amount of food for the journey ahead. As the companions break their fast, they begin to discuss their plans for the day.
Salik stumbles down the stairs holding his hands in front of his eyes to shield them from the bright morning light. “Arghhh, I think I may have had a little too much to drink last night. Serves me right I suppose.” He sits down and eats his breakfast in silence.
Alain comes to the table, stuffing the trailing ends of a blanket into his pack. Sitting down to breakfast, Alain nibbles and fidgets, excitement written all over his youthful face. “Tiron,” he begins, “if you are making a marching order, I would gladly take the lead.” Clearly wanting to be well prepared, Alain begins sharpening a dagger.
Tirondalin tucks into the meal with a great pleasure, pausing only to add a compliment to the chef for Jess to pass on, as well as a simple, “I trust everyone slept well!”
Velgardrin eats his share of the hearty breakfast with the rest of the party. Those with sharp eyes notice that several slices of bread and bacon are stored in one of his large pouches as he eats.
As the companions finish their meal, Tiron cannot hide his youthful enthusiasm as he gathers their attention and begins to articulate the many thoughts that kept him awake the previous night. “As I traveled toward the Keep, the road was, at my rough guess, twenty foot wide, perhaps smaller in some parts. I’d thus like to have us formed at two abreast. Cob will lead from the front with Amiel and myself behind him. Then will be Alain and Declan, Salik and Malk and I’d like the two stout Dwarves as vanguard,” he says with a smile in their direction.
He pauses to catch his breath before continuing, “Sorry for the militaristic formation, but we must be prepared for an attack. “Is everyone fine with that order?” he asks, a genuine enquiry. “If so, I believe we are ready to go, yes?”
Baulin listens to Tiron as he eats. “Works for me, Tiron. Makes it easier for me to watch your back.” Baulin smiles at this comment.
Declan sighs, grouchy at being up so early. He grumbles something under his breath then shoulders his pack. “Yah, yeah. Let’s just move our bleedin’ arses. No need to stand around here flappin’ our lips and making a breeze.”
When his stomach is nicely rounded – matching the rest of him – Velgardrin pushes his chair back from the table and says, “Ok, Tiron. I’ll line up that way. What are your plans should we be attacked?”
Salik nods in agreement at Tiron as the half-elf announces the plan of action. “A good formation, but do you think we could use a scout to explore ahead? I’d be willing to volunteer for that post, unless you think it’s safer for us all to stay in a big group? What do people think?” he looks around the table inquiringly.
“I like that idea, Salik,” agrees Amiel quietly; mindful of the man’s delicate state and therefore, his more than likely aversion to loud noise. “But in unfamiliar territory there should always be two scouts, in case one gets into trouble.” She looks back at Tiron, awaiting a decision, and continues to eat breakfast.
Tiron smiles at the two eager adventurers. “I was going to wait until I surveyed the lay of the land before sending ahead scouts,” he says, “but since you both seem unable to sit still, go forth, but keep your wits about you. I’m sure I didn’t need to mention that, however,” he finishes.
Tucking into breakfast with gusto, Malk says, “Fine about the formation Tiron, what time are we setting forth? ‘Any problems with me bringing my ass with us? It’s been behind me all the way from Highmoon.”
Tiron answers Malk, an even bigger smile on his face this time. “Malk, if that ass of yours can wield a sword, I would gladly have it along.” Tiron’s tone then grows more serious. “However, I would prefer to keep as much mobility as possible, and I believe a donkey would slow us down considerably. Furthermore, don’t you think it would be safer here at the Keep?”
Salik manages to find his sense of humor again despite having a hammering hangover and gives Malk a sly smile. “I find that most people keep their asses behind them all the time,” he quips. “Although I’ve never heard of one wielding a sword! Perhaps your ass could be a valuable ally.”
“On a more serious note though, Tir,” the rogue continues, “how far should we scout ahead? And we should decide on a signal to warn you of danger, like a pile of stones or something. Just in case it’s not safe to shout.”
Lastly, Salik turns and addresses Cob. “And I think you’d best try to teach us some of the trails and landmarks that we might find along the way my friend. Although I don't think it’s going to be easy with this hangover.”
“Well,” Cob begins, “I reckon it ain’t too hard to find them bodies. Jist go down the Keep trail ‘til ya hit the East Way. Then ya turn ta yer left and follow the ‘Way to the east – pretty easy, huh? Well, once ya get near where the ‘Way’s been washed out by the ‘Goblinwater, ya jist head north inta the treeline on a bypass trail, see? Them bodies is ‘bout halfway ‘long that bypass trail – ya’ll ‘ill see ‘im ‘fore we get back to the main road. They’ll be off ‘n the left – guess that’s north – side ‘o the trail.”
Tirondalin frowns in obvious displeasure at Salik’s present condition but reluctantly continues without voicing his concern, “Salik and Amiel, we shall give you a head start. Do not tarry but I want you...” he stops for a moment, in thought, “within sight of the main body until we reach the bypass road. I will leave it up to you to decide, depending on the terrain, whereabouts in relation to the road you’ll travel. At the turnoff, touch base with us and then you can go on ahead as I’d like you to survey the entrance to the woods. But that can wait. For now, you can move off unless you have anything you’d like to discuss, and we’ll follow in a moment’s time.”
Once the two scouts depart, Tirondalin addresses the remaining companions, “The new marching order is as follows; in pairs, from left to right,” he says marking the positions on the table with his fingers. “Cob in the front by himself, then myself and Alain, Malk and Declan, Baulin and Velgardrin. That’s settled then,” he states, checking his equipment despite the fact he has done so several times while seated at the table.
“Everyone ready?” His grin easily betrays his excitement.
* * * * *
Vicinity of Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr
Early Morning, 16th Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
And so the party sets forth on their adventure. The group makes its way out of the Keep, receiving a wish of Tymora’s graces from Sabine, the gatekeeper, as they pass her post. As Tiron decreed, Salik and Amiel lead the small band, acting as scouts. They roam just within sight of the main body, but away from the road.
The group heads south, down the winding trail that leads to the Keep, headed toward the East Way trade route. Reaching the ‘Way, they turn to the east, following the directions given earlier by Cob, their hired guide. Still, the pair of scouts ranges ahead of the main body; now, they stalk close to the nearby northern woodline, keeping watch for lurking enemies or other potential dangers.
It takes the party about one hour to travel the mile’s distance from the Keep to the point in the road in which the Goblinwater River has washed out the main throroughfair. They then turn north, following a clearly defined bypass that has been forged by the dozens of merchant bands and other travelers that frequent the trade route.
As instructed, the scouts move ahead of the party to scout the entrance to the wooded area. Soon enough, they report back, indicating no signs of an ambush or any other danger. Tiron gives the order to continue and the party passes into the close confines of the Hullack Forest.
Entering the forest, the group’s rate of movement slows considerably as Amiel and Salik move into the woods to scout the sides of the trail. The scouts’ careful movements and wary attitude force the party to slow down to allow them to do their work. Only the occasional glimpse of one or the other scout allows the main body to determine the exact location of the two adventurers.
A little more than half an hour after the party enters the forested portion of the trail, they are surprised to see the two scouts standing in the middle of the road. Both appear to be slightly irritated.
“What is it?” Tiron asks as the main body closes on the scouts.
“We believe we have found the ambush site,” replies Amiel to the party leader. “But there are no bodies here.”
Moving slightly into the surrounding underbrush, the two scouts lead the party to a site located just off the northern side of the bypass trail. A trampled section of earth hints that a fight or some other frantic event occurred here just recently. Dark stains on the loamy earth indicate dried pools of blood from the combatants. The broken haft of a spear projects from the trunk of a nearby tree at about the same level as a tall human’s chest.
“This is the spot,” Cob announces, glancing around furtively. “They was right here, they was. All cut up and such. That one was hangin’ from that spear in the tree. Can’t rightly figer where they’ve gone to,” the hunter concludes, stating the obvious.
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