Campaign Logs

Company of the Silver Claw

By Brian Flood

Chapter 10 - The Graves

Along the East Way

Near Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr

Late morning, 16th Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)

The party follows the bypass trail as it curves back to the south toward the main road. Amiel and Salik range ahead of the party, and in the woodline along the northern side of the trail. They make an effort to stay within eyesight of the main body. Progress is slow as the larger group of companions – the one on the road – waits patiently for the scouts to slip silently through the forest, looking for hidden foes.

After about thirty minutes, the bypass trail once again intersects the main road. Glancing to the west, the adventurers can see that the washed-out area of the main road stretches for almost three hundred yards. It is that portion of unusable road that apparently instigated the creation of the bypass trail that heads into the northern woodline of the Hullack Forest.

Once they start traveling on the main road, the companions can see that the terrain opens up considerably. To the north, the ground slopes gently upward and there is almost five hundred yards’ distance between the main road and the now distant northern woodline. To the south, high grasses cover a steep hill that overlooks this stretch of the traderoad.

Because of the largely open area, the scouts travel about a score or so yards off of the main road. They stick to the northern side of the road, as that is the side nearest the Hullack Forest and the Caves that is conceals somewhere within its depths. The grassy, open terrain allows them to significantly increase their movement rate and, as a result, the main body begins to make better time along the road.

The companions travel just over one half of a mile in this terrain and then the East Way makes a sharp turn to the north. Turning to follow it, the party notices that a small tributary stream, fed by the Goblinwater River, borders the east side of the road and flows northward.

Two hundred yards north of the turn, the forest begins to closely border the road once again. The woods loom about fifty to one hundred yards to either side of the trade route. To compensate for this potentially dangerous area, the scouts increase their distance from the party and move to travel nearer to the woodline itself, still staying to the left – now the west – side of the traderoad. In doing so, they negotiate a slight slope so that they are traveling at a slightly higher elevation than the remainder of the party.

Only minutes after the scouts make their adjustment, they come to a sudden stop at a point about seventy-five yards or so from the main road. The spot is right on the borderline of where the woods begin to loom close to the road. They both frown as they walk in small circles around a small area. Then, they both move to meet with the main body.

Once they are within speaking range, Amiel announces, “We have found something. It looks like four or so shallow graves. They are concealed within the tall grass, but the dirt around them show signs of being fairly recently disturbed. Fortunately for us, Salik’s sharp eyes picked out the first one – we found the others by searching the immediate vicinity.”

Tirondalin, hands on hips, listens to Amiel's report with a serious face. “I suppose it best that we investigate these graves then. However, let us maintain some respect for the dead.”

Unslinging his bow and gripping it in his left hand, he continues, “I want us in formation – we are vulnerable out in the open. Amiel and Salik, stick with the main body please. If there’s anyone watching us from the forest, there’s no use scouting for they have the advantage and you two would be defending alone. The formation will be as it was on the main road. Cob, you walk abreast with Salik and I; and then Amiel, you and Alain travel behind; and then, subsequently, Malk and Declan, Baulin and Velgardrin. Stay together and stay silent.”

“I’m sorry about the precautions,” he states with a genuinely apologetic tone. “But like an arrow in flight, it is difficult to arrest the consequences of an action,” he says with a slight smile, proud of his grandfather’s tutelage, but messing no time, the half-elf makes sure everyone is in line behind and sets off in his long stride.

The party makes its way cautiously across the open field. Eyes scan the distant woodline and fingers twitch nervously on weapons as the adventurers approach the graves.

The group makes it up the grassy slope without incident. At Tiron’s signal, they stop wordlessly at a point that is a stone’s throw or so distant from the graves.

Tirondalin, using his skills as a hunter, scans the forest for any signs of life...movement, unnatural shapes...anything that would betray a hidden, malevolent foe.

The woodline is moderate in density. Waist high scrub brush is woven around the sixty-foot tall trees, with trunks of one foot or so in diameter. The density of the woods leaves a modest chance of concealing hidden foes, but the half-elf’s keen eyes do not detect any hidden dangers lurking within their depths.

However, his flexing right hand is an outward sign that the Hawkeye’s consuming intuition is not satiated by the information provided from his senses. Is the feeling of unease in the pit of his stomach a natural caution, a natural response to stress to making decisions on the behalf of eight other people? Or is omniscient Solonor providing a warning of danger?

Despite the long drawn argument raging inside the ranger, the rest of the party are only aware of the few moments that pass as they stand quietly, surveying the unmarked grave site. Tirondalin's words quickly break the silence.

“Come, let us investigate these mounds of cursed earth and return to the road as soon as the gods allow us,” he says. “Do what you will, but please keep an eye on the forest. I’m going to search for tracks again to see if we can establish any links between this site and the ambush site. Amiel, milady, if you would assist me?” After passing over the group, his gaze falls on the female warrior with a smile that he tries, but fails, to imbue with confidence.

“Sure, Tiron,” replies Amiel. Turning to their guide, she asks, “Cob, have you any idea of who would be buried in these graves?”

Cob shakes his head in a negative response. “No,” he answers, “Can’t rightly say I ever walked in ‘ere, though. I usually either use the road ‘er hunt in the woods.”

After the hunter answers her, Ameil turns to walk away with Tiron. Then, she looks back over her shoulder at the rest of the party, and adds with a smile, “I disagree with our leader on one point. I wouldn’t dig up the graves.....”

With that, she walks in a circle around the graves, concentrating intensely, trying to pick up any sign of passage.

Malk uses what skills he has to look around the graves, as well. He also readies his sling – just in case.

Several long minutes later, the two rangers have discovered three sets of tracks. Booted feet are responsible for the majority of the tracks, but there are a few sets of what looks to be bare human or demihuman feet, as well.

The first set of tracks that they find heads from the gravesites toward the main road. The second set arrives at the graves from the direction of the road. The third set departs the gravesites and heads northwest, toward the nearby forest.

“Bare feet. Possibly demihuman,” ponders Amiel aloud. “Sounds like halflings,” she concludes.

Tirondalin looks Amiel in the eye, “How do you come by such a conclusion, milady? Any number of demihuman creatures wear no shoes, yes?” His tone is of genuine inquiry, that of a young apprentice asking his master.

“Stop ‘miladying’ me!” exclaims Amiel. “I look for my mother everytime you refer to me that way!” With a grin she says, “My conclusion is based on the balance of probability, Tiron. As you correctly point out, it’s not possible to completely rule out other races. BUT halflings are the most common barefoot demihumans are they not?”

She pauses for a moment and then puts her hand on his shoulder. “Let’s see where the tracks leading to the northwest take us, shall we? Other than digging up the graves, that’s our only lead for the moment. Do you think that the slain merchants are buried back there?”

Reeling as if almost from a physical blow, the young half-elf is taken aback. “I’m sorry mil --, ah, Amiel,” he stutters, “but I have never met a woman the likes of you. Compared to the petite, fine ladies of my elven homeland, you are but a strong, fiery phoenix. I am most rapidly learning about the real world, the picture painted by my grandfather was most idyllic.”

He stops himself as a frown suddenly crosses his brow. “By Solonor's Bow, listen to me talking like this!” The words stumble out before he is quiet once again.

Tirondalin peers at Amiel's hand on his shoulder, and then looks past her, into the depths of the forest, where he quickly gathers his thoughts. He looks into her eye and says matter-of-factly, “Let’s discuss everything with the group first,” he decides; whereby, he steps away from the ranger and turns to the group, addressing them.

“How convenient,” Tiron begins as the two trackers return to the rest of the party, speaking to them with a smile and a tone of reserved mirth, all former concern lost as he delves into his old hunter routine. “It seems we are greeted with the same configuration of tracks that we found at the ambush site. Our quarry uses both the road and also has reason to trek into the forest. And again, the demihuman feet intermingled with booted human tracks.” He pauses and hefts his bow back over his shoulder. “Did anyone find anything of interest?”

The other party members, having thoroughly combed the area around the gravesites, report that they have found nothing.

Tirondalin is quick to pick up and continue, “Well, it would be easy to believe that our slain merchants rest in the ground beneath our feet, but I find that conclusion too easy,” he says, fiddling with his oaken ring. “We have no way of divining the age of the graves, unless anyone has any magical means of doing so,” he states as he lays a querying gaze upon Declan.

Declan shakes his head, “None that is worth the energy. Can’t the tracker types tell how long it has been since the earth was turned?”

“Recently,” replies Amiel promptly and with a casual shrug.

The morbid, contemplative silence is broken by Tiron’s hearty laugh at Amiel’s answer to Declan. “Someone’s thinking,” he states with a grin, before rapidly sobering.

The half-elf nods his thick, dark hair, “Amiel here proposes that we could follow the trail of tracks leading northwest into the forest. I second that suggestion, believing it to be wise. We have found two sets of tracks leading toward that direction from both the sites we have investigated. I would like to think that more than coincidence,” he concludes with a confident smile. “Are we off then?”

And again, the question lingers...

“Fine,” says Declan, looking towards the northwest.

Malk thinks for a second. “I cannot imagine one or two halflings moving human bodies easily,” he asserts. “Is it possible that they are trailing whoever did this? I hear that they are good concealing themselves from unwanted eyes. If the halflings are trailing the miscreants, it may benefit us to trail them, but we will have to move on while we have the light.”

“Plus,” he adds, “I’m getting hungry and I don’t like the thought of eating in a graveyard.”

Salik shuffles to and forth nervously. “I know some people might disagree with this,” he begins, “and it’s not a prospect that appeals to me, but I think much information could be gained by examining these graves a bit...closer. Anyways, we should give these poor souls a proper burial rather than just unmarked shallow graves.” He looks around at his companions to see how they respond to this grisly idea.

Declan pauses and then turns toward Salik. “If anyone has the skills, could we use magic to talk to the poor sods?” he asks.

Salik shrugs at Declan’s suggestion. “Don’t look at me, I have no magical talent; all I need is a spade.”

“Salik, you’re correct,” announces Tiron. “I spoke too soon in wanting to move on from here and into the forest. But that was with the assumption that someone, if not all of you, were looking around while Amiel and I were searching for tracks. Not to worry,” he says with a dismissive shrug, “Let's have a look around. Where do we stand on exhuming these graves? I am not particularly excited about the idea, but perhaps it is necessary for the greater good - the safety of the inhabitants of the Keep.” After expressing his thoughts, he awaits a response from the group.

Alain continues looking around the clearing. “If we don’t have to, I would prefer not to disturb the graves. What do we have to gain by digging them up?” Alain returns to searching the local area, while still keeping a watchful eye on the hostile forest.

Declan looks at Alain as if he has taken leave of his senses. “Information. Are those that lie below townspeople? Or humanoids? What killed them? Snakes, violence, magic, or any other of a hundred other deaths? The more we know the more we can be prepared if we run into whatever trouble they ran into.”

After the response, Declan looks over Salik. “If no one else will do, I will. Give me your spade if you will, Salik,” he says.

Alain looks over to Declan. “We seem to be jumping to some pretty big conclusions. I’ve heard necromancy might be involved and now we are looking for some other form of magical attack? Every accounting we have heard so far stated that the traders were attacked by sword and spear. Or did I miss something? My Uncle Seth always says to keep it simple. So I say if it’s the traders in the graves, we say a prayer for their souls and continue on. If it’s some other demihumans, we say a prayer for their souls, and continue on. In either case, I think it would be very disrespectful to disturb their remains.”

Declan makes a disgusted sound and scowls at Alain, “What's the matter with you? Aren’t you listening!?! I said we need to find out what killed them. The best way to do that is look at the bodies. By Beshaba’s Black Buttocks, listen, don’t just yabber at us!”

Declan pauses, gaining control, “Okay, look at it this way; if these graves belong at the Keep, then we need to return them to their rightful families. If they are humanoids, or strangers, then where they are is fine. We can say a prayer and move on. But until we know more, we need to find out at much as we can. Now do you know of a way to find out who is in the graves and what killed them other than diggin’ ‘em up?”

Velgardrin stretches up to his full height and still can’t see much more that the grass he’s in. Then he holds up a restraining hand and says, “Disturbin’ the dead be asken fer troubles. Aer yer sure you wants that? This looks like orc doins ta me. Let me at them filthee beasts!”

“I don't think that we have the right to dig up a bunch of unknown graves in the countryside,” snarls Amiel. Her face is tight with outrage. “If you are going to do it Declan, I suggest you get on with it. But I am not going to stand around and watch.” With that she spins on her heel, fists clenched and starts searching the ground to the northwest of the gravesites, looking for the tracks that Tiron and she found earlier.

When she finds them, she calls out to Tiron nodding in the direction of the woods, “Coming?” she asks. “I’m going to see were these lead. I’ll only follow them for two hundred yards or so, before returning to report.”

From the dangerous expression on her face, it looks highly advisable that Tiron approve, even if he doesn’t accompany her.

Velgardrin’s eyes turn a hard, cold grey as he first glares at Declan and then turns to face Amiel. He watches her leave and then jumps up every little bit so he can see her above the head-high grass.

Tirondalin follows Amiel with his eyes as she proceeds towards the wood, momentarily not sure how to react to her outburst. But the thoughts reach him quickly.

“Amiel, wait!” he calls after her, attempting to halt her march. “Give us a moment, please – we may all be going into the forest via that route, but we need to decide what we’re going to do with or at this grave site,” he states with a gentle firmness in his voice, his eyes hoping that Amiel will calm her temper. Then he turns to the fiery magician.

“It is not my wish for us to disturb these graves. Let us take this site as a piece of evidence in its own right, and compared to the offense that we would cause to the natural order of life and death, what use is it to us to divine whether they were killed by sword or spear?” He smoothes in hands through his long dark hair before he continues in a neutral tone of voice.

“But that said, I acknowledge that I have as little control over your hands as I have over the hands of fate, so of course, you’re free to do what you will. But take into account what I have said, as well as that it is high sun and mounds of earth take a long time to shift with only one pair of hands. And, I would have us moving along our chosen path – I am eager to make the most of this day.”

“That’s all perfectly reasonable, Tiron,” replies Amiel. “I just don’t want to SEE the bodies being unearthed. The sheer wretchedness of it all sickens my stomach. I prefer to be elsewhere. And if we are to head to woods, then I’m going to take the opportunity to scout the trail whilst you’re busy disturbing the dead,” she growls. “It would be pointless for us all the proceed in that direction if the tracks disappear five yards into the woods. So, I’ll be off; and I'll leave you to your....” her eyes narrow as she stares directly at Declan, “...investigations.”

Tiron nods his head as Amiel departs and then stands silently in the tall grass, staring at the four sorry mounds of earth. He takes a deep breath and says quietly to Salik, “She is strong, but she is alone. Change the latter, if you would, my friend."”

“Very well, I'll keep an eye on her,” responds Salik. “To tell the truth, digging up the dead doesn’t really appeal much to me either, but I feel it is something that needs to be done. I’ll leave my pack here with you though, it’s getting quite heavy.”

With that, Salik pats Tir on the shoulder and follows Amiel out of the clearing.

“Amiel! Wait up!” he shouts after her.

As Salik follows Amiel, the half-elf turns his green eyes toward Declan, anticipating his response.

Declan sighs, “Don ya think she is being just a bit over dramatic?” Not really expecting a answer from the barbed comment, Declan turns and begins to exhume the grave.

Declan sighs, "Okay, not that is done with, let's see what we can do here."

Declan crouches on the ground and closes his eyes. His hands begin to move in a fluid pattern and mystical energies gather between the weaving hands as he shapes the energy into a small glowing white ball. With a quick incantation, Declan flings the energy away and it disappears.

Then he says, “Alright then. Remove the soil from that area there. Do not touch the body that is underneath.”

Alain not wishing to see the desecration of the graves, moves to join Amiel.

Tirondalin quickly moves to halt the warrior with a hand on his shoulder.

“Wait Alain,” the half-elf implores, “this is apparently as unpleasant for you as it is for me. I would have gone with Amiel, however my position as a leader required me to stay with the main group. Salik and Amiel are trained scouts and will move rapidly and swiftly; I would prefer that you stayed here with the rest of us. You’re welcome to head down the slope and rest or perhaps sit in the shade of the forest. I shall call you when we need you.” The half-elf’s tone is diplomatic and patient, with no sense of a command evident, but rather that of a friendly request.

Alain looks to Tirondalin. “As you wish, good sir. If I must stay though, I will stay up here and add my prayers for the departed.” Alain continues to stand by the graves with a hardened look to his face. After a moment he kneels, lifting his hands in prayer, and lowering his head in respect.

Tiron then turns his attention to the earth of the second grave that is mysteriously moving of its own accord and subsequently peers at Declan, reflecting on the arcane gestures and incantations he performed with a child-like awe. Campfire stories of magic are one thing, beholding it with his own very eyes is almost as unbelievable as the existence of dragons!

Ever so slowly, Declan’s invisible attendant begins to remove the dirt from the grave. The progress is painfully slow as the unseen being has only its bare ‘hands’ with which to work. After a period of about ten minutes, it has uncovered a shallow grave that measures approximately three feet wide by six feet long.

The grave’s occupant appears to be the remains of a human female. From the putrid stench emanating from the shallow resting-place, she has been dead for quite some time. Her skin has the grayish pallor of the dead and her hair and nails are hideously long and crusted with dirt. One of her eyes is missing; maggots squirm about in the empty orifice.

The corpse is clothed in rotted leather armor. It lies on its back with its face facing toward the sky with its arms positioned loosely at its sides. There are no visible items of worth in the hole with the cadaver.

* * * * *

{Amiel and Salik}

Amiel hears Salik shout her name and pauses for the other scout to catch up to her. Together, the two start to follow the faint trail that leads away from the gravesite into the forest. The difficulty in seeing the trail, coupled with the moderate underbrush, causes the two to move very slowly through trees.

The pair moves slowly further into the forest. It takes the two scouts somewhat less than ten minutes to cover the two hundred yards of Amiel’s intended foray. Reaching that distance, they pause for a moment. The faint trail continues on to the northwest, nearly invisible to the untrained eye.

Salik attempts to start a friendly conversation with Amiel. “So why the extreme reaction to exhuming the bodies then?” he asks carefully, not wanting to provoke another outbreak.

“It’s disrespectful,” says Amiel, her voice quiet and sober. “If someone buried the dead, doesn’t that mean that same person cared enough about the souls and bodies of the dead to properly care for the remains? If it was someone that needed to hide the bodies they would have buried them in forest! So it has to be someone that cared.....What right to we have to interfere with that?” she asks.

Looking up at Salik from her perusal of the ground, she says with a firm voice, “I think you will find that I do not believe that the ends justify the means, friend Salik. Disrespect for others eventually...eventually leads to banditry and murder. And the last time I looked that’s what we were out her to stop.”

Taking a deep breadth, Amiel’s pretty face begins to relax. “I must have seemed like a bit of an idiot back there. Shall we follow the trail further, or shall we head back?” she asks her companion.

Squaring her shoulders, she adds, “I’d say we should head back and report to Tiron that there is a viable trail worth following here.”

Seeing no objections from Salik, Amiel leads the way back to the graves.

* * * * *

{At the Gravesites}

Tirondalin quickly holds his sleeve to his mouth and nose in an attempt to block out the horrid stench. He takes a step closer to the corpse and examines it, shaking his head in disgust at the actions of the group as well as in pity for the poor soul that lost her life.

“Well, it's done now,” he admits, his voice muffled. “May as well ask your servant to turn the body over Declan, perhaps there are wounds in her back?”

Declan nods, and then orders the servant to do so. Those studying his face, however, notice that Declan is turning slightly puce, though he is really trying to control it.

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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