By Brian Flood
Chapter 17 - Watching the Graves
Along the East Way
Near Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr
Mid-Morning, 17th Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
It takes only a little more than one candlemark for the party to travel back to the gravesites. The fact that they no longer are struggling with a litter makes the movement quite faster than the trip from the gravesites to their campsite. This time, only the short legs and loads of their two dwarven party members limit them.
The morning proves to be relatively dry. A haze of clouds threatens slight drizzle, but no rain falls on the band as they travel south along the East Way traderoad.
The companions reach the gravesites and notice that they appear undisturbed since the impromptu burial that the zombies received the day prior. Without pausing, Salik and Tiron lead the band into the woods north of the gravesites. The pace soon slows as the moderately dense undergrowth takes its toll.
After a couple of candlemarks, the party finds a small clearing located fifty or more yards from the graves. While it is out of sight of the graves and the road beyond, Amiel figures that it will allow a location for the majority of the party to wait while a select few move a short distance away to a point from which they can observe any activity at graves or along the road. In that way, it may be possible to set up a rotating shift of observers so as not to risk fatiguing the other companions.
The companions all lower their loads to the ground as quietly as possible. Then, they turn their attention to Amiel to await her instructions.
Velgardrin, never one to wait, speaks before Amiel. “I be riddy ter cast the Father O’ Battles small warning on one of ther scouts befer they leave us. Then I ken know if they be in danger and we can go to aid them.”
Alain looks up from placing his pack under a tree and smiles at the feisty dwarf. “Amiel, do you have a guard roster in mind or did you want me to plan one?”
“We need a scout roster as well as a guard roster, Alain,” replies Amiel. Her pretty features are distractedly troubled. “You and Tiron will take first watch over the gravesites until late this afternoon. I don’t really expect any visitors, but we might as well scratch my suspicions rather than be sitting out in the middle of the forest doing nothing but considering our navels. Be vigilant and don’t take any actions unless you are in danger.
“Malk, you and I will take second shift watching the grave sites and road until nightfall, at which point Tiron and Alain will take over our guard duty back here at camp. Baulin, Vel, and Declan will setup camp, and then rest, as Baulin and Dec will take first shift of guard duty tonight. Depending on the level of activity in this area, we’ll decide on whether we consider continuing to stretch our strength between two guard posts through the night. Does that all sound fair to everyone?”
Amiel glances down at Vel. “That spell sounds interesting,” she says. “How many do you have and how long does it last?”
Velgardrin replies to Amiel, “I have just ther one and it be lastin’ a day.” Then the dwarf begins clearing a spot for a fire pit and continues setting up camp.
Cob’s face screws up in an obvious sign of confusion. “Can’t rightly say I’m understandin’ all that. What about me and Salik -- what ‘r we t’ do?”
“Ah!” exclaims Amiel, obviously frustrated. “Sorry, I forgot…alright, let’s try this again. “Cob, you and Malk on hunting detail. See if you can bring us back some dinner. I think everyone could use a hot meal. But, be careful and don’t pursue a kill for more than half an hour from the campsite.
“Salik, you and I are on first camp guard duty, while Cob, Malk, Tiron and Alain are away. When Tiron and Alain return, Malk and I will go watch over the road and gravesite. Tiron and Alain will takeover camp guard from us. Cob and Salik will relieve them at the gravesite.”
Amiel pauses to think and then continues more slowly, “Baulin, Vel and Declan, please setup camp. After that Vel…just make yourself useful around camp, I’m sure you’re a great cook,” she says with a charmingly cheeky grin.
“Declan and Baulin will take camp guard duty after Tiron and Alain,” Amiel continues. “Salik and I will take the graveyard shift, followed by Alain and Tiron for the dawn shift.”
Taking a deep breadth, Amiel looks around her companions hoping that they’ll be able to follow her instructions. “This is a lot harder than it looks,” she thinks outloud. “The logic behind the duty roster is that I’m trying to balance workload, skills and the need for our spell-casters to get as much rest as possible to be able to recover their spells for the morrow. If anyone feels that they are being overly taxed, please tell me.
“When you are not on active duty, so to speak, please return here,” she says pointing to the ground. “Make sure you get some rest and get something to eat. We’re going to have a rough day tomorrow, whether we tackle the caves or the trail, so it’s important that you all get as much rest and food. With the work rotation schedule I’ve outlined, this is probably the last time we will be gathered as a group until tomorrow morning. So if anyone has any views, observations, objections, theories, compliments, insults, et cetera, that they’d like to share with all of us before then, let’s have them now…”
Tirondalin moves to gather his bow from where he set it on the ground but instead returns his attention to the new party leader. “Amiel, I am feeling well enough to make a short foray into the forest, following the track that you and Salik scouted the other day. If someone would join me, I think it would be useful to get a better idea as to where it leads?” he proposes in a neutral tone.
Amiel shakes her head in response. “I would rather we not split our group any further, Tiron,” she says. “Let us proceed with the course of action that I have laid out.”
Having received their new leader’s instructions, the adventurers begin to see to them. Alain and Tiron depart the campsite and head south for the lookout post, leaving their packs behind. At the same time, Cob and Malk take up their missile weapons and head out to the northwest, into the forest in search of game.
For those remaining in the campsite, there is much work to be done. Declan and the two dwarves set about digging a pit and gathering wood for a fire. As they do so, Amiel and Salik stand watchful guard over the campsite.
Two hours later, as the sun reaches its zenith in the sky, Malk and Cob return to the campsite, looking rather chagrined. After a brief period of embarrassment, they explain that after over an hour of hunting, they finally came across a small pack of squirrels. Unfortunately, Lady Tymora did not smile upon them as it did during their last foray. This time, Cob managed to bring down only one of the critters even after expending four arrows in the attempt. Malk, on the other hand, is even more embarrassed to admit that he improperly grasped his sling as he fired and ended up sending both his bullet AND the sling at his target. Neither found its mark.
The two humbled hunters spend the next hour or so cleaning and preparing their catch. Those party members in the campsite share the meager portions of fresh game, and augment their midday meal heavily with their packed rations.
After lunch, the two hunters set out again, determined to redeem themselves. Again, after a little more than two hours, they return. This time, they report, they saw only a single deer – and it bounded away before either hunter could bring his weapon to bear.
Noting the time, Amiel takes the chagrined Malk with her to relieve Alain and Tiron at the lookout post. The two lookouts report seeing nothing out of the ordinary and leave the two newcomers to assume the post. Alain and Tiron then return to the camp to take up watch there while the remaining adventurers catch a late afternoon nap.
Sitting with his back against a tree, keeping his eyes on the graves, Malk starts to quietly tell his tale. “I come from the fair city of High Moon in Sembia, home of many elves, and many wonders. Indeed, my mother was herself half-elven. She taught me much about music – I love music and stories more than anything – ever since I was so high to a semi-breve.
“I have an older brother, Menith – still at home I think. He works on the estate with my father. He prefers the country, I prefer civilisation with the music and tales. I miss him sometimes.” The bard pauses for a few long moments in reflection before he continues.
“In High Moon I was, of course, always in demand for the very best parties. I would sing, juggle or play my harmonica. I left many, many friends behind; they didn’t want me to leave, but cities can be a bit too regulated sometimes can’t they? And you have to get out and take part in your own stories.
“Since joining this company, I have already taken part in the tales of ‘How Amiel saved the company from the Arial Crooner’ or ‘The company against the corpses’ – some such titles anyway.
“As you’re leader, I should tell you that I can be useful with a sling and a sword. I can move quickly and quietly and as you are aware I have knowledge of useful herbs. If you need someone to negotiate, I do alright most of the time.
“Anyway enough about me what is your story Amiel?” he asks.
Amiel grins broadly at the bard’s talk of songs of their exploits. Freeing her hair, she plays with its dark length distractedly for several moments, thinking of the past. “I didn’t have an easy childhood. I was a sickly child and other children can be brutal. I’m not asking for anyone’s sympathy, but that’s just the fact of the matter.
“I wanted to be a solider, and serve the King just as my parents had for as long as I could remember. When I was eighteen I joined the Purple Dragons of Cormyr and surprised everyone with the improvement in my fitness after some hard training and solidering. There’s a small division of the Dragons known as the Wraiths. Basically, a behind-the-lines unit, that I was recruited to as result of good performances.”
She tosses back her hair and sits forward, her eyes alight, “Those were great times for me...Finally, a sense of belonging and purpose.”
Looking away from Malk, she says softly, “But I...I had to leave. I have wandered about since then. I thought about taking up service in a mercenary company...but all who I approached seemed to care little for helping others and more for gold.” Her expression becomes one of mild disgust.
“So, here I am. When I heard about the Keep’s trouble, I lept at the chance.” She falls silent for awhile, gazing out across the grass in deep thought.
“Enough of this gloom!” she says brightly. The suddeness of the change is startling. “What do you think of our friends and companions?”
The two companions continue to chat softly to pass the time. A few hours later, after the sun has set and only the pale light of dusk remains, Amiel and Malk have also seen nothing unusual. Even the road appears to be devoid of traffic this day. A rustle behind them announces the arrival of Cob and Salik, who have come to take the final shift of the evening before the lookouts are called back in for rest.
Amiel and Malk return to the campsite to find the others resting peacefully around a flickering campfire. They wake Baulin and Declan – who are to take the first camp watch of the evening hours – and then they also lie down to get some rest.
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