By Brian Flood
Chapter 20 - Return to the Keep
Along the East Way
Near Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr
Mid-Evening, 17th Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
Alain slowly comes out of his combat crouch, as the dwarven priest extracts his axe from the deathblow. Kneeling on one knee, Alain places his blood smeared blade on the ground, not quite letting the tip enter the earth. Bowing his head he prays, ‘Thank you, all you Gods who have brought us through this danger.’ Lifting his head, he gently kisses the hilt of his rapier.
Amiel immediately sheathes her sword and runs to where Baulin lies. She snarls several choice curses when she sees the pool of blood under him. She kneels and moves to roll him over to his front but suddenly remembers her responsibilities.
“If any one has ANY healing spells or similar skills left, Baulin needs it...and needs it now!” she calls to the rest of the party. “The rest of you secure the perimeter. In between that thing’s screams and the noise of the fight, half of Cormyr will shortly descend on us. Let’s be prepared for that!” she directs as she begins to examine Baulin’s wounds.
Declan sighs, and turns away from Amiel and Baulin. He moves to the edge of the campfire and contemplates lighting the wood stacked there. They probably aren’t going to get any more sleep this night anyway, he figures.
Stunned at the sight of Baulin’s crushed and broken fall, Malk’s shoulders slump as he turns to obey Amiel’s orders. He picks up his sword and moves to watch the perimeter, almost wishing for something to vent his grief and anger against.
Salik moves towards Amiel and puts his hand on her shoulder. “You directed the battle like a true leader, Amiel. You did good despite a less than perfect first instinct...can we be a little more discreet next time?”
The rogue sheaths his daggers in his green sash and draws his trusty scimitar then goes off in the direction his daggers flew—hoping that his sharp eyes will see them even in the darkness. His head twitches this way and that straining to hear for sounds of any threat.
Tiron shakes his head in disapproval, his confidence battered by his inability to hit the huge, towering beast, while his lack of skill resulted in the injury of a friend…his friend! The half-elf snaps his head up and runs to where he left the healers bag.
“Alain, you said you have some skills in the healing arts, most likely more than myself, please take this and help Baulin!” he exclaims, returning to the warrior. Tiron’s distress shows on his features as his former calm manner bleeds away with Baulin’s savage wounds.
Looking up from the carnage left by the battle, the elation of victory coursing through his body as well the distress of a fallen shield brother, Alain starts at hearing his name from the half-elven warrior priest. “I am sorry my friend, I have never professed any skill in the healing arts.”
“Solonor Thelandira, help us!” Tiron moans - a plea, not an oath, as the priest stands over the fallen dwarf.
Velgardrin runs to his pack, yanks his healer’s bag out, and runs back to Baulin with it. The priest frantically applies poultices and bandages to bind the wounds.
After he has finished administering to his comrade’s bleeding, Velgardrin holds Baulin’s wrist for a few seconds. He is relieved to detect a pulse – but it is very faint and somewhat sporadic.
“We must get herm off the ground and onto a litter so that he can begin a healing rest,” the priest announces to the others who stand nearby.
Next he turns to Amiel, reaches out with his right hand, grabs a handhold on her collar, and the muscles on his arm bulge as he pulls strongly until her face is level with his. Firmly with no trace of emotion or accent he says, “Please set standard battle procedures before we leave this camp.”
He releases her and continues, “It is likely that this beast could have killed any or even all of us. But we must learn from this lest that does happen next time.”
Moving up to Velgardrin, Alain puts an easy companionable hand on his shoulder. “Peace my friend,” the warrior cautions in a controlled voice.
Velgardrin nods wordlessly and then bends to remove the claws from the owlbear’s paws. After a few moments, he stands again, a score of bloodied claws in his hands.
“These be ter remember Baulin’s bravery and we be his shield mates,” the priest announces.
“If I may see those, I have some small skill with leather working,” Alain offers. “I will place each claw on a thong, that we might wear around the neck.” He tentatively holds out his hand and waits for Velgardrin’s reply.
Velgardrin turns to Alain and offers his hand in a gesture of friendship. “Iffern you felt I was angry ‘tis not so. Should Baulin be dead, it was a way for a warrior to end. And the gods know this.”
Then the dwarven priest gives the claws to Alain. “ ‘Tis thankern you I am and methinks Baulin would approve. I thinks one claw fer each who wants one and the rest to Baulin in death or life. What think all of ye?”
Alain reaches out to accept the claws. “I think it is a good idea. I will begin making the necklaces as soon as I get a chance.” After taking the claws, Alain begins patrolling the perimeter of the camp as Amiel asked.
He briefly nods to Salik, who is returning from his unsuccessful search for his hurled daggers. Apparently, the forest has claimed the weapons for its own.
The sound of someone clearing his throat breaks the uneasy silence that follows in the wake of Alain and Velgardrin’s exchange. “So what’re we gonna do next?” Cob asks. “And just how many days do ya think we can go on like this?”
“There’s still half the night left before daylight!” Amiel snaps sharply as she cradles Baulin’s still form. Her eyes are narrow dangerous slits. The dwarf’s blood has now covered and stained her leather armor. A great smear of it runs across her cheek but she seems to be unconcerned by it as she continues in a far more gentle tone.
“Does anyone feel we should make a retreat back to the keep tonight?” she asks. “Or should we wait out the night and head back at day break. I think you’ll all note that I no longer wish to try for the caves or the trail tomorrow.”
On his way out of camp for guard duty, Alain swings over to his pack and retrieves his weapons kit. Pulling out a polishing rag and a sharpening stone, he kneels and begins work on his weapons.
Continuing his work on his rapier, Alain responds to Amiel’s suggestion. “I do not wish to sound like a mercenary but I must point out a cold hard fact. That unless there was a lot of gold in the bag that we retrieved from that bird woman, then we are almost out of money. I believe that if we go back to the Keep and are unable to buy good ale, Baulin will awake from his death sleep and strangle all of us with our own boot laces.”
Giving a quick smile, Alain continues, “In all of the lore that my uncle passed on to me, almost every monster has some form of treasure. If it is not carrying it with them then it is usually in their lair. With this in mind, and the state of our purses, I propose that if this monster is not carrying any treasure that we seek out its lair. I know it could possibly be dangerous…”
Alain pauses from his lecture and looks each of his new friends in the eye. “…But I would rather fall on my sword here and now than crawl back to the Keep asking for protection and begging for a meal.” Looking grim, Alain continues to polish his rapier. “A monster that big probably doesn’t range too far, so with light – and a little luck – it should not take that long.”
A sudden thought occurs to Amiel and she pulls a pouch of her belt, undoes the tie by pulling it open with her teeth, and empties the pouch onto the ground beside her.
Lifting up a small vial for all to see she says, “This may contain a healing balm or potion. I found it after I slew the bird woman. I’m not sure how we go about ascertaining such a thing. But it may be Baulin’s only chance! Can anyone help?”
Declan has kneeled beside the firewood and it striking flint and steel to tinder in an attempt to light the fire. He looks up at Amiel’s words.
“Aye,” the mage concurs, “we need ter be vigilant for the bloody rest of the night and then head back ter the keep. I don’t know about yer, but free attacks by monsters in the past day or so is more than coincidence. The Keep we need ter go to, right, if for no uvver reason than ter better rest ourselves so we will be prepared.”
With a spark, the small tinder pile that the mage has compiled starts to burn. Slowly but surely, the fire begins to build anew under the mage’s eager eye.
Velgardrin grasps his holy symbol in his right hand and raises it to the sky. The dwarven priest reverently speaks briefly in Dwarvish and he gestures to include the entire group but especially Baulin.
Seeing the dwarven cleric begin a prayer, Alain rises to one knee and bows his head over the hilt of his rapier. Hearing the benediction and needing all the blessings he can get, Alain replies, “Amen.” Once again, the big warrior gently kisses the hilt of his sword before returning to his worldly duties.
Finished with his prayer, Velgardrin glances at the vial and responds to Amiel. “That be a possibility but I prefers to be more cautious right now.”
Velgardrin responds to Alain with, “Mehaps we should ask Tiron whether these be solitary beasts er lair in great groups. A group in a lair be our death I fear.”
Listening to the talk in the camp, but keeping his watch towards the north, Malk addresses the group. “We have lost our comrade – we should give him the best burial that we can. I do not know the ways of dwarves, but there are those here that do. For safety, I believe that this should happen at daybreak. If it is permitted, I would accept one of the claw remembrances of Baulin and wear it with pride. I would also wish to play a tune over his grave to honor him on his way if that is the way of dwarves.”
A distinct sniff is heard before Malk continues, “I am with Cob in that we need rest and recuperation in safety. We cannot continue without. We could also use supplies. If we do not return to town, then we should camp somewhere safer for a while, and hunt to stock our food stores – and for those with magic to recharge themselves.”
Velgardrin responds to Malk with a gentle pat on the back. “Baulin be hurtin’ bad but he be not dead yet. There still be hope.”
Then the stout figure turns to Tiron. “What be your thoughts on giving the liquid to Baulin? I be thinkern that not be a good thing fer we has no idea what it may be. Also, why don’ts yer check him over ter see if I missed anything?”
“I am afraid I am not nearly the healer that you are,” Tiron responds to Velgardrin. “I will trust to your judgement. And as for the potion…I will concede to the others’ wishes. It may indeed kill him – but it may not, as well.”
Turning to Alain, the half-elf then says, “Owlbears are horrible creatures; some say the result of evil experiments of dread wizards. For that reason, I would not seek to find its home – as its maker my also be there. As well, they do on occasion live in broods of two or more. Again, seeing what just one of these has done to mighty Baulin, I would not encourage deliberately hunting one down.”
Alain rises from his weapons maintenance and approaches Amiel. Bending down, he uses his cleaning rag to clean the blood from her cheek. “Amiel, this night has severely tested you. Get some sleep; I will ensure the camp is guarded.”
Moving to the newly rekindled fire, he looks to the rest of the company. “Declan, go get some sleep; we will need your magic at its full strength come the marrow. Velgardrin, the same with you; Baulin needs your healing magic as soon as it can be rendered. Malk, your wounds need the healing powers of sleep, so off to bed with you. Tiron, I believe you are also blessed with healing magic, go get some sleep.”
Gesturing to each member as he speaks of them, Alain makes small shooing motions. “Salik and Cob, you will each stand a guard with me. Cob, I would have you first, your hunters’ vision will be of most use in these hours of darkness. Salik, I will awaken you when it’s time. The decision of our course tomorrow can better be made with heads cleared by sleep.”
Finished with speaking, Alain motions Cob to guard one side of the camp, while moving off to stand his watch on the other.
At Alain’s words, Malk returns from watching the northern perimeter. “Thanks Alain. I am hurting, but not as badly as Baulin – I pray to Milil for his life. In this state, I am of little use to the company. However, I can stay with him through the night? I can rest while being beside him, and will call you others at need. In this place and time I do not have the comfort of my music. To do this would make me feel better.”
“Thanks for putting the guard roster together, Alain,” replies Amiel. “See that you follow his instructions, lads” she says to the rest.
Turning back to Alain, she says, “Testing as this night has been, I will still take a guard shift. The second one, with Salik. I promise I’ll try and get some sleep, even though I doubt that I will.”
Suddenly remembering something, she scoops the silvery coins from the bird-woman’s pouch and counts them. Indicating the coins to Alain, she continues, “I hope this puts us into sufficient funds for a short stay at the Keep as I doubt very much that bear thing ever collected gold the way other creatures do.”
Malk settles down next to Baulin with a determined look on his face. He gently checks his breathing, leans back against a tree and closes his eyes.
Velgardrin also moves near Baulin with his bedroll. He almost collapses in tiredness, but is not too tired to remember to clean his axe before sleeping. Then he falls asleep with his fingers gripping the handle.
* * * * *
the East Way
Near Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr
Early Morning, 187h Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
Thankfully, the night passes without further incidents. When morning comes, the small and haggard band is greeting by a light rain that brings a slight chill to the air and causes a persistent hissing to emanate from the campfire which has been kept burning all night.
A check of Baulin’s condition reveals that he has mercifully made it through the night. The brave dwarf is still unconscious, however, and his breath comes in ragged and sporadic gasps.
Velgardrin moves to a quiet area on the edge of camp for his morning devotions. [30 min]
Rubbing his haggard face, Alain squints into the morning light and lifts his hands over his head for a long stretch. Moving over to his pack, he grabs his toiletry bag and moves off to one side of the camp. With a little water from one of his skins, Alain performs a quick shave. Feeling a little more human after his long night, Alain watches the various users of the arcane begin their prayers and studies into secrets he cannot fathom. Slowly shaking his head, he crosses over to Salik.
“It looks as if they will be at their morning absolutions for awhile,” the Cormyrean warrior tells the rogue. “If you will continue to keep an eye on the perimeter, I will try and catch forty winks. Check and see if Amiel or Cob can give you a hand.”
Seeing that things are in order and that he is not needed for the moment, Alain grabs his blanket and lies down. Propping his head on his pack, he pushes his wide brimmed hat forward until it covers his eyes. With visions of feats of valor and courage filling his mind, Alain slowly drifts off to sleep.
Malk opens eyes that feel as if some demon has poured sand inside them and glued the lids together. As soon as he is up and functioning to a degree, he reaches over and checks Baulin heartbeat and breathing. Elated at finding Baulin and himself still within the plane of Faerun, Malk climbs gingerly and stiffly to his feet. He checks himself over, grimacing at the puncture wound in his stomach. He gently stretches and flexes his protesting muscles and walks over and checks his pack.
From his pack he removes his towel and a water-skin. He gives himself as good a wash as he can to freshen himself up, rinses some water around his mouth and spits into the bushes.
Beginning to feel almost human, he takes his water-skin and gently washes Baulin's face, neck and wounds. He even begins a tentative whistle. He tries to ease a little water between Baulin's lips. Somehow things look a little better in daylight. Even the dismembered body of an owlbear.
“This adventuring business isn’t as glamourous as it’s made out to be,” growls Amiel disgustedly underneath her breath. The ranger looks mournfully up at the drizzling heavens.
“Alright, gentlemen,” she says briskly, snapping from her bleak mood. “Let’s pack up and get back to the Keep. I’ve sufficient coin to cover our needs there. We need a litter for Baulin. When Vel finishes praying, I will need him to make one. I’ll help him. We’ll see if we can use dry materials.
“Cob, Salik, Alain – maintain guard whilst we get this done. Dec and Tiron, I presume you will need to spend this time regaining your spells. Tiron, please ask for a spell of healing for Malk.
“And speaking of the good bard; Malk until Tiron heals your wounds, my friend, stay with Baulin. You are still injured...any questions anyone?”
Salik thinks back to the meager pile of coins that Amiel was counting in sadness the night before. “It’s a shame that owlbears don’t carry cash...we could use some,” he says glumly.
Suddenly his expression brightens, and he rummages in his belt pouch to produce the earring that his sharp eyes found on the flying beast earlier. “We’ve still got this thing...I reckon it’s worth about eighty gold or so. Hopefully that should be sufficient to get our party back on its feet.”
Salik goes and has a last look for his missing daggers now its light hoping the daylight might help somewhat.
As if on cue Malk’s stomach growls in protest, and reminds him that even with his stomach wound he is hungry. He addresses the company, “How does owlbear taste? Is it any good? Or do we need to hunt today?”
After receiving negative – to say the least – responses to the idea of cooking the owlbear, Malk surrenders the idea. Instead, he cleans his equipment and then sharpens his sword. As he works, his stomach continues to growl.
The bard spends a quiet half an hour propped against a tree reading a small leather bound book that he takes from his pack, carefully shielding it from the rain. He whistles quietly under his breath at what appear to be the difficult bits.
After about three candlemarks or so, all of the spellcasters have finished with their praying and studying. One by one, they move to rejoin the group. Salik also returns, having had little luck in finding his missing daggers.
Amiel returns from her foray into finding branches for the litter. Now that Velgardrin is finished praying, she hopes to get the construction started. Seeing the spellcasters returning, she gently nudges Alain awake so that he can participate in any ensuing discussions.
Starting awake, Alain reaches for his weapons. Noticing that it is his companions gathered ‘round and not a troop of bloodthirsty orcs, he relaxes. Nodding to Amiel, Alain roles out of his blankets and climbs to his feet. He rubs his eyes and begins listening to the conversation.
Velgardrin moves straight to Baulin and gently lays one of his hands on the unconscious dwarf while holding his holy symbol in the other. He offers a brief prayer of thanksgiving and asks for Baulin’s healing.
In response, the familiar white-hued radiance of Clangeddin’s aura flows over Baulin’s still form. After the radiance has faded, some of the color has returned to Baulin’s face. As well, his breathing has become much more regular. The dwarf still remains unconscious, however.
Tirondalin rises from his prayers with a long stretch followed by a short grumble at the bland trail rations that constitute this morning’s breakfast. With a mouthful of dried cereal he exclaims a muffled, “Mmph” and walks over to the unconscious Baulin, leaving his food behind as he sees Vel’s healing of the other wounded dwarf.
Taking his holy symbol in hand, the half-elf’s eyes rise to the skies and a soft prayer is issued from within, flowing words that featherfall upon one’s ears and serving to calm and soothe. The benefits of the ritual are lost upon Baulin, however, as his condition does not change.
Confused, Tiron realizes that it his Solonor’s will that Baulin’s own god or gods see him through this day before allowing any more healing miracles to take effect. “My thanks, Solonor,” the half-elf finishes softly before returning to sit at the base of a tree, and resuming his breakfast.
When Velgardrin and Tiron have finished with their healing act, Declan moves to join the rest of the group. “So,” the mage begins. “What are we to do today then? Town or caves?”
“Town,” replies Amiel. “Anyone got any objections?” she asks, head still down busily crafting Baulin’s litter.
“No,” replies Malk.
Watching Amiel construct the litter, Alain replies, “I would rather not return to town just yet. But, if that is your and the group’s decision, then I will abide by it.” Having said his piece, Alain turns and begins packing up his gear in preparation for leaving.
“No objections,” agrees Salik, “I think it’s probably wise to regroup and recover considering the condition we’re in.” He glances off in the direction of the caves.
“However, if there are bandits in these caves, they might have been alerted to our presence and come to investigate us. For this reason, I’d like to scout the area behind us to make sure we’re not being followed. Do you think it’s a good idea Amiel?” he looks at Amiel questioningly looking for approval.
“That’s a good idea,” agrees Amiel. “Just be careful as you’ll now be on your own. Tiron and I will still be out front on point. Alain, I’ll leave you to take care of the main body. Arrange the order of the march as you see fit.”
Tiron’s contribution to the issue of the party’s next destination is with an easy finality. “I agree Amiel. As much as I enjoy the wilderness, I feel we need to reassess our situation and consolidate our resources,” he states with a vocabulary that defies his rustic appearance.
Feeling rested, the half-elf packs his ruck and then dutifully assists Amiel in the construction of the litter with a short aside in her direction. “Good job with the leadership, boss,” he winks.
Velgardrin walks up to Amiel and speaks in his normal gruff-sounding voice. “I agrees that we should return ter the Keep and report as well as get supplies. We still needs ter set basic combat procedures so we all knows what to do to get the best of monsters. I agree that scouting more is good and will place Clangeddin’s dweomer of warning to me on one or two scouts so that we may aid them should that be needed.
Lastly I'm wonderin’ if we should send someone ahead to the Keep to get the ass. It could pull Baulin’s litter lots faster than us carryin’ it.”
Malk looks up quickly on hearing a reference to his ass. “My ass can be a real pain, especially around strangers.”
He grins and adds, “I’m prepared to go and fetch it out here but I’d be a bit concerned about splitting the company. And with my gnat bite, I may not be that fast myself. Is anyone else skilled with animals?”
Tiron perks up at Malk’s request, “I would gladly return to the keep to fetch your donkey, Malk, as I was brought up around animals. That is if Amiel would agree to my offer?”
“Hmmm,” Amiel replies, as she considers the suggestions. “As tempted as I am to avoid a long painful effort of carrying the litter, I’m more concerned about splitting the group. Particularly seeing that we’re a man short. And it’s not as if we’re going to set a cracking pace with the ass dragging Baulin anyway. The animal’s pace would still have to slow to avoid him getting bounced around,” she finishes.
Giving Amiel a quick smile, Alain voices some concerns. “Its not so much a marching order as much as everyone start carrying the litter. The last time we had to carry someone, it was pretty touch and go as far as weight. Velgardrin how much extra weight can you carry along with all your equipment? Could you also check Malk to make sure he is completely healed before he tries to help with the litter?”
Amiel nods approvingly. “That’s a fair point. I’ll take some of Baulin’s equipment. Say ten to fifteen pounds’ worth?”
Then, letting her eyes rove over Alain’s powerful frame, she adds with brief smile, “And I’d say that you’ll be able to carry some of his, yours, as well as take the litter, bladesman.”
Giving a half bow, Alain tips his wide brimmed hat in the hope that it will cover the light blush that covers his grinning face. “Your praise flatters me.” Trying to regain his composure, Alain continues, “I will always give my best to the party.”
Then, to give his blushing face a chance to return to its natural shade, Alain begins rummaging through Baulin’s equipment. After several seconds of testing one item then another, Alain straightens and begins handing things to Amiel. “Here is his battle axe, bow, and his shield.”
Amiel accepts the weapons from Alain wordlessly. Her sea green eyes, however, are playful. “Allocate his arrows to one of our other short bow users,” she tells him as she slings the bow over one shoulder and hooks the battle-axe onto her belt. Hoisting Baulin’s shield, she regards it sadly for a moment before sliping her left arm through its strap.
Smiling at Amiel, Alain says, “That feels about right.” Looking around at the rest of the party, he asks, “Alright, who is next?”
Velgardrin replies, “I be already loaded like Baulin. Yer should be knowin’ that. Yer carried me.” He grins. “I’ll try ter take his pack and weapons. Me ass’ll be draggin’ when we gets to the Keep. I’d rather Malk’s ass were draggin’ stead o’ mine.” He chuckles to himself at his joke.
“Amiel, who be carryin’ Baulin if three o’ ye be scoutin’?” he asks next. “ Malk can’t. Alain, Declan and Cob be seemin’ a bit light ter carry it. And I’ll be loaded with gear. And speakin’ o’ scoutin’, I still have the warning spells. Mebbe Tiron can return Malk to full health. That would help.”
Velgardrin’s speech loses its accent as his face becomes serious and he continues. “And we have not yet discussed standard battle plans yet either. This is extremely important. Resupply for our archers seems reason enough to me for a trip back to the Keep.”
Alain chuckles softly at the dwarven priests dogged determination. “Actually Velgardrin, if we could split the equipment up more evenly, then you can help with the litter.” Alain reaches up and massages his shoulder. “Because, I do remember your incapacitation, and we will need all the help we can get.”
Looking down into the rest of Baulin’s equipment and doing a quick mental assessment, Alain adds, “If you could either carry his pack or his suit of chainmail, then there will be four of us carrying the litter, and as my uncle Seth says, many hands make a load light.” Smiling to the holy man, Alain holds the chainmail in one hand and the pack in the other.
Tirondalin is visibly eager to begin moving but understands with a concerned frown in Baulin’s direction that concessions must be made for the injured. “I’m unfortunately burdened with my belongings as it is, so I can’t offer any help in carrying equipment,” he says to the two leaders, sincerity plain on his face.
“That’s alright and thanks anyway,” replies Amiel as she lays her hand on his shoulder briefly. “Cob, what about you?” she asks the hunter. “Will you be able to handle one end of the litter, as well as carry your own equipment?”
Looking from Velgardrin over to Tirondalin, Alain nods. “Are you sure? Even help carrying Baulin’s quivers of arrows would be of great help.”
“Unless the quiver and arrows will fit in my pack, for all practical reasons, Alain, it would be most cumbersome for me to fire my bow with two quivers on my pack,” Tiron replies to the warrior.
“That excludes the other bowmen, too then,” sighs Amiel. “How much of Baulin’s weight is in food supplies, Alain?” she asks as he rummages through Baulin’s things. “I don’t think we need to carry that back, so dump it. I think now that Vel maybe right – we can’t afford to have both Tiron and I scouting at the same time, as we’ll have a problem with sharing the litter burden evenly.
“Why don't four of us carry the litter – one at each corner? That way, we’ll have 230 pounds to share amongst four. Which is some fifty-seven pounds extra each. It’ll be slow going, but at least we’ll share the burden. Tiron will scout the front with Salik at the rear. That leaves Alain, Cob, Dec, Vel, Malk, and I. Vel’s height is going to make it difficult to keep the litter even. So that most likely means that it’ll come down to Alain, Cob, Malk and I. Vel’s suggestion of a heal spell for Malk is good one!”
The ranger looks around at the group. “I hope that we’ll be able manage. If anyone of the aforementioned litterbearers has an objection, now’s the time,” she finishes firmly.
Velgardrin responds to Amiel. “I’m still guessing that yer wants me warnin’ spels cast on a scout afore us and behind us. If not, I have two other spells available. And I thank Clangeddin for his healing blessings that I am permitted ter share. I kin carry a bit o’ Baulin's gear and still keep walkin’. But you long-legged ones need ta remember that I’m not so fast as yer are.”
Malk, seeing the burden that the company seems to be trying to move under says, “In my current state I cannot be of much help carrying the litter. Would it not perhaps be better to form a defendable position near here and wait for my ass? If you do go for her Tiron, her name is Haynuss and she likes carrots.”
“If I may be selfish for this once – as I’ll be alone in scouting, that may be necessary – shouldn’t be, but may be,” Tiron says, twisting his ring around his finger. “So Vel, if you and Clangeddin could take care of Malk for now? And Malk, Amiel said ‘no’ to the donkey and given what she did to that nasty bird-woman, I ain’t gonna go over her head,” he states cheekily with a wink in the bard’s direction.
“Thanks, Tiron,” Amiel says to the hunter-priest, shaking her head ruefully at Tiron’s joke about the bird-woman.
Looking to speed up the equipment distribution process, Alain gently unbuckles Baulin’s chainmail and hands the armor to Velgardrin. After judging the added weight of this item to his already moderate load, however, Velgardrin returns the armor and picks up Baulin’s pack intstead. Satisfied that he will be able to move better, albeit still somewhat slowly, the dwarven priest choses to carry the pack in lieu of the chainmail.
Alain accepts Velgardrin’s decision and takes the chainmail to add to his own load. The warrior spends a few minutes strapping armor to the outside of his rucksack using a coil of rope. When he is done with that, Alain lays Baulin’s remaining unclaimed equipment – a swordbelt and two quivers of arrows – on the litter with the dwarf.
After voicing finishing that task, Alain speaks to the group. “Now, I would like to get the hide from that owlbear. Maybe we can sell it in town; a pelt from such an animal may bring a fine price. What do you think Cob?”
The hunter nods his head slowly. “I reckon so,” he says in affirmation.
Motioning to Cob, Alain draws a dagger and moves toward the downed creature. “Well, give me a hand skinning him and we will use his pelt to raise a toast to the gods.”
“Alrighty,” Cob replies. Then he draws his hunting knife and starts to help Alain skin the slain creature.
As the others prepare themselves for the march, Alain and Cob take the skin from the owlbear. They drape the fifty-pound pelt over Baulin’s unconscious form, ensuring that the dwarf will be kept warm during the trek back to the Keep.
As he sees to the final preparations, Alain notices that Malk still holds a bloody bandage to his stomach. The warrior looks to Velgardrin and Tiron. “I believe you have both already stated your views on the subject, but we really should see to Malk’s wounds before we move out.”
Velgardrin answers Alain. “Aye, I’ll heal herm more if he’s not full well.”
Tiron claps the stocky dwarf on the shoulder, “Don’t worry short one, Solonor shall care for Malk’s wounds. But in return, you owe me the story of this Clangeddin Silverbeard, fair?” half-elven priest asks with a broad smile as he strides over to Malk.
“Don’t move,” he says quietly to the bard, “if this spell goes wrong you could really be injured.” But the grin that grows on his face betrays the jest, as he begins to work his holy magics. The familiar glow of calm and warmth surrounds Malk, an aura that exudes peace and goodness – the birds chirp and a soft breeze carresses the adventurers’ faces and stirs their hearts in the presence of the divine. But as soon as it came, the aura dissipates, taking with it all of Malk’s pain.
Bowing to Velgardrin, Malk says “I thank you for the offer and would never refuse Cangeddin’s blessing, however I can move freely again I respectfully suggest that you keep his blessing for a time of greater need.”
Then, taking his first really deep breath for some time, Malk relaxes and grins at Tiron. “I have the greatest respect for Solonor, and now full reason to be grateful. I thank him and you for the healing. I was really hurt but did not want to make a song and dance about it, especially compared to brave Baulin’s state. To show my gratitude – what does the company wish me to carry?”
In the wake of Malk’s return to full health, Velgardrin addresses Alain and Amiel. “I remind ya that I have two o’ Clangeddin’s blessings to bestow on our front and rear guards,” he tells the party leadership.
“I hope you’re feeling well enough to take one end of the litter, Malk,” Amiel says, raising her eyebrows, “since no-one’s got any problems with the four of us -- that’s Malk, Alain, Cob and I – taking the the litter.
“The day grows old, so let’s get going,” the ranger orders. “Vel, please cast that scout spell on Tiron – and Salik too, if Clanggedin wills it. Tir, stay one hundred paces ahead of us. Salik, the same behind us. If you see something, please don’t try to do anything by yourself. Vel’s spell should alert us if you get into trouble; expect aid to arrive within sixty heartbeats. Vel, please take up a position five paces behind the litter. Dec, five paces in front. Any questions anybody?”
With no further objections, Velgardrin proceeds to cast his protective spell upon each of the scouts – both front and rear. With this Clangeddin’s blessing, he explains, the dwarven priest will instantly become aware of any danger that may threaten the recepients.
Then, with Tiron on point, and Salik bringing up the rear, the party begins to make its way slowly back toward the road. Velgardrin and Declan walk behind and in front of, respectively, the litter containing Baulin while Amiel, Alain, Cob, and Malk, all take up a corner of the litter and begin walking.
The litter bearers have staggered only a few paces, however, before Malk cries out in agony and calls for a stop. The party soon realizes that the bard cannot bear the weight of his corner alone.
Attempting to rectify the dilemma, Declan steps in and helps Malk with his corner. Picking up the litter once again, the party starts to move forward. This time, they are able to sustain forward progress although they are slowed nearly to a crawl as Declan and Malk struggle with their share of the burden.
At this snail’s pace, the party picks its way through the forest and returns to theEast Way traderoad. Fortunately, the road allows for a slight increase in the movement rate but even at this new speed, the litter bearers are hard-pressed to keep up with even the moderately encumbered, short-legged Velgardrin. Ironically recalling his earlier statements, Velgardrin slows his pace to that of the quintet of litter bearers.
Lady Tymora smiles on the party and they encounter no other travelers or enemies along the road. After nearly four hours of agonizingly slow progress, the exhausted band of adventurers arrives at the gate of Kendall Keep.
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