By Brian Flood
Chapter 36 - Planning for the Day
Within the Hullack Forest
East of Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr
Early Morning, 20th Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
The adventurers wake themselves as the light of dawn permeates the leafy canopy over their heads. Having received a full night’s rest – interrupted only by an uneventful watch schedule – the spellcasters focus their minds on their studies and prayers.
It is about one half an hour later when the entire party is seated around the fire, breaking their fast with whatever rations each of them brought. A low groan draws their attention to where Amiel lies on her cloak. The ranger blinks her eyes a few times and looks around the small campsite at the faces of her friends. She tries to raise herself up on her elbows but cannot hold the position for more than a moment or two. With a sigh, she lies back down, her face already covered in a layer of sweat from the slight bit of exertion.
Velgardrin jumps up and hurries over to Amiel. He quickly checks to see how she is. With a twinkle in his eye, he says, “Blockin’ ther blows with yer body dern’t seem ter be a good tactic.” Then more seriously he continues, “How der yer feel?”
Amiel shakes her head weakly to try and settle her blurred vision. “Not good,” she groans. She tries to see who else is with her, but her eyes just cannot seem to focus. “Is else everyone alright?” she asks the dwarf, her voice barely a whisper.
“We’re all fine,” Tiron states in reply to Amiel’s question, stretching away the cold night as he rises. “And an easy sleep does wonders for both the mind and body.” His attention is on the lady ranger, all smiles.
“But where does it leave our fearless leader?” asks the half-elf. “’Believe you can take on another twenty skeleton warriors today?” His jest contains no spite but only raw humor and he offers Amiel a sip from his canteen of water. “We had discussed plans before taking sleep, but we can do little if you are not your usual self!”
Amiel tries to sit up, but gives up with a weary sigh. “Very funny, Tiron,” she says grimly.
Velgardrin, a thoughtful look on his face, asks, “What der we do next? If we foller ther cavaran, that be fine. If we wait fer Ameil ter be recovered, then I be havern’ a request.”
“What’s your question Vel?” asks Malk. “It seems obvious that Amiel is not up to travelling yet. Is there some kind of communication that we can arrange if the Amiel and the main party rest here with an observation party overlooking the road? I don’t think that we are far from the road”
“My question be this,” Velgardrin responds. “Since neither Tiron ner I forethought ter get holy water, mehaps a long-legged human might be able to make a trip ter the keep and make a purchase er two. Two vials of holy water, four empty vials, and a pint flask would allow us ter create our own. Also, if any others fergat something, it could be gotten.”
“Who were you thinking of sending to town?” Amiel asks of Velgardrin.
“I have no real choice,” answers Velgardrin, “but Tiron might be best should he and ye wish ert. Being able ter bless, fer which holy water is neederd, would aid us in combat.”
“I guess I could go,” Nathan says with confidence. “If I were to be attacked by several foes on the way, I would stand a better chance than most of you in dealing with them, since I have a spell that causes magical slumber in many opponents at once.”
Pulling his toiletry kit from his ruck, Alain joins the group. “A good morning to you all.” Clearing a section of ground near Amiel, he seats himself and begins preparations for his morning shave.
Looking over at Nathan and Velgardrin the warrior says, “I don’t think we should split forces again. Every time we have done so, we have run into serious problems.” Cocking his head to the side, he focuses on Velgardrin.
“Is it absolutely imperative that you have holy water?” he asks the dwarf.
“Niver did I mean that, Alain,” responds Velgardrin. “However, and Tiron could vouch this, casting a blessing requires it. In addition, these creatures that are dead but living are harmed by holy water.”
“I take it we didn’t defeat the skeletons, then?” Amiel asks, her voice heavy. “Gods! What an evil sight they were!” she cries out weakly.
The terrible memory of the passageway filled with undead, surrounded by the chill of death and armed with cruel poleaxes, fills the ranger with sudden energy. She grasps Alain’s arm. He notes the weakness in her grip.
“We don’t have to try for the passageway again do we?” she asks. “Have we no other options?” Her voice is tinged with hysteria and her green eyes are panicked.
Leaning over Amiel, Alain gently strokes her hair with his free hand. “Rest easy, Amiel. There are always other options. The first that comes to mind is seeing you back to your health.”
With concern written on his face, the warrior turns to Velgardrin. “Is there anything more that can be done for her here? Or do we need to take her back to town?”
“She be needern rest then more healing,” Velgardrin responds. “Town be no better than here.”
Tirondalin interrupts brusquely, “I believe it’s best we determine what our goal is before any further discussion. Do we attack the doorway again or, as discussed by some last night, watch over the caravan that is shortly to pass the road for any attacks by bandits? And then we decide whether Amiel is fit to do either today. If not, we evaluate what we do, including whether we send someone into town.”
“Tiron’s right,” adds Malk. “If as Vel says we need to stop here for Amiel to rest, and Alain doesn’t want the party split, then that narrows our options. We stay in this area together, find a good place and look out for the caravan. That being the case, we need to do some scouting, mapping and hunting. I’m tired of dry rations already. How does that sound to you, Alain and Amiel?”
“As I suggested before, we could search for another entrance after Amiel has rested,” Nathan says somewhat wearily. “If we can avoid arguing in circles, maybe we can come up with a cohesive plan of action, one that all of us will stick to.”
Realizing the harshness apparent in his tone, Nathan adds a quick apology. “I’m sorry, friends. The near death of Amiel has been weighing heavy on my mind.”
“Near death?” Amiel swallows, her face losing even more color. Steeling herself for a long effort, she grits her teeth and says, “Camp here. Set perimeter guards. Find food. No campfire tonight; cook during daylight if necessary. I sleep... but what’s this about a caravan?”
Tirondalin diverts Amiel’s question about the caravan to the bard, “Malk?”
“The caravan with the trades people that will carry Baulin to his people will be leaving Kendall Keep today,” explains the bard. “I learned this in the market place and told those of the party in the tavern yesterday. They will head through this way to get to Thunder Gap. I believe that our priority is the caravan’s protection; also, it may well be a good lure to flush out the real enemy. I really don’t think that we are ready to take on the ‘bony bunch’ in their own territory yet, and I don’t understand why we insist on trying at this time, either.”
“Ah Malk,” replies Velgardrin, “I don’t be thinkern that we deciderd to battle the skeletons. But what iffern we found er way in somewhere and came right back ter that same room? Should we not be as prepared as possible? What if there be more than these? We already found zombies. There may be more of those, too. Er even worse.” Velgardrin shivers slightly as he considers that possibility.
“Followern the caravan be fine,” the dwarf continues, “but whatever is attackern them be lairin’ somewhere. The caves be a main choice unless we be findern something more likely. And takern the bodies be very much makern me think that they now be zombies to attack us.”
“Torm give me strength,” Amiel groans. Raising her head she says, again with considerable effort, “The undead may be responsible for the attacks on the caravans. We don’t have any facts that contradict that. If you’re hoping to catch the raiders with the caravan, then you have to track it from the Keep to be sure.”
A fit of dry coughing wracks Amiel’s lanky frame for several moments. Hoarsely, she continues, “Or you can watch the zombie trail into the forest and see what passes.... I’ll leave that decision to you.”
Locking gazes with Alain for a long moment, the ranger whispers, “Look after... my claws…” And then she shuts her eyes and falls into unconsciousness.
Tiron clears his throat as a thought comes to him. “What Amiel said is certainly a valid point. She is in clearly no position to come with us to guard the caravan, and leaving her here alone is something I could never forgive myself for doing.”
He puts his hands on his hips, a plan slowly formulating in his mind. “Perhaps if not all of us venture to guard the caravan, several of the group could go to observe the caravan and its passage from a safe distance, able to run should things become dangerous. We could send another along with this group with the intention of him returning to the Keep before they make contact with the caravan to pick up any supplies we may need. Meanwhile, the rest remain here to guard Amiel and rest and gather food.”
He breathes out heavily and changes his tone to one of speculation to one of purpose. “That’s my proposition and enough thinking for me for one day. Alain, tell me what to do and it's done,” he concludes with a smile.
“That should be interesting without splitting the party,” Malk cynically remark. “I look forward to seeing that done.”
Seeing Amiel securely settled, Alain shakes his head. Retrieving his shaving kit, he continues with his morning absolution. “I don’t see how we can do all of these things. Especially with Amiel in her condition.”
Pausing he looks at each of the ‘Claws. “First things first, however; Tiron, you and Salik go hunting. If you can hunt while still maintaining a vantage point of the road, then do so, keeping an eye out for the caravan. If you can’t, your primary mission is to hunt.
“The rest of us will stay here, on guard duty. We should pick a guard post that can see the camp, road, as well as the zombie trail.”
Finishing his shave, Alain rises from the ground and repacks his kit. “If the caravan is attacked within our sight, we will render as much aid as we are able.”
Tiron,” the warrior continues, “if you are not able to catch anything by high sun, or if you see the caravan attacked, return to camp. We will see where we are, and make plans accordingly.”
“Is that acceptable to all?” Alain scans the party.
“We’re half a bloody bowshot at least from the edge o’ the woods!” exclaims Declan. “How in the ‘ell do ye expect t’ find a spot watchin’ the camp, the trail and the road?” the fiery mage inquires in disbelief.
Alain looks over to Declan. “My plan was to have two single-sentry posts as far apart as sight will allow. The first post will keep the camp and the trail in sight. The second post will hopefully be able to see the road and the trail. I’m not sure if that’s possible, but I would like to give that a chance. If it does not work, we will have to give up guarding the road for now.”
“What think you, Declan? Is that a workable plan?” asks the warrior of the mage.
Declan shrugs. “Is na’ my decision,” he replies. “I was jus’ statin’ a flaw that I saw, is all.”
Malk stands up. “Well, let’s give it a try. Anyone volunteering to come with me to see how close to seeing the road we can get?”
“I don’t be good at sneakin’ through ther woods,” Velgardrin responds. “Yer want me there or where, Alain?”
“That goes for me as well,” adds Nathan. “What guard position should I assume?”
Alain ends the questioning with some simple orders. “Malk, you and Nathan take the first watch. Declan and I will relieve you in an hour. Velgardrin, you stay and attend to Amiel.”
“Very well,” replies Malk. “Come on Nathan, we’ll protect the Claws. And while we do, you can tell me your story. It is my aim to turn every ‘Claw’ into a song.” The bard waits for the magician on the side of the camp towards the road, intending to see how close they can get while protecting the camp.
“I will be amazed if you can make my story anything other than a lullaby to put people to sleep,” grins Nathan as he moves to join the bard.
“I believe that’s our mark,” Tiron says in Salik’s direction as he shoulders his bow. “Fetch whatever you need, we’re going hunting!” He is plainly excited.
Salik smiles to himself at the ranger’s excitement. “Hopefully these creatures won’t fight back,” he quips as the two hunters wander off toward the southwest.
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