By Brian Flood
Chapter 47 - Serethaniel
The One-Eyed Cat Tavern
Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr
Early Evening, 20th Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
An hour or so after they left to see Jadale, Velgardrin and Kerielle rejoin the others of the company at their table in the One-Eyed Cat. In the meantime, Alain has used the time to pay for the meal and to rent two rooms for five persons – it seems that Velgardrin has one night’s stay for two persons remaining on the room he had reserved for himself and Baulin. The party leader was also chagrined to be reminded that meals are included in the room charge – unfortunately, he chose to pay for the company’s dinner before he went to see about a room.
Leaning back in his chair and with a sigh of contentment, Malk pulls out his harmonica. As he taps it on the palm of his hand in preparation for a tune, he looks at Alain and Velgardrin. “That was a fine meal. Before I have a walk around the market place to help me sleep – What is the plan for the morrow? What did the Lieutenant say? I assume we are to go back and get answers.”
“She be watchern fer that evil Mendel and his group ter be questionern them,” Velgardrin responds. “And we continue what we have bern doern to find out about the caves. Whoever be makern and controllern those livern dead be of the darkerst sort erv evil.”
“The caves?” asks Declan. “Are we goin’ there, then? In the mornin’? I shou’ be able t’ tell whether er not that vial we got from the bird-woman be magicked, by then.”
“It was ther caves where ther skeleterns were thert Mendel went to, ert seems ter me. Be ther other ideas?” Velgardrin strokes his beard as he ponders what else might be possible.
“Ah,” replies Declan. “Yer meanin’ the stone door set inna tha’ cliff face. I don’ recall seein’ any caves there, but I’m as up fer explorin’ there as anywhere else.”
Kerielle seems eager to be off. “You speak of things outside my experience, but it seems to me that wherever Mendel was, or was headed, when last you encountered him would be a wise place to start. If that was these stone doors, then they have my vote. Either way, I suggest we do all that must be done this evening, and begin with the larks on the morrow.”
“If we’re going to face those undead mobile bags of bones again, we need to have some kind of plan to deal with them,” Malk interjects. “We didn’t do too well the first time – look what happened to Amiel.”
“I have never faced such fell blasphemies,” Kerielle speaks slowly, “but I would guess my shafts will have little effect. Crushing weapons would seem most fitting, but I am not skilled in their use. Failing that, I have heard tell that the blessed of the Gods have power against such beings – but no doubt Velgardrin knows more of this than I.”
“Me axe be all the crushern they be needern. ‘Tis the way o’ Clangeddin Silverbeard, Hisself,” Velgardrin replies. “But thert stone door dern’t be lookern like ther main way ter me. If we keep lookern, I think we be findern a way that be easier ter enter.”
“Easy for you to say!" the elf retorts. “I like not the thought of going into battle against foes I cannot harm.
“Still, needs must. I am ready. I do think, however, that priestly aid may be of assistance – perhaps water blessed by Torm?”
Declan pipes up again, “The door and what lay beyond d’ seem t’ be offer’n somewhat o’ a prize still, what wit’ that fat merchant’s mysterious stop there. I’m thinkin’ we kin be waitin’ to hit the caves fer a few more days – but I dinna believe we’ll be solvin’ the attacks without goin’ there.”
The fiery mage pauses for a moment to gauge the reactions on the faces of his comrades before continuing, “I’ll be bringin’ more fire if’n we’re t’ be fightin’ more like that lot again. What other’n assets d’ we have t’ cripple the nightmarish horde?”
Listening to all, Alain’s head moves back and forth as each member of the party speaks. After gathering an assessment of each member’s ideas, Alain joins the conversation.
“My impression was that the door into the hillside that contains the skeletons was not the entrance to the caves. Well, at least not the main entrance. I am beginning to think it is a distraction from our main mission, which I still believe is the caves. What do you all think?” The big warrior pauses to wait for comments.
Raising her hands in the air in an expression of helplessness, Kerielle opines, “In that decision I fear I can be of little help. I have never seen either of these places. I have little liking for caves or doors in mountains, but I will go where those more knowledgable than I deem best.” Despite her sudden unwillingness to put herself forward, the elf hardly seems as helpless as she implies.
Sitting back and listening, Alain notices that although Kerielle speaks in a most passive manor, a glint of a hawk hunting sparkles in her eyes. After a quick second glance at the elven archer, Alain moves his eyes back to Declan.
“Your fiery magics may well be the key to getting through the skeleton guarded doorway, when the time comes.” Alain motions with his hands, fingers splayed out, “Such as when you cast the spell that caused fire to spout from your fingers. That could be very effective against the skeletons, given the fact that they seem to be rooted in place. We could safely place you in the front of the party and open the door with you ready to cast that spell.”
The party’s leader raises an eyebrow, asking with his eyes if the fire mage likes this plan.
Declan, for his part, envisions Alain’s battle plan for a moment before commenting, “Aye, if the’n skeletons remain rooted in their places and dinna throw somewhat t’ break me concentration, it could work. I dinna think I’ll be getting’ ‘em all in the first go, but it’ll give us a good start. Who er what’ll be me back up plan, then?” asks Declan while glancing about the table.
“My bow stands ready,” Kerielle declares. “But as I said, I fear it shall avail little against that which we face.”
Malk turns his head to address the fire mage with a question. “Declan, if we don’t have any Torm-blessed water, would oil or alcohol bring the additional blessings of fire to these walking dead? We could throw some in before your magics.”
“Aye, it would be doin’ that,” answers Declan. “Me fire would ignite th’ oil and roast ‘em up a bit more than if me magic worked of its own. As Kerielle was sayin’, I think crushin’ them bones would be better’n me fire, though.”
“Then I suggest that we should organise either a trap to ensnare them,” advocates Malk, “or something large to fall in on them as they leave the rock door. Does anyone have any ideas from what we saw when we were there?”
Alain listens to the bard and begins shaking his head. “What I am saying, Malk, is that I think they are rooted in the ground they stand on. As far as I could tell, they did not take a step towards us. They did have pole arms, though, so I could not get within range. As soon as a person would step in the doorway, about eight of them could attack at once. But if we were able to stand back and attack at a range…” The big Cormyrean shrugs his shoulders. “We may be able to clear them from around the door, so we could attack.”
“Attacking at range – truly now you speak my language!” Kerielle exclaims. “If only I could make my shafts more effective against their withered bones.
“However, if they truly cannot move, I should be able to shatter them eventually without danger to any of us—though it may take some time.”
Alain’s comment and Kerielle’s response highlights a gross error Declan has made in his plans to use fire, “Now tha’ I be thinkin’ about it, them pole arms’ll be givin’ me a bit o’ a problem, too. I still be needin’ t’ git within’ reach o’ their weapons t’ be lightin’ em on fire.
“I dinna think me fire will be the answer t’ our’n problems, at least not by itself. We be needin’ some’n tha’ can smash bones at some distance. I d’ ha’e a bolt o’magic that kin do in one er two o’ them at a distance, but no more’n tha’.”
“Well,” replies Malk to the table, “if fire isn’t the answer, in Highmoon I saw some of the local law-keepers break down doors with a tree trunk slung on leather straps between four of them. That did a considerable amount of crush damage to doors and things. Failing that, we need some kind of long weighted sticks to use as personal weapons.
“However, I for one would not be skilled in their use and would have to rely on speed and my own natural ability.” The bard says this last with a not-too-modest look on his face.
With a deep chuckle, Velgardrin comments, “Would thert ‘natural ability’ be what allowed yer ter be havern that slash across yer thert needered ter be healed? We found thert door but maybe there be another door.”
“A worthy enough idea, bard,” adds Kerielle, “although perhaps we are overcomplicating this. If they are truly fixed in place, could we not simply throw rocks at them? I cannot imagine aged bones – howsoever strengthened by magic – could withstand a shower of ten pound rocks propelled by the strong arms of our doughty warriors. Though I grant you, ‘twill make poor fare for your grand epic.” Her eyes twinkle at Malk.
The group’s conversation is interrupted as the door to the tavern opens, admitting Lieutenant Jadale and Warden Abercrombie. Accompanying them are Amiel and a tall moon elf dressed in a set of simple but bloodstained cotton clothes. A pair of peace-bonded swords on his belt marks the stranger as a warrior. His hands hold the closed end of a large sack that presumably contains his belongings.
The keep’s military chief looks around the common room until her eyes fall on the small group of six adventurers gathered in their heated discussion. Instructing the others to follow her, Jadale strides briskly over to the table.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” she says in greeting and then blazes ahead without allowing the opportunity for a reply. “While I had considered Velgardrin’s generous offer to join you for a drink, circumstances have made that rendezvous more important for business than for pleasure. On my way here, I ran across the good warden and your comrade.”
She grasps the elf by the upper arm and continues, “More importantly, this is Serethaniel – or Seth for those of you with trouble pronouncing elven names. He was brought to me a few minutes after Velgardrin and Kerielle left the Hall of Justice.
“Seth is the sole survivor of an attack upon a small caravan that occurred earlier this afternoon. I will let him tell the full story. May we sit?”
Kerielle, rises, swiftly yet gracefully. Inclining her head toward the moon elf, the tall green elf speaks in elven. <Welcome Serethaniel. I am Kerielle.>
Switching to the common tongue, she continues, “These are Velgardrin, Malk, Alain, Nathan and Declan,” indicating in turn the dwarf, bard, warrior and the two mages. Her polite courtesy seems somewhat unusual, given her previous brusqueness with strangers.
Scrambling to his feet right behind Kerielle, Alain rises and turns to lieutenant Jadale, performing a half bow. “Of course you are most welcome to join us, Lieutenant.” With a sweeping hand motion, Alain invites them to choose their own seats.
Malk sits more upright at the arrivals and joins in the general welcome. “Of course you are all most welcome. Can I order a drink for any of you? Or does the news that you so obviously bring, not give you time for such refreshments?” Malk tries to catch Jess’ eye to beckon her over.
“And I am Amiel S’Leya,” Amiel growls in elvish. Her face is hard and her voice carries an edge. “Kerielle was it? Pleased to meet you.”
Colouring, the archer hurriedly replies in Elvish. “Forgive me – Amiel – I meant not to slight you. In truth, I have travelled long enough with your unconscious form that, awake, you did not seem a stranger needing introduction. My apologies to you.”
Bizarrely, Kerielle appears distinctly embarassed by her lapse of courtesy – again at odds with what the Silver Claws have seen of her thus far. Amiel merely nods at this, her expression losing its frostiness entirely.
Abruptly, turning to the rest of Claws, the ranger smiles radiantly. “What? No one recognises me now that I’m able to stand again? Or perhaps it’s the lack of Vel’s bandages?” she asks wryly in Common, before hugging each.
Dropping into a vacant chair, she looks apologetically at Seth. “Sorry, sir! I have interrupted. Please, your tale.”
It is Kerielle’s mannered courtesy that the newly introduced Seth first attends to, finding it to be almost foreign. He is clearly awed by her presence, standing quietly by while the short exchange between companions takes place. Several moments of silence pass before he realises a response would be appropriate.
He sents a martial bow before the group but turns his attention to Kerielle first. “Saesa omentien lle,” he greets her politely in a poorly accented elven. “And greetings to you all, friends. It has been a long distance that I’ve carried this sack, may I sit at your table?”
“Of course,” Amiel responds. “Off course, you may. We are eager to hear the tale.”
Velgardrin rises from his seat and spins the chair to towards Jadale. With a motion of his hand, he offers her his seat. “Surely this Keep business won’t stop yer from a wee bit erv ale will it? And I be ready ter hear what happened. If this be about Mendel’s caravan I be confusered.”
“No, this about a different caravan,” answers Jadale as she accepts the chair she is offered. “But I will let Seth tell you the rest of his tale.”
Often the only feature of the warrior’s short life more prominent than battle itself is said to be the story told of the warrior’s battle. Seth’s tale can only be tempered by his unfamiliarity with his audience.
“Well, my journey from Hills…, ah Highmoon,” he begins, tripping over his point of origin, “was so lovely and quiet and peaceful. The forests are just so lovely and majestic and the warm sun in the open sky provided sustenence where the meager rations I was eating could not. This morning promised to be another day of walking in the fresh air, travelling south along the East Way, wondering how much my arms would grow fat and lazy without swinging a sword, when I noticed a pillar of smoke coming from my right. I toyed with the idea of rushing off to investigate, for what if it were an ambush?” he asks his audience.
But he continues before his question can be answered. “Before I had a chance to contemplate any further, six – no, it must have been eight gnolls that jumped from the stream bed – rushed toward me. I have battled the ugly bastards many a time but to have eight rush at me from three directions proved to be a new challenge. I whirled my blade in the air to try and frighten them off – they can be quite cowardly at times, you know – but alas! to no avail. My only grace was that they were attacking myself only, sparing the other men at arms and the merchants who shared the caravan, for I must have presented the most imminent threat.
“Tempus knew I certainly wasn’t going to fall first, and that thought was proven true in the first few seconds as one of the brutes ran straight onto my sword, squealing like only a gnoll can do when it finds itself ankle-deep in its own intestines. I drew my sword from the foul beast and it splashed red toward the sun, arcing high into the sky and parting a head from a pair of shoulders – gnoll shoulders, that is.
“By this time, I heard a scream and noticed one of my companion guards had fallen, which was strange when all eight gnolls had attacked your hero. I suspect it’s hard to find good guards these days. I grabbed the decapitated body and used it as a shield to fend off the blows which came from everywhere – left of me, right of me, above me and below me – while I parried my way back toward the caravan itself to try and protect it.
“Throwing the body at a pair of gnolls, I drew my second sword and attacked my next victims with tempestual fury, taking down two beasts in three strokes. And that’s when I got mad...”
A look from the stern-faced Jadale cuts the warrior off mid-sentence, and with a somewhat sobered face Seth continues with less animation. “I defeated all the evil stinking devils but they left me the only man standing and as you can see from the blood on my clothes and my hastily bandaged chest, it was not a decisive victory. I salvaged naught life and but one wagon which I brought to the Keep. One still stands in the lonely open plain.
“Lieutentant Jadale here has asked me to re-tell my story, though I know not why. Are you a militia gathered to hunt these gnolls?" he asks the table.
With an appreciative grin, Malk responds lightly, “Well told, Seth. I see I shall have competition in the telling of tales. Tell us, where did this battle with – how many gnolls was it – take place? It must have been close to the East Way?”
The newcomer’s words have captured Kerielle’s attention, as well. “I am unfamiliar with how the humans name their ways – but was it not at that very spot that I encountered Mendel and his henchmen? Directly southeast of the place where we met?” She looks in turn toward Velgardrin and Malk as she finishes her question.
“If so, it was a good place for an ambush.”
“Malk and Nathan be the ones alive who best know thert,” replies the dwarf. “Malk? Nathan?” Velgardrin offers Abercrombie the chair two spaces from Jadale and then sits between them.
With a questioning glance at Abercrombie, Velgardrin grabs his healer’s bag, moves over to Seth, and says, “If yer dern’t mind I be lookern at thers wounds. And Warden Abercrombie may be able ter aid yer more. If yer be fightern all the attackers thern how derd the others in the caravan die?”
He continues with rapid-fire questions. “How many died? What did yer do with ther bodies? Yer brought ther caravan here? How far away was ther battle?”
“Warden Abercombie has seen to my wounds. What you see are simply bloodstains,” Seth responds quickly, crossing his arms.
“Now to your questions. Erm,” the elf hesitates, “there were obviously more attackers that were too cowardly to face myself, who ran when I was finished with my adversaries, but who, in the mean time, managed to massacre the rest of the caravan. Four guards and two merchants were slaughtered – I left their bodies for the crows. The sun was descending from on high and hurting my eyes as I brought the caravan here and handed it to the care of the militia.
“But why does my story interest you so” he inquires of the whole assembly.
“Gnolls,” Amiel states distastefully. She looks at the newcomer, her voice dropping low. “These other attackers you refer to, were they gnolls too? And a word of advice: I’d not leave bodies lying around in these parts anymore – not if you’d rather not have to face them again. I’m sure you catch my meaning.”
“All gnolls indeed, lady, the stench was putrid. Nothing would bear their company otherwise,” Seth replies, but can offer nothing but a confused rise of the eyebrows in response to Amiel’s comment on dead bodies.
“There be livern dead around thert area and I be thinkern that they be from corpses of those slain in caravan attacks,” Velgardrin explains. “We will probably not find any of ther corpses when we check. Be yer wantern ter avenge thers cowardly attack?”
“I have no interest in gnolls at this point,” Seth replies, “and those killed were hardly dear to me. You do raise the question of what I do for keep though, dwarf, for a caravan guard is little without a caravan to guard. Unless any of you present are merchants by trade?” he inquires.
“No. We are not, Master Seth,” Amiel replies. “But there are many caravans that come and go from this keep. I’m sure that you’ll find employment with one of them soon,” she adds reassuringly.
Jadale sits forward and interjects herself into the conversation. “What is unknown, is whether or not these gnolls have any connection to the past caravan attacks or the undead, or to Mendel – if the merchant is somehow involved in the caravan raids.”
The keep’s militia commander looks to Alain. “When do you plan on resuming your expedition?”
Nathan moves forward to stand near Alain. “I for one am eager to return and avenge our comrades’ deaths.”
“We are set to leave as soon as possible, Lieutenant,” adds Malk. “We have some equipment to collect and prepare. The question remains – do we head for after these gnolls, or do we head back to the cave of the undead warriors?”
“Gnolls would make fine targets for my shafts – better than animated bones,” announces Kerielle, eagerness shining in her eyes. “But I am not offended by their blasphemous presence as I am those skeletons. I would put an end to their unholy existance as soon as may be.”
“Let’s discuss those options in private?” Amiel suggests. “I do not mean to offend you, Master Seth, but with the events of the last two days – the loss of companions – I feel the need to exercise caution.”
“Then I shall leave you to your debate,” announces Jadale as she stands. Abercrombie quickly follows suit.
“Please send me a message when you next leave, so that I know your activities,” Jadale asks, the tone of command creeping into her voice. “Thank you for the drink. May the gods go with you,” she adds and then turns to walk to the door.
Before departing with the lieutenant, Abercrombie leans down to Velgardrin and places a hand on the dwarf’s shoulder. “I continue to pray for you, alaghar. And I feel Torm will send us aid.” With that, the two keep officials leave the tavern.
Looking at Seth, Velgardrin adds, “What kind erv wounds did ther others have? Be they sword er arrow er magic?”
Seth answers the dwarf, “Definately blade. I’ve never known an arrow to decapitate,” he says with small humor. “Perhaps you would like me to take you to the site of the ambush? You seem very interested and I think I will be staying at the keep for a day or so, if only to wash the travel dust out of my ears”
“I may one day take you up on that challenge,” Kerielle boldly proclaims, “though I own it would be a difficult shot! As for our next move, we gain little by discussing it back and forth. I suggest we take a vote, unless our Captain wishes to decide?” Her face expresses the question, arching one delicate eyebrow.
“I’d like to see what a vote brings,” Amiel answers. “I’m not as clear on the current situation as the rest of you. But before we do so…”
She turns to Seth. “I ask you to respect our privacy. We’ve lost many companions with this business and are not going to take any further chances by allowing a stranger to be present when we discuss our tactics. Thank you for your entertaining tale, however.” She finishes with a grin that she hopes will take the sting from her words.
Seth smiles at the woman, “Of course. But consider my offer. I would offer my services to the group; it is dangerous out of these walls and you cannot have enough swords at your side. I would enjoy the company of a group of wayfarers, you must have many interesting stories to tell.”
He grips his sack of belongings and rises from his chair. “If you seek me, you will find me at the inn, I am weary.” With a slight bow to the gathering and then seperately to the fellow elf Kerielle, the warrior leaves the group to its discussion without a further word.
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