By Brian Flood
Chapter 55 - Holed up in the Troll's Lair
The Caves of Chaos
Near Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr
Early Afternoon, 21st Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
The group of wounded and coughing adventurers and their four captives stumbles westward. After only a few paces, they come across Velgardrin. The dwarf waits at the center of the ‘T' intersection, the branches leading away to the north and south.
“Which way, Vel?” Amiel asks the dwarf.
“Ther cave be thers way,” replies Velgardrin. “Nathan, now be ther time ter be mappern.”
The mage nods wordlessly. Working quickly, he cradles his quarterstaff and reaches within his shirt to retrieve his mapping supplies from where he deposited them when the goblin fight began. After quickly scratching out a sketch of what he can see and what he saw during the melee, Nathan hurries along to catch up to the others.
Velgardrin leads the way north. The companions soon find themselves in a rectangular chamber that measures about a dozen paces east-west and six or seven paces north-south. The passage they have entered by is in the far eastern portion of the south wall. A small square wooden table with a handful of clay mugs sits against the eastern wall.
There are two visible exits to the room, not including that by which the group entered. The first is a long passageway that leads westward from the southwest corner of the room. At least two ‘T' intersections are visible down the tunnel, both leading south. The second entry point is an open maw – apparently a passage or doorway – that dominates the northwestern corner of the room. A wooden barrel with several wooden sticks protruding from its top rests against the wall near the dark passage.
“'Ware the hallway west,” says Velgardrin. “Who knows what be there.” He points to the opening in the northwestern wall and continues. “Here be ther troll cave I be thinkern. Air be movern through here.”
Acting on a hunch, Kerielle slowly moves to the barrel to examine it and the sticks. She quickly discovers that the sticks are actually more than a score's worth of spears placed tip-down in the storage container.
“Good work,” Amiel tells Vel as she looks at the ground in front the northwestern passage, leaning on her trusty sword as if it were a walking stick. After a few breaths, she discerns a set tracks made by a large humanoid creature. She also notices that there are flecks of some sort of grayish substance around the prints.
She then looks toward the northwestern passage. By the light of the lantern that Kerielle carries, Amiel can see a pile of debris – what appears to be rotted cloths, leaves, etc just past the entrance to what Velgardrin has deemed the troll's cave. The ranger also notices that there is a space above the right wall leading to chamber. Looking closer, she determines that that ‘wall' is actually a door carved from the wall of the chamber in which the company stands. When it is closed, it would be nearly indiscernible from the adjoining walls.
“Seth, Vel get in there and investigate,” she orders, pointing to the troll's cave. “No light,” she adds. “All we need to know for now is that there's nothing else in there. Call ‘clear' and the rest of us will join you. Otherwise... well, use your judgment.”
Turning to the rest of the party, she continues her voice showing the strain. “Alain, Malk – do as Vel suggests and watch the way to the west. Everyone else stay frosty. Be prepared to leave through the cave entrance back there if they run into trouble. Dec, Nathan – do you have some spells remaining that can be used to give them and us chance to escape if it comes to that?”
“Ther barrel has spears,” Velgardrin announces. “Someone gert therm jerst in case.
“Seth, yer be findern hiddern therngs so yer be leadern. I follow after yer.” Velgardrin follows Seth into the rubbish room.
As the two explorers cross the threshold to the troll's lair, Helios addresses the remaining companions. “So what do we do with the little green men?” he asks. “Anyone speak Goblin?”
The paladin turns to the small quartet and speaks slowly to them. “Do… you… understand… me?” he says in the Common tongue.
The creatures return Helios look with ones of confusion. One of them leans forward and says slowly, “Bree…. Yark,” and then spits a gob a phlegm at the paladin's face.
“There's that again,” Amiel grumbles weakly. “Helios, leave them alone – but I'll thank you kindly if you'd check their bonds first. They are coming with us. I'm sure Vel or the mages have spells that can interpret their language... starting with the meaning of ‘breeyark.'
Kerielle smiles briefly at the haughty paladin's discomfiture. She stows her bow on her back and hefts one of the spears to examine it more closely, attempting to evaluate its strength and sturdiness.
Pondering, she asks, “Would it be possible to rig a travois or pole-drag with these and some rope? I believe our green friends could pull two of our wounded this way, and the other could ride in the cart. It would not be fast – but I think it would be faster than I can walk at present. Has anyone the skill to do this?”
Helios wipes the green mess from his face and shakes it on the floor in disgust. “I really wish you weren't my prisoners,” he mutters as he makes sure that they are securely bound, “then I wouldn't feel honor-bound to spare your miserable lives.”
He eyes the spear that Kerielle is examining and then looks back at the captive, plotting dark thoughts about where they can put their ‘bree-yark's. Actions make a Sword of Torm however, not thoughts, so the paladin dutifully cares for his captives and offers them a drink of water from his flask as is proper.
“Drink, I mean you no harm,” he says with open hands, although prepared to pull away from any incoming phlegm.
The goblins eye the flask warily at first. Then, tentatively, one cranes his neck forward, tilts his head up and opens his mouth. It cannot take the water bottle from Helios with its arms pinned securely to its sides.
The paladin tilts the flask into the waiting mouths of the tied goblins one by one, keeping an eye on them in case they try their spitting trick again. The fourth and final creature holds the water in its mouth for a moment, its cheeks bulging as it glares at Helios. When the warrior braces to react to another affront, the goblin simply swallows the water and smiles widely, displaying several missing teeth. “Bree yark!” it barks, apparently pleased with its little joke.
Alain looks over his shoulder from where he is guarding the westward corridor. “Helios, quit playing with those things.” The warrior motions towards the goblins. “Move ‘em into the corner and keep them quiet.”
Shaking his head, Alain turns back to Malk. “Why did we capture those things? We should have killed them in a fair fight when we had the chance.” The big Cormyrian continues to mutter under his breath.
“That was my suggestion at the time,” Malk replies, “too late now. Still, if a fight happens and they become a threat… Wellll…. I think that may be different. For the good of the Keep of course.”
“Be that as it may,” Helios interjects, “but we're stuck with them now. I suggest we keep them with us until we are rested. Then, on the morrow we can leave them. I'm sure someone will find them eventually.”
The paladin looks around at his surroundings. “This area isn't defensible either. We must find somewhere to rest soon – my strength is almost spent.” With that, the armored warrior drops to his knees and starts praying to his patron deity, giving thanks for keeping him alive this long.
“I have no wish to leave them behind to be freed,” counters Kerielle. “That would just mean four more enemies the next time we come here. Either kill them, or take them with us – that is your decision to make.” She looks to Amiel as she makes her last declaration.
“For me, I would not choose to kill unarmed foes – there is no challenge in it. But forget not that the friends of these ones nearly killed me. They are not harmless, for all they look it now. My choice would be to take them back to the Keep. It may be they know something of use. Even if not, they could carry or drag wounded or equipment, and allow us to travel faster.”
Helios looks up from his prayers. “We cannot kill them,” he says vehemently, leaving no room for discussion. “We have taken them as prisoners and as such we are duty-bound to treat them with respect. Even though they may not return the favor, Torm cannot allow hard to befall them.”
He shakes his head sadly. “And yet to free them would be a folly, I feel. I do not trust them not to sound the alarm.
“Anyway, this decision can be made after we solve our current predicament – finding somewhere we can rest so the pounding in my head may stop.” With that, the paladin closes his eyes and returns to worshipping his god.
“Stop this conversation and keep your eyes open,” Amiel reminds all of the company, her voice guardedly neutral.
Alain nods to Amiel. But not being quite done, the warrior continues. “I just want you to think about your actions. If you take them to the Keep, what is the jailor there to do? Care for them – their whole lives? More likely the jailor will have to sneak into their cells one night and strangle them.”
He pauses and then tells the ranger. “Just something to think on before we take prisoners we can't care for, in the future.” Not waiting for a reply, the Cormyrian turns back to his guarding.
* * * * *
Meanwhile, Seth and Velgardrin enter the chamber beyond the hidden door. The first thing that hits them is the stench. It is a putrid mix of rotted carrion, excrement, and a unique odor that they both recognize as that of a troll. The room they find themselves in is about twenty feet square. The secret door by which they entered is in the southeast corner of the small chamber. The only other visible exit is a corridor that leads from the northwest corner of the room and turns slightly westward, leaving only a few paces' worth visible to the pair of adventurers. The pile of rubbish covers nearly the entire western half of the small chamber's floor. It consists of several branches, rotting cloth remnants, and discarded bones. Several other bones of humanoid origin litter the floor. There is even a partially consumed arm lying near the pile of rubbish – apparently the remains of the beast's last meal.
“Seth,” begins Velgardrin, “I be thinkern that thers be defensible enourgh that all can enter, especerially there woundered, if they be threatenered and ther door can be closered. What think yer? Thern we scout ther passage to ther northwest.”
Seth shakes his head. “Our wounded party members are defended as they are now, and if what we encounter when we explore this passage requires a hasty retreat, they will only be undefended and in our way,” the elf reasons. “Come, I say we proceed further without them.”
“Yer be leadern,” Vel declares. Lert's see where the passage be goern.”
Seth draws his long sword as well as a deep breath as he moves further away from the shallow light behind him and toward the northwest passage. The dwarf follows behind him with his axe and shield held ready.
The pair of adventurers progresses only a few paces before a twenty foot square rough-hewn chamber opens before them. The first thing they notice is a large opening in the northern wall beyond which is a stand of thick green bushes that allow a trickle of sunlight through. A large murky puddle or pool that stretches almost fifteen feet across dominates the center of the cavern, leaving only a narrow path between it and the surrounding walls. The ambient moisture from the pool glistens in the thin bands of sunlight, highlighting the path's surface as that of wet clay. Discarded bones, fur, hair, and other remains of both two- and four-legged creatures litter the damp floor. Various objects have been hung from the walls around the pool – a halberd, a blackened chain mail jerkin, a set of antlers, a large desiccated head bearing an expression of astonishment, and a massive paw similar to that which produced the company's signature necklaces – as if in some strange form of home decor.
“Thers seems ter be odd,” declares Velgardrin. “Trolls be fancyern lairs?” he asks of Seth.
The elf shrugs his shoulders. “I never met them in their cave or lair,” he replies. “Watch my back, dwarf. I'm going over yonder bushes to see what is beyond.”
“Ware the water if yer can,” warns Velgardrin. “This be strange.” The dwarven priest gets a firmer grip on his axe and shield as he guards while Seth explores.
The elven warrior-rogue nimbly walks along the slippery path between the north wall of the cavern and the dark pool. He glances out the cave entrance and sees that there is a rather thick stand of brush just outside the entrance. Through a narrow opening in the shrubbery – he can see the trunks of several hardwood trees. He is also able to discern that it is nearing mid-afternoon - the sun will most likely set in three or four hours.
“Seth, is there a trail out or are there any tracks?” asks Velgardrin asks. “It be nice knowern erf thers be a hiddern room.”
The elf raises his hand in Velgardrin's direction, palm outwards, to stay the dwarf's question as he performs a closer inspection of the cave entrance. After several long moments, Seth discerns that there is a barely perceptible path through the thick bushes to the cave entrance. It is most assuredly not obvious to the casual observer.
“Our way is free, as far as I can tell,” the elf softly relays to Velgardrin. “There is a path, but so infrequent appears its use that it is barely visible. I think we should holler or Amiel, if not the whole party, as we have few hours of daylight left.”
“I be agreern,” Velgardrin answers. “Lert's be gettern therm all. Thern we can shut ther door erf need be.”
Seth stays in place in the pool chamber while Velgardrin walks back to the door. The dwarf listens a moment to be sure the Silver Claws aren't in combat, and then says, “Amiel and all, in here be a place ter camp. Ert needs cleanern but ert be havern an exit at ther other end and thers door that can be closerd.”
“Let's move everyone,” Amiel orders, relieved. “Alain could you follow up last with me?” she asks the Cormyrian.
Slowly, the company moves through the well-disguised stone door into filthy room beyond. Amiel and Alain are the last to enter, after ensuring that all members are in the room – the goblin prisoners included – and taking a minute or so in an attempt to conceal the signs of the group's passage.
Once in the room, Amiel tells Alain to close the door. The big warrior does as ordered and the heavy portal – apparently with the aid of hidden weights – closes with the sound of stone grating against stone. A faint but solid thunk sounds as the door becomes flush with the wall. It is then that Amiel and the rest notice that there is no visible way to open the door from within their sanctuary.
Helios wrinkles his nose in disgust at the smell, then shrugs in acceptance. The furrows on his forehead remain as the paladin tries to block out the incessant pounding in his head – the result from his run-in with the cave's previous occupant.
With his back resting against the wall, he slips to the floor in exhaustion with a crash. Whispering a few words of thanks to Torm for allowing his sword to continue serving him, the bruised and battered paladin's eyes close as he passes out.
Kerielle's unsteady steps become only more so as the foul stench assaults her nostrils. Swaying on her feet with nausea and exhaustion, the elf maiden forces herself as near as possible to the fresher air from outside without revealing herself, and collapses.
After a few breaths, she announces, “I am done. I must rest. Grisly as it may be, that there may be things of worth among that ,” she suggests with a weak gesture at the disgusting pile, “or perhaps in the pool. If one of the mages can sense magical power, that might also be of worth.”
She lies back and rests her weary and painful self only to sit up a heartbeat later. “Oh, perhaps now we could wedge a door shut with the pitons?” she asks, nodding with a weak smile toward the secret door by which the party entered.
Motioning to the party members getting ready to sleep, Alain turns to Amiel. “Get some sleep – you will need your wits about you tomorrow. I will keep an eye out and set up a watch with the remaining unwounded Claws.”
At that moment, Seth wanders in to join the company and addresses their leader. “Amiel, I don't feel the need for rest just yet, while the sun will be in the sky for several hours, would if I could scout the outside of this cave further, if only to determine our location from the outside?”
“Knowern ther outside be a good thing, Amiel,” Velgardrin interjects.
“It would indeed, my friend,” the ranger replies, grateful that the Claws have recognized that she's on the verge of collapse.
“Alright. Seth, Malk take a reconnaissance outside. Establish the position of this cave to the rest of ‘em. Be back here to report in half an hour.
“I'm glad to see that there's light in here. Douse all lanterns and torches to save them. We'll look to see if the troll hoarded anything valuable after we've done our best to ensure the safety of this place.”
“Alain, I'll take you up on your offer. Try and sort out positions where the wounded and the goblins take up the center of this area and you healthy folk are close to the two entry points. You and Vel must guard an entry each. I think Kerrielle would prefer to be closer to fresh air...
“Kerrielle, I need you to use that famous elven eyesight before you can rest,” she tells the archer with a apologetic tone. “Are there any more hidden doors here?”
Forcing her eyes to focus on her leader, the archer responds, “Gladly would I look, but I have no more talent than the rest of you. Although my eyes are keen, my tribe dwells in the forest and I have no knowledge of such devices.”
“Ne're mind, wood elf,” offers Seth. “Amiel, I will check the perimeter of the room after my reconnoitering, as I am far from needing rest. Ready your blade, Malk.”
“I am ready Seth,” the bard replies. “I could do with some fresh air.
“I am thankful that none of these body parts are not of the more recently deceased,” Seth comments as his expression quickly becomes serious and he moves cautiously toward the edge of the cave.
Malk pauses a moment before following the elf. “Can I suggest before we go that we spike not our only other exit should anything emerge from that pool of what smells like stinking goblin excrement?” he asks. “We can always block it if we are ready.” Then he moves towards the entrance, wrinkling his nose in disgust.
“Nathan, Dec,” inquires Amiel, “any way we can magically bar that door? Hammering those pitons may give our position away. On that topic Vel, can that door be opened from the other side or is it a one-way?”
Nathan shrugs apologetically. “There is no method I know of that would magically seal the doors. “Perhaps some spells more powerful than the ones I am aware of may be employed.”
Her voice strains as she says finally, “Someone, make sure that the goblins are gagged properly.”
“Which end der yer want me guardern, door er openern?” asks Velgardrin of Amiel and Alain. “Seth should be lookern ter see how this door opens ter let us back ter the caves.”
Alain looks over to Velgardrin. “How about if you help Declan guard the door to the interior, and I will guard the opening to the outside. Your sight is much better in the darkness of the caves than mine is.” Smiling the warrior hefts his backpack and moves towards the sunlight.
“Vel,” opines Declan, “yer be watchin' th'openin', and I'll watch th' door er wall. When th' other'n return, we kin be settin' up guard shifts. I'm still able t' bring about much o' me power in a fight.” With that said, Declan moves to a position within five feet of the secret door, squats down, and extinguishes the flame in the lantern he is carrying.
* * * * *
Seth and Malk nimbly walk along the slippery clay path beside the dark pool and stop just short of the cave entrance. A thick stand of brush grows just outside the opening. Through the scant gaps in the foliage, they can discern several hardwood trees.
Seth carefully parts the bracken with his sword and free hand, keeping his ears and eyes alert for stray branches as well as stray goblins, moving forward into the more open forest. Malk - one pace behind follows suit.
Once out of the entrance, the bard taps Seth on the shoulder gently to attract his attention. He points left, making a walking movement with his fingers, then hold up eight digits and checks that Seth understands that he will move a few paces to the left and travel in parallel.
After a few paces of travel directly out from the cave entrance, the two scouts clear the thick brush and find themselves in a stand of deciduous trees. From the orientation of nearby lengthening shadows, they calculate that they face northeast into the valley that holds the Caves. Glancing behind them, they can see the south wall of the ravine running northwest to southeast. The cave entrance is completely concealed by the thick brush. The western boundary of the tree line lays a few paces to Malk's left. Yet another group of trees begins about ten paces from that.
Seth snaps his fingers twice to gain Malk's attention and starts a cautious pace in a northern direction toward the edge of the trees, with the intent of locating the small stream that runs through the ravine. Malk looks across at the the elf at the sound of his click. He nods his agreement and moves north, keeping a watch and listening all around.
The scouts slowly creep northward along level ground until, after about twenty yards, they come to the northern edge of the stand of trees. Another twenty yards away to the north, they can see the stream that runs northwesterly through the center of the ravine. A cave opening yawns from about twenty yards or so north-northwest of the stream. Two other caves – one to the northwest, and the other to the northeast of the distant ground-level cave – are located higher on the wall of the ravine.
Seth nods to himself as he returns from the edge of the wooded area. “I'm satisfied. Need we do anything more?” he asks in hushed tones of his companion. With Malk's wordless shrug, the pair of adventurers starts to cautiously make their way back to the troll cave.
* * * * *
Almost two candlemarks after they departed, Seth and Malk rejoin the company. They pass Alain where the warrior stands guarding the open cave entrance and make their way to where the majority of the Silver Claws are gathered.
Malk moves over to where he recalls seeing the owlbear claws. “If you call me Seth – I'll take the watch after you and keep an eye on our unwelcome guests.”
After slowly creeping along the narrow slippery path toward the back wall of the pool cavern, the bard finds that the claws are set up too high on the wall for him to reach. Disappointed, he carefully makes his way back along the treacherous catwalk and goes with Seth to where the others are resting.
“Amiel,” calls Seth upon his return, “I am not versed in wilderness lore, but I believe I know of this cave exit's location. I'll show you in the morning.
“I'll offer first guard duty, should you need,” he offers.
“Mehaps erf ther be somethern ter put nerxt ter thers door thert be makern noise erf disturbed thern we be knowern erf goblerns er worse be comern,” suggests Velgardrin.
Alain motions all the unwounded party members into a group. Looking to Velgardrin, Alain starts laying out his plan. “Seth and Nathan will stay with you to guard the door leading to the inner caves. Do a three-hour rotating guard shift; that will allow those not on guard duty to get some sleep. But stay in a group with weapons and spells at the ready. I will take Malk and Declan with me and do the same for the outer entrance to the cave.
“Only use the lantern or torches when you need to, to conserve fuel and draw less attention.” As Alain speaks each member's name, he looks at that person to ensure they understand. “Are there any questions?”
Velgardrin asks, “Is ther a magicker with light thert can be cast ter help gert past oil ern terches? How long der it be lastern if there be a magicked light?”
“I know little of magic, but perhaps that spell would best be saved,” Seth opines. “Both you, dwarf, and I have dark-vision, and we would be safer should no light serve as beacon to our foes.”
“Ther light dern't be fer us but therm,” Velgardrin says with a wave of his hand at the humans.
Declan shakes his head. “I dinna know o' that spell. We kin be sleepin' at night and then study in the morn' once the sun comes in through the cave. Tha' should be savin' some o' the oil.”
“I have some knowledge of such magic,” Malk chips in. “Though I can not keep it going for long – perhaps only for a candle mark or less.”
Velgardrin nods at the bard and turns to address Seth and Nathan. “Who wants ter be guardern first? I be guardern when ever ert works ert.
“Seth, could yer be checkern thers door ter see if ther be a latch er catch ferm thers side?”
“Let me avail first guard duty and examine this door,” answers the elf. “Who shall I wake and when? I will admit I've little patience for sitting in the dark.”
Seth then proceeds to closely inspect the secret portal that leads from the troll's chambers to the goblins' halls. After a few minutes' work, he find neither traps nor a method by which to open the door from the side facing the company.
“I'll take ther middle watch,” Velgardrin responds. “While yer be guardern, be checkern that ther wounderd be restern. If ther be a problerm with therm yer can be wakern me.”
Seth offers a grunt of dissatisfaction that he could find no method of opening the portal, and moves to make himself comfortable at a spot which offers him with reasonable view of the two adjoining rooms. He unsheathes both of his blades and begins to clean them one at a time, momentarily content with the quiet and the growing darkness of the cave.
Malk takes a drink from his flask to moisten his mouth before eating one of his trail rations. He makes a face and thinks of better fare taken in High Moon whilst he chews the unappetizing meal . Better eat and sleep while I can , he muses. He hums a short light tune of praise to Milil , finds as comfortable a free position as he can, and settles down to sleep with his hand on his sword.
Velgardrin moves to half lie down and half sit with his back against the door so that opening it will wake him. He consumes a meal of rations and attempts to sleep still in armor.Alain motions to Declan, saying, “Go ahead and take the first shift; I will take the middle shift and Malk can have the last shift. Alain moves close to the cave opening and sets his backpack on the floor. Sitting down, the big warrior leans back on his backpack and shifts his hat forward over his eyes.
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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