By Brian Flood
Chapter 59 - The Standoff Resumes
The Caves of Chaos
Near Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr
Mid-Morning, 22nd Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
Preceded by a rustling in the bushes, Malk bursts back into the pool chamber from the outside. The bard is breathing heavily and – despite the large bloodstains on his shirt – does not appear badly wounded.
The bard brushes past Declan – not knowing that the mage almost fried him – and walks toward the rest of the company. He tosses a quiver of arrows – still attached to a sword belt – and a bow to the ground near Alain's feet, since the large warrior is closest to the cave entrance. It is only then the Malk notices that Alain holds a rope that ends by looping itself around Nathan's waist. The bard's eyebrows raise, but he does not lend voice to his unspoken question.
“There were two of them,” Malk announces without further preamble. “I killed one, but do not know where the other is.”
As if in answer, a loud and angry roar sounds from beyond the concealing bushes at the cave entrance.
* * * * *
The hobgoblin stands up furiously from the body of his slain comrade. Looking to the three armed and armored fellow soldiers that he brought with him, he growls, “He's out there somewhere. Find him! Kill him!”
As the search party runs off toward the northwest, the surviving archer sets an arrow to the string of his bow. Then, keeping his eyes on the ground, he begins to walk in slow, ever-broadening circles around the corpse.
* * * * *
Velgardrin's eyes flutter open. He looks around a bit disoriented then he realizes that someone or something seems to be attacking. He grabs his shield and axe as he stands. Then he runs to where the company is gathered at the nexus of the sleeping room and the pool chamber.
“What ers it?” The dwarf asks, looking around Alain to address Malk.
“An angry hobgoblin, is what it is. Over the death of his comrade,” Seth offers in broken sentences. “Leave the armor. We should take the chance to rush the stinking beast!”
“I would like nothing better!” snaps Kerielle in frustration, indicating her battered body.
“Agreed!” Velgardrin responds. “It be time ter be attackern! Alain and I be leadern and ther mages and Malk be followern. Nathan gert ther rope off! Alain, you first and I'll move ter ther left of yer. All ready?”
Alain drops his end of the rope, and draws his sword and dagger. Then he moves toward the mouth of the cave.
Malk holds up his hand. “More than one angry hobgoblin, actually. I heard them coming. There were at least two, probably more. And let me remind you – the one I killed was protected by metal armor and armed with bow and sword. Were it not for some tricks up my sleeve, I could not have defeated him – much less a pair of them. These are soldiers, not sniveling goblins!
“Having learned a lesson the hard way, whatever we do here we should do it together. I was lucky and protected by Milil. I would not like to push that protection or luck too far in one day.”
“Perhaps if we wait towards the rear of the cave, I will be able to catch the creatures with a sleep spell as they enter,” opines Nathan. And with that, the young mage removes himself from the loop of rope, moves into a position where he can see the entrance, and prepares his spell components.
“If this is to work, I will need you all away from the cave entrance.”
Kerielle approves. “There is wisdom in your words, spell flinger.
“Everyone, back away from the entrance! Give him room to work his art. Alain and Malk should be able to hold that path beside the pool against an army.” So saying, she backs up to give the others room to maneuver.
“The elf is right,” adds Malk. “If we are making a defense based on Nathan's skill, then we need to get to the back of this cave, with Nathan to the fore so that he can see – perhaps with Alain and I to either side of him.” The bard moves back into the sleeping room, emphasizing his words with action.
Not seeing much support for dealing with the problem directly, Velgardrin yields to the others' suggestions. He steps back through the cave to stand near Nathan and Kerielle. Wrinkling his nose at disgust at the slowly rotting goblin corpses nearby, the dwarf stands disposed to assist in whatever means necessary.
Alain looks over his shoulder, looking back and forth between Amiel and Velgardrin. “Do you want me to move back from the door? I would hate to loose the tactical advantage of holding the door way if it is not going to be to our advantage. Having enemy inside the cave with arrows is none to appealing.”
While waiting for Amiel's answer, Velgardrin sheathes his axe and begins to search the goblin carcasses. He utters a constant stream of faint muttering using unfamiliar words… “ kuldar … mur … corlar… alagh … noror … arglar … barak … zander Malk...”
In the midst of the search, the dwarf makes note of the quality of the morning stars. He comments on them by announcing, “These be worth little more thern a club,” before resuming his incomprehensible muttering.
After a few minutes, a period that is bereft of further sounds from outside, suggestions by other members of the company, or orders from the oddly quiet Amiel, Velgardrin is finished. But for his efforts, all he has to show are less than a handful of copper coins.
* * * * *
The hobgoblin archer kneels down to the forest floor. Holding both his bow and an arrow in the same hand, he retrieves an object from the leaves and moss.
It is an arrow. More importantly, it is of identical construction to those in his hand and in his quiver. My arrow , he thinks to himself. The wide steel tip is covered in a reddish-brown substance. He brings the arrow closer and very carefully flicks the stain with his tongue.
Blood. This is must be one of our arrows that struck the human . The creature stands and walks a step further before finding a second arrow – also stained with fresh blood – lying nearby.
He frowns. How could the human kill Lurghtz with two arrows in his own flank? Then his eyes widen. There is magic at work here.
With a heightened sense of danger, the hobgoblin slowly returns to his original lookout position. He glances around for the search party before returning his attention to the stand of brush that conceals the entrance to the intruders' hiding place.
* * * * *
Alain's voice, with a faint tone of commend, sounds in the troll cavern. “Hold your spell Nathan. Alright everyone, listen up.
“All the heavily wounded, get back by the door. Use your weight to hold it shut so we do not get flanked.
“Velgardrin and Malk, you two are going to hold the right path around the pool,” Alain motions to the ground, “and I will hold the left path,” again Alain motions to the ground.
“If we get pushed back, I will yell ‘break.' At that point, Malk and Velgardrin will fall back to here,” Alain motions to the ground, “and I will fall back around the pool,” Alain motions to a location on the far side of the pool and along the narrow, slippery catwalk, “and will make my way to the group here,” motioning to the ground.
“If and when we break, Declan and Nathan, once we are clear, cast any spells you have to cover our retreat. Nathan, make sure we are clear before you cast that sleep spell. If we have to break and we meet up, that will be our last line of defense. We hold that ground till the last man falls. Any questions?”
“All seems quiet,” opines Malk. “Nathan, how long can you stay prepared to fire your magics? If that is not a problem, then may I suggest to our leaders that we all retire away from the entrance and that Nathan and another keep watch. That will allow the rest of us to rest and heal further, whilst being ready should anything come through the entrance.”
Nathan simply stands ready, watching the entrance intently and fingering his spell components. “I hope they do not resist my spells,” he says grimly.
“We're still going to have to play a waiting game,” Amiel declares after much thinking. “Starting any fight against well-armed adversaries with four warriors still down is not going to go well.
“But if they rush us before we're healed we put your plan into action, Alain. If they're going to rush us, it'll be soon I'd imagine.
“Nathan, move closer so you can center your spell right at the entrance,” she says, pointing to a location next to the wall, just north of the garbage heap.
“Sorry Nathan, but that means you'll have to be on alert for another eight hours until Vel can heal us,” she continues.
“Alain, stay where you are. Malk, take Declan's position next to him. If they rush us, I want both of you to fall back to a position in front of Nathan. Try and draw as many opponents back with you. Only then, Nathan, will you fire off your spell and take out as many of them as possible.”
With a glance to the roof of the cave, the bard shrugs and moves toward the entrance. With an exaggerated bow to Declan, as if in a dance, he indicates that they should swap places.
Amiel then looks at Helios, “For now, you and I are moving further to the back to give our friends the space they need. I know, I know... I don't feel good about it either,” she commiserates with the paladin.
“Vel, go back to your rest. If they come in, you'll know! The best place for you will be to reinforce Alain and Malk,” she says indicating the spot she stands upon.
“Dec, take a station here. If they come in and Nathan's spell fails to bring down those inside the cave, I'm hoping you also have a spell that you can set off at the entrance? Something that'll hurt ‘em?” she asks.
“Cursed creatures!” spits Serethaniel. “Oh, for the unending strength of Tempus, would I skewer them all!” The elf clutches his chest and hobbles toward the rear of the cave.
Facing north but turning to Kerielle with dry humor, he adds, “I was expecting adventuring to be far more glamorous an occupation. I will fight hard that your body's ultimate purpose is other than stinking out a troll-hole,” he offers in mock-chivalry.
“Amiel,” counters Alain, “you are in no condition to lead a fight, take charge of the wounded and block the door.
“Nathan, Declan – hold your spells ‘til I give the command. Malk, Velgardrin – move into position,” Alain points to the ground with his rapier. “Declan move back with Nathan.” The warrior peers back out of the cave mouth, trying to discern any movement.
“Not ter be opposern you,” Velgardrin interjects from the rear of the sleeping chamber,” but I be thinkern that I must be sleepern as Amiel said, Alain.”
“I kern still defend if we be attackered, but havern more Claws ter fight be good. And we be needern cleanerd water erf we be here much longer. I need restered fer that.”
The dwarf draws his axe and uses both hands to hold it clasped against the holy symbol hanging against his chest. Then, in a very ceremonial voice free of his accent, he intones, “For the glory of Clangeddin Silverbeard, Father of Battles, and for the glory of the Silver Claws may we prevail! May all that is good and holy aid our struggle.”
He removes his helm and bows his head silently for a few moments, still holding the axe against himself. Then he sheathes his axe as he returns to claim some of the suddenly high-demand space at the rear of the sleeping chamber.
Amiel nods to Alain. “Alright Master Alain, you are right – I'm not in any condition to lead this battle. Your plan is as good as mine. We'll play it your way – with the exception of your positioning of Vel in the defensive line,” she adds with a glance over at the dwarf.
“I wish we could set up a trip wire across the door. Does anyone have any ideas as to how?”
Alain simply smiles and silently salutes Amiel with his rapier. Noticing the slippery ground he stands upon, he studies the ground towards the cave mouth before looking over at Malk
“I think that with the floor over here being as slippery as it is, if battle is joined I will move over there with you.”
Meanwhile, with the wounded Silver Claws positioned where they are, Velgardin finds that he has to reluctantly settle for a piece of floor next to a pungent goblin corpse. He replaces his helm, lies down, and attempts to sleep.
Just after his eyes close, his head snaps up and he adds, “In my pack be a mirror. “It might be helpern see.”
He stands back up and slips his pack off. He drags out a small metal mirror and hands it to Amiel. “Ther mirror,” he grunts.
Leaving his pack in place, the dwarf then grabs up the nearest goblin corpse and tosses it onto the rubbish heap. “These be stinkern worse than nermal goblerns thers close,” he comments.
With his back to most of the party, the dwarf quickly winks at Kerielle. He then tosses the second cadaver after the first. Finished, he returns to where he was and tries to get some sleep, using his pack as a very lumpy pillow.
But sleep does not come quickly. Instead, he is awoken moments later by Amiel who asks him for the twine he carries in his rucksack. Mumbling something incomprehensible, the dwarf rummages briefly in his pack to produce the requested ball of twine. Then he lies back down to attempt once more to get some well-needed rest.
* * * * *
The hobgoblin search party returns empty-handed. After a brief discussion, it is decided that the quartet of humanoids will perform its observation duty in pairs. Two of the soldiers will sleep while two others watch the troll cavern. At the first sign of danger, one of watchers will wake the sleeping pair before running back to report to Naghaz.
The creatures quickly use a set of bone dice to determine who will serve on which guard shift. A few minutes later, two of the hobgoblins find themselves a place to rest comfortably while the remaining pair – an archer and a messenger – returns to watching the cave entrance.
* * * * *
With Velgardrin trying to sleep and the rest of the party positioned and occupied in general compliance to Alain's plan, Amiel begins digging through the trash heap, adjusting the goblin corpses as required to enable her search. Eventually, she selects a long, filthy stick from among the rubbish. She heads back to her wounded friends and, while they wait for whatever may come, begins tying the mirror to one end of the stick by looping the twine around and around two opposite ends of the mirror.
With a lack of anything useful to do, as in his current state a goblin mother could easily skewer him with a pointy stick, Helios turns his attention to the helm that he found earlier in the pile of rubbish. He examines it, wiping the thick layer of grime off it to see if he can give it some shine.
Yawning and rubbing his head Helios looks around his companions. “Anyone need a helm? And if no one needs my assistance, I may just pass out as my head is still spinning.” Seeing that he is not needed, the paladin simply succumbs to the darkness and closes his eyes, one hand on his sword.
* * * * *
A tension-filled hour or so passes for those in the troll's lair. As all remains quiet, Malk retains his place on guard but sits on the floor resting as much as he can. Looking back over his shoulder, Alain watches Amiel for a moment before turning to Malk.
“The monsters must have heard that we where guarding the entrance, and run away.” Grinning, the big warrior turns back to watching the entrance.
Finally, Amiel decides to continue with her earlier explorations. The ranger retrieves the rope from where it was discarded by Nathan and Alain. Then, she takes the party's iron cooking pot from Alain's pack. She knots one end of the rope around the pot's handle and then walks as close to the pool as she is able without setting foot on its slippery borders. Mustering as much strength as her weakened condition allows, she tosses the makeshift sounding device into the murky waters of the pool.
Seconds pass as the pot first takes on water and then sinks out of sight beneath the surface. When no more rope plays between her hands, the ranger slowly begins to pull the pot back from the dark depths. When she is done, she examines the rope and determines, based on the wetted portion, that the pool should be about eight or so feet deep.
“Dec, Nathan can you use your magic to find out if there's any magic in this cave?” Amiel asks hesitantly, her lack of knowledge of magic manifesting itself. While she waits for response from the mages, she uses the rest of the twine to tie the pot handle against the pot.
Declan shakes his head at Amiel and answers, “I dinnae ha'e that spell memorized right now. But were we t' stay here long, I could be memorizin' it in a day or so. Perhaps I should be addin' that spell to me regular list o' spells,” the mage muses.
Nathan also shakes his head. “I daresay I do not have that spell available to me today, either.”
Leaning back against the wall, Malk quietly hums to himself. It is a low soft tune. Gradually, his head starts to drop towards his chest. The tune slowly ceases and a steady rhythmic breathing follows.
Declan walks over to Malk and taps the young man on the shoulder to wake him.
“I'll be takin' the watch fer a few hours,” the fire mage says quietly says to the bard. “Yer lookin' somewha' tired after yer foray out an' about, an' sleepin' right here could end up ruinin' yer day – mine too if'n I'm the one t' be carryin' ya.”
With a grateful grunt to Declan and half-closed eyes, Malk lifts himself up and drags himself to the back of the cave. He drops back against the solid surface and tries to continue his dream of fourteen harmonious virgins singing gently to him of love in all its glory.
Amiel signals to Seth to come over to the pool. “Use this to dredge the pool's bottom,” she tells him quietly, handing him the pot and rope.
Serethaniel, irritable and barely able to sleep given his pained and encumbered condition, grumbles to his feet and takes the items from Amiel. “I don't even like fish,” he states, trying a little humor, before again lowering the pot in its new dredging capacity.
As the elf does so, Amiel takes the stick and mirror and carefully edges up to the cave entrance. “I'm joining you,” she whispers to Alain and Declan.
With a last check to ensure that the mirror is securely fixed to the stick, she gingerly thrusts it out past the entrance about six inches or so. Changing its pitch and angle she tries to scan the surroundings outside the cave.
Studying the battered ranger as she moves the stick around, Alain winces. “You really should try and get some sleep with the condition that you are in.”
After a moment's more contemplation, Alain looks over to Seth. “If you can, fish anything of value out of that spring. I will catch one of those hobgoblins threatening us, and I will hold him under water by his legs until he gets the rest for us.” Grinning, the Cormyrian gives the elf a jaunty wink
Amiel finds that the brush that blocks the front of the cave also hinders her attempt at unexposed reconnaissance. If she keeps the mirror close enough on her side of the foliage to see its surface, the image on its surface is merely the heart of the brush pile and a broken and indiscernible picture of the outside surroundings. If she pushes the mirror out past the obstructing brush, she is unable to see it.
Meanwhile, after four attempts at dredging that produce only murky water, Seth drags in the pot to find if partially full of thick, dark goo from the pool's unseen bottom. Carefully searching through the muck, the elf finds six slime-covered gold coins.
Kerielle says grumpily, “The only way you will retrieve anything of value from that cesspit is if someone dives down and searches! You might try and get the armor and ‘long-axe' though, as our friends without seem uninterested in joining us.” She then curls up under her cloak and attempts to get some sleep.
Seth rubs a coin against his shirt. “These'll shine up nicely. You want to add them to your purse, Alain?” The elf brushes past Declan and Amiel to hand the finds to the tall warrior.
Amiel looks at Seth tiredly. “So that's where the troll kept its gold? Good work – there might be more and we'll get back to it later.”
“I need rest,” Seth then announces. Without waiting for a response, he takes the pot and rope with him and moves deeper into the cave. Leaving them on the ground, he takes up his position beside Kerielle and adjusts himself as comfortably as his wounds and the cold walls of the cave will allow.
Returning to her mirror-work, Amiel frowns. The mirror needs to be at a greater angle to the stick , she thinks to herself.
She looks around and finds a small stone. She then wedges it between the mirror and the pole to increase the angle between the two parts of the makeshift device. She tries again to use it to see past the wall of brush, but again the barrier prevents her from the results for which she hoped.
The ranger shakes her head, and gives the pole and mirror to Alain. “Here, Tymora may grant you better luck than I,” she says softly.
She walks into the sleeping chamber and takes the pot and rope from where they lie near the sleeping Seth. Then, moving in close to Alain, she whispers into his ear, “I'm going to pass out - been fighting against it and its no use. Hopefully, we'll get a chance to rest and come this afternoon we'll quit this wretched cave. But only after we've dredged the pool some more.
“If things are really quiet - either you or Declan should do some dredging yourself. It'll save us time later. Keep everyone on your plan we discussed earlier. When Vel awakes and he's prepared his healing spells, wake me.”
Alain nods as Amiel gives him instructions. Satisfied, Amiel moves to the sleeping cave and drops herself down at the back of the chamber. Folding her arms over her chest, she tries not to think that this may be the last time she is awake and gives in to her battered body's cries for rest.
Alain looks at the mirror-stick and dredging contraptions that she hands it to him. He looks over at Declan, “Well, do you know how to swim?”
Declan grins back at Alain, “Not I!”
“We should probably wait then,” says Alain. “If we start concentrating on the pool, then no one will be watching the entrance. Just knowing the gold is down there is the important part. We can get it at our leisure.”So saying, he turns back to his silent guard duty. Next to the warrior, Declan settles in for a hopefully quiet shift, watching the sun traverse the skyline.
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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