By Brian Flood
Chapter 60 - The Board is Set
The Caves of Chaos
Near Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr
Late Afternoon, 22nd Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
Several hours later, as the shadows cast by the sun peeking through the brush wall are lengthening, some of those sleeping in the second chamber begin to stir. The first to awake is Velgardrin, driven as always by some unseen divine force to perform his duties for the company.
The dwarven priest makes his way around those in the sleeping chamber. With his healer's bag in his hand, he checks their dressings – changing them where needed, applying salves, and grunting in satisfaction at the progress many of the Silver Claws have made in naturally mending their wounds over the full day now spent holed up in the troll's lair.
The stocky adventurer then returns to his selected spot and closes his eyes. His low rumbling voice sounds softly like grating rock within the quiet cave as he recites the vespers required for Clangeddin Silverbeard to grant him the powers he needs to ensure the company can continue its struggle against those who would destroy it.
Malk awakens to the sound of the dwarf's prayers. The bard quietly rummages in his backpack until he produces a large, leather bound tome. He opens it and begins to study the arcane notes within that are written in his own hand.
A few candlemarks pass by before the dwarf and the bard finish, respectively, their prayer and studying. At that time, Velgardrin stands and begins once more to move among the more severely wounded of the company. He calls upon his patron deity to heal the ranger Amiel, the archer Kerielle, and the paladin Helios. Each time, a reddish-white aura flows from the dwarf's hands to cover the adventurer's wounds. And each time, when Velgardrin is finished, each of the adventurers feels nearly as good as new.
Kerielle smiles joyously as the healing power of the dwarven god runs through her body. She stretches archly, enjoying the comparative freedom from pain.
“Once more, I am in your debt, my friend,” she says quietly to Velgardrin, “and to Clangeddin. My deepest thanks to you both.”
Finally, Velgardrin directs that each adventurer fill his or her waterskin from the murky pool in the adjacent chamber. Despite several initial protests, the company – with the help of Declan's balance and agility – manages to fill every waterskin with dark, filthy water. Thereafter, the priest channels the cleansing powers of his god to purify the contents of the skins. He then proves the blessing's success by taking a long swig from his own swig and following it with a loud, long, satisfied belch.
“May Clangeddin's alagh be upon the Silver Claws!” Velgardrin exclaims. “Now thert we herv water, who be not havern rations?” asks the short and stocky priest. “And Amiel, what be ther plan? Der we act, er must I be restern ter heal Seth?”
“Seems to me have two broad options,” the ranger replies quietly, stretching and enjoying being pain-free for the first time in what seems like months.
“One – we could wait until daybreak, which gives Vel time to heal Seth – taking him from being a liability to an asset. We could use the time to dredge the pool. We still have enough food supplies and now, thanks to Vel, water too. Most importantly, it'll be light and us humans won't have to carry torches with which to see. Torches – I can't think of a better arrow-attractor in these circumstances!” she snorts.
“Two – we could leave now – whilst it's still light. I'm sure we're all heartily sick of this cave! I haven't thought through this completely, but if we go now we'll need to carry Seth out. And that probably means we go in two waves because we simply don't know how many of them are out there now. They could have a lair in one of the caves nearby.
“The first wave kills as many of the hobgoblins in the way as possible, as well as pulls the few of them away from the cave, allowing the second group a relatively unhindered passage. But we'll have only a few minutes of light to throw of our pursuers, if any, or find another defensible position. We're also going to be splitting the company.
“What does everyone think?” she asks, touching her fingers to her mouth to indicate she wants the conversation kept as quiet as possible. “And Malk, what spells did you study?”
Malk replies by saying, “I am no mage, and know not the correct words for my minor magicks. One lets me light up objects for a while, the other lets me absorb a little of the life force of my foes.”
“I would be out of these caves as soon as may be,” Kerielle admits to Amiel, “but your words are wise. I like not the idea of splitting the party, nor of trying to guide a pack of the blind through dark and hostile lands. If that is your command, however, I can carry a great part of the extra weight.”
She grins triumphantly, feeling her muscles respond once more. “In fact, I am eager to be doing something now I feel able again!”
Her part said, the Kerielle immediately turns to the care of her beloved bow. She carefully checks her strings for damp and fraying, the shafts and the stave itself for any sign of warping.
Just behind the elven archer, Seth stirs, woken by Kerielle's newfound energy. Feeling unrested and unable to find the strength to rise, his hand reaches out to grasp the hilt of his short sword. Holding it close to his body, the warrior curls up on the cold ground and returns to a dreamless slumber.
Seth's slight movements catch Malk's eye. “We really need to do something to help our new if reckless friend here,” the bard states, indicating the sleeping elf. He is obviously oblivious to the rash nature of his own recent foray.
At the cave entrance, Declan lightly whispers to Alain, “I'm gooin' t' join the discussion. I'll be coomin' back in a wee short time.” He then slowly walks to where the main body is discussing future plans.
Arriving at the group, the mage kneels down and quickly outlines his thoughts.
“We kinna lose ‘em in the nigh'. Too many o' our'n party has eyes such as mine, with n' dark sight. They'll be seein' and shootin' at us much better'n we'll be seein' them. And we ha'e Seth t' carry as well. Let's remain here ‘til morn. Then everyone'll be ready t' go.
“We dinna ha'e much in the way o' light, so I recommend we ha'e those with dark sight on every shift t'nigh. I'm thinking they and th' goblins will likely try t' take our'n cave tonigh' again. They're creatures o' the night. I dinna know if they'll come together or separately. I'm hopin' their no' workin' together.”
After speaking, the fire mage looks to the others for comments and a decision.
Helios flexes his arms, glad to feel his strength once again. “Finally I am able to serve Torm once again, I shall not fail again. I think our enemies will find us better prepared this time.” He looks at the mage with a worried yet amused expression on his face.
Malk mutters under his breath, “My father said any plan is better than no plan.” Aloud he says, “Right then, are we agreed on a plan? Is so, what is it Amiel?”
“We make for the Keep at first light,” announces Amiel in reply. “Nathan and Declan will get some rest so as to prepare a fresh set of spells tomorrow morning. Dec, if you could ensure that one of those is a spell to find other magics? Other than that, prepare lots of killing and other take-down spells.
“Vel, you're going rest, too. Kerielle, Sir Helios, Malk and I will stand guard at the door. It has to be our turn!: she says wryly.
“The four of us are going to take turns on guard duty and dredging the night away. Sound alright? If so, I'll inform Alain…”
Velgardrin says “I be by far ther most restered here and I be about ter rest more. And I be seern in ther derk. After I be healern Seth, I be takern a long turn at watch.”
He pauses a bit and then continues. “Did ther mirror be workern? If not mehaps thers shield erv mine and ther armor on ther wall could provide cover ter be helpern ter see. Take ther shield if yer be thinkern it.” Velgardrin then returns to the one-way door to sleep.
Helios looks to the retreating dwarf and nods in agreement. “I agree it would be useful to have someone who can see in the dark on guard; however no-one is going to stop me performing my sworn duty now my strength has returned. I will stand guard this night. I have wasted enough time sleeping.” The burly paladin's tone leaves no room for argument.
“Anyway, I have never needed the light in order to smite my foes before, Torm guides my sword arm true. Back in Cormyr when I was training with my master, we used to stalk each other in the yard with blindfolds on for such eventualities.”
Kerielle smiles as the paladin echoes her thoughts. “I shall gladly take my turn. I have been of little use of late, but that shall change now! I will take the dark of night, when these eyes may see far more clearly than yours. We have little oil left, so let us save as much as we may! Let no light burn past nightfall – if any are not yet aware of us, let us not give ourselves away.”
Declan emits a slight grunt as he simultaneously looks at the ground and rubs the top of his head. “They're knowin' we're here!” he finally says. “We've a band o' hobgoblins sittin' outside the cave entrance, minus th' ones brother Malk took care o', and a band o' goblins we fought two er three times already behind th' dooor somewhere. Bein' creatures fond o' fightin' in th' night, I suspect both groups are waitin' t' attack t'nigh'.
“I agree we dinna need t'be burnin'oil until we start fightin'cause we'll be needin' it then. We doo need t' ha'e a plan about what each o' us is t' do and where t' go in the first moments when they come t'nigh. And I'll be sayin' again th' two groups may come t'gether or in separate attacks. Were we t' defend as individuals and no' as a coordinated team, I suspect many o' us will no see the sun in th' morn.
“I still ha'e all me spells, and the one's I memorized are fer fightin'. If'n we see the morn, I'll study ways t' find the magicked baubles.
Listening from his guard post, Alain smiles openly at his refreshed friends. After a moment, he looks back out of the entrance, continuing his silent vigil.
“I hear no objections to your plan Amiel,” Malk interjects. “I believe it would be best if you just restate it to make it clear and we follow it. The time for discussion is over. We need decisive action to get our wounded to a safer place.”
“So it is decided,” Amiel announces. “We stay the night. One more night in The Palace of the Troll!” she says with rueful shrug.
“Break out some of those rations, Nathan and Helios,” she says pointing to various party members indicating who gets rations from the two she asked. “There's about twelve hours between us and first light tomorrow. But we've only about seven hours of light from the lanterns left. We could light a fire, using the troll's pile of sticks as fuel. It looks dry enough to prevent smoking. But I haven't decided on that yet. Where do we place it for a start? Or Malk, how long could that spell you mentioned light an object? Do any of our wizards have spells to help?” she asks.
Kerielle speaks up. “I would not suggest a fire in these close surroundings. Even with little smoke, it will deplete our air – and you may be sure our unwelcome visitors will not fail to notice it! If the humans sleep through the darkness, and those of us better suited to the night stand guard until morn, we shall fare better. Serethaniel is in
no condition to do so, but Velgardrin and I could stand a six hour watch each.
“That is, unless you need more sleep to refresh yourself enough for Clangeddin's blessing?” she asks Velgardrin. The archer then retrieves her ration from Helios and begins to eat.
Helios chews hungrily on his rations while thinking. “I don't think we actually need the light unless you really want to dredge that pool. If we're quiet, we'll hear anyone who comes near the entrance of the cave if Kerielle misses them with her elven sight, and as I said, I'm quite comfortable fighting in the dark.”
He pauses for another bite of the dry ration. “Does anyone really think it's worth dredging that whole pool? Chances are, those few pieces of gold are the only things you'll find in there and we'll make a lot of noise doing so.”
“Yes, I do think it worthwhile to keep dredging the pool,” replies Amiel. We'll never know what's down there otherwise. So we need the light. At least for a while until we determine there's nothing down there.”
Alain looks over from his guard duty at the entrance. “Helios, when you have finished eating, could I get you to relive me? A break from guard duty and a bite to eat sure sound good.” Smiling, the warrior looks back to the entrance.
Helios grins at the tired guard and walks over to him, rations in hand. “Glad to relieve you of your duty.”
The warrior sits, sword in hand watching for any movements in the undergrowth. He mutters prayers to his patron Torm under his breath as he stands guard, thanking him for enabling his sword to serve once again.
Moving back to the main group, Alain sits it the space previously occupied by Helios. Then he addresses Amiel.
“I am glad we decided to stay the night. Rushing around with a wounded member, and monsters lurking about, is a recipe for disaster. Perhaps having you and Kerielle taking a middle-of-the-night shift without light will stretch our reserves out enough to make it through until dawn.
“It'll be a good idea, dear friend, when you and I are back at the Keep hefting a tankard of ale purchased using the Troll's loot!” Amiel grins back in wryly.
Her face becomes serious and her voice becomes even softer, “So let's see what we can do to keep ourselves alive until then?” she says to the Cormyrian.
“Then in the morning we can do some swimming,” Alain adds, motioning to the troll pond.
“Swimming? Ugh!” Amiel top lip curls at the thought. “I'll not order any one in there, Alain,” she says with a shrug. “Torm knows what filthy diseases it contains. Even Vel's faith can't purify that much muck.” She falls silent for a minute as she thinks out her words.
“But your suggestion of having yon elven archer take the lightless shift has merit. Vel and she will be split up amongst the last two shifts – the most likely time of attack, I think. The last shift will be Vel, Seth, Dec and Malk. Helios, Kerielle, Nathan and I will take the first shift. Alain, Kerielle, Malk, and I will take the second.
“Some of us have two shifts,” she looks at Malk and Kerrielle. “Here, I assume that we've rested enough so as to go the night on a mere four hours sleep? The mages and Helios will have enough time to rest to prepare their spells? Yes? The third shift will also be the longest by a small margin. Unless someone has candles or such, it will be completely without light. That's why it's really important that Malk or Dec create some light at Vel's signal – otherwise, we're in trouble. Finally, I'll do the dredging during the first two shifts – as long as there's light to do it by! I'll not ask anyone else to perform such a menial task!” she grins.
“The guard shifts are fine by me,” says Malk. “I will also keep my light spell handy to aid the group. I will aim it at the bush in the doorway to silhouette any visitors,” he adds.
As the party leaders plan the guard shifts, Kerielle speaks quietly to Nathan, “If I may borrow your staff a moment, I shall try and retrieve the items from the wall.”
Nathan grins and hands the staff to Kerielle. “Try not to break it, I might need it later.”
Kerielle retrieves a coil of silken rope from her pack, ties one end about her waist, and tosses the other to Alain. “If I should slip, you had best be prepared to catch me!” she says with a sparkling grin, glad to be doing something again. “If anyone else would spare a moment to help catch falling items – or elves – it would be greatly appreciated!” Clearly, being back on her feet has done wonders for her good humor.
“Well, if Kerielle wishes to give us some entertainment on the walkway, who else should accompany her but a bard?” Malk asks rhetorically. “I will hold your rope with pleasure, mistress elf.”
Nodding in agreement to the plans, Alain hands the silken rope to the bard, grabs his gear, and moves to a clear piece of floor. After laying out his blankets, the warrior removes his weapons belt, and begins stripping off his armor. “Malk, if you are going to help Kerielle, I will help Amiel with the dredging.”
Turning back to face the company's leader, Alain slips his shirt off over his head and removes his boots. “I'll not let you do this work alone.” Smiling the bare-chested warrior begins coiling the rope attached to the iron pot.
“Keri's right,” Amiel acknowledges quietly. “A light source at night has proven our undoing in the wilderness these last few days. The only reason we really needed the light was to dredge.
“Very well, we shall rely on the eyesight of our elven and dwarven friends – but Alain and I are going to see what we can find at the bottom of the pool in the few minutes of light that we've left and then everyone is going to be either on alert or asleep...if able,” she adds, wryly.
In hushed tones she issues the guard and sleeping rosters, indicating the locations around the Palace of the Troll that she wants the Claws to take up. For those members out of earshot, she approaches them individually and delivers the whole message until she's satisfied that all understand their roles for the night.
Gesturing to Alain to come join her at the pool's edge, she says, “We need to maximize the time we have left, as I now feel that its imprudent to light the cave during the night. Our lives aren't worth the risk. But there's not more than a quarter of an hour, I'd say.
“Still want to go swimming?” she asks the warrior. “If so, in you go. The bottom's only eight or nine feet down, so you won't need a rope around the waist. If we find substantial treasures down there before sundown, we can always resume the exercise in the morning. There's nothing saying we have to leave at first light. Give me the dredging… ah... device,” she asks and starts to dredge once he hands it to her.
Alain moves up next to Amiel, chewing his lower lip. “How about I take the pot down with me? That way you don't drop it on my head while I am down there, and I can fill the pot up with what ever I find down there and you can haul it out?”
The nervousness on the warrior's face as he considers the pool, gives Amiel pause. “Swimming not your forte?” she murmurs so her voice does not carry to others with a sudden flash of insight.
“No matter. I'll do it,” she commands. The ranger proceeds to strip off her armor and other gear down to her underclothes. She keeps only a dagger to take with her into the pool.
“Just promise me that if anything comes through that entrance, the first thing you do is pull me out of the pool?” she asks Alain. She puts the dagger in her teeth and, trying not look completely disgusted, she squats and slips into the cold, filthy water. Taking the pot from Alain, she slips below the surface of the murky pool. The kind words of the ranger echo in Alain's ears as the warrior silently awaits her return to the surface, and the chance for him to be helpful again.
* * * * *
The ranger blows the air out of her lungs as she sinks into the darkness. After a few seconds, she can feel her feet sinking into a thick mucky surface below her. She folds her legs and allows herself to sit in the muck – which quickly covers her to her midriff in that position.
Her eyes closed to protect them from the disease and filth in the water, the ranger feels around her in the viscous muck. Feeling several solid coin-like objects, she begins to use both hands to quickly scoop muck and treasure into the pot. Finally, her lungs straining from the effort, she pushes off and rises toward the surface.
* * * * *
After more than a minute, Amiel's head burst from the water. One hand takes the dagger from her mouth as she gulps in a large breath of air.
She nods wordlessly to Alain who pulls in on the pot and drags it and Amiel to the pool's edge, over its slippery bank, and onto the cold stone of the cave floor. The warrior dumps the pot's contents and then the two adventurers sift through the thick goo. They soon uncover a score or so of gold coins.
“There's more where that came from,” Amiel announces.
Leaving the gold in a pile on the cave floor near the bow and quiver that Malk earlier produced, Amiel returns to the pool with the pot. Gritting her teeth around the dagger and wincing at the inevitable infections and dermatological conditions that this foray will produce, she once more dives into the dark pool.
* * * * *
Meanwhile, Kerielle slowly creeps along the slippery walkway that rings the pool with a Nathan's staff in her hand, and a rope tied around her waist to Malk who stands upon the dry cave floor. The bard starts to whistle a merry little tune to raise the spirits of himself and his comrades as the elf steps nimbly to the back of the pool room.
When she is directly under the suit of battered and blackened chain mail armor that hangs eight or so feet above the pathway's surface, Kerielle reaches the staff upward and nudges the armor with the utmost care. Slowly, she pushes the jerkin off of the projecting piece of stone that acts as its hanger. Gravity then takes over and the armor falls quickly to the catwalk. Before the elf can react, it strikes the slippery surface. Its momentum now redirected, it skids a foot or so closer to the walkway's edge and then splashes into the pool where it quickly begins to sink.
When Amiel next emerges, Kerielle calls out, “I knocked the armor down, but it fell in the pool. Since you're there anyway…?” She leaves the request unfinished.
Then a thought strikes her, and she continues, “You might wish to hold back a moment in any case. I am about to attempt to retrieve the weapon, and you might not wish to be underneath!”
“It's best not to spend more time in this water than absolutely necessary,” Amiel spits before putting the dagger back in her mouth and dropping into the pool for more coins.
Standing carefully to the side of the projected falling path of the halberd, Kerielle gently attempts to nudge it down, while remaining prepared to slow deflect its descent with the staff if possible. Seeing the confusion and potential for chaos, Malk tightens his grip on the rope and checks his footing.
Over the course of the next few minutes, Kerielle manages to nudge the halberd from its place on the wall. The pole arm falls to the walkway, but fortune favors the elf this time and the weapon does not follow the chain mail jerkin into the pool's depths. As Kerielle is doing that, Amiel and Alain continue their amateur prospecting excursion. After half a dozen dives on Amiel's part, the ranger and the warrior have recovered over one hundred gold coins from the pool's bottom. Then, with the last shards of light fading, Amiel decides to halt the search.
“Guard positions, everyone,” the ranger states, heaving herself out of the pool. “There's plenty more coin where that lot came from – Alain, gather it up and keep it safe please – but we're not risking our lives for it tonight. We'll decide what to about it in the morning.”
“I believe we should attempt to retrieve that armor in the morning,” Kerielle states. “I have heard things of wondrous power are sometimes found in just such ill-fated – and foul smelling,” she adds with a grin to Amiel, “surroundings.”
So saying, the archer carefully marks the spot where the armor fell in the pool, reasoning that it should drop straight down one in the water. She then retrieves the fallen halberd and cautiously navigates the slippery surface back to the main part of the cave.
“My first prize for the trip!” she grins in triumph. Then her face falls somewhat. “Not that I have any skill in its use, even were it the most powerful weapon on all of Faerun!”
Helios' eyes stop scanning the undergrowth for a while to look at the cheerful elf clutching her prize. As he speaks, his eyes occasionally dart back to resume his watch, ever mindful of his guard duty.
“I think you may have something that might be able to retrieve that armor,” he says. “Best be quick, it may rust in that water – if it can still be called water.”
Kerielle replies buoyantly, “A fine idea, warrior of Torm! I must stand watch now, but anyone who wishes is most welcome to try it. If not, I shall do so in the morning. I doubt one night in the water will have any effect, so long as it is well cleaned and oiled on the morrow. And to be sure, it looked as if it needs it!”
Malk coils the safety line and hands it back to Kerielle. Then he settles down to rest with his sword alongside him with the hilt pointing as a guide in the darkness towards the bushes in the small entrance.
Kerielle takes the rope with a soft word of thanks for the bard, and stores it in her pack. She crosses to Nathan, and again offering swift thanks returns his staff. Sighing, she places the pole arm with her pack, and takes up her bow once more. Wrapping her cloak about her to ward off the chill, she takes her position to keep watch over her companions' sleep for the night.
Declan also prepares himself for one more night in the cave. He reaches into his backpack, and then inside the large sack to retrieve his flint and steel. He sets them next to the back pack and then lays a torch and his staff next to that. Everything else, including the lantern, he carefully packs into his backpack and then sets the flint and steel just under the main flap. Closing, but not securing the main flap, he lies down, wrapped up in his robes with his head on part of the backpack and his staff and torch adjacent to his body.
Amiel waits for a few minutes, allowing complete darkness to come before turning to other pressing tasks. “Uggghhh,” she groans mournfully as she catches a whiff of the lovely odor of which she she is now the proud possessor.
Stumbling blindly and in bare feet to her gear, the ranger gropes around, then finds and empties her waterskin over her head. She concentrates on giving her eyes, ears and face a rinse. Taking advantage of the darkness, she strips completely – practically hurling her soaked undergarments away. Her clothes and armor go on straight away after much fumbling with the buckles and straps. She winces unseen in the darkness at her smell.“I hope the gold will be worth it,” she murmurs to no one in particular, as she places her sword so as to be able to find its hilt in the darkness without issue.
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