By Brian Flood
Chapter 5 - The First Day
Along the Uldoon Trail
East of Berdusk, The Sunset Vale
Morning, 21st Day of Eleint, Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
The day begins much as the evening of the 20th ended – with a driving rainstorm. The air is also much cooler – a sign of the quickly approaching autumn. The sky is a dark and foreboding gray with storm clouds overhead and out to the horizon. Boots and cloaks are quickly and thoroughly soaked as the party members wait for the others to arrive so that the trip may begin.
The first to arrive at the Vale Gate is Zell. She waits patiently in the overhang of a nearby building – much as the gate guards are doing. Her eyes scan the area continuously, looking for perceived threats and other items of note. She clutches her long, dark robes closely about her to keep out the rain. A rucksack is her only visible item, although several bulges in the robes hint at concealed items or weapons.
Tomar and Ori arrive shortly after. Both are wrapped tightly in billowing cloaks and are seated on the front seat of a medium-sized wagon pulled by a team of two draft horses. A sheet of sun-bleached canvas, stretched tight across bent wooden supports, covers the wagon. The back flap of the canvas cover is drawn down and secured by leather ties to the wagon’s chassis, protecting the unseen cargo from the miserable weather.
Kjira arrives wearing a blue cloak and using her fine quarterstaff as a walking stick. The attractive mage leads a mule that is weighted down with a pack harness containing several saddlebags and a variety of differently sized wooden kegs.
Darius soon appears, carrying a spear and coming from the direction of the sparsely wooded glens just outside the gate. A large canine pads along obediently at his heel. The young druid is very lightly equipped, displaying only a few pouches and a water skin.
Next to show is Slyvia the spellarcher, wrapped tightly in a slightly soiled robe. The comely half-elf’s left hand rests lightly on a long sword that swings from her hip. A quiver of arrows, a well-crafted longbow, and a rucksack rest upon the back.
Dolak arrives riding a pony and leading a mule – which, in turn, is harnessed to a small cart. The dwarf’s tightly wrapped cloak covers some sort of form-fitting armor -- as evident by his increased girth since the last you saw him. The cart has a canvas tarp draped over its contents, but it appears to be quite full with various implements of his trade. The weather has done nothing to improve the stocky warrior’s dour mood.
Alric of Tyr arrives next. The tall, handsome warrior wears his deep blue tunic over his armor and swordbelt. He wears a bulging rucksack and a great sword over his back.
Next to appear is Alani, who arrives wearing a long, dark hooded cloak and high, black leather boots. Over her back, the sleek elven scout wears a backpack, a scabbarded short sword, and a weatherproof bow case. A quiver of red-fletched arrows is strapped to her right leg.
Cyzicus of Arvoreen arrives next, riding a sturdy war-pony. The halfling priest wears a matching cloak and cap of a deep indigo color. Around his neck is a silver miniature pair of crossed short swords, suspended from a silver chain. A set of earth-tone breeches covers his legs, and his feet are bare.
Kryian appears wearing travelling clothes and a midnight black cloak. The skilled sailor has a rucksack slung over his shoulder, but walks with a sense of strength and confidence in his step.
The last to arrive is Lucas, the mage from Silverymoon. He wears a woolen cloak of a mottled woodland pattern and uses a quarterstaff as a walking stick. A backpack is slung over his back.
“Well,” Tomar announces, “it would appear that everyone has arrived. Let us begin our journey, shall we?” The tome merchant turns and nods at Ori, the gnome. The diminutive drover snaps the reigns and the two draft horses begin to pull the wagon toward the gate.
As the small procession nears the gate, two city guardsmen bearing polearms move to bar its passage through the gate. Ori reigns the beasts to a halt just short of the gate and a cloaked sergeant of the guard steps to the side of the wagon. Tomar hands the soldier a small purse that jingles as it is passed. “This should cover our caravan fee,” the rotund merchant says.
The sergeant opens the purse, glances inside and then nods affirmatively. He gestures at the two guards, who step out of the way.
Ori snaps the reigns again, and the wagon and its guards pass through the gate and onto the Uldoon Trail, heading east. As the party clears the gate, the members shuffle through the ankle-deep puddles to take up their assigned positions in the movement order.
The Uldoon Trail proves to be a well-maintained trade road. The trampled, twenty-foot wide dirt trail stretches to the horizon, bordered on either side by grassy meadows and farmland. A small, wooded copse lies just to the north of the city, but that is quickly left behind and no other woodlands appear.
The first day of travel proceeds rather miserably. The driving rain continues until about midmorning, drenching cloaks and boots alike. When the rain stops, the strong winds continue, adding a slight chill as they buffet the waterlogged travelers.
The small caravan has been moving for about eight hours – with occasional short breaks -- when Lucas suddenly cocks his head as if listening to something. His eyes narrow and he frowns slightly as he concentrates. Finally, he nods as if to himself. Slowing his step slightly, allowing the wagon to catch up to him, the mage speaks to Tomar. “A group approaches us from the west. They appear to ‘twinkle’ – which I deduce to mean that they are most likely armed or armored in metal.”
The merchant nods in response. “I see. Let us continue, but be wary. It may simply be another band of travelers such as ourselves.”
The party continues moving, and approximately ten minutes later an approaching mounted band of riders comes into view. The band moves westward along the Uldoon Trail at a relaxing trot, with pairs of outriders to the front, rear, and flanks. All told, the riders number between a score or two dozen. As they near to within two hundred yards, the gleam of metal armor and weaponry is visible. Near the center of the group, two riders hold pendants aloft on upright lances.
Alani and Darius crouch in the tall grass to either side of the road, warily watching the riders for signs of aggression. The rest of the caravan slows to a halt at Tomar’s order.
Lucas squints at the approaching group. Then, loud enough for the entire group to hear, he says, “The pendants appear to be of the same color and design as the city guardsmen.”
Tomar nods, “That would be likely. The guard often patrols the area around the city. Let us wait for their parley. Take care not to appear threatening.”
The soldiers stop about one hundred yards away. The outriders move a few more paces further from the main body and focus their attention outward with readied crossbows resting in their laps. Shortly thereafter, a small detachment of four riders separates itself from the main body and canters toward the halted caravan. Two of the riders carry the raised pendants, which furl and snap briskly in the strong winds.
As the riders close to within speaking distance, they halt their mounts. It is now evident that all four soldiers are mounted on medium warhorses. All wear short hauberks, displaying the crest of Berdusk, over metal armor. The two standard-bearers wear chain mail and the two others wear banded mail; each rider also has a medium shield strapped to his forearm. They are armed with long swords, maces, and lances.
One of the riders in banded mail, a human male with a red beard that flows from his open helm, speaks. “Hail and well met, travelers. I am Captain Fairfax of Berdusk. How fare thee this day?”
Tomar replies with a nod of his head. “Well met, Captain Fairfax. I am Loremaster Tomar of Iriaebor – and these are my guards,” he says, gesturing at the companions. “How goes the road from here to Asbravn?”
The commander leans forward on the pommel of his saddle and replies, “It is quiet this day. Most of the farmers are tending to their fields in preparation of harvest, and this nasty spell of weather has kept others off of the open road. Is Asbravn your destination then?”
Tomar answers, “Aye, but merely for a bit of rest. We are bound for Hill’s Edge.”
Captain Fairfax nods and then gestures to the other banded mail-clad soldier to come forward. He leans over in his saddle and speaks softly to the soldier who then spins his horse and heads back to the main body of riders.
“Very good, then.” Fairfax replies. “I wish you safe travel. Take care during your passage through the Reaching Wood. Even frequent patrols cannot eliminate all of the creatures that this weather may drive out of their lairs.”
“We will take your advise with gratitude,” Tomar replies. “And may you have our best wishes for a safe return to Berdusk.”
The officer nods in thanks and then turns his head to look over his shoulder. The main body of the riders is now slowly trotting forward to where Fairfax and the standard-bearers await. Once they reach Fairfax and the others, Fairfax touches his hand to his helm in salute and then rejoins his unit as they continue on westward.
After the soldiers have left, the small band continues eastward for another two hours or so before deciding to search for a camp. Tomar directs Ori to reign-in the horses and he addresses the party. “That is enough travel for one day. Now, if you would be so kind as to find us a campsite, we can set-up camp while there is still light to see by.”
Glancing around, the companions see that they are in open area with tall grass, scrub brush, and the occasional, single, tree on both sides of the road. The outskirts of the Reaching Wood are not yet visible from this location. The wind continues to blow on the party’s damp clothing, but now it has reduced in velocity. It is coming from the north, and the companions can feel the air temperature becoming chilly as evening sets in. Judging from the sun, there is between one and two hours of daylight remaining.
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