By Brian Flood
Chapter 65 - The Scouts Report
Hungry Halfling Inn
Corm Orp, The Sunset Vale
Late-Morning, 15th Day of Marpenoth; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
The four returning adventurers - Alani, Corax, Lucas, and Cyzicus - make their weary way to the Hungry Halfling to check on the others. Entering the taproom, they find Tomar sitting alone at a table. The bookseller is reading from a large tome and sipping from a ceramic mug. He looks up at the four companions' arrival.
"Hello!" he says in greeting. "I am glad to see you have returned." Then he frowns and adds, "I see the young druid boy is not with you - has something happened?"
Cy replies first, holding in his anger for now. "Perhaps we should adjourn to you room for some privacy, and have Dolak and Kjira join us, this concerns them as well."
Tomar's raises his eyebrows at the halfling's statement. "If you insist," he acquiesces.
"Dolak is outside sleeping with the wagon," the merchant adds, "and Kjira is up in her room. I'm afraid I do not know which one is hers."
The past few moments fly by the Alani. Never before has the young elf seen such intensity in the halfling priest. True, the scout has had her doubts about the group's employer since the Zhent witch attack. Alani herself has more than once pointed out her suspicions. But to see Cy so angered brings a sigh of relief to the young girl's lips.
'Finally, an ally,' runs through Alani's mind as her thoughts turn to the situation at hand.
Lucas nods to Tomar. "I shall go get Kjira," offers the conjurer. "I will ask the innkeep and be right back. Corax, please go get Dolak and let's all meet in the private room Cyzicus will arrange for us."
"Tell Ori to come also, this concerns him as well. We can meet in Tomar's room," Alani says quietly before the two men leave.
With that said, Lucas moves to find the innkeep and to get Kjira. In his wake, Corax also rises and heads outside to the wagon.
Turning her attention back to Tomar, the Alani continues, "Master Tomar, please forgive our rudeness, but it has been a long night and we found more than truffles in our diggings." The scout pauses as her eyes scan the inn, making sure the group hasn't drawn any attention.
"After you, Master Tomar," Alani states as her eyes continue to scan the crowd.
* * * * *
A candlemark or so later, the small group of travelers reconvenes in Tomar's plush rented apartment. With some effort, Lucas has inquired of the innkeeper and located Kjira's room, waking the lady mage from a nap in the process. Corax has also managed to find Tomar's room, bringing Dolak along with him. The rogue and dwarf explain that they left Ori to guard the wagon.
Dolak and Kjira take a brief visual inventory of the 'truffle hunters'. A few things are immediately obvious. All of those present - Alani, Cyzicus, Corax and Lucas - appear very weary. And two of the group - Darius and Soft Fang - are not present.
Tomar breaks the silence as the two groups reunite. "Very well, then. Here we are, in my room as you requested," he says to Cyzicus. "I suppose we are ready for your report."
Noticing Dolak's and Kjira's puzzling looks over Darius' and the wolf's absence, Alani speaks up. "Darius felt that he and Soft Fang were needed elsewhere. Seems the young druid wasn't happy with what we saw, and to tell the truth neither was I," Alani says venomously, her eyes cutting towards the fat merchant.
"The time has come to talk sir, and don't play dumb, please. We know that there is more going on here than meets the eye," the scout says as she crosses her arms across her chest, "and unless I get some answers, I too will leave. Why does Darkhold send a contingency of some thirty men to apprehend a simple book merchant?" Alani asks as she focuses her bloodshot eyes on the eyes of Tomar. Holding up her hand before the merchant can speak, the scout continues, "I beg you Tomar, it is now time for the full truth. I am tired and have earned the right to it, so please!" Alani says through gritted teeth, as she fights her fatigue and her irritation.
"Yes, Master Tomar," adds Cyzicus, "enough is enough! I was willing to allow you your secrets when it only involved our little group. But," and now the halfling's anger shines through, "when you involve my home in this, it ends now. If I have to spell it out for you, there are the equivalent of three Darkhold patrols, with the sole intention of stopping your progress north. From what we have seen, they have no interest in traffic from the north. Now, for the last time, what is Darkhold's interest in you that they send such manpower and put my home in danger!" Here, the Truesword visibly restrains himself as he waits for an answer.
Sitting tiredly in his chair, Lucas holds his thoughts until Tomar has addressed the present members of the Iron Wolf Company. Nearby, Corax rolls his eyes at Cyzicus' tirade but holds his words.
Tomar, meanwhile, sits calmly while the halfling berates him. When he speaks, he starts with a low tone. "Let me tell you once more Master Cyzicus, I do not KNOW why Darkhold seems to have an interest in me. I apparently stumbled upon some information that makes them nervous. And exactly what danger is your town facing, might I ask? The roadblock is some distance north. The patrols have not attacked the town directly, have they? They are acting as brigands. Perhaps, as Dolak suggested, they are raising money for future activities. And how do you know that they are only stopping caravans headed north? Did you see them allow a caravan headed south to pass? And just how many caravans were on the roads in the middle of the night, may I ask?"
The merchant is now obviously irritated and even offended. "I originally hired you to as caravan guards to aid my passage north. Just like thousands of merchants due every single day in this land. If the fact that you actually had to protect me has somehow led you to develop this massive paranoia, perhaps I should develop a better screening criterion. I had thought you were adventures, eager for coin even if it involved placing your self in the way of danger. Perhaps you all are better suited to the lives of tailors or merchants or glassblowers if the idea of actually having to engage in combat in order to fulfill your contract as a caravan guard never somehow offends you."
"And since you are being so demanding of my knowledge, and so accusing of my intentions, should I now assume that the druid and his wolf are somewhere plotting my demise? Do any of us know what secrets that boy has in his past? Or you, half-elf?" he says, glaring at Corax. "Or you, elf?" he continues, turning his ire on Alani. "Or are all of you perhaps in cahoots with these Zhentarim? What proof do I have that you are not? After all, if something is amiss, it must obviously have some sinister meaning, correct?"
Tomar lets his anger simmer for a few long moments. The man is obviously livid with those in the room. His tone of voice, while angered, has lacked any trace of his sometimes characteristic arrogance. Rather, it has been in a tone more expected of a master craftsman who has become disappointed or angered with an apprentice.
"Now then," the merchant continues, somewhat calmer. "Would those of you from the scouting expedition like to lay out what you saw on your expedition. You have come here with accusations and paranoia. Why don't you tell the rest of us what you saw?"
"Tomar, no one is accusing you of anything but keeping secrets." Alani speaks up, her tone comes calm and quiet, surprising those in the room. "And I really don't want to take the time for you tell us your life story, so we can try to figure out what information you may have stumbled on that possibly angered Darkhold," she admits as her bloodshot eyes fall to the rotund merchant.
"So keep your secrets," the elf continues, "all I know is that we are wanted by one of the most powerful organizations to walk the face of Faerun. This what we saw on our expedition: a large force of Zhents, that we believe is not only blocking the road, but also sending out patrols." She takes a deep breath and slowly releases it as she continues, "Truth be told, I really don't know why they have the road block.
"And perhaps you are right, we are becoming paranoid," she then admits, shrugging her shoulders. "But wouldn't you if the witch was after Corax, Cy, or any of us?" Alani asks as her hand runs through her hair, removing the fallen bangs.
Kjira has yawned and tried to keep her eyes open during the rather heated exchange taking place before her, but the night's long travail over the assassin-witch's spellbook has taken its toll. She lets her head hang slightly and closes her eyes until the yelling stops.
"Anyone have anything productive to say?" the lady mage finally yawns as the room quiets momentarily. "Or should I take a nap until you guys get this resolved?"
Incensed the Truesword counts out every copper he has been paid by Tomar and lays it on the table. "Here is your money, since you feel I am not worthy to guard you. As for your secrets, if I recall, I defended your right to have them, until they brought danger to my home. I never cried for my own safety. Indeed, I expect to die early because of my vocation, as did my uncle."
"As for danger to the town," the halfling continues, "even if all is as you say, which is unlikely, it is obvious you have never been through a siege. Without trade, this community will wither like a grape on the vine."
Standing quitely as she watches the Truesword lay the coins on the table and then speak his mind, Alani sadly shakes her head. 'Pride and secrets, the destroyer of nations,' she thinks to herself as her weary mind recalls the many arguments with her father about the Retreat of the Tel'Quessir. 'Oh, and let us not forget arrogance....'
"Now I must go my cowardly death, Master Tomar," Cyzicus practically spits. "I will be joining the militia in defense of my home." With this, the halfling stands and makes his way for the door.
Dolak listens to the incensed scouts with interest. "Ye must 'ave seen somewhat about t' be gettin' yer dander up so. The night here in town passed without so much as a mouse hunt. We had a discussion with Master Tomar somewhat earlier t'day. He gave Kjira 'n me a bit o' a hist'ry lesson about what's what with all the differ'nt Zhents."
"Ya mentioned three differ'nt groups," the dwarven smith goes on to say. "Could ya tell if they were all workin' together, or were obeyin' separate masters? Tell us yer story if ya would. Kjira and I might be seein' somethin' under a differ'nt sun." Dolak leans back in his chair, ready for the tale of the scouts.
The gruff words of the dwarven smith break Alani's thoughts. 'Different Zhents!' the voice in the girl's mind screams.
"Cy wait!" Alani cries suddenly as her head snaps towards Dolak, her face shows her confusion. "They appeared to be working together, but an opportunity never arose for us to get any closer than an approximated head count," she says.
She cuts her eyes to Tomar then back to the dwarven smith. "But I am assuming they are working together," the elven scouts admits.
Then Alani look from Cy to Tomar. "I agree with Cy," the girl says firmly as she retrieves last night's payments. "I to give you back your coin," she says, tossing the sack on the table, "but if you don't mind, I would like to make sure my friends are safe. So what I propose is this: I travel with you as a friend, no payment needed." The elf shrugs her shoulders. "You can call me a coward, well then in your eyes I am. But I will see my friends through this and you can keep your pay."
A brief look of what appears to be admiration flashes across Tomar's face as Alani's coins join Cyzicus' previous pile. As quick as it appears, however, the look is gone as the merchant regains his composure.
Shaking her head in disappointment as Tomar looks to the gold, the Alani turns away from the merchant. 'What is this fascination the humans, or any of the races for that fact, have over the massing of gold? People fight over it, but to what avail. To live in luxury, or just to possess it?' the young woman's mind ponders.
Finished with what she wants to say to Tomar, Alani turns to the group. "We are guessing a troop of thirty. And yes, they appear to be working together," Alani says, her weariness is very apparent in her voice. "That's what I saw."
Corax sighs as he pushes himself off of the wall against which he has been casually leaning and steps in front of Cyzicus, preventing the halfling from leaving the room. "No one is calling anyone a coward," the half-elf says, attempting to calm the tense confrontation-like atmosphere. "As I told some of you at Cy's homestead, I signed on to take Kryian's place and see Master Tomar through to his destination. I too, have secrets in my past that I will not divulge to every traveler I come across. And if these Zhentarim - or whomever they are - are truly out to kill or capture our employer, perhaps we should ask them about their reasons. If we get that chance."
The rogue glances over to Alani and Cyzicus before turning back to the group. "Let me add a bit of detail to what Alani has said. We are all tired; her report of our estimations is correct, but she has left out some of the details that the rest of you should know."
"We only saw about a dozen or so soldiers," Corax explains. "Half of those were near the road - acting as a checkpoint, I suppose - and the other half was patrolling around a nearby formation of tents. Both groups were mounted and we saw another dozen or so horses near the tents."
The half-elven adventurer continues, saying, "There were about a dozen tents, all lined up nice and orderly - like a military camp. Most of them were smaller pup tents, lined up in two parallel rows, but there were two larger tents at the end of those rows."
Corax then nods toward Cyzicus. "Cy here has a map that we made of the camp. We gave a copy to Lord Hultel, already. I think that those who would continue to watch over our employer should have the map, Cy. They - or rather, we - might need it to plan a way past the camp, if that need arises."
"Did th' group at the checkpoint stop any wagons comin' through?" Dolak asks Corax.
Corax shakes his head. "It was the middle of the night. There were no travelers on the road," he answers.
"It is as Corax has said," Cy says as he hands the map to Corax. "And if he was not calling us cowards, he sure was implying it."
"Now," Cy continues, "since Master Tomar doesn't want guards who think for themselves, although he would be dead if I hadn't healed him without his asking, I will ask what you as a group plan on doing about these Zhents. Not that I know what could reasonably be expected at odds of four or five to one with what can be reasonably be expected at least three spell casters."
Not having a military mind set, Alani didn't see the importance of tents, save the two bigger tents. Unable to resist the fatigue the wracks her body, the elf finally sits, choosing a large overstuffed chair opposite of Tomar.
"Aye, that is what I saw also," the girl says adds to the reports of Corax and Cyzicus. Pausing, Alani again rubs her temples in an attempt to fight back her body' sprotest of sitting in the chair and not laying in the bed that is so near.
"I also believe that there is at least one mage or priest there, if not one of each." Suddenly pausing, Alani looks to Corax. The familiar curl of her lips and the fire in her eyes tells the half-elven rogue that she is up to something.
"Why ask, when we can find out on our own?" she asks as a rush of adrenaline chases away her fatigue. Standing from the chair, Alani looks to each member of the group.
"You saw the terrain, Corax; meeting Tomar's schedule would be impossible. Besides, I want to know just what in the Nine Hells is going on. Why can't we," her hand gestures to the party members, "infiltrate the road block, namely the two larger tent." The glimmer in Alani's eyes tells all in the room that she is willing to go.
Corax looks across the room at Alani. The corner of the half-elf's mouth twitches in a half-smile. Then the rogue hands the scouts' map over to Dolak and Kjira.
"Here is a sketch of what we saw," Corax tells the dwarf and the mage. "Any ideas?"
As Dolak and Kjira look over the rough map, Alani sits back down, her mind whirling through the different ways of approaching the camp. Looking the half-elven rogue, the elven scout simply stares at him for a few moments as she puts her thoughts into order.
"If we decide to do this ourselves, I suggest we leave town two hours before the sun goes to sleep. That should give us enough light to watch from a distance. I would like know how long it takes the mounted patrol to cover the full circumference of their route," the young scout says enthusiastically. "Once we know the timing, we could move in for a closer look and try to determine some sort of routine the watch may have. There might be something we could learn to use to our advantage. I also suggest we come in from the backside of the camp."
Turning towards the mages, Alani continues. "Lucas, do you or Kjira have the magic of far sight and far hearing?" The scout pauses to allow the mages to answer.
Dolak contemplates all the discussion of the roadblock and the previous tendays' events. He twists his beard in the fingers of his left hand while staring into the center of the table and then lets slip a deep rumbling, "mmmmmm."
The dwarf's eyes eyes roam around the table amongst his comrades finally coming to rest on Tomar. "Master Tomar, fergive me, but I'm thinkin' yer quite the inquisitive one. Me thoughts on the matter are such that I think this wizard Semmemon has somethin' t' fear from ya. Although I'd ne'er heard o' ye before ya hired me as smith and guard, I dinna doubt yer fairly well known in some circles. Ya may be known fer yer inquisitive nature, or by who yer friends are. It's the nature of a loremaster t' seek answers to questions that trouble ya so. I'd also be thinkin' it a safe wager that yer not sure whether it's yer friends or yer profession or both what's attracted his attention. Above all, though, I'm thinkin' he cannot allow ya t' find out about that caravan or what impact it'll be hav'in. And so he tried to kill ya, and us too."
"And now we find ourselves here facin' a roadblock," Dolak continues. "T' me, it kin mean one of two things. The first is that the Wizard is a desperate man tryin' to slow us down by throwin' what he can in our path to delay us long enough so that we won't be makin' the caravan a'fore they depart. He's pretty successful at that right about now."
"The second is that he has thrown an obvious obstacle in our path t' occupy our thoughts while somethin' far more deadly is actually huntin' us. Either way, we need t' be movin', and soon."
Looking to forestall Cy's objections about saving the town, Dolak quickly adds, "And when we're gone and by this obstacle, they'll likely leave the town to come after us or go on t' other trouble. They dinna look like they're set up fer the long run. From yer descriptions, they dinna sound like they're settin' up breastworks or more permanent fortifications. They are here fer us, have no doubts."
"I'm thinkin' misdirection may be our fastest solution," the dwarf proposes. "We need t' give the hounds a hare t' chase. Any ideas?"
"Alani surely you're out of your mind," Kjira interjects as the elven woman states her intention to visit the dark keep itself. "A mere subcontracted minion of the Zhents nearly slayed us all! Do you think you could even get to the front gates of the keep without being incinerated by some magic?"
"And as for Master Tomar and the Zhents," the lady mage continues, "perhaps it is something Master Tomar is carrying they are after...rather than the merchant himself. Perhaps a particular book contains some information they want kept secret...or perhaps he carries a book they want for their own use."
"Maybe someone has slipped something aboard unawares to Master Tomar that they're after," Kjira next supposes. "Was the cart in your possession the entire time prior to departure? Has a stranger or someone else given you an item and asked you to carry it for him or her?" she looks inquisitively at the merchant.
"And as for the Zhent blockade...how to do we propose to foil it? It would seem we're incapable of succeeding at a direct assault. We can either go around it - which I imagine would be quite difficult in this terrain - or use some form of subterfuge and diversion. Any suggestions?" Kjira asks of the group.
Cy replies," I think you have misunderstood what Alani said, as we all seem to be doing. Has someone cast a tangled tongues spell? What she said is that she would like to infiltrate the roadblock camp, not Darkhold Keep - although, that would still be dangerous. As for the intent on Tomar or his wares, I draw my conclusion from their own contract. I quote, 'sticking his nose where it doesn't belong' and 'kill him and any who try to interfere'."
Then the halfling turns to address Dolak, "My friend, it would be impossible to get past the roadblock with the wagon and maybe with your cart. Do you merchants wish to embark on 'new' careers? And if we do that, how do the Zhents know we have bypassed the roadblock to leave the town alone?"
"I realize I'm asking more questions than I am answering," Cy admits. "I'm sorry; my brain is quit numb after being up for close to thirty six hours."
Then, the halfling turns to Alani. "And you want us to stay up longer?" Cyzicus collapses to the floor. "I must have rest." The others now notice that the adrenaline from his anger is gone he is obviously quite exhausted.
Dolak looks at the exhausted Cy, collapsed upon the floor and says, "That is why I'm fer a misdirection. We've only t' make them think we've taken another route or already past them, and they'll likely pursue the false hares - allowin' us t' pass."
Tomar has listened to the reasoning and suppositions of the others in the room. Finally, he speaks what is on his mind.
"Lady Kjira," the merchant begins, "while we traveled, I spent every night in the back of my wagon. I have noted nothing out of the ordinary, or new, or missing. Although, your caution is warranted; I made very few new acquisitions since I first hired you. There is a chance that something among them has warranted this attention, but, as Cyzicus said, it would seem they are more after me and not my wares."
Tomar pauses for a few moments while he gathers his thoughts. "It would seem that my knowledge of this relief caravan is somehow dangerous to the Zhentarim. Unfortunately, I do not know what to do about that predicament. Once we reach Hill's Edge, I may be able to garner some more information about this. It is quite a large city with a rather dark underside. If there is information to be found on the Zhentarim, it is there that I can search for it."
"In the meantime," the merchant continues, "I must agree that I can see a dilemma, here. If I - or if our group as a whole - is to blame for the roadblock, it would seem that we have some moral obligation to see to it." He glances around the room and adds, "But I also see that such a small group - courageous though you may be - does not have much hope against a fully armed patrol of Zhentarim forces. If we must delay or modify our time or means of departure, I understand. The only request I have is that my wares are moved along, as well. They are my business; without them, I have no means of continuing my vocation."
As Tomar finishes his say, Alani speaks up, "Cy, Corax, Lucas and myself have spoken with Lord Hultel. Perhaps it would be wiseto wait and see what the militia plans, and possibly coordinate our actions with theirs," the scout suggests, rubbing her bloodshot eyes.
Looking to the exhausted priest laying in the floor, she adds, "I have to agree with Cy; I am afraid I may not have the energy to make it back to his home, that is if the invitation is still open. Alani smiles at the Truesword, already knowing the answer.
Rising slowly from the chair, Alani moves and helps the dozing priest to his feet. "Come Cy, let's get you to bed. We can meet downstairs in the late afternoon, and may I suggest taking a nap just in case we do something this night."
Alani moves to the door but pauses before opening it to look at Tomar. "I can't speak for the others, but I will see you safely to Hill's Edge with your books, if it is at all possible, she says as her lips curl into a smile. Not fully trusting Tomar, the scout is willing to take the first step and thrusts out her arm in a gesture of friendship.
Tomar returns the gesture. "Be safe," he says simply.
Cy speaks up, saying, "Alani, I don't think I have the strength to make it home. Let us check for rooms here. If none have opened up, let us go to caravansary and catch our nap. Also, I am not so tired that I cannot hear our companions out, I simply needed to get off my feet."
Turning to the others, the halfling adds, "Please, let us make this quick. However, know that we will require a nap before any action."
"Indeed," nods Tomar. "And after we have finished, those of you who need to sleep can do so here in my room. I would rather relax in the taproom for the time being. There is no information, rumors or tales to be had in one's chamber!"
Nodding to the 'Truffle-Hunters', Lucas adds, "Alani back to your suggestion about my surveillance capabilities. I have not taken the opportunity to study the vast Silverymoon's libraries for such many gems of magical arcana but I do have my trusted 'scout' who you have seen flying about at night. I shall think on it as I rest."
"Aye your owl, I forgot about him," Alani says, snapping her head towards the dark robed mage. "His sight would be a great asset in this venture."
"Let's return to meet here in this room, say, at midafternoon," the conjurer suggests. "We can head to meet with the militia leader to discuss our options then."
Turning to Kjira and Dolak, Lucas then says, "I am still in need of some rest myself as my spellcasting has taken its toll somewhat and I am sure Kjira will want to continue her rest as well. Let us also rest and return here say in about five hours' time, asks Lucas of Dolak and Kjira. "I shall rest at Dolak's wagon with Ori and Dolak. Master Tomar, shall you be okay in the taproom or do you wish me to stay here with you?"
"I should think the taproom is fairly safe," Tomar replies. "Although, some company there would be most welcome."
The merchant then turns to the tired scouts. "I repeat my offer. You may stay here, if you like. If you remember, this room and Kjira's were the last ones available last evening. With the caravan traffic, I doubt any rooms have come open."
"I thank you Tomar," Alani says graciously as she helps a weary Cyzicus to the bed. Returning to her chair, she sees that Corax has claimed it. The scout looks back to bed, shrugs her shoulders, and sits at the foot of the bed. "Don't kick me Cy," the scout says humorously.
Laying down, the scout shuts her eyes as her arm blocks the morning. She silently listens to the talk in the room as her body finally wins and sleep overtakes the young scout.
The content of The Sunset Vale Saga are the property and copyright of Brian Flood, and are not to be published or redistributed without permission.
Return to The Sunset Vale Saga main page
Return to Campaign Logs