By Brian Flood
Chapter 66 - Meeting of the Minds
Hungry Halfling Inn
Corm Orp, The Sunset Vale
Noon, 15th Day of Marpenoth; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
Leaving Alani, Cyzicus and Corax resting in Tomar's room, the other party members proceed downstairs to the taproom with their employer. Glancing about the crowded room, they see that the lunch crowd as begun to arrive. Almost all of the tables are filled - and the occupants are mostly irritated merchants or guards. The group also sees that one table is occupied by Darius. The young druid's wolf sits on the floor next to him.
Seeing the companions, Darius stands and beckons them over to his table. When they join him, he asks, "Where are the others? Have we decided on our course?"
Kjira looks at the wayward druid. "Where've you been?" she yawns.
Darius glances behind the small group of new arrivals as if looking for someone else. He frowns and answers, "Soft Fang and I went to hunt and get some rest after we returned to Cyzicus' house. The others were supposed to meet me here at highsun - is there a problem?"
Lucas smiles and says, "We are going to meet up again later this afternoon. The 'truffle hunters' are taking a nap. Pull up a chair and pass the time with us until then. Breaking out the map that Cyzicus provided, Lucas begins to show it to Darius.
The druid politely holds up his hand. "Thank you, Lucas. But I was also on the scouting trip, remember? Anyway, it would seem that the roadblock has had business already this morning. As I walked in, I overheard a merchant talking about the toll he had to pay; he must have arrived from the north, in the direction of Hill's Edge."
The black-robed mage arches an eyebrow. "A merchant passed through the roadblock you say? Did you happen to hear what he had to pay for his toll and perhaps how many bandits were at the roadblock?" asks Lucas of Darius.
Darius shakes his head. "I only heard part of his diatribe. He did not mention the size of the bandit force. He did, however, mention that he had to pay a price of twenty silver pieces for each man in his caravan, something more for horse, and I believe he said one hundred silvers for each wagon!"
Nodding to Darius, Lucas replies, "I see. Well, let us rest our travel-weary legs here while we wait for the others to return from their naps. Then we can plan our recourse. Perhaps you would care to join them, Darius, so that you can get some rest as well?"
Darius glances down at Soft Fang. "I do not think they will allow my companion in a room with me. We shall rest outside near the wagon."
* * * * *
Hungry Halfling Inn
Corm Orp, The Sunset Vale
Late-Afternoon, 15th Day of Marpenoth; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
Several hours after the scouts retired, the party reconvenes in Tomar's room. The space is tight - with the seven adventurers and Tomar nearly filling the room to its breaking point. Ori has once again elected to remain outside with the wagon.
Tomar starts the planning session. "Alright then," he says, "we are now rejoined. I will recount the facts as we know them and then I will remove myself from the planning. A paramilitary jaunt, such as some of youi have suggested, is beyond my experience and knowledge."
"We know this," Tomar begins, using his fingers to count off the facts, "there is a substantial force of Zhentarim - perhaps a score or more - camped just to the north of this town. They seem to be operating some sort of roadblock or unannounced toll stop. Darius has told us that they did indeed stop a caravan coming from north and charged them a hefty sum for each man, each horse, and each wagon. We know also that the town militia can muster only two ten-squads or so of men. Lastly, we have myself; I shall dispense with mentioning my travelling plans but I admit that it would seem the Zhentarim - or some faction thereof - is interested in my most untimely demise."
"Now then," the merchant announces in closing, "I shall allow you to conduct your planning."
"Well," Kjira says with a yawn, "we can either pay the toll and hope none of these Zhents recognize our unpopular employer, or we can attempt to fight our way through and hope that between us - and whatever rabble the militia can round up - we can rout the fiends. "If we choose to pay the toll, I can make our friend Tomar and his assistant invisible, if need be, which may help sneak them through. I'll need more time to study those spells, however."
Looking to the lady mage, Alani shakes her head. "I doubt that will work; I am sure they will have a way of detecting such spells."
The scout sighs, as there seems to be no easy answer to getting by this dilemma. "So that leaves us with either the direct approach with the local militia, or Dolak's plan of distraction. Either way, we need to make our minds up quickly," Alani says, hoping that Lucas or Cyzicus have something to add.
"I shall follow whatever course the rest of you decide," Darius announces.
Corax nods at Darius' announcement. "I was hired on to protect Master Tomar. Since both of the options provide a way to see him safely to Hill's Edge, I will provide my blade and my skills to either one." With the druid and the rogue having declared neutrality in the debate, the decision now falls to the remaining five adventures to decide.
"Let's see what the militia has planned before we decide on any course of action," suggests Lucas. "Perhaps they are planning a direct sort of approach that we may add them with. Shall we go visit the militia leader as a group or send Cy since he knows them? I would prefer that we all stick together to plan whatever course of action we are going to take," adds the black robed mage.
"And what if the militia don't have any plans?" Alani sighs. "What if they just decide to send an envoy to speak with the Zhents? As Tomar has stated, they haven't really threatened the town. So what, we sit around another day and wait?" the girl asks calmly, looking to the gathered members.
"I say we take it upon ourselves to find out what is going on," the elf continues. "Truth be told, I didn't leave Evereska to be a caravan guard," she plainly states. "I agree we should see at least what the militia is going to do, but we shouldn't rely on them. No offense intended, Cy."
"None taken, Alani," the halfling responds. "After all, if I felt the militia was the end all and be all, I would still be a member. My main concern was our not getting in each others' way."
Falling silent for a moment, Alani contemplates her next words before speaking. "I believe if we work together, we can infiltrate the blockade. We need some answers; and that is the only way I see us getting them." Her tone tells she firmly believes her words.
"Aye," agrees Dolak. "If'n no one else kin think o' a way a makin' them see us elsewhere and chasin' our ghosts, then I'm fer a straight up night attack. There's more of them than us, but with some fire, stealth and shock, we can scatter 'em."
"That'll tip our hand to the Zhent leaders, though," the dwarf then cautions, "and we may have to hold up t' recover after the fight. We're wastin' time here, though, and no one seems t' have much of another plan." Looking to Lucas he adds, "Maybe we can get the militia t' help our side."
"Aye, Dolak," agrees Lucas. "That is why I wanted to see what the militia planned to do first. We have only been here in town for two days. We needed to stay that long anyway to rest, study and resupply."
Looking around to make sure no one is being to noticeable in ease-dropping, the black-robed mage continues. "If the militia doesn't plan on doing anything direct against this Zhent incursion, then I am inclined to go along with Dolak's suggestion. We should act quickly I think - perhaps as soon as we can get moving - to prevent any strengthening of the Zhent roadblock." Lucas sits back and listens for any suggestions or comments to his remarks.
"Dolak's suggesstion!' Alani's mind screams as her eyes cut a deadly look to Lucas.
But as quickly as the look appears on the young girl's face, it also disappears. "Well I see you 'MEN' have everything under control," Alani says as she heads for the door.
Her hand on the knob, the scout turns. "Is there anything I can get anyone?" she asks sarcastically.
"Alright, that's enough!" exclaims Cyzicus. "We really need to get Mother to dispel this tangled tongues spell. Alani, nobody has brought sex into this; Lucas apparently favors sneaking past the roadblock to making an assault on the camp. Please tell me if I am wrong, Lucas. If I am, then you do owe Alani an apology as she was the first to suggest the assault."
"As it is," the priest adds, "I must make an apology for everybody's nerves being on end to begin with."
Watching Alani head for the door, Lucas raises his voice a little to add emphasis. "I do not care whose plan it is, Alani! If we decide on a rouse or direction action, then so be it. Sit down so that we can finish here and be on our way without further delay of having to track everyone down."
Turning to Cyziucs, the conjurer says, "If we are finished here, I suggest we head over as a group to see the militia."
Then, to the rest of the members of the Iron Wolf Company, Lucas asks, "Does anyone else have any comments?"
Sighing loudly, Alani steps away from the door and leans against the wall with her arms crossed. Deciding it would be wise to keep her mouth shut, Alani silently listens, waiting for the group to decide to leave.
"Yes, let's go," Kjira laments at the way the party seems mired. "And if they have no plans, let's prepare an attack ourselves. It's either that or grow old eating halfling stew..."
Dolak nods at Kjira and stands to leave. He casts an arched eyebrow toward Alani wondering at the molten fury hidden behind her cast iron facial expressions. "I'd like not t' fight this one, but I dinna see the hidden path fer us t' take."
And thus, a consensus is reached. The group convinces Tomar that it would be best for him to stay in his room while the guards go to see militia. The seven adventurers - and one wolf - leave the inn and head toward the militia headquarters.
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