By Brian Flood
Chapter 68 - Initial Moves
Corm Orp, The Sunset Vale
Early Morning, 16th Day of Marpenoth; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
The sunrise is still three hours away when the assault force begins to assemble outside of the militia headquarters. The adventurers arrive to find that the militia has already divided up into two ten-rider patrols, each led by a militia officer. Lieutenant Tamara sits astride her horse with Sergeant Sheela's patrol of riders; Lord-Mayor Hultel is with Sergeant Paulus' patrol.
The riders are all clad in dark cloaks. The cloaks are drawn up and around the shoulders of each rider, concealing the chainmail armor and armbands that distinguish the town's armed forces. Each man or woman has a longsword hanging from a hip belt; a bow and a quiver of arrows hang from the pommel of each rider's saddle.
As for the adventurers, they also are divided into subgroups. Lucas and Kjira, the lady mage leading her mule as part of the deception plan for the mock caravan, walk next to Dolak who is acting as the drover for his mule-driven cart. Accompanying that trio is Cyzicus, who sits astride his pony, clad in his armor and prepared for battle.
Alani arrives mounted upon Corax's sleek black riding horse, Doom. She wears a set of mottled garments, dyed to resemble the colors of a forest. Her normally attractive face has been painted in a pattern of woodland colors. With her short sword at her hip, and her bow over her shoulder, the elven scout portays the stereotypical image of a sylvan warrior.
Lastly there is Darius and his wolf companion, Soft Fang. The druid and the wolf stand off to the side, obviously intimidated by the large assembly of armed and ready warriors.
"Lieutenant Tamara will be accompanying the mock caravan," announces Lord-Mayor Hultel in a soft but firm voice that carries well in the early morning calm. Like the other riders, the leader of the town's militia is armed with a longsword, and a short bow. He wears a suit of platemail armor that is partially concealed by a dark cloak similar to those worn by his subordinates.
Without any further preamble, Lieutenant Tamara spurs her horse forward with a barely perceptible movement of her legs. "Are you ready, then?" she asks softly of the members of the deception group.
Alani sits high upon the charger as it snorts and paws the ground as if it knows what is ahead. The scout has chosen not to saddle the horse, riding it instead in elven tradition, bareback.
"I am ready ma'am," the elven girl says, her voice reflecting her eagerness.
Looking to her friends, Alani smiles and winks. "Keep safe my friends, and we shall share a drink to our triumph," the girl says to all gathered, "For this day, Corm Orp stands for its rights." The black charger under her whinnies as if it understands Alani's words.
Cy simply salutes and says, "Ready, sir."
Lucas nods to Lietenant Tamara indicating that he is ready. "May Lady Mystara bless our endevour!" he adds to all present.
As Dolak mounts his pony, his tightly drawn heavy cloak shifts somewhat, revealing the black links of his chainmail beneath. Across his back, the relatively large battle-axe slightly shifts position until he settles atop his loyal steed. Tethered behind him, the mule-drawn cart creaks under the covered load it bears as the mule shifts its footing.
"We're not gettin' closer a'standin' around here in the dark. Let's get t' movin' down the lane," he growls so early this fine morning.
"Well said," announces Lord Hultel, agreeing with the dwarf. "We will divide our forces now. I will take one patrol, Alani, the boy, and the wolf off toward the hills. Once we are due east of the camp, the individuals with me will head toward the camp. My patrol will await until we are called.
"Lieutenant Tamara and the mock caravan will head north along the road. Initiate your attack when you feel ready. Do not forget to call for the owl, as its flight toward you is the signal for our signal to attack. Good luck to all of you. May Tempus grant us his favor."
Without any further preamble, Hultel spins his horse and starts off eastward toward the hills. The eleven riders with him follow behind, as do Alani, Darius and Soft Fang. In their wake, the mock caravan starts northward along the Dusk Road.
* * * * *
Alani and her companions ride eastward. After a few minutes, the elf girl notices that she cannot see Darius. She stands in her saddle and looks around and then spies two low, dark shapes closing the distance behind the riders. She opens her mouth to give a warning and then hears a soft 'woof' and two wolves -- one gray and one sandy-haired -- catch up to her horse and lope alongside, easily keeping pace with the mounted contingent.
Hultel looks over at the soft canine sound and does a double take when he sees two wolves instead of one wolf and a boy. He glances over to Alani who merely gives a slight, wordless nod in the pale moonlight. The lord-mayor's eyes grow wide and then he nods back slightly and returns his attention to the ride.
The group rides eastward for about half of an hour before it reaches the edge of the hills. Turning northward, the group continues on in silence, paralleling the hills.
Just under an hour later, Alani signals a stop to the mounted band. She estimates that she is in roughly the same vicinity from which she and Cyzicus began their reconnaissance of the encampment. If she is right, the camp should lie about three and a half miles to the west.
Alani slides out of the saddle and lands lightly on the ground. Taking the reins from around the horse's neck, the elven scout moves to address Lord Hultel.
"Sir, I will be departing now. I need to get past the patrol before sunrise," the scout says as she leads Doom to a nearby shrub and ties him off loosely so the knot will come loose if the horse needs to defend himself.
Retrieving her bow and the quiver of arrows, Alani makes one last check, ensuring she has everything that she needs. She moves back to Hultel's side and stares off in the direction of the camp.
"I intend to scout out and, if possible, eliminate any magical advantage they may have, M'lord. Failing that, I will cause as much chaos from the inside as I can during the attack," Alani promises, her voice full of patient confidence.
"Take care, Alani," cautions the lord-mayor. "Our plan hinges on surprise. If they find you, we may not be able to save you in time."
Nodding her head, the scout looks up to the mounted Lord. "Good hunting to you and your men." Her eyes sparkle in anticipation as she disappears into the night, quickly making her way to the perimeter of the patrol.
Alani moves westward through the tall grasses. She travels much quicker now that she is alone and not paced by Cyzicus' relatively shorter strides. Within a half-hour, she has closed to within a mile of the campsite.
Slowing her pace, Alani begins to creep forward. She crouches as she walks and carefully selects each foot placement as she quietly stalks toward the patrol perimeter.
The elf allows the distant fire of the campsite to guide her movement. She slips closer for another half-hour and then stops, figuring she is about a bowshot's distance from the perimeter patrol's sentry pattern. Glancing behind her to the east, she estimates that she has about an hour before sunrise.
Alani squints in the pale moonlight but cannot see the roving patrol. Assuming that her way is clear, she creeps forward past the patrol route. The scout moves slowly and carefully forward for another thirty paces or so and then stops about halfway between the campsite and the patrol's route. Satisfied, she settles down into the tall grass and waits.
A little less than an hour later, just as the sun is starting to creep over the hills to the east, the elf hears a commotion coming from the east beyond the campsite. The sound of multiple horses whinnying in terror carries across the dark plains and reaches Alani's ears.
Soon thereafter, human voices come from the direction of the camp itself. The word 'wolves' reaches Alani's ears. Then one voice, that of a human male, rises above the din.
"Send the patrol after them! Retrieve the horses!"
"It has started." Alani smiles to herself as she turns and faces the camp, keeping to the tall grass for cover. Knowing that she needs to be closer, the elven scout creeps forward, hoping the commotion of the wolves hides her movement along with the sun rising to her back.
Slowly, Alani moves closer to the camp watching the soldiers move about the camp, some going to running to stop the horses, others going to their morning meal.
As her heart pounds hard in her chest, Alani creeps slowly and cautiously forward, moving closer to the compound and keeping to the fading shadows as they escape the sun's dawning light. Moving within a stone's throw of the compound's outer perimeter, the elven scout again settles in the high grass. She begins watching the activity of the soldiers, paying special attention to the uniforms of the lower-ranked soldiers. During her observances, Alani glances to the sky, watching for the owl to streak across the prairie.
The elf notes that the roving mounted patrol has been dispatched to chase after the wolves and the soldiers' horses. She can see them riding off into the plains to the north of the camp. In reaction to the commotion, several soldiers have spilled from the tents.
From her postion to the east of the camp, Alani's view of the camp's interior takes on a minor tunnel effect as her line of sight is partially blocked by the two larger tents stationed on the eastern perimeter. She has placed herself so that she can see between the tents and into the center of the camp, so she is able to see the central campfire and the westernmost pairs of the parallel lines of small two-man tents.
Alani counts about nine or ten individual Zhentarim soldiers. Most are dressed in chain mail armor covered by purple-trimmed black tabards that display the silver castle-and-lightning-bolt sigil of Darkhold. Most of the men hold longswords and shields in their hands as they react to their orders.
The man giving the orders is dressed in banded mail and is otherwise similarly dressed and armed as his men. The man barks orders to one of the chain mail-clad soldiers, who turns and starts to gather some of the others. The tumult of many voices speaking at once drowns out the initial instructions, but the voice of the second man carries over the din.
"At ease! Corporal, our squad will assume the watch now. Take four of the men and replace the men at the roadblock. I will follow shortly with the rest of the squad. We will keep the squad together at the roadblock until we get our horses back."
Another of the chain mail clad soldiers nods his head in assent and turns to gather some men. He leaves Alani's view for a few seconds, but then she sees him and four identically-clad soldiers leaving the western side of the camp on foot.
As the other soldiers in the camp hustle about, their voices now more subdued, a woman voice comes from the circular tent at the eastern side of the campsite. Alani's view of the speaker is blocked by the tent, however, and she cannot see who is speaking.
"What is wrong, lieutentant?" the female voice questions.
The man in the banded mail turns at the sound of the voice. He looks in the direction of the circular tent and says, "Wolves, Mistress. They have panicked our horses. I have dispatched the mounted patrol to chase them down. In the meantime, I will double the men at the roadblock until we retrieve the horses -- without the mounted patrol, we cannot quickly reinforce the roadblock when a caravan approaches."
"Do you need my assistance?" the female voice inquires. From her tone, the woman seems to consider herself an equal to the Zhentarim officer.
"No, Mistress," the lieutentant replies. "Return to your rest. The men at the roadblock will be returning to the camp and will break their fast before I assign them out to patrol duties while we wait for the others to return."
"Very well," the female voice responds.
The lieutenant continues to look at the circular tent for a few seconds more and then turns to hurry along the men who are still in the camp.
A smile crosses the elf's face as she watches the man move through the camp ordering the men to move towards the roadblock. Dropping back down, the elf slowly crawls to the back of the tent from which she heard the female voice.
Slowly and cautiously, she moves around to the back of the tent where the shadows are the deepest and settles in, using the shadows to cover her. With a quick glimpse to the sky looking for the owl to fly, Alani leans closer to the tent and listens for any sounds that may come from the inside.
Alani strains but cannot hear anything from inside the tent, save for what might be the faint rustle of cloth. The elf frowns and looks back to the rising sun. She figures that the owl should be flying over at anytime, signaling the beginning of the attack.
The activity within the camp is too hectic for her to enter, so Alani settles into her hiding spot and waits. She smiles as she goes over the words of her next spell. She knows that when the fight begins, she will be ready and the woman in the tent will be her first target.
Alani is sure that the woman is a spellcaster of some sorts and it decides that it will be her job to take the "Mistress" out of the fray. A smile crosses the girl's face as she continues to listen into the tent, hoping she can discern the woman's role in the blockade.
The elven woman waits for several more minutes and watches her hiding place as the camp is emptied of all soldiers save the Zhentilar officer. The man in banded mail sits on his pack near the fire, his back to the larger tents and Alani. All is quiet inside the round tent behind which Alani hides and the unknown woman resides.
* * * * *
the Dusk Road
Five Miles North of Corm Orp, The Sunset Vale
Early Morning, 16th Day of Marpenoth; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
The mock caravan departs the town of Corm Orp a few hours before sunrise, as planned. Two militia riders, accompanied and led by Sergeant Sheela, act as outriders and proceed the main body by a bowshot or more of distance. At the fore of the main column, Cyzicus rides side by side with Lieutenant Tamara. Two militia riders trail those two warriors and immediately proceed the cart that carries Dolak and Lucas. Kjira follows behind the cart, leading her mule by its halter to add to the illusion of a true caravan. Behind Kjira, five more militia riders under the command of Corporal Rossum provide rear security to the small group.
They have been moving for a little more than two hours, and have covered about four and a half miles when one of the outriders returns to the main body. He immediately rides up to Lieutentant Tamara and reports in a voice that is loud enough for those at the front of the column to hear.
"The roadblock is nearing. We can see the glint of the rising sun off of metal. They are perhaps a half-mile ahead. Sergeant Sheela has stayed with the other outrider to maintain a watch."
Cy loosens his short swords in their scabbards. He then attempts to ready a call to Avoreen for his blessings in the coming battle.
Dolak takes a final sip of water from his waterskin and then stows the rest of his gear under the covering of the cart. He retains his warhammer hanging from a loop in his belt and his axe now resting next to him. "Well, Lucas, are ye ready crush these Zhents?" Dolak asks.
Before the mage can answer, Tamara turns in her saddle and raises her voice in order to address those nearest her, to include the four adventurers masquerading as merchants.
"The roadblock is only minutes away. Unless there is an objection, I will have the outriders proceed until they are stopped. That should avoid suspicion."
"Aye Tamara," says Lucas as he nods agreement.
Turning back to address Dolak, the mage adds with a grin, "Yes, friend Chak, I am always ready to smite Zhent scum."
Tamara glances from the mage to the dwarf, amused at their exchange, before continuing. "We should not delay much longer. Once we have been challenged, as I am sure we will be, we will await your signal to attack. My self and the riders in the front of the column will charge the enemy center; the riders at the rear of the column will flank to the right or left, depending on my signal.
"Do you feel there is anything else we need to discuss?" the militia lieutenant asks as she looks from Dolak to Lucas to Cyzicus.
"Aye," replies Cyzicus, "any wishing divine aid may wish to stay near me untill Avoreen offers his blessing."
Tamara nods. "The outriders will stop when they are challenged. The column will stop once we have caught up to the outriders. There should be half a dozen or so of us within a few paces of you, truesword."
Cyzicus nods as he waits and prepares for the coming battle.
* * * * *
Inside the Zhentarim Camp
Several minutes after the camp is emptied of all soldiers save the officer and the mysterious woman in the round tent, a Zhentilar rider gallops into the camp and pulls his horse to a halt on the other side of the fire from the officer. Alani ducks back behind the tent, noting that the rising sun in the east has now eliminated all shadows on the eastern sides of the tents. The only concealment available to her now is the tent itself.
"Lieutenant," the voice of the rider travels well in the morning air. "Riders have been spotted to the south; probably outriders for a caravan."
"Very well," comes the officer's response. "Dismount your horse. I will ride to blockade and assume command. You follow on foot and take a place in the crossbow ranks."
"Yes, lieutenant," answers the voice of the rider.
There is a bit of muffled sounds from the campsite as the two men switch positions. Then, accompanied by a brief whinney, the sound of a galloping horse fades from hearing.
'That has to be the rest,' the elven scout thinks to herself as she overhears the conversation between the lieutenant and the gaurdsman. A smile dances across her elven features as she hers the horse trot off.
'Seems the gods are with me this morn,' she cogitates as she peeks around the tent, ensuring that the coast is clear.
Alani moves with great cation towards the tent flap, moving around the side of the movable shelter that gives her the best coverage. Making it to the flap safely, the girl smiles and listens trying to make out either a mumble or the sounds of one drifting off to sleep. The words of a spell come to the forefront of her mind, ready to cast as she enters the tent silentily, not wanting to disturb the occupant.
* * * * *
With the Mock Caravan
Tamara addresses the militia outrider, saying, "Very well. Tell Sergeant Sheela to continue on until told to stop. We will move the caravan forward and catch up to you once we have been challenged.
The horseman nods curtly and then wordlessly spurs his horse to gallop back northward toward where the two other outriders have stopped.
Glancing over to Cyzicus, Tamara says, "And so it begins."
Returning her glance, the halfling responds, "Aye, and may we be looking to a brighter future at the end of this day."
* * * * *
In the Zhentarim Camp
As the elf brushes past the tent flap, the sound of cloth rubbing against canvas sounds like a thunderclap to Alani's ears. Seated behind a wooden folding table a few paces from the scout, a raven-haired woman in a red-trimmed black robe glances up from her work with an irritated look on her face. In the next instant, the woman's deep green eyes widen, her jaw goes slightly slack, and her hands -- which hold a small knife and an apple -- abruptly pause in midair.
Alani's moment of shock quickly passes at the fact the woman is still awake. Without hesitation, she rushes the surprised spellcaster, hoping to keep the woman from calling out any warning.
One hand flashes out to slap away the small knife. Alani's second hand balls up into a fist and streaks for the woman's face in hopes to end this encounter before it even begins.
The elf's disarming attempt fails but her fist connects solidly with the woman's jaw. The woman's head snaps back and then falls limpy from her chair and onto the ground.
Not taking the time to celebrate her luck or victory, Alani slips a plain golden ring and a signet ring from the woman's person. She then quickly ties the hands and feet of the woman using the sheets from the nearby bed. The elven girl ends her handy work by shoving an undergarment into the woman's mouth to act as a gag.
Satisfied that each knot is secured and the gag is placed so as not to suffocate the woman, Alani then sets to the task of searching the tent, looking for written orders or anything that might explain why the blockade was put up on the first place. She casts an occasional nervous glance toward the tent flap, listening to the goings on outside the tent, knowing it will not be long before the blockade may be thrown into the chaos of battle.
* * * * *
With the Mock Caravan
The band of adventurers and militia masquerading as a caravan continues forward for a few hundred more yards and slowly the enemy comes into view. A line of over a dozen fighters stretches across the road ahead. The rising sun reflects off the opponent, indicating a substantial presence of armor and weapons. About a half dozen mounted warriors hold the middle of the line, blocking the road itself. The slightly forward-arching flanks are secured by about half a dozen dismounted crossbowmen on each side.
"Halt!" The single shouted word, originating from the blockade ahead, carries easily in the calm early-morning air.
As directed, the outriders come to a halt ahead of the main body separated by about one hundred yards from the center of the enemy line. The caravan itself continues onward for a few short minutes, closing the gap to the outriders so that all can hear the shouted orders of the blockade.
A cluster of tents lies a little over a bow's shot to the east of the enemy band. The campsite is slightly further than that distance and to the northeast of the outriders at the front of the caravan. At this distance, the would-be attackers discern no movement in the area of the tents.
Tamara, with Cyzicus riding at her side as he has been, directs her mount into line with the three outriders. Sergeant Sheela sits astride her horse in the center of the road. Tamara comes up on her right side and Cyzicus to the left. The two lower-ranking outriders position themselves so that one of them is to either side of the three mounted warriors. Dolak and Lucas, sitting on the warrior-blacksmith's cart, find themselves about a score or so yards behind the small gathering at the fore of the column.
Trying to look and like the frightened merchant he is posing as, Lucas raises his voice slightly and poses a question to Tamara and Cyzicus.
"What is going on up ahead? Why are we stopping?" he asks. The mage then tries to guage his distance to the enemy formation to determine where the best spot would be to release his spell once the caravan is called forward, should it come to combat.
"There are more of them than we were expecting," replies Tamara, turning slightly in the saddle to project her voice back along the column.
"We must move closer," replies Lucas in a voice that is carafully measured to carry only as far as the caravan outriders.
The conjurer calculates the range between the caravan and the guard force ahead. A moment later, he begins to edge the cart closer to Cyzicus and Tamara. Kjira stays where she is at the center of the column, still holding the lead for her mule.
Dolak continues as before in his place within the convoy near Lucas as they draw toward the outriders. He glances from Lucas to Tamara and then out to the glint of steel beyond the outriders. Although he knows Tamara has the better vantage point, the dwarf looks for numbers, state of readiness indicators and disposition of the foe.
The stout warrior counts five mounted warriors and eleven dismounted foes. Four of the mounted warriors sit astride their horses in the center of the road, the fifth is behind them. The mounted warriors act as the center of the enemy line. Five fighters with light crossbows loaded and aimed at the caravan compose the western wing -- or left as seen from his position. Six similarly equiped and readied crossbowmen are on the eastern wing.
Just as the cart containing Dolak and Lucas pulls up behind the group of riders at the fore of the column, the voice of the blockade spokesman sounds again.
"Bring your transport and pack animals forward to be searched. Leave all but four of your guards. You have one minute to comply."
Lucas speaks so that only those in the caravan can hear, saying, "Let us move closer but be ready. I will take care of the larger group of crossbowmen first and then shift to the smaller group next. Anyone have in quick suggestions? We must move forward quickly as to not arouse suspection..."
Cy wonders if he will survive this day with this amount of foes. But he realizes if that is to be his fate, it will be in defense of his home. He readies his bless spell, while silently urging the others forward, both so they will be in range of his spell and so he won't wind up a pincushion along with others in the front rank.
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