With the decision made to head for Minensal, the party packed their gear - including the unfortunate Thengorn's horse - and headed off south and a little east. Their rations were just about ended, and they weren't about to try eating what the orcs had been carrying, so Caitlin struck out from their path for a day to do some hunting. While her privileged upbringing had left her with a few gaps in her knowledge, hunting and hawking had been one of her common pastimes as a young girl, and four hours later she returned with her horse laden with cuts of meat from the enormous stag she'd stalked and shot. Food ceased to be a problem.
The land north of Lossal and under the shadow of the Northpeaks was fairly bleak, largely uninhabited since the Dragonwar, but at the end of the second day they reached the river Tymbor without event. In ancient days, when this land was known as Sinval, much trade passed this way on the route to Vorsand in the Versate Pass. In the invasion early in the Dragonwar, Sinval was ruined from end to end, but even Varkar Barduric had his limits and the crumbling bridge over the northern Tymbor had survived, overgrown and little-used.
As evening drew on, the faint remnants of an ancient road the party had been following led them towards the river. Spanning it was a stone bridge, ancient and crumbling, heavily overgrown with ivy and surrounded by trees and bushes but looking as if it would support their weight to allow them to cross the lively, fast-flowing water. Halting, the three travellers looked at the bridge consideringly. "I bet there's a troll under there," said Yoshin warningly.
This would have had more impact if he'd not spent the last two days reliably predicting bandits in the broken ground, firedrakes in the forests and orcs in the overgrowth. Nonetheless, Caitlin dismounted, picked up a hefty stick and approached the bridge to look it over before they crossed. Krizzen offered her a rope's end and she lashed it around her waist before moving on. Yoshin, still very worried, cast his new Fly spell and lifted off, swirling around the bridge from above before moving upstream to see if he could see under the two arches. He couldn't, and resolved to fly through them to check things out. They were only around a yard high at the best, but flying horizontally he should be able to fit through comfortably.
|DM Note: Yoshin lost initiative as he and the troll saw each other under the bridge, and the troll got both claws into him and earned a rend as well. Nasty!|
Now level with the middle of the first arch, Caitlin looked around at the bridge and stamped on the stone a few times. Worn and crumbly though the stone was, the structure itself looked sound enough, and she glanced back at Krizzen with a nod and smile. As she did so, Yoshin swooped down and in under the nearside arch. As he reached the middle of the arch, there was a terrible tearing impact, a stifled scream, and no sorcerer appearing at the far side. A moment later, a huge, sinewey arm reached up at the side he should have emerged, the massive hand gripping the crumbling parapet and hauling into view an enormous troll. Had he been there, Yoshin would have been able to say "I told you so"... As it was, it was left to Ratbag the cat to emit a yowl of horror and shoot up the nearest tree and out of sight.
Caitlin's eyes widened, and she spun on the spot and sprinted directly away from the troll. For a moment, Krizzen thought she was going back to her old irresponsible ways, but a moment later the Tellaran dived headlong off the bridge opposite to the troll, turning in the air and using the rope to slow her descent, swung neatly in under the span. Left alone facing the troll, Krizzen dropped the rope to the ground, placed his boot on it to hold it in place and hefted Soothslayer as the troll loped towards him. Dodging the rubbery horror's first strike, he struck back, but despite its' size the troll was quick and it evaded the blow.
Under the bridge, Caitlin inhaled sharply in horror. Yoshin's still form had been thrown onto a flat patch of mud just under the arch. Terrible claw wounds gaped in several places on his torso, and what looked like most of the blood in his body was soaked into his clothes and the mud underneath him. It looked futile, but she scrambled over to him and began to tip all the healing potions she had with her into the wounded sorcerer.
Above, both Krizzen and the troll had got themselves settled, and each had wounded the other. The troll was massive, even taller than Krizzen, and the lizardman was struggling to hold his ground and his foothold on the rope. Only his armour was keeping him alive as the terrible claws skated off the metal leaving shining marks. He swayed sideways and struck again, cutting a slash across the troll's belly in a spray of black blood.
At that moment, Yoshin, covered from head to foot in his own blood, emerged from under the span, still flying, and rose clear of the bridge like some bloody angel of death. Still horribly injured, Caitlin's potions had retrieved him far enough from the edge of death to resume his flight. Drifting to a nice safe fifty feet away from the bridge, he lifted one hand and sent a flurry of Magic Missiles crashing into the troll. It bellowed, appearing more hurt by this than by Krizzen's axe strikes. As it did, Caitlin scrambled out from under the bridge, climbing the rope hand over hand. The sudden weight caught Krizzen by surprise, and he lost his grip on the rope. Caitlin found herself falling, but her less salubrious training came to her rescue and she grabbed the stonework of the bridge as she slipped. A moment later she had scrambled over the parapet behind the troll and drawn her rapier. On soft feet she ran up behind it and stabbed, the slender blade piercing straight through the troll's vitals to emerge on the far side. The troll screamed and collapsed.
Yoshin swooped carefully down, landed with extreme care, and lay down, wincing in agony. Sheathing her rapier, Caitlin wandered off across the bridge, checking for traps and more trolls, while Krizzen coiled the rope up. Something tickled Yoshin's memory and he went over to the troll's body, drew a dagger and started trying to cut its' head off. As he did so, his eyes fell on Krizzen's axe wounds and his blood went cold. They were closing up! The memory clicked into place. "Trolls regenerate!" he screamed, soaring away; "Everyone off the bridge!" Caitlin and Krizzen scattered to opposite ends, and Yoshin - not without a great deal of pleasure - cast his first Fireball.
With a roar, a bloom of flame covered the top of the bridge, enveloping the troll's form and incinerating it. The slow recombination of its' sundered parts ceased suddenly, and the remains settled into a charred mess from which little or nothing was likely to arise anytime soon.
The journey on from the bridge was straightforward enough, with signs of habitation becoming more common; small hamlets, farmland, trimmed copses. Five days later, they reached the outskirts of the village of Sebril.
The road they were on entered the village from the west and slightly above, which gave them a good view. The place was small and homely-looking, with three immediately recognizable features; an ancient obelisk off to the eastern edge, four large manor houses around the sides of the central green, and a piece of ground on the northern edge marked out as a tourney field. A crowd of three or four hundred people were gathered around the latter, along with sideshows, stalls, food and ale sellers and bookmakers. Four armoured knights, their brightly-coloured pavilions placed at the corners, were preparing to joust - although at the moment all four were gathered in the middle of the field and appeared to be laughing and sharing breakfast. The whole place had an excited and infectious holiday air.
As they moved slowly through the crowd down the road into the village itself, Caitlin picked a passer-by at random and bent from the saddle to talk to him. Yoshin winced, expecting another insensitive faux-pas, but Caitlin smiled and said "Good day, sirrah; I am the Countess Caitlin of Tokaroth. I was wondering what's happening today?" Yswug the tailor touched a vanishing forelock and bobbed his head. "Why, it's tournament day!" he said, respectfully enough but with just a touch of surprise that anyone could be in any doubt. "Oh," said Caitlin, "who's fighting? Is it to the death?" The man laughed as if she'd been joking. "Of course not to the death; wouldn't that spoil the day! It's our four knights - Sir Arenlor Tiger, whose lands these are; Sir Voror, Sir Shellonk and young Sir Dorosend." There was a touch of loyal pride in his voice as he mentioned these names, and it seemed that the local nobles were held in good esteem. Caitlin looked around. "Do we have time to get cleaned up before the joust?" she asked, "and do you know a good inn?" Yswug smiled. "We only have one inn," he said, "the Queen and Giant, over yonder," he pointed towards the buildings clustered around the green, "I think Corvel's still around, and the joust's set for an hour of noon - you have time." Caitlin thanked him, then was struck by a thought. "Can we see your lord?" she asked. The tailor looked nonplussed. "I'm sure he'd have time for a fellow noble," he said carefully, "but it's none of my affair. Ask your man to arrange it with him?" he suggested diffidently, clearly nervous of causing offence. Caitlin smiled again. "I shall; many thanks, fellow."
As they rode at a walk through the crowds towards the inn, Yoshin listened in to the conversations of the people passing by, asking the occasional question, picking up information. It appeared that it was Sir Arenlor's custom to hold this annual joust, usually only contested between himself and his three friends. This year, Sir Dorosend was fighting his first tournament, having inherited on the untimely assassination of his father Sir Beregord. Arenlor's daughter Lady Corvala - generally referred to as beautiful - usually awarded the honours. Apart from the Queen and Giant, the village had two taverns; the Dancer's Bell near the green, and the Broken Manor at the west end of the village, near Anornos' dice-hall, which Yoshin gathered was a bit rough.
The Queen and Giant, however, appeared a good enough inn, and a boy took their mounts around to the stables as the three entered the taproom. A burly man with a cheerful face was working behinf the bar, but the place was otherwise deserted - everyone was gathering for the show at the tourney field. Caitlin announced herself again, and the innkeeper quickly put his flagon down. "My lady!" he said, "honoured by your custom. Er; are your retinue and baggage outside?" Yoshin leaned close to Caitlin and murmured, "If you call me your servant at this point, I will drop you in the horse trough. I can do this. Subtle and quick to anger, remember?" Caitlin flashed the elf a quick grin, and addressed the innkeeper. "We lost most of it in the river Tymbor after an encounter with a troll," she explained. "My companions and I are looking for lodgings for a night or so, with stabling for four horses."
Yoshin requested a small attic room, out of the way, while Krizzen was happy enough with the inn's standard. Caitlin was gracious enough to accept the second-best suite, and disappeared to get tidied up. Yoshin lingered. "Second-best?" he asked, curiously, "who's in the best?" Corvel shrugged. "Another nobleman; a Sir Velran if I recall correctly." Yoshin's eyebrows went up. "Is he riding in the tournament?" he asked. Corvel shook his head.
Krizzen returned to the bar after only a cursory cleanup - even the higher lizardmen had little need for washing - and was well into his second tankard of ale by the time Caitlin made her entrance, splendid in a well-cut travelling dress. Yoshin returned a few minutes later. "Corvel," asked Caitlin, her speech subtly shifted now she was out of her armour and back in more elegant attire, "is there anyone to escort me to the joust?" Yoshin and Krizzen leaped to their feet and made a production of sarcastically bowing and scraping. "Allow us, your majesty," they fawned, and escorted her into the street and away.
Krizzen escorted Caitlin to the large stand which had been put up to seat the quality and notable persons, and watched as the Tellaran effortlessly inveigled her way inside and to a seat a couple of rows behind the Lady Corvala. Then he drifted back into the crowd, among the common folk. A grin touched his scaly lips as he realized that - at nearly seven feet tall - wherever he stood, he had a terrific view.
Yoshin stopped at a food cart and selected an interesting local snack, some kind of meat and pastry item, then wandered off into the crowd. He was curious about this knight who wasn't fighting, and fell into conversation with several of the people around him to try and locate him. His second try paid off, as the baker he bought a small loaf from replied; "Sir Velran? Oh, yes, he just bought some food from me - he's right there," and pointed out a soberly but elegantly dressed man in his early thirties standing ten yards away. Yoshin dropped some small coins and set off in subtle pursuit, 'accidentally finding himself' standing next to the nobleman as they enjoyed their food and waited for the sport to begin.
"Come far?" asked the elf casually. Velran glanced at him, and nodded; "From Vorsand," he said, "I heard last year's event was good; some handy fighters - so I came to see for myself." Yoshin gestured towards the lists. "Not taking part yourself?" he asked. Velran laughed easily. "I prefer to reserve my skills for more ... serious uses," he replied. His manner was calm, relaxed; but Yoshin was forming the impression of a man who had complete confidence, and who was playing his cards close to his chest. "Good ale, this," he added, draining his wooden cup. "Have you any bets on?" asked Yoshin. Velran smiled again. "I don't take chances," he said levelly.
In the stands, Caitlin had managed to get chatting with Corvala, having noticed that she was paying particular attention to the handsome young knight Dorosend. After ten minutes the two girls, having been trained in exactly these skills, were chatting away like lifelong friends about the brave knights and Caitlin's homeland and father - of which Corvala had never heard, though she had certainly heard the reputation of Tellaran knights! By the time the trumpets sounded to proclaim the start of the joust, Caitlin had been invited to dinner the next evening as well.
Session Date: 20th October 2013