omen, Mara, Phadran and Leuca are once again commissioned by Captain Teradith, this time to dispatch a group of marauding orcs that had been harassing nobles and merchants along the Kings Highway. The Kings Highway must be kept safe for travelers coming to town to watch the Hidroth Contest. The four adventurers are paired with another more experienced adventuring party led by Othowin. They spend a few days traveling and manage to defeat several different bands of marauding orcs. The party returns to Hidroth Lea with Othowin after a tough fight with an Orc Shaman. The Shaman is brought in for questioning. Teradith is impressed and rewards the characters, who end up celebrating with Othowin’s band at the Downlander, a local pub.
It had been over a week since Romen, Mara, Phadran and Leuca had returned from their successful mission within the Thorpe of Starry Field. Since then it had not stopped pouring rain. The streets were covered in muddy water and several buildings in town had flooded. Everything seemed to be damp.
The adventurers sat together in a booth close to the hearth of The Cloven Hoof, sipping mulled wineberry liquor and attempting to keep dry. Several other booths were occupied as well. With the Contest of Hidroth Lea just days away merchants and nobles from surrounding territories had begun to steadily stream into town. Of course there was concern that the contest might not even take place, what with the poor weather and the recent surge in orc attacks along the Kings Highway.
While he could do nothing about the rain (save pray to Andunai), Count Atherlend had taken the matter of the orcs into his own hands. The Count had ordered Captain Teradith to deploy the militia at various points along the King’s Highway. Moreover, the party had received a message earlier that morning from a drenched courier summoning them to Hidroth Keep at midday. Likely they would be commissioned to help protect the highway as well.
Romen looked out the foggy window, attempting to gauge the hour, but of course the sun was no where to be seen. “Well, think it might be about time,” he said.
He received several head nods but no one made any motion to leave. They didn’t relish the thought of wading through the stream that was flowing through the street just outside. Yet the call of duty prompted the four, and after a long wet journey they arrived at the keep.
The four entered the building and, after removing their wet cloaks, took in their surroundings. Aside from Teradith and a few of his men the room contained nearly a dozen other occupants, none of them militia.
“Ah, the heroes of Starry Field have arrived,” said the Captain as the four strode inside, “glad to see that everyone has made it. Now, to the business at hand,” he continued.
Teradith proceeded to explain to everyone gathered in the Keep what they all already knew. Several caravans of merchants and nobles traveling to Hidroth Lea for the upcoming contest had been waylaid by orcs, and there had been fatalities along with theft. News of the attacks was beginning to spread throughout the surrounding regions dissuading many from making the perilous journey to Hidroth Lea. Count Atherlend was having none of it. He wanted the orcs dead and the highway secured for travel ASAP.
“Hence,” continued Teradith, “until the day of the contest, Atherlend is tripling the reward for slaying orcs in the territories. For every head you bring back, you will be reimbursed ten Rams (gold pieces). In addition, minus items already reported missing, you may keep whatever loot the Orcs have taken. This, of course, will be on top of your daily wages. Your mission then is to scout out the downs, and track down the marauding orc bands before they have a chance to strike more caravans. I’ll be breaking everyone here into two teams. Othowin, I am placing you in charge of the first team,” here the Captain nodded to a barrel chested middle aged man with golden curly hair, a graying beard and clear blue eyes full of laughter.
“Always a pleasure to serve, Captain,” answered Othowin in a booming, thickly Vindish Accent. “Orend,” continued Teradith, “you’ll head up the second team.”
At this a much younger, though equally broad built man nodded his acceptance. Orend had short cropped blond hair and beard and intense gray eyes.
“Romen, Mara, Phadran and Leuca, I am placing you with Othowin for this mission,” said the Captain. “You all proved your metal last week in Starry Field, but the orcs travel in great numbers and can overwhelm a party of your size. I’ve known Othowin for many years. He’s a seasoned veteran.”
Along with Othowin, the four were joined by Starling and Belindial, longtime members of Othowin’s band. The former had hair as black as the night (just graying at the temples), intelligent eyes, a boyish face and a puckish grin. He wore a dazzling patchwork cape that seemed to shimmer and play tricks on the eyes. The later was a tall lean female elf with proud features and clothing that identified her as Angullian aristocracy. The team was to scout out the regions south of Hidroth Lea. Elien, who was also a member of Othowin’s band, was paired up with Orend, as were an assortment of other rough and ready looking adventures that called themselves “The Motley Crew.” Orend’s team was to patrol the regions north of town.
Othowin wasted no time in assembling his team, and soon Romen, Mara, Phadran and Leuca were traveling due south along the King’s Highway, looking for signs of the Orcs. Being a Ranger, Mara was put in charge of searching for tracks, yet the rain made her job fairly difficult. However, after the better part of the morning was spent in fruitless toil, she finally found signs of a set of footprints leading south.
The party raced southward and in a matter of minutes had ascended a knoll from which they saw a band of orcs engaged in melee with a few badly outnumbered guards protecting a caravan. Othowin lead the charge, and the party joined the fray.
By the time they had reached the fight, two guards were already down; one dying, the other dead. Othowin and Mara lunged into combat with a couple of orcs who were in a frothing rage. Leuca saddled up next to the two, ready at a moment’s notice to deliver the healing touch of Andunai upon either combatant. Phadran attempted to sneak around one of the orcs to attack him from behind. Belindial began a low incantation, and all of the sudden, Starling seemed to divide into six doppelgangers.
The orcs responded with brutal efficiency, swarming Othowin, Mara and the multiples of Starling. In moments several of the duplicates of Starling had burst like soap bubbles upon being bludgeoned by the savage humanoids. Othowin for his part, felled two berserker orcs almost before anyone had time to blink. However one of them managed to cleave through his armor before falling lifeless to the ground.
Leuca reacted immediately, thrusting his hand forward to heal the gaping wound. Mara managed to cut down one orc berserker but sustained damage in the process.
Phadran stabbed a dumb looking meaty orc in the back. He twitched, reached behind him as if to scratch himself, and then fell face forward into the mud.
Roman cast a magic missile at an orc that was charging Mara. Starling managed to trip the orc in mid-flight and Mara beheaded the prone creature.
Suddenly, a bolt of lightning pierced the sky, felling an orc about to strike Othowin. The two remaining orcs decided to cut their losses and run. However, after a brief chase the party caught up with and dispatched the creatures.
Back at the caravan, the remaining guard, a sturdy looking youth, thanked the party, relief evident in his voice. From one of the wagons came the sophisticated voice of a woman, “You there, please come forward.”
The party advanced and saw a dignified elderly looking woman seated within a plush wagon. “I commend you on your bravery and valor,” she said, “Before you arrived I had just begun to pray for Andunai to receive my tired old soul. Yet it appears he had other plans, no?” She began to chuckle and then reached one of her hands out the window. “Here, I want you to have something for your trouble,” she insisted. The woman unclenched her hands to reveal a bejeweled wooden case containing a pair of emerald earrings and a necklace made of Dastelon Jade. “I was going to wear this at the Contest. Yet I would much rather see them in your hands than in the hands of some smelly, vomitous…well whatever they are.”
Othowin and Roman attempted to refuse, but she waved them away dismissively, “No no dear boys, I insist. May Andunai smile upon your journeys.” She said and then commanded her driver to move along.
Meanwhile, Phadran and Mara had scoured the bodies for valuables, and placed the goods in a sack to sort through later. “Well now,” said Othowin beaming, “off to a promising start I’d say. Alright lads, lets hunt some more orcs!”
However, the rest of the day proved less eventful, and the rain kept pouring, soaking the party and chilling them to the bone. They boarded that night at a cold little hut along the Highway, and could barely sleep due to the chill in the air.
When morning came the rain was still pouring and the party was considerably less cheery then they had been the day before. Still, they spent the rest of the day sloshing through the rain and the mud searching for orcs. Close to evening they encountered another band of orc marauders which they were able to defeat with little difficulty. They retired that evening to the same damp chilly hut they had lodged at the night before, cold and exhausted.
The paty arose wearily the next day to a breakfast of cold boiled grouse eggs and stale barley bread and butter. The rain had subsided a little but still continued to sprinkle as the party made their way along the downs hunting for orcs. At about midday Mara found a fresh set of tracks which included not only humanoid, but also a large set of canine footprints. After a few hours of tracking the rain let up entirely. Near evening the party came into sight of a large outcrop of rocks.
“Might be that our quarry has decided to make camp near those rocks,” said Othowin. “The rocks provide an ideal place for lookouts.”
“Maybe we should have a look,” said Phadran
“Good idea. Phadran and Mara, why don’t you scout out the area,” said Othowin.
The two agreed and crept quietly towards the rock formation. After several minutes of moving stealthily through the underbrush, the two came within sight of an encampment. Sure enough, two sentries were stationed atop the rocks, yet they did not give any indication of having seen Phadran or Mara. The two returned from their scouting mission and informed the rest of the party of their discovery.
“Alright,” said Othowin, “here’s what we are going to do. Mara, Phadran, since you two are able to stay concealed, I want you to sneak within shooting range of the sentries. Try to see if you can take them out with ranged attacks before they can alert their band. The rest of us will come charging in after you’ve opened fire.”
“Got it said Mara,” as she and Phadran reverted back into stealth mode. The two quietly moved into position, and then settled into some underbrush near the rock outcrop. Taking aim, they unleashed a volley of arrows upon the unsuspecting orc sentries. One orc squealed as an arrow plunged into his shoulder. The other remained unscathed. He blew a horn to alert the encampment below of the intruders. Moments later ten orcs came rushing forward. Suddenly an enormous white wolf bounded over the heads of the orcs and landed a half dozen yards from Mara and Phadran. The wolf raised its giant head high to search the air for a scent.
Othowin and Starling came charging forward from behind, trailed by Roman, Leuca and Belindial. Starling once more split into duplicates as the wolf and the orcs came forward to meet them in battle.
Belindial spoke a few words in the tongue of the Ilad and a large, flaming, metier-like ball burst forth just ahead of Othowin, consuming several of the orcs. The wolf charged forward plunging its teeth deeply into Othowin, who cried out in surprise and pain. The surviving orcs rushed at the multiples of Starling and began to burst each of the illusions with their clubs and axes. Starling triped one, and then Mara was by his side, cleaving another in two before it could strike out at the Bard.
Phadran exchanged arrows with the sentries who still remained on top of the outcropping. Roman sent a magic missile into the white wolf and Leuca rushed forward to heal Othowin. Othowin cleaved into the great wolf just as a robed orc appeared from behind the rocks and, speaking in the accursed tongue, sent a chilling stream of necrotic energy through Mara, who stiffened as life drained from her.
A lightning bolt struck the wolf, who howled in pain at Belindial’s spell. Starling then blinded the wolf with a burst of glittering dust.
The orcs pressed in on Mara and Starling, whose duplicate illusions had all been spent. They each received several grievous wounds, but gave as good as they got.
Othowin impaled the wolf with his Bastard sword and was rewarded by the sight of the large animal toppling over into a convulsing pile.
Romen sent a magic missile at the robed orc, and in return felt the chilling, necrotic ranged touch of the Shaman drink of his life energy.
Belindial once more called down lightning, this time upon the orc shaman. Leuca did his best to heal the melee combatants without getting bludgeoned in the process.
The party was looking pretty bad. Many of the melee combatants had sustained serious damage, and Roman had been weakened by the dark arts of the orc shaman. However, the white wolf had been slain, and only a few orc berserkers and one sentry remained to defend the shaman. Within several rounds these were defeated and the party managed to catch and bind the orc Shaman, much to the relief of all.
After the successful defeat of the Orc Mage and his marauders, the party beheaded the dead, gagged and bound the Orc Mage and tended to their own wounds. Night had fallen and the winds grew chill, though at least the rain clouds had passed for the time being. After a brief and not altogether satisfying meal of cold, damp rations, Othowin said that it is time to return to Hidroth Lea. His booming voice was once more filled with cheer—the evening’s exploits seemed to have revived his spirit. Minutes later the horses were prepped and the newly acquired items securely packed—the Orc Mage himself was stowed in the Bag of Holding.
In their pursuit of the Orc marauders, the party had ventured a good distance from the King’s Highway, and was still some ten miles south of Hidroth Lea. Yet their return journey was blissfully uneventful. To pass the time, Starling sung several ballads recounting tales of the coastal wars between Dwinovar, Taladun and Escalatharn. One ballad told of the valor of Captain Iberon in the battle of Ithinerad, a battle in which Othowin apparently took part.
The horses made good time and within a couple of hours the party reached the outskirts of the city. Before the gates of the city sprawled row upon row of tents and pavilions hastily thrown together by merchants traveling to Hidroth Lea for the morrow’s contest. An open air market had been set up right along the King’s Highway and crowds mulled about it in the late hours of the night. The smells of roasting meats and sweet and spicy custards filled the air, and the songs of a traveling orchestra could be heard even above the din of the crowd. With some difficulty, Othowin maneuvered the party through the wall of people crowding the road into the city. Fortunately, the city gate, which was usually shut for the night after sundown, has remained open in order to allow traffic into and out of the city. However, there were nearly four times as many guards stationed at the gate than was typical. After talking with the guards, Othowin discovered that Captain Teradith was still within Hidroth Keep, overseeing the watch of the Palace. Hence, the party made for the center of the city, a rather slow process given that Market Street was bustling with even more activity than the market outside the walls of the city.
After fighting their way through a sea of grasping venders attempting to hock their wares, the party eventually reached the gates of Hidroth Keep. There they were greeted by Teradith, who ushered them into the Barracks. Teradith looked relieved to see the party. Apparently two of the patrols the Captain had sent to guard the outskirts of the city were attacked by Orcs and sustained heavy casualties before driving away the creatures. It would seem that there was another band of Orcs roaming the Downs which Teradith’s scouts had failed to discover. When the party did not return by sundown Teradith feared the worse. Orend and his company had, however, made it back to Hidroth Lea safe, and moreover had rid the Downs of at least one band of marauding Orcs. They had left a message for Othowin with Teradith. Orend and company had gone to the Downlander to celebrate their recent victories, and would await Othowin’s return there.
Upon receiving the news that the other members of his band were safe, Othowin released a breath which he didn’t know he was holding. He then began to laugh and ushered Starling and Mara to gather the bags from their saddles. Thereupon a bunch of Orc heads (and one Winter Wolf head) were heaped upon the ground in q pile, and a glittering shower of precious metals and gems poured forth from another bag to form the second pile. Finally the Bag of Holding was Opened and a squirming, cursing Orc Mage was dumped unceremoniously upon the floor.
“Well done Othowin, Romen and company,” said the Captain, beaming, “I shall interrogate this foul creature to learn what I may of the Orc marauders. For the capture of this valuable prize—and the destruction of his band, each of you shall receive 100 pieces of gold, and 200 pieces of silver.”
With that Teradith counted out to each member of the party the promised reward. “As for the treasure that you confiscated from the Orcs,” continued the Captain, “I have with me a list of reported goods stolen in the past week. Any items found therein will of course be returned to the rightful owner, yet you are at liberty to keep all items not listed.”
“There remains one final matter to be discussed,” said Teradith, “that of your involvement in the morrows contest. By first light of the morning I must know two things from each of you. First I must know which of you will be competing in the events of the contest. Second, I must know how you wish to be addressed at the contest to the people of Hidroth Lea, and to foreign dignitaries. Think on these matters, and return to me in the morning with your answers.” With that Teradith bid the party a good night, and returned to his duties.
Othowin and the rest of the party departed and made their way back to Market Street to stable their horses at The Mount’s Inn. From there they existed south gate and met up with Orend and his company in the Downlander to celebrate.