h1. 26th Thaumont – 3rd Flaurmont
With most of the party remnants reunited in the outer bailey of Castellan Keep the first order of business lay in finding the dwarves some new clothing and armaments. With Hans now the de facto custodian of the party treasury, any hopes the dwarves had of blowing the remaining party funds to equip them in a matter befitting that they were accustomed too were dashed. Leading the two half-naked (and deeply shamed) dwarves back through the tap room of the Orc’s Head past the leering mercenaries proved to be a humbling experience for the two proud warriors. All the more so when the inn-keeper, when begged for spare clothing, had to turn them away.
In the end, the dwarves were forced to accept charity from the Keep’s chaplain, who provided the pair with soiled rags left behind by fallen members of the castle garrison. It was in this bedraggled state that, after purchasing some leather armour, shields and a spear each from the party funds, that Hans once more led his two bedraggled companions back to the waiting Klara and Elra in their rooms at the Inn.
Counting out their remaining coins and calculating the inn fee’s for the week it would take Elra to recover (once again) from her near-mortal wounds, Hans frugally allowed the group a little stew and some small beer. This Klara took to Elra in her room. It was while the three male Shorn were sat in the taproom discussing the dire straits in which they found themselves that the gnome money-lender and a much younger, more attractive female gnome in good quality armour and priestly vestments entered the room. The gnomish pair made a beeline for the seated group of mercenaries, whereupon the money-lender began to negotiate a contract for the mercenary band to escort his daughter to her new diocese in Kelvin.
Ever the optimist and never one to miss an opportunity Boindil leapt to his feat, butting into the negotiations and offered the services of his group as a cheaper alternative – much to the ire of the mercenaries and money-lender and the contempt-ridden bemusement of the priestess. Looking the bedraggled, beggarly dwarf up and down she scathingly asked, “Why on earth should I lower myself to travel with the likes of you? I should rather have proper fighting men to escort me, should I not?”
With the humiliating laughter of the mercenaries in his ears, Boindil returned to his table and the flabbergasted, vaguely annoyed Hans. Hans wasted little time in expressing his annoyance that his companion had so quickly ruined any chance of travelling in the company of so experienced a group. Even more by the dwarf’s bumbling attempts to steal a contract from another group in their very presence. Especially in light of his presently somewhat pathetic appearance. Demoralised, hungry and in a foul mood, the three Shorn retired for the night.
They were awoken the next day by the blaring of horns. Rushing to garb themselves in case some threat approached the Keep, the four battle-worthy Shorn rushed outside. There the found the Keep in a commotion, but not the kind associated with panic or alarm, but rather celebration. They did not have long to wait before learning why. With the trump of marching feet echoing through the hills like the roar of a dragon, the three expeditionary companies of the Keep’s garrison marched homewards into the keep. As they drew in through the gates, the Shorn noticed that the vast majority of the soldiers bore wounds of some sort, though most were minor, and that the helms that had seemed so shiny at a distance were in fact battered and scored. The wagons in the rear carried not just plunder or trophies in the forms of giant heads, but also a large number of groaning wounded. (The party cleric missed a chance to ingratiate himself with the garrison here by offering his services, but such is life).
With the column formed into ranks along three sides of the courtyard, the Keep’s Guard Captain and the returning Castellan performed a brief handover ceremony. There-after the Keep’s woman folks broke from their places at the edge of the bailley to search franticaly amoung the returning men for their loved ones. Not a few wails and keening screams rent the crisp morning air. The Shorn were left with the faint impression that this was not as triumphant a return for the garrison as it might be.
Feeling strangely subdued, the Shorn returned to their rooms until shortly after mid-afternoon when a knock at their door led to a summons to speak before the Castellan in his war-room. Escorted by a pair of spear-men from the garrison, The Shorn entered the Inner Bailey of the Keep for the first time. There, they were left by their guards in the presence of the Castellan, a tall, worn-looking man whose fine clothing and armour still bore the stains of the road. After introducing himself as Captain Pytro Trannic, he insists that the party explain the strange goings-on over the last few weeks. The Castellan concedes that the Keep’s Chaplain had expressed some concerns over the strange behaviour of the false-priests residing at the castle and promises to hunt down the surviving brigands as soon as resources become available. Captain Trannic commiserates with the party over the loss, conceding that not everyone is cut out for a life of adventure and dropping hints that the Keep always has an opening for brave Karameikans who can handle a blade. The Shorn adeptly deflect the Captain away from this line of conversation and take their leave. Not before learning, however, that the Duke’s youngest son, Valen Karameikos, has gone missing from the Palace in Specularum. The Captain warns them to keep an eye out for the lad in their travels, and to report anything suspicious to the nearest garrison or noble of the realm.
Finally, later that night, with money and funds running low, The Shorn are perhaps forced to reconsider their options. Lamenting their decision to abandon their obligations to Caldwell, there is some talk of packing in the adventuring life altogether. Salvation comes in the form of their erstwhile travelling companion, Stefan. After knocking on their door he announces he has completed his business with the Castellan and will be travelling to Kelvin shortly. He offers to hire them on as an escort on the return journey (as he is now somewhat laden with gold and a fresh order of horses for the garrison). Afterwords, he adds, if the party has still not found a new avenue for adventure, he offers them a place as farm-hands at his family ranch in the Dymrak Forest. He allows that he will rest for a few days before leaving, giving Elra time to recover from her wounds.
Gratefully, somewhat cheered by the offer and the timely reminder that they have at least one friend in this world, the party accepts. They gather by the main-gate on the morning of the third, ready to resume the journey into adventure.
I made a particular (and cruel) effort to make the players (and characters) feel like miserable failures this session. I wanted to hammer home the loss of confidence and bravado that stems from such a humbling experience as seeing two companions fall and another two in need of ransom. Then, when I felt I couldn’t push them any more, I decided to give them a glimmer of hope by having Stefan turn up and offer them an opportunity to resume their adventuring careers at a time when it seemed they would have to pack the whole thing in altogether. All in all it worked well I think, and the session ended on a real note of optimism for the future – both for the players, and the campaign.