GM Jeff amerigoV
On the road again, Kaval nudged Thane back from the edge of the trail. They’d left Rashid and Kmon back at Ashton since this was just going to be a minor patrol. Kaval breathed the air in deeply and smiled. It felt right to be in the saddle and he patted Thane’s neck.
They were following one of the many small trails that led away from Ashton into the sparsely populated Wild Lands. It didn’t take long on horseback to leave the tilled fields of the village and the sporadic traffic of the road behind them.
“Watch yourselves,” he cautioned to Mandikar, Lou, and Hargen. “We’re close to Ursula’s territory.”
Mandikar turned to him with a questioning look.
“An old bear the woodsmen were telling me about. Very nasty. She’s killed a few people over the last ten years.”
Not long after, Kaval pulled Thane to a halt as Mandikar held up a fist. The elf was acting as point and he’d obviously seen something strange. Mandikar was looking down on the trail near to his horse.
Lou moved her horse up to Mandikar and he points to the ground. “Blood. Goblin blood,” he said quietly. Lou looked and saw the blood leading into the bushes beside the trail. Some investigation soon unveiled a body… a goblin warrior mauled by a large animal.
Hargen uses his healing skills to see if the goblin is alive. It isn’t. He rolls a 2. “Eh… goblins are always dead.” (blushing)
“Here’s your Ursula,” said Hargen with a frown. “There’s more blood… it goes this way.”
The Rangers mounted up again and moved off the trail. The blood was fairly clear to follow although at one point only Hargen’s pet, Chaser, was able to keep to the trail from the smell.
The blood led them to a meadow whose north end had a sharp rise in the land, a good thirty feet of ridge. Halfway up the side of the ridge was a cave opening. The waist-high grasses covered the approaches to the cave and the cave itself looked reachable by scrambling up a slope of dirt and rock.
“Movement in the cave,” said Lou, peering through the sunlight to pick out details. The Rangers secured their horses loosely back in the woods and then moved quietly up one side of the meadow, crouching in the grasses. They set up positions and strung their bows. Lou got her knife ready and crept up the rocky slope toward the cave mouth, using a willow tree as cover.
“Curses!” she yelped as she jumped back, narrowly avoiding being caught in a simple trap. A willow branch whipped upward with an empty noose. Unfortunately, it also had a cowbell tied to it and that bell was now ringing out across the meadow.
More Cowbell! G-$ quickly pulls up Don’t Fear the Reaper on his computer, earning a benny.
INSIDE THE CAVE…
The bell was heard ringing out in the meadow.
“Heh! We got us some sneaky thieves out there, Grundy,” muttered a twisted goblin.
Out of the deep shadows, a huge boulder moved, revealing itself to actually be a large ogre.
“Grundy will haf a new pet! I will pet him and pat him, I will feed him and burp him… after I thonk him!”
IN THE MEADOW…
Lou collected herself and was going to turn and retreat when she saw the ogre emerge from the cave. It had a rock the size of a Widow Ellen’s prize pumpkin and it hurled it at her with ease. Lou dropped to the ground, feeling the heavy stone passing within inches of her head. Leaping back to her feet, she ran back toward her comrades.
Without word, Kaval, Hargen, and Mandikar loose arrows toward the ogre, each of them clattering against the side of the cave or the ogre’s armor. “Wish Rashid was here,” growled Kaval.
Lou kept scrambling but nearly fell as a second, smaller rock hummed through the air and struck her solidly in the back.
Since the Rangers had only a little concealment from the grasses and a long way to run back to the treeline, Kaval dropped his bow. “We must close and do battle!”
Mandikar joined Kaval in running up the slope, running, then crouching to avoid the arrows of two orcs who had joined the ogre or the rocks. Mandikar ducked a rock but was then hit solidly with the crudely fletched orc arrow. They pressed on until the reached the cave mouth. Kaval let loose with his sword, felling one of the orc archers before the creature could drop its bow and draw it’s own weapon to parry.
Lou shook off the effects of almost getting snared and getting hit by the rock. She ran up the hill to join the fight.
The ogre took offense at Kaval, grabbing a nearby tree trunk and whipping it over its head to smash him. Kaval dodged to the side and took the opening to gut the second archer. With Lou and Mandikar’s help, Kaval dropped the ogre with a chop to the head.
After a few moments of quiet, Kaval moved to make sure the ogre was dead. A goblin warrior hiding in the shadows leapt out with a knife, slicing into Kaval’s armor but missing his skin. Kaval grabbed the goblin’s arm to hold him and swung the butt of his sword down hard on the creature’s head, killing it.
Searching the cave, they found a dying orc (mauled by Ursula) and a scheming goblin with an attitude. Hargen tried to heal the orc but failed. Kaval, seeing someone at their mercy and in need, asked Mandikar to give the orc one of Kmon’s nasty healing brews. The brew did it’s work although the orc developed dreadlocks and a goblinish green color to his skin.
Dragging the other out of the cave, Kaval failed miserably at trying to intimidate the goblin into talking.
“Ooo, is that your angry face? I’m sooooo scared!
Only Lou’s persuasion with the orc made any headway, after the goblin was taken from the cave. The orc had been cowed by the goblin with threats that “He’ll find out!”. The story came out.
An orc shaman named Zorkar was making a bid for power. He had assembled a raiding gather of goblins, orcs, and some ogres in attempt to impress those more powerful than himself. His charisma was notable, but he needed battle victories to earn the trust of more tribes and truly assemble a horde. If he did so, he’d lay a swath of destruction across the peaceful villages dotting the more dangerous Wild Lands.
In three days time, Zorkar’s gather (a hundred strong) would descend on Ashton from the north to claim his first victory.
The Rangers wasted little time tying up the goblin and orc and hauling them back to Ashton.
They met quickly with Sir Maurice and laid out the threat.
“Ah, battle is it?” replied Sir Maurice with a grim face that had a tinge of joy in it. “Battle is a friend of my, youngsters. Ah yes, I could tell you tales of the Razor Ridge or the Siege of Montecerno…”
“We don’t have much time,” interrupted Kaval. “Will you help us prepare to defend the town?”
“Yes, yes, of course. Duty calls and Sir Maurice Maxfield is always the first to respond. This town has embraced me as their natural leader and it falls to me to save them.”
The three days passed quickly. Sir Maurice knew what he was doing, directing a wooden barricades to be constructed and ditches to be dug to slow and hamper the advance of the enemy. They didn’t have time or manpower to create or defend a perimeter around the whole village. Kaval couldn’t help but think back to Gryphon with people living so close together to be inside the ancient walls.
There was argument about where the fortifications would be constructed. Sir Maurice was pained to think of his beautiful new home being left to the ravages of the mini-horde and Lou had to talk to him quietly to convince him to make the sacrifice to save the most homes of the town. The Ranger Lodge was pointedly left outside the barrier as well.
Kmon enjoyed himself laying traps in the fields on the most likely path of approach.
Rashid was sent as scout and he found the orc war gather to the north. He was able to report back regularly. One day from the attack, the rest of the Rangers joined him and executed a harrying raid against the orcs, sending arrows into their midst and riding by for glancing attacks before riding away to safety. They repeated this two times before retreating to the town and its finished barricade.
Night fell on the first day of Red Wolf and the townsfolk were nervous. Torches were lit along the barricade and people watched the houses and buildings left outside the barrier. As the 13th hour approached and the moon began to emerge from the clouds, they heard the raiders approaching.
When asked later, most survivors felt like that first battle was just a blur. There were fires laid to some houses outside the barrier and shifting shadows of orcs, goblins, and ogres. The Ashton farmers and woodsmen gripped their weapons, finely crafted or makeshift. The weaker villagers stood back with water to put out fires on the barricades.
The Rangers stood tall on the front lines. Along with Sir Maurice, they encouraged the villagers by word and by their willingness to be in the forefront of the battle. That first night, Hargen excelled, slaying seven of the attackers and driving back a thrust toward the tavern side of the barricade. Lou also enhanced her legend with daring, acrobatic attacks outside the barricade. Kaval and Mandikar held their lines and kept spirits up.
Still, all was close to being lost. The villagers were not used to such savagery. Before dawn, some of the orcs pushed through and grabbed ten townsfolk, hauling them off screaming into the night. It almost broke morale for the town. Even Sir Maurice seemed shaken, but at the last minute, he pulled everyone together. They had their barricade and it had kept the horde out of the town. They had the Rangers on their side. What he didn’t need to mention was that they had no other option but fight. There was no longer any chance to flee and surrender… well, the meaning of surrender was clear to everyone now.
After dawn, the orc shaman could be seen on top of Sir Maurice’s fine house, calling out to Ceynara, the Demon Queen for her pleasure at the carnage they would wreak. Orc arrows kept flying into the fortified section, sometimes in ones or twos, sometimes in large flurries.
As night approached, everyone knew the horde would attack again. Their drums beat louder and the war chants pierced the sky. The villagers of Ashton looked exhausted.
Hargen strode out of the tavern where Sir Maurice was holding court. He bore the gnarled Staff of the Woodlands. This got the attention of the defenders. Without any great speech, he planted the staff into the ground and held it as he stared toward the dark Ash Woods. As the light of day was failing, it was clear that the trees were moving.
“They’re coming closer!” gasped one of the farmers, grasping her bloodied pitchfork over her head. The land between Ashton and the wood was become a thicket of gnarled vines and thorny bushes. The nearest trees had moved toward the town. This unnerved the orcs and they shied away from trying to attack from that direction.
Hours passed as the horde again waited for the magic 25th hour before attacking. Their assault was heralded by a pair of ogres who strode out on the field outside the barricade and hurled a huge leather ball over the barricade. The ball was a crude bag that burst open, sending the heads of the abducted villagers rolling out in a pool of gore and blood. At the same moment, the horde attacked.
The defenders were shocked and horrified by this, but soon the heat of battle gave them no time to think of it. Mandikar drew the most attention, engaging a huge ogre in battle to keep it from tearing a breach in the barricade. He drove it off before retreating himself back inside. Lou took an arrow in her leg during her fight, falling back and getting quick attention from Bob the Healer.
The tide seemed to turn as dawn approached. The horde seemed to slow, to lose its ferocious momentum. In some parts of town they were drive away from the houses even outside the barricade though twice this was a ruse and several townsfolk were abducted by hiding goblins. The horde withdrew fully by dawn, leaving the exhausted defenders and a town with several smouldering ruins of buildings.
Defenders got fitful sleep that day while many repaired or expanded the fortifications to bring more houses into protection. Bob the Healer hadn’t slept in two days, but he kept working with his bandages, salves, and stern instructions to the wounded.
“This will be the last night of the battle,” said Sir Maurice firmly to the people gathered in the Fat Boar Tavern. “I’ve seen their kind before. We haven’t broken but neither have they. That shaman is getting desperate. His kind can’t handle a long siege. If he doesn’t win this night, his allies will desert him.”
For a third night, the town prepared for the assault. As the sun began to touch the horizon, they heard screams and pleas for help. The horde was brutalizing, torturing and killing their captives. It was heart-wrenching. Helga the beet grower had to listen to her eldest son dying in the night, one of many such atrocities.
The battle joined early, no longer content to wait for the 25th hour of the day. Orcs flung goblins against the barricades to give themselves a shield as they made their assault. Again, Hargen was a hero of the night, single-handedly holding back a breach until the other Rangers came to help him.
But as midnight approached, one section of the barricade gave way and the horde flooded into the town. The Rangers fought a running battle, seeking out the shaman and trying to end the battle. They found him in the center of town with an ogre and orc as defenders.
Kaval rushed down the street, drawing the attention of the shaman’s warriors. The shaman cast a spell, washing black energy over his minions. The ogre ran to meet Kaval yelling “Gronkar Smash!” but luckily his club only glanced off Kaval’s buckler. The orc ran up as well, missing with his sword. Hargen and Lou had not been seen yet and they ran hard down side streets to get flanking attacks and reach the shaman. Mandikar ran up to stand side-by-side with Kaval, striking the ogre, leaving the huge creature shaken.
Hargen emerged from the shadows behind the ogre, but his sword blow is absorbed by the shaman’s dark magic. Mandikar drew blood from the ogre, enraging it. Lou snuck up on the shaman and stabbed him, but her sword found mostly robe and not flesh beneath. Kaval and the ogre exchanged blows while the orc swings wildly with his sword.
The shaman turned to Lou with a wicked grin of rotting teeth. “Ceynara will have your soul!” he hissed, casting a spell. Lou felt a wave of the feeling of doom wash over her but it went away.
The ogre slams Mandikar, leaving him dazed. Hargen takes advantage of the distraction and sinks his sword through the back of the ogre, slaying him. Yanking the sword out, he ran across the street to the shaman, dealing a heavy blow to the cowardly orc. Chaser, Hargen’s wolf, joins the fray, snapping at the orc from behind. Kaval chops the orc down.
Finally, the orc shaman had fear in his eyes and he tried to flee, but Hargen’s sword cut him down.
Their leader slain, the orcs, goblins, and ogres quickly fractured and ran, melting away into the Wild Lands from whence they came. Ashton was saved, though at great cost. In the end, twenty-three people of the town and nine people from the nearby farmsteads had been killed. Two had been abducted by the fleeing horde. Five homes were burnt to the ground and several fields were fouled by blood, piss, and shit from the horde.
The 3rd of Red Wolf would be a day long remembered.