Session One Hundred Forty-Four - February 3, 2018

Wherein the ongoing story of the FtF campaign may be found ...

Session One Hundred Forty-Four - February 3, 2018

Postby Matt » Tue Jun 05, 2018 4:09 pm

Peonu 16, 733

“The water is running quite swiftly, my lord,” Jorlak said. “It is definitely too swift for a caravan. Depending on its depth at the ford, it might be possible for our small party to cross, but I won’t know until I see it. If it’s more than five feet, we won’t be able to cross.”

The party stood before the Guthe River. It was about seventy feet across, and here and there whitewater appeared. The chill wind crept underneath Ewen’s cloak, the frozen ground cracked under his boots. Earlier in the day the Baron had made the decision to scout out the ford. If they could not cross they could always return to the lodge. Baris especially had been getting restless, and the men needed to work off some energy before spats came to blows. And so after hiking down several switchbacks, the Baron and his retinue found themselves level with the river.

Lord Ewen nodded. “Let us head to the ford, then.”

The party began trudging through the snow up the river. Leading the train were Ewen and his squire Goreg, followed by Jorlak and Hogan, themselves followed by Arva, Cekiya, and Mellori, followed by four Thardan men-at-arms guarding the packhorse, behind which were Denyl and Baris. Guarding the rear were Ritzar and Reklan.

The sun was almost directly overhead when the party arrived at the ford. “The water is just under five feet deep; we can cross,” Jorlak said after inspecting the river, “but rocks could be hidden under the rapids.”

Lord Ewen turned to his most trusted vassal. “Sir Baris, am I correct that followers of Sarajin do not mind the cold?” At Baris’s nod he said, “We need a stout fellow to reconnoiter the way across. Why don’t you get a rope find a safe path through the water.”

Baris leaped off his horse and stood at attention. “Yes, my lord.”

While Baris went about preparing to cross the river, Ewen mused to himself, “If only I knew an Odivshe who had mastered the elements.”

A rope acquired, Baris climbed out of his armor, which he had donned that morning on the chance that the party might encounter more orcs. “I wouldn’t want to get it rusty,” he said with a wry grin.

“You don’t need the rest of your clothing, Baris, it will only slow you down!” Ewen yelled.

Baris laughed. “Well, they do call me the naked knight!” A few moments later, hands on his hips, Baris stood on the river shore, naked as the day he was born. The wind was chill, but he suppressed a shiver. Cekiya tied a rope around the hips of the sky-clad knight; a lasso and not the noose she had initially tied out of habit.

“Perhaps we should make a fire for when Baris returns, he is like to be cold,” Goreg said, and with Ritzar and Reklan set about gathering wood.

The rest of the group kept watch for orcs. Sergeant Denyl strung his bow.

Baris stood by the the water, the chill wind harsh against his bare skin. He took a deep breath to steel himself.

“Best to just jump in all at once!” Ritzar shouted helpfully.

Goreg, a handful of twigs in hand, appeared beside Baris. “Shuffle your feet about for rocks and such to make a safe path for the horses.”

The knight nodded, and with no further hesitation jumped into the water with a splash. “Up Sir Baris!” he yelped, his voice perhaps a slightly higher pitch than usual, the water having had a shriveling effect upon some important parts.

Denyl, standing next to Ewen, nocked an arrow but did not draw it back. “Shall I wait until he’s halfway across, my lord?” The Baron chuckled and shook his head.

Sir Baris steadfastly put one foot in front of the other, doing his best to ignore the cold. The current was strong but manageable. This wasn’t so bad, he thought, and then his foot struck a rock. He thought it should probably sting, but his feet were numbing up. The knight kicked the rock aside and trudged on.

Back on the shore Arva said, “Goreg, perhaps you should prepare some hot rations for Baris.”

The knight pushed ahead and was now about ten feet across,but was moving slower now as the current was picking up. The knight grunted, grit his teeth, and pushed harder.

About fifteen feet in the current began to batter the knight, and he was slowed almost to a halt. Pulling at the water with his arms and straining his legs, he pushed through and made it to about twenty feet. His right struck a rock and the knight slipped for a moment but caught his footing and kicked the rock to the side, earning only a swallow of ice-water for his troubles.

The knight trudged on and was now halfway across. The river fought him, the current pushed against the knight and held him in place as he caught his breath. Baris took a couple lunging steps, grunting and straining against the current, plunging almost headlong into the water. He kicked a rock and almost went under, but pushed himself up with his mighty thews. His legs pumping, he plowed through the deeper water, his beard leading the way. He slipped on a rock, and a wave crashed into his face. Sputtering, the knight came back up and plunged forward.

Baris was now thirty five feet across. He kicked some more stones aside. His teeth began to chatter. His limbs were leaden. He wasn’t sure which way he was going. He could hear some shouting behind him, and his sluggish brain reasoned he should go the other way. The current was strong, and he could barely move. “Sarajin, give me strength!” he muttered and pumped his legs.

The knight was now forty feet out. He could see the other side, and plunged forward excitedly. The ground dipped and a whitecap struck him in the back of the head. The knight swayed. His vision was cloudy. He shook his head, trying to shake it off, but the icy waters were clawing for his soul. He began to slip under the water.

Back on shore Ewen saw Baris falter and tried to push him forward with Deryni powers, but could not calm his mind and could only watch helplessly.

His fists hit the bottom of the water and with a heave Baris pushed himself up. The knight punched himself with a numb fist. The pain gave him focus and he stood up straight. He yelled something unintelligible and pushed on.

Baris was only five feet away from the edge. The cold was deep in his bones; his limbs did not want to move. “Sarajin!” His head felt full of treacle.

For long moments, perhaps a minute or two, the knight stood perfectly still, not moving forward or back. Those waiting on the other side began to worry. “Do it for Meleine,” Cekiya yelled.

Somewhere in his brain, Baris thought of the warmth of a fire, ale and women, fire, a soft bed. A vision of Meleine flashed in his mind and he stumbled forward the last five feet to collapse on the snowy shore.

All Ewen and company saw was a knightly ass pointed at the sky, the rope tied to him snaking across the whitewater.

“Is he dead?” Goreg whispered.

After a long five minutes, during which time Goreg anxiously began preparing to cross, Baris stirred.

“Stand up, Baris!” Ewen yelled.

“I thought it was ‘Up Sir Baris?’” Ritzar laughed.

Water coming down his face and beard, his mighty thews straining, the knight pushed himself to his feet. He took a step back to the water, and shook his head to clear it. He walked over to the tree and tied a crude knot into the rope.

By this time Goreg was prepared to cross. The plan had originally been for Baris to bring a second rope back across, but it was clear the knight was not making a second trip at the moment. The squire stripped down and put his and Baris’s clothes in a pack.

Goreg plunged into the water. The cold was quite a shock. Pulling himself along with the rope, he made good progress. Before long he was thirty feet out. He stumbled but held his head above water. Unfortunately, the bag of clothes was dunked. Goreg pulled himself forward and lurched out of the water.

Goreg found a nearly blue Baris sitting next to the tree the rope was tied around, shivering uncontrollably and muttering to himself something about a backflip. Odd that the knight should think of acrobatics at that moment, the squire thought, but the man was clearly not in his right mind.

Goreg pulled Baris’s clothes out of the now sodden pack and twisted them to wring the water out of them as best he could. Then the squire dressed the knight, which was quite difficult considering his whose frozen limbs and delirious state of mind.

The squire grabbed some sticks and some flint he had packed and tried to spark a small fire, but had little luck as the sticks were damp and his tinder was quite soaked.

With a shrug, Goreg grabbed the rope he had brought across, wrapped it around the tree, and began pulling himself back to the far shore. Before long he stumbled ashore, handed the rope to Sir Ritzar, and collapsed next to the fire.

“Couldn’t we send a flaming arrow across to Baris?” Cekiya asked.

“Sounds good to me!” Sergeant Denyl exclaimed, holding an arrow aloft and taking a step toward the fire.

Ewen smiled ruefully and shook his head. “Mellori, I will lead you across so you can treat Sir Baris.” The Baron handed his weapons and armor to Goreg, and began stripping down. Mellori climbed onto her horse and Ewen took the reins. Ewen settled his mind and reached out to that of the beast to soothe it before they crossed the river.

One hand on the rope, one hand on the reins, Ewen plunged into the water. He widened his eyes at the chill but showed no other outward reaction. About ten feet from shore the horse would go no further. The Deryni sent soothing thoughts to the beast, and after a moment it continued onward. About halfway across the current quickened, and the knight and horse both struggled to push forward. Ewen moved forward a few feet, almost stumbling on a rock. He was almost to the other side and redoubled his efforts. A short time later he was on shore.

Mellori dismounted and touched Baris’s shoulder. She tried to rapport to see how the knight was doing, as he had been sitting out in the cold for twenty minutes. “His mind is a vast wasteland, empty ...”

“That’s normal!” Ewen said.

“Well, I’ll just see what I can do.” Mellori stood behind Baris, put her hands on his shoulders, and closed her eyes.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party was getting ready to cross.

“Come on, light my fire,” Ewen mumbled and waved his hand. The bundle of sticks and leaves Goreg had assembled lit up. “That ought to feel better!”

Meanwhile, Cekiya having eyed the rope stretched across the river, determined with her keen sense of balance that she did not need to risk getting wet. Climbing up onto the rope, she composed herself drawing two daggers and holding them straight out on either side of her for balance. She then, one foot in front of the other, crossed the river like a tightrope walker, never once wavering in her steady pace.

As Jorlak, Ritzar, and the Thardan lads watched agape, Goreg smiled and began packing more gear onto Cekiya’s horse.

“Wait, where did Cekiya go?” Denyl said, turning around, and then spying her on the other side, dry and grinning, shook his head in wonder.

A short time later the four Thardan lads crossed the river. Denyl led Arva across, the actress sitting atop her horse. After that, Sirs Reklan and Ritzar led their horses across. Ritzar shivered in the frigid water. It is possible his estimation of Sir Baris went up a bit.

Sir Hogan grabbed the rope in one hand the reins of his horse in the other, and stepped into the water. The horse took one step and balked, but with soothing words and a gentle tug of the reins Hogan urged the beast on. The horse whinnied and shivered, but the knight promised it extra food and a full brushing by the squire. Near the middle of the river the horse stumbled and crashed into the knight. Hogan went under, but fortunately still gripped the rope in his fist. He tried to pull himself up, but the struggling horse kicked him and he lost his grip. The current swiftly pulled both the knight and his screaming horse downriver. He struggled and thrashed, but it was for naught as he did not know how to swim. The last thing he heard before going under for the last time were the cries of his companions.

***

Baris’s eyes fluttered open. His eyes focused and he made out Goreg. The party was in a clearing, and a fire was roaring. The warmth on the knight’s face felt better than a lover’s kiss.

“How are you feeling?” the squire asked.

Baris grunted. “Cold, but I’ll manage.” He pushed himself to his feet and looked around for his sword belt. Finding it close by, no doubt left there by Goreg, he strapped it to his waist.

Goreg handed Baris a shield. “To replace the one you lost in the battle.”

The still slightly addled knight took the shield, then shook his head. “Wait, isn’t this Hogan’s?”

Goreg frowned and shook his head. “Hogan did not make it across the river.”

Baris pressed his lips together and shivered. That could easily have been him. He strapped the shield to his arm.

“We lost Hogan and his horse, and our prospects are now the worse,” Reklan said from across the fire.

‘We didn’t even have a hearse,’ the bard in Ewen mused, but the Baron did not say it aloud.

Peonu 17, 733

“Stop that, touching bad,” Cekiya told Ritzar.

The two were sitting by the fire, on watch together. The knight was about to say something when he heard a howling to the northeast. Cekiya took that opportunity to move away from him. It was not that she was afraid of the knight, but Lord Ewen might be angry if she caused him to lose two followers in as many days.

Later that evening Ewen and Denyl sat on the second watch, only the crackling fire breaking the silence.

Suddenly Denyl sat up straight. “Do you see something across the river?”

Ewen calmed his mind and drew upon his power to sharpen his vision and hearing, but could see nor hear anything untoward on the far bank. “What was it?” the baron whispered.

“I saw something. It was humanoid, taller than an orc. It came down to the river, looked across, and went back.”

“Keep a sharp eye out in that direction.”

Denyl nodded.

Fortunately, there were no more visitors and the remainder of the night passed uneventfully.

The sun peeked over the horizon and found clear skies for once. Baris awoke and shivered, his breath fogging in the morning chill. “Ale!” he called. “Bring me ale!”

As the party prepared to decamp, Ewen slipped next to Mellori. “Sir Baris needs frequent repair work; thank you for your assistance.” The woman smiled.

The Baron went to check on his brother knight. “Are you okay, Baris, do we need to make any changes to the marching order?”

Baris, touched by Ewen’s concern, blinked and shook his head. “No, I am hale. Thank you for asking, my lord.”

Shortly thereafter the party ventured forth. The Silver Way was mostly made of dirt, sometimes turned to stone before giving way back to dirt again.

An hour after decamping the party crossed a stream. Off to the right a spur of Mulejack Leap rose up. A short time later they could make out the tower at the very top of the mountain. By noon they were directly underneath the watch tower.

Looking up, Arva noticed the tufted ears and furry heads of a couple of Gargun peeking down from the bluff above, presumably a scouting party. She nonchalantly informed Ewen.

The Baron nodded his understanding and walked over to his own scout. “Paint me a picture, Jorlak,” Ewen said. “What does Bungalek look like, if the Gargun were to ambush us?”

“The ledge goes down into the gorge, and is quite wide,” the guide said. “No one will be sneaking up on you. The real problem is the drinking water; some people have gotten sick drinking out of the Bungal.”

Ewen pursed his lips. “Fouled by the Gargun upstream?”

Jorlak nodded. “That is the assumption.”

Ewen shrugged. “We will have to boil the water.”

***

With Arva’s warning, the party was extra alert for signs of Gargun. As they approached the Bungal river later that afternoon, Cekiya spied some figures in the tree line attempting to hide and surprise the party. She informed her lord, and the Baron gave orders to prepare for battle.

“Mellori, Arva, Jorlak, hold the horses!” Ewen ordered. “Chevron formation, men!” The Baron gestured to spots on either side of the group. “Baris, Goreg, you hold the flanks!”

The screams and chitters of Gargun emanated from the forest, quickly followed by the beasts themselves. They thundered out of the trees, screaming and grunting, waving axes and mankars in the air. Remembering the earlier battle, Ewen gazed about for an orc that looked to be a leader, but he could not identify any particular creature in charge; none were larger than the others or had any particularly fine armor.

The Baron took a breath to prepare his mind for a magical blast, but the orcs were coming too quickly and he could not calm his mind in time. He drew his sword, planted his feet and took up hanging guard stance, hilt above his head, blade pointed down and forward.

Baris was on the flank, his shield angled to protect his compatriots, his blade in a middle guard, point resting along the left edge of the shield, his arm coiled and ready to strike. “Here they come!”

Suddenly the Gargun were upon them. Ewen lunged forward and struck at an orc with a downward chop, but the orc leapt aside and charged in at the knight. Ewen interposed his shield, and the axe struck the wood with a clang. The beast chittered up at the Baron; fortunately his shield blocked the spittle, as well.

The Baron darted left to take advantage of an opening and he swung at the beast; his blade cut a hastily raised axe shaft in two. The creature screamed and gnashed its teeth and leapt toward Ewen, claws slashing, mouth open wide to reveal its wicked fangs. The Baron’s quick attempt to counterstrike put him off balance and he stumbled. Fortunately the stumble put Ewen’s armored shoulder in the path of the beast’s flight, and it bounced off and began crawling away.

Meanwhile, an orc charged recklessly straight towards Cekiya, no doubt hoping the woman would be easy prey. Its axe struck the leathers on her hip but did not penetrate. Cekiya stabbed at the creature, but it dodged back so quickly her attack could not penetrate its armored chest. The beast chittered at her in its own foul language, no doubt something lewd given the way it licked its lips. She stabbed at the beast again, but it ducked under her blade. Laughing it moved in underneath her guard, but Cekiya’s pommel pommel found its skull and it collapsed like a puppet with its strings cut.

Sir Baris bashed Sir Hogan’s shield into an orc that came up close, and a quick chop took its arm. The creature reared up to strike the knight, but realized it was swinging a stump; its axe was flying through the air, its fist clenched in a death-grip.

Ritzar and Reklan met the orc charge shoulder to shoulder. Ritzar lunged forward but his foe danced aside. As the knight recovered from his attack the creature bounded in under his blade. Fortunately for the knight his hasty parry shattered the mankar. He found his footing and his backstroke took the orc’s head clean off. Reklan’s slash was blocked by an axe hilt, but his blade chopped the head off the weapon. The weaponless orc skittered off, and a mankar wielding orc lunged in, chopping at Reklan’s hip in a sideways arc. The knight parried, and the force of his blow snapped the orc’s sword in twain; their weapons were not of high quality, the say the least.

Beside Ritzar and Reklan, Denyl faced a charging orc. He dodged right and his blade darted out. A gash appeared on the orc’s chest, but it did not fall. Denyl parried its axe, and the head of the weapon smashed into a thousand pieces. He slashed at the beast, but it leapt aside.

Young squire Goreg steeled himself against the oncoming hoard. He took heart that his comrades were beside him. The Gargun charged, and the squire stepped forward to meet them. The orc in front of him reared back and prepared to swing its mankar in a mighty blow. He took advantage of the opening in the beast’s guard, and an orc head flew across the battlefield.

The fighting in the center of the formation was fierce, but the Thardan lads put up a good fight. One traded blows with an orc, each parrying the other’s attack until the mankar snapped. The lad stabbed at his foe and a hole appeared in the orc’s face. It yelped and a tongue peeked out of the hole to lick at the blood. Another lad slashed an orc in the forehead. The beast yelped and ducked into the man’s guard to strike him in the chest, but his armor absorbed the blow. Another lad traded blows with an orc until its weapon broke. The orc tried to bite his ankles, but the man-at-arms kicked the creature aside. The last lad rained blow upon blow on the beast in front of him. His last strike broke the creature’s guard, clawing into flesh; the creature fell to the ground face first, a pool of blood forming underneath it.

Ewen’s previous foe was crawling away, but before the knight could dispatch it, another orc stepped on its body. From this heightened perch it tried to strike at Ewen, who himself tried to counterstrike. Unfortunately (or fortunately) for both, the orc on the ground had a few ideas of his own, and its squirming caused the orc’s swing to go wide, and Ewen’s own strike to miss its mark. The orc stepped off its friend, and Ewen took the opportunity to strike, but an axe haft stopped the blow, cracking. The orc tossed its weapon aside and leapt at the Baron, fangs out. It impaled itself on Ewen’s blade.

The noble Deryni gestured at one of the orcs in the rear ranks and its head exploded like a rotten tomato. The beasts in the second line, who Ewen noted had sturdier looking weapons, began to chitter in fear and surprise. Ewen pointed his blade and another of the rear orcs flew backwards, its charred intestines spraying in all directions.

While Ewen laid waste to the orcs with magic, Cekiya guarded his flank. One blow sent an orc to the ground clutching a shattered elbow. Another orc clambered over its writhing body but only met Cekiya’s blade. It jumped back, looking in amazement at the blood spraying from its chest, but it did not fall.

On the right flank Baris faced two orcs; the left one wielded an axe, while the other swung a mankar. The knight sidestepped right and struck; the orc parried but his mankar was sliced in two. The orc on the left took the opportunity to attack the momentary opening in the knight’s guard, but Baris was too quick and the axe stuck in his shield. As it tried to retrieve its weapon, the knight took its hand at the wrist.

The orc on the right began to flee, as did most of its compatriots in the first line. Before they could get too far, the orcs in the second line literally pushed them back into the fight. The unfortunate who had started the rout found itself in front of Baris with no weapon. It started to raise its hands feebly, but Baris ignored it. His slash sent the top of its skull flying in one direction, brain matter in another.

Apparently more afraid of the second line than the foes in front of them, the orcs kept coming. Ritzar decapitated an orc with a quick slash, another dodged his backstroke. It lunged with its short blade, but met a pommel to the face and fell. Reklan slashed at the orc in front of him, but it jumped back. He stepped towards it but stumbled on the body of a fallen orc. His foe sprung onto his neck and brought the knight to the ground. The knight and orc rolled in the snow. A kick from Ritzar sent the beast flying.

In the confusion Goreg found himself slightly out of formation, and two orcs squared up against him. The beasts snickered and, showing their teeth, rushed at the squire. Where lesser men may have fled, Goreg was made of sterner stuff. He fought furiously, one blow smashing the ribcage of his foe to expose its beating heart, another opening up the other orc’s guts.

The Thardan lads gave no ground. The orc with a hole in its cheek was bashed in the head with a shield and stumbled back, but somehow kept its feet, and even managed to dodge another blow. Another lad traded blows with an orc until it’s guard wavered and it took a slash to the knee. It fell, blood streaming onto the snow. After dodging his blade, one orc leapt upon a lad’s shield and bit the wood. It bounded away before the lad could strike it. The last lad stepped forward, striking high and low, beheading one orc and “beheading” another.

“Enough of this!” Ewen shouted, and a visible bolt of power struck an orc in the second line in the throat.

As one, the remaining seven orcs in the second line rushed forward en masse, attacking their compatriots from the rear and slaying them. One held up its weapon. “You worthy! You pass! You pass!”

“I will pass!” Ewen proclaimed.

The orcs nodded. “We, go! We go!” the orcs said, slowly taking a few steps backward. As soon as they were out of sword-reach they turned and scampered into the woods.

***

“Why didn’t them orcs eat their dead?” one of the Thardan lads wondered.

The party was now some distance from the battlefield; considering all the dangerous and hungry creatures about, Jorlak thought it wise to put some distance between themselves and the pile of freshly slain orc bodies.

The scout, ever a font of wisdom regarding the habits of creatures in these parts, spoke up. “Those were Viasal Gargun. They believe that if you eat the valiant, you will gain their strength and courage. On the other hand, eating the weak and craven will, well, make you weak and craven.”

Peonu 18, 733

The dawn sun crept over the mountains, brightening gray clouds that almost seemed to glow, but no warmth reached the weary travelers. They had spent the night in Bungalek; like the other camps a simple clearing in the middle of the woods. Fortunately the night had been uneventful, the only sign of trouble the howling of wolves in the distance.

The party packed up camp, shouldered their packs, and trudged off into the snow. Jorlak said their destination was a camp called Longstair.

By ten o’clock the party had nearly made their way to the ruins of the Guthe Bridge, a crossing deliberately destroyed by the Dwarves centuries ago. Trees crept in on both sides of the path, which meandered down the hill towards the ruins on the right.

Suddenly the morning quiet was broken by the yelling and screaming of orc battle cries. “What the devil?” Denyl exclaimed, and immediately began to string his bow.

Baris looked down the hill toward the riverbank and saw dozens of orcs swarming out of the forest. They wore mismatched armor and most wielded wicked looking blades. Leading the charge was an enormous creature, naked as the day he was whelped, barreling towards the party, sword held high.

Sergeant Denyl barked a laugh. “So that’s what they mean, hung like an orc!”
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Matt
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