Elminster the Sage

The Company of the Silver Coin
Amber the Ranger
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Book 2
Chapter 6 - The Crimson Blade and Strange Dreams (1359DR, 5th-19th Eleasias)

Journey so far Expected Route to Nimpeth

The day was sunny with a light breeze coming from the north. The Undying Gaze headed east through the shallow waters off the coast of Cormyr. It was a clean and well managed vessel but had one major drawback, with a crew of forty the Undying Gaze was close to it's maximum capacity and space and privacy were hard to come by. Luckily we had Faergil's portable hole to deal with the space problem, a square of silk which when placed on the ground formed a pit. In it we stowed equipment that we would hopefully not need. Several sets of metal armour and our travelling packs mostly, though I also put in some of the larger of my prayer offerings. I also put in my staff, which I considered an impractical weapon for fighting on ship if and when the worst happened. Bazil simply placed all of his belongings into his Bag of Holding. The bag was spoils-of-war from our recent conflict with the Cult of the Dragon, while it seemed only to be a small sack; its interior dimensions were significantly larger. We soon found that one of the stores had been turned over for our sleeping area but I found it a little too confining for comfort and, while the weather held, decided that I would sleep up on deck. Amber came to a similar decision.

The first day of our voyage passed quickly, the wind and spray from the sea countering the growing heat. The crew, who were mostly human and uniformly male, worked well together. I occupied my time by watching the waters pass by, the stretch of waters we were cruising were in common use and we saw many types of ship that day including several of The King's massive ships of war "the Bluesails" which, oddly enough, had purples sails. I spoke with the crew when they weren't busy. From them, particularly one sailor called "Nome" I learnt a little of what life was like as a Freesail. Their mission seemed to be three-fold, at times of tension between Cormyr and other sea-nations the Freesails harassed that nations merchant ships, they also served as escorts for official vessels on long voyages and had a standing policy of engaging any pirates they encountered. I was surprised to learn that rather then attack ships at sea, as I had heard in tales, pirates were more likely to raid coastal communities. Justice on the high seas was of the roughest kind. If a pirate vessel was boarded and captured it and it's crew's life depended on how close they were to a port. If they were close enough anyone who surrendered was spared and the pirates and their ship was taken to land for a trail and to sell the ship. If the encounter occurred further out to sea then no prisoners would be taken and the enemy ship, once searched for booty, was sunk. It was clear from all the crew that I spoke to that they held Captain Tannor in the highest of regard and trusted him implicitly.

I met up with my companions at Middenfeast, a meal of fresh bread and stewed beans served by Cord, the ship's overweight and self-important cook. Faergil had been catching up on lost sleep; Primrose was suffering from seasickness, though Baldric had produced an old remedy of his for her. Baldric, for his part had been talking with the captain. He had noticed that many of the Undying Gaze's crew venerated Tymora (a wise choice for those in such a perilous occupation) and had arranged to hold regular services to The Lady. He also passed on the captain's invitation to dine with him that night. Bazil was chatting away merrily with the ship's chief lookout, a fourteen year old boy called "Nimth".

Colatto had quickly decided that he could not spend the voyage idle and spoke to Nathan about working as a member of the crew. Nathan, upon hearing that Colatto knew his knots, sent him to speak with the Boson "Devon". Devon was a blond man, though the sun had bleached most of the colour out of his hair as well as tanning his skin, with blue eyes and a facial scar. Unlike Tannor, whose scar gave him a roguish charm, this scar was just plain ugly. Devon wasn't overly happy with Colatto and it took the mage a couple of goes to prove he knew one end of a rope from another. Once he was convinced Devon finally accepted Colatto into his team of riggers. His new role meant that his precious cloak was getting in the way, Colatto was unwilling to stow it in the Portable Hole and asked if one of us could look after it, somehow it ended it with me.

Towards evening we reached our first port of call; Marsember. The city was a sprawling affair built on numerous small islands connected by bridges and surrounded by a foul smelling marsh. According to some of the crew it was used much by smugglers in Cormyr. Perhaps it was because of this that the Undying Gaze didn't put into port but instead Tannor sent over a rowing boat with the ship's quartermaster Zachary and a couple of crew men to see to a few things. Baldric was able to get a place on the boat when it headed out a second time so he could collect a few more preyer offerings. I had heard of a type of seaweed, Gylvir, which grew in these parts and had unusual properties if correctly prepared. Calling on the divine name of Silvanus I enlisted a small flock of seagulls to bring me samples.

By the time of the evening meal the Undying Gaze was on it's way again. The captain's cabin was small but we just about fitted in and Tannor was a gracious host in his own way. Colatto was sore all over but happy with his day's work. Over the meal we discussed the voyage. It would take as long as fifty days to reach our final destination; Nimpeth. We would stop twice more on the journey at Alaghôn and Hlondeth. Tannor used to stop in Starmantle Bay but since the Time of Troubles that had become a place of strange currents and winds and many unusual events. I asked the captain how close we would come to the Eyes of Silvanus; the islands that guarded the Vilhon Reach. Tannor replied that he would be taking the Undying Gaze between them, through the ten-mile stretch of water that separated them. He had heard of the Emerald Enclave and how vigorously they defended the isle of Ilighôn but agreed to take his vessel within a couple of miles of the coast. From his maps Tannor was able to tell me that the island was thirty miles across, which gave my nebulous plans to find the Emerald Enclave via the divine power of Silvanus a rather slim chance of success.

Tannor raised the question of what skills we could bring to bare if and when the ship saw action, Colatto and Faergil both had the power of The Art but Tannor warned them not to destroy any enemy vessels until they had been boarded and searched. Amber and Primrose offered their warriors' skills, Bazil his speed and agility and Baldric the divine power of Tymora and his own good right arm. When it came to my turn I informed the captain that the divine power of Silvanus was too destructive to be much use to him but I would see to the crew's injuries once the battle was done. In return for aiding his crew we would receive a five- percent share of whatever booty was to be had (fifty percent went to The King and the remaining forty-five to Tannor and his crew).

Over the next three days we travelled towards and through The Neck. We were never out of sight of land and looking across to shore I saw Hermit's Wood and large expanses of grasslands. Curious about one of our future ports of call, Alaghôn, I asked among the crew and learnt that it was a city of merchants with customs which would seem strange to a Cormite like myself. Other then that I busied myself working with the mosses and seaweed I had recently picked up, trying to bring out their hidden properties using the skills called by some "Herbal Magic". I also discovered that the crew were almost mortally afraid of the seas on which they travelled, most couldn't swim and many had charms and rituals for protection from the goddess Umberlee. Late on the afternoon of the forth day, as the Undying Gaze was being blown along by a strong northerly wind there was a cry of "ship ahoy" from the lookout. Moving to the front of the ship we saw not one but two vessels. One was a merchant vessel flying the flag of Cormyr and it was sinking before our eyes. The second was a caravel, like the Undying Gaze, and it had clearly been firing upon the merchant with a ballista.

Captain Tannor gave the order to give chase on the caravel, which was fleeing the scene of the attack, and his crew flew into action. The ship's speed increased, as more sail was unfurled. Cutlasses, scimitars and other weapons were brought out of storage. Using a spyglass Tannor identified the ship as "The Crimson Blade" belonging to a ruthless pirate Captain Davic out of Westgate. The stamina of Tannor's crew was impressive as the chase dragged on. Our vessel had closed a little but was still about four miles behind the Crimson Blade. Tannor asked if there was anything we could do. Between them Colatto and Faergil worked out a plan. Faergil cast a spell on Colatto temporarily giving him the power of flight while Colatto cast his Polymorphing spell on himself (Baldric also granted him The Lady's blessing too, for luck). Taking the form of a swift Colatto was able to close on and then overtake the pirate ship, on its main sail was the symbol of a vertical sword in blood red. Quickly he resumed his human form, staying aloft thanks to the power of Faergil's spell, and before he could be spotted unleashed a blast of arctic cold down on to the mainsail. The mast itself was thick enough to take the frost but the sail froze solid as did the rigging, which began to snap and fall away under it's own weight. This gave away Colatto's existence to the crew. One of them began to bark orders to the rest to get bows and try to move the ballista around to shot him. Colatto unleashed a volley of magical darts into the man followed by a magically created arrow made of acid, wounding him severely. A few arrows flew back at him but the only one that hit was turned aside by a potent spell of protection, the "Stoneskin", which Colatto had cast on himself before leaving Cormyr. As the Crimson Blade was not slowing as much as he had hoped after his initial attack he created a circle of flame around the remaining mast, instantly setting fire to the sail and all the rigging (which provoked an angry response from Tannor back on the Undying Gaze). A couple more arrows hit him but were likewise turned aside. Confident that the ship was slowing he flew out of arrow range and waited.

As Colatto went off on his mission of sabotage I had come to a decision. A battle was inevitable and, assuming we were the victors, Captain Davic and his crew were as good as dead so I concentrated on saving the lives of the Undying Gaze's crew by ending the fight as quickly as possible. To this end I began a long ritual of preyer. It took me ten minutes but when I was finished a swarm of biting, stinging insects were keeping pace with us. By this point we were some five hundred yards from the Crimson Blade, it was in a sorry state; one mast scorched black and the other gleaming with frost, its only sail frozen solid and cracked. However the pirates had managed to put the fire out. Tannor's crew was ready to board it. Ropes and grapples were ready to bring the two ships together. Boxes and planks had been moved up to ship's side so the sailors could step up and over the rail when the time came. By now Colatto had returned to report what he had seen and done, from his description Tannor recognised the man who had felt the sting of Colatto's magic as the Crimson Blade's first officer.

At about one hundred and fifty yards I sent forth my miniature army, covering the Crimson Blade from stem to stern. We could hear the anguished cries of the pirates, carried to us on the wind, and as the Undying Gaze closed the remaining distance twenty or so pirates (later we would discover that was close to half the crew) threw themselves over board to escape the pain. It also had the effect of preventing the pirates from firing their bows at us. When we were close enough to throw across the grappling irons I sent away the insects. As the Crimson Blade was grappled the pirates had enough time to let off one volley of arrows, I saw one come close to Primrose but she nimbly got out of the way. Colatto led the charge of the boarding party, the flying spell allowing him to make a spectacular "leap" from one vessel to another. A few moments latter the sailors of the Undying Gaze followed suite, their numbers bolstered by Amber, Bazil, Primrose and Baldric. It wasn't much of a fight, there was barely a dozen pirates left and they all had the ugly welts of repeated stings and bits by the swarm. Amber cut down one of the remaining pirates with ease. Bazil and Primrose brought down another between them, though he did get a parting hit on Primrose. Faergil stayed onboard the Undying Gaze and raked the pirates with wave after wave of magical darts. I already had enough blood on my hands for one day and felt no desire to join the slaughter, though I managed to find a club to defend the ship in the unlikely event that some of the pirates staged a counter offensive. It was Baldric and Colatto who performed the best in the battle. Baldric had employed one of the new miracles that Tymora had shown him, a potent blessing to aid in battle, and that combined with Twin-Death allowed him to take out three of the pirates in quick succession. Colatto had quickly found and finished off the first officer before locating Captain Davic himself. Davic had proved to be a skilled warrior but the Stoneskin had simply repelled all his attacks. Seeing that this had unnerved him Colatto had capitalised on the situation by boasting that he was invulnerable and calling on Davic to give up, which after some consideration, he did. Amber and Nathan arrived at the scene just as Davic threw down his sword, which Amber snatched up, and Nathan marched him back to see Captain Tannor. Davic knew that he could expect no mercy but asked for "a warriors' death". After a moments consideration Tannor refused and had the pirate thrown overboard. From the look on Amber and Faergil's faces at that point any romanticised views they had about life as a buccaneer were rudely ended.

Baldric, Zachary and myself saw to the injured sailors. There had only been one fatality on our side and six of the sailors, seven if you included Primrose, had received battle injuries.

Tannor wasted no time in sending over a search party to see what could be claimed from the Crimson Blade and Bazil joined them. A few injured pirates were found below decks but they were despatched without remorse. A number of coffers, a large chest and some twenty rolls of silk were recovered and brought to the Undying Gaze as were all the pirates weapons. Bazil also managed to find a map of the Sea of Fallen Stars in the captain's cabin.

Mr. Wayland, the ship's navigator, was given the task of assessing the haul. Again Bazil helped out. The chest contained 400 pieces of gold, the coffers held gems to the value of 2000 gold pieces and the silks were worth about 400.

Once the Crimson Blade was cleared of valuables a team was sent over to scupper it, they were left a rowing boat to get back as the Undying Gaze pulled back to a safe distance. It took the pirate ship nearly ten minutes to slowly sink below the waves.

By the fifth day of our voyage we were out into the Sea of Fallen Stars properly. I had tested my recent herbal brews but Herbal Magic is a very inexact science at best and they were useless to me. Colatto's exploits in the battle had made him a bit of a hero with the crew, particularly his team of riggers, and I believe Captain Tannor even asked him if he wanted to stay on as a member of his crew. Primrose was still suffering from seasickness, Faergil was a little concerned for her health but under Baldric's care she started to come around. Following the battle it had occurred to me that, as Baldric had access to miracles that no other Tymorian priest knew, he had the responsibility to record them incase something should happen to him. Baldric admitted that the same thing had occurred to him as well and he was planning to make some scrolls as soon as he could. Bazil had joined the lookout team and spent most of his time up in the crow's nest.

Early on the sixth day the Undying Gaze was joined by pods of dolphins who swan happily along on out bow wave. The sailors were overjoyed to see them, taking their appearance as a sign of good fortune. The playful antics of these sleek lords of the waters, as they darted back and forth in the water, brought a smile to my face. Invoking the power of Silvanus I called down to the dolphins if there was any dangers ahead we should know about. They replied that there were "fish-men" (Tannor later called them "Sea Devils") in the seas ahead, with large eyes and fins, who stole men from ships and took them to their lairs at the bottom of the sea.

Five days latter, on the eleventh day of our voyage, we drew into Starmantle Bay. Tannor warned us that, since the Gods' War, magic and miracles invoked in the area often went spectacularly out of control. It took another five days to pass through the bay and many strange events occurred during that time. The currents and winds seemed to be trying to draw us into land and Mr. Wayland was constantly calling for course corrections. At night mesmerising streaks of blue light criss-crossed the heavens and strange balls of light move beneath the waves with an unnervingly purposeful look about them.

More concerning were the dreams and events which began to occur to Colatto. Towards the end of our first night within the area of the bay Colatto awaked me. He looked pale and was sweating, and asked if he could have his cloak back. The weather had grown increasingly warmer over the course of our journey (in fact by day I want without shirt or shoes) and the only use I had found for the cloak was as a pillow. Taking it back the mage pulled it tight around him, like a child wrapping itself in it's most reassuring blanket, only to throw it off a few seconds latter when he realised that there were streaks of blood on the inside. After confirming that none of the blood was mine Colatto told me that he had, a few minutes before, awoken from a disturbing dream to find himself standing on the rail at the front of the ship staring out to sea. He went on to describe his dream; it began with the faint sound of a woman calling out to him for help. Then he had felt that his cloak was trying to smother him, as if it were some vicious, evil creature. Then the dream changed again and he had found himself in a long, narrow hallway. At his feet cowered a man in mage's robes with long black hair. The man had been beaten or flogged and was sobbing in pain and fear. About his own head and brow Colatto felt a crown of flame. As I listened to the tale a growing sense of dread came over me; I am a strong believer in the power of dreams (many of the most important event s of my life have been foretold in my dreams). I remembered that the Pixies of Cormanthor had seemed disturbed by the cloak and Colatto's description of the flame and the longhaired man provoked a vague recognition. Colatto wanted to keep the events a secret from the others and, though worried for my friend, I respected his wishes.

Later I discovered that the dreams did not end that night. On the second night Colatto's dreams were filled with the screams of a woman and the sight of pools of blood on a white marble floor. Awaking with a start he saw a cloaked figure standing beside him but an instant later the cloak, his cloak, fell empty to the floor. Over the next three days, till we passed out of the bay, the dreams continued. I kept a quiet watch on Colatto and began to notice that one of the sailors, a dark skinned man called Abar with faded spidery tattoos, was also keeping a close watch on him. At a moment I believed Abar to be elsewere I informed Colatto of this.

Ten days out from The Neck we passed the lighthouse and reef that marked the end of Starmantle Bay. From his lookout point Bazil was able to glimpse the Isle of Prespur where the Cormyrian navel shipyards were, though no one could give me a good reason why they were so far from Suzail.

That night, like all the others on our voyage, Amber and myself slept up on deck while our companions slept below. We were awoken with a start by the death scream of a man followed the unmistakable noise of someone being torn limb from limb and then more cries, this time confusion, anger and most of all fear, of the night crew. Leaping to our feet we looked down from our elevated position on the aft-deck to see three long, gangly figures, over seven feet tall with birds wings and vultureilike heads standing on the deck, two dead sailors at their feet.

After over two rides of searching the V'rock had found us again!

Chapter 7...

DM's Notes

I used the following references:
The Forgotten Realms Hardback: Map of Marsember - Just in case.
Volos Guide to Cormyr: Info on Marsember, again, just in case.
Pirates of the Fallen Stars: General information on ships, Useful glossary of maritime terms.
Sea of Fallen Stars: Information on Freesails, maritime customs.

First of all, let me say that I'm not that impressed with Saturdays game. There are a number of reasons, but basically it seems to go too slowly and had little in the way of atmosphere. Oh hum, we all have off days...
We started late and stopped for Ian and Nicks delicous Birthday celebrations (chinese! thanks guys!), and a rather unusual program on BBC2 that looked at the introduction of Fighting Fantasy books back in the eighties - it included some footage of roleplaying - scary stuff!!
Anyway, I tried to introduce as many of the crew as possible without overwhelming the players. I tried to use as many authentic maritime terms as possible to hopefully invoke a bit of atmosphere (The Pirates... book proved very useful).
As you may of noticed we generally roleplay every day of travel in our game and it never seems easy to move to 'fast time'. Theres always someone who wants to speak to someone or do something. But we got there by the end of the evening...
It was interesting to see how the PCs would their treasure-trove of gear, and, as always the portable err...filled in. We nearly had a nasty incident, but Edd was reminded just in time that he shouldn't put his Bag of Holding in aswell (damn, damn, damn! - nearly got 'em)
We use the optional Herbal Magic rules out of the Complete Druids Guide (aka AD&D Guide to agriculture...). Thorn was very unlucky with his three attempts. He had a 15 in 20 chance of success and I recall rolling two 18s and a 19.
The fight with the pirates was easy - perhaps too easy. Though Collato proved himself very well in the initial attack. Thorns Summon Swarm was also a show stopper, wiping out half the crew (an 'experienced' crew of low level fighters and rogues). After that it was just a cleaning up episode.
I was particulary impressed with Roy's "You can't hurt me, I am invincible" routine whilst his character was protected by the stoneskin. It worked very well for him. Not so well for the Pirate Captain though...
Collatos dreams. Hmmm, Stay tuned folks.

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