Elminster the Sage

The Company of the Silver Coin
Amber the Ranger
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Book 3
Chapter 4 - The Golden Plains (1359DR, 4th - 8th Marponeth)

The Dungeon level 2

Under a blistering sky we disembarked from The Green-Vine and, with Colatto in the lead, went down to meet Duke Thuragor Foesmasher. Moureness formally introduced the new lord of Nimpeth to the duke, who lost no time in getting down to business; what had happened to Lord Woren (it was clear from the duke's tone he thought little of Woren) and what were Colatto's intentions? Colatto's answers seemed to please him and the duke called for horses to be brought so we could ride with him to the castle. The horses were powerful creatures, almost orange in colour with white mains and tails. We rode at the head of a column of perhaps a hundred soldiers in black leather armour and shining steel caps, each topped off with a long purple plume. Clearly the Duke of Ormpettar hadn't anticipated meeting a pair of halflings and, after much hurried searching, a single pony was found to accommodate both Bazil and Primrose. Foesmasher led the way on his horse, the same breed as those we rode but black from nose to tail.

The procession through the streets towards the castle, clearly visible above the brass domes that topped many of the city's roofs, gave me my first clear view of Ormpettar. The streets were close and the alleys that led off of them narrow and twisting. Several times we passed under enclosed bridges which connected buildings on opposite sides of the street. The people were olive skinned. The men (apart from Foesmsher) clean-shaven. Many had one or two blue dotes painted upon their foreheads as a symbol of their education. Everyone was armed. Women and children carried dagger while the men-folk wore short scimitars in their belts. I also saw slaves, like those of Nimpeth their status indicated by tattoos.

In front of the castle was a large triangular marshalling area. Glancing to my right I noticed a well kept park, the vegetation looked dry and dull but made a welcome contrasted to the yellow/orange stone of the city around it. Though not in use at the time there was evidence that a market regularly took place at the base of the castle walls.

The castle of Ormpettar was huge affair topped with four towers interconnected by graceful bridges. We entered through a massive and heavily defended gatehouse to discover a second city within the castle's titanic outer wall. As well as more marshalling areas there were barracks, houses and stores, enough perhaps to shelter the cities entire population in case of invasion and siege. The castle's interior was a tribute to Sespech's martial prowess, weapons, armour and battle-standards were arrayed in all the corridors and halls we passed through to reach Foesmasher's audience chamber. The inhabitants of the castle wore loose robes of whites or cream.

After casually tossing his sword to a waiting slave and then carefully placing his helm on a pedestal the duke threw himself heavily into his throne. Slaves rushed to bring large cushions and ottoman's so we too could be seated. It was time for us all to be introduced and Colatto to present the duke with a symbol of friendship between their people's; a ceremonial sword baring both the crests of Nimpeth and Ormpettar. With a little aid from Bazil I told the story of Woren's death and Colatto's ascension to rulership. Foesmasher liked the tale and was not only sharp enough to notice that I skipped over why we had come to the Reach but wise enough to suggest that this tale could wait till latter.

The first interview over Foesmasher invited us to freshen up before a feast was held. We were escorted up one of the castle's massive towers to a suite of rooms of the highest quality. Each room had a balcony giving stunning views of the city, the farmlands beyond or the Nagawater. They also had circular beds covered with a cone of fine silk (to keep biting insects at bay) and a bath. As we changed and freshened up we were tended to hand and foot by slaves. Being a simple country lad I can't say that I was too comfortable with having someone help me bath but I got the impression that the comely young lady who offered me her assistance would incur someone's wrath if she didn't help me.

After a glorious sunset we were led down to the banqueting hall. Foesmasher introduced us to some of the nobles, his young (thirteen I should say) year old daughter Glisena and her betrothed, Dimetrio Extaminos of Hlondeth. In answer to my question Dimetrio admitted that S'kris Extaminos was a distant cousin, though the young man showed none of the serpentine features she possessed. Also present were three of the faithful of Tempus, General Denwith of the Blood Halls (who I had heard spoken of by the Battle-Hands in Nimpeth) and Battle-Hands Tyborn and Villix. Before the banquet began Dimetrio and Colatto made small talk, Colatto reported that Dimetrio was a pleasant young man who was apologetic about any bad blood between the Carifar's and his people. After a little probing by Colatto he admitted that he was not a Yaun-ti and that in fact the serpentine blood was becoming thinner amongst his people.

Baldric got into conversation with Tyborn. The priest represented The Order of the Broken Blade; an order dedicated to healing the injuries of soldier wounded in battle. (Though it seemed paradoxical to me that someone could in the same breath talk about the injuries of battle and praise Tempus for the number and frequency of wars that plagued the region.) Tyborn's companion, the priestess Vilix was less outgoing, she represented "The Steel Fangs", and a group Tyborn described to Baldric only as "specialists". The pair continued to chat over the first few courses of dinner.

The meal was a vast one with delicacies from all over the Reach. Much of the food was sweet, even the meats had a sweet seasoning. Entertainment accompanied the meal, fire-breathers, tumblers, jugglers and lots and lots of dancing girls (Foesmasher clearly had a soft spot for the latter).

Tales aplenty were told, within minutes I had learnt that a powerful wizard called Wiannar ruled the Chondath Empire. However it wasn't long before I noticed that the tone of the banquet was taking a nasty turn. Voices began to be raised not in cheer but in anger, accusations and counter accusations began to fly and it was clear that violence was only a word away. Glancing around the table I could see the looks of concern on the faces of the priests of Tempus and most of The Company of the Silver Coin. Unfortunately Colatto seemed to be caught up in the strange hysteria that gripped the banquet hall and was trading insults with Foesmasher. Latter he described to us how he had begun to catch whispered remarks and disapproving looks from friends old and new alike, that every word spoken to him seemed to carry a veiled insult. Baldric cast a spell and his suspicions were confirmed when he sensed that over two thirds of those present at the table were under the effects of a spell. A group of nobles spotted him and, accusing Baldric of wizard-craft began to head down the long table towards him. Baldric told me to protect him while he began a prayer to Tymora to dispel the enchantment. Before he could intone it however General Denwith beat him to it, banishing the spell and plunging the room into an embarrassed silence. Colatto rose to the occasion and publicly apologised for his behaviour to all present and Foesmasher in particular, this encouraged others to do likewise and soon apologises were spreading up and down the table. Baldric then took a turn to speak, he announced that the banquet was almost certainly under the effects of a miracle known to the church of Tymora, as well as many other priesthood's that worship Chaos, as "Discord's Feast". The miracle places a curse on the food with the results we had just witnessed. Denwith was quick to point the finger at General Vandamar, a rival Battle-Hand that worked with the Empire of Chondath. Dimetrio commented to Colatto that it was the antipathy between Vandemar and Denwith, as much as politics, that was the cause the constant battles between Sespech and Chondath. The food was removed and Tyborn dispatched to the kitchens to make sure that the replacement feast (a comparatively more modest affair but enough for everyone with some to spare) was not tampered with.

The banquet went on late into the night but eventually, after guests drifted away, only The Company and Foesmasher remained. It was time to tell our host why we had come to The Reach and what we intended to do. Even before we had finished our (edited) version of our quest to Chondal Wood he had guessed that we were looking for Rucien-Xan and what he refereed to as "The Blades of Arianne". Initially he was sceptical about the existence of either, he had been an adventurer in his youth but had never been able to find the lost elven settlement, but I think we managed to convince him. I asked the duke if he could expand on what he knew of the blades but he could only say that they were believed to be held by an elven maid, Arriane, somewhere in "The Satyr Wood", another name for Chondal Wood. We spoke briefly about The Emerald Enclave, Colatto was as ever forthright in his low option of them and I had to agree that they seemed far more eager to employ the clenched fist of force then the open hand of reason. Foesmasher told us a little of The Enclave's history (which was more then they had ever done), how the region was almost destroyed by the misuse of magic, culminating in the devastation known as "The Rotting War", now they were pledged to preserving The Reach by any means. I could not help but feel some stirring of sympathy towards them after hearing Foesmasher's tale. The duke agreed to aid us by providing horses, provisions and letters of authenticity that would allow us to pass through the city of Elbulder, which stood at the very edge of his lands.

The Company decided to make full use of the extra time The Enclave had brought us during the river voyage by leaving the next day. Moureness would remain behind to negotiate treaties and the like between Nimpeth and Sespech.

We were awoken the next morning, a little latter then we had intended, by the rays of the sun streaming in through the balconies into our suite. After a hurried breakfast, during which Baldric sent a message to his new friend Tyborn apologising for having to leave without paying a visit to The Blood Halls, we went down to the stables. It had been decided that we would travel without ponies to increase our speed. This meant that each of the halflings would double up with someone else, Bazil with myself and Primrose with Colatto. The horses were of the fine same stock as the ones we had ridden the day before, well bred, well trained but lacking a certain spark. I found myself missing timid but loyal Greymane.

We were given three extra horses, one to carry supplies and the other two as spares. Foesmasher advised us to ride south along The Golden Road for two days then turn east and, after another seven days, we should reach Elbulder. Colatto and the faithful Moureness had some final words, the lord entrusting his chancellor with returning his magical crown to Nimpeth. I made sure to say farewell and thank you to Moureness for the invaluable aid he had given us since we met in the sewers.

It was clearly going to be a glorious day as we set out along The Golden Road. I was glad to be on the road again and Bazil commented how pleased he was to finally leave all the politics of the last few rides behind and get back to some plain, honest adventuring. Once we were away from the city I took the opportunity to invoke the life-giving power of Silvanus to see to Bazil and Colatto's injuries. I also voiced an idea that had been buzzing through my head for some time. I recalled how, during our flight from the Dalelands Baldric had preyed for Tymora's aid and our horses had been miraculously able to gallop all day without tiring; would The Lady aid us now? Baldric invoked Tymora again and, though we pushed the horses hard through the heat of the day they never showed any signs of fatigue. Initially the Golden Road snaked back and forth and we passed many farms boarded by well-trimmed hedges and trees but soon all that was left behind. To our right were the green Naga Plains while to our left stretched a vast sea of golden grasslands; The Golden Plains. Over the course of the day we passed brightly coloured wagons going in either direction.

By late afternoon we had travelled a distance that we estimated to be equivalent of two days normal ride. The horses may have been immune to fatigue but we weren't and the combination of hard riding and the fact we had barely been on horseback for more then a few hours over the last two months meant we were sore in a number of tender places. We spotted an inn surrounded by a high wall (like many of the buildings we had passed that day it looked like it was built to withstand attack, testament to the war-filled history of The Reach). The innkeeper told us of a track that would lead in the right direction as we booked a communal room.

Over a meal we discussed the potential dangers of the Golden Plains, it was home to many animals we had never heard of before, including a mighty beast called an elephant which all who had seen spoke of in awe of it's great strength. There were also dark skinned nomads who called the plains their home and a race of insect men. It certainly promised to be an exiting journey and I spent much of the evening trying to picture an elephant in my mind.

Baldric and my religious obligations delayed our departure the next morning. This gave Baldric the opportunity to extend the miracle that blessed the horses to cover us. The morning also saw a rather mysterious occurrence. After I had finished my devotions to Silvanus Primrose asked what the significance of four dots were. At first I was completely baffled by the question until she pointed out that I had four dotes of paint on my forehead. They washed off easily enough but no one could explain how they had got there.

We set off again late morning, taking the path that the innkeeper had indicated through the tall grass. Stopping only to drink and water the horses we galloped hard for hours. The Golden Planes were alive with new and exotic creatures, deer-like creatures with long, straight horns, antelopes, could be seen in herds of hundreds, prides of lions lazed under trees watching us with disinterest. It was truly a magical place. It was a shame that the speed of our journey meant it was impractical to search around for rare herbs.

On the first day of our ride Bazil had produced his father's sun hat but had almost lost it once or twice as we galloped along. Overnight he had punched two holes in it and fashioned a chinstrap from some bootlaces. This made him the target of good-natured jests from Baldric and Colatto but by the end of the day all of the company except Bazil and myself were looking red in the face and had heat induced headaches. This probably contributed to Colatto deciding that we were going the veering off course. The track we had started down had faded out many miles back but I was sure our course was true. After some discussion I fished around in my pack and found a precious piece of parchment I had once purchased in Arabel, a fragment of a map over a hundred years old. I offered the parchment as tribute to Silvanus, entreating The Lord of the Wild Places to reveal to me the direction of north. As the offering turned to dust in my hands Silvanus answered my prayer showing me that we were indeed going the right way.

As a bloated red sun sunk to the horizon we made camp for the night. A fire was easy to light but became a magnet for insects that were stirring in the dusk. The grasslands were full of sound, most noticeably a strange call that swung between a grunt and an almost human laughing. My companions looked uneasy but to me it was music.

We made it through the night without incident and in the morning were off again, though now the company had improvised headdresses to shield them from the relentless rays of the sun. As well as the wildlife of the day before we saw a group of the nomads, dark skinned and hairless. By noon we reached the River Arran. All we had to do was follow it to Elbulder that, thanks to the speed we were riding at we could reach by nightfall. We had been following the river, which was about thirty yards across, for only a few minutes when we encountered a small herd of elephants bathing in its waters. They looked nothing like I had imagined (the gifts of Silvanus meant I recognised them on sight) but there was really no way to mistake them for anything else, massive bodies supported on four thick legs, huge heads with tusk, trunk and unexpectedly intelligent eyes. We noted that they had young and, not wanting to provoke them we gave them a wide berth.

For several more hours we rode on. Soon, in the far distance we spotted an ominous haze of smoke in the direction we were riding. As far as we knew the only settlement in that direction was Elbulder. We didn't have long to ponder this development as we noticed two groups of beings moving through the tall grass ahead in an attempt to intercept us.

The beings, a dozen in all, were some of the most unique I had seen on my travels up till then. They looked like eleven-foot long versions of a type of insect called a mantis, which had being growing more common as we voyaged south. Sandy-brown in colour their abdomen was carried parallel to the ground but at the junction with the thorax it bent upwards, forming a waist, so that if I had been standing rather then riding I would have been eye-to-eye with the insect. They had no wings that I could see but, like all insects, possessed six legs. The back two were used to walk while the other four ended in delicate looking four-fingered hands. The insect-men, which I later learnt were called "Thri-Kreen", were clearly an intelligent race as they carried double ended spears with obsidian blades. Belts hung around their waist attached to which were triangles of obsidian. At the time we could not tell if they were weapons or ornaments but we soon found out.

As the two parties of thri-kreen moved, with great speed, to head us off we spurred on the horses to get beyond the ambush. Our magnificent mounts rose to the occasion, unfortunately Faergil didn't! As the elf's horse surged forwards Faergil lost his balance and tumbled from his saddle. Quickly the rest of us stopped our flight. Colatto and myself turned about and rode back to get to our comrade, taking Bazil and Primrose with us. Baldric invoked a miracle of many-tongues in an attempt to negotiate with the thri-kreen, who spoke in a language of clicks and smells, only to hear (and smell) them crooning in delight at the prospect of "tasty elf-flesh". Two of the thri-kreen were sprinting towards Faergil at superhuman speed while another three were moving to intercept the "rescue party". Keeping his head Faergil unleashed a volley of magical missiles in an attempt to disable the three and let his rescuers reach him. The darts hit but the thri-kreens shrugged off the attacks. By now Bazil, myself and the horse that carried us, who I had named "Noble" in an attempt to promote a little individuality, had reached three, a trained war-horse Noble reared and struck out with his hooves while Bazil thrust away with his short-sword. The target of our aggression was able to weather these attacks too and then thrust at Bazil with his spear, nicking the halfling's side. A second tried the same with Colatto but missed only to all but lose an arm from a fierce counter attack from Primrose.

Delayed by the thri-kreen we were unable to reach Faergil before he was set-upon by two more. One stabbed him with "his" (or "her" or "its") spear while the other attacked with a flurry of punched followed by a bit with his mandibles. The latter hit and, though we had seen Faergil shrug off far worse injuries in his time, the mage collapsed. The thri-kreen in question wasted no time in grabbing the elf and making a run for it.

Colatto stayed to do battle with the three thri-kreen, unleashing a wave of magical darts of his own into one, while Bazil and myself rode on to get Faergil (though I took a spear to the leg for my efforts). Seeing our intention Primrose tried to distract one with a thrown dagger but it went wide of the mark.

As we closed on the escaping thri-kreen Bazil produced his crossbow and fire twice at it. Both times, with astonishing agility, the insect-man dodged aside at the last moment. A second latter one of the thri-kreen we were pulling away from removed a pair of the triangles from his belt and threw them at us. One razor edged triangle sliced a shallow wound in Nobles right leg before continuing on in a graceful arch and returning to the thrower. The second dug deeply into Nobles left leg. The horse stumbled and it took all my skill to keep him on his feet.

By now Baldric had finished invoking a "Battle-Bless" and rode into the fight. Before he could reach the melee his horse was cut down by two more of these deadly throwing blades but the priest was on his feet in seconds, closing on one of the many thri-kreen and dealing a double blow with Twin-Death. Colatto fired a magical acid dart after the fleeing insect-man and finally it was brought down. It was clear that Noble was out of the fight but luckily we were leading one of the spare horses. Quickly Bazil and myself changed mounts and I urged the horse on to reach Faergil before the other thri-kreen did.

Baldric was seriously outnumbered and not even the favour of The Lady, it seemed, could save him. He took a spear thrust; a volley of punches and then a bite that, like Faergil, left him sprawled in the grass. Luckily the insects didn't bothered to finish Baldric off, instead they turned and went dashing towards Faergil.

As we raced to where Faergil lay Bazil and myself formulated a quick plan, we would be unable to out run the thri-kreen if the horse had a rider and two passengers. Instead, when we reached the mage both of us jumped down from the horse; Bazil removed Faergil's magical cloak and then, combining his own skill with elven magic, disappeared into the grasses. I threw Faergil onto the horse, remounted and turned us around. Before me, and closing fast, were eleven thri-kreen, many uninjured. I will admit that my mind went black as to a suitable plan, I knew many miracles of fire but I didn't feel like igniting the entire Golden Planes. I could call upon the local animals to come to the aid of a servant of Silvanus but they would never get to me in time. When things looked their grimmest Colatto, and Primrose, burst through their ranks. As soon as he was ahead of them Colatto twisted in his saddle and unleashed a blast of cold from Woren's wand. Still the thri-kreen continued their charge and, as he pulled up next to me, Colatto employed the wand again. This time it proved too much, killing all but three of our attackers. The handful that remained halted their advance and began to warily back away until, presumably when the though themselves a safe distance away, they turned and hopped off in huge leaps and bounds.

Quickly we began to locate each other. Baldric was getting groggily to his feet. I lifted Faergil from the horse and made him conformable, he wasn't moving and yet his wounds didn't look life threatening and he was still warm to the touch. Guessing that the bite of the thri-kreen had some form of venom I called upon Silvanus to purge the elf of poisons and he began to stir. Leaving Faergil to look after himself I ran across to Noble. His injuries were even worse then I supposed but The Oak Father answered my prayers and healed them without a mark. During the healing I had removed one of the triangles from Noble and throw it to Bazil, suggesting a hobbit of his talents could make good use of it. Bazil agreed and managed to salvage three more from the dead thri-kreen.

Baldric's horse was beyond help and already large carrion birds, vultures, were beginning to circle above the carcass, patiently waiting for us to leave. This gave me an idea, after preying to Silvanus I called up to the birds and asked them if they could see the source of the smoke in the distance. With their sharp eyes the birds replied that they saw flames both within and beside the "land-dwellers" stone dwellings and humans battling humans.
Cautiously we remounted and tuned the horses towards Elbulder. Once more, it appeared, The Company of the Silver Coin was riding into battle.

Chapter 5

DM's Notes

I used the following references:
Vilhon Reach.
- Lots of essential information on Sespech, Chondath, as well as information on the two Highpriests of Tempus - Denwith and Vandemar
Faiths and Avatars - General Information on the Faith of Tempus, with information on the affiliated orders.
Gold and Glory - Information on Mercenary Companies
Forgotten Realms Atlas - Map of Ormpettar.

I was considering running a complete subplot in Ormpettar, but decided that I wanted to move the game onwards, therefore once the pleasantries were out of the way, we moved the game on.

The banquet was disrupted by the 'Dissensions Feast' spell out of the Tome of Magic.

Baldric made good use of the 'Forced March' spell to keep the horses moving without tiring them.

We had a lot of fun with the what an elephant was. None of the characters had ever seen one so when they were described Nick decided to sketch it. Suffice to say it ended up looking like an AT-ST with very big ears!

The four dots that 'appeared' on Thorns Head (based on the tradition seen throughout the Vilhon Reach) were actually placed there by Baldric. I don't know why, ask Darrell!

The horse ate up the miles across the Golden Plains and they soon approached the city of Elbulder.

The Thri-Kreen fight didn't go well for the PCs. Basically it wasn't really supposed to be a combat encounter, just a chance to see the 'wild-life' of the Golden Plains first hand. Unfortunately Faergil failed his riding check and nearly fell from his horse. Now Thri-Kreen like elf-flesh, so decided to take a small snack. It got worse from there....

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