Elminster the Sage

The Company of the Silver Coin
Amber the Ranger
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Book 3
Chapter 5 - The Battle of Elbulder (1359DR, 8th - 11th Marponeth)

We rode on through the hot, dry afternoon, the column of smoke drawing ever nearer. After a while it became clear that the smoke was not from one source but several fires mixing to form one thick, black column that rose from the windless plains. We were not the only ones watching in the smoke, as we rode past groups of the dark skinned nomads - The Akabyi. There was something about the aloof disinterest in their gaze that reminded me of the prides of lions we had passed the day before.
The sun was beginning to sink to the horizon when we reached Elbulder. Ahead of us a trail cut through the plains running north to south. The track led to a wooden bridge that spanned a pale, silver river. About a hundred yards beyond the river was the walled city of Elbulder. The cooling, evening air rung with the sounds of steel on steel, not from within the city but the far side of it. This was also the origin of the smoke, which obscured much of the area from our view. We could see tents and a small group of armed men at the far end of the bridge, initially we thought them soldiers but a second look revealed that they seemed to be merchants waiting for the city gates to be reopened.

We pulled up short of the bridge to consider our next move. Faergil produced a spyglass from his pack and began to study the battlefield as best he could through the smoke. After a few moments he reported that he could see men clad in silver and green and armed with pikes, maybe two hundred of them. We saw a flash, like a mirror catching the sun. Faergil told us it was a bolt of lightning crashing down into the fray.

To my relief the idea of joining the battle was quickly discarded, I had no desire to get involved in the bloody politics of the region. I was all for carrying on along the river and then trusting to the divine power of Silvanus to get us across. Baldric was a strong advocate of trying to get into Elbulder and the arranging for a boat to take us the rest of the way up river. Finally it was decided that we would take a leaf from the merchants' book; we would cross the river and wait to see if we could get into the city. The battle seemed to end as the sun set and, though the gates remained shut, this encouraged us to believe we might get in come the mourning.

The merchants were on their guard as we crossed the bridge. A man armed with short-sword and crossbow came forward and hailed us, wanting to know what our intentions were. Though it did nothing to alleviate their obvious suspicions, Baldric's answer; that we were travellers going about our own business, seemed to satisfy them and they made no attempt to stop us setting up camp some fifty yards away from them and a hundred from the city wall.

We were just looking to cook dinner, with the last of our fresh rations, when a woman walked over from the merchants and asked to join us. She was an elf (one of the very few we had seen since our arrival in The Reach) with long, dark hair. On her temples was a tattoo, not those of a slave but closer in design to ones we had seen on wild-elves. She introduced herself a Rhenn, a bard and storyteller in the employee of the merchants. Her accent marked her out as not being a local, she freely admitted to being from the Dalelands. We invited her to join us. For an hour or so before she headed back Rhenn, Bazil and myself swapped tales. As the evening drew on we could hear her singing from the merchants' camp.

Though the sounds of battle were long gone I could not feel completely safe so before going to sleep I took the form of an owl and flew off for a scout around. Held aloft by the heat rising from the plains I looked down with perfect clarity on the lands around. Being in the air gave a detachment from earthly troubles that was as much mental as literal. Elbulder was a fortified city. I have said that it had a wooden wall but you should not imagine that it was a simple stockade. It was as high and well crafted as many a stone city wall I had seen. A rampart ran along the inside and there were many places for archers or spearmen to rain death down on their enemies. It goes without saying that the wall had an abundance of solders guarding it. Within the walls Elbulder was very much a merchant-town with wide roads for the easy navigation of wagons, market places and hostelries. In many respects it reminded me of Scornibul in the north. Beyond the city I could see the site of the battle, littered with discarded weapons and stained with the blood of the fallen. There were a number of burnt out buildings to this side of the city, the source of the smoke. The attacking force, no doubt from Chondath, had fallen back across the river Arran and set up camp about a mile away.

I was circling back to rejoin my companions when I noticed movement a little way along the river. I was wary of a sneak attack by the Chondath forces, or perhaps scavengers drawn by the battle, but I was I did not expect what I say. By the riverbank were five figures, all male humans, in heavy plate armour and carrying weapons of war. More importantly they were guiding almost thirty figures who shambled along with stiff, heavy steps; Zombies! My first instinct was to race back to the camp but I stayed long enough to see what the zombies and their herders were up to. To my surprise they set off not towards the city but further out to the strip of land between the city walls and the bridge, the land where my companions were camped.
I flew back as fast as I could, landed and, after returning to my natural form reported what I had seen. I am not of the habit of going looking for trouble but the corporal undead are an affront to Silvanus and I reserve a special distaste for those that conjure them Therefore I suggested we go for a hunt. The rest of the company was a little less enthusiastic but weapons were readied. Bazil aided Baldric to pull on his armour and Faergil began to probe the darkness with his spyglass (though to be honest I don't think that this aided his elven-sight too much). Colatto and myself went to warn first the merchant and then the solders atop the city wall of the danger.

As the pair of us heading back to the camp the zombies slouched into view. The necromancers had clearly employed their blasphemous arts on those slain during the day's battle; the bodies were fresh and drawn from both sides of the conflict. The creatures slow advance was accompanied by a dreadful chanting that filled the nigh air. It was clear that their target was our camp. Forgetting about the rest of his armour Baldric quickly called upon Tymora to bless both himself and Bazil, who snuck off into the shadows. Though most of the company possessed (the so-called) elven-sight I decided that some extra illumination was needed and called upon the aid of Silvanus. My prayer was answered and the small army of zombies was neatly outlines in a green flame. I had hoped that the "Faerie Fire" would catch the armour-clad humans who were out in the dark too but I wasn't that lucky. Primrose fired a crossbow bolt at one of the zombies but missed. Colatto fired a volley of magical darts, cutting down one and damaging a second. A second later Faergil invoked slightly more powerful magic and fire-balled the tightest clump of zombies, blasting maybe a dozen to ashes. There was also a very human scream and the chanting stopped. The Priests of Tempus's (could they have been anyone else) counter-attack hit a second later when a column of flame fell from the sky towards Faergil. The elf threw himself clear but he did not escape unscathed.

The zombies reached us an instant latter, attacking with single-minded determination but not a great deal of skill. Three attacked me, tearing at my skin with rooting, claw-like fingers. All my companions that I could see were also under attack, though they were doing a better job of defending themselves.

It was then that a fair voice of Rhenn reached us from the merchants' camp. Her song was clear and uplifting, the words rousing us to fight on despite the odds. Seizing the moment Baldric called upon the holy might of Tymora. At his words the inhuman cry of a dozen dead voices filled the night and all but two of the zombies, one attacking me and one attacking Primrose, crumbled to dust.

Usually Primrose is the soul of quiet bravery but undead are a chink in her emotional armour and she had been reduced to swinging wildly at the zombie with her holy-blade. Colatto dashed to her side and tried to run the undead through with his sword. He missed but as second latter one of Primrose's attacks struck home, smiting it into two. At about the same time I called upon the power of Silvanus and, placing my hand on the chest of my undead attacker, channelled a tiny fraction of The Oak Father's divine power into the creature. The zombie seemed ripped apart from the inside out but still, amazingly, managed to stay up right.

By this time Bazil had located the five priests. As well as mundane weapons three were armed with flails that appeared to be made of pure energy. Four of the priests charged forward while the fifth began to pray. Moving silently up behind him Bazil drove both of his short-swords into the small of his back but not in time to stop the priest bringing down another tower of flame on Faergil. Bazil withdrew back into the shadows before the wounded but still very much alive priest could get his bearings.
Crying out to the "Lord of Battle" the four priests charged into the camp, their eyes ablaze with hunger for battle and quite literally foaming at the mouth with bloodlust. One launched a mighty, but poorly executed two-handed thrust at Baldric with a longsword. A second attacked Colatto. He carried an axe in one hand but employed an "energy flail" that he held in the other. The flail hit and Colatto who was almost thrown to the ground by what many of my companions later described as "a wave of concentrated evil". A third, also using a flail, attacked but missed Primrose. The forth, armed with a sword and shield, joined that last zombie in attacking me. The zombie missed (turned aside I think by the magical powers of the cloak I wore) but I took a cut from the priest. Both Baldric and Primrose began to fight back, successfully defeating their opponent's defences to score hits with their chosen weapons. Faergil unleashed a barrage of magical darts into Primrose's opponent. Attacked from two sides the priest swung twice more at Primrose, she dodged and parried the attacks and followed up with another successful attack.

The fifth, and last, priest ran into the camp to join the battle of Baldric. Again Bazil leap out of the shadows to intercept him with thrusts of his twin blades. The priest turned on the halfling but Bazil dodged out of reach if not out of sight. Colatto was not having a good time of it; a failed attack had left him open to a second stunning blow from his enemy's flail. Baldric deflected another attack by his enemy and I heard Bazil calling out the name of his enchanted blade "Kithril", invoking the magic that allowed it to deliver a strike faster then the eye can follow. Still the priest refused to fall.

Standing toe-toe-to with one of the priests, not to mention the last zombie, I knew that if I continued to fight on his terms the priest would make short work of me. His last attack, though it had drawn blood, had left the priest off balance and he was slow to recover. Taking a gamble I invoked the miracle of "The Earthmaw", I managed to finish it before he could attack and the ground beside him twisted and stretched to form a stony mouth that bit a chunk out of my enemy. Ignoring the pain he renewed his attack but anger must have got the better of him, not only was the thrust ill judged but the sword slipped from his hand, disappearing into the long grass. For a moment I thought my opponent would attack me with his bare hands but instead he began to call out for Tempus to aid him. He never got a chance to finish his invocation as I spat a ball of flame over him, destroying the last zombie in the process. As he reeled back he was transfixed by a bolt of flame, one of two directed by Faergil, the second hitting Primrose's opponent. The first of the Battle-Guards had fallen but as I looked across to Faergil to give him my thanks I noticed for the first time how badly injured the elf was following the two flaming columns.

The battle hung in the balance. Colatto and Baldric both managing to fend off the priests' attacks and score hits of their own, though neither were killing blows. Then Primrose took a stunning blow from her opponent's flail that sent her sprawling. Sluggishly she got to her feet and attempted a counter-attack but her weak blows could not penetrate her enemy's guard. Despite a deft parry of one attack Bazil was unable to maintain his guard and took a glancing blow from an axe. Again he called upon his sword's power. He delivered two quick thrusts, one of which found a gap in the priest's armour, but left himself open to the priest's counter-attack. Freed from the worries of close combat I was able to employ the Earthmaw again, this time against Bazil's foe. However he proved too deft for me by easily dodging to safety. Colatto was continuing to receive a tough education in the martial arts from his opponent and seemed unable to score a telling blow. Baldric and his enemy seemed to have reached an impasse, neither able to get round the other's defences. Faergil broke the deadlock. Despite his injuries he ran into the melee to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Baldric and from his open hands unleash a spray of flame over the Battle-Guard. The priest swung blindly at the mage but, thankfully, missed. Bravely Primrose launched another attack at her opponent who swept it aside before delivering yet another blow with his flail that drove her almost to her knees. It was clear that she couldn't take much more of this punishment. Yelling out the name of his blade Bazil dashed across the melee to aid Primrose, delivering a deep and fatal blow on her opponent. Primrose safe Bazil made his way back to the enemy he had abandoned to continue his battle. The priest and the hobbit fenced for a few more moments before Bazil dealt a killing blow. Despite his great stamina Colatto was beginning to weaken, for the moment he turned from his sword to employed The Art, casting "Vampiric Touch". He wasn't the only one to decide on a change of tactics was required and by calling upon the gifts of Silvanus I began the slow process to changing my shape to something with a little more offensive power. Faergil was also using magic, firing streams of ice from his fingers at his enemy. As the priest reeled Baldric struck again. In desperation the priest began to call upon the power of Tempus but a final, bone-crushing strike from Twin-Death took him out of the battle for good.
His hand now charged with life-sapping magic, Colatto tried to slap his enemy. The priest dodged safely under Colatto's guard and felled my companion with another punishing blow from his flail. Colatto showed no signs of getting up.

By now I had finished taking the form of a lion and I quickly covered the distance to the priest and Colatto's prone body. I racked ineffectively with my forepaws at the priests armour and bit down on his shoulder. The priest pushed me back but I could taste blood in my mouth. Heedless of his own injuries Faergil moved in and blasted the injured priest with the Wand of Frost (I'm not sure when he got it off Colatto, certainly he wouldn't have had time during the battle). With a cry of rage the priest struck back with his baleful flail and Faergil crashed down to lie senseless beside Colatto. By then I had gathered myself to a new attack. I threw my entire weight upon the priest, tearing at his shoulders with my front paws and, once I had driven him to the ground, racking with my back legs. At the same time I trapped his head in my vice-like jaws, biting deep into bone. He didn't stand a chance.

As soon as I realised the battle was over I returned to my true form and began to check Faergil for signs of life; he was breathing if only weakly. I called upon the power of Silvanus to stop the flow of blood but there would be little I could do for him for a day or so. Primrose I could help and, after making Faergil comfortable I went over and did my best to heal her injuries. During this time Baldric had stabilised Colatto.

Bazil had searched the fallen priests and, though he found little of value he did recognise one as coming from the Temple to Tempus in Nimpeth. How he managed, when we travelled with the aid of Tymora and The Emerald Enclave, to get here before us I could not say. Either he had ridden several horses to death or employed miraculous means.
The camp was a blood soaked mess and we decided to move along a bit. Baldric tried to talk the merchants into letting us join them but they were not co-operative so instead we moved camp fifty feet or so along. The pain of our injuries and dread of another attack meant we got little in sleep that night.

As the sun rose the next day I was a little surprised that the Chondath forces didn't renew their attack. The city gates opened and, with Colatto putting on a stoic front (he could barely stand unaided) we followed the merchants into the dry, dusty market town.
Colatto asked the watchman for an audience with the mayor and presented them with the scroll Foesmasher had given him. A minister, Deralyn, was summoned and after reading the scroll he took us to the mayors residence.

Mayor Gavalon meet us in his enclosed courtyard, the centrepiece of was an ornamental fountain. He was a tall, lean, clean-shaven man. Apparently Foesmasher had sent word to Gavalon to expect us. He offered us the hospitality of his house.
We discussed with Gavalon the possibility of getting a boat to take us up river. He said it was unlikely that we would find anyone willing to take us and that he had heard the river was not navigable (though he could not tell us why). In fact he strongly encouraged us not to go to Chondalwood at all. In the past, he told us, the people of Elbulder had a pact with the elves to cut wood in the forest but now, since the elves had gone, no one went there. He also told us that the Chondath forces had left before dawn. It looked to me, and I imagine my companions too, that the attack on Elbulder, had been arranged solely to inconvenience us, to slow us until the main forces of Tempus arrived or increase their lead on us. I began to feel a bitter anger, not at the faithful of Tempus but at my own stupidity at getting them involved in the first place and the price my friends had paid for that mistake.

Retiring to rooms Gavalon had put at our disposal we discussed what to do next. We would have to delay at least a day to allow Baldric and myself to heal our companion's injuries. Baldric was still in favour of travelling by water but could we navigate the river? Bazil reminded Faergil about the crystal ball he had found in Worren's chamber and given to the mage. After some experimenting Faergil reported that, though he could us the orb to view people and places he knew or had seen he could not look into the wood (where he had never been) or "track" a view upstream from Elbulder along the river and into Chondalwood. If we wanted to know what lay ahead someone would have to go and see for themselves. I volunteered.

Taking the form of a falcon I left Elbulder before noon, flying against the flow of the river across the golden grasslands. I was still protected by Baldric's miracle and could fly fast and hard without tiring. Chondalwood soon grew from a green line in the distance into a living wall of green that dominated the landscape. The river, though fast, was clear of hazards as far as I could tell apart from crocodiles that lazed on its banks. Slowing my speed I followed the river into the forest.

Chondalwood. On its most basic level it was a forest of immense size and age. A mixed forest formed of mighty trees wreathed in curtains of ivy, moss and vines. But it was also much more then that. It had a presence that is almost impossible to convey in mere words. There was something in the air, not just the perpetual gloom, caused by the thick canopies, or the suffocating heat. Rather it was the forest's incredible age that seemed hang heavily in the still air, weighing down on me. At the same time was an aura of incredible power, the strength to reshape the every earth, being applied incredibly slowly. Such primordial might had it's own sense of self, utterly alien to anything man or elf could imagine. The forest knew that I was there and it did not welcome me.

As I flew, awed, up the river I saw little sign of animal life in the gloom. Mostly it was large insects that flew lazily about. At one point I saw a satyr resting but alert by the riverbank. He had their air of a sentinel and a short bow close to hand.
I had flown no more then five miles into the forest when I came to a waterfall, only twenty feet high but that was high enough. Beyond it was a long stretch of rapids. I had seen enough and, turning about, began to fly back to my companions. It was so very tempting to stay longer in the forest but reluctantly I stuck to the task at hand. As I crossed the plains back to Elbulder I looked careful not of the terrain we would have to cross, looking for any signs of the faithful of Tempus or the forces of Chondath. It seemed safe enough.

By early afternoon I had returned to my companions and imparted what I had learnt. We finally ruled out the use of a boat. Instead we decided that the day after next we would ride to Chondalwood. Once inside the forest the shear density of trees meant that horses would only slow us and we would have to walk to our destination. Bazil arranged with Gavalon that two soldiers would ride out with us and return with the horses. I tried to convey a sense of the power of the forest to my companions but, with the exception of Primrose, they didn't seem to understand the gravity of my words. I sent much of the rest of the day contemplating the journey that was to come. Bazil paid a visit to the shrine to Tempus in the city, which also doubled as a hospital. He struck up an agreement with one of the priests, Wellan that he would return the next day to have his wounds seen to. That evening, before retiring to bed. I cast the bones to divine whether we would be safe or could expect another nocturnal visit by our enemies. The signs were favourable.

The next day Baldric and myself spent the early hours in devotion to our respective gods before embarking on a marathon healing spree. By the time we had finished we had both used much of our divine favour but the wounds of the vicious fight with the Battle-Guards had been healed. We spent most of the second day locked in our own thoughts, though Bazil found the time to pay a visit on Wellan and apologise for not needing his healing after all.

By evening, both in an attempt to snap myself out of the melancholy mood that had taken hold since my visit to Chondal Wood and too say "Thank you", I went looking for Rhenn. I found her literally singing for her supper at one of the cities many lodging houses. Her singing lightened my heart and, during a break I passed on my, and my companions', thanks for her help. She told me that she would be leaving in the morning, heading north to the capital of Chondath. Once again I asked Silvanus to show if we would be safe that night.

The next morning, after Baldric and I had finished our devotions, we were ready to depart. Gavalon had provided two mercenaries to ride with us on the two remaining spare horses. Looking back I realise that I was too wrapped up in what lay ahead to even ask their names. Initially they were a little concerned about how hard we pushed the horses but Baldric put their minds at rest. All too soon, as I was both exited by and dreaded my return, the eves of ancient Chondal Wood were before us. On impulse I knelt and preyed to Silvanus to lead us safely through his dominion. Baldric, who had realised that he could invoke a miracle to defeat the heat, pulled on his armour. The mercenaries asked if they should wait with the horses but we told them to head back; we did not know how long we would be.

With heavy tread we began to enter the forest. Within a hundred paces we had been swallowed by the perpetual twilight of Chondal Wood, isolated from the rest of The Reach by a curtain of green and brown. Invaders in a timeless world.

Chapter 6

DM's Notes

I used the following references:
Vilhon Reach.
- Information (not much!) information on Gavalon, and Elbulder. Some information on the 'style' of Chondalwood.
Faiths and Avatars - Information on Speciality priests of Tempus, plus their specialist spells.

Most of the evening was taken up with the nasty fight with the priests but there was some time for roleplaying of course.

The merchants outside the city were nonplussed and suspicious of the PCs, but I decided that they would have a bard travelling with them. I ran this on the fly, deciding that it would be a good opportunity for roleplaying. It was also nice later when Rhenn used her bardsong to help them in the fight.

Obviously the 30 odd zombies were no real match for the characters, but they slowed them down a little. Of course Faergil's Fireball, followed by Baldric's turning decimated the ranks.

There was a moment of silence when the first Flame Strike hit! Not one of those spells seen very often, and never liked!

Speciality priests of Tempus get some nice abilities (check Faiths and Avatars). Basically they can choose any weapon of choice, go berserk, and get mutiple attacks! Nice.

The energy flails were 'Holy Flail', also out of the Faiths and Avatars book. Obviously in this case they should be called Unholy Flails. Against enemies of opposing good/evil alignment, they do an additional 1hp per level of the priest. With multiple attacks this proved nasty.

Bazils sword 'Kithril' is a Short Sword of Quickness as per the DMG.

As a half-dragon, Thorn can breath fire, though he rarely does this. It was a good choice to use it when he did as the priest was casting Cause Critical on him...

Colatto was knocked to -8hp and Faergil -6hp. Nearly got them! :-)

I had make a quick descision on the use of the Crystal Ball. They wanted to see the river as it came from the Wood, and decided to try focusing on a point they could see and then 'following' it's course. I didn't allow this; it would basicaly make the item too powerful.

Finally Nick makes some mention of his anger about the involvement of the Priests of Tempus. Thorn told everyone that the priesthood wasn't an evil one and that the PCs could tell them about the Swords of Demron. This triggered the Priesthood to attempt their own crusade to find the swords...

Some mention has been made of the spell Baldric used to make travel easier. This is the Forced March spell, which means that you don't get tired 'pushing' your daily movement. Very useful.

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