Elminster the Sage

The Company of the Silver Coin
Amber the Ranger
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Book 4

Chapter 6 - The Road to Castle Crag (1359DR, 10th-14th Uktar)

With a blustery wind blowing from the north we rode back to Espar. No doubt our approach could be seen from the village as, by the time we had arrived, a crowd had gathered to receive us. The villagers looked relived at the sight of Lord Hezom and listened with growing enthusiasm as he told them that the vampire threat was over.

I was eager to be on my way to The King’s Forest but Baldric motioned Bazil and myself to one side to discuss an idea that occurred to him; a way to cure Bazil of his lycanthropy! Baldric’s plan seemed to have it’s dangers, as Colatto was quick to point out when he learnt of it, but Bazil was ready to give it a try.

While most of the town celebrated Baldric rounded up Venda and the other three clerics from the temple and along with Primrose, Bazil, Baynar and myself we headed for the Watchful Eye’s common room. Once there Bazil put aside all of his equipment and handed back to me the Torc of the Earth Mother before allowing himself to be tied to one of the beds (not an easy thing to do to someone who is invisible). Baldric began to prepare, placing a miracle on Bazil that would lower his resistance to magic. Then the five priests of Tymora began to chant in union. Baldric on his own did not possess sufficient spiritual strength to purge someone of the curse of lycanthropy but Venda and the other priests could focused their divine favour into him, raising his divine might to a point where he could. However for the curse to be removed Bazil would have to be in the form of a wererat which was where I came in. As the Luck Bringers chanted I called upon Silvanus and in answered to my prayer a beam of silver moonlight shone down illuminating the bed. The miracle, however, almost never happened, as it required the sacrifice of some moonseeds and a moonstone. While I had the former I had never found any of the latter. When Bazil heard this he told us to look through his pouches and there, along with diamonds, rubies and pearls, was a small moonstone. It seemed a good sign.

Within seconds of the moonlight touching the bed we could see the ropes begin the writhe and twist as the wererat locked within Bazil began to exert itself. While I had once suffered the curse of lycanthropy myself I never actually underwent the change but from Bazil’s description it is an agonising transformation with the inflicted person’s body all but tearing itself apart and reforming. We had realised that Bazil would get larger as he changed and so hadn’t tied him too tight but this meant that there was a real danger that the wererat wouldn’t be bound tight enough. In a display of bravery Baynar moved to stand by the bed ready to restrain an invisible wererat should it break free. However that was not nessary. Brother Baldric called out to Tymora to free Bazil of his curse. Perhaps it was my imagination but Baldric’s voice seemed somehow bigger as he spoke those words, as if more then one voice spoke through him. The ropes coiled and twisted for a few moments more and then went still.

After a few, nervous moments we heard Bazil calling out he was fine. Primrose untied him, made a tart remark that one of Bazil’s problems was solved and left the room. Now that Bazil no longer needed the Torc I slipped it back on, it felt reassuring to wear it again after all those weeks. I offered Bazil back Worren’s magical cloak but he declined saying I would probably find more use for it then he would. What I did give to Bazil, however, was Dragathil. While it didn’t seem likely that Primrose would need it while The Company was still in Cormyr I didn’t want to take any chances.

It as time for me to leave. Telling my friends that I would meet up with them somewhere between Arabel and Tilver’s Gap I took the form of an owl and flew off into the gathering twilight.

That night The Watchful Eye was the scene of much merry-making. There was not a true bard in the area but that didn’t stop the inn ringing with song for the first time in many long nights. Brother Baldric’s brother and sister, Stefan and Marriane, made an appearance in the inn. From what I later learnt from Bazil, Marriane was very interested in meeting The Company of the Silver Coin, especially Lionar Baynar Truesilver and Lord Colatto. Stefan was a little more reticent, particularly with his brother. Clearly the pair had issues. It seemed a failing that all the members of The Company possessed; we could overcome drow, dragon and demons but when it came to family we had feet of clay.

At Baldric’s request The Company spent two days in the quiet village of Espar. Baldric himself spent most of it at the temple. On the first day, after seeing to The Companies injuries, he led the congregation in a long ritual to bless the site and ward it from evil forces.
Colatto and Faergil spent most of their time in one of their rooms no doubt indulged in arcane research that would have baffled the rest of us. From the stormy expression on Colatto’s brow the night before my companions left Espar it was probable that he wasn’t as successful as he would have liked.
Baynar and Primrose simply put their feet up and enjoyed their rest.

On the morning after the destruction of the vampires Bazil decided to pay a visit on Lord Hezom to see if he could do anything about the ring. From Bazil’s account of Hezom’s abode on Sentinel Rock I was sorry not to get a chance to see it. Lord Hezom lived in a cave, how extensive Bazil couldn’t tell as he only saw one chamber. That chamber was primarily a temple to Helm. It contained a large, hand shaped alter and carved through one wall was a window shaped like an eye in which stood a lamp that, when lit, could been seen from the village below. Presumably this was where “The Watchful Eye” inn got its name. Even more impressive was an ornate sword that hung motionless above the altar surrounded by a silvery glow. Bazil had no sooner stepped over the threshold than Lord Hezom, no doubt alerted by miraculous means came out of a connecting chamber to see who had arrived. Bazil was not overly surprised when Lord Hezom, after hearing his story, said that there was nothing he could do that hadn’t already been tried. Bazil tried to expand his collection of holy symbols but the priest didn’t have one to spare. Before he left Bazil enquired about the floating sword. Hezem simply replied that it was “The Vigilant Blade” a holy artefact of Helm.

By dusk of the second day since my departure from Espar I was west of the Starwater. I had flown over a forest that was in it’s winter season, trees were leafless and many of the King’s Forest’s inhabitancy now slept, husbanding their resources through the barren winter months until the spring, when Silvanus and the other gods of nature would unleash their life-giving essence once again.

I landed beside the ancient ring of stones. There was no one about but I could see smoke rising from the chimneys of a small cluster of the nearby cottages. I headed over. As I drew closer first smelt the aroma of freshly baked bread and then heard a casual whistling coming from the nearest cottage. I knocked on the door and a woman’s voice invited me in. The woman inside was the Druidess Pria. It took her a few moments to recognise me.

We spoke for a short while and I learnt that my mentor Gillian was staying with the community. Leaving my staff and pack with Pria I went, with eager step, to find the man who had shaped my life. Passing the community’s water supply, a spring that water ran to the Starwater, I found him tending one of the, now empty, fields where the Druids and Initiates grew crops. It was almost two years since I had seen Gillian. At first glance he didn’t seem to have changed much but a closer look showed me that he seemed older, more so then two years could account for. One his face were two scares, claw marks as far as I could judge. The reunion was not a happy one but then perhaps it never could have been. Once we had been as close as father and son, I could not have listened to his every word more eagerly if Silvanus himself had spoken them. Now things were different. I was not vain enough to think of myself as his equal but I was certainly no longer the inexperienced Initiate I had been when we had parted. I had forged my own views, followed my own path and it was clear from the hardness in Gillian’s eyes and the edge in his voice that he did not approve of either. I knew that telling him of Marla’s death would do nothing to improve his mood but it would have been unforgivable of me not to tell him; he took the news stoically but it was clear that he felt her loss greatly.

I tried to find out what Gillian had been up to over the last few months; no one I had spoken to during and after the Wolf-Lord War had known where he had been. He told me that he had been in counsel with The Ravenmaster and recently returned from the lands near the Dark Watch. This got my attention. Over the last few months The Dark Watch had begun to spread it’s influence and priests of Moander had been seen in the area. After a while we lapsed into silence and I helped him to turn the soil. That evening the Great Druid, Gilee, arrived at the circle. I was able to formally request to undertake The Challenge even through it was not a Moot, the traditional time for such matters, and make sure she was aware of all I had learnt of the drow and the Thavian’s ambitions.

On the third day after the destruction of the vampires The Company of the Silver Coin left Espar. The horses were still under the effect of Brother Baldric’s Easy March and could probably have made it to Arabel before sun down. However my friends, deciding on a more leisurely pace, set their sights on Eveningstar with the intention of reaching Castle Crag the day after. The day was cold and wet with drizzle throughout. The roads were busy with merchants and other travellers. The company passed through Tyrluk at about noon and arrived in Eveningstar that afternoon. The town of Eveningstar rests to the south of a large gorge that heads back into the mountains. Tucked away in those mountains can be found the infamous Haunted Halls of Eveningstar, final resting place for many would-be heroes, and above them Riviors Keep, official residence of Sword Captain Sir Bazildon Stringfellow III. The town itself is said by many to be the most attractive in The Wooded Kingdom and boasts the tower of Lady Tessril, a large temple to Lathander and The Lonesome Tankard, an inn favoured on occasion by the king himself. Greater then all of these, to my mind, are the Tressym, the famous winged cats of Eveningstar.

The Company headed straight for The Lonesome Tankard. It’s popularity and the weather meant it was packed full of patrons whose body heat, combined with a roaring fire, created a humid atmosphere that fogged all the windows. With some difficulty The Company managed to get a table though it was uncomfortably close to the fire and people kept trying to take the “empty” stool that Bazil was sitting on. After a hearty meal Bazil declared his interest in visiting the church of Lathander. Faergil also wanted to go, seeing the Tressym flying around the town had inspired the mage to seek a familiar and the church struck him as the best place to find the incense he needed to cast the spell.
The Temple of the Morning-Lord was an impressive sight. It was built of white marble with pink flecks, had three wings surrounding a large, central dome. The winter sun was fading fast when Bazil, Baldric and Faergil arrived and the priests were closing up. At Baldric’s request they let them in but no sooner had Bazil put an invisible foot over the threshold then the torches that lines the temple walls burst into pink flame. Between them the three were able to put to rest any concerns the priest had of an invisible intruder. Faergil was able to buy the nessary incense; in fact he added a generous donation to the church, as it had been a priestess of Lathander in the Dalelands who had brought the elf back from the dead. Bazil was also able to obtain a holy symbol of The Morning-Lord, a disk of wood of a rosy-pink hue.

Now Faergil had his incense he needed a brass brazier. The “Tethyr Hardware Shop” didn’t stock one but the owner suggested he speak to the seamstress Serinder Thorn who he knew to be a mage. Serinder’s shop, I am told, was a very informal affair. It had no counter but an abundance of mannequins that displayed examples of her craft. Serinder herself was a middle-aged woman with a sparkle in her eye. It wasn’t the first time she had had cause to hire out her brazier, Faergil must not have been the only mage inspired to call a familiar at the sight of a winged cat. The summoning, Faergil informed The Company, was a long one and he would remain behind the next day to perform it and then gallop Ghost to catch up. Colatto, interested to see the spell being cast, volunteered to stay with him.

That day I spent working at the Druid circle, helping to tend the earth. At noon Gilee came to speak with me. Despite the unconventional timing my challenge would be accepted and would take place on the first day of the full moon. As was traditional I would fight the Druid who had sponsored my entry into the priesthood; Gillian. It was down to the pair of us to set the terms. With a heavy heart I sought out my mentor, we had not spoken since the previous evening. His terms were clear. We would fight until one was unconscious and it would be down to the winner to decide if the loser was spared. Our weapons would only be our natural strengths and our shape-changing powers, no miracles. Though I knew that the words hurt him I could not overlook the obvious point that my “natural strengths” included talons and fiery-breath, if he so decreed I would refrain from using them. He declined. Should the worst happen I asked that Gillian would make sure that certain of my possessions, primarily the Seed and the lens, would reach The Company. Gillian’s final words to me as we parted were that he wouldn’t hold back and that he wanted to remain a Druid. Reading between the lines I interpreted them to mean that he would rather die then lose.

The next day was a little dryer then the one before as The (rapidly depleting) Company of the Silver Coin restarted their eastern journey. As their friends had left Colatto and Faergil had taken the brazier and incense and found a sheltered spot a little out of town where Faergil could cast his spell.

Riding hard Bazil, Baldric, Baynar and Primrose reached Arabel at noon where they stopped for a brief lunch at The Murdered Manticore, the inn where almost two years previously The Company of the Silver Coin had been born. Bazil had wanted to visit The World Serpent Inn but Baldric pointed out that it would be too easy to lose track of time all together there.
By this point Faergil was still casting his spell. From Arabel Bazil et al took The Mountain Ride north and east and by late afternoon had caught up with the Purple Dragons and Baynar’s personal guard once again. The Company was quick to notice that the troop had swollen by one and Peramilus informed Baynar that a day out of Suzail they had been joined by the magess Feyondra. Wrapped in her purple and black cloak she was clearly a member of Cormyr’s War Wizards and had been detailed by the King to accompany us at least as far as the Cormyrian boarder.
Meanwhile, back in Eveningstar, Faergil was still casting his spell.

By dusk The Company and the Purple Dragons were surrounded by mountains and had reached their intended stopping off point, Castle Crag. Castle Crag is a sturdy fortress perched atop of a two hundred foot tall outcrop of rock overlooking a small settlement. In the gathering darkness The Company left the bulk of the troops in the settlement and worked their way up the steep path to the castle. The final approach to the castle was across a bridge after which they found themselves bottlenecked in a high walled courtyard, a killing zone that would have left them easy pickings for the castle’s defenders if they had been an invading force. They were met by the keep’s official commanding officer Bren Tallsword and escorted to the dining hall. The hall was large and dominated by a long table. From my companion’s descriptions the hall, like most of the keep had a stark, utilitarian air; it was functional but had no comforts. The Purple Dragon banners provided the only colour. Over a plain but nourishing meal The Company got their first clear look at Feyondra when she pulled back her rain sodden hood. She was a thin-faced woman with bright eyes and long hair so raven black that it was almost blue. Over the meal Baldric became the first experience the sharp edge of Feyondra’s tongue when she took exception to a tactless but not ill intentioned remark of his.

After dinner most of The Company retired to the rooms that had been prepared for them, cold rooms with rather hard beds, while Baynar conversed into the night with the keep’s unofficial commanding officer; Duke Bhereu.
Meanwhile Faergil was still casting his spell. By now it was too cold to rain any more and the pair could see the fog of their own breath in the light of the brazier. To further increase the discomfort of the whole affair they had discovered that they were tantalisingly close to The Golden Unicorn tavern; they could see the lights of it’s windows, hear the hearty laughing of it’s patrons and occasionally smell the odour of it’s kitchens. It was in the small hours of the morning, after twenty-two hours of casting, that Faergil’s efforts paid off and a handsome hawk landed beside the elf. The pair snatched a few hours rest and a quick bite to eat and, as the sun began to rise over Eveningstar, they rode east.

A little later, far to the east, The Company as making ready to leave Castle Crag. The night had not been a peaceful one as a sharp, unrelenting wind had whistled through the mountains and around castle during the night. Over breakfast it had been Bazil’s turn to draw some incisive comments from Feyondra. Leaving the hundred Purple Dragons to swell the garrison at Castle Crag my companions, their numbers increased by Feyondra and Baynar’s Personal Guard, pressed on into the mountain pass. By late afternoon two very saddle-saw mages had caught up with them. By nightfall they had passed through Gnoll Pass. That area of Cormyr is a harsh, barren place and winter, with its biting northerly wind, only makes it more so. Ahead of them were the uncaring Thunder Peaks and far to the south the Immerflow.

That morning, while my friends had rode east through the mountains, I had been preparing for The Challenge. Over the last couple of days the Druids had arrived from all over Cormyr to witness the ritual, a trial by combat that would leave one of us broken, perhaps dead. A thousand distracting thoughts had to be put aside so I could focus on the fight. Chief amongst these were my love for my mentor and the betrayal I had felt, despite myself, at some of the things he had said that first evening. I couldn’t afford a single mistake if I were to triumph, particularly with the advantage that Gillian had over me...

At noon Gillian and I stood at opposite ends of the stone circle, that would be our arena and we could not leave it. The Druids and Arch-Druids formed a larger circle around us and beyond them were the Initiates and Lay-Worshippers. Dotted amongst this crowd were a few Dryads and Satyrs and one or two ravens.
After a few words from the Great Druid we began.

Initially I hung back, waiting to see what Gillian’s first move would be. Would he attack me hand-to-hand? No, he began to change. I recognised the form; he was becoming a gorilla. I didn’t wait for him to finish but attacked with my talons, the first time I had used them since the fight in Battledale and this time against a man I once would have given my life to defend. I scored first blood but it gave me no satisfaction nor increased my confidence. The gorilla counter-attacked with furious speed, a pair of clubbing hands sent me reeling but I managed to evade his bite. Now I too began to change, taking on the form that had served me well in many a battle that of a lion. Gillian didn’t give a moment’s rest and pressed the attack with fists and fangs. For the next few moments we were locked together, tearing at each other with tooth and claw. Where I could I racked at his belly with my hind legs opening ugly wounds.

Now the blooded gorilla was changing again and Gillains’s big advantage came into play. As he changed his wounds healed and by the time he had finished transforming into a hawk most of his injuries were gone. I tried to pounce on him before he could take to the air but was too slow. With great confidence and swiftness Gillians soared upwards. For a moment he stopped and seemed to hang there. Then he turned and dived, driving both sets of talons into my face. Flapping desperately to stay air-borne Gillian tore at my face with beak and talons while I swatted him from left to right with my paws, snapping with my teeth where I got the chance. Gillian’s tactic came to fruition and suddenly my own blood blinded me. However I had long ago discovered that a feline’s other senses could track a moving opponent in the dark so I pressed the attack. Gillian must have realised this too and flew away. I pulled myself down into a defensive crouch and tried to anticipate Gillain’s next move. He must realise that a hawk was no match for a loin and as he could not return to a mammal form he could only become either human again or a reptile. Seconds slipped by and the vision in my right eye began to clear just in time to see Gillian come in for a landing at the far end of the circle. Before he had reached the ground he was shifting and in seconds had taken on the form of a cobra, once again healing many of his injuries in the process. Biding my time for my other eye to clear I began to circle Gillian, begin careful to stay out of striking range. Suddenly he rose up, opened his moth and spit a stream of venom at my face. Once again his targets were my eyes but a reflex snap of the head saved me. Not giving him time to try again I pounced and once again we were locked in savage close combat. Gillian bit me again and again but he had underestimated the constitution of a lion. I didn’t know how much longer that would last however and I needed to use my mind rather then brute force if I was to survive let alone win. Jumping back from Gillian I began to change, this time becoming a hawk. Gillain lunged for me but I was a hair’s breadth too fast and took to the wing. As quickly as I could I gained altitude; hovered above the circle, targeted as best I could with one eye and dived. My aim was true and I landed with all my weight on the back of his neck, pinning his head. I had Gillian where I wanted him, safe from his fangs I could peck at his head until he gave in to his injuries, and he knew it too. Gillian threw his weight around in an attempt to throw me off and when that didn’t work began to transform back into his human form. The change broke my grip but before it did I was able to blind him as he had me earlier. Blind and unarmed Gillian pressed his attack, grabbing me before I could take to the air and trying to grind me into the ground. I shifted back into my true form and as I did so his rending fingers found my throat. As he crushed down with his full weight on my windpipe I grabbed for his wrists and tried to break his grip. Try as I might I couldn’t shake him free, not even when I drove me knee into his crouch and raked at his face. As the world started to turn black I fought down a growing panic. I had husbanded my shape-changing powers and could make one last change. This time I became a crocodile. The shift broke his grip but Gillian continued to attack, tearing at my scaly hide with his increasingly bloody fingers while I gulped down lung-fulls of air. By now a bloodlust like I had seldom felt was welling to the surface, overthrowing my reason and replacing it with a primeval instinct: Kill or be killed. I closed on the human employing my jaws and bone splitting blows from my tail without restraint and when I saw the opening I needed I took it. I clamped my jaws down on his arm that rolled across the ground first one way and then the other, mashing the human into the ground again and again until he stopped moving.

With a massive mental effort I regained control of myself and released the limp figure of Gillian. I was torn between a desire to help him and not wanting to fall into a trap. Unable to wait any longer I resumed my natural shape and declared to the assembled priest of Silvanus my victory. Not waiting for their response I moved to Gillian’s side. Vaguely I was aware of at least one of the Druids stalking off. I remembered Gillian’s words when we had set the criteria of the Trial but I would rather that he lived to hate me then have him die. Unfortunately the choice was not mine to make. Gillian was already dead.

With a leaden heart I straightened Gillian’s broken form and carried him out into the King’s Forest where I performed rituals commending the soul and memory of a great man to the The Oakfather. It was evening when I returned. Though I no longer carried Gillian’s body I could still feel it weighing me down. Gilee was waiting for me. She had little in the way of comforting words. The Great Druid took me to meet three Initiates, Josh, Morag and Allanor. They had acted as Gillian’s agents and would now do the same for his successor. We discussed my responsibilities. Once I had finished my business with the drow, Hullack Forest would be under my stewardship. I listened to it all with a numb detachment. The Great Druid suggested I get myself healed up.

That night I harvested mistletoe by the light of the full moon. As a pale sun rose the next morning Josh, Morag, Allanor and I were prepared to leave. My injuries were healed, though I thought that the vision in my left eye was still a little blurry. We turned to the north and, taking the forms of falcons, sped off for a rendezvous with The Company of the Silver Coin.

Chapter 7

DM's Notes

I used the following references:
Complete Druids Handbook - Info on the Challenge
Volos Guide to Cormyr, Realms Boxed Set- Info on Cormyr, Espar, Tyluk and Eveningstar
Haunted Halls of Eveningstar - Info on Eveningstar.

This was a very bitty evening and I didn't get half as much done as I wanted to. I also felt very sh*t and didn't enjoy myself at all.

With the split of the group it always means that someone has to have my attention, though of course it means leaving someone sitting there like a lemon - sorry guys.

The removal of the lycanthtopy on Bazil required a remove curse cast by a 12th level priest. Baldric isn't high enough level and so used the Combine Spell! (which I think is the first time I've EVER seen it cast...) to 'bump' him up. Thorn cast Moonbeam, which forces were-creatures into there animal form - a requirement of the remove curse. Bazil failed his saving throw and hence the curse was removed.

Baldric used the Focus Spell (faith magic described in the Tome of Magic) to lay down Protection from Evil on the new temple. It will last a year assuming that there is prayer on a daily basis.

Faergil sprung the find familiar on me in Eveningstar and got himself a hawk - though of course he wanted a Tressym. I was quite happy to let him and replaced 'black cat' with Tressym on the random table.

The Challenge.
If you haven't realised, this was the combat required for Thorn to become a Druid (12th level). Personally I didn't think it went too well. Yes Thorn was down to lowish HPs but I felt it never really felt like a challenge to me. Oh well.

Castle Crag. I made most of this up. I can't seem to find good information on Castle Crag anywhere.

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