8 Imbolc, 2020au
Corran of Salazar
/ Halbmonde of Delarius
Arthur Hawkmoor lay unconscious, tended to with a mothering hand by Laylah Fortune, whilst Byron Fletcher, Edmund Stewart, and Hakmet ibn Damar discussed their situation around a campfire. Their campsite, they surmised, had been home to the brigands they had dispatched hours earlier. It was a secure cave mouth, with a high vaulted ceiling. A sizeable alcove had been converted into a pen for horses and livestock, which the party put to ample use.
Togo, who stood watch at the cave entrance, growled as two men approached. They were were Morgans, noblemen by birth and bounty hunters by trade. Galen served as porter and second to the younger, but higher status Arenth Vinchenzo Morgan, seventh son of the Duke. Finding the dead bandits by the lake, they had followed their trail to the cave. After introductions, the newcomers were invited to share the Bordermen’s fire and to fill their bellies with butchered camel, culled by Hakmet after the beast faltered in the unwelcoming climate.
Laylah called down to the rest. She needed fresh water, knowing their skins would not hold out through the night. She noted water seeping through th back wall of the cave and pointed out a small egress where the men might delve deeper to find the source.
Hakmet agreed to stand watch over the campsite and Galen offered to do the same, as Arenth volunteered to join Edmund and Byron in their search. Arenth and Galen spoke briefly in private, as the younger Morgan voiced his concerns about the party. Byron was able to overhear this and he gave a warning to Laylah to be vigil, unaware that Arenth was reading their lips.
The three men and Togo headed out, climbing up and through the tight entry, scurrying deeper into the cave. They soon came upon the water they sought, in a deep pool not far beyond the egress. It was surrounded by patches of ilumagaric, a mushroom with hallucinogenic properties that emits a faint chemiluminescent glow. Just beyond the water, they made a man sleeping soundly in a stack of grain sacks nestled amongst an odd collection of packing and produce crates, barrels, and baskets.
Creeping stealthily, they surrounded the sleeper, waking him with the threat of Byron’s wolf companion. He was more than amicable, admitting he was allied with the four men they’d slain earlier in the evening, and offering that there were more to this gang of thieves deeper in the cave. While he swore and oath to do them no harm, he could not say the same for his brethren. Byron deemed to let the man live and warned him that if the bandits came upon them, they would meet an ill fate. The bandit agreed.
Returning with the water, they told Laylah of the odd mushrooms and she berated them for not gathering them, explaining they would fetch a fair bit of coin at market. Feeling uncertain over how they’d left things with the bandit watchmen, they decided to head back, collect the mushrooms, and have another talk with the lad. Upon returning, however, they discovered the watchmen had fled.
Exploring deeper into the cave, they discovered an area of crafted stonework, skillfully constructed. Flooded by ankle-deep water, a well-worn but carefully maintained ship’s wheel was mounted against the far wall. Byron turned the wheel, deftly and with purpose, listening to distant tumblers that revealed a greater purpose. Soon, a secret door opened, but they also set off an alarm. The three men opted to return to their camp rather than press further.
Slinking back to the camp site, they discovered Northerners within. Three men, all clad in the warpaint and armors of Wardruna we drinking and eating the spit-roasted camel, while a fourth stood watch over Laylah, Hakmet, and Galen who were bound near Arthur’s unconscious body.
Mincing no words, they attacked swiftly. Byron and Togo attacked in unison as the wolf tore into the lone Northman watching over their captive compatriots and Fletcher sent an errant arrow sailing toward one of the Northmen engaged in the feast. Edmund advanced, spear in hand, to meet them in open combat, while Arenth’s bow helped keep the foes in check.
When at last the battle ended, Togo was gravely wounded and the four raiders were dead. Exhausted and bloodied, they set up sentries and desperately tried to get some much needed rest. As morning broke, they rose to discover Arthur had rejoined the living. He hungrily tore into some camel meat as they party took stoke. Togo was still wounded, but mobile, and they all counted themselves lucky to have lived through the night, but there were a host of questions unanswered, not the least of which being — what was a band of Northern Invaders doing so far from home?
to be continued