Rise of the Thrall Lord
Knights of the Couch - Part I - The Search for the Ancient Scroll
The tavern was empty except for a very few patrons. It was the middle of the day and most folks were out and about trying to earn a living.
It was actually a nice little tavern. Glorfindle had been in a lot of them lately, so he was becoming somewhat of an expert. This one was clean at least, unlike some of the others he had frequented since leaving his Elven home city of Cairthrellon on the western side of the isle of Thac.
The common room was large and fairly rectangular. There was the usual number of tables around the center of the room, and a number of booths around the outside of the room. There was also a rather nice hearth at the one end. On the other side was the bar with a Minotaur’s head above it. Seemed appropriate being that the tavern was called the Dying Minotaur, Glorfindle thought. And in the back of the common room there was a hallway and stairs leading to the guest rooms.
Glorfindle sat around one of the tables with the three other adventurers he had encountered over the last few weeks. To his left sat the little gnome Cleric, Aksel. On his right was the equally small ninja halfling, Seth. Across from him sat the big warblade Lloyd.
They were an interesting crew; gnome, halfling, elf and human. Glorfindle himself was 6’ tall with blonde hair, blue eyes and was fair skinned. He was 120 years old, which made him barely a young adult for a gray elf. He was currently wearing a robe of his favorite color purple.
Aksel was only 3 feet tall, with a rather fair complexion and copper colored hair. He was young for a gnome, only 42 years of age, but seemed rather wise nonetheless. Being a cleric, he was robed all in white.
Seth, the halfling of the group, was also the smallest. At 2 feet, 11 inches, he was shorter than even Aksel. Seth was also the youngest. He was only 15 years of age. The little halfling had black hair and eyes and a tan complexion. But there was a keen intelligence in those eyes that belied his years. Dressed all in black, the little ninja was hard to see, even when he was sitting right next to you.
Lloyd was by far the largest of the group. At 6 feet, 6 inches tall, he was broad shouldered and muscular like a human. The big man had brown hair, blue eyes and fair skin. He was still young for a human, a mere 18 years of age. But he had an air of self confidence about him which was augmented by the red full plate armor he was wearing and the two huge swords he had strapped across his back.
This diverse group had come together in bits and pieces. Seth was from the city of Ilos. He was the first adventurer of the group that Glorfindle had met after leaving Cairthrellon. The elf had been on the road less than a week, traveling with a caravan of merchants, when they met the little halfling. Seth had been traveling south on the road from Ilos. He too had set out into the outside world to sharpen his skills as an adventurer. The little halfling’s quick wit had immediately caught Glo’s attention. The ninja had a sarcastic sense of humor which suited the elf wizard just perfectly.
Glo didn’t like to admit it, but he was rather bright himself. He had to be in order to be a wizard and memorize the arcane spells that went with his craft. His father was a mage and took Glo under his tutelage at young age. Being a fast learner, he had quickly outpaced his father’s teachings. The young wizard now had a choice; stay with his father and slowly continue to learn the craft, or venture out into the world and allow experience to shape his skills. Ever adventurous and impetuous, which were not typical qualities for his people, Glorfindle chose the latter option.
The little halfling and elf were barely on the road another week when the caravan stopped at the gnome city of Caprizon. There the two adventurers met their soon to be third member, Aksel. The little gnome had lost his parents at a very young age and had no other family to speak of. So the church of Caprizon had taken him in and thus raised him as a cleric from a very early age. This probably accounted for the wisdom beyond his years that the little gnome exhibited. But Aksel also wanted to embrace the outside world and travel as an adventurer. So when he joined the caravan in Caprizon, Glorfindle and Seth were quick to take him in.
The three of them had traveled through Central Thac, stopping briefly at the town of Tarrsmorr looking for quests to fulfill. But it had become evident in a very short period of time that they were not going to find work in a market that was already filled with adventuring parties. So the little group made a unanimous decision to travel to Eastern Thac, an area not typically frequented by members of their individual races.
Their original destination had been the city of Penwick. But they had first stopped in Restonford, a small backwater town on the way to that city. There, as chance would have it, they had met the big Warblade Lloyd who had just come from Penwick. He had informed them that there was not the kind of capital to fund adventure quests in that city.
Penwick had been depressed since being overrun and almost destroyed three times in the last 100 years. Lloyd had grown up in that environment, trained by his father, a famous warblade himself, in that art. The young man had had some opportunities to hone his skills in his home town with all the bandits that still frequented that area. However, it was not long before his skills surpassed the challenges that he faced. So, like the other three adventurers he now sat with, he had left his home town and ventured into the outside world to continue to hone his skills and become a mighty warrior in his own right.
Now the four adventurers sat in the Dying Minotaur in Restonford deciding what to do next. Aksel, his wisdom making him the implicit leader of the group, was about to say something when the door to the bar swung open and a man in robes walked in.
The man was not that tall, approximately 5 feet 8 inches in height. He was also older, a white beard flowing underneath his chin. Obviously human, he was nonetheless thinner, with more the frame of an elf. Wearing blue robes and a blue hat, he was obviously a wizard or a sorcerer. The man’s keen eyes sharply scanned the room. There was an intelligence behind them that altered Aksel original assessment; obviously a wizard.
The old wizard eyes came to rest on their little group and after a moment’s consideration began to walk over to them. “Good day gentlemen,” the wizard said. “I trust you are a band of adventurers looking for work.”
“We indeed are,” Aksel replied for the group. “And who might you be?”
The old man looked surprised for a moment and then said “I am the Wizard Peltar. And I need some work done immediately.”
“What can we do for you?” Aksel asked.
Peltar leaned in closer to the little group and began, “There is a scroll of moderate importance that I would like retrieved. My sources tell me that it has come to reside in the former keep at Bone Hill, a few leagues west of here. I do not have the time to fetch it myself, thus the need for hired help such as yourselves.”
The group leaned in closer, their interest obviously piqued.
Peltar continued, “While I do not necessarily expect you to find the scroll, at the very least I need a good map of the keep. I will pay you all 500 gold to scout out the area and provide me with such a map. However, if you are actually able to find the scroll and return it to me in pristine condition, I will reward you all with 5000 gold. What say you?”
Aksel’s raised his eyebrows for a moment at the mention of 5000 gold. He looked quickly at the other adventurers and then replied to the old wizard “Done.”
“Very good.” Peltar said, “When you have the map, or the scroll, bring it to me at my house. It is right down the road just east of here.” And with that, the old wizard got up and abruptly turned and left the tavern.
“Agreeable fellow there,” Seth commented.
“But it’s 500 gold and our first quest,” Aksel replied.
“5000 if we find that scroll,” Glorfindle added.
“What do you say Lloyd?” Aksel asked the big man who had been quiet up till now.
“A chance to explore an abandoned keep and kill things?” the warrior replied. “I’m in.”
“That settles it then,” Aksel stated. “But I think we’ll need a few more hands to pull this off. We’ll definitely need someone who knows the area and can lead us through the wild to Bone Hill. And it wouldn’t hurt to have a second warrior with us. No offense Lloyd, but you are only one man.”
“None taken,” Lloyd replied, “as long as there are enough monsters to go around.”
“Ok,” Aksel said, “we’ll need provisions and horses; actually riding dogs for you and I, Seth. You and Lloyd go see to that. Meanwhile, Glo and I will search around for a ranger and another fighter.”
“Sure,” Seth replied. Then he and Lloyd got up and left the tavern.
Aksel and Glorfindle went to the bar to ask the barkeep if there was anyone he knew of with the skills they were looking for. The barkeep pointed over to two men sitting in a booth against the back wall. They were both human. One was tall and lean, dressed up in woodsman gear. He had a bow next to him on the bench. The other man was large, although not as big as Lloyd, and was dressed in shining silver full plate. He had a gleaming sword at his side. Just what we were looking for Aksel thought. He handed the barkeep a couple of copper pieces in thanks and then he and Glo walked over to the booth where the two men were sitting.
“May we join you?” Aksel asked the two men.
“A gnome and an elf,” the leaner man said looking them over carefully. “Don’t see that every day in these parts. Sure have a seat. My name’s Brundon and this here’s my friend Glendor.”
Glo and Aksel sat down in the booth. “I’m Aksel and this is my friend Glorfindle. We have a job and could use some help with it.”
“What do you need?” Brundon asked seeming interested.
“We are looking for someone to lead us to Bone Hill. There is an old abandoned keep up there that we have been contracted to explore. Do you know the area?” Aksel asked.
“I know it very well,” the ranger replied. “I am familiar with all of the woods in this area. But I must tell you now that Bone Hill is not a very safe place. Lots of monster roaming around there. Some undead too from what I’ve heard tell recently. You will need protection.”
“We surmised as much,” Aksel responded, “Hence the need for the both of you.”
“So what would the pay be,” Brundon asked.
“50 gold pieces for the both of you,” Aksel replied, “once we have safely returned from our journey.”
Brundon looked quickly over to his partner. The big fighter nodded his head. “Done,” the ranger replied, “so when do we leave.”
“Within the hour,” Aksel replied. “Our companions have gone for provisions and mounts. We will meet outside the inn.”
“Very good,” Brundon replied.
Then they all got up and went to their rooms to pack.
A little less than an hour later, the group of adventures and their two new hirelings were out in front of the Dying Minotaur and ready to leave for Bone Hill. It was still midday and the sun was bright overhead.
Lloyd, Glorfindle, Brundon and Glendor were all on horseback, while Seth and Aksel were mounted on riding dogs. A horse would have been far too large for the halfling and the gnome.
Aside from that, Aksel was also allergic to horses. Glorfindle and Seth had found this out on their ride with the little cleric from Tarrsmorr to Restonford. In fact, Glorfindle’s horse had bothered the gnome so on much on that trip that Aksel had tied a handkerchief around his nose and mouth. The two had needled him the whole journey calling him the Bandit Cleric.
Aksel, not wanting that to start up again, refused to wear the handkerchief this time. The poor little cleric was sneezing up a storm.
“Could be worse,” Seth quipped as he leaned in towards the cleric, “you could be riding one of those walking hair factories.”
Aksel gave the halfling a sour look. He turned to look at the others and saw Glorfindle looking up into the sky searching for something. A few seconds later he must have spotted it and then raised his arm into the air. A large black bird came swooping down out of the sky and landed on the wizard’s arm. It hopped its way along his arm and perched on his shoulder.
“I see your raven has decided to join us,” Aksel commented.
Glorfindle turned to look at the cleric. “Raven is never really all that far away. She just likes to stretch her wings now and then.”
Aksel smiled. Then he turned to the others and shouted “Time to move out!”
The party left Restonford via the south road. Although they really only traveled south for a short distance out of town. This was because the “south” road, instead of following the coast down through the Kelman Woods, made a large detour northwest to a pass in the Kelman Hills before turning south again.
But that was still the fastest route to take, and it’s what Brundon advised they do. It would have been slow going through those hills and also no telling what creatures they might run into, even in the daytime.
The hills rose to their left as they traveled along and the West Restin river flowed by on their right. It was a beautiful sunny day, with only a couple of puffy white clouds in the sky.
Birds could be seen crossing the skies both solo and in flocks. Every once in awhile, Glorfindle’s large black bird could be seen paralleling the parties progress. Then in would fly off again.
The road was smooth and the miles went by quickly. Before they knew it, they were turning south west and entering “Kelman Pass”. It was really so much of a pass as a flat area between the rolling Kelman Hills. As the party their way south, the top of Bone Hill appeared in the distance.
They couldn’t see very much of it yet, but the top of the hill looked barren. And if one looked close enough, or had keen elven eyes, they could see the ruins of the keep at the top of the hill.
As they got closer to their destination, Brundon, who was out in front, called for the party to halt. “So, do we continue on the road, or do you want to head straight to Bone Hill from here?”
Aksel pondered the question for a moment and then responded, “I think it might be best to stick to the road. If we head straight across the plain from here, anyone on the hill will see us coming. It looks like there is a forest ahead down the road. If we continue that way, we will soon be under the cover of its trees. Then we should be able to turn towards the hill without worrying about being seen by anyone on Bone Hill.”
“Ah,” said Brundon, “not a bad plan. But I must warn you, that’s not just any forest up ahead. That’s the Dead Forest. And they call it the Dead Forest for a reason. Not much lives in there, but the few things that do, you would not want to run into in the dark of night.”
“Well then,” the little cleric responded, “we better get moving then.”
They spurred on their mounts and continued down the road.
When the group entered the Dark Forest, they immediately saw what Brundon had been talking about. The trees were all wilted and sickly looking. And there was not much live vegetation on the ground either. There were no animal sounds; not even a bird chirping in these trees.
“This is eerie,” Glorfindle said staring around. “There is a heaviness in this forest that can be almost felt. The trees seem to be barely alive. Not even in the great forest of Ruanaiaith, which does have its dark places, is there such an oppressive gloom as hangs over these woods.”
“Then let’s not stay in them any longer than we have to,” Aksel replied.
“Very good,” Brundon said. “I’ll scout ahead and see if there is a trail leading up to the hill.”
The ranger was gone maybe fifteen minutes when he returned down the road.
“Sure enough, there is a path leading off the main road about a half mile south from here. It does not look well traveled, but it will be easier than trying to travel through all this dead underbrush,” he said looking around at the forest floor.
The party continued down the road until they came to the path. Then they left the road and headed west through the forest towards Bone Hill. The path was rather narrow, and did not look it had been used in years. But since the forest was mostly dead, there was not much overgrowth, just the occasional fallen branch here and there.
They were making good time when the path starting rising upward. There were some rocks up ahead that could be seen on either side of the path. Brundon called a halt. He got off his horse and walked back to the others.
“It looks rocky up ahead. Probably good for me to scout around and see what might be up there before we all move forward,” the ranger said.
“I’ll go too,” Seth said. The little ninja could be nearly undetectable when he wanted to be.
“I will ask Raven to scout from the air as well,” Glorfindle added. The wizard’s eyes took on a distant look as he communicated with his familiar. “There,” he finally said, coming out of his trance, “She will let us know if there is anything to see ahead from the skies.”
Brundon left the path and moved silently through the woods ahead. Seth did the same on the other side of the road. They were both gone for maybe ten minutes and then suddenly appeared out of the brush at almost the same time.
“I think there is a trap up there between the rocks. I saw something lying across the path crudely covered with underbrush,” Seth told them.“I also came across some large footprints,” Brundon added. “Whatever it is, it walks on two legs.”
“One creature…two legged…larger than a man…with…a Bear-like face,” Glorfindle intoned. He was obviously in communication with his raven again.
“Bugbear,” Lloyd hissed.
“Raven spotted it hiding behind the rocks,” the elven wizard continued. “But I don’t think it has seen us as of yet. Raven seems to think it may be sleeping. It is either…snoring or…singing?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a singing Bugbear,” Seth quipped.
“Well, either way, let’s take advantage of the situation,” Aksel said. “Does anyone speak bugbear?”
“I do,” Glorfindle replied.
“Ok,” Aksel continued, “So, if there is only one of them, let’s see if we can capture this one. Then maybe we can find out more about what we are dealing with. Brundon, you sneak around to the left and Seth, you sneak around to the right. Glo and I will follow a bit behind you. Lloyd, you and Glendor wait back here.”
Lloyd looked offended.
“Your armor would make too much noise. Believe me we will yell for you when need you so be ready to come running” Aksel told the warblade.
“Will do!” Glendor replied enthusiastically.
Lloyd clasped the other armored man on his shoulder and they both walked away a short distance up the path to wait for the signal.
“Anyway,” Aksel continued, “when we get close enough, Glo, can you put it to sleep?”
“Sure,” Glorfindle replied, “I can do that if we can get close enough.”
Glorfindle followed Brundon through the brush. The elf was as quiet as the ranger. He had grown up in the Cairthrellon which was surrounded by the forest of Ruanaiaith. So he was very used to the woods.
At the same time Aksel was following Seth. Gnomes could also move very silently when they wanted.
When they made it around the rocks, Seth and Aksel saw the bugbear laying face down on a large boulder staring down the path. They heard a soft, harsh noise. The bugbear was singing.
Seth covered his mouth and stifled a laugh.
He looked across the path and saw Brundon come into view. A few seconds later, Glorfindle appeared behind him. The wizard reached into a pouch on his belt and pulled out some components. He could see the elf move his lips and then make a gesture towards the bugbear.
Seth turned his gaze towards the bugbear and saw a faint purplish circle about ten feet wide surround the creature. The light disappeared after a moment and the bugbear’s head had slumped onto the rock.
Seth snuck forward and knelt beside the bugbear. It was snoring this time.
Aksel, Glorfindle and Brundon had gathered behind him.
“It’s asleep,” he whispered to them.
“Good,” Aksel replied, “let’s tie him up then.”
Brundon got out some rope and bound the bugbear. Then he gagged it as well.
Seth, meanwhile, disabled the feeble trap the bugbears had laid for unwary travelers. Then he signaled Lloyd and Glendor who brought the horses and dogs up the path.
“Brundon, go keep an eye out for anything coming down the path from the top of the hill,” Aksel told him.
The bugbear had only been asleep for about a minute, but they waited until they were all gathered to start questioning him. Glorfindle sat in front of the creature, while Lloyd and Glendor stood behind him, hands on their swords, looking as tough as possible. The bugbear just stared back at then defiantly.
The wizard began to speak to the bugbear in its own language. It sounded guttural consisting of a lot of grunts and growls.
“We are worshippers of Hruggek, the one true god,” Glorfindle told the bugbear. Hruggek was the chief deity of all bugbears.
The bugbears eyes widened.
“We have been sent here to test your honor,” the wizard continued. “If we remove your gag, and you scream, Hruggek will be displeased. He will question your worthiness as a warrior. Do you understand?”
The bugbear nodded fervently.
Glorfindle looked over at Seth and said, “Remove his gag.”
Seth walked over and took out his knife. The bugbear stared at the blade as Seth held it up to his face. Then the little ninja slid it under the gag and cut off the gag. Then Seth threw the knife into the ground at the bugbears feet.
The bugbear stared down at the knife then cleared its throat and said to the wizard, “You worship Hruggek?”
“Of course,” Glorfindle responded. “Hruggek is the one true god. He is the master of violence and combat. He stands twelve feet tall, has great fangs, clawed hands and feet, and carries a 10 foot long morningstar. The other gods cringe before him.”
“Yes, yes,” the bugbear replied fervently, “that is Hruggek. You do know him!”
“It is as I told you,” the wizard replied. “What is your name?”
“I am Gilstench,” the bugbear said.
“And what is your clan?” Glorfindle asked.
“My clan is Ironfist,” the bugbear said proudly.
“The Ironfist clan,” the wizard repeated. “Good. As I told you, Hruggek has sent us here to test you, and your clan.”
Gilstench looked at him suspiciously.
“Your clan has become weak. See how easily we caught you. If the rest of your clan is as easy to beat, you will stand no chance against us.”
“My clan not weak!” the bugbear said angrily. “Gilstench stupid. Gilstench should die. But Ironfist clan strong!”
“Are you sure?” Glorfindle asked.
“We have three warriors, tougher than me! And two mages. We live in great keep on top of mountain. And we grow. We have families. Young ones get big and strong. One day we have more warriors.”
“Is that all?” the wizard pressed.
“No!” Gilstench continued. “There is wizard in keep. Telvar his name. He great wizard. He teach great magic to Bilehack and Curdlemung. They become great too!”
“What kind of magic?” Glorfindle asked.
“Dark magic. Undead magic. Bugbears only guard keep during day. Undead do job at night. Bugbear magic great!” Gilstench bragged.
“Well, maybe,” Glorfindle said. “But you certainly are not great my friend. What do we do with you?”
“Gilstench should die!” the bugbear yelled. With a great heave, he broke his ropes and lunged forward grabbing the knife Seth had thrown in the ground.
Before Glorfindle could react, Lloyd and Seth were both in front of him. The big Warblade had both blades drawn and crossed in front of him. The little ninja was in a crouch also ready to block the impending attack.
Then Gilstench surprised them all by turning the blade inward and plunging the knife into his heart. The bugbear choked a couple of times, growled the word “Hruggek”, and fell forward to the ground.
The party stood around shocked.
Aksel had been listening to the interrogation from the other side of the rock, out of sight of the bugbear. Now he walked around to where the prisoner lay, bent down and examined him.
“He’s dead,” the little cleric pronounced after a minute. “There’s nothing else we can do.”
“Well,” Seth said as he retrieved his dagger, “that’s one less bugbear we have to fight.”
“True,” Aksel replied, “but it sounds like they have a little mini-army up there at the keep. And I’m really not thrilled with all this talk about undead.”
“What worries me more,” Glorfindle added, “Is this wizard, Telvar. If he is teaching the bugbears how to make undead, he is of an order much higher than myself. That could prove to be a problem.”
“Well we’ve come this far,” Aksel said. “I wouldn’t want to turn back now.”
They all agreed.
“Then let’s wait till nightfall. Maybe we can sneak into the ruins after dark. As you said, Glo, that wizard could be trouble. Facing undead might be the lesser of two evils.”
They hid Gilstench’s body in the underbrush. Then Brundon searched for a place to set up camp while Seth and Raven kept watch. He found a glade a little ways into the woods just south of the path. The party relocated there and camped out until nightfall.