The year is 1066 and it is late spring in the North of the vast island continent of Aol. Although some snows still lie on the high fells, or in gullies the sun does not yet hold in its’ full glare, even at midday, the weather is warming. Livestock season soon on the wide open downs of the Stagnant Wood, and time for trade and travel too. It is the first wet night of the season and a cold rain falls from grey skies on the weary party as they make their way through the small hedge town of gate.
Spirits are high and tongues are wagging of good times to come. Life has been hard since the Horde Wars, only 8 years ago, where a dark host of Orcs, Goblins and even fouler things threw themselves mercilessly on the quiet towns of the north, beaten back only by the state mandated coalition of all independent mercenary companies under the Redcloaks of Ramcairn. It will take these shattered lands many years to recover, but recover they will, and the folk of Gate know it.
Outside the Kings’ Arms, work is carrying on into the damp early evening. Inside a warm fire greets tired workers and the few western travelers trying to reach Fornost early in the year. Mead a plenty, good food and a friendly atmosphere serve to lighten many a winter weary heart. And with the traders active, it looks like work may be available too! but first things first, a bath, dry clothes, a bite to eat and a few beers with your hard earned coin.
And so the evening becomes night and the night gives rise to a wet grey dawn which lingers into an equally miserable morning. Nothing to do but sit around the Kings Arms and rest a bit. Maybe play a game of dice and try to win lunch, or catch the eye of a serving girl with a rye smile and promise of company. Even your brief conversation with Irbold Crane, dwarven owner of the Kings’ Arms and redcloak mercenary contractor, is fruitless, as all caravan jobs are being doled out to loyal redcloak watchmen from more populated areas.
Word comes to the party that night, however, that Irbold may have a job for them. Showing up minutes later at an almost empty Kings’ Arms, the party meets with a disheveled halfling caravaneer named Jeremiah Fallowhide who claims to have been robbed by murderous brigands about a days travel east of Gate. Though his companion and fellow robbed merchant, Grubby Durnan, provides nothing but hopeless, disparaging remarks, Jerry still offers the party his last 100 gold to find the bandits responsible.
Setting out early the next day on rented horses and with Jerry in cautious follow as a guide, the group made the ten hour trip by horseback to the ambush site. Making cheerful and interested (if not a little hung over in the case of the groups ranger) conversation with Jerry about his past and livelihood, the time passed quickly and, with a few comforting words from the party’s’ wizard, they came upon the site of the attack. Smoke rose freshly from two of the three caravans that had been burned where they stood. Crows and ravens pecked excitedly at the arrow struck bodies of Foren (the linen trader) and the overwhelmed guards. Determining that Jerrys’ cart was missing and that all the arrows had come from a campsite, littered with Gnoll prints, discovered by Gish and up the hill a ways from the site of the attack. The party bid farewell to Jerry and followed the remaining cart tracks into the late evening and to a small fortified keep by a subsidiary stream of the river Clane.
Approaching stealthily, the group silently and efficiently dispatched two distracted goblin guards outside the cellar of the building before descending into the crude dwellings within. Though cautious, the party was not prepared for the stream of arrows from a vicious, though quite surprised, Gnoll. Quickly overwhelming the lone archer, the group discovered a trap door in the ceiling leading to a storage area aside the main hall of the keep. Listening at the door, Hobbes heard conversation and footsteps and the decision was quickly made to open the door and go out swinging. Rushing into the room, the groups’ wizard blasted a terrific but ineffectual gout of flame at the occupants, a pair of thuggish bandit types, a grim, well armed northman and none other than a terrified Grubby. Quickly dispatching the bandits and browbeating Grubby into submission, the party turned the brunt of its’ focus on the man Grubby called Maugreth. His allies’ continued attack, despite the advantage of numbers, was all the distraction Grubby had been waiting for and, followed shortly by a frustrated Gish, he took off into the night. After lethally dealing with Maugreth the party debated whether or not to pursue the cowardly, false coal merchant, deciding ultimately to only check on the condition of the rented horses before continuing exploration of the fort.
Heading upstairs, the group quickly searched the three bedrooms before finding a small locked chest that proved tougher to smash apart than anticipated. But after a minute or so of concentrated, fruitless (and noisy) effort, a woman’s voice was heard from just outside the room, on an adjacent balcony “When you’re quite done ransacking the place, we’d like a word with you out here.”