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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Under the Yoke of Izrador- No Time for Fond Farewells #2

Misadventures, surprises and an unexpected boat trip

The next day started abruptly for Erik. The door to his small smithy crashed open and a wounded and unconscious human was dragged in by a couple of orcs. Erik was called to attend to the Legates outside. He complied with alacrity, where he found Legate Morgos barking orders in orcish as he organised an expedition to pursue the rebels who had made off with several wagonloads of booty in the night.

Morgos explained to Erik that the wounded human was a rebel prisoner and that Erik had to shackle the man. Erik set to work, with Laetitia poking around his smithy as he did so. The hot iron of the shackles added their burns to the wounds the captive had already suffered. The stench of the searing flesh prompted Laetitia to warn Erik that he'd be held personally responsible for the man's survival. Lacking any healing skills, Erik could only stare at her in dumbfounded fear. Eventually Laetitia realised that the prisoner's survival was at least as important to her as was the opportunity to turn the screws on this blacksmith to whom she had taken an instant dislike. She bent down and, bemoaning the waste of her powers on a rebel, magically healed the man's wounds. The sight chilled Erik as he realised exactly how dangerous Laetitia could be to him.

Meanwhile, Otto and Barak were having doubts about the wisdom of lingering in Grimholt, whose people might very well pay with their lives for the rebels' attack. They made their way down to the riverside docks in the hope of getting away on their boat. There they encountered a band of orc guards, who gruffly told them that no boats were leaving the village.

Elsewhere, Aldric was getting nervous about his young brother-Tarrin, and sister-Tara. For reasons best known only to himself, the woodsman had decided not to present his siblings at the tax parade the previous day. Aldric had instead hidden them in the ruins of the old town. The youngsters were gone when he had returned to their hiding place, and Aldric hadn't seen them since.

Risky as it was with edgy and doubtless vengeful orcs patrolling the streets, Aldric nonetheless went out in search of his missing siblings. Slipping through the ruins, the woodsman was startled by a girlish shriek of terror nearby. Aldric raced to the site of the ongoing cries. To his horror he could see an orc starting to violate Tara while Tarrin futilely pummelled the orc's back with his puny fists. Without pausing for thought, Aldric grabbed the biggest hunk of rubble he could lift, and crushed the orc's skull with a single blow.

Aldric's mind raced as he tried to calm his siblings. He had killed an orc. If anyone, absolutely anyone, found out about this then he, his siblings, and likely all of Grimholt were doomed. So he buried the corpse in the ruins. Then he swore his brother and sister to secrecy, assuring them that everything would be fine just so long as they never, ever, told anyone what had happened. Tarrin and Tara duly promised to keep quiet, although Tarrin was already thrilling to his own part in his big brother's mighty feat.

It was later, at home, that everything started to unravel. Otto and Barak, and then Erik turned up. It might've been a routine drinking session that people had in mind, it might've been business. Whatever it actually had been that had drawn those 3 friends to Aldric's little house that afternoon was soon forgotten when, in a fit of enthusiasm, Tarrin blurted out that his brother had killed an orc.

Horrified, Aldric tried to pass the young lad's remark off as sheer fancy, but it was too late. Aldric dragged Tarrin to another room there to impress upon him yet again the importance of secrecy. Erik confronted the woodsman there. Meanwhile Tara confirmed her brother's words to Barak and Otto.

The story was out, and our PC's faced a stark choice, whose brutal realities Erik wasted no time in pointing out. They could immediately hand Aldric, Tarrin and Tara over to the authorities, and hope to live; or they could flee, dooming the people of Grimholt to a terrible fate. The discussion wavered back and forth as everyone grappled with the enormity of the decision they faced, and sought perhaps for one last crumb of comfort, one last hope that the pattern of everyday life could somehow be resumed.

Otto had his own motives for a hasty departure: he knew the rebel prisoner, and had a terrible certainty that his own name would be one of the first to come to man's lips under torture. Erik too was worried that the prisoner could identify him. He was also feeling very nervous about the new Legate's interest in him, but he'd spent so long hiding his powers and generally keeping his head down that he stubbornly resisted the very notion of running.

It was Barak's intervention that proved decisive in the end, unwilling as he was to see his 3 cousins just handed over to the authorities. The decision made, Otto insisted on rescuing the rebel prisoner. When asked why the prisoner was worth the risk, Otto simply pointed out that the PC's had nowhere else to run except to the rebels, so that the prisoner should prove very helpful.

The fate of the prisoner decided, the PC's had to confront the fate of Grimholt itself. That the Legates would wreak a terrible vengance for the PC's own deeds was taken for granted. Nobody felt comfortable with the idea of just leaving their fellows to their fate. The idea of alerting the villagers so that they could flee themselves was considered. In the end though, 2 tragic and brutal truths asserted themselves: tragic- that time was of the essence, for a variety of reasons; and brutal- that, should our PC's alert the villagers to their impending fate, someone would no doubt inform the Legate Laetitia, and the jig would be up in any case. Only 7 humans were going to escape Grimholt that day, and only if they took rapid action.

And so it was that our PC's, with Tarrin and Tara in tow, made a beeline for Erik's smithy. Erik entered the smithy while the others waited out of sight round a corner. There were no orc guards inside, and the prisoner had regained consciousness. Shushing the prisoner into silence, Erik grabbed his leather apron and smith's hammer, and set to breaking the prisoner's shackles. The sound of shearing iron inevitably alerted the orc guards outside, and so Erik and the prisoner had to fight their way back out of the smithy.

Outside the other PC's ran up against one of the reasons why a hasty departure had been so important- the orc that Aldric had killed. Its corpse hadn't been burned in the appointed fashion, so it had risen from the dead and was seeking out its killer. The fights were short and bloody and the PC's were quickly triumphant.

The alarm raised, all thoughts of last visits home to pick up belongings were dropped, as was the plan for Barak to steal the boat and then to meet the rest of the party downriver at the edge of the town ruins. There was nothing for it but to take the dock by storm. Pausing only for Otto, Barak and the prisoner- who went by the name of Ralph- to scoop up the orcs' scimitars, everyone set off towards the docks.

Running through the narrow streets of Grimholt, the party's path was soon cut off by 4 advancing orcs. These were again swiftly dealt with, though not without the PC's suffering a few minor wounds.

Everyone had hoped that those last orcs had been those guarding the docks, so that the last dash to the boat would be unimpeded. It was not to be. When the pier came into sight, the party's hearts sank when they beheld an orc and 10 goblin archers barring the way to the boat. There was nothing for it but to charge, trusting to luck against the hail of arrows the goblins unleashed.

A few arrows hit home, though to no deadly effect. Then the PC's were on the goblins. Aldric's woodsman's axe did for one of the goblins, at which point Barak stepped up. In a display of hitherto unsuspected martial prowess he swung his orcish scimitar back and forth, leaving a trail of goblin blood behind him as he strode down the pier. By the time he had finished only the orc and 1 goblin still stood. Escape no longer seemed too much to hope for.

The last goblin proved surprisingly tough, and wounded Barak before the orc took the heroic boatman down with a blow from its scimitar. While Otto closed in on the orc, Erik raised his hammer and began to chant. Flames licked around his hammer and spat out towards the orc. At that moment a hideous ululating howl rang out from back in the village. Then the orc's clothes smouldered and burst into flames, and the brute promptly jumped into the river. The way to the boat was clear.

What with the children, the wounded Ralph, and the unconscious Barak it took a wee while to load up the boat and prepare to cast off. At the last moment the sound of howling closing in alerted the PC's to the approach of Laetitia's evil hound. Erik and Aldric prepared themselves to meet it. Before they could react, the black beast leapt into the boat and fixed its fangs around Erik's throat. The smith went down without even time to cry out. Trying to fight with this vicious beast in a crowded boat was a recipie for disaster, so Aldric acted quickly. He grabbed hold of the hound and, with all his might, heaved the evil creature into the river.

More and more orcs were arriving at the docks as Otto steered out into midstream and the current began to catch the boat. The orcs piled into boats themselves but, no boatsmen, were unable to close down the party's ever-increasing lead. The last sight the PC's had before they were carried out of sight was of a soggy-looking big black hound dragging itself out of the water then slinking off to stand beside its furious mistress.
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