You walk about 4 hours and reach the mouth of the Shrike River where you see the waters of the Tuskwater which is generally sided here by bluffs and cliffs. On the west bank of the Shrike is a rise with a fort surrounded by a palisade. The stone fort is a crumbled ruin of what might have been a stacked stone church or monastery that has obviously been worked on but still is in a state of disrepair. There is a central tower and three watch towers surrounded by a 15’ palisade with a main gate. There is a path that winds its way up to the gates which, from a cryptic snide comment by Kressle, you gather that straying off the path to climb the briar choked boulder strewn rise would be bad. However, the three guards walking the walkways constructed around the watchtowers don’t seem to be scanning the hill at all but see you walking up the path right away. At the gate one of them calls down,
“By St. Gilmorg, who goes there?”
“By the bloody bones of St. Gilmorg, who wants to know?”
The gates then open and you are greeted by a small courtyard that has a large quantity of water barrels stored about and horses tied up nearby. Two men run out of the building ahead as the three men on the 15’ palisade aim arrows down at you and shut the gates behind you. The two men before you, one quite fat and one with red hair, have short swords drawn (and the fat one has a half-eaten pigeon in his other hand as well) but they don’t advance too close looking instead at your stag head amulet that you wear (either you took one from another bandit or took Kressle’s). A short thin dark featured, dark haired, tattooed young man with a rapier walks up behind them and starts to question anything you say but falls very quiet and maybe even expectant of violence when a large muscled man with a deer skull helmet that covers his face walks out of the ruin and stares at you.
“You have my liquor?” he asks in a rough, gravel voice laced with drunken slur.
You obviously don’t but he nods and glowers when he either notices that you don’t (takes a bit) or you when you tell him (which you have to do twice, slowly and clearly).
“Who hired you?” he then asks now looking at you with bloodshot eyes that are quivering with a sudden bloodlust.
When you mention Kressle’s name the Stag Lord barks a guttural laugh and shakes his head as he turns back to the ruin saying to himself more than anyone else,
“Always another young cock for that bitch.”
As the Stag Lord leaves a bearded graying middle-aged man with substantial bearing, well cared for chainmail and longsword, and both the Stag Lord’s amulet and a silver holy symbol of Erastil walks onto the scene and looks at you closely, intently. He softly orders Red to show you around. The man then looks at you intently and then seems to get lost in his own thoughts and walks away. You are given the general highlights (few) and introductions to the others (fewer still) about the place as the young red head introduces himself to you.
In the course of the night Topper Red tells you all sorts of things. He shines to you instantly. You’re obviously young like him, personable, and it’s easy to use your charm to stoke his ego. Plus there’s beer at dinner. Everything is from his point of view; the others tend to either bait you, mock you as Kressle’s toy, or ignore your presence.
Topper Red – A young man of dark red hair, short scruffy beard and grey-blue eyes Topper’s clothes and leathers have definitely seen better days. His belt holds a wooden flute (like a recorder really) and he seems to like his beer. Topper is friendly enough, talks a lot and tends to punctuate his conversation with back clapping and snippets of songs that you think he just doesn’t remember all the words to.
“I’m living free in this world. I comes from Pitax but there was a woman see and a bit o’a misunderstanding that forced me to leave that humdrum boring world o’towns and cities behind. Good blessing of Cayden that! To seek my fortune out here as a brigand, what a life! The danger, the wenchin’, the riches and glory; can you think of anything more worthy of a great poet like myself?
The Stag Lord – “What’s there ta say? He’s the boss. He’s strong as a dragon, mean as a bush thyl’ine, and lately drunk ‘nuff to kill any other man. He use ta be better but we’re still successful and there’s no man who’d cross ‘im and live so…
You just ‘member to follow yer orders, wait fer yer share, and don’ touch ‘is liquor. That deer skull? Might well be ‘is face as he never takes it off nor is seen wit’out it; and don’ you be tryin’ to look either ‘cause he’s killed men fer tryin’’
Fat Nonny – “He’s just slightly smaller than Auchs but a darn bit smarter (which isn’t much) and likes a good bit of story and performance. Huh, how’d he find that bit of fish to eat? I haven’t a guess. He’s always eating but the gods have me if I know where he gets it from.”
Falgrim Sneed - “He’s some old Varisian man.”
Topper points to a man walking the wall. Middle-aged but definitely muscled and scarred with thin gray hair and a beard flecked with black.
“Came outta the north from Restov I think. Doesn’t talk much but definitely has soldierin’ in his past. Strangely calm when things get crazy or bloody. Spooky really.”
Jex the Snitch – “He’s the Stag Lord’s gem,” Topper whispers sarcastically about a rattish greasy man nearby, “he is. His name says it all so don’t be caught makin’ mistakes when the Snitch is about. I’m thinkin’ he might have a ‘orrible accident some day, least that my hope.”
Dirty Jeb – “Ohhhh he’s all dangerous in a fight and all.” Topper says with sarcasm and a pantomime of being scared.
“Yeah, dangerous only to yer nose and don’t stand too nears him lest you wish to harbor a herds worth o’lice courtesy of Jeb. He’s Ayles’ brother but otherwise not even close to Ayles in tough. Still, he fights well ‘nuff.”
Ayles Megesen – “He’s true tough and scary and you should gives him a wide berth. He is too quiet for my tastes and when we hit a place or travelers he stays behind to hurt people, or worse, brings them with him to hurt here. I hate that, I can’t leave with the others and not listen when he brings ‘em here. Ismort hasn’t let him do that lately, Erastil bless him.”
Cragger Kench – “Sad that one. Used to be a cutpurse or some such somewhere, got caught drinkin’ the Stag Lord’s personal libations (see the big words he can use). The Lord beat him senseless and he’s been almost as thick as the Auchs since. Poor sod. Now there’s a lesson ya should keep close, don’t touch or take what is rightfully the Lord’s.”
“You might get in trouble for some infarction of summin’ and with the Snitch about it’s easy. You get punished dependin’ on which of the lieuten’ts are about. Extra duty, bad chores, and such but you steal from the Lord…”
“There’s this…there was these guys Shem and Dev. Now Shem was a pisser but Dev’s was a decent sort, nice ‘nuff guy. The two o’thems was lovers, not that I understand such ‘n such, but they were. Two o’ them hit a rich wizard travelling here abouts. They gathered his things and hid them somewheres. Shem comes back inta the fort with the intent to sneak out but the Stag Lord, he knows Shem’s crossin’ him so he has Auchs grab him and Auchs and Ayles hurt him, torture him for days tryin’ to get Shem to tell where the goods are or where Dev is. Shem doesn’t say a word. Oh he screams alright but tells ‘em nothing. Finally the Stag Lord, he’s had enough and he takes Shem and hooks him on the wall with meathooks through the back and Ayles slits his gut and strings Shem’s guts about the top o’the walls. Shem, he screams and moans and passes out but the Stag Lord, he gets that freak old man from below and he heals Shem. Day in and day out, rats, crows, and bugs all over the poor sap and every night that scary old man heals ‘im.”
Red takes a long draught of beer and clears his throat.
The Old Man – “Who ‘im? He’s a mystery he is. Stays down in the cellar and generally don’t come up. I don’ know if he stays there ‘cause he wants or is kept there but the Stag Lord hates ‘im and listens to ‘im and won’t let a man raise a hand to ‘im; and he’s a scary demon to be sure. He can heal us when we need it but there isn’t a man, Ayles included, who won’t suffer for a few days more an heal natural rather than go below and let the creature touch us. Calls on Gozreh but I thinks he’s possessed by a dark fey. Happens in these parts as there’s so many o’em.”
“Anyway, days go by and he finally passes. Gods keep him. Ismort gets the Lord to agree to dump the corpse inna hole ‘cause of disease he says. Thank the gods; I don’t know if I could walk the gangways seeing Shem hang there like that.”
Topper is quiet for a while and needs a beer or two more to continue.
“So speakin’ of lieuten’ts there’s three.
Auchs – “He’s a lumbering lummox with a cruel streak a league wide and he likes torture as well as Ayles. Came with Dovan. Dovan saved his life somehow and Auchs is beholden’ but lately he’s, Auchs that is, been shinin’ onto Ismort. Might be good, Dovan mocks the thick sod and uses him to stay in power. ‘Sides Dovan likes to keep the Stag Lord as watered as possible and that makes his Lordship difficult to work for.”
Dovan – “He’s from Nisroch from what I’ve heard. Other than that I don’t know much. Kinda citified and he likes being mean and cruel. Fights well with that rapier when he does fight which is usually only when he’s scanned the battle some. He has Auchs eatin’ out of his hand.”
Akiros Ismort – “Now there’s a puzzle. A holy of Erastil once but no more, that’s for sure. Some heavy reason back in Taldor ta blame. Quiet, broods a lot. Moody and thoughtful a lot too but he has a presence. Stag Lord was taken with his faith (not that I suspect that he has much o’that left) and his bearin’. Made him second on the spot, Dovan’s right pissed. Good. Ismort’s a good commander when he puts an effort innit.
I get the ‘pression that he’s not happy with this life which I cannit understand. I mean the adventure and all! How can a body not see the grandness of it!? You know, you live it too. “
“I’m here just waitin’ to get enough money for the next adventure. See, Taldor sent a bunch’a colonists here ta settle the Stolen Lands. They failed but not for want of resources. There’s rumor of some old and abandoned mines about somewhere lost in the Kamelands. Bein’ a brigand helps me explore while I collect a fund ta start somethin’. Somes even believe that there’s gold in them hills. You prove yerself and maybe you can join me.”
You definitely get the impression that the others are watching you. You are doing a late guard duty when Ismort joins you out on the wall for a while. He stares off into the dark ignoring any attempts at conversation because he’s distracted or on purpose. A while later he asks only,
“Why did you come here?”
Zebulon looks at Ismort for awhile, then smiles.
“I imagine the same as most people around here. Things weren’t working out for me back home so I headed for the Stolen Lands where I hoped my problems wouldn’t follow me. Once I got out here, it didn’t take me long to hear about the Stag Lord and the operation he was running. And it seems like the only way to survive out here is to stand next to someone powerful.”
[I’m trying my damndest to win this guy over so I’ll make a roll here. Going word for word, what I said is actually all true although I’m trying to tap into what Red told me about Ismort not liking this life by implying it was forced on me. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether the roll should be Diplomacy or Bluff; my modifiers are the same.
ROLL: 14 +8 +1 vs. brigands=23
If he asks me further questions, I will tell him everything I’ve done up ‘til my accepting the commission from the Sword Lords, but I will imply that I was forced into working for Wood because I didn’t know how else to survive. Let me know if you need another roll. If I can improve his attitude, I’ll keep it going. I’ll try to find out about him, asking first about his faith, then his background.]
When Zebulon is not on watch, he will find a quiet spot that’s not in the middle of camp but close enough that people would notice, and he’ll “fiddle” with his guitar, i.e. pretend like he’s just messing around but in fact trying to lay it down, hopefully making some friends or at least soothing tensions. [He definitely is NOT trying to be “that guy at the campfire”. I’ll throw you two rolls, one for the playing and one for the bluffing to look like he’s being nonchalant.