Red Riders of the Realms
Another Sergeant Kilrad Adventure: Part I
He had felt all sorts of pain before, extreme pains, dull pains, sharp pains. This was a very different pain. It seemed a combination of several types of pain and Vincenzo figured it was the worse he had ever felt because it was coupled with despair. He lay partially buried beneath a large pile of stones. The left side of his body felt as if it was crushed. At least, the pain he was feeling suggested that it was crushed. Had he been a little quicker, he might have escaped being trapped. But he realized that if only he had been more aware, he wouldn’t have endangered himself in the first place.
Someone in his party had tripped a snare that Vincenzo had previously disabled on his group’s way into to the caves. As he ran past on the way back out he saw it was reset. He even called out to the men running behind him to avoid it. But as he did so, he knew it wasn’t enough. And as the stones rumbled above him, once held in place by a single load bearing rail rigged to a trip line, he knew that he could only survive by being the farthest ahead in the group. All he had to do was make it past the fall out area, for the trap was set to unleash a rain of stone at the point of the trigger and spread destruction both up and down the cave. When he felt the first stone smash into his shoulder, he dove as far up the path he could hoping it would be far enough. As things stood now, his leap kept him from being buried alive but it didn’t entirely save him. As for the four remaining members of his party, they had undoubtedly become interred beneath the rubble in the passage. However, he did take comfort in the possibility that the drow chasing his group were also caught in the trap or at least blocked from being able to get to him. He knew he should never have entered the caves. A lot of things had gone wrong and he realized that he was not responsible for all of them. Yet, had he paid attention to that turn in his stomach when he stood at the entrance to the underground labyrinth, he knew this would not have been his fate.
Vincenzo had entered the cavern with eleven other men. All had been in good spirits having met little resistance during their trek higher up into the Storm Horns. They had set out from Eagle Peak the previous morning, a mixed group of Lord Stephen’s riders from Asbravn and vigilantes from Skull Crag and Eagle Peak. Vincenzo was one of six riders sent by Lord Stephen’s to aid a merchant council that relied on the High Road to move goods from the Tun River valley to Tyrluk at the edge of Cormyr. The High Road had been regularly beset by bandits in the gap west of High Horn and Stephen’s men, along with soldiers volunteered by three other Lords, were to put an end to raids on trade goods moving along the road.
Unfortunately, the support Lord Stephen’s riders had anticipated for their mission did not meet their expectations. When they arrived in the small hamlet of Skull Crag, instead of meeting up with more soldiers, the riders received messages from the other Lords. The messages were all the same, the Lords could not lend support because of goblin assaults on their lands. Having no other orders, Sergeant Kilrad of the riders obtained three volunteers from the men of Skull Crag. He obtained seven more in Eagle Peak.
Winter was beginning to set in and the people of both Skull Crag and Eagle Peak relied on the caravans passing along the High Road to resupply their small mining villages. So with the hope of ridding the trade route of bandits, and Kilrad’s offer of two silver coins a day for their services, the men of the mountain were eager to join in the hunt. Certainly, the possibility of any adventure that took them away from their digging and their tunnels was a motivating factor. Before they set out to track the bandits, Sergeant Kilrad announced that the small group of recruits, along side Lord Stephen’s experienced riders, would be enough to put an end to the petty thievery occurring along the trade road. A handful of Eagle Peak’s citizens, mostly the families of volunteers, and the recruits all gave a hearty cheer at the Sergeant’s declaration. Maybe that was when Vincenzo’s uneasiness had begun. At the moment when they left Eagle Peak to travel to the gap.
None of the recruits showed signs of having any of the skills needed to confront armed bandits. Yes, they had swords. A few even had what passed for leather armor, and one carried a menacing crossbow. Each had proclaimed their proficiency and their resolve against bandits who would steal from their children’s mouths. But Vincenzo was unsure how they would fare in a fierce fight with goblins not to mention something worse. In fact, Vincenzo wasn’t the only one who was unsure. He had known Sergeant Kilrad and the other riders long enough to be able to read their faces. He knew none of Lord Stephen’s men expected all the villagers to make the hike back. Burrell, the roughest edged rider in the group, looked at the recruits somewhat like a grown-up looks at small children taking their first steps, with amusement. Helgrid and Thorinwald, who were always inseparable, seemed to ride even closer to one another then usual, trading whispers and looks of concern. Tomas, a young boy who had joined the riders only a year ago, laughed with some of the villagers but, occasionally he would catch Vincenzo’s eye and shake his head. And Kilrad, a man who was constantly spouting stories of perilous adventures, even as he rode into another one, was quiet. Perhaps all of the riders were thinking the same thing as Vincenzo. If it were only petty bandits they faced, a few good villagers just might be able to win the day. If it were something tougher, a few good villagers would serve as pawns, hopefully giving the riders enough time to overcome their opponents.
Vincenzo was confident Sergeant Kilrad wouldn’t advance so far on their trek that the odds would be against them. He was an able leader and had a good sense of when disaster, rather than fortune, lay ahead of him. But something nagged at Vincenzo. Something about the ease with which Kilrad had carried on with the mission even without experienced soldiers as support. Vincenzo expected Kilrad’s choice was based on the information they had been given about their mission. From the stories that reached Lord Stephens, it seemed that the bandits were a loosely organized group of humanoids and not of any great numbers. No more than eight to ten had been reported. This was also confirmed by the villagers, no one had been killed in the bandit attacks and the thieves seemed much more interested in taking goods than in inflicting harm. Vincenzo finally pushed away his concerns and concentrated on making sure nothing would go wrong.
The group reached the gap and began searching for paths used by the bandits. Near nightfall, as the wind was picking up and snow was beginning to fall in the Storm Horns, Vincenzo found a trail that appeared to have recently been used. From the small but wide footprints he could find, he figured it was last used by a group of about eight goblins. He also found a discarded cargo box along the trail that led east into higher climbs. The hunting party camped for the night planning to follow the trail in the morning with the hope of confronting the bandits.