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 different. It seemed a combination of all 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 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 they wouldn’t. 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. They 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 also a motivating factor. Before they set out to track the bandits, Sergeant Kilrad announced that the small group of recruits, alongside 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.
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 than 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.
Before first light, Vincenzo started up the goblin trail. Even with a couple of inches of overnight snowfall the trail had been regularly used enough that Vincenzo had no difficulties tracking the goblin’s path into the surrounding mountains. The other riders and the recruits trailed safely behind, far enough to the rear for Vincenzo’s comfort. With the larger party at a distance but still within sight Vincenzo felt some hope that the stumbling of the villagers wouldn’t alert their quarry. Kilrad was keeping the troops in order though and Helgrid and Thorinwald were at the lead of the group with Tomas bringing up the rear. Burrell had remained at their campsite with one volunteer to watch the horses. There was no room on the narrow trail for mounts and with all of the recruits on foot, keeping the company in order was easier for Kilrad dismounted. By the time the sunlight cresting the eastern mountains brightened the ravine Vincenzo spotted a split in the trail.
To the right another path snaked up the side of the mountain and out of the ravine. It was well worn and still visible under the snow but it did not appear to have been used recently. The more recently travelled path led up the ravine toward the saddle of two hilltops. Just as Vincenzo had decided that it was best to go back and ask Kilrad’s opinion on the way to go, the smell of a campfire carried on the cold winter breeze hit him. From the direction of the wind, it was clear it was coming from the saddle. If these were the bandit goblins, they were most likely just over the rise less than five-hundred yards ahead.
Vincenzo hurried back to the main group and informed Kilrad. The Sergeant huddled the riders together and quickly gave assignments. Vincenzo, Helgrid, and Thorinwald would scout the camp ahead. If they believed it to be the bandits they sought and if the number of bandits was manageable, Thorinwald would signal the main group to advance. He would do so by lobbing one of the many bottles of potions he carried which would cause a thick plume of smoke to rise. This would give cover for Tomas, the Sergeant, and the inexperienced volunteers to charge up the ravine.
Vincenzo led Helgrid and Thorinwald up the ravine and flanked the trail so they could travel above it on higher ground. There were plenty of snow covered shrubs and some trees growing along the hills giving the three riders cover. Within about four-hundred yards they came in sight of a small camp nestled under an overhang of rocks. Two battered tents were pitched in the camp and at the fire sat three goblins. Vincenzo moved forward under what cover he could find while Helgrid and Thorinwald remained concealed. He carefully watched the goblins and the tents as he moved. The goblins were busy preparing some foul smelling breakfast on the campfire and there was no sign that more goblins were in the tents. While he was still in sight of Thorinwald he gave a hand signal and Thorinwald lobbed a bottle of potion back down the ravine. The cracking of the campfire fire, the whistle of the winter wind, and their concentration on their morning meal kept the goblins from noticing the sound of the bottle breaking in the distance. In fact, they didn’t notice plume of smoke it produced until it had wafted level with the rise and begun to swirl above them with the wind. Vincenzo figured that Kilrad had already covered half the distance up the ravine by the time the goblins had stood to investigate the source of the smoke. By the time the goblins had walked over to the slope to look down into the ravine, Vincenzo could hear the yells of the villagers.
The goblins yelled too as they immediately turned and ran back to the tents. None were armed and if they intended to remedy that by reaching their weapons, Vincenzo was prepared to stop them. He loosed a bolt from his hand crossbow at the nearest goblin hitting it squarely in its hip. The goblin’s leg went out and it sprawled head first into the snow. The other two goblins gave little notice to their fallen comrade, one of them hurdling the prone figure on its way to the tents. Vincenzo dashed toward the camp and heard the twang of Helgrid’s crossbow. The second fastest goblin spun in midstride and went down into the fresh snow. The last goblin did notice this and skid to a stop.
The villagers war yelps were waning as they crested the saddle, the long run up the ravine having winded all of them. But to the goblin, they still appeared to be fierce warriors and as it fell to its knees in the snow and it pleaded for mercy. Vincenzo reached the victim of his shot first and kicked the goblin over. It howled in pain, the wound in its leg leaking rich dark blood into the snow. Vincenzo grabbed it by the collar of the oversized tunic it was wearing and drug it across the snow to the goblin Helgrid had laid out with one shot. He immediately saw there was no need to be concerned over the status of the other wounded goblin. It lay on its back in the snow with the business end of bolt protruding out of the middle of its chest and the snow underneath it was becoming a pool of red slush.
Vincenzo met Kilrad and the villagers in the middle of the campsite still dragging his injured goblin. Three of the villagers were mildly abusing the goblin who had surrendered, pushing it down into the snow every time it tried to look up at the and beg for mercy. Vincenzo dropped the wounded goblin at Kilrad’s feet and went over to the tents to ensure there were no sound sleeping goblins inside.
The tents contained some weapons which the goblins had made a run for and a few boxes marked with a merchant’s crest. Disturbed by the small number of goblins in the camp, when the path they had followed suggested there should be more, Vincenzo searched the perimeter for signs to indicate where the rest of the goblins may have gone. He eventually found their fresh tracks, most likely made that morning, leading along a trail to the right of the camp and up the hill. From the direction it appeared to go he suspected that it would intersect the other path he had spotted down in the ravine.
Vincenzo returned to the camp in time to hear Kilrad interrogating the unwounded goblin. It claimed it did not speak common but Kilrad spoke goblin well enough to know just how to threaten it in the most frightening ways. It only took a few questions peppered with the right amount of intimidation to get the goblin to admit to the theft of caravan goods. While the goblin with the wounded hip continuously hissed for it to be quiet, the other couldn’t keep from blabbering out any information Kilrad asked for.
The goblin told them there were five other goblins in the group who had taken goods to a nearby hideaway and they wouldn’t be back for hours. Also, it said that the bandits had been raiding only small caravans because they were easiest, usually without many guards. And they had been encamped here for a couple of days and moved regularly to new locations so as not to be caught. Finally it said that the goblins had been stowing all the goods they captured in a mountain hideaway and only kept some things out of their stash so they could eat.
It was that last statement that made Vincenzo take notice. He had encountered his share of goblins in the Moonshae Isles. They were stupid. Maybe not so stupid that they couldn’t come up with a plan not to get caught or to make strategic raids so they didn’t get killed. But, they wouldn’t inherently come up with a plan to stow their booty for later. What were they saving it up for, Vincenzo thought? So they could retire? No, the types of goblins he’d run into would go through their stolen goods and then set out to raid again. They might save certain items to trade with other tribes or to support their own settlement but a group of rogue goblins wouldn’t ration their haul, saving the bulk for later and meanwhile continue to build up a stash. That type of planning required an amount of forethought that the average goblin would not arrive at on its own. So Vincenzo, who spoke goblin fluently, asked who their chieftain was.
The wounded goblin ceased its hissing and turned its head away. The blabbering goblin fell silent too but its eyes betrayed that it was trying to come up with an answer it could give if it was pressed. Kilrad must have sensed something as well because he then demanded the blabberer tell him who their chieftain was. It took a couple of hard blows but the goblin finally said, almost mournfully, Kran.
Vincenzo pulled Kilrad away from the goblins and the ears of the volunteers and walked him to the start of the fresh trail leading up the nearby hill. Vincenzo pointed out that at least five other goblins had gone up the trail and based on the depth of their tracks they were all likely carrying a load of goods. He then motioned to the dead goblin in the snow, dressed as pitifully as the other two and skinnier, surely not a goblin chieftain. He then looked at Kilrad and asked him simply, when had he known a goblin chieftain to carry a load up narrow trails while its lessers sat around a campfire?
Kilrad kicked at the snow, “I don’ think there’s much to be mystified by, Cenzo,” he said. “Ain’ no proper goblin tribe anyhow, jus’ a bunch of renegades. We’ll jus’ get our jobs done, right. An’ then back to Asbravn.”
And with that, Kilrad turned to his mixed squad of volunteers and soldiers and began to bark orders. The surviving goblins were bound and dressings applied to the wounded one. Two villagers were ordered to keep watch on the camp and the rest of the group ordered to take to the fresh trail into the mountains. Vincenzo again was to scout ahead. And as the wind died down a bit and the sun of mid-morning began to suggest that the day may not end up being too cold and damp, he set off up the trail.
Continued in Another Sergeant Kilrad Adventure – Part II