Red Riders of the Realms
Another Sergeant Kilrad Adventure - Part II
As simple as a walk in the mountains Vincenzo led the party up the winding trail, ever higher into the Storm Horns. By no more than an hour past noon they reached the cave entrance without incident. Vincenzo noted that hands had carved what had once been a cave into a more amiable entrance into the dark underground. It had the appearance of a single miner’s effort of making a stake on the mountain. Surely, Vincenzo thought, it was a ready place for goblins to stow plunder, if it was their regular habit to do so. But something nagged deep inside him. While the full company of volunteers finished straggling up to the entrance, Vincenzo mentally reviewed the path up to the cave and everything he had experienced thus far to identify just what it was that made him uneasy. He came up with nothing. Nothing more than the fact that it was a cold early winter and he was surrounded by mumbling villagers about to enter into a dark, possibly unforgiving place. Maybe that was all he needed to feel unsettled. He was after all more accustomed to either working alone or with those he was closely associated. Seven unknown miners, with their dull swords and natty armor stood behind him at the cave entrance. That was enough to engender any discomfort.
At the entrance, Kilrad turned to Vincenzo and ordered him to check the path into mountain. He also instructed the villagers that once they were in the cave, things may not be as simple as a fight in the open with a few bandit goblins. Kilrad warned that the dark held dangers that couldn’t be known until encountered. However, it seemed that most of his words were lost on the hereditary miners. After all, this was their bailiwick, the cold dark stone of a miner’s tunnel. They heard Kilrad’s instructions but there was little for them to take heed of that they did not already know. And that was one comfort Vincenzo did not expect. He was in the company of men who worked in the dark all their lives. That fact provided some relief though it did not entirely quell the unexplained feeling in his gut.
Vincenzo moved into the cave with the rustling and muttering of villagers behind him. His careful examination of the cave’s only passage was uneventful until he was about two hundred feet in. It was there that he noted the edge of the impact zone of a large deadfall. He carefully walked beneath its heavy load for thirty feet before he found its trigger. He disabled the trap and moved forward, the rest of the trap’s load of stone held up above another thirty or so feet of tunnel leading deeper into the mountain. And that was it, the only trap he could find, the only indication that someone wanted to protect the passage deep into the mountain.
Vincenzo led the group farther down into the cavern without event until he found another tunnel entrance in the wall of the main passageway. He halted the party and scouted into the small passage a short way. It did not appear regularly used and was apparently a natural cavern, twisting steeply downward, with jagged walls. Vincenzo returned to Sergeant Kilrad after his brief reconnoiter and described its lack of utility as a route for goblins bearing caravan goods to cache. Vincenzo also pointed to what appeared to be the tracks of the five goblins the group had been trailing, leading down the main passage. Kilrad decided that although there was little chance that the goblins might emerge behind them from the small cavern, it still required a watch. He assigned Tomas and one of the villagers to remain at the small tunnel entrance until the main group had returned. Tomas was visibly disappointed and he looked at Vincenzo with an unspoken plea, clearly hoping that a word might be spoken to change the Sergeant’s command. Vincenzo’s feelings of uneasiness had not settled and somehow, he thought, this order might spare Tomas from what lay ahead. So, he only shrugged helplessly and said nothing to Kilrad.
With Tomas and the villager posted behind them, the party moved on into the dark cavern. Only a single torch carried by one of the villagers lit the way and Vincenzo scouted ahead just within its light. After about thirty minutes more the large tunnel narrowed to the point that the group would have to continue single file. Vincenzo continued ahead, wary of any new traps until within one-hundred yards, the narrow tunnel climbed for a couple dozen more feet and opened into a vast chamber, with the tunnel terminating on a wide dais above a cavern. A set of steps were carved into the near wall of the cavern leading toward the bottom of the chamber, and in the center were a couple of torches set on poles which lit up enough of the area for Vincenzo to make out five goblins sitting around a stack of crates.
The goblins appeared to be relaxing and eating and were undoubtedly unaware of Vincenzo at the far end of the chamber. But, the glow from the torchlight held by the villager behind him would be visible to the goblins if they chose to look his way. He hurried back down the tunnel, hoping to block the light and whispered an order to douse it. Vincenzo’s hissed command was obeyed immediately. And once the torch was out, the dim glow of the light from inside the large cavern could be seen at the mouth of the tunnel. Vincenzo relayed what he had seen to Kilrad, who quickly gave orders. Again, Vincenzo, Thorinwald, and the Helgrid were to slip ahead and take up positions on the floor of the cavern. Once in position they were to initiate an attack and Kilrad, along with the villagers would charge down the steps to meet the goblins.
Vincenzo and the two other riders moved quietly back up the tunnel and onto the dais. The goblins were enjoying their meal and the the torches surrounding them and their stolen goods was sufficient to light a path down the carved steps in the cavern wall. Once on the cavern floor, Vincenzo, Thorinwald, and Helgrid found some cover behind worn columns of stalagmite, using those to slip one at a time closer to the goblins. When the three of them were within a good range to let loose a volley of bolts into the goblins, Vincenzo afforded himself a quick look back at the dais and saw Kilrad a few steps down from the platform with a line of the six remaining villagers right behind him. He knew that if the goblins were inclined to look that direction, they would easily see the main party but if they did and were startled, he and the Helgrid could at least dispatch a few before they either tried to flee or charge. And Thorinwald was prepared with another alchemical brew to cut off any escape with a bright explosion.
Helgrid was lifting his crossbow to take aim at the farthest goblin and Vincenzo had his hand crossbow trained on the nearest when he heard the sound of footsteps echoing from the far side of the cavern, out of reach of the goblins’ torchlight. The footfalls were not clumsy or lumbering and most likely they were not goblin. It only took moments for the incoming group to reach the outskirts of the torchlight. There were three of them and they were drow. All were equipped in black leather with what appeared to be spiked grommets spread across the chests and thighs of their armor. All were also wearing short thin swords, possibly a version of a side sword, similar to a short rapier. The turn in Vincenzo’s stomach finally met with the rest of his body. His legs and arms began to shake and even though he consciously was not afraid his intuition knew that he should be. Lowering his hand crossbow, he tried to signal to Kilrad to move back with little hope that the Sergeant would see him. Almost simultaneously, he tapped Helgrid and pointed at the advancing drow.
Helgrid slowly lowered his crossbow and Vincenzo could hear the slow exhalation of the man’s breath as he took in the advancing drow. Between two of the drow, Vincenzo could see that a body was being carried, its feet almost touching the ground. It was a large goblin, bruised and broken. Vincenzo looked again back at Kilrad but the Sergeant had not seen his warning signal. He was still standing on a step down the cavern wall and the villagers behind him were clearly anxious for the charge to come. Vincenzo thought to signal again but realized that to get Kilrad’s attention, it may be at the expense of being seen by the drow.
The drows’ approach was heard by the five goblins lounging around the cache of merchant goods. The goblins got up, almost timidly and moved around to the back of the cache. Vincenzo realized then that Kilrad could not see the drow from his vantage point and the goblins were moving out of his sight. Perhaps, Vincenzo thought, this would be the best time to move back and warn the Sergeant that the odds in this encounter had changed drastically. But the cover between his group and Kilrad was insufficient to hide all three of them if the drow were to look their way. He touched Helgrid’s shoulder and with a nod of his head, he indicated his intention to move back by himself toward the main party. At first, it seemed that Helgrid understood and within an instant it was clear that he didn’t. Before Vincenzo could even move an inch, Helgrid backed away in a crouch, tapped Thorinwald and the two of them began to shuffle toward Kilrad at the other end of the cavern.
Vincenzo was stunned at his comrades’ move and was unsure whether he should follow. He had good cover where he crouched. He looked back to the goblins and the drow to see if they noticed Helgrid and Thorinwald’s movement. He saw two of the drow throw the beaten goblin down in front of the goblins; he heard one of the goblins speak the name, Kran and rush forward to the larger goblin; and, then it erupted – the darkest, and perhaps the largest of the drow raised his hand and pointed directly at Helgrid and Thorinwald’s retreat. He shouted something, in goblin, about betrayers, and all the goblins turned in the direction he pointed. A couple of the goblins appeared to back away from the drow but the other three steeled themselves, glaring in the direction of the two riders’ backsides as they headed to the other end of the cavern. These three goblins drew their swords and broke into a run towards Helgrid and Thorinwald.
Just as the goblins began a charge, the other two goblins also drew their swords and sprinted behind them. Vincenzo looked toward Helgrid and Thorinwald and saw they had only just realized they were spotted. He then looked at Kilrad and saw the Sergeant was not looking towards the goblins but at the other riders coming toward him. Then, almost without wanting to, he looked back at the drow and saw all of them, almost in unison, draw their swords and begin a slow advance around the other side of the cache of goods.
Vincenzo was frozen. He could not fire at the charging goblins because it could draw all of them to his location. He also could not fire at the drow because it would only draw all of the dark elves to him. He could only hope that all would pass him before reaching his comrades and he could attack from behind. And, it may have worked out exactly that way except…except that the villager with the large crossbow started at the advancing goblins and in his fear and excitement, he let a bolt loose.
The bolt skittered in front of the fastest of the goblins, who shrieked at the unexpected attack. Helgrid then let a bolt fly, catching the shrieking goblin full in the chest. Thorinwald also acted, lobbing a bottle of an exploding potion nearly in the center of the charging goblins. The ensuing blast scattered the goblins, excluding the one that had been hit by Helgrid’s bolt. It clutched at its chest and fell to its knees. However, the goblins quickly recovered and resumed their charge. Vincenzo saw Helgrid reloading his crossbow and Thorinwald drawing his sword. He also saw Kilrad shouting some order to the villagers as he began to charge down the steps carved into cavern wall.
Maybe at any other time Vincenzo would have charged along into the fray. But he knew that the drow were rounding the cache of merchant goods and that Kilrad and his villagers did not see this yet. He also knew that Helgrid and Thorinwald were making a ridiculous stand against the goblins when worse trouble was on its way. He knew all these things and was not sure how to act. He had the vantage point. He was unseen. He could give away his location or he could wait a moment longer. His patience could save many in his party or it could mean their deaths. Most assuredly he knew that if he broke cover before the drow had engaged the main party, he would be dispatched without any fanfare. So he waited a moment longer.
And in that moment, Helgrid reloaded and Thorinwald charged. The first blow was Thorinwald’s sword against the torso of the nearest charging goblin. The sword bit deep into the creature and immediately following that was the thunk of a bolt into the next closest goblin. Two more of the goblins were dispatched or at least dreadfully wounded with these attacks. But the other two goblins lashed out at Thorinwald. They carried curved short swords, scimitar like, and they flanked the rider as each of them struck. The first swinging goblin blade struck Thorinwald in the chest and the next low into his legs. Thorinwald’s own sword flew out of his hand and he cried, both in agony and rage as he fell to the ground. Helgrid, who had reloaded his crossbow, heard Thorinwald’s scream and let his bolt fly prematurely. It whizzed past one of the goblins and he quickly dropped his crossbow and drew his sword.
Continued in Another Sergeant Kilrad Adventure – Part III