Company of the Meatshield

The Crowning of a King

The hooves of dozens of war horses thundered ahead. Smoke and chaos filled the dirt road as the marauders charged out at the Elven host. Something was amiss. Elves circled and regrouped. There was no attack. The shadows that emerged out of the forest were but apparitions. The fog of war cleared. There was only one attacker on the field.
Sword and mace clanged against Vulture’s shield. The undead Falcon was fearless as arrows again stabbed deep into his armor. He only glared as Dalion charged at him and trampled him with his horse. Hamus doused him in oil. Oran launched another attack. Falcon was surrounded, but rather than surrender he called out to Mordo and demanded his master’s wand. A new attacker joined the battle hovering in the air with billowing black robes.
Dirk made his move and attacked Vulture with Flame-tongue. The sword bit deep and Vulture clenched his jaw before delivering his own attack. Dirk dropped to the ground and avoided the massive blow. It was now ten on one against Vulture. However, the black-robed attacker began to chant.
Standing atop the wagon, the Cleric of Lathander reflected on the Morninglord’s teaching of respecting art, liberty, nature, culture, and promoting the betterment of oneself. His focus was more on the betterment of himself. He masked his naked ambitions to learn the arcane arts behind these teachings and moved on Skyridge like a spider to a fly. Relik crossed the battlefield and called on his god for healing and caressed Skyridge’s hair though blackened and melted as he watched Calidore move off to engage a black robed wizard now attacking the group. Relik sitting next to the injured elf plotted to gain Skyridge’s favour.
The black robed wizard mercilessly unleashed a cone of bitter cold on the militiamen freezing their faces and numbing their senses. Vulture continued to attack the group. He seemed impervious to everything the companions threw at him. His body was riddled with Cecil’s arrows but still he fought. Now the wizard was just above Vulture. What evil would she unleash?
Calidore seizing his new found treasure. The first wand he ever held and he used it to kill the wizard before more evil could transpire. The crack of lightning shot out of the wand and hit the evil wizard in the chest and face. She screamed and plummeted to the ground charred and smoking. The threat was no more. Vulture recognized that the battle was at a draw. He took flight and escaped the battlefield. Victory, the militiamen celebrated!
The elves startled and confused by the dark magic and illusions reorganized. They decided to camp in place and allowed Skyridge to heal. He made a miraculous recovery and early the next morning they began to leave. Relik took no time to feast upon his prey injecting him with words of treachery and deceit turning the previous day’s victory into an issue of contempt. Skyridge now realizing his wand was missing was spurred to action. He stopped the entire caravan and immediately sought out the militiamen. Relik’s manipulations were succeeding.
By force, the militiamen were lined up in front of the wagon like common thieves and disrespected. The elves pretentious and condescending on a good day now glared at the group in loathing. Standing at attention while being openly reviled was embarrassing for the new heroes of Daggerford. Realizing the injustice, Calidore immediately stepped forward and assumed full responsibility. He promptly returned the wands and explained the necessity for taking them. He simply shrugged off the insults and stated that in the heat of battle and with Skyridge’s injuries there seemed no reason to rush them back to him. Calidore glared at Relik who was now chasing after Skyridge begging to be rewarded for his good deeds; he wanted to learn magic. Skyridge looked down on the cleric in disgust seeing through the web of manipulations and seethed “down boy.”
Relik walked away defeated. Calidore lost his wand of lightning. It started to snow.
Back in their wagon, the militiamen wondered what was going on. What happened to Falcon? Who were these new enemies? Why were they so desperate for the wand that they would attack one hundred riders? Just who is Kelthas? Calidore joined the group in the wagon and listened to the stories before walking back to Skyridge to make amends. Skyridge had learned from Dalion that the attacker was his brother…but he was undead and possibly possessed by some dark magic. Skyridge seemed to have aged overnight.
The caravan was moving much slower now. The sky was gloomy and overcast. The winds had picked up and the snow gave the impression that it was falling horizontally. The forest had cleared to open plains making the host more susceptible to the wind chill. In the distance, the silhouettes of people were seen shambling along. They looked weary and forlorn against the gray and white backdrop of the storm. Dalion greeted them; Elves from Laughing Hollow. They had escaped the clutches of Gurklune. They had been tortured, flogged and had their sword hands chopped off by dull blades. Relik and Hamus immediately began to assist the wounded. They were provided food, shelter and warm clothes. With haste, the column resumed their travel to Daggerford.
Again the caravan was interrupted. A group of humans on the road, brigands no doubt, asking to hitch a ride back to Daggerford after being caught unprepared in the storm. The militiamen spoke with them. Hedgewick the murderous halfling was brought up. Dirk shared details of the halfling. The mercenaries listened as they traveled on to Daggerford.
Out of the fog, Daggerford materialized. The past month between the earthquake, the poisoned water, and now the snow had truly devastated the town. As the host entered the city walls, it felt as though they were entering a crypt. It looked like the townsfolk had tried to rebuild, but the lack of fresh water stalled production. The cold would leave these building abandoned at least until spring. The host entered the castle lead by a fatigued and battle weary Skyridge. The militiamen separated themselves from the group and were greeted by Spearslayer. She demanded to know if the poison issue had been solved. When Oran told her the mission was successful she looked relieved. She surveyed the group and asked about Falcon. Oran advised he was dead. Her shoulders slumped. She thanked them again then told them to cleanup and prepare for their debrief. They had four hours.
Calidore had been to Daggerford the previous summer. Then a prosperous town, with busy streets, and music in the air with all the festivities, but now the town was crippled and desolate. He explored the main streets and the back streets looking for something. During this time he saw Mordo and Dirk walking quickly and with purpose. Calidore pulled up the collar of his jacket to shield his neck from the cold and followed them.
Across town, Flint led Oran, Hamus, and Cecil to Durvil’s forge. As wretched as Flint looked, he carried himself with pride. So close to completing his mission he wanted to run, but a dwarf doesn’t run. He marches, and marched he did. Oran slowed his pace and walked next to the dwarf breathing in the devastation of Daggerford with stoic silence. Cecil deftly moved along and whispered a prayer for the town. Crowning kings should be jubilant. This seemed like a funeral procession.
Flint knocked the door. He was greeted with shock. He heard mutterings of his ugliness as he met his mentor. They greeted, shared ale, and Durvil asked the question everyone in the room wanted to know. “What happened to your face?” Flint deflected questions and got to the point at hand. The shared the harrowing story of Ilefarn. He spoke of throne rooms and gold, treasures, and unspeakable dangers. The Dwarves, a dozen or more, gathered around Flint as he spoke. He spoke loudly, with pride, and with an edge known only to those who have fought battles and suffered horrible wounds. From his bag he removed a crown. He spoke of Korin. He spoke of loss and suffering, and finally Flint spoke of kings.
The crown rested on Durvil’s head, and his subjects bowed deeply. He was a king of a stolen land whose access was denied by weather and orcish armies, but a king nonetheless. He thanked the militiamen whose rusted armor stood out amidst the fine dwarven wares. Flint’s ugly pock-marked face with the gaping eye socket looked even more disgusting in the armor that looked like it had sat in a swamp for the last decade. Durvil awarded Flint and companions for their efforts and promised to restore their armor if it was possible. Oran looked sadly at the rusted war hammer.
Nearby, Relik was counting his gems and having them appraised. He was happy to discover their high value but was angered as there were no buyers in the earthquake ravaged town. Jewels were nice, but food was preferred for the winter. He then made his way to the Temple of Lathander to make a large donation. The clerics were incredibly thankful and sang him praises. He was informed that Lathander had high hopes for the elven cleric and his rise in the church was preordained. Relik greeted many and worked to heal and assist with those injured by recent events. He also attended to the injured elves from Laughing Hollow.
Mordo stood at the base of Delfin’s tower, which was partially destroyed, but the damage was not caused by the earthquake. A mage battle had taken place in the tower. The wall of the third floor was blown apart. Mordo cast a spell—spiderclimb—and began to climb the wall. Dirk followed going from handhold to handhold scaling the wall without a rope. Calidore had watched this from the road, and followed going to the front door as the Mordo and Dirk entered the blasted hole in the tower. The three adventures examined the tower. It was empty. Completely empty. They searched for secret rooms, for chests, for anything of value, anything that would provide answers. Mordo found a single book and pocketed it. Dirk found a cat. It was Delfin’s cat, but not a familiar, just a cat. Dirk recalled that Relik could speak with animals and they took the feline with them. Mordo would study the book afterwards. Calidore returned to the barracks to prepare for the banquet.
The militiamen by now had all returned to the barracks. Flint was estatic and was toasting to Clanggadin with Hamus. He was toasting to just about anything. Dirk called for Relik and presented the cat that purred and wanted to be held. Relik prayed to speak to the animal and was successful. They had a bizarre discussion that sounded like a cat meowing to everyone else. Oran stifled a laugh. Relik relayed the information to the group. Delfin was attacked by a strange man with cat ears and black fur who pounced on Delfin like a cat. Dirk felt very strongly that it was his own mentor Nightshade. But what did that mean? Why would Nightshade kill Delfin? The cat was released and chased after something. The militiamen had little for answers.
At the banquet, Spearslayer called on Oran to provide a synopsis of the mission to Ilifarn. Oran provided all the details. They were told of the horrors facing Daggerford after a quick nod of thanks. The Duke was then brought forward. A strong warrior only one month previous he was now a shell of a man. He was bedridden and cried out in a way that gave Mordo the chills. It was a possession. The Duke was possessed by a hag. Mordo surveyed the situation.
Spearslayer then called on Calidore. He delivered his missives and before the audience gave his own account of the bravery of the Daggerford militiamen from their battle outside Castle Agwain and the battle against the monster that was Vulture. His story was captivating and created a sense of pride for all the soldiers of Daggerford. Skyridge spoke next and offered condolences for the losses the town suffered and promised to bring help in the spring to rebuild.
Hamus stepped forward and demanded to know why the clerics of this town did nothing to help the Duke. A cleric named Bluesword stepped forward to berate Hamus. A yelling match broke out. Mordo entered the fray explaining the demon possession and their own experiences with the hag, the portal and the origins of the posion. Gwydion the house wizard seemed a little taken aback by the knowledge of the young wizard. Mordo went on at length explaining the hag possession and the impacts. The majority of the room could not comprehend Mordo’s explanation. It was then that Calidore noticed a bead of sweat dripping off Gwydion’s brow. Calildore wanted to sneak away, but how?
Bluesword dismissed Mordo. “He’s a wizard nothing more. The clerics of Tempus are the answer for this community.” Hamus defended Clanggadin. Bluesword’s nostrils flared and he challenged Hamus to a duel. They continued to yell and carryon loudly. Calidore snuck away to see if he could find Gwydion’s house. Soon the yells of righteous indignation fell out of Calidore’s range of hearing. He inquired on the location of Gwydion’s house and was directed by one of the serving girls.
Back in the great hall, Mordo was once again trying to explain himself as the cleric’s outburst subsided. This time it was Gwydion who spoke up against the young wizard. He denounced Mordo and advised the hall that as the Court Wizard he would research the Duke’s condition and work with the clerics to find a cure. At this point, Mordo became angry. He was tired of these fools, and he called out Gwydion and accused him of having nefarious motives. The Court Wizard was outraged and stormed off. The clerics began shouting again. Meanwhile the Duke moaned softly and cried out for help.
Calidore wandered the halls heading towards Gwydion’s when the wizard himself pushed past him and stormed off down the hall. Calidore began to follow. Clearly the wizard was flustered and paranoid. He took one look back and began to scream at Calidore. The Court Wizard made it to his room and slammed the door behind him. Calidore approached and asked if everything was alright. He offered to talk, but was told where to go. Instead, Calidore began to stakeout the room periodically listening at the door.
Spearslayer twisted her hair in her hand and noticed a lot more grey as the militiamen were finally led out of the Hall. Lady Bronwyn approached Mordo and asked for his help. He said he would help her. She requested that they meet in the morning and discuss the situation with Gwydion. Mordo reminded her of what just happened to which she responded that Gwydion will help her. He agreed and left to his old mentor’s wretched tower to study his new book.
The streets were quiet and dark on his approach. He looked forward to the peace and quiet to read. Once Mordo was settled he began to read. The book was fascinating and provided a wealth of knowledge on the best means to fight demons and it provided some interesting information on possessions. Near the end of the book, Delfin had begun his own investigation. He identified Gwydion as a follower of Watomb.
Hamas and Flint decided they needed to train before tomorrow’s duel and hit the local bar to drink. It was a noisy night in the bar and the ale was flowing. Everyone loved the militiamen’s gold. Down the road, Dirk visited another bar a shady bar with a bad reputation perhaps to investigate some of the rumors concerning his old mentor Nightshade. He met Hardcheese and greeted him by calling him a thief. Hardcheese took exception to this and kicked him out of the bar. Dirk stood blinking in the back-alley. That hadn’t gone to plan.
Meanwhile, Calidore was listening for sounds behind Gwydion’s locked door. He heard the Court Wizard speak. He was asking for guidance from the Dread Lord. Was he speaking to Kelthas or another of Watomb’s minions? Calidore wanted to break in. He ran back to the barracks to find Dirk leaving arteryx to spy.
The drinking continued at the local bar with Hamus providing his newfound followers of Clanggadin a play-by-play of how he would beat Bluesword. It was then that Bluesword walked into the bar. He saw Hamus’ spectacle and approached; he struck him clean in the nose breaking it. They began to argue. Hamus challenged Bluesword to a drinking contest. And drink they did. Bets were waged and shots of Dwarf Spirits and ale were drunk. Their eyes were crossed and they swayed to and fro but still they drank. Finally, Bluesword collapsed vomiting on the ground before passing out. Hamus stood upon his chair to celebrate shouting something incoherently. Cecil and Flint helped carry him home.
Calidore found Dirk and they headed back to the Castle. Arcertyx was watching the room through Gwydion’s window, though nothing could be seen. They made it to the door and Dirk noted that it was heavily trapped. Calidore used a detect magic spell and determined it was magically trapped and locked as well. He had no other spell to impact the door at the moment. They continued to listen. Arcteryx watched. There was nothing. Calidore sat by the door waiting. Hours passed. He studied his spellbook waiting for something to happen. Dirk had long since left to find drink and his fellow militiamen. Weary and agitated Calidore returned to the barracks.
The next morning Mordo met Lady Bronwyn. They had breakfast and discussed the issues facing the duke. He told her about Delfin and the investigation. He advised that Gwydion was at the very least an accomplice to the events surrounding the Duke. She refused to believe him and took him to Gwydion to prove it.
Calidore woke up early as well; he returned to Gwydion’s room. Mordo and Lady Bronwyn beat him there and were knocking on the door. There was no answer. Again they tried. Nothing. Calidore watched from down the hall. Mordo and Bronwyn left. They seemed confused and Bronwyn seemed especially hurt. Calidore was getting angry he walked to the magically sealed door and used an enlarge spell to shrink the door. He kicked it down. Gwydion’s small cell like room was empty. Completely empty. Not a shred of paper in the room. Not even a handkerchief. Calidore searched every corner of the room; he left no stone unturned—nothing. He swore and left to find Spearslayer.
The militiamen started to wake up; heads pounding from the night before. Hamus prepared to face-off against Bluesword. The event was held outside as the sun was shining. A ring was etched out in the snow and dirt. They would fight: no armor, no weapons. A classic fist fight. Hamus figured he had a chance. He was less drunk than Bluesword and he had Flint in his corner to coach him on. It seemed like the whole town turned up to watch the fight. Clearly these were desperate times.
Cecil used the opportunity to explore the outer walls of Daggerford. He looked out to plains and circled around on the roof tops to watch the fight but more importantly to watch the audience. He was looking for anything suspicious, but nothing seemed to standout. Dirk and Relik also watched the fight standing close to Flint and Hamus. It was about to start and Bluesword had arrived. He did not look hungover. Bets were made. The fight would be starting soon.
Lady Bronwyn was devastated by Gwydion’s betrayal and demanded Spearslayer to conduct a full investigation into the matter. The Captain delegated the task to a militiaman named Junkor.
Calidore managed to find Spearslayer and inquired why Gwydion’s room was so small; if he had an additional study, and where did he complete his regular work as the Court Wizard? He also asked if he had a laboratory? Spearslayer said the room was all he had. Calidore was not convinced and asked to explore the dungeons. Spearslayer said no. They argued and finally Spearslayer acquiesced and told Calidore to find Junkor who is heading the investigation. He asked where he was and Spearslayer advised he was watching the fight. Calidore looked at Spearslayer incredulously. An investigation was just initiated by Lady Bronwyn herself and the chief investigator was already derelict of his duties and Captain Spearslayer seemed perfectly content with this. Calidore stormed off to find Junkor.
The fight was now underway and the two clerics gave a rousing speech in dedication to their gods before turning to face each other. Hamus struck first: a glancing blow to Bluesword’s cheekbone. Bluesword pummeled Hamus with body blows and a massive uppercut. Hamus was winded but fought back. They wrestled and punched, circled, and tried to force each other to submit. The crowd cheered wildly. It was a great fight. Flint was coaching from the sidelines. Hamus let loose a wild left hook breaking Bluesword’s nose. The dwarf laughed and shouted that it was payback. Bluesword tackled the dwarf.
The crowd continued to cheer some for blood, others for their cleric of choice, while others just cheered to forget their suffering. Through the crowd and the noise, Calidore found Junkor and told him he was to give him access to the dungeon. Junkor waved him away; he was watching the fight. Calidore got his attention and reiterated that he was to help. Junkor pushed him away again. The third time Calidore used more force and Junkor finally agreed to help. They started to make their way back to the castle, but Junkor was stalling to watch the fight.
Bluesword’s punches were raining down on Hamus, but he pushed away and landed a good kick to Bluesword’s jaw. Now both clerics were back on their feet bloodied and bruised. Circling they caught their breath. The crowd cheered loudly. Someone was about to lose.
Flint and all the dwarves of Daggerford were cheering loudly. The clerics charged at each other fists flying, but Bluesword had the longer reach. His punch connected square to Hamus’ chin knocking his jaw shut and his head snapped back. The dwarven cleric’s momentum faltered and he stumbled backwards; his knees turned to jelly. A chipped tooth flew through the air. Hamus fell to the ground. He was knocked out cold. The crowd erupted in cheers as Hamus was carried out of the ring to convalesce back at the barracks. Bluesword began to preach. Victory was for Tempus this day.

This is where we continue next time.

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craigpettie Calidore

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