Thieves & Kings

Episode 6 - Roots of the Sycamore

“Down where the river bends
With Galana’s help, we’ll meet again
Under the same old sycamore tree
Proud of each other in the land of the free.”

Synopsis : A tale wherein the bold adventurers entered The Sleeping Sycamore, and ended the threat of the diseased goblins that resided within. Upon return, they investigated the rumors of strange, dream-like fevers that are sweeping through the local area. “Shiv” took fealty with Baron Tervin Blackshield as a Yeoman, and was given the task of resolving the “giant incursion” in the northern woodlands.

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30th of Savor, TR 1049; Late Morning : The adventurers took a short rest in the ruins of Stonecliff, following their combat encounter with the four bugbears. They divided the remaining healing potions in their control, and then moved on towards their primary objective of the Sleeping Sycamore, a few miles away.

The area immediately around the tree was covered in a mire of thick mud and filled the glade with the buzz of insects. Leaving Kahli’s horse hidden in the woods, the group followed some tracks of small booted feet into the obvious opening in the tree which was shaped as the gaping maw of a bearded man. They quickly determined the ground on either side was mushy and dangerous, and entered the cave-like opening. Towards its back, a narrow tunnel lined with roots, dropped deep into the roots under the massive sycamore tree.

The group entered a small earthen cave lined with roots and vines. Along one wall lay a trio of crude wooden benches, partially dug into the walls and strewn with small tools, blocks of wood and various ironmongery. Two tunnels descended deeper under the tree, running left and right. Careful examination of the tools revealed them to be carpenter’s and thieves tools of some sort, and it appeared that various simple traps were being built in this makeshift workshop.

The group examined both exiting tunnels, finding the right-hand one dropped fairly precipitously, while the left-hand one curved down far more gently. Wanting to make sure that the group wouldn’t be ambushed from behind, Kahli took the right-hand passage, and silently climbed down the vines despite her heavy chain mail. The sounds of giggling and occasional screams came up from further below her and she was able to stealthily observe twelve of the bluish-purple goblins encountered previously. They were standing about a crude wooden rack, poking a black-scaled kobold with sticks. The walls of the egg-shaped chamber were covered in tangles of pallid roots and vines, with three more kobolds pinned to the left-hand walls with wooden stakes, and directly ahead it continued down a series of rapid ledges to open into a wide, root-filled cavern. She quickly returned and after reporting the situation, the group slowly took their time to sneak down the 20’-long shaft, hoping to gain surprise.

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Opening up with barrages of missile fire and concentrated spells, the group managed to do some serious damage to the distracted goblins, though Bresal Darkharrow slipped and fell down the shaft into the cave, initially stunned and unable to help. Bresal regained his footing and threw out a Dancing Lights to give the adventurers perfect view of the combat. “Shiv” led the way with his shortbow, and as casualties mounted among the goblins, two disengaged and ran for the chasm, throwing themselves down into the darkness. The adventurers looted the corpses, finding them sick from what everyone assumed was this strange Demon Bile disease, and bearing only their strange thorn-like swords, slings and filthy cloaks. They retrieved the kobold from the rack, giving him light healing and found him to speak passable Common. He identified himself as Mikmek, of the Soot-Scale tribe, and he claimed his “Shell-mates” had been on a mission to retrieve a valuable relic of his clan, stolen by the Mites. He offered to help fight them, snatching up one of the thorn-like shortswords and a sling from the fallen goblins, and taking up a position next to his new friend “Scales”.

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Examining the deep ravine beyond this room, they found it to be ominously 20’-wide and twice as deep, with thick tangles of pallid roots covering its walls. A loose collection of roots crossed from the opening in the wall across to another opening somewhat to their right about 25’ away, forming a crude bridge. As the group examined the chasm, a series of shouts went up from the passage beyond, followed by a deep, rumbling roar some distance down the ravine to their left. From the depths of the darkness arose the single largest centipede that any of the group had ever seen, clicking its mandibles and spattering venom from its jaws as it approached.

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The group retreated to the back of the egg-shaped chamber, readying their bows and spells, and waiting for it to come to them. Kahli took her anti-venom. Mikmek muttered “Holy Sharptooth” under his breath in Draconic. It smoothly slipped along the sides of the ravine, sticking its head into the cavern and roaring defiantly at their actions. It took the brunt of a massive series of arrows, sling stones and magic missiles, before Kahli bravely strode forward and struck the beast with her Warhammer, shattering its chitin head, and knocking it back into the ravine, dead. As it fell into the ravine, it tore the vine-rope bridge apart and fell deep into its depths. The great centipede of the Mites was dead.

Shouts continued from below in the far passage, but the group slowly made their way down the ravine, and across to the area below the other passage. As “Sweet” and Bresal started climbing up to the tunnel, a pair of goblins appeared, firing their slings down on the exposed adventurers. Counter bow fire and spells from the group slew them enough to get stealthily into position on the ledge, and cover their companions who were assisted by a timely rope thrown down by those ahead. The group quietly gathered and scales enchanted a stone with light before throwing it into the cavern beyond.

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This large chamber had rows of wooden stakes driven into the far wall, many covered with muddy brown cloaks the goblins wore. At the room’s far side lay a makeshift large wooden table made from barrels and a door, covered with a large deer hide and piled with sticks, rocks and lines of mud. At one end of the table lay a large blood-stained ivory statue of a crouching reptilian demon with wings. Behind the table was another larger Mite riding a large tick, and flanked by a pair of the large beetles encountered earlier. Before the table were a handful of Mites, and about a dozen more quickly moved from the tunnel rising to the left to intercept the intruders, while others took a position in the middle of the chamber using their slings on the front rank of adventurers.

The tick-riding Mite opened the combat with a flash of three fiery bolts on the closest target, “Ricochet”, quickly followed by volleys of sling stones from the other Mites that seemed unable to miss the unlucky fighter. Panicking he fled back down the passage towards the ravine and was unable to stop his headlong flight off the edge due to the press of bodies already there. Falling 30’ to the bottom of the ravine he was knocked unconscious and lay there dying from grievous internal injuries. Bresal dashed down the rope into the ravine, and used every trick in his bag to bring Ricochet back from the brink of death.

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As the group increased their assault, Mites began to fall, and the leader sent in first one then the other giant beetle to support the attacks, with the adventurers moving forward to engage the central goblins. As casualties among the goblins mounted, the leader Mite made a break for it, fleeing down the chamber to the left, but Kahli activated her Necrotic Shroud, frightening the blocking goblins, and allowing Sweet to slip past them and dash towards the leader in the rising passage, smiting him with her ancestral mallet, knocking it off the tick and slaying the leader. The tick scrabbled off into the darkness, while the adventurers cleaned up the remaining goblins, silencing them completely. The battle was won.

Searching quickly through the chamber, they found nothing (again!) of value on the goblins beyond their strange thorn-like swords, slings and filthy cloaks. The group discussed taking a well-deserved short rest, agreeing that this seemed as safe a spot as possible for now, and that once they had regained a measure of strength, they would retreat from the roots of the sycamore. They examined the strange hide on the table, with Sweet recognizing it as a crude map of what might be the nearby area. Strange marks represented what seemed like bundles of Wolf Berries, and possibly the old sycamore tree itself. They ensured the marks were drawn with charcoal, and rolled it up to safely take it along. Under the table they found a sack of assorted coins, the first treasure they’d encountered with the goblins which seemed odd, and Mikmek identified it as the combined treasures of his fallen brethren. He was given possession of what copper was in the coin pouch and the Ivory Holy Relic of Sharptooth, which took all his strength to carry.

The hour passed without incident, and the group roused themselves, deciding to head up the passage leading out of the chamber. It quickly entered a similarly large damp cave cluttered with broken chairs, barrels and boxes, even wagon wheels, tattered cloth and dozens of piles of hides and leaves that seemed to be the beds of the Mites. Against the far left wall were a collection of skulls, feathers, bits of debris and pottery arrayed in battered bookshelves.The smell of the chamber’s ruin was palpable. It was obvious they had found the center of Mite social life, now abandoned and forgotten. The adventurers thought about where the Mites might keep their valuables, deciding on searching the bookshelves. The only thing of value they recovered was a rather rare tapestry with gold and silver threads in esoteric designs, and worth quite a bit of gold.

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Continuing up the passage, they came to a steep tunnel that led to another chamber, this one dripping with moisture and small streams of filthy water. Six large mounds of compost covered the room, each studded with moist, apple-sized white eggs. They had found the centipede hatchery. As they moved into the room, a large centipede rose out of each of the mounds, and swiftly moved to attack, coming under a barrage of heavy missile fire from the adventurers. They fell quickly. A cursory search of the room revealed nothing, other than a short tunnel leading almost directly up, which led to the first chamber the group had encountered. Taking their leave of the roots of the sycamore, the group quickly left the wet and filthy chambers, and after retrieving Kahli’s horse from the hidden bushes, began the long trek home. Taking the trail south, the group travelled quickly, encountering no difficulties, before returning to Green Dagger Farm for their evening feast.

While the rest of the group cleaned up and prepared to rest for the evening, Shiv and Ricochet got on their only remaining clothing of passingly good quality, planning for a night on the town. Kahli joined them, and the three made their way to Thornkeep. Kahli tried to catch Mistress Nessa Greenfoot before she closed shop for the evening, but arrived too late, so she settled for a tankard of wine and some warm food at the Green Forest Inn, where they all agreed to meet later.

Shiv and Ricochet made their way up Brokenhelm Hill and into the castle as the sun faded in the west, led its numerous torches and fires. The main gates were open and welcoming, as the monthly moot was in session, with peasants and shopkeepers coming and going as they conducted their business. The pair left their horses in the stable under the care of the handful of ostlers, and entered the great hall itself.

Floored in fine limestone with twenty-four ornamental pillars polished to a mirror-like shine, the hall was fabulous. Several other exits with doors were located along the perimeter of the hall. Six huge oak tables, three on each side, each with eight oak chairs, cushioned in red wool with gold brocade. At the head of the hall, lay a long oak table with four larger oak chairs with green silk cushions and a central throne-like chair having an extraordinarily tall backrest bearing the Blackshield clan banner across its top. Seated at the head table were Baron Tervin Blackshield, his wife Lady Ivis Blackshield, and a young woman, later identified as Lady Neria Blackshield. Lady Neria looked bored, and was watched over by a well-dressed and pretty little halfling maid. On the right-hand table was the old scribe Master Garvin, assisted this time by a young man in a white robe and long, black hair. Scattered about the room were several of the Baron’s guards with a couple of them looking like senior officers, none of whom the adventurers were familiar with.

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The pair watched as an emotional peasant pleaded his case for release from his work duties, as his daughter had been struck with a fever and he needed to take care of her. The Baron , unsympathetic to his plight, demanding he help with the other cottagers in bringing in the hay from the north pastures, or face punishment. Lady Ivis, however, interceded, saying that her growling husband was concerned for their well-being, but that somehow the man needed to find a way to fulfill his obligations. She promised she would think on the situation, and see what aid could be given, but that he needed to report for duty in fulfillment of his obligations to the realm. The Baron scowled and seemed annoyed, but slumped back and accepted her words, dismissing the peasant.

Shiv and Ricochet intercepted the old man as he hurried from the hall, finding him near tears. They urged him to tell his tale. He identified himself as Ulstan Hurler, a simple cottager, and related that some days ago, his young daughter (the last of all his children), had taken ill with a fever, and slipped into a deep, unending sleep. For nearly a ten-day, they had been unable to rouse her, while she slowly slipped deeper and deeper into a coma-like sleep from which nothing could be done. They had tried all their usual remedies, but nothing worked. The pair promised they had a friend who might help this very night, but that they had business with the Baron to be completed first. Getting directions to his cottage, Ricochet gave him 30 sp (a month’s wages for a simple labourer), encouraging him to get someone to help cover his responsibilities for a while. They left him to return home, and returned their attentions to the hall.

Approaching the closest group of soldiers, the pair encountered a junior officer and his hand of soldiers, identifying him as Sergeant Elba, the drunken guard they had encountered back when they registered their claims to Green Dagger Farm. The man tried to get a bribe from them, and failing that, was confronted with the fact they were dangerous and here at the Baron’s request. He directed them to report to Master Garvin, and place their names on the moot’s docket. They then reported to the young scribe in the white robes, who wrote down their business and appearance at court on the official register and bade them wait.

Eventually, they were introduced and summoned, standing before the Baron and his wife. “Shiv” identified himself by his full name of Seumas Keeper, and his claim to the title of Yeoman and its associated lands of Hearthfire. The Baron demanded to see his Yeoman’s Knife, which Shiv presented, and the Baron examined closely. He questioned Shiv regarding his skills and abilities, eventually understanding him to be an adventurer. He then handed the blade back, and demanded Shiv swear on the blade to his service, which he did. He then stood, and accepted Shiv’s service as a Yeoman, granting the lands of Hearthfire, and demanding as his first service, that he deal with the reports by local wood-cutters of a giant wandering about and disrupting operations to the north. He admitted there had been no casualties yet, but that it was proving difficult to collect stumpage fees from the Timberwright’s Guild, until the problem had been resolved. He “…and his man…” were given a ten-day to resolve the matter and report back his success, and then summarily dismissed.

As the pair backed from the chamber they were approached by an older man, who identified himself as Yeoman “Black” Daer Barstone, the leader of a trio of Yeoman in service to the Baron. He explained he and his cousin, Darvin Blackstone had far more common duties in assisting the castle’s craftsmen, while his other cousin, Karse Blackstone served as the Baron’s personal armsman, not a squire, but still more than a common servant. After exchanging their pleasantries, the pair watched a couple more events, mostly simple things such as “Laxness” (Keeping one’s cottage/lands in poor repair) and “Larceny” (Theft of animals, tools or food). Most of the judgements seemed fairly simple, and fines were for a handful of silver pieces. They determined two things; the Baron was exceptionally hard on his subjects, and the Lady Ivis tended to soften his rulings somewhat, making them less harsh and more understanding. Lady Neria was just plain bored throughout the proceedings, but properly paid attention and didn’t fidget too much.

The pair slipped out of the castle after retrieving their horses, and made their way to the Green Forest Inn, to find Kahli listening to a one-sided conversation with Flitter Fernwise, who constantly tried to find ways to steal sips from Kahli’s mug. Eventually, Flitter flitted back up onto her beam high in the inn’s rafters and passed out. Shiv tried to lure her back down with a promise of a mug all to herself, but she remained silent, her dainty hand hanging over the edge of her beam, apparently asleep. The pair explained the tale of Ulstan Hurler to Kahli, and she agreed to help. The three ate a quick bite of food and some ale, before retrieving their horses and making their way to the south-west part of town where the peasant lived.

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They found the Hurler cottage to be a typical humble little house with an outbuilding for tools and a few livestock, and their small kitchen garden. They were greeted at the door by Ulstan’s wife, and eventually let in to meet his extended family; his father, mother, wife and two aunts, and their little daughter Sulli. He related they had once had three other daughters, but they had all died over the years from various illnesses and diseases. As Kahli examined the young girl, they questioned where she might have been or what she might have come into contact with before growing ill, but the farmers assured the adventurers she never left their sight very long, and that her meager possessions of a simple rag-doll and some old dresses were nothing out of the ordinary.

Kahli started by trying to sense outside influences and control of the girl, and then tried a simple Lay of Hands, which immediately caused young Sulli to flutter her eyes and awake with an otherworldly voice saying “The Sleeper stirs… the Sleeper STIRS!”. She then moaned and muttered in a sleepy voice, “…what’s going on? Where am I? Am I sleeping?… Did I die?…”, before seeming to slip back asleep. Casting Protection from Evil and Good on the young girl, Kahli tried another healing touch, she again seemed to regain consciousness, muttering in that strange monotone voice, “…the Sleeper stirs… the Sleeper STIRS!”. She moaned again, and muttered the following in the same strange voice, before passing back out;

“When morning comes, to morning we go, back to our mistress in caverns below…”.

Careful examination of the girl by Kahli using her medical knowledge and various magical powers determined that there was something that had taken a piece of her. A piece of her soul. And that this seemed to be the reason for her illness. The group explained their findings to the family, agreed to return in the morning to try something else, and to not worry too much. Having seen their daughter respond for the first time in a ten-day, they were satisfied the adventurers were doing all they could to help, and agreed they would wait for their return.

The trio then traveled through the dark back to Green Dagger Farm, arriving late in the evening to find the ones remaining had some new information.

It seemed that while Sweet, Scales and Bresal were having dinner, and throwing scraps to Mikmek and his disgusting statue, they had been talking. Mikmek described his home as the Sootscale Caverns, and was unusually friendly and talkative. He explained that they had learned many things from the “Shadow Man”, and that he taught them Common, and how to harvest the nearby Wolf Berries and Nightscale Roots, to stave of illness and hunger. In exchange, they sometimes gave him the few gold flakes they found in their excavations in their deeper mines. From his descriptions of the Shadow Man, the group identified that he was likely Coinneach “Old Man” Shadow. Again, the old man had been dealing with the creatures of the Echo Wood; there was a pattern emerging… Mikmek promised to take the group to meet their leader, the mighty Chief Sootscale; he would be grateful to have the statue of Old Sharptooth returned to his care once more.

Kahli divided some of the remaining party treasure, to give everyone a little extra spending cash, and cast a few more healing spells into Elzid’s Ring to charge it back up, before the group bedded down for the night. In the morning, they would return to Thornkeep, and see about this curse or whatever might be causing the fevers sweeping the cottagers of the town, and then see about getting Old Sharptooth back to the kobolds. A new month dawned…

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