Bea loots. Bea doesn’t think Bertram is a coward. She could tell he was trying to get away from the fray to better affect the battle. She thinks that was probably a pretty good idea, maybe better than getting skewered. Maybe next time. In the mean time, she contemplates how to tell him who she is.
Mildred rummages through a few pockets but quickly gets bored. She looks down the ravine at the smear of goblin. “Blech.”
She turns her attention towards the captured Goblin and squats in front of him. “You know this would have been much easier if you Goblins weren’t so magist. I mean, what’s the harm in a spell or two? Or, or in calling upon a demon to grant you unearthly power, for that matter? Can’t people just mind their own business? Hmph.”
“Now listen, you. Where is your outpost, or camp, or wherever you and your boys check in with your magist goblin bosses? Is it far from here? Which direction? That way? You better speak up or maybe I’ll have a mind to turn you into a prairie rat!”
Bertram took it all in. The smashed body of the goblin in the ravine below. The goblin so terrified of his illusion that he clutched his heart and died. The goblin that caught him casting a spell and was nearly cut in half. The other goblin that tried to squeeze the wind from his throat, his cold, dead fingers still grasping out for nothing. There was one more, afraid, waiting to die.
He now knew why Claudius had taught him to be deceitful about his profession, and to keep his abilities to himself. He also saw evidence of the power of his illusions; the power to kill. He had never seen it done, in fact, it was forbidden in Claudius’ workshop. He had only meant to scare them, or trick them into letting him pass! Had the world gone mad? Back home, magic was viewed with suspicion, but the abilities of the image maker were still the foundation of many festivals and ceremonies dating back centuries. Things were changing, and it seemed to Bertram as if the world at large had come to blame magical knowledge for the mistakes of the past.
But what of Grudgewood, and the humans that live there? Surely, the response to what they had done would be tenfold. What started off as a quest to save a damsel in distress had quickly deteriorated. He wondered if the human man and woman would have betrayed him to the goblins to save themselves. One of them, the girl, was casting a cantrip over his crotch for nearly and hour. It embarrassed Bertram deeply, but he was too modest to say anything. He was still wet in the morning when they left from the bucket of ale Khalid used to try and douse the flame.
Bertram should have just paid the toll, but he panicked. What if the stories of goblins were true? Their response to his spell certainly confirmed it in his mind, they were mad! In his home, no one would ever think to…but he wasn’t home anymore. Ignorance of the law isn’t an excuse to break it. He would turn himself in. It was his crime, and he would not allow others to die to answer for it. One almost did, the woman. Comely, for a human. He thought she and Canicus would make a good couple one day. He watched as she slipped away from Ur to the Great Beyond, just as he had watched his master do all those years ago. How many more would have to die before Bertram’s forays into the magical arts were satisfied? No. No more.
Fun Fact: Paladins are not titled “Paladin” until they’ve reached the 9th level, at level 1 they are simply Gallants of their order.
He knelt before the battered and broken corpse of one of the goblins who guarded the bridge and felt sick. It wasn’t the sight of blood – no, far from it: the fields of battle bathed in a slick wet burgundy were a familiar and sadly comforting arena – but it was the shame he felt at not acting. As a knight of the Fourth Order it would have been simple: cut them down where they stand, retrieve supplies and intel, burn the bodies to honor the dead, and move on. Simple. Dead simple. There was only allegiance to the Fourth, and service to the living King on the Throne of Jade. A low-born like Canicus had no place to question, no right to think, and no tongue with which to speak. All of that changed when he became a paladin.
The Risen King was a man of myth and legend, an ideal wielded by the church to give the poor something to aspire to or for the rich to cite as justification for their complex and unwieldly laws. Canicus never believed him to be real and prayed to him out of tradition, not of a fervent desire for divine guidance. Taking his oath deep within the heart of the Twelfth Barrow, he felt nothing; the empty words he knew would give him the means to defend his low-born brethren from tyranny both within and without the borders of the kingdom. His heart swelled with emotion as he thought of all the good he would be able to do as a Gallant of the Twelfth Barrow: laws of the land could be bent with the power and station conferred by the title; he could do what was good and just. And then the Eternal Flame ceased.
“Benedictus…” he mused aloud, still kneeling before the mangled goblin’s corpse. He stood again and looked across the remnants of the skirmish. He should have had the guidance of a true Paladin, not be so unceremoniously thrust into the moral quagmire of the world outside the Twelve Barrows. A Paladin would have been able to act decisively, would have had the clarity of thought and presence of mind to execute the justice in the name of the Risen King. But Canicus’ mind was awash with shades of gray, moral lines that constantly shifted and ebbed as he so delicately treaded upon them.
A decision must be made. He searched his heart and clawed away the frustration, looking for its source. True, the Dwarf cut the goblin down as they rushed him, driven in no small part by his lust for goblin blood, but was that not in the end defense of self and ally? Was Bertram not simply trying to utilize his innate abilities to defuse the situation? The line is blurry, to be sure, but as he searched his feelings he knew the persecution with prejudice of magic users by these goblins did not sit right. In the time of the Risen King there was freedom for all within the limit of the law, and though he knew he was in a foreign land with laws of its own, he could not stand idly by while innocents were attacked for being who they were. Was not magic a part of the lifeblood? An inseparable
He looked to his new companions and stood, saying, “you are all my charges now, under the protection of the Risen King so long as we stay a goodly path and so long as our missions align. I cannot condone such outright violence as I witnessed from you, good Khalid, but neither do I condemn it as you seemed to have little option. Let us answer with our tongues before our swords, especially in these uncertain times and in this uncertain land.” Canicus felt new determination and purpose, and unbeknownst to him the flame of the Risen King burned brighter than ever, now in its new home within the walls of his heart. This journey would reveal to him the lost codes of the Risen King, the truest canon of the Paladins of the Twelfth Barrow.
“Gather what you can, then we burn the bodies to honor the dead. Though our enemies may not respect our dead, we will not stoop to their base level.” Canicus stood over the pile of goblins and recited the Canticle of the Fallen before setting their bodies ablaze.
The captured goblin watched in horror as the paladin burned the bodies of his friends. He witnessed each in turn – Ick, Splick, and Glick – as their faces crackled and charred, the fatty layer beneath their skin cooking and smelling of acrid goblin flesh. To him, Canicus was a psychopath in chain mail, a human who delighted in defacing the dead. The smell of his own piss and the smoky ash of his friends’ corpses burned his nostrils and he wretched and gagged.
“And if we take the goblin with us, we treat him well as a prisoner of war: we water, feed, and tend to him. Else cut him loose as he no longer has fight left in him. I will not suffer another needless death.”
CODE: Burn the bodies to honor the dead. Failing to do so before leaving the field of battle troubles the Paladin and he must repent to the Risen King or return and finish the deed. This does not apply to beasts, demons, etc., though the Paladin is likely to destroy the remains of anything evil if it can be done.
Various searches reveals the following loot on the goblins’ bodies:
- 6 short swords
- 6 pairs of goblin-sized leather armor
- 600 silver pieces
- dagger, +2 (to hit and to damage), sewn into the interior of one of the suits of armor. Folded up and next to the dagger was this letter, written in goblin:
I am here guarding the Vast Bridge. We arrived safely though it took more than the expected week to arrive from Hangtooth. The others are a little rougher than I expected. They rib me, but I know we will have one anothers backs.
When you receive this package, please keep it safe. I found it on the person of a deceased human. I believe he may have been fleeing from New Camp. It looked like he was run through with a sword or spear. I do not know if he was a good man.
Your loving husband,
“I am Pick,” the captured goblin tells you, speaking the Common tongue. “I am Bark’s goblin, from Hangtooth.”
No matter who speaks to him, or who he speaks to, he won’t take his eyes off of Mildred.
“The Risen King!” he says, echoing Canicus, and he spits on the ground. “This is how you repay the long friendship between your Barrows and the Pope! Whether I live or die, know this treachery will be repaid with divine retribution! The Barrows will be razed!”
“Pick from Hangtooth, eh?” Mildred stands up, which is not so much taller than when she’s crouching.
“Well, what do we do with him?” She addresses the others, but mostly Canicus who already seems to have opinions on the matter. “If we cut him loose, those Hangtooth bastards will be coming our way, that’s for sure!”
“Would you like a new pet, O brave paladin? You can water him, feed him, and wipe his arse while he plans his treachery in our midst.” She hands Canicus the end of the rope to which Pick is tied up.
“I acknowledge your gods, goblin; I acknowledge your rights within your land, too, but I do not acknowledge any such friendship between the Barrows and your Papacy. Last I recall there was nothing more than a neutrality agreement between our nations to not infringe upon one another’s borders, and unless something has changed within these two months’ time since I’ve seen the majestic spires of the Twelve Barrows I heartily doubt I owe you anything as a servant of the Barrows. Know this: though I have been abandoned by my people, I will never abandon them. If your nation sets foot on the Barrows’ hallowed grounds in an act of war I will visit upon you such a vengeance and wrath the likes of which have not been seen since the Risen King obliterated the Thrall Nation of Kamad’Ull! Now stay thine tongue and pray that my good Dwarven friend here can stay his blade as well, lest another funeral pyre sullies these fair blue skies.” /intimidate
“Canicus, let him go. It was my infraction that caused this mess. Let me be the one to answer for it. I will escort Pick back to Hangtooth, and plead my case before Bark. Bark will then empty his keep in Hangtooth searching for you. Nowhere will be safe. Take your friends and find Drea. You might be her only hope. If you take this goblin prisoner, Bark will scorch the earth to find him. Many more will die.”
“Don’t be a fool, gnome! You’d be as good as dead. And so would we with a regiment of Goblin troops after us! Pah! Out of the question!”
Bea, moved by the letter from poor Glick to his loved one, holds the dagger in her hand, examines it. A beautiful thing, she thinks. “Maybe if we all go to Hangtooth to pay our respect, and return the dagger to this Mawthra?” she says.
Mildred climbs on Canicus’s shoulders as she is wont to do lately. “And how would that go? Dear Mr. Bark, we killed six of your goblins because half of us are magicians. Here’s a dagger, please don’t hurt us.”
“Trust me, little girl, old Mildred the Frowzywig knows firsthand not to go knocking on the doors of folks who want you dead. You and that gnome seem to be cut from the same cloth! Not thinking with your heads!” She flicks Bea on the cheek. “Pah!”
“Phew,” says Bea, pocketing the dagger. “I was hoping someone would say that.”
“Your heart is in the right place young lass, but I fear our witchy woman is correct in her assumption. Hang on to the letter, or if you prefer I might. In better times or if we curry a favor, maychance we’ll find a means to deliver it to the widow.”
As the party discusses their plans, Khalid takes a packet of folded paper from the folds of his robes. He walks a short distance from the group and tips the packet over the open mouth of his water skin and lets a fine white powder pour into his water.
“Bickering, bickering.” He mutters, shaking the water skin and walking back over.
“Goblin, have no fear, these are good men. There is no need to curse them. Here, take a drink—you will need for the long walk.”
“Good on you, sir Dwarf. ’Tis noble to provide succor to even thine greatest enemies! Perhaps together we can make a positive change in these wayward lands.”
Pick’s eyes go wide at Canicus’s imposing presence — “You — you’ve been cast out of the Barrow? What are you people — brigands?”
He attempts to back away, but jerks to a halt at the end of the rope in Canicus’s hand.
As the others discuss his fate, he warily — but then, gratefully — accepts the drink from Khalid.
“Thank you,” he says softly. “If you do return me to Fort Hangtooth — I swear I will do my best to keep you from being hanged.”
Mildred writes a note in Goblin that reads as follows:
All is well at Vast Bridge. No need for supplies or reinforcements, the camp is secure, the land rife with sustenance. Collected toll from wayfarers, and chased a horse thief into some brush, where Ick speared him in the back. Otherwise uneventful. Will report in the coming weeks if anything goes awry.
Mildred carries the cage of pigeons and straps it onto Smiley the mule. She then carefully removes a pigeon, fastens the note to its foot, and sets it free.
Khalid sits down in front of the goblin and says, “Pick, yes? I am from far and away from here, and know your people only as invaders and zealots. Tell me, then, of who you really are and how you live.”
The pigeon flaps away to the north. Smiley the mule flips an ear back as Mildred straps the cage onto its back, but otherwise makes no sound.
Pick glances to Khalid, but otherwise keeps his eyes on the kobold.
“I don’t think so,” he says. “I don’t want you to ensorcel any of my people with your
- your sorcerer’s ways. This was -” Pick burps - "supposed to be an easy job, just collect a copper from travelers. Better than patrol. Mostly you meet, oof -" Pick squints and tries to spit, but the saliva gets caught on his chin — “you meet nice people, get to hear where they’re, frrr-frum, from - aw, please -”
Pick slumps toward Khalid and vomits onto the dwarf’s lap, a milky white bile with flecks of pink.
Pick falls face-first into the dirt, dead.
All of the goblins at Vast Bridge have been dispatched.
Khalid leans forward and closes the Goblins eyes. “May you find peace in the halls of your absent God.”
He then rips a sleeve from the goblin’s jerkin and uses it to wipe his robes clean. “Come—once the big man burns this one’s body, we should be off. We should not linger in this place after such deeds.”
Khalid stands and throws his water skin on the pyre, selecting a new one from the goblin’s supplies. He takes the other pigeon, too, putting it in the folds of his robe like a children’s magician, and the party can see, if they look, a second bird tucked there, sleeping.
Canicus is shocked as the goblin slumps forward, covered in his own sick. “By the Risen King…” he murmurs as he inspects the body for signs of some explanation for the goblin’s sudden death.
(( I rolled a Diagnostics check and failed ))
“Something is not right about this, perhaps the goblins have some means of taking their own life to avoid capture. A pill, or some special gland. Either way, let us move onward.” Canicus sets the body ablaze and says a few words over the burning goblin before turning to the horizon and steeling himself for the journey ahead.
Bea gags, dry heaves a little. “Agh, Canicus! The thing already smelled like rotfiend butthole. This stink is going to stick to my clothes for a week.” She shakes her hands as if to shuck away filth and quicksteps as far away from the burning corpse as possible.
A thick, black, acrid plume of smoke rises to the sky.
Everyone make a Constitution check, or throw up from the smell of burning humanoid hair + flesh.
Canicus inhales deeply, taking in the too-familiar mixture of burning humanoid hair, flesh, and rotfiend butthole. “I’m sorry little Bea, but all creatures deserve solace in the afterlife.”
Khalid busies himself with packing up while the corpses burn. He seems unaffected, except for a bit of the smoke that causes him to squint as a single tear rolls from one eye.
“Divine retribution?!” Ervendio asked incredulously. He sneers at the goblin, “Do you know the meaning of the word Divine, little goblin? I think not. Your pope is old and his influence wanes. You hold to no ‘divine’ anything. You are a squabbling kingdom of uncouth barbarians with no culture, art, or knowledge of the true Divine purposes of your ancestors. Now be silent and hold your tongue of empty threats.”
“Canicus…” He turned his serious gaze to the proud fighter and a slight smile came to his face, “your words are righteous and eloquent. While this elf does not require the protection of the Risen King, I will accept it. Oh, and you look delightful with Mildred on your shoulders. Khalid, you are too quick with the blade and violence, you should hearken Canicus and learn patience and diplomacy. Today I will forgive your haste for it seems the goblins would have taken Bertram, or worse, and that I cannot allow. I swore an oath to protect him, and many other oaths that I will not say at this time.”
Ervendio starts collecting ration packs and sleeping pads, “Now these, these could become useful later on.”
The smell doesn’t even register on the “bad” spectrum to Mildred’s nostrils. The swamps of Middlemarsh, not to mention her own poultices and salves, produced much worse odors.
Mildred eyes Khalid. Her knowledge of herbs and medicine made it clear enough that the goblin was poisoned as she examined the white froth on the ground. She knew the dwarf was a shady customer, but hadn’t expected this level of treachery.
Her conscience wants to be more distraught than it is, however. The witch knows this was, perhaps, the cleanest solution to their problem. As the body burns, she sees a single tear fall from Khalid’s eye. “I trust it’s not the goblin’s death that makes you cry, eh?” Mildred nods at the dwarf with squinted eyes, but says no more, and walks away.
Bertram let his shoulders relax after Mildred refused his offer. He was hoping someone would say that, to be honest. The thought of being drawn and quartered, then scattered about Hangtooth on display, was not a particularly appealing fate to a gnome that had grown accustomed to cozy teas by a warm fire with a good book. Nevertheless, the guilt remained. He looked on with a heavy heart.
He would need these people to protect him out here, and as they went about the business of covering their tracks, he quietly observed them. Bertram was humbled by the total debasement of it all. Is that how he would die? Gored, pockets picked over, fat bubbling as he was cooked to ash? Now he knew the reasons behind the hard stares of the refugees that would breeze through Bramblewood on occasion. How long had the world been going on like this while he sat in the comfort of his study? He pondered these questions to himself as his little legs tried to keep pace with the group. He was hoping someone other than himself would suggest a break for second breakfast, but by the time elevenses approached, still no one had said a word. He grimaced as sweat trickled from his brow all the way down through his robe. “Right, pip pip! Stiff upper lip, and all that.”