It Started in Saltmarsh: Chapter Eight
By Kirt Wackford
A Dungeons & Dragons campaign adaptation edited by Thomas Kelly and Greyhawkstories
[Avast! Spoilers ahead.]
8 Goodmonth, 570
Tyrius, Larry, Aurora, and Babshapka were already awake when the smell of Ruth’s cooking came drifting up the stairs from below. Others, having indulged in too much ale the previous night, needed to be roused from their beds when the food was finally laid out on the table. Eventually the whole of the party found their way downstairs, some eagerly and some reluctantly.
A tall, broad-shouldered, dusky woman strode in through the door. Her features betrayed a predominantly Flan heritage, though not purely so. She had copper-brown skin and black tresses. Whether her mixed ancestry included Oerid, or Suel, or both was not obvious. Ruth nodded in recognition and offered a half-curtsy in respect. The newcomer was dressed in an old but well-maintained tabard bearing a device on the left sleeve, a loose linen blouse underneath, tight leather breeches, and high boots. The hilt of a longsword projected above her shoulder (she wore it on a back-harness under her tabar) and a dagger sat comfortably on her hip.
The woman grinned, more in satisfaction than friendliness.“No mistakin’ ther lot o’ ye fer Moorfolk, be t’ere?” she asked rhetorically. Thokk, looking up from his plate of fried fish, smiled in reply, spiky tusks protruding from his broad mouth.
“Excuse me?” asked Aurora. She understood Keoish well enough, but she was taken aback by the woman’s thick lower-class Salinmoor accent. The woman tried again in Common, but her accent was just as heavy. “I be sayin’, ther lot o’ ye be ther strangers wot met wit’ ther council.”
“Oh, yes, quite!” Aurora agreed.
The woman introduced herself as Corporal Wilhelmina Stoutley, chief excise office of the Saltmarsh Customs House. Under the direction of Secun, she had been tasked with both conveying the party back to the alchemist’s house and retrieving any goods that they wished to turn in for reward under their right of pillage. She said she had a wagon ready outside.
“Thank you for bringing the wagon,” Aurora said respectfully, “That was quite thoughtful. But as yet we are only part-way through breakfast, and after that we will need time to pack and load our gear.”
Wilhelmina scowled and gestured at the window, “We be burn’n daylight ‘n’ ‘aven’t time fer layabouts,” she muttered. Nevertheless, she took a chair on the other side of the room, glowering at them as they ate.
Ruth brought her a plate of fried herring, which she refused at first, then reluctantly accepted. Ruth said something to her too softly for the party to hear, but her response was clear enough, “Tom stays wit’ ther wagon!”
A little later, those sitting across from the window saw Ruth bringing out a fried egg sandwich to a man sitting in the passenger side of a wagon drawn by a single draft horse. Ruth even had a handful of raw oats for the horse, and she and the man talked amiably for a while.
When the party was finally finished with their breakfast, they loaded their gear into the back of the wagon, and then themselves. There was only room on the seat for two, with Wilhelmina driving and the other excise officer sitting beside her. The lad introduced himself as “Private Tom Stoutley, at yer service!” They quickly noticed that he addressed the woman as “Willa,” not “Corporal.” There was a strong facial resemblance between them, but the youth was much lighter in skin tone and a good ten years younger.
The wagon bumped and jostled the passengers about, and Thokk soon elected to walk alongside them rather than riding. His long strides easily kept pace with the draft horse. There was no way little Barnabus, or Tyrius in his heavy armor, could keep up, though, so the rest of the party remained in the wagon and arrived at the house before midday.
Willa drove the horse right through the gate, without a hint of superstitious hesitation, and up to the front entrance of the house, on the seaside.
“Unlike the townsfolk, your horse doesn’t shy away from the wall or the gate,” Aurora observed.
“Ther ‘orse ‘as got more sense than most people does,” Willa remarked. She spat into the long grass, perhaps to emphasize her point.
The party showed the excise officers the trapdoor into the secret basement, and pointed out the cask of brandy they wanted taken back to the town. The whole of it already reeked of death, and at first, Aurora had to fight the impulse to gag. They collected a few odds and ends, like gold earrings removed from the dead smugglers, that they still planned on personally selling in Seaton. While Willa and Tom rolled the cask up the stairs, Aurora conferred briefly with Tyrius. When the officers returned, Aurora showed them the secret door, and then walked them through the sea caves, counting casks and bolts, and ending at the lowest cave, which was half filled with seawater.
“Ye dinnae mention aught o’ t’is t’ ther council” Willa said hotly.
Before Aurora could offer an explanation, Tyrius apologized, “We did not want to inform the council of the full extent of the smuggling ring until we were sure that the smuggler did not have allies on the council. Now that Murphey has been run out of town, we are confident that the council will be able to do the right thing with all of this contraband.”
“And by do the right thing, Tyrius means pay us the full value of all the goods,” Barnabus said sharply.
“After the excise tax,” added Tyrius.
“It nae be me place ta make decisions fer ther council,” said Willa, “but we can bring all yon casks an’ bolts back. ‘Twill take more’n one trip, tho.”
Meanwhile, Tom was looking out into the Azure Sea through the cave. “I musta been by t’is cliff a hunnerd times an’ never seen t’is cave.” he wondered alloud.
“Nae, yon rocks be concealin’ it,” answered Willa, and pointed out a rocky promontory that would shield the cave from view from the open water. “Ye’d need t’ be in tight t’ ther cliff face t’ see it – perfect fer smugglin’, all right.”
Willa, Tom, Thokk, and Tyrius packed the wagon full of casks and filled the empty spaces with bolts of silk, and then the two excise officers set off back to town, leaving the party in the basement of the house.
“Before we settle in,” Aurora suggested, “And now that we are alone, we should finish searching the secret cellar, as we did not have time to do that properly on our previous visit.”
Their first stop was the room of the leader. Even as he stepped inside, Babshapka knew that something was amiss. “The bed has been moved, and look at this,” Babshapka observed. The floor that was previously under the bed had a flagstone removed to reveal a large hollow underneath. As the ranger approached, a voice boomed out, seemingly coming from the hole itself but filling the room. It sounded suspiciously similar to the voice that greeted them upon their first entry to the house.
“Fools! So you have returned. Well, you’re too late! You left behind my spellbooks and my treasure, and I have them now, so there is naught more here for you. Me and the merchant and the captain had a nice little smuggling operation set up, and we would have gotten away with it, if it hadn’t been for you meddling adventurers! Well, don’t you worry. Sanballet doesn’t forget. Enjoy your success for now, but heed my words—I am out there, and I will have my revenge. And next time, I won’t be stopped by a room full of skeletons! I will have my revenge! AH-AH-HAHAHAHAHA!”
“It’s an audible spell with a trigger,” Aurora sniffed. “Tacky, cheap trick.”
“Well it scared the poop out of me,” Larenthal admitted.
Sobered and a bit nervous, the party carefully searched the room but found that nothing of any value had been left behind. They then moved to the “danger” room from whence the skeletons came. Rapping on the walls, Aurora quickly discovered a secret door, but not how to open it. After several minutes watching her try, Thokk grew bored and left, but soon lumbered back, carrying the wrought iron stove that had been in the hearth.
“Thokk, what are you…?” began Aurora, but she did not have a chance to finish.
Thokk shouted, “Thokk open door!” and he hurled the heavy stove at the wall. It crashed into the wall and then to the floor, but broke through the dust-covered lathe to a thin layer of wood beneath. Thokk retrieved the stove and hurled it again, this time cracking the wood and revealing an open space on the other side. After several more blows, the stove was a smashed and rent ruin, but the doorway was open and large enough for them all to step through.
The room beyond contained the remains of a laboratory and, apparently, the famed alchemist. The party recovered several items of gold from the table in front of his long-dead corpse, coins from his rotting belt pouch, and Aurora even found a water-damaged spellbook in a secret drawer of the table, plus a specialized text on alchemy. Thokk discovered a glowing stone clutched in the skeletal fist of the alchemist.
“What is it? What do you have there?” Tyrius asked. Tyrius had been appointed to carry the small valuables recovered by the party (gems, jewelry, coins and such) as the only one whom everyone trusts. Thokk bared his teeth menacingly, clutching the stone, but he backed down under Tyrius’ unflinching gaze. Reluctantly, the half-blood handed the stone over to Tyrius.
Next the party searched the cellar itself, and this time they managed to find the secret door to the wine cellar. Tyrius took the plate armor they had removed from the dead man on their previous visit. He was eager to try it on, but the memory of the corpse worms made him cautious. He decided to requisition a single cask of brandy, break open the top, and soak the armor in it, reasoning that the potent alcohol would kill any remaining pests. Thokk remarked, “Don’t dump it out. I’ll still drink that.”
Barnabas announced, “I can see things are in good hands here. As for me, I have now finished composing the Ballad of Barnabus and the Smugglers of the Haunted House of Saltmarsh, and I intend on returning to town to debut it tonight. I think it would be best if Aurora accompanied me, and the rest of you stayed here to guard these goods and watch the house.”
“No my diminutive little suitor,” Aurora laughed. “Babshapka and I travel on with Tyrius along the coast road to Seaton. We leave Larry and Thokk here to guard the house.”
Several hours later, when Willa and Tom return with the wagon, the party informed them of their plans. Willa reminded them, “Didn’ ther council charge ye t’ave ‘alf yer number ‘ere in ther ‘ouse ‘case ther smugglers return?”
“As I recall,” Aurora objected, “The council specifically said that half our number need remain in the house or the town. Barnabus will be in the town, and Larry and Thokk will be here in the house. That’s half our number, and it does meet the requirement.”
Willa sighed, opened a small chest in the wagon, and took out a wax-sealed sheet of parchment. “If ye be goin’ to Seaton,” she explained, “ther council ‘as writ up a letter to ther Viscount for ye.” Aurora reached out to take the letter, but Willa pulled it away from her and handed it to Tyrius, who carefully folded it and tucked it away. Aurora scowled at the woman. Then they got to work loading the wagon a second time and managed to fit all the remaining casks and bolts aboard—including the cask, now resealed, in which Tyrius had soaked his armor.
Willa and Tom headed back to Saltmarsh with Barnabus riding in the wagon and trying out his new ballad on the captive audience. Between the three inns and the tavern in Saltmarsh, Barnabus planned on working out an arrangement of performing local songs, plus his featured ballad, in one establishment each night in exchange for food and lodging. The stanzas of the song featured all the action of the search of the house and the climactic battle with the smugglers. It mentioned each of the party members by name, but the chorus, curiously, referred only to himself:
Oh, the blades did flash, the blood did flow,
There was danger by the fistful,
But through it all there shone the smile,
Of Barnabus the minstrel!
Aurora, Babshapka, and Tyrius begin walking down the coast road to Seaton as Barnabus’ voice faded behind them. Larry and Thokk stood by the gate, watching the others leave. Then, with with Larry’s help, Thokk carried the bodies of the nine smugglers and the gnoll out of the house and tossed them in the bushes on the other side of the road. “Maybe they will attract wolves. Or even a bear! I would like to fight a bear!” Thokk said as he dragged the last corpse out of the house.
“I used to know a bear,” Larry said. “I can speak bear.” He said a few phrases in the bear language to demonstrate. Thokk ignored him.
Neither of them understood the function of the stove and they didn’t miss it. They cooked a hearty supper over the open hearth and discussed sleeping arrangements,
“The magician’s bed is too small for the both of us to sleep in it together,” Larry said. “And what if that creepy alchemist comes looking for the things we took from him today!”
“Thokk fears nothing,” Thokk said, but his voice lacked conviction. Darkness was falling and speaking of the mage left them both feeling a little spooked.
“Maybe we could watch the house better if we slept outside, in the woods across the way. Besides, I’m not used to sleeping indoors,” Larry said.
Thokk nodded, “If the mage comes back, he won’t find us in the woods.” They packed a few things and left the cellar, setting up camp in the woods. Before lying down, Thokk took out his flute and played some plaintive melodies. He thought wistfully of all the glorious blood that had been shed recently. He remembered fondly the looks of admiration the townsfolk gave him after his return to the Merry Mermaid the day before. Perhaps living among humans is not so bad after all, he thought. At second moonrise, Thokk was snoring heavily, but Larry could not find sleep. He left his slumbering companion to walk even deeper into the woods where he could commune with nature the way his master had taught him.
Used with permission. Adapted for Greyhawkstories.com from the original article posted to Canonfire!
Don’t miss chapter nine of It Started in Saltmarsh, “The Stoutly Salter“ Follow greyhawkstories.com.