The Ghost at Saltmarsh

It Started in Saltmarsh: Chapter Thirteen

By Kirt Wackford
A Dungeons & Dragons campaign adaptation edited by Thomas Kelly and Greyhawkstories

Avast! Spoilers Ahead!

22-23 Goodmonth, 570

While the captured pirate ship gently pitched with the waves, tugging at its anchor chain, the party gathered the loot into a single pile. They more-or-less agreed that all the monetary treasure would be equally split, with Willa (but not Tom) receiving a full share. Aurora conducted a magical ritual to detect magic, and she separated out those things that radiated an enchantment.

“My ritual will let us know what items are magical, but not what they do.  I am happy to follow-up by casting an identify to note their properties, to be sure they are not cursed,” Aurora said. No one had not forgotten the fiasco with Thokk’s cursed luckstone. “But I would appreciate it if the party could split the cost of the expensive pearl required for each use of that spell.”

Barnabas balked at that prospect, but Shefak scolded him, “Greed and attachment to material things bar one from true spiritual progress.”

Barnabas replied curtly, “I don’t know who you are monk, and I don’t know how you came to join this party or to claim an equal share in our pillage. But I think your foreign god would be most grateful if you took upon yourself a vow of silence. I know the rest of us would.”

Thokk grunted with laughter, but Shefak coolly ignored the remark. She conducted herself as if the halfling did not ruffle her at all.

Aurora began to sort through the magical items, stating, “The gear should go to whomever can best use it for the benefit of the party.” Her spell identified the captain’s longsword as an enchanted blade. It was a large sword that could be used one or two-handed. This she gave to Willa, and the salter was well-pleased with the acquisition. Not the great sword she hoped to obtain, but that could yet be purchased with her share of the plunder.

The mate’s broadsword, an enchanted, single-edged large cutlass, seemed most fitting for Thokk, but he declined, stating his preference for his axe. Aurora suspected that Thokk was fearful of taking up another cursed item.

“This blade is similar enough to Bakluni falchions that Shefak could wield it,” Tyrius suggested.

The monk shook her head and said, “One who relies upon magic as a crutch will never learn to truly focus the body and mind.”

“Oh! The wisdom of the west!” Barnabas interjected sarcastically. “Focus on this body!” he said, offering her a crude gesture toward his crotch.

Babshapka spoke up, “I am pleased to take the enchanted sword, provided that it proves more potent than the weapons I now wield.” He hefted it and observed, “This blade is light enough for me to still use my shortsword in the other hand.”

Punketah’s ring and wand remained unidentified. Aurora kept those items herself, along with his spellbook, until they decided what to do with the mage. She also kept the four phials from the captain’s quarters labeled as healing, healing, cure disease, and neutralize poison. She was most curious about the spellbook and what it might contain, but until she had time to study it, she would not know. If they were useful spells, she would suggest pooling money to pay for their inscription into her own spellbook. After that, she would deposit this book in the same bank in Seaton where she put the previous one recovered from the long-dead Alchemist.

As for the ring of protection, Aurora suggested, “I think Thokk could make good use of this ring, given how often he is in the forefront of attacks.”

Thokk regarded the ring suspiciously, but Aurora assured him, “I am confident that it will do you no harm Thokk. If it were cursed, Punketah would hardly have kept it on his finger, would he?”

Thokk examined it by the light of a deck lamp – his concern giving way to covetousness. “It will complement my scars!” he laughed. “I will wear it when we slay the stinking lizardmen.”

Not magical, but possibly important, was an unopened scroll tube that was found with Punketah’s spellbook. Babshapka and Dirty Larry found that of the three chain shirts worn by the officers, two fit them well enough to use. They were rusty and missing links in places, to be sure, but they still offered an improvement over their own leathers.

Tyrius untied the hands of the three remaining common sailors so that they could give sea burials to their dead companions, and after observing them during this act, he declared that they should not be bound again so long as they stayed above decks. The three smuggler officers, and Punketah the mage, however, remained tied to the mast in the hold and under the guard of Thokk and Larry. With the grapnels and some hard work, the party and the sailors pulled both the smuggler’s jollyboat and the excise cutter aboard and lashed them to the deck. By then the twilight before dawn was chasing back the darkness.

As Willa directed the smugglers to raise anchor, she could see the ship itself, painted on the prow, bore the name the Sea Ghost, an appropriate moniker for a smuggling vessel if ever there was one.  She took the tiller while the three sailors raised the sail and worked the ropes.

“Is a crew of four hands sufficient to handle the ship and bring us into the harbor in Saltmarsh?” Aurora asked. “It would be a delay, but we could send the jolly back for Tom.”

Willa pointed off the port side to where storm clouds blackened the southern horizon. “Wit’ ther fair east wind we hae right now, an’ calm seas, we be arrivin’ soon eno’, tho’ we willnae be settin’ any speed records. I nae be wantin’ t’ be out on ther open sea wit’ only four sailors on deck if summit blows up, tho’. That thar storm out t’ sea durn’t look t’ be gettin’ any closer, but we hae better be safe in harbor afore she hits.”  Willa hoped that by them waiting until it was light enough for him to see that they were sailing to Saltmarsh, Tom would deduce that the ship had been successfully taken.

Willa took the tiller so that she (rather than the sailors) could control the ship’s direction, but it also allowed her to stand easily and speak with the rest of the party, who remained on the poop deck discussing what course of action to take next. She agreed with Tyrius when he said, “The captain, mate, and bosun we’ll turn over to the council, and I’ll brook no contrary argument – they surrendered or were captured, and we agreed to those terms before we set out.”

“What about the others?” Barnabas put in. “The council explicitly said we could use our own discretion. I say we should we make them pay us a ransom for their release. That’s my discretion.”

“I think not,” Tyrius said. “We will release them if it seems fit to do so. For now, the sailors know the ship and are valuable as crew. But I do not know if they can be trusted.”

“As far as the three sailors,” Aurora voted, “Why not hire them on as deckhands for the vessel? We could test their loyalty.”

Thokk interrupted, “Easier just to kill the entire crew, including those who surrendered. I’ve got the stomach for it, and I’ll be happy to kill the fish-elf too. I’ll slaughter them all like pigs, and I’ll test the enchanted weapons on their throats.”

“Thanks for the offer, but that’s not necessary,” Tyrius said with undisguised disgust and exasperation. Clearly the orcish bloodlust inspired by the battle was still coursing hotly through Thokk’s veins.

“I will not allow you or anyone else to harm the sea-elf,” Babshapka stated with firm resolve and a glaring expression.

“Thokk’s not wrong about the sailors,” Barnabas reasoned. “Willa has already said these men will not be sufficient to crew the ship should we want to use it to sail to the mouth of the Dun, and more sailors will need to be hired. That being the case, why not just crew the ship entirely with Saltmarsh sailors of more certain loyalty?”

Tyrius thought out loud, “I am even less certain about the mage than the sailors. Should Punketah be turned over to the council or not? He said he would help us in return for his life and his gear. He claims that we will need him to safely approach the lizardfolk lair, and he warns of dangerous shoals and lizardfolk traps.”

“Why should we trust him at all?” Barnabas asked. “I, for one, do not.”

“When do we start killing the stinking lizards?” Thokk asked eagerly.

Crew of the GhostIgnoring Thokk’s impetuosity, Tyrius continued ruminating on the captured mage, “I do not say that we should trust him; I say that we might need him. Then again, I’m not sure if we should take the ship to the lizardfolk lair. Even Punketah has said that he can only help us navigate if we approach during the day, but in a daylight approach, the ship will be seen from miles off. Should we instead sail one of the jollyboats or the cutter, or even approach from the land?”

“If we aren’t going to turn him over to the council, it might be better not to mention him at all,” Aurora added. “But I think it would be best to hand over all the officers to the authorities, including the wizard, despite his offer to help us. I believe we should be very clear to the council that the smugglers were involved in an attempt to foment a revolution against the mainland, and so they should use all means at their disposal to wrest information from the prisoners, especially the captain, Snake-eyes, who was uncooperative when we questioned him. With luck, they might garner a little information along the way to help us against the lizard folk.”

“I will not endorse any course of action that implies torturing prisoners,” Tyrius objected, “Saltmarsh may be a remote backwater (and here Willa had to bite her tongue) but it is still under the King’s justice, and those council members should know it.”

Aurora shrugged. “I am willing to accept the decision of the party with regard to the sailors, mage, and officers—they all chose their path and must walk it to its conclusion.”

Willa liked the idea of hiring more crew in Saltmarsh for the ship. She, of course, would follow the orders of the council and the chief customs master, Secun, in any matter they decided upon.

After further deliberations, the party decided that Punketah would be turned over to the council along with the three officers, but with the caveat that he might be useful to the party later. They would stress that regardless of his crimes, a swift execution was not in anyone’s interest. The three sailors would not be turned over.

sea-elf.jpg“What of the fate of the sea elf, Oceanus?” Babashapka asked. “I have related our tale to him, all that transpired at the haunted house, and our obligations to the council. Should we not bid him leave the ship before we reach Saltmarsh? If he stays onboard, he might be summoned before the council or possibly even seized or interrogated by them.”

“Ask Oceanus what he would most like us to do with him and, assuming he wishes to be released back to his people, perhaps he might enlist his people’s help in the fight against the lizard folk,” Aurora suggested.

Babashapka spoke with the sea elf and later reported, “He would like to stay with us to determine whether the lizardfolk pose a threat to his people. If so, he will return to his home and ask his people to help us in our venture against them. But if he finds that the lizardfolk pose a threat only to the humans of Saltmarsh, his people will not necessarily cast their lot in with us.”

By mid-morning, the Sea Ghost was docked in Saltmarsh harbor. She had been observed coming in for hours. Customs officials and a dozen guardsmen waited on the docks, while the length of the harbor was lined with small folk. Chief Secun approached once the ship was tied off and a gang plank lowered. He called to speak with Willa, and when she answered, he asked her for permission to come aboard. Willa stood a bit taller and paused a just a moment before granting him leave. Once aboard, he asked her to order that no one else come aboard or leave, and then the two headed for the captain’s cabin to engage in a private conversation.

Willa related to him all that had happened the night before and everything they had learned from the prisoners. Secun remained thoughtful for half a glass of brandy, weighing the implications of it all. Then he drew a deep breath and began to sort his way through the various concerns. “So long as the common sailors stay on the ship, they are outside the jurisdiction of Saltmarsh, but should they step on shore, they will be arrested for smuggling.”

“Fair eno’,” Willa agreed.

“I’m far more concerned with this hearsay about lizardfolk. Take care you don’t start a panic. While your party may speak freely about the smugglers, you are on no account to speak of the lizardfolk, so as to avoid scaring the townspeople. The council will need to debate the meaning of all this before making a public announcement.”

“Wha’ says ye ‘bout ther sea fairy?”

“He should stay aboard. In fact, it would have been better had the sea elf remained below decks, but half of Saltmarsh has seen him now, so that ship has already sailed,” Secun said. “The town constables are waiting to receive the ship’s officers and the witch. They will be taken first to the blacksmith, to be fitted for hand-manacles and leg irons, and then walked to the town gaol. On second thought, I don’t want the witch stored with the others. The butcher’s ice-cellar will do for that one.”

The party took the officers off the boat one at a time. The captain went quietly, without concern, with hands tied and feet hobbled. He was marched slowly up the harbor road toward the blacksmith’s shop.

Foul Frithoff was next. He was halfway down the gangplank when he hopped neatly into the air and plummeted straight down into the water. Thokk and Barnabus jumped in after him from the gangplank, and Oceanus followed with a graceful dive from the deck of the ship. The would-be fugitive used the sharp barnacles and mussel shells of a dock piling to cut the ropes that bound his hands, but before he could hope to swim away, Frithoff had been sliced by Barnabus, stabbed and pulled to the surface by Oceanus, and shot through with an arrow from the crow’s nest by Babshapka. Thokk dragged the dead body out of the water and laid it along the shore for the people to gawk at. His blood slowly stained the gravel around him.

After that dramatic failed escape, the party reasoned that the remaining two prisoners were unlikely to make an attempt, but Thokk insisted on knocking them unconscious before he hauled them off the boat to be sure. The captain and Bloody Bjorn, the first mate, shared the single cell of the town’s gaol; the wizard Punketah, after being manacled, was kept separately in the butcher’s basement.

cargoThe party surrendered most of the cargo items of value found on the Sea Ghost, but they retained the magical items, the armor of the officers, and the weapons (both used and stored) of the unmentioned lizardfolk. After selling what they could to the merchants of the council and paying excise taxes on the cargo, an eight-way split was 171 gold lions for each of them (including Willa but not Tom). Each party member (except for Willa) was also rewarded with an additional 50 lions from council funds as a reward for capturing the smugglers.

For the remainder of the day, most of the party elected to stay on the ship rather than suffer the curiosity of the Salters. They used the galley to fix meals. Aurora copied several spells from Punketah’s book into her own. She used their single remaining pearl to identify the wand she had acquired as a wand of magic detection. “That will prove useful!” she said to herself happily.

Willa went ashore and bought a greatsword, just as she had promised herself. She set aside the entire remainder of her share of the booty for a fishing cottage, boat, and nets for her younger brother Tom, so that he would be provided for with an inheritance and means of supporting a family, should he marry. While she was out, she also cruised the bars and taverns searching for available deckhands. She found none, but learned that a merchant ship was due in to port which meant several men might be available soon.

An hour before sunset, Tyrius and Aurora went ashore to attend the council meeting to which Secun had summoned them. Babshapka obtained admittance as Aurora’s bodyguard, and Willa also attended as an aide to Secun. The meeting began on a serious note. Secun, the high constable, and the militia captain presented the party’s findings to the rest of the council. “We have come to agree,” Secun said evenly, “That the lizardfolk present a real menace and danger to all of us.”

A murmur of consternation among the councilmen rose in pitch until it erupted into a clamor of raised voices expressing fear at the threat itself and anger that the information had been withheld from them until the meeting itself. Still others insisted that the viscount should be informed at once.

The militia captain hushed them and reported, “M’ssngers been a’ready d’spatched to Bale Keep n’ Seaton. We’ve nae ‘eard back from Seaton, but ther commander at Bale Keep ‘as got ‘is men on ther alert, ready fer trouble if we holler.” The captain explained that Bale Keep conducted patrols into the Hool Marshes, but the patrols only penetrated deeply into the marshes during the winter when the ground was firmer under foot and there were less mosquitoes and poisonous snakes about. During the summer, they patrolled at the edges of the marsh only and made sure nothing threatening emerged. Thus, they could say with certainty only that, if a “flicker” lair existed at the mouth of the Dun River, it had not been there the last winter. The captain’s report led to more outbursts from the council, this time from those objecting to alarmism and demanding better evidence.

Secun called for order before proceeding, “We cannot present a proper request to the viscount unless we have certain proof of the threat. But since these adventurers and strangers to our village have thus far met with such laudable success, let us resolve to retain their services to assess the threat posed and to grant a reward of five hundred gold lions for obtaining reliable evidence. I so move!”

Aurora 2Aurora interrupted impolitically, “If the threat is real, the council ought to recompense us ten times that …” Her bid was not well received, especially considering that the council had just granted an entire merchant ship and its cargo as plunder for the party.

Aurora spoke up again. “We have already presented sufficient evidence of a connection between the lizardfolk, smugglers, and the Sea Princes. The Princes are behind this plot, and they are obviously using the lizardmen as sellswords.”

Most of the council dismissed her idea at first; they did not feel that the “flickers” could be part of a sophisticated plan or that the Princes would be interested in a land war. The previous animosity between the Sea Princes and Keoland had largely been confined to naval battles. Aurora pressed her point, persistently, persuasively, and articulately. When she hit on the fact that the electrum coins used by the lizardfolk to pay for the weapons were of Sea Prince mint, several members of the council started to look concerned, even alarmed. Willa intervened, moving to Aurora’s side and in hushed tones privately scolding her for frightening everyone. She told her to stop speaking along those lines lest the council itself panic. As Willa whispered in Aurora’s ear, Secun worked to steer the council back to the business at hand.

Captain Sigurd was brought in, still in irons, and thoroughly questioned. The salty pirate calmly confessed to his part in smuggling and arms running, although he offered no oaths. He explained that an assistant to one of the Sea Princes told him of the opportunity to run arms to the lizardfolk after he was already smuggling silks and brandy, and that the two operations were not connected. He did not know, and had never asked, from whence the lizardfolk got their coins, nor why they were of Sea Prince mint. He named his contact for buying arms in the Sea Princes.

“From this admitted pirate we have learned that it is more urgent than ever for us to send this party of adventurers to the Dun where they may assess the situation with the lizardfolk,” Secun declared to the council. Turning to Tyrius and Aurora, he said, “We are prepared to offer a reward of 500 lions, no more, for your party to divide as you choose, plus the right of pillage to anything you retrieve from the lizardfolk in your adventures.”

“I don’t understand why you are tasking us with the mission if it pays so poorly?” Aurora said stubbornly. “Would it not be easier to assign some expendables of Saltmarsh to scout the lair from sea under guise of a fishing expedition?”

Secun replied with cold ice in his words, “None of the citizens of Saltmarsh are expendable. The council is willing to pay your party this small fortune of half a thousand gold lions only because we assumed that you are competent to face such dangers without shielding yourself behind the good folk of our town. But in a word, it is you and your party of misfits and strangers who are the expendables here.”

Willa’s eyes dropped to the floor; Aurora’s face flushed with anger. Tyrius had remained silent through most of the meeting. Now he spoke up, before Aurora’s had time to reply and make things even worse. “We accept the offer. The Sea Ghost will set out as soon as we have a full crew.”

It was well-past dark before the council adjourned and Tyrius, Aurora, and Babshapka found their way through the sparsely lit streets and back toward quay where the Sea Ghost floated at harbor. A heavy fog had cloaked Saltmarsh in curling mists through which the light of the city lamps shone dimly.

“I know you are eager to see your mission complete so that you can return to the Silverwood,” Aurora apologized to Babshapka as they walked, “But it seems that we have another adventure ahead of us first.”

The stoic elf offered no reply.

“These things are in the hands of the gods,” Tyrius agreed. “May Pelor protect us. So long as we stay together, he will guide us.”

“I think we’ll stick together,” Aurora speculated. “Larenthal and Thokk will go wherever their noble paladin goes. Willa is to captain the Ghost, and Shefak has more-or-less vowed herself to us. That just leaves the ever-unpredictable Barnabas. But the promise of five-hundred gold lions will encourage his loyalties, I’m certain. Surely, more adventures lie ahead for us!”

They passed by The Inn of the Merry Mermaid. A lantern illuminated the sign over the door. The painted mermaid smiled suggestively in the night. Light streamed from the windows and from the open door of the establishment. A round of applause erupted from the handful of patrons inside, and the unmistakable voice of a certain halfling began:

All ‘round about this netting town,

Tongues tell the tale, all that befell,

Of pirates, ghosts, and all my boasts…

…and Barnabus the minstrel!

Used with permission. Adapted for from the original article posted to Canonfire!
Featured Art: The Sloop; Weapons and Warcraft

Now available in full-length PDF format for download and easy reading: It Started in Saltmarsh

Follow the further adventures of Aurora, Tyrius, Barnabas, and the whole gang as they face Danger at Dunwater, The Final Enemy, and a series of continuing adventures in Kirt Wackford’s ongoing campaign journal on Canonfire!



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