Horse Thieves

Chapter Two of Under the Goblin Trees

Campaign adaptation by Thomas Kelly

On the Edge of the Wood

“Four or five days to the keep at Forest Watch. We know not precisely how far beyond the Foredge to the baron’s lodge,” Sir Merciful and Sir Belvenore poured over parchment with a few sparse lines that sufficed for a map. Many miles passed before our road entered the wooded lands. Groves and wild woods stood in patches now and again, thicker to the north. We had fair skies for two days, but on the third day from the keep, more snow hampered our progress again. This time we camped and waited out the weather in shelters beneath a stand of white chestnuts. Bruin foraged about in the woods and collected dry timber enough to keep a merry fire blazing, despite the wind and the snow.

The warmth of the fire was not enough to chase the chill from the bones but it melted some of the ice between our party and our chivalrous escort. Considering their coming errantry in Farvale and Orlane, Sir Belvenore and Sir Merciful inquired of us regarding all we could tell them about that place. Their questions gave us the opportunity to recount for them the tale of the naga witch. After hearing our story and asking after the details until they were at last satisfied, they looked on us with newfound respect, and their demeanor improved.

We woke in the morning under skies both clear and cold. Cirilli and I conducted our prayers while the others stoked up the fire, heated the water, and boiled the grits. The Watchers followed their own monastic-styled devotions, reading the psalms of Cuthbert and the odes of Heironeous each morning and conducting themselves according to their fixed routines before strapping on armor. Myron reviewed his spells. Bruin saddled the horses.

Now the trees had begun to grow more closely, and we saw that we drew near to the shadowy world beneath the boughs of the Dim Forest. Nevertheless, we camped that night in good spirits for we knew that Forest Watch remained only a short journey on the morrow. We looked forward to warm beds, cooked food, and strong drinks.

An Interrupted Night

Sir Merciful was at watch when thieves stole into the camp and made off with the horses. How it came to pass that he neither saw nor heard, I received no explanation. None was needed. It was clear enough that he had fallen to sleep. Some hours after his watch had begun, he roused us. A Watcher is a watcher in name only, I suppose. Now in the middle of the night, shivering in the darkness and stiff from the cold, we did not know what to do, nor did we know then the culprit that had stolen our steeds. Bruin wanted to pursue immediately, but what was the point in that pitch darkness? Myron cast a magical light on his quarterstaff, and we searched about the immediate vicinity of the camp. The light proved to be a bad idea as it made him a clear target. The first arrow stuck him and buried its head into his chest. As if a dam broke, they charged from out of the woods.

Sir Merciful alone stood ready in his armor, but his wild and novice swings struck no goblin hides. Myron produced a spell even while the wicked dart remained lodged in his sternum. From his hands he hurled darts of magic at the onslaught, and two fell dead as they rushed upon us. I summoned up the spiritual weapon of my Lady; a great sickle appeared with which to strike at her foes. The first wave of the attack surged around us, stabbing with short blades, clawing and leaping out of the darkness. Hardly one of us escaped the bite of blade and scratch of claw. Belvenore and Merciful joined the fight, striking goblin flesh. The sickle of my Lady struck at a great goblin who came against me, and he fell dead at my feet. Two whelps flanked Cirilli; she shouted in the night from the slash of their blades. Bruin’s savage blows came to her rescue. Myron’s magic splashed a spray of color. Our foes dropped away, some falling unconscious, others blinded and squealing in panic. As the unseen spiritual hand of Merikka swung her sickle against the foe, I brought my own down on one big brute, twice my size, and gashed him open. All the cowards turned and fled into the darkness

We dared not pursue them beyond the light of our fire and Myron’s spell, for goblins are keen-eyed in the dark. Moreover, not one among walked unwounded, and some sorely so. Cirilli and I set about the work of binding wounds and invoking the powers for healing over our companions and, indeed, also over one another. Removing the dart from Myron’s chest, we prayed for supernatural healing that might close the wound and nullify any poisons on the dart. Bruin and Sir Belvenore strapped on their armor before attending to stacking the bodies of our fallen foes. Still weak from the frightful wound and midnight surgery, Myron used the last of his strength to cast a spell that would stoke the fire bright through the rest of the night, and so we passed the hours until morning, wakeful and watchful.

To Foredge

When the morning light came we had some talk of pursuing the goblins on foot, for their tracks showed clear enough in the snow. Bruin and Myron supposed we might trace them to their lair and retrieve our horses. The Watchers warned, “They will lead us into a most treacherous ambush beneath the accursed boughs of the Dim Forest, and there we will perish.”

Things fell to me to decide. I said I would not speak my mind until I had some peace to say my prayers and collect my wits. Cirilli and I engaged our devotions while Myron sniffed and muttered over his spellbook. The others made some meager breakfast from the dry oats in the one pack of provisions that the goblins had not made off with in the night.

I addressed my travelling companions thusly: “Last night my most beneficent Lady Merikka and all the gods of goodness and truth did protect us. We are blessed to have survived the night at all with only the loss of our horses and a few saddlebags and pack sacks. Not many travelers have lived to tell the tale of a raid such as we endured. Now I have considered the matter. It will be wise to make straight for the fort lest they return in greater numbers to avenge their fallen kin or lay some cunning ambush upon us.”

Myron objected in a nasal tones both condescending and grating to the ears, “Without our steeds, how shall we make our way back to Farvale and Orlane? Shall we walk the whole moon of Fireseek?”

I replied with the patience of Delleb’s trials, “Perhaps we will have a opportunity to acquire new mounts, but the matter lies in the hands of the gods. Even should we pursue the horse thieves now, do we suppose that we would find our steeds alive, hale and whole? More likely, those foul fellows have already made a grisly feast of them.”

With these words the knights agreed. We packed what remained of our gear, hoisted packs upon our backs, and we began the wearisome trudge to the fort at Forest Edge. At this time, I should explain Myron’s remarkable pocket. Myron had sewn into the inside pocket of his scholar’s robe a magical bag which we retrieved from the lair of the naga witch. Among the society of spellcasters, a sack such as this is sometimes called a bag of holding, and this is the remarkable property of its dweomer: as much as one may pass through its mouth the bag does hold and never grows too full or too heavy. Thus Myron filled his magician’s pocket with all manner of gear, unlikely cargo, and food rations, without ever feeling the weight. Without steeds or pony, we made good use of Myron’s magical pocket that morning, filling it with whatever we could not carry or that might burden us down. Such things as were to wide or large to pass through the mouth of the pocket, we were compelled to carry or leave behind.

Even before we began the trudge, heavy flakes of snow began falling again, and these grew thicker and heavier as the morning continued. Now the forest crowded up along the road more than ever, and the snow covered our tracks behind us. We pressed on as quickly as we might, for none of us wanted to spend another night shivering in the open with goblins prowling about—especially not on the very edge of the Dim Forest.

Our eyes searched for some sign of the fort. The snow ceased falling by midday and our spirits rose, supposing the distance could not be much further.  Our eyes longed to see a promising curl of smoke over the treetops that might tell us the journey was at an end, but the road only went on, ever deeper into the wood. Around each bend and over each rise I expected to be rewarded with the sight of the a cheerful, well-provisioned and garrisoned fort flying the colors of Gran March, but each bend and rise revealed only more road ahead.

As the day lengthened on toward late afternoon the sun began to set behind the trees. Dark shadows stretched long as if the dimness of the wood ahead reached out to us. Then we heard the sound of dogs baying, and we were frightened. “The goblins return with wargs, and now they sniff us out,” we fretted.

An Urgent Summons

Not so. Round the bend ahead came a troop of woodsmen bearing heavy axes and short swords, long bows and quivers full of shafts, hooded and cloaked, grim-faced, a dozen or more. They had with them several dogs straining at leashes. One of the woodsmen stepped forward as their chief, and thus he inquired, “Who enters here beneath the boughs of the Forest Dim? Two noble knights of the March? A giant in arms and a spellmonger who hides his face? A lone girl and a half-size? All of them afoot on a night such as this, when goblinkind prowls the wood?”

“Now stand aside,” commanded Sir Belvenore, “For we go by order of the commandant and under his protection, and we make for yonder Fort at Forest Edge.”

“As you please,” said the leader with a bow, “But a cold welcome you will find there. Only ashes, and all who stayed there either dead or fled. Have I not just now come from that place?”

“Lies,” insisted Belvenore, “Now stand aside!”

“We will stand aside after we have stated our business,” the leader retorted. “Late last night, we came upon a troop of jebli, leading away some ponies and horses. We thought that these perhaps did not belong to them, so we confiscated the animals and struck the jebli down.”

I spoke up then and said, “Surely our mounts, stolen from us last night! Two ponies, two war horses, a sagging mare, and a plains’ horse?”

“The very beasts we confiscated. And they shall be returned to you straight way, but not without a ransom,” the leader said. “I am Ivan son of Micksalicks, a woodsman of the forest by trade, as are we all, but I have come hither with these men seeking a certain halfling priest shown me in a dream, and this I presume to be you father. Return with me to our village and heal our malady, and we shall return your horses and reward you with warm beds, hot meals, and whatever we hospitality can.”

“What nonsense?” demanded Belvenore. “Return our steeds at once by order of the Commandant.”

“Not nonsense, but an urgent summons my lord,” the woodsman insisted with outstretched open palms. “Good folk in our village suffer the fever, and some froth at the mouth like wild dogs. My dear maiden sister has fallen into a swoon. We cried out to the gods, and the Lady of the Wood did answer us, for these are her trees we walk beneath. She appeared to me in a dream and said, ‘Seek the hobniz priest who travels from Hookhill. He has healing in his hands.’ We few came in all haste, these men and I, out of the wood where we dwell, to inquire at Foredge. We found it abandoned, burnt, and none there to defend or welcome, but a foul den of goblins it had become, and so it remains. Then also early this morning we came upon a band of goblins leading your steeds in from the wood. We struck them down with axes and those that fled we dropped with arrows. Then came we straight way, with our dogs on the scent, to find the missing riders if we might.”

“You have found us,” I said, “And we shall pay your ransom. Take us to your village. If it is in my power to help, I will do so, by all the gods and by my Lady of Changing Seasons.”


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Artwork: Caldrail: Goblins in the Forest of Gloom

4 thoughts on “Horse Thieves

  1. Grits? GRITS? what in the hel do you yankees know about grits? LOL

    Yeah, a destroyed fort/ That’s more than just “goblin” troubles.

    Like

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