A Battle before Breakfast

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Chapter Eight of Under the Goblin Trees

Campaign adaptation by Thomas Kelly

Before first light, Cirilli and I conducted our devotions and invoked the power of our lady. Moreover, Cirilli said, “We should turn our prayers to Ehlonna in whose woods we wander and who has summoned us hither.” I shrugged off the suggestion. Cirilli raised her invocation to the fey Lady of the Wood. I left her to her reverie.

As the morning light filtered through the boughs, Ivan pointed out a path of prints in the snow circling around our camp. “Last night’s werewolf came from the tower and returned to it,” he said. Now we were perplexed. As yet, we had no better plan for assault. Ivan suggested, “If perhaps we can draw them out to pursue us …”

Myron drew our attention to something that none of us had previously noticed. Outside the tower, not more than fifty feet from its stone walls stood one lone Roan, swaying slightly as if in the wind.

“That tree was not there when we arrived yesterday,” Belvenore said. “That tree was not there even a few moments ago.”

“An illusion,” I suggested, but Myron insisted that our eyes were seeing the truth.

“If you observe, you can see that the tree is moving,” Cirilli stated. “The trees are laying siege for us.”

So it was. As we watched, we discerned the distance between the Roanwood and the tower closing. The tree slowly advanced, leaving a trail of freshly turned earth behind it. The goblins took note of the approaching Roanwood too, and they launched flaming arrows from the tower top, trying to set the menacing besieger ablaze.

Sir Belvenore exclaimed, “By Cuthbert and Heironeous! The gods are fighting for us! Now woodcutter, take your axe and drop that tree on yonder tower and let it serve us as our siege ramp.”

Cirilli objected and called it a sacrilege, but Ivan, who also revered Ehlonna, saw no moral difficulty in dropping a Roanwood tree, whether it moved about or not. We had not yet even eaten breakfast and the warriors were donning arms, armor, helm, and gear. Ivan set to the task of felling the tree while Sir Belvenore and Sir Merciful shielded him from the goblin’s darts. Ivan’s axe unbalanced its immense weight. The Roanwood began to lean and groan. A few more blows and it tottered, staggered, then made a crashing fall broken by the tower’s battlements. It crushed goblins as it struck and tossed others to the ground. There it remained, leaning up against the tower, as neat a siege ramp as you could ask. The blow caused some collapse to the structure. Dislodged stones rained to the ground.

Sir Belvenore, Merciful, and Bruin immediately began to ascend the trunk, threading their way around the boughs and branches. Ivan assisted with his axe, cutting a path for their ascent. They made slow progress in their cumbersome armor, and at one point, Sir Merciful slipped to the ground. Uninjured by the fall, he clambered back on the leaning trunk, crawling on hands and knees, scrambling behind his colleagues in arms. I followed more cautiously. It took me a few tries to get up onto the great trunk, and, even after I had done so, I made only small progress up the tree not without losing my footing once. No broken bones. Cirilli helped me up, and we made the ascent together. Myron followed last and slowest.

The crown of the Roanwood rested on the battlements, making for a tangled confusion of branch, leaf, and broken stone. The fighting men pushed through the thick mass of foliage, emerging into a volley of goblin darts. Less than a dozen goblin guards remained atop to defend the battlements. They wore the sort of leather and chain armor favored by the goblinfolk, and they carried long knives, short swords, and bows.

Bruin thrust his spear into the first in the midst of the leafy obstruction. Arrows bounced off his armor and shield, but more than one punctured their way to find flesh and draw blood. By then we were all caught up in combat, swinging madly and blindly, netted in the crown of the Roanwood tree. Belvenore found one with the end of his sword. I came behind with my sickle and finished the wounded guard.

“More coming,” Bruin shouted. Free of the entangling brush, he ran his spear through another defender. The force of the thrust sent the goblin flailing over the edge of the tower, Bruin’s spear still impaling him. Sir Merciful clambered out of the tangle and rushed the last defender on the ring of the tower, thrusting him backwards and into the open center of the tower. I peered down to the ground at the center of the tower ring. I saw his broken body lying in a courtyard below. At the center of the court stood Nyssa’s oak, rising up the height of the tower, it’s crown spreading out above our heads. Even as I peered down, two great trolls with axes shamble out into the courtyard.

“Trolls below!” I shouted.

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Witch Tree Tower

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Chapter Seven of Under the Goblin Trees

Campaign adaptation by Thomas Kelly

We travelled not some far way into the darkness of the wood that dim lit morning before Ivan indicated we ought to leave off from the road. His keen eyes followed the track of the goblin messenger. Ivan dismounted and examined the prints and trail markings before assuring us, “Our path leaves the main trail here and begins to climb this rise.”

Sir Belvenore and Sir Merciful huffed and objected. “Well known that one who leaves the road never finds his way out of the forest,” Sir Merciful shook his helmeted head.

“There’s no fear of that,” Ivan assured us. “So long as I am with you, we will not lose ourselves in this wood, even if we do lose the way.”

Cirilli spoke like an oracle, “The forest will direct our path. Pay attention to the trees. They direct us now to Nyssa’s oak.” Something about the way she spoke troubled me more than the words themselves. It was not the way a proper daughter of our Lady of Changing Seasons said things. I gave her a disapproving scowl, but she turned her head, pretending not to notice my displeasure.

Belvenore and Merciful wanted to stay with the trail, but none of us said we would stay with them. They feared becoming hopelessly lost in the forest without Ivan’s assistance even if they remained on the road. Moreover, their oaths to their lord bound them to protect us and guide us as they could.

Ivan turned his attention back to studying the prints. After some few minutes of peering about in the near darkness he concluded, “This path is well-trodden. I see many goblin prints, coming and going, and also the marks of hooves. And here are the prints of a great dog … nay, not a dog, but a wolf, methinks.”

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The Chops of the Beast

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Chapter Five of Under the Goblin Trees

Campaign adaptation by Thomas Kelly

The Chops of the Beast

We washed and changed out of our travelling clothes before coming to the baron’s table, eager to see if his larder matched his expensive taste in furnishing. He did not disappoint. We ate such a feast as one might hope at the table of a nobleman, far better than one might hope to find in the remote vales of the Dim Forest. A small army of servants busied themselves serving us fresh hot bread from the oven, golden-crusted but soft and airy on the inside, a fine vegetable soup with savory broth, a whole roasted boar, sizzling hot from the spit, and wine and ale to slake the thirst of Wenta.

Among those seated with us at table sat several knights of the Watch. Some of these personally knew Sir Belvenore and had ridden with his father in years now past. The lord baron himself, we learned, had in times afore, served beside Commandant Petros on the field of battle. The baroness sat to the right side of the baron, and despite myself, I often caught myself gazing fixedly on her. Her glance met mine on more than one occasion, and I sensed a fearsome soul behind her burning eyes. Her eyes spoke to me of wild untamed places, uncleared spaces and fading lands where fairy folk dwell, far away from fields and gardens where plows furrow the soil and sewers cast seed.

The Tale of Orlane

Having satisfied desire for food and drink, attention turned to business. The baron inquired after our affairs. I stood to my feet and bowed in the courtly fashion before speaking: “I have come to you, Lord Wulurich, by the command of our Most Resolute Magnitude Commandant Petros Gwalchen of the Gran March, who has bid me relate my tale and present these documents, recently obtained from the lair of a foul naga witch, deep in swampy Rushmoor.”

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Wolfsbane

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Chapter Four of Under the Goblin Trees

Campaign adaptation by Thomas Kelly

Wolfsbane

The morning light dawned on a scene of horror. Blood splattered the walls and washed the floors of many cottages. The afflicted resumed their human forms with no memory of the terrors of the night. More than a dozen villagers were dead, some slain by the wolves, some slain as wolves. Others came wandering into the town, naked and confused, unable to say why they awoke to find themselves alone and unclothed out in the woods.

Myron is never above sarcasm or gloating, “So what is your diagnosis master priest? What do you think? Is it merely the winter fever?”

I spent most of the day dressing wounds and invoking the gods for healing. Both Bruin and Mercifcul nursed ugly bleeding wounds. Cirilli and I treated their torn flesh. We exchanged knowing glances. At the next full moon, both men might be howling to one another.

Myron scolded Bruin, “Use your head instead of your brawn next time. What are we going to do with a werewolf your size? How are we supposed to deal with you this time?”

Bruin smiled sheepishly and explained, “I didn’t think I would get bitten.”

The afflicted were again restrained before sunset lest the affliction remain upon them under the waning moon. At sunset we burned the dead according to the custom of the villagers, and I entrusted their souls to hands of the gods.

As Luna rose, we stocked the bonfires and prepared to face the beasts again, but all remained quiet in the village. I fell into bed at midnight, utterly exhausted. I slept until late into the following morning, my sleep beset by nightmares the entire time.

The Investigation and the Mission

When I awoke, the others were already up and finished with breakfast. Cirilli sat with the daughter of Micksallicks, speaking to her about herbs and cures and how to dress her wounds. The girl showed absolutely no symptoms. If not for the torn flesh and rope burns on her wrists and ankles, I would not have believed it possible that this fair girl might be the same as that snarling, twisting creature from the previous night.

Myron took me aside, out of the girl’s earshot, and said to me, “Today, priest, we will get to the bottom of this insanity.” He proposed visiting every cottage in the village and taking inventory. I saw sense in this plan and agreed to accompany him. He put on his best face, so to speak, and we made the rounds. At each cottage we asked a series of questions, cross-examining and double-checking as best we could, and we took careful note of the answers. Was anyone here afflicted? Did anyone shift into wolfen shape? When did symptoms first manifest? Was anyone bitten? Does the afflicted possess any memory of the incident? Does the afflicted remember being bitten by a wolf or dog in the past? The investigation put me in remembrance of the diligent work we did in Orlane to solve the riddle of the naga witch’s enchantment.

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Bad Wolf Moon

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Chapter Three of Under the Goblin Trees

Campaign adaptation by Thomas Kelly

Bad Wolf Moon

Ivan the son of Micksalicks and his kinfolk, we were later to discover, made their homes in a village on the edge of the Dim, known by the simple name Roanwood for a certain type of tree that once grew abundantly in the area and which they made their business—the sale of the much-esteemed lumber. This they had done for several generations and, over time, much depleted the number of mighty Roans that once stood sentinel on the edge of the wood. I took these folk for some mixture of the Suelish and Flan bloods, and many of them had red hair such as one rarely sees among the Oeredian but is common enough among the Geoff folk. So it was with this one red-headed leader of their band, Ivan O’Micksalicks by name, and the other men of his band, all redheads and red beards from Roanwood.

The evernight trees (which the elves call fuinoira) surrounded the village in darkness like an encircling wall. That shadowy dim and foreboding night frowned on the village from every direction, yet within the open spaces of the homely lawn shone plenty of sunlight upon their pleasant cottages, each with a stout chimney from which smoke curled. Here were clean streets, swept of snow, lined with a few shops and necessaries, a smithy, and a lumber mill powered by a waterwheel turned by a passing stream. The folk of the place were fair skinned and tall, the men broad shouldered, the women green-eyed and fair, and one could see that in the summer they made pleasant gardens and small fields under the blessing of my Lady.

Hardy they were, both men and women, wielding axes of their trade, and not afraid to fend off any who might threaten them. They thought it no great feat to slay a party of goblin raiders, topple a troublesome ogre, hunt down a pillaging troll, or chop down a menacing giant. They made a fair living from the Roanwood they harvested from the forest, a tree rare enough to make it’s lumber valuable. They took no haste to harvest, but waited until a tree had reached its full girth and height before felling it. Then cutting it into lengths of trunk and branch, they hauled it, pulled by horse-teams, back to their village where sawmen cut it into lumber. In the spring, when the water rose high enough, they floated the planks on a rafts to meet the Realstream all the way to Hochoch.

They did honor to the true gods but also named Pelor, Beory, Obad-Hai and so forth. Most of all they cherished Ehlonna, Lady of the Wood, but called her by her elvish name, Ehlenestra. They had not priests in their midst or clerics who might teach them the service of the gods or how to direct their devotions, but they said a visiting friar of Cuthbert made the rounds among all the villages of the eastern Dim.

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Horse Thieves

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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.

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Errand in Hookhill

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Chapter One of Under the Goblin Trees

Campaign adaptation by Thomas Kelly and sequel to Against the Cult of the Reptile God.

574 CY

In the year that Prince Thrommel vanished, the news of his disappearance did not reach the court at Hookhill until winter. I know this to be so because, when the news did arrive, I happened to be at the court of His Most Resolute Magnitude Commandant Petros Gwalchen of the Gran March to deliver a report about recent affairs in the neglected Barony of Farvale. Rumors abounded, and, as everyone now knows, the strange circumstances around the kidnapping of the prince have never been satisfactorily resolved. The disappearance of the prince and the handsome reward offered for his return inspired many Knights of the Watch and heroes of Gran March to set their hopes on errantries.  What is more, the arrival of the news was shortly followed with a specific summons recalling heroes loyal to Furyondy, including two of my companions, those respected veterans of the Troll Wars on the borders of the Pale and also Emridy Meadows, the half-elven brothers Llywain and Dorian. Fealty to the fifth of the Seven Families of the house of Furyondy obliged them to depart at once.

Now this turn of events I took sorely because I had hoped that they might accompany me back to Farvale and Orlane, guarding me for safe passage through the hazards of the Dim Forest. They assured me, “You have nothing to fear Father Tabor. You have the mighty sword of Sir Bruin and the competent dweomers of Myron the Glamorer. What is more, we are sure that the commandant will provide you a company of doughty knights back to Orlane.”

In the Court of the Commandant

My appointment with the commandant came on Freeday the last day before the week of Needfest. This unfortunate piece of timing forced me to keep the report and its corollary appeal as brief as possible, for the court was eager to dispense with business as preparations for the festivities were already well underway and the everyone was already swept up with the spirit of the holiday.

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