Sanballet’s Refrain

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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. Follow greyhawkstories.com for the next exciting chapter. 

Alhazred and the Path of Shadows

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Daoud’s Wondrous Lanthorn: Chapter Four

Alhazred and the Path of Shadows

Daoud returned to Sefmur, powerful in magical arts and well-learned in spell craft, but his heart was sorely vexed to find that, in his absence, his father Sulymon had passed away from the lands of those who live and breathe. Moreover, the pasha had not bequeathed to Daoud the seal of power as he had promised, and this omission much perplexed the young prince. “If only there was some means to query the dead!” he lamented.

“There are some who know the art,” his teacher Surrvaris suggested. “Make your way to the wild and untamed plains of Ull. Go to Ulakand the City of Horses and seek out the teacher Alhazred and learn what he will teach you. Perhaps he will summon your father among the shades of Khur Razjin. Only leave in my safekeeping your scroll of spells because I foresee that, if you bring it with you to Ull, you will lose it from your possession for all time. Moreover, if you walk ‘The Path of Shadows,’ remember to show them no fear whatsoever.”

Continue reading “Alhazred and the Path of Shadows”

Haunted House of Saltmarsh

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It Started in Saltmarsh: Chapter Five

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

5 Goodmonth, 570 (afternoon and evening)

[Avast! Spoilers ahead.]

“That one’s got to pay! He didn’t want to be a guest here last night, and he’s not eating for nothing today,” Ruth warned severely, nodding toward Barnabas as she set a luncheon out for the paying customers.

“Not to worry, Oh Fairest Flower of the Azure Sea,” Barnabus said with obviously feigned obsequiousness. “Bring me an ale with this luncheon and I shall pay for what I eat and drink with a song worth twice the amount.”

“We’ll pay with coin for what he eats,” Tyrius hastened to add.

Aurora hoped that Ruth might offer a more sober telling of the tale of the alchemist’s house than the version offered up by the children of Saltmarsh. Ignoring the whole exchange about whether or not Barnabus would pay for his food, she inquired, “Ruth, what can you tell us of the alchemist’s house? The children you chased off told us that it’s haunted?”

“Like as not it is haunted,” she admitted as she ladled up the broth into their bowls.

“Would it be meet to say the spirits haunting it are a threat to the town?” Aurora pursued eagerly.

“Hardly!” she said with a dismissive laugh. “It’s four miles east of the town which is a long way for a geist to go a-creeping. It’s not even likely any of the ragamuffins ye spoke with has ever actually laid eyes on the place. It is indeed a lonesome house, just off the old coast road and looking out to the sea.”

“We intend to exorcise the spirits that haunt it as a service to the people of Saltmarsh,” Tyrius explained as he counted out coin to pay for Barnabus’ food. “What can you tell us about it?”

Madam Ruth put down the ladle, a grave expression settling over her plump features. “Oh, I shouldn’t be poking my nose into things like that if I was ye. I can tell ye this. Until some twenty years ago, when I was yet in the flower of youth, an aged alchemist and magician did reside there, and he did indeed have a sinister reputation—as anyone who practices magic deserves, really. The townsfolk mostly shunned the house because of the Continue reading “Haunted House of Saltmarsh”

In Search of Adventure

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It Started in Saltmarsh: Chapter Four

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

5 Goodmonth, 570

Tyrius, Thokk, Larry, and Aurora awoke to the smell of fresh bread and batter-fried fish rising from The Mermaid’s kitchen. Babshapka had been awake for hours already—elves do not sleep like other races. He spent the early morning seated near the open window of the bedroom he shared with the half-elf girl, staring out over the town and to the water.

At breakfast, Aurora continued the discussion she had initiated the night before, exchanging stories and manipulating the conversation toward a resolution to form an adventuring company. Tyrius was reluctant to commit to anything long-term. His goal was to get Larry to the Moot of the Great Druid, and he recognized that he would need coin to accomplish even that. Why should I doubt the light of Pelor? If these two elvish folks want to help me get coin by doing some noble deeds, so much the better. They were still talking when visitors arrived—Lieutenant Dan of the town watch, and several of the watchmen that Tyrius encountered the previous day. He cast a curious eye over Babshapka and Aurora, letting his eyes linger perhaps a few moments too long on the pretty half-elf. Then he turned to Tyrius and addressed him with a stern and non-nonsense tone, “I’ve come to meet you all and see that you found yourselves some honest lodgings. I want to see that you have paid Ruth here with good coin, and that you understand you now have six days left to find either employment or a patron.”

Tyrius sighed a nodded. Thokk picked at his teeth and sniffed at the air.

The watch officer levelled a finger at the half-orc Continue reading “In Search of Adventure”

The Dragon’s Rest

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A Night in Verbobonc and a Dragon’s Hoard

Noel Graham and Greyhawkstories

“A green dragon be one thing, master elf, but ne’er have I seen green dogs before!” Tresea remarked as she set a dark stout in front of the newcomer. Three dogs slept on the taproom floor, curled about the grey elf’s feet, oblivious to the barmaid and all the other traffic in the common room. Tresea eyed their green-fur and brown spots curiously.

“They are called cooshees. They are elven hunting dogs,” the elf explained. He spoke slowly, his words thick with a heavy olven accent.

“For hunting elves are they?” the girl laughed. She flashed a quick smile to punctuate the jest and perhaps to flirt, just a bit, with the handsome blond-haired and hazel-eyed Celenese. She turned to attend to another of her customers, but the grey elf caught her by the wrist before she could move away from his table. The smile on her young face quickly faded to a scowl; she pulled her hand free from the elf’s grasp.

“Your pardon,” the grey elf requested. If the girl had been an elf herself, she might have been just past her first remembrance, perhaps three or four decades, but he guessed that the human girl with the short-bobbed sandy hair had not seen more than sixteen winters. Just a child. “You mentioned a green dragon. I would like to hear the tale.”

“Most would,” the girl said.

Continue reading “The Dragon’s Rest”

Elena the Fair and Natasha the Dark

Mother of Witches Part Two

Elena the Fair and Natasha the Dark

There was once a gentle woman of Bissel with a few drops of Suel blood in her veins, enough to give her a fair head of hair. Despite that, she had a good heart in her chest and a good head on her shoulders. She married a decent Bisselite man, and she bore him a daughter. They called the girl Elena which in the old tongue means “light” or “beautiful.” The girl was both light and beautiful. Those who saw the child remarked, “Isn’t she a fairhead?” But before the child had reached her fifth year, her mother caught a mysterious fever. (Some said a hex had been set upon her.) As she lay dying, she said to her daughter, “Do not be afraid. Keep a pure heart, and no harm will come to you.” She gave her daughter a small wooden doll and said, “This was mine when I was a girl. Take good care of her as I have tried to care for you.”

Elena’s father mourned his wife for a year and a month. After that, he said to his young daughter, “It’s not right that you should be without a mother and I should be without a wife.” He married a Kettite widow who already had two older daughters. He said, “We will combine our families, and all will be well.”

Not all was well for poor Elena. The Kettite woman resented her step-daughter and Continue reading “Elena the Fair and Natasha the Dark”

The Battle of Emridy Meadows

The village of Nulb festers with evil; bandits attack caravans near Hommlet; raiders strike from a new moathouse outside the village, and the menacing shadow of the Temple of Elemental Evil darkens the land. Who will stand against the growing threat?

In the Battle of Emridy Meadows (569 CY), Prince Thrommel IV brought together men, gnomes, elves, and dwarves to win a sweeping victory against overwhelming numbers of goblinkind. The legendary conflict brought the fall of the Temple of Elemental Evil and its associated cult. Download the pdf of The Battle of Emridy Meadows, a classic article by Mike Bridges. Get the inside story of the most significant battle of the sixth century Flanaess.