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The gang ride toward Donregan.

Chapter 1

Leaving Early to Avoid the Rush.

Cluym, the young, necromantic, elven mage walked into his mentor’s room. The old mage had been dead for a while1 but before he passed he had left a letter for Cluym. As his apprentice looked at his mentor’s final words he had difficulty in understanding their meaning. He understood each word’s meaning individually, but his mind fogged over as he tried to hold them all in his head together. After ruminating on the letter for a few minutes a word came to his head, Phandalin. Now is a good time to mention that Cluym, despite being a subpar necromantic mage, had an extraordinary ability. If he didn’t know something he could get a sense of who would have this missing knowledge. It would be a very useful ability, if Cluym wasn’t a bit dim. He was convinced that Phandalin had something to do with mature cheese. He was mistaken, and it wasn’t until he had spent many long hours in the library reading through such page turners as ‘Cheese through the ages’ and ‘Huel’s complete guide to cows, milk, and associated dairy products’ that he stumbled upon a singular reference to the Phandalin white. A delicate soft cheese invented by Hawk, and named after his place of birth. Now realising his mistake, Cluym packed his belongings and headed out to Phandalin. Well, he headed out to the nearest village to get directions to Phandalin.

Some days later, in the quaint little village of Wyevale, the locals were enjoying quite a show in the tavern. I say ‘the’ tavern, but Wyevale technically had two. Although the tavern on the eastern side was usually called an alehouse and attracted a more, refined clientele. A bardic hill dwarf had taken up residence and had been drinking since Thursday. Usually, after their coin purse had been drained, the regulars would have chucked the dwarf out. However, this dwarf really knew how to play the harp. The music brought in plenty of custom for the landlord so he reluctantly let the dwarf stay free of charge. The evening was only just beginning but the dwarf had drawn such a crowd that there was barely any standing room left.

Up on stage, Yomada was a bit distracted. After a few moments of silence, the dwarf looked down to see they had been strumming about two foot to the side of their harp. Yomada hopped off their stool, nudged it to the side, and resumed playing mostly where they had left off. Something still bothered them though, it could be the… five; six days of drinking? What day was it again? Well Alan was sitting in the corner and he and his wife had been going through a rough patch recently, they always argued all Monday night so he would end up in the bar on Tuesday. It could have been the six days of drinking, but that was nothing new for Yomada. It could be the harp, something didn’t quite feel right. Or maybe it was the notice board2. A new notice had been added. Yomada stopped mid-chord and stumbled over to have a closer look. After dodging under a few legs, and treading on every foot between the stage and the notice board, Yomada peered to see what was written there. In big bold letters the parchment announced ‘BARDS WANTED IN PHANDALIN, LARGE PAYMENT, CONTACT MERRY’. The dwarf stood there swaying for a few moments letting the words become less blurred. They then swung their fist to the right aiming to hit the nearest person on the arm, forgetting the usual height difference between humans and dwarfs. A rather angry looking patron turned around to see who had hit them on the backside.

“Where’s this Phlandulum then?” Yomada asked.

“What? Oh, it’s up north somewhere.” The patron replied turning back to his friends.

“Oh, and who’s this Merry?”

The patron sighed, “That guy over in the corner,” pointing vaguely in the right direction. Yomada looked along the outstretched arm.

“You mean Alan?”

“No, that’s Merry, he put the sign up.”

“Right, and where’s this Philandrum?”

“Just talk to Merry,” the patron grunted as he shoved the dwarf away. Slightly confused, Yomada crossed the tavern.

“Alan! How are you?”

“It’s Merry,” ‘Alan’ growled back in a thick Scottish accent.

“Hey Alan, how’s the wife? Still having troubles?”

“No, I’m happily married.”

“But it’s Tuesday, you’re in here because you and the missus have fights on Monday.”

“It’s Thursday and I’m always in here, I’m the landlord.”

“Whatever you say Alan, what’s this about bards in Philandlinum?”

“It’s Merry, and yes, that seems perfect for you. They’ve opened up a new theatre in Phandalin and they need entertainers to fill the slots. Probably about eight shows a week, and they’re willing to pay handsomely. More gold than you’ve ever earned I’ll bet. And the best thing about it is it’s about a weeks travel north of here, that means you’ll be far away from me.”

“That’s not a very nice thing to say Alan, after I brought in all these customers for you. But I do like the sound of the gold.”

“Merry, and I must admit you know how to play a tune. And these idiots seem to like it for some reason. But even so, it’s probably time you moved on else you’re likely to be pinned up on the notice board by your ears.”

“Right, I don’t want to over stay my welcome Alan. I’ll leave in the morning,” Yomada stumbled away leaving Merry furiously wiping a mug and turned to address the crowded tavern, “Right lads, ladies, and creatures unknown, who wants to go philandering?”

A faint chuckle and some cheering spread through the tavern. Most people went back to their drinks but one well-dressed half elf stepped towards to the drunken dwarf.

“If you mean Phandalin then my cousin and I were heading in that direction,” he announced. It was this precise moment, as luck would have it, that Cluym walked through the door. His elf ears tingling.

“Did someone mention Phandalin?” Cluym enquired.

“Aye,” answered the half elf, “my cousin and I are…”

“Hey, back off elf. These are my travellers, find your own,” Yomada interrupted. A brief verbal scuffle ensued between Cluym and Yomada with a few short jokes and pointy ear references thrown in for good measure. By the end, they had decided that Yomada was too drunk to care and Cluym too persistent to back down, so they would both travel with the half elves and neither of them would be happy about it. Yomada left to continue playing the harp and Cluym stayed to inform the half elf what was happening.

“Um, sure… I guess. Just so long as you both pay for the horse feed. I’m Thogold Silvereye3, and that’s my cousin Cruben by the way. We’re merchants. Just thought you’d like to know who you’re travelling with,” the now slightly bemused half elf said, clearly hinting for Cluym to offer the same information.

“Is the dwarf playing that harp upside down?” Cluym asked. Up on stage Yomada finally realised what had been bothering them, and subtly4 turned the harp the right way up.

The next few hours passed mostly uneventfully. Yomada pointed Cluym towards Derek on the bar to sort out lodgings overnight. Davey, as he was known to everyone else, took great pleasure in directing the elf to Yomada’s room. Music was played, drinks were drunk. A fairly standard night.

After a while, Yomada set about earning some coin before leaving Wyevale. Sure, playing the harp was rewarded with food and lodging but not much money. That is why the dwarf had to resort to some slightly less legal means. Playing the harp taught dextrous, nimble fingers. Being a bard taught charisma and confidence and how to make people like you, or at least be friendly for a short time. And when all else failed a few magic tricks could be used at a pinch. The first mark was a human who obviously couldn’t handle their drink too well. Yomada started talking to him and encouraged him to keep drinking, and to keep up appearances the dwarf started drinking from an ornate silver hipflask. Now this hipflask was actually a curious magical item. Any alcohol imbibed from it had double the effect. However, any water drunk from it had a powerful sobering effect. It wasn’t long before the human could barely sit up without holding onto the table, yet Yomada had used the hipflask to gain a clear head. It was quite easy to convince the patron to lend Yomada a few coins, of course with the promise of repayment… whenever they next happened to be passing by. A cursory glance of the remaining patrons revealed that everybody was either too sober or too poor to be of any value.

In search of further rewards, Yomada left the inn. Late at night the nearby streets were usually littered with drunkards who had either stumbled out of the inn or who had been thrown out. On this occasion, there was a solitary figure lying face down in the mud. After a thorough check it became clear that this unfortunate soul had either spent all their money on beer, or had already been robbed. Most rogues would cut their losses and move on, but Yomada was a cut above. Under the guise of being a helpful soul, the dwarf helped the man up and escorted him home. It wasn’t easy supporting a semi-conscious person a good two foot taller, but the thought of ransacking an empty house kept Yomada going. What Yomada didn’t count on was the drunkard still lived with their parents. After stumbling through the door, a half concerned, half annoyed woman came storming down the stairs. Unfazed, Yomada described finding her son and bringing him home. She was so grateful that after the two of them had manhandled her son into bed she produced a small pouch and offered it in reward. Yomada humbly accepted and went to leave, making sure that the woman was sufficiently distracted by her son that she wouldn’t notice the dwarf taking a golden chalice that had proudly been displayed on the mantelpiece. Satisfied with the night’s ill-gotten gains, Yomada headed back to the tavern whistling a jaunty tune. The merriment quickly left upon seeing the smiling face of Cluym, sat in the corner of what used to be Yomada’s room. After a brief, civil discussion5 they decided that since Cluym only needed to meditate and not sleep, he would take the chair and Yomada could keep the bed. Before going to sleep, Yomada decided to check what was in the pouch and was disappointed to find a fresh batch of heart shaped scones. They tasted wonderful, and were surprisingly filling, but it wasn’t quite the monetary reward the dwarf was looking for.

Yomada woke to the sight of Cluym’s still smiling face. After an exchange of insults, Cluym went to check on Thogold and Yomada lazily enjoyed a final breakfast on the house. With everything packed and ready, the party made their way to the stables and said a final goodbye to the innkeeper.

“Thanks Alan, it’s been fun.” As the group left they could faintly hear the words ‘It’s Merry’ rattle through the door. After preparing the cart, and setting up the harp in the back, they were off. The plan was to head north to Phandalin, stopping at the villages on the way to restock supplies. If all went to plan, it shouldn’t take much longer than a week6. The first two days passed without incident. There was some talking interspersed with harp music. Our reluctantly adventurous duo finally learnt things about their travelling companions. The Silvereyes were merchants who travelled frequently from one shore of the Kingdom to another, trading goods until their purse was full and their cart empty. Thogold was the brains of the operation and Cruben was… his cousin7. They were currently on their way back to Phandalin to fill their cart again before sailing north to Tor. Rumours had been whispered that there had been a change of regime, and the new leaders were trying to get their hands on as much gold as possible in an attempt to line a fortress with it. An odd thing to do of course but when magic, and more importantly large monetary rewards are involved, it’s usually best not to ask too many questions. The party also learnt not to trust Cluym with the campfires. His method of lighting them involved a far too powerful ‘burning hands’ spell that turned a log into a charred matchstick. It was on the morning of the third day that things started to go wrong.

The party arrived at Donregan, the first village on their route, early in the morning. They needed to refill their food supplies, and giving the horses half a day’s rest would do them some good. The cart stopped just in front of what served as the main gateway into the village. In years gone by it may have served some defensive purpose, but now it was just three pieces of wood precariously nailed together with the name Donregan barely visible. What could be seen on closer inspection though was the phrase ‘the happiest place in the Kingdom’ more recently scrawled onto it. Just inside the village boundary was a rickety shack that served as the stables, and as the party approached they noticed someone who appeared to be the stable master.

“Hello, beautiful morning isn’t it? We haven’t had visitors for a while now,” the stable master said, gormlessly grinning at the newcomers. He seemed unusually happy, especially given how early it was, but maybe he was just one of those people. Both Yomada and Cluym were distracted by this chirpy fellow but Thogold, as always, had business on his mind.

“Yes it is, I wonder if you could help us. We’re just passing through but we need to restock our food supplies. I don’t suppose you could point us to the right person, I’m sure you’re busy but there doesn’t seem to be anyone else around this early to ask?” This prompted the others to look around. Donregan was by no means a large village, but even so, you would still expect to see a handful of people feeding animals or generally going about their business. Thogold was right though, other than the stable master there were no other signs of life.

“They’ll all be down in the tavern I suppose,” the stable master replied, still grinning like the Cheshire cat, “I’ll take you over to meet them. They’ll be thrilled to meet some newts like yourselves.”

“In the tavern this early? Now this is my kind of village,” Yomada interjected, and cheerfully followed in the direction the stable master was pointing. The others were a bit more concerned, and confused about the ‘newt’ comment, but decided to follow anyway. As the group wandered down the street towards the pub, a keen eye would have noticed shadows darting between the buildings. Unfortunately: Cruben was watching a butterfly; Thogold was practising his haggling technique in his head; Yomada was too excited about the prospect of an early morning pint or seven; and Cluym was staring the stable master in his eyes. Not the you-are-so-beautiful-do-you-know-a-room-we-could-rent-for-the-night kind of stare but the your-eyes-are glazed-over-in-a-weird-way-and-you-are-inhumanly-happy-are-you-possessed-by-some-malevolent-spirit kind of way. Cluym decided the absolute best way to figure out what was affecting this person was to sneakily cast a charm spell on them and get them to tell all their secrets. In what would become the start of a long sequence of failures for our mostly incompetent duo however, the spell fizzled and did nothing. Pondering on why the spell didn’t work was probably the reason Cluym didn’t notice the small amounts of movement out of the corner of his eye8.

“Isn’t it a bit early to be in the tavern? And besides, surely not everyone will be in there? A village this big can’t possible fit in one building,” Thogold enquired.

“Don’t worry,” the stable master grinned, “Just come with me into the tavern and you’ll see.”

Yomada was still pleased with the idea of a liquid breakfast. So pleased in fact that the dwarf didn’t notice the stable master pushing the group along with a slightly firmer arm. Cluym however, was now very suspicious. He decided to try something a bit more forceful this time and tried to cast a sleep spell on the villager. Not only did this not work again, little did Cluym know this now left him defenceless9 in a decision he would all too soon come to regret.

“I don’t suppose this tavern of yours has any good, strong whisky?” Yomada enquired.

“Of course, I even think they have a bottle or two of some old dwarven whisky,” the stable master cheerily said.

At this, the copper piece finally dropped for Yomada. It was notoriously hard to get a hold of dwarven whisky, you usually had to pry a dwarf off the other end. A small village tavern would be very unlikely to have half a bottle, let alone two. The whole party, except Cruben of course, now suspected something was wrong and stopped walking towards the tavern.

“Oh come on, the tavern’s just over there. It’ll be right fun. We all love newts here,” the stable master said still grinning like a madman. It was at this point that Yomada decided to slowly start backing away towards the cart. Realising that the party was not going to cooperate any more, the stable master took a different approach.

“Everybody!” he yelled, “We’ve got some newts out here!”

A brief moment passed and then a surge of people came storming out of the tavern, all of them chanting the word ‘Newts’. It was surprising how many people this tavern could hold, and just how quickly the mob was moving towards the now stunned party. When Thogold and Cluym finally decided to run for it, they found out their survival instincts weren’t quite as finely tuned as Yomada’s who was a good half a street ahead of them and already running at full pace. It wasn’t long before Cruben was swallowed by the mob. One minute he was there, the next he had been replaced by three villagers, all wearing the same grin the stable master had. Thogold was next to be overtaken. He tried his hardest to fend the villagers off, but there were just too many. At the sight of half of his party disappearing into the advancing wall of flesh, Cluym decided to take action. He turned to face the mob and tried to cast a spell, but he realised too late what he had done earlier and instantly regretted wasting those spells on the single villager10. This small delay was enough for a villager to grab him by the arm. Not known for his physical strength, Cluym was unable to escape the grasp and was soon grabbed by two more villagers. He felt himself being lifted off the floor and then he was consumed by the mass.

Up ahead, Yomada had no idea what had just happened. Turning around to look was a mistake a lot of people made when fleeing, and this dwarf had a lot of experience in running away. Without the delay of worrying about anyone else, Yomada managed to reach the cart and immediately started to get the horses ready for a speedy exit. The mob was gaining fast though and Yomada was forced into taking action. The dwarf started singing a low, rumbling song, channelling the natural magic of the world. As the tempo increased Yomada raised a hand into the air, and as the fanatical villagers approached they were surprised to see the dwarf produce a harp11 and play a powerful, magical chord of music. A deafening thunder wave emitted from the harp and the villagers were hit by a wall of sound. Half a dozen or so of them were flung backwards into the air, hitting into the villagers behind. However, there were too many of them and in an instant the empty space had been filled. The dwarf was soon surrounded, the sun blocked out by grabbing hands and arms. The last thing Yomada saw was a sea of grinning faces before being carried away.

The party awoke some time later. It was hard to tell how long they had been unconscious, it was still daytime but it had become overcast and the sun was no longer visible. They found themselves in a rather large field that housed a solitary sheep. It most likely used to house more livestock, but now the owner needed the space for the four long banquet tables and the stage, complete with orchestra pit. As you can imagine, this is not what anyone expected to wake up to.

“Ah there you are sleepy heads,” the stable master said still grinning, “Sorry about that, some of the guys got a bit too excited. As I said, we haven’t had newts round here for ages. You’re just in time for the party though.”

“So you’re not going to kill us then?” Cluym asked hopefully.

“Kill you? Why would we want to do that? You’d miss the party,” the stable master answered smiling through every syllable. As if it had been rehearsed meticulously for weeks, the second the stable master said party the villagers from earlier entered the field and started merrymaking. There was singing and dancing, groups talking and laughing, the banquet tables were suddenly filled with piles of delicious food. Everybody was holding either a glass of deep red wine or a tankard of ale. As Cluym watched the feasting he noticed something odd about the food. He tried to concentrate as people took food from the middle of the table, but it felt like his eyes didn’t want to watch what was happening. When he finally could focus again the plates in the middle looked untouched, yet everybody sitting at the table had full plates and were merrily eating. The same thing happened with the drinks, people would drink from their glasses but the amount of liquid appeared to remain constant. In Cluym’s professional opinion, something was up.

“Quite a party you have here,” Yomada remarked, “Do you do this often?”

“Oh we’re always partying we are. Why would we do anything else?” the stable master replied.

“And what’s with calling us newts?”

“Well that’s just a bit of fun, ‘new people’, ‘new-ts’. The guys like it, keeps them happy.”

“OK. Final question, I don’t suppose you guys like harp music?” said Yomada, always on the lookout for a good audience, “I am a bard of some considerable talent and fame.”

“Do we? We love it! Come on, I’ll take you to the stage,” the stable master said leading Yomada through the crowds, “Hey guys, we’ve got a bard!” A large cheer went around the field. Up on stage Yomada made a grand show of producing a harp from thin air to raucous applause. The dwarf then went on to play song after song. The villagers were the best audience anyone could ask for. They cheered and applauded at all the correct times. They danced to the uplifting songs and were moved to tears by the sombre ones. Yomada knew on some level that no audience was this good, but didn’t really care.

Unlike the villagers, Thogold and Cluym were not having a very good time. They had heard Yomada’s full repertoire several times on the way here and were sick of it. They decided to use this time to try and find out what had happened in this village. All they could get from the locals though was that about six months ago, ‘the party’ started. Around that time their leaders left and the population slowly started to fall as others left as well. Whenever anyone new arrived they were invited to join in ‘the party’ and that’s all that anyone who lived here did nowadays. Despite their unusual welcoming method, the villagers actually seemed relatively harmless. Cluym decided that it was probably best not to consume any of the food or drink, just in case.

When Yomada had finished playing for the villagers12, Thogold caught them up on what he had found out. After a brief discussion, the group decided that it was probably safe to just walk out and leave, but just to make sure Yomada had an idea.

“Friends,” the dwarf said, addressing the villagers, “it is your lucky day. My friends and I are actually a travelling troupe of world famous actors. I know, it is hard to believe that one dwarf can be so talented but I am no ordinary dwarf. We were just passing by your quaint little village on our way to the opening performance of our new play. However, I have managed to convince my fellow performers to give you all a little preview. We just need to quickly go back to our cart and change into our costumes, but we’ll be right back. Keep the stage warm!”

A large cheer rose up and people starting moving chairs towards the stage as the four travellers snuck out at a brisk pace. Once they left the field they headed straight for the village square. The tavern the villagers had poured out of earlier was on the corner of the square, so they figured they could find their way back to the cart from there. As they approached it though a figure popped into existence directly in the middle. He was an old looking man, wearing a bright red robe with a pointy hat. He briefly looked around before spying the group and headed towards them.

“Have you seen my daughter? I haven’t seen her in a few days,” the old man asked.

“Um, no, can’t say that we have. We only arrived here this morning, sorry,” Yomada replied, continuing to back away slowly towards the cart.

“Oh well, if you see her tell her that I’m looking for her,” the old man turned around and started walking away, “I don’t know where she could have gotten to.” He continued to mumble to himself until he disappeared as quickly as he had appeared. Eager to avoid any further delays, the group picked up the pace to a jog13. They had almost reached the stables when Thogold had a realisation.

“We’ve got a problem. We stopped here to restock, we don’t have any food left.” After a quick think, and a lot of swearing, it was decided that they would investigate the large houses on the outskirts of the village and try to scavenge as much food as possible. In an unexpected show of bravery, Cluym volunteered to be the first to enter and rummage through a house. He hadn’t had a good day so far and secretly wanted to try and prove his worth.

The door to the first house they approached was slightly ajar. Cluym slowly creaked the door open and peered into the dim house. A few minutes later he determined that nothing living was inside the first room and finally entered the house. There were no obvious signs of food, but the next room appeared to be the kitchen. Cluym took a few steps towards it and suddenly froze when he heard an ear shattering crash just over his shoulder. This was quickly followed by a loud guffaw from Yomada, who had obviously thought it would be very funny to cast a minor auditory illusion to scare Cluym. However, the noise also startled something in the kitchen, and a scuffle of movement could be heard coming through the doorway. Not wishing to blindly enter a room with an unknown creature, Cluym decided to be smart and use some magic. He conjured a spectral hand in mid-air and floated it into the kitchen14. Using the disembodied hand, he was able to root around the cupboards and find a crusty loaf of bread. Spoils in floating hand, Cluym made a quick exit. Outside he was quite pleased with a job well done, that was until Thogold broke it in half to reveal that the elf had actually looted a crusty loaf of mould.

“When did you say ‘the party’ started? Six months ago?” Yomada enquired. “I’m guessing there may not be any edible food left.” The group stood in the middle of the street for a while, thinking what to do, when they finally noticed what they should have done upon entering the village. Darting between the shadows, squinting whenever the sunlight hit them, were small groups of kobolds. These small, reptilian humanoids were scavengers, living off whatever they could find that seemed vaguely edible. This sometimes included bark and dirt. A mostly abandoned village would have provided a five star meal for these creatures, and they had clearly made themselves at home here.

“I’m really getting sick of this place. There’s not going to be anything left here and Wyevale is only two days away. It may not be the nicest journey but it will be better than staying here any longer.” Before getting a response, Yomada headed off to the stables. The others reluctantly agreed that it was probably for the best and followed. Unfortunately, when they reached the stables they were greeted by a pack of six kobolds foraging through their cart.

“What are we supposed to do now?” Cluym asked.

“You’re a wizard right, I don’t suppose you can create a large amount of light? They didn’t seem to like the sunlight, maybe we can scare them away,” Yomada suggested.

“I’ve got just the thing, leave it to me,” Cluym sneaked over to the cart out of sight of the kobolds. He placed a hand on the front of the cart and it instantly started to emit a pale light15. This did have an effect on the kobolds, but not the desired one. Now that they could see what they were doing a bit better, their foraging increased speed. It turned out that kobolds very specifically didn’t like sunlight, any other form of light was fine.

“Any other brilliant ideas?”

“We could try fighting them, but I doubt you’re any good with a sword, and if I cast a thunder wave it will destroy the cart.”

“There are two horses and only two of us,” Cluym whispered conspiratorially, “We could just take the horses and ride out of here.”

“What, and leave our companions out here alone with no food or a means of escape and surrounded by vicious creatures? I like the way you think, sounds like a good way out of here. Leave this one to me.” Yomada wandered over to Thogold.

“Right, we’ve got no choice but to fight. If we spread out and circle the cart, hopefully we can surround and confuse them. Now of course, we don’t want the horses to get hurt so Cluym and I will move them away from the cart first. You head towards the back and keep an eye on the kobolds. When the horses are safe, we will wait for you to distract them and we will attack from behind.” Yomada had spent a lifetime learning how to read people and lie convincingly. After travelling together Thogold had learnt to trust Yomada, which was a big mistake. He followed the dwarf’s plan to the letter, and patiently watched as they moved the horses away from the combat zone… and kept moving them… and kept moving them some more… and then mounted the horses. And then kicked himself very hard.

Far away from the kobolds, Yomada and Cluym were quite pleased with themselves. It was as they were riding as fast as the horses would go, however, that our cowardly duo first suspected that Thogold was more than just a merchant. The first clue was the arrow that suddenly appeared in Yomada’s shoulder. The second clue, and admittedly it was quite a large clue, was Thogold shouting, “I’m a ranger you bastards, we could have easily fought these kobolds and killed them. Now bring those horses back!” It made sense when they thought about it, transporting a cart filled with valuable goods must have been quite dangerous. The only reason Yomada hadn’t tried to take the cart earlier was Thogold was the only one who knew where Phandalin was and he wouldn’t let Yomada look at the map. It made sense that he would be competent with some form of weaponry, it was just their bad luck it happened to be a bow. This was when Yomada finally resolved to talk to any potential future companions, if only to find out if it were safe to stab them in the back figuratively without being stabbed in the back literally in return.

It was a gruelling couple of days that followed. Yomada had managed to patch up the arrow shaped hole with a healing word or two, but it still hurt a fair bit. The two kept their eyes open for any small animals they could catch and eat, but neither of them were any good at hunting. They spent most of their time in painful, starving silence fuelled only by cowardice and determination to make it back to the comfort of a tavern in Wyevale. Not Alan’s16 tavern of course, that would be a bit dangerous. Fortunately, Yomada knew a few of the locals at the ‘alehouse’ and was sure that fancy people would love a harpist even more than the rabble at Alan’s place.

The duo were a couple of hours’ ride from Wyevale when their progress was forcibly stopped. The narrow road into the village was flanked by densely packed trees, this meant that travellers looking to pass had to negotiate carefully. Heading towards the dwarf and the elf was an eight deep convoy of caravans, escorted and flanked by riders with a tail of people walking behind. It was an impressive sight, and it obviously housed someone very rich and powerful, but it was also standing between two weary travellers and their first chance of food in over two days.

“Look, you’re not as experienced with people as I am so just leave the talking to me,” Yomada said, edging his horse forward a few paces, “Hail travellers, I’m sure you have important business to get to. I am but a simple bard and this is my… travelling companion. We are just looking to reach yonder village and procure some much-needed nourishment. We do not wish you any delay, so if you would hold for just a moment and let us pass we will be on our way.”

“Why are you talking like that?” Cluym said indiscreetly.

“Shut up.” The two started squabbling again. The elven driver of the lead caravan sat, confusedly watching the pair. After a while he picked up a lengthy scroll of parchment from the seat next to him. He unrolled it and tried his best to read what was written.

“The High Priestess of… of Tor re… requires and and requests your presence. Please dismount your stee… horses and join the presses… the precisi… the preseas… the people at the back.”

“Well that is a gracious offer, and please extend our warmest thanks to the High Priestess, but unfortunately we have urgent business elsewhere and it is not possible for us to attend,” Yomada respectfully declined, not wishing to go back to Donregan for numerous reasons. The driver looked bemused and returned to the parchment.

“Please dismount your horses. Do not worry, they will be cared for. We only wish for you to join us on our journey,” the driver replied, this time with a little more confidence. Yomada thought a change of tack might provide better results.

“Don’t I know you?”17 The driver shuffled in his seat and looked back at the scroll.

“The High Priestess of Tor requires and requests…”

“Yeah, I know you. You’re Alan’s son.”

“The High Priestess…” the driver started again in vain.

“How is Alan doing nowadays. Does he miss me much?”

“I don’t know anyone named Alan. I am Eridan Tarmish, son of Merry, the innkeeper at Wyevale.”

“That’s the guy, is he still having problems with his wife?”

“My parents are happily married and have been for many years,” Eridan said confused.

“Well I’m glad to hear it. It was great catching up but we really need to get going so if you would just let us by,” Yomada tried hopefully.

“Yes, and we really don’t want to go back the way you’re heading. We stole these horses from some merchants back there and left them to be eaten by kobolds,” Cluym chimed in18. Both Eridan and Yomada were stunned into silence. The dwarf recovered quickest.

“What my simple-minded friend means is that we used these horses that belong to our party to escape the dangerous village up ahead to find aid in rescuing our friends. As you can imagine this is quite an important task so we must get on our way.”

“You called me friend,” Cluym said equally surprised and delighted. Eridan stared from one to the other and then reluctantly put his scroll down.

“Look, I’ve been paid good money to drive this caravan and to read from this scroll to anyone who we meet on the way. Can you please just do as you’ve been asked?” Yomada heard the desperation and frustration in Eridan’s voice and decided to take it easy on him. Besides, there was one more trick the dwarf could try.

“I beg an audience with the High Priestess of Tor!”19 A visible wave of relief washed over Eridan’s face.

“Yes of course, she’s in the caravan behind this one,” as he said that a rather large, well-armed guard opened the door to the caravan behind his. Yomada instantly regretted asking to speak with an obviously very powerful and, most likely, quick to anger High Priestess, surrounded by walking suits of armour holding very pointy blades.

“Just one quick question, what race is the High Priestess? Just so I know the correct curtesy.”

“Oh, she’s an elf. A very beautiful elf,” Eridan said with a grin.

“Why am I surrounded by elves everywhere I go?” Yomada mumbled whilst dismounting. Cluym followed suit, but stayed a cautious few steps behind. The dwarf approached the opened door and bowed low, avoiding looking at the High Priestess out of respect.

“Your highness, I have some grave news about the road you travel and humbly request that we may speak so that I can warn you.”

“Welcome,” a fair voice drifted out of the caravan, “Thank you for the warning, please enter and we shall discuss this matter.”

Following the invitation, Yomada finally looked up and saw the High Priestess, a beautifully enchanting dwarf. This took Yomada by surprise.

“Is there a problem traveller?” the High Priestess asked, noticing the hesitation.

“Well, it’s just that your driver up front said you were an elf. I wasn’t expecting to be greeted by such a beautiful dwarf.” Upon hearing this Cluym peaked round the door and was also taken by surprise.

“What do you mean, she is an elf?” The High Priestess simply sat smiling, motioning for them to enter.

“This is going to be interesting,” Yomada said, and entered the caravan.

  1. The cause seemed natural but some say it was due to his massive disappointment in his apprentice.

  2. Now, if I’m being honest, notice board is a slightly poetic way of describing a flat-ish section of wall that people stuck parchment to with knives. The landlord had tried to stop people from using the ‘notice board’ but he had been thus far unsuccessful due to poor timing. Asking muscle bound drunkards whose height far outstretched their IQ not to do something whilst they are still holding their knife is not usually advised.

  3. The one thing Cluym and Yomada did have in common, other than a desire to go to Phandalin, was neither of them were any good at asking for or remembering names. As you can imagine this would get them into trouble on quite a few occasions.

  4. As subtle as a drunken dwarf that’s manoeuvring a harp a foot taller than them can. That is to say only seven drinks were spilled, one foot crushed and three separate bar fights started.

  5. In other words, a half hour shouting match that ended when ‘Alan’ burst in and informed them that he would throw them out if they didn’t shut up and, once again, that his name was Merry.

  6. If all went to plan though, there would be no story to tell.

  7. The best way to describe Cruben was he had both the intelligence, and personality, of a puppy but the body of a half shaved grizzly bear.

  8. It is a common belief in these parts that there is no free will and everything that happens is dictated by the gods. Criminals try, and fail, quite often to use this as an excuse for their actions. It is however, fundamentally incorrect. The gods, like anyone else, only want to be entertained. There is no fun if you know what is going to happen so the gods merely set things in motion. Whichever god set these events in motion was currently slapping themselves on their forehead in dismay at how imperceptive Yomada and Cluym could be.

  9. Wizards are quite often found accompanying adventurous parties, brought along for their impressive spell casting abilities. These powerful spells come in quite handy in battle to either protect allies or smite foes. The one downside to wizards though is that casting spells takes a lot of energy. Most wizards can only cast a few spells before they need a long rest to recover the spent energy. At this point, given their affinity for staying indoors and reading books, they become as useful in battle as knitted, woollen chainmail; if you’re lucky they will get in the way of an enemy’s sword and extend your life for a whole two seconds.

  10. Told you so.

  11. This is a subject that has needed to be addressed for a while. How does a 4 foot 3 dwarf transport a 5 foot 4 harp around, let alone deftly produce it in the middle of a battlefield. The short answer is magic. The long answer is a cheaper version of a ‘bag of holding’, a magical item that opens up into a pocket dimension and thus can hold more within than it looks like it can without, that curiously, yet purposefully, can only store harps and sewed into the inner lining of Yomada’s jacket, hence called a ‘pocket of harping’. This, combined with a fair amount of dexterity, years of practise, and more bruises from failed attempts than can be remembered; creates quite a spectacle when successfully pulled off and more often than not is more useful in surprising the enemy than it is for its aid in casting magical spells. But most people just stick with the short answer.

  12. Well, after the three standing ovations and four encores.

  13. More of a sprint for Yomada’s shorter legs.

  14. Before you start complaining about continuity errors, there are different levels of magic. Cantrips are simple spells that any magically inclined being can cast at will. Basically, a cantrip is like a street magician producing a coin from behind your ear and a spell is like a Vegas duo sawing a woman in half. This was a cantrip, Cluym still couldn’t cast spells.

  15. Another cantrip, you’re not going to catch me out that easily.

  16. “It’s Merry!”

  17. Even though they don’t physically exist in every reality, the spirit of a call centre is a universal constant. There is always someone, somewhere, desperately trying to get a complete stranger to agree to something they don’t want by simply following a script written by a third party with a very limited imagination of how a conversation could go. Yomada instinctively knew that the best thing to do was to steer the conversation completely away from where the seller wanted it to be.

  18. You remember I said Yomada wasn’t very good at getting to know the people he travelled with and that this got him into trouble quite often. Well Cluym had an odd quirk where he was completely unable to lie, and the thieving, cheating, lying bardic dwarf had chosen to team up with him.

  19. In other words, “Can I speak to your manager?”