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Reaping (July), 6th
Phalan and the members of Thorn arrived at Sagamon on the evening of the sixth. The whole village was filled to overflowing with the the warriors of Eradain. The bulk of the forces were wearing the blue and white of Sagamon and the green and black of Tilith with a contingent of lancers from Galt and priest-warriors from the Knights of the Horn and the Order of Sif. Phalan found a place for the group to camp and headed for the command pavilion in the center of town. Phalan returned early the next morning, having obviously not slept.
"All right Thorn, here's what I've learned. Another Black Legion member, the scout Raven reported in late last night. Raven has discovered that the Haradan forces at the Eastern Road ford are composed of mostly irregulars, probably conscripts, and they are not as heavily armed and armored nor likely as experienced as Duke Argan's war band or the Tempus Knights stationed there. They are planning a thrust across the ford sometime in the next three or four days. The bulk of our forces here at Sagamon will make several feints to keep em busy so they don't send reinforcements. Raven also discovered a slave raider stockade in the woods south of Galt. She estimated their numbers around 50 or so, half of which ride patrol during the day watching the river and raiding the small farms in the area for prisoners. I've volunteered us to make a raid on that stockade. We are to either stop messengers passing through or flat out take the stockade. Either way we need to bottle em up so they can't go to the aid of their forces in the east. After that is accomplished well see what we can do about getting to Gealand."
After refreshing their supplies, the party traveled along the Ann River Road toward Galt to a section of the river that could be crossed with the horses. They camped out of sight in a small stand of trees until nightfall and began and then sent Noctem to scout across the river. After checking for any hidden sentries she gave the all clear sign. The group had almost completed its crossing, when Noctem's sharp hearing picked up the sound of horses galloping toward them from the east. Noctem warned those on the bank and the the remainder of the group quickly completed the crossing then got their mounts to lay down in the tall grass at the edge of the river. Fortunately the riders, probably a patrol looking for large armed forces, did not even slow as they passed the hidden group. After they were long gone, Thorn regrouped and moved south to the woods. Once among the trees, Noctem once again took point and searched for a place they could remain hidden the remainder of the night. The next morning Phalan ordered Noctem and Rhiannon out to scout.
"You need to find their main camp and the trails they use in this wood. If possible, locate their sentries and get a rough count of how many men and horses they have. If for some reason you get spotted try to lead em away from where the rest of us are camped, and either rejoin us later or head to Galt."
The two elves nodded and grinned at each other as they trotted off into the forest, bows in hand. They returned late that afternoon with good news. They had found the slaver's stockade and there were only two sentries who didn't even patrol the woods just the small road to the fort. They had been unable to get a count of the forces within, but they did find a sheltered place nearby that the whole party could camp and near a place where a watch could be set on the fort. The group changed campsites and spent the rest of the day and night observing the slavers.
Blow-Up of Map Detail 3-2-3; 10 miles/hex
The stockade was composed of logs and was some 60x100 feet in size the walls were 10 to 15 feet high and had archer platforms at each of the four corners. Within the structure was enclosures for the horses and a cage/pen area for the slaves. In the center of the compound was a 30x30 building also with an archer platform. In addition to the two sentries out on the road, there were at least five archers on watch at all times. The only entrance to the place was through the front double doors that were secured by a strong-arm. According to the information that Raven supplied, the slavers were following a normal routine, a large mounted force would leave in the morning and return late in the afternoon, sometimes with prisoners. Phalan told the members of Thorn to come up with ideas for raiding the place. After some discussion, Phalan raised his hand for silence.
"Ok, here's what we're going to do, in the morning we're going to split up, each group needs to be in a place where we can see the sentries and also the fort. That will be the first task for Noctem and Rhiannon right after we're done here. You two keep in mind that Roland and I are wearing a lot of noisy shiny armor. Then we'll for the raiders to leave...."
Phalan went on to sketch together a battle plan based on the best ideas from the discussion.
The whole group had been keeping odd hours and doing with less sleep since news of war first hit over a week ago, add to that the stress of being behind enemy lines and for Roland, worry about his family. But the members of Thorn were hard from their first mission. They had spent weeks in the saddle pursuing bandits that had taken up kidnapping. And in the final showdown Thorn had taken up a night attack on the stone fortress the bandits were using as a base. Phalan himself was in his prime with enough experience to be third in command of the Knights of the Horn. Since the Knights of the Horn have often fought in border wars with Haradan and their slave raiders, both Roland and Phalan knew the raiders would be only marginally better than bandits in a fight. Thorn knew they would be capable of taking on odds of four to one with the magic capabilities of their spell-casters and the fighting skill of Rhiannon and Adara.
Reaping (July) the 9th
Before dawn on the 9th, they got the horses saddled and ready to ride in case they needed to retreat and split up, each group giving the other a thumbs up for luck before departing. Phalan, Rhiannon and Elonan headed toward the sentry in the west and Roland, Noctem and Adara would take the east. They waited in position in darkness while the sun rose, everything went smoothly even during the tense moments during the changing of the guard. After the guard changed the stockade filled with activity, food was cooked and eaten and a group of raiders formed up on horseback in front of the fort. With a wave, their leader led twenty-five raiders out on the road east. This caused a little concern since Thorn's orders because they were to try and interfere with any warriors going east, but they couldn't take on the whole fort and were already committed to assaulting it. At the prearranged time, Noctem and Rhiannon began moving in on the sentries. Nearly simultaneously Phalan and Roland cast a spell of silence on each sentry. The western sentry went down with Rhiannon's arrows in his back and the eastern with Noctem's blade across his throat. While they were in action, Adara and Elonan acted as backup and kept a watch on the fort.
After dragging the bodies out of sight, Noctem and Rhiannon donned the cloaks and hats of the sentries and began to move in toward the stockade. As they went out into the clearing around the fort seeking to get as good a shot as possible on the archer guards, Phalan cast a prayer to Heimdal for his aid in battle. Rhiannon and Noctem waited until the first guard hailed them in Haradan, then turned and fired. A moment later Elonan's magic missiles streaked forth and together they slew two of the archers. Noctem and Rhiannon continued to shoot cover fire while the rest of the party charged out from the woods, and they were half way to the fort before the defending slavers fired a couple of hasty shots in return. Phalan ordered Rhiannon and Adara on his flank with Roland behind and Elonan and Noctem bringing up the rear. As they had planned Phalan, Rhiannon and Adara (being the best warriors) would take on the bulk of the melee, Roland was to watch for enemy spell casters and give the three in front support if they needed it. Noctem and Elonan would use spells and arrows try and keep knocking out the archers. As they made the gate, Phalan signaled Roland who then raised his holy symbol horn to his lips and let out a clarion call. Phalan drew his two-handed sword, raised his hand to the main doors of the fort and shouted.
"In the name of Heimdal, I command ye to open the way before me!"
With a thunk and a thud, followed by the the curses of the Haradan slavers behind the wall the strong-arm bar flew off and the gates started swinging open. Roland began a battle chant to further invoke Heimdal's favor in battle.
Immediatly jumping into the gap, Phalan cut down the first raider he saw. Rhiannon and Adara were snagged up behind the doors and the slavers tried to push the gates back closed. Rhiannon, stronger than any normal human was forcing her gate opened, but Adara had two pushing against her. Seeing her struggle, Roland charged in to lend his strength and Noctem cast a spell that warped and weakened the wood where the hinges attached. With a great crack the door broke inward, narrowly missing the two shocked raiders behind it. Now clear of the gate heavy fighting ensued. Noctem and Elonan managed to take out the archer on the central building, just as a second one appeared. Up front the superior skills of the fighters was making quick work of the defenders as raider after raider dropped. After a few vicious exchanges one of the slavers leaders was killed by Rhiannon and the other severely wounded by Phalan. In their efforts to kill the leaders, both Phalan and Rhiannon sustained wounds and on cue Roland ceased his battle-chant and cast healing magic upon Rhiannon. The slavers remaining leader, wounded and desperate, called a retreat back to the main building. However the moral of the raiders had cracked and they were unorganized. They were unable to get the inner door closed before Phalan and Roland (now in the lead) mowed into them. Roland seemed inspired and in two powerful maneuvers with his two-handed sword nearly decapitated one of the raiders before stepping into the dim inner building. Within a few more moments the last of the slavers inside was killed and the mopping up finished in the yard. Thorn, bloody and tired had won through without casualties, and went to work on the second part of their plan.
After freeing the prisoners, and tending wounds with bandages and magic, Phalan and the members of Thorn discussed their next course of action. The could leave here and get to safety with the prisoners, or they could rest here and attempt to ambush the remaining raiders when they returned. Faced with having to repeat the battle they had just fought again they decided to stay. Rhiannon stayed on watch while Adara organized, reinforcing the gate and clearing the yard of the dead while the spell casters meditated or prayed to gain back valuable spells used during the battle.
About two hours later, a mage dressed in the colors of Haradan flew over the gate and dropped into the horse pen, totally surprising Rhiannon who had been watching the roads. It quickly became apparent that the mage was trying to steal a horse. Foul luck again struck as Rhiannon's bowstring broke just as she was trying to shoot at the mage. Adara, finally seeing the danger Rhiannon was yelling about charged the mage just as he was leading a horse out through the fence. Her blow stuck the mage in what should have been a killing blow, but the blade just bounced off as if she had struck stone, shivering her weapon. With a curse in Haradan, the mage almost negligently gestured and enveloped Adara in a sheet of flame and she reeled backward to the ground. With Rhiannon considering jumping from her platform and Noctem screaming
"FIRE MAGE! FIRE MAGE!",
The Haradan mounted upon the horse bare-backed and went for the gate. The rest of the party was filing out into the yard trying to make sense of the yelling when Elonan and the the enemy mage both began casting spells. A moment later the bar was flung to the ground and once again the gates opened by magic. No sooner did the mage slap his mount away from the gate than Elonan's spell completed and completely filled the gate with magical trapping webs. Alas, the mage had slipped past and was on the road galloping west. For a moment the only thing that could be heard was the cursing and spluttering of Elonan over the near miss, then Noctem sang out.
"Guys! There's a large group of riders coming in from the east!"