It is going to be a long three weeks.
Elroy Wick sits at the very center of the longship, his back firm to the mast. Playing his masterwork lute distracts him from the vast grey ocean to his left and the hundred yards of brine to the rocky shoreline on his right. The Bard is now a Cleric of Fharlanghn, a choice inspired by his post-death experience and subsequent introspection. Wick will alternately progress as a Bard and a Cleric in the years ahead.
Dwarf Eberk has no reservations about sea travel. Having regained his lost level of experience and once again a Dwarven Defender, full-plate-clad Eberk leans dangerously far over the side of the longship, drawing deep breaths of crisp salty air. He almost enjoys the sea as much as the musty dank of a nice deep mine.
The other party members stave off boredom. Magnus grooms his heavy warhorse, which he has named “Lady”. Druid Yorgenson Uberson, once again with the party, communes with the sea, accompanied by his Dire Badger animal companion. Goa divides her time between a perch high on the mast and below deck coveting her horde of gourmet food. Wizard Corun Dum’man befriends his way into games of chance with several of the mercenaries. Armst, Kulich, and Druidbarian of Many Forms Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn are aboard one of the other ships. All take turns on the oars to help the sailors and mercenaries slowly churn their longship north along the jagged coastline.
* * *
Four days ago at dawn, a quiet, shivering mass of men and women appeared out of the dark alleys of Lyttel to assemble at the longships. They came burdened with tight-packed gear, descended the gangways onto their assigned boats, and settled in. Captain Martin had the ships already loaded and guarded for that final night in port, so when Magnus and his friends came aboard, they set off immediately.
As offering to Fharlanghn, Bard and Cleric Elroy Wick broke the stillness of morning with a memorable song (Perform : Stringed = 26) and extraordinary verse (Perform : Sing = 38). In time with his song the boats’ rowers dipped oars and strained, building forward momentum, gliding the longships from the shelter of the harbour out towards open seas.
Civilization soon slipped out of sight. Grey rock, crusted with barnacles and rime of high tides, thick moss, and gnarled sea-coast trees defined the shoreline. Land was seldom more than a few hundred yards away; of shallow draft and exposed deck, these longships are not suited for open ocean. As go the tides, wind, and strength at the oars, the three ships might comfortably stray a half-mile from each other.
Once a day, before twilight, the ships beached on sandy shore and tied off to strong rooted pine trees. The crew and passengers slept and kept watch ashore, bright fires burning hot. Each morning, foragers would strike off inland for an hour, hunting and gathering. The tide pools provided shellfish, the woods small game and mushrooms. The world was low grey cloud, white mist, and solitude.
While under way both Eberk and Goa took to fishing, often pulling up ugly, spiny creatures from the depths. The Halfling challenged herself to make them into an attractive meal. Sometimes Goa filleted and roasted to perfection over the large brazier kept burning on the ship’s mid-deck; other times she hid unpleasant chunks of fish in hearty chowder.
* * *
Day five. The company is ashore, bonfires burning warm hemispheres into a heavy rainfall. Sheltered under their wide canvas tent, Wick (Spot = 24), Corun (Spot = 20), Magnus (Spot = 25) and Yorgenson’s animal companion (Spot = 22) notice a stir among the mercenaries. The specialists, the rogues or rangers that so often keep to themselves, spotted something. Captain Martin is among them at an instant; when the party comes to inquire, their Company Commander has already dispatched scouts into the woods.
The specialists noticed movement down the coastline, about five hundred yards away. Alert passes from tent to tent. Archers string their bows and disperse among the camp; other fighters make weapons ready, and wait. Yorgenson is impressed by the mercenaries’ discipline.
Half an hour passes. Then the scouts return. Having swept the area indicated by the specialists, they found tracks of four Medium-sized humanoids. Recent, but no sighting of who left the prints. The party confers with Captains Martin and Cregg. Something might be following the ships. It may be prudent to break the usual pattern of travel.
The next morning the convoy shoves off before dawn. Lookouts pay extra attention to the forest’s edge. Sharp-eyed Goa Finnbjorn (Spot = 27) catches unnatural movement within the trees around noon. She detects it again a mile further on. It seems to be keeping pace.
A camp on shore overnight without encounter, then rowing again by mid-morning. Much attention is paid the coastline as men and women sharpen their weapons or otherwise occupy their time. Again there are fleeting glances of movement behind a tree, or a momentary glint of light that should not have been.
Elroy Wick suggests the skippers steer for one of the frequent, small, lightly-forested islands a half-mile further out to sea. There, they can camp in complete safety – and perhaps lose their stalkers by sailing on the seaward side of the islands. The party thinks it worth a try.
The islands are difficult to land on, and provide no useful food, but the company rests easier knowing they have an insurmountable sea-lane blocking ambush. Wizard Corun casts Clairvoyance and remotely-views an area of the mainland shore. To his dismay, he marks (with a Natural 20 rolled for Spot for a total Skill Check of 25) recent footprints of humanoids. The ships are definitely being followed.
The ships make landfall at another island the following night, after a long and challenging day of rowing. This far from the mainland shore and on the windward side of the sheltering island chains, the boat captains are having a tough time making headway. They insist on returning to shallow waters.
Early the next day, Magnus persuades Cregg to land two scouts and two specialists to gather information on what lurks unseen. The four agents are dropped at a beach and disappear into the woods on foot. The boats will travel a full day and rendezvous with the scouting party further north.
Teams of rowers trade off at shorter intervals to hasten the boats’ progress. Archers station at the gunwales, eyes to the forests, looking for hostiles. The grey sky and chill wind permit swift passage, bringing the three boats to a broad inlet eight hours later. Armed foraging parties quickly use what daylight remains.
Evening comes and the scouting party has not arrived. First, second, third watch; the scouting party is more and more overdue. Dawn and clear cold morning, still no sign. Cregg paces. Jonas looks to Captain Martin. Magnus and Eberk counsel patience.
Then, two hours after dawn, the four scouts emerge from the forest. They are tired but unharmed. Shortly after deployment yesterday, the scouts found tracks that led to a squad of three Orcs. These Orcs kept pace with the boats for an hour, then turned inland. The human scouts followed, and discovered a band of two dozen Orcs, also traveling north. Wisely deciding not to engage in combat, the human scouts spied on this large group. A fresh Orc observer team regularly broke off from it, toward the seashore to replace a returning squad.
There are always eyes on the ships. But the terrain grows more difficult with each passing mile; the scouts suggest putting a day or two in between landings, and rowing into the night or even overnight, to pull the ships ahead of the Orc scouts as the rough overland path slows them.
It is not ideal for passengers or supplies, but there is little choice. Yorgenson Uberson (Knowledge : Nature = 22) gets a sense of the weather. It is decent now but it will turn worse tonight. Sure enough it does. The three ships forgo a landing as angry winds whip up choppy seas at sunset. The churning waves weaken the rowers; many take ill from the pitching and rolling. Goa Finnbjorn brews up pots of ginger tea to settle the worst stomachs. Many dinners are lost over the railings. Elroy Wick ties himself to the mast to keep another ocean from swallowing him.
Through the night the rowers work, darkness blinding any sense of where they are, skilled captains hard-pressed to steer along safe routes. The weather improves as the night turns grey with dawn; the oarsmen take food and keep it down. By day it is easier to navigate. Fatigue starts to take its toll; crew and passengers slip into a grinding routine of rowing and sleeping.
The second night of the marathon rowing, around midnight. Eberk is on deck. His Darkvision has come in handy to avoid hazards in the water. Glancing aft, the Dwarf suddenly realizes (Spot = 23) that he cannot see the midship braziers or the running-lanterns of their two sister-ships. Eberk strains his eyes but sees nothing. In the cold pitch-black night, the ships must have drifted off their common course, or met some terrible fate.
Apart from a skeleton crew of rowers and a few sailors, there is no-one awake at this hour. Waking Corun Dum’man and Magnus, Eberk shows them empty, mist-shrouded waters to their stern. Magnus thinks it unwise to turn around or otherwise divert from their course, but does instruct the rowers to slow their pace.
Corun casts Light of Venya on himself to become a beacon. Then he casts Message, an hour-duration spell that lets him repeat “We can’t see you” to anyone within a 170-foot radius.
Minutes pass slowly. The Dwarf and his friends wait anxiously, considering other options should this attempt at communication fail. Then, half an hour into Corun’s Message spell, the Wizard receives a reply. The other boats have rowed to within range of his Message; they can see Corun’s glow.
Crisis averted, the rowers resume pace and the longships maintain line-of-sight through the night and into the next day. The ships’ captains make a strong case to stop, or at least to rest. A cove of significant size presents itself, walled with steep cliffs. The land rises up into mountains not far from the shoreline. This mountain range forms the barrier between the former kingdom lands and the North Point region. Overland travel here is far slower than travel by sea.
Captain Martin and the party agree to hold up for a few hours, and let everyone rest. A bare minimum of rowers provide station-keeping, edging the longships off the jagged rock faces that plunge straight down into unfathomable blue-black water. Later, fresh rowers take to the benches and propel the ships out of shelter and up the coast three hours to a broad, flat stretch of shoreline. Here the boats beach, tie up, and foraging parties disperse into the forest to gather firewood and fresh food.
Climbing ashore, Yorgenson Uberson and his friends consult the navigator’s notes. With good weather and favorable winds, they may only be a week from home. No telling what they will find there.
(end of the session)
(1) Image isolated from D&D Monster Manual, illustration on page 203.