It is time to make serious tactical decisions. The three longships converge two hundred yards offshore, exchange mooring lines and pull in close. Cleric Kulich and Druidbarian of Many Forms Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn come aboard the middle ship, to rejoin Magnus, Eberk, and Elroy Wick. The party joins Captains Martin and Cregg, and mercenary commander Jonas, in discussion.
Navigators estimate the convoy at six days from North Point. The party knows about the Orc spies following their progress, but the larger question remains – how many enemies occupy the North Point area ? A veritable ‘fog of war’ blankets the entire region, stirring unease in the commanders. The party suspects that Gold Mountain is still under siege, but the quantity and composition of the enemy forces is wide open to speculation.
Bard-Cleric Elroy Wick suspects that the answer depends on whether the invading army found what it came looking for, or not. Wick believes that some powerful entity conscripted Orcs and Draconic races to sack the human settlement and obtain an artifact hidden there. This artifact may be similar to the stone “finger” the party took from the Dwarf-king’s riverside tomb – and might be in the possession of Chief Samuel.
If the Orc army recovered the prize, most or all of the enemies are likely back from whence they came. If the relic escaped to safety in Gold Mountain, then Wick is sure the enemies’ mysterious overlord detailed only a minimal garrison to hold the siege. A diverse crowd of evil, chaotic races would only remain cohesive for so long; and only when it had immediate objective like conquering.
Fighter Magnus doesn’t care for speculation. He wants facts. Captain Cregg offers his specialists. These perhaps-rangers-or-rogues have trained birds which can spy from safe heights and report back to their masters. Among Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn’s Many Forms are avians; and he has a longer range and more accurate intelligence-gathering than the specialists’ animal companions. Captain Martin mentions the cavalry units on board; fast, effective scouts and light-infantry are available.
As the tactical expert in the party, Magnus weighs his many options. He is aware the danger that grows each day their ships progress north. Each evening landing and overnight camp brings more risk of ambush. Landing near or in North Point puts the mercenary crew at risk if caught by enemies while offloading from the ships. They may face light skirmish groups – or a thousand-strong strike force of Orcs, Goblins, and Ogres. Fighters of this company might face enemies on two fronts, or be encircled without warning.
Intelligence-gathering is the priority. Magnus proposes a plan. The party thinks it will work. The boats exchange some passengers and supplies, and separate. Hugging the frigid snow-dusted rocky shoreline, the longships row again. The specialists launch their birds to the sky, and relay their findings to the party when the falcons return.
There is no sign of activity inland. No humans, no game animals. No evidence of farming – Øskur knows this area is too far from settlements and too rugged for agriculture. There is up to an inch of snow in places, undisturbed; no large groups have passed this way. Along the treeline near shore, three humanoids always lurk. The specialists interpret this to mean Orcs, still shadowing the boats.
For two days, the boats plod carefully north. A hush falls over the ships, as if they were sailing into forbidden waters. Reports from the specialists’ companions remain consistent. As often as he can each day, the Druidbarian of Many Forms is aloft on the wind, soaring above the cold, bleak wilderness as an eagle, spotting for his shipmates.
One of the hawks flying reconnaissance to the south returns to describe a large group, a camp of about two hundred humanoids. The specialists translate the composition as Orcs, Goblins, a few Ogres, and also some beasts that are likely Worgs. Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn personally verifies these findings. Hours later, another falcon picks up this same group marching north. They are a full day’s travel behind the ships.
Three days’ sailing from North Point, the harriers are within range of Pine Cove. This is the walled settlement furthest south, where the party once investigated a lurker in the woods. Each flight returns simple information : all buildings are charred and destitute; the defensive berms and palisade wall are damaged; there are no humanoids in the ruins.
This gives the party some ideas. Eberk thinks Pine Cove might be a good landing-site if North Point is treacherous. Kulich suggests the destroyed village as a base of operations. Magnus ponders the tactical advantages and disadvantages, particularly where his valuable cavalry forces are concerned.
Røgnvaldurarsøn feels confident that he has the endurance for a round-trip flight to North Point. The specialists’ feathered agents are still two days from capable of the feat. Morphing into a broad-winged bird at sunrise the next morning, the Druidbarian of Many Forms takes to the chilly late-October skies, conserving his energy en route to their long-lost home town.
Not much daylight remains when he gets there. Øskur circles the town for half an hour. Not all buildings are destroyed; some are just lightly damaged. A few even look to have been repaired after the invasion. There is no smoke from any chimneys. Smooth snow covers the rooftops and streets.
From high above, Øskur sees (Spot = 22) someone in the town. Between sixty and one hundred Orcs, including a few Ogres, move about inside the town walls. From the condition of snow on the laneways, Øskur (Survival = 32) determines that this contingent has only just arrived. The town was unoccupied before they came.
The sky rapidly turns a deep blue. At this latitude and time of year, twilight barely gives any warning. The Druidbarian, with as many details as he can remember, wings south toward the ships.
Exhausted Øskur gets back well into the night. He followed the stars and dark coastline until sighting the bright glow of bonfires and beached ships. There is dinner waiting for him when he lands, and expectant ears. Back in human form, the Druidbarian of Many Forms accepts bowls of hot mystery-fish chowder, and makes his scouting report.
The Orcs he saw at North Point were well-equipped. Not in the way that would interest Yorgenson Uberson; more in the “heavily-armed shock-trooper” sense. Øskur (INT check = 9) doesn’t know if the Orcs made the repairs he saw on some of the houses. To Wick’s question, Røgnvaldurarsøn couldn’t recall (INT check = 9) if the Main Hall was still standing. But he did see (INT check = 22) that the docks were destroyed, and that the focus of the Orcs’ attention was to repair the town gates and defensive perimeter.
It would appear to Magnus that the Orcs expect his mercenary ships to attack North Point. The Fighter decides against direct assault by sea; or at least, not yet. The ships will instead make their landing at a beach south of Pine Cove. Magnus, his horse “Lady”, and the full complement of cavalry will disembark, ride to Pine Cove, and secure its ruins. The boats will row into the town’s inlet and make landing there. From this defensive position, the group will re-assess the North Point situation, and get a handle on the 200-strong enemy force coming from the south.
Two days later, at mid-day, the boats reach a place for the cavalry to land. Magnus and Cregg’s mounted forces offload from the ships as the mercenary archers and footmen provide a defensive screen against a possible attack that doesn’t come. Free from their vulnerable transition from ship to land, the cavalry fan out into the thin forest and snowy fields. The foot soldiers climb back aboard the ships and row hard for Pine Cove.
According to plan, Magnus’s company reaches and secures devastated Pine Cove before the ships arrive. Disembarking, the mercenaries follow their squad leaders into the snow-dusted alleys. The sailors tie off the longships and stand ready should retreat orders come.
Captain Martin, suited in his gleaming full-plate and shield, directs Cregg and Jonas. Elroy Wick checks houses for signs of life, but finds nothing. Kulich hangs back at the ships. Eberk and Øskur assess the condition of the berm, gates, and wood walls – they find significant gaps in the palisade-walls, more than can be patched with raw wood cut from the conifers bordering the open fields around the town. The perimeter is not defensible in its current state.
A nearby mercenary, a carpenter when not a sell-sword, suggests that one of the ships could be dismantled to provide material for a wall. True Northsman and self-appointed coxswain Magnus reaches for his Heavy Pick, ready to strike down such heresy and defend his sacred longship. But the others of the party see the necessity. They order one of the two ships not owned by the House of Davis to be permanently decommissioned.
It is a serious commitment, rending down what may be for many their only means of escape should things turn out poorly. The party and its commanders know that two hundred enemy warriors approach from the south, and a defensive enemy digs in at North Point. There is no indication yet of what lies in the direction of Gold Mountain. Therefore, every effort must be made to build this company a safe haven in Pine Cove, starting with fortification of the walls.
(end of the session)
(1) Altered image; original isolated from D&D Monster Manual, illustration on page 203.