By mid-afternoon, darkness completely overtakes Pine Cove. Mercenaries labour by the light of torches and bonfires, dismantling one of the three longships. Its well-cut timber will repair the ruined town’s perimeter wall. Captain Cregg and Jonas supervise the effort. Magnus and Captain Martin discuss tactical concerns elsewhere; Magnus cannot bear to see one of his precious ships treated this way.
Druidbarian of Many Forms Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn, in bird form, circles above to watch the forest for trouble. Elroy Wick, Goa Finnbjorn, and Corun Dum’man make themselves useful by patching up what dwellings can be made habitable again. Cleaned up and with a hot fire in the hearth, each house will comfortably billet several mercenaries.
Many hands make light work; before midnight only scattered pieces of the dismantled ship remain. Sailors on the remaining two ships establish night watches. Disciplined foot soldiers efficiently assemble Pine Cove’s new wall. Archers take up positions along it. Mercenaries come off shift and retire to warm, welcoming houses prepared for them. Others up from rest follow Goa’s lead and claim more houses from cold abandonment. In only a few short hours, Pine Cove has been brought back to life.
Ever since arriving, Captain Cregg’s specialists have kept their falcons flying sorties. The harriers have focused on one point of interest – three and a half miles inland, where the force of two hundred Orcs, Ogres, and Goblins have established a camp on a low hill. That these nocturnal creatures hold their ground at night suggests they await reinforcements.
Fighter Magnus wants to take a fight to them. It is an hour past midnight; a last-quarter moon illuminates a frigid, frozen wilderness beyond the fields around Pine Cove. Magnus orders half the archers to assemble outside the town as an outer defensive perimeter; some near the berm, others a hundred yards out. Jonas leads them. Foot soldiers and the remaining archers stand on alert in the town. Those off-duty remain sleeping; Magnus wants a rested reserve for daytime.
The Fighter and his heavily-armoured horse, “Lady”, will lead a mounted force against the enemy position. Avian scouting has given him a pretty good idea of the terrain, obstacles, and advantageous approaches. Magnus intends his regiment to ride within a mile of the enemy. Then, the heavy cavalry will charge loud and fast in a head-on feint as Magnus and his mounted archers and light-cavalry flank and harry the Orc force from the north.
This sounds like a marvelous caprice – the Halfling, Wizard, and Bard agree to come along. As does Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn; who, unbeknownst to his party, has in mind a clever plan to infiltrate the Orcs.
Magnus addresses the troops and makes his plan understood. Torches are lit. Riders mount up and position in ranks. The air is hideously cold and biting; riding swiftly, the men and women of the cavalry regret any skin left exposed to the night. Elroy Wick has cast Endure Elements on himself, and is comfortably warm. The Bard-Cleric’s Rod of Splendor wraps him in fine-spun wool, colored navy-blue to blend in best with the darkness. Lörydyr is back at Pine Cove; Rogue Goa peeks out from inside Magnus’s backpack.
The horses grunt and snort as they weave through pine trees and snow-burdened underbrush. It does not take long to reach the junction. Magnus calls the order. The heavy cavalry hold course while the party, mounted archers, and light cavalry peel away to follow Magnus through the dark, sparsely-moonlit forest. As the separation grows, the party hears shouting and thunderous hoof beats as the heavy cavalry builds to a fearsome charge. Øskur and his friends will reach their attack point right on time.
Magnus’s battle plan starts out well. The heavy-cavalry’s distraction allows the Fighter and his contingent to advance very close to the enemy camp before Orc archers notice and turn their crossbows. Goa and the mounted-archer mercenaries assault targets barely visible in the shadows beyond the party’s feeble torchlight. Wizard Corun Dum’man defends with Protection From Arrows, then thrashes the advancing Orc troops with spells : two Lightning Bolts, four Scorching Rays, a Lesser Orb of Sound. He kills a handful of Orcs as they charge out to repulse the riders.
Elroy Wick wakes the frigid night with a great song (Perform : Sing = 22) that Inspires Courage and Inspirationally Boosts. When the party clashes in melee with the swarm of Orcs pouring out of the camp, Wick hurls his daggers “Orc Scout Killah”, “Orc Lullaby”, “Orckish Slumber Party”, and “Bug-(Bear)-Out”. The light-cavalry mercenaries conduct ride-by attacks to harass the Orcs.
Off to the right, Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn has dismounted, cast Barkskin on himself, and charged in, greatsword flashing murderously in the snow-reflected moonlight. Two foes die quickly by his hand. The Druidbarian of Many Forms eyes the formation of the Orc shock-troops, awaiting the opportunity to act on his secret plan.
The party, now in the thick of fighting, has fared well so far. Magnus is pleased. Arrows and axes have stung his allies, but the momentum lay with the Fighter’s side. As if to spoil his mood, more Orcs show up to bolster their front; with them, an Ogre. Most of the party also hears barking – Worgs draw frightfully near.
Time for the next phase of this action – withdraw. This is a hit-and-run operation, not a fight to the finish. Magnus and “Lady” focus their wrath on the hulking Ogre when it crashes into range. The Fighter shouts for and receives arrow-fire upon it. Goa returns from wet-work on the battlefield and climbs back aboard Magnus’s horse. Wick and Corun circle their mounts back and fall in behind the archer mercenaries. So far, everything is going according to plan.
Then things hit a snag. The Druidbarian of Many Forms should have informed his friends of his plan to use the confusion and disarray of combat to infiltrate the Orcs’ battalion. Øskur intended to exploit his party’s sudden retreat to shift unnoticed into Orc form, and slip in among the Orc survivors when they reorganized after the fight. But when Øskur fought on after Magnus called for retreat, Magnus and Goa held their position and waited for their friend to disengage. Fighter Magnus intended to be the last to leave the fight – unaware of Øskur’s true intention.
With Magnus hollering at him to quit raging and pull back, and all three of them quickly surrounded as the Orcs surged in to fill the mercenaries’ void, the Druidbarian of Many Forms lost the anonymity and distraction he needed to enact his plan. Disappointed, Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn hacks an escape route back to his horse. Goa and Magnus break off attacking the Ogre and charge “Lady” through a press of axes and armor to safety.
Worgs approaching and Orcs in pursuit, Magnus sweeps up his regiment and they make speed. Elroy Wick ends his song, and plants some Ghost Sounds off in the woods as they gallop away. The Bard creates a clamor of cheering soldiers off to one side, then another Ghost Sound that imitates the screech of Owlbears in a different direction. These will echo for half a minute in the party’s wake, and sew confusion among the Orcs. Wizard Corun sparks Dancing Lights on random trees as they ride. Wick casts Entropic Shield on himself as wild arrow-fire rakes the woods from behind them.
The horses are swift and the escape route clear; Magnus, his friends, and their mercenary riders quickly pull free of danger. A mile away from Pine Cove, they encounter the heavy cavalry, unharmed during its diversionary raid. Re-united, the mobile force rides toward their safe haven.
(end of the session)
(1) Image isolated from D&D Monster Manual, illustration on page 203.
(2) Image isolated from D&D Monster Manual, illustration on page 199.