The Black Eagle Barony
Quest to the Black Eagle Barony
Having settled back into life in Specularum, it was not long before wanderlust gripped the companions' hearts again. Drewen proposed a journey to the Black Eagle Barony - the stronghold in the west of the Duchy where rumours abounded of Baron Ludwig von Hendrikk's wrongdoings including his dealings with the Iron Ring slavers, and his harbouring of the evil wizard Bargle. The party resolved that they would investigate firsthand.
Planning was undertaken in the back of the Inn, with ale aplenty. Lana suggested playing on her nobility so that the companions might masquerade as an ambassadorial party in order to gain an audience with the Baron. Karnus and Drewen on the other hand (who between them had drained a trayload of tankards) preferred the guise of wandering merchants. The following morning, the humble traders set about acquiring a wagonload of turnips, and set forth.
Following the Westron Road the party were halfway to the town of Luln when they heard cries from a nearby forest. Wary against being ambushed by bandits, Lana and Drewen entered the forest while the remaining three guarded the wagon. They came upon a warrior maiden, her curling auburn hair spilling over leather armour, brandishing a spear against an enormous wild boar. Before their eyes a second beast emerged from the shrubbery and gored the woman's horse. Lana and Drewen lost no time in curbing the animals, then spoke with the maiden. As Lana bandaged her lacerated ankle, it emerged that this was none other than Lady Adriana Karameikos, daughter of Duke Stefan Karameikos. Adriana shared the party's refreshments back at their wagon and spoke at length, urging them to be wary of her uncle - the two-faced and devious Black Eagle Baron. His wrongdoings were obvious to her and those around her, with the exception of her ever-optimistic father who seemed incapable of believing Von Hendrikks, his favourite cousin, to be guilty of any wrongdoing.
Further along the road, the companions were stopped by a guard patrol. Upon questioning the party, the guards discerned the group's intentions as nods and winks were exchanged. The humble turnip merchants continued onward with the guards' blessings. As the sun touched the western horizon, the party passed the lofty spires of Koriszegy Keep - the reputedly cursed tower which lurked on the fringes of the Radlebb Woods. Knowing the accursed place to be haunted by a powerful undead lord, the five made haste and reached Luln by nightfall.
That night in the tavern a humble cobbler re-introduced the party to Townsmistress Sascia. With her town in constant plight against Fort Doom, Sascia had forgotten the names of the individuals who had assisted in exterminating the black dragon Falaryx two years before, however she vaguely remembered them as trustworthy sorts. Sascia gave the party her blessing; meanwhile the cobbler repaired a pair of Lana's worn-out boots before vanishing.
Heading out of town next morning, cropland gave way to barren wilderness which reportedly served as home to humanoid tribes loyal to the wizard Bargle. Amid the desolation the party ran into a tribe of orcs who had clustered around an individual garbed in a drab and ragged cloak. Invoking prayer from a distance, Threy managed to Hold a handful of orcs while Karnus employed a Perpetual Agitator to incapacitate the rest. The individual whom the orcs had been menacing rose to his feet and threw back his tattered cloak to reveal fine brown robes and a rich brown beard... a magic-user! The man claimed to be a Glantrian wizard who had returned to Karameikos to wreak revenge on Bargle for having sold him into slavery as a child. As a demonstration of his power, before the heroes could say a word, the wizard's fireball engulfed the defenceless orcs.
The party members surmised that this wizard's power combined with their own abilities might make a confrontation with Bargle more of an equal fight. Lana and Karnus exchanged suspicious glances though, since by all accounts the stranger matched the description of... But what the hell...
"Bargle!" Lana muttered under the pretence of a cough.
"I beg your pardon?" the wizard enquired charmingly, feigning confusion as he slowly raised one eyebrow.
Lana smiled a knowing smile, then threw one arm around the taller wizard's shoulder, bidding him come back to the caravan for light refreshments. "We too seek the spoiled apprentice Bargle," she confessed jovially as they strolled together. "Never fear, we shall ensure the Baron's pet wizard does no more ill against the Grand Duchy... Now - would you care for a turnip?"
Travelling on, orcs were spied on the trail ahead. The party debated whether to confront them, until the Glantrian wizard urged Vasily to drive the cart into a nearby copse, where the companions might shelter until the humanoids passed. Thinking this logical, Vasily did as he was bid then gasped with surprise. The trees began to shimmer and distort, melding into the forms of armed troops. It was now that the stranger revealed his true colours.
Bargle in the flesh!
A battle of immense proportions ensued, as the party defended themselves against Karameikos' most dangerous magic-user. Bargle began casting from his huge repertoire of spells, selecting Lana as his first target. "Pet wizard, eh?" he sneered, before uttering a single word of magic. Lana reeled from an unseen blow; her mind plunged into blackness and she dropped to her knees. Karnus seeing his companion incapacitated was quick to invoke a Fly spell and take to the air, ready to cast magic of his own against the archmage, however Bargle had selected his next target and Karnus found himself assaulted by a second Word of Power. The blue-robed mage was left clutching his head in anguish, spinning in mindless circles above the clearing. Threy readied his mace and ran at the wizard, but found himself magically Held.
Vasily too was out of action due to the horses, spooked by the commotion, having reared; presently they were dragging the wagon away at speed. Of all the party members, only Drewen remained free to act. He charged at Bargle, his hammer raised. Spell after spell flared from Bargle's outstretched hands however the dwarf's armoured form closed the distance, Drewen's innate resilience to magic serving him faultlessly. Drewen leapt high and his hammer connected with Bargle's face! The wizard cried aloud as bone splintered and the incantation he was halfway through completing died on his lips. Shaking with angry disbelief, the wizard waved a hand and seven glowing missiles appeared, five of which impacted upon Drewen, the other two veered toward Vasily, still atop the runaway cart. But then Bargle ceased combat, calling for the heroes to surrender to his men who surrounded them. A dozen bows and crossbows were trained on each individual... odds Drewen found too daunting to risk. For the sake of his companions' safety, Drewen lowered his hammer. Bargle let out a maniacal victory cry and vanished from the clearing. His guards closed with manacles at the ready.
Under guard of Bargle's troops the party marched through the wilderness, to the forbidding bastion of Fort Doom. Passing through the gates, they were led up the barren Doom Tor across a drawbridge and through a gatehouse in the likeness of a gaping skull, then into the Baron's throneroom. Here the companions were stripped of their treasures, save Karnus' dagger and Lana's ring of telekinesis (both items being small enough to be concealed from the guards' roving hands). The cleric Jolenta of the Iron Ring was present, and eyed the party's Staff of Healing, Golthar's ring of protection and the Hutaakan jade ring with greedy interest. After considerable manhandling by the guards, Bargle appeared in the court. He was resplendent in robes of lime and saffron, evidently chosen to upstage the sombre black worn by his patron the Baron. Also in attendance were the treacherous cobbler whom the party had met in Luln and a slight young man whom Bargle introduced as his apprentice Flaccus. Jolenta, the "old friend" of the party, gave Threy and Karnus (strangely...) nods of acknowledgement.
Having parted the companions from their belongings, the Baron offered a choice. The intruders could fight one another for his entertainment, or be thrown into the catacombs beneath the Doom Tor to face whatever monsters and traps were in the depths. Unanimously the party opted for the catacombs. After being cast into a pit, each hero was allowed a weapon of choice. Luckily each was allowed the return of their magical weapon, although Karnus scowled when Bargle refused to hand back the Staff of Hutaaka. Progress was made into the dark depths. In one chamber a halfling named Philbert Sharpstone was met, who proudly announced his theft of battle plans from the Baron's personal chambers. He was intending to deliver the plans to his home in the Shires to the west. While rummaging through the Baron's personal effects Philbert had helped himself to a familiar-looking beetle brooch... Threy's scarab of protection! Continuing onward the way was barred by a figure in robes - had Bargle re-appeared to challenge the party? Instead this was Flaccus, the wizard's apprentice, who confessed his betrayal of Bargle since he was in fact one of Sascia's operatives and had been working against the Black Eagle Baron for several years. As a demonstration of goodwill Flaccus handed across a sack - the party's bag of holding, filled with as many of their items as Flaccus had managed to liberate from his master's study. Lana and Karnus' spellbooks were returned, but the Staff of Healing so well-used by the party along with several rings had been gifted to Jolenta, and were for the time being lost to the party... Flaccus had wished to leave Fort Doom for months now, and the adventuring party would provide him a perfect escort.
Who to trust?
Further into the catacombs the party encountered two hobgoblins, half-starved and in no condition to pose a threat. These were deserters from Bargle's army, and joined the party to find an escape route. Ghouls attacked next, from which the party of nine (by now) were forced to flee. Entering a long cavern, a beautiful maiden was found fighting for her life against rabid giant rats. After saving the maiden she revealed a way out of the catacombs, a short way up the rockface behind her. When the party's backs were turned, the woman morphed into a hideous hag endowed with formidable magical powers. As the hag used her craft to summon a trio of gleaming silver daggers, a casting of Magic Missiles by Lana reacted powerfully against the hag's magic, almost blasting apart a section of the Doom Tor.
Scaling the rockface, the party was relieved to emerge into cool night air. However Bargle's eyes were everywhere as Flaccus informed his new companions. They would need to find shelter for the night, therefore the nine headed south to the coast and bedded down in a secluded sea cave. Through the night the howls of wolves filled the air. This they knew was the sound of the voracious pack kept by the Baron to hunt escaped slaves, rumoured to be led by ruthless werewolf mercenaries. The night passed without incident however. As the tide ebbed the next morning the party discussed where they should head. Philbert the halfling was adamant in his duty to the Shires, vowing that the stolen battleplans should reach the hin Sheriffs. Flaccus pledged his support to Philbert, and the Karameikans agreed to do likewise. It was decided they would head west, through desolate Blight Swamp , rather than face the humanoid tribes to the east who would no doubt be on full alert. Breakfast was giant rat stew from Lana's enchanted cauldron; the party had not eaten in days and had no alternative to starvation. Vasily wolfed down his portion with customary gusto.
Heading along the coastline, horses were appropriated from a passing guard patrol. Vasily spoke magically with the animals, and they agreed to transport the party as far as the edge of Blight Swamp, but no further. Trekking onward on foot, the place was as dull and lifeless as ever, the air thick with decay and no sun penetrating the murky clouds. Threy shuddered as the nine passed a familiar grove of blackened trees - the lair of Falaryx. Lana and Drewen took a moment to investigate the dead dragon's old home, stripped of its hoard, while Karnus toyed with the notion of summoning a phantasmal image of Falaryx. Knowing Threy would fail to see the humorous side of such a prank, Karnus behaved himself and was instead observed smiling silently to himself.
Beset by ghouls that night, the two clerics managed to obliterate the threat within seconds. Insect swarms appeared the next day - one of which Karnus dispersed by summoning a Wall of Fire, while Lana dissipated a second with lightning. The party camped that night atop a grassy hillock which turned out to be a giant centipede nest. Lana levitated to a safe height and rained Amber Shards upon the lowlife. Then, in the dead of night a trio of nightgleets descended - winged snakes whose skin was like rubber and who if attacked with an edged weapon would spray poison on their foes, attracting more of their ilk from nearby. Philbert explained that these fearsome creatures were rare outside of the Shires, and that many halfling hunting parties were attempting to wipe out the species.
So many perils took their toll upon the weary party, as physical exhaustion combined with lack of food and other supplies caused the party's health to suffer. Vasily and Threy could supply fresh water, however healing magic was no substitute for proper nourishment. Crossing a river three giant leeches suckered onto the party's legs, and one of the hobgoblins was drained of his lifeblood. The other, Fabutha, passed away from starvation later that night.
Finally the travellers made it through thick undergrowth into a meadow filled with flowers and swaying grasses, a welcome contrast to the bleak swamp behind. They had reached the halfling Shires.
Read on - the party's adventures in The Five Shires
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