It was a glorious late spring day in the monastery when Brother Birch heard a familiar growl coming from the training grounds. The words may change, but the meaning was always the same. The monks were trying to break Grock’s barbaric lack of control of his emotional state. As he rounded a corner, he saw Grock storming out of the training grounds headed for the doors of the monastery as he had so many times before, swearing that he would never return…
That same morning, a young woman awoke in strange surroundings. Why was she in a bed of hay in what appeared to be the belly of a ship? Fortunately, nobody was around, and she was able to dress hastily after checking herself for any signs of molestation. She hears the sound of people moving above her, calls of a callous voice, and the creaking of wood as crates and other cargo are moved about, above decks.
“Who would put such a large rock on a perfectly good game trail for anyone to trip over?” Bruni Goldenbrow, was just perusing his map when he stubbed his toe on said rock. That wouldn’t be so bad, but his beard came undone at that very moment, getting caught under his other foot, sending him sprawling into the dirt.
“What is that nagging noise??? Ah yes, I believe that would be my mother… AGAIN!” Meridah Brandywine, a perfectly wonderful creation of nature, strokes Goatie, her Brixshulty (a rather large goat) lovingly, once before attempting to silence the noise of her mother’s voice by presenting herself.
“What is it mother?”
“Buzz buzz pots, blah blah Dancing Sailor, buzz buzz such a nice boy, blah blah just go!” Meridah is pretty sure her mother wants her to make another delivery to that wretched walled place of “civilization”, Stone Mill. Sighing, she starts toting the pots out, one-by-one to start loading them onto Goatie.
The young shipboard woman finally makes it upstairs and finds a maelstrom of activity. Dodging men and cargo, she manages to make her way to the captain. “Where are we, and more importantly, what am I doing here?”
The captain stops mid-order, confused at the odd questions coming from his latest fare. “You are where you asked me to take you, Stone Wall. I’m not sure why you keep asking me what you are doing here, but I’d appreciate it if you finally disembarked my vessel.” Unsure of what he is talking about, and feeling a little snubbed, she departs the vessel seeking her identity in an unknown town.
Brother Birch has to hustle a little, but he caught up to Grock. “It’s Grock, right?”
“Classes not going your way?”
“What was it this time? Tranquility? I think that’s the one that normally drives you out the doors.”
Glower, “What do you want?”
“I’m glad you asked. I propose that I may be able to help you achieve peace.”
“All I want to do is swing this axe!”
“I know just the place! Please… What in the world is that?”
Just then, Meridah caught his attention. Though halflings may not be an odd sight, goats the size of small ponies are. Meridah having been chasing butterflies and bees, saw something far more interesting. Brother Birch is a superbly built, bald, ALBINO, half-orc with quite a large flat spot on the side of his head. “What are you looking at Whitey?”
“What happened to your horse?”
“This isn’t a horse! Horses are large, smelly beasts that the bigguns ride! Goatie has horns, no horse has … ooh, another butterfly!”
“Goatie? Well, it is indeed a fascinating creature. Are you headed to town? I’d love to hear more about it.”
“What is that buzzing noise? Oh, are you still here? Well, I should be carrying on, as something seems to be headed our way out of that brush over there.”
An old, cantankerous, and slightly bewildered dwarf with a beard full of fox-tails bursts from the underbrush. From examining his map, he glances up and notices the trio on the road. “What town is that?”
“Why, that would be Stone Mill. What were you doing wandering around out there?” Brother Birch answers helpfully.
“Excellent, I knew it. Just confirming. What do you mean wandering around? I knew exactly where I was.”
“Pshaw, smelly dwarves don’t know anything,” mutters Meridah.
Brother Birch counters, “He seems to know how to read a map. Do you have business in Stone Mill, master dwarf?”
“I’m looking for information.”
“Well, isn’t it lucky you met us! Not only are my companions and I,” raised eyebrow from Meridah, “headed to Stone Mill, but I also know someone who knows everything!”
“Well, don’t keep me waiting! Lead on!”
The young woman from the ship finds herself standing outside a building named “The Dancing Sailor.” There is a large posting for an annual tournament in Avengail. The artistry and scrollwork have her fascinated. Patrons pass her by as she stares at this posting… Avengail, that name strikes a chord in her mind, but she’s not sure why. She opts to enter the tavern, and talk to the barkeep.
Dave, the bartender catches her eye, and she heads directly to him in search of information. “Good morning, my name is … … … Elichelm. May I have a glass of mead, please?”
“A Glass??? Hey Rick! This girl wants a glass!” To which one of the patrons in the bar snorts into his own flagon. “Miss, if you want a drink,” he bangs a pewter mug on the bar, “you take it in something that doesn’t break.”
“Thank you, I hadn’t realized. What can you tell me about Avengail, and this tournament?”
As it happens, Brother Birch is leading his mismatched group to the Dancing Sailor too. He stops at the information board outside of the tavern and points it out to the dwarf. “This is the very finest place to come for information. He simply gives it away, he is so charitable. As you can see here, he has displayed this tournament so anyone can see it.” If the endless onslaught of questions about his beard and honor, or about the huge goat on the way to the tavern didn’t do it, the explanation of a bulletin board cinches the deal for the dwarf… This monk is an idiot!
“Inside, you will find Master Dave. He runs this bar, and can tell you anything you want to know. Though something about different types of coins affects his memory somewhat. I haven’t figured that one out yet.”
Dave, seeing them enter his bar, looks up from his conversation with Elichelm. “Brother Birch!! What brings you into my establishment this early?”
“Master Dave, I have brought you one who seeks to chop your wood, one who seeks information and …” and then, Meridah rides her goat into the bar.
“I’ve told you over and over! Keep that beast outside!”
Meridah looks at Birch, “Surely, you don’t mean to call whitey such names!”
“The Goat! Outside!”
“But I have to deliver these pots! I can’t very well carry them all inside, look how big they are!”
“For the last time, if it doesn’t leave now, I’m going to change tonight’s special.”
Brother Birch tries to interject, “I would be happy to…” to which the clattering of pots cuts him off. Meridah cut the rope holding all of the pots to her mount then primly trotted out of the bar.
Sighing, Dave turned back to Brother Birch, “What were you saying?”
“Ah… Yes, she was the other I had brought to you. Also, I was hoping I could get one of those yummy loaves of bread your cook makes, and some water to wash it down. I’d be happy to spend some time washing dishes for you, as usual…”
“Nonsense, you have brought me customers. No need to wash so early this morning. Besides, there aren’t that many dishes as yet.” To Grock, “Also from the monastery, eh? Well, I can always use more chopped wood. The wood pile is out back, and a steaming meal will be waiting for you when it’s done. Thank you in advance.” Turning to the dwarf, “I’ll be with you in just a moment.” Finally back to Elichelm, “Was there anything else you wanted to know?”
Elichelm, nursing her mead responded, “just one more thing, how long does it take to get to Avengail?”
“It’s about a 3-week ride. Now, sir dwarf, what can I do for you?”
Bruni sits down heavily on a bar stool, orders some food and drink and starts drilling Dave for information.
Meanwhile, Brother Birch has noticed that Elichelm looks a bit disheveled. He takes a seat next to her and plunges right in. “Excuse me miss, but can I help you? You look a little … lost.”
“Why, I don’t know what you mean…”
“Well, your hair is a mess, for one. You have bits of straw all through it.”
Elichelm is aghast at the bluntness of his observations, Brother Birch takes her silence to mean that she is confused. He continues, “you know, I bet Susie over there, the waitress… She would be happy to lend you her comb if you asked.”
Rick, the drunken sailor, stumbles over just then. Bumping into the bar, he throws his arm around Elichelm’s shoulders. “Hey hot stuff, I heered you wuz lookin fer a trip to Aven-hic-gail.”
“Please, sir,” Brother Birch interjects. “Don’t molest the lady. I’ll be happy to send her your way if she would like to ask about your services.”
Elichelm, draws a knife and promptly demands that the sailors arm be removed, before she does it for him… at the neck.
Trying to disarm the situation, Brother Birch continues, “there is no need for bloodshed. I am certain he merely needed a little more support in his state.”
“Er, yes, yes of course.” Rick retreats, stumbling to his chair. Shortly afterwards, there is riotous laughter coming from his table.
As it happens, unbeknownst to the sea-faring lass, the sailor slipped her pouch while he was at her side. Another figure in the bar did, however notice. Conall is a lightly armored human who bristles with weapons. Leaving his pet Glaive against the wall near where he was sitting, he decided he would politely ask the sailor to return the stolen property. Of course “not knowing, what Conall was talking about” the pair of sailors laughed great belly laughs. Conall, unperturbed, nods, and takes one of the drinks from the table.
“Ere now! Dassmine,” Rick objected.
Taking a slow sip, Conall asked, “this?”
“Ya like that, burp tiny? Ya sinkyer man’nuf fer drinks like dat? Give’r back now.“
Conall complied. He up-ended the flagon over the sailor’s head. This drew the attention of everyone at the bar. Before Dave could respond, Rick threw his knee into Conall netherage. Rick’s partner Schroeder, decided to help his buddy out by joining in the fray. A few punches later, Dave collected enough wits to threaten to call the guard if one more punch was thrown. Rick promptly responded with another knee and “You didn’t say nuttin about kickin!”
Our friendly neighborhood goat-rider hears the commotion inside, and decides to join the fun… Goat and all. Dave, having had enough, pleads for assistance from those at the bar. He asks Brother Birch to toss Rick out. Bruni, he asks to toss out the one who started it with the flagon. Grock, who hasn’t had a chance to leave to start chopping wood, he offers a week’s worth of food and board to “drop the goat.”
And the brawl was on. Brother Birch not being much for violence, tries to politely ask the sailors to leave. The one who “started it” lands a lucky blow, and Rick crumples like a house of cards. Bruni, impressed with the blow, gives a half-hearted attempt at subduing the stranger. Schroeder attempts to take on all comers.
Meanwhile, Grock ambles over to Meridah and explains that she and her goat may only watch from beyond the threshold. Meridah complies, muttering that the company of goats is far preferable to the stench of bar occupants.
Elichelm, has been sneaking her way out of the bar. She wants no part of what will happen when Dave summons the guards. Dave, has decided to make good on his threat and he tears off out of the bar screaming for assistance from the guards.
With Dave summoning the guards, Meridah decides it is best not to be near so many people. She and Goatie take off down the street. They perform an astonishing leap of 30’ soaring over the oncoming guards’ heads, and evade the guards until they stop searching for her.
Brother Birch, seeing his charge fall, decides it is best just to do as he’s told. He grabs the unconscious Rick by the scruff, and drags him across the floor towards the door. Schroeder decides that the game has sides, and that he has had the most fun with Conall, so he opts to turn all his attention on Bruni, exclaiming that Bruni should leave his friend alone!
Brother Birch, tosses Rick bodily into the street, and sees that Dave has indeed attracted the attention of the town guards. He opts to finish his meal, having done what was requested of him. Elichelm, having seen the body of Rick come flying out of the tavern, opts to check to see if he is alright by relieving the extra weight of his own belt pouch regardless of the approaching guards. While this event is spotted by the guards, Elichelm bats her eyes and convinces them that it was her pouch she was recovering in the first place.
The appearance of the guards in the bar quells the desire to continue fighting in those still involved in the fight. Conall explains about the lifted pouch, and Dave declines to press charges due to the lack of any damages, though he is rather disappointed he won’t have goat meat for dinner tonight. He suggests that if Grock is going to chop the wood, he should probably get started. Sighing, Grock complies.
Bruni re-engages the barkeep, Conall goes back to his meal, Elichelm comes back in to finish her mead, and Brother Birch manages to acquire a comb from Susie for Elichelm to fix her hair. In short, things return to normal in the tavern.
A short while later, another monk enters the tavern. Ignoring the rest of the patrons, he goes straight to Brother Birch and explains that he is needed back at the monastery immediately. Brother Birch excuses himself from his conversation with Elichelm and hastens after the newcomer.
As it turns out, the monastery has a mission for Brother Birch. The monastery needs guards to protect a caravan of raw materials to Avengail. The monastery authorizes Brother Birch to offer 10 silver pieces, provisions, and transport via the wagons to Avengail for the services rendered.
Of course, Brother Birch is all too happy to accept the mission. He thinks he knows a few people who might be interested. Hustling back on the road back, he runs into Meridah again. “What’s your hurry Whitey?”
“I have to get Grock, and some more people for a mission. It’s very important.”
“That bee seems a little more erratic than most… Oh, did you say something?”
“Yes, I need to get guards for a trip to Avengail. If you would actually like to go, I’ll be back here in about an hour to give you details. Right now, I have to get back to town. I’m sorry.” With that, Brother Birch sprints towards town, leaving Meridah to watch the various darting insects of the waning day.
Brother Birch bursts into the Dancing Sailor, winded. There are more patrons now, and through gasps for air, he apologizes for the interruption of their meals. He finally asks Dave where Grock is. Dave informs him that Grock has been chopping wood in the back. Brother Birch thanks him, and heads through the kitchen seeing Elichelm cleaning dishes. Knowing instantly that she is cleaning dishes to try and find inner peace, he gives her a small piece of advice before continuing out the back door. “A little spit makes the polishing that much easier.” Not waiting for a response, he heads out the back door.
Elichelm is actually washing dishes for a room for the night. Not having much money, she figures she will save what few coins she has and work for a bed in the scullery closet. Shaking her head at Brother Birch’s comment, she goes back to scrubbing.
Grock is busily chopping wood when Brother Birch finds him. “Grock, have you learned anything in your efforts?” Grock glares at him, wondering where the best place would be to sink the axe into this white figure before him, thinking that red would be a great contrast to all that white. “The monastery has a mission for us. You and I have been summoned to guard a caravan to Avengail. Please return to the monastery to prepare for tomorrow.”
“Are we getting paid for this task?”
“We are members of the monastery, they feed, clothe, and shelter us. The least we can do is provide service when we can.”
“Very well,” Grock grumbles. He sinks the axe deep into the chopping block and heads back to his room at the monastery.
Brother Birch heads back into the tavern. Remembering that Elichelm wanted to get to Avengail as well, he interrupts her cleaning again. “Do you still want to get to Avengail? If so, the monastery has a caravan headed that way. They will even provide a little coin if the caravan needs protection and you assist with that.”
Wiping her brow, she looks around at the remaining crockery. “If I go, is there a room at the monastery tonight?”
“I’m pretty sure we can find a space for you,” he replies smiling. “I’ll be happy to take you there if you wish to go with me. I have one more task before I depart though. By the way, your hair looks nice in a bun. But others may not understand why you have bread in your hair…” Leaving Elichelm to remove the pastry from her hair, Brother Birch heads back to the common room.
He gets the barkeep’s attention with a wave. “Dave, I have an announcement, may I use your bar? I promise to clean the area I stand upon.” A little disgusted at the idea, Dave remembers the assistance provided earlier, and reluctantly agrees. Brother Birch carefully climbs upon the bar and calls out to everyone in the tavern. “MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE?!” The roar of the tavern, dies to a mellow din. “Thank you. The monastery is seeking anyone who might be interested in guarding a caravan to Avengail. Please see me if you are interested.” With that, most of the patrons waved uninterested hands, and returned to their conversations and meals.
There were, however, 3 who did answer the call. Bruni, Conall, and one other hooded figure. “What’s the pay,” was the primary question on their minds. When they heard it was only 10 Silver Pieces, they started to lose interest.
“However,” Brother Birch continued, “passage to Avengail is free, including food and drink for the trip. After all, the more people on the caravan, the less likely it will be molested on the road.”
This argument made sense to the applicants. So it was Brother Birch left the tavern with four people a short time later. He met up with Meridah on the road who was happily chasing fireflies. After hearing the explanation about the caravan, again, Meridah decides it is the perfect opportunity to get away from her parents.
Brother Birch, realizing he may be harboring a runaway, insists that he must speak with her parents before she may go with the caravan. He escorts everyone to the monastery and explains to the guards there about who his companions are. He requests they be boarded for the night, and his request is granted.
Meridah leads Brother Birch on a meandering path with much bug examination to her home. There he finds out that her parents are all too happy to be rid of her, sending her to town with busy work to keep her out of the house, hoping she would eventually find a reason not to come home. With that, he escorts her back to the monastery where everyone enjoys a terrific meal and a comfortable bed before taking off the next day with the caravan.
The following morning, with guardsmen, well fed, taking positions in different wagons, the caravan departs on schedule. Meridah, distaining an uncushioned wagon bench rides Goatie alongside the caravan.
A few days pass, uneventful on the high road. One afternoon, Brother Birch, in the lead wagon today, spots a disabled wagon ahead in the road. He calls a halt to the procession and speeds ahead to lend a hand to the frustrated wagon driver. The rest of the guards, suspicious of a trap, comb the area for indications of an ambush.
Brother Birch finds out that the wagon struck a large rock in the road and broke one of his wheels. The 50 gallon casks in the bed of the wagon are too heavy to move by himself, and he cannot change the wagon wheel with the wagon loaded. Brother Birch is only too happy to assist. He starts by removing the large rock from the road and filling the hole with some dirt from the side of the road.
Meanwhile, having found no indication of an ambush, the rest of the guards approach the disabled wagon. Bruni offers his assistance when he finds he can get a real drink from the casks for his aid. He didn’t realize being provisioned meant he would have to deal with that vile clear liquid the monks drink (water.) The others offer assistance by either moving the cargo, lifting the wagon, or keeping an eye out for bandits.
A couple of hours later, the wheel is changed, the drinks are poured, and handshakes and thanks all around. The guardsmen request any information about the road ahead. The driver suggests that he has had safe travels on his route, but that he joined this road from another and not that to Avengail. He bids the group godspeed, and continues on his route to Stone Mill.
A few more days pass, and the weeks end finds the caravan in some heavy woods. The caravan comes to a halt when they discover another wagon driver with a problem. A tree seems to have been felled across the road. This wagon driver has an axe, and appears to be trying to cut the log into smaller pieces…
Brother Birch being in a middle wagon this time, comes to the fore when the train stops. “You seem to be having some trouble. I’m sure we can all work together to clear this from the road.”
The man with the axe smirked. “Well thank you kindly. But I think we would all be better off if you all just dropped your coin purses, and surrendered that last wagon.”
“I don’t think you really understand. The TREE, it needs to be MOVED. That’s the only way we will be able to keep moving along the road.” Brother Birch uses his hands to emphasize the TREE and MOVED parts of the comment.
Realizing he is dealing with an idiot, and not seeing anything resembling a pouch anyway, the bandit looks at the rest of the group. “Nevermind him, the rest of you can drop your pouches. But that wagon back there, I’ll still be needing that.” With that, he steps off the log, and climbs into the seat of his own wagon, resting his arm behind the seat.
Shaking his head, Brother Birch throws his shoulder into the felled tree. To his credit, he does manage to shift it a few inches. Bruni, seeing this exchange from further back, shakes his head and puts his observation out for those who haven’t figured it out yet… “You really are an IDIOT!”
This last point is enhanced by an arrow that thuds into the log right near Brother Birch’s ear. Brother Birch complains, “That adds weight you know. It’s hard enough to push this thing by myself without arrows sticking out of it.”
The rest of the guardsmen weren’t so lax in their judgement. Meridah springs into action with Goatie and nearly gets knocked off her mount when an arrow strikes her from the back. As she tries to clear the log, another bandit reveals himself with a cross-cut blow that scores deeply into Goatie’s side.
Grock leaps into action by springing onto the log itself and swinging deftly downwards at the sword-bearing bandit. Elichelm draws her crossbow and dismounts her wagon. She calls out “Save the arrows, I’ll need them!” Then she realizes arrows and crossbow bolts are quite different.
Another bandit leaps from the foliage and swings a sword at Brother Birch. Brother Birch, calmly explains, “Banditry is illegal. Please lower your weapon, and I’ll see that you get a fair trial.” When the bandit tells him where to stick his trial, Brother Birch becomes a blur of motion. Before anyone can figure out what happened, the bandit is slumping to the ground. Brother Birch guides him with his arms wrapped around his head and neck in some kind of hold. “I don’t envy the headache you could have avoided by surrendering.”
The bandit on the wagon tries his luck against Grock. He finds the unarmored legs an easier target and scores a hit in his thigh. Meanwhile Bruni and Conall are trading fire with the archers in the trees.
Meridah attempts to call on the powers of magic to heal Grock, but finds her spell unravels before it completes. Yet another bandit reveals herself. A cleric of Swifty. The final bandit to come into the open launches a magic missile at Elichelm. The Sorcerer feels perfectly safe well behind the front lines.
The guards are embroiled in a fight for their lives. Spells and arrows flying high and low. Blood spilled, taunts and gestures used, and all the while, wagon drivers are praying for deliverance.
When the dust settles, two of the bandits lay dead on the side of the road. The rest are either unconscious, or on their knees in surrender. The prisoners are stripped of their possessions, bound and loaded into their empty wagon. The log is moved from the road, and the caravan continues…