They left the horse and cart about a mile from the castle. They unhitched the horse and left it on a long, loose tether so it could free itself if attacked. Fizbo was worried for his ride home.
“See, this is why I don’t want to deal with horses,” said Bonnie.
They moved quietly through the forest until they came to a cleared area where the ruined castle stood. The castle consisted of seven crumbling towers of different sizes and heights, but the upper stories were all in varying states of collapse.
“It’s of elven design,” whispered Goldi.
A short flight of steps led up to a terrace in front of the main entryway. Past the wreckage of sundered doors lay an shadowed hall. Round towers loomed over the entranceway, with dark arrow slits looking down on the terrace.
The party decided to sit and observe for a while. Goblins riding lean and unhealthy looking wolves were soon seen, patrolling around the cleared area around the castle. Movement was seen at the arrow slits of one tower.
“Shut the dog up,” hissed Bonnie, as Sausage started growling at the wolves. Guinne put her hand around the dog’s muzzle and soothed her.
A plan was made, and Guinne and Tai Ni Dong waited for the goblins to pass and then scaled the wall. When they were both ready Tai Ni Dong fired his crossbow into the arrow slit, catching a goblin and then he and Guinne slipped inside and quickly dispatched three goblins guards. They waved to the rest of the party.
When the goblin wolf riders came around again, the party attacked by surprise. There were many goblin riders, but the party had archery support from the tower and and spell support from Eric, Goldi and Fizbo. Bonnie slashed and cut with her axe, and Igo was everywhere stabbing with his sword and slashing with his scimitar. Hobgoblins appeared out of the castle, and they fought as a disciplined team. However soon the hobgoblins, goblins and half starved wolves were all dead. Igo had several small wounds, but Bonnie had a few nasty stab wounds from the hobgoblins. Eric cast a cure wounds on her and saw her wounds close up.
“Shall we continue into the castle?” asked Igo.
“No, we’re nearly out of spells, and they are no doubt in ambush waiting for us,” said Bonnie. “We’ll rest and come back. Maybe they’ll think it was just a one off raid. Either way they won’t be on high alert when we come back.”
“What if they send a patrol after us?” asked Eric.
“They might,” she replied, “but no one else is coming out now which makes me think they don’t have as many troops as we were afraid of. But those that are there have homeground advantage, and are no doubt lying in wait.”
The party returned back to where their horse and cart were, Sausage happily following behind. Igo masked and confused their tracks. They rested uneventfully overnight, ate cold rations rather than have a fire, and the spellcasters prepared their spells.
Early the next morning they made their way to the castle again. There were no obvious sentinels, not even any movement in the arrow slits. They entered the castle, but almost immediately Bonnie tripped a trap, dropping literally a ton of rubble from a net. She dived out of the way just in time, but her armour still had some new dents.
“So much for surprise,” laughed Igo.
“Can Guinne look for traps, do you think?” asked Bonnie, dusting off her armour.
Guinne found no more traps. The first room they went into was a dark hall, and hidden on the ledge was a worm like creature as heavy as Bonnie.
“It’s a grick,” advised Fizbo. “Hard to kill.”
They shot at the grick, which ducked behind statues of elven angels, and while they were distracted a second grick jumped from the ledge above onto Igo. He was badly wounded but the party eventually dispatched both creatures with magic and with Guinne’s magic arrows. Normal weapons and arrows hurt them, but not as much.
The hallway had thick curtains at one end. Beyond the curtains, nervous goblins waited in a shrine which had once been dedicated to an elven god, but had been desecrated and bloody, ragged tapestries showed the symbol of the goblin god Maglubiyet. The battle was brief – as soon as the goblin priest was killed, the three goblins still alive surrendered. The party had several goblin speakers, and so communication with them was not a problem. After interrogation they found out several important bits of information.
- The chief Grol was a bugbear, who called himself King Grol
- King Grol was currently entertaining an emissary from the Black Spider. The goblins didn’t know who or what was the Black Spider.
- There was some conflict between the chief of the hobgoblins, Targor Bloodsword and King Grol. To minimise the chance of a coup, King Grol had sent Targor Bloodsword and a contingent of hobgoblins on a long patrol. They were due back any day now.
- Two hobgoblins guarded the chambers to where the meeting with the emissary of the Black Spider was taking place.
- The hobgoblins had captured an owlbear and confined it to a tower. King Grol didn’t know what to do with it.
After pointing out on the map what was where, the party decided to set fire to a storeroom using lamp oil, and drive out any hobgoblins in the room beyond. They didn’t see any, and the goblins suggested they would have gotten out of a hole in the collapsed wall anyway. No hobgoblins appeared.
With Sausage still following behind, they made their way to where the hobgoblins were guarding the meeting room. When their old trick of using a web spell on a doorway didn’t work, Fizbo cast a charm spell on one of them, and told the hobgoblin the other was planning to kill him. There must have been some rancour between the hobgoblins, because it immediately started a squabble which escalated into a fight. When they had weakened each other the party killed the non-charmed hobgoblin. The three goblins towing along behind almost clapped! They hadn’t been so entertained in a long time. Then Fizbo gave the still charmed hobgoblin a vial of oil, lit a cloth wick and instructed the creature to enter the chamber and throw the incendiary device at the king while the party would charge in while everyone was distracted.
The chamber beyond had been set up as a crude living space, with thick furs thrown on the floor to serve as carpets, old trophies hung from the walls, a brazier of burning coals provided heat and light. A pile of furs which might have been a bed was in the corner, next to a wooden and iron chest. Inside the room was another hobgoblin guard, a hobgoblin spellcaster, an enormous bugbear who must have been King Grol, a giant wolf which was obviously King Grol’s pet and bodyguard, and a female drow in chainmail. This last person must have been the Black Spider’s emissary. Also tied up and unconscious on the floor was Gundren the dwarf.
Things happened very quickly – the wolf moved forward and copped the brunt of the flung oil flask. Battle was joined, even the goblins went in, and during the combat the drow woman stabbed Gundren on the floor, and was going to stab him again but Bonnie made it to stop her. Two of the three goblins were acolytes, and understanding the situation and now having thrown in their fortunes with the party, used healing magic on the dwarf. The charmed hobgoblin and the enemy hobgoblin were fighting each other. Fizbo cast a fireball from his staff of fire even though he wasn’t really confident he could control the magic. It worked perfectly, however, and did a lot of damage to both the dire wolf and King Grol while missing all of his allies. It killed the hobgoblin spellcaster outright, just as it was using it’s magic to move Tai Ni Dong into harm’s way.
Fizbo suddenly felt a piercing pain and turned in surprise to see another drow attacking him where only Sausage had been seconds before. Fizbo knew he was in trouble and that Sausage had been some kind of shapeshifter all along. He yelled for help and Igo came back to assist with his shortsword and scimitar. Goldi turned her spells onto the threat in the rear. The enemies were all killed in the room, and the charmed hobgoblin had also been killed. The drow woman’s body morphed in death to a grey skinned, featureless humanoid.
When it looked like the second drow was about to die, it dramatically touched its chest and said “I am undone! I release this body from possession!” and collapsed and changed back into Sausage the dog. Fizbo went to kill it, but Guinne stopped him.
“Didn’t you hear? Sausage was possessed! She’s back now.”
Fizbo pursed his lips but didn’t push his way past the halfling.
The dog painfully got up and limped off, whining piteously. Fizbo waited until it got a bit further away, then cast magic missile at it. The dog screamed and collapsed, dead this time. It’s body increased in size and changed shape into a featureless grey humanoid, just as the other drow had done.
“Doppelganger,” said Fizbo. “I knew it.”
“Oh,” said Guinne.
Eric cast healing magic on Gundren, who blinked and sat up. He and Bonnie exchanged a hug, and then he looked for his gear.
The chest was opened and there were many old elven coins, no doubt dug up from the ruins of the castle. There were many other bits and pieces, some valuable, some not. Gundren’s map was in there, inside a leather scroll case. There was also an old book, and an elven made tiara with a long purple gem set in front.
“It’s a kiiara,” said Goldi, with awe. “So rare!” She examined the book carefully, its pages were crumbling to the touch.
“This is Agatha’s diary!” she exclaimed. “Well, her name then was Auglatha, and she was an elven princess living in this castle.”
“Read it later,” said Bonnie. “I don’t want to get caught here when the hobgoblin patrol comes back.”
“We can probably talk the hobgoblin leader into thinking of himself more as a successor to King Grol rather than his avenger,” suggested Eric.
“I’d rather not take the risk,” said Bonnie. “Hobgoblins are a different proposition to goblins and bugbears.”
“I’m skinning this dire wolf!” said Fizbo, taking a knife and hacking at the corpse. Igo sighed and took his own knife and expertly skinned it.
“It’s going to need curing when we get to Phandalin,” he said.
Igo wanted to free the owlbear. They were irritable, aggressive creatures at the best of times, he had no doubt this one would be likely to attack on sight. The others left him to it, and he held out a clump of dried meat from his rations as he opened the door. The owlbear made to charge, but stopped, observing Igo’s soothing sounds and body language. A great paw snatched the meat and while it ate, Igo retreated. The owlbear left the castle shortly afterwards. The stink of the room almost made the party leave immediately, but something had caught Igo’s eye – it was a half buried chest, old and rotten. The owlbear had uncovered it when it was clawing at the walls, trying to get out. Inside were more coins, and some old vials which stored some potions.
“Elvish made,” said Goldi. “We make things to last, those potions will still be good.”
The party left Cragmaw Castle. They took the three goblins with them, not willing to kill them, but not willing to leave them behind so they could tell the returning hobgoblins everything. There had been some other goblins who had already fled during the battle, but they would not be able to tell the hobgoblins much.
“Woo!” cheered Fizbo. “Goblin henchmen!”
“Let’s get going and get back home!” said Bonnie.
[to be continued]