Friday, 13 September 2019

Basic D&D: Solo Adventure, Cadman Cadsson, Chapter I

"Baldwick will have my new armor ready Levyday! I want to set off at the cock's crow on Bakeday!," Cadman said as he pointed to the forested hills, hidden by the shops surrounding the open tables of the Leaning Dog, the best tavern in town.

The unshaven soldier spit in his tankard and smiled, glancing with mischievous eyes at his drinking partners, all soldiers themselves. "Bald. Wick. Levy. Day. Ha! That old man is sleeping off a drunk. Sit down. Talk about the campaign with us! Baldwick will have your armor ready when you sleep off the drunk we promise you. A handsome lad like you has stories to tell us about border maids for sure!"

Cadman then knew there would be no more interest from these three. His sinking shoulders let the table know he drew no interest in their drinking. "Nay, Will, I'm eager to find something more than drinking and just remembering the last campaign. The Lord has released us, maybe to conscript us next season. But I don't intend on being easily found for the muster." Cadman's "friends," in so far as knowing each other and fighting in the chaos of a shield wall for Lord and Land, found their cups more attractive than dangers in the hills.

"Evil hides in those hills that not even our priests and priestesses wish to fight." Cadman visibly stiffened, thinking about dragging Aleena's body from the caves. No blood or rent links, her life force taken from her by a magic arrow. Yes, you coward, there is evil in those hills, but it bleeds; just as you bleed or your drinking friends do.

Cadman made a turn, practiced countless times in the ranks of pike men on his Lord's border and left his friends to their ale and stories. Surely Baldwick would be ready.

***

On Levyday, Cadman found Baldwick's shop open, but Baldwick's apprentice nursing a cut thumb and kicking, as well as cursing, a breastplate that had been run through, a flaking brown-stain of dried blood on the interior side. Cadman left without speaking. The armor was not ready.

***

It was Kingsday before the armor was ready and the leather oiled and links secured. It fit well, moved with Cadman as Baldwick promised. Cadman checked his pack clasp and found it secure. Baldwick quickly put the 30 gold coins into a purse and grunted a thanks to Cadman. Cadman left with a smile, hoisting his pack across his back. In the intervening two days since Levyday, Cadman made rounds to farmers and their hands about the hills closer to town. He had given some consideration to returning to the exposed rock cleft that opened into the hills where he encountered a praying Aleena.

"Oh, the hills have many of these 'caves', boy," began one farmer. The farmer pointed to a pikeman at the edge of his long field of winter wheat. "I keep that man to watch while my sons and I work the field. Gobbs from the Lost Eye Gobbs come down here sometimes to steal our clothes! Bran and Darcy here," pointing to two of his sons, "came back stark naked only four moons ago." The farmer laughs and his sons blush. "Just follow that cleft there. Nigh the ridge, the rock grows out of the hill and opens into the earth itself! Gobbs and mad men seeking power in words and scrolls, necromancy I think, live in those caves. When I was younger man, like you, my father took me up there to show me the lady of the hill. Still there I think, right in the caves under those rocks. If you seek death, you'll find it in the earth. The Adept Aleena died there last week. Of Ulaa she was. Killed by those same servants of evil hiding in the caves, I hear tale."

Cadman is now used to hearing Aleena's name and the exaggerated stories of her death. Who returned her body to the Temple of Ulaa is never said. He only thinks of the small waxed bottle of honey and cinnamon in his pack, his reward by Ulaan priests for assuring Aleena received a burial appropriate for her faith. 

***

The hike up the hill side to the opening beneath a large boulder earns Cadman a rest. Stopping at a thick trunked tree, upright on the slope, reaching for the top of the canopy, Cadman braces himself and quietly sheds his pack and drinks mightily from his waterskin. The armor will protect him, but it is heavy. If not for the shade and the cool air of Harvest-tide, it could be much more exhausting. The day is young, the sun not at its highest yet. Cadman considers for a moment of leaving his pack here in the low branches of the tree. No, he thinks, I'll need everything in my pack, well most everything. He leaves his torches, the lantern should be enough. Standing, pack slung back over the pauldrons, Cadman lights the wick of his lantern and ducks beneath the overhanging boulder of the cave entrance.

The boulder has made a natural lintel of exposed rocks and the dirt does show signs of recent traffic. How recent, Cadman can not tell. He never tracked game and he knows only the feet of men, horses, cows, or swine. None of these passed through this opening recently.

Cadman walks twenty feet in. Standing tall, the rough work of the cleft of rock suggests old use. Indeed, it opens to a large room. Lit by Cadman's lantern, the cracks in the rock walls are pitch, and the shadows are dominated by the sharp lines of an armored woman on a low plinth in the center of the room. Ulaa? Maybe. There are few goddesses in the land, or only a few that Cadman recalls. There is a skull at the foot of the woman and the relief of the sword in her hand, crossing her waist, is wreathed in flames or smoke. Wee Jas? Certainly apropos of necromancers or "mad men seeking power in words or scrolls." 

Three openings lead deeper into the earth. Cadman walks to each and stops to listen carefully in turn. Looking back to the south, a little light still spills in from the entrance. The east opening swallows the light of Cadman's lantern, but a squeaking noise can be heard faintly in the pitch. Ghouls? No, they are silent as the dead. A wheel or rope? Cadman walks to the north opening and finds a passage that turns back to the east, but no noise. The west passages looks to open into a room some twenty feet away.

Cadman turns back to the statue in the center of the room. If worshippers visit this place, there may be offerings of coin. Cadman thinks immediately better of stealing offerings to a goddess, but he paces around the statue, examining it for recent use. None that he can tell. He plays his lantern over the walls. The yellow light catches the side of piece of parchment folded in a crack at eye level. An offering? No. Cadman knows he certainly wouldn't put an offering of paper in a crack of a cave wall. The goddess certainly would not see it, or at the very least, the priests or officiants would not see it to collect it. Cadman removes the paper and carefully opens it.

Cadman recalls his sergeant's insistent lessons on campaign. A former priest turned warrior, the sergeant taught letters, numbers, and words to any that attended his Holiday thralls. "RATS EAST. GOBLINS NORTH. BEWARE WEST!" Simple words. Who left them and who were they for? But the squeaking is no longer a mystery. Rats could swarm, and cave rats could get bigger than the rats in town. Gobbos to the north. But the real mystery was what scared the writer of the note to the West.

Cadman put the note back in the crack and draws his short sword, lifts his shield, holding the lantern by a leather strap clutched in his sword hand, he could quickly drop it if needed and kick it at a foe as well. The note writer, considering the word "BEWARE," must have feared something to the west, or maybe he or she was not as well armored and a veteran like Cadman? Risk can often lead to reward. Cadman's smile brightened the western passage just a little bit more has he thought that whatever lied down the passage should probably beware as well.

Posted by caffeinated at 9:00 AM in d10
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