9. Through the bushes
27th of Rova – Oathday
Few miles east of Sandpoint, close to Thistletop
We had made good way to Thistletop through Nettlewood. I was at point, leading our way. We had come across a crushed wagon and some tracks – one set of larger tracks which I couldn’t identify, lone human tracks and several goblin tracks. The larger creature had also dragged a horse that had pulled the wagon. Impressive, I thought, as we decided to follow them north.
The tracks led us to the boundary of Thistletop. At noon, we found ourselves at the edge of a large area ringed by thick bushes. Vidarok would have not had any difficulty traversing through the growths, but we others couldn’t, so we searched for a way in. We quickly spotted one and after leashing our mounts to a hidden location near the entrance, we silently swept into the green.
The bush was really thick, and had little in the way of headroom. The dwarf was particularly pleased to see us forced to duck under the overgrowth – he was of course able to walk with his back straight, though Vidarok happily sneaked with his head among the branches and leaves. It looked like he literally had his head in green clouds.
We split up, the unkept druid going solo and me leading the others. He went north-west first, while we headed north-east. We were particularly careful, given Harsk’s complete inability to stay silent for any longer period, so Vidarok had the time to go and return before we had really made any progress.
“There’s a lot of goblins in the north-east”, he whispered. “But they don’t sound well. It is like its a camp full of injured goblins”, he added. An opportunity, I ventured, but we didn’t really consider ambushing them. Instead, we tried the north-eastern route.
That path took us to an opening from where the path continued to two directions – one leading north-west to the wounded goblin horde, and the other to another open area where five goblin dogs slept and snored peacefully. Vidarok also spotted a large, dark pit at one corner of the open area. We weighed our options and chose to see what the pit had in store for us. From within a strange, low keening voice emanated – the pit was completely dark and over 80 feet deep, so Ilori sent one of her dancing lights to the bottom. We couldn’t see the source of the sound, but instead saw that the pit ended in a cave whose bottom was covered in water. Beneath us was obviously a cave or a series of caves that could be used as optional paths.
Harsk took out a rope and tied it to a nearby tree. Vidarok volunteered to climb down and investigate. I covered his descent with my bow.
He easily climbed down a good 70 feet but something disturbed his concentration before he could reach the waterline. I saw him let go of the rope and splash into the underground water – the sea, we realized then. No-one uttered a word as we waited nervously. The half-orc’s head however quickly burst above the water and he signaled us he was fine. Then something roared in the caves and Vidarok’s hands frantically reached for the rope. I saw a hint of fear in his eyes. He got a hold and without further orders Harsk and Ilori began pulling the rope upwards. Just as Vidarok got completely out of the water, I glimpsed something large thundering beneath the waves but whatever it was it did not attack. I dropped my bow and helped the others pull the druid back up.
With the underground path blocked by something large and clearly aggressive, we were forced to take our chances with the sleeping hounds. To our benefit, we got past them without waking them up, but quickly ran into something even more dangerous.
I was already making my way north towards a bridge that led to the island of Thistletop when Vidarok for some reason decided to see where a small side path led. His curiosity was rewarded with a bestial roar and I had the time to ponder our nature-loving friend’s ability to anger animals before I turned around and dashed to and past him. The half-orc had stumbled upon a vicious looking fire pelt, and his soothing words and shamanic gestures were not helping us at all. I decided immediately to attack before the animal could pounce on us. My first arrow missed, barely, but I got the beast’s attention as it charged me. I expertly evaded its jaws and Vidarok struck at it, but was unable to slow it down or harm it.
From somewhere close I was able to hear goblin utterances and a sparrow carrying a goblin’s tooth flew over us. Vidarok was alert and surprised us both by smacking the sparrow out of the air with his staff. The tooth landed at Harsk’s feet.
The fire pelt overextended as it attacked me, and I had the chance to sidestep and fire another arrow. My aim was off and I cursed my luck. Ilori and Harsk who had remained behind ran through the overgrowth to join the melee but for now, the fight was mine and Vidarok’s. The half-orc, already bloodied, continued to struggle with the beast as I moved sideways, looking for a killing shot. It was then when I noticed a goblin druid at the periphery of my vision. I yelled at the others, “Handle the fire pelt, I’ll take care of its master”, and switched my aim over to the goblin.
I felt a morsel of satisfaction as my first arrow hit home, burrowing slightly to the side of the goblin. In response, it summoned its powers and cast entanglement. I had seen it in action before in Sandpoint when Vidarok had singlehandedly tied down the advance of a goblin mob with the help of animated vegetation, so I was already in the move as the vines and branches around us reacted to our presence, seeking to grapple us. I successfully leaped out of harm’s way, but the others were not as lucky, not even the fire pelt. The beast roared in anger and struck Vidarok down with its front paws, hurting him critically. Harsk, true to his good self, forgot the fight and focused on healing his companions as vines wormed around his feet and latched to him. Ilori too was entangled and was the next target of the fire pelt.
I kept attacking the goblin druid, dropping my bow and switching to my blades, hoping to strike true. But time was running against us. The fire pelt evaded blows and its claws slashed again, this time finding Ilori. Her mage armor sparkled and failed in the onslaught as she was swept of her feet and down on the ground, hard. Her belly and chest were full of dire looking wounds and she was losing blood quickly. Vidarok pivoted and running through the bushes, charged the druid as well, scoring a glancing blow with his staff. The goblin shrieked in pain and covered its face.
“Please, let me be!” It begged us with its scratchy, high-pitched voice, surprising us all with its cowardness. I hesitated, as did Vidarok. The fire pelt roared at Ilori but ceased its attacks. Ilori bared her teeth at the bloodthirsty feline. Harsk was pulling himself out of the vegetation.
“Please! It’s not my fault, it’s the evil woman”, it shouted, rising its arms in defence.
“Call off your beast, and we’ll let you live!” Vidarok ordered sternly. I wanted to disagree and eviscerate the goblin right there and then. The tips of my blades shook in the air but I held my temper in check. Thankfully, the goblin gurgled something in its strange language and the fire pelt retreated. Vidarok lowered his staff, but I remained ready to attack the foul creature.
“Don’t hurt Gogmurt”, the goblin pleaded for its own life. “It is the evil woman you want. She’s taken over our tribes. She’s controlling Ripnugget”, it explained quickly mainly to Vidarok, with spit and froth flying from his mouth to the druid’s robes.
“Ripnugget is your leader?” I asked the creature. It nodded.
“Tell me about the woman”, Vidarok asked the goblin. I tried my best to sense whether the creature was speaking the truth. It scratched its head. “You longshanks all look the same.. she has a long light hair, and a demonic hand..”
“That’s the one we’re looking for”, Harsk interrupted and brushed leaves off his beard. I nodded. “Is she still in Thistletop? Is she alone?”
“No no. I mean yes yes”, the goblin stuttered and smacked its head. “Dumb Gogmurt. She is inside, but she has other longshanks with her. Another woman, and a tin soldier in armor who rarely speaks. And a big beast, a hunter.”
A retinue like ours, I sighed inwardly. It would be a tough battle. “How many goblins?” I asked. “Don’t know”, the goblin shook its head, “maybe thirty.” I spat on the ground. Traako, this gets even better.
Vidarok looked thoughtful. “Can you take lead us to Thistletop?”. The goblin nodded eagerly. “But you have to promise me to get rid of the evil temptress..” At that, I frowned. “I don’t think you are in no position to make demands, goblin”, I stated coolly.
The goblin shrugged pitifully. “The goblins mean you longshanks no harm! It was the woman, this Nualia”, it shivered as it said her name, “who got us tribes together. Kill her and the goblins won’t attack your city”, it tried to reason.
“Will you help us there?” Vidarok asked. The goblin nodded again, its ugly face swinging up and down. I think it smiled but it looked like a grimace. “Gogmurt will take you to the bridge that leads to Thistletop.. but won’t enter. Gogmurt won’t dare”, it murmured. I turned my head to one side, quizzically. It appeared that the creature was being honest and there was no risk of ambush. I had seen a glimpse of the bridge just a moment before Vidarok had stumbled to the fire pelt so I knew it was very close by. “Off we go then”, I urged the creature, poking it with the tip of my blade by the way of encouragement. The goblin hissed and started forward.
Within minutes, walking carefully, we reached the worn-looking hanging bridge made of ropes and wood. The goblin, Gogmurt, stopped before it. “This is very old, so only one at a time can cross safely.” I stepped forward. “Let me go and have a look alone”, I suggested to the others. With their unanimous approval, I began to cross the bridge. It’s structure croaked and trembled, but held firm. I kept my eyes on the two guard towers that overlooked the bridge, but there was no sign of any guards anywhere, not by the walls of the fort nor at the towers.
At the other side, I made my way along the stony walls that protected Thistletop proper. The island was a strange peak rising 80 feet from the sea, and someone had chosen to erect a small fort on top of it. It became clear that going around the walls and risk falling to the sea would be almost suicidal to all but the best rock climbers, so our only chance was to go over the walls or through the main doors that were situated right before the bridge.
I silence, I returned to the mainland and reported what I had found. It would be daring to enter the building from the front without help. I thought about contacting Shalelu – her skills would be helpful. Even returning with a few Sandpoint guards as meat to the grinder would help us. It was Harsk however who came up with a cunning plan.
“Goblin, if you’re unwilling to attack with us against Nualia and her entourage, then help us create a distraction.” The goblin bobbed his head.
“Do you like ale, Gogmurt?” Harsk asked innocently, seemingly taking the conversation to a wholly other topic. “Ale? Gogmurt don’t know your dwarven poisons”, Gogmurt spat. Harsk gestured it to calm down. “Ale is good for you, even goblins. It makes you happy. Drowsy, tipsy, whatever you like.” Gogmurt seemed to get interested. “Yes, us goblins do like to party.” Harsk nodded approvingly and twirled his long beard. “Indeed. Ale is excellent for great feasts. So what if we bring you and all the goblins some to drink, so you can have a feast?” I realized where Harsk was going. Gogmurt scrached its green head, pondering. “Yes.. why not.. think Gogmurt can get all the brothers to drink and celebrate.” Harsk clasped his hands together as it was settled. “Good! We will return here shortly with a great amount of strong lager. If you’re able to offer it to your kin, then they’ll pass out and we’ll have an easier task of getting inside the fort.” This excited the green creature. “Yes yes and that way you don’t need to hurt any goblins!” Beneath my hood I rolled my eyes. Vidarok and Harsk both promised the goblin that we would not hurt any goblins that wouldn’t threaten us, and the plan was agreed upon.
As we turned to leave, Ilori spoke to the goblin. “Send us a message if you see Nualia leaving Thistletop.” The goblin nodded. To be honest, I’d never seen anyone nod so much. “I’ll send a sparrow with a tooth!”
“And send a sparrow with two teeth if any of his retinue leaves”, Vidarok added. “And with three if large numbers of additional goblins arrive here”, I added as well, not really counting the odds being on our favour – Harsk’s plans working or not. The goblin frowned. “One tooth, two teeth, three teeth, how do you expect Gogmurt to remember everything?”
“Just wait for us, druid”, I replied equally irritated. So we left the same route we had come.
At the hidden entrance to the bush surrounding Thistletop I stopped the others. “I think we should take our chances now with the wounded goblins and thin their numbers before we return”, I tried to reason. But Vidarok and Harsk were adamant. Vidarok shook his head. “We just promised Gogmurt that we would not harm his kin.” I just stared at him. “Gogmurt’s just goblin filth, how can we even trust it to keep its word? What if when we return there’ll be a hundred goblins waiting for us in ambush?” But it was like talking to a wall. And ultimately I’d known myself that Gogmurt had been honest about being keen on saving goblin lives and desiring the swift death of Nualia.
This of course didn’t make me any less happy as we rode back to Sandpoint.