After Garren makes his statement, and Allanah retorts, Avar just shakes his head at the absurdity of the situation.
Eyeing the Elven woman Avar grumbles, "Imperial devi...?" and then exhales loudly. "By the celestial court woman what are you two going to do here? Murder one person to get laid low here and now?"
The Paladin dismounts and walks towards the male elf while removing his mailed hand, "We have already let a goblin go who attacked us. We can do the same for you."
The Legate of Agon extends his hand, "Deal?"
Before anyone can speak up Avar finishes and looks around the assembled group, "We're wasting time here. If they're up to some nefarious plan, and have reinforcements somewhere, and come back to attack us, then we'll just deal with it then. They have surrendered. Let's just show them quarter and continue on with what we need to take care of. It really isn't that difficult."
Avar keeps his hand extended to see if the male takes it.
Alannah whispers back to the male elf holding her, "That's Avar," referencing back to the 'Avar' that she had warned Jalen would come back and put an end to their questioning.
The male elf doesn't take Avar's hand, and he ignores Alannah entirely. But on the bright side, he replies to Avar, "The half-human is talking about executing us despite our surrender." He gives Alannah a gentle shake, and adds, "After this one accepted our surrender, and gave her word that it would be honored if we cooperated with your group's questioning. But that's hardly a surprise from an Imperial. Lies and oath-breaking have ever been their way in dealing with the elves. Your speech sounds like an Imperial's so I have my doubts about you. But this woman behaved as if you would interfere with her. So for the moment, let us speak as if you will deal honestly with us."
The elf woman takes up the thread of his thinking, "If you intend to honor our surrender, you have our word that we shall travel westward until we are beneath the shade of the Tallwood, stopping only to eat, sleep, and see to bodily necessity. We shall do no violence to man or beast, except in self-defense or to obtain the necessities of life, until we've been in the forest for a turning of the moon. This woman has already looted Aonghus's corpse. As victors, it's fair that you keep what you have taken. But we would keep our clothing, such food as we have with us, and our bows and knives. We have not the provisions to make the journey back to the Tallwood, and we'll travel the faster for being able to hunt. If you will force us to go unarmed and without supplies, we may as well just try to fight you now."
Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold
Addressing the male, Garren asks, "So you understand that accepting your surrender depended on you cooperating with the questioning. Think back to your answers and tell me, is there anything that you left out or failed to disclose? Anything you were less than honest about?"
Alannah opens her mouth for a moment, about to answer for the elf, then thinks better of it for once and lets the elf speak his own answer first. It's obvious that she's waiting to jump in and explain what she doesn't think the elf is being fully honest about if he doesn't disclose it himself.
Again, the male elf ignores one interlocutor in favor of speaking to another, telling Avar, "Your . . . associates are not honorable people. This one," he tosses his head in Garren's direction, "made it clear that their plan was to kill us when our answers to their questions did not please him. We surrendered. We answered questions, although that was not part of the terms. But they did not believe us, and immediately started talking about killing us. The half-breed and this priest even bickered over who should have the privilege of killing us. At first there was talk of using magic to tell the truth of our words. But that was a lie."
"Release us," agrees the elf woman. "We--" she tenses up as Gallielle arrives, having finally gotten his horse back under control.
The gnome looks questioningly at Garren, and asks, "They surrendered?"
Alannah looks at Gabrielle and says sarcastically, "Yep, that's why they are trying to stab me."
Gallielle's facial expression turns wry, "So that would be a yes. Why'd you let them take you hostage?"
Alannah grits her teeth, "Ironically, because I was... and still am... trying not to kill them. They are making it very difficult at the moment."
Avar listens to the discussion and drops his unshaken hand.
Hands on his hips, the heavily armored Aasimar turns as best as possible to look at the assembled party. Squaring up to the duo the paladin offers, "Well, I am Imperial so you can choose to trust me or not. Truth be told I have only been with this party for a short while. I only speak for myself when I say that I accept your surrender and to your terms. I have no interest in killing the two of you right now. We have bigger issues."
"You have my word that if you surrendered and have met the terms of the surrender then you may go. I will even aid you if someone from this group decides to attack you. But, before we get to that do you swear on your ancestors to have told the truth to the questions posed to you?"
Avar makes it obvious that he is concentrating on them as they provide their answer.
Oskav, having left the dead elf and mounted his traitorous steed once more, rides up behind the rest of the party. Blood is streaked across his cheeks and forehead, and down over his eyes. He regards the survivors impassively.
"Lady Alannah. Why do you tarry? The road beckons. Stop pestering these people and let us be on our way."
"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken
"All our answers were truthful," the elf woman replies.
Alannah scoffs at Oskav's jive, "Oh, we're just finishing this up, one way or another."
Avar nods his head, accepting the answer, "Let her go and get out of here. Next time you would do well to pick a better target."
Looking to everyone, "This has taken too long. Let us take our leave and get focused on what we need to take care of."
The paladin waits to see what happens next.
The elves let go of Alannah, and step back from her. Without wasting any time, they retrieve their bows and walk away to the west.
Avar watches them go for a few moments and then eyes Alannah, "Are you all right?"
A small grin plays at the corner of the Aasimars mouth, "Or was it all part of the plan?"
Jalen walks towards them, though at no great speed, he says in elvish pitched more than loudly enough to carry, "My oaths are to Leroe, but may Brendalor's arrows find me if I speak an untruth. A new dragon of no small power has been summoned into the valley by foul rites of monsters. Tell Druid Ceretheliaul to ward the forest well, and that I will assist if needed."
The elves don't give any sign that they're listening to Jalen, although it's virtually certain that they've heard every word he just said. They simply keep walking at a brisk pace, not quite a jog.
Arkady and his kids make their way back towards the group, keeping a generous space between themselves and the elves, but it's Gallielle who speaks up first, "Too bad about having to let them go, but I suppose it was necessary if you accepted their parole."
Meanwhile you can all hear and see Jonas, Rennit, and Elimendreda fording the stream to your north. Evidently they've gotten their mounts under control, and are ready to rejoin your group.
Jalen shrugs, "Yes, well, apparently Alannah doesn't care about little things like war. Their presence here is NOT a good sign, and we still don't know WHY." His tones are bitter. But then he says more calmly, "Thank you, nonetheless, for getting them to take a way out... Even if . . . " he stops for a moment you might think he was about to cry, "I did not want to kill them, but no one else but me should ever claim credit or kill a cleansing flame elf, if we can avoid it." He muses and says, "Except Avar, I suppose. Imperials are not expected to have any respect for anything but their own arrogance."
Alannah turns her nose up at both comments, "There's always a war. Why do you think all of the hobgoblins have been marching around here? The goblins are active, the fey are riled up, and now elves join in. It's not I don't care, but what are we going to do, go to Port Hope and demand an audience and try to convince someone that trouble is coming?"
"I was under the impression that that was your plan," Gallielle agrees. "If I understood some of Master Evallason's earlier remarks, he's the son of Merenstone Hope the First. The current Merenstone Hope is . . . what is it? His great, great, great nephew?" The gnome blinks rapidly, and muses, "And I don't mean to talk out of school, but Master Shrithan—Jonas, that is—well, he says that you're of the Port Hope aristocracy as well, Madame Zaidah. Something about leaving home to pursue a love affair that your parents wouldn't approve of. Perhaps he's mistaken, but your mannerisms DO smack of a certain . . . ah, refinement? I suppose?"
Georgie doesn't quite suppress a snicker at that.
Alannah pauses at the comment, looking to Jalen and back to Gallielle, "While both are technically true, I don't think either of us are going to want to go around declaring our lineage to every Seneschal and Chamberlain we'd have to go through to get an audience. Besides, Chuul would never wait around long enough for us to arrange it and be seen." She ponders it for a moment more, "Unless Hope is holding an awfully convenient open audience. But I'm not sure this is much of a public matter." She appears to be close to talking herself into warming to the idea.
Arkady notes, "A whole village has been wiped out, and the only real route for travel to Emerald Hollow is closed. People need to know what's happened, if only to stop them trying to make what was already a difficult journey. If it's not a public matter already, then I don't know what is."
If Jalen's comments have any effect on Avar he either chooses to bury the reaction or he simply doesn't care. If anyone is looking, he appears to have other things on his mind.
Easing into the saddle on Zeelar the paladin offers, "We should certainly inform as many as we can of what appears to be more than your run of the mill dangers of the road."
With that the paladin spurs his mount towards the group to prepare to go.
Alannah motions back to the druid's body, "The shape changer had some nice armor and weapons. We'd likely be able to sell it in Port Hope. I took a wand from him, but couldn't carry the rest."
Garren strips without a words and loads it onto Celene.
After a minute, for all of you to collect yourselves, you get back on the road to finish out the day's travel. Even with the disruption occasioned by the fight and subsequent interrogation, you're really not badly delayed. After an uneventful night's camping, you're back on the road again near dawn.
The morning's travel goes quietly until almost noon; there's little to do but listen to Rennit tell stories and jokes to Arkady's children, interspersed with complaints about Jonas's apparently endless supply of puns and malapropisms, and to watch the landscape slowly become more settled.
Where you used to be traveling through nothing but untamed steppe, you've moved into an area that, while still empty of humanoid life, nevertheless has begun to show traces of its presence. There are stelae every so often alongside the highway, which has gradually turned from a trodden dirt path into a raised track of heaped gravel underneath a thin layer of grass. Every so often, there is a cow or two, off in the distance, or a smudge against the horizon from a chimney so far in the distance that you can't really see anything but the smoke.
At length, you catch up to a wagon that also is traveling southward, and two men. The one riding on the box seat is older, with grizzled brown and gray hair. A second one, perhaps thirty years younger and with blond hair, walks alongside the wagon. There's a familial resemblance—probably they're father and son. Both are visibly armed with crossbows, and it's clear that they've seen you already from the way they hold onto the weapons. But their tension eases off once they notice Rodion and Yana.
Once you're a bit closer, so that he can raise his voice and be heard without quite shouting, the older man calls out hoarsely, "Gods give you good'ay, strangers. From where d'you come?"
"We're travelling to Port Hope from the ruins of Morville. It doesn't exist anymore."
The younger man asks, "What do you mean, doesn't exist? There must have been three, four dozen people living around there." He sounds disquieted by Garren's news, and maybe a touch disbelieving. The older gentleman also seems disconcerted.
Chuul falls back on his modus operandi when meeting strangers, trying to appear every bit the dumb orc brute, letting his brow drop and crooking his jaw so his broken tusk is more obvious. "Gone now. Ashes."
The men contemplate Chuul's information, and then the older man asks, "Are you saying there was a fire?"
"Yes, and more. A dragon. The survivors were very clear on that. It crushed whole buildings and set others on fire. It razed the town. There is nothing left."
The two men look worried, but don't reply immediately. Eventually, the younger man just says, "Those poor people."
"You'll understand that we're going to hurry on to make sure word of this reaches Port Hope. Be warned, there are dangers on the road. Morville may have been a small settlement, but it helped secure the border. There will be trolls and more before long."
"Goblins," the younger man agrees, sounding halfway between fear and eagerness, "They're coming west through the halflings' country. If the shorties can't stop 'em, it'll be down to a fight between them and us."
But before anyone else can speak, the older man corrects him, "No, we'll run if it looks like the brownies're going to break through in any great numbers. Be sensible, son. Th'farm's just dirt. We can get more dirt."
Garren nods. "You should listen to your father. Things may be getting dark and grim, but they won't last. We'll be heading back out and hopefully dealing with this dragon in short order. There will be plenty of places to farm when things return to normal - if you are smart and stay safe you'll be in a good position to reclaim rich lands after the danger passes."
The younger man looks stubborn, but doesn't say anything, either for the sake of not disagreeing with his father in front of strangers, or because he doesn't want to argue with Garren after the cleric's indication that he thinks he can "deal with" a dragon that has already razed a village.
His father merely replies, "Well. We thank you for the news, good folk. If you were interested in traveling with us, you'd be welcome to do it, but I get the sense that you're in a bit of a hurry, and we're not going to keep up with your horses." He guides his mules and wagon a little to one side of the road, giving you some extra space to pass him.
After about another three hours' worth of travel, the day wears on into early afternoon, even as the last clouds from last night's thunderstorms give way to bright sunshine.
The contours of the land have been flattening out for some time now, but there's still a little roll to the countryside that can make it hard to see very far, even though it's mostly open land. A hedge at the west side of the road also hinders visibility, as do a few young coppices of birch on the east. Still, you can easily see a farmhouse and its associated stables and outbuildings, perhaps a quarter of a mile away. Soon, your movement closer to Port Hope probably is going to start to make it harder to find camp sites that don't belong to someone. This is more settled country than you have seen since leaving Golden Sheaves.
Not five minutes after you notice the farm, Garren spots a cluster of somewhat more than a dozen humanoid figures standing in and next to the road, including a huddle of several who are right next to the hedge, swinging axes or some similar bladed implement. They'd be easy to mistake for local farmers or ranchers, collaborating to refresh the hedge by laying new pleachers and weaving them into an animal-proof barrier . . . except all of them are orcs. Avar is the first to catch the faint sound of chopping, and all of them are armed.
Thus far, it doesn't seem as if the orcs have heard or spotted you—probably the sun hurts their eyes the way it does Chuul's—but unless you take cover or back off, it's just a matter of time before they realize you're here.
Orange areas are heavy undergrowth. Heavy undergrowth costs 4 squares of movement to move into, and it provides concealment with a 30% miss chance (instead of the usual 20%). It increases the DC of Tumble and Move Silently checks by 5. Heavy undergrowth is easy to hide in, granting a +5 circumstance bonus on Hide checks. Running and charging are impossible.
Yellow areas are light undergrowth. A space covered with light undergrowth costs 2 squares of movement to move into, and it provides concealment. Undergrowth increases the DC of Tumble and Move Silently checks by 2 because the leaves and branches get in the way.
Brown dots are trees; large brown dots that fill a square are massive trees. A creature standing in the same square as a tree gains a +2 bonus to Armor Class and a +1 bonus on Reflex saves (these bonuses don’t stack with cover bonuses from other sources). The presence of a tree doesn’t otherwise affect a creature’s fighting space, because it’s assumed that the creature is using the tree to its advantage when it can. The trunk of a tree has AC 4, hardness 5, and 150 hp. A DC 15 Climb check is sufficient to climb a tree. Massive trees provide cover to anyone behind them. They have AC 3, hardness 5, and 600 hp. Like their smaller counterparts, it takes a DC 15 Climb check to climb them.
Orcs -- Black and Red
Mules -- Grey 1 and 2.
Garren makes sure the party is aware of the orcs in the road. It might be unusual for so many to be gathered in one place, but orcs themselves aren't. He advises the refugees to stay back and keeps pace with Alannah.
Alannah and Garren have only advanced about ten or twelve yards when it becomes clear that the orcs have seen them, and a moment later they spot the rest of you because they're looking for you. A couple of them are wearing chainmail under their cloaks and are carrying large, heavy crossbows, and they none-too-subtly get these weapons into a ready position.
Most of the other orcs are wearing raggedy-looking leather jerkins that have been sewn heavily with rings or coins of iron, and they have javelins in hand and ready to go. But their apparent leader is a big brute, easily as large as Chuul, who is decked out in an ornate breastplate and armed with an equally fine halberd. And a dagger, and mace, and who knows what hold-out weapons down a boot top. All of his underlings bristle with melee weapons, too—chopping weapons like axes and falchions or scimitars, mostly.
The orcs are talking back and forth among themselves, although you can't hear them quite yet. The trio who're working on the hedge start to slack off when they see Garren and Alannah, but a few words from the one in the breastplate send them back to work.
After a minute, he says something else, and the overall level of fighting readiness in his little group seems to ease down slightly (although they're still obviously ready for trouble if you seem like you want some). The main body of your party is still far enough off that you're at the very extreme range at which someone can throw a javelin, so your noncombatants probably are safe enough for now unless you've completely failed to notice another group of orcs. But that seems unlikely.
Alannah continues forward, shouting a friendly "Hello!" in common and waving. When she gets closer (pending there are no crossbow bolts sticking out of her), she stops her horse and slides off her mount to walk up on foot. She's the picture of a naive noncombatant.
The orcs stare at Alannah. After a minute, one of them (she can't see who, exactly) comments in Orcish, "Damn fine hips."
The leader rumbles something in reply, cutting off further chatter, and then says to Alannah, "No talk Imperial." A gold cap on the end of his right tusk gleams in the sunshine, and he gives an exaggerated shrug and smile.
Alannah shrugs and replies in fluent orcish (so well that she might have been traveling with an orcish lover for a while), "No reason that should be a problem. We're traveling to Port Hope. We are about to stop to rest and eat and thought you might join us. We don't have many rations, but I'll be happy to share what I have. These seem to be troubling times and I'd love a chance to trade stories with others along the road." She flashes him a charming smile.
The orc's smile falls away as he replies in the same language, without checking with his companions, "No. Thanks. We're not hungry, and anyway we're busy." He looks past Alannah's shoulder at Garren, and further back towards the rest of the party, before finishing, "In fact, we're running late for other business. Pack it in, boys."
Alannah exchanges a glance with Garren and shrugs. She turns to the de facto leader of the orcs and smiles, "Good day to you then. I wish you the best of luck with your other business." She turns to walk back to remount.
The orc grunts a farewell in turn, already urging his companions off towards the east, away from both the road and the hedge. Once they're out of the way, it's easy to see that they were indeed hacking away at the plants that make up the barrier. The hedge is probably decades old, though, so its constituent plants have trunks as thick as Alannah's thigh, and their largest branches are tightly interwoven. So far, the orcs have only cleared back the thin shoots projecting outward from the hedge. It doesn't look as if the hedge's integrity has been affected, so far.
"Well, they were up to no good." She remarks to Garren, stating the obvious. "Do you suppose if we don't tell the others, we'll be able to keep going to Port Hope instead of tracking them down? Avar likely will want to write the orcs up on charges of damaging private property or some nonsense."
Oskav observed the exchange in Orcish passively. He straightens in his saddle and sniffs. "Well done, Lady Alannah. It would appear your sparkling charm has encouraged them to give us the road."
With that, the dwarf levels his gaze at Avar, assuming it is the paladin's opinion that will determine whether the party is roped into apprehending would-be poachers or if they can proceed on their journey.
"The orcs are probably a strong enough force that the local constabulary won't be able to keep them in line if they decide to make trouble. The farm house isn't terribly far away. Perhaps it would be worth checking in with them to make sure they haven't heard of any recent problems. Perhaps also warn them about the fence. The theft of a cow or two might be a major problem for the farmer, but starving orcs could be a problem for everyone. Perhaps we can help arrange a purchase to help defuse the situation?"