To Smite the Giants
After equipping themselves for the journey and the weather, the party, now augmented by a cadre of dwarves and a young paladin in service to Mendek, began the long trek north to Castellan Keep. The river was still at flood stage and travel by water was impossible. Ponies and horses were purchased with only enough supplies to reach the next town, rather than encumbering themselves with supplies for a fortnight’s sojourn. With the weather favorable, the group set forth for Kelvin.
Such a large company kept most beasts away, and nightly watches were much less onerous than when there were only four in the party. Travel to Kelvin was quick and uneventful. Likewise, the next leg of the journey to Penhaligon was delayed only by some inclement weather. After resupplying, the party left the road and set forth for Castellan Keep overland following a rough trade track. This stage was longer and harder going, and an autumn snowstorm made it longer than expected, but the party arrived safely at the Keep.
After a brief respite, and an intelligence meeting with the Castellan and his staff which secured them the use of a guide to point them in the right direction (as well as a visit to the monument to their fallen comrade, Storvik Storvikson), the party set out in search of the giants’ lair. Backtracking the giants into the hills north of the Keep was not overly difficult – there were only so many paths such large creatures could take – the weather again proved an obstacle and shelter was sought for the night. A large cave was found that could accommodate them all, but they found a crudely erected wooden door that blocked further entry into the depths of the cave. A sign lettered in Orcish was translated to read, “Constant Vigilance! Beware Murder Hobos! What happened at the Chaos Caves could happen to you!”. Realization that they were the feared Murder Hobos caused the party to preen and earned respect from their dwarven allies. Orc guards were scared away from the door by a shout of “Chakka Shok! Chakka Cor!”, the door was spiked shut, and the night passed uneventfully.
The next day finally found the party looking at a huge timber stronghold in a mountain valley – the hill giants’ Steading had been found. The group came to realize that such organization and behavior was unheard of among the dwarves who, being mortal enemies of giantkind, were familiar with the usual patterns of hill giants. Apparently Duchess Olivia was correct in deducing the giants were receiving help and information from an outside source. But from whom, and to what purpose, was not immediately apparent. The number of giants living in the Steading was daunting, and they were keeping a pack of dire wolves, all of which made a frontal assault an unfavorable tactic. A base of operations was sought and another cave was found near enough to observe the giants, but secure enough to not be readily detected.
A couple of days of observation revealed the dire wolves and their keeper made twice daily patrols around the Steading, and other giants were involved in gathering wood and water. Guards were posted, but did not appear to have the security of the Steading foremost in their minds. Narcissa and Belladonna ventured into the Steading on a reconnaissance mission one evening, since they were the stealthiest of the group. They were accompanied by Beks, the dwarves’ troubleshooter, and Mordin, their wayfinder. Drunken giants at the entrance of the Steading made for easy access and the mission was able to get an estimate of the number and kinds of foes they faced, the layout of a large amount of the interior, and some of the security measures in place. Their foray was cut short by an encounter with a cave bear in one of the rooms which attacked the dwarves while the two ladies hid out in the null space of a Rope Trick. The dead bear, and fear of discovery, caused them to abort the mission. They met up with the rest of the party, who were hiding behind a nearby ridge in case they should be needed, and repaired to their cave base for debriefing. The next morning the giants were observed to make some search for the interlopers and bear-killers, and Clairaudience revealed the bear was the pet of the Chief’s wife, Estrith.
A plan was made to ambush the giants on their way to their next raid, assumed to be the following day (based on the expected time of the next supply caravan to the Keep). The morning found the party searching the likeliest route the giants would take for the best site from which to rain magical death upon the giants with the best cover and protection from retaliation. A site was decided upon and a plan was made to prevent the raid, decimate the foe, and, hopefully, mitigate casualties. The plan went almost without incident, except for one lucky giant, and one unlucky dwarf: Grogan, assigned as Narcissa’s bodyguard, was killed by a giant’s club, and his funeral pyre was built over the slain giants and ogres. But none of the foe escaped alive. A questing paladin joined the group when, attracted by all the commotion of the ambush, he set aside his search for the necromancer who had destroyed his village to aid the citizenry of the Duchy from the depredations of the evil giants.
Careful watching of the Steading revealed the Chief sent out a party to search for the missing raiders. Hopeful for another ambush, the party hastily set up at a different, and less ideal site, but the plan was thwarted when they realized the Keeper and his wolves were on the hunt as well. Hastily scrambling over hill and dale to avoid the searchers and their wolves, the party made an out-of-the-way approach back to the Steading. Afraid their base cave may have been discovered, the party sheltered in a different area on the perimeter of the Steading’s valley and settled in to watch and plan. Suggestions were made and discarded, ideas promoted and shot down; the party couldn’t reach a consensus on their course of action. Some wanted to annihilate the giants, while others wanted to gather the information the Duchess sought.
The deliberations were suspended when a group of about a score of giants, presumably reinforcements from another clan, arrived at the Steading. This little wrinkle appeared to be a game changer as far as the party was concerned. But, as even wilder propositions were bandied about, an event occurred which proved to be an opportunity for our heroes. They noticed that, while a celebration was underway inside, three giants wandered away from the Steading. Two of them teamed up on the third and murdered him, then drug his body away toward the north. Narcissa, Belladonna, Beks, and Mordin followed to see what would happen. While they were away, Mendek, Slydra and the paladin snuck into the open gate of the Steading and up to the watch tower. Wanting to alert the giants to the murder, and hoping to set them against each other, the plan was to ring the alarm in the tower. The presence of giants on watch caused a change of plans, and Mendek cast Heat Metal on the alarm hoop, which eventually burnt through its supporting rope and fell onto the tower floor. Running out of the Steading, and expecting the watchers to raise the alarm, the guys were disappointed and exasperated to see nothing happen at all!
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the ladies and their escorts, they realized the gate was open and ideal conditions to continue their reconnaissance mission existed. They snuck into the Steading and went right back to scouting the place out. They searched the room of the Chief’s wife and found a pouch of gems, which Belladonna substituted for some sling stones. They found a map of the area and some planned raids which they copied. When they found a way out into the courtyard, they realized the wolves were still not back, but didn’t explore that area because a giant couple were out there. Finally, while exploring a meeting room, they discovered a door hidden behind a manticore hide. Beyond that door was a conspicuous pile of wood which, when searched, revealed several scroll tubes containing a plan of the Steading and some other documents. Stairs led downward from there, and our intrepid explorers followed them down until they were certain they had found an area worthy of further exploration by the entire group. Hastily, they fled the Steading when they realized the celebration was breaking up.
Back with the others, they all took stock of their situation: surrounded by dozens of giants and their allies, low on food, but with new areas to explore and mysteries to solve. What will they decide to do next?