The first thing encountered by the party was a decrepit old tower. After some discussion, they decided to bypass it until later, but that idea was rendered void when Borg rushed into it headfirst.
The rest of the group cautiously filed into the gloom, with the only light shining through the entrance. It illuminated a bald, fleshy creature that was taller than even Elijah. It was an ogre, and it had a headache.
“Head hurt! Why you make Ghereg’s head hurt, skinny people?”
“Who’re you callin’ skinny?” Borg demanded, but his comment went ignored.
“What’s wrong with your head?” Elijah asked carefully.
“No know. Walk here from cave. Need to answer call. Now cannot, and the head! It hurts! Ghereg want to pound head against wall to make head okay.”
“I think that’s an excellent idea, Ghereg!” Borg said brightly. “Hitting your head against the wall as hard as you can will certainly make the pain go away. It’s an old Reghedman barbarian remedy. Try it, you’ll see!”
“Ha ha,” Ghereg said acidly. “No funny. Ghereg head hurt. You insult me. Now Ghereg make your head hurt. That funny.” The ogre lifted his morning star. “DIIIE!”
“You know, Borg,” Jaruah said conversationally as she hacked at the ogre’s midriff, “we really need to teach you about something called ‘tact.’”
“Ach, I donnae need yer longlimb ideas,” Borg said, mimicking a traditional dwarven accent, though he had none himself. “Axes take care o’ everything, aye?” And he let his weapon fly.
After taking an axe in the skull, the ogre’s headache was gone. As they cleaned their weapons, picked up a grand total of forty-two gold, and walked out of the cave, Killian brought up an excellent point.
“I wonder, though,” he said thoughtfully, “how a creature can have a headache if it doesn’t have a brain in the first place . . .”
Everyone except the ever-dour Catti cracked a grin at that. They headed up the windswept path to the cave the ogre had spoken of, to find a group of goblins inside, roasting beetle meat over the fire and clumsily making arrows that looked as if they would not fly more than a few inches. Without a word except for incoherent battle-cries, the creatures swarmed around them and attacked with their crude weapons.
For the most part, they were dispatched without much trouble, and Killian and Maggie set to work harvesting gold from the corpses as Catti reaped spell components galore. Elijah, Borg, and Jaruah were putting out the cookfire and emptying the rancid food into the resulting pit.
Finally, the cave was abandoned once more. The mill the hermit had talked about was, indeed, plagued with a small army of goblins. The fence fell easily to Borg’s axe, and the party cut down some of the goblin scouts. Maggie amused herself by chasing chickens. She finally caught one and secured it in her pack, still clucking madly.
As they made their way slowly around the farmhouse, with Maggie methodically checking barrels, they found a dead dog that had been partially gnawed upon. A guttural cry alerted them to a goblin on a pathway on stilts, but when it didn’t attack them, they approached it very cautiously. The goblin was dressed in filthy garments that seemed to denote him as a commanding officer of some stature. It was the first to speak.
“What am I doing here?” it wondered aloud.
“You can speak Common?” Maggie and Killian said incredulously.
The goblin looked peeved, but Elijah interrupted any further discussion on language. “Well, it looks like you’re looting and pillaging this mill.”
“I’m not,” the goblin replied, examining its wrinkled, grey skin and black claws. “Some of my men are, but we have no food, and we don’t understand why we were called here.”
Elijah digested that. “‘Called here?’”
“It’s like a gnawing in my stomach when I’m hungry. I must’ve eaten everything in the whole damn pass . . . and it still won’t let me be. Why can’t I make it stop?! Maglubiyet, make it end!” The officer began babbling to himself in Goblin, and when the party attempted to engage him in conversation again, he would respond only with an anguished scream or a variant.
They stopped in front of the farmhouse door, eating a quick lunch from their meager rations. Soon they were ready to brave the mill.
The party walked into a scene of horror. The bodies of a middle-aged man and a teenaged girl lay on the floor, mutilated almost beyond recognition. A group of orcs were talking amongst themselves, laughing, and generally enjoying themselves. One orc was even in the corner, counting gold coins, but he was having problems due to the fact that he could only count up to seven (the number of fingers still attached to his hands).
The head orc stood as they entered, and pointed at them with one green, sausage-like finger. “You pay Uligar tribute or die like coward dogs you are!”
Maggie looked at his outstretched finger, then up at his face. She smiled, as sweetly and innocently as she could. It was something that came very easily to her. “Did you know that it’s not polite to point?”
The stunned orcs stared at the tiny young woman as she whipped out her dagger, spun it around one finger and whipped it at Uligar. He died clutching at his throat.
"I've always wanted to do that!" Maggie crowed. Borg was staring at her like he had never seen anything quite like her before.
The others slowly regained their senses and reached for weapons that were suddenly not there, compliments of Killian, who had learned a thing or two from his sister. Elijah sighed. They’ll never change, he thought, as he took out the nearest orc with his blade.
Soon the orcish bodies were sprawled all over the floor. Gold and gems were found in varying amounts, Catti gained a ‘Blur’ spell, and Maggie was the proud new owner of Glimglam’s Cloak. At least, they thought it was his cloak; ‘Glimglam’ was the name on the name patch. Maggie was the only one who wanted it; the others thought the multicolored patches were ludicrously tacky.
The party trooped downstairs and were immediately greeted with the raucous battle shouts of goblins. The green-skinned beasts were awkward with their weapons, and most were easily taken out. At the end of the fight, though, Catti threw a healing potion to Killian, who was fending off three goblins by himself. The others noticed his plight and came to his aid as soon as they could.
Rummaging around in the barrels and crates of the storeroom produced only foodstuffs and water canteens, as well as a few plain, small blades that looked as though they would snap off if one attempted to use one in a struggle.
A small scuffling noise alerted them to the presence of a door under the stairs. Readying their weapons, Jaruah edged towards it and threw it open to reveal — a little boy, with a head of unruly brown hair and dark brown eyes. The elven warrior’s mouth dropped open.
“Come on, big sis,” Ilixian said. The tiny elf was only nineteen, while Jaruah was seventy-eight. “Play with me?”
Jaruah sighed. “Toror’ai, I played with you yesterday. Can you not see that I am busy?” She gestured impatiently at her wooden practice sword.
Ilixian pouted. Finally she relented. “All right,” Jaruah said resignedly, though she couldn’t hide a small smile. “What would you like to play, ‘Lix?”
The child’s face broke into a wide, lopsided grin. “Oh, thank you, thank you! You’re the best sister ever, ‘Ruah!”
“Toror’ai,” Jaruah breathed. “What is your name, child?”
“Shh . . .” the boy cautioned. “Be quiet or the goblins will get us. I’m Jermsy.”
“What are you doing in the closet?” Elijah asked, shooting a puzzled look at Jaruah.
“Hiding from the goblins,” Jermsy said. “They got Dad and sister.”
“I’m sorry,” Jaruah said sincerely. “I know what it feels like to lose your family.”
“Don’t worry about me. I know my way to the temple in Kuldahar,” Jermsy replied. He tipped his head and looked up at Jaruah. “You’re an awfully nice lady, and you’ve got pretty ears.” He blushed. “Will you come visit me?”
Jaruah nodded and took a deep breath. “Yes, Jermsy. I will visit you in Kuldahar.”
She watched, almost in a daze, as Jermsy bounded up the stairs and out of sight. The party was awkwardly silent, not sure what to say. Finally, the member with the least amount of tact broke the silence.
“That was scary,” Borg commented. “Are you gonna do that kind of thing every time we meet a kid?"
“Shut your mouth, dwarf,” Jaruah growled. “Make that remark again, and you’ll do it with half your jaw flying out the window.”
Maggie put a friendly arm around the dwarf’s shoulders, and Killian’s eyes narrowed. “Better do what she says, Borg. We wouldn’t want that beard of yours cut off too quickly, eh?” She tweaked it between her thumb and forefinger with a grin before skipping off and climbing a ladder she had spotted. Borg’s mouth was slightly open, and his grey eyes seemed to have zoned off into another plane.
Maggie screamed suddenly and leapt off the ladder onto the next floor. She seemed to be enjoying herself immensely when the rest of her group joined her in the mill, hacking at goblins.
After an invigorating, bloody goblin slaughter, the party trooped out into the snow to set up camp for the night. The short daylight hours of Icewind Dale had already begun to wane.
Jaruah sneaked away as Catti used a ‘Burning Hands’ spell to create a roaring fire in a freshly-dug fire-pit. The elf went around the back of the mill, letting herself in a back door that she had noticed earlier. She had work to do . . .
“What kind of meat is this?” Magdelena asked appreciatively through a mouthful of pot pie. “It sure is good.”
“Mmmhmmm,” Killian agreed.
“Excellent, in fact,” Elijah commented.
“Goblin,” Jaruah said casually. Elijah looked as if he had just swallowed something unpleasant (which, in fact, he had), Maggie’s eyes bulged and her face went very white, Killian gagged and almost choked, while Borg grinned and complimented her on good taste. Everyone but the elven warrior glared at Catti, who had prepared the meal. She had carefully picked out the chunks of meat and laid the steaming pieces in a line on the snow. She also had an infuriating smirk on her face.
“I don’t ask where it comes from!” Catti defended herself. “And just because I cook what Jaruah gives me doesn’t mean I have to eat it!”
“Don’t worry,” a smirking Jaruah assured her friends. “I made sure to take meat from the ones with the fewest fleas.”
This time, even Borg stopped chewing.
“You know, you’ve really perked up my day,” Jaruah said cheerfully, and shoved another spoonful of goblin pie into her mouth.
They were all set up to sleep in the farmhouse, after dragging all the bodies outside and cleaning the floor as best they could. Catti was even allowed to sleep on the bed, which had not been bloodied up too much. However, goblins were still loose in the pass (including the goblin general screaming incoherently about ‘roundworms’ outside), so they agreed to take turns guarding through the night.
Borg was the first one to guard the camp, and he wasn’t taking it well.
“How come she doesn't have to guard?” Borg whined, pointing at the resting Catti.
“Because she’s our spellcaster so she needs to memorize her spells,” Elijah explained patiently for the fourth time.
“I am trying to sleep!” Jaruah growled through her thin pillow. “Would you just shut up and guard?”
VI. The Seven Wonders of Kuldahar Pass
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