We picked up session three where we had ended the previous session. All the characters, along with their followers, were still at the breach in the wall. We had set up enough obstacles in the breach to prevent another incursion, we hoped, but we knew that a large force of shadowspawn had already traversed the breach and were marauding south into lands populated by unsuspecting Dorn. There hadn't been a breach in the wall in centuries, so we knew that nobody would be expected a raiding party of the size that we detected. We knew we had to pursue the shadowspawn force and, if possible, get ahead of it and warn anyone in its path.
We decided to leave Thorin, the dwarven forgemaster, at the breach to oversee its repair. We hope to meet up with Thorin again in Riismark when the repairs are complete and we can ensure that there will be no further incursions. We set off on horseback at the light of first dawn. We knew that the orcs had a few days lead on us, but we were hopeful that they would be traveling slowly. I was able to successfully track the band. It was not a particularly difficult task given the size of the orc raiding party we were following.
Our worst fears were realized when we spotted the smoke from the small village of Barrens. The orcs had come out of the night and surprised the residents still in their beds. Those that survived we found huddled together in the town square. A retired soldier who had served House Davin by the name of Snorri was doing his best to organize the efforts to fight the various fires still burning in the village and attend to the injured. We jumped in immediately with our various skills and managed to save some of the villagers. Sadly, the most grievously injured among them were beyond our skills and they died. It was a humbling failure for us and we took it hard. Having done all we could for Snorri and the village, we sought out the village Legate and had him send a raven to my father at Riismark informing him of the orc band and the damage to the wall. We informed him that we intended to continue our pursuit and do what we could against the dark forces.
We were on the road again in short order, this time heading for the town of Kolding, on the Eb River. We knew that a rich community like Kolding would be hard for the orcs to resist...and easy pickings. On the way to Kolding we finally caught up to the orc warband. It was midday and the orcs were encamped, hiding from the sun. I recall Thorin telling us that the shadowspawn hate the light of the sun and would avoid it if possible. While we were tempted to attack, we knew that even sun-blinded as they would be we were no match for that number of orcs. We decided to travel around the band and reach Kolding first. We estimated that if we rode hard we could have at least a full day in the town before the band arrived. Ample time to set up defenses and evacuate the non-combatants.
We found the men and women of Kolding eager to fight the orcs, so we immediately set to digging pit traps and setting up a potential battlefield to our advantage. When the pits were dug and spiked, we splashed oil about the field that we hoped to channel the orcs into. Let's see how eager they are to fight when the very earth they trod upon erupts into flame! I set my House Dale warriors into a shield wall and the warriors of the village into pickets to drive the orcs back should they get past our traps. The elderly and women who could fight were placed on rooftops with bows, slings and rocks. They were armed with whatever they could launch or throw to damage the oncoming orcs. Arvidus stood with the shield wall, ready to lend his magic if necessary. Inquisitor Rysdan stood ready with sword as well, though he looked rather nervous and unsure. I'm not sure he's used his weapon on something that actually fights back. Daschell made ready to slip off into the night. With a wink he told he that he planned to harass any orcs that strayed too far from the mob. He was fondling his wicked daggers as he spoke and there was an almost fevered look in his eyes. I knew that orcs would die gruesomely beneath his blades this night.
The orcs, as predicted, rushed the village with little semblance of order or strategy, right into our killing field. We heard the screams of pain from those that found our spiked pits. They would have faltered, I think, had not a particularly large and gruesome one whipped them into a frenzy and drove them forward. The field was set alight then by young men with flaming arrows. The orcs howled and screamed in the flames and did break then, in spite of the whip-bearer, and fled into the night. They had never even reached the shield wall and we lost no villagers in the attack. It was a complete rout! I learned later that Daschell tracked the whip-bearer into the night and brought him down with a dagger thrust into the neck, severing his spine. The handful of orcs that survived fled into the night. The men of Kolding should be able to track them down and finish them. We had won.
Not only had we won, but we had taken a prisoner. Inquisitor Rysdan was eager to question the orc, but none of us spoke its foul language. Luckily, the Legate of Kolding, Legate Ingrid, volunteered to help us. She knew a smattering of words in the orc language and would act as translater for Rysdan's questions. The orc's will broke easily beneath Rysdan's skilled hands and we quickly learned all they it knew. Some of the concepts that the orc were trying to convey may have been lost in translation, but we were able to gather that this band of orcs was but a spear point to a much larger force marshaling north of the wall. We learned that the Esben fort had fallen to the orcs and that they were using it as a staging point to launch future raids. The orc band was being led by the Kurasach Udureen, a shaman of tremendous power. We knew that we were over our heads and had to report our findings in person to my father, Jarl Olaf, and eventually to the King himself. But first we would scout out the disposition of the Esben fort for ourselves and see if it had indeed fallen to the orcs.
Again, our worst fears were confirmed. We traveled close enough to the fort to see that not only had it fallen, but there were Dornish heads mounted on spikes on the walls and even the body of some poor victim hanging from the parapets. Daschell managed to move forward close enough to identify the body on the walls as that of Barold Esben, the eldest son of Jarl Esben and the commander of the fort. With that knowledge, we decided to make for Port Esben, ancestral home of House Esben. Jarl Esben should be told of the fall of his fort and the death of his son. We hoped to rouse him to action and see him recapture his fort before the orcs manage to dig in too deeply.
We arrived in Port Esben after having been on the road for weeks. We were in no condition to present ourselves before such a powerful Jarl, so we took rooms at an inn a few miles from the walls of Port Esben. The Legate, Ingrid, had decided to travel with us and I attempted to purchase a horse for her before we left Kolding. The effort was a total failure and I ended up humiliating myself before a group of Sarcosan merchants. Instead, Ingrid rode with me on my warhorse. My ears still burn from the harsh lesson in economics those merchants taught me!
Jarl Esben received us in his great hall, which is larger and more ornate than any hall I've seen in the north. House Esben is rich, that cannot be denied! With the Jarl was his surviving son, Falcanar, his daughter, the lovely Signe, and his half-Sarcosan bastard, Vildar. The Jarl seemed disinterested in our tale until we told him of the death of his son, Barold. Only then did he agree to send a force north to retake his keep. He told us he would do it only for his son and not for the King. He went so far as to imply that he no longer felt the need to follow the dictates of his sovereign, King Torbault and was looking for allies to break off and form a new kingdom of the north. I was shocked and I told him so there in his great hall before all his thanes and followers. I felt particularly inspired in my oration and I was rewarded by seeing his face burn red with anger and shame. He sought to remove us from his city, but I demanded hospitality, which was my right as a nobleman and a Prince of the Blood. Reluctantly he agreed and gave us hospitality for a week. I had no intention of staying that long, but I wanted to force him to acknowledge my claim and shame him further. His daughter and the bastard, Vildar, seemed to appreciate seeing their father shamed by me.
In the city we found evidence that the Jarl had been hiring mercenaries, mostly Sarcosan horsemen. We knew then that his threat of open rebellion was no mere boast. His intentions were made real, so we sought allies in the city. I met with the Jarl's daughter, Signe, and we discussed her relationship with her father. She flirted with me quite a bit and I'm ashamed to admit that I flirted back. She is a beautiful woman and her charms are hard to resist. I didn't manage to win her over as an ally against her father, but I feel I've made her a friend. Perhaps that will be enough.
Daschell and Inquisitor Rysdan met with the bastard, Vildar, who turns out to be a very learned scholar and a man of science and philosophy. They spoke of those things to ease his mind before turning the topic of discussion to his father and the threat of rebellion. He despises his father and I feel that Daschell and Rysdan were able to win his loyalty. Time will tell if we will be able to use him, but at least we now have eyes and ears in the Jarl's hall.
As we were preparing to leave for Riismark, I was approached by none other than Peredur Gunnar, the sorceror we had met on the road to the wall. I thought he had come to mock and humiliate me further, but instead presented a proposal. If we would accept House Gunnar as bannermen to House Dale, he would be a loyal friend. I had Daschell draw up a letter of introduction to my father and we tasked Lord Gunnar with keeping a watchful eye on Jarl Esben. Another set of eyes in Port Esben couldn't hurt, but I don't feel we can trust House Gunnar fully. They'll have to prove their loyalty to House Dale before my father would ever consider accepting them as bannermen.
The road back north to Riismark was long and rough, but soon we were once more welcomed into the city of my birth...my home. We met immediately with Jarl Dale, my father, to inform him of all we had learned. My elder brother was there to sneer at me, of course. I was surprised to see that father had a guest from court, a knight of the Order of Truth. I told father and the knight our tale. He was not as concerned about Jarl Esben's rebellion as I had hoped. Instead, he told me that the knight had brought an order from the king, my grandfather, that would see Esben happy and a loyal subject once again. It seems that the king would have me marry Jarl Esben's daughter, Signe and cement their loyalty to the Torbault line. I was shocked and refused of course! I love Astra Redgard and would marry none but her! My father reminded me that Astra was betrothed to my older brother, Cuyler, a fact that I could never forget. I asked for a personal audience with the Jarl to plead my case, but he could not be turned aside. I would marry Signe as the king had commanded. I would do my duty to the House and the kingdom. I had no argument left in me, so I agreed to speak of it more at a later date. I retired to my estate then to consult with my friends and comrades.
...end of session.