After a gentle sail up the impressively large Dessarin river (around half a mile wide here it appeared, which convincingly disabused even Sorrel of her initial plan for swimming across it from the Sumber Hills on the way to Summit Hall), including a quiet and restful overnight, we arranged our pace such that we would arrive at Rivergard Keep as dusk was falling. We proceeded as we approached to put my carefully designed plan into action. While the rest of us cowered in the cabin, I disguised myself using my previously acquired skills in this department as the recalcitrant halfling who had formerly served as the first mate. We also disguised Therel as the deceased deck hand, while Thedorm played himself with remarkable facility. As we neared the chain boom that stretched across the river gate, a we were hailed by one of the sentries on the wall. I cast an illusion of Captain Quanderil sitting on the quarterdeck, and Thedorm responded that we were the Rivermaid returned. A lanky head poked out of a window in the left hand river tower and looked us over, asking what our voyage had been like. I made the illusion seem to be Quanderil waving to the man and then going below. Thedorm replied that the pickings had been reasonable. Obviously satisfied with our responses and identity, the chain was lowered and we moored along the quay by the outer wall. The guards from the wall were watching us, which prevented us using plan A of all sneaking off the boat, so we moved seamlessly to plan B. Thedorm called up, to explain that he had four new recruits that they had picked up. Two guards appeared, armed with curious shark-teeth swords and shields made from turtle shells. They brusquely accompanied Sorrel, Arielle, Feyabelle and Thorg us to the keep and showed them in.
Inside was a large, gruff man, who we immediately assumed was Jollivar Grimjaw. He was attended by a woman who appeared to be his lieutenant and two guards. Words were exchanged I understand, and I get the impression that Jollivar was not at all jolly, and pretty suspicious of the new recruits. Nonetheless he agreed to try them out and ordered them to be quartered for the night. I then say them being marched from the keep into a low building in the centre of the fort. Here they were introduced to other members of the garrison, and allocated two bunks (between the four of them).
They soon reappeared at the boat, saying that they had received an unfriendly welcome from the rest of their bunkmates, who were eight mercenaries and two of the elite guards, called reavers. They proposed to take a keg of ale back with them to try and get their companions drunk enough to sleep through them leaving the barracks. I promised to remain in touch with Thorg using my messaging cantrip.
I messaged them in an hour and received a curt response from Thorg. Plans had changed apparently. The reavers were not drinking and grudgingly allowing the others to drink. There were now four reavers in the barracks, and one bandit would guard each door through the night. Sneaking out was no longer an option, Sorrel and the others had decided that we needed to kill them as they slept.
I was concerned about this turn of events, because I am not usually in favour of killing those who are helpless, unless truly evil, and I felt that a great many of the garrison, like us, were just trying to make an honest living in a hard world, trying to escape from hard lives scrabbling a living from the soil. Plus some of those garrison members were also the young lads from Womford that had joined up – should they really be punished like this for a momentary lapse of judgement? But a message cantrip is no place to try and change the mind of a hardened killer, and Sorrel’s instincts were definitely driving her at this point. I went along with the plan, because it would be even worse to leave my friends without backup at this time, and it is certain that this fortress is a focus for evil along the Dessarin valley, as Endrith had indicated. Or rather he had indicated that there was evil afoot along the Dessarin valley; I had traced the source of it to this tumbledown castle.
I snuck carefully up to the east door of the barracks and messaged Arielle to let her know I was there. I didn’t know why I needed to do this, but soon understood as I saw the black smoke of her shadow magic wreathing me. Satisfied that I was now almost completely invisible to those on the walls, I snuck around to the north door as I had been ordered and messaged Arielle again, then activated the poison on my venom blade. I teased open the door, and then before the guard sat next to it could respond, struck him with my dagger. The strike was true and the venom did its work quickly. Looking around the room, I saw my friends rapidly dispatching the sleeping guards and reavers. Soon we were standing alone in our gruesome charnelhouse, and they filled me in quickly. The guards on the walls were pretty drunk, having partaken from the key before they were replaced, and would now be on guard until morning. The reavers had threatened to call in Jollivar if anyone had gotten too drunk though, so the other bandits were only merry, which is why they had had to kill all of them. The two awake guards had meant that they had had no chance of leaving without the alarm being raised in some way.
We had an hour before the shadow magic would wear off, so we needed to move quickly. We crossed the bailey, wreathed in shadow, and listened at the great door of the keep. We could hear low voices within, and Blinky, perching by an arrowslit high up in the wall could see Jollivar and his lieutenant talking in front of the fire. We decided not to confront them and moved east around the other big building in the bailey. On the east side were double doors – cautiously opening these we saw it was a temple. Thedorm had spoken of a crazy woman who urged on the cultists in the chapel, and there appeared to be some sleeping pallets at the far end. I snuck up the chapel alone, and could see a woman sleeping there with two of the reavers. Creeping forward, I slit her throat, and then the throats of the two reavers sleeping on either side of her.
Exiting the chapel, we proceeded to the northernmost river tower. Listening at the door there, we heard guttural tones in a language that sounded a bit like goblin. Feyabelle examined the ground outside, but a quick sniff of the air confirmed to her that there were bugbears inside, although only a handful. We decided that killing even a couple of bugbears would be a noisy task and decided to leave them while we continued to search for the missing ambassadors. Returning to the opposite corner of the castle, we passed the ruined stableblock and found the gatehouse. There was no noise at the door, but on opening it we found four more sleeping guards, who we killed as they slept. Ascending the stairs to the upper floor, we found more guards sleeping, along with two more reavers. All these also perished at our blades as we slept. Killing men in their sleep still seems a nasty business to me, but I could not disagree with Sorrel that it was allowing us to venture almost unhindered around the castle, although so far we had found no sign of the captives. The upper floor of the gatehouse had doors onto the wallwalk. I opened the one to the wall leading to the keep – the guard on duty there was slumped bored against the parapet. Swiftly I cast a sleep spell upon him, and watched him slump down against the wall.