My night time precautions prove effective, as we are untroubled in our sleep – obviously any potential assailants realise that they are up against a master in such matters and decide to wait upon easier sheep to prey upon. We awake in the morning and venture forth to find the ferry, only to discover that our informants have misinformed up upon this matter as the ferry has been replaced by a fine stone bridge many years ago. That is always the problem with the memories of elves – they are always thinking back to the time of their youth, rather that focusing on the here and now. Anyhow, the bridge proves to be sturdy and fully functional in its purpose of conveying us to the fine town of Womford, so we proceed. Unfortunately, our progress to the fine town of Womford is prevented by the discovery that Womford is actually a miserable hamlet, boasting a dilapidated wharf with three river barges tied up, a run down general store and a rather dubious looking tavern. Short of alternatives, we fall back upon my normal recourse in any situation, and head for the tavern. The tavern keeper seems bemused to see so many strangers in at such an early hour, but perks up when I order five tankards of ale (or the nearest potable alternative). There is one other inhabitant of the bar, who perks up when I include him in our largess. He drinks our health and then launches into a long (and possibly slightly drunken, which is impressive given the early hour of the morning – obviously a true knight of the tavern) rant about how things have gone to the bad around here. This is saved from being the usual elven maudlin lament for how so much better things were in the old days, by being specific on what is the problem, the problem in question being river pirates. I prick up my (undeniably cute) ears at this, for Endrith had tasked me, as the most resourceful and bravest of the Harper agents in the area, with the complex and dangerous task of infiltrating the river pirate organisation, and bringing its leaders to justice (summary or otherwise). Thus I was most interested in this line of conversation, and plied him with more ale, which he gladly and thirstily accepted, in order to find out what he knew of them.
They were apparently a scourge on all traffic on the river, and indeed three youths from Womford had even joined them as they seemed to be the new power in the area. They were, apparently, so brazen that one of their boats was even at this very moment tied at the wharf below, the River Lady. It is captained apparently by a blue man by the name of Shoalar Quandrille. Fascinated by this information, I finished quaffing my ale, and stroll outside to cast a glance over the River Lady and it’s crew, for the name of Shoalar Quandrille was one I had heard before. Indeed he was one of the villains that had been named to be by Endrith as a ringleader of the river pirates and someone who should be eliminated as a threat. I found a vantage point by the corner of a building and easily identified the River Lady, as it is the closest of the three wherries that are moored alongside. There was a sole crewman visible, swabbing the quaterdeck (as I understand it is termed).
My interest in the vessel was now fully piqued. The original plan had been to continue onwards to Summit Hall, but this seemed too interesting an opportunity to overlook. Had I been alone, I would have considered attempting to sign on as a new recruit and infiltrate the organization from the bottom upwards, but with five of us, all heavily armed and diverse, it seemed too complex an enterprise. Feyabelle, on the other hand, felt that the more direct approach was best, a quick attack on the boat to eliminate it as a threat and find out some information. I was nervous about what the locals might think if we just suddenly launched an unprovoked attack on a vessel at anchor, so Thorg offered to go and get them to start a fight. He stomped off down the hill and a brief conversation ensued, which, as Thorg had predicted, rapidly descended into violence. As he approached, a blue man, obviously Shoalar Quandrille, came out on deck, and when I say blue, he was actually blue skinned. The conversation was hard to hear, but I think I heard him refer to Thorg as shorty, and soon afterwards, Thorg made a comment about him being untrustworthy on account of his skin colour. That seemed to work, as the blue man started to wave his hands about as if about to cast a spell. Thorg hefted his axe, but I was on a hair trigger for this, and shot three magic missiles from my wand at his at the first sign of trouble. Feyabelle followed this up with a bullseye arrow, and Thorg swung an struck him a glancing blow with his axe. Sorrel rushed forwards and turned into a bear (again). The blue man had by this time completed his spell, and a great wave of water rose up and crashed over Thorg and Sorrel, knocking Thorg off his feet and washing him off the gangplank and back onto the quayside. Arielle used her mystic mastery to impose an area of silence over the whole boat, but then two more deck hands boiled up to join the first one who had dropped his mop and picked up a light crossbow. Two of the deck hands shot at us with crossbows, while the third, a halfling, attacked Thorg, who was still lying on the floor. One of the deck hands shot at Arielle, who leapt to the side, and caught the quarrel out of the very air, flipped it over and was able to throw it back, hitting the shooter with his own bolt. I cast a sleep spell over the boat, and one of the deckhands with a crossbow dropped in a slumber. Feyabelle hit the blue man with another arrow, and he dived over the side of the boat. Sorrel lunged forward over Thorg to slash and bite the halfling, as the gangplank creaked ominously under their weight. Thorg got back onto his feet and grabbed his crossbow, shooting at the deckhand at point blank range, and still managing to miss. Feyabelle threw another dart at the remaining deckhand, whose shot then hit Thorg. Thinking quickly, I sent Blinky up to see which direction the blue man was swimming in, then rushed over and fired another five magic missiles into him. He stopped struggling and started floating downstream. Feyabelle shot the deckhand with the crossbow, killing him, and Sorrel bit the head off the halfling. Thorg dashed onto the boat next door, grabbing a boathook to try and fish out the body of the blue man, but Arielle dived into the river and pulled it to shore.
We were quickly surrounded by a crowd of locals, who made it clear that rather than regarding us as blood-crazed lunatics, they were fully appreciative of our effort in removing this scourge from their village. All except Sorrel, who they remained nervous of now that they knew that she could turn into a bear. We quickly tied up our sleeping captive, and searched the boat. We found five more dwarvish tomes that looked like the one that Endrith had shown me, plus some money and a finely worked dagger that on later investigation turned out to be a dagger of venom. The hold was full of supplies and trade goods, presumably looted from passing boats.
Having satisfied ourselves that there was nothing more to be found we started interrogating our prisoner. He started out cocky, but when we told him of the fates of his captain and the rest of his crew he rapidly became amenable. It seemed that he had little loyalty for his captain, being just a hired mercenary looking to make a living working as a river pirate. Their base was somewhere called Riverguard Keep, which was upriver in the Sumber Hills, although towards this end of the hills. There was an organisation there dedicated to the worship of water, led by a crazy woman in the chapel. Those in charge were devotees of this cult, but the majority of the pirates were hired mercenaries like him, who were just fighting for the money. The keep was build right on the river, with a river gate that allowed the boats to access it. The fort was run by a man called Jolliver Grimjaw. This name was also not unknown to me, having been mentioned to me by Endrith as another one of the river pirates who needed to be eliminated. In among all his other ramblings, he happened to mention that they had ferried four captives across to the keep a couple of weeks ago, and the descriptions that he gave matched those of the embassy given by Endrith. This new information suggested to me that we should change our plans once again. What was the point of going to Summit Hall if we now had intelligence that they embassy had crossed the river weeks ago. This was now the freshest lead on the fate of the embassy that we had, so it seemed our bounden duty that we should follow it. The main issue that we had was that we were not exactly experienced boatmen, and an, it turned out, related issue, was that we had a prisoner, and no obvious law enforcement agency to hand him over to. However he indicated that his loyalty to the pirates was now gone, and that indeed, he feared if he returned there they would kill him. The offer of two gold coins a week was enough to buy his loyalty, and he pledged to serve us. In addition we were able to hire a young chap from the village, who was keen to serve under such an obvious hero as me and strike a blow against the pirates who had been terrorizing the river.
We therefore enjoyed a good lunch provided for us by the grateful townsfolk, and left, sailing upriver, folk-heroes once again in another community. Surely there will soon be no village, hamlet or other gathering place in the Dessarin Valley that will not have a statue to Erky the Brave? Anyway, as we sailed up river, we discussed the fort with Thedorm, our new hireling and recent turncoat. He told us much of the operations of the place, as far as he knew them, and we came up with the outlines of a plan. We would sail into the water gate around dusk, as if returning from an expedition, which indeed they had been on the verge of doing. Thedorm would act as steersman and would give the sign and countersign, being known to the gatekeeper. He would introduce >>>> as a new recruit. I would disguise myself, being a master of disguise, as the halfling mate, which is a role suitable to my stature. Meanwhile, I would use my Silent Illusion to show them an image of Captain Quandrille leaving the deck and going below. This would then hopefully satisfy them that Captain Quandrille was on board, and Thedorm would cover for him, saying that he was busy and did not wish to be disturbed. The rest of us would then hide below decks. We would then tie up at the main wharf to unload cargo. If there were no other cargo unloaders present, we would take the opportunity to sneak into the castle, otherwise we would be introduced as prospective new recruits and rely on that to get us an interview with Jollivar, the commander of the fort.