Gathering once again at the Inn, The Shorn reviewed their options for further adventure. With no idea how long it would take for Caldwell to track down his spellcaster and lacking the patience to wait five days for the findings of Artax the Sage, they elected to travel east to Fort Castellan. They had little trouble tracking down the source of the rumours regarding humanoid raids on trade caravans given that he presently had rooms at the Inn. Stefan, it transpired, was a horse trader who had been stranded in the town during the long winter after delivering new stock to the Patriarch and his household (suggesting the news from the East was months old, though no one in the party seemed to pick up on this at the time).
Stefan agreed to act as a guide, quickly gathering his belongings and arranging to meet the party outside after breakfast. As the party gathered, it occured to them that they had best let Caldwell know where they were going. After first having no luck finding him or any of his senior retainers at the merchants townhouse (where wagon loads of his goods were being carted out and wagon loads belonging to the new tenants were being carted in) they elected to speak with him at his new Manor. This was no hardship, for the manor was on the road to the west -a road they must take, for no roads lead east from Threshold, and they must first travel south to Kelvin to find passage on a river boat to the Fort.
Tungdil elected to play the part of errand boy, though he found the Manor’s new master not at home. Instead he left word with the Merchant’s Steward. It was an encounter that did not go well. Firstly, Tungdil found the man busily directing workmen unloading furniture from carts. Then the news that they were simply riding (more accurately, walking) off eastwards on what would be at least a two-week round trip had him all but accusing them of abandoning their contract (which, frankly, they were). Tungdil‘s attempt to tip the man with a gold piece only made matters worse, the steward (correctly) assuming the offered tip was little more than a heavy handed attempt at a bribe -with his subordinate workers present no less! The Steward all but chased the young dwarf from his master’s lands, promising that the party had not heard the end of this.
Tungdil relayed this news to his companions, who did not seem overly concerned by the reminder that they were breaking their contract with the merchant (nor did they note how much this evidently displeased Stefan, who was himself a merchant only just entered into a contract with them). Nor, for that matter, did any of them recall that they owed a certain sage 400gp for the work he was doing while they intended to be travelling. Stefan could not help but think that the group should be more mindful of their reputation, but the horse-trader turned guide held his peace.
The party passed through Hans’ home village, the settlement of Verge, at around midday where (in accordance with tradition) the newly-shorn youngster was ignored by his family – all except a certain younger lass who looked at him askew as he passed and muttered that he wasn’t taking care of himself properly. Just after dusk, they passed near the eaves of the Radlebb Forest, on their road to the village of Rifllian. They arrived just as the human-owned bussiness’ were closing down for the night (or else handing over to their elven staff). Weary human residents bid the travellers good night while they trudged home for dinner, even as the settlement’s elves and half-elves geared up for a busy night. They managed to meet the human inn-keep of the Tree-Bough Inn just as he was leaving, yet even so he graciously persuaded them that sleeping on the common room floor would be ill-advised given that his elven customers would be coming in from the fields soon and elves need no sleep. Sure enough, even in the rooms above the party could make out the sounds of revelry from below, but the many layers of fresh leaves cast about the floor of the rooms drowned out the greater part of the noise.
The next morning, the fourteenth, they set out eastwards for Kelvin. They arrived at mid-day, just as Stefen had led them to expect, passing a merchant caravan heading north along the way. It came as no surprise that any boats leaving the docks that day had already taken their leave of the city this late in the day. On Stefan‘s recommendation The Shorn decided to shop, finding themselves impressed with the town and it’s markets, easily twice the size of Threshold and more. Vaslav and Urich left the others to visit the town’s famous shrines and temples. As they departed, Elra offered to pick up any supplies the two needed. Uric thought long and hard for a moment before declaring he wanted a puppy. This set off a gentle argument between the brothers when they left on their errands, the one insisting he was responsible enough to look after a puppy on his own, the other bitterly complaining that he would end up being the one to look after it, train it, feed it etc. “And anyway,” Vaslav added, sealing the argument, “It’s not as though we can take a puppy down a dungeon can we?”
Though impressed by the city’s markets and the variety of specialist craftsmen available (armourers, helm-makers, gauntlet makers, sword smiths, weapon smiths and so forth) the rest of the group bought only essential supplies. Tungdil and Boindil tried to save the group a little cash, first by visiting a shady looking inn called the “”/campaign/shorn-cloaks-and-tattered-shields/wikis/Diamond%20Spider/new" class=“create-wiki-page-link”>Diamond Spider" populated solely by “dancing girls” and men with numerous facial scars and then by trying to hire out space in a stables. Eventually, one of the stable-men stopped laughing long enough to explain to the pair of “dwarf bumpkins” how things worked in the “cities” of Karemeikos. The Guilds regulated prices and determined who offered which services. Anyone who tried to take business away from another guild (say, the Hostelers and Tavern Keepers guild, for example) could look forward to having their business burned down by a mob of angry apprentices. Chagrined, the dwarfs took their leave and admitted it looked like they would be staying in the “”/campaign/shorn-cloaks-and-tattered-shields/wikis/Merchant%27s%20Weigh%20Inn/new" class=“create-wiki-page-link”>Merchant’s Weigh Inn" after all.
[Personally, I thought this was a cracking name for an Inn catering to Merchants and travellers, but nobody else seemed to get the joke].
The next day (the 15th) Stefan found them a place on a riverboat heading north east up the river, known variously as the Volaga or the Highreach, depending on whether the speaker was Traladaran or Thyatian. Though they journey required frequent stops for the boat to be unloaded and carried past various rapids, the “”/campaign/shorn-cloaks-and-tattered-shields/wikis/Spirit%20of%20Halav/new" class=“create-wiki-page-link”>Spirit of Halav" made good time. On the evening of the first night, they camped not far from the confluence of the Volaga and the Castellan rivers. The campsite was a good spot for a future inn, Vaslav noted, given how many ships had stopped their for the evening. A party atmosphere persisted for several hours while the various crews drank and swapped tall tales but eventually the tired oarsmen bedded down for the night. The Shorn, as paying passengers, were not required to stand a watch that night but were woken by the baying of wolves. In a desperate defence of the party mule, both Elra and Tungdil went down, savaged by wolves. Yet while Tungdil] was merely knocked senseless by a collision with a rock while falling, Elra was badly torn up. Over the course of the river journey, the spells of Vaslav and Bogdin ensured that all the groups wounds were quickly healed. Yet the fatigue of her near death left Elra feeling weak and sickly for the remainder of the journey. Even the sight of Fort Castellan’s mighty walls, rising up from the hills above the river, on the morning of the 20th did little to cheer her.
An hour before dusk, Stefan presented the group to the Corporal of the Guard who, upon asking their business, confirmed that the garrison had been concentrating on their campaign against the local giants and had not had men to spare patrolling the mountain roads last year. He seemed surprised that the party were expecting to meet merchants who would pay for the humanoids to be “cleaned out” (as, for that matter, was Stefen, who’d made no mention of any such thing while talking to the party a week before). The Corporal did allow that a Jeweller and his wife had been trapped in the Fort by the snows last winter and MIGHT be interested in paying to have the route cleared (or else pay for an escort across the mountains) but could make no promises. He did add that the party should feel free to scout for trouble and could keep any loot lifted from dead foes, but reminded them to list all their goods with the Bailiff and his clerk each time they entered or left the Fort. He went on to explain that any goods other than those in their possession upon leaving the Fort would be taxed on their return.
The Bailiff and his scribe thereafter made a careful record of their goods and possessions (a procedure which lasted well past nightfall) before providing directions to both the Guild House (rooms set aside for any Guilded Merchants passing through) and to the Orc’s Head Inn and Tavern, where caravan guards and drovers normally took lodging. They left Stefan at the door to the Inn (as a Guilded Merchant, Stefan was himself entitled to free lodging at the Guild House) and bedded down for the night.