Another tale from the Exploration of Isenwald campaign!
Not long after arriving in the northern land of Isenwald, the party had made an enemy of the selfish knight Banneret. They had defeated his band of knights and custrels in a barrier combat during a spring festival in Arianport. Unhappy with the loss, Sir Andreas Fuchs and his men later ambushed the party to steal the winnings. The party defeated them, and Diego was merciful. However, Andreas Fuchs took this for weakness. After attracting a few more swords to his band, he followed the party northwards to the Cloister Mine and witnessed the Battle of the Muddy Fields. His men then laid a careful ambush for the weary party.
FROM THE DM:
This session was the closest we came to a TPK (editor’s note: that’s “Total Party Kill” for those unfamiliar with roleplaying parlance), at least to this point. The PCs were already at half-strength when I hit them with a fresh band of armored knights. I pushed them to their limits, but the players responded well. Ironically, the PCs won the battle when all the main fighters were down or dying. The peace-loving thief (he would say spymaster) of the party turned the tide with a magical whip! This encounter gave the PCs tremendous satisfaction because they killed a worthy foe that they hated.
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
Diego de Vargas: Fighter and party leader
Simi Longblade: Fighter, Diego’s right-hand man
Sir Tomo Daegun: Fighter, Diego’s noble friend
Gabriel Lucien: Thief, Diego’s spymaster
Darocles Soterion: Magic User, Diego’s salvage master
Sir Andreas Fuchs: Knight Banneret, leader of robber knights
Fr. Ildar: An Orthodox monk studying at a nearby monastery
Thudimir: A mercenary allied to the party
Simi’s mare bucked unexpectedly, and, somewhere off to the right, a twig snapped. Then they heard the characteristic snap of bowstrings. Something flew past their heads unseen, and finally arrows began thudding into saddles, mounts, and armor. Their senses screaming, the companions frantically scanned the trees and bushes that surrounded them on all sides. The air came alive with arrows, zipping to and fro in a blur. Horses shrieked as they were hit. Thudimir slumped forward on his mount, shot through the neck, the blood gushing down into his chain shirt. The whole affair lasted only a few seconds.
Tomo was the first to react. Drawing his sword, the Kuldaran knight spurred his armored charger into action, galloping off to the left and crashing through the underbrush to flush out any would-be foes. Arrows ricocheted wildly off his horse’s iron barding, and another shattered as it hit the knight’s breastplate. Then Diego followed suit, and then Simi. Off they went in three directions, fanning out and charging into the ambush with great courage. Darocles grabbed for the metal pendant on his neck and murmured a few words to himself, while Lucien slid nimbly from the saddle, slapped his mount on its flank, and disappeared into a stand of birch trees.
The companions thrashed the bushes before them, trying to flush out the unseen archers, but to no avail. Then, even before they heard the noise, they felt the ground rumble. As if in slow motion, eyes turned to gaze upon the nightmare of every battlefield—heavy horse. From around a stand of snow-dusted fir trees galloped seven armored figures—knights and their battle squires. The knights’ chargers—gigantic animals, easily 17 hands high and clad in brightly colored caparisons—snorted steam into the chilled air as they thundered forward. Knights and custrels dipped their lances with lethal intent as they closed. The companions had only seconds to react, and some of the smaller horses quivered in panic before the charge. Then came the shock.
Lances splintered, horses collided, and blood spattered on the virgin snow. The knights and custrels swept past their targets, drew their swords, and wheeled their horses around for another pass. Reeling from the initial shock, Diego and his companions raised their weapons high and spurred their steeds into the fray. Within seconds, a bloody melee ensued. Though Diego and most of his men could not match the horsemanship of the knights, they were able to keep close enough to them to prevent the knights from charging and breaking off repeatedly. It proved to be a deciding factor in the battle. Sir Tomo was the exception, for he was able to match the knights’ horsemanship. He raced toward the flanks of the enemy and crashed into one knight after another, dealing crushing blows with his longsword. Yet, his efforts were evenly matched, for both he and his foes were clad in full steel harness. The whole affair devolved into a bloody slugfest.
The field, no longer a pristine sheet of virgin snow, was churned with mud, broken arrows, corpses, and crimson stains. Arrows continued to rip into allied horses and men. The archers were still out there somewhere, but Diego and his friends fixated on bringing down Sir Andreas Fuchs. One by one, they charged him from all directions, ignoring the other perils around them. First Tomo crashed into him from behind and delivered a stout stroke to the neck. Then Diego rushed upon him savagely, swinging with wild abandon. In the center of the field, two enemy custrels threw themselves at Darocles, slashing and thrusting with their longswords. Falling back and parrying desperately, Darocles held his own. The very air before him seemed to shimmer as he fought, deflecting some of their blows, much to the custrels’ astonishment. Nearby, three custrels fell upon Simi. Whirling his bastard sword about him with a fury, he singlehandedly took on all three to give his companions the advantage elsewhere. From his position in the birch trees, Lucien scanned the battlefield with dismay. He was no match for armored horsemen, and he couldn’t get a fix on any of the archers. They were not only well placed for an ambush, but they were near invisible in the heavy brush and in the gloom of twilight. Determined to use the gloom to his advantage, he drew his dagger and crept from the bushes.
The butchery continued. Simi had downed one custrel and had thrown another from his horse when five more horsemen galloped around the bend. More knights and custrels! One knight dealt a crushing blow to Diego with his flanged heavy mace as he passed, momentarily stunning him. The others barreled into the companions, reigning blows upon them and rallying their fellows. Ignoring the blows, Diego surged forward to get at Fuchs. With a mighty blow, he unseated the robber knight and cast him into the snow-covered mud. Three or four horses stamped wildly around him as the riders of both sides engaged in battle. Unable to rise, Fuchs crawled through the muck, dodging hooves and hoping to reach safety. Diego was undeterred. Dodging another blow, he wheeled his mount and sped after Fuchs. Vaulting from the saddle, sword in hand, he aimed a savage blow at the robber knight’s head. Fuchs parried, but Diego’s blow was unstoppable. It drove through the block, cleaved Fuchs’ helm in twain, and bit into his skull.
Fuchs fell face forward into the mud, but Diego had no time to celebrate. One of Fuchs’ knights, seeing his liege down, wheeled about and smote Diego with a terrible blow to the head. All went black for the son of Deltini.
It was then that Darocles turned the tide of battle. Finally able to pull himself away from the two rabid custrels, he unleashed his own gale-force winds that threw many of the new riders to the ground. The moaning of the strange storm drowned out nearly everything else. Diego too, lying unconscious and bleeding, was caught in its grip. Lucien lost no time, racing from the brush and diving straight into the blinding and deafening winds. He disappeared from sight.
Despite the strange phenomenon, the battle continued to rage. Simi finally brought the last custrel low and then raced toward Diego, or at least toward the spot where he last saw Diego’s body, for it was now engulfed in a swirling mass of dust, debris, snow, and angry gray wind. Feeling helpless, he screamed for Diego, but received no answer. Falling to his knees, he pushed into the windstorm on all fours, blindly looking for his friend. Then, a virtual miracle occurred. Diego’s still form was seemingly pushed into his grasp. Momentarily stunned, Simi then realized that Lucien had found Diego’s body and had pushed it toward him. Simi wasted no time, scooping up his friend, dodging a blow from a passing knight, and then dragging Diego into the nearest patch of underbrush. Ripping his gloves from his hands, he drew his dagger and sliced open his palm. Blood spilled onto the ground as Simi dropped the dagger and covered his thumb in the crimson liquid. He prayed silently and touched Diego on the forehead. Trusting that his newfound and miraculous power had worked, he then worked frantically to bandage his friend’s wounds. Then, exhausted and ready to collapse, he knelt over his friend’s body, dagger in hand, ready for one last stand.
The fray continued. Three robber knights were on Darocles, when Lucien emerged from the swirling winds with the notorious whip of Andrei Korsky in hand. He let it fly, and a deafening thundercrack echoed across the valley. One knight was thrown from his charger, another fell to the ground, and the third lost control of his panicked horse. Tomo downed another knight, but, as he did so, another robber knight buried a longsword into his side, finding a gap in his armor. Tomo howled in pain, blood spewed forth like a fountain, and all went black for the Triton knight.
With Diego, Simi, and Tomo out of the way, the few remaining knights wrenched their horses about to face Darocles. Just then, behind the knights, Lucien emerged once again from hiding and let fly the whip. Again it struck home with thunderous force, causing one knight to fall motionless to the ground. That was it. The remaining horseman wheeled their mounts and fled the field.
In the end, the companions found that Sir Andreas Fuchs, Sir Beornwin, and Sir Walamar lay dead, along with three custrels. The remaining knights, custrels, and archers retreated from the field and disappeared from sight. Diego and Simi lost their horses, but two others were captured, along with two heavy horses. Simi lost no time. He grabbed a stray horse, threw Diego over the saddle, and rode to the monastery for help. He soon returned to get Tomo and the others. In the meantime, Lucien and Darocles bandaged Tomo’s wounds, which looked grave. Of the allies, Thudimir lay dead, and both Diego and Tomo lay in a coma. Simi himself was terribly wounded, barely staving off unconsciousness. Darcoles and Lucien, though relatively unharmed, were shocked by the turn of events. At long last they had discovered the whereabouts of Fuchs. It was tough to decide whether the information had been worth the cost.
The companions, after reaching the Orthodox Monastery of the Caves, implored Fr. Ildar and the other monks for their help. Without hesitation, the monks helped the wounded down the tunnel to the incense-filled caverns below.