3rd Medegetneon, one week after leaving Ripenso, the party was pursuing Ashkenu into the Battle Washes, guided by Ives Marshstrider. They left the horses at Three Crossings before entering the jungly swamps, which were thick with low-hanging branches, vines, insects and reptiles and occasionally opened into broad empty savanna-like expanses of marsh. It was slow going under the hazy head of an early summer sun.
Ives led the way to passable ground. At the evening meal, he explained that not far south lay the last town on their way: Veron, a one-time fort. He advised the adventurers to stop in for supplies there, since food and drinkable water were hard to come by in that region. He also warned of the dangers of the swamp, chief among them the major clans of orcs whose territories shifted regularly.
Come sunset, they reached a low hill rising out of the flat wetlands. A town clung to the top – a crumbling bailey with a palisade around it. The rooflines of a few mud buildings were visible above. Collain and Narayan noticed a loose ring of fires around the hill-town with a few scattered humanoid forms. Ives hoped they were peat-cutters, but said it was unusual for the town to have such activity outside the gates. Perhaps, he speculated, they were orcs.
As they considered the situation, a party left the palisade and made for them. There were some 12 of them and they carried a red banner. As they passed a fire to our left, another squad with a yellow banner joined them and moved our way. They were clearly well-armed, but the party still couldn’t tell whether they were orcs or humans. Narayan and Vikram suspected the former, but whoever was approaching did not appear to be hostile yet. And besides, Ives doubted they could be outrun.
A fat and balding human accompanied the group of orcs from the city; both groups wore leather armor. The red group (from the city) wore cloaks over their black armor and had a 4-horned skull on their banner; the other group went uncloaked and had a 6-armed, wolf-headed figure on their banner. The adventurers arranged themselves in a rough semi-circle with the spellcasters toward the back and the scaly things in the front. As they watched, the orc groups met and spoke briefly in Ugrui. Keeping what appeared an uneasy peace, they approached. Their human companion was dressed in battered, once-fine attire. He spoke: “In the name of the Montagar clan, true rulers of Veron, I bid you welcome and ask that if you come in peace you enter within these walls to help the Montagar in their struggle against the wicked Kapul.” A yellow-banner orc immediately responded by informing us that if the party joined them against the Montagar, a rich reward awaited.
Kinaa asked politely about food and water. A Montagar orc offered to equip them well from the city and provide hospitality. The orcs had not seen the party’s quarry, having conquered Veron only a few days earlier. The Kapul sneered as they retreated back to their fires.
Romagog Mantagar, son of Grodoc, offered his welcome. His yellow, goat-like eyes, shining above his white tusks, considered the adventurers calmly. He seemed young. He introduced the party to Mergegoth, a small, sallow orc whose long tusks were tipped in black. Both carried axes and wore crimson cloaks over their armor. Romagog explained that Grodoc, his father, would decide whether the party was still considered to come in peace if they did not help against the Kapul.
He led them past the fires of the Kapul, through the gate in the wooden palisade into Veron. It was not thrilling. A crumbling stone bailey with a large windmill on top dominated the town center. The wattle and daub houses were ancient and skewed, with wooden stairs leading to the 2nd or 3rd floor entrances. The streets were a slurry of mud and sewage. A large building on the left displayed a sign of a bear holding a tankard, and an orc raised a toast from the stairs. Nearby a pen, once for livestock, held the human womenfolk of Veron. Beyond the bailey stood another pen full of children. Lamentations in Low Fleurisian floated by.
Romagog led the party into a large, drafty hall of the bailey—an old threshing room, as it turned out. The windmill creaked above: it had not been a true fort in some time. In the center, candles gleamed over a huge wooden table. A thin-faced, well-armed orc, apparently the chieftain, was listening to a lavishly-dressed orc in a hooded garment.
Kinaa spoke: “You are Grodoc?”
The orc raised a hand and his interlocutor fell silent. He greeted the guests and introduced the shaman. Grodoc apologized for the state of his hall—until recently, he explained, his people had been nomads.
Two thin orcs, male and female, entered. Their skin was lined and their hair white and wiry. They had been slaves until recently—but there would be new slaves now. They carried platters of marshpig with a side of tubers. Grodoc ate first; Romagog and Mergegoth settled by the doors.
Grodoc told the adventurers that he had seen how the humans lived in the north. His clan’s numbers had been declining, down to a mere 50 raiders. The old lifestyle—nomadic hunting and raiding—was inadequate now. A human town presented a great opportunity for improvement. The humans would be freed from confinement once they learned to obey the orcs’ laws. However, the Kapul’s summer hunting grounds lay nearby. They had come to raid the Montagar, and were now camped out waiting. The newcomers, well-armed mercenaries, represented another opportunity. Grodoc had a business proposition: help with a plan to destroy the Kapul. In exchange, all the supplies they wanted.
The Montagar and the Kapul had been warring for generations. The Kapul had always been the more numerous clan, but not, Grodoc insisted, the mightier. However, in Grodoc’s youth, a disease struck his clan. Without the help of their god they were vulnerable to the Kapul, who decreased the Montagar’s numbers and augmented their own until they dominated the choice hunting and raiding grounds. He believed he could make Veron an unassailable settlement even against the Kapul. A raid against the Kapul would throw the enemy into disarray. Their chieftain, shaman, and fiercest warriors were all encamped outside the city, but the bulk of the clan remained scattered to the south. The adventurers agreed to think on it overnight.
Two orcs led the Eladrin, Dragonborn, Haraldr and Collaín to the Bear & Tankard, unceremoniously evicting the orcish occupants. The adventurers entered the taproom to find a cask of dripping ale from the bar. A staircase at the back leds up to the 3rd floor, a single large room of meager pallets. It was smelly. Options: fight the Kapul beside the Montagar, flee, try to engineer a battle without getting involved, seek peaceful resolution? If they could escape they would still be in considerable danger from both sides, and the two orc clans seemed well-matched.
As they talked, footsteps echoed on the stairway to the door. Collaín investigated stealthily. Romagog Montagar, followed by the shaman Crogguk, entered. Romagog greeted the half-elf. He and Crogguk wish to speak with the adventurers away from Grodoc. The plan, he explained, was not quite as he had described it to his father the chief.
Crogguk elaborated: “Our god Mornath Gac has revealed … a way to be. If I defeat the shaman and his apprentices in battle, ours will be shown to be the true faith.”
Romagog also wishes to seize a mate from the Kapul (for orcs it was customary to steal maidens, like his admired Julac, in raids). Meanwhile the adventuring party was to assist the shaman by killing the other shaman’s apprentices. Two clans with the same god would not fight, so if Crogguk turned the Kapul to the worship of Mornath Gac, the dispute would be settled.
Again, the party considered their options. Perhaps if they defeated both gods by killing both shamans it would solve matters? Maybe even turn them to the worship of Paela? Perhaps they could defeat the orcs with the help of the prisoned townspeople. Perhaps the raid plan would work. They decided to find out where the men were, and Collaín set off to investigate the women’s pen. However, he slipped on the stairs, and had to invite the guards, who noticed him, in for a beer. The rest of the party joined him for an interspecies drinking party.
One of the two guards spoke Low Fleurisian. He said that they successfully took the city by “killing,” under the auspices of mighty Mornath Gac who slays by night. Crogguk and the chieftain raided the city in a pincer movement by night, surprising the townspeople in their beds. On Grodoc’s insistence, as few as possible were killed. The guard thought the city odd-smelling but looks forward to his 5 human slaves.
The guards drink steadily of both beer and a foul liquor that smells like marsh gas. After a while, Kinaa cautiously walked out. The orc guards did not notice. He walked casually up the road towards the bailey, heard guards, and ambled past the inn in the other direction, wandering aimlessly through the town. He stumbled across the village’s men, tied in a swine-pen. He returns to the inn, where the orcs were drowsily working on their third bottle of swamp liquor. He and Amata found Ives upstairs, praying and none too pleased by the idea of going along with the orcs’ plans. Kinaa reports his find: about 50 men, most young, old, ill or injured. The guards drank themselves into a stupor and were removed by their annoyed fellows.
The guide wanted the adventurers to help the humans. If the shaman’s plan worked and the clans merged, the humans would be enslaved. They leaned towards the idea of following the shaman’s plan and then killing the remaining shaman in the name of Paela the Dusk Lady, whom most of the humans worshipped. Finally, they slept uneasily on the matter.
A heavy knock awoke them. Romagog was outside, sporting a fresh wound. He had been to see his chosen mate Julac, but Mergegoth paid a high price. The party announced their assent to both Grodoc’s and to the shaman’s plan, and set off: early morning, Romagog said, was the best time for raiding.
First, the party went to see the chief in the bailey first. Kinaa proposed that he fight at their side, if he wished us to make this raid. He agreed and followed them to the gate, as did Romagog and his warriors. As far as the adventurers could tell, the plan was to kill the apprentices, let the shamans fight, kill the remaining shaman, and then kill one of the chiefs.
The combined forces of the orcs, Eladrin, Dragonborn and sundry crept down the hill from the city gates with the Montagar forces, which were arrayed in no particular order. Romagog said that the shaman’s tent was to the left, while the chieftain’s tent and Julac are to the right.
The adventurers followed Crogguk to the left, creeping through the tall grass toward a dying campfire. An orc with a lined, pockmarked face squats over a fire with three fellows. All wore leather armor but only the old orc’s is hooded like Crogguk’s; all carried axes. Two other orcs, with axes, stood nearby. Finally, a massive orc with white tattoos on his face was sharpening his axe in the distance: a Dead One. Collaín popped up out of the grass, flung a knife into an orc berserker’s eye, and dropped back down. The orc roared in pain and he and his fellows turned. Narayan murmured some words in the first tongue and the fire seethed up around the orcs. The Dragonborn breathed ice and lightning at the enemies, damaging them severely. Vikram zapped them too with his new Rod of Corruption. Scary . In the midst of the chaos, Crogguk charged forward against his enemy, the shaman Mugang. He shouted an invocation in Urgui and the ground shook. Mugang staggered and shouted back, brandishing his axe. As the party rushed the berserkers, Crogguk made and invocation to his god and the earth rolls. A lengthy battle took place. Late in the combat, three more orcs approached from behind (four of the original eight remained), but were quickly zapped. Both shamans were killed. The Dead One just WOULD NOT DIE. Finally and eventually, the bold adventurers destroyed it.
With the sound of battle raging around them and Montagar warriors pouring out of the city, they took a brief rest.