The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign Part 38 – The Trial

The Gray Riders are a lot like the Dothraki – with a dash of the Horseclans

Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters. For me, it lets me do a little creative writing between more serious projects. Links to the previous posts are at the bottom of this one. Now that COVID is abating, we are returning to the glory of the campaign. Enjoy!

Arius

We worked our way out of the mountain, having rested and recovered. We had the Chalice of St. John, which, with holy water, can resurrect the dead. There was lively debate as to whether it might bring back people as zombies or other undead, but calmer heads prevailed.  After all, it was a holy relic of the church. As we emerged, we found Brandon’s wolf, ever loyal and waiting for him. We presumed the pilgrims that had been at the entrance had moved on. 

This gave us a chance to pause and reaffirm our plans.  Our possession of the chalice ensured that our enemies could not use its powers to their advantage.  We wanted to go to the south, to V’sarin, where the dragonborn lived and was the dragon graveyard.  In the middle of that, we hoped, was a tome that could help us undo the power of the lich Barristen. Our final decision was to south east, to the coastal city of Avanti.  From there we hoped to charter a ship and save weeks of long hot marching in strange lands. 

We set out, marching cross country, relying on Brandon to find our way.  On the second day out Brandon, scouting ahead.  I moved up next to him and could hear mumbling from the brush.  I called out as to who was there.  A booming voice called back, “Who is you?”

“We are us.” 

The male called for Gretchen then called for us to come out in the open.  He pushed the trees aside and we saw a hulking hill giant.”

“Going to the Thundermoot eh?” he asked. “Them Gray Riders…they are a testy people.” 

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“Lookin’ fer a hammer man, just like yerself.  And a wily one that can turn into a bear.”  Ut oh…

He eyed Skullringer menacingly. then called “Gretchen!”  His ugly hill giant wife emerged behind us.  She had moles, and her moles had moles, and they had hairs, some of which were braided. As he moved at us, I swung but cleanly missed. 

“Nice hammer there, hammer-boy,” he said, grinning with yellow teeth.   

Gretchen called out, “The wolf looks tasty.” 

“Wolf’s good eatin’.  No squishing the dinner luv,” he said. 

Theren wasted no time – he called down lightning on the male giant. A searing azure bolt lashed into the giant.

“They warned us you was a tough lot.  Gretchen, you go for the one with the hammer, I want the magic man!” The giants lumbered into battle at us. 

The fight was glorious, as glorious as it could be against such monsters. They threw a bolder at Theren, Brandon fired arrows which only seemed to irritate them. One bolder slammed hard into me, making every bone in my body throb.  Althalus cast a spell that made them seem a phantasm of some sort on the female.  She screamed and howled about a giant bear attacking her, when in reality, she was swinging and kicking at empty air. 

I swung Skullringer at the male, tearing into the fat on his midriff. “Nice try hammer-man!” he taunted back. Brandon hit him which solicited a, “Yer startin’ to annoy me little man!”  The female giant seemed to be struggling with the illusionary bear, losing grip on her club and sending it flying, which would have been comical if we were not engaged in battle with her mate.

Althalus’s eldritch blasts hit Gretchen, skidding her back as the emerald beams lashed into her while she struggled with a bear that didn’t exist.  It swung again, hitting him and channeling my smite into the blow.  “Hey!” he called.  “That hurts!” 

“Good,” I muttered. 

Theren summoned lightning once more on the male, searing its massive left arm.  Brandon sunk an arrow in its hide. The male slugged me – hard, forcing me to heal myself. As I got my breath, he hit me again, breaking a tooth and knocking me out.  By the time I regained my senses, both of the giants lay dead. The female had been blown apart, I presume by a bolt of lightning. The stink of burned giant flesh hung in the air.

The treasure that was found was meager. At first we thought we had found eight ingots of gold, but in reality it was eight ingots of lead that were painted gold.  Whoever had paid off the giants had done well in misleading them. Sadly, the female had some of the pilgrim’s clothing on her, speaking to why they were not at the foot of the Stairs when we emerged. 

Once we got our second wind, we started south. With the mountains behind us, the ground got less hilly.  That night, we slept well.  The next day Brandon came across some hoof prints crossing our path, shod steeds. Althalus said that the Gray Riders were known to take care of their horses, perhaps these prints could lead us to the Thundermoot.  We opted to not follow them.  For two days marched southward with no encounter, we welcomed the inactivity.  On the third day, we heard sound like thunder in the distance.  Each moment it seemed to grow and we realized that it was sound of a horses galloping. 

“We might want to get out of their way,” I offered.

“We’re not on a road!” Theren pointed out. 

Emerging over the ridge in the distance were ten riders on massive steeds.  They wore leather armor, targ shields, and were armed with silver kris swords and javelins. Their bows were on their backs.

“Hail!” called out Althalus to them.  He then turned to us, “Act casual,” he whispered. 

They advanced on us slowly. 

“Who are you?” asked Theren. 

“Who speaks for you?” their leader said. 

“I do,” Althalus said.  They rode in front of the warlock, forming an arc.  To his credit, Althalus moved forward to engage with them alone. 

“I am Nasca rein master.”

“Well met, I am Althalus, Ork friend.”  Why…why would you lead with that? I feared for a moment we were about to engage in battle again.   

“Orks are not our friends in these lands.”  All of them went for their weapons slowly, cautiously.

“Sorry…I have many titles, that was just the first that came to mind.  I come as a seeker of the Sapphire Eye.”

“That has no meaning to me.” 

“We are friendly.  We come in peace.”

“What are you doing in these lands?”

“We are passing through.  We hoped to visit the Thundermoot along the way.” 

“You are in the lands of the moot,” the rider said.  “Those that cross our lands must be judged as worthy to pass on our soil.  Our lands extend for 300 leagues.”

Althalus tried in vain to recover.  “I recognize these horses, are you Gray Riders?”

“Of course!”

“We have had business with the Gray Riders in the past.”

“Many have.  What business did you have?”

“We completed the message delivery for a rider that was killed.” 

That got his attention.  “Very well, you can ride with us.”  They reached down and helped hoist us up on their horses. We thundered off onto the rolling hills.  

The first night, we camped at a spot they had clearly used before.  We asked about the Thundermoot and Nasca told us about their lands. “We are warded by the five pillars of the moot.  Our realm stretches for 100 leagues in either direction east or west.  None shall pass that do not pass the test. The Thundermoot rests on the Tendra plains.  It is there that the herdmeet takes place, a great gathering of riders and their steads.  The moot is sacred land to the heard.  

“Great grass covered hills rolling out in every direction.  There are towers that can be seen, hundreds of heads tall, ancient, held to the ground by great thick vines.  These are the pillars of the moot.  Steadfast – for the strong.  Gallop – for the fast.  Roarheart – for the brave.  Warworn – for the fighter.  Lightning – for the communicators.  Each tower/pillar is manned with archers and there are cauldrons seen up high for dumping flaming liquids or lead down on those that would approach unwanted. 

“Our people are proud and have long served the land.  You have come at an inconvenient time, when the herdmeet is taking place.  It is here where great debates and decisions are discussed.  There has been much changing in the realms.  Riders have fallen, the sacred bond to not harm them has been severed.  There are stories in the north of the dead walking the earth.  The herdmeet gathers to assess what these matters mean.” 

He said that ogres and giants had trespassed lately and we told him we had slain them. That brought about grins from the other riders that were with us. 

The next day we rode past a massive tower that garnered head-bows from the riders.  “That is Warworn – the tower of the warrior.”  It was as tall as a mountain with a massive base.  Vines wrapped upward for ages.

We arrived at the Thundermoot the next day.  There were several hundred, if not a thousand people.  Horses and riders circled the area, colorful banners flying. In the center of it all was a massive stone tableau.  “That is the Tableau of Reckoning.  It is there we will learn the truth of who you are.”  The horses seemed to pause as we approached, parting for us to pass. 

The tablet looked familiar, like the one we saw with the minotaurs. Ancient runes were carved in the stonework there that seemed to resonate with our druid, Theren.

We were led to the stone tablet as the horses surrounded the massive stone.  Nasca introduced us each, one by one.  One horse came up, seemed to sniff us, nudge us with his nose.  “This is Aiden.  You will answer our questions.  Withholding information or lying will bring pain.  Enemies of the herd do not leave this place alive.” We could feel the pulse of magical power surging under our feet.

“Tell us of your interaction with a member of our herd…” 

Althalus answered, telling the story of how the rider was killed and how we took the message forward.  As he spoke, the air around him shimmered yellow.  He told the story of our efforts and how Lexa Lyoncroft had been the one to kill the rider.”  Aiden nodded its head.  Another horse stepped forward and I recognized it as the one that we had seen in our home town.” 

Nasca spoke.  “Aiden says that your faces are known to the herd.  You saved Starfall, though her rider, Trudo was killed.  Tell us what you know of this?”

Althalus spoke about Lexa Lyoncroft.  “She’s working with us, but we were not responsible for the death of the rider.  We finished his mission for him.” 

“She is responsible for rider Trudo’s death?”

Althalus explained why in great detail.  He spoke of Viktor Barristen, the ordeal at the Great Gash.  It was a delicate balancing act to tell the story and try and maintain some distance from Lexa.

“Do you know where she is?  Do you have a means of contacting her?”

Althalus winced.  “I can reach her. She is off to the North West.  I can show you on a map where she is.” The map was pulled out and he pointed out where we thought she was. 

Nasca whistled and over two dozen riders appeared almost instantly.  “Go, bring Lyoncroft here.” 

“You are sending those men to their fate,” warned Brandon. 

Nascan grinned.  “I doubt that.”  He motioned for other riders to come forth.  “For telling the truth, you will be treated as guests. We will take you to Warworn until she is brought in.” 

We were taken there and the riders warned us not to use magic within the tower.  “It could have dire consequences.” 

It was good to have nice quarters for a change.  We bathed, rested, repaired our armor, and a few of us used the chance to study.  The Gray Riders were more than friendly.  Theren spent his time attempting to learn the language of the riders.  I prayed that none of the men would die at Lexa’s hands. 

One day we witnessed their archery skills.  They could fire three arrows, at a full gallop, where we could only fire one – and none missed the targets.  It was an impressive display.  Ten days passed and finally Nasca came and told us they had apprehended her.  We set out for her trial the next day. 

Lexa was in heavy iron shackles.  When she saw us, she cracked a wicked grin. “Hello boys. I don’t suppose I could trouble you to remove these chains?”  The riders were unamused.  They dragged her onto the massive stone tableaux and she shimmered a brilliant yellow as she stood there, ever defiant.

Before they could ask her a question, she spoke.  “I am Lexa Lyoncroft, a Sister of the Sword.  I am accursed and burdened with great knowledge.  I stand before you accused of murder.  It was not my intent to kill that rider.  The message he carried was one to mislead Lord Sklaver into sending his army out and leaving Karn defenseless.  I wanted to make sure that the message never reached him…to save lives.  I regret that a rider died by my hand.”  Her words made the herd shuffle in place angrily

Aiden asked her if she was, indeed a witch.

“You trust the words of the Church?  I am no witch. They hope that some misguided soul will do what they could not and kill me.  It is not easy, as I said, I am cursed to not die until justice has been done for my order.   

“Your killing of me would only aid the dark forces working against us, if it worked.  Fate is fickle when it comes to me and death.  Curses are like that and I assure you, I am cursed.” 

Again the great horses stirred, seeming to speak with each other.    

Lexa pressed on.  “Your precious herdmeet has no idea what is coming, how bad things are. 

Viktor Barristen has returned.  He has taken physical form once more.  He has gone to the Shroudlands and is building an army, to finish what he started centuries ago…his vengeance on the church and the destruction of the free realms.  This time there are no Titans to come to our aid.  There is no grand alliance against him, at least, not yet.   

“I used his portal in the north to visit the Shroudlands for a day or two.  The dead walk once more.  He has allied himself with the Giants, the lizard-folk, and the Dragonkin.  They are preparing for war.  The Church has many enemies and they have found a friend in him.  I have heard that the druids of the Eastern Marches have left their sacred forest to seek him out.  As have the Fire Dwarves.

“My words of warning have saved what is left of the Order of the Fang at the Great Gash, though I fear it is not enough.  The only way to stop him is to unmake him, and those secrets have been lost.  These men you found, they seek the ways of magic that may allow us to undo him.” 

Aiden, visibly angry, fired back.  “Why save the church?  We have heard many stories of you and your crimes.  You are no friend of the church.”

“I am accursed.” Lyoncroft spat back. “Until justice is done for my sisters that lay dead, I will not rest.  If the church is destroyed, I can never shake my curse.  This is the bane I must carry. 

“I do not fear the death you threaten me with.  Get it over with, sate your cries for vengeance.  I have work to do.”

Aiden spoke solemnly.  “You have admitted your crimes, regardless of the reasoning.  For that, you must die.” 

A rider rode forward with a lance, planting it through her chest.  She dropped dead.  “Justice has been served,” Aiden said.  “You knew her.  You can see to her disposition.” 

We decided to take her body with us.  The Gray Riders took us on a three days ride east and we saw another one of the towers.  They took us to the border of our lands.  Nasca told us that we were friends of the herd, not something that is taken lightly.  “You can call on us for aid.” Theren was given a horn and was told that they could be summoned with it. 

I proposed the next grim task – using the Chalice of St. John to bring back Lexa. We poured the holy water from the cup into her pale lips and she came back to life, coughing.  “That never gets easy – but fate always intervenes to keep me alive – part of my curse.”   

The following are the previous installments. I hope you enjoy the campaign so far. Be sure to follow my blog if you do. 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Part 23

Part 24

Part 25

Part 26

Part 27

Part 28

Part 29

Part 30

Part 31

Part 32

Part 33

Part 34

Part 35

Part 36

Part 37

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

#dungeonsanddragons

#DandD

#DnD

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