Chapter #1028

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                                   +   +
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                             +               +
                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +

+     Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and other     +
+   terms used in these stories are the property of Wizards of the Coast  +
+   which has in no way endorsed or authorized their use.  Any such       +
+   property contained within these stories are not representative of     +
+   Wizards of the Coast in any fashion.                                  +
+     The player characters depicted in these stories are copyright       +
+   1991-2020 by Thomas A. Miller.  Any resemblance to any persons        +
+   or characters either real or fictional is utterly coincidental.       +
+   Copying and/or distribution of these stories is permissible under     +
+   the sole condition that no money is made in the process.  In that     +
+   case, I hope you enjoy them!                                          +
+   Belphanior     18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Hope           16th level female human wizard                         +
+     Poulos       gigantic, beefy former slave with scimitar             +
+   Irina          7th/14th level female human warrior/priestess          +
+   Otto           12th/14th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  12th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        14th level human wizard                                +
+   Date:          unknown                                                +
+   Time:          evening                                                +
+   Place:         the southern reaches of the Barony of Tarkus           +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+   "What can you do?"                                                    +
+     "Well, I can equalize the odds...make them more in your favor."     +
+       "How?"                                                            +
+         "I have ways."                                                  +
+                            - from _The Equalizer_ pilot episode (1985)  +

                   MXXVIII.  The Best Defenses

  The party has made camp with a group of farmers headed back to the city
of Fellban, and Belphanior has enjoyed an insightful conversation with
their leader, Dercus.  Now, hours later, everyone is asleep...or almost

Otto:  (once again unable to sleep, he has taken a shift standing watch,
  along with almost a dozen of the other group)

  The settlers' original plan hadn't involved that many sentries, but
Belphanior's insistence had convinced Dercus to bolster the campsite's
security.  He'd described the attack at the outcropping of boulders, from
the previous night.  Even though that place was a full day's ride from
their current location, the elf had convinced Dercus after giving details
about the size and ferocity of the pack that had beset them.  There had
been a bit of griping from those men who would have to stand guard, but
ultimately they deferred to Dercus' authority.
  Of course, these were farmers, simple folk untrained in combat and far
from experienced enough to truly stand watch.  Knowing this, Otto had
talked with Belphanior and the others, and the adventurers had decided to
augment those on watch duty.  Otto and Irina would help stand guard for
the first half of the night, while Razor Charlie and Poulos would have
that duty for the second half.  They'd also taken some other additional
defensive measures:  five extra fires had been built around the perimeter
of the camp, and a number of wooden poles and sticks had been sharpened
and driven into the ground with the pointed ends facing outward.  There
had again been some complaints from the farmers (as these tactics used up
a large portion of their supply of lumber) but Belphanior had paid them
for the wood, noting that they could always buy more supplies but that
such supplies were useless if they didn't survive the night.
  After all this, Otto had walked the perimeter of the entire site, eyeing
everything and making any adjustments he felt necessary.  It was a simple
setup:  in the center was a large bonfire, around which everyone but the
sentries slept.  Off to the side of this central area were tied all horses
and mules.  The five wagons were further out, arranged in a loose circle
around the people and animals.  One sentry stood watch between each wagon
while another was positioned just outside each wagon (in other words,
between the men who guarded the gaps between wagons.)  This way, both the
spaces between wagons and the wagons themselves were covered, and each of
the men could see the others on either side.  These ten guards were then
augmented by Otto and Irina, who constantly patrolled the perimeter in
opposite directions (both to make sure the farmers stayed awake and alert,
and to add a random element to the sentry rotation.)  And outside of this
ring of guards were the extra fires, each with a large pile of wood cut
and ready just behind it.
  Otto had implemented a couple of extra defensive tricks at the outer
edge of the camp.  These had taken a substantial amount of his supplies,
but he knew that he could get more when the group reached Fellban.  The
immediate priority was to do whatever was necessary to increase their
chances of surviving the night...and the dwarf had acted accordingly in
his preparations.  Much of the ground between the outside five bonfires
had been thoroughly soaked with oil, which meant that a single burning
stick or crossbow bolt - or spell - could instantly create more fires.
And hundreds of iron caltrops had been scattered about, just inside of
the ring of bonfires and the oil-saturated ground between them.  Nothing
that walked into the camp - man or beast - would avoid these nasty, sharp
surprises.  As he'd tossed out the caltrops hours earlier, Otto had been
glad he'd found and taken the sizable crate of them from Vorkos' keep.
  All in all, Otto was pleased with the various defenses and precautions
that had been set.  He knew that a mass attack (such as, say, several
hundred wolves acting in concert) would ultimately overrun the camp, but
the cost to the attackers would be high.  That fact alone was enough for
the dwarf; if the camp was to fall, the foes would not find that an easy

Otto:  (glances up at the night sky, which is barely cloudy and filled
  with the light from the pale and crimson moons, meaning that darkness
  won't be as much of a factor this night)  Hm.  (he notes the approach
  of his fellow sentry)
Irina:  (approaches Otto yet again, as they each circle the camp, moving
  in opposite directions)
Otto:  (nods to her)
Irina:  (speaking in a hushed voice)  Still nothing.
Otto:  (likewise)  I'll happily take a whole night of nothing.
Irina:  Agreed.  And the walking doesn't bother me.  I wouldn't have slept
  well anyway, if at all.
Otto:  (nods again, and they proceed with their next circling walks of
  the camp site)

  The minutes turned into hours, and everyone remained on edge.  To their
credit, the farmers chosen as sentries stayed on point - perhaps from a
heightened sense of concern or fear due to Belphanior's stories about the
previous night's events.  It was quite nerve-wracking, walking around and
around the camp, again and again, wondering what might be out there in
the wild...watching and waiting for a chance, a weakness, a guard dozing
off.  However, Otto had been doing things of this sort for decades, and
had learned from the best, in some of the most dangerous lands of the
Flanaess.  And while Irina didn't have his skill or experience, she was
tough and seemed to have a will of iron.  He wasn't concerned about her
making any mistakes here, tonight.
  In the end, for all their caution and preparation and safeguards, they
had no visitors during the night.  Several times, distant howls could be
heard - and every time, they readied themselves for an impending attack -
but such an attack never came.  Perhaps the wolves only roamed the areas
further from Fellban, or perhaps they had suffered enough losses the night
before.  Whatever the reason, it would likely never be known to either the
adventurers or the group of farmers.  When dawn finally came, its light
shone on almost thirty relieved people (most of whom had gotten a decent
night's sleep, considering the circumstances.)

Belphanior:  (to Otto)  Thanks for taking charge of the defenses and such.
  With a night's sleep, I'm once again at full power, magic-wise.  I can
  handle things for today - you should get in one of those wagons and try
  to get some sleep.
Otto:  That's a great idea.  (busy collecting caltrops to clear a pathway
  for all the wagons, horses, and pack animals to move out)
Belphanior:  Good ideas, too.  One can only wonder what it would have
  looked like to ignite all that ground right underneath attacking foes.
Skektek:  (walking by sleepily, he grins)  It would have looked awesome!
Hope:  (grabs his shoulder and steers him away from stepping on a loose
Skektek:  Dammit.  Thanks.

  Within an hour of dawn, everyone had eaten and packed up, and they broke
camp.  There was plenty of room in the wagons for last night's guards to
get some sleep, and the road was smooth enough to allow that (it never
would have been possible in the previous section of rut-filled dirt.)
Belphanior had worried that he'd have to push the farmers a bit, to get
them going in the cold morning, but they seemed as eager as he to get out
of the wilderness and into the city.  Even with a paved road, a wilderness
was still a wilderness; they were a long day's ride from truly safe beds,
but the elf and his companions had a good feeling about it.

next:       the final stretch
released:   6/26/20
notes:      I hope that wasn't too anticlimactic.  I may have set you up
  a bit there, but not every apparent danger has to be real.  Or maybe
  there were wolves (or worse) out there and they _chose_ not to attack.
  Or maybe something made that choice for them.
    As I finished up this episode, it occurred to me what a big deal it
  was that Belphanior could go to sleep knowing that things were in very
  capable hands.  If he was a CEO, Otto would be his COO.  (These are the
  nuances of the workplace intruding into my personal life.)
    I wrote this one the weekend before week 8 of the work-from-home and
  social distancing world.  Two months.  Wow.  I've adjusted much better
  than I'd have thought I would, but in some ways I was engineered for
  this:  no family to be responsible for, introvert by default, loner by
  nature nine years after being backstabbed by separation/divorce.  Being
  alone doesn't mean being lonely, as pointed out by Robert De Niro in the
  classic film _Heat_ from 1995.  Anyway, I'm rambling.  Hopefully things
  get back to normal soon, for me and for you and for everyone everywhere.
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