Leaving with Stefan the next morning, the party spends a a miserable three rainy days travelling downriver by boat back towards Kelvin. Perhaps it is the rain, or else the poignant reminders of their two missing comrades, but regardless of the cause The Shorn are considerably more subdued in this latter journey. Stefan tries without great success to bolster their spirits by regaling the youths with tales of heroic triumph in the face of adversity.
On the evening of the third day, the riverboat makes port at the quays of Kelvin. Stefan leaves the group there, informing them that he will be staying at the Merchants Weigh Inn for the next few days should they decide to accompany him back to the family farm. Keen to keep a tight grasp on the party purse strings, Hans refuses to allocate funds to staying at the Merchants Weigh and so the party spend much of the night searching the dock and trade quarters for a decent but reasonably priced place to stay. At one point, they hear sounds of a scuffle in a nearby ally, including a few pleading calls for help. The dwarves are eager to assist but, after a stern admonition from Hans that they are no state to do other than mind their own business, the dis-spirited party carry on.
Eventually the find rest in the Duke’s Arms, little more than a working man’s tavern with a few beds set aside on the top floor for patrons who have imbibed a little too much to be trusted to safely make it home. There, in the tap room, they hear more rumours about the brigand Skarda and his raiders. It seems yet another village in the neighbouring kingdom of five shires had been burned and looted, it’s inhabitants carried away to who-knows-what-end by the evil raider and his mysteriously vanishing warriors. Perhaps wisely, the Shorn realised that this particular foe was not for them, at least not until they were older and wiser. More promising news surfaced in the form of the main topic of gossip in the tap-room that night: The Shorn festival would begin on the tenth, with games , music and feasting galore. Not to mention the highlight of the event: The Trial of Champions, in which teams of the newly Shorn would demonstrate their worth and ingenuity in overcoming a series of ten perilous tests. Intrigued, the party decided to make their way to the Caravan fields on the morrow to learn more about the upcoming trials.
So it was that they took to their beds early, thankfully to soon to overhear talk turn to tales of a merchant from up North named Caldwell who’d been telling all and sundry about the “terrible betrayal” of an adventurous band of Shorn who had taken up his offer of employment only to leave for distant parts without bothering to finish the job. That lot, it was generally agreed by the locals, would not likely do well in the trials at all.
That dawn, the party made their way to to the Caravan fields to register for the trials. They learned that they would be required to enter the arena (actually a winding series of tents containing a number of
unbeknownst to the characters
illusionary chambers with hidden gantries from which the crowds may watch) clad only in normal clothing and without weapons. Spell casters were warned that they would be permitted to cast no prayers or spells save read magic and that they should therefore prepare their spell selection accordingly. The master of the trials assured the party that any weapons they would require would be provided for them. The last admonition was that any team found to enter the Arena under the influence of any magical effects or carrying any magical items whatsoever would be disqualified. Now, they had only to determine a team name for themselves and await the day of the trials: the tenth.
On the way back to the Inn, they learned that a prominent city merchant had been murdered the night before, presumably by a love rival; that the suspected murderer had fled the town and that both families were now likely making preparations for a covert war of murder and assassination.
If any of the Shorn felt guilty at the news, they passed no comment.
The day of the trials dawned clear and bright, and the Shorn made their way through already packed crowds to the starting pavilion where they were met by the master of trials and announced their new team name (“The Dragons”). There, they were mocked by a particularly disreputable seeming band (more brigandly than adventurous in appearance) led by a particularly noxious dwarf by the name of Dolgrim, seemingly the leader of a band calling itself the Skull Legion. The party denies the dwarf his offer of a friendly wager and settle down to wait their turn.
The party, when called, overcome nearly every challenge with a perfect score, dropping a total of only twenty points throughout the course of the competition and even coming up with several novel solutions (other than those devised by the Master-of-Trials) including:
- Making their way past a pair of Iron Cobra guards equipped only with Dust of Invisibility and Dust of sneezing -and not knowing which dust is in which pouch.
- Retrieving a prize from within the gullet of purple worm.
- Safely crossing a river infested with man-eating piranhas.
- Successfully crossing 30ft of green slime to open a locked door
- Successfully crossing a wide pit at the bottom of which slumbers a deadly dragon.
- Scaling a sheer cliff equipped with nothing more than a scroll of rope trick and a rope that’s too short.
- Successfully and safely travelling down a corridor filled with lava and warded by a pwerful fire serpent.
- Boindil single-handedly rescuing the rest of the party from a castle dungeon (despite sending his animal messenger down to the bound and gagged prisoners to ask the self-same gagged prisoners (did I mention the prisoners were gagged) if they had any ideas.
- Sneaking past a bear guardian blocking a tunnel without actually harming it.
Solving a magical-door puzzle using the prizes obtained through earlier trials.
During the festivities, much to his awe and surprise, Hans was approached by the famous adventurer and Lord Knight of Verge, Ser Retameron Antonic. Retameron, Knight and Lord of Han’s home village and a former student of the knights sword-master father, Teranon. The famed adventurer commented that the group had done much to redeem their “frankly appalling” reputation by winning the Trial of Champions but suggested that they fetch themselves back to Threshold to fulfil their obligations and pay their debts right quick, before the “shine of this latest and (so far only) notable achievement loses it’s luster). The party agree to return North with him tomorrow and further agree to spend the next night as guests in Verge before continuing on to Threshold. However, the seasoned adventurer warns the party that a second party hired by Caldwell has already ventured down in the second level of Castle Caldwell in their absence, and has so far failed to return.
With that dismal thought, the suddenly sober Shorn once more make their way to bed,puasing only to send Stefan a messenger explaining that they will not be accompanying him to his farm after all.