Snot burrowed. Down the foothills, below the river, around the strange and impenetrable bedrock below the ancient Elven longhouse, and finally to the walls of Giles’ keep.
The night was dark, and while the soldier’s camp was well-lit, the walls of the keep itself and the small village to the North were shrouded in darkness, so the little goblin scaled to the top of the East wall without much concern of being seen. At the top he observed two pairs of soldiers patrolling the catwalk around the top of the wall, and two more standing post inside the gates. There was a small yard in front of the manor house itself, and two small shacks against the West and East walls.
Snot scurried down to the manor and peeked into the second-story windows in turn. The house seemed largely abandoned. Few of the rooms were lit, and in only one did he see signs of life – a young woman in servant’s clothes sitting on a cot weeping quietly to herself.
He entered a second-story window into a bedchamber owned by a young man, possibly a son of the Baron. Finding nothing of particular note, including no sign the room had been occupied recently, he slunk from the room into a loft area.
The second story of the house was composed of rooms on the exterior wall opening onto a loft which looked down onto a large hall. The hall below was well-lit and a lavish meal was set out on the large banquet table that dominated the room. Snot snuck up into the relative darkness of the rafters to observe.
At the head of the table sat a portly, older man who had very obviously been ill-treated for quite some time. He was gaunt and badly bruised. The Baron Harold Giles, Snot assumed. To his left sat a woman of similar age and disposition. Her hand was bandaged in such a way as to appear that a finger or two had recently been severed. They both picked at their meals.
Two seats down and to the right of Giles sat a man in a Westergarde Captain’s uniform. He was relatively young, and was eating with a vigor. At the far end of the table, across from the Captain sat the knight who had previously been seen entering the keep. To his left, his squire, and to the right, Billy Bones. They were eating their meals quietly, but the knight appeared visibly furious.
Two soldiers stood guard at the doors to the rear of the room behind the Baron, and a porter stood behind the Captain.
The room was uncomfortably silent.
“Really, m’’lord,” the Captain said, as if continuing a conversation that had lapsed, “you should eat. You need your strength. I wouldn’t want you to join your sons up on the wall too soon.” Both the Baron and his wife clenched their jaws at this. “Volkov obviously believes your little holding out here is important,” the Captain continued with a sneer, “we must understand why.” Snot noticed that the Baron appeared to have a purloined knife that he was hiding in his sleeve. The man appeared to be trying to decide how best to use it.
The room was silent for a few moments longer as the Captain went back to his meal. After a moment, Billy Bones broke the silence.
“Lord Giles…what ever became of Anastasia Altair?”
The Baron was visibly surprised at the question. “I’m sorry…what?”
“Joseph’s daughter,” the old wizard continued, ”we know, of course, that her brothers made it out of the South, but did she? Her story seemed to have ended after the invasion…”
The Baron’s eyes narrowed, and he seemed to study Billy Bones for a time. As he opened his mouth to speak, the front doors to the great hall opened and in strode a half-elf wearing a set of shimmering, chitinous elven archer plate. He whispered to the knight, who nodded and began to rise.
“It would seem,’ he said, “our friends in the hills are on the move. Their mission is focused entirely on some sort of watch tower to the West of the estate and they’ve decided to continue on. Captain MacDougal?”
The officer nods. “We passed it on the way in, I left a platoon there. You can likely follow our back-trail straight to it.”
The knight nods, and motions for his squire and Billy to follow. “Lord Giles, it is imperative that we know why Volkov feels this watchtower is so important.”
Giles pales, and straightens in his chair. “Do you intend to leave us with this monster, Sir Gregory?”
The knight pauses at the door, obviously extremely conflicted. The Captain grins back and forth from Giles to Gregory like a cat. Finally, the knight sighs and nods. “We are all slaves, m’Lord. If we don’t end this war, Isaac Vane will end it for us. War makes monsters of us all, it seems.”
The four men move to leave, and stop as Giles interrupts.
“William,” he starts, the old wizard turns,”I heard once that you were to be in the Order of Leopold.” Billy’s eyes darken, but he nods. After a moment, Giles nods and. “I loved her like a sister,” he says. Then looks away to take a long swig from his goblet.
Billy Bones examines the man curiously, but then is hurried out the door by Sir Gregory. After the others have gone, MacDougal hums to himself as he finishes his meal. The dread in the room raises considerably. Snot notes that Giles is on the very edge of using the knife, and the goblin is uncertain whether the man intends to use the knife on his captors or himself. He seems extremely shaken at the news that Tyr’s men know of the importance of this watchtower.
Snot finally decides to take action, he loads a dart into his blowgun and shoots Captain MacDougal squarely in the neck. The officer, poisoned, passes out almost immediately into his plate. After the briefest moment of stunned silence, the Lady Giles leaps over the table and tackles the Captain’s porter, and Lord Giles swings in his chair and lays upon the stunned guards at the rear door, dispatching them. Lady Giles secures a dagger from the porter and begins stabbing Captain MacDougal repeatedly, cursing at him through gritted teeth.
With the Westergarde soldiers dead, Giles looks around the room. “I know we had some help,” he calls out,” I sure would like to meet you….”
Snot climbs down the wall from the ceiling, eliciting a squeal from Lady Giles (who is drenched in two men’s blood but squeals like a milkmaid seeing a mouse) and a surprised grunt from Lord Giles. Snot waves sheepishly.
“What in the hells is a goblin doing in my hall?” the man says in disbelief.
“Here to help,” replies Snot. “From Volkov.”
The other man takes a moment to process this.
“We must leave,” prompts Snot. “Rescue?”
Giles shakes himself out of his stupor and retrieves a longsword from one of the guards. His wife takes two hand axes down from a display above the fireplace.
“Leave?” he says finally, to the impatient goblin. “I have no intention of leaving. I’m taking my damned keep back!”
“Lots of soldiers. Lots and lots of soldiers.”
“I’m bloody well aware of how many soldiers are outside my walls, little goblin. If you want to make yourself useful, go clear the lookouts from the top of my wall. Can you do that?”
Snot considers for a moment whether the Baron is suicidal, insane, or both. He considers his promise to his people. He decides he’s pretty much buggered no matter what he does, so he shrugs.
“Very well then, little goblin, get to it!” Giles heads towards the front doors and his wife towards the doors to the kitchens.
Snot scurries out a second story window and up to the top of the wall. Using his blowgun again, he shoots one of a pair of guards on the catwalk, who stumbles and falls over the wall. His companion manages to shout, “Steve!” before collapsing in a heap from a second poisoned dart.
Just as the second pair of guards turn at the commotion, the front door of the manor bursts open and Baron Giles charges out with a roar towards the two guards at the front gate. He throws a longsword, skewering one of the guards, and sets upon the second with a small axe. Snot pulls his pistols and shoots the two remaining guards on the catwalk.
Giles throws the bar down on the manor gates, then strides purposefully to one of the small shacks in the yard.
Snot waits a moment for him to come out, and when he doesn’t, proceeds to check on Lady Giles. Snot enters the kitchens through the banquet hall and is met with a half dozen screams and a heavy frying pan to the face.
Lady Giles prevents the cook from landing another blow, and informs Snot that the two guards at the back door had been taken care of, and a runner sent to the village to muster Giles’ loyalists.
With nothing immediately pressing, Snot heads back out to the yard and climbs up the wall. The soldiers in the camp are starting to muster, having found the gates barred when they checked on the gunshots. Someone is shouting from below.
“What’s happening in there?” comes the shout.
“Everything fine!” replies Snot.
“Why is the door barred? Who are you?”
Snot ends the conversation by dropping from the wall and enters the shack that Lord Giles went into. He finds two small wooden hoists with huge, heavy-looking metal balls in their slings. Giles is up on a platform working on something that his bulk is obscuring.
“Soldiers coming,” warns Snot.
“Do you know what I did in the war, little goblin? Do you know what the Kisharans trained me to do?”
Snot shakes his head. Giles turns, revealing a fifteen-inch dwarven mortar.
“Artillery. Plug your ears.”
Giles lights the mortar and with a bang, the shot fires up, through the thatch roof of the hut, and explodes out in the camp.
“Head up the wall,” Giles shouts above Snot’s ringing ears, “tell me how close I got.”
Snot complies, and finds that the shot landed in the center of the camp, killing dozens. Several platoons were reforming and moving towards the walls.
“Good shot!” yells Snot. “More soldiers, ten horses closer to wall!”
A moment later a second shot fires, this one lands in the midst of the formation and dozens more soldiers are killed. The few remaining members of the Westergarde company retreat into the darkness.
Giles joins Snot on the wall to watch them gather their wounded and leave.
“They be back?”
“Probably. But Smoot will be here before too much longer. Unless they have another company out there, or some siege weapons, we can hold out until then.”
“Boom balls indeed! So, little goblin, I must know, how did you come by all this?”
Snot hands Giles his transcribed story, which Giles reads with a whistle.
“This is definitely one of my stranger days, little goblin.”
“Well, you’ve done me and mine a great service. And if your people want to work, and to help, I’ll make sure they’re welcome here. You tell your people and I’ll tell mine. I’m sure we can find a fair trade for the labor, something your people need.”
Snot nods and wipes a tear.
“Must go. Need to warn others. Why tower so important?”
“Little Goblin, my wife and I owe you our lives, but if Smoot didn’t tell you, I cannot. Know that it’s important, and vital, that we get control of that tower.”
Snot nods again and leaps over the wall into the night. He leaves messages in the mud for his people: “Baron Harold Giles is a friend of the People of Mud and Night”