Session/Game: Axeburg 3e #5
Episode 5: "For Whom the Bell Trolls"
Campaign Date: Imperial Year 483
GM: Andrew Smith
Erkenvald, son of Borvald, trollson berserker, level 4 (Mike Miller)
Erkenward, dwarf, runesmith, level 3 (Toby Miller)
Grimbold, son of Rathgar, human, barbarian/ranger/rogue, level 1/1/1 (Dave Nelson)
Othere, son of Rathgar, human, brewmaster/barbarian, level 2/1 (Bob Laforge)
Einar, son of Rathgar, human, priest of Gorm, level 3 (Pete Zollers)
Dagmar, human, vola, level 3 (NPC)
Namfoodle O'Smarmy, gnome, barbarian/rogue, level 2/2 (NPC)
Thorgallis, half-orc, warrior, level 4 (NPC)
Roland Gormvaldson, skald, level 5 (NPC)
Verdulf Vackerson, berserker, level 2 (NPC)
Sir Malaki of Bor, cleric/fighter, level 4/1 (NPC)
Hear the tolling of the bells -
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone!
For every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.
And the people - ah, the people -
They that dwell up in the steeple,
And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the human heart a stone -
They are neither man nor woman -
They are neither brute nor human -
They are Ghouls: -
And their king it is who tolls: -
And he rolls, rolls, rolls,
A paean from the bells!
And his merry bosom swells
With the paean of the bells!
And he dances, and he yells;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the paean of the bells: -
Of the bells:
Keeping time, time, time
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the throbbing of the bells -
Of the bells, bells, bells: -
To the sobbing of the bells: -
Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells,
In a happy Runic rhyme,
To the rolling of the bells -
Of the bells, bells, bells -
To the tolling of the bells -
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells, -
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.
From "The Bells" by Edgar Allen Poe
Wap 10th, Axeburg
Rathgar has taken ill, so Wulf takes over control of Axeburg. Tovi dotes on the aging chief day and night as though he were her own son.
Wap 29th, Axeburg
Gerda's niece and nephew Sabine and Roland arrive in Axeburg. Roland is sent by his mother Yandril, sister of Gerda and wife to Gormvald the Jarl of Royanskapa. Sabine is sent to Axeburg to await her betrothal to Jarl Sighvat in one year's time. Although she believes that Sabine is "marrying below her station" as the granddaughter of a king, she admits with disgust that "she could have done worse and married a lowly chief". Sabine's younger brother Roland is sent South in order to "toughen the boy up and give him some fame". Gerda insists that Roland give up his skaldish pursuits in favor of a career that will be more in line with his most noble heritage of the Tuskriders. Gerda orders Othere to follow Roland closely and make sure that the future Jarl is not killed in battle.
Vay 7th, Axeburg
Following the Hangangar, Wulf declares that all able-bodied Huscarles who are not assigned to the defense of Axeburg should sail for foreign soils in search of more loot for Axeburg's coffers. After a measley feast of lemon-pledge-tasting beer and some wormy meats which included no boasting of any kind, the heroes find themselves on a knarr captained by a small, weasely fellow named Harrvald. Attempts to get a rune-casting for the voyage before it leaves are met with derision by captain Harrvald who insists on leaving before Tovi is able to arrive from Rathgar's side.
Uni 3rd, near Relstel, Tilgash Towns
After almost a month at sea, a strange wind blows in from the South and Harrvald finally gives the ok for the sailors to approach a small bay that provides water access to a warehouse near the Tilgash town of Relstel. As the heroes approach, they take fire from some halfling mercenaries armed with crossbows on a nearby brick tower as well as a giantish troll who lobs rocks at the knarr, breaking the ship's mast in two. As the Shefings approach the shore, Erkenvald, Verdulf, Grimbold, Roland, Einar, and Namfoodle all jump to shore. Erkenvald and Verdulf both engage the giant troll while the others make for the halfling tower. The others continue on the boat until they reach the dock of the warehouse.
Erkenvald and the troll fight an epic battle that included the giant nearly breaking Erkenvald's weapon with his own and beating the poor fellow Verdulf to bits and pieces. Grimbold and Namfoodle climb up the tower and begin to slay the halfling mercenaries. They are soon joined by Einar who manages to open the door to the tower and climb the ladder.
Meanwhile, Erkenward and Thorgallis attack the shore near the warehouse killing several halflings and Othere jumps from the knarr to tackle two of the diminutive mercenaries himself. Two halflings manage to chase the noble-born Roland for a while only to find themselves stopped by Einar's blade.
Just as the heroes seemed to have the battle well in hand, a battle-barge bearing several more halfling and dwarven mercenaries appears out of the mist. The battle barge makes for the knarr and rams it below the waterline, crippling the Shefing vessel. Captain Harrvald falls to the floor of his ship, ducking for cover and hiding as best he can (later he explains that he was trying to repair the damage to the doomed boat). The mercenaries begin to move forward in a boarding action, but Erkenvald swims aboard the mercenary vessel and stands on the bow to hold the line. As the dwarves attempt to move the Berserker out of the way to charge the knarr, Erkenvald manages to slay the lot of them and eventually take control of the ship to win the day.
Inside the warehouse, the Grimbold encounters a dead elven wizard lying in a pool of fresh blood along with a plethora of crated gems and valuable goods. Grimbold hears a whimper, and pulls Master Fugo -- a rich halfling merchant -- from behind a barrel. In broken Harran, Fugo manages to convey that he is from a wealthy family and worth a lot in ransom if they keep him alive. The heroes take the goods from the warehouse, put it on their captured battle barge and leave Relstel for home.
Along the way, the heroes often find Roland and Dagmar speaking together quietly in the secluded blockhouse in the back of the barge. Erkenvald does his best to make his presence known around Dagmar, and manages to scare the skald off whenever he sees them get too familiar with each other.
Sau 8th, Axeburg
Delayed by the slow pace and difficult steering of the battle barge, the heroes finally arrive home to a place that reeks of death. Thick, oily clouds hang low over all of Axeburg and many have fallen ill since the heroes left. As the heroes unload the barge, Captain Harrvald speaks briefly and most animatedly with Askir the Dog before returning to the heroes in disgust. Out of the thousands of silver marks worth of goods and gems that were recovered, Harrvald hands out a lousy 120 silver marks to each of the crew of the voyage. Feeling the rage build within him, Grimbold calls Harrvald a coward and threatens him with death unless he leaves. Without a word, Harrvald walks away from Axeburg to the North, leaving behind only a few worthless items in his longhouse.
The heroes witness a burial of a commoner on their way to the Great Hall of Axeburg. However, inside the crude coffin it seems that the corpse is still alive, bumping against the sides in order to escape. The heroes hear the distant ringing of great iron bells. The heroes crack open the casket only to have the wretch inside attack them. Grimbold cuts the beast down with one stroke, and the corpse is burned. The commoners explain that those killed by the plague are rising later as undead to kill the living.
Sabine greets the heroes with a weary smile. It seems that she has been doing her best to deliver medicines that Tovi prepares to the commoners in the countryside in order to keep their strength and morale up. Apparently, the plague is also affecting livestock and crops and threatens the food surplus for the next winter. Grimbold befriends the comley and gentle maid and offers to escort her into the countryside seeing that there are undead wandering about.
The rest of the heroes visit Chief Rathgar in his sickbed. There they ask Tovi what she feels is causing the evil malaise that hangs over the area. Tovi believes that these threats to Axeburg are the direct result of a pact broken with a being known only as the White Witch.
The White Witch is a hideous old crone that has iron tusks for teeth. For food she gnaws through tree trunks or feeds on lost children. Her skin is greenish, and her clothes and hair are stark white. She flies through the air on a magic broom with a host of spirits that often follow her. Toads, bugs and mice dart from under her feet and bats and owls often fly by her side.
Her cottage, made out of logs and stucco, stands high off the ground balanced on two legs of a giant chicken. Crooked steps lead from the ground to the door. The cottage moves at the whim of its mistress.
The witch is said to have originally been a good fairy of the Northern forests until hardened by the shock of a broken promise. Now a bony, old and withered crone, the Witch turned bitter and sour to the world. Although stories of the Witch show her to be principled enough to keep her word, the Witch holds many grudges, and never forgets or forgives the slightest offense. The White Witch is known to be a hard bargainer. She does not take no for an answer.
Later that evening on their way back to Axeburg from delivering medicines and food, Sabine and Grimbold are attacked by an undead monster. The appearance of the beast is accompanied by the tolling of great iron bells. The foul monstrosity drips blood from its fangs as it rips at Grimbold with its claws. Sabine lifts her dress to unsheathe a sword that bears the symbol of the Tuskriders for its hilt -- two crossed tusks. She lobs the weapon to Grimbold who uses it to smite the beast terribly. Sabine asks for the weapon back, which she one day hopes to give to her child "as an heirloom". Back at Axeburg, Tovi performs a restoration to heal the negative energy burned into Grimbold by his attacker.
Sau 10th, Axeburg
Bowing to the popular opinion, Wulf decides that perhaps the best way to improve his standing with his people (murmur, murmur) is to have a feast. The beer is much improved and the food is the best that he can muster under such pestilent conditions.
There is a rhyming contest led by Frodemar that is won handily by Grimbold. The feast goes well until the arrival of Fhorgeir of Jarlsburg and four other men loyal to Jarl Sighvat. They explain that they are here to check on the bride-to-be before she is "fed to the...er...wed to the Jarl". Wulf has no choice but to allow the boorish Jarlsburgers to stay. The feast continues mirthlessly, and ends early.
Later that night, Dagmar comes to visit Erkenvald at the heroes' longhouse. Dagmar explains that she is in love with Roland and that he has been challenged to a duel by Fhorgeir of Jarlsburg. The vola fears for Roland's life. She asks that Erkenvald convince Roland to let the trollson take his place at the duel. Erkenvald can not resist Dagmar's soft brown eyes and tear-stained face. He visits Roland and explains that he would like to enter the duel in order to avenge Borvald's death. Roland reluctantly accepts.
Sau 11th, Axeburg
After some traded insults, the duel begins. Both warriors fly into a rage. Erkenvald is struck mightily by two critical hits from Fhorgeir's paired battleaxes. Erkenvald beats the Jarlsburger senseless, bashing him with his greatsword. The duel ends quickly. Erkanvald strikes Fhorgeir with a mortal blow, but the villian still stands by the sheer will of his rage. In his dying breath, Fhorgeir crushes the trollson's heart with a blow from one of his battleaxes. Fhorgeir's rage then ends, and he perishes as well.
Preparations for a true viking funeral follows. Each of the heroes say a few words in memory of the fallen berserker, and the battle barge is prepared to take Erkenvald on his final journey to Borkhafen. The captured halfling Master Fugo is tied aboard the ship along with all of Erkenvald's valuables, set out to sea, and then set aflame.
Sau 12th, Axeburg
The next day, Axeburg is visited by a most odd visitor. Sir Malaki of Bor arrives, looking for help in his quest to find the lost Chain of Guthlac. He reads a quote aloud in very good Harran to the people of Axeburg that points to a cursed steeple that carried demonic plague-bringing bells that rose from a corrupted graveyard. The bells were supposedly moved to the land of the Shefings where they were assumed gone for good. However, Grimbold remembers a Swerding graveyard a few days to the South and West. The heroes gather their belongings and set off with the finster-weevil-infected Sir Malaki toward the deserted graveyard.
Sau 16th, SouthWest of Axeburg -- The Desecrated Graveyard
The heroes approach the graveyard cautiously. The graveyard rises from the surrounding environment like a black cancer. The group sees almost thirty animated corpses and skeletons standing quietly among the tombstones -- the Citizens of the Steeple. Standing within the heart of the graveyard is a foul, black steeple crowned with two great iron bells. Floating by the bells is a ghostly figure with a scythe -- the Master of the Bells.
The heroes charged forward. Othere and Namfoodle went to the right while the rest of the group charged forward to the stairs. Dagmar conjured a runic bull to plow its way past the damage-resistant Citizens of the Steeple. The skeletal Defenders of the Bells were destroyed instantly by Sir Malaki's turning abilities. Erkenvward led the attack up the stairs. The Master of the bells glided down from the black steeple to try and take possession of Sir Malaki, only to be rebuffed by the power of Bor. Grimbold made a run for the steeple, refusing to be taken by the power of the Master of the Bells. When Grimbold touched the steeple, the bells began to ring violently and the Master of the Bells attempted to kill Grimbold. However, Erkenward finished off the master and the cursed steeple crumbled to the ground and the graveyard was quiet once more. The heroes took the demonic bells and threw them into the sea, never to be heard from again.
Sau 20th, Axeburg
The heroes return home to find Axeburg back in better health. Rathgar is back on his feet, after his long illness and the dark, oily clouds have lifted from the scene. The commoners even believe that they may be able to salvage a decent crop for the year, but that remains to be seen. Grimbold spends more time with Sabine taking long walks and talking over meals and campfires, and the other heroes take comfort in the fact that at least for the time being, Axeburg is safe.