Friday, July 5, 2019

The Prisoners at the Edge of the Forest

Got to thinking about what a True Elf Paladin might be like in this campaign, especially one who worships Corellan Larethian. Paladins in Fifth Edition are actually pretty awesome, but paladins in 3.5 are...lacking in range. They're heavily-armored, mounted melee fighters with a few perks and backup abilities that require medium-to-high scores in a number of different attributes, and probably the most tightly-restricted by DnD's already-problematic Alignment system. Which means that they fit perfectly well as holy warriors in the service of, say, Helios (Lawful good, conquest-oriented sun god, mainly worshipped by humans in this campaign) but not so well for, well, anyone else.

So what would a paladin of Corellan look like? Well...

Werendril reined up atop the hill just above the village. The troop behind him pulled up as well, battle-trained horses stopping without noise or fuss.

Endonis, the senior paladin and his sponsor in the Order, cantered up beside him and then drew rein. "What is it?"

"A feeling," answered Werendril. "A word from my friend, before we parted ways."

"And what do you feel?"

Werendril looked down at the village. "It's too quiet. Even for near-dark, it's... shuttered."

The village was built at a crossroads, not far outside of Duendewood. A handful of Gray Elves had passed through a day earlier, and arrived with the report that other elves had called softly to them for aid. The group had been unarmed, and hadn't felt themselves able to help, but they'd passed word to the Order. Werendril and his master had been there to accept the call.

"And this word from your friend, the savage?"

Do not speak of him so. Werendril kept the thought to himself. "That the humans want a war. That they cannot accept the idea of Elvish rule. That they will betray us at every turn... or try to lure us into betraying ourselves."

According to the report, the prisoners were being kept in the back of the keep at the north end of the town. That was doubly dangerous: not only was the keep fortified and patrolled, it was home to the local governor. A direct attack could be construed as an attack on the King's servant. If the humans were looking for an excuse to start a war -- and Ruin, at least, seemed certain that they were -- then that would be more than enough.

Endonis grunted, sounding surprised. "How will you proceed?"

"Scouts," called Werendril softly, and Bulinn and Adviaris nudged their horses forward. Bulinn was a thinblood, what humans and most others considered an elf, and an experienced warrior at home in the wilderness; Adviaris was part of the Rebirth, a True Elf, with less experience but considerable aptitude. Both wore leather armor shaded in greens and dark grays, and both wore the color-shifting elvish cloaks that would blend with anything. "You heard the briefing. We need confirmation. The Gray Elves that came through yesterday evening said they heard the cries for help from the keep, so if there's anyone in there they shouldn't be hard to find. Don't get too close, and don't get caught."

Adviaris nodded and Bulinn sniffed. "Best if we wait until full dark, ser. The moon's up, and we'll be able to see better than they can."

"Do so," said Werendril, and called softly back to the rest of his troop. "We make camp here behind the hill. Water the horses in turns at the stream, and set them to graze at the break. Leave your saddles in place; we might have to leave in a hurry."

Endonis nodded his approval and dismounted, leading his horse back down behind the hill and towards the stream.

* * *

Werendril was pacing the top of the hill when Bulinn finally returned, his wolf at his side. One moment, Werendril was looking out over the town; the next, the older tracker had melted out of the darkness beside him.

"Well," said Bulinn, "you were right to worry. There are elves in the keep, and something happened to Adviaris as well -- he was supposed to meet me by the keep, but he never came. I don't think he was captured -- there wasn't any sort of disturbance -- but the kid is reliable and now he's missing."

"That's because I was leading a family out," said Adviaris, emerging from the trees a few paces away. "My sincerest apologies, Bulinn. I was passing down an alley when a woman stepped out of her back gate to dump some waste into the gutter. Pure dumb luck, but she came out almost on top of me. And when she saw me she just sort of... stopped, and gestured me forward."

Other figures emerged from the woods behind him, slender and thin-faced, with light hair and pointed ears. "This is Amradil Lethlos and her family. The human family has been hiding them from the garrison for three weeks now, Corellan alone knows how or why."

Werendril nodded slowly. "Take them down to the camp. Bulinn, make sure nobody followed them here."

* * *

"So yes, it's absolutely a trap," said Werendril. He nodded to Adviaris, who stood beside the small, smokeless fire.

"According to the human woman, the king has soldiers hidden in half the houses in town. Officially, they're 'supplementing the garrison', but actually they're waiting until someone tries to free the prisoners. The moment the keep sounds the alarm bell, they all come pouring out and we have a full platoon between us and Duendewood."

Endonis, the senior paladin, nodded slowly and looked at Werendril.

"For tonight, we'll remain here. In the morning we send Amradil and her family on, and move back into the woods. Tomorrow night, we'll try to slip up to the keep and remove the prisoners without being seen." He turned to look at Shondrelle, the druid who had come in their company. "Do you think you can manage to pass them through a stone wall without the humans noticing?"

The druid smiled. "I had wondered why the lady gave me songs for the stones. Yes, I can do what you need."

* * *

They had to wait until well past midnight for the moon to set before they could approach the outer wall of the keep. The humans atop the walls carried lamps, but the light barely illuminated the wall-top. It didn't touch the ground below. Shondrelle spoke and gestured, and the wall melted away.

"Well, this is definitely the prison," Endonis whispered as a dozen elvish faces turned to look at them.

Keeping the prisoners quiet was the hardest part of the escape. Shondrelle restored the wall, shaping the stone back to closely resemble its former configuration, while the troopers guided the prisoners in a wide circle around the town. Werendril only had to intercede once, for a young woman with a broken ankle, and then they were gone. With any luck, it would be dawn before the escape was noticed, and well after that before they mounted any sort of search.

* * *

"They're behind us, ser." Bulinn's voice is certain as he slows his horse and falls in beside Werendril. "Coming fast."

"Are we within Duendewood?"

"Half a mile more, sir. They'll catch us before then."

Werendril considers as Endonis drops back to ride beside him. "We ford a stream not far ahead, don't we?"

Bulinn nods, and a faint smile teases the edge of his lips.

"Drop caltrops in it. Slow them down. And let me know the moment we're back inside our own lands."

* * *

The end comes closer than Werendril would have liked. They have only barely crossed the border when Adviaris comes riding up. "They're not far behind me, and they are pissed."

"The caltrops worked?" asks Werendril.

"The caltrops worked." Adviaris looks pleased. "There were three-score, but they lost nearly a dozen mounts."

"That's still easily three times what we have," Werendril growled. "Guardians! Turn your horses over to the refugees. Send them on to the camp. We'll set up an ambush here. We're outnumbered, so make every shot count."

* * *

The humans rode into Duendewood as if they owned the place, which they probably thought they did. The first wave of arrows slammed into them from nowhere, laming horses and dropping riders, causing the ones behind to bunch up into a crowd of easier targets. Another round of arrows followed, then another. Human warriors wheeled, looking for targets and mostly seeing none. One ducked down beside his mount and tried to race through the trap, but fell with an arrow through his shoulder. Another shrugged free from the mass of his fellows, shouting orders as his heavy steel armor shattered arrows or sent them spinning aside: "By Helios! Shields up! Find these infidels and finish them!"

More troops fell. Werendril dropped from the branch were he'd been lurking, laying his bow aside and drawing the distinctive Elvish double-scimitar from his back. Somewhere along the road Endonis would be doing the same, cutting off the escape of anyone who tried to retreat.

He stepped onto the road, and several of the troops suddenly turned their attention to him. Another wave of arrows cut most of them down, but the armored figured remained untouched atop his horse. "You!" his voice was clear even behind his visor. "I will cut you down, heathen! In the name of Helios!"

He spurred his horse forward, and Werendril waited. The long, straight sword was pointed towards him, the heavy shield raised to guard the human's torso. A faint aura, barely visible, suggested that the man was trying to bring some divine force to bear... another paladin, then. Werendril wasn't certain if he was pleased or disappointed. He only knew that he was watching the horse draw closer, watching the human ready his attack.

When the moment came, he dodged out to the side, kicked off into the air, and cut down behind the human's back as he passed. The horse caught the back end of the double-scimitar and stumbled, throwing its rider headfirst onto the road. Werendril stepped off the back of horse and landed on his feet, sliding briefly over the dirt at the side of the road. He walked calmly forward as the heavily-armored paladin rose to his feet, staggered, and collapsed.

Stepping forward, Werendril spun his double-scimitar between the hastily-upraised blade and the exposed neck. One blade forced the paladin's sword back; the other settled against his jugular. "These lands," Werendril said slowly, "are not yours to conquer." Then he completed the movement, sending the sword into the underbrush and beheading the paladin of Helios.

Ruin, he thought, had been right all along.

So that's what I've got - a Paladin of Corellan should have a Chaotic Good alignment requirement, and should not be proficient with heavy armor - light or medium only. Hide, Move Silently, and Tumble should be class skills.

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