The group continues travelling east towards Nesme. That evening, the decision is made to camp without a fire, a decision Cain is not pleased with.
[19 Mirtul 1372]
The group crests a hill to see a small caravan of wagons clustered around a pond in the grassland below. Minutes later, another caravan of wagons arrives from the east, and the two small caravans begin exchanging long, shallow boxes. Although Mellia stays behind examining some strange mystic runes round on a hillside, the other members of the group walk down to meet the caravans, one of which appears to be setting off west and the other back to the east. A man calling himself Verdos rushes out to meet the group. When asked, he explains that he is a coffin-maker transporting his wares to Nesme. He weaves a story about how bodies are increasingly rising from the dead in the Evermoors, but that his coffins come with strong locks to keep that from happening. The group offers their services as caravan guards for the remainder of the voyage to Nesme, and Verdos agrees.
[20 Mirtul 1372]
In the morning, Fargrim decides to ask Verdos about Startop Mountain. Cain notices that the man seems nervous and looks away while denying any knowledge of it. Cain conveys his suspicion to Fargrim, but the two decide not to take action at the moment. Soon thereafter, Mellia catches up to the group.
Later that afternoon, on the west bank of the Subrin, the travelers encounter the rubble of a large fortress, former home to the Riders of Nesme. A bridge spanning the Subrin to the city on the eastern bank has also been destroyed, and only a large barge now offers a way across. As the first of the wagons is loaded on the barge, Mellia is told about Verdos' strange reaction to mention of Startop Mountain. She concocts a plan with Cain; the cleric will ask the man about it again, while Mellia will cast a mystical incantation to detect his inner thoughts.
When the two adventurers put their plan into motion, a suspicious Verdos spots Mellia casting a spell and demands that she stop. When she doesn't, he suddenly lashes out with a vicious strike to her face! All of Verdos' caravan guards had "coincidentally" stayed on this side of the river, and they leap into action, pummelling Mellia and Cain with quarterstaffs. A brief battle ensues, as Mellia manages to escape by turning invisible, Fargrim cuts one of the guards almost in twain, Markus disarms a guard and then charges into battle on horseback, and Cain incapacitates several of the guards by shattering their eardrums with a magickal sonic burst.
In the confusion of battle, however, "Verdos" manages to escape by jumping into the river and swimming for the far bank. Two his men try the same thing, but their inability to swim leaves them flailing and splashing. Markus shoots one of the swimmers in the back with an arrow, while Fargrim pulls the other one out. A brief interrogation reveals that the escaped leader's name is Melchor, and that the contents of the coffins are actually slaves headed for Startop Mountain! Fargrim allows the guard to flee, much to Mellia's dismay.
A quick search of the two remaining wagons shows that the bandit's words are true: a slave is imprisoned within each coffin. When the barge returns to the west bank, a difficult task is had trying to convince the bargewright to waive his normal 5 gp/head fee so that all of the slaves can cross. Markus manages to persuade the stubborn and frustrating man to accept 20 gp and two horses as payment.
As they cross to the far side of the river, it becomes clear just how much devastation has been brought to Nesme. The city walls have been breached in several places, many homes have been reduced to piles of rubble, and the remaining citizenry are heavily-armed and suspicious. The slaves brought on the barge and freed from the third wagon are put safely into the hands of the city guard, and the four adventurers find lodging in a no-questions-asked boarding house.
In the middle of the night, Mellia turns herself invisible, runs to where the barge is tied up at the western pier, and cuts it loose.
[21 Mirtul 1372]
While Mellia works on scribing a Shield scroll, the others sell the excess horses they took from the slavers. Having heard word that adventurers are quite welcome and well-remunerated in Nesme, the trio journey to the gilded spire, a former temple to Waukeen, that now houses the Nesme Council. There, the First Speaker of the Council, Tessarin "Longtresses" Alaurun, a beautiful but beleaguered sorceress, tells the group about the bounty on giants (250 gp each) and other monstrous creatures that are responsible for Nesme's current dire situation. She relates the hope that the newly-formed Confederacy of the Silver Marches, an alliance of the region's largest cities, will admit Nesme to membership and send aid.
Upon request, she arranges for the city to purchase the wagons captured from the slavers, and on a well-detailed map of the Silver Marches, she points out the precise location of Startop Mountain, mentioning that she has heard it is now a monastery to Lathander, the Morninglord.
Director's Commentary (Feb. 6, 2014)
The adventurers continue to make good progress towards Startop Mountain, this time reaching the last bastion of civilization before the wilds of the Evermoors: Nesme. As I write this (circa Session # 66), the group is about to head back to Nesme (long story!) and will find it quite changed.
The battle against the slavers went pretty well for the party, even though the slaver's leader managed to escape (he would be fought again on Startop). I thought Markus putting an arrow through a fleeing slaver who was struggling to swim was a bit cold!
I portrayed the bargeman as a real jerk, trying to charge the party the full cost to transport every slave they had rescued from the coffins. It was very funny to see Mellia, out of spite, return in the middle of the night and untie the man's barge, letting it flow down the river. Short-term satisfaction, though I don't think she realized she at least temporarily cut off any connection between Nesme and the outside world.