It was a rushed decision to come here. I admit, I had been getting careless – nay, restless, really, for Neverwinter had offered me very little honest work for a good long while. So when I saw a chance to help out, I took it. Perhaps I’ll tell you the rest of that story some other time – Lady Monthac was furious but the halflings had their revenge, and for the moment, I needed to leave the city ere the lady had me fed to the dogs. Black Rayla, as I knew she would, took me under her wing without another word. Who the halflings were? Listener, I do not kiss and tell. Suffice to say, the lady deserved what came to her.
As for Black Rayla, of course she needs no further introduction. Who hasn’t heard of her heroic deeds, her legendary strength? Who does not know her unbending courage and her unparalleled skill? You do not, sir? Are you a fool? This Southern woman once saved your humble narrator from most foul bandits, and since then he has been in her very great debt; now, I was honored to be her traveling companion on a trek here to Phandelin, a place for good and true people with – I hope – little mind for politics. But I will get on with my story.
I met Black Rayla at the tavern and pleaded for her help. She asked no further questions. The following day, we walked together to meet with her employers; the Rockseeker Brothers, good dwarves all three of them, as I understand. There wasn’t much time to inquire further about the nature of her employment, for we were bound to leave the selfsame day, but I trusted the heroic Black Rayla to keep me perfectly safe. So long as I didn’t insult her very badly, which I had every intention of avoiding. Do I have her friendship? I certainly hope so. It is difficult to tell; she is a woman of few words, and little trust, and with good reason – she has been betrayed more than once by knaves and knights alike. I am a little bit of both knight and knave; but I also consider her my friend, and that, listener, is honor enough.
Well; dream of my surprise when I should meet my second traveling companion, then. As I accompanied the steely-eyed southern sentinel to the site of the caravanserai, I came upon a most beautiful dwarf; I entrust you’ve heard the songs of her deeds or else I shall have to educate you. Her name is Torbera, although she has been known by the moniker Dolphina; it is a dwarven joke that wouldn’t make much sense to outsiders, so I shall leave it. This stout and fine woman is as courageous as any dwarf, with golden hair and fire in her soul, but alas – like Black Rayla – a quiet sort, more at home in the wilds of the mountains than in the company of men. Listener, I do not kiss and tell – but I will admit I have wondered at the secrets that hide in those black eyes. I never could resist a troubled soul.
For whatever curious reason, the Rockseeker himself – one Gundren – had ridden ahead in the company of some old mercenary dubbed Sildar, a name vaguely familiar I’m sure, though unless you are quite old he would be from before your time. More of this gentleman at a later time. As I had been up all night evading the lady’s bodyguards (and in one case, distracting the lady’s bodyguards), I reclined on our long ox-cart of supplies and, after brief introductions, had myself a nap. The first stretch from Neverwinter was uneventful, as I knew it’d be. Little happens so close to the limits of that fine city that the guards do not catch.
We made camp at a resting-spot a few miles from the city, and the following day continued to the city. I was, by now, more alert. Phandelin is the kind of place that attracts both outlaws and goblins, and even with just a day’s travel from Neverwinter’s walls, they would grow bolder. And indeed; it wasn’t but an hour past the morning meal that Black Rayla’s eagle eyes spied trouble ahead on the road. Like a stalking panther she withdrew into the wild underbrush, set on foiling whosoever sought to ambush us; but the road-block wasn’t intentional. Two dead horses, belonging to Gundren Rockseeker and Sildar Hallwinter, had been scattered on the road, cut up and mutilated. Listener, if you at all know the dangers of the Sword Coast, you will recognize this deed as the work of goblins – for the foul little biters have a deep streak of sadism towards animals especially. And I had but thought this, when a critter jumped out at Black Rayla – burying its blade in her neck! No – her chainmail had saved her from the worst of the blow, deflecting the blade into a deep gash over her neck. She turned, scowling like a wounded beast, drawing her shield and sword and made short work of the pitiful creature, cleaving it from neck to groin. Its companions were no luckier; even as they hurled javelins and insults in their guttural tongue, she showed no sign of slowing down. One by one, the filthy monsters fell before her biting blade, cut to pieces and left for the wolves. Torbera, too, drew her bow and fired, and I’m sure she defeated a green-skinned ghoul or two.
As Black Rayla knelt down to have her wound cleaned by the noble dwarf, this humble bard carefully approached the scene of the slaughter, searching for clues to the Rockseeker’s fate. He had not been so lucky as to be killed by the foul things; they had dragged him, and one other, to some cave in the woods or other, doubtless to torture him until he no longer amused them. It is a fate I would not wish upon even lady Monthac. Now Rayla, whose unhesitating dedication is second only to her unflagging courage, wished to push on to Phandelin and do the job to which she had sworn her duty; but the pleading words of your humble narrator cracked her steely heart, filling her with a sense of deep compassion for this poor dwarf, in the clutches of such monsters! Listener, I assure you – little can turn Black Rayla from her path, once it is chosen – but the peril of such a good and noble dwarf was something she could not bear. Being thus, she raised her sword and set forth, fearlessly, to the goblins’ cave. Two of the critters guarded the mouth, but they fell quickly before Rayla’s hurled javelin and Torbera’s arrow true.
What was this cave like, you ask? Listener, as you are well aware the lands of Faerûn are filled with forbidding cave-mouths, lands of utter darkness where evil reigns, where dragons creep beneath the earth, where drow kidnap men and expose them to hideous torture, where only the dwarves bring truth and light into the trackless deep. This wasn’t one of those caves. It was a goblin’s cave, and as such, it was stinking and filthy and cramped, with none of the dark majesty of the ancient tunnels. Your narrator lit his lantern nevertheless; and together with the two heroines descended into the depths. Listener, it felt as though stepping into the maw of some great beast, one with particularly bad breath and indigestion. Ahead, two wolves snarled on chains. Though filled with fear, I stepped ahead to scout for these, my feet unhindered by heavy boots or armor – but it was a mistake! Having hoped to lure the beasts towards my companions, I was caught in the open as a snarling wolf leaped towards me, seeking to pull me to the ground and make a quick meal of your storyteller!
Alas, it was not to be. Before you are alarmed, listener, I can tell you – truthfully – that I did not die. You can rest easy knowing that this tale is not told to you by a ghost – here, touch my arm. See? I am alive and well, thanks to the two brave women who leapt to my protection, raining arrows and steel against the wolves until they died. Shaken, I nevertheless resolved to press on, more out of curiosity than courage – for without the presence of these heroes, in truth I tell you, I should have turned back there and then. So, once more I lifted my lantern against the dark of the deep, and trekked further into the maw of the cave. A little ways ahead was an encampment of the foul things named goblins, capering and chattering at the source of some amusement. They outnumbered us almost three to one – but I was not afraid. Even ten such gibbering vermin are no match for Black Rayla! Into the camp charged the southern champion, bellowing and bashing her shield and filling the goblins with terror! And after her came Torbera, overcome with the famous battle-frenzy of the dwarves, a beauty to behold, spinning her bright blades, cleaving through the monsters. The goblins were overcome with fear, cowering and fleeing, but they were offered no mercy.
At this time, a voice came creeping upon the silent air of the cave. It was a dark and foreboding voice, but pleasant and polite, and it spoke in the tongue of Men, not with the gibbering voice of a goblin. While the women finished their bloody work, your humble narrator took it upon himself to investigate. There, in the dark, lay two men, bound, prisoners. One climbed to his feet; dark and handsome, he was fine-limbed and slender, his open shirt revealing a bare chest covered in arcane sigils. His eyes were pools of dark intrigue, stormy yet soft, and his fine jawline and elegant long eyelashes gave your narrator pause, taking in the statuesque form of this bound prisoner, whose captors had inflicted much suffering but had been unable to even slightly mar the alien beauty of his exotic features. This man was Wodys nov Vo’kai, and your narrator did not delay loosening his bonds. With a polite introduction, he cracked his knuckles and unleashed the potent power of his magic on the remaining goblins, charring them into cinder, releasing a kind of calculated rage that shone in his features as his fine lips contorted into a snarl of vengeance.
As the fighting died down, Black Rayla and Torbera met with the man, brusquely greeting him in a warrior’s fashion, eyeing him carefully. They would not be so easily tempted by his fiendish beauty. Yet as the man told his story, surely Black Rayla took pity upon him: He had been duped by a villain named the Black Spider, promised knowledge and lore in exchange for his services – unwitting to the evil nature of this bestial knave, whose minions included goblins and orcs. These, then, were the Cragmaw goblins, trained inasmuch as the vermin can be trained, by an ancient clan of orcs. He knew not who the other man was, nor who else was kept prisoner here, and so Torbera woke him. Lo! He was that old dusty knight I mentioned earlier, Sildar Hallwinter, whose deeds are probably better told by other bards – ones with long beards and creaky knees! Nevertheless, this Sildar knew more. He told of a bugbear that had taken him and Gundren Rockseeker back to this cave, and as he did, dread overcame your humble narrator – for a bugbear is a powerful foe. But there was no turning back now. Wodys and Sildar were both far from friends and shelter, and Black Rayla didn’t hesitate to offer them her protection, exhausted and helpless as they were. Yet first we must rescue Gundren.
We made our way deeper into the goblin’s cave, to a place where the ceiling had cracked and golden light shone through. Here, some goblin sentinels awaited, deafened to the clamor of battle by a great rushing waterfall. Unhesitant, Black Rayla charged into the room to slay them with one fell swoop of her sword – but the treacherous creatures had trapped the floor somehow, an obstacle so fiendishly hidden that not even Rayla’s eagle eyes could spot it! She stumbled forwards, thrown off by the cunning critters, and Wodys – seeking to lend his assistance – aimed a magical projectile at the goblins. Alas, hands still shaking from having been bound, his bolt didn’t hit the mark! It slammed into Rayla’s back, throwing her to the floor. If not for Torbera’s arrows, heroic Rayla’s tale might have ended there and then. Yet the sentinels were slain, and when our heroine regained her footing, she at once forgave the poor sorcerer, trusting that his spell had been a misstep. This troubled your humble narrator. Certainly the spell had been a mistake, but to trust him so eagerly? I resolved to keep an eye on the beautiful spell-slinger lest his wily charms should lead the heroine astray. It is not something I suspect of her, but as any good bard I know the tales of how even the noblest knight can be tempted by comely young men with alluring eyes.
We ventured forth into the chamber of the bugbear. Listener, I cannot convey the sense of dread I felt at facing such a terrible foe – if not for the heroes in my company filling me with confidence and courage, I should have turned tail and fled. I could not abandon them now, though my instincts were to run from this savage monster and his goblin minions. We stepped inside, and Black Rayla raised her sword to face the bugbear, challenging him to single combat! He was a wild and savage thing, with peering eyes like a pig’s, and bristly hair covering him from head to toe. Vicious fangs were in his mouth, and in his hand a heavy, brutal morning star covered in wicked spikes. Without fear, Rayla met him in a duel to the death, sword clashing against his heavy morning star. She has the strength of three tigers, but against this giant of a bugbear, even she must test her true mettle.
But goblins do not fight fair, and neither do bugbears. The monster had a snarling wolf at its side, and this lunged forth, seizing Rayla by the leg and dragging her to the floor! She was undone by treachery. Goblins swarmed around her and the wolf nipped at her feet, and now the bugbear laughed – a deep, guttural, vile laugh that filled the cave, as he raised his hefty iron club to end our heroine’s life there and then on the floor!
A moment. My throat is dry. I need a new fill of wine. Yes, donations are very welcome. Thank you. Thank you.
Where was I? Ah, yes – there was Rayla, swarmed by enemies, and with the bugbear ready to crush the life from her. Well, into the room bolted Wodys, his fine limbs in a silhouette against the fire, but his eyes were filled with that deep, seductive darkness, and now he unleashed it in the form of true – and terrible – sorcery. Black tentacles from beyond this world burst from his body, and his lithe handsome form writhed and undulated in unnatural twists and turns as the long creeping tendrils embraced everything around him, casting it in alien darkness. I shuddered as I saw the things he brought forth, but the goblins fell as the darkness touched them, sapped of their life-force, collapsing like puppets. Only the bugbear still stood. With a cry of barbarian terror, it brought is heavy weapon down upon the shapely sorcerer, beating him to the floor and dealing him a mortal wound. Torbera let her arrows fly at the monster, but it came for her next. I was overcome with terror, but trusted that Rayla would save us – alas, she wasn’t getting up. The black tentacles of the mystic sorcery had touched her too, leaving her drained of strength! Such magic is dangerous and imprecise, and against it, not even Rayla’s faultless shield can defend.
I knew what I must do. Drawing my sword, I ran silently up to the bugbear, praying that bold and beautiful Torbera could survive its terrible attack. She caught the morningstar with her two dwarven blades, and truly – only dwarven steel and dwarven strength could live up to such an onslaught! But alas, with the bugbear’s back turned, I saw my opening, and leapt. Into its back my blade bit, piercing the monster’s heart. Weakened as it was by Wodys’s magic, it had not been able to turn away in time. An animal grunt escaped it as life fled from its hideous body, and the misshapen weapon fell to the floor with a heavy thud. The bugbear was slain by deceit, a fitting end for such a cowardly thing.
Torbera rushed to the warlock’s side to save him from the terrible wound. Indeed, reader – warlock. Such was his magic, the result of a pact with something from Beyond. Yet he had, undeniably, saved our lives, and at great risk to his own. Whatever his intentions towards Black Rayla, he was surely no friend of the Spider, or he would have turned traitor there and then.
Rayla, of course, wasn’t badly hurt. Her sturdy boots had saved her from the wolf, and it takes more than a warlock’s curse to sap her panther-like strength for long! She got to her feet and soon began to search the cave for Gundren Rockseeker, eager to save this poor dwarf from further misery, wasting no time to rest for more than a moment. Meanwhile, Torbera and I nursed Wodys back to health. Rayla, among the bugbear’s possessions, found a potion of healing which she graciously offered the poor battered man, and that was well, for I think nothing else could have staunched the bleeding from his head. Thanks to the magic of the drink, it didn’t even scar.
Alas, Gundren Rockseeker was not in the cave. Already, then, he had been taken to the Black Spider’s lair by some other minion. We saw no recourse but to continue on our journey to Phandelin, bringing the brave Wodys and that old knight Sildar along. Among the bugbear’s stolen loot was some supplies for the village, which we of course brought along. There were some minor treasures as well, such that we could fill our own pockets, but I assure you – they were meager. Wodys found all of twelve copper pieces, while Black Rayla found some amount more. It’s thankless work, being a hero. But thanks to Rayla’s heroic efforts, the road is now safe from these goblin bandits – make sure to spread the words of her selfless and heroic deeds, and if anyone says this story is a lie, let them face Black Rayla’s wrath. In fact, I wouldn’t even retell it to her; for if you get the slightest detail wrong, she’ll surely be upset with you.
And as for myself? Why, I’m just a penniless bard, sharing the story of what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard. But if you’d like to thank Black Rayla for her heroic deeds, I’ll make sure she gets the message.
Yes, thank you, donations are welcome too.