It has been over a month since you signed up as caravan guards for the expedition to Faeun’s far north, the frozen land known as Icewind Dale. The grueling trek up the southern slopes of the Spine of the World was noting compared to the treacherous crossing over the mountain pass. When the wagon train finally began its decent into Icewind Dale, everyone in the caravan breathed a collective sigh of relief that the journey was nearly at an end. That was five days ago.
The first sign of the dale already seems like a distant memory. Five days of hard travel across the barren tundra has left ache in the legs and rumble in the belly. Frozen winds have scoured memory of warmer climes, and at night, huddled behind the rude shelter of wagons, the sound of the groaning breeze is a constant companion.
This morning, however, there is a sense of liveliness as the caravan breaks camp. Beorne Steelstrike, the dwarf leading the expedition, has indicated that the caravan might be able to make its destination before nightfall if everyone pushes hard today. Not wanting to spend a single night more that necessary in this unforgiving wasteland, everyone hastens to hitch their wagons.
As your fellow travelers make ready, they speak of comforts that await them at your destination, the trade town of Bryn Shander. “Once I’ve seen to the wagons, it’ll be straight to Kelvin’s Comfort for me,” declares Beorne, doing a last check up the line. “A cup o’ Flamebeard’s Firebrandy will warm ye up faster than any hearth fire!” Swinging up into his seat, he gives a shout and cracks his reins, and the caravan rumbles forward.
As you continue northward, the featureless tundra gives way to a range of low hills. According to Beorne, it is upon the last, and highest, of these hills that Byrn Shander is situated, and at the sight of them the caravan presses forward with renewed determination. The rocky, scrub-covered slopes provide a welcome bulwark against the wind, and as you leave the tundra behind, and gentle snow begins to fall.
As the caravan steers around the base of one hill, you suddenly hear the scream of horses and the shouting of riders coming from the back of the train. Through the snow, you can make out the figure of a great saber-toothed cat looming over a caravan guard, who is weaponless and pinned to the ground. The teamster of a nearby wagon fights to regain control of his panicked horses, but the beasts pull wildly at their harnesses as they attempt to flee, and with a lurch the wagon tips and crashes to the ground.
(The party then attacks and slays the beast, but not before it kills the unarmed guard. It’s attack has left many problems in it’s wake for the party to contend with.)
Although the beast is gone, the havoc it wrought remains. The toppled wagon is clearly damaged, and dozens of crates and cartons lie scattered on the ground, a few of them having burst and spilled their contents across the new-fallen snow. The wagon’s driver curses as he tries to untangle the thrashing horses, but nearby guards make no move to help him; instead, they eye the surrounding hills warily, now seeing danger in every shadow and crevice.
A grunt from behind you draws your attention to Beorne Steelstrike. The dwarf’s weathered face is turned skyward, and a thin layer of snow frosts his beard. “It’s falling faster,” he mutters. With another grunt, he turns to face the struggling wagon-driver. “Leave it!” Beorne shouts. “We’ll be snowed in by nightfall if we don’t move on.”
The driver bristles at Steelstrike’s order. “After having come all this way, I’ll not leave my cargo to be ransacked by brigands so close to Bryn Shander’s walls! If you’ll not help me set my wagon right, at least let me load my goods onto the rest of the train.”
Beorne casts a doubting eye at the weather, then shakes his head grimly. “We’ll need every hour o’ daylight to make it to Bryn Shander, an’ the other wagons cannot afford the extra load. I’ll not risk bein’ caught in the snows. If ye can get yer wagon righted, follow us as quick as ye may. Otherwise, we’ll send a party back to find ye once the weather clears. Moradin keep ye.”
As Beorne turns his back on the stunned wagon-driver, he notices you looking on. “I’ve other lives to think about besides that fool man’s,” he says in a low grumble, but the stern demeanor softens slightly. " Still, the gods call each of us to a different task. Stay an’ help him if ye will, though I’d rather have ye with the train in case there’s more o’ those beasty cats about."
(The party tries but fails to convince the driver Aldo Fetcher to leave his goods. Nothing will stay his determination, not even a charm spell, and with a sigh the party sets about cleaning up the mess. Calming the horses, repairing the wheel, and reloading Aldo’s goods, they fall behind the caravan by almost an hour before they are back en route to Bryn Shander’s walls.)
The snow begins to fall more heavily, and the wind resumes its plaintive moan. Aldo pushes his team hard through the growing drifts of snow, desperate to reach Bryn Shander before nightfall. Finally, through the growing gloom, you see the walls of Bryn Shander rising ahead of you, and the tail end of the caravan’s wagon train snaking up the hill into the gates.
Carried on the wind, you can hear the calls of impatient wagon drivers waiting to enter the town. Suddenly, monstrous figures appear from out of the storm and rush towards the wagons, and the driver’s calls give way to desperate shouts and muffled screams. The caravan is under attack!
Monstrous figures—as tall as men, but with bodies coated in thick, white hair—rush the wagons and leap through the gate, lashing out with deadly claws.
“Yetis!” cries the guard on the tower, waving frantically to warn away townsfolk come to welcome the caravan. Then, rising above the clamor of battle, you hear Beorne Steelstrike’s commanding voice: “We need to get the rest of the wagons inside the gate. Hold them back!”
(The party joins the fight and helps clear the gate of these creatures to allow some of the wagons through.)
“Almost there!” cries Beorne as another wagon moves through the gates. The town’s defenders, alerted by the screams and sounds of fighting, rush along the wall to join the battle. Meanwhile, more yetis clamber over the battlements and past the gates, overwhelming the guards.
“We’ll be hard pressed to hold the gate with those beasties droppin’ down on top of us,” growls Steelstrike. “Quick, to the walls!”
(The heroes choose to back away from the walls and use range weapons to take out the beasts upon the walls and towers. This leaves a gap in the main gate defense however.)
Another wagon lurches through the gate, this one with Helda Silverstream beside it. Her axe and shield are spattered with blood. As she falls back she calls out, “That’s the last of the wagons! Close the gate!”
No sooner does she speak than a hulking figure steps out of the storm—an ancient yeti with claws like obsidian knives and cruel eyes that promise a cold death. The creature lets out a terrifying howl as it plants itself athwart the gate, while more yetis rush in behind it. If the gate isn’t barred soon, the townsfolk will surely suffer.
(The group concentrates it’s efforts on taking down the greater yeti, but are still being overwhelmed by the sheer number of it’s lesser kin. The fight is grueling, with three out of the four falling unconscious do to wounds they suffer at the hands of these beasts. Striking the final blow, the creature is slain, but it takes many more rounds to kill them all off and close the very heavy gates.)
The town guards move quickly to reclaim the battlements, their slings and arrows driving the attackers back from the wall, and you can hear the creature’s howls of defeat as they disappear into the wild. As you look about you, the amount of destruction wrought by the creatures in just a few short minutes is staggering. Smashed crates and overturned carts choke the street, while nearby buildings have holes torn in the walls from the creature’s claws and scorch marks from the fires they started, while all about lie the mangled bodies of men and horses. The townsfolk around you seem stunned, as if unsure whether to count themselves cursed for having been visited by such ruin or lucky to have survived it. However, those guards who catch your eye give you solemn nods of respect. They know how much worse it might have been.
Striding through the wreckage, you see a man with a stern countenance and an air of authority stop to question one of the guards, who points to you in response. The man approaches and, resting his hand on the pommel of his sword, gives a curt nod. “Greetings, friends. My name is Markham Southwell, sheriff of Bryn Shander, and it seems we are in your debt. If not for your brave actions here today, I warrant this destruction would have been far worse. You have my thanks. I will see to it that the speaker hears of your deeds; perhaps she will see fit to reward you for your service to the town.”
A call from one of the guards draws the sheriff’s attention away. “And now, I pray that you will excuse me,” says Markham as he turns to leave. “Even after the fighting, there’s always work to be done.”
(Weary and utterly exhausted from fighting to the brink of death, the party makes its way to Kelvin’s Comfort, the local tavern in Bryn Shander. Warming the chill out of their bones with food, drink, and a warm hearth, the heroes keep alert to the mutterings of the townsfolk.)
- The Dwarf Merchant: Helda Silverstream, the owner of one of the wagons in the caravan, thanks the adventurers for their efforts in protecting the caravan from the yetis. She offers to pay them 20 gp each to accompany her and her wagon to her final destination—the dwarven valley on Kelvin’s Cairn—to help keep her safe from further attacks. She says she’s willing to wait a few days for the party to make preparations.
- The Grumbling Guards: The adventurers overhear a pair of guards muttering about the attack, saying things like “Damn barbarian led them straight to us.”
- The Hysterical Apothecary: An apothecary named Rierdon is in hysterics over the damage that the yetis did to his shop, situated just inside the town gate. He wails about the money he paid for protection, crying, “Where was that bastard Slim to protect my shop when it mattered?” He offers to give the heroes half of what they can get back from what he paid Slim (150 gp).
- The Sense of the Town: Everyone in Bryn Shander knows that the attacks by wild beasts and monsters like the yetis are nothing new. Similar attacks on travelers have plagued Icewind Dale for weeks, since soon after the early storm that marked the start of this harsh winter, but this incident is the first time they’ve been brave enough to get so close to any of the towns in the dale.
What will the adventurers decide to do if anything? Who is this barbarian the guards are muttering about, and what does he have to do with the attack on the town? And is it worth getting involved with the apothecary’s problems while waiting for Helda to signal she’s ready to depart? Is the early season of storms a coincidence, or perhaps something larger brewing in Icewind Dale?
Find out next time on…