Hastily readying themselves, the Party is relieved when a voice calls to them by name and claims to bear a message from Ardadan and the Mayor.
It is indeed a messenger. He has much to tell and not much time. Events back in town have been developing quickly. In the absence of contact with the capital, with deteriorating contact elsewhere, and based on the information provided by Ardadan, the mayor has decided that he must take control of the situation. The entire militia and watch have been called up. Further scouting (by other parties) has indicated that, for the most part, the north and east of town are clear enough to be ignored for the present time, freeing the local forces to concentrate on the west and south. While it is clear that important matters are occurring to the west, the Mayor agrees that the south is the most likely present threat and/or center of these troubles. The capital is to the south and re-opening communication is imperative. Additionally, any threats from the south are closer, so, even if they prove to be minor, little time would be lost and then the militia would be free to turn its full attention to the west.
So, the plan is to move the bulk of the militia south and clear the area and break through if necessary to the southern settlements, then turn their attention to the west. In order to facilitate this, a series of relay point are, even now setting up along the old highway route. As the party gains further information, they can quickly contact the closest, and that info will be passed along. The “army” will be moving slowly due to its size, and the effort of clearing out the route.
No longer needing to send Vindle, the Party relays all that they’ve observed to this messenger, but then, ask why he, and not Ardadan brought this information. The messenger tells them that, in the interests of speed, Ardadan had several times used portions of the Highway. At some point bandits had spotted him and shot him. The arrow had hit him in the back, near his kidney, and he was obliged to ride for several hours before reaching town and receiving any aid. He may recover, but, due to the delay, this is no longer certain. Several of the towns’ healers are looking after him.
At this, the Party thanks the messenger, and returns to their assignment. Not without some discussion of Ardadan. Now events are certainly coming to a head, both with hope as well as uncertainty.
As the Party ponders this turn, word comes from the observation post that more bandits have hastily, and none too stealthily approached and entered the tower from the direction of the Highway. The entire Party now watches as, a half-hour or so later, two bandits emerge from the tower and trot rather quickly up the path towards the highway, where they turn north. After another half-hour, the gates open again, and a small troop escorting a wagon emerges. The column also turns north (right) as it reaches the Highway.
Perhaps the intense stress of the last few days, together with their feelings about Antalante and Ardadan, can explain what happened next. Ignoring their orders for the first time, the Party decides to ambush the column. It will take some time for the column to draw parallel with the Party, so they have time to prepare. If they hurry, they may even be able to intercept the two bandits who left earlier.
In the gathering darkness, the Party makes its way to the side of the Highway. Fortunately they do arrive before the two bandits. Staying under cover, they also discover two more bandits emerging from the brush on the other side of the Highway. Amrun tells the Party that that area is the furthest corner of his land. From this position, the Party can tell that the (now four) bandits are goblins. They are able to overhear some of the conversation. It appears that the survivors of the Opal House fight have sent word to the tower and asked for re-supply and reinforcement. The column coming up the Highway is part of that relief effort. The new commander for Opal House is with them. The conversation takes a quick turn though as the goblins discuss the situation. It seems they are not happy, and feel that things are getting out of control and dangerous for them. After making contact, the four goblins split back up into two groups, one heading back to link with the column, the other returning to the trees, likely to pass the word to Opal House.
The Party is excited by this news and readies an ambush. They find cover in the dark and the brush along the Highway. Theo and Lassidil are further to the right, while Hans, Amrun, Bern and Bigulf are in a group to their left. The plan is for Theo and Lassidil to stop the column from the front, while the rest hammer into it from the flank. Hans moves down the road a bit to watch for the column.
After some time, he returns, indicating the approach of the column. All now ready themselves. As it approaches, the details of the coming fight can be seen. There appear to be two goblins, four or so orcs, and three or four hobgoblins. The human commander can’t be seen at the moment, but is likely just obscured by the wagon. There are no lights being used, so it is quite dark. Once close enough, Lassidil and Theo open fire.
The ambush goes off perfectly to plan. In the darkness, the confusion is complete. Taking out the head of the column brings it to a halt, and as more move to the front to see what’s happening they can be eliminated as well. Though the bandits quickly realize they’re under attack, the confusion is more than enough to seal their fate. They are being attacked from multiple sides, and, before they can organize, the Party slams into them. Even the commander is easily taken care of. By the time he entered the fight, he was nearly on his own. After, the party is intrigued to discover that he is dressed and armoured identically to the original commander at Opal House.
After the elation wears off though, they realize the flaw in their plan. They now have a cart full of supplies, two horses and eleven bodies to deal with. Considering their job is to observe and report, this is something of a problem. Eventually they decide that the best course of action is to drag the bodies to the marsh, and to find a spot where they can take the cart off the Highway and hide it somewhere along the old road. Risky as this is, it seems better than leaving everything on the Highway where the carnage would act as a signpost saying, “Search here for enemies!” laborious and tiring as this is, they clearly have no viable alternative and, so, set about covering their tracks. In the dark, they do the best they can to obscure the spilled blood. Eventually, tired, sweaty from the effort, cold from the autumn night, the Party wearily returns to the campsite, surprising Vindle with two more horses to care for.