10th of Sunwane
The night is spent with the Party torn between fatigue and watchfulness. Finally in the early dawn everyone rises and prepares to head into town. Once all is ready, they set off, roughly back the way they came. Lassidil and Ardadan scout ahead and on the flanks while the others remain in a group, leading the animals and the prisoner. They are now heading more-or-less downhill with thicker foliage to their left, front and behind them, while the trees are visibly thinning to their right. Occasionally they can catch glimpses of the rolling grasslands and farms in the distance. After an hour or so (the Party is, naturally, moving more quickly than the previous day) one of the scouts signals a halt. Behind them, the sound of many individuals can be heard. Hastily they form up. Lassidil and Ardadan move a bit forward (towards the noises) and out to either flank. The prisoner is placed on Ithilmir, (Lassidils’ horse) who walks next to Bill the mule. Vindle takes station in front of the animals with Bern close by, while Antalante stands to the rear, supported by Bigulf. Theodoric places himself roughly in the center of the formation.
As the source of the noise comes into view, the Party realizes that they are facing a much larger force of bandits. It has probably been cobbled together out of several smaller groups. There appear to be at least twenty of them, mostly orcs, and at least eight hobgoblins, one or two may be human. On sighting the Party, the bandits waste no time. Those armed with bows begin shooting immediately, while the spear, and swordsmen immediately form into groups and advance from several angles.
Though with luck, they just might be able to survive an attack this big, the Party instead focuses on their main task of returning with the prisoner. They at once change course west, exiting the woods intending to go overland in a strait (ish) line, towards town as fast as they can. Vindle, the animals, the prisoner and Antalante move to the front and keep up as quick a pace as possible, while the rest form a screen behind them, constantly shooting at their attackers then falling back.
This immediate change of course proves to be fortuitous as, after a while, a second band of enemies emerges from what would have been the Party’s left flank. Now, instead of the Party being driven to them, (as was clearly the plan) this second group, made up almost entirely of goblins, is farther away than the first and must now desperately rush just to catch up and join the fight. It is clear that the assailants are very serious about recapturing the prisoner.
Fortunately, effective bowmen seem to be fairly scarce among their enemies. Few arrows come close enough to pose any real danger (for now). This allows the Party to concentrate on maintaining distance between them and the real threat, the danger of the infantry catching up and overwhelming them. This is a running fight with quick, careful shots to thin out and slow up the enemy. A few already lie dead in the yellow grass though the dark line continues its angry advance.
Ten minutes pass, then fifteen and the cycle continues, shoot, run, stop, pick a target, shoot again, run. One here, two there, orcs fall, but the gap is closing. The bandits are now spread about, their formations in ruins, but still they come on. Inevitably they’ll close and begin to cause damage, and, worse, slow the Party. Though the bandit’s strength is now reduced to a point that the Party could confidently take them on, this would allow the second group to catch up and tip the balance.
More time passes and more enemies are eliminated, but something must be done quite soon to break the pursuit or the Party’s failure (and probable demise) is certain. The second group of bandits has now nearly caught up with the rearmost of the first group. The tactics of the enemies have also changed. Instead of just firing at the Party members, the bandits have begun shooting at the prisoner. Evidently they mean to deny his usefulness one way or another. In response to this, he is taken off the horses’ back and is placed between Ithilmir and Bill. (With Antalante and Vindle guarding the back and front)
Amidst the shouts, screams, and calls to one another, a new sound carries over the rolling grass fields. Away to the north, some quarter-mile or more away, yet another ruffian band emerges from the distant trees. This one is very large, numbering at least twice that of either of the other two.
_Note: (Just to clarify: The party started the day headed more or less south, then they were attacked and made a right turn to the west. They have continued the running-fight in a westerly direction, so this new group, though far away is north of them. This puts the large enemy group to the party’s right when they run, and to their left when they turn to shoot at the other groups.)
A solution is needed now. If they are caught, the Party will be swarmed, and no matter the qualitative difference, will be defeated. Things are desperate, then, a few hundred yards further on, a ray of hope. In a fold of the low hills, one of the many ravines created by the seasonal streams can be seen. If the Party can reach it, they’ll have a chance to break the pursuit. They’ll have an elevated position from which to fight a tired and disorganized enemy. If they can break the remnants of the first group, they may then be able to successfully repel the second, goblin group afterwards.
Temporarily abandoning their run-shoot-run practice, they turn and run flat out for the ravine. Tired, they reach it and scramble up the far side. While desperately trying to catch their breath, they quickly refill their quivers with arrows carried by Bill and Ithilmir. Then, it is agreed that the prisoner is the priority so, while the rest of the Party turns to fight at the ravine, Vindle, Antalante and the prisoner continue their escape mounted on Bill and Ithilmir.
With a wide, flat field of view and a position of relative strength, the remainder of the Party spreads out and prepares to repel their enemies. Drawing their bows, they let loose a volley on the advancing force. Several more enemies drop to the grass while the rest re-group and enter the ravine. As the attackers begin to cross the ravine and scale the opposite side, the five remaining Party members keep up a furious rate of fire, wounding an assailant here, killing one there. Finally, the few left (of the first group) break and begin to run away. Rather than retreat entirely, the archers and three or four of the first group instead fall back and join the oncoming second group. The enemy archers begin returning fire and the rest move forward in a more organized fashion. Outnumbered though they are, this is what the party was hoping for. They now can deal with the groups one at a time and this group is mostly made up of smaller, (slightly) less dangerous goblins. They also have more time to shoot while the attackers advance to the ravine again, picking off as many as they can. Once again, several fall as the advance nears and as the goblins slow at the ravine. With more enemies arriving though, it is becoming impossible to hold them all off. Several move to the right and left and scale the steep wall of the ravine. Now all depends on breaking this groups attack. If they can’t, the Party will fall. If they can’t break it quickly, the large group to the north will catch up and they will be killed anyway.
Abandoning their bows (except for Ardadan) the Party goes on the offensive and lays into the foes clambering up the side of the ravine. Theodoric, Bigulf, Lassidil and Bern tear into their opponents while they are partially immobilized by the ravine wall. Ardadan shoots at the flankers and those on the far side of the ravine. To the left, two or three hobgoblins have managed to successfully clamber up and pose a danger to the defenders. Ardadan kills one then draws his sword and moves to take on the other two.
Faced with this ferocious counter-attack, and their numbers reduced so rapidly, the attack disintegrates. Goblins and orcs begin to run. The hobgoblins and humans fall back in a more orderly fashion. A few, engaged with the Party can’t run and must try to cut their way out. Ardadan is hard pressed by his opponents until the others come to his aid, killing the hobgoblins.
Note: (I know Ardadan fought with several baddies that were threatening the flank. I also know that he had help, but I honestly can’t remember who came over to that fight. The most likely seems to be Bigulf, but I’m not sure at all.)
With the pressure lifted, and their enemies in flight, the Party retrieves their bows and fires a few volleys to keep the bandits running. Then, exhausted, they turn and, quickly as they can, follow the path taken by their companions and the prisoner.
Now, with no immediate danger of delay, it will take quite a while before the northern group can possibly pose a risk. But the bandits still follow so there is no time to relax. The Party must continue their flight to Riverhills. Over the fields, the enemies can be heard shouting. The broken ruffians, driven by their leaders, have partially re-grouped and once again joined the chase. They are quite far away though, and by now are extremely weary and have no further stomach for this fight.
Looking ahead, there is no sign of Vindle or Antalante, it seems they’ve made good use of the hard-bought delay and the speed of the animals. The Party’s faint hope now rests on getting close enough to the city for the militia patrols to come to their aid. Time is of the essence though, tired as they are; the Party can’t hope to match the pace of their pursuers and, eventually will be caught. In the distance though, one of the scattered farms around Riverhills appears. Without a word they head directly towards it. In this open country, there is no other likely cover to fight from, so the farm seems to be the only useful place to go.
Nearing the farm, which sits on a rise, they can clearly see the city in the distance, basking in the noonday sun, unaware of the drama unfolding on the eastern hillsides. They quickly gather the residents and inform them of the danger and apologize for drawing them into this. As the Party members prepare once again to defend themselves, they notice that their antagonists have paused on the hillside. The bandits seem to be looking at the distant city and at the farmhouse. There seems to be some discussion among some of them. After some time the bandits back away, creeping up the low points between the rolling foothills, heading back towards the woods. It appears that they have no desire to operate within sight of the city, even if the prisoner remained with the Party. Perhaps they feel that, given that they’ve failed in freeing or killing the prisoner, being too close to the city would only compound their problems. Or, maybe they have other reasons to avoid being spotted this close. Whatever the reason, the Party is intensely relieved and wastes no time capitalizing on this fortunate turn of events. The farmers agree to help the party (and themselves) and drive them into town loaded in a cart. Eventually running into the patrols, the exhausted group makes a quick-bare bones report and, being given permission to pass through to the Constable, finally relaxes, dozing while the cart carries them through town.
Upon arrival at the constabulary, the Party turns the prisoner over to the authorities and then exhaustedly make as detailed a report as possible. The Constable congratulates and thanks the party, then tells them to get some rest. He’ll fill them in on details of the interrogation in the morning.