The Irryrian Invasion
The party returns to court and presents its present of incense. Vicar Neve is thrilled to the heavens; Queen Rian, however, plays her cards close to her chest.
Warfare in a feudal society is less a matter of state policy than of personal choices. The queen gives the party licence to recruit for their attack on the goblins, but refrains from making her own commitment until they have raised a sizable private force.
This is the Bard’s territory, and the party follows him on a whirlwind tour of the kingdom. They discover a wide range of attitudes. County Eicoarraecae is decimated, its count destroyed in the party’s last goblin adventure. However, soldiers must eat, and they like successful leaders: after all, the party returned from that foray intact. The party raises a company of yeomen and a troop of ranked marksmen as permanent household guards for only a signing bonus of 2,500 gp, the promise of 5,000 gp a year in salary and upkeep, and a standard share of the booty. Added to the sailors they already employ, the party has now crossed the threshold: they are no longer a free company, but a political entity.
However, both the free companies of the county are hard ”No’s”. Baronet Hubert, of the armored Iron Company that accompanied the late Count on that fatal venture, does not care to face the dragon again. Baronet Gabriel of the Lance Company tells them to their face that they underestimate the power of the dragon and that their mission is suicidal. But why would they listen to some small-time adventurer from distant lands with a reputation for defeating strange and powerful beasts? They shrug off his warning and move on.
Count Garth of Hoolliolae is keen; he, his personal retinue, and his company of cataphracti are all available for merely their share of the spoils. The party funds the temporary formation of another free company from the local gentry for 1,750 gp, bringing another troop of marksmen on-board complete with their own cleric.
Oorlournearsio, the swamp county they keep passing through on their way to the goblins, is regretfully unable to contribute at the moment. The Curate Siagny is struggling to hold her misfit county together as it is.
Lady Irwen, the sometimes erratic ruler of Ameappaoqua, is ambiguous. She wants to see what the queen commits before she commits her own forces, and even then she is asking for cash to get involved. The party extracts a compromise: the lady, half her retinue, and her cataphracti company will accompany them for only 1,500 gp if the queen sends at least an entire regiment. The party, concerned about raising enough force, decide to meet the Arrow Company’s signing fee of 2,000 gp, and add another free company to their coalition.
Flodaighoast gives them the cold shoulder. Curate Anna faces too many raids from the human kingdom to her west to worry about goblins. Only a substantial inducement of 2,000 gp convinces the resident free company, the Company of the Long Shaft, to join them.
With these lists of names in their hands they return to the capital. The Order of the Stag, the most powerful non-governmental body in the kingdom, meets their invitation with nothing but frowns. They cannot be swayed, and the party settles for buying the much smaller Order of the Hound for another 2,000 gp. Still worried about impressing the queen, they hand over another 4,500 gp to organize three temporary troops of ranked marksmen from the free gentry of the town, each of which comes with its own Troubadour. Lady Alys the Jongleur is waiting only for an invitation, and gladly jumps to be of service to the realm.
Now they approach the throne with only slight trepidation. Neve greets them warmly; the queen is still reserved. Yet she will not send her sister unprotected into danger. She grants them a regiment, a third of her entire army. Four companies of yeomen, one company of dragoons, and two troops of marksmen.
However, she extracts a promise: after the goblins are reduced, the party will undertake to retrieve the Helm of Brilliance for her realm. The party is uncertain as to how this can be accomplished, but they want her troops too much to say no.
She also makes it clear that the party is to return with Neve, or not at all.
The party has now invested a vast sum into making this happen, for which they get only their fair share of the spoils. Still, they have traded gold for the chance of tael, and that is the engine which drives the lives of the ranked. They set forth with banners flying, as a substantial portion of the power of the realm falls in behind them.
The march south is uneventful; the way is well-known and the goblin patrols have already been smashed once. On the morning of battle, when the next advance will bring the army to close with the goblin city, the dragon appears in the sky, glowing more golden than the sunrise.
Neve stands in the saddle, refulgent with the power of the incense, and chants with the confidence of conviction. The dragon draws close; the party is granted their first proper look at the creature. And that look shakes them to their bones. In a flash of inspiration the Cleric realizes that Neve is completely insane; her paltry rank cannot possibly compel a monster of this power. (I made the Cleric look up the rules for turning while the Bard made a roll to determine the dragon’s CR. The party immediately began casting every spell they could think of to boost her chances, but even that was not enough).
The party looks left and right, but there is nowhere to hide. Flight is not possible from the flying freight train bearing down on them. Neve chants louder, still unconcerned; the army holds its collective breath; and then… the dragon turns away.
As it flies south, out of sight, the army leaps to its feet. Divine providence has blessed their cause and they press on with bloodlust heightened to a burning edge. Only the party looks at each other, wondering what has just transpired; only they seem aware that the dragon chose to withdraw for reasons unknown but undoubtedly nefarious.
The ensuing battle is somewhat anticlimactic. The party has brought overwhelming force against the depleted goblins, including two land-holders whose retinues include healers and are therefore nigh-indestructible. The army’s advance is contested but never truly in doubt. Even the trolls cannot inflict much damage before the Barbarian knocks them down.
At the gates of the city the goblins mount a desperate defense. The Barbarian, eager as always, scrambles over the walls and attempts to engage an entire company of spearmen single-handedly. This appears to be the limit of his abilities, as they stab him to the ground with a hundred thrusts. Fortunately Count Garth is unwilling to cede all the glory, and his troop smashes through the gates and captures the city. The party finds the Barbarian, unconscious but fortunately not in danger of bleeding out, lying in the rubble.
The common troops rampage through the city, killing everything that breathes. Even the goblin’s horses are destroyed, as they are unmanageable by human hands. The high lords gather in the goblin keep and oversee the collection of treasure.
The other lords look to the party for guidance, as this is their operation. The party decides to occupy the city for at least nine more days while the yeoman hunt hobgoblins in the forest, yielding sizeable portions of tael. After that their food will run out, and they are not willing to chance goblin fodder. The retreat home, like the march here, will require no rations, as the army is almost entirely composed of huntsmen who can forage with ease in the wild; but the goblins have long since hunted their own lands into depletion.