After meeting with the sage in Hommlet the companions began to once again make their way westward. Tordariche Nem had told the group of a small town to the west of the Feywood Forest called Winterhaven. It was there that the group hoped to discover whether passage upon a ship could be obtained there, or anywhere nearby in a coastal town? Tordariche had made it clear that the group was to be on the lookout for a mountain range to the southwest, and to skirt to the northwest in order to locate this place called Winterhaven. It was ten days into this lengthy trek, while skirting these very mountains, that the group spotted the ruins of a small village behind an ancient curtain wall. Above the wall and village ruins a caved-in temple could be seen standing upon a nearby hilltop. To the west and south the curtain wall ended abruptly, as the steep hillside created a natural barrier of protection. In the shadow of this wall the ruins of Gardmore Village could be seen standing like lines of broken teeth. Among the sagging roofs and toppled wrecks of houses, throngs of savage orcs made camp in filthy tents clustered around small, smoking fires.
The companions knew they needed to keep a low profile, or risk being set upon by what appeared to be hundreds of orcs. The gatehouse was then chosen as the groups point of entry. If all went well the group hoped to enter the gatehouse, defeat what they hoped to be a limited number of orc guards, and then make their way along the shadows of the interior curtain wall until they reached the tangled expanse of forest that covered the southern end of the village. Luckily their plan played out as they had hoped, as four orc guards met the group inside a raised portcullis. But there was one large surprise, as a ten-foot tall ogre also guarded the interior gatehouse! This opponent was only the beginning of the unexpect twists however, as Robyn and Mongo suddenly found themselves seperated from the melee when the raised portcullis came crashing down behind Fin and Altain. Robyn and Mongo then found themselves assaulted by a barrage of arrows that came from the top of gatehouse towers. The battle turned out to be more challenging than originally expected, but eventually the group disposed of the occupants before raising any outside suspicions.
Once the group was reunited inside the gatehouse the group made its way along the shadows of the curtain wall. It was then that they spotted a deserted courtyard nearby. The large open space seemed the perfect place to pitch a tent, yet no orcs were present, but why? After a short discussion they decided to investigate. It wasn’t long before they noticed a pile of crates and barrels near a set of ten-foot tall double doors that lead to a large keep. But as they approached they spotted an enormous two-headed giant with its back against the doors to the ruined keep. The eyelids of one of its heads were half-closed, and it was picking its teeth with the grisly bone of a recent kill. Thoughts of once again ducking into the shadows ran through the heroes minds before they suddenly realized they had been spotted. The two-heading giant yawned, then asked for a password. Shocked by the sudden question the group paused as the ettin rose to its feet.
Then the head on the right spoke, “Just give ‘em the reminder Spike, so we can get back to our nappin’.”
“Fine Bruse,” Spike grunted, then recited the following riddle: “A box of white bones, never empty nor full, though it ever leaks treasure inside. It holds safe all you’ve got, unless you’re a sot, when its locks with wine may be plied,” Bruse said.
“Smash it in like an egg, but what do you know?” said Spike, “They’ll not find the treasure you hide.”
Fin and Altain exchanged worried glances, before Fin finally gave his answer – “a skull.” With that the ettin suddenly stepped aside, allowing the companions safe passage through the large, wooden, double doors and into the keep.
Inside lay what appeared to be a great feasting hall. Arched and columned galleries overlooked the entire area, the emblazoned shields of its mighty defenders lining the walls. Some were now missing, and others pierced by raven-fletched arrows, and yet others defaced by gobs of filth or scrawled graffiti. At the far end of this reeking chamber, two curving stairways rose to either side of a landing where the galleries met. An ornate door could be seen leading off from the landing. But all this was secondary to what stood before the stairway, two orcs armored in the piecemeal remnants of Gardmore’s former defenders, a crude mockery of the paladin’s solemnity. Beside them stood two dire wolves – steeds no doubt for the savage knights of the orc chieftain. Two more orc warriors stood at the ready only twenty-feet from where the companions now stood. An orc sporting thick dreadlocks beaded with humanoid finger bones could be seen leaning over the balustrade at the far end of the hall. He raised a totem capped with a human skull, and began barking orders…