Finally the Frosthamar arrives at the ice-choked entrance to the River Taiga. Kargeld proves himself a worthy captain nimbly sailing the heavily laden craft through fields of floating jagged ice. He barks orders in norspik and his sailors scramble to comply. Again and again he turns the boat at just the right moment to pass between the broken shards calved from ancient glaciers.
After nerve-wracking hours of this, the boat pushes through the dangerous headwaters of the Taiga into the clear water of this almost uncharted mighty river.Beyond the headwaters is a land of savage wonders. The Taiga winds through a great northern forest that to the best of anyone’s knowledge has no name.
Miles and miles of picturesque pine trees frosted with new fallen snow pass by before the ship comes to a great mountain range. This river flows through a great rift in the mountains that looks as if some impossible huge primordial giant smashed a pass through the grey slate.
The Nessian Knot is headed south now, though this appears to have no effect on lessening the intense cold. They are headed to the great interior sea of Talingarde – Lake Tarik as it is known. To the south of that lake sits the Watch Wall. And on the northern banks in a wide wooded valley is their destination – the camp of Sakkarot Fire-Axe.
Thousands of bugbears are already assembled. These savage humanoids are not pleased to see outsiders, especially humans. Worse, there are more than just bugbears here. The occasional polar bear lumbers around the camp untended. Fur-clad goblins scamper here and there, laughing with frenetic glee. Even a few hill giants gather at the camp’s fringes.
There is only one place to dock the boat – a crudely made pier that juts into the river. On that pier are four hulking bugbears. They don’t seem pleased to see the Frosthamar. In fact, these bugbears are bored thugs who notice the Frosthamar’s approach a few moments before Sakkarot can get to the pier. They have the brilliant idea of eating the soft, squishy ‘hummies’ before the Fire-Axe gets here and claims all the tasty bits.
A fight breaks out between these thugs and the Nessian Knot, while the captain and his crew remain on the ship to defend it- or perhaps to make their escape if the situation deteriorates further. It is not long before the bugbears are dispatched or run off and quickly Sakkarot himself arrives, quelling any chance of more of the army attacking these strangers.
“These humans are my guests. I will deal with anyone who harms them. They are our allies!” He walks over to the boat and rips open one of the crates revealing finely made axes with in. He tosses one to a nearby bugbear warrior who until this time only had a crude club to wield. “Behold, they bring us steel!” This earns the Nessian Knot a terrifying chorus of growls and cheers from the monstrous assembly.
The boat is unloaded. Sakkarot’s lieutenants see that each case is distributed and soon our villains can see a visible transformation in the camp. Where once there were a thousand bugbear savages, now there are a thousand bugbear soldiers each with new weapons and shields adorned with the emblem of the fire axe. What a terror the Knot has helped to create.
Sakkarot holds a feast in honor of the weapons shipment and their allies. The feast is a brutal, savage affair with bugbears fighting each other and all manner of monsters in attendance. The highlight of the party is when a great shaggy dire boar recently captured from the northern woods is brought in shackles.
One ton of angry pig is led in by a dozen bugbears who drag the beast before Sakkarot. Sakkarot beheads the already wounded animal in one mighty stroke with his fire axe. The beast is then spitted and roasted in a great open pit. The Nessian Knot sits at the Fire-Axe’s table – a front row seat at this spectacle of savagery.
A Private Audience
Eventually as the raucous bestial festivities of the bugbear tribes die down, Sakkarot wants to speak with the Knot alone. He summons them into his private chambers and dismiss his many followers with a deep growl.
“You are traitors to your own kind. You must know that. When Balentyne falls and my horde pours through its shattered gates, we will slaughter the Talireans by the thousands. Yet I see no regret in your eyes. Tell me, how can this be?”
The Nessian Knot informs him that they hold no love for Talingarde and that they wish to see it burn as much as he does. After showing him their scars from Branderscar Prison, he too reveals he bears a mark though with different purpose. Pulling aside his great breast-plate he shows the holy symbol of Asmodeus burned into his chest, “We all have our scars.”
Sakkarot is not an ordinary bugbear. Well-spoken and intelligent, he is anything but the typical brute. Sakkarot does not look down upon them for betraying their own.
Glutted on dire pork and rotgut and starved for decent conversation he listens as they tell him that they are the ninth knot- the Nessian Knot and reveals that he is the first knot- the Avernian Knot. “I am the only true member of the knot. The rest are only fools.”
As they speak further it turns out that Sakkarot knows a little about Cardinal Thorn’s past. The bugbear chieftain knows that Thorn was not always the Cardinal’s name and that once he was a cardinal of the Mitran faith. What that name was and why Thorn betrayed the faith of the Shining Lord, Sakkarot can only guess.
“Tomorrow you must depart this camp. It will never be truly safe for you here. Over the next week, more tribes will rally to my banner. I will promise them blood and give them steel. Then at last I will be ready to march. A week after that – I will be poised to strike. I will move my horde to the valley just north of Balentyne. There we will wait for your signal. Fire this rocket into the air. Within the hour, we will attack. Make sure that the way is ready.”
“After we gather, my horde will be idle and start to grow anxious. I can hold them together for another two weeks. After that, I expect desertions and squabbling. Get your work done before then. You have one month to infiltrate and destroy Balentyne.”
Sakkarot hands them a single carefully wrapped signal rocket. Suddenly the bugbear warlord gets very serious and stern. He stares straight into their eyes.
“Can you do this? In one month can you break the Watch Wall?”
They all assure him that yes, the are the ones for the job.
He grunts and nods. “Thorn has faith in you. If you weren’t his best, he wouldn’t have sent you. Do this and your names will be legend. Now go. Hail Asmodeus!”
Once unloaded, Captain Odenkirk is more than anxious to leave the bugbear camp. Already bugbear warriors have been eyeing his ship and though they have not yet built up courage enough to attack, the Captain knows it is only a matter of time. He does not trust Sakkarot and is not shying about saying so. “Look in that one’s eyes. He’s smart — always plotting. Bugbears should not be smart.”
Captain Odenkirk crosses the mist-shrouded Lake Tarik under the cover of darkness, with the intention of depositing the Nessian Knot on the shore a couple hours walk from the Tower Balentyne and the town of Aldencross.
However, as soon as the plank is put across to land, the Nessian Knot strikes! Through careful planning they swiftly take the captain out of the fight with a spell to fatigue him, making him incapable of bringing forth his powerful rage. The sailors are easily dispatched and finally the captain is also separated from his life.
Removing what valuables they can find and then setting the ship aflame and pushing it away from shore, the Nessian Knot now turns their attention to Talingarde, the land they are here to crush.