Old Durnan stood behind the bar of the Yawning Portal, as he always did; it was commonly thought that the sardonic old man simply chose the drudgery of maintaining the day-to-day operations of the bar in order to save a few silver and not hire more employees. He scowled a bit, chewed thoughtfully on his lip, and topped off my flagon with my third mug of Sleeping Dragon Dark after I fished out my fourth and fifth battered toal and dropped it in his tipping stein.
“Sure, why not?” he growled out as he slammed the mug down in front of me. “Your money’s only as good as the old dwarf’s information, I suppose. No sense keep your coin if you’re not gonna come back after you hear this.”
The tale he proceeded to tell me was worth every bit of that toal, let me tell you.
“The old dwarf only had one eye, but it had all the madness of an entire clan, I tell you. He babbled about enchanted fruit and a strange druid, but more interestingly he spoke of a subterranean fortress that was near Neverwinter but nobody seemed to know about.
This strange druid was his friend, his ally; his reason for only having one eye but he wouldn’t speak of that. Only of “the apple, the bright red apple” and the betrayal that followed. His druid buddy led them all from Neverwinter and into this place, this so-called “Sunless Citadel” – not a great name for a subterranean fortress; not very imaginative, right? – and one by one they were picked off by kobolds and goblins and poisoned traps but they just pressed on. And on. And on.
The dwarf wasn’t very descriptive, but drove it home that they were in the fortress a good long while.
His eye lit up with passion and excitement when he spoke what they ultimately found, but even for me it’s a stretch. A tree, he said – well, drooled, really, as he was already a good fifteen pints in of my best batch – a tree full of apples. Underground. But full of apples.
From there he kind of trailed off but what I still think about is the glint of malice in his eye when he spoke about the people he met in Thundertree after the druid poked out his peeper and he fled the citadel. Talgen, Sharwyn, and Karakas, he called them, and they were poor fools; he almost seemed gleeful that he was sending these children into the dark for a what was sure to be a tall tale – or worse. His steely gaze haunts me still.
Thanks to the city guard the old dwarf has since moved on, but his posture and language when he spoke about those young, bright-eyed adventurers… chilling.
Tell you what: take your gold back. You’ve got a strong arm and sharp mind, and I’m reasonably confident that you have capable allies lurking around here somewhere. Use those coins to book passage north and get to Thundertree. Get those kids home.
Just don’t tell anyone that I went soft for a minute here.”
Incredulously, I took my coins back. It wasn’t much, but enough to get my friends and myself north to the village of Thundertree. From what Durnan said I had no choice but to believe him that the dwarf was long gone, likely off to sow chaos and discord and more tall tales but if these over-eager kids had gotten themselves into danger it would only be right to look into it.
We made it to Thundertree in five days thanks to a fast keelboat in Waterdeep and fine horses in Neverwinter. The good people of Thundertree didn’t know much about any underground fortress, but they told us about a lifeless area just a bit north and west of the village and near the foothills of Mount Hotenow. Apparently those young adventurers spoke loudly about their expedition to that area but Talgen and Shawryn are the children of a local merchant who has offered a fine reward for their safe return. It’s been a month and then some, but I have hope.
We aim to set out in the morning.
For the DM:
Thinking outside the box: