We rejoin our harried heroes in the imperial apartments, in the chamber of the ladies-in-waiting. They await a broom with which to sweep away the caltrops which line the “secret” passage that has its entrance here, while the strong (and flirtatious) serving maid literally sits on the Usurper’s spy among them.
The leader of the ladies returns quickly with a broom, which Araphor takes, thanking her graciously. He heads into the passage and begins quickly and thoroughly sweeping a path down its center. The rest of the party follows. Thaliondor brings up the rear, pausing to respond to a comment from the flirt with a smile and wink.
At some point, the caltrops peter out, leaving the center of the passage free to traverse. The party trots along it quickly. Eventually Araphor’s sharp eyes catch the beginning of another stretch of caltrops which signal the approach of the far end of the corridor, and he resumes sweeping a path. They reach the end, Rene taking the lead and rushing up the ladder-stair to push up the trapdoor exit.
As his arms rise above the floor with the trapdoor, a sword swings at them, crippling his right arm and sending him falling back down into the arms of Guthwyn, who manages to brace him somewhat. Araphor begins casting a spell, while Rene moves out of the way to have Nwalme heal his arm. Guthwyn moves up the ladder, and Thaliondor begins aiming at the trapdoor with his beloved crossbow, waiting for a shot.
As Araphor’s Dehydrate spell resolves, Guthwyn charges up through the trapdoor, shield up. She clears the trapdoor quickly, finding a rather ill-looking guard standing nearby, and another guard a little further off. Thaliondor fires a bolt, taking the second guard in the throat, and he collapses. She dispatches the ill guard quickly, and calls down for the rest of the party to join her. They all quickly ascend.
The group consults briefly on how to approach, discussing the layout of the tower they’re about to enter, knowing that the imperial dungeon lies beneath it. After mapping out a strategy, Thaliondor and Guthwyn open the doors leading into its main floor.
Immediately, a volley of crossbow bolts flies at them, downing Guthwyn. As the party moves into the chamber, they find themselves up against eight of the Usurper’s Guard, two with long pikes, the remaining six with crossbows. Three of the latter drop their bows to draw swords and prepare shields, while the other three begin reloading.
Thaliondor fires his crossbow at one of the pikemen, hitting him solidly, but not taking him down. Rene moves into the chamber, trying to get within the range of the pikes, acrobatically dodging a thrust by one of them. Araphor moves in as well, as Nwalme pauses to heal and revive Guthwyn. Rene wades into battle, felling a swordsman quickly. The uninjured pikeman tries to skewer Nwalme, but loses control of his weapon, sending it flying across the room to crash into the wall next to Araphor, who narrowly dodges it. The unarmed pikeman steps back, hands up in resignation as the fight rages on.
Thaliondor reloads his crossbow as Araphor strikes at a swordsman, crippling his leg and sending him to the ground. As Thaliondor fires, taking out a crossbowman who has reloaded, he calls for their surrender. In response, a pikeman skewers him solidly, knocking him back and unconscious. Rene, meanwhile, faces off against a second swordsman, felling him quickly before turning his attention to the pikeman.
Araphor turns to find a crossbowman aiming at him at point-blank range, and he swings his blade hard at the man. The guardsman falls, but not before firing his bolt solidly into Araphor’s chest. Fortunately, his mithril armor absorbs the blow, as well as one from the swordsman who strikes him in the back. Meanwhile, Rene swings at the pikeman that hit Thaliondor, but the man dives acrobatically away, dodging the blade.
Araphor spins around, striking the swordsman behind him incredibly well, causing him to drop his weapon, stunned. At this point Guthwyn rejoins the fray, hitting him as well and sending him to the ground.
The acrobat pikeman rolls and picks up a loaded crossbow from the floor, which he fires at Rene. Rene dodges the bolt, leaping over to thrust both his blades into the man, who falls limp to the floor. The remaining guardsmen call for quarter.
The pikeman who lost control of his weapon, the only unscathed guard, seems only too happy to cooperate. Unlike his fellow Rohirrim stationed here, he apparently has no fondness for the Third Prince of Rohan. He provides Guthwyn with information on the guards in the tower: there are but two left on the roof, and one in the dungeon. He also warns that we should bar the door, as they will expect reinforcements at some point. As they talk, Nwalme revives Thaliondor, but barely.
The group hammers out a plan: leaving Nwalme and Thaliondur here to rest along with Rene and the unscathed guard, Guthwyn and Araphor will head downstairs. They intend to call back if they run into trouble in the barracks below, but otherwise expect to return quickly with Smial.