The party exited the chasms and clefts of the deep Sumber Hills, battered, hungry and dispirited by their lack of success in finding any trace of the missing delegation, but perhaps somewhat relieved they had not tracked down the forty bugbears. The rocky and narrow pathways made way to the lower and greener foothills overlooking the Dessarin River as it flowed South. On the banks of the river, some distance upstream of Womford, a partially re-built old castle stood. The party recognised this as Riverguard Keep – one of the dock workers in Womford had mentioned it as being the base for activities which sounded much like a protection racket.
The Dessarin river is a vital trade link from North to South – from Yartar to Waterdeep. Barges laden with goods flow South with the current, or fight their way North. The word on the docks is that skippers of barges get ‘taxed’ to provide protection from ‘river bandits.’ and that those that do not pay face piracy and seizure of their goods. It could all be rubbish – of course. Old, drunk and dubious dockers are not necessarily known for their veracity or perspicacity. At any rate, the party sat on the hills overlooking Riverguard Keep and kept watch for evidence of evil-doing.
It was a long watch punctuated by bouts of extreme weather, earth tremors and continued discomfort. Boats came and went from the castle – it seems to have its own quay inside the walls, accessible from the river. There was little road traffic through the main gate. There was a lot of construction work being performed – some of the outer castle defences and towers looked ruined and only recently has work started on repair. Eventually, the party decided to investigate closer.
The party were not warmly welcomed but were allowed into the castle through the fortified gatehouse. They could access supplies once inside, for sale (with quite a considerable markup). They were introduced to a man calling himself Grimjaw – apparent leader of the mercenaries manning the castle. Grimjaw was terse, suspicious and humourless. Very direct in his questioning. His looks, style and demeanour perhaps hinted at orcish blood in his family? He explained that his men were tasked to keep the river safe and clear of bandits and that they received money from the traders for that service. Money he was investing in rebuilding the keep at Riverguard, as a base for his group. He did not demand the party leave, although he thought about it.
The party had had their fill of the surly mercenaries and the inflated prices and decided not to stay at the castle – instead they headed South along the riverbank. Where they were aiming for – not one of them knew for sure. Bargewright Inn was next settlement South on the river, but the party, for some reason, was not keen to go back there. We will rejoin our heroes as they contemplate their next move at camp on the banks of the river.