Previously, the adventurers spent several days in the wilderness between Allenham and Pinefall, encountering a wounded knight of the Order of the Lance, battling a hill giant and his two dire wolves, and watching a curious bear snack on very hallucinogenic mushrooms. Eventually, the adventurers arrived in Pinefall.
Tenth Day, First Ride, Summer Flame, 1262
(Silvermoon is waxing. Bloodmoon is waxing. Darkmoon is waxing.)
An hour or two after the adventurers continued their journey towards Pinefall they crested the final hill which lead down into the Pinefall valley. At the centre of the valley they saw Lake Llygad, glistening in the morning sun. The noticed several gentle plumes of smoke coming from beneath the trees at the southern shore of the lake and confirmed, with the map that Falka had found for them at the Bournemouth Academy, that these must be coming from Bristlecone village.
As they walked westwards down a path that seemed more and more trodden, heading towards the eastern part of the lake, the suddenly heard a melancholic tune being played on a violin. The woods opened up to the north of the path to reveal a long abandoned village, with cabins and huts whose thatched roofs had collapsed and rotten away, with warped support beams and crumbling dry brick chimneys. Parts of the village had been reclaimed by the woods, with small trees growing through the huts and Lyrian ivy overgrowing much of the gardens and fences. The violin tune seemed to come from the far side of the village, near some fields between the houses and the lakes.
In between the abandoned fields, where wild sorghum grew, hemmed in by weeds covered brick fencing, a group of szygani had parked their colourful caravans in a circle around a bonfire, its pit created by the loose bricks from the crumbling chimneys of the abandoned village.
When the adventurers revealed themselves the szygani stopped what they were doing and brought their children inside. They did not approach, weary of the strangers appearing near their camp. The adventurers recalled their last encounter with the travellers at the Inn at the Crossroads and their pledge not to be taken in by them again, so they decided to leave the abandoned village, leave the szygani, and not engage with them. Emrys, ever the personable guy, waved a friendly hello, which was met by a timid wave from the man playing the violin.
The adventurers followed the road which headed south, around the lake, before curving westward once again along the southern shore of the lake. The passed by a small junction of a trail leading off into the woods. Their map revealed that the trail would lead to a pond a hut belonging to a witch. The remained on the path and followed along a bog between them and the lake. It was at this point that it was noticed that one of the szygani was following the group at a distance. James decided to fall back and out of sight, and waited patiently for the szygani to pass him by.
He noticed that the szygani was a lanky man with a black pony tail, carrying a dagger on one hip, and a curious satchel with macabre trinkets on his other hip. He had not noticed James, who couldn’t resist giving the man a fright as he passed him by casually. The szygani, obviously startled, cast a quick warding spell in reaction to James popping up along side him, and promptly apologised and headed back to his camp.
The sounds of civilisation came closer and closer. They spotted more and more houses through the trees, cabins and huts with neat, thatched roofs and vegetable gardens around them. Squealing pigs, honking geese and bleating sheep could be heard, as well as the rhythmic pounding of a hammer on an anvil. A small herd of sheep was being shepherded along the road by a man making whistling sounds to an expertly trained sheepdog, corralling the animals along.
One of the first houses the group passed was a large cabin with a fenced off field at the side and rear of it where a large group of barking dogs. They were in excellent shape and obviously well tended to. The pack consisted of a mixture of two types; sleek and dark hunting dogs, and shaggy sheepdogs.
An older lady with a neatly tied bun and tidy clothing was standing off to one side with one of the dogs, running the dog through training drills. When she noticed the adventurers she came over to the fence, the dog obediently glued to her left side. She introduced herself as Coranthe, one of the elders of the village. She could proudly confirm that Lord Destan had arrived in Pinefall and had met with almost every villager. He claimed the purpose of his visit was to assess the estate for his families holdings. He had been staying at the Rudwick Barton, to the south of the village and had gone on an expedition with her son Robart.
She could also tell that the szygani had only recently arrived in Pinefall and had taken up residence in the field just outside of the abandoned village. They had flouted the local customs of not bathing, swimming, sailing, fishing or taking water from the lake and it had come to blows with certain villagers until Drummond, an old retired armsman in the Order of the Gryphon had talked to them and reestablished the peace. The lake was the home of a benevolent spirit called Lady Llyn, who was not to be crossed. Coranthe described her as a woman with a blue robe, wearing golden bracelets.
It was almost a month later when Robart, a guard Jenna and a tracker had been found outside of town on the opposite side of the river. Robart had lost his mind, Jenna had succumbed to her wounds, and the tracker was unconscious and had yet to wake up. Jenna had been buried, Robart had been brought home, and the tracker had been brought to Isobel the witch. It was clear that Coranthe despised the witch.
Lord Destan and his other two guards were still missing and Coranthe feared for the worst. Her son, Robart, was being tended to by their family, but he had shown no signs of improvement. James convinced Coranthe to allow Emma to have a look at him, explaining that she was a priestess with miraculous healing abilities. Coranthe seemed overjoyed at the prospect to have a priestess of Sedna tend to her son, and immediately went inside the house to open the door for the adventurers. Astrid decided to stay outside with Theo.
Inside, Coranthe introduced the adventurers to Ila, Robart’s young wife, and their three children, Loke, Millie and Penny who was still an infant. Luca and Emma were brought into a separate room where Robart, a strong looking man, was sitting on a bed in what smelled like his own urine. His stare was vacant and he didn’t respond to anything, but would allow people to move him and shift him, and he would occasionally move and shift of his own accord. Sometimes he would make a strange moaning sound. Luca, using Blackstar’s ability to detect souls for it to consume, found that Robart was an empty vessel, devoid of a soul. The staff immediately lost interest in the man.
When Luca shared his findings with Emma, after sending Ila away to get them water so that they may clean up Robart, Emma feigned a ritual to make the family feel better, but she knew she couldn’t be of help to the poor man. Upon departure from the hut, Ila said she would talk to Lem Rudwick as well as old Gregory who was a retired man who spent his time operating a honey farm and making mead. They might have a place for the adventurers to stay.
The adventurers decided to first visit the Rudwick Barton and so headed further into town, but not before being accosted by Millie, who was adamant that the adventurers should have a group name. The adventurers deferred to her judgement, and she promised she would think about a suitable name.
The people they met seemed friendly and they quickly came upon a path heading south. As they went south the noticed that grazing pastures were on either side of the road, filled with sheep, goats and other animals. Thick tufts of white wool were floating on the breeze as they came closer to a large farm consisting of several buildings. In front of the main building sat four ladies behind spinning wheels, turning stuffed bags of wool into carefully spun threads.
The man that came to introduce himself was Lem Rudwick, and he welcomed the adventurers to his farm. He was quick to introduce his wife Martha, who was one of the spinners and introduce the rest of his family; his second son Cas and wife Ann, as well as the widow of his first son Mack, who was killed by a skirmish with orcs several years previous. His wife had no family left, so they adopted her. Her name was Josey.
Lem offered the adventurers lodgings behind the main building; small cabins that were inhabited by the help that he employed on his farm. He was also persuaded to show the adventurers the guest house where Lord Destan had stayed. This was a much larger cabin further away from the smell of the barns. Inside, they found clothing, some mundane items, but also several crystal vials with water in them as well as ink, parchment, quills, a simple map of Pinefall including some sophisticated cartography tools, a very expensive spy glass, as well as a severed, petrified hand with stubs of candles set on the tips of each finger. Luca revealed that the hand was faintly magical, imbued with necromantic and divination magics.
When the crystal vials of water were revealed, Lem seemed shocked and displeased. When asked about his reaction, he was fearful that the water had been retrieved from the lake and he was adamant that he wanted to return the water before Lady Llyn’s anger would fall over his household. He, like Coranthe, believed that Lady Llyn was a very real spirit, but he claimed he had never seen her himself, but knew of people who had. When the adventurers concluded that the vials were likely containing water they handed them over to Lem so he could dispose of them in accordance to his beliefs.
In the meantime, James searched for hiding places and found that behind the bed, on a small nail, hung a delicate silver necklace with a sapphire pendant shaped in a figure eight. The adventurers concluded that this pendant was wholly consistent with the symbols of masks they had seen on the Sheridan estate.
Lem locked the guest house back up and escorted the adventurers to the cabins they had been assigned, handing them two keys. The cabin that was assigned to Astrid and Emma revealed some belongings from the Sheridan guard, Jenna. They found a leather string with an amethyst pendant, similarly shaped in a figure eight.
The adventurers decided to take some time to rest up, having been on their feet for well over three days. During that time Josey came to bring them some supper and said not to hesitate if they needed anything. Emma took her time to reflect on her relationship with the enigmatic Muirgheal. A sense of foreboding had never quite lifted ever since she bonded with the weapon, and she felt it was time to break that bond.
Once the adventurers were rested they decided to pay the witch a visit. When they arrived at the hut, they saw that three villagers had come to the witch’s cabin to ask her for her help with a dying cow. Isobel, an alluring woman in her middle ages with blond grey hair, a loose dress and a wide-brimmed straw hat, her neck decorated with several necklaces, reluctantly promised them some herbs which needed to be boiled with water from the river at midnight and given to the cow, but only after the stables had been thoroughly cleaned.
After the frightened villagers had left, Isobel turned to ask what the adventurers were seeking. They wanted to know more about the man that was in her care and what his condition was. She revealed that he was unconscious and had not been awake. She could nudge him to accept some food and water, but having been in this state for a month, she was fearful that he was not long for this world. When the adventurers asked her more questions, she refused without being properly compensated. James asked her what kind of compensation she would require, and she said she would want a lock of his hair.
Understandably surprised and suspicious of her demand, James refused and in return she refused them access to the tracker or to answer any more questions. James was not to be convince to part with a lock of his black hair and so the adventurers departed without much more knowledge than what they arrived with. Luca stayed back for a moment to see if he could persuade the witch, but she was not open to any counter offer.
It was decided to make the trek across the river towards Hunter’s Hollar, a small settlement in the woods to the west. So once again the adventurers made their way through the village and made their way across the bridge meeting some hunters on their way home to Bristlecone with their bounty for that day; a beautiful deer.
After more than an hour of walking along a small path through ever denser woods, the adventurers arrived at a group of huts in the middle of the woods. A collection of very diverse people were going about their business. Some were butchering a deer, another was working some leather, while others were tending to a communal pen of boar. They saw an elf, a dwarf, a halfling and several humans.
A man with a unusually delicate moustache and pointed goatee came walking up to them and introduced himself as Frederick. He carried himself with sophistication and his accent betrayed his Daerlan origin. When the adventurers made clear they were after information about Lord Destan he brought them to the two hunters who had refused Lord Destan’s service; Bogdan and Arnout.
Bogdan proved to be a Fulham hulk with a bald head and a brutish cauliflower ear on one side of his head. Arnout was a dark hair man, tall and slender, who mostly kept silent and let Bogdan do the talking. Bogdan explained that they had spoken to Lord Destan and that he wanted them to accompany him on his search for the Crimson Tower, something that neither man was interested in participating in. They had heard the wails and screeches on warm summer nights and didn’t think anything good would come from looking for the tower.
When asked about Lady Llyn, the spirit of the lake, Bogdan admitted that he had seen something that looked like the descriptions that others had given, but that he didn’t believe that the spirit was that of a woman. He believed that it looked more like that of a large, cresting fish.
When the matter of the injured tracker in the care of the witch came up, none of the people the adventurers spoke to at Hunter’s Hollar could confirm that they knew who he was. They claimed that whoever he was, it wasn’t one of theirs, since Lord Destan had left with Robart and his guards without their aid.
Deflated by the dead ends they had encountered they started back for Bristlecone village and talked about how to proceed next. The matter of the lock of hair demanded by the witch came up once more, and in a bout of uncharacteristic frustration, Emma rebuked James for being willing to pay Isobel’s price, claiming it was no more than a way for her to intimidate the group.
In turn, James, in an uncharacteristic bout of honesty admitted that he had grown up in a place where trust is hard to come by and that despite having been dependent on one another in some precarious situations since meeting, he still didn’t fully trust his companions, let alone a wood witch whom he had met only that day.
Before crossing the bridge across the river into Bristlecone, the adventurers decided they would spend the last remaining hours walking all around the lake to see if they were able to spot the remnants of an encampment left behind by Lord Destan and his companions. After having crossed the incoming river from the north using a ritual that Emma had prepared which allowed them to miraculously walk across water as if it was a solid surface, they once again arrived back at the abandoned village, in sight of the szygani camp.
It was late in the day, and unfortunately, the adventurers had learned much less about the fate of Lord Destan than they had hoped to have learned.