A new day, and finally the group that had taken on the job of investigating the Beast of Errinsford (but, remember, never actually promised to fight it!) was going out to seek the barrows, with the sacred weapons of the ancient heroes, and maybe even the magic cauldron that created the curse.
Drawn by the tales of first loot found, fresh recruits were flocking to the tavern, but one promising maybe-mage named Heath drew back at the last moment. However, Colbin the ex con finally agreed to join Stanley Blackbook as his apprentice. So he got the job to carry a pickaxe and a dagger as a start.
Going north towards the bridge, the group encountered only empty fields and quiet lands. Reynard and Gerd scouted ahead, but only after hours of travel, close to the bridge, did they see the first sign of life: a mule! The mule was living wild off the land, dirty and dishevelled, and with only one half-torn pack on one side. It had the branding sign of the caravan, and carried 3 iron rations, trading goods worth 80 gold, and other items.
We added the mule to our caravan with the intent of giving it over to the village once we got home from our expedition. For now, it could serve us – and the practical items it had would serve us better than any storeroom in the village. Reinaldo took the lantern and oil, and gave Defre 12 candles. The mule was tied to our trusty Dr. Elum, and Stanley and Colbin took over the duty of minding the two mules.
Going farther north, the group stayed close to the river to avoid getting lost in the wilderness. Soon enough, the scouts noticed something shadowing our group by travelling parallel to us, a bit farther inland. They waited for the rest of us to catch so Gerd coud warn us — but Reynard stayed a bit in front, and suddenly noticed a very beautiful woman in greens and browns with long flowing hair who beckoned to him to come closer.
No fool, he did not trust any beauties with unpractical hair in the underbrush. He tried to fall back from her, but already she layed a charm on him and forced him to come to her. The rest of the party saw him stagger to her and embrace her — and then they melted into a large oak.
Reinaldo immediately wanted to cut down the tree to get Reynard back, but Eostre stepped forward and asked for parley, and indeed, the Dryad came forth to talk. Eostre pleaded to get Reynard back, but she insisted that he was hers now: “He is my thrall! I need a thrall to do my bidding! He belongs to me!” Eostre offered to find a willing slave in Reynard’s stead at a later time, but the Dryad demanded to keep Reynard until such a time that not only a willing, but a better slave would be provided.
Reinaldo and Defre silently moved to her flanks, ready to attack her from the sides, but then Stanley offered a compromise: He told of the skeleton he had in his backpack, and offered it in exchange for Reynard. He also claimed that it was better, because it would not tire or hunger or die, the perfect thrall.
She asked for proof, he animated the skeleton with a big boastful ritual, designed to impress, and it all worked out: The skeleton performed what she asked of it, and she found it surprising and much more entertaining than all the other thralls she had claimed up until now. (A very ominous claim… how long do they last in her service, one wonders?)
She let Reynard go and went into the tree with her new skeleton. Stanley quickly warned us that the skeleton would only perform for a limited number of turns and then it would be over — so we made haste to remove ourselves from her territory, ere she would come after us to reclaim Reynard and punish the rest of us.
Once safely away, Eostre chided Stanley for the vile practice of necromancy — although only in a semi-earnest demeanor, as it was obviously the best solution that had been available at the time, and Stanley was showered with praise for his ingenuity by the rest of the gang.
Suddenly the wolves broke out of the underbrush and attacked! Four wolves, who sensed our moment of inattention and struck.
The humans fell back, yelling alarm, and the clerics tried to light torches to scare the canine predators away, alas, they both failed at lighting the fire quickly enough. Arrows flitted towards the beasts, and the biggest of them was wounded, but it was not enough to deter them. Stanley lobbed a slingstone towards them, but missed. Reynard quickly applied some potion to his body — wolfsbane essence!
Then the wolves bounded into us. The biggest one went right for the weakened mule, and the animal screamed in pain. Two of the packmates jumped for Reinaldo. One he fended off, the other bit the cleric for 1 HP. The last wolf went straight at Stanley — and tore the necromant’s throat out.
In the next round, the wolves won initiative. The one that had killed Stanley went on to attack Colbin, and bit the ex-con for 4 HP. But the hardy criminal survived that. The boss wolf dug into the mule more, ripping out tasty mule meat off the still living creature. The two on Reinaldo failed to wound him further.
It hurt Eostre deeply to turn on a fellow creature, but still she saw the need of the moment: Roaring to scare the wolves off, she attacked one of the two on Reinaldo, and clove its underbelly with the sword. Maximum damage! One surprised wolf yelped and died, hacked almost in twain in one single strike!
Defre and Stanley came forward to help Reinaldo against the other one, but the cleric already swung his mace and broke the wolf skull even before the others could reach him. Two down! Ephre shot at the one on Colbin and wounded it for 2 damage. Colbin himself tried a dagger attack, but missed.
Eostre’s infernal roar and the loss of their two comrades, that was too much for the two wounded wolves, and they turned tail and ran off. Reynard sent arrows after them and managed to fell the alpha. Gerd’s arrow hit the other one, but he lived, and ran, disappearing in the wild wood.
Paying the Ferryman
Poor Stanley! He was found very dead. Reinaldo quickly rescued the fallen comrade’s spell book to make sure it did not fall into the wrong hands, while Eostre closed the fallen necromancer’s eyes and even laid a coin under his tongue to pay the ferryman. Of his other possessions, Reynard took the evil sacrificial dagger made of silver – kind of a replacement for wasting the wolfsbane on regular wolves. Defre got rope and grappling hook, and 12 iron spikes and a hammer.
Eostre, although mentioning some misgivings about looting bodies of friends, still saw reason in using practical items and took Stanley’s lantern and oil and tinder, and also his expensive healing paste. Reinaldo eyed the healing paste with some interest, but he had lost only 1 point, and that would be waste. There was also a potion of Gaseous Form, which we put on the mule for now. And Gerd took a tooth off the alpha wolf as a trophy.
Wolf pelts would be great to have, so we took the three fallen wolves quickly, as we wanted to avoid to draw further predators after us. Once we were out of the woods, so to speak, we skinned the beasts and disposed of the carcasses in the swamp.
Dryad Rights vs. Human Rights
We discussed taking Stanley’s body back to the village, but Reinaldo was very strongly opposed to it. It was four hours back, and past the Dryad tree again, with a probably rather cross Dryad, because the skeleton would have definitely failed after Stanley’s death. This led to another debate about Dryad Rights: Eostre argued that the Dryad had every right to live in the forest unmolested and as she pleased. Others in the party felt that her thirst for slaves was a consistent danger to humans wandering the area, and that her ugly oak should burn. “We can warn people,” said Eostre, “and describe the oak that they should avoid so they recognize it and stay away.” “Yeah, it is the oak that is burning!”
Reynard offered a fresh perspective on the Stanley question: He suggested hanging his body from a tree. That reminded everyone that Stanley himself had suggested a similar way to store the dead elf, so the idea was embraced as “what Stanley would have wanted”. We moved on northwards, with Stanley dangling from a tree like a ghastly scarecrow, swinging in the breeze.
In due course we reached the end of the forest. The river would go on north before turning west before the mountain range. To the east were the Barrows — but also swampland. Wood and swampland mingled here, no easy path presented itself. And there was a 7 foot tall idol on a patch of grass, with various offerings dangling from its arms and antlers. A heathen place of worship. The retainers, as locals, knew about those: several such places existed in the area, and locals sometimes went there to offer valuables and pray, and they got answers too.
Reinaldo liked it not. Such spirits of local import could have power, but he was a man of the gods, not of wood spirits and dark trees. “We should stay well away from it!” he advised, “and definitely not be tempted to take any of its items. We have enough problems as is.” The group followed and they went on along the river to go all around the swamp, the long way. But then they heard a voice from the idol: “Hello? Who is there? I can hear you!”
Quite unusual talk from a wood spirit. The party investigated and found an open pit, a trap, with two humans in it. Eostre wasted no time and helped them out, lifting them one by one without aid from the others; the first a short, pot-bellied acolyte who collapsed on the ground and thanked the gods for sending us to save him, the second a skinny old bard. Impressed by Eostre’s heroic entrance, the bard called her Mylady and praised her strength and courage. She was flabbergasted by the compliments, unusual to her ears after travelling with us inconsiderate rascals for too long.
Dirk & Grimble
The acolyte was revealed to be Dirk, the one sent out by the village priest to retrieve the heroe’s weapons. Asked how he had ended up in the hole he said that he had been tricked by the idol. The other one was a travelling bard called Gimble the Sayer, a storyteller. The two of them had been in that hole for a good while and had already wondered how it would turn out if one of them would get too hungry. To kiss that ghastly idea goodbye right off the bat, we handed out some of Stanley’s 14 rations. A full belly is a peaceful belly.
“I was never meant to go there! What were they thinking, sending me! Tricked by a statue!” lamented Dirk between bites. But he also admitted to the reasons right away: He had some experience as a dungeoneer and adventurer, from before he had joined the order. Well, that meant his idea of going home was thwarted, and he was asked to come with us.
The Bard also offered to come with us (Stanley’s player’s new character.) “I will tell the story of your brave fight against the Beast of Errinsford!”
Reynard quizzed him: “What else do you bring to the table? Can you do more than just tell stories?”
He could: He was handy with a bow, he said, and he wore chainmail, because he knew a thing or two about surviving in the wild.
“How did you end up in that hole?”
“I fell in because I was drunk! And when I came to I found this hungry little monk grinning down on me! But who are you?”
“We used to be called ‘Stanley’s Dozen'”, lied Reinaldo, “but now we are neither a dozen, nor is Stanley with us any more.”
“That sounds like a story you GOT to tell me one of these days!” the bard exclaimed.
Moving on northward, the party tried to find a good resting place. Reynard especially wanted a safe spot, because he did not want to be charmed by a pond nixie or a swamp hag next.
But no DM could be so evil, … or could he?
We shall see next time.
In the evening at camp, Reinaldo told Gimble the Sayer how they got here from the village. Eostre looked at Reinaldo askance when she heard herself described from that perspective: “Hey, what, you make me sound all sentimental n’ soft! That’s not me, just look at what I did to that wolf, man!” Reinaldo grinned, lifted a little oak twig like a promise for the future, and threw it into the fire.
Header Photo by Chris Ensminger on Unsplash
Landscape Photo by Baskin Creative Studios on Pexels
Oak Photo by Sam Mgrdichian on Unsplash