Our night on the road passed without incident, as did the next day. The cows near Westpine seemed content, certainly not under imminent attack from griffins when we passed them. We wound our way back to Westpine and as we approached, all seemed how we had left it. I was worried that by the time we came back it would be overgrown with brambles or under siege by orcs, but this was not the case. As we entered Westpine, however, we noticed that the inn, The Moody Cow, was closed and had been shuttered up.
Our first call of business was to return the cart to the carpenter. We could hear the sound of wood being chopped coming from the back of the house, so we brought the cart straight to him and handed over the agreed payment (10 gold pieces! I’m not sure I’m going to trust Baldwin and Melech’s negotiation skills in the future). He didn’t know the whereabouts of the inn’s owners, just that they upped sticks and left a couple of days ago. He said he knew nothing of Old Mother Basket, but there was something strange about his response.
Melech and Baldwin wanted to break into the inn to check for clues and I’ll admit I was also curious. We checked around the back and found another door, also locked. Trying to break in there would draw less attention. I was just about to ask if any of our new hirelings had any lockpicking tools when Melech muttered something and a large knocking sound rang out across the whole village. “It’s unlocked,” he said proudly, as a couple of villagers poked their heads around the corner curiously. We acted nonchalant until any hubbub about the noise died down, then turned the handle and entered.
We found ourselves in the kitchen and it was already clear that anything of importance had been taken and the owners had left in a hurry. A thorough search of the rest of the inn yielded no other clues as to why they left or their next destination.
Regrouping in the square, we discussed where to head next. It was mid-afternoon, so setting up camp in the village and setting off the next day was an option. I suggested we should go south, away from the corruption, in the hope of finding more fairy folk willing to give us information or otherwise aid us in doing something about Old Mother Basket. Baldwin wanted to deal with things directly, get to the house tonight, then find Old Mother Basket in the morning. We agreed to try and make it to the house that night, even if we might have a bit of travel in the dark.
We followed the trail to the hall, then followed the stream to the north again. Night set in when we were still a little way from the house, but we pressed onwards. Suddenly, the sound of wings and chittering filled the air, as a swarm of bats set upon Warwick, who had been right behind me in our marching order. A glance to my left showed a couple more swarms headed in our direction under the cover of darkness. The air was soon filled with the sound of wings, furious swinging of swords and various explosions from Melech’s spells. I used my rapier as a bat skewer but soon noticed that our new hires were struggling in the darkness, unable to see in the dark and unprepared without torches. I took out my flute quickly, started playing and as I did, fired little beads of light out the end, in an attempt to shed some light on the situation. With this, I yelled encouragement to our new friends, it was just a bunch of bats, after all.
We were just starting to thin the ranks of the swarms when they set off into the woods again, either retreating or just bored, I wasn’t really sure. Beiro chased after one swarm, still swinging wildly and disappeared into the woods. Looking around, Melech and Baldwin appeared to be unscathed, although our new friends had not fared so well. Neddie, in particular, looked in fairly bad shape, but he was still standing. Beiro shortly crashed back out of the woods and we decided to push on towards the house. In our haste, however, we almost ran into two scarecrows. Two scarecrows, right by the path, with the same creepy stare as before. A different place though. It might have been dark but this definitely wasn’t where we saw them before. Had they moved, been moved or were they new? We got our answer a few minutes later as we found the original ones a short way further. We skirted around both sets, although Warwick locked eyes with one and froze. He got moving again shortly, but seemed completely fearful, as though the scarecrow had jinxed him somehow. Eventually, we made it to the house, unlocked the door and proceeded inside.
After a rather torrid night, I felt like our hirelings would appreciate a drink and I was interested to try the Fey friend’s beer myself. The kitchen had an ample supply of mugs, so I tapped a cask and spread the beer around. The ex-bandits were sat in awe over the thought that we owned this place and gladly accepted the beer. As expected, the beer was excellent and as we all drunk the previous horrors of the evening faded from mind. We had our dinner and turned in for the night.
Over breakfast, we discussed what to do next. Melech and I were of the opinion to delay, gather information and inspect the dryad before revisiting Old Mother Basket. Baldwin disagreed again, wanting to tackle things head-on. The decision was taken out of our hands though as, at that moment, there was a knock on the door. Baldwin went upstairs to try and spy on who it was, but Melech and I shared a knowing look. “Who is it?” Melech called out, entertaining other possibilities. “It’s me!” Cried our a raspy, slightly withered sounding voice “Old Mother Basket!”. As though it would be anyone else. I went and opened the door. “It’s good to see you!” I said, acting my best to keep up the pretence of friendliness as long as it benefits us, “how did you know we were here?” “Oh, I pay attention to things that happen around here,” she said dismissively, “How come you haven’t come to visit your old mother?” “Oh, we only got back very late last night, we were hoping to come see you today” I replied, genuine this time as even Baldwin hadn’t suggested visiting her last night. I suspect she knew the last bit was a lie though. “Can I get you some tea?” I asked, keen to give myself space to think and interested in gauging how she reacted to being offered tea herself. “That would be lovely” she responded and I proceeded into the kitchen to boil a pot of water, leaving her with Melech and Baldwin, who had just returned from upstairs.
After brewing up some tea with some leaves Melech had provided and finding some cups scattered about the kitchen, I returned to find the situation had soured somewhat. Melech had been trying to grill Old Mother Basket and he was getting impatient about the lack of answers while she was getting impatient about his digging. I set a cup of tea down for her and she gave me a toothy grin, “Right, I’ve decided what the favour you owe me is”. I gritted my teeth, at least we’d know the deal now, but it was unlikely to be good. “I’d like you to get me the horn of a unicorn.” Crap. That was bad on several counts. First, I had no idea where we’d find a unicorn and even if we did, I would have no interest in bringing harm to such a creature. “Do you know where we might find such a creature?” Melech asked, realising she might be sympathetic at least towards the first issue. “Well, I have heard that a unicorn roams deep in the woods to the south, perhaps you should search there”. She might have sensed the trepidation in the air and she reminded us what got us into this mess. “If you get that for me, I might have some information that might interest you about your mother. Alive, might I say. I might even have some information about your origins”, she said towards Beiro as he entered the room and just looked a little lost. She got to her feet slowly, “Well I’ll be off, enjoy your new home” grinning and motioning around the house. “Err, one last thing” I piped up, sensing the opportunity to dig into a new suspicion “Have you seen any more scarecrows popping up?”. She paused, “no, I can’t say I’ve bumped into any” she replied, somewhat carefully and I could see the corners of her mouth curling into a grin. I think Melech saw it too “Yes, but have you SEEN any?” Old Mother Basket rounded on him “I meant what I said” she said abruptly, “now I must bid you good day!” And she shuffled quickly out the door, slamming it behind her with a surprising amount of force for a frail-looking old lady. I sighed with relief at her leaving. At least we knew what we had to do now…
We followed the river back south, along our now well-trodden path, but then continued south upon reaching the hall. If we reached the main river, we should be able to follow that right into the heart of the woods. As we pressed on the woods became thicker, but more luscious. No brambles, no sign of corruption this far south. Perhaps I had worried too much about the rate of its spread, we still had plenty of time to do something about it.
As we headed deeper, the unmistakable sound of pan pipes started filtering through the trees. On instinct, I reached for my own flute and started to play a response in harmony to the original tune. As I started up, the original music paused, likely surprised by the response, but then renewed itself. I struggled to keep up with the fast pace of the exquisite flow of the tune, being far more used to playing on my own. It was getting louder as we approached and I led the rest of the group towards the source of the sound. We came across a small clearing with a handful of satyrs, playing music and dancing. Upon entering the clearing, both I and the playing satyrs bought out music to a crescendo and finished the song.
“That’s some pretty good flute playing there,” one of them said. “Why thank you,” I said, curtsying
slightly, “it’s so nice to hear other music out here in the woods.” “Adventurers!” The others cried, seeing the rest of the party emerge from the trees and as if from nowhere produced full mugs of ale and wine and started handing them around. “Are you not afraid of the corruption in the north?” I asked. “Or seen any Orcs?” Baldwin added “Those are bad things! Drink and be merry instead” one of the satyrs said, handing me a mug of ale. I decided to take their advice, not worry for a bit and enjoy myself and took my turn to tell stories to the group. The atmosphere was infectious and despite being hesitant at first the others all soon joined in on the dancing and revelry. “See? This adventuring lark isn’t all bad!” I yelled at Neddie and his crew, still looking out of their depth out here in the wilds. It certainly made a change of pace and it felt like the best idea just to sing and dance and drink forever and not worry about Old Mother Basket or the forest dryad or Orcs ever again…