As we proceeded through the first floor of the keep, we came across a room full of crates and barrels. My allies’ first reaction was to make sure none of it was animated, hitting it with their staffs and swords before examining more carefully. The barrels appeared to be labelled with a dwarven script and made a glug sound when tilted. Ale! And probably high-quality dwarven stuff at that! I pointed this out and immediately joined the others in searching for a tap. I found one quickly but then paused. “as much as I’d love the idea of drinking some of this now, we do want to explore the rest of this on a clear head“ I sighed. Baldwin, also caught up in the mild excitement this had brought on, slowly nodded and we all filed out of the storeroom.
The next room we tried appeared to be some kind of library, with bookshelves lined with scrolls and the like “More dwarven script!” Melech called out, rifling through what was to hand. I stuck by the door, still cautious of any other magical traps and felt thoroughly vilified in this when Baldwin was thrown 30 feet across the room by some invisible force. He started back, swinging wildly at thin air but not gaining any purchase. Having ‘seen’ our mysterious attacker earlier in the day, however, I was prepared and cast faerie fire covering the corner of the room he was flung from. The sparkles fell and as they did so, outlined a humanoid figure shorter than myself, otherwise invisible, in the corner.
“Fey Friend!” I called out, jumping to some justifiable conclusions, the dwarven ghost being the previous owner of this building. “We mean you no harm! We think something happened here and want to help!” The ghost’s demeanour seemed to flicker, potentially shifting slightly to calmness and remorse, at least as much as I could tell from the faerie fire’s outline. “We just want to talk, we’re not here to steal anything!” Melech yelled from the other side of the bookcase. Baldwin backed away and the ghost lashed out in response, but almost absentmindedly at this point. Baldwin retrieved the forest queen’s crown from his satchel and put it on. Speaking sylvan, he spoke clearly “We’re friends of the Fey” and picking up on his lead I followed “Something has happened to the forest dryad, we want to help” also in Sylvan. The ghost’s aggression faded entirely and he started letting out an almost banshee-like howl and the swept upwards through the ceiling.
We turned for the stairs, “quick!” I yelled, “I can’t maintain the spell for long, we’ll lose sight of him if it fades!”. Heading up the stairs and quickly rushing through the array of rooms upstairs, we found two bedrooms, one of which contained a skeleton, and a study, but no other traps or sign of the ghost. Happy we’d seen every room, I called out again “Fey friend?! Are you here? We were hoping you might be able to help us help the forest?”. There was a bump from the master bedroom as the dressing table hoped up briefly. I headed back into the room and cautiously approached the table. Running my hand along the edge of the table, I whispered “Fey Friend, is that you? Knock once for yes”. One knock in response. I breathed a sigh of relief. We had found him and he seemed calm enough to converse. This was truly a unique opportunity.
“I…we want to know what happened here. Did you die of natural causes?” One knock, yes. No foul play it seems. “Dare I say, broken heart?” The other bedroom had been unused for far longer than any part of the keep. Two knocks in response. Ok, that wasn’t it. Changing tack, I asked, “Do you want us to help the forest?” One very clear knock in response. Melech came across “Look, we just want to check. Are there any more magical traps in the house”. A pause, eventually followed by two knocks. Thinking about my options for getting answers in this limited form of communication I asked if the hag and the dryad are responsible for the state of the forest. Three knocks. Either maybe or they don’t know. Most likely the trouble with the hag only kicked off after his death. “Have you been dead for more than a couple of months?” Yes “A couple of years?” No. Ok, that gives us a rough idea of when he died
“Do you want a proper burial?” Baldwin asked as we all started to crowd the table. One knock “be properly put to rest?” one knock again. Melech cut to the chase “Do you have any particular attachment to that painting?” he asked. A long pause. Eventually, there were two knocks and I could hear Melech and Baldwin exhale in relief. It’s been a while since the painting was my primary interest and I was here for writing inspiration more than anything in the first place, but it sounded like the others would be glad to finish this quest. I just hope that I can persuade them to come back to help deal with the forest. Possibly looking for an excuse to come back, Baldwin asked if we could use the keep as a base of operation. Another pause as a sense of impatience or anxiety filled the air. Then, one knock. We had the ghost’s permission to have the run of the place. Realising we should probably wrap this up while we still could, I asked if the dwarf had any special burial requests, any dwarven customs to follow? After a moment of consideration came two knocks “Ok, we will make sure you’re buried properly” and the others started towards the bed to retrieve the body. “Umm, one last thing?” I stammered carefully “we found what I’m fairly sure was your ale supply downstairs” A knock interrupted me “and, well, I know dwarven ale is of very fine quality. I don’t suppose we’d be able to have some?” With almost a sigh, the table knocked one last time. “Thankyouverymuch” I gushed “I will make sure you’re buried with the utmost respect”
Finishing our seance, we respectfully wrapped up the skeleton in the bedsheets and Baldwin and Beiro carried it downstairs, out of the house and to the glade at the rear of the house. I found some stones of various sizes from the riverbank and built a cairn by the grave. Leaving Beiro and Baldwin to their hole digging, I started searching the house for anything else of interest, turning up a sizeable amount of gold and a couple of health potions. Beiro and Baldwin finished burying the Fey Friend and as they came back into the keep it was as though a shadow had been lifted from the place. The search had also turned up the front door key, so we spent a night asleep on the top floor without any worries.
The next morning, Melech had an announcement “I’ve been reading that book Old Mother Basket gave me and I’ve found a recipe that’s might interest you. It’s for a tea, that, when ingested willingly, takes a year off the life of the drinker and gives it to the provider of the tea” “Ah,” I said, seeing what he was implying, exchanging a glance with Baldwin who suddenly looked a bit ill. “Next time we see her, maybe don’t drink the tea?” Melech suggested, smugly, as he hadn’t partaken the time before. “Well…”, I said slowly “if that’s what it takes to get more information, I can give up a couple more years”. I glanced over at Baldwin “At least I’m half elf, I had a few more to start with” I chuckled nervously. “We need to kill her,” Baldwin said. “I was just joking, sorry!” I said, only half seriously as I knew he was referring to Old Mother Basket. “Look,” Melech said “she’s tricking you and there’s some other part of the deal you don’t even know about. She’s getting the years for free” “I get what you’re saying” I responded “no more freebies, at the very least”
We turned our attention at last to the painting, ready to take it back to Baron Ramsgate. We were now all eager to get back to Coombesgate before dealing with the forest, wanting to resupply with equipment and information. The painting was huge, from floor to ceiling. Maybe ten foot by six foot and framed too, the canvas alone would probably take two of us to carry it. After carefully trying to manipulate it amongst ourselves, we got the painting clear of the frame, although the heavy staples that had kept it in place left their mark, and wrapped it up in the sheets from the other bed. With everything ready, we set off back downstream towards Westpine.
Surprisingly, we made it all the way back to Westpine without any surprises. Not being interrupted every half an hour or so meant the trip only really lasted us the morning and we arrived in Westpine at about lunchtime. “We can’t keep carrying the painting like this” huffed Melech, who had been helping me carry it, “We should see if we can borrow a cart from someone”. I nodded “The innkeeper at the Moody Cow might know who has one. I wanted to ask him a few questions anyway”
As we headed into the Moody Cow, I greeted the bartender warmly, but he did a double take, as though he’d seen a ghost. “You…you’re back?!” He stammered. “Well, of course, it wasn’t all happiness and roses, but nothing a dashing young group of adventurers like us couldn’t handle” I responded, with a grin. “Ah, err, well, can I get you anything?” “Ah yes, of course” I checked quickly with the others “A jug of wine between us I believe” and slipped him ten coppers and a silver.
As he retrieved the wine from behind the bar, I looked over and saw his wife sitting in her corner, no longer pregnant “Oh, has the baby arrived, birth all ok I hope?” “Oh yes, yes,” said the innkeeper. “Baby all well?” I followed, just trying to be a concerned patron. He paused mid wine-pouring “err, yes, baby’s fine”. I wasn’t convinced. “If … something’s up, we’re more than capable of going and finding some herbs or any other form of help if you need?” “No, No, it’s quite alright” busying himself with putting the now empty jug away. I leaned in “Are you sure?” I said, genuinely concerned that the baby was in trouble and he was missing an opportunity for us to help. “Yes, it’s fine, if you’d kindly stop asking, I frankly find it quite rude”
Melech stepped alongside me, I looked over and saw his eyes glowing red. “There’s something you’re not telling us,” he said angrily, his voice rising in volume with each word. I put my hand on his arm as the ground started to shake and the innkeeper started to cower away behind the bar, “Melech, there’s no need for this.” “You are hiding INFORMATION” continued Melech “you will tell us what has happened to the baby”. The innkeeper was gibbering in fear, clearly now unable to tell us anything even if he wanted to “Melech!” I snapped, squeezing his arm. The rumbling subsided. “Look,” I said softly to the innkeeper “Do you know anyone around here who might have a cart we could borrow” “err, Steve, the lumberjack, across the way,” he said quickly, still clearly very shaken. I turned to Melech. “Melech,” I said firmly “go with Baldwin, see if we can borrow the cart”. Melech grumbled and headed out.
Once he was out the door, I turned back to the innkeeper, who was still very shaken but seemed to have relaxed a little with Melech gone. “I’m terribly sorry about that, you’re right, it’s rude, we don’t need to pry about the baby”. The innkeeper shook himself off and came back to the bar. “That’s quite alright.” “Over the past couple of days, I’ve remembered I speak Tavern,” I said wryly, as I slid three gold across the bar “There were a couple of stories I felt were unfinished before.” “Oh no, no, no, don’t worry about that,” he said, guiltily shoving the gold back across “there’s nothing to tell!” “Really?” I said “No more news about the roaming cottage or those crimson riders?” “Oh … yeah! hoo boy, those crimson riders are a bad piece of work” he started babbling, clearly jumping too hard at the opportunity to change the subject. Beiro tapped me on the shoulder “He’s hiding something” he said to me in Elvish. “Well, yeah”, I responded in the same “but what? He’s clearly unwilling to tell us”. “He was shocked we came back ok, he knows something’s wrong with the forest. Maybe he has some involvement?” He was laying the cards down on the table, making things clear. Then an idea. The innkeeper is here, his wife is here, if the baby is indeed ill, then why are neither of them looking after it. Even if the baby is fine, it seems odd to leave a newborn child on its own. “What if we asked to see it?” I said to Beiro “If the baby’s fine, he should have no trouble showing us. If he can’t, then he has some explaining to do” “That might work” said Beiro
I turned back to the innkeeper and asked, now back in common “Sorry to come back to this, but err, I mean, if everything’s fine with the baby, would you mind if we could take a look at them?” The innkeeper glared. “This again? Look, you’re becoming far more trouble than you’re worth. I think you should leave” he said, pointing towards the door. The innkeeper’s voice was raising, but shaking, more confident that Melech had left, but probably unsure he could do anything if I didn’t leave on my own accord. There was a long pause as I stood there and narrowed my eyes at him. Finally, breaking the silence, I spoke up, strongly and evenly “Look. You and your wife are both out here, rather than looking after the baby. We’ve been in the Fey Forest and something is going wrong and you’re giving us every reason to suspect that your child is related ” He sighed “The child’s not mine, it’s Old Mother Basket’s”. It took all of the elven half of me to maintain composure and avoid a spit-take. The innkeeper continued, “My wife gave birth a couple of days and Old Mother Basket came to claim it yesterday.” I was already pretty clear how Old Mother Basket operated after our own encounter with her “What did she offer you?” I asked. “We…had never been able to have a baby before,” the innkeeper responded slowly “Old Mother Basket offered us the chance to conceive…as long as she had the firstborn”. I did not like where this was headed