“What…err…how?” I stammered, trying to choose between all the questions I felt I needed to ask the innkeeper. “How long have you known about her?”. A vague timeline was starting to form in my head, I suspect old mother basket only moved into the forest after the Fey Friend’s demise. The innkeeper looked over at his wife who was now shaking her head furiously. “I…I’ve said too much. You should leave. You’re not welcome here anymore”. Realising that it was likely their own safety was in danger if they told me any more, I nodded reluctantly and left the three gold I had previously offered him. Beiro followed, but not before uttering his newfound catchphrase of “I’ll be back”, more confusing the innkeeper than anything else.
Back in the centre of Westpine, we met back up with Baldwin and Melech, who had acquired a cart from the lumberjack for a daily fee. We agreed between ourselves that we were likely to be five days. The rest of the current day and the next travelling to Coombesgate, a full day in Coombegate to do all that we needed to do and two days travel back to Westpine. We put the painting into the cart and set off down the road.
A couple of hours into our trip back to Coombesgate, I happened to look up at the sky and saw two figures that appeared to be heading in our direction. I nudged Baldwin, “Do you think those are birds?” Baldwin squinted “Not sure, they’re a little way off, but they’re definitely headed this way” he responded, his hand reaching for his sword. I could see Melech getting uneasy too, his hand reaching into his robe. A low rumbling sound had started to our side and glancing over I could see a herd of cows shuffling quickly towards the treeline. “Quick!” I hissed, “Get into the trees”. The others set off at a dash towards the trees as I took a moment to cast the illusion of a large rabbit and I then pursued the others. After peeking out from the trees for a handful of seconds, we saw a figure swoop down and try to grab the illusory rabbit with a frustrated eagle cry when it found nothing. It’s big lion-like legs kicked off from the ground and took flight once again. Gryphons. Unusual to see this far south, they normally roost in mountains. We came out of the trees slightly to see them both heading off northwards, the other one with a cow in its talons. We carried along the road with one eye on the skies, but the rest of the day passed without incident.
The next day, we decided to try and make it the rest of the way to Coombesgate, although that would likely involve travelling into the night a little. We were also to pass through the copse where we were attacked by bandits before. We slowed and kept our eyes especially peeled and, sure enough, we saw signs of another impending ambush. Melech and I crept into the undergrowth on the sides, hoping to get the jump on our would-be attackers, although we weren’t as well hidden as we thought. One of the archers I was approaching spotted me, but I think he recognised me from before. “bugger this for a laugh,” he yelled, holding his bow above his head. A new leader had stepped out of the ferns by Beiro and Baldwin (who’d continued down the path) and we could see three other archers, in the same arrangement they had attacked us the few days before, all pop-up and look a bit confused. “Give it up boss, these ones aren’t worth the trouble” the one who had already surrendered yelled. The leader sneered at us “You can pass…THIS time” he said, trying to appear generous, but there was a hint of fear in his voice. Melech and I retrieved ourselves from the bushes and followed after Beiro and Baldwin, who had now passed the leader.
As I passed the leader, however, I turned to him. These guys would be attacking pretty much anyone travelling along this route, ourselves included, and we needed to do something to get rid of them “What are you doing with your life?” I said blankly. He looked taken aback, surprised by the question, but before he could respond I continued “would you be willing to work as mercenaries if we paid you?”. A voice crept into the back of my head “What are you doing?”, I looked over and saw Melech glaring at me, but I just winked at him. “Err…yeah, how much you offering?” the bandit said gruffly. “How much is fair pay?” I countered. “Err…five silver pieces a day,” he said. “That’s fair” I responded, “Each!” he said, somewhat triumphantly. I smiled “I assumed as much”. I paused, thinking how best we could use them, primarily to keep them from any more raiding. “If I were to give you 50 silver now, where would I be able to find you in two days?” I offered, off the road was better than nothing for the moment. “Well, I guess we’ll be in the tavern,” he said with a shrug. “Which tavern would that be?” “Well, the Notched Blade of course!” Not one I knew, but I’m sure I can find it, although the name alone gave me a rough idea of what I might find there. “And you’d stay off the road in the meantime?” I probed. “Well, we ain’t going back if you’re paying us.” he chuckled. I paused, of course, these guys were coming from somewhere “Back where?” I asked tentatively, knowing that the rest of a bandit camp might be harder to deal with. “Back to the boss. He gives us our jobs, posts us on the roads. Sometimes it’s the north or south ones leading out of Coombesgate, but it’s normally this one.” “How many of you are there at the camp?” I asked, he seemed to be very free with information and I was going to take advantage of this. “About twenty in total, including us.” I nodded “ok”. Reaching for my coin purse, I retrieved 50 silver and handed it over “I’ll see you in The Notched Blade in two days and there’ll be more where that came from”. As we all walked away, we could hear them all squabbling over the coin behind us.
We arrived at Coombesgate shortly after nightfall to find the gates closed, but after a short talk to the guards, Baldwin got us in. We made our way straight to The Fallow Sow to get rooms for the night, hoping my last performance there would give us the chance to stay with only the need to play tomorrow. Baldwin and Beiro stayed outside to watch the cart while Melech and I went inside to get the rooms. “Amafey!” I heard shouted cheerily from the bar as I went in “Well if it isn’t my favourite bard!” There was a twang from the current performer as he missed a note. I smiled widely and walked over “Hello again, err… I’m sorry, I never actually got your name last time” I said sheepishly “Ooo, don’t worry about it, busy times and all. It’s Drebky by the way” he responded with a grin. “Well, Drebky, I was hoping you had a few rooms available for me and my friends in exchange for a full performance tomorrow evening” “Oh, of course, play like you did before and that’s more than ok” he said, slightly stary eyed at the prospect of how full the bar would be again. “Is it possible to get four rooms?” I queried. “Err…yeah…actually, one moment.” and he walked back and yelled into one of the back rooms “Ma! Have we got four rooms spare?” The voice of an older woman rasped back “No!” “Err, how many have we got spare?” “Two!” He came back to the bar a little embarrassed, “Only got two rooms I’m afraid, is that ok?” “Oh that’ll be fine” It’s still a freebie, we could probably just about cram into one room if needs be. He handed me two keys I thanked him “I’ll make sure to put on a good performance tomorrow” and winked at the barkeeper.
As I turned to gather the others, I found Melech engaged in conversation with a familiar dwarf. “Smokey!” I exclaimed. He turned to me and beamed “Amafey! Good to see you returned ok, holding up well?” “Yes, yes” I responded “We had quite an adventure, but we’re all in one piece. How about you, no trouble from any bandits?” “Nope, no trouble” “You didn’t encounter any?” “Oh I encountered them, they didn’t cause me any trouble though” and he winked. “Join me for a drink, I want to hear all about your stories” Melech and I agreed, just as soon as we’d brought our stuff into the inn. Baldwin offered to stay to guard the painting, although I think he just wanted some time to himself. We exchanged stories with Smokey for most of the night, agreeing to leave the various bits of business we had to the following day.
I went to order more drinks and while the barman was pouring them, I realised I never asked about my mother around here. “Does the name Lafrey Brightwood sounds familiar to you? She’s a performer, like myself.” “Lafrey, Lafrey”, Drebky pondered, “Y’know, I think I do remember someone by that name when I was a child. In here occasionally. She was one of my father’s favourites. She was very good, not quite as good as you, mind.” “I…err…thank you. I was hoping to follow in her footsteps” I said shyly, blushing deeply. “Well, I think you’ve already surpassed her,” he said, passing me the mug of ale. I looked down into it, quietly said thank you again and hurried back to the others.
I only made it halfway before starting to shed tears. Everything was getting too much. However well I was doing, my mother wasn’t around to see it, I wasn’t able to make her proud. All I was doing asking around was reminding myself she hasn’t been seen in years and I’m unlikely to ever see her again. My only lead so far was from an old woman who, as time goes on, seems to be transpiring to be an evil hag.
By the time I made it to the table, I was clearly a mess. “You alright, lass?” Smokey asked tentatively “Yeah, I…I’m just poking too much into information about my mother” “Ooooooook, well I think it’s about time for bed”, clearly not wanting to be part of my breakdown. Beiro and Melech looked at a loss for what to do too and we sat there pretty much in silence until I finished my beer and went to bed.
In the morning we headed straight over to the baron’s residence. We knocked on the door and the peephole slid open revealing a pair“Yes?” A voice attached to the eyes said. Melech stepped forwards, “We’re here to see the baron, we have something he’d like to see,” he said authoritatively. “Do you have an appointment?” The voice said, tinged with disdain. “He is expecting us” There was a sigh “I can’t just let anyone in, the Baron is a very busy man” “And he’ll be even busier berating you if you don’t let him know we’ve got what he’s looking for.” There was a pause, then with a sigh, the voice responded: “I will check with the baron” and the peephole slid closed. It was at this point that I had a minor revelation “We need a team name!” Melech looked at me incredulously. I continued “If we need to tell people who we are, what would we say at the moment? We could all introduce ourselves if the situation suits but we need something snappy!”. Melech just shook his head and turned around. At this point, the door opened and a body that we presume belonged to the voice we heard appeared. “The Baron will see you now,” he said.
As we entered the main hall where we had had the feast the week before, the Baron came out and greeted us. “Greetings, good to see you’ve all returned! Is that it, can I see it?”. Melech and Baldwin started to unroll it but as they did I piped up “It wasn’t to be found in the hall you directed us to, we faced many other trials and tribulations in order to retrieve it. I was hoping you might be able to increase the compensation in kind?” The baron looked slightly taken aback “The reward was for the painting, not the effort to retrieve it. You knew the pointer was nothing more than a tip-off and you accepted the quest” “Fair enough” I said, backing off quickly. It had been an optimistic question and I didn’t want to leave with nothing. The others had now unfurled the painting and the Baron stood back and admired it. “This is even better than I imaged! Look! There’s Ulster and gasp that’s elf hero” he nudged Beiro in the ribs “I’m part elf you know”. I could see Beiro glancing up and down the Baron’s portly body, then nod cautiously.
At that moment a man came running in. “Sir, I have urgent news,” he said, breathlessly. The baron turned to us “Excuse me, this is terribly rude, but I have to take this and he and the man went into the next room. As he was away, a couple of servants arrived and started rolling up the painting. I asked about making sure we were going to be paid before letting the painting out of our sight and the servants assured us our payment would here shortly. Just after the servants left with the painting the baron returned. “Oh, have they taken it?” he said, disappointed. We nodded “Oh well, we’ll get it framed and on display before long and ..ah, here’s your reward” and sure enough, at that moment a servant appeared with a big coffer filled with gold. We hefted it into the cart for the time being. “Now, if you don’t mind…” the baron started but was cut off of by Baldwin. “Orcs. We saw some in the Fey woods, organised ones, all with the same markings” he said, knowing this was something the baron needed to hear “Oh” the baron said, only seeming a little surprised “Is everything Ok?” I probed. “Yes, I…well..” He stuttered but quickly regained his focus “I suppose I can confide in you strapping bunch of adventurers. Norcragden has fallen. They orcs are currently held back at the river crossing. “Are you looking for more soldiers?” I asked, thinking about the bandits “can you pay them?” “We can’t really afford that, although any militia that joins the front lines would be more than welcome. Don’t worry, the steward’s men will hold the orcs back”. He seemed pretty confident of this.
Following our meeting with the baron, we distributed the reward and split up, agreeing to meet back at the tavern later. Beiro and Baldwin wanted to go shopping, but I took the opportunity to grab Melech. I’d been wanting to see if the library had any information on hags or anything else to build on what we’ve learned. Melech agreed this was a good idea and we both made our way over. Between us, it didn’t take long to turn up a handful of stories referring to hags. In pretty much all cases they were brokers of deals, much like Old Mother Basket. Unfortunately, in most of the deals we read about, the other party didn’t come off so well…