After catching our breath following the frantic battle, calm returned to the clearing. I thanked the hirelings for their help, particularly against the tree, their assault had probably saved my life. The others had started looking for anything of interest in the house and I warned the hirelings to wait outside while we cleared anything dangerous from inside. As it turns out, there was very little of interest inside the house. All of us searched thoroughly, under and in every nook and cranny and didn’t turn up anything of much use. Even using my song which resonates with any sources of magic picked very little up, except the house itself and a pie on the windowsill. I did a small loop outside the house and didn’t find anything unusual there either, except some recently upturned earth, perhaps a couple of days old.
Checking the walls inside and out did not lead to any clues as to how the roaming cottage functioned and it seemed rooted in place where it was at the moment. Baldwin suggested maybe it was just a perception thing, making you think you were somewhere you weren’t. Now that Old Mother Basket was dead, we weren’t likely to find out and it wasn’t going to go walking off on its own. As for the pie, something was very suspicious about it and my curiosity kept bringing me back to it. I considered using the identify scroll but remembered what Melech had said before about the fact it might struggle with the hag magic. As it started to rain outside, I told the hirelings it was safe inside now, but to avoid the pie. Melech offered everyone a cup of tea and didn’t seem too shifty about it (not that the hirelings would know to suspect anything), so we all warmed ourselves inside as Baldwin started digging through the earth (we shared the same suspicions and he had been kind enough to volunteer to investigate).
After a little time inside, Baldwin reappeared from his digging, looking quite wet and muddy. “As I thought, it’s the innkeeper and his wife. They were missing their clothes, so I suspect old mother basket just kills them, then makes the scarecrows as warnings”. As he was explaining, I looked over and caught Neddie about to stick his finger in the pie. “Hey! What did I say about that? Stop it!” I called over. The hireling looked back at me a bit crestfallen, “Oh, it looks good though, could we at least have some rations, it must be well past lunchtime by now…” he said. Beiro stood up. “I will find some food” and marched out of the house. Baldwin watched him then turned around and said “I should probably go with him..” and followed Beiro out.
They reappeared about an hour later with, in addition to more than enough berries and plants to supplement our rations, the corpse of a chunky boar. Beiro looked very pleased with himself. I could see the hirelings with their mouths agape, both impressed and drooling slightly at the thought what it’s going to be like to eat. Unfortunately, it would still need a fair amount of preparation, so it wasn’t going to be a boaring lunch. We agreed to head back to the Fey Friend’s house for the evening and take a much-needed rest after having got Old Mother Basket off of our backs. I took one last look at the pie, but before I could decide what to do with it, Baldwin came over and hurled it out of the window. The contents scattered on the grass outside and it looked…pretty much like a normal meat pie. Still a mystery. Oh well, I definitely wasn’t going to eat it now.
As we started travelling back, the slightly smouldering tree waymarked our previous battleground. There was no sign of the tin soldiers. It dawned on me that I never saw the body of the first one that Baldwin and Beiro had slain and had been much more concerned about chasing after Old Mother Basket to see what happened when I slew the second. It was possible the enchantment was gone and they’d returned to normal and I started searching in the tall grass. Maybe they were not lost to me after all! After explaining my thinking, the others started searching too, but we were searching for some time with no luck. I started to get a bit frantic, they must be here somewhere! They’re the only thing I’ve got left of my mother’s. Absent-mindedly I strummed at my ukulele, slowly forming words about our epic battle with the tin soldiers. I’d just gotten halfway through the second verse when Melech called out from 5 feet to my right. “I’ve found them!”. He handed them over, but as he did so, I grabbed his arm and pulled him down to give him a peck on the cheek. He looked perturbed, although he might have been going bright red for all I know. “Thank you Melech” I said, relieved. I looked down at the soldiers and noticed that, in addition to being torn apart, one was warped and slightly melted and the other also had significant gashes in it (including a big hole in its chest). These will indeed make for a good story. Our search concluded, we continued onwards to the mansion and arrived without further incident.
Back at the mansion, I poured another round from the dwarven ale keg and passed it around to everyone. Baldwin started carving up the boar and made particularly short work of it. It wasn’t long before we had a roast boar and mushroom (they seemed to grow in abundance around the house) stew ready for dinner, with the rest of the boar stripped and cooked for cold meats the next day. For the rest of the evening, we drank, were merry and exchanged stories. That is, except Melech, who sequestered himself to read in some quiet corner of the mansion.
As the next dawn broke and the morning mist slowly lifted, we met up in the front room to discuss our next moves. “As much as it pains me to say it, we need to sort that dryad out” I pointed out. “We also need to check to see whether those scarecrows are still there” Melech suggested, as we worked through our ‘to-do’ list. Baldwin then spoke up “That’s on the way back to Westpine, we should tell them they don’t have anything to fear from Old Mother Basket anymore”. It was a sensible suggestion and it gave us a good starting point to venture deeper into the forest from, in our search of the dryad. All in agreement, we packed our things together, locked the door and headed back along the stream.
It wasn’t long before we reached the scarecrow’s spot on the river and there they were, still alive, still moving, still creepy. I laid out the plan, “Let’s set ourselves up to attack from range, they won’t be able to attack and even if they do start moving, then we should have an advantage”. Everyone nodded and we clustered in a line on the far edge of the river. “On my signal!” I called out and loosened an arrow right between the beady eyes of one of the scarecrows. Almost immediately, it unrooted itself and started hopping in our direction. Another volley of arrows followed, as the scarecrow’s partner also sucked itself out of the ground. They went for the middle of the group, I couldn’t quite see who for exactly, but their advance was short lived as I heard an incantation from Melech and a burst of fire. Even in the damp air, the straw burnt quickly and it only took a couple more knocks to finish the scarecrows off. A job well done, we marched on to the next pair.
We started our fight with the second pair in much the same way, with a similar effect. I remembered what Old Mother Basket had done, hurling insults to inflict damage, and I thought it was worth a try. As one of the scarecrows was bouncing towards us, I started singing:
“You could while away the hours
Conferrin’ with the flowers,
Consulting with the rain;
And your head you’d be a scratchin’
While your thoughts are busy hatchin’
If you only had a brain.”
As I finished, the scarecrow flinched and looked stunned for a moment. Success! I tried again, as others fired their arrows “Can’t you hear me? What’s wrong? Straw in your ears?” This time there was no reaction. It needs some work.
As this was going on, the scarecrows dived into the middle of our line again. I didn’t have a good view again, but as one of the scarecrows fell, I saw another body hit the floor. “Warwick!” I heard Neddie yell out and a vengeful flurry of arrows took out the remaining scarecrow. As it hit the floor, the other hirelings gathered around Warwick’s body on the floor. “Warwick, wake up!” Dennis was yelling, trying to shake him. I looked over his shoulder to see a massive gash in his chest, eyes wide open, but clearly not breathing anymore. “He’s dead!” Neddie spat. “I…I’m so sorry” I stammered, “I thought after…Old Mother Basket and….everything else, that this wouldn’t be that dangerous. We got careless, I’m so sorry. If you feel you want to part ways when we get to Westpine, I understand, we might be getting you too much over your head.” Neddie sighed “It’s probably best that we do, this adventuring lark is not for us.” “We’ll rest here for a while, I’ll leave you be while you mourn poor Warwick” I said quietly and let them be.
We rested for a time as the hirelings buried Warwick’s body and built a small cairn to mark it. Melech made some more tea, but this time a glint in his eye told me he was up to something. I felt like I owed him after finding the soldiers and we were unlikely to see the hirelings much more again, so I walked over and whispered in his ear “just this once”. All of the hirelings were really starting to like tea and they slowly drunk, all holding their mugs staring into space. As we slowly got ready to move off again, I approached Neddie with an idea, “I know if you’re not travelling with us you’ll need some way to make a living and you don’t want to be going back into banditry, especially not with us around.” I winked “The tavern in Westpine will be in need of a new owner, we can talk to the people there and see if we can set you guys up running it?” Neddie pondered it for a moment “Well, maybe, but it’s not exactly something we’ve done before”. I patted him on the shoulder “I’ll see what we can do”. How hard could it be to run a tavern?