After finding the innkeepers’ scarecrows and Old Mother Basket knowing to find us in the house the morning after we returned, I was starting to suspect something was alerting her to what we were doing. I asked the Satyrs if they had heard of Old Mother Basket, but said her name in a very deliberate, slow fashion, allowing them to stop me if the name was cursed in some fashion. They didn’t stop me but as it turns out knew little of her specifically. I played them a song about what we had learned about Old Mother basket and they brushed it off as a common tale and just not to trust little old ladies in the woods. Perhaps her influence had not spread this far south and these parts of the woods were untouched.
Melech asked whether they knew where we could find the unicorn. “We would be happy to tell a friend,” they said. We all glanced over at Baldwin, who was wearing the crown. He took a moment to realise what was going on, then cottoned on and asked if they’d tell him. One of the Satyrs happily bounced over and started whispering in his ear. I couldn’t make out most of the words, but did hear Baldwin say “I do trust them”. Following the exchange, Baldwin passed on the message that the unicorn was to be found in a sunshine dappled glade to the south, deeper into the woods. We would find it there if it didn’t find us first, but would only appear if we were pure of heart.
It was mid-afternoon by this point and we had a unicorn to find, so we bid farewell to the Satyrs (much to the chagrin of our hirelings) and continued further into the woods. Most of us had been pacing ourselves with the drink, but the hirelings were a little…wobbly. Nevertheless, we carried on through the woods until we noticed a sparkle on the ground. Upon closer inspection it was as though a large sheet of glass had been laid in the woods about ten feet wide and extending out in both directions perpendicular to our current path, carving a path through the woods. Looking along this glassy path, we could see a very large snail in one direction with the most beautiful ornate looking shell, likely the cause of the trail. “That’s a Flail Snail” muttered Melech “their shells are worth a fortune”. “It’s big, I imagine more trouble than it’s worth, at least right now” I pointed out. “Agreed,” said Melech in turn. “Is it’s trail sensitive? can we touch it?”, I queried, but at that point, I heard a light tapping sound behind me. Turning around, Neddie was poking the trail with a stick. No reaction from the snail. “Better safe than sorry,” I said, backed up and took a running jump over it. I think I misjudged the distance because I came down on about the last foot or two of glass with a mighty crunch, shattering the portion beneath my feet. I whipped around. Still no sign of movement from the snail. I breathed a sigh of relief, just as Beiro came careening over the trail as well, just about clearing it. At this point, it seemed pretty obvious we were in the clear, so Baldwin and Melech just wandered over, leading the hirelings, making a slight crunch with every footstep. Baldwin leant down and picked up a shard of glass, examined it briefly, then stashed it in his pouch.
We soon came across a sunshine dappled glade and there, as if waiting for us, was a unicorn. Melech approached first and greeted it. A moment passed and he turned to us “It’s…telepathic, although it doesn’t understand common”. With a prod, Baldwin stepped forward, again wearing the crown, and started talking in Slyvan. “We have been sent by a hag to claim your horn, yet we mean you no harm. These ones have made a deal and we were looking for alternatives to release them from it”. When he finished, he dropped into a thoughtful look, as though acknowledging information. After a couple of moments he turned back to the rest of us “it says the deals are not as rigid as we seem to think, we’re not tied down by anything, only what we believe she can offer us.”
Melech started speaking in elven “Can you give us any guidance on how we might defeat her?”. His expression told me the unicorn had understood this time and was giving its response. Melech related what the unicorn had said “The unicorn is aware of the trouble she’s caused in the Northern woods. She draws her power from trickery like I would draw mine from the weave. She will take any advantage she can get and make elaborate plans to protect herself if she thinks she is in danger.”
“Is she drawing power from the dryad?” I asked as my first question, in Sylvan. “Not…exactly”. A smooth airy voice said in my head “The corruption of the dryad is a symptom, not the cause.” “Can the dryad still be saved?” I asked hopefully. “Unfortunately not, I believe she is too far gone, at this point the best thing for the forest is for her to be destroyed.” The voice said woefully “We were hoping to trick her through the wording of the deal, Do you happen to have like a drinking horn or a French horn you own?” I asked. The unicorn whinied, as though laughing at my question, the voice entered my head again “I’m a unicorn, I have no need for such things, besides where would I keep it?” Fair point.
“Is there some way she could be tracking us?” Melech started asking, seemingly with the same concerns I had had earlier, but then suddenly went pale, as if he’d suddenly realised the answer to his own question. He looked back at the unicorn and then a couple of moments later made a sudden movement towards it. The unicorn disappeared. There was another voice in my head, but it wasn’t the unicorn, it was Melech. “I think we’re being spied on, Old Mother Basket could’ve used your trinket to scry on us.” A lump formed in my throat. I’d been so blind to trying to get information on my mother that I hadn’t even thought the trinket might be used against us. “I…what do we do?” I responded mentally. “Stay as before, don’t let her know that we know and if you want to discuss anything privately, let me know, she shouldn’t be able to scry on these messages.” The message back said. “Is there any way we can know for sure?” Melech paused “I think see invisibility can be used to see scrying orbs, I gave you a scroll for that, didn’t I?”
I perhaps could’ve been more convincing, this was all quite sudden. I cast the spell and started to look around as if trying to see the unicorn through the trees. Nothing, no unicorn and no sign of a scry. I bent down to go through some things in my bag, then I saw it. An ethereal orb, just out the side of my vision, clearly following me. I signalled Melech. “Did you find something?” Came the voice “Yep, there’s some sort of orb following me” I responded in kind. “As suspected, in which case we need to be careful”. We made a vague show of frustration that the unicorn had vanished then made camp in the glade for the evening.
After an uneventful night, we traipsed back to our woodland home to work out what to do next. After pondering things for about 10 minutes, I heard the sound of shattering glass and Baldwin swearing. He’d found a glass ornament from the Fey Friend’s collection that could’ve been modified to look like a unicorn horn, to at least give us a reason to find Old Mother Basket again. On trying to remove the horn looking bit, however, he’d shattered the whole thing. We needed a different excuse. “Look, I think I should go and talk to her, I’ll see whether there’s anything else she’d take instead. If she gets mad it’s only one of us in trouble”. Melech looked a little confused about this sudden suggestion, then slowly started to realise what I might be doing “Yes,” he responded, “it’s worth a try”, then mentally “what’s the plan then?” “I go, as I say, to Old Mother Basket and tell her what happened and ask whether she has any other suggestions or options. Then, instead of staying here, you guys follow about 10 minutes behind. Don’t tell the hirelings what’s really going on until I leave”.
I made my way out of the house, along the river and past both sets of scarecrows, turning off and finding my way to where I was sure Old Mother basket’s cottage was, but…nothing, just an opening in the forest. I stopped, looking around. Either I was mistaken or we’d solved the mystery of the roaming cottage, so now what? I elected to wait and see if she showed up, she’d obviously know I was here. If I turned back I would run into the others and any chance of further chicanery would be out of the window. About ten minutes past and I heard a tussle in the undergrowth. Turning, expecting to see the rest of my party, I breathed a little sigh of relief on seeing Old Mother Basket hobbling out of the woods towards me.
“What are you doing out here on your own dear?” She called out “Oh, I’d come to find you, I thought your house was here though?” I responded sheepishly “Oh no, it’s just a little further along. Now, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?” “I…well, the unicorn got away and I think it knows our intentions, we won’t be able to catch it now.” “Too bad, I guess you’ll need to find another”. She was already seeming less kindly, impatient at whatever I was trying to pull or at the very least our lack of progress in the unicorn matter. “To be honest, I…I’m not sure I could even if we did find another. It’s not in my nature. Is there not some other favour you require?” “I asked for a unicorn horn, are you saying you don’t want to hear about your mother? Are you saying you want to break the deal?” “I…no..I do, I just, isn’t there anything else I could do? Can we not go back to your house to discuss this?” “We shall only meet in the cottage if you have something to offer and that doesn’t seem to be the case” “but…you said we were welcome to come for tea at any time”. At that moment, a twig snapped behind me. Old Mother Basket looked over my shoulder and smiled “Your friends are here”.
I turned. They were spreading out behind me and Baldwin already had an arrow notched. There clearly wasn’t any more chance of parlay. In a flash I drew my rapier and stabbed towards Old Mother Basket, but misjudged the strike from the suddenness of the situation. I backed up and started playing for Baldwin, who then struck true with not one, but two arrows. Old Mother Basket shimmered and her kind old lady exterior vanished, revealing the most reviling of hags, with sagging skin, long bedraggled hair and wiry fingers. Despite taking the arrows, she made a wide toothy grin, reached into a pouch and drew out my two soldiers. I grit my teeth, fully expecting a horrible curse to fell me, with the power of one of my treasured possessions. With a snap, she split it in two and threw the pieces on the ground, took a step back and from the ground grew two full size soldiers, nightmarishly similar to the toy, right down to one missing its head. I actually breathed a sigh of relief at this, as a child I’d had a lot of make-believe fights with these guys (it’s how the head incident happened), time to make those real too. “If I ever do find her, my mum’ll enjoy this story” I thought to myself with a slight grin. Beiro stepped forward to attack them and the hirelings fired a barrage of arrows, landing a handful of hits on the soldiers. Then, with a mutter, a gasp and what I’m sure was a flash of blood, Melech cast a spell I hadn’t seen before. A great explosion engulfed both the soldiers and Old Mother Basket, but Old Mother Basket emerged unscathed, with yet another toothy grin. Her own spells weren’t to be used against her…