As we approached Westpine, we saw the woodcutter who would had borrowed the cart from, but when he saw us he glared back briefly, turned and went inside. Similarly, children playing were scooped up by their parents and taken inside. By the time we reached the square, no-one was to be seen and a deathly quiet had swept over Westpine
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this” I muttered quietly. “Might be because we’ve got the ex-bandits with us” Baldwin suggested, “maybe we should go to the tavern, see if anyone’s there and work out what to do next…”. Checking the tavern, it still remained vacant, a layer of dust beginning to settle on the various surfaces. We gathered in the bar, whilst Baldwin found a mug and poured himself some ale from one of the taps. “I think I should go out and announce Old Mother Basket’s death, although I’d appreciate the back up in case things go horribly wrong.” I looked over at Baldwin, he obviously wasn’t bothered about going anywhere, feet up, quaffing his drink. “I’ll come” Beiro piped up. “Yes, it’s probably best if I come too” Melech followed up. We left and set up in the square.
I took my ukulele out and strummed a large resonating chord “Villagers of Westpine, the hag has been…err…removed. You shall no longer have to worry about, umm, deals and … trickery”. I was struggling to find the words and was not evoking any response. I played myself a little song to psych myself up before trying again. I thought back to the first time I played in Westpine, another strong performance that must have brought out most of the village. I started playing some of the songs that had gone down well that night, to try and draw people out. As I played, I saw a child appear at the window of one of the houses, smiling at the sound of the music. I winked at them, shortly before they disappeared and the shutters slammed shut once more. Then, from another part of the village, we heard a yell. “Begone servants of Mother Basket, you bring nothing but misery!”. This was an in, at least “We are sorry for any misfortune we’ve caused to your village, but Old Mother Basket is dead. We have killed her. She manipulated us too but was a curse upon the forest and we have removed her”.
The front door of a house on the other side of the river slowly creaked open. A man in his mid-40s or so cautiously poked his head around the door “Is it true? Is she gone?” He asked, with a slight crack to his voice. “Yes! I implore you to believe us! We, unfortunately, have little proof, but I can recount what has happened”, I responded. The man looked deep in thought for a moment, then nodded, “OK, I believe you, come inside and let’s hear what you have to say” and beckoned the three of us over to his house and inside. It was a simple abode, but a little larger than any of the houses in the village. “Are you the leader around here, say, the village elder?” I asked. He chuckled “How old do you think I am? I don’t know about elder, but…yes, people tend to come to me if they have any concerns. My name is Arthur”. “My name is Amafey Craftwolf and these are my companions,” I said, gesturing to the others “My name is Melech” “Beiro”. “Pleased to meet you” Arthur responded, “Now, you were going to tell me about what happened to Old Mother Basket and your part in the disappearance of Warwick and his wife?” “Warwick?” I responded, surprised that Arthur knew about the demise of our hireling. “That was the name of the owner of the now abandoned tavern,” Arthur said woefully. “Ah, that is an … unfortunate coincidence. “ I said, quite surprised at the fact. Arthur leaned his head quizzically “How so?” “Well, let me explain everything”. I then told the stories of our adventures, as chronicled so far in these pages. I didn’t leave out any details, much to the protest of Melech and he and Beiro left half an hour into my storytelling.
“Well, you certainly are a good storyteller,” Arthur said cheerily as I finished the story a couple of hours later. I blushed a bit “It’s kind of my thing” I said quietly. Arthur stood up, beaming “Well if you’re to be believed, the village owes you a great debt if there’s anything we can do to repay you just let me know.” “There is one thing,” I said slowly, ready to put my previous plan into action “The hirelings that have been with us. I think their Warwick dying has told us all that things might be getting too dangerous for them. I was hoping that, well, they might be able to take over the empty tavern?” Arthur tilted his head up, thinking, “you mentioned they used to be bandits, yes?” I gulped, maybe I should’ve spared some details of the story “Yes, but I believe they were victims of circumstance. They’ve been nothing but helpful and trustworthy since joining us” Arthur nodded sagely “Yes, ok, maybe they would be a good fit to get the tavern up and running again”.
At this point, a bugle sounded from the centre of the village. I started up, worried about any incoming danger. “Is that a village signal of some kind?” I asked. Arthur shook his head quickly “not one of ours”. We peaked cautiously out of the window. There, in the middle of the square, was a knight, wearing the colours of Steward Dreven. He was holding up a sheet of parchment and at that moment began to read from it. “Citizens of Westpine, the steward requires your assistance. If you are capable, you are to arm yourselves and report to Springgate. Norcragden has fallen and the orcs threaten are bearing down on own civilised towns. Any militia assembled at Springgate to repel them will be remunerated appropriately.” He put down the scroll, turned his horse and headed back along the road at a gallop.
“That’s…worrying, we’ll need to work out where our little group stands on this,” I said, turning back to Arthur. Arthur nodded, “I do imagine we’ll need to have a village meeting about this, I’ll arrange something within the next couple of hours”. I bid Arthur farewell for now and headed back to the tavern. “Ah, Amafey” I heard as I entered the tavern. Melech was leaning back on a stool, next to Baldwin and Beiro, all sat a separate from the hirelings, “we were just waiting on you before deciding what to do next. I presume you saw and heard the announcement too?” “I did, also, Baldwin, you’re going to have to pay the hirelings for that beer, I got them the tavern” All of the hirelings did a double take, clearly surprised my little plan had worked. “What beer?” Baldwin said as he tossed the mug back onto the bar with a clatter.
Turning back to the matter at hand “So what was the plan?” I asked the others, who’d already had a little time to discuss. Beiro grinned, “I think we should go and kill some orcs” Beiro doesn’t like orcs much. Baldwin shrugged, “I think we should go back to Coombesgate, but I don’t want to get involved in this war.” They were clearly leaning towards being done with the forest. “Well, we still need to deal with the Dryad, I don’t want to leave the job half-finished, the village could still be under threat” I countered, trying to convince them to finish the job “We killed Old Mother Basket, they’ll be fine, unless they get invaded by orcs of course” Baldwin countered. Melech raised a finger “actually, I’m with Amafey on this. We’ve got much to learn about the forest and we’re not exactly front line soldiers if we did end up in a warzone”. “Speak for yourself” quipped Beiro.
Then I had an idea. “Hang on, Baldwin, have you got a map of the barony?” He shook his head, “No, but…I might be able to sketch something in the dirt?” We headed outside. A few villagers were now milling around but were now fervently discussing the mounted visitor to pay us much heed. Baldwin started sketching out a few locations “So, we’re here, in the West. The dryad is somewhere north of us, Coombesgate is to the east and Springgate is north of that.” I started pointing north of Westpine. “Let’s say we deal with the dryad. We don’t need to stick to the roads, do we? We could cut cross-country, eastwards, and see if we could catch the orcs from behind. If we could take out this supposed war chief of theirs, the army would suffer and we’d be hailed as heroes.” “That…might actually work,” Melech said thoughtfully. I turned to Baldwin, “What do you think?”. Baldwin shook his head “I still don’t want to get involved, I think we should head south, get out of the way”. Melech rounded on him “There’s every chance that these orcs could reach Coombesgate and tear everything up there. Do you think they’ll stop?” He was getting agitated. Not flaming eyes, shaking ground agitated, but still clearly miffed at Baldwin’s current attitude “This is a good chance to get the better of them. You saw how idiotic Dreven’s men were back at Coombesgate. If they’re even slowing the orc army down, our efforts should have a profound effect, especially if we can get the jump on them.” Baldwin sighed, “fine, let’s get moving then”. I looked over at Beiro, who was staring at the map on the ground. “Sound good to you, Beiro?” I asked “Err… yep!” He said, looking back up. There were orcs in the plan, that was good. We headed back inside to gather our things, say goodbye to the hirelings and set off.
I approached Neddie with the coin purse I had for the party and started counting out silver and gold from it. “So, I guess as we’re saying goodbye, we should pay you. 5 days for 5 of you at 3 silver pieces a day would be 75 silver, or 7 and a half gold”. Melech cleared his throat “there are four of them” he said pointedly. “Well, I thought it was only fair to give them Warwick’s share between them” Melech wasn’t having it “This is the party funds and I’m saying no, they’re already getting a tavern out of this.” I looked at Baldwin “I’d rather not give them anything, but whatever.” I sighed and handed over 4 gold and 20 silver. Then, as the others started to leave, I took Neddie to one side. I rummaged in my coin purse and produced twenty gold coins. I handed them to him “This is from my own funds, I want you to have a good start at the tavern. You’ve been a great help to us and I’m so sorry about what happened to Warwick. Neddie pushed my hand back “No, you shouldn’t it’s fine. We’ll be fine. You really shouldn’t”. He’d changed, a week ago he would’ve scooped that in an instant, yet here he was, refusing several weeks worth of washes. I opened his hand and deposited the coins inside. “I insist. Get the tavern up and running again and we’ll all come back for a drink sometime. Tell you what, consider this a request to make sure the village stays standing too, ok?” “Err…yeah, ok, sure” he grinned weakly. They probably wouldn’t last that long if the orcs got this far…
Melech cleared his throat again loudly from the doorway. I quickly scooped up the rest of my things. “Right, I…errr… best be off” I stuttered, realising Melech probably saw all that anyway. Neddie offered his hand and I shook it, followed by Kia hurrying over and giving me a big hug. As I left, silent Gregory gave me a nod and One-eyed Dennis…winked, I think. The tavern should be fine in their hands, right?