May 22, 1482
“It began a few months ago,” he said. “We’ve always had problems with the grugach – that is, the wild elves who live off to the northwest. They hate everybody who isn’t an elf, and I’ve even heard that they hate other elves that aren’t of their tribe. Usually they just ignore us so long as we stay out of their part of the woods and we let them be. It’s a big forest, after all, and except for a few hunters and wood gatherers, most of us rarely went too deep into the woods, while so far as we know they rarely left the darkest area of the forest.”
“All that changed when the Horseman came riding into town – about three, four months ago I guess it was. We never learned his name and never saw his face, ’cause he never took off that great big helmet. He visited each of the old monuments in these parts one by one – the chapel, the circles, the Silence Keepers, the Red Horse, and the old barrow. Last we saw of him, he was riding away north of town up toward the barrow.”
“Then, next thing we knew, a group of woodsmen who’d gone out gathering wood went missing. We found their bodies the next day, shot full of elf arrows. It was like that for a while: somebody’d just go missing, and maybe we’d find the body and maybe we wouldn’t. Then they got bolder, and started shooting folks who weren’t even in the woods at all but out plowing in broad daylight. Elder Meril, the mayor before me, led a group out under a white flag for a parley, but they never came back. We found the massacre site two days later.”
He gulped and turned pale. "We weren’t sure if all the bodies were there or not, the way they’d been hacked apart. Meril’s body was intact, though with so many arrows shot through him that we couldn’t get him loose from the tree. We tried to send for help, of course, but that’s when we found out the Horseman hadn’t gone away at all. He’s lurking around the area, a demon or ghost or something, springing out to ride folks down or hack ‘em to bits with that big sword of his. We figure he must be working with the elves, but I don’t know why or how he gets around the way he does.
“Since then, things have gone from bad to worse. We had to eat the sheep and chickens, so there’s no more livestock. We couldn’t plant the crops, so there will be no harvest come autumn. The Horseman guards the roads, so no one can get out that way – not even the volunteers you met up with. The elves lurk up north and take potshots at us from the woods from time to time, just enough to keep everyone lying low. Even the wild animals in the forest seem to be dying off. We’re getting pretty desperate. Can you help us?”
The Sparrow explained his presence in town as well – he had heard of the legends of Saithnar, a legendary warlord whose tale would make for a great dirge. The Sparrow traveled here just about a week ago, and is now trapped with everyone else. He made a point to mention that he has a command performance soon for young Prince Tammen Exridge, and can make it worth their while if they can get him out of town in time.
As night falls and discussion ensues, the heroes agree to offer what assistance they can. Relieved, Murdows offers them an unused cabin for as long as they wish. Gareth summons a great deal of food and fresh water, which Murdows has stored for the morning, then walked with the party towards their cabin.
One second they were talking to Murdows, and the next there’s a sudden whump! and a bloody arrow sticking out of his back. His eyes rolled up as he gurgled and pitched forward, slain instantly. The heroes barely had time to react before more than a dozen hawks descended from above and began dive-bombing anyone in the open. Their screeching calls and fluttering wings filled the air, distracting the party from any activity other than protecting themselves from their razor-sharp talons. The Sparrow wove a song of bardic magic to assist the party as everyone took cover and tried to locate their attackers, but aside from a flash of movement off to the west, none were located. The group was joined by Tully, who helped drag Murdows into the tower at the center of town.
Razar-De and Drianna stayed under cover to watch for further attack before eventually it became clear the danger has passed, then joined the others in the tower. There, they met Dyson, a seemingly doddering old sage more interested in discussing the intricacies of magic with Venix and learning about S.HAR.M.IN. than anything else. He told them that the tower once belonged to his mentor, Olwain, and when the old man died and Dyson inherited the place, he retired from adventuring and came here to live, along with his fellow adventurer Tully.
Tully was more helpful, talking shop with the fighters and showing off a “Durgeddin” blade, a magical longsword forged by the legendary dwarven weaponsmith, that she had taken off a creature she called the “door warden” at the barrow, but had to retreat after it broke her arm. Tarathan laid hands on her, healing the wound. Dyson suggested if the party was going to go to the barrow, they might want to take Tully with them. Exhausted, everyone retired for the night.
The next morning, the group was awakened by the sounds of someone banging two pans together. They headed to the entrance of town where The Sparrow and some of the less malnourished townsfolk were handing out the food Gareth had summoned. Everyone present expressed sorrow over the loss of Murdows, but was extremely thankful, and several approached the heroes directly to express their appreciation.
The source of the noise, it turned out, was Henwen standing at the town’s entrance, who stopped banging her cookware upon seeing the heroes and called out to them, “The nine true gods of old call me messenger! Silver to hear their wisdom! Silver to honor them and hear their truth!”
None seemed interested but Gareth, who gave her a silver. Henwen’s eyes rolled back into her head, and she produced a quails egg from her basket, smashing it into Gareth’s chest and intoning:
Unra FROM the wind SAYETH:
Hush and hush who eat and sing
lest they wake the tyrant king
A curious Gareth continued to pay her, and she offered the following fortunes in turn:
Su’bu FROM the moon SAYETH:
Ten and three, three and ten
All the same all the same, come again
Penst FROM the road SAYETH:
Come and see, all, the beastly wild
On bended knee to this unmanly child
Henwen asked Gareth to do her a favor, and when he agreed, she pulled him close and whispered in his ear, “Tell the Sparrow that I love him!”. Then she smashed him with another egg and said:
Hocres FROM the grave SAYETH:
From the north and from within
Kin kills kin kills kin kills kin
Gareth spoke with the Sparrow and delivered the message, to which he responded with an exasperated, “Oh, I know.” Gareth then returned to Henwen and asked her if she spoke to the Horseman when he visited her chapel, and she said that he did, and that he wanted to “see the bodies”, but would elaborate no further. She then giggled and said:
Rosk FROM his secret place SAYETH:
Big fish little fish swimming in the water
Gnaw and nibble, grow fat on the slaughter
At this point, Dyson arrived and and shouted, “Enough! Everyone is panicked enough without hearing from this rambling loon. Jozan, take care of … her.” Henwen responded by giggling, “This one is free for DYSON!” She threw an egg at the sage and said:
Hane FROM the earth SAYETH:
Worms for bones and dirt for breath
Did you prepare your soul for death?
The Sparrow gently guided her away, saying, “Come along love, let’s get you some tea and then I think you need a nap.”
After the meal, the party, joined by Tully, decided to first visit the old barrow and headed out. The trip was uneventful other than several discoveries of bones and human remains, all killed by elvish arrows. By noon, they reached the entrance to the barrow. They noticed an inscription above the entrance, which read, “Heart shall be bolder, Courage the greater, Will the sterner, As our strength lessens.” S.HAR.M.IN. was able to link this to an old poem about the final speech of a great warlord.
Inside was a chamber, where they noted a stone altar (which Tully told them is where villagers used to leave offerings until the trouble started), and the remains of an undead creature, which Tully confirms as the door warden she slew.
Descending a set of stairs into pitch black darkness, the heroes found themselves within a twisting maze of narrow hallways, then were set upon by waves of undead wights. Standing their ground, the heroes won the pitched battle and located the exit of the maze. Exploring further, they came upon a chamber obviously the tomb of the warlord Saithnar.
As they examined the tomb, several more wights dropped from hidden crevices in the ceiling as the glowing blue ghost of the warlord materialized. The wights did not attack, but merely flanked the apparition as it spoke, “What callow youths enter my barrow waving their swords?”
Tarathan introduced himself as one of the Radiant Servants of Pelor, to which Saithnar replied, “I know your god but not your Order.” Then Gareth introduced himself as a priest of Kord, which seemed to pique the phantom’s interest. It stepped forward, readied its ghostly blade for combat, and demanded, “Then approach, servant of battle, as one of your god should!”
Others in the party began to inch forward, to which the wights responded by crouching, ready to spring into action. Gareth then alone stepped forward, prepared to duel, which seemed to please the ancient spirit.