As weary as we were from our ordeal in the charnel pit, we knew we must report our findings to Maerwynn and probably to Lord Arunel as well. We began our trek back to Briarton, and arrived without incident.
As we described our findings to Maerwynn, she became distressed and urged us to report our findings to Lord Arunel, due to the proximity and severity of the incidents. It was going to be a long night.
We were admitted to Lord Arunel’s office after only a brief delay, and he arrived shortly afterward. He was greatly concerned by our discoveries and agreed that action must be taken, however, with the arrival of the Drakkenhall delegation scheduled for tomorrow, this macabre maritime mystery must be tabled for the nonce.
He asked us to speak with Gellir about helping tomorrow during the public apology to ensure that everything goes seamlessly. Our long night had just transformed into a long day tomorrow. We agreed.
The next morning, after a quick travelers breakfast, we staked out a good observation point in the village square. We were among the first to arrive and settled ourselves for a long wait. The citizens of Briarton trickled in and began to pleasantly confabulate. Selly mentioned several citizens who would likely bear the largest grudges from the orc raid about 15 years ago:
Lady Alianora Fitzhugh – Daughter of Lord Arunel; raised in Drakkenhall; married a junior ambassador to orc lands, who trusted humanoids too well. They were abducted Orcs and held captive in Houdskull Fort. Her husband was killed. Their son, Robin survived.
Grimbor — Son of Ailith the Potter, the hulking Grimbor has become something of an outcast in Briarton due to his orc heritage. Only a handful of villagers are overt in their distaste for Grimbor. Others, however, unknowingly allow their hatred of orcs, stemming from the loss of loved ones or other personal tragedies in the raid, to color their treatment of young Grimbor. As a result, the boy tends to be a loner, preferring to spend his days in the wilderness away from the hard stares of some of his fellow villagers.
Drogo Raveknott — local ne’er do well and serial bigamist.
Selly indicated that he thought that Drogo was the most likely to cause trouble and so I suggested that Brash place himself nearby to intercede should trouble begin.
Selly looked at me quizzically as Brash wandered over to Drogo, I knew what he was thinking. I explained that Brash was never going to be able to handle more difficult tasks if we never let him try. And that by failing he would learn. Selly insisted that Brash wouldn’t last 10 seconds. I bet that he could. I lost.
We had just finishing shaking on the bet when Drogo loudly proclaimed that Brash had no authority and he stormed off to the other side of the square. As this was happening, I realized that Fin was nowhere to be seen. Selly informed me that Fin has been asked to escort the emissaries into Briarton.
Janos was the next citizen to catch my attention, I caught his eye and he altered his course over to us. He expressed misgivings about Kenrick and suspected that he was most likely to cause trouble during the ceremony. Kenrick the Lame. The man whose crippling injury to his right leg has left him with a limp so severe that he requires a crutch. I suggested that a young boy whose father was murdered fifteen years ago was likely to contemplating revenge, and more likely to act impulsively.
Everything became quiet. The envoy, preceded by Fin had arrived. Dol Rok was accompanied by four hobgoblins dressed in ornate military tabards and prominently armed with great-bows. Dol Rok’s language coach must have only employed the imperative mood, for his statements were curt and challenging. He expressed sorrow for the theft and gratitude for the revelation of the operation. He concluded with a statement that the remainder of the thieves had been dealt with, and so saying tossed a crude satchel to the ground before Lord Arunel. The satchel made an unpleasant squelch as it hit on the ground and settled disturbingly.
Dol Rok turned his attention to me. He expressed feigned surprise at dwarves venturing so far from their home, and extended an open invitation for us to visit Dezzavold. He then obliquely implied the reason for our presence in Briarton was due to exile in a transparent attempt to provoke a reaction from us, but I saw through his ruse and retained my composure.
Lord Arunel then thanked Dol Rok for his steadfast resolve for justice and extended an invitation to stay in town. To everyone’s astonishment, Dol Rok accepted! There was a collective gasp from the crowd and some of the more delicate fainted. As a hush settled on the square, Drogo suddenly began to laugh. I caught Gellir’s subtle head jerk to that side of the square and started heading over there. While I was on my way the crowd had begun to disperse and I overheard Dol Rok and Lord Arunel discussed dinner arrangements. Dol Rok suggested breaded steam weevils, and Lord Arunel agreed. Drogo was nowhere to be seen by the time I was about to work through the crowd.
As I was making my way back to Selly and Brash, Gellir intercepted me and Fin. He directed that Fin warn Lady Fitzhugh about the arrival of Dol Rok and for me to secure their accommodations. I decided that the Queen’s Cove was better suited for their needs. I noticed Leurora and her husband were approaching Dol Rok with a burlap sack of tchotchkes, gewgaws and bibelots. Dol Rok declined.
When I arrived at the Queen’s Cove, Duncan Sentry was already there and arranging rooms for the Drakenhall delegation. I interceded, suggesting that a corner room overlooking the water would be preferable, Duncan disagreed but Ameiko acceded to my suggestions. I suspect more to spite Duncan than anything else. After that was settled, Ameiko instructed Vexter, her serving girl/scullery maid, to request that Angwyn ap-Llewellyn prepare some steam weevils for dinner and to transport them back to the Inn.
Vexter arrived in town via barge some time back, and stayed. She doesn’t wish to discuss her reasons for leaving her prior home and no one really pressed her on details. She evidently has suffered severe trauma, since direct physical contact provokes screaming fits. Ameiko is quite protective of her, and even Archibald, notoriously slow on the uptake, has figured out to leave her alone or face Ameiko’s wrath.
Since I had not heard of Angwyn before, I asked Ameiko for details. She told me that while the uninitiated may see Angwyn ap-Llewellyn simply as a crazy old hermit living in a ramshackle cottage in the forest near Briarton. Those who know better recognize him as a powerful, if reclusive, wizard.
Angwyn has lived in his cottage in the woods for as long as anyone now alive can remember. He keeps a vegetable garden and a few goats, which he milks, for food. Angwyn can often be found ranting in mock outrage as he drives deer, rabbits and other forest creatures away from the delicacies of his garden. For that matter, the goats sometimes slip their tethers to pillage Angwyn’s beloved garden as well.
Fin returned to the Queen’s Cove and I briefed him on the circumstances. As the evening approached, we began to grow concerned for Vexter. The trip to Angwyn’s is not far or dangerous, and her prolonged absence was indicative of some mishap. We decided we must find her and escort her to the Queen’s Cove.
A short trip later and the cottage came into view. There were several goats in pens outside, but none of them reacted to Vexter’s name – there are rumors that Angwyn transmutes trespassers into goats. The front door was ajar. Upon entry we saw a sitting room, with a large bookshelf, an overstuffed chair and a cheerful fire blazing away in the fireplace. An open book was a side table caught my eye.
The text was in Sindarin – or possibly Quendian, the sample on the page was too small to definitively ascertain, and the right page was devoted to an illustration of an imp. As I was admiring the detail of the illustration and pondering the method employed – I had concluded it was a woodcut etching when suddenly the book leapt from the table and attacked me!
Pandemonium ensued. In addition to the book attacking me, a cast iron poker assaulted Fin, the window drapes entangled Brash and the dog-grate waddled out of the fireplace to join the fray. Selly rushed to my side to assist, using his axe to remove the book. I trust Selly, but I still flinched away from his swing at my face. I then removed the book with my own axe, unfortunately sundering it in the process and removing a hunk of my beard. I’ll have to even it out later. I cast a quick mending on the book to restore it.
While the attacks were irksome, they were far from dangerous or even deleterious, it was difficult to imagine the purpose – home defense was certainly not being achieved and the grate was actually more damaging to the house than to us. We swiftly incapacitated the animated objects, quenched the nascent fires, and continued our search for Vexter.
The next room was the kitchen. There was an oven dominating one wall, and a door that had been barricaded with a chair. There was spilled food everywhere, predominantly tomato sauce. I noticed that there was a prominent trail leading out into the hallway, and that it created via the dragging of something or someone: probably Vexter. As I was communicating my findings, Fin unobstructed the door and opened it.
Rushing up the stairs from the pantry was a crowd of ambulatory pastries. They were some sort of turnover that had been filled with tomato sauce, which they proceeded to squirt at us, presumably this was the source of the mess in the kitchen. Each of them was almost half as tall as we are.
Brash flew into a frenzy with a roar, or perhaps borborygmus, and carved each of the confections into bite-sized chunks, which he then proceeded to consume with gusto, loud crunches and soft murmurs of appreciation.
While Brash finished off the remains, the rest of us took a quick peek downstairs to ensure no more surprises awaited us there. It was unoccupied, but the turnovers had made quite a mess of the supplies. We were just concluding our examination when a loud commotion came from the kitchen. We rushed back up the stairs.
We found Brash locked in combat with a magma mephit. Judging by the open door on the over it seemed that it had been in there, probably as a means of convection. Seated on top of the oven, critiquing Brash’s performance against the mephit was an imp.
The imp concluded his ridicule of Brash and commenced mocking Selly when he attempted to blast it with a spell, I unleashed a blast of arcane force upon it and it disappeared with an otherworldly wail. Brash was able to dispatch the mephit, but in so doing, he succumbed to the heat it was generating and required our aid to recover.
Continuing into the hallway, we followed the drag-marks into a small bedroom. Trapped in the closet, we found Vexter. We released her and she told us about how while waiting for Angwyn to return she selected a text to read. She had begun leafing through the pages, when the imp popped out of the illustration and began to torment her.
As we consoled her, a loud shout from the front of the cottage announced the return of Angwyn. After some careful explaining and offers to help clean the mess and repair the damage, Angwyn sent Vexter and Brash back to the inn with a tray of steam weevils. While we were cleaning Angwyn muttered darkly about Lord Illidris, who had apparently given the book to him as a gift.