From the notes of Alric Brethencourt of Veluna
Earthday, 20th day of the Readying, the woods north and east of the moathouse
Our encounter with the wood goblins - heard them referred to as Xvarts by one of my companions later - in the end only lasted a few minutes, but brutal they were. Despite their diminutive stature they proved quite a challenge, as they had the advantage of surprise and superior position. Things got even more confusing in the thick of the fray as the Xvart shaman unleashed some hex in the form of a bilious cloud of noxious gas. Several were stricken, friend and foe alike, myself included, and we could not help ourselves but fall to ground, coughing and vomiting. Moments before the brave charge of Chryseis that mortally wounded the wererat that led the assault, leaving it to Wilstan to finish the job and lob off his head. The goblinoid shaman had more dirty magic up his sleeves however, as he managed to instill a dreadful fear in Chryseis’ heart that sent her running as fast as her legs could carry her. But instants later, trying to extricate myself from the fumes, a handful of remaining Xvarts up in the trees peppered me with arrows, and all went black…
But my companions and I lived to tell the tale. Thanks to the arcane power wielded by Weebrian and Spugnoir and the fighting skills of Kazireh and Madrak, they killed enough of the Xvarts to make the surviving ones rout. The blast of a horn sounded in the forest at that particular moment, its meaning unknown even to the ranger, but undoubtedly no good can be expected of such signs. Weebrian found the staff the goblin shaman had dropped when he ran, and immediately suspected the item to have magical qualities. Simultaneously Wilstan made the grim discovery that the vicious wererat’s corpse had slowly turned into that of a gnome. What madness or vile influence Lareth had exerted over the creature to bring it to this fate, we can only guess at. The gnome had in his possession an enchanted blade, named Halfman, which seemed to have been forged with the deliberate purpose of slaying gnomes. We took this evil blade, with the firm intention of having it destroyed in the forge of Hommlet’s smithy. After a brief few moments of rest and reprieve from the arduous journey, we hurriedly collected ourselves and proceeded on our way back to Hommlet. Fortunately none of the horses had been hurt or killed during the attack, and the cart containing our plunder likewise was in good shape.
It came as a great relief that we reached the old road to Hommlet without further incident. Before long we were greeted by a familiar face; none other than the ranger Elmo. Admit even I was glad to see him for once. Together with Elmo we returned to High Watch and with dusk approaching, we could look forward to a night spent in safety, and relative comfort, as the ranger had been so kind to provide us with food and ale, a veritable feast after living off of rations for days. As we settled down, a strange sight presented itself however. A huge bear suddenly entered the secluded refuge in the wood, together with a robed man. My initial suspicions proved unwarranted, however, as my companions Kazireh and Tuffnel immediately identified the man as Jaroo Ashstaff, the druid of Hommlet, and his docile bear Basil. Indeed, they rejoiced at his sight and welcomed him heartily. While they went off to talk privately, and Elmo and Madrak were telling tall tales of their adventures, Weebrian, Chryseis and I decided to finish the last leg of our journey, so we may spend the night in the comfort of the Welcome Wench. We had an unusual guide in Basil, who betrayed a greater intelligence than is common in animals, and indeed even than that of some rangers I know. The bear unhurriedly led us back to Hommlet, and as we reached the outskirts of the village, we were left dumbfounded with what we discovered there. A huge, thick hedge had suddenly sprung up and seemed to skirt around the town as far as we could see from our position. There was little doubt in our minds that this was the handiwork of Ashstaff, but the immensity and scale left us quite baffled. How we could gain entry to the town with this barrier blocking the way would have remained a conundrum, if it wasn’t for Basil the bear who simply walked through it. An illusion had been put in place, covering a small gap in the otherwise very real hedge. Mutely the bear seemed to beckon us to follow, and so we complied. During this time we had been observed by a bird or other winged creature from on high, and we feared the enemy might have been tracking our movements; later it would be revealed to be another of lord Burne’s minions, however.
More bracing changes greeted us in the village proper. Work on the tower and its fortifications seemed to have progressed at a quick pace, with a moat having been dug - still dry at that time - and work on the gatehouse to the keep finished. The ballista we salvaged would make an excellent addition to these defences already in place, as I’m sure sir Rufus would soon concur. We stopped by the keep, to inform the lords of our return, and were told a meeting was taking place at the inn, and we could find them there. So for all intents and purposes, the Welcome Wench would be our last stop of this long day. On the way there, we noticed how most of the houses had been boarded up or reinforced in other ways; it seemed the reality of their dire situation had become clear to the inhabitants of Hommlet. Equally the yard of the smithy of Smythe, the blacksmith - if ever a man was fittingly named for his profession - was devoid of the usual jumble of tools and furnishings. Learned also that the man was the disciple of Jaroo Ashstaff, which struck me as odd; could not say why however.
Inn of the Welcome Wench was
abustle. Apart from the usual prominent town members who were part of the
council, we spotted a group of gnomes from the Kron Hills. Weebrian, skilled in
their tongue as he studied under a gnomish illusionist, entered into a
conversation with them and learned their shipments of stone to the village had
resumed. Among the crowd in the inn we saw sir Rufus, lord Burne and the
viscount’s representative, sir Otis. A strong and amiable man, the ranger Otis
turned out to be none other than Elmo’s brother, but higher up in the ranks. It
quickly became clear to me which of the siblings was the sharper tool in the
shed. Sir Otis had just very recently returned from a mission in the Gnarley
and reconnaissance in Nulb, and his accounts seemed to confirm that Lareth and
her minions had retreated to this mean place.
We discussed our findings with the three of them, and will the news of our victory at the moathouse was well received, there was also concern and caution for the future. As a special point of interest we showed them the promissory note we found among Lareth’s possessions, signed by the local merchants Davi & Hox, self-styled “messieurs”. Was slightly surprised by their reaction, as they seemed rather tolerant about these men selling arms to the forces of evil. Lord Burne has final say in these matters of course, but we advised that the pair of them be kept an eye on, to make sure their future dealings are beyond reproach.
As the immediate threat to the village had passed, we could take some time to rest and prepare for what was to come. Over the course of the next few weeks Weebrian, Chryseis and Wilstan returned to Verbobonc, to their respective orders, for which purpose they used a magical mirror of lord Burne to teleport them there instantly. Philius Tilm left in the night, leaving only his thanks and a goodbye note. Equally our friend Spugnoir said his farewells, as he planned to return to Greyhawk. It seemed he was embroiled in some sort of criminal case there, being accused of stealing and selling items from his college. This was new to me; if I had known of his problems I would have had to refuse his presence in our company. Our mission is too important for someone with an unsavory reputation to cast the shadow of suspicion on us. Used the available time to follow a rigorous training regimen, together with Madrak and sir Otis, and practiced the lance quite a bit. Used most of the money we had gained from the various hoards in the moathouse to order a new suit of plate armor from Smythe the blacksmith. Also went to check on the progress Rannos Davi had made in identifying the weapon Seer Foe, the flail I had wrested from the dead hands of Blaag Blackhand. Making my inquiries at the Trading Post, it quickly became clear something peculiar was going on. The item had been lost, as well as others, during transport to Verbobonc, so said monsieur Davi. Demanding fair recompense, his brutish associate Gremag Hox nearly accosted me. Had half a mind to show him to mind his betters, but that would have turned the situation in their favor with the authorities. Undoubtedly we will be seeing the flail in the hands of other evil-doers soon, and monsieur Hox will learn a lesson he won’t be forgetting anytime soon.