Lamashan 12 Wealday full moon Hunter’s Moon
It is a grumpy and ragged crew that finally crosses a ford over to the west bank of the Lampblack River on the morning of Lamashan the 12th. The hungry and frightened teamsters stay with the caravan only because they have no choice, being out in the middle of the wilderness wherein they now know at least one werewolf is lurking. On the other shore the caravan abandons the main road that leads northwest to Roderic’s Cove and instead follow a little-used trail up along the river’s west bank into an increasingly dreary landscapes of bog land and bleak moors. The constant cawing of ravens make it evident that they are on the right track to Ravenmoor, though the trail often winds away from the river and soggy bog lands.
Toshio and Jharad ride ahead of the caravan to scout for possible dangers, while Shalelu on foot guards the rear of the caravan. As they are riding ahead, Jharad says to Toshio, “Well I for one am happy you did not turn into a puppy last night. How are you feeling this morning?”
“I’m feeling tip-top today” replies Toshio cheerfully. “It was a great relief to find I’m not cursed. But I do wonder what will become of Lisette. I hope she makes good choices.”
Just before noon the caravan comes in sight of Ravenmoor, just on the other side of the Lampblack. It is small, with less than a dozen buildings serving as the village center. There is only one two-story building in town, apart from the steeple of a ruined church, and it sits on a low hill overlooking the collection of sagging buildings on the river bank below. The town’s streets were probably made of packed dirt, but consist of nothing but mud at present. Moss grows on most buildings, covering soggy wooden shingles, and the constant buzz of insects fills the air. Most of the homes and outlying farms look ramshackle or even abandoned.
The trail takes them to two broken down shacks that flank the Lampblack, sheds to house a flat-bottomed ferry. Tightly drawn ropes cross the dark and sooty river, part of a cranked pulley system that draws the barge across the black water.
Toshio and Jharad ride up to the ferry, but before they arrive they hear the sound of a young boy’s voice calling out, “Aaaaaplesaaauce! Here boy! C’mere boy!” followed by some whistling, as if a child were seeking a missing puppy. This comes from the tall grass growing to the left of the road.
Jharad is lost in thought, remembering an elven maiden he once knew nicknamed Saucy-apple. That is when he hears a soft rustling in the grass at the right side of the road. As the boy continues to call and whistle, a one foot long rust colored insectoid creature with two pairs of bat-like wings, a tangle of thin legs, and a needle sharp proboscis flutters up out of the weeds to the right and makes a beeline for Toshio and lands on his head, attaching itself upside down to the back of his helmet.
“Bug!” shouts Toshio as he swats at the creature on his head with an armored glove and draws Whispering Shrike, ready to kill it at first opportunity.
In one swift move Jharad draws his longsword and swings it just inches above Toshio’s head, but the creature scuttles aside and the blade passes by without touching it.
A young boy (perhaps 8 years old) with a ragged mop of black hair, filthy home-spun clothes, and mud caking his hands and feet bursts from the grass onto the road. Seeing the bug like creature attached to Toshio’s head being punched and swiped at with a sword he cries out, “No! Don’t hurt him! He’s just a-scairt!”
At that point the stirge, for that is what Jharad realizes it is, whether it intended to all along or because it is being attacked, sinks its proboscis into Toshio’s neck and begins siphoning blood from him.
With the stirge sucking his blood, Toshio doesn’t care much that it may be a pet. He quickly but carefully places Whispering Shrike between himself and the bug (edge outward and back against himself) and cuts outward to kill it. He succeeds in pushing it off him, bloodily slicing open the thing’s belly in the process. It flops down to the ground, whereupon the boy wails. He cradles the now dying stirge in his arms sobbing loudly.
Toshio dismounts quickly and says “Hand it here. I may be able to heal it. But hold it firmly!” When the boy complies, Toshio, not wanting the boy to be distressed. heals the bug by laying his hands upon it to focus the healing power granted to him by Iomedae. After a couple moments the bug’s wounds are healed and it flutters its wings again to the joyful relief of the boy.
“Oh for fracks sake!” exclaims Keng.
‘Iomedae, please give me patience with Keng and the trials he brings!‘ prays Toshio silently.
Remaining on his horse, Jharad finds amusement in Toshio’s actions. “It is truly exhausting to see the effort you put into alleviating the pain of the masses.”
Toshio quips back, “If seeing it is exhausting, you should try it some time. Then you might know exhaustion.”
“That’s a dangerous pet you have, boy,” Toshio says sternly. “You’ll need to keep it under closer control so it doesn’t kill you or hurt someone else again.” Checking the boy’s hold on the thing, Toshio asks, “Have you got it securely now?”
The stirge is now nuzzling the boy’s neck in a friendly but disturbing fashion. As for the boy, he continues to cradle the thing but is now looking up in wonder and awe at Toshio, Jharad, and the rest of the caravan. He nods in the affirmative to Toshio’s question.
“Good,” replies Toshio. “What’s your name?”
“M’name is Ornigaard, m’lord.”
“Well, Ornigaard, what happened here? The place looks run down.”
Ornigaard just shrugs and mumbles, “Sorry mister, I have to git home and put Applesauce back in his cage.”
The boy turns and walks over to the ferry shed, out of which comes a crooked-backed, thin-haired man. He rubs his chin and gazes at the caravan. Ornigaard hops onto the ferry. The ferryman asks, “Well, any of you comin’ over, or can I start on gittin this young’un home?” It looks as though up to seven passengers at a time can cross over, so there is room for six more (in addition to Ornigaard and the ferryman). “It’ll be a silver piece from each o’ you. And don’t even think about trying to swim over.” He points to a bizarre looking skull nailed to the side of the shack. “Thar’s a wolf in the water what’ll eat yer guts, if’n you try.”
Ornigaard nods solemnly as if to confirm the ferryman’s warning. “It’ll even eat children’s guts!” he exclaims.
Shalelu walks up, saying, “Well, I have business in the village so I’ll be going over.” He turns to the others, “Anyone else?”
Sandru says, “I think we’ll just set up camp over here until you’re done and we’ve had a chance to see about resupplying ourselves. I’ll come over when camp is set.”
Ameiko, sounding reluctant, says, “Yes, we had better set up camp first, but you go ahead Shalelu. Maybe a couple of our guards can go with you until the rest of us have a chance to come over?”
Keng jumps down from the supply wagon and follows Shalelu, “M’lady, let me escort you for safety.”
Toshio offers, “Sandru, if you feel the area is safe enough, I’ll go to check out the village. But I don’t want to leave the caravan undefended…”
“As much as I love animals, I don’t mind some time away from the horses,” says Zeyala. “I’ll come along.”
Sandru replies, “No, that’s okay. You, Toshio, and Keng can accompany Shalelu. The rest of us will set up camp and join you later. Oh, and Jethrik too. I can see he wants to go with you but fears I will need him to set up camp.
’An outing with Keng and Shalelu - my favorite people. One of these days I’ll have to learn to rein in my curiosity,’ Toshio thinks to himself.
After paying the ferryman his silver and being pulled across, Shalelu, Keng, Zeyala, Jethrik, and Toshio see that there is a muddy track that branches north as the main street of the village, and east past a couple of cottages and then over a small footbridge across a tributary of the Lampblack before turning north again. Ornigaard runs off up the main street as soon as the ferry lands, though he does turn briefly to thank Toshio for saving his pet.
As they walk up the main street they see that the first building on the right is a weaver’s shop (if the crude image of a spinning wheel is any indication) and a little beyond that but on the left is a ruined church. The roof of the abandoned church has mostly caved in, and while the two-story steeple still stands, the bell that once hung within appears to be missing. The ruined church stands on the southwest corner of what passes for the village-square. Across from it is a tiny cottage and next to that a small building with a wide, overhanging roof that provides shade for a few benches and chairs out front. On these lounge a congregation of long-toothed elders who look at the newcomers with curiosity and even awe at the sight of Shalelu, Jethrik, and the others, but then a bit of alarm when they see Keng. The northeast corner of the square is the location of a building bearing a sign that proclaims it to be the town trading post, though the lack of business and activity certainly sets expectations of a poorly stocked store at best. A large barn is located just to the south of it. A beautiful young teenage girl with long blonde hair is sitting out front sewing up a fine but threadbare white dress. Within the barn are the sounds of a blacksmith toiling away. The girl looks up and smiles shyly, though her eyes also widen in awe when she sees that Shalelu is an elven woman and Jethrik a gnome, but her smile fades to worry when she catches sight of Keng.
“The people of this village are obviously not very familiar with those other than human. I suspect they don’t often see strangers at all for that matter,” observes Shalelu quietly.
To the girl, Shalelu says, “Hail young miss. I am here on business from Magnimar, while my companions require supplies for their caravan so they may proceed to Roderic’s Cove. Where might I find the mayor?”
“Oh! Y’all are lookin’ for Mayor Kriegler? He’s either at the festival grounds or up in his manor.” She gets up and points to the tall building on the low hill overlooking the town. “Just follow the street past our trading post and then you’ll have to turn left or right. Turn left for the fairgrounds or keep to the right and you’ll come to a bridge over the creek and then go on up to the manor.”
The hammering inside the barn stops at this point and a bald muscular man peeks out to see who the strangers are. “Who’s thet out thar, Shel?”
“I dunno pa, they here to see the mayor.”
The man nods, spits, and says to the strangers, “Well, you better hurry up then and catch him before the festival starts.” He quickly surveys the strangers and also shows curiosity in general, awe upon noting that Shalelu is elven, and apprehension at the sight of Keng. “You better git inside Shel. Get yourself ready.”
“Sure thing, pa,” says the girl, Shel. She puts her sewing kit away, folds up the dress and heads for the door of the trading post, where an older woman, probably her mother is staring out the window at the strangers. Shel turns back once more to the strangers to nod at them in farewell and then slips inside the trading post.
Keng rumbles in his chest and says in a low voice, “Festival? Where be all the celebrants then? This setting is oddly disturbing. Please be watchful.”
Before the girl’s father shuts the barn door again, Zeyala asks, “Blacksmith, we’re here for just a brief stop. Would you have time to restore the blade of my spear while I shop at the traders?”
“Well, for a few copper I’d happy to. I’m, Saul Lupescu, the owner of the trading post, but my wife, Anya, can see to yer needs in there.” He waves his hand for her to hand him the spear.
Shalelu arches her eyebrow at Zeyala, “You’re going shopping now? That is okay with me, but I am going to see if I can catch the mayor before this festival thing starts.”
“Ah, you said that you had business with the mayor,” returns Zeyala. “I assumed it was something private, but that seems to be incorrect. In that case, I’m happy to come along. Honestly, I didn’t really expect to find anything for myself at the traders. I was just looking to kill some time. I’d like to meet the mayor. Let’s shop later.”
Keng nods and replies, “I agree.”
Zeyala turns her attention back to the blacksmith. ”Here you go Saul,” she says as she hands over her longspear. ”I’ll return for it after we find the mayor.”
Walking past the trading post they see that in the field behind it is a large ring of black river stones and tall, stacked rock columns that encompass an open-air amphitheater built against a steeply sloped sandstone outcropping. Stone benches sit nearby, while a misshapen wicker and corn-husk figure with mossy canvas wings looms over an altar stone at the far side.
“No, this is wrong,” whispers Zeyala. ”That figure most certainly is a representation of the goddess Desna, but it does not appear to be placed as a sign of worship. It is too crudely constructed with a complete lack of reverence… as if an effigy to be burned. I have a bad feeling about this.”
Toshio says, “Let’s see what the mayor has to say. Also, if something nefarious is going on, I’d prefer to address it with the others to back us up.”
“It could be some backwater misinterpretation of scripture,” acknowledges Zeyala. “But we should keep on our toes.”
Keng looks over at Toshio and asks, “Paladin, what do you sense?”
“There’s no evil in the effigy. I hope the locals are the same.”
“I’m more concerned what you’ll sense when we find the mayor,” add Zeyala.
Toshio rolls his eyes and hopes for the best.
Shalelu says, “Remember that I have been sent here to find a missing tax collector. I have no doubt that something nefarious is going on. The question is what it is and who is behind it.”
Moving along they come to a fork in the road. The northwest fork leads to a large field that has been fenced off, creating an area where tents, benches, and tables are being set by out by villagers for the day’s festival and celebration. The villagers seem to be in good spirits as they work. Their dress is neat and functional, with men wearing plain dun-colored tunics, buttoned vests, wide-brimmed straw hats, and unbleached canvas breeches held up by suspenders. Women dress modestly in simple, single-colored dresses in drab earth tones, with long sleeves, full skirts, and white aprons with little lace or adornment. There seem to be around a hundred of them, give or take a score.
Just beyond the fenced in pasture on the banks of the Lampblack is a mill. Built of darkly stained river rock and soggy timber, this old structure leans precariously toward the Lampblack, its wooden wheel rotating in the slow-moving waters.
The northeast fork of the path leads across a small wooden bridge across a stream that flows through the village down to where it empties into the Lampblack just south of the ferry. On the other side of the bridge the path forks again, with the southern fork paralleling the stream and flanked by more cottages, pastures, and fields, while another fork heads east up to the manor of Mayor Kriegler. This clapboard, saltbox-style house is the largest home in town. Built on a barren hill, the building has a two-story facade that slopes down to a single-story rear with the large, protruding chimney of a centrally placed hearth. The house seems inviting, and much better maintained than Ravenmoor’s other buildings.
Before they reach the door, a surly-looking young man abandons his yard work to confront Shalelu and her companions. “What d’yew want here, strangers?” He grips the sickle he was using to weed with tightly, but does keep it down by his side for the moment.
Shalelu calmly responds, “I am Shalelu Andosana, a ranger of Crying Leaf. I am here as an emissary from Magnimar and I need to speak with Mayor Kriegler. Is he here?”
The surly man replies, “Well, that would be my older brother. But thars a festival today,” he gestures towards the field in the distance where the tents are being raised, “so he’s got no time fer the like of you. You best run along. Come back some other day if you’ve got any legitimate business.” The man then spits in the grass and glares at Shalelu waiting for she and her companions to turn and leave.
“I can assure you sir, that my companions are not nearly fun nor interesting enough for illegitimate business.” Jethrik quips, “And yet, our business really shouldn’t wait. We are horribly behind schedule as it is, and we have no interest in prevailing upon you on your festival day. Much better, I think that we speak to the the mayor and move on. Did you say your brother is over in the field organizing things? How would we recognize him?”
“I didn’t say where he was, I told y’all to get lost.”
“Surely he can spare a moment,” says Zeyala coyly. “A minute or two just?”
Kriegler’s brother suddenly seems a bit embarrassed to be spoken to in such a gentle way by a beautiful lady. He grimaces and says, “Look, my brother is just too busy right now. Maybe once the festival is over he can find time fer you. Just come back tomorrow.”
Just then, the front door of the manor opens and a tall, lean man with a severe bearing, a keen stare, and an imposing mien steps out. He waves at the group and steps over with a smile on his face. His younger brother quickly grows silent and steps aside. “Hello, folks, I’m Mayor Andretti Kriegler. I apologize for my brother Leonard if he came off as rude.” He gives his brother a sharp glance. “He can be a bit overzealous in looking out for me at times. I was just about to head down to the festival grounds to see to the last minute preparations for our monthly Founder’s Festival. You’re more than welcome to attend, and we’d love to have you for the traditional Founder’s Feast that follows. If you don’t mind, walk with me to the grounds and let me know what brings you to our humble village. I promise to do whatever is in my power to help you in whatever way you need.”
Shalelu says, “Thank you Mayor Kriegler. No harm done in regard to your brother. I certainly understood the need to look out for one’s family. As I was telling your brother Leonard, I am Shalelu Andosana, a ranger of Crying Leaf, and I am here on behalf of Magnimar. I am also traveling with a caravan heading for Roderic’s Cove that is in need of supplies. This is Toshio, Keng, Jethrik, and Zeyala who are members of the caravan.”
“Pleased to meet you all,” says the mayor. “Please come this way.” As they are walking he asks, “So, Shalelu, what is your business from Magnimar?”
“I am here on behalf of Jeminda Anikee, a civil servant in Magnimar. She discovered that this village owes 500 gold pieces in back taxes and sent her brother-in-law Elias Kyle here some weeks ago to collect it. He has not been heard of since, and so I have been sent to find out what happened to him and to collect the back taxes.”
Mayor Kriegler scowls a bit when he hears this. “I am sorry about this unfortunate situation. I will admit that Ravenmoor hasn’t paid taxes for some time, as Magnimar hasn’t seen fit to send any tax collectors for several years. If they had, I assure you, we would have paid in full. Elias did make it here a month ago and wasted no time making a fool of himself – ordering townsfolk around and making unreasonable demands when he should have just come to me. When he finally did, I assured him that we would pay the taxes in full but we just needed a bit of time to scrape the funds together. I invited him to stay and enjoy that month’s festival, but Kyle had little interest in what he called ‘backwoods hootenannies.’ He did take up my offer of board, though, and went to bed early.” Mayor Kriegler pauses, and looks off to the festival grounds. He wipes some dust from his breeches and continues, “The next morning, I paid Kyle the taxes in a locked coffer, and he left town just before dawn. I presumed he headed back to Magnimar.”
Toshio scratches his ear (on the side the villagers won’t see) with his middle finger in the “bird” position while looking at the mayor. ‘Gotta make a better signal!‘ he thinks to himself.
Keng takes his axe handle in both hands and is about to lunge at the mayor, when the mayor jumps away and holds out a silver medallion bearing what might be a very stylized butterfly upon it. With his free left hand he touches his breast and cries out, “Grant me sanctuary O Dream Tender!”
“Keng!” shouts Zeyala. “Stop! What the hell are you doing?!”
Despite Zeyala’s plea, Keng attempts to use the axe handle to shove the mayor back against a tree but finds himself unable to move against him. In every other way, he is free, but he can’t bring himself to use force against Mayor Kriegler. Nevertheless, he growls menacingly, “Yer fuckin’ lyin’ ya piece of backwoods shit. Ya get one chance to speak the truth before you lose yer head ferever.”
Mayor Kriegler points to Shalelu and says, “You had better call off your guard dog!” He shakes his head in disgust. “Are you people really emisarries from Magnimar?”
“We come under no false pretenses,” says Zeyala. ”I can only apologize for our companion’s hasty reaction. The road to Ravenmoor has proven challenging. To say it has not affected our dispositions would be false.”
Shalelu pulls Keng back and whispers in his ear, “Please show some restraint until we get to the bottom of this. Your time will come.”
“He lies,” growls Keng. “Pretty words are lost on such trash.”
Toshio says to the surly half-orc barbarian, “Keng, you are disrupting Shalelu’s mission to learn of the tax collector. We can learn more about the town after that.”
“He lies,” roars Keng. “Paladin are you deaf as well as dumb? Are you willing to dismiss every evil as simply well intended and fixable if you pray to your woman? He said no tax collector had arrived and if they had he would pay, and then he said in the same breath one had arrived and had been paid. I will cut out his tongue and lop off his head if he doesn’t start talking now.”
“Which I’m sure he will begin doing the moment you settle down and let him speak without being threatened by your axe!”
“As I said… paladin… he better start talking. And the next thing out of mouth will be the truth or it will be the last thing out of his mouth.”
Toshio just holds his finger to his lips, indicating for Keng to be quiet.
Keng glowers at Toshio but holds his tongue. Keng thinks to himself, ‘Next time pretty boy holds his finger up to me, I will cut it off.’
Probably because of all the shouting, several villagers are looking out of their cottages. A few are even coming up the street towards them, sickles in hand. Coming down the hill from the estate is Leonard who is gesturing to the villagers to come help the mayor. Leonard and the villagers will certainly reach them in less than a minute.
In the meantime, Mayor Kriegler says in a frosty tone to Keng, “You are confused and were not listening to me. I said that for the past several years no tax collectors had come here. Elias was the first in a long while, and he was just as abusive of my hospitality as you seem to be. The truth is that when I returned from the feast I found him raiding my liquor cabinet. I was quite angry and so I gathered the funds at once and sent him on his way.”
Shalelu says, “Well, that may be, but he never returned to Magnimar.”
Mayor Kriegler replies, “Honestly, I’m not surprised to learn that. I’ve heard rumors that he lit out for Riddleport, in which case I fear the taxes are as good as gone. The fact remains that we still owe a payment, but I’m afraid we don’t have the full payments available to pay the taxes again. I’ll extend to you the same offer I extended to Elias, though – enjoy the festival and tonight’s feast, up to four of you can stay in my home, and I’ll see what I can scrape together from what remains of the town’s funds to pay at least part of what we owe. He,” pointing to Keng, “can return to guarding the caravan. I will not host ruffians in my home. Perhaps at a later date Magnimar might send you north to Riddleport to find out what became of that scoundrel. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must be on my way to help prepare for the afternoon’s festivities.”
“He’s dirty,” snorts Keng. ”And, that ain’t what he said.”
“Good gods, Keng,” says Zeyala. ”Holster your axe before you get us all thrown in prison, or worse. Lop off heads first, ask questions later may be the rule in the wild-lands, but Ravenwood and it’s people are protected by the laws of Magnimar. You should count your blessings that you’re being sent back to the caravan and not being marched off to the stockade in chains. Yes,” she continues. “If you won’t listen to me, at least heed Shalelu.”
“By the Nine Hells! You are all a bunch of bleeding hearts. I weary of your company and excuses. Good luck with the ‘farmers.’ “ Keng turns and heads back to the wagons.
Toshio wonders if he made a bad call in letting Keng go. Still, with a paladin’s goals of rooting out evil at its source and eliminating oppression, he feels he should understand the full extent of this situation – and he certainly doesn’t understand it at present – before he starts slashing anyone, lest he be no better than a chaotic barbarian.
The mayor watches Keng leave and then turns and waves off Leonard and the others. He crosses the bridge himself but takes the path towards the fair grounds.
Zeyala follows along and attempts to placate the mayor. “Oh Mayor Kriegler,” says Zeyala. “You know how these savages can be. They come down from the mountains and think they can control everyone with a club and growl. Think of Keng as a civilian in training.”
The mayor cracks a smile and glances at Zeyala, though he doesn’t slacken his pace. “Well, just keep him away from me and we’ll do fine. As for the other business, we can discuss it back at my home after the feast.”