The Mayor of Ravenmoor

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.”

Visit to Proudfoot

Jharad is outfitted for the day’s trip. Backpack in place, strung bow slung over his shoulder and sword at his side he looks well rested. His hair is no longer white but a muttled straw yellow and marsh green, very similar to colors found in the Marsh. His cloak and pants are similarly marked. On the breast of his chain shirt is a picture depicting Slorb’s head with an arrow through it and large X’s for eyes. “Good morning everyone,” he greets the group cheerfully.

As they gather in the morning Toshio looks around to see that everyone is there. One by one he mentally marks them present: Jharad, Keng, Zeyala, and Jethrick. He also checks to see that they are all attired, armored and equipped as appropriate.

“Good morning” opens Toshio. “I’d like to start off by explaining in advance, nothing I say or ask you to do is meant to insult any of you. It’s just that I don’t know how much each of you knows, and I’d rather say some things and risk a mild offense rather than leaving something unsaid but needed.

“I’d also like to review our goals before we start walking. We are here to scout the Licktoads’ settlement. Just as importantly, I want us all to come back. If there is opportunity to do more, we’ll evaluate the situation before proceeding.

“Now that those things are out of the way, let’s head out. Keng, will you accompany me up front? I suggest Jharad and Zeyala stick to the middle. And Jethrick, will you please guard our tail?” With that, he heads in the direction of the halfling’s home on the New Fishing Trail.

Keng nods his agreement.

Jharad jokes to Zeyala, “Maybe I should open all of my conversations that way, ‘I mean no offence by what I am about to say…’” and chuckles.

Zeyala flashes a smile back to Jharad.

“Why do I have to guard the tail?” Jethrik quips “Is he sayin’ I gotta big butt?”

Toshio, hearing this, writes it off as the jester plying his trade and makes no reply.

By mid-morning they reach the New Fishing Trail. They find the wetland in the daylight to be a tangle of nettles, reeds, and other swamp plants often supplemented by larger vegetation – cypress, eucalyptus, oak, and willow trees mostly. Even following the trail, it is slow going at times, as underbrush encroaches upon the trail and muddy patches and small creeks bar their way. Fortunately, the morning fog has already burned off by the time they reach the marsh. The aptly named Soggy River is the primary waterway that flows through the Brinestump. As with the Old Fishing Trail a damp and mossy bridge with missing planks must be crossed to get over it.

Toshio says, “All right. I’ll go first. Then Jharad, Zelaya and Jethrick. Keng, please bring up the rear, and we’ll have you at the fore once we’ve all crossed. Speaking of order, when possible, keep spread out enough so one hazard won’t catch more than one of us.”

“In the rear?” mutters Keng, “Look boy, I need to be where the sword meets the shield.”

“No need for fuss. You cross first and cover the rest of us. I’ll get the rear for the crossing. But let’s go, daylight’s burning.”

Jharad says nothing but keeps between 5 and 10 feet behind Toshio.  Remembering the wispy-spooky-something-or-other from when he passed through the marsh last, he takes specific precautions to glance under the bridge before crossing it.

The trail continues to wind through the marsh and over two more bridges before they come to a muddy trail that leads up to a swampy lagoon. The open ocean is visible just beyond these shallow waters, while an old two-story building, its walls soggy with moss and its roof sagging with age, sits on the lagoon’s eastern shore.

The “shack” is a two-story wooden affair and the trail leads right to the front door. Around the back there is a ten-foot stone wall fencing in a garden and a porch held up by wooden pillars whose roof is the overhanging second floor.

“Let’s go see Mister Proudstump” says Toshio, mostly to himself as he leads them to the front door.

After Toshio knocks, a voice inside calls out, “Ariite. Oo is it?

“Izawa Toshio, and four others. May we speak with you? We’d like to ask you about the marsh.”

“Oh Am dead sorry ’bout dat, but Am not feel’n tew bright terdee. Could yous come back inna few days? I’d be made-up ter rabbit about de marsh whun Am scutty.”

‘What’s he saying?’ Jethrik wonders. ‘He’s sick but he should be feeling well enough to run around the marsh in a few days?’ Raising his voice enough to be heard by the hobbit inside he says, “Mr. Proudfoot, we simply need to speak with you. Further, we have a healer along with us who might be able to help you somewhat.”

Toshio was about to say something similar, but lets Jethrick’s reply suffice.

“A ‘ealer yous say? Actually, ay ‘ad a run in wi’ a giant snake last even’n and it bit me. Ay drove it off, but Ay did get bit. It would be wonderful if yous could elp.” Cautiously the halfling opens the door and peers out at Toshio and the others. The halfling certainly does seem a bit shaky and worn out. He opens the door a little further and says, “Please come in, dough Ay dare say iddle be a blind bit crowded. Also, it’s a choss. It’s not oftun ay get visitors.” Within is a roughly 10’ by 20’ room, with a settle and some dingy chipped pots with various flowers and shrubs growing in them.

Keng unslings his pack and props it against the wall, sits on it, extends his legs and closes his eyes, “More talking, nap time.”

With a broad smile, Zeyala says, “Let’s have a look at that bite of yours then.”

Jharad enters last, props his pack next to Keng and sits. With a word, “Conselho,” he creates a floating chessboard complete with a few rough mystical creatures on each side. With a touch of his finger they animate and can be pushed, square-by-square in sequence, till two occupy the same space and brutally fight. With a smile he offers to play this ‘game’ with Keng.

Keng grunts agreement and makes a move.

Zeyala examines Proudfoot’s snakebite but sees that at this point there is not much she can do for him. The poison has already done its work and Proudfoot has survived. Now all that can be done is for him to slowly recover. She does see that the bite he has suffered could be healed with a cure spell or the channeling of positive energy.

“Well Proudfoot,” says Zeyala. “You seemed to have made it through the worst of it. There’s not much I can do for you.”  After making a quick scan of the shack, she adds, “Do your best to keep it clean. If we’re able to, I’ll check in on you before we return to town.” Zeyala moves back to Toshio and out of his way.

Toshio asks, “We are out here in response to the goblin problems the town has had recently. We are wondering if you can tell us of any other hazards or landmarks we should be aware of as we scout the goblin settlement.”

“Oh, Ay could tell yous about de Licktoads Ay suppose. If yous could dough, sound as a pound berd, do yous ‘uv de power ter ‘eal me wounds. Ay kun yous can’t do anyth’n about de poison, but de bite is rather painful and a little ‘eal’n would be laughin ter close it up.”

Zeyala steps back behind Toshio to whispers to him, “I could cure him of his affliction, but it would limit what I’ll be able to do once we leave. What do you think?”

“How much of a limit?” whispers Toshio, mostly thinking aloud. Without waiting for a reply, he continues, “I think you should heal him if you can.”

Zeyala walks back to Proudfoot’s side. “If you are willing, let the blessings of Pharasma heal you.” Her body begins to glow and a warm burst of light fills the tiny shack.

Keng looks at Jharad over the game board, “Too much talking. At this rate I’ll be an old man by the time we carve a few goblin ears.”

“Yes, but if Toshio and Zeyala do their jobs right then it makes ours easier,” replies Jharad as he moves his war pig into the square with Keng’s troll. The troll quickly scoops it up with both arms and bites right through its torso. Dropping the remaining pig chunks, blood spewing from each half, the troll lets out a loud belch and grins.

Keng smiles a feral grin seeing his troll eat the war pig, then he smiles and says, “Jethrik, watch this,” as he moves his mounted griffin onto a gnome pike man. The griffin bites off the gnome’s head and eats it. Keng turns to Jharad, “You’re right of course.”

Jharad blurts out a chuckle as his gnome figure is eaten.

Toshio glances their way and is pleased to see the elf and orc getting along.

Meanwhile, the life-giving energies channeled by Zeyala cause Proudfoot’s bite wound to close over. He still looks in pain however. He says, “Ta. Dat feels a little scutty. Now de Licktoads, Ay tinnie tell yous dat dee live about south-east o’ e’yer. If yous tinnie find de Owd Fish Trail from de Lost Coast Road and follow it westward and dun follow it ter de rite westward whuz de trail splits, dun yous wul come de Licktoad Village. Ay think you’d beesknees ‘ry dough. Ay suspect dee ay gett’n ready fe an all-out attack ed de farms er evun Sandpoint. Say, yous wuddun be able ter spare me a blind bit more ‘eal’n could yous? Am still a blind bit bruised up. Thuz wuz a lotti stumbl’n about Am afraid.”

“I’m sorry Mister Proudfoot,” says Zeyala. “I’ve done all I can for you at this time. As I mentioned, if we pass through this way before going back to town, I will see if I can further tend to you injuries.”

“Bright ta anyroad. Am se you’ve done all yous tinnie. Nah need ter come back e’yer. Ay juss need a few days o’ welt. Sound as a pound luck against de Licktoads.” Proudfoot then shakily gets to his feet to get the door for them all and show you out.

Keng’s impulsiveness in taking the gnome pikeman works against him as Jharad’s elven archer sticks two arrows into the troll’s brain cavity. Before it can begin to regenerate, the arrows explode, sending the now flaming troll skull across the room. Seeing as they are being kicked out of the halfling’s hut Jharad dissipates the board, picks up his pack and leaves before Keng’s protest can get ugly.

Keng just stares at the board in disbelief, or at the now disappeared board, and says while shaking his head, “Frackin elf! I love his tricks!”

“Have you seen the marsh monster?” Toshio turns to the others, knowing he got the name wrong. “What did Nesgus call it? That pale humanoid thing?” Turning back to the halfling he asks, “Anyway, have you ever seen sign of it, or do you know what it is capable of?”

Proudfoot shakes his head and shrugs.

Toshio hoped for more information, and Proudfoot has only given them what they already knew. Toshio had somehow thought someone who lived in the swamp would be able to tell more about it. “Can you tell us anything else about the dangers of the marsh? Anything would be helpful. Are there other creatures we should be wary of? And do you know how many goblins there are in the Licktoad tribe now?”

“Ay try ter keep ter myself over e’yer. De last th’n wanna do is attract de attention o’ de Licktoads. Ay leyuv dem alone and dee leyuv me alone. As fe any uvver munstis, ay suppose thuz ay bags o’ things ter look out fe. Thuz ay giant pop bugs and spiders and boggards. Ay dun kun about any pale spook dough. I’d love ter chat, but Ay must be gett’n back ter bed. Ta again fe de ‘eal’n, and sound as a pound ‘unt’n. Lati now.” Proudfoot opens the door and smiles, waiting for Toshio, Zeyala, and the others to leave.

Toshi says, “I suppose so. Well, thank you for confirming our information. We’ll check on you on our way out. Zeyala may be able to help you more then.” Turning to the others he asks, “Everybody ready?”

When they’re out of earshot, Toshio mutters, “Well, that was disappointing. I didn’t expect friendly from a hermit, but I really had hoped for more detailed information.” Shaking his head he says, “So be it. Come, let’s go find the Old Fishing Trail and see what we can see of the Licktoads.”