Date: Mirtul 4, 1491 DR
Around midday the party arrived in Red Larch with the horse and cart laden with goods taken from the bandits lair, as well as all the bodies. They did as much as they could to separate the two cargoes. It was another freezing cold spring morning, with a light snow falling about mid morning, although it mostly melted as it hit the ground.
The first port of call was the ruler of the town. After asking locals they found Red Larch was ruled by a part time Constable who was also a local butcher, and he was assisted by a group of wealthy businessmen called the Town Elders. While most people spoke well of the Constable, his name they told the party was Ned Harburk, most were either ambivalent about the Town Elders, or else had nothing good to say about them. The Town Elders didn’t have a leader apparently, but if they did most people agreed it would by Tywin Dornen, who owned a business called Dornen Finestone. Almost universally people described him as a cold, arrogant, inflexible man.
Arriving at the town butcher, they found the business was actually owned by Ned Harburk’s partner, Jalessa Tully. The other meat workers were also part time deputies, including a huge man mountain named Riker who was the first to greet the party and tried to deflect them elsewhere until he heard their story. He nodded and agreed this was over his head and went inside to ask Ned Harburk to come out and talk to them.
Ned Harburk was a long haired man in his forties, with the bearing of one who had seen military service. He listened to the party’s stories and agreed that they had likely killed the bandits who had been plaguing the Kheldell Path – the road west to Kheldell village, for which he was grateful, but told them there were many other bandits on all the other roads.
Ned agreed to take the bodies to see if he could identify them, and organise for them to be buried afterwards. He noted the party’s names and suggested they stay at The Swinging Sword inn, or if they were short of coin they could stay at Mother Yalantha’s, a cheap hostel.
The party decided to stay at The Swinging Sword and use it as their base while they investigated the town. The inn was a three-story stone structure, crowned by a steep slate roof that bristled with many chimneys. A signboard jutted out over the door, hanging from chains – a ten-foot-long carved wooden scimitar emblazoned with the inn’s name in red paint on both sides. An inn yard with stables and outbuildings lay behind the building. The proprietor was Kaylessa Irkell, a red haired woman in her late 30’s who was both friendly and businesslike. She organised rooms for them all and put Cedric the pig in the stable. She promised to catch up with them later and answer their questions when it was less busy with the lunch crowd. The party stayed for lunch, talked with Kaylessa afterwards, and then split up to wander around the town, talking to their faction contacts and generally getting a feel for the place. Natas, Ulryn and Faredeh organised with Kaylessa to put on a performance for the evening. Kaylessa agreed for them to stay at a discount if they were successful in drawing a bigger crowd the following night. If they were very successful she would give them some of the extra profits.
That evening the trio were a success, judging by the enthusiasm of the applause. Afterwards, the party got together to compare notes and share what they had discovered during the day.
Kaylessa had been ecstatic to learn that the party had dealt with the Lord of Lance Rock. She had long suspected something unnatural was happening there, based on the stories she had heard around town and from her patrons. She went to the back rooms and brought back a pouch of coins. Kaylessa had gotten together some reward money for anyone who dealt with the evil there, believing it had a lot to do with the problems happening around Red Larch. She happily gave it to the party, and when they later counted it, the amount came to 50 gold pieces.
- Minny, from Mhandyvver’s Poultry said her daughter had a frightening encounter with a ghost near a long forgotten tomb a short distance outside of town. Minny ordered the girl to stay away, but everyone thinks someone ought to make sure its safe.
- The town elders sometimes don’t get along with the town constable, people reckon usually when their business interests or family were affected. The elders don’t have a leader but if they did it would be Tywin Dornen of Dornen Finestone. He was generally thought of as a cold, arrogant, inflexible man. Aerego Bethendur of Bethendur’s Storage was thought of by most people the best of the town elders, people thought that at least he had a heart. Ulhro Luruth of Luruth’s Tannery was also an elder, but most people thought he was a fool and talked too much. Stay away from ‘em, they all said, they have Red Larch’s interests at heart, but only so far as it benefits them.
- Quarry workers used to cut marble and slate by torchlight when they were behind in their orders, but they no longer do so, shunning the quarries by night. They have been spooked by dark robed figures in stone masks lurking in the darkness beyond the torchlight.
- Kaylessa told them that many folk have been coming to Red Larch in the last few months looking for friends and relatives who disappeared after reaching the town. One of them complained his sister went missing, she apparently had an abundance of red hair. Kaylessa remembered seeing her, but next day she was gone. She thought she was passing through, but apparently went missing.
- There was a general feeling in town that it was not safe to travel anymore. There had been a lot of banditry and monster attacks reported lately. Apparently Zhentarim mercenaries were working hard to make sure they are the best (and only) merchant caravan guards money can buy but even they had their work cut out for them.
- Some shepherds around Red Larch had seen strange figures watching them from distant hillsides in the wild fields east of town where they have traditionally grazed their flocks. So far they haven’t done anything except watch, but it was unnerving the shepherds.
- There was a bunch of artisans working around the clock to restore and renovate old Riverguard Keep. There was also a mercenary company there who claimed to be protecting the trade along the river from monsters and bandits.
- Knights out of Waterdeep who love flying mounts were staying at Feathergale Spire, up in the hills. They started coming there in the past few months, people can see them sometimes on their griffons and giant birds high in the sky. Most common folk had the same disdain for them as they did for any nobility – what a lazy lot. Still, they didn’t appear to hassle anyone who went past their tower which was appreciated in these troubling times. Natas, Ulryn and Faredeh were interested in this rumour, as it related to their mission of saving a young woman noble who had joined this group.
- Some folk reported a bunch of wild druids at Scarlet Moon Hall, located deep in the Sumber Hills, where the worst monsters are. No one usually goes near the place. Now apparently you could see bonfires burning on the hills around it. These druids apparently have a weird fire ceremony called the Rite of the Wicker Giant, which they claimed could restore nature’s balance in this troubled region.
- Some pilgrims and merchants had reported a vicious and wicked manticore that sometimes attacks travellers in the Sumber Hills . It was considered to be an evil thing, attacking by firing spikes from its tail. General advice was to run if you saw it, although by then it would probably be too late.
- Some travellers complained that they tried to seek shelter from a storm at what they thought were old ruins but turned out to be now populated with a bunch of monks who wanted to be left alone. The monks refused entry to the travellers, who had to endure a miserable night in the wind and rain.
- The Sumber Hills were generally considered to have become far more dangerous in the last six months. No one went into the hills berry picking any more. No one went hare hunting there either, there were monsters like ogres and bugbears – and worse! – everywhere, not to mention bandits and robbers.
- The weather around Red Larch had been strange – strange hot breezes coming down from the hills, bolts of lightning arcing from the sky without any accompanying storm, small earthquakes, fog banks that refuse to dissipate when hit by the morning sun.
- A talented half elf bard called Windharrow came through Red Larch some months ago and spent a bit of time at The Helm at Highsun. He was always looking for those who have any kind of musical talent to join his band called the Wyndwards. His band must have a high turnover of musicians. Anyway he said he was going to be performing at Feathergale Spire, where those stupid flying nobles ponce around on giant birds and flying beasts.
- At the Swinging Sword the party met Borin, a dwarf and a survivor of a robbery claimed that he the merchant caravan he travelled on along the Larch Path was beset by bandits led by a spellcaster with deep brown skin that had the texture of earth calling himself “The Mud Sorcerer”. The spellcaster killed several bystanders in a callous manner using spells that caused a fountain of earth and rocks to kill everyone within an area. The spellcaster and his minions – who appeared to have stone armour – then picked through the remains of the shattered wagons looking for valuables which is when Borin and other survivors made their escape and made it to Red Larch.
- Jed was a survivor of a bandit raid on a small merchant caravan travelling by barge on the Dessarin River. He survived the raid by playing dead and later wandered for a while before joining another group heading for Red Larch. He was staying at Mother Yalantha’s but could also be found at The Helm at Highsun. When asked about his experience he mentioned that he overheard that bandits report to someone named Grimjaw in a place called Riverguard Keep. Kallista was very interested to hear this information as she was hunting Grimjaw.
The party considered all these rumours. They decided they would first investigate the ghost in the nearby tomb. Kallista reported that her Zhentarim contact, the baker Mangobarl Lorren had told her that he had done a preliminary investigation and saw a goblin near the tomb. He suspected goblins were perhaps faking a ghost somehow to keep people away, maybe there is a goblin spellcaster using an illusion cantrip. They are perhaps trying to find a way into the tomb so they can rob it. Mangobarl thought Kallista and her friends should investigate because goblins shouldn’t be taking treasure from human tombs. That was for other humans to do.
After this, the party discussed going to Feathergale Spire to investigate, see what information they had, check in with the noble lady Ulryn, Faredeh and Natas had been tasked to find, and find more information about Windharrow. Kallista wanted the party to head to Rivergard Keep so she could exact vengeance on Grimjaw, but she was willing to wait. They noted that two sets of rumours had conflicting information about what was happening in Rivergard Keep. One suggested they were bandits, another that there were mercenaries there keeping the river safe. Of course if you were river bandits, it could be good to spread rumours you were actually keeping the river safe. But Feathergale Spire was closer.
It was about this time that Hufflepuff and Khadgar to drop an unexpected bombshell. They both announced they would be leaving the party, and not do any adventuring. Hufflepuff had already secured a job at Tantur Smithy, and Khadgar was going to be employed as a scout for Constable Harburk.
They decided to turn in for the night and meet with Minny tomorrow before heading to the tomb.
[To be continued]