“He ain’t for sale,” said Hufflepuff, folding his massive arms across his broad chest.
“But look at the size of him,” smiled Roscoe Kalliwart, the halfling merchant, gesturing towards Cedric. Cedric was indeed a large pig, and was currently sniffing around the ground outside the blacksmith workshop where Hufflepuff was employed, looking for food.
“He must cost you a fortune to feed,” Roscoe continued. “I’d give you a good price.”
“I don’t care what he eat,” growled Hufflepuff, “he ain’t for sale and that’s the end of it.”
“All right, all right,” laughed Roscoe, holding up his hands in surrender. “It was just an inquiry. Can’t blame me for asking.”
Hufflepuff grunted and went back into the blacksmith workshop.
Roscoe watched the huge pig snuffling around the blacksmith workshop for a minute. That was a good profit in the sheer volume of meat on those trotters. The halfling expected the pig headed dwarf to say no, he’d dealt with intractable dwarves before, and had already worked out how he could acquire the pig. There would be no reprisals, this was going to be his last trip out this way – it was getting too dangerous on the road. Roscoe was going to make as much profit as he could this trip, sell up and head to Waterdeep for a while until this – whatever was happening in the Dessarin Valley – was all over. Roscoe had a nose for trouble. Trouble was coming, that’s for sure. Big trouble and Roscoe planned to be elsewhere when it hit. He left to find his assistant. Come dawn they’d be gone with the pig. Times like these meant you had to look out for yourself. Besides, it was just a pig.
“I don’t want to go,” said Esplen, folding her arms. “I mean I want to help Huff find Cedric, but I want to come back afterwards.”
She was facing The Dusk Circle, the senior druids of Westwood – Khrymn Audark, the oldest elf anyone had ever seen, the middle aged human Amdan with his pale, cat like eyes, and the youngest looking of the three, the elf Embrae, so wild looking with her crazy hair and painted face it was whispered that she had been raised by wolves, or that she was actually inhabited by a wolf spirit.
Next to Esplen were people she knew and mostly liked, except for the air genasi named Windypop. What kind of a name was that anyhow? It sounded like a fart. He was an outsider, an itinerant, she’d only known him a day, and his air and clothes sometimes moved in the breeze even when there wasn’t one, and she didn’t trust him. Also beside her was Khadgar the young wood elf priest of Mielikki, the forest goddess and patron of Westwood, and of course Hufflepuff the dwarf, who Esplen thought of as a friend, even though he looked like he should be an outsider. They were all in a shady forest glade on a chilly morning. Winter had not totally released her hold on the land, even though it was several days into Spring.
Esplen expected the Dusk Circle to protest, or try to convince her to do what they wanted. It’s what most humans and elves did. But they surprised her, as they often did. Khrymn and Amdan just nodded, Embrae just stared as if civilised gestures were beyond her.
“I’ll go to Red Larch,” said Khagdar. “After finding Cedric.” He was tall and slim like most elves, with long dark hair and grey eyes. It was difficult for an outsider to even tell he was a priest, he had a bow and twin shortswords which required skill to use, rather than having the simple weapons of a priest – every elf was taught to use swords and bows from an early age.
“I’m going to Red Larch anyway,” said Windypop. “I was just passing through. The dwarf asked me if I could track, and I told him I could. I will help him, and then help the others get to Red Larch if they need me.” His clothes moved as if a wind had just passed through, but Esplen hadn’t felt it. She scowled.
“Your assistance is appreciated and gratefully accepted,” said Khrymn. His voice sounded as old as he looked, cracked and hoarse as if he’d been shouting all of his very long life. “If you would return to Kheldell, we must speak about private matters with the others.”
Windypop nodded, his hair moving as if that same unfelt wind had just rustled his hair. He knew as well as anyone about secrets. He believed he had enough of his own and didn’t need the burden of other people’s as well. The air genasi left the glade much more quietly than Esplen would have thought possible for a non-elf.
Amdan spoke. His voice was strong and deep. “You are all being inducted into the Emerald Enclave, if you accept of course. You are going to need support in Red Larch, and maybe beyond if it proves necessary. It will be easier to support you if you are a member.” He looked at Esplen with his pale eyes. “Even you Esplen, and even if you come straight back again after finding Cedric. There are other tasks for members closer to home, if that is what you wish.”
The Emerald Enclave was a society of people of all races who believed civilisation and nature can co-exist, with an amount of good will and communication. Kheldell was a good example of how the Emerald Enclave worked. The druids allowed Kheldell loggers to fell trees and their hunters to take game from the forest, but they also spent time replanting more trees than they took. It had been a good arrangement for centuries. Westwood was growing rather than shrinking, and animals were thriving. But visions and portents, whispered news from animals, fey creatures, and spirits, all indicated something was terribly wrong in the Sumber Hills. Nature was hurting, being twisted in that area, weather was awry, and the Dusk Circle and Emerald Enclave wanted some concrete information. Details from the afore mentioned sources were maddeningly vague.
“I’ll go to Red Larch a’course,” said Hufflepuff. “It be an honour. I’ve had enough o’ making ploughs and shovels anyhow. But I find Cedric first.” The dwarf had rushed into Westwood to find Esplen and Khagdar, two people he could trust and who he knew would go with him to find his missing pig, Cedric. By coincidence he had spoken to Windypop yesterday and found out the air genasi was good at tracking and this morning had no hesitation in asking for his help as soon as he found Cedric gone. He remembered the slimy halfling and knew what had happened. The dwarf ran into the forest with Windypop to find Khagdar and Esplen. Both of his friends had been summoned by the Dusk Circle and the dwarf had arrived in the meeting glade with the air genasi, ignored protocol and interrupted the meeting with his desperate pleas for aid. The Dusk Circle knew Hufflepuff, of course, everyone did. He was considered a hero by some for his willingness to be ostracised by his clan so he could come to the rescue of Kheldell when it was attacked by mysterious cultists.
The ceremony for their entrance to the Emerald Enclave faction was short, a simple recitation of an oath and then kneeling to kiss the ground. They were also all given a leaf clasp to wear prominently if they wished or under a lapel or cloak if they did not.
“Haeleeya Hanadroum, who operates a bath house in Red Larch, is friendly to Emerald Enclave members,” said Amdan. “You can get messages back to us through her.” The druid made sure they had all remembered the name.
They all turned to leave, when Khrymn put a feather light hand on Esplen’s shoulder.
“If you would stay a moment, we have something else to discuss.”
When the others had left the three Dusk Circle druids gathered around Esplen. She was a little intimidated. It was exceedingly rare for all three members of the Dusk Circle to meet with others, she had never met all three together before.
“You know I’ll go to Red Larch,” she sighed. “I was being impulsive. I’ll miss home.”
“There is no expectation,” said Khrymn. His voice was nealy a whisper now, as if all the talking had tired out his vocal chords. “But if you go to Red Larch and explore into the Sumber Hills, we have one mission for you.”
“Meaning that this is druid business, not Emerald Enclave business,” said Amdan, pre-empting Esplen’s question.
“In the Sumber Hills there are a gathering of druids, said to be druids of the Circle of the Scarlet Moon,” growled Embrae, speaking for the first time. “We have not heard of this circle before.”
“See if you can find information about this Circle of the Scarlet Moon,” said Amdan. “Be careful, they may be something other than what they claim. There are many Circles sending people to investigate them openly – druids are not know usually for subterfuge. You must decide yourself on how to best get the information.”
Esplen nodded, asked a few mundane questions and generally felt overwhelmed as she left the glade. Two hours ago she was sure the Dusk Circle, despite tutoring her for several years, thought she was going to be not much more than an apprentice druid for want of a better term. But here they were, sending several newly recruited Emerald Enclave members to scout for evil, while she herself was on a spying mission for the Dusk Circle.
It looked like interesting times were ahead.