19th Day, 12th Month of 526 AF

OOC: More notes from Shimmin…

Vaclav is researching some of the things we encountered in the dungeon. Scabbard has… business to attend to.  Vana, mid-smithing, sees a novice of the human Smith clerics waiting respectfully for her.  He has been sent by the Mother Processor to ask for her aid, with any muscle she can bring.  Both Jack and Oswyn are easily found, and agree to come along.

The MP is studying some really remarkable illuminated maps of the local area, and thanks Vana for coming so quickly.  She believes she has made a small breakthrough relating to the vampire issue.  They have been sending Vaclav’s family to various enclaves of goodness to undergo training and purification to reduce the vampire’s influence; they are also watching for spies keeping tabs on them.  As luck would have it, they noticed someone tailing a coach containing Danicia Barthory.  A scout managed to track their stalker back to town, and identified them as a member of the City Watch.  They have also been asking questions about the operation that are outside their professional requirements. As soon as they went off duty, they left town to visit a nearby farmhouse.

There is no sign of particularly powerful presences at the farmhouse, but there are some suspiciously well-armed people at the farmhouse.  Of course, with the war like this, there are plenty of farmhouses empty. They could simply be bandits (bad enough), who would be interested in the movements of the wealthy; but in the circumstances, given the sensitivity of the Barthory family’s movements, we have to assume they may be agents of the vampire.

The farmhouse is no more than a day’s journey from town – the spy just about made it back for his shift the following day.  It’s a walk out to a hamlet, then another trek over the fields to the remote farmhouse. The fields are untended, which allows for surveillance.  However, there seem to be deliberate holes in the thatch, as though to create lookout posts.  The Smith’s scouts are staying at the local inn (when not on watch duty) in the guise of travelling priests.

We spend a few GP on a mule and a cart to carry stuff conveniently and  as a partial disguise.  Although we do briefly discuss the options of a war elephant, sixteen swans, eight hundred pigeons or a near-infinite
number of rats. Oswyn fills the cart with (fairly light) sacks of rubbish, to help the disguise and act as bait for potential bandits. The people we meet on the road are a mixed bunch, but don’t report any obvious banditry.  Many are leaving the ruins of former lives to try and start again in the city.

At the hamlet’s inn, we find some of the scouts.  The boys watch out while Vana approaches the Smith clerics – she’s the most natural contact, as she still wears her holy symbols and it would be strange not to greet fellow-priests.  They are fairly sure nobody there understand dwarven, so chat away putting on a conversational air.  However, they’re a bit concerned that one Brother Thomas has not returned on time from a shift.  There was a crisis involving a woman giving birth that delayed his immediate replacement, and they’re concerned that he’s been snatched by the bandits.  They give a description of Thomas.  Interestingly, the people don’t seem either to be buying food in town, nor to be stealing it – there might be a small amount of scavenge but there was very little during the war, and most would have gone off.  If they’re spies it makes sense for them not to engage in banditry and arouse suspicions, but it would also make sense for them to be keeping an eye on things in town.

The priests say they’d already told the folks they planned to head out into the fields to say some blessings, and the auspicious arrival of Vana makes it a great time.  Of course, that means they’ll have to do it both soon and privately – since dwarven prayers aren’t for the ears of those not initiated into the Smith.  They head out, and Jack and Oswyn follow along in the role of hirelings, making a show of carrying the priestess’ heavy bags (which happen to contain weaponry).  As we head out, there are initially loud prayers to the Smith for the benefit of any eavesdroppers, followed by quiet directions to the farmhouse.  It looks quiet, with nobody loitering outside. There’s a handy copse towards the back.  There are holes torn in the thatch that would work as arrowslitsvor lookouts; we can’t tell where anyone might be looking at any time, but the scouts reckon there aren’t more than four or five of them.

It’s late afternoon (in winter, so nearly sunset), with the sun coming from the north-east.  We consider setting a fire in the south-west to draw attention while we sneak up.

We scout around for tracks, but neither Vana nor Oswyn can find anything.  Jack, however, being a city person, looks up – people in cities are often watching you from above.  He spots a strip of cloth snagged on a high branch.  After pointing this out, the others find some signs nearby; we reckon the scout was knocked or even shot out of a tree and then taken away.  Ordinarily in the treetops he’d be fairly safe, but a change in the weather has altered the movement of the trees, and made his perch visible at an unlucky moment.

We get the priests to set the fire, and slitch up to the farmhouse.  We can hear whispered voices arguing about whether to go and investigate, but decide that if it’s someone coming after “the lamb” (we think) then they don’t want to attract attention.  They seem to be on comfortable terms, and prepared to massacre the campers and leave no witnesses if necessary; but they also seem competent enough not to do so unnecessarily.  So, accomplished brigands, perhaps.  From the coastal villages to the east, we believe.  There seems to be a male leader, or at least an influential figure.  We consider a few tactical options, including knocking on the door, but eventually decide just piling through a window is probably best.

Vana recites a brief prayer as we prepare to aid the Smith’s servant in peril.  We cut the string holding the broken shutters together, and pile in.  A lot of the ceiling has been turn down to give open access to the attic area, where we see a couple more bandits lurking.  Interestingly enough, they are all wearing wolf masks, with blood around the muzzle. Otherwise, they look emaciated and unhealthy.  In the centre of the hut, stripped naked and wearing a lamb mask, is a corpse.  We assume it is Brother Thomas.  Vana charges in furiously, but her outrage leads her to swing wild.  The bandits notice her, panic and leap aside.  Those above whirl round and begin aiming bows.  Jack engages one archer with a halberd at full stretch; Oswyn drops the other with a well-aimed javelin.  The bandits circle and lunge, but don’t quite commit to the attack; they’re very reminiscent of a pack of wolves.  Vana fells one with a mighty hammer-blow.  Jack manages to trip the dodging archer with a cunning twist, sending her flying over the side to land sickeningly on a comrade.  Seeing they’re outmatched, one slits his own throat with a shortsword, leaving only one, who Jack handily knocks unconscious.

Vana begins saying the last rites to the dead priest, while the others search the bodies for marks.  They have a few tattoos, and appear to come from the same mercenary outfit: they have a coat of arms we transcribe for later reference.  We also discover some fairly recent chalk markings on the wall.  They appear to be crude depictions of the sun, the moon and an arc at the base which we take to be the world.  In the sun, there is a doodle of a broken throne and a dead female figure. The moon is a crescent marked with a fire at its tip.  At the base of the earth, there is a wolf’s head looking upwards.  Vana declares it a sign of worshipping the Burning Judge or the Laughing Wolf; perhaps both.  There is no sign of banditry as such, though we go so far as to remove their armour and look for jewellery.  Oswyn feels it isn’t worth leaving anything martial behind so piles everything in a heap to be removed.  He discovers very old puncture wounds on the necks on the cultists.

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