Mid-morning in Ulfstead:
After long and boring few days attempting to resupply and recover from the weariness of travel, three new acquaintances share a somewhat reluctant company in the nameless Ulfstead tavern that sits meekly next to the village square. The trio consists of a shy and brooding woodland scout who goes by the name Das Wald and currently sits on his own in a corner and hides behind his long, black beard, an ostentatious and verbose Dwarf from Karak Azgaraz who calls himself Quingar Shadowfoot the Unslow and who sits at the bar and scans the room from beneath his feathered hat to see if he can see any locals who haven’t yet succumbed to his superior skill at dice, and the burly and stoic mercenary Aelfic of the Landesnecht who also drinks casually at the bar and stands out as the only professional fighting man in town. It is a festival day, the first harvest of the year, and a few meagre entertainments and competitions have been organized for the villagers in the square. Inside, the tavern is dark and smells of stale beer and potatoes. Several men gather and talk in hopeful spirits about the coming feast and collectively mutter prayers to Rhya that the rest of the growing season will be good to them. Other than the locals and our heroes, a single pair of merchants sit and talk together at a small table. Their talk is animated and private as they lean in to talk to each other and gesture emphatically over some important matter. The final occupants of the tavern are the slight and weary looking owner who brings rounds of drinks to his patrons, aided by a teenage girl with long dark hair and a nervous laugh.
In the square outside, a small band plays a lively tune while the newly harvested gains from the fields are being displayed on tables nearby and prepared for a feast. A man who has some skill at juggling stands to one side and attempts to enthral the children, who instead mostly ignore him and scamper about and play a robust game of tag. A small platform has been constructed for this special day, and upon the platform stands the village alderman and another man who is set to play the part of a priest of Morr for the upcoming ‘dooming’ ritual. This ritual, you have heard, is meant to drive ill fate away from all children who have come of age this year. The children are displayed on the platform and the blood of a sacrificial goat and its milk are burned as an offering to Morr. Morr is meant to receive the offering along with any doom the children may have been intended for, and are thus cleansed. Other than the platform, the harvested goods, the small band and the juggler, there an archery range has been contracted nearby and a wrestling ring set up to test the mettle of the men of the village.
Das Wald, a man of the woods and awkward in the company of villagers, takes his leave of the tavern and has a look around. He sees an old man in brown, weather stained and travel weary leathers who catches his attention. The old man seems a world apart from the rest of the villagers as he walks calmly about the periphery of the activities, seeming to contemplate the weather and the dark forest more than the merry-making of the men and women. Das Wald decides to wanter over the the archery range and have a look at who is competing. He sees four men testing their skill, but only one of them has any real ability. The men seem nervous with Das Wald’s presence, and tell him to get lost. He mutters some excuse or apology but continues to observe. Despite the annoyance of the other participants, Das Wald joins the competition to try his skill against the others.
Meanwhile, the Karak Azgaraz Dwarf Quingar Shadowfoot the Unslow has been watching the two merchants who sit drinking and conversing together in the tavern. His curiosity is piqued by their privacy and he decides to approach them and suggest a friendly game of ‘Waak the Goblin’. His charming introduction is not lost on one of the merchants who says he could use a break from his conversation with the other merchant and he convinces his companion to play as well. Aelfric decides this is a good time to ask the merchants some questions and downs the rest of his drink and saunters over to see if he can learn anything from the pair. Half an hour later the merchant’s purses are a little lighter and although Quingar tries to entice them with the more advanced game of ‘Mine a Troll’ they are having none of it and they leave the tavern somewhat irritated at their loss. Quingar looks around at the stale faces of the penniless farmers around him and decides to leave as well, followed closely by Aelfric.
Once outside, Quingar heads over near the platform and makes some inquiries about the festival and the Dooming. Aelfric spies Das Wald preparing for the archery contest and heads over to watch the first round. That first round doesn’t go very well for most of the contestants; two of them missing the target and the local favourite, Hans, clearly coming out the winner. A second round begins and Aelfric decides to get in on the action, but he doesn’t fair much better and Hans scores a great shot with only Das Wald left to shoot. Das Wald takes his time aiming and when his arrow strikes the target Hans’ arrow is knocked loose and falls to the ground. Instantly an argument breaks out about who is the winner, with most taking Hans side but a few (likely those that bet on the bearded stranger) yell out that Das Wald has won! Das Wald tries to calm the situation down but the whole thing nearly comes to blows with only the intimidating presence of Aelfric managing to keep the peace. Das Wald moves away from the range to avoid further conflict but a few of the villagers follow him, berating him and refusing to leave him alone.
Quingar, near to the stage, notices that the Dooming is about to begin. Three children are brought on stage, two boys and a girl, and the ‘priest’ of Morr goes about preparing the cleansing ritual. Quingar notices that one of the boys looks absolutely terrified, he shakes and is quite pale and holds onto his sister’s hand with white knuckled desperation. The other two children seem nervous but unafraid and their mothers and fathers look on with the calm anticipation of parents at their children’s graduation.
Suddenly, Das Wald hears something approaching through the trees to his left. He turns to look and can just make out a large group of somethings coming fast and hard through the forest, smashing through all the brush in their way and charging headlong towards the village! He jumps to his feet and lets out a woodsman call of danger, “KoooWeeet!”, but he notices that only the old man he watched before takes any note of his call and responds accordingly by taking a defensive position. The rest of the villagers appear oblivious to whatever it is coming swiftly through the trees at them, but in a moment it becomes all too clear as a horde of foul Beastmen coming crashing from the tree line and begin to hack and barrel their way through the unprepared farmers, inflicting death and mayhem upon them!
Das Wald and Aelfric jump into action, with Das Wald clambering to a low rooftop and drawing his crossbow while Aelfric draws his sword and prepares for the onslaught. Quingar too prepares to fight, holding his crossbow pistol in one hand and his elegant rapier in the other. A fast and vicious battle ensues with Beastmen cutting down farmers and bellowing their fierce, beastly howls. Das Wald, Quingar and Aelfric defend themselves and the villagers as best they can though there are so many Beastmen it almost seems hopeless. Then a few Beastmen mount the platform constructed for the dooming and without hesitation gut the ‘priest’ and the other adults on stage as well as one of the young boys, but the other boy, the terrified one, they rip his from his sister’s hand and carry him, screaming, into the forest. After this kidnapping many of the Beastmen flee to the forest, though the remaining embattled creatures, full of bloodlust and fury, battle it out to the bitter end.
In the aftermath of the raid, dozens of villagers lie dead or dying on the ground. The village is in chaos with buildings smashed and the air filled with the moans of the wounded and the screams of the bereaved. Qungar immediately tries to bring some order to this mob and seeks out the alderman and tries to get him to rally his people. Das Wald, wounded and plainly seeing the need to aid others, heads into the forest to gather White Willow (a natural painkiller) which he bring back to the village and begins to boil in a pot and reduce to a paste for immediate use. Aelfric is the most sorely wounded of the group, and though he will not show his pain he heads off to find something with skill in healing, and is pointed in the direction of the house of a woman with some skill in healing.
Above the village and a bit to the south, a lone Elven Waywatcher comes towards this scene of disaster. Kestrel, as he is known by the humans he has met in the Empire, watches with some interest the disorder of the post battle confusion from a hidden vantage point but soon his curiosity compels him to enter and find out more of what has transpired. He calmly strides into town and approaches the imposing figure of the Aelfric the mercenary who is patiently being looked after by the healer Brigitte. Though the majority of the town is too panicked or confused to take proper note of the arrival of a Wood Elf in their midst, Aelfric seems to know not what to make of this foreign figure and barely has words for him when he makes inquiries of recent events. And so Kestrel moves further into town where Quingar is now managing to help bring some authority and order to the mob by influencing the alderman back to his senses. Kestrel passes the square and, sensing a somewhat kindred spirit, seeks to speak with Das Wald, busy in his preparations of the White Willow paste. He asks Das Wald what happened to which the man of the forest can only reply, “Ummm….. it was…… taken…. the child… Beastmen…. took the child…..” Kestrel somehow gleans knowledge from this and moves back towards the square where it seems a heated argument has sprung up over wether or not an attempt should be made now, so close to nightfall, or tomorrow to try and find the child the Beastmen stole. Some say it must be done now or the child will surely die, whereas others say he is dead already and if not then it is wiser to wait until morning when they will have the benefit of more light. None of the villagers seem very keen on taking after the Beastmen, though several, most probably family to the missing child, seem intent on a rescue.
After much back and forth and deliberation, during which time Das Wald is able to treat his own wounds, our heroes gather at the square and join the debate over what is to be done about the stolen child. Das Wald, seeing that Aelfric and the Dwarf Quingar is wounded, attempts to apply his White Willow poultice to their injuries. Aelfric is astonished at the bizarre forwardness of the woodsman and he, unannounced, slips medicine soaked hands under his jerkin. Aelfric pushes the bearded recluse away who then turns his administrations towards the somewhat less offended Dwarf. At last Aelfric can take no more debate, and wounded though he is he heads towards the forest in an attempt to lead the others to the chase. Still, it is some time before they join him and the light is fading quickly…
Aelfric, Das Wald, Quingar and Kestral enter the forest with less than two hours till nightfall and begin a search for the child or the Beastmen that stole him. The party fans out with the cautious Das Wald taking the right flank and a more confident Kestrel taking the left. Aelfric and Quingar take the middle and follow the incredibly obvious trail the Beastmen left as they crashed through the forest in both attack and retreat. All is quite except the occasional cracking of a branches from the less stealthy of our heroes when suddenly Kestrel, on his own, comes face to face with a snarling Ungor who rushes to attack him. Aelfric and Quingar continue oblivious to this but the ever alert Das Wald is immediately aware of not only the Ungor that is rushing Kestrel, but of three more Beastmen lying in wait for the Dwarf and the mercenary and, more pressingly, the growl of a huge and hostile wolf at his back about to pounce….
Kestrel steps back as the Ungor rushes him and he looses an arrow deep into the monster’s chest. The Ungor howls in pain but continues it’s blundering attack. At the same time two more Ungor’s rush out from the bushes and take Quingar and Aelfric by surprise, knocking Quingar in the head and narrowly missing the swordsman. Aelfric responds with a devastating swing that takes one of the Ungor’s heads clean off and in the melee that follows his blow is quickly followed by another that claims the life of a third Ungor who steps out, unwisely, to join the fray. Quingar, on the other hand, does not have as much luck with his adversary who clings to life despite a decent blow by the Dwarf and who finally manages to dispatch himself by setting off Quingar’s crossbow pistol and taking the bolt in the belly.
Meanwhile, Das Wald finds himself involved in a desperate and pitched battle with the huge wolf. His blows seems to nearly bounce of its thick hide and he tries a more desperate approach and calls to the beast in a well practiced howl that he is friend and one of its own pack. The wolf seems to pause for a moment as if considering this possibility, but then shakes off his stupor and resumes his savage charges. Aelfric, Quingar and Kestrel, seeing that their companion is still in trouble, rush to his aid. Quingar tries an old scoundrel’s trick and heaves a rock at the wolf’s testicles to distract it, and it is in that moment when a perfectly placed shoot by Kestrel sends an arrow through the monstrous beast’s skull.
The party then take a moment to breath in the silence that follows and as the twilight grows, consider their next move….