The bard acts as interpreter, translating between the prisoner and our heroes. The questions come hard and fast, and the answers don’t always translate very well. Goblin is a crude tongue, with harsh simplifications in its noun structure. Its verbs conjugate awkwardly, changing stem based on such simple concepts as gender and race; and often they don’t exist for concepts beyond war and basic survival. Pronouns are basic: self and other, for the most part. All in all, it is a taxing job for Mikal, requiring all his skill as a linguist and his full intellect to convey meaning in the absence of adequate vocabulary.
From the goblin, they learn that its tribe (calling itself The Blackrock Tribe) believes that the healing stone was hurled to the earth as a present from their god at the beginning of time. Of course, from the vague references in its tale, everyone (especially Cuts) is pretty certain that the “beginning of time” was less than a half millennium ago. A bit brief, given that written elven history extends back 10 times that, or so it is said. The goblin knows nothing of the stone’s powers, and firmly believes it requires some incantation by a shaman to make it work. It seems the tribe’s most powerful shaman detected intruders near the rock, and dispatched the war party to deal with them.
The questions soon turn from the rock, to more pressing matters. The goblin provides them discouraging news, though it is at least it is news. There has been no sign of any human woman this far north in Splitrock Dale. Our heroes learn the “races of man” are all but foreign here, and that this goblin (at least) has never seen a female of those races. The goblin does admit that he has heard of such females, and that they make poor slaves usually. Males of the races of men are better shock troops and laborers, they are somehow less stubborn in the long run, and physically stronger. Another noteworthy trait is that these goblins rabidly oppose eating the flesh of slain foes of any race… a direct reaction to their hated enemies, the gnolls.
Another interesting bit of news is that the Blackrock Tribe goblins have encountered the Bloody Claw tribe. Their chieftain did not like the way the Bloody Claw emissaries smelled, and their shamans did not feel the emissary witch doctor was appropriately reverent to Maglubyet. The emissaries were killed; deemed not even worth keeping as slaves. Since then, the Blackrock goblins had killed every single Bloody Claw they had seen at any borders of their territory. It seemed the Bloody Claw were recruiting from the local tribes. The goblin captive confirms that the Bloody Claw are new, and from nowhere in Farandale or the surrounding lands. It is a little disconcerting that none of the area tribes know where the Bloody Claw came from.
Once Mikal believes they have exhausted all their questions, the debate becomes what to do with the prisoner. They are hardened men, these adventurers, but slaughtering a creature that has surrendered does not sit entirely well. Goblins are closer to animal cunning than the full intelligence of a member of the races of men, but they understand surrender. The debate rages for some time, between letting the creature go or killing it. Complicating the moral debate is the fact that the goblin has already resigned itself to being executed or enslaved. Apparently the creature expects to be treated exactly as its own tribe would treat a prisoner. In the end, it is Ezio who provides the morally acceptable compromise. The goblin is handed back its weapon, and the two face off for a duel. It is hard fought, fast and furious, but ultimately never really in doubt. Though it costs him in perspiration and superficial bruises, the priest bests the archer and sends the creature to its final rest. It is a death that a cleric of a warrior deity can be honored to participate in, as opposed to murder of someone or something helpless.
Armed with the information from the now deceased goblin, our heroes question the value of spending more time in the Splitrock Dale. It seems unlikely that the bandits they seek came into the Dale, and all other trails have gone cold. After some further deliberation, they decide to head back towards civilization. They need to compare their findings with what others have learned, and check in with their numerous allies in the region. Their packs are bristling with weapons claimed from dead foes and lost barrows. They have lore and mysteries filling their heads to the breaking point. It all needs some thought, a sense of perspective, and perhaps a bit of historical reference. And so they hike over the hills to Karipur’s farm, knowing they can enjoy a hearty fresh meal and dry beds. As they anticipate, though they hoped otherwise, there is no news of Jalenna, or any other victims of the kidnappers.
Sitting down to a meal with Karipur and his farm hands, they learn little new. The people of Farandale have come to terms with the loss of the pilgrims, though slowly. Many still view it as a grim omen of worse things to come. News has now spread all the way to t Tilburne that some riverboats are going missing in Shrieking Mire. There are those who mutter darkly that the two events are connected, but most scoff at such conspiracy theories. There have been, as far as anyone knows, no new kidnappings. However, the peasantry are getting jumpy, seeing bandits and goblins behind every tree. The paranoia is taking its toll on the many woodsmen, farmers, and remote citizens of the Dale. While there have always been threats, the sense of uncertainty is sapping the usual stoicism of the Dale-folk. They are afraid, not of the evils they know, but of those they have no name for. Everyone knows they might end up killed by goblin or gnoll raiders seeking food and goods. Or accosted by bandits for everything they have of even minute value. It is a known threat, and the fear of it is countered with preparedness. However, kidnapped and made to vanish without a trace… this is cause for a nameless sort of dread. There is no way to prepare for the unknowable.
Their determination renewed, our heroes take the next passing river barge eastward to Samurth. They have much to discuss with Rathlaris, and new plans to make. The Splitrock Dale did not hold the answers they sought, so now they turn their focus south. The unplumbed depths of the Tanglewood beckon their curiosity and challenge their bravery. Rumors of giant spiders and more, and of mysteries not even the enigmatic Arianne has fully explored with her wolf pack. If nothing else, it will be a nice change of pace from climbing up and down the rugged hills they found in the Heldast Wood. The terrain in the Tanglewood is, at least according to Karipur, a bit flatter. And the game more plentiful. When they leave, Alar, stays behind. He intends to take up a post at the black stone, hiding in the woodlands and policing the Splitrock Dale from there.
Samurth is much as they left it last. The matter of the missing river barges is less a matter of alarm, and more a tragedy met with resignation now. New deaths at outlying farms along the edge of the Shrieking Mire are likewise more cause for fatalistic shrugs these days. The swamp has become more dangerous. So be it. Soon, the Baron will probably announce a recruiting drive for after the Autumn harvest. Able-bodied youths tired of the farm, or fishing, will apprentice into the militia instead. A riskier way of life, and one that serves to drain the surplus stores from the town. Soldiers don’t farm, or add to the economy in any way save spending their wage at the tavern. No one can eat coins come winter, so a recruiting drive is its own sort of hardship.
Rathlaris receives them graciously enough, though they are as aware as ever that social graces are not his strong suit. As such, he is gruff and abrupt in his manner, sometimes bordering on rude. He masks his sorrow at the disappearance of Jalenna with apparent indifference, burying those feelings behind his books. The same is true of the various concerns throughout the region. He seems unconcerned about slaughtered farmers, missing boatmen, abducted pilgrims, or anything else in his chosen home is enduring. Only the very insightful among them sense his care… his sense of helplessness. To be a wizard of no small ability, and yet unable to prevent tragedy, eats at the man. His answer is retreat. Tome and scrolls and maps, lore and history, all the wealth of knowledge he has to study… armor against a simple truth. Rathlaris is an old man. He might live another ten winters if he is cautious, fifteen if he is lucky as well. Less by a lot of he takes the wrong kinds of risks. Age is a relentless destroyer of confidence, even as it brings wisdom.
After picking the wizard’s brain for all the lore they can, learning the history and enchantments on the items they have discovered, as well as confirming what they have surmised about the goblin tribes, the god-shard, and other mysteries of the region. They learn some interesting facts about the scroll which mentions “Spireholm”. Apparently, all books and scrolls that pertain to that era have been altered. Sometimes part of a page, sometimes multiple pages, but always complete destruction. The records are wiped. Kane Raziel espouses particular suspicions about this, but there is no strong evidence one way another. As with so many things, the answer generates more questions. Always more questions than answers. Tired of the lack of answers, our heroes decide to answer one. Specifically, the question of what connects the bandits to the Tanglewood. Equipping themselves for the journey, they set out along the Veldcut River.