With their prisoners (Brance and Flith) in tow, our heroes press on into the new lands they have found. Open plains and dense forests give way to cultivated land. To the north, a forest the prisoners refer to as Larchwood. To the south, open land and a distant hint of marshland. Behind them, the faded caravan trail, and a half week back, the Vast itself. Ahead, the road becomes ever more traveled. Farmers and hunters use it, in addition to the odd caravan here and there. A half day’s walk finds our heroes at a very old stone bridge. Brance refers to the small waterway as Cutter Brook, while Flith confirms that this bridge is where the small bandit group hides out. Alar and Ezio work their way down the bank of the brook to investigate. The water is flowing at its maximum, as it is still early spring. Six feet wide, a couple feet deep, and very cold. Alar easily vaults across the brook. Ezio investigates the near side, while Alar checks the far side.
The bridge has stood for decades, digging away at the earth and stone. What the water has not carved, demi-human hands have, and there are shallow caves on both sides of the brook. The bandits have made a lair in these caves. Alar and Ezio find filthy bedrolls, the remnants of old fires, and a few crude weapons. Ezio finds a hand keg with the remnants of a once-passable ale, now spoiled. Alar finds a battered chest. It has been struck, cut, and scraped, but remains locked. Using bits of refuse from the cave floor, the elf tries to pick the lock, but finds it resists his attempt. Eventually, he calls for assistance in moving it, and they bring the chest up onto the bridge. A few of them try their hand at opening the lock. Kane detects some enchantment on it, and even tries to defeat the lock with magic. All attempts fail.
Brance and Flith admit that the bandits stole the chest almost three years ago, and could open it. It foiled their best skill with thieving tools, and was too well made to bash open. They were nervous of its contents, and decided not to burn it. So it has sat in the corner of the hideout for some time, and they had all come to be superstitious of it. They even hid its existence from Jorlanis when the man recruited them. Their unspoken attachment to the chest was something they never questioned, simply leaving it beneath some sleeping furs in the corner of the cave.
Scir hefts the chest into his shoulder easily, and they resume their eastward march. Soon, they pass farmers on the road, and see men working the fields to both the north and south. Near sundown, they see a wide river ahead, and notice that the road turns to run parallel to it. Across the water, a deep set of ruts run almost perfectly straight north. When questioned, the bandits refer to it as the Ore Slue, and explain that wagons from the mines in the north come here to load barges with iron. The river itself is wide and swollen with spring run-off. Near town, the bandits explain, there is a ford across the Churnwash. Even a strong swimmer would be risking death to try and cross here.
They press on until night falls, making camp and setting watches. The bandits are pressed into sharing watch, and do so without complaint. They seem truly cowed, making no attempt to withhold information or escape. The night passes without incident, and by the following midday our heroes find themselves at a crossroads just south of the ford. The road runs off to the south, to a farming hamlet called Holtan. Across the ford is a bustling town, the farming and mining community of Tilburne. A large manor stands on its western edge, and a small stone temple stands to the north. Atop the temple, a banner bearing the symbol of Erathis whips about in the breeze.
Our heroes split up to gather information on this town. Ezio, Kane, Mikal, and Nithauk head for what is obviously a tavern. The signboard hanging above the door is crude, a bit of dull gray metal hammered into a soft wood. It forms the profile of a crown. They press into the dimly lit taproom, finding a table in the corner. Ezio approaches the barman, while the others sit. Kane notices Mikal watching a dice game in progress at one of the tables, and convinces the bard to step back outside. Ezio learns little from the taciturn barman, until he buys an ale, after which the man becomes talkative. He learns that the tavern is called The Silvered Crown. The old dwarf with the battle axe in the corner is named Old Grizz. The town constable is a ranger named Garyth. The town is the property of Sir Damien Catharn, who has iron mines to the north, in the Lansryde Hills. The mayor of the town is the miller Haldar. Kane uses his warlock magic to enter the tavern undetected, but then knocks over a tankard as he sits down at the wobbly table. No one seems to notice.
Meanwhile, Scir, Alar, and Cuts take the prisoner’s through town to the home of the ranger Garyth. Based on what the bandits said, the man is a stickler for the law. They find the man to be an aging but still capable ranger, and a skilled carpenter as well. His crippled leg doesn’t stop him from crafting, and his two hammerhead mastiffs help him keep an eye on things. He tells our heroes that he is indeed the constable, and takes custody of the prisoners. He’ll need a day or two to get a hearing in front of Sir Catharn, and tells Scir he’ll be needed to testify. The dragonborn agrees, and the group sets about wandering town, rejoining their companions and comparing notes. They want to have the chest and the longsword looked at, and the only mage in town turns out to be an apprentice named Jalenna. She is the miller’s daughter, and apprenticed to a wizard who lives downriver. The miller is a ruddy-faced, white-haired man of jovial disposition. He tells them Jalenna takes a room at the inn, and is betrothed to the younger son of the innkeeper. They proceed to the Baron of Mutton, only to learn that Jalenna has not been seen all day. While her room shows no sign of struggle, her bag of ritual components is under the bed.
After questioning everyone, they decide to visit the girl’s master in Samurth. They trade some manual labor on the docks for passage on a barge, finding themselves in Samurth the following evening. They stay in the only inn the small village has to offer, a flea-infested dive with awful food and watery ale. In fact, the only thing that makes the inn bearable is the trio of truly gorgeous tavern maids. The following day, they present themselves at the tower of the wizard Rathlaris. The find the man to be reclusive, diminutive, and quite old. Never the less, he is pleased to see them. Or more accurately, the chest Scir is carrying. He claims it is his, lost for three years now. Our heroes haggle with the man for a reward, and eventually turn over the chest for a pile of coin. With that settled, they question Rathlaris about Jalenna. It becomes obvious he dotes on the girl in a grandfatherly way, and is quite alarmed that she is missing. He offers them a reward to assist in looking for her, along with a letter of introduction to Kariper, a ranger who lives between Tilburne and Samurth.
As a last bit of haggling, our heroes trade the mysterious longsword to Rathlaris. They offer the blade and their services in searching for Jalenna, in return for minor enchantments for everyone in the group. The wizard agrees and bids them farewell.