Holtan proves to be small and sleepy, without so much as a general store. Ezio and Cuts wander into the Patchwork Pitcher to learn what they can. Ezio spends a few copper coins and finds himself pleasantly surprise to be drinking the finest ale he’s tasted in Farandale. The tavern owner turns out to be Kymmerlie, a handsome half-elven woman of middle age. She proves to be friendly and open, but little help. Jalenna is barely known to her, other than the fact that her father is the miller in Tilburne. Nor has she heard any talk of kidnappings or fleeing young women. Despite the disappointing lack of information, Ezio enjoys the ale enough to buy a second tankard before he and Cuts rejoin the rest of the group.
It is decided that they need to head for Tilburne. The hamlet is simply too small for their provisioning needs. They are perhaps an hour along the road when they encounter an agitated group of farmers. Some are arguing, others muttering, and one is actually weeping. The farmers calm themselves somewhat as they notice the approaching adventurers, but are still clearly bothered by something. Ezio decides to ask after some details. The loudest of the group, and their erstwhile spokesman, proceeds to explain the reason for their distress. It seems that marshland on the banks of Cutter Brook is expanding and threatening the northwestern farms of Holtan. They call this marsh The New Mire, and are divided as to the cause of its recent manifestation. They know only that it was not present five years ago, and that is steadily growing.
Ezio asks a number of questions of the group, both about their problem and about the disappearance of Jalenna. The farmers know nothing of the girl, and most of them don’t even have any idea who she is. No one has seen any fleeing girls, or anyone who would be capable of kidnapping a girl. Some of the farmers do mutter about bandits, including some they say hide out under a bridge on Cutter Brook. The party recognizes these to be the bandits they killed or captured a couple weeks ago, but say nothing. As to the spreading marsh, the farmers cannot agree of the cause is natural or not. Some say it is a dark curse, while others argue that it is just extra melt-off from a couple harsh winters. The farmers also cannot agree on how to deal with it. Some are fatalistic, saying there is nothing to be done. Others insist that Sir Damien Catharn must intervene. The weeping half-elf Dendrickdoes not speak, but is loudly championed by the brash spokesman, Garren.
Ezio pledges to the farmers that they will investigate, and if possible, speak with Sir Catharn about the problem. Somewhat mollified, the farmers return to their work. Our heroes cut across farms, heading west until they find Cutter Brook. They walk along it, all the way to the bridge, without seeing any sign of obstruction. The water is running clear and fast, making is seem unlikely there is any significant obstruction up river. Never the less, there is some discussion of following the brook back to its source at some later date. Along the way, Ezio’s sharp eye finds him a handful of small gems, six in all. He pockets them, having noted that children and fishermen from Holtan have been collecting them, and that he has seen the wealthier citizens of the Dale wearing jewelry made with the pretty stones. Once they reach the road, the party makes swift progress back to Tilburne, reaching the town by nightfall.
No sooner do our heroes enter the Baron of Mutton when they are accosted by a desperately hopeful Randen, seeking news of his missing fiance. After a couple fumbled attempts by Ezio to explain things, Cuts intervenes and reassures the youth that the search continues, with some of the best trackers and woodsmen in Farandale hard at work on finding the girl. Crestfallen, but grateful, Randen waits on the party’s table. His reaction to Cuts changes dramatically, and he no longer ignores the Warforged, instead treating him like a person. His behavior is still awkward, as if he can’t figure out the proper decorum. He tends to speak slowly, and in an over-loud voice, as if addressing a simpleton or a child. Nor can he seem to grasp that Cuts neither drinks or eats. Never the less, it is a marked improvement over the way most people react, or rather, do not react to Cuts.
During dinner, the constable Garyth limps up to their table, and they fill him in on what they know. He informs them that Sir Damien Catharn has agreed to a trial date, and that Scir needs to stay in town so the Dragonborn can testify against the two bandits. When the retired ranger hears that they are unsure where to search next, he mentions a couple northern locations the girl might have gone. Splitrock Dale is home to many plants that cannot be found anywhere else in the region, and Heldast Wood has some useful herbs at its periphery. Garyth tells them Karipur is the most knowledgeable about those locations, and that they should consult the younger ranger before heading north. He also tells them of another ranger they might enlist aid from. He gives them a note, sealed in a leather scroll tube, and tells them they can search for Zasheera near Eelrock Lake. The woman has a way with birds, and might be able to offer them yet another perspective for their search.
The following day, everyone but Scir takes passage on a barge headed down river, making the journey to Karipur’s Farm swiftly. Over a pleasant lunch with Karipur and his farmhands, our heroes discuss the plan to search northward. Karipur agrees with Garyth’s idea about seeking out Zasheera, and figuratively kicks himself for not thinking of it. He fills them in on the various hazards of Splitrock Dale and the Heldast Wood, and agrees to accompany them if they can wait until his crops are planted in a few weeks. As to the matter of the marshland near Holtan, he has no insight. However, he promises that if the situation is still worsening after the harvest, he’ll then have time to look into it. Satisfied with their meeting, the party sets out overland, bound for Tilburne. Their hope is to attain an audience with Sir Catharn after the trial, warned by Garyth that it can be difficult most of the time to arrange such a meeting.
On their way back to town, hiking over the rolling hill and through the occasional copse of trees, they notice movement shadowing them on the south side of the river. The river is too wide, deep, and swift to make crossing feasible, but someone or something is definitely keeping pace with them while staying hidden by the northern edge of the Tanglewood. Ezio and Nithauk wait until the party is passing through a stand of alder, and then break off from the group. Creeping down to the bank of the Churnwash and hiding in the reeds, the pair watches for their would-be pursuers. In due course, their stealth and observation are rewarded. A small group of brigands, skilled and disciplined, are clearly scouting the movements of the party. This game of hiding and watching continues all the way along the river, to the western edge of the Tanglewood. At that point, the bandits slip away into the forest.
Back in Tilburne, the group splits up to acquaint themselves with the town. Ezio goes to the temple, where he finds Randen making a small donation and lighting a candle for the safe return of his fiance. He also encounters the temple precept, a young cleric named Hesein. After filling the priest in on the disappearance of the girl, Ezio inquires after the availability of a ritual scroll or two. He and Hesein haggle back and forth, until a suitable donation to the temple is agreed on. Ezio takes the scroll for the ritual and stashes it in his pack. His coin purse is all but empty, but the scroll will come in very handy. He then heads back to the inn to take supper and find a bed for the night.
Nithauk and Cuts wander down to the docks, where the Goliath strikes up a conversation with the woman who keeps them. Carella ends up agreeing to show him some tricks of the rope-making craft in return for stories. She is highly curious about Nithauk and his companions, since everyone knows only untamed wilderness lies west of Farandale. Thus, she wants to know where they come from and how they came to be here. There does not seem to be malice or rancor in her interest, and Nithauk agrees to her trade. Cuts, having no interest in either their conversation or the ale they drink during it, wanders off to the woodworking shop of Garyth. He finds the retired ranger smoking a pipe on his porch, and tries to engage the man in conversation. It is a long and frustrating process to impress on the man that there is value in talking with Cuts. In the end, however, the Warforged secures permission to take rejected pieces of lumber and old tools from behind the man’s shop.
The next challenge for Cuts involves getting some nail. Buying an ale for the blacksmith is challenging, and very nearly results in an altercation as Barret first ignores Cuts, and then tries to cheat him. The younger man, Randen, intervenes and smooths over the dispute before it can erupt. With ale in hand, Cuts then seeks out the blacksmith at his table near the crackling hearth. Welvrith is more than happy to supply nails to Cuts, though he first manages to drink a number of ales on the construct’s coin. He also asks many questions about Cuts’ origins, most of which the Warforged does not know the answers to. At last, he helps the now inebriated blacksmith to his smithy to get some nails, and then to his house to sleep it off. Cuts spends the rest of the night working on the unfinished bridge, much to the consternation of the town guards.
Mikal, in a fit of predictability, heads straight to the only establishment of questionable repute in the town. The Silvered Crown is full up with raucous drunken miners and boatmen, not to mention some even more shady characters. As usual, the old dwarf is alone in his corner. The mood in the tavern is rowdy, but there is underlying tension in the air. A pair of hapless bandits stand trial the next day, and it is possible they have more than a few sympathizers among the rough and tumble crowd. And probably a few who are unsympathetic to their plight as well. The room is primed for a drunken brawl. Nithauk, slipping into the tavern behind Mikal, moves his bulk through the crowd with characteristic (if improbable) stealth. Mikal takes the opposite approach, barging directly into the most high profile game in the place.
Kravv, as the game is officially known, is very old, and variations are played all over the kingdom. Mikal quickly discerns the rules and buys into the next round. He then proceeds to play in the most ridiculous and madcap fashion possible, throwing the shuriken over his shoulder and with his eyes closed. It does not prove to be lucrative, and the bard finds himself quite a bit poorer by the end of the evening. His antics do, however, disarm the tension of the crowd and lighten the mood in the tavern. In fact, within a half hour, Mikal is the toast of the room, and the center of much good-natured attention. The only exception is a trio of scowling men who keep whispering to one another conspiratorially. Nithauk decides that one of the men, the one obviously nursing some sort of injury to his chest, even looks a little familiar. Maybe. He slips up to Mikal and suggests that the bard should stay on a cot at the tavern when it closes.
With that handled, the rogue then tails the men into the night, watching them take up positions clearly meant to enable an ambush of Mikal. Nithauk disrupts their plans handily. A hurled coin draws the attention of the would-be assailants, as well as setting many of the town’s dogs to barking. Perfect cover for a surprise attack. By the time the bandit realizes the danger, there is a blade pressing against his back, and a big (big) hand around his throat. It takes almost no effort to get the man talking, and Nithauk learns their plan. Kidnap Mikal, and then force the foreign adventurers to make a trade. Give up the spell caster… who is obviously not well liked in any case… for the bard, who is obviously the more desirable companion (at least in the bandits’ estimation). All this, the man claims, is to finish the plan Jorlanis brought to them. To capture the spell caster and turn him over to some vague authority figure for the reward. The man is clearly sketchy on the details, and perhaps not too bright. Nithauk is able to glean that man and his cohorts figured to meet this mysterious authority figure “over by the Tanglewood” where the forest “runs up to the Churnwash”. Nithauk knows this to be in the vicinity of the Kyrnin Farm.
He takes a sap to the man’s head, leaving him trussed up in the shadows. The next bandit is not interrogated, merely struck unconscious where he hides, and tied up as well. The last bandit is spooked and tries to flee, only to be set upon by a half dozen dogs and two city guards. Nithauk calmly reveals himself to the guards and offers a benign smile. The fleeing bandit is the problem… he’s just a man on his way to his bed. The guards hesitate only seconds before dismissing the Goliath and focusing on the bandit. Come morning, all three men find themselves in jail beside their two comrades, ensuring that Sir Damien Catharn will have a full afternoon with the trial.
The following day, the group goes to the Silvered Crown to speak with Old Grizz. They show the dwarf the two silvered long swords and the small shield. The swords he identifies as being dwarven made, as they suspected. The process of alloying the silver and steel is tricky, and few know how to make them anymore. He tells them they are left over from something called the Shifter Wars. The shield he hesitates over, but eventually claims not to know of it. He can confirm that it is of the finest craftsmanship, and made by dwarven hands. The style is archaic, and the shield is likely more than a century old. But, if he knows anymore, he does not reveal it.