Taking up their endeavors once again after resting and conferring, the trio of Burin, Idwal, and Hywel determined that Yeemik must provide more information in order for their successful rescue of Gundren Rokkomist. Burin and Hywel strongly disagreed on the outcome for Yeemik – where the dwarf saw the goblin as vermin to be destroyed, the frontiersman believed justice was served only by bringing the creature to face a court of law in Felinmawr.
Hywel transformed his appearance and voice to match those of Klarg as closely as he could, succeeding fairly well save for imitating the bugbear’s size. Using a combination of deceit, verbal threats, and outright physical bullying, he confirmed much of what they already knew: King Grol is the leader of the Cragmaw clan of goblins who inhabit this area, that the Black Spider had instructed the clan to capture Gundren Rokkomist, and that the dwarf was taken back to Cragmaw Castle, a holdfast in the wilderness to the north. Unable to pry further information from the goblin, Hywel dropped his disguise, spat in the goblin’s face, and knocked him out.
Burin stepped in quickly, pushing Hywel to this side and swung his battle-ax in a killing blow, severing Yeemik’s head. Idwal and Hywel were none too sanguine with his action but there was nothing to be done.
Assessing their situation they balanced the risk of departing from the caves this late in the day with the chance of discovery and a renewed force of goblins attacking them in the night or early morning. Complicating the decision was the essential nature of returning the Ulfurskjold and Rokkomist supplies to Felinmawr, seeing Sidir Neudd-y-gaeaf to safety, and the sense that Gundren’s time in this world was running short. They took their courage in hand and set out to recover the wagon from the ambush site and hope for horses to draw it. Hywel summoned Klarg’s wolf, whom he had now tamed, and kept the beast on a short rope as he continued to intermittently feed it morsels of food.
A tense hour later, they had safely retraced their steps through the trapped path to the ambush site, confirming that the cart was usable and that the dead horses stashed there were riding horses, and would never have been used to draw the wagon.
Searching outside nearby the cave, they found that the deceptive briars favored by the goblin lookouts hid more hollow areas – no more than 50 yards away and slightly downhill, there was a narrow tunnel that led ten paces deep into the briar where a pair of cart-horses were hobbled. Entering cautiously, Idwal led the way, followed by Burin and Hywel. Suddenly a pair of black-fletched arrows shot at Idwal from parts unseen. He ran across the small clearing and saw a small platform set back in the briars and about four feet high. Sunset was nearing but the valley was already dark, and he could see no sign of the goblin archers, who shot again at him and at Burin who now sprinted forward with his characteristic stumpy gait. Hywel released the rope and commanded the wolf to “Kill Goblins!” while summoning the lightning bolts gifted to him by the Old Faith. Due the poor visibility, his lightning found no target but the keen eyes of Idwal and Burin allowed them to dispatch not one but two goblin archers, who were finished quite permanently by the wolf.
The horses thus recovered, another tense hour passed as the trio took them to the ambush site and back to the Cragmaw Hideout. Burin, an experienced soldier, made quick work of re-harnessing the cart-horses to the wagon, despite the nauseating scene of the dead riding horses, their burst carcasses teeming with flies and the stench of their entrails. Once back at the hideout, the group was rejoined by Sidir, still in poor physical shape but strong of spirit and a good leader of men. Idwal and Burin set up a block and tackle in Klarg’s cavern and carefully transferred all of the stolen boxes and barrels of goods through the refuse-chute that was the initial point of their successful attack on the bullying bugbear lord. The wolves were thoroughly peaceful at this point, having been given good food and treated kindly by Hywel.
Once loaded, the cart was driven confidently by Burin, with Idwal next to him, Sidir behind and Hywel riding in the cart-bed again disguised as the imperious Klarg. Fearing further attacks, they drove as swiftly as they dared at night, blessed by Burin’s dwarven dark-vision.
Just short of midnight, they arrived at the outskirts of Felinmawr. Hywel cancelled his spell of deception and they sped through the town’s empty market-square to the front gate of the Bryn Westy, a massive wooden affair attached to the broad palisade of trimmed tree trunks that guarded the inn, stables, warehouse, and grounds. The guards called out a challenge from their watch-platform but immediately recognized Hywel and his voice. The gates were swiftly and briefly opened and the companions were received.
Hywel led the companions in a triumphant entrance to a crowd of his family, inn-workers, and guests. He called on his bardic training from the College of Tordanal to tell the story of their day’s daring adventure, combat, and rescue of Sidir Neudd-y-gaeaf, a man now clearly recognizable as a noble soldier of Tordanal. Hywel’s stepmother Triona and her assistants brought hot food to the table – sheep stew with root vegetables, herbs, and fresh baked bread – while Gwynedd the barmaid brought first a round of ale and when prompted by Hywel, a flask of rare dwarf-spirits. The conversation proceeded into the night, with the inn’s guests well entertained, and they felt obliged to return the deed in kind, regaling the companions with the latest news, rumors, and gossip.
It became apparent that the trouble in the village was not only from goblin raids on local farms and the threat of worse (orc attacks rumored on caravans and villages to the east and north of Felinmawr) but from the layabouts and vagabonds known as the Redbrands.
There was always an itinerant population in Felinmawr of men with no fixed address, available for day labor one week and gone the next; in the borderlands of Esturiak few questions were asked of a man’s history and few commitments required to stay in town. Often these folk could be found at the Sleeping Fomor, the cheap alehouse a few streets east of the market-square.
In the last two months, and more so in the last few weeks, some of these inhabitants of the Sleeping Fomor had taken to wearing grimy red cloaks and sporting shortswords; who could say if they were the same men as before or if they were new? Calling themselves Redbrands they swaggered about the scarcely populated eastern side of the village and in the last fortnight were in the west side, hassling the merchants and craftsmen. The two places they haven’t shown themselves to be a nuisance are the places they steered clear of – the Bryn Westy, following a failed attempt by a foursome of Redbrands to bully Gwynedd into giving them free ales, whereupon she brandished a shillelagh and struck one in the head – and the Miners’ Exchange run by Isolde Draenen.
The eldest Bryn, Ivor, had a small family and his young son Pewlin (called “Pip”) was eager to add information to the story. Up well past his bedtime thanks to the excitement of the day, he piped up saying that his friend Carp (the son of Olwen Gwernddelin) had found a tunnel in the woods near his farm a day prior but that two scary men had nearly caught him! He escaped away to tell the tale, but it was clear that something was amiss. It was then that Triona quietly gave the worst news: three days prior a group of Redbrands had been at Owain Denddar’s woodcarving shop; they leered at his wife and he stood up to them; and they stabbed him to death in his own house. That night his body, his wife, and his two children went missing and haven’t been seen since.
The mood of the conversation shifted after this, towards plans of the future and what would become of Sidir and the day’s heroes. Sidir spoke well on their behalf and was gracious in his thanks. He stated that he planned to take up residence at the Bryn Westy while he looked for Iarno Cadogan, a highly ranked member of the Tordanal Mages’ Guild and like himself, a servant of Kieran ap Tordan, Lord of Tordanal and Duke of Morgannwg. Iarno had preceded Sidir in surveying the state of the borderlands, including Felinmawr, with interest in protecting the Kincythian settlers. Iarno had gone missing and things had clearly gotten worse rather than better in recent weeks, so Sidir’s first priority was to find what had happened to his ally, the better to establish a plan to secure Felinmawr and the nearby villages. None of the folk at the inn could remember ever having seen Iarno, but his description (“a man below average height with dark brown hair and a cloak”) would have fit many travellers and wanderers over the months.
Hywel returned to storytelling, focusing on the fight with Klarg and the pursuit of his henchmen. As he told of Burin’s prowess with the warhammer and then of Idwal’s powerful acrobatics and staff-play, the group responded with cheers. Gwynedd, who unbeknownst to her subject of interest, had been watching Idwal for the fortnight he’d been living and working at the Westy. As the story grew bolder she moved closer to the tall and quiet elf, and as the bard told of the final stave-blow that secured their victory, she squeezed him in a tight hug from behind and kissed his neck. Surprised and unsure of how to proceed, but not upset, Idwal subsequently spent several soft and quiet hours with Gwynedd in his small second-story room.
The next morning began slowly, the inn nearly empty by the time the companions arose. A few visitors broke their fasts together and Sidir was already up and deep in conversation with a tall man recently arrived from Tordanal. By late morning, the trio had a plan: store Gundren’s supplies with Ivor, return the Ulfurskjold’s goods to their trade-house in town, and visit the Pentref (headman) Harban Orllewin for rewards and information. Their top concern was the rapid recovery of Gundren Rokkomist while he yet lived.
A brief interaction with Ivor surfaced old tensions between him and Hywel, with the younger brother recently returned from both Tordanal and the adventure of the prior day feeling triumphal and ready for acceptance. Instead, the tone of their interaction was one of dubious acknowledgement and the implication that he had much yet left to prove. Ivor took possession of the goods into safekeeping and paid out a reward of a crown apiece to the trio as he considered Gundren a friend after his many visits to Felinmawr over the years. Hywel rejected his reward and, gathering Sidir from the inn-house, they walked to meet the Pentref.
With their horses and wagon loaded with recovered goods they crossed the scarcely populated market-square – really more of a rough oval ringed by the Shrine of Crianna, the Sister’s residence, a pair of empty buildings, the Pentref’s Hall, and the Ulfurskjold building. Parking their goods outside with Burin on watch, Sidir led them into the stone hall. Within were fine but aged furniture, a pair of rooms at the end with stout doors, and in the front a broad wood desk with three seats, one of which was occupied by the unimpressive Harban Orllewin. This man, the Pentref (a nominal position in a village as small as Felinmawr) appeared overfed and under-disciplined, clad in worn colored silks and soft leathers with a silver chain and key on his neck; he demanded that they state their business as if he was very busy indeed.
Sidir established his role as an agent of the Lords’ Alliance and Harban’s manner turned obsequious, surrendering to Sidir’s request of a “draw” of a hundred and fifty nobles on the Alliance account. Sidir promptly paid a hundred of these to Burin, Idwal, and Hywel as thanks and reward for his rescue from the Cragmaws. He stated that he was quite concerned not only about Gundren and the two other Rokkomist brothers (Tharden and Nundro), but about the Cragmaw menace. Having thought this since his capture, and the companions having proven themselves strong and trustworthy, Sidir offered them a twenty-five-crown reward for finding Cragmaw Castle and defeating their chieftain, King Grol.
Not wanting to seem irrelevant, Harban began talking about recent attacks on caravans and his suspicions were that they were coming from an orc raiding-band which was camped at Wyvern Tor to the northeast, and that he had authority to offer a hundred-noble reward plus license to all recovered treasure to any group which could slay the orcs and provide “pen-praw” (the heads of the slain). Hywel asked about the Redbrands as he was concerned about them as a menace to the town, but Harban asserted that they were merely just a mercenary guild, and not all that much trouble really. His words did little to raise Hywel’s opinion of the man.
Sidir returned to the Bryn Westy and the three left for the Ulfurskjold strong-house, a sixty-foot wide squat stone tower that narrowed as it went up, forty feet or so in height. Burin grinned at the sight of something so familiar and described it to his companions as “a dwarven waypost – a hastily-built thing meant to last no more than five hundred years or so,” as he stepped through the open doors. There they met Grárvindur, the dwarf-maiden who led Ulfurskjold House’s interests in Felinmawr and surrounds. Initially gruff, she was happy to see the group once she saw the blue wolf-on-shield insignia marked on the boxes and barrels, and even happier to see a stoic dwarf as the hero whom she could credit with the victory. Commanding her paid laborers to unload the cart, she spoke at length in Dwarvish with Burin. During this conversation, Hywel returned to the Bryn Westy with plans of his own, while Idwal surveyed the strong-house itself. Of a two-story design, the lower level was committed entirely to storing and defending goods, with the feel of a warehouse in its ladders and scaffolds but the feel of a keep in its stone, arrow-slots, and guard-posts. A tall ladder rose nearly thirty feet to reach the upper floor, the details of which were invisible from below. Grárvindur allowed that she might sell some of the restricted stock of dwarven steel weapons to Burin and Idwal, and they were deep in this conversation when a ragged scream and the sounds of sword-play came from the market-square.
It turned out that during this time, Hywel had convinced his brother Ivor to join him in a short trip to see the Pentref. He clothed himself in the illusion of being a very wealthy Tordanian merchant, clad in the finest silks and leathers and festooned with gems, even on his drooping merchant’s hat. Walking across the market-square, Hywel cut a commanding figure, using his bardic skills to alter his voice, appearance, and gait. Once introduced to the Pentref, he presented himself as a leading merchant named Llewyn of House Emrallt of Tordanal, stating how impressed he was with the Bryns’ services and that he was offering a two-thousand crown reward for work on his behalf to find a certain dwarf named Gundren Rokkomist. As he bullied the Pentref and refused to take “no” for an answer, he grew louder. After another few moments of grandstanding, Hywel stormed out with Ivor in tow.
Ten yards away from the hall they were accosted by four young ruffians, compensating for their poorly made red cloaks with an excess of swagger. They had been loitering outside the Pentref’s Hall and sizing up the “rich man” who was making such a scene – an ideal target for their next shakedown. Drawing their blades, the two boldest of them demanded money from “Llewyn”, who insulted them, ran back to the door of the Hall, and summoned eldritch magic to attack them. Two ran after him while the remaining two drew blades and menaced Ivor Bryn, who yelled murder.
This was the scene which attracted the attention of Burin, Idwal, and Grárvindur from within the Ulfurskjold tower. Racing outside they heard a dreadful scream erupt from Hywel. Fenced off from his brother by a pair of Redbrands, he could only watch as his brother drew steel, utterly outmatched – even as one cut at Ivor’s chest, Hywel called on magical aid to ward the blow, but tragedy ruled that day. Rather than deflecting away from Ivor the blade deflected upwards and in one single cut it severed the man’s head from his body, chased by a fountain of blood.
A quick and brutal combat ensued, Idwal using his unmatched speed to close the distance across the market-square and defend Hywel from certain death, while the pair of dwarves took on the murderers of Ivor. Calling down sacred fire from Mörgunsár, Burin stopped one in his tracks while Grárvindur dispatched another with a few sure blows of her battle-ax.
Hywel, watching his brother perish, went mad. He first tried to kill himself with his own dagger, but Idwal knocked it from his grasp. He then ran across the square to the Shrine of Crianna and demanded aid, protection, healing – a return from Arawn’s deathly grasp for his brother. He screamed to the gods. He transformed his appearance to that of a wizard, yelling at the top of his lungs that he was Lord Kelryn the Archmage of Tordanal and that he would take vengeance on everyone – all of them..
As a crowd gathered and Sister Bendithion came to tend to the matter, Owen Bryn arrived from the Westy and saw his murdered son’s corpse on the ground, hopelessly lifting the bloody head and trying to place it back on the body.
At this, Hywel’s madness snapped. He staggered back to the body and got there at the same moment as Ivor’s young son, Pip. Neither could speak. Pip’s head wracked back and out came a voiceless scream. Hywel fell to his knees, weeping and cradling Pip in his arms.