[The story so far]
Session 11 - A side order of heroism
Dumnorix the cleric was still lying close to death, fevered dreams swirling through his mind of a man (himself?) striding through ranks of spider-web-wrapped zombies cowering away from him and the glowing symbol of Alathea dangling from his wrist.
Grat, the elf versed in Summoning, did not leave his companion's side except to strike up a friendship with one of the castle servants during mealtimes. The others, however, needing some distraction from their friend's plight sought out the Lady Eleanor (Guisarme FitzHeron's wife) to put themselves at her service as thanks for her hospitality. Fortunately, there was a service they could perform for her...
[Note - I'm writing this several weeks after it happened, so I'll be brief-ish, and may have forgotten some of the fine detail]
The lady was worried. The shepherd girl she had encountered one day while out riding and taken under her wing had not come to see her for her lessons (Eleanor had plans to snare the girl a good match when she was old enough, after all she and Guisarme had no child of their own yet) as she did each week. Guisarme had forbidden her from riding out in person as he worried it would not be safe while he'd been away and now with the news the adventurers had brought he was preparing the castle for siege. The party decided to volunteer to ride down to the farm and see what had happened.
When they arrived, the farm seemed utterly deserted. A cottage door swung loosely on its hinges. A pen of sheep was a scene of carnage - they had been ripped apart by some savage creature...
Advancing warily, they entered the barn and found a small, frightened girl who immediately warmed to Aurelius as her saviour. She had been told to hide when "the monsters" by her friend, the hired farm-hand. Leaving Aurelius with the girl, the others first went to the cottage and found the remains of the farm-hand; his corpse had been laid out along with sheep legs to give an eight-legged pile of offal. Aractheon?
Trying to settle their queasy stomachs, they then headed in to the farmhouse proper and found it deserted and ransacked. In one room, however, they found a clue to the culprits - a large dresser had been tipped over and under it, when shifted, they found a dead gnoll. Fearing for the mother and father, they searched around outside but found only a confused trail of footprints. One was deep and wearing hob-nailed boots as a labourer might have, the others lighter, strange, and barefoot - with claws at the end of the toes... The deep prints led into bushes alongside the river and the clawed prints followed, but then looped back and scattered off in various directions.
Pausing only to scatter the arranged remains of the farmhand, drag the gnoll corpse to join him, and torch the cottage in case there as any ritual power that might aid Aractheon lingering, they gathered Aurelius and the girl and rode off as quickly as they could. Aurelius headed straight for Brun, while the others forded the river to follow the human prints - they only managed to do this thanks to their horses as the river was fast and the current strong. That must have been why the gnolls hadn't crossed. A small canoe abandoned on the far bank explained how the booted man had made it across.
Not long after crossing, as they headed up towards the ford at Brun, they found the maker of the prints - the farmer, carrying his injured wife. Scooping them up onto their horses they were soon back at Brun for a touching reunion with their daughter, rewards from Lady Eleanor and, even better, the news that Dumnorix had regained consciousness. Less good was his insistence that Alathea herself had appeared in his dream and ordered him back to the barrows...