“Taxes are there to be hated by some, spent by others.”
Synopsis : A tale in which the adventurers, choosing to join the Council Moot at Caer Dragonscorn, learn a great deal about the Barony of Thornkeep’s present economy, as well as their plans for the coming year. Afterwards, they advise Baroness Neria Blackshield regarding their feelings on these plans, before departing for a night at the Green Forest Inn. That night, Bresal manages to discover a fake Iliara Starcloak whose clumsy seduction reveals her to be another unknown green hag. He discovers the attack was a ruse, but there is some concern that Iliara is involved in the hag conspiracies somehow, as her apprentice discusses some confusing activities the previous night. Later, Scales meets with Eliseera Applewarden, in an effort to buy-out her ownership of the orchards. He discovers she is an undead (shadow) fey, later identified as a so-called “Dream Thief”, and barely manages to escape with his life. The adventurers gather at the orchard, and attempt to capture her, but come under an attack that drives Squire Reina Whiterock into a coma, before the Dream Thief escapes once more. They discuss options.
15th of Kelen : Green Dagger Farm Mothalla : The adventurers hurried through their preparations, but took the time to rest for long enough to rebuild their powers and strength. With their mounts readied, they set forth in the early afternoon, and began down the snow-covered trail leading down into Thornkeep. Shadowmist escorted Vesina, having been promised several buckets of wine at the journey’s end.
The way was difficult, but by the time they got to the cut-off to Halted-Stream Camp, they found the road open enough to ride with some ease, hinting at work parties already operating out at the iron mine, with their heavy cart tracks clearing the road. About a mile further down, Sweet noticed the group was being observed by a band of individuals, about a dozen in number. Kahli sent up her familiar Horcrux in its traditional raven form, while Reina took her reins to lead the horse while Kahli observed what her familiar saw and heard.
Kahli saw the band numbered more than a dozen, an ill-armed rabble of ragged bandits with bows and crossbows, bundled in winter clothing, and just observing the large armed party of adventurers on horseback, and recognizing who they faced. Horcrux landed near the lead one, and croaked out an inquiry as to who the bandits were. They bolted every which way, scattering into the forest screaming in terror. Kahli released her hold on Horcrux, and told him to do what he wanted, just meet the adventurers in town in a couple hours, and broke off her connection. Horcrux tittered of after one particular bandit, harassing her with taunts and curses while invisible.
Arriving in Thornkeep several hours later, noticing many of the villagers seemed to acknowledge the group; apparently, their fame had spread through the winter, and the group was generally well-regarded, or at least, feared. Tired and bedraggled, the group met at the inn, and cleaned themselves up, stabling their horses and arranging rooms for the evening. Vesina made sure Shadowmist got his share of wine and beer served at the stables, and the group made their way up to the great hall in the early dark.
The group very quickly passed by the guards, who did little to impede their journey. They found the majority of business at the moot had been completed early in the day, and now only the six members of the town council sat before the high table; Mistress Greenfoot, Master Tarrasque, Master Stonesplitter, Master Dragonfire, Mistress Kairn, and Master Thumbwhistle, all sitting before Baroness Blackshield and her mother Lady Ivis and the castellan, Ser Shearwater. the castle scribes sat off to one side, along with the Baroness’ own brother, Master Halst.
The council were just running through numbers from the castle’s accounts, but upon the announcement of the adventurers, the Baroness called a recess, and bade the adventurers approach, while the council refreshed themselves at a side table. Neria and Vesina met each other with gladness and a quick exchange of pleasantries. The adventurers assured they came with good news of their journey to the north, and that while most could wait until the matters at hand were complete, they felt enough to mention they had encountered a band of orcs and giants, and slain them, who were encamped in the ruins of Mosswater There was some confusion regarding a mention of Muckleglum, but the adventurers assured her that the matters were well in hand in the north. The adventurers were then invited to sit at the side table if they wished while the council went through the accounts and plans for the coming year, which they accepted, quickly taking a position to one side, and being served wine, ale and other refreshments while the council gathered once more.
The boring list of various accounts passed for about an hour, listing so many silvers collected from such and such a holder. Half listening, the adventurers noted that their hold, and that of their two neighbors, Blackhart Farm and Wolfram Farm figured independently as worthy of mentioning, and that all three had paid their taxes in full. Firetree Manor, Woodbristle Manor, and Darkmoon Manor also figured as prominently, though they paid far more in taxes.
Questioning it among themselves, Ric assured them that Mistress Brooks had paid it all out from their harvests and various supplies taken from the bandits the previous autumn on their behalf. In the end, they concluded that the costs of running the castle were roughly 500 gp per month, and that the castle made perhaps 400-500 gp profit after its expenses on an average year.
“Stumpage” taxes levied on timber cut from the forests figured quite prominently among the castle’s revenues, but seemed rather low, often missing in the case of the established villages. Since most of the adventurers were unfamiliar with the nuances of how these sorts of things worked, they missed many key aspects of the reports.
Several members of the council had questions. Stonesplitter asked for leave to send a survey party north to Mosswater, to gauge the ability to re-open the soapstone quarry there, and this was granted. Dragonfire requested, and was denied, a cessation of the annual levies on stumpage taxes, as requested by his guild.
Then Baroness Neria brought forward the castle’s plans for the coming year.
First was the establishment of a new manor in the north part of the village, to replace the one burned to the ground in the fall. Due to its costs, the size was to be smaller than the castle had hoped, but would cost roughly 2500 gp, and take about 60 days to build, commencing once the spring fields had been planted, around a month from now.
Second, was the resettlement and rebuilding of Raider’s Roost. The costs for this endeavor was to be around 7500 gp, and take about 100 days. The castle had plans to ensure the strong-point, which they were assured was cleared of bandit threats, and then use it to establish a small settlement and exert pressure on the western trail to Hexwater, perhaps even establish a toll on caravans. Ric was notably upset at this consideration, as he had his own sights set on the site. The castle admitted this was a long-range plan, perhaps commencing later in the year once finances had been settled, as its costs were somewhat straining on the treasury.
Third, the castle intended to burn the Briarwarren to the ground. They admitted they had a large store of chemicals coming with the spring caravan from Mornhaven, and had discussed with Brishtargera Greenbottle about making a large store of Alchemist’s Fire, to use against the goblin lair, and remove it as a threat once and for all. The Council seemed a little alarmed at the endeavor, but agreed that removal of the local goblin tribe would bring some measure of prosperity to the region, particularly with the removal of the Goblin Market. This somewhat alarmed the group, as they realized that in the past, setting large fires in the forest often led to confrontations with the fey of Echo Wood, and never brought complete resolution, as it made these folk, who were potential allies, hostile to the source of the blaze.
Fourth, the annexation of Timberstar. The baroness felt that with the removal of the threat from the Pit of Chains, whose goblins had apparently been scattered and broken, the Road of Claws was now open, and the interests of those wood-cutters and huntsmen could now be influenced by Thornkeep, and their taxes paid directly to the Wolf Baron. The gathered council agreed that this might be in their interests, bringing revenue and the influence of Thornkeep into that long-ignored region of the forests. The adventurers were not happy with the term ’annexation", as it hinted at conflict and loss of life.
To ensure all these military ventures, Baroness Neria intended to call out the local Fyrd, demanding military support from the surrounding free farms, and the local peasants. She felt she could gather at least half a cohort (around fifty) militia and huntsmen easily, perhaps more if they got the support of “Longshanks” and his hunters. She felt the Blue Basilisks and the Goldenfire Order would also support these efforts if offered a fair share of the profits. Lastly, the baroness had contacted a local small mercenary band, “Natan’s Manticores”, a band of about a dozen spears and crossbows, who had wintered in Thonrkeep, and were willing to take service in this and future matters. They were offering their services for a fair wage of 22 gp per month, and could provide the garrison of the rebuilt Raider’s Roost if there should be enough coin left over by mid-year.
The council generally agreed on these plans, and the idea of a great moot between all the local farms and peoples next month was a grand idea. The adventurers noted, however, that in all these discussions, Master Daemon Tarrasque was oddly silent, as usual. He spoke little, and simply observed all that went on around him. The group were then excused and went their separate ways, mostly intending to head home after a long day at council.
The group then approached Baroness Neria, and expressed their concerns. First, Rico presented the Baroness with a lovely Droskari Metal Alloy cask filled with 500 gp, “… as a gift, an assurance of our honor and the demands of the Wolf Baroness in bringing peace and prosperity to our lands…”. He suggested the coin could, instead of ensuring the conquest of the paradise of Timberstar, rather the gathered Fyrd could help in building the palisade the isolated community sought. He felt they might accept this as a sign of the willingness of the Wolf Baroness in protecting the community, rather than earning their enmity in a potential war.
The baroness quickly asked Sir Shearwater about the reasonableness of this choice, and he responded that it was feasible and would cost far less than mounting a military expedition; the 500 gp would more than cover the costs, if they could acquire timber at the village site itself. He looked shrewdly at Ric, regarding him in perhaps a new light. _"Very well"-, she said, “we shall contemplate this option.”.
Second, the adventurers didn’t appreciate the use of wide-scale fire to remove the goblin threat, suggesting, instead, they might simply go into the warrens and slaughter the little beasts. While the Baroness appreciated that the adventurers could likely kill many of them, she reminded them that the Briarwarrens were a narrow, confined maze of Goblin Brambles, and that while many would die, many more would likely escape and simply return in a season to their lair. She felt fire was the only way to ensure the goblin tribe be destroyed completely, or at least fore them to move away.
After a quick discussion, the adventurers had to agree that attacking the goblins wouldn’t solve the problem completely. Baroness Neria admitted that perhaps there might be another way, and bade the adventurers to contemplate the matter, and come up with another solution, saying that unless they did so, she would burn them out once the Fyrd was summoned, giving them a month to find another solution. They agreed to this offer.
The group then made some general inquiries, asking why Green Dagger Farm and their neighbors had been mentioned prominently, along with the other large manors. She responded that in their tax rolls, these three farms were listed as free-holds, and as such were not directly lands under the control of Thonrkeep’s ruler, holding their lands independently, but under the protection of the Crown of the Wolf Baron.
They also asked after Master Tarrasque, asking if he was always so quiet. The baroness assured the adventurers that while he was indeed rather silent on most matters, he loyally paid his taxes without fail, and always supported the crown’s decisions when asked directly. No, she felt he just had other matters on his mind most nights, as he was a successful and capable merchant.
Neria excused herself, requesting Vesina spend the evening at the castle, and the pair drifted off to the upper chambers, discussing dresses and music. Ric approached Lady Ivis, and requested time to discuss a few personal matters, as they had in the last few months. She agreed, and departed with him to the private dining chambers upstairs. The rest of the adventurers slipped back to the Green Forest Inn, for a little drinking and to discuss the evening’s matters.
Meanwhile, Ric and Lady Ivis talked about various topics late into the evening, flirting more and more than usual. Finally, Ric made his move, a clumsy attempt that blurted out his intentions boldly and without any disguise (a natural 1 (Bluff) check). He immediately realized his mistake, when she went quiet, and stared at him directly. She then stood up, and sitting in his lap, played with his hair and stated, while she found his charms quite attractive, she was a woman of great honor and was still married… technically, and couldn’t break those bonds while her husband remained alive. However. If he brought her the head of her husband… well… then she would see that Ric be…. “…amply rewarded…”, and kissed him with a passion he had not seen in her before. She then excused herself, and let Ric think on the matter.
Returning to the inn, Ric announced he now had a new primary item on his agenda; the hunting and death of Baron Tervin Blackshield and his so-called “Stonewallkers”. Kahli assured him her band of followers were working on tracking the beast, and should be back in some days time with word as to his whereabouts. They spent the rest of the night drinking a little and then all retired to their rooms.
Bresal was awakened in the night by the sound of his private door being closed, and a shadowy form appearing in his room. He quickly recognized Iliara Starcloak from her gown and pointed ears, and sleepily sat up in bed. Callum flattened his ears and let out a low growl. Bresal… sweet Bresal…" muttered the figure, “…unsummon that little thing so we can talk privately about matters of urgency…”. A little suspicious, Bresal spoke back to her in Elvish, and after a muttered curse in Sylvan recognized this was certainly not Iliria.
The pair got into a quick fight, with the figure slashing her hard once, but the distracting aid of Callum, and use of a Thaumaturgy cantrip to open and slam shut the door several times spooked the figure (likely another hag) enough to throw open the window and leap out, vanishing from sight with a cackle. Yup, a green hag.
His companions roused and joined him, and he related that he thought a green hag had tried to seduce and attack him, supposing Nann’s Bone Ring had somehow summoned her to his location. Everyone returned to their rooms, rechecked their locks and settled back in for the rest of the night.
16th of Kelen : In the morning, the group met for breakfast, with Scales saying he was going up to meet with Eliseera Applewarden, and make an offer on her farm. Bresal intended to visit the Goldenfire Tower, and do a little reading, maybe check on his friend, Iliara, and inform hero of the events of the previous night.
Bresal went to the tower, and met with Timber, Starcloak’s apprentice. Asking how he was, and making some small talk with the young lad, who was only a little younger than Bresal himself, he found Timber relating how he had been doing a little late night sweeping, when he suddenly felt drowsy, and awoke this morning asleep on the floor. He had no idea how this had happened.
Bresal recognized this as a Sleep spell, having cast it himself a couple times, and asked after Iliara; Timber claimed she had traveled early to the castle, seeking some matters of discussion with Lady Ivis. Bresal then excused himself, and went back to the Inn.
Scales wandered up to the north side of the village, and noticed that even under the snow, the place seemed dreary and run-down. While most others in the village were making repairs to fences and cutting wood for their fires, there was no obvious effort to work the orchard at all in the season. He approached the moderate house, and knocked.
After a few minutes, the sleepy, drawn-looking pale face of the beautiful Eliseera appeared through a crack in the door. After inquiring as to who he was, Scales stated he came with a private offer for the young widow, and she opened the door enough to let him in. Inside, the place was covered in a sense of decay and neglect. Dust lay in patches, and there was a sense of clutter and disregard, like a noblewoman’s attempts to live in a small room with no servants.
Eliseera bustled about, making a place for him at the central table in the common room, and offered to pour him a cup of tea, which he accepted. Getting right to it, Scales offered the young widow a hefty sum of 1500 gp for her farm, stating that she was obviously unable to see after its needs properly, and that she could use this money to set herself up somewhere and live a much simpler life to which she was more accustomed to. The tea was warming, and suddenly he felt the pangs of indigestion… or something more… as he suddenly realized he’d been poisoned!
Eliseera suddenly grew in stature, her eyes and mouth starting to glow an ominous color in the darkness, and her countenance changed from one of meekness into that of a predator. “Oh dear… you seem to have reacted better to my tea than many others in the past… Now let me into your mind…”.
The pair squared off, with her blocking Scales escape. He fired numerous magic missiles and other spells into her, but she grappled with him, one hand digging into his arm, as she buried her mouth in repeated kisses on his neck, drawing not so much blood as pure life essence. He felt his strength wane with each strike, and she continued to grapple at him. Finally, he dropped a Fireball at point-blank range, and managed to get the door open, stepping into the snowy courtyard of the house. Eliseera made a desperate lunge into the sunlight, smoldering as her shadowy form took on a level of solidity before she burned under the radiance. She failed to grapple him, and he retreated back down the road, bloodied, wounded and smoldering from his Fireball spell. She went back inside, slamming the door and screaming with banshee-like rage.
He quickly mounted Iceclaw, and flew up to the castle, seeking Ser Kranstin Shearwater, whom the guards reluctantly began looking for. Eventually, they brought him forward, and Scales explained his encounter with the good (?) Eliseera_, and how she had attacked him when he had made his offer to buy her land. Scales sought a witness before he proceeded further. Shearwater sighed heavily, and excused himself quickly, to return shortly with Mor’Hyanda, the Black Blade on his back, and a handful of spare guards. He allowed Scales to lead him down to the Green Forest Inn to retrieve his companions, and then proceed to the northern farm of the Applewardens.
The whole group went to the farm, and began searching the site. It still smoldered from their fight. After a through search of the site turned up nothing, they apologized for wasting Sir Shearwater’s time, but he admitted it needed sorting out. He stationed a pair of guards at the house to keep an eye on her return, and excused himself. The adventurers discussed things a little, and decided that identifying Iliara was important.
The group once more headed up to Caer Dragonscorn, and easily entering the great hall, inquired after Iliara and Lady Ivis, with a servant informing them that the pair were likely up in the library on the upper level. The group made their way up the stairs to the upper level, Bresal and Ric leading the way, as the pair had been here at least once before.
Stopping before the library, the group remained behind, while Bresal stepped into the library. He saw the pair engaged in some tome or another, and excused his intrusion in Elvish, to which Iliara responded politely, stating that she and the Lady Ivis were busy at the moment, and could help him later if he needed it. He responded, again in Elvish, that it wasn’t important, having wanted to access the library, but he would come back, and excused himself from the room.
Convinced that Iliara was not the unknown green hag from the night before, the group slipped back out of the castle, and back to the Applewarden farm. They stopped by to speak with Sword Brother Eldrast, finding him at his shrine south of the castle, and related the encounter with Eliseera_. He acknowledged the creature was likely a -“Dream Thief”, an undead fey shadow beast, of which he knew very little. He claimed they were somewhat like vampires from legend, with an affinity to the darkness and shadows, and an aversion to sunlight. Their fey nature, however, made them capricious and unpredictable, but he knew little else about them, as they were quite rare, and quite powerful creatures. Regarding other fey aspects of them he knew nothing.
Returning to the Applewarden Orchard, they informed the pair of guards that they would spend the night at the farm, and the pair excused themselves after a couple hours, leaving the adventurers alone. The group began a more thorough search, but other than the usual contents of a moderately wealthy farmer’s home, they found nothing of note. Speaking with the trees of the orchard, they discovered that Eliseera remained pretty much in the house, only coming out at night. Sometimes she would dig about the orchard, and the trees felt better for a while after she buried things at the roots. Bodies, it was presumed, of her former workers that “left” after a season of labor.
The group settled in for the night, taking watches as usual and spread throughout the central room. During Kahli, Reina and Bresal’s watch, Reina suddenly keeled over asleep. Kahli started trying to wake people around her when Reina went into convulsions and suddenly fell unconscious and into a full coma, near death. Sweet soon followed suit, waking after a series of convulsions, but was awake, though groggy and suffering from psychic wounds.
Casting bout her senses, Kahli detected both Undead and fey directly above them in the shadows of the roof. Casting a Light spell into the space, the dark, shadowy form of Eliseera, the Dream Thief could be seen, floating there, boiling with shadowy vapors and looking dangerous and predatory. Several quick spells cast in her direction forced her to scream and suddenly shift to one side and vanish from sight. Everyone turned to Reina and realized she was in a dangerous situation, near death and rendered near death.
And the shadows continued to lurk all about them…