August 15, 1720
After a late night running from werewolves, Thond and Siclare were awakened by the sounds of someone approaching their camp not-at-all stealthily. Siclare rolled over, waving her arms ineffectually, and mumbling something about not wanting to wake up, without ever opening her eyes. Thond rolled right out of his lean-to, hammer in hand, and bounced to his feet.
He was greeted by a stranger, clearly native by the look of him, but proficient in English and clearly not one of the Tuscarora (judging by his hide, rather than hemp, garments at least). The stranger introduced himself as Rel Ter, and, after explaining that he was not in the business of selling land, said he was looking to trade — mostly furs and skins.
As Thond and the still very bleary Siclare talked with the new traveler, Liadan arrived. She explained that she’d left shortly after they did, with the intent of catching up to them, but that she’d been distracted by a particularly talkative titmouse. In her typical faerie fashion, she looked bright, chipper, awake, and free from any signs that she’d been beating her way through the forest all night, and immediately struck up a conversation with the newcomer, offering him booze and explaining that there was a trading post about a day’s walk to the east, and that they’d be returning there after they finished their current berry-picking errand.
Having no clear objectives himself, and seeing that the party knew how to get to the trading post, Rel Ter agreed to join them (at least briefly).
They woke up Tess, quickly packed up, and headed west. Between Bokken’s map, Liadan’s trail-blazing magic, and Siclare’s survival skills they were able to travel quite swiftly. They rode for about three hours, leaving the foothills of the mountains down into broad alluvial plain of the valley. As they crested a low rise, they came into sight of a broad marshy expanse, filled with dense thickets of low, half-submerged shrubs, replete with large, globular red berries and and the two-inch-long thorns from which they take their name.
Looking out into the bog, Rel Ter pointed out a number of large dead animals drowned, impaled, and tangled in the shrubberies — several elk, a couple of bears, even a mountain lion. Still, they had come this far…
He shook his hand off and they ran back up the hill as fast as they could.
When the spiders settled down, the approached more cautiously. Probing the bushes with sticks, they found a thick network of horizontal sheet-webbing running throughout the thicket, just above the water line, crawling with swarms of the spiders. Again, they withdrew, waiting nearly an hour for the spiders to also settle again.
On a whim, Liadan walked to the far end of the bog and used a mage hand to agitate the webbing. Again, the spiders boiled up en masse and moved towards the disturbance. Seeing their opportunity, Thond, Siclare, and Rel Ter crept back to the thicket and started picking. Liadan kept up the distraction, mage-slapping the webs and adding some booming, bush-shaking bass with ghost sounds.
After about fourty minutes, they had gathered eight pounds of the ripe, red berries. When a slip from Rel Ter alerted the distracted arachnids to their activity, they decided that eight pounds was enough and beat feet out of there. They headed back to the east, and, by nightfall came to the western bank of the Shenandoah’s south fork. Despite the waning light, they forded the wide, shallow river, then made camp on the eastern shore.
While on watch, Thond noticed that Tess was tossing and turning badly, clearly in the throws of some kind of nightmare, and sweating profusely. He placed a hand on her forehead to check her temperature, and she awoke with a growl, snapping at him with her bare teeth. While she expressed no knowledge of what she had been dreaming, Thond was sufficiently concerned that he woke the others.
Siclare suggested that their encounter of the night before might be related. Rel Ter asked what she meant, and she explained of their run-in with the werewolf and how he bit Tess. Rel Ter said that he and the wolf, might be kinsmen, informing them that a rare few of his tribe were able to take on the form of a wolf-spirit. He ran off into the woods and soon returned holding an uprooted shrub, with bell-shaped purple flowers and black berries, explaining that his people sometimes used the plant to cure those who took on the wolf-spirit involuntarily.
Siclare took a hard look at the plant and identified it as belladonna, otherwise known as deadly nightshade, a potentially lethal poison. Liadan suggested that curing lycanthropy was a known use of the plant among the fey — assuming the dose didn’t kill you. They looked at the moon, and seeing that it would not be full for at least a month, agreed to save the poisonous plant as a last resort, should it come to that.
August 16, 1720
The next morning, Siclare pointed out a pass through the mountains on Bokken’s map that looked like it would take them directly to his little valley. Given their agreement not to reveal the location of Bokken’s home, Siclare, Rel Ter, and Liadan left Tess and Rel Ter behind and headed across the mountain to meet the grumpy old hermit.
Bokken, for his part, seemed almost pleased to see them — complimenting them many times on their wisdom in leaving the foul-mouthed, wrinkly dirt-faerie behind. He was more pleased on seeing the berries and accepted them with a quick dismissal, promising to deliver the medicine as soon as he could. Of course, nothing is ever that easy…
Siclare demanded that he could only have the berries once they had been allowed to peruse his library in search for a cure for Tess’s condition. Elisha grumbled his assent and let them in. He immediately pulled a large earthenware bowl out from under his bed, and, dumping the berries in in batches, began crushing them with his unwashed feet.
As he stomped, the three of them helped themselves to his sizable library. They sat reading late into the afternoon but, unsurprisingly, found very little about werewolves in his collection of early-modern French novels and plays, nor in his small collection of books on physics and mathematics. If only he had had a copy of Webster’s …
Finally, growing tired, Thond demanded to know when the medicine would be ready. Elisha, having added a full jug of moonshine to the crushed berries, was now crawling under his bed, muttering something about “I know I’ve got some moldy bread around here somewhere.” He stuck his head out from under the big bed and grumbled, “Two to three weeks! I already said I’d deliver it once it was ready…”
Getting, thus, no where, they packed up and headed back through the pass.
Rel Ter, meanwhile, had spent the day hunting. Scouting the area around their camp, he found signs of both elk and bison. He chose the latter, but, sadly, ended up upwind of the herd. By the time he was close enough, a massive bull was staring him down and he was forced to abandon the hunt.
They all converged back at the camp on the east bank of the south fork as night was falling, and decided to camp there again and head to the trading post in the morning.
August 16, 1720, Midnight
Thond again took the first watch. Late, towards the end of his watch, he spotted a number of faint lights moving in the distance on the other side of the river. He quickly doused their campfire and moved as close to the bank as he dared to get a better look.
The flickering light of at least a half-dozen torches could be seen, moving north along the far bank, and, in the faint light, nearly he could make out nearly twice that many shapes. Waking the others, they quickly agreed that the lights probably represented their Tuscaroran antagonists. When the light stopped only a few hundred yards north of their position, and started to ford the river, they decided that it must be another raiding attempt.
They struck camp in a hurry, and hopped on their horses (except for Siclare, of course, since she could run as fast as Vicious). Siclare lead them back through the pass into Bokken’s valley, pointing out that the main path to the trading post would require the Hemp Wearers to go north around Hawksbill Mountain, and that the pass would give them a significant head-start (though a harder climb at the end).
With Liadan singing a faerie-song to dispel their fatigue, they booked it through the pass, followed a tributary of the Hawsbill up to the top of Cedar Mountain, then followed the bison-trail along the ridge to approach the Trading Post from the south. They reached the post roughly a half-hour ahead of the raiders, guessing by the lights winding their way up the western slope of the mountains at least. They banged hard on the gates until Oleg let them in, and quickly explained the predicament.
Oleg slammed the bar back on the gates with a resounding bang, and they began rousing the others…
To be continued…