It was a grey day in Fallcrest. Usually late spring in the mid-Nentir Vale offers more in the way of sunshine, but the clouds cast a pallor over the group as they reconvened by the Wizard’s Gate. Each of them had gone their separate ways for a few days after returning from Winterhaven, resupplying, shopping for new gear, and putting their ear to the ground to find out any information they could about what was happening Harkenwold before they set out to investigate themselves.
“These are good, sturdy mounts.” rumbled the old dwarf, “but I don’t recommend getting in a fight with ‘em.” Brindle nodded, these weren’t warhorses by any measure, but they would close the distance quickly.
Quietly the group secured their gear to the horses and got ready set out on their way.
Aeren seemed determined about getting into Harkenwold, and Brindle corroborated that the rumours of a coup that Marcus had uncovered. The Warlord contacted by Lord Markelhay of Fallcrest, who corroborated the story, but that not much had been known about the group that had launched the coup. He charged Brindle with finding out what he could, and rendering whatever assistance he could. Mustering troops from Fallcrest would take time, and needed to be done in such a way to leave the central town with adequate protection of its own.
After a day’s journey, the group stopped and made camp in the Harken Forest, wanting to travel into Harkenwold by the following day. After an uneventful night, the following day would prove to be anything but.
As the thick forest gave way to the scrublands of Harkenwold, all seemed calm. Distant farmsteads dotted the landscape. Yet within a few hours of travelling down the [[King’s Road]], something seemed off. The road was empty with no other traffic on it at all. Soon they saw a column of black smoke over a hill, something definitely out of the ordinary. Smoke from farms would normally be white or grey, black smoke was not a good sign.
As they approached, Aeren reached out ahead with his mind. Five soldiers and two wolves the size of horses had surrounded a nearby steading. They were holding torches and laughing, having already lit the outhouse on fire.
“Excuse me,” said the Psion through his projection. “What are you doing?” The others appeared over the hill, to the small road just south of the farm.
“Back off!” one of the soldiers shouted, “This is Iron Circle business! It doesn’t concern you.”
“Business?” cried a female voice from inside the farmhouse, “It’s more like robbery and murder to me!”
For a moment, blood drained out of Marcus’ face, as old memories came flooding back in.
“This isn’t good,” said Brindle calmly, “we need to stop thi…”
No sooner had the half-elf started say this, than the Warlock ran foward, cutting loose with curse language that was particularly foul. He focused his rage on the Dire Wolf by the steading wall, engulfing the giant animal in a wreath of flame.
In the ensuing fight, the soldiers employed crossbow and scimitar, tooth and fang, but could not repel the group’s coordinated attack. Aeren’s scrambling, Rolan’s lighting, Ankh’s well placed sword, and Heskan’s implacable defense. Brindle coordinated everyone well, yet Marcus had a fury unbound, unlike anything the others had seen before. His attacks were near reckless, and vicious when they hit.
One of the soldiers cried out in the midst of battle, seemingly in desperation, “You have no idea who you’re dealing with.”
“On the contrary,” snarled Marcus, “I know exactly who I’m dealing with.”
With a gesture from Marcus, the soldier writhed in pain as blast of dark fire erupted from the Warlock’s outstretched arm, and the battle was over. Marcus wiped blood from his lip and smiled grimly, he had been careless, and let his anger get the better of him taking some unnecessary hits, but he held his ground.
“I take it you know these guys?” asked Brindle.
“How’d you guess?” grumbled Marcus.
“Because you enjoyed that a bit too much.”
Marcus chuckled to himself, but before they could continue the conversation, the farmhouse door unlocked, and a middle aged half-elf woman emerged with two teenage boys in tow. She looked haggard and worried, but her eyes showed relief. Rolan moved to douse the outhouse fire.
“My thanks, strangers,” she said, “Those Iron Circle jackals came to rob us. I barred my door, but they said they’d burn the house down with me and my boys in it. You saved our lives –but who are you?”
“We are glad you’re safe,” replied Brindle, “but I would ask the same.”
“My name is Ilyana, and these are my sons Jarek and Jarl. This is our farm. These reavers killed my husband Karthen when they invaded the dale. My boys have been trying to get by ever since.”
“I’m afraid you’re not safe here.” replied Marcus, “once the Iron Circle starts looking for their patrol, they’re going to come back here.”
“I’ll hide the bodies, and we’ll get ourselves to safety.” the woman replied. “You sound like you know these monsters.”
“Yes, Marcus. Do tell.” queried Aeren.
Marcus went on to describe some of his own history with the Iron Circle, a ruthless mercenary organization with holdings in the south. They maintain a keep outside the large city of Sarthel in the south, and sell their services across the region surrounding the City of Silver. It is widely suspected that the organization has infiltrated significant portions of Sarthel’s governing structure. Overt rule, however, seems to be a new action for the Iron Circle.
Ilyana explained that the group staged a coup over a month before, taking the Baron captive, and have been plundering the land ever since under the guise of “new taxes.”
“How can we help?” asked Brindle.
“The folk here in Harkenwold are ready to rebel –we just need a spark to set things off. I think you should talk to Reithann, the druied or maybe Dar Gremath in Albridge. They’ll know what needs doing.”
“I know Reithann,” replied Rolan. “We’ll see her first.”
“Go carefully,” cautioned Ilyana, “Don’t attract too much attention to yourself before you need to. Albridge should be safe enough, Harken Village is where most of their soldiers are, but be careful. They have patrols everywhere. My boys and I will hide those who fell here. With luck the Iron Circle won’t learn what happened here or about you any time soon.”
In the hours that followed, the group moved cautiously, first to meet with Reithann, and then on to Albridge… Marcus smiled, for others it would be a rebellion, for him, payback.
Note: the conversations with Reithann and Dar Gremath will come in later posts.