Fleeing from the Rattlebog and the horrors within, our heroes stumbled back to Toadstool Hollow. Slaying the witch was beyond their strength, and if they were to liberate Morel and her home town from the curse, it would have to be by other means. Battered and discouraged, they turned in for the night.
That night, Morel had a dream. The Witch of the RattleBog argued with a shrunken head on her table. Morel’s gaze swept into the eternally screaming mouth and out another shrunken head, this one held in the wrinkled purple fingers and filthy yellow talons of a hideous cloaked figure riding on a coal-black horse with hair of fire. In a phlegmy and ancient voice, the figure offered to give Morel the words of the curse, that it might be broken—for a price. With a gesture, the cowled horror showed Morel a vision of the Tower of Nails, with a silver ewer glowing with blue light at its heart. “Bring me this from Royse, and I will give you the key to your curse.” Upon waking, Morel revealed this vision to his compatriots. Tavion realized the magic scintillating within the silver bottle is identical to that within the talisman he carries around his neck—the one holding memories he has lost. The silver ewer must contain memories, but whose? And why does the nightmare-rider want them?
In the Borgondhi Hinterlands by the side of a beautiful lake, the party encountered a group of footsoldiers let by Ser Callek—a Borgondhian Knight with a rude demeanor and distinctive nose. Surrounded by these soldiers was a forager, clad in simple raiment and wielding a homemade bow with arrows. While Tavion and Princess Aine hid in the wagon, the rest of the party answered the guards’ challenge. They presented Sir Eklos, Knight of the Pendant, and Tyrandriel acted the part of a humble acolyte. They successfully talked their way past the guards, attracting the attention of Sir Callek, who reluctantly yielded to the pious authority of Our Triumphant Family. The plight of the forager led the more compassionate of the party to ask her crime—Sir Callek answered that she was poaching. Tyrandriel recalled that a Knight of the Pendant can intercede on behalf of any criminal, taking them into the church’s custody and delivering them to perform Penance instead of a harsh sentence. Penances include service to the community and can be onerous. Sir Callek was again unhappy but unwilling to cross the church, so he released the poacher into their custody (swapping her iron manacles for rope bonds).
Once they got her away, they discovered that her name was Berwyn. A strikingly beautiful hunter and forager, she was not truly in the woods to steal the king’s deer—in fact, her husband had fallen ill, and she sought the Gray Wanderers. The party learned that the Gray Wanderers had been forbidden from entering Borgondhi by decree of King Ralzemon himself, on accusations of heresy and heathen practices. Nevertheless, Berwyn had heard of others across the kingdom falling asleep and never awakening, remaining unconscious and wracked with fever dreams until their strength relented and they perished. She also heard that the Gray Wanderers came to some of those afflicted in the night, and when they departed the sick awakened and recovered. She hoped to find them before they moved on, but when cornered in the woods by Sir Callek she panicked and went with hunting instead of heresy.
This news troubled the party. The symptoms of this sleeping sickness reminded them of their encounter with the Mists of Arkaley. In that small town in Marchen, the mists afflicted young children exclusively. Now it seemed that the affliction was far more widespread, and came not only with the mists or to the young—people across Marchen, Borgondhi, even fair Gloriana itself were falling asleep, never to awaken. Moreover, this had been going on before the Mists of Arkaley rolled in. Since her homestead was on the way to Dunlan Fief, they stopped by to check on her husband. A woodsman and lumberjack by trade, he’d been in a fitful sleep for two days. His body grew weak and thin, his flesh pale and withering from dehydration. In between bouts of spasms he muttered incoherently, pleading or arguing in gibberish born of no language.
Rhawunel’s divine sense did not reveal the presence of any unearthly forces, but the man was clearly wracked by dark magic. Tyrandriel sprinkled the woodsman with holy water and invoked the protection of the Laughing God, and the fits stopped. With the healing touch of Rhawunel’s magic, he woke up long enough to embrace his wife and drink water. While conscious, he recounted a tale of horror: he dreamed he was buried beneath the earth, his skin crawling with worms and spiders, while roots slowly grew into his flesh, consuming him and drinking his blood. Above the surface he could hear the voices of his children, telling him he belonged there and they did not want to release him.
When the companions spoke with the children, they found no signs of malicious intent or supernatural presence. The man also said he’d heard his wife, his long-dead father, the woman who spurned him in his youth, all scoffing at his pleas for freedom from his torture. It seemed the magic did not invade or possess his body; instead, it imprisoned his mind far away, in a dark and wretched place.
The companions considered what they knew. They feared this to be the work of Mairg, but how could her power reach so far away from the Caonach vale? What magic ensnared the minds of so many mortals, with no discernible pattern? And for what purpose?
Ulreik Hras Halril found a possible answer in the Mordavian Transcripts. They spoke of a Crown of Roots, which grants the wielder the power to “Send their will out across the Fifth Kingdom and the land.” They recalled the words of Nuinn, who told them that Mairg first tried to seize the miller’s children through Faerie, and when prevented there, reached out through “The Fifth Kingdom,” before being driven out “by ashes and embers.” The goblin Dwenday told them Mairg went down to the Starless Market and made a trade for a Crown of Roots, shortly before Rhawunel’s family was attacked and driven out of Angren. And finally, the Transcripts mentioned a “Root of Sorrow,” that drank from pools of suffering and grew fat on hate’s carrion.
Mairg was brewing something terrible in her forest palace. Could it be that she was leaching the life of humans across all the land, drawing their power unto herself for some malevolent purpose? And what does this have to do with her obsession with the Prophecy of the New Day?
With more questions than answers, the companions needed to set off to Dunlan Fief and the Tower of Nails. Eklos halted them—in his authority as a Knight of the Pendant, he gave Berwyn her penance: to stay with her husband and aid him in his time of suffering. He revealed that he’d met two of the Gray Wanderers and shared a meal with them while traveling to Arkaley. They were coming the opposite direction, towards Borgondhi, and while calm and polite they revealed little. Eklos stated that the Church was still uncertain about this new order, but thus far had no reason to persecute or hunt them. Ralzemon’s hostility was unexplained.
To compound this all, as they bid Berwyn and her husband farewell, Tavion learned one last startling rumor: Cedric Dunlan himself had fallen victim to the sleeping sickness. They hurried on the rain-swept trails to the central city to learn more.
The companions arrived in a town rife with activity. Caravans of food, leather, raw metal, tools and weapons streamed to the city gates. Not only were conscripted soldiers of Dunlan Fief watching the roads, but Tavion recognized numerous mercenary companies patrolling the grounds. There hadn’t been this many soldiers in Dunlan Fief since the last time the old knight rode to war. Rumors flit left and right about the sleeping sickness—its grip on Cedric dominated, of course, but others were afflicted, male and female, young and old. Bromin learned that only humans were falling prey to the disease—dwarves remained unaffected. The party needed to learn three things: the location of the mysterious Woman in Red, the condition and events surrounding Cedric’s illness, and everything they could about the Tower of Nails.
Once inhabited by Ulreik’s friend and fellow ex-student of the Academy, Florian, the Tower of Nails now hosts a reclusive man named Royse. Unlike Florian, Royse was expelled from the academy after a loud disagreement with the Alfar Council of Elders. The tower itself occupies a mountain pass that was once a key holdout against the Huldra, rendered useless when King Geirr and his knights invaded the lands and founded the kingdom of Marchen. Royse keeps little company but a thick-necked manservant. Supplies are delivered once a week by George the Farmer or his family. The Tower is renowned for its telescope, the top floor has partially crumbled, and there is an oubliette below the bottom floor. Nashia’s research revealed the history of the tower and the lack of any secret passages, as well as a general floor plan. Morel’s dream did not reveal the specific location of the Ewer of Memories. Bromin got Farmer George drunk and agreed to take the next shipment of supplies up to the tower, and Ulreik wrote a letter of introduction hoping to visit Royse as a fellow ex-student of the Academy. With multiple routes of entry prepared, they hoped their mission to retrieve the Ewer would succeed.
Gaemund and Rhawunel went in search of the Lady in Red. They learned she’d arrived before the party and gone to see someone at Dunlan Keep. Their questions, however, garnered the unwanted attentions of several mercenaries nearby. The quick-witted Gaemund managed to lose their tail and follow them in return. It seemed that the mercenaries had a vested interest in keeping the Lady in Red’s affairs secret. What could it mean that the woman who sold Bromin’s stolen ale, from the caravan where so many died, now had a secret meeting at Dunlan Keep? And if all these mercenaries were preparing for war, with whom, and why?
Meanwhile, at Dunlan Keep, guards and mercenaries halted Tavion, Aine and Tyrandriel, still in the disguise of a Priest of the Church. In Cedric’s time of illness, no guests or visitors were being permitted. This forced Aine’s hand—she revealed her signet ring and declared herself the Blood of Borgondhi, Aine, Daughter of Helena von Borgondhi, Granddaughter of Ralzemon von Borgondhi. Once the guards verified her credentials they let her and her compatriots into Cedric’s chambers. The elderly knight lay in agony, muttering to himself just as Berwyn’s husband did. Tyrandriel spoke the words of the Prayer of Protection and Cedric’s mind returned to his body. The acolytes of the church quickly administered healing herbs, prayers of restoration and water, and Cedric awakened. Face to face with his adoptive father for the first time since he fled, Tavion requested a moment alone.
The spell of protection could not last forever. Though he wondered at the risk his adopted son took to visit him, Cedric embraced Tavion warmly (but weakly). He recounted dreams of being buried beneath the earth, roots digging into his flesh, the voices of his own son and long-dead wife taunting him from above the ground. He feared for his fiefdom—Cedric confided in Tavion that shortly before the sleeping sickness set in on him, he had argued with an envoy from King Ralzemon. The Crown demanded that Cedric raise more soldiers and horses for the army, at great burden to his own people. When Cedric refused, a messenger told the King’s envoy that someone had arrived. The envoy departed with a scowl. That very night, the nightmares began.
Now leadership of the fief falls to Cedric’s son and Tavion’s adopted brother, Jurian Dunlan. Cedric trusts in his son’s honor and judgement, but the weakness of his father may leave Jurian vulnerable to the hounding pressures of the crown. Ralzemon prepares for war, and Dunlan Fief may be swept up soon enough. As he fell back asleep, Cedric asked Tavion to keep himself safe.
A change crept over Tavion. The man who raised him from the time his village was razed and his parents were slain, the pillar of strength who showed him that justice must be tempered by mercy, that patience and understanding can coexist with decisive action—that man lay dying in the grips of a distant witch’s curse. His fingers clenched on his daggers, and in the silence of his heart Tavion pledged to drive them into Mairg’s heart, no matter how many lives he had to take along the way.
Mairg’s power was growing by the day, and with her designs on Marchen and several of our heroes’ families, it was clear that she must be stopped. How to thwart her designs—or even what those plans are—remains undiscovered. Confronted by the suffering Mairg inflicted not only on her own family but on so many others, Rhawunel called upon the spirits of Dakonaand Corik Tel’Maerlyth. During their years on the run, Corik tried to teach her the traditions of his order—protect the innocent and the weak. Nurture beauty and life in all its forms. Wield the sword only in defense of that which cannot defend itself. Yet Rhawunel’s heart cried out for vengeance, to swear the same oath Tavion took in silence.
Corik’s offered her his counsel in this time of grief—do not turn on Mairg in hatred and wrath. Instead, stand between her and those she harms. Stand for them, not against Mairg and her plans, and you will find peace. Dakona revealed to her daughter that her own death was not out of hatred, but utility—like all those wrapped in the roots of Mairg, Dakona was sacrificed in exchange for some terrible gift. She called upon Rhawunel to become the leader that the lost people of Angren need, to find her lost brothers, and to save the Huldra from the mad queen’s designs.