That night, during Cromartie’s watch, wolves burst from the trees. They attacked the horses and him but not before he had a chance to shout a warning. The group leaped up to defend themselves. Cromartie was wounded and one horse dragged down by a wolf in the fray. Fyodor, with sword and board, ran to Cromartie’s side. A larger wolf charged the warriors. Fyodor laid about him with Trollcutter and wounded the beast deeply. Roger fired several arrows at it as well, but in the dark it was difficult to see their effect. Martin did his best with his darts, being nearly tapped out for spells. Pavel single-handedly slew the wolf that had slain the horse. Cromartie and Fyodor had dropped two of the wolves with their swords as well. The horses panicked and broke their tethers, galloping into the night. The alpha wolf, not liking being hurt so badly, fled the scene and the remaining wolves’ morale broke. After the party had tended to their wounds, they moved camp away from the animal corpses and waited for daylight to gather the horses.
The next day dawned clear and cool. Cromartie and Gregor managed to retrieve all the remaining horses. After some debate, the group decided to head to Sukiskyn to regroup, hoping to arrive there by nightfall. Cromartie led the way, but the way was more difficult than expected and the group was still deep in the wilderness when darkness came. Another night was spent camping, but nothing accosted them while they rested.
The following morning was cloudy but no rain fell. By midday, the group had found their way to Sukiskyn. After discussing matters with Pyotr, it was decided that the white horses needed to be sold as soon as possible, even if it meant doing so without Stephan’s bargaining expertise. The party examined the tapestry again and asked the residents if they had any knowledge about “XITAQA,” but the only suggestion was by old Kuzma, who once again mentioned asking the “Horse-Man of the Moors.” The party determined to leave early the following morning to escort the horses to Rifflian.
That night, Fyodor slipped out on two missions. First, he paid a visit to the young widow Masha. She was awake, feeding her infant son. Fyodor made an honorable, if hurried, proposal of marriage. He offered to take her with him in the morning and be married at Kelvin. The lady was caught off guard, but not offended. She did not answer him immediately and the warrior accepted her silence and told her to think about it.
Fyodor’s second trip was to find Roger, who was keeping watch on the tower roof. He enlisted the thief’s aid in taking down the magic tapestry and trying to hide it amongst the pelts, etc. that the mule was carrying.
Early the next morning, before dawn, the party head out. Traveling with them were two ranch hands, Tralas and Alfana, who led the white horses on strings and would negotiate the sale at Rifflian. Fyodor and Roger kept the mule and its new cargo well away from the Sukiskyners. Cromartie noticed the lopsided bundle, but said nothing right away.
The crossing at the Shutturga went easily on the group found themselves out on the moors again. Fyodor questioned Tralas and Alfana about the “Horse-Man” Kuzma had mentioned. They laughed and said it was an old bit of folklore about a guardian spirit that watches over wild horses. The legends say if one goes out on the moors at midnight and whistles while standing upon one foot for three nights in a row, he will appear. They offered no opinion on whether the legend might be true beyond believing such a spirit would be no friend to folk like themselves, who make a living capturing wild horses.
The group made good time and even managed to cross the Volaga before making camp, though they still had one more river between them and their destination. Late that night, Fyodor went out on the moors and whistled for several minutes with one foot inthe air, but nothing seemed to happen. When Fyodor returned to camp, Cromartie commented (quietly) to him on the bundled tapestry hidden under the pelts and offered advice on how better to conceal it.
The next morning, the group and the horses forded the Wufwolde and rode upstream to Rifflian. The town was a trading spot where the elves of the Radlebb came to do business with outsiders. Half the residents in the settlement were humans. The buildings were fashioned in an elvish style but seemed almost “touristy,” as though designed by someone who wanted to make the elves “feel at home” and visitors feel like they were someplace “authentically elvish” – yet failing at both.
Tralas and Alfana took the whites to the horse traders and the rest of the party found lodgings at the Silver Swan, an establishment that catered to humans. Cromartie sold the pelts and Fyodor managed to trade the gems and the tiara for some platinum coins. The horses sold for a decent price, but Alfana felt sure that Stephan could have gotten a better deal.
Flush with cash, the party asked around regarding possible magic for sale. Finding none, they set about to gather information. Roger spoke to the elven priest of the local shrine about “Xitaqa” but only learned that it was probably a Hutaakan name or word. The Hutaakans were believed to be the first peoples of the land that is now Traladara. Many of the ancient ruins scattered about the wilderness are said to be the remains of their civilization.
Roger then located a wine shop that catered to elves and succeeded in getting the barkeep to ask his clientele if anyone knew much about ancient tapestries. One fellow by the name of Silveroak agreed to look at it. Fyodor, disliking the company of elves, stayed at his room in the inn, having food and drink sent up.
Roger arrived and told Fyodor to calm down and spread out the tapestry for Silveroak to examine. Unfortunately, the elf could provide little information beyond confirming that the tapestry was very old and possibly of Hutaakan origin. He also agreed that the design appeared to be some sort of chart or map.
Martin seized the opportunity to clean up and rest, grateful to have a night in an actual town with inns, shops, and clean rooms. Cromartie greased a few palms and found pleasant companionship for the night with a comely half-elf. Fyodor slipped out of town at night and forded the river back to the moors. He stood on one foot again and whistled for a while.
A few minutes later, his efforts were rewarded with the sounds of hoofbeats. Three large stallions rode up and eyed him curiously, followed by a centaur with a long iron-grey beard who named himself Loshad and asked Fyodor what he wanted.
Fyodor explained that they wished to find Xitaqa. Loshad said he knew where it lay, but in return Fyodor must release any horse he owns to the wild, and must kill the dreaded werewolves Bailakask and Kalkask, who hunted the wild horses of the moors, and return to this spot in four nights with their heads. Fyodor said his group had already faced weres in the Dymrak. Loshad warned him that if they had faced any from Bailakask’s pack, the weres might already be seeking him! He told Fyodor to seek their lair among the caves in the rocky outcroppings along the Shutturga. Fyodor agreed and returned to Rifflian.
The next morning broke clear and almost hot, with a warm wind blowing from the south. Fyodor told the rest of the party what he had learned on the moors. Roger asked some of the boatmen down at the river if they knew of any rocky outcroppings on the Shutturga. One of the hands recalled a stony hill upstream from Misha’s ferry on the western banks. Rested, and with new information, the party prepared for their next move.