After the goblins’ bodies were gathered for burning, Martin used a Detect Magic spell on the gear and discovered that a battle axe with a crude red paint job was magical. Roger, lacking an enchanted weapon, took the axe for the time being.
Pyotr, desperate to raise enough money to repair his home, offered a half-share in the sales of any white horses the party could recover. Taras, Pyotr’s son, was eager to go and find the steeds (and punish the goblins who stole it). The party borrowed the other clan members’ mounts and left shortly after dawn. Allele and Cromartie used their woodcraft to scout out the trail. Fortunately, a herd of horses leaves an easy track to follow and the group set of into the forest.
The trail led them to the northern edge of the Dymrak then turned southeast, following the treeline. Before long, Cromartie noticed the stench of death in the air. Roger scouted ahead and soon discovered a grisly scene within the trees: it appeared that a battle between several goblins had taken place in a small clearing. Besides the dead goblins and a dead warg mount, there were over a dozen dead white horses as well. Examining the goblins revealed that they were of two different tribes: The Vipers (recognized for yellow markings on their armor), and Red Blades (with blood-red paint on their weapons).
A noise from above attracted the party’s attention. Looking up, they spied a lone goblin hiding in a pine tree. Allele, with his knowledge of the Goblin tongue, ordered the creature down. It complied, but was clearly terrified. It wore the trappings of a Red Blade. The party questioned it for a few minutes, but all they learned was that goblin tribes had united to steal the horses and were then going to split them up between them. The Red Blades had chased down the “cowardly” Vipers after they violated the agreement, by stealing the horses and leaving the siege against “Vlack’s” orders. Who Vlack was, it would not say. Roger moved to behead the goblin with his new axe, but it dodged and fled. It only got a dozen yards or so before Allele and Roger brought it down with arrows.
As the two went to check the body, the elf heard a low rumbling sound. Suddenly the ground erupted near Fyodor and an ankheg burst out, obviously attracted by the smell of carrion. Fyodor and the beast traded several blows, but none landed tellingly. Pavel moved up on his horse and swung his mace at the thing, but its thick carapace deflected the blow. The others fired several arrows at the creature and Martin hurled a dart, until Cromartie’s bow sent an arrow deep between two chitinous plates, killing the beast. The group gutted it, hoping to find something of value undigested within, but nothing of interest was there. They also debated following its tunnel, but determined it was too much risk for too little chance of reward. Taras performed a head count of the dead horses and found that 17 of the poor beasts lay on the killing ground. That left 24 horses unaccounted for. The party pressed on.
After another few miles, the horses’ trail (mixed with goblin footprints) turned down a path into the trees. The trail was slightly overgrown, but obviously had seen recent use. Relatively fresh horse droppings also showed that mounts had been there in the last several hours. Roger scouted ahead on foot.
About a hundred yards in from the treeline, Roger spied a clearing with a couple sagging huts and a corral. Inside the fence were the white horses. There was a campfire burning but no sign of life beside the horses. Roger turned back to report.
The group decided to send Cromartie and Roger to circle the clearing. Allele’s armor made him too loud for scout work. The rest of the party rode halfway up the trail and waited 50 yards or so from the clearing. After a few minutes, Martin and Allele decided to advance to the edge of the clearing and watch from the trees.
The two scouts were about halfway through their circuit when someone came out of the huts. It was a woman in a short riding cloak. As she walked toward the fire, Roger and Cromartie decided she must be in league with the goblins and drew their bows and fired on her. Roger’s arrow struck her solidly in the back, but Cromartie’s foot slipped on a root and his arrow flew wide, arcing over the huts and landing in the corral, striking one of the horses in the rump! The beast whinnied in fright and kicked wildly, setting off a panic among the other beasts. Roger shot again. This one found its mark and she fell heavily to the ground.
At this point Martin advanced into the clearing and headed toward the fallen woman for a closer look. He could see she was very likely dead, but before he could examine the body, the doors of the huts flew open and goblins poured out of both! One shot an arrow and struck the mage, but not seriously. Allele threw a Sleep spell and they fell down to the last goblin.
By this time the horses had broken part of the fence and were jumping and running out of the corral for the trees. Fyodor charged toward them, waving his arms and trying to divert the exodus. He made a grab for one beast but missed. His attempt did check its progress for the moment, though. As the warrior was trying to stop the herd from fleeing, Cromartie and Roger moved into the clearing. A moment later, a handful of goblins came out of the trees near Fyodor and attacked. One of them shot its bow, but missed the Traladaran, striking the horse he was trying to hold onto! The enraged beast kicked out at the man in front of him, but his heavy mail stopped the blow. Fyodor drew his weapons and prepared for the goblins’ assault. Roger and Cromartie could see that Fyodor was fighting with something, but the horses blocked their view and they had no clear shot. Allele, however, was on the same side of the corral as Fyodor. He shot and killed one of the goblins that was closing with the fighter.
Meanwhile, Pavel rode up and looked in one of the huts. It was dim but he could see forms slumped against one wall. Dismounting, he entered the hut. Inside he found two humans, bound and gagged with their throats slashed. By the freshness of the blood, he could see the killing was very recent. Martin, after cutting the throats of a few sleeping goblins, moved toward the other hut. Inside he found another dead hostage like the two Pavel saw.
Fyodor managed to drop two of his foes and Allele shot the last as it tried to flee. By this time, the horses still in the pen were not trying so hard to escape and the ones in the trees has slowed their pace a bit.
Several of the group set about capturing the stray beasts and getting them back into the corral. Fyodor crudely braced the broken fence rail. In the end, they managed to retrieve all 24 white horses and four normal horses that appeared to have belonged to the people in the huts. A quick search revealed basic supplies for a small homestead and stables, as well as a coin pouch with some money.
Examining the dead bodies, the party found raw skin on the woman’s wrists, as if she had been recently bound. She also appeared to have some elven blood (slightly pointed ears). It appeared that the goblins had captured the horsemen and had sent her out for some purpose or another. Sadly, the goblins had decided to kill the prisoners when the fighting began.
Wrapping the dead folk in blankets, the group lashed them to their horses. Fyodor, finding a patterned blue dress in the woman’s effects, took it as a gift for the young widow Masha. Leading the whites on a string, the group headed back for Sukiskyn. It took the rest of the day, but the party arrived back shortly after sunset. Kuzma, Pyotr’s mother and a cleric of Petra, prepared the dead from the horse camp for burial. The party did not go into detail about the manner of the woman’s death, but asked Pyotr if he could identify her. He did not know her name, but seemed to recall having seen her at horse sales before.
The clan held a muted feast, celebrating their surviving the previous night’s attack and the return of (most of) the horses, but mourning their lost kin. Pyotr was a gracious host, serving the party the best cuts of meat and making sure their cups were full. He also said how very pleased he was that the homestead was not damaged more. Sukiskyn, he explained, is very old. It was founded by Pyotr’s great-grandfather and many heirlooms of the previous generations are proudly displayed in the main hall, including a stuffed eagle, a wolf’s head, two ancient battle-axes (said to have been wielded by Pyotr’s grandfather), some old but fine tapestries, and a carved hunting horn. Such treasures are not much he admits, but they all have sentimental value to his family and would be impossible to replace if lost or destroyed.
During the night, the characters kept a careful watch. Near dawn, Cromartie heard movement to the north from atop the tower and spotted what looked like torchlight. He raised the alert at almost the same time the compound was hailed by voices from the trees. They said they were from Ilyakana, a logging camp to the northwest. They said they had been attacked by goblins in the night and the camp was burned, along with the riverboat Marlinev’s Pride! Kalanos was wounded and raving, lashed to a stretcher. The party had them step forward and, after checking their arms for brands, let them come into Sukiskyn.
Gregor, the head of the handful of refugees, told everyone that Pyotr’s brother Stephan was at the camp and captured along with several other people. Pyotr grew visibly upset by this news. Pavel used his healing magic to calm Kalanos and let him rest.
Pyotr told the party he hated to impose on them again, but he wished that they might try to rescue his brother and the others. The fact that he and some others weren’t killed outright seemed to indicate that they would be kept alive, at least for a little while. A consideration for the party is the fact that Stephan is the trader of the clan and without him and his contacts in places like Kelvin and Rifflian, the price for the white horses –and the party’s share– would not be nearly so high.
Dawn broke on Lunadain (11 Thaumont) with a drizzling rain as the party considered their next move….