Earr 20th, 907 – Earrach Feis (5 days) – Giblean 13th, 908
The group continues to travel to the standing stone so that Demorthen Graenne could destroy the cursed Oghamic stones. They drop by Liam’s briefly, leaving more food with him, Theodosia is still not well enough to travel and the group continues on. With the new year festival of Earrach Feis coming soon the old druid seems to come to the conclusion that she will be unable to destroy the stones and still be able to make it to the festival. With Earrach Feis being such an important event spiritually, supernaturally, and psychologically she decides she must attend the festival in Baile Den-Tur. She leaves her Ionnthen Arlan behind to watch over the stones as she and the rest of the group make their way back to town.
Graenne takes Arlan to the standing stone alone, sets the vessel in which the cursed stones are held at the base of the standing stone, and tells Arlan to keep the stones away from other people at all cost. She says she will return as soon as possible. He sets up camp nearby and begins his vigil.
The Demorthen returns to the group and they set off for Baile Den-Tur. Thanks to the still snowy landscape and cross country travel they get back to town with less than a day to spare. The group reports to the baron all what happened. The castle is a hub of activity.
Graenne thanks the group and splits off. This is her busiest time of year and there is much work to be done.
Colleen makes her way to the chapel. The Temple celebrates Tiraine instead of the traditional pagan Earrach Feis. As a member of the church she has responsibilities she must attend to. Creedon enjoys a night back at his room and prepares to take in as much of the local festival as possible (Earrach Feis is a much more important festival out here in the rural areas and each one have a distinct local character.)
For Balwain of the Woods this years Earrach Feis is a huge milestone. It is his 16th festival and it is the one in which he becomes a man. Afterward he will be able to marry, own land*, start a business, etc. He is also expected to move out of his family home and begin building his own life.
Balwain finds his family at the traditional camping spot they use when they visit the town down near the stream. His mother is frantically trying to get things ready. She hugs him then immediately starts taking measurements. She is readying the ceremonial robe he will wear for the next 5 days. It is the same robe that his uncles, father, grandfather, etc, etc, used during their coming of age. (During this scene we meet Balwain’s sickly younger brother. Hilarious.) Over the next few days Balwain receives many well wishes and many questions about his future. He even receives a whole ham from Tamryn the butcher.
Earrach Feis: The festival of renewal commences the next day. For next 5 days it is neither year 907 nor 908, but a transition between them. Decorations adorn the town, depicting springtime and nature themes. There is ritual and feasting and contests and story telling and merriment and a lot of discussion about the next year’s crops. The baron and baroness mingle freely with their subjects. The baron telling war stories and dirty jokes, the baroness involved in the ladies events (bringing a touch of class to anything she attends). The two magientists of the town have a steaming, whistling contraption set up that has puppets dancing to a crude melody (though they end up fixing it more than running it). The Temple’s major contribution are their carols, sung in beautiful harmony. Over the years the Soustrian influence has slowly come to be accepted by the community and it is now a truly unique part of the local festival. Each night the Temple community retires from the public to perform their own more solemn traditions, on the final day they spend the day at the chapel. Demorthen Graenne is very busy with various rituals and speaking with the people, she is obviously a bit distracted throughout (likely worrying about her Ionnthen). On the final day the 16 year old boys and girls of the village are brought together to take part in the ritual that sees them become men and women. Their robes are gone and now their bodies painted in celtic patterns of blue and green. Each of them make a short speech, thanking their family and community and telling of their future plans. There is some surprise and excitement this year as one of the young men announces he is heading out to Osta-Baille to study medicine. The Demorthen has Balwain speak last, she has kept him close to her during the ritual. He tells of his plans to hunt like his father and to protect the town. During the final rites in which she appeals to the spirits to bless the area and it’s people with good fortune and the strength to endure she has her hand on Balwain’s shoulder. Nobody speaks of it, but it is obvious young Balwain has gained the old Demorthen’s interest.
The festival over and year 908 begins. The town quickly settles back to its normal routine, there is much work to do before the warm weather properly arrives. Graenne immediately gets ready to set out to the standing stone. Balwain bumps into her in town and asks if she would like him to escort her back to Arlan. She is grateful for the offer.
The pair meet with the baron. As they enter he is having a rather heated conversation with the baroness (his anger not at her but himself). He bemoans the foolishness of his “Ramblers”. He says they were overly arrogant and a waste of money. The baroness reminds him of their accomplishments and their usefulness.
The Demorthen (respectfully) interrupts this conversation (she is the only person in the barony who could do such a thing) and tells them she will be off at once. They wish her well.
Balwain, sensing an opportunity, seizes the moment. He respectfully comes forward and offers his services as a potential new Rambler. The baron is more than a bit dubious, particularly because Balwain is but one young hunter. Being a man who appreciates gumption and bold moves the baron decides to give Balwain a chance. If Balwain can bring back one of the bandits that have been seen in the area alive he will make Balwain a Rambler. It is agreed upon. The Demorthen, quiet until now, is also impressed by the move but senses that perhaps Balwain is a bit too brave for his own good. She requests that the Blade Knight Colleen Mac Innes be sent along with him. Everyone is surprised by this request (a Demorthen requesting a Soustrian) but her request is granted (assuming Rector Luciard agrees, which he does). Once the guiding of Graenne back to her Ionnthen is done Balwain can seek out the bandits.
Once out of the castle Balwain quickly goes to try to recruit his new friend, Varigal Creedon. Creedon is readying business to leave town after the spring melt. He has many letters and a few parcels lined up to take to Terkhen (a town which sits at an important crossroads in Taol-Kaer). With the melt still some time away and with some business at the castle still coming together Creedon agrees.
Together again the group sets out once more.
During all this time Arlan has had an interesting time. At first he noticed a lone sparrow that perched on the standing stone. As the days went by it grew more bold, eventually coming down to the vessel housing the cursed stones and pecking at it. Arlan cobbled some branches around the vessel to keep the bird at bay. As more days went by another bird appeared, and then another. Not knowing what else to do the Ionnthen concentrated on the vessel as Graenne had taught him. He did so for a few hours, when he stopped he was relieved to see the birds had gone. Obviously some small bit of influence was still being broadcast from the stones even through the magical vessel. During this time he also, thanks to the commanding view of the surrounding landscape, began to notice the smoke from a campfire at morning and evening. Whoever was making camp was slowly making their way along a stream up toward the road which leads to the Northface Mine. It was a difficult path through the heart of the woods that few would take. It was not a bad assumption that it might be the bandits trying to stay out of sight. Arlan worked hard to create false trails and such around the standing stone in case he needed to make a hasty get away with the stones. He knew their path would take them fairly close to the standing stone (they ended up passing by without incident). Arlan continued to concentrate on the vessel at least a few hours each day and keep an eye for the travelers camp smoke for as long as he could. The one good sign he received was that he spotted a robin during one of the days of Earrach Feis.
When Graenne returned to the standing stone (again, with the rest of the group camped a few hours away) she listened to what Arlan had seen. She told him that he must rejoin his friends as they desperately needed his help. She told him of Balwain’s bold offer to the baron and mysteriously added “there’s something of the Stag in that one.”
Arlan rejoined the group, again relaying what he saw, and they were off in search of the bandits. They soon pick up their trail, which leads directly to Liam’s cabin. Liam tells them that the group claimed to be hunters looking for wild boar (a claim Liam was rightfully dubious of). He said that they were aggressive (insinuated threats, nothing overt) and rude. There were 7 of them. 5 seemed to be farmboys with weapons stuck in their hands, but the other two (the two on horseback) were the leaders and appeared to be people not to be trifled with. Theodosia is still not well enough for the road.
Balwain tracks the other group up to the road which leads up to the Northface Mine. Interestingly the tracks turn away from the mine. They follow the tracks for a time. They eventually lead off the road and up the side of the mountain. It is a perfect spot for an ambush as from up there the road would be visible for a long way in both directions. The group stands on the road for a time discussing what to do next (later they learn there is a blind not 50 feet off the road here, they are surely being watched at this time). The group continues on down the road, careful they are out of sight. They circle back up the mountain and are able to eventually get a view of the other group. They are camped at a location hidden from the road. It appears as if they are set up to stay here a while. With the Spring the road will be more easily traversed and it is during the Spring the mine brings down their copper from the winter’s work. It is assumed this group is waiting for that shipment.
The group heads back to the road and makes their way up to the mine (again, probably being seen as they do it). They arrive at the mine and tell Sergeant Dremmel of the situation. Balwain wants a live bandit and Dremmel wants the bandits out of his area, they agree to help each other. They come up with a plan. The soldiers, Colleen, Creedon, and Arlan will go down the road in a covered wagon posing as the shipment. The Ionnthen will pose as a driver while Colleen and Creedon will have the appearance of slaves pulling the cart. In the back the soldiers will be ready to spring out and attack. They plan to leave in the morning. Balwain will sneak ahead this night and find a good place to snipe with his bow for the next days attack.
Balwain makes his way stealthily down the road. This time however he notices the blind, he sees the steam of someones breath. Being this late at night the watcher is less careful than he could be.
Balwain sneaks around. He makes a bit of sound and frightens the man behind the blind. The man comes out, sword in hand, asking “Is someone there?” Balwain answers with an arrow to the chest. The man blindly charges, and sprouts another of the woodsman’s arrows. Falling back, severely wounded, the man tries to reach for the horn hanging nearby. Balwain stops him.
The man, probably just a man himself as he looks the same age as Balwain, cries and begs for his life. His name is Geoff and he confirms that he is a part of a group of bandits. Geoff tells Balwain that he took up this life just recently. His family’s crops failed last year and he needed money anyway he could get it. “My family is starving.” Geoff is coughing blood and has a sucking chest wound. Balwain patches him up as best he can and decides to return to the mining camp. Geoff simply would not survive the night otherwise.
They get to the mining camp just as the rest of the group is heading out. They bring Geoff in and tend to him (he is unconscious and in bad shape). They discuss the situation.
Dremmel says that now that they bandits know their presence is known they are unlikely to stick around too long (the fate of captured bandits in Tri-Kazel not being good one). He says that with their prize compromised they are likely to get out of the barony as quick as possible and hit any easy targets along the way so that it won’t be a total loss for them.
The group quickly realizes that the bandits know where Liam’s cabin is. It is possible they will hit there first. The Sergeant says they can take one of his men, but he needs the rest to defend the camp. They choose Frank and are on their way back to Liam’s (yet again).
*technically the Baron owns all the land of Dunn.