The Second Trip to Red Fern.
A week or so after coming back from Red Fern, Emerald Shines has had two new mercenaries join the ranks. The first is a barbarian from the north, carrying noble weapons shamelessly beside his wolf-pelt armor. This is Moonchaser. The second is a rich son of a merchant whose family are close to Emerald’s family. Emerald takes the guy on as a favor to get him out of some trouble he had somewhere back home to the south. This is Marble Riches. The four set out to Red Fern. They are to pick up a wagon there and drive it back to Tail.
The first day out they encountered a group of Sun-dweller woodchoppers clearing the road from a big tree which had fallen. They had a single guard, a long bowmen, and tensions were running high. The party passed them without conversation or incident. That night at the first meadow, they encountered a very bizarre group of travelers. A group of children, from toddling age to pre-teen were running through the woods and came upon the camp. They were terrified, starving and filthy. The eldest, a boy, said that they were going to travel the road until they found a village and live there. They didn’t really seem to know what they were doing or where they were going. They mentioned that they came from a farm, far to the north and they had been traveling south through the wilds. The last time they ate had been three days ago at a church where they were given food and consequently shooed away. They said their farm had been attacked and their parents were dead. Marble, feeling sorry for the kids, gave them his rations for the trip. The kids slept in the camp and the group left the next morning to continue west, while the children, presumably, were going east to Tail.
The second day, they passed the Southern Road Fort and gave their names. The guards remembered them, and there was some chit-chat about bandits. Apparently, a merchant, a simple coal seller, had been murdered along the road the day before. Marble decided to use this opportunity to try out some of his new “mysterious” contacts. Without the help of the others, he called up the ghost of the merchant. He had been attacked by bowmen from the woods to the west and killed. He didn’t remember much of the experience except that it had happened in a ravine where a creek washed across the road.
That night at the second meadow, a stranger entered the camp, openly and desiring no trouble. He was a barbarian, covered in thick leathers carrying a light hand-ax and a longbow. His name was Eagle Fiercely Watches, and he claimed to be a bounty hunter. He came south to try his hand at the bandits that had also moved south with all of the fighting happening on the northern road. He’d heard that someone had gotten a reward for catching a bandit and wanted to try his hand at it. He was very eager to share the camp with the group and join them on hunting bandits. The group did not trust him, but let him join them, seeing no reason to exclude him and not wanting an enemy with a bow out in the forest at night.
The next day, they came to the ravine, with the creek flowing through it where Red Earth and Billhook had been attacked the previous trip. Red used his magic to find a group of men moving away from them. The group advanced slowly, ready for attack, while Eagle and Bill moved through the woods looking for bandits. It became clear that the bandits had run. Eagle is an expert tracker, and he picked up their trail quickly, and they followed in pursuit.
It did not take long for the trail to go cold in the heights of a couple of rocky mountains out in the foothills. The group found a path up the mountain and found some traces that others had come the same way. Picking their way carefully up the slopes, they detected a man hiding among the rocks. Bill circled around and up some difficult slopes to flank him. Making too much noise sliding on the loose rocks, the guard was alerted and slung an arrow at him. Bill rushed him and stabbed him with his spear. As always seems to happen when one is stabbed with a spear, the guard screamed in pain. The others rushed to Bill’s position in time to see two more bandits jump down from some rocks from somewhere above them with wood axes. ... Something happened to one of the bandits and he perished… The other immediately took off running, shouting warnings to someone up above. The group took up the pursuit.
They followed a switchback trail up the mountain to a cave. Eagle slid behind a rock for cover and loosed an arrow into the cave at the man who was running away, while two more bandits came to the entrance of the cave ready to fight. One had a bow and another had a wicked looking club with nails sticking from it – a homemade morning star, but just as lethal. Bill took on the bandit with the club, while Moonchaser moved to engage the other. Red also moved to the other side of the cave, first to get out of the way of arrows, and second to get a hold of a good rock to throw. However, his spell went awry. Usually he pulls the “earthen power” from a large rock making it as light as an apple and throws it, turning it into a heavy, fast missile when it leaves his hand. This time, however, he pulled too much power. A terrible crack suddenly shook the mountainside, and fissures and cracks appeared all over the cave entrance. The ceiling to the cave began to rain dirt and sand and suddenly seemed very unstable. Eagle’s arrow went through his bandit’s hand, and the bandit lay clutching it on the floor. Another arrow brought the bandit with a bow down and Moon dispatched him with his ax. Bill skewered the bandit with the spiked club with his spear. As the cave began to shudder and quake, a voice called out from inside surrendering and begging asylum. They pulled him out and held him at blade-point. The loot that he and his comrades had stolen was still inside, but he was too afraid to retrieve it. The cave seemed to be collapsing.
Red used his skills as a miner to create beams and supports to shore up the cave. They worked fast, and dirty, but Red seemed convinced that the cave would hold for a little while. They pulled out a bunch of loot, including the coal that had been stolen. The bandit leader had a similar story to tell as the last. He had a leather string with the symbol of an eye cast in bronze. He said that the symbol identified him as a leader and meant that the would sometimes be contacted directly by the Master. The Master spoke to him only at night, and he had never seen him. The Commander was a bandit leader responsible for recruiting new people and sending out groups, such as this one, to the southern road. He was recruited in a camp created deep in the woods to the north, cleared just for that purpose and then abandoned. He had been told about the meeting from a friend of his and they had gone up there together.
By that point, it was night, and they cold camped at the base of the mountain, carefully watching for any more bandits. Encountering none, the group proceeded into Red Fern the next morning. They turned in the bandit leader for another reward. They split the treasure with Eagle, and he went on his way. They tried to sell the weapons at the Blacksmith’s again, but the blacksmith had not sufficiently sold enough of the old weapons to buy new ones. So they met with Merchant Goat at the First Bird Inn and decided to leave the next morning. Marble replaced his food that he had given away, and the group got a place on the floor at the common room of the inn.