The group had bivouacked at the Prancing Pony, Onivaro’s only inn, when a girl entered claiming her family was being attacked in their home. The girl was recognised as the daughter of Tam and Shar Welangur, whose farm was about four miles to along the east road, the highway leading to the Inaran border. After Durul gathered the party together from their various pursuits, two local labourers, Simm and Duli, lead them to the farm, riding as quickly as they dared in the moonlit night.
The first thing they noticed on arriving was that the door to the cottage was open, revealing a light flickering within. Simm and Duli held back, near the road, while the others went forward.
Emlyn stung his bow and notched an arrow, fearing the assailants may still be near. He led his horse to a vantage point to cover the house and the other small buildings.
Seeing a body midway between the cottage and the Durul and Arthur advanced, only to discover it was the body of a pig that had had its throat slit. It apparently fell and bled out where it laid. From there they could see that the gate to the pig-pen had been left open; some pigs had been killed, the others released.
Never one to shirk away from a confrontation, Mardigan strode toward the cottage. Upon entering he could see the source of the flickering light. Someone had staked the few pieces of furniture and there in front of the fireplace and had tried to se a blaze in the building. They obviously did not know what they were doing, however; covering the whole would-be pyre with linen sheets, apparently thinking this would help the flames along, the linens had actually smothered the fire, starving it of the air it needed to take. Mardigan managed to dismantle the fire and extinguish it before it reached the thatch of the roof, pulling the furniture away piece by piece, leaving the debris outside to smoulder, and saved the cottage from ruin.
Realising the attackers had fled, Emlyn relaxed his vigil and surveyed the surrounds on horseback, Durul investigated the pig-pen and found a piece of red cloth, caught on a splinter on the gate-post, seemingly torn from a garment. Arthur tried to interrogate a pig, but found only confusion and fear.
It was then Mardigan then found the bodies; two adults and two boys. The eldest boy had several stab wounds (from a knife rather than a sword, to Mardigan’s experienced eye), and had bled out, probably within the last hour. The mother and father, Tam and Shar Welangur, had both been struck repeatedly in the head with something blunt – their heads had been stove in. Their deaths would have been much quicker than their elder son’s.
At this point Durul and Arthur also entered the cottage. The boy also had a head wound. Arthur and Durul entered the cottage and Arthur, checking the bodies, found the boy to be alive, but barely.
While examining the clear grounds behind the cottage, Emlyn found the tracks of the murderers leading toward the forest and returned to gather the others for pursuit The boy was left in Simm’s care, and he and Duli mounted and headed slowly back to Onivaro, so as not to cause any more trauma to the orphaned boy. Realising nothing more could be done there at night, the brave party began their pursuit of the murderers.
Emlyn tracked the path of the assailants – he established that there were likely three on foot – back to a lightning-shattered oak; at this point they had mounted steeds and headed along the edge of the forest in the direction of the village or perhaps to Olari. Between them, Emlyn and Holdfast were able to track them for several miles until a stream which cut across the way, at which point their trail was lost, but it seemed obvious that the assailants were either headed to the Onivaro or to Olari. Holdfast had got a good scent of the horses; if they could find them he would be able to identify them again.
Tired and realising the folly of trying to pick up their quarry’s trail once more, the group headed back to the road along a cart trail etched between two properties, and caught up to Simm and Duli with the boy. On Mardigan’s advice, they took the boy to Mother Geertrude, an old wise-woman and midwife who lived on the outskirts of Onivaro. Initially gruff and full of curses at being awoken at such an hour, she softened at the sight of the poor, broken lad, and agreed to nurse the boy; “if he makes it through the night, there’s a good chance he will live”.
The publican’s wife at the Prancing Pony has promised to look after the girl. Durul made financial accommodations to assist in this. He also tried to do the right thing by offering some money to assist with the burial of the dead, but this was seen only as a townie trying to buy off the locals so he didn’t have to get his hands dirty. Dural may receive a less than friendly welcome the next time he returns to the village.
A coincidental appearance?
Emlyn learned that Ethelo was staying at the Prancing Pony as well, and had resolved to corner him the next morning, but alas, the well-dressed stranger had slipped out before dawn, paying extra for any inconvenience his departure may have caused the household. His departure went unnoticed by Arthur and Holdfast, who had spent the night in watch over Mother Geertrude’s cottage from the vantage point of a nearby haystack. After a quick breakfast the group headed back to Olari.
The mystery of the red cloth
Upon arriving back in Olari, Durul took the party’s one solid clue – the torn fragment of red fabric – to Immet Vamethau, a tailor known to his family. The tailor proved to be a font of information.
The fabric, he informed Durul, was of Woodkin origin; it is woven from a hemp-like plant-fibre, and when treated in some manner not known to him, comes up as soft as silk, but is particularly hard-wearing. The red dye is extracted from the flowers of a rare forest orchid, the etulako lily, and – he believed – holds of some kind of cultural significance to the forest-dwellers. The fabric is never traded outside their own culture. Even the dye is impossible to secure.
On closer examination, the tailor pointed out that while the fabric appeared to be torn, it had actually been cut by a single blade – no sheers or scissors – from a garment. The cloth was of such extraordinary strength that it would not simply tear away from the whole so easily. Great care had obviously been taken to make it appear to have been torn by accident.
Durul paid Vamethau for his assistance, and promised consideration for some livery work his family would soon be requiring. He declined to tell the tailor where he had found the cloth, and Vamethau – being of a discrete and subtle nature – did not pursue question his benefactor.