Another Beckett Family adventure in the Northumbrian frontier. These events occur during the down-time between the family’s investigations into the ruined Temple of Pholtus.
Lord Balin had tasked the Becketts with learning the whereabouts of his missing provost. They interviewed various people in the village of Lakesend while some of their number were healing and training.
Cast of Characters
Most of the party members are part of one large extended family—the noble Beckett family. A few are retainers
Granny Beckett: Witch. Eccentric matriarch of the family.
Lord Roger Beckett: Ranger. New family head.
Sir Raynard Beckett: Cavalier. Handsome and witty.
Daniel Beckett: Assassin. Passionate and protective.
Brother Lewie: Cleric of St. Cuthbert. Erratic but insightful.
Raymond Beckett: Fighter. Stoic and responsible. (NPC)
Rayner Beckett: Thief. Bastard half-brother to Raymond.
Marin: Young scout and skiff pilot. Recently taken in by Granny.
Lord Roger pressed upon his kin the need to complete the task that Lord Balin had given them: To find his missing provost, Master Kevan. With the Keep preparing for siege, the man was sorely missed. Over dinner, the family reviewed what they had found thus far.
Master Kevan is not the only villager that has gone missing. Jehan the shepherd had disappeared first, and Hammond the shepherd later disappeared (the family was currently occupying their cottages and watching their flocks on the hillside). There was no trace of these two men.
Gunnar the smith had his two apprentices, Tormad and Arn, go missing, and while some villagers whispered that he murdered them or that the teens had drunk too much and drowned, the smith swore that the two were doing late night chores out back when they vanished.
Though it may not have been related, a week or so earlier, several villagers reported seeing a large man-sized creature with bat wings flying over the village. No one could give a good description, saying that they caught a quick glimpse through the trees as it flew in front of the moon. Conclusions varied wildly, but most suspected that a vampire was kidnapping and feeding on the villagers.
One man, named Egil, who once lived on the cliffs overlooking the swamp, claimed that some mysterious group had seized his son, Erland. In a panic, he fled to the village, where he sought passage on a ship heading south to Yarrvick. He claimed that this secretive group had infiltrated the village, and, fearing to be seen, he did not feel safe in booking passage. Instead he hid, with the aid of the baronial falconer, Frederick. The falconer had allowed him to stay in an unused shack of his in the poorest part of the village. Unfortunately, that shack burned to the ground in the middle of the night a few weeks ago. Roger had sifted through the ashes the following morning and found a hastily scrawled letter that the man presumably buried. In it, he claimed that the secretive group had found him and was coming for him. He mentioned markings on their faces. Apparently his attempt to use fire to keep them away caused his own immolation. Either that or he was insane.
I write this only to calm my nerves. It has been seven days since I left home. When they dragged away Erland, all light went out of my soul. I wanted to die, but panic took hold of me. Unfortunately, panic drives away reason, and I fled without significant coin. I must book passage southwards, away from this nightmare-infested land, but I have little coin or even shelter.
Frederick took pity on me, kindly soul. He remembered visiting my homestead on the cliffs, years earlier, where he used to train his birds. He arranged to let me stay in this tiny cottage for the next few days, rent-free. That should be long enough to book passage. They won’t think to look for me in this tiny, dusty hovel.
Terrors in the night! I am not safe, even here. I do not think they saw me, for if they had I would certainly share my son’s fate. There are more than I suspected though, even here in the village. They move about by night.
I made a try for the docks today, hoping to sell my services to a guildsman, but I know now that I am trapped! Twice along the way did I see villagers with those telltale marks. They know I am here! I see it in their eyes! I fled back to this dark hovel. The docks are being watched. I know it now. How to book ship with no coin and also avoid detection? Without Erland to provide for me, I shall perish alone in this dirty hut. I fear to go about by day lest I be discovered, but the night brings its own horrors. Damnable misery!
I awoke with a start. They are creeping about outside…
I can hear them whispering in the dark… Lighting the lamp was probably a mistake, but fear has taken the reins. Perhaps fire will drive them off! Need more than an oil lamp though. An old bulls-eye lantern may do! Celestian’s mercy—the previous occupant left one, along with plenty of oil. If they come for me, I shall show them such a blaze that they will slink back to the shadows!
Adela Farmer, the village gossip, mentioned that several villagers had changed their ways recently and without explanation, though the expected siege may well explain everything. She mentioned that several villagers no longer went out by day, staying in their homes with shutters and doors locked. She mentioned Felden the tailor, Hurlen the farmer, Ulfias the farmer, and Torstein the old pilot as examples. She was also leery of two men that seemed to be squatting in the newly constructed village hall. Another village gossip, Emma Mason, confirmed what Adela said and added that William Wainwright and his family never come outdoors anymore. She also mentioned that William Wainwright and Felden Tailor had come down with some sort of disfiguring skin malady.
Rayner had spied on the two men in the village hall one evening, a few weeks ago, but his attempt to follow them failed. In a conversation with Lord Melias, he seemed to dismiss them as potential problems. He did share, however, that he feared that a secret group existed within the village. He was worried that such a group might serve as a fifth column during a siege, and he wished to root it out. He suspected Felden the tailor, the two merchants at the village trading post (Dagonet and Arnauld), two newcomers staying at the Welcome Wench, a wandering ‘peddler’ at the Welcome Wench, and the entire band of Pholtan pilgrims that had recently arrived in the village. He shared that the pilgrims had been seen poring over a map in the Welcome Wench, making secret plans, often in the reserved room in the back, presumably to keep away from prying eyes.
As for Torstein the pilot, Brother Lewie learned that this old man, who had ferried people up and down the length of the lake for decades, had stopped working just months prior. His young daughter, Marin, was trying to keep the business alive. Brother Lewie found her near the docks, and she shared that her father was very ill. She mentioned that he had come down with some ailment in recent months and could no longer work. Granny paid him a visit, going to his small cabin on a small island in the lake. She found him rather delirious, short of breath, and sweating profusely. His face was marked with grayish patches and blisters. At first she feared plague, but she eventually ruled this out. Granny questioned Marin at length, and eventually she noted that her father became ill soon after he stopped attending the gatherings on the hillside. Apparently, he had been one of a small group of devotees to Celestian. His small group of astrologers, mystics, navigators, and pilots had met occasionally over the years, especially on days of the new moon or during lunar eclipses. However, Marin shared that her father grew disenchanted with the group when eastern astrologers began to join the group in growing numbers, changing the group’s traditions and exerting control over its members. He eventually left the group after having words with such men. Granny spoke with the old man briefly, giving him herbs to restore him a bit. He seemed to have trouble answering any questions about that group or the eastern astrologers that came to dominate it. On two later occasions, Granny tried other herbs, but nothing seemed to restore his vitality. He died during her last visit, and Marin—destitute and in danger of starving—had taken service with the Becketts soon after.
Wymund the weaver reported that he heard and saw things scurrying around in the darkness around his house at night—things larger than animals and perhaps men, though he could not be sure. He asked Reince the woodcutter to clear the trees from around his home, but the woodcutter never showed up to do the work so he eventually did it himself. This seemed to do the trick, for he thereafter had a clear view of anything that approached his home, and the sightings and sounds ceased. In the course of conversation, he mentioned that other folk in the village seemed strange of late, and Felden the tailor’s name came up again, as did Hurlen the farmer and Ulfius the farmer. He also noted that Galiena the spinster had grown ill with some strange ailment.
Sir Raynard, Granny and Brother Lewie visited Galiena and found her in a terrible state, sweating profusely and writhing in pain. Sir Raynard pointed out that her skin was marred with small pustules, blisters, and gray patches. Her face and neck were a patchwork of scars and bleeding cuts. Brother Lewie did his best to revive her and ease her pain, and for few minutes she seemed more lucid. In response to their questions, she mentioned that ‘terrible things had arrived in the village about a year ago’ to control them through pain. She screamed that things were alive and crawling about inside her head, and she clawed at her skin repeatedly. They noticed her bloody knitting needles by the bed. As she spoke, she seemed to convulse in pain whenever she tried to give answers that related the recent events. After several agonizing minutes, despite the efforts of Brother Lewie, the spinster died before their eyes. Before she left, Granny noticed that the wooden shutters on one window had been knocked off their hinges.
Father Godfrey sent an acolyte to Lord Roger to report on his investigation of the body of the unknown wounded man that had died on the hillside, perhaps coming from the ruined temple of Pholtus. He and his assistants had discovered thousands of tiny worms in the corpse. They found these almost imperceptible worms in almost every piece of tissue that they cut from his body, whether it was near a wound or not. They saved a few tissue samples and then burned the corpse for fear of some new plague.
There was much discussion on how all this might connect, but there was no sign of the provost. Like the two shepherds and the smiths’ two apprentices, he was gone without a trace. The fat, jovial and ever-sweating merchant, Master Arnauld, advised Sir Raynard that he should stay indoors at night, as everything nefarious or mysterious seemed to transpire after dark.
Unsure of how to continue, the family eventually decided to speak with the woodcutter, whom the weaver described as acting strangely. Reyner, Roger, and Sir Raynard walked through the muddy streets of the village, crossing the algae covered wooden span of the west bridge. Two Baronial guardsman and a tax collector talked quietly under a large willow tree nearby. Not far beyond the bridge, they spied the woodcutter’s home. It sat far back off the road, partially obscured by several large trees and many lush green bushes. They knocked on the door to no avail, and Reyner noted that he heard noises inside. Eventually, they heard a moan, as if someone were in agony. Questioning the legality of what they were about to do, they nonetheless pushed to open the door. It was locked, and Reyner went around back, only to find that door locked too. Eventually Raynard put his shoulder to the front door and knocked it off its hinges. Inside they found several children lying on the floor, semi-conscious and writhing in pain. In a bedroom, they found a disheveled woman writhing and groaning on the stuffed mattress. They sought to aid her, but she was delirious. Realizing that they needed help, they sent Reyner running back to fetch Brother Lewie or any of the clerics.
The young man sprinted out of the house and down the path. Only seconds later, without quite knowing why, he slid to a halt. Just then, a burly woodsman lunged at him from behind a broad oak tree, wielding a long axe. The bearded woodsman rushed him, but Reyner had the wherewithal to slip away, running back to the house screaming for help. Twenty yards away, Sir Raynald drew his sword and rushed out to meet the oncoming woodsman. When the woodcutter ignored all shouts and pleas, the knight struck him with the pommel of his sword, stunning him for a second, but the crazed man suddenly struck back and hit Sir Raynard in the ribs with the axe. Furious, the Frangian knight grabbed the muscular woodcutter and threw him to the ground, wrenching his arm behind his back and driving it into the ground. Reyner heard an audible snap, and the man wailed. The young Beckett jumped in and wrapped himself around the man’s ankles so that he could not rise. Roger, with bow drawn and arrow nocked, shouted for the Baronial guardsmen about a hundred yards away, near the wooden bridge that leads into the village.
One guardsman came running and helped to secure the scene, allowing Reyner to go to the Shrine to get Father Godfrey. Though the vicar seemed busy, he and a few of his novices came immediately. It took more than half of an hour to fetch them and to return, but the vicar wasted no time once he arrived. He and his men checked on the woman and children. The guardsman followed Father Godfrey’s lead, and the PCs and the acolytes of Cuthbert took the family to the Keep by means of a wagon.
As they left the Keep, Roger muttered under his breath to Raynard, “You did not have to break the man’s arm”.
“Easy for you to say”, the knight snapped. “Your every breath does not feel like a dagger in your side, ” he continued, holding his ribs.
Roger grinned widely, continuing to chide, “I just point out that he was already restrained…”
“Well what if he broke loose?” replied Raynard flatly, glaring at his brother as they walked.
Roger laughed again and smacked his brother on the back.
“Bloody bastard! That hurts!” yelled Raynard. “Get away from me!,” he muttered, still wincing.
Laughing, Roger then dispatched Rayner to the temple of Saint Cuthbert, situated up on the hillside above the village. “Cousin, fetch me Brother Lewie. We need to heal my delicate younger brother,” laughed the ranger. Rayner nodded and ran off. In the temple, he found Lewie and asked him to return, noting that Raynard was still in great pain.
Brother Lewie eventually found his older brother, kneeling by the shepherd’s cottage. Raynard gritted his teeth and Lewie inspected the wound. “I think that lunatic cracked a rib,” wheezed the knight.
The young cleric was sympathetic as he dressed the wound, saying, “I would wager that you were not expecting to be attacked, especially after you knocked him senseless with the pommel of your sword. We should all learn a lesson from this. As for your wound, my friend, there is no cut. The damage is internal. I shall ask the Saint to heal you, lest you be laid up for a week or more. Pray with me, cousin.” Raynard joined the young priest in ritual prayer, and moments later, a flood of warmth flooded through the muscles along his rib cage. The sharp pain subsided much.
“I owe you one, cousin”, quipped the knight.
“Nonsense”, the cleric replied. “You owe the Old Man in the Crumpled Hat. Make a donation at the temple,” he continued, looking up toward the limestone structure that dominated the hillside.
Back at the cottages, Roger mused aloud to Daniel, “Well, Raynard is not dead. We can be thankful for that. Yet, did we gain anything from that bizarre encounter?”
Daniel mindlessly flipped his dagger by the handle, catching it and throwing it again repeatedly. His eyes were not on his blade though, for he was starting blankly at the ground, pondering his older brother’s question. He finally offered, “Today we learned that whatever is afflicting this place has spread further than we thought… and we still have no clue as to its cause. Small comfort.”