The madman’s words spoke of the Spring of Blessed Life. Local legends stated that those who drink from the spring before important events—childbirth, marriage, or coming of age, for example—find good health and good fortune for years afterward.
Recent rumors, however, speak of the area around the spring becoming suddenly haunted and unwelcoming. Supernatural phenomena drive people mad as they seek the spring, pilgrims of the spring go temporarily blind as they seek it, and several people have not returned from pilgrimages there.
The party headed back past Hillsfar on the road north of the Cormanthor Forest towards Elventree. They were perhaps a day away from Elventree, when the party heard loud voices and laughter coming from up ahead. The road was at a part where it moved through an outcropping of the Cormanthor Forest, so visibility was limited. A large rock also sat on a bend in the road, so Minimus and Zelda crept up, using the rock as cover and peering through the bushes to see a small patrol of Red Plumes, four of them including a sergeant, apparently hassling a half elf merchant and his human partner. They Red Plumes were looking through the saddlebags of a bored looking pony, throwing bundles and packets of herbs and spices onto the ground and laughing.
“Where did you steal all this from? asked the sergeant, a strong looking man with a scar down his face and a black moustache.
“I didn’t,” replied the half elf wearily, as if he had explained this several times already. “I’m a herbalist, just passing through the area with my wife.”
“A likely story,” growled another Red Plume, opening a packet and sniffing it. “Disgusting!” he exclaimed and threw the packet away.
Zelda signalled to Cundall and Marie they should stay back, she didn’t want to leave Minimus because he looked like he was about to charge towards the Red Plumes, but the other two had already heard what was happening and decided to try and diffuse the situation. They came around the corner, surprising the men.
“Good morning,” the druid said, cheerfully.
“What? Who are you?” spluttered the sergeant, who did not even have the good grace to look embarrassed being caught out bullying travellers.
“I am Cundall, druid of Chauntea. And this is Chauntea,” he said, gesturing to the pig under his arm. Cundall spoke proudly, hoping they might have heard of him.
“Good for you. Now piss off, we’re dealing with illegal immigrants here.” Obviously the sergeant wanted some privacy while he dealt with the waylaid pair.
“I thought I heard him say he was passing through,” replied Cundall, still smiling.
“That’s what all the illegals say. Now be on your way, citizen.”
“And what about that good lady?” he said, pointing to the red headed woman who was holding onto the half elf herbalist’s arm. “She is human, at least.”
The sergeant leered at her. “She obviously isn’t too fussy who she associates with. I reckon she might like to associate with us for an hour or two before we let her go. Erk!”
The last exclamation was because Zelda’s arrow had ricocheted off his helmet, staggering him.
“Chauntea dammit, Zelda!” exclaimed Cundall. “Oh sorry,” he said to the pig who had turned to look at him.
The battle was joined, the sergeant was a tough fighter, the other Red Plumes not so much, and even the half elf and his partner had tried to throw spices into a Red Plume soldier’s eyes and the half elf had got a spear in the gut for his trouble. A few of the party were wounded, Minimus had taken the brunt of the Red Plume sergeant’s blows, but some healing magic from Cundall revived him, and a few goodberries helped the half elf back from death.
“Thank you for your assistance, although now I fear we will all be hunted by the Red Plumes,” said the half elf. “My name is Gerard, I am a simple herbalist. This is my wife Gwen. We are leaving the area and heading east to ”/wikis/elmwood" class=“wiki-page-link”>Elmwood, and then onto Mulmaster. He and Gwen began to collect their scattered herbs and seeds.
“I have an idea,” said Cundall, helping them gather their goods. “We’ll hide the bodies, bury them in the wood a ways in. But their armour and weapons might be valuable. How about we estimate what you might be able to sell them for in Mulmaster, and you can give us half of that.”
Gerard brightened a little. “That will certainly be profitable. With all the trouble they’ve had there they will sell well, I think. And Dobby here,” he rubbed the pony’s neck, “can certainly carry it all. It’s a deal, providing I have enough coin. If not I can perhaps provide other recompense, I have some potions.”
In the end they settled on a sum of money, plus a potion of fire breath and two vials of acid. Cundall borrowed the pony to carry the bodies a long way into the forest and, after stripping them of armour, weapons and other possessions, buried them with the help of the others.
“Where are you folk off to?” asked Gerard, packing the last of the bundled Red Plume weapons and armour onto the pony, who was looking less happy now.
“We are heading to the Spring of Blessed Life,” replied Zelda.
“Oh,” said Gwen. “My sister Dottee and her husband are on their way there now. She is expecting her first baby. If you see them, mention that you saw me and that we made it safely out of the Hillsfar area.”
The party looked at each other. If the rumours about trouble at the Spring were true, they had better hurry.
“We will,” said Maire. “We are in a bit of a hurry, so we’ll leave you now. Please don’t tarry, I’d advise against bumping into another patrol.”
“Gods, yes,” replied Gerard, packing more quickly. “I don’t want to be caught with this load. We’ll be off momentarily. Farewell.”
The party continued towards the Spring of Blessed Life, with some urgency in their stride.