“The first is at the place where dandelions rise above and cover the people. The virile and the virulent can be one and the same. The hell-tinged one is lost, and then several are found.” – The Madman’s Prophecy.
The madman’s note spoke of Fairborough Farms. The farmhouse, sheds, and barns on the road ahead matched the description in the madman’s prophecy. Their green-painted walls and yellow roofs make the buildings look like huge dandelions sprouting in the fields.
A pair of short figures were carrying sloshing buckets from a nearby stream toward one of the barns. A significant amount of noise emanated from inside the farmhouse itself, as if a crowd of angry people are all shouting at once.
“Hey Cundall!” greeted one of the short figures, as the party approached. She was a female dwarf girl, in human terms perhaps nine or 10. The other figure was also a girl, a young teenage half orc who smiled shyly.
“Good morning Bridd,” Cundall nodded to the dwarf girl. “And good morning Grona,” he added, smiling at the half orc teen. “Ma and Pa in?”
“You can hear them from here,” said Bridd. “Ma’s had babies since you were here last!”
“What?” Cundall appeared surprised. “I thought she couldn’t have children.”
“She’s got them,” smiled Bridd. “Six of them!”
“Six?” Cundall’s smile slipped a bit. “I better go in and see them then.”
The girls continued on towards the barn with the buckets of water, and the party moved towards the farm house.
“How do they know you?” asked Maire.
“Most people around here know me, I help with advice about farming, about planting crops mostly. I haven’t been here for over a year though. Bea and Ebenz couldn’t have children of their own so they took in orphans, in fact they took a dozen of the non-human orphans when they were evicted from Madam Delilah’s Home for Orphaned Children in Hillsfar. Good people.”
The farmhouse door was propped open with a hay fork, and the party entered the farmhouse, revealing a tumultuous scene. More than 20 people milled about a bustling kitchen. At least 10 were children of various races – none human. The adults, on the other hand, were all human.
A woman of middle years was shouting above the din. In one arm she cradled an infant human, while second rested in a sling at her waist. Three other adult humans and a young non-human held other human newborns. Between the woman and those helping her, there were a total of six human infants.
Bea’s face sported a huge smile when she spotted Cundall. “Cundall! If you and your friends are here for a meal, grab some ‘taters from the bin and peel them and we’ll cook them up for you. You’ll have to catch and dress your own chicken though.” Cundall had stopped and gaped at the babies. Each of them had six fingers. Oblivious to Cundall’s scrutiny, Bea continued.
“But before we eat, make yourselves useful. Someone needs to go and fetch Pynroth: ask the two girls outside where that boy has got off to. If any of you have any skill in husbandry, run out to the goat barn and see if Jovee’s kids are ready to pop yet. Verner, take these folks out and introduce them to Jovee. When you’re done, come back for a meal.”
Verner was a halfling boy, who was unhappy at being given another task before lunch. He took the party out towards the barn, where his sullen mood disappeared as they entered and saw the state of the goat Jovee.
High-pitched shrieks of fear and panic greeted the party as they entered the barn. A couple of dozen goats filled the barn, but most of them were huddling in the corners, shying away from a single goat in the center. The hideously distended belly of that goat showed the nanny was pregnant, but she was hideously large. Even Cundall who had dealt with many animal births in the past had never seen anything like this.
Verner started to cry and ran over to the suffering goat, but stopped in horror before reaching her. He told the party that when he was tending to her this morning, she was big but not like this. He begged Cundall to help Jovee.
Jovee was in labor, but was having problems. Cundall quickly tied up Chauntea (the pig) to a hook on the side of the barn wall, and knelt down beside Jovee. He could see legs sticking out of the birthing canal. The baby goat was big, Cundall was unsure if Jovee could survive this. He was determined to try however. Over the next few minutes Cundall assisted Jovee give birth to a large baby goat, but it was immediately apparent what the something was. The kid was much larger than a normal newborn goat, with bright red fur, and two heads that were fused together with red eyes that stared at Cundall with a mix of curiosity and scorn. It immediately stood and wobbled away with a dismissive “baaaaah” that is deep and long and more than a little unsettling.
Before he could do anything, Jovee screamed and two kids emerged at once, along with a gout of blood. Sadly Jovee died despite Cundall’s efforts, but more kids struggled out of her, aided by the druid. Before he knew it, five more kids lie on the ground near their mother; for a total of six – a peculiar feat. Only the first born kid had two heads though. Zelda narrowed her eyes. She could swear that the first born two headed kid was growing before her eyes. She nocked an arrow to her bow.
“Do it,” said Cundall. “It’s an abomination, not natural to this world.”
Before she could fire, everyone could hear cries for help coming from a distance, echoed by Grona and Bridd from much closer.
“Pynoth!” said Verner, running out of the barn. “He’s in trouble. Again! Ma’s going to be pissed off!”
“Come with me, Marie!” said Cundall, rising and exiting the barn. “Zelda and Minimus, deal with those.. things!”
Minimus charged towards the two headed goat. It was definitely larger now. It’s two fused heads were warped and twisted and it’s red eyes were near glowing in the dim light of the barn. It gave a loud and deep bleat when the halfling stabbed it with his shortsword. It tried to retaliate by stabbing with it’s horns, but Minimus skipped out of the way. Meanwhile the other goats moved to the edge of the barn, obviously getting some running distance to charge at Zelda. The elf dropped two with two arrows, and then dodged the other three’s charges. There was a noise behind her, Zelda spun to see Cundall reappear. The druid quickly untied Chauntea the pig and picked him up.
“You’re doing fine,” he yelled over his shoulder as he left. “But I’m taking Chauntea just in case.”
As the battle with the demon goats continued, Cundall caught up to Maire. The two girls Grona and Bridd were running with them, looking scared. The screams of a boy in terror could be heard alongside someone shouting, and growling of some creatures.
Rounding a thicket of large willows, Maire and Cundall saw the pasture. The normally bucolic setting was marred by a pack of wild dogs surrounding two figures, huddling together in fear. The larger figure was a half-elf, wearing leather armor and clumsily brandishing a sickle to keep the yipping, growling dogs at bay. With a moment of surprise Cundall realised he knew the half elf – Beralt, apprentice to Nymarrath the elven druid of Elventree. Beralt had his other arm around a tiefling boy, presumably Pynroth. Tears in the half-elf’s cloak and blood on his arm showed that the wild dogs meant business. One of the dogs was much larger than the rest, obviously the pack leader. Cundall and Maire made noise to attract the dog’s attention, and then let fly with spells. Combinations of entangle and a couple of sleep spells were enough to incapacitate the dogs, which were then despatched. Cundall had been bitten once, but it wasn’t serious and a few goodberries were enough to see the bite close up and heal.
Once the battle was over the tiefling boy hugged his adopted sisters and then came to Cundall and Beralt and thanked them. He was obviously shaken and wanted to go back to Bea. As they escorted the children back Beralt advised that Nymarroth had sent him out a few days ago to gather information about anything unusual in the forest and lands around. This morning his master had sent a message via a squirrel that he was to find Cundall and give him the silver bladed sickle as Nymarroth said she’d had a vision that Cundall would need it. Cundall accepted the weapon dubiously.
“I’m not really much of a fighter with a weapon that needs you to put some strength behind it to make it cut,” he confessed.
“Yeah well you know what she’s like,” grinned Beralt. “Anyway she might be right. She usually is, although sometimes it’s many days or weeks later and often not the way you envisage when you are first told.”
Meanwhile at the barn all the demon goats were dead. Minimus had taken a nasty wound from the demon goat, which Cundall fixed with a healing spell. Bea and some of the other adults and children had come in to see what all the noise was.
“Could we still eat them?” asked Bea.
“I think it would be better to burn the creatures,” said Cundall gently. “We don’t know what eating them might do.”
A bonfire was made and the demon goats were piled on , followed by the dogs. The large pack leader had six toes, Marie noted, but when she checked there was no residue of infernal magic like there was on the goat bodies. And just to make sure she checked the babies – nothing. Marie sighed in relief and let the others know of her findings when she had a private moment.
Lunch was late, but there was lots of it. There was a lot of chatter and laughter. The party noted that Ebenz didn’t participate much in the conversation, and after lunch was over he went and laid in his hammock. This was unlike the industrious Ebenz Cundall remembered. He asked Bea what was the matter.
“I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head.“He came back from hunting one day all listless and the next day it was like everything was too much bother. If I shout and scream enough he’ll do something, but with the six babies and the farm it’s wearing me down.”
Cundall went and talked to Ebenz, while Marie did a surreptitious detect magic. Ebenz was registering infernal magic, very faint but there. Ebenz did not seem to want to talk, but Cundall and Maire kept prodding. Eventually they found out that Ebenz had fallen down a rocky opening into the earth. He had landed without being seriously hurt, but hoping he might find some treasure horde he wandered around and got lost for about 12 hours before finding his way back to the cave entrance. Ever since then he said he had felt lethargic and lazy. There was much cajoling and threats then, as Cundall insisted that Ebenz came with them to see Nymmarath. He did so reluctantly, with Bea’s blessing, and complained all the way back to Elventree, which they arrived at around sunset. Nymmarath cast her own divination spells, and eventually cast a greater restoration spell which appeared to have an immediate effect. Ebenz eyes went wide.
“Wow,” I feel better. “I didn’t even know I had been unwell. I was like moving in a fog these past couple of weeks. Thank you!”
Leaving Ebenz at the Swaying Bough Inn for the night, the party went to see the Moonsilver Herald Elanil Elassidil in her modest cottage built into the boughs of a tree. She was serving as the de facto leader of Elventree, a position she had held for nearly a century. Famous throughout the Moonsea for her accomplishments as a bard, her true calling was less publicized: Elanil was a high-ranking Harper, and often found herself involved behind the scenes in many of the region’s intrigues.
The party told her of the madman with the Harper pin, and showed her the note they had taken from him. Then they told her about Fairborough farm and the demon goats and dogs and Ebenz. Elanil was silent for a while. She perused the note for some time before turning to the party.
“This madman’s name was Hamad, he certainly wasn’t mad when he left me. He was a Harper agent I sent into the Underdark to find out what is going on down there, and if it poses a threat to us. We’ve had a few drow refugees, fleeing.. something. You know what they’re like, all dark and brooding and reluctant to talk. But they’re scared enough to flee to the surface. It’s not good. I was hoping Hamad would be able to find out for me. It is a pity, he was a good man.”
She spent some time copying the information from Hamad’s note before handing it back.
“Please continue to follow these clues. Fairborough Farm seems to confirm that demonic forces are at work here. Perhaps that was the clue to be gained from that part of the prophecy. Where will you go next?”
The others shrugged. Cundall said “I think we’ll do the second one next. Goodroot farm. I know the owners, I’ve helped them get the best beets from the soil. They’re good people too.”
They stayed in Elventree overnight, and set out for Goodroot Farm the next morning.
(to be continued)