((Ok, long winded, and I know I skimmed some details, but here’s last Thursday’s recap))
((Most important parts are at the end – including some names and a description of the box you found))
Hank looked up from his slate at the sound of creaking timbers, punctuated by the steady rhythm of horse hooves. That made 3 wagons for today, and two full barges. The only thing that would have made him happier would be if that Erik kid would pay full price. But he knew that this was an investment that would pay off. He knew it. (At 72, he had earned the right to call virtually anyone who still had all their hair and teeth, “kid”).
There were more than a few strong backs among his passengers this run. All but two, who were obviously battle-hardened veterans of some conflict who jealously guarded the single crate they carried, assisted in loading the crates aboard. Three if you count the goblin, but not for lack of trying.
While they ran the last tallies and finished the final preparations, the lanky one who was the goblin’s apparent keeper, dove between and under the skiffs in an apparent of his swimming prowess – no doubt an attempt to impress the females, he thought.
One of his sons, being closer, was able to see that this man’s life was more closely tied to the waters than his own, and asked him to assist with patching a leak. “Leak?” cried his subservient goblin “Leak!”. The goblin whipped out his little green pickle and proceeded to piss off the side of the boat. The half-elven fish-man reprimanded his little green tagalong before accepting the pot of pitch and dove under.
Three minutes passed. Four. Five. One of the women, who was watching nervously, skirt bunched in her fists, finally broke the increasing silence. “Do you think he’s drowned? Shouldn’t we see if he’s okay?”
A man in spotless, polished armor stood over the leaky spot and pounded on the decking. “ARE YOU OKAY DOWN THERE?” he called. There was a pounding in reply, and the nervous woman jumped a bit. “KNOCK ONCE FOR YES, TWO FOR NO.” A single knock came in reply. They all held their breath, waiting for a second knock that never came when Shorwyn, the slightly greenish hued half-elf burst through the water and back onto the raft.
The rafts shoved off, and the riders exchanged small talk and pleasantries while the ferries ambled slowly upriver.
The children on each raft fixated their attention on one of the passengers. On the smaller of the two rafts, it was Tiberious (or “Tib” to the cool kids). A small boy stood staring at him. “May I touch your armor?” he asked. “Sure, little guy!” Tiberious replied readily. The boy tentatively tapped the gleaming armor, and eyed the broadsword hopefully. “Alright, that’s enough now. Back to your Mum.” The youth scampered off to his mother’s skirt, somewhere between beaming and terrified.
On the other raft another, scruffier youth stared wide-eyed at the gilled half-elf before running off and disappearing among the crates.
Not long afterward, a few noticed a creaking in the timbers, moreso than normal. Shorwyn again dove under the rafts, but noticed nothing unusual. The goblin, Scroopels, tugged on Shorwin’s sleeve. “The boat is slowing down”.
Before anyone could question the reason for the slowdown, there was a great snapping sound as the raft were ripped apart and the sections heaved on swells more suited to oceans, than shallow rivers. The waters around the rafts roiled with swarms of razerfin as the sections rocked and spun, sending passengers and cargo alike towards the deadly waters.
Clouds of birds flowed out from the edge of the Harkenwood, swooping at the passengers in an apparent attempt to disorient them or knock them into the water.
All of this mayhem seemed to be directed by a group of elves, barely visible from the edge of the wood. Another small team of elves emerged from the water, surrounding the section where the well-armed veterans were protecting their crate.
Adventurers and merchants alike struggle to stay aboard the rafts while fending off the flurry of wings. Some work to secure the cargo and lash the rafts, while others leap to the aid of the nameless guardsmen.
With a powerful display of acrobatics, the little goblin, Scroopels, log-rolled a barrel back from the edge before using it to spring himself to the section of raft holding the treasure that was the focus of the elves attention. Flipping and bouncing about like a child’s toy, he darted in and out, striking when the enemy was most distracted.
Meanwhile, the water-breathing elf, Shorwyn, unleashed powerful energies, knocking back armloads of the winged antagonists. The merchant, Erik, joined the fray after pulling himself back aboard the nearest section of raft after being nearly slashed to ribbons by the schools of mad razorfin. Old friends Theon and Tib swatted at the birds while valiantly protecting the remaining passengers and holding the rafts together.
As they moved farther from forest the water began to swirl, forming a maelstrom that would surely engulf the entire section of raft carrying the coveted crate and several brave adventurers. But before it could fully form, Shorwyn dove head-first into the center of the swirling waters, and unleashed a blast of icy elemental energy, freezing the waters fast.
All the while, the raft sections rocked and spun, but continued to march slowly towards their original destination. Farther and farther from the forest they crept. As they began to glide over calm waters, there came a loud, synchronized chanting from the forest. The river gave one final heave, tossing the raft fragments in all directions, and flipping the one with the crate.
Greed, it seems, would ultimately foil the elves’ plans, as the goblin clung desperately to the crate and one of the other rafts, determined to know what was inside.
Now in calmer waters, the remaining crew and adventurers worked to lash together and stabilize the remaining fragments of the raft. While they worked, Scroopels dangled from a short sword wedged beneath the lid of the crate, pulling with all his little green might, until he had managed to pry up the entire lid. He eagerly dove into a sea of sawdust and emerged with a small, ornately carved, black ebony chest.
The glossy surface of the chest is covered in bas-relief carvings of geometrical shapes of all sizes. The chest does not seem to have any discernable lid, or means of opening it. However, no aura of magic can be detected coming from the box itself. The contents, it seems, does give off a weak magical aura, but nothing determinate. The group continue to inspect the chest; some have seen boxes like this that have held objects of religious significance. Typically not valuable monetarily, but extremely valuable for sentimental or ceremonial purposes.
Unable to open the chest, Scroopels held it tight to his person, even sleeping curled up around it as they lazily drifted upstream.
The group is woken by a thud as the rafts strike ground at a fork in the stream. Adding to their bewildered state is a man sitting bareback on a chestnut horse. He is clad in black, oiled-leather armor and wrapped in a splotchy, earthtone cape with the hood drawn up, concealing his face. A wolf or large dog follows obediently, and a hawk is perched on his shoulder. A bow and quiver are clearly visible, and other weapons hint or their presence.
The mysterious rider turns and takes a few steps before circling back – indicating, much the same way an animal would, that he wants them to follow. While Theon and Tib don’t recognize him, they are overcome with their eagerness to be home, and put their trust in the stranger.
Erik recognizes this area, and indicates that the town lies along the left-hand branch, so the rest decide they’ve had enough of mysterious strangers and wild animals and continue the rest of the way by raft.
Despite their attempts at conversation, Tib and Theon are unable to provoke more than brief glances from the mystery man (dubbed “Petey” by Tib).
Eventually they all find their way to Durin’s Hole, and the only Inn in town. Tib and Theon were well into their beverages when the others arrived. They had asked around about their guide and found that his name was Daegin, who was instrumental along with advisor Aderis, in staving off the orc attacks and improving the conditions in the town, and making the mine more profitable.
Before entertaining the miners to earn their meals, Shorwyn also asked about the safety of the trade route. The innkeeper was genuinely astonished that they had been attacked, and by Harken’s Heart no less. Though they were known to be brutal and xenophobic, their power could not extend far beyond the forest and they generally kept to themselves, responding only to direct threats. The innkeeper suggested they speak with Lord Greyhelm, if they had more questions.
They were just settling in and beginning to enjoy some relaxation after such a stressful afternoon when the doors burst open, and a breathless young man yelled, “There’s been… a collapse… in the mine!”
He and the other patrons wasted no time, jumping to their feet and running out, leaving the adventurers and a handful of other bewildered newcomers sitting in an otherwise empty bar.