Chapter Three of Under the Goblin Trees
Campaign adaptation by Thomas Kelly
Bad Wolf Moon
Ivan the son of Micksalicks and his kinfolk, we were later to discover, made their homes in a village on the edge of the Dim, known by the simple name Roanwood for a certain type of tree that once grew abundantly in the area and which they made their business—the sale of the much-esteemed lumber. This they had done for several generations and, over time, much depleted the number of mighty Roans that once stood sentinel on the edge of the wood. I took these folk for some mixture of the Suelish and Flan bloods, and many of them had red hair such as one rarely sees among the Oeredian but is common enough among the Geoff folk. So it was with this one red-headed leader of their band, Ivan O’Micksalicks by name, and the other men of his band, all redheads and red beards from Roanwood.
The evernight trees (which the elves call fuinoira) surrounded the village in darkness like an encircling wall. That shadowy dim and foreboding night frowned on the village from every direction, yet within the open spaces of the homely lawn shone plenty of sunlight upon their pleasant cottages, each with a stout chimney from which smoke curled. Here were clean streets, swept of snow, lined with a few shops and necessaries, a smithy, and a lumber mill powered by a waterwheel turned by a passing stream. The folk of the place were fair skinned and tall, the men broad shouldered, the women green-eyed and fair, and one could see that in the summer they made pleasant gardens and small fields under the blessing of my Lady.
Hardy they were, both men and women, wielding axes of their trade, and not afraid to fend off any who might threaten them. They thought it no great feat to slay a party of goblin raiders, topple a troublesome ogre, hunt down a pillaging troll, or chop down a menacing giant. They made a fair living from the Roanwood they harvested from the forest, a tree rare enough to make it’s lumber valuable. They took no haste to harvest, but waited until a tree had reached its full girth and height before felling it. Then cutting it into lengths of trunk and branch, they hauled it, pulled by horse-teams, back to their village where sawmen cut it into lumber. In the spring, when the water rose high enough, they floated the planks on a rafts to meet the Realstream all the way to Hochoch.
They did honor to the true gods but also named Pelor, Beory, Obad-Hai and so forth. Most of all they cherished Ehlonna, Lady of the Wood, but called her by her elvish name, Ehlenestra. They had not priests in their midst or clerics who might teach them the service of the gods or how to direct their devotions, but they said a visiting friar of Cuthbert made the rounds among all the villages of the eastern Dim.
At the Table of Micksalicks
Ivan brought us to the home of his father, a village elder called Micksalicks. Old Micksalicks and his sons numbered themselves among the olven-friends of the Dim Forest and spoke their tongue. The people of Roanwood held everything elvish in the highest regard and were accustomed to leave gifts for the fair folk at the village’s edge at each of the festivals. In return for the tribute, the wood elves, for their part, allowed the woodcutters to harvest the edges of the wood on the promise that they would not put an axe to a trunk beyond a certain boundary.
Ivan was the firstborn of his father and eldest of brothers who sat about their father’s table, but he also had a treasured younger sister. Few among the woodcutters wandered far under the dark wood, though Micksalicks claimed he had travelled the whole forest in the company of the wood elves who walked the boughs and crowns of the forest, as a man walks a broad road. Many exploits and adventures old Micksalicks carried out in his younger days. I asked him if he had ever known my friend Felligan, a ranger, bowman, and wood elf of the forest. The old man thought he recognized the name as belonging to the Telperi or perhaps one of the houses of Derellion.
Whence came the current trouble to Roanwood village he could not say of certain, but it happened several moons ago, when this one and that one fell into a swoon, a fever, or a black nightmare. Some recovered; some did not. Those who recovered seemed touched and suffered recurrences of the possession. Some of the villagers had disappeared without trace, and in one instance, they found a man dead in the woods, half eaten by wild beasts.
“Could be the work of a troll,” I suggested.
“Not a troll,” Micksalicks shook his head.
Only a week or so prior to our arrival, the man’s only daughter had fallen among the victims touched by the fever. On that night, Ivan saw his dream of the Lady of the Wood, who said to him, “Seek the Halfling priest. There is healing in his hands.” By the time we arrived at the village with Ivan, she had become most violently possessed by the affliction.
Fortunate for us that Ivan found us, for we would have been sorry—unhorsed and without provision—to find the fort burned and abandoned, and there we would have been stuck in a goblin haunted ruin in the middle of winter and on the edge of the Dim Forest. Moreover, Ivan made good on his promise and returned us our horses, and more than that, he sent men to our camp to retrieve our saddles, which we had abandoned after the loss of the steeds.
All of us took lodge in the home of Micksalicks, a sturdy and spacious enough house built of logs and thatched above. It was homely as any large hall at which many might dine, like a lord of Geoff. On the first night that we sat at the table among the seven red-headed sons of the old man, they spread before us a banquet of no meager quality, and we ate hardy, for we were all famished after many a day on trail rations, and a long walk of more than two days from the time we lost our steeds. Before us the woodcutters did set fresh hot bread, soup from the broth of a pheasant, whole slabs of butter and a wheal of cheese, the roast of wild game, and beer to quench the thirst of Wenta. Even Bruin the bear ate his fill, and, after enough beer, he and our noble knights came to good humor.
When we had set aside appetite for food and drink, the good master of the house said, “Now about our business. Will you not come look on my ailing daughter who burns away with such strange a fever?”
A Dark Diagnosis
Then did Myron, Cirilli, and I rise from the table. Myron had the foresight to employ his illusory arts to disguise himself as a normal looking person so as not to frighten our hosts, otherwise they would scarcely have allowed him to the table much less to the sick room of their sister. Ivan and his mother led us away to the room where they had laid the fevered girl. As we came to yonder room, we heard a frightful sound of snarling, howling, and a growl such as no lass should make.
“Now you hear the madness that the fever besets upon those stricken,” spake Ivan. I raised the sickle of my Lady and prayed our protection before we entered therein. The girl frothed like one beset by a demon, and I thought that exorcism might be more in order than healing, but when I prayed for discernment over her, I detected no evil presence, only a most severe malediction, like an evil curse resting upon her.
In the presence of the gnashing girl, Myron asked at once, “Has she been bitten recently by a dog or any fanged creature?”
“No. She has not been bitten by any beast. Rather this fever has come upon us like a plague, and there is scarcely a home in the village untouched,” said the wife of Micksalicks.
Myron remained unconvinced. “Are you sure she has not been bitten? No bite marks anywhere on her body? Have you thoroughly checked?”
With these uncouth words I feared that Ivan might turn us both out at once, but Myron continued, “For your sister has all the early indications of lycanathropy.”
I objected at once, “Surely not. A werebeast’s victim shows no symptoms.”
Myron ignored me, “Yes. Your sister is bitten. She is smitten by the moon. Tomorrow night Luna waxes full.”
Ivan’s mother gasped, “Is there no cure?”
Myron shrugged, “Ask the priest.”
I fumbled a bit, “If she is under the affliction … and we do not know that she is … not with any certain knowledge, at any rate … you will need a far more experienced and powerful priest than I to reverse it by either prayer or charm. Unless my lady grants me some miracle …”
Cirilli interrupted, “What about wolfsbane?”
“Yes,” I replied. “I have heard that a tincture from pressed wolfsbane can help. It’s sometimes the cure, even for those already afflicted, but where in the middle of the winter and the Dim Forest shall we find wolfsbane? Besides, we have no evidence other than Myron’s opinion, and wolfsbane is deadly. It might do more damage than good if she has been misdiagnosed.”
Myron spat and sneered at me, “True enough. We have no evidence except that she is snarling even now and bearing her teeth at us. In her delirium I believe she fancies sinking her chops into you. But look at this.” He grabbed her hand and held it up for us to see. “Her index finger has grown longer than the middle finger, and I will guess the same is true of the others who have been afflicted.”
Cirilli observed, “If it is lycanathropy, the symptoms will clear up on their own and the afflicted will return to good health, as if nothing was ever wrong, except on nights when the moon is full. One way or the other, we will know for certain tomorrow night.”
“Tut tut. Enough of this talk,” I scolded. “The poor girl can hear us and all our dark words, even if she is fevered. I will pray over her, and then we will speak outside the chamber.”
I laid hands upon her and invoked healing in the name of my lady and all the gods and also Elhonna who had sent for me. I felt the power of the divine healing move through me, and the fever abated at once. The girl’s breathing became regular, and she fell into a normal and healthy sleep. I gave thanks to the gods and then joined Ivan and my companions in the hall outside her room.
“She sleeps peacefully now, and I believe the fever has left her and will not return,” I told them.
Ivan’s mother blessed, “Thanks be to Ehlenestra!”
Ivan spoke grim thoughts, “If this is the poison of lycanathropy or a werewolf curse, then we are cursed indeed! Not less than a dozen homes among us are stricken. In half our households, at least one shows the symptoms. What shall become of us when the moon rises full tomorrow night?”
I tried to assure our host, “There is no need to fear …”, but Myron cut me off with a snort and nasal reproach, “Don’t be stupid. They have every reason to fear!” He said to Ivan, “Call the village together for a meeting. Before Luna rises tomorrow night, let each person who has shown the signs be bound tightly with firm ropes or shut up inside strong holdings and remain so until the sun has risen.”
“Just for the sake of caution,” I added.
Night of Terror
By morning Ivan’s sister was awake and quite in her right mind without any clear memory of the last few weeks during which she had, for the most part, been bedridden. Once she had washed herself, put on a clean dress, and combed the snarls out of her hair, she showed herself a pretty girl after all and nothing like the snarling, feverish creature we had encountered only the night before. Cirilli spent most of the day with her, and the girl reported no memory of being bitten by anything at any time. She thought the suggestion she might be a werewolf or wererat or otherwise sounded quite absurd.
The villagers were fearful, and many were prepared to heed Myron’s advice, but not a few of them objected. Ivan argued with the reluctant folk, “How shall we not heed this word when Ehlenestra herself has sent these folk for our salvation?” Only with much persuasion, pleading, and a fair bit of intimidation from our Watchers did the villagers agree to heed Myron’s advice.
Before the moon rose that night, they restrained those known to be suffering or to have suffered with the strange fever. A good many of them objected to such mistreatment, and who can blame them? Some we bound with ropes. Others we merely shut inside their rooms or bolted inside their cottages. Some of the afflicted we moved into woodsheds and nailed the doors shut. Piteous were the protestations and cries from those so imprisoned.
As the sun set behind the thick trees, a terrible dread closed in on the village, as if the shadows of the Dim Forest flowed in from the wood. We lit a great bonfire, and many torches and lamps. I prayed for protection from our lady and also in the name of Ehlonna who seemed to have set her special affection upon the woodcutters.
Luna rose round and full over the treetops not long after darkness fell, and with her rising began a night of nightmares. The cacophony started with one shriek, and then another, and then a terrifying howl, and another, and screams from here and there, shouts and cries, women wailing, men shouting, the horrible sounds of wild beasts thrashing about, beating against doors and walls, banging and crashing and cries in the night. From the stablehouse, I could hear the horses’ frightened neighs and whinnies, their hooves beating against the stable walls. The afflicted called to one another in long anguished howls and answered back and forth. The hairs of my arms and upon the back of my neck bristled up stiff. From time to time, one of the afflicted might burst its bonds, crash through a window or crash out through a door. When this happened, men with torches and burning sticks snatched from the bonfire warded the snarling devil dogs off until the wolf escaped into the dark cover of the woods. All night long the insanity continued through the village.
Fur and Fang
At first, Belvenore and Merciful stayed near the bonfire. The orange and red flames reflected off their polished shields and glinted off their chainmail and drawn weapons. They uttered earnest prayers to Saint Cuthbert and Heironeous. Cirilli and I invoked our own prayers of protection and wards from evil, and I continually chanted the Ode of Morning Light.
Myron employed a spell of sleep to tranquilize the snarling, feral beast-woman that had previously been Ivan’s sister, for she thrashed about so wildly that the ropes in which we had bound her cut her flesh. As she bled, we feared she might slip out of the knots.
From across the village, flames rose from the thatch on one of the cottages. Bruin hurried off to assist, but as he came on the scene, a wolf charged out of the burning cottage in a shower of sparks and cinders. Bruin met the leaping beast with his great two-handed sword, but the weapon could not bite.
The mass of fur, great nailed claws, and snapping teeth leapt at Bruin again and again. Each time he repelled it with thrusts of his sword as best he could. Although the blows would have felled any man, the sword did little injury to the wolf, for a werewolf’s enchantment turns back iron. Only weapons of silver alloy or strong enchantment deliver their full bite to the lycanthrope. At last Myron arrived with spell craft and smote the wolf with magical arrows leaping from his hands. Bruin brought his great sword down with such a mighty blow that, silver or not, the blade should have severed the beast, but no.
“Drive it into the fire!” Myron instructed. Bruin found it difficult to drive the wolf anywhere at all. It escaped his grasp.
Scarcely had this episode concluded than we heard Belvenore shouting over the ruckus, “The woodshed! The woodshed!” By the pale light of the moon, I saw the door of Micksalick’s woodshed burst open. Two great wolves pounced out in a furious blur of fur and fang. Our noble Knights of the Watch met the attacks with shields and swords. Without silver, they did little injury to the fanged attackers. Belvenore cried out, “We need silver!”
Sir Merciful dropped his sword and took up two firebrands in hand which he used to batter at a wolf, but the monster stood up on its hind legs like a man and slapped the flaming brands from Merciful’s hands. Belvenore dropped his sword, resorting to bashing at the beast with the blunt of his shield, driving it back inside the shed and closing up the door. “Help me seal it up!” he shouted.
By then I had summoned the sickle of Merikka with which I smote the other. Cirilli shrieked. I turned just on time to see another fanged horror leaping to pounce upon me. It’s eyes glinted red by the light of the fire. I sensed an empty, blank, animal malice as it made to rip out my throat. Wolf and I crashed to the ground in a heap of hobniz and fur. Powerful jaws clamped on my armor, seeking flesh, but the fangs did not puncture my bands. From beneath the dog, I could hear Cirilli’s desperate shrieks of terror. Our noble knights took up their swords and torches, and even if their blows were to little avail, at least they drew the monster away from me. Blood flowed from a frightening wound in Merciful’s leg. Another blow from the sickle of Merikka made the creature yelp, and so, after recovering myself, I continued the spiritual assault.
Bruin and Ivan the Woodsman came to our rescue. Myron used his spell craft to blind the wolf long enough for the others to draw close to its gnashing form. Bruin’s sword smote heavily if ineffectually; Mercifcul swung a flaming torch. The wolf yelped and leapt. We closed a circle round about it, forcing it backward toward the bonfire. The wolf lunged this way and that, trying to escape the circle, but each time it turned away, Bruin’s mighty sword fell hard upon it or Mercifcul and Belvinore smote at it with the flaming brands they snatched up from the bonfire. It reared up on it’s hindlegs with its back to the flames. Bruin dropped his heavy blade and used his bare hands to shove the animal backward into the bonfire. The wolf writhed a moment in the flames before leaping out on the other side, yelping and crying so pathetically that we all felt ashamed. The burning creature rushed this way and that, then fell at our feet, flerking about in the spasms of death and died on the ground before us. Wolf reverted to its human form. Ivan looked away, for the dead man had been his close companion.
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Artwork: Red Riding Hood