A revealing interlude

While enjoying ourselves back in Red Larch and availing ourselves of all the amenities on offer (and I mean all of them), we, or rather I, as the most charismatic member of the group, was approached by a young halfling who introduced himself as Watson. He explained that he was a member of a family that owned a ranch up to the north, and were suffering from the attentions of a fire witch. He had been dispatched by his father down to Red Larch to find someone to help them deal with this fire witch, who was apparently living in an old Urthgart barrow that adjoined their land. I told him that he had come to exactly the right place, as my friends and I were just the sort of heroes that he was looking for, having had much recent experience fighting off just the sort of problems that his family was dealing with. I still needed a day or two to copy spells into my spellbook however, so we agreed that we we would accompany him back home upon the morrow’s morrow.
On the designated day then we set out for the Nettlebee Ranch on our hippogriffs, with Watson riding pillion with me. The journey would rather have been uneventful, but that was not to be, for we were intercepted near the Sumber Hills by a knight of the Order of Feathergale Spire, accompanied by four cultists of the Howling Hatred. Obviously our efforts against the cult of the air had not been as devastating to us as we would have wished. Having met both Knights and Howling Hatred before, we were possibly over contemptuous of their abilities, as the fight that followed was hard indeed. All of the cultists of the Howling Hatred proved to be potent spell casters, throwing lightning bolt after lightning bolt at us, and forcing us to spread out in order to avoid them catching more than one of us at a time with their bolts. We decided that the best tactic was to target their mounts (for they were flying on giant vultures) and this did indeed prove the best strategy, if a little underhand. They were rapidly dispatched, and their riders then had to chose between attacking us and saving themselves, mainly choosing the former. The only rider to save himself from falling to his death was the knight, and we quickly hunted him down on the ground and dispatched him.
We thus arrived at Nettlebee Ranch in a rather battered state, but a night’s rest soon restored us. We questioned Bertram (the father) and Wiggan (the grandfather) about the fire-witch and they explained that she was preying on their cattle, who were marked with strange brands and drained of blood, while the area of grass around the barrow had been burned and scorched.  Armed with this information, but at the same time with a strange feeling about the family, we trekked our way across to the barrow on the far hill above the ranch. It was an hour’s walk to get there, and when we did we were surprised to see that the grass looked like it had been scorched much more recently than the ranchers had said. The entrance was obvious however, with the huge stone that had covered it split in two. We ventured down the long tunnel that led into the heart of the barrow. Once in there, we fund a trefoil chamber with an altar in each niche, and a great bier in the centre. As we entered, the chamber lit up with a blue light, and a spirit appeared before us, of a tall, powerfully built man with great antlers on his head. He accused us of having desecrated his tomb, to which we hastily replied that we had no such intent, but were here to punish any who had desecrated it. He told us that those who had desecrated it were waiting outside, and at that moment the tunnel to the exit collapsed and an earthen figure errupted from the floor. We leapt into action against the earthen figure and defeated after a hard struggle for many of our weapons seemed to cause it no damage at all. At the same time the spectral figure, who had named himself as Javor, was clearing the tunnel of earth and we rapidly emerged with him on the outside of the barrow. We proceeded cautiously for we feared an ambush by the desecrators, but there was no one there.
Javor then explained that his desecrators were in the ranch below, and that he had summoned some of his people, led by a fearsome chieftain called Fennor, to come and punish them for their outrage.  Thorg asked how many of the family had actually desecrated the barrow and on finding out that there were only two of them, bargained with Javor for the lives of the innocent members of the family.  He offered to bring out the two guilty parties if the rest of the family were spared.  The spirit was happy with that but said that Fennor and her barbarian followers were less likely to accept it.  When they arrived, Thorg faced down Fennor, who as anticipated preferred a more direct approach of destroying the ranch and all its inhabitants.  In the end he agreed with her that the innocent members of the family would be spared provided we delivered the two guilty parties to them, but that the barbarians could also take all the branded cattle was recompense for the injury done.
The deal concluded, Thorg, Alleria and I proceeded to the farmhouse.  Sorrel and Feyabelle stayed on the hill above for they felt that the lives or deaths of petty halflings were not something that they cared to risk themselves for.  Indeed I felt that Sorrel’s sympathies possibly lay more with the barbarians, and Feyabelle regarded their punishment as a repayment for the danger that they had put us in.  Thorg however was implacable in his belief that the innocent should not be punished for the crimes of the guilty, and I was unable to standby and see innocent children and babes slaughtered for crimes that they could have no part or knowledge of.  We entered the house, and found the family cowering in the cellar. We descended and told them what we now knew, and presented them with an ultimatum. Either they would surrender the two guilty parties and the rest of them, including the children could go free, or they would all die. The children looked terrified, while most of the adults looked scared but defiant, although Alleria spotted Jayne the mother looking at her husband and father-in-law with an accusing glance. Confident that she now knew who the two desecrators were, she told Thorg, who challenged them directly to come out and save their children.  They denied everything, and when Thorg pressed them, Wiggan suddenly attempted to cast a spell upon them. Realising that negotiation was now futile, we smacked their asses (helped by me, who had been lurking invisible in the corner of the cellar the entire time). Beating Wiggan and Bertram unconscious (despite Jayne’s pleadings to save them), we carried them upstairs, having persuaded Watson and Jayne that this was their only chance of survival. Watson accompanied us upstairs and told us that his father and grandfather had changed recently, and were under some sort of influence. He led us up to the study, where we found a pile of correspondence from various members of the evil elemental cults, including a directive to bring us here and deal with us on the pretext of dealing with a fire-witch. When he realised that this was all a set-up and that he was a pawn in his father’s plans, Watson become convinced that we needed to hand them over. Since Javor and Fennor were by this time demanding the desecrators and hammering on the doors, we threw them out through the door for Fennor and the barbarians to deal with.
Javor however still demanded that we must also return the treasures stolen from his tomb. We were unable to find them, but he led us inexorably to a hidden niche in the cellar wall where we found a locked box. We, being Thorg, Arielle and I, for Sorrel and Feyabelle were still determined not to get involved, carried it up to the barrow, passing the slaughtered corpses of Bertram and Wiggan, where I managed to open the lock. Within we found various statuettes from the tomb, which we returned, along with some money, which we returned to Watson and Jayne, and a rather handy bag of holding which I slipped into my pouch when Thorg was not looking.  Watson noticed it was missing when we returned the chest (with all the money still in it – I thought that they needed that to get themselves back on their feet again having lost so many of their cattle, and it’s not like I don’t already have more gold than I can drink), but I kept a straight face and told them that the spirit had taken it as part of his recompense.  A lie, certainly, but I felt that I deserved some small reward for the risk that we had taken in saving the lives of most of the Nettlebees.  I also felt that they had some culpability in tolerating the crimes of Wiggan and Bartram.
After all this, we, reunited now as a full group, left Watson and the remaining Nettlebees, having done the best we could for them in the circumstances.  We did at least make sure that the barbarians had left before we left to return to Red Larch, although I feel that Jayne certainly still held considerable ill-will towards us.