The campaign continued. Evo, Tsul, and Miritz stayed two evenings in the Keep of Count Huntly. Being visited at midnight by Issyk on the first night, and Irlamak on the second night. Issyk made it clear to the group that Count Huntly was "showing them the door" and not allowing them to stay in the shire and help people. Irmalak pointed out that a sick child in Thurmaster required their attention. In both cases, the PCs would be violating their contract with the Count.
In the middle of the second night, Tsul is spotted "standing guard" outside the room by Kedrith (the go-fer) who invites the druid for some midnight tea. A servant is waken up to make the tea and while the stove is warmed, the water drawn, and the tea steeped… the two sit across from one another… gauging the other. Many sense motive rolls later, the two leave unsure of the other's intentions. Kedrith wonders if Tsul can be trusted and Tsul wonders if Kedrith suspects anything.
Hamiliton (the guard who took them to the Keep) escorts the PCs back to Thurmaster. Along the way, a plan develops to get the pilgrims away from Hamilton, so they can visit the sick child in the hamlet. After too many "cappers" to list, it finally dawns on the PCs to just bribe Hamilton to shut up. Which works, giving Irlamak the window he needs to travel the 30 minutes to the farm south of Thurmaster.
And this is when things go horribly wrong…
Instead of everyone going with the pilgrims, only Evo is sent, leaving Tsul and Miritz to watch the well-drinking Hamilton. Upon reaching the farm, Evo and the pilgrims kind a mother and daughter working the land (no husband was to be found) and the sick child inside. After MUCH explanation, the pilgrims are allowed to see the child, who is covered in blankets, and dying from some kind of wasting disease — much worse than anyone could have expected.
Irmalak, the "healer" of the group, lays his hands on the child in an attempt to extract the illness from the boy only to have the energy back-fire on him. Whatever the disease is, it's alive, pushing its way into the pilgrim's body and turning his hand to ash in a few seconds. Then the disease, slowly spreading up his arm, turns Irmalak's skin gray, as it withers from the wrist to the elbow… almost like a desicated mummy.
Screaming and flailing, Irmalak runs for the door as Evo swipes at the arm with his rapier, but fails to hit. Irmalak makes it outside, where his screams and missing hand grab the attention of everyone else. The mother and daughter back away, while Eithana and Issyk try to understand what is happening. Evo catches up with him again, and swings for the arm, missing a second time. Tripping, Irmalak, the team tries to hold him down so Evo can cut the arm off (with a rapier?). Cutting into the flesh does not remove the arm, but the shock does cause Irmalak to pass out.
Evo fetches a hatchet from the farm, returns and severs the limb before the disease can spread further. Issyk uses what limited magic he has to heal the wound and Eithana watches on in horror.
Realizing the he won't be waking anytime soon and that they can't carry him, the pilgrims watch over Irmalak while Evo goes back to Thurmaster for help. Now two hours overdue to get on the barge that's waiting to take them upstream, the team rests in the Hound and Tails tavern waiting for the "news." This time, Evo and Miritz go (the same player tag-team that blew up the tavern in Milbourne).
Miritiz, a dwarf, pushes his way into the house where the mother and daughter are sitting with the dying boy (Athen). Shocked to see a dwarf in their home, the scene does not go pleasantly. Jumping ahead of the very awkward drama (wow… yeah… should have been there), Miritiz beheads the dying boy.
The mother and daughter flee outside, screaming.
Inside, the head begins to speak in a voice that a child would not have, warning Miritiz of a coming doom (stealing some poetry from Yeats)… the center cannot hold. While the dwarf acts concerned for a while, he returns outside with his usual swagger. The terrified mother gives him a piece of her mind, slaps him, and spits in his face. Miritz throws her a gold piece (for the burial) and the team leaves.
Issyk and his companions are shocked beyond belief at what has transpired. The five walk back to Thurmaster, in silence, to find a bare-chested man (Jacques, the bargemaster) boxing with a local farmer in the center of the hamlet, while a dozen or so onlookers cheer for the farmer (Cooke). Too late to place a bet, the group meets up with Tsul and learn a little about the Count, only no one listens to what Tsul says, so the information goes to waste.
Gathering their belongings and heading to the barge, the PCs finally begin their escort work.
Within the first mile of casting off from the dock, a bribe is offered to Jacques to allow the pilgrims and the team off the barge near the Hardlow Wood. Some words are exchanged, but 25gp later, Jacques and his crew are sufficiently convinced to let them off and not say anything. Leaping from the barge, the PCs find themselves late in the evening staring at a long trek to the woods, and Kuiper's farm just a mere few miles from their location.
The choice is easy and the PCs spend the night in Kuiper's empty farmhouse (Kuiper was out patrolling the Rock Dale). While everyone slept, Tsul double-timed it overland to Milbourne (he's a druid and made good time) where at midnight he woke Konrad in the temple and told him of the dead boy AND the vagabond pilgrims. Konrad, sensing Tsul's sincerity, agrees to help on both counts. With a small bribe for a few locals and an even smaller tithe to the church, Konrad rounds up three people looking for work to dress as pilgrims to be putting back on the barge. Konrad also agrees to look in on the family of Athen.
Tsul spends the night on a cot in a temple and heads back overland in the morning to catch the PCs, which he is able to do easily. By nightfall, everyone had made camp (twice) and sensing that a hunting party is out here had the dwarf and druid take turns on watch, giving the rogue/wizard a chance to rest (although he only has one spell at his disposal).
Just before dawn, the goblins attacked. Ten in all, plus their hobgoblin leader, the group seemed brutish, hungry, and unafraid. The fight was extremely even, although my tactics had to be pulled back because the PCs couldn't hit anything — for instance, six rounds in a row, both Miritz and the goblin he fought missed each other. Evo took the hobgoblin down with color spray and then killed the unconscious foe. Irmalak and Eithana ran into the woods, while the PCs dispatched the rest in what I think was a 12-round fight.
In all, the PCs fared well, but were unable to save Issyk from a braining by two extremely energetic goblins.
And that's where the session ended… so far the best one.