Ilvia Episode 4: The Donkey and the Friar

May 14, 498

After spending the night at the Luiry Inn, the party headed out the next morning to continue their search for Trevall. They knew only that he lived somewhere in the forest near "the old Elf path," so they headed south.

A few minutes outside Luiry, they came to the Grankworth River, a small tributary that flowed northwest out of the forest and joined the Dallyn north of Luiry. They began crossing the wide, shallow ford, but when Victor reached the water's edge, he refused to step in. When Aela waded out into the stream, Victor looked forlorn and even laid down at the water's edge, but no amount of coaxing would convince him to put a hoof into the water.

The party spent several minutes discussing what to do. Could they physically drag Victor across the ford without hurting him? Could they put him to sleep and then carry him across? Eventually they decided to return to Luiry and see if they could find a boat capable of carrying Victor across the river. It was mid-morning, so most of the fishermen were already out on the Dallyn, but Orbin found one fisherman working on his docked boat.

"Hmm, the Grankworth is pretty shallow," the man said. "Probably not deep enough for most of the fishing boats." He thought for a moment. "I know who you could ask," he said. "One of my friends has a little son who's always poling along the bank on a little raft he has. He's real proud of it. He'll probably make a fine fisherman someday."

"Where would we find him?" Orbin asked.

"This time of day, he's probably at home with his mother. Her name is Merlo. Kid's name is Jake. Third house past the end of the dock."

The party walked down to the house in question, where Orbin knocked on the door. A small window in the door opened and a woman peered out, and then down. Seeing a dwarf, she said "I'm not interested in buying anything," and began to close the window.

"We're not selling anything, ma'am," Orbin said. "My name is Orbin, and my friends and I would like to hire your son. We need him to help us carry this donkey across the Grankworth, and we hear he has a small raft that might do the trick."

"You want to hire Jake? You know he's nine years old, right?"

"Yes, ma'am."

She thought for a moment and then smiled. "He's going to love this," she said, and went back into the house. Moments later she returned and opened the door; timidly standing at her side was a scruffy-looking boy. "This is Jake," she said. "Jake, these people want to pay you to help them get across the Grankworth with your raft."

Jake beamed. "How much?"

"A shiny silver," Orbin said; this was the same price they'd each paid for the ferry across the Dallyn, so it seemed fair. Jake certainly seemed satisfied; "I'll go get my raft," he said, and ran around to the back of the house. He reappeared moments later poling a small square raft along the bank; they met him at the dock, where Jazzie, Katra, and Janis waded into the water and lifted the raft out of the water. The group then walked straight through the middle of Luiry back toward the Grankworth, carrying the raft, with Jake and his mother following along. They received some curious looks from the townspeople, but Jake seemed to be enjoying the attention.

They placed the raft on the edge of the Grankworth, and as they'd hoped, Victor happily followed Aela onto it. He seemed a bit uncertain when they then pushed the raft into the water, but he stayed where he was. The raft rode rather low in the water -- not only was it carrying Aela and Victor, but also Jake, who was carefully piloting while the rest of the party pulled the raft across the ford -- but it stayed afloat, and after a few minutes Victor was safely on dry ground on the other side.

"A pleasure doing business with you, sir," Orbin said to Jake, bowing slightly as he handed the boy a silver piece. Jake looked across toward his mother, waiting on the opposite bank, and grinned. "We may need your services again," Orbin added, "when we return."

"I'll be here," Jake said. "Just tell my mom." With that he pushed off and took his raft downstream, headed around Luiry and back up the Dallyn on the other side.

As they approached the edge of the Ilvar Forest, several miles from the river, Aela and Katra scanned for any sign of the Elf path. Eventually, Aela saw two trees leaning toward one another in a way she recognized as a traditional Elven marker; it was nothing the others would have noticed as unusual, and even Aela nearly missed it. Sure enough, the path was there, although it was barely a path; it did not appear to have been cleared by people, but blended naturally with the surroundings. Without Aela's experience and Katra's tracking ability, they would never have been able to follow it.

The forest was very heavy and thick; it was late spring, and the summer foliage was beginning to fill out the trees and underbrush. Sunlight filtered through the swaying leaves, stabbing through in occasional bright shafts and shifting patterns. The ground was still moist and soft from the recent rains, and the air was filled with the aromas of wet dirt, flowers, decaying wood, grass, and the mixed scents of the creatures that lived in the woods.

After several hours of uneventful travel, the party halted when they noticed an animal blocking the path ahead. Katra crept closer and determined that it was a large and stubborn-looking wild boar, standing absolutely stationary at a narrow passage through a thick entanglement of underbrush. Unwilling to leave the path, since they might not be able to find it again on the other side, Katra, Janis, and Jazzie decided to attack the boar, hoping it would run away.

The boar held its ground until they came within ten yards, at which point it charged them. It was no challenge for the three fighters, however; Jazzie and Katra's blades had killed it before Janis even had a chance to swing. That night in camp, they had boar for dinner, although several of the party members had become uneasy about the encounter. Trevall was known to have an affinity with animals; was the boar perhaps a friend of his? Was it maybe Trevall himself in animal form? Had they killed and eaten the man they were sent to find? At any rate, it was too late to worry about it now.

May 15

The next day they broke camp and continued down the Elf path, once Katra found it again. The weather had cooled somewhat, and it was now misty and somewhat dim beneath the dense canopy of the forest.

After several more hours of travel, the party members began to notice an occasional, strange shimmering effect in the trees, but it was never something they could quite be sure of. Orbin thought he saw a tree fade out and then reappear; others thought they saw ripples almost like waves in the surface of water, or the shimmering of hot air. It was disconcerting, but subtle, so they continued.

Shortly thereafter, they noticed a dark shape looming through the trees to one side of the path. Investigating, they found the ruins of an ancient keep, little more than the remains of a tumbled-down outer wall and a few fragments of foundation here and there. In the center of one wall was a large doorway, and to one side, carved in the stone, was an emblem of an open hand. Tagart was particularly fascinated by the ancient ruins and went inside to look around. There was little to see apart from crumbled stone, apart from two stone figures in one corner. They appeared to be statues, but they were crouched down with their arms sheltering their heads.

The shimmering effect was frequent, and Aela decided to cast a Detect Magic spell to see if there was any magic in the ruins. To her surprise, she found that they were in the center of a diffuse fog of nonspecific magic; it seemed somewhat concentrated around the ruins, but covered the entire area. Nigel reminded the party of their mission, and they began heading back toward the Elf path. However, just as they were leaving the ruins, Jazzie happened to walk directly into one of the shimmering ripples and vanished.

She was nowhere to be found, so they decided to wait and see if she reappared. Shortly thereafter, though, Nigel noticed several squirrels at the perimeter of the clearing; they were sitting absolutely still and watching everything the party did. Turning, he saw more and more squirrels; it seemed they were surrounded. "We are looking for Trevall," he said, and one of the squirrels turned and bounded away through the trees.

After a short while, it began to seem unlikely that Jazzie would reappear, so they decided to continue on their way. In the dirt near the entrance to the ruins, Orbin scratched a message: "Jazzie: wait here." They then moved back to the Elf path, noting that the circle of squirrels moved with them as they continued on their way.

It wasn't long before they encountered a familiar sight: a boar blocking the path. They stopped and were discussing what to do next when they heard a voice from the forest: "Stop."

"We are here to see Trevall," Nigel called out.

"Are you here on Church business?" the voice asked.

"Yes," Nigel said. There was no reply. After a moment Nigel added, "We have come from Cullan. It was suggested to us by Gilth that you might be able to help us."

"You know Gilth?" the voice asked.

"Yes," Nigel said. "He is the librarian at the Cullan Abbey."

"Do you mean to tell me he is still living his life among books? Tell me, does he ever go outside?"

"Not that I've ever seen," Nigel answered.

There was a long pause, and then the voice said "Follow the boar."

The boar led them some distance down the Elf path and then off through the forest. Soon they came to a hollow that seemed to be a natural formation, and yet offered perfect shelter from the elements. A man in dirty brown robes crouched there beside a fire that he had just started; he was in his late sixties, gray and grizzled, but appeared extraordinarily fit. He stood. "I am Trevall," he said.

They entered the clearing around the fire. Nigel began to speak, but Trevall interrupted him. "Please remove your boots in my home," he said. The party members looked at one another but did not argue; they removed their boots and continued barefoot into Trevall's camp. There was little to see apart from the small campfire; in a small hollowed-out alcove, they could see a large pack and a few old books, but no other signs of human habitation.

Trevall was disturbed to hear of the death of Abbot Everam, but he did not seem at all surprised. Indeed, as Nigel explained the circumstances of the Abbot's death and the gnolls' use of magic, Trevall nodded quietly to himself as if it made some kind of sense to him. He also appeared to be aware of the recent developments in the Church, including the recent decrees and the apparent ascent of Eulius to the position of First Prelate. "I used to know Eulius, long ago," he told them. "He was a bureaucrat. He never struck me as ambitious."

Trevall was amused that the party had traveled all the way from Cullan to have him speak with a donkey, but he was willing to help. "Let us be alone for a while," he said.

"That might be a problem," Aela told him, but after Trevall whispered a few words to Victor, the donkey was quite willing to follow him even without Aela. Aela was momentarily relieved that Victor would no longer be shadowing her, but then Trevall said "Don't worry, I'll return your friend to you just as he was."

He led Victor some distance away from the camp, and for the next several hours the party watched as he contorted his voice, face, and body, very nearly becoming a donkey. It was not an easy conversation, and at times it seemed that the two were angry with one another. Eventually, it was over, and Victor, looking somewhat traumatized, trotted over to stand with Aela.

After eating some dinner, Trevall explained what he had been able to interpret from what Victor told him, based in part on what Nigel had been able to tell him about Kerrow's whereabouts. Kerrow ("the man who gives me carrots"), it seemed, had traveled to the ruins of the old city, Sendara, where he had watched from a distance as a pair of mysterious figures traveled from building to building, occasionally going inside for a few minutes. Kerrow himself had gone inside one of the buildings after the two strangers had left, but of course Victor hadn't seen whatever was inside.

Eventually, they were unable to follow the mysterious strangers any further because they encountered a group of gnolls, one of whom appeared to have been breathing fire. Kerrow was able to evade the gnolls, however, and from there apparently traveled east along the Kalis River, toward the mountains. He saw many more groups of gnolls moving about, almost as if they were on a war footing, before he decided to head back south.

After he crossed the dry riverbed, however, he was set upon by a small group of kobolds who pursued him with inexplicable determination. They also seemed able to attack with fire, and at one point Kerrow's tunic (which bore the Ilvian church symbol) was set on fire. After he tore it off, the kobolds stopped fighting and ran away. One of them, however, had ripped the pack from Victor's back, so after briefly speaking to Victor, the injured Kerrow pursued the kobolds on foot. Victor did not see Kerrow again.

The account from Victor confirmed much of what the party had begun to suspect. Kerrow had clearly been attacked by kobolds under the influence of the same anti-Church magic they had encountered elsewhere. Furthermore, it seemed likely that someone was deliberately planting similar boxes for the gnolls and kobolds to find. The party had initially thought that Burris Gellar's box from Luiry was the same one they had later found; but now that appeared to be impossible, since Kerrow had encountered fire-breathing gnolls in Sendara at about the same time Gellar's box appeared in Luiry.

They sat and talked with Trevall for some time about everything that had happened. They began to realize that it all amounted to an attack on the unity of the Church. The anti-Church magic created conflict and killed supporters of the Church; it might also cause people to be afraid to show their Church affiliation by wearing the holy symbol. Meanwhile, the decrees served to destabilize the Church itself; few priests were likely to implement them fully, but most, like Thaddeus, would be left unsure of what to do or whom to obey.

But there were still more questions than answers. Clearly, the next step was to return to Cullan and report everything they'd learned to Father Kellam. But how would he react to the decrees? Or to the news that Kerrow might still be alive?

And what about Jazzie?