Seeing that there isn't going to be a misunderstanding upon first contact, Chuul follows the girls, dismounting to walk his horse through the stream, petting its head and mumbling softly to it, continuing to bond with the new beast.
Garren pats Celene on the neck. "Let's give them some entertainment. He reins her in a dozen yards from the ford and after the rest of the bastards are clear he spurs her to a run heading slightly to the right toward the narrowest part of the stream.
Estimated DC 10 (10 feet long jump with running start
Bonus +16 (+4 Str, +4 Run Feat, +8 for Speed of 50).
Kya is concerned about Oskav, who looks in no shape to cross this "supposedly" treacherous stream.
"Can you fly over?" she asks the dwarf. "If not I'll check if they have a bridge for you on the other side, or maybe a really steady horse. Don't worry though."
Oskav smiles and raises his hand, acknowledging Kya's offer. He calls out, "Yes, I imagine the halflings do have a safer place to cross."
"Men are the only animals that devote themselves, day in and day out, to making one another unhappy. It is an art like any other. Its virtuosi are called altruists." - H.L. Mencken
Avar, ever stoic, frees Zeelar for the time being. Silently wondering if its worth crossing the river he is quietly happy to wait with Oskav.
Garren is a competent enough rider so that he's able to jump Celene across the stream (albeit by choosing a narrower spot than where the ford crosses). He has an uncertain moment upon landing, as the steep bank on the opposite side begins to deform under his mount's hooves, but Celene manages to clamber to firmer ground, and he manages to keep his seat as she does so.
Alannah makes her way across the stream without incident, leading her horse. The two of them clamber out on the other side, cold but otherwise unharmed, and the bard sets to work using prestidigitation to dry off.
Kya isn't riding, and instead of wading the young woman leaps across the stream like a gazelle. It's only been a couple of days since the rest of you watched her flip-kick a rogue arrowhawk right out of the air, so this move surprises none of you; she lands safe and dry on the other side, and is waiting for Alannah by the time the bard has finished her crossing. But the tiny halfling child happened to be looking back at the strangers when Kya made her crossing. "Papa, Papa! One of the big people just flew across the river," she exclaims, her eyes like saucers.
"Aye, sweetling, they do that sort of thing. Don't you go trying to do the same, though, lest you fall in and learn how deep and cold the water is. Your uncle Eulan knows how to deal with the big people and their strange ways, so let's leave it to him," agrees her father, cheerfully and without looking back.
Chuul, meanwhile, is leading Sir Fluffernutter into the stream behind Alannah. But he doesn't fare nearly as well, even with the butt of his guisarme to help him stabilize himself; in fact, he barely manages to avoid taking a spill that would have left him soaked from head to toe. Behind him, Sir Fluffernutter isn't doing much better despite having four legs. Orc and horse alike come to a standstill in midstream, feet skidding on the slick stones that make up the streambed, until they regain their footing and continue onward.
"Oooh, the gray-skinned one with the big teeth almost fell! And so did his pony," squeals the child, sounding enthralled.
"It's a good job he was careful, then," comments Mr. H, quickening his step.
Seeing how close they came to falling over, Oskav congratulates himself for his resolution not to bother crossing the stream to socialize with a bunch of runty halflings. His horse's thoughts on the matter are inscrutable to us, and in any case they probably have more to do with the important business of finding an especially tasty patch of grass to try to eat.
Avar decides to wait a bit; cold doesn't usually bother the aasimar, but he's not really excited about drowning if he slips while he's wearing his armor, and like Oskav he's not interested enough in hobnobbing with the short folk to remove it, cross the creek, and then put it all back on again. He dismisses Zeelar, and settles down to wait alongside the morbid dwarf.
Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold
Kya looks around to see who flew across and spots Sir Fluffernutter struggling in the water.
She breaths a sigh once the horse makes it across safely.
"So whats the plan?" Kya asks. "Are you just gonna ask him for his bones? Did you bring a gift? Important people like when you bring them presents."
With Oskav and Avar chilling on the south bank of the stream, Alannah takes a few moments to use ''prestidigitation'' to dry herself, Chuul, and their horses, since the water really was very cold. Once they're no longer soaked to the skin and shivering, they follow after Mr. H.
But Kya's question is, in the end, rather a good one. What do you offer the bone collector who has everything (or maybe more pointedly, who has a specific bone that you want very badly)?
Alannah follows through the camp, carrying herself with the usual mix of haughty assurance and clueless nativity.
By the time Kya, Alannah and Chuul get to the camp, the halfling and his daughter have disappeared in amongst the tents. But you're definitely still under observation—there are armed halflings all over the camp, and they've nonchalantly drifted over to the perimeter of wagons. There's no trace of the jocular welcome you received at the Barnsley Lodge back in Winterhome; you're deep in the steppes, in halfling territory during a time of war.
Most of these people are relatively lightly armed: a leather jerkin, a scimitar or axe, maybe a javelin, bow, or even just a sling. They don't look alarmed to see you here, or even unfriendly.
But there's no chatter or laughter to be heard anywhere, and a burly, tall-for-a-halfling man is striding out to meet all of you. He's heavily bearded, with his hair drawn back and into a pair of long pigtails that have bells braided into them; his beard also is braided, with a hoop of carved bone or ivory at the end of that braid—which is a dwarven fashion, not a halfling one. Both hair and beard are glossy and black. His face shows a bit of weathering, which isn't a surprise given that these people obviously conduct most of their lives outdoors. And although he's not obviously clad in armor, he wears a very fine-looking scimitar and curved dagger at his waist. The hilts are both decorated with intricately carved ivory, and they look like a matched set. Other bits of carved bone, antler, and ivory are part of his attire, as well; offhand, you can see four or five bracelets and a brooch on his cloak.
"Lady Alannah, I think that's him." Kya whispers and gently nudges the bard.
Alannah takes a long look at the halfling approaching them and shifts her posture, dropping her mock courtier act. She strides forward to meet the halfling and calls out, "Eulan! Darragh told me you'd be hard to find, but I didn't think we'd ever catch up. We've come to meet with you and maybe kill some clemmies while we're hereabouts. But of more immediate interest -- we've ridden hard from Winterhome, could I and my comrades-in-arms beg of your hospitality and share your fire and perhaps a bit of ari?" She flashes him a hopeful but genuine smile.
The halfling points not quite in the opposite direction to that from which you have come, and observes, "Winterhome is that way." Resting his hand on the hilt of the ornate hilt of his scimitar, he adds, "Perhaps you should keep your distance for the moment, tall lady. Who might you be, you and your friends?"
Alannah blinks and huffs a bit, "Darragh lead me to believe you'd be a bit more friendly, but perhaps it was the ari talking. We did drink a lot. Anyway, my name is Alannah and this is Kya, Chuul, and Garren." She motions to each in turn. "Two more of our party are still waiting across the river ... they are afraid of the water. Or perhaps the halflings. Collectively, our group has been dubbed 'The Bastards', and I have no idea why, but it's possible you've heard of us, though I can't imagine why we'd be important enough to you to remember us or the name."
Having dismounted, Garren leaves his weapons with Celene, approaching toward the parlay without weapons. Unaware of the specific customs among the halfling tribes, Garren opts for what passes for courtesy among the humans. Showing his holy symbol of Derena, Garren adds, "Lord, you are correct that our path here has been less than direct. The lady I serve stands with those who fight for righteousness, and it is known everywhere that I have been that you and your people are fighting just such a war. Dark times draw other dark forces who seek to take advantage of the chaos and danger for their own purposes. Our hope is not to unnecessarily cause you fear for you will need all of your courage to face the dangers of the coming season. But you are not alone. While we are a small group, we have attained some level of notoriety for our work in defending the innocent. Toward that goal, we struck a mighty blow against the werewolf Berger Cole, and a wounded wolf is the most dangerous. Our main mission is to put an end to him once and for all, but in pursuit of that mission we have put our blades to use against the enemies of your people. We'd like a chance to share news, let you discern the truth of our words, and, Derena willing, pledge each other service in the battles to come."
After several long moments, Chief Barnstead mutters something under his breath. He's speaking his native tongue, which none of those listening can understand, but everyone recognizes Darragh's name. From the rhythm of what's being said, Garren think it's probably something in the nature of, "Darragh, you are such a fucker."
But his manners are better when he switches to Common and replies, "We don't see many outlanders this far east even in the best of times. And with a war on, I think you can see that we'd be a touch leery of unexpected visitors. So let's not pretend you came all this way to tell me a story about a wolf, have a cup of ''ari'' and make friends. You want something, and there's nothing wrong with being open about it."
Alannah replies, "Of course we want something. But make no mistake, it really is tied into that story about the wolf and we've got plenty of dislike for goblins and other foul things to travel much further than your camp just to end them." Alannah sighs, "But you are right. We came to see you because I am looking for a bone-carved charm and I've been told you are quite an expert and collector of such things. They were once part of a set and we were hoping you could help us find them. Darragh warned me that you were ... Ummm ... his words were, 'mad for your little bits of carved bone' and not to lead with that being our reason for coming out here. You'd never believe we'd come to find you to ask about carvings, so I hadn't planned on just being open about it until we got to talk a bit first." She shrugs, letting the halfling chief judge the truth of her words.
"Darragh said that, did he?" asks the halfling chieftain, sounding annoyed at his absent colleague. Without waiting for an answer, he goes on, resignedly, "Very well, let's hear about your bone carvings, since you've come all this way."
Alannah nods in appreciation, "Thank you. We've been looking for a number of carved bone charms. Originally, they were part of a necklace so they are about this size," she pauses to guestimate the size of the carvings by spanning her fingers. "Each one of the charms from the original set is a different animal. The necklace was magic and from what I can sense from the carvings that I've found, they still possess a lingering magical aura. Of course, there's much more about the necklace, why we're looking for its charms, and even how it ties into everything happening -- including why the goblins seem to be particularly active recently ... but the story is long. Let's sit and we'll be glad to tell you everything we know. And I'll bet you know some things that will help fill a few gaps in our knowledge as well."
"Lord, Alannah is more than capable of telling you everything you want to know," dropping his voice he mutters, "the real trick is getting her to stop," before he continues, "I am in service to Derena and am a capable healer. If there are any sick or ill, I will treat them to the best of my ability."
Eulan completely shifts his attention to Garren, and tells the cleric, "We're all healthy here, but if you're serious about wanting to help with this war, then I'll send you to a larger encampment that's mostly warriors. It's just a matter of time before there's pestilence there. You would save lives, enough to make a difference."
Alannah seizes the opportunity revealed by Garren, "A number of our party, including both Garren and myself, are capable of using magical healing and are knowledgable of mundane medicine. If we can satisfactorily conclude our business here, we could certainly aid the warriors in the other camp."
The chieftain doesn't look like he's even close to inviting any of you into the encampment as he presses, "What do these bone carvings of yours look like, then, beyond being small, magical, and shaped like animals? Is it an orcish rezba? Something more like Jotunish skrimshaw? Have you a sketch, or an exemplar piece?"
"Sure. As a matter of fact, we do." Alannah gestures to Chuul, "Chuul, can you show him the horse carving?"
Without comment, Chuul fishes out the figurine and lightly tosses it to the halfling.
Kya breathes a sigh of relief when it is evident that this guy doesn't want to hear the long story that she already managed to avoid hearing once already.
"I wonder if each animal is carved from the bones of that animal." She ponders aloud and glances over at Celene.
While Kya is speculating about the provenance of the bone pendant's materials, Eulan reaches inside his overtunic and brings out a pair of ivory-framed scissors-glasses, which he squeezes into place on his nose before squinting at the pendant Chuul has tossed to him. After a moment, he remarks, "The artistic style is consistent with fey manufacture, as is the absence of a maker's mark. The carving has been executed in a technically very advanced fashion. I see almost no extraneous tool marks. This piece probably is composed of bone or antler rather than ivory, because there's a grain to the material, but it isn't shaped correctly to be any kind of ivory that I'm familiar with. Where did you obtain it?"
“I tracked it to a curio shop in Port Hope. I either know or have an idea where two others may be ... not including yours, if you possess one.”
"And you think that by possessing these pendants, you'll solve some problem of yours having to do with the werewolf you were talking about. Is that roughly correct?" The halfling puts away his spectacles, and then tosses the bone carving back to Chuul.
Alannah nods, “Well, in a way. The figurines were part of a necklace that Cole ... that’s the werewolf’s name ... considers his birthright. We are pretty sure he’ll hunt down and murder anyone with the carvings to get them back.” She pauses to think, “Of course, that’s more like his side project. Right now he’s suppose to be focused on rallying the goblins into gathering in force and attacking or he’s going to lose the support of his unseelie fae queen. Like they really need more encouragement after the tribes were united and they started following that undead hobgoblin king.”
Eulan listens to Alannah impassively, then queries, "What would you be prepared to offer in exchange for a pendant like the one you showed me? It sounds valuable, and warfare is expensive."
"Beyond its aesthetics, it's only a curiosity and has little value to anyone other than a collector, such as yourself. Except to Cole, who thinks he can somehow restore its power. But once he's dead ... " She shrugs.
"Now, none of our party are completely stupid ... " She pauses a moment to consider the rest of their hydrophobic party across the river, " ... well, none of us here anyway. So we obviously aren't carrying chests of treasure around with into the wilds where we can be murdered by who knows what for it. But I did bring 500 gold worth of pearls with me for the purpose of buying it, as I figured you weren't going to just give it away. I mean, you collect these things after all and have likely spent money to acquire them. Beyond that, we can offer our services to heal or fight and or broker information. Or you tell me what else we could offer."
"Healing and fighting both sound like attractive offers," replies Eulan, quickly enough to make Alannah feel like she walked into something just by mentioning them as possibilities at all. "How do you value your service? The Horsekillers are rather expensive, but then again there are such a lot of them."
Alannah is struck dumb for a moment, considering she'd always been on the hiring end of such transactions and never made it this far before, "I'm not sure, honestly, I've never made it this far. One of my companions has always jumped in before now and sworn our service, free of charge, to whatever group with a 'noble' cause I'm trying to negotiate. But having worked with the Horsekilers before, I'd say our versatility alone grants us a bit more value."
Eulan strokes his beard as he muses, "Oh, well. That's probably true, that you're very versatile. But I don't know that you're the equal of a small army. Quantity has a quality all its own, and so forth, especially if you're trying to fend off a goblinoid horde. Unless I'm misunderstanding the situation, and you feel yourselves the equal of a small army?" He raises his eyebrows quizzically at this.
Alannah shrugs, "We've beaten small armies, so maybe?" She looks back at Chuul, "I mean, look at Chuul there. I bet he can take ten Horsekillers on alone."
She turns back to the halfling chief, "But at this point, you are either stringing us along or you've already decided you will help and we are just negotiating terms. Tell us what you need us to do, we'll tell you if we can do it."
Eulan shrugs, "I'm trying to decide how many goblin ears one of these pendants might be worth."
"Do you have more than one?" Kya ventures to ask.
Eulan erupts into peals of what sound like genuine laughter at Kya's question. But once he realizes that she was probably serious, the halfling chieftain explains, "I have none at all, which makes me a sad fellow. I was hoping to start a proper collection."
Kya laughs at this response, until, as often is the case, the realization hits her that something went wrong with her Common.
"Nooo, I mean pendants...not ears...do you have more than one of those...pendants!!! Cause that would be a bunch of ears."
Chuul works hard to keep a smile from erupting on his face. He's mostly successful. Mostly.
"I do not," replies Eulan, his mirth subsiding.
"Oh...well if you can help I bet Chuul wouldn't mind giving you his pendant plus whatever other parts of the necklace we end up getting. I mean, once the werewolf is out of the picture. So that, plus Lady Alannah's pearls, plus, maybe if there's a special treasure you are trying to get your hands on that you need help finding, considering we forgot to bring you a respectful gift. We can give you our word that we will get it."
Kya spreads her hands.
"We're probly gonna fight goblins when we find them anyways, and we can save you some ears. But we gotta stop the werewolf first so there's not much time we can get involved in your campaign just yet. But if you can't help. We'lljust have to figure something else out."
"Kya, remind me to give you a few lessons on negotiation. While some of that is true, it's going to spoil the fun if you give up too much upfront. A lady should never bare everything right away, there needs to be some mystery to keep the interest. Not to mention, it's awfully suspicious to lead by offering too much upfront."
Alannah turns back to Eulan, "But she is right about the goblins. But you already knew that. We'll likely kill a good number of them either way. My brother -- the one I actually like -- is leading a regiment that is fighting the goblins. Every goblin we kill is one less that might try to stab him in the back."
Eulan smiles pleasantly, and comments, "It's easier to count goblin ears if you thread them onto a string. If you just leave them in a sack, then you have to pour them out and sort through them. Let's say that when you have a hundred goblin ears for me, I'll have a pendant for you. And since we're friendly, I will even agree that a hobgoblin's ear counts for two, and a bugbear's for four."
Alannah bows her head, “It sounds like a fair deal. I hope it’s one of the carvings we seek. And we will still offer healing to any that need it.”
She turns back to the others, “Chuul, Garren — how does it sound to you? Shall we go hunting?”
Kya is clearly doing math with her fingers.
Chuul nods. "It is fair."
"Collecting trophies is barbaric and I won't take part in that. Goblins are not irredeemable but war is war. We'll kill the ones on the wrong side of this conflict. You can be sure that any ears brought to you come from your enemies."
Alannah turns back to Eulan, "We are mostly in agreement with the terms then. But before we conclude the entire deal, do you have the pendant with you at this camp? Could I examine it? I don't doubt your expertise in the craft, but I can sense the lingering magical aura to tell if it's one of the original necklace pieces. If I'm going to be disappointed, I would prefer to find out sooner rather than later."