Wedding day blues

Our plucky deputies having discharged their duties with admirable aplomb are retained by Mally Nation as deputy shirriffs (it has been pointed out that they should officially be called Bounders, but I suspect that in the early days of the Shire this formal arrangement has not been organised). Taking their rest in the Midnight Rooster in Wibbleham they are interrupted by a young Dunlending lad seeking sherriffs to come quickly to a hold nearby where members of the family are engaged in a deadly stand-off. Duly prompted the deputies set off to discharge their duty.

At the clan hold, they find a family at war over who poisoned the clan lord’s favoured hunting hound. Family rivalries have risen to the surfaced and been amplified by other family quarrels as the extended family have been invited for a wedding the previous day. So it is that Brega, Alvi and Aelfric walk into a silent hold with three large houses full to bursting of drink-fuelled warriors barely held in check by the desire not to be the first seriously injured in any scuffle.

Having made sure that everyone is aware that the law-keepers have arrived, the party set about interviewing the quarrelling family members. The discover the clan lord Arthfael, in a sombre mood, mourning his dead hound. The chieftan is unwilling to take any decisions and has, in essence, abdicated control of his hold and lands. His new wife Blejan informs the party of how two of the daughters, Nuallan and Fedelmid virtually ruined her wedding party with their constant harping. She accuses both of being evil scheming witches who are just the sort of women to poison the hound in order that their husband could seize control. The youngest daughter, Maella, appears almost as heartbroken as her father and agrees that both sisters could be responsible but admits in private that Blejan has never liked her new husband’s love of hunting.

None the wiser as to the cause of the dog’s poisoner, save that it must have happened during the wedding feast, the investigators move onto question the occupants of Aedan and Nuallan’s house. Aelfric, deciding that a forceful police presence is required muscles his way into the house almost causing the occupying warriors to divert their pent up aggression on himself and his fellow lawmen. Aelfric discovers from Aedan that Brennus, the husband of Fedelmid, the middle daughter, was seen sneaking out with a plate of meat during the wedding banquet. Alvi and Brega question Nuallan and are also led to believe that the fault may lie with this couple. At this point a shout goes up and Aelfric is forced to intervene between two warriors about to attack a goat-herder out to care for his flock. Returning the goat-herder to safety Aelfric discovers that both of the two elder daughters and their husbands could have been stirring up trouble at the wedding.

The tyro detectives move on to the third house where Brennus and Fedelmid along with relatives who have taken their side in the argument have barricaded themselves. Brennus makes no bones to Aelfric about how Aedan throws his weight about the hold as if he were lord. When questioned about the meat he explains that he has a soft spot for his dogs and often feeds them tidbits from the table. Under questioning from Brega, Fedelmid waspishly complains about her treatment at her elder sister’s hands and how the new wife, Blejan, is an arch manipulator who surely should be considered as the culprit.

During this time, a small altercation breaks out when some of the younger members of the family break out into the square. With much bravado, both sides face each other off, more bravado than intent until one strikes out at an opponent and in error strikes another. The Shirriffs are quickly on the scene. Alvi charming the main protagonist to sleep with her sweet music and Aelfric and Brega separating the remaining foes. Alvi again employs her smooth tongue to convince the warring youths to return back to their halls.

Faced with a range of opinions but very little evidence the three shirriffs examine the kennel where the hound was kept. Discovery of a poisonous blue flower amongst the straw bedding leads the three to question the master of the hounds. He reveals that he is the one who collects the bedding for the dogs and that he changed the bedding in the kennel. Further careful investigation reveals that the servant did not understand the nature of the flowers and that this was all a terrible mistake.

Gathering the reluctant principals back in the main hall the deputy shirriffs explain their findings and forcefully point out that any misdemeanours between family members will be dealt with severely. Satisfied that the situation is resolved Alvi, Aelfric and Brega return to Wibblesham

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Food

In the cool autumn air, Brega walked towards the Midnight Rooster, the only lodgings in the small town of Wibblesham. Her dark robe was muddy from six months of wandering. Weighed down by her pack and pans, she leaned on her intricately carved staff and paused taking in the mix of overground houses and round doors set into the hillside.

As she neared the inn, her thoughtful hazel eyes noticed a familiar figure stood with an unknown companion on the wooden boards that kept customer’s feet dry when entering the Midnight Rooster. Hailing Aelfric, whom she had grown up in the same village with before they had both been forced on the road half a year ago, she quickened her pace to the door. Soon Aelfric had introduced Brega to his companion who he had travelled with from Tharbad. Alvi, a red-headed bard, was one of those women who made a room light up when she entered. So it was not long before the three sat with a the remains of a supper before them; Brega and Alvi swapping stories; Alvi playing a quiet tune to entertain the tavern’s other patrons.

Come the morning, the three are sat breaking fast together when they are approached by a hobbit wearing a blue goose feather in her hat. She introduces herself as Shirriff Mally Nation. She has been granted leave by the village moot to recruit additional shirriffs to help with shepherding of refugees to safe areas. The village of Wibbleham is not rich but can cover the cost of board and food while they are shirriffs. Seeing a chance to save coin and have a place to rest for a while they work, the adventurers agree.

The first task is to escort a group of refugees to a safe ravine because Shirriff Mally believes that there is a risk of Corn-skin fever, a deadly disease, amongst the refugees. Guiding the emaciated refugees along the road to the new campsite, the party notice one particularly healthy Dunlending. He protests vociferously about the treatment of his people and they are being prevented from moving on. However, Alvi talks eloquently to the unhappy, hungry and weary people about how they are going to be looked after if they follow to the camp and without fuss they refugees move to the prepared quarantine campsite in a narrow ravine.

The adventurers are tasked with guarding the refugees and bringing food to the camp. Brega uses her skill in cooking to create warm hearty food for the refugees and earns favour with the refugees. Still, there is the odd attempt by one or two refugees to escape and find extra food or perhaps somewhere else to live in peace. None get far and Aelfric proves himself to be a capable athlete in chasing down the errant refugees.

Whilst resting in the Midnight Rooster the adventurers hear of talk from some of the local farmers of the theft of livestock. Mally not having spare shirriffs to dispatch to investigate sends Alvi, Brega and Aelfric. At each farm, the tale is the same: they believe that the refugees have taken the lamb or calf that has been stolen. Yet at one farm a clue is discovered, young Semmi Midtoe looks uncomfortable when his family are questioned about the missing lamb. Alvi and Aelfric eventually manage to win his trust and he reveals that it was his pet lamb that was stolen by Betwin Proudfoot. Which is strange because Betwin was buried yesterday.

Confused but unconvinced by the youngster’s description of the deceased hobbit stealing a lamb, the party return to the Midnight Rooster for the night. During the evening, an irate hobbit, Marco Chubb, interrupts their rest demanding that the shirriffs investigate the cruel practical joke that had been played on his daughter Daisy. He tells of how some cruel prankster, pretended to be the recently departed uncle Clarfew and leered through the window at poor young Daisy, quite distressing the hobbitling. Initially, the recently conscripted shirriffs are unwilling to investigate immediately yet after much pleading they eventually agree.

At the Chubb farm, Aelfric finds signs of an intruder but the party are unable to track the intruder. However, they discover that Grandmother Minna has also seen her son playing with the family cat that day. She is most distressed that no-one had told her of Clarfew’s death. This and the presence of the remains of said family cat cause the shirriffs to question the Chubb family further. In doing so they discover that Uncle Clarfew had in fact been secretly trading with the refugee camp and had also contracted corn skin fever. Faced with two recently departed hobbits, the shirriffs soon discover that two more “associates” of Clarfew had recently died and been buried quickly in the village graveyard. With this new information, the deputy shirriffs set off for the graveyard.

In the dark it proves hard to find more than four graves with recently disturbed earth; returning at first light the investigators find a trail leading from the graves into the wood. In the depths of the woods in a small dell Brega, Alvi, Alefric and Mally discover the source of the livestock losses in the form of four hobbit ghouls. Trapping them in the hidden lair it is only a matter of time before Aelfric Smithson with the aid of Alvi Craigsdottir have dispatched the evil but ineffectual undead. Thinking about the refugee camp it becomes clear to Brega that Firdok, the rather healthy and vocal refugee, may also be infected with the corn skin sickness. She explains this to her companions and they plan to capture Firdok without causing risk to the remain refugees.

With a cauldron of stew, the shirriffs return to the camp and without causing alarm to manage to convince Firdok through Alvi’s clever words to come with them to see the new site of the refugees’ village. Before Firdok has time to realise the deception, Aelfric strikes him from behind stuns him to the floor. Fearing that Firdok may recover quickly, Alvi plays her flute and causes Firdok to fall into a deep sleep. Soon Firdok is bound and secured in the village gaol. The town mayor and Shirriff Mally are extremely grateful to the adventurers and promise to hold a trial to determine what to do with Firdok, who is clearly a ghoul but equally has continued to try and support his family and tribe of refugees.

Just a postscript on this adventurer log. This was the first game my family had chosen to play and that in itself was a strange experience given that previously they had shown no desire to play when invited. The start was rather awkward as it often is with new players trying to get over the self-consciousness of playing for the first time. However, I also had to deal with the scepticism of “this won’t be fun and will be weird” and it also being my wife and kids at the table, who it must be said found it tricky to deal with the change in roles and dynamics (as did I). Eventually, once we had got past the embarrassment and also the realisation that it was up to them as players to direct the story, it turned into quite a good game. I am not sure how often they will play or if they will join the main campaign, but at least they enjoyed it and we didn’t end up with one big argument.