Our Ars Magica campaign continues, with further investigation of the Redcaps in the strange woods near the village of Skene. My companion character Jack was part of the team that was investigating, along with the two magi Maedbh ex Merinita and Allistor ex Miscellanea. Two of our grogs, Blane and Callen were also with us as bodyguards.
1227, Spring – Jack
We get back to the village safely soon after nightfall. Our plan is to get some sleep and then further our explorations in the morning. Two nights from now it will be dark of the moon, when the redcaps are said to be most likely to come out and cause problems.
In the morning, we have breakfast and give the defences a quick look over. There are a few weak points in the palisade, but they are aware of them and doing their best to get them fixed.
We head back out to the woods. It is quite muddy after a night of rain, but we get to the edge of the woods without any trouble. We continue our circumnavigation of the woods, and reach a point where the new broadleaf trees meets more native pine trees. There’s something not quite natural about these new trees, though I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what. The individual trees seem fine, it’s just the way that they are distributed which seems odd.
Maedbh comes up with a plan to re-enter the woods from the stone circle. We go in the same order as before, with myself and Blane taking the lead, and Callen bringing up the rear behind the two magi. At Maedbh’s suggestion, we trail some string behind us in order to find the way back.
We reach the place we did before, with the (now) dug up mounds. The leaves on the ground look more like they think it is Autumn rather than spring. There is wildlife here – birds and small mammals. Nothing seems too dangerous.
There is a thin trail made by hobnailed boots that we follow deeper into the wood. Sometimes it looks like a tree or bush has moved over the tracks. The air gets stiller as we move deeper into the woods, and things become almost dreamlike, as if looking at a picture. Maedbh and Allistor are discussing something about increasing aura levels.
We come across the carcass of a deer, it’s head half caved in and its rear legs removed. Maedbh stops to cast a spell on the deer, to find out something about it. To me though it looks like it was killed when its head was caved in. She does find some spear wounds though.
After waiting for Maedbh to chant some more spells, we continue along the trail. I get the impression, from the way that the trail circles around, that it was avoiding something off to the side. Peering through the trees, there is the odd sign of movement. I realise that something has been following us, making a parallel path through the woods. We decide to avoid it for now.
We come to a clearing, where there are some firepits and empty barrels. The barrels have been waterproofed. Some of the trees look like they have holes punched in them. It looks like there was a party here, that may have devolved into a fight.
There are three paths out of here, one of which looks like it had been brutally widened. There are hoof prints heading along the wide path. They seem to have come and gone along the path. The hoof prints are actually cloven, suggesting a unicorn according to Maedbh.
Heading along the wide path, it is getting quite gloomy due to the thick canopy overhead. Maedbh warns us that the faerie aura has gone up again, whatever that means. Allistor creates some magical light which makes it far easier for us to see.
Eventually we get to the end of the path, where it ends at another clearing. Maedbh leads the way here, with me just behind. It is an open, grassy clearing where some good quality tents have been erected. It looks like a noble’s camp. The heraldic arms flying above the tent matches that on the shields of the dead nights we found yesterday.
There is bad singing coming out from behind one of the tents. A short old man carrying a pike and wearing a red hat, comes bounding into the clearing. He is dragging a deer behind him, shouting out “My Lord! It is Dinner!”
It dumps the deer on a table, then starts chopping at it with a chopper. The singing stops, and Maedbh starts clapping.
Redcap: “Mi Lord! Intruders!”
From the tent: “Polite intruders”
A knight dressed in shiny implausible armour steps out of the tent, with a great sword strapped to his back. He is carrying a musical instrument and wearing a helm.
The knights sends the redcap off to get some ‘entertainment’.
“I am Sir Aidan, I welcome you to my come. Please come, and share in meat, drink and entertainment.”
Maedbh and Allistor wander into the clearing, so I follow. The knight apologises for the state of the clearing since he hadn’t been expecting guests. He is on a Quest.
At this point half a dozen red caps come bouncing into the clearing, and start sorting out a meal. The first one has very obvious blood dribbling down from his hat. A we move further into the clearing, we notice there is a unicorn behind the tent.
Maedbh sits down with him at the table, and starts listening to his tale of Questing. A few of the ‘servants’ sometimes look in our direction with a licking of their lips. One of them sits down and starts playing some drums, whilst the others start to cook the deer.
He was a young knight, who was eventually selected to go on a hunting trip to investigate new areas. He heard of disreputable characters who have been blundering these woods and taking its resources. He has been given a Quest to guard these woods by his King, who also gave him his Unicorn mount.
“The King”, not King Alexander of Scotland. He says he is here for a year and a day, though if he came in with the hunting party he’s been here for more than a year already.
The redcaps are the friendly locals who are helping him in the defence of the woodlands. He also needs them to tax the local villagers to provide what is rightfully his, since these lands have been given to him by the King.
Whilst the redcaps prepare the food, they are taking the opportunity to quaff from the beer. They seem somewhat unsteady on their feet at this point. He invites Maedbh to sit down and eat, and she does. I just stand behind her and don’t sit or eat.
The Unicorn comes over and nuzzles at Maedbh. At one point it comes around to me, and gives me a shove away from Maedbh. I step back, and a bit later it comes around again. This time I put my shield in the way, and it bashes its head into my shield instead of me. It seems upset by this, and goes back to Maedbh, seemingly giving me angry glances.
The Knight mentions that his King is in the middle of the woods, and sometimes there is a sound that calls Sir Aidan to him to pay homage. His servants go with him as well, to also pay their respects. At this point the Redcaps snicker amongst themselves, but the knight don’t seem to notice.
Each night on the dark of the moon, he goes to see the King. The King tells him to go out to the lands and collect what is his. Meanwhile, the Redcaps are getting very drunk. One of them gets stabbed in the leg, and wanders off into the wood. Two are on their backs giggling, the others are simply drunk.
I am getting really hungry, and without thinking take a swing from my beer and take a snack of my trail rations. Sir Aidan gets offended by this, that I, a mere servant, had eaten before the Lady has finished. Maedbh calms him down.
Maedbh and the knight wander over to the fire, and a couple of Redcaps feast at the table.
There is the sound of a trumpet. Then there is a strange sound of the rubbing of many sticks. The three Redcaps who don’t run off in time organise themselves into a somewhat unsteady line. He says that his King is summoning him.
He invites us (well, Maedbh) to go with him, so we follow. It starts getting really dark, and Allistor makes my shield glow that nicely illuminates the area ahead. We get led into a wooden tunnel, with vines wrapped tickly around it.
We come into a dark area, with a raised mound of dirt on the far side. Sir Aidan moves up to the mound and goes down on one knee. We do the same.
There is an impression of people having moved into the glade. The canopy behind the mound is pushed aside, as a large spider moves to the mound. It is about the size of a horse, and the legs look more human-like than they should. Everything about it is wrong.