Sentence was decided and carried out: Grigoryi would lose his left hand, and all his possessions, and would be exiled. Given a day’s food and low passage on a trade caravan out of the realm, he would be immediately executed if found within the Mistmarches ever again. The people saw this as a just and merciful punishment, and within days the whole affair was largely forgotten.
Loy and Latricia Rezbin sought audience with the kings and asked permission to settle ‘Tatzlford,’ a town along the river, near where the kings had killed the tatzylwyrms the year before. Eager, intelligent, and armed with a good plan, the couple wanted the kings’ approval, and wanted the town to be officially recognized and incorporated into the Mistmarches. Considering the proposal, the kings agreed to it, announcing to the couple that by summer their settlement would be fully a part of the kingdom.
Anton, Kincaid, and Pik rode out on the morning after the start of the festival, leaving Zion and Reg to administer the affairs of the city and kingdom in their absence. Taking the Forest Road to the west, they quickly reached its end, and from there followed Kincaid’s lead along a series of reasonably well-worn forest paths, deeper into the dense, ancient wood.
The Murque River was to their left, and mostly running freely after the initial thaw. Patches of snow were still common in shady spots – of which there were many – and the river banks, when they came into view, still had sizable shelves of ice reaching out from them. The center of the river, however, flowed swiftly toward the south and east, toward the Tuskwater.
At around mid-day they heard the sounds: voices arguing over something. Coming onto the scene they kings saw several loggers, led by Corax, whom Kincaid had met the week before, standing ready to attack…a pair of their own men, apparently charmed by a nixie, who was angry over the trees that they’d felled near her pond. Stepping between the parties, the kings went about working to diffuse the situation by establishing the facts and developing a mutually-acceptable solution. The trees would be replaced; the loggers would leave this area alone and would move the focus of their operations to another part of the forest; and the nixie would release the men from the spell.
Within a few hours the kings were on the trail again, steadily moving deeper into the forest, in search of the grove of Tiressia, the dryad Kincaid had previously met. Fearing for her life, she had reached out for help against some powerful beast that was moving through the southern forest, toward her home; she feared it would soon find, and kill, her sacred oak, and her with it.
Acting on information from Tiressia and scouting intelligence from Kincaid, the kings decided to rest that night in her grove and prepare spells and other plans for the next day. Doing this, the departed at first light and searched to the south, in some of the deepest and most ancient forest they’d seen thus far. Eventually the path of the beast was found: a swath of dead trees and ruined vegetation, moving from south to north, dead-ending in a blighted hollow. Searching the hollow the kings found the source of the ruin: a gnarled, dark reddish-brown tree with sharp, scythe-like branches, few leaves, and a large scar-like gash running vertically down its trunk. Arrows flew, the tree came to life, and the kings attacked with sword, bow, and spell. Both Anton and Kincaid were injured, and yet they pressed the attack, aided by Pik’s summoning of a fire elemental. The tree was trapped, and although it lashed out with all its might to destroy its attackers, it was eventually felled, burned, and broken into pieces, ending its threat to the forest.
After Pik healed his companions, the three returned to exploring the lands, spending another day in this area where none of them had yet been. After satisfactorily mapping the area, the kings moved again toward the west, in search of the ancient Elven keep Kincaid had already located.
Familiar with the land, Kincaid was able to quickly lead them to the large stone keep. Circular in design, and with four towers spread equidistant along the outer wall, the keep’s main structure was a large circular tower within the outer palisade. The outer wall itself was overgrown with vines, moss, and slime, was partially collapsed on the south side, and had an open portcullis in the eastern side. A wildly overgrown center yard was visible through the open gate, and an unnatural, unpleasant silence pushed out any sound of nature from around or within the keep.
The kings, concealed along a low, densely-forested ridge, watched the keep from the southeast, considering their next move.
“Hey guys! Hey guys! It’s me! I found those loggers and met Tiressia and tracked you guys here! Wow! Do you see that keep! It’s MASSIVE! I bet it’s really old, too!” Zion road down the path to their rear on his horse. His silver hair practically sparkled in the intermittent shafts of light that pierced the forest canopy, and the white and purple and yellow ‘show barding’ (which he’d bought up north, and consisted of nothing more than brightly-colored layered cloth) stood out among the branches and early leaves.
“Why are you guys being so quiet?”
Anton gritted his teeth while Kincaid waved his hands at their fellow king, trying to get him to be quiet. Pik cast his eyes toward the sky, silently asking the eternal question of “why….?”