We found a livery on the south side of town to stable the horses, which didn't bother me a bit. Horses were useful, and I know the farmers set a lot store by them, but I hadn't gotten used to riding them yet. I still preferred a good riding lizard. The problem was, when the entire House escaped the Night Below, not all of the riding lizards made the trip. What few the House had left were being used to repopulate the herd. So, we made do with horses.
It wasn't a long walk. Winterhaven was a good sized town but not that spread out, just complicated in how the buildings were set down. I asked for directions from a few of the locals, it didn't go well.
"What? Come to watch me die, elf?" the man snarled after a fit of coughing.
"No," I replied. "We're looking for a way to help you."
"Kiss off! I don't need your poison! I've heard about you Underdark demons!"
I nearly wound up in at least one fight. But I kept my temper.
Sogash and Dorl didn't do any better than I did. People were on edge from the Blackscour Taint. It was about a half hour later before we found anyone willing to talk with us at length. A farmer, Hugo Diggle, heard us out and pointed us in the right direction.
In the end, we would have found it anyway if we had kept walking east.
The Lumber Consortium takes up a wide stretch of land to the east of Winterhaven. It's a nasty scar on the land between the town and the Claspwood forest. Stumps surrounded a set of five log buildings in the middle of the clearing. Carts and sleds were gathered off to the right. Sawdust covered everything.
I looked the buildings over, not sure which one to pick. Healer Brahkose never said if this Milon Rhoddam was an owner or just one of their rangers. The way she talked about him, he sounded like a ranger. Dorl suggested we check the bunkhouse, Sogash thought the meal hall, while the barn seemed like a good idea to me.
So we split up. Since the buildings weren't that far apart, we felt that if there was any trouble, we'd all hear it and come running. I crossed over to the barn and started asking for this Milon Rhoddam.
(( Persuasion: d4: 4,3 = 7 ; d6: 1 ))
I got lucky. The stablemaster was in a talkative mood.
Stablemaster Vrek Bophin was a good friend of Healer Brahkose. So when I explained who I was looking for and why, Vrek was more than willing to help. We left the barn, collected Dorl and Sogash, then headed toward a ragged set of campsites near the Claspwood treeline.
Milon Rhoddam was the third campsite from the end. The ranger was a human, middle aged, and built like a brick. He was direct, blunt, and a bit quiet. For some reason I took a liking to him right away. Milon seemed uneasy about Dorl and Sogash, but that happens sometimes. There are too many rumors about what orcs are and are not like; most of those aren't even close to true. Unfortunately, people are too willing to believe the worst.
I explained the situation to Milon. Vrek added a few thoughts of his own, as it turned out the stablemaster knew a few people that the Taint had already killed. Milon admitted he did, too: his nephew. He wasn't sure but with his nephew sick, he didn't need much convincing.
"It all sounds like witchcraft and wizardry to me," Milon admitted, "which isn't a bit what Keesy deals in."
He let his words trail off.
"But if you're looking for herbs to brew a cure? I'll gladly draw you a map and Silvanus speed you along."
"Thank you for this," I replied.
Milon shook his head.
"Nope. If you three find those herbs and all Keesy needs to brew a cure... then the thanks goes to you three, Anaquiin. Now, the places I've marked on this map are my best guess where you'll find what you're looking for."
"Dwarven ruins?" Dorl asked.
Milon nodded. "The very same. Old, too. Real old. Be careful there. Those dwarves died hard. What killed them may still be there."
"We'll watch our backs," I replied.
I memorized the map as best I could, then handed it over to Dorl and Sogash to look over. We left Milon back to his camp while Vrek walked us partway back toward the Consortium barn. He explained that with the Blackscour Taint running through Winterhaven, work was slow. Also, he felt he'd be in no less danger out in the Claspwoods than in town with a plague.
It was hard to say no against that. He had a point.
I agreed, so while Vrek went and collected what he needed, we went and got the rest of our supplies from the horses. Vrek met us at the stables, ready to leave. He explained that our horses would have to stay here. The Claspwood didn't have good riding trails so we'd be better off on foot.
Of the three locations, the Elder tree seemed the farthest off, with the dwarven ruins in the south and the forest hag Ulzmila somewhat in between. I thought the forest hag might be the best choice. If she was willing to talk to us, we might get a better sense about what was ahead at the ruins, and if the location of the Elder Tree was right.
No one could think of a good reason to say no, so we set out for Ulzmila's hut.