Following the escape of the remaining druid, we were able to obtain more details from the “Wizard of Wines” concerning the harvest and the importance of the vineyard.
The vineyard is one of the few areas of Ravenloft where the land is not “corrupted”. The old vintner was unclear as to what this meant (since obviously, other land must be fertile or everyone would have starved), but it is very important to the inhabitants of the land. The vintner attributed the properties of the land to three “seeds” – pinecone-sized gems of different colours. Each gem was associated with a different variety of wine. Unfortunately, as of a few days ago, all of the gems had been stolen.
The first gem was stolen ten years ago. The vintner’s son, Erwin Mactikoff (known to us as the owner of the Blue Water Inn), was on guard, and when the gem was stolen, the vintner cast him out, claiming that he had not tried hard enough to prevent the theft. Obviously, the vintner looks pretty foolish now.
The second gem was stolen several weeks ago. The vintner’s hired hands tracked the theft to a band of scarecrows roving about the ruins of Berem, but the vintner and his people have been unable to recover it.
The third gem was stolen shortly before our arrival by the band of druids we attacked. Although we don’t know why they returned to the vineyard, it is possible that they wished to corrupt (or steal) the wine which had been manufactured before the theft of the last gem. In any event, according to the Wizard of wines, the druids inhabit an enclave called Yesterhill.
The vintner does not know why the scarecrows or the druids wish to obtain the gems.
After Lady Arimaka purified the remaining wine (and the vintner awarded us each two bottles of his best (and only) remaining vintage), we were asked to escort the wine back to Valaki, out of concern that the druids or the scarecrows might intercept the shipment. We set out that morning, accompanying the vintner’s other son.
Along the way, our group was attacked by a band of zombies, supported by dire wolves. Though hardly eloquent, the zombies suggested that their master had not found Mika to his liking, but that they wished to sample her themselves. Mika panicked and ran off. The rest of us put a united front against the zombies. Oscar advanced into the thick of the zombies and invoked the power of his god to rebuke them. Lady Arimaka and Daisuke charged the direwolves. Ireena fought off a zombie with her sword and the vintner’s son bashed heads with a cask hammer. I myself shot zombie after zombie from a perch point in a tree.
Even as we turned back the undead hordes, a scream rang out. Daisuke and Lady Arimaka ran to the sound. Daisuke briefly glimpsed a black shadow above the prone body of Mika, but by the time Lady Arimaka and Oscar arrived, Mika was dead.
Given the odd occurrences of the recent days, I pushed for a summary cremation of the body, following decapitation and dismemberment for good measure, but Lady Arimaka insisted that we bundle the corpse onto the wagon and bring it to Valaki in the hopes of finding help. Needless to say that we got strange looks upon passing the Valaki gates, and further needless to say that the local churchmen, though vaguely sympathetic, were utterly useless. We left the body at the chapel and were press-ganged into attending the Festival of the Blazing Sun.
The weather had turned overcast and drizzly as we hustled to the main square of Valaki. We couldn’t help but notice a large number of armed guardsmen watching the crowd and “encouraging” participation. Also observed were several stocks filled with men, women and children. Daisuke was able to briefly speak to a child, who admitted his crime was mocking the Baron. The crowd was restless. The Baron and his wife arrived at the square, where a large wicker ball had been doused in oil.
The Baron gave a few words, and turned to light the ball, but the ball failed to catch. One of the guardsmen laughed. A hush fell over the crowd as the Baron turned towards the unfortunate guardsman and yelled, “Seize that man!”. The Baron’s Captain of the Guard, a large man with a shaved head and an ostensibly demonic right hand, strode forward.
Naturally, Daisuke did something unfortunate, here defined as making a stand to defend the guardsman. “Fly, you fool, fly!” he uttered to the wretch. Lady Arimaka also leapt to the defense of guardsman, claiming that the man had laughed in response to a jest she had made. This failed to convince the Baron or the Captain of the Guards. Meanwhile, I crept up to the wicker ball – I add, for clarification, that the ball did not contain prisoners or any other such persons- and set it on fire, hoping to create a distraction to protect the Lady. At the same time, Oscar cast an evocation that calmed the spirits of the advancing guardsmen, and later the Captain of the Guards, to permit Daisuke and the guardsman to escape.
Once the ball lighted, the Festival was over quickly and the crowd dispersed. We set back to the Blue Water Inn, but not before noticing some peculiarities. Oscar noticed a man in fine dress, a nobleman, in attendance at the Festival. He seemed to be staring intently at Ireena, and smiling (the Captain of the Guards also seemed to recognize her). I myself noticed another man following us, but my attempts to identify him were unsuccessful.
While on the way to the inn, I stopped at the Arasek Stockyard, where I bartered one of my bottles of wine for a disguise kit, which I used to make Ireena unrecognizable. Time will tell if this is sufficient.
At the Blue Water Inn, Lady Arimaka announced that we would free the children from the stocks. Before we could respond, there came a knock on the door. It was Rictavio, and he said he could help.