We found ourselves in the woods, three captives in hand, with a column of transported half-orcs.
Merrin got right to work, questioning the captives with the ease of long practice. Matters discussed included who they were, where the destination camp is, and why there were hired goons waiting for us in the woods. Answers to the first two questions were easily obtained. The third required a sigh, a grimace, and a slow, methodical, laying out of inquisitorial tools on Merrin's part. Answers came fairly quickly after that.
It turned out that the Tall Trees Company was put on alert by the previous logging camp's missing inhabitants, and suspicious because of the party's association with Traven. The company has, in its employ, some free transported who have attached themselves to Traven and who provide intelligence: the party was seen on several occasions. Good drawings had been provided to the guards, and warnings were provided that trouble might occur on the road.
After a frank discussion among the party members, in their presence, about what to with the now very inconvenient captives, the guards suggested that their lives were basically over if they had to return empty-handed. Cutting their throats and dumping their corpses in the woods for animals to eat was discarded as not the right thing to do, so off everyone went deeper into the woods. Much effort was put into concealing the direction of travel of the large group.
The efforts at trail-removal seemed to be effective (or perhaps the knowledge that dozens of now-free half-orcs roamed the woods), as no retribution was encountered during the rest of the day's travel, nor at night during camp. The mood in camp that evening was quietly pleased, but sombre: the rescued folk were asking "what now?" The question of the captives weighed on everyone as well, and during another discussion about their fate Wrenaldo saw one of their heads snap up. The ex-guard's eyes unfocussed, and he cocked an ear as if listening to something in the woods.
Wrenaldo stopped to listen and smiled in recognition. "I think our problem is solved." He walked over to the guards, and asked the other two if they could hear "that music," too. The others glanced at their companion, who was absently tugging at his knots trying to stand, and listened carefully. Their eyes lost their focus on this world. Wrenaldo untied them, and let them start wandering off into the woods. He cast a backwards glance at his friends and mouthed, "I'll be back soon."
After a short walk through the woods with others, they emerged into a clearing on the other side of which two solid trees stood like sentinels. The four continued to follow the music, crossing between the trees and emerging in the place of which Wrenaldo has lately dreamt. Green figures emerged from the woods and escorted the three into the valley below. One stayed behind, and said quizzically "We did not expect to see you so soon. Do you bring these three in offering?"
On being reassured that the men were not about to be sacrificed, he replied with a thoughtful "Yes."
On it's return, the creature gifted Wrenaldo with an acorn. Wrenaldo, being the noble person he is, tried to decline. It was explained that sleeping with the acorn under his pillow would simply cement a relationship between the Dryads and Wrenaldo, and that it was his choice to pursue it or not. Wrenaldo took the acorn, thanked the creature, and returned to the party. He chose to sleep with the acorn, and awoke with new knowledge and a new sense of purpose. He appared to have found a new path to travel: a previously unnoticed, but, once seen, welcoming track through the woods.
The next morning, the group broke their fasts and headed in the direction of the burned-out village which was discovered during the last rescue mission. The goal was to set this group of farmers up in the fertile, hidden, valley. Morwen, with some obvious trepidation, returned to the village and sniffed about for evidence of the obvious smell of corruption that had been present before. She was quickly assaulted with the stench, and observed that the village was in considerably worse shape than it had been in several weeks before. A quick decision was made to simply move on.
The mood among the larger group went from nervous to depressed as a rain squall rolled in that evening. Not much progess towards the road was made, and camp was set early. Cold and wet, many went to bed immediately after a meagre dinner. During the next day's travel, Loria, scouting ahead, happened upon a herd of deer just short of the road. She skillfully shot one, and got to work processing it. Once everyone else arrived, there were smiles at the prospect of 400lbs of meat to be shared around. Camp that night was much more pleasant, and made even more so by the amazing flavours Merrin was able to coax out of the fresh kill.
Many ideas about the disposition of the half-orcs were hatched, and tried or discarded on the road to Port Tanner. Farming an unfamiliar forest with no tools or local knowledge was, understandably, unappealing. The village which had previously taken in other transported could not accommodate a group this large, nor would they be able to hide them if head-hunters came around; if they were found to be harbouring fugitives, everyone would be back in manacles. As the party didn't want to be readily associated with a large group of recently liberated transported, going into Port Tanner with everyone was a non-option.
Eventually, it was decided that the larger group would wait on the lakeshore south of Port Tanner, while supplies and tools were purchased. Then everything would be ferried to a safe place near the southern end of the lake, where a new community could be set up.
Several days of boisterous, obvious, drinking and carousing were organized so that the part would be seen to be definitely NOT be hanging around with half-orcs. Then, at significant expense, though Merrin negotiated a tremendous discount, supplies for a new village were purchased. A great site was found along the shore of the lake, around 70 miles east of Southfort.
Soon after arrival, Tal — whom Morwen had been teaching for several weeks — was initiated into the local circle of Druids, and Morwen promised her an introduction to Dunwick, a resident druid who lives between the new village and Southfort.
And there we left off.