Rob took over the game mastering duties and ran a short scenario for us in our ongoing RuneQuest campaign.
Sacred time has recently passed and now it is spring time. Arriving back at Garhound after the Lunar moonboat non-incident, we found that the planting season was off to a bad start. Millions of little chaotic mice broo were eating the grain in the silos and breeding like mad. The grain they didn't eat quickly became rotten after being exposed to their foul mess. Almost the entire village was worried and pleaded with their farming cultists to do something, since stomping on the pests wouldn't bring back the ruined seed grain. The Ernalda priestess was inspired to have a vision that night - she saw a view of northern Yelmic territory, an image of a really old bronze crown, a picture of a large strong giant man carrying a big axe, and an aerial view of a small village with ruins. There were four days left to make sense of it, four days until the planting day, Aldrya's Day.
We got asked by lord Davis Garhound to dash down the river to Raus Fort (officially known as Ronegarth), a likely spot since one of the warriors there looks like the axe carrier and the village could be Weiss, which is nearby. A quick boat trip the next morning got us to Raus Fort, and coincidentally we spotted the axe carrier at the docks. We grabbed the mystified Mr. Popodopolus and visited Duke Raus of Rone. Raus had been having a few vermin problems of his own, but not as bad as the ones at Garhound. Still, he gave us directions to Weiss and sent Popodopolus and some of the mice, as examples, with us.
We took newtling reed boats to the head of the Weiss Cut river and continued up the cliff to the village of Weiss on foot. There we found dozens of villagers running around stomping on small broo and spearing the larger ones. Mice broo are more exciting than regular mice because some of them explode when killed, or their dead spirits futilely attack the stomper's ankles. We joined in the fun, assisting the village shaman with some of the bigger spirits controlled by a small yet powerful broo hiding in a woodpile. Rudy's alynx took care of it with a claw swipe. Rudy noticed that his alynx was a bit too fat and made it throw up the dozens of potentially diseased broo it has been eating. Ugh.
The shaman thanked us and asked why we were there. We described the mission and showed him a picture of the old crown. He turned white - the crown had been the village's secret treasure for generations. Apparently the crown belongs to a lost Ernalda shrine somewhere towards the rising sun; they use it to increase the fertility of their fields by strengthening the local Ernalda spirits once a year, on Aldrya's day. Fortunately Aldrya's day is near and the crown will magically reappear soon. After a few hours, it appeared and we examined it. Holding it up to the light shows up some bumps on the enamel blob, looking a lot like a relief map with a small flake of Truestone marking a spot. From our experience with maps (like the map of the river in raised wood on the temple barge), it looked suspiciously like Condor Crags, which is across the river to the east and close to Yelmic lands.
Popodopolus said he had been to Condor Crags a few years ago, on an adventure to obtain condor eggs for some reason. We decided to leave immediately, with Popodopolus showing the way. The plan was to go north around the Great Bog (picking up mounts from Duke Raus), up the cliffs and over to the crags, find the cure for the broo infestation, then go back down to the 5 Eyes Newtling temple to a waiting river horse which will go magically to Garhound. We got permission to borrow the crown, and spent the afternoon heading back to Ronegarth. After getting supplied, we travelled until dark, and camped on the banks of the river at the Great Bog. The next day we got up the cliffs and around to the base of Condor Crags, arriving by evening at the foot of the marked crag.
The early morning climb up the talus slope was easy even with the expected cliff toad, which we scared off with a demoralize spell. Things got tricky on the rocky parts, with the worst at an overhanging bump of bare rock. Inyana whistled up a wind and used the sylph to fly a rope outwards while someone with a glue spell tacked it onto the underside of the bump. Each glue spot was just strong enough to hold the diminutive Lloy's weight, so he was fairly safe as he swung between spots - with two spots sharing the load. Magic was unreliable as usual; Lloy had to make half a dozen failed glue spells before finally incrementally gluing and moving his way around the bump and up a steep bare rock slope to a crack where the rope could be knotted and wedged in. The others followed, with some difficulty. As we went up further we noticed some oddities in the rock, parts where it was smooth but with a slightly different kind of rock that looked as if it was part of a tunnel entrance or portal.
At the top we found the Condor nests in the midst of some brush and ruins. There was an old wall around most of the fairly flat top. At one spot were some more carved rocks, with recognizable runes - God Learner writings and symbols for Malia, Lodril, Water and Ernalda. The Ernalda rock seems to have been part of a column, with carved markings like the ones on the crown (sheaves of wheat and the like), but with portions missing. We looked around and Cam found a stone head mask, Rudy found a wing, and Puck found some quartz eyes. We tried putting the crown on the head, but it didn't fit. We did try some magic - scattering some bread near the Ernalda column as it was cast, but that didn't do anything. Cam, as the Ernalda worshiper in the group, walked around wearing the crown, people prayed, but still nothing happened. However, after taking the crown off, and looking through the stone head mask with the quartz eyes in place, Cam saw a strangely enlarged view of the northern crag centered on a bricked up entrance. The Malia column pointed at the same spire, while the Lodril and Water ones both pointed at a different spire.
We spent the afternoon going down and over to the next spire of rock, and up a centuries old trail carved into the rock above the talus layer. We got to a fork, Cam directed us to the left, some of us speculated that a Malia temple would be to the right. At sunset we got a nice view of the cave entrance - covered up with sun warmed bricks the same colour as the surrounding rock, with a gap near the top where some bricks have fallen away. We looked inside, using the glowing globe for light, and saw an empty cave, with no animal signs. After a bit of prying the whole wall came down, and Cam lead the way in, wearing the crown, as the sun set.
She stopped at the top of two sets of stairs going down. Maybe these corresponded to the twin symbolic stairs on the crown? She took the left, and we counted 39 steps, ending at a brick wall with claw marks scratched into it. It felt solid. We tried praying a bit, but it stayed solid. We could try prying a bit, but that would be too much like work. Instead we tried the other stairs, but before we found out what was at the bottom, a powerful spirit attacked Cam. It was so powerful that Puck lost hope when his demoralize bounced off its soul just like the little broo's attacks tickled our feet.
The wall at the foot of the stairs is rubble, behind which were some Ernalda things. Lloy decided to run out of the cave and cover the escape route, rather than fight a nasty spirit. Cam ran in the other direction and went past the rubble into the cave. She said "there's a big nasty warding here", which explains why the spirit appeared to be bouncing off an invisible wall. Rudy and the others waited outside with the light while Cam described what she saw - the other side of the brick wall at the other stairs, also guarded by the warding. She noticed that there were only 3 keystones, and easily brought down the brick wall at the other stairs. A bit of experimentation showed that initiates of Ernalda could get in, and a non-initiate with the crown could get in, so most of the group went around the spirit (still bouncing off the warding and trying to get to Cam) and got into the ancient Ernalda temple.
The temple contained many pots with lids, each with a different kind of grain. On the wall was a list of plants with some God Learner annotations. Oddly enough the list and some of the pots contained maize, a grain thought to be a Lunar invention, not one of Ernalda's. Oats seem to be missing, so this isn't the same as the Ernalda we know - there's a bit of unknown history here. A bit of praying yielded a direct vision of grain in the hands of the statue followed by magic cast at the statue. We decided to try that trick tomorrow, which coincidentally would be Aldrya's day - planting day.
The high priestess of Ernalda on Aldrya's day is supposed to have lots of sex as part of the fertility ritual - children are important to pioneering farming communities like Garhound. Cam was the Ernalda worshiper in the group, so we talked her into it - once for each of the main grains. Popodopolus, Rudy and Egil got chosen as they can intermarry with Cam's clan. The bystanders contributed magic and arranged the grain in the statue's hands while Cam got covered by a partner discretely under a kilt. Rudy went first along with some barley. A pile of barley appeared, spewing from the statue's mouth into a shallow depression in the cave floor. It looked like enough grain to reseed Garhound's farms. We moved it aside and Egil tried next for wheat. The results were mixed - he thought he was amazing while Cam thought he was too slick and phoney, so we got some high quality wheat, but not quite enough. Finally Popodopolus and maize did their thing and we got a pile of corn. We risked going thirsty by replacing our spare water and feed with the grain, before going to bed that night. The next morning Cam visited the temple and asked for a vision of the future - and saw that there was enough grain for the lands including Weiss. She also saw twins.
We headed back the way we came, abandoning the 5 Eyes route. There was a bit of trouble with some larger broo on the way, fortunately they were easily wounded by arrow fire. Their most fearsome warrior, a tough alligator head armoured broo, made it easier by misfiring and hurting his friends, twisting his ankle and getting tangled up in his equipment all at once. We finished off the remaining wounded broo before they could crawl away. Only Popodopolus was wounded, we hoped that he hadn't picked up a disease. Cam and the wheat went to Weiss while the rest of us rowed, rowed and rowed up the spring river to Garhound. The planting ceremony went well at Garhound, and Lord Davis even gave a bit of grain to help his neighbours in Sun County.
Later on, after the planting was finished, the Lunars came up with some anti-profiteering laws for grain prices (how fair of them - I hear Sor-Eel had his arm twisted by the visiting Lunar princess to get that in), and we had time to look back and see what had gone wrong. Ideally the alynxes (a kind of large cat) of the community should have killed the mice broo. But they didn't do well. A Yinkin (cat god) divination was unclear, so we decided to visit the Cat Man (trainer of alynx including Rudy's pet) up in Desolation Hills (north east of Pavis). We also had the excuse of bringing a cargo of wool up to Far End in exchange for more grain.
Along the way we found a strangely pregnant Impala, picked it up, got harassed by a tribe of Impala riders until their animal priestess said the Impala wanted to go with us, found a unicorn, apparently the father of the Impala's newly dropped baby, who left with the foal. We eventually got up to the mountains and found the Cat Man's cave, and his dead body inside. An Orlanthi funeral pyre brought out his alynxes (one old thin slow one with a bad limp and two kittens), and later brought Cam a vision of alynx guilt. She was asked by the alynx spirit to be a law speaker and assign a punishment for eating her "father" in order to save her children. After some waffling and trying to pass the buck, Cam told the cat spirit the price for her sins was to serve Garhound by killing the remaining mice broo. Next morning Lloy woke up to two happy kittens and a boot full of dead mice.
The alynxes moved with us back to Garhound and become excellent mousers. The Sun County neighbours seemed to be using toads for the same job. We still had time to row back up the river to the Leaping Place for the river cult's great flotilla journey.
Copyright © 2000 by Alexander G. M. Smith.