Sir Elathan and his companions left St. Columba once more in search of the last component for the elixir that Brother Gyfford proposed administering to Lady Caitlin in order to rid her of the wolf-curse. They had already procured a vial of blood from the wolf-maiden who had infected Caitlin in the first place, and they had obtained wolfsbane from St. Avalloc’s grave. All that remained was an aliquot of the rare and costly quicksilver.
Isembard the dwarf remembered an expedition to a neighbouring clan as a youth and being shown a mine where the elusive metal was known to be found, though he wasn’t sure of the route from the west. Dun Mord lie en route, the chief town of Mordalech. Bearing in mind that a large town like this might play host to an alchemist, they decided to ask around town for the same. After first hearing several no’s, they found one hebam who remembered a certain Blind Old Pugh who used to hold a shop down on Cobbler’s Way. They tracked down the bad-tempered old man who told them the wild tale of how he came to lose his eyesight on a quest for a rare alchemical component; the Heart of the Blood Oak. He had a vial of the precious component, but would only part with it in exchange for the Heart.
The Blood Oak’s grove lie a day’s ride south of Uskford in the hill country. Access was via an ancient tomb of warriors, the gate of which was guarded by a magical portal. Pugh gave the companions the clues necessary to open this portal by way of a rhyme. Once within the hill, they were beset by the frozen corpses of long-dead vikings, the draugr. It was they that had robbed Pugh of the light of his eyes in his youth by freezing his eyeballs fast within their sockets. Having put down a number of these doughty warriors they came to a crossing: to the right an ancient portcullis, to their left the statue of an ancient lord, apparently missing arms and apparell and a dark passage ahead that led to three separate sarcophagi.
The first contained a wizened figure holding a sword that looked as though it would fit in the stone-lord’s hands. The second sported in addition to an ancient shield verdigreed rings on his skeletal fingers. The rings proved too much temptation to Isembard, but he and Nab’han paid dearly for the mistake when the figure rose up from his grave to wreak its revenge. The shock of it almost stopped Nab’han’s heart, and Isembard has been left with a permanent mark as he now sports a streak of white hair from temple to nape. At the third sarcophagus they restricted their pillaging to the iron crown that looked as though it would fit the statue.
All items restored to the king in stone, the portcullis rose, yielding passage to an ancient burial chamber. Even the most valiant became somewhat panicked once the portcullis clanged down noisily behind them. An evil mist then started rising from the floor of the chamber, beginning to vortex whilst another four draugr assailed them from sarcophagi arranged at the rear. They became aware of a presence that was trying to swim back from the grave against the current to the room, but before it could marshal its forces they had cut down the living corpses and found an overgrown passage leading out into an enclosed valley.
Kelun proposed a rest at this stage as he had consumed all his magicks in keeping the draugr at bay and so followed a restless night in the baleful presence of the gnarled and twisted Blood Oak, which presided over the valley as a brooding presence. The following morning they gingerly approached the Oak. Kelun reckoned that given clear path to the tree, he could enter it using his druidic powers. Before he could do so, however, the roots of the great tree began swirling around his legs whilst thickets of thorns sprouted from the ground, hemming them in. At the same time, a number of nefarious wood sprites appeared from among the trees, casting foul magic at them.
Isembard and Elathan immediately set to chopping a path through the thorn hedge in order to escape the roots and take care of the sprites. Unbeknown to the heroes, however, more sprites further down the valley were busy pouring life into a war tree and by the time they had dealt with the immediate threat, they had to deal with the next one. Sir Elathan caught a glancing blow from the tree, which earnestly tried to stomp him, but he proved to be the man of the hour pouring all his might into one fell blow which split the tree in two down the middle.
Once things had quietened down, they returned their attention to the Blood Oak, picking their way through the roots and unaware of the danger from above as the Blood Oak in turn set about swiping at them with its mighty boughs. It was Nab’han who suffered this time, being swept from his feet before the others could lop off the offending branches. Now Kelun could safely approach the twisted monstrosity of a tree. Using his druidical magic he forced himself into the trunk. The others were concerned when all went quiet, waiting anxiously for long minutes whilst nothing happend. Then they saw Kelun’s arm extend from the tree, thrusting a head-sized wooden heart out, only to see the arm be pulled back into the tree again.
All attempts to contact him of free him were in vain, and so Kelun remains stuck within the remains of the Blood Oak in that mountain grove. The others retreated back towards Uskford. Elowyn was exhausted from her efforts to use magic in the grove, and so the apparation of an elfin maid by the side of a lake was more than welcome and they decided to join her and partake of her feast and drink of her wine, partly in the hope that she would be able to do something to free their friend.
Their stopping almost proved to be Lady Caitlin’s downfall, however. They left for Uskford and Dun Mord the next morning only to discover that rather than one night in the elf’s company, they’d spent three weeks and only had 24 hours to dash back to St. Columba before the next full moon. Buying two fresh horses in Dun Mord at great expense, Sir Elathan undertook the epic journey. Despite the apparent unfitness of the two steeds, Elathan made it back to St. Columba mid afternoon of the next day, only just giving Brother Gyfford the time to brew his potion and administer it to the lady.
By the next day when the remainder of the companions had re-assembled at St. Columba it was apparent that the potion had worked and that Lady Caitlin had been freed of her curse, but at what tremendous price? Would the friends ever see Kelun again? Only time will tell!