The fishermen of Old Gate Lake eye you suspiciously as you dismount and approach. The steady drizzle casts a grey curtain over the fishing huts and tings off your armor. One of the men by the dock signals you over, he has a strange earring and tends to whistle his words in a throaty way. He acknowledges that you are on a mission from the realm and proceeds to light his pipe.
“I’ll keep this short since you haven’t much time”, he whistles. Then the following story is relayed to you punctuated by much clearing of his throat and sniffling:
Lord Conall ruled the farm lands South of the Eveningfall Road and West of the City of Balfanoc long before the establishment of Grimhold Keep, when the kindom was young.
On day the skies darkened over the Great Northern Spine bringing trouble to Thunder Keep. Lord Conall and Lady Temil kept watch over a growing empire. It is said that their daughter Violetta came upon a beautiful girl from the North that was trapped in a Grasping Bog. She had her servants pull the girl to safety and in return the girl gave her a black ring with a blood red stone encrusted spider upon it. She was saddened when the ring wouldn’t fit her own finger, so the girl from the North suggested that Viloletta take the ring to her mother, and so she did.
When Lady Temil placed on the ring she fell ill. All that could have been done to save her failed and she died in Lord Conall’s arms. In a boat Lady Temil was placed amongst blue flowers and set alight in the Bay of Sorrows. Their daughter left in search of the girl from the North and found her in a nearby wood. The girl from the North was not alone. Only one servant managed to escape as the very woods came to life and tried to strangle him.
The servant ran to Lord Conall to tell of what had befallen his only child and the Lord led a troop of his elite guard into the woods. As they set out, a terrible storm erupted and the rain, that began the day Lady Temil died, intensified. Three days later, Lord Conall returned slumped over his horse. “The guards are all dead”, he mumbled then fell into the mud, to breathe his last.
The rain continues to this day, and the fertile fields surrounding the Keep sank as the swamp grew deeper. The Keep was abandon and the road to it lost. No army can quickly march unseen upon its crumbling walls so it has become a hideout for highwaymen. It is thought to shelter sinister creatures and the ancient treasures taken from travelers to the young kingdom.
With that the story ends and he directs you to a boat.
Tonight the thunder that rolls over the swamp is joined with the defiant drums of the remnants of the Orc army that fell back from Grimhold Keep with the noble family in tow. The nobles will be questioned at leisure and then eaten…there is precious little time left for them.
You are pushed from shore in a flat-bottomed rowboat. The Fishmongers stand grimly on the dock for a moment then turn to mend their nets and clean the day’s catch. You row upon the choppy waters of Old Gate Lake towards the dark shore and a point where a stream enters from distant bogs. Lightning flashes on curtains of rain over a vast wasteland peppered with dead trees.
The last words spoken at the dock as a map was handed to you were, “see the Old Woman in the stilt cabin, she minds the cages and might know where the nobles would be.”