At morning they gather and interview a few people. They learn that the children saw a man in a robe with a beard. That is the extent of what they can recall.
The party walks to the fields in the north and looks for clues. They find nothing. They go to the hardberry bushes and look for clues.
This is the special “DM” map I made for this quest. The players did not see it of course, but this will help readers to follow along. I hope.
They are at the base of a hill, facing west. The bushes are at the foot of the hill. Assuming the kidnpper went west, he must have gone around the hill to the northwest or southwest. The hill is steep enough that it would be impossible for an encumbered human to walk up it without leaving some fairly obvious marks.
Thordek searches. Upon further investigation, he sees an opening in the center of the bush. It looks as though someone hid themselves in the deep parts of the bush and then leaped out, breaking many small branches in the process. The hollowed-out space is barely big enough for a man. Assuming this hole is related to the missing children, then what they seek must be man-sized or smaller.
Thu’fir also searches. He finds a small basket in the deep part of the bush. It is partly filled and looks to have been dropped (not hidden) suddenly.
Thordek and several party members go northwest, and Thu’fir leads the rest southwest.
They come to a point where the southern slope is less steep and it is possible to walk down. From here they can continue to follow the ridge around the hill (heading west) or go south into the valley, towards the river.
There are no visible prints to be seen on the slope going down. Thu’fir’s knowledge of wilderness lore tells him that even a child walking alone could no descend the soft grassy slope without leaving some hint. They continue west.
Both groups reunite at the other side of the hill, which is now east of them. They are on the edge of a watery glade. The water is still and filled with reeds. Insects drone nearby in the early morning sun. If someone passed throughthe water they would be hard to follow. The party decides to go around the glade to the south.
Eomer does a careful search and finds a hardberry along the way leading southwest. It sits alone in the grass. They do not grow anywhere near wet areas, so this berry must have come from elsewhere. This is the first clue they have seen in some time that suggests they are on the right track.
All the party is now together. As they progress west, the area becomes thicker and many drooping plants grab at them and hinder movement. Jaggers poke them from among the thick weeds. They emerge in a very small clearing, and see that they are at the southern edge of the glade. They have clearly found themselves on a path. They can follow the path west, or south towards the river. To the north is the boggy water.
Thordek searches and finds several strands of light blond hair caught on a jagger bush. They hang at about eye level for a human, (which is above Thodek’s head, since he’s a Dwarf) hinting that they either came from an adult or from a child being carried.
They continue. The path is plain and easy to follow. It heads west and then north, tracing the edge of the glade. They come to a group of large dreary willow trees. Their long branches reach down and touch the edge of the water. They look out across the bog, where east of them is the hill where they began their search.
Many large insects and a few butterflies are moving about here. They can hear the chirping of many other insects.
The path turns west from here. The path ahead becomes rocky and begins to climb upward. On either side, tall trees lean inward over the path, forming a great green canopy overhead. Foul black birds caw at them from above as they pass.
They discuss the birds. Are these related to the birds that watched them crossing the plains yesterday? None of them seem to have enough knowledge of the wild to tell. They move on.
A small cliff rises in front of them. The wall is a rough tumble of huge boulders about 20ft high. There is no longer any path visible, but from here they can go north or south along the cliff wall, or climb it.
Eomer searches and notices some moss has been disturbed on the rocky ground to the south. A small patch has been scraped away, which may indicate someone has walked here in the last few days. They decide to go south.
Suddenly Thordek bids the party to halt. He has spotted a tripwire across the path. Eomer examines it, finding that it leads to a pile of large rocks that look out-of-place atop the cliff-like slope. It’s easy for them to figure out that the wire probably causes a torrent of falling rocks to spill accross the path. Instead of disabling it, they simply step over the tripwire and move on.
After a few minutes the cliff gives way and they come to an open area. They walk over the green field for several minutes. Ahead, they see a wide stone ruin. It was once tall, but weather and age have thrown the stones down and they now lay in a broad heap. All that remains is a ring of stone making the outer wall of where the structure once stood. Broad steps lead up to what was once the inside of the building. The “interior” floor is covered in scattered stones.
Thordek studies what remains of the stonework. He determines the building was made perhaps 200 years ago. It is not of Dwarven make, and is most probably of Human design. Given the configuration of blocks, he guesses that the building was probably a church or temple. It was not a fortified structure, at any rate.
Walking around the structure, they find two sets of cold stone steps leading down into the basement.