That evening, after stumbling back to Healwud from the woods with the mysterious acorn, the band of adventurers asked Lord Xavhorn if they could use a barge to get down the river to get to Easteðgeat. Going downriver would be much swifter than travelling by foot, saving as many as five days of travel, so Xavhorn grudgingly agrees to lend them one, but only as far as a two days’ walk outside of Easteðgeat, as he didn’t want to risk losing men by going all the way down the Beorhstream river. Barges have not been returning from Easteðgeat to Healwud any more than foot caravans; it appears that whatever mysterious blockade was continuing outside of Xavhorn’s interests, in addition to the blockade which Xavhorn put up himself on the instructions of Zorn. It is agreed: Shil McTire pays off his debts to Orville Redinpoplar with monetary contributions from Runa Egilsdottir and some help from Ra’s Al Ghul and Lina Bowman, and they buy rations and prepare to leave first thing in the morning.
When dawn breaks, they load up on the boat, and travel two days downstream peaceably. Midday on the second day, the raft is poled over to the left side of the Beorhstream, and the raftsmen instruct the adventurers to head due west to hit the southern road leading to Easte-geat. All four adventurers (and the donkey, Jonathan PuppyMew,) are unceremoniously alighted on the side of the river, and the barge poles its way northwards.
The afternoon walk progresses easily, until Who notices something on the road ahead. Largely unconcerned, the group splits into the usual formation (Ras to one side of the road, Shil to the other, both sneaking, Runa and Lina looking like easy prey walking down the middle) until they can get a better look. Having gotten a better look, however, the whole group stops and reassesses, unnerved.
A thick, tall tree has been felled across the road, blocking the path. In front of it stands an assorted group of archers and swordsmen, some dressed in robes of light-colored dappled skins lined with furs, others in fur-lined jerkins. Runa, with some thinking, recognizes their look as that of the Hestvöllren, the people who live in clans rather than countries and who trade horses north of the bounds of the former Great and Bountiful Human Empire. While the Hestvöllren have been known to raid Feldlond’s rich fields or even sack caravans going to or from Mereleigh, they have never been noted as being this far south (much less without their horses). It is immediately apparent that something is going to go wrong. As they are a people who hold respect for martial prowess, Shil is called back from the trees with the hope that he can act as delegate.
A noise is heard from the left, and Ras disappears, invisibly crossing the road to the other side and preparing to attack what he discovers are Orcs, unseen this near to Easteðgeat in a century despite his misleading words to Sheriff Leaf of Healwud. Coming around a bend in the road, Lina sees three Hestvöllr men draw their bows, while one stands armed with a sword in front. She shoots her bow, and battle is engaged, ruining Runa’s hopes of communing or negotiating their way out of this. Runa runs into the woods where she last heard rustling, and comes face to face with Orcs. She and Ras dispatch the four Orcs, with spells and ninja-ing, while Lina shoots arrows true into the eyes and throats of the Hestvölleren men. Shil slays another where he stands, sets three aflame with an alchemist’s fire grenade, and traps another with a tanglefoot bag.
Despite appearing to be completely entangled, the soldier in furs, broken arrow in his hand, attempts to fatally stab himself rather than fall into the “Southerners’” hands. Tied up, he refuses to speak, despite entreaties from Runa on behalf of his gods, the Sun goddess and her consort, and his leaders, despite threats worse than death from Shil and Ras, despite the fact that revealing the Southron scum who hired them to dishonour themselves would bring honor to his clan. Runa leaves the scene, pointedly, as shouting and then screams indicate that Shil and Ras are questioning the captive, and she wishes she did not hear.