“Please, can you take me with you?” I gazed in bewilderment at the old women half-hidden in the darkness of the Blackwold’s filthy cell. “Please,” she said again. My mouth flapped like a landed fish until I heard myself say “Of… of course…” I was going to ask who she was and how she came to be in such a foul place but behind me I heard the groans of the guards as they began to stir from whatever Amdir had done as he had burst past. I ushered the old woman out of the cell to where Everwyn was waiting with an impatient look that turned to naked exasperation as she saw my charge. I shrugged in attempt to tell her I had no idea either but I couldn’t just leave her there could I, but all I received was a roll of her eyes and a shake of her head. I was about to protest but before I could open my mouth the two guards behind me finally woke and got to their feet.
We had come to these caves by way of Toradan & Constable Underhill who, upon our return to Combe, were greatly concerned by our news from the Blackwold camp in Chetwood. Underhill, a doughy halfling, consoled the worried Toradan with news that if the Blackwolds had taken Amdir anywhere other than Chetwood then it would undoubtedly be to the cave system by Staddle Falls which they had long used for smuggling and other such nefarious activities. Toradan beseeched Everwyn and I to go to the caves at once while he sent word to his companions, promising that he would meet us there with assistance as soon as he could. Naturally we agreed and Underhill arranged two rough disguises in order that we would pass as Blackwolds ourselves and by stealth and guile affect the rescue of Amdir from inside the very heart of the Blackwold’s stronghold.
I have to say that I did not think much to the plan nor the disguises but the fools at the cave entrance were easily deceived and soon we found ourselves wandering through a subterranean maze in search of the missing Ranger. In truth it did not take long to find him but when we did both Everwyn and I immediately wished we had not. To this day I do not know what evil the Blackwolds and the mysterious red-robed figures who took him did to poor Amdir but the brave Ranger we had seen fighting only days before was gone and in his place we found a raving madman. Locked in a cell, he was a cowled and cloaked, ranting and screaming, cursing and then pleading to something he called “the eye” and our soothing words did nothing to placate him. When we moved to release him he burst forth like a wild horse and ran past us out of the cave and back towards the entrance. Both Everwyn and I were knocked back by some unseen force and the guards were rendered senseless, a trail of them in his path like macabre breadcrumbs.
We were about to take after this trail when I noticed a movement in the back of an adjoining cell and an old woman’s voice croaked “Please, can you take me with you?”
The fight that followed was short and very one-sided. Both guards fell to Everwyn’s deadly arrows as I shielded the old woman from their enfeebled blows and it was over in an instant. I wish I could claim the same for the rest of our journey out of the caves but alas we were hampered in our pursuit of the crazed Amdir by the ponderously slow pace set by our rescued captive (who, after introducing herself as Mistress Sara Oakheart, begged that we help find her belongings along the way and bade us stop as she retrieved a most ornately fashioned staff). Blackwold upon Blackwold threw themselves at us and the sound of Everwyn’s bow and my shield sang throughout the caves as we fought them off until, at long last, we stood before their leader, the one they called Skunkwood. He was a fierce opponent and a dirty one, bellowing foul insults at us and throwing handfuls of caltrops into our faces, but we fought as one and beat down his guards and hounds until the man himself fell to a swift strike from my javelin and died cursing us both with the vilest of words.
“I thought he’d never shut up,” Everwyn said, a small smiling curling across her lips.
Before I could reply an agonised cry echoed from ahead and we looked at each other as if to say “Amdir!” before Everwyn sprinted off and I ushered my elderly charge onwards as fast as her ancient legs could manage. As I rounded the last corner before the entrance I heard Everwyn calling out “Toradan, take care! He is not himself!”
Little did any of us realise just how far Amdir had fallen and by the time we did we would count the the discovery a costly one indeed…