They spent three days at sea, sailing back from the Korinn Archipelago to the mainland. Some of them felt a bit feverish on the first day, perhaps as a result of their rat bites, but it passed soon enough. After the supernatural storm, the weather was nothing but good to them, and on the afternoon of the third day, they saw Daggerford.
“Home sweet home!” said Eilir, steering the boat toward the busy port. “I can’t wait to put on some normal clothes.”
She soon found a berth. As dockhands secured the boat to the pier, she told the others, “You’re welcome to accompany me to my home. I’m sure Daddy will be thrilled to know who helped me get home.”
“It might be an honor,” Theronna said.
“I don’t know my way around this town,” added Alistina, “so I’ll come along.”
Zeke nodded, relieved to finally be back on dry land.
Eilir smiled. “Once we get to my home and Daddy knows I’m safe, I’ll be happy to help you around town. I need to go dress shopping anyway.”
She led them through town, grinning and waving at passersby. They made their way to the Money Quarter, where the Stormweather villa stood next to a small park. The house was well-appointed, if a bit smaller than some of the surrounding buildings. Eilir broke into a run at the sight, forcing the others to keep up.
The guard at the gate almost fell down when he saw Eilir; he fumbled the gate open and waved her to the front door. The rest of the party caught up to her as she wrestled with the front door.
“When was the last time you saw your father?” Alistina asked.
“About two months ago. Just before those slavers got me.” Eager to bring an end to his worrying, she threw the door open and went inside, closely followed by the others.
Several small pillars stood around the villa’s parlor, each displaying a treasure or souvenir from some part of the Sword Coast. They heard the voices of two men coming from a room ahead. Eilir knew one of those men to be her father, Ronan Stormweather. “Daddy, I’m home!” she called, and the voices stopped at once.
“Eilir?” Ronan replied. “Eilir, darling?”
She ran down the hall, seeing her father emerge from his study. Weeks of worry fell away from his kind face at the sight of his daughter; as they embraced, Ronan scooped her up and spun her around once or twice.
“Eilir!” he shouted. “Valkur be praised, child, I thought I’d lost you!”
As the other adventurers drew closer to the scene, Ronan set Eilir down to get a look at her, and a halfling emerged from the office behind Ronan.
“Oh, Daddy, it was horrible! They took me prisoner and made me wear these awful clothes and they stole my pretty dress… but I made new… well, friends… and we all escaped together, and guess who navigated the ship back here? ME!”
Ronan’s fingers brushed his daughter’s cheek. “I’m sure you did, darling. I’ve never doubted you. Are these your friends, then?”
Eilir turned to introduce the others, beaming with pride, in spite of the rags they all wore. “Yes,” she said. “The boy there is Zeke, and this is Theronna and Alistina.”
Ronan shook Zeke’s hand before the farmboy realized it was happening. “Ronan Stormweather, son. Honored to meet you.”
“P-pleasure, sir,” Zeke said.
Ronan offered a very polite bow to Theronna, and again to Alistina; the women replied in kind. “I can’t thank you enough,” said Ronan, “for bringing my angel back to me.”
“Ronan,” said the halfling, “back to the problem with your mine.” Zeke’s eyes widened at the halfling’s audacity. Who was he to interrupt this emotional moment?
“Yes, Mr. Thorngage. Yes.” Ronan stepped out of the way so the group could see the halfling. “This is Lyle Thorngage.”
The halfling looked them over, but his attention remained fixed on Ronan. No one in the group offered greeting to this stranger, and silence reigned for a moment.
“Daddy,” Eilir finally said, “I hate these rags. I need a new dress.”
“I, uh… I’m not sure I can do that right now, darling.” Seeing Eilir’s pout, Ronan continued: “Do you remember that silver mine I told you about? Up in the hills, the one that Talbot fellow wanted stake money for?”
“I don’t like the sound of this,” Alistina muttered to Theronna. Zeke wanted to leave, but was having trouble getting a word in.
When Eilir nodded, Ronan went on. “Well, I… we’ve lost it.”
“Lost it?” said Eilir. “How do you lose a mine? What happened?”
“Yes. Perhaps we should all sit down.” Ronan led everyone into the study, poured himself another drink, and offered the bottle to the group before taking a seat behind his desk. Theronna helped herself as everyone found chairs.
Ronan tossed half his drink down his throat before beginning. “About two months ago, I gave some money to this fellow, Greyson Talbot. A prospector who found a silver lode out in the hills. Truth be told, I gave him a lot of money.”
Lyle yawned, having heard this part before. “Can we hurry this up? It’d like to be on my way.”
“Nobody’s stopping ya,” Zeke muttered, everyone in the group glowering at the halfling.
Ronan took little notice. “About a week ago, goblins invaded the mine – twenty of them, at least. Only one of our miners made it back here, and he died just this morning.”
“I’m sorry fer yer loss, sir,” said Zeke.
Ronan nodded in appreciation. “Now Talbot’s boys are always in trouble with the local militia, so they aren’t helping. I persuaded a patrol from Waterdeep, the Winter Knights, to go out there, but I haven’t heard back from them. That was three days ago.”
“Knights,” Lyle said dismissively. “Probably charged in and got themselves killed.”
“My own stake in this mine,” Ronan continued, “is substantial. I’d love to reward you all for bringing my Eilir back to me safely, but the truth is that I can’t afford to at the moment.”
“Ain’t no need,” Zeke said. “We wouldn’t’a made it off the island without ‘er.” Eilir blushed at his words.
Alistina turned white and leaned forward. “How would I get to this mine?” When everyone turned to look at her, she said “I knew someone from the Winter Knights. I would like to investigate this situation.”
“It’s about forty miles to the northeast,” Ronan said, “in the Fallen Hills.” To Lyle, he added, “Perhaps you could pool your resources with them.”
“I normally work alone,” the halfling said, and Zeke also frowned at the suggestion.
Theronna leaned closer to Alistina. “This Winter Knight, he was your friend.”
Alistina nodded. “Yes, a dear friend. I should go. If there hasn’t been any word, I can’t just sit around.”
Ronan found a map of the Sword Coast and showed them the mine’s location in the Fallen Hills, voicing his appreciation for Alistina’s offer to help.
“I know these parts well,” said Eilir. “I can show everyone the way. Plus, everyone knows me here. It would be helpful if I took them.”
“Out of the question, young lady. I just got you back; I’m no about to lose you again!”
“But Daddy! I-”
“Your sister’s been looking for you up and down the Sword Coast for two months now! I’m sorry, but I must forbid it.”
“I didn’t ask her to! These are my friends! I could be a big help! It’s not fair! I got off that stinking island; I’ve proved myself! I’m a big girl now, I’ll be fine!”
“Sir,” said Alistina, “you should let her come with us. We won’t let any harm come to her.”
Ronan’s tone made it clear he had already made up his mind. “I appreciate your offer, but you must understand my position.”
“YOU’RE SO MEAN!” Eilir screamed, storming out of the room and up the stairs. A door slammed somewhere above them.
“They’ll need gear,” announced Lyle, “if they’re coming with me. My plan is to leave for the hills at first light.”
“Can you provide us with a little money for supplies?” asked Alistina.
“I believe I can help with that, yes.”
He arranged some money and lodging for the group, and they went to outfit themselves before retiring for the night at Lady Luck Tavern.
- – - – -
Zeke unlocked the door to his room and found Eilir sleeping on the bed, in a dress of brilliant blue. As the wizard rolled over with a sigh, Zeke said “Er… huh,” shrugged, and went behind the partition to bathe.
He didn’t realize that Eilir had awakened until she shuffled around the screen and saw him nude in the bath. With a shriek, she turned bright red and ran back to the bed.
- – - – -
The five adventurers struck out the next morning for the Fallen Hills, Alistina lost in thought the entire way.
“He ain’t necessarily one of ‘em,” Zeke told her. “Yer friend, I mean.”
“This might be true,” Alistina replied, “but I can’t escape the thought that he might have gone to the mine.”
“Wish I knew how far home was.” Zeke turned his head south as he walked. “Didn’t think about it on the island much. Didn’t reckon I’d ever see it again. But we made it back. And now, here I am gallivantin’ off ta some goblin-infested mine.”
“Maybe we can go there after we get the mine back for Eilir.”
“Mebbe. Or mebbe Tymora did somethin’ to my head back in that shrine. Sure ain’t makin’ sane decisions.” He stole a glance at Eilir.
Alistina remained silent for he rest of the trip.
- – - – -
They reached the hills sometime after noon on the following day, and soon found themselves before Talbot’s Deep. Someone had boarded up the entrance, and covered it with broken tree limbs and branches. Planted in the ground before the entrance was a wooden sign with “Keep Out or Else” written on it in crude Common.
“We all need to be quiet now,” whispered Lyle. “We don’t want to let the goblins know about us.”
They pried the boards away, trying to be quiet about it, to find a stale, musty breeze beckoning from a tunnel braced with wooden beams. As they made their way inside, they saw numerous dark alcoves where the miners followed short veins of silver. All was silent.
Alistina called forth the light of Lunia, and Lyle went ahead to scout. He emerged into a large, circular chamber with an overturned mine cart at the center, its contents scattered across the floor. As Lyle moved toward an eastern passage, Zeke approached the cart. Considering it for a moment, the farm boy flipped it back over with a heave, exposing a fresh human skull on the ground beneath it, a stone axe protruding from a gaping hole in its forehead.