The party determines that time is more important than safety and sets out with the intent of reaching the standing stones before dark. Against all odds, the party does reach the standing stones without incident, arriving before dark. When they arrive they find a thicket of Ash and Oak struggling to grow in the poor soil, three upright stones that stand taller than a spear, and a fourth which has collapsed on the ground nearby. The stones have glyphs like those we saw in the Barrow of Queen Eimhear inscribed upon them.* Presto investigates the glyphs and indicates to the party that this was once a Place of Power that has since failed.
The party hears a whisper of feathers in the trees, but it is impossible to locate the source, the new growth of the trees obscures the source. Rhys notes they’d also heard a bird cry shortly before getting attacked by wights in the bog on the way back to the village from the barrow, remembering vultures. Erdudfyl remembers the bird having been an owl.*
Erdudfyl spouts her knowledge of the standing stones at the party, which sadly isn’t much, only that Druids are known to have rituals involving standing stones and celestial events. She then attempts to follow tracks in hopes of determining who or what was here recently, but is unable to do so before the party is ambushed by Ghouls. Combat ensues, with the party coordinating well and dispatching the ghouls quickly.
At the end of the battle, two burning corpses of recently undead imperials lie at Rhys’ feet in the area of the standing stones. Erdudfyl asks Presto if he can put out the flames; in answer Presto dramatically closes his fist and the flames instantly wink out. Rhys quickly investigates the corpses but does not find whatever he was looking for, and instead acquires a case of corpse rot. He quickly quaffs a healing potion which cures the corpse rot, but not before Erdudfyl notices Rhys’ surprisingly troll-like arms.
The party makes camp a small distance away from the standing stones. The night’s watches pass uneventfully. Come morning, the weather has improved significantly. After preparing spells, Presto does a more thorough examination of the ghouls’ corpses, finding a minor magical medallion on a chain around one of the ghoul’s neck, while Rhys and Erdudfyl examine the stones fruitlessly. Presto translates the pictographs on the standing stones as describing a mighty battle in the valley with several kinds of “people” fighting against an enemy that is “not people”. Rhys wonders aloud if the standing stone that has toppled caused the failure of the place of power, or vice versa.
Lacking a solid plan for how to proceed based on the limited new information found at the stones, Erdudfyl makes an attempt to follow the ghouls’ backtrail for the obvious reasons, with Rhys scouting for danger. Some time in Rhys notes that Erdudfyl has been leading them further and further south, where the risks of environmental damage increase substantially, and points out a cross-trail. The group follows that trail and quickly meet a young Cymru peasant Derfel Herder and the flock of sheep he is herding.
The party has a friendly conversation with Derfel, and are told of many unusual tracks in the area, both from clearly booted persons like ourselves, and others from the unshod “hill men”. He also describes the curse upon the valley over the last month or so, in the form of raids upon the villagers where the “hill men” come down into the valley, slaughtering men, kidnap women, and either kill or carry off livestock and children. He also identifies a pack of wolves active in the area, led by a black wolf easily identified by tracks due to a damaged leg.* When asked about other villages in the valley he indicates that everyone in the valley pays taxes to Priv Arianhod, who has an oath of fealty to Aberhanddu to the north.*
Presto asks if Derfel knows anything about what caused the curse, and is told a story about the daughter of a miner family running off with the daughter of a farmer family. Displeased by the situation, both families cursed the daughters. Law of unintended consequences, when one of the daughters died horribly the curse rebounded, falling on all in the valley. He remembers that one of the daughters was named Glenys, but doesn’t remember which family she was from. He’s heard multiple versions of events, which disagree on which daughter died.
Asked if there are any rumors about how to stop the curse, Derfel replies that the New Gods of the Imperial Church should have a way to break the curse, but haven’t done anything yet.* Erdudfyl mutters something about these new gods being unreliable. Presto asks if Derfel knows any “old ways” to break the curse, and learns that usually the Druids of Eglantine Grove would help with this sort of problem, but the village council decided not to tell them of the curse.
The party and Derfel part ways, and after a brief conversation the party decides to pursue the “hill men”, expecting them to be anything but.