Although the Darkspawn patrol lies dead at their feet, Corryn surmises that this couldn’t possibly have been all of them. Even though the slain are obviously not warriors, Avar are a hardy folk and would not have been overwhelmed by such a small number of opponents. Marius estimates at least five-hundred corpses lay on the mile long swath of destruction, so a much larger force of Darkspawn must have been responsible. Corryn suggests that they investigate the nearby Avar settlement of Redhold indicated on Marius’ map to see if it is still standing. Fearing a Blight, he is anxious to gather information and report to his superiors immediately. However, Tyree is adamant that the Avar residents will not welcome them. Before they have a chance to argue further, a scream from behind them steals their attention.
The men quickly rush back to defend their charge to find Felayne, sitting in her wagon perfectly safe. She sheepishly says that she thinks she saw something moving in the fog, slightly embarassed at having panicked. Armon, Marius and Broga grumble about Felayne’s overreaction to such a minor incident, while Tyree slips silently off into the mist. The reality of the tragedy that lies ahead of them on the road is broken indelicately by Corryn, and Felayne does not take the news well. Eventually noticing Tyree’s absence, Armon tries to follow, but only suceeds in losing sight of the wagon and all his companions.
A small solitary figure crouches in the fog, straining to hear the voices nearby. Suddenly large hands grab him from behind, lifting him from his feet. Able to reach his short sword, he yanks it free from it’s ornate scabbard and stabs blindly at his huge assailant. Clawing, biting and kicking, the boy does everything in his power to break the iron grip, but is unable to escape. Seeing that his captive is no real threat, Tyree tries to calm the boy, but to no avail, so he drags him back unwillingly to the wagon. Still vehemently struggling, he’s plopped into the back of the wagon near the puppies. Now finally seeing his face, the boy opens his eyes and mouth widely in surprise, points at Tyree, and yells, “You did it! You kidnapped my sister! Give her back right now!”
No matter how much Tyree denies it, the boy is convinced he found the culprit he’s been looking for, the Avar that kidnapped his sister Izot and his band of accomplices. Tyree tries to explain that he and his companions have been nowhere near Elmridge, but that he’s come from the north, helping a woman take her puppies south. The well dressed boy, obviously privileged and used to getting his way, changes his tone quickly, demanding to see this woman. Armon finally wanders out of the fog and back to the wagon while Tyree calls for Felayne to come around from the front of the wagon where she was waiting. At the sight of the young boy, in confused recognition and shocked surprise, she hesitantly asks “Berchan? What are you doing here?”
All eyes now on Felayne, she blushes and explains quietly that this appears to be Berchan, the youngest son of Arl Wulff of the West Hills Arling, who by now should be about eleven years old, although she has not seen him in many years. She also adds that Arl Wulf is the intended recipient of her Mabari brood, and the missing Izot is her childhood friend. Berchan asks where her father is, but Felayne does not answer. Used to the myriad titles of Nevarra and Orlais where anyone can call himself a lord, Armon is not impressed by this ‘Arl’, until he recalls the Ferelden nobility structure. Arls are just two steps away from the king, the second being the Teyrns, of which there are only two.
Now reluctantly convinced that Tyree has been telling the truth and able to relax a bit, Berchan tells his full tale. His sister was kidnapped, he claims by Avar, several days ago. His father, Arl Wulff, was not able to spare any men to look for her due to the recent Darkspawn attacks. In fact he had already marched with his army to go out and meet the hoard. His mother, he says, has been dead for many years. Berchan easily slipped past his stupid guards and tracked his sister north, until he lost the trail in the wake of the Darkspawn’s handiwork. With a burning passion, he declares that his beautiful sister Izot couldn’t possibly be dead when Armon suggests that they search among the bodies for her.
They leave Berchan to play with the puppies to discuss their plans out of earshot. Tyree is reluctant to believe that Izot was actually kidnapped. Being an Avar himself, he knows that while raids on low-landers and kidnappings are commonplace it, winter is passed, so the season is wrong. That, the sigil of the Mountain Father carved into a tree and the lack of blood at the crime scene makes him think it could have been staged to frame the Avar, or perhaps Izot went willingly. Even with those possibilities, Corryn believes that they should at least try to find out the truth. With Ferelden having only two Teyrns and five Arls, and King Cailin being childless, Corryn muses that this obnoxious boy might be in line for the throne, or at least some position of power (if he doesn’t get himself killed first). With the potential for great reward and recognition from the undoubtedly rich and powerful Arl for the return of his daughter, Broga and Armon vote in favor of trying to find her. Felayne is surprised when Marius asks her opinion as well, but she timidly expresses in favor of searching for her friend. With night descending and the road blocked, they decide to camp for the night just where they are, then determine the best course of action in the morning.
While camp is being set up, Marius approaches Felayne to discuss what Berchan said about her father. She says plainly that her father is dead. Old age and sickness caught up with him. He usually made this journey with her, explaining why Berchan would have known him. Not comfortable with prying any further, Marius leaves her to her work. Of course, Berchan volunteers to take a watch, confident that he will be a great help. He is paired with Marius for the last shift. Rather than paying attention to his surroundings, he does his best to prove how smart and tough he is by talking the whole time. Marius confuses the boy by simultaneously threatening to leave him behind, telling him that the sleeping Avar would just as soon kill him, and using the cloak to fill him with hope. Doing his fair share of pestering, Marius makes sure Berchan does not fall asleep on duty. Neither of them notice anything out of the ordinary.
Morning dawns revealing tiny shimmering snow crystals lightly covering everything in sight. North of the field of death, Berchan and Tyree compete to try to locate Izot’s trail. They are unable to do so, and in frustration Tyree scolds Berchan for not bringing something of his sisters to give Dog the scent. Armon and Corryn, though lacking in tracking skills, try to assist by looking for clues off the road. Feeling like they’ve done this before, they suddenly recall the footprints a few days back at the scene of the air burial heading southwest that belonged to a woman or elf. Now even more convinced that Redhold should be their next destination, Corryn finally persuades Tyree to visit the hold but only just to take a peek and verify if it’s still standing.
The pair strike out east off the road into the forest, leaving the rest of the company to try to figure out how to get the wagon through the obstacle ahead. Having no shovels, Armon suggests perhaps looting some farming tools off of the fallen to move them. Marius reminds him of the blight sickness and the danger of too much contact with Darkspawn blood or their tainted victims. Not wanting to become infected, Armon abondons that tactic, but can’t think of any other way to pass through. Determined not to be a burden, Felayne claims that her puppies are big and strong enough to walk the rest of the way to Elmridge, although now knowing that the Arl isn’t there, she is not sure what she will do once she gets there.
Tyree and Corryn arrive at the location of Redhold without any difficulty. Forty yards of forest have been cleared away from it’s fifteen foot high stone walls so the guards manning it would have no difficulty seeing, or shooting, anyone approaching. Seeing no signs of a battle, Corryn is satisfied and turns to go, but Tyree holds him back. Taking a closer look, he notices that fewer guards are patrolling the battlements than expected, and also that a higher proportion of them are women. Sensing something seriously wrong, he grudgingly suggests they head back to the wagon and return with everyone to find out exactly what’s going on.
The increasingly unusual band of companions, leaving the wagon hidden among a stand of coniferous trees off to the side of the road, head off into the forest towards Redhold with Berchan and Tyree in the lead. With four horses, two donkeys, seven dogs,
four men, a woman, a boy and a dwarf, the are hardly stealthy. Approaching Redhold with weapons drawn, as is the Avar custom, they are at least not shot on sight. One of the guards shouts down for them to halt half way across the clearing, and blows a horn. Some minutes later, a man arrives on the battlement and greats them in a deep booming voice, “We don’t usually accept tourists until at least Drakonis. What is your business here?” Corryn wonders allowed what kind of tourists would visit an Avar settlement.