U'Tempei's speech visibly deflates the villager's enthusiasm but Carroc immediately counters, "She.. this ratcatcher just want's my-YOUR reward." but it's clear that he's lost the crowd. One of the villagers pipes up"She's right. What's in it for us? You're willing to trade our blood for your gold!" "No...no. We must... we can't let the orcs walk over us. They keep us downtrod... they steel and kidnap us. It's better that we stand up.". His stammering words don't seem to be gaining any ground and some of the villagers begin to leave.
Carroc continues to call for volunteers, but only a handful remain.
"No one will be walking over anyone," Arcata says, lifting her voice. "Each of us has a role to play. Some of us are skilled farmers, or blacksmiths, or workers of wood. Others..."
She gives Carroc a thin smile.
"Some of us have skills in other areas. Like fighting. Protecting people and keeping them safe."
With that Arcata swept her eyes back over the remaining stragglers. "Let us do our jobs. The day may come when all hands must be raised in defense of this town...when the enemies come too fast and in numbers too great but to meet them with pitchfork and hammer and chisel in hand. But it is not this day."
Though she means well, of course, it's hard to disguise the casual elitism of the message, or her attitude.
Saarthax starts to mutter a reply to Arcata, obviously caught off guard.
"But the villagers... the orcs attacked... I mean..."
Then U'Tempei addresses the crowd, and before the paladin knows it, many of the townsfolk are starting to turn back on their intent to chase down the orcs. For a moment the dragonborn stands conflicted; on the one hand it is his firm belief that good people should stand up for what is right, but on the other hand he cannot deny that the simple villagers are no match for the orcish forces. He looks at Bertold for support, but his friend is clearly as conflicted as Saarthax is.
He closes his eyes for a moment, whispering a prayer to the Gods to grant him insight.
Then, opening his eyes again, Saarthax turns back to Arcata. "You may be right. We can't lead them on a chase where we know many will perish; I cannot take on that burden. It is for the best that we face this thread without their help."
His bluster somewhat diminished, the paladin merely nods to U'Tempei's suggestion of starting their chase immediately, remaining silent for now.
"You see! You see! She thinks she better than us! This... this...ratcatcher!" Carroc continues his impotent rage. U'Tempei's words do seem to upset the crown a little as a few start to grumble but most of the villagers seem content to let strangers risk their life.
Leaving the village you are easily able to follow the trail left by the orcs to the edge of the wood. About 50 yards into the tree line you find a wide, well trampled area. At least 20 orcs must have used this as a staging area to finalise preparations for the raid.
Seeing where they come from and where they went after the attack is harder.
Orin sighs from the shadow of a nearby shack as the the tension in the square defused. He'd pulled up his hood and stepped back as the drake addressed Carroc and his gung-ho war plan, intent on observing the turnout of the situation.
On the one hand, many of the villagers were likely to die to the beasts, and even if they did pull a victory out of the air, Peloton or Carroc may very well take the credit and likely undermine the ratcatcher's goals here. On the other, if his newfound comrades did manage to organize this, it could help build a good support. With some strategic planning, it could also ease the fight against the orcs. Commoners could be as feisty a soldier as any; Orin himself had been a simple trapper before taking up arms.
That pondering found itself decided, though, as the foreign lass and that mysterious mage girl managed to deter the patchwork crusade, and the rogue silently turned and followed them out of town.
As they reached the clearing, Orin looked around curiously. "'Ell, n'one's hear now, are they?" he grunts as he begins scanning the clearing to confirm that statement.
Eowyn wasn’t one for words, so she could only watch as Carroc and Saarthax riled up the villagers. But she approved of Arcata’s and U’tempe’s attempts to calm the situation, as inept as it was. Who was she to lecture on social graces?
The silent polder quietly followed the others out of town, munching on a piece of honeycomb. They found the marshalling place of the orcs at the edge of the forest. As the others stood around trying to figure out what to do, Eowyn got on her hands and knees, shuffling around on the ground as she seemed to look for something.
Orin finds a crystal necklace trampled into the mud. The pink crystal is held by a detailed silver bale to a silk cord that has strands of red hair woven into it. Eowyn can identify it as Pinna's focus.
Eowyn sniffs around and quickly finds an area used as a communal latrine. Other than that she can find a few trails where 6 to 12 large humanoids have walked recently but struggles to follow an of them very far.
Eowyn looked excited at the crystal necklace. She points at it, and then to the forest, then made wiggly fingers before letting out a breath of air and creating a flower in her hand. Magic! Then she indicated where she had found the latrine and the tracks of several large humanoids, but unfortunately the trail petered out quickly. She pointed into the woods.
Saarthax nods as U'Tempei suggests they take a short break.
"Doesn't look like they're close, so a moment to catch our breath and figure out where the orcs have gone seems like a good idea," the paladin agrees. "I'm not much of a tracker, but I suspect they are headed back to their hideouts. Or to whoever ordered the capture of their target."
When the orc staging area yields no clues the group returns to town. Some of the villagers are looking through the wreckage of the building, which seems to have burned down, while others are enjoying a communal pot luck breakfast.
The ratcatchers are treated with a little less disdain for having driven off the orcs.
After the sun has risen a little higher there is a shout from the edge of town and people quickly scatter, the braver heading towards the noise. Coming up to the bridge are two figures, supporting a slightly smaller one. Eowyn quickly recognises the smaller figure as Alyssa Tealeaf, another halfling who spends much of her time in the woods, the other two are local charcoal burners.
Alyssa seems injured, but not badly - some cuts and scrapes and a sprained ankle.
"There's orcs!" she says with fear in her voice. "I tracked some for a while, then got ambushed by another group. I think they might be settling in at Castle Rend ruins." When she learns that the orcs have taken Pinna, she tears up. "Oh no! We have to help her!" she tries to head out, but collapses on her injured ankle.
Eowyn and Arcata both know of Castle Rend, its known to be in the woods east of Gravesford. Once it guarded the east road, but has been long abandoned. It was someway north of the road, built atop a rocky hill for defense, but close enough to offer protection. Finding a fork in the road heading north would likely lead to the castle.
Eowyn hurried over to Alyssa Tealeaf, an old friend and fellow halfling. She shushed her and carefully wrapped her ankle, then handed her off to a big, burly townsman to carry home. She needed to save her healing spells if they were going after orcs.
Eowyn considered Castle Rend. She knew the forest very well and tried to think of if she knew any trails that would bring them up on the castle from a different direction than the obvious road.
The Forest of Rend is a fairly flat area. Approaching the castle from any direction would be straightforward. It's getting through the forest that would cripple an army - a handful of adventurers on the other hand...
Following the road will make finding the castle easier but running into orcs more likely. Trying a different approach will make finding it harder, you might also run into something else.