Your company departs early the next morning. As you load your relatively meager belongings onto the ranger's packhorses, the rising sun illuminates a sea of fog covering the bay and surrounding valleys. The higher hills, such as the one the ranger's camp is on, rise from the mist like islands. Diorn warns to keep a favorite weapon or two handy. The way we take is usually safe, but things have become unsettled since the king's death. Keep your eyes open for ambushes. There are some who would welcome a chance to strike down those who keep the peace.
Diorn provides Athene with three simple, but well made, copies of a book. One in archaic elvish, the ranger's language, and the common tongue of the kingdom. Though there aren't enough to provide copies for all of you, one or two additional books could be loaned to anyone interested in either the ranger's language or common.
You descend into the misty valley, and follow a twisting trail through the hills to your east. You descend to the valley floor around noon. The morning fog has burned away, giving you clear view of an area much more populated than any you've seen yet. A simple stone keep stands watch on a small mound just below the where the trail enters.
Patchwork fields cover the valley with similar keeps dotting the edges. A league or so to the north a true castle with curtain walls anchors a bustling town near the middle of the valley.
As your horses pass the keep a youth watching from the battlement waves and shouts greeting, which the rangers return.
A low wall surrounds the town, which looks to hold a couple thousand, and carts and wagons make a steady stream in and out. The townsfolk and those in the field surrounding look much like those you've seen before. A melting pot of the northern inner sea. The men mostly wear loose trousers and shirts, sometimes with a tunic or vest over. Unlike what you've seen before, the women are all clothed in long bodiced-dresses with a white underdress beneath and cap or hat. Almost everyone wears an armband or other piece of black clothe.
Your group receives plenty of attention, mostly positive, with many offering bows or curtsies. A, relatively, brief lunch is taken within the great hall of the castle, which flies the grapes quartered with the red eye at half mast. The lord of the castle is well into his middle-age, well-dressed in somber black. Though he greets you courteously, his attention is focused on Mary, Ritva, Ian, and Ingolf. Apparently there is a great deal to discuss. Several small packages and packets of letters are exchanged, mostly added to your saddlebags.
With no more than an hour or so spent, you once again head west. Climbing out of the valley, you pass a earthen dam, a hundred feet high or a little more holding back a medium sized lake. Another keep watches over the dam and the valley below.
Once more traveling through winding hills, you spend the night camped in the pasture of a fortified manor/keep resting in a small valley tucked between the folds of the earth. The minor lord provides dinner and breakfast and suggests making your way quickly to the outpost that is your next day's destination.
You make good time the next morning. The road gently winding south through a valley that shows signs of once being inhabited before turning sharply north into a maze of narrow valleys. Abruptly the valley you are following jinks and as you round the bend becomes a narrow lake.
The valleys are now all shadowed as you round another bend from where a bone of the valley juts out into the water. The road has been sliced into the hillside and the grade slopes steeply up both above and below you.
In the evening quite of birds and insects, you hear several sharp cracks, followed by the crashing, crunching rumble of stones sliding down the mountainside. It's a landslide, and it's heading straight for you!
A small something, a dislodged stone or flicker of movement, catches your attention and you suddenly notice several humanoids concealed in the brush above you. You are not caught off-guard and may act in the surprise round.