We discuss the portents of our recent augury. We decide to send a sealed envelope of our prophecy, and our recent success re Hawise, to Wycliffe – to be verified post facto. We then receive permission to stay in Bromwich as long as necessary to stabilize the region from the influence of corruption.
The Baron asks us to look into the nearby, known-to-be-deserted, town of Walsall – to see whether it is ready for resettling. We know that Walsall is famous for it’s large Rowan tree; and Jules quickly looks up what information she can about the tree, and the town, in the library before we go. It is an auspicious plant that is thought to be tenacious and confer protection.
On the way to the town we meet a hunter and his son (Elyas and Joce)- returning home (to the southeast) with a young buck. Theo persuades them to tell us about the area and Jules recommends they consider resettling in Bromwich. We learn that game has been very scarce, especially around Walsall, and Walsall is known to be a Bad Place. We also see that the small buck they felled has been raked along the back right rump by some clawed creatures – probably hunting in a pack; like wolves or dogs.
Things are quiet on the way into Walsall. Everything is closed, derelict, abandoned, or plague-marked. The only life we detect are a pair of deer running through town.
When we get to the center of town, we find a herd of deer clumped in the green space around the great Rowan tree. The church has burnt down. The two solid stone buildings (inn and market house) are locked down tightly – and no one answers. There are antlers afixed to the Rowan tree, the animals don’t run from us and the green is soaked with blood.
We discover that a witchcraft ritual has been performed on the tree – summoning creatures to it and stopping them from leaving. Interfering with it carelessly could cause great harm. There are also bloody drag marks leading into a trap door in the fodder shed, standing at the edge of the green across from the inn.
The top window of the market house is ajar. Jules and Arthur secure the horses in a house nearby, while Theo and Tristan explore the market house. Theo, who climbed in first and found it impossible to open other doors, discovers the room he entered is a witch’s den. Theo and Tristan set to work trying to figure out how to undo the spell.
As Jules and Arthur rush back to the market house, they hear the sound of heavy breathing – close on their heels – and then deer screaming in the distance. As Jules closes the shutter on the market house she sees a dark-robed (/winged?) figure, with a plague-doctor’s mask (which looks like a beak) standing on the roof across the way – watching her.
Tristan uses another window to see what is happening outside. Human-like creatures, but thinner and with claws, are ranging in packs through the deer. Tearing them down and dragging them through the trap door. The creatures appear to be corpses, improperly disposed of, now used as vessels for demons. There are at least a dozen.
Arthur and Jules move downstairs to make sure the doors are secure and find the one that connects to the inn open. They are set upon by a group of the Soulridden. Jules fights and Arthur prays, but it takes the intervention of witchcraft from Theo and Tristan before they are able to back themselves back into the witch’s den and seal it.
Tristan can’t quite understand how to reverse the spell, but opens himself to the whisperings of Another who is happy to tell him how it works. Together, he and Theo know what to do. They do not think they have done anything to banish the witch – though they do find a clutch of raven feathers, a cauldron, and 12 dolls with likenesses of presumed villagers – all of which they expect to make use of in the future.
Each doll has a strand of parchment tied to it, upon which is scrawled a name: