“I can’t just turn a blind eye to this and leave,” said Ezran. “I fought in the wars. I could help you with this warlock lord and his thugs.”
“You are but one man,” said Saldean.
“Yes, but one trained in infiltration and espionage,” answered Ezran, and it was true enough — probably more true than anything else he had said that evening.
“It would be dangerous,” said Salma.
“That is why I hope to find this Farstrider and enlist his help.”
“He won’t rule against his only son,” said Saldean darkly. “You’d have more luck riding out to Duskwood and trying to enlist some of their militia, at that rate!”
“Maybe not, but perhaps there is some other way he can be persuaded to put his leverage on the situation,” said Ezran. “At the very least, I’m confident I would be able to subdue him.”
“I don’t think much of you going after old Daelin,” said Saldean’s wife. “For all his faults, he’s been good to us farmers over the years. Only–“
“Only he protects his son from your justice, furthering this tyranny,” said Ezran firmly.
The Saldeans looked at each other and conceded the point with an unhappy nod.
“I won’t hurt him if at all possible,” said Ezran. “I promise. I only wish to speak with him…”
“Well, that’s a problem,” said Saldean. “No one knows where he is. He’s a Farstrider, after all. Once Lord Kobold took the reins, he disappeared, and you aren’t finding an elven Farstrider who doesn’t want to be found.”
Curse it, but he was right, thought Ezran.
“If you want to help,” Saldean went on, “then we could still use your skills. Lord Kobold has gone and deployed machines to harvest our crops. Normally it wouldn’t be a problem, but they don’t leave enough for us farmers to live off of, and they turn their scythes on anyone who comes too close. If you could–“
“Destroy them?” offered Ezran.
“Or reprogram them: that would be safer. If it’s possible,” said Saldean with a nod. “In return, and I promise, I will send the word out that you’re looking for the Farstrider. Someone might have heard something, or he may hear of it and deign to show himself.”
“It’s a deal,” said Ezran, and he reached across the table to shake Saldean’s hand.
The next morning, Ezran set out to destroy the harvest watchers as he had promised. Saldean sent out the word about the Farstrider as HE had promised.
Ezran found the harvest watchers to be little match for his skills. He supposed a large machine swinging sharp farming scythes around would be intimidating to a farmer. On the third one he put down, he recalled Saldean’s idea to re-program the harvest watcher, and pulled out as much of he could of its innards for the farmer to work with.
Saldean thanked Ezran and moved the parts down into his secret basement to tinker with. Ezran decided to do his own scouting for the Farstrider. He left drops — concealed messages — in places he thought the Farstrider might frequent: stands of trees, waterways (of which there were few), outcroppings of rock along the hills with good views.
As he travelled, he noticed thugs were not the only hostiles in the area. There were also many gnolls around. For the most part, Ezran strived to avoid them.
The takeover of Westfall affected more than just the farmers. The livestock of dead, imprisoned, or conscripted farmers had been left to roam the land. A pack of pigs was destroying the vegetable bed of one farmer. Ezran laughed at the notion that pigs could cause so much damage, but that was before he saw them: these ones were as big as wolves, and just as vicious.
“He came upon a flock of fleshrippers circling several corpses. They had picked away at the bones so that the only thing Ezran could tell about them was that they had once been human. Dissident farmers? Or bandits slain by a Farstrider, perhaps? He couldn’t tell.
He chased off the fleshrippers and performed the final rites for them, regardless.
When Ezran next returned to the Saldean Farm, the farmer had managed to reprogram the harvest watchers. A couple now patrolled the Saldeans’ fields, and Saldean asked Ezran if he could take a couple more to the northwest, where a neighbor, the Molsens, were having similar trouble with “Lord Kobold” and his lackeys.
The Molsens were nowhere to be found, their fields being patrolled by creatures Ezran couldn’t identify at first, but that gave him the willies. Some kind of fel-infused human? He set the reprogrammed harvest watcher on them, using it as a distraction as he entered the Molsen home.
The place had been ransacked, the furniture broken and the food stores spoiled or stolen. Ezran had a bad feeling the Molsens had been taken prisoner, if not conscripted outright to the war efforts of the Lord Kobold. He hurried back to Saldean with the news, the beginnings of an idea prickling in his mind.