Barovian Date: 11th of the 11th Moon
Our belongings down the meanest dinner-knife piled outside the door, we entered within, and were hit immediately by the close, humid smell of a tent too long occupied and seldom aired out. Eyes already watering, we stumbled forward in the sudden gloom and were confronted by a long bench and table. Behind it, hunched forward in an enormous wood-and-velvet chair, sat a withered crone who could only be Madam Eva. Her hair was loosely gathered up beneath a garish cap of motley, and her wrinkled face and figure was fat as only extreme prosperity could bring in this harsh land. Her eyes, though, were by far her most striking feature, and though I could not tell their hue in the dim light, it surely felt as if they saw more clearly into my soul than many a learned abbot had in all my years with the Order.
She bade us sit upon the wooden bench, and carefully laid a blood-red cloth atop the table before laying an ornate deck of cards upon it. As we each drew cards in turn at her direction, (save for Rial, who reacted angrily at this practice and refused to take part,) her eyes lost their focus and seemed to cloud over – her voice, too, seemed to sound as if far away, though we saw her still seated scant feet from us across the table. She spoke of our pasts, our presents and futures, but try now as I might her predictions elude my memory, leaving me with only a vague impression of having felt unease at her words of the time. Clearer, however, are the tantalizing clues that she gave us regarding all manner of esoteric arcana.
Ashlynn had told us that she sought the Sunsword when she came to Barovia, a relic of ages past with a blade of crystal and the ability to rend even the most unholy of flesh beyond its ability to heal. From Madam Eva, we learned that the fabled weapon had been broken hilt-from-blade! This desecration of holy power was by a wizard in the employ of Von Zarovich family many years ago, and he had succeeded in destroying the hilt of the relic. The blade, however, was spirited away by a light-touched apprentice of the mercenary spell weaver, and hidden away in the one place the cursed family would never think to look – the humble bell-spire of a humble chapel that we were all too familiar with of late.
The hilt of sword would need to be replaced, but this was no matter for a village blacksmith and a few lengths of sturdy leather cord! Instead, we were told, the sword itself would need to forge ITSELF a new hilt upon a worthy and consecrated altar – and from no less material than trinkets and items already imbued with magical enchantments.
The wise woman spoke next of the Lord Strahd himself, and the few glimmers of knowledge and good in his past that may still remain to aid us. Among them, hints of hope that may still reside in his brother’s crypt, and an ancient tome said to be buried alongside his parents in the bowels of the castle. The tome in particular piqued my interest, for Madam Eva claimed that it spoke of his origins, and the source of his strength. She claimed that it spoke of three relics, which when positioned in specific points of the castle would rob him of some of his supernatural stamina – to ask how she knew this, and yet knew not what the relics were or what exactly they did, did not cross our minds in that dim space, so close-packed and filled with odors of travel and incense alike.
Peering into a crystal globe on the table in front of her, she professed yet more knowledge of the land’s lord, saying that the Lord Strahd sought a lady to wife. She continued on, claiming that his appetites were so inhuman, however, that he would consume any maiden who came into his power, leaving only death behind. Given that many families were sundered, their members missing or slaughtered, in the recent plague of undeath to strike the village, it was a likely thought that perhaps some of the missing were not among the decayed flesh we had burned on the pyre – perhaps instead they were even now in the keep? In particular, we recalled the case of a young girl who had disappeared near the end of the plague. He distraught family swore that their doors were barred and their windows shuttered throughout, but that their daughter had still disappeared. Was this the work of Strahd, or just the work of a young maid too long confined indoors with her controlling parents, choosing the wrong time to try to make a dash for the next building over?
As our incense-muddled minds were struggling to deal with the questions that this raised, the old woman reached beneath the table, and brought forth a small, finely crafted amulet on a thin metal chain. Shaped like a raven in flight, the similarity to the heraldry on Sir Ulric’s shield was immediate and unmistakable, and it clearly held Draven’s attention fast. This was the “Holy Symbol of Ravenkind” according to the withered vistani woman, and was a gift from the land to its champions. Largely dormant, it awaited the day when a new bearer would hold holy vigil with it, and make offerings to the land for its allegiance – once awakened and bound to its new host, however, it would empower its bearer with strength to stand against the land’s enemies. While not stated directly as best my memory serves, it was certainly implied “the land’s enemies” included the Lord Strahd.
It was while Draven was distracted admiring what appeared to be an icon of his order, and Thorax seemed lost in desirous lust for the woman’s aged bulk, that Madam Eva was to make a statement that would dog my mind for days to come: she claimed that all evil in this land sprang from Lord Strahd, and while the Blaspheme was a focus for the recent plague of undeath, it was Strahd in the end who was behind it all. We departed her tent shortly afterwards.