Curse of Strahd: Chapter IV
[4 minutes, 1142 words]The one where they buy pies.
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We all followed him. Should we have followed a random guy whom we know nothing of? NO. Did it turn out for the best? Probably. As we walked, on the abandoned street following Ismark, the man we just met, a smell tingled into my nose. The entire village had a sinister feeling about it. But this smell was different. It filled me with warmth and coziness. It was the scent of cinnamon and fresh maple syrup leaves. The source soon became clear as we reached a rickety wooden cart filled with pies. The cart was being pushed by an elderly woman in her rags.
“Kind strangers, should I interest you in a treat?” She asked.
Ismark was clearly in a rush, but I felt sad for the lady. “How much for a dozen?”
“Ah, That will be 12gp.” She said.
“Kinda expensive.” So whispered.
The woman hurriedly packed 12 pies, “Why don’t you’ll eat the pies and then decide whether they are worth paying for or not.”
While she was packing, I asked, “What is your good name, my lady?”
“It’s Morgantha, my dear. But I prefer people calling me granny.”
“What are the pies made of, granny?” Sleatense asked.
“Oh! It’s a trade secret. It includes maple syrup, toasted pecans, a pinch of cinnamon, grandmotherly love and a little bit of protein.” She was done with the packing and handed the pies to us. She then started pushing her cart in search of more customers.
Ismark rushed forward. “Have you tried these pies before?” Xaia asked.
“No, not personally. I have had lost a few friends to the pies but I have never consumed a single one.”
“What do you mean be ‘lost a few friends?’” Xaia inquired.
“The pies are very addictive. I have seen people spend all their fortunes on the pies. They crave it like anything, and not having it they remain frustrated. They are ready to kill anyone at any time for the pie.”
“What?” Bruno exclaimed.
“That is the extreme case. I suppose there is no harm in having one.” Ismark added. And then he stopped walking.
A weary-looking mansion sat behind a rusting iron fence. The iron gates were twisted and torn. The right gate lay cast aside, while the left swinging lazily in the wind. The hinges sound hauntingly repeated in a mindless and ceaseless pattern. Weeds choked the greenery surrounding the house and the grounds were nothing more than the skeletal remains of the trees. Yet, against the walls, the weed growth had been trampled down to create a path. Heavy claw markings had stripped the once-beautiful finish of the walls. Great black marks told of the fires that the mansion had faced. Every window had been stripped of panes and railings.
“Your place seems mighty damaged.” Sleatense pointed.
“It is.” Ismark said as he swung open the left door, “The Devil and his minions have attacked the house multiple times. My father, the burgomaster was the only reason why this town has not been entirely destroyed.”
We had questions. It was a forged letter by the Burgomaster that had to lead us to this mess. However, before any of us could ask or say anything, Ismark added, “I’ll explain everything once we are inside.”
The interior of the mansion was well furnished, yet everything felt worn and dingy. All windows were boarded-up and every room was scattered with holy symbols. A body, the burgomaster's body, was kept in the centre of the drawing-room on the floor-lying in a simple wooden coffin surrounded by wilting flowers and a faint odour of decay.
“Meet my sister, Ireena,” Ismark said pointing to a striking woman with auburn hair. Her hair was straight as an arrow and reached her wrist.
“Ismark, who are they?” She sternly asked.
“The recipients of father’s last letter.” He replied.
“I’ll give them a room to sleep for the night.” She replied as if some silent communication had already taken place between them.
“Ireena, we are well-rested,” Bruno announced as soon as we entered the room. It was a decent room, and the beds were suitable and comfortable. “Tell us the purpose your father wished upon us.”
“You need to understand this place to understand what purpose my father had by inviting you to this dreadful domain.” She said. Ismark continued, “This land is ruled by a tyrant. A devil. He is called Count Strahd.”
“We’ve heard the name three times since the last morning. You better tell us more than just a name.” Xaia interrupted.
“Paitence.” Valentine intrupted. “Paitence Xaia, paitence. Ismark, by all means, go on.”
Before Ismark could continue, there were loud rapid knocks followed by a deep cry of grief. “I’ll take the door,” Ismark said.
“As Ismark was saying, Strahd is a vampire who has been feeding upon our land for years. Anyone who doesn’t help Strahd cause grief is the receptor of this grief. He...”
Ireena was cut off by a loud shout from towards the entrance, “ISMARK, IF YOU SHALL NOT HELP ME. LET ME SEEK HELP FOR MY DAUGHTER FROM THOSE WHO WILL!”
Valentine ran towards the voice. It was the weeping woman. “Mary, you’ll need to understand. If The Devil is behind your daughter's disappearance, she might as well as be dead.”
The woman collapsed, her voice switching from assertive to sorrowful, “That is what I am scared of Ismark. What if my daughter, my Gertruda, is already dead?” She paused, “Even worse, what if she was turned into an unholy vampire? What if he made my Gertruda a.” Mary talked no more. She just sobbed.
“I’ll walk you home.” Ismark tried comforting her. “Can I join?” Valentine asked.
“As you please,” Ismark said dryly.
“Ireena, who was she?” So asked.
“Mary, she kept her daughter in the safety of her house, away from all danger for the last two decades. Seven days ago, she disappeared. Mary believes that Strahd has abducted her.”
“And what do you believe?” I asked.
“The same, if not worse.” Ireena said, “Let’s not talk about that. Tonight, We plan to pay our father final respects and lay him to rest. Ever since we discovered the letter he wrote before passing away, we have been waiting for you all.”
“Will anyone else be there?” Sleatense asked.
Bruno jumped in, “It's a local ruler's funeral. The entire city would be there.”
“That is normally the case.” Ireena sighed, “But in our case, not many people will be there.”
“Why?” Bruno curiously asked.
“For the same reason why everything is all so terrible in Barovia, because of Strahd.”
[Curse of Strahd will be continued next week.]
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Text (c) 2022 by Arjun Agarwal.
Header image by WOTC.