1. Invasion – The Iron Circle takes Harken
Seeing the fire and smoke rising from what looks to be the direction of Harken and Marl, the adventurers suspect the worst. After a discussion, instead of heading straight in the direction of the fires to investigate and possibly help, they decide to stay in Tor's Hold the night to make sure that it remains safe, to see out their contract.
Coming back to the village, they take a well earned, though uneasy rest in beds prepared for them. The night passes without duress, with no further attacks on Tor's Hold.
In the morning, the village elder Bran Torrson expresses concern at them letting some goblins escape and not bringing back any evidence of their success. However, he thanks the adventurers for their supposed efforts, seeing as there was no attack last night at least.
Leaving for Marl, to the south, they come across a group of refugees fleeing from Marl. They learn that the town was raided and set to fire by the Iron Circle. Tom, the young spy, was with them and agreed to make amends for his role in the invasion.
Upon arriving in Marl, a few hours later, the adventurers discover the full extent of the damage. Every building in town had been burnt down, some fields were also set alight and bodies of villagers hung lifeless from the end of noosed ropes in trees around town. In the centre of town, a large banner had been erected, bearing the insignia of the Iron Circle. Footprints of perhaps more than a hundred led from the west of town, continuing along the main road heading east towards Harken.
Deciding to press on towards Harken, the group took to the woods to avoid detection. Upon arrival, they could clearly see the presence of the Circle: armed guards dressed in black cloaks patrolled the town while the few villagers that were outdoors kept a wary distance. Wanting to discover more, they set out to Old Kellar, the village elder's house.
Old Kellar invited them in, recognising Arturian from the local taverns. He told them that the Iron Circle had invaded the town late last night, taking control of the keep and imprisoning Baron Stockmer. In the morning, they announced their dominion over all of Harkenwold, posing themselves as its new protectors and establishing a new levy from all residents to fund their defence efforts. Kellar suggested that the group head north to Albridge to speak with Dar Gremath, if they wanted to help further and agreed to discreetly keep an eye on the developments in Harken.
Heading north, the group again took to the forest when nearing Albridge. Fantasia persuaded some local birds to fly across to the town to check the coast was clear. They found some patrolling guards cloaked in black, but not enough to deter the group from entering.
Making their way across the bridge, then skirting the town along its southern river bank, they came across a few guards who looked to be about to burn down a house on the town's edge. Leaping into action, they stopped the guards, managing to take one as prisoner.
2. Establishing Resistance – The Albridge Liberation Front
The group finds Dar Gremath in his stables, on the northern edge of Albridge, deep in conversation with the local druid Reithann. Dar recommends to the group that they send a strong message to the Iron Circle that they won't be able to take over without a fight and giving a leading example of resistance to the villagers of Harkenwold. Reithann advises caution in this course of action, not wanting to draw the swift and deadly retribution of the Iron Circle on the town before they had a chance to build a resistance.
The group set out the next morning with Kestrel, an elven ranger that had come to Albridge with Reithann, and her wolf Saphira added to their number. They devised a plan to draw a patrol of Iron Circle guards into the forest to be ambushed. The plan worked well, making a large dent in the invading force before the group safely retreated into the woods, covering their tracks.
Circling their way around the northern edge of the town, through the woods, they burst into the local tavern, where the Iron Circle had set up their base. Raiding the quarters of what they assumed to be the local leader of the Circle, they managed to steal away, back into the woods, before reinforcements could catch them.
Seeking a safe place to rest, they followed Kestrel north to the grove in which Reithann lives with her apprentices. Here, the night passes without trouble and the group make preparations to leave before dawn to take a final swipe at the Iron Circle soldiers in Albridge, before travelling through Harken, to the forest in the south to seek the aid of the Woodsinger Elves.