“We were promised work,” said Runthorn Dribblesoup in his usual tone of irritation, which sounded more like petulance coming from a halfling. “You led us to a tree.”

“Oy!” barked McScruggins, turning on Runthorn. “Keep a civil tongue in your mouth, short stuff! There’s work here, and no mistake. This here’s the tree what owns itself, yeah? And it has a job for ya.”

Willowbirch Billowthorn, the group’s elven healer and mystic, looked over the–admittedly rather large and impressive–tree. “I don’t sense any unusual life force from this,” she said.

“Cor blimey, can you not hear a bleedin’ word I’m saying?” cried McScruggins. “Look. Two hundred years ago, the lord of this land died with no heirs, right? But he remembers on his deathbed, he does, how he used to enjoy long evenings under this here tree with his mates and ladyfriend. So he leaves the tree, and everything its roots touch, to itself. And cor but the thing doesn’t have roots that go for miles! So the tree what owns itself is technically our feudal lord, it is.”

“Does it want someone to put it out of its misery?” said Sir Kneecapper O’Reilly, the doughty gnome fighter and enforcer of the group. “I can axe it a thing or two in that case,” he added, hefting an impressive war axe (for its size).

“Oy, that’s not to be ribbed about, eh?” snapped McScruggins. “Suffice it to say I owe me fealty to the tree what owns itself. And it’s got gold aplenty for those what do its bidding. As interpreted through those what’s close to the living bark, that is.”

“And what ‘bidding’ is that?” said Eleutheria Gromash, who was both half-orc and half-rogue and master of neither. “We’ll do it as long as Lord Tree pays us in advance.”

“Hmph,” said McScruggins. “Right then. The tree wants you to chop down another, rival, tree out in the woodlands. The only golden-colored aspen tree for miles around. It wants you to come back with the crown and root cap of the tree as proof of the deed. And it won’t pay you in advance, but it’ll give you a taste. Mind, it expects results if you take of its gold, though.”

McScruggins tossed a small bag of gold into the hands of each party member. “Best you don’t come back without the golden tree bits, yeah?” he added. “Folks’ve been known to hang from the tree what owns itself when they run afoul of it.”

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