Also the idea of level 1 drudgery may have soured them a little after the muddy streets of the Old World.
I'm looking at potentially running this campaign in the nearish future. Needless to say, I was sorely disappointed to find out that you guys would be moving to a different game.
As I've worked on preparing for the game, I pondered what to do if this sort of situation (a WAY too low level party stumbling onto a part of the plot that should take them a while to reach). Part of me simply wants to suggest to the players, speaking in a meta-game voice, that the party is seriously outgunned and needs to go attend to other things first. It's not elegant at all, but at least the game goes forward.
The other option that comes to my mind is to not let the players find that keep at all until such time as they know where to go looking for it, sort of like a programmed RPG where the icon appears on the map only after the party gains the relevant information. There is an NPC quest-line that would result in the PC's learning about the old keep in the woods and even offering the possibility of them taking at least one NPC (and perhaps a mook or 3 if the kid has bodyguards) to help them survive the first wave.
All that is to ask, Hal, if you had it to do over again (assuming that none of the players were just no longer enjoying playing low level wusses) is there anything you'd do differently? How would you suggest shepherding the mewling infant 1st level characters up to a point where they can survive their mistakes?