Sunday 1 November 2015
Dragon Warriors solo - Part IV: A Quest of sorts
As the two knights, with their prisoner and attendant sorceress, approach the Castle Aterfons, the day takes a decidedly autumnal turn. In contrast to the lively and bustling village of Avincester, through which they have just passed, the great castle's environs are sombre and forbidding.
The castle sits atop a low hill, glowering down over the surrounding countryside. Its age-worn stones are as dark a grey as the clouds overhead threatening rain. Blanched white faces peer over the side of the ramparts, watching the approach of the little band. But as they draw nearer, they see that they are not the faces of soldiers guarding the fortress, but the severed heads of convicted criminals and the Earl's enemies, affixed to iron spikes as a warning for those who would be disloyal to their liege.
Poor Ailbert's heart leaps to his throat at the sight. Shall he be the next to join these ghastly sentinels?
Setup: Meeting with the Earl at Castle Aterfons
NPC list: Lady Melisenda, Earl of Avincester, the Secret Enemy, Ailbert the prisoner, Benoist the brigand
1. get a horse
2. find out situation
3. head home
4. take message to earl
[There were no road or village encounters of note, so I jumped ahead to where things get interesting. Some set-up questions first--
Q: Can the PCs get in to see the Earl straightaway? 50/50: Yes.
Q: Can they put Ailbert into the castle dungeon? Likely: Yes.
Hardwin, Earl Avincester
personality: serene, cunning
Q: Does the Earl say anything about the note? Likely: Yes.]
The halbardiers guarding the gatehouse are gruff but respectful to the two knights. They send for the castle's steward, who receives the guests with all proper courtesy. But it is the name of Lady Melisenda, and the sight of her sealed letter that Loys bears, that changes the steward's demeanour from mere courtesy to warm cordiality. The knights and their Lady companion are given sumptuous quarters as befits their station, and told that they shall join the Earl at meat, and thereafter may present Lady Melisenda's epistle.
Loys knows that Ysmena is merely the daughter of a freeman, but introduces her above her station in order to facilitate a smooth reception at the Earl's court, and to allay any suspicions his courtiers might develop. A pair of knights escorting a noble Lady on a journey through the countryside is perfectly respectable; a pair of masterless adventurers tramping through the wilderness with a drab in tow, however... [and I should point out that my use of the word 'adventurers' is not in the modern, but rather in the older sense, with all its negative connotations.]
As Loys, Reynaud, and Ysmena are settling into their provided rooms, poor Ailbert is led away to the castle's dungeon and put in fetters.
* * *
The great hall is decked out with weapons from foreign lands both far and near, taken in days past as trophies by the Earl and his descendants. Old shields with the Earl's crest, most of them bearing the scars of actual battle, hang between them as potent symbols of his family's might.
The Earl himself cuts an imposing figure, both for his great stature as well as his commanding presence. He wears ermine and jewels, though in nowise ostentatiously. His voice rumbles in a basso profundo, and though he never raises his voice, all conversation stops to attend his words when he does speak. As this is no formal dinner, he sits at table with the rest.
The Earl's Lady wife enters with her ladies-in-waiting. She speaks little, and smiles less, though all endeavour to be the recipient of one of those smiles, and the Lady's good graces. The few words she does speak are slow and measured, pronounced in mellifluous tones, and with an accent that proves she is not a native of Ellesland, though none know for certain from whence she hails.
[Making good impression -- Looks rolls with +2 penalty, +5 penalty for Ysmena who must act above her station: Loys 5+2, success; Reynaud 16+2, miserable failure, Ysmena 7+5, success.
Q: Does Reynaud cause actual offence? 50/50: 25, No.]
Loys and Ysmena are well-received by the Earl's courtiers, but the brooding Reynaud makes no friends here.
The meal being concluded, the Earl asks Loys and his companions to his study for a private interview. The Earl's study is a cozy and well-appointed room, with a great hardwood writing desk and numerous cabinets filled with all manner of curiosities. The sheer number of books lining the wall are a testament to Hardwin's renowned learning: there must be half an hundred volumes, on every conceivable topic, from the veracity of the True Faith, to the lives of the saints, to the manifold wonders in the natural world created by the Most High to instruct man.
The Earl bids his guests sit, and pours them some excellent wine. He glances over Lady Melisenda's missive once more, lays it aside, and then addresses the curious trio before him.
"I don't suppose my dear Melisenda let you see the contents of this letter before she sealed it?"
"No, my lord," replies Loys. "She told us nothing of its content."
"I see. Would you care to examine it?"
"I fear we should not glean much thereby," says Loys.
"I should like to see it, my lord," says Ysmena, extending her hand. The Earl's eyes brighten.
"No need," says he. "You have told me all I wished to know. Now we may proceed. I shall explain the proposition for the benefit of all. Lady Melisenda is a woman I admire greatly. Not only for her charms, but because she is a woman of great learning. Travelling about in the train of her late husband afforded her ample opportunities to visit with many scholars, and consult the holdings of many churches and libraries. I have for some time supplemented her allowance by paying her a modest retainer, as she has a knack for sniffing out the locations of certain rare and valuable tomes I require for my own. A fair third of what you see here owes its presence to the tireless perspicacity of the good Lady. She has very recently -- so says she in her letter -- stumbled across some clues as to the whereabouts of yet another peerless treasure, one thought lost for ever: the Tractatus lachrymarum elementiciarum. Know you of it?"
[Q: Has Ysmena ever heard of it? Very Unlikely: 87, No.]
"I'm sorry," says Ysmena, "but that work is unknown to me."
"It is said to be the recorded wisdom of a benevolent year-king from ancient Glissom, which he entrusted to the arch-druids on the night before he was put to death. It was passed down by them for generations and finally written down by an unnamed scribe during the height of the Selentine Empire, though seldom recopied. But four exemplars were known to exist. One was lost at sea, having been sent to Algandy as part of a knight's ransom. The second was destroyed in the avalanche that carried off half of St. Thiudreik's abbey. The third was swept away in a gale -- though some say this was caused by the beating of a dragon's wings -- the pages torn out and scattered by the howling winds. And the last was consumed when the Mad Comte de Reyz sacked his cousin's stronghold and put it to the torch."
"I know that tale," says Loys. "It is said that the fire raged for five days, and only went out when the cock crowed on the Sabbath."
"Quite. And nothing remained of the stout fortress but a pile of blackened stone. So it was believed, by those few who had even come across references to the Tractatus, that it was lost forever to the world. But the Lady Melisenda, came upon some letters, preserved by chance in the chapel library at St. Viscellina's."
"Of course!" says Loys. "The Mad Comte's sister, Jehanne-sans-bras was supposed to have retreated there to live a life of penitence, after the infamous affair at Château Povre."
"But I thought she had vowed to forsake all congress with those outside the cloister walls," interjected Reynaud, "so that she might never again see her wicked brother."
"True. And there is nothing in the tale but that shows she made good on her vow. But it seems her brother did try to contact her once, with offer of a great gift to the monastery in exchange for reconciliation. He offered a most singular book, which she had once admired as a child on a visit to their cousin's. It was not sentiment, of course, that caused him to snatch it from the fortress before firing it, but greed, for it was bound in brilliant crimson leather, and ornamented with gold, carnelian, and rubies. Now, these letters were still sealed when Lady Melisenda discovered them so it seems likely that the gift was never sent. Which would mean it is still in the hidden treasury of Château Fittauges."
"But the Castle was pulled down after the siege," says Loys. "and its treasures looted."
"The Mad Comte had stolen so much from so many," says Reynaud, "that no one would have thought to look for a secret vault with even more treasure."
"Certainly someone must have looked for the secret vault," opines Ysmena, "some time in the last 200 years."
"Perhaps," muses the Earl. "And perhaps they found it. But no one has returned to tell the tale. So now we come to my proposition. I would like the three of you to go to the ruins, find the secret treasury, and bring this book back to me. I will reward you with a small fortune should you do this for me, and you may keep anything else you find; I care only for this tome."
"Aren't the ruins said to be haunted?" asks Reynaud.
"What ruins aren't?" snaps Ysmena.
"In this case, my lady," says the Earl, "I am inclined to believe that spirits do there walk abroad."
"We are not afraid," says Loys sternly.
[I used the d30 Sandbox adventure generation tables to flesh out the quest--
goal: search for knowledge/evidence
obstacle: explore location
location: ruins south of village #8 (not rolled -- the first dungeon-y adventure was always going to be there)
location feature: library
villain goal/reason: honour
key NPC: hermit
The title and author of the tome came from my random grimoire tables which I still haven't quite finished. I translated the title into Bacchile as no Elleslandic version was ever made.
The Treatise of Elementary Tears
medium minor grimoire
written by a well-meaning year-king]
* * *
Later that night, Loys has asked Ysmena for a private audience. The walk through the castle in the nocturnal stillness, unaware that they are being observed.
"My good lady," says Loys, "we need to discuss our... arrangements."
"How do you mean, good sir knight?"
"I have thought upon this whilst we were travelling here. It was of course my duty to see you safely away from Dunning's Green. I had thought to escort you whithersoever you wished, as it is not safe for a lady to travel alone on the roads. But the revelation that you are a sorceress changed everything..."
Ysmena half collapses onto a nearby bench. She turns away from Loys, and cries in frustration, "Why must I ever be surrounded with such ignorance?! Get away from me you simpleton!"
Loys kneels beside her and gently takes her hand.
"No, my lady, you mistake my meaning. I am hardly one of those fools who know not the difference between the wizard's art and deviltry. I was hoping -- indeed I am now begging -- that I might enjoy the aid of your thaumaturgical talents."
"I have already agreed to help retrieve the Tractatus for the Earl."
"I meant after that. These are dangerous times. I would return home, but in my present circumstances that would be... nor wise, nor acceptable. I am returning from the Crusade, but not as a hero of the Faith. When the news reaches our lands..."
"News of what?"
"'Twas ne'er a more disastrous nor ill-starred alliance as that between our two armies. The host of Albion saw many a battle, aye, and many a victory, but I fear was all fought 'gainst our old rivals in Chaubrette."
"Did you even see the Holy Land?"
"Alas, we did not. When the news of this debacle reaches Ebrac... Reynaud and I are returned scarce a fortnight in advance of it."
"This is rich! Fine then, I accept your proposal, but on the condition that you aid me in my little dilemma. I have failed to retrieve an item I had been sent after, but if the treasury of Château Fittauges holds other wonders, they may more than make up for what I have lost. Though, should we chance upon my accuser, perhaps I will require a different task of you."
"Wonderful, my lady. I believe this is the beginning of an excellent partnership."
* * *
The next morning, before setting forth from Castle Aterfons, Loys has Ysmena accompany him to the dungeon to see their prisoner.
"Look you here, peasant," says Loys, "here be the recompense of the bandit! I hold here the noose which will end your wretched days on the scaffold."
"Have mercy, good sir knight," pleads Ysmena, "for it is circumstance that hath brought this poor creature here, not wickedness. Let him atone for his crime!"
"How your words do move me, my lady!" replies Loys. "Then I shall make you this offer: accompany me and my knightly companion, and fight at my side, and redeem yourself through noble deeds. Shew me true valour and repentance, and I shall see you created a true knight."
Ailbert grasps Loys hand, weeping. "I shall be ever in your debt, my liege!"