A week later, battered and weary, the group rode through the rain back into the village of Sebril. Yoshin, ever cautious, scanned the scatter of houses and shops for any signs of radical change - mourning for a suddenly dead lord, that sort of thing. All seemed calm, and they carried on into the town. As they did, villagers and farmers waved or nodded. News of their aid of their lord after his "accident" at the joust seemed to have got around and their popularity among the citizens was high.
Similarly, their welcome at Arenlor's town house was fulsome, with the now fully-recovered knight declaring that, should they in turn need a favour from him, they had but to ask. As he greeted the others, his daughter glanced over his shoulder into Caitlin's eyes, and raised her eyebrows. The New Tellaran nodded fractionally, and a look of quiet satisfaction fleeted across Corvala's face.
On the pretext of taking her to try on the dress she'd ordered, Corvala ushered Caitlin away. As they exclaimed over the quality of the magnificent garment, Corvala quietly enquired as to the success of the mission, doing up Caitlin's buttons as she did so. Caitlin answered off-handedly, not taking her eyes from the embroidery she was admiring. "Oh, yes; we killed Velran and most of his armsmen." There was a choked noise from behind her, after whch Corvala muttered, "Oh, well we can get this button sewn back on easily enough."
"His peasants revolted and burned his castle down, and I'm not sure where they went after that."
"Erk! Well, three's as easy to sew as one..."
"There was a demon as well, but we're pretty certain it went back wherever it was summoned from."
There was stunned silence from Corvala, whose hands were dangling limp above the forgotten buttons. Caitlin peered into the packaging; report finished, and unaware of the effect of her words, she changed the subject.
"What colour are the shoes?" she asked.
Yoshin had headed out into the village to call on the alchemist Hesyan. After the mess last time, he made certain not to startle the man until he'd put down anything breakable. "Oh," he said, "you're back. Was the alchemist's fire useful?" Yoshin smiled. "Very," he said, "I've come back for some more." Hesyan's fingers twitched. "If you liked it, tell your friends," he said, building his business. Yoshin's grin became the sort that sent humans scampering back into the trees. "I haven't many left," he said cheerfully, "I want to finish the rest." Hesyan's smile slid off his face like snow off a warm branch, and he hurried to fill the order.
Bouyed by the success of their enterprise, Krizzen and Caitlin had headed out to get a drink, and much against Krizzen's better judgement, had found themselves at the east end of the village in the Broken Manor, the run-down and disreputable alehouse opposite Anornos' dice hall. As they ducked under the low, cracked lintel, the landlord Alpen was wiping a leather jack with a grimy cloth in an action which could only marginally be described as cleaning. Two or three scruffy-looking farmers and layabouts were lounging around near the bar, several clearly well inebriated despite the early hour.
Alpen looked Caitlin up and down as Krizzen was still squeezing himself through the door behind her. "Are you here for a reason?" he asked, leering slightly. Caitlin, now a bit uncertain as to whether this had been a good idea, giggled nervously, and the barflies pricked their ears up, sensing possible fun. One stood upright and walked across, putting on what he evidently felt was an oily and seductive manner. "Hello, dear," he said patronizingly, "care for .. a drink?"
At that moment, Krizzen's impressive armoured bulk reared up behind the slim New Tellaran and a big grin creased his massive, scarred, scaled face. The farmer seemed to wither, finding that - far from plying a hapless maid with drink to follow up his bad intentions - he was grudgingly buying ale for three people. Sniggers from his drinking buddies did not improve his mood as he passed the drinks across.
Krizzen necked his swiftly with every sign of enjoyment, as Caitlin stared disgustedly into her own. "Should I complain?" she asked her companion, and the mood showed every sign of plunging from tasteless humour to very bad-tempered. Krizzen siezed the mug from her hand, and passed it to another of the farmers. "Give it to him; and let's be going," he said firmly, and guided Caitlin outside and back towards the more salubrious centre of the village.
After leaving the boozer, Caitlin hatched a desire to pay social calls on the other three knights of the village. Pausing to collect freshly-baked cakes from Kelper the baker, she started with the reclusive Sir Voror, whose house-servants advised her that he thanked her for her call but was busy. The miserly Sir Shellonk was out, which left Sir Dorosend, Corvala's young admirer.
Krizzen could see so many ways this could go wrong, and declined to come with her, retiring to the bar of the Dancer's Bell across the market-place to shake his head at the vagaries of nobles.
Caitlin, however, took her gift of cakes to Dorosend's house, and was warmly welcomed by the handsome young knight. He also expressed great gratitude for the party's rescue of Sir Arenlor, as accidentally killing ones' prospective father-in-law would have been a really poor start to wooing a young lady.
As they sat with a rather good light wine and the cakes, Dorosend leaned closer to Caitlin. "May I ask you a question?" he asked with quiet intensity. Uh-oh, thought Caitlin, belatedly considering that a possibly compromising situation with her beau was a poor move in her friendship with Corvala. She nodded cautiously. Dorosend took a deep breath.
"I would welcome your advice on how to win the heart of Lady Corvala," he explained in a rush. Caitlin blinked, relieved, and thought for a moment, then glanced at the plate. "Cakes," she said confidently. "Romantic notes, little gifts, all that sort of thing; but bake her some cakes with your own hands. If they're not all that good, but made just for her, she won't mind."
Dorosend stared at the cakes for a moment, and then at his own hands; callused from sword-play, skilled with weapons and horses and falcons and all knightly craft, but utterly unfamiliar with anything cullinary. His brow furrowed as his mind shifted slowly to a new way of thinking. "Cakes ... " he murmured. His eyes lit up. "I can ask the baker to show me how it's done," he said, his voice rising as the idea took hold. His gaze came back to Caitlin and he siezed her hand and kissed it in gratitude, his eyes misty. "My lady," he said warmly, "if my poor suit is successful, you shall ever be welcome in our home!" Caitlin nodded. "And if not?" she asked a little archly. Dorosend surged to his feet, automatically falling into a dramatic and heroic pose - it was bred into him, after all. "You have forged the weapons I needed to tilt this joust!" he declared in a ringing tone; "it is for me to wield them. Succeed or fail, you shall ever have my friendship and protection!"
Caitlin sat back and lifted her glass to hide a smile. From what she'd seen of Corvala's expression when she looked at the brave, noble, good-hearted idiot sitting opposite her, his quest was more than half accomplished in any case, and he would have to try really hard to put his intended off.
At the dinner that evening, as the good knight was toasting his rescuers, Corvala and Dorosend were oblivious of most else, deep in animated conversation, and Caitlin basked in the sensation of a job well done.
A week's travel had brought the party across the fertile plains of Norimo and through the northern pass in the Maric Hills and to the edge of Minensal. Vinyards climbed the sides of the hills, though the road itself passed through a wide, flat valley.
Mid-afternoon, the party came to the edge of the city itself, and it was like nothing any of them had ever seen. A vast expanse of tumbled rubble stretched before them, covered in grass, shrubs and small trees; occasional arches, columns and corners of buildings came into sight as they passed. In several places, great grey scars marred the rugged garden of wreckage, where quarries had been set up to harvest the enormous supply of ready building stone. A cleared passage accommodated the road leading towards the city-within-a-city. A deep, smothering silence cloaked the ruins, lending them an ominous, unnerving atmosphere; something broken occasionally by the sight of rabbits feeding peacefully on the abundant grass. Welcome to the Big Rubble!
Minensal is located in a green valley in the midst of the Maric Hills in Southern Tarlanor. In ancient days it was the capital of Duceor, and by the end of the Elf wars, successive invasions had laid it in ruins, made worse by the infighting among the Kin there after the Slaying. Under Skufruss’ rule, the inner third has been rebuilt and is a prosperous trade hub. The outer two-thirds are still the greening rubble of a once-mighty city with strong Elvish influences.
After an hour, the party passed through the Mountain Gate from the Big Rubble to the New City; built in the centre of the ruins of stone harvested from those ruins, the New City was all rough edges and new ideas, lively and dynamic, still with a working-together-pioneer feel to it. A newly-built wall, modest by the standards of the remnmants remaining on the edge of the Rubble, encircled the New City, and once inside it the party found themselves passing through the Temple district of the city.
Under the Dragon, people in the North had been denied gods as the Dark Beast strove to himself become a god. Since taking over, Skufruss Dragonlord had relaxed this stricture, having himself learned the lessons of attempting to deny religious freedom the hard way in what was now the Kordasa. Now, temples to asssorted gods occupied a sector of the city between the north and east gates. Spires and minarets and domes rose in all directions, and snatches of prayer and invocation could be heard as they passed.
Suddenly, a young lad, human and dressed in the plain robes of an acolyte, darted from the crowd, heading straight for Monsarana. The paladin reached for her hammer on instinct, but paused as she noticed the youth bore the emblems of her own Aderran faith. Reaching her, he bowed, making the book-opening gesture of an Aderran blessing.
"Lady Paladin Monsarana?" he enquired, though more in the manner of confirming something than with any doubt of the answer. She nodded, and he continued. "I am Davie, acolyte of Aderra. You're expected - would you come with me please?"
Monsarana and her companions exchanged glances, but she seemed sure that Davie was what he said he was, so she nodded and the four followed the lad into the maze of buildings until they came to the Aderran temple.
It was a bigger temple than any they'd seen recently, with a respectable library. Davie guided them to a side chapel, where a man with thick dark hair and an intense face wearing robes decorated with book patterns was clearly waiting for them. Monsarana bowed to him, recognizing his rank if not him personally. "Good day, your Excellency," she greeted him. The man inclined his head gracefully.
"Thank you for coming, paladin, lady, gentlemen," he said. "I am Bastable, High Priest of Aderra in Minensal. This," he gestured to one side, introducing another man who had been waiting slightly apart, "is Krensa Denarran." Denarran was blonde and lean and very well dressed, obviously well-born. "Krensa is from Vorcrensen," continued Bastable, "and recently discovered that he'd inherited the estate of some relatives native to this city. The last members of this family died under .. strange circumstances some twenty years ago, leaving a fine town-house. Krensa decided he'd make this his summer home, but when he got here he discovered that the place was abandoned, derelict and shunned. Dreadful rumours of evil happenings and terrible hauntings cling to the place, and no local tradesmen, builders or workmen will go anywhere near it."
"Krensa, a good Aderrran, has come to the temple to ask for our aid in disproving these rumours," at this point Krensa chipped in, muttering "Superstitious rubbish!"
Bastable gave him a glance, gently reproving, and resumed the tale. "My Goddess granted me a dream last night, revealing that a suitable champion, owing gratitude for the goddess's assistance and accompanied by brave companions, would present themselves at the right moment to take up his cause."
There was a pause. Then everyone looked at Caitlin.
Session Date: 12th April 2014