With Armand the Scumbag cooped up within a wardrobe in the safe room of The Murk, Drolhaf Haffnarskørung and Drusus the Historian guarded his life from the side of the bay, and Lafadriel Hundertwasser from the side of the streets. There was considerable boat traffic that night, but after a while, Drolhaf spotted a skiff that didn’t move much, and kept an exact distance from their position. Drolhaf yawned, stretched, sauntered over to Drusus, who confirmed the vessel was immobile, and while someone in the back was paddling to keep position, something that at first looked like a piece of tarp was in fact a man lying prone, looking their way. Half an hour passed uneasily, and at last the skiff turned back towards the other side of the harbour.
“This is our chance,” whispered the Northman. “They are not suspecting us. Call down Armand and let’s follow them fast.”
Hopping into one of the boats moored to the pier, they rowed in quiet determination, Drolhaf trusting his Northman instincts to keep their direction. It was at this point that they realised the boat was leaking, and while this was negligible with one person inside, it was taking water considerably faster with the three of them on board. Just then, there was a *whoosh* as a crossbow bolt flew by them.
“Damnit!” Armand cursed silently as a second projectile missed them. Drolhaf cranked up his own weapon, fired, and missed. The enemy skiff was getting out of range, and their own boat was caught in a treacherous current drifting towards the open sea. They decided to return to shore while they could, but the boat was sinking faster, and went down a stone’s throw from the Fish Market. Drusus cast a spell, levitating straight up into the air. Drolhaf and Armand both jumped to make a grab, pulling down poor Drusus into the water. They swam out to shore, spitting water and coughing. Drolhaf had to cut off his suit of armour to avoid sinking, while Drusus got his spellbook wet, erasing two spells. Tired and in a foul mood, they returned to the Murk.
The next day, with Armand in disguise as Yil the Mysterious, they returned to The Inn. The common room was mostly empty; the bull-necked man they had interrogated yesterday calmly eating his soup at a corner table.
“He is either a spymaster or we were chasing a big fucking shadow yesterday” noted Drolhaf as they asked Redragon for breakfast – after he tasted it before them, of course. Things seemed much more pleasant in a short while, and they got better when Hector the Peddler came in to pay a visit.
“I have something new for you, great sirs, but it is not in your hands yet...” the ragged fellow whispered. “It is called The Seeing Cat, and it would be a shame if it got lost in all this confusion. I thought you might appreciate it more than the others.”
“What is this ‘Seeing Cat’ you speak of?”
“Oh, it is another statuette, Sirs, but even more precious than the last one.”
“Precious, eh?” Drolhaf slipped him five gold pieces.
“As I just said... It was the property of the Bard Tomurgen, the gods rest his soul, and indeed, I saw it during my visits, for he was always kind to a poor peddler. There he kept it in his room, and the cat, it is said, would see and remember. Wouldn’t it be a shame if it was lost when poor Tomurgen’s room is emptied and his things sold off?”
“I see your point. It is a very interesting story. But we also have another question.” Drolhaf extended another gold coin across the table. “Suppose we were looking for someone. An old man, probably a wizard. Conical hat, grey beard --”
“That describes half the wizards out there” grumbled Hector.
“This man, though, also smells of mint.”
“Mint? That’s...” the peddler’s eyes lit up. “Of course! I have seen him. Your man is named Filodont. He smokes that mint-flavoured tobacco he always buys at the Masters’ Guild, and he is a familiar face in town, along with the others.”
“Yes, there are others – his companions. Let’s see… there was Lizadorn, a tiny little lass--"
“You could say so. Anyways, Lizadorn was last seen with one Boffo Badgervest, sailing out of town. Then: Brondur the Dwarf, a pretty violent sort; Zelmaron, who is someone from the wilderness – quiet, wears leather clothes – a barbarian maybe... and Raglak. Raglak the Voracious [Raglak, a Beles], half orc and half man. He’s from town.”
“Do you know him?”
“A little. He usually drank at the Skinned Cur, where the other orcs gather. Last time, he was bragging he would soon be rich, something about an abandoned villa. Come to think of it, it’s been a while. Definitely been a while.”
Two more gold pieces changed hands, and Hector left, happy with the money he has just earned, while the company was left to ponder the conundrums he has left for them.
|Day 35 in Baklin|
Ortrag’s Tobacco Box was a tiny little store under the arches of the decaying Masters’ Guild. A shield with a green water goblin hung from a hook, and an official-looking sign identified the place as a city-wide monopoly [q.v. “Városi Dohánybolt”]. While the others waited otherside, Drusus the Historian entered to ask a few questions. Ortrag, the hobbit proprietor was barely taller than the counter, but he explained his wares from the top of a stool with animated enthusiasm.
“Filodont? He is a good friend, and what a good customer!” he exclaimed when Drusus casually mentioned him. “I have sold many pipes to him, many pipes! He is prone to lose them wherever he goes.”
“I heard him mention he travels a lot. Just last time, he told me he was going... hm, I just can’t recall it.”
“The Singing Caverns!” came Ortrag’s cheery response. “And before that, the coast, and now he is gone again!”
“That’s what I just meant to say! Anyway, if you meet him, tell him that Rowen the Kassadian sends his greetings to the great Filodont. Rowen would be me.”
“Certainly! He has his own blend, you know – I create the perfect combination for every customer to suit their tastes and temperaments. Would you like one for yourself? Perhaps a pipe to go with it?”
Ortrag showed multiple pipes to Drusus, including a specially carved, exclusive piece with a carved bowl shaped like a goblin’s head for 15 gp, but Drusus – who barely had a few coins – opted for a simple travelling model. Armand was more ready to spend money in his predicament, and after Drusus left, he bought the pipe and ordered a coffee-flavoured blend for the time he would return.
It was early afternoon, and since the place was nearby, they visited the dog pound to see how things have developed. This time, the dogs were tied and the hole in the ground was guarded by a glum contingent of guards. Drolhaf Haffnarskørung entered to ask Tarbus Rolf about the newcomers.
“There is a regular army down there! This morning, the knights came and told me to tie me dogs; then they went down there while they left those fellows” the massive brute shook his head.
“Six armoured knights, five more guards, and there was a bald man wearing a robe.”
“Didn’t that last one have a minty smell?”
“Damned if I know... mighty ominous fellow, though.”
One of the guards noticed the conversation and stepped closer.
“Move along now! This is no place for you. Move along!”
“Excuse me, Sir--" Drolhaf interjected. “I am the person who will pay for the building to be erected on his site. I would like to inspect the grounds if I may.”
“You may not. This place is now under the supervision of Sir Boron of the Cliffs, and only he may allow anyone entrance. Please depart, Sir.”
“Just one moment – where would Sir Boron be if I wanted to speak to him?”
“Can’t do – he’s the one leading the men down there.”
Without further options, Drolhaf returned to his companions.
“Dooom! Dooom! Dooom!” cried a dishevelled, crazy-looking man on the street corner as they were returning through the streets. “Undead! The undead are coming! I know it – the time of Brazak Bragoth is at hand! Orcs! The orcs are at the walls! The faerie princes...”
“We should stop for a moment,” suggested Armand. “The Skinned Cur. It is right here nearby, and we could learn more about this Raglak the Voracious... and I might just hit up an old contact or two.”
The pub was quiet in the afternoon, and only the sounds of snoring orcs sleeping on the wooden benches and the buzzing of lazy flies broke the silence. Armand looked around and gestured silently as his eyes scanned the place, pointing at a suspicious section of the floor before the bar, and a concealed lever on a beam behind it.
“Hey Gulmag, you gots guests!” someone bellowed upstairs, and down came a pair of shuffling feet, followed by an enormous potbelly, and a porcine face. Gulmag the Gab looked over the company with suspicion. Some of the orcs shifted in their sleep, and a dirty, unkempt old man joined Gulmag with an incredulous look on his face. Gulmag spat.
“A pointy-ear. Well I never!”
“I am not drinking anything!” Lafadriel declared.
Armand quickly produced a gold piece for the orc, taking care to avoid the suspicious floor section. “So this is where they don’t bark anymore.”
Gulmag shrugged. “No, not here they don’t. Try the soup? Or want to hear about our specials? We ain’t got any.” He smiled triumphantly.
“Maybe later. Roglag’s gone missing. Do you know him?”
“Hope he’s okay. He still owes me money.”
“Well, let’s hope this settles the bill.” Armand drew another gold piece from his purse. “Have you seen someone from Kassadia? Say, someone who has had a black mark on his honour?”
“Kassadians? There are a lot of ‘em if you’re asking. Why, the...”
“Where do you think you are going, miscreant?!” Armand hissed, and lunged for the old man, who was trying to sneak out of the pub. “Get him!”
Lafadriel and Drolhaf started for the old codger, and tackled him outside the Skinned Cur. Armand grinned darkly.
“Later, Gulmag. I think we will meet again.”
Cornered in a back alley, the scrawny old fool’s resolve crumbled in an instant.
“Release me! Release me, I didn’t do you any harm!”
“Speak! What do you know?” Armand grabbed him by the clothes and shook him.
“I am in grave danger just by speaking to you! I am being watched!”
“If you don’t speak, you will be dead right here and right now.”
“Oh... oh my... I don’t know what is what anymore. The whole combination has been betrayed. It is all gone.”
“Betrayed, huh? By you, perhaps?”
“No, I swear! I really didn’t mean it! It was all covered by the Amiable Pact – we operate here in a limited matter, they operate in Kassadia, do the basic business. Then it all went wrong!”
“Who were the others? Does Harrgon Torsk control this?”
“Oh no! He is just a mid-level guy.”
“Who then? Speak!”
“Hyacintho! It is Hyacintho Eskumar the Fisherman! In this city, you see – there were two other parties to the Pact, one in Gont and one to the west.”
“Hm. And what is this about the others? Your companions. What happened to them?”
“Oh, they were all – first, Dark Elsa [Sötét Elza] was found, having taken her own poisons. Then, Rogold the Billygoat Beater [Rogold, a Zergeverő] – he went to investigate in Tirwas to the west after he discovered something real dark over there, and he never came back. All gone, like Korgan the Rummaging Death [Korgan, a Matató Halál]. It was me and little Boffo Badgervest, and he just got up and left on a ship with one of his kind – he’s an ‘obbit, you see.”
Armand looked carefully at the shaking wretch and finally said “Very well. You have said enough. You are free to go.”
The man fell to his knees, sobbing. “Why don’t you just kill me? I will not walk two corners alive! Please! Take me with you, get me out of here!”
“All right, old man. I’ll do you one better.” Armand held up the ticket to the Sea Puffs. “This is your ticket out of this place. We’ll bring you to the docks and you can go home to Kassadia safe and sound, with this --” he showed a handful of gold pieces. “Just remember to tell anyone who will ask that it was Arianus who has saved you.”
The old man was beside himself with joy, kissing Armand’s hands in relief. “I will be happy to leave behind this cursed city. So small, yet it is the worst I’ve been to. I can go die in Kassadia, and that’s all I want from life now. Listen... I must leave behind my things, but you may find them useful. There is a hiding place in a courtyard below the southern tower, a walled up niche and a protruding brick. Remember this.”
They got going through Baklin’s alleyways and plazas, towards the harbour, and it was as if a hundred eyes were following every step. The coast was clear; but then, in the dark, windowless street between the Lockhouse and the Nine Doors Tavern, the trap was sprung.
“Hand over the old man! We got no quarrel with you” snarled one of the burly man who had emerged to hastily block both ends of the alley with pushcarts.
“Come and get him!”
A dozen burly men came running, but the melee was brutal and one-sided, and weapons were drawn. Soon, four of the assailants were lying dead in a pool of their own blood, four were knocked out, and the remaining four had fled for their lives. But there was no time to enjoy victory, as guards poured into the street, demanding all to drop their weapons and put their hands up.
“The Captains’ Council will deal with you, troublemakers!” the sergeant spit, his face red from the exertion of running. “Most of you will be in the sack soon, you can bet on that!”
“It all went surprisingly easy” someone mused on the steps outside the gaudy council building.
“Yeah, and they accepted our defence without further questioning.”
“Perhaps it was a good idea to mention we were under the patronage of both Fantagor and Lady Callodric. Not to mention my spirited defence of you lot” considered Drolhaf.
“Couldn’t it be that we were just innocent?”
“Don’t be an idiot.”
“At least that old guy is on his way.”
“Yes! Let’s not forget his treasures. The southern tower? We have to go pay it a visit.”
“And at night, it is Tomurgen’s place – and the Seeing Cat!”
The southern tower, located in the south-eastern corner of the city, rose high above the old houses that clustered around it. The way in was through a gate, but for some reason, it seemed to be too suspicious.
Drusus hazarded a guess: “What if we go around on the city wall?”
“After what we just did? That’s daft!”
“They probably don’t know a thing. And besides – we will give them money.”
So it happened that soon, a delegation of three knocked on a wooden door, and when a guard checked to see the racket, offered a generous ten gold pieces to see the sights.
“This is a very special piece of architecture” explained Armand. “In Kassadia, it is considered one of the supreme examples of military architecture, a reference to all architects like my companions.”
The guard seemed doubtful, but the gold pieces were real, and there were ten of them.
“I guess you – you can come in. Just stick with me, and don’t go off on your own.”
They checked out the arches and vaults amidst a lot of oohs and aahs, until the guard was bored.
“This – this is my favourite column!” enthused Lafadriel. “See the weight. The proportions. The exquisite segmentation.”
Finally, the bored fellow let them descend into the courtyard at the base of the tower, and asked them to call if they needed anything. Seeing that the coast was clear, Armand removed the brick from the wall niche they were looking for, and retrieved a small package.
“Let’s get going” nodded Armand, hiding the contents under his clothes before they called for the guard to let them out.
|Day 35 at night|
In the waning hours of the day, Drolhaf went to visit the small plaza just below Hightowne to case Tomurgen’s house. There he found a cheerful two-story house with a peaked roof. A cobbler’s shop, Vilmor’s Boots occupied the lower floor, and two guards barred the way leading to the upper one. Drolhaf entered the store, greeting the cobbler.
“I wasn’t looking for boots right now, my good man, although I plan to buy a pair some day. I left something at Tomurgen’s, and can’t retrieve it due to the guards.”
Vilmor shook his head. “You are out of luck. Since Tomurgen died without a known heir, his place has been sealed up until further notice. His belongings will be moved to the palace, and there you may requisition your property if it can be proven to be yours.”
“That’s horrible! It was a precious object, the statuette of a cat.”
“A cat? That’s strange; I remember it well, but I remember when it was already in Tomurgen’s possession when I was a tot, and just learning the first things about boots.”
“Oh... that’s right. It was my father’s gift to the gentle soul, before he was slain by Skarlog Thane.”
The cobbler studied Drolhaf with a look of suspicion. “Still, it can’t be helped – you will have to wait your turn and ask at the palace.”
The Northman left the dim shop deep in thought, taking a good look at the guards’ position and the building’s layout before he turned and made for the Inn where the rest of the company was waiting.
Meanwhile, Armand laid out the tools found in the package. There was a good pouchful of coarse dust, multiple sawblades, and a strong, neatly coiled leather string. They discussed a few plans for breaking into Tomurgen’s, considering whether they should involve Harrgon Torsk or not. In the end, they chose to go their separate ways and meet at the appointed hour after midnight.
The marketplace was mostly empty this time of the night, except for the beggars huddled around the column with the statue. As Lafadriel Hundertwasser sat down to play a slow tune, and act as a lookout, Drolhaf Haffnarskørung, Drusus the Historian and Armand the Scumbag converged on the house from three directions. They stopped in the shadows, looking around to see if anyone was following them. They could hear drunken singing, and they withdrew, only Armand staying in sight. It was the cobbler, obviously wasted, pointing at the silent figure before him.
“H-heeeyyy! Wh-what’s with you there, in the shadows? What are ya tailing me for? Cat got your tongue? Come out, come out, whoever you are!”
Armand pretended to stumble forward, and greeted the man jovially: “Oh, it is you! I’m going back down for a little more of the fun – care to come? Ah, going to sleep already? This is your house, can’t miss it. Ask the guards.”
When Vilmor was gone, and had finished quarrelling with the sentries before the house and slamming the lower door behind himself, Armand looked around and gestured. Drolhaf stepped close to the wall while Drusus spoke magical words, and soon, the Northman noiselessly levitated up on the roof. He slowly crept over the shingles, finding the hatch he was looking for. Carefully, he lifted it, and noiselessly hopped inside an attic filled with junk and bales of dusty old cloth. He looked around, and quickly found a trapdoor further down. Descending slowly, he heard a wooden board creak noisily before his feet, and he froze in cold sweat.
“Did you hear something?” the guard’s noise in the street was as if it had come from right next to him.
“Nah... musta been the cobbler, tossing in his sleep.”
“If I could have a good stiff drink...”
“Me too, mee too.”
Drolhaf exhaled sharply, and went to work on Tomurgen’s door. He snapped off the seal impressed with the prince’s crown, opened up the lock with a few twists of his tools, and took a step into the lonely room that had been the bard’s apartment. A collection of musical instruments next to a mirror, a heart-shaped silver box, a wardrobe, and the brass statuette of a cat, sitting on a mantelpiece across Tomurgen’s cushioned chair. Drolhaf quickly checked the writing desk, finding no papers, just an open inkwell with dry ink in it, and a quill tossed to the side. The wardrobe held old-fashioned clothes, some male and some female, while there was nothing under the bed. The Northman thought for a while. Was he missing something? Unable to think of anything else, he grabbed the Seeing Cat, and left very, very carefully, avoiding every suspicious board and step.
Back in their rented room, the Seeing Cat was laid on a table, a heavy brass statuette whose making betrayed origins in the southern lands beyond Kassadia and its empire.
“How do we make it speak?” asked Armand. “What if... Cat! Show us what we have to see, show us your master’s demise!”
The statuette remained silent. They looked it, and finally, without a clue, they ventured out into the night again, to visit Zaloxen’s store of curiosities, hoping he’d be of help.
|The Seeing Cat|
Zaloxen, stooped and seemingly irritated by their intrusion, finally agreed to examine the piece for 200 gold pieces. He bid them wait while he carried it off to a curtained-off room, but soon returned smiling, suspiciously quickly.
“Your donation is very much appreciated. You have to look into the statuette’s eyes. You are welcome.”
As Zaloxen shuffled off to work on one of his nightly experiments, they could at last dig into the secrets of the strange witness. They looked deep into the crystalline orbs, seeing a scene unfold in complete silence within the old bard’s rented room. Tomurgen was sitting in his cushioned chair, listening intently to a man before him.
“Filodont!” Armand hissed as the wizard straightened his weather-worn hat. “And that’s Zelmaron next to him?”
“Looks like the description. And look – Lizadorn the hobbitess.”
Tomurgen’s silent lips said something, and his gestures indicated something he didn’t know, or didn’t want to tell. Filodont drew back in an accusatory manner. There was a sudden movement in the room, barely possible to make out what exactly happened, and another figure stepped forward from behind the plush chair as Tomurgen’s body slumped forward, bleeding profusely with a stab wound. A crazed-looking dwarf wiped his sword on one of the curtains.
“And that – that’s Brondur the Dwarf.”
“No mistaking him.”
The eyes went dark, but just as they were ready to put them back in their equipment, another scene unfolded in the crystalline gaze. This time, the room was empty save for Tomurgen himself, light streaming through the gaps of the window shutters. The bard was lost in deep thought, pacing up and down in the room. He walked over to the writing desk, and quickly jotted down a few lines on a piece of paper. Suddenly, he spun around, peering in the door’s direction. He mouthed two words, and tiptoed over to the wall mirror, pushing it aside to reveal a hidden cavity. He placed the folded note inside, replaced the mirror where it was, and made for the door.
“And what is this scene?”
Under the Seeing Cat’s gaze, they could barely make out a darkened room. All was motionless for a while, then someone indistinct came into view, and carefully looked around the room before he started methodologically searching around.
Drolhaf was the first to break the silence: “We already know that story. The cat has told us what we need.”
“Go back there? That’s pushing it!” warned Lafadriel Hundertwasser.
But Drolhaf was adamant. “Nevertheless, something is in there, and it is important. They will remove the mirror, find the hiding place, and we will never know what’s on it. Come on. This is our one chance, and the night is still not over.”
This time, the night was completely silent, even the guards before Tomurgen’s had run out of things to talk about. Now, it was Armand who climbed the rooftop (without a levitation spell), and silently tiptoed downstairs. He almost stepped into the dead minstrel’s room, but halted and listened. The door was open a little. Had Drolhaf left it that way to make less noise? No, no… Drolhaf was no idiot. He lifted his crossbow and pushed open the door, stepping forward to catch his invisible opponent by surprise. He felt a shove, and a tight string winding around his neck, a dark cloaked form struggling to suffocate him. He felt faint, and fought as he could, but the man was stronger, and slowly squeezing the air out of his lungs. He kicked in vain, but only managed to kick over a hooded lantern, lighting the carpets on fire. In desperation, Armand reached for the pouch of dust from the old man’s stash, and pushed it into his attacker’s face. There was coughing, spitting and cursing, while Armand used the element of surprise, and threw his attacker off balance, winding his own garrotte around the neck. They fought, Armand going for the kill and the man trying to escape, but Armand proved stronger, and the assassin’s struggles ceased.
The apartment was starting to burn now, and outside, the guards were fully alerted.
“Something’s up there!”
“Guards! Guards!” Drolhaf called out from the side street. “Some people are fighting down in the marketplace!”
The two guards, recognising the obvious lie, snarled and ran for Drolhaf, as Drusus the Historian stepped forward and spoke the syllables of a spell. A cone of rainbow colours shot from his fingers, hitting the guards and Drolhaf alike straight in the face and putting them to sleep. Meanwhile, in the house, taking advantage of the distraction, Armand swiftly retrieved the note from behind the mirror, quickly dropped a small harp for Lafadriel inside his sack, picked up the heart-shaped silver box on his way out, and finally pulled the string from around the dead man’s neck before stepping back out of the smoke-filled room.
“Some harp you brought!” complained Lafadriel Hundertwasser. “It has the Prince’s dedication carved into it – ‘To my valued friend, Tomurgen: Lodovico’. If I start playing this one, I’ll soon be in prison.”
“You can go back if you like,” grumbled Armand, but he was much more interested in the piece of paper. It was a folded scrap. On one side, a simple phrase, written in obvious haste: “The black dog runs at night.” On the reverse, a short poem:
“Mountains’ heart, forest-hidden light / Two stone peaks and a third will show its proper site / It lies in the dreamer’s lap, secret hiding place / A deceitful flame marks it, bygone mirage lays.”
“Mountains, huh?” Drolhaf pondered the text. “That cluster of peaks next to Sleepy Haven looks very suspicious on our map. But first, we should take this to Lady Callodric.”
In the dawn, the company was awakened by Grindragon’s knocking. The dwarf was panting, and visibly disturbed.
“You must go at once. A house has been lit on fire and the guards are looking for you, Drolhaf. They will be here any minute. Get out while you still can.”
“Quick!” snapped Armand, asking for a pair of shears. He cut Drolhaf’s beard as quickly and neatly as he could under the circumstances, and asked Lafadriel Hundertwasser for his cloak. “Now, walk with a stoop, like an old man – like that!”
They snuck down the stairs, slipping out through the kitchen just as a contingent of watchmen showed up at the Inn’s front door. The streets were still mostly empty in the early morning, but this did not make the way to Lady Callodric’s mansion any more pleasant. Were strangers watching them? Waiting for the chance to run for the guards and make a report? It was a relief when they got to the mansion door and Harkell the Butler let them in.
|Day 36 - Leaving Baklin|
The lady joined them in a minute, and listened intently as they described the developments.
“We have brought you something important, but not the cargo you were looking for.”
“So the paintings on the wooden panels are still missing?”
Armand nodded: “We are afraid so. It seems that Gamandor, the captain of the guard has them.”
“More than that. We have reason to believe he is controlling the assassins who have attacked us again and again in town. Last night, I had to kill one of them with his own strangling chord, after a dreadful struggle.”
It was Drolhaf’s turn to speak, and he outlined the similarities between Tomurgen’s message and the cluster of mountains to the south. “Maybe we should go seek it out and see what we find. This could be the key to many mysteries.”
“Those mountains have a mysterious reputation” agreed Lady Callodric. “And it is better if you are gone from Baklin for a while. I will help you get out. But we will also have to figure a way to relay messages. Where can we make contact?”
“Send your messages to Haghill, addressed to The Friends of Gadur Yir, at the Dancing Basilisk. That will be the best.”
“Very well. I wish you good luck on your quest. Harkell will take you to the harbour now.”
The way down to the piers was tortuous. Every fisherman and housewife looked like a lurking spy, every drunken sailor a snitch. Their best fears were confirmed when Drolhaf felt a tug on his pants, and saw a dirty little ragamuffin with his hand outstretched.
“Uncle! Uncle! Give me two gold pieces!”
“I will give you something worse if you don’t scram.”
“If you give me two gold pieces, I won’t cry out, and won’t tell the other Uncles.”
Drolhaf, white with rage at the nerve, reached into his pocket and handed the kid the gold pieces in humiliation.
“If only I’m going to meet him again, I’ll split him from the neck to the gullet!”
“Relax, Drolhaf. He is just a kid with a good line.”
“If he wants to play the adults’ game, he should play the adults’ game.”
They continued down to the dock, avoiding a group of guards strolling on the waterfront. Harkell pointed towards a large sailing boat, ready to sail out: “That is your vessel. Fresh horses will be waiting for you down the coast.”
Thanking Harkell, they walked down the pier, and greeted the fisherman and his son, who helped them onboard. Drolhaf sighed in relief as they pulled up the sails and uncoupled the rope.
“Tell me,” he asked the older man, “What is down the coast? Here, on this map – next to this group of mountains.”
“That coast has a bad repute,” the fellow puffed on his pipe. “There be a lighthouse, but still many ships have been lost to the reefs.”
“A lighthouse, huh. A tower, that’s almost like a third stone peak. Very interesting. You look like a man who knows the sea. Will you take us down to this place?”
“I was told to put you on shore near the forests, not far from Baklin.”
“Never you mind that, the plans have changed. We will pay you handsomely.”
“As you’d like, Sir. The reefs are bad, but I’ll manage, during the day.”
Baklin’s white walls and red rooftops receded, and Drolhaf leaned against the cabin to enjoy the sun, but he was rudely awakened by an unpleasant call.
“Uncle! Uncle! Give me two more gold pieces!”
Drolhaf’s eyes popped open, and he found himself face to face with the dirty kid, grinning ear to ear.
“Why, you little-- “ he snarled. Phil the Terror of Turkeys bowed before Drolhaf.
“Thank you for your gracious donation. I had to work hard to keep you safe on the way, so I’ll accept it with gratitude. I must say... you weren’t very stealthy at the old minstrel’s house. Not to mention that thing in the alley. Also...”
Drolhaf just spat sourly, and returned to his rest.
“Also, what about the heart-shaped box? Open it! Open it!”
Armand opened his knapsack and retrieved the silver container. There was no key, but it opened to a little manipulation. Inside, it contained a lock of blond hair, a medallion depicting a smiling, middle-aged noblewoman and inscribed with the name “Arkella”, and a small bundle. Opening the package, Armand unfolded a pair of silk panties.
“That must be Princess Arkella, Prince Lodovic’s wife!”
“Is Arkella a common name in this area?”
There was no answer to the question.
|Towards the mountains|
A day passed, followed by a restless night on board the fishing boat. The next morning, they sailed into a maw-shaped bay surrounded by walls of natural rock. Waves broke on massive, teeth-shaped shoals. High above, a massive stone tower jutted out from above the escarpment.
“Yup, I see a path up there... narrow and treacherous, but it leads up there all right. Put us ashore here.”
The fisherman obeyed, and they said farewell before climbing up the steep path. The tower, a bare structure with a fortified out-building attached to it, rose lonely on the heath. They approached the metal door, and called for someone, then, when no answer came, banged on the entrance. At last, there were shuffling steps, and heavy bolts slid aside. Peering out of the doorway’s gap was a dishevelled-looking old man, all stubble and bloodshot eyes, with liquor on his breath.
“Sorry for disturbing. We are looking for directions. Do you know this area?”
“Eh, I was just getting up. Come on in if you’d like,” the man gestured inside, showing a bare room with a cot, a table, a stove and some rough chairs. “My name be Skeg the Keeper, caretaker at this lighthouse.”
“Nice to meet you, Skeg.”
“I don’t have much to give ya. The supplies always be late, but I got some meat, beer and tobacco.”
“Try this,” Armand handed some of his tobacco to the man. “Straight from Baklin.”
They lit a pipe, and Skeg, now a little less gloomy, told them about the tower, an old structure once used as a garrison, and now as a ships’ guide. He was retired here, not the best way of living, but better than many in Baklin. He had little knowledge of the mountains except that they had an ill reputation. He led them up to the beacon, passing by massive, locked iron doors that looked like they have not been opened since those garrison days, and let them around a small gallery.
“Those to the south are the Hills of Sibirk. Strange fellows there, but they pass by here now and then when they go sell their furs in town. The Wulhaf homestead, they call themselves.”
“Have you seen anything interesting around here?”
“One time, I think I saw a rock move on that distant mountainside over there. But I could never make out any of it.”
“What about a deceitful flame?”
“Nah. ...are you talking about this here lighthouse? Now listen, just because some idiots sink when they come close to shore despite the warning light, that’s not the keeper’s fault! Sure, the catch is good, but what good is it if you go down with it into the drink?”
“We weren’t accusing you.”
Skeg shrugged, and they went downstairs. Lacking food for the road, they gave him a generous ten gold pieces for ten food rations and some wine, parting to head towards the dense forests at the base of the mountains.
(Session date 27 August 2017).
Drusus the Historian, dripping with water: “The grand master of sailing found us a leaky boat.”
Lafadriel Hundertwasser: “My whole wealth amounts to 25 gold pieces, but at least the light of the stars is mine.”
Someone: “Have the mugs been cleaned?”
Lafadriel Hundertwasser: “When the world was young...”
“My god is Erdogan... no, Edoran!”
“We could have at least found some treasure.”
“We have a pair of silk panties!”
This session (an extra-long one on the terrace of my weekend house) was pretty successful, all things considered. The characters were clearly running out of time and the net was slowly closing around them, which made for a choice between pursuing Lady Callodric’s lost cargo, or making a grab for the secrets in Tomurgen’s sealed apartment, which the characters got to, even if a little clumsily. (But silly mistakes are part and parcel in a game where everyone is talking simultaneously, and some clues inevitably fail to reach the players.)
Hector the Peddler’s appearance looks a feels a lot like a targeted info-dump, but actually, he appeared on a random 1:6 roll, and when the players grilled him, he just happened to meet that 1:6 chance of actually knowing a lot about Filodont and his companions. Sometimes, even real life feels like the GM is handing out plot hooks. Sometimes, you are lucky. And nothing proves that better than the trial before the Captain’s Council (jumped over here), which went surprisingly well. Or suspiciously well?
In any case, this was it in Baklin for a while. Next time, we will see what lies up those mountains.