Zal, 8th day of Relen, 737AO
It started with the fires. Seemingly isolated and random crop-burnings coming up to harvest time, all within roughly twenty-two miles of Olari. Locals thought the incidences were unrelated, if they thought of them at all – bumpkin farmers settling old or new grudges. Baetur Ethiri, the chief alderman of Olari, through there may be more to it, and so he set about putting together a small group of investigators.
‘Mad’ Mardigan, a sometime mercenary and professional drinker and womaniser, and his compatriot, Emlyn Moss, had run afoul of some of the local tavern owners (and in Mardigan’s case, some of the local husbands). In exchange for a suspended sentence – and a small measure of the King’s coin – they were to head the investigation into the fires.
Durul, scion of the family Haulandul, seeks to raise his family’s profile in the region. Refugees from the civil war in Tacre, the family migrated to Fiahawn, bringing with them what of their fortune they could transport on the dangerous passage to their new home. Now Durul slaves tirelessly to establish the name of Haulandul among the great houses of his adopted home.
The fourth (and fifth) of the party’s number, Arthur Chaulak, came to Olari as an orphan of the Tacrean civil war, tending the horses and livestock in the Haulandul caravan. Alone and lonely, he’s found a place in the household of Mother Falkae, the proprietress of the Unbridled Mare inn and patron saint of lost souls, where he works as a stable boy. His trusty companion, Holdfast (a dog of various heritage), has been a constant companion since the big-pawed mutt pup adopted the slip of a boy on Arthur’s third day in the town (dogs don’t care if you have no money and stutter sometimes). The two are inseparable.
Gathered in Alderman Ethiri’s office, the older man explained the situation; while crop fires were nothing new, and could often be put down to lightning strikes of a drunken prank, these fires were too frequent to be accidental, and too seemingly random to not be by purpose. Nor does it seem to be a concerted effort to destroy the region’s grain production, the damage already done may affect prices. No, there is some thing thus far hidden. The true cause of these fires needs to be investigated.
The townsman is looking for a few clever folk to take on this small job. For Mardigan and Emlyn, this will provide the opportunity to repay Ethiri’s intercession on their behalf with the circuit magistrate – and earn a modest purse for their trouble. For Durul, it offers an opportunity to learn more of the region, maybe to develop contacts – always useful for a mercantile family – and perhaps to even ascribe some good deeds to the Haulandul name.
A mysterious stranger
Every member of the group has come into contact with the mysterious, well-but-practically-dressed Ethelo Lathava. Noticing that the attentions of the Unbridled Mare’s resident Nelly, the curvaceous Betty Shargo, were all for the new pretty boy, Mardigan tried goad him into a fight, but found him a cagey and temperate foe. When insults failed, Mardigan resorted to physicality in a classic effort to present himself the superior mate to buxom Betty, but succeeded only in convincing the fellow to leave the tavern, while Betty retreated to the kitchen (no more attentions for Mardigan that night).
Durul thought to take the fellow into his employ, but discovered that some loyalties cannot be so easily bought. Emlyn followed Ethelo around the town, form a discrete distance for some time on that first night, and saw him curiously purchase a little straw doll from a vendor late in closing for the night, then later saw him enter a private residence.
Meanwhile Arthur got acquainted with the fellow’s horse, his saddle bags and their contents (including a tasty garlicky sausage that was shared between boy and hound), before both settled in for a restful sleep in a bed of soft straw.