Trouble in Olari

Session 7 – The Map and the Healer
Cena and Fena, 10th and 11th days of Relen

The brook and the cleft

Emlyn knew there would still be a few hours of light. The woodsman reasoned, if people from outside had freely accessed the alveary without being noticed or arousing suspicion, and that if the river had been their point of ingress, then it stood to reason that it may also be their point of egress as well.

After a short discussion with the others, he, Kordan, Arthur and Holdfast leapt into the underground river to see where it would take them. Emlyn’s clever deduction was rewarded when the stream re-emerged beneath a rocky outcrop, about half a mile from the alveary by the road, or four hundred yards as the crow flies. A tiny clearing near the bank of the stream showed signs of people having been there before. As they emerged and began to dry off, Emlyn noticed a cleft in the rocks above the bank. Arthur sent Holdfast to investigate; as the dog looked round, he relayed the smells of wet leather and cloth, stale bread, and recent visitors, now gone.

Emlyn deftly hopped up the scattering of rocks and stones for a closer look. The cleft led to a small cave, quite well hidden from both sight and inclement weather. Inside were some rough travelling clothes, two robes of the kind worn by the acolytes in the alveary, a small pack with some dried fish and hard bread, and – most interestingly – a wax-waterproofed leather case, cylindrical, about fourteen inches in length.

An examination of the scroll-case back in Brother Mautun’s office revealed a map of northern Fiahawn, rendered in the typical reddish-brown ink used for such things. Olari, Kaulde, the capital Ethamir, and many of the smaller towns and villages were marked with a purplish ink; different symbols next to the different towns and villages, some indicating unspecified points on the map. Durul, who had the most experience with maps, was the first to notice the five-pointed star indicating the site of the Welangur’s farm, the stylised willow-branch used to signify the profession of medicas, next to the octothorpe marking Tuin, and the tiny anvil-shape next to the two concentric squares marking the position of Olari. The murderers had been in all these places. There were other markings next to other towns and villages, including one Durul didn’t recognise, next to Fiahawn’s capital,

There was nothing that could be done about this tonight though, for already the moons were beginning to chase one another across the darkening sky. Mautun offered the party quarters for the evening in the visitants’ wing, wine, fresh bread and a good hearty stew. He assured them that the miscreant would be watched day and night, saying he hoped to be able to turn the young man’s mind from the malicious path on which he had hereto been set.

The walk to Tuin

After some discussion the party’s next actions were decided. Cade would remain at the Tethus Alveary with the Errinirl, Mautun to care for Bald Shulaur; when he was well enough to leave, the apothecary would join ride to Olari to join the party. The rest would return to Tuin, gather their things and settle accounts, and ride that day to Olari to report to the Alderman (and hopefully gather some reward).

The walk to Tuin from the Alveary was uneventful. Fearing some kind of malfeasance, the prisoner was gagged for the journey.

Upon reaching the town, the party broke up. Mardigan found a bar serving ale to early-comers, keeping the prisoner with him. Durul stayed close to keep an eye on Mardigan. Emlyn, as was his habit, took a slow ride around the town, seeking the likely points of egress and hiding places for folk wishing not to be observed in their comings and goings. Kordan, Art and Holdfast went looking for the draicrafter signified on the map.

Kordan and Arthur followed the instructions the inn-keeper to find the medica that appeared to be marked on the Judgement map. When a young woman came to the door, Arthur haltingly explained the reason for their visit. “We are convinced that you are in danger if you stay here. Come with us to Olari. My friends will protect you.” The young woman, Baila, agreed to come, spent a few minutes gathering some clothes and provisions for the journey and making arrangements with her assistant, a crone who was preparing a poultice in the kitchen, and went with Kordan and Arthur, Holdfast trailing behind, wary and alert.

Baila’s horse was quartered at the Silver Barrow also. As the three (and Holdfast) made their way back to the inn, Emlyn was rousing Maridgan to his feet to prepare for the ride bck to Olari

The ride to Olari

About three miles from town our weary travellers were brought to pause by a man in tattered finery standing in the middle of the road. Mardigan, who was leading the party, signalled for the others to come to a halt.

“Good afternoon,” the man in the road said. “You would do my colleagues and I a great service if you would kindly relieve yourselves of any cumbersome burdens you may have upon you person, particularly those of a monetary nature.” He indicated to a man on one side of the road, holding a sword and then to a shadowy figure among the trees on the other side – sunlight just catching the tip of an arrow.

Mardigan became surly; “What business have you stopping traffic on the king’s road. Be off with you,” he said, and spurred his horse. Then everything happened very quickly; Durul led Baila at a charge past the swordsman at as much distance as the road allowed, but the swordsman had other things to occupy his mind. Keeping his horse between the others and the swordsman, Mardigan rode the well-dressed man down, deftly fainting and dodging a swipe of the man’s sword, and bringing the pummel of his own blade down upon the man’s head as he passed. An arrow flew passed Emlyn’s face. In a single movement Arthur ordered Holdfast off his pony and charged into the forest like Man of War, crashing through the underbrush and causing the archer to flee in terror, dropping his bow. Holdfast was keen to give chase but Arthur called his faithful companion back to him. Fearing this was an ambush set by the Criminals they’d been pursuing, Emlyn, kept this horse between the second swordsman and the prisoner, drew his sword and with an intent look, kept the other swordsman at bay; seeing the fate of his cohort, the other man lost any heart for a fight, dropped his weapon and fled into the forest.

When the others reached him Mardigan turned his horse around, and went back to find the crowned brigand still unconscious in the road, but alive nonetheless. IT was the work of but a few minutes to bind his hands and feet and place him over the back of his sturdy horse.

A meeting with the Alderman

The party returned to Olari without further incident. Their first stop was the Chief Alderman’s office. On their arrival, a town sergeant was called for to deal with the prisoners. A full report was given of the events of the last few days; Durul spoke for the group, but Alderman Ethiri quizzed the others on particular points. Durul had presented the map to Ethiri on arrival, and presently his assistant returned with it, having noted the nature of symbols and their locations. Ethiri, having heard their report, was uncomfortable offering any explanation of the map; he said only that he suspected its purpose but wished to hear the council of others before committing to the path his thought would lead him upon.

Ethiri recommended a visit to Alang Baetur, hoping he may have some further insight onto this perplexing string of events.

Session 6 – Some questions answered, though more raised
Cena, 10th day of Relan (late afternoon)

It had been about forty minutes since the others had entered the alveary. From his vantage point outside the alveary’s entrance, Emlyn glanced around the ridges to either side of the trail. That’s when he saw the movement, below the ridgeline, near the path that he and the others had taken an hour earlier. Whoever it was, they weren’t taking a lot of care to stay hidden. They sauntered along the natural path of rock strata, heading toward… no, heading passed the alveary. Emlyn made up his mind to follow the figure, if just to satisfy himself that they had no connection to the investigation at hand. Emlyn began the short climb up the embankment to the flatter ground above the tree-line.

Concluding their discussion with Mautun, the party agreed on a course of action. Mautun would lead Durul and Mardigan on a tour of the alveary, giving the men an opportunity to look for familiar faces or anything that may seem out of place. Cade and Kordan would go first to the kitchens, then to visit the Bald on the order of Mautun himself.

Cade and Kordan made their way to the kitchen, a large room with a huge table set in the middle, workbenches and shelves all along the walls to each side, and a huge hearth at the far end, which was currently only lit at one end, below an enormous cantilevered stewing pot. A dozen people, mostly men, busied themselves pealing and chopping vegetables or tending the stewing pot of the baker’s oven built into the stone wall to the right. They asked questions of several acolytes working in the kitchen, learning little – the Bald takes his meals in his room, being too weak to come down to eat with the others in the refectory for several weeks; a different acolyte goes to visit the Bald with each meal, depending on who is rostered to the kitchen detail at the time.

The acolyte they had been questioning asked if Cade and Kordan were hungry (for, to be sure, the aromas of simmering stew and fresh bread played upon their gnawing stomachs. The two looked at each other; if they were to investigate the possibility of poison, surely they should also investigate the potential delivery mechanism of such a thing.

In moments they were brought stools and a corner of the long workbench was cleared for them. The simple stew and barley loaf tasted like mana from the ancient gods.

When the reduced party reached the atrium on their guided tour of the alveary, Art and Holdfast peeled off and headed for the stables. The others barely noticed their departure, let alone the few residents going about their business. In the stables were three horses. These were all sluggish and slow of thought, but well-tended and in good health, if having seen their prime. As Holdfast investigated the surrounds, Art gained the trust of the animals, speaking in soothing tones, first with his voice, then with his thoughts. If the horses were aware of the subtle transition, they didn’t signify.

By the time he reached the stone flat above the alveary, Emlyn’s quarry was nowhere to be seen. But he had left a clear trail. Either this fellow had done nothing and had nothing to hide, or he was the most careless criminal Emlyn had ever come across.

The trail seemed to lead to a small copse of trees nestled in a valley behind the alveary. The perfect place for a hidden entry-way into the structure, Emlyn thought warily to himself. The perfect place for an ambush as well.

After the guest quarters – where the party would stay the night if they accepted the hospitality of their host, Mautun assured them – and the cloister, the master took Durul and Mardigan to view the Library, the laundry, which also housed a water-wheel and drawing well for the alveary’s fresh water needs, being built over an underground river, some of the acolytes’ cells and the refectory, where meals were enjoyed communally.

The Errinirl was taking them along a narrow passage toward the testing rooms, when Mardigan noticed a particularly narrow staircase. He asked where it lead. ‘To the observatory. It’s rarely used these days, I believe. Stellographers prefer to study at Tadryofi…’ Durul cut him off mid-sentence.

‘Would you mind if we had a look for ourselves?’

The trail left by the mystery figure lead clearly to the tree-line of the little valley copse. Emlyn reched this point, reluctant to go into an unknown situation alone, when he saw movement at the far end of the stone expanse; One, two figures emerging from what must have been some kind of hatch. The first was something he’d never seen before, but had certainly heard stories of – a giant lizard, taller than the other two figures. He immediately recognised the other figures as Mardigan and Durul. Silently Emlyn signalled the two. Durul saw the signal first, and silently indicated Emlyn’s direction to Mardigan. The big man wasted no time, silently vaulting the low wall around the observatory and making his way carefully but quickly to his compatriot.

‘Please wait here, Master,’ Durul said to Mautun. Was that a look of bemusement flashing across the Errinirl’s face? Durul pondered this as he more cautiously pick his way over the wall and to the point where the other two stood.

Emlyn explained the situation, mentioning that the fellow he tracked couldn’t be more than about five or six minutes ahead of them, and with weapons drawn, the three followed the trail into the copse. It lead down a well-worn path, about two hundred yards, stopping at a stream. That is, stopping where the stream stopped. It hit a stone face and, churning, disappeared. The pieces fell together for Mardigan almost immediately. He looked at Durul and simply said, ‘The laundry’, and he was off.

Durul explained the situation to Emlyn. The woodsman handed the merchant his bow and small pack. ‘Get back there and make sure he doesn’t get away,’ he said, and plunged into the frothing water.

Having eaten and learned all they were likely to in the kitchens, Cade and Kordan accompanying a young acolyte to the cell of the alveary’s Bald, Shalaur. The old man lay quite still, not quite asleep, but barely conscious. Cade tested the water, the food, sniffed the stale air of the cell, and examined the few piece of simple furniture that decorated the otherwise unadorned room. Satisfied that no poison was at play, he allowed Kordan to approach. The scruffy hermit bent low over the Bald’s cot, seeming to murmur something in the old man’s ear. Then he suddenly stood upright, wrenching the pillow from beneath the invalid’s head. “Here’s the culprit!” Kordan declared smugly.

As it happened, strips of a soft root had been hidden in the old man’s pillow. The root contains a poison, most commonly boiled out and reduced to a paste, but still potent if shaved and the vapours inhaled over time. Farmers in some regions have used it for centuries to end the suffering of diseased animals (and the odd relative), Kordan explained; the removal of the pillow should bring about an improvement in Shalaur’s condition almost immediately.

Mardigan leapt over the observatory wall, and flew down the stairs, up the corridor and passed the kitchen toward the laundry. Running in, he saw three acolytes working troughs and wringers, nobody wet above the sleeves. Turning back across the plank bridge that joined the laundry to the rest of the underground structure, he saw what he’d missed in is rush; splash and drip-marks on the planning, fresh as if he’d made them himself.

A splashing sound caught his attention and he ran to the other side of the bridge. Half expecting another miscreant, he instead found Emlyn hanging on to a wooden strut. Proof of concept. He laughed as he effortlessly pulled his friend out of the water.

‘We’ve got him,’ Mardigan said, grinning like a child and pointing to the trail of watery drip-marks on the stone floor, leading to the row of acolytes’ cells. With the ends of the corridor blocked by Emlyn to the north and Arthur and Holdfast to the south, a systematic examination of the cells by Durul and Mardigan flushed out a young acolyte, wet and shivering, but managing to maintain a defiant air.

Once seated and tied down to a chair, the boy’s resolve began to crumble. He was approached by a visiting fellow several months earlier, who explained to him the true nature of nevena and the terrible and wilful damage those that practiced hedge magics visited upon it. He told the young acolyte of a movement to cleanse the whole of Eyliarenn from their destructive influence. Then he said, “Soon Fiahawn’s rivers will run red with the blood of the apostates and the land will be cleansed in the Judgement.”

He admitted to taking part in the murder of the Welangurs. For this he exhibited no remorse; “They were draicrafter scum – of course they had to die.” He said that this was the only action he had been involved in.

Shalaur was not supposed to get sick – “that was never the plan,” he said. Shalaur was a good teacher, if somewhat misguided about the ways of nevena, the threat posed by the draicrafters. He felt no animosity toward the old man, but if he died it will have been in the cause of something greater than any one person.

Deciding that he had nothing further to say, misguided boy clammed shut. Mardigan offered to loosen his tongue with a little time alone with the boy, but at Mautun’s entreaty, Durul cooled the enthusiasm of the fighter. Given his involvement in the murder of the Welangurs, the party would take him to Olari, eventually to stand trial.

Session 5 – Tethus Alveary
Cena, 10th day of Relan (afternoon)

Looking out over the ridge, our heroes could make out the roofs and walls of the Tethus Alveary. Of the group, only Durul had even heard of it, knowing or knowing of a half-dozen scions of well-born families to have studies there. A winding trail led from a small marshalling yard before the great oak doors of the alveary, presumably down through the hills to the road to Tuin.

Holdfast barked, then Art told the others to duck down – there was movement on the road. Another minute and two figures came into view in the odd clearances among the foliage. As the figures approached the party could make out an unlikely looking couple – on the left a well-dressed, immaculately groomed young man, (if a little dust-weathered from the road), while the figure beside him was anything but; the older man’s hair and beard were matted, while his threadbare robes looked as If they could well make the journey on their own. Durul recognised the well-dressed man – Cade Thorngage, a young fellow of another alveary who had in the past supplied alchemical services to his family.

The older man was known to Art from his time working in the Unbridled Mare. His name was Kordan Meth , a hermit for the most part, he would sometimes wander into Olari. Mother Falkae, always something of a soft touch, would offer him a meal and a bed of straw in the stables with young Arthur. Art was fascinated by the scraggly fellow, who told him stories, folktales and forest legends. He loved the tales of heroes partaking quests the best, though he was cautious of the elder’s insistence on the necessity of mushrooms in a healthy diet.

Kordan had made his life a study of the virtues of mushrooms. This had lead him oft-times into reclusiveness and hermitage, which in turn had the effect of dulling his social graces. In spite of this, he was sometimes sought out by herbalists, apothecaries and scholars for his encyclopaedic knowledge of fungi. It was said that wherever he laid to sleep, within a winter tops would sprout.

Cade had business in the alveary’s library, while the others settled on their accompanying Durul on his own visit due to the dangers on the roads. Durul was looking for a place to send his brother, a wastrel and layabout, for what he referred to as a comprehensive education. This wasn’t too far from the truth; after a purchased commission had been dismissed by Durul’s father – ‘What army would take the fool’ – the only real option left was an education in a closed community, which, it was hoped almost beyond hope, would provide Durul’s sibling with some focus and interest outside his own inherent vices.

The party decided it would be best for somebody to stay outside of the alveary to watch for any comings or goings. Never truly comfortable in cramped buildings, as this one was sure to be. He found a comfortable position obscured but with good views all round, and the others made their way to the end of the canyon and the alveary’s entrance.

Mardigan was about to knock on the iron-bound oak door with the butt of his sword hilt, but Cade stopped his hand. Instead felt the door, then tapped part-way to the left from the middle, about head height. After a long minute a small hatch-door, previously unseen opened within the main door. A voice from within demanded to know the visitors’ intentions. After relating their stories, the voice bid them come inside.

The voice belonged to the gatekeeper (as he introduced himself). He bid the party wait here – an open area like a large atrium, with stables built nearby – while he took word to the Master. In less than five minutes he was back. The master would see them, he said. Cade thought it unusual that a master was the first to see visitors to the alveary, but perhaps they just did things differently in the East.

The gatekeeper lead the party through the labyrinthine passages of the alveary, turning this way and that until any sense of a true north was forsaken. Coming to a larger than normal door, set ajar, the gatekeeper stopped.

‘Master Mautun will see you in here,’ he said, a little stiffly. Durul was suddenly aware of something that had played at the edges of his consciousness – the old man was annoyed; obviously this was not how things were normally done around here. He slipped their guide a thripney piece and thanked him warmly for his trouble. The gatekeeper flushed, not used to being thanked, Durul thought.

The party made their way into the darkened room, and a cloaked figure gestured vaguely to a seating bench. This should be interesting, Cade thought to himself.

The party sat, except for Mardigan, who stood at the end of the bench closest to the door. The cloaked figure spoke without turning. ‘Thank you for meeting in this unorthodox manner. Please allow me to offer my apologies for not extending the normal formalities of hospitality first, but I believe there is much to discuss.

‘I must also apologise on behalf of my friend, the Bald Shalaur, who presides over this alveary. He has taken sick and is too weak to see visitors; so here I am in his place…’

As he spoke he turned. From beneath the cowl protruded a short snout, grey in colour. A long tale slid like a serpent around the stool as the Master moved around. Mautun lowered his cowl, revealing his bald, scaled head and midnight blue eyes. He was Errinirl. A couple of the party felt a slight nausea at the sight of the reptilian master, their discomfort written on their faces, but nobody stirred, except for Mardigan, whose right hand went from resting on is knife pummel to the sword hilt at his left hip.

Durul gathered his wits first. Signalling Mardigan to stay his hand, he addressed the master; ‘Please forgive our reaction to you, master,’ he said, gesturing to the others. ‘None of us have ever encountered an Errinirl before, in the flesh, so to speak.’

The lizard-kin gave Durul an inscrutable look. ‘It is I who should apologise,’ he said. ‘Most of my days are spent within the walls of one or another of these places of learning, where one of my race is not an uncommon sight. I sometimes forget how those of your people sometimes react to our… appearance.’ His voice trailed off, as if distracted. A moment’s pause and he stood, moving off the low stage on which he had sat, and toward the party.

Cade addressed the master, asking if a scented candle would not be welcome if introductions were to be made and discussions were to be had. Mautun nodded assent and said, ‘thank you, Fellow…?’

‘Cade, Master.’ He replied. Cade Thorngage. Late of the Gneynd Alveary in old Chettarn.’

‘Welcome Fellow Cade,’ the Errinirl Said formally, lightly pressing the tips of his fingers together and bowing his head a little. Cade returned the gesture, then went about preparing the candle he had withdrawn from a pocket in his cape. Muttering something under his breath, Cade applied his command of nevena, creating an environment focused around the fragrant candle; any lie uttered would be betrayed by an irritation to the nose, causing the teller to sneeze.

Master Mautun held out a long-fingered hand to each in turn, and greeted them warmly. Durul, unable to help himself, saw the situation as a transaction that would function more smoothly with the application of cash. He made overtures that Mautun politely parried. In Mardigan he recognised a fine warrior and a man of decision and action. In spite of himself, the old soldier felt a small flush of pride as the Errinirl made virtues of what others saw in him as flaws.

When he reached Kordan, he bowed. ‘You are most welcome, benir. It is always an honour to meet with a true seeker.’ Kordan reached into a pocket and popped a dried powdercap into his mouth.

Turning to Arthur, the Errinirl leaned forward and presented his hand to the boy. ‘But to be visited by two seekers is a truly remarkable thing. Welcome benir Arthur. I wish you well on your journey’ Turning slightly, Mautun looked at Holdfast, who looked back, cocking his head. The master extended his hand, below the animal’s snout, and allowed Holdfast to sniff it thoroughly. With a slight wag of his tail, the dog looked up at the master and raised a paw. Mautun took it solemnly.

‘Fellow Cade of Gneynd’ – Mautun struggled a little with the pronunciation of the name – ‘you are an apothecary, yes. I would prevail upon you to look in on Master Shalaur, if you can spare the time. The medicas of this place have done what they can, but that has proven only to make my old friend more comfortable. He is not a young man, but this sickness has come upon him so suddenly, it has transformed him to one who waits for death expectantly.’

Cade measured his words. ‘I would be honoured to see the Bald, and to offer what services I am able.’ He paused before continuing. ‘Forgive my presumption, Master, but the medicas who have seen him already are skilled, I‘m sure. Would there be a particular reason for your entreaty?’

The Errinirl’s head lowered a little, then he motioned wordlessly for Mardigan to close the door. When it was shut, he said in a lowered voice, ‘Shalaur is a vital fellow, older in body but young in mind and in spirit. I believe that whatever infirms his body and clouds his mind is not… not of the natural order.’

‘You suspect poison.’ Kordan made the question into a statement.

The master nodded. He looked at Durul. ‘I believe there are further reasons for your presence here today, also? These times require honest speech among the right-hearted.’ He looked at the others. ‘Let me speak of what I know and what I suspect.’

Mautun knew of the fires, and of the Alderman’s intention to initiate an investigation. He had also heard of the murders – news of that kind always travelled quickly. He suspected that the party was investigating the fires or the murders or both, and he welcomed the news if this proved to be true.

The Errinirl now spoke of what he knew; that Shalaur’s sickness had come on quite suddenly, days before he arrived to visit his old friend. His invitation had come from Shalaur, when he was well. It implied that the Bald thought something was amiss among his charge, but could not fathom the nature of the problem. He sought his old friend’s help to unravel the knotted mystery. Shalaur fell sick about a week after reports of the first fires reached the alveary, and three days before Mautun’s own arrival.

The senior residents of the alveary, a kind of informal advisory council, asked Mautun to take on some of the Bald’s responsibilities until he was well enough to take up the position once more – in the early days everyone was positive he would pull through. Though they had asked him to stay and minister to the alveary, most of the residents didn’t place complete trust in Mautun. Much was held back form him; what precisely he couldn’t say. One thing that had put him on edge was some overheard talk of the Judgement. At the mention of this Cade looked up, something close to shock passing briefly across his face.

Mautun knew whatever was happening to Shalaur would continue so long as this influence remained in the alveary, and may well begin to happen to him as well. He was sure that things were coming to a head, but didn’t know how he could proceed. Mautun said there were a few people he felt he could trust within these walls, but hoped he would find allies in the party.

Durul spoke on behalf of the party, briefly covering the initial investigations, the murders at the Welangur’s farm and the party’s pursuit of the assailants, the confrontation they walked into between Ethelo Lathava (whom Mautun indicated he had met some time ago) and the subsequent pursuit that had lead them to this place.

Out of honesty, accord. On Mautun’s insistence, Kordan would accompany Cade in the visitation of the master, while Mautun would offer a tour of the alveary to the man looking for a suitable position for his brother, and his retinue.

Session 4 – Mysteries revealed / On the trail of a killer
Ces and Cena, 9th and 10th day of Relen

As Durul left the tailor’s shop, Immet Vamethau offered him one last morsel of advice. ‘’There is a trader, a member of the Erindrcathetul folk who live in the forests north-east of here. His name is Haucc. He has one of those incomprehensible woodkin names they have in place of a family name. I’ve done business with him before. He can be surely, but I’ve always found him an honest broker.” Vamethau understood that Haucc arrived in town a couple of days previously (a point that, if true, would put him I the clear of any hands-on involvement in the murders at Welangur farm).

After regrouping at the Unbridled Mare, Durul related all he’d learned from the tailor, Vamethau. The three grown-ups decided to go have a talk to Haucc. Meanwhile Art and Holdfast would follow their own line of enquiry, investigating the stables of the other inns around Olari to see if a horse with a star on his shoulder had lodged the previous night.

Once they reached the market (Emlyn knew the way well), it wasn’t difficult to find the Woodkin trader.
Durul, and Maridgan introduced themselves, while Emlyn hung back, observing. Haucc Wethathalkaba was a tallish, sandy-haired fellow of maybe fifty, with the weathered look of someone who had lived. Mardigan took his measure, concluding he looked like the kind of man who could handle himself in a situation.

Durul began the questioning, but when it became obvious these fellows weren’t buying Haucc became short and dismissive. At least until Durul showed him the cloth. At the sight of it he became indignant, demanding to know where he had obtained the fabric. After some discussion Durul took a different tack, suggesting that the alderman could be involved. “Yes, definitely,” Haucc said. “Ethiri can sort this mess out once and for all.” Not the reaction Durul expected. Haucc took a minute to close his stall and secure the canvas coverings and then the four of them, Haucc, Durul, Emlyn and Mardigan were on their way across the square, heading for the alderman’s office.

It didn’t take Art and Holdfast long to check out the better inns in Olari – besides the Unbridled Mare, there were only four others, and Art was on good terms with the livery tenders at all of them. No sign of the horse they sort, or his rider. Disappointed but unperturbed, the two began to make their way across town to check out the remaining, less salubrious taverns that offered something like livery services, when Holdfast started, then gave Art the impression of the horse with the star on his shoulder, pointing with his nose at three steeds tied at a public water-trough across the road.

Mardigan never trusted talkers; he barely tolerated Durul sometimes, although he had to admit – however grudgingly – that he’d managed to get further than the rest of them on this job. No, Mad Mardigan was a man of action, and he was beginning to think that this Haucc would respond to action more readily than blather. Spotting a convenient alley-way between two tall buildings, he made his move, at once signalling his friend Emlyn to follow his lead, than bundling the woodkin into the ally and against a wall. The tall ‘foreigner’ didn’t seem all that surprised. A smile twitched at the corner of his mouth, which was enough to make Mardigan angry. He was about to give the older man an ultimatum – “Talk and it won’t hurt so much”, or something like that; he hadn’t had time to come up with anything that threatening, he was doing this on the fly – when everyone stopped and turned toward the far end of the alley, where it took a corner, at the sound of shouts and breaking glass.

Art just had time to take in what he was seeing – the same mare with the same white, star-shaped blaze on her shoulder – when his train of thought was broken by the noise of crashing wood and the distinctive sound of swords being drawn. In a moment he was up and running, leaping, Holdfast hot on his heels. Some packing crates, a lean-to roof, threatening to give, and then onto a balcony, offering a view of the alleyway and some safety from the unfolding scene below.

At the sound of blade steel meeting steel, Mardigan let go of Haucc and bolted up the alleyway, as he turned he saw a dark figure with his back to him, sword drawn, holding three others at bay. Emlyn and Haucc were next to him a moment later. The dark figure shot a look over his shoulder as Durul turned the corner and swung back to meet the wide swing of the assailant to his left. Noticing the Mardigan and Emlyn, hands on hilts, slowly moving forward, the one in the middle made a gesture, then all three ran in the opposite direction, back toward the street.

Mardigan wasted no time. He was already moving as the dark figure began to give chase to his attackers. Mardigan leapt and tackled the man to the ground. The dark stranger extracted himself from Mardigan‘s embrace, stood, sheathed his sword and glared at the small crowd, then at Mardigan. “You let them get away,” said Ethelo Lathava.

“We weren’t letting you get away this time,” Emlyn retorted.

“Do you know what I’ve been through to try to lure those three out of…? Oh, never mind. Come with me – we have to get this sorted out once and for all,” Ethelo said, dusting himself off.

“Where not going anywhere with you; you’re coming with us,” said Mardigan, trying to regain the upper hand in this exchange.

“Fine,” said Ethelo. I’ll come with you. To Alderman Ethiri’s office, I trust? I mean, you do have a report to file, correct?”

Art quietly made his was down from the balcony, Holdfast in tow. He’d seen the events in the alley, despaired when he saw Mardigan capture the wrong fellow, and watched the three horsemen ride hard around a corner and out of view. He was disappointed, but confident in his canine companion’s ability to pick up the trail.

A crowded room

The conflagration made its way to Alderman Ethiri’s offices. The offices took up the front section of the alderman’s house; a central entrance opened into a small hallway with three doors, the door to the left led into Ethiri’s office. The one to the right was always ajar; this one led into the small office with a tiny clerk’s ledger desk and a small bookcase. This belonged to Fath, the alderman’s faithful and trusted secretary, who let in the crowd of visitors, each expressing their own particular stripe of indignation toward the poor little fellow. Everyone, that is, except Holdfast, who was made to wait on the doorstep of the building.

Once the extended group was ushered into the alderman’s office, everyone – with the exception of Arthur – began talking at once. Confusion reigned for but a moment, until the authority of Ethiri’s voice brought the crowd to quiet. Seizing the opportunity, Durul spoke first, reporting to Ethiri everything that had transpired, from the group’s initial investigations to the killings at the Welangur farm, and the pursuit of the murderers, the loss of the trail, and the return to Onivaro (leaving out any mention of the surviving boy). He then elaborated on the discovery of the cloth at the farm and what the tailor had told him about the fabric being cut carefully as to look torn at first glance.

At this point Haucc, butted in, demanding to know where the cloth had been found, and insisting that no one of his people would part with even a portion of it willingly. He also demanded that Ethiri look into this matter with all haste, as the whisper of suggestion of his folk’s involvement in the murders could be enough to send angry lynch mobs into their forests looking for rough justice. “If that happens,” he said without a hint of threat in his voice, “I cannot guarantee their safe return.”

Mardigan and Emlyn stepped in at this juncture to express his concern over the seeming omnipresence of Ethelo Lathava, who remained silent throughout the stream of accusations. When Mardigan had said his piece, Alderman Ethiri spoke; “Ethelo Lathava is in Olari on important business. I was not aware of his visit to Onivaro, but nonetheless, I will personally vouch for his good standing. I have known Lathava for many years and swear to you he is not involved in these killings.” He appeared to hesitate on the verge of saying more. After a nod from Lethava, he added, “ Ethelo is in the service of the king, and therefore is above reproach.” Suddenly it was plain to Durul why this man could not be so easily bought.

The discussion that began to curl though the small crowd in the small room was abruptly silenced by a crashing sound outside the closed door and indignant, accented shouts. A moment later, Alang Baulial broke into the room, an apologetic Fath remaining in the doorway. Ethiri waved a gesture of consoling dismissal at the beleaguered secretary as Baulial began his tirade.

“Two of my friends were murdered last night! Two draicrafters, known and respected in their community, killed in their home, along with their children. Their children! Now will you believe me? The Judgement has come to Fiahawn. You must do SOMETHING!”

Addressing Baulial but for the benefit of all, Ethiri explained the situation; the party’s examination of the Welangur’s farm and their injuries, the unsuccessful pursuit of the assailants, their reappearance in Olari and abortive attack on Lathava. The forgemaster entreated the group to apprehend the miscreants, or failing that, to make them pay for the senseless outrage they had committed, and offered his services I any capacity they saw fit. Lathava suggested that, in the absence of any further clues as to the destination of the cloaked figures that attacked him, the party should call into the Tethus Alveary. If there was any truth to the rumours concerning the Judgement, then the Abbot of the alveary may be able to shed some light on the situation, perhaps even identify the culprits (or at least establish if any strangers had visited the alveary in recent weeks).

At the end of the conference it was decided that the party would head to the Tethus Alveary with all speed, in case the assailants had fled there. Meanwhile Lathava had business at the capital. He would report to his superior regarding the situation and endeavour to return within a few days. Alang Baulial would leave the forge under the supervision of his journeyman and make the sojourn to Onivaro to attend to the requirements of the Welangur family.

The road to the south

It was mid-afternoon when the party set out for Tethus Alveary. Nobody knew the way or the region, but they were told that if the followed the furrowed road south they would eventually reach the alveary, that lay, according to various accounts, between five and eight leagues from Olari. Leaving the town, Holdfast caught a trace of the now familiar scent of the horse with the blaze of white on its shoulder.

Mardigan, always eager to push for action, pushed ahead at a gallop, his mount straining at the bit. Arthur and Holdfast followed close behind. About half a mile or so behind, Emlyn and Durul kept a good pace, wary of the possibility their quarry may try to double-back behind them.

About an hour before dusk, and after a hard seventeen miles’ ride, Mardigan and Arthur arrived in the town of Tuin. Privileging his thirst over his mission, Mardigan immediately made for the first inn he found, a well-kept establishment called the Silver Barrow, and began to charm the local Nellie (the Barrow’s Betty), leaving Art to take care of the horses.

As dusk settled, the second pair of weary travellers lead their horses into the town. Emlyn took a walk around but most of the establishments were closed by this time and smoke curled from every domestic chimney in the cool, still night. Durul secured rooms for his compatriots; at his request, Emlyn was given a room with a window overlooking the road leading north.

The next morning Durul took breakfast in his room. Mardigan ventured downstairs, took eggs, meat bread and ale (as a hair of the dog), while Emlyn and Arthur took porridge and a couple of boiled treehen’s eggs, a local delicacy. Mardigan spied a woman at another table and immediately went over to her table and tried valiantly to engage her in conversation. After his initial efforts were casually rebuffed, he lifted his game – it had been some time since Mardigan had met his match in a woman and his interest was piqued. The woman, exotic, raven-haired, dark-eyed, and – he guessed – about Mardigan’s own age, introduced herself simply as Kaenia. She said she was in the employ of a travelling merchant, who she referred to as ‘her master’. Mardigan got the impression that she may be a translator; something about her accent tickled a memory deep within him but he could not place it.

Any further interrogation of Kaenia (or of her employer) would have to wait, however. Art had taken some food to Holdfast, and while he happily chowed down, he casually dropped the impression of the shoulder-blazed horse. Art asked the dog if its rider was to be found. He walked up the hill, Holdfast impressed. An image of the hill rising from the flat behind the inn showed clear in the boy’s mind. Arthur ran to tell the others.

Within fifteen minutes the party was off, up the hill. Durul paid in advance for food and stabling for two days, but told the publican not to panic if they didn’t return that night. Durul took his leave of the lovely Kaenia, who assured the warrior of her certainty that their paths would cross again.

The trail led about a half-mile to a stone outcropping, roughly east of the tavern. Holdfast implied that the ‘dark man’ sat here for a while. The trail then headed due north, over rough, rolling terrain – the foothills to the Tethus Mountains. The Dark Man was less careful now and had left signs of his presence along the path – Emlyn estimated he has traversed the ground four or five hours ahead of them.

After eight miles as the crow flies – translating to something closer to eleven by foot – Emlyn and Holdfast both lost the trail. Ahead lay the rise of a bluff. As the party discussed their options, Holdfast trotted up to the rise turned, and yelped a short, quiet bark. When Arthur , crouching as he went, joined the hound at the crest of the bluff, he saw what Holdfast had broadcast; a narrow road, cut through the dense forest, and two figures, unrecognisable form this distance, picking their way along the path.

Session 3 – a Fire, a Murder, a Pursuit
Evening of Ous and early morning of Ces, 9th and 10th day of Relen

The group had bivouacked at the Prancing Pony, Onivaro’s only inn, when a girl entered claiming her family was being attacked in their home. The girl was recognised as the daughter of Tam and Shar Welangur, whose farm was about four miles to along the east road, the highway leading to the Inaran border. After Durul gathered the party together from their various pursuits, two local labourers, Simm and Duli, lead them to the farm, riding as quickly as they dared in the moonlit night.

The first thing they noticed on arriving was that the door to the cottage was open, revealing a light flickering within. Simm and Duli held back, near the road, while the others went forward.

Emlyn stung his bow and notched an arrow, fearing the assailants may still be near. He led his horse to a vantage point to cover the house and the other small buildings.

Seeing a body midway between the cottage and the Durul and Arthur advanced, only to discover it was the body of a pig that had had its throat slit. It apparently fell and bled out where it laid. From there they could see that the gate to the pig-pen had been left open; some pigs had been killed, the others released.

Never one to shirk away from a confrontation, Mardigan strode toward the cottage. Upon entering he could see the source of the flickering light. Someone had staked the few pieces of furniture and there in front of the fireplace and had tried to se a blaze in the building. They obviously did not know what they were doing, however; covering the whole would-be pyre with linen sheets, apparently thinking this would help the flames along, the linens had actually smothered the fire, starving it of the air it needed to take. Mardigan managed to dismantle the fire and extinguish it before it reached the thatch of the roof, pulling the furniture away piece by piece, leaving the debris outside to smoulder, and saved the cottage from ruin.

Realising the attackers had fled, Emlyn relaxed his vigil and surveyed the surrounds on horseback, Durul investigated the pig-pen and found a piece of red cloth, caught on a splinter on the gate-post, seemingly torn from a garment. Arthur tried to interrogate a pig, but found only confusion and fear.

It was then Mardigan then found the bodies; two adults and two boys. The eldest boy had several stab wounds (from a knife rather than a sword, to Mardigan’s experienced eye), and had bled out, probably within the last hour. The mother and father, Tam and Shar Welangur, had both been struck repeatedly in the head with something blunt – their heads had been stove in. Their deaths would have been much quicker than their elder son’s.

At this point Durul and Arthur also entered the cottage. The boy also had a head wound. Arthur and Durul entered the cottage and Arthur, checking the bodies, found the boy to be alive, but barely.

While examining the clear grounds behind the cottage, Emlyn found the tracks of the murderers leading toward the forest and returned to gather the others for pursuit The boy was left in Simm’s care, and he and Duli mounted and headed slowly back to Onivaro, so as not to cause any more trauma to the orphaned boy. Realising nothing more could be done there at night, the brave party began their pursuit of the murderers.

Emlyn tracked the path of the assailants – he established that there were likely three on foot – back to a lightning-shattered oak; at this point they had mounted steeds and headed along the edge of the forest in the direction of the village or perhaps to Olari. Between them, Emlyn and Holdfast were able to track them for several miles until a stream which cut across the way, at which point their trail was lost, but it seemed obvious that the assailants were either headed to the Onivaro or to Olari. Holdfast had got a good scent of the horses; if they could find them he would be able to identify them again.

Tired and realising the folly of trying to pick up their quarry’s trail once more, the group headed back to the road along a cart trail etched between two properties, and caught up to Simm and Duli with the boy. On Mardigan’s advice, they took the boy to Mother Geertrude, an old wise-woman and midwife who lived on the outskirts of Onivaro. Initially gruff and full of curses at being awoken at such an hour, she softened at the sight of the poor, broken lad, and agreed to nurse the boy; “if he makes it through the night, there’s a good chance he will live”.

The publican’s wife at the Prancing Pony has promised to look after the girl. Durul made financial accommodations to assist in this. He also tried to do the right thing by offering some money to assist with the burial of the dead, but this was seen only as a townie trying to buy off the locals so he didn’t have to get his hands dirty. Dural may receive a less than friendly welcome the next time he returns to the village.

A coincidental appearance?
Emlyn learned that Ethelo was staying at the Prancing Pony as well, and had resolved to corner him the next morning, but alas, the well-dressed stranger had slipped out before dawn, paying extra for any inconvenience his departure may have caused the household. His departure went unnoticed by Arthur and Holdfast, who had spent the night in watch over Mother Geertrude’s cottage from the vantage point of a nearby haystack. After a quick breakfast the group headed back to Olari.
The mystery of the red cloth
Upon arriving back in Olari, Durul took the party’s one solid clue – the torn fragment of red fabric – to Immet Vamethau, a tailor known to his family. The tailor proved to be a font of information.

The fabric, he informed Durul, was of Woodkin origin; it is woven from a hemp-like plant-fibre, and when treated in some manner not known to him, comes up as soft as silk, but is particularly hard-wearing. The red dye is extracted from the flowers of a rare forest orchid, the etulako lily, and – he believed – holds of some kind of cultural significance to the forest-dwellers. The fabric is never traded outside their own culture. Even the dye is impossible to secure.

On closer examination, the tailor pointed out that while the fabric appeared to be torn, it had actually been cut by a single blade – no sheers or scissors – from a garment. The cloth was of such extraordinary strength that it would not simply tear away from the whole so easily. Great care had obviously been taken to make it appear to have been torn by accident.

Durul paid Vamethau for his assistance, and promised consideration for some livery work his family would soon be requiring. He declined to tell the tailor where he had found the cloth, and Vamethau – being of a discrete and subtle nature – did not pursue question his benefactor.

Session 2 - the Road to Onivaro
Ous, 9th day of Relen, 737AO

Before heading out on the road to investigate the cause of the crop fires, the party (on Baetur Ethiri’s recommendation), visited the smith, Alang Baulial. Baulial, a stonekin, is well-known and well-regarded throughout the town, in spite of his ethnicity and “that funny way ‘e ‘as of makin’ ’is words sound.”

The smith met with the party as if he was expecting them. After some pleasantries (which included his exchanging Mardigan’s workmanlike sword for a simple but finely wrought, perfectly balanced blade), he said he could not offer the party any information regarding their mission (of which he had received word from Ethiri, along with an entreaty to help the group in whatever way he saw fit), but promised to keep his ear open for any word that might prove useful.

He also recommended that the party keep their own ears open for any word on a rumour, a ghost of a rumour about something called the Judgement, saying he’d be very grateful and inclined to offer favours for anything they may hear.

As the sun climbed higher in the clear sky, the party set off, making east along the Inaran Road. The road was lined with farms, a patchwork of fields and low stone fences so far as the eye could see. Several times the party stopped to ask questions of the locals; everyone had either seen a fire’s glow in the night, or heard cries for water or blankets from a nearby farm, or had had a cousin or a friend who had woken to fin one of his fields alight. One had actually had a fire in his field just two nights earlier; yes, of course they could have a look, “so long as they dirn’t fell any more o’tha stalks what aren’t already poorful.”

The party examined the burnt field. It was obvious to all the fire had begun in the middle and spread outward. A light rain had prevented the whole crop from being lost – about a third of the division was gone. Sniffing around, Holdfast gave Arthur the impression of something not right; something woody, but not at all familiar. Could this have been the fuel used to get the blaze started?

All in all, seven fires had been set in among the farms between Olari and Onivaro in the last eight weeks.

As the sun fell in the western sky, the party decided to find shelter for the night. A mile further up the road, the village of Onivaro offered shelter in the form of the (cringe) Prancing Pony Inn.

Immediately the PCs slipped into old habits. Durul engaged the publican and his wife in conversation, seeking information about the fires and details that may help bolster the family coffers in equal measure. Mardigan asked a comely bar-wench for assistance with a bath. Emlyn looked for high ground – settling for the winch-door of a barn – from which to survey the surrounding farms. Arthur and Holdfast took to the stables, where they noticed a familiar horse.

Just as the last of the locals were leaving and the last of the party, Durul, was getting ready to turn in for the night, the door opened and a little girl staggered in, exhausted and sobbing between gasps.
“Please it’s my family. They’re being attacked. You’ve got to help them…” to nobody in particular, before collapsing from exhaustion.

”That’s Tam Welangur’s girl,” Simm, one of the locals said. “Their farm’s a couple of leagues down the way,” he added unhelpfully.

After ensuring the girl was uninjured, the Durul sprang into action, collecting the other party members and their horses and following Simm and another local east into the darkening evening to toward whatever awaited them at the Welangur farm.

Session 1 - A party prepares

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.

An opportunity

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.


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