07 August 2007

Bornhavn, Day Two, Part Two

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?

When last we saw our heroes, they were relaxing at the Manse under the watchful eye of Viloriannis, the Hand of the Allfather in Bornhavn. For those who didn’t catch it from the synopsis of that day’s adventures, the chief cleric of a temple of the Allfather is known, in popular parlance, as the “Fist of the Allfather”, while his immediate subordinate, common called the Deacon, is known as “the Hand”. This occasionally gets confusing, as “The Hand” has two other meanings, one of which is the church of the Healing Hand, and the other of which is the Order of the White Hand (of which more later, as - once again - I am digressing here).

After the scuffle at the Shrine and the brief excursion into the Great Swamp by Breygon, Joraz and Greywind (which is what, according to the wolf, his true name of ‘Harroaharg’ translates into), the Party faced a difficult decision. Clearly they had identified at least one of the hiding places of the evil forces threatening Bornhavn. Equally clearly, however, they had an appointment with Sieur File, one of the major players in town, and somebody who – as the PCs had by now figured out on the available evidence – held the ear of their immediate superior back at Fort Ryker.

The decision wasn’t that hard. Given the choice between having dinner at a rich man’s mansion and cleaning out an underground nest of undead horrors at night, our intrepid adventurers gathered their gear, tidied up their clothing, and set out for hors d’oeuvres and champagne.

Actually, mutton-wrapped chestnuts and apple cider. Bornhavn ain’t exactly Rivendell, if you get my drift.

Anyhow, with the loan of a few articles of clean clothing from the Manse, they made themselves presentable, and presented themselves at the front door of File’s mansion (see below). Here they made the acquaintance of Gurm, File’s half-orc barbarian bodyguard, who was straining his limited intellect checking people against the guest list. I’d gone to the trouble of locating a good pic for Gurm, and sketching out some of his traits, which turned out to be something of a waste, as about half an hour later he was little more than a door mat for the wave of zombies and other sundry nastiness that came slobbering out of the woods. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Dinner was served in File’s Great Hall.

The other guests included File’s wife and two daughters, Melian (the cute one) and Mergot (the hound); Viloriannis; Reeve Beal Trite; the aged bard, Seel Trask; the brewmaster, Galdron of Bitterberg (who spent most of the evening eyebrows-deep in his own product); and a newcomer who proved most interesting. This chap, who introduced himself as Bane Tyrellada, was of the Half-Elven persuasion, although with more refined features than Breygon, indicating Hiarsk heritage. He appeared unarmoured, in fine but travel-stained clothing, bearing a rapier as his only weapon – and he was pretty evasive when questioned about what brought him to a sleepy little wagon-stop like Bornhavn.

At some point in time between the apple-stuffed pork chops and the pork-stuffed apples, a yell from Gurm indicated that something was amiss. This was followed, a few moments later, by similar yells from around the circumference of the mansion. A big house usually means lots of doors, which in turn means plenty of entry points when the bad guys have you outnumbered. And boy, did the bad guys ever have this particular dinner party outnumbered.

Alric and Gwen reacted to the first shouts by ducking through the tower and checking up on Gurm at the main entrance to the mansion. A half-dozen zombies were engaged in using the half-orc the way Stompin’ Tom Connors uses a half-sheet of ¾” plywood, so the fighter and the rogue barred the tower door (which looked pretty robust), and retreated into the main hall to report.

At about the same time, Viloriannis had gathered the File women and the other non-combatants into a tight group, away from the doors and windows, where she cast invisibility to undead on the women. Joraz began throwing furniture against the two doors leading to the kitchen, while Qaramyn and Breygon kept an eye on the windows. Viloriannis took advantage of the last few seconds available to consecrate the Great Hall (using, as her material component, one of File’s heirlooms – a solid silver candelabra weighing more than 20 pounds). For good measure, she also blessed the assembled company, then stood back, and waited for things to get worse.

They did, and quickly. The zombies, due to the need to make a decent climb check, weren’t able to get through the windows facing the inner court of the mansion, and so they smashed their way into the kitchen. The skeletons with them were a little faster on their feet, and so they were the first ones to try to get through Joraz’ makeshift barricade. Qaramyn waited until the first group was clambering across the heap of overturned chairs, tables and credenzas before hitting them with a burning hands spell. This smoked the first wave of skeletons, and made the barricade a lot more effective, for the time being anyway. Between the wizard’s magic missiles, the monk's fists of freakin' fury, and Viloriannis’ period turning checks, neither the skeletons nor their zombie allies were able to penetrate the Great Hall via the kitchen.

Back in the tower, things weren’t going so well. Balked at entering on the first floor, the shambling legions of the undead managed to find a way to the second story, and infiltrated the tower one level up (through File's bedroom window, actually). Breygon, Alric, Gwen and the newcomer Bane soon had their hands full when a series of ghouls came loping down the tower stairs. Bane surprised everyone by blasting the first ghoul down with a faceful of magic missiles before hauling out his rapier, and joining the others in the line of battle.

Between them, the four managed to dispatch nearly a dozen ghouls in relatively short order, but were stunned when the last creature down the stairs proved to be a dark-skinned, fleet-footed monstrosity with an unholy gleam in its eyes – something enormous, that might, in life, have been close kin to an ogre. It was a wight, and it charged the line and laid Alric out with a single blow, smashing him backwards and sucking the life force out of him. Breygon and Bane stood shoulder to shoulder while Gwen danced around to the rear, looking for an opportunity to flank the creature. Hard handstrokes ensued, but despite taking numerous wounds, the team eventually managed to put the creature down.

As it fell, they heard a harsh, unearthly bellow. Turning, the three saw an even more terrifying apparition standing next to the tower fireplace. Tall, armoured in plate of an ancient pattern, and bearing an equally ancient shield and a long, curved sword, this death-hued monster hissed at them, baring foul, razor-sharp fangs. It charged. Both Bane and Breygon managed to strike the creature, but it replied in kind, landing crushing blows with its sword. Gwen was able to dance around to its rear, but found that this creature was as immune as all the others to her fearsome sneak attacks.

The warriors traded blows with the new intruder for a few rounds, forcing it steadily backwards, until, in a flash, it dropped its shield and sword, and scampered up the wall to a corner by the ceiling, snarling and spitting at them. Breygon was trying to figure out what to do next when Qaramyn and Viloriannis appeared in the doorway. The wizard was out of spells, but Viloriannis called upon the holy might of the Allfather to banish the creature; and though her attempt to cow it into submission failed, the thing evidently did not like being cornered and outnumbered, for it suddenly dissolved into a cloud of black, writhing vapour, and vanished up the chimney.
Leaving behind, incidentally, its sword and shield.

And that, gentle reader, brings us to our next synopsis.

* * * * *

File surveyed the ruin of his hall with a jaundiced eye. Hundreds of crowns worth of fine oaken furniture lay in a smoldering ruin against the kitchen doors, and costly porcelain and silver tableware lay scattered about, trampled and broken underfoot. His priceless gnome-woven tapestries were rent and torn, and a haze of smoke still clung to the high, buttressed ceiling of the hall. No doubt it’s gotten into the upstairs linens, he thought glumly. The old cow will be unbearable.

“Sincerest apologies,” said a quiet voice behind him. File turned and saw that the visitors’ monk had joined him in inspecting the damage. The fellow seemed surprisingly unruffled by the past hour’s activities. File shook his head slightly.

“No apologies necessary,” he said gruffly. “These bloody beasts may have followed you to my home, but mine was the invitation, and I know how trouble follows the men of the Watch.” He snorted, and added, “How well I do know it.”

Around them, a bustle of maids and butlers attempted to set things to rights. There was a brief hiss as a duo of cooks emptied a cauldron full of water over the smoking remains of the burnt tables. Another servant splashed water from an ewer on the embers of what had once been a door-frame. Steam filled the air. Joraz looked around. “I don’t wish to minimize your loss,” he said, “but it might have been worse.” He nodded at the quiet knot of women huddled in the corner. Breygon had ordered everyone to remain together until the party could ascertain whether the enemy had, indeed, retreated.

“Indeed,” File replied. Then the old man took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and met the monk’s eyes. “Understand, I am grateful for what you did this night. This town and its people have suffered piecemeal from the depredations of these monsters for years. Perhaps it’s better to have it out all at once, and done.”

“I don’t think we’re done quite yet,” Joraz responded.

“Perhaps not,” the merchant agreed. “But you’ve made a good start. As for this,” he said, indicating the smoking rubbish with wave, “money built it, and money can repair it. But,” he added, “I’m a little upset about the tapestries.”

“We’ll finish the business elsewhere,” Joraz promised.

“Just so long as you finish it,” File replied.

* * * * *

The battle fury had abated, and Alric sat motionless with his back to the wall of the foyer, his club abandoned on the floor beside him, arms wrapped around his knees. Breygon squatted beside his companion, deeply concerned; the normally bluff and cheerful warrior was pale and shaking, his lips and eyelids so deeply blue as to appear bruised, and feet and knees trembling. There was an enormous, rapidly blackening bruise on his left cheek. “What’s wrong with me?” he whispered harshly.

“You were struck by one of the undead,” Breygon replied.

“I’ve been struck by them before, and all it did was knock me down,” Alric responded, a tremulous quaver in his voice. “It was nothing like this.” He held up one calloused hand, and Breygon saw that it was shaking uncontrollably.

Viloriannis joined them, dropping to one knee opposite Breygon. “This was a different foe, and mightier than any save the wampyr, the Dark One confronted at the last,” she said, touching Alric’s forehead lightly, then laying her hand on his chest directly over his heart. Clutching her amulet, she whispered a brief prayer that neither of them caught, and Breygon watched in admiration as the bruise on the warrior’s face faded and disappeared before his eyes. Alric felt warmth and life creep slowly back into his body; but an icy sliver remained, as if lodged in his heart, and the shivering did not abate.

“All respect, priestess,” Breygon said cautiously, glancing at the cleric, “but that doesn’t seem to have helped much.”

“I have not the power to undo the evil done to your friend,” she replied evenly. “I can heal his wounds, but the Allfather does not yet judge me worthy of that grace.”

Breygon nodded. “Can your master undo it?” he asked.

Viloriannis gave the ranger a long look. “He has the grace and wisdom,” she admitted at length, “but I fear he no longer has the strength to wield the Allfather’s might. You saw that earlier tonight. To merely attempt such a feat might be enough to bear him away to the Long Home.”

Breygon nodded again. “Then we cannot ask it of him.” He paused, considering. “Will Alric recover on his own?” Alric, who had been following the entire exchange from behind the veil of his weariness, turned his eyes to the cleric.

“He may,” Viloriannis answered. “With rest and prayer, his spirit may rally and throw off the evil that has been done to him. Or,” she added, “it may not. As with all things, it lies in the hands of the Allfather.”

Breygon said nothing. Alric glanced from the ranger to the cleric, and back again, then, to break the mounting tension, smiled wanly, and said, “Can I at least get something to eat while we wait, then?”

* * * * *

Bane Tyrellada squatted on his haunches a short distance away, examining the sword and shield abandoned by their enemy. He reached for the hilt of the long, heavy sword, and was surprised when a hand shot forward and grasped his wrist.

“Are you mad?” hissed Qaramyn.

“I do not fear the denizens of clay,” the half-elf replied.

“Well and good,” the wizard shot back, “but you should at least respect their toys.” Qaramyn made a few quick gestures and muttered a passage or two in the tongue of the magi, and the familiar expanding wave of light broke from his fingertips, spreading outward through the chamber. It washed over the sword and shield, causing the former to sparkle brightly in the firelight. Qaramyn couldn’t help noticing that certain items on Tyrellada’s person sparkled as well.

The half-elf grinned. “Well, now you know more than you did before. What next, oh wizard? May I proceed?”

Qaramyn frowned, unhappy at being openly mocked by a stranger. “Be my guest,” he replied sourly, secretly hoping for a bolt of lightning or unholy fire to wipe the smirk off the he arrogant son-of-a-satyr’s face.

Tyrellada made a few sharp gestures and spoke a single phrase in the hissing, sibilant language that Qaramyn recognized as the tongue of wyrms. A silvery mist spread from the half-elf’s outstretched fingers, flowing across sword and shield, and even to the fireplace before vanishing into the ether.

Bollocks, Qaramyn thought, angry that he had missed the obvious signs. A sorcerer! And, although he had never yet made use of that particular spell, he recognized its effects immediately; Tyrellada had examined the vampire’s abandoned arms for residues of evil, and found nothing.

The half-elf grasped the hilt of the sword and hefted it expertly. “Have you ever seen one of these?” he asked the wizard.

Qaramyn shook his head. “I’ve spent my life in libraries, not smithies,” he answered tightly, still miffed. Tyrellada smiled at the young mage’s consternation.

“You wouldn’t find one of these in any smithy,” he answered, “not today. Perhaps in a museum collection.” He stood and swung the sword gently, testing its balance. “This is a chalybs altus, the High Glaive of the Royal Guard. The Guard of the ancient Third House of Harad.”

“I know what chalybs altus means,” Qaramyn growled. He paused. “And it’s enchanted. How do you suppose that creature ended up with it?”

“We may never know,” the half-elf replied. He ceased swinging the sword around, and glanced closely at the blade, frowning. Then he held the weapon out to Qaramyn. “You’re a master of the High Elven tongue, oh wizard,” he said with a grin. “See anything interesting?”

Qaramyn took the sword gingerly, as if half-expecting it to bite him, and examined it closely. He had always found the martial weapons to be clunky, uncomfortable things, but this one seemed surprisingly light, well-balanced and swift in the hand, if somewhat long and heavy. The hilt was formed of some sort of dark, reddish wood, and felt smooth and comfortable in his hand. The pommel and guards seemed to be cast of heavy gold, and looked to be formed in the shape, respectively, of a stag’s hoof and horns. The blade was broad, razor-sharp, and appeared to be forged of a gray metal several shades darker than iron. Or perhaps it’s merely time, the wizard thought. Squinting in the firelight, he saw that the blade had been engraved with an intricate pattern of vines and leaves. Worked into the pattern, a series of elaborate runes lay half-hidden. He traced them with one fingernail, working centuries of grit out of the fine grooves.

Appello me, adsumo me,” he breathed. He glanced up at Tyrellada.

“Name me…” the half-elf began.

“…claim me,” the wizard finished. “There are deep magicks here.”

Tyrellada nodded. “The ancient smiths of Elvehelm wrought well,” he said. “This is a princely blade.”

“’Name me, claim me’,” the wizard repeated. “But what is its name?” Qaramyn turned the sword over and scrutinized the pattern worked into the other side of the blade. He found nothing but vines and leaves.

“Another mystery for you to work out,” Tyrellada replied with a smile.

Qaramyn nodded. He paused for a moment, and then offered the sword hilt-first to the half-elf. “Or for you. You have as much a right to this as any of us,” he said, half-reluctantly.

Tyrellada’s mocking smile vanished. “I’ve misjudged you, wizard,” he replied gravely, “and I apologize. You have my thanks. But I’m happy with Laetificus, here,” he added, touching the hilt of the rapier sticking up over his left shoulder. “One of your number could make better use of a High Guardsman’s glaive.”

Qaramyn switched the sword to his left hand and held out his right. “We are well met in Bornhavn, Sieur Tyrellada,” he said. The half-elf smiled at the formality, but it was not a mocking smile.

“Blood-brothers call me ‘Bane’,” he replied, briefly touching his breast and brow before taking the wizard’s forearm in a warrior’s greeting. “Now, by your leave, I need to speak with your sergeant.”

* * * * *
“You certainly got stuck in quickly.”

Gwendilyn glanced up at the seneschal, Ligur Gulun, from where she knelt, examining the molten fragments of silver scattered about the flagstones of the floor where Viloriannis had cast her first spell of the battle. She had been considering trying to peel some of them up with her dagger when his voice had interrupted her.

She stood up, sheathed her blade, and wiped her hands on her trousers. “No guts, no glory,” she replied briskly.

Gulun crossed his arms and stared down at the diminutive thief. “That’s fairly brave for one as small as you.”

“Not really,” she shrugged. “When you’re my size, standing between two tall warriors is a safe place to be. The enemy has to make a special effort to hit me.”

“You’re the expert on battles, not I,” Gulun replied. He sat heavily on one of the few remaining chairs and ran a weary hand over his eyes.

“We’re all a little tired,” the Halfling said sympathetically.

“Don’t waste your sympathy on me,” the man said with a tired smile. “I merely have to figure out how costly it’s going to be to replace all of this furniture and flatware. You have to hunt down and destroy legions of the Undead.” Then he chuckled self-consciously. “Of course, given the choice between tackling some demon from beyond the grave and trying to pry coppers away from my master…”

“A little tight-fisted, is he?” Gwendyline asked, climbing nimbly onto one of the tables so as to be able to look Gulun in the eye.

“You have no idea,” the man replied. “Why, his strongbox is…” He stopped, eyeing her narrowly.

Gwendilyn nodded patiently. “Go on,” she said. “’His strongbox is…’”

Gulun stood up suddenly. “His strongbox is made of solid iron, little mistress, and is filled with poisonous snakes and guarded by dragons,” he said with a sudden grin. “Don’t you worry about it.”

Gwendilyn shrugged. “Just trying to help,” she said. “I could check it for you if you like. Make sure it’s safe. I know a thing or two about locks.” Gulun laughed and walked towards the doors to the tower, waving to her over his shoulder. “You can’t be too careful, you know,” she yelled after him. “There are thieves everywhere!”

* * * * *

“We were counting on your blade tomorrow,” Breygon said, rather more loudly than he had intended. Viloriannis looked up from where she was comforting the terrified serving women and the two File girls. The master of the house had already taken his wife upstairs, after issuing a strict invitation to all guests to stay the night rather than venture out into the dark, and she was waiting for an opportunity to speak with the leader of the Watchmen. Viloriannis did not ordinarily eavesdrop on the conversations of others, but with so much at stake, she put a finger to her lips to hush one of the kitchen wenches, and tried to focus her attention on what the two warriors were saying.

It proved to be fruitless. Tyrellada glanced around at Breygon’s out burst and switched to the High Elven tongue.

Like you, brother, I hunt,” he said in a low voice, the delicate syllables falling effortlessly from his tongue. “And like yours, my hunt brooks no delay.”

What is of such importance that it must take you away from those who need your sword?” Breygon asked in the same language. He frowned slightly; never having lived in the Elven homelands, his accent was harsh and uncouth by comparison.

Tyrellada glanced meaningfully down at Breygon’s right hand. “Belike you know already,” he said carefully. “I follow a warrior-mage of my father’s people, one who carries something wrongfully obtained.”

What would I know about that?” Breygon asked bluntly.

Much or little, I know not,” Tyrellada replied. “But you wear her ring.”

Breygon glanced down at the golden ring on his finger, and looked back at Tyrellada in surprise. “Hax?” he blurted out, lapsing back into the travelling tongue. “What did she do?”

Softly brother,” Tyrellada replied, grasping Breygon by the upper arm. “I know not whether she is thief or no, nor whether she comprehends that which she hath borne away.” He paused, as if considering whether to continue. “But she carries a great heirloom belonging to my master, the Magister of the Ludus Astralis, the College of Stars.”

Astonished, Breygon said nothing. Tyrellada went on, “I tell you this in confidence, on your honour as a man of the Watch. I seek no harm to Orkarel Hax, but I must retrieve that which she carries, or my honour is forfeit. Perhaps my life.”

That is not her real name,” Breygon said, still amazed.

No, it is not,” Tyrellada agreed. “But it would be better for all of us if you forgot her real name, and if you wore that ring less openly. Her name and her sigul are known to more than just a few poor wanderers on a forgotten road in the northern wastes of the world.”

Breygon nodded, clenching his fist around the ring. “So you’re leaving then,” he asked.

“I must,” Tyrellada replied. “She had a long start of me at the beginning, but I’ve narrowed it now. The chase is nearly done.”

“She mentioned she was heading for Aeryn,” Breygon said, after a moment’s reflection.

Tyrellada smiled. “And so another heart is ensnared,” he murmured. He touched his breast and brow after the elven fashion. Breygon echoed his gesture. “Farewell, brother. May the long road see you safe home.”

May the stars light your way to journey’s end,” Breygon replied. Tyrellada nodded once, turned on his heel and strode quickly through the tower doors and out of the mansion.

* * * * *

Viloriannis noted their exchange, and while she could not understand the Fair Speech, she was enough of a judge of character and human behaviour to understand that, despite some unknown tension between the two half-elves, they had parted as friends.

“He’s leaving, then?” she asked, approaching Breygon, who appeared to be staring at his hands, lost in thought.

“Hmmm…yes,” the ranger replied. “He has duties to attend to.”

Viloriannis folded her hands in her sleeves. “A pity,” she murmured. “He is a talented warrior.”

“And other things besides,” Breygon agreed. He glanced over at the cleric, as if noticing her suddenly. “My apologies, priestess. My thoughts were elsewhere.”

“Entirely understandable,” she replied. “You’ve had a long day.”

“Tomorrow will be longer,” he answered, easing his shoulder and scratching absently at the blood-soaked linen bandage that covered the dreadful wound he had taken from the vampire’s sword.

“Tomorrow we shall be better prepared,” Viloriannis replied. “I take it, then, that you intend to wait for daylight before moving against these creatures?”

“I think it’s probably best,” Breygon replied. “We’re all in need of some rest. I don’t know about you, but I intend to keep the patrol here tonight and take advantage of Sieur File’s hospitality. But we’ll need to stop by the Rest for our weapons and armour before heading out tomorrow morning.”

“Wise,” Viloriannis agreed. “I’m sure the Sieur and his household will be glad of your presence. As for me,” she continued, “I must return to the Manse. I do not like to leave my Master alone, weak as he is. And my own arms and armour are there. Shall we agree to meet on the morrow?”
“At dawn, if that’s all right,” Breygon replied. “As you say, it will be a long day.”

“Dawn it is,” the cleric agreed. She made as if to lay a hand on Breygon’s bandaged arm, and he moved slightly. She glanced at him quickly, eyebrows raised.

“There are others in greater need,” the ranger said.

Viloriannis shook her head. “They can wait,” she replied sharply. “None of them can take your place tomorrow.” At Breygon’s reluctant nod, she stroked his wounded arm gently, whispering a prayer, and the hair stood up on the back of the half-elf’s neck as he felt the flesh and sinew knitting together under her touch. He shrugged out of the blood-stained cotton and saw that his arm and shoulder had been completely healed.

“My thanks, lady,” he said with a grin. “But I’m afraid the robe you loaned me is ruined.”

“Tomorrow will be a day for the hauberk,” she replied, “or the shroud. Either way, no one will notice the state of your clothing.”

“Well said,” he replied. Then he started suddenly, catching a familiar scent. Breygon glanced around quickly, and Viloriannis pointed at one of the open windows.

“Your friend is back,” she said softly.

Breygon looked – the enormous silver-white wolf had returned. With a nod to the cleric, he strode to the window and glanced out. Standing on its hind legs with its forepaws on the window ledge, the animal was taller than he. Breygon reached out and scratched its magnificent ruff, feeling the fur cold and damp against his fingers. The wolf’s tongue lolled out and it panted happily.

Welcome back, the ranger thought to himself, looking deep into the animal's eyes.

Good to be clean, the wolf sent, shaking its head vigorously and sending water droplets flying. It cocked its head at him. Fire? Fight?

Fire and fight, Breygon agreed. More fight tomorrow. Fight with us?

The wolf blinked and panted. The pack leader leads, it sent. The pack follows.

Breygon turned back to Viloriannis. “It seems we’ll be one more tomorrow,” he said wryly.

“And most welcome,” Viloriannis replied, surprising Breygon by bowing briefly to the wolf. It seemed to acknowledge her gesture, cocking its head and twitching its nose several times, although the ranger did not pick up any words or images. He raised his eyebrows, and the cleric merely shrugged.

“Until tomorrow, then,” Breygon said.

“Until tomorrow,” she replied. “By the by, the Allfather’s eye will be on this hall for a few more hours at least. It might not be as comfortable as a feather bed, but you’ll be safer here than anywhere else in this house.”

“My thanks,” Breygon replied. “Sleep fast, priestess.”

“And you, my friend.”

* * * * *