Session One Hundred Thirty-Eight - April 8, 2017

Wherein the ongoing story of the FtF campaign may be found ...

Session One Hundred Thirty-Eight - April 8, 2017

Postby Matt » Fri Jun 02, 2017 8:38 pm

Halane 20, 732

It has lately become the popular thing for curious townsfolk of Tashal to do, gathering in Kald Square to observe the royal councilors as they arrive at the castle on the appointed days. On this particular warm autumn morning, they crane their necks upward to scan the battlements intently, murmuring amongst themselves. No Elendsa acorn standard flies high above the crenellations, and absence of which defies living memory. Only a fog-shrouded sun adorns their view of the heavens, and the topmost stones of the caer, bare, unembellished, and somehow abashed.

Lord Astaroc is the last of the councilors to arrive in the great hall of Caer Elend. Sir Harapa Indama has informed the august members that the small council chamber has become too crowded, with the great officers of state now being present to report. The throne room, therefore, has been arranged with a long table down its middle, two rows of straight-backed chairs spaced along either side. The throne itself, covered, remains in its accustomed place. The superannuated mage shuffles in shortly after all of the other dignitaries have been seated, and sourly surveys the tableaux.

“Is it really necessary for me to attend every meeting?” he grumbles, eying the portion of seed cake set before his spot at the table.

“It’s not that often,” observes the Earl of Balim blandly, placating. The Earl glances over at Sir Harapa, who in turn raps his staff upon the floor.

“The royal council shall come to order! Lord Privy Seal, please note that all members are present.”

An awkwardness descends upon the table as the gravity of the moment once again sets in. Sir Harapa begins to read out a report of various governmental activities. While most find the account exceedingly dull, the Rekela Dariune appears to hang avidly upon every word. After a time, Lord Astaroc and Sir Gorbar Elorieth fall asleep. One item piques the Baron of Ternua’s interest, however: the Exchequer revenues are not coming in as expected, certain peers being tardy this year with their remittances. The implication hangs in the air that several of those tardy members are at this very table, although no specific indication is offered as to who might be in arrears. No one offers comment.

Sir Harapa moves on to matters of internal security, announcing that all is peaceful in the city of Tashal and, as far as anyone can tell, in the remainder of realm as well. Balim takes this as his cue to turn to Baron Orsin Firith.

“Lord Marshal. If the city is in hand, perhaps it is time to bring the Earl of Osel and his brother in to answer certain charges before this council.”

Lord Firith stands and casts his one good eye about the table. “My Lord of Balim, I am in complete agreement that the time has come to bring the miscreant Harabor to justice. However, I do not believe it would be wise for me to leave city at this time. Although everything appears peaceful on the surface, it may not be so in the deeper waters. Therefore, I would send a deputy.” He turns his gaze upon Ewen. “I nominate my lord the Baron of Ternua.”

“An excellent idea, my lord,” Balim says smoothly. “However, is it wise to send a councilor?” Ignoring, apparently, that Firith is also a councilor.

Lord Firith considers, his eyepatch turning briefly toward the rafters. “It is likely that the expedition would take five days, and Lord Ternua would miss the next session of the council. But not more than ten.”

“We should stipulate a proviso, then,” Balim suggests, “that we send an official record of the next meeting to Councilor Ternua, to keep everything above board.”

Meden Curo concurs. “It sounds like an excellent idea.”

Troda Dariune turns to Ewen. “Will you undertake this important duty?”

The Baron nods gravely. “I will undertake it. I assume the council will vest in me sufficient authority to take such action, against the holder of an earldom?”

“A good point,” observes the Rekela.

“Yes, cousin,” Balim says. “Will you draft the appropriate warrant?”

The Rekela Dariune, Lord Chancellor of the kingdom, seems slightly taken aback. “I’ll need a clerk for that.”

Balim responds blithely, smiling slightly. “I think you can hold a pen for a day.”

The Rekela purses his lips and reluctantly takes up quill and paper, casting a gimlet eye about the table as the others look on, observing his petty humiliation. He begins drafting the required writ right in front of them there at the council table.

“Meanwhile,” Lord Firith says, “I will provide a half company of the army of Oselshire to be placed under Lord Ternua’s command for the purposes of this expedition.”

When the warrant is completed, the Rekela Dariune reads it out. A great deal of flowery language has been improvised on the spot, but the gist comes down to the following: Ewen Ravinargh, Baron of Ternua, deputy Lord Marshal of Kaldor pro temp, is authorized and vested with royal prerogative for the purpose of taking into custody one Mirild Harabor, Earl of Osel, and Sir Kornuska Harabor, his brother, to bring them to Tashal by whatever means needed, to face justice and charges before the royal council. The said Baron of Ternua is given authority to require and compel assistance from royal and comital person or persons in the execution of this warrant.

A vote is called for, the warrant being ratified unanimously. Each councilor signs the warrant, and Prince Korwyn seals it. He hands it over Lord Ewen.

Orsin Firith nods in satisfaction, the eyepatch bobbing. “Good hunting, Ewen!”

In the great hall of Caer Ternua that evening, the Baroness Thilisa acknowledges the arrival of her spouse and his men in her midst. She deigns to turn a cheek to the young Baron, allowing him to bestow a kiss.


Gatanis Nildar, lingering nearby, fidgets nervously.

“My lady wife,” Ewen responds evenly, “I trust I find you well?”

“As well as I can be in this condition, so great with child.”

The Lady Elena Valador glares at Ewen, as if to say, You did this to her.

After shaking the dust from their collective boots, the Baron’s party sit down to dine in the great hall. After several courses, Thilisa turns to Ewen.

“Your squire – what is his name again? – tells me you are going to Qualdris.”

“Yes, my dear. We are tasked with taking in hand the new Earl and his brother, and bringing them back to Tashal to receive justice.”

“Are you indeed?”

“The council is of the opinion that the Harabors were behind the death of the queen.”

The Baroness bursts out laughing. “Oh, naughty boys. And so you are to arrest them, bring them back clanking in chains of disgrace.”

“I think that is how the council has envisioned it.”

“How very melodramatic. Do you think they will comply? Do you think they will come along peacefully?”

At this very moment Sir Rollard D’Audrieu and Finbar of Erons enter the hall. Each sketches a bow toward the baronial couple.

“Mah lord of Ternua, as Ah live and breathe.”

Ewen nods in their direction before answering his wife. “I have no such expectation, although I do seem to have arrogated to myself some small reputation for achieving the impossible.”

“Arrogated does appear to have been the word, then. How many men do you intend to bring?”

Ewen turns his head. “Sir Aeomund, pray apprise the lady Baroness of our forces.”

The knight rises smartly. “Thirteen medium foot under Sir Blakka Pulgarty, the company of the Blue Boars, ten longbowmen with their sergeant, plus the squadron of light horse, my lord. Sir Ritzar, as well, and the ten Oselmarch men, led by Sergeant Appel, contributed by the Lord Marshal.”

Thilisa is unimpressed. “You won’t be storming Qualdris castle with fifty men.”

Sir Aeomund is unfazed. “No, but we took Ternua with less. Though less glorious, it is often the un-fought battle that is best.”

Ewen chuckles. “I fear, my lady, that the good knight is a martial philosopher.”

Thilisa smiles, raises an eyebrow, and addresses Finbar and Sir Rollard. “I suppose I should tell him.”

Finbar nods. Sir Rolland simply says, “That would be yoah decision, lady.”

The Baroness turns and says, “I am sure that you have some plan in mind, some means all of your own. But I can give you a way in, and I doubt very much that the present Earl of Osel is aware of it.”

Ewen is receptive. “I am sure that such information might well prevent an unnecessary effusion of blood on the part of our good men.”

“The easiest thing to do is send Finbar with you. He knows precisely where it is, and how to get into it.” She turns to Sir Aeomund. “Now, master philosopher, pose your questions.”

The knight gathers himself. “I assume the method of ingress is into the main keep ...”

Thilisa describes the layout of the castle fortifications, which feature a gated barbican on both the east and west side of the complex, as well as an ostlers yard which also has a gate. These outer walls are only about five feet in height and are not particularly defensible. Once inside the barbicans, the main curtain wall is ten to eleven feet high, with two more gates leading inward, one to the north and one to the south. The main entrance into the keep is from the south gate. While there is also a way in from the north, this is more roundabout and much less direct.

“So, to recap,” the Baroness says, “the castle involves a double-tiered defensive entry.”

Finbar speaks up. “A hidden tunnel in the woods to the northwest of the castle leads into the cellar.”

Sir Aeomund asks about the layout inside.

Thilisa continues her account. The stairways within the keep do not all connect, it being sometimes necessary to cross a hall to go up or down a level. Men at arms are quartered in each of the smaller towers. In her time, the large towers to the north and south were only used for guests and nobles, but this might have changed since. While the castle is probably well stocked for a siege, it does suffer a defensive flaw, the only source of water being a well in the ostlers yard.

“Not,” she adds, “that you will be wanting to besiege it for the amount of time it would take to run out of water.”

Sir Aeomund asks if the walls are of equal height all around, and Thilisa responds that a ditch creates an artificial escarpment to the west . “As to knights serving in a feudal capacity, I may have convinced several of them to be ... elsewhere. In any event, very few of them seemed loyal to the Harabors.”

The castle has its own chaplain, which she allows may also be different now; the last Thilisa was aware the matakea of the Order of the Spear of Shattered Sorrow at Qualdris was Cerigan of Felive, an elderly cripple with a powerful and quick mind. She also mentions the mercantyler Tommas of Cuke, whom Ewen recalls as having once held the debt to the roof repair at the abbey of Erone, which the Baron himself had paid off over a year ago.

Once Sir Aeomund had satisfied himself regarding the fortifications of Caer Qualdris, the Baron turns to his lady wife. “Sir Baran Meleken, your kinsman by marriage, has not entirely given up his efforts to press his claim against the Harabor usurpers, I gather.”

“No,” she responds. “He is next in line, regardless of what that entail might say.”

Ewen nods. “Good.” He turns his head. “Summon Sir Baran Meleken!”

After dinner, the Baron closets himself with Gatanis Nildar, who explains that the feudal dues of Kolorn – a very small amount – plus plus those of the barony of Nubeth, have been placed in the bonding house, there having been no indication as to what to do with them other than to keep them safe. “Our own feudal dues are ready to be sent on as well.” They briefly touch on the winter festival, which Gatanis indicates is well in hand. He also mentions that soldiers have come through town in a desultory fashion, always in small numbers, most recently with more going from north to south than otherwise.

Arva of Kerryn wanders into the camp of the Osleshire men Lord Firith has contributed to the expedition. These are hard-bitten veterans of the Pagaelin campaigns, many showing multiple scars where their mail burnies or habergeons failed to protect exposed flesh. Piles of spears, swords, shields, axes and daggers lie heaped about.

“Would ya care to join our repast?” a tall, grinning soldier calls to her, gesturing magnanimously at their campfire. “We was given some rabbits by the local folks!”

Arva approaches and peers at one of the ‘rabbits’ roasting on a spit. “Well,” she exclaims in delight, “I’ve never seen a rabbit with wings before!” She displays her dimples.

“Ah, now, they have a special kind o’rabbit ‘ere in Thelshire, I’ll warrant. Not like our rabbits in Oselshire.”

The others laugh good-naturedly and make room for Arva by the fire. She settles in and asks them questions about their arms and their latest campaign before turning the conversation in the direction she is intent upon.

“Did you know that you were marching before the council meeting was held this morning?”

A short, squat soldier scoffs. “Lord Firith told us to stand by for orders; to stand hard by. If he wanted us to know the why, he would’ve told us.”

“How long have you been in the city?”

One of them grumbles comically. “Long enough to get webs between my toes.”

“It is rather dreary,” she sympathizes.

“Should be in winter quarters now in Kobing,” another adds, “but there’s still work to be done.”

Arva nods in commiseration. “At least you’ve had a busy season!”

The tall grinning soldier leans back against a tree and stifles a belch. “Hunting the Pagaelin is the greatest sport there is. When they die, they die in droves!” Someone produces a stoppered flask, which prompts the soldier to wax philosophic.

“Sometimes they get us. But mostly, we get them.”

Halane 21, 732

Sir Baris Tyrestal is trying to see past the man blocking his way into Raven Hall.

“I am sorry, Sir Baris,” Walin of Vastair says smoothly, “but breakfast is only served when the Baron is in residence.”

The knight frowns and cranes his neck. “Does that mean he’s not here?” he asks incredulously.

“I am afraid it does,” the steward purrs in assurance, remaining firmly planted in the doorway.

“Did ... did he say anything before he left?”

Walin of Vastair pauses thoughtfully for a moment, considering the question. “I believe he said a great deal of things, Sir Baris.” His wife would have recognized the expression and been annoyed.

This stymies the burly knight, who stares blankly at the man.

“Well ... did he say anything about wanting to speak with me?”

“No, Sir Baris.”

The knight shakes his head, dumbfounded. He looks at his boots for a moment, and then he has a clever thought.

“Was there anything unusual about the Baron? When he left, I mean?”

Walin sighs and ponders this broad inquiry, still adroitly blocking the doorway, and then appears to take some pity on the knight.

“Well now, I do believe that he left with his heavy armor, Sir Baris, as did Sir Aeomund as well. And they took quite a body of men with them.” He smiles. “Ah, and I also seem to remember the Baron asking squire Goreg to prepare the warhorses as well as the riding horses.”

Sir Baris’s mind boggles. A tournament? Warfare? Did someone mention something about this, and he hadn’t been paying attention? By Sarajin’s icy beard, was he missing some great battle somewhere?

In his despair, standing there in the street in front of Raven Hall, Sir Baris is briefly unmanned, unable to think of any further questions which might make the situation more clear. Walin remains impassively stuck in the doorway. Sir Baris’s shoulders slump, and he turns slowly and starts back up the street, his mind in a terrible muddle. The door clicks shut behind him.

His feet, requiring no executive guidance, set a course for the nearest tavern.

Until very recently, Goreg Ocazar had spent the entirety of his young life as the inconvenient by-blow of a middling, landed knight. In a scant month and a half’s time, he has found himself catapulted into the role of squire to Kaldor’s newest, and possibly most interesting, baron. Which is how young squire Goreg finds himself, on a certain misty Harnic afternoon late in the month of Halane, riding all by himself up to the looming walls of Caer Qualdris and demanding that the gates be opened before him.

Somebody manning the gatehouse battlements coughs, unimpressed. “Eh, wait here.”

Not bad, bethinks Goreg nervously to himself. He glances over his shoulder to where the Baron, amid his small retinue, is seated atop his high-blooded, black Khanset mare, resplendent in his finest mail and double-quartered surcoat. Goreg is young, but not so young that he fails to appreciate how deeply in over his head he finds himself. Even with the squadron of light horse they had picked up at Eliten manor, the forces arrayed behind the Baron appear, even to his inexperienced eye, wholly insufficient for storming a castle of this size. He squints back up at the sprawling, crenelated walls and waits, feeling extremely exposed.

Some time goes by. On the battlements higher above, several people appear. The Baron of Ternua spurs his high-stepping horse forward and canters beyond the point where Goreg has been addressing the walls, much to the young man’s relief.

One of the men on the high battlements is Mirild Harabor, the new Earl of Osel. His younger brother, Sir Kornuska, stands away to one side, near another figure Ewen recognizes from one of Aethel Atan’s soirées, the mage Quillon of Rakot.

Mirild shouts down at the men arrayed before his gates. “Why have you come here, Baron of Ternua?”

Ewen pitches his voice for all to hear. “I am sent by the Royal Council of this kingdom, in the capacity of Deputy Lord Marshal of Kaldor, to bring you back to Tashal to answer questions and receive justice before the Council.”

Sir Kornuska squints down from the walls. “Every time I see you,” he marvels, “you have a new title.”

Mirild concurs. “My brother speaks true. I see no reason to repeat Heru, see no reason to go to Tashal to answer before some so-called council. Why should I go to Tashal to speak to some trumped-up council?”

“You will find that the king’s seal is upon my very orders.”

“But you claim to be acting in the name of the royal council,” he calls. “Are you now claiming to be acting in the name of the king?”

“As the council does the bidding of the king; so do I.”

The young Earl is not taken in by his. “But there you lie! There is no king! We know you deposed him traitorously.”

“Is that indeed what your advisors have informed you? I would suggest that you make such arguments to the Council. I am empowered to take you under my care to Tashal.”

“Where they will traitorously strike off my head! I give you my counter-proposal. You have my leave to encamp overnight on the common. If you have not left this place by daybreak, I shall slay your pitiful little band to a man. As I am well within my rights to do, as Earl of Osel, my father having been belted by the king.”

“You are in defiance, then, of the Council’s command.”

“This parley is at an end!” the earl pronounces in disgust. “You will be gone by dawn, or you will be dead by sundown.”

Mirild Harabor, his brother Sir Kornuska, and their men withdraw from view, retreating to the confines of the castle. Quillon of Rakot, however, remains. After the others have left, he calls down to Ewen.

“I, my lord, would have a word with you, and you alone.”

The Baron nods. “I would be happy to speak with you, Master Quillon.”

“If you take my assurance that no harm shall come to you, I shall descend to the lower battlement. You may ride up to it, and we shall speak there with only a few feet separating.”

“As you say.” Ewen turns to Goreg. “Wait here.”

The mage points to the first extended fighting platform at the southeast corner of the keep. “It will take several minutes for me to get there.”

Ewen rides up to the walls and awaits him where indicated. Osel men at arms peer curiously down until a shout from above causes them to withdraw. Master Quillon emerges onto the platform.

His voice is measured. “No good can come of this, my lord.”

“Perhaps. I say, no good can come from a peer of the realm standing in defiance of the Royal Council.”

“That may be so. The Earl is convinced that, should he go to Tashal, he will meet the same end his father met. He will not surrender. I say wait. Let a new monarch decide. Surely you do not believe this man is guilty of the murder of the queen?”

“The reputation of the father proceeds him I am afraid, and the facts of the matter do appear to look poorly for the Earl’s cause in this.”

“Facts are in the eye of the beholder, they are of no concern to me. What is of concern is the constant undermining of this kingdom. I would implore you to reject the Earl of Osel’s kind offer to encamp on his common, and depart now before anyone dies.”

“I am afraid I shall need to follow my own counsel in this matter, Master Quillon. The Harabor family has a long enough history of undermining this kingdom, and I would call a mage giving succor to this family an interference of its own kind.”

The mage draws himself up, looking down bitterly upon the Baron.

“I should have known better. You are a fool, young Deryni. A fool. Fare thee well.”

The Ternuan force retires to the common, where the men have begun lighting fires. Sunset finally burns off the day-long miasma of fog, leaving a clear sky with a three-quarter moon shedding plenty of light all around. They hold a brief conference, and the Baron expresses his expectation that Mirild Harabor intends to attack them at some point during the night. The time to infiltrate the keep, he declares, is soon after full dark, before the Earl’s men have had time to arm themselves and act. Sir Aeomund Legith, taking his cue from his lord, outlines rules of engagement for the infiltration, groups of men assigned to securing and holding critical points in the keep as the rest of the men flow upward from floor to floor, like rising floodwaters, until they entrap the earl and his brother above. The infiltration will include the entirety of the Baron’s small force save for the bowmen and horsemen, who will remain behind, vulnerable to attack, tending the newly lit fires and improvising the false impression of the larger force tamely encamped.

When all is ready and the word is given, Finbar of Erons leads the rest of the party along a circuitous route north, west, and then south through three separate stands of trees, endeavoring to prevent sentinels on the castle walls from detecting their movements by the light of Yael. In the center of the final copse of trees they locate a large, gnarled oak twice the width of the stoutest any of them have ever seen. Finbar hands out torches. He then steps up to the old tree, reaches up and down into a hollow knot, and appears to be groping for something. Then his arm jerks, and a distinct click is heard. Part of the tree shifts inward, swinging all the way around to the other side. This reveals an opening large enough for a regular sized man to easily enter. An iron bolted ladder leads downward.

Finbar provides instructions to the young man designated to lead at the front of the file.

“Squire Goreg. Once below, go forward forty paces. Everyone else go in line, follow him, and begin and stop as one. I will climb down last, and use the lever to close the tree. At that point I will make my way forward, and we will then proceed.”

One by one, they silently all climb in, clambering backwards and down. Below, in the cramped, claustrophobic space, with smoky torchlit shadows jumping about him and men piling up behind, Goreg gropes his way forward, counting his steps until he reaches forty. Eventually, after considerable milling about, Finbar makes his way to the front, coming abreast of where the Baron himself stands, immediately behind Goreg.

“All is set, milord.”

Ewen nods. “Excellent. Squire Goreg, proceed.”

They negotiate the dirt tunnel, a soundly constructed assemblage of wooden pilings spaced every five feet, well supported by stout beams and boards. Lichen and mushrooms adhere to every surface, and various creepy, crawling things scurry about in the erratic torchlight, diving into crevices and away from the startling intruders. Cekiya snatches up one wriggling creature, breaking its neck in mid-squeal. Turning to the Oselshire man immediately behind her, she whispers, “this may come in handy,” and stuffs it in her pocket.

After about one hundred and twenty paces as Goreg counts, the tunnel emerges into what appears to be a stone cairn in a chamber made of rough-hewn stone walls, floor, and ceiling. Finbar, sotto voce, instructs Goreg to push the stone aside.

To the squire’s surprise, the stone yields to his shove easily, sliding away as if on rails to one side. This reveals a corridor running perpendicular to their previous path, another stone opposite about five feet away. The ceiling above is vaulted. Peering ahead, Goreg finds that the corridor ends to the left but continues on to the right.

He turns and whispers for Cekiya. Right underneath him, she brushes past. Goreg gulps and hisses at her, “You should be quite near to the front, so you can take out any isolated guard.”

“Don’t worry. I smell dead people.”

Torchlight shines as Sir Aeomund and Petros enter the chamber at the end of the corridor, revealing a bier with a skeletal figure prone upon it, as well as two more stone slabs. A barrel stands incongruously to the left of the bier. The rest of the group come out into the chamber. Someone taps on the barrel, which sounds empty, but evidently once held liquid.

Finbar points to an antechamber to the left, where a ladder leads up. “This is a very ancient burial place. It is unknown who these persons are, but they are assumed to date to the days before the old earls of Osel.” Finbar indicates that they will climb to a small chamber next.

Sir Aeomund asks if this chamber is likely to have defenders in it, but Finbar shakes his head and somewhat cryptically says, “No, not until we move the statue.”

They file up a ladder into a finished stone chamber with three chests in it. Finbar explains that these are “emergency chests, stocked with arms, armor, and money in case my lord of Osel needed to flee the castle.” A statue of Saint Ambrathas explains the mysterious reference, as does a pit to the right of where they stand and stout cords leading from either side into the pit. “That is the counterweight,” Finbar explains, gesturing with a nod. “Stand aside,” he says blandly, “the statue will fly back.” The reshuffle their positions in the cramped chamber, some of the men still stranded on the ladder below. Finbar reaches into an alcove and steps back quickly as the statue swings all the way out, exposing an opening into another chamber beyond.

“The crypt, my lord.”

Sir Aeomund seizes the opportunity to provide a curt, hushed homily. “See, Petros? The Lady gives us access!” The bearded knight’s eyes shine in anticipation.

Before them stands another bier, this one bearing a better-preserved armored knight bearing the checkered shield of Larani, a sword crossed upon its chest. Beyond stands further, evenly spaced biers in a higher-walled, vaulted, finished chamber. On the right-hand side, a short set of stairs lead to a door. Once all have crowded into the chamber and Finbar confirms that everyone is through, he reaches behind the statue’s shield and pulls inward. The statue clicks into place.

“My lord, the storage chamber of the castle’s cellar is beyond. That door is normally locked.”

Cekiya silently comes up and endeavors to pick the lock with her new lock-picks. She is rewarded with a satisfying snick, which seems to please her enormously. She glances back at the Baron.

“Can I lock it, and do it again?”

The Baron frowns and minutely shakes his head.

Cekiya shrugs and opens the door. Enough light from Petros’s torch reveals no one immediately ahead in the storage chamber, although the chamber continues around the corner to the left. A faint glow of light seeps from that side.

“Wait,” Cekiya says to no one in particular, and stealthily creeps around the corner. She finds bales of various items, as well as an unsuspecting servant, whose back is partially turned, going through the hanging meats. Cekiya slips up behind him and he pivots, sensing that he is no longer alone.

He peers myopically at her. “Who are you?”

To his credit, he attempts to dodge the flashing blade. Unfortunately for him, he caroms off some of the hanging meat, causing Cekiya to miss his sternum and to filet his gut instead. He gasps messily as he hits the floor, and then Cekiya silences him and returns to the group.

Ewen, having heard the noise, shakes his head again.

“Trouble still picking out meat,” Cekiya says cryptically, as if by way of explanation.

Meanwhile, Goreg, Sir Aeomund and Petros have come forward, finding immediately to their right the spiral staircase leading up into the keep. Finbar tells them that, at this time day, the Earl is probably in the great hall two levels up and out from this staircase. The kitchen and guard chamber are on the next floor up. Sir Aeomund nods and details four of the Gray Griffins to peel off above and secure the kitchen floor, while the remainder of the group will climb to the floor of the great hall.

This stage of the plan proceeds without a hitch, the four mercenaries fanning out from the staircase while the rest swiftly ascend to the hall above. However, one floor up, as they emerge from the stairway, an eager Goreg manages to clang his sword blade against the stone wall. A castle guard, half wheeling at the sound and beholding a stranger emerging from below, cries aloud and draws his weapon.

“Alarum! Intruders!”

The keep’s spiral staircase is separated from the great hall by a short access-way bifurcated by a very large stone column. The guard raising the alarm is blocking the space to the left of the column, beyond which the great hall itself appears to open leftward, judging by the sudden clamor coming from that quarter. It is not clear where the space to the right of the large column leads. Immediately to the left of the staircase, another passageway leads behind them. Goreg, having gotten the attention of the guard ahead and to the left of the column with his errant blade, swiftly steps forward and engages the man. In doing so, given the size of the space, he effectively blocks that obvious route into the hall.

Sir Aeomund, clearing the staircase just ahead of the baron, takes in the tactical situation as, metal ringing on metal, the guard’s sword blocks the squire’s desperate swing. The knight yells for the squire to press his foe as Ewen and Petros veer to the right of the pillar, seeking a way around.

The guard’s sword comes down upon the squire’s shield, biting into it, and Goreg uses the opportunity to drive forward with his shield before him, successfully back-pedaling the guard inward, making room for Sir Aeomund to step up to his right. From the space beyond and to the left, Goreg to his great horror can see a number of men at arms all hurtling his way. But Sir Aeomund comes up alongside him, with Finbar just to the rear, and suddenly squire Goreg is far too busy to worry about numbers.

As he brings his bastard sword around, Sir Aeomund notes that a number of the Earl’s men swarming their position lack armor, with any planned midnight ambush of the Ternuan men still presumably hours away. An unlucky soldier manages to get his sword up to block, but the knight comes back around with a return swing across the midsection. The man goes down. Sir Aeomund heaves forward, leaving Goreg to continue trading blows with his original opponent.

To the rear, Cekiya has slipped around to the left and through a door in the passage to the left of the staircase.

Meanwhile, Ewen and Petros have dodged around to the right of the pillar, with Kobing’s men followed by the Gray Griffins fast behind. Ewen ignores a doorway to the right with a barred door, as it leads away from the direction of the hue and cry coming from the hall, and a man at arms is charging forward from the space beyond the pillar. Ewen swings at the onrushing soldier, slicing beneath a parrying blade and clean across the rib cage, cutting him down in a spray of blood. The Baron steps forward, pressing through the cramped space around the pillar toward the great hall. The next man, unarmored, brandishing a broadsword, recognizes him, and greets him with hot defiance.

“I know not how you got into this castle, Baron, but you won’t get out of it. Have at you!”

The soldier leaps forward, raising his weapon to block Ewen’s descending bastard sword. The broadsword blade shatters under the impact.

“I yield!” he immediately squawks, astonished, as he staggers against the column with nothing but a few inches of blade left above the hilt with which to defend himself. Ewen curtly orders him into the custody of the Oselshire men and presses inexorably toward the hall.

On the other side of the pillar, Sir Aeomund steps up as another guard closes. The knight delivers a savage thrust which catches the man in the ribs. He manages to twist away from the worst of the blow, however, screams, keeps his feet, and puts his all into a slashing cut aimed at the knight’s midsection. Sir Aeomund deftly blocks, then efficiently runs him through. The guard collapses. The knight glances back at the laboring squire in the available instant before he steps toward another incoming guard.

Goreg is bracing his shield as the soldier standing athwart him swings. The squire sweeps aside the man’s sword with his shield and fluidly ripostes with a rapid strike to the man’s upper left arm, opening a nasty gash. Goreg take the opportunity as the man staggers to press another step forward, then slices across the man’s unguarded chest, but still his opponent keeps his feet.

Sir Aeomund has another of the Earl’s men in front of him. The knight bellows over his left shoulder, ordering Finbar to take three men to secure the corridor behind them. At the same time he hacks his blade wickedly into the chest of the next man at arms, crumpling his opponent. He wrenches his blade free from the dead man’s rib cage and glances around, taking in the developing situation.

The Baron has appeared from around the other side of the large pillar, pressing the long way around toward the great hall. Sir Aeomund spies him in the act of bringing his shield up high to intercept a tremendous descending overhead blow from a large guard blocking his way, the sound of the shuddering impact audible across the room. Something strikes the experienced knight as odd, and just as quickly his brain registers it. The Baron is gazing past the man, far back into the hall, paying minimal attention to his immediate foe.

Sir Aeomund’s eyes lock back on a thick-muscled guard barreling down upon his own person, and a rapid succession of blows, hammer and tongs fury, culminates in his opponent punishing him with an arm-numbing impact as the knight blocks with his sword.

Buying a second to recover, he twists away just in time to glance over and see the Baron’s focus returned to his proximate foe. The great bastard sword comes around underhand and neatly castrates the man from below, tossing a thick spray of fabric, blood and genitalia into the air. The Baron steps forward, looking into the middle distance again. Sir Aeomund barks a laugh and, like a butcher going about his work, dispassionately cuts off his opponent’s arm at the elbow.

Which gets him another stride forward and beyond the blocking corner of the stone wall to his left in time to see Mirild Harabor in the act of rising from his place at the end of a long table. A scowl of irritation is contorting the Earl’s pinched features as more of his men draw weapons and rush the unexpected intruders. A passageway stands immediately behind the young peer, and he appears to be in the act of turning away from the melee, toward that portal, presumably with the intention of flight.

His neck vaporizes.

The space between Mirild Harabor’s chin and shoulders blossoms into a pink spray of gleaming gristle and bone, the raw shattered ivory of the clavicle unhinging forward. The liberated head rises into the air from the force of the blast. Sir Aeomund sees it all with vivid clarity, the Earl’s eyes wide with shock, eyelids fluttering spastically, lips clearly mouthing, “What the f---?” as the orb of his head suspends for a long moment, rotating slightly in space, before succumbing to gravity and tumbling to lie somewhere beneath the table. The Earl’s body, arms outstretched and hands groping blindly, tips over backwards and disappears from sight.

With an uncanny sensation, cold and alien, suddenly gripping his own innards, Sir Aeomund glimpses the Baron of Ternua gazing past his immediate opponent, locked upon Harabor’s demise.

An incoming sword blade recalls the veteran knight to himself. Sir Aeomund finds that he, as well, had been unaware for a moment of his own foe before him, and two more just behind, his training taking over and managing the initial exchange of parried blows with detached, mindless precision. Refocusing now, the knight heaves a savage cut which disjoints the blade from the hilt of the other man’s lesser weapon.

Somewhere behind him, Squire Goreg, sparring tirelessly against a badly wounded opponent, finally delivers a telling blow, smiting the man powerfully on right hip. The soldier stumbles and falls, gasping, and yields.

“I accept your surrender,” Goreg says, “and you owe me a hundred pence.” He steps past the man toward three guards contending with Sir Aeomund ahead.

An opportunistic Kobing man seizes the prisoner and gruffly says, “I’m going to take fifty of those pence.”

Ewen pays the price for his attention to the earl, sustaining a spearing stroke to the abdomen which his armor only partially absorbs, doubling him over for a moment. The young Baron looks at his foe, surprised, and then the bastard sword comes around in a blur, skewering the man between the eyes and the bridge of nose. Arva, a few strides to the rear, who has been observing the Baron dividing his attention between the guards before him and Mirild Harabor beyond, sees the fellow’s brains spill out the back of his skull.

And then, as quickly as that, the battle is over. The remaining five men at arms abruptly surrender, having realized that Mirild is dead and their fellow guards defeated or slain. The Baron of Ternua’s men have taken no casualties. The wounded among the defenders are tended, two of the men who are beyond aid dying in slow, stark agony. While this is going on, several of the survivors are swiftly interrogated, and indicate their understanding that Sir Kornuska is upstairs.

Sir Ritzar strides through the chaos in the hall, insouciant. “Hey, quite a party...”

“I insist you join the next one,” Goreg grumbles audibly under his breath.

The knight wheels on him. “Aren’t you just a squire?” he demands incredulously.

Goreg, mind numbed from the breathless exertion of battle, whitens but is dogged. “Will you stay in the back for the next one?”

Sir Ritzar’s hand falls to the pommel of his sword. “Say one more word!”

“Goreg, over here!” Sir Aeomund bellows, defusing the situation while disposing available men to block the barbican and other exits. Goreg then joins Sir Aeomund and some other chosen men as Finbar leads them all up a floor to the gallery above the hall. The guide points out a staircase halfway down the passage leading further up to the comital quarters in the highest part of the tower. Goreg examines arrow-slits off the gallery, as well a tocsin bell amidst the battlements on the next level up which appears large enough to be heard a great distance.

A search of the comital level reveals two chambers, the steward’s to the right and the earl’s chambers to the left. Arva fails to unlock the door to the right. Sir Aeomund knocks, gets no answer, and kicks in the door. It slams open, revealing an empty chamber with a double bed, chest, brazier, and no people. To the left a door stands open, leading into a large room with windows and tapestries, also empty.

Below, the Ternuan and Oselshire troops search the castle and accept the surrender of the remaining personnel. One servant discloses that he witnessed Sir Kornuska Harabor, the Countess Cheselyne, and Quillon of Rakot on the south wall three to four hours ago. Other castle personnel chime in. The lady, not pregnant and evidently loathing Mirild, had apparently become infatuated with Sir Kornuska shortly after his arrival. The inescapable conclusion drawn from the testimony is that the three fugitives fled over the castle walls, Sir Kornuska having learned a lesson from Heru that the advent of Lord Ewen beneath one’s walls is liable to spell trouble.

The Harabor standard is duly lowered, and the Baron orders Sir Baran Meleken’s pennant sent up in its stead. Ewen, Baron of Ternua, walks the battlements, surveying the moonlit expanse of Qualdris castle, having made himself its master. He nods in satisfaction to Sir Aeomund Legith.

“Summon Sir Baran Meleken.”
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