With the festivities aboard the Leviathan winding down the adventuring party returned to the Andralene and a fitful night of rest. In the morning the Andralene and its precious cargo would break from the flotilla and make for Specularum once more. Upon daybreak Alastair immediately rallied his compatriots to make final their plan regarding Sulescu and consolidate their newly acquired information. Their plan consisted of gaining an audience with the Duke in some form in order to inform him of; the Black Eagle Barony’s involvement with the Iron Ring, the threat to his eastern border by Daphnotarthius, the Radu clan’s affiliation and abetment of slavery within Karameikos, the situation in Sulescu and finally the disposition of the Caldwell Estate. Liam seemed to chafe at this last decision and much to his chagrin, Alastair insisted the castle be given to the Duke for disposal or usage. Few of the frontier towns have protection and this keep, being very close to Threshold could provide a strong garrison point for the Duke in the north. There was no telling how Caldwell earned his money to purchase Castle Antilles. Furthermore, by the Dukes Law, only landed lords and landed knights are allowed to maintain a keep, often granted by the Dukes hand.
During finalization of the plan Kithus, the Oracle pulled Alastair aside after receiving one of his ‘visions’. Ill portents had plagued the party since leaving Threshold and Alastair had done his best to keep them from troubling the minds of his compatriots. Si’lex made good on his dispute with Kithus about the pilfered treasure, making it readily apparent that the treasure would go to the refugees as recompense for their troubles. Kithus surrendered the treasure to Alastair who distributed it amongst the various people.
A headwind prevented the Andralene from making better time, but regardless the entry to the River Volaga was uneventful and soon Specularum was in view, however, something was amiss. Outside the River Fort were several Karameikan War Galleys. Krondahar translated the myriad of flag signals on their masts to the party as a message to prepare to be boarded. As the Andralene approached several smaller row boats bearing twenty men a piece move to meet her a good distance from the Fort. The rowboat crews set foot on deck and were ordered to begin a thorough search of the ship for anything out of the ordinary. Alastair recognized one of the Guard Sergeants as the guard he had met days earlier outside of the gates to Specularum, who in turn made the connection. The guard, Sergeyevich Vorloi, explained how all hell had broken loose in Specularum, word that Sulescu had been attacked and how the party’s mission must have been successful. Alastair inquired as to how he knew the party had been in Sulescu. With wide surprise the guard disbelieved the party had been to Sulescu and immediately asked if there was a place to speak in private.
Once in the Officer’s Mess, Sergey disclosed that two days ago, someone stole the “Eye of Traladara”, one of three ancient ‘Seer Stones’ dating back to before the Immortals Zirchev, Halav and Petra saved the Traladaran people. The Eye, a holy relic to the Church of Traladara, was missing and the Church of Karameikos was being blamed. Open conflict had erupted and martial law had to be imposed in Specularum to stymie the rioting. Realization flooded into Alastair as he murmured one phrase of Kithus’ prophecy that had already come to pass; ’…Traladara will be blind and lose its soul…". Confused glanced spitted Alastair for an explanation. Before anyone could ask the question, Alastair turned to Sergey, imploring him to find a way to get the party an audience with the Duke. Additionally, Alastair arranged for several tents to be set up outside the city walls, in which the refugees could stay temporarily. With the last of the agreements reached, Sergey excused himself and allowed the Andralene access to the docks for offloading.
After Sergey’s departure, Alastair explained the source of his murmured expression and the fact that he had been withholding several prophecies given him since leaving Threshold. Alastair recited the prophecy from Kithus aloud:
“Danger is coming, Traladara will be blind and lose its soul.
Death will visit THE Family and the King will be challenged.”
Understandably, Liam and several other party members were hurt by Alastair’s secretive action. They had placed their trust in Alastair, while his intentions were good trying to prevent prophecy from mudding the waters around their objective and despite numerous occasions of placing himself at great risk of personal harm, his lack of disclosure has caused the party to call his leadership ability into question. Even through their doubt a few of the party members reaffirmed their faith in Alastair, much to his own relief. Regrettably, the damage was done, however, this was the first instance in which the prophecies had been true. The party and their refugee host made for the tent camp outside of the walls of Specularum.
Once at the refugee camp, Alastair was pleased to see it nearly complete and the accommodations acceptable. Alastair petitioned one of the guards to send stable boys to return the party’s horses and wagon to the encampment. Hours later a guard entered the encampment seeking the party in his hand a writ declaring an audience with the Grand Duke. Alastair asked if any of the other party members wished to attend, to which everyone except Lonovan assented. The companions doffed their weapons and armor while dressing as courtly as possible. Through the gates they advanced, following close escort of the guard who had delivered the summons.
The Dukes Stronghold at Bricktop, while not a marvel of construction was certainly the largest Keep many of the party had beheld. Inside the walls they marched towards the council chambers. Grand double doors swung wide and they were greeted by the Court Herald requesting their names and titles. Alastair consulted his allies and hastily they agreed upon a temporary arrangement of name and gathering for the moment and The Court Herald announced the companions. Intently Alastair walked directly towards the Grand Duke, rousing the guards to momentarily doubt his actions. Once close enough, Alastair knelt and placed his right fist over his heart, greeting the Grand Duke in appropriate fashion. The rest of the party half-heartedly followed suit. Upon command the party rose and faced their biggest obstacle as of yet, a royal court filled with snakes and jackals ready to pounce upon the unsuspecting.
A courtly greeting from the Duke and a prompt to proceed left Alastair to divulge what information he had brought to the table. Alastair explained the suspected Iron Ring actions within Karameikos and their operations within the town of Sulescu. Immediately he was challenged by several Court Lords as to the validity of his story. To which Alastair retorted there were 50 refugees outside Specularum within an encampment that could attest to such activities. The Lords returned his evidence by asking how much Alastair had paid the refugees to corroborate these lies. Alastair paled with realization that the gold he had handed out upon the boat would be seen as bribery to their eyes. Thinking quickly he named one person he could trust to corroborate, Aliena Jowett, as well as her capture, torture and subsequent attempted sale. Murmurs spread like wildfire amongst the Lords.
When asked what had happened in Sulescu, Alastair responded with his story regarding the freeing of the slaves and their rescue from the slavers. A gaunt pale fellow at the right end of the table bristled at the accusations of slavers being allowed into his town. Lord Zemoris Sulescu vehemently stood his ground on the situation claiming the party had sacked and burned his town. Alastair laid the blame upon the bugbears of the Iron Ring. Lord Sulescu still stood his ground and the Grand Duke was demanded he stand down. The Duke proclaimed he would investigate the situation, and if he suspected any foul play he would punish Alastair and his companions most severely.
Alastair continued with his tale. He disclosed that the Radu Clan has been moving slaves within and around Specularum, the probability that his cousin Baron Von Hendriks, Bargle and the Black Eagle Barony were helping the Iron Ring and even worse that the Daphnotarthius family of Thyatis in league with the Black Eagle Baron while plotting a movement against Karameikos’ eastern border to draw the Grand Duke into a multi front war he could not win. To these speculations, the Grand Duke questioned very heavily Alastair’s story. Three factions that supported him during his ascension, now oppose him behind his back? He presented a three part situation; Either there is an insider in his Court, his intelligence network was inept or forces far more intelligent than he were at work. Carefully Alastair responded naming the possibility of all three being at fault. The Court Lords erupted, letting fly accusations of lies and accusatory statements.
During this momentary outburst Kithus dropped deeply into divinatory trance and began speaking in an unworldly voice that was not his own.
“Much sadness, much distrust, much doubt.
Protect the child, love will become hate.”
Grand Duke Karameikos bolted from his seat demanding to know what the Half Orc had said, disbelieving the words that came from his mouth. Immediately he demanded everyone to leave the chambers. The Court Lords were taken by surprise, but hesitantly stood, filtering from the room. The party alone with the Duke, were now privy to his inner sanctum. Distressed over the entire situation; the Grand Duchy beset by internal and external forces working against him, Specularum was split in a holy war, his remaining heir, Justin, seemingly under threat. Alastair proposed to let he and his companions get to the bottom of the Iron Ring and its alliance with the Black Eagle Barony. He stated he would make no move against Baron Von Hendriks, however, the Wizard Bargle would most definitely a target. This would allow the Grand Duke to investigate his cousin and see for himself the seeds that were sewn.
Alastair’s finished his audience by asking about the disposition of Clifton Caldwell’s estates. The Duke declared by Karameikan law the Duke was entitled to the lands, but by Traladaran law one is entitled to what one kills. The Duke initially granted Caldwell Keep to Alastair and his companions. Not to be rude Alastair, responded with a proposition and sound advice. The frontier lands are untamed, unsafe and relatively unprotected from invasion. Threshold is ripe for the taking. The nearest garrison is Castellan Keep, a day’s ride or more away to the north-east. A garrison of the Duke’s troops would serve a two-fold purpose. Firstly, it would provide protection and a redoubt for the citizens to retreat towards if necessary. Secondly, it would prove to the people in the north that the Grand Duke cares for their safety, reinforcing his standings among them. The Grand Duke pondered this carefully and conceded to Alastair’s advice. He agreed to garrison Caldwell Keep to protect Threshold.
Alastair and his companions were dismissed from the Dukes chambers and they retired to the refugee encampment under escort from the city guard. Arriving at the encampment the party was entreated to a performance by a very beautiful bard, her impromptu concert enrapturing the crowd of refugees. Alastair and Liam had heard tales of her music, a siren from the western border. When she completed her verse, she put away her instruments and quickly headed in the direction of the newly arrived party. She introduced herself as Yolanda of Luln and requested a private audience with the companions.
Once inside a reasonably secure tent she gushed. Yolanda had heard of the party’s accomplishments, the flight and opposition near Rifflian, the slave rescue in Sulescu and the stunning victory over the Black Eagle Baron’s flotilla. Coming in close she declared her loyalty and association with a small band of freedom fighters inside of Luln, who were dedicated to freeing the enslaved people from Fort Doom and the Black Eagle Barony. Yolanda and her associates had been waging a covert war against the Baron for years and Luln suffered greatly for it. She begged for the party’s agreement to aide her compatriots in the west. She also declared that somehow Baron Von Hendriks was behind the theft of the Eye of Traladara. She once again implored the help of the party to Luln. Satisfied with an answer of ‘several days’, she departed. Following the meeting, Lonovan, the self proclaimed merchant, sauntered into camp with critical information.
To this point it had been understood that the three most powerful merchant clans had been vying for power within the economy of Specularum and Karameikos. The Vorloi clan had directly supported the Karameikan ascendancy. The Radu clan staunchly opposed the Grand Duke and only thinly veiled their dislike for his laws and practices. The Torenescu clan was content with simply living off the rivalry and inter-clan differences. To complicate matters, the Torenescu clan was falling into ruin, due to an apparent affair it’s leader had conducted with a daughter of the Radu clan. His murder, suspected at the hands of his wife, has left the family in a power vacuum. Three clans, one opposed to the Duke, one with the Duke and one in ruin. The sway of power within the city could very quickly turn against the Duke if the Radu clan were to gain power. Their alliance and dealings with Baron Von Hendriks would turn Specularum into a bloodbath. Lonovan was quick to explain the Radu clan’s involvement with the turn of events within Specularum. Apparently there was a master thief within Specularum snooping around. Lonovan suspected this thief, named Flameflicker, had been hired by the Radu clan to steal the Eye of Traladara, which apparently was to be used in part payment to Thar, an Orcish warlord in the Broken Lands. The Radu clan, given the power vacuum within the Torenescu clan appeared to be the financial powerhouse of the Black Eagle Baron. With the Radu clan as the strongest merchant clan, the Vorloi would pose little threat without the Torenescu as a potential ally. Financially the Radu clan could cripple any war the Grand Duke attempted to enter. The scales had tipped. Alastair and Lonovan plotted a method to slow the Radu clan’s suspected plan.
They would use what information they had to try and pull the pressure of the Church of Traladara off of the Church of Karameikos and direct a unified front towards the Radu Clan. Implicating the Radu clan in the theft of the Eye of Traladara would put them under immense pressure from all sides. Furthermore, an indepth investigation by the city guard would give them even further reason to vacate Specularum or risk being found out. The next step would be to find a way to strengthen the Torenescu clan and bring them in line with the Vorloi clan, creating economic powerhouses that could redouble the pressure against the Radu clan. Their support of the Grand Duke would provide him financial support and power to wage a war that was undoubted to come. Alastair and Lonovan satisfied with their plot set their plan into motion.
Alastair stepped from the tent with even more on his mind. He gathered the 50 odd refugees around him and asked if there were any men at arms in the gathering. Surely there had to be a few. Many raised their hands, all told, 30 men volunteered without even knowing his intentions. He asked if they would be willing to travel north to protect the frontier near Threshold. Every one of them agreed, nearly unanimously. He retrieved Aliena and placed the men under her charge. Additionally, he sent a missive with Aliena to be delivered to his father and no one else. The document implored a great need and requested his father muster the Druzhinniki as well as a complement to his regular guard with the 30 men at arms to protect Threshold until the Duke could garrison Castle Antilles. The cohort left immediately after gaining provisions and gathering weapons and armor.
Addressing his companions, Alastair implored their next plan of action. With a resounding, ‘LULN’, he and his crew struck to the west post haste. Nearly a day’s travel into the journey they encountered a party of four ogre’s blocking the route to the west along the road. The manner of how the beasts were standing indicated they were waiting for something. The Half-Orc over heard them speaking in orcish and translated that they were indeed waiting for someone. It was at that moment the party was spotted and the ogres leapt to action.
The party dismounted and formed a battle line. Alastair remaining upon his charger strung the battle line to the north of the ogres and Helteg, dismounted, strung to the south with the unrehearsed intention of pincering the monstrous creatures. As the beasts lumbered down upon the fold, Liam’s arrows found home in the closest felling it momentarily. Upon the party, the beasts rent into the line. Warga’ath stood stoicly as blow after blow rained down upon his shield and armor. Lonovan fired his crossbow rather ineffectually but his show of force and support bolstered his allies. Alastair charged and charged again, leaving telling injuries upon the northern ogre to the fore of the formation. He did not, however, part ways without suffering a powerful swat from the massive beast. Kithus utilizing his dark magics left one ogre crawling along the ground, the opportunistic blows of Helteg’s caber taking its toll. Within that same instant Warga’ath was struck a massive blow leaving the great foreigner laboring for life, breaching the battle line. Alastair had wheeled his horse around aiming for the western ogre that had fallen behind after taking an arrow from Liam’s bow, handily dispatching his foe without drama. Glancing behind himself, he noticed the gap in the battle line, wheeling about once more and spurring Bartosz. He quickly returned to a flanking position piercing deeply into the flesh of the northern ogre again felling it effectively. The final ogre served little challenge given the combined might of Liam, Helteg and Kithus.
Following the skirmish the party dragged the corpses into a copse of trees just to the north of the road. Unfortunately they failed to notice just how easy it would be to identify the drag marks left behind by their 600 pound enemies. The party decided to set up camp for the night just a short distance away. The early morning preparations were interrupted by gutteral squealing from the road. Once again Kithus proved his worth by translating the filthy language as orcish. One of the orcs sat astride a horse and bellowed orders to it’s peons. Ten orcs immediately spread out in a search pattern attempting to find the ogres from the night before. This gave precious little time for the companions to set a hasty ambush. Alastair and Liam limbered up their bows lining up at the row of trees. Lonovan gained himself a better vantage point and readied his crossbow. The rest of the companions took up positions to mount a quick decisive strike.
Alastair made one quick last second assurance with his comrades, chose his target and nodded. His arrow thudded home in his target, signaling the start of the engagement with a squeal. Kithus hurled a javelin catching the closest orc in the chest. Bursting from within the underbrush, Helteg finished the skewered orc throwing it’s corpse to the ground with a ferocious yell as he delved into a rage. Liam’s greatbow sang it’s powerful note, it’s arrow seeking the orc upon the horse with lethal accuracy. Lonovan’s handcrossbow finished what Alastair’s longbow had started. At the pig like whistle of the orc captain, the rest of the orc war party joined the fray closing on the exposed Helteg, now 4 less in number. Alastair recognized the danger that Helteg was in and responded quickly by engaging, his first target fell to the ground separated from it’s right leg, squealing in pain. Kithus again loosed his dark magics upon one of the orcs, damning him, the spells effects visibly destroying the orc’s ability to fight. Helteg continued to stand his ground, however, the closeness of the combat was taking its toll and he had suffered several wounds.
Warga’ath feathered the orc captain’s horse, which in turn wheeled about falling dead upon its rider, trapping him. So too did Si’lex join the fray, his powerful limbs turning to pulp any that he set his fists and feet upon. Each orc had their turn to fall as the group worked together efficiently. Swords sliced through bone and sinew, arrow found chink in armor and the satisfying crush of blunt force trauma resounded through the thicket, leaving the orc war party cut to ribbons. The orc captain was left alive for questioning. He chose not to respond to Kithus’ questioning, however, something else would do the speaking for him. Within the saddlebag on the horse, was a missive, written in orcish and stamped with the signet of Baron Von Hendriks. It’s contents granting permission for any orcish war parties allied with Thar to operate within the boundaries of the Black Eagle Barony with impunity. This would aid their argument to the Grand Duke. Their journey to Luln thus far had proven to be fruitful. They immediately struck for Radlebb Keep.