Alastair led the way into the alcove where Si’lex and Helteg had found the mark Liam had been in the process of making before the scuffle. An in depth search found two deceased humans bearing sigils of the Black Eagle Barony. Growing increasingly worried, Alastair impressed upon the others the need to get Liam back. He felt it was necessary to disclose a secret he had been keeping his entire life. Given the response to a previous disclosure he had received from the Companions, he would no doubt suffer their wrath once more. It was his burden. Prior to starting his explanation, Alastair peered out of the alcove. His eyes fell upon a figure he knew all to well. Tomasz Rastav, his father, astride his charger waited outside. A terse exchange and an explanation as to why Liam was let out of Alastair’s sight followed. Alastair did not back down, feeling justified in his actions to allow Liam to track Bargle into the pass.
Outside the alcove, six additional riders clad in scale armor flying the standard of the Druzhinniki came into view, in their custody a hooded individual slouching in his saddle and another familiar figure, Kithus. The hooded figure pulled his cloak back, revealing himself as Liam, broken and battered but well in the realm of the living. Relief washed over the Companions as their friend was in good stead. With Liam in the alcove and the surroundings clear, Alastair launched into the explanation he had been dreading his entire life. Alastair explained that the Grand Duke had suffered an assassination attempt and he was in a coma. He pulled a parchment from under his armor and knelt trembling before Liam. Breaking the seal on the parchment Alastair recited the writ, signed and sealed by the Grand Duke of Karameikos declaring Liam his legitimate successor to the lands, rights and entitlements of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos.
Stunning silence blanketed the grotto. Liam, feeling betrayed glared at Alastair. Alastair explained his situation and begged forgiveness of his comrades, now thoroughly taken aback by the admission. Several voiced their acceptance and gave their sword to his defense while others were reluctant. Alastair explained his affiliation with the Druzhinniki, the Companion Guard, an order of knights fiercely loyal to the Line of Stefan Karameikos charged with protecting the family line. He continued explaining that Aliena was dead, killed at the hands of Lord Sulescu. He admitted that a portion of the power vacuum in the Church of Karameikos was his fault as he had coordinated a removal of Patriarch Olderby from the heirarchy. Olderby’s hardline attitudes against the Church of Traladara would have lead to even more blood shed. The Companion’s plan to stymie Clan Radu and their dealings with the Black Eagle Barony had been successful in some small measure. In the east of the Duchy, Thyatian Senator Daphnotarthius’s mercenary army had begun staging raids into Karameikos, in the attempt to incite open war between the two nations. The Thyatian navy had suffered great losses at the hands of Captain Dublin O’conna, his alliance had proven fruitful. With his soul laid bare before his Companions, Alastair steely eyed, once more asked forgiveness.
In various states of approval or disapproval the Companions agreed that their target was no more than eight or ten hours ahead of them. Tomasz, who’s original mission was to escort Liam back to Specularum, agreed to ride with the Companions to retrieve the Eye of Traladara. The party now thirteen, astride their mounts charged to the top of the pass.
At the crest of the pass, few members spotted the glowing bead in the fresh fallen snow. In an eruption of flame a fireball engulfed the Companions, unhorsing and singing several. Momentarily dazed, ears ringing in protest, the Companions stood face to face with Bargle, the Court Wizard of the Black Eagle Barony. A belly laugh issued from his mouth as he waved his hands measuredly, intoning another incantation with which to strike death down upon the party. Lonovan quickly snapped a shot from his hand crossbow, miraculously catching Bargle off guard and mercifully interrupting what would no doubt be the end of the Companions. Liam, relatively unscathed by the fireball loosed a hasty arrow which landed heavily. The surprise in Bargle’s eyes told the tale, he had underestimated the abilities of the companions. He motioned with his right hand while clutching the arrow in his chest with the left. A large human, no doubt Herleg, and four other soldiers trotted into view. Bargle turned back to see Alastair’s charger slip in the snow at a full gallop, by the grace of the immortals Alastair managed to get his lance back on target, driving it deep into Bargle’s gut. Bright blood splattered the snow as Bargle coughed for breath barely standing. Si’lex carried the attack and his snap kick from horseback shattered the wizard for good. Bargle’s body lay in the snow, his foul life force leaving its stain upon the stark white palette.
Helteg, now frothing in a rage, belted a roar telling all that no honorable kill would befall his brother. The Elder Rastav gauged his target and waded into the fray with Herleg, his Druzhinniki dispatching the other warriors with little effort. Wargaath freed his sword and shield, while Liam took aim into the melee. Herleg closed the gap to Tomasz, battle axe clanged off of shield as the deadly dance took them. Helteg reached his brother and using his caber to trip him, left Herleg exposed and on his back, defenseless. The Druzhinniki and the Companions surrounded Herleg as Alastair guided their tactics. Mercilessly, they pummeled Herleg until his body was as lifeless as Bargle’s. Victorious, Helteg decapitated his brother’s body and left his corpse to rot in the pass.
Alastair had wheeled to help the injured, what unfolded before him terrified him. Standing over the still form of Kithus was a shadowy figure. Yelling for assistance, Alastair galloped to Kithus’s aide. Liam, was first to respond, his powerful bow proving ineffectual. Si’lex was next to respond and his esoteric disciplines seemed to affect the creature. Alastair shielded Kithus from the creature as best he could and poured a magical potion into his throat. Helteg, hefting his family’s heirloom axe, freshly reclaimed from the now dead Herleg, joined the fray. Liam dropped his bow and closed the gap wielding his sword of Undead Slaying. The blow fell heavily upon the creature. Si’lex followed up with another powerful attack and the creature vaporized into nothingness, sent back to whatever gods it claimed.
Searching Bargle’s belongings Alastair recovered the coveted item the Companions had long been after. The Eye of Traladara glowed immaculately in his hands, revealing its gift for all to behold. Momentarily transfixed by the seer stone, Alastair had a vision. One of alliances and halflings, orcs and fields of death, triumph and Liam. He snapped from the long pause, looking around him while the party scrounged what they could from the bodies of their fallen enemies.
Helteg was content that his mission was complete and expressed the urge to depart to the Broken Lands to return the decapitated head of Herleg to honor his family. Lonovan likewise expressed a need to travel North back to Darokin. Many good reasons surfaced for parting company and an impasse was reached. In a flash of inspiration, Alastair proffered the Seer Stone to the party. Each had his vision in turn, each made their decision to stand with the party, but not without good reason and ample persuasion.
Together, the Companions rode out of the pass, flanked by the Druzhinniki. Hours of riding turned to days. From each hamlet, town, and city along the Duke’s Road poured handfuls of the Druzhinniki. The gathered number reached sixty men, loyal, determined and strong, ready to defend the heir apparent. Lances held high, pennons briskly waving in the wind. At their vanguard, The Companions and the Duke of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos.
The small army was hailed just outside the reaches of Specularum by a cleric from the Order of the Gryphon. He questioned the unit of men bearing the Duke’s standard. Alastair rode forward and proffered the writ with which he had crowned Liam. The color drained from the clergyman and he offered an escort into the city. Once within the gates, Alastair passed the Eye of Traladara to Liam whispering to him, “Unite your people, my lord.” With the Traladaran Heirloom in hand the party sixty strong charged through the broken streets of Specularum towards the Church of Traladara. Onlookers stopped and stared in awe as the Seer Stone traveled through the city.
At the steps to the Church of Traladara, Liam passed the Eye off to a waiting cleric. From these steps he declared that fighting between the churches would cease. Too many enemies attempt to crush Karameikos from the without for Karameikans to be fighting one another within. Any Karameikans found fighting each other, regardless of rank, house, priveledge or station, would be put to death. With that statement, he retired to the Keep and the campaign room.
In the campaign room, Liam called his Lords to order and issued his edicts. The Grand Duchy of Karameikos would no longer pay fealty to Thyatis. Henceforth, the Grand Duchy would be the Grand Kingdom of Karameikos. He called the inquisitor from Thyatis to the room. Moments later, after he had arrived, he passed a missive. The Senate of Thyatis would regulate Daphnotarthius and his war in the east or face open war with the Kingdom of Karameikos. He voiced that Karameikos would be open to peoples of all races and creeds, any that called Karameikos home were worthy of protection. Alastair pulled the new King aside momentarily, mentioning what he had seen in his vision about the Halflings. Within moments the Halfling Ambassador was summoned and his pledge of support for Karameikos secured. An army of Halflings were already assembling near the western border. Additionally, the Druzhinniki and the Order of the Gryphon were to muster and travel west supplementing the forces already in place at Radlebb Keep, while the rest of the Karameikan army were to reinforce the easter border. His final edicts placed many of the Companions into roles of the Court; Kithus the Court Oracle of Karameikos, Si’lex the Head Justice and Court Brewmaster, Wargaath the Court Ambassador of Baal, Lonovan the Master of Espionage, Helteg the Court Ambassador to the Broken Lands Barbarians and Alastair the Hand of the King.
Winter was coming and war was close at hand. The Eye of Traladara was back in Karameikan hands, its portents forecasting woe and weal in the near future. The newly established Kingdom of Karameikos stands, defended by few, yet menaced by the machinations of many. The faint glimmers of hope shine in the darkness. What would this winter bring for the Companions? What would this winter bring for the world?