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An Adventure in Five Acts (AD&D 2E) (Final Update 25 Feb 2023)


How inconvenient
An Adventure in Five Acts – Prelude

The Forest
The Forest is a kingdom that comprises the entirety of a single, lone island in a vast ocean with no end. It has a culture not dissimilar to that of Late Anglo-Saxon England or Ireland (early 800s), with similar myths, legends, and tech level. The realm mainly comprises vast tracts of wild, ancient, open forests, with many of the trees in them being well over a thousand years old. Young mountain ranges with sharp peaks are on the rimward (north), dawnward (east), and duskward (west) coasts*.
Traversing the forests are three major rivers that flow from the rimward, dawnward, and duskward mountains (Blue River, Dawn River, and Dusk River, respectively) into a central lake (King’s Lake). From here, another river (Lake River) leads to Big Beach, a beach-like area on the hubward (south) coast. It is these rivers that are the main arteries of the land – there are literally no roads on the island and goods and people are transported by boats and barges that can sail upstream using the prevailing winds but must be rowed downstream. Lake River ends in a shallow delta that cannot be navigated. Only very few people – if any at all – have ever ventured out onto the sea because out there, as everybody knows, violent currents and winds snap barges in two like matchstick toys; giant ships manned by ice giants attack everything on it; megalodon sharks eat anything and everything they find in and on the water. As a result, The Forest has no contact with the outside world – if such a thing exists.
The island is not very large – it is said that it will take about ten days to get from one end to another. Apart from Big Beach and the coastal mountain ranges, some notable features of the realm are: the Three Brothers, three large craters at the heart of the rimward mountains and estimated to be some 15,000-18,000 feet high, with the surrounding mountains ranging between 3,000-15,000 feet; Apple Island, where the King and his court reside and which – if not because of its apple-like shape – gets its name from the many apple trees that grow there, which, incidentally, yield an excellent cider; the Isle of Bread, which gets its name from the fact that it looks like a loaf of bread and which is separated from the main island by a strait with dangerous shoals and currents known as the Shark Straights,
The population is human. Faeries, pixies, dwarves, elves, monsters, and dragons are known only from fairy tales, with only very few exceptions. In fact, the only ‘monstrous’ creatures on the island are giant versions of regular animals.

Climate: The Forest has a distinctive climate, with the wind always blowing inland and big differences in temperature between the seasons. Winter lasts for two months and is cold, with lots of snow and temperatures ranging from some -15 to -20°C; spring and autumn also last two months each and both are characterized by strong winds and thunderstorms; summer lasts for four months, the first two months being known as the First Summer and the second as the Second Summer, with temperatures habitually rising to some 35°C towards the end. A year has ten months, which each month having 40 days and a week counting ten days and hence known as a ten-day.

Politics: The realm comprises twelve duchies, each in turn divided into baronies, perhaps 40 in total. The duchies are A: King’s Castle, Apple Island, or Lake District; B: Duchy of Wyrsn; C: Duchy of Dara; D: Duchy of Thuxra; E: Duchy of Bagabuxsha; F: Duchy of Palava; G: Duchy of Mim; H: Duchy of Sarazin; I: Duchy of Nisibis; J: Duchy of Dauberval; K: Duchy of Weald; L: Duchy of Blurh. The wealth and influence of each duchy is measured by the length of its river fronts. Because the Duchy of Mim has no important river on any of its borders, it is considered to be the poorest.
Society is hierarchical to the extreme, not dissimilar to the feudal societies of the early European Middle-Ages. All dukes answer to a single King who rules as primus inter pares rather than as an absolute monarch. In times of peace, the King is either succeeded by one of his descendants or a new one can be appointed by the dukes upon his death. The current King is called Adelwolf Rex Paternoster III and he peacefully succeeded his father to the throne. His wife, the Queen, is called Elexa and the pair have three children – two daughters (aged 14 and 11) and one son (aged 8). Since men and women are considered equal, the King’s eldest daughter is the current successor to the throne.
The opinions the various dukes and barons have of each other range from disdain to outright animosity. For example, dukes often consider barons to be little more than soldiers with an attitude, while barons regard dukes as their equals but with a big mouth. In another example, the dukes of Nisibis, Dauberval, and Weald all consider themselves to be the rightful ruler of all three duchies – this because these three duchies were only created relatively recently when the duke who ruled all three of them as one was elected King and divided his lands among his three sons.
As a result, military skirmishes are not unheard of, although large-scale battles and outright wars occur only rarely, with the last major war having been fought some 150 years ago. An important reason for this is that there are strict rules as to the number of soldiers the King (500 men), the dukes (150 men), and barons (50 men) can keep. The most recent political disturbance to speak of was the result the discovery of a rich diamond mine in the rimward mountains some 50 years ago. Many dukes laid claim to it until the previous King (the father of the current King) decided to create the Duchy of Blurh, which now comprises only said mine.
Never in the history of The Forest have their been conflicts or wars with creatures, peoples, or entities that did not come from the realm itself.

Population and Settlements: The Forest counts some 120,000 registered tax-payers, which has led some to estimate the total population to be about 240,000 souls, some 1,400-1,500 of which make up the ruling classes. The vast majority of the population live in settlements on the rivers, which leaves the forests to animals and the occasional outcast, hermit, or bandit. The King and his court live on Apple Island in King’s Lake.
Of all regular settlements, those on King’s Lake are the largest and most ‘cosmopolitan’. Indeed, virtually the entire lake shore has been ‘urbanized’ and the settlements here are centers of trade, culture, and education, with some notable examples of the latter including the Royal Aristocratic Academy, the Bard’s College, the Boatsman’s College, and the Engineers’ College.
The people live in what are called barrows or boat houses, which are or represent upturned boats covered with a thick layer of earth. The simplest version of a barrow has a central entrance leading into a central room with a room to each side – usually a bedroom and a pantry. In the middle of the central room a fire is kept burning in a large construct consisting of four metal legs supporting a metal plate used for cooking. Fixed to a hole in this plate is a metal pipe that leads through an opening in the roof – the chimney.
Even the King lives in a collection of barrows, in this case vast edifices with ornate halls, stately rooms, bedrooms, and grand staircases to rival those of the richest Medieval mansions.

Religion: The divine is represented by ‘the three faces of god’, known as Olm, Ilm, and Ulm. This ‘god’ is not so much a god the classical sense of the word as that ‘he’ is a representation of life – or perhaps nature – with each of his ‘three faces’ representing ‘three major aspects’ of life as it is seen by the Foresters.
Olm’s three major aspects are woods, battle, and festivals, each represented by its own symbol: a treant, a treant-satyr hybrid, and a satyr, respectively. Olm is considered to represent the male aspects of life and the main body of his followers are male Druids, Rangers, Bards, and dedicated Priests. Of note is the legendary Tree of Olm, a tree that is said to hand out gifts to people who can find it. Unfortunately, the tree has no fixed location: it appears in random locations all over the island and then disappears again.
Ilm represents women and the female aspects of life and her three major aspects are: life, children, and the harvest, often symbolized by a mother and child, fruit, and a sheaf of corn, respectively. Some 200 women can be considered to actively serve Ilm in some sort of way and among these are Witches, dedicated Priestesses and, for example, midwives. Most villages have special Women’s Houses, places where women go for council, for company, and to give birth. A legendary item associated with Ilm is the Kettle of the Coven, a golden kettle said to be guarded by a coven of priestesses of Ilm and believed to be able to predict the future and brew magical potions.
Ulm represents the evils of life – shadow, death, and disease, his symbols being a headstone (headstones are shaped like Celtic crosses), a black circle, and skulls. Ulm has no clergy as such and is ‘revered’ only by people who are somehow associated with one or more of his aspects, most notably gravediggers and funeral singers. A legendary weapon associated with Ulm is known as the Sword of Shadows, which is believed to instantly slay all whom it strikes.
It should be noted that all three ‘artifacts’ mentioned above are known only from myth and legend. There is no proof they actually exist.
Scattered all over the island are holy places, each dedicated to one of the ‘faces of god’. Pilgrimages to these holy places are quite common and the reasons for them are many and varied (e.g., spiritual guidance, before major undertakings, to bless a marriage or newborn child, to beg for some other favor). The holy places are typically dominated by some striking natural phenomenon (e.g., a cascade, a rock formation, a specific tree). Among the better known examples would be a giant lightning-struck black oak on King’s Lake (Olm) and Ilm’s Rock just outside of Big Beach (Ilm). Only very few of these holy sites feature temples or shrines and any man-made structures found there have usually been built by people seeking to make money off pilgrims.

Economy: The people of The Forest are largely self-sufficient, which makes that they normally travel only to go on pilgrimages and that there is no organized trade to speak of it (no guilds, no shipping companies). That is not to say that trade does not exist: commodities such as specific kinds of lumber, agricultural produce, fish, minerals, finished products are still transported from areas where they are found or produced to those that require them – but on a small scale only.
People are used to seeing to their own needs, cutting their own trees, growing their own food, collecting their own herbs, and so on. Even if one could find a ‘herb shop’, the owner would probably have to take an order and then go to the woods to collect the herbs before he can actually sell them.

Magic: Magic is the domain of sorcerers and sorceresses, individuals who have somehow gained the ability to generate strange effects that emulate standard spells, often as the result of some sort of traumatic event. While these individuals are not exceptionally rare – some 100 are known to exist – the vast majority of them can generate perhaps one or two of such effects. There are only a handful of sorcerers of greater power, each known for one or two signature spells. Among these are Loremaster Fist of Big Beach, a 50-year-old former boxer who can ignite objects by touch; James of the River, a 40-year-old man who lives on a riverboat and speaks with fishes; Wandering Bandolo, a 30-year-old sorceress without a fixed abode who can find things and make them disappear; Magus Seaworthy, an 80-year-old man who lives on what is said to be a sea-ship and who can fly and control the wind; and Roald Blackstaff, a 40-year-old man with a nasty reputation who lives in the Duchy of Weald and who can kill living creatures by filling their lungs with some liquid. The most powerful of the sorcerers is Augustus Magister Rex, the 60-year-old rector of the Royal Aristocratic Academy and Adviser to the King.


Enter the Party
The players are informed that the party is to consist of a group of young nobles, each the son or daughter of a duke. These noble heroes are to have enjoyed an education befitting their status, making all of them 1st-level Fighters with the NWPs Reading/Writing, Etiquette, Heraldry, and Land-based Riding. After that, they can be of any single class the players like, in effect resulting in either dual-classed 1st-level characters or 2nd-level Fighters.
The PCs were educated at home until their parents decided that the time had come for them to start their studies at the Royal Aristocratic Academy and it is here that our noble heroes met and got to know each other before they finished their studies and returned home.
Sir Eber Ard Weald (Fighter 1, Ranger 1) is the eldest son of the Duke of Weald. He is incredibly strong and often states that he has been “groomed as the right hand” of his elder sister, the future Duchess of Weald, to whom he invariably refers as his “wee sister”. After his education, wanderlust and a love of nature and solitude made him choose the path of the ranger rather than that of the knight. In his own words, Sir Eber is currently assigned to “guard and rule the headstrong poachers and miners in the mountainous outskirts of his father’s duchy in preparation for his future office”.
Sir Navarre Dauberval de Vergennes (Fighter [Noble] 2) is the firstborn son of the Duke of Dauberval and, as the ducal heir, he has been raised to a life of hunting, knightly combat, nocturnal revelries, fine food and choice ciders. With the exception of his time at the Academy, he has spent most of his life in the family castle in the mountains, a stone edifice most of his peers consider to be socially questionable. It is here that he learned to ride**, hunt, and survive on his own and often stared in wonder at the giant eagles soaring high above the snow-capped peaks.
Sir Oengus “Moon” of Nisibis (Fighter 2) is the son of the Duke of Nisibis, second in line to the throne behind his elder sister. A man of few words when among his peers, he has but little interest in affairs of state and a love for the rivers instead. Although educated at the Academy like all noble sons, he only feels truly at home on the water and in the company of bargemen, sailors, and other river folk.
Sir Oerknal of the Forest (dwarf; Fighter 2) is a strange, squat, bearded creature many consider to be a changeling for lack of a better word. According to Sir Eber, the creature was acquired by his grandparents a long time ago, who raised it as one of their own children. This makes it quite a lot older than the rest of the noble heroes – that is, in years.
Sir Suvali Ard Wyrsn (Fighter 1, Sorcerer 1) is the youngest son of the Duke of Wyrsn and the last in line to the ducal throne. He is a calculating individual who proclaims to prefer peace and quiet to the bold escapades of some of his more flamboyant fellows. Weirdly, he seems to persist in attempting to steer conversations to certain “restful nights” at the Academy.
Sir Scaralat de Sarazin (Fighter [Cavalier] 2) is the firstborn son and heir of the Duke of Sarazin, a fop man of flamboyance and fine tastes, and with a penchant for impromptu behavior.

The Fortnight
Every year, starting some 14 days after the spring storms have ended and the rivers have calmed, the King proclaims The Fortnight, a festival to which all dukes and barons are invited and which most attend. The festival is held on Apple Island and it can be compared to the ‘start of the season’ as it was known in Victorian times. It is a time of meetings, revelries, theatrical performances, dances, grand banquets (food and drink are big things in The Forest), afternoon parties, and charitable events***. Eligible young men and women are presented to society and the Great Council is held, which takes political decisions, discusses and possibly resolves disputes and passes judgment on matters of importance. This year, it seems that all ducal houses are present, which means that there will be about 1,500 Foresters on the island, some 400 of which will be nobles and another 400 the King’s soldiers.

This year, the Fortnight is a prelude to the Royal Tour, which will see the King and his courtiers leave King’s Castle to go on a grand tour of the duchies lasting most of the summer. An annual event until some 100 years ago, the Royal Tour now takes place only once every five years.
And so it is that we join our noble heroes on Apple Island, where they have renewed their acquaintance. Some of them have sat through the Great Council and even Sir Eber’s bearded creature has been presented to society.
Presently Sir Navarre and Sir Scaralat have escorted a company of eligible damsels to a number of gondolas for an evening tour on the lake and a midnight picnic with some excellent wines and expensive dishes. Our noble heroes are determined not to let the fact that the island is under heavy guard (soldiers are stationed along its shores at regular intervals) spoil what promises to be a sweet summer’s night.

* The Forest is located on top of a pillar rather than on a spherical body.
** The horses of The Forest bear little resemblance to the bred horses of the knights of Medieval Europe. Rather, they are more like wild horses – or even ponies – able to survive on their own and without requiring additional fodder.
*** It should be noted that these charitable events are often aimed at lifting the spirits of the poor rather than actually providing them with any succor. Attending the performance of a fine play, a demonstration of the newest dance, a place among the servants at the tables – these are all considered appropriate ways to strengthen the resolve of the less fortunate in the face of their daily hardships.
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How inconvenient
An Adventure in Five Acts, Act I – The Fortnight

In which the DM informs gallant Sir Scaralat and Sir Navarre that their “sweet summer’s night” ended in some consternation when they engaged in a bit of impromptu boat jousting (Ivanhoe with boats) and several damsels had to be rescued from the water. In fact, he says, following this, our noble heroes have been left in the care of Augustus Magister Rex, who has told them that he will keep a sharp eye on them during the celebratory grand finale of the Fortnight.
As always, this grand finale is in the form of a magnificent banquet at which the first casks of Royal Cider, made from last year’s apple harvest, will be presented to – and consumed by – the noble guests. The festivities take place between the four royal barrows on a lawn measuring some 600 by 150 feet, where numerous splendidly dressed tables have been arranged around a long central trough filled with glowing embers. Numerous oxen and pigs are simmering in the heat above it, as are a selection of game and costly viands. It has been a while since the ceremonial opening of a duo of 500-liter casks of Royal Cider and spirits are high – although not so for our noble heroes. They are seated at a separate table under the watchful eye of the eminent Rector. The conversation is limited and comprises little more than an exchange of some polite pleasantries*.

It must be about an hour before midnight when a soldier approaches. He whispers something to Augustus, who frowns, excuses himself and leaves for the King’s table. When he returns after some time, Sir Suvali asks him if something is wrong.
“It’s always the same,” the eminent Rector sighs, shaking his head. “When the cat’s away and all that. As it happens, a military post in Nisibis was attacked by bandits some days ago.”
“I say, old bean,” Navarre says to Sir Oengus. “Wouldn’t that be your neck of the woods?”
Sir Oengus jumps to his feet without bothering to reply and hurries to his father’s table. When he gets there, he informs him of the news and suggests they return home immediately. However, a fairly inebriated Duke Nisibis distractedly waves a mug of cider at him.
“My dear boy!,” he says. “Calm down, will you? Plenty of time for that in the morning!”
“But father! We have been attacked! At least allow me to travel ahead!”
“We will get to it tomorrow and there’s an end to it,” Duke Nisibis says. “Now, get back to whatever you were doing and enjoy the evening. There’s a good lad.”
When Sir Oengus gets back to the table, he finds his noble fellows engaged in some lighthearted banter.
… a fire, you say?,” the chevalier is heard to ask, stifling a somewhat high-pitched laugh in a handkerchief. “Mon Dieu! What will come of this world? Ah! Mon cher! There you are!”
With a grand gesture, he invites Sir Oengus to sit down again. “More cider?”
“A fire?,” Sir Oengus asks, holding up his glass. “What fire?”
C’est rien, mon cher!,” the chevalier replies. “Rien du tout! Hand me that quail, will you?”
“Something’s burning ashore,” Sir Suvali says, pointing into the distance. “Your side.”
Sir Oengus gives him a startled look: “What?!”
Before anyone can reply, shouts are heard from the direction of the King’s table. When our noble heroes stretch their necks to find out what’s going on, a horn sounds the “Come to Me.”
“We are under attack!,” the chevalier cries, quickly refilling his glass. “Aux armes!”
“Sorry, old fruit,” Navarre says, grinning to the eminent Rector and getting up from his seat. “Duty calls.”
Our noble heroes run in the direction of the signal, other nobles and soldiers joining them on the way. The horn sounds for a second time and then for a third time – only to stop abruptly mid-tone.
“They killed him!,” the chevalier yells. “Quelle insolence!”
Our noble heroes round the King’s barrow to the meadow beyond, which slopes down to the forest. To their dismay, they see a huge fire roaring on the shore across the water.
“Isn’t that the Military Academy?,” Sir Suvali asks.
Navarre cannot believe his eyes. Is that the Military Academy on fire?
More and more nobles and servants arrive, uttering cries of incredulity and indignation. Navarre, as uncertain of what he is seeing as almost everybody else, turns to address a courtier next to him.
“It would seem there’s a bit of a fire on the shore over there,” he starts.
The courtier impatiently waves a hand at him.
“You think?,” he says with more than a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

Then, a sharp whistling is heard in the forest at the bottom of the meadow. Moments later, several of the assembled guests say they detect distinct signs of movement and light among the trees.
“What’s that?,” Sir Oerknal asks, pointing at some trees.
“Hard to say,” Sir Suvali says. “Soldiers?”
“Soldiers!,” the chevalier cries. “It’s soldiers!”
“How many, you think?,” Sir Oerknal asks.
Mon Dieu!,” the chevalier exclaims. “There must be at least five hundred of them!”
Navarre is not convinced. 500 Soldiers? Here? Who could muster 500 men? Who could muster 500 soldiers and get them to the island unnoticed? He vents his doubts but then armed men appear in the forest’s edge. Weapons and armor gleam in the light of lanterns and torches and presently the men start advancing in an orderly fashion.
“To the King! To the King!,” the chevalier cries, already on his way to where the King and his nobles have gathered.
Navarre, still having a hard time believing what he sees, tries to identify a banner, a coat of arms, or any other sign that might indicate who these men are. Around him, people seem to start coming to their senses and now orders are issued, servants start screaming and running, and soldiers advance. When he turns around, he sees the chevalier disappear behind the King’s barrow. He has another look down the meadow, where ever more soldiers are coming from the forest. 500 Men? Scaralat may well have been right!
To his left, Sir Oengus also starts running back to the banquet area. Sir Oerknal and Sir Suvali have not moved. Now, some of the King’s soldiers are charging down the meadow and men start falling on both sides. The advance of the enemy seems purposeful and organized – these are trained men, not your average band of riffraff. Still struggling with what he sees, Navarre finally has to accept that some serious sh*t is happening and that he had better go after the chevalier – to the King and his nobles, if only because that is where he will likely find his father.

Meanwhile, the fearless chevalier has rather unceremoniously elbowed his way past the courtiers and he presently falls to one knee before the King, his arms spread wide.
Mon Roi!,” he cries. “We are under attack! Five hundred men advance as we speak! My sword is yours! Vive le Forêt!”
The courtiers regard him with a mixture of astonishment, disbelief, and even offense. Then, Navarre arrives.
“Sir,” he says, addressing his father. “It would seem that a substantial number of soldiers are headed this way. They seem to count in the hundreds and there are no banners on display.”
Duke Dauberval looks at his son with glazed eyes, a mug of cider in his hand. To his left, the chevalier is continuing to explain what he thinks he saw.
“I assure you, Sir, that this is true,” Navarre continues. “Allow me to suggest that we start organizing some sort of resistance. Although they fight without a banner, there’s no denying their number.”
“Five hundred soldiers,” the duke finally says. “That is a serious matter.”
“It would seem so,” Navarre says. “We should arm ourselves. Get the men together at the jetties and make a stand there. We must arm ourselves.”
“Indeed,” the duke says. “Go arm yourself and return here. Have a boy bring me my armor and weapons. Tell Madame your Mother to get the women and children to safety.”
Navarre hasn’t moved ten yards when the King explodes.

That is to say… when the King is crushed to pâté by a 10-foot-long hammer in the hands of a humongous, 13-foot-tall, 6-foot-wide giant of a man clad in crude iron plate armor. Not that this isn’t at least as strange, mind you.
A deathly silence falls – not a single sound is uttered for what seems an eternity. Indeed, when the DM informs our noble heroes that they have the Initiative, all most of them can think of is to stare at the giant in stunned disbelief. Navarre is the first to regain his wits. He grabs his father by the arm, yells at a royal herald to follow him and starts running to the Dauberval camp.
“To me! To me!,” he shouts. “Gather at the jetties! To me! To me! To the boats!”
The chevalier is the next to react. He drops his glass of cider and stares at his garments with a look of revulsion on his face – several bloody parts of what was once the King have completely ruined his fashionable attire. He starts to wipe off some of the larger bits when all Hell breaks loose: people start screaming and running, falling over each other, running in and out of barrows, shouting that the “ice giants are here”. Some nobles draw weapons, still looking at the giant figure in disbelief. Most start running. Women, children, and servants flee screaming into the barrows, soldiers climb to the top of the barrows to take up their traditional defensive positions, others start rolling boulders in front of the entrances. Sir Suvali and Sir Oerknal, who arrived just in time to see the King… die, also start moving toward the tents, Sir Suvali shouting at the chevalier to follow them.
The chevalier regains his composure. He assumes a gallant stance and starts looking for an opportunity to prove his courage and valor – a moment to shine, perhaps. Engage the giant, iron-clad figure? Perhaps not. Charge the advancing horde of soldiers and die a glorious death? Hmm…
Then, he spots Augustus Magister Rex some distance away, apparently paralyzed with fear while a unit of 30 men purposefully advance toward him, firing arrows. Excellent! The brave chevalier runs toward the eminent Rector, throws him across his shoulder and starts running to the jetties.
Pardon, Excellence,” he cries, arrows whistling past him. “Allow me to get you to safety!”

Meanwhile, Navarre has reached the tents, where he finds none of his kinsmen – perhaps they are already at the boats? He enters his tent, puts on his armor, grabs his crossbow and bolt case and heads back out to find that the herald and his father are nowhere to be seen. All around him, scenes of horror unfold: nobles, servants, children, and soldiers alike run hither and to, screaming, shot down mercilessly and slaughtered by the advancing soldiers, fires erupt everywhere.
Sir Suvali and Sir Oerknal are some distance away, staring at the hubward shore. To their dismay, they see that a group of men have blocked access to the jetties – and thus the boats – and that another group of some six-score men are occupying themselves with killing everybody they can get their hands on. Judging by their dark leather armors, none of these men appear to be soldiers. Bandits perhaps? Across the water to their left, our noble duo notice another fire burning on the shore. It would seem that another watchtower is burning.
Just when Navarre gives up looking for his father, the chevalier approaches at speed, the eminent Rector still slung over his shoulder. Some 30 soldiers are after him, in four groups advancing orderly, archers at the back. Out of breath, the chevalier unceremoniously drops the eminent Rector in front of Navarre.
“Save the Magister!,” he yells, before disappearing into his tent.
Since the arrows are whizzing past, Navarre yells to the eminent Rector to get out of the line of fire before taking cover himself. He loads his crossbow and starts firing at the advancing archers, estimating that he has some four shots before the first of the soldiers will reach him. He misses his shot and now Sir Suvali and Sir Oerknal arrive, the latter starting to load his heavy crossbow. Sir Suvali exchanges some words with the eminent Rector, who subsequently mumbles some arcane words. Although several soldiers suddenly top moving altogether (Hold Person), Navarre still manages to miss his next shot.
Then the chevalier reappears, fully armored. He sees Sir Oengus approaching fast, heading for the jetties and he can only dissuade his noble fellow from this course of action with some effort.
“Magister!,” he yells after this, taking cover and addressing the eminent Rector. “How do we get off the island? Do we have to swim? Can you do something?”
“Yes, I can,” the eminent Rector replies. “But I need some time to prepare. There will be no swimming.”
“Start your preparations,” Sir Suvali says. “I will cast Sleep.”
“Good plan!,” the eminent Rector says, before starting his attempts to concentrate.
Although Sir Suvali eliminates three more soldiers with his spell, things do not quite go as our noble heroes would have liked: Navarre misses two of his next three shots (inflicting minimal damage with the bolt that hits) and the eminent Rector’s preparations take a lot of time, perhaps mostly because he is hit twice by the enemy archers before Sir Oerknal, Sir Suvali, and the chevalier can move to form a human shield in front of him. As a result, the first of the soldiers are now so close to Navarre and Sir Oerknal that they have to drop their bows, draw their weapons and engage them in melee.
Navarre finally inflicts some serious damage but the fight has only lasted for a couple of moments when Sir Suvali suddenly grabs his left hand.
Dimensional folding!,” the sorcerer yells. “Join hands! Now!”
Navarre grabs Sir Oerknal’s hand and then swathes of gray mist swirl before his eyes and in his mind and then dizzy and floating and then he is falling and then a loud splash.

1) As the evening proceeds, some questions posed by the PCs lead to the following information:
Absentees: Both the Duke of Mim and the Duke of Blurh and their entourages have not shown up for the Fortnight. This is not unusual in either case. The Duke of Mim has not made an appearance for the past two years. His duchy, not being located on one of the main rivers, is one of the poorest of The Forest and it is commonly believed that he simply cannot afford to pay for the trip. The Duke of Blurh hasn’t attended the festivities for some three years and he has cited “trouble at the mine” as the reason for his absence this year.
Attendees: Although most nobles travel to the Fortnight in grand style, only a few of their extensive entourages are actually invited onto the island proper – barons are allowed three invites, dukes seven. All others remain on the shore, staying in camps, inns, boarding houses, and the barrows of friends and family.
There are currently several hundreds of nobles on the island (300-400 in total), about the same number of servants and about the same number of soldiers. The soldiers are stationed along the coast in groups of two, each some 100 yards apart. It seems that this is a standard precaution against small-scale bandit raids, which have occurred in the past.
King’s Knights: The King commands two companies of 50 knights who take turns patrolling the realm and act much like a mobile police force. While one is on patrol, the other remains at the Military Academy.
The Eminent Rector: Augustus Magister Rex does not appear to be quite up to “keeping an eye” on our noble heroes. His actions seem limited to little more than stating that he will and he gives the impression that he wouldn’t put up much of a fight if our noble heroes were to wander off. As such, it is perhaps a sense of shame and maybe a fear of running into the parents of the unfortunate damsels they sent into the water rather than the presence of the eminent Rector that keeps our noble heroes at their table.
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How inconvenient
An Adventure in Five Acts, Act I – The Fortnight (continued)

When he realizes where he is, Navarre finds himself in the water, close to some shore featuring a huge, blackened tree obviously struck by lightning some time ago. He is sinking rapidly, as is the chevalier – both are wearing metal armor. Fortunately, Navarre finds the water to be only some six feet deep. Some yards away from him is a large barge, where a figure is shining a light at him.
“Er, hello?,” a hesitant male voice sounds.
“A rope!,” Navarre shouts. “A rope! We’re in armor! A rope! Hurry, man!”
Thus, despite the thick layer of slick on the bottom and thanks only to a truly Herculean effort (NWP Endurance) involving jumps, much holding of breath, frantic paddling, and grabbing of ropes, Navarre manages to get to the barge in his armor, where he is hoisted aboard by Sir Oengus and Sir Oerknal. The chevalier is not so lucky. Thrashing about wildly, he manages to hit something floating in the water and grabs it. When this turns out to be a corpse, he lets go of it with a startled cry – and starts sinking again. Left with no choice but to get out of his armor, he eventually manages to reach the barge without it, where his noble fellows drag him aboard.
The figure with the lantern turns out to be a smallish man built, if anything, like a orangutan, with short legs, a massive chest, and long arms. On his head is a cap that reads “Captain”. He looks at our noble heroes with a startled look on his face.
“Erm…,” he stammers, before regaining some of his composure. “My Lords! Captain Clifford. At your service.”
“Why, thank you, my good man,” the drenched chevalier says, shaking the captain’s hand. “Enchanté, I’m sure.”
Navarre, still reeling from the event and not at all in the mood for a conversation, starts taking off his armor and wet clothes. When he is finished, he notices Sir Suvali going through a set of robes and cloaks. The sorcerer retrieves a strange, vest-like garment which he subjects to a short inspection and then dons. Sir Oengus is next to him.
“What’s with the long clothes?,” he asks.
“The robes of the dear old Rector,” the sorcerer says, nimbly pocketing a silver necklace with an acorn pendant. “Looks like he didn’t survive the ordeal.”
Then another individual appears on deck. It is a portly woman with large hair, garish clothes, extraordinary amounts of make-up, and toting a loaded crossbow. In a stark contrast, she has the slim, petite hands and feet of a lady of noble birth.
Now, Navarre seriously considers the possibility that he is dreaming. But no, when he looks over his shoulder, he sees Apple Island in the distance, fires burning everywhere. Every now and then, shouts and screams reach him from across the water. What to do now? It seems madness to try and get back to the island – indeed, he and his noble fellows may be the only ones to have survived the event! And what of his father? His mother? His dear sisters?
The chevalier has gallantly introduced himself to the fat woman, who presently lowers the crossbow, smiles bashfully and then invites everybody below decks for a “nice cup of herbal tea”. Navarre decides he is no mood for herbal tea.
“I say!,” he calls to captain Clifford. “Captain! How’s about something stronger? It’s been a rough night.”
“Certainly, my Lord,” captain Clifford says. “As luck would have it, I just happen to store a fine gin below decks. Just follow me.”
“One moment, captain,” Navarre says, pointing to the blackened tree on the shore. “Is that tree the Tree of Olm?”
“It is, my Lord,” captain Clifford says.
Navarre throws him an incredulous look.
“Surely you don’t mean…?,” he asks.
“Ha, ha, ha!,” captain Clifford laughs. “If only! Please, my Lord, let’s join the others below decks. I will explain everything.”

And so it is that our heroes end up in the hold of what was once a cargo ship. Captain Clifford explains that he and his wife, Theresa, bought the barge some time ago and converted it into a passenger ship of sorts. The cargo hold, still one big space, has been made into a dormitory, with two rows of hammocks at right angles to either side of a central aisle running the length of the hold. At the back, a wall closes off the stern. A door in it likely leads to a galley and the captain’s cabin. The place is utterly spotless.
“We make a modest living transporting pilgrims in the summer,” captain Clifford explains, not without pride. “As a matter of fact, we just delivered some of here the other day!”
“Well, not anymore,” Navarre says bluntly. “Consider your barge commandeered, Sir. In the name of the King, I…”
“Lord!,” captain Clifford interrupts. “You wish to hire my barge? We sail for Big Beach in the morning!”
“How much?,” Sir Suvali asks, before Navarre can react.
A price is settled and it seems that our heroes have booked passage for four days.
“This is half,” Sir Suvali says, handing the captain some coins. “You’ll get the rest when we get there.”
Then Theresa appears, carrying a tray with a large, steaming pot of tea and some cups and saucers. She puts everything on a table and starts pouring the tea.
“Anyone for some herbal tea?,” she asks. “Dear, oh dear! The things you young men have been through! There we are, some tea will soothe and calm the nerves. Now don’t be shy! Drink up, all of you!”
“Not me,” Navarre says, downing another gin and gesturing captain Clifford for a refill. “What of the events of tonight? See any strange soldiers? Lots of them?”
“Can’t say we did,” captain Clifford says, pouring him another gin. “Of course, we noticed that something was wrong when people started shouting and we saw flames on the horizon.”
“And then what did you do?”
“We weighed anchor,” captain Clifford replies. “Get some distance between us and the shore if you know what I mean. It’s a good thing we did or you’d have been in a lot more trouble.”
“Indeed,” Navarre says wryly.
“It’s the thing to do to avoid trouble ashore,” Sir Oengus says. “Standard practice.”
After some more of this, Sir Oerknal nudges Navarre.
“Let’s stick to the story here,” he whispers under his voice.
“Excuse me?,” Navarre says.
“Well,” Sir Oerknal says. “Who are these people? Who says they’re not a part of this whole thing?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Navarre says. “Then why aren’t they at the island? Would you let them leave with your men still on the island?”
“Hmm…,” Sir Oerknal says.
Deciding that the whole thing has taken long enough, Navarre gets to his feet.
“Gentlemen, if I may!,” he yells. “Gentlemen! Order, please! May I suggest the time has come to discuss a plan of action? I do not believe I am exaggerating when I say that we seem to be in a spot of bother. Would anyone care to speak?”
A lively conversation ensues, in which many things are said. Of note would be that Sir Suvali insists that the soldiers were not human but something he calls “humanoids”, which Navarre has a hard time believing since he doesn’t even know what his noble fellow means by that. Another interesting notion would be Sir Oerknal’s suggestion that either Duke Mim or Duke Blurh is behind the attack, an idea that had also occurred to some of the others.
“Perhaps not Mim,” Navarre muses, downing another gin. “He wouldn’t have the finances to pull this off and his absence from the public eye has become quite the tradition, if anything. Come to think of it, who would be able to gather as many as five hundred men? These men were not some ruffians. Where would anybody get five hundred trained men from? I admit that this has bothered me ever since this whole thing started.”
“Which leaves Blurh and his mine,” Sir Suvali says. “He hasn’t been at the Fortnight for three years and he is probably the only one in contact with large numbers of humanoids.”
“My dear fellow!,” Navarre exclaims. “What is it with you and these ‘humanoids’?”
“The dogs,” Sir Suvali says. “They reacted to them.”
“What about the giant?,” Sir Oerknal asks. “Could the dogs have reacted to him?”
Sir Suvali admits that he hadn’t thought of that. Still, the idea that Blurh might be involved in some way seems to gain traction when Sir Oengus reminds his fellows that it is only a couple of days ago that a military post in Nisibis was attacked.
“Think about it,” he says. “The Academy was torched before the attack on the island and you need a river to transport the amount of troops we saw. This all points to the Blue River.”
“Blurh, military post in Nisibis, Military Academy, King’s Island,” Navarre says. “Hmm…”
“The Blue River connects them all,” Sir Oengus says.
“That still doesn’t explain where Blurh got his five hundred men from,” Navarre says.
“Humanoids,” Sir Suvali says.
“I do declare!,” Navarre cries angrily. “Are you seriously suggesting we were attacked by fairies?”
Ultimately, when the chevalier, too, seems to have convinced himself that the attack was executed by humanoids, Navarre tires of the whole thing. He gets to his feet again and calls for order. It must be said that he has consumed a considerable amount of gin at this point, somewhat to the detriment of his diction.
“My Lords!,” he shouts. “Enough of this! We must organize a counterattack, raise an army! Crush the traitorous cowards who assassinated their rightful rulers and protectors! I put it to you that it we are now the Law of the Land!”
He pours another gin.
“Therefore,” he continues. “In my capacity as acting Duke Dauberval, I propose that we elect from among our number a new King!”
He raises his glass.
“My fellow Dukes!,” he exclaims. “My Lords! I present to you – King Oerknal the First! Gentlemen, the King!”
Glasses and cups of tea are raised and emptied – to loud laughter and cheers. Now, the chevalier takes the floor.
Vive le Roi!,” he cries. “Messieurs! We shall need a navy! I propose to nominate the captain here as… Captain of the King!”
He raises his cup of tea with a flourish.
Mon Capitaine!”
And so Captain Clifford modestly bows his head to the cheers and guffaws of our noble heroes.

Some more of this follows. Explanations are sought and plans are made and rejected. After bringing in more tea, Theresa suggests the noble heroes don sets of pilgrim’s clothes, which she presently procures. Navarre will have nothing of it but his noble fellows do indeed exchange their wet garments for pilgrim’s robes. Then, Sir Oengus suggests our noble heroes leave immediately to evade search parties. Navarre argues that it isn’t very likely that search parties will have started looking for them just yet.
“Securing the island will take time,” he says. “At least the rest of the night and probably most of tomorrow. And even then, how will they know we were even there?”
Much later, the chevalier proposes to go to the shrine at the Tree of Olm immediately, arguing that our noble heroes should attempt to enlist the aid of the druids stationed there.
Mon Capitaine!,” he roars. “Do you have a boat?”
“I do,” captain Clifford says. “There’s a small launch you could use.”
Navarre disagrees, suggesting our noble heroes keep a low profile until they have come up with a comprehensive plan of action.
Fi!,” the chevalier cries. “Prepare the launch! On départ!”
“Are you mad?,” Navarre yells. “This is not a time for recklessness! Who is to say that these druids are not in league with the traitors? Or that they are all dead? If there’s anything we can say with certainty it is that our enemies are highly organized! There is no telling who and what they have attacked! The place could be swarming with soldiers!”
Silence!,” the chevalier cries. “Are you a coward, Sir?”
“My Lords,” Theresa interjects. “Please. It has been a rough day for all of us! Why don’t we all get a good night’s sleep and speak of this in the morning?”
Madame,” the chevalier says frostily. “This a military matter.”
Tempers flare for a bit until captain Clifford intervenes.
“My Lord,” he says to the chevalier. “What you propose is impossible.”
“Explain yourself, Sir!,” the chevalier cries. “And be quick about it!”
“There are no druids at the shrine, my Lord,” the captain says hurriedly. “They have gone home for the night and will not return until the morning.”
This seems to bring the agitated chevalier at least some distance back to earth.
Zut alors!,” he mutters. “And what might the current hour be?”
“It’s an hour to dawn, Lord,” Theresa says. “Why don’t we all get some sleep?”
Navarre doesn’t feel like sleeping at all and declares that he will stand guard on deck until the sun rises. As it turns out, he doesn’t even make it out of the hold.

Sir Oerknal is drowning. He is underwater, his armor heavy and pulling him ever further down to a watery death. When he starts trying to work his way up to the surface, he realizes that he cannot move his arms. And why can’t he see? He starts gasping for air, only to find that he can hardly breathe – as if a knot has been tied around his neck. Is there? His brain doesn’t seem to be working at all and he struggles with the idea. He tries to get his hands to his neck and finds that they are being held. Moradin’s Hammer! Something is around his neck and someone is pulling it tighter and tighter!
Mustering all of his strength, he manages to free one hand and lashes out, weakly hitting someone in the face but not easing the pressure on his neck. Now close to actually suffocating, he starts thrashing about desperately and crashes to the floor. Still the pressure does not diminish. With stars and lights exploding in front of his eyes, he lashes out again and hits someone in the face – again and much more forcefully this time. Someone stifles a curse and there is a stumbling sound. Finally, the pressure seems to diminish.
Panting and wheezing and still having a hard time getting his mind to work, Sir Oerknal realizes that he is fighting two individuals and that one of them has his hands around his neck.
“Damn you!,” a man curses under his breath. “Die already!”
A furious struggle follows, with Sir Oerknal flailing wildly in the dark until he manages to land a serious blow and the hands finally release their grip on his neck. Exhausted and gasping for air, our noble hero tries to gather his wits. After some time, he realizes that he has his eyes closed. He opens them and finds himself on the floor of the cargo hold. Next to him, the bulk of Theresa lies sprawled. Some yards away, the ape-like form of captain Clifford is crawling away from him on hands and knees.
Sir Oerknal feels a terrible anger rise. He gets to his feet and has to struggle to find his balance, his head spinning. He manages to pick up his double-bladed axe, takes a couple of steps and swings the weapon at the captain – missing him by inches. The captain cries out in surprise, scrambles to his feet and stumbles to the ladder. He is already halfway up to the deck when Sir Oerknal swings his axe at him a second time, missing again and, now, the captain disappears through the trapdoor. Still unsteady on his feet, Sir Oerknal sets after him. When he reaches the deck, a loud splash tells him that the captain has jumped overboard. He scrambles to the prow, to see that the captain is already halfway to the shore. Dawnward, the sun is just peeking over the horizon.
Cursing loudly and tentatively rubbing his sore neck, our noble hero returns to the hold. His mind still foggy, he starts waking his noble fellows. This turns out to be a lot harder than expected and, in the end, he has to actually punch some of them in the face before they wake up. When everybody is finally awake, most of them with their minds as foggy as Sir Oerknal’s, he explains to his noble fellows what has happened. Amidst cries of anger and indignation, some of our noble heroes start denying loudly that they drank from the tea.
Navarre, who is the only one who actually didn’t drink from the tea but still doesn’t feel much better than the rest, starts tying up the comatose Theresa. He struggles with this for some time until Sir Suvali appears and takes over.
“Thanks,” Navarre says. Still a bit weak in the knees, he has a look around the hold to see that the chevalier is already halfway up the ladder to the deck.
Messieurs!,” the chevalier cries, when he gets to the trapdoor. “On départ!”
Navarre casts a weary glance at Sir Oerknal. Looks like the creature was the only one to realize that something wasn’t quite right with the murderous maritime couple.
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How inconvenient
An Adventure in Five Acts, Act I – The Fortnight (continued)

When he finally feels a bit like himself again, Navarre finds himself alone in the cargo hold. Overhead, his noble fellows are stumbling about audibly on the deck, apparently reeling in the launch to the encouraging cries of the chevalier.
He still has a hard time explaining the events of last night. Who organized the massacre on the island? Why? Although the odd skirmish is not unheard of, Navarre cannot recall anything on as large a scale as this. And what of that giant? What was that? An ice giant? Does all of this point to the involvement of some strange unnatural force as Sir Suvali seems to suggest? And how do the malicious captain and his wife fit into all this? Were they awaiting the arrival of our heroes? Surely the sight of the enemy cannot be as far-reaching as that?
He starts scanning the hold for clues – anything that could explain anything of this. When his gaze falls upon the unconscious bulk of Theresa, he shivers. Putting aside his reservations, he frisks her but finds nothing of interest, He moves toward the back of the barge, where het finds the door to the captain’s quarters slightly ajar. Still on his guard, he opens the door and has a good look inside. To his left is a galley of sorts; at the back of the room are a number of elegant dressing-tables with all kinds of colorful flasks and gaudy boxes on them; to his right, the second half of the room is hidden from view by a wooden partition and a luxurious curtain.
He enters the room and closes the door to find that it can be locked with two latches and a wooden bar. Ready for anything, he closes both latches and then stands motionless for a few seconds. When he hears nothing other than his noble fellows on deck, he decides he is alone in the room. He subjects the galley to a quick inspection and finds Theresa’s (low-quality) crossbow and a case of bolts, both of which he puts on his back. When he finds neither the galley nor the dressing-tables to contain much else of interest, he has a quick peek through the curtain.

Much to his surprise, he sees a young woman lying face down on a large bed, naked and with her hands and feet tied with black leather straps. Taking a sharp breath, he has another look around the room before turning his attention to the young woman. Still not knowing what to expect, he approaches carefully. When she doesn’t react and turns out to be alive and in a deep sleep, he turns her on her back and is surprised to see that she is remarkably attractive. Taking care not to stare at her naked splendor too much, he draws his dagger, cuts the straps tying her hands and feet and then covers her with a blanket he finds on the floor.
When his attempts to wake her up prove unsuccessful, he reluctantly reverts to slapping the young woman in the face, softly at first but eventually quite forcefully. This finally seems to work and, with a loud gasp, she opens her eyes. When she sees Navarre, she utters a startled shriek and pulls the blanket up to her chin.
“My Lady,” Navarre says, taking a step back and bowing elegantly. “No harm will come to you. You are under my protection.”
The young woman regains her composure remarkably fast. Not your average damsel, Navarre thinks. He estimates her to be about his age, perhaps one or two years his senior.
“Who are you?,” the young woman asks, with a hint of authority in her voice.
“My Lady,” Navarre says, bowing once again. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Navarre Dauberval de Vergennes, acting Duke Dauberval, and I am at your service.”
The young woman seems to consider this for a while, her eyes darting around the room.
“I see,” she says eventually. “And what are you doing here?”
Navarre decides against telling her about the events of last night for now. Even though she seems to be unlike the noble damsels he is acquainted with, he cannot be sure that the poor girl’s nerves would be able to take the shock. What’s more, she might be able to provide him with some much needed information and he needs her with her full wits about.
“That will have to wait,” he says rather more bluntly than he intended. “How did you end up here?”
The young woman hesitantly tells him hat she is a novice of Ilm and that she was on her way to King’s Island with an important message for the King. She had just arrived at a nearby Women’s House two days ago when a group of soldiers turned up and started turning people away from the building. She managed to escape the building disguised as a pilgrim and ended up boarding captain Clifford’s barge yesterday and in the company of some pilgrims.

At this point, Navarre rises and asks the novice to excuse him for a moment. He walks to a porthole facing the shore and opens it. Already some distance out, the chevalier and Sir Suvali are rowing the launch to the shore, blissfully unaware of the fact that the enemy is, indeed, everywhere.
“Sarazin, you oaf!,” he yells. “Get back here! There has been a development!”
When Sir Suvali starts urging the chevalier to turn the launch around, Navarre closes the porthole and returns to the novice. Although she hasn’t moved much, her eyes are still darting around the cabin.
“Pardon the interruption, my Lady,” he resumes, bowing elegantly once more. “Pray continue.”
The novice resumes her story and she tells Navarre of a raid on the Coven of Ilm about a week ago. Bandits entered the camp, operating in an uncharacteristically coordinated fashion and seemingly intent only on getting the Kettle of the Coven as quickly as possible and then leave. The Kettle of the Coven, she explains, is a golden kettle that can reveal the future. It is a holy artifact of Ilm entrusted to the Coven, a secret order of priestesses of Ilm with no fixed abode. The order counts some 50 women, who travel The Forest with some 50 servants and under the protection of 50 guards.
“Did the bandits identify themselves?,” Navarre asks, forgetting his manners.
“There were bandits and soldiers,” the novice says. “The soldiers wore metal armor featuring a black circle.”
“The sign of Ulm!,” Navarre says, forgetting himself again. “My Lady. Please forgive the interruption. Might I inquire as to your name?”
The novice looks at him uneasily.
“Er…,” she begins. “Perhaps you’d best address me as novice.”
“As you wish, my Lady,” Navarre says. “Please, continue.”
The novice continues her story. After the bandits left, the mistress of the Coven sent her away to tell the King about the attack. She eventually ended up at the Women’s House, where events unfolded as related above.
“Animals!,” she fumes. “They refused to budge even when wounded people started showing up! They should all be hanged!”
“An outrage,” Navarre agrees, somewhat taken aback by the sudden outburst. “I assure you that the scoundrels will be punished to the full extent of the law!”
“All I remember after that is boarding this barge and retiring for the night,” the novice concludes. “Until I woke up here, naked.”
The image of the naked girl on the large bed of the weird maritime couple and with her hands and feet tied by what seemed to be purpose-made black leather straps reappears in Navarre’s mind, immediately followed by a rather disturbing thought.
“Erm…,” he says uneasily. “Are you… are you alright?”
“You mean apart from all this?,” the novice asks sharply.
“Erm…, no…, I mean… yes,” Navarre stammers. “No…, I mean, are you… unharmed?”
But the novice doesn’t seem to understand what he’s on about.

Then, someone starts banging on the door in an agitated manner, immediately followed by the excited cries of the chevalier.
“I say! This won’t do! Let me in!”
The novice startles. Navarre excuses himself for a moment and moves to the door.
“’Allo?” the voice continues. “Can you hear me? Open this door!”
Navarre releases the latches and opens the door to look straight into the flushed face of the chevalier.
“My Lord,” Navarre says. “Pray restrain yourself. You are in the presence of a lady.”
“A Lady?,” the chevalier cries. “Out of the way, mon cher! She may be in distress!”
“Out of the question,” Navarre says frostily. “I’ll have you know that she is under my protection.”
The rest of the noble heroes are behind the chevalier and, now, all are pushing to have a look into the room. The chevalier will have nothing of it and turns around to stand his ground. Quietly, Navarre closes the door again, sliding both hatches back in place. When he turns around, the novice is opening drawers in the tables against the back wall, the blanket wrapped carelessly around her body.
“Pray forgive my noble friends, my Lady,” Navarre says. “It has been a difficult night.”
“Indeed,” the novice says, returning to the bed. “Perhaps you can tell me what exactly happened here last night?”
Navarre informs her of the events of last night, taking care to omit any details he believes could distress her.
“It would seem that the fate of the realm rests upon our shoulders,” he concludes. “I assure you, my Lady, that there is no safer place for it.”
The novice looks at him for a moment, apparently considering the statement.
“My Lady,” Navarre says, after a while. “As I recall, you mentioned the raiders displaying the sign of Ulm? A black circle?”
“Certainly,” the novice says. “And that’s what is so strange about it. Ulm doesn’t have a clergy – in fact, he only counts gravediggers and a handful of funeral bards among his followers.”
“It is a mystery,” Navarre muses. “Who can be behind this?”
Presently the banging on the door resumes, once again followed by the strained cries of the chevalier.
Madame! Are you alright? Navarre, open this door this instant!”
Navarre stifles a sigh and gets to his feet.
“My Lady,” he says, bowing again. “I shall retreat for a moment to allow you to make your toilet.”
He steps back into the galley and closes the curtain.

After some time – and after Navarre has heard several drawers and doors being opened and closed again – the novice appears wearing a pilgrim’s robe. The chevalier’s cries and banging have shown no sign of abating.
“My Lady,” Navarre says, bowing slightly. “My compliments.”
The novice takes a step forward and Navarre turns around to release the latches. Suddenly he thinks of something and turns to the novice again.
“Might I inquire as to whether you have found what you were looking for?,” he asks.
“I was looking for my things,” the novice says, after a second. “I have found them.”
“Excellent,” Navarre says, to the sound of the chevalier banging on the door. “Now. Are you ready?”
With a flourish, he releases the latches, opens the door and steps aside to allow the novice to pass.
Madame!,” the chevalier cries before Navarre can say anything. “Scaralat de Sarazin, à votre service!”
He executes a grandiose gesture with which he also somehow manages to shove his fellows behind him out of the way.
“Stand aside, Messieurs,” he cries, head down and waiting for the novice’s hand. “Make way for the Lady!”

Introductions are made and everybody is brought up to speed. The company retire to the cargo hold, where an animated discussion ensues. Our noble heroes all seem to have their own idea of what is to be done next: some propose sailing up the Blue River to see what’s going on at the mine; others suggest the next move should be to get to Big Beach to stay ahead of the advancing enemy and see what can be done there; others want to get to Mim, arguing that it may be the safest place right now; still others propose to get some horses as soon as possible; and yet others suggest returning to their respective duchies to gather the men left there and form an army. The novice says that she prefers to go to Big Beach and gets quite indignant once more when she speaks of the events at the Women’s House again.
Sir Oengus says he wants to load the barge with tar and flammable materials and send it back onto the lake when they disembark, set to catch fire when it reaches a point far away from the point of disembarkation.
“My dear fellow,” Navarre says. “To what avail?”
“A distraction,” Sir Oengus replies. “Create havoc in a location far, far away from where we actually are.”
“But would that not create havoc when none need actually be created?,” Navarre asks.
“Not if the scurvy swags are looking for us,” Sir Oengus says.
“This is getting us nowhere,” Sir Suvali says. “We still have no idea about what is going on. Is there someone left we can go to for information?”
“Loremaster Fist,” the novice says. “In Big Beach.”
“Why him?,” Sir Suvali asks.
“Because he is a Loremaster,” the novice says matter-of-factly. “Second only to Augustus Magister Rex.”
“Can we get a message to him?,” Sir Suvali asks.
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“A letter? A message?”
“Why should we?,” the novice says. “It’s four days to Big Beach. We’ll get there before any letter can.”
“Aye,” says Sir Oengus. “And a letter can be intercepted and we wouldn’t even know about it. Perhaps we should talk to the bargemen. They have a foolproof system to relay messages.”

Eventually, it is unanimously decided that, as long as our noble heroes have no clue as to what is actually going on, the best course of action will be to try and gather an army. But where? Nisibis, Weald, and Wyrsn, which all border the Blue River, seem compromised and by now Dara and perhaps even Thuxra may be in trouble, too. Mim seems a long shot anyway, not only because of its impoverished state but also because it would take a considerable time to reach because it has no river fronts.
“What’s more,” Navarre argues. “We may not be able to ensure the cooperation of men in duchies where we have no authority. My Lords, I put it to you that Dauberval is the best option. No disturbing news has come from there and it has no borders on the Blue River. It is remote and we can rally my men at the castle.”
Fi!,” the chevalier exclaims. “That… bâtisse? How? On foot? Ridiculous! We shall sail to Sarazin, organize some horses and ride out to battle! To glory! A la mort!”
“My dear Lord Duke,” Navarre says. “Although I applaud your courage, I would argue that the five of us would stand but a small chance against the forces the enemy will bring to the field.”

In the end a compromise is reached and it is decided that our noble heroes will sail to Sarazin first. Its capital is the first civilized location on the River Dusk anyway and it would be the most likely place to get some horses before traveling on to Dauberval.
“Excellent,” Navarre says, quite pleased with himself now that most of his own suggestions have transformed into a course of action. “Now. My Lady, is there anywhere we can take you before all this?”
“I would like to go to Big Beach,” the novice says.
“Then it is settled!,” Navarre proclaims. “My Lords. We shall take the Lady novice to Big Beach and then set forth to reclaim The Forest!”
“What?,” Sir Oengus says. “Big Beach?”
“Your manners, Sir!,” Navarre exclaims. “May I remind you that the Lady is in distress?”
“I won’t sail hubward when rimward is where I want to go,” Sir Oengus declares. “It is absurd and the risk is too high. Wasn’t it you, ‘Sir’, who argued against going to Big Beach because it would give the enemy too much time to do things?”
“Surely, Sir, you cannot suggest the Lady travel to Big Beach unattended?,” Navarre asks frostily.
“You can go with her if you like,” Sir Oengus says.
In the end, Sir Oengus gives in and it is agreed that our noble heroes will escort the novice to Big Beach before they head for Sarazin.
“Parley’s over,” Sir Oengus declares. “I’ll get to changing the appearance of the barge.”
When he has gone, the novice speaks.
“I will pay you for this,” she says. “When I left the Coven, the mistress gave me some rare and expensive salves and herbs. I will give half of it to you.”
Both the chevalier and Navarre jump to their feet, flushing. Navarre is the first to speak.
“My dear Lady!,” he exclaims. “Not a word, I implore you! It is our duty!”
“These remedies are extremely rare and precious,” the novice says. “They are a fitting payment for what you have done for Ilm and for what is to come.”
Madame!,” the chevalier cries. “We shall speak of this no more!”
But the novice will not be swayed and she produces some of her salves and herbs. As a result, Sir Oerknal – who suffered badly in the nightly attempt on his life – regains most of his hit points (Ilm’s ointment; 4 doses left).

When this is done, the company search the barge. From the various dressing-tables in the captain’s cabin, they retrieve an assortment of costly perfumes, powders, and similar items of maquillage, as well as considerable collection of quite expensive jewelry and other precious knickknacks. Underneath the bed, they find 54 pilgrim’s robes; a selection of strangling scarves with thin steel wires woven into the fabric; a variety of ropes, manacles, hoods, and leather straps; a bag with 900 copper coins; a bag with 90 silver coins; a pouch with 9 gold coins; and some 170 sachets and seals, 20 of which contain a coarse, white granular powder. The remainder contain what seems to be a mixture of dried, sweet-smelling herbs.
“That’s gold,” Sir Oerknal announces, grinning sheepishly and pointing to the nine gold coins when everything has been laid out on the cargo hold floor. “Can I keep it? It’s not greed or anything… more like a tradition.”

Some time later, our noble heroes also find ten bottles of very expensive wine in a locked box in the galley, of which the chevalier instantly takes control. After inspecting the bottles and making all the proper noises, he uncorks one of them with a flourish and fills some glasses.
Messieurs,” he exclaims. “Champagne!”
It has to be said that this greatly lifts the spirits of our noble heroes and perhaps mostly so in the case of Navarre and the chevalier – ever since the Academy, it has been this noble duo who have proven to be the most appreciative of the finer things in life. Our noble duo spend some time savoring the wine with much rolling of eyes, pouting of lips, splendid gesturing and appropriate guffawing, before magnanimously dismissing their little tête-à-tête at the door to the captain’s cabin.
“Well played, Monsieur,” the chevalier says, emptying his glass. “Well played.”
Navarre uncorks another bottle and generously provides his noble friend with a new glass of wine before grabbing another glass from the counter and returning to the cargo hold. He spots the novice seated with the others and playing with the various perfumes, creams, and powders from the dressing-tables. He swiftly fills the extra glass and gracefully moves to her side, smiling in a most charming manner.
“My Lady,” he purrs, presenting the glass of wine to the beautiful novice. “Lillac?”
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How inconvenient
An Adventure in Five Acts, Act II: Spelevaren op de grote rivier *

In which the DM repeatedly ignores Navarre’s references to the last sentence of “Act I” and finally informs our gallant knight that the session starts with the novice urging the party to get a move on instead.

“The sun is rising,” she says. “We should get to Big Beach as soon as possible.”
Indeed, the morning rain has passed and the first light is shining through the portholes.
“As you wish, Madame,” the chevalier says, exiting the galley somewhat unsteadily. “Oengus! How do we move this thing?”
“It requires people,” Sir Oengus says.
“Splendid!,” the chevalier cries. “All hands on deck, then! Now, if you will excuse me, I shall retreat for the night. Madame, messieurs, good night!”
With this, he climbs into one of the hammocks and starts snoring loudly.
Sir Oengus reminds his noble fellows that he wants some work done before he will raise anchor. When Sir Oerknal says that he is still a bit shaken from the attempt on his life and that he will get some sleep as well, Sir Suvali suggests he take the captain’s cabin, what with him being the King and all. Navarre jumps to his feet.
“Your manners, Sir!,” he cries. With an elegant bow, he turns to the novice: “My Lady, allow me to escort you to your cabin.”
With the novice thus safely in the captain’s cabin – alone – and the chevalier and Sir Oerknal in their hammocks, Navarre climbs to the deck, where Sir Suvali and Sir Oengus are busy rearranging things. When Sir Oengus notices him, he holds out the barge’s nameplate.
“Any suggestions?,” he grins. “The Lovely Theresa?”
“You jest, Sir,” Navarre says testily. “How about The Holy Angelina?”
Although he realizes that his noble fellow cannot understand the reference, Navarre still looks at him with a pretty pleased look on his face.
Varis it be!,” Sir Oengus says, in a fine reference of his own. Navarre has to laugh and congratulates his noble fellow on the name. After this, he leaves his noble fellows to it and turns his attention to the shore, where he notices at least six or seven columns of smoke. Again, he marvels at the sheer scale of the enemy operation.

With the morning mist slowly lifting, Sir Oengus and Sir Suvali raise the anchor and start steering the barge downstream.
The Varis is not the only vessel en route to Lake River today. All around the ship, vessels of all kinds are on the move and Navarre hails some of them for news. When nobody seems able to come up with anything useful, he finds that the exertions of last night are beginning to take their toll. Not wanting to go to sleep yet, he asks Sir Suvali about the stimulants from the captain’s cabin. The sorcerer brews him some tea and, soon, our noble hero feels a bit like he’s drank way too much coffee. He continues hailing vessels, hoping for news and any nobles who could have survived the massacre. However, he doesn’t get much more than that “folk be sayin’ as that the King be dead”.
It isn’t much later, just after the mist has gone, when the Varis reaches Lake River. The river is some 100 yards wide at this point and most vessels have started steering to the right, into what Sir Oengus explains is a deeper part of the river. As the Varis gets further and further downstream, buildings make way for unspoiled forests and soon both banks of the river are hidden by the dense foliage of a mangrove-like forest. Flocks of birds soar overhead and all manner of other wildlife move in the water and among the trees. Soon, all signs of human habitation – mostly simple wooden jetties serving perhaps a handful of barrows or sheds – have all but disappeared.

Some time after seven o’clock, Sir Suvali happens to be in the hold when the murderous Theresa comes round.
“Sire!,” he yells. “She’s woken up!”
Sir Oerknal gets to his feet but doesn’t say much, even when the woman starts yelling at him and the sorcerer.
“Thieves!,” she screams. “Where’s my husband? Get me out of these ropes! What are you doing with my barge?”
"Shut up,” Sir Suvali says. “Why did you try to murder the King?”
“The King!?,” the woman scoffs. “That creature? Don’t make me laugh! It is not human!”
Neither Sir Suvali nor Sir Oerknal say much to this and the interrogation doesn’t really lead anywhere. In the end, Sir Suvali feeds the woman some of her own sleep-inducing tea and soon she is sound asleep again.
The next couple of hours pass without much incident, the occasional jetty coming and going. Sir Suvali completes an inventory of the vessel and finds that there are some forty man-days worth of supplies on board.

About an hour before midday, the Varis approaches the burnt-out shell of a large barge run aground close to the right bank. Numbers of people seem to be retrieving all kinds of things from it and launches move to and fro. When our noble heroes get closer, they notice what must be more than a dozen bodies under white sheets on the riverbank.
“Hmm…,” Navarre says to Sir Oengus at the wheel. “It would seem that that barge was sailing in our direction. Perhaps we should try and find out who was on it.”
“I won’t drop anchor but I’ll get us a bit closer,” Sir Oengus says.
He steers the Varis closer to the shore and presently Navarre hails a man in a small launch.
“Ho! Over there!,” he hollers. “Who are they?”
“Piss off!,” the man yells back.
“Nice man,” Sir Oengus says. “Best let it be. Don’t blow our cover and all that.”

The journey continues with Navarre, Sir Oengus, Sir Oerknal, and Sir Suvali on deck and the chevalier and the novice still sound asleep below decks. Some two hours after midday, Sir Oengus announces that he is getting tired and drops anchor at a jetty with a few shacks and what seems to be a tavern. He asks Sir Suvali to go to ashore and get some ropes and clothes.
“You people stick out like sore thumbs,” Sir Oengus says. “You need to get changed.”
“Me?,” Sir Suvali asks.
“Listen here, lubber,” Sir Oengus says. “Someone’s gotta go get the stuff and it’s not gonna be the peacock or the King here. We need to stay low.”
“Agreed,” Sir Suvali says. “But perhaps you’d better come as well. You do speak the lingo better than I do.”
Sir Oengus gives in and he is the first to get into the launch. When Sir Suvali is halfway down the rope ladder, he notices that the sorcerer hasn’t changed.
“Ahoy!,” he yells at him. “What did I say about peacocks?”
The sorcerer throws him an uneasy glance.
“Peacock?,” he asks. “Me?”
“Look at yourself, man!,” Sir Oengus hollers. “Do you look like a bargeman?”
“Not at all,” Sir Suvali replies. “I thought you could be the skipper and I the paying passenger?”
“If you want to stay alive on my barge, you will dress as I say,” Sir Oengus yells.
The sorcerer looks up at Sir Oerknal on deck as if expecting some kind of support but the creature only shrugs its shoulders. He decides to swallow his pride and returns to the hold to change into the robes of a pilgrim. When he gets to the launch some time later, Sir Oengus extends his hand.
“Mighty noble of you,” he says.
Navarre decides to get some rest.

The tavern turns out to be little more than a ramshackle collection of planks, poles, and beams and there’s only a handful of elderly locals in the common room. When our noble duo enter, a rather plain-looking woman approaches.
“Welcome,” she says. “What can I do for you?”
“Splice the mainbrace, me beauty!,” Sir Oengus hollers, turning on the charm. “Two tankards of yer best brew and a bit of yer parley-voo if I ye’ll allow me!”
The woman brings a jug of ale and a couple of mugs and pours the ale. Sir Oengus takes a great swig of the ale.
“Cor blimey!,” he exclaims, wiping his mouth with his sleeve. “A fine brew as ever I saw! But non’ as fine as yer deadlights, me beauty! To be sure!”
The woman doesn’t blink an eye – perhaps she gets this all the time.
“Aye, me pretty lass,” Sir Oengus continues. “Mayhap as ye can sees me to some long clothes and a length of yer best hempen?”
“Rope? Clothes? How much rope?”
“A cable’s length, if ye’ll be so kind me beauty!”
“I could get you some rope, maybe twenty feet,” the woman says. “Clothes? No.”
“Thunder!,” Sir Oengus says. “Here be me getting these pilgrims to Big Beach and as sure’s I turns me back the scallywags use me best hempen to belay their togs to the mast! Never too fast to be sure and into the lake as Boreas blowin’!”
The woman turns to an old man and instructs him to bring her the rope.
“Twenty feet it be,” Sir Oengus resumes, when the woman turns to face him again. “Now, me beauty, fill’em to the brim’s a deuce I says. Hey! How’s about last night, ‘ey?”
“Last night?,” the woman says, filling the mugs.
“Apple Island!,” Sir Oengus exclaims. “Nobody be sayin’ naught to ye?”
“The fancy folk?,” the woman asks. “What about it?”
“Well blow me down!,” Sir Oengus exclaims. “All hands be bletherin’ about it! ‘t Was pillage and plunder! Gave no quarter I hears! Ye heard naught at all?”
“There’s talk of some riders passing by this morning rain,” the woman says.
“Sailing where, me lass?,” Sir Oengus asks.
“Folk say they were headed for the coast,” the woman says.
“Who be these lubbers?”
“Who do you think?,” the woman scoffs. “Fancy folk. Three sheets in the wind, no doubt!”
“There is a new King,” Sir Suvali suddenly says. “A changeling.”
“What?,” the woman says, casting him a startled glance.
“The King,” Sir Suvali says. “He is a changeling and he will retake the Kingdom!”
“Have they gone mad?!,” the woman exclaims. “A changeling king? You’ve got to be joking!”
“There has been a revolution!,” Sir Suvali proclaims. “The King will prevail!”
Presently the old man returns with a 20-foot rope.
“Avast, pilgrim!,” Sir Oengus says, kicking the sorcerer under the table. “Ye be ‘ere to pick up me tab, not steal me parley-voo!”
He turns toward the woman again and flashes her a lewd smile: “What be yer finest, me beauty? What says as you and me swigs us a nipperkin or two?”
The woman disappears behind the bar and returns with a stoneware bottle and two small glasses. She fills the glasses and heads back to the bar, leaving the bottle on the table.

Just when Sir Oengus raises his glass, a loud voice booms.
“Moon! By Olm! Is that you?”
Much to their surprise, our noble duo see Sir Eber Ard Weald entering the tavern.
“We’re off,” Sir Suvali says, putting some coins on the table and swiftly getting to his feet.
“Eber, you old picaroon!,” Sir Oengus yells, before turning to the woman again. “Ahoy, me beauty! Another one over ‘ere!”
“Now!,” the sorcerer says urgently, grabbing his noble fellow by the arm and dragging him to the exit. “Take the rope!”
And so our noble duo hastily leave the tavern, Sir Suvali gesturing Sir Eber to follow them.
Sir Eber, who seems to have been delayed to such an extent that he has managed to miss the entire Fortnight, shakes his head and follows his noble fellows back to the Varis. When they are almost there, Sir Suvali turns around.
“Don’t recognize me, do you?,” he says to the ranger, obviously quite pleased with himself. “I’m in disguise!”

When our three noble heroes board the Varis again, they find Sir Oerknal and the chevalier on deck, the latter waving a glass of wine at them when he spots them.
"Surprise!,” Sir Oengus yells. “Look who we found.”
“Bravo!,” the chevalier cries, without registering Sir Eber at all. He has been awake since midday and it seems that he hasn’t yet eaten a thing.
“I say!,” he starts. “Who is in charge of breakfast? It has been hours! Some viands, perhaps?”
“In the galley,” Sir Oengus replies.
Mon cher!,” the chevalier cries, perhaps unfamiliar with the concept. “What do you mean?”
“Make some porridge,” Sir Oengus replies. “You know, pans, pots.”
The chevalier seems confused.
“Pans? Porridge? Why… I suppose one could make do with porridge but… how does one go about making it?”
“With beer,” Sir Oerknal says.
When Sir Eber and Sir Oengus burst out laughing, the chevalier casts them an uneasy glance.
“Perhaps we could wake up the cook?,” he ventures, pointing to where Theresa is still held in a drugged stupor below.
But then Sir Eber heartily slams the chevalier on the back.
“Scaralat!,” he yells. “You old buffoon! Haven’t changed one bit, I see! How’s tricks?”
It is only now that the chevalier seems to recognize the ranger.
“Eber!,” he exclaims. “Is that you? Wherever have you been? Mon cher! Speak, I implore you!”
The ranger mumbles something about preferring forests to parties on islands and turns out to be wholly unaware of what has happened on Apple Island. With Sir Suvali and Sir Oengus already getting the Varis going again, the chevalier and Sir Oerknal bring Sir Eber up to speed.

At dusk, the Varis drops anchor at another jetty. When Sir Oengus and Sir Suvali have prepared the barge for the night, they descend into the hold where the novice and their noble fellows are gathered around a meal. When everybody has eaten and the chevalier and Navarre have consumed yet another bottle of the excellent wines, Navarre proposes that someone go ashore to see what news there is of Big Beach.
But no one volunteers, so our noble hero decides to go himself. He gets into the launch and rows to the shore, where he finds some ramshackle huts and sheds and a small timber structure he assumes to be the tavern. When he enters the place, he finds it full of locals, who eye him for a second before resuming their conversation. He walks over to the counter and asks the barman for a mug of his best ale.
“What news from Big Beach?,” he asks, when the man pours him some ale from a jug on the counter.
“Word is there’s been some trouble,” the barman says.
“What kind of trouble?,” Navarre asks, fearing the worst. “When?”
“Riots,” the barman says.
“What happened?”
“Bwoa,” the barman says. “Word is some scum looted parts of the town.”
“Scum?,” Navarre asks. “Bandits?”
“Nah,” the barman says. “Scum. Another one?”
Navarre nods and the barman fills his mug again.

When the man turns out to know nothing more about what happened in Big Beach, Navarre decides to let the matter rest – he doesn’t know who’s who in the tavern and he doesn’t want to attract attention to himself. He finishes his ale, puts a coin on the counter and leaves the tavern, mumbling goodnight to the assembled villagers. He hasn’t moved twenty yards when he runs into the chevalier and most of the others, all wearing pilgrim’s robes.
“Ah! Mon cher!,” the chevalier cries, obviously quite inebriated. “Just the man! We’re off to buy some horses!”
“You’re what?,” Navarre asks, anxiously looking back at the tavern. “And then what?”
Je suis chevalier!,” the chevalier exclaims, assuming a grand pose.
“My Lord Duke,” Navarre says. “I would remind you that we are traveling incognito.”
Fi!,” the chevalier cries. “Out of my way, mon cher!”
And with that, he shoves past Navarre and enters the tavern.
“Hasn’t changed a bit, has he?,” Sir Eber says.
Navarre straightens his back.
“I’m not sure what you mean,” he says stiffly.
“No matter,” the ranger says. “Maybe you can tell me why we’re going to Big Beach when the action is on Apple Island?”
“We are escorting a Lady, Sir,” Navarre says.
“In the wrong direction,” Sir Eber says. “I say we start killing people.”
“That’s what I said,” Oerknal joins in. “Throw the bitch overboard and get on with it.”

Not for the first time, Navarre is beginning to wonder whether appointing Sir Oerknal as the new King may have been a mistake, especially since the creature’s behavior has taken a definite turn for the worse in the past few days. He decides to ignore the remark and informs his noble fellows that they will certainly “start killing people” after the novice has been delivered to safety. But Sir Eber isn’t easily swayed.
“There’s sure to be messengers getting from Big Beach to the island,” he says. “I say we head into the forest, hunt them down and get some answers.”
“I’m afraid I must insist,” Navarre says. “I have given the Lady my word.”
“Bah!,” Sir Eber says. “Don’t you want to know what’s going on?”
“Certainly,” Navarre says. “Information is the one thing we seem unable to get. However, heading into the forest and waiting for some messengers to turn up seems to be a bit of a wild goose chase to me, if not an outright waste of precious time.”
“Messengers, soldiers, scouts, anything,” the ranger says, flexing his muscles.
“Perhaps the magnitude of the task at hand escapes you, Sir,” Navarre says. “I remind you that we are faced with an enemy with the capacity to strike in force and in many places at once. I assure you that I have seen these forces with my own eyes and I do not hesitate to admit that the six of us would not stand much of a chance in an encounter with even a single unit of these soldiers.”
“Have a little faith,” the ranger says. “But we can target only messengers and scouts if you want.”
“To what purpose?,” Navarre asks. “Spend days, weeks in a forest in the hopes of some suitable target turning up and then what? Learn things we would also learn if we proceed with our plan? I say we keep to what was agreed. Regroup, assemble an army. Then ride into battle.”
“I didn’t agree to anything,” Sir Eber says. “We must move against the enemy as soon as possible. Oerknal here agrees.”
“I’m sure he does,” Navarre says, with another doubtful look at the creature.
The discussion continues like this for some time until Navarre finally tires of it. Just when he is about to excuse himself, the tavern door is thrown open and the chevalier emerges, some locals scrambling to keep up with him.
Messieurs!,” the chevalier cries. “Aux chevaux!”
Navarre heads back to the Varis and climbs into his hammock. So much for getting to Big Beach unnoticed.
Back on the shore, his noble fellows actually manage to buy a horse and even succeed in getting it on board, eventually.
Around midnight, Theresa wakes up again. When she starts screaming again and refuses to shut up, Sir Suvali feeds her some more of her own tea, sending her back to sleep.
One hour after midnight, Sir Eber, on deck to keep watch, hears some more riders pass in the forest close to the shore.

Day 3: Navarre wakes up to the smell of bacon and eggs. The novice has been preparing a hearty breakfast and presently the chevalier compliments her on her efforts.
Madame!,” he cries. “I have not enjoyed such an excellent breakfast in ages! It goes splendidly with the Lillac!”
After breakfast, Sir Oengus and Sir Suvali get the Varis moving again and the day passes uneventfully until later that afternoon (16.00 hrs), when our noble heroes spot what appears to be blockade downstream. Two groups of three large barges tied together extend some way into the river, one to each side, effectively blocking both fairways. Several boats and launches are in the water and barges are cuing up to either side, their decks crawling with soldiers. Navarre, who is on deck enjoying one of the excellent bottles of wine with the chevalier, gets to his feet and notices the banners of Palava on one side of the river and those of Bagabuxsha on the other.
“Gentlemen,” he says. “Soldiers ahead.”
Sir Oengus is already slowing down the Varis and presently a small pinnace approaches. Some soldiers are in it, yelling and waving their arms.
“Hove-to!,” they holler. “To the side!”
Navarre exchanges a look with Sir Oengus, who starts steering the Varis closer to the shore.
“Stay there and see what they want,” Sir Oengus says to Navarre. “Everybody else get down behind the railing and keep your weapons down! We don’t know what side they are on!”
“I’d better get below decks,” Sir Oerknal says. “What with all these humanoids about and all that.”
“Good thinking,” Sir Suvali calls after him. “And make sure the fat cow doesn’t start screaming again.”

When the pinnace comes closer, Navarre clearly recognizes the men on it as Palavan soldiers.
“Palava!,” he yells. “Who is in command?”
“Captain Belenos, in the name of Palava,” one of the men in the pinnace shouts. “Prepare to be boarded!”
“There shall be no boarding!,” Navarre yells back at him. “We bring news from Apple Island and there is no time to lose!”
“I have my orders!,” captain Belenos yells. “We will search the barge!”
“You shall do nothing of the sort, captain!,” Navarre yells. “I am Navarre Ard Dauberval. Stand down your men!”
This seems to throw the captain for a bit and, by the time the answer comes, the pinnace is close enough for people to stop shouting at each other.
“It is for you own safety, my Lord,” the captain says, after a good look at Navarre. “I will need to make sure there’s no one hiding below decks with a knife to someone’s throat.”
“That is very considerate of you, captain,” Navarre says. “I assure you that nothing of the sort is going on. You have my word.”

Then the chevalier gets up from behind the railing.
Mon capitaine!,” he cries. “What news of the riders who passed this way?”
“They were the King’s men, Sir,” captain Belenos says. “They were headed for Big Beach.”
“The King’s men?,” the chevalier asks. “How so?”
“I have been told that they managed to break out of the fortress before the enemy could surround it, Sir.”
Mon cher!,” the chevalier cries at Navarre. “There is still hope! The cavalry has survived!”
“Is there any news as to who is behind all of this, captain?,” Navarre asks.
“They were professional soldiers and bandits, my Lord,” the captain says. “The soldiers were unlike anyone has ever seen. They wore iron plating and wielded pole-axes.”
“Any banners?”
“The soldiers displayed a black circle,” the captain says.
“Who currently speaks for Palava?,” Navarre asks.
“It is Lord Corwin, my Lord,” the captain says. “Second nephew to the Duke.”
“Where can I find him?”
“The fortress, my Lord,” the captain says. “At the next jetty.”
“Thank you, captain,” Navarre says. “Carry on!”

* This is a play on the title of a Dutch translation of Jack Vance’s novel Showboat World (Pyramid Books, 1975)
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How inconvenient
An Adventure in Five Acts, Act II (Continued)

The Varis is allowed through and soon reaches the next jetty. Sir Oengus drops anchor and remains on board with the novice while the rest of our noble heroes disembark. Navarre sets out to commandeer a horse and when he locates a soldier riding one, the chevalier comes galloping by.
“See you at the fortress, mon cher!,” he cries, inciting his new horse to an even greater speed.
After some unexpected resistance, the soldier agrees to lend Navarre his horse on the condition that he will return it to him. Navarre gives him his word as a matter of course and mounts up just when Sir Suvali, Sir Oerknal, and Sir Eber appear. When the noble quartet get to the fortress some time later, they notice the chevalier at the gate – on horseback and obviously furious. When they reach the gates themselves, a seneschal appears.
“A thousand pardons, my Lords,” the seneschal says, bowing to the assembled noble heroes. “If you would follow me?”
L’impudence!,” the chevalier exclaims, before charging into the courtyard. “You have not heard the last of this, Monsieur!”

Navarre dismounts, hands his horse to a stable boy and starts after the seneschal and the others. Our noble heroes are taken into a large barrow and into a hall where many nobles and military men are gathered at tables arranged around a large central fire. Without further ado, Navarre takes off his gloves and addresses the assembly.
“My Lords,” he starts. “Barons…”
“…ladies,” Sir Oerknal whispers behind him.
“… my Ladies,” Navarre continues, annoyed that the creature has caught him out. “The King is dead.”
Cries of indignation and disbelief follow and Navarre waits for the consternation to die down.
“I assure you this is true, my Lords,” he continues. “I have seen him die with my own eyes.”
More consternation follows until Sir Corwin rises and calls for silence.
“What news of my uncle?,” he asks.
“His fate is unknown,” Navarre says. “As is that of all others on Apple Island.”

After taking a moment to consider this, Sir Corwin invites our noble heroes to his table, where they are treated to some excellent food and drink. They are asked many questions and take their time to answer them as best they can. In turn, Sir Corwin informs them that he has rallied the soldiers of Palava and that he and a number of Bagabuxshan barons have blocked the river to ensure that no one gets past unchecked. He also tells them that he has sent heralds and messengers to all duchies with news of what happened and asking for support.
Monsieur!,” the chevalier says. “I assure you that House Sarazin is wholly at your service!”

As the evening proceeds, our noble heroes and the assembled Palavan courtiers and officers speak of organizing defenses, raising armies, and moving against the enemy as soon as possible. Our noble heroes also learn that some 30 of the King’s men broke out of the Military Academy and that they managed to save around 40 horses.
During most of this, Sir Oerknal and Sir Eber do not speak much. They have taken seats next to each other at the back of the room and do not seem to approve of the way their noble fellows handle things.
“Look at them,” Sir Eber says to the creature at some point. “Strutting their stuff and eating and drinking like fat geese. Blah, blah, blah.”
“Hell, yeah,” Sir Oerknal replies, in what can perhaps best be described as a bit of an anachronism. “Why waste all this time? We should be killing people.”

When the conversation once again turns to who may be behind the attack, Navarre suddenly remembers the murderous Theresa. He gets to his feet.
“My Ladies, Lords,” he says. “Barons. Perhaps our prisoner can shed some light on the subject. Lord Corwin. If you would allow me to bring her before you?”
And so it is that Theresa is brought into the room, presenting an even sorrier sight than usual. She is on her knees, hands tied behind her back, face still swollen and blue from Sir Oerknal’s blows, hair in disarray, paint running down her face, and smelling as if she hasn’t been allowed to relieve herself properly for quite some time.
“My Ladies, my Lords,” Navarre starts. “Barons. I bring this wretched creature before you to be judged for her misdeeds. Woman! Are you ready to be tried by your betters?”
“Silence!,” he roars, when Theresa starts to speak. “You shall speak when spoken to!”
He turns to Sir Corwin again and continues: “My Lord. I, Navarre Ard Dauberval, acting Duke Dauberval, charge this woman with the unlawful holding of a servant of Ilm, with causing distress to a Lady, with assaulting five peers of the realm, and with the attempted murder of one of the King’s servants. My Lord?”
“Grave charges, indeed,” Sir Corwin agrees. “What have you to say to this, woman?”
“I am innocent!,” Theresa yells. “The girl is a thief! These people have stolen my barge!”
“Do you dare call a servant of Ilm a thief, miscreant?,” Navarre says, glowering at the woman.
“She’s a thief! She came aboard my barge illegally! She didn’t pay for her passage!”
“That is no excuse to rob her of her dignity and leave her tied to a bed unattended,” Navarre says.
“I had to protect myself! She could have been hiding a weapon! I was afraid she would escape!”
“I remind you that you speak of a servant of Ilm!,” Navarre roars. “I assure you, creature, that I shall not allow you to speak of the Lady in this manner much longer!”
“She’s a thief,” Theresa whimpers.
“Do you deny that you drugged myself and my peers with a herbal tea?,” Sir Suvali asks.
“I do! I didn’t drug anybody!”
“Lies!,” Sir Suvali yells. “I have examined the tea myself and found it to contain various sleep-inducing herbs.”
“Fine!,” Theresa yells back. “The tea has some soothing qualities! But nothing like you suggest!”
“And what of your attempt on the King’s life?,” the sorcerer continues. “Do you deny this as well?”
“He is an abomination!,” Theresa yells. “I don’t want monsters on my barge!”
“Your excuses bore this court, woman,” Navarre says, getting tired of the whole thing and rising to his feet again. “Now… I put it to you that you aided and abetted traitors to the Crown! Isn’t it true, Madam, that you ferried soldiers to the island? I remind you that the penalty for this is death by hanging.”
Now, Theresa panics.
“No!,” she cries, clasping her hands. “I didn’t see any soldiers! We took to the water at the first sign of trouble! I saw no one! I swear on my poor mother’s grave!”
Navarre instantly notices the sudden changes in the woman’s voice and manner: she is now definitely less defiant than before and aiding the enemy is something she obviously does not want to be accused of at all costs. He concludes that she and captain Clifford probably did not ferry any soldiers to the island and decides to leave the proceedings to Sir Corwin. He leans back in his chair and gestures a servant for more wine. As a result, he doesn’t register what eventually happens to the murderous captain’s wife, although she is not on the Varis the next day.

When the meeting draws to a close, Navarre and the chevalier – who has been drinking heavily – accept Sir Corwin’s invitation to spend the night at the barrow. The others return to the Varis but not after Oerknal buys four dogs from someone and gives them to Sir Suvali. When the noble trio board the Varis and inform Sir Oengus of the events at the fortress, the latter turns out to have spent the evening convincing himself once again that he doesn’t want to go to Big Beach.
“It's madness!,” he yells to Sir Suvali. “The whole country is under attack and we’re here holding some girl’s hand! I will turn this barge around first thing tomorrow and sail for Nisibis!”
Fortunately, the sorcerer manages to convince him to stick to the plan.

Day 4: Navarre and the chevalier take their leave of Sir Corwin and head back to the jetty at first light, where Navarre returns his horse to its owner. When the noble duo are back on board, the novice approaches.
“What happened?,” she asks. “I need to know everything!”
Navarre informs her of the events of last night, as always taking care to avoid any details he considers to be of an upsetting nature. Once again, the novice’s rather violent notions on what should be done with the enemy surprise him.
“They must hang!,” she exclaims at some point. “All of them! How dare they murder their betters!”

Otherwise, the day passes rather uneventfully and Navarre and the chevalier enjoy another bottle or two of the expensive wines. In what seems to be moment of weakness, the chevalier admits to having difficulty coming to terms with what he saw on the island.
L’effroi!,” he exclaims at some point. “Mon cher! La horreur! I shall forever be haunted by it!”
Navarre says nothing, too polite to expand on what is surely a fleeting moment of weakness. He hasn’t allowed himself to think about the matter much, instead focusing on the matters at hand.

For the rest of the day, Navarre doesn’t stop hailing barges from time to time but his attempts to get some information about what happened in Big Beach do not lead to much more than already knows. Most people he talks to seem to think that the town’s beggars and thieves went on a rampage and that that was that.
“A diversion, perhaps?,” the chevalier suggests.

Day 5: Late in the afternoon, just when Navarre and the chevalier are about to finish the last of the expensive wines, Sir Oengus announces that Big Beach approaches. Indeed, the river has widened to some 150 yards and the forests have given way to a dune-like landscape with rocky outcroppings. Sandbanks and pebble-strewn islets have appeared in the river, forcing Sir Oengus to steer the Varis through ever narrower fairways.
Downstream, our noble heroes can see much farther into the distance than they could so far and they presently look out over a vast, open area underneath a cloudy sky. The traffic has increased notably, with all manner of vessels gathering around scores of jetties on islets and both banks of the river. Buildings appear everywhere, a mixture of all kinds of barrows, wooden structures, and even some stone buildings, many of them obviously dedicated to a multitude of maritime trades: there are boathouses, small docks, net-makers, salters. Far ahead, on the beach, are two enormous vessels unlike our noble heroes have ever seen, as well as more wooden structures and constructs. Judging by the number of buildings they see, our noble heroes estimate that Big Beach may be home to perhaps as much as 5,000 permanent residents.


Sir Oengus steers the Varis as far downriver as he can get it – which is halfway down the island-strewn area, to where the river actually disappears – and now our noble heroes have their first comprehensive view of the beach. It seems to run some two kilometers to the sea and stretches all the way from dawn to dusk. Starting some distance from the low dunes that mark the end of the river, a wide strip of what seems to be brackish water smothered in algae leads to the sea, in effect dividing the beach in two halves.
On the sand are an assortment of ships, boats, sleds, and carts, some of them swarming with people and horses. Various wooden structures seem to be dry-docks, with pathways of wooden poles half-buried in the sand leading up to them. Others have large nets drawn over them. Far away, a span of sixteen horses are pulling one of the large vessels into the sea.
“I do declare!,” Navarre yells to Sir Oengus from the prow. “I have never seen such vessels!”
“They be sea-ships,” Sir Oengus yells back at him, grinning widely.
Navarre cannot believe his eyes and ears.
“Surely you jest, Sir!,” he yells.
“Ha, ha!,” Sir Oengus laughs. “You better believe it, lubber! They take these beauties out onto the big blue to catch fish!”
Navarre has never heard of such a ludicrous notion. As far as he knows, no vessel can survive a trip to the sea.
“And plenty of fish there be out there, to be sure!,” Sir Oengus continues, steering the Varis to a jetty. “Wash up here by the barrelful courtesy of the currents and the winds! Never have to get out for more than a couple of leagues before the nets be brimming!”

Navarre casts him a suspicious glance but then the novice appears next to him and hails the first man she sees on the jetty.
“Pardon!,” she yells. “Sir! Where can I find Loremaster Fist?”
“Right bank, missus,” the man yells back. “Straight as she goes. Last house on the beach!”
Navarre regains his composure and suggests the novice prepare herself for the journey ahead. When she doesn’t answer and starts climbing down the rope ladder to the jetty unattended, he alerts the chevalier: “Scaralat! The Lady requires our assistance!”
And so our noble duo have to hurry after the rapidly disappearing novice.

Just before they catch up, the chevalier stops Navarre in his stride.
“A word among gentlemen, Sir,” he says, extending his hand to his noble fellow. “It seems only appropriate that we shall lead the effort under your command. I shall lead the cavalry myself.”
Navarre pauses and shakes his noble friend’s hand.
Mon colonel,” he says, with a slight bow of his head.

After some more hurrying after the novice through the dunes and with their noble fellows in tow, our noble duo eventually reach what must be the home of Loremaster Fist at the end of the path they are on. It is a long, stone structure on a low dune at the foot of a tall rock jutting from the sand like a finger. It seems to consist of three separate homes in a row, each with its own entrance. Attached to the back is a large wooden hangar, a pathway of half-buried wooden poles connecting it to the beach. On the other side of the path our noble duo are on, running away from them along the front of the building, are four walled-off sections, the first three containing all kinds of plants and low shrubs and the fourth a lone, stone bench with a splendid view of the beach and the sea beyond.

The novice finally comes to a halt, apparently in doubt.
“My Lady,” Navarre asks. “Do you know which one is the Loremaster’s house?”
“I don’t know,” the novice says. “I was sent to ask a specific question and that’s it.”
Without further ado, she heads for the first door and knocks on it, the chevalier hurrying to her side. Navarre takes a few steps back to look at the chimneys and he notices smoke coming from those of the second and third houses. Now, Sir Eber, Sir Oerknal, and Sir Suvali arrive, the sorcerer immediately turning his attention to the three gardens. Navarre turns to look at the third house, where some stone steps lead up to the front door. Assuming this to be the one where people might actually live – the others being perhaps ateliers or barns – he advances to the steps.
“I say!,” he yells. “Hello in there?”
After some more yelling, a short young man with light hair appears in the door of the second house. Navarre approaches.
“Loremaster Fist, I presume?,” he says.
“Not me, Lord,” the youngster says. “I be just a tenant and they call me… Tim. I sail on The Black Owl.”
He nods to the beach, presumably to one of the sea-ships on it.
“I see,” Navarre says. “Where is the Loremaster?”
“Can’t say to be sure, Lord,” Tim says. “It be just the gravedigger and us hands here.”
“A gravedigger?,” Navarre says, putting his hand to his sword and turning to the chevalier and the novice.
“Scaralat!,” he yells. “There is a gravedigger in the last house!”
Strangely, the chevalier seems to take this as his cue to move to the back of the building and into the hangar.

Navarre has a quick look around to see where his noble fellows are. Sir Suvali is in one of the small gardens; Sir Eber and Sir Oerknal are sitting on the low stone wall surrounding another, observing the goings-on with a bored look on their face; Sir Oengus is nowhere to be seen.
He moves to the novice’s side, who is listening to Tim explaining that the building is divided into three separate homes, all the property of Loremaster Fist.
“Loremaster be over there,” Tim says, nodding to the first house. “The gravedigger be to starboard and this ‘ere be where we take a caulk when the ship be beached.”
“My good man,” Navarre says, struggling to understand the fellow. “That is all as may be but we are pressed for time. Where can we find the Loremaster?”
“Can’t say to be sure, Lord. He be nowhere as to be seen fer some time.”
“Well?,” Navarre says. “You speak of being a regular guest. Surely you know where the Loremaster may have gone?”
“Nay, Lord. We only be here a few days. Never seen him since we beached.”
“Think, man!,” Navarre says irritably. “Where can he have gone? The town? Visiting friends? A paramour? A tavern?”
“Can’t say to be sure, Lord.”
Now, the door of the third house opens and a short, elderly man wearing what appears to be a nightgown appears.
“You there!,” Navarre yells at him.
“Yes?,” the man says.
“Where can I find Loremaster Fist?”
“I haven’t seen him.”
“Who are you?”
“I am the gravedigger.”
“Your name, Sir!,” Navarre demands.
“It is Taper,” the man replies.

Sir Eber approaches.
“Do you have a key to this place?,” he asks the gravedigger.
“Well?,” Navarre says impatiently. “Get on with it, man!”
“I wouldn’t go into that house,” the gravedigger says. “The Loremaster has warned us not to enter it in his absence.”
“We’ll be the judge of that,” Navarre snaps. “Just get the key.”
“And you are?,” Taper asks.
“I am Navarre Ard Dauberval,” Navarre says. “And you, Sir, are obstructing a mission of importance!”
“Follow me, Lord,” Taper says, turning around and disappearing into the house.
Navarre hurries after him. He is beginning to consider the possibility that something may be very wrong here. Why don’t the people living in the same building as the Loremaster have any notion of where their landlord could be? And what of a gravedigger, a worshiper of Ulm, living here?

He reaches the door of the gravedigger's house and enters a small room with a raised platform about halfway up the back wall, some steps leading up to it and with a fireplace underneath. On the right wall is a large wooden cassette with many compartments containing all kinds of animal skulls – the sign of Ulm!
Taking a deep breath, Navarre scans the room for evidence of a struggle, blood, corpses. He finds nothing of the sort and presently the gravedigger comes down the steps to the platform.
“Here you are, Lord,” he says, some keys in his hand and heading to the door.
Our noble hero casts another quick look around the room. When he sees nothing more of any interest, he leaves the building, to find that his noble fellows have already gathered at the door to the first house. Tim is nowhere to be seen and the door to the second house is closed. Presently the gravedigger reaches the gathered nobles and turns to look at Navarre.
“Well, Eber?,” Navarre says impatiently. Does he have to do everything himself? “Open the door!”
“I can open it for you, Lord,” the gravedigger says, moving past the ranger. He unlocks the door and takes a step back.
“Don’t enter, Lord,” he says. “The Loremaster has told us that entering the house is dangerous.”
“More work for you, I’d say,” Sir Eber says.
The gravedigger lifts his eyebrows.
“That is true,” he says. “I hadn’t looked at it that way.”
Navarre approaches.
“Stand back, Sir,” he warns the gravedigger, moving past him toward the door.
But Sir Suvali grabs him by the arm.
“Allow me,” the sorcerer says.

He opens the door and looks at his dogs for a moment. When the animals show no signs of being worried about anything, he takes a look inside, into a room that looks much like the one in the gravedigger's house. There are a table and a chair and a raised platform is against the back wall, a fireplace underneath it. To the right is a door to a smaller room, most likely a pantry or storage. A punching ball, a pair of boxing gloves, and a cassette not unlike the one in the gravedigger’s house take pride of place in various locations. The cassette contains what seem to be boxing trophies.
“There’s nobody here,” Sir Suvali says.
Parbleu!,” the chevalier says. “Is there nobody who knows where he might be?”
“This won’t do!,” the novice exclaims angrily. “Urgent questions must be answered! How do we find out about his routine? Where he goes?”
“Speak, man!,” Navarre snaps to the gravedigger.
“I do not know where he is, Lord,” the gravedigger says. “He is a sorcerer and a businessman. He meets with sorcerers and captains and all manner of folk. He uses The Black Owl when he wants to go places.”
“Tim!,” Navarre yells. “Get back out here!”
The door opens and the crewman appears. Again, Navarre asks him where the Loremaster may have gone.
“Can’t say to be sure, Lord,” Tim says. He seems to think for a while. “Mayhap as there be something fer to blow the gaff in the house? But ye might think twice to be sure! Cap’n said there be no quarter for hands entering.”
“This is getting us nowhere,” Sir Suvali says. “I’ll leave a note and we’ll get back to Big Beach to look for him there.”

He enters the house, procures a pen and some paper and starts scribbling away at the table. He has only just started when he stops abruptly, lifts his head and sniffs the air.
“Smell that?,” he says. “Something’s rotting in here.”
He starts for the door in the right wall but changes his mind and climbs up to the platform. Here, he finds a table, a desk, a bed, a nightstand next to it, its lower drawer on the floor with four bottles around it. In front of it, lying face-down, with one arm stretched as if trying to reach for the drawer, is a body. It is that of a stocky, muscular man wearing a sorcerer’s robe and a lot of flashy, gold jewelry. The skin is strangely blue.
Not blue as in “ice” or blue as in “the result of decay setting in” – just blue.
“Gentlemen!,” the sorcerer yells. “He is here. Do not enter the house until I say so!”
He kneels next to the body and subjects the bottles to a closer inspection. They are all alike, with three of them containing a clear liquid and the fourth being open and empty, a stopper next to it. He carefully checks if there is any life left in the body – but there is no breathing, no pulse.

It would appear that Loremaster Fist is dead, poisoned by agents unknown.
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How inconvenient
An Adventure in Five Acts, Act II (Continued)

When the sorcerer gets back to his feet, he notices a leather-bound folio on the bed. He flicks through its pages and finds it to be a diary or perhaps some kind of ledger. He tucks the volume under his arm, climbs down the steps and walks to the door where his noble fellows are waiting impatiently.
“Loremaster Fist is dead,” he says. “His corpse is in there.”
“What?!,” the novice cries. “Let me see him!”
Navarre starts to speak but the novice has already brushed past the sorcerer. Again, it would appear that the young woman is accustomed to much more than our gallant knight would deem appropriate for a damsel of her allure.

Sir Suvali subjects the folio to a closer look and informs his noble fellows that it seems to be a notebook containing quite meticulous notes on a variety of subjects: meetings with people; lists of herbs; names of nobles; lists of rumors at court; reports of business ventures; details of financial transactions; drawings and sketches of sites, locations, features.

When the novice gets back down from the platform against the back wall, Sir Suvali turns to face her.
“It seems that he was poisoned,” he says, closing the notebook. “What about those potions? Could they be antidotes?”
“How should I know?,” the novice replies, obviously distraught. “I’m not an expert.”

Now, most of our noble heroes enter the house. Navarre is the first to get to the small room to the right and he finds it to be a pantry or perhaps a small kitchen. On a table are three bottles of wine, one of them half empty. He picks up the half empty bottle and smells it: nothing, although the wine seems to have been of some quality. He calls out to Sir Suvali.
“What do you think?,” he asks, handing the bottle to the sorcerer when both he and the chevalier enter. “It smells like it has been standing open for too long.”
“Poison doesn’t always smell of something,” the sorcerer says. “In fact, the best ones don’t.”
Du vin?,” the chevalier exclaims, taking the bottle and smelling at it. “An excellent vintage, I daresay! A pity it is ruined.”
“It may be poisoned,” Sir Suvali says, taking back the bottle.
“Indeed?,” the chevalier says absentmindedly, casting a furtive glance at the unopened bottles.

Navarre and Sir Suvali get back to the main room, where they find the novice talking to Sir Eber and Sir Oerknal.
“Judging by the decay, I’d say he’s been dead for four days,” she says. “But I’m no expert on poison.”
“So he died on the night of the massacre,” Navarre says, forgetting his manners. “Then it would seem that the riots in Big Beach have nothing to do with his death.”

Suddenly, there is a loud crash in the room behind them, followed by a strangled scream. Our noble heroes hasten to the room, where they find the chevalier thrashing about wildly on the floor, hands at his throat and gurgling in a manner most unbecoming a man of his standing. His face and his hands are turning blue at some speed.
“Can you believe it!?,” Navarre exclaims. “He has drunk from the wine!”
Sir Suvali reacts instantly and calls for someone to bring him the bottles from the platform. When he is given one, he tells Sir Eber to hold the chevalier down and proceeds to force half of the contents down his noble fellow’s throat. When this doesn’t seem to work, he administers a second bottle, again succeeding in forcing down only half of it. But the chevalier also fails his third saving throw and all seems lost – until the novice procures a foul-smelling concoction.
“It is a strong emetic,” she says, handing it to Sir Suvali. Together, they manage to get all of the concoction into the chevalier, who finally passes a saving throw and starts vomiting all over the place. After some time, the blue color on his skin starts to fade.
Sir Eber has observed the event with a distinct look of disdain on his face.
“Well,” he starts wryly. “At least now we can be sure that the Loremaster was poisoned.”
When the others start leaving the room, he picks up the bottle of poisonous wine, pushes the cork back into it, further seals it with a piece of cloth, and puts it in his pack.

“Perhaps the magnitude of the task at hand escapes you, Sir,” Navarre says. “I remind you that we are faced with an enemy with the capacity to strike in force and in many places at once. I assure you that I have seen these forces with my own eyes and I do not hesitate to admit that the six of us would not stand much of a chance in an encounter with even a single unit of these soldiers.”
“I would like to have a look at that notebook,” she says.
“First things first,” the sorcerer says, in his usual self-important manner. “First we get the Loremaster out of here.”
And so, perhaps an hour and a half before nightfall, the gravedigger is called into the house. With the man going about his business, our noble heroes move outside and start discussing the meaning of their discovery and whether it means that they should change their plans.

When the gravedigger and the corpse are gone about half an hour later, our noble heroes move back into the house. Sir Suvali has another look at the cabinet on the platform and concludes that the runes may be tied to some sort of exploding spell. He once again instructs the others to leave the house and stay outside until he is finished. He spends some time attaching a thin rope to both handles and then takes cover under the platform. When he pulls the rope, a loud explosion occurs and a huge fist of fire momentarily flashes through the room.
When the smoke has lifted, he climbs back up to the platform and retrieves some items from the cabinet: a cache of coins, numerous documents (business contracts, mostly), a lot of even more gaudy gold jewelry, and a slender rectangular box. He inspects the box and concludes that the top can be removed much like the end cap on a scroll case. He opens the box and pulls out a slender, longish, hexagonal crystal wand, its color slowly changing from cloudy to clear as it tapers to a fine point. A sequence of runes is on each of its six sides, getting ever smaller the closer they get to the tip. He examines the runes and finds that he can only read one of them. It reads “Yrmgard”.
He gets back to his noble fellows outside and informs them of his findings. When he is finally finished, Navarre decides that enough is enough.
“Perhaps, Sir, you can now find it within you to hand the Lady the Loremaster’s notebook?,” he asks.
With a distinct lack of enthusiasm, the sorcerer hands the book to the novice. She sits down at the table and starts paging through it eagerly.
“Did you know there is a list in here that says where all sorcerers live?,” she murmurs after a while. “Mages, mages. Another one. Huh? Oh! Hmm…”

After some time, Navarre is getting restless. He has taken the novice where she wanted to go and the mission shouldn’t really have to be postponed any longer. Still, he can hardly leave the novice here, especially with a gravedigger in the same building.
“My Lady,” he begins, when the novice has stopped paging through the book for a moment. “Is there some place in town we can take you before we must part ways?”
“Do you know what it says about Magus Seaworthy?,” the novice asks, looking at him pensively.
“Indeed not, my Lady. I have not read the folio.”
The novice starts paging through the book again.
“It says here that he sold his ship and went to the Isle of Bread,” she says. “Some pages later, the Loremaster says that he gave him the Sword of Shadows. It looks like this was some ten years ago.”
“The sword of Ulm?,” Navarre asks. “Loremaster Fist was in possession of the Sword of Shadows?”
“The Sword of Shadows!,” Sir Eber exclaims. “The sword that kills with a single blow! Now we’re getting somewhere!”
Mon Dieu!,” the chevalier exclaims. “It is one of the sacred artifacts the enemy are after!”
Navarre raises an eyebrow.
“Might I inquire as to how you come to this conclusion?,” he asks.
Mais c’est évident!,” the chevalier cries. “First the Kettle of the Coven and now the Sword of Shadows!”
“You have lost me,” Navarre says.
Au contraire!,” the chevalier cries. “Did the enemy not attack the coven of Ilm and take the kettle?”
“Indeed they did,” Navarre says. “Just like they attacked Apple Island, at least one military post in Nisibis, the Military Academy, various other locations on the King’s Lake, at least one sorcerer we know of, and a Women’s House. And then there is the matter of the poisoning of Loremaster Fist. I’d hardly say that this means that the enemy’s main objective is to find a couple of items nobody even knows for sure exist!”
“We are the only ones who know where the sword is!,” the chevalier exclaims. “We must go to the Isle of Bread in all haste! Find the sword before the enemy find out about it!”
“My dear fellow!,” Navarre says, annoyed by his noble friend’s misplaced fervor. “If there is one thing we know for certain, it is that the enemy struck in many places at once, targeting very specific locations.”
Absolument!,” the chevalier cries. “They are after the artifacts!”
“Have you not heard a word I have said, Sir?,” Navarre exclaims. “Need I remind you that you personally tried to save the Rector from a targeted attack by trained soldiers? What about the Loremaster here? Dead by poisoning! Doesn’t all of this suggest the enemy target sorcerers and know exactly where to find them? Would they have ‘forgotten’ about Magus Seaworthy? By Olm! The murderous lot haven’t even bothered to search this house!”
“But the location of the sword is a secret!,” the chevalier cries. “How could they have known to go to the island?”
“So was the location of the kettle!,” Navarre exclaims. “Didn’t bloody well stop them from raiding the coven, did it!?”

But the chevalier refuses to listen and things get even worse when both Sir Eber and Sir Oerknal get involved.
“I say we go get the sword,” Sir Eber says. “Start killing people.”
To which Sir Oerknal, newly elected King of the Realm, adds: “I don’t care where we go – as long as we dump the girl.”
“Gentlemen, please!,” Navarre cries. “Have you taken leave of your senses? Need I remind you that the very fate of the Kingdom rests upon our shoulders? That going after a sword we have no way of knowing is still there would be a spectacular waste of time? My Lords! We cannot allow the enemy to run amok!”
“Have you forgotten Palava, Monsieur?,” the chevalier says frostily. “We shall count on them to stop the enemy!”
Navarre looks at his noble fellow in stunned silence.
“That milksop?,” he manages to utter after some time. “Surely you jest!”
But now the chevalier suddenly turns to the novice.
Madame!,” he cries ardently. “Forgive me! My sword is yours!”
The novice, who has continued reading the notebook and kept her distance from the arguing nobles during all of this, looks at him uneasily.
“I will have to go my own way from here,” she says.
This seems to throw the impassioned chevalier for a bit, apparently torn as he is between his desire to go after the sword and the sudden return of his chivalrous ways.
“I am confused, Madame!,” he cries. “Je suis chevalier!”
“I’m afraid it has to be so,” the novice says. “I have to find somebody and your paths obviously lead elsewhere.”
A strangled cry escapes the chevalier.
“My Lady,” Navarre says, deciding to put an end to the embarrassing scene. “Is there anywhere I can take you for the night?”
“She can stay with me,” the gravedigger says. Apparently he has returned.
“Thank you, good man,” the novice says. “I shall do that.”

Navarre looks at the assembled company with a bewildered look on his face. Is this really happening? Do his noble fellows really want to go after a sword that is highly unlikely to still be on the Isle of Bread? Abandon their people to the murderous invaders? Does the novice really intend to spend the night in the house of a servant of Ulm after all that has happened? He has the distinct feeling that things are running completely out of control and that there seems to be nothing he can do about it. Indeed, the madness only seems to get worse when the agitated chevalier falls to his knees in front of the novice.
Madame!,” he cries. “You have saved my life! I am eternally grateful! Command me!”
“I am a humble servant of Ilm and saving people is what I do,” the novice says. “You don’t have to thank me.”
Mais non!,” the chevalier cries. “You do yourself une injustice! My sword is yours… as is my heart! Mademoiselle! Your wish, I implore you!”
“I shall sleep on it,” the novice says.

After some more of this, it becomes quite clear that the chevalier, the ranger, and the new King of the Forest elect to remain deaf to Navarre’s arguments against going after the sword – albeit each for their own reasons.
Now, Navarre seriously considers returning to Palava on his own to lead the fight to reclaim the Kingdom, leaving his noble fellows to go on their wild goose chase. He decides there is little more he can say and climbs up to the platform to get some distance between him and his contrary fellows.
Here, he finds Sir Suvali studying the crystal wand. The sorcerer looks up at him for a moment and rolls his eyes, a faint smile on his lips. Navarre shrugs his shoulders and sits down. Maybe the noble trio below will somehow come to their senses after a good night’s sleep. He seems to have dozed off for a moment when Sir Eber nudges him and tells him that the night will be spent in the sailors’ lodgings next door. Without saying a word, Navarre gets to his feet and follows the ranger.

When they get to the lodgings, our noble heroes find the room sparsely lit and Sir Oengus engaged in an animated conversation with the hands of The Black Owl seated at a low table laden with many stoneware bottles and glasses. Tired of the whole thing, Navarre takes a seat in a corner and listens to the conversation, learning that Sir Oengus has spent the day in Big Beach discussing the manufacture of some sort of construct with a smith. It seems that he intends to mount it on the Varis and fire large bolts from it and that the smith was “very interested in Sir’s brilliant and unique invention”. Indeed, when Sir Oengus also paid him 150 gold pieces in advance, the smith “thanked Sir profusely” and ensured him that he was “very much looking forward to working with Sir over the next few weeks, nay, months!”.

Annoyed that Sir Oengus, too, seems to have abandoned the plan everybody agreed upon, Navarre excuses himself from the conversation and huddles into his chair to get some sleep. But sleep doesn’t come and so our noble hero has to listen to the conversation some more, hearing a lot about hauling wind, reefing sails, shivering timbers, running rigs, and dragging nets; about the beach being 15 leagues wide; about tides taking 12 hours to get from low to high and vice versa and the difference between them being only six feet; about giant octopuses and colossal sharks devouring men and entire catches of fish; about whirlpools swallowing whole ships; and even about ice pirates roaming the sea in giant ships although none of the crew have ever actually seen them.

Later in the evening, the chevalier wakes him up: “Mon cher. A moment!”
“Of course,” Navarre says, opening his eyes. “Have you come to your senses?”
“Indeed I have,” the chevalier says. “It has all become very clear to me.”
Navarre casts him a suspicious glance and gathers that his noble friend must have consumed quite a lot of gin.
“It has been decided,” the chevalier continues. “We shall go after the sword.”
“My dear fellow,” Navarre begins. “It occurs to me that your opinions seem to change with the wind. Have you given up on joining the King’s men? To lead the cavalry into battle?”
Fi!,” the chevalier exclaims. “The way is clear!”
Navarre sighs.
“And what of serving the Lady novice?,” he asks.
Mon cher! Do you not see it? It is the Lady! It is a sign!”
“You have lost me,” Navarre says.
“It is fate that has brought us here,” his noble friend cries. “The horreurs on the island! The Lady saving my life! The Sword of Shadows! It is the path to great things!”
“My dear Sarazin,” Navarre says, a weak smile on his face. “Allow me to remark that your efforts pale in comparison to my smooth handling of a similar situation in “Act I”. Still, and quite unfortunately, I shall have to give in lest the adventure is over.”
“Avast, ye bletherin’ peacocks!,” Sir Oengus hollers at the noble duo from across the room. He, too, has been drinking a lot. “Ye be still part of me crew and it be the cap’n as to decides what happens aboard! And I decides that we be layin’ a course to the Isle o’ Bread!”
“Ye be seekin’ as to hire a ship?,” one of the crewmen asks him.
“Aye!,” Sir Oengus yells. “To be sure!”
“Then ye be wantin’ The Black Owl,” the crewman says. “She be finest ship around and there be none better than Cap’n Gomma fer gettin’ ye to the Isle o’ Bread!”
“How long be the round?,” Sir Oengus asks.
“Two days to land-ho,” the crewman says. “Will I be gettin’ the cap’n?”
“Nary ye bother,” Sir Oengus says. “Would ye disturb the cap’n takin’ a caulk?”
“Just ye watch me!,” the crewman says, straightening his back.
“I says the forenoon’s t’be soon enough,” Sir Oengus says. “I be off to me hammock fer the rest of the watch!”

With this, the novice announces that she will retire as well. Instantly, the chevalier scrambles to his feet and drops to his knees in front of her.
Madame!,” he cries. “Know that you can call upon me whenever you should want to retrieve the golden kettle! I declare House Sarazin utterly and forever at your service!”
The novice doesn’t react to this much. It seems that the chevalier has forgotten that all noble houses of The Forest are always utterly and forever at the service of the priestesses of Ilm.
Navarre gets to his feet and escorts the novice to the gravedigger’s house. He knocks on the door and the gravedigger appears.
“My Lady,” he says, bowing elegantly when the novice enters the house without paying him much attention. “It was an honor.”

Day 6: When our noble heroes leave the lodgings at first light, they find the bailiff and his men in front of the Loremaster’s house. When they approach, the bailiff takes a few steps forward.
“Top o’ the mornin’, gents!,” he hollers, smiling benevolently and tipping his hat.
“Sarazin,” the chevalier says, extending his hand and still a bit pale around the nose. “Enchanté.”
The bailiff is not impressed and continues: “As I’m sure you’ll see, Sir, 's I’m here in connection with the murder of the Loremaster.”
“By all means, Monsieur,” the chevalier says magnanimously. “By all means.”
“Sure you do, Sir, sure you do,” the bailiff says, taking some time to look at each of our noble heroes before turning to the chevalier again. “And who would you say as to killed the Loremaster then, Sir? If you won’t mind my askin’?”
Monsieur,” the chevalier says. “You have me at a disadvantage. We found the poor fellow dead in his home yesterday.”
“And what, Sir, may I ask brought you fine gents to this ‘ere the Loremaster’s demesne?,” the bailiff asks.
“I am not sure I appreciate your insinuations, Sir,” Navarre interjects frostily. “I remind you that you are addressing the acting Duke Sarazin.”
“Just tryin’ to do my job if you won’t mind, Sir,” the bailiff says.
“I’m sure you’re doing what you can, bailiff,” Navarre says. “Now, if you will excuse us? We have matters to attend to.”
“The Loremaster was poisoned,” Sir Oengus says.
“Now why would you say that, Sir?,” the bailiff asks.
“There’s a bottle of poisoned wine in the kitchen.”
“Would you be meanin’ these ‘ere bottles then, Sir?,” the bailiff asks, pointing to three bottles of wine on a chair next to the entrance.
“What do I know?,” Sir Oengus replies. “I wasn’t even there.”
“You see, Sir,” the bailiff says. “Here’s what’s botherin’ me. I’ve been speakin’ to the neighbors, see, Sir, and all’s they say’s the Loremaster been murdered with poisoned wine. But how could that be, Sir, seein’ as these ‘ere bottles ‘s unopened as they is? It’s a bit of a mystery, Sir, if you won’t mind my sayin’. Where is the poisoned wine?”
“I’d say inside him,” Sir Eber says.
“I do declare!,” Navarre exclaims angrily. “We do not have time for this nonsense! If that will be all, bailiff, I suggest you get on with your work. I bid you good day!”

With this, our noble heroes take their leave of the good bailiff and his men and head for the beach, where the crew of The Black Owl have just finished loading the ship. The Black Owl is a sleek two-master that appears to have been built for speed. Two wooden constructs are attached to its flanks, which, Sir Oengus explains, can be swiveled out with drag-nets attached to them. When our noble heroes climb aboard, they are welcomed by Captain Gomma, a sinewy man of average height and with lank, black hair and gray eyes.
“My Lords,” he says. “Welcome aboard The Black Owl.”
“An honor, Sir,” Navarre says, with a slight nod of his head.
“Who be in charge of the coffers?,” the captain asks.
“I am,” Sir Suvali says, taking a step forward.
“The price be one hundred and forty pieces of gold,” the captain says.
“A mere pittance, I’m sure,” the chevalier says, raising an eyebrow.
“Sailin’ to the isle’ll be putting the ship and hands at great risk,” the captain says. “My normal fee would be the price of the entire ship. But seein’ as that the hands ‛ere tell me ye’ll avenge the death of the Loremaster and I considered him a friend, I’ll be takin’ ye to the isle fer a reduced price.”
”The gesture does you credit, Sir,” Navarre says, before stepping aside.
The money changes hands, upon which the captain informs our noble heroes that the horsemen are readying the horses and that the ship should be in the water within the hour. After that, he says, ten men will row the ship out of the shallows, where the currents and winds will take over.

And so it is that our noble heroes spend the rest of the day on the fast-moving ship that is The Black Owl, seemingly at the mercy of fierce winds and crashing waves and accompanied by great swarms of screaming seabirds. All of this is much to the delight of Sir Oengus, who exclaims that he is having the time of his life on multiple occasions.
Soon, the beach is replaced by a rocky coast, which can no longer be approached by ship. Close to dusk, with steep, tall cliffs now dominating the coastline, the captain steers the ship closer to the shore and the night shift takes over.
“Tomorrow be the hard part,” the captain says to Sir Oengus. “There be three currents as can take us in the direction of the isle. The one closest to the shore’ll be drivin’ us into the shallows and the sea current’ll be getting’ us past the isle and there be no chance to land or even come about, to be sure! The middle current’ll get us straight to the isle and that be the one well be havin’ to find first thing tomorrow and even then this whole expedition could be endin’ in tragedy.”
Over diner, the captain mentions that the Isle of Bread is home to a huge colony of giant albatrosses.
“I’ll stay out of sight when we get there,” Sir Oerknal says. “Don’t want one of the beasts mistaking me for lunch.”

When our noble heroes are alone after dinner, Sir Suvali, who has been studying his newfound treasures and the Loremaster’s notebook for most of the day, informs his noble fellows that the crystal wand has the power to reduce living creatures to about a tenth of their normal size while also making them perhaps twenty times lighter. He also says that he thinks the silver masterwork quill can inscribe magical spells on surfaces that normally wouldn’t take ink, perhaps etching them into such surfaces rather like the runes on the handles of the Loremaster’s cabinet. He hasn’t found out anything about the necklace with the acorn pendant but he says he will put it around his neck from now on to see if that will lead to something.
He also informs them that he has found the notes in Loremaster’s notebook to be in some chronological order, quite meticulous, and pertaining to all manner of subjects – plants, places, people, ideas, business deals. It also seems that the Loremaster was rather successful in his dealings and that he was quite wealthy. Furthermore, there seem to be long periods of time during which the Loremaster didn’t make any notes at all.
With regard to the Sword of Shadows, Sir Suvali now understands that the weapon was given to the Loremaster by the previous Magister Rex, who seems to have wanted to get rid of it for various but undisclosed reasons. When, some time ago, the current Magister Rex demanded to have the sword returned to the Academy, the Loremaster informed him that he gave it to Magus Seaworthy just before the latter went on a trip around the world, seemingly with the request to hide it in the most inaccessible and godforsaken place he could find. Magus Seaworthy was already gone at the time of Augustus’s request and the Loremaster seems to have promised to ask the Magus about the sword as soon as he saw him again. However, the notes do not mention him asking Magus Seaworthy about the sword after this, perhaps because he didn’t speak to him again.
“So Magus Seaworthy may still have the sword,” the sorcerer says. “In any case, the notes do not indicate that the Loremaster ever visited the Isle of Bread.”
After this, most of our noble heroes retire early.

It must be way past midnight when Sir Suvali hears a strange sound. He has to concentrate quite hard to keep hearing it and it takes him some time to realize that it appears to come from the acorn pendant on his chest. Could it be the sound of a voice coming from far, very far away? Indeed, after concentrating on it for some time, all he can think of is that it sounds like someone is taking a lot of time to pronounce the letter “A”, followed by similarly lengthy efforts to pronounce more letters. Intrigued, he keeps listening until he realizes that the distant voice actually is that of somebody speaking very slowly – somebody who is calling out in the hopes that someone will hear them!
Although he cannot be sure that the caller will actually hear him, he asks who is speaking. It takes a long time before he gets an answer and he concludes that it may very well take the caller as long to make sense of his words as it takes him to make of his. In the end, Sir Suvali learns that he is speaking to Augustus Magister Rex, the eminent Rector of the Royal Aristocratic Academy.
“Thank you for saving us,” he says. “What happened?”
The eminent Rector says that the arrows that hit him where poisoned and that he is now in limbo. When Sir Suvali asks him what he means by that, he is told that it is a place between life and death.
“I see,” he says. “Is there anything I can do?”
The eminent Rector says that solving his problem may be “tricky” and that Sir Suvali probably cannot help him – that, in fact, there is probably “no one in this world” who can. Sir Suvali takes some time to speak of what happened after the attack on Apple island and he also says that he and his noble fellows have decided to go after the Sword of Shadows, which they believe to be on the Isle of Bread. He finishes by asking the eminent Rector whether he can tell him anything about the sword, to which the man answers that he knows nothing of the subject, that the weapon was involved in many terrible events involving wars and feuds, and that it leads to problems whenever it is drawn.
“Noted,” Sir Suvali says.
When he asks the eminent Rector whether he has any idea who might be behind the attack on Apple Island, the answer he gets is that “he hasn’t got a faintest” and then Augustus Magister Rex doesn’t answer anymore.

Day 7: When he wakes up, Sir Suvali sees the first rays of the sun peeking through the portholes. Feeling as if he hasn’t slept a wink, he gets to the deck and informs his noble fellows of the events of the night.
“Did the man actually say 'this world'?,” Navarre asks.
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How inconvenient
An Adventure in Five Acts, Act III: The Sword of Shadows

In which the DM informs our noble heroes that the conversation Sir Suvali had with Loremaster Fist only took ten minutes; that it was a dream sequence rather than an actual conversation; that the acorn amulet is a standard DMG amulet of life saving and that it allows the Loremaster only a very limited amount of time to communicate; that The Black Owl has sailed on through the night; that there are 14 crew on board (12 sailors, one cook, one captain) and that they work in three shifts of four.

Day 7, continued: Sir Suvali announces that he will spend the rest of the day below decks to study Loremaster Fist’s notebook some more. It isn’t much later when Captain Gomma informs Sir Oengus that The Black Owl is to commence its risky approach to the island.
“There be only one chance to get it right,” he says. “A miss’ll blow her to port and onto the rocks o’ the straights the one way or to starboard and past the isle the other.”
Sir Oengus doesn’t seem worried. Indeed, he looks like he can hardly wait for the operation to begin.
“The danger ain’t over even if she’d be gettin’ the straight current,” the captain continues. “She be fighting wind and waves fer four glasses and’d be havin’ to come about handsomely to get into the lee o’ the isle. One mistake and the currents’ll hit her broadside and be drivin’ her onto the rocks. Arr! I wish I had charged ye her full price!”
“The hands say you be the only man livin’ as can get us to the isle in one piece,” Sir Oengus says. “I’m sure we’ll make it.”
The captain shouts his orders and the crew start running to and fro. This continues for about half an hour, with the ship executing all kinds of maneuvers until the captain seems satisfied. For the next two hours, the ride is even more violent than it was before: the current seems to push the ship to ever greater speeds and the crew have to work hard to keep her in check.

At some point, the Isle of Bread appears on the horizon at a slight angle to the ship. As they get closer, our noble heroes see that it must be about half a mile long, 300 yards wide, and 100 yards high. Huge colonies of seabirds – giant albatrosses, seagulls, terns – hover and dance in the wind above the island and sharp rocks jut from the waters to the left of it: the Shark Straights.
“See that?,” Sir Suvali says to Navarre, pointing to the straights. “I’ve been told that the island was once connected to the mainland. The rocks are supposed to be what remains of a land bridge.”
If anything, the closer The Black Owl gets to the island, the faster she seems to go. Furious winds and high waves toss the ship hither and to and then, with the island as close as it can be, the captain’s orders become even more urgent: he points and shouts and hollers and the crew hasten to take up positions all over the ship.
Finally, at what seems to be the last possible moment, The Black Owl turns sharply left. Almost immediately, the howling winds are gone and the ship starts slowing down.

From this side, the Isle of Bread looks much like a rotting tooth: a gaping hole in its duskward side is flanked by two rocky promontories jutting into the sea, a steep cliff between them at the back of the hole reaching all the way to the top of the island. As the crew keep maneuvering the ship ever closer to the island, a beach comes into view at the foot of the cliff, caught between the promontories to either side.
On the bow, Navarre and Sir Suvali are discussing how they could get to the top of the island. They notice what appears to be a fault line running from the lower right to the upper left corner of the cliff, much like its upper and lower halves have shifted relative to each other. About half way up the fault, a fall of water comes tumbling down from the top of the cliff.
“What’s that on the beach?,” Sir Eber asks, approaching with the rest of our noble heroes. “Boats?
Sure enough, on the beach are what appear to be the remains of perhaps three vessels. The one to the left seems to be a small, reasonably intact craft with a single mast. Little remains of the vessel next to it, although enough so that our noble heroes can see that it must have been the largest ship any of them has ever seen – by far. It must have had three masts and its condition suggests that it has been on the beach for quite some time. The third ‘vessel’ is in even worse condition, being little more than a collection of beams jutting from the sand. It doesn’t resemble any barge, boat, or ship our noble heroes have ever seen.
“It is a raft,” Sir Oengus says. “A big one.”
The chevalier has been peering at the cliff at the back of the beach with a worried look on his face.
“Is there no escalier?,” he wonders. “Are we expected to climb up that cliff comme des chèvres?”
When the ship gets as close to the island as the captain can take it, the crew drop the anchor. In effect, The Black Owl is now in a sheltered, bay-like area and presently Captain Gomma joins our noble heroes.
“Lords,” he says. “Take the pinnace and do what ye must on the isle. Mind that ye’ll run out of coin in four days and that ye be back aboard before that.”

The pinnace is lowered into the water and our noble heroes row to the beach. The chevalier is the first to jump into the surf and he immediately wanders off, leaving his noble fellows to pull the pinnace onto the sand. When they are done, Navarre, Sir Suvali, and Sir Eber walk up the beach to the base of the cliff where the fault starts.
Sir Oengus and Sir Oerknal move to the left to inspect the small vessel, which turns out to be a small sailing boat with a single mast. Although it was obviously well-built, it is now in bad repair and it appears to have been on the beach for perhaps a decade. When they find nothing of much interest, they walk back to the remains of the largest ship. Although most of it is gone, it is quite obvious that it must have been an enormous vessel.
“A giant ship,” Sir Oengus says. “The ice giants exist.”
When the noble duo get to the third wreck, they recognize only some beams and what looks like a mast half buried in the sand.
“Most of it is gone,” Sir Oengus says. “It’s probably been here for some twenty years. But look at those beams! It must have been at least eight yards square! A giant raft?”

Duringst the meanwhile, Navarre, Sir Suvali, and Sir Eber have found that the fault appears to be a combination of a natural phenomenon and the handiwork of some uncommonly large stone cutter: steps have been cut into the rock at various locations on the way to the top, most of them about a three feet high.
“Giant ships, giant steps,” Navarre muses, looking at the top of the cliff. “It would seem that there is good chance that we will run into some giants up there.”
With Sir Oengus and Sir Oerknal now approaching, Sir Suvali procures a largish bag and starts filling it with some sand.
“It’s going to be slippery up there with that water,” he sorcerer explains. “Let’s go.”

It takes our noble heroes some twenty minutes to climb the giant steps and it is shortly past noon when they have their first view of the top of the island. Before them, a plateau stretches all the way to the other side of the island, a trickle of water running down the middle and effectively dividing it into two halves, each a gentle slope upwards to the edges. The entire plateau is covered with tall, pale grasses. To their right, the small stream disappears over the edge of the cliff, tumbling to the beach below. Right in front of them is a low, circular dry-stone wall, while a single, cabin-like structure sits at the far end of the plateau. Ferocious winds tear and rip at everything on the plateau, whipping up feathers and debris. High overhead, seabirds scream.

Our noble heroes spread out, Sir Eber and Sir Oerknal moving to the dry-stone circle and their noble fellows starting down the slope to get out of the wind. Thistles and scattered clumps of grass grow within the dry-stone circle, revealing sections of blackened bedrock. The construct is obviously a fireplace of some kind although Sir Eber concludes that no fires have burnt in it for a long time. Bow in hand, he turns his attention to the plateau again.
“No nests?,” he growls. “Where are the beasts?”
“There they are!,” Sir Oerknal yells, pointing to the left. The ranger turns and sees heads of numerous giant albatrosses staring at him from just over the edge of the plateau, watching his every move.
“They nest just over the edge,” he growls. “Abominations! They must die!”
With this, he and Sir Oerknal start past the fireplace and up the slope – until they suddenly stop in their tracks.
“Hey!,” Sir Eber yells to his noble fellows some distance down the slope. “Over here!”

Before him in the grass lies the desiccated corpse of a giant that must have stood at least 18 feet tall – making it two heads taller than the one that killed the King. The cadaver has a dark skin, stretched tightly over its skeletal frame, and it is clad in what seem to be shorts and a shirt. An ornate brass bracer is around its right wrist and in its left ear is a gold earring.
Sir Suvali, who has hurried to join the noble duo and is always the first when there’s some treasure to be collected, gets down on his knees and removes the brass bracer. It features runes and markings in bas-relief, which obviously refer to fire, volcanoes, and the sun.
“He died fighting,” Sir Eber says, prodding the corpse with his bow. “Cuts and stains on the shirt and skin. Looks to be dead at least a year.”
Mes amis!,” the chevalier suddenly cries, gesticulating nervously and a bit paler than usual. “We must prepare for a speedy retreat! We must lower ropes over the edge for when we have get to the beach in all haste!”
“My dear fellow,” Navarre says. “We are six trained men armed to the teeth. I’d say we can handle some albatrosses.”
The chevalier flushes.
“Of course!,” he cries hastily. “Let us continue!”
“Besides,” Sir Suvali says. “We only have twenty feet of rope. The beach is at least a hundred yards down.”
“So it is!,” the chevalier cries, flushing some more and now looking distinctly uneasy. “Excellent! That solves that then! Mon Dieu! What is that?”
He seems to be pointing at the dry-stone wall.
“A lighthouse?,” Sir Eber says.
Realizing that he’s only making things worse, the chevalier turns his attention to the giant corpse.
[Not fit for print without context, ed.]!,” he exclaims, uttering a high-pitched laugh.
Not entirely sure what his noble friend could possibly mean by that, Navarre decides to sit down on a rock for a while.
Now, the chevalier gets down on his knees and removes the gold earring from the ear of the corpse. He raises it to the sun and tuts approvingly.
Sir Oerknal has not taken his eyes off the object during all of this.
“Where’s my gold?,” he inquires.
Startled, the chevalier hands the ring to Sir Oerknal, who immediately puts it on his head.
“My crown!,” he roars.

Navarre turns his attention to the structure at the far end of the plateau. No smoke seems to come from the chimney and, as far as he can see, the structure appears to have a stone foundation, with the upper part consisting of wooden planks. After looking at it for some time, he realizes that it may very well be a lot larger than it would seem at first. The giant’s home?
“We seem to have stumbled upon a mystery,” he says, to no one in particular. “Was the giant shipwrecked here? Was the fire meant to attract attention? Why hasn’t it ever been seen from the mainland? Or by passing ships?”
“Because nobody lives there?,” Sir Eber suggests.
“Because no ships ever get close enough to the island to see it?,” Sir Oengus adds.
Navarre has to admit that there is merit to the suggestions of his noble fellows.
“So Magus Seaworthy ended up living here with the giant,” Sir Suvali says.
Navarre isn’t so sure.
“Hmm…,” he says. “Perhaps the giant killed the Magus the very moment he set foot on the island. So far, giants have not proven to be overly fond of Kings and sorcerers.”
“What do we know about Magus Seaworthy?,” Sir Eber asks.
“He makes ships fly through the air,” Sir Suvali says.
Sir Eber casts the sorcerer a stony-faced look.
“And when did he get to the island?”
The sorcerer procures Loremaster Fist’s notebook and flips some pages.
“It must have been about twelve years ago,” he says.
“So the small vessel on the beach could have been his,” Navarre muses.
Mes amis!,” the chevalier cries from the top of the steps. “Ici! Dried blood!”
Some heads turn but nobody moves.
“So the giant made a stand at the top of the steps and crawled here to die,” Sir Eber says.
“That is assuming a lot,” Navarre says. “Who says the blood is the giant’s?”
“If the Magus came with the small vessel, the giant may have came with the raft,” Sir Suvali suggests.
“There is no way of knowing,” Navarre says. “Much will depend on who that giant was. It may have been part of some crew that sailed the huge three-master. I say we head for the hut over there and see if anybody is home.”
And so the noble quartet start for the hut, leaving the chevalier to hurry after them.

When they get to small stream, Navarre tastes some of the water and finds it to be fresh. He fills his wine skin and starts after his fellows again. Just when the chevalier comes speeding past him in all haste, he catches up with Sir Suvali, himself some distance behind Sir Eber and Sir Oerknal, who seem to be discussing killing albatrosses again – both repeatedly aim their bows at the creatures and are obviously enjoying themselves immensely.
When our noble heroes get closer to the hut, it becomes apparent that it probably was built for a giant – albeit perhaps a small one. It is a haphazard collection of stones and rocks and planks and all manner of similar debris but it seems sturdy enough and it was obviously built by a skilled craftsman.
The closer our noble heroes get, the more it seems that the hut is indeed deserted: there is no smoke in the chimney, no tools lie about, the shutters are closed, and the grass has grown high. Still, the hut seems to be in good repair: the roof and shutters are intact and there are no obvious holes or missing planks in the superstructure.
“I’d say it hasn’t been empty that long,” Navarre.
“A year?,” Sir Suvali suggests. “That could mean that the giant did live there.”
“It would seem so,” Navarre muses. “What about that trail to the door?”
“It’s ajar,” Sir Suvali says. “Albatrosses?”
“We have come close enough,” Navarre says, when they get to within 50 yards of the hut. “I will announce our arrival.”
But he is too late. Sir Eber and the chevalier have already advanced and presently take up positions to the left and right of the entrance to the hut. Sir Eber knocks an arrow and pushes the door open with his foot. He has a quick look inside and signals the chevalier, who charges into the hut without further ado. Raising his bow, the ranger charges in right after him.
It is half an hour past midday.

When their eyes have adjusted to the darkness, the intrepid noble duo see that they are in a room that takes up all of the ground floor. To their left are a table and some chairs and a rough kitchen table stands against the wall in the far left corner, with some drawers in it and a cabinet on top of it. A stove and chimney are against the back wall and, to their right, a flight of steps leads to the second floor.
Taking up most of the floor is a huge magical diagram – a five-pointed star in a circle.
When the chevalier starts for the steps, taking care to avoid the diagram, Sir Eber stops him.
“Wait!,” he hisses, pointing at the diagram. “I’ll get the mage!”
He gets back to the door and beckons Sir Suvali, who has remained at Navarre’s side.
The sorcerer excuses himself, rather uncharacteristically it must be said, and starts for the cabin. When he is about halfway, he stops and announces his arrival in a formal manner. When there is no reply, he moves past Sir Eber into the hut, to find himself alone in the room. He notices that the furniture, while originally made for a giant, has obviously been modified later so that a man-sized individual could use it as well: a plank has been attached the legs of the table some three-quarters of the way up; a raised, man-sized chair sits in front of it; a smaller set of steps has been added to the stairs.
He turns his attention to the magical diagram on the floor and notices that it has been carved into the bedrock with care – an undertaking that must have taken many months. He procures some paper and a pencil and starts copying the diagram.

After Sir Eber told him to wait, the chevalier did indeed manage to restrain himself for about a second before he resumed his sprint up the steps and entered an attic-like room directly underneath the roof. To his left is a huge bed and there is a smaller one to his right, three sturdy chests in between them. A pony-sized dog lies sleeping on the large bed.
He has to look at the creature twice before he gets to grips with what he sees – and once more to convince himself that the creature is, indeed, sound asleep. He tiptoes back down, where he finds Sir Suvali at the bottom of the steps. He puts a finger to his lips and makes a hissing sound.
Annoyed, the sorcerer looks up from his notes.
“There is a giant dog,” the chevalier whispers, pointing up the stairs.
“Giant?,” Sir Eber growls from the doorway. “A giant dog? It must die.”
“What?,” Sir Suvali says, startled. “Why?”
“It is an unnatural creature,” the ranger says. “I must kill it.”
But the sorcerer will have nothing of it.
“Wait here until I’ve had a look,” he says, starting for the stairs.
The chevalier is right behind him on the steps when he reaches the attic, where he finds the giant dog wide awake. The creature must be quite old and it obviously hasn’t been eating well. Its eyes remain fixed on the sorcerer when he approaches – slowly so as not to upset the monster – and he ends up with the creature gently gnawing on his arm.
He opens his pack, slowly, takes out all the dog food he can find, lets the dog have a sniff and tosses it on the floor next to the small bed. Slowly, its eyes always on the intruders, the giant dog gets down from the bed, moves to the other side of the room and starts gulping down the food.
Emboldened, the chevalier enters the room and starts patting the dog.
Now, the sorcerer turns his attention to the three chests. He opens the smallest of the three, which contains a collection of weathered, well-worn, good-quality, man-sized clothes. The second chest contains what seem to be rags.
When he gets to the third chest, Sir Eber appears. The ranger glowers at the giant dog for some time but then seems to restrain himself. Indeed, he even attempts to befriend the creature – and fails. He turns around and sees Sir Suvali take a couple of old, well-used giant-sized tools from the third chest, obviously the tool set of a skilled ship’s carpenter. He moves over and picks up a giant mallet, weighs it in his hand for a bit and then puts it on his back.
“Always wanted a war hammer,” he says, grinning widely.

Outside, Sir Oengus has moved to the right of the hut and he presently discovers a pyramid-like pile of rocks at the back of it. He approaches and notices a slab of stone embedded in one side of the pile, a number of runes crudely etched into it. When he turns to call his noble fellows, Navarre is just coming around the corner.
“Can you read this?,” Sir Oengus asks, pointing to the slab.
Navarre approaches and looks at the runes.
“The runes are unfamiliar to me,” he says. “There seem to be three rows, the middle row somewhat pronounced, see? A gravestone? An old grave? See the grass growing through the stones?”
He takes a few steps back.
“It would appear that Magus Seaworthy is no more,” he resumes. “I will get Suvali. Maybe he can read the runes.”
He hasn’t taken two steps when Sir Oengus starts hollering the sorcerer’s name. He shrugs, turns around again and continues his tour around the hut. He doesn’t find anything of interest and, when he gets back to the front door again, Sir Oerknal is the only one there.
“Nothing,” Sir Oerknal says.
Navarre has a look inside the hut for himself just when Sir Suvali is coming down the steps again.
“Nothing?,” he asks. “No corpses up there?”
“No corpses,” the sorcerer says. “Some chests, two beds. Looks like the Magus lived here with the giant for some time. Ah. And there is a giant dog up there. Sir Eber is playing with it. The cavalier is searching the room.”
Navarre lifts an eyebrow.
“Searching the room?,” he asks. “Whatever for?”
“Was that Oengus calling?,” the sorcerer says, ignoring the question.
“Ah, yes,” Navarre says. “There appears to be a tumulus behind the house. Perhaps you can read the runes on it.”
“Let’s have a look,” the sorcerer says.


How inconvenient
An Adventure in Five Acts, Act III (Continued)

Upstairs, Scaralat de Sarazin is searching the bedroom in a manner quite unbecoming a chevalier. He is crawling around on the floor on his hands and knees, peering into every nook and cranny. When he gets to the small bed, he lowers himself even further, reaches underneath and pulls out a strongbox. Without bothering to get up, he opens the box and starts emptying it at speed until he finds a small bag with some diamonds.
“What’s that?,” Sir Eber says, who has been watching the chevalier surround himself with the contents of the box.
Des bijoux!,” the ransacking chevalier announces, pursing his lips appreciatively and holding one of the stones to the light. “Merveilleux!”
And with that, like a common thief, he deftly pockets the stones.
“Not that,” Sir Eber says. “That!”
He is pointing at a large construct that can perhaps best be described as a cross between a backpack and an accordion. It is made of a variety of materials – leather, canvas, metal, wood – and features numerous straps and bands as if it is meant to be attached to someone’s back. On each side is a bellows-like construct. He picks up the construct and finds it surprisingly heavy even for a man of his strength. It seems to filled to the brim with… something.
“Does it open?,” he murmurs, turning the construct up and down.
But the chevalier isn’t listening and has turned his attention to the other items on the floor around him: a scroll case, a small pouch, a short sword, a largish bag, the box he took the diamonds from. He picks up the short sword, a bland and grayish thing. He puts it down again and opens the bag, which turns out to contain a veritable stash of silver coins.

Behind him, Sir Eber gives up on the construct. He puts it on the bed and picks up the sword.
“What have we here?,” he says, inspecting the weapon and finding it to be of some quality albeit rather dull of color.
“A gray sword,” he resumes. “You don’t suppose…”
“Ha, ha!,” the chevalier chortles. “Prudence, mon cher! It may be the evil sword!”
“My thoughts exactly,” the ranger says, putting the weapon on his back.

Outside, Navarre and Sir Suvali have reached the pile of stones behind the hut.
“I cannot read them,” the sorcerer says after he has inspected the runes on the stone slab for some time. “I’d say they were written by an inexperienced hand. I’ll copy them and maybe we can find out what they mean later.”
He produces a piece of paper and a pencil and starts scribbling away. Navarre and Sir Oengus sit down on some rocks and watch their noble fellow in silence for a while.
“It is too small for giant,” Navarre says after some time. “It must be for the Magus.”
“To be sure,” Sir Oengus says. “Buried here by the giant, who then carved the runes into the stone.”
“So the Magus died before the giant,” Navarre muses. “Then what did the giant do with the sword after the Magus died? Is it now in the hands of the people who killed him? I told you this whole mission was a waste of time!”

But then the chevalier comes storming around the corner, soon followed by Sir Eber carrying the strange apparatus and the other items from the strongbox.
“We have found it!,” the chevalier cries. “We have found it!”
“What are you on about?,” Navarre says irritably.
“It’s on my back,” Sir Eber says, pointing to the gray sword on his back.
Navarre gets to his feet and has a good look at the weapon.
“Is that the Sword of Shadows?,” he asks, not half convinced. “A short sword? It seems quite unremarkable.”
He has another good look at the weapon and, now, he is informed that it does appear to be of exceptional quality; that it is probably the best sword of ever; that it is 50 shades of gray; and that what else could it be?
“You see?,” the chevalier cries. “I told you we had to go after it! There it is! In our hands!”
Even though it now seems that Navarre has to admit that the sword probably is the Sword of Shadows, he still isn’t convinced that obtaining it was the right thing to do.
“Hmm…,” he says. “That thing is sure to stick out like a sore thumb to whatever mysterious means the enemy seems to have of knowing where people and things are. If anything, it will sooner hinder our effort than benefit it.”
Tant pis, mon cher!,” the chevalier says. “I’d rather it is in our hands when the enemy comes for it than in this deserted hut here. Cheer up, mon cher! We have outwitted the enemy!”
“Just be sure to notify me when people start drawing it,” Navarre growls.
“Of course,” Sir Eber says.

Sir Suvali has finished copying the runes and now notices the strange construct the ranger brought. He utters an excited cry, hurries over and starts looking at the thing from all sides. It isn’t long before he has put the thing on his back and instructs Sir Eber to help him fasten the various straps and bands.
“Is there a key?,” he asks when the construct is securely tied to his back.
Celle-ci?,” the chevalier asks, procuring a largish key from the box he found under the bed.
“That’s it,” the sorcerer says. “Excellent! Now, put it in the slot on the back of the apparatus and turn it.”
Sir Eber takes the key from the chevalier, inserts it into the slot and starts turning it. Navarre takes a couple of steps back. When nothing happens after he has turned the key a couple of times, the ranger turns it some more, and some more, and then some more – still nothing, until, after a lot more turning, he says that he seems to be feeling some resistance.
The sorcerer takes the construct off his back, puts it against the hut and starts turning the key himself.

When nothing happens for quite some time, Sir Eber seems to have had enough.
“I’ll start killing some birds, then,” he says.
Sir Oengus, who has been told that killing albatrosses brings bad luck, grabs him by the arm.
“Don’t you be killing any albatrosses or I’ll break your bow to be sure,” he says. “I want to get back to the mainland in one piece if you don’t mind.”
Sir Eber gives his noble fellow a blank stare.
“I have to feed the dog,” he says. He calls the giant dog, which emerges from the hut and approaches, tail wagging.

Navarre has observed the whole exchange with a bemused look on his face. When the ranger starts patting the giant dog, he decides to try and get things going again.
“My Lords,” he says. “Your attention, if you please. I would suggest we speak of what comes next.”
“The mission to get the little sword is over,” Sir Eber says. “I say we get on with the resistance.”
“The resistance?”
“Get to the forests,” the ranger says. “Start killing people.”
“And what, pray, shall we do with the sword?,” Navarre asks. “The enemy seems to be able to locate mythical artifacts at their leisure and I say the six of us will not be enough to protect it.”
“We’ll use it,” Sir Eber says. “They’ll all be dead before they can get their hands on it.”
Messieurs, we cannot draw the sword,” the chevalier says.
“I agree,” Sir Suvali says, still turning the key. “The legends say it brings disaster and woe whenever it is drawn.”
“The bastards killed my whole family,” Sir Eber growls. “I want my revenge and I will use this sword to achieve it!”
“Perhaps I could have another look at the sword?,” the chevalier asks.
“No,” Sir Eber says.
“And so it begins!,” Navarre says. “This is exactly what the legends speak of!”
Sir Oengus rises to his feet.
“Tell me again about the sword,” he says. “What do the legends say?”
“That the sword kills all creatures it touches,” Sir Eber says, grinning.
“I remind you, Sir, that it is not for you alone to decide what is to be done with the sword,” Navarre says to the ranger. “As the rightful rulers of the realm, we shall decide in council what to do with it. I second the motion that we do not draw the sword until we know how to deal with the possible consequences.”
“Fine,” Sir Eber says. “Then I say to your council that we head into the forest and start raiding enemy lines.”
“And what of the sword, Sir?,” Navarre asks. “We shall need all the help we can get to keep it out of the hands of the enemy and I put it to you that some trees will not protect it from their armies – or even a small unit of archers for that matter.”
“Nonsense,” Sir Eber says. “Armies cannot operate in forests. We’ll pick them off one by one.”
Navarre throws the ranger an indignant look.
“My dear fellow!,” he says. “Surely you do not suggest we engage in a campaign of brigandage!?”
“And why not?,” Sir Eber says.
“I remind you of your position, Sir!,” Navarre says angrily. “The commoners depend on us for protection and it is our sacred duty to free them from the yoke of the oppressor. We must raise our armies and restore order as soon as possible, provide safe havens for those who have lost home and hearth. We must make haste and defeat the enemy. I say this can only be done in a single, decisive battle!”
A lively discussion ensues and, as usual, our noble heroes don’t seem to be able to agree on anything.

Navarre is in the middle of one of his angry arguments, this one involving the notion that our noble heroes cannot not allow the Sword of Shadows to fall into enemy hands and that they must guard it with their lives, when the chevalier suddenly bursts into applause.
Bravo!,” he cries, looking in the direction of the plateau. “When can I have a go?”
Annoyed, Navarre turns around to see that Sir Suvali has the construct on his back again. From it, two large, wing-like protrusions appear to have unfolded.
“It is a flying apparatus!,” the sorcerer cries. “Watch this!”
With this, he turns around and starts running away from the hut.
“I say we start the killing immediately,” Sir Eber continues when the sorcerer is gone. “Let’s not hide behind armies and start acting like real men.”
“Real men?,” Navarre replies angrily. “And what kind of man would leave his wards to fend for themselves? By Olm! We are Dukes of the Realm! Our place is at the head of our armies!”
“Let Palava play with his soldiers and look after the commoners,” Sir Eber says. “I say we target supply lines and messengers, create confusion, strike from ambush. It is what I was trained to do.”
“I am Duke Dauberval, Sir!,” Navarre exclaims. “I will not resort to banditry!”
Again, the discussion continues like this until there is another disturbance and the chevalier bursts into applause again. This time, Sir Suvali is actually flying. He approaches through the air and makes an awkward landing close to his noble fellows.
Mes compliments, monsieur!,” the chevalier cries. “Vous aviez l’air magnifique!”
“Pff,” the sorcerer wheezes, somewhat unsteady on his feet and wiping his forehead. “That is not as easy as it would seem!”
“Bravo!,” the chevalier cries. “A demonstration! Some pirouettes, monsieur!”

This seems to remind the sorcerer of something.
“Ah, yes!,” he says, reaching for one of the many pockets of his mage vest. “I almost forgot. We’ve found a rather peculiar map of the realm. Would you believe that it is actually much larger?”
“Pardon?,” Navarre says, not quite sure of what he has just heard.
The sorcerer procures the scroll case the chevalier found in the bedroom. He retrieves a parchment from it and unrolls it, revealing a map of the mainland with a rather large piece of land attached to the rimward coast, just below some lettering that says “Icy Wastes”. Also on the map, off the duskward coast, is a small island marked “Walrus Island”.

Our noble heroes cannot believe their eyes.
“I do declare!,” Navarre exclaims. “Could this map be correct?”
Mon cher!,” the chevalier cries excitedly. “More land! And no dukes!”
“Wow!,” Sir Oengus says. “Walrus Island!”
“I say!,” Navarre exclaims. “Could this be were the enemy came from? Why doesn’t anybody know of this?”
“Magus Seaworthy knew of it,” Sir Suvali says.
Navarre cannot begin to fathom what the map seems to mean but the chevalier begs to differ.
“This is where we must go from here!,” he cries.
Pardon?,” Navarre says. “Why? What do you hope to achieve? No one even has the faintest idea what is up there! Are we to embark on yet another expedition into the unknown while the enemy ransacks our lands?”
“It is the heartland of the enemy!,” the chevalier cries. “We must strike them where it hurts!”
“My dear fellow,” Navarre says. “The enemy is on Apple Island. Not on the other side of the mountains.”
Fi!,” the chevalier cries. “They are after the sword! If we go rimward, they will follow!”
Navarre looks at his noble friend in astonishment.
“What!?,” he cries. “For crying out loud! Do you honestly believe that the enemy will send their whole army after six men with a sword? Abandon what they have just conquered? Surely you must see that obtaining the sword is only part of their objective at best? And what if the enemy does hail from beyond the mountains? Who is to say that the whole place isn’t swarming with iron-clad soldiers and giants? It will take weeks to get there and explore!”
“That’s it!,” the chevalier cries. “The giant was the guardian of the Sword of Shadows! The giants of the wastes want to take it from him! That’s why they killed him!”
“Aye,” Sir Oengus says. “The giant was the guardian of the sword.”
Navarre cannot believe his ears. Where do his noble fellows get all this from?
“My Lords!,” he cries. “Surely! Have you forgotten that this whole expedition started because the Loremaster’s notebook said that he gave the sword to Magus Seaworthy? There is no mention of a giant!”

Once more, our noble heroes lose themselves in heated debate. If anything, the discovery of the map seems to have divided them even more.
“We must sail for Walrus Island,” Sir Oengus says. “Think about it! Walrus Island! I feel it in my bones!”
“I am going nowhere on any boat,” Sir Eber says. “We’ll go rimward and we’ll go there on foot.”
“And leave the usurper to do as they please?,” Navarre cries. “Never! I am Duke Dauberval! We will have plenty of time to explore whatever is up there once we are back in control of the realm! We must proceed as planned!”
After a lot more of this, the tide seems to turn when the chevalier is suddenly all in favor of Navarre’s plan again.
“To battle it is!,” he cries. “To Sarazin! Tous pour un, un pour tous!”
“Sarazin?,” Sir Eber says. “Free Dauberval? What about Weald?”
Navarre draws a deep breath.
“We will liberate all duchies,” he says. “We are going to Dauberval and Sarazin first since all reports indicate that the other duchies where we hold sway are compromised. Including Weald. You should be happy. We’ll have to get to Sarazin without attracting attention.”
At this moment, Sir Oerknal, who hasn’t said anything at all so far, decides to speak: “I will listen to suggestions. I will pick one and we’ll do that one.”
The remark leads to a bemused silence, in which our noble heroes seem to reflect on the fact that they did elect the oafish creature with the golden earring on its head as their King – even if that was in a moment of drunken revelry.
Navarre is the first to speak.
“It would seem that the… King has spoken,” he starts.
But now Sir Suvali points to the sky.
“A flare!,” he exclaims. “Up there!”
Within seconds, Sir Oengus is on his feet.
“All hands to the ship!,” he shouts.
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How inconvenient
An Adventure in Five Acts, Act III (Continued)

And so it is that our heroes hastily collect their things and start running back to the cliff at the other side of the plateau. When they get there, they see that The Black Owl has lifted anchor and is presently en route to the open sea with all hands on deck.
"Mon Dieu!,” the chevalier exclaims. “Another ship! Over there!”
And sure enough, there is another ship in the waters below. It flies no flag and it is heading for The Black Owl at speed. Many men are seen on the deck and it seems to gain rapidly on The Black Owl, which is maneuvering frantically in an attempt get away from the beach. Sir Oengus excitedly explains to his noble fellows what is going on below, speaking much of hauling to the wind, tacking, riding currents, and coming about.
In the end, The Black Owl seems to catch the right wind and pick up speed.
“She’s in the wind!,” Sir Oengus shouts. “She’s much faster! She’s getting away!”
Our noble heroes continue to watch The Black Owl pulling away until the second ship suddenly makes a sharp turn and starts heading for the island.
Mes amis!,” the chevalier cries. “An invasion is imminent! We must destroy the staircase!”
“Impossible,” Sir Suvali says. “There is no time.”
“We’ll have to do something,” Navarre says. “With The Black Owl gone, we’re trapped here.”
“I’ll make a stand right there,” Sir Eber says, pointing at the last step. “I’ll have the advantage.”

Yet another animated discussion ensues and plans are made and rejected and made again and rejected again. After a while, Navarre, who hasn’t taken part in the debate for once, decides to try and put an end to it.
“Gentlemen!,” he calls. “If I may? That ship will be here soon and this leaves us no time to build anything like a strong enough defense. And even if we should manage to hold the plateau, all the enemy has to do is lay siege and wait for reinforcements or until we all die from hunger and thirst. I suggest we have Suvali fly us to the mainland with his flying contraption one by one.”
The sorcerer looks at him in some consternation.
“The apparatus cannot carry two,” he says.
“Then one of us must use that thing that thing to get the sword to the mainland,” Navarre says. “It cannot be you, since we will need your magic here.”
But this seems to alarm the sorcerer even more.
“Impossible!,” he cries, before coming up with a myriad of excuses why no one but him can use the apparatus on his back. “Flying this thing is too difficult! The wind is too strong! I have to cast a spell to make it work!”
“Magic?,” Navarre muses. “Then it would seem that we have a problem.”
Now, Sir Oengus takes center stage.
“Friends,” he begins. “Allow me to tell you a story. It be the legend of Treasure Island, a tale of heroic…”
“My dear chap,” Navarre interrupts his noble fellow. “As much as we like your stories, I don’t think there is time for one right now. Do you have a suggestion?”
“Aye,” Sir Oengus says. “I say we let them get to the plateau and all way to the house. Meanwhile, we will board the ship unseen and take it by night.”
“A good plan,” Navarre agrees. “But how will we sail the ship? The waters are treacherous and sailors we are not.”
“There will always be the captain and a skeleton crew aboard,” Sir Oengus says. “We’ll take them alive and force them to sail the ship. Pay them if we have to. I have yet to meet a hand who cannot be bought with a large bag of silver.”
Bravo!,” the chevalier cries. “But we need time! We shall send one or two of us to the ship while the others set up multiple lines of defense on the plateau. We will keep the louts occupied until you signal the all clear!”
“Aye,” Sir Oengus says pensively. “But we must weigh anchor as soon as we are in command of the ship lest the bilge rats have a chance to mount a counterattack we cannot survive. So how do I get the rest of you aboard before that?”
“True,” Navarre says. “And how will the rest of us keep the enemy occupied long enough? How do we make sure they do not conclude that the sword is no longer here and return to the ship before we are in control of it?”

It is a brilliant, daring plan but our noble heroes cannot seem to make it work and, since the enemy ship is getting ever closer, Navarre has started to consider other ways to get off the island again. He has a long look at some of the giant albatrosses but decides that the creatures probably won’t be able to carry grown men.
“Is there no magical way to leave the island?,” he ends up asking Sir Suvali. “What did the Rector do to get us off Apple Island?”
“It’s called dimensional folding,” the sorcerer says. “Wait… Yes. Perhaps… I’ll be right back!”
He starts running back to the hut, leaving the rest of our noble heroes to get on with trying to make Sir Oengus’ plan work. When he returns some time later, they haven’t really come up with anything solid.
“It could be possible to leave the island via the magical diagram,” he says. “But I’m not at all sure how that would work and the risk is far too high. So I suggest we use the Loremaster’s crystal wand. It can reduce things in size and weight for a day and a night and I’ll use it on all of you. I’ll put you in a bag and fly to the mainland with the flying apparatus.”
It is a brilliant plan and his noble fellows start cheering loudly. But the sorcerer raises his hand, a pompous look on his face.
“Wait,” he says. “I still need time to practice with the apparatus and you must keep the invaders on the beach for as long as possible. You must make a stand here and use bows and rocks to keep them on the beach.”
He pauses and looks at his noble fellows for dramatic effect.
“There is but a single snag,” he continues. “I don’t know if the wand has enough power to affect all of you. If it hasn’t, it will mean that some of you will have to remain here.”
Montjoie Saint-Denis!,” the chevalier cries. “I shall be the last!”
“Why not leave the island right now?,” Navarre asks. “Before the enemy knows we are here?”
“They know,” the sorcerer says. “They saw The Black Owl. And I need more practice before I can fly to the mainland.”
“I stand corrected,” Navarre says. “Reduce me before you get to the chevalier.”
“Then it is agreed,” the sorcerer says. “Start gathering rocks and I will start practicing. I will return at the very last moment and start using the wand.”
The chevalier bows elegantly.
“Then it is au revoir for now, mon ami!,” he cries. “Messieurs! Let us start reinforcing our positions!”
“Right on time,” Sir Oengus says, pointing at the sea below. “The ship will be here in half an hour.”

The next half hour, our noble heroes work like serfs, hauling rocks and building low walls along the edge of the plateau. Since it took them about a quarter of an hour to get from the beach to the plateau, they gather they may have close to half an hour before the enemy can get anywhere close to the top of the steps after they have landed. Using bows, crossbows, and rocks, our noble heroes should be able to wreak considerable havoc among the invaders until then.
When the enemy ship has entered the bay without incident and starts maneuvering to the beach, our noble heroes know that the moment of truth is nigh. When the ship reaches the beach and drops anchor, numerous pinnaces are lowered into the water and armed men start climbing into them. Sir Oengus estimates that there at least 150 men on the ship, some 60 of which appear to be irregulars, bandits of some kind. Another 30 are clad in the strange, full-metal armor and an equal number appear to be mercenaries, wearing brown leather armor or something like it. Of all of these, some 120 are now rowing to the beach.
With a flourish, the chevalier procures a bottle of wine from his pack.
Mes amis,” he says, uncorking the bottle. “Du vin?”
Our noble heroes take turns drinking from the bottle until Sir Oengus tells them that the pinnaces are in range.
“Fire at will!,” he yells.

With this, volleys of bolts and arrows start raining down on the pinnaces. When the invaders reach the beach, orders are hollered and the iron-clad men and mercenaries jump overboard and start pulling the pinnaces onto the sand, where they turn them over to provide cover. The bandits start moving up the beach, most of them armed with slings and unarmored, using only light, buckler-like shields to try and protect themselves from the arrows and bolts raining down on them.
When the first of the bandits reach the steps, Sir Oerknal discards his heavy crossbow and starts dropping rocks onto the ascending bandits climbing the steps. The others continue firing arrows and bolts to great effect, rarely missing a shot. After some five minutes of this, about a third of the advancing bandits are wounded.
“I’m shooting at the anchor line!,” Sir Oengus says to Navarre, who lies next to him.
“Good luck with that!,” Navarre yells back at him, hitting another bandit in the shoulder. “By Olm! Peasants! Sending in the missile troops first!”

Five minutes later, the bandits get to where the waterfall meets the steps. They start crossing the slippery steps at speed, bucklers raised, and now the first of them die: two men slip and fall down to the beach screaming and a third follows them with an arrow in his throat. By the time all bandits have crossed the water, more than half of them are wounded and most of these halt their advance, pressing their backs against the cliff, bucklers held high. Now, Sir Eber also starts dropping rocks on them and it must be said that he does so to great effect: soon, more bandits join the agonized screams of the wounded on the beach, clutching broken limbs or worse.
But still many bandits continue the ascent and they must be about three-quarters of the way up when Sir Suvali appears. He procures his magical wand and points it at Sir Oerknal, who instantly becomes even smaller than he already was. The sorcerer picks him up and puts him in a bag while the others continue raining death on the bandits below. The next one to go is Sir Oengus, then comes Navarre, then Sir Eber and, finally, the chevalier. By this time, 42 of the enemy forces are either wounded or dead.

When the chevalier is in the bag, Sir Suvali starts running. He turns left about halfway across the plateau, charges up the slope and hurls himself over the edge among a flurry of albatrosses and seagulls. He struggles with the controls for a bit but manages to keep his altitude until the wind from the Straights catches him and blows him dawnward and up into the air.
It takes him some effort and time before he is on a straight course to the mainland and he presently starts looking for a safe place to land. Before him, the cliffs stretch to the left and right, some 200 feet high. He spots what seems to be a sheltered depression in the trees on the top of the cliffs and steers toward it. It takes him about 20 minutes to get close to the coast, where a violent rising wind blows him high into the air and sends him hurtling past his chosen landing point.
When he finally regains control, the flying sorcerer is soaring high above the woods, which stretch for miles and miles into the distance. Far, far away, he can see the peaks of the rimward mountains, beyond which, as he now knows, must be terra incognita. Having missed his landing spot and noticing that it is already late in the afternoon, he now decides to fly as far rimward as he dares. A thermal current catches him and then a strong wind starts blowing him further and further rimward.
Inside the bag, Sir Oerknal, the minuscule, newly elected King of the Realm, farts.

Some two hours later, his efforts are beginning to take their toll on the flying sorcerer. Flying the apparatus requires all of his concentration all of the time and, even then, he cannot always make it do what he wants. He decides that enough is enough and initiates a descent to the forest below, where he soon spots a clearing of sorts. When he touches down, the area turns out to be marshy and soggy and he stumbles for some two dozen yards before he can come to a complete standstill. Exhausted, he releases his noble fellows from the bag.
“Stay low until the effect wears off,” he says to his noble fellows, after he has removed the apparatus from his back. “You don’t want to get eaten by the first fox that comes along. I think it’s another five, six days to the River Dawn and civilization. I’ll keep walking until it gets dark and I suggest two of you keep their eyes and ears peeled. Eber? Navarre?”
He picks up his noble fellows, puts each of them in a pocket of his mage vest and starts walking rimward.
“Why didn’t we board the ship with that thing?,” Sir Eber asks, after a while. “We could have stayed out of sight until we got back to our own size and then killed the crew and take the ship.”
“Perhaps the best explanation would be that you did not speak of this when we were discussing our plan of action,” Navarre replies irritably. “Besides, I thought you didn’t want to go anywhere by ship?”
“Bah,” Sir Eber scoffs. “Think, think, blah. It’s time we started doing something.”
Navarre decides to let the matter rest. He has decided to keep a low profile as Sir Suvali suggested. Pity, though. Sir Eber’s plan could have worked.

Sir Suvali covers several miles before the sun sets and he locates a suitable spot to spend the night. He starts a fire and settles down for a long, waking night.
Since there is little he can do as long as he is as small as he is, Navarre decides to get some sleep, which means that he is fast asleep when Sir Oengus starts reflecting on how large certain parts of the female body must seem now that he is so small. He is also fortunate to miss out on Sir Oerknal suggesting that he “take a dump in Suvali’s bag” and then see what happens to his excrement when he gets back to normal.
“Ha, ha, ha,” the creature roars. “Would that leave the wizard with a bag full of sh*t?”

Day 8: Sir Suvali spends most of the day walking rimward with our noble heroes in the pockets of his vest again. Late in the afternoon, almost 24 hours after he used the Loremaster’s wand on his fellows, he locates a suitable spot for a camp and starts a fire. Less than half an hour later, his noble fellows have reverted to their normal size.
“I didn’t sleep last night and I’m tired,” he says. “I suggest you gentlemen stand guard tonight.”
Within moments, he is fast asleep.
When his noble fellows have eaten, they discuss the events of the last few days.
“Does anybody know where we are at the moment?,” Navarre asks, at some point.
“About two days inland,” Sir Eber says. “It looks like perhaps another three, four days to the river.”
“We’ll have to commandeer a barge once we get there,” Navarre says. “It is the fastest way to Sarazin.”
“Why don’t we go to Big Beach to pick up the Varis?,” Sir Oengus suggests. “It will be fully armed and armored by now! We’ll sail to Sarazin and blow everything out of the water!”
“Didn’t your smith say it would take months to finish the project?,” Navarre asks.
“Aye,” Sir Oengus says. “He may have said that.”
“We’ll have to adopt some sort of disguise,” the chevalier says, looking at the pilgrim’s robes he is still wearing with a miserable look on his face.
Navarre isn’t so sure but the events of the past couple of days have drained him of the will to start arguing again – at least for now. The others seem to feel the same way and soon most of our noble heroes are fast asleep.

Day 9: Our noble heroes leave at first light to continue their trek to the River Dawn. It must be around midday when the chevalier spots something moving among the trees ahead.
“Soldiers approaching,” he announces. “Nine of them.”
He steps forward and, moments later, our noble heroes identify the soldiers as being in the service of a Thuxran baron. A corporal among them is the first to speak.
“Lords. Welcome to Thuxra.”
“We are allies,” the chevalier says. “Your leader?”
“Pardon me, Lord,” the corporal says. “Might I inquire as to your name?”
“Tell us the latest,” the chevalier says.
The corporal hesitates.
“Well, what news?,” the chevalier asks, before waving a hand and adding ‘Scaralat de Sarazin’ as an afterthought.
“My Lord,” the corporal says. “The King is dead, slain by bandits! People say a tribal war has erupted and that armies are pouring in from the mountains! They have taken Apple Island!”
“Tell me where the armies are now,” the chevalier says.
“I couldn’t tell you, my Lord,” the corporal says.
“We are royalists,” the chevalier says. “We require free passage and horses.”
“I’m afraid we are on foot, my Lord.”
Et alors?,” the chevalier cries. ”Where are the nearest stables? Who is in control here? Who speaks for Thuxra? Who speaks for the royalists?”
“There is much confusion, my Lord,” the corporal says. “It is said that Wyrsn has fallen to the rebels and that some sort of bandit council rules there. Not that the shepherds over there would have put up much of a fight, if you don’t mind my saying, Lord.”
"Pas du tout, pas du tout,” the chevalier says with an absentminded gesture. “What of the other duchies?”
“The trouble seems to be mostly on the other side of the river, my Lord. Thuxra is still under our control and heralds have come from Dara, Bagabuxsha, and Palava to call upon all able-bodied men to take up arms and organize.”
“How many royalists are here?”
“All royalists are gathering in Palava, my Lord.”
“Any men from Sarazin among them?”
“No, my Lord. So far, only men from Palava, Bagabuxsha, and Dara have been seen there.”
“Who leads the royalists, corporal?,” Navarre asks.
“I couldn’t say, my Lord. I hear the army is led by captains and barons.”
“And what are your orders?,” Navarre asks.
“We are to look for royalists and inform them of the situation, my Lord.”
Et voilà!,” the chevalier says. “Messieurs, your have fulfilled your mission. You may assist us.”
“We can take you to Thuxra, my Lord,” the corporal says.
“What of the court?,” Navarre asks.
“It is said that most of them are dead, my Lord,” the corporal says.
“Then who speaks for Thuxra?”
“I couldn’t say, my Lord,” the corporal says. “The barons have left for Palava.”
Eh, bien!,” the chevalier says. “Take us to Thuxra!”
“Very well, my Lord.”

When the company start moving, Navarre addresses the chevalier: “With the royalists converging in Palava, it seems that it will be up to us to secure our own duchies.”
“Not so, mon cher,” the chevalier says. “An army stands or falls with its size and position. We must unite both armies as soon as possible. We cannot fight with an army in pieces. The enemy will take advantage and destroy us one by one.”
“I stand corrected,” Navarre says with the slightest nod of his head bows. “Where will we gather our barons before we cross the river? Sarazin? Dauberval?”
“March rimward!?,” the chevalier cries. “Mon cher! We must unite both armies as soon as possible!”
“I understand that,” Navarre says. “But where do we gather our own armies? Do we call the barons together in a single location and then head for the lake or are we going to let each baron get there on his own? I suppose one could argue…”
“We must unite the army!,” the chevalier exclaims. “We can only attack en force!”
“I hear you!,” Navarre says angrily. “But do we rally our own armies first or…”
“We will send messengers to Palava with instructions to await our arrival!,” the chevalier cries. “We will join them with our own armies and march on Apple Island en masse!”
Although mightily peeved that the chevalier doesn’t seem to want to hear him, Navarre has to admit that retaking Apple Island is a brilliant idea – indeed, our noble hero has some trouble accepting that he didn’t think of it himself. Still, honor where honor is due and he congratulates his noble friend.
“That is an excellent idea!,” he says. “Retaking Apple Island will defeat the bulk of the enemy army and send a strong signal to royalists still hiding in the fiefs! We will have a base of operations!”
“We must march on the island as soon as possible,” the chevalier says. “Strike when the enemy is still reorganizing.”
“Agreed,” Navarre says. “Combining the royalists with our own armies should get us some nine hundred men in the field. So far, we’ve seen, what, five hundred enemy soldiers?”
“We’ll need a lot of barges to be sure,” Sir Oengus adds. “And this may also solve your problem of where to unite the two armies. All we have to do is get all barges to land on Apple Island at the same time.”
“Excellent thinking!,” Navarre exclaims. “We can sail our own troops down the River Dusk while the royalists advance on Lake River. We will join our forces on the banks of Sarazin and attack!”
The noble trio continue discussing the plan for a while, with Sir Oengus suggesting they stop in Nisibis before they get to Sarazin.
“We’ll be sailing up the River Dusk anyway so we’ll pass Nisibis first,” he says. “It seems only logical to stop there to see what we can do there. I could disembark and round up as many barges as I can while you go on to gather your armies. I have a lot of friends among the river folk and many will want to fight for us.”
“Finally things are coming together!,” Navarre says excitedly. “Barges from Nisibis, horses from Sarazin, men from Dauberval!”
“Much will depend on whether the enemy is already in Nisibis and Dauberval,” Sir Oengus says. “Or Sarazin, for that matter. Still, if I can’t get any soldiers in Nisibis, I think I can still get all the barges we’ll need.”

Some time later, the company take a short break to eat and drink. The noble trio continue discussing tactics and various ways to gather as many men as possible – providing there are still men to gather. When they decide that it is time to get moving again, Sir Eber, Sir Suvali, and Sir Oerknal emerge from the woods.
“Gentlemen,” the sorcerer says. “The Sword of Shadows has been drawn.”
The noble trio look at him in stunned silence.
“So we can tell you that the blade casts a shadow that is longer than it actually is,” the sorcerer continues. “This leads me to believe it may have the reach of a long sword.”

Navarre cannot believe his ears. Have these people gone mad? He distinctly remembers Sir Eber agreeing to warn him before he would draw the sword. He distinctly remembers Sir Suvali mentioning the legends that speak of the mayhem and destruction the sword has caused whenever it was drawn. And what happened to the sorcerer claiming that drawing the sword would alert the enemy to its location? And, more importantly, why did the trio break a gentlemen’s agreement?
The chevalier is the first to react.
Messieurs,” he says frostily. “I am at a loss for words. It was agreed that the sword would not be drawn.”
“We drew it out of sight of the soldiers,” the sorcerer says.
“That is not what I meant,” the chevalier replies. “Why did you do this?”
“We have decided that I will use the Loremaster’s wand on Eber if the sword should start exerting some sort of influence on him,” the sorcerer says.
“Perhaps you have misheard me, monsieur,” the chevalier says. “Why did you do this?”
“Because it is not for you to decide what happens to the sword,” Sir Eber says bluntly.
The chevalier gives him a blank stare before turning to the sorcerer again.
“Have you forgotten, monsieur, that the enemy may have the means to detect the sword?,” he asks. “That it was you who argued that the chances of the enemy detecting the weapon would likely increase if it should be drawn?”
“We took the required precautions,” the sorcerer says.
Vraiment?,” the chevalier says. “Pray enlighten me as to exactly what it is that you did do to shield the weapon from the divine powers of, disons, the Kettle of the Coven?”

But the sorcerer continues to wriggle and writhe, slippery as an eel in a bucket of grease, unwilling or unable to answer the chevalier’s direct questions. He repeatedly tries to change the subject, hurls accusations at everyone he can think of, or simply refuses to answer. Eventually, the chevalier puts an end to the whole thing – much, much too politely as far as Navarre is concerned.
“Your curiosity seems to have overcome your common sense, monsieur,” he says coldly, before turning away from the treacherous sorcerer and his accomplices.

Navarre has followed the exchange with barely veiled disgust. What is to be done now? The trio can obviously not be trusted. Can the sword be left in the care of the brainless ranger? Can these men be given the responsibility of leading an army? Can they even be trusted as messengers? He is about to start yelling furiously when Sir Oengus plants his axe in a tree.
“Your excuses only make things worse, sorcerer,” he growls. “To be sure, the peacocks here may be attempting to force their opinions on us but a man is a man and his word is his word. You want to draw the sword? Fine. But state your case like a man, here, in front of the whole crew, and don’t go about it behind our backs like a thief in the woods.”
“Well spoken, Sir,” Navarre says, barely able to constrain his anger. “Gentlemen, you have broken your word and endangered our efforts in the process.”

Upon which, with the party about to implode, the DM seems to decide that enough is enough. He informs our noble heroes that they continue their journey to Thuxra; that they spend the night in the open; and that they arrive at the gates of Thuxra at 11.00 hrs on Day 11.
He procures a map and points out that the town of Thuxra is little more than some barrows on a river protected by palisades. Although the town proper would count some 300 souls under normal circumstances, many more are now camping among the barrows and on a veritable fleet of barges on the River Dawn, currently making the place a veritable beehive of activity.

With the others still reeling and barely able to look each other in the eye, it is the chevalier who decides that the show must go on.
“You there!,” the chevalier yells at a man in armor, obviously a Palavan army captain. “What news?”
The man looks at the disheveled chevalier and his companions for a moment.
“Well?,” the chevalier cries impatiently. “Out with it, man!”
The captain has another good look at our noble heroes and then seems to decide he’d better take no risks.
“My Lord,” he says, with a slight nod of the head. “Most of what has happened is unclear. It would seem that most of the Thuxran barons are on their way to Palava following some unsettling news from there.”
“Most?,” the chevalier asks.
“It is so, my Lord,” the captain continues. “Some chose to remain to defend their homes from the marauding hordes. Perhaps they prefer to fight on their home turf rather than commit to an uncertain war in Palava.”
“Who speaks for Thuxra at the moment, captain?,” Navarre asks.
“That would be His Lordship, Baron Cynfawr, my Lord,” the captain says.
“Then you can take us there, captain,” Navarre says.
“His Lordship left five days ago to lead the barons to Palava, my Lord.”
“Are you saying that there is no one we can speak to at the moment, captain?”
The captain shrugs apologetically.
“What of the troops gathering in Palava?,” the chevalier asks.
“They are what remains of the ducal armies of Palava, Bagabuxsha, Mim, Thuxra, and Dara, my Lord,” the captain says. “All in all, some twenty barons from various duchies will be there by now. My Lord, information is scarce.”
“What of Wyrsn?,” Sir Eber asks.
“From Wyrsn comes news that the commoners have revolted, Lord,” the captain says. “It seems to be under the rule of councils by all accounts.”
“What nonsense is this?,” Navarre asks.
“It is what most refugees seem to believe, my Lord,” the captain says, nodding at the river.
When Navarre looks at the river, he sees Sir Oengus approaching.
“No sails on the lake,” Sir Oengus says. “I’ve found one skipper willing to take us as far as the lake.”
He turns to the chevalier.
“I’ll need those diamonds of yours.”
The chevalier looks at his companion in obvious consternation.
“Smartly now,” Sir Oengus says. “I have to pay the man.”
When no one speaks for quite some time, the chevalier seems to regain his composure.
Mais bien sur!,” he cries, hastily procuring the small bag. “My diamonds are your diamonds!”
“Follow me, lubbers,” Sir Oengus says, taking the bag and starting back to the river.
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