Act Two: Scattered to the Winds____ __ _ _
Chapter Three: A Scent on the Wind_________ __ __ _ _
If the news of Asier’s escape had not spread quickly, it had not been slow to make its way to relevant ears either. By night, they began searching, but the fundamental flaw in their plan was that there were not so many of them - for they did not want to alarm the populace - and that they made the assumption he would head immediately for the hills.
The Tourrare’s goal, however, was not to leave Meldheim, but to strike at it. To that end, he had spent the night where they were least likely to look for him: right under their noses, by the holding cells in the dockyards.
It was a place of foul smells and filthy water. Oversized insects, crabs, and small, oily fish skittered and slipped between pillars. Three moons hung in the sky in various phases and the tides ebbed and flowed with them in that very complex pattern that they did in Meldheim, but Asier, a horseman from the arid steppes, did not know much of tides. He could only hope that they would rise high enough soon, that his subtle sabotage of the locks would bear fruit. The hours of Dami gave way to those of Ipte and occasional noises that punctuated the nighttime silence seemed disproportionately loud when they came. Perhaps he found a fitful sleep by then and perhaps he did not. Tourrare are hardy people anyhow, or so it is said.
Morning dawned cool and windy, a fresh, slick dew laying across rooftops, piers, and netting. There was something missing, and it might've taken him a moment to place it, for it was The Gift and he had never relied on it so much as others did.
The same could be said for one of the two figures who had made their way over in the early hours from Rigevand. The streets had filled, the prisoners prodded from their cells for another day of backbreaking labour, and the fish market - not so far away - a hustle and bustle, even as the first ship of the day hove into port. It was not like many other places Nettle had seen, though she had at least seen a port before. Not everything may have been as new to her as it had a month or more ago, when she had first been set upon by the Kang’s soldiers. Yet, that was not a thought that occupied much of her mind. For a moment, she thought she had sensed something, beneath a great pier that stretched well into the bay that Meldheim was built around. Then, the sensation had vanished, along with, well… everything. Try as she might, she could not call upon the Gift and neither could her chaperone, the old pirate-turned-king’s man, Jacques. He scowled. “Child,” he whispered in Drudgunzean, which he knew she at least somewhat understood, “have you lost the Gift too? Your magic?”
Whatever her reply was, he did his best to listen and understand it. Oraphe only knew where she’d been raised, and she was perhaps half-yasoi as well. Overwhelmed. He’d been there before as a boy, and though the years had hardened him and made him rich, he was not without sympathy. “Could you feel something?” he asked, his voice remaining low. “Just before our magic left?” He tried to keep his words simple. “A big animal?”
Out in the bay, people were back to hacking away at the berg from yesterday for scarce few had truly made an escape. Their little boats were moored to pegs driven into its flanks, a small shelter with a cauldron coughed out billows of steam into the cool morning air, and ropes and rickety ladders rambled about its surface. Dressed as he was, Asier should’ve been there, but he had yet more work to do and the sudden cutting of his connection to the Gift - a boon that had never been explicitly acknowledged but always present - was beginning to unnerve him. Before he could make any definitive moves, however, whether they involved fire, water, or something subtler, a pair of figures caught his eye: a tall man, thick around the middle with a short greying beard, and a small slight girl with hair tinged green in the colour of moss. The first could have been any old sea captain, for he gave off that air, but the second was distinctive and he had seen her somewhere, in passing.
Jacques and Nettle separated before long,forcing a choice upon the curious Asier who, despite his Eskandr garb, still stood apart as stockier and more tanned upon closer inspection. The first inquired innocently about oil and, separately, about manure while the second had gotten to snooping dangerously close to the prison area, a small nonthreatening girl as she was. She could not understand the main language used most often by these people she had come with, but she had grown familiar with its general sound, at least, and more than one of the prisoners was speaking it. Yet, the bigger mystery, to her mind, was the absence of the Gift, and the thing that she had sensed just before its disappearance. Scarce little grew here though, with at least some existing water plants and seeds, she might yet make much.
The small girl was out on one of the breakwaters, trying to understand the area better so that she might find the wrongness and repair it and her song might take effect, when there came a thump from below and a long wailing moan, perhaps meant to be loud but only faintly heard. There was someone or - more likely - some creature… inside the breakwater!?
The animal being kept below the breakwater, not so far from the prison, is known as a havetskriger (sea screamer) or a havnæsehorn (sea rhinoceros). It is a very large, omnivorous pinniped with a hornlike projection on its snout that it uses to break through ice. Similar to the scagbiist, it emits a frequency that agitates manas, rendering them unable to properly interface with their host being. However, it does this not only when hunting, but more often when panicked, frightened, or distressed. This one is kept in a large hollow in the breakwater, never seeing the light of day, and is fed by a keeper through a small hole.
Meanwhile, the Kongesalan was another world entirely. Queen Astrid was finished holding court for some hours, and had much else to do, but these were matters that Dietrich was assured he need not be concerned with, and so he was given free rein to wander, question, and learn at his leisure. In the morning, he had witnessed an honorary ‘duel’ between the Sturmish underking, Kol, and one of the new Æresvaktr: the yasoi Arne’altan’jaros, to induct the latter. The fourth–ranked Æresvaktr was now headed, or so he understood, to similarly induct a sorceress known only as the Skygge, who was near-universally held to be a vile and wretched creature.
‘Ositha’, too, found herself given a few hours of downtime, in which she was to further familiarize herself with her surroundings, her peers, and her duties before - surprisingly - commencing the children’s instruction this very afternoon. Already, her practiced Black Rezaindian senses had noted the presence of one supposedly ‘secret’ passage in the pantry beneath a stairwell, and the servants and slaves had proven a source of endless gossip.
Both she and Dietrich had encountered the precocious pipsqueak that was Snorri and the whirlwind that was Inga, and both were about the rounds of the Kongesalan, so perhaps it was only a matter of time before they met each other.
Svend, meanwhile, in his guise as Jarl Alsfard, found himself in the midst of negotiating percentages on his raiding party’s take with the Queen’s chamberlain. He felt the pinch, from Maud, that was meant to raise an alarm and started. “What is it, Jarl Bjorn?” the tall, lean man commented, taking notice of his momentary discomfort. “Is my offer not to your liking?”
Covering quickly, Svend shook his head. “No, no,” assured his opposite. “It is merely that I had promised the harbourmaster at Rigevand his pay today and forgotten to settle up. I should hope he hasn’t tried to unmoor my ships.”
The chamberlain paused. “Rigevand,” he repeated, furrowing his brow. “Your men: are many large, rough, and foreign?”
A warning prickled through the Quentist’s insides and he answered cautiously. “Oh, a good many are from Kressia and Enthal. There is a Parrench lordling cast out of his lands as well, seeking vengeance.” He scowled. “Have the ungrateful miscreants caused trouble? I will have them whipped!”
“I fear their appearance has caused some worry,” the chamberlain replied. “Though I can see it is a misunderstanding, Prince Ulf set off some twenty minutes prior with Vali the Twice–Born and some thirty soldiers in case they were pirates.”
“Gods-dammit!” Svend cursed through his teeth. “We shall conclude this tomorrow, then?” he added hastily. “I must make haste before somebody does something stupid.”
“By all means, Jarl. That would be regrettable.” Svend was already headed for the door. “You may borrow a horse if you need,” the chamberlain allowed. There was a quick thanks and then the ersatz Jarl was beyond the door.
It was a job that Kol was given much thanks for but, as a king, he had never wanted for fawning and paeans. Instead, the near–sole highlight of his stay in Meldheim had been his morning combat with the yasoi who was to join the Æresvaktr. Without much in the way of lunar help, though the five moons would thankfully be arriving imminently, he’d found himself on the back foot virtually the entire time. The sheer reach and agility of the ‘mage-hunter’ was astounding and he used magics that Kol knew were of the yasoi and had only seen, in brief, from Talit’yrash when they had fought. To skip through space and time… it was an impressive skillset and its wielder a decent and honorable man, inasmuch as any yasoi could be. In truth, the king had won only through tactics and psychology, reading his opponent’s moves once they’d established a pattern. Had young Arne been trying to assassinate him in earnest, he might very well be headed to Gestur’s table right now.
Now, however, Kol found himself at a large property, some ways removed from the city proper, in the shadow of the Eldfjall and its black soil and faint scent of sulfur. The sun passed into and out of a quickly moving bank of clouds as he approached the lone building: a modest farmhouse of fieldstone and thatched roofing. A sea of sparse, yellow-green grass poked up through the gravelly soil to rippled in a blustery wind and a woman tended to a pair of large, scraggly brandæble bushes.
He passed a gate pieced together of driftwood and a set of chimes - bone and rusted metal - clattered in the grip of a gust. He stood and waited. The woman turned. This, then, was The Skygge. He’d heard of but never seen her. Supposedly, she was some sort of udødelig who feasted upon the flesh of others, but he saw only a tall, pale woman in a hooded cloak, whitish-blonde hair spilling over her shoulders and chest to either side of her face. She looked youthful and seemed somehow ancient at the same time, and she brought her hands together in front of herself, clasping one of the rare apples between them. “A gift for you, King Kol, should you so desire it.” She held the fruit out, smiling. “Worry not. It isn’t poisoned.” She raised it to her mouth and took a bite.
Prince Ulf, for all of his youthful pride and bravado, trusted the word of one such as Vali, and stationed four soldiers along the Mountain Road to Rigevand, sending another quartet down towards the Sea Road. “I should not like to leave any doubt about my intentions once I arrive, as two dozen of us surely send message enough. I shall show mercy to those who surrender immediately to the king’s justice and I shall announce this,” he concluded, voice squeaking a bit towards the end in a most un–kingly manner.
As they walked, a faint breeze carried through the foothills to stir the long grass, and crows and a couple of wolves glanced up from the nearby carcass of an Elk, watching the humans warily.”It is said that there are some Quentics in that village,” Ulf announced, his voice nearly carried away in the blustery breeze. “If it turns out there are no pirates, then we should make an example of the apostates. You have been away for a long time, Onkel, but you should see how bold they got. Father had to carve the Blood Eagle on some. Now they merely hide.” He sniffed and gazed out at the path ahead. “We shall find them, though. They will not force us to change our ways like they did the Drudgunzeans.”
They continued on for a few more minutes, their only accompaniment the whispering of the grass and the crunch and soft clatter of two dozen men on the march, but it did not last. “If they should fight back,” Ulf decided for himself and Vali, “It will be down to you and I, who can use the Gift, and we shall send the wretches to Rødhalle. Be ready for this.” He paused. “Though I know you are. You are always ready, Onkel Vali.” For a moment, some younger version of the boy who was trying so badly to be a man twisted and flashed him a smile. Then, ahead, they could see Rigevand: pathetic collection of huts, hovels, and a single great decaying longhouse that it was. Three knarrs occupied one of its two docks, looking as if they had arrived from another planet entirely. Down by the shore, a great many people seemed to be moving about and quite quickly. “There they are!” shouted Ulf, hand going for his sword and then thinking better of it. He, Vali, and their party were still some four hundred yards or more distant.
Trygve had been closest to Maud when she gave the signal and it was two minutes before he had found her. “What is it?” he demanded. “What is wrong!?”
“A force - some thirty-two men - is headed for Rigevand from the Kongesalan. I am certain that is where they are headed. Don’t ask. We need the others and we need a plan!”
Indeed, they were not long in coming. Svend arrived on horseback, dressed in a Jarl’s finery, and Gerard and Jacques only minutes after. Many followed the latter, both expected and unexpected, for some appeared to be prisoners that he or Nettle had set free. These were relegated to the edges and alleys so as not to draw attention to the group. “We do need a plan,” announced Trygve, “but we need a location. May we yet catch them?”
The girl glanced about the adults surrounding her, feeling small and uncertain and stammered when she spoke. “I… I’m not certain.” She closed her eyes and reached out with her senses, not wasting time. “If you go at a run, those who use the Gift may.” She opened her eyes. “You should leave me behind. I will send warning to our people in Rigevand, but you needs tell me if they should try to hide or fight.” She glanced up at all of the bigger people, leaning on her crutches. “What should I do? What should we do.”
Ulf, prince of all Eskand, had descended upon the village of Rigevand with his men. It had emptied out quickly and only a small party was left to greet him. “Goddag, undersåtter,” he greeted them, wind flicking his hair to one side of his face and an odd sort of smile creasing his lips as he approached. “I have some business in your village, it appears.” He stopped in front of them and extricated a Pentact, fresh from the raids near Relouse, from the pouch at his hip. “But first,” he announced, dropping it upon the sandy mud, “I will require proof that I am speaking to men and not worms.” Hooking his thumbs into his belt, he horked up some spit, leaned forward, and let it fall upon the holy symbol. Looking up, he placed his foot atop it and regarded them challengingly, but they looked at him only for a moment before their eyes turned elsewhere. Alarm pricked Ulf's stomach and he could hear the thunder of hooves approaching from behind. Vali’s bow was already drawn and arrow nocked.
Down by the harbour, there were a few things not dissimilar to gates. Against the backdrop of whatever else was happening, their duty remained a constant. Yet, they had been unlocked and left cleverly in place as if they had not been. All that was needed now was the right tide: a rather rare one, by all accounts. They knocked and groaned as a small wave from something surfacing hit them. Much is said about eyes and what they can tell you of their bearer, and the eyes that watched the gate did so from the cold and murky water of Meldheim Bugt. They seemed very near to human eyes, but were not.
I've purposely tried to leave these as open-ended as I can. Many follow-ups to existing prompts and incomplete actions can be be written in different ways depending on what players decide. Basically: don't worry, I'll make it work.
- Asier: Feel free to play out the night and any further measures or acts Asier may have taken. He has sighted Nettle and Jacques. It is up to your discretion whether or not he meets up with both or either. Further, if he is made aware of what happens in Rigevand, he will have his say in the hasty council and may go to take action there as required. Collaborate with players accordingly.
- Nettle: feel free to play out any communications between yourself, Jacques, or the others. Feel free to notice or discover Asier, though it is more likely that he will recognize you. If you wish to break out the prisoners, this is also something that can be done, though, if not done carefully, it may lead to some heat. Finally, feel free to interact with the creature. If you wish to break it out, maybe we can collaborate on that.
- Kol: Play out your interaction with Arne and whatever else you wish. Respond to the Skygge and we can collab on the encounter there too. Perhaps Kol might receive notice that Vali is headed to Rigevand. Perhaps he might fight or deny the Skygge. Their meeting could even be a friendly one! Finally, if the Parrench try to wreak havoc in Meldheim, it's time to be the hero!
- Vali: You're there in the heart of the action, but you've got to get there first. What advice will you give to young Ulf? How will you respond to his prompts? Finally, what do you sense in Rigevand and how will you respond tot hat. This will likely require some collaboration between you, myself, and other players.
- Gerard: Take your place in the hasty council. How did you get there? What do you suggest as a course of action? Collaborate with your fellow players on a decision and then play out your actions! Are you wrecking the town? Fighting in Rigevand, abandoning the others there for utilitarian reasons, or helping hide or cover for them?
- Osanna: Feel free to fill in Kongesalan gossip as you see fit and make something (or not) of the tunnel. Perhaps a collab with Arte (Dietrich) might be in order. Depending on how things go, feel free to play through a lesson with either Inga or Snorri. Queen Astrid may pop her head in. Outside of your little bubble, shit may hit the figurative fan.
- Dietrich: You have some freedom to explore and discover. What are people saying? Is there anything interesting you've learned? How about the kids? Maybe you can spend time with the one that Osanna isn't working with. In general, this is a good opportunity for your two characters to storyline a meeting and whatever comes of that. Of course, things may e happening outside. Will you be dragged into them?