Posted by Darth Krzysztof
21st of Vermus, 1301 AD
The sturdy fortress called Kendal Keep sat atop a flat-topped hill. Four travelers reached the end of the steep path which climbed up to the Keep, where the raised drawbridge forced them to stop at the wide yawn of the moat.
Hugh Caedmion aimed a nervous glance at the forbidding towers that flanked the entrance. The crenellated battlements would provide excellent cover for any archers, and there was nowhere to hide down here on the road…
“So,” Adara asked, “This is Kendal Keep?”
“I guess,” Hugh replied with a grunt, looking to Petrus, who nodded once.
Detrius crouched a bit, testing the strength of the knee that had pained him all the way here. Pointing down the road, he said, “They rang the gong when we were back there. They definitely saw us coming…”
As if on cue, a man’s face appeared atop the tower to their right, thirty feet above. “Halt!” he called, though everyone had already stopped moving. “Who goes there? Friend or foe?”
Hugh blinked. “Friends?” he offered, uncertainly.
“Yes,” Adara said, “friends, good sir. We wish no trouble.”
As a second man appeared in the left-hand tower, the first guard squinted down at the four travelers. “Names?”
Hugh and Detrius offered theirs without elaboration. “Adara,” said the deva, “High Priestess and Artificer of the Grand Cathedral.” Petrus introduced himself as a man sworn to St. Relonor, earning another sideways glance from Adara.
The guards stood in silence for a long moment. The man to their left said “Right!” and began climbing down.
“I do hope he’s lowering the drawbridge,” Adara said, mostly to Hugh.
Hugh nodded, mumbling, “Does anyone ever answer ‘foe’?”
“I would certainly hope not!” Adara exclaimed, smiling. Massive chains clanked to life as the drawbridge began to lower. “You see, friends? Relonor’s luck is with us.”
Hugh backed up a bit, almost backing into Petrus. “Relax,” the paladin said, earning a grim half-smile from the warlock.
The drawbridge thumped into place, revealing a lowered portcullis beyond, and a sturdy pair of double doors beyond that. One guard appeared behind the portcullis and waved the group forward. When they were close enough for him to be heard without shouting, the guard said, “What is your business in Kendal Keep? Laurl reminded me that I forgot to ask…”
“I’m meeting someone,” Petrus said. “My cousin, Sir Reynold Tolison. These are my traveling companions.”
“And I am here on church business,” Adara added.
The guard tilted his head, looking over the group, eyes stopping on the warforged soldier. “All right, sirs… madam… One moment, please.” The man stepped out of sight, and the portcullis rose up with a painful squeal.
“Thank you, good sir,” Adara told the guard when he reappeared. “Relonor’s blessing upon you, Mister…?”
“Charl,” the man replied, watching the group as they passed his station.
The shutter of a barred window set in the door ahead slid open, and a young woman’s face appeared, scrutinizing the group with calm deliberation. “Welcome to Kendal Keep,” she said. “I am Sabine, the Gatekeeper.”
The deva smiled warmly. “Pleased to meet you, Sabine. I am Adara.”
Sabine delayed her reply briefly as Hugh spared a brief glance at her before averting his eyes. “This is a peaceable place, travelers,” the elf announced. “We don’t like brawling in the streets, folks stabbed in the One-Eyed Cat, or anything like that.”
“Oh, dear!” Adara exclaimed. “Of course not!”
Sabine seemed pleased with that reaction, but continued: “Keep your weapons sheathed within the walls, and stay out of trouble, and you’ll find the Keep a home away from home. Stir up trouble and you’ll wish you’d never come here, I guarantee it.” Once satisfied, Sabine closed the shutter. The group heard a massive bolt drawn back, then a key turning in a lock. The great doors swung open on Kendal Keep’s outer bailey.
Sabine relaxed, but only slightly, as the four travelers entered the Keep. “If you need a place to rest,” she said, “The Green Man is around the way. And the One-Eyed Cat tavern is adjacent.”
Adara thanked the elf, who had already turned her attention to securing the doors, and the group headed for the inn. “I’ll meet you there,” Petrus announced before taking off to look for Sir Reynold.
Hugh, Adara, and Detrius walked past the stable, a group of wooden residences, a smithy, a general store, and a locksmith (which brought the hint of a smile to Hugh’s face). The few people they passed made little effort to mask their curiosity about the strangers, but Hugh felt fairly inconspicuous compared to the blue-skinned woman and the mechanical man…
The Green Man and the One-Eyed Cat turned out to be two sides of the same building. The three travelers went through the door to their right, which led to the inn; the proprietor, an older human whose face seemed lined with character, smiled at the sight of new business. “Welcome, welcome!” he said, waving the group forward. “I am Beasley, at your service. Are you in need of lodging?”
Adara approached the counter, smiling, while Hugh and Detrius hung back. “Yes, we are. My name is Adara, High Priestess and Artificer of the Grand Cathedral. And these are my companions.”
“Are you a scholar, then?” Something merry twinkled in the man’s eye.
“You could say that, yes. Have you two rooms available?”
“Of course, of course.” Beasley busied himself with keys and coins. “This would be your first visit to Kendal Keep, then? Surely I’d remember if you stayed here before.”
“No, not before; we are new here.” Adara doubted that Beasley had ever seen a deva before. “I am on church business and accompanying friends.”
The deva smiled at Hugh, who nodded in Beasley’s direction. The warlock asked, “Are you serving lunch, or…?”
“Round the corner, in the Cat. You’re just in time, sir.”
“What types of rooms do you offer, sir?” asked Adara.
“Two beds to a room. I’ve got two that are bigger’n the others, but one’s occupied.”
“Regular is fine with me,” Hugh said, his eyes repeatedly flicking to the front door.
Adara arranged to rent the larger room, and one other. Beasley provided the group with keys; Hugh pocketed his, nodded once, and turned for the One-Eyed Cat. As he reached the doorframe, though, it was suddenly occupied by a curvaceous, dark-haired woman in a clingy golden dress. “Oh!” she said. “Excuse me, monsieur.”
Hugh blinked in surprise, his mouth slightly agape. “Ah… of course, madam.” He stepped aside, dazzled.
“Merci.” She slipped easily around Hugh, his eyes tracking her passage. He ran his fingers through his mop of hair in a vain attempt to look slightly more presentable. “Will you be staying here?”
Not sure if the question was meant for the group, Hugh fumbled the key out of his pocket, then held it up with a nervous chuckle. “I… yeah.” The tilt of Adara’s eyebrow told him that the deva was watching…
“Then perhaps I’ll see you around.” She smiled and offered her hand. “I’m Opaline.”
Hugh took her hand and bowed over it, a caricature of someone more genteel. “Hugh. Pleasure.” Genuine warmth snuck into his tone. A smile found the corner of Opaline’s mouth; as she excused herself and headed up the stairs, Hugh caught himself smiling foolishly, put an end to it, and headed for the tavern. When Adara and Detrius followed, Beasley shook his head and went back to his work.
The tavern part of the building had a high ceiling, with several windows propped open with poles. The lunchtime crowd left no seats unoccupied; at Adara’s request, Detrius went to inform the barkeep of their arrival. The deva then turned to Hugh, saying: “She is lovely, yes?”
“I…” Hugh’s blush didn’t mesh with his scowl very well.
Adara took a step back. “I’m sorry, Hugh. I was only… I was merely taking note of your exchange. And it was good to see your spirits something other than dour, if only for a brief moment.”
“Just… leave it. Please.”
“Very well,” Adara said. A group of merchants got up to leave, and the serving-girl waved them over as she cleared the table. They soon faced a small hill of food and drink, including a plate that was accidentally brought for Detrius. Hugh put his feet up on an empty chair, and Adara gave a blessing, “Should we wait for Petrus?” she asked.
“No,” Hugh said at once, and they ate like kings.
- – - – -
The tower guards had also started to reset the portcullis and drawbridge, but stopped when they spied the fur-clad man approaching. “Halt!” Laurl called again. “Who goes there? Friend or foe?”
“Friend,” said the traveler, pulling back his cloak’s hood with a sigh. “My name is Faolan.”
“And what is your purpose in Kendal Keep?”
The druid mulled over what to say, but only for a moment. “I have business for the Druidic Order of the Nine Circles,” Faolan declared.
The guard muttered something that Faolan didn’t hear, then said, “We’ve not had a druid ‘round here in some time, sir.”
“And? My business is urgent; please, let me pass.”
“All right, sir. All right. Charl?” He waved the other guard to lower the drawbridge, but his eyes were locked on something past Faolan.
The druid turned to see an armored man coming up the road toward the Keep’s entrance. “Greetings!” The newcomer, almost certainly a knight, raised a hand to acknowledge Faolan.
“Good day to you, as well,” Faolan said with a nod.
“Hail!” called Laurl. “I mean, halt! Who goes there? Friend or foe?”
“Friend, always,” the knight said.
“Your name, sir?”
“Sir Imed Brosch, Knight of the Fellowship of Chrysomer.”
“Poor man,” Faolan said, indicating the guard. “Having to yell down at travelers all day.”
“It must be done. Though, if you were a foe, would you use the front gate?” Imed chortled amicably.
“And your purpose, Sir Imed?”
“My purpose here is the business of St. Amira – I seek a holy place.” The druid scowled at the Saint’s name, but Imed only smiled in return. Turning back to the guard, he asked, “Does anyone ever answer ‘foe’?”
“You’d be surprised. Enter, both of you.” Laurl waved Charl to lower the drawbridge, again. Enough room remained under the portcullis for Imed and Faolan to pass under it. Imed gave St. Amira’s blessing to Charl, who gave thanks to be so blessed twice in one day.
Sabine gave the two men the same warning through the door, then allowed them into the Keep. “Can I direct you anywhere, good sirs?” she asked.
“Yes,” Faolan said. “I’d like to hire a translator.”
Sabine tilted her head. “Not Elvish, I’m guessing?”
“No, sorry. Draconic.”
Sabine nodded. “You might ask the Arçais woman, Opaline. She’s staying at the Green Man.” She pointed. “She’s some sort of wizard, I think. I hear that arcane types often speak Draconic.” When Faolan nodded his thanks, Sabine turned her attention to Imed.
Imed looked her over. “Milady… ma’am… I would like to know who here knows the land around the Keep best? I seek a particular holy place.”
Sabine thought for a moment. “Jadale knows the Keep’s environs better than anyone I know, but if it’s a holy site you seek, I’d ask Chaplain Aleena. She’s usually found in the chapel, that-a-way.”
“Many thanks,” Imed replied. “May this day bring you fortune, madam.”
As the two men entered the Keep, Faolan all but squirmed under the curiosity of the passersby. “It’s been awhile since I’ve done this,” he said.
“Done what?” Imed asked, his tone inviting.
“Entered a town. And because druids aren’t seen often, we are suspect.”
Imed shook his head. “Ah. I doubt that is the case here, or any place with the Saints’ servants near. The guards have been friendly, have they not?”
“To you. I had more trouble before you came.”
“Truly? That’s unfortunate.” The knight’s expression became sympathetic. “Should anyone give you undue trouble, surely the keepers of this Keep would gladly aid you.”
“Sure,” Faolan sighed. “Think I’d sooner call on you for help.”
“You’d have it,” Imed said with conviction. Faolan drew breath to reply, but they’d reached the place where their paths had to split.
Faolan sighed. “It’s been… a pleasure chatting with you. But my business is urgent.”
“I understand. May you find your… translator, my good man. It has been a pleasure.”
Faolan offered a lazy salute as he headed toward the tavern; Imed adjusted his armor and started off for the chapel. As he tacked around the guild house, Imed saw a plain-faced man in plate mail standing before the chapel’s doors, scowling. “Well met, good sir,” Imed called. “Do you guard this chapel, here?”
“Nay,” Petrus said with a sigh. “I’m seeking my cousin, but he isn’t here, either. And the doors are locked. Very strange.”
“Your cousin? Where did you see him last?”
“Here, in the Keep.” Petrus turned his back to the doors and sat on the chapel’s steps.
Concern laced Imed’s words: “And how long ago was that?”
“Many weeks ago. We agreed to meet here… he should have arrived before me, but I don’t believe he has, yet.”
“From where was he coming? Could he have been delayed by weather?”
“I doubt it. Spring came to Silverland early this year. He was coming north, from Andover.”
Imed cast a worried glance at the door. “Where is the Chaplain, then? Chaplain Aleena?”
“Not in her chapel. I knocked ‘til my fist got sore.”
“Good of you to pray for your cousin’s safety, but if that’s not immediately available, perhaps you should ask to send a search party out?"
Petrus nodded. “I have someone in mind, yes. And I suspect that the two disappearances may be connected.”
“Connected?” Imed seemed more engaged with every word. “How so?”
“Were you seeking the Chaplain, sir?” Imed nodded, which brought an odd smile to Petrus’s face. “It’s only a suspicion. But perhaps we can help each other. Walk with me, if you’re free to.”
“At once! Lead on, good sir!”
- – - – -
“Look,” Hugh said as he divided Detrius’s food between himself and Adara, “I’m sorry about… you know… earlier.”
“It’s quite all right, Hugh,” the deva said. “I’m sorry for any offense I may have caused you.”
Hugh shook his head. “You asked me if I thought Opaline was lovely, that’s all. It’s just that the whole thing with Magdalena got me into this… mess. I just realized I was being an idiot again. I got embarrassed. I’m sorry.”
“It’s all right,” Adara said again. “You shouldn’t be ashamed of finding yourself attracted to another; it’s a natural thing. So we are both sorry for our parts in this. We should not tarry long on hurt feelings when both parties are apologetic.”
“Is she lovely?” Detrius asked suddenly. When Hugh and Adara turned to look at the warforged, he added, “Such distinctions are largely lost on me.”
- – - – -
Faolan entered the Green Man Inn, still a bit taken aback by the Keep’s hustle and bustle.
“Saints preserve me!” Beasley said, upon seeing the druid. “A busy day! Well met, sir. Might I interest you in lodgings? Or… a bath, perhaps?”
Faolan stared. “I am looking for a woman by the name of Opaline. I heard she was staying here. Is she around?”
“Aye. She’s up in her room. Might not do to disturb her, though. Meddle not, and all that.” The innkeeper waved his hands in a pantomime of arcane gestures.
“I hear she can translate Draconic. If you know of someone else who can, please point me in the right direction. I might even take up your offer on a bath if I can finish my business here.”
“Hmm.” Beasley peered at his ledger through spectacles. “You might try Adara, next door in the Cat. She claims to be a scholar… lovely woman with blue skin, travels with a walking statue and an unshaven, dark-haired fellow. Hard to miss.”
“I thank you for your time.” Faolan excused himself, then crossed over to the One-Eyed Cat, where he made his way to Adara’s group. “Are you Adara?” he asked. “I’m looking for someone who can translate Draconic. I hear you might be able to help me.”
The deva looked up at him. “No,” she said. “Sorry, I don’t.”
“I do,” Hugh said. “Who’s asking?”
“Faolan, druid of the Order of Nine Circles.”
“Saints above,” Hugh grumbled, “does everyone have a grand title except me?”
“If I did,” Detrius said, “I don’t remember it now.”
“That’s very helpful,” Hugh told the warforged.
“You are welcome.”
“If it helps,” Faolan offered, “I’m new.”
Adara cocked her head, arching an eyebrow. “Please, Faolan; take a seat.” A glance from her convinced Hugh to relinquish the chair he’d propped his feet up with, and the druid joined them at the table. “I am sorry; I have yet to introduce myself. I am Adara, High Priestess and Artificer of The Grand Cathedral. This is Hugh, and Detrius. Pleasure to make your accquaintance.”
“And yours. I am simply looking for a translator, and was told not to bother the other hopeful candidate.”
“Why would you need a translator for Draconic?” Adara’s question came from curiosity, rather than suspicion.
“To negotiate with a local lizardfolk tribe – the Dusk Thunder.”
Hugh looked at the druid askance. “Er… why?”
“A few tried to kill me a while back,” Faolan said with a snort. “I need to find out why. And some other reasons.”
His dubious expression still firmly in place, Hugh opined, “Huh.” Spotting Petrus at the bar, talking to an armored man who reeked of the law, he added, “That sounds like a problem, all right. I’d love to help you, but right now, my time is not my own.”
He missed Adara’s reaction as Petrus approached the group. “Sir Reynold hasn’t arrived at the Keep. What’s worse, Chaplain Aleena has gone out looking for him.”