Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Serpents Fall: A Land Without a King - Session 4

Our heroes are heading northwards, out of Celtia towards the land of Saxony, their plan is to travel to the capitol of Winchester seeking someone who may know more about curses and perhaps even help them lift the curse that prevents Captain Benito from sailing on the seas; whilst the curse stands there is no way that they can each the Sword Isles and out a stop to whatever fiendish plans the usurper Pirate King Horningold Blythe is concocting. They party have been travelling for a couple of days, and having spent a lot of time at the ruined village previously, supplies are running low; Ozuchi is ranging up ahead looking for supplies, when he sees a village in the distance, surrounded by a wooden pallisade, thin wisps of smoke rise up above the fence, no doubt from hearth fires inside. Ozuchi falls to his knees thanking the spirits for the blessing of a village, "Assuming that smoke doesn't mean it's been burnt down" says the sobering voice of Benito from just by his shoulder as the rest of the party catches up.

Suddenly Benito and Horesh hear a strange snuffling, snorting noise coming from within the boundaries of the nearby Great Forest, they have only just left Celtia and are still close to the mighty wooded area that blankets the savage nation like a living tide; ever wary Benito draws his sword, the sound of the metal sliding free from his scabbard alerting Ozuchi to the potential danger. Before they have time to consider further planning the undergrowth begins to move with furious activity; Horesh backs away from the treeline whilst Ozuchi drops into a martial stance as something huge and strong ploughs it's way through the undergrowth, charging towards them. Thinking quickly Ozuchi calls on his komodo spirit to armour against harm as a huge boar smashes out of the nearby treeline, shakes it's head and then prepares to charge; Horesh begins slowly backing away as Benito scrambles up a nearby rocky outcropping and Ozuchi prepares to leap if the creature gets near him. Hearing the sound of the pebbles dislodged by Benito's frantic scrambling the boar charges towards the rock that he is perched upon. Benito leaps off the rock that he is clinging to and lands on the back of the huge bristled creature, he reachs forwards, grabs the tusks of the mighty boar and begins twisting the creature's head to one side, trying to distract it from charging his companions.

With the creature distracted, Ozuchi springs forward, striking the boar in a weak spot on it's skull with a mighty kick; there is a loud crack and the creature ploughs into the ground, neck broken, Benito leaping off as it slides along digging a furrow with it's carcass. As this is going on Horesh becomes aware that there is still some slight movement within the treeline, he steps into the trees, remaining cautious, and comes across a small clearing where there are 5 infant boars, he shakes his head and returns to the others, gesturing for them to follow he shows them where the baby boars are located. The death priest feels quite guilty that they may have slain the mother of these creatures whereas Ozuchi, being more used to hunting on the stygian savannah and raising the young of hunted animals as domestic stock, looks at the young animals solely as potential food or trade stock, whereas Benito and Horesh seem captivated by the idea of training these beasts as mounts. Horesh attempts to examine the spirit of the beast but it has already fled (animal spirits not tending to linger) but he does sense an after-image of anger and maternal instincts, he suggests that there might have been something nearby that had already roused the mother boars protective instincts and that they should remain wary.

After a bit of a debate, Benito and Horesh decide to adopt one of the piglets each and to take the rest as trade or provisions, Ozuchi shakes his head in bewilderment but reluctantly agrees before pulling his dagger and swiftly beginning to skin, de-tusk and butchering the body of the dead boar; the norsican barbarian Kron seems entirely bewildered by the argument going on, but then norsicans are not known for their love of animals (besides as skins to wear or meat to eat). Benito picks up a couple of piglets, Horesh carries one (selecting a black piglet with a white spot) and, after being asked to help by Benito, the bewildered Kron picks up the other two, shaking his head. Ozuchi gives thanks to the spirit for the bounty of pigflesh and piglets to trade that they have blessed the party with, and they continue their journey towards the village.

Arriving near the open-fronted wooden pallisade they can see numerous small wooden buildings erected around a central large hall; a ragged, malnourished figure bursts from the entrance of the gate, cradling a hessian sack under his arm, the figure runs towards them and virtually collapses into Ozuchi's arms saying "I can't... please don't let them get me...", he swoons almost fainting away. Benito takes the bag and peers in side, it contains little more than a couple of loaves and some bundles of grain, before he has chance to consider what this means, Benito's attention is attracted by the sound of marching feet and a unit of soldiers wearing metal armour and lead by a serious looking figure march out of the village. Not liking the look of the events unfolding Horesh quickly removes his robe and slips it onto the bedraggled villager before the soldiers have time to spot him and Ozuchi runs forward to meet the emerging soldiers, pointing off into the distance and hoping to mislead them as to the whereabouts of their suspected quarry he says "A man just ran into those trees carrying a bag, is that who you are after?"

Seeming convinced by Ozuchi's fabrications, the commander introduces himself as Aedelred and says that they are pursuing the criminal Dudda, Ozuchi repeats that they saw him running off into the nearby forest; nodding Aedelred says that they will surely be welcome, however, he points at Kron and says that "well, almost all of you will be welcome" - he explains the group that the northman is not well loved in Saxony since the King has gone north to crusade against the rising northern warlords, he describes the norsicans as a plague waiting to sweep away civilisation. Ozuchi is able to persuade the soldiers that Kron no longer considers himself linked with the raiding norsicans and will cause no trouble, Kron turns over his hammers as surety of his conduct and, with Ozuchi vouching for him, Commander Aedelred agrees to allow the norsican into the settlement of Wulfricingas. One of Aedelred's men called Deorwine seems personally affronted by Aedelred's decision to allow Kron into the village and makes his objection known; Aedelred commands him to be silent and apologises to our heroes, explaining that Deorwine recently received news that his brother was slain in King Godric's crusade against the northmen. Unable to accompany them at present due to his pursuit of the criminal Dudda, Aedelred assigns one of his men Oed to escort them inside.

Oed leads the heroes into the village, he mentions that Lord Wulfric is ill and may not be able to speak to them but he will take them to the chiefs hut; when Ozuchi mentions that he is a reknowned medicine man in Stygia and that he may be able to help, this interests Oed a great deal and he leads them to the large wooden hut in the middle of the village. Oed bangs on the door asking to be let in, saying that he has a medicine man to see Lord Wulfric, a female voice responds saying that the Lord is much too ill to see any foreigners with his snake-oil and charms; it is only when Oed threatens to break down the door that the women (whom he refers to as Ceolwyn) agrees to let them in.

Upon entering the large hall they can see a bed covered in many furs where a tall man with a long beard and wasted, grayish pallor lies looking almost dead, they are met by a determined looking woman who is skeptical about Ozuchi's abilities, but weakly Lord Wulfric gestures that he gives permission for Ozuchi to examine him. Nodding Ozuchi asks what treatment Lord Wulfric has received, Ceolwyn indicates a clear solution on a nearby table and says that she has been adminstering a solution of local herbs to bring down his fever; Benito notices a look of panic on Ceolwyn's face when Ozuchi begins examining the tonic, but before he can do anything a huge warrior with black hair and holding an axe gripped threateningly in one hand dashes in and in angry tones demands to know what is going on. Coelwyn speaks to the man (who she calls Anlaf) and explains what is occurring, again Benito notices the edge of panic in her voice.

Ozuchi attempts to speak to Anlaf, who seems oddly unwilling to listen to him and eventually attempts to punch the stygian, but he is too quick though and rocks back on his feet before delivering a rapid series of blows that cause the saxon warrior to crumple to the floor unconscious; now free of distraction Ozuchi lifts a tiny portion of the tonic to his lips and judges it to be mostly sugar water, but there is an acrid toxic taste lurking beneath it that his trained tastebuds detect. Seeing Ozuchi's expression and realising that the game is up, Ceolwyn draws a hidden dagger from her belt and, holding it out, tells them to let her go and that no-one needs to get hurt. Benito attempts to restrain the woman but she delivers him a vicious headbutt to the face, staggering back and shouting for Ozuchi to take her out whilst Kron moves to secure the unconscious saxon warrior and cut off any escape, Benito takes a step backwards with blood pouring from his nose.

Not wanting to do the woman serious harm (and lose their only conscious source of information), Ozuchi deftly flicks the knife from Ceolwyn's hand and twists her arm up behind her back whilst Horesh fetches a rope and restrains her; weeing her husband captured and held by Kron and Oed, Ceolwyn breaks down and reveals that her husband Anlaf told her to help him poison Lord Wulfric or he would beat her, but that if she did so the Regent would make them the rulers of the village after Wulfric was dead. Oed tells them that the Regent is the brother of King Godric, a man called Eadweard Harcourt who has been left in charge of the kingdom whilst Godric is on his crusade in the north; but he has no idea why the Regent would want Wulfric dead, Ceolwyn answers that she doesn't know, Anlaf spoke to the Regent, not her, she attempts to plead for leniency and offers proof of what she is saying by telling them to search Anlaf's belt pouch. When Kron does so he finds a red seal in the shape of a stylised spear, Oed confirms that the spear is Aelfgar, symbol of the Harcourt family.

Ozuchi has been ministering to Lord Wulfric and says that he can help him but it will take a couple of days for the poison to leave his system; Lord Wulfric weakly thanks them and says that they must sleep in his hall as guests of honour, he orders Oed to take Anlaf and Ceolwyn from his sight and to have them confined under guard. Horesh approaches the Lord and speaks to him about the criminal Dudda, he explains that the man was starving and shows the meagre contents that were inside the satchel, Wulfric sighs and explains that the Regent has been squeezing them for more and more taxes and that he is honour bound to obey the ruler of Saxony, meaning that he has had to ask more from his people; however Lord Wulfric does tells them that, whilst he cannot tolerate crime and disloyalty, and nor can he defy Saxon law, when he is well he plans to host a great celebration that will require all his men at arms to cease pursuing any outlaws and attend. He assures them that anyone who returns to their home and commits no further crime will be forgiven, Wulfric also tells them that, although he cannot lower the taxes, he will have some of the personal provisions from his hall made available to lighten the burden on the peasants; smiling and looking at Horesh's cloaked "apprentice" Wulfric passes back the sack containing the bread and tells them that that will do as a first contribution to lightening the tax load and that Horesh's "apprentice" should return to his home.

Two days pass and Lord Wulfric is much recovered, true to his word he holds a great feast that sees the flamboyant Captain Benito seemingly trying to bed every woman in the village; even the death priest Horesh seems to get into the spirit of the celebration, relishing the chance to soak up a foreign culture. After the celebration has concluded Wulfric gathers the heroes to him and tells them that he would value their wise council, his interrogators have spoken to Anlaf and verified what Ceolwyn had told them, it appears that the Regent wants him dead for some reason, "Perhaps because I am loyal to his brother and not to him" muses Lord Wulfric.

The heroes say that they are going to travel to Winchester and perhaps they could attempt to negotiate with the Regent on his behalf; Wulfric says that, if the heroes are willing, he will travel with them (now his strength is recovered) and will make his case in person; agreeing they all part company to sleep, but Ozuchi is troubled as he meditates on the future, he speaks to the ancestors of Saxony and of the Harcourt dynasty; they show him a vision of a snow covered battlefield slain with blood, a king lies dead and a usurper seeks to consolidate his power, some claim loyalty to the new king whilst some remain loyal to the memory of the old, fire and war engulfs the kingdom of Saxony. The stygian tells the others of his troubling vision, it seems clear that the death of the old king and his brother the Regent's grab for power will throw the nation into civil war.