Several individuals in the party had an uncanny sense of “deja vue”. Shylent sat by the first night’s campfire cleaning her swords with a thoughtful frown on her face. Couldn’t be too bad though, she hadn’t started rubbing chalk or soot on her face in intricate lines…yet.
Muffled by the rain, the faint sound of goblin drums came drifting off the plains from miles away and reverberated against the hills at their back. There could be two sets of drums, one set to the east, and one to the north east. As the night proceeded, the sounds eventually faded away, as if the goblins had moved off into the distance.
The rain continued through the night, and was still coming down in a medium sprinkle when the time came to set off the next day. In some places travel with the wagon was difficult, but it was eventually worked out.
As the afternoon fell, the rain stopped, but the clouds got higher and puffier, as if changing from simple overcast rain clouds to looming thunderheads. Following the edge of the hills and the small grove of trees southward, the party came into view of Fort Farhills around middle afternoon.
On a low lying sizable hill, a wooden palisade and fortified gate had been erected. The gate faced east and was currently shut.
06 Octagon, 508 PE (Year of Storms)
3:30 pm, Starday
Nitram approached the gate to see if anyone was manning it, “Hello! I am Nitram Tam, on business for Lord duBlade. Open the gate.” Once inside, Nitram sought out whoever was in charge to have a little chat.
A guard appeared on the walkway above the gate and said “Who goes there!”, while he gazed down upon the party. Another guard appeared besides the first guard and said “Who sez you are?”
Nitram, obviously annoyed at the guard’s suspicion replied “Well, these fine folks behind me do, Lord duBlade does, King Kashue also agrees I am Nitram Tam. But, if you need more convincing, you can decide not to let me in and see how long and deep you can dig a dry moat by yourself” The initially recalcitrant guard pushed his rude friend back a bit and said “Hold on a bit mi’lord, I’ll get either Sgt Slickster or Lt Gentry to the gate, post haste.”
The guard proceeded to blow on a horn, and a few minutes later a well dressed but somewhat dirty young man approached Nitram with an escort of three guards. “Sorry mi’lord, we weren’t quite expecting you so soon, I’m Lt Gentry, commander of the mercenary unit. Welcome to Farhills” For those familiar with the mercenary companies, this particular unit had a long history of working for the crown, but was still a mercenary unit at heart. And sometimes a little rough around the edges. They were called “the Fire Brigade” and had a few engineers and “specialists” amongst their men.
Gentry led the party inside the palisade. The wall was well built and properly apportioned. Somebody knew their fortifications. The stables were built out of waist high wooden rail fences, and covered with tarps. As they walked along Gentry explained that they planned on having walls for the stable before winter set in. The mercenary company tents were split into three separate areas, strategically located. Four wooden buildings had been built in the center of the camp, and Gentry led the group towards one of the two larger ones, explaining that this was the headquarters, and that Nitram and his party were welcome to bunk in upstairs rooms within it.
A large common room was the first thing the group noticed. Half of it was devoted to plans and charts and files, and the other half was a large table with chairs around it. Gentry sent one of the troops to get some water and food, and invited the party to sit down at the table.
He gazed at Nitram and the others and said “Well sir, what are your first questions?”
“Hillsfar, huh? I wonder where that name came from”. Nitram sat down, keeping an eye on Serre to make sure he behaved. “Thank you for your hospitality, Lt. Gentry.”
Nitram exchanged pleasantries with the mercenary, allowing time for the food and water to arrive. It also allowed everyone to feel at least a little comfortable with each other before settling down to business. Nitram began asking questions on a variety of topics, waiting to hear the response before continuing to the next question. “I commend you – the fort looks to be a good location and well constructed. How are you supplied? How long will your supplies last? Did you happen to hear the goblin drums yesterday? What have the scouts found? Any sign of ogres? How much area can your patrol from here? Have you gotten help from Aelvinwode? Where is the nearest water source? What is the status of the tower construction? Is anything slowing or stopping the timeline? What does your unit need? What do you and your men want that you don’t have? What else is notable in the area…people, traffic, terrain? Paladane Hurst, an expert from the Griffon Riders, will be meeting me here to help me with my young companion. He may arrive by griffon, so you may want to prepare for that.” During the conversation, Nitram fed Serre some of the food that was brought and supplemented it with jerky from his pack.
“The design of the construction came from the expertise of Sgt Slickster and a few of the engineers.” Gentry replied. Genty went on to say that the fort was reasonably well supplied, they could last a week if they got cut off, maybe more if they could forage around the area.
They had seen goblin scouting parties, but there had been no conflict yet. Most times goblins don’t attack established military outposts. The scouts have been about a mile out towards the NE, E, and SE. The elven scouts had been very helpful. They maintained a small camp in the woods to the west of Farhills, maybe a quarter mile away. There is a large pond of fresh water along the trail that led back to Tennyson’s Tower, the party had probably seen it on the way in.
Nothing has been done on any “tower” construction, they were instructed to build an encampment to hold this position and be able to patrol from here. Gentry can’t think of anything else they would need. and there hadn’t been any notable evenys yet. Except maybe rumors of “Shannow” being in the area.
Gentry answered all of Nitram’s questions as best he could, and offered to give him a tour the next day.
“What or who is Shannow?” Nitram asked flatly after agreeing to the tour. Everybody in the room stopped and stared at Nitram. “Shannow is the most infamous hobgoblin border raider in recent history. He is ugly and cruel. They say he can point a finger at you and kill you just like that! I’m not sure I believe that, but he is ruthless and smart. A royal pain in the ass. I hope he’s not around here.” Gentry explained.
“I’m sure they are just rumors, but we should probably try to run them to ground anyway…” Nitram replied.
Aeron addressed the companions as they gathered at the recently constructed Inn very popular with the garrisoned soldiers and visiting elven scouts. “I have received a letter from Aelvinwode. The Queen is impressed by the progress made on constructing Fort Farhills and is honored that we have named the wizard’s tower in her honor. She is sending a delegation to attend the dedication ceremony in one week’s time. I have put my apprentices to work making a fireworks display that will be remembered in song and stories told around the fire. This morning I am sure you heard the dulcet tones of Gravnar assisting in the construction of a magic fountain in the city center carved in the likeness of Princess Belcadiz and I personally enchanted it to provide slow steady endless water to the parched lips of this town’s citizens.” Aeron paused a moment so everyone could imagine the splendor that awaits the approaching dignitaries.
Aeron then continued, “The Crown Princess is accompanied by one of the three High wizards of Aelvinwode. It does not say which high wizard is attending. It is not likely to be the Councilor of Magic, Syn’thizalar the White, who is the oldest and as he is the personal adviser to the Queen he is likely attending to royal responsibilities. High Wizard Solde the Grey is also not likely to attend as he is reclusive and busy artificing the magical constructs and equipment that helps protect Aelvinwode from the evil encroachment of Spider Bramble. So it must be High Wizard Trepas the Black. He is the youngest in age, travels extensively, and is very popular with the court ladies.” Aeron was smugly satisfied with his deductive reasoning and after a moment continued.
“While I am sure High Wizard Trepas the Black can easily take care of himself and the Crown Princess, I think it would be bad form to let them travel through such dangerous lands without an escort. Who is willing to go with me to Aelvinwode to escort them to our fair outpost?”
“I wouldn’t mind a trip to the Aelvinwode”, Nitram responded.
23 Descent(Winter), 508 PE (Year of Storms)
Looking at maps of the surrounding area, it could be determined that traveling SSE from Fort Farhills until reaching the edge of the forest, following the edge of the outcropping of trees until reaching the main forest, then striking through the forest until reaching the stream that flowed towards Septcygne, and eventually reaching the Septcygne – Travail trail, then following that into the capital would be the quickest route. On horses, it would take about 2 hours to reach the main forest, and another 8 to reach the capital, i.e. a full days journey.
The dedication had been finalized to coincide with the transition from the Year of Storms to the Year of the Ravens (midnight). It would be expected to allow the Princess a day or so of ease prior to the ceremony, so if one intended to escort the entourage, once could expect to depart Fort Farhills early on the 26th, spend the 27th in Septcygne, and with the grace of the princess, depart to return to Farhills on the 28th.
A squad of the elvish scouts volunteered to accompany the escorts, and Lt Gentry looked thoughtful, as if considering a squad of mercenaries (to ensure equal representation).
As the wizard and ranger were discussing the timeline Nitram said to him, “Perhaps we should leave on 25th, just in case we encounter any trouble on the road”. Turning to Lt. Gentry he said, “It might be good for relations if you would provide a squad of your most disciplined troops to accompany us as well. What do you think?” Lt Gentry nodded and said “I agree! We’ll leave the Sgt behind to keep people straight”
“Great!” replied Nitram.
Prior to leaving for Aelvinwode, Nitram left to recon Harpy’s Peak to see just how bad the harpy threat might be. He’d let anyone else tag along, like Shylent or whoever else was there.
Upon investigating the area surrounding Harpy Peak, Nitram and Shylent came to several conclusions;
It would be almost impossible to actually ascend the peak due to the number of harpies flying around.
Saying that there was a lot of harpies, was like saying “there’s a lot of goblins in caves”. The harpies of several different tribes lived there, hence the name Harpy Peak.
Theoretically an army could surround the peak and eventually climb up the flanks of the mountain and enter the caves where the harpies dwell, but there would be a lot of attrition.
The harpies usually kept to themselves, but they were highly territorial about their nesting areas (i.e. the mountain)
The goblins appeared to have recruited a relatively small amount of harpies, to use as scouts mainly. What they offered to motivate the harpies was unknown.
Shylent reminded Nitram that harpies liked shiny things, and capturing men as breeding stock, as there were relatively few male harpies. Considering that most harpies were foul and fetid creatures of scraggly hair and feathers, woe betide the man caught for such a purpose.
“I wonder what an airship full of archers and alchemist fire would be able to do…” Nitram though as he returned to the fort.
24 Descent(Winter), 508 PE (Year of Storms)
The remnants of a small sleet and hail storm passed to the west as the sun rose that morning.
Lt Gentry proclaimed to Aeron and Nitram that the “entourage” to Aelvinwode was prepared and could be directed to leave either tomorrow or the next day, as they saw fit. Jharron had predicted clear but cold weather for the rest of the week, so there were no concerns about weather to take into account.
Later that evening a pair of scouts returned from a routine patrol, with one of the men crippled by a severe gash on his leg. They had brought with them the carcass of a large whitish gray panther, with two enormous fangs jutting out of its mouth. A snowcat.
Snow cats look like big sabre tooth tigers, except their fur is mottled gray and white, occasionally striped. Snow cats hibernate during the warm summer months and come out during the winter months for food and mating.
Now that winter had set in, it was not unusual to encounter them, and a person or two alone would probably be in danger. It had been said that some of the larger snow cats actually hunt bear.
Morgan duBlade left with his men somewhere after lunchtime. He let Nitram know he would be back in time for the ceremony.
Blend was mostly unconcerned about the running and logistics of the fort, but he was not impressed with the “walls” and defenses. Sure, they would be great against an army of goblins, but what about something more stealthy, like a bugbear?
Aeron’s nameless and faceless apprentices continued about their assigned duties with much care and diligence, hoping to impress their mentor no doubt.
Aeron said goodbye to the apprentices and left the elven novice wizards with a list of instructions to prepare for the arrival of the crown princess. It was a crisp morning on the 25th as he saddled Magus and rode with Nitram Tam out the gates of Farhills accompanied by the elven scouts and human mercenaries.
Nitram approached Blend. You seem well, my friend. More at peace and relaxed, if that were possible. I trust your time spent up north was fruitful. Will you be joining us in our tracks to Aelvinwode?
25 Descent(Winter), 508 PE (Year of Storms)
There was a light frost on the ground that quickly faded away as the sun rose over the eastern hills and shone its light across the brushlands of the plains.
Eight mercenaries (one squad) and eight elvish scouts (one squad) accompanied the party. Four mercenaries rode to the front and four to the rear, coordinating with the scouts that took turns ranging ahead. The scouts mainly moved along the front and flanks of the group, on foot.
Two hours across the plains and along the edges of the forest and the group reached the entry point into the Aelvinwode forest, and the province of Deepgrove.
Traveling through the forest, those who had not traveled in alfar lands were impressed with the beauty of the dense hardwood trees, the trees were tall and slender, their high boughs forming a translucent canopy above.
Another two hours or so of travel, brought the group to the edges of one of the main streams that meandered through the forest. Following the western bank of the stream, the party moved through the forest for another two and a half hours, at which point they reached a trail and a bridge across the stream. The bridge led to the trade town of Travail, where opportunistic risk takers harvested the rare spider silks and precious herbs and plants that grew in the area near the Spider Forest, while the trail led towards the alfar capital.
Standing in the middle of the trail was an elven patrol of at least eight warriors, wearing leaf armor, and wielding long swords and longbows.
The patrol leader stepped forward and inclined his head, stating “Bonjour, comment a été votre parcours et quelle est votre entreprise ici?”
25 Descent(Winter), 508 PE (Year of Storms)
1230 pm, Moonday
“Bonjour, I am Mage Aeron Belcadiz Shandra and this is Nitram Tam. We are here to escort the Crown Princess to the dedication of Belcadiz tower in Farhills.”
The patrol leader nodded and replied in fluent Wensharian, with just the slightest hint of an accent. “Your travel has been watched, and your arrival timely. We will escort you the rest of the way. Rooms and refreshments for the night have been prepared on a ground floor chamber near the palace, and an audience granted for the next morning. A separate house has been acquired for your men”
As the leader gathered the patrol and escorted the party down the trail alongside the stream, he introduced himself as Tanagran Thelandira Belcadiz, or Tanagran Woodswalker to humans.
“Bonjour” replied Nitram “Nous vous remercions de l’escorte, Tanagran Thelandira Belcadiz. We look forward to meeting the Crown Princess. Please lead the way.” Nitram gestured for the two patrols to follow the elves.
As they approached the settled lands, the elvish scout leader requested permission from Nitram for the scouts to be able to visit any friends or family in the area, as long as they were ready to leave when he was.
“Absolutely. Consider yourselves off duty until we leave. Just make sure everyone is ready for duty then – we will be escorting royalty”. Nitram smiled as the scout leader left to release his squad. Nitram found Tanagran to ask him a question, “Tanagran, could you point me in the direction of a good weaponsmith? I’ve taken a fancy to my companion’s sword, but would like one with a few enhancements. I’ve also heard your armorers do a lot of work in mithril?”
Aeron turned to Nitram, “Once you have quartered the troops we should seek an audience with High Wizard Solde the Grey. Solde the Grey is known for his rapid manufacture of arcane items to supply the Aelvinwode military patrols. He is widely known as an exacting and strict leader of the Neutre Ecole “Grey School”. His high standards have dissuaded many young wizards seeking to apprentice at his arcane school, but arcane items produced by his school are considered of the highest quality. Perhaps we can convince him to work on that mithral armor you talk about incessantly over many a campfire. At the very least, we should be able to acquire the materials to begin the construction when we return to Farhills.”
Aeron seemed hesitant to continue, but after a contemplative pause added. “Be warned, High Wizard Solde the Grey is seeking volunteers loyal to the Queen to become permanently enlarged for a 4 year tour of service. These elvish giants are offered additional rank and pay for their tour of service. At the completion of their tour of service, theoretically they are offered to be reduced to their original size (if desired), given a small pension, and granted 40 acres on the border to Spider Bramble to retire. I say theoretically, because I am not aware of any that have survived the tour of enlistment. This program shows the desperation Aelvinwode has controlling the Spider Bramble border. That said, there haven been a few volunteers that are easily distinguished leading patrols and standing watch at the entrance to the “Tree of Life”.”
“Bigger targets. Easier to hit. Shorter lifespans. Seems simple enough to me,” said Blend, seeming appearing out of nowhere.
“That sounds good. We can see what he has to offer….” Nitram let Lt. Gentry know where to bed down and when to be ready to leave, then followed Aeron. Nitram took in the beauty of the forest, his mind nearly at peace.
As the group neared the capital, the dirt trail became a white marble stone walkway along the widening stream. The forest still loomed gracefully to their left, but on occasion, glimpses of small buildings or courtyard like areas could be seen nestled naturally amongst the branches and on the ground.
The Belcadiz elves originally built the core of the city out of graceful towers and light airy stone bridges and plazas both on the ground and in the air, in direct contrast with what many humans expected of elvish settlements (treehouses and wood). However, it appeared to the group that many of the newer buildings and dwellings showed a more natural and organic design, built out of natural materials in balance with the surrounding forests, as if the inhabitants were advocating a change to a more mainstream elven standard.
The party began to veer away from the riverside towards the center of the city, and the wealth and extravagance of the treetop elven homes increased as they moved from the lowly cottages of the river banks marking the cities outer perimeter to the awe-inspiring Ligno Vitae at the city center.
This sparkling tower of living wood and marble demonstrated the harmony of Alfar with nature. The original elven folk built their city of towers and buildings around the tree, but more recently have patiently reshaped nature and their dwellings with divine and arcane magic into forms both beautiful and practical. The glory of the city is the Ligno Vitae. Giant eagles can be seen perched on its upper branches while inside the floors of this massive tower the Queen and her councilors preside over the Aelvinwode kingdom.
Tanagran led the remaining soldiers and the party to a ground level building that consisted of several stories and two large trees providing shade and flowering blooms (even in winter) over a small but pleasant courtyard. He recommended taking the horses to the rear of the building, and allowing the mercenaries to quarter on the ground floor, while the remaining members of the party could choose apartments on the upper floors.
He spoke his thoughts concerning Nitram’s arms and armor questions as the sun began to set and the horses were stabled.
“The Sword and Cleaver for weapons, and Mason’s Arms for armor would be my first recommendations. But as it is evening, and your appointment is first thing at sunrise, I would not concern myself over such mercantile matters at this point, à mon avis”
Tanagran looked to Aeron for guidance and made as if to depart for the evening “Avec votre permission?”
25 Descent(Winter), 508 PE (Year of Storms)
Aeron nodded to their guide, “Thank you Tanagran Thelandira Belcadiz for leading us through the splendid city of my youth. I know the way from here.” Aeron bowed to their guide and then Aeron led them past the giant elven and wood golem guards into the Tower of Life to see High Wizard Solde the Grey.
The abode and school of High Wizard Solde, the Neutre Ecole, was composed of both a tower and branches from the Ligno Vitae. Gleaming white marble rose from the ground near the main tree trunk, and as the tower ascended, branches interposed with its architecture, creating both additional rooms and buildings, and walkways leading back towards the main section of the tree. The tower did not ascend quite as high as the central area of the tree, in deference to nature and the queen, and its top was pleasantly shaded by the gently swaying branches of the tree. Vines and and flowering moss grew abundantly on and about the tower.
As Aeron knew, the main/public entrance to the Gray School was on the ground level, and from the main entrance hall of the tower, wide staircases led up into the farthest reaches of the school.
Once the party had identified themselves, a female elf, dressed in green robes, guided the group up into the maze of hallways, staircases, and branch walkways towards the public room of the High Wizard. The hallway leading to the room was open to the air and lined with bonsai style trees, of both common and rare varieties. The party noticed glowing fireflies and drifting lights floating about, and were amazed to find that they were at least 75 feet into the air already.
The apprentice announced the group, and a voice replied quietly and sternly “I have a moment, bring them in”
Once the part entered, an ageless male alfar gazed at them expectantly, lifting his head from a living stone/wood sculpture.
Nitram stood slightly behind and next to Aeron and attempted to look around without being obvious. He waited for Aeron or the High Wizard Solde to begin the conversation.
High Wizard Solde the Grey was known for his short patience and sharp tongue. Aeron bowed low to the master artificer of Aelvinwode and spoke quickly so as not to waste any more of his time. “High Wizard Solde, thank you for sending me Apprentice Convorto the Grey to assist in the construction and defense of Farhills from the encroaching aberrations of Spider Bramble. His months of menial chores and captive dedication to rote alchemical brewing has done wonders on his ability to maintain detailed focus. He has proven himself competent and studious.” Aeron then motioned towards his accompanying companions. “I am pleased to introduce Commander Nitram Tam liaison between the Falconaire mercenary contingent and our Aelvinwode scouts…and Merchant Blend an ambassador and negotiator from Aerie City. We have come with a patrol of Aelvinwode scouts and Falconaire infantry to escort the Crown Princess to Farhills for the dedication of Belcadiz Tower at the turning of the new year. While we are only here for a day or so, I wanted to stop in to provide my report of Apprentice Convorto’s progress and ask your advice on acquiring an enchanted mithril breastplate for Commander Nitram. As liaison to the Aelvinwode scouts it is more befitting his heritage and station to wear an elven mithril breastplate enchanted by Aelvinwode’s High Wizard and master artificer.” Aeron quickly cast his arcane communication spell and magically whispered to the High Wizard, “I think this show of support may also entice him to join your enhanced scout program.”
“Yes, good to hear Con..vorto is doing well" Solde replied after thinking for a moment. "Pleasure to meet you Lord Nitram, glad to assist. Now Aeron, tell me how you invented those magical pipes that raised the tower.”
Aeron was astounded that High Wizard Solde had heard of one of his magical creations. He replied, “The bagpipes were a clever modification of tramsmutation magic, similar to a mix of fabrication and hastening magic. The most difficult part was finding a musician deaf enough to play them.”
“I see" said the wizard. "Still, submit a thesis on it. About tomorrow, I have arranged to accompany you to the dedication. I mentioned to the Queen a few concerns that fall within Trepas’ domain, and she encouraged him to attend to them.” The wizard paused and gave a slight nod of satisfaction. “Besides, I wish to see this dedication”
The wizard went on to explain the particulars of the travel, that the scouts and the mercenaries were a fine tribute to the princess, but of course four Swordmasters would accompany her personally, as well as single handmaiden. Don’t approach the princess unless she approaches you. We make exceptions for mistakes in protocol. but don’t put a swordmaster in a position of doubt. They will err on the side of the lady.
He also said there would be time after the audience with the queen for a tour of the armory, where some suitable acquisition or trade could be made. The princess will be ready to travel the morning of the 28th, and the Queen will grant you another interview the night before, during a dinner in your honor. Solde then bade the group a fair evening, and said he would see them during their initial audience with the queen tomorrow morning.
25 Descent(Winter), 508 PE (Year of Storms)
The next morning the members of the group were awoken by servants with water for baths and light fruits for breakfast. It was about an hour before sunrise, the time for their appointment.
Tanagran again met the party and explained he would guide them and make sure they were in place prior to the sunrise.
While preparing for the audience, Nitram asked Tanagran, “I’ve recently acquired this greatsword, but am not an expert at two-handed swords. I’ve noticed that the elven blade – like the one my wizard friend carries – requires two hands to wield. I know they are not extremely similar, but I wonder if there was an expert in the elven blade who might provide me some education on the forms of two-handed swordsmanship before we depart with the Queen. I assume there is just such a master here. Where might I find them?”
Aeron interjected, “Nitram, if you are interested in perfecting the elven blade you should visit the Epee et l’arc “Sword and Bow”. It is a Shevarash/Solonor Thelandira temple located in the city barracks. Councilor of Faith, Battle Chaplain Etait runs the barracks and organizes the training for the Aelvinwode army. If you are looking for less formal instruction you should stop by the Red Arrow Inn. The proprietor, Gregory Silver Arm, was once the finest swordsman on the Venifica River. And do not forget, we will be traveling with Queen’s Swordmasters. They personify the elven blade and any sparring you receive will keep them sharp for possible attacks.”
“Thank you Aeron. Your endless knowledge never ceases to amaze me. My apologies for not asking you sooner. I will visit the Epee et l’Arc after our morning responsibilities.”
Tanagran led the group at the appointed time to the foot of the Tree of Life. The interior of the tree of life was enormous, with spreading roots forming arching ceilings and pathways around the circumference. Near the front, just prior to entering the hollow, was a large ornate staircase leading like a roadway spiraling around the tree to the uppermost tops of the forest.
Oddly, Tanagran led you past that.
Inside the trunk numerous graceful staircases spiraled up into the hollow and around roots and branches. Tanagran led you past them also. You might have seen Aeron raise an eyebrow and mumble something about an “honor”, but you couldn’t be sure.
Directly center of the hollow tree you could stare upward, and it looked like buildings and courtyards and small chateaus, spiraling up into the height of the tree’s trunk. As you stood there, Solde the Gray joined you.
It was then that the party noticed the floor of the central area had curious central pattern about 30 feet across.
Solde cautioned the group to be still, and with a tap of his staff, the 30 foot diameter platform began rising into the air. As the platform ascended, it drew level with and then passed several half bridges leading off of the platform towards the trunk of the tree. The platform kept going, and as it floated swiftly into the air through the center of the tree, it became apparent that there was no “roof”, because you could see the slowly fading stars as morning began to dawn in a circle above your heads.
Aeron was impressed that they were being taken directly to the royal chambers. As they rose steadily into the air Aeron leaned towards High Wizard Solde the Grey, “There is another matter I wish to speak with you about. The establishment of a wizards tower on your northeastern border has proved a time intensive task and I have been remiss in properly provisioning the alchemical brewery, arcane laboratory, and research library. I would be greatly interested in arranging to temporarily borrow the books and equipment to establish the capability in Farhills. This capability is key to properly equipping the elven scouts defending the area and divides the attention of Spider Bramble away from the homeland.”
Nitram glanced from Solde’s stoic face to Aeron’s look of self-importance to the excitement that was clearly visible in Serre’s eyes as he stared towards the morning sky and slowly spread his wings into the breeze as they seemed to fly up through the massive tree. Nitram could feel his cheeks strain a little and realized he had a large grin on his face, which he chose to leave there. Truly amazing he thought to himself, not sure if he said it or managed to keep in in his head. He continued to stare around him in utter amazement, having seen nothing – nor even imagined anything – like this in his meager existence in Beltane and Land’s End. Not wanting it to stop, he wondered how high the platform could safely go.
As the group rose to the top of the tree, the platform lifted through a large opening in the trunk, coming even with an elaborate courtyard like area. The top branches of the *Ligno Vitae" rose around the “floor” of an open area, much like a hedgerow would surround a garden at ground level. Opening to the four cardinal directions allowed the party to see the imminent sunrise to the east, and the tops of the surrounding trees and towers lay below them, waiting fro the sunlight.
Aeron took a moment from his shameless begging for supplies from High Wizard Solde and looked out to enjoy the morning sunrise over the Aelvinwode forest and Venifica River.
Solde nodded quietly at Aeron as he gestured for the party to follow Tanagran off the platform. “Certainly, we will send pack animals with the basics you will need. Of course anything beyond that, or anything exotic you will need to acquire yourself.”
It was apparent to the party that they were to follow Tanagran along a long length of color rug that led to the edge of the larger platform, and a raised dais near the edge. It was also apparent that the queen that sat upon the large wooden throne was watching the skies and the horizon for the immanent breaking of dawn.
Next to the queen was a large sword of intertwined glass and metal that sparkled as the rising rays began to flood the area. Many of the alfar in the area began to bow their heads or raise their hands in honor of the sun and the sky and the trees, joining in a quietly murmuring hum that resounded around the courtyard.
As the sun rose completely, the queen sat upon the wooden throne and spoke to the bluish gray haired elf next to her; “Treespeaker, are these the escort for the royal princess and the leaders of the “joint” fort and tower in my name?"
The elf nodded slowly. And with a similar nod from the queen he spoke “Approach the throne, and her royal majesty, Queen Mahrie Shandra Belcadiz, and have your herald speak, and introduce your personages.”
Nitram waited for the others to begin moving and fell in a half step behind Aeron. He glanced at Serre, hoping he hadn’t made a mistake by bringing him. As they walked, he scratched the back of the young griffon’s neck. not only did it calm them both, but it permitted physical contact in case he needed to “encourage” the hatchling to a specific behavior. He waited until the others had introduced themselves before he spoke his own name and that of his animal companion.
“Your majesty, I Tanagran Thelandira Belcadiz act as herald and guide, with your blessing” Tanagran paused then spoke, “I present the speaker for King Kashue, Lord Nitram Tam, leader of Farhills, Bordyr Guard, and Ranger. The mage Aeron the Gray, Aeron Shandra Belcadiz, scion of Aelvinwode, and creator of Belcadiz Tower, in your name. Master Blend, merchant lord of Falconaire, and Madam Shylent, scout of Tennyson’s Tower.”
The queen replied “We greet this delegation with honor and respect. It will honor us to allow them the privilege of escorting Princess Rashae Shandra Belcadiz to the ceremonial dedication” The queen raised a hand and the princess stepped forward, thanking the queen and the party for their honor. The princess was an eladrin, with golden hair and blue eyes, dressed in dark green robes with blue trim.
The queen continued with the formalities and the introduction of the Treespeaker, the Ranger-Commander, and a few other advisers. After a time the formalities were over, and a table was brought forth that the party and the advisers could sit around before the throne. conversation flowed freely, unless the queen spoke of course, at which point all other conversations paused.
From the group’s vantage point, it was difficult to tell whether the horns the Fey-Queen was adorned with were a crown, or if they were real, and it would have been rude to ask.
Each person had the opportunity to speak both with one of the advisors, and or the queen before the meeting was over.
Nitram spoke with the Ranger-Commander, mostly discussing the forces near Farhills and Nitram’s hope that the elves might perform more joint patrols with the infantry, maybe even accomplishing a little (tracking and archery) training so the infantry was a little more flexible. He then turned to more selfish topics. Gesturing to the queen’s sword, “I have never seen a material like that before. It is so elegant. What is it and where did it come from?”
Nitram learned the Ranger-Commander’s Common name, which was Sylvarian Steelbreeze. Steelbreeze didn’t have much to say, and Nitram got the impression that the Ranger-Commander was mostly indifferent to any of Nitram’s conversation, although he remained polite.
“This young griffon has befriended me, thank Rillifane. Have you ever seen one with this coloration? I was told he is from an ancient line of griffons. I hope to one day ride him and was wondering – when that day arrives – if I might come back to train with your giant eagle riders on aerial combat?”
“I’ve recently begun using a large sword. It is quite deadly, but somewhat cumbersome, not like the large curved blade used by elves. I plan to visit Battle Chaplain Etait at the Epee et l’Arc later today to see if I might get a lesson on fighting with larger swords. Do you think he will be able to help?”
“Would it be possible for me to come back in the near future for some personal combat training with the bow and sword? I feel so at peace here and think I could learn a lot from elven combat techniques. Your weapons are truly amazing, the curved blade…and those broadhead arrows. I hope to one day earn the trust of the elves to be able to wield such formidable tools.”
The commander did state that the queen’s sword was made of mithril and magical glass, that it was the symbol of rulership, i.e. the royal scepter. He gave noncommital answers to most of Nitram’s other questions, but did seem slightly interested when the Battle Chaplain was brought up, agreeing that he was a good teacher, when he was available.
Aeron bowed low and made the customary greetings to Queen Belcadiz. Then he discussed their encounters with the bloodmagic witches in Capone. “Your Majesty, the corruption was in the Goshen Hills as you sensed. Together we were able to identify and destroy blood magic using lycanthropes massing in the sewers of Capone. We traced the bloodmagic corruption to the Red Circle witches coven hidden in the Fire Swamp. We disrupted their circle, but we fear it may only be a minor setback for them. The corruption of Spider Bramble should be our biggest concern."
“I have used magic developed at Rashemon’s Tower to raise the defenses of the Farhills outpost quickly to stand against the expansion of the Spider Bramble corruption and Rivendeep forces. The Aelvinwode High Wizards have provided apprentices and supplies to establish alchemy, artifice, and an arcane library in Belcadiz Tower to equip the Falconaire infantry and Aelvinwode scouts.”
Satisfied with the summary of activities in Farhills, Aeron turned his attention to plans for the surrounding area. “Your highness, previously you have authorized the construction of a trade route to Travail. I think we can accomplish this in short order if Aelvinwode can provide the stone to pave the trail. We have contacts with dwarves in Granite Quarry that provided excellent stone for the outpost construction. We could make the arrangements with them to deliver the stone, if Aelvinwode could provide for the cost of the material. The most expedient way to create the trade route is to connect Farhills with your existing Travail to Septcygne road. In the future we may be able to extend the tributary to the Venifica River northwest to Farhills. With your approval we can make the necessary arrangements with your Councilor of Trade Merchant Merchand.”
The queen was amused and impressed with the group’s exploits against the threat of blood magic. And agreed that the Spider Bramble was always of the greatest concern. The queen was not enthusiastic about having a paved road leading straight to the heart of the kingdom. But after speaking with a few other advisers, she agreed that a simple trail, extended from the bridge area where you met Tanagran would be sufficient. She tasked an adviser (Merchand) to consult with the shaman and the druids about the particulars.
Aeron then took his leave from Queen Belcadiz and sought out the Councilor of Magic, Syn’thizalar the White and High Wizard Trepas the Black to report the progress of their apprentices at Farhills.
When Aeron was done speaking to the queen, Nitram approached her and bowed. “Your majesty, I am sure King Kashue and Lord DuBlade have already relayed their appreciation for your support to the Farhills Fort. I would just like to add my personal thanks – as a resident of the border lands – for your interests and dedicated support to the area. I know you have many important concerns right here that require your power and attention, like Spider Bramble. I can imagine that there are also political factors which helped make the decision, but from one of the “little people” on the ground, your involvement in the ogre encroachment means a lot and will help a lot of the people who chose to live in those regions. Thank you. My only hope is that we are able to remove the threat before it causes any real damage. You have helped make that a real possibility. I will do what I can to find a solution to your problems as well.”
The queen was greatly pleased with Nitram’s speech, and as the meeting began to end, and the advisers to disperse, she spoke candidly…
“We know not how it goes in your domain, but you have been given the opportunity and the means to protect those you have chosen, so take it, and squander it not, and live up to it. Your leadership will be viewed by how you handle failure (and you will fail) as well as success.”
Upon dispensing that wisdom, the queen and her entourage departed, leaving a few courtiers and advisers wanderng around. Tanagran escorted the group back to their building, and tasked several elven apprentice pages as guides, should they need them.
25 Descent(Winter), 508 PE (Year of Storms)
Nitram looked forward to the tour of the armory, after which he would seek out the Battle Chaplain.
Over the course of the day, Aeron was able to obtain a short audience with the Councilor of Magic, Syn’thizalar the White. Trepas the Black was on errands for the Queen, and was unavailable.
Syn’thizalar received the news about the apprentice’s progress with much seriousness. He went to a shelf and pulled down a book, into which he transcribed notes on the information Aeron provided. He thanked Aeron in a good natured way, but Aeron could tell that the Councilor was short on time.
Tanagran invited Nitram to come with him to the amory, and nodded welcomingly to Blend and Shylent as well. Tanagran conducted the tour of the royal armory, in which many standard weapons, and some of those with historical value were kept.
The tour started in the day to day section of the armory, which contained many weapons and suits of leather armor, such as one would expect. Eventually they progressed to other rooms, where the more valuable weapons were stored. There were dozens of bows carved from darkwood so naturally they looked like that had been grown, and masterwork longswords glistening in the light from the windows.
Spears, daggers, and some elven blades were prominently displayed upon racks. One such rack had arms for three swords, and was draped with a black cloth.
Tanagran looked embarrassed when Shylent pointed the display out. He explained that there was a time, long ago, when alfar and men were not so friendly, and that the swords on that rack were leftovers from the 1st and 2nd Man/Elf wars. As such, they were a bane, and in fact poisonous to humans.
Tanagran motioned to another display on the opposite side of the room. A composite shortbow and three arrows were sitting upon a pedestal. “These are the weapons that slew the evil giant Cormacmac, wielded by the elven hero Jaysinth, many years ago.” Tanagran led the group into the next room.
“Solde said to show you this Nitram” Tanagran reached into an armoire and pulled out an old mithril breastplate, engraved with a four pointed star flanked by wings. “He said it was worn by a human warrior from a nation that was absorbed into the Wensharian empire as it expanded”
When able, Blend pulled out his blade. “Have you ever seen a smith’s mark like this? This blade is one of a pair. I am trying to find it’s twin,” he said, referring to the heron and water lily mark.
Nitram examined the armor, then said, “I could really use something like that. Would you be willing to part with it? I’ll trade you this enchanted chain shirt and cover the rest with coin.”
While Nitram was inspecting the mithril breastplate, Tanagran looked over Blend’s blade. “A wakizashi, very efficient blade, light and well purposed. I am not familiar with this watermark, yet as you say, it is definitely a smith’s mark.” Tanagran thought for a moment, then recommended visiting a sage that used to run a family sword business here in Septcygne. “Coronolis is his name, one of our elder alfar. Very venerable. Be sure we show respect.”
Tanagran turned back towards Nitram. “A trade you say, how noble and respectful you are to the house Belcadiz. Leave your chain shirt here and take the breastplate with you as we leave, with thanks from the house.”
“You are more than generous, Tanagran. Thank you”. Nitram switched the armor and waited for the others. Afterwards, he went to find the Battle Chaplain.
Once alone with Aeron, he asked him to determine if the breastplate had been magically enhanced in any way. He also inquired about the best place to get said piece of armor magically enhanced.
Aeron used his remaining time with the Counselor of Magic Syn’thizalar the White to discuss trading arcane spell research. “I have recently discovered the ability to bend time to move and attack faster than even elves can normally achieve. I would like to trade this magic for the knowledge of how to dispel magic. I fear the arcane corrupting power of Spider Bramble is a real threat to Farhills and I would like to have the ability to defend the outpost from these affects.
Syn’thizalar moved forward to another bookshelf, and pulled a slim tome from the rack. Annotated in the language of magic, it would allow Aeron to scribe Dispel Magic into his personal spellbook.
Once alone Aeron took a close look at the mithril breastplate. He stared intently at the arcane markings chanting a few words as his eyes glowed an eerie blue. Before they left the Aelvinwode capital Aeron advised Nitram, “Nitram Tam. This mithril breast plate is suitable for enchanting. I can make the necessary steps in Farhills, but you will have to purchase the necessary materials here. If you need to sell anything to raise the funds, I recommend talking with Chiromancien at the Three Crowns Inn or the proprietor of the magic Shoppe, Conspicuous Curiosities. I would like to see if I can enchant your armour to hold your griffon, similarly to the spell we used in the Fire Swamp.”
“I’m not sure I know what you mean. How would my armor hold my griffon and what supplies do you need me to purchase. I have the necessary funds, just let me know what I need to buy.” Nitram stated.
“Listen, Aeron. I’m not sure how much time you are planning to dedicate at the new tower to craft amazing things like the pipes – or augment magical items – but I am willing to use all my coin to help provision the tower. Can you accompany me to the apothecary or sages to pick out what we need? I know for the short term, I would like to upgrade weapons and armor, and maybe my amulet. I have just over 4500 gold pieces. Are their components that are used for both weapons and armor? Maybe that orichalcium you talk about in your sleep…? We might also want to let Blend know that he should stock up on magical components if he wants any enhancements in the future.”
The afternoon passed swiftly, and so did most of the next afternoon. The evening of the 27th was the time of the royal banquet at sunset.
Tanagran led the group back to the audience room high in the branches of the Tree of Life, and instructed them on proper manners.
The feast proceeded much like the dawn audience had, with various formalities and side discussions. It was at this point that the members of the group were individually introduced to the princess.
Dawn came early the next day, and the entourage set out from Septcygne, retracing their tracks back towards Farhills, while escorting the princess in safety.
As they traveled to Farhills Aeron talked with High WIzard Solde the Grey and discussed trading arcane spell research. “I have been having difficulties researching the magic of flight. I have studied some ancient Wensharian artifacts, but they have not led me to the key secrets to perfect the spell. It is rumored that you have mastered this ability. Will you teach me the arcane motions and words to tap into this most wonderous of abilities? There is a dragon lurking in the Mist Grove that we may need to face in its own element.”
Aeron’s conversation with Solde went well also, it was very easy for Aeron to notice how keenly interested the High Wizard was with Aeron’s notes on the Pipes of Building. Solde took the time leading up to the ceremony to teach Aeron the Fly spell, with the admonishment that it was for his use only, not to teach it to the apprentices.
On the way to Farhills, Nitram spoke with Aeron about enchanting his new breastplate once they returned.
The members of the group were startled to see snow falling as they saw Farhills on the horizon. It seemed that Jharron had been mistaken about the weather, something unusual in the party’s experience. Solde mentioned that while it was not unusual to snow this time of the year, something felt “off” about the weather. “Trez bizzare”
28 Descent(Winter), 508 PE (Year of Storms)
700 pm, Thunderday
“Agreed”. Nitram replied, looking around for signs of anything unusual. “Let’s get the princess into the fort and out of the snow.”
Nitram didn’t notice anything unusual around the Farhills area. Keying off his alertness, the mercenaries and the scouts conducted sweeps of the final approach. They also found nothing out of the ordinary.
Lt Gentry ensured the gate was raised as they rode up, and the party entered the keep as the final light of day faded away into the blurry whiteness, then darkness of falling snow.
Gentry informed Nitram that Jharron had returned from the Sacred Grove, and that Morgan was not going to be able to make the ceremony due to an attack by goblin’s on Tennyson’s Tower.
“An attack on Tennyson’s Tower, directly? That seems very risky. I wonder if it was a distraction for something else. Have you dispatched any units to the Tower to provide support or gain more information of the attack?” Nitram drafted a letter to Lord duBlade and sent it immediately.
I just returned with the Crown Princess Belcadez and heard of the attack at Tennyson’s Tower. Do you require assistance from the Farhills forces? What can you tell us of the goblin army? Have you considered that this was a distraction for something else? I would suggest increased patrols along the border for any sign of ogres crossing in force. Please advise if you require anything specific of me.
30 Descent(Winter), 508 PE (Year of Storms)
1pm, Starday, Vigilnacht
After ensuring the princess was safely ensconced, the various members of the group had taken care of keep and personal business. That night, and the next day passed uneventfully.
Soon the day of the dedication ceremony was upon the fort and the night of Vigilnacht (Watch night / New Year’s Eve) would soon begin. Vigilnacht was the darkest night of the year, when the night was at its most powerful, allowing “things” and “horrors” to come into the world. Hence the need for the “Vigil”. The small snowstorm had passed by and barely coated the ground with snow. The sun came out but it did not warm the day up enough for any of the snow to melt, and the clear sky appeared to be ideal for the forthcoming fireworks.
During lunch, Solde recited the story of Varthlokker to those assembled in the main dining room, per request of the soldiers for a tale.
After the tale was over he looked around somberly and said “There is a lesson there somewhere.” The princess, in a show of joviality spoke to Solde “Esteemed Solde, please tell a more cheerful tale when next you bless us with your wisdom.” Solde grumbled a bit, but everyone could tell he didn’t mind the princess’ taunt.
Aeron truly enjoyed High Wizard Solde’s recounting the tale of Varthlokker. He joked with his cousin the crown princess, “I think the lesson High Wizard Solde is referring too is, ‘Do not anger a wizard.’”
The afternoon loomed and the preparations for the ceremony began. Aeron needed to ensure the fireworks display was ready. And Nitram needed to figure out what he was going to say in dedication, before the ceremonial watch tower fire was lit.
30 Descent(Winter), 508 PE (Year of Storms)
9pm-11pm, Starday, Vigilnacht
The feasting had begun around 9pm, when the night had become well and truly dark. The scouts and the mercenaries had done well foraging for meat and provisions for the dinner.
Lt Gentry, at the prompting of Sgt Slickster, had ensured that shift change for the sentries occurred around 10pm, so the offgoing could still partake, and the oncoming could grab some food before taking to the walls.
As time neared midnight, the darkest and coldest part of the year, scattered clouds began to form overhead, but nothing that would disrupt the ceremonial watchfire lighting, or spoil the fireworks show.
Nitram reviewed the order of events in his head as the time drew near;
Give his speech
Let the princess speak
Take torch from princess who took it from Brother Sohei and Daelin, and light the fire at midnight.
Signal Aeron for the fireworks
Eventually the time came and Nitram approached the makeshift podium that had been emplaced in the courtyard, facing the main gates and the front tower where the fire would be lit. chairs had been set off to the side for the dignitaries, and the man audience stood about in the center of the courtyard, noisily waiting for “Lord Nitram” to begin.
Aeron inspected the fireworks then instructed the 3 apprentices to ignite them when signaled by Lord Nitram. Satisfied with their preparations, Aeron returned to the celebration.
Nitram approached the podium and began speaking, “On behalf of King Kashue and Lord Dublade, I welcome Her Royal Majesty, Princess Rashae Shandra Belcadiz. We are truly honored by your presence. I also welcome High Wizarld Solde of the Neutre Ecole. We are grateful for your presence. We are here for the dedication of Belcadiz Tower, in honor of Her Royal Majesty, the Fey Queen Mahrie Shandra Belcadiz. This is not simply a ceremonial dedication, but a physical reminder of the changing world in which we live. Many elves still remember the days in which our two peoples did not get along. But, the world is changing and so must we. We are changing, dedicating ourselves to working together to face the new world. Evils spew forth from the lands of the Spider. A goblin army attacks Tennyson’s Tower. Ogres are seen across Falconaire and in the lands further west. The changing weather even feels odd. We are being threatened from all sides. I cannot think of a better reason for us to join together. I cannot say our relationship will always be harmonious and our ventures setback-free, but I will pledge that we will continue to adapt to this changing world and do everything in our power to protect the people and remove the threats. Our goal is not just to survive, but to flourish. This tower is one step towards that goal. Our peoples can accomplish so much more if we work together than we can alone. I hope we are able to live up to the trust that both Queen Belcadiz and King Kashue have put in us. Princess Rashae Shandra Belcadiz, would you like to say a few words?”
The princess was the epitome of gracefulness and poise as she moved to take the podium. A slight, but tasteful glow followed her as she moved up the steps and thanked Nitram for the introduction.
She paused behind the podium, garbed in a bluish white winter dress and small green cloak. She apparently took her duties seriously, as she had donned a silver and green gemmed tiara. She nodded regally to the audience and began to speak.
“Mon amis, representatives, and countryman. It is clear from Lord Nitram’s speech what a momentous occasion this is. It has been long ages since our countries have interacted officially in matters other than trade. And we can think of no better starting point than mutual defense. Canst thou?”
She paused, gazing out over the crowd as if daring anyone to think otherwise. “Do not think this task easy. We have seen kingdoms rise and fall, and building a tower squarely in the path of the ogre advance will be like, how you say? Spitting in their eye! Well spit we shall, sacrebleu!”
The lower level vernacular seemed to get a rise out of the audience. A princess that was on their level!
She continued “We thank you for the dedication of this mage’s tower in honor of our mother Mahrie Shandra Belcadiz, Fey Queen of Aelveinwode, the Sword of the Forest, and Soul of the Land.”
She stepped off the platform and regally took up the lit torch from Brother Sohei as Daelin looked on. The glow followed her as she moved towards Nitram where he stood at the bottom of the stairs. Nitram took the torch from the princess and began the climb to the top of the watchtower, where he solemnly and with great care lit the watchfire. As the flames billowed up from the top of the tower, he paused a moment for reflection and effect, then signalled Aeron for the fireworks.
As Nitram Tam stepped back from the roaring watchfire, four sparkling fountains erupted. Each column of colors seemed to shift and cascade down the walls of Belcadiz tower in a fantastic waterfall of light. Pulses of fire erupted stochastically from the watchfire. They launched into the air like hundreds of fire arrows of every color of the rainbow.
The tower apprentices had outdone themselves, and must have ignored every other responsibility to the outpost in their desire to prepare for the display. The fireworks continued for an uncomfortable length of time cycling through phases of fountains, rockets, and pinwheels across the entire spectrum of colors in what can only be described as a sampler of base alchemical flame tests.
At long last, the dulcet tones of a lone unseen piper could be heard from atop Belcadiz Tower. The firework explosion delays extended until the fireballs where on the descent exploding around the tower walls. The concussive sound and force reflected off the indestructible tower and washed across the crowd. The exploding balls of multicolored fire punctuated the musical interlude with fiery explosions. In what was recognized by all as the most gratuitous use of bagpipes in recent memory.