Blood of the Throne Part 2

The guards looked at Nitram politely as he made his hail. The guard on the right lowered his urgrosh in a ceremonial manner towards Nitram, almost a salute and then spoke. “Sadly, emissary, the Duke is not in residence this fair day. He has traveled to Highcastle to converse with the trade merchants there. Is there anything else we can do for you?”

Nitram shrugged and turned to Meddlin, “Not much we can do about that. Maybe we’ll catch him on our way back. Until then,” He offered the dock official 10 gold pieces. “Thank you for your assistance, Meddlin. If we speak to the duke before we leave, I’ll be sure to let you know.” The ranger turned to the rest of the group. “Into town, then?” He planned to accompany Aeron to find the necessary crafting components. He then looked up to see what time is was, wondering aloud “Will we have time to shop now or do we need to wait until the return trip?”

20 March (Spring) 509 PE (Year of the Ravens)
8am, Earthday

It appeared to Nitram that entering the harbor and making their way to the Duke’s residence had taken about two hours. The journey to Raidal would take six hours, so they could leave as late as 11am and still make it to the town before the gates were closed for the night.

From Aeron’s point of view, the shops and alchemical supplies were provincial in comparison to Aelvinwode, or even the shops at Tennyson’s Tower, but he was fairly certain he could acquire enough metal, leather, rare inks and orichalcium to create two more belts at best. Not that he had the time for construction now, but at least he could get the folks who wanted one to purchase the materials (under his guidance).

After any shopping that was needed was accomplished, the only thing left to do was head towards Raidal, the next step in their journey to Vashtar and the Silver Hills.

As they prepared to procure horses, Shylent leaned towards Nitram and said “Who…guard ship?”

Nitram looked at Blend and Aeron, “Are the two of you comfortable with the ship’s security while we are away from it?”

Aeron replied, “The Light Wind is safe enough under the guard of the golems. I have the crystal pyramid key in my possession, so no one can take it into the air. That means it cannot be taken by a single person. Furthermore, any group that takes it would have to sail out either back to Aerie City or further inland to Lands End. Either prospect is dim for the thieves, as Merchant Blend has agents enough in Aerie City and Land’s End is overrun with ogres.”

20 March (Spring) 509 PE (Year of the Ravens)
11am, Earthday

Horse and necessary supplies procured, the group headed northward into the hills behind Isisre. Before passing through the upper gate they rode past a twenty foot waterfall that spilled into the town. It then created a large pond at the northern end, with a small stream that meandered through the center of town before spilling into the harbor.

After passing through the northern gate, the party could see that the waterfall originated from the southernmost tip of a large lake that led into the highlands. The western side of the lake, where the group rode, was lined with residences and walled gardens for the rich and well to do. The eastern side of the lake was full of small merchant buildings, residences, and the fishing shacks of those who fished the lake. Farther up along the eastern side was a lumber yard, and above that in the hills could be seen the openings to the old iron mines.

The group had left the residences and businesses of Isisre behind after an hour or so. The rest of the trip was made by initially following a semi paved trail along the lake, and then completed by travelling through wooded hillsides along a narrow path.

Before leaving Isisre, Blend had given specific instructions to the crew on who was in charge, chain of command and his expectations on how to take care of the ship. Not in a condescending way, of course. They were all seasoned sailors. Just highlighting a few “quirks” that he would like them to follow with regards to the Lightwind.

During the evening, he had spent the majority of his time listening to local gossip and rumors, sorting out later any information of value and interest. He also determined the presence of any specific guild activity, specifically organization and hierarchy.

He repeated this same modus operandi in Raiden during their overnight stay.

As they traveled the road, he helped Nitram scout, alternating riding point when the other needed to take a break. Nitram was an excellent outdoorsman and admired his attention to detail when he practiced his tradecraft. Blend could not match his expertise, but made up for some of it using his natural awareness and raw ability to notice things that others just would sense or pick up on.

Shylent also impressed Blend with her natural talent at riding and scouting. He logically assumed that she was a skirmisher for whatever local band she enlisted in before joining their group.

The others mostly just fell in line as they traveled. The eladrin seemingly studied his surroundings as if he was on some type of field expedition, pursuing an unknown scholarly interest or perhaps just pleasantly learning more about his surroundings and ways of life outside whatever secular organization he belonged to.

Frederick was much the same. Nose almost always in book (one in particular more than others Blend noticed as of late), taking notes, perhaps crafting a new poem or song. He offered to entertain with songs and stories sometimes. Blend was mostly indifferent to his tales, however, he did give much value to the fact that Frederick was actually trying use his natural abilities to help the group and fit in.

As for Aeron…well…he rode his enchanted horse alongside everyone else. Blend could only guess at what was going on inside that incredibly different mind of his.

Upon arriving in Vashtar, Blend took notice of the town’s construction and layout as well as the mercenary keep outside the walls. The inn seemed a pleasant enough place and he was mildly curious at whether or not such a breed of creature depicted outside on the establishment’s sign really did exist.

The town of Raidan was reached around 5-6pm, and was an unimposing middle sized town that catered to travelers between Isisre and Vashtar. It was a logging and mining town, with a small silver mine on a hill at the northern edge of town. Granite blocks walled the main portion of Raiden, with a few blocks of businesses and residences nestled amongst the trees around it. The one thing that stood out about Raidan was the large tower in the center of town that reached above the trees and had a large lightning rod attached to its peak.

The night spent at Raiden was uneventful, and the journey to Vashtar was similar to the day before. The part reached Vashtar around noon.

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Vashtar was a small city, but larger than either Isisre or Raidan. It had a large 50 foot wall around the outside of it, and was built on the top of a large stony hill. The eastern side of the wall was actually the wall of the palace, which overlooked the edge of the hill and a sheer cliff 100 feet down. The main gate was in the western side of the town, and the ground gradually sloped up from there until it reached the other side of the city and the palace. There were no obvious residences or buildings outside the city walls, with the exception of a large stone keep nearly a half mile away, with a large blue and white banner flowing from the tip of its main tower.

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21 March (Spring) 509 PE (Year of the Ravens)
1230pm, Waterday

Aeron studied the flags and pennants flying over Vashtar, trying to get an idea of the factions at play in the capital. He easily remembered that the white, blue, and red flag with the ankh symbol was the kingdom flag of Xar Taken. It toke a few more minutes, but then Aeron recalled the meaning of the other pennant, The Brotherhood of Steel. Perhaps their main mercenary headquarters/temple was located in the keep near Vashtar.

“The road has been dusty. Let’s find a common room to cleanup and then seek an audience with young Prince Kristos.” Aeron gave a sly smile to Lord Nitram. “I suspect the Prince likes ogres even less than you do.

Nitram led the group to the gate, keeping an eye out for ogres and ignoring the elf’s insensitive remark, Serre taking to the air. The griffon was somewhat used to having Nitram scout out the area before entering any human filled town or village, and he flew into the edge of the forest, sinking out of view into the trees.

As Nitram and the group approached the gate, they realized that any ogres within short range of the walls would likely be impaled by multiple polybolos ballistae. The ballistae, although somewhat similar in nature to the repeating goblin mechanisms, looked more reliable, and had likely been imported from Rivendeep.

The guards at the gate, after an initial inspection and discussion, stated they would send word immediately to the palace, and recommended the Wyrm’s Embrace, a reputable and high quality inn/tavern a few blocks into the city along the main road.

The Wrym’s Embrace may have seemed like a dubious name for an inn, but the half-dragon half-buxom female that was emblazoned on the inn’s sign post was fairly attractive looking. Once the group stepped into the entrance room, it was apparent that the place was well run and well-tended. A slender female with black hair and a slightly golden tone to her skin bowed as the group entered, and looked at them expectantly.

Frederick bowed in return to the woman, figuring at best he was being polite and at worst an imbecile, which would be waved aside as ignorance of foreign custom. Or he’d be executed. One of the three.

“Good day. Would you be able to tell me of any nearby bookstores or libraries of note? Additionally, is there any area where a bard could hone his craft?” If he were not needed with the group at the moment, Frederick was more than willing to fill his time with two of his passions; knowledge and performance.

“We could always use a bard here in the evenings, not all of our areas are booked for entertainment. Let me know if you are interested. Alas the only books and libraries I have heard of are private collections, I am not aware of any open to all” the lady replied to Frederick.

Aeron spoke a few strange words over Magus and watched with satisfaction as the grey horse shrank into a small stone figurine…which Aeron quickly pocketed. He then addressed the strange proprietor of the Wyrms Embrace, “Greetings and salutations. We are looking for a late lunch, private rooms out of ogre’s reach, a stable for the horses…and a horse for the griffon.” It would save Lord Nitram a fairy dragon’s horde in food by keeping that griffon in stasis

“Yes, this is not a problem honorable wizard. We can give you a private room for your group and start serving lunch immediately. Our rooms are comfortable, you may choose between single or double, and there are no ogres allowed in the city. Alas, the stables are back down the road near the gate. Do you wish a page to take them there for you, or shall you return after caring for them yourself?” the lady asked.

Shylent frowned and started leading her horse back towards the stables when she was told what the lady at the desk had said.

A heavy wind had picked up, rattling shutters and business signs on both sides of the street.

Aeron collected the keys for their double rooms and passed them out to the party. One room for the elven magic users (Aeron and Rumil) so they could artifice the blade belts. One room for the rogues (Frederick and Blend) so they could steal each other’s stories while they lifted each other’s possessions. That left one room for the Warriors (Nitram and Shylent) so they could keep watch out the window and listen to the distant sounds of a griffon devouring horses.

Cromag looked at Aeron oddly as the wizard passed out room keys and made arrangements.

Aeron answered Cromag’s confusion, “I know dedicated warrior, such as yourself, is always on guard. I will cast the vigilance spell on you so you can guard Merchant Blend’s door during the night.”

Frederick looked at Blend with a mild interest. On the one hand, he seemed like a sort that could have entire books made out of his adventures. On the other hand, he looked like he’d kill you just to avoid you trying to have a conversation with him.

Blend needed to intervene, however upon hearing Aeron’s planned room arrangements. “I suggest a fifth room for Shylent to occupy for herself. Nitram and Frederick will take one room and Cromag and I the other. Seems the right thing to do.” Blend looked expectantly at the black-haired, golden-skinned female. “Your name my lady?” Blend asked

“Tresses Shamshir, at your service” she replied.

Aeron had no issue with Merchant Blend’s desire to room with Cromag, being most concerned about avoiding having to room with a mercenary of questionable loyalty and the absurdity of his blood bond. How does the brute keep track of blood bonds? Are they cumulative? If Cromag spent a fortnight with this group, would he owe a blood bond to all of us? Surely, someone in his old mercenary company must have saved his life over the years? Is the old blood bond superseded by the new blood bond to Merchant Blend? Aeron entertained himself for some minutes exploring all the logical fallacies and ridiculous catch-22s that could be caused by the blood bond. He also chuckled at the thought of the Skald Frederick talking endlessly about land sharks and other such imaginary creatures while Lord Nitram desperately tries to get some sleep tonight. Aeron subtly called over the proprietor, slid her a gold piece, and whispered in her ear, “Make sure Shylent the Barbarian gets a room with a tub…she gets VERY angry if a bath is not drawn and waiting for her when she turns in tonight.” Aeron made several room adjustments after calling over the lady managing the inn, who told him it was no problem and all would be done as he said.

After the group got settled in their accommodations and returned to the common room for a late lunch, Aeron spoke to the female proprietor with black hair and strange golden toned skin. “Wonderful establishment you have here…and such a unique name, Wyrms Embrace. What a fantastic homage to the incredible dragon’s that live in Xar Taken. Dragons are such magnificent creatures. When they are good they are very, very good. But when they are bad, they are horrid. Unfortunately, there is a horrid evil green dragon that lords over the Mist Grove in Falconaire. It attacks the defenseless locals and its power is overwhelming. With all the travelers that pass through this establishment, have you heard any tales of how such a creature can be dealt with?”

She turned to Aeron “Defeating dragons are the stories of legend, heroic effort and mass casualties seem to be par for the course. I off course do not know any specifics.”

As the group was finishing their late launch, a herald from the Prince arrived, it was an elderly man wearing the colors of Xar-Taken. He waited politely off to the side until he was either noticed or the group was clearly finished eating.

There was a lull as the party finished their lunch, a quiet sensation that spread across the room until the only thing that could be heard was the solitary chirping of one lone cricket just outside the ornately furbished window to the street. Frederick began telling his land shark story to the table behind them, who seemed rather interested in monster tales.

Several patrons were highly entertained and amused by Frederick’s land shark tale. One of them stated politely in a cultured voice that “You sirrah, have one of the best straight faced comedy deliveries I have ever seen” and left Frederick a 5gp tip as he left the inn.

Blend ate his lunch with the rest of the group, but remained mostly silent. Instead, he took in the sights of the common room and focused on listening to conversations rather than partake in conversation himself.

The conversations around the groups table were fairly nonchalant, and mainly about common inconsequential topics. Several patrons were concerned about the rise of ogre activity. As Blend listened and gathered information, it became apparent that rangers and scouts had seen units composed of actual ogres to the northeast of the city. There were also tales of brutemen units interposed with the ogre and goblin armies. The ogres had always used goblins and brutemen as slaves and grunt troops, but there seemed to be some of the actual brutemen clans sending support units to the side of the ogres, as if they had a treaty or something.

Brutemen raids along the northern edge of Xar-Taken were fairly common, but normally small and for specific things, like wine, food, or just plain carnage, as in a rite of passage. If something stirred up all the tribes (like a clan alliance siding with the ogres) there might not be enough troops in the area to defend Xar-Taken. But the clans were fiercely independent and usually fought amongst themselves as well, so the likelihood of that was small.

One other tale stood out. It was dismissed by most, but caught Blend’s attention. A unit of ogres had been noted along the north hill’s edge of the Xar-Taken border on a particular day around noon. But a ranger returning from the eastern edge of the Silver Hills reported the same unit that evening located two days travel from the other location. It was a unit of the Kelvein Fire Clan, mostly split into two groups for tactical reasons, or so the patrons of the Wyrm’s Embrace speculated.

When the herald arrived, he nodded to Nitram, interest shifting to what this conversation had in store for them.

The elderly herald of Xar-Taken stood politely off to the side of the room entrance, unconsciously shifting his weight from one leg to the other as he continued the long wait for a member of the party to notice him.

Nitram, looking in the direction of Blend’s nod, stood from the table thinking I wonder how long he’s been standing there. As he approached the old man, he bowed slightly and said, “I’m sorry to keep you waiting. I hope it wasn’t for long. I am Nitram Tam, from Falconaire. Do you have word from Crown Prince Kristos? We are eager to meet with him.”

The herald bowed back towards Nitram and replied to his questions, “Well met Lord Tam, the Crown Prince has been advised of your arrival, and is most pleased with the speed in which his allies of Falconaire have sent assistance. He apologizes for his rudeness, as he would normally enjoy your company over dinner this evening, but alas he cannot contain himself and wishes you to meet with him as soon as you feel is proper, perhaps for drinks in the main hall?”

The man bowed again and awaited Nitram’s reply.

Nitram glanced back at the table before replying, “I’m sure we could meet for drinks. Let us finish up our meal here and then we’ll be right over.”

After the herald departed, Nitram returned to the table and reiterated the Prince’s request, “Once we’re done with our meal, the Crown Prince wishes to drink with us in his main hall. So, let’s finish here and then make our way to meet the Prince – as soon as Aeron has freshened up.”

Aeron cast a spell upon each of the companions that removed the dirt and sweat of the road and made them presentable for an audience with the prince. “Put on your raspberry berets…it’s time to see the Prince.”

It became apparent to the group as they progressed up the slightly winding road through the center of town to the hillside wall and palace, that Cragthor was getting more than his share of stares and attention. The people of Vashtar were fairly open minded, and there had been brutemen working for the town before, but for the most part they were a fairly constant foe, especially this far north and close to the edge of the kingdom. There were several spitting incidents, and a few veiled muttered curses, likely from folks who had lost a relative or friend to a brutemen raid, but no outright violence. Cragthor ignored all such things, casually pointing out to Blend the city guard that was following them up the street.

The city, at least the buildings lining the main street, was built primarily of granite and stone blocks. The roofs appeared to be made of a bluish stone tile, giving the entire city a grayish blue look, which was only offset by the brightly colored signs and pennants that lined the street. In most places, an attempt to keep the street paved with pale white stone had been made, although several spots could be seen that had been repaired with the gray granite.

At the gates to the palace, the guards were apologetic, but fairly firm that Cragthor was not allowed in, until such time as the captain of the guard had deemed it allowable. Cragthor was invited, respectfully, to enjoy the comfort of an interior room off to the side of the gate, where he would be served refreshments. Cragthor glanced at Blend neutrally.

Blend silently nodded to Cromag to suggest he stay here and that he would be safe without his shadow watching over him.

Cragthor was certainly the least temperamental of any brutemen that the group had ever met. Many would be foaming at the mouth about their honor somewhere around this point. Quietly, he moved into the side room, allowing the party to continue their journey.

The rest of the group was allowed into the courtyard and then into the castle, traveling along a wide hallway festooned with blue and red draperies. Blend and Nitram noticed the occasional guard station behind said draperies, and nodded as they saw Aeron also had detected the guards.

A wide spiraling stairway led off to one of the towers of the castle, adjoining the main hall. Halfway up the stairway, the group approached a platform jutting out of the side of the tower that allowed people to go out and gaze across the cliff and across the landscape to the east. The afternoon sun cast long shadows against the terrain, which was mostly broken land and hills, interposed with forests. One of the guards paused and pointed out the location of one of the kingdom’s silver mines to the northeast.

They continued they continued their journey upward, until they came to an interior landing with three wooden doors. The guard knocked formally on the center door and then opened it wide, allowing the group to enter.

A small dining room or feast hall was seen, with several windows allowing in the light and fresh air. A large circular table dominated the center of the room, and sitting at the head of the table was a young man in royal clothing, flanked by a guard on either side. There were also guards on either side of the door as the group entered.

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The crown prince stood up and nodded at the group, saying “Have a seat, emissaries” before sitting back down.

Frederick scratched his head, thoughtful.

He was unaccustomed to interacting with higher nobility. Certainly, there had been many a nobleman (even a few noblewomen) to frequent the Library, but that was mainly to be able to draw reference to potential ancestors when cementing the superiority of their ancestry. The Library took their coin, of course, and let them out with some of the information that they had requested. To make oneself look an ass with partial truth is far better than to be burned at the sake for the whole truth.

Unless called upon, Frederick would attempt to remain in the background as best as possible. He would offend less and gather more information that way.

Once everyone was seated, the prince began speaking, even before introductions had been made.

“So King Kashue takes the ogre threat seriously, I knew that he would. I told Anchor, my adviser, if those ogres get take too many key positions in the Silver Hills, they could leverage their logistics and project their power from secure bases throughout the region. It’s an almost exact re-creation of the tactics they used in Land’s Edge some years ago." He paused and then started shuffling through maps laying on the table.

“Now if we take the advice of the legendary Zhusan ‘Know thy enemy and know yourself, and you will ensure victory’, and apply it to the situation at hand…it would seem to me that the goal, as per our request of King Kashue, would be to determine if any of the main ogre forces were indeed in the area bordering the Skularian Wilderness, or if this is rumor designed to make the kingdoms pull their forces out of position along the eastern lands, near Tennyson’s Tower and Highkeep Castle. "

Prince Kristos looked up at the group and grinned…“I’m sorry, which of you is whom?”

Nitram stood up, wondering why he had been sitting in the first place. Bowing, he replied to the prince, “My deepest apologies, your majesty. Please forgive my lack of manners. I am Nitram Tam, emissary for King Kashue. This is Aeron the Grey of Aelvinwode.” The ranger gestured to the elf. It’s probably best that I don’t introduce everyone. He doesn’t need to know who everyone is. The ranger continued, “If there are ogres out there, we will find them. However, an important member of our party was not allowed in. I understand your hesitation, but I will guarantee that he will not be a problem. I’m sure that, between your guards and my friends, you will feel safe enough. As you can imagine, his knowledge of the Skularian Wilderness will be instrumental in our endeavor. If we are to talk tactics, I humbly request his presence. I have no intention of letting any ogres repeat what they did in Land’s End. I will do anything to prevent that – even use the skills of those I may not trust. I hope we all feel the same to prevent a similar fate. I’ve learned that lesson a little too well.”

The prince looked puzzled, then walked over to one of the guards and began whispering. After the reply from the guard, the prince’s eyebrow raised and he looked thoughtful. He looked back at Nitram, and then looked at the guard. Thinking. Finally he whispered softly to the guard. The guard got a concerned look on his face and replied “Yes milord.” as he pointed to one of the guards by the door and nodded.

“Excellent” said the prince. “Your ‘bruteman’ friend should be along shortly. I did agree to four more guards at Senior Captain Corum’s advisement, but that’s assuredly not a problem.” The prince rubbed his hand together as he sat down “How exciting” He looked back up at Nitram and Aeron. “So, tactical scouting raid, skulking surveillance recon, headlong assault through the hills, what’s your plan? Did you bring specialists? Do you have a standard team composition?” he continued, looking over the rest of the group.

A middle aged man entered from a side door and stood off to the side, watching as the prince conversed with the group. He held a walking cane with a stylized sword hilt as a handle.
Frederick watched the man as he entered, mildly curious. He wasn’t participating in the conversation, but was watching the prince converse with Nitram and Aeron. He cataloged the man’s attire and standing in his head, letting any connections pop up as they would. Frederick then recalled that Kristos had mentioned an advisor named Anchor. Nodding briefly to the man, Frederick returned the majority of his attention to the planning for the upcoming potential skirmish.

Nitram glanced at the middle aged man and then quickly at Blend before he answered the prince’s questions. “I’m not sure what you would consider a standard composition, but I think we have enough special skills to effectively determine what is out there and how best to deal with it. Rillifane willing, we’ll even give them something to think about.”

“My prince” the middle aged man said, “not all scouts use the tactics and style you have read about in your texts, but the job may still be done”

The prince looked up, grinned, and said “Anchor, grab one of these maps and get Lord Nitram and Aeron familiar with the area.”

Anchor acquired one of the larger overview maps and explained the layout of the kingdom, after which he inquired if there were any specific questions that needed answering.

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Aeron saw that Frederick the Skald had moved to the rear of the party to observe the details of the discussion. After Lord Nitram’s kind introduction Aeron addressed the Prince, “The use of spies is common in warfare. The skills of our party are to unique to assist you in this endeavor. Cragthor will help us gather information from local spies and villagers; Frederick the Skald will pump the officials and inward spies for information, Merchant Blend will convert spies as double agents, and Lord Nitram will feed false plans to locals…so they serve as our doomed spies when captured.”

Nitram looked at the wizard and tried to hide his confusion and frustration. Nitram addressed the prince and Anchor, “As brother Aeron highlighted, we will most likely try to find the origin of these rumors to narrow down a search area. I would appreciate any specific information you can provide us on rumored locations of ogres. We also need a map with the layout of settlements in Silver Hills that might be the target of ogre attacks or the source of information.”

The ranger turned to the rest of the party, “Cragthor, Shylent, or Blend – can you think of anything else we might need from the Prince in order to finalize our plans?” He also looked questioningly at Rumil and Frederick in case they wanted to add anything.

Anchor rummaged through a few of the maps and selected one more fitting to Nitram’s request.

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“Well, a unit of the Kelvein clan was spotted near the village of Karnal, rangers that reside here in Vashtar reported seeing an elite ogre unit near the border of the Silver Hills and Cragdor, when normally their border armies are goblins and brutemen. And the farming village of Gonda reported raids that stole their horses and crops” Anchor told the group.

“The Kelvein clan is a demon cult, which is unusual, because the Ogre tribes usually venerate elemental powers and archaic beings” the prince added.

Nitram began thinking out loud, “Well, I am a little more concerned about this demonic cult given our past experiences with ogres.” “Hopefully, they aren’t connected to blood magic, but it seems they might be the most likely.” “The elite unit, especially due to the fact that their sighting was by official agents, is also troubling. Do you know the exact location the rangers spotted the unit?”

The prince replied to Nitram’s question, pointing out a spot on the map directly due east of Vashtar, a few miles on the ogre side of the border, on the edge of a wider plain like area.

Nitram paused for a moment and then suggested, “I propose we head northwest toward Karnal to begin our investigation and then east along the border. If the ogres are trying to do the same thing they did to Land’s End, we should see some sign of their build-up to the northwest of Vashtar and maybe even Raidal, depending on where they want to split Xar-Taken. Plus, this will allow up to leverage Cragthor’s expertise early. Thoughts?”

“Please add to the map that includes the settlements any known gathering places. I work best among the people, and can figure out whom to pay the greater attention to.” Frederick knew that such places were where you could find people who knew everything about everyone, and the people who didn’t know until you reminded them that they knew.

Aeron added, “If these sightings are the early vanguard of an invasion, we should expect Falconaire to recall their deployed troops from around Aerie City and focus them on the border to repel the ogre expansion.” Aeron then turned to Prince Kristos X’avier. “It would be easier for King Kashue to make such a decision knowing a warship armed with 4 of your famous polybolos ballistae was patrolling the river between your two kingdoms. We just happen to have such a vessel moored at the docks of Isisre right now that stands ready to receive such armament. And as we will be patrolling your border for the next few days, there should be plenty of time for the Brotherhood of Steel to install them. But do warn them not to try to move the vessel…or go down in the hold…as the ship may try to defend itself. If all are in agreement, on the morrow we ride to Karnal.”
“Exactly!” shouted the prince, standing to his feet. “We have three ballista in storage we can have carted to Isisre immediately, who should the engineer speak to when he gets there?”

Anchor spoke to the prince, agreeing with the ballista plan, but reminding the prince that it would be wise to import more from Rivendeep, as those were backups for the ones on duty. Or procure a different model from the Brotherhood.
After more discussion, it appeared that Prince and Anchor were in agreement with the proposed course of action. They offered food and common supplies to equip the group for their task. The prince requested that the party allow one of his rangers to accompany them, along with a representative from the Brotherhood of Steel.

Nitram responded to the prince, “I think two more capable bodies joining us will be welcome – especially if the ranger is personally familiar with the area and neither has a problem working with Cragthor.”

If there were no problems or further concerns, the prince would see them all off from the castle barracks in the morning.

Frederick recalled what he could about the Kelvein clan and the demon(s) that it worshiped. Perhaps he/her/it/they had some elemental power that the Ogre tribes found venerable. Working it over in his head while the conversation continued around him, he finally recalled that odd scrap of info he had picked up while in Capone. “Kelvein” in the Davek tongue, the giant language, meant “of the blood”. Frederick had briefly met the cleric Daelin, who had told the bard of their earlier adventures, and encounters with blood druids and witches. And the rumors of some spirit or fiend named Alucruor, or “the messenger of blood”. This seemed a little too coincidental to Frederick.

Frederick stepped forward, a look of concern on his face.

“This may be something to take with a grain of salt, but I would suggest that we attempt to be prepared for the deployment of blood magics or those who have been tainted by them. This cult has taken the name Kelvein, which translates across both Davek and giant tongues as ‘of the blood.’ Tying that to what Cleric Daelin told of your previous adventures to me, the conclusion that dire things are ahead of us is uneasily quick to reach.”

Frederick bowed his head briefly at that, and stepped back again. He had no problem with assisting in the destruction of those who perverted the world with blood magics, for they were mostly evil and prone to corruption at even the best of times. He was of the mind, however, that being prepared to fight against such things was preferable to being ambushed by them.

The ranger agreed with the bard. They should be prepared to deal with more blood magic. He thanked the prince for his help and provisions, adding “We shall see you in the morning,” before returning to their inn.

Frederick, as usual, made inquiries as to whether or not the castle had a library of any sort. He also asked if there would be any kind of merry-making tonight, as he was a good storyteller and always sought to hone his craft. Plus performing at a castle would be a nice addition to his resume.

The prince quickly offered to show Frederick his collection of military history and strategy books, replying that those books were really the closest thing they had to a library at the castle. He mentioned that Frederick was welcome to play at dinner that night, but that it was more of a social event than “merry making”

22 March (Spring) 509 PE (Year of the Ravens)
0700 am, Thunderday

True to his word, the prince, along with several guards and Anchor, met the group the next morning at the castle barracks. He turned and waved forward two figures clothed for travel and bearing backpacks to the rest of the assemblage.

“May it please you, allow me to introduce you to the people I spoke about last night. This isVallus Machiavellian , a cleric with the Brotherhood of Steel. And this fine fellow is Old Gnarly, one of most enduring members of the ranger fellowship."

The prince reminded the group that the core of their mission was to gather intel so that Xar-Taken and the other nations in the area could properly assess the deployment of their forces, as spring was now, and preparation was critical, if the rumors of ogre movement and troop deployment were indeed true.

Karnal was about a day and a half journey over and around the country hillside, and it appeared that Shylent and Cragthor had somehow acquired extra horses to carry packs of provisions.

The prince finished his briefing, with a wistful look as if he wished he was accompanying the group on their journey to the area of Karnal, and asked if there was anything else to be done before they departed.

The morning sun was very bright, and gleamed across the hills from the direction of Cragdor to the east. It appeared that there was not a cloud in the sky, and only a very light breeze was blowing, barely teasing the pennants atop the castle into movement.

Shylent had moved next to Old Gnarly, and the two of them seemed to be discussing the route they would take to the northeast.

There was a massive swoosh, and a large gust of wind as Serre did a flyby of the group, circling once after blowing past and raising a dust storm, then settling some hundred paces away outside the town wall, past the gate that was being opened for the group’s imminent departure.

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Blood of the Throne Part 2

Unconquered Kingdoms SkidAce