22 May 2007

Splitting Heirs: Session Seven

After a delayed start (and associated ad-libbing with what Pou was doing in a very quiet Himmelfeuer, chatting with Herbert and chasing up news from the South where Gunter had run to), we picked up the scene in the feast hall at Drachenmalstein; it ended up being a lot less dramatic than I had envisioned, yet at the same time ultimately working out in a way that felt right.

Lady FitzCarstein naturally invited the Captain to the feast, it would not have been proper not to; a place was made at the top table, along with the Lady and her brother and a couple of other local dignitaries. Father Cantati, meanwhile, slunk off to a low table near the exit, after having given the requisite blessings. Conversation was lively during the meal, though understandably steered away from the issue at hand; that would be discussed in relative privacy in the moments after the feast. Jurgen and Scharf poked and pried about each other, and about the nature of the tasks the Lady had invited her brother to Drachenmalstein to perform (investigating the copper-ring wearing individuals in and around Drachenmalstein and Bardslaughter, and then investigating the truth or otherwise to the involvement of vampires in Duke Mörder’s expansionistic plans). This in itself was news to Scharf, who had assumed it was merely a familial visit, and it sparked much talk of the state of the Barony, the threats facing it, and the status of Baron and (lack of) heirs. [An update of who is who and what fingers are found in which pies might be a good idea before long, eh?].

After dinner the two FitzCarsteins and the Captain retired to a more private chamber where they could talk freely. It was at this point that Scharf raised his reasons for appearing, unannounced and uninvited, at Drachenmalstein; the Lady understood, Father Cantati having given her notice that he might be wanted for questioning as a result of long-past indiscretions. Before too long – after Jurgen’s tasks had been fully outlined, and their ramifications discussed openly with the Barony’s military mind – the Lady’s brother was “called away” to deal with a “sickness amongst his retinue”; Jarla, who had been present as the maid in waiting, disappeared at the same time, casting doubt on this claim. Lady FitzCarstein and Captain Scharf then deigned to go and find the Father and question him past the point of the interruption; to get the fifth name, and take what steps were needed.

They found him seated at the back of the castle’s dark, damp, library, reading by the meagre light of a candle stub. Approaching as one, the question that had been pregnant in the air around Cantati since Vod rescued him from the pre-dinner grilling was asked: who was the fifth member of Leuchttern’s ring? Speaking slowly, clearly, and resignedly, knowing that he had to come clean and there was no dodging the question this time, Cantati revealed it had been him, following it up with weak, pointless and barely coherent ramblings of qualification. Scharf had heard enough, though; he had suspected as much, and with the nature of the crime hitting a hot button of his, he stormed over to the other side of the room so as not to unduly lose his temper whilst the Lady dealt with the inevitable need for judicial arrangements. Cantati would be taken to the cells for the night, and then brought to Himmelfeuer for due process; she thanked him for his frankness and admission, and then walked with Cantati and Scharf to the cells, where her guard were shocked, but complied with her order to lock him up.

The Lady and Scharf then retired to her private suites; taking wine, they talked – first about Cantati, how personally the Captain had taken the admission, and how Lady FitzCarstein would not take the consequences of choosing to confess from her former instructor, despite misgivings of the worth of a formal trial. Then, as they drank more, they talked about their childhoods, relationships with fathers (distant, though they were), and even their romantic lives. They spoke, too, on the state of the Barony, and about whether Herbert’s visions of Die Kupfers were a threat or challenge to social order; both were inclined to think Pou’s visions more innocent. Mooted amongst these words was the proposition of Lady FitzCarstein as Baroness in future, as Scharf was well abreast of much of her politicking. They ended with talk of secrets and trust, Lady F giving nothing away, and claiming to need to know little to trust her staff; her closeness on the issue, and seeming lack of interest in whatever he was hiding, (along with, perhaps, a misinterpretation) left Scharf feeling a little uneasy, and wondering how the noblewoman actually saw him. The evening tailed off in more wine and small-talk, before the Captain fell asleep in his armchair and the Lady retired to her bedchamber. Jarla returned sometime early in the morning and found the Captain asleep in the Lady’s chambers, sparking rumour and curiosity as to what had passed the night before.

The whole of Drachenmalstein was a rumour factory, however, with Cantati’s incarceration the talking point. Lady F was forced to tackle the rumours head on, assuring them of the solid grounds for detention and the Father’s willingness to accede to it, before handing the castle over to Jurgen for the time being and making ready to accompany Scharf and his captive back to Himmelfeuer. Not only the prospect of the trial awaited, but so, perhaps, did an audience with the Baron, if the entire council could be assembled.

Pou, meanwhile, had been kicking his heels a little; nothing much was happening in town and without a shipment due for a fair while the gunsmith was at something of a loose end. Herbert suggested it might be time to nail down Gunter and see what he was up to; incidentally there had been less news than might have been expected from their network down south, and it might be worth looking into it. Figuring he had nothing better to do, and that it would prove useful, Pou set off; Gunter had been seen liaising with Georg Bodendreck – the brother of Lady FitzCarstein’s late husband – which gave his father a place to start the search.

Travelling swiftly, but asking for general news from copper ring-adorned men and women on the way, Pou headed off to the southlands and the Bodendreck Manor, worried in part that the overlooked lordling, (and to a lesser extent his wayward bastard), might have mixed loyalty to the barony, so close were their lands to the borders with Mörder’s territories. He first met up with his foreman, Jonn, and the smattering of men he had left on Gunter’s trail when the lad had first skipped town, then – posing as the merchant he was – set off for the Manor house. He found it busy; wagons and carriages were outside and servants were busy attending both. A little prying revealed that the Lord of the manor had cause to be away a while – supposedly visiting Lady Helena FitzCarstein – and had left stewardship of his lands in Gunter’s hands in the meantime. This was a shock to Pou; he was unaware Gunter knew Georg that well, and knew how unsuited his lad was to estate management!

Walking in through the open door, Pou enquired as to where the Lord was, claiming he had business, and received directions to the main chambers upstairs. Passing through the garishly opulent hallway and up the stairs he heard someone giving a serving boy an ear bashing. His entrance was not appreciated, however, as the Lord, busy in his preparations to leave, and not the best tempered of men, demanded to know who he was and what he was doing, barely stopping to listen before screaming for Pou to get out. Non-plussed, Pou left and was just outside when he saw Gunter riding up. Careful to keep the busy loading of wagons between him and his son, he watched Gunter ride up, dismount and enter the manor; Pou and Jonn then ducked back inside, taking inconspicuous seating on a bench in the hallway and hoping to overhear something of interest.

They did not. However after a brief conversation with Georg, Gunter reappeared on the balcony overlooking the hall, at which point Pou engaged him in startled conversation (centred around both of their pretexts for being there, the sale of firearms). It was during this conversation, with Georg unknowing in his main chambers, that a stocky man in bright pink tailored clothing and a foppish hat walked in seemingly unnoticed and began to climb the stairs. Thinking nothing of it at first Pou and Gunter carried on their exchange, but then Pou realised that the man was going to attack his son, attempting to throw him over the handrail. Springing into life Pou began up the stairs after him, having given Gunter a warning to hold on! The warning was not enough to prevent the small man tipping Pou’s son over the rail, but had given Gunter time enough to get a hold. Pou reached the top of the stairs and confronted the man, holding a pistol level at him, but undeterred the man stepped in and swung a punch at Pou, missing, but then lunging for, and grabbing, Pou’s weapon arm. At this moment Georg came hurtling out onto the balcony, pistols waving, and loosed a poor shot at the stocky man’s back (shattering a rather expensive looking vase when he missed). Jonn (and, once he got his bearings, Georg) then combined to try and haul Gunter back to safety, whilst Pou faced off with the intruder. Unable to use his firearm, Pou looked to use the stairs and gravity; the little man’s momentum was taking him down, past Pou, and towards the rail, and by shifting his foot just so, Pou sent him tumbling, though he lost the grip on his pistol as his arm was yanked round with the small assailant.

Remarkably the little Tilean (whose feathered hat had somehow stayed atop his head throughout his tumble) managed to roll to his feet and make for the front door, astonished servants standing off as he did so. Pou gave chase but could not see him by the time he got to the door. Reasoning he must be hiding behind a wagon, Pou braced himself for a shot the second the man broke cover, then when he saw nothing moved to look the other side of the assembled carriages, calling for the figure to come out. The only response was the ping of an arrow off the stonework nearby; his assailant had had friends on the roof! A snap shot back missed, before a second figure appeared on the rooftop and loosed an arrow that caught Pou in the shoulder. Bleeding, Pou fell back to the doorway, bracing himself through the pain, his aim at the rooftop; when one figure stood to loose again, a ball of shot caught him between the eyes. Gunter was safely down by now, but with aerial cover of the courtyard outside and Pou bleeding profusely despite the arrow shaft still stuck in his shoulder, the group fell back inside the house, reasoning to take sightlines on the barn roof from the upper floor of the main house. There was a “click”, like a weapon firing, but when he turned, Pou saw no imminent danger and thought nothing further of it. It was only a minute or so later someone happened to spot the pink-clad man riding off across the fields on a stolen horse. Pou took aim from the doorway, but given the pain in his shoulder and the range, the best he could manage was catching the horse on the rump, which served no purpose but to spur the beast on in agonised flight, it’s rider hanging on for dear life…

Good fun, and the dice, when used, backed up the vision of events I had hoped for to boot. The scuffle mixed it up a bit, and probably asked even more questions than were answered; the motives for the failed assassinations down south are far from clear (though there is at least one body to search for clues). It’s worth noting that I write “Tilean” in the summary, but just said “foreign” in game; the obvious link is that this guy was either the scout seen leaving Brunnenhing’s manor or affiliated to those guys. Whether the obvious is true or not is another matter.

We’re nearing the point where something really big has to happen; small things tick over fine and everything which is going on plays to at least one of the PCs’ personalities, but shifting focus to the southern reaches of the Barony should pave the way for ramping up talk of impending war (the peasants have certainly been gossiping about it down there).

The trial of Cantati should prove an opportunity to dig at Scharf’s taking the crimes personally, whilst the possible appearance of the Baron should be a centre point of an episode in the near future.

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