26 Quartus 1668 (Voltadi)
After the events of the formal affair held at the estate of the Caballero Iñigo de Bonaval de Cristóbal, the group begin to make preparations to head to Eisen, to the city of Starkbrunn. They plan on taking a ship to the Castillian city of Tarago and then ride north into Starkbrunn. Rico uses his connections to borrow a horse, while Fenneke and Ysabel purchase theirs.
Troops are moving in Castille—there are rumors that the Grandes are finally going to move against Altamira, with the recsue of its Grande by "El Vagabundo." This rumor pleases Rico, that his ruse seemed to take root and that Castille is making a move against that stronghold.
They manage to secure a ship, a Montaigne craft called The Cordon Bleu, captained by Clareé Charbonneau, a pretty older woman with a shrapnel scar on her cheek. She's an experienced captain with a crew from a variety of nations. The ship is made ready to leave as soon as the group is ready.
The three Heroes load up their belongings and their horses onto the ship and it puts out with the morning tide, sailing up the Frothing Bay, into the Doré Bay and toward Tarago.
During the voyage, the Heroes eat well—the ship's cook, a Montaigne with a posh accent and hot temper by the name of Gerard Ramsey, knows his craft.
5 Quintus 1668 (Veldi)
The ship arrives in Tarago during with the evening tide. As the ship is secured to the docks, the Heroes disembark and go looking for a lively inn with clean beds. Ysabel manages to get some information for them and they look for a place called "Los Amigos Viejos." Before heading to the inn, they secure some supplies at various shops around the city.
Los Amigos Viejos is a very lively inn, with good Castillian music and wine with a variety of travelers resting in the well-lit common room. The Heroes secure their rooms and then take a table of their own in the tavern area. Ysabel decides to make the rounds, looking for gossip. Fenneke sits and observes folks with her keen eye. Rico decides to spread his own rumors about El Vagabundo.
Ysabel hears that the pirate, "Bloody Izzy," has been through Tarago recently—and was not in a good mood. She also hears that the road is clear, at least as far as the crossroad. There have been no troubles there of late. There was apparently a sighting of El Vagabundo here in Tarago. While conversing with a band of merchants, she manages to broker an interesting piece of art for her patron, Roberto de Jimenez de San Felipe.
Fenneke watches as a group of merchants seated in a corner of the room get in a heated discussion amongst themselves. She can't tell what the topic is, but they are definitely agitated. She also sees another group having a quieter discussion in which they periodically mouth the words "El Vagabundo" and mime wearing a mask. They point a various people in the common room, apparently speculating as to the probability of someone in the room being the famed vigilante.
Rico, for his part, manages to confirm people's suspicions that El Vagabundo is, indeed, in Tarago and is looking for funds to secure his campaign of hope and freedom. He also casually mentions that he gets his catlike grace from his communion with ocelots.
After talking with Fenneke, Ysabel gathers some information on the merchants in the corner of the room. They are led by a Castillian, but are made up of merchants of several nationalities. As she does this, after a brief argument at the table, one of the merchants rises and approaches the Heroes' table.
The man seems nervous, but amiable. He is clearly intimidated by Fenneke—she does nothing to put him at his ease, presenting her usual implacable expression. She does mention her association with the Vendel League, which further serves to intimidate the man. It turns out that the merchants would like an escort by clearly capable travelers on their way to Barcino. The group agrees to accompany them as far as the crossroads, but no further—at that point, their journey takes them elsewhere. The merchant, who introduces himself as Anton Galas, agrees. Pleased with their arrangement, the merchant returns to his table.
Soon thereafter, Fenneke notices three men dressed in manner of Eisen commoners approach the merchants' table. They are clearly led by the largest of the three, who has the size and manner of a farmer. He strides purposefully to the merchant's table and demands to see his son, Heinz. Anton tells the man that they have not seen his son since they left Soldano. This seems to anger the man and he shoves a finger into Anton's chest and accuses him of lying. He tells him that "this is not over" and takes his two companions and stomps out of the inn.
Rico, Fenneke, and Ysabel approach the merchants and inquire as to what that altercation was about. Apparently this farmer, Friedrich Veringers, is angry because his son, Heinz, left home to take up a traveling apprenticeship with the merchants. Fenneke gets his assurance that this is true and that the merchants have had no more sinister dealings with Heinz—that Heinz traveled with them of his own free will.
Other than that, the Heroes spend a fine evening of fellowship and wine in the common room of Los Amigos Viejos.
8 Quintus 1668 (Guerdi)
As the troupe of merchants travel north up the road, surrounded by our Heroes, the journey pleasant under the late spring sun, the group of three Eisenmen from their previous encounter in the inn in Tarago step out onto the road to block the troupe. They have been joined by a fourth man, this one a Castillian. Another group of men emerge from the trees surrounding the small group—all armed with clubs and knives.
"I want my son!" Veringers calls out.
Fenneke calls out that he's not here, that he needs to move on. The Castillian that has joined the Eisnemen indicates that if they don't produce Heinz, then there will be some trouble from his men. Fenneke returns that if that happens, she will have some fun. "What kind of fun?" the man asks. "The bleeding kind," Fenneke replies.
Rico strides forward and flashes his dueling pin and looks at the men surrounding the troupe significantly. "Do you wish me to seek satisfaction?"
The Castillian, taking in Fenneke's deadly threat and the dueling pin (with its promise of finessed violence against his men), calls out to the armed bandits surrounding the troupe. "Come. This is no longer worth the asking price." The men begin backing into the woods and the Castillian turns to go. Verigners angrily grabs the man's shoulder as he begins to walk away. The Castillian just stares at the farmer's hand significantly—Veringers removes it—and then the Castilian walks away, taking his bandits with him.
The Eisnemen, demoralized by the loss of their muscle, turn to go as well. Veringers calls out a promise that he will get his son back, but moves on. Soon, the road is clear.
Fenneke goes to Anton Galas and promises him that if she finds out something sinister has happened to Heinz, something to justify this obsession on the part of his father, that they will have problems. Anton once again assures her that Heinz left on his own and left their troupe in Soldano.
9 Quintus 1668 (Redi)
Around midday, the troupe arrives at the crossroads. There is a small shack sitting off of the roads, with a cracked wooden sign indicating that the shack is a general store. Anton Galas produces a sack of gold for each of them and gives them his thanks. The merchants begin heading west to Barcino.
An old man emerges from the shack and begins hawking his wares in a cracked, high-pitched voice. Shrugging to each other, the Heroes decide to see what the old man has to offer. Inside the cramped shop, there are rows of various pickled vegetables and meats, old maps in a bent umbrella stand, and an assortment of dented and tarnished tchotchkes.
As the old man, whose name is Alavar, burbles about how he gets so few visitors, Rico paws through the maps in the umbrella stand. Smiling, he sees a familiar sight—one of the map segments his father had gathered so long ago. He picks up the map piece and takes it to Alavar to purchase. He inquires about where the piece came from and Alavar thinks that it was left by a woman traveling through from Soldano. Before leaving, Rico is drawn to a 5 string guitar and purchases it as well.
The others make token purchases of pickled food and soon the Heroes are on their way to Eisen and to Starkbrunn, with the quavering thanks of the old man ringing in their ears.
10 Quintus 1668 (Voltadi)
It's a warm spring day when the Heroes cross the border from Castille into Eisen. They note a marked difference in the land—Eisen seems to be browner, less vital, than the lands of Castille.
12 Quintus 1668 (Veldi)
As the Heroes make their way to Starkbrunn, watching as the imposing summits of the Dracheneisen Mountains rise on the horizon, they note that they figure that they'll reach Starkbrunn by late afternoon. Sure enough, as the sun begins to sink below the horizon, they can actually see the outline of the city walls up ahead. The land around is a blasted ruin—a flat, stony plain leading up to the gates of the city.
As they ride forward, they are forced to cling to their mounts as the ground opens up from beneath them and a band of fifteen desiccated corpses emerge from the practically exploding clods of earth.
"Ride!" Rico cries and begins flailing his rapier about him to drive the monstrosities off. All of the group are seized with a preternatural fear as they spur their mounts onward toward the waiting gates of the city. The corpses claw at the riders, bony claws cutting through their clothes and piercing their flesh as they try to outdistance the monsters. Rico looks back and sees the living corpses that he cut down slowly begin to rise again and rejoin their brothers.
As the Heroes continue their panicked ride through the blasted plain, they start to hear gunshots ring out from the city walls. Soon, they see the once-dead corpses felled by the musket fire. They hear shouts of encouragement coming from the walls. Finally, they arrive at the gate, which is opened just enough to allow them access. They push their horses through and the huge wooden doors shut with a great BOOM behind them.
An Eisen soldier wearing a green jacket and holding a smoking rifle approaches the Heroes with a rueful smile. She looks up at them and says in Old Theán, "Welcome to Starkbrunn."