Sunday, April 23, 2006

Conspiracy of Shadows (Season Two, Session Five)

Sedziwoj has conceived a plan to kill Beker and leads his retainers along the road to the silver mines south of Jenkaz. Anatoli, unaware of his narrow escape from death, is waiting at the ruined farmhouse. There in the growing darkness he spots his missing fiance dancing across the abandoned fields. He follows her but as he does she seems to glide away into the woods surrounding the fields. As he is about to enter the woods to follow her a man in purple linen robes grabs him and physically stops him from following.

The man warns him about following the "spirits of the damned" and leads him back to the ruined farmhouse where he shares some food with the foreigner and talks about the old rulers and ways of the forest. He mentions that the forest contains the burial mound of a great king who ruled long before the dog men came to the forests and that great riches would be found by anyone brave enough to open the barrows.

At Sedziwoj's camp Totay staggers into the fire light and warns the party that a group of mercenary horsemen have followed them out of the city. He offers to borrow one of the group's spare horses and find out the intentions of the pursuers. He borrows an axe from Kaspar so as to pretend he is a woodcutter.

The next Sedziwoj and his men ride down the causeway to the mines pretending to be messengers from the Chancellor taking a message to Beker. They reach the mine to find a small, poor but well-defended community. They discover that Beker is a habitual drinker at the mine's small taverns and decide to set up in the inn and wait for him to arrive.

Along the mine road through the forest Anatoli has left the ruined farmlands and is heading into the hills. The road is badly churned and the passing of many horses is clearly apparent. Anatoli follows the road until he sees and owl in one of the trees and remembering that the man from the previous night had mentioned that the owl was the symbol of the ancient king he chooses to follow it. The owl moves from tree to tree until a small clearing is revealed with broken statuary surrounding a large mound only slightly overgrown.

The mound is located on a natural shelf on the hillside and from one of the trees on the edge of the clearing Anatoli can get a good view of the surrounding moorland all the way to the hills of the mine and the stone fort that guards the area. He can see a large group of horsemen making their way along the causeway to the mine and decides to walk to the bottom of the hill so he can see what is happening.

In the mining village there is a commotion at the gate and Sedziwoj goes up onto the palisade to investigate. Totay is at the gate making up a cock and bull story about a wager while behind him a troop of soldiers are making their way to the mine and some of the more eager riders are already galloping ahead of the main column.

Sedziwoj sizes up the situation and has Sergei and Marius go and pick up the horses while Kaspar is sent to the gate to see if he can get near to the bracketed bar that holds it shut. Totay is granted entrance and he immediately starts attracting attention to himself noisily and gives a warning that the outlaw Sedziwoj-Koniepole has come this way and that the column intend to take him and bear him to the King.

At this Kaspar seizes the bar on the gate and hurls the heavy beam to the ground and Marius and Sergei appear with the mounts. Sedziwoj and Kaspar mount up and the group ride out of the village and onto the moorland. The pursuing horseman wheel to chase them and Sedziwoj picks off a few with his bow before telling the rest of the group to gallop for the woods before wheeling his horse and giving a defiant speech. A few of the mercenaries gallop past him to chase the others but the majority of the group prepare to capture the foolish outlaw.

With a warcry Sedziwoj settles his lance and charges at the leader of the group knocking the captain off his horse and crushing him beneath his horse's hooves. A crushing melee gathers round him but Sedziwoj fights like a man possessed and opponent after opponent falls before the cruel blows of his hammer. Javelin after javelin misses him in the confusion and even those that hit glance off his armour. The seasoned warriors realise that the only way to bring down such a fierce warrior is the crush of close combat. The close in around Sedziwoj trying to avoid his blows while pulling him from his horse.

Across the moorland Anatoli recognises the rides making across the plan and shouts and waves at them. Sergei and Totay break away and ride for the woods, followed by one of the mercenaries while Marius and Kaspar continue further along the moorland until they realise they cannot shake their pursuers and head for the foothills of the wood. Two riders follow them in. Kaspar quickly dismounts and from behind a tree brings down the first rider with two quickly fired arrows. The second rider, aware of the ambush spurs his horse forward and cuts Kaspar on his arm before hacking at Marius and catching him on the skull killing him instantly. With Marius fallen the horseman slashes again at Kaspar and his sword cuts a bloody gash on Kaspar's neck.Kaspar drops his bow and collapses to his knees and clutches his wounded neck. The horseman turns his horse to deliver the final blow.

Further away Anatoli sees the pursuing horseman and as Sergei and Totay ride past he drives his spear into the ground and prepares to receive the horseman's charge. The rider is confident and prepares to ride around the spearpoint and cut the peasant down. He is too confident though and he fails to guide his horse outside the range of the spear and is instead impaled on it by the momentum of his charge. The spear snaps under the weight of the rider but the man is most assuredly dead.

Totay is surprised and annoyed to see Anatoli again but free of the threat of pursuit all three quickly make their way to where Kaspar and Marius disappeared.

As Kaspar waits for the final blow to come he hears a horse galloping towards him and looking up he sees Sedziwoj charge through the trees and catching the mercenaries sword blade at the last minute. Despite the cuts, bruises and exhaustion of his recent battle Sedziwoj swiftly dispatches this final bounty hunter and dismounts. Dropping his hammer he cries in frustration over the body of Marius. Anatoli and Sergei appear and help bind Kaspar's wound. Anatoli makes a simple wooden litter and drags Kaspar back up the hill to the mound.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Conspiracy of Shadows (Season Two, Session Four)

Stepping back from the chase to the brothel we follow the two Alexander's on their trip to the castle records. The priests are waved past the guards with barely a second look. The castle is humming with military activity but the soldiers are intent on carrying out their duties and the arrival of monks is no concern of theirs.

Soldiers with several of the large hunting wardogs that Jenkaz is famous for guard the inner bastion's gates. Little Alexander immediately steps forward and sets about pacifying the huge brutish dogs, the dogs quickly submit to the monk's stroking and mummery much to the disappointment of their handlers. Little Alexander explains that they are here to read the court rolls and note down the recent judgements in the King's Court. When the guard protests as to the late hour Little Alexander sternly reminds him that given the requirements to be at prayer five times a day there is no better time than now to attend to scribal duties.

Chastened the guard takes them inside the castle and down to one of the cellar vaults that contains the court records and a pasty looking scribe who is illuminating the manuscripts of a new proclaimation on gate taxes.

Little Alexander distracts the scribe while Big Alexander finds the treason trial records and starts making notes on the proceedings. Little Alexander decides to try and look at the Chancellor's financial records for the trial on the pretext of being interested once again in the results of the gate tax. He gets the scribe to take him to the Chancellor's office beneath the bastion while Big Alexander sees whether it is possible to alter or remove the trial record.

In the Chancellor's office one of the clerks is happy to show Little Alexander the gate toll receipts but when Little Alexander expresses an interest in the treason trial the clerk turns cold and advises him not to be to interested in matters of state. Alexander takes the hint and returns to the court records, in their absence Big Alexander has come to the conclusion that the scroll is simply too large to steal outright and in too final a state to be worth altering now. Instead the pair decide to take their leave and return to the Pilgrim's Quarters.

There they meet up with Sedziwoj and crew returned from the brothel. Plans are made to leave the city and meet outside the walls. In the meantime Sedziwoj and his men decamp from the Pilgrim Quarters to occupy one of the empty houses in the Old Town.

In the morning Anatoli escapes from the thatch and bumps into Kaspar who is trying to buy bread. Soldiers are already searching the empty houses looking for Anatoli so Kaspar tells Anatoli to meet the others in an abandoned shepherd's hut outside the city. Sergei trys to warn Anatoli that Sedizwoj is angry with him and has told his men to murder Anatoli. Kaspar and Sergei then return to Sedziwoj and warn him about the approaching soldiers while Anatoli hides in a latrine.

Sedziwoj leaves the house and walks up to the cathedral. During the night meeting Little Alexander told him that his cousin Michal is one of the attending priests there and gave testimony at the treason trial that Sedziwoj had not been seen with his father for many months. Trusting in the ties of family Sedziwoj meets with him in the crypts of the cathedral and tries to get some additional information about the trial proceedings other than what was contained in the court records. His cousin does not know much but does say that the content of the cell's petition was known before they arrived and that a certain clerk in the scriptorium had frequent secret meetings with the cell members. He also tells Sedziwoj that Beker was given an easy post in the guard of the silver mines after his royal pardon. Sedziwoj later contacts the clerk who is a member of the Order of the Closed Book and asks the clerk to write a letter to the head of the Order telling him to expect the remaining cell members in the Holy City soon.