Previously, the heroes managed to revive the queen from her torpor, but not without suspecting there was a higher price to pay than was immediately apparent. In doing so, the heroes got into conflict with princess Mildred, the queen’s aunt, and her husband the steward of Kingsport, lord Gabriel. They tried to interfere with the process and had to pay for it with their lives. It was clear that princess Mildred had been an agent of Xamael.
Seventh Day, Third Ride, Autumn Red, 1262
(Silvermoon is waxing. Bloodmoon is waxing. Darkmoon is waning.)
The heroes had just finished up their intense conversation with Réonan, the grand archmage of the Circle of Magi, while Luca had a conversation of his own with Aurion at the Cathedral of the Platinum Father. It was late in the afternoon, and the heroes were really starting to feel the fatigue of the last couple of days weighing down on them.
As they made their way down the Elysian street, Quentin and Emrys were still talking about what Réonan said, and the likelihood that Quentin would receive his reward for liberating the rebel lords from the carceratum; an audience with the queen’s council so that he can rally the nobility to action. Réonan’s position had been one of inaction, which frustrated Quentin. Emrys understood the frustration; in his tribe he was meant to be a prodigy, a saviour, but he never believed in fate. To believe in fate was to believe in a lack of agency; you were merely a cog in a machine.
While Quentin and Emrys spoke and headed to the Careless Wanderer, James went to look for Luca. There were not many people on the street, but he managed to knock on a few friendly doors and ask some bored people whether they had seen a dark figure with a long staff come by. While he didn’t find a trace of Luca, he did managed to find out that a lot of the Steady Hand’s operations had moved below the surface of the street, likely to avoid detection from the patrolling crownguard and custodians.
In the meantime, Luca was about to depart the cathedral. On his way out he approached some of the clerics and asked about prior Benedict’s whereabouts. After the clerics made the sign of the triangle in respect, they informed Luca that the living saint had headed north, into the Silverpine Hills, in order to discover the site of the first cathedral, which he intended to rebuild.
When Luca stepped outside he saw James making his way across the empty Steward Square. They met on the steps of the cathedral, in the wind and rain, and James gave Luca an earful of grief for leaving the Circle by himself while carrying one of the tablets. To his credit, Luca did not deny that it was a mistake. The two decided to go to the Careless Wanderer and meet up with the Quentin and Emrys.
The Careless Wanderer was quiet and subdued. When the heroes left Kingsport to head to Eastmarsh the place had been filled to the rafters with visitors and fisherfolk who were looking to participate in the annual royal master angling competition. It would be at least another ride before the competitors would return to Kingsport, before the first snow, in the hopes of becoming this year’s master angler. For now, it was quiet.
The heroes arranged for some rooms with Lauryn, the friendly aen cannell. She asked after Astrid’s whereabouts, but the heroes kept it vague. Emrys took a luxurious room overlooking the stables, while James, Luca and Quentin each took a simple, single room. Luca made a point to ask for the single room he had when he first laid eyes on Aurion, just before departing Kingsport to go in search of Lord Destan.
When James went up to his room to put away his belongings he was surprised to find that Wynn was still hiding away inside his bag. He decided to let the excited little guy wander around the inn freely. The young quickling was delighted to hear he had finally made it to the fabled Kingsport.
“We’re finally in Kingsport! I’m going to be famous here!”
– Wynn the Quickling
Eighth Day, Third Ride, Autumn Red, 1262
(Silvermoon is waxing. Bloodmoon is waxing. Darkmoon in low sanction.)
The following morning Luca did something that he had never done in earnest; he prayed. Because he did not know any prayers, he had to reach back to some of the childhood prayers and rhymes that he was taught. As he did so he felt a warmth fill his body which reinvigorated him.
During a very sober breakfast in a quiet tavern room Luca shared with the others that prior Benedict was no longer in Kingsport. He was going to be their first port of call in order to see about besieging the gods about Astrid’s death. Instead, the heroes discussed the possibility of turning to the House of the Raven Queen. Due to the nature of Astrid’s death, and the way in which Xamael had reanimated her body to fight against her friends, the heroes felt that the Raven Queen might be susceptible to the argument that Astrid fell before her time.
Near the end of breakfast, a crash could be heard from the kitchen, followed by cursing from Ramsay. The heroes could hear the distinct sound of a playful little bell which told them that Wynn was the cause of the ruckus. All of them looked to James, who just shrugged and smiled.
After breakfast the heroes went around to the stables and found Wojciech who was busy shoeing a horse. He was happy to see the heroes had returned, but guessed their intention; they wanted him to head down to the Sheridan estate to pick up their horses. He was happy to do so but said that the roads were more treacherous. Bandits had moved south from the Plains of Strife as that area had become more dangerous. He would take two friends along and for 2 crowns he would leave that afternoon and return the following day.
The heroes also spoke to Lauryn in order to safeguard some of the items they were unwilling to take with them to the House of the Raven Queen; most notably Blackstar, with which Luca wasn’t welcome the first time he tried to enter. Quentin decided to leave the Armour of the Malakim behind as well, as the package was simply too heavy for him to carry. They would be stored in a closet in Magda’s quarters for safe keeping.
Luca asked Lauryn if she could get a message to Hamish Black that he wished to speak to him, to which Lauryn immediately started balking. She told Luca that he knew that Hamish was not welcome in the Wanderer any longer, but the plan was for Luca to meet the young mage at the Circle. Lauryn agreed to seen a messenger. All the conversation of messengers reminded Lauryn that there had been a message for Quentin from his lord father Dorian Morvrayne, who was said to be en route to Kingsport together with lord Gauthier of House Lys. The news of this turned Quentin’s throat dry and his stomach to water.
The House of the Raven Queen stood opposite the Wanderer. Its gothic architecture was hard to miss, but the heroes had gotten used to it. Now that it was their destination they could really appreciate how much the building stood out. In contrast to almost all buildings in Kingsport, which were made from Northshire limestone, the Raven Queen’s sacred home was made with jet-black stone. It was grand in its design, much like Paladine’s cathedral, but without all the decorations, having chosen instead to adopt sleek, long lines which made the building look like a weeping willow, or a melting candle. The tall, wooden doors were unadorned except for the pattern of feathers engraved in it.
When the heroes knocked the doors were opened by clerics, so called silent brothers and sisters, each of them soberly dressed in black robes, with their faces painted white with dark charcoal rings painted around their eyes, making them look like solemn, sad and ghastly at the same time.
Inside the cavernous building was dark and gloomy, with the only light coming through the tall windows from the grey skies outside or from the rings of candles that were lit around each of the thick support pillars that held the ceiling aloft. A small number of people were there, either alone or in small groups clustered together, mourning or remembering their fallen loved ones. The silent brothers and sisters moved quietly in the darkness beyond.
The heroes were lead down the long aisle toward an unadorned, grey block of stone which served as its altar. An older man stood there, with broad shoulders and a strong body, shrouded in a dark robe. His face was clean shaven and his head bald. He wore a simple black hat and had intense green eyes. He introduced himself as cardinal Roark. His words broke the silence in the building like a curse.
When it became clear why the heroes had come, the cardinal asked the silent brothers and sisters to clear the building, and for the heroes to all place their hands on the altar and tell the Raven Queen about Astrid’s death. James told about their mission, about saving the queen and their conflict with Xamael. The cardinal concluded that James had not address Astrid’s death.
Quentin took a turn and explained how loyal Astrid had been, how he had let her down and how much he had regretted that. James, who was sceptical at first, scrutinised Quentin’s words but had to conclude that the young Beauclairois knight was speaking honestly. The cardinal was still not satisfied.
It was only when the heroes truly addressed the fight with Xamael, Astrid’s death and how she had been raised as Xamael’s undead minion before they had to put her down again. The cardinal seemed satisfied and went to practical matters of the body and the material sacrifice. He explained that three of them had to participate in the ritual and attempt to call Astrid’s spirit back.
When the ritual started, two silent brothers brought heavy censers which spread an intoxicating smoke throughout the building until the altar and the heroes were completely surrounded by pale, scented smoke. The cardinal began to recite long litanies to the Raven Queen, which took a very long time. Eventually, he invited the first of the heroes to convince Astrid to come back.
Emrys decided to go first and said that he and Astrid went back a long time and that he had come to know her as someone who loved life, relishing every encounter and every moment, taking them as they came. Emrys said that Astrid was taken unjustly and that he looked forward to her return. From somewhere in the smoke the heroes could hear Astrid’s voice ring out.
“It gladdens me to know that Odin prepares for a feast! Soon I shall be drinking ale from curved horns! This hero that comes into Valhalla does lament her death. I shall not enter Odin’s halls with fear.”
Luca was next to speak. He assured Astrid that she would indeed be welcomed in Odin’s halls, but that it was not her time yet for she had not felt the salt spray on her skin as she captained her own ship across the Bay of Teeth. He promised her that he even had a ship for her. Again, Astrid’s voice cried out.
“I shall wait for my sons to join me, and when they do, I will bask in their tales of triumph. The Æsir will welcome me. My death comes without apology. And I welcome the valkyries to summon me home!”
James was last to speak. He said that there Æsir would welcome her more if they had seen more adventures together. That the world needed her, and that there was more to do. He asked her if she would join them or their quests. James asked her what the rush was.
When her body began to stir it was not in the same, violent way in which the queen stirred when she was revived. Nor did Astrid’s eyes shine with an infernal glow when she finally opened them. Stiffly she rose to her elbows and pushed herself up into a seated position. She looked ghastly, with dark, charcoal rings around her eyes. She had returned and the heroes welcomed her back and they would wait to see how her revival had changed her.