Previously, the heroes had received a letter from lady Ulrikke, indicating that she was in Kingsport for the winter and was keen to reconnect. James also visited the Careless Wanderer to provide the heroes with Hamish’s body, some items her recovered from the skaven in the waterways, and he even gave his magical bag to the heroes on a loan. Neamhan visited Quentin in order to communicate with Róisín.
Ninth Day, First Ride, Autumn Twilight, 1262
(Silvermoon is in high sanction, Bloodmoon is waning, Darkmoon is waxing)
Quentin and Neamhan came downstairs into the tavern and found that it was early enough for most fishermen to still be asleep. They found a table near one of the two hearths and put some logs on the smouldering embers that remained from the night before. Soon after Lauryn came stumbling down the stairs, not quite ready to take on the day. She went into the kitchen where Ramsey was kneading dough and baking loafs of bread in the large oven, and made herself a hot drink. She called it a hot, brown morning potion, and she offered some to Quentin and Neamhan, explaining that it was made from ground beans and hot water. Soon after trying that hot, brown morning potion, Ramsey came out of the kitchen with some food he had been working on. Rationing some of the ingredients in preparation for the winter, he had developed some round pastries made from dough, some topped with sugar, others had a jam filling. He was unsure what to call them; hole cakes, circle sweets or perhaps sugar wheels. It was a good start of the morning.
Ser Liam of the Cloakwoods, still injured from his confrontation with Dame Morena of Hittesleigh where he tried to keep Grimnir Bouldertoe from being taken by House Dunkeswell, briefly joined the heroes as Luca came downstairs and tried some of the sugar wheels. Neamhan, ever inquisitive, asked about the way in which a large city like Kingsport gets their food, claiming that her tribe could find everything it needed within an hour of their home. Ser Liam explained that the lands of Northshire were too coveted to support enough farmland to feed a city of Kingsport’s size. Instead, the region of Fairfields, in the east of Lyria, had very fertile lands that were worked by some of the most experienced farmers. The food produced there was transported by ship to feed all the major cities around the Lyrian gulf.
Luca looked a bit haggard, and when Astrid finally joined she also looked as if she had not had a good night’s sleep. Both had been afflicted by vivid dreams. Astrid had been walking the cliffs overlooking the Bay of Teeth close to Hammerstrand, enjoying the mild weather when suddenly an enormous glacier loomed over the horizon and ruthlessly pushed onto land, crushing everything in its way. The ice was dark and even darker shapes slithered inside of it. Astrid said she could not outrun the ice and ended up being crushed by it.
Luca dreamt of a warm, late summer evening inside a small church, where he had been reading through the modest collection of books the church had in its library. Warm light fell through the stained glass windows. In front of Luca lay a journal and he read the three short entries on the open pages;
Given the opportunity, the sisters will approach you in order to strike a bargain. You just have to will it to happen and they will reveal themselves.
I have seen them drink in the blood of the first born and stretch the skins of the virgins. I have seen them dance naked in the blood soaked soil at the base of the tree. I have seen their dark pendants soak up the sanguine life spilling from their mouths after they drank their fill. The glee. The glee!
[Poor handwriting] They have promised me a reward for my sacrifice. They have promised they will let me sleep a dreamless sleep again, and release the dead in our graveyard from their control, and they will let the villagers make their own choice in who they want to follow. They promise me that the pain will soon subside. I can still pray with one hand. I can still carry the Book of St. Catherine with me as I go and talk to the villagers. This time they will hear me and they might finally trust me, for I have sacrificed part of myself for them. Just like St. Catherine sacrificed herself for Ser William.
There were more entries, but these were the last three. Luca suddenly recognised the church he was in as the church of Paladine just outside of Blackbough. When he had been there the church had been abandoned and in ruin. He suddenly wondered whether what he was seeing was real or an elaborate illusion and quickly the truth came crashing into reality, revealing the broken church he remembered. It was dark outside and window was blowing through the broken windows, snow started falling through the broken roof.
Luca walked to the entrance and saw that necrophages were stalking through the snow-covered graveyard outside. He retreated back inside the church and suddenly heard a chattering. Snow start falling harder; thicker snowflakes quickly covering everything around. Long, wiry arms and hands gripped the doorframe of the broken front door, first one pair of hands, but more and more. The head that pulled itself through the door was that of Gryza, with her regal jawline, tight mouth and a veil of flesh covering her forehead and eyes. As she moved through the door the extra sets of hands fell down around her hips like a skirt of arms and hands.
As she advanced on Luca he tried to reason with her, asking why she had brought him to Blackbough. With the voice of her and her sisters she claimed she was there to retrieve that which did not belong to Luca. He responded that there was little for him to give, that most of him was already claimed by others. In response she snatched his scarab brooch from where it held his cloak in place and retreated by outside, walking in reverse. As she faded from sight, the necrophages rushed in and pounced on Luca, tearing him apart. With that sudden death he had sat upright in his bed, panting and sweating and his heart pounding.
Back at the breakfast table the conversation turned to times where things seemed simpler, when the heroes were getting paid good coin for their efforts by house Sheridan. Neamhan asked Astrid whether she missed home, to which Astrid responded that her goal was to gather enough coin for a ship. Neamhan asked her how much it would take, and Astrid confidently answered that it would take ten thousand gold crowns. Astrid said she missed her family and Neamhan asked Astrid to tell her something about them. Astrid did not know who was still left, but only knew that those that mattered the most were not there anymore.
When Neamhan asked whether Quentin missed his family and he responded that he did not. He felt no strong tie to his family, but he did feel as if there was someone he should miss, and once again he reached to one of the leather bracers around his wrist.
Luca shared that he came from a family of pig farmers, living in a hamlet in the Elder Foothills which was so small that it had no name. One of the things he was fond of was that his father used to make Applejack, a home-made liquor made from apples, like a light brandy. This caught Astrid’s attention; she loved fruit and explained that they had very little of it where she lived.
It was at that time that lieutenant William entered the Careless Wanderer, dressed in common clothing but still wearing his sword at his side. He was wearing a heavy, hooded cloak which was laden with snow. It hid his handsome features from the fishermen in the tavern, but they were too busy with their breakfast to look up from their plates to notice.
It was quickly decided that it would be best to talk to lieutenant William in Emrys’ room, which was the only room big enough to host them all. Emrys had not yet come downstairs and when everyone entered his room it became clear why; he too had been dealing with dreams which had frustrated his rest.
When the group had found some privacy in Emrys’ luxurious room, and Quentin had vouched for Neamhan’s discretion, William explained that queen Isabella had not been herself since her recovery from her illness. She had mood swings, was more forceful, ruthless and harsh. She had initiated the assembly of a royal army to send them to subjugate the rebel houses in Farcorner. She had also been ignoring the opinions of the Queen’s Council and demanding they raise taxes and had invited members of the houses on the Queen’s Council to become guests at court as wards, which was tantamount to being hostages to the throne.
Quentin managed to urge William on to share more. With great difficulty, he shared that the queen had dismissed all of her handmaidens – all except lady Annabella. He said that the queen was keeping all servants and guards at a distance, and yelling could be heard from the queen’s chamber at all hours of the day and night. Whenever the queen engaged with servants, including William, she was abusive, even going so far as lashing him herself.
The queen had commanded that some people were found; a Mazurian man by the name of Fedor, a Lyrian called Melchior, a dwarf named Dagnamiir, an elf named Lathorael, and someone named Lash. The heroes recognised them to be the the many names of Xamael the Defiler, an agent of the Dark Queen, Takhisis, who had been responsible for the queen falling ill. None could imagine how the queen had found out who had been responsible for her malady.
Luca mentioned that it was likely the heroes would need to see the queen in the near future, and William explained that they might no longer be as welcome as they once may have been. “She’s not the person you met in the watergardens all those months ago.”
When William was about to leave, after explaining how the heroes could get in touch with him, Neamhan noticed how handsome he was and she offered him a handful of berries. He was quite delighted by them and said that his parents used to grow gooseberries in the garden patch behind their hut in Eastwarren. When Neamhan called him a pretty human, he was caught off guard but thanked her for the compliment.
When the lieutenant had left Emrys asked whether it would be a good day to arrange for Hamish’s funeral, which everyone agreed with.