Author Archives: Dennis

Graveyard Consequences

Previously, the Heroes of the White Eye managed to meet some of the servants at Blackbough Mansion and some of the residents of Blackbough Village and found that the former were living under the rule of lord Oswin, while the latter lived under the rule of the Good Sisters of the Grove, a trio of folklore spirits which accepted gifts and sacrifices in return for safety and prosperity. The heroes also found that the abandoned church was littered with the writings of father Gregory, a priest who had tried to shepherd the villagers away from their superstitions and into the arms of the Platinum Father, only to find just how cruel the good sisters could be to those who opposed them.

Sixth Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waning. Darkmoon in high sanction.)

Once the heroes had reconstructed all of father Gregory’s writings, and exhausted all that was to learn from them, it was well past sundown. Quentin felt that the best course of action would be to leave Blackbough; he felt it was impossible for the heroes to withstand the power of the good sisters if father Gregory, a man of faith, wasn’t able to withstand them. This elicited a sardonic chuckle from James, who was snacking on some food while leaning up against the altar.

Emrys suggested going back to Blackbough mansion. Luca agreed and asked James whether he still had some stiff drinks that he could share. James rummaged around in that mysterious bag of his and said that he should have enough to get through the night. It was unclear whether James was serious or not.

Luca took the time to memorise the writings of father Gregory while the rest gathered up their things in order to return to Blackbough. A conversation came up when Luca wondered aloud whether the villagers may be watching them. He felt that the villagers were distrustful of the heroes and Emrys briefly wondered whether the writings they had found were even to be trusted, or whether they were planted for the heroes to find. Quentin thought it could have been a test. The heroes briefly entertained the thought before abandoning it.

Just before departure, Luca noticed that there were spores and mushrooms growing on on the side of one of the pews and from between the cracks of the floor tiles. It reminded him of to a disturbing dream he had right before waking up in Old Llygad for the first time. He was chased by a black steed, engulfed in smoke and flame, through the ruins of an old church. He was certain that it had been this church that he had seen in his dream.

When the heroes left the church to make their way back to Blackbough they found that a thick mist had settled over the graveyard outside. Several figures were skulking in the mist; grotesque humanoid with deformed heads and missing their skin, exposing bloody muscle, sinew and bone. Their leader, it seemed, had a horrific addition of bony spikes protruding from its flesh at ghastly angles. It became clear that they were laying in waiting when they immediately and aggressively moved in to attack the heroes.

Despite their viciousness the heroes managed to vanquish the ghoulish creatures, but not without paying a hefty price in blood. It was when the heroes discovered that they were susceptible to fire that the tide of the battle turned into their favour. When the ambushers had been defeated, Luca noticed a tall, slender figure retreating in the mist. He thought he saw that the figure had horns. Later, when the heroes were safely back at the mansion, James shared that he had not seen any horns, but that he thought he had seen a tall, slender woman wearing a veil.

At the mansion, the heroes were received and immediately tended to. Lord Oswin made sure that their wounds were treated and that they had everything they needed, once again underscoring the laws of hospitality.

Luca had read that during the Age of Fear, when humanity was opposing the forces of chaos, law and order were considered an important way to oppose the threat. Anyone caught breaking the laws of hospitality were considered in league with demons. Humanity was so dependent on one other for survival that the laws of hospitality were considered sacred. The Age of Fear made way for The Great Waning, which in turn lead to the Age of Peace, but some of these customs survived and were still held in high regard in the more conservative and remote parts of the Verdant Kingdoms.

Seventh Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon in low sanction. Darkmoon is waning.)

You are troubled by haunting dreams throughout the night. You remember being chased through the fog-choked swamp by something large and malicious. You remember tripping and plunging into sinking sand. You tried to crawl out of the mud, but with every move you kept sinking deeper into the relentless bog. You remember feeling something pinch and you looked down to find leeches attaching themselves onto your skin. You remember feeling like you didn’t quite belong in your body; as if it wasn’t yours; like wearing an ill-fitting suit of clothing. You can’t quite remember how things ended and trying to recall other details proves almost impossible, but you feel shaken to your core and have to suppress the urge to pack your things and leave Blackbough.

Upon waking up from a terrible night’s sleep, haunted by strange dreams, Emrys felt exhausted. Blythe, lord Oswin’s majordomo, came to invite the heroes to break their fast together with the lord. The lord received the heroes in the great hall of his manor, where a large table was set up to host them. Lord Oswin was flanked by mistress Ysgith and lieutenant Aram of the Company of the Shield, the commanding officer of the house guard.

Quentin observed mistress Ysgith throughout the breakfast, to see if she had any strange leeches attached to her skin. He couldn’t see any, but did notice several red spots where he had first noticed the leech, as well as elsewhere on her skin.

Meanwhile, the heroes got a chance to talk to lieutenant Aram. They learned that there were eight mercenaries currently at Blackbough and another dozen at the hargrove. They also learned that Aram considers the elven attackers at the hargrove to be procyon due to the tactics they employ. Several men died in defending the grove, all of which were laid to rest in the graveyard at the abandoned church.

When the heroes turned the conversation to finding the ghost orchid, mistress Ysgith suggested the heroes decide what it would be worth to them, and bring an offering to the scarlet willow in the middle of the sacred grove. She implied that whatever it was that they were after, the good sisters might be able to help.

Blackbough and its Villagers

Previously, after surviving a fight with an ancient foglet only hours away from their destination, the heroes and their one remaining traveling companion, Isalien Willowborn, made it to Blackbough, a dreary hamlet on the side of a hillock. At the top of the hillock stood a wooden, fortified mansion which turned out to be the seat of house Blackbough. Lord Oswin, the head of the house, extended hospitality to the heroes, but was not able to direct them to finding a ghost orchid.

Sixth Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waning. Darkmoon in high sanction.)

Once the servant, who had brought a crate of food to the cabin that the heroes had been assigned, had departed, Luca immediately asked the others whether they had noticed the grizzly, severed hand hanging from a leather string around his neck. James did not seem moved by it and wanted to start making a plan instead of dwelling on the servant.

Isalien and Astrid decided that they required more rest and planned to stay in the cabin. Luca and James were going to focus on talking to the different people around the mansion and in particular, James was interested in finding the servant who was shushed during their audience with lord Oswin. James hoped that the servant might be willing to share more when approached away from the lord. In the meantime, Emrys and Quentin would make their way to the hamlet in the hopes of getting some information from the villagers. Quentin could hopefully make use of ser Fulton’s shield, while Emrys could hopefully win them over with music. Before departure, Luca changed his clothing and took a moment to adopt a slightly different posture, even going so far as changing the inflection with which he spoke, aiming to seem more like a northerner.

It did not take long for James and Luca to have found the man they had wanted to speak to; a plain-faced majordomo who turned out to be a Bournemouth academy graduate who originally hailed from Rivermeet. He claimed that while he had been in Blackbough for a while, he had yet to get used to the dark superstitions the villagers believed in. He claimed that Mikkel, the servant who had brought the heroes their food, had been wearing the hand around his neck out of punishment, but refused to speak more on the subject. Increasingly more uncomfortable, he referred to mistress Ysgith, the woman who was lord Oswin’s council, in order to find out more about the ghost orchid.

Emrys and Quentin walked down the hillock into the dreary hamlet of Blackbough. They quickly noticed that there were very few villagers and those they noticed were either old, injured or nursing young ones. Strangely, they also didn’t notice many children, besides the very youngest. Another thing they did not see; if this village primarily consisted of loggers and lumberjacks, where was the sawmill? How did the people earn their keep?

Emrys pulled out his lute and sat down in the middle of the village and started to play a tune, while improvising a song which told the story of the ill queen, without going into some of the more negative consequences of her possible death. It had the desired effect and some of the villagers made their way over to listen.

An old, blind man by the name of Wyeth came over and asked one of the villagers to bring his logs. The logs were hollow, of different sizes and they made different sounds when the old man played them with sticks. His percussion nicely harmonised with Emrys’ strumming of his lute.

When the songs were done, Emrys and Quentin were able to talk to Wyeth, whom they called “the Acadian” even though he wasn’t one. He had been a log driver, who floated logs down the Ivel to Rivermeet, when he was attacked by drowners; the restless dead of those taken by the swamps. He was saved by a family of Acadians and nursed back to health by them.

Harrow the Elder, a man deep in his twilight years with a body so bent by time that he was barely able to stand unaided, was able to share that the village was under the protection of the Good Sisters of the Grove; a commonly held belief in spirits who governed what happened in the area and maintained a personal relationship with the villagers.

Old Abigail, an elderly woman of good constitution who was responsible for teaching the children of the village about plants, animals and hygiene. When learning about the heroes being attacked before arriving in Blackbough, she offered that the mist was a sign that the land felt threatened and that the sisters had sent the creature to defend the village. By extension of her tasks around the village, she was also able to talk about the different herbs and medicines that the swamp provided. The ghost orchid, however, was extremely rare and she wasn’t able to help there.

Emrys and Quentin also found that most of the villagers had been moved to the hargrove, a stretch of forest to the east that lord Oswin had wanted to start logging at. That explained the absence of a lot of the villagers. They also learned that there another way in which the village earned their keep was a bit of peat farming.

Luca and James also spoke to Nielen, a Fulham native who had moved to Blackbough a year ago in order to work the smithy at the mansion. Another discovery was that the guards were mercenaries of the Company of the Shield, of which lord Oswin used to be a member as one of the first freeriders. The company operated along the Plains of Strife.

Lastly, Luca and James found mistress Ysgith in a small garden behind the mansion. She explained that she came to Blackbough several rides ago in order to help lord Oswin achieve his goals. She was interested in helping the heroes find a ghost orchid, but wanted to know what the heroes were willing to sacrifice in order to get it. When they bid their goodbye to mistress Ysgith, James noticed that a leech was stuck on her neck, just below her ear.

When the heroes came together they shared what they had learned and came to the conclusion that they wanted to pay a visit to the abandoned church of Paladine. They were hoping to learn something more about the village and its inhabitants and were curious to see what Fedor, the scholar who had arrived in the summer, had managed to learn from his trip to the church.

Getting to the church turned out to be easy. They found the building badly damaged by vandalism and fire and that due to the holes in the roof the interior had been exposed to the elements, leaving doors and pews rotten and warped. The graveyard outside, while old and poorly maintained, did seem still used, with a few new people having been put to rest in fresh graves.

The inside of the building was no better than the outside; parts were badly damaged by fire and statues, paintings and tapestries were vandalised. Parchments and books were strewn everywhere, either weathered or burned. There were signs of a concerted effort to catalogue the written artifacts that were salvageable enough to be legible. Most of the writings were by father Gregory, the late priest at the church. The assumption that this cataloguing had been done by the visiting scholar.

The findings prompted the heroes to collaborate on reading through the artifacts and searching for anything the scholar may have missed. They found a few caches of writings that the scholar had overlooked and combined that with the catalogue they had found.

The villagers show no interest in following Paladine and are unconcerned about their fate after death.

The villagers are pagans who worship and obey a capricious whims of spirits who control the land and their fortune and they feel like they have a direct relationship with these spirits.

The villagers pay tribute to these spirits at a blossoming willow tree in the middle of a sacred grove to the south-east. These tributes range from small tokens to large, unspeakable blood sacrifices.

The spirits are called the “good sisters”, or “sisters of the grove” and there are three of them. They are named Memra, Druda and Gryza.

The sisters have been part of the of the local traditions for at least as far back as the first lord of Blackbough, in the seventh century. Old drawings of villagers bring offerings to three women at a grand willow tree.

The toll that the sisters have taken on the villagers over the past decades is enormous, all in the interest of small boons or benefit. They have lost all sense of perspective.

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 Saint 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 saint Catherine sacrificed herself for Ser William.

Arriving in Blackbough

Previously, the heroes and their travelling companions were lured deep into the fog by some promiscuous swamp lights while on their way to Blackbough to search for answers on the plight of the cursed Lyrian queen. The swamp lights eventually lead them straight into the claws of an ancient foglet. The fight was short and brutal, killing both Randall as well as Michel, with Astrid, Isalien and Luca nearly perishing as well.

Fifth Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waning. Darkmoon is waxing.)

After the battle had been won, the wounded had been revived and the dead had been recovered, James decided he wanted to chop the head of the ancient foglet but quickly found out that carrying that enormous head might be more than he bargained for. Instead, he decided to carve out the creature’s eyes and extract some of its teeth. If they wouldn’t catch him some crowns, they might be a nice souvenir.

Isalien used a thick branch of a nearby tree to fashion herself a crutch to take some of the weight off her injured leg. She began looking around for a good place to set up camp. Even though she assured the heroes that they were nearby Blackbough, the consensus was to wait until morning before heading into town. Before camp was made, Quentin lead some in giving the bodies of the fallen to the swamp by wrapping them tightly in their cloaks and blankets. Isalien asked for them to be placed beneath the high branches of a large cypress tree, hoping that they would become one with the tree as they passed.

When camp was made people took stock of their wounds and began to dress them. Astrid needed stiches and help with a dislocated shoulder. Several people were bandaged and James made good use of his healer’s kit, quickly spending many of the remaining supplies. It was late afternoon and there would be enough time for everyone to get eight hours of rest while still maintaining a watch.

Emrys created a small, smokey fire with some of the kindling that wasn’t completely soaked through. Together with  Luca he spent his watch on the lookout for those eerie swamp lights, which they saw darting around in the distance but never came in closer.

For those paying attention during their watch, they could see that the Bloodmoon was but a tiny sliver in the sky, with the Silvermoon being a beautiful crescent, while the Darkmoon stood in high sanction, casting an eerie blue glow across the swamp and the mist that undulated all around.

Sixth Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waning. Darkmoon in high sanction.)

The next morning camp was broken up and despite the swelling and bruising of the fresh wounds, the journey continued. As predicted by Isalien, who still walked with the support of her improvised crutch, Blackbough was not more than two hours away.

In Blackbough, all decomposes; be it dead or very much alive. Rot blights trees, seeping sores torment beasts, and the whole swamp emits the acrid, stifling stench of decay.

Emerging from the mist, a small hillock comes into view, on the top of which stands a tall, wooden keep surrounded by a palisade. From the sides of the guard towers cling the soaked banners of the black tree of House Blackbough.

Down the slope of the hillock sits a hamlet of no more than a couple of dozen low huts made of bent logs, occasional crumbling masonry and rotting thatched roofs. A handful of sallow and bent people dressed in muddy robes tend to small gardens or are feeding a couple of sickly goats.

The heroes and their traveling companion made their way up the hillock and saw that the undulating mist receded enough to reveal another hillock in the distance. On top of it stood a large stone structure with a small tower. When they approached the wooden keep they saw that it was surrounded by a wide earthen wall with a tall palisade on top of it. The gate, a masonry structure with thick wooden doors which sat in a gap in the earthen wall and which carried a sturdy wooden tower atop it, was guarded by two well-armed guards. They carried halberds and swords at their side, and were dressed in studded leather enforced by plate pauldrons, gauntlets and splinted boots. Bits of chain reinforced where the leather strips fastened the armour. The gate tower had another guard atop it, as did the towers further along the palisade, each dressed similarly, but instead of a halberd, they carried crossbows.

Quentin was pushed forward in order to introduce the heroes and gain an audience. He seemed somewhat reluctant but proved to be quite comfortable in addressing the house guard in a manner that they responded well to. The guard opened the gate and allowed them entrance on the condition that they would stay their weapons. Inside the gate there stood wooden houses, barracks, stables with a hayloft and even a small granary. A smithy with a masonry forge and large bellows was the only structure besides the gate that was made of stone. In the middle of the yard stood a tall, wooden, multi-story manse with grey slate shingles for a roof. Everything looked quite well maintained.

The guard asked them to stay in the yard and went inside to announce their arrival. Several people came out of the manse, lead by a tall, thick limbed man with a hooked nose, dark, wicked eyebrows and a thick black beard. Lord Oswin’s head was shaved on both sides and he had a single strip of thick black hair that started at a widow’s peak, ran over his head and down the back in a thick braid. Several scars marred his face; one vertical scar along the side of his head, just behind his temple in particular.

Before the heroes could speak the man bellowed;

Lady Rowyn sent you to come and collect, has she? Well, you tell her that I understand full well what my responsibilities are and remind her of her own; I have requested more men to lay claim to the hargrove and instead of sending me men, she sends me tax collectors. Accompanied by an elf at that!

Quentin assured lord Oswin that the heroes were not sent by lady Rowyn and humbly asked to continue the conversation somewhere private due to the sensitive nature of their quest. Lord Oswin visibly relaxed and invited the heroes to choose two representatives to come inside and discuss while the rest remained outside. Quentin and James decided to follow and they were lead into a large hall, simply decorated, with benches lining the side, but with some large, elaborately carved chairs at the far end where lord Oswin and some of his people took seats.

One of the people who took a seat was a woman beyond her middle years. She was dressed well, but not lavishly, had neatly kept grey hair. She seemed too old to be lord Oswin’s wife, and too young to be his mother. When lord Oswin was asked about where ghost orchids could be found, he professed not to know much about the local flora, but introduced the woman as Ysgith. She said that she had heard of the orchid and claimed that they were legendary and grew on sites of great bloodshed, but couldn’t say where to find one.

When lord Oswin was asked whether any visitors had come through in the last few months, he said that besides the occasional Acadian, the only visitors was a scholar named Fedor who hailed from the Mazurian Hills who had come to investigate the abandoned church of Paladine. Lord Oswin had granted food and shelter to him and his guards and they spent a few days in Blackbough, going on several excursions. They left just before the feast of Midsummer. When asked about the abandoned church, lord Oswin explained that his father, the previous lord, had run the house coffers dry and could no longer pay the tithe to the church. When father Gregory turned to the villagers, who had never been pious followers of Paladine they quickly turned on the father and drove him out and pillaged the church.

Lord Oswin suggested talking to the villagers to possibly find out more about the ghost orchid. In the meantime, he offered the heroes shelter.

So I offer you a fire at which to warm your limbs. Also, a place at my table and beds for you to rest. On condition ye pledge to me one very small things; to respect the sacred laws of hospitality. Also, the elf maid that travels with you will have to remain in the cabin that is provided to you and is not allowed to roam.

Quentin took the pledge and he and James were reunited with the rest of the heroes who had remained outside. One of the guards walked them to one of the cabins on the yard and banged on the door. A servant opened up and was ordered to seek shelter elsewhere. There was enough space for all; a common room had a small hearth, a table and chairs, while the two other rooms had two beds each.

While the heroes were settling in and discussing on how to proceed, there was a knock on the door. A servant had come to bring them a crate of food; bread, cheese, goat’s milk, eggs, water. There was plenty for everyone. The man carried the crate inside and put it on the ground. He wore simple clothing and wooden shoes and as he bent forward, something dangling from around his neck slipped from underneath his shirt. He quickly put it back before hastily departing, but anyone who had been looking at him would have seen the decaying severed hand that was hanging from a leather string around his neck like a macabre talisman.

Sibling Roles

I would like to think that my siblings and I are quite close. We talk every day, but still maintain a healthy separation and aren’t up in each other’s business (most of the time). We’re supportive and encouraging and we genuinely like each other. That is not to say that we don’t disappoint each other from time to time, or step on each other’s toes, of course. After all, the Meijer blood is strong.

What I like is that we have very different one-on-one relationships with each other; there is something that each combination of two of us share, that the third isn’t involved in. There are times where my siblings do stuff together that I am not that interested in, and likewise there are moments where I do something with one of them that the other isn’t involved in. There’s a fine line to walk that we don’t make one of us feel excluded, of course, but so far I think we’ve always been able to address it when it came up.

One of the things I was thinking of is that, when the three of us are together, we all have very different roles. I think those roles might be perceived differently depending on which one of us you ask, but from my perspective; my sister is our heart and soul, she embodies where we came from and represents our identity. My brother represents our untroubled nonchalance; everything is going to be okay, nothing is a problem and everything is possible.

I don’t quite know what my role is, necessarily. I’d like to believe that I’m our enabler!