The monster hunters sat around the public room in the Hunter’s Rest inn. It was early afternoon and they were, for now, the only people in the pub. Errol climbed up on a table and shouted for everyone’s attention. “Guys! Guys! We need to have a talk,” he said. He waited until almost everyone had quieted down (ignoring Tatiana).
“It’s time to talk about what our next step is,” he said. "I for one am eager to move on to greener pastures. I’m thinking we’ve mostly worn out our welcome here, and I don’t know how much more the Baron will pay us to do. Our cheques seem to be getting smaller with every job. Pretty soon, he’ll have us working for copper pennies. On the plus side, we’ve still got a fair amount of money (and the sooner we get out of this nowhere berg, the more of it we’ll keep!).
“Aaaaaannnnd,” he continues, looking over at Brandwyn. "We’ve got ourselves a magical artifact! Not many people can say that, and you all know that an adventuring group that has a magic artifact almost always goes on to become fabulously rich and famous! And we can’t do that here.
“So,” he finishes, sitting down on the table and grabbing a mug of beer. “What do you guys think?”
“I hate to disappoint you Errol, but I’m not planning on keeping the lute.” Brandwyn said. Before anyone could object, she continued, “For one thing, it’s not my instrument of choice, I don’t even know how to play it. Second, it belongs to the College of Doss, and I think we would eventually find ourselves there sooner rather than later.” She then grinned, “That’s not say we have to make a direct trip there when we leave Foxton.”
“Why not write to Doss, then, and see what fee they’ll pay for its delivery?” Brictius frowned into his drink. “Much as I’m getting bored, I’d hate to throw over a paying gig without the promise of another; it’s not as if we can just wander into the next town and stand around on a street corner until someone happens by saying ‘Just what I need! Accomplished slayers to save my daughter from her greasy boyfriend….’ Just try it here in Foxton. Good way to starve, that.”
“Wait wait wait, back up!” Errol insisted. “Brandwyn, what do you mean, you’re not keeping it? So what if you can’t play it – it’s magic! It just plays by itself, or it teaches you how to play it, or something… right? We can’t just give it up!”
“I don’t know if we get a choice in the matter, Boss,” Kienan chimed in, the hood of his cloak obscuring the top half of his young face. His feet were propped up on the table and he was idly twirling a freshly-fletched arrow between his long fingers. “Didn’t Brandwyn mention once that magical devices tend to have minds of their own? If the Lute wants to remain with Brandwyn, it will…but if it decides to go off with someone else, I suspect that things will arrange themselves to cause us to lose it.”
He noticed Randall eying the barely touched mug of ale and plate of chicken in front of the Warden and gestured for the big warrior to help himself. “I’m with Brandwyn on returning it to Doss Western. If anything, it’ll be a good excuse to get out of town. I’m getting the impression that we’re not really wanted here anymore, especially by Captain Hawthorne and the rest of the Baron’s staff. It’s not hard to notice that they don’t like us, looking down their suspicious noses at us like we’re little better than tame bandits.”
Kienan shrugged and sighed. “I say let’s part ways with Foxton while we’re still in reasonably good accord with du Clef and his Captain – after that job with the Giants. Doss Western in Godonsa gives us a destination at least….and there ought to be plenty of trouble to get into along the way.”
Benedikt drained his mug, wiped some of the spilled drink from his beard, “I think we should leave before town outstays its welcome.”
“Magic is finicky stuff, best not played with, specially bardic ones. Never good stand up stuff…” He looked at Brandwyn, “No offense, bard is good people, weird magic.” He nodded and motioned for another ale, “Leave while we got money…”
Randall greedily snatched up Kienan’s food, while waving for the waitstaff to bring him another. “So you’re saying that we’re not going to stay here anymore?” He continued to shove food in his face. “I was just beginning to like it here. They have lots of food, and…” His face twisted in confusion as he tried to think of anything else. “Well, I know they have food. Besides I think Lady Uptight is starting to tolerate me, and I really like that gardener.” He took the next plate from the server. “But I don’t make these decisions; that’s not what I was hired for.”
Tatiana opened on lazy eye. Momentarily satisfied in her appetites, she had stretched out, lazy leopard style, on a crossbeam overlooking the table.
She said, “Is there any way we can get paid for leaving town? There’s only one road out of here that goes anywhere, and once you get past that weird gate, it’s no civilization at all for about a week. Meanwhile this place is packed with merchants and pilgrims who might be wanting an escort out of town. Plus maybe we can pick up messages or something to hand over at the next town, get paid twice for the same job”
This all came out very fast.
“Elf has good idea. Get money on way out instead of spend money.” Benedikt nodded, “Is thin line between bandit and Monster Hunter. Think best to stay on this side of line. At least while near that Lady Captain, she must like us, she not get too mad after that, thing, with the giants.” He scratched his head for a moment, “I pretty good diplomat,” one gets the impression that if his mouth could be seen under the beard Benedikt would be smiling.
“Diplomacy…is that what you call getting plowed by a flying tree and captured by giants?” Kienan asked with a grin. Inwardly, he was grateful that the Uruk priest had survived, but that didn’t mean he had to let Benedikt know that.
Turning back to Errol, he said, “Sounds like we all agree with you, Boss, that calling it quits on this town is good scheme…but it doesn’t look like any of us want to keep the Lute.” The young man shrugged. “Personally, I’d rather not be famed just for owning some magical geegaw – I’d rather have a rep that speaks of my own skills and deeds. Let’s not let some trinket become a crutch for us.”
Knowing that the Hobbit would be disappointed with the loss, Kienan tried shifting the subject. “Anyway it’s been a while since the Festival so who knows how many heavy-pursed visitors are in town. But the road leads back to Warford so there must be someone traveling that direction that could use guards or couriers. Maybe we ought to split up and do some checking – like the hostels and inns for travelers on their way out….or the market for local folk looking to send stuff to the big city….or even the Baron’s castle to see if any of the highborns need messages delivered.”
“I’ll go to Gray Haven.” Bradwyn volunteered. “When are we planning on leaving? I don’t think there’s much more I can teach. Giantish isn’t that complicated.”
“My vote is for leaving in the next couple of days,” Kienan suggested. "Any longer and we might be out of hard cash again…with the way the taverns seem to be jacking up the prices of the ale around here.
“I’m willing to scout the marketplace and see if any locals are looking to send messages or deliveries. I’d join you at Grey Haven, Brandwyn, but like I said, I’m getting twitchy about the way the Lady Captain and her Guards look down at us. The common folk don’t have as much to pay us, but at least they don’t treat us like criminals.”
Asking around the marketplace, there are some pilgrims who are leaving town in the next few days, and a few merchants as well. Unfortunately, all the pilgrims have to pay you with is their gratitude. The merchants are little better, offering only a few coins. Still, something is better than nothing.
As for the Nobs, we’ll play that one out in person, ’cause it sounds like Lady Crankypants has a job for the D7…
For those of you without a map in front of you, there’s three ways to get to Godonsa, which is where the College of Doss is. First is, you can go directly west. That’s the shortest as the crow flies, but it’s a tough slog through mostly uncharted mountains; plus you’re going through Giant territory. Second is east to Warford, then north along the Demorian road. You’ll pass through Tallhill, Masingberg, and Yatzy before you get to the Lelcia River, which will take you to Godonsa. Third is the same, except you go south along the Demorian Road – through Warford, then Drache, then to the Lelcia River and into Godonsa. The northern route is a little longer, and a little more subject to bad weather now that autumn is approaching.
Kienan would vote for the southern route to Godonsa. While the trek through uncharted mountains sounds like fun, he’d rather take the quick, safe route in order to get the Lute back to its original home with a minimum of fuss.
He’ll also suggest to Errol that the Seven go ahead and offer guard/escort services to the handful of merchants headed toward Warford. The party is going that way anyhow so they might as well get a little drinking money for the easy work. But he’ll leave it to the Hobbit to do the actual negotiations.
Benedikt votes for whichever way does not involve slogging through the mountains, again.
Lady Hawthorne makes an appearance in the tavern, in her uniform but without her swords, at some point around or just after the lunch hour. “Good afternoon.” She greeted those at the table, “Mind if I join you? I have a favor to ask.”
[little GM help on negotiating with these brigands, what’s a reasonable number for someone with her wealth (5pts) to hire the D7 for the venture?]
The Deadly Seven’s standard fee is 1000 silver florins to kill a dangerous monster. Errol is willing to negotiate with people who don’t have much money, but Lady Hawthorne doesn’t appear to suffer that particular malady.
She doesn’t want anything dead (shocking, I know)… mostly, though just from a mechanics perspective, what kind of money does someone like Hawthorne have on hand to negotiate with?
1000 florins is a lot, but it wouldn’t be impossible for Isobelle to put together if she had some time (a few weeks, at least). Reasonably speaking, she might have half of that at hand. It wouldn’t all be in cash, though. A lot of transactions are trade.
“Ah, m’lady,” Errol smiles his most charming smile. “Please, have a seat. (Kienan! Feet off the table, you lout!). What can The Deadly Seven do for you today?”
His cheerful facial expression did not change a whit, but inwardly the Hobbit prayed. “Please don’t try to give us another job! I just managed to convince these guys to shake the dust off our heels and get out of this berg!”
Isobelle moves a chair from the next table over and sits down, “Thank you. First, I’d like to thank you for your service to the Barony.” She gave him a genuine smile of appreciation. “You’ve been a great help to us in the past few months.” She moved an empty tankard off to the side from where she was sitting, “But I have something of a more personal request this time. Not in the Barony, however. Possibly of a much less dangerous nature than your previous assignments. I’d like to see if you can, discretely, find any information on a murder in Tallhill last month.”
Errol looked a little confused. “Uh, I’m not quite sure I follow you, ma’am. A murder in Tallhill? Isn’t that something that the Draconians should handle? I mean, unless there’s a monster up there killing people (in which case, I’m sure we can handle it). But we’re not exactly detectives.”
“I’m sure they are handling it.” Isobelle shrugged, “At this point I’m sure it’s been either handled or unsolved. I’m not asking you to solve the murder. But I don’t trust them to send the information down in a timely manner.” She paused, “I’d like someone I do trust to find out what they can and send a letter back to me.”
Brandwyn frowned. “Wouldn’t it be better for a Draconian to request the information? I mean I’m sure they would be more willing to share information with one of their own than a bunch of monster hunters. Why not ask Lieutenant O’Derry or one of the other officers to request the report?”
“The Lieutenant has.” Lady Hawthorne “It is one of her old friends that was murdered. I’m just not sure she’s going to get the answers she wants. There are reports, and there is what happened.” Isobelle made to stand, “If you have other plans then, I’ll leave you to them. Again, thank you for your service to the Barony.”
Errol, never one to leave a potential paycheque on the table, jumps up. “With all due respect, your ladyship. We haven’t said no, yet. Let me consult with my colleagues about this, and then we’ll send word to your manor.”
“Alright then,” Isobelle gave him a short bow, “Thank you for your time.” She turned and left.
After she was well out of earshot Benedikt spoke up, “Is obvious and simple ploy to get rid of us.” He huffed, “I say we just go as planned, towards better weather.”
Tatiana watched the exchange from her perch. “‘Meow meow,’ said the catspaw.” She took another mouthful of wine and added, “I don’t think she cares about getting rid of us. She’s got to know we were about to leave, anyway.”
Her eyes narrowed as she pondered the matter. “It was O’Derry’s friend that got whacked. The Draconians aren’t going to give her the answers she wants. Two plus two equals cover-up.”
She hiccupped. “I have got to get drunk more often, it slows my thoughts down enough that I can actually see them.”
“*We* didn’t know we were going to leave until just now,” Errol said. “Unless she can see the future (which I doubt).”
He sighs. “Dang it, this complicates things for us. If Bennie is right and she just wants to get rid of us, then no problem. We were planning to go anyway. Heck, I don’t mind taking some of her coin to do what we were going to do anyway. But I’m not sure we want to take the northern route. It’s longer, and if winter sets in while we’re on the road…”
“And if Tatiana’s right about there being a cover-up, is that something we want to get involved in? We’re monster-killers; we’re not geared for intrigue. On the other hand, this place has been pretty lucrative for us, and it doesn’t hurt to have friends in high places. The Baron is pretty highly-placed, politically, and it doesn’t hurt to have someone in his employ owe us a favor.”
“Gah. I’m torn. What do you guys think?”
Tatiana said, “Sure she knew we’re leaving. We’ve been all over town offering guard services to anyone who is heading toward Warford, so unless she’d deaf as a post, she’ll have to think we’re heading out.”
“As for the commission. Depends on how much we’re getting paid, or if we can get one of those nifty little whatchacallums. Like a note that said, ‘Hey, these guys are working for me.’ Heck, even just asking for one will tell us how much she wants this kept down low.”
Brictius rises and stretches. “Let’s go kick loose the machinery of justice. There’s more honor in that than babysitting some merchant’s custom. And as for not being qualified for intrigue or suited to fight crime, I don’t recall we ever had training in ‘diplomacy,’ either, but somebody went and did some anyway….”
Kienan had been quiet, sitting still with his hood shrouding his face while the Lady Hawthorne had been in their presence, worried about accidentally saying something to offend the highborn swordswoman. Now as his friends discussed, he found something the woman had said to be nagging at him.
“She wants someone she can trust,” he said half under his breath, “She trusts us?” Kienan wondered if he’d misjudged the Lady’s opinion of the motley band of sellswords. He leaned forward to weigh into the debate.
“I think we should take the job too, Boss,” he said softly, trying to arrange his thoughts into bullet points. "For one, it’s saying a lot that her Ladyship wants the likes of us to handle this problem. I don’t know about gaining the Baron du Clef’s favor, though — she said this was a personal commission, but I suppose she might have her own share of clout in the higher circles.
“For another, I’m guessing that she needs a group that doesn’t necessarily work within the rules of the land….and that can’t directly be tracked back to her in case this is some kind of conspiracy. I think your Demorian courts call it ‘plausible deniability.’ If we get ourselves into trouble snooping around where we shouldn’t, the Lady can just shrug and say, ‘Oh, it’s just a bunch of adventurers. Why would I have anything to do with them?’
“For a last, it sounds like she’s doing this for the Draconian Lieutenant, O’Derry. Maybe I’m the only one who saw this, but most of the townsfolk tend to look askance at our like. Lieutenant O’Derry didn’t. I always felt she looked at us with respect, like we were people and not barely tamed beasts. I’d be willing to do some legwork for a woman who considers us friends and comrades.”
Tatiana said, “I’m not sure she really trusts us. Not like trust trust. It’s more like, you know, every adventurer is a trap detector once. This is just a different kind of trap. We go in there and things sort of blow up, you know, all politically, and then she see where the trap is.”
“Even so, I’m good with that, if the price is right. Maybe we should ask George.”
Randell scratched stroked his chin as if deep in thought. Finally after a much deliberation he spoke.
“When did the uptight lady become a fortune teller?”
Errol stared blankly at Randall for a minute, then sighed. “How about the rest of you?” Errol asked, looking at Benedikt and Brandwyn. It sounded to him like they were mostly in agreement – Randall would generally go along with what everyone else wanted, and Brandwyn was a bleeding heart who’d be happy to assist the Lady. Bennie… well, no one knew what the crazy Uruk priest thought (even on his best days), but if it involved hitting things he was good to go.
So Errol began to work out all the angles. Heading north to Tallhill would take at least a month, assuming they didn’t stop along the way. Maybe longer if they still wanted to play “Caravan Guard.” That would mean that the Lute would (theoretically) remain in their hands longer than if they took the shorter southern route. If the Lute stayed with Brandy, then chances are she’d start to bond with it, which means they’d probably end up keeping it.
“I’m in agreement with you guys; I think we should take the job,” he said. “We’ll make a little money, get in good with the Lady, and it’ll take us to a part of the country we haven’t seen yet. And who knows? Maybe they’ll need some monsters killed up in that part of the world. But we’ll need to leave in the next couple of days, so we don’t get stuck when the bad weather sets in.”
Benedikt sighed, “Bad weather gives me headache.” He stroked his beard, “But better than staying here. We only just started to talk about leaving and already that Lady knows. I think she’s spying on us.” He finished off the latest mug of ale, “Sooner we leave the better.”