Upon arriving in Milbourne, the party noticed a few things about the village.
One. It’s a tiny nothing on the edge of an insignificant valley. It would be so easy to miss this place as no major roads some through here and the river is too shallow for anything but barge traffic. If it weren’t for the copper ore coming out of the hills, no one would live here.
Two. The land is unsuitable for tilling and farming. Many people have lost their farms to swamp water rising in the south and those north of the village must deal with polluted ground-water.
Three. The people are not sociable, or even interested in meeting the newcomers. I did require that each character take a relationship with someone in the town, so they’d have some kind of history with the people here. They didn’t necessarily ever have to visit, but it would give them some “roots.”
After an exhausting meeting with the local miller and reeve (Vromme) and wife (Brandy), the group split up for a short while meeting their respective friends. News of a local girl going missing — Skye, daughter of Vromme and Brandy and apprentice to Luther — soon echoed through the village. Panic set in among some of the townsfolk and the local constable and carpenter (Roth) set about making a posse. A few misunderstandings led to Roth suspecting the party and an interrogation followed. Eager to prove their innocence, the group offered to aid Roth as they were on their way to Thurmaster anyway.
Verner also had a short meeting with an old business rival named Engel, who had taken over the exporting of copper from Milbourne into Divers. He also came to learn that his father might be in the vicinity.
Not wanting to rush and/or pay for the ferry to Thurmaster, the characters walked overland, passing a cottage in the middle of a field on the north side of the river. It looked more like a hunting lodge than anything, so the party rested there and fished in the morning before heading on.
Upon reaching Thurmaster, the players were in for an even bigger shock than before. Thurmaster was nothing more than a cobbling together of huts, surrounded by a wooden fence, with a single stone tower on the south end. In no time it was apparent that there was a strong garrison in the town, with nothing to defend. Poor people sputtered about in the dirt, shuffling to and fro as they collected wood from the abandoned farms outside the walls.
Venter had a short and useless meeting with Squire Kent, the local authority in Thurmaster before determining that 1) Luther was not in town presently and 2) it would be prudent to visit the local Baronett (Uther) in order to procure aid. Uther’s allegience to the Baron was not in question until the players arrived in Thurmaster. But it was clear, something was amiss.
The four-hour walk uphill to Huntley Keep revealed that the east end of the shire was worse off than the west end. Abandoned and burned out villages revealed recent raids and poor crop outputs. Many families had vacated the area and others were driven out. In the worst case scenarios, they were burned with their homes. The players learned that the most recent orc raids on this side of the valley were four months ago, but many farms appeared to have been fallow for up to two years.
Once at the keep, the characters came face to face with another garrison of troops. They were armed and trained (although not amazingly so) and stationed in a very small two-story keep that could hold at best, 50 men. There was no official count, however.
A short introduction to a 14-year old herald/page by the name of Aidan and a long wait for their meeting inside the keep played on the character’s patience, but eventually Ian was an audience with the regent, Barclay. A meeting with the Baronet was out of the question of course, but Barclay would hear what Ian had to say. Ian disclosed that he was a scholar seeking out Luther (in order to conceal their true motives) and that Skye had gone missing in Milbourne.
News of Skye’s disappearance concerned Barclay (for a number of reasons) and he immediately formulated a plan. He issued a letter and asked that Ian deliver this letter to Roth in Milbourne. Aidan would escort them back to Milbourne. The party spent the night inside the courtyard of the keep, among the stabled animals. At night, they encountered a lone man (Brother Nigel) taking a late-night constitutional around the compound who spoke briefly to Crandel about other faiths and metaphysical points of view. Crandel didn’t understand any of it and proceeded to talk enough to drive the man back into his room inside the keep.
Verner also noticed his father’s saddlebags (and insignia) in the stables, indicating he was either inside the keep or nearby. Verner’s need for revenge did come up as a topic. He found a pendant inside the bags that he did not recognize, probably from some sort of gentleman’s fraternity or order.
The next morning, the party headed back across the Shire toward Milbourne, with Aidan as their escort. This time, their stopped at the cottage brought them face to face with Ingram, the local woodsman who lived there. Gregarious and selfless, he seemed the antithesis of everyone else they’d met in the Shire. They shared some broth from a stew Ingram was cooking and the six men talked of the missing Skye. Ingram reported that another child had gone missing — Wallace; from a farm on the south side of the river — and that news of a second child going missing was cause for concern. Ingram offered to talk to a woman he knew about it all and would meet with them again upon their return through to the Keep.
And this is where things got very interesting for the party.
Upon returning to Milbourne, news of Barclay’s letter reached the important people of the town and a meeting at the Carmen estate (largest house in town) was called. Vromme, Roth, Darius Carmen, Aidan, and all of the player characters were present, during which time it was learned that
One. The Baronet had recently asked people to start calling him the Count, a big self-promotion.
Two. Aidan was Uther’s nephew and a shoe-in for the throne.
Three. Milbourne had always maintained some semblance of autonomy from the keep (unlike Thurmaster), but that Barclay was looking for any excuse to annex the town to the Baronet’s lands. Missing children would reflect that the townsfolk could not govern themselves and that they would need protection. This is not something anyone in Milbourne would want.
Four. Aidan would be more than willing to be the voice of reason on behalf of Milbourne — for the right price.
Five. A large farm was going up for auction tomorrow and Darius Carmen was sure to win it, but the farmland was among those submerged in the growing swamp.
Six. By the looks of Carmen’s parlor, he was nouveau riche and didn’t know how to spend his money. Among his tchotchkes was a book called “Songs of the Hammer of the Gods” (a purposely annoying title), detailing a time before the human gods when giants roamed the earth. Ian sat alone with the book for a time while the other’s argued about the fate of Milbourne.
The session ended with Aidan and the key people of Milbourne leaving the room in various intervals as the conversation grew more and more hostile, leaving the party alone in the parlor.
We play again in about 18 hours.