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Thread: From Distant Shores, Chapter 5

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    Default From Distant Shores, Chapter 5

    The current chapter of our ongoing campaign. The previous chapters can be found here:

    Chapter 1 - Ironbark Keep: https://www.burningwheel.com/forum/s...Distant-Shores

    Chapter 2 - The City of Calavel: https://www.burningwheel.com/forum/s...hoes-Chapter-2

    Chapter 3 - The War in Avanale: https://www.burningwheel.com/forum/s...hoes-Chapter-2

    Chapter 4 - Separate Journeys: https://www.burningwheel.com/forum/s...ores-Chapter-4

    WHERE ARE WE?
    The Braemar Peninsula juts off the main body of land far to the northwest - it's lands are analogous to Scotland. A chain of islands sits south of the peninsula and west of the main coast called the Sparrow Isles which are Ireland equivalents. Along the main coast, the kingdom of Oscal is a Spain equivalent and the one interior to it is Italy. To the west of the mainland (and south of Braemar Peninsula) there is a single large island called Elsinore.

    From a technology perspective, it's around 1200 A.D. - mail is the top armor of the day. There is no magic, only Faith.

    Our world map is here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0Bx...GRUZGZqcV9qQms

    WHAT'S THE SITUATION?
    A little over a two years ago, a race of people called the Kargs arrived out of the western horizon on ships. They have set up shop on Elsinore and effectively taken over the ruling family there through the implicit thread of violence. They have begun forays into other parts of the Braemar Peninsula. Imagine the white skinned folks from Prometheus with swirling, celtic tattoos and a viking culture. Those that have arrived appear to be interbred with humans. So most of them have a mix of Kargish and human features - affluent leaders appear to have fewer or no human features. They are organized intro tribes and their activities are varied across the peninsula. In some cases, they are active traders and merchants, in others they are marauders. Imagine the History Channel's Vikings or the Saxon Chronicles but in reverse, we are being invaded by the foreigners. It appears that the Kargs have some kind of magic.

    WHO ARE THE CHARACTERS

    Aedan of Aerondel (aka Aedan Hammerhand): The youngest brother in a family of nobles that was murdered by the Kargs. His family's holdings have been razed. He has effectively been rendered a landless knight in a country that does not quite believe that the Kargs performed the act. Aedan has slain his family's killer and ruined his clan beyond repair - now he seeks the aid of the Oscallian Crown in order to displace the Kargs from the Sparrow Isles and chase them back to their home.

    Alistair de la Rosa (aka Alistair Blackwell, The Alchemist): The third brother in a family of Oscallian nobles who was sent to serve the Church, he was assigned to the Aerondel house where he and Aedan became childhood friends before he ran away to pursue chemistry, alchemy and munitions. He has spent the last ten years as a pirate and sellsword blowing things up, before returning to aid Aedan in his quest for revenge. He is slowly unraveling through injury, a serious substance abuse problem, and emotional turbulence of having committed multiple murders with his own hand, including being banished from the school where he learned his craft. He is coming apart at the seams as he tries to free his older brother from the debtors' prison in Oscal.

    Lord Gyles Sett, Baronet of the Summerfields (also a Sorcerer and Spymaster): A 17 year old smuggler who is gifted with a will of steel (Child Prodigy, Gray Will) and travels with a falcon companion. He and Alistair struck up a friendship given their respective lines of work and eventually agreed to help the two friends in their quest for vengeance. Along the way, he has proved himself indispensable to many of the noble families, particularly the Summerfields who granted him a Baronet title. He has also drank the blood of the Norns in order to grant himself the Gifted trait. Throughout his travels, he has worked to maintain loyal contacts in each place and he now covets the Isle of Elsinore as a personal holding.

    Their pictures are here: https://plus.google.com/106949512650...ts/arqrcpHkixj

    WHAT'S HAPPENED SO FAR?
    * The PC's started in Iron's Bay where they agreed to investigate a disruption of the mines that supply the city with its namesake ore; they discovered, fought and slew a Manticore at the mines.
    * Upon reporting it to the local lord, they found him in discussions with Kargish envoys who were offering to help solve his problem at the mines with men, supplies, and equipment.
    * Alistair murders the lord with poison, blames it on the Kargs, and then murders the ambassador in order to prevent the truth from getting out.
    * The Kargs, realizing they have been betrayed, slip into the Keep in the middle of the night and overtake it; the PC's escape.
    * The PC's assist another lord in retaking the keep, and then help him set up defenses to resist a large Kargish attack that is en route.
    * The PC's return to Irons Bay, recruit a man to help them with their money and set off to a tournament in Calavel (city in another region)
    * In Calavel, Aedan wins both the joust and the melee competitions and reveals his identity at the festivities as the last member of the House of Aerondel.
    * Gyles reconnects with a young noble whom he rescued at Ironbark and is swept up into courtly politics, eventually working for the Duchess of Braemar.
    * Alistair sees the only Karg to have escaped the retaking of the keep, captures him and creates evidence to make it look like he planned to kill the Duchess' son.
    * Alistair also runs into his sister who he has not seen for 15 years, only to discover his family has lost their money and that his mother has remarried to a Karg to safeguard their futures.
    * Alistair and Gyles convince Alistair's sister to become a spy for their efforts against the Kargs.
    * The PC's go to Alport to take the war to the Kargs, they free several villages from Kargish control before stumbling across clues that point to a "secret ritual" happening in the forests of Aerondel.
    * The PC's recruit the bandits that helped keep Aedan alive during his flight from Aerondel, and attack the ruins of a fortress which is acting as a base camp for the Kargs in that area.
    * They are successful in routing the Kargs and in the combat, Aedan confronts and slays the Kargish captain who murdered his family.
    * The PC's and their bandit allies, regroup, and then assault the site of the magical ritual where they must contend with a dozen Kargish sorcerers and a "pure blood" Karg (or rather the elder race from which the Karg are descended)
    * Again, they are successful and collect several artifacts of Kargish origin (including strange green crystals at the ritual site) after rooting through their camp.
    * Alistair decides that he must return to Laewes, where he went to school, in order to research the items they have found, in an attempt to discover the Kargs' origins.
    * Aedan & Gyles decide that they will sail east to Iron's Bay to investigate rumors of a war with Eastvale (vassal kingdom to Iron's Bay, to its east) before going on to the Ducal Heir's wedding in the Summerfields.
    * In Iron's Bay, Aedan and Gyles are caught up in the war, sneaking into Eastvale in order to spy and foment rebellion against the Kargs there. Afterwards, they ride on to the wedding.
    * In Laewes, Alistair discovers that a trio of priests as well as a new clan of Kargs are vying for the allegiance of the local tribes. The priests want to shutter Laewes while the Kargs want to use the tribal lands to march on the Summerfields.
    * Alistair discovers the Kargs' origins, then helps cement the treaty between the tribes and the Kargs in order to save Laewes from the priests. Shortly thereafter, he murders one of the Kargish wizards as well as the instructor who knew about his discoveries - so that she could not be interrogated by the Kargs.
    * Alistair flees Laewes knowing that he can never return to the place that he loves most; he is pursued overland into the Summerfields and arrives a few days before the Ducal Heir's wedding.
    * The Kargs attempt to assassinate the Ducal Heir but Aedan and Gyles prevent it. Later, that same group of assassins ambushes the trio of PC's and nearly kills Gyles.
    * The Norns sent to aid the assassins break into the palace and slay the Duchess, but one of them is, in turn, killed by Alistair. The other escapes.
    * Through various channels it becomes clear that the Kargs are invading Braemar from all sides.
    * Gyles is dispatched back to Iron's Bay in order to treat with the Duke and convince him to send his navies and trap the Kargs on land where they can be crushed by Aedan's forces.
    * Aedan rides southwest to aid the Avanale in defending its shores and is successful in driving the Kargs back to their boats.
    * Alistair goes north to combat the Kargs near the tribal borders, building a catapult and using the ground crystals to make an incendiary device the likes of which has never been seen. The Kargs are destroyed in a rain of green fire.
    * The trio winters in Valis, the capital of Summerfields, before setting out for Oscal. There they will try to free Alistair's older brother from debtor's prison and obtain naval assistance from the Oscallian Crown. Chapter 5 begins here.

    As a group, we felt like the story in Braemar had been told and Aedan's player thought it would be cool to take the cameras to a new part of the world. Since we had already established Oscal as Spain, he thought it would be cool to introduce a faction like the Barbary or Ottoman corsairs - and thus the Nassari were born.
    Last edited by foxandwarlock; 05-30-2017 at 01:38 PM.
    "I don't need a feysword. Just give me a few spears and a broadsword that won't break on its first swing. Then find me some men who love death and I'll give you Thornrath." -Neil MeqVren from The Blood Knight

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    On the surface, Iron’s Bay was unchanged – bursting with people, and bustling with activity – but to the sharp-eyed, it was not the same. Where once men’s activities were related to trade, now it was as much war as commerce. Hard men with weapons at their belt seemed to be on every corner as the trio made their way into the city.

    Owen was delighted to see Aedan and welcomed him with a hearty embrace. The blacksmith, his craft in high demand, explained much of what they had witnessed. The eastern passes of both Ironbark and Iron’s Bay had become the front lines of the war, punctuated by skirmishes and raids. Like carrion-feeding crows, sellswords had flocked to both sides of the conflict, causing residents of the Bay to consider each stranger a potential spy for some unknown master. The city had become tense, suspicious of those it did not recognize as old friends.

    To his surprise, Alistair found his workshop unharmed and beyond its locked door, countless scraps of paper littered the floor where they had been pushed beneath it. Each of them contained some offer of work, either explicit or inferred – a captain’s symbol, a simple map with a star on it, a picture of some treasure or goal. He walked past them all, reacquainting himself with the contents of his shop like a long separated lover.

    For his part, Gyles politely refused Owen’s offer of hospitality and, instead, took up rooms at the The Copperbell – an inn which reserved itself for well-heeled merchants and artisans. The young smuggler turned nobleman, sorcerer, and then spymaster had a new plan, an idea which had chased him all winter long - the Isle of Elsinore as his personal holding. He knew that Soren was the key to peeling such an onion, legal rights and politicking, the ability to bring commerce and wealth to the island while collecting its secrets at the same time. Such an enterprise would require investment, money with which Soren could put in place whatever was needed, and so Gyles approached his two companions under the pretense of displacing the Kargs on Elsinore.

    Aedan readily agreed, willing to participate in any plan which damaged the Kargs, and put his wealth at Gyles’ disposal. Alistair, on the other hand, deep in a haze of powder and drink, smiled sloppily and suggested that they gamble for it. In response to Gyles’ questioning look, The Alchemist produced a wooden board with accompanying pieces from his time in Arlen’s Vigil. After several confusing attempts, he explained the rules and the wager he was proposing. The young spymaster agreed, confident that Alistair’s impaired senses would prevent him from winning, and he was correct. By evening’s end, Alistair too was forced to pledge his monies to Gyles’ efforts in Elsinore.

    When Gyles finally called on his merchant-ally, it was with everything in order. They exchanged pleasantries and small talk, discussing new trade routes before moving on to the conditions in Iron’s Bay.

    “The Kargs’ invasion from Eastvale has stalled, they are stuck at the old frontiers – each side too strong to be displaced by the other.”, Soren shrugged on the other side of the small table.

    “So Eastvale has not renounced its claim to the Duke’s throne?”

    “Not so much as an inch – that is as much of a stalemate as the battle themselves.”

    “Hmm.”, Gyles spotted his opportunity, “That brings me to an interesting thought. If things worsen between Eastvale and Iron’s Bay, I wonder if it would be wise to have some kind of….escape, a failsafe. Wouldn’t Elsinore provide such a retreat?”

    The merchant huffed, “In thought, my lord, yes…but in truth, it is waist deep in the war itself. The Kargs use it as a camp for their navy.”

    “You were there this Summer, what do the people of Elsinore think of that?”, Gyles sat back in his chair.

    Soren shrugged, “They have been hosting the Karg for so long….”

    “When you say hosting, do you mean hosting or hosting?”, the young baronet said from behind his cup.

    “I mean, my lord, that Sarenport was one of their first conquests and, as such, has the deepest roots. If someone wished to retake it from its current masters, it would be an expensive effort – in both blood and coin.”

    “But surely, where there is risk, there is reward in equal measure.”, Gyles lifted his eyebrows.

    “I suppose that is true, my lord.”, the merchant emphasized Gyles’ title, “But it would take some time to see such rewards. The work, in the meantime, would be expensive and show little return – in addition to the danger it would bring to those who undertook it.”

    Gyles made a show of looking around and gestured towards the window, and the busy yard beyond it, “It seems that you have business across the whole of Braemar these days, surely such trade would allow you to offset the delay of Elsinore’s rewards.”

    “My lord.”, Soren made his own show of looking conspiratorially around the room, “I would not ask, nor would I entrust, the work on Elsinore to any other man but me. However, that would leave these operations untended, removed from my watchful sight. I would need to hire the proper agents to manage in my stead, secure certain allegiances since I would not be here to arrange them in person – and there will be the need for swords all the way around, Lord Gyles.”

    The young baronet had always known that this is where the conversation would end up but it had been necessary to force the merchant to take him on the journey, to work for it. Once more, their conversation shifted, but this time, to finances. Gyles was not a practiced haggler and so, while he protested here and there, ultimately he paid the sum that Soren named.

    The two men clasped hands and Gyles settled back into his chair with a smile, “This undertaking, Master Soren….it will be great boon for you, and for me, and for all of Braemar.”

    * * * * * * *

    “Official records from Valprado indicate that the narrow sea which separates the Kingdoms of Oscal and Nassar has gone by various names throughout its history. Most recently, the Kingdom of Oscal names it the Mar Tranquillo or, in the common tongue, The Tranquil Sea. The Nassari use the name Dun Mawja – The Waveless Sea. In truth, both names have vanished from the tongues of its people and it is most commonly referred to as The Sword Straights, named for the violence and uncertainty which plagues its waters. A long running territorial dispute between the two nations has led to years of naval conflicts between Nassari corsairs and the Oscallian marines. To further complicate matters, a great number of pirates operate in the area, most often impersonating the corsairs and further degrading relations between the two kingdoms.”

    -The Guild of Cartographers


    * * * * * * * *

    It took nearly a month, with the chaotic Spring winds, to reach Urdaz, nestled deep in the Sword Straights. It had been Alistair who found the ship that not only knew the waters, but was itself known to the raiders who plied its waves. Despite carrying enough gold to free Francisco de la Rosa from his prison cell, they reached the Oscallian port city without any more trouble than Gyles’ perpetual sea sickness.

    In Urdaz, they bought horses and rode the week’s distance to Valprado, home to both the debtor’s jail and the palace of King Ignacio. With each passing night, as city grew nearer, Alistair seemed to shrink – his loud, flamboyant ramblings gone and replaced, instead, with long drunken stares into the campfire. Gyles’, despite having a vast curiosity about the extended de la Rosa family, thought better of inquiring.

    Valprado itself was ancient – filled with aging stone buildings and pock marked walls, details and architecture from a bygone age. Each gate in the city was flanked with a pair of guards who wore ceremonial bascinets and gripped halberds rich with scrollwork. In the distance, the sun glinted on the golden dome which marked the king’s palace.

    At the Offices of the Admiralty, Aedan produced the letter written by the Exarch of the Summerfields. For what seemed like an eternity, they were shuffled from one clerk to the next but eventually they were led to Admiral Ordonez’s offices.

    As the door opened before them, Alistair gripped Gyles’ elbow and hissed, “Don’t mention the De la Rosas in here.”

    Gyles nodded as the Admiral moved to greet them. He was an older man with close cut hair and a goatee; both the color of dirty steel. His movements had a military crispness to them, “Good day, Ser Aedan. We are honored to have such a man call upon us.”

    The knight shook the Admiral’s hand and then motioned to his companions, “Lord-Admiral, thank you for seeing us. Please let me introduce my companions, Lord Gyles Sett and Master Alistair Blackwell.”

    They exchanged pleasantries and everyone but Alistair settled into chairs. The Alchemist, instead, drifted to the nearby table covered with a great map of Oscal and the coast. Small, wooden ships had been placed to mark the location of vessels.

    “His Eminence speaks highly of your service in Braemar, and has instructed that you be offered every courtesy available to us.”, the older man smiled and tried not to glance at Alistair, “This is not a letter one receives each day. What is it that we might do for you Ser Aedan?”

    “Not just for me, my Lord Admiral, but the race of men – any and all who live along the Winged Coast. The Karg threaten us all – they conquer our lands, and choke our trade. And we believe there is an opportunity to strike deeply at their heart.”

    “These…Karg…have begun to harass us, but the Nassari are a larger threat. At any time in our history, when our fleet has focused on matters elsewhere, the villages along the strait have suffered at their hands.”

    “What is it that they want?”, Gyles said.

    Alistair snorted but the Admiral carried on smoothly, “Justice, in their minds, I should think. Their lands are poor so they punish those that have greater prosperity and take what they can.”

    “My Lord, regardless we have a common foe in the Karg.”, Aedan motioned towards the windows, “This last winter, they attempted to invade Braemar in force but thanks mainly to the machinations of my companions, they suffered a number of important defeats; their invasion has stalled. We believe now is the time to drive them out of the Sparrow Isles and back to their cursed home.”

    “Congratulations on your victories, gentlemen… but, then, why are you here instead of pursuing them across the water?”, the Admiral shifted in his seat.

    “Let me speak plainly, Lord-Admiral. They have sunk most of our navies in the course of the war. We simply do not have the sea power…but if we had the united might of Oscal’s fleet and the cunning of the Nassari, we could free the Sparrow Isles.”

    The Admiral hid his surprise well, “Asking the Crown to help destroy this threat is one thing, Ser Aedan, but asking us to sail alongside of our blood-sworn enemy? There is not a sailor in this fleet that would be able to sleep peacefully in such an arrangement. Besides, the Nassari will not answer your call to duty – only wealth and riches move them to action.”

    “My Lord, do you remember the stories about the Elder Races?”, Gyles leaned forward.

    The Admiral’s face contorted in confusion.

    “Pueblos Antiquos.”, Alistair said aloud without taking his eyes off the table.

    Ordonez glanced at The Alchemist, looked back at Gyles and nodded.
    "I don't need a feysword. Just give me a few spears and a broadsword that won't break on its first swing. Then find me some men who love death and I'll give you Thornrath." -Neil MeqVren from The Blood Knight

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    “The Karg are cousins to them, their isle is filled with undreamt treasures. If the Nasssari sail with us they will have no need to raid your lands – the Kargs’ possess great riches, wonders from our stories and legends. Mirrorwine and manticores.”

    The Admiral turned to look at Alistair.

    “Sangre de Tiempo. Los Mordazi.”

    The Admiral could not contain a smirk, “Lord Gyles, even if that were true, the Nassari would never listen to us or agree to stop their bloodletting for some future wealth. They are men who want to see their treasures from where they stand. And so long as that is their way, mine…ours….the fleet of Oscal must stand guard along its own shores.”

    “Your map is incomplete. Do you mind if I draw on it?”

    The group turned to see Alistair with an inked quill hovering over the elaborate map. The Admiral all but jumped to his feet, “I do mind, Master Blackwell. Ser Aedan, I must say, this is a strange visit – to come speaking about myths and monsters, questioning my office and treating it as your own. No, Master Blackwell, my map is not incomplete.”

    Alistair shrugged.

    Gyles interrupted the Admiral before he could continue, “My Lord, I apologize for our oddity. These are strange times with strange enemies who have brought things from our folklore to the battlefield.”

    “I am a knight of the realm, my Lord, what can we do to prove ourselves to the Crown of Oscal? What would allow you to pledge your aid to our cause?”, Aedan asked.

    “The Nassari, Ser Aedan. We are tired of fighting them - tired of funerals and burned villages. Let the Sword Straits once more become known for trade and travel – then, I would take your words to the King.”, Ordonez answered.

    “And who is their leader?”, Gyles moved to stand by the table.

    “Amir Fazil. He has gathered both pirate and sailor to him and taken much, if not all, of the power in Nassar. He is a man that could stop the raids but I doubt you will sway him. I doubt he will even see you.”

    “Well…let’s just say…. what if… what if he died? What if there were some horrible accident and he perished?”, Alistair motioned with his hands.

    The Admiral blinked, “His lieutenants, or whatever passes for them, would take over in his place.”

    “Oh no…they died too.”, Alistair waved his hand, “Terrible accident, just horrible…fire, you know. What would happen then?”

    The Admiral exhaled slowly, “I suppose it would give us a chance to begin anew with whomever rises from their ranks.”

    “We want to earn your trust, Admiral.”, Gyles said earnestly, “We’ll do our best.”

    “And failing that, our worst.”, Alistair lifted his eyesbrows and titled the flask back.

    “Have you heard of a man called The Alchemist, Admiral?”, Gyles asked.

    Ordonez made a disgusted face, “Yes. A three-fingered pirate known for the destruction and sorrow he leaves in his wake. By all accounts he fled north into Braemar some time ago.”

    “Would you like to know what he’s been doing?”, Gyles said softly, “He’s been raining that same fire and destruction down on the Kargs, stopping their plans and helping to halt their invasion. It’s worth considering…if The Alchemist can be convinced to help, why not the Nassari?”

    “Just one more question.”, Alistair said seriously as he lifted the flask with his shortened fingers; the Admiral’s eyes locked onto the digits and an immediate tension filled the room.

    “Where do you go to get a man out of prison?”

    * * * * * * * *

    The debtors’ prison was tucked away along the western wall of Valprado and run by a warden called Don Fernando. Only two kinds of men arrived at his gaol, those headed into a cell and those seeking to free them – and that kind of man brought money.

    The warden led his three, respectably dressed guests through the courtyard and into his personal offices, where the ledgers were kept. With a forced exhalation, Fernando plopped his potbellied frame into the chair and began to flip through his columned book while muttering de la Rosa, de la Rosa, de la Rosa.

    “Ah, here. Francisco de la Rosa. Mmmmm.”, the warden widened his eyes and looked up, “Quite a considerable sum…and you have brought it all?”

    “Look at these two pale skinned peaches.”, Alistair motioned to Gyles and Aedan with a smile, “You don’t think I’d bring them down here to burn the back of their necks for nothing do you? Just get the key.”

    The warden chuckled and placed his hands flat on the open pages, “Oh, I’m afraid things don’t work that quickly, Master Blackwell. With a sum of this size, certain offices of the King must be involved.”

    Fernando turned one hand palm side up, “But there are ways to speed such conversations along.”

    Alistair looked down at the man’s palm then back to his face, and laughed, “Oh no, you see I’m afraid you don’t understand. You think that I’m like the other rich fools who come in here… but I’m not.”

    Unsure of what Alistair might do, Aedan moved to stand by the door while Gyles shifted so that he could more easily reach his hidden knife.

    “I don’t care about how things work. The laws and rules which tie you up…. they aren’t for me, they’re just….”, Alistair motioned freely with his hands while smiling, “…they’re just ropes made from sand and air, they don’t really matter and neither do you. Eres un perro con una correa y yo soy un lobo. So you can either give me the key…or I’ll just take it, lo que sea. It doesn’t really matter to me.”

    Fernando’s eyes danced between the three men – the congenial madman on the other side of his desk, the impassive nobleman, and the dead-eyed fighter who blocked the door.

    “Well…I mean…you have come all the way from….from….such a long distance, we could…forego the formalities.”, the warden smiled nervously and produced a key on a leather thong that had been hidden under his shirt, “Come this way.”

    Accompanied by one of the jailors, he led them down into the maze of cells and lightless hallways. There, he opened one of the doors and sent the jailor in to retrieve its occupant. Little more than skin and bones, Francisco de la Rosa staggered into the hallway and lifted a hand against the brightness of the lantern. From behind his palm, he squinted at his rescuers; his voice was dry and cracked, nearly forgotten.

    “Who….who are you?”, distant recognition flickered in his eyes, “Do I know you? Alis…Alistair?”

    * * * * * * * * *
    "I don't need a feysword. Just give me a few spears and a broadsword that won't break on its first swing. Then find me some men who love death and I'll give you Thornrath." -Neil MeqVren from The Blood Knight

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    Not to interrupt, but where can I follow you guys after the forums shut down?

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    It's a good question. We haven't really figured that out ourselves yet. G+ does not lend itself to six, and eight, and ten page long posts, but it creates the transparency to the audience. So I think we'd continue to notify BW Community of new posts there. We're just not sure where the posts themselves will live. We are definitely open to suggestions if anyone has them.
    "I don't need a feysword. Just give me a few spears and a broadsword that won't break on its first swing. Then find me some men who love death and I'll give you Thornrath." -Neil MeqVren from The Blood Knight

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    The three companions sat in plush chairs on the patio of the inn, basking in the beautiful Spring weather of Oscal. Gyles had ordered food, nothing ostentatious but all of good quality and each of them held a glass of wine. The sound of the door alerted them to Francisco’s arrival.

    Still shuffling, but with a trimmed beard and fingernails, he looked years younger as he poured himself a glass with unsteady hands. He took a hearty portion of the food before settling into the last of the chairs.

    “Francis.”, Alistair said with exaggerated formality, “Let me introduce my companions. Ser Aedan, from the house where the Church sent me, and Gyles Sett…. from nowhere in particular but most recently from the Summerfields.”

    The thin man inclined his head, “An honor to meet you, Sir Knight and you, Master Sett. But why you, Alistiar? Why are you here instead of Rowan or Eoin? I haven’t seen you for…what.. fifteen years?”, Francisco asked between bites.

    Alistair finished his cup and refilled it, shrugging, “Something like that. Rowan doesn’t even know I’m here.”

    “I’m not so sure about that.”, Gyles lifted his eyebrows.

    “Well, I didn’t tell her we were coming.”, Alistair looked sidelong at Gyles.

    “She’s a smart woman.”, the young baronet fired back.

    Alistair jerked a thumb in Gyles’ direction as he looked back to Francisco, “Those two talk like little girls whispering in the courtyard. I should point out, Gyles is...is… something like our spymaster. He has friends all over Braemar.”

    Francisco chewed and swallowed, “How did you pay for my release? Where did this money come from?”

    “Mmmmm!”, Alistair choked down his wine and extended a finger, “It came from one of the two Duchies in Braemar, who paid me for secrets unknown to anyone else – secrets I murdered to keep that way. She herself was assassinated not long after, but not to worry Gyles is good friends with her son, who is now the Duke. So the money came from his dead mother.”

    Alistair!”, Francisco said through clenched teeth, “You are a de la Rosa, have some dignity. Speaking of murder and death and spies like some kind of vagabond.”

    Alistair lifted his glass and laughed, “Oh, no, I haven’t been a de la Rosa since I rode out of Aedan’s barn on a stolen horse all those years ago.”

    “Lord de la Rosa.”, Aedan interjected, “Have you heard of the Karg?”

    Francisco nodded, “Rowan has sent letters.”

    “And you know they have taken over the Sparrow Isles?”, the knight asked.

    Another nod.

    “And that Mother has married one?”, Alistair quipped.

    A pause, then a third nod.

    “We have been at war with them, my Lord. Your brother, Gyles and myself…for almost a year. They slaughtered my family and ruined my house.”, Aedan offered calmly.

    “Aedan has come to recruit King Ignacio’s navy to his cause.”, Alistair grinned, “He wants to force the Kargs out of the Isles.”

    “Recruit? The navy sails at the King’s pleasure.”, Francisco said with knitted brows.

    “We expect to render some services to the Crown – so that such an endeavor would be acceptable to them.”, Gyles smiled as he popped a grape into his mouth.

    “That’s impossible.”, Francisco said flatly.

    “I have come to accept that when dealing with your brother and Ser Aedan, the impossible is merely…. difficult.”, Gyles’ smile broadened.

    “I cannot go to the Sparrow Isles. I have unfinished business here.”, the older De La Rosa stopped for a moment.

    “…..aaaaaand? Out with it Francis. We’ve just come a month over sea for you, don’t be shy now.”

    Francisco shot his younger brother an aggravated look, “Lorenzo de Alba and his son, Enrique. They are the cause for our ruin, they stole our shipping contracts and left us with the debt – we had no business with which to repay it.”

    Alistair shrugged, “They are…what… a single family? One fire, and we can be on our way to Urdaz by the morning.”

    For a second time since his arrival on the patio, Francisco hissed his younger brother’s name, “Alistair. That is not the way of things here. You may have given up on your honor, but I have not relinquished mine.”

    “Oh, you want to duel.”, Alistair rolled his eyes and motioned his cup in the knight’s direction, “That’s Aedan’s…thing.”

    “Ser Knight, you are skilled with your sword?”, Francisco asked seriously.

    Alistair laughed.

    “They call him The Hammerhand.”, Gyles answered.

    “Mainly just Gyles calls him that.”, Alistair quipped.

    The baronet shot Alistair a look, “He is known across Braemar for his battles against the Karg. He has even bested a Pueblo Antiquo in single combat.”

    “What is that you want from this family?”, Aedan asked simply.

    “They have ruined my family and driven them from their home, forced my Mother to marry a strange foreigner and caused my imprisonment these last years. I seek nothing less than Enrique de Alba’s death. Will you help me? Will you take up this cause in my stead, given that I am in no shape to fight?”

    Aedan nodded, “I will talk to Enrique, and see if your honor cannot be satisfied.”

    “See?”, Alistair said derisively as he snorted a fingerful of powder, “You’re already speaking each other’s language.”

    * * * * * * * *

    Over the next few days, Francisco rested while Alistair watched over him, answering whatever questions he might have. Aedan and Gyles, for their part, set out to learn what they could about the de Alba’s.

    It did not take them long before they were pointed to the man called “El Sanguijela”, The Leech. His true name was Ronaldo and he was a courtier that trafficked in all manner of truths and secrets. The two companions met him in the only tavern that opened onto the Plaza del Padre – the very heart of Valprado. Around them, the scions of the noble houses drank and preened, discussing art and philosophy while ensuring they were seen all the while.

    The young gossip was interested in Gyles and Aedan’s stories, as many would ask about them. In exchange, he told them much of what he knew about the de Alba’s, including the darkest secret in his treasure chest; Enrique de Alba was bastard born.

    * * * * * * * *

    When Francisco de la Rose announced that he was ready to confront his enemies, they made ready and ventured down to the same tavern. The steps of the plaza were flush with nobles and hangers-on, the tavern likewise.

    As they approached the entrance, Gyles concentrated and reached into the invisible energy around him. He gathered it into his palm, and then gripped Aedan firmly on the shoulder. The knight felt a surge of aggression but quickly checked it and strode on.

    Led by Francisco, the three men made their way through the open air-tavern and its loose collection of tables. From one such table, Alistair snatched a goblet of wine as its original owner stared, slack jawed, at the freed Francisco de la Rosa.

    Enrique de Alba sat at a low table, the bench across from him partially filled with his entourage. Their laughs were cut short as Enrique looked up, “Francisco, you should fire your cook. It doesn’t look like you have been getting your meals.”

    Alistair flopped down on the bench, next to one of Enrique’s men and sniffed dramatically as if something stunk.

    “I have been looking for you.”, Francisco countered.

    “I cannot have been as hard to find as you!”, the young man fired back and the surrounding crowd burst into laughter.

    “Enrique de Alba!”, Aedan adopted his tournament voice, “I am Ser Aedan of Aerondal, a knight of Braemar and it saddens me that I have been called all this way to have you answer for your honor.”

    “You’re gonna’ get killed.”, Alistair whispered across the table while the knight continued.

    “…I know you to be a bastard, but where I come from, a man is measured by his worth, not his birth. You know what you have done to the De La Rosas. I ask that you pledge the wealth of your house to his cause in the Sparrow Isles, to save his family and displace the threat that holds them there.”

    Enrique waved a hand, “Who are you to come into the Plaza and make such baseless accusations? A handful of foreigners and a penniless, failure of a son. You bring no evidence but expect everyone here to believe you? I will have the city watch throw you in jail before nightfall.”

    “Throwing men in jail for imagined crimes seems to be a specialty of yours.”, Gyles said loudly.

    “Who are-“, Enrique was interrupted as Alistair kicked him under the table, breaking his concentration and forcing a confused look to his face. Aedan seized the opportunity.

    “I am begging you, Enrique de Alba, reconsider your words and do what is right.”, Aedan placed the palms of his hands together in front of them and motioned to the young noble, “In your heart of hearts, you know the proper path. Prove me wrong, and pledge your support to the De La Rosa Family.”

    Gyles slowly pivoted in place while he spoke, “All of you think we have nothing to say because we do not call Oscal home, but the threat in the Sparrow Isles – the Kargs against whom the De La Rosas battle – they do not threaten Oscal, they threaten all men and those with good hearts raise their banners against them.”

    “You know…”, Alistair said quietly, nudging Enrique’s man next to him, “…I spent a season as a De Alba, right off the west coast of Braemar.”

    Enrique relented as he sensed the crowd change, “You have made your points and the De Albas are a proud family, unafraid of war or standing tall against evil….but your accusation cannot stand, you must withdraw it. If you too can admit you were wrong, the De Albas will pledge themselves to this cause.”

    Aedan nodded, “I had hoped that you would prove me wrong, Lord de Alba, and you have done so. Your actions cannot be the those of a bastard and so, I withdraw my accusation.”

    Francisco surged forward to hiss in the knight’s ear, “This is not what we agreed to. This is not what I wanted.”

    Though he could not hear the two men’s whisperings, Alistair could read their bodies well enough. He casually pulled the Rosewood Device free from its place and held it loosely under the table.

    “Lord de la Rosa, can you not see that this benefits your House and the Sparrow Isles? Surely, you cannot be so petty as to refuse such gains only for your personal vengeance.”, Aedan said quietly.

    Francisco suddenly recoiled from the knight, his face a mask of rage. He reached for the sword on his belt, “If you will not do it, I will do it myself!”

    “Maldita sea.”, Alistair hissed to himself as he suddenly stood, pointed the barrel of the Rosewood device in Enrique’s face and squeezed the trigger. BOOM!

    The nobleman’s face seemed to disappear as he was thrown backwards off his bench. Around the table, and the tavern, surprised faces seemed frozen in time. The Alchemist stepped free from the bench, and patted his brother on the shoulder as he passed, “You’re welcome.”

    Then, as the screams began, he ran.

    * * * * * * * *
    "I don't need a feysword. Just give me a few spears and a broadsword that won't break on its first swing. Then find me some men who love death and I'll give you Thornrath." -Neil MeqVren from The Blood Knight

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