Monday, January 26, 2009

Into the Alps

To this day, no clear record of the events in Regensburg exists.

9th February, the Year of our Lord 1420. Following the excitement of yesterday evening, Hans, Miklos, Seighard, Thom Ecke and Stefano broke their fast around the kitchen table in Brause's empty home. Han's kept idly stabbing at an onion while Thom Ecke enquired of a pensive Stefano exactly where his absent brother Cosimo might be.

Stefano gave every appearance of not having heard the question. After an odd span of complete silence, he pulled an eagle embossed bronze disk from an inside pocket and tossed it amongst the empty breakfast dishes. He fixed Seighard with a hard gaze "the inscription said that the signet to get you through that hidden door under the Jewish Quarter lies at the hidden memorial to the day Octavian became Caesar. Right?". Stefano pressed on before a startled Seighard had a chance even to nod slowly. It turned out that the Medici claimed to have some blood tie to Augustus' family line and believed that valuable family heirlooms were interred in the hidden sarcophagus on the slopes of Mt Innesfreiss.

Of course, Medici had tried and failed to gain entry in the past, but they had never had reason to have an expedition make the attempt amidst the spring snows high in the Alps. Hans pulled his blade from the onion and he and Thom Ecke engaged Stefano in a long bout of haggling around Stefano's initial offering of 15 florins apiece bounty for the return of the 'heirlooms' and another 2 florins for expenses. After much pondering of particulars of financing the expedition and planning their travel across difficult terrain in late winter, the companions persuaded Stefano to instead enter into a partnership, pay a share of expenses and they would divide what was recovered evenly, half to them, half to the Medici.

Since the overland passes were still snowed in, the company would have to make the journey up the river Inn. Nine days of hard travel under overcast sky on empty roads, few others were to be seen abroad save small parties of men at arms and other rabble of soldiery straggling north to Regensburg. The four brought their wagons and horse via the Town of Salzburg, across the river Isar at the ferry and thence to the Inn crossing. Saddle-sore, wet and cold, they embarked on a trading boat, whose Master, Manfred of Monschen, had been enjoined by Stefano's courier to await passengers. On the 17th February, the Year of our Lord 1420, they began their journey upriver, winding slowly between the snowy peaks and sailing during the meager hours of winter daylight.

On the 25th of February, sometime after the hour of Terce, the companions were moved to emerge into the cold air, from where they skulked below decks, by the cry of the bow lookout. Looking about, they could see the boat had ceased it's upriver travel and the way ahead was blocked by a heavy iron chain stretched across the water. Manfred stalked the deck cursing roundly "Rhine bandits are bad enough, but who would levy tolls on the inn river in the middle of winter? It's unheard of!". Thom Ecke followed the line of the chain off the port side up to a narrow stone tower on the far bank. A heavy Raven Banner heralded its allegiance to Louis VII, "The Bearded". Manfred was flabbergasted at this development "these lands don't even owe fealty to that black hearted swine!" The chain was anchored at it's other end at a small wooden palisade, on the near bank, to the starboard of their boat. Despite his complaints, when the hail came from the palisade demanding a toll be paid Manfred was about to give the order to heave to and pay. Offended by the temerity of this grasping Duke (little better than a Rhineland Raubritter, he was heard to mutter), Hans made to arm himself, but was stopped by Miklos' hand on his shoulder so he turned and beheld a disturbing sight.

Seighard had positioned himself by the boats bowsprit, having shoved aside a couple of crewmen and he was holding a smoking flask in one hand and was unstopering the beaker in the other hand with his mouth. Thom and Hans could only stare mutely while Miklos shook his head slowly. A hissing stream of blue and yellow sparks streamed from the Alchemist's flask, struck the middle of the chain and turned it water.

The low moan of superstitious dread that went up from the crew spurred Miklos into action. He ran to Seighrad's side, threw up his arms and yelled "rejoice good Christians, St Hildegaard has miraculously answered Seighards prayers!". For a tense moment there was silence, then the crew appeared to accept the Teutonic Knight's claims and followed Manfred's urgings to leap to the oars and get underway. Six days hard rowing brought the band and their livestock and supplies finally to Innsbruck. From there, they would strike overland to Mt Innesfreiss. Having debarked, they made provision to stable most of their mounts in the town while Seighard and Hans sought out the local Kloster attached to the church of St Hildegaard.

Seighard was fortunate indeed that Miklos was so well schooled in Theology and the lives of the Saints, the quick thinking Hungarian had linked the Alchemist to benifant acts of the local patron Saint. The monks who studied there brushed of the less learned Hans, but they were quite willing to allow a local celebrity access to their library without any fee. There Seighard found books on Saints Eugendius, Reinhold, Hildegaard and Potianus and spent his afternoon studying the life of Eugendius, the noted scripture scholar from his homeland of Switzerland.

After a good nights rest in the local Gasthaus, they loaded up some pack animals and set out alone down the snow covered westward trail. This took them around the mountainsides until they could see the distinctive forked peak of the Innsfreis in the distance, crossing worn and creaking a rope bridge, they passed beneath a silent palisade village that loomed above them on the hillside. They decided to not brave the narrow switch backed trail to the silent settlement above and instead made their way westward into the gathering snow. They might have had cause to regret that decision had not Thom Ecke spied a small shepherds cottage amongst through what was becoming a thick blizzard. Here they exchanged a keg of ale for shelter until the storm passed. The surly Franz was not good company, but was willing to provide clear directions to Mt Innesfreiss, though he knew of no structures or ruins upon its slopes.
Bidding their host goodbye after three days spent in close confines, they made a quick pace despite the shin deep snow.

They were fortunate to have some directions as, though the blizzard had passed, thick cloud blocked any distant view of their goal. Local knowledge and Thom's field craft allowed them to stay the course and after two more days slogging through snow, they came, cold wet and exhausted to shelter beneath a ruined tower and finally in sight of Mt Innesfreiss.
The tower was had long succumbed to time and was open to the sky, however its cellar remained surprisingly snug and dry. There they made camp with their animals. Hans demonstrated his rumoured ingenuity for the first time to companions when he designed and fashioned a cunning lean-to over the entrance that both block the winter wind and permitted the smoke from their fires to escape.

As they were about to set watches, they heard the low baying of wolves above the sound of the wind. Thanks to their shelter and fire the ravenous beasts were loath to approach. However, in the midst of his Compline watch, Thom Ecke's superb night vision allowed him to notice a disturbing sight. A thick red fog was slowly rolling up the hillside toward them from the valley floor. Thom awoke his companions and they resolved to douse all lights and try and avoid the fog by cutting across the hillside at right angles to the approach of the hundred yard wide bank of roiling vermillion mist. As they led their animals silently as they could, they could hear the foul and guttural sound of many men chanting over the howling wind...

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