Sunday, January 18, 2009

A quiet walk amongst the trees, (with some pauses for conversation).

When the dawn finally banished the chill from the nights uncanny events, the Medici and their escorts were left to ponder the best way to proceed. The original aim had been to strike over the high-country and completely elude the Hussites, who they reasoned would keep to roads this near to unfamiliar Bavarian lands. However, the encounter in the woods had left Stefano shaken and unsure, worse both his brother Cosimo and the Engineer Seighard were wounded grievously and they were far from skilled aid or safe rest.

It fell to Thom Ecke to restore purpose and direction and suggest the manor of his fellow "Knight", Gunther Schwarze only a days trek north. It led them away form their path, but thoughts of his brother weighing heavily upon him, Stefano readily agreed to the promise of a safe house, warm food and (so Thom had heard) a skilled healer. Gunther was away hunting when the party arrived at the three crumbling stone buildings that comprised Gunther's "Manor" but his guest Hans readily received them and quickly went to work preparing potent medicines. By the time the host finally returned with freshly killed boar, the party's wounds were cleaned and bound and a potent medicine had been imbibed by Stefano.

Having received such hospitality and skilled healing, Stefano's party were soon ready to leave. They were surprised, but quite pleased, when Hans (now outfitted in mail and spear and shield and bearing the Green Cross of his order) asked to join them while they traveled to Regensburg. Thus strengthened, the party set forth and made their way south and then up to the pass where they had intended to make their way into Bavaria proper. There, above the tree line, they saw a great plume of dirty black smoke rising atop the snow covered trees. After a little deliberation, Stefano (at Han's urging) resolved that they should investigate in case there were Christians in need of succor. Stefano and Cosimo hung back in case there was serious danger and their four escorts made their way along a muddy forest trail to where they reckoned the scene of the fire was.

Before they made it to this place, they encountered a half dozen men, dirty, armed and wearing armour and shields with some noble's sign upon them. These men stopped and their leader demanded to know what business the four had walking their master's lands. It emerged during the conversation that the six "men-at-arms" had come from where smoke marked a burning village, but would not speak much further of it and were loath for the four companions to investigate further. They would say only that they acted on the lawful authority of their lord and that the villagers were condemned by the proper "Godly" authority. Despite the men-at-arms' claims of righteousness, they gave only weak argument to Hans and Miklos' assertions that as Religious knights they should be let pass and sullenly let the four go investigate.

What they found was a small clearing in a quiet forest dotted with still smoking buildings and the odd wandering cow. No people, not live ones anyway, the bodies of dead peasants were all about. Hans was unconvinced that the area was deserted and scanned the tree-line until he spotted movement and openly approached and old man and beardless youth who were cowering. Hoping it would reassure them, he declared himself a Knight of the Order of St Lazarus, this seemed to terrify them further. His suspicions aroused he began to question them about their religious practices but was able to glean only that they traveled to another village for mass once a month and that they were possibly two ignorant or scared to recite the "Lords Prayer". Eventually he calmed them enough to discover the whereabouts of more survivors and the name o this place "Schryswig".These survivors were to be found by a small stream hidden away from the clearing. Here an old Woman (Old Lita) cooed and cradled a frankly terrified and very pale man wearing leather armour. Nearby a cauldron bubbled with a pea-green concoction and all about were black cats.

Hans immediately questioned her on religious matters in the hope of resolving his doubts about the villagers. He had no real success, Lita was obviously intelligent, could recite the "Lords Prayer" and appeared about as orthodox as a remote villager could be expected to be. Her patient was Martin, the village Shultz (headman, magistrate and contribution to the lords levies in time of war) and he he told of the recent events in gasping breaths. The local Lord's men (the local lord had little to do with them and Martin usually brought his taxes to his tower once a year on behalf of the village) came with a black cowled man, with an odd foreign accent much akin to Stefano's, who accused them of heresy. When they protested the innocence, he was enraged and ordered the men-at-arms to burn the village and every heretic in it. Once the deed was done, he made his way westward down another trail leaving only a half dozen men behind to find stragglers. Some hours later, they too left eastward towards the Lord's manse and eventually Hans, Thom, Seighard and Miklos appeared from the direction they left from.

Disgusted at the what had taken place, Miklos was eager to pursue to the black cowled foreigner and hold him to account. With this in mind he went with Thom and Seighard to lay in wait to the East to catch him when he returned while Hans sought to learn any secrets of potion brewing the old woman might impart. The three were finally to return frustrated, the mysterious foreigner and the remainder of the Lord's men-at-arms nowhere to be seen. The companions learnt the way to the Lord's manse from Martin and after consulting with Stefano and Cosimo, who were eager to remain with the villages and speak more with Lita, the rest of the party set forth to hold the Lord himself to account.

They had been informed by Martin that they could expect to find the ruins of a small village, "Halgast" not half a day's travel from the village and a mere bell from the Lord's Manse. Schryswig was a new village, but Halgast reputedly dated from the time of Roman occupation. The previous occupant of the Manse had been deeply into the occult and Halgast, with some other local villages, had been filled with his disciples. Fortunately (Lita and Matin appeared earnest when they related this) the current lord came with a writ from the Duke's court, some Dominicans and many armed men. they burnt the village, put the heretics to the sword and ejected the heretical noble from his tower and took him to the Duke's court where he was tried for witchcraft , convicted and burnt at stake in public.

When the four came to Halgast, they found is in better condition than Schryswig, most of the walls still stood and the church was almost complete, minus it's roof and shutters. Curious, Seighard went to inspect the alter, the next thing his companies knew, he was vanished from all sight. When they rushed to the alter, they found an open trapdoor and their companion falling, very slowly, down a deep pit. Once they had ensured he had reached the bottom safely and that all that awaited them seemed to be a dark corridor and ankle-deep water, they bravely followed him down.

Lit by their flickering torches, they saw a smooth walled grotto with a number of winding tunnels. The water, which reached their calves in the corridors, seemed to come from an ancient looking cylindrical milky-stone font that constantly spilled water on to floor. Curious as to what riches might lie beneath the earth, the companions explored further. Miklos heard an odd crackling noise to their left down a side tunnel, when they investigated, they saw an uncanny thing. A crackling man shaped glowing apparition floating toward them above the water. Thom immediately recognized the smell of Lightning in the air and refused to remain and face what ever it was, Hans was more eager and approached it but was forced to drop under the water to avoid touching it as it came towards them. The companions are left pondering how to deal with this sequence of events..... They have no obvious escape, what will they do?

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