he Four Horns learn that war has fallen upon the lands of both the west and the south. To the South Karn is besieging the kingdoms of Dwinovar with a new breed of dragon riders. To the west, Gorlosh, Jarl of the orc Reavers, has united the orc tribes of Atrowan heights and wages war upon the Wood Elves of tindor and the men of the western colonies. Also, the Orc Shaman the Horns had helped to capture has escaped. The Horns look into the Orc’s escape and learn that the Shaman had had help from a mysterious shadowy figure. The Horns also learn that Aribell has gone missing and, in response to a promised reward, seek to find her. Yet after later learning that Aribell had run off to elope with Orend (whom she had been secretly meeting within The Falcon’s Nest for some time), the Horns decide not to pursue Aribell. Instead, after being joined by Thelend, they go on a quest given them by the Society of Lost Relics to scout out an entrance to the ancient Dwarven ruins of the city of Etimar. There they defeat a Chimera and discover the remains of the Orc Shaman who appeared to be attempting to unite the Minotaurs dwelling in Etimar with the Orc tribes under Gorlosh. The Horns begin to investigate the ruins but think better of it after almost being consumed by a grotesque fleshy aberration. The Horns then return to Hidroth Lea only to discover that Orend has been captured and sentenced to death for his involvement in Aribell’s disappearance. While Othowin’s band is divided as to what to do about the matter, Elien, Starling and Illendra seek the aid of the Horns in secretly breaking Orend out of prison. The Four Horns however decline to do so.
Following their eventful delve within the ruins of Ondur, the Horns decide to spend the next few weeks within Hidroth Lea to rest up and re-supply. Etilwin Vass, the research director of The Society of Lost Relics had intimated that if the Horns would sit tight for the next few weeks, the Society would probably be able to line up another commission for them. As per usual the Horns lodge in their Inn of choice, The Cloven Hoof, and engage in some well earned R&R. The members of Othowin’s band have also returned from an adventure in the north and elect to stay at the same Inn to swap gossip with the Horns and other adventurers. Both parties spend time learning more about each other.
During this time the town is all a bustle with activity. A steady stream of Dwarven infantry hailing from Igladan has been passing through town, making their way south along the Kings Highway to join Dwinovar in the war effort against Escalatharn. The increased activity has been good for business and vendors of all varieties have swelled the streets of Hidroth Lea, reaping a tidy profit from the sale of their wares. Yet the influx of business has also driven the prices for food and lodging up considerably.
The Horns, having had their fill of undead for the time being, declined a commission by the Cathedral of Ilandriol to return to Ondur to investigate the possibility that Genocron had been raised. Hence, Father Ibereth, who had recently been appointed to the position of Arch-Bishop, delegated the task to a group of clergy who left for Ondur on the 19th of Greenlea. However the events within Ondur were not made public since Count Atherlend sought to avoid widespread panic amongst the commoners that the still dreaded Genocron was on the loose.
Yet two other events have not escaped the notice of the public. The breakout of the Orc Shaman has been the cause of much perplexed attention. The events surrounding the Shaman’s escape from are of a highly suspicious nature. Even more shocking, the wedding of Princess Aribell to Lord Ithran, which was scheduled to take place on Aribell’s impending 18th birthday has been postponed for reasons unknown. This topic has occupied almost as much of the town’s gossip as the current military events within the southlands.
The Horns elected to spend a bit of their down time in Hidroth Lea searching into the matter of the Orc Shaman’s disappearance. The party met with Captain Captain Teradith who disclosed to them the results of his own investigation into the Shaman’s escape. Apparently, on the night of the escape, the soldiers on guard witnessed an eerie phenomenon. A barely perceptible dark form appeared to dance in between the shadows cast by torch light throughout the dungeon. Sometime during the night, a guard by the name of Ludran heard the creaking sound of iron grinding upon iron coming from the vicinity of the Shaman’s cell. When he went to investigate, he found the cell door ajar and the Shaman no where in sight. Another guard by the name of Eglar lay unconscious upon the floor next to the cell. Ludran sounded the alarm immediately yet strangely, while all of the exists to the prison had remained sealed, the Shaman had nevertheless somehow managed to escape. Upon being revived, Eglar recounted that the last thing he remembered seeing before blacking out was a dark form materialize from out of the shadows of a wall and leap at him.
The Horns decided to question Eglar and Ludran directly to see if anything more could be learned yet nothing else of importance was revealed.
A couple of days later a soldier came looking for the Horns at The Cloven Hoof, reporting that Captain Teradith wished to meet with them. The Horns promptly paid a visit to Hidroth Keep to speak with the Captain. Teradith informed the party that one of his scouts had espied a small party of orcs and wargs heading due west along the downs. Leading the party was a figure that bore some resemblance to the Shaman. On top of this, Teradith has recently learned that Gorlosh, Jarl of the Reever Clan, has managed to unite several of the other orcish clans of the Atrowan Heights and is now poised for battle. While there is no way of knowing whether or not the Orc Shaman’s escape has any connection with these events, both the timing, and the circumstances surrounding the escape are fairly suspicious. Being short on men, due the deployment of a sizable portion of Hidroth Lea’s militia to the western colonies, Teradith requests that the Horns follow up on the lead.
However, the Horns, still awaiting a commission by the Society of Lost Relics, decline the Captain’s request.
One morning while eating breakfast in The Cloven Hoof, Phadran happened to overhear a conversation taking place at another booth. A group of women sitting at a table across the room were exchanging rumors regarding the reasons for Ithran’s recent termination of his engagement with Aribell. The typical theories are presented: “Ithran has become consumed by the war effort, and is too busy to marry;” “Aribell somehow displeased Ithran at the contest, perhaps she forgot to bathe that day;” “Ithran is a lycanthropic homosexual with no taste for female virgins…” and so on. Yet amidst these more common bits of gossip, Phadran heard one rumor that did catch his interest.
“No, no. You guys have got this story all wrong,” came a voice, “I have it on authority from a friend of mine who works as a maid within the palace that Aribell has been confined to her quarters due to her involvement in a scandalous affair!”
This comment was followed by a volley of gasps, and the ladies continued their conversation in an excited, though hushed, manner too quite for Phadran to catch.
After some time, the ladies began to disperse, and Phadran casually walked up to the table where the woman, whom he had identified as being the purveyor of the last rumor, was seated. Striking a debonair pose, Phadran called for the bar maid, saying “Elzibell love, be a dear why don’t you and fetch this exquisite lady and I a bottle of your finest Tindori Spirit.”
A bottle of Elven Liquor and a nat’ 20 Charisma check later Phadran was sharing in the woman’s most intimate of secrets. Thus it was that Phadran learned the tale of how Aribell had gone missing from her bedchamber on the night before the Hidroth Contest. Before the Count had time to organize a search party, the princess was found in bed once more—feigning sleep. When Atherlend confronted his daughter about this, she only demurred, answering that she couldn’t sleep and so had taken a night stroll within the courtyard. This initially seemed to satisfy the Count. Yet when Aribell’s chambers were found empty two nights later Atherlend ordered a couple of his trusted guards to begin to keep an eye on his daughter. A week later the guards followed Aribell as she once more left her chambers, but she gave them the slip. As a result the Count had her watched at night by a court spy. Several days later she again absconded into the night, this time being tracked by the spy, who followed her to The Falcon’s Nest. Atherlend flew into a rage upon learning that his daughter had been sneaking off to a house of ill repute and confined Aribell to her quarters. Aribell, for her part, refused to disclose the reasons for her evening wanderings. However the truth was discovered soon enough when one of her maids was caught sneaking out of the palace, bearing a letter written in Aribell’s hand espousing her plight to some mysterious lover. Once again the Count was enraged, yet she remained closed lipped. While every precaution was made to keep the whole affair hidden, Lord Ithran somehow got wind of it and ended the engagement.
Phadran was amused by the this bit of court intrigue and filed it away as potentially useful information. Then, having tired of the woman, he bid her goodbye.
When Aribell went missing several days later, and a royal herald proclaimed that a handsome reward awaited anyone offering information leading to the location of the princess, Phadran decided that the 20 gold Rams he’d spent on Elven Liquor might just end up paying off. Drawing the rest of the party aside, he recounted his conversation with the woman at The Cloven Hoof. It was decided that the first thing to do was to pay a visit to The Falcon’s Nest to see if any clues to Aribell’s whereabouts might be dug up there.
The Falcon’s Nest was located in the north end of town along the Kings Highway, and met at the intersection of the Commonwealth Plaza (within the commercial district), the Upper Commons, (a shanty town), and the Upper Lords (a middle upper class residential district). While not as well furnished as The Cloven Hoof, the foyer of the Nest was warm and inviting. A fire was lit in a stone hearth at the north end of the room. On the mantle of the fireplace stood the trunk of a young Elm (likely an Edigroth Wineberry), in the center of which was a hollowed out hole wherein sat an empty nest. Half a dozen private booths, some of which were occupied, lined the north and west end of the room. To the south end was a bar made of stone slabs, and just beyond that, a set of stairs leading to the second story.
An elegant woman garbed in a chestnut colored leather gown stood behind the bar, a falcon perched upon her shoulder. The Horns recognized her as the Lady Illendra, the Inn’s proprietor. The falcon cried out as Illendra stepped forward to greet her new guests.
“Welcome to The Falcon’s Nest,” spoke the Lady, “what a privilege it is to have so noble a band of adventurers as yourselves as patrons,” She continued. “Please, make yourselves comfortable, my girls will be with you shortly, to see that all of your needs are attended to.”
Save for Phadran, the Horns were a rather chaste lot, and even the pretense of whoring was beginning to make some of them a bit nervous. Nevertheless, there was that handsome reward to consider; what harm was there in playing along for while in the hope of gleaning valuable information?
The Horns selected a booth and then began to scan the foyer. Even though the booths were only barely lit, with her keen Elven senses Mara was able to recognize Orend sitting in the booth across the room. Opposite of Orend] sat Elien. The two appeared to be in the midst of a heated conversation. Mara attempted to listen in, yet their conversation was barely audible and she only caught the following bits and phrases:
Elien: “The Falcon’s N… watched…a sp… about…her”
Orend: “I …on’t care…over her…figure out something…have to…”
Elien: “…be stupid! They’ll ki…to dangerous!”
Orend: “Don…out me.”
Mara’s eavesdropping however was interrupted by the appearance of a few of Houses girls come to see to the needs of their clients. After some initial banter, Romen made some inquiring marks about Orend, who had just stood and was now about to ascend the stairway.
“Lucky girl,” said the house girl with golden curly locks wistfully gazing over at Orend.
“Pardon?” Said Romen uncertainly.
“She’s a lucky girl,” the House girl repeated, “to have him all to herself.”
“Who is?” Asked Phadran, “Elien?”
“Perhaps,” replied golden locks, “none of us are really sure who she is; but its not one of us that he favors that’s sure,” she finished.
“Watch your tongue Eilena,” scolded another house girl, a plump brunette woman with a Thundis accent, “Sir Orend’s business is none of yours.”
Not wanting to press, the Horns dropped the topic and spoke of other things. However, Phadran later subtlety alluded that he wanted to spend some time alone with Eilena. The rest of the Horns excused themselves from the booth, paid for their tab, mentioned something about the morning coming too early and then headed out the door, leaving the other two house girls in a state of bewildered disappointment.
While in private, Phadran was able to pump Eilena for more information. He discovered that Orend had been meeting with the same woman within the Nest for over a year now. While different girls have made advances towards him at one time or another Orend always turns them down—it’s no secret that he has eyes for only one lass, but no one seems to know just who she is. The girl is not one of the regulars from the Falcon’s Nest. She doesn’t come in through the front entrance either, and she always wears a dark green hooded robe. “It’s terribly romantic, don’t’cha think?” Beamed Eilena in Phadran’s embrace.
The next day Phadran met back up with the rest of the Party at The Cloven Hoof and spilled the information that he had coaxed from Eilena.
“Do you really think Elien is having a secret affair with Orend?” asked Romen.
“No, that doesn’t figure,” replied Phadran. “For one thing Eilena wasn’t sure that Elien was the one who had been meeting with Orend all this time; for another why would they try to hide their relationship? In fact, wasn’t Elien the one giving Orend so much grief about his nightly soiree’s at The Falcon’s Nest?” Phadran reasoned.
“Think about it you guys,” said Mara evenly. “Who else do we know that has been conducting clandestine activities within the Nest, hmm? Who else moreover is reported to have an anonymous and illicit lover?” she continued.
“Aribell,” said the three other Horns in unison, recognition evident in their voices. “Yet that still doesn’t explain why Aribell has gone miss…” Phadran began, yet was cut short by the sudden appearance of Elien at the entrance of The Cloven Hoof.
After hastily scanning the room, Elien quickly walked over to the booth that the Horns had been sitting sat, and in a hushed tone asked to meet with them in private within her quarters.
The Horns agreed and moments later stood just inside the doorway to her room. Elien looked around the faces of the Horns, a great deal of fear and uncertainty showing in her face. “I saw you last night at The Falcon’s Nest,” she began simply. “Something tells me that you weren’t there for the entertainment; you are investigating the disappearance of Aribell aren’t you?”
“Who isn’t these days,” replied Phadran.
“Fair enough,” said Elien, “but why is it that you guys seem to be the only ones prying around The Falcon’s Nest? You know something that others do not, don’t you?”
“Perhaps,” said Phadran evenly, “what difference does it make to you one way or the other what we know?”
“Look,” said Elien after a long sigh, “let’s just say I am concerned for a friend and leave it at that. I can tell you that Aribell is safe. She wasn’t kidnapped or anything like that. She simply wanted a new life that’s all. She saw a chance at love and she took it. She doesn’t want to be found, can’t you understand that?” Elien asked.
“So…what, you’re asking us to just forget about the whole thing, reward and all?” Phadran said dryly. “And for what, so that some hoity-toity princes can run off to shack up with an illicit lover? C’mon, why should any of us, including you, care about that—unless there is something more going on here that we should know about?”
Elien flushed pink. She looked as though she were about to say something, but then thought better of it. After a moment of thought she responded, “I think we both know who Aribell’s lover is. He may be a bit hot-headed and impulsive, but he’s one of the few good men I know. What’s more, he’s your fried as well.” After a pause she continued, “I lied a moment ago. You guys aren’t the only one’s that have taken an interest in The Falcon’s Nest. One of Atherlend’s spies, Arnodoul I think, has been casing the place. He was there the night that Aribell disappeared. I’m worried that he’s on to the two of them. I’m afraid that if “our friend” attempts to rendezvous with Aribell he might spring a trap that could land him in serious trouble.”
“How do you know all this,” asked Roman.
Elien pinkenned a little, but admitted that she’d been keeping tabs on her friend’s exploits at The Falcon’s Nest. “Listen,” she said, “I’m not asking you to get involved. All I’m asking is that, on behalf of a friend you drop this case. Well?”
Romen, Leuca, Mara and Phadran all exchanged glances.
“I say let them go,” replied Mara. “What they do with each other is their business, it’s not right for us to interfere, especially if our only reason for doing so is greed.”
Everyone seemed to agree, and so the horns consented to drop the matter.
The following day, Thelend, the squire whom the Horns had freed from the captivity of Thyrn cultists at Ondur, showed up at the Cloven Hoof looking for the Four Horns. When he had found them, Thelend explained that after the failure of his first major assignment, Thelend’s liege, Sir Mendubeth of Duruland Lane, had required that he seek atonement for his failure by fulfilling a quest. Thelend had spent considerable time contemplating how best to proceed, and had decided that it would be fitting for him to fulfill his obligation by aiding the very ones who had saved his life in one of their own quests. Having thus explained himself, Thelend bound himself and his honor to defending the Four Horns with his life. So it was that he was admitted into the party.
Not long after Thelend’s arrival, a courier appeared at the doorway of The Cloven Hoof bearing a message for the Four Horns. The Society of Lost Relics requested their presence at noon that day. Upon arrival at the Mages Guild, the Horns were greeted disinterestedly by a pubescent red-headed youth running the gift shop. The youth, an apprentice to Etilwin Vass named Blib, commented absently that the Horns would find Vass at work within the Apothecary laboratory, located in the upper north wing of the building.
Sure enough, when the Horns entered the laboratory they were met by a dense purple cloud of smoke that tasted vaguely of cinnamon and myrrh, and that caused the group to erupt into violent bouts of coughing. Apparently another of Vass’s apprentices been experimenting with magical solutions while Vass’s back was turned. The youth’s face was now covered in plum colored soot, and his eyebrows were missing.
Vass exuberantly greeted the Horns and motioned them into his office. With little in the way of preamble he began as follows:
“The Society has a short mission that we would like to offer you. If the mission goes well, it will likely lead to a much more extensive mission. As I was studying Mier’Elithog’s Chronicles, I came across some rather interesting information regarding Etimar, another of the fallen cities of Mierodran. That information is not pertinent to the immediate mission, but suffice it to say that because of what has been learned, Etimar has become of significant interest to the Society. Unfortunately, as you are well aware, the city now lies in ruin and there are no surviving maps describing the layout of its subterranean halls. For the moment, the society is merely concerned with learning more about the geography of Etimar. The mission thus is simply to locate an entrance among the ruins of Etimar that leads to its subterranean lair, the Halls of Amath Grall. By the time you bring back this information, my colleagues and I shall have had sufficient time to outline the details of a longer mission. A word of caution however. Etimar fell over a millennium ago to the mighty minotaur army of Xoroc in the Demonspawn wars. Most of Xoroc’s army was dashed to pieces along the clefts of the Hammodrans while besieging Igladon. Yet the survivors fled to the belly of Etimar and have dwelt their ever since. Several expeditions have been made to Etimar through the centuries, yet few have lived to tell about them. This said, you need not actually delve into Etimar, merely locating a way in shall suffice at present. Well, what do you think?”
The Horns needed little convincing, especially Romen whose interest in the civilizations of the past had led him to join up with the Society in the first place. As soon as they left the Mage’s Guild they headed over to the Mount’s Inn to grab their horses.
Showing a bit of forethought, they also hired a couple of stable-hands, a father and son by the names of Jeren and Thir, to accompany them on their expedition and tend to their horses. After packing their provisions they departed from Hidroth Lea to travel west along the downlands.
It was just past midmonth of Gildgleam and the spring rains had abated within the downs, making for easy travel.
The journey to Etimar took about two days, and passed without incident. The Horns learned a bit about their hirelings along the way. By nightfall of the second day of their journey the party had arrived at the base of a large cliff near a large river. Midway up the cliff sat the ruins of an ancient Dwarven city. Two hulking half eaten warg carcasses sat at the base of the cliff, turning the air foul with the smell of putrefied flesh. The party made camp near the river, upwind of the odor. They set a watch and waited for morning to come.
At dawn’s first light, the Horns gave instructions to Jeren and Thir to stay with the horses, and after spending a couple of fruitless hours looking for an entrance to Etimar at the base of the great hill, proceeded to scale the side of the cliff. When they had made it about fifty feet up, the Horns heard a shrill cacophony of animal cries coming from just over head.
Each of the Horns looked up in time to see a large winged beast fly by over head, circle and then dive at the party. The great beast had three heads. The first head was reptilian, and covered in red scales. The second was of large feline, and the third of a demonic looking goat. Before anyone had time to react the, the reptilian head vomited forth a cone of flame, badly searing Mara and Leuca who fell fifty feet to the ground.
The rest of the party, while singed, managed to make it up to s few more feet to stand on ledge. The flying beast, which Mara identified as a Chimera, dove for the two party members at the base of the cliff. Thelend and Phadran quickly repelled down the side of the cliff to join the fight. After a hard fought battle the Horns managed to chase away the Chimera, who then flew back to the top of the ruins.
Leuca lifted his prayers to Andunai, and the wounds of the party were healed. Then the Horns scaled the cliff once more, whereupon, arriving safely at the top, the Horns proceeded to explore the exterior of the ruins. As they went along, the Horns discovered the remains of several orcs. The corpses looked like they had been mauled, and gnawed on. They reeked quite a bit, meaning they had probably been slain sometime over the last few weeks.
Mara spotted an opening in the side of the cliff and the Horns went to investigate. The opening turned out to be a partially collapsed hallway covered in moss. Bones of various shapes and sizes dotted the floor of the hallway. Eventually the hallway opened up into a room that had been partially caved in, at the south end, exposing the room to the elements of the outside. The room was about thirty feet wide, but only fifteen long. At the west end of the room inset within the wall was a life sized stone statue of a Dwarf, partially covered in moss. The walls of the room were also decorated with several inlaid archways. At the north end of the room sat the Chimera that the Horns had recently fought with. It uttered a series of shrieks and roars and then lunged for the party.
At the end of yet another grizzly battle, the Horns managed to cut down the Chimera before it could once again take flight. After the battle Phadran discovered the remains of another orcish corpse. This corpse (that is, what remained of it anyway), bore a resemblance to the Shaman that the Horns had helped to capture two months past. Mara and Phadran searched through his belongings and discovered that he bore both a large jewel encrusted Greataxe and a letter stained with blood, which, in an old dialect of Titan, read the following:
“Gorlosh Leatherskin, Lord Jarl of the Mountain,
Greetings, to the most Honorable Heir of Xoroc, bq). Your ancestor’s courage on the battlefield is still passed down in song among the descendents of Grimtosh. The Orcs have long remembered the awesome might of the Minotaurs as they charged the steeps of Igladon and shook the very foundations of the Hammodrons. All of the children of Mierodran trembled at the terrifying lowing of Xoroc. The Minotaurs should have taken the Craggy city and caused its halls to flow red with the river of Dwarven blood. They would have too, the Orcs know this, but for the will of the gods who deserted the Minotaurs. How many generations has it been? How long have you wandered the halls of Amath Grall is shame and bitterness? And why have you not rectified the wrong done to you? Why have you not left your den and claimed Igladon as your own? The Minotaurs are mighty and brave, but your numbers are too few for this. And so you have lived long in shame under the burden of Xoroc’s defeat and your hatred for the bearded ones has grown ripe with age
Now is the time to pluck the fruit of revenge! I will descend upon the down-lands like a storm of locusts and make an end of the cities of men. Join with me and take back that which was stolen from you all these years. Together we shall ascend the heights of the Hammodrans and fall upon the seed of Mierodran. In those days you shall glut your maw with the flesh of the living and all of the North shall learn the fear of you.
My servant brings you this gift as a token good will. I trust you shall recognize it.”
Thelend, being trained in Titan, translated the letter to the Horns.
“Wow!” said Thelend, “I never thought I’d say this, but I’m really glad for that Chimera!”
The rest of the Horns agreed. After healing up, Phadran scouted out the room and found that the Dwarven statue sat atop a hidden doorway leading underground. Unfortunately the doorway was trapped. Hence, when Phadran failed to pick the lock (which happened several times), the Dwarven statue would momentarily come to life and attack the half elf. Yet finally Phadran’s roguish skills paid off and he managed to disarm the trap, and open the doorway, which revealed a set of steps leading down to a lower subterranean level.
Having been drained by the day’s events, the Horns decided to make camp in the room with the dead Chimera. During the night Romen heard a gurgling sound coming from just below the secret stairway. However, nothing came of it and the party awoke chipper the next day.
Paying no head to the advice of Etilwin Vass, the Horns decided to go have a look-see at what was hidden below. The stairs emptied into a dark musty room. Leuca pulled out his Ram’s Head Medallion upon which had been cast Eternal Flame, and the party surveyed their surroundings. The room was about thirty feet long, and twenty wide. Dust covered the floor in most places, but near the doorway a trail of sticky mucous lined the floor.
The Horns went through the doorway and entered a long hallway. In various places stone archways had been set into the walls and geometric patterns made of obsidian and white marble formed mosaics where hallways intersected. The hall was damp and moist, puddles formed in some places. Also, signs of an ancient battle were everywhere. Thick grooves had been cut into the walls in some places, in others columns had fallen or been smashed by bludgeoning weapons. The skeletons of Dwarves were strewn all along the hallway.
As the Horns passed through an intersection of hallways, Mara heard a gurgling, sloshing sound coming from the hall to the south. She alerted the party who drew weapons in readiness for a battle. In a matter of moments a grotesque undulating mass of mucous coated flesh slithered into view. The amorphous “thing” was covered with eyes and teeth and immediately began to spit sharp fleshy tentacles out at the party in all directions.
The Horns were quick to react, and began to pummel the abomination. However the beast proved difficult to kill and its many tentacles managed to drain the lifeblood from each of the Horns, nearly consuming Romen. Finally however the beast was reduced to a pulpy mass. At this point the Horns decided that it might have been a good idea to listen to Vass, and so quickly headed for the surface.
The return journey home was blessedly uneventful. The Horns returned to the Mages Guild and were escorted by Blib and the eybrowless kid to the library to meet with Etilwin Vass. As usual the Gnome was elated to see the party, and greeted their newest member with equal enthusiasm. After receiving news of their quest, Vass thanked the party and told them that he must discuss their upcoming mission with his colleagues. He would send for them in a week or two once the details of the mission had been discussed.
In the interim period, the Horns lodged at The Cloven Hoof where they learned from the regulars that Jarl Gorlosh had laid siege upon both the western settlements and the Wood Elves of Tindor. They also learned from Father Ibereth that the party of clerics he sent to investigate the ruins of Ondur over a month ago has not reported back. He is understandably concerned, and fears what this might mean. Further, the Horns learn that Orend has been caught attempting to elope with Aribell by Arnodoul, the Count’s chief spy. A trial will be held to determine his fate.
One night over dinner at The Cloven Hoof the Horns (minus Thelend who was away having his armor mended) and Othowin’s band sat discussing the upcoming trial. It is determined that Orend’s life is in danger, for the Count will likely seek the death penalty. “Illendra has gone to seek the Count’s council to beseech him to spare Orend’s life, yet he refuses to see her,” said Elien glumly as she absently sipped on a spoon of mutton stew.
“Why would he, Illendra’s reputation in this town is worthless?” said Phadran.
“True, but do you know why that is?” asked Starling. “Did you happen to know that Illendra’s father Eberthul was once the Baron of Hidroth Lea, and a personal friend of Atherlend’s Father?” Elien and Belindial looked up from their stew with interest.
“Eberthul lost his title nearly two decades ago,” continued Starling. “The title and lands passed to his younger brother. It is widely held that Illendra was the cause of her father’s misfortune, yet few in town know true reason why.”
“Right, I recall you mentioning that before,” said Romen, “but how is that relevant now?”
“Well,” said Starling, “apparently when Atherlend was a young man he and Ilendra Etheborn were in love. Their love was a secretive affair, for Atherlend’s father Ildurand had arranged for his son to marry Temerion, the Viscountess of Thunlend Dell. The love affair was, however, eventually discovered, and though Atherlend protested at first, his father maintained that he must fulfill his duty to his people and marry the Viscountess. It seems that Atherlend was broken hearted, yet he obeyed his father and ended the affair with Illednra.”
“How do you know all this!?” said Phadran, a bit miffed that his skills at gathering information had somehow missed this juicy bit of information.
“I’m a Bard; it’s my business to know trivia about royal intrigue. Now shut up and eat your mutton stew,” replied Starling. “Where was I?” he continued. “The viscount right. I suspect that the Viscount of Thunlend Dell must have gotten word of the affair for Ildurand deemed it necessary to make an example of Ilendra. Hence, the revocation of Eberthul’s title. The territories and Station of Eberthul passed on to the second-born of the Etheborn line and the disenfranchised Eberthul and his house were publicly humiliated for Illendra’s crime of ‘soliciting the betrothed viscount.’ Ilendra was seen at as a hussy and shunned by the town.”
“Wow,” Said Romen chewing the information over along with his mutton.
“Eberthul, tried to move on with his life by investing what savings he could into an old Inn at the north end of town and fixing it up for business again” said Starling. “Ilendra and her brother Teradith had a fierce disagreement over the matter and have spoken only once since, at the death of their father. Ilendra left town one night and was not heard from for nearly a decade. Teradith, dedicated to restoring their family’s good name, went off to battle against Lorghun in the south where he became a war hero. Upon his return Teradith was knighted. As you already know, he later became the captain of the guard. Eberthul eventually fell ill, and Ilendra returned out of the blue and took care of him until his death. She latter took over the Inn and re-named it the Falcon’s Nest. She hired on more hands—all of them women of a “disreputable” manner—and took to the business of whoring. This, as I’m sure you can imagine, only further sullied her reputation in town. Years passed and Illendra’s younger cousin Orend Etheborn grew to maturity. Orend became esquire to Teradith and they both spent a few more years in the south at war with Lorghun. As fate would have it, history has now come full circle. Orend has fallen in love with Aribell, who, unhappily, is already betrothed to the Duke of Endrell. As we now know the two lovers have been meeting secretly at the Falcon’s Nest.”
“And now that the deed has been made public, the Count has been placed in a very awkward political position” said Othowin. “If the Duke of Endrell ends up following through on his threat to call off the wedding, this would effectively dissolve the alliance between Hidroth Lea and Endrell. Given the tidings of war to the west, it is understandable that Atherlend will do everything in his power to appease the Duke, including putting to death his daughters beloved.” Othowin paused reflectively and then stammered, “Orend, you damned fool, why couldn’t you have left well enough alone…now look what you’ve done…may Andunai have mercy upon you.”
“Well we’re not going to let that happen…are we?” asked Elien uncertainly. “I mean, Orend may be a fool, but he’s our fool; he’s part of you band Othowin. We can’t just turn our back on him now. We have to do something to save him!” she finished in a raised voice that caused several eyes from nearby tables to turn in their direction.
Othowin looked around the room and then met Elien’s eyes. In a lowered voice he said, “and what would you have us do Elien?”
“I don’t know, talk to Atherlend,” Elien said in exasperation, “convince him that Orend did what he did out of love, and get him to lesson the sentence.”
Othowin sighed and then in a conciliatory tone said, “look, Illendra already tried that; it won’t work. Atherlend is a pragmatist. He knows that Orend has to be sacrificed for the good of town. If he let’s Orend live he risks provoking the wrath of Ithron, and he can ill-afford to do that.”
“Well then we have to think of something else, we can’t just let Orend go to his death!” replied Elien, still full of fire, but this time more mindful not to attract unwanted attention.
“Elien, I know you care for Orend,” said Othowin, “there’s not a one of us here that doesn’t love that lad. But there’s nothing that we can do. This is a legal matter to be settled by the court—Orend’s fate is out of our hands. You need to come to terms with that.”
“no…NO!” said Elien with gunpowder in her voice “We can’t just allow Atherlend to put Orend to death. Othowin, I thought you cared about justice. He may deserve to be punished, but not by death! Killing Orend for the sake of political interests is about the most unjust thing I’ve ever heard of. Can’t you see that?”
“Othowin’s right Elien,” said Belindial, speaking for the first time. “Orend’s fate is out of our hands. Atherlend may decide to let him live, yet even if he does not, we cannot interfere in these legal matters, it is not our place.”
“I don’t believe this!” cried Elien, once more drawing attention to the table. “Would you listen to yourselves” she said in a lower tone. “Twenty years ago Illendra became the victim of ‘legal matters,’ and what was her crime? She loved Atherlend, who I might add loved her back. Yet was Atherlend punished? No! Apparently upper royalty is above the law. Look Orend’s only crime was in caring for Aribell. If Orend guilty here he is not alone. Why is he the only one on trial? I can’t believe that you all are willing to just sit here and allow Orend to be put to death for political interests!”
“Enough!” said Othowin roughly in a hard military tone. “Elien you forget yourself. These are not the dirty alleyways of Caldoranth where justice is dealt out through brute force by the likes of us. This city is governed by the law of the throne and the courts. Even if we could do something to save Orend it is not our place. We must and we will abide by the court’s decision. Now let that be the end of it.”
Elien stared icily at Othowin, and then without another word, turned briskly and marched out of the Inn.
Romen and Leuca both shifted uncomfortably in their seats and no one spoke for a while after the heated exchange.
“Well,” I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve had about my fill of mutton tonight,” said Phadran. Then, standing, he bid the rest goodnight and headed for his room. The the others at the table soon followed suit.
Several hours latter the Horns Gathered in Romen’s quarters to discuss the events of the evening. Everyone was still fairly deflated from the earlier discussion, hence, conversation had begun to lull. There came knock at the door.
“Who’s there,” asked Romen.
“It’s me,” came the hushed voice of Elien, “can I come in?”
“Sure,” said Romen, trading glances with the others as he headed to unlatch the door.
Elien appears at the door of the Horns room, “I’m sorry to bother you she said, somewhat hesitantly, but would it be possible for you all to accompany me to my room? I have matters of a somewhat delicate nature that I would like to discuss with you,” she said, placing stress on the word delicate.
The Horns agreed and crossed the hall to Elien’s quarters. Upon entering the room, the Horns noted the room’s two other occupants. Starling sat spread legged on a chair idly plucking at a lute and humming a ballad. He looked up as the Horns arrived, flashing them a mirthful and conspiratorial smile. A hooded woman in a long dark brown cloak sat erect upon the bed, her hands crossed neatly in her lap. The women looked in the direction of the party, and then removed her hood, revealing herself to be the Lady Illendra.
“I know that I am placing you in danger by brining you here, and for that I am sorry,” Elien began. “You must know that I would not have brought you here if I did not think that it was absolutely necessary. Othowin and Belindiel know nothing of what I’m about to tell you. You see, the three of us are going to free Orend tonight. We have a plan, but we need help in accomplishing it. You are the only people in town that we can turn to,” she finished in a somewhat pleading yet hopeful tone.
“Of course,” said Illendra in a more guarded manner, “we cannot divulge the details of our plan unless you agree to help us. Just a standard precaution, as I’m sure you understand.”
“What I don’t understand,” said Mara, “is what you are doing here Illendra. Why would you risk you neck for Orend? I don’t see what you have to gain from this.”
“What I have to gain,” said Illendra coolly, “is the life of my nephew. What I have to gain,” she continued even more icily, “is the satisfaction of seeing Aribell and my nephew have a shot at love that was denied to me. What I have to gain,” she said more quietly, almost to herself, “is a bit justice in this life.”
“Hmm,” said Roman and Mara simultaneously. “I think our band needs to discuss this matter in private,” said Romen, speaking for the group.
“Of course,” said Starling, “we would expect no less. However, the window of opportunity here is quickly closing. So, though we hate to rush you, we must insist that no not dilly dally.”
Upon returning to Romen’s quarters the Horns engaged in a difficult conversation. On the one hand, Orend was their friend, at least somewhat. And it wasn’t difficult to sympathize with the plight of the two lovers. On the other hand, getting involved in a prison break could have severe consequences. Was it worth it? Was this really an issue of injustice? Illendra may perhaps have had vindictive motives. What’s more, as Romen suggested, the Count seems like a just man, and Hidroth Lea was a generally lawful town. What business was it of the Horns to get involved in the obstruction of the law?
In the end, the party decided not to get involved. They made their way back to Elien’s apartment to break her the hard news. She took it well, all things considered, and Starling, full of magnanimity, told the Horns that he was relieved; he personally didn’t want to put any more lives at stake than was needed. Illendra on the other hand simply sneered and turned her head. The Horns bid the three Andunai’s blessing on their quest, and promised not to breath a word of it to another soul. They then headed to bed and were tormented in their dreams that night about whether or not they had made the right decision.