oman, Mara, Phadran and Leuca, now known as the Four Horns, celebrate their recent victory with Orend and Othowin’s band at the Downlander. In the midst of the celebration Orend strikes Starling due to a perceived slight regarding his nightly soiree’s at The Falcon’s Nest. The next morning the Four Horns participate in a royal procession. There they meet Count Atherlend and his family for the first time. They also meet the fiance of Aribell (the Count’s daughter). Prior to the Hidroth Contest, Orend is knighted. Mara and Phadran, along with several of the members of Othowin’s band participate in the contest. One of the contestants, a woman known as the Lady Illendra, is apparently unpopular with the crowd. Starling explains to Romen and Leuca that Illendra is the sister of Captain Teradith and did something to mar the family name. After the contest, the Four horns wander through the evening market, purchasing items for the evening’s Ball. They discover a booth advertising a fraternity called The Society of Lost Relics, and sign up to become adventuring members of the society. At the ball the Four Horns fraternize with Othowin’s band, and mingle with the social elite. Illendra shows up wearing a beautiful evening gown and creates quite a stir.
Romen, Mara, Phadran and Leuca followed Othowin into The Downlander to meet up with the other members of his band. Along the way they discussed their meeting with Captain Teradith and decided to call their Band “The Four Horns.” What with the success of the evening’s raid on the Orcs and the anticipation of the morrows contest both parties were in the mood for celebration. By this point in the evening the tavern was thick with foreigners come to carouse, swap gossip, or simply to partake of some of MierOblan’s ale, rumored to be the best the Downs of Edigroth had to offer.
Othowin’s band were seated to the back of the room, a keg of Silverwheat (MierOblan’s finest) lay nearly empty at the foot of the table. As the Four took their seats at the table Othowin greeted them with a warm smile and began once more to tell Orend and the other members of Othowin’s band about the battle with the Orc raiders and the capture of the Orc Shaman.
“These lads did well tonight” beamed Othowin, “they’re a sturdy and courageous lot.”
A plumply pretty bar maid passed by delivering a tray of steaming meat pies to a nearby table. As she made her way back to the kitchen, the maid favored Orend with an inviting smile. “Well,” said Starling, who had not failed to notice the maid’s suggestive smile, “looks like tonight’s your lucky night my friend, doubtless you’ll not be needing any coin to purchase entertainment this evening after all.” Orend shifted uncomfortably in his seat at his friend’s insinuation, and the resulting laughter it brought from those gathered around the table.
“Well I guess there’s a first time for everything, now isn’t there Orend,” said Elien in a mirthless tone, “tell me, would you even know what to do with a woman who would willingly have you without your coin?” All merriment drained from the table, replaced by an awkward silence. Orend glared hard at Elien, his face turning red.
Starling was the first to break the silence. “Now, now Elien, whatever would possess you to say such a silly thing? Many a fair maiden would grow faint with desire at the thought of spending an evening with Orend. Why, I do recall having witnessed on occasion certain among the noble maidens casting longing glances in his direction. And why not? Aside from his dashing good looks,” and with this Starling cupped the chin of his friend with one hand as if presenting a prize animal at the fare, “Orend is soon to become a very important man.” Othowin swatted away his friend’s hand, and began to eye his surroundings, searching for a rout of escape.
“Well if what you say is true,” countered Elien in an accusatory fashion, “then why is it that Orend returns to The Falcon’s Nest night after night?”
Starling got up and began to pace, his slender fingers stroking a meticulously well groomed goatee. “Now that is a mystery, is it not?” he said after a fashion, “well Orend, what say you to Elien’s allegations? Why is it that a man such yourself who has his pick of the fair maidens of this town before him, continues to waist good coin in a place like the Falcon’s Nest?”
“Let it go Starling,” said Orend in a tone that could bend steal.
Yet if Starling noticed the threat in his friend’s voice, he paid it no mind. “Very well Orend, keep your secrets,” said Starling lightly. Then in a theatrical flourish Starling raised his tankard in the air in a toast and said, “Ladies and gentlemen of the Downs, I give you Orend of the House of Etheborne: Valliant Ram of the North, hero of the Downs, and enigmatic lover of loose women!”
Starling’s comments incited an outburst of raucous laughter from the table of half inebriated adventurers. It also roused a more violent reaction from Orend who rose from the table and punched Starling—still holding the tankard in mock imitation of a toast—square in the face.
Starling flew into the wall of the tavern and hit the floor. A moment of surprise and bewilderment was shared by all. Then Othowins, face contorted in outrage. He grabbed Orend by the scruff of his collar and threw him against the wall. “You have gone too far this time Orend!” yelled Othowin, “we never attack our own, remember?” With that he drew Orend through a crowd of onlookers towards the entrance of the Downlander. “It’s time you and I had words,” said Othowin.
Elien helped the dazed bard to his feet. “Are you alright Starling?” asked Elien, with evident concern for the Bard.
“Yeah, I think,” said Starling carefully rotating his jaw which made painful popping sounds, “but what in the flames of Soradadun just happened!?”
“I guess you hit a nerve,” said Elien thoughtfully.
“Is this the first time Orend’s lost his temper like that?” asked Romen.
“Well he’s been known to get a little steamed from time to time, but he’s never laid hands on any within Othowin’s band before,” said Elien, “that hotheaded bastard! He’s nearly twice your size; he could have really hurt you.”
Minutes later Orend returned to the table, a chastened expression written over his face. “Starling, I owe you an apology,” said the Squire of Hidroth Lea, “I should not have allowed myself to get so…upset. I owe the rest of you an apology as well, my behavior tonight was completely unacceptable. Starling, I’ve always held you in high regard, and consider you a dear friend; please accept my apology.”
The Bard’s expression which had grown stern at Orend’s approach, softened slightly, as he nodded in acceptance of Orend’s apology.
“Well then,” said Orend, “I look forward to seeing you all at the morrows contest.” With that Orend bowed slightly to those at the table, turned and headed for the door.
“Maybe its best we all turn in for the night lads,” said Othowin whose reappearance at the table had gone unnoticed, “got a big day ahead of us.” Indeed, the mood for celebration seemed to have passed, and so Othowin’s band, and the the younger band of adventurers returned to The Cloven Hoof to steal what hours of sleep remained to them before the first light of dawn.
The dawn’s first light came all too early, and fell softly upon the Lea. Othowin’s band and the Four Horns gathered together in the barracks of Hidroth Keep to await the day’s events. Of the two parties, Mara, Phadran, Elien, Orend and Othowin had decided to enter into one or more of the events of the contest. Each were assigned armaments appropriate to their events and instructed on the rules for each event.
They were joined by a third adventuring party named “The Motley Crew” which, led by Orend, had helped to rid Hidroth’s northern territories (including Downthorpe) of some Orc Marauders. Captain Teradith approached the three parties and explained that during the procession leading up to the events of the contest, each party would be publicly recognized for their deeds of valor on behalf of the town.
Within the hour, the town had assembled together along the Kings Highway beyond Northgate to witness the procession. The sun shown brightly, alleviating the chill that hung in the Spring morning air. Royal servants rolled out a Royal aubergine carpet along the road leading to Hidroth Palace. Then a group of eight trumpeters bearing brass inlaid ram horns sounded the national anthem, thus ushering forth the royal procession. A Herald called forth in a deep melodious voice, “make way for Lord Atherlend and Lady Temerion, Count and Countess of Hidroth Lea.” The crowd on either side of the highway parted and knelt before their liege.
For the first time the members of the Four Horns got a chance to see the royal family. Atherlend was a tall broad man with a well trimmed gold and grey beard, and deep grey eyes framed by a strong commanding face. He wore fine vestments of Royal aubergine satin (a hue of purple which only nobility was entitled dawn), and dark grey, white and gold. A silver coronet Inlaid with a swirling rams horn motif sat upon his head. Countess Temerion was a hansom woman with a proud and somewhat stern face, and penetrating green eyes. Her graying strawberry blond hair was neatly gathered together in a bun upon which sat a silver coronet. She wore a gown of pale crème and a satin cape of Royal aubergine. As the count and countess passed through the northern gate of Hidroth Lea, the Herald announced their heirs, “Make way for Prince Ildred and Princess Aribell.” A tall slender man with strawberry blond hair and merry hazelnut eyes stepped forth leading his sister to the gate. He wore a purple and gold vest with creme sleeves and gray trousers. Aribell was the very picture of grace and beauty. Her fiery red locks hung in elegant braids upon the nape of her fair slender neck. Her heart-like face possessed both the beauty of her mother and the strength of her father, and her emerald green eyes held a pixie light that whispered of fire, laughter and other hidden secrets besides. She was clothed in a gown the color of spring ivy, with a coat of creme and silver.
Next the Herald was ushering forth a Lord Ithron from the region of Endrell. He was a middle-aged man with graying blond hair and hard brown eyes. It was for the sake this man, explained Starling to the Four, that the Hidroth Contest was being held. For upon Aribell’s 18th birthday she was to be wed to Endrell, and become the Countess of Endrell. Ithron had traveled south to meet Aribell for the first time, and the contest was held for his amusement, in honor of this important event.
After the Royal Procession had passed, a cart covered in brown sacks was pushed forth onto the Kings Highway. The sacks were removed to reveal an iron cage in which stood the Orc Mage, now bound and gagged. Several spikes and poles jutted out of the cage, and upon each sat the severed head of an Orc. At the front of the cart stood a pole bearing the head of the winter wolf which Othowin and the younger band had dispatched the night before. “Make way for the distinguished Orc Shaman of the North, the scourge of the Downs of Edigroth,” announced the herald in mock formality. Jeers erupted from the crowd as townsfolk began to hurl insults and spoiled produce at the caged creature.
Finally the three parties of adventurers were led forth upon the highway by Captain Teradith as the Herald announced “make way for the champions of Hidroth Lea!” provoking a hail of cheers and applause from the crowds of onlookers. The three parties were led into the central courtyard of Hidroth Palace, and placed upon a platform. Around the courtyard a row of wooden bleachers had been set up in order to facilitate the spectators of the contest. When the bleachers had been filled, the trumpeters once again blew upon their horns to quite the crowd and signal the next event to take place.
The herald that had announced the Royal Procession came forth, this time followed by none other than Count Atherlend. The Herald once more announced the presence of Hidroth’s Champions, and then introduced each by name and party affiliation. Lord Atherlend stepped upon the Platform and as he did so, the members of each party bowed before the Count. “On behalf of Hidroth Lea I commend each of you for your valor and for the contributions that you have made to the protection our land.” Said Atherlend in a strong voice which easily carried to even the highest regions of the bleachers. “Stand now and receive the gratitude of our people,” commanded the Count. All within each party stood and took in the applause of the gathered peoples of Hidroth. The champions were then led out of the courtyard and four Knights of the Ram, Captain Teradith foremost among them, lead forth Orend to the stage to stand before the count. “Behold, a squire of Hidroth Lea,” announced the Herald.
“Orend, squire of Hidroth Lea, kneel before your liege,” commanded Lord Atherlend.” You have fought bravely for your country and distinguished yourself among your peers in honor and chivalry. Do you indeed seek to enter into the Order of the Ram?” asked the Count.
“I do,” answered Orend.
“Very well. I hereby charge you to speak your vows to your liege and to your country,” commanded Atherlend.
“I Orend, of the House of Etheborne, hereby swear fealty to my lord. My life I give in service to his country for the defense of those who dwell therein, and for the vindication of the land of our fathers by the sea, may we live to see Her renewed,” said Orend.
“Orend, you have made your vows before men and God, and are thus bound both by the courts of Eriond and of the heavens to fulfill them. Hence forth you shall forsake the title of squire. Now, rise Sir Orend, knight of Oberlund!” Cried the Count.
Cheers of applause echoed through the courtyard as Orend stood and received from his liege the helm of the Ram, and robe of Violet that are the marks of the Knighthood. The Herald then led the host of Hidroth to sing the Lay of Barathund:
“Oh proud and noble Barathund,
My kingdom captive by the sea,
I hear the call of moors undone,
That once sired men of errantry.
Of clefts and Tors that had together,
Borne along the mighty Ram,
Of vales clothed in wild heather,
Where didst feast the herders lamb.”
“I hear the call of distant shores,
Where breakers crash on mighty cliff,
There lie the ruins of Bethelador,
A casualty of time’s cruel drift.
Yet from memory shall not be ripped,
The voice of her who beckons me,
And whisper soft with honey lips,
“Return brave son, return!” Says she.”
“Oh proud and noble Barathund,
My kingdom captive by the sea,
I hear the cry of fathers stunned
By what hast now become of thee.
Now prowls the boastful infidel,
Upon the land of my lover pure,
Yet in her he shall not long dwell,
For I come with steal to ransom her.”
Archery was the first of the three events held during the contest. The field had been cleared and a row of ten targets set up—each five paces from the other—facing north, towards the entrance to Hidroth Keep, and away from the bleachers of spectators. Archery had the fewest contestants of the three events, ten in all. Each contestant was introduced in turn by a herald and lead out onto the field a hundred paces from their target. Elien was the first to be led onto the field, followed by Phadran. Next in line was a Ranger named Turon—a mute who traveled with the Motley Crew. Several other Contestants were led onto the field to take their positions. One such contestant was tall slender women with dark blond hair warn in braids, who, though clothed in the garb of a Ranger, carried herself with a regal air more befitting of nobility. The herald introduced the woman simply as the Lady Illendra, and upon hearing her name, many in the crowed offered only contemptuous jeers rather than the polite applause afforded each of the other contestants.
Sitting amongst the spectators, Romen and Luka mused at the crowd’s reaction to Illendra. Starling, who was seated behind the two and had noticed their quizzical expressions, leaned forward and said, “Enter the Lady Illendra, of the house of Etheborne, the most notorious woman in all of Hidroth Lea.” The bard smiled in amusement as recognition registered on the adventurers’ faces, “that’s right. The woman you see before you is none other than the sister of Captain Teradith—and a close relation to Orend I might add. But as you can see for yourself she is considerably less popular than her male kin.”
The contestants were taking their positions now. “Apparently Illendra was involved in some kind of a royal scandal many years ago that brought shame upon her entire family. She, her father and Teradith were all stripped of their land and their titles. Illendra vanished not long after the incident and did not return until the time of her father’s death several years ago. When she finally did return, Illendra did so as one emerging from the wilds—a hunter and a ranger she was. After her father’s death, Illendra inherited his Inn at the edge of town and renamed it The Falcon’s Nest—you may have heard of it.”
The first volley of arrows was away. “After the scandal and ruin of his family name, Teradith enlisted in the militia and went south to fight in the coastal wars against Tulgal. Apparently he made quite a name for himself there, for he returned a decade later as a highly decorated war hero.”
The first round was over and half of the contestants were now being ushered off the field leaving Elien, and Illendra in the lead, followed by Phadran, Turin and Mara. “Upon Teradith’s return, Lord Atherlend restored to him the title of knight, though he did not restore the land holdings which had passed to Dithrand Etheborne, Teradith’s uncle. But I don’t think that matters much to Teradith, for outside of service to Atherlend and Hidroth Lea, Teradith’s singular ambition has been to clear his father’s name from the scandal placed on it by his sister, and in this he has been largely successful.”
The second round was ending now and Phadran, Turin and Mara were being led off the field, leaving Elien and Illendra who were tied for first place. In the final round, Illendra scored slightly higher than Elien, granting her the title of champion for the event of archery. Some in the audience remained vigilant in their vocal disregard for Illendra, but many clapped politely in honor of the Lady’s skill with the bow.
The Next event of the contest was jousting. Twelve men arrayed in full plate entered the field, among which were four knights of the Ram including Orend and Captain Teradith. The event lasted several rounds, the last of which consisted solely of Captain Teradith and a Knight by the name of Mendubith from the House of Berodin. Mendubith emerged victorious.
The final event of the contest was sword play, and more than thirty contestants entered the field to test their might against some of the finest soldiers the town of Hidroth could front. Among these were Mara, Othowin, Orend, Mendubith, Captain Teradith, and a half orc barbarian named Ulmog who traveled with the Motley Crew. The event lasted three rounds. By the third round, only the four knights of the Ram and a fighter from the southern regions of Vindovier were left on the field. Mendubith and the southerner were the next to go, then Othowin. In the final match, Captain Teradith defeated Orend, his former squire, thus retaining his status as reigning champion of swordplay within the Downs of Edrigoth.
After prizes were handed out a herald announced that the contest was at an end and that the courtyard must be emptied in order to make preparations for the evening’s ball which would be held within the courtyard under the light of the full moon. Hence, the Four Horns ventured into the open market being held on Common Wealth Street in order to find food and secure suitable garments for the evenings festivities.
The streets of Hidroth Lea buzzed with excitement as the Four wandered through the night. Venders from all over the north, and some from the south, yelled out the names and prices of their merchandise, each trying to compete with the volume of the swarming crowds that seemed to flow at once from all directions. Turkeys, ducks and game hens hung ready for sale at dozens of pavilions and the aromas of roasting lamb and goat wafted through brisk night air.
As the Four rounded the corner of Commonwealth one pavilion in particular caught Romen’s eye. The sign over the elaborate green and gold pavilion read “Society of Lost Relics.”
“Good evening,” said Romen addressing the three figures that sat inside of the Pavilion, “might I enquire as to the nature of this society? I have not come across it yet in my studies.” “My dear boy, you do not travel in academic circles then,” announced one of the three, a venerable looking old gnome. “I am Etilwin Vas, the research director of the local charter of the Society,” continued the gnome, “and these are my two esteemed associates and fellow researchers: Father Ibereth, who is also the Bishop of the Edrigoth Diocese, and Erilend Olor, who is the proprietor of the antiquities shop here in Hidroth Lea.” Father Ibereth bowed slightly to the party as he was introduced, but Erilend merely exhaled wisps of smoke from the pipe that she had been smoking.
“Don’t bother with these Vas,” said Erilend motioning with her pipe at the Four, “they came into my shop a couple of weeks ago attempting to pawn off some tawdry little trinkets. They’re merely small game hunters—amateurs—they’re not worth our time.” As the middle aged women spoke her bored gaze took in each member of the Four in turn. Phadran flashed the woman his most winning smile and was rewarded with a return smile of amusement.
“Now, now Erilend,” said Father Ibereth, “don’t be so hasty in your appraisal of these adventurers. Each one of us sets out on the long road of life with but fledgling steps—be careful that you do not unfairly compare the progress of these here with others like yourself who are further along that road only due to time and the grace of Andunai. And besides, the Four Horns have made great strides for a party so young—they show much potential.”
Erilend demurred at Father Ibereth’s words, yet Etilwin seemed persuaded by them. “Well said old friend,” spoke Etilwin. “You must forgive our reservations,” continued the gnome, now addressing the party, “we are currently undertaking matters of great importance. The Society of Lost Relics is an order of like minded individuals seeking both knowledge of the ancient world, and the preservation of the artifacts that it left behind. Even more valuable however, is the wisdom to be gained from those who have gone before us. And who knows but that we might not some day uncover ancient secrets that will enable us to overthrow our adversaries across the sea and take back Avaluriend, the city of our heritage. Currently we are engaged in several research projects within the north, including the unearthing of the Dwarven ruins which have lain buried—or been claimed by foul beasts—for nearly a millennium. We are looking for able bodied adventurers to partner with us in this endeavor. Would the Four Horns be interested in such a quest?”
“Indeed we would,” spoke Romen on behalf of the Four.
“Very good,” said Etilwin, “please add your names to this list of applicants, and in one week pay a visit to the Mages Guild—which is the charterhouse for the society—where we shall assign to the party, based on your skills and expertise, a site to explore and a set of objectives to be accomplished therein.”
After signing their names to the list the Four left the green and gold pavilion and made their way through the crowds in search of a tailor from which to purchase apparel more befitting of a ball. After several minutes of wandering the Four happened upon a crème and crimson tent under which sat a very elegant looking elf woman from the southlands—likely the city of Van’Alis—who was both a seamstress and a seller of fine fabrics. “Good Evening to you masters and mistresses,” said the elf to the Four in a thick Avenian accent, “what might I interest you in? Some excellent linens woven from Kalastinian Cotton perhaps?”
“Actually we are in the market for some apparel for tonight’s ball” said Romen.
“Well then,” said the elf with an amiable smile, “you were wise to come to my tent—I have several wardrobes inside, due come in.”
As the party entered the tent, they beheld with wonder an impressive array of some of the most exquisite costumes that, save for Phadran, any of them had ever laid eyes upon. “I have some gowns of the finest satin from Van’Alis,” said the elf seamstress as she displayed her garments, “some jackets of cashmere spun from the ewes wool of Caldoranth,” and moving now to the back of the tent the elf drew out a most beautiful garment; a gown of flowing white that glistened as a pearl, by all appearances glowing with a lite of its own. “And I have this fair piece made from moon silk woven from Spindle Fairies. It traps moon beams in its web. Truly this is a dress fit for a queen.”
“What is the price of such a garment,” asked Mara whose eyes were lit with awe at the gown before her.
“I could not part with such a gown as this for less than a thousand pieces of gold,” replied the elf seamstress.
“Let’s see those satin gowns again,” said Mara.
The party wound up with two nice formal cut suits for Romen and Luka, and a beautiful gray satin dress for Mara—Phadran’s outfit was formal enough to allow him to forgo the purchase of any further garments. Thus having made their purchases, the Four set off once more for Hidroth Palace.
The palace courtyard was less crowded than it had been a couple hours earlier. Most of the common folk preferred the entertainment of the market and the folk dance being held outside the city gates to that of a formal ball with an admittance fee of five pieces of silver. Still, much of the nobility and gentry as well as nearly all among the nouveau rich, the arriviste and other such social upstarts within the region had come to the ball in full regalia. Othowin and his band were present as well.
The four horns made their way through the courtyard to the tables near the fountain where Othowin’s band were seated. Othowin and Orend both sported fine tailored suits but Starling somehow managed to look simultaneously debonair and comical in his trim white suit and bright crimson undershirt of silk. Belindial wore an elven made garment that seemed more or less a more formal version of the theme of dress that she always wore. Elien, who seemed always to be hiding under the hooded layers of an overcoat several sizes to large for her, now looked by far the most uncomfortable member of the group in her evening gown of flowing pale green satin. “Well who be this fine looking lot,” said Othowin merrily. The two bands began to converse together. Phadran led a nervous Elien out onto the dance floor as the orchestra began to play a waltz. Despite the attention of many young maidens come to congratulate him on his recent ascension to knighthood, Orend seemed distracted, for he kept glancing through the crowds gathered within the courtyard, often forgetting the hopeful maidens standing in front of him.
A quenching silence fell upon the courtyard, interrupting the fraternizing of the two parties. A moment’s glance sufficed to determine the cause of the disturbance: the Lady Illendra had entered the courtyard in a flowing gown of pure moonlight—moon silk! All eyes remained fixed upon the notorious women within their midst. Many scowled derisively at the newcomer, yet some, especially among the social upstarts, gazed at Illendra with something more akin to awe and respect.
For her own part Illendra seemed undaunted by the attention that she had attracted upon entering the courtyard. She continued forward with a confident stride, her eyes fixed with defiance upon Lord Atherlend.
The moment passed and all was once more as it had been before Illendra’s appearance. The orchestra began to play a new song and young couples gathered together on the cool grass lawn of the courtyard to dance beneath the moonlight. Orend approached Illendra and the two of them joined in the dance.
An hour passed, then two. The night was drawing to its close. Many of the Ball’s attendance had already left the courtyard by the time that a herald announced that the guards would soon be closing the palace gates and that the premises must be cleared. As the Four made their way to the gates, two guards approached them and commanded the band to halt.
“I have a message for you from Captain Teradith,” said the taller of the two, “the Captain would like you to meet with him in the barracks at sunrise.”
The Four looked quizzically at each other, and then Romen responded “we’ll be there.” With that the four returned to the Cloven Foot to rest for the night.