Hamas inclines his head towards Avar, "Very kind of you to say, sir." But he's perhaps understandably more interested in Yana, who is closer to his own age and female. "You and your kin are from Morville," he observes, then asks, "So did you keep livestock? Sheep, maybe? I'm told that's more the thing, up your way."
Meanwhile, Arkady and Rodion are having a quiet conversation in Orcish. Those of you who can understand the language can follow that the boy has never seen glazed windows before, likes them, and wants to know more about how they work, and that Arkady is only half paying attention as he suggests that the family can try to find a glazier in Port Hope for Rodion to apprentice to, if he's so interested. The older Woytyla male seems more preoccupied with Yana, who is evidently somewhat taken with Hamas's attention.
Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold
Certainly taking no issue with a young man trying to get hip deep in some strange, Avar walks away from the young couple to await dinner.
Oskav listens to any remarks Rodion has about the windows, offering whatever insights he has on the matter that wouldn't bore a child to death.
"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken
Dinner isn't long coming. The older two Fifalls men show up, and Harder seats himself at the head of the table. Wisym takes his immediate right hand just as a young woman of perhaps twenty-three years arrives from the private portion of the house.
"This is Malia, my daughter," the old man announces, concerning the auburn-haired girl, short and slender as her mother. He goes on to those of you whose names he already knows, and uses the round of introductions as an excuse to get the names of those he doesn't know. While he does this, the half-orc servant woman, Vluba, sets out cups, plates, and spoons.
"Here, sit next to me," Hamas urges Yana, showing her to a seat several places down from his father's left hand. "You can tell me more about yourself over supper." The girl accepts, a touch shyly; her father sends Rodion to sit on her other side.
Meanwhile, Lina and Elean appear from the kitchen, one of them bearing a large platter heaped with some kind of noodle, and the other a good-sized pot of something. Vluba tells the family patriarch, setting an opened bottle of wine before him, "We make halooshky, Master Harder. With the goat cheese and bacon sauce. Is good?"
He murmurs his assent, pours a little wine, and passes it to Wisym, then raises his voice to address the assembled company, "Please, all of you. Have a seat. I think there should be plenty to eat tonight, and there's no sense in letting it get cold. We'll take a moment to say a few words over the meal, and then we'll dig in. We use simple manners at this table, as we're all ranchers and retired soldiers here."
Once you're all seated, he says, "Praise to thee, Merthia, whose eternal marriage with the All-Seeing brings forth beast and harvest. Bless this meal, for the nourishment of our bodies, for we take it not in wantonness but from need. Charioteer, light our way tomorrow and all the days to come, until our spirits and those of our ancestors join thee on thy brother's ship and voyage to the reward that no man knows. Let gate, hearth, and moon's glow shield us until that glorious day." He dribbles several drops of wine from his cup to the floor, and his wife and children mutter, "Drink thy fill, worm. We keep the faith."
Rodion spends most of the subsequent meal talking to Oskav about stained glass windows, about which the dwarf has an apparently endless wealth of knowledge. Fortunately, the boy seems deeply interested in the subject, and remains engaged long past the usual limits of a ten-year-old's attention.
Garren makes a point of thanking the elder Fifall for his hospitality and lets him know that the party is in the market for war-trained mounts. It doesn't take him long to tell the story of the ambush from the elves and druids and how the mount's panic nearly did more harm than their attackers.
Alannah engages in small talk if spoken to, pokes at her food, and watches her companions interact with the others.
The family patriarch listens to Garren's story in silence, eating his halooshky (which evidently is the name of the noodles being served as the backbone of tonight's meal). After the Derenar priest finishes his tale, the old man queries, "How many horses are you looking to buy, exactly? I saw that you have a warhorse of your own. And Master Avar, here, he's sure enough a paladin, or else he's managed to fold up his horse and stick him in his pocket. But I still don't reckon as I can mount all the rest of your party on war-trained horses, especially considering that I have my regular customers to take care of."
Alannah speaks up, "Oh, I don't think it's all of us. We're escorting the refugees who will be safely in Port Hope in a few days. The mounts will only be for those of us who will be back on the road. Chuul, Jalen, and I would want more sturdy mounts, but I don't think Georgie would give up Dante. Maybe Dante can be trained. Oskav can barely ride anything as it is, I don't know if it would be much of an improvement."
"I'm willing to pay more if you give me your word the animal I'm trading to you in the deal will be ground up so its meat and bones can nourish the earth; and alive at the beginning of the process, if it can be managed at all."
Chuul, having been relatively silent through the meal, breaks his silence with an out of character chortle at Oskav's comment. "That beast of yours is certainly and ill-tempered krewe'ha," he agrees.
Alannah snickers, warming up to the conversation, "I do believe the horse takes after his rider."
Fifalls looks a bit uncertain at all this, although Chuul and Alannah's banter helps take the edge off of Oskav's incredible weirdness. He finally allows, "Ah, well, I don't know as a warhorse is going to have a better disposition, as we train 'em to be fighters. But I've a gelding that might do. He's less temperamental than any of my stallions, but a mite stupid."
"If he knows enough not to gallop away at the first sign of trouble before I have had a chance to dismount, then we might be able to make a deal. If not, the truth is I would rather keep the steed I have now. There is a far higher chance something terrible will happen to it that way."
Fifalls blinks several times, and then answers, "Ah, well. We train all our horses so they'll ground tie, at least if there's nothing around to spook 'em. Mango's dumber than a sack of mush, but he's as well-behaved as any."
"Alannah is right." Garren makes a metal note to review his reasoning in the near future - he was agreeing with her an awful lot. "We don’t want to inconvenience you. My companions could use mounts that are trained to follow their rider's instruction and don't frighten easily. If you have some to spare, we'd offer the mount they ride today and cash on top. If you don’t have what we need I'm sure we could find it in Port Hope. But why walk to the far side of the moon if your neighbor has what you're looking for?"
"We'll see what can be done about it in the morning," replies Fifalls, amiably. "If I can spare what you want to buy, I'll sell to you. If not, I'll sell what I can spare. Pretty simp—" he breaks off as the thin, silvery call of a horn drifts into the room from the large windows in the upper part of the walls.
The same goes for his sons, daughter, and wife, who all stop in the middle of conversations with you and each other and listen as the horn calls again. Hamas's mouth twists in distaste, and he mutters, "The fool's gone and done it this time. Damn his eyes."
Alannah raises an eyebrow, "Who has done what now?"
"Our neighbor. He's invited the gentry to go a-hunting tonight, thinking that they'll be pleased to hunt the orcs you saw this afternoon," answers Hamas. "I think we should be safe tonight, provided we keep indoors. You might hear noises. Don't open the door to them, even if it sounds like one of us."
Baldr flies up to see if he can find a perch to take a peek out the window. For his part, Oskav swallows a mouthful of noodles, then replies, "your neighbor sounds distasteful. We are fortunate to have found you and your family instead."
Alannah scoffs, "More so than you know. Nobles don't ride to hunt orcs at night. He's called forth hunters from the spirit world. That explains his unconcern about the orcs and warning to stay on the road at night. They'll hunt down anything they found elsewhere."
She considers, "Do you know how he calls them for the hunt?"
Hamas pushes his food around his plate, uncomfortable, and doesn't answer. But his father replies, "Not the specifics. There's a dolmen and altar in one of his fields, way back from the road. You wouldn't have been able to see. Anyway, it's old goblin work, but there were shamans in his family. Not him, but his pap, and his grandpap. Good men. I reckon he picked up some things from 'em."
Harder looks sympathetically at his younger son, and adds, "Hamas was close to his grandpap. He and the boy had a falling-out, after the old man died. Must be ten years ago, now."
Alannah turns to Gallielle, "I'm afraid my grasp of the summoning and portals isn't as strong as I would like. So, if you-know-who did enter the rift at Moreville, is it possible that he could find a way out at this dolmen if he was unwittingly invited into this world to hunt?"
Gallielle squints at his noodles, and muses, "Hmm. Possibly, but there are far too many variables for us to say for certain. We don't know that the topos at Morville includes the Spirit World at all. It may have gone somewhere else entirely, especially given, ah, its manner of creation."
He pushes his food around with his spoon without eating, much as Hamas just did, although in his case it looks like he's just thinking and wants something to do with his hands, grousing, "I don't like to make assumptions. It's potentially deadly when you discuss ANY course of action pertaining to the Far Planes. But assuming that he did go to the Spirit World, and assuming that he didn't meet with any mishap once he arrived, and assuming he was able to travel at least as quickly as we have, and assuming that this faerie hunt entered the Material Plane through another topos instead of via some kind of limited shamanistic calling, and assuming that he either knew that this possible topos would open, or just happened to be in the right place when it did . . . then yes, it's possible. If this is a shamanistic calling, then I don't think he could possibly have come through because he is not a spirit."
Blinking a couple of times, he clarifies as an afterthought, "Unless he died and has become a ghost or ancestor-spirit."
Alannah leans back and crosses her arms, "He is a devious creature... and I put nothing out of the realm of possibility where he is concerned. The less something seems possible, the more likely he's gone and done it."
She considers a different thread, "So are orcs common around here? From the way you speak about it, it doesn't seem like this is the first time your neighbor has done something like this."
Wisym speaks up, sounding relieved to have the topic turn back to something he understands, "Not uncommon, at least in terms of passing through. Most of the time, if we see any they're employed as mercenaries with a passing caravan, or something of that nature. But none living within at least thirty miles of here, I don't think."
Vluba, the half-orc woman who seems to be the hired help around Fifeleah, remains silent as she drops off a refilled water pitcher in the center of the table.
Without turning to the half-orc, Alannah speaks in Orcish, "Vluba, what do you think?"
"About what? Master Wisym just said there are no orcs living anywhere near here. And it's the truth." If she's surprised that someone in your party speaks Orcish, she doesn't show it. But then again, a full-blood orc is sitting at the table.
Alannah replies, "Yes, I suppose he did that."
She pokes a bit more at her food, pondering what's been said so far.
Avar, like other members of the party, eats politely and makes small talk around his noodles. The aasimar nods and smiles when Master Fifalls declares him a paladin but, otherwise, is okay with Garren, Oskav, and Alannah doing the heavy lifting.
When the bell rings, Avar finishes eating suddenly, placing his spoon politely on his plate. The warrior seems to be considering the sound and doesn't seem to be hearing the subsequent conversation. When the conversation switches to talk of orcs, and just after Vluba's reply, Avar looks to Fifalls, "Master Fifalls. You mentioned that the spirits may come to the door is that typical? Do they make their way here always? I will look to see them."
Avar stands and offers a slight bend at the hip to each family member as a sign of respect. "My thanks for your hospitality, again. Oskav, does your familiar see anything?"
Baldr does not see anything. Off in the distance, the horn calls again, although it doesn't sound like it's coming closer.
Down below, Hamas tells Avar, "It happens. Likely as not, they'll keep away entirely. All our gates are shut. Our hedges and fences are tight and complete—we see to it. They don't like to cross boundaries, but they pick at flaws and gaps. Very concerned with rules and technicalities, the Gentry are."
He pushes away the few mouthfuls of food remaining on his plate, drains his wine, and adds, "The good-natured ones just want a bit of fun at your expense. Might even reward you, if you laugh at yourself after. But these are on the hunt for mortals, and they'll take their prey by guile if they can't get it by force. So if they find a gap in our boundaries, they'll try to get at you at the house or in the storehouse. But they like crossing a threshold uninvited even less than jumping a fence or gate. Mostly they won't try unless something chases 'em. So they'll either try to talk you outside, or fool you into inviting them inside."
He stands, looking moody, and finishes, "I'm not in a position to set conditions on our hospitality. That's my father's place. But if I were him, I'd tell you to keep the door shut, or take your chances on the road. You can satisfy your curiosity another time, with some other faeries."
"Understandable," Avar responds flatly.
"I have no desire to place anyone here in danger. Nor do I plan on inviting any fey into any building on this property."
The paladin sighs and moves to gather his shield previously placed into a corner in the room. Hefting it's weight with practiced ease, "I appreciate your words Master Hamas but, you see, I have a predilection towards what you call the Gentry. Furthermore, if there is even the faintest of chances that there is information to be gleaned from whatever is out there then..."
Avar pauses searching for the right words. "...then that is where my post is."
Looking to lighten up the grave statement Avar smiles, and finishes as he walks out of the room,"Or it is the end of what is my cautionary tale to be told to future recipients of your fine hospitality."
"Fare thee well, Sir Knight," Oskav replies, setting down his bowl to look up at who he's talking to for the first time.
Baldr flutters down from the window to perch on the dwarf's shoulder again and croaks, "We really just met him. If something bad happens, it will sting less."
"People die all the time," growls Chuul. "They do not always rush forth to seek it. He would not do that if he had ever seen a fey hunt. Damn fool." It's clear he doesn't approve of Avar's course, but he doesn't chase the knight outside to dissuade him.
The family patriarch sighs, and rises from his seat as the meal ends and his guests prepare to turn in for the night. Drawing himself to his full height, he addresses Avar, "In the circumstances, I am sorry to say that if you choose to remain outdoors tonight, I shall have to consider you outside the protection of my hospitality. I shan't require you to depart my property, Sir Avar, as I've no reason to think you'll take any deliberate action to threaten me or mine. But please be aware that I'm not going to come out to assist in your rescue, or open the door to you if you call. Nor shall any of my household. Your companions in the storehouse may do as they see fit, I'm sure. But tonight this roof shelters Master Woytyla and his children, as well as my own blood, and I won't have them endangered because of your foolish bravery."
He claps the aasimar firmly on the shoulder, with enough force that Avar can actually feel it despite his armor, and adds, "No ill feelings toward you, and I hope none from you."
"I understand and agree to your terms," Avar begins locking eyes with the elder man. "However, this is not some fools errand nor is it an act of bravery. Call it a calculated risk. I have seen fey before and walk outside knowing what I am walking into, or at least the potential of what is out there."
Setting his shield into place Avar finishes, "I wont ask to come inside and I will not place anyone in danger knowingly. I do not intend to seek out the fey only be present if they enter your boundary. You have my oath on that." Returning a similarly firm clasp on the patriarchs shoulder the paladin finishes, "I will see you on the morning sir."
Avar spins on his heel and exits the chamber.
As the rest of you make your way across the farmyard, more distant horn calls drift through the chill evening air. Twilight has nearly faded into night, but you're fortunate enough to have full bellies and a warm place to sleep, sheltered by the threshold of a well-established mortal residence. You close and bar the door, readying yourself to huddle within the storehouse while the Wild Hunt passes. Rennit and Jonas lie down to sleep, apparently unconcerned by his decision to keep vigil without the protections of roof and hearth. Before long, the odd fellows are snoring softly. Elimendreda and Gallielle remain near the brazier, talking quietly between themselves and feeding it the occasional billet of wood to keep its flames high enough to provide some light.
Meanwhile, Avar composes himself to patrol the grounds, armored as if for battle as has been his wont since joining the rest of your party. As full darkness descends, the knight's ears note ever-more-frequent soundings of the faerie horn—now louder, now softer, as if the trumpeter is questing across the fields in search of prey. Otherwise the night has gone profoundly quiet. None of the little sounds of night-dwelling animals and birds ripple the stillness. There is not even a breath of wind. Only the shapes of Fifeleah's buildings, and beyond that nothing but the clear, starry sky above and starlit pastures below.
Hours pass while the Agonite paladin walks a circuit of the ranch compound, the monotony broken only by his footsteps and the intermittent silvery pealing of the horn. Almost imperceptibly, it grows fainter, then louder. And louder still, and now he can hear the excited belling of hounds on the scent.
And louder. Louder, until it seems the unseen huntsman wrings the very shrieks of the damned from his instrument, and in the ringing silences between horncall and baying hound, Avar discerns the low, hoarse moans of the quarry, and the deep thuttering of their mounts' hooves across the earth, and knows that the Wild Hunt is nearly upon him.
A final, almighty blast of the horn, then a shrill cry rises into the night as the huntsman urges on his hounds to the kill, and a witchy green light blossoms behind a hedge at the other end of a pasture to the north. By its light, Sir Avar bears witness as a lone orc, foaming at the mouth with exhaustion like some animal, clambers over the hedge and falls heavily to the ground on the near side. He streams that green fire as if limned in candle flame, and the aasimar looks on as the orc lurches to his feet, weaving as if he might fall, and turns at bay with a scimitar at the ready.
Then the first of the darkhounds sails over the hedge, trailing vapor as if just dipped in boiling water and glaring at the exhausted orc with luminous green eyes as they begin to circle him.
And then, finally, comes the Hunt, galloping on thin air as if it's hard ground, on horses snorting fire. Wispy, ethereal-looking riders sit astride these steeds, each clutching a wicked-looking spear in one hand. Locks of white hair float like cobwebs around their pallid faces as they charge down from the night sky, eyes burning with spectral flames.
Avar stares intently at the spectacle but otherwise does nothing to help or hinder the process of the Hunt. He figures that if the fey want to speak to him they will do so when they finish their task.
The conclusion of the hunt does not take long without the paladin's intervention. The lead rider spurs her horse upon the orc, rising in the stirrups as she prepares to strike at him. A single plunge of her lance dispatches him, and another huntsman sets a horn to his lips and sounds the mort in a high, steady call to the stars above.
After the note falls silent, Avar can hear him speak to the attending hounds in a fluid, lilting tongue that reminds the knight of Elven. The beasts fall upon the orc's corpse and begin to devour it, while the hunters trot across the field toward Avar. Evidently they do mean to speak with the aasimar. Or if not, they at least have not couched their lances.
Avar stands easily and makes no move towards his weapon, "Evening."
The hunting party doesn't answer immediately; they merely ride closer, silent except for the noise of their mounts' hooves against the earth. It's not enough to cover the sound of the darkhounds tearing at the orc's corpse. Once they're about twenty yards away, their trumpeter announces, speaking Common, "Good evening indeed, sir knight. You are in the presence of Alba Hyoscyama, Marchioness of the Southern Marches." With a flourish of his hand, he indicates the hunter who just blooded her spear in the unfortunate orc. "I am Muticus, her ladyship's huntsman."
The huntsman's gazes at Avar, looking expectant.
Avar closes roughly half of the distance without breaking eye contact with the huntsman.
Stopping, Avar bows deeply and offers easily in his bass laden voice, "I am Avar Sentalial, Paladin of Agaon. It is my extreme honor to be in your presence and make your acquaintance."
"Yes, it is," agrees the marchioness. She ignores the aasimar thereafter, and guides her mount in a slow circuit of the farmyard. A couple of times the beast snorts out gouts of thick yellow smoke.
Meanwhile, Muticus notes, "We ride to the hunt tonight, Sir Avar. It is the custom for mortals to hide within their dens while we're abroad, if they've both means and good sense." He toys with the horn that dangles from a baldric at his hip, and muses, "But you are not strictly mortal, I suppose. Not entirely, although the heart's blood runs thin in you. Still. Why do you keep vigil without the shelter of roof and hearth?"
One of the shuttered windows on the storehouse opens up, creaking loudly. The noise prompts Muticus to quirk an eyebrow at Avar.
Avar half turns and looks upwards to the window and answers truthfully, "For them. It is my duty to watch. Be vigilant. It is what I know." A look of self reflection washes over the face of the paladin. The eyes that seemingly see nothing actually appear to be searching for something invisible.
"It is all I have ever known." Avar says somberly, seemingly to himself.
The aasimar knight squares back towards the huntsman, shaking the self reflection, "But it is more than that. I know very little of your race and your ways. I have heard stories and, I must admit, when I heard another this evening I was hoping for this chance encounter. I have always been curious of your kind and know virtually nothing."
Avar looks around towards at the collected fey and finishes, "You see, Master Huntsman, I have traveled a long way to see an acquaintance of mine who had been murdered before I could reach him. Sacrificed." The final word is almost spit out as if bitter to say it.
"I am in a land with no allies or friends. All I have is the mission that I share with some of those people that sleep behind those walls. I want revenge for my friend. It was when your kind was brought up this evening it got me thinking that a chance meeting may be better served than just fulfilling my curiosity."
The paladin finishes by looking directly at Muticus,"I am not sure of your boundaries or capabilities. But I have a query Master Huntsman. What would I have to do to get you to hunt down the man they call Berger Cole?"
Owning to her lack of darkvision and the dimness of the night, Alannah can see the sluagh huntsman only dimly from her vantage at the window. His appearance shares something of a typical elf's lithe grace, but the faerie is somehow wilder: leaner, almost spindly, with larger eyes that glow like a cat's in the darkness. His mount's eyes burn with the same dull, orange glow as dying embers.
Muticus considers Avar without speaking for several heartbeats, then a delighted smile begins to spread across the creature's face, exposing sharp canine teeth. "I would hear more of this Berger Cole, Sir Knight. And then . . . then, perhaps my lady will consent to bargain with you."
Avar frowns slightly, thoughtfully.
"Admittedly, I have not crossed steel with Berger Cole. I know him only to be a were creature of ill repute and action. Clearly, someone is checking up on me." Avar tilts his head towards the storehouse.
"I promised, however, to not call out to them even if needed. There is a particularly honorable orc in there that, I presume, could provide a very clear description of him."
Avar pauses briefly, "Is there a way to call you to bargain before the hunt? At another time perhaps? If not, I suppose I could call out to the open window."
"Few things are truly impossible, mortal. But I would venture to suggest that it's unlikely, unless you are a shaman of considerable power in addition to being a paladin of the Blind God," answers Muticus. "I think that if you intend to strike a bargain, you will have only such span of time as our hunt remains unfinished. If this honorable orc might help in setting the terms of that bargain, then by all means let us go in to him, so that we might speak in civilized fashion. Or let him come out to us."
Off in the pasture, the hounds are finishing off their meal, one by one, and slinking like shadows toward the farmyard. From time to time, clouds of their breath shimmer in the starlight.
Avar nods and considers the words of the huntsman. Turning to face the building the paladin speaks up a bit louder, "To whoever is in the window. If anyone is looking for possible help to hunt Berger Cole now is the time to come out. If not, we may not have this opportunity to bargain again."
The aasimar shrugs, probably more to himself than anyone else, "Or just let me know if nobody is willing to describe the murderous bastard."
Avar turns back to Muticus, "Master Huntsman, can only a shaman call for you? The going story is that it you were called by a neighboring farmer tonight. That's how my idea started to form. Can someone from this plane follow you into yours?"