Boromil, likewise, leans back. After a deep drink of his wine, he muses, "Someone should do something about that."
Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold
“Indeed. I think Jalen wants to petition for just that... but something more subtle than I’ll have time to do. So he’s planning on staying in Port Hope. Of course no one is going to listen to him without an introduction.”
"It'll be a hard pill to swallow even with one," Boromil notes, but in tones that Alannah recognizes as his 'I'm thinking about it' voice, rather than the snarl that usually indicates that he's going to dig in his heels. "Why'd the Agonites agree to help? They take his claims seriously?"
"Oh, very seriously. You know they have ways of verifying the truth with divine magic, so if they believe it, I do too. Well, I believed the claims before, but they just confirmed it."
"So they had some kind of plan that would have potentially unsettled the duke, and this Sir Avar upset the whole thing so he could . . ." Boromil pauses, groping for words to describe the situation, then gives up, "That's really strange. I met him this morning, you know. He's a strange fish."
"Oh that's the thing, he wasn't *trying* to do anything underhanded. He genuinely believed he was helping." She shakes her head in disbelief, "He's basically a paladin of Imperial law and order and believes a good application of it is the answer to pretty much every problem. He still doesn't understand why everyone is upset."
Boromil makes a little 'huh' noise, sounding as if he's somewhere between impressed and scandalized. "So I guess I shouldn't trust his judgment too far," he observes, following that with, "Is this orc they call the Bastard your lover?"
Alannah’s mouth hangs open for a moment before she recovers from the blunt question. “What? No! But if He was, it’d be my business and no one else’s.” She sighs, “But no, I haven’t taken a lover since I’ve left.”
"Told you," says a raspy voice from somewhere in the timbers of the common room's roof. Boromil ignores it, as he replies, "No, it's not my business, but Father will ask me as soon as he finds out about the play. You know about the play, right? It's debuting tomorrow night, and the rumors say the protagonist is a noble, rugged savage. An orc, in fact. And he and his languorous-but-aristocratic lady love lead their merry band of adventurers in unearthing a powerful relic and denying it to a werewolf. It's causing quite the buzz about town, especially now the gossipmongers begin to put two and two together after your court appearance."
"Oh! I told that damn rat of a playwright that wasn't true," she swears. "But the other part is true, we are searching for a relic to deny a werewolf. Maybe if I kill both of them, I can stop the play."
"I suppose he must have decided that true or not, it was a dramatic necessity," comments Boromil, sourly.
"That's pretty much what he said," she frowns and takes a sip of her wine.
Alannah gets a brief distance look in her eyes during the moment of silence before perking back up and sitting in her seat. "So, Boromil, do you have more rumors and courtly gossip to discuss? Or anything else? If not, we can go find Jalen so I can introduce you to him. I promise I will not run away this time."
"No, I think that covers everything I had on my mind," replies Boromil. "You might as well introduce me to your friend."
Evening, 11 Verdil, 973 IRCommon Room, the Copper CrosierPort Hope, Mereflow Valley
As the day is winding down and your party convenes over the evening meal to discuss the outcome of your various efforts at research, horse-trading, and do-gooding, you're interrupted by Danica, the half-orc concierge and registration cook.
Apologizing smoothly for the disruption, she proffers a small wooden tray, on which rests a stack of folded and sealed parchments, and murmurs, "These were delivered by a servant liveried in green and white. She asked that they be delivered to each of you. By name." Setting the tray on the edge of your table, she departs back to her desk in the lobby of the inn.
The seal on the notes shows an image of what looks very much like a rabbit entangled in thorns or briars of some kind. It's pressed into green wax.
Alannah takes the stack of parchments and look through them curiously. "Party invitations?" She asks, more to herself than anyone else.
"Thank you mistress Danica." Avar finishes by nodding appreciativly.
Eyeing the papers momentarily, Avar finishes his thought, "So your family is agreeable to helping Jalen with no strings? Do you believe your brother?"
Alannah shrugs while examine the parchments, "Oh, I don't know for sure. The arrangement is better than a letter to my father, but it doesn't mean it will all work out. A great deal will rely on Jalen, what he wants, and how he wants to go about getting it. He's stubborn and direct, neither quality will help him where compromise and subtlety rule." She puts them down and picks at her food, "And no Boromil will already have schemed up ways in which he or the family could benefit from sponsoring Jalen, there will certainly be strings attached."
Avar nods and watches as Alannah opens the parchment addressed to her. The paladin bites off a small piece of bread and watches the bard read the letter.
Alannah nods as she looks over the letter, "It IS a party invitation. From the Earl of Eastrit. It looks like the party is in 3 days. Apparently between the play and the circus at court, we're enough of an oddity to warrant an invitation."
"And its a masquerade ball. That could be interesting."
Avar offers, "It would appear that Markan knows her stuff."
Eschewing the roll for his parchment the paladin asks Alannah, "Do you know this Earl of Eastrit?"
Chuul puts his letter down without opening it. "And can he help us with the tasks at hand?"
Alannah shrugs, "I haven't kept up with things, but I imagine this is one of the last parties of the season, so it'll be a party full of the most powerful people in Port Hope. I am sure many of them *could* help us, but it's not likely that any would unless there's some benefit in it for themselves. It's possible that we are being invited because there is something that we may be able to offer, but it's more likely that we're being invited because our group represents a menagerie of odd characters that have gained notoriety through that damned play and our court debacle. In other words, we'll be a spectacle that the Earl wants to show off so his guests can gawk and he can gain influence."
"Can we decline?" It is clear that Garren would prefer to do so.
"Snubbing an invitation is a good way to get yourself blacklisted from any future audiences and favors. You'd be surprised at the seeming innocence actions that end up having dire consequences for you or the organizations you may represent," She glares at Avar to make her point. "Every action, or inaction, is judged. Refuse the Earl's invitation and rumors spread that you are allied to one of his rivals. Or that your church is. Though many nobles spend their time managing trade and their estates, younger siblings and members of lesser family branches and minor houses have little better to do than talk, plot, and play games at court."
Avar holds the glare as long as Alannah decides to keep it but, otherwise, doesn't react to her remark.
Instead, the paladin offers, "Perhaps we can use this notoriety to our advantage. Let us all go to the play tomorrow night? Surely, some who will be attending the party will be at the play."
"To what end?" asks Chuul. It's fairly clear that like Garren, he'd rather not go.
"At minimum? See what the fuss is all about. But I would like to go see who is going to be there. Get the lay of the land so to speak."
Avar gently tosses his invitation onto the table and leans in, "Look, it's clear were on the the minds and tongues of at least a couple of social circles. Even if it is short lived or because we're oddities I, for one, will try to use this opportunity to help us or those preparing for war in the Valley."
The paladin considers the meal before him then finishes, "Besides, what else are we doing?"
"Oskav is still at work, so I think we have time. How does one handle costumes? Would arriving as a werewolf be too far off the mark?"
Alannah pauses and looks at Garren, unsure if she should laugh, scoff, or agree.
Eying the ranger, unsure if the question was rhetorical, Avar opts to reply simply, "I don't plan on dressing up."
"But you have to, it's a mascarade party! Must you insist on making a spectacle of yourself?"
"I believe the fact that I am an Imperial will be a big enough spectacle." Avar replies easily.
"I plan on wearing clothes befitting my station and religion. Wear whatever you want Alannah."
"That's not how this works!," Alannah exclaims, "Didn't you learn anything from the court? Why would you want to intentionally insult the Earl and the other nobles? Again, I mean."
Avar takes a steadying breath, "I didn't insult anyone. The court is stubborn and short sighted. But,"
The paladin shrugs and drums his fingers on the table for a few beats, "You do make a fair point Alannah. It couldn't hurt to play dress up to alleviate the chance of any hurt feelings."
Avar switches gears and eyes Chuul, "What about you? If you decide to attend are you plannng on dressing up as a brute or a lothario?"
The aasimar chuckles as he finishes the question.
Chuul pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs, obviously exasperated. "I am a brute," he says finally. "Somehow, I think I would be recognizable enough, even behind a mask."
In the end, you decide that you'll all be attending the party—and the premiere of The Bastard and the Wolf. The next day's business includes a pause from your more pressing affairs to acquire the necessary clothing for the masquerade, but this doesn't prove too onerous—just expensive, for most of you. It also includes the purchase of seats at the premiere, which isn't a pay-at-the-gate kind of affair, since most of you have decided that it'd be best to avoid taking in the play whilst standing in the pit with the common groundlings.
Early Evening, 12 Verdil, 973 IR
The Waterside Theater
Port Hope, Mereflow Valley
The venue for Rennit's and Jonas's play is easy to spot: it's a large, octagonal edifice several blocks in from the city's waterfront on the Mereflow River. Like Greyden House, it's a freestanding structure—in fact, it's probably a larger building overall. This part of the city isn't as wealthy-looking as the neighborhood around the earl's residence, but it's still obvious that the theatrical company must be doing well for itself to afford so much real estate. Like Greyden House, this structure has been coated with gleaming white stucco, although in this case there is no ground floor of dressed stone. The whole place must be built from timbers.
Torches are affixed in sconces all around the perimeter of the building, where the white stucco does a very decent job of reflecting their light so that the theater's bulk glitters in the twilight. At least from the outside, this is an impressive edifice. It doesn't look like you're visiting the kind of place where knife fights are likely to break out in the audience. But maybe appearances are deceptive. Entry seems to be through a single large gate in the theater's eastern wall, judging by the heavy foot traffic moving in that direction, and the crowd gathered there.
Once you're closer, it becomes evident that the gate is partitioned into two lanes, one of which is admitting a steady trickle of well-dressed, probably affluent patrons. After you've watched for a few seconds, this impression is confirmed: these people are surrendering elaborately engraved cards similar to the ones that were issued to you when you purchased your seats, and then are bowed past once their tickets are compared against a list.
The other lane is serving the bulk of the people waiting here: ordinary citizens. To the credit of the workers stationed at this lane, they're processing new arrivals as quickly as they can, and quite a bit more quickly than the VIP line. But there are so many people interested in the show that they're arriving faster than the workers can take their money and wave them past.
Alannah doesn't hesitate and heads to the VIP line with her card.
Avar, seeing the logjam, hangs back until some of the patrons clear the area.
Chuul queues up with Alannah.
Garren, too, moves forward in the line, offering to Avar, "If you wait, you won't get in. There are more that seek entry than there are seats. Many will wait until they're certain there is no more room."
The paladin regards the rangers words and silently thumbs his card.
Without saying a word Avar nods and moves into line.
The Bastards' arrival at the ticket gate is enough to startle the workers there, who react with total astonishment to the sight of Alannah and Chuul. One of them actually turns a little pale, in fact.
But they regain their composure almost immediately, and when the two present their tickets, the house managers accept them with dignity, check them against a little booklet, and then drop the papers into a little leather pouch.
They pass off those of you who paid for stage seats to an usher, a slim young man, hardly more than a child, who leads you through the gate and across the pit towards the stage. Unlike the house managers, he seems to have no idea who you are, and he chatters happily, "I don't believe that I've seen you here, m'lords and lady. My name is Dermently, and I shall be charged with seeing to your comfort and convenience during this performance. During the course of the evening, I will be moving around the perimeter of the stage, on the ground behind you. Should you desire a beverage, or some tidbit of food, or perhaps a fan to cool yourself, you have only to turn and make eye contact with me when I pass, and I will fetch the required item. We have wine, ale, and roasted chestnuts awaiting your pleasure."
Meanwhile, Avar is getting checked in with the house managers, who seem more at ease in his presence despite his enormous size, golden skin, and armor. Cheerfully, one of them looks at his ticket, and directs, "Welcome to the Waterside, m'lord. You'll be in the gallery almost directly overhead. Just through this gate, and then turn left and take the first staircase you see. Best seats in the house for a real aficionado of the theater, those."
Avar nods pleasantly and offers a thanks and moves to find his seat to settle in.
The crowd parts fairly readily before the chatty usher, who's wearing a sort of livery that marks him as part of the theater's staff. Still, the pit is already quite full, so the press of bodies is hindersome and slows down the Bastards' progress toward their seats.
Avar has a much easier time getting to his gallery, where he finds several ranks of comfortable looking benches, each set a couple of inches higher than the one in front of it. He can see that he's practically guaranteed to have a good view, not only of the stage but of virtually the entire public area of the Waterfront Theater. It's crowded up here, but not nearly so much as in the pit.
From his vantage point, the aasimar can see that the management has spared no expense in fitting the place with the very finest contrivances for lighting. Everburning torches line the perimeter of the stage as footlights, each with a small board, whitewashed on the side facing the stage, to help reflect the bulk of the light inward towards the actors. Even though it's going to be dark by the time the play starts, there should be no trouble seeing the action.
For the moment, the heavy curtain across the back of the stage is still lowered, so there's no way to see what lurks behind the proscenium.
Finding his place, Avar smiles pleasantly at the other patrons. Content, the paladin settles in.
Shortly after the rest of the Bastards are ensconced in their seats at the edge of the stage, a brief fanfare cuts the air of the Waterfront. From the way that the crowd goes quiet, it's obvious even to newcomers that this is significant. Before the echoes have entirely died away, and a slim, clean shaven half-elf comes striding onto the stage, to a wave of hoots and applause from the groundlings. Deliberately, he pauses, waiting until the disruption passes.
"We have heard the tales, in days past," he finally begins, glaring down his prominent nose and into the audience, "at the fireside, under the moon's light. We've heard concerning the heroes of the founding, how they opened up this city for civilized people, claimed the land from barbarians. We've heard how they bled to keep the land, to win free of Auresh during the War of Three Emperors. We've heard about the first Duke Hope's death beneath a night hag's claws, and about the curses borne by his companions, faithful to him and this city, even unto death."
He pauses, glowering into the darkness of the theater, and continues, as a low, slow drumbeat pulses somewhere behind the curtain as his back, "Tales leave out the messy parts of history, dear friends. The cursed friends always die, grieving but fundamentally neat and tidy, at the end of the tales. But the real events weren't so tidy. Vergil Cole, the first duke's bosom companion, lived on after him. All that remained of the hero was a sad monster. A killer, ravening at every full moon, doing murder. In these. Very. Streets."
"Vergil Bone-Neck. The Wolf King. Our first monster, slain by Varthin Greyden, the stormlord and admiral. We all know that story, don't we?" the prologist flashes a grin, showing very slightly prominent incisors, and somehow manages to pitch his voice into a conspiratorial tone while projecting well enough that Avar can hear him, way in the back of the theater. "But did you know that the Wolf King had an heir? Indeed, there's a Wolf King to this day, hunting in the far wilds of our valley's back country, where the duke's law still runs thin."
Soundlessly, the curtain begins to rise behind the speaker, as he stalks to the right side of the stage, opposite the Bastards' seats, and booms, "This is HIS tale!"
Chuul, who has done a remarkable job of keeping a very neutral face, directs his attention to the speaker, interested to see what the performance will be like.
Alannah looks interested as well and comments quietly, "Makes you wonder if Cole is somewhere here watching this as well."