Oskav considers the man's costume, but dwells on how appropriate it is to impersonate a person of a different race. It seems to be in bad taste and likely only acceptable in this setting because these people are in a state of constant tension and near-war with the goblinoids. That isn't to say this person's mask is OK, but the dwarf at least understands the sentiment that made him think he could get away with something like that. He would likely not assume the mantle of a dwarf for the sake of caricature, for example.
The elven woman gets a pass, of course, because wolves probably don't even know what costumes are or why someone would wear one. It is interesting, though, that the folk in this region worship a goddess whose clergy are trained in hunting and killing lycanthropes (werewolves in particular), so maybe this is some kind of catha-
"They were fuckin'," Baldr croaks, derailing the seer's train of thought.
"Oh. Ah, yes. Well, carry on, then," Oskav offers, turning and limping out the way he came in. If he can't read in peace, maybe he can find some free food.
"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken
Avar offers a kind of half nod to the milk maiden and follows Garren.
Walking away the paladin offers quietly, "Thanks for that Garren. Apparently, I have been away from the fairer sex to far too long."
The gracious victor of the scorpion fight has just finished collecting a small purse—no doubt containing her winnings—as Garren and Avar approach her. The half-elf looks Garren up and down, taking in his elaborately feathered costume, and queries, "What kind of bird?"
In the background, a pair of luckless servants are (very gingerly) removing the scorpions, both of which appear to have expired at this point.
Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold
"I think you'd find her religious beliefs at odds with your own," he whispers to Avar before they approach the half-elf. To her query, Garren responds, "I'm not an expert on birds, but I am confident enough to say that I am not a penguin. What kind of bird would you like me to be?"
"A woodcock," the half-elf replies, immediately.
Avar rocks a bit on his heels at the straight forward response.
"A woodcock? I am not sure I have heard of that type of bird before."
"Oh? Well, I suppose that's not really your fault," Scorpion Mask replies cheerfully to Avar's remark, adding, with a critical frown at Garren, "Anyway, it doesn't seem like you'd be a good fit for a woodcock. Your nose is much too short. Pity. You know what they say about men with big noses."
She makes a thoughtful noise. "Hmm. An owl, perhaps. Something about the mask says owl. Figuratively speaking."
"That is what I was aiming for. Considering the lateness of the hour, a woodcock just wouldn't do. They'd have settled in long ago, and I'll be up all night." Trying to change the subject he continues, "Congratulations on your win. I'm curious to know how you selected your scorpion - surely you didn't raise it to that size yourself?"
Meanwhile, the discussion between the halfling woman, Carolina, and the elf continues for Chuul's eavesdropping pleasure.
"I realize that things would be easier if Hope would agree to normalize diplomatic relations, Thario," temporizes the halfling woman, "but surely even the most militant of Ceretheliaul's disciples must recognize that the Coalition is more than just this city. Difficult as the Port Hopers may be to stomach at times, their strength is what prevents an Aureshan invasion from being feasible. And Port Hope isn't strong enough to reabsorb Woods End by conquest, but the Empire IS."
The ambassador, Thario, spreads his hands and replies, calmly, "I do realize that, and so do most others of the circle. However, some of our youngest members haven't ever left the forest. They don't remember warring against the goblinoid clans. Port Hope is the enemy they know, and it's going to remain impossible to convince them otherwise for as long as the Duke insists that he has allodial title to Woods End and its territory. If he can be induced to recognize Lord Ceretheliaul as the sovereign and overlord of Woods End, then there's a basis for us to establish a formal border with Port Hope, ideally with the Merethroners and your tribes as witnesses to the agreement."
Not seeing any familiar costumes, Alannah passes through the main room, backtracking on the path of the party's entrance into the ball. As she passes the two side rooms, she spots Garren and Avar from the door.
"You two didn't make it very far."
"This dangerous creature is not only a scorpion herself, her scorpion just won a fight." Garren indicates Alannah to the woman with the scorpion mask. "This dangerous creature is one of the adventurers affectionately referred as 'the Bastards'."
Garren and Avar can see that Alannah has acquired a follower of some kind, a young human woman who, albeit not gorgeous, is still somewhat pretty in a sort of demure, mousy way. She's very plainly dressed by the standards of guests at this event—her 'costume' is a nice but fairly ordinary ball gown and a simple mask over the upper half of her face. She does not look like a dangerous creature at all.
Meanwhile, the "dangerous creature" glances at Marta, and then sizes up Alannah. After a moment, the scorpion lady smiles, and comments, "You got her loose from Wæmunding. Well done, you."
Her attention swings back toward Garren, and she seems to have warmed slightly, either because of Alannah's arrival or because he's asking about a pet interest (or maybe both). In any case, she answers with a touch of pride, "Oh. Certainly I breed my own. This one was fully grown, although not particularly large for its type. I breed for aggression and hardiness, though, so mine seldom get much bigger."
Alannah immediately takes an interest in the discussion regarding the growth of the scorpions< "But if you tried, I wonder how big you could get them to grow? We once found giant ants that were the size of small ponies. Huge things and quite interesting. Though someone," she glares hard at Garren, indicating exactly who that someone might have been, "insisted on killing them all and wouldn't let me keep any."
"Oh," Alannah exclaims as if she just remembered she has a follower, "This is a new friend." She motions to the girl as way of an introduction and then back to Garren and Avar, "These two are some of my traveling companions."
Offhandedly, the half-elf woman replies, "Oh. Yes, they're quite dangerous. Difficult to keep without a queen, and of course if you have a queen then they reproduce more or less constantly. I had one, but I had to have her put down." She snags a goblet of wine off of a passing servant's tray, and studies Alannah with renewed interest. "I hadn't realized anyone in your family was interested in the chitinous orders. But I don't suppose you keep scorpions or you'd know that this variety doesn't get any bigger than a small dog. They're relatively easy to keep."
Avar drains his second goblet of punch wine and nods at Alannah and her new friend as the scorpion queen says her piece.
Speaking to nobody in particular the paladin questions, "So what else is there to do? Are there more scorpion fights?"
The aasimar looks around the room while finishing his query.
"I am interested in most fields of knowledge," Alannah replies while examining the scorpion, "Natural sciences are not my strongest subject, but I"m always interested in learning more."
Absentmindedly, the scorpion-costumed half elf replies to Avar, "No, I only brought the one, and I don't think anyone else here keeps scorpions besides Belling. Anyway, she's probably gone off somewhere to sulk now that she's lost." And indeed, the milkmaid is nowhere in sight, as the winner adds, "I suppose you might go and find someone to dance with. I mean, this is a masquerade, but it's a masquerade ball." She makes no move toward the ballroom, however, instead asking Alannah, "What do you want to know about ants?"
"I was curious about the ratio the size to their strength and carapace durability. From what I understand, the small and common variety seems to have a strength which is orders of magnitude over their size. However, the ones we encountered were strong, but nowhere as strong as they should have been if the body to strength ratio where the same. The same of their armored shells."
"I've noticed that while aggressiveness and hardiness are admirable traits, size does matter." Whether that's ants, scorpions or an intentional double entendre is impossible to discern from either his expression or his mask. Since Avar has made no move to suggest a dance to Alannah's new friend, Garren does. "As Alannah has noted, I have not done much to enjoy the party. Would you dance with me? I would feel more comfortable exploring with an ally." Garren proffers an arm.
Alannah nods to Marta, “Yes, Garren will great you well. Enjoy yourself.” She gives the girl a reassuring smile.
Despite Alannah's reassurance, Marta grips the Derenar cleric's arm with a certain degree of trepidation, "Uh? I—yes, thank you."
It's about this time that Oskav finds his way back across the foyer. He sees Garren and Avar, or at least their backs, through the door to his left, and watches Marta take Garren by the arm. To the right, in the sitting room, he can see Chuul sitting by himself. Directly ahead of him, he can see the goblin and the wolf from the library, strolling out onto the ballroom floor. A little beyond them, the earl is chatting with a young man who has for some reason decided to paint his skin gray and fit himself out with prosthetic tusks in his lower jaw. One of them is broken off about an inch from its tip. The costume is fleshed out with a fancifully ornate breastplate, a guisarme similar to the one Chuul carries most of the time (but again, much more ornate), and a falchion at his waist.
Gray 1-4 = Musicians
Greened-out squares are crowds. It takes 2 squares of movement to enter a square with crowds. The crowds provide cover for anyone who enters them, enabling a Hide check and providing a bonus to Armor Class and on Reflex saves. If crowds see something obviously dangerous, they’ll move away at 30 feet per round at initiative count 0.
It takes a DC 15 Diplomacy check or DC 20 Intimidate check to convince a crowd to move in a particular direction, and the crowd must be able to hear or see the character making the attempt. It takes a full-round action to make the Diplomacy check, but only a free action to make the Intimidate check.
If two or more characters are trying to direct a crowd in different directions, they make opposed Diplomacy or Intimidate checks to determine whom the crowd listens to. The crowd ignores everyone if none of the characters’ check results beat the DCs given above.
Oskav's path toward the banqueting hall necessarily carries him toward the majority of the other Bastards, so the dwarf is presented with a little tableau: Garren has a young woman holding him tentatively by the arm, another young woman (or maybe not so young; half-elves are hard to pin down with regard to their age) is chattering with Alannah about chitin. Specifically, the half-elf is saying something about strength-to-weight ratios regarding chitin, leading Oskav to wonder in passing whether you could use the exoskeletons of giant insects as some kind of building material.
Avar, despite his good looks, golden skin, and innate charisma, is kind of sticking out like a sore thumb in his armor and helmet.
Meanwhile, Chuul is still listening (or even eavesdropping) as the halfling woman nearby snorts, an oversized and unladylike noise of derision. "We both know Merenstone isn't going to drop that claim. What about claiming Ceretheliaul as a vassal, but also granting him an irrevocable and hereditary claim to Woods End? It doesn't silence Merenstone's claim to the district, exactly, but . . ." she trails off, thoughtfully.
Thario makes a face, at this, and then sighs. "Maybe. Let me think about that, and maybe go and find a drink."
Before finding a place to sit with his newly acquired plate of food, Oskav stumps over to Alannah and interjects, "Lady Alannah, I believe I may have spotted your brother," gesturing with the tip of his staff out of the banquet hall. "Or someone else who was so taken with the allure of Master Chuul's appearance they thought it appropriate to impersonate him tonight."
The dwarf makes a face. "I believe many of those in attendance tonight may be extremely unpleasant people. I owe you an apology. All this time I thought your personality and worldview were aberrant in some way. I see now that it must have just been the way you were raised and that you truly didn't know any better."
"Oh, good." Alannah scowls at the dwarf's last comment but evidently chooses not to address it, and instead looks around for the indicated orc imposter.
Alannah sweeps away, ending up as part of a sort of procession that includes Garren and mousy little Marta, heading for the ballroom to investigate Oskav's report. Meanwhile, Oskav heads for the banqueting hall, where there is plentiful seating. He and Avar, who tags along to find something to eat as well, end up near the eastern end of the room. The grotesquely fat half-orc who arrived shortly before the Bastards did, Baron Greenshore, is at the opposite end of the room, gorging himself.
Alannah, Garren and Marta arrive in the ballroom, and the noble scion immediately recognizes her brother. Oskav's intelligence was incorrect, however; she sees the "Chuul impersonator" that the dwarf was talking about, busy chatting with the Earl. But that's obviously not Boromil.
No, Boromil is dancing closely with a slim, extremely pale-skinned elf woman whose furred wrap, gray dress, and elaborate mask make her look as if she's done up to represent either a wolf or a werewolf. Alannah's younger brother has his hair pulled back in a tight queue, and his garish orange and blue mask and ensemble of bullhide garments, copper jewelry and fake one-handed spear spear make for a not-wholly-convincing imitation of a hobgoblin. Even if he'd really made an effort to be more than a stylized imitation of the embis that she and the other bastards have fought in the past, though, he's simply too short to make a convincing hobgoblin—Boromil stands five nine if he's an inch, and would qualify as a midget by their standards. Nevertheless, it's clearly him. He looks like he's enjoying himself.
Off in the banqueting area, Avar and Oskav are just getting started on their food when someone sits down across the table from them, unbidden. The interloper is instantly recognizable as the dwarf in the gray velvet doublet and matching mask, the one who disembarked from a carriage along with that fop. Garren was watching the two of them as if he recognized them.
In a surprisingly thin, reedy voice, the dwarf inquires, "You're the ones called the Bastards, aren't you? Two of them, anyway?" He strokes his beardless chin, and adds, in flagrant disrespect to the conceit of anonymity that supposedly governs the evening's festivities, "Trogar, son of Wrogar, son of Marit, I am. There's a matter about which I'd speak with you, if I guess your identity aright, and you've the time and inclination to hear me on it."
"Actually, I think that title was conferred to others a bit before my time. I am Avar."
The paladin leans back and settles in on the dwarf and considers him momentarily.
"I can only speak for myself but I am all ears."
Alannah walks up to her brother, "Aren't you a little short for a hobgoblin?" Turning to the elf, she apologizes, "I'm very sorry, Lady. Would you mind if I borrowed my brother for a few minutes? I promise to return him to you soon in the relatively same condition."
The baroness narrows her eyes behind her wolf's mask, but outwardly she's all smiles. With a throaty, "She's right, you know. Hobgoblins are a bit taller. But on the other hand it's the little goblins that actually ride worgs into battle, isn't it?" After a little chuckle, the elf woman adds, "I'll hunt you down later, my little clementine. Or maybe you'll catch me first, if you're quick enough," to Boromil, she brushes past Alannah, heading westward toward the foyer.
For his part, Boromil sighs, obviously feeling put-upon, and watches his dancing partner leave. Once she's gone, he reluctantly shifts his attention to Alannah. "Sister. What an unexpected pleasure. I hope you're enjoying your evening?"
"Oh, you knew I'd be here, it's not unexpected. What in the world are you doing in the clutches of Qillanthenna? Are you trying to take father's attention off of my rebelliousness? Because that would be an excellent way to do it."
Boromil sounds a little irked as he replies, "I was trying to gather intelligence about the rioting near the Temple of Agon. If she wasn't behind it, then she certainly has an idea who was." He regains his good humor, almost immediately, as he admits, "And just maybe I was going to have a little extra fun while I did so. That was the plan, anyhow. But the chance of teasing secrets out of her during a bit of pillow talk is looking remote, now. Your pet dwarf already foiled me once. By accident, I think. Speaking of which, is he . . . . are his wits . . . all . . . there?"
Alannah reassures him wryly, "You aren't her type for courting, which means she's only interested in one thing from you. I'm sure you can get right back in her pants." To his last question, "I'm sure his wits are not all there. I'm convinced he died in the past and when they brought him back, a few things got left behind. The dwarf is daft."
Alannah changes the subject and brings the conversation around to her intended point, "So what's this I hear of your new 'military career'?"
Oskav is far more interested in food than whatever this dwarf has to say, but he shrugs between a swig of drink and the next bite. "I won't stop you from speaking, Trogar. I am Oskav Hruthsson and this is Baldr."
Baldr croaks, "The Call to Adventure! It's just like the bards say. I love this part."
"I hadn't expected to meet you here, but you were referred to me by Elena Markan. She indicated that your group is likely to deal honestly with me in a delicate matter related to my liege, Alvart Algartsson, Lord Wæmunding. There is a sword, now lost to his family, that I would like to locate and retrieve. Cowardslayer is its name, and it's an ancient weapon. I believe one of his distant ancestors took the blade as spoils on the field of battle, and it remained with his kin until about one hundred years ago. You came to my attention because you have a reputation not only for honesty, but also because your recent activities have been concerned with the northern reaches of the valley. The blade was lost somewhere in the hills above the northern moors."
Oskav shrugs. "One of our colleagues is much-interested in storied artifacts such as your Cowardslayer. It would be an easy sell as one more item on our To-Do List."
Trogar seems pleased at Oskav's response. "Excellent! If you find the blade, or evidence of its whereabouts, I shall be very pleased to hear of it and compensate you for your trouble. Miss Markan will be able to reach me, and is authorized to act as my agent in this affair. Should I speak with your, ah, colleague, as well? I seldom have reason to hire adventuring folk, so I have no real grasp of the proprieties in this situation."
Meanwhile, Alannah's brother is replying, shiftily, "I didn't realize you'd heard about that. Who gave me away?"
Oskav belches and doesn't apologize. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and shrugs. "She is intolerable. But if you can stomach an encounter, I will make an introduction."
Alannah scowls through her mask, "Don't change the subject. What's this about."
Carolina, the halfling woman, replies to the elven druid, "Well, enjoy your drink." She looks a bit sour as she watches Thario brush past the scorpion-costumed half-elf, who gradually drifted southward into the sitting room after Alannah and company decided to invade the ballroom. The halfling woman is still clutching a largely full, human-sized goblet of wine, and she quickly drains off a few gulps of its contents to drown her frustrations.
In the ballroom, Boromil is protesting, "You're already overreacting and I haven't even said anything yet! If I tell you something you don't want to hear, are you going to explode at me in front of all these people?"
Alannah considers the question, her eyes narrowing, "No, but I have been known to make other things explode." But then she takes a deep breath, uncharacteristically calms herself, and lowers her voice, "Ok, ok. I promise not to make a scene right now. What's this all about."
Boromil (perhaps surprisingly, to anyone who's had much to do with his sister) takes Alannah at her word. Straightforwardly, he informs his big sister, "I had a big night playing cards after you introduced me to your friend Jalen. And I got a little drunk while he told me all about the goblin menace. And, well. Then I got a lot drunk and used the winnings to raise cavalry regiment. I'm a colonel now!"
"Er, don't tell Papa that I've been playing cards. He'll be upset," Boromil adds, as an afterthought.
Alannah starts to snap at him, but then holds it back and stands in silence for a moment while she ponders that news, "Well, I suppose that's no more reckless than what I've done. So what are you going to do? I'm not sure playing cards is what you should worry about him finding out about. Shouldn't you be worried about your role of being our house's proxy at court?"
"Vitus can handle it. He's going to have to move into the townhouse if war's coming, anyway, so he'll be here to look after things," replies Boromil. "I'll write him a letter."
Alannah rolls her eyes, "You've got this all figured out then, eh?"
"No, I'm really concerned about obtaining enough horses, tack, saddles, and fodder for them. And food for my troopers." Boromil shrugs, "Turns out that war's really complicated and tedious. Who knew?"
Alannah nods, decarding her default sarcastic response, "Which is why I hired mercenaries when I left. They handle all their own logistics."
"That's true. The ones you picked out are also Agonite zealots, of course," Boromil taunts back, but his sister can tell his heart isn't really in it. He snags a goblet off of a passing tray, and adds, "Anyway, it's more interesting than court politics by a long way. And it will make more of a difference."
Elsewhere, Trogar replies to Oskav, "I have guts of cast iron where my lord's best interests are concerned. So I'd be very pleased to have you introduce me to any of your colleagues you saw fit to whom you see fit to present me."
"Or, you are going to get yourself killed. I know this is going to sound ironic coming from me, but it's dangerous out there. There's none of the romanticism of the bard's tales in real adventuring. It's mostly death, hardship, and needless slaughter. It's good you want to help, but you can't just charge into it thinking about the songs that will be sung after you vanquish your enemies."
Boromil inclines his head in acknowledgement as he takes a sip of his newly acquired wine. "That's all true. But I'm still doing it," he replies, cheerfully.
Alannah sighs, resigning to let her brother make his own mistakes, "Well, try to stay alive. I don't know when we are leaving... or when you are, but maybe we could ride out together for a while. At least Jalen will likely go with you."