Age of Sorcery
- Strength: 3
- Weakness: 3
- Subplot: 3
Challenges and Obstacles
- Learn the Secret of the Manor: 3 Points
- Rescue the Villager: 2 Points
GM Note: When the challenges are vague, it means that the GM knows one way to resolve the challenge, but it’s not set in stone. There isn’t a specific action you have to take in order to complete the challenge, you simply have to help me narrate a story that involves uncovering some kind of secret in a manor house, and rescuing a villager. The two may be related only tangentially, or the villager may be chained in the basement of the manor, or any number of other possibilities.
A Visitor in the Night
“You must needs take refuge soon, for the darkness deepens and journeys may not be undertaken by the blind.”
The whisper was, as always, perfectly audible to Austor, even though the Whispering Jar was safely stowed in a padded box at the bottom of the saddle bags, and the insects of the forest has started their nightly cacophony of singing.
He had been travelling this road for days, winding his way northward from Münster through the forests of Saxony. As was his way, he had not chosen a destination when he set out, instead allowing his horse to choose their direction at any crossroads they encountered, and proceeding otherwise at a slow and steady pace while contemplating nature or the Holy Scripture. So journeying, he had entered into the state that most men would call “lost”, with no knowledge of the nearest village ahead. But if the Jar said that he should take refuge, then refuge would surely be nearby.
After another half-hundred paces, a bend in the road revealed a break in the trees and a small forest clearing. The sky was darkening overhead, and the first few glimmering stars were visible past the foliage. Squatting on the treeline between the road and a small field was an aging manor house. The stonework had been fine at some point in the past and the chimney still puffed smoke gently into the air, but the wrought-iron gate was rusted to the point of uselessness, and the gardens the low stone wall defended from idle feet were overgrown with brambles and thistle.
He dismounted and led his horse up a cobblestone path that was being slowly devoured by grass and moss, until presently he stood on a stone porch before a cracked and flaking wooden door. He reached forth a gloved hand and struck three loud knocks against the door frame while his horse meandered with equine solemnity through the so-called garden, picking the soft purple flowers from thistles and chewing contentedly.
After a moment, the sound of footsteps reached his ears, and the door was pulled open wide. A woman of middle years stood before him, clothed in what had once been a fine dress but was now frayed at the seams and faded from repeated washing. Despite the wear apparent in her clothes, her eyes shone strongly from beneath her brow, there was a healthy blush behind her cheeks, and she carried herself tall and confidently.
“Good evening, good sir,” she said in well enunciated German, then paused. Despite addressing an armed and armored man across nothing more than an open threshold, she seemed not the least bit afraid as she regarded his dress and accoutrement. Noticing some obscure detail of his dress that belied his origins, she switched to French and continued, “Are you a traveler looking for shelter for the night? I am afraid my house has fallen on hard times, so the succor I offer will be small, and you would need to take your rest on straw instead of down feathers.” As she spoke, she stepped slightly aside from the doorway and gestured into the warm but meanly decorated room beyond. “Even so, I will not turn away one who seeks rest and enters of his own free will.”
“You have my thanks, lady,” he replied, kicking the dirt and dust from his boots before stepping inside and tucking his helmet under his arm. “Straw is a welcome respite to rock and dust.”
Austor looked around the small room and his eyes alighted on the stew that was being cooked over the fire.
“Could I… trouble you for some bread and water,” he asked, tearing his gaze away from the stew to impose upon his host as little as possible.
The lady’s eyes flashed for a moment before she turned away from him and stepped over to a cupboard. “No, you may not,” she said mildly, opening the cupboard and retrieving an earthenware bowl and cup. With efficient movements, she drew a ladle from its hook above the hearth and scooped the steaming contents of the stew pot into the bowl. The cup was scooped through a cistern of water in one hand as she brought the small meal over to her visitor, clunking them down on a finely carved table. She gestured brusquely to one chair, then sat in another across the table.
“My house is on hard times,” she said, nodding and making a gesture that encompassed the room. “But custom dictates that a visitor will eat no worse than the Lady or Lord of this house.” She made another gesture for her guest to sit, slightly less abrupt this time. “Tonight, there is a hearty meat stew on the fire and that is what my guest will eat, lest he offend his host and insult her charity.”
The bowl of stew sat between them for a moment, steam rising in wispy curls. In the broth, vegetables floated around two large portions of well-cooked meat. After so long on the road, the aroma was intoxicating.
“You have my thanks,” he said, smiling at her gratefully and sliding the bowl across the table to rest in front of him. Bringing the spoon up to his lips and taking a sip of the broth, his brow furrowed as he was struck by a stray memory, brought on by the smell of the cloves- earthy, spicy and slightly sweet. It was an overpowering smell, which is precisely why the witches back home in the Black Forest had used it. They had preyed on the kobolds for decades and when the animals were scarce, they ate the kobolds. The smell of flesh was masked by the earthy cloves.
Looking at the chunk of meat floating before his eyes, Austor knew it wasn’t kobold. But he also knew it wasn’t animal either. Having been a hunter since he was a child, he was used to looking at animal meat. This wasn’t what he’d expected. It was human flesh.
Note to GM: Spent 1 Strength. I have an immediate followup.
Which challenge are you spending the Strength on?
It was for Learning the Secrets of the Manor, to know that the meat was human flesh.
“What kind of meat is this,” he asked aloud, hoping that the holy relic he had in his possession would answer.
“Something special from the local butcher,” the woman replied with a pleased smile. “Delicious, isn’t it?”
Austor forced a smile, sampling the crisp carrot, but avoiding the meat.
“Mankind, created in God’s image, has a value and honor above those of animal. Would it not then be a sin to consume the body of God?”
“Yes, it is,” he answered aloud and the woman smiled again.
“She is offering you forbidden fruit, but it may be the serpent’s deception at work, not hers.”
Austor frowned and took another bite of vegetable, studiously avoiding the meat in the bowl. When he had finished all but the meat and broth, he looked up to his host and rose.
“May I get some more,” he asked, pushing away from the table.
“Of course,” she replied, pleasantly surprised. “Allow me.”
“Please, remain seated,” he said, gesturing with his hand for her to stay as he moved around to the fire pit. “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.”
Moving to the pot, he took up the ladle and scooped the meat back into the pot. He carefully picked through the soup to get only broth and vegetables, then returned to join his host.
“This butcher you spoke of,” he began, taking a seat and spooning another mouthful of broth between his lips. “What do you know of him and where he gets this wonderful meat?”
Spent 1 subplot point toward Learning the Secrets of the Manor.
The lady smiled. “I’m glad the soup pleases you, sir, but the hour is growing late. If you still desire it, I can introduce you to our cook in the morning. Mother Wulster is always happy to share a recipe with those who flatter her before asking.” Her forehead creased slightly before she continued, “I’m afraid the house is in no condition to accept guests at the moment. If you’ll excuse me for a moment, I’ll roust Hanne from her room for the evening. She can bed in the stable loft for the night.”
With that, she rose from the table and turned to go.