The Hunt Begins

Feeling good about themselves, the Circle of Niira retreated to the Hunting Serpent Inn where Alrik spun their adventure into a fantastic tale of bravery and honor. Across the city word spread that the city guard, aided by the heroes, had dispatched the danger of the wraiths. Gorreg Mordakh worked to drink himself into a stupor. Egil Ironwolf celebrated with Isabella. Thryan and Hob spent time in study, while Tholan Frostmane visited with his long time friend Rohrin.

Before the day grew old, word reached them that King Blood-Eagle wished to reward them for their bravery. They were invited to a celebration in honor of the great hunt he had planned.

The next evening the Circle made their way to King Blood-Eagle’s longhouse. By the time they arrived, the party was already well underway; and Blood-Eagle was long past drunk. Each of the members of the Circle made their rounds among the guests. Heroes from all across the Kingdoms were present; Llovn Stonewalker, Husstander Icehunter, Aki Blood-Eagle and his brothers, Kultur Shieldheart, and Varin Naess among them.

Also present was the monster hunter Bram Segismunnson. Whispers through the crowd indicated he was there for the hunt. Having heard the tale of the heroes, he made his way among them, eager to hear of their adventures.

Bored with the party, Hob sat in a corner watching the crowd. An Ulfen serving girl brushed past Egil. She smiled invitingly at the Ulfen warrior and he returned her invite with a salute of his flagon, drinking deeply as she moved on. When she passed Hob, he smelled a familiar perfume. He glanced around the room and found Tholan watching the serving girl as well. Something about her had also attracted his attention. He turned back to her; not because of her swaying hips, but because she was familiar to him.

Eventually, King Blood-Eagle turned away from his ale and to the gathered heroes. He stumbled under the effects of his heavy drinking.

“My friends,” he bellowed! “You all know why I have asked you here. I grow old! And the kingdom has need of a king when I pass. With the Winter Witch threatening our lands, we will have need of a high king! You are the strongest warriors in the land! Any of you are powerful enough to serve the Kingdom. Tonight, we begin a quest to seat one of you on the throne!”

Cheers shook the walls of the longhouse and flagons were raised. Blood-Eagle raised his curved horn and drank deeply. The serving girl approached her king and held her pitcher high to refill his horn. Seeing her, he held out the horn.

Without warning, the serving girl stepped under the King’s arm and thrust a dagger deep deep into Blood-Eagle’s stomach. The cheering crowd held their flagons high and continued to cheer, unaware their king’s lifeblood coated an assassin’s hand. The king’s grunts of pain were drowned out by the roar of celebration.

The assassin pulled the dagger from Blood-Eagle’s stomach and stabbed the king two more times. Reality sank in as heads turned toward the scene. Shouts of warning went up and weapons were drawn.

Alrik drew his bow and fired as the rest of the Circle advanced. An arrow struck true, embedded in her shoulder. The assassin stepped away from Blood-Eagle and dodged several blows. Realizing she was outnumbered, she darted for a door. A spoken word from Thryan, and arcane magic slammed the door before her. Faced with a sealed exit, she knew she was cornered. Cursing, she uttered an arcane word and disappeared.

Overhearing the spoken word, Thryan shouted, “It’s a dimension door spell! She is near!”

Hob and Gudrun Fire-Hair knelt over the king, while the rest of the party rushed through exits, seeking the assassin.

Outside in the snow, the party spread out, but found no sign of the woman.

Inside, Gudrun spoke words of celestial power and healed Blood-Eagle’s wound. Hob assisted by wrapping the wound in a clean bandage. As he wiped blood away, he paused. The stab wound had nicked a tattoo on Blood-Eagle’s stomach. The tattoo was a symbol he had never seen before. It wrapped around Blood-Eagle’s side and disappeared under his shirt. He quickly memorized as much of the rune as he could.

Mama Blood-Eagle was upset by her husband’s wound, but he refused to allow it to hamper his party. He brushed her aside and ordered more ale be brought in. Their argument grew loud before Runa finally threw her arms up in frustration and stormed out of the room.

King Blood-Eagle commanded the party to continue by raising his own drinking horn.

The party was slow to resume at first, but slowly others joined in. All except Husstander. The Blackraven turned and left.

As soon as the Circle realized he had departed, Alrik turned his attention to the king’s son, Aki. Aki listened as Alrik warned him of Husstander’s potential head start. By leaving the party early, he stood to find King Blood-Eagle’s linnorm and claim the throne for himself. Aki agreed and quickly left, dragging his lieutenant and brother, Diarf Blood-Eagle with him.

Alrik continued his tactic of pushing the other members of the hunt he wished to see victorious into action. King Blood-Eagle’s party shrank, but he failed to notice.

The monster hunter, Bram, challenged to Circle to join him in the hunt. He offered five crowns per day for their skills. Gorreg and Egil quickly accepted the opportunity for treasure while also hunting a dangerous beast.

Hob took the time to inform the Circle of the rune tattooed on Blood-Eagle’s body. It confirmed their suspicion that King Blood-Eagle was likely the Old Runestone from Niira’s prophecy. He appeared as a tired old man, determined to leave the throne behind; but he needed to be a leader of nations.

The Circle discussed Hob’s and Tholan’s observations of the serving girl. Hob was certain that her perfume and mannerisms reminded him of Isabella. In a drunken stupor Egil refused to hear such nonsense, after all, Isabella was Varisian and the serving girl was clearly Ulfen. Anyone could see the difference, sober or drunk. He continued to deny Isabella could be involved, even after it was learned that she had taken the night off from the Hunting Serpent. No one had seen her, and her belongings were missing from the loft.

As dawn broke, the Circle discussed the plan to join Bram in his hunt for the linnorm. They feared leaving Blood-Eagle, but he continued to refuse to have anyone interrupt his celebration. Even so, the Circle didn’t feel much like celebrating. A friend appeared to be behind the assassination attempt. The wraith plague still had little meaning. And the visions of Niira plagued them.

With their thoughts on the wraiths, Egil commented on the coins he had kept from the battle. It was the only coin he had made since coming to the city and he looked forward to earning more from Bram. One of the coins had markings on it. Thryan could tell they were arcane, but he did not know their meaning. He cast a simple arcane spell, and the coin glowed with a faint aura, a dark necromantic aura. The aura extended to Egil.

Thryan recommend Egil give up the coin. They wanted to take the coin and research the symbols. He didn’t let it go easily. It cost Alrik ten crowns to get the enchanted coin from Egil.

Tholan, Alrik and Thryan made their way to the Jade Quarter. Thryan knew a man there who could help them. The library curator, Wei was unhappy that Thryan had brought Ulfen into this home, but he allowed them to enter anyway. Wei cautioned them against discussing what they saw there. After descending several flights of stairs, they found a small room. Bookshelves lined the room’s walls, each one laden with scrolls and tomes. It was more parchment than the two Ulfen had ever seen.

Thryan concentrated on the symbols carved into the coin. One was a spell to create undead, the other allowed control of it. Anyone possessing the coin was under the threat of being transformed and then of being placed under the control of the coin’s creator.

Alrik took time to research his bow. It was constructed from the paueliel tree, a silver barked soft-wood tree that grew to enormous heights. With all of their height, the trees always remained skinny, never more than a few feet in diameter. They were known as the ‘first trees’ by most of the world. Lumberjacks superstitiously believed that these trees were related to the First World, giving them a wide berth when logging in an area. Dryads were drawn to paueliel trees, and tatzlwyrms lived high up in their branches. Although special, the trees were rarely used to make weapons. It took special curing treatments, unknown to all but the most skilled, to prepare the wood.

Before the Circle could depart with Bram, the King’s advisor asked to speak with them.

Gudrun informed them that Blood-Eagle was safe, but she worried the assassin would return. Not for him, but for Aki. She had no reason for the assassination attempt, beyond the determination of some to disrupt Blood-Eagle’s rule, and the king had a long list of enemies who sought his downfall. However, Aki was vulnerable. At some point, Blood-Eagle would step down as king, even if there was no one to take his place on the throne. People would turn to Aki for the everyday ruling of the city. He would be needed, even if he wasn’t a king. Gudrun even offered to pay the party for their aid. Her offer of a crown a day paled next to Bram’s offer of five a day, but the need to serve the King proved a priority, and the Circle agreed.

Alrik asked Gudrun for a favor before departing to fulfill her request. He presented the coin and asked if Gudrun knew a skald who could tell them anything about the necromantic tainted coin. Gudrun immediately sent a message and asked Thyrie Tarnralsdottir to join them. Thyrie had been performing for Blood-Eagle’s celebration and proved grateful for the distraction from the drunken Ulfens.

The minutes ticked by slowly while Thyrie studied the coin. Pulling on years of experience, the high skald’s bardic knowledge paid off. She was certain the coin had been held and used by a priest inside the city’s temple of Gorum. A sparkle in Gudrun’s eye indicated her hope to connect Prefect Bjorn Stormwolf to the plot to kill the king. Through her magic, Thyrie could not connect Bjorn to the coin.

The half-orc Gorreg and Egil were unhappy with the agreement worked out by Alrik and Gudrun. They were not willing to give up Bram’s five crowns a day for Gudrun’s one crown a day. As the others prepared to depart in search of Aki, they attempted to renegotiate the deal with Gudrun. At first she was reluctant to agree, but knew that splitting up the Circle, would weaken them. Despite Niira’s madness, she trusted Varin and he trusted Niira. Somehow, these people were important; besides she shared a celestial connection with the twins of war. She agreed to pay them two crowns a day for their service.

Thryan saw the party’s agreement with Gudrun as an opportunity to quit his position with the Lost Rivers Mercantile. The others warned him that the position could be important if his boss, Jutta Baum was attempting to sell the Jade Serpent. Thryan reluctantly agreed.

At the direction of Gudrun, the Circle made their way to the King’s storerooms. They were outfitted with things they would need. When they were finally prepared to depart the city, they found the gates already opened to allow a large caravan to enter.

The visitors were commanded by an unseen voice issuing from inside a curtained pavilion. The guards and servants responded to the commands without complaint or hesitation. They quickly pitched their camp with precision that could only come practice. The brightly colored tents and cages contained numerous animals and creatures of types the people of Kalsgard hand never seen. But despite the exotic nature of the animals and the commanding voice of the unseen dictator, the thing that drew the most attention, was the shackles that bound the ankles of many of the caravan’s servants.

Even as the Circle watched in wonder, along with half the city, representatives of the Lost Rivers Mercantile arrived to greet the caravan. Jutta Baum herself lead the procession. The curtains of the pavilion parted and a tall paunchy man emerged to greet her. In a loud booming voice, he spoke first.

“Welcome, welcome to Imar’s Mercantile of the planes!”

Jutta’s response could not be heard, but Imar seemed pleased. His side of the conversation continued to echo through the city, while Jutta’s responses remained known only to them.

His eyes focused on the caravan, Tholan recognized one of them. A young girl worked with the others. Her attention remained focused on her task, but Tholan was certain that the young girl was part of the Circle of Niira. Intrigued, Tholan stepped aside and cast a spell. He focused on the caravan, the girl, and Imar. He detected no magic, but Imar turned and glared at him as if detecting Tholan’s spell. Tholan was unnerved by the man’s focus.

Word of the exotic caravan spread quickly through the city, and Orn responded to the rumors. He was eager to see the animals and when he saw the party he rushed up to them. He could barely contain his excitement but quickly became torn between the caravan and the party once he learned they were departing to join his brother. The kid teased the Circle about joining them for the hunt but fear of Mama Blood-Eagle caused them to distract him.

They expressed their interest in the young caravan girl. They asked Orn to find time to speak with her and to find out her name. He took up the challenge right away and darted off before they could stop him. The girl shyly tried to dodge the young Ulfen but he persisted. He quickly returned with her name for the party, Teekl.

The team feared the arrival of Imar signaled the loss of the Jade Serpent. They knew little of it, but they did not want it to be lost. Alrik had already warned that its removal could spell disaster for the kingdom. In addition, Niira had directed Thryan to tame the serpent.

With word that Imar’s caravan would be in town several days, the Circle left Kalsgard to search for the crown prince.

The Hunt Begins

Of Kings and Dragons Kindel Kindel