Prologue: Winter's Shadow

 
Lyeth fought hard to overcome her hesitation with this whole affair. Such an honour by the Queen had left her speechless, but didn't seem to have the same effect on the others. That brought some shame to her, but these other chosen did appear to have different, savage ways.

No She reminded herself mentally. Just because they are not my kind does not make them savage. Maybe they have much they can teach me from their own views.

Lyeth moved closer to the first person who had spoken, bracing herself for one of the few things that genuinely terrified her: smalltalk.

"Wizard Garn...or Brother Garn? It is an honour. I'm Lyeth Heartkeeper, Arbiter Second Class, Twice Hunter of- actually, that's not important. So a feast, huh? That's exciting."

She definitely needed more practice at this.

As Garn was gathering himself to get ready for dinner he noticed a noble elf who seemed as much overwhelmed as he felt. To meet the Iron Queen in person was more than just a privilege. Having been basically living in the library for the last 10 years Garn was now surrounded by the very cultures that fascinated him in the history books he would read. As he made the move towards the dinning hall the elf introduced herself which pleased him to no end. Having learned many languages since he left the farm to join the tower Garn tried to honor the elf by speaking in her native tongue "My lady Lyeth Heartkeeper, what an honor to meet you and yes what an exciting moment to be feasting with the Iron Queen herself. Least we forget the other six Chosen who seem to have very different backgrounds and reasons for being here as well. You may call me Garn for only wizards in the tower call me brother and over dinner I would like to discuss more of the challenges that have crossed your life. So shall we proceed?" as he gestures down the hall with a wave Garn lets her take the first step but walks beside her towards what must be the dinning hall. Hoping his elven had the right tones. He never got many chances to practice his elven since they didn't send many elves to the tower. As they walked down the hall the one the Queen addressed as Anton moved to the front of the hall and garn wondered about his story's of adventure. "Mr. Anton I would be very interested to hear story's of your enterprises as well over dinner, shall the 3 of us sit close so we can swap tales? Although mine are not tales of adventure but of hard work and lots of reading."

"Talk about a mixed group..." Corynn scratched his shortly trimmed beard as he walked, resisting the urge to light his tobacco pipe. He wanted to get a better feel for these people before saying or doing much. Besides half of the people here made him somewhat nervous, especially the orc and the mage.

Anton listened for a few moments as the others briefly spoke. After being addressed, he eagerly thought, Excellent, some conversation! Turning his head to speak to Garn, Anton replies cheerfully, Please, call me Anton. I would love to regale you with some of my exploits, and thoroughly enjoy hearing about your own! You can never underestimate the importance of a good work ethic and studies, I, too, can attest to that. Anton speaks animatedly, making fairly grand gestures as he talks, I have had the privilege of working for the queen before, albeit indirectly. Upon numerous occasions, I have worked with the Knights to help put criminals away or into exile. Though I must confess, none of these seemed to be especially dangerous individuals. More often than not, the crimes I solved were too petty to even be pursued by the Knights at all, but nonetheless, they were exciting to resolve.

I hope I am not leaping ahead, but may we assume we have begun to dine?
OOC

As you converse with each other, the queen leads you silently down a hallway and into another chamber, smaller than the throne room, but still grand with tapestries and frescoes, warmly lit by tall candelabras and a large steel chandelier. A long table of fancily carved and polished wood lies at the center of the room, with many cushioned, high-backed chairs around it, and covered in many dishes of food. There are many kinds of meat: seafood, like king crab, swordfish and shark; red and white meats like roast goat, beef steaks, roast turkey and duck. There also are fruits and vegetables: mostly many different kinds of berries, and apples and pears, and carrots, potatoes, onions and such. And of course, there are bottles of fine red and white wines made from frost grapes that only grow at these northern latitudes, fine ales and stouts, and water.

There are several other people already seated, who were conversing quietly among themselves; but when they saw the queen enter, they stood and waited for her to come be seated. Eisa walked to her large chair at the head of the table, and began introducing you to the several other dinner guests who sat near her.

"These fine gentlemen will be joining us for dinner," Eisa said. "Do not mind them, you may speak freely in their presence. Once we are finished with the eating and pleasantries, we will commence with the official business. Allow me to introduce our guests. Some of you may be familiar with them already."

She gestures to a tall man shrouded in a black robe with red trim and a hooded mantle of white dragonskin lined with mammoth fur, threaded with runes of blue ice and hung with dragon teeth. The man pulls back his hood, revealing wrinkled, greenish-gray skin, a prominent brow and small tusks; he is a half-orc. What skin you see on his face and hands and arms is covered in red scratches of runes and arcane symbols, and small rune-etched skulls of various creatures hang from his belt. "Archmage Thoven, leader of the Brotherhood of the Frozen Tower," Eisa says. Thoven nods silently at the group.

She then gestures to a massively-muscled human man, clad in shining and intricately worked full plate mail etched with runes. A massive bastard sword is strapped to his back, its unadorned hilt gleaming of silver and its black leather scabbard inlaid with silver filigrees. His sun-browned face and hands are pockmarked with scars, and a mane of well-groomed wavy black hair and beard cascades about his face and shoulders, with streaks of white at the temples and the lips. His dark eyes glitter at you from their deep setting, but he smiles wide with perfectly white, straight teeth and says, "Hail, friends." "Gareth, Knight Grand Commander of the Knights of the Iron Glacer...and King Consort," Eisa says with a slight smile.

Next, she points to her left, to a young man and woman, both incredibly beautiful, with fair skin, golden hair, bright blue eyes, and lithe, athletic bodies. "My children, Aelfgar and Abelena," Eisa says. Aelfgar seems a little disinterested, or perhaps thinking of other things, sitting there in his polished mithril chain mail and fine blue cloak. Abelena smiles innocently at the group, her hands folded neatly in the lap of her simple but elegant dress of blue silk.

"Grandmaster Eldon of the Arbiters, General Eoin of my army and Admiral Anestya of my navy would have been here, but had more pressing matters to deal with for the time being," Eisa said. "Now that formalities are out of the way, please begin and enjoy the best that Scurdaeg has to offer. Once our appetites have been sated, then we will
Keep RPing, conversing and such. I'll move on to the official business once everyone's said what they wanted to.
begin with the official business."

Now this was even more flabbergasting than the last room where Garn had meet the Queen. He was about to dine with all of the Queens highest advisers. Giving them all a bow and a extra nod for the archmage himself. Trying to keep his word to sit with the other two he had just met and to sit near the archmage joined the table. Garn would not partake in wine this evening to much to think of with the upcoming adventure. Garn also waits for everyone to be sitted and for the Queen to take the first bite of this spectacular feast that was presented to them before he started to eat. Knowing that the archmage was half-orc he had learned the language and made a point to thank him in Orc for his praise that had gotten him this high honor. During diner Garn will take time to talk to everyone that was at the table even if most of it will be small talk.

Despite the L'lef's height, he seemed to be rather silent in his movements down the hall. Reaching the dining room chamber he simply observed each as they were introduced with that same cold unreadable face he had in the prior chamber.

When the children were introduced he seemed to scrutinize over them for a moment or two, his dark blue eyes betrayed his interest for only a moment.

With the introductions complete, L'lef moved to stand behind one of the chairs and waited patiently for the others to sit. He chose to take a place near the Neanderthall rather than nearer any of the others. L'lef then awaited for everyone else to begin eating. Once they did, he to broke bread, remaining silent as long as none engaged him..

Corynn gave a small nod of acknowledgement to those already gathered before finding a seat and trying to not show his discomfort with this entire situation.
As he reached to pour himself some water, thankful for at least one alcohol-free option, he noticed that he had somehow ended up with the quiet, oddly blue man, L'lef?, directly to one side of him and the even stranger neanderthal just another chair down.
"Well at least I'm not the only one out of my element... but gods some of these names are gonna be a bugger to get right..." At least he had to admit that this was probably the best food he'd ever been served.

Ruln continued to the table as the queen made her introductions. It was an odd way of doing things, throwing names about for people. And 'speak freely'? It was is though they were typically not to do so. It was, he supposed, her city. Even so, he was glad the custom of giving food held true. And the smell rising off it... well, it might be prepared differently than he was used to, but the smell was good.

Each of those introduced draws his gaze. Only briefly for most, save for Gareth. The grand commander drew his gaze for longer, a flat, studying look. He was a fine warrior, no doubt, and a strong leader as well, though his men were not always on good terms with the Whiteclaw clan... nor were they always on good terms with the wild. Yet eventually, he offered a nod to this man as well, respectful, but with a hint of wariness.

The children's introduction manages to draw out another of his toothy, nearly grimacing smiles. Perhaps he was not yet old himself; but the young had similarities wherever one was. Perhaps they were occupied with different things than those of his clan would have been, but still...

"May the hunts be always bountiful," he responds to the queen's final invitation to dine, intoning the ancient phrase with solemnity before taking his seat and beginning his meal... slowly, perhaps, but with obvious enthusiasm.

The meal proceeded without any problems, with everyone exchanging pleasantries and those at the other end of the table sometimes conversing in low tones with each other. Queen Eisa eats with deliberate, rhythmical but polite bites, and is largely silent as she eyes everyone around the table.

After you've all had firsts (and maybe seconds) of whichever food you desired, and your thirsts were quenched, several servants entered, took away the large platters and substituted them with desserts: tarts of various berries, mostly, as well as some sticky rolls, and pots of a strange, hot black liquid, which the Queen and her advisers poured into small cups and sipped. Similar cups were placed in front of each of you, if you desired to taste of the odd black drink.

While everyone selected sweets and sipped on their drinks, the Iron Queen sat back and said, "And now, to business. I thank you eight for answering the summons; whether you knew you were answering it, or not, you have come, and that is good. For there are troubles brewing in the North. Anyone who has lived here long knows that the fortunes and fates ebb and flow as the tides in Drenheim; but something big is coming soon, a change of sorts. I feel it in my bones. There are a couple of problems I wish to dispatch you eight to look into; whether they have to do with my premonitions, or are even connected at all, is unknown. But, nevertheless, they are of concern to all of us here. The esteemed Archmage and Grand Commander will tell you more."

She sits down and sips from her cup of hot black liquid, and nibbles on a blackberry tart, while watching the speakers and her potential agents with keen interest. The Archmage leans back, brushes crumbs from his beard, and clears his throat before speaking. His voice is deep and resonant, almost a rumble, and yet can be heard clearly by all.

"Aherm, yes, thank you your majesty," he begins. "As you all may know, or may not know, the Brotherhood of the Frozen Tower often undertakes endeavors of historical or archaeological importance, particularly pertaining to the history and lore of the North. Well, again, as some may know - or not know, again - about 30 years ago, we discovered - or rediscovered, I should say - the ruin of a large man-made complex, which we estimate dates back to the time of Old Drenheim, sometime before the War of Six Thrones, deep in the marshes and swamps of Fuar Dubh to the east, in the middle of the island.

"Well, we had just begun excavating the ruins, when the trouble with the giants and the dragons broke out. All our field operations had to be put on hold, you see, to defend the city and help rebuild. Well, just a few months ago, one of our enterprising mages took it on himself to lead the next expedition to the ruins -which we dubbed Fios Sean -that is 'old knowledge' in the tongue of Old Drenheim. He took a couple junior mages, as well as some hired muscle, and a couple religious advisers from the temple of Rao with him. It was only about two weeks ago that I last received correspondence from him, in which he said they were 'on the cusp of a major discovery.' Sadly, I have lost communication with him and his team. He used to send me a short message by magical means almost once a day; but our contact has gone dark, and he has not responded to my messages since. I told him it might be dangerous, but he was too eager; and now with winter setting in, I I fear the worst. We always try to have our people back by winter time.

"What I and the Queen have agreed should be done is for you to attempt to go there and investigate. The mission would be threefold; discover what happened to the expedition, try to remedy the situation as best you can, and try to find whatever 'major discovery' they spoke of. It is extremely unusual for us to lose all contact with a team like this; I am afraid of foul play, somehow, but by whom, or why, I cannot guess. While I miss my friends and colleagues greatly, and wish to know what happened to them and if they can be saved, the discovery should take precedence. He wouldn't say what he thought they'd found, but if it's an artifact of Old Drenheim, it could give us insight into the old kingdom's lore and understanding of the North."

Winded, the elderly half-orc sits back down and sips his drink. Eisa nods at her Consort to speak. Gareth sighs heavily before speaking, as if it pained him to speak about it.

"I'm not one for grand speeches or history lessons - no offense Thoven," he begins. "So I'll just get down to it. Star's Rest, a town of about 10,000 people deep in the Haradrihne Forest - in the northwest of this island, bordered by mountains west and north - has recently been experiencing an unusual spike in barbarian raids. The raids are larger-scale and more aggressive than they have been in the past, more like actual war parties than simple banditry or thievery. Star's Rest is Scurdaeg's largest hold in the north still functioning after the attack on the city 15 years ago by Briarios and Xarylimthys' forces. It is mostly a trading hub, filled with craftspeople, hunters, and the like. They haven't a strong military presence of their own. The Knights and the Queen's armies would help, but we're afraid sending in the troops might simply exacerbate the situation. We've no idea of the forces these barbarians have at their command, nor what tribes they represent. Also, the people of Star's Rest spent many years building a rapport with the less-hostile tribes in the area, and even established trade with some. But since the attacks started, none of the friendly tribes had been to Star's Rest to trade.

"The Baron of Star's Rest, Bramwell, is a fidgety man, who hasn't a head for military problems. We would like you to travel to Star's Rest, report to the Baron and see if you can figure out anything about what's happening. Why the barbarians are attacking so earnestly, who is behind the attacks, and if possible, what happened to the friendly tribes that has kept them from trading with the town. If you can resolve the situation yourselves, all the better. But, if you believe there's no alternative after you've discovered what you need to know, you should send word to us and we will send in the troops. We pray, however, that that won't be necessary."

When he was done speaking, Eisa set her cup down and spoke again. "I know not whether these problems are connected, nor if they even are harbingers of things to come. For the time being, they both are matters of large enough concern that we feel we need people to investigate. And while we've been eating and speaking, I believe I have formulated a plan. There are eight of you; perhaps four of you each could go to each location, to see what you can do. I believe that Garn, Lyeth, Anton and Uldin ought to make up the first group, and investigate the ruins of Fios Sean; and that Corynn, Ruln, L'lef, and Deresk ought to travel through Haradrihne to Star's Rest, and see if they can help solve their barbarian problems. Does this sound acceptable? Have any of you questions for me, or for the others?"

They all look at you expectantly, except Aelfgar, who is busy pursing his lips and clenching his cup, and Abelena, who innocently nibbles on a tart, glancing at everyone with her large blue eyes.




 

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