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.