The group returns from Qarnill, having successfully opened trade between the two great cities. They once again meet at Baron Pont’s estate.
Baron Pont: “Congratulations men! The gold is already coming in from the open trade routes, and the merchants of Domith are pleased. I can’t tell you how happy I am with your group. Once again, you take a situation that could very well end in war, and instead turn it into a benefit for all groups involved. Thank you again! But alas, there is never rest for people like us. Every city in Domith has been active lately, don’t you all agree? The North had conflict within until we set it right. Qarnill and Abastho were at each other’s throats. Domith is playing mediator. What city have none of us heard news from lately?”
Baron Pont: “Correct, Forlong. Even with all of the action going around Arem, we have not heard a word from Forlong. The great Tournament of Apples, which I heard Tiberius did very well in, occurred just recently, yet no news from Forlong was heard during the entire event either. And that was held within their borders! This lack of information is concerning, especially with all the cities already being on edge as of late. Thus, I must make another request of your group. I need all of you to go over to Forlong and determine what they are up too.”
“You will be broken up into two groups: Nobles and Commoners. Now I know what all of you are thinking: why split us up like that? Isn’t one point of the group to break those boundaries? Yes, it is. But unfortunately, Forlong doesn’t agree with that. They look at nobility over there VERY highly. The rulers there will not talk with lowly commoners, thus I need you four to go and communicate with them. As a cover, so as to not seem overly suspicious, you will act as traders who wish to barter goods and services between Domith and Forlong. Remembering: setting up a trade route isn’t what’s important; it is getting the info. Fooling the Forlongians into allowing all of you into their kingdom will not be easy; all of my previous envoys have been rejected. Thus, you will need to prove your power and titles are worthy of them. I will leave that up to you four."
“Commoners, you are in a much tougher, though possibly more important, position. Now this is going to be a hard pill to swallow, but you three must act as servants to the nobility. That is the only way we will be able to sneak you guys into the castle so that you can see what is going on. As many of you know: commoners in Forlong are treated like dirt; not much more than animals who haul out the precious gold and jewels from the mountains. You will be ridiculed, and possibly attacked, just for being people of a non-noble birth. But! You will also have more freedom to move about where prying eyes aren’t supposed to be, and that is vital to this mission. The nobility isn’t going to show their hand that easily, but with the commoners moving around in the background, we hope to draw a complete picture of what Forlong has been up too. Any questions?”
Baron Pont: “I wish I could tell you more about this mission, but like I said, we have been getting basically zero information out of Forlong for the last year or so. We must know what they are planning; it could be something big. I need not remind you of the wealth of Forlong. With that type of money, they could be buying a massive army and we wouldn’t know. Money is arguably more powerful than any other force in Arem, or so it has been told. Please, find out what they are doing!"
The group is barely out the door of Baron Pont’s place when a group of men approach them, and draw their swords.
Count Tarfain: “Ah, the dogs of Baron Pont have been released from their kennel have they? How cute.”
Count Tarfain Bhrawn is a noble from Domith, specifically Balantine Hill. His family use to be very prominent, but a series of unfortunate events (theft of a piece of armor from a past relative) cause the house to lose all of its influence. They are very jealous of the Thrawn family as well. Tarfain clearly looks like someone who has something to prove, being very muscular (like he trains all day), in hopes of gaining power for his family once again.
Baron Nigel: “I think you make be giving some of the group too much credit Tarfain. I think dogs would be insulted if you compared them to these commoners. You don’t want to offender your hunting dogs back home!”
Baron Nigel is a noble from Abastho, and clearly thinks he is better than everyone else. His family was very well to do, and spoiled him relentlessly. This type of upbringing made him believe that everything was his by right, not by work, and it clearly shows. Regardless, that money also bought training in the arts of war, education, and combat, and it shows: Nigel, while not as physically strong as his brethren, is still in good shape; more importantly he is extremely knowledgeable about Arem, its people, and the current going ons.
A group of commoners and nobles laugh at that comment, and more begin to gather to see what is going on.
Stone: “Rumors are abound that they do more than just missions for Baron Pont. Many say they serve ALL his needs, if you get my drift….”
The one known simple as STONE is a mountain of a man: at least seven and a half feet tall, he stands as one of the tallest men in Arem. Tall is one thing, but he is just as big. Weighing in at just around 500 pounds, he is not a wiry man by any means. While intimidating just to look upon, the most frightening think about STONE is that he is known to go into a blood rage, where he is basically uncontrollable. In combat, this makes him extremely efficient. STONE originally was a poor commoner, but became a noble after his lord mysteriously died, and had left a will saying that STONE inherited his lands and titles. He is now a noble of Domith.
The onlookers burst into laughter again, making the situation even more volatile
Ranger Halbarad: "Look, they even included a rumored Ranger of the South. That’s pretty surprising, because I’ve heard that they are protecting a “relic” that has insurmountable power. Must not be important enough that they have to keep their members around to protect it. My guess is that the rangers are better off with him here and not there!"
Ranger Halbarad calls the bitter North his home. He lives near the Bluewood Pass, and learned to range there. No one would argue his skills; his arrows fly truer than a raven, and his tracking skills are unmatchable. Unfortunately, he was born with no sense of remorse. He kills with no thoughts of what the consequences are, or how it affects those around him. Halbarad keeps those secrets very close though; no one can find proof of it, but the rumors are abound. Lord Snow has investigated, but found no clear evidence. Combine that with the fact that Halbarad commands one of the greatest archer units in Arem, and you can see why he is hard to pin down for these crimes.
Count Tarfain: “Well I would agree with you there, but the Ranger still might be the best warrior here. Though to be honest, I’d probably put my money on the healer being the strongest member of the group!”
Baron Nigel: “What do you expect? They can hardly be considered noble. Tib here can’t even hold on to his god given right of the first son, Vern is the joke of the North, and Belisaurus can’t even take back a simple city; Butcher of Malaki, isn’t that what they call you?”
Count Tarfain: “Enough of this chatting. We are sick of you simpletons believing you are the change that Arem needs, and we are going to show why we are the future of this land. We challenge all of you to a group duel! Do you submit to our requests, or are you as cowardly as we were led to believe?”
The group is defeated in the duel, but lose nothing but their pride: Baron Pont pays for their ransoms.
As the group leaves Domith, they come across a group of commoners who are talking about the current events of Arem. They speak of a castle in Forlong that has rebelled, a group of thieves who steal from Forlong’s trade carts, and a high ranking noble who wishes to be entertained. The group asks them about locations and information concerning the previously mentioned things.
The first thing the group investigates is some thieves that have been stealing from Forlong merchants as they move about their trade routes. The group talks to the merchants who are getting raided, but they know little of what is really going on as they are higher ups and are only posing as to seem to know anything. The group does convince them to allow a few of the members to hide in the carts and ambush the thieves though.
Meanwhile, Jaque was talking to some local ruffians, but didn’t get far. Eventually, after talking to come commoners, he discovered where the attacks were occurring and set off by himself (without telling the group) to talk to the groups leaders. Earlier, he had learned that no one was being killed in these raids; only goods and supplies were being taken. This made him instantly realize that theses thieves were most likely apart of a local Thieves Guild. After reaching the spot where the raids were occurring, Jaque met Talu, the Thief Captain. He warned her about the ambush the group was planning and to avoid this area for a while. Talu thanked him and went on her way, just as other members of the group arrived. They confronted Jaque, and discovered what he did. A little while later, the rest of the group (who were hiding in the carts) arrived as well, and Jaque was forced to reveal what he had done. A rift was created in the group, splitting the commoners and nobles, with each party being wary of the other.
Following this adventure, the group next approached a group of knights who had revolted against Forlong for how stingy they have been in supporting (weapons, money, etc.) the cities outside of Dianides Range. The group calls upon Sir Leighim, leader of the castle. Sir Leighim was a respected knight of Forlong, having won many duels, squashed many rebellions, and championed many jousting matches. He is still in good shape, but the group can clearly see he is getting older, with pure gray hair covering his head. Even with his age, he still carries himself well, and seems like an honorable man.
Sir Leighim brings up many of his troubles with the Forlongians: lack of food for his people, lack of gold for his daughter, and lack of trading occurring because of Forlong’s recent lock down. While the group was talking to him, Belisarius glimpses his daughter, Anna Leighim, watching down from the castle walls. While not a classic beauty, she had a certain demeanor about her that intrigued Belisarius. He asked to meet, and was instantly infatuated. Anna is an extremely intelligent and kind woman, and has never met someone who didn’t instantly like her. Caught in the grasps of love, Belisarius proposed to Anna, who accepted, and planning for the wedding immediately started.
The wedding occurred rapidly, with many of the Belisarius’s (as well as the groups) friends and family coming. Commander Phokas was there, along with Narses (his best man), who brought way too much alcohol and loose women. The wedding went well, and the reception was a wild time. Many members’ of the group had words to say to the newlyweds:
Thrawn: “May the wind always be at your back, your future on your horizon, and your love for one another in your hearts.”
The Bastard: “Never lie, steal, cheat, or drink. But if you must lie, lie in the arms of the one you love. If you must steal, steal away from bad company. If you must cheat, cheat death. And if you must drink, drink in the moments that take your breath away. Love always from your friend The Bastard.”
Kong Fuzi: “I’ve never believed in first love at first sight. But you two are truly meant for each other. I wish nothing but the best for you two. Let your years be many, and your nights be long. Also: I left a zestful present in your corridors.” (Kong Fuzi winks)
At the end of the night, as is tradition in Arem, attendees of the opposite sex “escorted” each newlywed up to their room, all while telling dirty jokes and unclothing that person in preparation for what comes next. Narses, of course, led the way with Anna (who told many dirty jokes during the time at Narses expense), while a large group of women did the same with Belisarius. The marriage rites took place, and all was well. On top of this, Belisarius acquired a new trade route for Samos, which also benefited Sir Leighim due to the supplies and trade going through the area.
Having obtained enough noble notoriety in the Forlong region, the group makes it to the Blackrock Pass, the first of many fortifications protecting Forlong, with this one being located at the bottom of the mountain. As they approach, they see that the gate is shut, and there is absolutely no traffic going in or out via this route. Guards are stationed everywhere.
Forlongian Soldier: “Halt. No one is allowed entry into Forlong by orders of Lord Karanos. Please turn around and return from where you came.”
Forlongian Solider: “Excellent. I will send a raven ahead to let the nobles learn of your arrival. Welcome to Forlong.”
The group slowly marches up the empty trail to Forlong. The trek is hard, as it is a very steep road to the city. The group does not run into any other travelers along their way; it is completely barren. After what seems like forever, the group finally sees the second fortification of Forlong: the Dawning. As a bit of history: the Dawning received its name many ages ago during a tremendous war between Forlong and Nester. Nester’s forces were stationed right outside of Forlong, blockading it from both supplies and allies. The previous Lord, knowing that all was lost if they sat there (seeing as how his scouts told them of Nester reinforcements coming south) devised a strategy that would either win or lose them the war. At dawn the following day, just as the sun came up over the Dawning, the Forlongians led an all-out assault on the encamped Nester troops. With the sun at their backs, making it difficult for the Nesterians to see, the Forlong army crushed their opponents, and thus the Dawning received its name.
The Dawning’s gates were also closed, but opened as the group approached. Out came three nobles, as well as a plethora of guards and servants.
Noble Singard: “Welcome, esteemed nobles, to Forlong. I am Singard, head of Forlong’s trade division. I received the guards raven, and he says you are interested in opening up trade with Forlong. During recent times, these requests would have fallen on deaf ears, but word of your accomplishments has reached me and my colleagues, and thus we made an exception.”
Noble Ferdinand: “I am Ferdinand, and I am in charge of our mining operations. I am most pleased to meet such fine nobles as you. Please, would anyone like food or drink before we start on our journey?” (If they say yes, he sends his servants/commoners out to get food)
Noble Pictor: “Finally, I am Pictor, and I work in our division on Foreign Affairs. Arem is in tumultuous times right now, as I’m sure you all know, thus I must attend these meetings to make sure everything fits into Forlong’s long term strategies. We will talk about that later though. Let us first get to a much more fitting estate for nobles of your reputation.”
The group, escorted by soldiers and servants, start moving through the city via covered wagon, with the commoners walking. The nobles discuss numerous topics during the trip, including trade. As they travel, the group notices how poor the conditions are for the commoners: the buildings look shabby at best, the people are covered in mud and filth, the roads are basically non-existent, and very few seem to be happy. As they continue to get closer to the castle, they reach the third fortification of Forlong: Gemstone. It is a large wall that separates the commoners from the nobles. It received its name from the gemstones that inline it; this is, of course, only on the noble side. On the commoner side there is nothing. Many intellectually works have been focused on this wall and how it represents the social division between the commoners and nobles not only in Forlong, but in all of Arem, but that discussion is for a different time. Once inside, the group is amazed by the extravagance of it all. Gorgeous homes with amazing architecture, beautiful roads, guards protecting the each house, and gems and gold everywhere. This, without a doubt, is the richest single area in Arem.
As they continue on, they finally see Highwind Keep, castle of Forlong, just as night is about to fall. It is surrounded by open air and long falls on three sides. They also see a pulley/elevator system for moving things up and down the mountainous region faster. It seems to be consistently busy as the group approaches the keep. High above on a pole, which could possibly be the highest man made structure in Arem, flies the flag of Forlong: grey and brown, with an eagle on it.
The group enters through the large, massive doors, and enters Morian, the great hall of Forlong. It is even more extravagant than the nobles’ home outside: artwork crafted by Arem’s best hangs on the wall, jewel encrusted cups and plates are set up neatly for the nobles, and the throne, which is made of pure diamond. It is the single most expensive item in all of Arem, and legend has it that in the ancient past, when Forlong was first being settled, a miner struck a hard rock not knowing what it was. The blow ended up breaking apart the stone, and all that was left was this throne, which than became the seat of the Lord of this land. While the group is admittedly apprehensive about believing this story, they do notice that the diamond is not a “fine cut”: it lacks symmetry, and looks rough, as if unworked on by man. (Just for general information: diamond cutting at this time is still a work in progress; it has not been perfected)
Once inside, they see a gathering of nobles discussing numerous things, with one man sitting prominently on the diamond throne. Pictor walks up to him and kneels, motioning for all of you to do the same.
Pictor: “I would like to introduce you all to Duke Tassillo, current controller of Forlong while are dear Lord Karanos is incapacitated.”
Duke Tassillo: “Welcome traders. You are a very lucky bunch to be allowed into Forlong; are great Lord Karanos has declared than no one should enter during these troubling times. But, we are always looking for new ways to diversify are trading options, and especially with nobles of your reputation. Tomorrow, we will start the talks. For now, please join us for drinks and food. (Tells a servant to go fetch everyone food and drink). You may tell your servants to leave; we have no need of them here. We will escort them down to the servant’s quarters.”
The commoners are escorted roughly down to the servant’s quarters while the nobles schmooze up stairs. The servant’s quarters are disgusting, more apt for animals than humans. The beds are all very old, using only straw as beading. The commoners relieve themselves in the corners with buckets, and there is no access to water other than what the guards bring down. Everyone is filthy, until it is their shift, at which point they are promptly washed and fitted with their outfit. As the three walk down, an older gentleman walks up to them.
Old Man: “Hello there youngsters. People around here call me Old Man. Why old man? Well I started off as Young Boy, than Teenager, than Man, and now I’m finally Old Man! HAHAHAHA! I unfortunately can’t remember what my name was, it has been so long since anyone has called me by it. Plus, us commoners don’t deserve names do we, at least according to the nobles….”
Old Man: “So you must all be new here. Well let me give you some advice: keep your head down, don’t talk back to anybody, and do your work. If you do that, you’ll be just fine; don’t, and you’ll be in a world of hurt! But wait….(he eyes the group)”
Old Man: “You aren’t servants are you? I’ve been one long enough to realize that. What are you guys actually doing here?”
Old Man: “Understood (winks). I don’t know why I’m doing this, but maybe because you three remind me of a son I lost long ago. The nobles torn him away from me; to this day I still do not know why. Probably one of their games they always play with us, like were there toys…anyways, we have clean up duty here on our next rotation. Would you boys care to join us? It is dirty work, but least you get to see all of this beautiful castle!”
The commoners are now free to explore the castle and obtain evidence concerning what Forlong is up to. They first go to the strategy room, where they memorize defensive locations as well as steal important military correspondences (which they unfortunately can’t read because it is in code). Next, they headed to the armory, where Kong Fuzi healed an injured man, who then informed them about military plans, as well as obtained information from others in the area. Finally, they went to the training yard, where they met a solider by the name of Felix. While walking along, he had accidentally knocked over one of the commoners. He walks over to the commoner, who thinks he is about to get yelled at or beat, but instead the man puts out his hand and helps him up.
Felix: “I am sorry friend. I was overly clumsy; I’m just exhausted from all this training. But I will not stop! I must be ready to defend Arem’s walls!”
Felix: “I know Forlong has a reputation of hating commoners, but that’s not all of us. I myself was a commoner at one point, so I know how it is. Regardless of the prejudices, I love this land, and will defend it.”
They obtained the final piece of information from this man, and having collected enough evidence, returned to the commoner’s quarters.
Meanwhile, the nobles were discussing topics, including trade, with Singard, Pictor, and Ferdinand. They start in the Morian, but then move about the castle, though nowhere that reveals anything. They are showed the beautiful views of the castle, which are amazing. The group talks with the nobles about many different topics, eventually prying information from them, including: setting up defenses in Forlong, the health of the king, who implemented the policies, and why Forlong is being so secretive.
After the discussion, the group retires for the night. They wake the next day to a lavish breakfast, fit for a king. They also wake up to summons from Jaque, who was caught trying to steal from the Gemstone. He might have made it, but bumped into a metal pole which alerted the gaurds. It should be noted that he was slightly drunk during this time, having just drank one of the Bastard’s Appletop Beers. The group pays four gold to bail him out. After that ordeal, the nobles return to Morian and see all the Forlongian nobles, including Duke Tassillo, Pictor, Singard, and Ferdinand, enter the room, seeming to have just come from a meeting.
Pictor: “After discussion with the Duke, and careful consideration, we are sad to inform you that we cannot allow a trade policy to be implemented between us. The policies in place by our King are non-negotiable, we are sad to admit. Duke Tassillo sends his regrets. Sadly, also along with those policies, we must ask you to go. No outside people are allowed into Forlong. Again, many apologizes fine nobles, but the King’s word stands.”
The commoners are now allowed to enter the room, and go up to the Nobles. The group talks for a bit with Pictor, Singard, and Ferdinand, before leaving. They are not escorted out, due to respect for their nobility.
Right before they leave, one of the servants comes up and says a raven has arrive carrying a letter for Vern. Vern opens it to see that it is from Miranda. It is a cordial invitation to her wedding to Prince Robert Snow. She wishes him, and his friends, to attend the event. Also, she wants Vern to act as one of the Ushers at the wedding. Miranda knows that Vern is a good man underneath that hard exterior, and wishes to help him out. Having Vern be an usher to the future Lady of the North will surely boost his acceptance in the north, and it is the least she can do for a good friend.
The group leaves, but before completely leaving Forlong, they decide to stop by Hop Inn to have a few drinks and see some old friends. The Bastard promises that everyone there is friendly, and they won’t get in trouble for going there since, and I quote: “No noble would be seen within miles of that place!”
After a bit of a trek, they reach Hop Inn. Inside, it is rather quiet, with just a few patrons drinking. The Bastard responds that this is due to the limited funds that the commoners have; what little they do have goes to support friends or family. He goes on to say that while many people believe the riches of Forlong come from the gold and gems, the true riches come from the friendship between the commoners. Everyone looks out for each other, because they have too; if they didn’t stick together, they would have even less than they do now.
The Bastard takes a seat at the bar with the others joining him. A busty woman comes up and gives him a kiss on the forehead; her name is Martha, and she is the bar keep/manager of this Inn. She is a very, very kind lady unless you anger her (as often happens when people get TOO DRUNK). The first drinks are on the house. The group sees lovely women walking around the Inn, but again, not a ton of customers. Martha mentions that business is up and she is having a hard time obtaining supplies, in large part due to the nobles hoarding it all for themselves.
Just as they are starting to enjoy themselves, a flaming molotov comes burst in through the window and starts the place on fire. The Bastard yells for Martha and all the patrons to head out the back entrance while everyone in the group unsheathes their swords. With firing ranging around them, a group of men walk in, covered from head to toe in black garb.
Mysterious Man: “Are you the Bastard of Lurvel?”
Mysterious Man: “We are here to finish the job,” he says this very calmly as the enemy party all unsheathes their weapons.
The battle between the groups were epic, as the Hop Inn burned around them. The Mysterious Man was a little to gunho, believing himself to be invincible. Unfortunately for him, Kong Fuzi laid a devastating blow onto him. Severely weakened, he tried to flee, but instead fell into the fire and burned to death. With their leader gone, the rest of the assassins fled, with three making it to the boat before having to cut anchor and ride down the Lurvel. Two assassins were left behind, but promptly killed themselves when they realized the situation was hopeless.
During the battle, The Bastard approached the dying Mysterious Man and asked him who sent the assassins.
Mysterious Man: “D…D….”
Mysterious Man: “Duke…Tassillo…sends his…..regards…”