||Game Session Date|
|Sunday 1-8-1585 to Sunday 15-8-1585||
Over the following fortnight or so, things seem quiet, as everyone attends to personal business and awaits the fruition of various matters. Kate's great project in particular develops; although she "only" establishes her name at court as someone tolerably polite and interesting, she does make the acquaintance of some well-chosen people. She also seems set to make a more than fair income from the scheme.
But as time goes by, Richard and Charles cannot help but notice that, when they look at Adrian's map, the blurs and distortions seem to be growing a little stronger -- which is worrying. Thus it is that Richard approaches Sir James with a commission; to make a reconnaissance to the south of London, applying his best judgement and knowledge of the lie of the land, and to identify what may manner of unnaturalness may be befalling there. Sir James accepts the task.
Of course, this task involves a deal of riding around, talking to people in search of hints of strangeness -- with variable success, in fact, Sir James's grasp of social niceties being functional but uncomplicated. Fortunately, the August weather is good.
Eventually, he does have some encounters which he thinks might indicate some matter of import; he meets a number of itinerant labourers and stone-masons on the road, who say that they have heard that there is profitable employment to be found somewhere this way. He shrugs, and follows the same road.
Then, in a roadside inn, he is hailed as an acquaintance by one who he does not recognise, but who seemingly regards him as a colleague, and who displays certain indicative secret signs. "Sir James Taverner? I believe that we are both friends to Richard Gardiner. The name is Edric Swann..."
Edric, it seems, has also been wandering in these parts (although he is vague as to exactly why), and he can confirm that there is something of interest a little ways down the road. "A village named Montforce. In fact, one of our people is down that way -- been hired to build a church there -- the local sheep farmers can afford to replace one that burnt down. He's a Scot -- his name's Macpher. He's been having a little bit of trouble. Just disaffected workers or some such -- you might be able to help him..."
Sir James buys dinner, over which Edric out-drinks him and thus wins the inevitable contest of poetic improvisation.
The next morning, the pair compare hangovers, and then part with an exchange of greetings for mutual acquaintances. Edric turns towards the London road, and Sir James rides on down the road to Montforce.
There, he finds a rather strikingly grand church (in the style which will one day be termed perpendicular gothic, albeit with the use of local stone) in the process of construction -- still quite early in the process, in fact, though the scope and grandeur of the project are already unmistakeable. The next thing that becomes obvious to the newcomer is the discipline and orderliness of the workforce. He mutters to himself that, if he had commanded soldiers so disciplined in the Netherlands, things might have gone rather differently over there.
He finds Master-Builder Macpher at the centre of things, where the aisle of the church will one day lie, calmly directing matters. However, as he approaches, Sir James is perhaps most struck by the fact that the new church's clock has already been delivered, and has been mounted on a temporary but stout wooden platform where the altar should one day be located. (As yet, most of the building work is taking place at the other end of the plan.)
Macpher seems calm and busy; when Sir James introduces himself (with the usual small secret signs), he declares himself pleased to receive a visit from a fellow Daedalean, especially as Sir James professes himself impressed by the work. However, he does not seem very excited, and nor does he ask for any manner of assistance. As the strangeness of the scene presses upon his consciousness, Sir James wonders if he should return that night...
But for now, as the time is still late morning, he wanders about the place, endeavouring to seem innocuous -- which hardly proves a problem, as he is mostly ignored by the hard-working labourers. He eventually catches himself feeling increasingly helpful ... passing a tool here, aiding in the moving of a stone there ... and so he decides to depart the scene for a while.
(He takes note of the very smooth and tidy arrangements whereby meals are brought, and eaten a few at a time, in the middle of the day, too.)
He finds the village's one inn, such as it is, and purchases himself some food (which proves surprisingly good). As he eats, he overhears a conversation between two drinkers present in the taproom -- fellows with the dress and manner of itinerant labourer-craftsmen, who seem less than enamoured of someone ("bastards" is the word most often audible). Then, Sir James takes a room at the same inn, and there he rests, meditates, and prepares certain philosophical instruments.
As night draws in, he perhaps wonders for a while if work on the new church ever ceases, as torches are brought to prolong the useful day. Eventually, though, Macpher's men do cease their efforts and return to their temporary village of tents for the night. Sir James, to avoid notice, climbs out of a window and down the wall of the inn, and sidles towards the building-site. As he goes, he feels a definite sense of being watched... But examination through his alchemical lenses suggests no especially intense supernatural forces at play around the clock mechanism, and so, he approached closer.
Or at least, he tries. After a few moments, he becomes aware that he is walking sideways instead.
Deciding that this problem requires greater forces than he can bring to bear at this point, he turns and makes his way back towards the inn. As he goes, he notices a lurker by or behind a set of carts which are used by the building work. The fellow clearly has no grasp of stealth, but Sir James leaves him be and makes a subtle show of carrying on his way -- in fact, though, pausing when he finds cover, to hide and watch. The lurker emerges and goes to a wall on the building site, doing something to it which Sir James cannot discern in the darkness. Then, he turns and hurries off towards the workmen's camp. Sir James shrugs, climbs back into the inn, returns to his room, and goes to sleep.
In the morning, he saddles his horse and departs the village. As he goes, he has sight of the wall -- where workmen are already endeavouring to scrub off the words, painted in large, clumsy letters, "GODD BEE NOT IN THISSE PLAYSE"...
He rides hard through the day, and by the evening, he is back in London and visiting the Tower, finding Richard in his office there. He reports all that he has seen, and they discuss possibilities for a solution to the obvious problem -- some involving siege engines.
Richard then goes to see Master Holbright, finding him home, and passes on the report, adding remarks on his own sense of disquiet at this perversion of craftsmanship; they discuss Macpher (who Holbright formerly knew of, rather vaguely, as a quietly solid Craftmason builder), and also the art and science of exorcism by fire and the sword (which, Holbright observes, usually suffice -- "although if your foe be intangible, there can be a problem"). Richard then goes on to visit Charles, and discuss strategies, as this problem has evidently remained in the laps of our heroes. There is some discussion, and some informal offering of bets, on the likelihood as to the significance of churches in such matters (this being the second, after all), the possible involvement of fairies, and so forth. (It is unclear why fairies might be involved here, although their reputed fear of holy matters might be taken as evidence for or against the possibility.)
Then, Richard returns home, and visits Kate in her chambers. She frowns at what he recounts, and ponders the matter herself. They discuss which high arts and spheres might likely be involved here, and Kate also thinks about how she might get away from her parents for a while -- and how to avoid annoying any of her increasing acquaintances at court, where her plans -- which must achieve some manner of completion by the end of the month -- are of course focussed. Fortunately, she decides, such things can be managed.
Sir James, meanwhile, enageges in a little simple mechanical work, to ensure that his business does not seem completely abandoned at this time.
|Wednesday 18-8-1585||The next day is spent preparing for the expedition which is now so clearly indicated. Richard scurries around London explaining and arranging matters to and with all the others, amongst other things asking Sir James to rent some horses for the party. Sir James sees to this, while also thinking on matters such as defences for the mind, without being able to conceive of much for himself. Everyone also arranges plausible tales to explain their absence, organises appropriate mundane and other provisions, and so on.|
|Thursday 19-8-1585||Reasonably early in the morning, our heroes depart the city, finding that Sir James has indeed mustered passable mounts. They endeavour to make fast time, but Charles unfortunately suffers a fall at one point (though he manages to land on his feet), and in any case they have a baggage horse to manage (with various alchemical preparations and suchlike), so in the end, they stop one village short of their destination and take inn rooms for the night.|
Over a meal, the four discuss plans -- or at least, approaches, as they feel too unsure of crucial facts as yet to make anything as firm as a plan. First, they go back over Sir James's tale, and in the light of that, review their own mental defences. They also wonder about approaching the construction site in disguise (could Charles pass himself off as a barber-surgeon? could any of them plausibly claim to be stone-layers?), but perhaps feel unsure if even the best disguise would amount to protection against whatever is on that site. They also contemplate the possibilities for cautious, stealthy reconnaissance. (But is timing too much of the essence now -- for themselves, or for the problem in hand?)
They begin to tend towards the idea of at least a first approach in the next few hours, despite what this might cost them in sleep. ("It can't be good for you, staying up all night," mutters Charles. "I should know -- I'm a doctor.") The 25-pound keg of gunpowder which Richard included in their luggage is also mentioned; curiously, as the other two think, Richard and Sir James wish to have it close to hand, even while performing reconnaissance.
And so, the decision is to slip out from the present inn that same night. (They do not wish the people of this village to suspect them of strange activities, in case this might lead to complications.) They retire "to bed" and wait for the village to settle down, and then Sir James and Charles slip from their own shared chamber to that taken by Richard and Nicholas (which has an adequate window, unlike their own), and everyone departs. Three climb down the outer wall; Charles, knowing himself an unpractised climber, leaps, cunningly using his cloak to slow his descent. To his annoyance, however, the cloak will then not stop billowing about him. [Scourge banes happen.] Sir James fetches the mule, and -- unobserved by a sleepy and incurious village, as it proves -- they depart.
Once they are out in the country, Nicholas meditates upon certain disciplines, granting himself adequate night vision, while Charles applies cunning salves to his own eyes and to those of the other two -- and to the mule, which tolerates the treatment -- to similar but less subtle effect. They set off down the road, finding their way without overmuch trouble
When they reach the vicinity of the village of Montforce, they take stock of the situation, and then tether their mule safely, in good cover -- and conceal the cask of gunpowder a little way away. Then all of them who carry such, span their pistols, and most set to meditating a little so as to shield their minds from assault. (Unfortunately, Sir James has no talent in such matters.) Charles accomplishes exceptional focus and builds himself an iron defence, while Nicholas manages well enough, but Richard (perhaps suffering from his inexperience in this technique) finds the simplest forms of mental armour escaping him. [A fumble. The dice have a sense for these things.] They decide that what they have accomplished will have to suffice.
Thus, they set out to make their quiet way down to the church. Nicholas and Charles, the most sensitive of the four, both experience a sense of deep strangeness about the building, but all notice the man-sized shadow moving round to the side. However, they are soon distracted as something does indeed seek to turn their minds and feet aside from the path. They all carry on determinedly at first, but eventually, Sir James once again is noted to be walking to the side rather than forward. At around the same point, Charles casts some complexly formulated dust upon the breeze, evoking his recent studies in the alchemy of the spirit-realm -- and half remembers the story of Elijah, as his gaze upon the church perceives wheels within wheels, twisting and spinning in arcs unmeasured by man...
He and Nicholas consult, and decide that destruction of the clock might rid the world of this monstrosity. Then, Nicholas and Richard grapple with Sir James, lifting him off his feet by deftly applied main force, and bear him forward to the church. (Richard has now found some serviceable way to focus his will against the insidious power.) As they enter the incomplete building, all but the artilleryman Richard hear a sawing noise from the side of the place. Nicholas goes on light feet to investigate, and sees a fellow in workman's garb sawing through the wood at the base of one of the site cranes while mumbling a stew of prayers, hymns, and declarations; "God be not here ... I tried to say to 'em ..."
Richard drags Sir James up to the clock, with Charles along in support. Sir James finds the mechanism fascinating, but avoids having his mind sucked too deep into consideration of it as he circles round it, examining it from all angles. Charles spends a few moments looking at the same mechanism, as Richard, thinking on what might be useful here, advises on ways to stop the drive weight. But when they try this, the weight fights back, first growing heavier and then even writhing in their hands. Charles, irate at this, rummages in his bag for a vial of strong acid and pours some onto the weight; Richard then sidesteps the (excessively vigorous) splash and begins insert files and other tools into important-seeming parts of the mechanism -- with difficulty, as they are deflected with some force.
Then, another figure appears in what should one day be the church doorway. Sir James recognises Macpher, and Nicholas, returning after deciding to leave the would-be saboteur to his efforts, intercepts the fellow. Macpher tries to push past, but Nicholas, using the wrestling tricks taught to students of the Italian School of fence, grasps and throws him, then grapples him as he tries to rise. Sir James, deciding that this is a better employment of his time than the struggle with the compulsions placed by that which is infesting the clock, joins this fray, and the pair gain a good double hold on Macpher. They are a little bemused, as they do so, to hear grinding mechanical noises from his limbs.
Charles gains the sense that there is a "hypoythetical," even Platonic clock which is continuing to function even as acids and obstructions destroy the merely physical mechanism. The Enlightened insights which he is invoking burst into his mind in stronger than expected form [that is, in the form of a Scourge boon] -- and he perceives that this is an opportunity to gain access to Quintessence itself. Taking a strong grasp on the substance of things, he pushes with the Art of Forces, working the weight into the clock mechanism despite its very active attempts to resist. It starts to shake loose, but Charles's will holds it in place.
Richard, who had been seeking a stone to use for sabotage of his own, gives up on this, and goes to help hold Macpher, releasing Nicholas to apply other Enlightened talents to the problem of the clock. However, Nicholas fails to gain a purchase on this temporary wellspring of Quintessential power. Sir James tries a different approach, seeking out the workman (who has finally been distracted from his efforts on the crane by the sounds of the conflict), and dragging him to the clock in the hope that the presence of a mundane, devout mind will draw down the Scourge of God. ("Look at it!" "God be not in this place..." "No, the devil's in that!")
As Richard becomes aware of the inhuman state of Macpher, and Nicholas pauses in some indecision, Charles continues battling with the power of the clock and the spirit which infests it. Eventually, the accumulation of minor damage as much as anything else wears down the strength of this incursion -- and Sir James, by main effort of will, steps up, and slams a well-judged pry-bar into an essential gear. As Macpher collapses in Richard's grip, twitching mechanically, Sir James suggests that this would be an excellent time for them all to depart the scene -- and swiftly.
All of those present do indeed depart the scene in haste; Richard clears one part-built wall with the inert Macpher over his shoulder, while Nicholas seeks a similar escape route and protection. Sir James, Charles, and the unhappy workman simply sprint down what should one day be the aisle of the church. The expected explosion follows shortly thereafter. Nicholas is knocked down with battering force, and Charles skids and also suffers some bruising; the others all survive unhurt.
When all seems clear, Richard examines Macpher, and finds no obvious signs of harm. Then, he calls to Charles to make a more professional inspection of the fellow, while himself seeking out the workman and endeavouring to calm the unfortunate man. Nicholas and Sir James, the meanwhile, examine what is left of the clock, approaching it cautiously as they see no signs of activity.
Charles discovers that Macpher is a most strange subject; his physique seems oddly too regular and angular in all its parts. In keeping with accepted practice, Charles bleeds the man (albeit carefully), and the liquid that emerges from the incision, while red as blood should be, strikes him as too thick. Charles is hardly surprised to find his instinctive sense of oddity growing. When Richard comes over to request laudanum for the nerve-shattered workman, it is in fact just in time to observe Charles's incision healing with uncanny speed, as Macpher opens his eyes and requests, in a calm tone, "Assist me."
"Who are you?" responds Charles.
"This is Macpher."
"Why should we assist you?"
"It is ... required."
"Who are you that possesses Macpher?"
"That which Macpher required."
Meanwhile, Nicholas, having concluded that the clock is now but an utterly mundane heap of scrap metal, comes to join Richard and Charles, just in time to see Macpher rising to his feet -- by pivoting impossibly through a right angle about his heels. Nicholas's instant response is to throw a stilleto, as Richard and Charles put hands to blade and pistol respectively. The thrown blade punctures Macpher, as does a sword-thrust from Richard; Charles's bullet creases Macpher's skull harmlessly. Sir James, too, now comes up and draws his blade.
Macpher glances down at the wounds, looking puzzled -- and then all the injuries seemingly heal themselves, and he produces a sword of his own -- a glowing blade of light, appearing as from thin air.
Richard strikes hard and fast, laying Macpher's hand and throat open, and though this seems barely to inconvenience his opponent, it seemingly forces Macpher to commit himself to healing and defense rather than to effective counter-attack. Sir James moves up to join the fray as Nicholas steps clear, joining Charles in rapid philosophical consultation; clearly, this problem may require a little more than cold steel for its resolution.
Nicholas applies knowledge of rhetoric and mind to the issue, seeking to assess the foe's intent and nature from posture and speech, while Charles hastily casts exotic powders and focuses strangely-shaped lenses. Charles perceives the being to be, as the four had guessed, a spirit, using Macpher's body as but a vessel -- a matrix, giving it shape in the material world. (Meanwhile, Richard and Sir James shred its hands and feet as fast as it can repair itself.) Nicholas comes to the conclusion that there is little of Macpher left -- then, deciding that destruction of the host body may be the best plan, draws blades and rejoins the fray.
As Charles, seeking to formulate an attack which will inconvenience a supernatural being more than temporarily, loads his second pistol with an enhanced charge of black powder and metallic mangnesium, Nicholas realises that Macpher is being driven back to the base of the crane which the workman (now slumped and praying fervently some yards away) previously sabotaged. Nicholas thus steps away from the fight once more, just as Charles arrives, pistol in hand. Charles places the weapon up against the foe -- now more a shimmering ghost of quintessential forces and shredded matter than a recognisable man -- and pulls the trigger, blasting that which had been Macpher back against the structure. On the other side of the crane, Nicholas calls meditatively upon trained resources, acquiring considerable strength thereby, and then heaves at the woodwork just above where the saboteur had been sawing.
The crane lurches, shakes, and topples. The other three fighters step clear as that which had been Macpher is crushed by the mass of woodwork. Then, after a moment, all is silent.
Once it seems certain that the foe is thus crushed, Richard leaves the scene for a moment, briskly locating the tethered mule and recovering the cask of black powder. Returning with this, he makes a dramatic bonfire of what is left of the body and the crane, throwing in some significant fragments of the clock as well. He has no wish that the fell spirit should find any more vessels in this world.
By now, a number of villagers and workmen have arrived, and are addressed by the more rhetorically adept members of the party (although Nicholas remains largely out of public sight, that his strange resemblance to Richard not cause confusion), being persuaded that what took place here this night, not least the death of a master builder, was necessary (although perhaps regrettable). As this is going on, Richard hears it said that there are suddenly sick folk in the workmen's camp, and sends Charles to assist. He finds that some ("all the best workers, as it seems, too") are in a very strange state, coughing up what can only be called cogwheels made of bone. He does what he can for them, settling them down to rest and recover.
Nicholas does take the opportunity to talk to the would-be saboteur, who proves to be called Tom Parker, and eventually leaves him with the village priest, who is also commissioned (with very fair payment) to give Macpher a decent burial and funeral.
Then, the four depart in the pre-dawn light, to return to their inn...
After a brief pause to give Charles time to bandage the light wounds which he suffered, the group move on. Nicholas for one finds the long day catching up with him somewhat, but survives the journey. When they reach the village with their inn, they notice one or two villagers already up and about, but moving quietly, they manage to climb back up to the window and regain their rooms unnoticed.
Around mid-morning, Nicholas staggers downstairs -- to discover Sir James already tucking into a simple meal of bread and cheese. Richard and Charles appear later, around noon, and all spend a little time dropping hints to the landlord about long, hard travel the day before, then decide to head directly back to London. (The locals are thus left wondering about these gentlemen who ride in, sleep, and then depart on the same road by which they arrived. They may even make some wild guesses when word arrives from Montforce of recent strange and confused events there ... but that is at worst a concern for another time.)
On the road, Nicholas has to talk to the mule to keep it moving along, but that done, the four are able to ride hard enough and fast enough to reach London by the end of the day. By then, Sir James has a faint sense that there may be something odd about Nicholas ... but that, too, is a matter for another day.
In the city, Sir James returns home after returning the rented horses. The others go first to Charles's house; Charles goes in first, and sends his man Cecil on an errand (in fact, with an apologetic note to Master Aristotle for missing his Friday study), and then Richard enters the house and finds somewhere to hide himself for the next day. (The objective is to avoid too much association, in the minds of any observers, between himself and the visible presence of Nicholas in town.) Nicholas also remains in the house, more visibly, and persuades Charles to provides a bath to remove the dust of the road and the grime of recent battle.
Richard lies in a while in his hiding place, then has a bath for himself, then sits quietly writing a report for Master Holbright and pretending to be Nicholas to Charles's servants. Nicholas, meanwhile, heads out to the bookshops of St. Paul's, and then visits "Father" Friedrich for further discussion of the realm of spirits. Hearing of events in Montforce, he offers various vague and contradictory theories about the "temporary angels" described in Jewish texts, the "airy spirits" of Hermetic theory, and so on.
Sir James settles down in his new workshop to explore the interesting capabilities of clockwork, as illustrated by that which he has seen recently. Some might consider his new dream of creating a clockwork spider to be living dangerously...
Nicholas's day continues with a visit to the theatre, where he sees an updated revision of Ralph Roister-Doister, with the essential addition of a dog. Well, it is well enough performed. Then, Nicholas heads back to Aunt Julia's mansion. Richard, meanwhile, ends the afternoon with the satisfaction of a report well written.
...And through that same day, Charles has been busy. Just as he is finishing a simple piece of bandaging and hoping to go about analysing the bone cogwheels lurking in his baggage, Edric appears. Charles steers him into a side room so that Richard can slip quietly from the house, as they still prefer to have some secrets from this ally. Charles and Edric discuss recent events, with Charles telling of Master Macpher's sad fate. Edric comments that such misfortunes do sometimes happen, though the Craftmasons may of course be unhappy to hear of this one. He has little to report himself, although he spends a while gossiping (rather boringly).
At the same time, Richard finds Master Holbright at home, and delivers his report personally, accompanied by a verbal summary. Holbright comments that great problems are evidently afoot -- especially as Macpher was not as an expert, or even a dabbler, in matters of the spirit realm. It would seem that incursions must be proving easier, perhaps. The two men thus spend some time in discussion of the remaining large distortion on Adrian's map. Master Holbright suggests narrowing the area of search down somewhat before sending Sir James forth once more. (It comes to Richard that Nicholas would be accounted the group's expert in the arts of Connection.)
Nicholas reaches Aunt Julia's house and slips past the outside servants, but blunders straight into Aunt Julia herself and her personal servants. They chat for a while about where Kate might have been these last few days, and about future plans. Then Kate heads up the river to her home -- and in London, her brother returns to Charles's house and writes a fine poem addressed to Cassandra Pelton.
The next morning, Charles attends the Sunday service at St. Paul's. There, he notices a few of the Durham House set, and Lord Strange himself (who arrives fashionably late). Beyond that, though, there is little to comment upon but a decent enough sermon.
The others attend their various parish churches, in the mundane way of such things. Sir James does find himself invited for apple cordials by a group of the elderly spinsters and widows who frequent his new parish church; it proves that the "small beer" which they offer him is in fact closer to barley wine in character. He makes his excuses and departs before the brew can render him inebriated, despite his hosts' insistence that he looks unhealthy and that the small beer would be good for him. (No, there is no sign of daughters or grandaughters for him to find himself marrying.) As he departs, he hears the ladies break into unfamiliar drinking songs.
After church, Kate finds her mother in a good mood (perhaps because she had intimidated the priest into keeping the sermon down to a bare twenty minutes), and spends the afternoon discussing designs for her project (or at least, for some matters "with which she is assisting dear Aunt Julia").
Charles spends some time analysing samples from his patients in Sussex and from the late Macpher, but his philosophical skills and enlightened insights let him down on this occasion, and he can determine little about the cogs and such, save that they were gristle and bone. Chemical analysis does suggest that they are "normal" human tissue, albeit warped by some external phenomenon. More ambitious tests on phials of blood are less successful; it just seems to be ordinary blood, save that it is strangely oily and unwilling to clot. Somewhere during this process, Charles over-tests his enlightenment, leaving him weary and uncertain...
Richard, the meanwhile, has gone off to town to seek out a game of tennis -- which is rather of a disaster, as he strains a muscle. This leaves him subdued enough not to invite any young gentleman of the town home from the game-court for Kate to humiliate. Instead, he goes to see Charles, hauling the doctor out of his laboratory to give an account of his analytical work. Then he looks at the subject-matter for himself. "Definitely bone and gristle," he agrees, "but somehow shaped to make very fine mechanical parts, is it not?"
Then he suggests passing what is left of the samples onto fellow Cosians. ("But we do not usually cooperate!" Charles protests, explaining that matters such as the grey homunculus are exceptions to test the rule.) However, by this point, Richard has become slightly distracted by something he notices about Charles; that he is blinking rather markedly less often than should surely be normal. He has, perhaps, been overstretching his enlightenment...
Richard comments on this, but neither of them can conclude much about the matter -- and then Richard is distracted again, by the possibility of analysing those blood samples further. It looks, he remarks, like blood -- save that it has some of the qualities of mineral oil. Charles, looking over his shoulder, exerts newly trained aspects of his enlightenment, and concludes that there were spiritual influences involved. Then, Charles straps up Richard's stretched muscle.
As for Sir James that afternoon -- he continues work on his engineering project, dreaming of mechanical models of battlefields which might permit a captain to fight out a battle and determine its results with a certainty, before the troops are even arrayed.
And in the evening, Kate retreats to her room, meditates, and enters her memory palace. She seeks insights as to current circumstances and problems, and again, finds some by reordering the images of recent events. She decides, for one thing, that the others' theorising about the significance of churches in recent encounters may be somewhat mistaken; after all, the church is merely the most substantial and significant building in most human communities, and the two villages' houses of God played rather different roles in those tales of monstrous incursion. In truth, she thinks, the issue may be more a matter of a weakening of the Veil which enlightened sages state exists between the mundane and spiritual worlds -- a dangerous weakening, of which Durham House is the epicentre...
Then, when she has tidied her palace, she makes her way out through the hall which serves as its entrance. However, she is given pause as she goes, for on the floor near the central tiled design, she espies a sword, which was never of her imagining. It is a plain, old-fashioned, cross-hilted broadsword, with no sheath but in good order otherwise. She picks it up, and finds that, for all its simplicity, it is quite perfectly balanced for her hand. The edge, when she tests it, is good too, but not over-sharpened. She frowns, shrugs, and imagines a sheath and a hook above the fireplace where she can hang it. Then she departs her imagined world -- to find that her fingers have been embroidering a design of repeated swords for the last few minutes.
The one of the four who starts the next day least happily is Charles, who has had no sleep in all the night; once again, it seems, over-use of enlightened arts is taking its toll of him, and his eyes just would not shut. In the morning, he orders his servants to turn away all patients who are not immediate matters of life or death, and quietly hopes that Kate will not come to the place just yet.
Kate rises in pensive but energetic mood, and resolves to visit, first the Pelton house (to deliver Richard's latest poem), and then Dr Avery. And Sir James sets out round the inns of the town, seeking a manservant for his new dwelling. He thinks that an ex-soldier would be appropriate for his needs, and London has its share of those who have departed the ranks for one reason or another; in a short time, Sir James finds one such. Michael O'Davis is a Protestant Irishman whose history is suggested by the fact that he is missing two fingers and has a limp. Sir James naturally asks how he served.
"Oh, I looked after th'baggage train, sir."
Sir James reflects that an aptitude for scrounging might well be useful in his service.
Richard's plans for the day are, at first, to go to work (and see if the Tower is collapsing wihtout him), tidy up his office as much as will doubtless be necessary, and then perhaps visit Charles, or perhaps perform some private engineering consultancy. However, Kate complicates things by asking him to escort her to Charles's house in the afternoon, saving her from the complications involved in taking a maid as chaperone.
Still, Richard does visit the Tower, finding the place predictably in mild decline for his absence; he just barely manages to haul his workers back onto the path despite an uncharacteristic weakness of rhetoric (caused, perhaps, by an enfeebled throat). Kate, meanwhile, does come into the city -- to visit the Peltons (and to deliver Richard's latest poem to Cassandra). She finds both brother and sister at home, but quickly thinks and takes Cassandra aside "to discuss embroidery". Which the two women even do for a while, exchanging ideas; as the conversation comes to its end, Kate slips Cassandra the poem in a heap of patterns and notes, then leaves. For the benefit of the lurking (and scowling) Inigo, she suggests that Cassandra "can return the patterns at some time. Inigo (who has not, so far as Kate can tell, been given any grounds to take offence) and Cassandra bid her various generalised farewell.
Richard and Kate then both return home, mentioning Kate's plans to visit Charles to their parents, Kate declaring that she wishes "to clarify an Arabic translation" with which she has been having some problems. Father grunts at this; Mother accuses Richard of turning his sister into a dry scholar. "It will, I think, be many years before Kate is dry, save in her wit" replies Richard, before hastily recalling his facility for diplomacy. Mother merely scowls a little and stores her thoughts on such matters for the time being.
The brother and sister take a boat to the city and walk on to Charles's house, where they find the doctor seeming somewhat like unto death, save a little warmer. They make sympathetic comments, and, when he explains what he believes is the source of this problem, discuss the Scourge as a phenomenon. Then, they retire to the upstairs room where Charles keeps Adrian's map of London.
After they have once again admired its precision and accuracy, Kate begins plotting on that, and also on a map of Britain which Charles provides, extrapolating from the odd distortions and blurring. (Not that a mundane map of the land is reliable enough to apply refined geometry, to be honest, but it provides some hints for her other work.) Enlightened geometry (and the Connection art) places the likely locus of the problem somewhere in the Midlands -- not quite ruling out Oxford, which had been previously discussed. Kate then sends Charles for a bowl of clear water (he asks if it should be distilled, and is told in exasperated tones that ordinary well-water will be entirely appropriate for this frankly vain hedge-working), and when it arrives, she begins a chant in order to induce a vision.
After somewhat extended efforts, she achieves something. First, she sees an image of a road -- a seemingly ordinary track, which passes through woodland. She has a brief glimpse of a horse with a military saddle, and a lance resting beside it, before the vision changes. She perceives a king, elderly but not withered, nonetheless bent almost double. Her point of view would then seem to step backwards, to reveal the king's court -- perhaps one hundred folk, ranging from the impossibly short to the ludicrously tall, dancing widdershins in a circle. Then that fades, leaving only a brief glimpse of the head of someone wearing a knightly helmet, and an even briefer moment, when the figure raises the visor, of a face. It is a face more familiar than any to Kate -- but it could, even so, be either of two people -- herself, or her brother.
At Richard's suggestion, he and Charles step out of the room while Kate fixes all that she can in her memory palace, then return to discuss what she has found. They are puzzled, as these visions are so cryptic. Amidst much pondering, Charles suggests that looking at some travel books might be helpful, though he has little that is suitable on his shelves.
Thus, Richard and Kate depart the doctor's house for the booksellers around St. Pauls, where they make study of some books giving advice to travellers bound for the western Midlands. Kate, recalling figures tumbling and cartwheeling from left to right, thinks that some villages named Greater and Lesser Rollright sound to be of relevance, and both of the siblings have a sense that those places have some kind of ancient associations. The buy a few of the books at which they had been looking (if only to obscure the trail by making a partly random choice), and then head to the river and then to home.
There, they catch a faithful family servant who knows something of the area a little beyond Oxford. He tells them that the main association of those villages is surely the Rollright Stones -- ancient monoliths, the so-called "King Stone" on one side of the road, and a great number of others on the other side. Richard and Kate decide that they have a destination for their next journey.
Meanwhile, Sir James discovers his new servant putting down a saucer of milk "for the cat". Sir James does not have a cat, and nor, so far as he knows, does the servant. Sir James sighs; it may be that the poor fellow is touched in the head, but since his enlightenment, Sir James has found the world too strange a place to make such assumptions.
|Tuesday 24-8-1585 to Friday 27-8-1585||
Over the next few days, our four heroes plan a journey to the north-west while pursuing other concerns. Charles manages to shake off his insomnia while discovering that his new housekeeper is a very poor cook (she apparently suffers from the delusion that, as a woman, she has innate ability in this field, and hence she has never felt the need to study the art). He also visits Dr. Uriel, his contact among the Cosians, explaining that he is aware that his soul is drained of its last reserve of inspired power since his battle with Macpher in Sussex, and that he wonders if there might be some place at which he might meditate in search of restoration. Dr. Uriel undertakes to see what can be found.
Sir James, the meanwhile, decides that not much of the milk which his new man puts down seems to disappear -- frankly, no more than might be explained by evapouration -- but the fellow certainly seems convinced that there is a cat. And Kate works hard to insure that her trade with the ladies of the court is firmly established; as she does so, she even begins to learn a few snippets of interesting gossip, such as that one Bess Throckmorton, a maid of honour sworn to the Queen's service only the previous year, seems to have caught Sir Walter Raleigh's eye; and that Sir Francis Walsingham seems to have taken up young Robert Devereux as a protege. ("Heaven knows why," say the shrewder court gossips, "the boy is obviously an idiot." Richard, hearing this, wonders if this might be the best of all things for a new spy to have said of him.)
In any case, Kate also prepares her books of account, for on the Saturday, she must visit Master Holbright...
That meeting, an appointment arranged by Richard, goes well, as it proves. She presents her statement of the commercial connection which she has made with the very centre of English governing power, and Master Holbright nods, and says that this is a good gift. He congratulates Kate, and tells her that she will be brought into the Guild when she returns from the journey that he gathers she will be making to Oxfordshire or thereabouts. He then presents her with an odd and obscure book in Greek, and says that he will look forward to discussing it with her.
Around the same time, Charles hears from Dr. Uriel that he should visit a certain knight of an old family with an old house in London, a fellow of well-known piety, and give his name. The knight indeed makes Charles welcome, as someone who seeks comfort and balm for the soul, and guides him to the house's chapel. That, Charles recognises, is a place suited to his needs. After a full two hours of prayer and contemplation, he feels himself restored, and then ventures to exert his enlightened will, taking upon himself a little more of the inspiration that his forthcoming labours may require.
[In game terms, for those who are interested, he was down to zero Quintessence; he restored himself to the normal level permitted by his Daemon by use of Meditation skill on the second attempt, then used his Prime sphere skill to charge himself up further.]
|Sunday 29-8-1585||Our heroes spend Sunday packing and making preparations for the journey, which they are to commence on the Monday. Richard considers, and decides that he is leaving the Tower in reasonable order; Sir James hires reasonable horses; Charles asks his acquaintances of the Cosian Circle concerning names worthy of saluting in Oxford, and Dr. Uriel mentions Dr. Harkness at Magdalene ("even if his opinions on the circulation of the blood are bizarre in the extreme"). Richard and Kate's parents both prove tolerant enough of the idea of her going off on some journey to assist her aunt's business (aside from a token tirade from mother concerning wasted youth, of course).||14-4-2004|
The four (including Nicholas) set out on the good road west. Kate has used enlightened arts to her purpose; the effect is powerfully deceptive to Sir James, though something is taxing the back of his mind on this topic.
The ride proves manageable, and they reach Oxford in fair time, there to take rooms (one for the Gardiners, one for Charles and Sir James, as before) in the Golden Cross Inn. Then they stroll to the Bull Tavern opposite for wine and to eat. (Charles has decided that there will be no real opportunity today to visit and salute this Dr. Harkness.) After a long, dusty ride, Charles in truth looks upon the red wine a little too closely. Nicholas is feeling even more shabby, as his idiosyncratic preference for frequent baths can hardly be assuaged at this time, and consumes his wine with far too much enthusiasm. He maintains his most important act effectively enough, though, and Richard helps him back across the road at the end of the evening.
The next morning, Sir James buys the queasy Charles a large and greasy breakfast ("it works on soldiers"). Meanwhile, Nicholas feels, at first, quite well - but when re-weaving that essential Life effect, feels something snag. The Scourge may be about to reassert itself. It does not do so immediately, but when Nicholas enters the downstairs room, Charles thinks that he hears a definite crackle.
The four travellers set out, still following the merchants' guidebook which Richard purchased in London. Nicholas is evidently not at his best, and rides even worse than Charles today. It is thus Richard who deals with the matter of picking up a midday meal in Chipping Norton, and with questions of finding the way, which mostly means a right turn off the road at the correct point.
All save the distracted Nicholas see the stones when the lesser road passes them; the bent and twisted "king" to the left, numerous "courtiers" to the right. They take their horses off to the left and tether them well clear of anything that might prove untoward, then inspect the "king".
Richard exerts his skill in tracking, but does not find anything of import. Then he looks towards the courtiers, observing in passing a fine view of the village of Long Compton.
Both Sir James and Charles invoke their study of the sphere of Prime, Sir James looking through special crystal lenses while Charles scatters a blend of iron filings and subtler chemical matters all about, and sees how they fall. Sir James certainly becomes aware that something of power is present here, but it is Charles who most successfully tracks the webs of influence from king to courtiers, concluding that the latter, in their circle, constitute a cray.
The four stand about for a while, theorising about the activities of the Durham House set and the consequences thereof for the veil between worlds. Then Richard exerts his enlightened knowledge of Matter to improve his tracking skill, and finds signs of foot traffic between the circle and the road - not very recent, but not so long since, either. Meanwhile, Nicholas, looking about, has seen another, smaller group of stones, through the thin local woods (which are nothing like those which Kate saw in her vision) and down the hill-slope, perhaps some four hundred yards distant. When Richard is done, the group walk down there, to the five stones (which they will later determine are named the Whispering Knights); there, lenses and iron filings detect a very small trace of primal energy, but Richard finds nought in the way of tracks. Charles traces the pattern of forces for a while, and then Richard looks up from his own tracking, and Sir James looks round from keeping watch over all - and both shout out at Charles, demanding to know where Nicholas has gone.
Charles does not know, and indeed, takes a moment to agree that Nicholas is indeed absent. Richard, still aided by his enlightened arts, tracks his blood relation's footprints, but they seem simply to fade away on the downslope side of the stones, where Nicholas would have been out of sight of the others for a moment.
Realising that there may be stranger powers at work here, Charles exerts his recently trained enlightenment in matters of the Spirit. This shows him little, but rather than the measurable phenomena and subtle but clear signs which his techniques should reveal, he experiences a very brief vision, of nought but a black shield, embellished with broken spearpoints in silver. This coat of arms (sable, semé of broken spears), if that it be, means nothing to anyone present. Richard seeks with an exertion of his limited enlightenment in the arts of Mind, but this extreme and vain working gets the barest faint echo of a ghost of Nicholas, but no more.
The three decide that there is nothing to do but venture back up to the "courtiers", that seeming to be the centre of power hereabouts. There, Charles's Spirit workings pick up a clear truth; the circle has about something of the metaphorical quality of a gate - but a gate which is, to extend the metaphor to its limit, currently bolted on the other side. He extends his senses through this barrier by use of the arts of Connection and Spirit together, and senses that there is a cave beyond, with a great dense forest outside its mouth, and some looming figures beyond the entrance ... but that is all he can determine.
The three men are not at all sure if this is indeed the best way to find their missing friend, but nothing else presents itself, they think, and Richard for one seems grimly determined on action. Thus, they begin to search for ways to unbolt this gate, as none of them have arts enough to force it. The courtier-stones are clearly the key, and so Charles begins plotting their geometry, assessing it in relation to ancient, sacred lore. He lacks fine surveying instruments, but his enlightenment in Connection lets him plot angles nonetheless - and thus it is that he finds that he cannot count the stones. There are trivial matters of whether some small stone should be included, whether a split stone should be counted as one or two - but even when each of these is methodically resolved in turn, the total number seems different each time. Richard and Sir James, attempting the same task, are forced to agree. It seems that there is a truly strange and very subtle effect tied into this circle.
Richard thinks on this, and suggests that enlightened arts can overcome any such effect - though this one will surely demand a trinity of Mind (to break the confusion), Connection (to fix the stones in mental place), and Time (to overcome the shifting quality of the phenomenon). Charles, the only one of the three skilled in all these spheres, essays the working, and succeeds.
"Seventy-seven, seventy-seven, seventy-seven!" he declares.
There is an inaudible, metaphysical click, and a swirling mist in the circle. Richard, Charles, and Sir James look at each other, and step forward into the unknown...
Stepping back a moment...
Nicholas, while looking around the standing stones, notices a sudden drop in the temperature of the air, and a change in the quality of the sound around him. He looks about, and sees no sign of his friends, or indeed of the "courtiers" further up the hill. For that matter, the "knight" stones seem "fresher", less eroded, and once he starts to pay attention, the woodland seems denser. In fact, it might now be taken for old-growth oak forest. (The topography of the ground seems similar, at least, but maybe not identical.)
Nicholas is, to say the least, bemused. (He would be worried, but such is not his confident nature. In any case, he finds all this strangely unsurprising, perhaps because his lately-acquired sensitivity to the uncanny has not at any point become active.) Seeking to employ his enlightenment in the sphere of Connection to examine this place's relationship to his former location, he places his hands on a stone and exerts his will in an act of pure vanity -- but perceives nothing at all, not even suffering any Scourge.
Then, something makes him look round, and he notices, at the far end of the clearing, six mounted knights in armour, one leading a spare horse -- which is freed and comes trotting up. Nicholas sighs, realising what is evidently expected of him.
The creature -- a chestnut stallion with lance and shield slung from its saddle -- seems friendly and biddable enough, despite the failure of Nicholas's attempts to exert Mind influence over it. He mounts up, and takes up the weapons as one of the knights rides forward and levels his own lance. Sighing again, Nicholas turns to meet the challenge.
He is entirely untrained in this mode of combat, and is forced to rely on his natural agility and general combat skill. This barely suffices, as he places himself badly and misses on the first two passes, surviving only because he has enough skill with a shield to deflect his opponent's lance. He strikes the foe's shield on the third pass; perhaps it is surprise that causes the opponent to miss on that occasion. On the fourth meeting, both lances strike home more accurately -- but Nicholas is holding his too rigidly, and it shatters.
Seeing that, the knight dismounts and draws his sword. Nicholas does the same, glad to be back in a mode of battle where he is effective; after the briefest exchange of strokes, his blade slides through the foe's neck joint. There is a clatter of metal, and an empty suit of armour collapses to the ground.
One of the remaining five riders -- the only one not carrying a blank shield (in fact bearing a shield sable, semé of broken spears) -- withdraws a pace or two as the other four dismount and draw swords. Nicholas, reading their postures as confident but cautious as they approach in line abreast, strolls towards them, then sidesteps deftly and engages from one end of the line, throwing a flurry of accurate blows which are, however, parried and blocked. The others move to surround Nicholas, although the one he attacked does not counter-attack.
Nicholas decides to engage what he perceives as the leader, evades the encirclement with typical agility, outpaces the four, and stops in a pose of challenge. The mounted figure draws a blade -- which Nicholas recognises from a certain vision in a certain memory palace. And then, there is a pause.
Nicholas looks around and sees five armoured footmen coming up to his back. "You know," he observes, "this could become very tedious."
"It could," the rider agrees, in a voice which Nicholas recognises as that of Kate. "They are perfect knights. You can only end this combat in one way."
"If they are perfect knights, why are they all attacking me?"
"You are warrior enough to fight all of them."
"I never make matters easy for my own self, do I?"
Nicholas turns to engage the nearest knight, but misses on the first attack; the knight responds with a vertical stroke which Nicholas fails to deflect, and the sword slashes through doublet and jerkin -- and through binding-cloths and skin, leaving a shallow but unpleasant gash while exposing Kate's secret.
Kate curses, forgetting basic combat-wisdom enough to glance down for a fractional moment. When she looks up, she sees that all five knights have dropped their swords and staggered back in postures of utter horror. Enraged, she cuts down the one who just cut her, then sees that the other four are on their knees, with heads bowed.
Kate looks to the rider. "Well?"
The rider responds, still in Kate's voice, in tones of amusement. "I never make matters easy for my own self, do I?" Then she turns her horse's head and rides away, quickly accelerating to a gallop.
Kate is somehow unsurprised to see that the other horses and their former riders have vanished. She returns to the stones, which are now somehow looking more like old, weathered statues of five whispering knights. Walking round them, she finds the clearing suddenly smaller, with one one path leading off. Proceding down that, she soon hears combat in the distance, and quickens her pace...
Richard, Charles, and Sir James arrive in a cave, as expected, and Richard begins suggesting to the others how they should deal with the faerie folk, according to his reading (a set of policies wherein the greatest imperative is to be polite), but they are quickly interrupted by voices from outside.
"Oooh. More of them!
"Do you think that they know the password?"
Charles draws his first pistol and steps backwards, intending to take careful aim as the other two engage whatever appears; Richard and Sir James draw their blades. Three hulking and strikingly ugly figures enter the cave.
"Is the password 'fish'?" one of the humans enquires, for no other reason than a certain cynicism about fairy-stories.
"Well, then, I'm afraid that we're going to have to kill you..."
Charles fires a pistol ball neatly up the nose of one of the creatures, distracting it. Richard and Sir James engage the other two, piercing them repeatedly with elegant sword thrusts. However, it soon becomes clear that these creatures are simply too stupid to notice that they have suffered disabling wounds. Indeed, the battle that follows is rather industrial; Richard and Sir James continue striking for the vital organs, and the trolls continue swiping at the humans with their massive stone-headed clubs. Rather than risk broken swords, Richard and Sir James sidestep and dodge such blows as are well aimed, surviving unscathed despite a few unpleasant moments. Charles, meanwhile, puts one pistol away and draws another, then exerts his comprehension of Entropy to ensure a successful shot to one troll's eye, disabling the creature entirely. A moment later, Richard and Sir James finish the other two virtually simultaneously -- Richard with a thrust of spectacular precision which disembowels the unfortunate troll, Sir James with a less excessive blow.
At about which point, "Nicholas" arrives on the scene at the trot, to find the other three in a mess -- Charles covered in smoky soot, Richard and Sir James in weird gore -- but victorious. They explain somewhat; meanwhile, Sir James is far too polite to comment on "Nicholas's" state -- having arrived at the jog, "his" jerkin is proving prone to swing open.
The group take it for granted that they should explore further, and step out of the cave. There is no water around in which to wash; they will evidently have to travel through the woods in their current, rather dishevelled state...
Charles suddenly thinks, and ducks back into the cave briefly to collect a sample of troll ichor, simply on principle, while Kate bandages her shallow but stinging scratch. Richard, the meanwhile, looks at the cave itself, and decides that its geology is somewhat strange; the glittering sandstone around the mouth somehow fades into limestone (complete with stalactites and stalagmites) nearer the back. The back wall, Richard notes, is entirely solid.
Kate and Charles both declare that the cave seems significant to them, and Kate and Richard, being the most knowledgeable of the four in matters of occult lore, think that it must be something of a doorway in the Veil. Charles, having some enlightenment in matters of the spirit, could probably re-open it with an extended working ... but that, the group decides, should come later. There are questions still to be investigated on this side of the gate for now.
Kate borrows a length of catgut from Charles's medical bag and does an emergency repair on her clothes, with Richard's aid, while the others look around some more. The cave, they note, is in the side of a hill -- the slope is generally shallow, but a bulge in the ground here gives shape to the cavemouth. It all looks a little odd, perhaps even artificial, but it manages not to look entirely unnatural. Judging by the sun in the sky, the hill slopes upwards to the north; the slope is too shallow, and the trees are too tall, for the summit to be visible. The woodland is dense, and would make travel in most directions hard work, but a trail of sorts leads down to the southwest. Thus, that is the way in which they set out, Charles makind a very simple sketchmap of their progress as they go.
The path weaves a little, but does not fork, and all seems undramatic for a few minutes. Then, Charles stops, and suggests that the others listen. They sense that something is running and crashing through the woods to their left, and Charles insists that he hears multiple sounds, including something that might be barking or growling. Thus, he is the first to suggest that they should climb trees -- and, still being the poorest climber among them, the only one to fail on the first attempt. Sir James sighs, and hauls him up into the same tree. They all then attempt to conceal themselves, with varying success.
Whatever is at the front of the chase, and hence most audible to the four, evidently bursts through the bushes and onto the path some yards further on. There is a moment's silence, and then the listeners hear heavy footsteps at the trot, coming towards them. What they then see is a figure, humanoid but probably not quite human, if only for the antlers on its head. Its face is hardly beautiful, but it is certainly not as ugly as the trolls; indeed, something in its air is quite imposing.
It pauses, more or less beneath the hidden watchers, and looks around. (It gives an impression of concern, perhaps, but it does not seem to be in a panic.) Then, it continues on up the path. A minute or so later, quietly, six grey wolves -- handsome, silver-maned beasts -- appear, evidently on the figure's trail. Two of them pause as if they have sensed something, delaying the others, and there is a back-and-forth of growls among the group. Then, those two stay behind, casting about as the others go on. One of them soon looks up, and growls at the sight of Kate.
Richard begins to succumb yet again to his impulsive nature, but there is no wolf near enough for him to spring to the attack before the other can come to its aid. Thus, he disciplines himself to wait a moment, until the second wolf casts some way away, evidently seeking more foes. Then, he leaps.
Landing gracefully, he springs forward and lunges, impaling the wolf painfully but not quite fatally. It pulls away from him, staggering somewhat, and lets out a series of sharp barks. Richard moves to place his back against Kate's tree. As the wolf he stabbed falls over, Sir James, too, drops from his own tree and charges the second, letting out his great war-cry to startle it. Sir James's blade bites into its neck repeatedly, killing it; then, Sir James, too, places his back against a tree in anticipation of what may come.
There is a pause. Kate climbs down from her branch with less flamboyance than the men displayed, and speaks of casting up the path to see what might be coming, but Richard dissuades her, pointing out that these creatures seem uncannily clever for wolves. Thus, she too takes another tree for her back. (She thinks of sharing Richard's, but knows that his fighting style works best if he is given some space.)
The other four wolves do return, slipping quietly among the trees, and one closes with Kate with deadly grace and stealth, appearing suddenly and swiftly to spring at her. She fortunately just manages to sidestep in time, and places her basket-hilted fist in its face. It draws away, knowing that it has lost the element of surprise.
As the four creatures circle at some distance, intermittently visible in the underbrush, Sir James and Richard both try pistol shots -- but both misfire. (Even good wheellocks are imperfect weapons.) After a while, though, and after they have tried a couple of bluffs and feints, closing and then ducking away, the wolves apparently decide to seek out other prey or other amusement, turning back the path the way that they originally came. Charles, who had preferred the security of the branches all this time, scrambles down, Richard and Sir James take a few moments to adjust their guns, and the humans set out again.
First, they go back up the path, tracking the wolves and their original prey. They determine where the hunt turned off the path, but elect not to try and find their way through that dense woodland. Thus, they continue down the path again.
Sir James eventually decides that they are being followed. He cannot see by what, but he alerts the others. Kate subsequently sights an antlered form, momentarily, before it ducks behind a tree -- but clearly, that creature is a master of woodcraft.
Then, all four see a clearing ahead, albeit masked by a thin screen of trees, with something in it. They can make out the forms of what are surely lean-to shelters and ramshackle pavilions. Charles pulls out a lens or two and (using his mastery of Connection) confirms this impression somewhat. So, all four step onwards into the clearing.
Now, though, they see a small (but ornate and beauteous) palace. A pair of excessively well-dressed servants glance at them and then carry on about their business around the outside of the building, while a pair of guards, all in shining polished armour, with ash-blond hair, stand stoutly at the door.
Richard approaches them. "Good day" he hails them.
"Good day, my lord."
Whose palace is this?"
"Ah. We seek audience with Her Majesty."
The guards nod compliantly. "Enter, my lord."
The door leads into a long marbled corridor (long enough to hint that this palace is confusing or confused about matters of scale or perspective), where a male servant, just half the height of any of our heroes, bows so low that his impressively oversized nose brushes the ground. "My lords, my lady..." He leads them down a way and round a corner, to a section where ornately-carved doors lie to both right and left. Then, he indicates that one is for the gentlemen and one is for the lady.
The menfolk find a guest room of striking luxury; a small fountain in the centre flows continuously, and swathes of fresh clothes are draped around the place for their use. So far as Richard can recall, accepting these to wear should be safe; they are appealing enough, if slightly dated in style. All three men clean themselves up and find tolerably sensible combinations of clothing.
The ladies' quarters are in fact similar, and Kate, doubtless distracted by the opportunity to wash, strides in without looking around. Thus, while she is inspecting one ornate dress, she is startled to hear a voice from behind her.
"Good day, my lady."
The speaker is seated in a chair to one side of the room. She appears human, and is clad in plain garb -- the black and dark brown of a respectable yeoman's wife. Kate looks at her, briefly startled, then collects herself.
"Ahh ... Good day..."
"And what brings you here, if I may ask?"
Kate thinks quickly for an answer. "Curiosity?"
"Indeed? A long and dangerous journey, for the simply curious."
"But I forget myself. My apologies, my lady. I am Joanna Elmery."
"I am ... Beatrice." (It's not entirely a lie.)
"Well, whatever brings you here, there are matters of import which you should know. The Queen of this palace has another guest, and she is most unwilling that he should depart."
"Yes. She is ... over-reaching herself in this matter, I believe. I think that it is most important that he should not swear fealty to her."
"I see. And you seek to prevent that."
"Yes. But matters are at something of an ... impasse, I believe is the word, at this time. But I should ask -- do you have any companions with you?"
"Yes, I do."
"Then perhaps we should speak with them, that I may explain everything to them."
"Indeed -- if we can do so privately enough."
"That might be arranged."
The two women cross the corridor and knock on the door of the other room. They find the three men, changed enough for their own tastes, extracting bread and cheese from their packs. Richard, who had answered the knock, nods to his sister -- and instantly recognises her new companion as the Raleigh's mysterious associate from one or two encounters on the streets of London.
"Peace be upon this place" says Mistress Elmery, and nods politely to all in the room.
(In the meantime, the menfolk have been dealing further with matters of clothing, amid a number of jokes between Richard and Charles about this wardrobe appealing to Edric. Sir James carefully folds their grimy travelling clothes for easy carriage, even exerting somewhat of his enlightenment in the arts of Matter, in case this faerie garb proves as transient as legend suggests. Kate, incidentally, has thrown on a lightweight gown, with a farthingale over her doublet, a high neckline, and enough of a skirt to conceal her hose...)
Richard greets the strange woman accompanying his sister. "Madame, you have the advantage of me, I believe."
"Perhaps -- though we have met."
"Ah," interjects Kate, "I wondered."
Richards draws the women into the room, and Joanna Elmery introduces herself again. "Might I ask how you came to be here?" Richard enquires.
"I was concerned that the Queen might be overreaching herself."
A fairly long, if guarded, conversation ensues. At first, our heroes wonder if the Queen's unfortunate guest might be Sir Walter Raleigh, but Mistress Elmery laughs at that, before admitting that she has not actually been able to see the fellow; he is kept somewhere out of sight, although he cannot be treated as a prisoner, in the absence of that oath of fealty. Mistress Elmery's presence has served to help remind the Queen that there are rules in these matters, despite her capacity for convenient forgetfulness, but it seems clear that the Queen must be working to bring the fellow round to her side. His identity is a mystery, although Mistress Elmery, who had come here after hearing of things that suggested that the Queen's folk might be active in this area, had made some enquiries and heard of a young man who had travelled down on the road from the north.
The four tell her something of the clues which they had been following; she is only mildly interested to hear of the two strange or diabolical incursions with which they had dealt (and she dismisses any suggestion of great significance to the presence of churches in both cases, muttering only that there are, after all, many churches around -- "perhaps too many"). They also note her involvement with Sir Walter's faction, and complain of some of his actions against them in the past; she shrugs, acknowledging her association with those people while implicitly denying involvement in every matter of policy. She is also vague about her own precise allegiance, although she remarks that, given what she understands of their own, she thinks that they may have some idea of where her own loyalties lie.
She notes that they are eating their own food, and acknowledges that this is wise of them, but remarks that the main matter in this place may be to avoid sleep -- "this land is already on the borders of dream; to enter fully into that realm from here would be unwise". She claims to have preserved her own defences so far in her time here (how long that might have been is uncertain -- these are faerie lands, after all), but notes that the Queen's invited guest will surely have slept by now. Anyway, before conversation moves on to matters of policy, she suggests that, as Kate implied earlier, it might be best to raise defences against eavesdropping. Her advice is to ensure that everyone's minds are entirely free of dreams, as that places them outside the Queen's power.
Thus, while she inhales the scent of herbs from a pouch at her waist, and Kate meditates to clear her mind, Charles extracts some of his black potion, as that can render imbibers entirely free of physical sleep. Then, all that work successfully accomplished, conversation does move on to matters of strategy. For one thing, Mistress Elmery suggests that they should declare formal truce for now, given their shared concerns, until both parties can go their separate ways in the mundane world. The four Daedaleans agree to this.
Unfortunately, beyond that, they all really need a little more knowledge. Mistress Elmery does enquire about the artistic or poetic talents of the four; Kate admits to some skill with a musical instrument, while Richard and Sir James are both amateur poets. This, it seems, might interest the Queen, for good or ill. Another thing on which Mistress Elmery remarks is that the Queen has been presenting herself in increasingly dark guise lately, presumably as part of her campaign of persuasion. The conversation also passes over the matter of the trolls in the cave; she, it seems, knew some old passwords, and is amused and mildly impressed that these mortals managed to overcome those guards. ("The Queen will probably hold that trolls are ... numerous enough that this will not worry her excessively.") She is interested by accounts of the hunting wolves in the forest, although she cannot say much about what it might signify. The wolves, too, most likely serve the Queen, and may be present in the palace in another guise.
Then, there is a knock at the door; the small chamberlain reapears, saying that they are all to come to the throne room. They follow him past the silver-armoured guards and through a pair of intricately-carved doors, and face their hostess as she sits on a throne upon a dais.
As Mistress Elmery had said, her guise is dark -- she has raven hair and a midnight-black gown, and also an inhumanly slender form. She looks somewhat interested at her guests, and comes down from the throne to inspect them more closely. (Her feet are hidden by her skirt, so that she seems almost to float down the steps.) She addresses them as "Doubly Awakened", and seems most interested in Kate and Charles. Both, she says, are "burning with the fires of will, though the fires are dying back" -- but Kate "will scorch this house with anger" if she is careless, while Charles "burns with a pretty flame". (This is puzzling to everyone, though these two were perhaps somewhat aware of minor forces of the Scourge lurking around them lately.)
She asks Charles about his profession, then compliments him on his "healer's hands". Then, she calls for music, that all might dance. Four court musicians of widely varying statures arrive, startled and nervous that they must play for mortals, and are chivied into striking up a tune. This turns out to be an old folk-tune which all the humans have heard, arranged as a very repetitive pavane; the two lutes are played very badly, the flautist can, it seems, just hold a tune, while the bagpipes are played quite well.
The Queen leads Charles out to dance, assuming his agreement, and are followed by Kate and Sir James. (Mistress Elmery whispers to Richard, in reply to his offer, that she does not dance.) The human couple, unfortunately perhaps, show up the Queen, who, for all her inhuman grace, does not seem to be a practiced dancer; even Charles, untrained in the art but naturally quick on his feet, manages better. After this, though, the Queen seems to lose interest in the subject, and dismisses the five with a casual gesture.
On their way out of the room, Richard speaks briefly with the chamberlain, noting that he understands that the Queen has another guest, and wondering if it would be possible to meet the fellow. The chamberlain seems uncertain and concerned; clearly, his orders on this are imprecise. He mumbles something about seeing what can be done.
Back in the guest rooms, the group decide that Kate and Charles should venture out to explore the palace somewhat, while Richard and Sir James wait lest any of the faerie servants reappear, and Mistress Elmery returns to her embroidery. The explorers in fact discover the palace to be a veritable maze; while they do not see all of it, they do, for example, discover an undersized and overstaffed kitchen where much of the work is in the hands of trolls with cleavers. They also note that some of the guards, posted quite randomly as it apppears, are prone to emitting sinister growls from the backs of their throats on sight of the humans...
Eventually, they return to the guest-rooms, where Kate fixes the partial plan in her memory palace, then accepts a suggestion to use her Arts to seek some other human presence in the palace -- though this will perforce be a most Vain action. Taking pure water from the fountain, she succeeds, locating the unidentified guest in a tucked-away room on the first floor. In the process, she also somehow senses a curious second impression -- a kind of shadow to the human, as it seems, in the same chamber.
As the four discuss this in some puzzlement, the chamberlain returns again, and announces that the Queen's guests are invited to join a hunt, to be held in their honour. They feel that they can only accept -- though they do wonder what will be entailed...
Discussing the hunt invitation further, Richard raises the possibility of Kate staying behind to follow other threads; Joanna will not be expected, as she believes. Richard suggests that, even if the Queen comments on the absence, he can at least try to cover the matter with fine words. ("And what is the worst that might happen?" asks Joanna Elmery, with a smile that is only faintly sinister.) Charles, the meanwhile, notes that he had best augment his riding skill (in which he is largely untrained, relying on his natural agility) for such an event.
Richard opens the door and grasps the collar of a passing goblin, telling it to announce that he and the other men will attend on the Queen; the goblin, which seems tolerably alert, scampers off with the message. Then, the three men set to sorting out clothes suitable for hunting. Charles volunteers to take last choice, meaning that he assembles a rather dandyish costume. He comments that it might serve him to be underestimated, and seems to think that his choice of garb may help him to retain the Queen's interest.
Soon, the majordomo goblin reappears to summons the three men, and Charles quickly and successfully meditates to focus his trained awareness of his own body so as to become a better horseman. Then he scurries after the others.
All three arrive at the front of the palace. After a moment's wait, the Queen arrives, with three extra horses -- each of which appears crazed to the point where the humans wonder if the creatures are less inclined to be ridden by them than to devour them. But all three mount up successfully, and are handed hunting spears by servants -- ornate weapons with complex, barbed and twisted heads.
The Queen leads off into the dark forest; at this moment, it seems that the hunt is to be simply the four riders. However, very soon, the humans sense unnerving spectral forms riding to either side. Beyond those are dimmer forms, from which comes a more or less canine howling -- so the humans all decide to classify them as hounds. All in all, the effect is somewhat worrying, although our heroes keep their nerves.
Charles somehow finds himself to be leading the group of humans, albeit behind the Queen, but Richard and Sir James are not far from his back. Richard, who has glimpsed something of the Queen's face in these last few minutes, wonders if Enlightened Arts would permit one to emulate her in becoming more feral of features and sharp-toothed at this time, but (fortunately) cannot see how such could be achieved.
The hunt pauses for a moment, and then there comes a howling from the left, and the Queen's horse springs away. Charles, close to her hand, sees a burly but somewhat man-like figure with antlers loping through the woods ahead, and something more of the nature of all this comes to him.
The hounds bring the being to bay, and the Queen lunges into a thicket after it, followed by Charles, who sees her struggling a little with the dense vegetation before the being lunges at her with its antlers, scoring her ribs. Charles trusts with his spear, but the creature dodges, then tries to grab him -- but he dodges in turn. As he does so, the creature growls something to the effect that he should "be kind unto her..." -- and then it leaps away. The Queen cries that the others should not let it escape, and thus Richard sets off first in pursuit. However, he loses pace a little as the spectral howling pulls ahead and the others catch him up.
Meanwhile back at the palace, Kate notices notices her surroundings growing less gaudy, and draws conclusions about the departure of the Queen. Mistress Elmery concurs, then asks, "What now, then?"
Kate suggests looking for the other guest, and indeed leads off through the palace, navigating with the aid of her memorised map. The servants who they pass look vague and undirected; the guards appear downright dangerous.
They find the room in question, and entering, Kate recognises its one occupant. "Master Bill Shakespeare -- are you well..." (But is he the only one? Kate believes that she has glipmsed another figure ... evasive and dark, in the shadows.)
The fellow is clearly not well, but is distracted and confused. Kate seeks to recover his wits for him using focussed Enlightened rhetoric; her first attempt is somewhat disastrous, as she somehow fails to find appropriate words or tone, but her second, after drawing breath and consideration, draws him back to some kind of mental coherence.
She and Mistress Elmery explain a little of the situation, and then decide that it may be best to take him back to the gate and the world of men. Kate, however, feels obliged to undertake to remain in Faerie, to ensure that her friends too can get free.
(Master Shakespeare, the meanwhile, seeks to make sense of his circumstances. He believes that he has long known this dark lady, that she has been coming unto him for many years; Kates tells him that this can be ascribed to the dark lady being the Queen of Dreams.)
But let us turn our attention to the hunt once more. After a while, the hounds bring the prey to to bay once again, and the humans surround it. The Queen gallops up so hard that she falls from her mount, but she lands neatly, screams "He is mine!", and charges in. The three men decide that it is wisest to honour that command and hold back as a wild combat ensues, with both beings taking injuries before he grapples her -- and kisses her, full on the mouth. Then, he looks up as she slips to the ground, smiles at two of the men, smirks at Charles, and lopes off unmolested.
The three dismount, and while Sir James remembers the Queen's horse and recovers that wild beast, Charles bandages the battered and bloody Queen (who is now looking more human, as it appears to him). Then, all mount up, and ride back towards the palace.
Kate, Mistress Elmery, and Master Shakespeare have meanwhile slipped out of that structure and up the path towards the gate. Kate is aware again of a shadowy figure on the edge of her vision, and asks the other woman about this. Joanna Elmery comments that she has seen it before, more clearly than this time. She raises the subject of familiars -- "Or perhaps more that which Sir Walter's friends speak of as Daemons ... It is strange to see such associated with one who is not Awakened -- but it's not unknown, I think."
She then offers Kate a second truce. "This one should be left untouched by both our factions. Destiny is wrapped tight and heavy around him. To seek to turn him to any cause might well be unwise."
Kate concurs. Mistress Elmery continues her suggestions. "I will take him home. I hope to hear the tale of how you and your friends escape later. No doubt one of you fancies themself as a poet, and that will make a fine song..."
In the cave, Mistress Elmery produces three candles and some herbs (while muttering about "making do as best she can") arranges them in some significant way, and begins a chant in what Kate guesses to be Welsh. A cloud of mist swiftly gathers, thickening into something blatantly otherworldly, and Mistress Elmery frowns and continues the chant to make the gate as reliable as she desires. Then, however, the power of her own working sweeps over her [in the way of scourge banes for the courageous] and she leaps forward with an incoherent cry, dragging Bill Shakespeare along with her as she goes.
Kate has been observing all this, of course -- and seeking to assess it with her own insights into the sphere of Prime. She concludes that Mistress Elmery has a great command of the sphere of Spirit, and is opening a gate here directly which, say, Charles can only work more slowly and indirectly.
She sets out back towards the palace, but pauses a little way from the cave to attempt to weave an emotional message to Richard (an act within her capacities, though Vain). Richard indeed receives a sense of success as he tends to the horses, while Charles is bandaging the Queen. He tells Sir James at once that he thinks that Kate may have accomplished something, and then murmurs a few words to similar effect to Charles while helping him mount up, quietly enough to avoid the Queen's attention.
As they ride off, the Queen points out to the humans that it's traditional to sing on the return from a hunt; Richard hastily teaches Sir James the words to a Trinity brawling song, and all manage surprisingly credibly. On moving onto "Past-Time With Good Company" (attr. Henry VIII), Sir James fluffs his part somewhat ... but in any event, they regain the palace.
Meanwhile, Kate, making her own way through the faerie forest, notes forms loping through the trees to her left and right. She stays on the path, trying to move as swiftly as feasible, but soon notes a wolf coming in to harass her from behind and to her right. She draws both sword and main-gauche with swift motions, and quickly turns to fen off the beast's first bite, thrusting home in reply, then stabbing again, leaving the maimed beast to drag itself away.
She moves on, still shadowed -- and then two wolves spring at her from either side. Kate spots them just in time, swinging her sword around to fend off each in turn. Two swift thrusts drop one of the creatures, but then the other takes a great leap and is on top of her. Fortunately, she is adept with close-fighting skills; her main-gauche nearly disables the wolf, giving her time to step clear. Her sword gives it another wound, at which it retreats. Kate cleans and re-sheathes her blades, and continues on her way.
Arriving back at the palace, she begins to search the building for a lute; her plan is to entertain the Queen after the hunt -- and thus, Kate hopes, to distract Her Majesty. She demands the attention of a passing serving-goblin and sends it for the chamberlain, who arrives looking surly and uncooperative (and also somehow less suave than before). Told that a lute is required for the Queen's entertainment, the chamberlain quivers discernibly... "I will see what can be found, My Lady Human..."
The hunting party, too, regains the palace. Charles suggests to the Queen that her wounds might merit further attention, and Richard and Sir James play along, taking the opportunity to slip back to the guest rooms to recount their experiences to Kate, and to hear her own story. (There is, perforce, a brief digression while she and Richard explain to Sir James who Master William Shakespeare is.) Richard reflects that Bill Shakespeare may have an interesting life ahead of him... But anyway, for now, the four agents of Reason have their own concerns, with their fond hope of eventually slipping away quietly. While the three in the guest rooms await further word of Charles, Sir James extracts a deck of cards from his pocket.
Charles, the meanwhile, is applying his full skill as a physician, combing it with his command of the sphere of Life. This heals the Queen quite fully. She in turn invites him to sing, and he once again does well enough at this. He then gives her what he can describe, with a serious face, as a "warming" draft, and she responds to the taste with a thoughtful smile. "You are a talented healer, Doctor," she says, "but take care that you do not overreach yourself..."
Then she in turn sings for him -- quite well, considering her apparent lack of true talent. Her voice flows through all his senses, as it seems, and all his awareness becomes strangely vague and unreal...
In the guest rooms, Richard is collecting a stack of Sir James's farthings, while Kate paces distractedly. After perhaps two hours, the three humans begin discussing plans; Richard admits to Kate that Charles may be in dalliance with the Queen. "We could perhaps take him a drink and a biscuit", someone suggests...
After a little longer, the three humans intercept a passing goblin and ask him to enquire after Charles. He scurries off.
Charles, the meanwhile, is aware that he is sitting beside the Queen, whose appearance has been shifting between numerous half-familiar forms, when the majordomo, looking slightly surly and feral, comes to the door with a lute.
"The mortal maid wishes to entertain you, your majesty" it announces.
"Then ... summons her to the the lower gallery" the Queen replies.
The majordomo fetches the other three humans in rather peremptory style, handing Kate the lute in the process. She has just time, while waiting in the gallery, to attempt to tune the instrument, more or less successfully. Then the Queen arrives with Charles (she now looking, it seems to his friends, like some unknown blood relative of the doctor), and she sits on a throne with Charles on a step at her feet...
Richard offers to sing to accompany Kate; she nods, and they agree a song, and perform it very competently. A second song, performed even better, distinctly pleases the Queen, and a competent encore rounds matters off well enough.
(Meanwhile, Charles has been focussing his mind once more, and is regaining some clarity of thought.)
The Queen proclaims that she likes the songs, and commands Richard to teach her them. He notes that she possesses a truly exceptional memory; she learns words and notes by rote, almost all on the first hearing and without requiring that anything be written down.
That task accomplished, she looks at Richard. "What would you do now, my guest?" she enquires.
Richard makes a smoothly diplomatic speech, saying that family matters call them away. The Queen seems to accept that. "Ah well... Do return some day."
"I am sure that this place will remain in our memories forever."
The four mortals withdraw with many graceful flourishes, swiftly recover their own clothes from the guest room, exchange a minimum of necessary information, and depart the palace. Kate indicates the correct path through the forest, and all set off at in some haste -- although both the Gardiners soon seem wearied by the quick pace. Still all four reach the cave -- and then Kate is the first to hear a distant baying.
Charles, advised a very little by Kate, begins assessing the flow of magical power around the gate back to the mortal world, seeking how best to open it, while Sir James and Richard shift some rocks to, in effect, narrow the cave mouth, and James uses Matter arts to render the ground in front of it more slippery. Charles builds himself a strong idea of what needs to be done, and sets up three of his fast-burning candles around the appropriate spot, following Kate's description of Mistress Elmery's procedure.
Before he is ready, though, the first dark shadows of the hunt arrive outside. One creature immediately lunges into the cave entrance, but is driven back by Richard's sword, and slips and falls on the smooth ground. As the rest of the hunters gather in the dark shelter of the trees, evidently readying a mass assault, and a distant, not overly human voice screams of betrayal, Charles senses his moment, and he and Kate move the three candles into place, and see the gate congeal out of luminous mist.
They call out to the others; Richard, deaf as ever, doesn't hear, but his friends expect nothing different, and take hold of him and hurl him towards their escape route. The shadowy hunters are closing in on the cave now, so everyone becomes brisk; Charles calls for whoever last passes through to put out the candles, and then leaps, and then Kate and Sir James hurl Richard the same way. They nod to each other, and at the candles; Kate slices neatly through one, and Sir James as quickly through the other two. Then, they plunge through the rapidly closing gate, albeit that Kate lands a little roughly on the other side.
Of course, as they perhaps half expected, the time of their arrival may be a little more advanced than their instincts would have led them to expect...