The town of Trunau stands on the edge of habitable land. Settled by the dispossessed, the people here are hearty and rough hewn. They remember the past and hold its grudges as if they were new. Racism is rampant, and made stronger by the irregular Orc raids on the tiny but well-defended town. This is the tale of five natives of Trunau, all dwarves, swept up by fate. The story, told after the fact, might not be as true as it was the day it happened, but old memory fills the gaps with what it can.
As with most stories, this one starts in a happier time.
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Oath day: 16th of Gozrun, 4715
It starts on the first month of spring. Winter once more passes us by and planting begin anew. In the early evening, after a day of anticipation, we gather in the open air amphitheater of Koldukar to celebrate the coming of age ceremony of Ruby, Halgra of the Blackened Blades’ youngest daughter. The Hopeknife ceremony of the councilwoman’s family makes this special occurrence more of a holiday than most.
Ruby wears red, and takes to the stage beside her aging mother like a startled cat. Habra’s bevy of children, all of which she brought back from her time in the wilds, are in the crowd rooting strongly for their sister. Habra’s speech of thanks and gratitude starts the ceremony, and the familiar repetition of the Defender’s pledge from an embarrassed young woman is a very touching scene.
At its end, everyone roars their approval. Commander Rorin comes forth from the crowd and demands to know if Ruby is strong enough. When she doesn’t reply, the brothers Rorin and Carsin Rockfall, along with three other militiamen challenge Ruby to a test of strength.
Ruby picks four of us from the crowd: Torva and Tiva Blackhammer, Sif Thunderhead, and myself. Seamus Runemark simply smiles and steps back as we four step forward. We take Ruby’s side of a knotted rope, while Rorin, Carsin and the other militiamen take the other. There’s 30 feet of open and muddy ground between the two teams. While the defenders are never supposed to loose, we make the militia work for it.
The crowd breaks into loud applause! From which another booming voice comes: What good is strength against the likes of me! And Gog has arrived. Gog is a monster contraption that Omast Frum uses to train the militia; it is supposed to teach us to fight giants. Inside the contraption of sticks, strips of cloth, and padded bags of straw stands a familiar human face, who is (no doubt) grinning through the whole procedure. He comes to the stage, smacking people out of the way with his paddles.
“To beat me you have to take my eye, if you can!” His eye is an amulet in the center of his chest. A battle royal ensues between the townsfolk and Gog. They pelt him with various soft items and yell at him to distract him. They rush in and bash at him. Ruby, timidly at first, skirts in, but Gog’s paddles quickly deflect her. She keeps trying. The crowd manages to give her an opening and she jumps up and grabs the eye before running away.
Gog stumbles away to the back row, where he can disrobe and rejoin the party. Ruby is hoisted up in the air to show off Gog’s eye.
As the crowd applauds, another challenger comes. A woman calls out that Ruby needs cunning to defeat her challenge:
“_Answer the riddle and find the item hidden in the town.
In town there’s a sword that’s been hidden.
In the darkness where the light shines.
Where any who are in need can find sanctuary_.”
Ruby answers that it’s in the Sanctuary. The crowd agrees.
Ruby runs out of the amphitheater and off to the Sanctuary. And at last, the kegs are brought out and opened. The party gets underway and beer flows.
Ronin comes by to offer us full-time positions in the town’s militia. Our time in the militia is almost up, and most of our families expect us to return to complete our training. I don’t know what Tiva intends, other than to keep listening and telling stories in a tavern for so long as she can afford it. Torva, more military minded, seems like a good fit for the militia, assuming the priesthood could spare her. Back then I didn’t think much could tear Seamus from his books. I thought Sif would probably join the militia, assuming she didn’t return to the wilds outside of town; she was so quiet about her future, I never really knew if she had any plans. As for me, well, I am stone. As such, my life will be servitude; but my father wants me to join the priesthood full time, and back then I was still waffling between becoming a soldier or a priest. I didn’t want to leave my friends and thought that the decision could wait.
Commander Rorin’s ego is a bit hurt that we won the contest so easily, but he is as much laughter as always. Tiva seems brighter somehow in his presence. She dims a bit as he leaves us to circle through the revelers. At the time, it didn’t seem that important. Tiva is mercurial.
Chief Defender Halgra dropped by to thank us for our assistance of her daughter; but she stays with us only for a minute. As a councilwoman, she always seems harried from all sides.
When Ruby comes back, she holds a wicker sword aloft! The crowd cheers and the challenger admits she’s bested. The challenger was the human priestess of Iomede, Tyari Varvatos. She takes the sword and shows it to the crowd before setting it alight. Ruby raises a burning sword aloft. And the party continues.
Omast Frum comes back and is out of his Gog contraption. He’s an older man, drinking from a cup of water. We chat for a bit and he speaks well of us and highly of Ruby.
Eventually, as the revellers continue, my friends and I return to Blackhammer hall to settle down for the night. The party will continue until the kegs are empty; which will be many hours yet.
In retrospect, there are so many things I would have done differently; so much I didn’t know then. But the days are given to us one at a time and in an order not always of our choosing. And that night was Ruby’s, just as all the Defender’s had their night of challenges, Ruby was no less deserving and what followed her night should not take away from the mirth and joy of the event.
But it did.
Fireday, 17th of Gozrun 4715
We break fast in the mess of Blackhammer hall with our fellows. The meal is standard but hot, and as always Thori is happy to eat anything we dare leave behind. His sisters tease him mercilessly, but an unwatched bowl must be defended from Thori’s sneaky ways. This morning he whispers a message to Torva upon his arrival. She informs us simply that we have to get to the wall. It is our waning days in the militia (unless we decide to re-up), and so we go; passing unfinished breakfasts but empty pints to Thori.
A young teen-age boy is waiting for us as we leave Blackhammer hall. There’s been a death at the Ramblehouse. We follow him there. The streets are a familiar sight, and we pass several friends and more familiar faces as we work our way from the high quarter down to low. I only notice a few faces wincing at the sun. Apparently, the party did not continue until dawn.
Outside the Ramblehouse, a crowd waits. Everyone in the lower quarter seems to be aware of the ill tiding. The crowd shouts out questions, but our typical deflections do not deter them from repeating and demanding answers.
Once inside, everyone seems in shock. I send a few of the younger members of the militia out to deal with the crowd; biding them to just keep a path clear and not answer any questions.
We follow our lad upstairs, where the narrow hall is full of folk. As we pass an open door we see Commander Rorin Rockfall laying dead on the bed with a congealing pool of blood beneath him. The blanket is askew but otherwise the room seems to lack the chaos one might expect from such a death.
Omast Frum kicks a door frame down the hall. I try to bring him out of his grief. But he can’t see that his militiamen are standing around, embarrassed, confused and upset. His grief is too deep. He’s almost insensate. I find one of his men and tell them to go and get Patrol Leader Jarin Rockfall, head of the militia and Rorin’s father. Omast Frum wanders off and I try to make sure most of his squad goes with him, if only to protect him from himself. It is dangerous to climb out of a deep pit of grief alone.
Tiva Blackhammer talks to Cham Larringfass, proprietress of the Ramblehouse. The poor Halfling is beside herself in grief and worry. Cham talks openly about the Ramblehouse and Rorin’s last days. But the night of Ruby’s oath was a late-running party, so Cham didn’t see him come in.
Ronin’s wrists are slit from wrist to elbow, as all defenders are taught to do. He’s in a night shirt. His clothes and weapons are over a chair in the opposite side of the room.
Torva examines the body and guesses that he ingested some kind of sleeping draught, probably Oil of Tagget; a common enough elixir. Seamus casts detect magic but sees nothing out of the ordinary. Sif looks around. She finds a pen and ink on the nearby desk but no paper. Tiva claims this is unusual as Rorin was always scribbling away at something.
Amidst our examinations, Carsen walks in behind Patrol Leader Jarin. They are both devastated. Rorin’s death has not quite registered. Jarin is silent, standing above his dead son for a long time. We freeze and watch him. He slowly undoes his beard. The beads fall, and he begins to rip at the beard, sending rings and beads flying across the room; he continues long after it is all undone.
Jarin turns and says “Captain you have the floor.”
Captain Carsen looks like he just woke up. The words of his commander, and father, do not make sense to him.
Jarin heads out of the Ramblehouse.
Tiva tries to run interference for him, parting the crowd and seeing that he makes it home. In the first block, Patrol Leader Jarin is a broken dwarf, with bent back and hunched shoulders. Grief`s wound is deep and public. The crowd reacts to this with silence. As he passes through the first gate, he straightens his shoulders and inquires as to the state of the gate. Upon hearing the traditional greeting, his shoulders straighten. By the second block his back is ram-rod straight and he`s nodding at soldiers as he solemnly stalks by. A semblance of his previous self with only his disheveled appearance and hollowed face showing his grief. By the third block, he is talking to soldiers as they pass and more outwardly calm. But his old self is a familiar cloak, only hung over a grief-riddled frame.
After a few minutes of confusion, Torva offers the Captain her support in “this” matter. Captain Carsen orders Torva to report. She admits to finding no signs of violence on the body, but there was a sleeping draught on his lips. Carsen admits that Rorin had a falling out with Jarin a few days ago. Rorin came here to put some distance between the two of them.
Carsen says the knife on the floor is not that of Rorin. Being brothers, they had similar Hopeknives; and the one on the floor is indeed a poor quality example for something from Blackhammer hall.
Carsen goes looking through the room’s contents, but can’t find Rorin’s journal. We learn that Rorin was never without it.
Seamus goes down to question the other tenants. Two admit to seeing Rorin come in sometime after 11. He was alone. One reluctant tenant goes to get Cham.
Seamus learns that yesterday evening four humans (1 woman, 3 men all listed as laborers) left. They checked in a week and a half ago. They were renting a total of 2 rooms. He takes down their chit number. Someone rented a room last night. There’s no check-in or check-out information. Cham only recorded the time and that the room would be occupied. She starts crying. Amidst her tears, she admits that she took in a border for a handful of gold. She thought he was a smuggler. He was human, fair skinned, with brown hair and brown eyes. His hair was parted in the middle. She thought him tall for a giant-kin. While he’s not yet checked out, his room has not been slept in.
Back in the room, Torva sorts through Rorin’s things, packing them up as she goes. The backpack contains a few loose papers, but no journal.
As Sif tears the bed apart, she hears something soft hit the floor. They find, near the wall, at the base of the headboard (under the bed), lies a small piece of paper. The receipt is from a local metalsmith (Morninghawlk’s fine steel) and it is for the forging of a new hope knife. It is a local tradition to trade Hopeknives between betrothed. The knife found in the room matched the description on the receipt, but the promised engraving is missing.
Tavi and Seamus check the room rented by the unnamed humans across the hall. They find a piece of paper at the bottom of the underside of the desk drawer. It’s a message to Melira from someone else who mentions dealing with a “meddling” militiaman. Tiva learns that there’s a merchant from Vigil (capital of Lastwall) who stayed in the room some 3 weeks ago, but he signed in as Dignar (a cloth merchant).
The human labourer’s rooms are trashed. There’s detritus on the ground. The washbasin’s chipped and so too is the writing desk. In another other room, rented by a five 1/2 orcs, there’s even graffiti on the wall. Seamus recognizes the graffiti as orc rune-marks. They used a textured white paint to create a very crude and rough map of the town – we think. A few places are marked out – like the dwarven halls have X’s in them. We think the map-makers were a method of looking for underground passages into Koldukar. It is a far-sighted guess.
Cham admits that Rorin saw these markings last week. He copied the markings into his journal.
Captain Carsen returns from talking to the militia. We learn from him that Brinya Calver, a 1/2 orc seamstress from the upper quarter, was Rorin’s lady love. It was indeed the reason for his argument with his father and why he was staying in the Ramblings. We report to him and he promises to look into the people whose chit numbers we have.
He orders us to find Brinya and then meet up with him again later. We can leave messages for him at the Longhouse.
We inform Cham we are leaving and thank her for her time.
We go to the upper quarter and seek out Brinya in the boarding house. A slender and tall 1/2 orc woman with red hair and green skin greets us. She came back to the room about an hour ago (according to the mistress of the house) ran upstairs and slammed the door.
She admits to having started seeing Rorin seriously just before the new year (about 4 months ago). They’d known each other for a while, as she launders his clothes. She admits the knife we show her is not hers, although it is similar. Rorin lost hers recently; misplaced it he says. They fought about it, and so many other things. She said she didn’t want anything to do with him until he got it back. And that’s how they left it.
He was investigating someone, said he didn’t know anything for sure yet. He’s been caught up in it, focused over the last few weeks. He lost his knife and then his father found out about them. Sarah Morninghawlk did the engagement engraving on her (Rorin’s) knife.
She doesn’t recognize the name Melira. She mentions that Rorin spent a lot of time with Katrezra. The ½ orc is blind and lame, and so lives in the Sanctuary. Few know if his prophecies are true or just the random musings of an old man. But, according to Brinya, Rorin confided in him.
We leave Brinya confused and in mourning for her love.
We discuss the chain of events quietly as we walk. Torva is certain Rorin’s death was at the hands of the unknown tenant and that the whole scene was staged to look like a suicide. We found no trace of the oil that Rorin drank among his things, and that we can’t find the journal implies theft, if not outright foul dealings. The unknown tenant’s sudden departure (and mysterious arrival) makes this sound like a planned event. Was Rorin sticking his nose in something that got him killed? There’s a growing hint of a conspiracy in the air.