This adventure took place on Thanvas 10-11, 6,995.
On a Diplomatic Mission
Heugh von Alstyne’s aunt, Lisellia Vance, dropped by Adumbratis to take care of some business. In the meantime, the opinionated old biddy filled his ear with gossip about his cousin, James De Morcey, and his adorable wife Christabel. Apparently, according to Lisellia, the pair are going through some marital difficulties. Christabel is too beautiful and demure to be a problem, so it must be her wayward son James—and she had such hopes for him.
Heugh was too busy with his business affairs in Adumbratis, but as a family duty, he sent his wife Annika to see if she could help Christabel somehow. Annika took Geneva as a bodyguard, and Kail to help with dangers of the road. Kurt volunteered to go along when he heard about the trip, and Annika shrugged and figured between his willingness to be the fall guy and his newfound skills with locks he could be useful. Yes, and his monkey too.
A Troubled House
Kurt wasn’t much of a coachman, but his creepy monkey managed the horses for him, and Geneva rode on the buckboard to keep an eye out for trouble while Kail and Annika rode inside. The long coach ride down out of the mountains, along the Shade Forest, then north to the tiny village of Vehstaal took about ten days. By late afternoon they closed in on the De Morcey estate.
When they arrived they were greeted by Mr. Karswell, the butler. He made Annika and Kail comfortable while Geneva looked on. Kurt put the horse and coach away, and met Poe, a wandering monk who was staying at the estate for a few days for free room (in the hayloft) and board (with the servants.)
As they headed to the house, they saw the Lady Christabel and her handmaidens out by a stone on the hill. Kurt watched as Poe fearlessly approached to see what they were doing, only to be rebuffed by Elena, one of the lady’s two handmaidens. When the lady and entourage returned to the house, Poe took a closer look. He found a grave stone for a still-born infant, 13 years ago: Bernice De Morcey. A folded paper flower decorated the grave, recently placed.
Poe and Kurt ate supper with the servants. They met Minnie, the housekeeper, who never stopped talking about the weather. Karla, the cook, swore a lot and complained about Karswell. Mary was the scullery maid of easy virtue with an annoying nasal voice. Friedrich, the gardner, wasn’t too loud at the table, but Ed was at his most grumbling effusiveness.
Lord James met with Annika, with guarded relief that she had come.He noted a pressing need to tend to some business in Trivium (where much of his financial empire was managed) but his unwillingness to leave the house at this time. He feared for the safety of his family, to be frank.
The family dined together, and after the boys (Arthur and Henry) reported on their studies for the day, the tension increased between Christabel and James. The daughter, Julia, sat impassively through dinner. One of the handmaidens, Elena, seemed to watch Kail more than was strictly necessary. Geneva looked Elena over, noting she was from Midian, and that she was no stranger to knifeplay.
A Trip to the Village
After supper Kurt took Ed to town, to a run-down seedy secretive dive with a rampant warthog on a green field over the door. As Ed drank, he got more and more lucid. He told Kurt the nobles were crazy, and about how he came to be in Lord James’ father’s service after fighting Northrons together.Also, that Lady Christabel is a foreigner, her handmaidens are too. And that James won’t go to Trivum on business because he’s got woman problems; not one on the side, but difficulty with his wife. On Kurt’s coin, they shared a house special; sweet to begin, but the aftertaste was of death, and it was a cup meant to be shared. An increasingly lucid Ed told Kurt that James served in the military, but not in action. And that Lady Christabel had a stillborn child, Bernice, who she mourns at a grave behind the house. Afterwards, they shuffled home on weary horses together.
A Twitchy Tutor
Kail was settling in to his mothballed nursery accommodations between the boys’ room and the girl’s room when the tutor, Kurt (from Caligari), asked to speak with him. Nervous and melodramatic, Kurt described two incidents, a month apart, where the boys both went from cheerful youth to exhausted enervated invalids, recovering over the course of a week. Also, the elder sister Julia is emotionally withdrawn. And he was worried about taking this to the parents because they had a terrible row about a month ago, and they are preoccupied. Kurt noted that the handmaidens came back from Trivium with Christabel about 4 years ago, no other big staff turnovers. Kail woke Annika, and updated Annika and Geneva with what he learned.
The Unsettled Butler
Kurt’s monkey woke him in the shadows of dawn, indicating he should go outside. He saw Karswell, the butler, struggling to draw water from the well, and he helped. Karswell noted his necromatic dagger, and asked if Kurt and his friend Kail would do a service for Karswell, as a gift to Lord James. They were interrupted by Mary, and Karswell suggested they could talk later. He also suggested he was faithful to Morgath, the Lord of Harrowfaust, by his oaths and innuendo.
Trysting in the Morning
At breakfast, Kurt familiarized himself with the day’s activities of the servants. After breakfast, Poe headed into the woods, for he had never been to a place with so much forest. Kurt nervously followed him, eventually persuading him not to explore beneath the eaves of the ancient creaking woods.
Kail walked with Lord James on a morning constitutional, learning that James feared for the safety of his sons (his legacy) if he left; they have a worrisome health condition. He was uncomfortable under the weight of some burdensome secret.
Annika joined Christabel and her handmaidens for some needlepoint, learning that Lord James had grown secretive, and Christabel wanted to move the family to Trivium, away from the moors and the forest. James has many lands and investments in Trivum, after all, and he could look after them better there. Investments are less important; family comes first. Annika noted James was proud of his sons; Christabel suggested he should be, as they are just like him. And she agreed with Annika’s suggestion that she had plans for her daughter; lots of pride, great things ahead for her. Things a man could not understand. Men are easy to quantify. The handmaidens agree with secret smiles. To pass the time, Annika did a tarokka reading, asking Christabel to describe Julia. Christabel suggested Julia was leaving childhood and entering womanhood, inheriting what a woman should inherit—everything. Annika’s reading suggested that Julia would be alone but powerful; that pleased Christabel greatly, and chilled Annika to the bone.
Meanwhile Geneva coordinated a meet between Kail and Kurt after Kurt told her about his meeting with Karswell. After explaining the situation again, he secured Kurt’s agreement to help with whatever the old butler had in mind.
Kurt Finds a Blacksmith
Kurt got directions to town, and had the blacksmith sharpen his blades (with the help of his muscular daughter.) Kurt found that the locals don’t like talking about the nobles, don’t like being taxed, and hope that the nobles don’t pay attention to them at all. Kurt did discover that suitors for Julia were to be courted in Trivium. And he warned Kurt not to tell anyone they talked, just in principle, or he’d horsewhip the dreadlocked thief. Kurt’s questions got some suspicion growing from the blacksmith, too; curious people are not welcome in Harrowfaust. After a stop at the tavern, Kurt returned to the estate.
Kurt Pulls a Stump
After lunch, Kurt cased the property and examined the outbuildings, then met with the groundskeeper Friedrich and helped him pull a stump. Afterwards, he went to the kitchen and distracted the cook, so he could pick the lock to the cellar and send the monkey down for a good bottle of wine. Leaving with none the wiser, he split the bottle with Friedrich—a bottle 30 years old, worth gold! Friedrich told him the two handmaidens came on at the same time, about 5 years ago, during a trip to Trivium. And that it never, ever pays to pay attention to the rich people—dangerous. And little Julia is a woman now. He told Kurt to bury the empty bottle, so neither of them would get in trouble.
Also, in passing, he mentioned that the Lady Christabel left a folded paper flower on her daughter’s grave every day. She’d been visiting it daily for about a month now. He got one of the flowers, but was illiterate. He told Kurt where to find it, then he drifted off to sleep looking after the fire on the remains of the stump.
Kurt snagged the flower from Friedrich’s quarters. He could not read the Midish, but it also had Draxtive for a prayer of some kind—to “the Lamenting Mother.” He looked for Kail at once.
Annika Quizzes Lord James
Annika found the butler, Karswell. She noted he was unhealthy, as he coughed blood into a handkerchief. Still, he shrugged it off, and agreed to let Lord James know she wanted to speak with him. Escorted into his study, with Geneva an unobtrusive chaperone, Annika spoke frankly with James.
James noted that women can be inscrutable and have feminine senses. Annika suggested that Christabel might be a danger to the boys; she noted she is gifted in fortune telling, with Vistani blood. Both agree something is wrong, and the sons are in danger, and James said he did not know what to do about it. Annika pointed out Christabel believes Julia will come into a legacy, as a woman. James is not sure what that would be; Julia has been invisible for a while, and she is not betrothed (that is a business matter he needs to attend to.) In fact, one of the handmaidens said she “began” a couple months ago. Annika asks more about Julia; the girl had been moody, not bubbly like her normal self. But teenagers… James leaves her to his wife.
James asked her to talk to Christabel on his behalf, to figure out what she is thinking, and to persuade Christabel to forgive him. Annika promised to help.
Romping with the Boys
Kail joined the tutor and the boys for the afternoon lesson, learning how King Harrowfaust saved the world by introducing the Age of Compacts—not the way he learned history in Scarabae. He kept his mouth shut, and afterwards got to talk to the boys; they were typical boys, wanting to see his big sword, and hear ghost stories. He told them tales of his homeland, and probed to see if they knew of any ghost stories locally. All they had were stories from the groundskeeper about ghosts of nobles on the grounds, silvery white and elusive.
As he was playing “horsie” with the boys, Kail noticed dried bloodstains by one of their beds.
When Kurt showed Kail the flower, the knight connected “The Lamenting Mother” with a secretive society originating in Midian, with esoteric rituals, passed from mother to daughter and illegal in the Lands of the Lady. It had something to do with childbirth and ascending to womanhood. They consulted with Annika, who (as a noble) had heard of the society that worshiped the Lamenting Mother: “Unutterable Sorority of Mourners.” Patron of childbirth and the sorrow of mothers of lost children, and also giver of strange gifts to the faithful who serve her.
Tense. Christabel with secret grin to Annike. The boys excited about lessons and chasing snakes. Julia glazed and staring into space, eating mechanically when prompted. Elena watching Kail.
Assignation in the Barn
Kurt met with Mary, the maid, in the barn for a quick romp in the hay (after he made the monkey leave; the monkey creeped Mary out.) Kurt picked up a rash along with his information. He gave her some coins to stick around and answer some questions; Mary thinks the nobles are angry because—they’re nobles. And they should get laid by not-spouses, it would help. Julia doesn’t get suitors because she’s boring. Mary serves her. She used to be all kinds of fun, but now she stares at the wall. Nobles don’t talk to her, but the handmaidens insist Mary give Julia her tea, that the yellow-tinted sugar from Trivium stays full in the bowl, and her toast. Julia found this yellow sugar she really liked in Trivium, and now she HAS to have it every breakfast.
A Hurried Meeting
Kurt told them all he had learned. Is Julia the source of the misery? If so, against her better judgement; the Lady Christabel was desperate, in Annika’s thinking, and very evil. Kail told them of the blood in the boys’ bedroom, and his conversation with them. All this started two months ago. Together, they speculated on what the timing of the next bout of illness for the boys might be. Kurt asked Kail to request him as a manservant, so he could be in the house at night.
Mediation on the Moor
Poe sat out on the moor, meditating, ignoring the biting insects. As he grew calm, he felt the growing rush of wind leaning on the forest, on the house, as a storm approached. He was one with the afternoon.
As darkness approached, he saw a light out on the moor. Curious, he followed it. He found a campfire in a hollow, with five armed men and a caravan wagon with women in it, and he realized they must have been signalling the house, not him. But why?
A Chat in the Cellar
Kurt found that Karswell was in the cellar inventorying the wine stores, so he met him in the cobwebbed dark to finish the morning’s conversation. Karswell admitted he was dying, and required Kurt to take a heavy iron key, and his friend with the big sword, and go up to the attic; to the left, through the hidden door, and kill whatever he found. There would only be one opportunity. If he would do that, it would be Karswell’s gift to Lord James. Creeped out, Kurt agreed.
As they conversed, Annika lay out another tarokka reading, chilled as its implications echoed those revealed in the darkness below!
Confrontation in the Attic
After a brief conversation with Annika, it was agreed she would have plausible deniability, as would Geneva. The two men were on their own with this one.
He consulted with Kail, who took his armor up to the attic and donned it, gripping his heavy Scarabean steel and prepared for the unknown. Kurt focused the Shadow of Death on what lay beyond, his monkey chattering the incantation. Unlocking the huge lock on the door, they were shocked by something ferocious in the dark, that hissed that it was hungry—then it pounced, and Kail could not keep it in. It tore past him, and Kurt blocked its path long enough for his knife and Kail’s sword to make short work of the abomination. Kail swung true, with righteous wrath, and struck its head from its shoulders.
It was strong, muscles corded and taut, but it was milky white and covered in fur, with ape-like arms and curving claws. Most unsettling of all, its face was just like the face of its mother—Christabel. And it looked about 13 years old…
They dragged the body back into its cell, noting the walls had been reinforced with bars and metal again and again over the years, and this thing lived in her own filth. The back of the door was metal, and all was scratched and dented by fury, but heavily sound-proofed. Leaving the corpse in its cage, the unsettled men pulled back to decide what to do next…