The party are at Hardestadt’s castle, enjoying his ‘hospitality’. The celebrations are swiftly forgotten, and Hardestadt shows the true reason he invited the players to his fortress. He gives them a task, telling them that for them to continue their undead existence they must seek the patronage of a Prince (a leader of kindred of a particular location). He has found a Prince in need of assistance, and Hardestadt has recommended the group. If they complete his task, the Prince will vouch for them and give them the backing they need.
He arranges for Roderigo to drive them to Prague castle in Bohemia. There they will meet Nicholas, the seneschal of Prince Rudolph Brandl, who will tell them more of the situation. They are to leave tonight.
Despite their reservations, the group leave that night – and within a few nights’ time they arrive at Prague castle. After making enquiries, they are escorted to a labyrinthine series of corridors, which lead to Nicholas’ chambers. The group find him awaiting them in his offices. He sits behind his large desk, luxurious animal skins and pelts lining the floor and walls. He sits in stony silence, staring at them. ‘Be seated’ he says, his body immobile, staring at the group. Maria and Bertold take a seat, Malefact sits upon the floor. Wilfric and Frankie stand insolently. After staring intensely at them, Nicholas outlines the issue that has bought the group before him.
Galtre is a border region that is under the control of Prince Brandl. The earl of Galtre is dying. This would not normally be a problem as his rulership would either pass to his son, or to the crown of Bohemia. But, unfortunately, recent activities in Galtre have lead the Prince to believe that Kindred operatives (most likely acting under the orders of nearby Princes) are working to undermine his leadership and ensure Bohemia loses control of Galtre. This will not do.
The group are to travel to Galtre and ensure it remains under the control of Bohemia. Nicholas will provide them each with a specially trained mount and reward them if they are successful. They must ride tonight, as the Earl’s health is deteriorating rapidly and he may die very soon. He provides the group with two letters. One stating that the bearer of the letter is acting as an agent of The Prince Rudolph Brandl, and the other is from a mortal friend of the old Earl. The second letter will ensure the group bypass any mortals who may attempt to block their path.
The group take ‘refreshments’ and leave immediately.
Their travel to Galtre is uneventful. Once they reach the boarder of Galtre, the forest quickly thickens, soon mighty trees loom overhead either side of the road. Their dense foliage blocking out the moons light. From somewhere to the group’s left, a lone wolf howls melancholically at the moon.
Are their eyes playing tricks on them? Is someone, or something, following them? ? What’s causing the growing sense of dread? The road bends sharply to the right ahead of them, making a perfect ambush spot.
They make some preparations to ready themselves for the ambush they expect as they round the corner. As they do so, raucous laughter echoes around the trees. Cutting through the near-total silence.
The group see a small, basic wattle and daub cottage further down the road. A gang of about 5 men are on horseback, each clutches a lantern mounted to a long wooden pole to ward off the darkness. Their leader, a bald, cruel faced man, mounts his horse while slurring something to a young woman. She clutches a blanket, keeping it wrapped around her to protect her virtue. Her mental turmoil is obvious to behold, even at this distance. As the men begin to ride away, their leader lets out another of his raucous bellowing laughs. The strain is all too much for the young woman. She sags against the door frame, nearly fainting from the strain the group of unwelcome visitors have put upon her.
Seeing this, the party gallop toward her at full speed. Wilfric leaps from his horse and catches the young woman in a dazzling blur of speed. Bertold also moves to assist the young woman, he finds himself deeply moved by her beauty; she is the most beautiful creature he has ever laid eyes upon. Her very presence stirs powerful feelings in him.
As the majority of the group gather around her, to ask what is wrong, Frankie slips by and enters the cottage. He finds a dimly lit dwelling. The majority of the space in the cottage is taken up by the animals the family own. There are two cows, five goats and a number of chickens. At the far side of the single room that comprises her home, three boys huddle together in a threadbare bed. There is very little in the way of furniture, and no luxuries, but what few possessions they do own are well cared for and clean.
Initially, the young woman tries to tell them that nothing is wrong, that it is nothing to concern folks such as them. She assumes they are gentry due to their horses and fine clothing. She does her best to introduce herself in a manner that gentry would find acceptable. “My lords and lady, I am Jill. I’m sorry to have distracted you from your travels…” she trails off as she attempts to choke back her tears. Despite suffering silently under great burdens for such a long time, she’s desperate for help, desperate for someone to talk to. Within a few moments she breaks down and tells them of her plight.
“My parents died of the fever this spring. It was horrible. One day they were healthy, and then they just got weaker and paler with each passing night until they died. I prayed to the good Lord for the sickness to take me instead, but my prayers were for naught. Their deaths must have been part of His great plan.”
“So I was left to bring up my three brothers. We’ve been doing our best to tend our field so we could feed ourselves and give the Earl his due. All the while, Warden Dubois has been making unsavoury proposals and lustful advances toward me. Of late, he has threatened not only me, but my brothers.” Horror taints her beauty as she continues her tale “He wants that I should give myself to him, and maybe even to his men. Yet, none of them have any desire to wed me. They only want to rob me of one of the few things I have left to cherish in this world, my virtue. And if I don’t surrender it, they intend to rob me of the three other things I cherish in the world, my brothers.”
Jill begins to cry in earnest; the tears rolling down her cheeks and falling from her jaw. “I pray to God for deliverance every night, but I am beginning to lose hope. And Warden DuBois is beginning to lose patience. I’m at my wits end. I have nowhere to turn.”
As she recounts her plight to the group, an idea forms in her mind. “Would you be willing to speak with the earl on my behalf? Perhaps you can convince him to allow you to take my brothers, and possibly me, with you to your own holdings? Please, I need help milords.” After no more than a moment’s consideration, the group agree – they will speak to the Earl on her behalf. They ask her how much further the Earl’s castle is. They are dismayed to discover that the castle is over an hour’s ride away – and there is roughly an hour till sunrise.
Jill happily offers for the group to stay in her cottage. She will soon be moving the animals out to graze, and her brothers will help her. So the characters can rest in her cottage, as long as its meagre hospitality will be acceptable to a Lady and Lords of such obvious calibre. The group swiftly accept and enter the cottage.
It is small, cramped, and smells of the animals which shelter in there. At the far corner three young boys huddle together. Eyes staring defiantly at the group, they expect the worst from them and assume they must be part of Warden DuBois’ group. When they see the relief on their sister’s face, they realise that the group are not here to hurt them, and may even offer assistance.
As the rest of the party do their best to settle down in the humble room they will be using as sanctuary from the sun, Frankie and Wilfric take a walk in the forest – to discuss Wilfric’s slaying of Lord Mieczyslav, Frankie’s sire and the one who Frankie hoped would teach him greater control of the Discipline of Vicissitude and flesh crafting. The talk is tense and filled with the possibility of imminent violence.
Meanwhile, Maria is struggling to make do with the cottage. How is a lady of her breading supposed to cope with squalor such as this? Her thoughts are interrupted by the family sheepherding the animals from the house.
Frankie and Wilfric return from their talk. The air has been somewhat cleared between them. But there is still tension. Can Frankie find it in himself to forgive Wilfric, or will things devolve to a point of no return?
As the sun starts to cast its rays over the forests, the group prepare to sleep. Wilfric asks Paul to guard the cottage as they sleep, Maria instructs Sir Henri to guard her. He promises to protect her virtue as she sleeps. Paul and Sir Henri eye each other up warily. They do not trust one another, just as the Kindred they represent don’t trust each other.
The day passes uneventfully. As night envelopes the land, the party begin to awaken. They promise Jill that they will speak to the Earl on her behalf, they then set off for Millstone castle.As the group approach, they see the castle looming out of the darkness. Millstone castle consists of a three story stone tower surrounded by a stone wall. There is a chimney at each compass point of the roof. The castle’s main keep is a drafty building with arrow slits for windows. Although glass is becoming increasingly common, the earl has yet to use any of it in his ancestral home. A wooden structure is built into the main exterior wall; the stable for Warden Dubois and his mounted assessors. It also houses the earl’s aging warhorse. A young stable boy is always on hand.
No guards patrol the wall, but the gate is closed and locked at night. The warden’s raucous laughter echoes from inside the keep, followed by the laughter of his assessors.
The group pound noisily on the door – this is the only way to get the attention of the warden and his men. They are too involved in whatever sport they have found. After some time, a slit is pulled back from the gate. A pair of eyes stare out at the group “What d’you want?”
The group tell them that they have travelled far, that they bring news of an old acquaintance of the Earl’s and they would like to speak to him. After some debate inside, the group are admitted to the dismal courtyard. The scruffy looking assessor who opened the gate slurs ‘You’ll have to clear it with Warden Dubois”.
The party find the castle’s courtyard is in a dismal state of disrepair. By the light of a small campfire and several torches they can see several figures gathered before the weather-beaten door that leads into the keep. Four men sit on barrels and stools around the fire, while a fifth sits further away. Two young women, both partially naked, wander from man to man. Each man cuts away a little more of their clothing with a dagger, or runs his hands over the women’s exposed skin and laughs loudly. One woman looks frightened, while the other has a blank expression on her face. Both women have tiny cuts on their arms, chests and legs, and both are haphazardly smeared with blood.
The man who admitted the group sits heavily on a barrel as he says “Dubois, we got some late night visitors here.” One of the men rises slowly. It is Warden Dubois, and he regards the characters through narrow eyes, grimacing. He offers his dagger to the fifth man and says “Would you like to take my turn, Wilfred?”
Wilfred shakes his head and takes a deep drink from the flagon he is holding “No thanks, Warden, I gave it up for lent”. Dubois laughs, and the man seated to his right pulls one of the women toward him “Let’s see what we can do about the rest of the skirt, dear.” he says.
Meanwhile, Dubois has been sizing up the characters. He approaches them, his grimace becoming a scowl. He snarls “Who are you people, and how dare you disturb our fun?” Alcohol taints his breath.
They show him the letter from the aging earl’s friend. Huffing about their ignorance for turning up at this ungodly hour, the warden eventually agrees to allow the group to pass, so they may pass their message on to the earl in person. Frankie offers his hand to the warden, in a gesture of friendliness. As the inebriated warden grasps his hand, Frankie pulls the warden toward him, grasping him around his chest. He uses his vampiric powers of vicissitude to subtly shift the earl’s diaphragm, to stop him from laughing his bellowing, raucous laughter.
After extracting himself from Frankie’s strange embrace, the warden orders one of his men to show the characters to the Earl’s chamber. But Wilfred leaps to his feet, swiftly offering to take the characters to see the earl. The earl is happy for Wilfred to carry out this errand – all the better if it means he and his men can continue their fun. But, as the group pass the campfire, Maledict and Wilfred each grab one of the women. The look in their eyes warns the warden that to attempt to take the women from them would be a terminally stupid mistake. Probably the last mistake they would ever make. The assessors and their leader stare daggers at the backs of the group as they leave.
While guiding the characters through the narrow hallways of the keep, Wilfred turns to them and speaks in a quiet voice. “Soon after you left Bohemia, word reached the prince that there are indeed other Cainites in Galtre. They may cause problems. I have been sent to help you address them.” He shows them a ring he keeps secreted on his person. It bears the seal the characters saw in Prague castle during their meeting with Nicholas. He continues to tell the group that he has been instructed by Nicholas to help the group in any way he can. Frankie and Maledict ask for private rooms, to tend to the young women. Wilfred shows them two rooms they may use for their needs and leaves them to whatever they wish to do. He had been posing as a brutal ruffian, like the scum in the courtyard, to get their assistance in exploring the region for suitable Cainite lairs. “It’s such a relief you finally arrived. I don’t know how much longer I could have carried on this pretence. They disgust me.” They continue onwards, to their meeting with the earl.
As they reach the earl’s door, some of the party catch sight of a young woman gazing at them from the room across the hall. As they look in her direction, she lowers her eyes and swiftly closes the door. Wilfred knocks upon the door to the earl’s room, a moment later a muffled “enter” is heard. Wilfred opens the door and bows deeply. “M’lord, I bring visitors, they have travelled far to bring you a message from an old friend.
The earl’s bedroom is opulent. Fine animal skins cover the floor. A large fireplace blazes in one corner of the room, casting dancing shadows across the people and furniture within. Over the mantle hangs a shield that displays no coat of arms, but has a pair of long swords crossed over it. An exceptional tapestry showing knights in combat with their foes covers the entire eastern wall. A writing desk and a chair stand near an arrow slit, and a tall lacquered cabinet stands in one corner, but the dominating feature of the room is a large four-poster bed. The earl rests on the bed, looking pallid and discomforted. Three other men – a young monk with dark circles around his eyes, Father Lucien, and Lord Alfred – stand around the bed. The smell of death is thick in the earl’s room. He is an aged man, his skin is as white as the sheets of his bed, and wisps of thin, white hair cling to his bony pate. He has all but wasted away under the weight of old age and disease. Even so, it’s plain to see that he was once a physically powerful warrior.
“Who is that?” the old man says “is that the devil, coming to take me away?”
“No Father” Lord Alfred says turning his attention back to the old man “It appears you have some late-night visitors. And they are not devils.”
Bertold scans the men with his Auspex sharpened senses. He swiftly deduces that Lord Alfred is a Kindred, that Father Lucien is a Ghoul and the tired looking monk is also a Kindred.
Once the group introduce themselves to the earl, he becomes visibly excited. He remembers his old friend and wants to hear how he is doing. As the group speak to the earl, they hear the sound of DuBois’ men laughing in the courtyard drifting through the arrow slit. It mingles with the sobbing cries of a woman. Obviously the assessors have found another victim to entertain themselves.
Lord Alfred singles out Frankie, and talks to him while the rest of the party talk to the Earl. He hopes that Frankie will do him he personal favour of extending his best wishes to Frankie’s master. Lord Alfred continues, saying that he would like to continue the relationship between the two families that his father had once he inherits the title of Earl. Frankie is understandably confused by this conversation.
Once he has had the letter sent from his old friend read out to him and made some small talk, the earl swiftly loses interest. Very little the group has to say piques the earl’s interest. His excitement swiftly wanes, and it becomes clear that he fears death more than anything. He tells them that he intends to will all his properties to the church so that his immortal soul won’t burn in Hell. He doesn’t fear death as much as he fears what may follow if he doesn’t take steps to undo all the evil deeds he perpetuated during his lifetime.
After the meeting, Lord Alfred shows the group around the castle on a brief tour. During the tour, Maledict notices a stuffed owl. He talks to the lord about it. It was hunted by the lord’s grandfather. Maledict asks if he may have it, as it is beautiful. Feeling flattered by this glowing praise, Lord Alfred agrees to this.
During this time, Maria takes the opportunity to seek out Father Lucien to confess her sins. Bertold decides to snoop around the confessional, and if he hears a few interesting titbits about Maria, then all the better…