The old man sighs and stares into the fire for a long moment, as though searching his memory. Behind you, the clinking of glasses and laughter of the other patrons seems muted, insignificant, as the old man prepares to tell his story.
“At this point in time, the adventuring party had not yet been formed. Or it had just broken up, depending on how you look at things. In any event, Dronian and Erandis had not yet met each other, nor did they know Tiber and Sylar. It was the machinations of the Duke that brought everyone together…”
Dronian Meets His Master
Dronian met with his mentor, Merlac, in the wizard’s home. Merlac informed the apprentice that Bartok, the Court Wizard, had requested to meet Dronian to discuss some private business. Merlac himself seemed quite nervous about meeting with Bartok in the flesh.
When Bartok arrived, he took Dronian aside and explained why he had requested his presence. First, the Duke had ordered an expedition to Frandor’s Keep, and Bartok had requested to send a representative along. Dronian, as an apprentice with no responsibilities, no political views or attachments, and no major potential, was a perfect choice to serve as the Court Wizard’s representative.
Second, Bartok gave Dronian an additional mission to carry out along the way to Frandor’s Keep; this mission is secret, but obviously has something to do with the strange, rune-carved chest among the group’s traveling supplies.
Erandis Receives a Holy Mission
Due to the politics surrounding the expedition to Frandor’s Keep, Erandis went through a similar scenario. While meditating in the Monastery of Celestial Wisdom, Erandis received a summons from Ganglir, the Folnir of the Church of the Lord-Father. The Folnir was the head of the church, and the Church of the Lord-Father was the most important religious institution in the land, making Ganglir the most powerful priest in Arcosa. Upon arriving at the Church of the Lord-Father, Erandis was shuttled off to Ganglir, who sent away his hangers-on and aides to speak with him privately.
Ganglir stated that he had a favor to ask of Erandis; this was highly unusual, as Ganglir had the entire resources of his church to draw upon, while Erandis was a only humble follower of Hemeod. However, Ganglir explained that this was precisely the point – he had demanded that the Duke allow him to send a representative of the gods on this excursion to Frandor’s Keep, but he could not send one of his own underlings and still appear politically neutral. The Order of Thought (the local church of Hemeod) was on friendly terms with the worshippers of Arnagrimm, and Erandis had recently returned from a long pilgrimage and so had few if any ties; therefore, appointing Erandis would offend the least number of people within the priestly community.
However, Folnir Ganglir’s request did not end there. He revealed that the Church of the Lord-Father had opened up a branch in Frandor’s Keep the preceding year, but that it was struggling. Erandis was to bring along a crate of holy books and pamphlets to deliver to the church there; some of these would go towards starting a church library, others would be given to faithful lay members, and some would be used in proselytizing.
Auld Lang Syne
As Sylar and Tiber were preparing to leave the King Rat tavern to head to the Duke’s Manor, they were surprised by a large group of friends and allies, who wished to toast and congratulate them on their recent successes. Present were Tarl, the good-natured errand boy turned tavern manager; Skegg, the hard-drinking veteran, and Thorvinn, the young and idealistic halberdier, both members of the Sword and Skull guild; Bartus, resident locksmith and liaison with the Thieves Guild; members of First and Second Tier guards; and various tavern regulars.
Eventually, the celebrations died down, and the Duke’s carriage arrived to take Sylar and Tiber up to the keep, above Fourth Tier. The two also brought gifts for the Duke: a barrel of Scully the dwarf’s new batch of beer, as well as two fighting beetles (one strong-jaw beetle and one fire beetle, along with a selection of miniature beetle-weapons). Arriving at the keep, servants take their gifts and let them into the manor.
Inside the manor, Tiber and Sylar waited along and in the dark for many long, awkward moments. The place itself seemed empty, with no servants or other signs of life. Finally, someone approached: an old man in an incredibly-expensive robe, worn over a set of dirty and cheap clothes. He completed the outfit by carrying a single candle and wearing a pair of slippers. Just as Tiber and Sylar were about to ask where this crazy old man had stolen the robe, he introduced himself as Duke Kintyre IV, and led them back to a dining room.
Dinner…Such as It Is
Already seated around the dinner table are the Court Wizard and Folnir of the Church of the Lord-Father, whom they had previously met, along with Dronian and Erandis, whom they had not. The Duke first congratulated Tiber and Sylar on the recent success of the tavern and their dungeon excavation ventures. He then compliments them on doing so well without the support and backing of a guild or merchant house – and informs them that they have yet to pay any taxes on their dungeoneering money. The Duke brings it home by suggesting that they can temporarily defer their tax payments by working as agents of the crown. Conceding that they have been outmaneuvered, Tiber and Sylar agree to do what the Duke asks.
The Duke explains that Sylar, Tiber, Dronian, and Erandis, will all be taking a trip to Frandor’s Keep, located in the Hell’s Throat Pass of the Morjar Mountains. They will be posing as treasure-hunters, in the area to raid the local humanoid lairs for treasure, but their real mission will be to scout the far side of the pass on the east face of the mountains. The Duke tells them that he has received a report from the Prefect of the keep and he wants to verify whether or not it is accurate. The party’s main goal is to check there for any signs of an impending attack and invasion by orcs (or anyone else). If there is a war camp on an invasion course, they are to obtain as much additional information as possible. Either way, they are to send word to the Duke with their findings.
Around this time, Moira, the Duke’s daughter and heir, appears, unaware that there were guests in the manor. The party members introduce themselves to the Princess, who is friendly but understandably unimpressed. Soon after she departs, the Duke leaves the group, as well. Bartok and Ganglir, who seem to share some sort of rivalry, both depart next through separate doors, neither willing to turn his back on the other.
In Conclusion, This was the Beginning
The old man clears his throat and stretches his hands out to the fire, warming them. He takes another sip of wine, a strange expression on his face; the reflection of the flames dance across his dark pupils. He runs a hand through his long beard and sighs. “And thus, was the expedition to Frandor’s Keep begun.”