Date: Agrazhar 10, 720TR
Three Royal Agents – Gutei, Egil Yngling and Eogain Mac Eogain – are summoned to Caer Elendsa in Tashal, where two miners have gained the ear of Lady Erila Kaphin. The Tashal Summer Fair is in its closing days, and some of the merchants who converge on the city ever year have already left for home.
The miners – the franchise holder, Jorsyn of Krasel, and his on-site foreman, Syan of Ebor – say three of the men working the Amba tin mine disappeared within one tenday, two months ago. Since then, the miners have refused to work the mine. All mines are held from the Crown, which takes a cut of any profits. The Amba Mine is on the fringes of the kingdom, northwest of the village of Loban in Meselyneshire. 12 miners worked it, inlcuding Foreman Syan.
The first miner to vanish – Lardil of Asten – was a young serf who’d run away to earn his freedom through spending a year and a day with the Free Miners. He hadn’t really fitted in to the mining life, and the others thought he;d simply run away.
A couple of days later another miner, Hondan of Nela, vanished. The remaining miners found his bloody clothes within the mine itself. There was no body.
The body of Marl of Kadin, the third miner, was found bloody and mutilated, as if savaged by some beast, between the miners’ camp and the mine itself. That’s when the miners left their camp and sought refuge at Loban Manor House.
Jorsyn and Syan waited for an investigation by the coroner, but that was inconclusive. It’s taken them a further two weeks to gain audience with Lady Erila.
Lady Erila tasks her agents with finding out what happened and, if possible, getting the mine back open. If that’s not possible, well, the mine has been getting less profitable for years.
One of the issues the party must face is the involvement of Sir Maldan Harabor, Sheriff of Meselyneshire and Constable of Olokand Castle. A potential rivalry exists between him and Lady Erila, and he is inclined to be precious about his status. As sheriff, Sir Maldan is technically responsible for the mines in his jurisdiction; however, he has also been responsible for overseeing Kaldor’s largest tournament, the Royal Chelebin Tournament of Chivalry, held at Olokand every year in the second tenday of Larane (which means it started a month ago and ended 20 days ago).
After a little discussion with Lady Erila about how to handle Sir Maldan (with due deference), the agents decide to travel to Olokand by barge, heading up the River Kald.
The journey upstream takes two days, with an overnight camp on the east bank of the Kald. The bulk of the journey between Tashal and Olokand is through undeveloped land, and the bargemen become extra cautious when the river passes through thick woodland. The west bank, they say, is the haunt of the Taelda barbarian tribe, skilled woodsman and hunters. The Taelda don’t normally trouble the kingdom or the river traffic, but the bargemen are cautious nonetheless.
Arriving in Olokand in the late afternoon of Agrazhar 11, the agents show their royal seals at the castle gates to gain audience with Sir Maldan. He seems realtively indifferent to their mission, but does provide some information, including the coroner’s reports into the miner’s disappearances/deaths, which attributes the disappearances to murders by person or persons unknown. The mauling of Marl’s body is though to have taken place, and to have made it difficult to determine the true cause of death. In all cases, the victim’s left their companions voluntarily, and no one heard or saw anything suspicious.
Since the agents are determined to travel to the mine, Sir Maldan asks them to check on the state of affairs in the village of Loban, one of the manors held from the Crown. Sir Kathel Dezaller, the knight who holds the village, must send 100 bushels of rye (about two tons) as part of his fee, and he has been later than usual sending it – especially in a year when the summer has been good and the grain harvest a little earlier than usual.
The sheriff does not seem overly concerned about the delay; he concedes Sir Kathel has had an unusually active year – three of his peasants were killed by a Taelda war party while clearing land west of the Ambarin River for ploughing; the Taelda regard this land as theirs. In the end, Sir Kathel a knight renowned in jousts and tourneys, hired mercenaries to teach the Taelda clan behind the raid the error of their ways. The sheriff implies that Sir Kathel’s methods were brutal, but effective, and there has been no further trouble from the Taelda.
While in Olokand, Gutei visits the Temple of Peoni and the sheriff’s chaplain, a Laranian priest, to ask if anyone has had nightmares or unsettling dreams over the past couple of months.
In the Peonian temple – decorated with freshly harvested sheaves of wheat, barley and rye – he learns of a couple of local legends. The first concerns the ghost of Prince Brant, last in the line of an ancient kingdom centred on Olokand which was absorbed into the fledgling kingdom of Kaldor hundreds of years ago. The ghost is said to stalk the castle walls. The second concerns the Murath, a frightful beast said to haunt the Ona-Setrum, a pit to the south of Olokand – when the wind blows from the south, its moans carry into the town, causing many people to have restless nights. When Gutei asks about Loban and the Amba Mine, the priest speaks a little sadly of Sir Kathel’s mercenaries’ brutality against the Taelda, and of the shame that the miners’ murderer was never caught. But he has no word of what may be happening in Loban.
The sheriff’s chaplain is a doddering old man who seems to look down on such fripperies as dreams. He praises Sir Kathel’s raid against the Taelda – “The only thing they understand is the sword” – and asks for a donation to support the Solora
Genocide Crusade, which the Order of the Lady of Paladins is waging against Solori tribesmen in the far south-east of Harn, following the deaths of a couple of Laranian missionaries.
While Gutei went to see the priests, Eogain and Egil visit the seediest local tavern, the Amber Inn on the south side of town. To Egil’s delight, it’s run by an Ivinian from Orbaal, and its customers include several Orbaalese merchants on their way back from the Tashal Summer Fair. While they have no information about the Amba Mine or about Loban – they scarecely known the names of the villages they pass through – they are more forthcoming about the Taelda. The merchants say Taelda don’t generally bother people, that there are more vicious barbarians further north. They agree the agents can travel with their caravan as far as Loban.
Innkeeper Tenaar of Shetag mentions the legend of the Murath, the beast of the Ona-Setrum, to Egil. The beast, it seems, appears as different creatures to different people, and has been in the Ona-Setrum beyond living memory. Nobody’s ever been foolish enough to explore its lair and fight it. Egil lays a 30d bet he’ll kill the beast and bring its head to the pub within two tendays.
Meanwhile, Eogain’s efforts to find a merchant or peasant who’s travelled from Loban are in vain. Any merchants in town are heading in the opposite direction, coming from Tashal. Peasants all come from villages closer to town than Loban, which is the last village before the Fur Road enters the wildlands.
The following morning, Agrazhar 12, the Orbaalese merchants make a fairly late start, intending to stop at Loban for lunch before continuing into the wild.
In Wythian, the next village to Loban, the agents find a shepherd with the first solid news of trouble in the village – the two villages share a pasture, and one of the Loban herdsmen told him that several villagers have disappeared, and the peasants have refused to bring in the lord’s harvest until the killer has been found. In retaliation, Sir Kathel has imprisoned the village reeve and is threatening to hang him unless the peasants bring in the harvest.
In Loban, the agents head straight to the manor house. It’s somewhat more sturdily built than manor houses around Tashal, with a solid wooden palisade, a complex wooden gatehouse and a stone tower. The guard, a villager with a spear, is a little dimwitted, but eventually lets them in.
Sir Kathel is at a table in his great hall, deep in his cups. The agents appeal to his sense of responsibility, but the knight expresses his frustration over his inability to stop the disappearances. He points to the jousting and tournament trophies around the walls of his hall – nine suits of armour, with shields and battleswords (one shield bearing the device of Sir Scina Dariune, eldest sone of Eogain’s former master, the Earl of Balimshire). Sir Kathel proclaims himself one of the best knights in Kaldor – no, totally the best – and he’s unable to protect his own peasants. When the agents try to persuade him not to hang the reeve, he changes the subject and calls in his yeoman, Doberry, the village beadle.
Doberry tells the agents he’s patrolled the village after dark to no avail. Last night, he found the bloody clothes of the latest victim, Hakon of Ersat, on the village common, not far from Doberry’s own home and where he had patrolled just an hour before.
Doberry says four Loban peasants have disappeared over the past two months (which is when the Amba miners left their camp to seek refuge in the village). One villager disappeared in broad daylight; the others at night. No one has found tracks, no one has heard screams or sounds of a fight. No one has found bodies – just bloody clothes in three of the four cases.
Eogain and Gutei speculate that the miners may have uncovered something – and object or a creature – which may have caused the firt disappearances, so the the agents question the miners, who are staying in Sir Kathel’s tower. They’re adamant they did nothing unusual at the mine, nor oncovered anything unusual either. They’re quite dismissive of ideas of underground ghoulies, ghosties and long-legged beasties. The Amba mine, they explain, is a drift mine – a walk-in mine which doesn’t go deep. They explain mining methods, that they all work together using fire and fracturing to drop shelves of rock from which they separate the ore-laden from raw rock. Ores are sent back to the camp for smelting into tin blooms (round ingots). The mine has been less profitable in recent years as the seams have become thinner, meaning they’re getting less ore with each firing. But it is still profitable, they insist.
Following the interview with the miners, Gutei suggests Sir Kathel’s brutal raids against the Taelda may have upset the Balance, which Gutei believes is a universal force. The Taelda may have been hunting beasts or keeping something in check which, now they’re gone, is preying upon the miners and villagers.