DARK NIGHT, MAIDEN’S FLIGHT
It is the eve of the Tourney of Maj Hraegar, where all the knights of Nulmoria will gather together and compete in the lists. This tournament will occur outside the town of Strongwood, in the heart of Nulmoria, and the Iron Lord will attend.
Kat, Baxter, Jonathan Crisp, and Pilgrim have been filling in for the watch, handling the tougher duties. This particular night finds them on duty in the dark rundown maze of ramshackle buildings by the docks. It is a moonless night, and the streets stink of smoke and excrement. The watch is relatively uneventful at this late hour. The taverns are packed to capacity, but a general feeling of mirth and merriment pervades the atmosphere.
When the the taverns close and the laughter and drinking wear down and the night is quiet but for the barking of dogs and the crowing of a raven, a bruised young woman wearing a torn gown bursts from the darkness of the alleys pursued by two thugs in black, with silver-white satchels over their shoulders. The woman presses a note into Baxter’s hand and flees past him. The thugs advance.
During the fray, a shadow drops down behind Baxter and begins to strangle him. The man is enormous, and he wears a leather mask covered in strange white designs. It takes all the strength the watch can muster, but they kill two of assailants, while the third flees off into the streets. After the melee, they call out for the girl but she is nowhere to be found. The only thing she left was a piece of parchment scrawled with some symbols of an ancient alphabet.
Kat recognizes the script from one of her books on the ancient peoples that inhabited the area that was Nulmoria—the fey creatures of the Queen. While she and Baxter return to the Kassandara estate to examine the script, Pilgrim and Jonathan Crisp plan to go out to the taverns to ask questions and try to gather some information about the fleeing maiden. On their way, the watch hauls the bodies of the would-be muggers to the main gate. While there, Kat asks Dugall to dredge up records of anyone matching the descriptions of the dead men in the wagon. When the big strangler perished, he pulled off his mask and Jonathan Crisp recognized him by his scarred and deformed visage—a matthurbur assassin of some kind, ritualistic/guild markings on his mask; the man also had no tongue. The other thug looked young and common and had a pouch full of fifteen pieces of silver.
When Kat and Baxter returned to the Kassandara estate, Kat translated the runic script into seeming nonsense:
Gr gq yepccb. Ugrfbpyu dpmk rfc Mpbcp yq bgqasqqcb. Bm gr nszjgajw qm rfcpc ayl zc lm bmszr yq rm wmsp jmwyjrw. Rfcl wms qfyjj pcacetc msp dsjj qsnnmpr.
It appeared to be a simple cipher, which Kat and Baxter began to decode.
In the meantime, Pilgrim and Jonathan Crisp went to the Mapledown inn to speak with the innkeeper, Silvius, about guests who’d come in for the tournament and who the girl might be. After asking around for a time, they eventually learned (with the help of a pipe-smoking farmer who was there for the tournament and considered himself an expert on the knights) that the girl was none other than Lady Tamra d’Marek, daughter of Sir Gurney of Marek. In discussing the knights, Jonathan Crisp also pointed out that the thug’s dress resembled the blazon of Sir Desmond the Black Knight of Breckshire (whom the farmer called a bastard).
At the Kassandara estate, Kat and Baxter translate the cipher quickly. It reads:
It is agreed. Withdraw from the Order as discussed. Do it publicly so there can be no doubt as to your loyalty. Then you shall receive our full support.
The watch reports to Mortimer Schteck as the sun rises. Finding him not at his office, they are directed by his secretary to Stromvald Holdfast, where they are admitted to the quarters of Braedon Crownworth, chamberlain to the Red Rider. Gathered around a table and looking distraught are Sir Kaeden, Braden Crownworth, and Sir Karlak the Red Rider. The watch report that they have bad news to share.
Mortimer Schteck tells them he too has bad news—the Iron Lord is not attending his tournament.