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The Paladin’s Secret - A Play By Forum game of The Burning Wheel


#1

The Paladin’s Secret - Act 1: Welcome to the Night Isles

They say moving is one of the most stressful things in life. They are correct, when they speak about you and I but consider now how much worse it must have been for the Paladin’s Captains. Between the three of them, on the strict orders of King Bastian they had to purchase a castle in the Night Isles, one of the old Orcish ruins. They couldn’t just buy any of the abandoned fortresses of which there are many. They required a place close enough to the handful of Human settlements that they could continue to ensure that Conchubhar, Paladin of the Divine became a force of influence on the lives of the pioneers creating a new life for themselves on these remote islands far from the Old World, but inaccessible to the common man so that none may learn of the fate that has befallen him. And, they had to make this purchase sight unseen, picking from a vague and outdated map.


The Night Isles, consisting of the mainland of Karlifell and an estimated 782 smaller islands (not counting those that get covered by the tide, or join to another or the mainland at low water)

Having secured an unused fortress, they had to move the Paladin’s household and Conchubhar himself in secret to Port Issac, primary port of the Old World and hide him in that sprawling city. You must remember that he was the most celebrated being in the Old World and the Veil, as it was less than a year previous that he had brought peace to all of the great Kingdoms and was honoured by the Divines to ascend to become a God. Suffice to say, gossips across every royal court kept a close eye on his movements, he had power, both literal and political and the new order he had brought about was not yet understood by many. Peace is not an alluring prospect when you have lived through a war that your great grandfather cannot remember the start of, a war that has given you power, money and status. A war that raged in the four corners of every land under the sun and has taken more lives than could be possible to count. They say that the name of the number “1 Billion” was invented two hundred years ago to try to keep track of the dead, and that was before the Sorcerers got involved and exponentially increased the deadliness of the conflicts. When one man brings that to an end, you consider your situation very carefully indeed.


A Sorcerer

The Good King Bastian, and forgive me this liberty, but while I do not wish to make light of any of the Paladin’s achievements, it is true to say that without the support and sacrifices made by this King of the greatest of all nations of man, the war would still rage and none would know now of Conchubhar for he would not have achieved a thing, but I digress. The Good King sent his flagship to carry the Paladin and his household to the Night Isles, but despite this support, even the Captain of the HMS Quietly Confident was not to discover the Paladin’s secret. The only people who knew were King Bastian, Conchubhar’s household and, well, whoever did this foul deed. The Captains did their work well, and despite not a one of them laying eyes on the Paladin, the sailors, soldiers and crew of the Quietly Confident will tell their children proud tales of the voyage they took with such a sainted passenger.


His Majesty’s Sail, The Quietly Confident

The Night Isles are a mere speck in the ocean. I know how the maps show them, but if the cartographers drew them to their true size, they would be too small to appear, even the very finest of inkings would miss them. This is why the maps show them in ordinal scale - increased in size due to their importance. Without the Night Isles, and their position right in the middle of the Blue Ocean, trade between Veil and the Old World would not be possible! Humanity and the Dwarfs would never have met the Elves and the Orcs. The Elves found it first, of course. Those corsairs turned it into a place beyond reach when the Orcs destroyed every other of their Island Fortresses along the coast of Veil, and this far out it was decades until they were discovered. In that time of safety, the Elves preyed on Orcs and Humans alike, striking out at both continents. It was the Orcs who found the Elves first, inhabitants of the Veil have always had superior ships to the Old World, and when the Orcish navy discovered the base, it was a thriving city of the corsairs, many of whom had never even sailed. Unwilling or unable to massacre the city, the Orcs did what they do best, and made a deal with the Elves. They purchased the city, every building and every hectare of Karlifell Island. They were of course unwittingly responsible for the war, but even the coldest heart cannot put the blame onto them, though we wish they had thought through their actions. Making the poor but exceptionally powerful corsairs rich in the blink of an eye was a disaster. The politics of those pirates was a web of alliances and they were shattered overnight as Elf fought Elf for their share. This conflict would in time spread, but I think that’s quite enough about the war! The Orcs renamed their new city Ur-zitz- which is not pronounced “Err Shits” as I’m sure you sniggered the first time you heard it. It is a name of great history and gravity to the Orcs and it translates to “Peace in our Time”, a most sacred phrase to the greenskins, and is properly pronounced “Ooooh Jits”


Orc’s are great ambassadors and traders

Every ship that crosses from the Old World to the Veil, can only do so because they can stop, repair and resupply at Ur-zitz, and why cross the ocean when you can sail half way and trade in the great markets. The city prospered and it’s rulers and inhabitants became rich, despite the war. The Orcs built a ring of fortresses to protect Karlifell, the largest of the Night Isles, usually referred to as the mainland, and a wall that is a miracle to behold, such that the city could only be approached by sea.

I fear that the rumours that Dwarfs actually built it are spread by the jealousy of the Dwarf stone smiths, for I have seen it with my own eyes, and I promise you, that wall is entirely Orcish in its engineering. I do not doubt for one second that the Dwarfs could have done a better job of it had they been given the astronomical sums of money that the Orcs spent, but the simple truth is, the Orcs built a magnificent structure, truly a world wonder, and the Dwarfs are yet to show their quality on such a scale.

If you ever saw it, without knowing what you were looking at, you wouldn’t know it was a wall, not these days. The Orcs used to throw their criminals over, onto the mainland of Karlifell, exile from the fruitful industries of the city. Of course the Exiles banded together to become a nation unto themselves, of a sorts, and the Orcs quickly discovered the drawbacks of their isolation. While many of the Exiles continue to lead nomadic lives in the forest wilderness of Karlifell, most of them now live on the side of the wall, which is as porous as a net. To see the wall now, you would think it was a part of the city, it’s staggering verticality, it’s uniformity and the tiny dwellings clinging to it and the makeshift wooden roads leading all about, through and over it. You can spend your life there, never crossing into Ur-zitz and experience the best of life that the city has to offer, it is as metropolitan as it is interesting, every corner hides a new sight, smell or sound. Into the city proper and you find the wealth, the green spaces, carefully manicured and pristine, well guarded markets. Here the elite of Orcish society run the city, and probably much of the world.

The docks of Ur-zitz are where the majority of the inhabitants live, thousands of boats at any time, seventeen harbourmasters on duty day and night, a living, floating, breathing city, no vessel remains for more than a few days, so it endlessly shifts and impromptu industries spring up and collapse in the space of a week, only to do it again and again. A guide is vital, the maze of floating walkways shift hourly according to the incoming and outgoing vessels. Even the grandest of captains will submit to a local navigator to find his berth or leave for the open ocean again, and such manoeuvres can take many days of easing through the city. Often, by the time a ship reaches it’s berth, it has already emptied it’s cargo, refilled with it’s new stock and it ready to cast off once more, for the progress is so slow, sailors and traders can jump from ship to ship to do deals and exchange cargo on the move.

The Quietly Confident did not however berth at Ur-Zitz, for this is not the place that the humans are settling. No, you have to look across the mighty volcano, long dormant, but rumbling just enough to warn you that it slumbers and has not yet died. On the other side of the dense forests where the Exiles fear to tread is the Southern coast of Karlifell. As part of the peace negotiations, the Orcs sold half the Mainland to Humanity, a place for them to build an independent colony for men and dwarfs. Holding a place on the island has soothed the Old World considerably, and the Paladin’s new home is in one of the old Orcish fortresses, built to withstand Elven magic on an island guarding the entrance to the settlers’ main port of Kingsport. Being not on the mainland of Karlifell, the Fortress comes with a small harbour for supplies, but most importantly privacy for Conchubhar’s secret.

I’m quite sure you are by now eager to hear what this secret is and why it was so important to keep. The truth is, none can be entirely certain. This is what is known. The Paladin has only held his household for a few years, most of his career he has worked alone, with only his captains on occasion. King Bastian’s oldest son was kidnapped, Prince Kasper, and Conchubhar fought a fell beast to rescue him. He did not mention who it was to any of his Captains but we know it was an agent of the forces of the infernal planes, a demon, and that demon infected the Paladin with a malaise. By this point, the war was slowly grinding to an inevitable halt, and Conchubhar hid his affliction from all to complete his work. He would have died had he not ascended from Sainthood to become a God, but as it was, he fell ever more into dementia and unconsciousness.

The peace is fragile, we fear that if the world was to learn about the condition of the Paladin, it will fail. So it is then, three captains in charge of the household, all sworn to secrecy. Only one other knows, the King, and we must do what the Captains did so well on the Quietly Confident. Without letting a soul actually see or hear the Paladin, we must do his works in his name, so his influence will never be disputed. The people of the colony must enthuse about his deeds here, so that the word will spread all around the world, Conchubhar is as active as ever and if you dare breach your peace agreements, he will come to enforce them.

—————

“You four!” Calls Kasia “Get yourselves to the courtyard!” The woman giving the orders is one of Conchubhar’s captains. Never smiling, she is in charge of the Paladin’s soldiers, and for her to be ordering the household is rare, “Find that layabout Jarek first, this should do him some good, or at least get him out from under my feet for five minutes”.

With only a single guard left now, Kasia is finding her new role. At 8 years old, tied to the stake to be burned alongside her mother, she escaped the flames, but instead of running for her life, the child faced her would be murderers, the crowd baying for their deaths as entertainment. None, save her know quite what she said to them in that moment, but by the end of the day she led an army of peasants to liberation, and at twelve years old commanded the White armies, bringing peace to her lands. The paladin recruited her and the ranks of the White swelled with tens of thousands of troops, the muscle that guaranteed the Paladin’s word. For her now to be so diminished, ordering a guardsman onto watch, her palpable frustration is surely understandable.

Jarek, Warran, Aulexis, Simon and Kaelin snap to attention, as best as they know how, awaiting Kasia’s orders. It has been a week since the HMS Quietly Confident arrived, it left only yesterday and the castle is a hive of renovations and activity as the Paladin’s household find their place, duties and roles.

“We need salt, a mistake was made and we are desperately short. Get yourselves to the greenskin city and order it for delivery as quickly as you can!” Stopping at the shock of such direct orders, realising that she is not talking to military men - well not men that she recognises as military men at any rate, Jarek most certainly does not count in her eyes, she softens her voice.

“We need a hundred barrels at a minimum, ours were all left aboard the ship. There’s a caravan leaving today from Inchwick, going to Ur-zitz, so this is a perfect opportunity to ingratiate yourself with the locals, get to know the lay of the mainland. I’ll give you a credit note, some Orc trader will be able to make a delivery, but if we don’t get it, we will have to buy salted meat from Karlifell, while our cattle grow old and sinewy in the fields. This job is important and I have no-one else that I can spare. Would you do this task for us please?”


#2

Even as the instructions are being delivered Simon feels his eyes being drawn to the renovations happening around them…


#3

Right now, it is the stonesmith and the architect who are doing the most eye-catching work - or at least, ordering the labourers to do it. The walls are crumbling and the foundations, ever under attack by the ocean are unstable. And it seems the answer is to tear everything down! The stonework is rapidly shrinking, being taken apart methodically and neat piles of blocks are being laid out while the architect marks them, hopefully to help him put them back into place once more!


#4

On the HMS Quietly Confident Aulexis had been able to push her various anxieties to the corners, it was easy to find work to do that she was familiar with, and the sea had always been ‘home’. On land, surrounded by walls and standing on inflexible and stationary earth, she feels almost absurdly out of place. She never imagined any life except piracy, and she never attempted to learn anything unless it related to becoming a Corsair Captain. What good was she to the Paladin, anyways?

The last week she’s simply been waiting near the other household members, and staying out of the way of the workers and builders that all seem to know exactly what to do and where to go. Thankfully, Kasia’s voice brings much needed focus and purpose to what was shaping up to be another miserable day.

Authority is familiar, but distantly. She has been her own master for a long time, and even before then she obeyed her superiors almost ironically. Kasia’s martial tone stings a little, and reminds her that she’s a nobody here, and is in charge of nothing, and should do what she’s told. When Kasia switches to a lighter tone, Aulexis immediately feels less like conspiring to kill her and take her place, and remembers that she chose to leave the life of a villain voluntarily, and being obedient is part of her penance.

A salt shortage is familiar to her. Such preservatives are vital for any sort of long journey or extended stay. Whatever fool is responsible for this ‘mistake’ should be drawn and quartered. Or reprimanded severely? Given stress-leave? She smiles, wondering what the compassionate Paladin would have done.

She salutes in the manner she’s seen soldiers do, trying to act as compliant as possible, though the action irks her.
“Anything for the Paladin.” She replies to Kasia, smiling again. It’s something she says often, as much a mantra for her own sanity as an affirmative.

She looks over her companions. She’s not really that familiar with any of them, though she’s heard Jarek play and talked to him a few times. He reminds her of friends she had when she was young, just starting out. There’s something comforting about that which makes her disposition to him already positive.

The others look like people she would have tossed overboard without a second thought. No riches or ransom to collect. I would be tossed out with them. She thinks, as she smiles back at Warran reflexively.


#5

Warran Forsyth was not far off when he was called to the courtyard. He had been perched on top of a crate of supplies just inside one of the nearby supply rooms reading a well-worn book, of substantial size, when he heard the Captian bellow for them. He looked up from the tome across the room to a young man playing with a small object.

He speaks calmly to the man, “Jarek, I think we are being summoned. If you don’t want to get in trouble, you better make it to her quickly this time…”

He looks down to the book again, rises to his feet, and leaves the room paying no further attention to the other man.

Once outside, he closes the old book which has the fading title Objects Practicum for thy Smythe on the spine and walks to the group assembling in the courtyard. On his approach, he sees a strikingly attractive elf and thinks to himself: Wow, I really need to get my nose out of the books! To settle his nerves on the voyage to the island, Warran had spent most of his time reading on the voyage, only speaking to a few of the other members of the household on occasion; but for some reason, he had not noticed this elf on the ship.

He flashes her a charming smile and lines up with the rest of the number. Once the instructions are given by Captian Kasia, he nods in acknowledgment. His mind slips to the status of the forge here, and wonders if its condition is too far gone to forge simple items for repairs to the fort.


#6

Startled by hearing Kasia called his name, Jarek stopped as he was about to take a bite of one of the warm rolls that he had palmed from the kitchens. He nodded at Warran, quickly shoved the roll into his pocket, and ran for the courtyard. He cringed when he heard her call him a layabout.
That woman hates me, Jarek thinks to himself as he runs into the courtyard. Jarek stops hard to avoid running into the back of the Aulexis. Only one person mad at me at a time… He instinctively put his hands into his pockets to make sure that he had not dropped the cube in his haste. He smiled slightly to himself as he felt the cube in one pocket and a warm roll in the other.
Keen to a commander’s shifting moods, Jarek is surprised to hear her tone shift. He steals a glance at her and is surprised to see her looking at them and asking rather than telling them what she wants them to do. Jarek is so surprised at her request that he finds himself nodding as the others agree to go.


#7

Kaelin stands silently, considering. A hundred barrels of salt. That is a substantial amount of a relatively rare commodity. Naturally the sea is full of the stuff, but the time and effort to harvest such a quantity means that the cost will be high.

He wonders more on the statement of intent that such a purchase signifies. It will allow for the preservation of food stocks that far exceeds the demands of the settlers here. He is used to salt being restricted to a single pouchful for a settlement, a valued resource most treasured. To think that obtaining numerous barrels of the stuff is regarded in such a mundane way is eye opening.

This is a strange world compared to the small marsh communities he has lived in all his life. The fort itself is imposed on the landscape, stone masonry implying a permanence that the weather disputes. Such a variety of people, all bustling on tasks that are done in strange ways. Mainly humans, all rushing to and fro, barely taking time to properly consider their handicraft.

Well, aside from Warren and Simon. The carpenter seems to have an admirable quality to the work he produces, although admittedly Kaelin has not yet seen much of his handiwork. Warren is often seen with his nose in a book, showing a desire for knowledge little evident in most humans.

He looks sidelong at his other apparent companions for this task. Jarek is an interesting one. He moves softly and with care, like a hunter can, although he clearly has not spent much time in the wilderness. As for the elf, she radiates threat. A clam exterior, but something bubbles underneath, even if the others cannot see it. One to be careful around.

Eventually he speaks, his voice gravelly and deep rather than the usual sonorous softness expected from elves. “When does the caravan depart?”


#8

…and how long is the journey?


#9

“Two days journey to the Volcano, from there, two days journey to Ur-zitz, at least a day there and then the four days back again. The caravan, so I’m told is already leaving Inchwick, heading South, to circle the marsh before striking out North, where it will wait at traders stop. You shouldn’t have any problems meeting it there, they wait for a guide from the Exiles to meet them to take them through the Silent Forest. I’ve organised a dinghy for you, to get you to Mainland. It’s down in the harbour, bring it back in one piece please.”


#10

(Simon feels a strange feeling about returning to the water. The familiarity is reassuring, but this crew is an unknown quantity. The chance to visit the silent forest is what piques his interest. Some fine wood lies in that ancient place.)


#11

(@SleepyWill please could you add some place names to your fantastic map?)


#12

(Pfft, names? on a map? - whatever next!)


#13

Warran carefully thinks and then asks Kasia, “Are there any other provisions which are needed? Since we are making a trip for the salt, if there is anything else needed for the reconstruction of the fort, surely now would be a good time to acquire it. Also, I would like to request the use of an item for the journey. A staff, nothing fancy just a plain, basic staff… for use walking any rough terrain.” He smiles politely after making his request.


#14

“Not right now, not at their prices - we already have arrangements in place for most everything else. Go to my room, take my scouting stick, and make sure it comes back” she glances at Jarek as she says this.

“I assume at least one of you can sail - if not… well, find someone who can. If there’s nothing else, you are dismissed!”


#15

Kaelin retrieves his fishing spear from where he propped it against the wall, and stoops to retrieve his satchel. He had only shortly returned to the castle after being up with the dawn light to try his luck on the beach south of the fort. As this amounts to all his worldly possessions, he is ready to go. He checks the weather proof wrap around his spear, and waits for the others.


#16

“Rations and water for the trip? Do we need to procure some, or is the dingy supplied?” Aulexis is outwardly respectful, and refrains from slipping in a sarcastic comment about ‘provisioning mistakes’.


#17

“Just tell the quartermaster you are journeying, he will pack your rations to go” Once again Jarek is given a knowing glare “If you haven’t already picked them up, that is!”


I assume you head out to pack your gear and prepare for at least a fortnight on the road. When you meet back at the dinghy, who takes the helm? and where do you sail to?

As a small boat, you can easily carry it out of the water, and the marshy lowlands have few cliffs or rocks to prevent this and the tideline is fairly easy to see, so you can store your boat without fear of it being taken by the high tide.

(( The map isn’t yet showing the marshlands - but, where Inchwick sits, and you may know this from the word inch in it’s name, is a dry island, surrounded by marsh, that is not only the green land, but the blue water as well, and from the narrow inlet where the mud starts, all the way up and through Inchwick, and into the lake area beyond, this is all marshland, and unsuitable for an ocean going boat, even a small one like this - the water is just not deep enough for it, you will need a skiff or punt to use the waterways from there ))


#18

Once at the harbour, Kaelin will give the boat a thoroughly going over to check its sea worthiness. He’s not expecting to find anything amiss, but such diligence is never misplaced. He’ll then stow his gear and look to the others, seeing if someone starts to assume a leadership role.


#19

Simon swiftly inventories the boat, opening any compartments and surveying its craftsmanship.


#20

…nodding to Kaelin who is doing the same.