What light through yonder window breaks

Written By: Stephen Dove - Mar• 15•14

Today is the start of a mini-adventure, set within the larger ‘tapestry’ of the Cantorbridge Tales, but which can also be played as a standalone piece if desired. It is sited in Netherford, in Vindashire , but can be re-sited to any town or City in any pseudo-medieval world that the GM desires. Follow these links above for information and maps detailing the City and Shire in Legend or use your own.

Summary. Margaret Weaver, the wife of a rich cloth merchant, gave birth to her fifth stillborn child 4 years ago.  She was so desperate for a living child, knowing that she would be cast off by her husband without one, that she bullied her midwife into leaving the corpse of the child in the ruins of a nearby Selentine temple; for local legends suggest that the temple has restored life to the dead in the past. The next morning, the boy was alive; or at least something had returned in his shape, for the ‘boy’ was now unnaturally strong and clever. Unbeknowst to his mother, however, he now uses mirrors to traverse the City on nights of the full moon, seeking out victims to bolster his life force, and also using his powers to whip up mobs, causing innocents to fight until blood flows and death follows. The PCs must confront this creature, for only they can see his true nature and find the gateway into the mirror realm where he can finally be slain and his soul set free.

Dweomer Sight

The Hook for this adventure requires that some or all of the PCs can see the world of the eldritch. A Mystic’s See Enchantment spell might provide the solution; or perhaps the GM will decide that Vodenus’ amulet from The Miller’s Tale confers the ability to see the dweomer upon whomsoever bears it; assuming the players have been through that adventure. Alternatively the GM just needs to invent some other item or curse that allows the PC to see magic prior to this adventure. Indeed, as a general rule, medieval fantasy works best when the PCs can perceive the unseen world that common folk can not.

Whatever the case, the PCs have entered Netherford (or some other town or City) in the early winter of 950 AS, near the time of the Martinmas feast (early November in our world’s calendar). Martinmas in medieval times, was associated with Fey, because these creatures were thought to be most powerful in the ‘boundary moments’ between ‘states’ such as night and day, Spring and Summer or even life and death. Martinmas occurs at almost precisely the boundary between Autumn and Winter and so was a time of fear, as well as joy.

If the PCs are enmeshed in the Cantorbridge Tales, this adventure should start after they have managed the fallout from the journey to Netherford and their encounter with the Fey wolves; the trial, the burials and other matters dealt with in the last post.

Martinmas

The day after the PCs arrive in Netherford is the start of the Feast of Martinmas, which lasts eight days. The City is full to bursting, with no room at any Inn and Pilgrims swarming everywhere. Gaudily painted stalls are set out in all of the markets and streets.  Indeed, traders have arrived from the nearby towns and villagers, and are camped on the Fayrefield or on the Abbey Foregate in the Sacred Precinct; selling all manner of items, from pilgrim brooches and tiny relic amulets to the many wares of the Camelots. Camelots are sellers of false relics and they ply their trade whilst keeping a watchful eye out for the Proctors, who will fine or imprison those who ‘debase the sanctity of the Fayre with mummery and quack cures’. In fact the Proctors are more concerned with ensuring that the Church does not lose too much of the coin being spent by Pilgrims, to the townsfolk or those paying the townsfolk for the privilege of stall space at such a time.

fayrefield

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Church bells ring out the hours, for this time is one of fear, as the Fey are said to be powerful at Martinmas; even to the point of being able to tread on hallowed ground. The bells are said to scare them off and so they are rung rather more assiduously than is strictly necessary. Indeed, the PCs will see as they walk about that many of the more well-to-do houses have lines of salt across their thresholds, whilst the poorer folk make do with bundles of holly and rowan wood nailed to their doors; and burn rowan-wood on their fires to keep the chill and other, more nameless things at bay.

It Begins

Note; if a GM wishing to use this scene is not following the Cantorbridge Tales, then they will need to invent some encounter or curse prior to this scene. See this post for how the curse befalls the party in the Cantorbridge Tales. You need merely invent something similar; you don’t need to follow the rest of the campaign to take this kernel and use it as you see fit.

As the PCs are walking around; perhaps seeking answers to the problem of their curse, they may notice an unusual number of crows watching them from the tops of nearby houses (Stealth 15). Then, when they next cross a market or other public space, an old Varni women calls out to them and sends her boy over to tug their sleeves until they join her; if they will not come, she speaks directly to the mind of the PC with the highest Psychic Talent and says ‘Do not scorn me shadowless one; come and learn of your fate’. She proves to be a blind Varni woman who tells fortunes and she requests that the PCs come and sit in her smoky tent for a moment. Though her face is so gnarled it seems scarcely human, Esmeralda has an oddly quiet presence. The PCs will notice the entire inside of her tent is stitched with strange symbols; any magic-user in the group can recognize them as ancient symbols of protection against evil with an Intelligence check of 15 .

The woman says she feels a powerful doom has settled on the group; ‘I can smell it on you like a woman’s musk’ she breathes, her milky white eyes looking sightlessly at them. ‘For this reading, their will be no coin; I will do as I am bade by my Master!’ she says, almost resentfully, and then she asks for the palm of one of the PCs and she strokes it gently. ‘Ah Yes! You think you are cursed, but God has a plan for you. He wants you to be his Hounds and contest with the evil that others cannot see in their very midst. You are in great danger, but you also have a chance for your lives to mean something. Do not try to turn aside from this fate; it will pursue you all the days of your life until you come to a grim ending. Not through relics will you find surcease from this dweomer, nor through prayer, but only by your deeds. More than this I cannot say; dare not say, for we are watched by the servants of Arawn even in this moment. Go now and choose wisely!’

Esmeralda then bids them goodbye and shuts up her tent; she will answer no more questions, but might promise to meet them ‘…in St Stephen’s Churchyard this eve at 8 bells.’ if they insist. But if the PCs turn away even for a moment to confer and do not state they are actively watching the old women, Esmeralda, her tent, the boy and all her belongings are gone when the PCs turn back to where she was just a moment before. Passersby and tradesmen will not remember seeing any woman and will look strangely at the PCs if they persist in their questioning; ‘I’ve been standing here selling since before cocks crow squire and I can h’assure you there weren’t no old woman hanging around hearabouts; not today!’ These traders faintly register with a lingering scent of the dweomer; as if recently ensorcelled.

The Mermaid and the Mob

As the PCs drink in this information, just across the Fayrefield or Marketplace from where they stand, a riot begins outside a tent with a sign bearing the words ‘Blackthorn’s Magnificent Mermaid. Come and See THE Maritime Wonder of The World; only 1 florin’. A man is being borne aloft by the crowd to a pillory, or whipping post. The Watch are trying to intervene but cannot get through the throng. The man is dressed in a stained robe, as if he is a scholar. He is yelling in a high, nasal voice ‘Unhand me you scum! How dare you manhandle the great Marcus Blackthorn! My Mermaid is REAL I tell you!’

If the PCs enquire of the crowd, they will discover that the man is going to be whipped for charging folk to see his ‘false mermaid’. Blackthorn will hear this unless the PCs take pains to conceal their conversation and he’ll beg the party to rescue him, pleading and shouting his innocence and offering them coin in a stage whisper as he is tied to the pillory. Hearing this, the crowd suddenly surge towards the PCs; luckily all are unarmed. PCs who can see magic, will note that all of the mob seem to glow with a faint trace of dweomer shortly before they attack. They may also notice a reflection of a very small boy in a pane of glass on a nearby building (Stealth 14). As the mob attacks the PCs can hear a woman calling out from behind them ‘Phillp! Phillip! Oh where are you?’

Mob (12):  Attack; 11, Defence; 5, Barehands; (d3, 2), AF 0, Movement (10m; 20m), Magical Defence; 3, Evasion; 4, Health Points; 8, Stealth; 11, Perception; 6.

The mob forgets about Blackthorn and charges the party, trying to surround them and beat them to death. This is no scuffle; there is something evil driving the crowd. The PCs must survive for 1d8 rounds; after this time, the mob is dispersed and arrested by the Watch, who saw everything and will not arrest the PCs, even if they resorted to deadly force to defend themselves. One way to stop this riot before it begins is to smash the pane of glass with the boy’s reflection in; as he is controlling the crowd. A single hit with a missile weapon or thrown object will break the glass and the spell; the combat will suddenly end, as all the rioters stop and stare incredulously at one another, before running off down every lane and byway ere the Watch can apprehend them.

Blackthorn

If they saved him, tried to save him or just said nothing but fought the crowd, Marcus Blackthorn will thank the party and give them 50 florins. He will also invite them to see his mermaid, which anyone with dweomer-sight will recognise as real, though smelling very strongly of salt, the sea and decay. He claims to have bought her from a fisherman in Bishop’s Landing if they ask. The fishermen told him that he was fishing near Saltley when something got entangled in their nets. Sadly she was dead before they could release her.

‘I can’t understand it’ he’ll exclaim if asked about the riot. ‘One minute it was all ‘oohs’ and ‘ah’s like normal, then this fine lady comes in with her brat, and the next thing I know, the crowd are out to lynch me.’ If asked about the woman, he can describe her dress which was very finely made and that she wore a white wimple stitched with silver thread in the design of a corn-cockle. She also had a beautiful set of pearl earrings. He will also relate something else that he’s just remembered; before the riot, her tiny boy was looking at the mermaid and instead of the usual mixture of fear and revulsion children usually feel upon looking at his creature, the boy looked suddenly angry. Blackthorn can tell them nothing more.

If they didn’t even try to save him or insulted him, he will rail at them, screaming all the while, and will tell them nothing unless they bribe him with at least 50 florins.

Lady with a Pearl Earring

If the PCs ask around the town, they should be able to identify the woman with the child who was at the riot; but only if they ask in the Weavering District or at any of the wealthier guilds off Guild Lane. It will take the PCs an entire day to search the whole City if they only have the information from Blackthorn about the wimple and the pearl earring and do not specify a district ; even then, they’ll have to split up to search the whole of Netherford. During this time, roll against the Perception of every party member against a stealth of 16; if anyone fails, they have their coin-purse cut, for their are many ‘sharps’ working the crowds during the fayre. If the PCs search the right district, they find that the woman’s name is Margaret Weaver and her husband is a wealthy cloth merchant Tobias. All of this assumes however, that the PCs even think to look for her.

The end of Esmeralda

Whether the PCs were due to meet the old Varni again in the church yard of St Stephen’s at 8 bells or not; she does not turn up. If the PCs are waiting for her, then they see a group of 8 Watchmen with torches dragging a still form out of a side alley off Dyer Street 2 hours later. It is Esmeralda; she has been murdered. Her body is covered in tiny burns and singe marks, especially around her metal jewelry.

If the PCs are not waiting for her, they will see her body in the morning, as the Watch display it in various squares, asking for information connected to her death. If they inquire, they are told that she was found in an alleyway off Dyers’ Lane and that ‘she’s the third one this month; smelling like they was burned or summat.’ The other corpses were found by the warehouses off Wharf street, and close by the Fishmarket, if the PCs think to ask the Watch.

A PC with dweomer-sight can tell that the corpse is not just dead, but that something has ‘ripped’ the very soul from Esmeralda; her body is surrounded by a residue of something eldritch and dark.

The watch insist on burying Esmeralda in a mass grave outside the town, unless the PCs intervene.

St Boltoph’s

The PCs might have learned by now, that the walls of St Boltoph’s are plastered with court judgements, proclamations and also messages of various types; including jobs. The GM can use this facility to keep the PCs busy if they have reached a dead-end. Have an NPC at their lodgings or elsewhere mention the messages, if the PCs are at an impasse. Several of the hooks here also advance the main plot.

The following messages are present on the walls whenever the GM desires or roll 1d6 if stuck for inspiration:

1) A cryptic message reads ‘Butchers all, should wait for full faces and then meat to discuss their differences. This is a coded reference to a fight that the apprentices of the town have arranged with the students of Clerky. It will happen on the first night of the full moon at the meat market. If the PCs attend, they will see 1d6 x 10 of each side turning up at moonrise (about 11 bells) after a day of drinking in two taverns. The apprentices first assemble at the Butcher’s Arms whilst the Students meet in the Bishop’s Inn; both groups begin arriving and getting some ale on board after about 8 bells. If the PCs do not inform or otherwise intervene; there will be a serious but brief running battle through the streets, that will involve the Watch (and pickpockets, who will cut the purses of anyone knocked down during the fight). What is not understood, even by those organizing the fights, is that their anger and hatred is being created and sustained by Phillip Weaver; or whatever has stolen his form. He will be present, though only those with dweomer-sight will see his reflection in panes of glass along the route of the fight.

Students and Apprentices:  Attack; 10, Defence; 5; (Clubs, d3, 3 points or Daggers, d4, 3 points), AF 1, Movement (10m; 20m), Magical Defence; 3, Evasion; 4, Health Points; 6, Stealth; 12, Perception; 5

2) A warrant for the arrest of Waylarund Thomas and Mabel Hopps for the murder of Gareth Hopps. A reward of 20o florins  is offered for the capture of the two who are believed to be hiding inside the City. Further information can be obtained from the Watch which reveals that Mabel was the wife of a respected local brewer and ale-keep who kept an alehouse in Tanners’ Lane (The Stretched Hide). It is believed she and her lover murdered Gareth and tried to sell his premises before making their escape to Cornumbria. Unbeknowst to the Watch, Waylerund Thomas has a brother in Rufford and a sister married to a porter who lives on Salt Street. The pair are hiding out in his sister’s basement until the ship of a trusted friend comes in, in six days time, when they intend to leave the City. His relatives can be discovered by drinking in the Stretched Hide and buying a few rounds. A journeyman by the name of Matthew Tanner can tell them of his kin because he used to dice with Waylerund.

3) A note is affixed to a wall of the church; it is written in a scribe’s hand, and obviously was not penned by whoever composed the words. I am in desperate need of aid; my father died suddenly and I know he was slain. The Watch will not take me seriously because he was inside our house and it was locked from the inside, but he was as strong as an ox and couldn’t have died as they said. I will pay with my Father’s old sword that he got in the Holy Land if you can help me. Ask for Avice Granger at St Lott’s Church and Brother Tyler will point you to me if ye be of good intentions. Avice’s Father was indeed slain; when the PCs go to the scene, it is very obvious that magic was recently used in the area. The dweomer is particularly strong around a large bronze mirror that is standing in one corner. Such things are uncommon amongst the poorer townsfolk but Avice will tell the PCs that it was a gift from Mistress Seymour (wife to the head of the Potters’ Guild), for Avice is her maid. If the PCs try to investigate, the only pattern they might be able to find is that Godric Granger died on the night of a full moon. If they wait until such a night, the mirror radiates magic; this is not specific to this mirror as shall soon be seen, for young Master Phillip Weaver is a changeling and is using mirrors to travel around the City, feeding on the innocent. If a PC channels 2 magic points at the mirror on such a night, they can actually enter the mirror, though they will not be able to leave the room in the reflection. However, they will find that the mirror version of the Granger house is not the same as the one in the waking world; there is a message scrawled on the table in charcoal from the fire, that says ‘I hate you Mother! Why did you bring me back? All I do now is Kill Kill Kill!’  If the PCs tell this to Avice; she will show them a curved scimitar her father won as a soldier in the Holy Land in his youth. The blade is theirs if they find out who did this terrible deed. The blade is inlaid with semi precious stones and is worth 280 florins.

4) A note simply reads ‘ I am afraid for my life and my sanity. I keep seeing strange things that are not there, but fear I am the victim of a haunting. I need men, strong of arm and mind, to spend a night in my house and tell me if they can see what I have seen. Ask for Master Barrowmen at the Pilgrim’s Rest and I’ll give you 40 florins for your trouble. Master Barrowmen is not this poor wretch’s real name but the alewife at the Rest knows where to send the PCs if they enquire; he is Severus Gornsley and proves to be a scarred old man who lives alone as a watchmen in one of the small huts close to the shambles. The hut is a rude affair; one room with a packed earth floor and an open fire pit that the old man shares with his hog Netty. He does however, have a tall mirror on one wall; his daughters’ that he made in his days as a bronze-smith in his youth ‘afore I got burned and lost me nerve with the hot metal’ he relates. His daughter is now dead, of an ague, as is his wife. But Severus swears he sees things moving in the mirror some nights, especially when the moon is full and he ‘will not rest his head another night in this house till I knows the truth of it!’ Indeed the old man will tell them how he found small footprints close to his fire one night; as if someone had been standing over him. ‘But me doors and windows was locked up as tight as can be, and they still was come morning light. There’s some evil in this, or I’ve lost me wits.’

Severus fits his name; a tough old man, too proud for pity but too scared to tell his neighbours of his plight. PCs who take his money should be ashamed of themselves. If the PCs do stay on a full moon, there is a 50% chance that if they can stay awake (roll under their HP on a d12 to remain awake all night) that they see movement in the mirror. It is of course, the changeling, but he will flee as soon as he sees the PCs, and they cannot follow him out of the room in the reflection; anyone who saw his reflection in the glass at the riot will recognise the boy as the same lad. He appears to be a 4 year old child with an unnatural expression of lust and hatred carved across his otherwise cherubic face and flows of powerful magic surrounding him.

5) A message reads ‘A group of Pilgrims require safe passage to Cantorbridge and are willing to pay men of virtue and skill at arms to escort them southwards, along the Salt Way, starting the day after the end of the Martinmas feast. Ask for Lord Aldred’s Men at the Bishop’s Inn.’ This hook is for the next part of the Cantorbridge Tales; any NPCs the GM wishes to introduce or to keep from the section of the adventure from before this, can now be introduced or reintroduced; see here for details of most of these folk. Lord Aldred’s Men are travelling to Cantorbridge to perform at the feast of St Augustus and Etienne De Toyne wishes to see his Uncle’s sword Everhalt, which is displayed at Cantorbridge Cathedral, as it contains a powerful relic. Gervase will also be going south as part of this same party if he was cursed, as will Odo, if he is still alive; for both seek a way to break the curse. Finally, Marcus Blackthorn (see above) is also heading south, taking his mermaid to Cantorbridge for the feast. Other NPCs will also be introduced when this part of the Tales is over. Such pilgrim groups were very common, as folk banded together to avoid travelling along lonely roads. This particular group will pay the PCs 300 florins for safe passage to Cantorbridge, plus a share of lodgings and food on the way down.

6) This message reads ‘Help needed to track down my ne’er do well husband Tomas and give him a hiding. He has taken up with some doxie and I will pay good money to see  him taken down a peg or two. Ask for Rose at the Butcher’s Arms.’ This story appears to be one that is all too common; a man falls into drink and depravity and leaves his poor wife in the lurch. Tomas Basset, a butcher, has taken up with a whore who lives in Chandler’s Lane and has taken his wages with him. Rose Basset is very annoyed and ashamed and wants Tomas given a bloody nose in public. She does not know where he is, but wants revenge. Rose can tell the PCs that Tomas usually drinks in the Stretched Hide alehouse on Tanners’ Lane. Patrons there know him, but the story is not as simple as it seems; Tomas is deep in gambling debts and is in hiding from a gang of thieves known as the ‘Nantwell Knives’. These villeins operate out of another Nantwell alehouse, known as The Bull and Bear off of St Stephen’s Lane. One is waiting in the Stretched Hide and will follow any inattentive PCs and try and kill Tomas if the PCs lead them to him. Indeed the whore, Mary Blunt, who is sheltering Tomas is just a friend and there is nothing between them but that; she is helping him because she feels guilty for encouraging him to go to the Bear in the first place and that’s how his dicing habit started. He owes 200 florins.

Nantwell Knives (5): Attack; 14, Defence; 6, Daggers; (d4, 3), AF 1, Movement (10m; 20m), Magical Defence; 3, Evasion; 4, Health Points; 9, Stealth; 17, Perception; 9.

Two days after the riot, there is a new message on the wall of St Boltoph’s, written in a firm hand that is obviously not written by a scribe.

‘My son has disappeared and the Watch cannot seem to find him. He is only four and I can pay 400 florins to whoever brings him home safely.  Come to the Guild of Weavers and ask for Margaret if you have information about Master Phillip Weaver.

Next time: The PCs must find Margaret Weaver and then confront her ‘son’ in the mirror realm he has created.

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