Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Seawell: arrival and signs of trouble

  The storm has cleared up, and they head off early towards Seawell, having easily found the road. It’s a fairly easy journey, and they see little but the odd group of traders, a couple of hunters and some wildlife. Once they leave the valleys for the coastal plains, they pass farmers and small villages by the wayside. They pause briefly for a quick meal at a farmhouse. Eventually they reach the first turnpike for Seawell, watched by two guards. They present their papers and signet ring, and are waved through, with instructions to call in at the garrison when they arrive. They pass two watchtowers (a precaution against bandits and raiders) before the road winds down to the town itself. It’s a pretty, well-situated port town, with perhaps two thousand residents and strong palisade walls that speak eloquently of pirates. Murals and mosaics lend a touch of colour between the elegant columns of the public buildings, and two small aqueducts arc across the walls from hillside streams. The town is apparently designed to impress, probably to bolster its standing as a trading port. There are two temples, one for the Pantheon, another dedicated to the gods and spirits of the sea, and Raylin mutters about the superstition of the coastal people. They quickly find the garrison, whose sturdy stone construction, watchtower and slit windows are unmistakable.

  Reporting to the watch officer, they are left in the care of Fhastina, an elven guardswoman. She arranges for their mounts to be cared for, their baggage stowed and offers water to wash their feet. Lawson gives a brief account of the tomb they discovered, and their encounter with the bandits; the authorities need to keep an eye on the place. Fhastina informs them that as well as the arrival of the emissaries, the town is on edge because of tension with the local lizardfolk, who live on the adjacent peninsula. Hunters and herb-gathers in the swamps have been confronted and menaced by the lizardfolk, but they lacked a common language, so it’s not clear what’s going on. The guards are on extra duties until things settle down. There also hasn’t been as much trade as usual for the last few days, but that may be down to the violent storms they’ve been having; nevertheless, it’s a worry for a trading port.

  They hand over the treasure for examination and assessment, before heading off to wash. Raylin goes to the Pantheon temple, makes her obeisances, and strikes up a conversation with an old friend who is now one of the priests here. Soon they’re deep into the technicalities and politics of the faith - mostly the latter. Lawson appears briefly to make the appropriate sacrifices for a safe journey (Raylin gives him an approving glance), then heads back to the garrison to chat with the guards and check his gear.

  After their rest, they meet the local merchants’ guild secretary, Fencher, a serious and slightly nervous man with greying hair. He explains that the emissaries’ ship will have been delayed by the story, but are expected that evening or tomorrow morning, and invites the group to join the guild for their evening meal (they accept). They learn a bit more about the local situation from him and Fhastina. The town lies on one side of a swampy peninsula, sheltered at its base and in a perfect position for fishing and trade. The peninsula itself is no good for farming, and home to a tribe of lizardfolk; they’re quite territorial, and people only enter the swamps when hunting or seeking unusual plants. However, the other side of the peninsula is filled with dangerous reefs that make sailing a hazardous business, so a lighthouse has been erected on that side to help trading ships make the journey safely. A six-man crew operates and guards the lighthouse, changing over once a month; it’s been two weeks since the last change. Since then, the lizardfolk have become unfriendly and nobody’s dared to go far into the swamplands, especially after a couple of hunters disappeared. Local sailors have started to report that the lighthouse hasn’t been lit at night, though it’s not a problem for them. The group discuss the possibility of sending an expeditionary party to check the lighthouse, but realise that meeting the emissaries as agreed is their immediate priority. There are only thirty guards in the town, and none can easily be spared for a dangerous errand if the town might be in danger of attack.

  Professor Godalming decides to visit some of the local scholars to learn more about the lizardfolk, which he hasn’t really encountered before. In particular, he’s interested in their knowledge of illusion magic, and the superstitions they have that might be of use in a confrontation. Fencher introduces the diminutive wizard to Aloysius, a well-respected citizen and considerable landowner, who prides himself on his library. He’s happy to help a fellow-scholar, and once the fine wine and fresh dates have been brought in, they settle down to an enjoyable afternoon amongst the racks of scrolls. The Professor finds that the lizardfolk are primitive and reclusive beings, with little grasp of arcane magic and only simple minds. They produce simple canoes for transport, but generally prefer to swim. Their culture is animist, and many tribes place great importance on ancestor and nature spirits. There is little record of them being actively hostile, but they seem quite protective of their territory.

  Elefthenea heads down to the quayside and settles down to watch the sea, glad of the chance to soak up some nature. The dockers give her a wide berth, and she spends a few hours pleasantly listening to the waves, admiring the seabirds, and even spotting a dolphin in the distance.

  Once evening comes, they head over to the grand, bepillared guildhall and sit outside in the peaceful court for a delicious meal, looking out over the shore. The guildmistress is a decisive elfess named Iniatar, who engages them in pleasant conversation over their meal. Afterwards, they sit out in the twilight, entertained by a few musicians and dancers. After a while, a guard slips quietly in and speaks with Iniatar, who follows him outside. Soon afterwards, she returns and draws the group aside with her to a private room.

  A couple of disturbing reports have come through. Trade from the west has been thin in the last week, which they put down to the weather and chance, and perhaps a lack of piety amongst the citizenry. However, a ship has just returned from a week-long voyage north, and pulled in a sailor’s body and some flotsam on its way to Seawell. Of course, ships do sink, and the weather has been bad recently. More worryingly, a fishing boat ventured west yesterday evening to take a look at the lighthouse. Not only was there no sign of its light, but in the small hours there was unmistakably a large fire burning on the coast; he daren’t venture very close due to the reefs and the poor weather, but suspected it was a ship. The Professor asks her to pass on his commendations to the captain for this show of initiative.

  All those signs together are a strong indication that something is wrong at the lighthouse, and the emissaries are undoubtedly in danger. Iniatar has already asked the guards to send a messenger for more aid, but it’s urgent that something be done immediately. As agents of the Duchess, they are the obvious people to handle such an expedition, and they have a wide range of skills to cope with whatever awaits them. Since Iniatar is a merchant rather than a general, she hands over command of the expedition to Fhastina, who has been to the lighthouse before and knows the peninsula moderately well from serving two years in the guard here.

  The others are willing enough to make the attempt, and realise how important it is to avert any threat to the emissaries. However, they ask whether any guards can be spared for the trip. Iniatar says she’ll have to consider it and speak with the guard captain. She offers a boat to drop them off within a few miles of the lighthouse, but considering the trouble boats are having, they don’t want to risk it; a trek across the swamps seems safer, and they should be fairly dry at this time of year.

  It’s too late to do anything tonight, so they plan and make preparations, then hurry to catch a good night’s rest ready for an early start. If the emissaries arrive overnight, all well and good; otherwise they’ll be ready to leave.