30 April 2010
by GM (Louis)
The chilly bite of autumn has returned to the morning air with the passing of another summer. The seasonal harvest has begun in earnest as farmers rush to bring in their crops before the damaging frosts hit. This year’s Farmer’s Almanac augured the coldest winter in a century, and everyone is taking the prediction seriously.
But the harvest season means Pelor’s Bounty, the harvest festival, is just around the corner. A familiar atmosphere of excitement and anticipation puts smiles on the faces of the people you pass in the street. Everyone looks forward to the day of song, dance, and the aromas of the eclectic mix of foods and spices, exotic and native. People of all races spill onto the streets and share their season’s bounties with stalls showing off raw produce in artistic arrangements, offering free food, and crafts. There are cultural displays by dancers and artisans.
Children run amok wearing the masks they fashioned from Elder Wood, painted with mocking visages of Tiamat, considered the antithesis of the spirit of the festival. In the evening the Traders Ball is held at the Merchant’s Council Concourse, at which adolescent debutantes are introduced to the higher society of those wealthier families.
But down in the Plaza d’Hugor is where the real evening action happens. Approaching dusk the duke himself appears upon the dais in the center of the plaza and address the throngs of revelers packed shoulder to shoulder. He speaks of the successes of the past year, hopes for the future, and immediate plans for the town. He finishes his speech with an offering of select produce to Pelor, followed by the lowering of Pelor’s symbol watching over the growing season, and the raising the symbol of the Raven Queen to see the town through winter’s icy assault.
Celebrations continue into the night, when the alcohol flows, and the young adults go dancing and courting until the pale shades of dawn.
And yet in spite of those familiar smiles of anticipation, there is a fog of fear casting a pall over the lead up. Smiles drop from people’s faces when they think no one is watching. Brows furrow with worry at the recent troubling events at Helum. For the first time in the history of So’ren, the usual optimism for the future has been replaced by gloomy foreboding.
People of all creeds fill the plaza, packed in and buzzing with talk about their plans for the evening. Groups of revelers weave in and out of the crowds, jostling for a better position to watch the duke’s speech and the entertainment to follow. Singers, dancers, acrobats, and storytellers would be mounting the dais to perform for the throng.
Soon the sun dips below the buildings, brushing the horizon and signalling the time for the duke’s speech. On cue guards start clearing a path through the crowd to the dais, and the duke and his family, resplendent in their Merchant Council robes, pass through and mount the dais, taking position under the large holy symbol of Pelor, and smiling out over the upturned faces.
A crier rings a shrill bell and demands quiet, repeating his call several times as the hubbub slowly dies. He then announces the duke, “Announcing His Grace the Duke of So’ren, 6th duchy of the great kingdom of Pharanathia.”
As the crier’s announcement booms out over the crowd, there is a flash of movement in the corner of your eye. A hooded figure steps in front of you from between two Yolgargths to your right, almost seeming to pass right through them. In the blink of an eye, the figure throws back his hood and reaches out to touch Dayreth. When Dayreth’s eyes focus on the figure in front of him, it is like he is looking into a mirror, face, clothes, and the rest. His mirror image smiles back at him. But in the same moment the figure disappears back into the crowd.
Back up on the dais the crier has stepped back to allow the Duke to step forward. The imposing figure of Duke Lexin raises his arms to the crowd and his booming voice eclipses even the crier’s. “Welcome good people of So’ren to Pelor’s Bounty! Congratulations and heartfelt thanks to all for your efforts in making this year our most productive ever.”
At that moment there is another blur of movement from the side of the dais and Dayreth (or his image) leaps up onto stage, the glint of a small blade in his hand, and in a single movement plunges the blade into the neck of the Duke’s eldest son. The boy falls off the Dayreth’s blade and puddles to the floor of the dais. There is a horrifyingly still moment as the assassin seems to pose before the stunned crowd.
The moment ends when Dayreth leaps from the stage just as a couple of crossbow bolts smash into the stone dais, and dives into the throng. There are shouts and screams. Confusion breaks out. The duke’s family drops to inspect their fallen son. There is a bustle of movement through the panicked masses. People are trying to get away from the assassin, but with so many packed into such a small space, there is little opportunity to move.
A moment later Dayreth’s image is back and before your eyes he shimmers back into his original hooded self. You notice in that pause between breaths there are markings on the assassin’s neck, like spiraling black tattoos that seems to writhe as if animated. In the next breath he lurches towards the real Dayreth.