Chapter 1: The Gnome Conspiracy

The true story begins in the autumn of the AN 992. Whilst enjoying a cup of wine at my humble dwellings, I was visited by my good friend Argon Pilchard Hallock, an Engineer in the Neustrian Army. Hallock is the largest man I have ever met, and probably the strongest too. His prowess without weapons is unquestioned, his powerful legs serving as well as many a soldier's long sword. The good Hallock was busy building a fortification for the king Roland in the southern part of our kingdom, to guard against bandits and further strengthen our interior defenses against a possible attack by our Brettonian neighbours. Hallock introduced me to the Magister Althax, Baronet of Armin sur le Pond. Althax is a tall man, even taller than myself, though he is of a scholastic bent, indeed a Mage. Always accompanying him on his travel is his pet Elorn the Ineffable, a somewhat exotic being from places distant. Elorn is a fire-imp, green in hue, and with a voracious appetite for good food and valuables alike. In short order we received orders from the Prince Jean Paul. A caravan of trading gnomes was arriving with its goods, and needed additional guards to secure its passage to the castle of the Prince. Equipping ourselves to deal with potential assailants, we rode forth to do our duty, accompanied by the Prince, an accomplished swordsman. In short order, we came to Menis du Loc, a small river running through our parish. Here a bridge had been sabotaged, leaving the gnomish caravan on the other side. Little time was left for us to consider the options, however, as we were attacked by a half-dozen soldiers in Francian garb. Charging these on horseback, we soon had them on the run, and were victorious. Under the guidance of Hallock, then, we repaired the bridge, and prepared to escort the gnomes to their destination. Whilst relaxing, however, Althax was set upon by an assassin lurking in a tree. The first bolt of this assassin hit his companion Elorn, however, and whilst she was reloading, we were able to capture her by use of magick and force. Thus captured, the lady was brought along as a prisoner, and later executed. Simultaneously, a startling discovery was made-apparently Elorn had not been injured in the least by the poisoned crossbow bolt he had been hit by. As was later explained to me, like many dwellers in the foul netherrealms, Elorn cannot be harmed by weapons without enchantments upon them, regardless of the amount of force so conveyed. This known, we returned to the castle of the Prince Jean Paul, where the gnomes were given quarters, and the Prince was kind enough to house our little group in fine rooms. Taking a deserved rest, we were woken by cries of alarm from Althax. Rushing quickly to his aid, we found him assailed by a large orc, which had somehow appeared and entered from the roof. Defeating this, we were alerted to the danger, and proceeded to equip ourselves for a fight. Searching the castle, we found that a number of the gnomes were not in their rooms. Entering the cellars, we found the culprits, in the process of opening a form of magickal gate. As an orc, then another exited from this, we saw our predicament. In a hard-fought battle testing our fortitude somewhat, we managed to reach the gate, where the Magister Althax, summoning some of his great power, closed the portal. Rushing back to the room of the Head of Caravan, we were assailed by three gnomes. The two sword-wielding gnomes were dispatched by Hallock the Prince and myself, whilst Althax in a battle to the death destroyed the leading gnome. By his side we found a large gem, one of many interesting items the gnome had attempted to sell the Prince. As the remaining gnomes had either been killed or fled, the gem was our only clue, and Althax proceeded to investigate it. Apart from its powerful heka potential, he could not determine the purpose or powers of the gem, and so decided to consult a Diviner.

Inviting such a personage to the castle, a reception was held, where Elorn was found lacking in both manners and courtesy. The Prince was not pleased, and excluded him from the rest of the proceedings. However, Althax, together with the Diviner Gavrochia were able to determine that the Gem was closely linked to the creation of portals, and set about investigating it in detail. The very next day an expedition from Francia arrived, lead by the Count Mountbatten, a foreigner having worked his way up in Francia. He demanded to know why our forces had attacked his, and so we quickly deduced that a third party was involved in attempting to cause trouble on our common border. Being men of reason, our respective leaders decided that they would exchange advisors, and a man by the name of Buzakh was assigned to us. Lord Grimsbane and a number of Neustrian Lancers arrived soon after with orders to reinforce the Prince. We were dispatched to Caen to have the Gem examined in further detail.

Setting off, fortified by our experiences, but worried by the storm clouds gathering on the horizon, we moved swiftly. Indeed we had reason to be worried. Three guards who we considered against hiring as protection followed our trail and assaulted us, but were defeated with some difficulty. In a small village where we slept that night we were molested by several drunks, which Althax swiftly dealt with. However, some hours later, more locals appeared, with a most rabid desire to attack us, believing us witches (I suspect some foul magick was behind this). Not properly armoured, but knowing that such men were no match for us, we found it necessary to dispatch them. Our adviser, Buzakh, had now disappeared, and following his trail, we were lead back to the village where he had surrounded himself by mercenaries and crazed villagers. In a crowded battle inside a house we opposed and fought the miscreants, once again emerging victorious. After paying to have those still alive healed, having no desire to inflict unnecessary death on misguided peasants, we moved on. We continued, and our next encounter was a more pleasant one, as we met the entourage of the ladies Cosette and Veronica. Taking our leave at Caen, we were lodged at the King's castle. Further investigation of the Gem was carried out, and Althax was granted an audience with the King where he explained the events of late. The King was most sympathetic and voiced support for Althax. Our next destination was Oxford in Albion, the site of Althax's education.

Journeying by ship to the Albion capital of Londun, we arrived in that city refreshed by the experience. Our journey to Oxford was uneventful, apart from two encounters with bandits and ruffians. Once in Oxford, Althax consulted with his mentor, Master Toglia. It was determined that the portal through which some of the gnomes had evidently fled, and the orcs entered, ended somewhere in the Caribbean islands. Starting our preparations for a long sea journey, we were surprised to find that Althax, using mighty magicks honed for that purpose, could transport us directly to the island of Cuba. We arrived soon thereafter. Consulting with the authorities in the form of the military commander of the island, Jean Pedros de Cavillian, we departed on one of their small galleys, heading for a volcanic isle which might well be our target. As we rowed with some haste, two large galleasses appeared from behind a jut of rock, and sped to intercept us. Seeing the hostile intent Althax once again impressed, summoning a bird of bright light, a Sun Eagle, to our presence. This sped off towards one galleass, and attacked this with ferocity, destroying the vessel and those within. Further magicks allowed Althax, Hallock, James (my good brother) and myself to approach undetected. Althax and Hallock proceeded to assault the leaders of the hostile ship, whilst James and I dealt with the marine contingent. After doing considerable damage, we withdrew, and were able to reach our destination. Boats were landed, and we were soon attacked by a number of large, foul orcs, with large swords and shields. We defeated these, but not without loss, for several of the men-at-arms with us died in the battle.

Our search of the island began, but before we could find a potential gnomish encampment, more orcs arrived, and pressed us onto a narrow ledge of land where we took cover in a depression in the ground. Some exchange of arrow and bolt took place, but the situation was untenable. Once again, Althax summoned a creature of light, and aided by this, we defeated the remaining orcs. Now finding a trail we finally reached what was indeed the Gnomish base, in a deserted tower on the island. Battling our way in, we despatched the orcs guarding the gate, and confirmed our suspicions of an alliance. Inside the tower were two gnomes of considerable skill in combat, and a magickally able individual. After a tough fight, we emerged victorious, the leading gnome being defeated by Althax's magick. We were now all quite exhausted. Some minor baubles were found, which we brought if appropriate. The situation was not reassuring, however, as the ship bringing us to the island had apparently been destroyed by marauding orcs, and we were unaware of the numbers still on the island. Althax therefore repeated his feat, and sent us back. That is, he successfully sent most of the party back. James' horse was never again seen after a rift in the flow of Althax's magick, and I did not reach the desired destination. In fact, tired and hungry I found myself deep within a forest, where my heavy plate was most inappropriate. Putting my faith in Althax's ability to correct the problem, I set forth to find high ground where I could wait. Before I had journeyed far, I met a group of tall and warlike women, who regarded me with some suspicion. They indicated that I was to follow, however, and glad to be in the company of civilized beings, I did so. When I arrived at their hamlet, I was fed and entertained, and was able to rest in peace. The next day, I once again equipped myself and prepared to set off, attempting to ask the women for the nearest city. They did not speak Trade Phonecian, however, and were not pleased when I attempted to leave. They surrounded me, and pointed back to the hut where I had slept. While I attempted to explain my wish to find a city by gesture and sign, the mood became quite strained. Most likely, some violence might have ensued, had not Althax appeared at that point, and quickly transported us both back to the safety of Oxford, where we were able to recount our experience and spend some time resting. A short prayer was voiced for the sailors of the ship, and its captain, Don Dagos, all dead at the hands of orcs.

I now spent several weeks in intense training with my mentor, Nadauer of the Templars. Those skills I acquired and honed would stand me in good steed in the days to come. After returning to my dwellings, I was quickly called again by Althax. A number of the peasants on his estate had suddenly disappeared, and there was talk of a great beast being responsible. We set out to investigate, and stalking the grounds at night, captured a small goblin without a tongue. We imprisoned this, and followed its trail to a hole in the earth by a small section of forest. Creeping through tunnels and beating off vermin, we at last arrived at a door, which closed after we had passed through it. An underground complex filled with traps and dangers was revealed to us. The beast so feared by the peasants was indeed here, and we fought it with steel and magick, sending it back to the gloomy pits which it came from. Numerous skeletons were also animated in this place, and we opposed and destroyed them. Then the wall behind us collapsed, sending a cascade of water towards us. Escaping this by magick, we penetrated a wall to find the inner sanctum of the gnomes. We defeated those here, and followed a flight of stairs up, to a small village in the Kingdom of Francia. Here we followed the escaping gnomes, and though he used most foul necromantic magick to summon more undead horrors to his aid, we were finally victorious. A new compatriot, Bergond Debrieste, Earl of Jersey, had acquitted himself well in this combat. Tragedy had struck, however, as the final gnome had killed a man with his poisoned dagger, leaving a girl child without a family. Althax here showed nobility of spirit, and took the girl in, soon sending her to be educated at Oxford, covering the full expense himself. We left the village and returned to the lands of Althax, where a celebration was held, in time for the arrival of the Count van Bruningen and daughter Corina, who were visiting Althax. It seemed that a rest was well deserved.

[Table of Contents] [Introduction] [Chapter 1] [Chapter 2] [Chapter 3] [Chapter 4] [Chapter 5] [Chapter 6] [Chapter 7] [Conclusions] [e-mail the author]

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