Session 1: A Memorable Soirée
Creation of a Navy
Al admired Baron Bernard L'Arbre's energy. After having decided that a good navy was the way to victory on the Berine Peninsula he set Al the task of making it happen. First Al compiled a list of other nobles in the region who were patriotic and interested in opposing His Majesty's Empire.
The list shrank as he kept only nobles who controlled key resources needed to make Bernard's vision possible. Comte de Solrayon as a wealthy noble with a natural harbour and small shipyard, was at the top of the list. His lands contained no large forests so he was a natural partner to Bernard whose house was even named for the acres of ancient forest that made up much of his ancestral lands.
Within weeks an exchange of letters written by Al then signed and approved by Bernard had led to tonight's invitation. Baron Bernard L'Arbre was invited to a soirée held at the Comte's house at Solrayon-sur-Mer. He would be accompanied by his 'man' Alairyn Lécuyer, who would see to the details of the business exchange once the Comte and Baron had come to an agreement.
Playing the valet was not Al's favourite role, he much preferred Lieutenant Lécuyer who acted as Colonel L'Arbre's intelligence officer and quartermaster.
Discovering the Spy
His life had been much easier since the Baron had walked into the middle of one of Al's operations in a border village a few miles from where the Domirian Empire troops were encamped. The place was filled with sympathisers to His Majesty's Empire, and officers from that army visited the tavern regularly to relax. It was a great place to gather information. One of the opposing Colonel's was rumoured to possess a celestium artefact and of course his handler Emile was very interested in finding out how true that rumour was. He had been skilfully grilling a drunk Lieutenant when the door flew in and the large imposing figure of Baron Bernard L'Arbre had strolled into the tavern and demanded a drink. Trust Bernard to be oblivious of the political landscape around his camp.
There had been a deadly silence and hands had started moving to sword hilts and pistols when Al had laughed out loud drawing the attention of the room to himself. He was popular in the Merry Hunters tavern having been buying drinks for and listening to the regulars for a number of weeks.
“It is a true testament to your hospitality innkeeper that men from both sides of the war can leave the battlefield behind and drink and relax at your hearth.” Al announced. He was dressed roughly smart, jacket and ruffled shirt that mimicked noble dress but of a poor cut with low quality material.
He sauntered over to the Baron and put his arm across his shoulders in a brotherly gesture. Bernard had stiffened in surprise at see his secretary dressed differently, and certainly behaving differently and was even more astonished when Al had dared to touch him.
“Go with me, I'll explain later.” Al said in a voice too low to be heard by anyone else. “What do you say, Sir?” he then announced in a loud voice, “Shall we toast the hospitality of this fine inn? What about a round of drinks for all of us fine folks?”
Bernard wasn't a stupid man and he had more gold than almost any noble in the region. Al felt Bernard relax and then relaxed himself as the suggested round of drinks was ordered. That evening Bernard paid for the drinks of the locals and enemy officers, but no blood was spilt. The regulars had the smug satisfaction of having got one over on the Domirian officer who had ended up paying for everyone's entertainment, and Bernard escaped without being slaughtered by an inn full of enemy officers and sympathisers.
“You're a Domirian spy aren't you?” Bernard had asked once they had safely left the inn.
“I'm afraid I can't confirm or deny that.” Al had replied.
“Good,” Bernard had said then, “you can be my intelligence officer, the current one is clearly useless if he wasn't able to tell me the Merry Hunters is hostile territory.”
That had been 18 months previously and had done wonders for Al's ability to get into places and find out things he needed to know as Bernard would help out under the cover of information gathering for the benefit of the Domirian Empire. It wasn't even a lie.
Business before Pleasure
On the evening of the soirée, 10th of of Death Y119, Al accompanied Baron Bernard L'Arbre as he marched up to the main entrance of the Comte's enchantingly built cliff top manor. The sound of a skilled orchestra and a beautiful female voice could be heard through the open doors and windows of the ballroom. Al notified the seneschal of their arrival and Bernard's title and the Baron was announced.
The Comte came straight up to the Baron and the two made small talk while they ate and drank. Al unobtrusively ate and drank, making sure to keep away from any alcohol, while watching the Baron and listening out for anything noteworthy. The Comte then led the Baron out on to the terrace which was set up beautifully with sunset beginning to turn the sky red over the fishing harbour below. A small flotilla of His Majesty's Empire's ships was sailing past the mouth of the bay.
The Comte proudly described his holdings and the meeting went pretty much as expected and hinted about in the preceding letters. The only fly in the ointment was that currently the small shipyard did not have a shipwright skilled in making warships, however the Comte did have a lead to one. A minor noble who had been designing ships at Bezoir. It was rumoured that the ships were on a par or even better than those of His Majesty's Empire and also shipwright himself was disgruntled due to a lack of good quality timber to work with.
In the end the Comte agreed to put together a consortium of nobles who would build a road between himself and the Baron's lands so that the timber for the ships could be easily delivered. The Baron would approach the shipwright, persuade him to join their enterprise and pay his salary.
With the deal agreed Al spoke to the Comte's man and they arranged to get the papers drawn up in the morning. The Comte led the Baron back into the ballroom and rather than seeing to his other guests continued to socialise with him.
“What do you think of the music this evening?” the Comte asked at one point in their conversation.
“I've not heard anything this good outside of the Capital.” replied the Baron.
The singer, a slender young woman with plaited brown hair, (who although not a beauty, was pretty and certainly possessed the presence to draw the attention of a room) seemed to sense that the mood of the evening had moved on from business. He noticed her subtle signals to the musicians and the tempo and volume increased that she began to put on a wonderful show. Multiple copies of her moved across the stage and performed harmonious choral backing to main thread of the song. Interesting and masterful sound effects highlighted the performance at key points.
Al found himself agreeing with the Baron's assessment of her talent, and it was her, time and again subtle cues from her led the changes in the performance of the musicians. He was almost certain she was a persona, and using the natural gifts of her race in a creative fashion. There was also an illusionist involved. He wasn't sure if she had some special way of triggering the sound illusions, or if there was an unseen illusionist that had learnt when to set off the special effects.
Mid-thought Al noticed that the Baron had tensed and he automatically started scanning for trouble when a cannon ball blasted through the wall of the manor and injured several of the guests. Al belatedly recognised the whistling sound; more were on the way. He ducked down, looking for cover and other trouble.
Piracy not Warfare
“Monsieur le Comte, I think we are under attack!” exclaimed Bernard, “This is not warfare; this is piracy!”.
Guests started screaming and running for the doors and many injured were left lying where they fell.
Through the growing holes in the walls, it appeared that the flotilla of three one deck frigates seen sailing past the bay earlier had turned back and started bombarding the manor.
Flattening a manor during a party and indiscriminately wiping out all the guests and servants was something so beyond the normal rules of warfare that Al wondered if it really could be His Majesty's Empire attacking and not some rogue pirates.
Then he spotted them.
Four red-coated marines carrying rifles entered the blasted manor through a hole in the wall. They appeared behind the stage between the performers and their natural exit from the building. The singer and musicians froze on the stage and Baron Bernard yelled loudly and charged at the first of the marines.
Al realised he needed to prevent the rest of the marines from ganging up on the Baron or using their rifles to assassinate any of the guests. He moved quickly but quietly around the edge of the room intending to come up behind at least one of the marines and get the drop on him.
Bernard was shot in the shoulder by the lead marine, and the other marines scanned the room looking for something or someone. Al got the drop on one marine who parried Al's blow with his bayonet.
Al heard the Comte's voice saying “You fools, you'll never catch me,” coming from door near the stage. He was confused for a second as he hadn't seen the Comte move across the room, before realising the unknown illusionist was helping them out.
There were too many marines and Al needed to get them distracted and unable to use their rifles. His eyes flicked to the set dressing on the stage and a quick slash of his sword brought a pile of heavy curtains down on top of his opponent. One down, and the remaining two had been distracted by the illusion of the Comte's voice.
One of the two remaining marines got a purposeful look in his eye and raised his rifle just as Al attacked him. The singer hummed a wordless melody and the marine's sleeve caught fire.
The purposeful marine's discipline was impressive as he frowned, ignoring his flaming sleeve and dodging Al's blow. He managed to get off a shot with his rifle, hitting and killing a minor noble woman.
Bernard continued to fight the lead marine. He failed to land a hit and took another injury. This seemed to trigger his change into full inertia form, and he ran at the lead marine, knocking into him and causing him to miss his next attack.
Al distracted the marine he was facing as the marine dropped his rifle, and dodged Al's attack while trying to put out the fire on his arm. Another melody was sung and then Al and his opponent were briefly stunned and splattered with human gore as the marine at the door behind the stage exploded and a cloud of gunpowder smoke roiled out of the area.
He could hear and smell several of the performers as they emptied their stomachs.
The previously trapped marine scrabbled out from under the weight of the curtains and ran towards the fleeing guests.
Bernard grappled with his opponent who managed to resist being slammed into a wall.
Al continued to engage his opponent, not landing a blow but keeping him off kilter and distracted.
Fighting continued more or less at a stalemate when unexpectedly the singer shone a light in the face of Bernard's opponent and sung another wordless chord before the marine's hair caught fire. Within seconds his head completely burst into flame just as Bernard punched him in the face splattering his brains with the lantern beam casting a giant macabre silhouette of the final blow across the wall.
Al's opponent dropped his sword, slumped to his knees and starts d crying. The gory ends of his brother marines too much for him to bear.
Al approached the singer, fairly sure she was some kind of mage and heartened by the fact she hadn't thrown up yet, before asking her to tie up the weeping marine. He then followed Bernard as he headed outside to see what has become of the fourth marine.
The Comte's men had killed the fourth marine. He ordered his servants to find healers and see to his guests. He then offered brandy to the Baron and the singer who turned out to be called Mademoiselle Megane. They headed out to the terrace, with the ruined manor behind them to see the flotilla of three ships turning and heading back out to sea. The sunset had almost finished and twilight approached.
While the Comte, Baron and Mademoiselle Megane drank brandy and discussed interrogating the prisoner and hunting for witnesses to the identity of the foul commander of the ships in the harbour, Al listened and thought over the events.
The Comte was a key player in the formation of a viable navy, but he wasn't attacked until the deal with Bernard was about to be made.
“There must be a leak”, he muttered quietly, unnoticed by the jolly trio.
The Comte persuaded Mademoiselle Megane to perform some patriotic songs to finish off the event, and to Al's surprise it worked. The servants cleared the worst of the rubble, corpses, vomit and blood stains from the stage in a very efficient and timely manner. Megane roused the musicians to strike up some tunes as she sang all the old Domirian favourites. Guests wearing blood stained clothing, tended by healers, smiled and some joined in with the songs. Champagne was again being circulated and as the evening wound down all the guests agreed that it was a most memorable and successful soirée.