Ysabot sat alone in the corner of The Outward Inn, a plate of food in front of her, and a bowl of hot spiced wine. Sure at last that in her alcove she would not attract too much attention, she started to eat.
Even though technically a native of Ustalav, Ysabot was something of an outsider, and was well aware that the locals regarded her as such. The general surliness of the local inhabitants was well known, and something of a byword among travellers. Her friendship with the Professor had gained her a degree of acceptance in this small community, but she was well aware of the boundaries and she and her half brother both maintained permanent rooms at the Inn, keeping apart from much of the everyday community.
She mused over the events of the last four weeks: the Professor’s death had been something of a shock. At the time Agrimar and herself had been away on an errand to the south, and by the time she had returned he had been dead for over a week.
And tomorrow was the funeral. She had known Professor Lorrimer since she was a teenager, and had travelled extensively with him. Both she and Agrimar owed him a great deal. Kendra had told her that she had been specifically mentioned in the Professors Will, and that he had left instructions to send out letters to a number of former associates who he knew were in Ustalav- the funeral was being put on hold for several weeks to allow time for them to arrive and attend. One or two of them she had observed before when accompanying the Professor, but she did not know any of them well.
Well the Funeral was imminent now, and if anyone was going to arrive, time was running short. Ysabot sighed. She hated the chill Autumn weather; with the daylight vanishing early and the cold lake mist filling the streets, there was absolutely no incentive to venture far from the blazing fire she sat next too- except when she had business that would draw too many stares of course. A few more cups of wine-and one of the Bards had started playing; a Ustlavian Epic Dirge about a farmers son overcoming death defying odds-well at least she hadn’t heard this one before. It would pass the time for tonight, and tomorrow there was the funeral and the reading of the Will.
The door opened, and two figures wandered in wearing weather stained travelling clothes. One of them seemed vaguely familiar. Beneath their cloaks she caught the glint of armor. Ysabot watched curiously as they made their way over to the Keeper, and her ears caught the name ‘Lorrimer’. The two seemed to be recieving directions, and then they were handed room keys and nodded.
“Hmm…” thought Ysabot, “It seems like they have started to arrive.”
Ysabot pushed her bowl back contentedly and started dealing out her Harrow Deck. With half an eye on the strangers in the corner she dealt out the pasteboard cards, when the door opened letting in a fraction of the chill evening mists, and a person of very peculiar visage indeed-and to Ysabot somewhat familiar.
Just over three feet tall, with wild angular features and even wilder hair, the Gnome would have looked out of place in any social gathering. The segmented and embossed hide armor, decorated carefully with tooled animal motifs, the travelling gear and the oddball accoutrements, carefully augmented with small animal skulls, entwined briars and acorns screamed ‘Wilderness!’to the several pairs of eyes now fixed on her.
Somewhat self consciously (Ysabot thought) the Gnome looked round the Company, lingered briefly on herself with a hint of recognition, and then stalked purposefully up to the Hostess of the Establishment, Sarianna Vai. Ysabot remembered where she had seen her-six years ago she had accompanied the Professor to look at some ancient standing stones in the forests in the south of Ardis. While they had been camped there they encounted a group of Druids, and the Gnome (‘Tig was it? Trig?’) had been one of them. So this was another of the invitees.
Ysabot saw Trig stand on her toes and pass some coins to Sarianna, and the Diminutive Druidess looked round directly at her, and walked towards her table. Ysabot gestured towards an empty seat.
“We’ve met before I think " said Trig, in her chirpy but resonant voice. “I am Trig-you are EEZ-uh-BOE yes? You knew the Lorrimor?”
“Ysabot, yes. Thats right. We met in the Kerstaw Forests some years ago. I take it you’re here for Professor Lorrimor’s funeral. Sit down, sit down.”
Trig’s food arrived and she set to it with relish. Ysabot watched with concealed amusement, and took another sip of her wine. She noticed some of the other strangers peering at the Gnome with some curiosity, and gestured them over. “You too are here for the funeral yes?”
Three others sat down, introducing themselves as Christov-a tall weatherbeaten man with a heavy Ustalav accent rivalling Ysabot’s.
“Hmm” thought Ysabot, “That looks like an Inquisitors coat he’s wearing.”
The others were Sif,a powerful looking young woman from the Northlands, and Keryn- a Varisian wanderer. All produced identical letters signed from Kendra Lorrimor-the Professor’s daughter, and signed over two weeks previously.
“What’s this all about?” asked Sif. “How did the Professor die in the first place? And when?”
“Hmm it’s, let me see, seventeen days ago now” replied Ysabot. “I was out of Town at the time, on business to the South. He’d been dead a week by the time I got back.”
“SEVENTEEN DAYS?!” exclaimed Trig, and they haven’t buried him yet??!"
“Yes well apparently the Prof’s instructions were very specific, and involved sending those letters out. Kendra sent out maybe a dozen all told-you’re the only ones to respond in time. As to the time-well The Priests can Do their Thing with the body so it doesn’t become a problem”
“But his Death” persisted Christov, “What were the circumstances?”
“Crushed to death apparently. His body was found up outside the old Harrowstone Prison. Head smashed in by some falling masonry. Some kids were doing a Dare to go through the gates and spotted the body, and they ran back to tell the Sheriff. A party of men was sent up and they recovered the body. The Prof often went off collecting herbs and such for a few days so it was lucky he was discovered so quickly really.”
“Why would these children be doing a Dare?” asked Sif.
“Harrowstone is an old abandoned Prison outside of Town to the South”, explained Christov,“The local children no doubt think it’s haunted or some such.”
“That’s right” agreed Ysabot," The Prison was abandoned back in 4661- 50 years ago. Amazing the Town survived really, as Ravengro was only founded in 4594 to service the Prison. There’s a memorial to the south of Town."
“You know a lot of things about History” says Trig wide -eyed, “You must be very clever. Do you live here?”
“Well off and on”, replied Ysabot, " My half brother Agrimar and me both maintain a locked chest here at the Outward Inn with our stuff in. When either of us return Sarianna allows us to reoccupy our previous rooms, assuming they’re vacant and we take up occupancy again. The arrangement suits her and us. We both tend to travel about a bit."
“As to the town it’s probably the nearest thing I have to a home yes, though I doubt the locals would be pleased to hear me say it. They tolerate me as a sort of associate of the Professor, but that’s about it. And I’ve had a good go at the Prof’s library in the past so I know a little about the place”
As she spoke Ysabot absent mindedly dealt her Harrow Cards, and one by one started to turn them over, the central card last. As she did so, a gout of flame flared up from the table to a height of nearly two feet, sending the party leaping backwards and knocking over stools and tankards. The two travelling bards in the corner, who had been playing their harp and mandolin in concert stopped suddenly. All eyes were on Ysabot. As suddenly as they had appeared, the flames vanished. Table and cards were unharmed. Sarianna stormed over.
“Ysabot, what the Hell do you think you’re doing!” accused Sarianna. She appeared really angry.“I have enough complaints about you as it is.”
“I didn’t do anything! I don’t know what’s caused it” protested Ysabot, a picture of shocked innocence. Seemingly this didn’t help.
Christov scrutinised the woman carefully. There was definately something very odd about her-almost suspicious. However, as far as he could tell she seemed genuinely surprised-she was telling the truth.
Keryn tried to calm the situation down. “Look no harm is done. I’m sure it was nothing to do with Ysabot. Sometimes those cards have been soaked in Crows Treegum to preserve them. It’s quite warm in here and its possible that with the dryness and the candle on the table the card simply caught fire-like dry tinder.” She sounded utterly convincing and Trig nodded solemnly in agreement.
Semi pacified, Sarianna moved away.“Just put those damn cards away, this isn’t a Fortune Tellers Booth and I don’t want you frightening my customers.” Here she glanced sideways at Trig who had been running round screaming “My hair’s on fire! My hair’s on fire!”. It wasn’t.
“Of course Sarianna Dear” replied Ysabot, pulling a face when Sarianna’s back was turned. The group set the stools aright and ordered fresh drinks. They scrutinised the cards. The card which had apparently been the centre of the incident was The Uprising-depicting a mob of angry peasants with burning torches. “It symbolises chaos and negative change or upheaval” explained Ysabot.
“These cards, they are like Runes?”asked Sif.
“A bit yes.” replied Ysabot, “Like Runes they can have individual meanings, but these can be interpreted in different ways depending on how they are influenced by the surrounding cards. These effects can be complimentary or antagonistic.” Sif listened, feigning comprehension but secretly baffled.
“But this has never happened before?” queried Christov.
“No. Never. It isn’t even a spell, as such.”
“Hmm. I see”. Christov made a mental note. The inn settled down again.
“Before it gets too late perhaps we ought to pay our respects to the Professor’s daughter” suggested Keryn.
“She’ll be pleased to see you” said Ysabot, “So far it has looked like no-one has responded to her letters-except me of course.” Ysabot gave the others directions to a house in the northern part of town, and pulling their cloaks about them the four strangers stepped out into the chill evening mist.
Across the square the lights of the Tavern could be vaguely seen, and all around them lights in houses could be glimsped through the murk. After several false turns and starts, after ten minutes they found themselves outside a reasonably sized stone residence. Mounted on one of the stone gate pillars, each surmounted by an unpleasant looking gargoyle, was mounted a small brass plaque “Residence of Professor Petros Lorrimor, University of Lepidsadt.” The black painted metal gates creaked slightly as they were opened, and lights were on inside the house.
The door was opened by a young woman in a black and white servants uniform. She appraised her unusual collection of visitors." Er, yes?"
“We are here in response to the Professor’s letters, and to offer our condolences” explained Keryn, holding out her copy of the letter.
“Oh Good Heavens!. Please come in. I’ll go fetch the mistress.” The visitors were usered into a well appointed hallway; Trig goggled at the (to her) enormous stairway working up to the first floor of the house.
Moments later the maid re-appeared, with an attractive and well dressed young woman in a dark red dress. “Thank-you Milly, if you could provide some refreshments for our visitors. I am Kendra Lorrimor.” She shook hands with each of the visitors as they introduced themesleves, before elading them through to an adjacent sitting room. Milly re-appeared with a silver trolley and started to pour tea. Trig eyed a large seed cake expectantly.
From her formal attire and puffy eyes-she had been crying- Kristov guessed that Kendra was still very much in mourning. She did at least however, seem genuinely pleased to see them. It became apparent that the vistors were the only ones, apart from Ysabot, to come and pay their respects to her father, and with the funeral scheduled for tomorrow she had feared that the occasion would have had to proceed without any of her fathers friends present. She could add little to Ysabot’s account however, and all that she could say was that she hoped the reading of the Will would explain her father’s motives more clearly-including to herself.
The funeral was scheduled for 1.00 pm the following day, and the mourners should meet at the south gate to the Restlands, just north of the town. She also asked their help as casket bearers-there would be a short procession through to the final site, to which the group readily agreed. It was arranged that they would turn up at Kendra’s house at 12 noon, to recieve the Pall Robes they would need to wear, and then meet at the cemetary gates. After wishing a good evening, the group left the House and returned to the inn, where Trig ate a Second Tea before turning in for an early night.