Autumn & Winter 1216
It was during Autumn that Lothar vanished. At first, it was just assumed he was too busy to join the others for meals but as the season wore on, it started to become matter for comment that none had seen him, not mages or servants of the covenant. Food was still taken to his sanctum and empty plates were left outside but of the mage, nothing was seen nor heard. Perhaps, pondered the masters, he was undertaking a long and complex binding or enchantment. None seemed to want to disturb him and so Autumn passed in study for them and tedium for the rest of us. I could not get down to reading the books I wanted as I continually received tasks from my master in Carlisle and spent much of the season on the road. When finally, I managed to stay the winter in the covenant, it was so cold that I could not sit for many hours without having to walk about or return to the hall where there was a fire in the hearth. The Winter was long, as always in these parts. Snow lay on the ground for many months and then it was wet to such a degree that travel was nigh on impossible. Once again, stocks ran low and we lived on onions, turnips and old apples. It was a time of hardship not made better by the Romany people who argued and fought with the other folk and amongst themselves. The black monk, "Seth" returned to us during this period with tales of hardships and rumour of war abroad.
Twas in the early Spring, when at last the trails became possible to travel that a redcap did come through and brought news from the realm beyond our own little domain. The King, John, the first of his name, had died, some say of a surfeit of lamprey and others after nearly drowning in The Wash when his ship foundered. His son, Henry, the third of that name, becomes king and there is trouble in the land for the barons who nigh on forced his father to abdicate his throne are once more stirring, demanding more power and wanting to lay their rude hands on more wealth. It may prove a time of difficult travels with bandits and worse on the roads.
"The Hunting of the Beast" Storyguide's Notes
Over the Winter sightings of "The Beast" redoubled and there were attacks, one, upon a young woman so savage that the elders of the village begged Brannulf speak on their behalf to the mages but not to let this be known by the local church. Others had spoken with Gorwen and Dana when they were abroad. For the local people to come to the covenant for help illustrated just how serious the problem had become. The church had lost no time in placing the blame on the covenant, waxing lyrical on the devilment practiced, there and how ungodly magic had brought this curse down upon the area. At the same time, the estate of the Bishop of Carlisle had paid for a professional hunter and a group of mercenaries to deal with the beast once and for all. Within a day of Brannulf bringing this matter to the attention of the mages, the representative of a local lord arrived with news that one of the estate workers had been tidying the market garden as the plants began to grow once again when he was set upon and his throat torn out by this beast. Three days later a flock of geese were decimated and an eleven year old girl who was minding them held down, bitten and assaulted as if she were an animal. The tales continued to come in. Having promised assistance and having sent out scouts, the mages heard that a middle aged woman had been attacked, her clothing ripped and had only avoided being pulled down beneath the ravening beast by leaping from a bridge whereupon the fast flowing river, swollen with the winter melt had swept her away. She had been fortunate to be washed into an overhang where a fallen tree allowed her to clamber to safety. When interviewed by Brannulf, she described her attacker as a huge black wolf with eyes that bored into her soul as if it knew everything about her. This confirmed what the mages already believed. There had to be a were-wolf abroad. No ordinary wolves inhabit the hills of Cumbria, having been hunted to extinction a long while ago. Worse news followed. Attempting to hunt the creature down, the lord's own sergeant at arms had been killed and several of his men hurt when they cornered the beast in a woodland glade. Two hounds were slain also. A night later, it returned and attacked the kennels, killing two more dogs. The mages surmised that the controlling mind within the wolf's body was disposing of the dogs that might otherwise sniff out the assailant when in human form. The professional hunter then arrived at the covenant, announcing himself as one Kurt Scharder, a germanic mercenary with his companion, Northred, a Norman warrior both of whom had fought in the wars, recently. They claimed to have wounded the creature as it fled from them a day earlier. The covenant mages would not give them free rein to investigate the grounds but made sure the two were fed and promised to check amongst the covenant staff for any who might be wounded or have been absent at the times when attacks took place. When they set to asking questions, they revealed three who were carrying wounds. Gorwing stated that he was wounded in training by an unguarded blow from Leofric but this could not be verified as Leofric was on guard duty for Shrewd and Dana (with Jack Winter) on a trip to Ravenglas to purchase supplies and material to mend clothing. Cragwyn reported that he had been abroad on a patrol when he was accosted by an angry farmer as he left a local inn. The man berated him about the evil beast that the covenant had visited upon the villages and eventually struck Cragwyn ("Crags") with a pitchfork. Cragwyn made no response but left the fuming man and limped back to the covenant. Finally, Seth, the monk confessed that there was also a contract on himself which the hunter had been given by the church over a number of outstanding issues between himself and the church authorities. He had escaped a close encounter in one of the local villages where the hunter had stabbed him with a knife. Because of the falling out, he also said he would not co-operate with the church in finding the beast as, on this occasion, he was at loggerheads with them and now in fear of his own life. His sales of indulgences had always been allowed before but he told the mages that their old protatgonist who had been local vicar was now holding a post of some importance in the administration over on Hawkshead and intended nothing but ill for the covenant folk.
Indeed within the day, the old Vicar was preaching from local altars on this being but the beginning of visitations and punishment from on high and the work of devils loosed amongst them by the evil mages. Ghosts, barghests and daemons he promised would soon be commonplace. Nothing them happened for some days until the moon came around to be full, once more. It was then, that the attacks came close to home. Clemenza's wife was not only bitten but savagely raped by the beast. (Clemenza was one of the leaders of the Romanians and had much to say about covenant matters including a long running dispute with Leofric) She claimed it was sometimes wolf and sometimes man. Now envisioning the event, the mages came to suspect that Seth might be one who was the beast and indeed, deduced that his movements fitted with the attacks. Going through his effects, they found mementos which he had previously claimed were given to him by former lovers when asked about them by Gorwing and Brannulf. The locks of hair and other items were kept with a list of names and the mages were able to set some of their folk to investigating if the list tallied with any named victims of the beast. Further investigation into the cause of dispute between the church and Seth (Owen investigating) found that it was his assaults on women and angry battering of their spouses and men of the family that was behind the contract upon him. He was considered a bandit and no more by the church but they decided to be rid of him quietly as any man of the cloth being publically tried would be a bad thing for the people to see. Thus, the covenant folk working with the hunters and also Welland of Rye, an inquisator, set about seeking Seth, Ronan and others first leading the hunters astray while another group led by Crags went to Seth's secret hideout known also to Crags as Seth had once confided in the turb sergeant. After two encounters, the group captured Seth, chained him in a wagon and went on to visit the family of a young woman that he had killed as they headed back towards the covenant. When they told the folk that the wolf had been captured and were asked where it was, there was an amusing moment as Welland of Rye blurted "he's not in the wagon", a comment which mystified the poor peasant family who had not expected the beast to be brought to their door to apologise in person. Having promised the family that it would be dealt with as they expected, the team turned for home but Seth had changed and with his inhuman strength, tore free the chains and leapt upon the guards. In the fight, Crags, the loyal old turb sergeant was slain. Seth was, of course, pursued and killed by the others (Saphone, Welland, Dimitri and Claven all contributing to the damage done with Mihael in support) and so ended "The Beast". Only one other matter had to be addressed, then and that was to also kill Clemenza's wife who was infected and thrashing about in her caravan in the throes of the change. During this unhappy episode, the mages came to suspect that Ulfric had known all along about Seth's condition but had chosen to keep it quiet as he preferred to have Seth's skills to call upon and indeed, the former monk had carried out a number of tasks for the Master of the Covenant. After a short debate, they appointed Azir as the new Turb Captain with two sergeants under him, Gorwing being one. They also decided to start doing something about the troublesome Romanians regardless of the link with the master.
1217 was indeed a momentous year for the mages. Having first had to deal with one of their own companions and the loss of a faithful custodes in Crags, the mages began to worry about secrets that Ulfric was hiding from them and the disappearance of Lothar, which they began to investigate. It was suggested by some that Lothar had gone to Jorvik with Ganrier and also that he had gone off to Ravenglas with Rodrigo. The mages had doubts and questioned many folk within the covenant. Gorwing was despatched to York and Ronan to Ravenglas to find the two men, Rodrigo and Ganrier. Suffice to say that both had left the covenant's service and had no intention of returning. Neither knew anything of Lothar. With Ulfric refusing to discuss the matter, the mages had no other choice but to confide their fears to the redcap, Marcus who promised to ask amongst the other covenants for word of the missing magus. It was not long before Gaius Julius Regulus arrived, accompanied by one Versilus of Flambeau. Gaius Regulus started by telling the mages that he had little hope for they or the covenant when he first visited but he felt they had improved much and he was glad that they had the wisdom to make sure he got word of Lothar's absence. Ulfric had shown and told the mages a tale of a jewelled knife being left in his door, a warning to him and that those who put it there might have been behind Lothar's disappearance but would say no more than that. Feeling they were being misled, they communed to cast a spell that revealed the past and saw Ulfric himself ram the blade into his own door. What this meant, they were unsure but it further reduced the trust they had in him.
Owen takes up the tale once more;
"I have recorded as best I can, the words given to me by the magi of the covenant as they remember it. This was the beginning of an end they could not have foreseen. The High Inquisatore of the Tribune of Stonehenge, having demanded that Ulfric join them in council then asked the master of the covenant if he had taken some dark path that he would not help his younger sodales in their search for Lothar. Ulfric responded with anger, stating that there is evil afoot. Gaius Julius promised action if proof could be placed before him;
"And do what?" replied Ulfric in a tone of some sarcasm, "create another campaign that will make Gaius Julius Regulus the beloved of the order? Look at you, man. Exiled into this miserable, forsaken corner of the world, forgotten by the order or would be forgotten. We were going to be heroes, do you remember. We were going to usher in a new order, overthrow the tyranny of the Tremere and their dark doings. Daedalus who we used to call "The Autarch" was going to lead us there and we were going to be leaders in a new age of education, understanding and deep research. And look at us, Daedalus and Severian dead, you an embarrassment and me ostracised by the Order. Why, I was even passed a secret message by one of the redcaps that suggested it would be best if I did not attend Tribunal here for the sake of maintaining peace and harmony. My mere presence might be too difficult in the memory, remind the others of an uncomfortable past. This is the order we chose to serve, pah!"
"So what do you advocate, Master Ulfric? I am not sure U fully understand your words." replied Versilus.
"I am saying we go our own way, Gaius and myself, do what we must for ourselves, be as selfish and secretive as the rest of the order. I owe nothing to the House of Hermes, nothing, you hear? I care not for its laws and politics or its sensibility. You Gaius, you do not hear from Europe as much as you would, do you? I have my spies and I hear more than I have said. The Tremere will not forget us. They are just biding their time until the order has no use nor care for either of us. Do you recognise this?"
And so saying, Ulfric flung down a strange blade like a long dagger of silver all bejewelled. "This was sent as a message. Those who offended the order by enabling mages to be slain by mundanes and all who served them are doomed. This is the third such blade to be taken from its owner in the last five years. What do you think that means, Julius Regulus?"
"That blade you placed into your own door" Mihael spoke up, then.
"Yes, I did. I wanted to impress upon you the severity of the situation when I received this in a wrapped cloth. They will come for meand you will be nothing but collateral, destroyed without a thought in the process. They will raze the covenant to the ground. I have spent nearly every waking day researching ways to reveal the vampires and to use their own power against them. I have crossed boundaries, trod dark roads in preparation of a means to defend us and to continue my existence, to preserve this heap of tumbledown buildings out of stubbornness. I have wasted my time that could have gone into researching some new magic, some great discovery, forging of items that would have preserved my name forever, made it truly revered amongst my sodales but no, because of the past I am committed to another path."
With this he looked long and hard at Gaius Julius Regulus and then turned on his heel and stalked from the chamber. The inquisator followed and there was further talk between them which reached the mages at some distance during which Ulfric said Lothar was quite mad and may have even been a spy, fleeing the covenant because Ulfric had discovered the Tremere plot. He claimed loudly that the Tremere were already here in the Stonehenge Tribune and it was only a matter of time before they moved against one or both of them. When Gaius Julius Regulus returned to speak with the other mages, he seemed visibly shaken. He promised to return soon but he must needs follow the line of enquiry suggested by Ulfric. He and the master had fought long and hard to overthrow the Tremere vampires and at terrible cost to the inquisator led team that had set upon that mission. His departure left the mages in a nervous state, unsure whether they faced a threat from the Tremere or from Ulfric now they had revealed their distrust. For a short time, however, things fell quiet.
The saga continues soon.....