The young Master Clarke has finally arrived.
While I was downstairs eating my morning meal with Anselm and Maxwell for company, a traveler unknown to me walked into the tavern. He was unmistakably a knight in the employ of some nobleman, his swaggering gait and well-groomed appearance instantly giving away a lifetime of service. An eye patch wrapped around his head to obscure one wounded eye and a scar ran down his neck, disappearing under his plate mail. A mace hung menacingly at his side and a shield was strapped to his back, bearing a crest unknown to me- an octopus with one large eye and 6 appendages, each dreadful tentacle grasping a candle. The paint upon his shield was cracked and fading with age, revealing a pattern of diagonal stripes under it. With barely a glance at me or my companions, the stranger took a seat next to Maxwell and ordered a pint of mead. Anselm growled at the knight, though Maxwell quickly calmed him. As he was soothing Anselm, Maxwell asked the stranger if the crest he bore was that of the Clarke house. The stranger nodded, identifying himself as Reginald Cole, a man at arms in the employ of the young Master Clarke who was due to arrive in the next few hours.
Word travelled like wildfire throughout the town, despite myself and Maxwell never leaving the tavern, drawing all travellers to our door. While I had observed most of them at various points, I don’t believe I had seen them all assembled in the few days I have been here. As the tavern became a hive of activity, I found myself focusing most of my attentions towards Anselm, who was more than happy to reciprocate. I was pleased to see that the wound from last night’s altercation did not seem to be bothering him much at all, and already showed signs of healing well. I was careful to note the travelers present, and I will attempt to list them here to the best of my memory:
The woman from the pagan East, the one Blacksmith complained at length about, a wildling by the name of Wolfswift. A rowdy woman, to be sure, clad in naught else but furs and face paint.
Blacksmith, the soldier who was not a soldier, who arrived at the tavern in plate mail and a tabard bearing the symbol of the Goddess and seemed to enjoy the company of those around him less than I do.
The sister from the Order of the Mended Chain, a vestal virgin named Catherine. An unbearably pleasant sort, she made an effort to speak with all the travelers present, though she was intelligent enough to keep any sanctimony to herself.
To my surprise, a body snatcher who was well-known to the physician’s college and much reviled by the nobility was present. She had a reputation for recovering cadavers for the college, infiltrating the most well-guarded and heavily trapped mausoleums in search of such morbid treasures. I had only ever heard her referred to as Sorain, though I held doubts it was her real name.
The man who had injured Anselm the night before, sitting by himself in a shadowy corner. Later on, I learned the man’s name was Achus, a bounty hunter well-known throughout the continent for his successes as well as his cruelty, employing hook and chain during his captures.
There were several others present, though they were not remarkable enough for me to commit their traits to memory. A leper who was well past the risk of spreading his illness, a fool with his lute, a rat of a man strapped with dagger and flintlock. We all waited together in the tavern for several hours, when over the din of all the talking, the unmistakable sound of a horse galloping was heard outside. We all fell silent, watching the door of the tavern intently, and after an eternity of waiting the young Master Clarke walked in.
A shock of black hair rested upon his head, and threadbare clothes bearing his family’s crest hung on his gaunt, emaciated figure. He was abnormally tall, having to stoop while walking into the tavern, and his eyes were mismatched, with one iris being a bright blue and the other a deep, vibrant green. Upon his entrance, I saw the tavern owner flinch as if someone had struck him, and he hastily left the building.
The man at arms unseated himself for the first time since he arrived and formally introduced the young Master Clarke to the tavern, the heir to the estate, though there was no doubt in anyone’s mind who he was. Despite his diminished frame, the young Master Clarke spoke with the voice of a man born into power and authority as he addressed us. He wasted no time with pleasantries, informing us that he cared not why we had come to his estate or what we may have been before, he only demanded our obedience and skills and in return we would receive gold and glory. Speaking in no uncertain terms, he informed us that his father had been a man intelligent and curious enough to study and understand the old magic, but too weak to resist its temptations. He had discovered an ancient conduit for the old magic that had been long sealed within the subterranean depths beneath the castle, and had learned the rite to harness its immense power. He led the men of the town in an excavation beneath the castle, squandering the family’s reputation and fortune, to find it.
His father had never spoken of what had happened next, he claimed, though it was enough to drive his father half insane and ruin his mind and spirit. What was known to the young Master Clarke was that the rite had only been half completed, allowing some foul thing to enter our world but unable to leave its subterranean cavern. Regardless, its awful influence spread and corrupted the lands, acting as a beacon for all manner of Unnatural things. If were to be under his employ, we were to cleanse his estate of these influences, restoring the Natural order of the world to it and purging the power in that subterranean cavern.
Abruptly, he said that he wished to tour the estate, summoning Cole to his side. Addressing all of the travelers, he instructed us to be downstairs at sunrise the next day so we may receive our initial payment of gold and our first instructions, and if we were not up to the task, we were to leave the estate that night lest we find ourselves at his mercy as trespassers.
After he departed, the tavern exploded with excited chatter over the tale he had told. I returned to my quarters, mulling over the details of his story. Even now, I feel a twinge of nervousness when I reflect on the things that may be growing under the estate. I must consult my texts for these unspeakable things borne on the old magic, for I will not be caught off-guard!