Later in the evening, after the meeting with The Parade Council, you discuss your options as a group for the best way to enter Gren Noval undetected. Some wish to find an uncommon entry, such as a secret tunnel into the city. Others wish to contact outside help. It is decided, however, that sometimes bold actions is needed, and that Jora‘s plan of having the party enter through The Scepter Gate, as a faux nobleman’s royal procession, is just crazy enough to work.
A scepter is purchased, a team of entertainers is hired, and Jora manages to find a royal carriage. It is also decided that it would be best to travel with any merchants already headed to Gren Noval to join the retinue, and several readily agree. Any merchant will tell you that there’s safety in number, and that there’s profit in safety. As the city guards are on the lookout for the party, you shall all travel in disguise. Aelric, Jora, and Lady Dahlia skillfully assist the others with those disguises and the tales that accompany them.
You set out from The Parade early that morning. Aelric, as Lord Bahb, sets a brutal and tiring pace; a subtle emulation of the negligent, or perhaps contemptuous, manner in which a nobleman of privileged birth might treat his entourage. He and Lady Dahlia, wearing a sleek purple dress embroidered with gold thread and small gemstones, and a silver circlet (with her hair up), posing as his Supreme Chancellor and Chief Arbiter Sofia Loren travel in the comfort of the carriage.
Each member of the party sticks dutifully to the role that he or she has chosen to play within the retinue. Adakias and Raivik (who has now taken on the guise of a young, red-headed peasant, named Christopher Robbins) work as hired hands for two of the merchants. [[:glyra}Glyra]], dressed in the drab clothing of a commoner, tends to the horses. While she is technically posing as one of Lord Bahb’s stable hands, she gladly offers to see to the rest of the animals in the retinue as well. lags behind the the rest of the group, posing as a hand hired to clean the road up after the procession (primarily the horse manure). Lord Bahb will tolerate no man associating his passing with filth.
At night, the various differing bands mingle, somewhat, but largely stick to themselves. Kark, Karl‘s father who has joined the procession to help Karl by adding a few more members of orcish descent, that they he may not call so much attention to himself, sets up his archery booth. Karl, now appearing as a full orc, assists his father, much as he did prior to joining The Parade guard. Various members of the retinue try their skill at hitting the targets with a number of ranged weapons. Karl puts them all to shame, though, with his prowess with a bow, honed by a lifetime of Kark’s tutelage and working at the booth.
As soon as the caravan stops for each night, Glyra heads off to find a separate place to sleep. On the third night, one of the merchant’s guard inquires about this. Jora looks sharply at him, a nearly panicked look in her eyes, “Are you a fool? Were you raised in some muddy village somewhere? Don’t you know better than to inquire as to the whereabouts of one as such as she? At night? Do you want her to hear you?” She looks anxiously into the darkness – north, south, east, west – and finally, nervously, up. She swears a few times and returns to what she was doing, muttering sharply under her breath. You hear something about “bring ruin upon us all!” and “the damn fool.” Jora shakes her head, seemingly angry. The men look to each other with looks of confusion and anxiety. No one mentions it for the rest of the journey.
Thanks to pleasant weather, and Lord Bahb’s impatience, the group makes excellent time. The ascent of the hill that the city upon is started the morning of the fifth day, and by early afternoon, the procession reaches The Scepter Gate.
Given the traffic that it attracts, the gate is remarkably plain and unwelcoming. Thin, triangular flags of purple and blue fly above the towers to each side of the great door. Two guards wearing full plate and great helms, both of deep purple, and holding spears, stand in front of the doors. One would almost think that they were hollow suits of armor, but slight movements betray them as the living beings that they are. As completely covered in armor as they are, and of how ornamental that armor appears, it is clear that these guards are largely meant for decor for the lords and ladies passing by to smirk over. It is amazing, given the heat of the day, and the amount of armor that they wear, that they can remain at their posts for hours on end, but they remarkably do not seem uncomfortable. At the top of the gates, two more guards, armed with crossbows, can be seen.
The procession halts a hundred yards from the gate, as is customary, and the trumpeters begin to play. Jora rides forward on her war pony at a steady pace until she arrives at the gate itself. Slowly and with great ceremony she draws her scepter and holds it out for all to see, first to the left, then to the right, then above her and finally behind her to the waiting procession. With a swift motion, she swings it around and knocks once, twice, three times on the gate. “The Lord Bahb and procession request entrance to Gren Noval. Prepare to receive him.”
One of the guards moves to stand aside, but then halts and returns to his previous stance. The door that opens is not of the giant gate, but a much smaller one in the left tower. Out of it strides three figures. In the lead is a a bald man with silver hair so short and receded he is practically bald. He wears white scale armor, with great steel pauldrons that look like small siblings of his head. “Lord Bahb, is it?” he says as he snatches the papers that Aelric has forged from Jora’s outstretched hand. “We shall see,” he says, passing the papers back to one of his companions, a thin man in leather armor, as they both begin to inspect the members of the procession. As they do, Jora begins playing a faint lullaby.
The bald man first approaches a merchant driving a wagon containing fireworks and delicate figurines. He turns to Raivik, “You, how long have you been with this merchant?”
“Why, I just signed on with Miss Wambach last night, sir. I wanted to travel to Gren Noval, you see, sir. I’m going to become a wizard!” Raivik exclaims, issuing several overly enthusiastic and awkward wizard-like hand gestures. “And Miss Wambach ws gracious enough to let me work in payment for passage to the city.”
The bald man does not look pleased. “Will you remain in her service once you enter the city? If not, what will you do?”
“No, sir! Only long enough to get into the city. Then… I’m going to be come a wizard!” Raivik says, issuing an even more exuberant, and awkward casting gesture. “And one day, I’ll summon me a Luck Dragon!”
The bald man trudges off, towards the throwing booth, shaking his head, as Raivik continues on about a bear familiar named “Pooh”. Approaching Kark, he asks, “What exactly is this booth for?”
Kark replies, “Well I run this booth here as a chance for sport. We offer various targets (moving and stationary) for adventurers to hit. We hold multi-person tournaments, we sell certain numbers of throws per silver, and we offer prizes to the best shots of the week.”
“Why would you bring it to Gren Noval?” The bald man asks.
“Oh well I’ve been with the Parade for quite some time and I decided that since we are so close to the seat of the Wizard King that we would try our luck to see if we could pick up some extra coin here. I don’t suppose you already have a target booth at this city, do you?” Kark asks.
The bald man ignores the question. “How long do you plan on staying in the city?”
“Oh a few weeks at most,” Kark says. “We don’t want to get too far from the Parade. Plus I have close friends at the Parade who… well we help each other out from time to time kind of like a family, you know. Why I would miss them dearly if we were gone for too long.”
“And why are you traveling with this Lord Bahb?” The bald man asks, with grit in his voice.
“The Lord sent his herald and asked that we join him. I was a bit confused at first, but once I found out that this guy…” Kark says, lowering his voice, “well this guy is such an arrogant buffon that he likes to travel with huge crowds. Traveling with a huge crowd is one way for a merchant like myself to not get attacked. So I thought to myself, ‘Free trip to Gren Noval’, and here we are!”
The bald man inspects each of the orcs and half-orcs carefully. He seems to dismiss Karl, now a full orc in appearance, rather quickly. He moves to the front of the procession, where Glyra is brushing one of the horses. “You, girl,” he says, “how long have you been with Lord Bahb?”
Glyra shrugs. “Shorter than some. Longer than others.”
The bald man eyes her suspiciously. “And you see to the animals? You don’t seem to be very well compensated.”
“I like animals,” she says, “It is enough.”
“And how is Lord Bahb, as a master?” The bald man asks.
“Some say he is cruel and thoughtless,” Glyra says, “To be honest, I really wouldn’t know. I spend most of my time in the stables and in the yard. Noble lords don’t like to get their boots, and especially their hands, dirty, so I have little contact with him. He cannot mistreat the animals, or myself, if he is never around us, so I’d say he’s about as good a man to work for as any.”
The bald man nods, not really to Glyra, mostly to himself, and proceeds to the rear of the caravan, where he finds Rico. “How long have you served Lord Bahb, and in what capacity?” he asks.
Rico stops his work, as he is questioned. The air settles as a strong stench of manuer comes wafting from rico. “How long have I served Lord Bahb?” He looks down with a look of concern on his face and starts touching his fingers, as if he were counting. “About a week. As to what capacity, I have been cleaning the shit from the horses and livestock.”
“And what sort of man is he?” The bald man asks.
“Personally I have never met Lord Bahb, but I hear he is generous, and is one to enjoy life. From the looks of things I have no reason to doubt.” Rico says as he looks around for another pile of dung. Eying one he says, “now if you don’t mind…” and heads toward it.
The bald man leaves Ric to his work. He speaks with several of the merchants and their workers, and last comes to Adakias.
“How long have you been traveling with this merchant? And before that what did you do?” He asks.
“Why, sir, I’ve only been with ol’ Tom Gaffagin for a couple weeks.” Adakias explains. “My family has encountered rough times with my father growing older. I struck out looking for work in order to help my family. It isn’t easy living on a farm. I happened upon Ol’ Tom and he said he needed some help unloading his batch of sundry goods once he reached Gren Noval. He kept going on about how he was to make a killing selling his belt buckles. ’Everyone needs a belt buckle!” says he, ‘Why, without them we’d all be pantless heathens!’"
“And after entering the city?” The bald man asks.
“I suppose I’ll take in the free sights of this grand city once I’m done doing his heavy lifting,” Adakias says. “It’s not everyday that a country lad, such as I, gets to see such a large city and Pa would be awfully sore if he found out I spent my hard earned money in this fine city. Why, even talking to you is quite a bit more than I expected. Not a whole lot to guard on a farm, you see.”
The bald man eyes Adakias suspiciously. He looks him up and down, from several angles, and he looks like he’s about to sleep. Jora’s song gets a little louder, and he simply stares at Adakias for a moment before abruptly shaking his head and walks over to discuss something to the thin man in leather. The thin man shakes his head, and the bald man casts one final look at Adakias, before approaching the carriage.
The third member of the party that came from the tower is a knight of medium height and of small frame, adorned fully in rich, purple plate with great helm, similar to the two guards at the gate, though this knight’s armor seems more practical, and less ornamental. While the others moved about, observing and questioning the retinue, this knight simply stood about 10 feet from the carriage, and stared, unmoving, at it through the great helm’s tiny eye slits.
The bald man approaches the carriage, running a hand across its stained cherry frame. He bends down, though he does not need to go far, given his stature, and addresses Aelric. “Lord Bahb, I am Rofmore, first knight of The Scepter Gate guard. I’d like to ask you a few questions. First, who are you?”
Aelric gives him an incredulous look. “You’ve never heard of me? Did you hear that, Sofia my dear? This guard has never heard of me! I am Lord Bahb, ruler of the Lablah Lowlands. You do know where that is, right? Near the halfling border to to the west.”
“I see,” Rofmore says, “Where are you coming from now? And what business do you have in Gren Noval?”
“I am coming from the Parade; I wished to see Gren Noval while I was close to it.” Aelric explains, “More importantly, I wanted to show my loyal subjects the wonders of Gren Noval.”
“And can you speak for each man and woman in your group?” Rofmore asks.
“Of course I can speak for each man and woman in my group,” Aelric says, “they are my loyal and adoring subjects!”
“And how long do you plan to stay here, in Gren Noval?” Rofmore asks.
“I shall leave when I’m ready; perhaps in a week? I have to get back to my fiefdom… there is an exciting tournament I’m holding there in several weeks,” Aelric says, eying Rofmore. “You look like you know how to handle yourself. Have you ever been in a melee tournament before? There’s a big purse for the winner!”
At that moment, the knight behind Rofmore draws a longsword. The screech it makes as it is freed from its scabbard abruptly stops Jora’s song. With the exception of the ringing of the steel, there is silence. Rofmore looks back at the knight, who gives a short, but sure, nod.
Standing tall once more, Rofmore opens the carriage door. “Lord Bahb, perhaps you and your companion would like to join us inside for some refreshments, while we deal with these… formalities?”
Aelric maintains composure. “Refreshments? I suppose that would be acceptable. Tell me, do they serve Rahm Ulan Ale here? It’s a specialty of the halflings we often trade with; you should try it if you get a chance. There’s nothing quite like it in the human lands.”
With that, Rofmore and the thin man escort Lord Bahb and Lady Dahlia into he tower. The knight enter last, steel still bare, and closes the door.
(See Inside the Gate Tower)
After several moments, the door to the tower gate opens, and after “Lord Bahb” and “Chancellor Sofia” return to the carriage (looking no more “refreshed” than when they went in), it slams shut again. Shortly after, the guards in front of the gates move aside as they slowly open, and the procession enters the city.
If The Parade is the greatest spectacular display of magic and wonder in all of Drif’Tara, the crowded and chaotic streets of Gren Noval are a close second. Bolts of light of all manner of colors and shapes fly through the air at a regular interval. Potions are consumed, often to dramatic effect. A minotaur is seen, just ahead, wading its way through the crowd. Vendors sell all manner of goods, from invisible axes, to something called Edible Fire (which appears to be exactly as advertised) in 17 different flavors. At one point a gap in the buildings gives way to a darkness permeated with shimmering lights, which gives the effect of the night’s sky, with a door at where it meets the street. As it opens, a shop (that appears to be quite popular) can be seen within, suggesting the outer effect to be an illusion.
At the first relatively clear section of street, Jora dismisses the hired entertainers and the carriage driver. The various merchants go their separate ways, and those members of the party signed on with them announce their resignations. Kark bids Karl good luck, and heads off to find a place to set up his booth.
The party moves on, to find an inn to discuss their next move. Along the way, the crowd of an already densely packed street huddles even closer together to move around a perfectly normal and innocuous section of the street, roughly a meter and a half in diameter. Raivik, now at the reigns, wisely navigates the carriage in a similar manner.
Shortly after the party nervously passes under an arc of continuous lightning, a suitable inn that can accommodate the carriage and the horses is spotted. Over a meal, it is decided that since the Council expressed no urgency in the completion of the mission, and that since many of the party had never seen Gren Noval before, the group will meet back at the inn three days hence, at which time you will proceed to Tefus’s tower keep together. Aelric comments that it is most appropriate that the task shall be completed in exactly 8 days.