I returned to the bustle of Stalwart Keep. The Recondite Society had heard rumor of my investigations surrounding the Burial Mounds, sending one of their lackeys, a thin, cagey, fifty-something thief named Juniper, to try and get information from me. He used his dagger to pick his teeth. It was, frankly, quite unsanitary. [Makes CHA check]. I explained that I was simply looking for one item of relatively little monetary value, but I would (of course) cut the Society in on 25% of anything I found. This didn’t mean I was a member, but it meant that I could be considered at some point for membership, and they wouldn’t hunt me down and kill me immediately, so that was progress. I would have offered him 25% of my current take, but that amounted to a handful of rat teeth, so he took the IOU and went on his way. I was eating a bowl of pheasant stew at the time, so my poverty needed no further proof. I did ask if he knew anything of the missing Rod piece that I had been searching for, but he seemed confused at the question. Never mind.
[From the first mound, Mimsby had earned 17 XP but no cash. Meh.]
I decided to peruse some of the books at the bookshop, seeing if I could discern anything about the secret door, the construction of the mounds, or anything else. [Makes Lore check easily; I will learn 2 things]
I learned first about the presence of a secret door in the tomb I had just explored. I was simultaneously humbled and heartened. Smart Mimsby for doing research! Stupid Mimsby for missing it the first time.
I also learn that the next mound was made for the spy to the High Seneschal. These mounds were built at the end of the Kindreds War (really a series of skirmishes and back-alley brawls, if we’re being honest) after Lord Vontu died unexpectedly with no heir (rumors abounded regarding him and livestock. I digress.). Four noble houses vied for his title. In that time, the High Seneschal declared marshal law and took over the army until one of the four families could emerge to replace Lord Vontu. Eventually, House Whitebridle claimed authority, the Seneschal stepped down, granted a burial mound for his entire family. Seeing as he had no family (and no livestock were harmed, I presume), that was out - but he did have eight loyal lieutenants who had served him well in the tense eighteen months he ruled over the region around Stalwart Keep. Each Lieutenant received an individual mound, and he hired a team of dwarfs of questionable heritage (Clan Thunderkiller? Really? Nobody actually believed that, I hope) to complete the work. I was able to find some of the original designs, although the maps were crude, not to scale, and covered in scrawlings that included an improvised game of find the blugger and recipe possibilities for a type of mead derived from rat droppings. Again, Thunderkiller seems an overstatement. However (fun fact), the Seneschal was in possession of a family heirloom, a Rod of 9 Parts, which he divided (nicely) among his and his lieutenant’s tombs. It may have been cursed, and dividing it in this way may have cursed each of the tombs, and the remains may actually be unrestful in afterlife, and I probably shouldn’t be looking for this item now that I think about it.
Eh. I’m sure I will figure out the curse thing eventually.
I was going to peruse some lore regarding curses, but then the owner of the bookshop started to get sarcastic in his tone, suggesting something about paying customers and the differences between honest businesses and those whorish libraries, and since I could no longer concentrate with his blathering filling up my ears, I decided to set off and return to the first tomb. There was a secret door to explore!
[This is becoming a novel in my head. SO much fun writing this.]
Interlude Two: Of Stalwart Keep
I have made passing mention of my home, but thought it was due something of a descriptor. Stalwart Keep is, to put it plainly, ten weight of dung in a five-weight satchel. It was originally intended as a mid-journey layover between North Brisford to the north (obviously) and Elsingston to the south. However, North Brisford fell into the hands of the northern ork tribes (we get it – they are north; stop putting it in the title already) and was rechristened Blood Haven (because ‘ork city’ would have been too on the nose, one presumes), and Elsingston suffered something of a setback when it was set upon by a dragon and large numbers of folk decided that living in an unwalled city in dragon territory was not the best long-term decision. In short order, a keep designed to comfortably quarter one thousand had been turned into the abode for either 5,220 or 3,897, depending upon to whom the question was posed. According to the official census, the tally was 3,897 – which the Whitebridle family brandished routinely to justify an ever more ponderous policy of taxation. “You want to live like a keep with 5,000, but we have fewer than 4,000 – someone has to pay for all of this!” However, 5,220 was the official population writ upon the application to the Alliance of Cities of State, which requires a minimum population of 5,000 to meet the threshold for city statehood.
Whichever number was honest, the truth was such: there were too many damned folk. Zoning laws had changed to allow alleys to shrink to 3’ wide and ‘streets’ to 6 (curious, considering the average carriage is 5’ wide); building permits were issued to allow two-story structures to grow to five stories, and suddenly the family that had been living on the first floor (and was NOT about to move) was dwelling beneath a stable that had been erected on the second level, with an awkward ramp system to allow horses to travel to and fro. And above that was an apothecary, which was only accessed by a rope ladder, because that was all the room we had and you had best make use of what you could and stop complaining so much Elwick, you should be happy you got to open your stupid shop at all.
But Stalwart Keep was on a good mound, and it had a good wall, and there was arable farmland about, and trade came in from many directions, so the minor inconvenience of being routinely squeezed by your neighbors in all directions was considered a necessity for modern life. But the fact is that we were all packed in like so many sardines in a tin.
Therefore, any opportunity to stretch one's legs was welcome, even if (or especially, to be honest) that meant descending into the tombs of the dead to plunder their riches.