Time to make a house call
The fens were a mysterious place during the early hours, the mist that rolled up from the numerous small creeks and waterways obscured everything making the few buildings that they passed loom suddenly out at them as from nowhere. The mist also dampens all noise the birdsong once so normal and so every day that it just wasn't noticed anymore now suddenly sounded weird and distorted, Persistence had to admonish the CL.U.Ber's more than once as he supervised them carrying his rowboat across boggy field's towards the next waterway as they kept dropping it and reaching for blade and gun after they heard a strange noise or a ghostly shape approaching them through the mist. The source of their fears always turned out to be one of the many cattle which were left to graze on the rich grass of the broads, after the third time the CL.U.Ber's sheepishly got the hang of things and finally managed to keep their cool much to the relief of the Butcher who was starting to think he would be swimming home.
After an hour or so the area of fens they now seemed to be in became somehow grimmer the early morning mist had mostly faded away by now but here the mist still clung on and somehow it also seemed thicker it almost pressed against people now leaving cold wet trails across their faces as if they had been caressed by a grieving mother. Even Persistence seemed quieter now he had spent much of the journey happily telling the CL.U.Ber's all about the beauty and wonder of the landscape. He especially enjoyed talking to the Doctor who was most interested in all the useful herbs and the other plants used by the locals in their treatment of sickness and disease, but now all that had stopped he just concentrated on rowing and asking Giulio who was sat up at the front to take regular depth readings. Looking up to the pale sun which hung dimly overhead and thoughtfully looking at the now gloomy landscape he seems to reach a decision and slowly starts to row towards the nearest bank "Here we are, this is the spot you need to get off on" the sound of scraping could be heard it's loudness startling as the boat crunched onto the gravelly shore. The Party slowly clamber out of the boat and gratefully stretch
their boat cramped limbs before grabbing their gear. Persistence continues "Right after you climb up this here hill you need to head dead straight, you should soon see another low hill the other side of which is a narrow ravine follow that eastwards and that will lead you to the rear of the hall. I will swing by here again two hours before nightfall but if I don't see you I be guessing you're not be needing a lift back, understand?" The Doctor and a couple of the others nod, the Doctor looking around at the dead trees and sickly flora asks "Whats with this place everything looks diseased" Persistence grunts "Well its never been the best grazing land around here, maybe its too close to the sea or something and the salts built up but truth be told no one knows why the land here is sour and no one really cares as apart from the Mallebench family and their servants no one comes out this way much."So saying their farewells to the Butcher and his dog they head up and onwards to Saracenic hall and its dark mysterious family. The CL.U.Ber's follow the Butchers instructions and cross the barren ground as instructed Wilhelm a little ahead of the others points out the numerous areas of worn earth where nothing grew and so revealed the bare earth which seemed to be split and cracked. "This land certainly appears cursed, maybe this drainage idea isn't so far-fetched after all"
As the sun reached its midday peak the CL.U.Ber's finally came to the edge of a sickly stand of tree's and look upon Saracenic hall at long last. The trek through the ravine had passed uneventfully and neither had Wilhelm or Thomas the trackers of the Party spotted any signs that anyone had passed this way for a very, very long time. So feeling confident that their rear was secure they Got down onto their bellies and crawled forward a little bit leaving the cover of the stunted trees behind to get a better look at the hall and the surrounding grounds. The hall was a modest size a two storey building with an attached tower on one side the building appeared to be made of solid grey stone and numerous dusty medieval styled windows looked blankly out towards the remains of what once was an ornamental garden but which now had been left to grow ruinous and wild. Here and there the broken stubs of strange looking sculptures could be seen poking up behind the high yellowish grass, like rocky islands in a sickly storm-swept sea. Just to the side of the hall and partially blocked by its bulk the CL.U.Ber's could just make out the shapes of what looked to be crude huts and from the faint traces of smoke rising behind the hall, it seems as if some of them were occupied. Looking at the landscape before him Thomas starts pointing out a route towards the rear of the hall "See mes Amis if we skirt the small lake and head to the east we should remain undetected, the ground itself will cover us and keep us safe non?" Ralph looking at the route nods in agreement "I reckon you're right the long grass should make this easy and the hall itself blocks most of the view from those cottages" he calls Wilhelm over "Hey you hunted people over in Bavaria correct?" Wilhelm nods and Ralph continues "I need someone to scout ahead, see if the grounds been disturbed, lets make sure its as barren as it looks eh" Wilhelm takes a long thoughtful look and then replies "Ja, that makes sense but I tell you this already if someone does use this route they are master woodsmen" there is then a brief huddle as plans are made and a quick meal of travel rations and weak beer is grabbed and then with Wilhelm in the lead the Party move on and out.
Barely had they moved down into the long grass when coming from the area near the huts the sounds of loud bleating suddenly erupts causing the CL.U.Ber's to drop and freeze Ralph turns and looks at his cousin a strange expression on his face "I believe in goats" he whispers the Doctor looking a bit startled replies "Don't you mean ghosts?" Ralph shakes his head as if to clear it "No you idiot, goats, the noise is coming from goats, a large herd by the sound of things" he then taps the heel of Wilhelm's boot and seeing the Bavarian look back indicates that he can go forward again.
The Journey to the rear of the hall is uneventful it just takes time to crawl past the lake and through the tangled garden luckily for the others Wilhelm clears most of the obstacles carefully away, cutting a path through the brambles and thorns, marking the occasional deep hole that suddenly appears randomly in what was once a fine stripped lawn. They finally make it to the rear of the hall where a low stone wall separates the hall from the garden it provides the last bit of cover which the CL.U.Ber's use to rest and recover "Bloody hell" whispered the Doctor pulling brambles from his clothing and face "I hope we don't have to go back that way again, I'm cut to pieces" the others nod in agreement "You and me too Herr Doktor, these gloves cost me fifteen shillings and now look at them they are kaput" he waves his gloves to show the rips and tears in them "That's fifteen Shillings I won't be seeing again I can tell you" Ralph who was peering over the wall ducks back down "Right, enough chit chat everything looks clear so its a quick dash to a door that's just in front of us and then its up to you Thomas and your bag of tricks" With one last check of the area and seeing nothing and no hue and cry being raised the CL.U.Ber's leap into action dashing across the dead ground and slamming into the halls stone wall where the stacked up behind the Frenchman. Thomas unclipped a small satchel from his belt and turned to look at Ralph with a sly smile "First mon sergeant we try the handle" he turns back and does just that and finds it locked "Now I see if I can make this lock open up to me" he pulls out several fine tools and inserts them into the lock gently twisting them one way then another until "Click" he listens and after a moment slowly pulls the door handle downwards and then pushes the door inwards. Ralph axe in hand rushes past and inside swiftly followed by the Witch hunter who has his pistol out and leveled. The Doctor ambled up but paused by the Frenchman who was carefully replacing his tools, he taps the man on the shoulder "That was pretty impressive" the Frenchman closes the satchel and replaces it onto his belt and standing up grins "It was easy, a lock is is like a woman you just have to know how to insert and how hard to thrust" the Doctors smile fades a little and he smacks the Frenchman up aside the back of the head muttering something about all Frenchman burning in hell" Thomas grins even more and they soon follow the other two into the hall.
They find themselves in an empty kitchen a large fireplace dominates one wall whilst the others are covered with cupboards and shelving from which dull iron pans hang. Most of the room seems to be covered with a thick layer of dust and has an air of abandonment the large tables furthest from the fireplace are also covered in dust which buries the plates and other kitchenware on top of them leaving people to guess at their use. Only the area by the fireplace showed any signs of use, the nearby sink was clean and had clean plates stacked next to it, the nearby table showed signs of being recently scrubbed, a chopping board ready for use and with several wickedly sharp knives close by ready for use. The fireplace itself had a small fire burning away in its main grate, the iron kettle and cooking pans clean, tidy and neatly hanging from their respective hooks and chains. They also found Wilhelm and Ralph next to the only other door leading from this room still with their weapons drawn and with a look of annoyance on their faces at the delay "Hurry up you two and get that door wedged closed" hissed Ralph "I don't think any of us want someone sneaking up behind us" The Doctor and Thomas make quick work of securing the door and Thomas reports back to Ralph and tells him that the door will hold but not for long if the person really wants to get in but Ralph is happy with that "It will do, as long as they need to force it open whatever noise they make will warn us. Right we haven't heard anyone or indeed anything yet so far so bloody worrying so I'm sending Wilhelm out to have a quick scout around but as soon as he shouts we move right get ready" he stands back pats Wilhelm on the back and wishes him good luck as he opens the door.
Wilhelm skulks past making barely a sound a moment or two passes and then the door is pulled open and Wilhelm is standing there facing the combined firepower of the other CL.U.Ber's "Blutige Hölle, It's me good grief really?" Ralph growls out a question "Oh yes it's a little anti-climatic really it's nothing but a servants bedroom by the looks of things" Wilhelm explains. The others lower their weapons and ushered in by Wilhelm enter the next room. Its a fairly plain affair the walls covered in fading whitewash, two mattresses stuffed with straw filled most of the floor space, a chest stood at the foot of one and a low table at the other the table had a holder for a rushlight and more importantly to the CL.U.Ber's a sheaf of papers held underneath it. Whilst the others checked the beds and the chest (Which seemed to just contain some items of women's clothing) Giulio went over to the table and moving aside the holder looked at what was written on the paper.
"Well? asked Ralph after finding nothing of note during his search "What does it say?" Giulio smiles and shrugs "It seems we are early for dinner, this is just tonight's menu" Ralph squints at the paper and the mysterious (to him at least) scratching's "Are you sure? it could be a code or something" Giulio shakes his head "I'm afraid not unless onion soup and apple strudel are code" the CL.U.Ber's let out a collective sigh this was beginning to look like a fool's errand. Ralph snaps them out of their momentary funk "Right we move on we will search this hall from top to bottom if need be, if its abandoned then fine we can cross it off the list and move on, so lets get back to it we've wasted enough time with this already" Wilhelm again listens and hearing nothing slips out past the door and into what appears to be the halls main hallway. Again all is silent but he notes that there are signs of recent life here and there, some areas seem to have been cleaned and tidied up whilst others seem gloomy and dust covered. He explores further approaching a door he listens again and hearing nothing slowly opens the door. Thomas stands by the door his pistol out as he keeps an eye on the stealthy Witch hunter which is lucky as the two Norton's appear to have returned to the kitchen and after checking that the outer door was still secured and having a look out of the windows find everything to be as they had left it Ralph strolls over to a chair and takes a seat whilst the Doctor opens some cupboards near the fireplace and starts to pull out the fresh vegetables he finds inside, he then starts to nibble away at a carrot and then looking up seeing Ralph's glare just shrugs and tapping his eye patch says "They're good for your eyes" Ralph's face softens and he says "In that case you better throw a couple of them this way as it looks like we need all the help we can get finding something useful in this fecking hovel" The Doctor walks over "Don't worry we will find something I'm sure. It was always a long shot that we would find Constantine Mallebench here but there must be some clues here as to what his plans are" Ralph nod's "I hope so cousin, I hope so as thus far he's been two steps ahead of us the whole time. Come on we better check on Wilhelm and Thomas before they do can do anything too daft"
Whilst the cousins have been taking a break Wilhelm has been busy checking a couple more rooms, one was a richly appointed dining hall which was clean and tidy and in fairly good condition, though the large table was bare apart from a slightly odd table piece. So after giving it a quick look over and finding nothing else of interest he quickly moved onto the next room. Now this fourth room was a lot more interesting as it seemed to be used for entertaining and so was richly appointed, large impressive furniture filled the room a set of leather backed chairs faced each other next to the large fireplace whose mantle supported two fine candelabras and a large wooden box which when opened revealed it to be full of the finest beeswax candles. A golden candle snuffer lay close by as well as a set of tapers held together with a twist of string. The Bavarian nodded to himself appreciating the quality of the items.The rest of the room was equally impressive in its faded grandeur, it's plastered high ceiling sported an intricate pattern that seemed somehow Mamluk in design. The images brought to mind warm breezes, cool pools and desert vistas, Wilhelm sighed and shook his head this place was once a place of unusual beauty and taste but something had changed long ago and now the damp and darkness had taken root. Wilhelm opened a few drawers almost at random which just contained the normal odds and ends in them as you would expect in a house such as this, so finding nothing of note he crossed over to the closed folding doors which took up one side of the room "Maybe it's his billiards room" mused the Bavarian as he pulled the wooden doors aside. The room, unfortunately, was devoid of a billiard table but instead was once a luxurious mix of gentleman's study and library. The room was paneled with warm oak panels which gave way to a rich red wallpaper, the ceiling here was also plastered in similar Mamaluk designs and was painted in bright colours which made the designs seem to swim and swirl as you looked at them. Wilhelm took a step back to take this, this riot of colour in " Mien Gott I was not expecting such a room here" He walked back into the room his footsteps cushioned by the numerous Smyrna and Esfahan rugs which covered the wooden floor. The walls were covered with fine tapestries which displayed hunting and feasting scenes. Two large bookcases dominated the walls either side of the folding door which were oddly empty a further four revolving cases stood around the room, two in the centre with the last two being placed next to the rooms main feature which of course was the desk and whilst they still seemed to contain a few books they were nowhere near full. Running a finger across the dusty shelves Wilhelm turned his attention to the desk, it was a monstrous thing made out of heavy dark stained oak and unlike the graceful beauty displayed by the rooms other pieces of furniture it was almost brutal in its design. behind the desk was a large window which was partially covered with an oddly thick a long velvet curtain and looking at it something clicked "Why is it so dark in here? every window I've passed has been covered, maybe only squatters remain here?" it would explain a lot, the dirt, grime and also the missing items"
He then looks to the side of the window where two but now only one painting hangs. The remaining painting seems to be a simple landscape but as Wilhelm lights a taper to get a closer look he sees that its far from the simple landscape he had first thought. The large painting is wondrously painted the artist was truly a genius the pictures subject matter seemed oddly more real than real. The picture showed a beautiful woman naked to the elements her long blonde hair flowing in the wind, she is sprawled across a huge stone slab her back arching away from its cold rough touch. She appears to be in a clearing in the middle of some dark pine forest the tops of the gigantic trees seem to sway violently in some monstrous storm and hanging above it all in the dark foreboding skies swirled a blasphemy a whirlpool of sickly colours spinning around destroying and birthing stars, planets life itself Wilhelm could feel himself falling into that cosmic maw, falling to never return but with a tremendous effort of will he managed to stop himself and pulled his gaze away with a scream "Nien" he falls to the floor a sweat drenched husk of a man content just to breath deeply and shiver.
Meanwhile, the others were still either in the kitchen stealing the vegetables or in the case of Thomas pouring through the chest of women's clothing and occasionally sniffing them for some reason. Ralph finishes his Ruben and with a grunt pushes himself up off the chair and turns to his cousin "Right Wilhelm should have been back by now I better check and see whats keeping him" the Doctor nods absently as he looks through the kitchen's supply of herbs and spices "Ah they have some ginger root here, good for the stomach and colds" Ralph smiled and managed not to dribble too much and headed out to see what was going on but he stopped at the door to the servants bedroom and tuned back and called to the Doctor "Hey see if they have any pepper will you these trail rations could do with an extra kick" he then opens to door to a see a somewhat startled Frenchman hiding something behind his back.
"Um what are you doing Thomas? you're meant to be keeping an eye on Wilhelm." Thomas looked around quickly but seeing no help anywhere just stammers out "Er I was just checking again you know if there were any secret compartments" Ralph walked up to him and looked behind, he then whispered into Thomas's ear "I really don't think you will find any compartments secret or otherwise in a pair of ladies bloomers Frenchie, do you?" there is a very awkward silence which much to the relief of Thomas is broken by Giulio reappearing "Ahhh I can see this is a bad time I will come back later no" Ralph tells Thomas to go and find the Bavarian and to be quick about it" he then shoves the Italian back into the kitchen "And where did you get to?" Giulio's reply is cut short by the kitchen door being firmly closed.
Wilhelm gathers himself up wipes the sweat from his face and curses himself for showing weakness, standing back up he keeps his gaze averted from the terrible painting but reaches out with shaking hands toward its frame which he grabs firmly and with a harsh yank rips the frame away from the picture hanger. Still keeping his eyes averted he quickly flips the painting over so he can examine the back of the painting. "Now we will see what devil painted such evil" the rear of the painting was unmarked apart from a small bronze plaque which gave the title of the painting as Sylvan nights. Wilhelm carefully leaned the painting face forwards against the wall and not knowing of the False Chanterelle couldn't make any connections between it and this painting. He backed away slowly from the painting and with a final shudder got back to searching the room. The desk held no secrets just paper nibs and dried ink edger but that seemed to trail off several years ago and didn't contain anything recent a leather tube contained a few rolled up maps of the area and looking at them it seemed as if someone had marked a few locations and written next to them in increasingly large letters the words No not here or twelve feet down and nothing Wilhelm guessed that this was a record of the dig sites. He left the desk and had one final look at the few books remaining but nothing caught his eye no Grimoires of fell power just the usual collection of books Shakespeare and Bunyan though there was a rather nice 1605 copy of Don Quixote in the original Spanish which he found on the floor behind one of the heavy drapes but apart from that nothing no further clues as to the location of anyone let alone Mallebench.
So casting a last fearful glance at the painting he returned to the hallway just in time to see Thomas slip into it from the servant's room. The Frenchman quietly crosses the floor to where Wilhelm is and in a hushed whisper asks "Well have you found anything?" Wilhelm shudders but shakes his head "Nothing,
aber der Spielemeister hat gesagt, dass wir alle dreißig Heldenpunkte dafür bekommen. Thomas looks blankly at the Bavarian "What?" Wilhelm smiles strangely and just tells the Frenchman that he has found nothing to worry about and still no signs of life" then both men jerk their heads upwards as the quiet is broken by the sound of a woman singing,
If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
If turnips were watches, I'd wear one by my side.
If "if's" and "and's" were pots and pans,
There'd be no work for tinkers' hands.
Thomas grabs Wilhelm by the arm and urgently whispers "Look I'll deal with this you tell the others that we have found someone and she's singing the Beggars song.
What will Thomas find upstairs?
How will Ralph explain the CL.U.Ber's presence?
Will Wilhelm reveal the existence of the spooky painting?
Will the Doctor pass more perception rolls after eating all those carrots?
Where does Giulio keep disappearing to?
And where will those bloomers end up next?
These questions and many more will hopefully be answered next time on "Crazy Cavaliers and rumbustious Roundheads"