By December of 1219, the campaign against the Cathar heretics in Languedoc was going poorly, with many fortifications re-taken by the forces of Count Raymond of Toulouse. More knights and men-at-arms in the north were encouraged to join the crusade. Giovanni Dimatti, a banker from Lombardy, ended up traveling south with one of these knights, Sir Balleray.
Upon arriving at Commarque, Sir Balleray delivered a message to Sir Roger of Commarque, informing Roger of a visiting force of crusaders on their way to Toulouse led by Lord Crecin de Abassart, a favorite of King Phillip Augustus. With William de Bonville of Jerbiton and Fortis of Flambeau away at Lapus Crudis on a trading mission, Sir Roger hurriedly summoned Aureus Ex Miscellanea and Melita of Bonisagus to inquire if any of the scholars at Commarque were Cathars. Melita assured Roger that none of their number followed the Cathar heresy.
Roger then met with Giovanni the banker, who won an offer from Roger to stay at Commarque indefinitely using words of honey and a gift of a jeweled ring recovered from the severed hand of one of the Muslim defenders of Acre, which was taken by crusaders in 1191.
A couple of days later, Crecin de Abassart arrived at Commarque with a handful of knights and a score of men-at-arms, demanding that all within the castrum provide food and lodgings to “the army of your liege-lord, King Phillip Augustus”. Abassart, a short, arrogant, and thoroughly unpleasant and ill-tempered noble, demanded access to the building housing the laboratories of the magi. He was dissuaded from using the laboratories when the quick-thinking Aureus used Imaginem magicks and several pawns of Creo vis to make the laboratories smell awful.
Later that night, the residents of the castrum were awakened by a clamoring from Abassart’s soldiers, who discovered that two of their number had been attacked in the woods. The surviving soldier told of a stranger wearing the yellow cross of the Cathars, who attacked one with his own polearm, then changed into an enormous wolf and killed the other.
Earlier that day, Gaston of Bjornaer happened upon a deer in the forest that had been killed by a predator. Examination of the dead deer and the tracks surrounding it indicated that the predator was likely a unnaturally large wolf. Given the full moon of the previous night, Gaston suspected that a lycanthrope was near and traveled to Commarque to warn the other magi.
Abassart was furious that a Cathar had attacked his men. He set out from the castrum to root out Cathars in the nearby villages and hamlets, taking with him both his soldiers and the men-at-arms of the castrum’s nobles and scholars. Before he left, Abassart declared that he intended to draft the Welsh archers and take them with him when he left for Toulouse.
The magi resolved that the arrogant noble must be dealt with. They forged a letter to lure Abassart to a copse of trees that included the magic pines planted from an earlier adventure – pines that claimed people as their own, transforming them into trees. Loefwen Brand (disguised with her Ring of Obfuscation) rode to Abassart to deliver the letter, and found the noble angrily lecturing a crowd of frightened villagers and peasants on the evils of heresy. In the background, a handful of their number (including a priest, a village idiot, and others who were lame or deformed) hung by their necks from trees.
Abassart was convinced by the forgery, and traveled to the copse of trees that night. As Loefwen watched, a scream echoed from the copse, and Abassart’s horse emerged from the treeline sans rider.
Meanwhile, Gaston used the wounds of the dead soldier as an arcane connection to cast Image of the Beast, and received a vision of a man-sized black wolf with glinting yellow eyes. Gaston, Aureus, Melita, and Montagne set a trap for the wolf, using urine from Gaston’s bear companion Griou which had been transmuted to wolf urine with Muto magic. With the aid of Aureus’ Hands of the Grasping Earth spell, the party caught a man-sized wolf as the full moon filled the sky…
Cast: Melita of Bonisagus and Loefwen (Val), Giovanni Dimatti, Gaston of Bjornaer and Griou (Guillaume), Aureus Ex Miscellanea and Montagne (Nick).
Gamma Storyguide: Bob