A trip to the wine cave the following day would not be soon enough to satisfy our heroes, who, after Fecunditas’ adjournment, decided to investigate the cave that very evening. Their grogs had been missing for ten days, they had found no clear answers yet, and they were filled with impatience at the slow turning of events. Fatigued from lack of sleep and worry, they broke the lock on the gate.
At first, the two magi and their companion found only large barrels of wine—a veritable treasure by any standards. The cave extended well beyond the wine stores, however, and further back the walls revealed many drawings similar to those in the magical caves near Commarque. The two closely investigated the drawings for signs of infernal influence, but they were for the most part too simple to seem anything other than what they were: drawings of many different types of animals, some strange, some familiar.
In one rear corner of the cave, Gaston discovered the remains of a very small fire. One would have to be either very foolish or very determined to wait in the cave in order to create a fire there, so he and William considered the finding important. However, there appeared to be no other evidence of Gerard and Thierry’s passing, nor any other passage in the cave.
After some debate, Brandon recalled the illusion which had hidden the lamia’s cave. Feeling foolish, he nonetheless blindfolded himself and began to bang on the wall of the cave near the remains of the fire with his sword. Just as he was about to give up, he found himself stumbling forward into a passage strewn with rocks. Looking back, he saw only more passageway, and no magi. Since Sir William and Gaston had kept the torch and it was dark where he was, Brandon sat down on a stone and waited for his masters.
Little did he know that his masters were not entirely certain they wished to follow him. William and Gaston argued for some while about whether the risk of entering what was probably an infernal regio was worth the retention of a few grogs. Indeed, William could not help but wonder whether Brandon had fallen directly into the pit of hell, a fate which he did not wish to share. Finally, though, their curiosity and their desire to bring these dark magicians to justice overrode their fears, and they mimicked Brandon’s trick for finding the entrance to the passageway.
For Sir William and Gaston, the discovery was almost immediate. They both stumbled over Brandon himself, who had been patiently awaiting their arrival. Now there was no sign of the wine storage cave, only a passage slanting upward behind them and downward below them. The three began to climb upwards, reasoning their chances of reaching daylight were better in that direction.
They were correct, though a sad sight awaited them as they emerged from the passageway into a larger room with an entrance to the outside. Thierry lay on the ground, his head propped on a cloak, his color pale. Sir William examined him and found that the right side of his chest had been partly crushed, and several of his ribs broken. Though Gerard was nowhere to be seen, there were signs that someone had attempted to care for Thierry and make him comfortable, as well as the embers of a small fire.
Sir William’s fears were somewhat abated by finding at least his immediate surroundings seemed normal enough, though, unlike Gaston, he had no interest in venturing outside the cave. As the two were discussing what their next action should be, the sound of approaching footsteps made its way into their awareness. It was Gerard, looking gaunt and haggard, wearing no cloak and carrying a small dead animal slung over his shoulder. The look of alarm on his face was quickly replaced by amazement and agonized relief—-he had begun to give up hope that he and his comrade would ever be found.
Quickly the magi questioned Gerard, who was eager to go back with them with all haste. He answered their questions with wide-eyed honesty. He and Thierry, he said, had been promised they would meet two fine young lasses (he honorably refused to reveal who they were) in the cave, and when it had become apparent they were being stood up, they had decided to explore further. Once they started down the passageway, they became lost and couldn’t return. They turned around, hoping to find light and higher ground, but found only this cave and this strange land instead.
This land, Gerard said, was inhabited by odd and ugly men similar to those in the caves near Commarque. Remembering how dangerous those brutes had been, he and Thierry had avoided them, but could not resist attempting to capture a magnificent horse they had spied. The horse, he said, was all glossy black, with flaming red eyes and snorting fire, but he had proved too much for them and kicked Thierry in the chest for his pains. Thierry had believed that the capture of such a horse would abate their masters’ ire at their misbehavior, and he had suffered for his overconfidence.
The phrases “flaming red eyes” and “snorting fire” immediately grasped the attention of William and Gaston, who believed the beast to be evidence there was indeed some infernal influence over this realm. They became curious about the beast Gerard carried over his shoulder, and asked to examine it. Gerard defensively replied that he and Thierry had not brought their bows with them, and had been reduced to setting snares for small animals for their supper—and there were precious few of those to be found here. They had only eaten three times since arriving. Finally, ashamed that he had allowed himself and Thierry to devolve to such a wasted state, he allowed his masters to examine the rabbit he had caught. The beast indeed had some strange signs on him: long fangs unusual in an herbivore, a slick, oily dark coat, and an unhealthy dark red-looking mouth. The magi considered themselves assured that they had stumbled upon an infernal regio, and, after some argument—-Gaston wished to explore, while Sir William most assuredly did not—-they agreed to leave with haste.
Gaston changed into a bear and allowed the ailing Thierry to be strapped to his back. Now the puzzle of how to find their way back to the cave presented itself. William formed an idea which had some merit: he would cast a spell that would allow him to smell the wine in the cave and follow its scent to the surface. Gaston was able to give him a temporary pig’s nose to enhance the efficacy of his spell, but Sir William’s own magic failed and he lost his sense of smell entirely. Fortune favored Gaston, who successfully cast the spell on himself, and followed the scent of the wine through the tunnel to Sieur Brun’s cave.
All members of the party were overcome with relief that they had returned safely to the surface. Bursting forth from the wine cave’s entrance, they were confronted with an enraged Sieur Brun and several armed men. He accused them of witchcraft, tormenting his guests, and disturbing his household by breaking open doors. (At this, Brandon blushed to the roots of his hair.) It seemed as if the crew might be burned alive or hanged after all their difficulties, if they didn’t take swift action. Fortunately, Sir William was able to persuade Sieur Brun to put them on trial and have them examined by a priest rather than executing them outright. It seemed the two “scholars” had left early that morning, declaring they could take no more violations of their privacy, and they stated they would remove themselves so that peace could return to the household.
Gaston, in bear form, was tied up as the beast they perceived him to be, and Thierry was taken away with promises that he would receive medical attention. William was hopeful for a positive outcome at the trial, but when his own servants were questioned, Thomas stuttered and looked guilty, while Esteve off-handedly referred to William’s “controlling that monstrous beast,” causing a grim look to cross Brun’s face. Calling for his local priest, Sieur Brun locked his formerly welcome guests into a rude dungeon beneath the ground floor of his manor house to await their examination.
Meanwhile, Gaston managed to change himself into a dog while his guard was distracted, and escape his tether. In hawk form, he circled the dwelling to assure himself that his companions were not about to be killed. Finding no evidence of pyres or scaffolding being prepared, he flew north, looking for the diabolists’ cart. Gaston reasoned that they would head back toward their own covenant of Oleron, but saw no sign of them in that direction.
Down in the dungeon William cast a bit of gossiping magic to compel one of his guards to repeat a rumor that he was close companion to King Henry. He saw evidence of the success of his spell when the guard whispered, alarmed, into another guard’s ear as he arrived, bringing the priest. Perhaps the fear of His Majesty’s ire would save him and his friends where reason would not. An elderly, timid man, Brun’s priest swallowed his fear and required each of the prisoners to repeat the Lord’s prayer and submit to the touch of holy water. They all passed his test, and, satisfied and relieved, he left to repeat his findings to Sieur Brun.
After some time and quite a bit of anxiety, Brandon and Sir William learned that they were to be released and accompanied to the border of Sieur Brun’s land, whence they should never return if they wished to live. Grateful for a reprieve, they assured Brun they would abide by his wishes, and carried Thierry back to Commarque in their own cart. Would Gerard and Thierry be affected by their time in a tainted aura and the food they had eaten? Only time would tell…
Cast: William of Jerbiton (Bob), Brandon Macheth (Nick), Giovani (Guillaume).
Delta Storyguide: Val
Experience: Source Quality 6 or 8 (for all three sessions)