Peribold And Hornsby

Session 8

Where and When the Secret Lies

When the trio arrive at the dock, Esther immediately begins casting her scrying spell. The spell is very difficult to cast when the object in question is not personally known to the scrying mage, and there is no guarantee that the book is even in range. Against the odds, Esther manages to determine that the book is in fact nearby—but a mile away, directly into the lake. They assume it is being smuggled away on a boat and, acting quickly, Hornsby barters with a boat captain in the process of departing. For a rate somewhat inflated by the poorly-disguised urgency of their task, the three are given passage to the retreating vessel. They choose well, as their ferryman is able to quickly overtake the alleged smugglers.

Pulling alongside the weathered cargo frigate Julietta, they are greeted by a row of salty, suspicious faces. Identifying one face as belonging to the captain, Hornsby makes his acquaintance. The man is named Angler Till, and he is clearly not at ease with their presence. However, Hornsby produces Ronald Gilt-hearth’s letter, which commands that any vessel must provide Peribold and Hornsby passage (and be later reimbursed by the Gilt-hearth shipping corporation). To gain access, Hornsby claims that the three of them seek passage to Whitecliff, a Southern town they correctly guess to be captain Till’s destination.

Having paid the other boatman for his services and climbed aboard as he departed, the three are instructed in harsh terms to keep above deck and stay out of everybody’s way. The captain, giving them a long look, realizes quickly that they are not simple scholars—these are mages, on his boat! This breeds an additional condition: there is to be no magic wrought while aboard his vessel. Esther surreptitiously breaks this rule moments later, and reports to Peribold and Hornsby that she can, in fact, detect that there is magic of a concealing nature in use somewhere below the deck.

Hornsby decides it is time to end the ruse, and confronts captain Till with their true purpose: namely, that they are in search of stolen goods which have been confirmed by magical means as aboard his ship. Hornsby demands to be given access to the cargo hold, so the goods can be located. The captain seems genuinely taken off guard, but quickly recovers and refuses them access to the hold. He asks by what authority they attempt to command him, and his bluff has a core of truth—by acting so quickly, the trio have found themselves far outside any place they might claim some feeble jurisdiction. Still, they are stubborn and demand again to be given access, claiming that they are working on behalf of the sheriff (a statement both true in sentiment and false in fact). Many harsh words are exchanged, and everyone feels themselves slowly drawn into the relentless undertow of armed conflict. It is a thing nobody appears to want, yet it seems unavoidable. The trio are clearly outnumbered and would likely all perish in the fight, but the sailors don’t know that. All they know is that they face three mages of unknown capacity and power, and there is no more capable bluff than a mage among the uninitiated. Finally, Hornsby tells captain Till that if he has nothing to hide, he will submit to a search from an authority he does respect: namely, the sheriff. The captain grudgingly agrees.

After a tense sail back to shore, the three depart the captain’s boat to retreive the sheriff. Almost immediately, the Julietta leaves the dock in a frigate’s equivalent of a mad dash. Hornsby, Peribold and Esther make their own mad dash to the harbormaster’s office, which shares its quarters with the local sheriff’s station. Inside, they quickly explain that at least one of the recently-reported stolen objects is aboard the rapidly-receding cargo vessel. The constables stationed at the harbor seem familiar with chasing down fleeing frigates, and assemble a crew of armed seaworthy men in less than half an hour. They all board the policing frigate Woodhide and bear down on Till’s wake.

It is not so easy a race as the first, now that Till and crew are aware of it. Still, the Woodhide is conspicuously free of cargo and rides much higher in the waves. It takes an hour, but they catch up to the Julietta and quickly board. There is another moment where it seems certain that blood will spill, but miraculously the crew of the Julietta recognizes their situation and stands down. The sailors are disarmed, and the three mages take center stage to perform their investigation. Preparing to go below deck and search the hold, Esther is caught off guard by a radiant magical signature in the pocket of the first mate. Asked what he’s carrying, the first mate turns white with fear and produces a small pouch containing magical berries. These berries are known to all mages, for they are of great utility: when consumed, they provide an additional reserve of magical energy for a couple of days. Highly sought and suitably rare (they come from magical groves such as the Green Tide), but also illegal to possess, the berries fetch a high price on the black market. Captain Till throws a smoldering glare at the first mate, who sheepishly says, “I thought if I only kept a little bit, they wouldn’t find it.”

The ranking constable addresses the captain, noting the illegality of the magic berries. Backing towards the edge of the boat, the captain says, “My crew knew nothing of the berries. I alone am to blame!” Then, twisting a ring on his finger, Till leaps overboard into the cool water. Rushing to peer over the rail, Hornsby watches the captain transform into a dolphin and swim quickly away towards Whitecliff.

This presents Hornsby with a puzzle. It seems as if the captain thought they were searching for an entirely different illegal cargo, one of which he seemed to be unaware. Had he not been smuggling the berries, he likely would have cooperated and been found blameless in the matter of the stolen book! There isn’t more than a moment’s consideration of pursuing the fleeing captain, and all agree it is a fool’s errand. Till vanishes beneath the horizon.

Tying up loose ends, the trio head into the hold and find a crate which is the source of the magic they originally detected. Bringing it above deck and prying it open, they find a rocking horse and no book: an illusion has been cast over the contents of the crate to make them appear otherwise. After a moment of careful work, they are able to break the illusion spell and find a parcel of several goods, all likely stolen. The missing book is among them. The crew, including the first mate, are clearly surprised by this revelation. Hornsby decides that the captain and his men were truly unaware of this secret cargo. But where did it come from? How was it spirited aboard? Was there any connection to the magic berries at all?

Returning to shore, the trio thank the constables for their help and leave them to process the remaining crew for their part in smuggling the berries. There is much to be done, and many threads to pull.

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