This author will not lend his pen towards articulating the efforts involved in removing the felled ogre’s head from its noisome shoulders, except to note that ogres are not known for their graceful, slender necks; they are not known to possess them in any capacity.
The grisly task completed, a spare blanket is wrapped around the unctuous prize to form a sling for easier carrying. After a short rest, the party sets off on their way home to be rid of their charge and flush with coin at the soonest. It is decided that traveling along the Southern bank of the Portmouth will afford them a chance at securing passage on a passing merchant ship, money well spent if the opportunity arises.
A day later, the trio have travelled close enough that they can smell the river over the next rise, and are all set to scale it when four lupine, growling shapes appear above. Even silhouetted by the midmorning sun, they are clearly companions of the red-muzzled wolf. For his companions are themselves not ordinary wolves, but something more ancient and more dire. At a barked order from one of the beasts, all four descend upon the party. There are mere seconds to prepare- Peribold uses this short window to cast a new spell which campfire studies have afforded him time to learn: a flashy incantation called Flame Armor. It is a clever move suggested by Hornsby, which instantly renders him less than appetizing. Harkness prepares by drawing Roughshod; Pellmell will draw itself as needed.
Two of the wolves engage Harkness, but he is more than capable of handling them and quickly lands a succession of blows that fell one. The other two wolves attempt to flank Hornsby while avoiding the blazing form of Peribold. One of them does manage to nip Mr. McSorrel, but is eventually dispatched by the merely adequate swordsmanship of Mr. Hijince. The battle has become a route, and the remaining two wolves limp away as quickly as they came.
Cresting the rise, the trio are greeted with the welcoming sight of the Portmouth river. A major source of trade exports for the region, it is almost always foul with merchant vessels. They walk West for no more than an hour before a ship comes by and retrieves them for a small fee. Shipmen, when not mutinous or wracked with scurvy, are an entertaining lot (and some would say even then). Being so near their destination, they are in particularly high spirits, and the trip back to Wood-and-sea under the quickly brightening noon sky is a pleasant episode of blue wit and shared flasks. Arrival affords Peribold and Hornsby their first view of the docks, which is a blur of activity. They can see the far cliff that supports the [[Gilt-hearth Family|Gilt-hearth]] manor, and realize they are probably in the very midst of [[Ronald Gilt-hearth|Ronald’s]] shipping company. Now to business: before all else, the head must be delivered.
The reaction of the bounty registrar is a source of entertainment. They learn that he has never, during his time in office, had the opportunity to pay out on an ogre bounty. It is a duty which he is eager to fulfill, and the recent doubling of all goblinoid bounties makes this an impressive payday for the trio. Electrified by the accomplishment and already tasting his first drink, Harkness thanks the duo and makes it clear that if they are ever interested in sharing more bounties with him, he would happily accept the cost.
Back at his uncle’s house, Hornsby alerts Jaffrey to their return. The elder McSorrel excitedly notes that they have returned on the very day of one of Marcellus’ magical seminars. It is to be held at Jaffrey’s house that evening, and many of his retiree companions will be in attendance. Hornsby accepts the invitation on behalf of himself and Peribold, while politely ignoring the suggestion that a small demonstration of skill would be most welcome. Lastly, he is surprised to learn that at the most recent class, Jaffrey briefly succeeded in maintaining a small magical light in his palm. This is the customary first spell of all young mages, but it is an accomplishment to even temporarily invoke it after a relatively short length of study (and outside the capable halls of the Golden Order Magical Society, no less). That Uncle Jaffrey is the only member of the class to have achieved this feat suggests that the McSorrel bloodline might be partially responsible.
From there, the two wandering scholars head to the Wood-and-sea mage guild in order to visit Esther and engage in further research on the Green Tide in the guild library. Once she sees them, Esther (who is forever taking tea on the second-floor balcony when they arrive) rushes down and beckons them into the study. Once they are gathered, she shuts the door and swears them to secrecy before passing through a section of the study wall- now revealed to be a persistent illusion. Hornsby steels himself and is able to pass through the illusion, but Peribold must be dragged through. They descend a long staircase to a hall that, passing a series of rooms of unknown purpose, ends in a large room containing several objects of interest. Among them:
1. A magical circle drawn into the floor, with a gem-topped staff embedded in its epicenter.
2. A rolltop desk against one wall.
3. Hornsby’s magical mentor, Galt Pommelarc, seated at the rolltop desk in the midst of what is either deep thought or a magical trance of unknown utility.
Esther says they must wait until Galt emerges from this state, but in the meantime explains that no one else but the three of them is aware that Galt is visiting the town. Furthermore, it is of the utmost importance that it remain so for the time being. The rooms below the school are secret to all but a few. She does not offer an explanation as to their exact purpose, and a few moments later Galt lifts his head. He sees them standing a short distance away, and his expression warms. Striding over, he greets Hornsby and Peribold heartily. Galt explains the purpose of his visit as investigative. He learned of the red-muzzled wolf from Esther, and since the last of the recent graduates have been escorted through or otherwise delivered from the Blue Copse, the Society’s attention has focused on it.
Magical research has indicated that the creature headquarters itself near Wood-and-sea, for an as-yet-unknown reason. Galt decided that he should secretly visit and offer whatever assistance he could. Peribold, Hornsby and Esther are to be his eyes and ears around town. In the meantime, he is using magical communications to request information on the Wolfmatron, the Green Tide, and forest god servants. He explains that the gem-topped staff is what’s known as a [[“teleportation focus”]]. These devices allow mages capable of teleportation to jump to them with much greater ease, but provide no assistance to those attempting to travel elsewhere. Most of the magical colleges and mage guilds have such a device, but they do not provide their benefit to a mage until she is allowed to see and touch them. Thus their existence is closely guarded, and their access even more so. Galt further speaks on the importance of discretion and what he refers to as “compartmentalization of information.” “The more important a piece of information is,” he somberly intones, “the greater care we must exercise in its sharing.”
The magical pair return to the non-secret portions of the Wood-and-sea mage guild, particularly the library, intent on engaging in their own research of the Green Tide. They experience some success at this, turning up several interesting facts:
1. The Wolfmatron is not the only forest god known to dwell in the Green Tide.
2. The Green Tide is not the only magical forest. Such places are typically known as [[“Ancient Forests”]] or “Ancient Groves”. They course with raw magic, and thus have always drawn the interest and research of mages. However, to say that this is discouraged by the forest denizens is demure.
3. Apparently there is a legend that a human civilization once existed within the Green Tide. Called the Fellspar, they lived in a single, sprawling city and were extremely accomplished mages. At some point their relationship to the forest gods soured, and a manner of war erupted against them, led by the Wolfmatron.
4. An unsatisfyingly vague description of the Wolfmatron paints her as “three massive wolves unartfully fused together.”
Looking up from one of his books, Hornsby can see that Esther is speaking to a frantic police captain in the guild foyer. He overhears that a serious theft has been reported at the estate of one wealthy widow named Miss Peabody, and that a witness has placed her personal servant slinking into and out of a room from which several of the goods were stolen. Miss Peabody cannot accept the idea that her beloved servant, Alice, is responsible for the theft, and beseeches the captain to request that Esther use her magical specialties to verify the servant’s innocence. Esther begrudgingly agrees and they depart together.
Finding further research unbearable and noting the time, Peribold and Hornsby head off to attend Marcellus’ magical seminar at Uncle Jaffrey’s house. When they arrive, they are directed to the dining room. Inside are twelve ribald men of advanced years, finishing a meal of roast chicken and stout. The room erupts as the magical duo enter. Loudly noting that Marcellus has not yet arrived, Jaffrey suggests that Peribold or Hornsby might give a magical demonstration. Hornsby is not partial to the idea or the potential danger, but Peribold offers his skills. This produces another wave of raucous noise. Quieting the ensemble, Peribold requests that a candle be lit and placed on the dining table, and that a table cloth be held vertically between the candle and himself, separating them. He then goes on to explain that he will use magic to extinguish the candle flame, with no notable disturbance in the table cloth. This produces a murmur of intrigue. Marcellus walks in at this moment, a half-smirk on his face as he interprets the scene, and beckons Peribold to continue. Peribold focuses his attention, and a moment later the candle’s flame snuffs out. This apparently requires that all assembled take a hearty sip of their tankards, while never pausing in their loud exclamations.
Unaccustomed to an audience, Peribold finds the experience intoxicating and wishes to continue despite Horsnby’s concerned expression. He tells the assembly that he will now reignite the candle from afar, again without any disturbance to the intervening table cloth. A moment later his confidence falters as his first attempt at the simple spell fails. Again he fails. Beads of sweat form on his brow. He tries a third time, and is finally successful. As the flame leaps up from the candle, the old men leap from their seats and a mighty toast is shared. Only Marcellus and Hornsby are aware that this feat took multiple attempts, but surely each is familiar with the odd string of sour luck.
As the excitement over Peribold’s demonstration finally begins to cool, Marcellus compliments him and asks if he may take the stage next. He asks that everyone take a seat at the table, and sits himself in front of the lit candle. Once everyone is settled, he begins discussing the pupose of magic with Hornsby. Hornsby says that magic is a tool; it can be used to any purpose, and merely assists. Marcellus seems to ponder this, before smirkingly noting that there are perhaps easier ways to light and extinguish a candle. He then blows the candle out. “But what’s this?” he asks, holding a strip of paper over the smoking wick. The paper inexplicably catches on fire, and the old men roar with excitement. Marcellus then passes his hand in front of the candle, to reveal that it was lit all along. What was the nature of this magic? When had a spell been cast, and why hadn’t anyone seen it?
Marcellus goes on to state that he does not personally profess an opinion as to the nature of magic; he would not presume. He is merely curious to know what manner of indoctrination the Society is imparting to its young wards. The whole exchange is somewhat combative, but still pleasant enough. Hornsby had been warned by Galt that many non-graduates bore, in his words, a kind of inferiority complex.
Marcellus turns to the task at hand and begins individually tutoring the old men in a simple spell of magical light. The rhythm of the evening affords him occasional moments to himself, and Hornsby approaches him during one. He has figured out that illusion magic was involved in Marcellus’ trick. The dabbler mage confirms this. He placed a kind of illusory shell around the candle to hide its flame. Obscuration of the actual act of casting came from years of practice and a touch of misdirection. Hornsby is complementary, and Marcellus seems genuinely flattered. As a back-handed complement, he acknowledges that magical colleges provides mages an opportunity to make powerful political and business connections. Also, there are only so many ways for wealthy families to be rid of their children for a time. They discuss how a dabbler mage acquires spells (apparently Marcellus was allowed to use the Wood-on-sea guild library from an early age, in a recognition of his natural talents) and why he never attended a college (as an orphan, he had no way to pay for tuition).
Uncle Jaffrey again manages to create magical light, and this seems to signal an end to any further actual magical practice. The old men have been getting drunker throughout the night, and are now completely unmanageable. An other hour passes with a succession of toasts, interspered with treatises on how magic might be used to beguile women and engorge members. The three mages sit back and wait for the festivities to end. Peribold and Hornsby head off to bed, but not before they are accosted by Uncle Jaffrey and made to understand that they should be especially proud of him, for only moments before he had successfully summoned wind.
The next morning, learned pair return to the guild library to continue their research. However, this second round of inquiry produces no appreciable results. Meantime, Esther comes in with a mixture of exasperation and despair on her face. She explains that she was able to use her magical scrying to confirm that Miss Peabody’s servant, Alice, was indeed innocent. However, this was perhaps the worst result. First of all, ever since word of this got out, there have been a dozen new theft reports submitted by wealthy Wood-and-sea families to the police captain. Some occurred weeks or even months ago. Asked why they never reported the thefts before, the families generally explained that they could not bear to think that their servants would do such a thing, and if they truly had, perhaps it was for a good reason; better to ignore it. Asked why they changed their minds, the families all responded that what they really wanted was for Esther to use her magics to resolve any festering mistrust they felt towards their servants. Esther has tentatively agreed to assist, but knows that this will largely be a waste of time.
Secondly, the fact that Alice was innocent but an eye witness who knew her well clearly placed her at the crime suggests that magic may be afoot. Additionally, one of the stolen goods was a rare but nondescript book that only a person of some education would be able to identify as valuable. Esther is horrified by the idea that one of the mages in the guild may be responsible for this crimes (and perhaps many more). She dreads the very thought of using her scrying to begin peering into the lives of the guild mages, many of whom are close friends.
Meanwhile, they put some thought into what is being done with the stolen goods. Clearly, they cannot be sold in Wood-and-sea. It occurs to Hornsby that perhaps the goods are being smuggled out of the city. This strikes Esther as a marvelous thought, and suggests a course of action: namely, that they should go to the docks and she should use one of her scrying spells to detect whether the stolen book is within a mile’s distance. It is difficult since she has never seen it, but still possible.
On the way, Hornsby asks Esther to tell him more about Leopold the Dabbler. Esther, who lived in Wood-and-sea at the time but was not directly involved with this reclusive man, says that perhaps Galt might be a better source of information. Still, she does know a little about what happened. Leopold the Dabbler was a very talented non-graduate wizard who resented that magical colleges forbade access to arch-level spells except to those who had long attended their schools. He argued that they did not possess the authority to do so, that magic belonged to all people and no one had the right to cloister it. Whether this argument possesses or lacks merit is irrelevant in the face of what supposedly happened next: it came to light that Leopold the Dabbler had murdered several arch mages and taken their spell books for his own enrichment. It was shocking to many at the time that a dabbler could best an arch mage, and the crimes alone were shocking enough. To make matters worse, Leopold shortly vanished. It is presumed that he went into hiding to give him time to digest the spellbooks he had acquired.
It was fully twenty years before he was located again. He had been hiding in Wood-and-sea, never leaving his home. Then, at some point he began to steal into the night and commit murders for an unknown reason. Perhaps solitude had driven him mad; perhaps he had become cocky in his powers; perhaps he wanted to be caught. Esther is unclear on this point, but she has heard rumors within magical society that he was employing necromancy to some unknown end. Once his location was discovered, a group of powerful mages was convened to plan a method of capturing or killing him. They debated and prepared for an entire month. Then, one evening, they surrounded his house and engaged him in battle.
He was truly ferocious; his magic, and the cruelty and cunning with which he employed it, were astounding. However, careful planning and sheer numbers carried the day. Leopold the Dabbler was killed, his presence erased from the city. The house he lived in still stands, and today houses a elder baker.