After Lucia’s shocking discovery of seven battered ducal guards in the forest near the site of Mariana’s wedding, the druidess quickly healed the one man who remained alive and repaired to the main grounds, suspecting something serious must be amiss. Natural whirlwinds rarely pick up and hurl soldiers against trees with such precision.

Meanwhile, Daniella Arva heard the cries of what could only be Mariana Loupieres coming from the bride’s receiving tent. After confirming with a guard that her ears were not deceiving her, she made a bee line for the scene of the disturbance.

At almost exactly the same moment, Bill Deagan and Lieutenant Anubis Ochs noted the sound of men trudging through the meadow toward the dais where Mariana’s mother, Michelle Loupieres, had been greeting visitors for most of the afternoon. These turned out to be farmers from the village of Rendorf on Tars, the birthplace of the Duchess. They were led by a man who claimed to be called Will Price. A dialogue ensued between Price, Lady Ella Arvida (the Duchess’ chief bodyguard and military advisor), and the Duchess herself. The two women greeted this man and his band of thugs with great disdain, but before the interview had gone on for even a minute, Price pulled a dart from his tunic and hurled it toward the monarch. In a stunning display of duty, Lady Arvida dove forward to protect the Duchess and took the dart meant for her mistress. She was wounded in perhaps the one vulnerable spot on her whole armored body – the side of her neck.

Price immediately darted between the mostly astonished farmers and back across the meadow while a melee ensued between his thugs, the farmers, and the guards. Lieutenant Ochs and Mister Deagan were instrumental in helping the guards subdue the upstarts, but by the time the scuffle was over, the Duchess’ would-be assassin had escaped and Lady Arvida’s body was cold; Deagan observed that Price’s dart had been tipped with a lethal poison.

Meanwhile, in Mariana’s tent, a bizarre scene was unfolding. Entering through a rear entrance, Miss Arva arrived to find two sets of ducal guardsmen squaring off against one another. Mariana and her new husband, Leon Mauriset, were huddled in an opposite corner of the room attempting to restrain a deformed young man of about thirteen years, who held a bloodied longsword. Unsure of who to trust, Daniella chose to attempt to subdue the men with a nonlethal enchantment, dropping two of them to the floor in a deep slumber. To her great shock, however, this prompted an assault from the very guard who had accompanied her. The man drew his long sword and struck Daniella in the shoulder.

Luce Von Staden and her own guardsman burst on the scene not much later and immediately engaged Daniella’s attacker. However, it was the wizardress herself, in an adrenalin-fueled fury, who put an end to his aggression, releasing two balls of searing energy that ended the man’s life. (NEW INFO) As he dropped to the floor, the attacker’s shape slowly began to change, and instead of a ducal guard with banded mail and longsword, the dead man appeared as a rogue in leather holding a shorter blade. By this time, four of the tent’s six skirmishing guards had fallen, and the remaining two seemed loathe to engage what were clearly two powerful enchantresses and their summoned wolf companion.

Needless to say, both Mariana and her mother were deeply grateful for the efforts of the four visitors who had emerged at a critical moment to ensure the safety of both generations of Loupieres. Following the events, you had an audience with the Duchess at which she formally thanked you and presented you with a wooden box inscribed with three unintelligible runes. She also said there was something inside the box. These gifts were specifically directed to Bill Deagan and Lieutenant Ochs. She said that she would also be notifying the Von Staden and the Arva families of the service their daughters had performed for the realm.

Soon after the audience with the Duchess, you were called to the quarters of Sir Edwin Aeridah. He also thanked you for your service and proceeded to ask you to perform a task for him.

You were all given to believe that the Phillip Loupieres, Duke of Courtenay, died at the hands Luhnish assassins, but after receiving assurances of absolute secrecy, Aeridah informed you that the Duke still lives. The poison that was to take his life only drove him insane. After the assassination attempt, he fled Foxden Acre across the border to Luhn. There they lost track of him, but for rumors he was begging on the streets like a shameless animal. The secret police, though troubled by these stories, had no choice but to leave him be. Now it seems that Loupieres has returned to the Rhainnish countryside, where he is stirring up the locals claiming to be the man he in fact is. Unfortunately, the Duke’s family (even the Duchess) and the people in the country believe him dead. For now his ravings are dismissed as the fantasies of an unstable eccentric. But if anyone were to discover the truth of his identity, it would cause irreparable harm to the Loupieres family and tarnish the image of the Peerage. The Duke must be recaptured and treated for his illnesses, before the enemies of the kingdom can use the situation to damage either the man or his beloved country.

Aeridah takes a breath. Any presence of the Queen’s Guard, he assures, would stir up trouble. Even the secret police are afraid that their involvement could tip off the enemy as to the truth of the old man’s claims. And so, it has been given to Aeridah to find people who can take care of this problem – people of discretion and intelligence who are capable of understanding the delicacy of the situation, and above all people who will have no reason to be suspected. As it turns out, Loupieres is living in a hermit’s hut outside a small town in Fribbishire called Aegis – near the Myn Forest. A young noble travelling with her companions (to visit relatives in Lundy) would attract little notice, Aeridah suggests – but you are welcome to use whatever cover you wish. You are to bring the Duke by some means to the village of Bitsiche, on the southern edge of Witsiel, where an agent named Dashielle will take custody. You may use any means to transport the Duke, so long as he remains unharmed – and it is critical that discretion be used. No one may know of the mission, not family or servants, and no one may see the you interacting with the Duke.

Finally, Aeridah tells you, he will be sending along one of his own men to provide additional aid. This man is trained in the art of espionage, so he may prove of value. Though you have known him as Bill Deagan, his real name is Crinn Szicx.

Aeridah knows this is a large favor to ask, but he feels that you will find that your journey to Aegis will be mutually beneficial. As for Miss Von Staden, he knows that she needs to travel to the Myn to release her newly acquired doves into the wild. For Miss Arva and Lieutentant Ochs, however, he has other ideas in mind.

Here he addresses Daniella directly: Miss Arva. I know from your mother’s letters that you have come here seeking a place as curator of my holdings in antiquities. I am willing to consider this, but first I would like to test your abilities. There is a man in Aegis by the name of Roald, Whitney Roald, a famous old collector of pre-Sarichean artifacts. I want you to go there and appraise this item and make an offer on my behalf. Negotiate for the item, and you may draw on my banker in the area – Hoaglands – for payment – if you feel it is worth the price. Then return the item to me. If you perform this task for me, I will not only make you curator of my collections, but I will also do what I can to get you the academic appointment your mother has said you are seeking. The item in question is an engraved silver censer. Any other information you will have to acquire on your own.

Turning to Anubis, Aeridah continues: Lieutenant Ochs, I have some very precious information for a commander without a ship. I have heard that you are to be given Captain Linwood Shelley’s 18-gun “Bravado” (to do some petty escort missions in the North Sea) when Shelley returns from Laulond to take up the 24-gun “Seahawk” on a mission to wreck Baazdeener trade in the far south. However, I happen to know that Shelley is a traitor. His grandfather was a Baazdeener rebel who attempted the overthrow of the Rhainnish loyalists in Baazdeen a generation ago. His grandfather was caught and hanged, and no doubt the man still holds a grudge, despite being raised as a Rhainnish citizen. Shelley was secretly instrumental in arranging the diplomatic discussions which led Baazdeen to declare war on Rhainne. To send him to disrupt Baazdeener trade would be a disaster. However, if Shelley were to be exposed, or to meet his demise by accident at sea, Aeridah knows that the next in line to take his ship and his orders is one Lieutenant Anubis Ochs. The “Bravado” is scheduled to land at Bae Cul in three months time. Between you and Crinn, I am sure the two of you can find a way to make sure that Shelley does not arrive at port the same man who left it. You should know, however, that my knowledge of Shelley’s activities would be useless to you. As a backup, you should make sure you have evidence of his treachery, or else you yourself might end up on the wrong end of a court marshall.

At the end of Aeridah’s discourse, the four of you, Daniella, Lucia, Crinn, and Anubis, all agree to carry out Aeridah’s mission to the best of your abilities. It is clear that you must immediately arrange a visit to see Lucia’s family at Overaun Castle in Lundy. You will find shipboard transport out of Marvey, a naval garrison town just 50 miles east of Foxden Acre. At least, you will do so just as soon as you can arrange a caravan to travel east with your belongings.