Leaving the garrison, the Heroes decide to go and see the Mayor right away.
The town hall is not hard to find, nor is it particularly impressive from the outside. Going inside, they find a completely different scene from what they found at the fort. The town hall is nearly deserted and very quiet. The Mayor’s aide, DE KAMPF, sees them and springs up from behind a desk. De Kampf assumes the group by their appearance; he seems to take particular interest to Cole, Dread Pirate Wobberts, and Igmutin. The three Heroes are wary of the attention.
No time is wasted past greetings; he ushers the group into Mayor Pearson’s office and shuts himself out.
The office straddles a tasteful line between luxurious and extravagant; the décor is exquisite and the wealth of ten towns in every direction feels to have been sucked out of the marrow and concentrated in this office. Mayor Pearson stands at the window, middle-aged, plump, and sharply dressed; scowling at the unseen distance outside as if engaged in ritual.
He brightens on seeing the group, most particularly the swashbuckler and the two fighters, offering seats to the Heroes. As he greets and welcomes the newcomers to his town, the Mayor bestows the customary greetings to a Dwarf upon Halfling Lester. A mistaken identity which, this time, finally provokes Lester to start a list of people against whom the Wizard will revenge as time permits, some time later.
Genive imposes herself upon the Mayor’s stocked bar by the wall. She sniffs a crystal decanter of dark liquid, snares a glass and tips herself an obnoxiously deep tumbler of high-test liquor. While the Mayor explains his situation, Genive drains the decanter down by degrees to within a half-inch of its base.
The Mayor has a daughter, OLIVIA, beautiful and gentle and well-mannered. Olivia has drawn many suitors, one in particular of low breeding and general disdain to the Mayor. In not the first idiotic effort to win sweet Olivia’s heart, this dim-witted twit enlisted SIR KILLINGTON to abduct her from the Mayor’s home.
At the name, Genive coughs on her drink. By reputation she knows Sir Killington; he is a Knight of high stature, whose namesake Guild is his own personal enterprise, taking up noble causes for ignoble sums of money across Corinthia. His brand-recognition has distant reach.
The evil Knight, Sir Killington, stormed Pearson’s home, slew “many of my best servants”, and stole away Olivia, Mayor Pearson relates. “Then, he went there,” Pearson gestures darkly out the window, a fuming expression on his face. The Heroes peer around and, over the hills and not too terribly far away, they see the tops of colorful pennants.
“And he stays there,” Pearson continues, “Right there. He doesn’t leave. He doesn’t come to town. He just waits there. Asking no ransom. He and his people in their camp. We send men in force or with treaty, and they wind up dead, or come back shivering with fear and empty-handed. Killington has held Olivia hostage for three months now. He defends his prize against all challengers.
“I hire mercenaries and diplomats, and they are worthless. I beseech the military to intervene, and like decorated toads they perch on my town and do nothing. Time passes and my options thin to none. If you gentlemen will go, and bring my sweet child back from the clutches of that dark knight, I will more than make it worth your while.”
The group wishes to converse in private, to discuss if they have the time and interest for this undertaking. Mayor Pearson bids them to go consider his offer, hoping they will agree to help and subsequently return from Killington’s encampment in triumph.
For their time and consideration already, Pearson draws parchment and an ink-quill and pens a note to a local innkeeper, requesting food and lodging for the duration of the Heroes’ stay in Ridgeway. He signs it with his bold, looping signature, and unwisely hands it over to the Spymaster, Genive, for safekeeping.
De Kampf returns, sensing the conclusion of the meeting, and shows the Heroes out of the Mayor’s office and the town hall.
The Heroes are uncertain what to do. Jaques is amused by the plight of the Mayor but is not compelled to act. Lester is, in his own fashion, somewhat undecided. Only Arxius Cole feels strongly that the group should try to act, if only to go out and scout the diabolical Knight’s camp and get a feel for the enemy’s strength. Igmutin is agreeable to this. The Dread Pirate Wobberts is perhaps much less enthusiastic than his swashbuckling profession might demand, but is on board nonetheless.
It is still early in the day, and it would be the passing of a half-hour to walk to Sir Killington’s nearby emplacement and back, so the group resolves to make the trip. Headed in that direction through town, the Heroes receive a number of stares and notice whispered conversations as they pass. Theirs is a trek that has been seen before.
Across the fields and over some hills, the Heroes come within full sight of Sir Killington’s camp at the crest of the last hillet. It is less impressive at close range. One large pavilion-tent in the center, alive with the sounds of a bard in full concert, signing and playing an instrument in a most atonal fashion. Surrounding it are smaller tents, and between the tents the grass is worn into hardened-mud pathways. The tents themselves are dingy from late-Spring rains and the heat and dust that followed. A large patch of earth beside the camp is flat and bare of any green; it has seen pitched battle. The entire camp reeks of having overstayed its welcome.
As they approach, the Heroes see a well-dressed man hustle out to greet them. The man, a Squire, is not so groomed in person as at a distance. Painstaking effort has not been successful in keeping his outfit in good condition; it is worn-out in places, stained and muddy, and smells of pond water and stale wood smoke. The man, BARNES by introduction, is as pleasant and non-threatening as he is grubby. Barnes looks over the group and obviously appraises Wobberts, Cole, and Igmutin.
Barnes asks if the Heroes come from Ridgeway about the girl, and when they say they have, the Squire looks pleased, even enthusiastic. With an odd formality, Barnes then asks if they have come to face his lord, Sir Killington, in honorable single combat, preferably to the death, for the hand of the Lady Olivia. He is so practiced at his speech and it is delivered with such aplomb and with so hopeful a glint in his eye, that the Heroes have to ask Barnes his purpose at it.
Barnes checks over his shoulder, sees he is not in earshot, and lets his façade crumble into the visage of his own sad reality. He asks what the Heroes heard in Ridgeway, about Sir Killington and the girl. The Heroes relate the story. Barnes nods. He has heard that version before. Many times.
“My lord,” he states glumly, earnestly, “Is a great man. He is not evil, he is simply…well, ‘misguided’ is one word for it. At the behest of a suitor, my lord Sir Killington did indeed rescue the lady from a calamity that now I do not believe actually existed. Driven by noble purpose and flush with valor, my lord swore to protect her and heed her command…for Sir Killington was taken by her beauty and his heart fell hard for her.
“But the girl,” and here Barnes’ voice drips with fresh venom, ”…that woman, LIVIA – she has done naught but take advantage of my lord. She keeps us here, never wanting to leave, content to be idle and waited-upon. Never wanting more of anything, except for more of everything. It pains us horribly to see that woman exploit her hold over my lord’s heart and his honor.
“She bleeds us dry; as Sir Killington is bound to her whims by his unbreakable word, we remain ever here, while she eats and drinks and takes entertainment, unceasingly. We have lost our Guild-house in Meridian, have sold all the possessions we can, suffered in the mud and rain, all so that…creature…may wring from my lord all the gold she can squeeze. It is not magic that possesses him, nor is she in truth inhuman. My lord is fettered by the chains of his heart, and the weight of his word of honor.
“My lord Sir Killington is despondent. He is in an impossible bind. Torn by duty, and unrequited love, his very will to live is abandoned. His only recourse, the only sure way to release from his bounds of honor, is by way of noble death in Livia’s defense. At this point, there is no other way.
“Thus my lord offers up some handsome, handsome reward if you can slay him in fair, one-on-one honorable combat as he defends Livia’s…honor. He will fight to the death; any of you who enter the circle and face him may fight to your own death, or yield when Death comes for you. Sir Killington is an honorable man and will respect your cry for quarter, should you utter it.”
Barnes lowers his voice to the Heroes. “Please, if you would but do this one thing we ask. Face him, test your mettle against his, best him in combat to his end. I cannot stand any more of this girl and her demands and her cruel abuses of my lord’s heart and his generosity. Were you to free him from his chains and we from her enslavement, it would be a most welcome mercy, for us all.” Barnes again glances back at the camp. “Really, you have NO idea.”
The Heroes, surprised by Barnes’s words, ask a moment to confer. Barnes steps away, and the Heroes discuss the options. In their quick discussion, weighing the qualities of mercy against the necessity of intervention, Igmutin volunteers to engage Sir Killington in combat. His decision confirmed, the group notifies Barnes. The Squire is delighted, and hurries off to inform the camp and make ready for the duel.