The scene opened at a middling-sized stable in Cago, the capital city of the region. Lord Geoffrey Spaulding, recent heir to a very minor noble house and would-be swashbuckling adventurer, has decided that it would be best for him to get out of town before he gets sucked back into the dreary, drudgery-filled world of fashionable balls, gourmet dinners, and parades of hot chambermaids that is his accursed birthright. Accompanied by his valet Sam Waits, his all-but-unnoticeable menial servant Tookie the aged grunty, and Nan, a young and headstrong Ess girl who has abandoned her diplomatic apprenticeship out of sheer boredom, Lord Spaulding is seeking to procure some fine destriers on which to ride into his storybook-worthy future. Assigning the humdrum task of purchasing a brace of chargers to his valet who, knowing nothing of horses, has his initial clumsy questions about “some horses or something, preferably heroic horses, I guess,” redirected to the stableboy.
The stableboy was Reed Groom, a youth who is also desperate to get out of Cago despite his comfortable life of shoveling manure, reeking horsesweat, and hauling feed buckets. After ascertaining the nature of the order (four tired saddle horses and a couple of pack mules, which is approximately the entire inventory of the stable at the moment), Reed dared to approach the Lord, who was then engaged in an awkward conversation about “just where one would find ‘adventure'” with the Ess.
“Pardon me my lord,” stammered the stableboy.
“Ah yes, is my order completed? Surely there are some vicious pure white chargers being saddled at the moment,” replied the oblivious nobleman.
“Umm… not so much, but… Say, I understand you are looking for exciting adventures?”
“Why yes of course. Isn’t everyone?”
“Well, I know that I am. Perhaps I could accompany you, look after your animals, sir.”
Lord Spaulding carefully considered the implications of taking a lowborn commoner stableboy with him into the dangerous wilds to face nigh-certain death on a daily basis for about 1/10th of a second. “But of course!”
At this moment, the stablemaster, having just been informed that his entire stock of animals had been purchased at once, came stammering over to his benefactor, thanking him for his business.
“Pay it no mind, good sir,” replied Spaulding. “And never fear, your son will be safe with me on my journeys. I shall take the best of care of him.” Everyone looked blankly at each other for a moment.
“What?” said the stablemaster.
Reed interjected. “Oh, sir he’s not my fath…”
“Of course of course,” opined Lord Spaulding. “No doubt your parents were lost in a great battle against barbarian hordes, the heirs of a great noble house, and this kindly man has taken you in, teaching you virtue and honor until such time as you are ready to claim your destiny!”
“What?” said Reed.
Nan shook her head sadly.
It was shortly after this odd exchange that Reed, fully equipped now with his longbow (“the last gift from my father,” Reed explained to Lord Spaulding) and a cheap wooden practice sword (“a great family heirloom never to be drawn in anger but only in the defense of the innocent,” explained Lord Spaudling to himself), exited the stable while the animals were being saddled and packed, to find Lord Spaulding and Nan looking for adventure in the middle of a street bereft of people (except for a sweeper), monsters (except for a stray dog), and adventure. However, a disturbance was seen in the distance, and soon a small crowd was seen gamboling clumsily down a side street, seemingly glued to the towering figure of a grizzled old Morag in armor and wearing the emblem of a net and a flintlock pistol, all somewhat encumbered by tankards and pony kegs.
“Adventure!” exclaimed Lord Spaulding, and moved to follow, his companions shrugging and falling in behind.
The lord captured the attention of one of the revelers and inquired about the Morag they were following. “Why, that’s the legendary scout and cartographer Erok Leafson, it is! Back from exploring the barbarian-riddled wastes, and about to set off on his next great adventure!”
That was all the incentive needed.
A quick exchange with the explorer revealed that indeed, he was about to embark on an adventure: a trip through the Northern Trail! “I aim ta visit every stop and push myself until I drop, then get up and continue.” A great cheer arose from the crowd, and Lord Spaulding’s offer to accompany Erok on his great journey was quickly accepted. “We start… NOW!” he shouted, eliciting another great cheer as he purposefully strode directly into town.
“Confusing,” thought Spaulding, “but then who can truly know where adventure will lead one?” He followed without regrets, his entourage trailing behind, as Erok Leafson embarked on his great tour of every bar in the northern quarter of Cago.
Reed made inquiries of the first bartender they encountered as to the veracity of this Erok Leafson’s claims. “Him?” said the bartender. “‘course he’s an explorer and mapper. Started out some eight years ago, fought off the Cromen at the northern border alongside a bunch of other crazy people, mapped out trails everywhere. We don’t see him much round here, but we’re glad when we do. That old man can put ’em away!”
The aforementioned explorer was indeed downing the tankards, with an inqusitive Lord Spaulding now attempting to salvage something useful out of this “adventure” from which he could not easily extricate himself in all politeness. Yes, the Cromen were real, and they may be massing for another invasion, and they are raiding here and there, even though they had been decively defeated years ago, when they first threatened the land. “And they invaded… I mean were beaten back… thanks to the nobility. To the nobility!” he cheered, raising his tankard.
“To the nobility!” replied his party, draining their tankards in turn.
And yes, he was indeed an explorer and adventurer, although it didn’t start out like that. “In fact, you might say I owe my start as an adventurer… to the nobility!” Another cheer.
“Excuse me,” inquired Nan from the darkened end of the bar, “what do you mean, you became an adventurer thanks to the nobility?”
“Ah, my young Ess lass,” grumbled Erok, “I beg your forgiveness, but I feel this will say it best.” Drawing aside his emblazoned tabard and his mail, he revealed a nasty looking scar over his right breast where it appeared he had taken a bullet years ago.
“I was a young man then, having left my family farm, seeking my fortune in the city, finding instead an equally droll life as a fisherman along the river. I was heading for the docks to find a boat to rent, when I saw a fight in progress. A young Nat, not unlike our fine Lord Spaulding here, was beset by a number of ruffians… pirates, thugs, murderers, what have you. I thought that perhaps if I could slow down his enemies, I could buy him some time, maybe get myself noticed by the noble houses. I crept up behind the bushes alongside the battle, and leapt out, running to ensnare the enemies in my net…”
“The pirates shot you?” Nan asked.
“No! The young Lord shot me!”
“What?!” exclaimed Nan, Reed and Lord Spaulding looking somewhat embarassed.
“Aye, twas not so much his fault though. He knew me not, and took the safest route… well, safest for him, I suppose,” he grumbled. “Lord Sterling was quite apologetic, paid for all my medical care and then some, and I did think of returning to a simpler life. But you know, I got a taste then of action, however short it was, and decided that I should make a name for myself before leaping out of the bushes with a big friggin’ net in front of a triggerhappy nobleman who had no idea who I was. No offense, sir,” he said to Lord Spaulding, slapping him on the shoulder as the nobleman coughed into his ale.
“So you were shot by a Nat,” said Reed carefully, glancing at Lord Spaulding, “and this made you want to look for trouble?”
“Well no,” replied Erok, turning back to a table and resting his elbows on it. “It made me want to become known, you know, so I wouldn’t get shot as a nobody. And it made me realize, I knew nothing about battle. I wouldn’ta jumped in there like an idiot where I did, like I did. And,” he added, putting his mug down, “it made me want to learn to defend myself! Like this!”
Erok immediately punched the man to his right in the face. A cheer arose as the man dropped, and a small brawl started.
Turning back to the bar, ignoring the proceedings he had instigated (as if it was some sort of ritual for him, and it may well have been), he continued to speak with Lord Spaulding, as Nan opined to Reed, “I think maybe this isn’t the best way to start seeking our fortune as adventurers.” Reed nooded in agreement, glancing toward the fight, where he thought he saw the figure of a grunty ducking under wild swings, smacking people in the shins with a staff.
At approximately this moment, a high warbling cry came from the doorway. “Okay you… you… you better cut this out or… stuff!”
In the doorway, dressed in peasant rags and wielding a wooden buckler and an equally wooden practice sword, stood a gangly youth, seemingly frozen in time as the entire population of the bar stared at him, haloed by the rays of the setting sun as they streamed in from the outside. The image was a perfect still life of innocence on the cusp of heroism, or would have been if a tankard has not in the next moment flown from the right and beaned him right in the head, knocking him unconscious as the tavern dwellers continued with their melee.
“You don’t need to be an Ess to see that coming,” said Nan.
This glorious battle of inebriated paladins soon wound down, and as the thud of fists on meat subsided into laughter and belching, the unnoticed Tookie extricated himself from beneath a small pile of the unconscious and toddled behind the bar. Re-emerging with a pail of water, he wandered up to the doorway and tossed its contents into the face of the young man, who quickly sputtered to consciousness, staggering to his feet, wooden sword in hand and a dazed expression on his face.
“Did I win?” he asked.