The Redcap Saga: The Siege of Harco

I didn't know where to put this, so I dropped it in the Peanut Gallery.
This is fairly gratuitous; it's a recap of the current situation in the Redcap Saga that I'm running at home. We've taken a few steps away from the canonical setting and perhaps the reader may be interested to see how we've mucked about with the Order. If not, ignore this thread and accept my apologies.

We started two years ago, when I was researching Art & Academe, and centered a saga on the magi flying to the moon. We developed a covenant named Saltus Venificorum set in a mythical province in southern France. The province was Averoigne, stolen directly from the Clark Aston Smith short stories and used in various Cthulhu: The Dark Ages supplements. I picked it because I didn't want to have the team trotting all over Mythic Europe, and wanted them to focus on themselves, their own covenant, and getting to the moon. They succeeded, the saga ended, and two of the players moved on.

The remaining members still wanted to play. Rather than continue the Salty Vulture saga, we started a new one. Since we'd poured so much detail into SV and portions of the Provencal Tribunal, we decided to stay there, advance the saga 20 years, and develop the same amount of depth for the tribunal as he had for the covenant. Being weirdoes, we experimented with a new theme of play. Rather than magi, we'd play Mythic Companions, each a Redcap or invented equivalent, which traipsed around the tribunal delivering messages and adventuring. Each player would run a game, in true troupe style, in which they would introduce us to a covenant they had made and entangle the PCs in some sort of adventure. Several adventures later, we had a fairly firm foundation for our tribunal. And then I threw a spanner into the works.

Our characters had built good reputations in the Provencal Tribunal by this time. Eterhea is a Greek-styled warrior woman who can run like the wind. Jacques is a mysterious, giant-blooded mercer Redcap keen on building the covenant's finances. Robert is a lawyer who yearns to become the first unGifted Queasitor. Sir Paragon is a faerie-blooded knight who is in chivalric love with Eterhea and constantly champions her, even against her wishes. The four have become good friends and undertaken several adventures together.

Early summer, 1241, and the four were lunching under a warm sun at their Mercer House covenant, located in the Pyrenees. A breathless messenger arrived from Harco, the domus magna of House Mercere, saying that the covenant is under siege from the imperial troops of Frederick II, King of Naples and the Holy Roman Empire. When asked why he hadn't used the Hermes Portal linking the Mercer House to Harco, the messenger explained that he tried, but it was broken. Upon investigation, this claim was verified. The heroes quickly assembled a plan. Eterhea and Jacques would head directly to Harco, while Sir Paragon would enlist an armed troop from the various faerie social contacts he has. Forsooth and away!

SG Interjection: Rather then spend time creating Harco, I used the material listed in the ArM3 supplement, "Tribunals of Hermes: Rome". I ejected the listed primus and moved everyone else up a step on the political ladder, making Harstein the primus. Aldero, another unGifted Redcap, is in charge of the covenant's defenses. Pipio is in charge of Harco's finances, and Tentare, Spica, and Iris are scribes. The only Gifted Mercere is Elegans, a master of Muto spells. Jacques apprenticed at Harco, and Spica is his mater.

Eterhea and Jacques speed through the rugged countryside and approached Harco from the north. Nestled atop a hill covered with trees, their entry was fairly easy. They encountered a few imperial pickets but easily managed to sneak past the sentries. Skulking about the hill, they saw a vast array of imperial troops to the south, along the single road to Harco and already occupying the covenant's village. Trebuchets had been set up to the east of Harco and visible scars in the covenant's wall indicated that the siege engines had already begun their bombardment. Jacque knew of a secret postern gate that would allow Eterhea to enter Harco and directed her to it. He decided to rush to Genoa and hire an army of mercenaries. If his timing was right, he would return with the Genoese at the same time Sir Paragon arrived with his faerie force. All Eterhea had to do was help Harco resist the siege.

Morale was low inside Harco's stonewalls. The system of Hermes Portals that the covenant relied upon were destroyed, the underground chamber they resided in inadvertently collapsed by the imperial army's miners. The villagers had managed to flee inside, with their herds of sheep, making the interior courtyard cramped, noisy, and dirty. Never a military instillation, Harco only had a few men-at-arms atop her walls, crossbow men armed with repeating crossbows manufactured by a Verditius magus. Interviewing Harstein, Eterhea discovered that the siege was in its fourth week. Harco hadn't suffered many casualties, but its spirit was nearly sapped by cramped conditions and scant provisions. The sole magus, Elegans, stood frozen outside the walls next to a tree turned into a huge icicle. Trying to cover the hurried flight of the villagers inside the covenant, he'd botched a magic spell and entered Temporary Twilight. Whatever he was trying to do, the result was a large pine turned to ice and him standing frozen nearby. Harstein could only guess when the elder magus would return from Temporary Twilight.

Taking stock of the situation, Eterhea asked, Why is Frederick's army attacking Harco?

Harstein explained the situation to Eterhea. East of Harco lay the Lombard League, a collection of Italian city-states in Lombardy aligned against Frederick II to prevent his goal of uniting the territory between the Holy Roman Empire (Germany) and Naples. The League and the emperor had been at odds for almost 80 years. Having successfully defeated Frederick's father in 1176, the situation reversed in 1236 when Frederick II won the Battle of Cortenuova. The League did not surrender and continued to oppose the emperor. Pope Gregory IX had thrown his mitre in with the League, and in the summer months of 1241 Frederick II was marching on Rome. Gregory wanted to excommunicate Frederick and had summoned nearby cardinals to Rome to assist in the anathema. To prevent this, Frederick was capturing cardinals on their way to Rome. It's a sticky situation, Harstein said, and Harco is an innocent bystander caught up in the mindless violence.

Pipio was obviously uncomfortable during this conversation, but despite Eterhea's near-supernatural power of empathy, she could not discern what the accountant was hiding. The ruckus of trebuchet missiles pulled her away from the senior Redcaps and she rushed to the east wall to assist defenders.

Jacques learned much more while raising a mercenary army in Genoa. The masters of the Dessert Wines Guild informed the Redcap that Harco had been funneling money to the Lombard League for years, and had recently directed those funds to the pope to help pay for his army. While not a recognized member of the League, Harco may as well be with all the cash that comes from them. Jacques knew that Harco was wealthy, with several mercantile interests, but blanched at such obvious political mundane involvement. Something was certainly amiss but first things first; he had to prevent the covenant's destruction. Checking his mental calendar, he calculated that he and Sir Paragon should arrive at the same time, within the week.

With only one hundred defenders at best, Harco could protect the walls but not send out sorties against their enemy. Hopes for relief fell fast, despite Eterhea's claims that help was on the way. The breaching of the east wall was catastrophic, and the covenant would have fallen had not Eterhea and a band of defenders stood in the gap, slaying waves of imperial soldiers. The following morning the imperials offered a parley. General Antonio de Leva and his captains met Harstein, Pipio, and Eterhea outside the main gate and discussed terms of surrender. Aldero, the covenant's general, would have attended, but he had been terribly wounded and lay near death. The day wore on until it was agreed that if Harstein could leave with the treasury, Harco would capitulate. De Leva was pleased and Eterhea aghast. Surrendering the domus magna? Harstein, Pipil, Tentare, and Spica immediately left, the primus informing Eterhea that she would stay behind and oversee the surrender. But as soon as the covenant's senior staff left, Eterhea barred the gate. One rousing speech later, and the besiegers declared their support of Eterhea. Bemused but not surprised, de Leva continued the bombardment.

Two harrowing days followed, but on the morning of the third both Sir Paragon's and Jacques' armies arrived on the field. Sir Paragon, riding his cream-colored steed Xanthippe, led a combined horde of fauns, trolls, and hog-riding stymphs into de Leva's vanguard. Jacques Genoese engaged de Leva's auxiliary troops, while Eterhea piled Harco's remaining defenders into de Leva's siege engineers. They won the day. Returning to battered Harco, surrounding by the cheering crowd, the three took stock of the situation. Under extreme interrogation, Pipio admitted funding some of the pope's army and surrendered the information that Harco and his entourage were heading to Rome, to the Holy Father himself. The magus Elegans, returned from his Twilight episode, told the heroes that Harstein had asked him to make a longevity potion for an old man, using bits of hair and bodily fluids, and the life-extending tonic had been concocted. Knowing a bit about church organization, Jacques remembered that Gregory IX was almost 100 years old. The longevity potion had to be for him!

Outside the meeting chamber, the crowd wanted to know who the new boss was, now that Harstein had fled. They had made up their own minds, and the cheer, Eterhea, Eterhea, shook the covenant's dented walls. The heroes stared at each other, Elgens shrugged, Pipio rattled his chains, and Aldero moaned: Why not. With little pomp and circumstance, Eterhea donned the crimson robes and scarlet cap and became the twenty-five prima of House Mercere.

Her first official act was to declare Harstein an outlaw. The inhabitants of Harco surveyed their burnt village, their ruined fields, and their pock-marked stronghold. Jacques and Sir Paragon agreed with Eterhea; while Harco could be rebuilt, it would be difficult to disentangle it from the complicated web of Italian politics. Better to found a new domus magna back in the pastoral Provencal Tribunal than to keep squatting under this sun-baked soil.

But before any real estate could be bought, the treasury had to be regained and the criminal Harstein made to face his comeuppance. On to Rome!

August in Italy in 1241 was historically very hot, making the heroes' journey south uncomfortable. I've always thought that aging rolls should be made in the summer season instead of winter, since summer is typically more brutal on old people than winter, but that is neither here nor there. Along the way the group discovered that Harstein's party had been captured by de Leva once Eterhea had refused to surrender the citadel. Thinking their prey run to ground, they changed course and headed to a nearby castle occupied by de Leva. The general, who had escaped the pitched battle after losing the field, welcomed the group to his chateau, and over aperitifs congratulated them on their victory. To their dismay, the entire Harstein party had not been captured, only Tentare and Spica. The ex-primus had escaped and was still on his way to Rome. (Correction note: Pipio did not leave with Harstein when he surrendered Harco.)

One quick hostages exchange later and the group was back on the road. Informants told them that Harstein was resting at an inn, the Weary Terrapin. Upon arrival, they discovered that another group of imperials, led by another general named Donato Bonos, was also bivouacked at the inn. With a forged letter signed by de Leva, the group explained that they had permission of passage on their way to Rome. They did not see Harstein, but learned that a noble lady was present, sequestered in her room due to illness and championed by Bonos, who chivalrously laid claim to protecting the women. While it would be improper for men to visit a woman's private suite, Bonos thought it most kind that Eterhea offered to visit the lady. She did, and soon realized that it was Harstein in disguise, masked by a magical Belt of Femininity. Eterhea returned to Jacques and Sir Paragon with the news.

Not wishing to bum rush Harstein's suite, realizing that they are surrounded by Bonos' men-at-arms, the three heroes waited. Complicating matters was the creepy feeling the group got from Bonos and the guardian angel hovering over his shoulder (visible to the two with Second Sight). Bonos explained that the noble lady is waiting for her physician to arrive, and he did, soon enough, an Ethiopian surgeon dressed in a blue smock. Jacques recollected that he'd seen the surgeon before, tending Aldero back at Harco, and wondered what he was doing here. Eterhea announced that she thought if unladylike for a male physician to attend the woman alone and accompanied him to her room. She watched the physician inspect the woman but was distracted by the baggage piled in the corner. Was the treasury box among the bundles? Acing a Perception + Awarness roll, out of the corner of her eye she saw the physician hand a crystal vial to the woman, who is really Harstein, and receive an identical looking vial back, which he quickly pocketed and then headed for the door.

(I'm glossing over a lot, including the joust between Bonos and Sir Paragon. Bonos and Eterhea were flirting, to Sir Paragon's chagrin, and the faerie knight called out the Neapolitan knight to joust. Bonos asked for and receive a token of Eterhea's patronage and Sir Paragon near burst a blood vessel in his forehead. A friendly joust of non-lethal combat followed. The group really liked this aside.)

Witness if you will, one lanky Ethiopian physician running through the inn's common room with a mock-Athenian warrior woman hot on his heals followed by a grossly overweight noble woman shouting obscenities. Snatch and grab, tussle and grapple, and a huge wrestling match ended with all the principle characters sitting at a table with General Bonos demanding to know what in God's green earth was going on. Jacques had a reasonable explanation concerning Eterhea's lack of medical knowledge and assumption that something lascivious was happening, which Bonos easily accepted, and the group headed upstairs for a private conversation.

The Ethiopian physician peeled off his disguise and introduced himself as Fulco, a northern French Tytalus magus. He and Harstein were collaborators of Buonacorsus, a Jerbiton magus who had secreted himself within the court of Frederick II. An imperial mole for more than a decade, Buonacorsus had compelling evidence that Pope Gregory II is an infernalist and has been actively conspiring with the Eternal Enemy for years. Harstein told the group that he had been clandestinely supporting the Lombard League to get close to the pope, at which he succeeded. Wishing to maintain his façade, Buonacorsus did not wish to act against the pope, and had enlisted Harstein and Fulco. To enhance the deception, Harstein asked Elegans to concoct a longevity potion for the pope, which Gregory knows is on its way. Fulco, meanwhile, had invented a deadly poison in secret. The plan was for Fulco and Harstein to switch vials, so that Harstein would actually administer a fatal drought to Gregory. Harstein took the treasury merely to keep it out of de Leva's hands.

Overwhelmed by this complicated conspiracy, Eterhea and Jacques allowed Harstein and Fulco to continue their journey, sans Harco's treasury. Jacques pointed out that all of this would be presented, personally, to the tribunal meeting in 1242. This was certainly mundane involvement, Jacques said, and he would let the tribunal decide the pair's fate. Harstein acknowledged Eterhea as the new prima, and the heroes headed back to Harco.

But less than half way home, they met Alyates hustling south from Harco. Alyates, a Jerbiton magus from the Thebes Tribunal, had important news. He'd long been on the trail of Buonacorsus and had already thwarted several of the Jerbiton's plans to eradicate leaders of powerful political factions. Buonacorsus' parens, Konkalikrates, was responsible for the fall of Constantinople in 1204, and it seems his filius was up to the same evil plans. Alyates had discovered Buonacorsus' plot to kill the pope and how he hoped to use Harstein to actually do the deed. The three heroes looked at each other and sighed. A rogue Jerbiton, a gullible ex-primus Mercere, a disreputable Tytalus, a vial of poison, a longevity potion, all leading to an assassination attempt on Pope Gregory IX.

I guess we'll summer in Rome after all, said Sir Paragon.

Saga means the form of the story like for example the Twilight Saga

Great stuff!! Glad you posted it. I enjoyed the reading. looking forward to new instalments! Only 2 details.

  1. IIRC a terrapin is an American animal, so it is unlikely that an italian inn is named after those.
  2. A new primus after a few sessions. Great. Our own Severin became Primus of Tytalus eventually, but it took him a while to achieve that result.

Plots within plots within plots. I like that!