29th Ulriczeit 2511 (From mid-afternoon): more than a barman; barrel of laughs; you’ve got something in your eye…

Franz returned in the middle of the afternoon with an invitation and a request for a private chat. Salundra, Ferdinand and Gunnar joined him in the hold of the Deft Dancer while the others busied themselves around the boat, though Janna was getting thoroughly bored with the ‘adventure’ at this stage. In a hushed voice Franz asked two questions, “Have you heard of the Skaven, the rat men?” and “Do you know of the Grudgebringers?”. They all nodded in answer to the first, but none of them had heard of the Grudgebringers, though Salundra possibly should have. He explained that they are a famed mercenary company who campaigned extensively in Tilea and Araby. Franz told of how he and his brother, Georg, had been well known for one specialism while members of that company – hunting the human-sized rats. Salundra glanced to the ornate sword on Franz’s waste. The way he held himself and that weapon were beginning to make sense; there was a lot more to him than just being the owner and barman of the Red Moon Inn. Franz traced a symbol in the sooty floor, a line with what looked like an arrow coming diagonally from one end, with three parallel lines on top. “We called ‘em the ‘Tilean Tribands’ for this symbol what was scratched in their skin. We cleared out a huge of them. Lost many good men… that’s when I earned the nickname ‘The Ratcatcher’”, he continued, his eye’s drifting to the sky out the hatch above. “Looks like the clouds are clearing… it’d be a good omen to see Mannslieb on the wedding day”, he drifted and went quiet. Salundra, Ferdinand and Gunnar looked to one another.

“I bet you’re wonderin’ why I’m telling you of things long in the past, eh? Well, when I heard Georg was missing, I got to thinking about what enemies he, and I, might have. The Skaven from Tilea came to mind, but I thought that to be a little far fetched… that was until I seen that rune etched on the doorframe at the entrance to the Red Moon Inn.”

“I can handle myself”, he said patting the sword, “but I’m worried for Maglyn and kids. They didn’t sign up for this. We’re getting out of the city the day after the wedding. I’m hoping you’ll do a kindness and help keep them safe until then.”

The party didn’t hesitate. Franz had always been good to them. They would help. They made plans: what if they could get out of the city sooner? Maybe as soon as the wedding reception was finished. Maybe Gele and the Deft Dancer could be a means of escape. Gunnar was itching to check out the Red Moon Inn. Franz advised that it was closed, ostensibly because the sisters were taking over, but mainly to keep it empty until he left town and hopefully the danger had passed. Gunnar said he’d check it out when darkness fell, which wouldn’t be too long. Looking out the hatch again, Franz said he must go – he was staying in Ma Rugger’s and didn’t want to move around at night. The Skaven were excellent trackers and they did it all the better when they could use darkness and shadow to mask their movements. He thanked them and departed. He would return in the morning to show Salundra and Ferdinand what he had noticed at the Red Moon Inn.

The light was fading quickly and they decided to eat. Salundra and Ferdinand would remain at the boat while Gunnar checked out the Red Moon Inn. Salundra also decided she’d talk to Gele in the morning about the plan to see if she’d be willing to help.

Gunnar was his conspicuous self as he moved through the dark streets, though there were few people to take notice. The route to the Red Moon Inn was a familiar one, though he opted to keep away from docks. There, by the front door, was the rune Franz had traced in the coal dust. It was small, only about the size of a thumb, and low to the ground. He looked for other signs. Some scratch marks up the external wall may have been from something climbing, but it was hard to tell. 

He then made his way to the rear yard of the inn. The gate into it was latched from the inside, but here too he saw a strange symbol, also small, also etched low down. Gunnar did not know their meaning, but they felt like coded instructions to hunters. He hopped the wall, but the small courtyard looked as he expected it to. A door into the kitchen was locked, no light from inside. There were a few empty beer barrels and some food waste from the kitchen, presumably destined for a pig’s belly somewhere. He decided to check the barrels, edge rolling their empty weight as a check. The third one wasn’t empty… as he went to prise the lid off something leapt from within. It was all fangs and jagged blade. He smacked it hard with the flat of his axe before it landed, throwing it against a wall. It began to clamber up, but Gunnar seized its tail, overhead swinging it to the ground. His axe descended in the next moment, hewing leg from body and covering himself and the courtyard in the foul ichor of the Skaven. There, on its dead face, was a ritual scar of the Tilean Tribands. He bundled the corpse into the barrel in which it had been hiding and began to roll it back uptown.

If he’d been conspicuous before, he was even more so now.

With Gunnar gone, Salundra decided to keep watch. There had been too many half glimpsed movements in shadows since their return to Ubersreik for her to feel comfortable. She knew Janna was in danger while they were in this town. The docks were quiet, but something caught her eye. From vantage behind the large coal crate, she thought she could see a hooded figure in a warehouse doorway. She glared at the dark shadow… was there someone there? If there was, they were up to no good. Pulling the recently acquired crossbow pistol from her backpack, she drew it and loaded a bolt. Levelling and aiming it carefully she squeezed off a shot. The shadow yelped and began to run. Salundra didn’t hesitate. She ran after the unknown spy.

The bolt had obviously hurt them, as they moved poorly, first up an alley and then jinking into another. Each bounding stride brought Salundra closer until she could grab at their shoulder. She swung them around and came face-to-face with Rudi Klumpenklug. Without thinking she pushed the vile man to the ground and drew her blade, placing the blade tip close to his one good eye. He closed his eye, but didn’t flinch.

“What do you want?”, she hissed. “The same thing ‘he’ wants… you out of Ubersreik”.

“‘He’? Who’s ‘he’?”

“You know.”

She knew. She knew that Ubersreik wasn’t safe. They wouldn’t let it be safe for her and Janna. Salundra pushed the blade through his eyelid and deep into his skull. It was strangely soundless. She withdrew the blade, knelt and wiped it on his cloak. She grabbed a sheet of parchment from her satchel and Rudi’s dagger. She stood and looked down on the former Sergeant, the letter bearing Rikard Fischer’s signature pinned to his chest for all to see.

Gunnar rolled his barrel through the streets, making his way steadily towards the Watch Barracks beyond the northern end of the bridge. Once there, the attendant watchman was uninterested… that was until Gunnar showed him what was in the barrel. That quickly drew his attention and he called another watchman to fetch Captain Pfeffer. Before she arrived, they brought the barrel down to the morgue. Dr. Edgar Lichtmann was his unflappable self. This wasn’t the first Skaven he’d seen. Despite being interested, he didn’t want it bloodying up any of his slabs, so was content to manoeuvre the barrel under a lamp and visually inspect it in it.

Pfeffer arrived after about ten minutes. She too had encountered the rat men, telling of an incident a couple of years ago in the city sewers. She promised to send some patrols past the Red Moon Inn for the next couple of days, but didn’t hold up much hope of catching the stealthy creatures.

Back on the boat, Gunnar recounted his adventurous evening. Salundra stayed uncharacteristically quiet during the retelling. Ferdinand had missed all of the action, not even noticing Salundra leaving or returning to the boat. He had been tending to Felix and reading his grimoire… there was a spell he wished to master.

They set a rota for the night’s watch.

30th Ulriczeit 2511: a plan; a gift; a dream

The night passed without incident and true to his word Franz appeared at first light, though it was obvious he had not slept. The plan for the day was clear – Ferdinand and Salundra would check out the Inn with Franz, buy a wedding present and Gunnar would protect the boat. Before they departed Gele came to say that she had had some approaches to enquire about buying the coal, which was scarce in Ubersreik, and she hoped to have it off loaded today. Salundra discussed the idea of transporting Franz’s new family to Altdorf with Gele, and the captain was supportive, seeing the opportunity for further trade along the Teufel and beyond. She dispatched Yasmina to contact the coal buyers, as much to give the girl something to do other than tend to Felix, who was continuing to show promising signs of recovery.

The left for the Red Moon Inn, Franz showing the Skaven rune markings and some scratch marks that look like something had scurried up the front. The sisters hadn’t arrived in the Inn yet – it was remaining closed for a couple of days under the pretence of preparing for the wedding. They checked out the courtyard behind… the remnants of Gunnar’s encounter with the Skaven clear to see. Inside the kitchen they heard stirrings. The sisters must have arrived. Franz decided Ferdinand and Salundra would make a nice distraction while he washed away the blood. He didn’t want to unduly worry Om and Nom.

The coal was offloaded from the Deft Dancer before lunchtime, several Stevedores using mobile cranes and large carts to move the precious cargo. Gunnar and Janna were careful to stay hidden. Salundra and Ferdinand returned to the boat, with Franz in tow. He found a quiet corner in the hold to sleep – several nights of solo watch finally overwhelming him.

Ferdinand saw to Felix and studied some more, while Janna and Yasmina prepared food. In the afternoon, Salundra went to the Marktplatz to purchase a wedding gift. She went to a stall she’d seen previously in the square, one selling beautiful blown glassware. It is a tradition to gift breakable homewares to newlyweds, the story being that while they remained unbroken, the marriage would be unbroken. The distinctive woman, made particularly distinctive by an amber coloured glass eye, tending the stall seemed to recognise Salundra and they exchanged pleasantries while the purchase was made.

The remainder of the day was spent relaxing in anticipation of an exciting wedding day. In the evening, before darkness fell Franz made his leave, believing everyone would be safer if he wasn’t staying aboard overnight. He noted that Mannslieb was visible and hoped it would be so tomorrow for his wedding day, something believed to be a good omen. He said he would return early in the morning. Salundra looked into the falling darkness. She thought she spotted a shape moving on a rooftop. She then realised they didn’t know where Franz would be staying that night.

Again, they set up watch. Again, the (moon filled) night passed quietly… apart from Ferdinand’s disquieting dream. The same dream he’d had before, of mirrors, his image, shattering and then a lone reflection, but the face was that of someone else’s.

31st Ulriczeit 2511: nice day for a white wedding…

They were all relieved when Franz arrived in the morning. They’d feared the worst, but maybe the old tracker had a few tricks up his sleeve. He was well turned out; he’d tidied his whiskers, brushed his hair, his clothes looked new and he sported the scimitar and a shield bearing the stylised Grudgebringers company emblem. 

Gele discussed the plan for the day with Franz and the party. She’d  move the boat downstream slightly and moor it on the southern side of the river, near where they had defeated the ‘Teufel Terror’. This would enable the key part of the plan – leaving the wedding reception, to be held at the Red Moon Inn, with Franz, Maglyn and the kids before darkness fell and making their way to the Deft Dancer, which would then departing the city at night, hopefully leaving no target for the Skaven to attack. It was a sound plan.

The party and Janna primped and prepared for the wedding ceremony; Ferdinand in his conspicuous finery, Gunnar actually quite clean for once, Salundra in her uniform, though hidden under a cloak and minus her hat, and Janna with her hair braided and fine clothes brushed down.

Cold winter sunlight lit their way to Maglyn’s home in Dunkelfeucht, below the southern end of the bridge. There they saw her dressed in a simple dress, temporary tattoos of warhammers and twin-tailed comets painted on her arms, and white ribbons tied loosely about her limbs and neck. Franz took a ribbon and gently tied it into her hair. None of the party were familiar with these local rituals, though there was something elegant in their simplicity. Maglyn’s children were all neat and tidy in their attire, certainly neater than might be expected. Eugen carried his feisty youngest brother, little Haunes, who Salundra estimated was about two years old. Jerte (7) and Joris (5) stood quietly, the sight of Ferdinand and Gunnar in particular awing them. Franz took a few minutes to describe the plan to Maglyn. She listened without word, nodding as he laid it all out. Their items had been gathered in anticipation of a journey by coach, but this change in transport allowed her to bring a few more household items. She didn’t know what to expect when they arrived at the Löhner farm on the outskirts of Altdorf. Franz called to a young lad pushing a hand cart and paid him generously to see the items were brought to the barge.

It was time to make their way to the Sumpftor Shrine. They paraded through the streets to the small shrine, located near the northern end of the Marktplatz. Heavy ironoak doors lead through a stone arch into a small vaulted room with a high ceiling. A large marble statue  of Sigmar elevated on a pedestal rules over the room, clad in 

armour and holding aloft the sacred warhammer Ghal Maraz. Salundra and Ferdinand recognising that statue seeed to be based on a much larger monument in the Temple of Sigmar at Helmgart.

The niches on the temple walls were filled with candles, each one placed here by those who pray to their god. White ribbons and evergreen boughs decorated the small chapel, brightening its austere stonework significantly. Worshippers have adopted the practice of writing prayers to Sigmar and poking them into the fissures and gaps between stones.

The chapel was quite full, guests from different walks of life there; some of Maglyn’s neighbours, merchants and stevedores who work near the Red Moon Inn, the halfling sisters and Aloysius Thorncobble (who had transported the party to Ubersreik many weeks ago) and that distinctive woman from the market amongst them. Each guest held a gift of crockery or glassware. They fell to a hushed reverie, even the children were quiet, as the priest of Sigmar, attired in simple white and purple robes, began the ceremony. There were prayers and words of service and community that culminated in a beautiful sacrament; Maglyn and Franz held a simple wooden warhammer in their hands, while the priest wrapped their hand and arms in simple white ribbons. He spoke as he wrapped…

“O faithful of Sigmar, hear these words on this blessed day. As Sigmar, in his wisdom and strength, unites souls, so too are Maglyn and Franz joined in sacred union. Let us honour their commitment, for it is not only the bond between two hearts, but a union blessed by the Heldenhammer himself.

May Sigmar’s steadfastness guide you both in times of trial, and may his valour inspire you in times of joy. Let the flame of your love burn bright like the twin-tailed comet, enduring through darkness and adversity.

By Sigmar’s grace, may you find courage in each other’s arms, and may you stand together as a beacon of hope amidst the stormy seas of life. May your union be as unyielding as the mountains, as enduring as the rivers, and as glorious as the dawn.

In the name of Sigmar, I bless this union. Let us rejoice and celebrate the bond of Maglyn and Franz, blessed by the Hammer of the Empire. Sigmar protect you both, now and always.”

Franz leaned into Maglyn and kissed her gently on the cheek. They were now husband and wife. Franz knew he could never replace her dead husband, Rikard Pechvogel, but at least he could try to make the family whole again.

… and we’ll leave it there!

Until next time,