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Wood was immediately necessary to construct shelters for the grogs so two purposes were served by the clearance. Trees were cut down by the grogs then Magi came to cause the stumps and roots to rot away swiftly and then to churn up the earth so it could be planted. Magi also worked to enhance the fertility of the ground and hasten the development of the plants. I was called upon to assist with turning the earth but this Herbam magic does not interest me. I hope that by next season we will be able to afford oxen to plough. If the crops produce well we should have plenty to feed ourselves and see us through the Winter, I am told. I leave such matters to our Vilicus.
Iuris Perita told me that she had met some prosperous local peasant farmers and hopes Jehan will be able to purchase from them some items we need. Jimena has also been visiting, introducing herself as a healer in the hope of becoming known in the villages and farms close to the forest. I understand that we require some Herbam Vis in order to promote the fertility of our own lands and those of friendly farmers; perhaps Saskia will find some in her explorations of the forest. Indeed, we need any Vis we can find and are all devoting some time to searching for it.
At a Meeting, we agreed that all Magi had spent enough time working for the Covenant during the Spring Season that it counted as a full Season of Service. We also agreed that since the lack of laboratories is such a limitation, any Magus who devotes their season of private study this year to the preparation and equipping of their laboratory may also spend one Season of Service on the same activity. I propose taking advantage of this myself and undertake to begin distillation of Vis from the Magical Aura in the glade as soon as my laboratory is ready. I hope the promised equipment from Petrusca and Les Sept Puys arrives soon. I gather someone has suggested enchanting a stone-cutting tool so that we can more easily construct better buildings, which is an excellent idea. I would be happy to work on that too.
Word came that Lady Marta was having more difficulty than usual with bandits in the forest. They seemed more organised and effective than previously, making numerous raids on the villages, even carrying off her peasants, and evading her soldiers. Her knight, Eberhardt, came to warn us and asked if he might use our clearing as a base for scouring this part of the forest. Jehan, as always considerate of our peace, let them set up in one of the areas we had cleared for cultivation but had not yet ploughed. There are suspicions that one reason for bothering us with this matter was to make sure that none of us were in league with the bandits, but I hardly think this plausible.
Eberhardt can have been in no doubt of our opinion when Jacques offered to assist in his task, offering some of our grogs to join his soldiers. The offer was accepted. I was not involved in any of this but the tale told is as follows:
The set off to the site of the last known raid, in which rope, wood and two peasants were seized, and tried to track the bandits back to their lair. A campsite was found, but not far from that, in a narrow valley, the tracker (our grog Elly, I gather) was held off by bandits firing arrows. They were a very well-disciplined band of ruffians. The foot soldiers were sent off to skirt up and around to try and get behind the bandits. The mounted men waited while Elly scouted up the valley again but when she reported shouting and bowshots up ahead, the riders attempted to ride up the steep head of the valley. It was difficult and by the time they got to the top they found themselves facing their own foot soldiers and no sign of the bandits except one that Elly shot.
One of Eberhardt men recognised the prisoner as being one of the peasants abducted recently. One of the grogs, being used to the way of Magi, said he thought that prisoner looked as if his mind had been interfered with and wanted to report this to the Magi. Lady Marta's keep was considerably closer, however, so the prisoner was taken there. While food was served the prisoner became delirious so Lady Marta sent a runner to the Covenant requesting medical and philosophical aid. It was late but Jimena came at once. She salved and bound the wounds of the prisoner and prepared him a potion of hot wine and herbs to deaden the pain and help him sleep.
Next morning, Iuris Perita and two grogs arrived at Lady Marta's. Iuris used magic to peer into the mind of the prisoner and found him to be confused and distressed (so much Jimena knew already) with a memory of waking up wounded in the forest. Before that he recalled being taken prisoner along with two others by the bandits, lead into the forest, made to wait in a clearing, and then darkness closing in and a smell like the grave. Through the memory of what he saw, Iuris learn that the bandits all looked like peasants but were unnaturally silent except their leader who was very large.
Lady Marta was upset by this news and sent a message to the Hermitage. Twelve of her peasants had been taken away. She was able to direct us to the home of one who lived nearest and there Iuris sought something that might serve as an arcane connection to the missing man. She took it to the Covenant. Speculor tried to locate the missing man by means of the connection. He was able to conjuror an image of the area around the captured peasant and saw a grassy barrow in a clearing. Beyond it men were constructing a wooden fortified wall. He could see at least twelve people.
Enquiries showed that at least six barrows were known of that met the description. Unable to get any better information on the direction to go, a decision to start with the closest of these was made. Jacques decided that it would be a great help if Lady Marta would lend some of her woodsmen to assist. The suggestion that hunting dogs might be useful too was rejected when Saskia pointed out that as a wild pig she had as good a sense of smell as any dog and could report her findings more coherently. While Jacques decided on the most suitable grogs to take on the expedition, Saskia and Beate went off alone to scout out the area. Saskia and Beate were not gone too long. They had found the bandit encampment on a high, wooded area. They had seen sentries on the paths close to the camp and about two dozen men in total, some of whom looked like the captured peasants. A warning was issued that these not be harmed if at all possible as Lady Marta would doubtless prefer to have her people returned alive.
The group that set off for Lady Marta's comprised Speculor, Speranda, Iuris Perita, Saskia, Beate, Zane, Elly, Caspar, Ignatio, Julio, Jacques and Milon, Speculor's shield grog. Speculor had spent some of the time while waiting for Saskia to come back by casting Perdo Imagonem spells to smother any normal sounds from the party. When they neared Lady Marta's home they found a sizable crowd of frightened peasants clustered around the church, making signs of the cross or signs to ward off the evil eye, and shouting about ghosts. Ignatio popped into the church to pray for a few minutes. Lady Marta came out to them and spoke soothingly, then promised a day of holiday on the morrow if the expedition to rid her woods of the bandits was successful. This averted a riot and there some muted cheering as Eberhardt led several of Lady Marta's men off behind the strangely silent troop.
Iuris Perita remained behind, partly to reassure Lady Marta that the laws of the Order of Hermes would limit the damage the Magi could do to her lands and folk, and partly to try and make sure her ladyship did not bring anyone else into the business or otherwise cause us trouble.
Eberhardt and his men stopped some way from the bandit camp. The Covenant people stopped a little nearer, and Saskia, in wild sow shape, went close to one of the sentries. She cast 'Call to Slumber' and then silenced him so he could not cry out if waked. Beate, by a prearranged signal, called forward Ignatio and Caspar to carry the sleeping man to the waiting Magi. Speculor cast Intellego Vim to try and find out it the sentry was under an enchantment. Speculor was glad to find that the Forest here had a slight magical aura which aided his casting and reported that there was no sign of strong magic on the sentry. Speranda was attempting a spell using Intellego Mentem and, finding that it only told the obvious, that he was asleep, roughly shook him awake in her annoyance. She could only discover that he was puzzled and very angry. He was trying to shout and getting very angry and frustrated by making no noise. Speculor determined that the man was angry and fearful but also noticed a shadow of a second consciousness within the body of the sentry and announced that the man was possessed.
Immediately Speranda cast a Perdo Vim spell to drive out any demonic spirit but this had no effect at all. She tried Perdo Mentem against spirit possession and was glad to see the body writhe as she struggled with the spirit. Zane said he could see the spirit starting to ooze out of the body so Speranda pressed on. After the third Perdo Mentem spell Speranda was very weary but Zane was sure he had seen the spirit leave. He described it as the figure of a mail-clad warrior carrying a round shield and a Celtic axe and said it had drifted off towards the camp. Speculor examined the sentry again and found only a confused peasant, wondering why he could not hear himself speak.
Both Speculor and Speranda needed to rest a while; Saskia checked and found no sign of disturbance in the camp, but we expected it would not take them long to notice the sentry was missing. Ignatio took the peasant through the woods to Eberhardt, where he was recognised as one of Lady Marta's villagers. When he returned to Speranda, Ignatio found that he was being sent with Elly and Zane to get as close to the camp as possible and try to shoot arrows into the large man who was assumed to be the bandit leader. The three crept up with care in spite of the silencing magic still upon them and took careful aim. All three managed to pierce their target and he fell over, apparently dead. The archers did not wait to see the effect of their shooting but Saskia and Beate, still as wild pigs, were able to observe. Some of the men in the camp were rushing about in panic; they seemed to be the only ones dressed as woodsmen, possibly the original bandit gang. Some were reacting very slowly, and these seemed to be the ones that looked like local peasants. There were four who were behaving like experienced soldiers, advancing towards the palisade in our direction.
Saskia returned to report this, using magic to form the words so she could retain her sow form, and Speranda sent a messenger to Eberhardt, asking him to advance. Speculor was casting a spell; the figure of a powerful hero appeared on the edge of the trees and took a few strides towards the palisade, laughing and calling out a challenge to fight. A few arrows flew out at the phantasmal hero but the professional soldiers could not be so easily lured out. The language shouted out from behind the palisade was incomprehensible to Speculor though some of the grogs recognised it as Breton.
The phantasm had help the attention of the enemy long enough for Eberhardt and Jacques to make a hasty plan. Jacques held the grogs hidden in the woods, ready to attack the flank while Eberhardt took his men forward in their capacity as the local law enforcement. Saskia had made herself of Outlandish size and started settling fire to the palisade on the far side of the encampment. Speculor, being a non-combatant, was having difficulty making up his mind what best to do to help the situation as his hero was strutting and issuing his challenge ineffectually. Speranda cast Jupiter's Resounding Blow in the precise middle of the camp, which was very noisy but had no significant effect on the enemy who were all at the edge against the palisade. Speculor decided to cast an illusion to distract the enemy archers; finding he could not produce lights around them all, he targeted one man who was quickly distracted by flashing lights in front of his eyes. Two bandits were attempting to knock down part of the palisade to stop the fire spreading. Others fired at Speculor who was standing behind Milon.
Milon heard a disturbance from somewhere over to his right and called out a warning. Saskia heard it too, from her left, and saw that a disciplined group of soldiers was breaking through the palisade there, under the leadership of the same large man we had shot down earlier. Speculor attempted to cast flashing lights around a second archer while maintaining the first spell and produced lights around himself. Speranda assumed this was an error and dispelled the effect for him at once. A small wide sow trotted up to the two Magi and a voice quite like Saskia's told them that the bandit leader was still alive and leading a sally over to the right. Having made quite sure of the direction, Speranda and Speculor headed that way.
The grogs saw three armoured soldiers, including the leader reported earlier to be dead, heading towards them. Ignatio, Zane and Elly tried to shoot him down again and were all on target but instead of standing still as before, he was now charging and even Elly's crossbow bolt did not seem to cause him any inconvenience. They noticed that his movement did not seem entirely natural. Eberhardt moved forward to engage the leader in single combat as other fights started on either side. The bandit leader was moving stiffly, using a mace and shield against Eberhardt's longsword and shield, and Eberhardt noticed that his assailant's eyes were rolled up inside his head. Eberhardt was slightly wounded. Speculor, not being able to see the eyes of the leader from so far away, cast the illusion of a solid wooden box over the man's head in the hope of rendering him blind but it had no effect on his fighting ability. Speranda tried to cast a spell against spirits at the leader but was too far away to have any effect. She ordered Julio, her shield grog, to advance with her towards her target. He was reluctant to allow her into danger but unable to disobey. While this was going on, Beate, as a wild pig still, raced up behind the bandit leader and knocked him off his feet. Saskia was attempting a similar manoeuvrer against one of the other soldiers but mis-judged it, tumbled over and had to sit for a moment or two to recover her dignity. Eberhardt sliced at his opponent. Speculor and Speranda both moved closer and cast Perdo Mentem at the prone leader but their magic was resisted. Alain, having despatched one of the other armoured bandits, strode over to Eberhardt and chopped off the leader's head, still inside the box, with one blow from his billhook.
Beate knocked over the third of the armoured bandits. Speculor used magic to try and find out about the head in the box. He found no trace of a spirit inside but discovered that there was something strongly magical there, some four pawns of Rego Vis. He picked up the box and dispelled the illusion. The magic was in a helmet on the ghastly head. Speranda pressed forward, demanding the right to study the helmet since she was making a particular study of Rego. Saskia spoke of selling it but Speculor agreed that it should be kept for study and be the property of the Covenant as a whole.
Once the fighting was over, Saskia and Beate returned to human shape and helped with first aid. Others explored the camp. The evil spirits had gone out from any peasants seriously wounded in the fighting, leaving them very confused. Two armoured men lay collapsed on the ground. The residual bandits surrendered to Eberhardt who had them tied up to be taken to Lady Marta. Speculor and Speranda approached the three barrows. There was an aura around them which felt a bit like someone else's Aegis. Intellego Vim indicated that it was a third magnitude protection of some sort around the barrows. Saskia examined the armour of the fallen soldiers (it was none of it magical) then went to see what Speculor and Speranda were casting spells about. She was just in time to hear Zane, in answer to Speranda's request that he look carefully at the barrows, say they had a fairy effect around them. At this, Saskia turned into a sow and raced away into the forest, quickly followed by Beate. The other Magi did not seem to notice, being intent on Zane. Speculor cast Intellego Vim to try to learn more about the barrows as Zane went on to say the feeling he got from them reminded him of a cold dark night. Hearing this, Speranda took several swift steps away from the barrows and announced that she was heading back to Lady Marta's tower. She started ordering grogs about, insisting that they accompany her at once. Speculor lingered a little and determined it to be a level four Fairy aura before going to catch up the rest of the party.
Lady Marta was glad to see her peasants rescued, and decided to put them in the immediate care of the church until they had recovered from their confusion and the evil influences of possession. Then she questioned the bandits, with Eberhardt and her clergyman as witnesses, making sure that no peasants or servants could overhear the talk of ghosts and walking dead. She looked meaningfully at the tree used from time to time for the hanging of wrong-doers and asked them for an explanation. They insisted that it was all the fault of the leader, giving him the name Obry. She concentrated her questioning on the period before Obry took to wearing the magical helmet. One of his men reported that he had said he would take over the whole of Brittany and another that he was going to save them from the invaders, but could not say who these invaders might be. Lady Marta decided that this sounded like treason and must be punished. She decided to punish them by branding and sent them to the Hermitage to be accompanied on a pilgrimage to atone for their sins and give thanks for their rescue from un-Godly influences.
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