Moroveer has gathered the necessary items to effect his disguise as a missionary and sneak back into Winchester, the spiritually altered Lord Wulfric is wrapped in rags and disguised as a leper to both hide his appearance and discourage future investigation by guards in Winchester, they have scrounged a bell from Cenhelm’s farm to add the finishing touches to the disguise. Benito meanwhile, plans to contact some local smugglers once they arrive in Winchester, hoping to forment rebellion against the Regent; he hopes that his previous popularity with the poor of the city will help with this.
Moroveer explains that he plans to sneak Benito in disguised in women’s clothing (borrowed from Aesc, Cenhelm’s wife), Benito’s head will be covered as he plays the part of an adultress accompanying the missionary in the hope of forgiveness for her sins.
Ozuchi and Horesh plan to travel to the wooded copse a couple of days from the farmhouse where Horesh’s familiar spied the boar riding Celt warriors; Kron still lies unconscious (although no longer frozen) and Moroveer suggests that the norsican is better off being left on the farm, he says that once they get into the castle they should attempt to free the Queen (Emma Harcourt) and use the loyalty that the people have to her as leverage against the Regent.
Finishing his missionary disguise, the well travelled Moroveer disguises the spear Aelfgar as a walking stick and, knowing that the patron god of Saxony is Seaxneat he improvises an appropriately religious symbol (an angular letter ‘S’) from sticks and lashes them to the top of the disguised spear. Moroveer collects some horse excrement from the stable and rubs it into their clothing to discourage casual inspection, it takes him some time to get the details of the disguises to his satisfaction although Benito begins to suspect that the grim-humoured ex-slaver is taking his time deliberately for his own enjoyment.
Ozuchi and Horesh head to the northwest on the trail of the celts, it takes them just under three days to draw close to their destination; as they draw near the copse they can see a few days to the north a large storm front slowly moving southwards, heavy snow falling from the thick clouds. Horesh dispatches his raven to see whether the celts are still present in the copse, sharing his familiar’s senses, the death-priest doesn’t see any obvious sign of the celts outside the boundaries of the copse but cann’t see through the thick canopy; worriedly he suggests that they may have organised an ambush of some kind and they slow, moving more cautiously as Ozuchi uses his hunting knowledge to look for signs of the celts passing.
Moroveer’s group ride towards the outskirts of Winchester (in disguise) on the rickety old wagon, in the distance he spots the silhouette of a figure carrying a spear or some sort of pole in the distance on the main road and, assuming it to be a bandit, he steals himself ready for an attack, but as they draw closer they hear a cawing of crows and see them circling the figure. Drawing level with it they can see that it is actually the body of Mervane, impaled on a spike and planted on the centre of the main road, he has obviously been dead for a couple of days; always alert for a potential money-spinner, Moroveer searches the body but finds nothing of any value, he says that the Regent must be feeling more secure in his power since he was keeping Mervane alive as leverage, his over-confidence may actually help them.
As the cart rumbles into Winchester proper they notice an eerie silence hanging over the place, the streets are deserted aside from a patrol of 10 saxon guards on the main road; Wulfric begins to ring his bell as Moroveer cries “Unclean! Unclean!”
One of the soldiers goes to inspect cart put pulls back when Wulfric the faux-leper leans towards him groaning, shuddering the guard asks them their business and Moroveer replies that he is a missionary helping some reprobates to prey for their souls; the guard nods, saying that after all the deviltry that has gone on recently they could do with some penance.
A little more respectfully the soldiers ask to search cart, Moroveer agrees but says that Wulfric is contagious and they should stay back, he helps the bandage swathed figure off the cart; the guards keep their distance as Moroveer describes leprosy’s effects in detail.
One of the guards leers a bit over the disguised Benito and offers to help “her” down, slapping the disguised pirate king on the backside as he does so; he ask whether the lady would like to take a walk with him in the nearby trees, despite Moroveer’s stuttered objections the disguised Benito nods and departs with the guard whilst his fellows take their time searching the wagon.
Moroveer addresses one of the remaining guards complaining about the state of the woman’s soul, but the guard replies that it gets lonely on the road, you can’t blame Cedric for looking for a bit of fun; Moroveer claims that earlier in the day his female companion had sex with a flamboyant sea captain whilst he was menaced by a huge norsican. Eyes narrowing the guard pulls out a wanted poster that has a good drawing of Benito on it and says ‘Wanted for practice of the dark arts and demonology most foul, the infamous and murderous pirate Captain Benito of the Sword Isles, wanted on multiple counts of murder and consorting with demons.’
Moroveer tells them that’s the man and he must be no more than an hour down the road; gratefully the guard gives him a coin and shouts for his men that they have to head down the road quickly, he sends out of his guards to go and fetch the amorous Cedric.
Meanwhile in the copse, the guard Cedric has lain down his all weather cloak and gestures to it; the disguised Benito shows a bit of leg and, as Cedric rushes in (overcome with lust), he flings his pouch of Arrowroot (a herbal irritant) into the face of the guard who collapses, choking and coughing. Before he has time to plan any further Benito hears the second guard approaching, shouting for Cedric, saying that they need to go, the4 disguised pirate runs out to meet the second guard and attempts to seduce him, the guard politely declines (saying that he has a wife and child at home) and Benito points him in the wrong direction.
Knowing he only had moments before Cedric is discovered Benito runs out to Moroveers cart and dives aboard, lashing the reins they head into Winchester, discussing their plan as they travel. Benito explains that, once Horesh and Ozuchi arrive, his people will cause a distraction to draw the Regent’s guards out of the castle, during the distraction Moroveer can enter the castle and free the queen. Moroveer suggests that Benito have one of people bribe one of the child servants in the castle kitchen to slip a laxative or something similar into the guards food.
Ozuchi and Horesh continue into the copse, they are surprised when the celtic warrior woman Asinor, hails them and jumps down from the canopy overhead, she explains that she spotted Horesh’s raven earlier and arranged to meet them; the warrior woman apologises for the lack of welcome but they are currently discussing their response to the holding of Mervane. Ozuchi asks if they can join the discussion but is told that Asinor is just here to collect some of her clansmen and that the actual discussion will take place in the Great Forest of Celtia, if they wish to travel with her then she will ensure they are heard; shaking his head Ozuchi says there is not time, an attack from the north is imminent and that they need to try and free Emma Harcourt from the clutches of the Regent.
“Most of my people have left, but I have some dozen or so warriors that could perhaps help although they are not at home in the so called civilised lands” replies Asinor, she continues, explaining that she wanted to go and rescue Mervane straight away but it was felt that, due to Mervane’s exalted position, the decision could not be made by any single clan. Ozuchi asks for her help getting to Winchester, Asinor says that she cannot give much aid but perhaps can speed their journey, she has two of the celtic warriors bring out a dire boar steed for each of them; he thanks her but says that they could really use an envoy and is able to persuade Asinor to accompany them. They set off with Asinor riding one boar (with Horesh on the back) and Ozuchi riding the other.
As Moroveer’s party move into Winchester it is eeriely silent, numerous wanted posters have been put up, denouncing them as demon worshippers and students of the dark arts, the cart heads up to the castle gate with the disguised Benito changing into some rough peasant clothes, slipping from the cart and making his way into the poorer parts of Winchester. After a few hours of searching for vagabonds, Benito has had little luck, but several times he has had to avoid patrols of heavily armed Saxon warriors that pound down the streets with frequency.
Benito makes his way to the riverside slums and eventually finds his way to a seedy tumbled-down taverna called the Pustulent Leg, he spots a man who is sitting at a table, ramming items into a travelling chest whilst glancing around nervously; Benito attempts to sneak up on the man but he spins round and pushed Benito against the wall, holding him at knifepoint.
“Who are you!? Who sent you?” hisses the man, jabbing the knife forward with a hand that is missing a finger.
Benito drops one of his golden rings onto the man’s finger stump and nervously says “Drinks for everyone.”
The man (who later introduced himself as Hrothgar nine-fingers) lifts Benito’s hood up a bit with his knifepoint and appears to recognise him, releasing him saying “It’s you isn’t it? Sorry, you can’t be too careful with how the Regent’s been recently, but i’m getting out. My contacts tell me that in about 10 days Saxony might not be too healthy a place to be if you know what i’m saying.” Hrothgar says that since Benito and his friends turned up, whatever they did has made the Regent really crack down on criminal activity, there is a curfew and the citizens are like prisoners in their own city.
Hrothgar says that he has contacts who can smuggle him to the sword isles, Benito says that if Hrothgar helps him now, when he gets to the Sword Isles then he’ll be a very wealthy man; Hrothgar seems skeptical and asks for a down-payment at which point Benito waves the Regent’s seal about, Hrothgar licks his lips and agrees to hear what Benito has to say, he shouts the landlord Tranter to bring some booze over. Benito says that he wants people around the city to riot and cause a distraction, Hrothgar assures the pirate that he knows pretty much every vagabond in the city, he’s sure that he could sort something out, Benito smiles and lays out the rest of him and Moroveer’s plan before handing over the Regent’s seal and a couple of coins, assuring Hrothgar that there’ll be further payment. He tells the vagabond that the signal will be when he sets fire to the flag atop Castle Harcourt.
Moroveer is approaching the castle, he talks to a local and asks them whether there is a chapel in the castle, although the locals seem suspicious he is able to draw out of them that the main chapel in the castle is a chapel to Seaxneat the patron deity of Saxony and the Harcourt Lineage (who can apparently trace their descent from this mythical founder of the kingdom), warming to him the locals tell him about the mythical slaying of the Dragon of Celtia by King Godric used the legendary spear Aelfgar.
Continuing his disguise as a pilgrim leading the “leprous” and cloaked figure of Lord Wulfric, Moroveer approaches the castle gate, one of the guards points his spear and says “State your business at the castle.”
Moroveer claims that his friends leprosy is extremely contagious and that they are here to entreat Seaxneat for forgiveness on his soul but the guard captain flatly refuses, saying that they are under orders to let no-one in; Moroveer begs just a few minutes in the shrine, and offers some coins, saying that a man’s soul is at state, the guard captain relents, taking the coins and says that he’ll lead them to the shrine for “just a few minutes.”
Moroveer turns his cart and parks it under the portcullis and the guard leads them to the shrine.
Horesh, Ozuchi and Asinor ride on their boar steeds, they reach the outskirts of Winchester and head down the main thoroughfare, Ozuchi attempts to tell Asinor about the secret passage from the castle but she appears not be paying attention having spotted the impaled, rotting body of Mervane, set on a metal spike in the middle of the road. With his expert knowledge of death Horesh can see the body has been dead for three days and that Mervane was impaled alive and left to die, although, not wishing to upset Asinor even more he keeps the information to himself.
Asinor passes Horesh the reins and dismounts, with Ozuchi’s help she removes the body of Mervane from the spike and begins to wrap it in her travelling cloak; once done she tells Horesh to get off the boar. Ozuchi tells her that they can still seek revenge but, with cold fury in her voice Asinor says that she will take the body back to be buried in the Great Forest and then her people will take such revenge that it will make the Great Dragons themselves weep.
Ozuchi says that the person responsible will be dead before Asinor can return, Asinor replies “Better for him that he die by your hands than suffer our vengeance.” In somewhat muted tones she continues saying that although tragedy seems to follow in the wake of Ozuchi and his allies, she knows this was not their fault and that they will be welcome by her clan as long as she draws breath. She takes the body and rides off on one of the boars, Horesh and Ozuchi ride on the remaining boar into the cobbled streets of Winchester, arriving by midday; they take a wide run around the outskirts of the city, seeking to head towards the inlet to the secret tunnel by the castle. A single guard stands watch by the tunnel, Horesh charges the boar towards him, the boar flips him into the air, Ozuchi grabs him midair snaps his neck and flips the body into the river where it is swept downriver by the treacherous currents. Reaching the tunnel they see that it appears to have been filled in; Ozuchi calls upon the ancient spirit of the mole-lion to lend him it’s power to dig through the earth and begins to shift it rapidly (although noisily).
In the castle, Moroveer is lead into a long-disused chapel, it is decorated with a lone statue showing an ideallised portrayal of a Saxon Warrior holding the spear Aelfgar, the guard says that he’s a follower of Woden so he’ll wait outside for a few minutes whilst they pray; as he turns, Moroveer attempts to run him through with Aelfgar but the guard hears him and dodges, before he can raise the alarm, Wulfric pulls the bandages from around his face and tears the guards throat out with his sharp reptilian fangs. The guard’s body collapses with an exhalation of breath and Wulfric re-bandages himself; Moroveer swaps clothes with the guard and Wulfric dons the robes of the pilgrim, the ex-slaver quickly fashions rudimentary wrist shackles from some rope he finds in the shrine with which he pretends to shackle Wulfric and then leads him into the castle.
Benito makes his way to the castle having asked Hrothgar to create a distraction to get him into the castle (and paid him with one of his finely balanced stilettos), there are nine men and a sergeant guarding the gate, Benito sees Moroveer’s cart parked beneath the portcullis; as he gets nearer, one of the guards steps forwards to challenge him, when an arrow shoots past Benito’s head and hits the guard in the throat.
One of the guards shouts “Up there on that building!”
They run off after the shooter forgetting about Benito and he slips into the castle; as he enters the castle Benito spots a guard leading a shackled pilgrim wearing the same robes that Moroveer had on, Benito slips into the shadows.
Moroveer stops as an arm flashes out of the shadows, holding him at sword point, he recognises Benito’s sword arm but decides to play along and claims to be one of the castle guards; however the hissing voice of Wulfric from beneath the pilgrims robes says “That’s Moroveer.”
Momentary confusion over Benito explains his plan just as they hear footsteps running towards them, Moroveer pretends to arrest Benito, turning his fae towards the walls as a party of guards runs past, the last one stops and shouts “Haven’t you heard the alarm?”
Moroveer claims to have caught some thieves and asks the guardsman for help, “We don’t have time for petty thieves someone is trying to break into the castle dungeons using the old smugglers tunnel,” replies the guard. Moroveer takes the guard by the shoulder as though to talk with him and, whilst he is distracted, Benito slices the man’s throat and Wulfric takes his uniform.
“Set your signal and we’ll look for the Queen” says Moroveer as they split up.
Benito fights his way to the top of the castle whilst Moroveer & Wulfric reach the top floor and locate what they believe to be the Queen’s quarters, they take out the two guards outside the door quickly, grab their keys and drag the bodies inside; in the centre of the room on a divan sits a be-shawled woman with her face turned away from the door wearing the Queen’s dress. “We’ve come to rescue you and help depose the Regent” says Moroveer.
The woman turns round and says “Thank goodness!” but keeps her face lowered, Moroveer sends Wulfric outside to guard the door and tells her that she must overthrow the Regent; the woman’s voice suddenly turns cruel and mocking as she throws off her shawl to reveal the face of Morwrei the Regent’s witch-consort “Overthrow the Regent, why would I want to do that?”
Guards burst out from alcoves behind the drapes, locking the door and surrounding Moroveer, the sorceress continues, “Did you honestly think we would be foolish enough to keep the Queen here knowing that you misguided fools would attempt to rescue her? Now we have all of you.”