All morning a cacophony of noise came from within the Shattered Skull tavern. So much so that passerbys going about their business in Skara Brae wondered if the old bartender was running an Ettin fight with all the loud groans and thuds that shook the wood frame building. A few people tried to come in for an early drink (or to see what was happening) but were turned away at the door leaving in a bit of a huff.
Finally, in the mid afternoon the Town Crier exited the building. He took up his regular position outside the main bank and began to shout in the high pitched yell familiar to all but especially to the poor nearby and nearly deaf bank workers who heard the Crier day in, day out. Even without the magical aid of a communication crystal and his position in the upper northeast portion of the island every soul on Skara Brae heard him.
“Hear ye, hear YE! Governor Jepeth requests a meeting of every man, woman, elf, gargoyle, or otherwise in Skara Brae!” he cried. “In the Tavern tonight at 9 PM!”
He continued his cry of this news for the next hour. Afterward, his voice tired and scratchy, the Crier returned to the tavern and the door locked behind him.
Word got through the island and onto the mainland quickly, as it usual does. The dock workers informed the fishmongers. The fishmongers told the farmers in the fields. The farmers in the fields told the rangers who hunted in the woods. This chain of community was Skara Brae, through and through.
Whether or not Skara Brae was truly the backwater that other cities in Britannia liked to portray it as they couldn’t help but begrudgingly respect the island’s tight community and productivity. Though, every city in Britannia was usually good at producing or doing something.
The constantly hot furnaces of Minoc produced the iron which drove the manufacturing of weapons and armor. The southern islands of Jhelom and Serpent’s Hold were really island military garrisons to head off the piracy in those waters. Trinsic and Britain, aside from being the seat of political power in Britannia, exported culture and class to the whole world. Haven (or Ocllo in its original name) had been a major shipbuilding operation until the Split had disastrous effects on its archipelago. Shipping and trade was Vesper’s bread and butter, as well as a healthy amount of hunting in the northern woods. Wine and spiritual guidance from Empath Abbey and justice from the Court kept people in the great dense forest of the Spiritwood surrounding Yew. Before the disaster, Magincia was a destination for artisans and merchants, and after they returned. Nujel’m citizenry would have you believe they offered more than beaches and vice, and in truth sand from the island was melted and blown into glass all across the world. Moonglow imported and exported the mystical and, in Jepeth’s view, a good deal of trouble.
The only truly “failed” city was the colony on Buccaneer's Den, but plenty of pirates, cutthroats, and thieves found that lawless place a paradise. Even little Cove constantly under threat of the Orc captured fort was more stable and respectable of a town. A particularly bawdy story about the bath house on Buc’s Den regaled to Jepeth by his cousin Threepwood was so salacious that the pirate island remained the only ‘city’ in the realm Jepeth had never visited. Partly out of concern for his virtuous soul, partly out of concern of disease.
In the woods and fields between Skara Brae’s mainland and the feared Hedge Maze two rangers were skinning a great hart in the afternoon sun. They worked to finish up fast as an hour earlier a passing merchant told them of the town meeting and they wished to attend. One of the hunters, a tall, grim man originally from Yew, used a small dagger to separate the muscle from the hide. The other, a woman of sturdy build and freckled complexion, worked at slicing and packaging the meat for later.
“Leave the limbs to the wolves,” said the tall man. “They’ll be thankful for the treat.”
“Ye daft?” asked the freckled woman. “That be the best bone for the pot!”
The man stopped for a moment, shrugged, and nodded. Apparently the idea of a hardy bowl of stew helped alleviate the impending back ache he’d endure hauling the entire great hart home.
“What do you think ‘e wants?” asked the freckled woman.
“Someone help us if it’s another lecture on the virtues,” replied the tall man.
“Aw, I like those, I do,” said the freckled woman. “It be the city ‘o spirituality, after all.”
The man shook his head with a grimace.
“I miss Pam. Fewer lectures for sure.” said the tall man. “Besides, it’s probably what Richten was going on about. The comet.”
“If so took ‘im look enough, it did.” said the freckled woman. “How long was ‘e going to keep that in the dark from us?”
The tall man looked up into the afternoon sky and sighed.
“It’s not like we can do anything about it, ay?” he said.
The mood inside the Shattered Skull Tavern was jovial. Too rarely do the citizens of an entire town get together and the length of time between the last great gathering and now had grown long. People marvelled at how big children had gotten. Men and women who passed each other on the way to work every day instead sat and had a real conversation beyond banal greetings or weather updates. A young woman held court at a table along the back wall beguiling others with tales of the far off, exotic city of Papua.
The community was glad to see each other. And yet, in the back of everyone’s mind the rumors about the comet and the increasingly bloody affair had begun to solidify into real fear. It also didn’t help that it was five till 9 and Jepeth hadn’t yet shown up. At previous gatherings he was usually the first to arrive.
At the door Tejnik (the Marvelous) was keeping count of all who arrived. Over 130 souls came out of the expected 150, a good turn out to be sure. The island’s population grew and shrank depending on the season or external events but this was about right for the moment. Thankfully the short campaign against The Fellowship occupied shrines had proven successful and the group of men and women who left to join the fight had recently returned to await the next call to action. Curiously, there were a few people in the tavern that night Tejnik did not recognize as Skara Braens. Another thing he was tasked to watch for.
The tavern had been rearranged for the event. The loud grinding noises heard earlier in the day was apparently the sound of the heavy tables all being moved to the perimeter and the benches being repositioned into rows for an audience. At the front of the room with the bar to the right sat a plain, empty chair waiting.
“Get on with it, mage!” shouted someone in the crowd at Tejnik. “Where’s Jepeth? We haven’t got all night!”
Tejnik smiled and tipped his hat in the direction of the shout. He expected the crowd’s patience to dwindle quickly as Jepeth had ordered the tavern to serve no alcohol to the crowd. An idea Tejnik thought was sheer madness given the situation.
Finally, a child peering out the window made a loud shout. The door to the tavern opened and Jepeth, knight of the realm and Governor of Skara Brae entered. The crowd fell silent, aside from a freckled woman wearing leather sitting in the last row, closest to the door.
“Bloody ‘ell, Jepeth!” she said gasping.
The citizens were shocked at Jepeth’s appearance. He seemed to approach the chair in front of the crowd as slow as an old man. He still bore the bandages from his fight with the Green Knight and his shield arm was in a sling. Even after returning from the wars in Ilshenar Jepeth had never looked this bad to his friends, family, and neighbors.
All annoyance with how long it took him to arrive melted away. Some in the crowd who knew him from birth felt great despair. Some who had deep pride in their island felt a burning anger for whoever had done this to their community. Some felt their worry about the comet and the situation at large magnify.
Jepeth sat down gingerly in the wooden chair before the crowd and smiled.
“I’m all right,” he said. “Please, stop looking like that. I’m all right.”
Tejnik took his seat off to the side of Jepeth, with the Governor in profile on his left and the crowd to his right.
“Thank ye all for coming,” said Jepeth. “I must first apologize, this meeting has been long overdue.”
The crowd murmed to itself. This apology was expected but felt like a delaying tactic.
“What in the name of all the virtues is going on, Jepeth?” said an old hook-nosed man in the crowd. “Is it true or not?”
Jepeth held up a hand.
“Please, there will be time for questions later,” said Jepeth. “I beg all ye patience as this story has grown long and it would be easier on all of us for me to tell it straight through.”
Tejnik surveyed the room. All 130 or so attendees sitting on the benches, lining the walls, or perched atop the barstools watched Jepeth with rapt attention.
“It starts,” said Jepeth, “with a Gazer.”
For the next hour Tejnik watched Jepeth go through the story to his friends, family, and neighbors step by step, detail by detail. He did pause and answer a few short questions here and there, but the crowd mostly listened quietly. Tejnik even observed a look of excitement on the face of the children when Jepeth reached the part in the tale about maiming Willibrord the mage. The crowd listened intently. Tejnik, however, couldn’t help but mark the worrying looks becoming more manifest across people’s faces.
Finally, Jepeth reached the conclusion up to that point.
“After I was released from the Britain healers I sent word to my aides to call this meeting,” he said.
“And that’s it?” asked a young man in the crowd.
“That is it, for now” said Jepeth.
As silent as the crowd had been they quickly broke out into a loud discussion with one another, their fears and anxieties pouring out. Jepeth sat silent at the head of the room waiting.
“What are we to do?” yelled Cheryl, the woman who worked in the tailors.
“There is nothing yet for any of ye to do,” replied Jepeth. “When there is, ye will know.”
“Not good enough!” said the hooked nosed man. “We can’t just sit around!”
“I said there was nothing for any of ye to do yet,” said Jepeth.
“And what are ye going to do, Jep?” shouted a man around Jepeth’s age. “Ye are held together by stitches!”
“And believe me, I feel it,” Jepeth said laughing to the crowd’s surprise.
“But,” he said smiling, “I have a plan.”
Afterward Jepeth led the crowd out of the Tavern into the dark streets of Skara Brae. It was now past 11 and unknown to the citizens under Jepeth’s orders an aide went building to building on the island and extinguished every lantern. There, in the dark street, with only a small candle in his hand to illuminate his face Jepeth pointed up into the southwestern sky. Not too far above the horizon, finally in plain unaided view, hung a ball of light.
Jepeth and his community all silently stared up into the sky wondering what was to come next.