“A splendid show.”
“So glad to have you here.”
Keenan drank in the praise as he exited the crowded hall. . “Oh, yes. Well, it is all in the past now,” he mumbled in false modesty as he pushed through the pressing villagers. A local master craftsman many years back had adorned the structure with ornate carvings of faces staring out from the walls or down from the ceiling, surrounded by vines and leaves chiseled into the dark, hard wood It seemed as if every person in the village wanted to greet, and even touch, him as he passed. Maybe, he thought, they believe their bucolic lives would somehow revive if they could touch the man who had delved into the earth’s depths and the temples of ancient peoples, seeking secrets and treasures abandoned under millennia of soil.
For the afternoon’s gathering, the old swordsman had donned his old scale mail, one of his earliest suits of armor. His breastplate, custom crafted by one of Highhelm’s premier smiths, would have been more impressive, but it would have proven too cumbersome. Even so, his scale mail pinched him at a number of points, for his girth had increased with his age. That made his dour mood even worse.
“It was a pleasure to share this with you.” Keenan forced a smile across his bearded face as two of the village men loaded his crates of trinkets, mundane artifacts, and relics onto the wagon that awaited him outside of the town hall—a tavern, really, but the people of Yorn’s Dale used the meager establishment for every town meeting and family celebration.
The provincialism of the whole thing nearly made Keenan laugh, but he caught himself. Such a naïve and dull worldview was the very reason he had chosen to leave Absalom and sail to Taldor in the first place. Yorn’s Dale inhabited a small corner of the world, nestled between kingdoms, never likely to see a war fought over it. He had spotted this village on his way to Galt some years prior and knew immediately that this would be where he would retire after years of spilling blood and sweat in the least hospitable places around the Inner Sea.
“Thank you constable,” Keenan smiled to the last man waiting to shake his hand. The oaf probably couldn’t even recognize a chimera should the beast land on his front step, he thought. Nonetheless, Keenan returned the firm handshake. Then Keenan climbed aboard the wagon that bore he and his belongings back to his recently acquired manor.
Keenan jumped from the wagon as it pulled up to Gough Hall. The manor house loomed over the village from a bluff. He mused at how these poor peasants spent their lives tilling the soil and boiling leather every day in a desperate attempt to put food on their tables. They knew nothing of the treasures buried in the earth, often underneath their own feet. They let people like him and others in the Pathfinder Society, or the Aspis Consortium for that matter, claim the riches and glory of the world.
“Stoke the fire,” he barked at his manservant Eric as he marched through the entryway, shedding pieces of armor along the way, and into the large room to the right. “I’ll take my supper in the parlor tonight.”
Eric was a thin man, advanced in years, thin about the wrist, but healthy and able. His hair was cropped close to his scalp and only on the rarest of occasions did he say more than two words. This last quality had been the primary reason Keenan offered him a greater wage than the man made serving in the Grand Lodge in Absalom. Keenan had come to Yorn’s Dale for peace and quiet, not to have his ear talked off by some busybody maid.
As a Pathfinder Keenan had amassed more wealth than many barons could ever dream of. He had collected artifacts superfluous to the Decemvirate and later sold them at auction. He had also looted the corpses of many who had stood in the way of the Decemvirate’s goals. His wealth had provided him with a very comfortable retirement, enough that he was able to come to this tiny town and purchase Gough Hall—two years abandoned by its landlord. Keenan sat in his plush chair, drinking in his surroundings: heavy oak paneling, plush carpets and draperies, marble statues, and ornate, yet comfortable furniture. He sat in front of the fire admiring the huge stone fireplace, sculpted on the sides with the likeness of two Kelishite women, holding the mantelpiece between them, which was in turn had been chiseled to show a string of genies or efreeti dancing in a line—over the fire. Keenan liked the fireplace, however, for the most part, the tastes of the previous occupant tended toward the gaudy and unrefined, and the previous occupant had taken every effort to fill Gough Hall with tasteless furnishings and ornaments. After the rest of his belongings arrived from Absalom in a week or so Keenan would remedy that.
“Wonderful,” Keenan commented when Eric brought him roasted goose, asparagus, and bread pudding. The thought of any more mutton or braised rabbit made his stomach churn.
He ate the meal on his lap, staring into the fire and thinking of the presentation from earlier in the afternoon. When the town fathers had learned that Gough Hall was to be purchased and occupied by a renowned Pathfinder, they had insisted that the new owner acquaint himself with the townsfolk by giving a lecture and showing some of the keepsakes he had gathered in his years of exploration. Keenan had so enamored these poor farmfolk with his trinkets and tales that he probably would never again have to pay for a meal or a drink at the inn. The great irony that he, the richest man in the village, would never have to pay for such things brought a grin to his face. He drained the remnants from his goblet, set aside his dining tray, rose, and added another log to the fire.
One of the most amusing parts of his afternoon had been the interest so many had taken in a worthless statuette he had kept hidden away for many years—an obsidian scorpion claimed from a temple beneath Absalom. The group with which he had been traveling that particular mission had debated much over the item, but Keenan had won the argument. Though his blade had been the deciding repost rather than a reasonable petition.
Prior to his presentation this afternoon, the statuette had remained tucked away in a heavy chest for years. Now, having shared it with the peasants, he returned it not to the chest, but to his mantle. In fact, while many of the other items he amazed the provincial crowd with had gone back into crates to be lugged back to the manor, he had carried the black scorpion with him. He had rubbed at it during the ride, removing any dust or smudges. Now, sitting above the fire, it absorbed the light of the fire and cast a distorted shadow up the wall and onto the ceiling. It struck him as odd that to this moment his carrying and polishing the item had slipped his memory.
A rapping at the door startled him out of his ruminations. He glanced to the window and saw that nighttime had fallen. The knocking at the door came again. From his sitting room he could see the front door.
“Eric!” He called. “Why don’t you answer the door?”
The knocking became more insistent, though not much louder. He considered ignoring it, but eventually gave in to the persistent visitor.
“Confound it,” Keenan cursed. He pulled his housecoat tighter about him, cinching the belt, and made to answer the door himself.
When he reached the heavy oak door that served as the main entrance to the manor, he jerked it open to find a girl, probably not yet in her eighth autumn, staring blankly up at him. The waif’s dress looked as if it had been taken out of a box in which it had lain, long forgotten. It clung to her, a bit too small, and had more creases than the face of a weathered crone. Though her hair seemed to have been recently brushed, grease and grime kept it matted down. He cast his gaze over her head. In the distance, a flash of lightning illuminated the clouds of an approaching storm. He also noted that the iron gate leading into the front courtyard stood wide open, swinging back and forth in the wind, it probably had not been properly locked upon his return this afternoon—another oversight for which to chastise Eric.