The Lost Seneschal
Quiet settles amongst the travellers and regular patrons of the Glazed Gander Inn, een as the embers in the great hearth settled also, ‘midst their own ashes. Each traveler thinks about retiring, and perhaps the weather will clear by early morrow; but then young Paddy MacHugh the scullery lad, speaks up.
“Gloomy an eve, this. Give us a tale, won’t ye, Carrol?” he chirps to an old man who sits at the bar.
“Naw,” waffles Carrol, but his evasions are drowned by a chorus of, “C’mon, Carrol! Jus’ one yarn! Any one you know, old bard!”
“Well,” says the old man, quaffing the last of his ale, “I don’ right know which, and truly there be so many. . .”
“The Lost Seneschal!” cries out Paddy, “Tell us about the Lost Seneschal!”
“The Lost Seneschal,” murmus the ancient storyteller, scratching his balding pate as the barkeep refills his mug with the best – on the house, of course. “Thinkin’ I may accomomodate this young MacHugh’s request.” His stress on the word, parodying the stuffy language of a rich, pretentious Darokin merchant, brings appreciatives smiles from the common folk.
“It was some time ago,” he begins, “past many a winter, most a sight longer and colder than the one we now weather – but ‘twere good for the soul, mind ye – and past many summers, most more fruitful than this last one – which ‘course dinnae do the body no harm. Both th’ Immortals and the Good People, bless them, were most kindly then, and most people lived in happiness, peace and prosperity.
“Except in the Domain of Farstead, where they’d long been having little of any o’ those things. Bad luck had plagued that land for two years, brining drought, disease, and poor harvests, while the neighbouring territories thrived. And more than one free farmer had sold his land and moved on, hoping for better times elsewheres.
“Lord Brennan was a kind man, but a bit out of touch sometimes. He didn’t stop to realise that, on account of hard times, the people might be having trouble paying taxes. And all the while Sir Lucan, the seneschal, continued to make everyone pay in full, and never failed to extort an extra healthy bit, by demanding payment of bogus taxes that the Lord hadn’t actually decreed. Of course this did nothing for the Lord’s popularity, though good Brennan knew it not.
“So one day Sir Lucan is out in the forest, collecting taxes from a poor woodcutter and his family. They said they couldn’t pay; with hard times not enough people could afford to pay the woodcutter, so they were cutting their firewood themselves. ‘Well,’ says he ‘it’s tax time, and ye’ve got to pay, even if it means selling your children.’ ‘I cannae do that!’ says the woodcutter, ‘It’s just no’ fair! I must appeal to me Lord Brennan for relief.’ The woodcutter, he wasn’t much taught or nothing, but he knew a free man in Darokin has rights.
“Wicked Lucan was worried, though: his extortion racket might get blown if the woodcutter talked to Lord Brennan; no one had he cheated more than the simple forester people. The seneschal dinnae want to imagine what would be his fate if Brennan found out! So he makes his self a plan.
“Back at the Manor, he reported to Lord Brennan that he’d had trouble with some unruly subjects in the forest, who near attacked him! He asked for a squad of men-at-arms to go deal with them. Lord Brennan wanted to know all the details; Sir Lucan convinced him that he had to act immediately, before a revolt could break out and spread. Brennan deferred to his seneschal’s greater experience, and gave him the soldiers.
“Lucan took only soldiers whose confidence, he knew, could be bought. His despicable plan was to kill the woodcutter and his family, and burn and pillage the house, making it look like a humanoid raid. He’d tell Lord Brennan he’d found it that way. Of course the truth would eventually be learned, but Lucan planned to have resigned by then, and to have left the country with the ill-gotten wealth he’d long been hoarding.
“But Lucan didn’t return that evening, nor the next morning. By afternoon, Brennan was worried. Fearing the worst, he gathered together most of his guards, and set off to deal with the presumed uprising.
“But he couldn’t even find the cottage Lucan was visiting! They followed the normal path, but always found themselves turned about and heading back toward the Manor. So they’d backtrack, and again the same would happen. Finally, Brennan gave up. He heard nothing of any uprising, but still his top official and advisor, and a squad of valuable men-at-arms, had vanished. His own forest journey had been odd, to say the least.
“Without a seneschal to manage things, Brennan was overloaded with work. As he realised he’d never have the time to try to find Sir Lucan, which could have been a futile task anyway, he decided to offer a reward of 200 gold coins for the whereabouts of the seneschal – or, if worst be true – his remains.
“And there wre in town adventurers willing to test themselves against the challenge…”