A Spot of Trouble
The worst of the bruises are starting to fade as you sit in the rattling cart. The sheriff’s men weren’t exactly gentle when they brought you in, or even concerned if you came in dead or alive. The trial that followed may not have been fair but at least it was brief.
Your stomach grumbles constantly now because after the guilty verdict they stopped feeding you. That was three days ago. Now you’re chained to a bench with your fellow convicts reflecting on what’s been the worst week of your life.
Also the last one, since they’re taking you to be executed.
About a mile away from the keep you start seeing pikes lining the roads. Most of them have heads upon them… some fresh, some old, some human, some not. In the distance sitting atop a hill you see Schloss Gericht. It’s walls look battered as though it’s been subjected to recent attacks.
The cart comes to a stop at the front gate. An attendant does a head count and seems satisfied with the result, then waves the cart in. As you pass through the outer keep you see signs of social and commercial activity; wagons being unloaded, shops selling wares, small groups of gossipers. One charming young boy takes the time to throw a stone at your group.
Your wagon is waved into the inner keep and heads directly for the headsman, who starts pulling on his hood. They apparently don’t mean to delay this. Guards haul you all off the wagon and line you up. They unhook the man in front and lead him towards the block when a commanding voice yells “Halt!”
A tall, powerfully built human man strides across the square. His armor is in good repair but has clearly taken its share of blows. Across his back hangs a massive sword. He walks up and down your line, looking each of you over as though appraising a horse he means to purchase. “This one… and this one… the tall one…” he says in German. He goes on until he’s selected seven of you. “Send them to my chamber. The rest go on The Road.”
As you’re led away you hear the axe fall on the first man who wasn’t chosen.
You’re taken to a large room inside the main keep, apparently some kind of audience chamber. Hunting trophies adorn the walls, but amidst the stags and boars you see three fresh human heads.
The tall man who selected you all speaks. “My master has an offer to make you. He made the offer to these men…” he says, gesturing at the walls, “they refused. Bear that in mind”. As the man speaks you’re able to get a better look at him and notice a brand on the back of his left hand, a burnt scar in the shape of an old Roman gladiators helmet. “Sit”… he continues, showing you to a table, “…the Baron will be with you in a moment”.
The tall man leaves and comes back in a moment with another man, clearly a person of authority. “These are the most promising of the lot, my lord”.
“I am Baron Ludwig Borchart, the master of this castle.”, the lord says as he sits down. "You have been sent here to be executed, which means your lives belong to me. I can, if I choose, give them back to you. "
“The man who led you here is Sir Gerhardt Sepp. Five years ago he was sitting where you sit, a condemned man. Today he manages the keep for me, a free man, and a wealthy one. Do I have your attention?”
You nod, and Borchart continues. “I have soldiers, men who stand on the walls with bows they barely know how to use. They do a fair enough job keeping orcs and goblins away from our walls but if I want real work done they are, quite frankly, not up to the task. They value their lives too much. Since your lives are already forfeit you shouldn’t have that problem.”
“You will work for me. You will go where I say and do what I need. You will give me half of whatever treasure you pull out the ruins and warrens of this region. You will do this for two years, after which you will be as free as Gerhardt.”
“If you agree to these terms you will be fed, given a safe bed to sleep in tonight and given a job tomorrow. If you refuse, or if you betray me, I have room on the wall for you.”
It only takes you a moment to weigh Borchardt’s offer before each of you nod. “Excellent!” says the Baron as he nods. “Gerhardt, see to our new allies. If you will all please excuse me…” the Baron leaves.
Gerhardt leads you to an adjacent chamber. You see what looks like fire pokers heating in a brazier and remember his left hand. “My lord wants to be king, and to be king he requires money…money your adventures will put into his coffers. But though he’s ambitious he’s true to his word… he did spare my life, and he did free me when he said he would.”
“Now please put your left hands on the table” he says, as he takes the first brand from the brazier. “It only hurts for a moment”. You are each in turn branded on the back of your left hand, the same helmet sigil that Gerhardt carries. “Welcome to the Faceless Legion, my new brothers and sisters. Now come! There is boar roasting in the main hall and a fresh shipment of beer from the Greenhaven!”