You arrive at Fort Montfoote dirty, exhausted, and wet. The prospect of warm beds and hot food lifts your spirits, and you manage to find the a tiny surge of strength for hustling the last bit of distance. Everyone, of course, except Faenor, who passed out hours ago, and has been carried by the others ever since.
Your arrival appears to be expected, as you are not challenged when you reach the gate; rather you are immediately admitted to the fort and led to the barracks, where you can wash and rest while dinner is being prepared. Sir Ulrich, you are informed, wishes to speak with once you have had a chance to refresh yourselves.
On your way to the barracks, however, you meet with a most unwelcome sight: dozens of tents pitched in the fort’s courtyard, all bearing the unmistakeable sign of the Red Star. It appears that Sir Reynald has beat you here, and has brought his knights with him. You notice that the Red Stars and the garrison troops are keeping well apart from each other, though there is no outright hostility. A few of the younger soldiers even appear to be in awe of the shining armor, fine horses, and resplendent red cloaks that mark Sir Reynald’s men.
After dinner (a fairly bland, if hearty stew) you are escorted to Sir Ulrich’s private chambers. Before entering, you hear raised voices, and before you can open the door, it swings out violently, banging against the wall as Sir Reynald strides out an arrogant and reckless saunter. He is a tall man, and well-built. His armor has been polished so much that he somehow manages to gleam in the torchlight. His dark hair is long in the back, in contrast to his prominent widow’s peak, and his thin, pointed beard frames his handsome face stylishly… though one might also say it gives him a hint of the diabolical.
Sir Reynald brushes past you with a contemptuous sneer, not even deigning to so much as glance at anyone’s face. Beyond the open door, a red-faced Sir Ulrich is standing over his desk, fist clenched at his side. The wrinkles on his face seem to have multiplied since you saw him last. After an awkward moment, he settles back into his chair and waves you in.
“Come in, my friends. I am afraid that matters have become rather worse since we last parted. Sir Reynald, as you know, is hoping to make a name for himself out here. Fortunately, I remain in command of His Majesty’s forces… for now. The Lord-Mayor, however, has been surprisingly impressed with the Knights of the Red Star. Or rather, his is impressed with their promises… and the generous funding that their order provides. Sir Reynald’s men all serve at the expense of their Order, and they are well-equipped to boot – I know Alton would dearly love to have them in his employ. For now, he has only granted Sir Reynald leave to operate independent of my authority – which is bad enough – but I fear that if his fame spreads, he will be granted command of the entire garrison.”
Sir Ulrich pauses and rubs a spotted hand across his wrinkled brow.
“I am an old man, and have served faithfully for many years. It is no shame to retire after such a career as mine, even if I wish to continue in my post. The gods know I have often considered laying down my burdens of late. But Sir Reynald is a cruel and impetuous man. I could gladly step aside for other men, but for such as he… I fear that he would do great harm in my place.
“Please, my friends – I know that this task may be challenging enough as it is – but if you can bring back some sign that would renew the Lord-Mayor’s confidence in me, I know it would help stave off Reynald’s advances… for a time, at least. For his part, Reynald intends to lead his knights across the border to punish the barbarians – he will surely bring back a great many trophies. If you can perform similar feats, or uncover the deeper secret behind this strange raid… that may be enough. At all costs, though, see that these raiders are tracked down and dealt with.”