It's Not A Star

"It has to be. Look at it. If you've ever seen a fallen star it has to look like that."

"Look, I don't know who told you it was, but there's no ilium in it. Not a bit. It's not a fallen star."

"But the landskeeper said it was full of magic. Crinkly magic, he said. He said it was cold like metal."

The vate cocked her head at this bright-eyed young Marcher who had clearly never stepped outside her own farm before. With a shrug, she clasped the little rock crystal in her hands and mentally traced a pattern of magic around it.

Her mouth was flooded with an unfamiliar taste, live and sharp, tangy; it was unlike blood, but somehow the word came to mind. It was cold like metal, like a chain touched on a warm day, a surprise to the senses. The pattern she wove around it with her own magic - for just a moment, she glimpsed the pattern around that, the rest of the pattern she'd made. She realised she might have just glimpsed the Great Dance, and blinked in surprise. She almost dropped the crystal.

No. This was the magic of bonds and binding. This was Lann, not the Labyrinth.

"What... what are you planning to do with it?" Her curiosity was piqued, questions bubbling up. How had this wide-eyed Marcher come to be carrying something not of this world? Where had they come by it?

"I'm gonna sell it," she beamed, "I'm going to Anvil. Gonna go to the Conclave like Granny Edie used to, and all the landskeepers can bid on it."

The vate opened her mouth to speak, but with an enthusiastic wave, the Marcher was off again on her way. She stared open-mouthed - the woman wasn't looking to sell it to her... Was she just going to walk to Anvil telling everyone she met along the way? She closed her eyes and tried to imagine all the ways that could go wrong.

By the time she'd finished telling her brand about the curious young Marcher, she'd already made up her mind. She had to go with her to Anvil, make sure she arrived safely and hopefully try and ensure she wasn't fleeced when she got there.

Six weeks before the Anvil summit, word goes around Mitwold that a star has fallen near the Westmere. A few interested parties, landskeepers and beaters, turn up to the West Household to investigate it, but Steward West tells them all the same thing: her great-niece Ellie has taken it to Anvil to sell it for a fortune. The wealthier citizens question exactly what's meant by "a fortune", but the Wests of Westmere aren't wealthy folk.

Two weeks later, word goes around that it's not a star after all. It's a crystal of some sort, which must surely look star-like to a lass who's never left her farm before. It's not full of ilium... but it is full of magic. Specifically, it's full of Autumn magic, though its precise nature is a little mysterious. Somewhat inevitably, all kinds of preposterous claims are made for the item, that it can summon (or banish) the Lictors, that it contains a thousand pawns of Autumn mana, that it can serve as a powerful regio for performing an Autumn ritual. Calmer heads realize none of these are remotely credible, but more than a few are quite interested to find out what it can do.

Ellie West has been strongly advised to go first to the Bailiff of the Grand Market, a figure well-known around the villages and towns of Mitwold for overseeing the markets there. Surely he's a trustworthy fellow who can help her to find out how much it's worth and help her get into the Hall of Worlds, where she wants to let "all the clever wizards there" bid on it. She might prefer to let it go to a Marcher, but from what she's been heard saying on the trods, her heart is set on seeing the Hall of Worlds first.

Legacy

Rodric Steward sighed as he picked up the platter. It was her favourite, duck pie, cooked just the way the Earl liked it, but she'd barely touched it. "You need to eat my Lady - to keep your strength up."

An old hand touched his briefly - a fleeting gesture but one filled with affection. "Thank you Rodric. Please tell the cook she outdid herself. Tell her it was delicious. Will you take the plate down the back stairs though? I'm sure the stable girls will enjoy it even more than I did."

Rodic beamed at the old woman. It was so typical of Celeste to consider her cook's feelings. Always thinking about others - even now when she no longer had the strength to get out of her chair. "Of course my Lady. Can I bring you anything else?".

"Yes. Take a letter for me please." She raised a hand, resting it on the ornate necklace that circled her throat, as she waited for her steward to fetch quill and ink.

He sat down, paper in hand, but she said nothing for a long time, only stared off into the distance. Eventually a quiet cough from the steward roused her from the past and she began to dictate.

"Lady Griffinsbain, I am writing to you in the hope that you can help me arrange matters...."

House Magot is an old Dawnish house whose glory has been much reduced in recent generations. In the time of Emperor Ahraz, they were a powerful, well-respected house led by the famous enchanter Earl Celeste. The enchantress was in and out of Senate as the mood took her, as well as a confidante of archmages, grandmasters, and a notable supporter of the Freeborn Emperor. She was a popular and influential figure, but she went into seclusion shortly after Ahraz died. Thereafter her house encouraged those seeking a test of mettle to look elsewhere and their reputation dwindled with their numbers. Largely forgotten in modern times, many people simply assumed that Celeste had passed away.

It seems that the old enchanter still breathes and while she no longer has an interest in attending Anvil, she has not quite lost her interest in the matters of Dawn. She has written to the Dawnish egregore, Lady Griffinsbain, proposing to sell an ancient heirloom of her house. The artifact, a necklace, is said to have been made by Circe, called the Swan, a powerful enchantress from Dawn's pre-Imperial history using ilium she acquired from the Brother of Wizards. Ritual magic might confirm the item's ancestry - but a simple detect magic shows it is imbued with is a more potent variant of a Circlet of Falling Snow.

Lady Celeste wishes to bequeath the necklace to the nation, but only on her terms, and at a price. She has asked Lady Griffinsbain to convene the troubadours of Dawn to see if they will raise the funds to purchase the item. Her suggestion is that the troubadours meet each year to choose someone worthy, whichever Dawnish citizen best exemplifies the glorious traditions of the nation, to bear the talisman for the year ahead. Her professed hope is that Circe's Necklace will thus become the birthright of the nation, rather than pass to any one individual. In this way she hopes it will serve to inspire a generation of new enchanters and enchantresses to glory.

Her offer is not completely magnanimous. She has set a price of 25 thrones for the artifact. She has instructed the egregore to refuse offers from any but the troubadours of Dawn. She will not sell to anyone else, and if they do not feel that this piece of history is worth such a price, then she will make other arrangements to dispose of it. But if the troubadours choose to raise the money before the end of the Winter Solstice then her steward will bring the necklace to the following summit - the Spring Equinox.

In addition, in the interests of full disclosure, she writes a warning that the necklace is under a curse of some kind. Apparently the curse is not as old as the necklace and is not fatal. Celeste believes the curse might well be lifted by the right individual, but such a thing has been beyond her.

Leaves

Seneca worked studiously to maintain his poise as he walked slowly to the garden. To lengthen his stride would hasten the coming moment, it would indicate a sense of panic and desperation. To shorten his stride would be a victory for the dread horror of what he was about to do. He would walk to the grounds this final time with the same pace as he had taken every day.

Too soon he arrived. He bowed to the dark-robed herald at the entrance. The silent gardener, gifted to him all those years ago by the Glutton, returned the gesture.

"No words for me old friend? Here at our final hour?" his questions were met with silence, as they always had been.

All the preparations had been completed the night before. As he set light to the bowl of oil he was struck by the thought of how this fire was a perfect metaphor for the Net of the Heavens. Such a tiny action... to have such a profound effect.

As the flames rose, consuming the garden, Seneca turned and walked away from his life's work. He quickened his pace - the Druj would be here soon - it would be best to be gone before that happened.

As the Druj have over-run parts of Zenith, many magicians have been forced to destroy their life's work to prevent it falling into the hands of their enemy. Once such group is the Spire of the Dark Moon. The most notable thing about the Dark Moon was the tea-house operated by the magician Seneca. In addition to the fine teas produced there, it was known for brewing a potent tea, like tranquil nostrum, but more powerful. The recipe for this tea was jealously guarded by Seneca, but was known to need rare herbs grown in his garden with the aid of night magic provided by the silent gardener, a herald gifted to him by the Brother of Wizards.

It is certain that the Druj would have taken a keen interest in the garden - they are known to seek out herbal lore and troves of herbs, so Seneca destroyed the garden and everything in it before he fled. Sadly he was caught and killed by the Druj while fleeing but it seems though that the Brother of Wizards is not content to leave the matter there. Sadogua has indicated that he will offer the same aid to whichever representative of the tea-houses offers him the most dragonbone for his consumption. There is some expectation that this opportunity may be of particular (but not exclusive) interest to the Lumis teahouse in Wintermark, the New Promise Cartel tea-house in the Brass Coast run by the i Shartha and i Zaydan families; the Freeborn Gilded Leaf Teahouse; the Bitterbark tea-house in Navarr; Holbucks in the League; and of course the Sentinel's Repose in Urizen - among others.

The winning tea-house will be able to allocate the Silent Gardener to a single herb garden of their choice - enhancing its production accordingly. In addition they can choose a single citizen to learn how to brew the rare tea perfected by Seneca, provided they have the mental wherewithal to learn how to master the recipe.

Securing their Future

"Are you sure you want to do this Youngtongue?"

The briar was a human of few words. Taciturn was how Youngtongue had once heard them described. He shrugged his shoulders as he carefully secured the battered collection of pouches to the belt before flashing a wry grin.

"It is good to be doing something. The elders have given me permission. Let them plan for the future, if we can make a success of this we can raise coin enough to make life in Therunin mean something right now."

"How?"

The short question might have struck another as rude, but he knew well enough that it was curiosity for details as much as anything. Slowly he began to explain his big plan.

"We could go to any of their Guides. But this one has a special title..." He paused to rifle rapidly through pouches and pull out a handwritten list, stabbing his finger at a name. "This one, the Dredgemaster of Feverwater. It their job to find things in the Feverwater and sell them." .

"Can you sell your sacred potions?"

Youngtongue looked down at the wooden box, and the small vials of dark liquid that lay within. He paused as if to respond and then changed his mind. He slammed the lid of box closed and pushed it deeply into the pouch.

"The Elders said I could sell off all of my brother's things. I helped him gather these once - so it's only fair..." His voice faltered, conflicted by feelings of guilt and remorse for his brother's death.

"Are you sure you want to do this Youngtongue?"

Youngtongue peered thoughtfully into another of his pouches, poking at a red crystal inside.

"No... No I'm not. But it's not just the potions. Neev was a gifted artisan, and he always said that no one else in the Forest knew how to make a Hungry Key. If these Imperials don't know either then this could make us a lot of money... "

Youngtongue, an orc apothecary of the Great Forest Orc tribe and his briar companion are coming to Anvil. They have a small collection of potions that they have been given leave to sell, and an artisan item that they brought themselves. Both the potions and the item once belonged to Youngtongue's brother who was killed fighting the Druj when the tribe fled the Barrens. Experienced apothecaries who have examined the potions confirm that they have not seen anything like them before - it is possible that the potions are not known in Imperial Lore. The crystal has been briefly examined and appears to be something that can be used to allow Heralds to pass more easily from the realms into these lands given the right circumstances. Again, the secret of its manufacture appears to be unknown to Imperial artisans.

The pair are intent on seeking out the Dredgemaster of Feverwater first, as they seemed convinced that this individual will be able to help them secure the best possible prices. They are expected to arrive late on Saturday morning of the Equinox.

Winter Market

Jasna held tightly the little pouch full of coins, her brow furrowed as she looked up at old Vellmir.

"That seems a lot, I'll give you 4 rings for the basket load. Or if that isn't enough I'm sure Milos would sell to me for less"

"Ahh, who is it that has taught you to bargain so well? You will ruin me, and I will have no food left for the cold nights ahead!" Cried out the farmer, in mock alarm.

Jasna suddenly looked concerned "Five rings then?"

"Ahh my child" Vellmir laughed, "You must not falter in your task, four rings will suffice."

The young Varushkan carefully counted out the coins and passed them over. With this careful bargaining she would have enough left over to buy some treats for later, and maybe even enough to get some for her sister. No, probably not that much.

As the nights close in and the snow grows thicker, Varushkans look to provision for the winter. The larger vales set up elaborate winter markets, where all manor of goods are traded as everyone tries to make sure they have what is needed to get through the harsh winter ahead. All sorts of people can arrive at the Winter Market, old acquaintances from neighbouring vales, or strangers from a forgotten mining settlement. But the hearth magic of Varushka binds them all; if you treat someone as a trader a trader they will be compelled to act like one.

Once the hard business of buying and selling is done for the day, and the wards have been raised, then the Night Market begins. Story tellers, dancers, all sorts of entertainment, long into the night. For some years now the Varushkans have extended their winter market tradition to Anvil. In Anvil the goods for sale may be less likely to get you through the winter as to get you through lunchtime, but as the daylight fades who knows what you will find?

The Winter Market takes place in Varushka starting at 4pm and running on into the night.

How Do We Fix Things

How do we fix the economy? Together. So says Loyalty. Although I'm hoping one of these experts has a more worldly answer.

Llewellyn Leafstalker, Senator for Miaren

Since the Imperial Bourse crash last Winter Solstice, there has been an increasing amount of concern in some quarters about the economy. While The Throne managed to prevent the Senate budget going into actual deficit - the point at which armies, resources and the like risk being disbanded - the structural issues which brought the Empire so close to financial collapse still exist. In response, Navarr senator Llewellyn Leafstalker has called together representatives of the nations, Imperial Synod, Imperial Military Council, Civil Service and other august bodies for an Imperial Conference on Economics. Three expert speakers will be followed by open debate on how the Empire is to manage its economy.

The representatives of the Bourse have not yet been invited. This is because its representatives are to be chosen in the traditional way - in the public auction on Friday night at 8PM. Anyone wishing to represent the Bourse - or any other interest - can bid on a ticket then. Senator Leafstalker has announced that half of all proceeds are to be donated to a Marcher cause chosen by Merrick's. The conference itself is to be held in Merrick's community hall, in the Marchers, at 5PM on Saturday, "or whenever we get out of Senate." Text contributed by Simon Chiu