Chapter One – A Most Unusual Quest
It was the third day of the New Year and still the celebrations were going on across the city of Newport; not just for the dawning of the New Year, but for the dawning of a new Golden Age for Essex, following the arrival of the starship from the Bright Empire. However, in a closed room deep inside the palace; three strangers looked at each other; each wondering why they had been summoned here to the Royal Palace.
“It would seem that we are all here for a single purpose”. The speaker was a powerful man, wearing liveried leather armour and carrying a sheathed sword and a revolver pistol. “De Meister is the name, Bernardo, from the Duchy of Minas”.
“I’ve heard of Minas”, said a small, wiry man. He had dark skin and had the look of a seafarer about him. “Across the sea, isn’t it? You’re a long way from home.” He grinned suddenly. “Treggs is the name.”
“You have a Perthian accent”, said the final man. “You too are some way from home. I, on the other hand, am a Richmond, born and bred. I received an invite from the palace, delivered by personal messenger. The letter bore the Queen’s seal. I am Dr Ferring, a skilled medician and local businessman.”
“So,” said de Meister slowly,” we have a skilled swordsman, a medical doctor and a …, pardon me, you did not say what you did.”
“No,” grinned Treggs, “I didn’t; did I? I can do lots of things at the appropriate time for them.
At this point, a soft gong sounded from somewhere and a previously-unseen door swung open in the wall. A small, balding man wearing a black frock coat entered. He introduced himself as the Duke of Kincaid; as he led the way through into the next room, he cautioned them that they were sworn to secrecy.
In the next room came a surprise; seated there was Queen Zoe herself; accompanied by the famed explorer Captain Graham.
The Duke continued with the briefing. Basically, through his network of spies in Rivington; he has learnt that the Bright Empire intends to make Essex a vassal state, under the stewardship of Great King John, who would be a vassal of the Bright Emperor. However, he has also found out that the Empire, under its own regulations, would be forced to recognise Richmond as an interstellar state if it had its own off-world colonies. Any dealings with Richmond would have to be of a diplomatic nature.
The queen will quietly state that, in light of this, it is imperative that Richmond becomes an interstellar state within the next two years. She will not surrender her sovereignty to either Great King John or to the Bright Emperor.
Captain Graham related the story of his discovery of the scout ship buried beneath the Antarctic ice and how they managed to restore it to working order and discover how to fly it. They took it on a test flight to one of the Essexian moons; they had not long returned when news broke of the Bright Empire ship landing outside Winchester.
The queen addressed the characters. They are to take the ship out into space and find a suitable world to claim as a colony for Richmond. This has to be done within the next two years; the deadline for Essex becoming part of the Bright Empire. They have all been selected for their abilities. She gesture to the Duke of Kincaid to continue. The Duke stepped forward.
“Bernardo de Meister. You are a skilled swordsman and warrior and you will act as security for the mission. Also, many cultures keep secrets from the opposite sex and therefore a male warrior is imperative.
“Dr Ferring. You are a skilled doctor and an entrepreneur. There may be instances where you need to trade and do business.
“Joran Treggs. Every culture has its low-lives and dregs of society; something that you are used to dealing with.”
De Meister and Dr Ferring glanced at Treggs, who simply gave his huge beaming grin and shrugged.
“My Lord Kincaid. Did you not say something about it being necessary to have a male warrior? Is not the reverse true?” queried de Meister. The Duke gestured to the door. Two guards entered, escorting a female clad in the leather skins of a steppe warrior. Before he could stop himself, de Meister leapt to his feet; his hand going to his sword and instinctively putting himself between the queen and the savage.
“Relax, de Meister. There is no danger here. Leila will be your female counterpart; a skilled warrior and able to interact with the more primitive peoples you may meet.
“Counterpart! My father and his troops have spent years fighting off raids by these savages.”
Leila’s eyes flashed an angry blue and she stepped forward.
“I am no savage! I am a skilled fighter and hunter, trained in tracking and survival. When the Ravening Cold comes, my people do not huddle inside stone walls with roaring fires, we survive in the open. And I can fight; there are creatures out beyond your borders that you have never dreamed of. Do not call me savage; I am Leila of the tribe of the Sevatim.”
The queen watched all of this interplay and nodded.
“Lady Lissia – exactly as you foretold. Come forward.” A young girl came forwards into the light; aged no more that nineteen. She wore the grey and silver of the Order of “The Queen’s Own Augers”, with the prominent psi-emblem on the left shoulder.
“Lady Lissia will accompany you to anticipate any problems you may encounter.”
The Duke cleared his throat.
“Come, we leave tonight for Castle Steinbach. That is where the ship is; you will meet the pilot and engineer and the final member of the expedition.”
Dr Ferring spoke up for the first time. “Castle Steinbach? Isn’t that a little close to the border with Cumberland?” The Duke nodded. “Yes; a calculated risk. The Bright Empire will not want to see this mission succeed; so secrecy is a must. The ship is being loaded with supplies; taken to the castle under the pretext of stockpiling against an outbreak of hostilities with Cumberland. The departure must be timed carefully so as to avoid detection when you leave. In a few days, King John is hosting a great feast for the Imperials; this is probably the best time to leave.
The queen rose to leave.
“Ladies and gentlemen. You go with my blessing. Bring me back a colony world, to preserve my, our kingdom against those who would destroy it forever.”
The journey to Castle Steinbach took around four hours by carriage; they arrived as dawn was breaking. During the journey, a few questions were raised; the Duke of Kincaid had most of the answers.
Leila queried about weapons; the Duke assured her that the best guns the kingdom could provide were being loaded aboard. Leila snorted at this and asked for a couple of bows, plus plenty of arrows.
Treggs didn’t really want anything, but asked how good everyone was at playing cards.
“You mean to fleece us”
“No, although it would be good practice. We might have to settle a dispute over a card game though.”
Both de Meister and Dr Ferring were concerned about the ship itself.
“Okay, we’re not ignorant. We all know what starships are; but none of us has ever seen one or been in one. By the Cold, there hasn’t been a starship here for over five hundred years. We can’t operate it. You say there is a pilot – what happens if he gets killed?”
“You will have some time at Castle Steinbach for a crash course in starship operation. The rest you can learn en-route to your first destination.”
“Speaking of which – who of us is the captain? Who calls the shots?”
The Duke looked out of the carriage window.
“You’ll meet him at the castle.”
This is the opening to a solo/ FtF Game of Stars Without Number; using the brilliant plot seed “A Star for Queen Zoe”, written by Jed McClure; with exploration handled by “Interstellar Overthruster”, also by Jed McClure.
The solo part is handled mainly using Mythic GME, plus some home-grown elements. Much of this will be designed as I need it. Planets (in particular) will be a derivative of ‘Star Smuggler’ for layouts and encounters.
I have to say that the world of Essex (Tech 2 / 18th C / Balkanised) is absolutely perfect for the SWN Faction rules.
* There are a few Easter eggs in here already; kudos to anyone who spots them and posts it.