Wednesday, 2 May 2018

The Monastery on the Sword: Part One which an adventure is laid out.

It is written that there was a great giant that once stalked the moors. He would seize by force or terror all that he could, threatening death by the sword for those that resisted. Those that resisted him, by magics or might were killed, stabbed or crushed as took the giants fancy.

The dungeons and vaults of his home filled with captives and loot. But one day, he came across a Holy Man, a great saint. His words compelled the giant, so that he could not do else but listen. When the Holy Man was finished speaking, he realised the weight and horror of his sins, and on that spot he thrust his sword into the earth.

The body of the Holy Man is preserved in a distant abbey. The Giant spent five years in prayer and good works, then left these lands, never to be seen again. But out on the moor, the sword remains, thrust upright into the dark earth, stark against the sky.

Whatever the truth of this tale and those like it, the sword remains. Because of the history of the blade  and desirous of solitude it became the site of hermits - in fact, stylites. Those who could mount to the hilt of the sword, there to be alone, closer to the Divine, sheer under the eyes of Heaven.

The community of the religious expanded and integrated into the present-day orthodox faith. But the Monastery retains its unique characteristic: a settlement below, and cells above on the sword. Indeed, this has become a real advantage of the Monastery. It is a wonder, an attraction for pilgrims. It is a splendid vantage point for charting routes, or for a beacon to offer a path across the fog-wreathed moors. It is a stronghold against most anything that might assail the monks. It is likewise a secure place for a vault, full of the riches of the pilgrim trade - and for the coffers of the great and the good seeking security.

This is a wealthy and prosperous place, if fatalistically overshadowed by a towering blade, some hundred yards high. But is all as it seems?

Quick note: Column One is a straightforward rumour, that might be communicated by any given person with an inkling of the Monastery. ]

Column Two is the 'crossroads'. It might be an extension or explanation of the rumour ('Straight Over'); it might be a shocking twist ('Veer left/right'); it might be an outright contradiction ('Double Back') - or some combination of these. The crossroads presumably comes from somebody 'in the know'. There will be a worked example further down.

The famous vault at the hilt is empty. The monks have been running a fraud all along. 
There have been a series of mysterious deaths at the base of the sword. The influence of the Giant lingers in the blade - the Giant, that is, in his wilder days.
A gang of bandits have been seen around the monastery, terrorising pilgrims. The bandits have a high-profile contact within the monastery.
One studious monk has concluded that the Giant was instructed to place the sword in that mound specifically by the Holy Man. The Giant was indeed so instructed - as part of an expansionist scheme by the Church to push back the fey from that region. The steel sword did a genuine number on the Ley lines. 
The monks have not been behaving in a very monk-like fashion; lewd, greedy, extravagantly comic - or else are oddly intense and devoted to their duties.  This is the influence of the fey folk: either they are bespelling the monks, placing them under the influence of the chaotic fey, or they have failed to do so, producing the opposite reaction: order, to inhuman levels.
A local nobleman resents supplying the large quantities of oil used by the monks to polish the great blade (in return for a mere peppercorn). Among the many pilgrims, there is a skilful thief who hopes to steal the charter that confirms this. The missing charter would put the noble in an advantageous position if it goes to law.
The portion of the blade in the mound is almost rusted through. It is indeed - and the monks are making regular high payments to the Wizard’s Guild in order to keep back the malign rust.
A band of half-giants from the north are coming to the monastery. They believe the blade is the secret to becoming as their giant ancestors. It is not possible to become a giant. It may be possible to gain the soul of a giant.

RUMOUR: Fraser the butcher told you that the vault in the hilt is empty.
STRAIGHT OVER: It is! The pilgrim trade isn't what it was; the vaults have been emptied by desperate monks.
VEER LEFT: What are you talking about? The Vault is full. But there are dead bodies accumulating by the foot of the sword, because of the influence of the Giant that persists in this place.
DOUBLE BACK: The vault is full. Fraser doesn't know a bloody thing.


Two notes on Setting:

1) I have used my own, largely medieval European Terrae Vertebrae setting as a background for this. That said, I think it sufficiently flexible to end up in a number of settings with a powerful established religion, pilgrimage, giants, &c. It seems like it could be placed very well in, for instance, a Buddhist monastery of Tang dynasty China - or something like it. I have been deliberately vague about the Holy Man - who could be a Saint of the Church, or a Bodhisattva. The larger than life deeds of Buddhist divines in for instance, Wu Cheng'en's Journey to the West, could fit the story quite well.

2) Giants, Half-Giants and other notions in the above derive partially from ideas developed in Terrae Vertebrae. It may be desirable to familiarise oneself with them, however rooted in well-estalbsihed myth they may be.


COMING ATTRACTIONS: the folk and places of the monastery, and its surroundings.

Terrae Vertebrae rooted background article, tangentially related. 

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