- Senex, most senior magician of Marehuizen;
- Matilda, his young apprentice;
- Johannes, Jerbiton magician from Marehuizen;
- Dorkas, Bjornaer magician from Marehuizen;
- Rafael, son of Baruch the Jew;
- Hoede and Diede Schutte, the sherrif of Grunloh and his wife;
- Bertje Schutte, their son who has Down syndrome.
The next day, on Good Friday, Senex has arranged the ritual hall for his lecture, to fill Johannes and Dorkas in on the reason he came to Marehuizen. The ritual hall, which is used for the casting of the Aegis of the Heart and other ritual spells that need more than one magician, is a rectangular room with simple wooden boarding at the sides. Along the sides are set simple wooden desks, with the back of the chairs to the walls. This makes it easy to consult notes during spellcasting, or to take notes in relative comfort while someone else is working magic. It is the best place for a lecture of this sort.
Senex has gone all-out on his costume: a blue cape adorned with stars. Matilda is present as well, she directs a small orchestra of two French servants who play flute and bagpipes to provide dramatic background music at appropriate times. Since the lecture will be in Latin, there is no danger of these servants hearing more than they are supposed to. Senex' two cats are in attendance too, sitting on a foot-stool to the side. Johannes and Dorkas settle in at a desk, ready to take notes. Damiaan is noticably absent, probably sulking in his apartment...
Senex illustrates his lecture with three-dimensional illusions that he projects in the air before him. He starts by discussing House Diedne, an alliance of druids, who all died tragically during the magical wars. As an apprentice, you are fed the story that they started worshipping demons, and that they had to be stopped because of that. But Senex points out that in later lessons, apprentices learn that there was another House that did this -- and that House still exists. Clearly, there is more going on than the Houses of Hermes want to tell their apprentices!
It turns out that House Diedne wanted to destroy the church and herald a return to the old gods. The other Houses predicted that if one House would start a war against the church, all other Houses would become involved as well. They estimated that they would not be able to win this magical war, and decided to destroy Diedne before they could set their plans in motion.
But not everything of House Diedne was destroyed in the Schism War. Some members of House Diedne have quietly joined other Houses. The secrets of Diedne can be found in various mystery cults that have mages as their members. The most dangerous of these cults are the Serpents. The name refers to the story in Genesis: in the version popular with members of the Serpents, God is in the wrong for keeping knowledge from humans, and it is the serpent that seeks to liberate humankind through knowledge.
At this point, Dorkas grows impatient with the history lesson, and asks what the danger in an underground mystery cult is to all of Europe. It can't be all that big, right? Senex points at La Montagne, the cat. He can look into the future, and he had a vision that a second Schism War is brewing, with the Serpents at the centre of it all. And in Senex' convenant, Stella Maris (which is somewhere along the coast near what is now the Belgium/French border) a prominent member of the Serpents, Damiaan's mentor, was busy crafting a magical weapon. Lucretia, another apprentice at the convenant and Damiaan's rival, wanted to conduct a field test with the weapon -- and it's a miracle that the convent still exists. After that Senex pretended to retire and to seek a quiet life somewhere else, but in reality to quietly begin something new to counter the Serpents. Since then, he has discovered that a powerful Fae is on the side of the Serpents, who promised to help them in some grand way. The Serpents are biding their time, and will start their war against the church when all the preparation are finished. And Fae don't care about the outcome: they want the process to be dramatic...
Dorkas asks about the weapon. Senex tells her about the field of stones at Carnac, which presumably is an army that was turned to stone by the curse of a saint. The weapon was designed to reproduce that. Damiaan was the one to trigger the weapon, and his leprosy is his divine punishment for that, even though he never was a member of the Serpents. Lucretia came out smelling of roses: she has that particular talent to rile people up and yet never actually do something bad herself... Senex' appraisal of the results are that the weapon is not very effective but very destructive. Some people were turned to stone in the courtyard of the convenant.
Dorkas asks where the Serpents are right now. Senex answers that they are a typical mystery cult, which means the members lead double lives and attend secret meetings. There is no list of members anywhere to be found. Senex wants to gather more knowledge about the Serpents and their weapons, and to investigate how to neutralise the Fae. Without this Fae to help them, the Serpents are a lot less dangerous. At the moment, the group standing against the Serpents consists of Senex, Damiaan, Matilda and the cats. And also Christiaan: his family was most likely murdered by the Serpents, but it is unknown why.
Dorkas asks how Senex plans to find the Fae and to beat it. Senex does not know yet, they are working on that. He also points out that Dorkas' current research, to turn tilled fields back into wilderness, could be interesting to the Serpents: they want to turn Europe back into primeval forest. Dorkas rejects the goals of the Serpents: they want to worship nature as something supernatural, while she wants to rebuild respect for nature.
Johannes asks what Senex expects from the convenant. He has not thought about that yet. Johannes proposes that everybody keeps their eyes and ears open for news and hints, and everybody agrees. The meeting ends.
Outside of the ritual hall, Dorkas asks Johannes for his thoughts about all this. He answers that if things are indeed as Senex says, this is all highly alarming. But he doesn't know if it's true. Dorkas agrees, but also remarks that the Serpents have spent years on their project and their spell still doesn't work. If they have plans with the Order, we need to stop them -- but it might also be just the paranoid hobby of a senile old man. She asks Johannes to subtly interrogate the French servants who came from Stella Maris about the circumstances of their departure. She then retires to her laboratory to continue her work on her spell.
The French servants will return to Stella Maris within the near future, and so Marehuizen has been recruiting local servants and transitioning the work from the French to the locals, which is proceeding as planned. Johannes also asks about their departure and the state of Stella Maris when they left, and it turns out that there are indeed people in the courtyard that have been turned to stone. Even the tree there has been turned to stone. A French servant with some artistic talent shows his sketches: the statues have tortured facial expressions...
Lost in thought, Johannes wanders back to his apartment. He meets Captain Gunther, who tells him he heard that Rafael has spent some time in jail. Some bullies had been pestering and provoking him. They bit off more than they could chew: being better trained and armed than they, Rafael easily won the scuffle. He was probably thrown in jail by Hoede to protect him rather than to punish him. Gunther suggests that Rafael could perhaps stay at Marehuizen as a guest: he is capable and could help with all sorts of things. And it would get him out of Grunloh!
That afternoon, Kaspra meets a farmer during her rambles who tells her about the commotion back in town: Rafael has given three boys who are taller than him quite a beating! The farmer thinks the bullies are weird city folk: Rafael is a fine young man, and his father does a lot of good for the city and the area. The sherrif seemed to think so too, so when he took Rafael, he was not treated roughly.
Servants that visited the town that day return with stories about large pyres being erected everywhere -- there is a particularly large one at the field behind the church. Johannes hears this and summons Salle to let her explain this. Senex is present too: he is very interested in local customs! She tells them that the pastor is not too fond of the custom, but that he can't stop it even if he would try. The pyres are lit at the evening before easter ("Oosteravond" in the local dialect). It's not really a festivity with a lot of drinking, but it is apparently a very special occasion. Salle is looking forward to it: it is one of the great festivities of the year in the area. Johannes arranges that all the local servants are free to go visit their families at the evening before Easter, and that they can stay the night there if they want to do so. Senex decides to stay in Grunloh as well, to see what it is all about.
That evening, during dinner, the story of Rafael is recounted from the various sources. Johannes suggests that Rafael could stay at Marehuizen as a guest -- Baruch said during his visit that Rafael was looking for a place to belong, not fitting in anywhere, like the magicians. Johannes thinks that Baruch would entertain the idea.
Matilda speaks first, and is in enthusiastic agreement. Dorkas admonishes her: it is not the place of an apprentice to speak before her masters! But she is not against the idea: she likes the idea of someone winning against the odds through skill. Gunther would like to give him some more training, to drill some discipline into the young man. And Senex thinks that playing around with little golems with Rafael would be entertaining... Johannes promises to write a letter to Baruch with the suggestion.
After dinner, Senex explores the environs of Marehuizen to see if he can find out anything about the pyres: some farmers have built a pyre next to their farms. When he studies one, he doesn't see anything magical about the wood itself: it is just a pile of dead wood that will burn when a torch is put to it. But there seems to be a connection with the Faerie: the farmers cut out the dead wood from their wooded bank so that new wood can grow, bringing new life. The dead wood is then offered to the Faerie who live in the bank. When Senex visits the second pyre, he even sees a weird little man add armfuls of wood to the stack, but when he comes closer, the little man is nowhere to be found. When they ask the farmer, they hear that the man lives here, he likes the fire. They don't often see him, but with the Easter fires, he always appears.
Senex returns to Marehuizen and prepares for his overnight stay in Grunloh. He takes Matilda with him, as well as the French servant who is best versed in the local language. One of Gunther's men comes along as well. They travel on horseback to Grunloh, but they are stopped at the gate by the city guard. They have orders not to let any unknown persons enter. When asked what they want to do in the city, Senex replies that he wants to see the Easterfires. A boy is dispatched to the sherrif to ask for permission, and some time later a woman approaches. She holds a young boy by the hand, who has Down's Syndrome. She introduces herself to Senex as Diede Schutte, wife of sherrif Hoede. The boy with her is their son Bert. Hoede is not available, but she offers to accompany him to the inn. Senex points out that they will be spending the night in a little shelter outside of town (which might not have been there when you looked thirty minutes ago). She then offers to show him around the town, and the company accepts.
They make a short circuit of the town: from the gate to the market square and then towards the Beltrum Gate. Along the way, Diede introduces most of the people they meet. While Diede is very friendly, the rest of the population keeps their distance -- with two magicians in the company, they get a lot of weird vibes. For this reason, Matilda attracts a lot of attention from the local boys, but they do not dare approach her: they follow at a respectful distance.
When they return to the market square, they meet sherrif Hoede, who introduces himself to Senex. The company is invited for a light meal at his house. Seated at the table and nibbling on some bread and cheese, Hoede tries to find out how Marehuizen operates: his patrols can't look over the walls! Senex gives him his view on the daily routine at Marehuizen, which only serves to confuse Hoede even further! Hoede presses for an invitation for a visit, and Senex invites him to come over some time without a second thought.
When Senex points out the Faerie connection that Bert has, Diede takes Bertje on her lap. Hoede gets defensive about his family, and tells Senex that Bert is their son, they take good care of him and keep him close with them!