The caravan of wagons had been drawn into a square and chained together to form a fence of sorts. Tents had been pulled up, with signs outside them advertising the strange and otherworldly delights within. Fairground rides and sideshows were crowded in among stalls selling honeyed cakes, beer and wine. Cloth walls separated areas, turning the fair into a maze with a new delight around every corner. Over the hullabaloo, discordant pipe-organ music blared from a wagon near the center of the carnival. There appeared to be more people visiting the carnival than the characters expected, judging on the size of the village. Many folk from neighboring villages must be there as well.
The most interesting part of Doctor Jubal’s Carnival of Curiosities to the locals were the side-shows. Stalls with bright canopies offer “punters” a chance to win prizes in games of skill and chance. There were archery butts set up with prizes for getting arrows in the center, a game involving knocking objects down with a ball, another where the challenger must walk across a plank over a large tub of water while heavy ropes swing back and forth in an attempt to knock them off, and a series of stalls involving variations on guessing games and quick gambling games (three-cups-and-ball, find-the-lady, and how-many-fingers-am-I-holding up?). Zelda had a go at the archery contest and, despite some cheating on the behalf of the attendant who Zelda suspected had a foot operated device to make the targets move just a fraction to the side, finally managed to score three bullseyes with her arrows (it cost her about 12cp for four attempts). The attendant made a great show to the crowd of spectators of presenting Zelda with a big stuffed teddy bear with buttons for eyes. She gave it to Minimus who struggled with its size, it was nearly as big as he was. Meanwhile Marie had won a “guess the amount of beans in a jar” competition, it took her several attempts because the jar had been placed in such a way in the viewing box so as to confound their perspective due to the way the box corners were angled. She won a cloth and cotton stuffed toy horse, which she waved it in triumph when she saw the rest of the party, but her face fell when she saw the size of the teddy bear Minimus was holding.
“Dancing rats!” said Cundall, seeing a sign. “I’d like to see that.”
“How about The Exoticum?” suggested Minimus, reading another sign. “They have an angel from heaven apparently.”
“Madam Darkness, the fortune teller. Sounds interesting,” suggested Maire, seeing a sign over a nearby tent.
Zelda nudged Cundall, nodding towards an altercation between two locals. Both seemed drunk, one belligerent and one vague as if confused.
“Me Help! You mocking not I’m,” said the confused one.
“Just ‘cause I’m a farm labourer you takin’ th’ piss,” said the other, more obviously drunk and swung a wild fist and missed. The confused one stepped back and tripped over his own feet and fell onto his back.
Cundall stepped between them, making placating sounds and gestures. The belligerent farm labourer, already feeling his honour had been satisfied, stalked off. Cundall helped the confused one to his feet, helped by Marie. Now that he was up close, Marie didn’t think he was drunk, but was vague and confused.
“You thank,” said the man. Then frowned. “I aren’t, backwards talking I’m”.
“Yes, you’re talking backwards,” began Cundall. “What.. hey? Come back!” The man had started wandering off, a blank look on his face. He stopped and looked around at the druid’s protestations.
“What exhibitions did you visit or look at?” asked Cundall.
“Madam.. uhh..” he looked confused as if he had lost his train of thought.
“Darkness?” suggested Maire.
“Yeah.. and.. mirrors…fools……listen…remember…someone…mirrors…they…call…us…the…mirrors…” The man started to drool and wandered off, this time not responding to calls for him to return.
As they watched him wander off, they became aware of a group of motley clothed men who had gathered around them. They were all wearing white plain masks covering their entire face and were entirely silent.
“What do you lot want?” growled Minimus. “Go annoy someone else.”
As if obeying some unseen command all together the masked men began tumbling and clowning. Soon enough, however, they start to be a genuine nuisance as the party tried to walk off – mirroring their actions and mocking the characters in their high-pitched laughs as the adventurers tried to get past them. They never used real words. Eventually, the masked men start grabbing at the heroes; attempting to pull them to the ground or grab their weapons. Minimus had enough after one snatched the huge teddy bear from his grasp. The halfling drew his sword with a snarl. Suddenly a carnival worker who had been passively watching up until that point hurried over and shouted “Shoo! Shoo, off with you! Away fools!”
The fools ran away, dropped everything that they had grabbed from the party members as they fled. The carnival worker watched them go and then turned to the party.
“Sorry about that. The fools are new to the carnival. The mirror maze is spooky enough, but those fools are just trouble waiting to happen.”
The carnival worker said they could ask Eliah Coastoar anything about the carnival. He had been here for many years, nearly as long as Doctor Jubal. He gave directions as to where Eliah could be found.
The party moved off to find Eliah. On the way they passed Madame Darkness’ tent and Cundall decided he wanted to go in and investigate. Marie decided to go in with the druid and they paid their money to the ticket seller and entered. Like many things in Doctor Jubal’s Carnival of Curiosities, Madame Darkness was not a bona fide fortune teller. Marie could tell she was using cold reading skills, picking up on body language to shape her fortune telling. Between the smoky interior of the tent and the veils that she wore it was hard to tell that Madame Darkness’ fortunes were as fake as her presence as a sun-elf, because dark skin under a bit of flaking gold body paint told Maire that she was actually a drow. When confronted with the fact, Madame Darkness acknowledged the ruse without shame or anger. She took off her veil, revealing an attractive female drow. Madame Darkness stated that she had fled the Underdark due to the madness that was spreading and the attacks on Szith Morcane – the drow outpost she was living at – by fire giants, led by a six fingered fire giant queen. She had come up to the surface through an old tunnel in the Dalelands, and had been subject to abuse and scorn. The folk of the Dalelands had a history of conflict with the drow. So when Doctor Jubal’s carnival came through, she joined it, coming up with her fortune teller act. It was the first time since coming to the surface she had felt accepted. When asked about the Fools, Madame Darkness said they had started appearing about a month ago, and she had only joined a month after that. Cundall asked her about the tent of mirrors, Madame Darkness refused to discuss the mirror maze . It reminded her of the strange feelings that made her flee the Underdark. Marie told Madame Darkness about the drow enclave outside of Elventree, and Madame Darkness seemed interested. She said she would consider it as she wasn’t really a good fortune teller.
The party moved on to find Eliah Coastoar. This roustabout and seller of pies and wine was found outside the Exoticum with his trays of goods. The party approached him and found him to be chatty and friendly. After hearing about the Fools, Eliah offered free wine and honey cakes to smooth over any bad feelings. He was able to tell the party the following information.
- Doctor Jubal ran the Carnival and spent most of his time in his wagon counting his money and dealing with the day-to-day running of the carnival. “He pays our wages on time and asks no questions; we don’t ask no questions right back. I like that,” Eliah said. “But if you want to talk to him, I can tell you where his wagon is.”
- Doctor Jubal recently bought four new attractions to the carnival: Madame Darkness, a mirror maze, dancing rats, and the fools. “I don’t trust those fools. Creepy.”
- The Fools are loyal to Doctor Jubal, and obey him unquestioningly. They eat separately from the rest of the carnival and do not socialize. The fools joined the carnival only month or so ago, and there seem to be a lot of them. “Never seen one without its mask on, never talked to one neither.”
- The Mirror Maze. The mirror maze was at the center of the carnival and, unlike every other attraction, was free to enter. “The fools hang out there, they seem to like it.”
After leaving the carnival roustabout the party decided the best thing to do was confront Dr Jubal. The set off for his wagon using the directions supplied by Eliah.