I have been hanging out with the players so I do have an idea of what happens next. I'll call it "Ortaire-4-9-3". One of my players asked if there was a spell that would remove shackles. A different player inquired about bolt cutters. So the players themselves have decided to free Ortaire the Raider from being auctioned off as a slave. 4-9-3 refers to the 4 raiders, the 9 characters of the player's party and the 3 elves.
I was expecting this very type of rebellion from the players, but not right in the face of the Coven of Ash. These are a triplet of 3rd, 5th and 7th level magic users. They can totally destroy the party in a direct confrontation.
Let's restate the facts:
- The Emperor and his council have given the players a letter which allows them to purchase or hire a ship at a price not to exceed 4,000 pounds silver. (40,000 silver at 1/10 of pound is 4,000 pounds).
- Anytime this letter comes into play, it's being read as a grant of power which allows the players to do whatever they like as if they have the Emperor's blessing.
- Roleplay is making this happen, as the players themselves don't state this and are only vaguely aware that this is happening despite a lot of hints, like the reader can't read or notes the Seal of Office on the outside.
- Theoretically, they could simply demand that the town officials turn over Ortaire with that letter. (I would make them lose it in this play. It's a problem.)
- The Emperor really wants to end slavery, so the PC kind of do have his personal and private blessing. But the Emperor is unaware of the PC's outlook, so blessings would come after the fact.
- The Emperor is hamstrung by other forces which prevent an outright end of slavery.
- The Coven of Ash will kill the characters outright if they try a bold approach. The city will go into lockdown mode to avoid the wrath of the witches, which means there will be no help.
- Senator Vitus is willing to help the PCs free Ortaire, but he has already contacted the 3 elves to do this anyway. They don't have a plan yet.
- The raiders don't necessarily care if Ortaire is freed or killed. His silence is enough.
- The raider's plan is to hoof it to their comrade's farm far to the east of the city. They will not do this if the witches are chasing them, but think it's a good place to be in a fight with the elves or the party.
If the characters do anything on the sly, and it looks like they will, this will not trigger the Coven to take direct action. They will make a play on the PCs through mundane means, perhaps by sowing confusion among the city guard which has lost it Praetorian leadership.
Other points of interest, the Praetorians in this setting are 20% assassins, 70% fighters and 10% all other classes as councilors and advisers. All of the assassins were wiped out by the Coven, so the Praetorians are reeling and allowing city officials to issue orders. Nobody wants to be in charge while the witches are in Nace.
I'm setting a goal of playing again on Feb 1st, but we might have a session before that.