Session One Hundred Thirty-Five - January 7, 2017

Wherein the ongoing story of the FtF campaign may be found ...

Session One Hundred Thirty-Five - January 7, 2017

Postby Matt » Thu Feb 02, 2017 11:02 pm

Halane 9, 732
Noon

A little after noon on the ninth of Halane a flurry of messages arrived and left Raven Hall. After Aeomund informed him his brother wanted to talk, Lord Ewen had Cekiya deliver a message calling for a meeting outside the city that evening.

Around the time Cekiya left to deliver the missive to Sir Arren Lydel, Ewen’s brother, a messenger arrived with an invitation to a banquet at the castle on the fifteenth to celebrate Soratir, the Peonian holiday Alamirata, the Save-K’norian Festival of Knowledge, and the deliverance of the kingdom from Vikings. It was signed “Hesena, Lord Protector.”

***

“What if you dressed as an elf?”

Baris and Arva were sitting at the bar in the Elf & Dwarf. Arva had just offered her services as a singer, and Baris had a sudden inspiration. Such inspirations did not often end well.

Arva stared at the knight, her lips pursing and her eyes widening slightly. “My fee increases,” she said after a moment.

“Fee, what fee?” Baris asked.

“I’m providing entertainment and providing revenue.” Arva took a sip of wine and waved her had dismissively. “I was going to perform for free, but if you want me in costume, that’s extra.”

“Well, what kind of fee are we talking about here?” Baris tipped back his mug.

Arva sighed. “No, Baris, I will not be in costume. I will simply perform songs and take requests in return for food and drink for the evening. I will split any tips with your staff.”

Baris blinked. He had missed something here. Women could be so confusing. “Oh sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you, I just thought it would be really cool. We would be happy to have you.”

***

“Good afternoon, I am Sir Ritzar Martaryne of Rudwyn Manor.”

It was late afternoon and a knight Ewen did not recognize had just shown up on his doorstep.

The knight bowed. “They call me the Black Lord of Rudwyn, and I am here to render my feudal service to my new liege lord!”

Ewen waved the man inside. “You are welcome Sir Ritzar, pray come in and take your ease in the comfort of my hall.”

“I will, if that is a command.”

Ewen gritted his teeth, but smiled slightly. “It is. Please come in for a few moments.”

The knight entered the hall, looked around, and sat down at the table. Walin appeared at Ewen’s side. Ewen caught the servant’s eye and nodded his head toward the ale.

As he walked by, Walin looked askance at Ritzar, an offended expression upon his face.

Ewen sat down just as the steward returned with two of the finest pieces of crockery in the place. His nose held high, his every action deliberate and exact, Walin poured the ale with an ostentatious flourish. With a “Hmm,” the steward left the lord and knight to their discussion.

“Sir Ritzar, your reputation precedes you. Sir Ambric Pulgarty mentioned you to me. He styled you to be a character of sorts. Tell me about yourself.”

Ritzar smiled. “Sir Ambric told all there is to say. I am not a character. I am the Lord of Rudwyn, inherited some years ago. I don’t like to stay in one place for very long, so my brother runs the manor in my stead.”

Aeomund walked in carrying a sheaf of papers. “Sir Ritzar?” he asked upon seeing the newly arrived knight. Aeomund flipped through the papers, scanned down the page with a finger, and looked up. “Three yeoman and one medium foot, correct?”

Ritzar blinked, a bit nonplussed at the non sequitur. “Yes.”

Aeomund nodded, turned on his heel and went back upstairs, muttering something about troop strength.

Ritzar stared as Aeomund walked away.

Ewen coughed. “So, where do your travels take you? How widely traveled are you?”

“I have traveled as far north as Olokand, and participated in the tournament a few years ago.” The knight paused in thought for a moment. “I don’t find tournaments too much to my liking. I have been as far south as Burzyn.”

“We held a tournament at my manor in Varayne recently, I hope we did not overlook an invitation?”

Ritzar shook his head. “I did not feel overlooked.”

“Nonsense,” Ewen said. “We will have to make sure overlooking does not re-appear in the future. There is more to a tournament than just jousting and such.”

Ritzar showed his teeth. “Yes, there is jousting that goes on that has nothing to do with horses.”

“Yes.”

“I’m not sure we are talking about the same thing. I understand you to be married.”

Ewen nodded. “Do you anticipate further travels during the winter season?”

“I suppose that would depend upon you, my lord. At least over the next three months.”

“Yes. The last several months in this kingdom have been rather eventful, so it is difficult to predict what the winter will bring us.”

“Snow, I wager.” Ritzar shook his head when Ewen did not laugh. “I have no plans at the moment to travel further than next door,” he said, answering the prior question.

“Well, Sir Ritzar, I shall not keep you any longer. Thank you for presenting your feudal obligations in person.”

“Thank you my lord. Are you acquainted with Gevel Zaridoth?”

Ewen was familiar with his dwarf neighbor. “Yes.”

“I shall be abiding, at least for a time, with his lodger.”

“Enlighten me, Sir Ritzar, who is this lodger?”

“She is a harper, my lord. A very fine one,” the Black Lord replied, again showing his teeth.

“Indeed, a member of my household is a member of the Harper’s guild. Perhaps this lodger is available to make her acquaintance Does this harper have a name?”

“Her name is Clodya.”

“Thank you Sir Ritzar.”

Ritzar looked down at the goblets. “Do you mind if I borrow these?”

Ewen heard Walin’s snort of rage from the other side of the room. He waved his hand. “If you please.”

“Thank you.” With that Ritzar nestled the two goblets under one arm, walked over to Walin, snatched the bottle of ale and departed, leaving the servant agape.

After a moment Walin went upstairs, muttering to himself.

Ritzar certainly enjoyed his spirits, Ewen mused … On that note, the lord wondered what Sir Baris was up to. He settled his mind and stretched his thoughts outside his abode, outside Harn, outside Kethira itself, but try as he might he could not penetrate the veil protecting the ether. Perhaps he was just tired.

***

At that moment, Baris was leaving Curo House. It was a good thing Sir Ewen had been unable to clairvoy him, as the sight would no doubt have ruined the peer’s digestion. Baris had contrived for Sotor to write Meleine yet another letter, and had hand delivered it to the Earl’s abode. Of course the knight was denied entry, but he paid a guard to place the missive into the hands of Meleine and no one else. He was beginning to fear his messages were being intercepted.

The knight then made his way to the Elf & Dwarf in time to see Arva play. Her skills were a bit inconsistent, Baris thought; either she was playing well but her voice cracked, or she sang as well as a dove but she missed a note on the harp. As a result, the knight saw no one leave a tip. Baris still enjoyed the show, however. He drank, laughed, clapped, and sang along well into the night. After all, the toast of the Peonian stage was in no position to be a critic even had he cared.

Halane 10, 732

The morning dawned around eight o’clock the morning of Halane 10. After the sun peeked over the rooftops, Sir Baris made his way to Raven Hall for the usual breakfast meeting. He wondered if Ewen would finally respond to his note. This was getting awkward.

Just as the knight arrived at Raven Hall he saw a man come around the corner whistling a jaunty tune. “Good morning to you!” the man greeted.

“A good morning to you, Sir!” Baris replied as he opened the door. To the knight’s surprise, the man was not continuing on down the street, but appeared headed for the doorway. He quickly stepped in and closed the door behind him. He was greeted by Walin, and an ale appeared in his hand.

After a moment there was a knock. “Walin, there’s somebody at the door,” Baris said.

Walin gave the knight a look that said, ‘Yes, there was a knock.’ The steward stepped past the knight and opened the door. “Oh, he’s back,” Baris heard Walin mutter.

Ritzar strode in, carrying two goblets that Baris recognized. “Good morning my fine steward! These were excellent, thank you!” He dumped the dirty goblets into Walin’s hands, and the steward had to juggle to avoid dropping them.

The strange man sat down at the board as if he owned the place. Who is this man? Baris wondered. Maybe he’s the reason Ewen hasn’t been returning my notes, the knight mused.

At that moment Lord Ewen strode down the stairs. “Sir Ritzar, I see you have found the breakfast board. Have you met Sir Baris Tyrestal?”

Ritzar nodded. “We met in the street!”

“You and Baris have similar instincts,” Ewen said.

Ritzar held up his fork, a sizable portion of pork sausage hanging askance. He looked over at Baris. “Some things have to be left to the imagination.”

“Sir Baris is the Naked Knight, so there is nothing left to the imagination,” Goreg said as he came in.

“Please let me introduce my squire, Goreg. I believe you two are related.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Sir,” Goreg said. “My mother is a Martaryne,” he said, answering Ritzar’s quizzical look.

“Which one?” Ritzar asked. “I am of the Ternua Martarynes.”

“I am from the other branch of the family, the Nubeth line.”

“No, which mother.” Ritzar smiled.

Baris knew Goreg well, and could tell the poor squire was doing his best to keep a straight face. Had this man insulted Goreg’s family? Goreg was a good lad, a good fighter. Baris thought about speaking up in the lad’s defense, but did not wish to unman him.

“That was supposed to be a joke, Ritzar said. “I’ve heard of you; my brother told me about you.”

Goreg nodded. “I am of this household. I will see if I can make a name for myself here.”

“So, being born on the wrong side of the blanket is no obstacle to advancement I see.” Ritzar took a bite of his sausage.

“I’m doing my best, Sir. What did you say your name was?”

“Ritzar, Ritzar Martaryne.”

Goreg looked at Ewen. “My lord, if I may be dismissed, I have duties to attend to.”

Ewen nodded. “You have leave, Goreg.”

The squire bowed, and went back upstairs. Baris watched the squire go, and smiled to himself. The lad was learning when to pick his battles, a skill the knight himself was still working on.

Ritzar shrugged and continued his meal. “Prickly little fellow, isn’t he?”

A few notes from a harp preceded Arva down the stairs. She twiddled with the strings and struck another note. After a moment she looked up, noticing they had a guest.

Baris looked over at Ritzar, who had stopped chewing, staring at Arva. “Do you play as good as you look?” the newcomer asked after swallowing his eggs.

The harper glanced at Baris, and looked back to Ritzar. “On occasion.”

“Perhaps we could get a trio going. I do a little song and dance, but only for private audiences.”

Ewen sighed. “Sir Ritzar, we usually keep the breakfast conversation appropriate to the time of day.”

“I completely agree my lord!”

Ewen looked to Baris. “Sir Baris, please pass the pork sausage.”

Baris handed the platter down, and looked to Ritzar. “Goreg is a fine young man, and has the makings of a fine knight; I’ve fought beside the man.”

“So you’re saying he’s a fine fellow,” Ritzar said. “Please pass the pork sausage.”

Baris took the platter back from Ewen and handed it to Ritzar. “Sir Ritzar, I didn’t see you at the tournament.”

Ritzar smiled. “I wasn’t there.”

Baris smiled back. “I suppose not every man can perform there.”

“As I told my lord, I did not feel overlooked.”

“Sir Ritzar told me he participated in the royal tournament in previous years,” Ewen said.

“Just the one time,” Ritzar clarified.

“Sir Baris here owns an inn.”

“How mercantile of you,” Ritzar said.

“Are you familiar with the Elf & Dwarf?” Ewen asked.

“Is that the place that used to be the Seven Stars?”

Ewen nodded.

Ritzar laughed. “I’ve passed by it.” He looked at Baris. “Self-portrait?”

Baris laughed, spitting out some ale. “No, I’m not that short.” He waved a mug at Ritzar. “You’ll have to come by some time.”

Ritzar returned the salute. “I’ll make a point of it.”

The men ate in silence for a time.

“My Lord, do you have any tasks for me today?” Ritzar asked.

“How long do you anticipate being in Tashal, Sir Ritzar?” Ewen asked.

“That’s up to you my lord.” Ritzar explained that prior to him becoming lord, some of Ewen’s liegement gave service in Ternua. Two would ride circuit, with one staying in Ternua, and one giving service directly to the baron. That was why he was in Tashal. Typically that was the duty of the knight of Rudwyn, although he and his brother traded the service.

“Let’s table what exact assignment to give to you for the moment, except to confer with Aeomund regarding military matters.”

At that moment Cekiya skated into the room. Baris stifled a smile, remembering his introduction to the adder. “Hello!” she said. “A sausage eater? You must be a knight.” She peered at him intently. “Or a Laranian priest.”

“Sir Ritzar, allow me to introduce my servant, Cekiya.”

Ritzar opened his mouth and appeared to be about to make a joke, but some sixth sense warned him off and he shut his mouth.

Baris was disappointed.

Later that morning, after the others had departed and it was just Ewen and Baris sitting at the table, Baris tried to bring up the subject of his note again. “My lord, I am at your service.”

Ewen blinked, looking confused, as if Baris had stated the obvious.

The silence crept on, until Baris said goodbye and went to get a drink.

***

“Sir Baris?”

Baris looked up from his drink. He was sitting at the bar in the Elf & Dwarf, wondering why Ewen was avoiding him. The knight shook his head and looked up. “Oh, yes?” Sitting next to him was an older man with a slight paunch and a bushy beard.

“So you are Sir Baris?” the man asked.

“Yes.”

The man offered the knight his hand.

Baris hesitantly offered the man his hand, and it was shaken vigorously.

“Kalas of Aralsar is my name, salt is my game!”

“Salt?” Baris asked.

Kalas smiled. “We are going to do beautiful things together, I can just tell. Did you get my letter?”

“Yes,” Baris replied. “Although I must admit, I was a little confused.”

“Ask away, I’m happy to explain it to you.” Kalas motioned to Barton. “Do you mind if I have an ale?”

Baris nodded.

Barton brought over a mug, which Kalas took and began to drink. He did not leave any coin. The barkeep looked at Baris and then walked away.

“So you sell salt?”

“No sir,” Kalas corrected. “I plan to broker it!”

Baris blinked. “You’re going to break it?”

“No, I will buy it from you, and sell it to others,” Kalas explained. “I will be your salt broker.”

“Why can’t I do that?”

“Can you show me your guild credentials?”

Baris shook his head. “Nope.”

Kalas shrugged. “Well, there’s your answer. I am a guilded chandler. Do you know what the beauty of being a guilded chandler is?”

“I can’t say that I do.”

“You can buy and sell anything that comes along, even if it comes from another guild!” Kalas slapped the bar, causing his mug to wobble. He steadied it by taking a sip. “In this case the Salters. That’s why I’m proud to be a chandler!”

“But I don’t have any salt.”

“That is what you think! There is plenty of salt, all over Selepan. Probably how it got its name. Do you know what sel is?”

“Where you put prisoners?” Baris guessed.

“No, it’s continental for salt!”

“Oh. Okay. So why isn’t the salt being sold already?”

“I don’t think the previous lord knew about it!”

“I don’t know about it, and I’m the lord!” Baris exclaimed.

“Yes, but you only just became the lord.”

“How did you find out about it?” Baris asked.

“I was talking to a salter, of course, they know about it,” Kalas said, as if it was obvious. “But they can’t offer you the deal that I can.”

Baris was intrigued. “What deal?”

“Well, the exclusive brokering deal. As a chandler, I can buy and sell anything.”

“So you’ll sell my salt, and give me the money?”

“Not all of it, a fair profit on my part is to be expected. But I assure you, you’ll make more money with me than you will with them. They’ve been known to take all of it – something about mineral rights, which I can’t do, because I’m not a salter. So with me, you’re protected!”

“Wow, thanks! So where is this salt?”

Kalas tipped back his mug. “That I’m not sure about. We’ll leave that up to the miners I’m going to hire.”

“Miners? Where does salt come from?”

“Well, as I understand it, there are three ways you can get salt. Sometimes it appears naturally on the surface, other times it’s in rocks and caves, or you can get it from the ocean, but I don’t think that’s an option for you. In your case I think it’s in caves.”

Baris shuddered, and suddenly saw cold reptilian eyes staring out at him from the dark, sharp teeth hungering for his flesh. Someone dropped a mug, and the skittering sound made Baris startle. The knight shook his head and came back to himself. “So what p … p … per … what number out of a hundred are you going to give me?”

“I think a sixty-forty split is fair!”

Baris mouthed the words sixty and forty, working the numbers out in his head.

“That means you would get sixty out of every hundred,” Kalas said patiently.

Baris smiled and opened his mouth, about to agree. But at that moment the image of a vlasta in his minds-eye morphed into Tora pursing her lips disapprovingly at him. “That sounds very nice, but I think I would like to consult with a lit … my man of business, to handle the details. He is much better at this thing than me.”

“That seems fair Sir Baris. Perhaps if I came back in a few days?”

The knight nodded. “That sounds good.”

Kalas tipped his head back and poured the last few drops of ale down his throat. “I’ll see you here!”

The knight smiled and offered his hand. “Have a good day! Tell your friends of the Elf & Dwarf!”

***

“Sir Baris!”

“Yes?” that worthy replied.

Arva, Goreg in tow, had returned to the Elf & Dwarf. She smiled up at the knight. “Be a dear and take me gambling.”

Baris blinked and just managed to keep his jaw shut, but after a moment he shrugged. “Have you ever been to Galopea’s feast? They have some great dog fights!”

“Take me somewhere you wouldn’t go,” the lass said.

Baris, aka Karl, aka Karla, thought to himself that there were very few places he wouldn’t go. “What kind of gambling, do you want to do?”

“Let’s assume you’re a member of the castle, where would you go. You have rank, status, what is your choice?”

“I think they would go to Galopea’s feast,” Baris said. “But there is a cockfighting place over in East side. We could try that.”

“Let’s hit a few places, and see what we find.”

“It sounds like a fun night!”

***

The stars were out, and a half moon gazed down upon the amphitheater outside the city walls. A man stood alone upon the stage. By day this amphitheater heard the laughter of the crowd at a play, or the words of an orator echoed off the stone tiers. By night it was the site of a surreptitious meeting. Lord Ewen strode down the steps and up onto the stage. His brother was already there. Ewen gave him a mocking bow, right arm outstretched, taking in the stage.

Arren smiled. “I would say you have a flair for the dramatic, but that would be wrong.”

“Not knowing the subject of this meeting Sir Arren, I thought this would provide a setting for a scope of activities.”

“Well, Lord Ewen, sometimes our purposes align. This is one of those occasions,” Arren said.

Ewen stepped back. “So I can take it we are not meeting on the basis of your plenipotentiary powers.”

“I’m not sure how plenary those powers are, but my office does have some small bearing. But then, I imagine, so does yours. I speak of course of the Shek-Pvar.”

Ewen nodded. “They have proven an inconvenience.”

“And they’re still at it.” Arren waved a hand. “You may be aware that there was a disturbance some nights ago.”

Ewen remembered blood, and a goat-headed creature. “I was aware of it.”

“I think all of us, of any sort of power, were. Certainly the scream woke me. I gave it very little thought, but I have since learned something that disturbs me. It seems that a dead mage has come back to life.”

“You refer to the former owner of my current home.”

Arren nodded. “I do.”

“A simple explanation is that he may never have been dead.”

“I heard he laid in a certain state for a year or longer. But another mage is missing. Perhaps he lies in a certain state somewhere, awaiting rebirth. Another mage has been killed.” He waved his hand towards the Orgael Wood. “She was hanging in the gibbets.”

“You refer to the mage Lumede.” The more dead mages the better, Ewen thought.

“The reanimated mage is residing is the house of the mage who is missing, Lumede, as you say.”

Ewen suppressed a smile. He knew that in fact the missing mage was dead.

“The truly disturbing part about all of this,” Arren began, “Is that I have learned that the missing mage apparently summoned a demon of some sort. And I can only imagine what purposes the noble Shek-Pvar were planning on putting such a creature to.”

“As you may be aware I had one of their lesser acolytes as a member of my household for some time,” Ewen said. “While she engaged in various experiments, none involved demons. I have not heard of them turning their attention to such things in the past.”

“Yes, she was a lesser acolyte. I can assure you Aethel Atan has dabbled in arts he’d rather not talk about. And the reanimated mage, one Astaroc, is of a level of power that is rarely attained. Only two, including the missing one, Tiselwaith or something, is powerful enough. In the spirit that our father insists upon, I found it appropriate to warn you.”

“I thank you for your courtesy, Sir Arren,” Ewen said to his brother.

“You are welcome, Lord Ewen.” Arren raised his hand. “One more thing. I will be keeping a close eye on these Shek-Pvar. Very close indeed. It may be that they have crossed their own line, in which case I will inform the appropriate authorities in Melderyn. Which you know, I can do in the blink of an eye.”

“Sir Arren, I hope you do so. They have proven to be meddlesome interferers, which I took to be a violation of their own rules.”

“Indeed, rules they are trying to impose on us. Now we can return to pretending we are not working at cross purposes.”

With a flourish, Arren walked off the stage, up the stairs, and into the night.

Ewen watched as his brother joined a man whom Cekiya, who had been spying on them, had told him was a priest, before heading off in the direction of the Heru gate. According to Cekiya his brother and the priest had arrived forty minutes prior to midnight. It was almost as if he had suspected a trap. Ewen grinned, and idly wondered whatever gave his brother the idea that he might be a danger to his family.

***

“I came here once with Imarë; she loved cockfights,” Baris told Arva. She stifled a laugh.

Arva, Goreg, and Baris were walking down a narrow alley; the eves loomed close. The harper wrinkled her nose at the stench and stepped past something she did her best not to identify.

They came to a tiny door, a step below ground level. The knight knocked, and after a moment the door opened an inch. “You guys do cockfighting here?” the knight asked the peering eye. Arva could make out nothing more in the darkness.

“Round front.”

“Oh, sorry.”

Baris led the way out of the alley. Arva was happy to be away from the scent of offal. The knight knocked again.

“Yah?”

“I heard there was cockfighting here.”

The door opened, releasing a clamor, and a different kind of stench.

“Gotta pay the entry fee – everybody but her. Penny a head.”

Baris dug some money from his pouch, paid the man, and stepped in. Inside was a ring built of wooden planks, surrounded by raised benches. Men of varying classes, mostly the urban poor, laborers, a handful of journeymen and apprentices, all stood around the ring. On one went was a small crowd of a more genteel variety, probably guildmasters and royal officials. No matter their social standing the men yelled in joy or rage at each move of the two roosters fighting in the center of the ring, wicked spurs tied to their legs. With each squawk and lunge blood splattered onto the sand. The place smelled of sweat, alcohol, stale breath, and copper. Ale dripped from beards as money changed hands as the betting was fast and furious.

Soon the fight was over. Quickly servants removed the roosters, swept the sand, and brought out the next two fighters. Baris began talking about the qualities of the roosters, which one looked more bloodthirsty, which one looked quicker. “See that scar on that one? He’s tough, has seen some fights, but that’ll slow him down ...”

Arva stopped listening. The fight began and the knight was focused on the arena. She looked over at Goreg who was similarly enthralled. While they were distracted the harper made her way over to the more well-off group of spectators.

“What am I looking at?” Arva asked the gathered throng.

“Let me help you there,” a man said, coming beside her. He began a technical, but not too complex, explanation of the finer points of cockfighting. While pointing out a particularly interesting move, he touched her on the shoulder.

Arva smiled.

“This match is almost over,” the man said. “You can see Fearsome is about to go down. But perhaps you’d like to place a bet on the next match?”

“You’d help me?”

The man smiled. “Of course.”

***

The fight was winding down. Goreg turned to Arva to ask if she wanted to place a bet on the next match, but she was not there. Baris was still talking to the air, explaining to the non-existent harper all the ins and outs of the fight. The squire looked around for the woman, and to his horror he saw her next to his cousin, Sir Harant Martaryne! The man had his hand on her shoulder, and he was married, Goreg thought disgustedly.

The squire left the still lecturing Baris, who was now really acting out each move with his hands, and dodged drunken bettors to make his way over to Arva.

“Sir Harant! How good to see you.”

Harant looked up from the harper and noticed him. “Goreg,” he grunted, clearly annoyed.

“I’m here with her,” the squire motioned to Arva, “and Sir Baris,” and he pointed at that worthy knight.

Harant takes hand off Arva’s shoulder.

“Well, I’ll rejoin Sir Baris,” Goreg said with satisfaction.

***

“You know my cousin?” Harant asked Arva.

“I asked Sir Baris to take me gambling.”

“So you don’t know Goreg.”

Arva shook her head. “No.”

“Well, let me tell you about the next fight. I happen to know the owner. He is going to win – we have an arrangement.” Harant gestured to a disfigurement on his cheek. “Do you know how I got his scar?”

“No, Arva admitted.”

Harant told Arva of a fight he had at the tournament, the screams of his foe.

“What was your name again?” the harper asked.

“Sir Harant.”

“I am Arva. It was a pleasure to meet you, but I can see my escort is antsy, so we will have to move on to the next place.”

“If your current escort is antsy, perhaps you need a new escort.”

Arva smiled and looked around. “Well, is this the only place you go?”

“It is not the only place I go, but it is the best place for gambling.”

“Where else do you go?” Arva wondered.

“Galopea’s has fights. They do dogs there, and sometimes people.”

Arva pretend to shudder. “I don’t know if I could watch a people fight.”

“Bare knuckle gambling is not for everyone,” Harant said. “Do you have any interests besides gambling?”

“I am a musician,” Arva replied.

“I cannot help you there. The House of Courtesans does that, but I do not frequent there.”

“Oh, you prefer the cocks, I understand?”

Harant blinked. “Only for gambling.” He put his hand on Arva’s shoulder. “Perhaps, we can indulge your love of music. There is often a musical interlude in the evenings,” he paused dramatically, “at the castle.”

Arva gasped. “The castle, really? But I am just a harper, I don’t know how I can get into the castle.”

“I am the Chief Clerk of the Chamber. They more or less have to let me into the castle.”

Arva smiled. “I bet the musicians they bring in are lovely.”

“I could give you a tour of the chambers.”

Arva took Harant’s arm. “A tour would be lovely.”

As she walked by Baris and Goreg, Arva saw Baris give her a quizzical look, asking if she was okay. She smiled and waved at him to let the knight know she was under no duress. She did not miss the disapproving glare Goreg threw Harant. The harper stifled a smile.

***

Arva enjoyed an evening with Harant at the castle. The music was beautiful. Stimos came by at one point, and she winked. The harper even caught a glance of the Queen. I would have thought she was older, she mused.

After the court musician finished, Harant gave her a tour. She refused to let him take her to any empty chambers, however. He introduced her to Sir Harapa Indama.

As he was escorting her to the Elf & Dwarf, Arva asked Harant a question. “I have heard of someone named Andel, do you know who that is?”

“You mean Andel Gebar?” Harant replied.

“Yes.”

“Oh. He is just the secretary to the exchequer; nobody, really. Although he does know cockfighting.”

“Ah, and here we are.” They had arrived at the Elf & Dwarf. Arva gave Harant a peck on the cheek.

“I’d love to do this again sometime,” he said.

“You can find me here, or leave a note if I am performing elsewhere.”

“If I can be of assistance opening doors for your performances, I would be happy to do so.”

She smiled and left him standing in the byway.

Halane 11, 732

“What do you know about Sir Harant?” Arva asked.

It was after breakfast, and Arva had cornered Goreg in a storeroom.

“He is married to Lady Farlla, but she is grumpy. When his mother died, they took in my mother; she is a distant cousin. I know he works for the castle bureaucracy, but I don’t know exactly what he does. I heard he was at the tournament at Varayne, and was injured.”

“Thank you Goreg. Why don’t you come by the Elf & Dwarf tonight? I’ll be playing again.” She smiled, and was off.

***

Goreg, having finally caught up with his mother, Lady Ralgen, twitched uncomfortably at the need to meet with her in a public setting. Try as he might, he could not avoid the notion that something was not right in Martaryne House.

“How have you been, Goreg? I hear your master has been promoted.”

Goreg and his mother sat at a small table by the window in the Tower Inn. Her mug was full of apple brandy, his of ale.

“Yes, I am squire to a baron now.” Goreg took a sip of ale. “Are you happy, mother?”

“Happy is a strong word. I am not unhappy. They treat me well. Farlla and I, we have different ways.”

“Is Sir Harant treating you well?”

Lady Ralgen sipped her brandy. “Yes.”

“You know, I could ask Ewen if he has a position for you.”

The woman nodded her thanks, but said no more.

Goreg told her all that had happened lately. Well, all he could remember. His memory of a few days prior was a little fuzzy for some reason. “But I feel the kingdom is on the verge of a golden age with men of Ewen’s caliber in control.”

***

“Sir Aeomund, if there is anything you need, please let us know. If you need the assistance of a scribe, we would be happy to provide one. Is there anything in particular you are interested in today?”

Aeomund was in the library at Temple of Save-K’nor. There were so many books and scrolls, he was overwhelmed.

“No, today I am just indulging my curiosity, thank you.” In fact, the knight was looking for a genealogy of Melderyn. With some assistance from one of the scribes he found the Melderyn section. It was not as extensive as he would like; he suspected there were secret archives.

A short time later Aeomund sat at a table with a copy of a survey that had done about fifteen years prior. It must have been brought from Vil Abbey, one of the various holdings of Melderyn. The knight found a listing for Lydel under Shenap Keep.

Aeomund wondered if Shenap was the same as Shenap wine. The listing did refer to it as a center of viticulture. He read on and learned that the Sheriff of Cherfinshire was one Sir Clyve Lydel. The Lydel family held four manors under the royal keep of Shenap, and three subsidiary manors; nearly 10,000 acres all told, according to the knight’s calculations. The arms of Lydel were intertwined arms, fists closed. The bearded knight noted with interest that the colors were similar to those of Sir Arren Lydel.

While he was there, Aeomund looked up Lady Alyce as well. He read about the Dulye, and admired their arms. They held a set of manors from Cherafir, the capital city. Their principal manor was Geortir. The entry noted that the present king’s great-great-aunt married a man named Ranyk Dulye, of whom there were descendants, twins amongst them. According to the document they were still alive, though there whereabouts of one was unknown. Another was said to have married a mage by the name Golor the Quick.

“Notorious affair with traveler, Gustine of Hyppa. Possible bastard. Despite not being in succession, family considered Royal by the Parkhursts.” Fascinating, thought the bearded knight.

***

“Milord? If you will recall, when I entered your service, you were given word of my mother.” It was the end of the day on the eleventh. Goreg was speaking to Ewen in his parlor.

“Yes, I remember,” lord Ewen said.

“I spoke with her today. I’m afraid she isn’t being treated very well. The lady of the house is a stickler- is of ill-humor, and I fear …”

Ewen cut him off. “Now Goreg, you will understand that ladies of a certain age tend to be difficult. Does this go beyond that normal difficulty?”

“I fear the lady has taken a dislike to her.”

“On what grounds?” Ewen asked.

“They took her out of charity. That may go sour. I realize it isn’t my place, but I was curious if there was a place amongst your properties that could be found where she could earn her keep. She is a very good worker, my mother.”

“What type of work?”

“That is not my place to decide; we are at your mercy. She is a noblewoman, though, my lord.”

Ewen stroked his beard. “In that case, the sort of work we are talking about would be looking after a household, or overseeing a bevy of servants.”

Goreg nodded. “That would be ideal.”

“Do you anticipate her need to be temporary or permanent?”

“Permanent I would think. She needs a place, sustenance. At some point I hope to provide for her, but I don’t know when that would be.”

“I hope, Goreg, that you possess healthy ambitions any man of your position would.”

Goreg stood up straight. “I am certainly in the right place to exercise them, milord.”

“I asked about permanence earlier, Goreg, because it has come to my attention that the household previously maintained by my lady wife has been left understaffed in her absence, and it might be best for someone of good sense and responsible habits to look after it. At this time there is just a single cook left. So you will understand the disposition of that household is likely to revert to my lady-wife’s decision making, once she is done with her current task, which is bearing my child. What I am saying is, if your mother gives satisfactory service, my lady wife may keep her on, but I could not guarantee that at this time.”

“That sounds like an excellent course of action.”

Ewen nodded. “Very good. It is my understanding that Arva of Kerryn paid a visit to the townhouse with Cekiya. I will pen a note, but it may make sense for you three to pay a visit.”

“Thank you milord.”

***

Halane 12-14, 732

The days until the fifteenth came and went. On the twelfth the rain from the previous day finally stopped. The sun hid its face the next few days.

On the twelfth Goreg made his way to Martaryne house. “I found you a new place to live,” he told his mother.

“Oh, son, you shouldn’t have gone to any trouble.”

“It wasn’t any trouble, mother. It was done by the grace of Lord Ewen.”

On the thirteenth Goreg’s mother moved into Thilisa’s place in Medrik. The cook was delighted to have someone to cook for. The squire stayed for dinner. After the brandy had been flowing she confessed the main reason she wanted to leave was because Harant had been making advances upon her.

“Oh, I thought otherwise when I saw him at that cockfight,” Goreg said.

As Goreg returned home later that evening, he found a knife on his bed, with a note. “Cut the damn apron string. Arva”

Sir Ritzar spent his days at Raven Hall until it was clear he had no duties, at which point he went next door. The servants whispered that he was sleeping with Clodya the harper.

At one point Prehil made his usual entrance. “Ewen! Baris! You magnificent bastards! Let’s get drunk!”

Halane 15, 732

The day of the banquet finally arrived. The gloomy skies persisted until finally giving way to rain in the evening.

Another note departed Raven Hall, bound for Curo House. In it Ewen made it clear that if Curo had plans for the evening, he would have to let him know in order to expect support. There was no answer.

That evening Lord Ewen, Sir Aeomund, Sir Baris, and Arva as a guest of Ewen went to the banquet. Goreg, a mere squire, was relegated to an antechamber.

The castle was abuzz with people. The Royal guardsmen had their hands full keeping security. The great hall was full of notable personages, including the Earl of Balim, Sir Scina Dariune, Lady Donesyn Dariune; Sir Arlbis Hirnen and Sir Gorbar Eloriath; Lady Serli Ubael; Churus Londel, the Baron of Yeged; Sir Harapa Indama; Rekela Tyrnal Dariune, the Lord Chancellor; the Baron of Kobe, Lord Marshal and his son Sir Prehil Firith; the Sulaplyn of Temple of Peoni; the Archbishop of Kaldor, Edine Kynn; the High Priestess of Save-K’norian temple, Derenli Arvoult, Sir Fago Rheeder; Sirs Meden and Kytem Curo; the Baron of Stimos; Sir Arren Lydel and Lady Alyce Dulye; Aethel Atan; Astaroc Cranelson; and of course Lady Cheselyne Hosath. There were none in the room who was not someone of rank, or with someone of rank. No guildsmen were present in their own right for it was a purely noble gathering. Except for Osel and Vemion, all the tenants-in-chief of the Crown were present.

“I didn’t know you kept such high company,” Sir Fago Rheeder said to Arva as she came upon him.

“I’m just an acquaintance,” the harper replied.

“You are more than just an acquaintance to finagle an invitation the most coveted social event of the year.” Fago said.

Arva smiled. “I asked nicely.”

“Did you ask ... nicely?”

Arva shrugged. “Nice enough, I’m here.”

Fago sipped three times. “I imagine so.”

***

Meanwhile, across the room, Lord Ewen was speaking with Astaroc. “Weren’t you just a hedge knight when you came to Kaldor?”

“I was,” Ewen confirmed.

Astaroc waved at the gathered throng. “And here you are now, a baron.”

Ewen changed the subject. “How are you enjoying your new domicile?”

Astaroc shook his head. “Not very much. But to be perfectly honest I don’t much care where I live. And I’m almost happy to be rid of your place. It was too big, you know. My steward was always having me take in lodgers.”

“I imagine such could be inconvenient when you’re doing research,” Ewen said.

“Sir Telberan Brailour was the worst! He kept trying to pretend he was a guard! The only regret I have is that the house was bequeathed to me by my dear aunt. The one in the tapestry.”

“You’ll be happy to know we haven’t disturbed the tapestry.”

“As well it shouldn’t be! But you, you are a social upstart!”

Ewen grinned. “I like to think about myself as ambitious.”

“Ambitious men are the bane of the world!” Astaroc exclaimed. “I’ve said so myself for a very long time.”

Ewen turned his head and gestured at the gathered nobility. “Have you been to one of these banquets before? I suppose they are a tradition.”

“No, they haven’t invited me before.”

“I suppose you had to die first to be invited to be one of these things.”

“Perhaps,” Astaroc said. “Or maybe the King does.”

“What an awkward thing to say.”

“I’ve seen several come and go, you know.”

Ewen narrowed his eyes. “How old are you?”

“Old? Old enough.”

“Older even than Aethel Atan?”

“Oh yes.” Astaroc chuckled. “I knew him when he was but a child.”

“What is the secret to longevity?”

The mage laughed. “Mine, or his?”

“Yours, of course, if you are the senior of the two.”

“Mine are good genes! Better blood! In Aethel’s case, I don’t think he would want me to tell you what his secret is.”

“Then you mustn’t break a confidence. If you want the tapestry returned, please let me know. I assume you are living at Tiselwaith’s house?”

“That is very kind of you my lord,” Astaroc said. “I have taken possession of Lumede of Tiselwaith’s house. I have let his family stay.”

“That is very generous of you.”

“I may yet ask you for the tapestry. But in the event of my death, return the tapestry here to Caer Elendsa, where it ultimately belongs.”

“I will do so, although it is yet to be seen which of us will predecease the other.”

“Yes. You are playing a very dangerous game. You are virtually uninsurable.”

“Believe me, Astaroc, I am very well aware of that.”

“I do not bear you any personal ill will, you know?”

Ewen nodded. “I do.”

Astaroc looked behind Ewen’s back. “Where is your servant, Kaelyn? I liked her, she brought me cake.”

“She has left my service. She left my service for Cherafir.”

“You say Cherafir, I say Chyrefal.” The old man chuckled. “I am pleased to hear you say it that way. So she has gone to Chyrefal. I will send a letter.”

There was movement around them; people were beginning to be seated. Astaroc inclined his head. “Good evening, my lord.”

Once everyone was escorted to their seats, the Queen made an entrance. The Earl of Balim, Harapa, Meden and the Archbishop were all seated on the upper dais, along with their appropriate retinues.

Near Ewen, Aeomund had stood up and seemed to be arguing with one of the passing stewards. “There seems to be some mistake, as a member of the Order of the Lady of Paladins I should be seated near the Archbishop.”

“No sir, you are part of Lord Ternua’s retinue,” the steward said.

Aeomund pursed his lips. “I didn’t realize there was that distinction among the Order of the Lady of Paladins.”

“There is.”

Aeomund grudgingly sat back down.

The dinner progressed without incident until one of the final courses was served. At that moment there was a commotion near one of the tapestries, one bearing the Elendsa arms. A man burst into the room, naked but for a crown. Ewen stood and dazedly realized he gazed upon the King, in all his glory.

Up on the dais the Queen was also on her feet. She appeared petrified in rage, waving her arms and able to only get out, “deal with him!”

“Yes my lady!” a servant said, and just like that cut the queen’s throat with a dagger. The blood ran quickly, soaking her white dress. The Queen’s eyes were wide as she collapsed.

Ewen stood still in shock. Part of his brain noted a familiar milky white substance upon the blade that had killed the Queen: gaethipa, a Navite poison.

“Get him back!” Balim yelled, pointing at the King. Servants rushed about. His back was to the Queen, and he didn’t know what had happened yet.

“The Queen, the Queen!” the screams went up. Guards rushed about the room. “Peoni welcomes her!” the murderous servant screamed just before being pummeled unconscious by half a dozen swords.

Another group of guards escorted the King from the hall.

Sir Meden looked to Lord Balim. “It seems clear we will need to call a meeting of the council tomorrow morning.”

“This is wonderful!” Arva exclaimed. “The last time I was here, there was a beheading! Do people always die at these events?”
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