Session One Hundred Forty-Two - November 18, 2017

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

Session One Hundred Forty-Two - November 18, 2017

Postby Matt » Wed Jan 03, 2018 12:34 pm

Nuzyael 12, 733

The previous day’s rain had ceased, replaced by a dense fog that hid Tashal from itself. Out of the mist came a royal messenger with a summons. Her Grace the Queen was inclined to the company of Lord Ewen and Sir Aeomund.

When the pair reached the castle gates, they were not shown inside the keep, but taken around the far side, to the gardens. As they approached, they could hear the sound of metal on metal. The Queen and all her court were practicing the arts of war, sparring with rebated swords, the Queen herself in shining armor.

“Lord Ewen! Good morning!” They were greeted by Lenera Firith, new Lord Chamberlain ever since the deal that had instituted the present regime.

“Good morning, milady.” They both bowed.

“Thank you for being so prompt. And Sir Aeomund! So good to see you again.”

Noticing her vassal’s arrival, the Queen concluded her match and moved to meet them.

“Good morning, gentlemen. I need to speak with you both—but Sir Aeomund first, I think.”

“Your Grace.” Aeomund recognized his Queen’s attention.

“As you may know, the Soylana Assembly of the Kaldoric Branch of the Lady of Paladins plans to meet and deliberate its future. I require a representative at that assembly, and I can think of no better choice than you.”

“It would be my honor. However, I am bound to the Lord of Ternua. Only with his leave may I undertake such a mission.”

The Queen turned, cocked her head and said “Milord?”

“Sir Aeomund has my leave, be it your pleasure--though it may be a telling blow you give to me. I was counting on his offices as being critical on our impending journey.”

“I have not forgotten. And I have taken some steps. Thank you, Sir Aeomund. Please wait to attend me.”

Sir Aeomund bowed and withdrew to a deeper part of the garden, passing beyond evergreen hedges and disappearing from sight.

“Now, Lord Ewen, since you bring up the subject—ah, just in time!”

The Earl of Balim, Chancellor of the Exchequer of Kaldor, shuffled out into the grounds, clad in fine—and warm—furs.

“Good morning, Your Grace, and to you, Lord Ewen.”

The Queen continued. “I leave it to you, Lord Ewen, to decide when you should depart. But there are a handful of details. I will have a letter and a small casket of gifts for you to present to King Hazmadul III. Let me impart, however, the general gist, since you should know the nature of your mission.”

She began to stroll the paths of the garden. Ewen and Balim followed in her train.

“Your first and primary goal, even if everything else were to be sacrificed, is the safe arrival of the Silver Caravan in Tashal. It may be that you shall return with it. I do not know. The timing of the first caravan—there are two, you know—is known only to the Khuzan. If you find it expedient, you could return with it, which would mean you could also aid in its defense.”

“Yes, your Grace.”

“Your second objective is to reroute the caravan. Ordinarily, three-quarters of the train, after crossing Naniom bridge, continues down the Silver Way to Gardiren, thence to Tashal. The remaining quarter barges down the Nephen to Kiban, then continues to rejoin the rest. The Kiban route is relatively new, only fifteen or so years old. Dwarves are notoriously loath to change their ways. They will not want to change the route. You are going to have to convince them to do so. For the entire caravan to travel through Kiban accomplishes two things: first, it prevents a repeat of last year’s unpleasantness, and second, it will impact Gardiren’s economy quite severely.”

Lord Ewen gave a sly smile. Gardiren was the seat of the Earls of Neph, and the Silver Caravan a chief source of Meden Curo’s funds. Kiban was the seat of the Earls of Balim. The new Queen was rewarding friends and punishing foes.

“I understand, your Grace.”

“I am sure you do. The third objective, least important, but not unimportant, is to see if you can get the Khuzan to commit a larger escort for the caravan than they typically do. The Lady of Paladins usually takes over escort duties at the Ford. We would like the dwarves to go as far as Naniom Bridge, if not farther. Just to be sure.”

Lord Ewen nodded.

“By the way--I am aware that a number of my barons have, in the confusion of the past year, neglected to render their feudal dues to the Exchequer. It appears you are among them. However, this is a great challenge, fraught with peril, which you are undertaking on my behalf. You will also be away for quite some time, and this will cause you hardship. Therefore, I remit half the dues from last year.”

“Your Grace is generous. I am sure all these financial matters will be tided up.”

“Oh, yes. Lord Balim will be sending people to various places around the kingdom. Now, I assume from that remittance you will have no difficulty in funding the embassy.”

“I don’t anticipate any, your grace.”

“Good. On to other matters.” She beckoned to a nearby man. “This is Jorlak of Falesh. He is a caravan master, and has made the trip--how many times?”

“I’ve lost track, your Grace.”

“At least one hundred, I’m sure. He should be an effective guide for you.”

“Excellent,” said Ewen.

“And there is one more.” The Queen gestured for another man, a slight figure clad in green, to come forward. A crescent-shaped scar ran from his right temple down the cheek to his jawline. As they approached, Ewen realized it was in fact a woman—and a Deryni.

“This is Mellori of Ulmerl. She is something of a woodsman, skilled at tracking. She also has certain skills that I believe you are familiar with, such that I possess.”

By which the Queen must mean the woman was a Shek Pvar. A Deryni Shek-Pvar? “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“Yes, milord.” She spoke with a Melderyni accent. She betrayed no connection with Jorlak, standing next to her.

“Did you have any questions, Lord Ewen?”

“No, your Grace. It still lies before me to select a number of knights to accompany me. I will send word when I have the retinue fully numbered.”

“Excellent. The necessary credentials and materials will be delivered to you.”

Balim caught him on the way out of the garden. “Lord Ewen, on your way to Azadmere you will pass through Kiban. I would be pleased to offer you the hospitality of my home. I shall give you a letter to pass on to my wife. In addition, arrangements have been made for you to be the guests of Abbot Valric Belgine at Lethyl Abbey, near Getha. We have requested an escort of the Lady of Paladins as far as the bridge—though that is the least perilous part of the route.”

“Thank you. I do have one question. What is the earliest the Caravan has ever arrived in Kaldor?”

“Late Nolus, but that would be extremely early indeed. The more usual arrival date is in early Larane.”

“How long is the trek?

“Eight to ten days.”

“Well, Lord Balim, I have no further questions.”

“Very good. It would be prudent to leave within the week.”

“I will send word to the castle when my departure is clear, so the Lady of Paladins escort might be ready.”

“We’ve already sent ahead that information. They’ll be expecting you when you arrive. Jenkald is the chapter house nearby. There is also Hakstyn Manor. They should be able to send five to ten men. The primary issue in that region, it being wilderness, is the occasional bandit. It would be unfortunate if they decided you would be an easy target, even though we both know you would not be.”

Lord Ewen departed, followed by his pair of new retainers. Jorlak had his own lodging in the city, but Mellori claimed no shelter, so Ewen ordered her to Raven Hall.

Along the way, he said “Tell me, how long have you been in Kaldor?”

“Four years, milord. I know the Queen from … school.” At that she gave a little smile.

“Yes, one of my retinue, a Kaelyn of Aletta, attended a similar school.”

“I know a family by that name in Thay.”

“Most likely relatives. She has returned to those parts.”

“To where?”

“To Chyrefal, I believe.”

“Yes, I understand they have a small academy there.”

“It may be that my household was not sufficiently sedate for her, and she yearned for the comforts of academe. Although I did manage to exact from her some intention of returning.”

“I am sure she will. I have already made that journey.”

“I see. You are accomplished, then?”

“You have a question you’re not asking, milord.”

“My retainer Kaelyn spoke of areas of study. I am curious to know what ... ‘convocation’ … you have chosen?”

“That is the word. I am a Fyvrian. But you also know that we share a heritage.”

“Yes, we do.”

“It would be appropriate for you to lay down some ground rules, as it were.”

“My heritage is not something I have been very public about since my arrival.”

“That is wise. Always better to keep a low profile.”

“I haven’t done quite that.”

Mellori chuckled.

“So in my experience, a woodsman typically serves some noble person on their estate. Have you been attached to one of my peers here in Kaldor?”

“The Queen’s use of the word ‘woodsman’ was something of a misnomer. I do have certain skills useful in the wilderness.”

Now Ewen understood. “She was speaking of the convocation.”

“Yes. I have not been attached to anyone’s retinue. I have spent some time in the vicinity of Uldien, which is where the Queen grew up.”

“Yes, my brother-in-law hails from there—or my wife’s brother-in-law, to be specific. Sir Karsin Ubael the Younger.”

“So your wife is sister to Lady Camissa?”

“Elder sister.”

“Which would make her the Dowager Countess of Osel.”

“Yes. My wife is Thilisa Ravinargh.”

“Baroness of Ternua. I find the titles hard to keep straight.”

It seemed to Ewen she had them quite striaght. “Yes, titles do have a way of changing frequently.”

“I am, but the simple daughter of a guildsman, from a family of masons. Such things are for people like you. But I will follow your lead, and keep a low profile.”

“Greatly appreciated.”

“The Queen is unaware of my heritage.”

“I think it would be best for that to remain the case, in the tradition of our people.”

When they arrived at Raven Hall, Ewen called for Arva. “She will take you in hand and make accommodations, but pray don’t hesitate to call upon me. I will keep your apprised in the progress we make for your departure. I am pleased to have you accompanying us.”

“Thank you, Lord Ternua. If there’s anything you need me to help you with, let me know.”

Arva led the Shek-Pvar to the fourth floor, where they found a berth for her.


Ewen sat in his study and tried to puzzle out the best complement to bring on the embassy. Eight slots were occupied: Ewen, Baris, Goreg, Baris’s squire, Arva, Cekiya, Mellori and Jorlak. Adding Sir Ritzar would make nine.

His inquiries to the Khuzan weaponcrafter in Varayne had come to naught. Ewen was now more sure than ever than the man was in exile of some sort. He had, at least, agreed to give Ewen a letter of introduction to a relative. Her name was Sigam Asandril. The weaponcrafter said she was born to a weaponcrafter clan, the Dyraks, but then been adopted into the Asandril clan. As herald to the Steward of Zerhun, she could be a valuable contact.

Sir Reklan Pulgarty was in Tashal now, performing his feudal duty. Would he be a useful addition? Yes, he would. Sir Hogan would make ten, and Sir Reklan eleven. That would be enough.

“Could we convince Prehil to come along?” Sir Baris said. “He has that baby coming. He might want to get out of Tashal.”

Lord Ewen ignored him. “Fetch Sergeant Denyl.”

The man-at-arms appeared. “Yes, milord?” he bellowed.

“Pick four men to accompany us to Azadmere. I want your best. This is a hazardous journey.”

“Yes, milord! From Raven Hall or Varayne, sir?”

“Whichever you see fit.”

Ewen racked his brain for a gift from himself to bring for the dwarven king. He settled on four glass bottles of apple brandy from his own estate, sealed with wax bearing his arms. Bae of Rysten could make the bottles for 72d total.

While he was taking care of paperwork, Ewen scribbled out a note to Ternua: send along the feudal dues, half of Ewen’s (as had been discussed with the Queen), all of the Baron of Nenda’s, but none of those of Kolorn given to him for safekeeping. Those funds were due not to the crown, but to the Earl of Vemion, and Ewen had no interest in giving the earl even a penny more in resources.

Ewen scanned the paperwork. His crown dues came to £542, £271 of which were now remitted to his purse. The Bastune windfall was another £211. Not bad.

Ewen called his new retainer in for a question. “Jorlak, are there circumstances that would dictate our pace on the way to the ford? Any reason we should hurry?”

“The Guthe runoff will be such that a caravan of mules won’t be able to ford any time before early Peonu, a month from now. A small party on horses should be able to push across at the end of the month, if they are willing to endure the cold and current.”

“So there’s no reason to hurry.”

“The contrary, milord. If we arrive early, we’ll have to wait for the flow to reduce. That will mean camping, exposed and in danger.”

Good to know. For the first leg, through settled lands, they could tarry as opportunities presented.


Nuzyael 16, 733

The Kaldoric embassy to the Kingdom of Azadmere of 733 departed that morning, a bright day with a touch of frost. Lord Ewen mounted his new riding horse, which he had purchased for 360d. Iblis was a magnificent steed, but would not do for the hard riding and rocky trails they would face. History looked over the expedition’s shoulders as they readied their mounts and prepared to set out to the mysterious mountain kingdom of the dwarves.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” said Sir Baris.

Goreg took the point. He carried Lord Ewen’s banner, the square pennant displaying his arms snapping in the morning breeze. Sir Ritzar and Sir Reklan brought up the rear, the two knights lost in intense conversation. Jorlak led the pack horse. Aboard that steed was the necessary equipment of the embassy, but Ewen kept his credentials close, and Arva had the royal gifts. She had made copies of all written documents they were bringing, so Ewen could keep an eye on the originals.

Everyone wore their best armor, except Sir Baris. He had on his second-best.

They headed east on the Querina Road. Because it has not rained in five days, the trail was dry and compact. The party made good progress, and passed through Querina without stopping about noon.

Late in the day they finally arrived at Kiban. The gates stood open, beckoning invitingly. A guard kept watch outside.

“You’ll need an escort, milord,” said the unenthused man-at-arms.

“Then escort me. I am the Baron of Ternua, calling on the Countess of Balim. I bear a letter from her husband.”

That made folks hop. The embassy was brought inside. The sergeant in charge inspected their documents.

“Welcome, milord. These men will take your horses to the stables. Please follow me to the bailey.”

A well-dressed gentleman appeared, followed by a scribe.

“I am Sir Cyrel Ruskart, chamberlain.”

“Sir Cyrel, I am the Baron of Ternua.”

“Welcome, milord. I had heard there was a new lord Ternua. I am pleased to make your acquaintance. The previous holder of that title never graced this castle.”

“I am pleased to do so. It appears that I shall be prevailing upon the Countess’s hospitality.”

“Of course. Er—I don’t see his Lordship the Earl.”

Ewen passed over the letter he had from Balim. The chamberlain read it and handed it over to the scribe.

“Very good. I see your squires are only two?”

“Yes. Perforce we travel light.”

Sir Cyrel ordered the stable hands to help the squire. Goreg shortly found himself performing the same chores he would have in Tashal. Ewen was shown into the depths of the castle.

“You’ll forgive me, milord, but it sometimes difficult to tell the gentle from not-so-gentle. I trust you will divide your people. If you wish to come into the great hall, we shall have food, drink, basins and wash cloths brought”

“Thank you, Sir Cyrel.”

They passed through a wooden board, there to prevent access to the keep in event of attack. Through a guardroom, and then another guardroom, they entered into the great hall. There a small army of servants hustled to bring the embassy ale and sausage and wine. The weary group descended on the food.

As they ate, a grotesque face peered out of the nearby tower staircase. Its eyes lit up, a smile erupted, and a little man in a harlequin’s hat dashed out and scampered around the room. He flitted this way and that, then jumped on Sir Baris’ back like a squirrel on a post.

“Bet none of you can do that!” he cried.

“None of us would want to,” said Ewen.

Baris twitched and grabbed, trying to get the little man off him, but his exertions left his ale undefended. The little man grabbed the tankard and sank the pint in one gulp. Then he flipped onto the floor and began to dance a merry caper.

“My ale! Bring more!” Baris demanded. The rest of the knights chuckled.

“Note, Goreg, how the fool latches on to the appropriate target,” Ewen instructed his squire.

The little man peered at Baris. “Tell me, yer majesty, do ye have a penny?”

Baris gave him a pence.

“There ya go – fair payment for a mug of ale!”

“Now I’m being paid to be robbed!”

“No, I am!” the fool replied. “Look at this penny! It bears the head of King Miginath, of happy memory!”

From a far staircase a lady’s voice boomed. “Zyro! Begone!”

“Cheese it!” the fool squealed. “It’s the boss.”

Ewen rose as the mistress of the castle entered, accompanied by another lady and Sir Cyrel. “Milord of Ternua, I am Olena Dariune, Countess of Balim. Welcome to Kiban.”

Ewen bowed. “Milady Countess, thank you for your welcome. I apologize for imposing on your hospitality.”

“Not at all. My husband’s needs are the crown’s desire. He is, but a humble servant of the crown. I understand you are on royal business.”

“I bear the honor of serving her Grace the Queen on an embassy. A new experience for me, one that I am keen to be upon.”

“I am sure you will acquit yourself splendidly. I apologize to your man. Our fool likes to make fools of others. Your penny will be returned to you, sir.”

“Oh, no need,” said Sir Baris.

“My husband finds Zyro diverting. I find him a tedious little monkey who’s always underfoot. My sister-in-law has stated that if he ever sets foot in Balim House, she’ll set the dogs on him. There are no dogs, but he doesn’t know that. If you have been quite refreshed, I’m afraid we have already dined. But I hope you would stay long enough to join us tomorrow.”

“I’m sure my knights will not mind tarrying. Given the hardships they will face later, they will relish the extra day.”

“Very good. Oh, where are my manners?” The Countess and the Lord introduced one another’s entourages.

The Baron of Ternua was lodged in the West Hawk Tower. The tower immediately to the north was made available for most of his party. Sir Baris, the Countess apologized, would have to bunk in the southeastern tower—the castle’s prison.

“Ah, but here’s the key! You are not a prisoner, sir.”

“As long as there’s not a rack in there, I’ll perfectly comfortable!”

“No, no, of course not. That’s in the summer. But Sir Baris, watch Zyro. He may try to steal that key and lock you in!”

So Sir Baris kept a sharp eye on the fool, so sharp an eye that he didn’t even notice Arva snatching the key out of his pocket. She took it to Lord Ewen.

“Just so you know, Sir Baris won’t be roaming the halls.”

“Good thinking,” said Ewen, and claimed the key.

Arva and Cekiya spent the evening scouting about the town. Prior to departing the castle, they told the guards they were leaving.

In the morning, Sir Baris awoke to find himself locked in his room. He tore his baggage apart in a futile search for the key.

Ewen appeared at the door.

“Sir Baris,” he said, shaking his head. “Did you go past the fool?”

“He must have been invisible! He’s a magician!”

“We’ll try to find the spare key. Don’t panic!”

Ewen let his liege man sweat it out for a while, then returned and tossed Baris the key without a word.

“What did you do to this place?” Ewen asked when the door was opened.

The Countess did not appear at breakfast, but Sir Darik Wyant did. He introduced himself as captain of the guard, eldest son of the lord of Thadel manor.

To pass the morning, Ewen sought out the Countess for conversation. He was on his best manners, deliberate and gracious. Lady Olena mentioned that Sir Scina’s toddler son was in the family quarters, but Ewen didn’t see the lad.

The rest of the party occupied themselves in leisure. Sir Baris took the opportunity to do some hawking. A pleasant time, all too short.


Nuzyael 18, 733

The next morning, the embassy got back on the trail. The party made their way over the countryside, through Shebra, Fisen, and Uldien, and finally arrived at Lethyl Abbey.

At least the roof appears to be in good repair, Ewen thought in relief.

The party was long-expected. They were shown to quarters in the guest house, and Ewen was invited to dine with the Serolan, one Valric Belgine. The meal was a trial, for Ewen found the man to be a strict martinet, and a tedious little provincial nobleman.

During the taxing dinner, Sir Baris overheard a conversation between Sir Ritzar and Sir Reklan.

“... one inn in town, the Dancing Trout. But there’s a room only for nobles. Too posh for whores,” Sir Ritzar said.

Sir Reklan seemed disappointed.

Sir Ritzar said “What about in Getha?”

“Too far.”

“Not that far.”

“We’d never make it in time.”

“Like they’re going to miss us. They’re not doing a head count every morning.”

Sir Baris recalled how Lord Ewen had asked him to get to know the two knights better, and seized the opportunity.

“Gentlemen!”

“Sir Baris! There’s no pork sausage here!”

“That’s a minor matter. The real problem with these noble expeditions is that there’s no room for entertainment. All this riding is making me thirsty. I got a lot of dust from the trail. It needs to be washed down.”

“We were just talking about that. But the only inn in this place ...”

“You know, as interesting as it would be to see the trout dance, they’re all fish. So there’s only the one place?”

“That’s the rumor. One of the priests said there were no such things as alewives around these parts.”

“Even if we only see dancing trout—if we steal their brandy, we might get even!”

“I say we avoid the noble cell, and work the common room!”

“C’mon then!” declared Baris. “I’m buying!”

With not a moment to lose, the three knights were soon by the hearth in the Dancing Trout. Baris sank his first ale and asked “So, Sir Reklan, I have not had the honor of meeting you. Where are you from?”

“Kaldor,” answered Sir Reklan dryly.

“Er, all right then.”

“My brother—as you should know!—is Lord of Galvin manor, a vassal of your liege and mine.”

“My apologies. I was just trying to start a conversation.”

“If you want to start conversation: where are the girls?”

“Do you know where the girls are?”

“That’s what I asked!”

“Sir Ritzar, where are the chickens?”

“They’re out there,” said Sir Ritzar with the knowing air of a huntsman smelling prey on the air. “They’re out there.”

A man seated at a nearby table suddenly turned toward them. “Knights! Knights, are you?”

Baris sat up and said “It is I, Sir Baris!”

“As it happens, I have three marriageable daughters.”

“Nobody wants marriageable daughters,” said Sir Reklan.

“Well, that’s all right. They can be—shall we say—tried out?”

“Disturbing,” Baris said. “But beggars can’t be choosers. Told you I’d find the girls!”

“And you did. I didn’t think you had it in you!” Sir Reklan, visibly impressed with Baris, addressed the proud father. “Do your daughters brew ale?”

“Oh, yes!”

“Lead us to them! We shall see how they brew!”

The three knights bonded in the oldest way there is.


Nuzyael 19, 733

Jorlak of Falesh sought out Lord Ewen. When he saw the man, it occurred to Ewen: could Jorlak be related to Halime of Falesh, the infamous crimelord of Tashal? He made a mental note to ask sometime. For now, there was business.

“Milord, we are now almost two-thirds of the way through Nuzyael. If were to leave for Naniom Bridge in the next three or four days, we might arrive at the ford at a time we could pass.”

“Very good. Let us plan to depart some three days hence.”

“I would say we should prepare, but truth is there is no real preparation to be made beyond provisioning. I can trying provisioning here—the cook has been instructed to help me all he can—but in all truth, I might be able to do better in Getha itself.”

“That sounds warranted.”

“With your permission, I will take three mounts, including the pack horse, and either one of your squires or Mellori.” At that subject he became distracted. “Who talks to herself and never seems to hear anything I say!”

A priest of the abbey approached. “Milord of Ternua, might I have a moment?”

“Surely.”

“I have an invitation here from Lord Indama. He wishes to invite you on a boar hunt.”

“Very kind. When did he propose?”

“He understands your time is short, and leaves it to your discretion. He suggests you bring along the knights of your retinue.”

Somewhere deep in Ewen came a twinge of foreboding at the thought of another hunt with Baris, but: “I would be pleased to accept the Baron’s invitation. My party must depart in three days, so any hunt would need to take place on short notice.”

“I have been authorized to act as a go-between, and will return to Getha with your response. The expectation would be that you would present yourself very early.”

Getha was a mere hour and a half ride, on a good horse. “We shall be there at his lordship’s pleasure.”

Jorlak interjected. “I could go, too, and do the provisioning.”

“You could, provided you rise early enough.”

“I am a caravan master, milord. I am used to rising before dawn.”

Ewen sent Goreg out to notify the knights about the hunt. But, try as he might, he couldn’t find Baris, Ritzar, or Reklan. They finally stumbled into the abbey around dusk. Much ale had been brewed.


Nuzyael 20, 733

Before dawn, the knights rose—some with more enthusiasm than others—and rode out to the hunt. The day revealed itself to be a fine, foggy one.

Lord Ewen had never met Harapa Indama’s father, Chimin Indama, Baron of Getha. Judging by his son, no doubt he was a prim, orderly fellow.

They arrived outside the castle to find the hunting party forming. The guards allowed them through. A fussy little man approached Ewen.

He sniffed. “Are you Lord Ternua?”

“I am.”

“At last! We didn’t think you were going to come!”

“We rose early, so as not to delay.”

“Lord Ternua has arrived! Come, come!”

A squadron of servants engulfed them, arranging their horses in line, distributing broad-headed boar spears. A butler appeared beside Ewen with a steaming, delightfully scented flagon.

“Milord, stirrup cup?”

“Thank you!” He gratefully accepted the wine.

“And your companions?”

“Yes, very good.”

Each knight got his own dose for the trail. Baris took two.

The fussy little man continued to fuss. Ewen was led to believe this was Parond Asarne, the baron’s chamberlain. He appeared to be very good at his job.

With a crash, a large man on a large horse, shaven headed and threatening, rode into the midst of them.

“Stirrup cup!” he bellowed. When he received the wine, he held it aloft and bellowed some more. “So shall we kill some boar?”

“Huzzah!” replied Baris.

“I like this man!” shouted the bald one. “Who is he?”

“Sir Baris!”

“Sir Baris? Sir Baris was a mercenary! He sucked, so I got rid of him!”

“This is Sir Baris Tyrestal,” Ewen said.

“Of course! You must be Ewen! Who else would dare to speak to me thus! Well met!”

All of Ewen’s preconceptions lay shattered on the cold ground. He’s like Prehil times a thousand, he thought.

Chimin Indama, Baron of Getha, sidestepped his horse next to Ewen’s. “So, Baron of Ternua, you killed that fat fuck Verdreth, did you? Best way to become a baron. Unless you’re born to it, which was my lot, which is the best way to become a baron! Make all those other guys wish they had the balls! We’re going to kill boar today, aren’t we!”

“Absolutely.”

“And you are the guest of honor! So you shall have first crack. But if you fuck up, I’ll give it to Sir Baris over there! Parond! You fussy little ponce! Are you ready?”

“Yes, milord.”

“Best fucking chamberlain in the kingdom! Can’t stand the sight of the little fuck! Who are the rest of these people?”

Ewen introduced his retainers. Chimin found a snide comment for each one in turn.

“We’re gonna go kill some boar!” he bellowed. “And what’re we gonna do with the boar we kill?”

“Cook them?” Baris said.

“I like this man! Put him third behind Ewen and myself! Well, what are we waiting for?”

Chimin slapped his horse and galloped off through the gate. After a moment’s realization, Ewen and the rest spurred their mounts after their host.

A party of beaters waited outside for them, and more in the forest outside Getha village, to the southeast. The men went to work. After an hour or so, a sounder of eight boars burst through the underbrush. Most were young, but among them was one huge hog, his tusks gleaming and deadly.

“Ternua!” shouted the Baron. “There’s your quarry!”

Ewen raised his boar spear and charged. The boar tried to dodge, but failed. The spear clove cleanly into the beast. It squealed horribly. The beaters moved in to finish it off.

“Well fucking done!” shouted the Baron of Getha.

In its death throes, the boar had killed one of the beaters, but no notice. The beast was dispatched.

“You’re gonna help us roast and eat this fucking pig, right?” shouted the Baron.

The hunt continued for the day. Baris acquitted himself well. The beaters carried back a number of prizes to the castle, much to the obvious satisfaction of their lord.

As they approached the walls of Caer Getha, Ewen noted the idiosyncrasies of the place. There were two great halls, one for the baron, and one for the rather oversized garrison. In the massive fireplaces of the former, the day’s kill was put to roast. As guest, Ewen got first pick of the meat, followed by the Baron.

“How is your son enjoying being Sheriff of Nephshire?” Ewen made small talk.

“Do you think the little bastard would drop me a letter? I haven’t heard a word. But I will say: from what I heard, brigandage is way down! It’s only been two weeks! And think—how could he be responsible? It’s gotta be his predecessor!”

“He’s a good man. Knows what he’s doing.”

“You may know him better than I do! Haven’t seen him in years. Off in Tashal!”

“It’s a busy job, being lord chamberlain of the kingdom.”

“Wiping the king’s arse, you mean. He might as well have been Lord High Chamberpot! One of these days, I’m gonna duck too low, and he’ll be baron. And my other son, Sir Haradoc. You know what they call him? Sir Hardass! They mean it as a compliment. He’ll be sheriff when his time comes.”

The Lord of Getha chewed his roast morosely. “You know what’ll happen when I’m not here to see it? The boar will run free!”

The dinner finished, the fire burning low, brandy was served. “Are you sure you want to go back to that pit of pious fools?” the baron asked. “I could put you up here.”

Ewen thought that a keen idea. He was wearied of the abbey. “We’ll be off the day after tomorrow, so I’ll say yes.”

“I’ll send a message. Have your people brought over from the abbey. We’ll provision you—at my expense! Hope you like spoiled boar!” The Baron roared at his own joke. “Tomorrow, you and I, in the bailey, with swords—have at it! The next day, off you go!”

“By the way,” said Ewen. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about Naniom Bridge.”

“Naniom Bridge! It should be part of my fief! Nothing’s gonna be done about that, but I want you, as a fellow baron, when you go through there, you look and say: Should the fucking Mangai be running that place? Or should it be under the auspices of a gentleman! A nobleman! I fucking ask you!”

“I shall do that. Why isn’t it included in the barony?”

“Politics! The Earl of Neph! The Baron of Nenda! They all want a piece of it. Why? Because it’s in my fucking backyard!”

“Practically in your backyard.”

“Exactly.”

“Is there a toll associated with the bridge?”

“Well, a toll! Yes, there is a toll. But that’s not the point!”

“I’ve got a toll at Ternua, at the bridge. Why shouldn’t you have one too?”

“Isn’t that on the Nephen!”

“Yes.”

“It’s the same fucking river!”

“If I get a toll, you should get a toll.”

“That’s fair. We all get tolls. You know what those filthy mercantylers are doing, don’t you? They’re robbing us blind! They’re out for silver! And why should we suffer? We’re the nobles!”

“If the Silver Caravan comes over Naniom Bridge, security is the paramount thing.”

“I have offered a company to secure that caravan every fucking year. And who gets to do it? The Order! I’d do it for half the price they do!”

“I’ll tell you what: I can’t promise anything, but when I return from the embassy, I’ll have a word with the Queen.”

“Embassy?”

“Yes. I’m on my way to Azadmere.”

“I’ll come along!”

“I would gladly have you, but the kingdom needs you here.”

“Ah, well. I guess you’re right.”

“My point is: when I return, I’ll put in a good word.”

“I would be obliged!”

“You have my word.”

“The word of one baron to another is sacred! Well, we’ve got a lot of work to do. I’ll have to talk to my steward, that poncing fool. Make sure you have everything you need. I would send some people, but the paladins—they’re like fanatics! Only two more things to do.” He peered at the picked-over skeleton. “One—we must finish that meat. It’s no good the next day. Two—we must drink ourselves stupid!”


Nuzyael 21, 733

As promised, the Baron of Getha had Ewen’s entire party brought over from the abbey. Arva wasted no time scouting the position. To her eye, the Baron kept a double garrison, two companies. A third was out patrolling his lands, hunting for bandits, barbarians, and trouble. If any major threat should arise, the patrols had orders to allow the Baron to ride out and deal with it.

The two barons sparred. The noble warriors found themselves quite evenly matched, each managing touches on the other. They ended the clash with a handshake and mutual respect


Nuzyael 22, 733

Fog again as the party departed from Caer Getha. Jorlak told Ewen he was pleased with the Baron’s provisioning. Even if the weather turned bad, it shouldn’t take them more than ten days to reach Zerhun, and they had ample supplies for that.

A detachment of Order of the Lady of Paladins arrived, a knight and four meken, from Jenkald. Ewen suspected their only contribution would be to slow the party.

Cekiya matched her horse alongside Jorlak’s. Ewen had mentioned to her the possibility of their caravan master’s connection with Halime. She itched to discover if they were actually related.

“So,” she said idly, but deliberately. “I don’t much about riding, but I’m fascinated by The Spurs.”

“You’re not wearing spurs,” said Jorlak. “I don’t wear spurs. Spurs are for knights.”

“There are spurs in Tashal.”

“There is an inn in Tashal called The Spurs. That is true.”

“Why, you’re right! Are you familiar with it?”

“I’ve been there. My distant cousin owns it.”

“Ooh! Halime!”

“Yes, that’s his name.”

“I’ve been to The Spurs. I think I’ve seen him.”

“I imagine you would. He’s the innkeeper.”

“Fuzzy little place. It’s good to be close to family. You said he’s your distant cousin?”

“Well, not distant. He’s my second cousin.”

“And you’re in the same town? Family is important. I hope you’re close.”

“Oh, no. Truth be told, I think he got involved in some less-than-savory activities in his youth. I hope he’s learned his lesson, but, you know—The Spurs seems to attract a disreputable clientele. I prefer the Elf & Dwarf.”

“That the fuzziness I was referring to. I happen to know someone in the party closely related to the Elf & Dwarf. In fact, I knew the elf!”

“No, that’s just a marketing ploy. They weren’t real people.”

“I heard a story, about an emerald.”

“You mean—she really did?”

“Oh, yes. She did. She did some fuzzy business of her own.”

“The story is true?”

“I know the composer of the song!”

“Wow. You’re really plugged in!”

“Stick with me.”

In his awe, Jorlak reached out to touch Cekiya’s forearm, only to be greeted with a hiss.

“Touching bad!”

“Oh! Sorry!”

As daylight dwindled, the party reached Naniom Bridge. They made camp there for the night.
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Matt
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