Session One Hundred Fifty-Two - May 4, 2019

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

Session One Hundred Fifty-Two - May 4, 2019

Postby Matt » Wed Jun 19, 2019 4:33 pm

Nolus 3, 733

Caer Elend
Tashal, Kaldor

“Ewen!” Prehil exclaimed.

Ewen was in the throne room of Caer Elend. The Queen had just appointed him Sheriff of Meselyneshire. The Queen and most of the courtiers had departed and Ewen’s wife Thilisa, who had been attending the Queen, had been on her way over to speak with her husband. Fortunately, Prehil got there first.

“Congratulations on your barony,” Ewen said.

“Thanks!” Prehil said. “And to you on your sheriffdom – er, shrievalty!”

“Thank you, Lord Prehil.”

“Lord Prehil. I like the sound of that. I’ve been meaning to talk to you. Where you have been? I mean, other than Azadmere.” Prehil looked around, afraid someone might hear his booming voice. “Ewen! Something terrible has happened! I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure I’m a father.”

“What do you mean, not certain? Have you not been home the whole time I’ve been absent?”

“I have,” Prehil explained. “But the wife moved to Qualdris! Which I understand it a nice place. But it’s Nolus!”

“Why Qualdris? Isn’t that your father’s?”

“I think he’s in on it!”

Ewen chuckled. “Now Prehil, when they get to a certain age, they start to want grandchildren.”

Prehil shook his head, aghast. “I don’t think I’ll ever be that old.” He looked up, thinking. “If I’m correct, the gestation period of the human female is nine months, right?”

“That was how it was with Thilisa.” Speaking of which, Ewen glanced at his wife, currently speaking to a courtier he did not recognize.

“By my count, it’s been fourteen months! I might be a month off in either direction ... I can’t remember exactly the last time we, you know ...”

Since Prehil had to be tricked into his last assignation with his wife, Ewen was surprised the man could not remember exactly when it had happened. Perhaps he had tried to block the unfortunate incident out of his mind.

“So if we’re talking five months,” Prehil continued, “that means I’ve been a father for five months! This is why I think my father might be in on it. He made me Baron four months ago.” Prehil looked Ewen in the eye. “This is where you come in!”

“I’m failing to see how I come in at all,” Ewen stated.

“Here’s what I’m thinking: she could drop in with this little brat at any moment!” Prehil’s eyes widened in fear at the thought. “I gotta get out of town, but not Kobing, because Qualdris is on the way!”

Ewen finally grasped what Prehil was getting at. “You could come to Olokand with me.”

Prehil nodded excitedly. “She’ll never think of that!”

“She would have to get through the ramparts, as you’ll be manning the walls with us.”

“I could bring the ten men-at-arms my father sent me.” Prehil looked over his shoulder. “They’ve been following me around; it’s been really inconvenient. I’ll come with you, and I could be deputy sheriff!”

“I’ll count you in on the expedition. Have you ever considered recruiting a body double to stay back in Tashal, and throw people off the scent?”

“I never thought of that! When are we leaving?”

“A couple of days,” Ewen said.

“I’ll get right on that! This is a good idea. He probably can’t drink as much as I do, only Baris can do that.” He gestured to that worthy, who was speaking to a courtier by the door.

“You need an out of work actor, or some other disreputable type,” Ewen said.

“Ah! There’s that troupe ...” Prehil mused. He looked up. “So, Galopea’s feast tonight?”

“Yes, if I survive my encounter with my wife.”

“Oh yeah, she’s right there isn’t she.” Prehil turned around to find Thilisa standing directly behind him, an expectant look on her face. “Lady Ternua.” He nodded in acknowledgment and swiftly made his exit.

Thilisa turned to Ewen. “Husband.” Her smile did not reach her eyes.

“My lady.”

“You must tell Lord Prehil that his voice carries,” Thilisa said.

“It appears that Lord Prehil will be accompanying me north.”

“I believe everyone in the room knows that.”

She was in quite the mood, Ewen thought. “Speaking of the north, I have something for you from the icy peaks that I hope you will accept as a token of my regard.” The baron held out the ring the dwarf king had gifted Cekiya (as he had actually forgotten to purchase his wife a gift).

“I thought they were already married,” a guard nearby muttered.

“Very nice.” Thilisa held out her right hand. Ewen placed the ring on her finger.

“You are to be congratulated on your place of honor in her Grace’s court,” Ewen said.

Thilisa looked at the ring, turning her hand to and fro to admire it. “And you in your new office.”

“Thank you.”

“It will be difficult, I imagine, being gone for so long, and then being parted so quickly from your paramour.”

The hall was almost empty now, and voices carried. Ewen was suddenly on alert at Thilisa’s comment, and he just heard Arva whisper to Goreg, “You know, Thilisa probably thinks your mother is Ewen’s mistress.”

“There is only one who has my heart, and you are she, my lady wife,” Ewen said after a moment.

“Which brings us to the other things you have,” Thilisa said.

Ewen smiled. “Would that be your unbounded affection?”

“Your steward is to be commended for his loyalty to you. I seriously considered having Sir Rollard run him through.”

“He is a good man; I’m pleased you did not take that step,” Ewen said. “What offense did he commit?”

“That’s why I didn’t have him run through.” Thilisa looked Ewen squarely in the eye. “The offense was yours. Imagine my surprise when I went to my house in Medrik, up to the third floor, opened up the storeroom, to find it as empty as a Peonian larder,” Thilisa said, getting angrier by the word.

“Of course it was. We had discussed this pooling of resources, as it were, being necessary at the time. I thought you had concurred. Do you not recall?” Ewen had, of course, used his Deryni abilities to gently persuade his wife to come around to his point of view.

“Recall? Why no. I recall being bamboozled. I assume that’s what it was, for I never would have made such an agreement of my own free will.”

“It seemed to be at the time a most practical decision. And then, in truth, your riches are better secured where they are now than they were before. Save for some funds, spent on some necessary recruitment of mercenaries.” Ewen paused. “I don’t think we discussed that at the time.”

“No, we did not,” Thilisa fumed.

“It was all done in the interest of our mutual advancement in society and the recovery of your well deserved status,” Ewen explained.

“I keep hearing words. No, this is not the place to have this out in full. I imagine the Queen will want you on the road as quickly as possible.” Thilisa pursed her lips. “She is not alone in this desire. We will discuss this on your return; we are not done here.”

“I hope not.” Ewen paused. “Do you want for anything, my lady?”

“Nothing that you have, husband, save that which is mine.” Thilisa gave Ewen a curtsey. “I must attend upon the Queen.”

Ewen nodded. “Of course.”

While Thilisa slipped away Ewen looked around. But for a guard or his servants he did not think anyone else had heard his conversation with Thilisa. His eyes fell on Goreg and he vaguely remembered that he was supposed to speak with her about his squire’s mother but he did not think that had been the most opportune time.

Ewen was saved from his musing by the arrival of Sir Wesel Maytum. “Lord Ternua. Well met again.”

“Sir Wesel, welcome to Kaldor,” Ewen said. “How long have you been here?”

“I arrived late in Peonu,” Wesel said.

“You’ve had time to settle in, then.”

“Yes. I confess to a certain curiosity about you.”

The corner of Ewen’s lip twitched upward as he thought of Sir Rohn, but he controlled it. “You wouldn’t be the first man.”

“A peer of Kaldor just granted a high office. A man I brought a company of medium foot; some of Tharda’s finest.”

Ewen smiled. “When you put it that way, Sir Wesel, it does sound rather irregular.”

“So you understand my position. Allow me to speak plainly, my lord, as I am not much of a diplomat.”

“I understand you have distinguished yourself in the legions,” Ewen said. “You reputation precedes you.”

“I would like to think so.” Wesel paused and looked Ewen directly in the eye. “We also know something else about each other.”

“Yes. I gather we do.”

“We both have a heritage that most of the others here lack.”

“That is a topic to be handled with discretion, I think,” Ewen said.

“That is the way of our people.”

“It is a way that is even more helpful in circumstances like those here. Did you exchange views with the Baron of Stimos?”

“We spoke briefly, but you did not come up,” Wesel said. “But let me review the list again: Peer of Kaldor, high office holder, recipient of Thardan troops, and a heritage that so far only two other people at this court share. I don’t know if you are Queen Chelebin’s most impressive servant, or her most dangerous.” He grinned, showing his teeth. “There, I told you I wasn’t a diplomat.”

“Yes, your career here is going to be most interesting,” Ewen said.

“I serve my sovereign.”

“The matter really captures the scenario in itself.”

“I didn’t expect you to answer. But I felt it needed to be laid out. Curiously, though, when I asked Sir Karnis what his mission here was he said I would have to ask Lord Graver. So I’ll ask you? What is Sir Karnis’s mission here?” Wesel asked.

“Sir Karnis and I have not yet met. I’ve been rather too busy to call upon him. I intend to do so shortly.”

“I see why the Queen sent you to Azadmere. You are a diplomat. I look forward to out next encounter, my lord.”

“It was a pleasure to meet you, Sir Wesel,” Ewen said politely. “Oh, before I forget, you haven’t made the acquaintance of a Sir Ilken Zuvonx, have you?”

“No, but I understand he resides in Tharda house when he is in Tashal.”

“When last I saw him he said he would be spending some time in the east of this kingdom. Thank you for the information, it saves me a trip to Tharda house. I wish you the best of luck in your mission. As I have been called to duty up in Olokand, I fear we won’t be able to speak again soon.”

“I am not so sure of that,” Wesel said. “If there is trouble the Queen intends to lead an army north. I will accompany that army.”

“So you will be able to take stock of the armies of this kingdom. I’m sure you will apprise them with a keen eye.”

“I am a diplomat and a soldier.”

***

“Did you talk to the Baroness about my mother?” Goreg asked Ewen when they returned to Raven Hall.

At Ewen’s curt “No,” Goreg pursued the matter no further that day. Instead he attended his lord while they awaited the arrival of the litigant Marhet, whom Ewen had summoned.

There was a knock at the front door and Walin admitted Marhet. The man-of-law stepped in carrying a bundle of papers under his arm. “Let us retire to my study,” Ewen said, motioning up the stairs.

The hunchback looked at the stairs and gazed longingly at the great hall in which was a large table on which he could spread his papers. “Very good my lord!”

In the the study the little dragon was curled around the astroglobe, napping. The creature was so still that the litigant did not notice it.

“Marhet, how have you been?”

“My condition has not altered with the passage of time,” Marhet said. “I hear you had some success in Azadmere.”

“Yes, we have brought the silver caravan safe and sound home to Kaldor,” Ewen confirmed.

“It is something of the talk of the town, after last year’s debacle.”

“Matters will soon bring me to Olokand, to avoid such debacles in the future. In the meantime, I have a few items I’d like you to advise me on,” Ewen said, getting down to business.

Marhet nodded. “I am happy to be of service, my lord.”

“Goreg, hand me the papers.”

Goreg was not expecting to be called upon, and was thus unprepared. “Which papers, my lord?”

Ewen gestured. “Over there by the astroglobe, on the shelf, third one up.”

As Goreg passed the astroglobe the dragon slowly raised its head, blinking in sleepiness, its gaze following the squire.

Marhet coughed in surprise. “My lord, I’ve been looking at your most interesting astroglobe. Did you know it was alive?”

“The astroglobe? Oh, no, you are referring to the amphitere.”

“I’m unfamiliar with such a creature,” Marhet said. “I’ll take your word for it that is an,” he paused, considering the unfamiliar word, “amphitere.”

“They dwell in the icy north” Ewen said as if everyone knew that.

At that moment the gathered humans heard a distinctly alien voice in their heads declare, “Don’t worry, I’m not hungry.”

Marhet gulped. “Well isn’t that a relief.”

Goreg handed the requested documents to Ewen, who handed them to Marhet. “As you can see Marhet,” Ewen said, “I have come into the possession of a great deal of debt owed to the bearer of these papers from the Baron of Kolorn.”

Marhet read the documents and his eyes widened slightly. “If I understand this correctly, my lord, the Baron of Kolorn contracted a most astonishing debt to a dwarven mercantlyer clan, which you purchased from them while on your embassy. You have returned, and now wish to call in said debt?” He smiled. “You must not have had a lot of time for sightseeing.”

“It’s all about taking initiative when the opportunity presents itself. My concern with the Bastune family is that they appear to be in arrears on many levels, the late Baron leaving his family in a precarious position.”

“Do you have any documentation?” Marhet asked.

“I’d like to get this debt settled sooner rather than late,” Ewen said. “I understand he is not on the best of terms with his liegelord Vemion.”

Marhet nodded in understanding. “Naturally, anything we say here is confidential.”

“I am interested in learning the value of the collateral.”

“The house is on the southwest corner of Ternua Road, and Chelebin Street?” Marhet asked, reading off the document. The lawyer paused, and shuffled the papers as if looking for something. “There is no attestation of ownership in this paperwork.”

“Well, that’s …” Ewen began, and stopped himself. “Is that potentially problematic?”

“Only if the Baron of Kolorn does not own the property.”

“Well then he would have misled his creditors,” Ewen said.

“The proper term is ‘lied.’” Marhet clarified.

“What are the legal consequences of defrauding your creditors in such a fashion?”

“Well, you’d pretty much lose instantly in any dispute on the matter. But at the same time, if the debtor is insolvent, there is little you can do but confiscate the assets in the vicinity.”

“Do your research,” Ewen ordered. “Find out if the Baron of Kolorn owns the property, as they appear to have represented themselves as so doing. Estimate the current value of the property.”

“I could do that was well. Do you know when it supposedly came in possession of the Baron?”

Ewen shook his head. “No. The other matter is that I have a debt of my own to repay, to one of the Khuzan clans. I am to make good on the debt during the summer fair. Given the fact that I have been appointed by the Queen as Sheriff of Meselynshire and will be departing forthwith, I need a representative to perform that transaction of my behalf.”

“I’d be honored to take that in hand my lord,” Marhet said. “The funds in question could be put in the form of a usurer’s note, which will satisfy the Khuzan. Is there a mercantyler you prefer to deal with?”

“Pesera of Hendel has handled my business matters.”

“I will handle this, and will pay,” Marhet consulted the papers, “Clan Rakin at the appropriate time.”

“I will be in town for a few more days,” Ewen said. “If you could call upon me when you have more information, I would be much obliged.”

“I expect to know something late tomorrow or upon the fifth.”

“That sounds acceptable.”

“When should I call upon you?” Marhet asked.

“Midmorning on the fifth should be fine.”

“Very good my lord.”

***

“Does this have anything to do with Lord Ternua’s parentage?” Sir Rohn asked.

Arva and Baris were at the College of Heralds, intending to present Prehil with a family tree that included his new child. They were attended personally by Sir Rohn, as was standing policy in all matters involving Sir Ewen and his entourage. Arva had just asked if there were any records regarding the birth of Prehil’s child.

“No,” Arva clarified.

Rohn looked relieved. “The answer is, yes, there was a birth recorded. In Nuzyael the Earl of Osel came by personally, registering for his family genealogy the birth of his grandson Jerin. This was in Ilvin, I believe.” The herald consulted his gloss. “I apologize, it was Navek.”

Baris asked whether a family tree could be made ready for tonight, but was informed such a document could not be prepared in so short a time. The knight donated a shilling to the College for the information, and he and Arva went on their way.

***

Later that evening Ewen and Baris were in Galopea’s feast to meet Prehil. They saw Sir Rohn at a table sitting with another man, but chose an empty table for themselves.

A few minutes later Prehil arrived and Ewen waved him over. Behind Prehil a man-at-arms poked his head in the door, took a look around, nodded, and stepped back out.

“We saved you a table!” Ewen called.

“I would hope so!” Prehil said.

“Prehil, let’s get you a drink.”

A few minutes later the three, Ewen, Baris, and Prehil, raised their mugs.

“A toast, to Olokand!” Prehil said.

“Bound for glory!” Ewen exclaimed.

“Bound for glory, and freedom!” Prehil said.

Baris downed his ale and slammed the tankard onto the table. He could no longer contain himself, and finally blurted it out. “Prehil! Congratulations! It’s a boy! When I heard, Arva suggested we go to the College of Heralds. Your father has already registered him. Your son is named Jerin! What a great name. I’m so happy for you!”

Prehil blinked, processing the information. He stared at his mug as if was a strange object, then remembered what it was for. He downed the drink perhaps a little too quickly and set it down, coughing. “More!” he choked.

Baris laughed uproariously as Prehil downed another pint and slammed his flagon onto the table.

“So it’s official.” Prehil looked at Ewen. “I have to get out of here! It was pure theory a moment ago!” He glared at Baris and then sat back, clutching his hand to his breast. “Ewen, my chest is getting a little tight.”

Ewen chuckled. “Do you need fresh air?”

“I might, but they’re probably at both doors!” Prehil said, referring to the men-at-arms his father had assigned him.

“Let’s get you upstairs, you’ll be as right as rain in a jiffy!” Ewen suggested.

“Yeah, that’s a good idea,” Prehil said.

As Ewen took Prehil upstairs, Baris stayed behind to finish his ale. He happened to look over at Sir Rohn, who held his hand out to his companion and snapped his fingers. Rohn’s companion slipped him some coins; apparently the herald had won a bet.

Nolus 4, 733

Goreg’s boots sank into the muck. The rain pattered on his helmet as he trudged down the road outside Tashal trailing three men-at-arms.

Before departing for Galopea’s feast the previous evening Ewen have given Goreg orders. The squire and the three men were to relay messages to the Baron’s various keeps. All Thardan troops were recalled to Tashal, including the recently knighted Sir Dickon and his men. Knights from Inbernel and Ternua were also recalled. These were Sir Catham Savellce for Inbernel, and for Ternua Sirs Jortil Meleken, Pieras Rytakern, Welcris Labiera, and Dame Aldea Pulgarty. Additionally Ternua’s levy, a company of medium foot and one of shortbowmen, was to be brought up as well. Captain Thorpe’s light squadron was recalled from Inbernel as a screening force.

Not including the knights this totaled one hundred and ten men. Goreg was also instructed to bring the Bastune funds back to Tashal and to get a written report from Gatanis Nildar, the Steward of Ternua. If possible, in Ternua he was to retain the services of the Gray Gryphons, bringing the available men up to one hundred twenty five.

During the trip Goreg would not shut up about his mother, and whether she really was Ewen’s mistress. He thought he heard one of the Thardan lads mutter something about how angry their commanding officer would be if this squire suffered an accident under their watch.

***

Meanwhile, Sir Baris sat up in his comfortable bed in the Elf & Dwarf and stretched. He could hear the gentle patter of rain outside. The predictable Harnic weather was soothing. As he attended to his morning ablutions the pleasant scent of pastries crept under the door and the knight headed down to the kitchen.

“Good morning Amelia!”

Amelia looked up from her scones. “Good morning, Sir Baris.”

“How are you this morning?”

“I’m very good, thank you,” Amelia replied. “How are you?”

“I’m good,” Baris said, and sat down. “I’m thirsty.”

“Allow me to draw you an ale sir,” Amelia said, heading towards the bar.

“My lord Ewen has been called to Olokand,” Baris said. “We’re going to fight some Vikings!”

“Sounds dangerous,” the girl said, and handed Baris his mug.

Baris shrugged and sipped the ale. “It’s what I do.”

Amelia strived to appear impressed, but she had heard plenty of bravado before.

“How is the dwarven ale coming?”

The maid looked at him, confused. “There are no dwarves in Tashal yet.”

Baris’s face fell. “Oh, yeah. Well …”

“As soon as they arrive, I plan to talk to some!” Amelia interrupted. She pulled out a cloth and wrapped some of the already prepared scones up in it, tying it neatly into a bow. “I’m sure those will go over well at Raven Hall,” she said, handing the package over to the knight.

Baris looked down at the scones, and realized this was a dismissal. He shrugged and headed out, happily munching on a scone. Why was Amelia’s hair always wet in the morning, he wondered?

***

Later that morning Lord Ewen and Cekiya were headed to the castle. The knight was barely paying attention to his surroundings. It had been a busy morning, and he had a lot on his mind. First, he had sent two of the Thardan lads to each of the mercenary companies in Tashal to inquire as to their availability. The Blue Boars had been contracted by the Earl of Osel, while Rathbar’s Raiders were currently at Oselbridge awaiting the caravan. The White Ravens simply did not do that kind of work anymore.

Second, Ewen had decided to return the remainder of Thilisa’s treasure, which was now sitting in the hall ready to be carted over to the house in Medrik. He had had Arva pen a message that at his wife’s request he “was returning the funds secured from the empty house on Torastra Way to the guarded Raven Hall now that the house on Torastra Way is once again occupied appropriately.” Not wanting to put his own servants to the task, he had requested they send guards and cartage, as the treasure consisted of over two thousand pounds of material.

Ewen was on his way to confer with the Lord Chancellor, Tarkin Hirnen, hoping to learn about the state of troops and supplies at Olokand.

Cekiya was happily walking next to Ewen, lost in a world of her own. “Maybe I’ll see the Mad King!” she said.

Not really thinking about it, his mind elsewhere, Ewen idly mentioned that the royal quarters were on the fourth floor.

They arrived in the castle and soon Ewen made his way to the chancery court. His mind full of all he needed to do, he did not notice that Cekiya was no longer at his side.

Ewen stood before the doors the court, which were flanked by guards in armor. “Can I help you, Sir?” said the man on the right.

“Ewen, Sheriff of Meselyneshire, Baron of Ternua, to see the Lord Chancellor.”

The man nodded. “My lord, one second,” he popped his head in the door and said something Ewen didn’t catch.

A few moments later a man about Ewen’s age stepped out into the hall. He was reasonably dressed, although his clothes had seen some wear and were patched in a few places. “Lord Ternua?”

“Yes,” said he.

“My lord, my name is Alfenic of Darquarn. I am a chancery clerk. May I help you?”

“I wish to have a word with Sir Tarkin before my retinue and I depart for Olokand,” Ewen said. “In the normal course of things I would consult on this matter with the Marshal, Lord Osel, but he is not in town.”

Alfenic nodded, and Ewen was brought into the room. Several tables were scattered about, on which clerks scribbled away with goose quill pens. The Lord Chancellor sat in a quite ornate chair hearing a case, which seemed far less important than Ewen’s business. He recognized no one except Mikyl of Meriel, who was making the case.

“My Lord, you are welcome to wait here,” Alfenic said quietly. “I can inform the Lord Chancellor once this case is concluded that you wish a word with him.”

Ewen nodded.

Some time passed, and the case apparently concluded. Mikyl seemed happy with the verdict. Alfenic made his way up to the dais to speak to the Lord Chancellor.

As he left the room, Mikyl passed Ewen and bowed respectfully. “Milord.” Ewen nodded in acknowledgment, and Mikyl continued on his way.

Midol Sarathid, the Inquisitor General, stood. “Court is adjourned for fifteen minutes.”

Tarkin came down the dais, mobbed by petitioners. These unworthies were shooed away by Alfenic.

Tarkin came over to Ewen. “Well met, my lord.”

“Well met.”

“Let’s take it outside,” Tarkin said. “Too many petitioners in here.”

Ewen nodded.

“I appreciate the diversion.” Tarkin led Ewen down the halls to the kitchen. It was a bustle of activity, servants running to and fro. None looked up when the Chancellor entered and sat down at a table.

“No one here will listen to a word we say,” Tarkin said.

“I need a rundown of the troops and assets available at Olokand,” Ewen began.

“Of course you do. If the Lord Marshal had been in town, you would have received it,” Sir Tarkin said.

“Yes, I understand he is out of town, as he has a new grandson.”

Tarkin explained that the Lord Marshal was in Oselbridge to handle the ongoing problem of the Pagaelin, since he knew he may need to lead a new royal army north and wanted to make sure everything was battened down in Oselshire.

Tarkin, after studying some papers, reported on the state of the available assets of Olokand. The castle garrison comprised nearly sixty men, a mix of footmen and bowmen. The feudal levy more than doubled that number in the summer, and thus there were a total of one hundred and forty men, plus close to ten knights and squires. In addition to the levy that went to Olokand itself, there was an additional part of the levy that went to other parts of the shire to patrol the woods, go to hundred moots, and other various duties. He did not know how many men this additional levy comprised. “A number patrol to make sure the Taelda don’t get uppity,” Tarkin said in between bites of some sweetmeats. “If we could civilize the barbarians up there, that would give the Vikings a surprise!”

“Lord Orsin is the kingdom’s expert on the Pagaelin,” Ewen said. “Who is the equivalent on the Taelda?”

Tarkin chuckled, but did not smile. “I don’t think his tongue is moving anymore, but Maldan Harabor would have been the one.” He sipped a small beer to clear his throat and looked at Ewen. “If there is anything I can help with, please let me know. But hopefully the Vikings will not return. Assuming they do not, hopefully I will see you in Olokand when the Queen summers there.”

Ewen nodded and looked to the Chancellor. “Sir Tarkin, I bid you good day.”

***

“Where do you think you’re going?”

When Ewen headed down the hallway towards some important meeting or other, Cekiya had slipped away and headed to the grand staircase, intent upon the fourth floor. A guard stood before her and the stairs.

“Is there a privy this way?” Cekiya asked in a singsong voice.

The man shook his head. “No, the privy is down the corridor to the right.”

Cekiya shrugged and headed down the corridor, taking the first right. In the halls ahead of her was Ewen and another man who, based upon his clothes, seemed important.

Cekiya followed the group into the kitchen. Ewen idly looked in her direction and indicated with his head for her to stay out of sight. Cekiya stepped back against the wall, trying to become invisible.

“We need more pepper from the cellar when you get a chance,” a cook told the adder, mistaking her for a servant.

Cekiya looked up brightly. “Anything else?”

“Some cumin would be good, too.”

“You always need cumin,” Cekiya said, smiling, and she rushed off.

A spiral staircase in one corner headed up and down. Instead of heading to the cellars, Cekiya went up.

At the first landing she popped her head out of the staircase to see a gallery overlooking the great hall. There were two guards standing in the far corner, but they did not see the priestess before she ducked back into the staircase.

On the fourth floor a corridor stretched before her, torches burning in sconces on the walls. She was surprised to find an apple in her hand; she must have grabbed it in the kitchen. The corridor turned right and she saw two doors on the right hand wall, each flanked by a pair of guards.

Cekiya walked down the corridor as if she was supposed to be there, holding the apple aloft. The first pair of guards watched her, but let her pass. The second pair of guards stopped her. “Halt!”

Cekiya stopped and waited.

“Speak!”

“I have an apple for King Haldan,” Cekiya said. “The kitchen sent me.”

“You have no authorization,” the guard who had first spoken said. “This isn’t the time.”

The other guard shrugged. “The king does like apples.”

“The kitchen sent her?” the first guard asked.

“Look at her,” the other guard said. “The kitchen sent her.” He grinned. “The king hasn’t had a slip in awhile. Don’t be a stick in the mud!”

“I hate guard duty with you,” the first guard said.

The two argued for a little longer before the first guard finally gave up. “Oh fine, go on in!” He gestured at the key hanging from a string on the wall. “I’m going to put in for a transfer,” he muttered.

Cekiya took the key and unlocked the door.

“Don’t leave the key in the fucking door!”

“Go on in, I’ll lock the door behind you,” said the second guard.

“Fucking asshole, I’m going to talk to our commanding officer ...”

Inside the King’s chambers Cekiya saw a table and a chair. Some old food and smashed crockery rested on the floor. A chest with a dent in it sat in a corner. A doorway off to the side was covered with a curtain.

“Leave the food on the table,” came the voice from behind the curtain.

“King Haldan?” Cekiya asked.

“King Haldan is dead!” said the voice.

“Who am I speaking to?”

“Once I was King Haldan. Now I am dead.”

“Well Mr. Dead, I have an apple for you.”

A few moments later the curtain parted revealing a man dressed in what was once regal clothing. He had a long scraggly beard, his eyes were sunken, and his right arm was withered. A stench emanated from him, but Cekiya, used to dealing with the dead, was unfazed. She recognized this man as the king, but she had never seen him like this.

Behind the curtain Cekiya saw a chair, bed, and fireplace in the other room.

“I like an apple,” said the man who had once been king. Cekiya handed it to him. “What is your name girl?”

“Cekiya.”

“They killed my Queen, you know. They put a new one in my place.”

“Yes, I have heard,” Cekiya said.

“I wonder that they haven’t killed me.” Haldan bit into the apple. “Or have you come to do that?”

“Oh, no!” Cekiya exclaimed. “I kill, but I’m not here to kill you,” she explained. “I’ll kill those guys out there before I kill you.”

Haldan nodded. “Alright. But I cannot leave like this.”

Cekiya nodded back. “No, you are in shambles.”

“The ability to maintain my status has not been granted to me. Of course, one of the guards is bound to be my size.”

Cekiya looked the king up and down. “There is one out there that is about your size. Who is at the end of the corridor being guarded?”

“Those were my chambers. She has them now. Those are the usurper’s quarters.”

“They are being guarded by the guy who is your size.” Cekiya looked carefully at the king. “We have to get rid of the beard; the beard’s a dead giveaway.”

“Do you have a knife?”

“No, you have to play it right. I trim your beard, or we don’t play at all. No one touches my knives. Touching bad.”

Haldan looked at the woman, a look in his eyes Cekiya had seen before in people who got to know her. “An interesting philosophy.”

The adder smiled. “Thank you.”

“Make it look nice.”

“I gotta make you look like him.”

“No, I just have to look not like me, and I can walk out the door,” the king said.

Cekiya took her knife and trimmed the king’s beard. He didn’t look half bad, she thought. There was one other problem, though. “You are whiffy, what are we going to do about that?”

“Guards don’t bathe on a regular basis,” Haldan answered.

Cekiya cleaned her knife on a spare rag, sheathed it, and went to the door. She knocked and when the door opened poked her head out. “Can you help me with dishes? I can’t handle them all. I was told to clear the dishes.”

“We were told you were a doxy,” the guard who had given her a hard time said.

“Are you going to help me or not?

“Not! Come on lady.”

“You’re going to have to come in here and get me,” Cekiya said.

“Fred, we’ve got a live one!” The guard reached for Cekiya. “Come on honey.”

A moment later the guard went down from a knife strike to the sternum.

“What the fuck!” Fred exclaimed.

“Oh, there they go again,” Cekiya heard from down the hall.

Cekiya stabbed Fred, but he did not fall.

“Alarm, Alarm, Alarm!” Fred yelled as he stepped back and drew his dagger.

Cekiya lunged forward and stabbed Fred again, and this time he went down. Out of the corner of her eye she saw one of the other guards headed towards her, the other running for presumably reinforcements.

Cekiya turned to meet the new threat. The man drew his sword. “Apple my ass, come on!”

Cekiya, armed with just a dagger, took three quick steps towards the guard, leapt into the air, bounced off the wall, and ended up behind him. She stumbled, caught herself, and buried her dagger in the guard’s back before he could turn to bring his sword to bear. She turned towards the fleeing guard.

From behind her Haldan said, “No time for that. No time for changing. Let’s go!” The king ran for the Queen’s chambers. “If she’s in here, you kill her too.”

“I can’t do that.”

The King, despite his shabby state, was not used to being talked back to. “No arguments, let’s go!” He opened the door. “These were my chambers.” He looked around and squared his shoulders. “They will be again.” He stepped to the wall and pulled back a tapestry to reveal a privy. He pushed a stone block and a portion of the wall opened to reveal a spiral staircase heading down. “Get in!”

Cekiya suddenly thought of Ewen. “Oh he’s going to be so pissed at me!”

The stairs went down and down. At the bottom was a door. The king put his fingers into a gap in the stone near the bottom and retrieved a key. This key unlocked the door. He replaced the key and opened the door to reveal a small chamber. “Come on!”

They crossed the chamber, but there were no apparent exits beyond where they came in. On the far wall Haldan nudged a stone with his foot and another secret door revealed itself, beyond which was a tunnel leading into the darkness.

“King Haldan, we forgot the apple!” Cekiya said.

“I’ll plant you a tree!” the king said.

“Thank you!”

The king and the Navite rushed down the tunnel, which eventually ended in a wall in which the rungs of a ladder were set. They climbed up these and the king did something Cekiya couldn’t see. Then she saw light and they stepped into a small grove; the exit of the tunnel had been concealed in an enormous tree.

Haldan clapped his hands. “I did it! I did it! I’m out.”

“What are you going to do?” Cekiya wondered.

“What am I going to do? I’m going to take my kingdom back,” the king said.

“Who are your allies, though?”

“Well, there’s thee and me. That’s two.”

“I’m heading to Olokand,” Cekiya said.

“Good, I’m also Earl of Olokand!”

How wonderful! “I know the sheriff there!”

“Maldan Harabor,” the king said. “He’s an asshole, though.”

Cekiya shook her head. “No, he lost his head awhile ago.”

Haldan pursed his lips. “They said I was crazy, too. And I was, in fairness, but I got better.”

“He’s not ever getting better. He’s gone.”

“You’re telling me he’s dead?”

“Yes, Mr. Dead!” Cekiya confirmed.

“NO, I am alive at last!” the king exulted.

“You can’t stay dressed like this. Can you stay here while I get some clothes?”

“You killed three royal guardsman like they were nothing. You are what, ninety pounds soaking wet?”

“I’m always underestimated, like you.”

“I was never underestimated,” Haldan said. “I’m going to overlook everything because of the results, but I don’t know that I trust you.”

“I wouldn’t either, but I did get you out. But you do need clothes, that was the whole point of killing those men.”

“I think it is time for us to part, but I will not forget this. But when I am once again in command of my kingdom, come to see me.”

“I’ll get you clothes, and I’ll leave them at a particular location, and you can get them when you want. You could even send someone to get them. There are many ways to do it.”

“I am familiar with intrigue,” the king said dryly.

Cekiya realized the king was defenseless. She thought about it for a moment. Ewen would probably be even angrier if the king got killed because she let him out. He was going to be surprised enough. Very reluctantly she drew the dagger she had trimmed Haldan’s beard with and handed it to him, hilt first.

Haldan took the blade. “Thank you.

“I wish you luck.”

“I’ll be here.”

***

At that moment Ewen was exiting the castle and walking through the bailey. The cries of “Alarm! Alarm!” went up behind him. He started and looked around himself. Cekiya was gone, and he had a sinking feeling. He turned back. The commoners were being escorted from the castle.

Cekiya could handle herself, and hopefully this would not redound back on him. He was going to have to have a talk a long talk with that girl about unauthorized adventures.

The Baron turned and headed to Raven Hall.

***

“I’m here for my Lady’s swag,” Rollard said.

Arva had been having a lovely day, at least as lovely a day as was possible under Harnic skies. She was overseeing the servants who had just finished moving all of Thilisa’s treasure down to the great hall when the door had knocked to reveal this lovely gentleman.

“You are?” Arva inquired.

Rollard bowed. “Ah am Sir Rollard D’Audrieu.”

“I am Arva of Kerryn. I have heard much about you.” She led Rollard to the great hall. “As you can see, it is all assembled.”

“Ah fear Ah have heard nothing about you. And pray tell, my deah, what is your role in this heah household?”

“At the moment, scribe,” Arva said.

“Lord Ewen is a crafty one.” Rollard smiled. “Scrahb. Mah lady will love to heah about that. Finbar, Moogah, bring those hefty fellows in here!” he called over his shoulder. “You don’t mind if they begin to transport these heah goods?”

“Not at all, that is the purpose of them being here.”

“May Ah say, Arva, Lord Ewen’s reaction was unexpected.”

Arva smiled up at him, but said nothing.

The man became disconcerted. “Ah say again, allow me to rephrase, what changed his mind?”

“Nothing,” Arva answered. “His purpose and his lady’s wife’s purpose in the use of the funds have always been aligned. As I have been told, when his lady left for Ternua, the house was defenseless, and he moved the funds here. Now that is no longer the case.”

Rollard blinked. “Are you telling me that Lord Ewen’s motives are entirely honorable?”

“Of course.”

“Ah must say, Ah have known Ewen for some time...” his voice trailed off. “That’s all Ah will say. Miss Arva, you say you are a scrahb?”

Arva nodded. “My twin brother traveled with Ewen before he was Sir Ewen.”

“Twins? Ah think twins are fascinating.”

“I think so too.”

“Perhaps we could get together at some point, and you can tell me all about twins,” Rollard suggested.

“I would be delighted,” Arva said.

“Then it is a date,” Rollard said. “Ah understand the Iron Bell serves a most succulent duck.”

“That would be fantastic.”

“Ah also understand you will be going to Olokand soon.”

“Not for the next two days,” Arva clarified.

“As it happens, Ah will be free tomorrow night.”

“That sounds nice.”

“If you will excuse me, Ah must supervise,” Rollard said.

“It has been a pleasure.”

Rollard bowed. “The pleasure is all mine.”

***

It just so happened that Sir Baris was on a mission of romance himself. Well, romance and military. He hoped to speak to the Lady Erane Ostaurney and inquire if her son needed squiring. He would soon be marching with Ewen, and such experience would do the lad good. And it would be a good excuse to see the lady again.

The knight turned the corner to Ternua Street to find one Marhet of Lake examining the same house he was bound to. Baris looked around, wondering if he had taken a wrong turn somewhere.

Marhet turned around. “Sir Baris, is it?”

“Marhet, I didn’t expect to meet you here,” Baris said.

“Nor I, Sir Baris. I told Lord Ewen I would look into the house.”

Baris was befuddled. “Is Lady Erane a client of yours?”

“I’m afraid Sir Baris that I know no Lady Erane. I am here determining if the house belongs to the Baron of Kolorn as collateral for the loan ...” Marhet said some other words, but Baris had stopped listening.

When Marhet stopped speaking Baris asked, “My Lady owed the Baron money? And dwarves were involved?”

Marhet shook his head. “Why no, Sir Baris! Supposedly the Baron of Kolorn owned this domicile!”

“Oh! My Lady is a tenant of the Baron.” Baris nodded in what he thought was understanding.

“Yes! No. She is a tenant, Sir Baris, but not of any Baron. According to the records here in Tashal this dwelling, two units, is owned by one Mariel of Runder, physician. I have just determined that she, the physician, lives in the right hand side.”

“Well that makes perfect sense, because I escorted the Lady to the left hand side,” Baris said. “I’m glad I could be of service.”

“I understand, Sir Baris, but I need to speak to the tenant in the left hand unit to discharge my full and complete my duty to Lord Ewen. Are you taking that responsibility on, Sir?”

Well, he was going in there anyway. Baris stood up straight. “I will take this duty upon my shoulders.”

“Sir Baris. One of us has to talk to the tenant in this left hand unit. I’m prepared to do that, but if you’re taking over, I have to know.”

“You need to talk to her. I was going to talk to her, so it’ll be fine.”

“Very well Sir Baris, I will inform Lord Ewen that you have taken this part of the investigation upon yourself and off my shoulders,” Marhet said.

“Wait, what am I doing again, specifically?” Baris asked.

“We need to find out, Sir Baris, who owns this house. I have determined it is not the Baron of Kolorn, and therefore it is not legitimate collateral for the loan that your liege has purchased.”

“Oh, that’s a problem! We should find that out.”

Marhet covered his face with his palm for a moment, turned around, and left.

Baris went to the left hand door and knocked. A moment later the door opened to reveal a peasant woman of indeterminate age dressed in a cowl over her head. “No. We don’t need any,” she said.

Baris blinked. “Oh, I’m not selling anything. I’m here to see Lady Erane. It is I, Sir Baris.”

The woman looked at the knight. “Oh, oh, Sir Baris! I was instructed to admit you. Please, come in, my lord,” this last part she said stiffly. She backed up, and Baris followed her inside.

Baris found himself in a small entryway. Stairs led upwards. To the right was a small room in which was a table, chair, and a bench. To the left was a cabinet for crockery and tableware, flanked by a chair which struck him as a little odd.

“Perhaps, my lord, you would care to sit?” the peasant pointed to the room on the right.

Baris nodded.

“I will tell my lady of your arrival. Can I get you, an ale?”

“Of course,” Baris said, and plopped down on the bench at the table.

“Very good, my lord.” The peasant woman disappeared to what was presumably the kitchen and returned with a tankard of ale. “I will, go get, my lady.” She headed up the stairs.

The way the woman spoke, Baris began to think she was dim. Or perhaps she thought he was dim. It was a feeling he was not unaccustomed to, but it didn’t bother him overmuch. He sipped his ale.

A few minutes later the peasant woman returned down the stairs. She curtseyed awkwardly with a nervous smile before tottering off into the kitchen. Shortly thereafter the Lady Erane came down and flashed Baris with a radiant smile. “Sir Baris, how wonderful to see you again.”

Baris had been thinking back to his training in courtly manners, and put it to use. When the woman entered he rose, turned to her, bowed, took her hand and said, “It’s nice to see your smile again.”

“Oh, Sir Baris, you flatter me.”

“I have perhaps good news and bad news,” Baris said, getting straight to the point. “The Queen has appointed Lord Ternua Sheriff of Meselyneshire.”

“Sheriff is a very responsible position, and you are his right hand man.”

Baris nodded. “The Queen has ordered him to Olokand to face the Vikings if they return, and I am to accompany him.”

“There is great peril,” she said.

“I understand that you hail from near Olokand.”

“Yes, my family is from Alekenos, but my husband was from Rovinath,” Erane explained. “I have not been there for a while.”

“I didn’t mean to broach this so quickly but I am headed to war unexpectedly and may not return.”

Erane nodded. “We must accelerate what happens between us.”

Baris imagined himself intertwined with the woman before him, and his body warmed with ardor. He smiled. “My thoughts exactly.”

“Then let us to the Temple of Larani and be married post haste!”

Baris blinked. Married? This was quite awkward, but it would be most impolite to tell the woman what he had been actually thinking. How could he get out of this? He hated Larani, and he wasn’t even… “Of course, but I am a Sarajinian.” Surely that would solve this. He breathed a sigh of relief. That was a close one!

“Legal is legal, there isn’t a lot of time, let’s go now, the Laranian temple is right there!”

The Lady Erane took Baris by the arm, not listening to his mumbling. Before he knew it they were around the corner and standing in front of the Temple. Two guards of the Lady of Dolithor blocked the way.

“We cannot allow you to pass,” one of the guards said.

Thank Sarajin!

It just so happened that at that moment, Sir Aeomund, newly appointed Reblena of the Shield Chapter, was walking his rounds. “DO NOT BAR SIR BARIS FROM THESE PRECINCTS! HE IS MY GOOD FRIEND!”

“Sir Aeomund, can you help me?” Baris said. He left the “get out of this” unspoken, because that would be rude to the Lady, and Aeomund was such a good friend it honestly shouldn’t even need to be said. They had fought together, knew each other’s every move, surely Aeomund could understand his thoughts on the matter.

The guards stepped aside, and Aeomund took Baris by the other arm. Flanked by Lady Erane and Sir Aeomund, Baris entered the Temple of Larani.

“What brings you here?” Aeomund asked.

Erane beamed. “We are getting married!”

Aeomund turned to Baris, smiling. “Am I the first to know?”

“Yes,” Baris squeaked.

“Let me get you a priest,” Aeomund said.

Wait, what? This wasn’t how this was supposed to go. Baris floundered, seeking somehow to delay what was fast becoming inevitable. “Shouldn’t we tell the others?”

Aeomund grinned. “I’ll be your BEST MAN!” He motioned to the altar. “We will be right in.” With that Aeomund, and Baris’s fading hopes, disappeared into the recesses of the temple.

Erane led the stupefied knight up to the altar, the statue of Larani gazing down upon them. Baris thought he saw mockery in those stone eyes.

Had it been even ten minutes since Erane had come downstairs? While Baris was still trying to find out what had just happened, Aeomund appeared behind him flanked by a cleric in Laranian robes.

“I am the Serolan Denyl Trochi,” the cleric introduced himself.

At the mention of a “serolan” Baris froze and went pale as visions of the rack flashed before his eyes. When he came back to himself the Serolan stood before him, Aeomund was at his side, and he stood across from Erane. Everyone was in position for the ceremony. He gulped.

“I never thought I would be your best man, nor ever see you be married,” Aeomund said excitedly, clapping Baris on the back.

“Me neither,” Baris coughed.

“You look pale. It’s okay to be nervous, but don’t worry, it’s almost over!”

Baris nodded dazedly, and tried to thrust the visions of the dungeon from his mind. The ceremony continued and he spoke the appropriate words when needed, although it felt like someone else was saying them.

“… man and wife. You may kiss the bride,” the cleric said. Baris blinked and Erane leaned towards him. Kiss! He knew how to do that!

And just like that Sir Baris was married to Lady Erane, who became the Lady Erane Tyrestal.

Then as quickly as they came to the temple, Baris found himself at Erane … his wife’s … house. “We need a wedding feast,” the lady told her servant.

“I thought we might,” the peasant woman said.

The rest of the night passed in a daze. Baris was introduced to Erane’s two children. Her son (now his son?), Ronen, was thirteen years old, and Sarina, her daughter (now his daughter?), was ten. At some point during the feast Baris agreed to take Ronen as a squire, which was the subject he had originally intended to broach to Erane.

Several ales later it occurred to Baris that he should perhaps inform his liege of his newly married status. It would likely be as much of a surprise to Ewen as it was to Baris; he could not imagine the Baron receiving more shocking news that evening. A servant was dispatched, and Baris returned to his ale.

Sometime later he and Erane retired to her bedroom, alone. By this time Baris had partaken of far more alcohol than even he was used to.

“That’s ok,” Erane said a few minutes later. “We’ll have plenty of time, the rest of our …” the rest of what she said was lost to the knight as he slipped into blissful oblivion.

***

Meanwhile, Lord Ewen, Sheriff of Meselynshire, returned to Raven Hall. Arva sat in the great hall.

“What is going on?” Ewen asked her.

“Sir Rollard stopped by and picked up the treasure,” Arva said. “I’m going to dinner with him tomorrow night.”

Ewen cocked his head. That was unexpected. “That should be most interesting for you.”

“That was my take. He thought you giving back the treasure was a ploy.”

Ewen smiled. “Did he indeed. I looked forward to your report of your evening with Sir Rollard.”

“Of course.”

Ewen sat down for a meal. A short time later Cekiya stepped through the door.

“Cekiya dear, it worries me when I lose you in a castle. Please, come tell us how you got into trouble now.”

Cekiya came over to Ewen. “Oh, no it was no trouble at all, I took them out like nothing!”

Ewen gritted his teeth. “Did you break anyone at the castle?”

Cekiya counted off on her fingers. “Three.”

“Three …” Ewen began.

Cekiya interrupted. “BUT, I was under the highest orders!”

“I gave you no instructions to break anyone at the castle.”

“Well, it would be the king! I found the king in perfect lucidity.”

Ewen wondered what “perfect lucidity” meant to one such as Cekiya, but he thrust the thought aside for the moment. “You found the king. And you thought him to be lucid.”

“Quite!”

“Cekiya, Cekiya, where is the king right now?”

“The north woods!”

“The king is in the north woods,” Ewen said.

“Yes! Oh, by the way, if you need to get into the castle, I know how,” Cekiya said.

“Did anyone see you leave the castle with the king?”

“Oh no! They couldn’t see.”

“Are we just going to leave the king in the north woods?”

“No, I was going to get your garments! The king is your size. Can I please take a few of your items?” Cekiya asked.

Ewen sighed. Years of planning ... “Let’s step upstairs.”

“But he’s waiting for his garments,” Cekiya said.

“He can wait a few more minutes.” Ewen headed upstairs, trailed by Cekiya and Arva. “What do you think the king would like to wear, Cekiya? Maybe something nondescript?”

“Yes, please!”

“Does the king have anything to arm himself with.”

Cekiya nodded. “Yes, he has one dagger and one arm.”

“The king will need a sword,” Ewen said. “And a purse. And he will need a horse.” Ewen entered his chambers and pulled out some of his older clothing from his wardrobe. He grabbed a spare broadsword and put £2 in an old purse.

“I’m going with,” Arva said.

Cekiya shook her head. “You have to wait far away. I’m putting it down.”

“He’s not a skittish horse!” Arva exclaimed.

“Yes he is!”

***

Some time later Cekiya returned to the clearing where she had left the king. Arva and Ewen waited nearby. She set a parcel down on the ground and knelt. “My Lord Ewen, Baron of Ternua taught me to kneel to your Grace.”

On top of the parcel was a sword holding down a letter Ewen had written to the king. Alas all of his planning had been for naught, because the king was gone.
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Matt
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