Bridaraarayus kneeled down in the dead grass, and examined the situation with a critical eye. Behind him, his aid Granjus held the reins to their horses, who whickered in the chill air.
The sky was a leaden gray that threatened the first snows of the winter, and though it was midafternoon, the silver disk of the sun behind the clouds shed no warmth. The wind occasionally blew through the branches of the grayish, denuded trees, making them all shiver, and also starting rippling waves on the nearby Galanus River.
Bridaraarayus was a desert elf, and like most of his kind, he was closer to seven feet than six. His lean, muscled body was tattooed with irregular stripes, from his face down to the tops of his long feet. 'Sir Bridar,' as he was known to his men, wore dark, charcoal-gray leathers to keep warm in the chill wind, and had a small hood attached to his jacket, to protect his long, elven ears from frostbite.
Granjus and Sir Bridar were on the eastern banks of the Galanus, examining a small river barge that was moored to the bank by ropes looped around several trees. All the signs indicated a small battle had taken place, near and on the river sloop. There were no bodies, save that of a horse on the deck of the river barge. The blood was fresh enough to leave a coppery smell in the air, as well as the smell of broken entrails and nightsoil.
The desert elf stood up, and crossed his arms, thinking. There were two distinct sets of arrows -- one set fired from the river barge, and another set buried half in the barge's hull and railing. Walking quietly and with a slow step, Bridaraarayus mounted the gangplank, looking around with keen eyes.
The deck was a strange scene, written in blood. The horse's body could have been no more than half a dozen marks old, placing the battle's time at about midmorning. There were strange tracks in the blood of the deck. Sir Bridar kneeled, one tattooed hand moving over the scene, and feeling the slowly freezing blood. There were hoof prints from a small pony, as well as prints from some small creature, like a raccoon, but different. The desert elf examined the prints closely, and could not identify what creature it might have been. Several bird prints in the blood made the scene resemble something from a travelling carnival, instead of the deck of a river barge.
Sir Bridar returned to his aid, taking the reins with a slight frown of confusion on his face. He asked Granjus, "The barge tell you anything?"
Granjus was a salted man in his mid-forties. His tanned and leathery face, coupled with golden tints to his dark hair, marked him as a sailor of some experience. The aid shook his head. "Not much. I can tell you she was made in Teras about four, maybe five years ago. But that's about it."
Bridaraarayus nodded, thinking for a moment. A fresh gust of wind blew some froth upon the Galanus River, even as a small river sloop desperately fought her way upriver against the wind, tacking with all her skill. All through winter, the southern winds from the Gulf of Teras would reverse, and so the rivers would be difficult to sail. Thinking about the chill water, the desert elf wondered how long it would take the bodies of the battle to surface.
Granjus noticed his leader's squinted eyes, and asked, "What're you thinking, sir?"
Sir Bridar said slowly, "Some of the sailors might have seen something."
The aid nodded, and clucked at his horse. Pulling the reins to one side, he turned the horse, and began plodding his way through the gray brush towards the muddy path that ran parallel to the river. After a moment, he heard Bridaraarayus coming with him. Once on the road, they opened their mounts up to a good canter, and then a gallop, heading north towards the city of Rilan.
With only six miles to cover, they reached the city in well less than half a mark. They slowed their tiring mounts to a canter, and then a slow walk, before dismounting, and leading them over the cobblestones into Rilan. Squat, two-story houses with stone walls and thatched roofs stood over them as they wound their way through the streets. Several venders shouted their wares from street corners, and a few people were out in the cold. For the most part, the city was quiet, except near the docks, and along the main road up the mountain.
Rilan Proper was a small city, as cities went, but it was in an important place. It was two days' sail north of Teras, and three days sail south of Kashin, for a river sloop. The sloops bound the two cities together, and Rilan was a good stop-over along the way. As well, Mount Rilan, which towered well into the leaden clouds, had a small dwarven community that supplied stone and metalworks to the city. The back side of Mount Rilan, closer to the mountain's top, held one of the only universities for mages in all the world. Rilan was also a regional administration hub for the king, and allowed for a consolidation of resources from a large barony, including the mountain itself.
Bridaraarayus led Granjus to the city's center, and then across the cobblestoned square to the Vedis. The Vedis was Baron Complan's court building, and also housed the stockades, the militia's armory, and the barracks for the Guard -- Caron Complan's full time police and soldiers.
Granjus took the reins from Sir Bridar, and then led the horses around the back, to the Guard's stables. Sir Bridar went up the main steps of the Vedis, which were empty and desolate seeming in the cold, dim light. Though it was empty outside, the inside of the Vedis was busy, with secretaries and plaintiffs filling the main court hall. Baron Complan sat behind a massive desk, patiently listening to two men argue some fine point of the law, each brandishing a parchment of some sort.
The court hall appeared normal to the desert elf, and he nodded to the two men of the Guard that flanked the Baron Complan to protect him. The two men nodded back, before resuming their usual watch of the crowd for danger or assassins.
Bridaraarayus strode into a side passage, and then further back into the Vedis, to the offices of the Guard and the stockades. The reeve on duty immediately stood to attention, and said, "Welcome back, sir. Nothing to report, but I do have several parchments the baron wanted you to look over."
The desert elf nodded absently, and took the parchments into his small office. His desk was large enough for him, which made it huge by many standards -- almost as large as the baron's ornate desk. Sir Bridar's office was spartan and utilitarian, with only an all-weather cloak hanging in one corner, and a massive ash longbow hanging back behind his chair.
Granjus entered the office after a polite knock on the door, and said, "The horses are taken care of. What's this?" He reached down to the desk, and picked up one of the parchments, bearing an ornate reddish-waxed seal.
Sir Bridar let Granjus answer the question for himself, by reading the official letter. The desert elf continued to scan through the other parchments, before turning his attention back to his aid.
Granjus whistled, and sat down, rereading the letter. "Who are these people, that he wants to pay so much?"
Bridaraarayus shrugged. The letter was an official request from the real ruler of Rilan -- the Baron and the Bishop Dwarfendale, a dwarf whose fortress half-way up the mountain could withstand the seige of a large nation's army. The Baron and the Bishop wanted a detachment of the Guard to escort several treasurers with two-thousand ducats from his fortress of Lok Giran, down to the Soul Smithy church just a few blocks down from the Vedis. Once to the Soul Smithy, the Baron and the Bishop wanted a continuous guard within the church.
Granjus said, "Hunh. Two-thousand ducats. That's... almost twenty-thousand in gold." He glanced up from the letter, and asked, "The Baron and the Bishop wants us to keep a continuous guard on these ducats, until these four people pick it up?" The aid tossed the letter on the desk, and scowled at it, hoping it would burst into flames. Granjus had his fair share of money problems -- not the least of which was his rising tab at the Broken Bow, the largest tavern in the city.
After a moment, Sir Bridar said quietly, "Maybe they're with Firestorm."
The aid paused, and rubbed at the stubble on his chin. "Hrm. Might be you're right, but if any of Firestorm had been in the area, surely we would've heard about it?"
The desert elf shook his head, and was thinking. Firestorm was the elite arm of Gideon Enterprises, the most powerful business enterprise in all of the western realms. Mainly composed of powerful battle-mages, the elite arm helped ferret out Inquisitors hiding out in Rakore, and also went abroad quite often, to protect the interests of Gideon Enterprises, and all of the kingdom. Where ever they went, trouble followed. He had seen it often enough, when they visited with the Baron and the Bishop. The Church of Galgiran was one-third owner in Gideon Enterprises, and the manager for their interests was the Baron and the Bishop Dwarfendale.
Baron Complan was certainly nervous enough, every time one of them came through Rilan. He had his dockmasters keep an eye on the Gideon Enterprises docks and warehouses, just in case unusual things started happening, or strange people began to visit.
Sir Bridar glanced at the text of the letter, upside-down from his perspective. The descriptions of the four individuals that would be picking up the ducats was definately 'strange'. The Baron and the Bishop was expecting a minstrel and master swordsman by the name of Tram, a dwarven warrior with a brown beard by the name of Ahira, a half-elven maiden with a bastard sword going by the name of Rain, and a lunatic by the name of Archon, along with a talking crow. The Chief of the Guard shook his head, thinking slowly but surely, with his gray eyes never leaving the letter.
Granjus had long ago learned the habits of his leader, and let the desert elf work his way through the problem. When he initially took the position, he had been afraid that the Chief of the Guard was a dim-witted, slow elf that had been appointed by Baron Complan simply because of his imposing size. Granjus had learned quickly that, though he was slow, Bridaraarayus was anything but dim-witted.
The desert elf said, "We need to speak with Lantheros."
The aid drew his lips down in a thoughtful frown, and then nodded. "I'll summon him immediately."
Sir Bridar shook his head, and instead moved out of his office, leading Granjus out. He nodded to the reeve on duty, who stood again to attention. The desert elf swept out of the office quietly, but the difference in his presence was palpable. Granjus hurried to keep up.
The Chief of the Guard left the Vedis, and began walking down the cobble-stoned streets towards the Gideon Enterprises office and its warehouse. There, they would find Lantheros, the local branch manager of GE in Rilan. Though technically not of the feudal system, and therefore subject to the authority of a knight like Bridaraarayus, GE held considerable power in Rakore. Granjus thought all of this, as he followed Sir Bridar towards the GE office, and also remembered that Lantheros had the ear of the Baron and the Bishop Dwarfendale, as well. The Gideon Enterprises headquarters was located in Teras, but the Baron and the Bishop held considerable power, even there.
There were only a few blocks of houses and small family businesses between the Vedis, and the docks. The brisk pace the tall desert elf set kept them warm, despite the chill in the air.
The docks were actually a single dock, built half of stone and half of lumber, running for half a mile along the shored-up bank of the Galanus River. Oxen hauled massive cranes and freight along sets of rails all along the docks, and close to three dozen sloops were moored there, as well as a dozen river barges nearly identical to the one they had looked at earlier in the afternoon.
Lantheros' office was, like many of the buildings in Rilan, a squat, no-nonsense affair made of stone and wood and thatch. Unlike many of the buildings, it was nearly the size of the Vedis. Bridaraarayus' casual eye noted that a great number of sellswords and marksmen were patrolling around the GE office, in addition to the large amount of personnel traffic such an operation demanded.
A guard at the door recognized Sir Bridar, and let him and his aid in. The bottom floor had a number of desks, with secretaries writing and organizing files. Lantheros threaded his way through the captains and botswains, quartermasters and secretaries, to greet Bridaraarayus.
Lantheros was a lean and hawkish man, with a hawk's beak of a nose, and thinning hair on top. His eyes were extremely sharp, and he seemed to think far more quickly than was possible. "Ah, Sir Bridaraarayus. What can I do for you, and what brings you to the GE offices?"
The Chief of the Guard was blunt, and cut to the point. "Anything unusual, along the river?"
Lantheros blinked at the odd question, and then nodded. "If, by unusual, you mean, 'bodies floating in the cold river, bearing the marks of swords and arrows in their bellies,' then yes, I'd say so."
Granjus glanced from Sir Bridar to Lantheros, as the desert elf asked, "Where."
Lantheros spun about, and signalled for the two to follow him. Along one wall of the room was a large map of Rakore, crafted from a single slab of gray granite, and only half an inch thick. The GE local manager ran his fingers along the slight indentions in the stone, following the river from Mount Rilan, down. Perhaps twenty miles south of Rilan, he said, "Here. Three bodies. Two were human. One was a half-elf -- cut cleanly in half from collar-bone to hip."
Granjus grimaced, and Bridaraarayus frowned. The aid asked, "Any idea who could've done it?"
"I have an excellent idea of who did it."
The desert elf crossed his arms, which were level with Lantheros' head. The Chief of the Guard said nothing, but his entire tone indicated that he was not leaving without an explanation.
Lantheros smiled, looking up at the Chief of the Guard from beneath his eyebrows. He took a step closer to the desert elf, his hawkish nose almost brushing the desert elf's tattoos on his forearms. "I have four people, upstairs, who have accrued a number of favors from Gideon Enterprises, and the Baron and the Bishop. There is something going on, here in Rilan, that bears investigating. I have not had the time to do so, and they are currently recovering from the fight of this morning."
Bridaraarayus glanced around, and then bent over low, so that only Granjus and Lantheros could hear him. "Firestorm?"
The local manager smiled, and shook his head. "No, they are not Firestorm," he said in a quiet voice. "But they show great promise. We may even try to recruit them, soon enough. For now, however, we need them to investigate something. Come with me."
Lantheros led the two Guards back to the center of the room, and up the staircase that was there. The atmosphere on the second floor was significantly different than that of the first. Warm, dark woods, framed parchments, leather couches and seats, and a rather comfortable desk made the room seem inviting. Bridaraarayus' careful eye compared the two floors, and noted a secret wall in the back of the room. He paid it no attention, and instead focused on the four people sleeping or snoozing on the couches, and on the floor.
A tall human youth of perhaps twenty years was sprawled out in one of the leather chairs. The man opened one glazed eye to regard Lantheros, Sir Bridar, and Granjus, but the GE local manager waved his hand in reassurance, before moving to his desk. There were several papers on the desk, and Lantheros pawed through several of them, looking for something.
While he did so, Bridararayus' gaze took in the other three members of the group. One was the dwarf with the brown beard, which was unusual in dwarves. His wounds, cuts, scrapes, and bruises indicated that he had taken a fair beating in the battle earlier that morning. Another member of the group was a lithe-looking half-elven woman sprawled out on the couch, with raven-black hair arrayed around her face. Sir Bridar idly noted her beauty, at the same time he noted that she had her fair share of cuts, scrapes, bruises, and... The desert elf noted that blood was oozing through the blanket covering her, slowly but surely, over her left arm.
The fourth member of the group turned over in his sleep, muttering something about demons. He was tall and thin for a human, with graying hair and a long face. A crow stood nearby, turning its head to better look up at the tall desert elf, but otherwise silent.
Lantheros found what he was looking for, and began to read fairly quietly, so as not to disturb the resting people in his office. "The merchant Davad was over-seeing delivery of a special shipment from Stomalin Keep, to Lok Magius. We didn't want it to come by sail, because of how dangerous the shipment was, so it went overland, strait along the old Stomalin road. The shipment met a bit of... trouble, and Davad hired these four to investigate."
While he talked, Lantheros sat upon his desk, one leg dangling, the other planted firmly on the floor. "Apparently, and we're not sure on details, those people on the barge observed the shipment. They, and two others." He looked up into the eyes of the Guards. "That shipment was extraordinarily sensitive. Mistress Brin just received it, this morning, but the security surrounding the nature of the shipment..."
Sir Bridar asked, "Can you tell me?"
Lantheros looked chagrined, and said, "I'm sorry. I have explicit orders. I can tell you that it had something to do with what happened to my cousin, Cutheros."
Granjus whistled very low, only half-remembering the four sleeping guests in the room. Only three days before, half of Cutheros' apothecary shop had been destroyed in a massive explosion. The Guard had seen its fair shair of magical explosions before, but nothing compared with the blast at the apothecary. The heat had melted the cobblestones, and landed a small oak out front on top of a nearby building. Cutheros was alive, but only by the grace of the gods. Father Korin of the Soul Smithy had been out shopping, and had been able to save the man through healing prayers to Galgiran.
Bridaraarayus' aid asked, "How is your cousin. Will he be all right?"
Lantheros nodded. "Yes, he'll be fine. He's trying to rebuild his shop, as we speak. What bothers all of us, though, is who might know something about that shipment. I trust these four, and now you, with some of what I can. I've had to fend off Baron Complan's requests for some time."
Sir Bridar interrupted, saying, "Is that why Lok Magius was assigned to investigate the explosion, and not the Guard?"
The local GE manager nodded. "Exactly." Lowering his voice again, he said, "Those five that were down at the river barge gave a helluva fight, and there were no survivors. The leader of the group is either a water elf, or a giant of a man that fights with a two-bladed sword, only he keeps it sheathed so that it looks like a quarterstaff. One rides a normal horse, and the other rides an enormous war horse -- maybe a Chre war horse."
Lantheros looked expectantly at Bridaraarayus, hoping mention of either rather unique characters would joggle his memory. The desert elf squinted, deep in thought, and then shook his head. "Miss Cantherone might know of them."
The GE man sighed. "Well, there goes that idea." He rallied his spirits, as he put the parchments down on the desk, thought better of it, and handed them to the Chief of the Guard. "Keep these. Use them if you can -- but remember, this level of secrecy comes straight from the Baron and the Bishop, and from Mistress Brin."
Both Guards nodded, even as Bridaraarayus handed the documents to Granjus. The aid examined them quickly, looking for something that might not have been mentioned in the conversation.
Lantheros said quietly, "Everything we know, is there. We must find out who these people are, and find out how much they know about the... shipment."
Bridaraarayus gestured to the four people resting in the office, and asked, "What of them?"
Lantheros shrugged. "Until I know something further, we're powerless. They're not Firestorm, so they're less liable to draw official attention, if you gather my meaning."
Granjus' eyes went wide at that. Whatever the Baron and the Bishop, and Mistress Brin, were up to, they meant to keep it from the King and his feudal lords.
Sir Bridar seemed thoughtful, and nodded. "Of course." He paused for a moment, thinking.
There was a brief flutter of feathers, and the crow flew up to the desk beside Lantheros. Its claws clacked along the surface of the desk, as it moved back and forth, before turning its head to look at all of them from one eye.
That seemed to decide the Chief of the Guard. "I will not tell the Baron Complan." He turned and swept out of the office with a tightly reined power that seemed on the verge of magical. Granjus nodded to Lantheros, before following the Chief of the Guard down the stairs, and out of the building.
Outside, in the chilly air, Granjus asked, "What now?"
"Now," resounded Bridaraarayus' hard tone, "We help them any way we can."
The aid said gently, but firmly, "I hate to remind you of your duties, sir, but you do have feudal obligations to the Baron Complan."
The desert elf whirled on Granjus, and stepped up to the man so close that Granjus nearly fell over backwards turning his head up to meet the knight's gaze. Bridaraarayus said softly, "I have a Blood Debt to repay Mistress Brin, and the Baron and the Bishop. Which do you think is more important?"
Granjus swallowed whatever retort he been preparing, and dropped his gaze.
A Blood Debt among the desert elves was as powerful as the geas of a god, for the desert elves had nearly been wiped out by the orcs, prior to the War of the Undead. The aid feared for any man -- or beast -- that stood in the way of that Blood Debt.
Baron Complan pounded his spartan desk, his face livid with barely supressed anger. "Damnit, Ravid! You can't keep me in the dark like this!"
Ravid Axehandle and the baron were the only ones in his back office, off to one side of the court hall inside the Vedis. The baron was still dressed in his rust-red robes of office, over his chain mail.
Ravid was a representative of the Baron and the Bishop, down from Lok Giran to give Baron Complan the Baron and the Bishop's orders. Ravid Axehandle had no official title, but the baron knew the dwarf had some position of considerable standing within Lok Giran. The dwarf had a fiery red-gold beard, and was built thicker than any other dwarf he had ever seen. There was a depth of character and fiery rebellion within the representative of the Baron and the Bishop that few men would see even once in their lives.
Ravid crossed his arms, and there was the unmistakeable clink of chainmail beneath his winter leathers. "I'm tellin ye as much as I kin, by Galgiran's beard!"
Tadeus Complan sighed, letting his anger drain. His fist smarted from where he'd pounded it on the desk, but he refused to acknowledge it in front of a dwarf. "Half a building was destroyed, supposedly by a renegade orc with magic, if the rumors are to be believed. You ordered me to keep my Chief of the Guard from investigating, and now you won't even tell me what Lok Magius or Lok Giran has found. If anything."
The baron fumed for a moment, before asking, "Why? At least tell me why you can't tell me."
The dwarf pursed his lips, thinking it over for a moment. "Olrot. I kin tell ye this much: We're keepin ye out of the investigation for a damned good reason -- an it goes all the way back tae Mount Basilisk."
Baron Complan squinted his eyes, the pain of his fist forgotten for a moment. Mount Basilisk was the capital of the kingdom. From there, King Graniteshoulders administered all of Rakore -- through his dukes.
Tadeus Complan looked at the dwarf across from him very shrewdly. "You suspect treachery."
Ravid glowered at the baron. "I did'nae say anythin o the like. All I said is that there's a damn good reason for not puttin ye in the line o information. What ye dinnae know, ye kinnae tell. An truth be told, I've alreada told ye too much, if anyone does much moor diggin. But I s'pose I have tae tell ye thot much, man, tae keep ye from interferin."
That the dwarf had the audacity to call the baron 'man' was enough to show how close he was to the Baron and the Bishop -- and to show that his official rank might be considerable. Baron Complan choked back the hot reply that leapt into mind, and forced himself to calm down. Ravid was irritating, even for a dwarf, but the baron had his duties. He had been promoted by the Baron and the Bishop himself, to the title of Baron, because he was one of those few knights that worshipped Galgiran, as well as because of his leadership abilities.
Tadeus Complan sighed. "Very well. The investigation aside... How is the Baron and the Bishop?"
Ravid Axehandle's attitude changed to a much more reverential tone. "He's doin fair enough, though he hates havin tae spend so much time at Mount Lavanor an Mount Basilisk. Dwarfendale's fumed quite a bit, lately, at not bein able tae spend time here at Mount Rilan, doin what he needs tae do."
The baron nodded. "I can sympathize with that. How much longer do you reckon he'll have to keep running around? Or, how long will it be before he returns to stay for awhile?"
Ravid shook his head. "We was hopin thot with the winter turnin the winds back the other way, the river traffic comin to a halt, he'd be able tae take a break. But, it does'nae look so. Somethin's goin on, back to the east, an the Inquisition's at the heart o it."
Baron Complan frowned, absently rubbing his fist underneath the table. "Does that mean Firestorm will be called in?" He had a vague thought that perhaps they had already been called in, which would explain the explosion at Cutheros' apothecary.
The dwarf shook his head, his beard and his warbraids waving as he did so. "Nyaw. Most o em's been sent tae Mad Dog Island, s'far as I know."
The baron nodded. Maddog Island -- pronounced 'Mad Dog Island' by the dwarves -- held one of the ancient teleport towers of prehistory. From Maddog Island, an entire fleet could be teleported anywhere in the world. Something was going on, to have Firestorm in that kind of readiness state.
Ravid continued, as if reading the baron's mind. "Somethin's always goin on. If it's not the Ogre Nations," and he spit upon the floor, "Then it's the Inquisition, or the undead, or the Nabrolians, or pirates, or a thousand other lil things."
Baron Complan smiled wryly. "And speaking of the Ogre Nations, I understand that a roc-hawke dropped off some orcs not too far from here."
The dwarf's attention was suddenly full upon the baron. "I have'nae heard anythin aboot that."
Tadeus nodded. "One of Miss Cantherone's people observed a roc-hawke off to the south side of the mountain, dropping off a small party of orcs. Her observer lost the orcs when they crossed the Galanus River one night, about two weeks ago. And you know the old saying: where there is one, there may be many."
Ravid Axehandle uncrossed his arms, and stroked his beard. "Aye, ye may be right. I wonner..." His shrewd blue eyes locked on the baron's brown eyes. "I'll have tae have the Rubynoses look intae this. D'ye have anythin for the Baron an the Bishop, afore I go?"
Baron Complan shook his head. "No. It's all in the reports."
Ravid nodded, and left the small office hurriedly. Tadeus wondered what was going through the dwarf's mind, but shook his head. He had learned years earlier not to try and follow Ravid's train of thought. As the baron swept out of his office to return to the court hall, he idly wondered if the orcs were preparing for an invasion, and sincerely hoped that they were not.
Invisible to all but spells and special prayers, thousands upon thousands of runes and wards lay hidden throughout the court hall, and all of the Vedis. Anyone with evil intent would find himself blasted to pieces by the prayer-wards laid down by the priests at Lok Giran and the Soul Smithy. Empty clay cisterns were buried along many of the cobblestoned side streets, to prevent seige engines from attacking the Vedis. Hundreds of suits of chain mail lay in the underground armory, along with weapons of all kinds. Two hundred dwarven cavalrymen were just three marks away in Lok Giran. The most powerful mages in the west were a teleport away from anywhere, just up the mountain.
Baron Complan smiled grimly, as he sat down at his over-sized desk to resume his court functions. He sincerely hoped the hordes of the Ogre Nations would not attack -- for they would die in countless numbers if they did.
Gyven Furlong finished drying off a wooden tankard, and hung it up on a peg on the wall behind him. Across the bar from Gyven, sat the Chief of the Guard, Sir Bridar, and his aid, Granjus.
Gyven was a no-nonsense kind of man, with strong arms and a thick waist. He had seen considerable fighting in the War of the Undead, but had retired his sword arm to open up the Broken Bow tavern, the largest of its kind in Rakore. Hundreds of sailors went through Rilan, and the Broken Bow was where most of them went. Gyven was known for busting up a brawl if he had to, but the Guard helped him keep the place respectable, even when it was crowded with sailors and patrons.
It was still early in the evening, when the desert elven Chief of the Guard and his aid had walked in off the street to talk with the barkeep. There was a small crowd of sailors in one corner of the broken bow, but with three dozen tables and a small stage, there was plenty of room left for the crowds to come in, in the evening. There was also plenty of room for a private conversation at the bar, while the barmaids brought out tankards to the sailors at their tables, or tossed logs into the large fireplaces.
A barmaid scrubbed a tankard clean, and then slid it down the bar to Gyven, who dried it, and hung it up on the wall. As he worked, he answered Sir Bridar's questions as best he could.
"Seems like... We did have a group of mercenaries come in, night before last, on Prayer's Eve. There were four of em, about like you describe. Big guys, heavily muscled. Way they walked, way they moved..." He finished up that tankard, and then grabbed at another as it slid by. He met Sir Bridar's eyes, and said, "I wouldn't have wanted to tangle with em, that's for sure."
Bridaraarayus nodded, and gestured for Gyven to continue.
Furlong hung the tankard up, and grabbed at another as it sailed past. "When it's crowded like that on a Prayer's Eve, it's hard to keep track of patrons -- specially when the other desert elves an the tomanths've been playin that blasted seige game."
Granjus chuckled wryly. Some dwarf or another had started a popular game at the Broken Bow, involving the aboreal tomanths. The dwarf-sized lizard-folk had quickly taken to the game, leaping about the Broken Bow after being hurled by the stronger humans and the tall desert elves. Modest bets were often made, on which tomanths could leap the farthest with the aid of a good hurl, and the tomanths collected half the winnings. The game was called 'seige' because the tomanths had to leap over a drunkard, and then through two other people who stood to block his flight.
Sir Bridar even cracked a smile at the mention of the seige game, but Gyven seemed not to notice it as caught another sliding tankard. "Anyway, I did notice this one, short half-elf that came in an talked with the four mercs. I kept an eye on those mercs, in case they decided to start some trouble. Well, the half-elf talked with them for awhile, an then he left. The mercs just kept sippin a lil bit of ale, late into the night. They left just before I closed up, mebbe a mark after midnight."
Bridaraarayus rubbed his chin, the tattoos on his face masking some of his thoughts.
Gyven Furlong said, "There is one thing you might be interested in."
Sir Bridar and Granjus perked up.
The barkeep continued, "On their way out, cause we were close to closin, I heard one of em mention to another somethin about 'golden suicide'." Gyven looked at both of the Guards expectantly, to see if they had ever heard of it.
Bridaraarayus nodded to Gyven, and said, "It's a ship." He moved to leave, and Granjus followed not far behind him.
Once outside in the late afternoon chill, Granjus asked, "What kind of ship?"
Light snow flakes began to drizzle down out of the leaden skies, very slowly. There was very little wind, but Sir Bridar seemed to float along the street as though an invisible wind were blowing a dark shadow along. Trailing behind him was Granjus, his rust-red tabard looking like dried blood in the weak light filtering through the clouds.
The Chief of the Guard said nothing, but his aid knew from the soft smile in his eyes that he was on to something.
Sir Bridar first checked with Stovan Kemal, the dark-skinned Amaran that owned the pens on the eastern side of the city. There, anyone with coin could stall, buy, purchase, or sell livestock of all sorts, ranging from horses to ponies -- and even the occasional elephant or anklosaur.
Stovan, wearing his usual green leathers, and wearing a blindingly bright white smile in his dark face, was more than helpful. He had, indeed, been stalling five riding horses, and a massive Chre warhorse. The Chre warhorse was very violent, but its owner was anything but. The owner was a giant of a man, that carried on his saddle a loop for his quarterstaff. One of the other riders had been a small half-elf, and a third had been an elven maiden with blue skin and green hair. Stovan said that the quartermaster for the Suicide Gold had come for the Chre warhorse and the elven maid's horse the day before. The other five horses had been taken out of the stalls several days prior, by their riders.
After visiting with Stovan Kemal, the Guards then went to the dockmasters. Baron Complan's men, the dockmasters were more than willing to help. After searching through their records, they found that the Suicide Gold, under a Captain Vischassy, had set sail earlier that morning. The listed destination was Takanal -- with a cargo of mining supplies, and a dozen hired hands.
Bridaraarayus then went to the GE office, and slipped in as everyone else was leaving for the day. Granjus stayed downstairs to talk with one of the GE captains he knew, while Sir Bridar went upstairs to talk with Lantheros, and explain what he had found.
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