I wonder what the next person who comes down this road is going to think when they find the poison -bloated corpse of Mr. Curly Hair stark naked in the middle of the road. Probably they’ll assume he ran afoul of highwaymen and count themselves lucky that it’s not them dead there. I wonder how long before someone will bother to bury him, if ever. And of course he may not even be dead, he may survive. And what then? What will he do? Where will he go? Will his life be irrevocably changed forever by this random encounter with a charming yet cunning stranger? Or will it just be a bump on the road of a life full of misadventure and wild escapades that will disappear in the haze of tavern-booze? These are the kinds of things you think about when you’re pushing a nearly-dead woman down a rutted path in a wheelbarrow that would need several upgrades to be considered a piece of garbage.
As I predicted the cold of last night vanished like a tiny cake at tea party and before you knew what hit you it was stifling hot. And the worse part was there was nary a breeze to be spoken of – the heat just sat on your chest like a massively obese furry cat. After less than an hour of pushing that damn barrow I was soaked through as thoroughly as if I was underwater. Corune is heavier than she looks. After a while I started singing to myself as a way to keep my spirits up a little. I’ve heard that’s something that laborers do when they labor. I suppose it’s just a way to relieve boredom. I tried to think back to some of the harvest and sewing songs that I had heard when I was a child but they remained tauntingly out of reach – just a few fragments of melody. So instead I sang what I knew. I don’t suppose singing arias while you’re pushing a wheelbarrow is exactly the tradition but it got the job done – the job of making something unbearable merely intolerable.
After another couple of hours Corune’s eyes fluttered open, probably buoyed by the healing power of my fantastic voice. Or possibly she was just wakened by the sweat dripping off my chin onto her face as I leaned into my work. But most likely the first thing. She asked for a drink in a trembling voice and I made to pass her what was left in the flask I took off the geezers, but her hand was shaking so badly that in the end I held it to her lips to drink. It was a repulsively intimate act. She immediately started coughing.
“What was that?”
“Corn liquor, I figured it’s time you graduated from rice wine. Besides, the hard stuff is good for you when you’re sick. I helps relieve sore throat, muscle pain, congestion and thickens the blood.”
“Is thick blood good?”
“Thin blood is bad so it stands to reason doesn’t it? I’m glad you’re awake because I wanted to run something by you. I have a confession to make. Just moments ago I shot a man and had my magic stick turn into a snake and bite him. He came upon me when I was in a state of undress and I felt that my actions were justified under the circumstances but I’m sure this probably is murder under the law. I wanted to confess that to you since that’s your thing. Inquisiting and getting confessions and so forth. I was thinking though, murder – that’s a serious crime for sure – how serious depends on how rich you are and how rich your victim is but it’s nothing to sneeze at regardless. Metaphorically speaking of course on account of there’s that sneezing judge in Aldreban. But when you think about it from a moral perspective as bad as murder is slavery is worse right? If you kill a person there may be ramifications there, a family without a bread-winner, loss of consortium, emotion stuff, they may have had a valuable skill that helped society, but maybe they didn’t have any of those things. Maybe they were a born in the cradle, dyed in the wool, first rate asshole and them being dead makes the world objectively a better place . So there’s some nuance there. I mean clearly people kill all the time and its fine in wars and executions and gladiatoring and so on.
But slavery? That has to be the worst crime imaginable wouldn’t you say? Taking a life away, that’s serious for sure, but taking away someone’s freedom? Whoo buddy is that some evil shit. Right? If you kill someone their suffering is over, they’re gone, on to the next life, go with the Gods – if all this Heaven stuff is true getting killed may be the best thing that ever happened to them. But taking another human, or Halfling, or orc or whatever and taking away their ability to decide for themselves? That has to be the number one worst thing anyone can ever do wouldn’t you agree? I mean just consider this – if you go to war and you murder a lot of people you’re a hero. You get money and prestige and people kiss your ass and it’s great – because you were the best at killing. But slavers? No one likes slavers. No one. Not even the people that want slaves. They still look at the slave sellers like they’re scum on the tip of their boot because they know, even they know even though they’re part of it , that slavery is the worst thing that can happen to someone.
I know what you’re probably thinking – well at least the slave still has a chance to get away and not be a slave, when someone’s dead you’ve taken away all they have and all they’re ever going to have. Which may be a good point. Obviously most slaves don’t kill themselves so being a live slave must be better than being dead, but you’re talking about the aftermath there not the act – the act of taking a life against the act of making someone’s life as horrible as possible. Have you ever heard anyone refer to slavery as the fourteenth Hell? That’s clever don’t you think? It kind of says it all right? A murder, they might go to the Hells, but slavery IS one of the Hells. Colloquially speaking of course.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Just something I was thinking about. Because you see I may have killed that man back there, but you know what I’ve never done? I’ve never had any part of anyone being enslaved. Not in any way. But you know what occurred me? Slavery is legal in Ulpine, you should know you were a slave there, but later on when the church took you in you were going around enforcing the law right? And slavery was the law right? I’m just curious, before you came here, in Ulpine, what kind of criminals were you chasing. I mean here I know that you’re hot on the ass of dangerous people like myself, but in Ulpine I’m just afire with curiosity about what you and your Vultur friends were up to. If I remember your story correctly you said that church took you from the family that owned you because they didn’t treat you the way a slave was supposed to be treated – not because slavery is wrong and they we setting you free. What does Lawful Vultur, Vultur the Lawgiver think about slavery? It’s perfectly legal in Ulpine right, as long as you follow the rules.”
“What are you insinuating?”
“Oh I’m just wondering about what you did in Ulpine lo those many years ago. As much as you scream at me when I say it you’re a bounty hunter, a bounty hunter with divine inspiration and backing if that makes you feel better, but a bounty hunter nevertheless. And I know that the main thing bounty hunters do in a place where slavery is legal is hunt down escaped slaves – they’re criminal after all right? I’m just wondering if you and your Vultur pals were riding around on horses looking all dashing in your blue greatcoats and grabbing up slaves running for the border with nets and lassos and shit. Some of you Vultur people put me on a wagon once that had shackles built into it and I thought it seemed familiar – I saw a picture of a thing like that in a book about slavery I read. Makes sense, there’s no slavery here in the Kingdom, not legally anyway so why not repurpose some of the old slave-catching gear huh? No reason to let equipment go to waste. Isn’t there even a god of slavery? Kerendis maybe is his name? Are he and Vultur pals or is it just a working relationship?”
“You shut your mouth!”
“I don’t hear a denial coming out of you.”
“Slavery is an abomination, the laws of Ulpine have been twisted by the corruption of selfishness. The selfishness of people like YOU! If . . .”
“No, you can’t talk your way out of this by trying to turn it around on me. You are a believer in the law right, and in Ulpine slavery is the law. So tell me, what did you do in obedience to your Lord Vultur and the Law? If you tell me you just did nothing, you hated it but you could do nothing about it, that’s fine – one person can’t fight an entire nation. But if you tell me that you were out there, riding around, chasing down slaves making a run for their lives, for their freedom – and you caught them and you dragged them back in chains. Well, if you tell me that that pretty much says it all doesn’t it?”
“I have nothing to say to you.”
“And yet you’ve just said so very much haven’t you? I can understand now why you get so upset about me telling a fib or two because you’re way up there on the high road aren’t you? It’s an interesting theological question isn’t it? When you die, which could be soon as sick as you are, will you go to heaven because of Vultur love or will you suffer the eternal torments of the Hells for placing innocent people in bondage?”
Later in the day as Beresford was growing larger before us we encountered a patrol of Royal soldiers. They seemed intent on passing us by, but I was able to flag them down. Despite my charms they seemed resolved to leave us to our devices, but once I told them that Corune was a priestess and that she was in serious need of medical attention they changed their minds in a hurry. The leader was certainly interested in helping us but he was still somewhat skeptical.
“She doesn’t look like a priestess of Adariel exactly.”
“I had to change her clothing to something less conspicuous, her vestments were drawing too much attention. Things are pretty bad out here in the countryside sir, there are those godless heathen types who not only would take advantage of a holy woman but specially would take pleasure in the act. I assure you, she’s a woman of the cloth and dedicated to her divine calling above all else. You’re going to find no more devoted and faithful priestess than her, I guarantee you that.”
My impassioned plea had the desired effect and moments later we were mounted up with the soldiers, leaving the decrepit wheelbarrow behind. Obviously it would be inappropriate for us to ride double with them so two of the soldiers doubled up while I took the reins of one of their fine military steeds. After enduring their instructions on how to ride, military scouts are good riders of course but I bet I could out ride most of them, they carefully levered Corune up behind me – making sure now to put their hands anywhere unsuitable as they manhandled the holy priestess and tied her to the saddle since she was too weak to hang on. She had enough strength to whisper in my ear though.
“I’m going to kill you some day Ela.”
“That sounds illegal to me, but I guess you’re the expert.”
Funds: 53,775 gold
Inventory: Courtier’s Outfit, Noble’s outfit (5), Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring, Ring of Disguise, Ring of Jumping, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), map, Badge of Last Resort, Healer’s Satchel, 28 tiny diamonds, Headband of Alluring Charisma +2, Ring of Protection +2, Saryah Phidaner gown, Crown of Conquest, signet ring, Stone of Good Luck, Onyx (55), Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Altar of Adariel, Cauldron of Brewing, Censer of Dreams, Bowl of Conjuring Water Elementals, Companion Mirror, darkwood lute, +3 buckler, celestial shirt, +1 Frost Demonbane Shortsword, potions of cure moderate wounds (5), potion of invisibility, +2 mithral chain shirt, masterwork buckler, +2 falcata, ring of protection +2, 120 gp, ring of sustenance , bottle of elfen absinthe, assorted jewelry, noble’s outfit, signet ring, dust of tracelessness, scroll of knock; +1 hand crossbow, cloak of resistance +1, ring of protection +1, masterwork thieves’ tools
Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane,
Piltis Swine, Rince Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle the butler, Alice Kinsey , “ Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Claire Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror, Eedraxis, Skin-Taker tribe, Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family, Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee, Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer, Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin, Lumber Consortium of Three Rivers, Hellerhad the Wizard, Forsaken Kin, Law Offices of Office of Glilcus and Stolo, Jey Rora, Colonel Tarl Ciarán, Mayor Baras Haldmeer, Rindol the Sage, Essa