After our touching reunion last night this morning Martialla gave me the inside view of what has been going on at Juost Manor after we parted ways in Beresford. Obviously the first part went off without a hitch since Roseblack showed up to help me out of my legal issue in Beresford. Martialla’s intention had been to return with her but the Baroness had insisted instead that she take up my tasks – or really just one task in specific, making sure that the Deepmare gap was closed to any rebellious Satander exiles that were feeling frisky. Martialla didn’t feel like she had any obligation (or desire) to follow those orders but she didn’t want to cheese off the Baroness while I was under her thumb still so off she went to Deepmare and from there to the fort that controlled the pass. The commander of said fort was none other than one of Duke Eaglevane’s abundant cousins – Zedkath. Old Zed was vociferously unhappy with his posting and knowing my ultimate goal regarding the duke Martialla tried to think or some way to turn this to my advantage but she couldn’t come up with anything. The entire endeavor seemed like a waste of time to her since while Zedkath has not loyal to the Juosts personally he’s not about to let an enemy force through the gap to attack the Kingdom either.
I asked her what the Baroness had her working on next and she simply said that it was the kind of work that rich people send people like her to do instead of their actual minions. I hope it wasn’t anything too distasteful, it’s hard to imagine the Baroness ordering much in the way of dirty deeds but it clearly wasn’t charitable work either. This only went on for a short while before the Baron returned with his new Kostelos best friends. It was clear to Martialla from the outset that the Kostelos shaman or witch or whatever had overthrown the Baron’s mind and he was under her spell – literally. After that people started disappearing and the Baron’s closest advisors and allies were all sent on missions far away. Martialla herself was sent on some fool’s errand, but instead she stayed in disguise and tried to unravel the magic on the Baron. She was found out and managed to escape with her life, but that’s when she was declared an outlaw and a bounty was placed on her head. Since she was labeled an outlaw anyway she decided to become one, taking to the woods as is the outlaw’s way, and robbing traders coming into Alleene.
She said that she didn’t really think that this was an effective way to wrest the Baron from the hands of the Kostelos but she didn’t know what else to do. She tried to come south to find me three times but any time she leaves the forest bounty hunters are on her tail and the last time sounds like it was a pretty close call to escape alive. Plus she didn’t actually know where I was so there was a very good chance, given how much I move around, that she wouldn’t have been able to find me anyway so she decided that the best thing to do was to stay put and wait for me to turn up at the Manor.
“And then you climbed out of a tree in the middle of my camp. You always did like to make an entrance. How did you manage that anyway?’
“I don’t know honestly. You’ve really gone above and beyond here, you could have just left and attended to your own business. You are a loyal friend and I appreciate that more than you can know.”
She shied away slightly “You’re not going to hug me again are you? This new attitude of yours is messing with my head.”
“I’ll get over it shortly, don’t worry.”
I met the rest of her crew of daring and deadly bandits which was made up of a whole three people. There was a fellow called Rum who had been a dock worker in Renwick until, well you know what happened there, and ended up being branded a thief on account of he was stealing stuff as he went through the countryside trying to get to Cathars where his sister lives. There was an army deserter by the name of Riv who looked like a tough son of a bitch but was obviously having some mental issues. And the third fellow was called Bacca, a lumberman who was on the run from the consortium for reasons he didn’t go into beyond saying they had a falling out. Martialla explained that she was the one who was doing the vast majority of the banditing and these fellows mostly just stood around and looked intimidating. They weren’t really bandits so much as lost lambs she was taking care of out of the kindness of her heart. She didn’t think when it came to doing any real bloody business they could be counted on for much.
“What’s this I hear about you cavorting with bugbears? You’re not ripped in half so I assume the truth is something else.”
“I wouldn’t say cavorting but I have been dealing with a small tribe of bugbears here in the woods. I’ve disguised myself as one of them and earned their trust – and by trust I mean that as long as I give them targets to attack they attack them. I don’t know if you know this, but those things are fucking terrifying.”
“Why are you dealing with them? That sounds like a great way to get yourself killed.”
She’s pretty good at hiding her feelings but I could tell she was a little rattled “I didn’t feel I had a choice, with the people that have been coming after me I needed some muscle. It’s been pretty bad. You and I have been in a couple of bad scrapes and I’ve been truly and fully afraid for my life twice before, but the kind of people that come after you for money? They’re something else. I’d be dead if I hadn’t turned those savages on them.”
“I’m sorry. Why didn’t you just go back to Graltontown and finish up your business there?”
“I couldn’t abandon you.”
“Sure you could have, honestly we barely know each other.”
“No, I couldn’t.”
“I thank you for that. So what’s the play? Get your bugbear buddies all riled up to attack the manor? Will they know enough not to kill the Baron?”
She shook her head “They’d never do it. Tribe is maybe too grand a word, there’s not even a dozen of them, and they wander away from the group regularly ,at any given time there’s only six in the forest together usually. They’re not like orcs or goblins where there’s a bunch of them all together and there’s leaders and a hierarchy and all that, they’re more like coyotes – they form packs but it’s a casual sort of deal. Besides as bloodthirsty and powerful as they are they don’t really like a stand-up fight against a determined opponent, they prefer raiding and terrorizing people that don’t fight back.”
“Who doesn’t? So it’s just you and me huh? I’d chastise you for your choice of allies but I had a whole party of knights headed up this to help out, some of the Baron’s own men too, but somehow that didn’t work out. So I can’t really say shit about it.”
“What do we do then?”
“Well how do you feel about just the two of us infiltrating the manor and taking out the Kostelos one by one using disguise and guile?”
“That’s fair, it’s not a great plan. Are any of these bounty hunters that have come after you still alive? If they love money so much maybe we can get them on our side.”
“The last one is. The one who almost killed me. I have no idea how bribable he might be though. I think we’re overlooking an obvious answer there though – what about the legitimate authorities? I have to assume enchanting a Baron and messing up his lands is illegal. How do we get the law on our side for once?”
“The Baron is the legitimate authorities. As long as they’re not failing to kick up their taxes the Crown isn’t going to care. Renwick is ruined, you were in Deepmare, do you feel like anyone there would both care about this and be able to do anything about it?” She shook her head “That only leaves Cathars and I don’t know if the chances of getting anyone there to listen would be good anyway. What’s the Baroness doing during all of these? Do they have her under wraps too or what’s going on there?”
“I don’t know, when I was still at the Manor she had made herself pretty scarce since the Kostelos showed up. I think she’s still alive but she’s keeping her head down, probably because she wants to stay that way.”
“Well, I hate to say it, but the situation we have there is that we have a local person of importance that has fallen under the sway of an evil witch and our main asset is that we have a lot of coin to spend. What does that sound like the setup of to you?”
I sighed “Adventurers. Getting paid money to save a Baron from the clutches of some barbarians? That’s the kind of shit they live for.”
She nodded “Yeah, I’m sure they’re do something. The Manor will probably be burned down and half the city will be dead but it will certainly shake something loose one way or the other. Assuming that we can find some.”
“Where’s the nearest tavern? Adventurers infest those places like fleas on a dog’s ass. It’s their natural habitat. They just hang out drinking and waiting for people to show up with cloaks to give them an urgent and dire mission. Its genius in its way, without a home the tax man can’t find you and without a real name you can’t be sued for all the damage you do. I mean how are you going to serve papers on Axios the Destroyer? That’s not a name.”
“Has it really come to that? It is time release the doomsday device?”
“There is wisdom in facing a threat with a proportionate response. Go too far and all you do with your victory is guarantee that the next threat is that much stronger. But every so often, the time comes when the threat is so great, the situation has gone so horribly wrong, that there is no proportionate response. When circumstances are so dire as to justify the use of anything and everything that might solve it, no matter how reckless, nonsensical, or horrific, regardless of cost. When even the hiring of adventurers could not possibly make the crisis any worse. I don’t know if we’re there yet, but we need to steel ourselves for the possibly that it may be the only path forward.”
“May the Gods have mercy on us.”
Funds: 23,045 platinum, 19,788 gold
Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Ring of Disguise, Badge of Last Resort, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Censer of Dreams, Enchanted White Pathfinder’s Gear (effects as Iadaran Dress Uniform) Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, Campfire Bead, Expedition Pavilion, +1 Human Bane Endless Ammunition Light Crossbow with Sharpshooter’s Blade, Ring of Urban Grace, Holy Symbol of Adariel (Sanguine Protection) Black Marketers’ Bag (5), white squirrel fur Slippers of Scampering, Token of Summoning, Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Better Walking Stick, Meteoric Amulet
Courtier’s Outfit, noble’s outfit (5) collegium ring, pocketed scarf, wrist sheath, signet ring (2) assortment of fake signet rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), garnets (700), gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, tax collector’s badge, gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, disguise kit, covenant ring , tiny diamonds (27), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring
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
Behind the curtain: One dedicated reader pointed out that I had lost the strike-through on the revenge list at some point. What a catastrophe!