The good news is that there’s a luxury coach line that runs to Aleene, the bad news is that it doesn’t leave until tomorrow so we’ve got another day in the lovely timber processing mud-hole that is Preen. Actually, I suppose that’s really is good news because if it was scheduled to leave today we would have missed it. Martialla and stayed up late drinking and consequently I wasn’t up before noon. And I only woke up then because the owner barged in threatening to charge for another night if I didn’t clear out. Martialla was already downstairs sitting at one of the tables and wearily nursing a beer.
“More nightmares?” She nodded wearily “I suppose we should find someplace else to sleep tonight, but sure why we didn’t that yesterday.”
“Because we were drunk?”
“A lady doesn’t get drunk.”
“I’m trying to think of some comment about how you’re not a lady but I’m too hungover.”
“My point exactly.”
We made our way into and through the streets, in theory looking for a new place to stay but after a while it became clear we were wandering to no real purpose. There’s not a ton to see in a place like Preen, if you’ve seen one sawmill you’ve seen them all, but when you’re at loose ends there’s something appealing about walking around with no agenda. The big news around town is that a royal courier had been found dead on the south road with his horse but with his satchel missing. We went down a street where every building had a single antler over the door. Our mouths both twitched towards a smile as we saw a con-man selling phony potions out of a small cart. Down by one of the warehouse districts we stopped and watched a fighting ring for a while where a surprisingly handsome half-orc pummeled three men and then sat back on a stool to wait for the next challenger, drinking from a barrel while two women massaged his shoulders and fussed over him like he was the King himself.
We walked down a street where we decided to see who pick lift the most money out of pockets before we reached the next crossway. I won and we gave all the money to a tired looking woman with sad eyes who runs a house for unwed mothers. We passed a brothel that had dozens of glass windows each with a burning lantern behind them, lighting up the place like festival square even in the daylight. We saw a man get splattered by a chamber pot from a window and the two men involved screaming at each other but moments later it was two women in housedresses that were brawling the street over the matter as their men looked on in horror. We saw a man jabbering in some foreign language as pack of half-mad alleydogs closed in around him growling. Outside a tavern a man was trying to drum up support for a city watch while everyone ignored him. We endured the dead eyes of wounded soldiers back from the front at a convalescence home. Eventually we found ourselves down by the river – the real river not the channels they’ve gouged all over Preen – and after staring for a while I realized that I recognized one of the barges.
Martialla frowned “You recognize a barge? How is that possible, a barge is a barge.”
“Trust me, when you come across a barge where the cargo hull is full of sleeping giant bugs you tend to remember it.”
“Cargo hull? Isn’t it cargo hold?”
“Whatever, just come on.”
“Come on? Who cares about a barge?”
We headed down to the docks. This seemed to be a part of the dock (does a dock part have a name?) that caters to the minority of ships that are not hauling timber. Most of the barges had guards on them because why wouldn’t they, but this one – my barge – didn’t seem to have anyone about. For some reason I halfway expected the captain to be standing right there on the deck but I didn’t even hear anyone down below. I asked one of the guards lazing about near the barge across the way if he had seen the crew of this ship but he just shrugged and went back to chewing on a stick like a woman giving birth.
Martialla looked around as I examined the boat “Not that the dead fish aroma down here isn’t lovely, but is there any reason to be hanging around here?”
“I’m just curious, I last saw this hunk of junk on the Compass down by Malgareth, how do you think it got all the way here?”
“It floated on the water I would imagine.”
“You know what I mean, why would anyone take this scrapheap all the way from there to here?”
“Maybe it’s following you, maybe the captain is the world’s slowest stalker. Anyway it doesn’t look like anyone’s about.”
I smiled “There’s no harm in heading aboard then is there? I basically own this thing so it’s fine.”
I had hardly taken a step onto the hold (hull? deck?) when two heavily cloaked river-rats came out from below decks in a rush.
The one in front gestured furiously “What are you doing here, get away!”
“That’s no way to speak to the owner of this fine vessel, I don’t know what you know about the history of this craft, but I have to tell you . . .”
He flicked his hand dismissively “Go away, we don’t want any!”
He reached out to shove or otherwise manhandle me and I grabbed his arm to stop him “You’re being extremely rude. How about you just tell me where the captain is and I’ll go talk to him?”
I heard Martialla’s voice go taut behind me “Ela, let’s just go, we can . . .”
I never did learn what we could have just done because at that moment the second fellow, who had been hanging back, lunged forward and stabbed me in the stomach with a thin blade. The pain was intense but sadly I’ve become used to it (mostly) but what caught me off guard was the sudden weakness I felt in my limbs. Who walks around with a pre-poisoned blade just in case? He tried to draw back for another stab but I had my hands on his and he despite the desperation in his eyes he didn’t have a lot of strength in his arms. As we wrestled for the knife I saw Martialla leap aboard with her sword in hand, swinging down at the man who had been shouting – he came out with a short blade of his own from under his many layers and blocked her attack. The two of them were fencing across the deck as I grappled with my assailant.
Even though he wasn’t a strong fellow I could feel the poison sapping my strength so I spun to put my back to the water and then fell backwards, using my legs to flip him overhead. At least that was the idea, mostly we both ended in the heap on the edge of the barge but I managed to roll and kick him over the side anyway. A moment later as I scrambled to my feet I saw Martialla get tired of trying swordplay and step back – holding out her palm and with a word engulfing her opponent in flames. He jumped over the side into the water. Preen has no city watch or guard as I’ve mentioned, but they do have a force dedicated to protecting the dock area – protecting the ships and cargo, not the people so much. They don’t investigate crimes or anything like that, but they make sure that the precious river commerce is relatively uninterrupted. Our little fracas had attracted several of the blue-cloaked river watchmen with commendable response time, who were joined by the curious faces of some of the other barge-guards.
A fierce looking fellow holding a small crossbow like it was a hook yelled out “What’s going on here?”
“I have no idea! I was just coming to check on my boat and two of the crewmen attacked us. We had to toss them in the drink. They must have been smuggling something they didn’t want me to see.” Feeling the grip of the poison I sunk to a sitting position “Good Gods I feel awful.”
He seemed dubious that Martialla and I had bested anyone but they came aboard nonetheless and no one else came out to challenge them. The fellow who had been speaking sent two men down below and they came back immediately looking quite shocked. The man in charge ducked down himself to take a look and also returned quickly, although he was more in control of his facial expression.
“Ma’am, you say that this is your vessel?”
“Sort of, it’s complicated. Some saboteurs were using it as part of an ill-conceived plot against the Kingdom. I stopped them and I assumed that the barge was mine by right of whatever, maritime salvage? But I was in a bit of a hurry at the time and just left it on the shore. That was a long ways away from here though.”
He seemed doubtful about that as well “A plot huh? What do you mean?”
“The boat was full of some kind of giant bugs, kind of like beetle grubs, only with legs. I don’t know what the Hells they were. I think the idea was to release them in our farmland to ruin our crops? I don’t know what they were hoping to accomplish, the scheme was insane. With the amount of effort that would go into hunting down, capturing, and magically subduing for transport bug monsters you have to be able to outfit and train an entire battalion. It made no sense.”
“And what happened to these plotters of yours?”
“Dead of course, what else do you do with traitors?”
He crooked his finger for me to come and take a look. Martialla helped me to my feet and with her aid I carefully made my way down the steps where I remember engaging in furious battle – cautiously peeking around the corner into the hold. It was dark down there, but after a moment I could see what they were hauling – row upon row of scorpionic creatures the size of mules curled up into “little” balls, sleeping (or whatever giant bugs do) and lined up like so many ovoid-shaped boxes. I made my way back up the stairs even more cautiously.
“You have got to by fucking kidding me. What is this, some specialized bug boat?”
Martialla glanced past me “What’s down there?”
I shook my head “I cannot believe this, who in the Gods name is in charge of their military over there? A bumble bee? Why would anyone ever think this is a good idea?”
The riverman had many more questions but was (mostly) satisfied with my answers and an hour later the barge was piloted out into the middle of the river by a very brave and unlucky fellow who was then picked up by taken back to shore by a skiff as the bug-boat was set ablaze. It was quite a scene – some of the creatures “woke up” as a response to be burned alive in their sleep and came scrabbling out with a high pitched screeching noise. Good thing none of them could swim. The sound of cracking carapace and the smell of roasting bugs permeated the entire river area but it was a nice change of pace from the dead fish stink so I suppose its wash. In short order a reward was offered for any of the crew that were in town and dozens of greedy “patriots” were combing the streets of Preen looking for the foreign agents responsible.
An hour later Martialla and I were drinking in a crowded riverside tavern where we were being hailed as heroes. The rivermen and other bar-rowdies were tickled that the Vielanders or Ulpine or Northmen or whoever else we’re at with now and was behind this precarious plot had been thwarted by a couple of girls. Much hay was made with this – even the women of the Kingdom are cannier and braver than the men of our (many) enemy nations. Although we learned that a successful attack of this buggy nature had been pulled off at Cathars, killing dozens, including several city officials that were somehow specifically targeted by the ant-like creatures they disgorged there. This didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the people of Preen though – after the sun went down it seemed like the entire dockside area had been turned into a massive party. Everyone wanted to meet the two good Gods fearing Kingdom gals that had stopped the dirty foreigners in their tracks and saved the day. By midnight the tales of our deeds had grown to us walking out in the water (by the grace of Adariel) to stand back to back and battle off an entire armada of Vieland (or Ulpine or whoever) bug-men with small genitals wielding a longsword in both hands and a smile on our faces. Once we were tired of the acclaim we both disguised ourselves as common dock workers and found ourselves at a table alone.
I raised my glass to Martialla “To you, heroine of the Kingdom.”
She touched her glass to mine “And to you my fellow heroine.”
I sat back and took a long drink “I think this is the fourth time I’ve saved the entire kingdom. And yet I’m basically an outlaw. That doesn’t seem quite right.”
“Maybe you should take it up with the Queen Herself.”
“Maybe I will.”
Funds: 28,040 platinum, 59,605 gold
Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Ela’s Dazzling Garment, Belt of Physical Might +4, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Extraordinary Walking Stick, Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Marvelous Amulet
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 (26), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring, tiara, masterwork red and black long greatcoat, Turnbill blade of first forging (one of three), darkwood and platinum music box, silver bracelet set with bloodstones, platinum ring set with fire opal, silver and moonstone bracelet
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, eyeless hag, Baron Saltwheel, Baron Harmenkar