Night three with essentially no sleep. I’ve heard the claim made that skipping one night of sleep results in a condition almost the same as being drunk. I don’t think I buy that, but string a few nights like that together and then you’ve got something. After a while your mind just feel sluggish – you kind of feel like you are asleep somehow even though you’re not. Which would be bad for you, but just imagine how awful it is for someone as quick-witted as me. I think what happens after a few sleepless nights is that your brain does start sleeping for a couple seconds here or there and your body just keeps going. Someone says something and you realize you have no idea what it was even though you responded, which you also don’t remember. You think to yourself “man, I really have to piss” and then a few minutes later you’re somewhere else and you don’t have to go anymore. What happened? Did you piss and forget about it instantly? It’s not a fun experience.
One of the Satanders (Satanderians? Satandish?) brought me a little cup of some delicious coffee liquor but I barely got one sip before Martialla came over and kicked it out of my hand (I was sitting on the ground chained to a tree you see). The man that gave it to me looked at her like she was some kind of bug. I know very little about Satander culture overall, so I have no idea how they normally treat women. There was no shouting, no words exchanged even, he just glowered at her for a moment and then walked away. Martialla noticed a couple of the Baron’s men giving her the evil eye and she did stop to curse them out before making to unlock the chain holding me to the tree.
“You have a real talent for winning people over. I think I realized what it is though. Until you teamed up with me you worked alone for so long that you don’t think that you need allies. What it is is . . .”
“Shut up Ela.”
She didn’t even bother to unlock the cuff on my wrist, using the chain to drag me over to the wagon. She was disgusted to find that someone had made a little blanket-nest for me to ride in in the bed of the wagon. I think she really wanted to jump up and toss it all out but she didn’t – showing some restraint for a change. She just herded me in and locked the other end of the chair under the seat. Clearly her intent was to drive the wagon herself, which she doesn’t really know how to do, but since she’s also a crappy rider I guess it’s a toss-up. While the rest of the camp was mobilizing I used my Beastspeech to talk to the horses pulling the wagon. I was curious if they knew what was so important that three people were willing to kill and die to get it back but they didn’t. I mean they’re horses, they don’t really know much. I love horses but they’re not the brightest. Speaking to animals is helpful sometimes but overall it’s kind of a letdown. It’s tough to communicate beyond the very basic level because animals don’t really think about things the same way that we do – a lot of common human concepts are beyond them. It can make for some frustrating dialogues.
Eventually Martialla realized what I was doing and once again was pointing her sword at me “Stop that!”
Kartak was sitting on his horse nearby “What’s the problem now wašičú?” (Wašičú is a Kostelos word that’s hard to translate into the King’s tongue, it’s kind of like calling someone lazy but it’s more like a person who just can’t manage to do anything)
“She was talking to the horses.”
There was some general laughter at this and even Kartak couldn’t help but smile “She was talking . . . . to the horses?”
“Don’t laugh, there’s nothing funny about this! It’s something she can do, she can communicate with animals!” She pointed at one of the Baron’s men “You! You know right? Didn’t she spend a lot of time with the Baron’s kennel master taking care of the dogs?”
He looked startled to be singled out but before he could say anything one of the Kostelos made a comment in his own language and they all started laughing. The guy I think is the leader of the Satander exiles smiled as well so he must be able to understand them at least. Martialla was fuming but she didn’t lose focus – locking her eyes with mine.
“Don’t do that again Ela.”
I held my hands up in mock surrender “Of course, I won’t plot against you with the horses nor any other animals that come along. Raccoons or fluffy bunnies or so forth. Nothing to worry about there.”
It wasn’t really that funny but it set off another round of laughter anyway. When you’re bullying someone what you say doesn’t actually have to be very humorous, people just want to make someone else feel small so they usually get on board. One of the Kostelos rode up and said that there was a chipmunk that Martialla should watch out for. I thought she was going to run him through but she finally managed to grit her teeth and sheath her sword and sit back down to wait. Eventually we lurched off and even at wagon-speed we managed to make the bridge by mid-day. Well before we reached the bridge though I saw that our old friends, the Baron’s Saltwheel and Harmenkar had their bridge interdiction crews out doing their work. The set up was similar to what I had encountered on the way to Preen so it must be the strategy – Saltwheel with regular forces and Harmenkar leaning more on adventurers. So either Harmenkar must have less men or he just likes adventurers.
Martialla came into the back of the wagon to threaten me with impalement once again “Don’t speak to any of these people.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
The two barons must not have had this bridge blockaded when Kartak and company came south to get me because they didn’t seem to know what was going on. Kartak and a few others rode forward to remind these fellows that this was Baron Juost’s land and they had no authority to be doing this, but this is where setting Juost up as an ineffectual puppet failed them. Baron Saltwheel’s men clearly didn’t give a shit – they even specifically invoked the time honored tradition of noblemen stealing each other’s land when one of them fails to hold up his obligations. Kartak was clearly stymied, he had more men, but not enough more to make intimidating his way through a sure thing, and once you play that card and they call your bluff you’re in real trouble. I could have pulled it off of course, but no one asked me. Martialla stopped menacing me to join the conversation about what to do, or to try to anyway, they seemed intent on freezing her out. Eventually she was able to convince Kartak to speak to her privately.
“I’ve dealt with these assholes before, all we need to do is bribe them.”
“With what exactly? I don’t travel with the Baron’s treasury on me.”
“There’s a literal fortune in Ela’s pouches. The amount of money she’s managed to amass is indecent. But only she can get it out.”
“So how does that help?”
“Make her get the money.”
“How am I supposed to do that?”
“You’re the torture expert, figure it out. I know you’re not supposed to hurt her, I’m sure you know some ways to fuck people up that won’t leave marks. There’s a river right there – can’t you drown her until she agrees to get the money?”
“I assume you wanted to speak in confidence because she really does have a lot of money, enough to concern you about people’s loyalty when they find out. Even if I thought this was a good idea what’s to stop her for pitching out the entire treasure horde and inciting the kind of frenzy you’re worried about?”
“Figure it out, do I have to come up with everything? If you don’t want to kill these people, who are violating the sovereignty of your lord, bribing them is the only way.”
They must have realized they were close enough that I could hear them, but they were still both surprised when I spoke up.
“You have quite the fortune yourself Martialla, if getting across is that important why don’t you pony up for the bribe?”
Kartak was on board with that notion but Martalla was not. She can be very tight-fisted that one. It’s probably because of her dirt-poor commoner background. They had quite a discussion about that, which ended with Kartak deciding that they’d head north to find another crossing. Martialla was not super pleased but this plan.
“You must be joking, we’re already three days behind schedule and now you want to head north? Do you even know if there’s another bridge within a hundred miles of here?”
Kartak stared her down “I have had enough of your insolence. You are not in charge here. You are not in charge of anything. I’m not interested in your input. Going forward keep your opinions to yourself.”
“The Baron . . .”
“The Baron isn’t in command of anything! Why are you even here? You want to return to the compound then go, no one here is going to miss you.”
“I am the only reason you have Ela and if it wasn’t for me she would have escaped already! I am the only one keeping her here!”
Kartak snorted and looked at me bundled in the back of the wagon “Oh yes, she’s terrifying.”
Kartak sent a couple scouts upriver to look for a crossing while the rest set up camp on a hillside near the bridge. Between the three groups there have to be over a hundred fighting men here – is there even still a war going on? Maybe the war ended and no one told me – that would explain why I seem to find so many bodies of armed men roaming the countryside with no specific agenda. Kartak put one of his men, Baru, “in charge” of me. Not sure exactly what they means but I assume that it was another move designed to tweak Martialla’s nips. It certainly worked. The Sky-Thunders are a little taller than most Kostelos, who are a shortish people, but Baru was pretty squat. He made up with it with a six inch mohawk somewhat though. His first order was that I wasn’t going to be chained up at night anymore – after all where was I going to go even if I did get away. Martialla pointed out reasonably that that may have been true before but now there were two groups of armed men within spitting distance that I could insinuate myself into if I got loose.
Baru was not interested in taking this detail under advisement. Martialla managed to choke down an explosion at that point but shortly thereafter she yelled at me for chatting with Baru in Kostelos and then there was a blow-up after Baru told her to go fuck herself. I think she would have killed him if he didn’t have twenty other dudes to back him up. I never knew that Martialla had such a temper. Kartak was clearly done with all of this and told Martialla she was banished from the camp. The look on her face was priceless. I was installed in the back of the wagon as my sleeping place for the night, with Baru slumbering loudly in the driver’s seat (that has a name right? Like the buckboard or something?). When I felt the wagons shift slightly I thought that it was Martialla coming back to murder me in the night.
But what I saw instead was the round apple-cheeked face of a Shireling peering at me through the darkness. After the incident last night the guards around camp had been doubled, but this little fellow and his friend had managed to slip right past then anyway. Halflings can be pretty sneaky, some of them anyway. He beckoned for me and I crawled carefully off the wagon where they helped me to creep out of the camp – aided by someone else distracting one of the guards. A short distance away we met with an elf whose skin looked blue in the moonlight and a human woman so small that I thought she was also a Halfling for a moment. The five of us crept down the hillside where two more compatriots of theirs were waiting. One of them cast a spell to cloak us in darkness and the other did the same to silence our moves. We made our way quickly to the river, where, and I kid you not, the elf took what looked like a folded piece of paper out of a pack and when they set it into the river it turned into a full sized rowboat. It was a tight fit with seven of us, but we were on the Baron Harmenkar side of the river in no time. As they were bringing me into their camp I had to ask.
“Why are you doing this?”
One of the Shirefolk got a lopsided grin “We’re heroes, what better reason could there be?”
The elf was more solemn in speech “You were clearly being held against your will.”
I never thought I would say this, not ever. Thank the Gods for adventurers and their reckless ignorant glory seeking.
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, Colonel Tarl Ciarán’s wizard soldier, Victor, Beharri, Cebuano, Mayor Eryn, Chimera Trading Company