I grant you that my life at the Duke’s court was not exactly like the Baroness’s life here, but even so it’s becoming more and more inexplicable to me how anyone (well any woman I mean) with any kind of a functioning mental capacity can stomach this life without jumping off the highest wall they can find. Morning prayers. Getting dressed and preparing for the day. Discussing the recent betrothals, marriages, poetry, and music over breakfast. Teaching. Mid-morning prayers. Lunch. Supervising the servants. Embroidery and dance practice. Evening prayers. Supper in the main hall. Day over. Process repeat. Over and over and over until death. And the worst part is that most people (women I mean) would kill for a chance to live like this. Just so they wouldn’t have to worry about food or getting sick anymore. The world really is a disgusting place. Sometimes I wonder why anyone bothers.
Before the BIG ceremony the day after tomorrow there was a smaller ceremony today for the people who actually did the killing and dying to bring the Baron back to his throne. I mean he was technically always on the throne but you know what I mean. Martialla and I were not included among the honoraries of course since all we did was everything. Mord Eli Ciraanova, bookmaker, fight arranger, and (semi)organized crime member was rechristened Sir Mord Eli Ciraanova knight of the realm. No one seemed to be more surprised about this fact than him. His new finery sat ill on his frame and he had a look of a man whose head is placed in a guillotine but is facing an open window with a nude woman inside – terrified but optimistic. This despite the fact that he wasn’t even present for the fighting. I guess it’s logistically the only way the Baron can make use of Mord’s dick-kickers and eyeball-gougers. People like that can’t take orders from the Baron directly, nor would any of them be elevated to knighthood. The Northman with the bird tattoos also received some kind of acknowledgment but I don’t know what. Whatever the noble equivalent of a “good job” is. I don’t keep up on these things.
Only slightly less fraudulently Parfinis and Betrei were made knights as well. I’m confident that they did no fighting either, but at least they were in the manor while it was happening – hiding in a closest is more than some knights have ever done. I heard through the grapevine that Jesslin actually did protect some of kitchen staff with her magic, receiving a wound for her troubles, but there was no mention of that of course. Unlike Mord, my good cousins (or whatever they are) were in hog heaven to be receiving this honor and knew exactly which leg to dip and how high they could raise their eyes and all that courtly bullshit. Along with them another six newly minted knights were turned out as well as a dozen other squires and honor holders and whatever else – some of them actual fighting men. I think a butler was posthumously made a baronet (or maybe a paralictor) for saving the Baroness’s petticoat. This meant that his family was immediately in arrears on their patronage and thrown in debtor’s prison. Just kidding, that won’t happen for a couple months.
Hellerhad was nowhere to be seen during this very long and very hot service but he did turn up at the feast that came afterwards, sitting at the Baron’s side and laughing like a jackass when he wasn’t giving me dirty looks. The feast itself was only mildly less tedious than the ceremony but at least the food was good and the drink was, if not good, at least copious.
Martialla was adjusting her dress uncomfortably “Remind me never to get knighted, that thing went on forever. How many vows are there to swear?”
“Oh, they make you swear and swear they do, the idea is that there are so many vows you can’t help but break one – that way they can screw you over whenever they feel like it. Like most game it’s rigged, but it’s the only game in town so what can you do? The good news is that women can’t be knighted, they’re too weak and emotional to save the Kingdom.”
“Thank goodness for that.”
“So what’s going on exactly? We saved the Baron and now . . .?”
“I figure the big celebration day after tomorrow is the good time to ask him to take this necklace off as a show of trust.”
“Which you will immediately betray?”
“Which I will immediately betray, why else work so hard to get someone to trust you? Then we head back to Graltontown, take care of Beltian and a few other loose ends, and then on to the Duke himself.”
“Tell me about it.”
“What if the Baron doesn’t go for it?”
“I think I’ve proven my loyalty at this point, I doubt he’ll refuse me, but if he does we’ll just have to figure something else out won’t we? Maybe we can learn something about this necklace and how works, I feel like some monster or other told it was a fey charm. If I go into the woods there’s probably more mermaid vampires – maybe I can ask one of them. I was attacked by a mermaid vampire last time I was here you know.”
“No, it’s certainly not something you mention all the time. Also you said it was a satyr, keep your lies straight.”
“Maybe it was a faun, or a korred, or a baccae, or one of the dozen other fey creatures with goat legs. Why do fairies like goats so much?”
“Goat is delicious, they probably eat the top half and then not wanting to be wasteful attach the bottom part to themselves. Then they use the horns to make their flutes.”
“That’s probably it. Do you think minotaurs and satyrs get along?”
“I suppose so, they both like getting drunk, that’s usually all it takes for people to get along. Or . . . not people, but . . . things like that. Peoplish monsters.”
“I’ll drink to that.”
And we did. I’ve you’ve never been to a country nobleman’s feast before, which you haven’t, the farther away from the main table you are the less stuffy things are. Things are reversed with urban sophisticates like the Duke, but out here where nobles take their uptightness serious the only chance of fun is to be as far away from the host as possible. So there’s a little bit of a silver lining to being snubbed despite your contributions. As the festivities carried on, down at my table a couple fellows, who no doubt though themselves very “naughty” started up with a little gambling. Copperante dice bullshit at first, but someone turned up with a deck of cards and soon afterwards a more interested fellow turned up with another deck of cards – you know the kind I mean – and not long after that we were playing Gin and Maidens in earnest.
Normally in this kind of setting I would refrain from playing – what proper lady would gamble at all, not to mention even playing a game with adult themes and alcohol – and if I did play I would make sure not to win too much. But for some reason this time I did neither of those things. Probably the booze was part of it, but I can’t really explain why – maybe I was just tired of restraining myself. After I had cleaned out all the grooms and butlers and valets and whatnot word had spread and men were coming out of the woodwork to see this fancy lady who was taking everyone’s coin in this lewd game of lewdness. As the night wore on and I defeated all challengers those who thought themselves seasoned gamblers started to turn up to try and take me down. There were a couple who gave me some trouble, but the nice thing about being a woman is that no one is going to accuse you of cheating no matter how many hands in a row you win.
As the night wore on and the feast was losing steam the gambling was still going strong. I found myself sitting across from Hellerhad. He was a good player but not a great one. Like a lot of smart people he mistakes intelligence as a substitute for skill – dummies aren’t going to get far but there’s no substitute for experience. After about twenty minutes he started using his magic to cheat – subtly, but not subtly enough for me to miss it. That increased the degree of difficulty so that it was another hour before I had all his money. For a country butcher he sure had a lot of money. Maybe there’s a spell that creates gold. That would be pretty bad for the economy though so maybe it’s just a spell that finds gold – which is fine?
There’s a lot of “wise” sayings about gambling (and everything else) but one that’s actually pretty smart is don’t bet anything you’re not willing to lose. No matter how sure you are, never put up anything that you aren’t willing to see go away. Once Hellerhad pulled a ring off his finger and I saw the look in his eye when I swept it up as winnings I knew that I had him in a tough spot. I could almost see the thoughts running through his mind “I’ll just keep playing until I get the ring back”. It’s interesting how stupid smart people are sometimes. Once I had all his items of value I wondered idly if he was going to incinerate me with a spell, but he just sat there looking like he couldn’t believe what had just happened. You see that look a lot on people who just gambled away all their money – it’s like they blacked out or something.
I turned to say something to Martialla and realized that I could see right through her. Martialla wasn’t sitting next to me, there was a Martialla illusion there instead. I hadn’t noticed it before because I was just seeing her out of my periphery. My first thought was that she had conjured an illusion of herself so that she could sneak away without anyone noticing. No one would care if she left, but she’s a commoner, she doesn’t know how these things work. I quickly rejected that idea though, because she would have no reason to sneak away from the drinking and gambling.
I nodded my head at the illusory Martialla “Hey, butcher, can you track who did this?”
He looked up slowly “What?”
“This illusion of my friend, you’re a great and powerful mage right? Can you do your thing and tell me what’s going on here?”
He seemed disinterested until I told him that I’d give him his ring back if he helped me, that sobered him up – not that he was drunk but it snapped him out of his depression, you know what I mean. He stared at the illusion for a moment and then told me he “had it” and started walking. I followed him out of the great hall and down the stairs. As we left the manor house I snapped my fingers at two guards idling outside the door.
“You two, come with us.”
After a moment of surprise they did as they were bid. Hellerhad led us to the stables where several Juost Manor servants were struggling to load a statue into the back of a wagon under the supervision of a woman who would have been attractive if not for her hideous nose ring and the fact that she was dressed like a man – stupid feathered hat and everything. The statue was the spitting image of Martialla – I’ve never seen such a realistic statue before. Except of course you know that time where I found all those people that been turned to stone by evil dwarfs.
Nosering glanced at us and waved her hand “We don’t need any more help, we’ve just about got things wrapped up here.”
I looked at the Juost retainers “Why are you helping this woman?”
They looked back and forth uncertainly between the two of us, and then over at Hellerhad who had nothing to say.
I turned back to nosering “Okay, how about you tell me yourself what’s going on.”
She looked me over “Oh, it’s you. Would you believe that I’m picking up the statue I had made to look exactly like your friend?
“I’ll believe anything anyone wants for the right amount of money, but somehow I doubt you have the funds to pull that off.”
“I might if you let me drive out of here.” I shook my head and she sighed “Your friend is a notorious outlaw, I was going to collect the bounty on her. Another few minutes and I would have been free and clear.”
“Somehow you turned her to stone and replaced her with an illusion without anyone noticing? That’s very impressive.”
“You were pretty engrossed with your gambling, I had some help clouding the minds of everyone else present. You’re a tough nut to crack mentally, did you know that?”
I pointed at Hellerhand “But you were able to hoodwink the mighty mage?”
She half laughed “He’s not a wizard.”
I turned to him “You aren’t?”
He crossed his arms “I told you when I first met you that I don’t do magic anymore.”
“What about all that wizard shit I took off you?”
Nosering clasped her hands together “Shall I go then? Let you two talk this over alone?”
“No, get her down from there. If this is a legal bounty why all the subterfuge – why didn’t you just tell the Baron he had a criminal in his midst?”
“The Baron and I don’t really get along, plus even if we did he’d probably try to take the bounty for himself.”
“True. Can you turn her back?”
“No it doesn’t. I’ll take that to mean that you can, so do it right now or I’ll have my not-wizard friend strangle you like a chicken. Even if he doesn’t have magic look at the size of him.”
She eyed Hellerhad “How could I not? I’ll unpetrify your friend. Then what?”
“Clearly you’re a resourceful woman, maybe if you help me out with something the Baron doesn’t need to know about this.”
Funds: 53,040 platinum, 25,660 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 Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Ring of Counterspells, Brooch of Shielding, Cloak of the Hedge Wizard (Abjuration), Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, Unbalanced Scales
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, holy symbol of Kozilek, dwarf journal
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