The good news is that none of the blood got on the Saryah Phidaner gown that I had worn to the Baron’s chambers. I never would have forgiven myself if that work of art had been ruined by splattering Baron blood all over it. I have garments that magically clean themselves so there must be some way that I could have gotten it restored but I’m glad that I didn’t have to go down that path – you never know what magic is going to do. I wouldn’t have liked to trust something so precious to something so unreliable.
I had no idea how long I had been “out”, I wouldn’t think that it had been more than a few minutes but for all I knew I had been sitting in that chair for half an hour. I knew that the Baroness wasn’t expected back until dawn what with the fasting and praying and the religiosity but it didn’t seem like a good idea to hang around regardless. I wiped the blood off myself as best I could with some of the Baron’s clothing and then tossed them in the fireplace and stoked up the flames good. I thought about putting on one of the Baroness’s dresses but then if someone found it in my room there would be questions – it’s a longshot but there’s no reason to take risks if you don’t have to. A piece of advice if you’re ever trying to cover up a crime and you find yourself saying “Oh, no one will notice that” you need to think again. It’s best to make sure you cover everything you can. If you can’t you can’t, but don’t rely on the stupidity of others to do your work for you. The stupidity of others only comes into play to ruin you not to help you.
I didn’t want to put the gown back on since I was sure there were still some spots of blood on me, so I covered myself with the illusion of maid – a fully clothed maid – and carried the garment with me like I was taking it to be laundered. I made triple sure to wipe off my feet as best I could – there’s really nothing so damning as bloody footprints leading from the murder scene to your room. I’ve only done it a couple times but there’s something about being nude with the illusion of clothing “on” that’s worse than just walking around naked. I can’t explain it but it’s an unpleasant feeling. Thankfully it’s only a short way through the halls back to my room. This time I did pass another servant on the way, which is a problem. I did some quick math – better to kill them or would another body/disappearance just make things more suspicious? In the end I let them go, not sure if that was the right choice at the time but it ended up not mattering.
When I got back to my room I saw that Martialla was in my bed. I jostled her with my foot on the way to putting the gown back in its protective Trunk.
“What the Hells are you doing here?”
“There was a disagreement over the bed in my room. I figured you wouldn’t mind.”
“Based on everthing you know about me that seems like a strange thing to figure.”
She yawned as she sat up in my bed “I just fell asleep, what are you doing back so soon? Is the Baron that fast?”
“Not exactly, that spell you have that cleans thing, does that work on blood? Having the servants bring water up for a bath at this time of night would be pretty unusual.”
She sighed “What did you do now?”
“I think it’s pretty obvious what I did, but it wasn’t my fault. You should probably go down to the kitchen for a midnight snack – establish a nice solid alibi for yourself just in case.”
Her eyes widened “Me? Why would I need an alibi?”
“You know how it is with murder investigations, they always look at any strangers hanging around pretty closely. Beside you are a notorious outlaw with a grudge against the Baron. Anyway make with the blood cleaning lady, I need to go alert someone.”
“Alert them to what?”
I held up the necklace “That this magic necklace came off in the middle of the night for no reason. There I was sound asleep and suddenly it was tangled up in my nightgown. Whatever can it mean?”
Since so many people had been killed or disappeared lately I wasn’t even sure who to notify. I just grabbed the first person I saw – some kind of junior apprentice footman or valet or something. I don’t think he even know what I was talking about, why would he? But my scared maiden in the middle of the night act is flawless. He quickly progressed from wanting me to come back to his room for safety to worrying that something was actually very wrong. He took me to his master and up the chair of servant command we went until we came to the newly minted captain of the Baron’s guards. The guy you’re guarding getting killed three days after you take the job probably doesn’t bode well for future employment opportunities. I guess mercenaries have to come from somewhere.
He was a rangy rawboned fellow with a mass of curly hair down to the shoulders. Not what I’d expected to see as the captain of a Baronial guard but then these are lean times for the Juosts are they not? I expected there to be an uproar after he checked on the Baron at my subtle suggestion but he kept things very quiet. I would have found that to be very suspicious if I didn’t know that I was the murderer. I read a mystery novel where it turns out that the narrator was the killer and didn’t know it. It was okay, it’s an interesting idea but I wish a better writer had come up with it – it’s disappointing when a good twist is wasted like that.
I assume that Curly had plans to investigate somehow, or to call in some better people to investigate, but the next day in a stroke of good luck Kartak was nabbed skulking about the outskirts of the manor. Talk about your bad timing. Now if anyone was thinking logically they might wonder why a man who just murdered the Baron was riding towards the manor without a care in the world but there wasn’t a lot of logical thought just then – and I did my part to make sure any tiny flames of rational thought were extinguished before they could spread. I feel like I have more than my fair share of bad turns, but this was really mana from the Heavens – it’s hard to imagine a more fortuitous turn of events. For me I mean, it was rather unfortuitous for Kartak. He managed to survive the attack of an ape-bear monster, the sole survivor no less, and fight and struggle and scratch and crawl his way back to where he expected to find his friends and allies and instead they’re all dead and he’s captured to be hung for murder. It almost seems bed enough to be the kind of thing that would happen to me.
Although they kept me a tower in the manor when I was a prisoner here Kartak was taken to the small watch house in Alleene – where he and Zedkath occupied half of their sum total of cells. I went to visit him a couple hours after his capture later in my finest mourning gown.
“You’re looking surprisingly intact my friend, I would have thought you’d have gotten a good thrashing when they took you into custody. There’s hardly any bruises on you at all.”
He looked up at my through the bars – his eyes dull but with a spark of restrained anger “They weren’t gentle with me but I’ve had worse.”
“I would imagine so given where you came from. I’m told that at some point after the destruction of your lovely tribe you ran into something that scrambled your brains and that’s why you were helping prop up this matriarchal whatever was going on.”
“Maybe I just grew as a person. Maybe a woman killing my family and friends made me rethink my views on gender.”
“Probably not. Did you come to gloat or to see me rant and carry in a rage? If you stick around long enough I might lose control and start ranting and raving.”
“Neither, just making sure you were actually here – I try not to make assumptions when it comes to my deadly enemies.”
“I guess I underestimated you.” He tapped on the bars with his knuckle “And now here I am.”
“Don’t feel bad, everyone does.”
“I should have listened to that woman, the one that betrayed you, she tried to tell me how dangerous you are.”
“She never betrayed me, it was a con, she’s the one who let me out and helped me kill all your new friends.”
He was still for a moment and then sat back in the shadows “So I was fucked from the very beginning.”
“Aren’t we all.”
When I turned to leave Zedkath was standing in the other cell holding the bars and staring out at me. He wasn’t a bad looking fellow – he was going a little soft as tends to the case with soldiers on garrison duty but nothing that wouldn’t burn off quickly enough once he was back in the field. He reached out through the bars like he was trying to grab me but his hand was in an odd position of supplication.
“Who are you?”
“Your cousin’s mistress. I think we met once years ago.”
His eyes were feverously calculating “Can you get me out of here?”
“Do you want to help me kill your cousin?”
He nodded “Absolutely, I hate my cousin.”
I chuckled “I didn’t even tell you which cousin.”
That evening the Baroness called me into the grand hall where the Baron used to hold court and proclaim his grand pronouncements. Curly was there but beside her she didn’t seem to have acquired any other councilors or sycophants or hangers-on yet. Her ladies in waiting were all dead or fled. Same for her husband’s inner circle, aside from my cousins who had been in his service for all of a couple days and I don’t think she had even spoken to. The House of Juost was looking pretty lean. I snapped off a quick curtsy just for old times’ sake and stood before her with hands clasped like a proper court lady.
“Good evening Baroness, you never answered me before but I assume we can dispense with the cousin fiction.”
“The King’s messenger said . . .”
“The King’s messenger is dead. As is the King, you were quite upset by that news I recall. You’re not going to get in any trouble if we stop pretending.”
She pursed her lips “Yes, well, be that as it may, I called you here to inquire of your intentions.”
“I have business elsewhere that is long overdue, I intend on leaving in short order.”
“Without my permission?”
I smiled “Not if you give me permission I won’t. We can part friends if you like. Hells, if you want we can even keep in pretending that we’re cousins. We can write letters about what we’re up to and inquire about each other’s health.”
She stared at me for a moment and then let out a short breath “I would like for you to stay.”
“With my husband dead . . .”
I held up my hand, her eyes flashing slightly as I interrupted her again “I get it. You need help. The Barony was in bad shape already and with your husband dead the sharks will be circling. Your family must not be able to willing to help you or you wouldn’t be asking me. You have nobody on your side and enemies all about. I can certainly relate to that. Saltwheel and Harmenkar were already nibbling away at your lands before – now they’re going to be drooling with anticipation. Maybe you can play them off each other and weaken them enough that they can’t hurt you. You want my advice? Get remarried as soon as you can. Find a strong lord who isn’t entirely awful and spread your legs for him. You’re going to get fucked either way – at least you can make a choice of who does the fucking that way. That’s your only move. I can’t help you.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
“Either. Both. The end result is the same.”
“How can you be so callous after all we’ve been through?”
I frowned “What exactly have we been through? You mean how you enslaved me for six months? That may not have endeared me to you as much as you seem to think it did.”
“I wouldn’t call it that, I just did as I was bade – you certainly spent a lot of time gallivanting around the countryside doing whatever you wanted for a slave.”
“That’s not how I remember it. But it doesn’t matter. I have my own problems. I don’t need to add yours to my plate.”
She stared at me for a moment “Can I trust your cousins?”
“I don’t know, I barely know them. If I had to guess I’d say they’re not entirely corrupt. They are social climbers for sure, so you can certainly trust them to help you as long as your interests are aligned. Jesslin is a little naïve but I think she’s mostly okay, if you play up the women supporting women angle you can probably get her on your side. Betrei is dumb but he’s not entirely stupid, and I think he’ll mostly do whatever the other two do – you can probably count on him. Parfinis is the one you might have to watch out for. He’s ambitious enough to be dangerous – none of them are that ruthless but they could cause problems. Like I said though, this is all guesswork, I barely know them. You might want to marry Betrei – they’re commoners but they’re well to do commoners and their family has some resources. They’d be in hog heaven to ascend to Baronhood and then you’d have them on your side, or at least the side of the Juost name.”
“What can I do to make you stay?”
“Do you want to help me kill Duke Eaglevane?” Her hand flew to her mouth with a gasp and I smiled “I’ll take that as no. I sympathize with your problem, I honestly do, and if I didn’t have other matters to attend to I would stay and help you.”
I turned to leave but she stopped me with her voice, heavy with desperation “What if I give you Zedkath?”
I thought as I slowly turned around and eventually shook my head “Too thin. The Duke doesn’t care about him enough to be used as bait.”
“What about a funeral? The Royal Accusers are on their way here to bring Zedkath to the capital to stand trial for treason. What if an accident befell him before they got here?”
“I think his body would be returned to his family, the funeral wouldn’t be held here – I doubt the Duke would leave Indlecastle even if the funeral was somewhere else.” I could see her mind working furiously behind her eyes “Look, remember the first night I was here? You had me dragged before you and you told me how it was going to be. You had some iron in your spine that night. You need to find that part of yourself and summon it up right now. You need to be stronger than you’ve ever been before. You have to make a decision and then see it through. When you decide to go, or the decision is made for you, you go all the way – you don’t stop, you don’t look back, you make it work.”
“Are you saying that I don’t need your help?”
“Gods no, you desperately need my help – even with my help some man would probably march in here and take over everything – what I’m saying is that if you want to have a small chance of making it through this without something terrible happening to you what you should do is gather up whatever scraps of courage you have inside you and make your play. Let’s not mince words, your husband was an asshole, nobody really gave a shit about him beyond his title. You are a good person, or seem like one anyway. Your staff here and the people of Alleene love you. Out in the countryside things are going to shit, they might hate you, but the people here are will fight for you – you have to give them a reason to do it. All that praying and shit that you do, that seems legit – lean on the church. Lean on the people around here. That’s a start. Give them someone to believe in.”
“It’s that easy huh?”
“No, it’s not easy at all. It’s going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do, your cushy boring life is over, and as hard as you fight you’re probably going to fail. But think back to when your husband first went to war and left you here. What did you do? Sit in your room and cry? No, you sent me out on a bunch of dangerous errands that almost got me killed – that did get other people killed. You were terrified but you did it anyway. That’s what you have to do.”
She was quiet for a long moment “When will you leave?”
“Tomorrow probably, after I see Kartak dead.”
“Couldn’t you stay for a little while, just until I get my feet underneath myself?”
“What does that mean? When will you have your feet underneath yourself? A few days isn’t going to make a difference. You’ve been dropped in the river with a stone around your neck – either start swimming or drown.”
She stood and smoothed out her dress “Good luck to you cousin, and safe travels.”
I ducked my head “May Adariel grant you peace and long life cousin.”
Funds: 53,040 platinum, 21,660 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, +1 Glorious Undead Bane Short Sword
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