When I woke up this morning a rat monster was looking at me. It was longer than a non-monster rat, kind of weasely in the body, and it’s front paws were somewhat human-like. This matched well with its hideous humanish face. It reminded me of a rat version of a barghest – you wouldn’t call it a ratman by any means, it’s more like a rat with eleven percent human added in. The face was twisted up on account of it had giant rat fangs stabbing awkwardly into its human mouth. Well not fangs, that’s not the right word for a rat, but you know those big teeth rats have in front. Incisors? Whatever, you know what I mean. It had little ropes of glistening drool hanging from its repugnant little face. I tell you, this is not the way I wanted to wake up. It scampered away before I could say or do anything. I’m sure that bodes well.
Yesterday after I came to an agreement with the snake twins and the two boring normal humans we headed towards the Shoddy Hills together and they set up a luxurious campsite of a firepit and a couple of blankets. I shouldn’t complain about that I guess, it’s better than I could have done for myself. Still though I don’t understand adventurers – why raid a tomb and kill a bunch of old barbarian kings turned into wights and steal their gold just so you can get yourself a magic sword? I mean sure, adventurers do a lot of murdering so they need good killing tools, but even the most murderous person probably doesn’t kill someone even every day. On the other hand they’re constantly on the road, searching out more monsters to kill, avoiding tax collectors, civil lawsuits, and the hangman. They should be spending their gold on ways to travel in comfort first and magic swords send. Why waste your money on a magic sword that sits in your scabbard ninety nine percent of the time and then sleep in the mud like a pig and eat food that’s even worse than the slop you give a sow? Adventurers are all crazy anyway so there’s no reason ascribing human motives to them.
The snake people turned out to be a real disappointment. I assumed that the two humans were their mind-slaves and they were advance scouts a wicked race who use their shapechanging abilities to infiltrate and influence human society by reaching positions of power. I mean they’re humanoid snakes for the Gods’ sake! But they weren’t anything like that at all. They’re some kind of nature people that are all about the land and seasons and flowers and nuts and shit like that. They’re vegetarians! It was a huge letdown. They’re basically the same as elfs – right down to not being able to tell the genders apart. Maybe elfs are all secretly snake people, that would be something. The snake people knew that humans wouldn’t like them in their real forms so they invented elf culture. I think I’ll start spreading that rumor around, seems like it has legs.
I found out that the shoemaker looking guy used to be a knight in the service of Baron Saltwheel but because of some terribly tragic story involving his lady love marrying another man he’s just a normal killer now. That’s why he’s always staring off into the distance like a mental patient, he got his little heart broken and now he pines away like a lost baby bird. As we traveled today we happened to be riding side by side so I seized this opportunity to delve into the mind of a knight.
“Mr. Harweal would you mind if I asked you a few questions about knighthood?”
He had the broken voice of a man whose sweetheart was just lost to him even though it was years ago “I am no longer a knight madam.”
“I know that but you were for many years, I’m sure you remember.” He inclined his head slightly “I understand that knights have many vows. I’ve always had a bit of a question about this vow to fight fairly. As I understand it knights are supposed to refrain from using poison or attacking from hiding or other dirty tricks like that.”
He nodded “That is correct. Poison and underhanded tactics are the tools of men that possess an evil heart, implements of corruption and destruction. Using poison is an evil act because it causes undue suffering in the process of incapacitating or killing an opponent.”
“But can you explain to me why splitting open someone’s head with an axe is fine but poisoning them isn’t?” He stiffened noticeable “I’m not trying to bust your balls here, I’m honestly interested in how it works. Let’s say back in the old days one of Baron Saltwheel’s vassals was in open rebellion against him, raising troops and the whole nine yards. You lead the Baron’s men against his and a bunch of soldiers die in battle and crops are ruined by the marching and fighting and there’s a famine and more people die and so forth. Now instead let’s say I was there in the Baron’s service. What I would so is I snuggle up to the rebellious lord and after the fucking I slip him some black lotus and he dies in bed. Isn’t that better? Then just one person dies.”
He seemed legitimately horrified “But madam what about your virtue?!”
“Who cares? I don’t mean to be flippant but it’s just sex. If I have to bang one dude to save the lives of thousands what seems like a no brainer.”
“A victory through deceitful tactics is a defeat.”
“Why? The people who are alive sure don’t give a shit how you pulled it off. And even if they do at least they’re alive to hate your guts. Isn’t your vow to protect the Kingdom? And isn’t the Kingdom the people? Shouldn’t your honor demand that you do anything to protect them no matter how personally vile you might find it? What about this, let’s say a troll is attacking an isolated village. If you fight the troll you may win you may not, but if you trick him and use poison you’re certainly win. Surely fighting is the immoral choice.”
“I would fight with honor and lose if I must, there is no other choice.”
“But how is that honorable if you lose and then the troll eats all the villagers? I’m not trying to say that the ends justify the means but you have to use common sense don’t you? What about this, what if just lied and told the troll something that made it go away. That has to be okay right?”
“A true knight always tells the truth as he knows it. He may decline to speak or choose to withhold information, but a true knight will never intentionally mislead anyone, even his enemies. He may ask permission not to answer a direct question, but if pressed, a true knight will tell the truth.”
“Sure, that’s the vow, but intellectually you understand that that’s asinine right? All you have to do to save the entire village is tell one little lie and you won’t do it? Instead you put everyone’s life at risk? That’s purely ego right? It’s not about the people it’s about you.”
“You have a wicked tongue madam.”
With that he spurred his horse away from mine and I turned to one of the snake people “Back me up here, there’s nothing wrong with ambushing someone and biting them with your venom snake style right?”
It’s hard to read snake expression but it seemed confused “I don’t have any venom. Why would you think that I did?”
I restate, these snake people are a serious disappointment. As we traveling along the Shoddy Hills I saw more shirelings than I ever have in my life. They were all over the place, tending to gardens and whistling and crawling into and out of their holes. If there’s this many here how many are there in the Eight Shires? Eight shires worth I suppose.
Late in the afternoon we came upon Baron Saltwheel’s country home. Why anyone, even a shoddy baron, would want a country home on the fringes of the Shoddy Hills I couldn’t speculate. It was more of an overgrown hunting lodge than a proper country villa, but it was decent enough. Strangely all the servants were humans not Halflings. The four adventurers were directed to one of the outbuildings while I was shown in to meet with the Baron, which is a surprising show of good breeding. A gentlemen may have to deal with these roughnecks but that doesn’t mean you have to break bread with them. I approve of this approach.
The Baron himself had a long neck and a sallow face marred by a thick red rash under the eyes on both cheekbones. He didn’t act sickly in other way but he certainly does not look like a well man. He wore an odd brown and grey number that seemed more like the vestments of a religious sort than the loungewear of a high born. He served some weak lukewarm tea in his study and we chatted a bit before he got down to business.
“Now my lady I’m given to understand that you have come into possession of something that belongs to me, is that correct?”
I shook my head shortly “No My Lord, it appears that you have been misinformed.”
His eyebrow twitched like it wanted to raise but could not “You don’t have the necklace of Ru’ias Mitherva?”
“Oh I have the necklace My Lord, but it doesn’t belong to you. I won it fairly in a game of chance, it belongs to me.”
He pursed his lips and set down his teacup “Yes well, it wasn’t Miss Rilotto’s to wager now was it?”
“I couldn’t say sir, being unfamiliar with the provenance of the item I couldn’t speculate on that. However since there may be some irregularity in the change of ownership I explained to your men that I would be willing to sell the item at a reasonable price.”
His lip curled slightly “Yes, they told me about your price, reasonable is not how I would describe it. Madam near the Lake of Daggers I have some land and there is a pestilence there that has being caused by an old enemy of mine. An old companion came to me and . . .”
I held up my hand “Yes, yes, your goons told me the sad tale of why you need the necklace but that doesn’t change the price in the slightest. Let me tell you a tale good sir. I was orphaned when the great Paladore fire in sixty three killed my parents. You remember how cold it was that year My Lord? I slept in heaps with other orphans like dogs. We lived much like dogs, scavenging and begging for food, fighting and running. Every now and then the snatchers would come through just like dog catchers – only they would take you to the Church orphanage. And you didn’t want to go there, as bad as it was on the street you didn’t want to go there, oh no, not to the orphanage.
I was better at hiding than any of the others, the snatchers never could have found me. But he did. Maybe he was interested in me because I was such a good hider. Stitches they called him. He was a cutthroat for the Bloody Coin. The whole hang was hung in mass in eighty – I’m sure you heard about it. At first I just helped him clean up his murders but then I graduated to being his gopher as well. In time I started acting as bait for his targets. I didn’t like it but any man who wanted to diddle a thirteen year old girl had it coming right? That’s what I told myself anyway. Helped me to not cry every night. Eventually I was assisting him with his work – you know the kind I mean.
But then I heard from one of my fellow ‘apprentices’ that Stitches was on the outs, I never found out why, he seemed like a loyal Bloody Coin man to me, maybe he just knew too much, and they were sending men to take us both out. When the other Bloody Coin hitters showed up I was waiting for them with Stitches head in my lap. I had taken a lot of effort to saw it off. I told them I was with them to the end, if they wanted Stitches out that’s what I would do, and if they wanted my life too it was theirs. One of the killers started laughing. He thought it hilarious that a girl had taken out Stitches. He was the big bosses’ son so that was it, I was in.”
Baron Saltwheel looked like he smelled something foul “And what was the purpose of that shocking tale of gutter trash killing one another? To intimidate me? I can assure you it did quite the opposite.”
“No, nothing of the sort, I just wanted you to know who you’re dealing with. You can pay me for the necklace or I can continue on my way. There’s nothing else.”
He let out a breath in a weird little half-cough “Madam I must insist that you give me that necklace.”
I nodded “I thought that you might.” I set down my teacup and locked eyes with him “It’s been said that there are two kinds of barons – the bad ones and the really bad ones. Which kind are you?”
Funds: 53,940 platinum, 27,309 gold
Inventory: +3 Thundering Distance Light Crossbow, Ela’s Fashionable Belt, Cerulean Sign Tattoo, Satchel of Plentiful Feed, Horseshoes of Surety, Teremana (light warhorse), Hat of Effortless Style, Ela’s Wonderful Flask, Ela’s Dazzling Garment, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, Ela’s Stately Greatcoat, Ring of Eloquence, Cheating Gloves, Clothier’s Closet Rod , Singer’s Stole
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 (631), 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, diamond and pearl lover’s knot tiara, 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, cruddy gold necklace
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, maker of the manacles, Calvados Eure, Law Offices of Lampblack and Brimstone, Peronell Missplitter, Nightmare Hag