Montresor 16 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) part 2

“I’m not really a witch hunter.  I’m just an poor girl from a poor family roaming the countryside looking to put right what once went wrong.”

He shrugged “That’s fine, you’re the next best thing.”

“How so?  I admit that I do hate witches – one of them would be infesting my dreams with horror right now if I didn’t have magical wards keeping them out – but that hardly qualifies me to take on the somber duties of witch hunting. Isn’t that a government thing?  Part of the Royal Inquisition or some such?”

“Well you’re here so you’ll have to do.”

“Will I?  I don’t see any particular reason why I should care about your witch.”

“If you help me with your witch I’ll help you with yours.”

“Fair enough, but I would like to state for the record that I don’t believe you can actually help me do anything.  I think you suck at magic and I’m just going along with this out of curiosity.”

“Let the record so reflect.” He took a deep breath “Alright, we’ll go in a second, just give me a minute to catch my breath.”

“You’ve been standing here doing nothing, why are you so weary?”

“Trust me, I’m doing all sorts of magic things that you aren’t even aware of, it takes a toll it does.”

“I’m sure.”

We stood there wordlessly staring at each other and then after a minute he waved his hand and we crossed back over the bridge and headed downriver.  Despite taking a moment to rest he was wheezing like an old man.

“Why were you waiting for me on the other side of the bridge?  Also where are we going?”

“I thought you’d be coming from the other way.  We’re going to Peacevast, it’s a fishing village up the way.”

“Why are we going there?”

“That’s where the witch is.”

“If you know where she is what do you need a witch hunter for?”

He didn’t respond to that, not sure if it’s because he was too out of breath or because he had no answer for me.  Peacevast wasn’t more than a mile down the road, which makes you wonder why there was ever a need for a ferry crossing here in the first place.  It was your standard flyspeck of a village with one mildly interesting feature.  Outside of town (in as much as you can call two dozen buildings a town) there was a statue buried in the ground so that only the top of head was poking out.  The dirt covered it up about to the lips.  That protruding portion itself was a good two feet in height so based on that forehead the entire thing must have been massive.  My companion pointed at it with an incongruous tone of pride.

“No one knows who that’s a statue of, or how it ended up in the earth like that.”

“That’s King Harad the Fourth.”

He stopped in dismay “What?  How could you know that?”

“I’d recognize it anywhere, they have that same statue all over the place in Indlecastle and Paladore.  Municipal buildings and parks and such.  Even from just the top of the face I’m sure that’s what it is.  They made them out of a special kind of alabaster that I don’t think was ever used for anything else, that’s why it’s kind of sparkle like that.  Bit effeminate if you ask me but I think it’s supposed to be the shining of his moral righteousness or something.”

He stared at me like his entire worldview had been shattered “Well . . . how did it get in the ground?”

“I have no idea.”

That seemed to satisfy him “I didn’t think so.”

Once that odd little exchange was over we continued into the village and I saw the other distinguishing characteristic of Peacevast – the woman they had rigged up in the middle of town.  She wasn’t tied to a stake, as is tradition with witches, it was more like they had her hanging from a very large sawhorse.  Or a drying racking maybe.  You know what I mean.  Not like hanging upside down by the ankles, she had been lashed to the crossbeam (?) like a suckling pig on a spit.  It was hard to tell with all the ropes across her but she looked like a pretty normal woman in a gaudy purple dress.  Her dark hair hung down like a veil about her head, almost touching the floor.  The wandering wizard pointed.

“There she is.”

“Looks like they got her, seems like my job here is done.  Now for your end of the bargain.”

He shook his head “No, you need to set her free.”

“First of all you were looking for a witch hunter because you wanted to set a witch free?  Second of all I don’t even think she is a witch, she looks normal enough to me – witches are all misshaped and lumpy.  Third of all you’re a wizard and you can’t untie a rope?  I’m starting to suspect you don’t know what you’re doing.”

He sighed like this all just too much for him “Just get her down will you?”

I laughed shortly “Oh I’m sorry, am I inconveniencing you?  Somehow now I’m wasting your time?  Look at all that fucking rope, it must have taken them hours to tie her up like that.  I don’t want to undo all those knots.  Maybe we can burn the ropes off her.”

“How are you going to do that without killing her?!”

I scowled “You’re the one with magic!”

A weak voice came from the direction of the hair “Grigori is that you?”

He moved to kneel by the contraption and grabbed her bound hands “Yes my love, I’m here for you.”

“You two know each other?  Are you incapable of telling the truth?  Why didn’t you just say you wanted my help rescuing your lover?”

“You’re here aren’t you?”

“You are a nitwit.”

The hair quivered with fear “Grigori you have to get out of here before they find you. It’s too late for me, save yourself.”

He clutched more desperately at her hands “I’ll never leave you again, and don’t worry, I brought reinforcements.”

I walked over “That would be me.  As you can tell from my boots I’m very heroic and great.  Maybe if we lift the pole off this . . . whatever it is then we can slip it out and then maybe she can wriggle free of the ropes.”

Grigori glared at me “Why don’t you just untie her?”

“Why don’t you just untie her?”

“Oi, what are you two doing over there!”

That was the voice of a beardless dwarf with outrageous eyebrows (they looked like a waxed mustache) who was coming out of one of the buildings.  He was dressed in golden mail and he brandished some manner of sword/axe/thing that was longer than he was tall.  I think it was an elf curve blade.  I feel like this is the third time I’ve seen a dwarf wielding one of those.  What gives?  I thought dwarfs and elfs didn’t get on.  Maybe that’s why these dwarfs are exiles.  Coming out behind him was another beardless dwarf who was also hairless – his head looked like a fleshy boulder.  He was pointing a crossbow at us that looked like it was made of the finest darkwood with gold filigree and silver.  It was a beautiful looking killing tool aside from the fact that it looked like it had a long spyglass attached to the top.  What a ridiculous notion.

I gestured “We were just discussing the best way to untie this woman.  Would you mind not pointing that crossbow at me?”

His ludicrous eyebrows twitched like the antenna of a cave cricket “Untie her?!  She’s our captive!”

I nodded “Yes, and a fine job you did of it too my good sir. “I flashed my badge at him “I’m here to take her off your hands.”

“And who are you?!”

His back-up lowered the crossbow slightly so I would just be shot in the stomach instead of the chest if he loosed “What about our pay?”

“Marguerite Bennett, Captain of the Cathars Chapterhouse.  You’ll get the full amount promised you from Baron Harmenkar, you’ll just have to go get it.”

The crossbowman frowned and lowered his weapon a tiny bit more as eyebrows turned red in the face “That isn’t what we were hired for!  We were told . . .”

“Look, I’m sorry, but things have changed.  There’s been an organization reshuffling and you got caught in the shuffle it looks like.  It a bad hand but that’s what it is, no use bellyaching about it.  Baron Harmenkar is overseeing funding this entire region under the supervision of Colonel Tarl Ciarán.  You have a complaint, take it up with him.  I’m just here to remand your prisoner unto my custody.”

The crossbowman’s bolt thrower dropped to the ground in dismay “But what about our money?”

Eyebrows looked like he was about to grab me by the shirt “We need that money!”

I coolly moved his hands away from me with the Baronial Cane “Don’t get grabby with me sir, there’s no reason to turn this into something ugly.  You got a raw deal here but you’re still getting paid, it’s just going to take a little longer.  How about you act like professional instead of mewling children and roll with the punches?  If it will keep you from yapping I’ll write a letter to Baron Harmenkar suggesting that you be awarded additional funds for your trouble.”

Eyebrows growled “Who are you calling a child?”

A light came back into the crossbowman’s eyes “How much additional?”

I looked the angry dwarf in the eyes “Thirty percent.  You want the letter or not?”