Montresor 20 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

I’ve never really understood the expression “like a rat fleeing a sinking ship” where does the rat think it’s going to be able to swim?  It’s on a ship.  In the ocean.  Where do you think you’re going rat?  The rat would be much better served staying on the ship as it sinks.  There will be all kinds of wreckage to cling to, flotsam for sure, if the rat is lucky maybe even some jetsam.  Plus the rat can stay hale and hearty by nibbling on the bodies of sailors that drown.  What about water you ask?  Simplicity itself my good friend, the rat can live off the eyeball juices and blood of the rotting corpses as well.  Sure it’s a not a long term strategy, the rat is going to run out of eye juice eventually, but it’s better than just swimming into open ocean.  Stupid rats.

Kellgale slipped away into the crowd at the Cardshire Arms as the Graltontown city watch took me, not into custody exactly, but they were clearly tasked with taking me to see Lady Cornelio regardless of my interest in going.  As they escorted me through the streets they seemed to be wary of the worgs stalking the streets as much as the civilians were. I’ll be curious to ask Elth what the story there is.  The watchmen guided me to what used to be the edge of town before its massive expansion, where I was handed over to the safekeeping of a squadron of sharp looking soldiers in red and gold uniforms.  Not sure how they were, some manner of elite unit based on their haughtiness.  They transferred me to the Wardsmeadow Manor where I was handed off to another group of fancy looking fellows wearing the blue and black colors of the Eaglevane family.  It’s been a fair while since I’ve seen that uniform.  Can’t say as that I cared for seeing it.

I was taken into a room adjacent to the master bedroom where Elth was in the process of getting dressed for a formal dinner with the help of four maids.  Four maids is the correct number for this operation.  One to help you dress, one to help with the make-up, one to handle the jewelry and other accessories, and one floater.  Three or less and you’re shorthanded.  Five or more and that’s a too many cooks situation.  I know that some ladies like to have a whole battalion of maids attend to them at times like this, but that’s pure vanity, and foolishness to boot.  Four is the sweet spot.  Two of the boys in black and blue stayed nearby giving me dirty looks as I took a seat on a delicate chair.

“Why Elth I can see your petticoats, how lewd.”

When I first met her, covered in mud and pigshit on the road she didn’t look like much obviously.  Once I got her cleaned up and dressed properly she was a pretty picture to be sure, but still she didn’t seem like a great beauty that would entrance the duke’s cousin to the point of obsession.  But now, now she had a little something going.  She had grown into herself more, and while no one who knows about such things would mistake her for a true lady she was starting to get the hang of it.  Her hair was a natural treasure, honey-gold and smooth as silk – if you like blondes.  She turned to regard me with a frosty expression.

“I knew you’d come back.”

I held my arms out as if for a hug “Yes, and here I am!  The way you’re looking at me Elth, so cold!  Are we not still friends?”

“I’m not called Elth anymore, my name is Baroness Calseinica Daria Redgrave Goldenfield Cornelio.  And what is your name?”

I smiled “You know me Elth, I think of names like clothing – a different one for every occasion.”

Her minions continued buzzing around here like nothing was happening “Yes, I know you.  I don’t know if it’s your real name but I think Ela is what you’re called most often.  You ask if we’re still friends?  Is that what we were Ela?  Friends?”

“But of course we were friends, the best of friends.  I looked out for you didn’t I Elth?  I took you under my wing, I literally saved your life from those awful Hurmont people.  And then again when you were kidnapped by the enemies of your now husband.  I’m glad you came to your senses and went through with the wedding.  You see that was the best thing for you don’t you?  And the good news is with your new power and influence you can return the favor.  You can help me find some people.  People that have wronged me and need a good talking to.”

“Yes, you always had a way of collecting slights and insults.  That scar on your face for instance.  Not very comely is it?  Your looks are quite diminished, and you were always so proud of your looks.  I imagine someone paid quite a price for that.”

I flushed slightly with anger “They will.”

“I’m sure.  Friends Ela?  There was a time when I thought that.  There was a time when I thought of you as an older sister, a much older sister, someone who was going to show me how the real world worked.”

“That’s exactly what I did.”

She pursed her lips for a moment “Yes.  I suppose you did at that.  I think what I was to you was an investment Ela.  I realized after you left that you couldn’t have friends, it wasn’t something you were capable of, people were either obstacles to you or tools for you to use.  I was convinced of that, but it turns out that I was wrong.  When she turned up in town I discovered that you do have the capacity for friendship inside of you.  You and Martialla really were close weren’t you?”

“We travelled together for a while is all, how is the old girl doing?”

She smiled slightly “She’s dead.”

“Well that’s certainly a pity, she was a crafty woman, very useful.”

Her face twitched with anger as I maintained my calm “She came here, looking for someone, but I found her first.  I did it Ela, I killed her.”

I cocked my head “Did you really?  With your own hands?  I doubt it, I’m sure you had someone else kill her for you.  If you ask me . . .”

She leapt to her feet, scattering her maids like frightened birds and making the two guards tense up “You left me!  You left me here all alone!  I was nothing to you!”

“You’re getting upset Elth, that’s very bad for the complexion you know, and Gods know your complexion is shaky to begin with.”

“You pretended to help me, you pretended to like me, but it was so you could bring me here and sell me off to the Duke’s cousin like a prize heifer!  I ran away from home to avoid this marriage and you trapped me here!  You gave me away and then you left me!”

I held up a hand “Grow up lady.  I used you sure, you used me, we used each other – that’s what being an adult is.  I sheltered you plenty.  You were a babe in the woods when I found you.  What do you think you were going to do when you ran away from home?  You were talking about your fucking carpentry skills like a madwoman.  What did you think?  You were going to come to this shithole city and make cabinets or barrels?  If our paths hadn’t crossed you’d be out on the street corner right now getting worn out by whatever limp dick pig farmer had a few coppers.  In another year you would have been dead of an overdose or a slashed throat.  And look at you know – you’re a fancy lady in a stolen house with more money and power than you ever could have dreamed of!  You’re a Baroness for fuck’s sake!  And you’re going to break bad with me for what?  Because I didn’t stay around to be your best friend?  If anyone here should be pissed it’s me.  You fucking owe me!  You owe me everything!”

She had snatched up a hairbrush and was clenching it so tightly in her fist that it seemed like the handle would break.  A few tears run down her face “You left me.  You brought me here and you sold me off to that . . . man.  And then you left me.”

“Good Gods, are you crying?  You really are a child aren’t you?  Is this not going the way you wanted it to Elth?  Did you think that you could intimidate me?  That you could impress me?  Is this a joke?  I gave you a chance at a better life, I gave you power, and you’re going sit here playing dress-up like a fucking baby?  I am an adult and I am a woman Elth, you can’t get over on me, you have no idea what you’re doing!  You hit the jackpot!  A rich man wanted you and all you could do is run away and cry about it?  Your life was on course to be nothing and you get an opportunity that people have killed for and all you can do is complain?  And here you are still complaining!  Did you want me to fucking adopt you?

You’re all dressed up like a lady now but you’re the same terrified shit-covered little girl you were when I first found you.  You’ve advanced not a whit, you’ve accomplished nothing!  You’ve been given everything and done nothing with it.  I’ve had to fight for everything I’ve ever gotten, since day one!  And you’re going to sit there and whine at me you entitled little bitch?!  You drag me in here so you can do what?  Did you think I would fall apart at this pathetic little display?  Did you think I would break down and beg your forgiveness and we would hug and be best friends?  Things didn’t work out how you wanted?  Guess what idiot, you’re not the first person that ever happened to!  The world doesn’t stop spinning because Elth didn’t get everything she wanted.  Buckle up lady because it’s a bumpy fucking ride.  It ain’t over until you’re dead. Until then, you’ve got more punishment in store. Stand up to it like a Gods damned adult!”

Montresor 20 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I expected that Ancin, Reda, and Wine would try to murder me in the night.  They’re pretty salty about getting fired despite the fact that it was entirely justified.  Or maybe that’s why they’re so peeved about it – people are weird like that.  I suppose there’s a lesson there about taking it easy on people.  I should have killed Ancin and Reda and dumped them in the Heathgrove sludge for the gators or eels or wamp trolls whatever the Hells is down there.  Wine probably wouldn’t have sought revenge without being roped into it by those other too.  Maybe leaving him alive was okay.  Seems like being alive is plenty of punishment for him.

I don’t think that Kellgale even put them up to it.  It seems as though she’s had a rough time of it, there’s not a lot of fight left in her.  She’s so abjectly afraid of me that it’s not even fun.  What’s the point of taking revenge on someone who’s been beaten down by life so much that you almost feel sorry for them?  It’s like the world stole my chance for revenge.  What can I do about that?  I can’t get revenge on the world.  I suppose what I should do is build her back up to some semblance of the cocky scam artist she once was and then ruin her so that it has some teeth to it when I do it.  But that seems like a serious commitment of time.  It’s a real pickle. 

But what other options do I have?  Forgive her?  That certainly doesn’t seem like something that I would do.  I’ll have to think on that – how do you solve a problem like Kellgale?  Anyway, when the three murders snuck up on the tent I had commandeered I was standing a ways off in the darkness.  I give them no points for subtly and high marks for enthusiasm.  They collapsed the tent and started wailing away on what was inside (nothing) with their weapons.  I don’t know about you, but I have a pretty good idea if I’m stabbing a human body or a pile of bedding, seems they do not.  I guess they were too excited to take notice.  I wonder what their plan was for after, if they had one.  Loudly murdering someone in the middle of a camp doesn’t seem like a good way to get away with murder to me.   

With the fire behind them it was pretty easy for me to see them, although they clearly had no idea I was there.  They picked up that something was going wrong when I shot Reda (or maybe Ancin, I don’t actually remember which is which very well).  I was aiming for the chest but he moved just when I loosed and I ended up hitting him high on the side in the ribs.  One of the Duke’s torturers told me one time that burning someone in the armpit is one of the more painful spots you can target.  I wonder if that’s true.   

Before I could get off a second shot the camp was up in arms – which is pretty damn good response time.  I’ve seen far worse from far more professional organizations.  I belayed (what does that mean actually?) taking another shot as someone lit up the night with magic and people were rushing about with weapons drawn.  I stowed my crossbow and carefully came out of “hiding” into the light while Ancin, Reda, and Wine were surrounded.   

Someone asked what was going on.  I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a Striderian and based on the amount of grizzle going on I think it was one of the mercenaries rather than a bandit.  Mercenaries are often very grizzled whereas bandits tend to be hungrier looking like starving coyotes.  I told him what was going on was that these three men had stolen up upon me in the night intent on murder and I had barely managed to slip away from their depredations. 

They offered nothing in the way of a defense.  Although they did loudly complain about how I had fired them for incompetence.  Normally providing a motive for the crime you’re being accused of is a very risky legal move but I suppose since they were caught in the act there wasn’t must to be gained or lost no matter what they did.  I told the gathered assembly how I had dismissed them from my employ on account of their incompetence and drunkenness respectively and a tribunal was quickly assembled of the three leaders – the mercenary captain Blick Rissa, Stor Hairtail most senior Strider person based on whatever dumb system they use (most worn boots probably) and Pittacus Peatmoss the guy claiming to be a merchant who was clearly a bandit lord.  

They quickly decided that the defendants were guilty and the sentence would be death – carried out immediately.  Swift and arbitrary justice is much more enjoyable when you’re not on the sharp end of it.  I thought about asking for some manner of lenience for Wine since he’s more of an easy suggestible doormat than a stone cold killer, but what would be the point?  He’s the drunkest drunk I’ve ever encountered and I’ve encountered a few.  How he’s still alive I don’t know.  There was some talk about holding Kallgale responsible as well since they were in her employ but I put in a good word for her.  She was exiled from the camp but that’s fine since she’s coming with me to Graltontown anyway. 

There’s nothing like three men being decapitated before breakfast to start the day off with a bang. 

For some strange reason in the morning the rest of Kellgale’s hired swords decided they didn’t want to be around her anymore and made themselves scare.  Therefore it was just the two of us girls heading south full of light and promise and other good female stuff.  Late in the morning the stench of Graltontown came wafting northwards.  A couple of hours later the crouching toad of a town came into view.  Even from miles away it was clear that fustulent and brawling Graltontown was much changed since last I was there.  It seemed to have doubled in size and somehow gotten even shabbier and sadder.  I would liken it to an aged sow that somehow managed to become pregnant well past the day it should have been slaughtered out of pure mercy.  I suppose several thousands of soldiers passing through both ways along with all their hanger’s on will do that do you. 

Kellgale perked up enough to comment “What a shithole.” 

I snorted “What do you think it was before?” 

“Good point.” 

It’s hard to say at what point we actually entered the town, at one moment we were amongst a shanty town of tents and the next we were in amongst the glory and beauty of what has to be one of the worst cities in the Kingdom.  Aside from the population explosion (despite doubling in size it seems to have quadrupled in smelly morons) two other things were immediately evident.  Like in Cathars there were paintings of the Queen on the walls of many buildings.  There weren’t nearly as many but they were generally all of good quality, surprisingly.  Even more surprising though was that along with portraits of the queen were many paintings of none other than little Elth Belker herself.  She never looked so fine in real life as in those depictions but you have to make allowance for artistic license I suppose.   

The other interesting thing is the dozens of worgs we saw stalking through the streets.  Crowded though the streets were the beasts were given a wide berth – people flowed around them like fish around a shark.  A few of them were mounted by uniformed Shirelings like we saw before out on the plains but most of them were free and unencumbered.  I don’t know if they’re supplementing the town guard or supplanting them but they were doing more to keep people in line than that pack of lazy imbecilic fatheads ever did.  I saw a pickpocket get his hand snapped off to a bloody stump right there in the market.  Justice as swift and merciless as I saw that morning.   

Kellgale and I made our way to the Cardshire Arms – the place was hopping.  Mr. Conrad has really done well for himself with the influx of travelers.  The harried fellow at the desk told me that they had no rooms available and that none would be coming available.  I told him that I was old friends with the owner which seemed to really throw him off his game.

“You’re friends with Mister Moribond?”

“Who’s Moribond?  I thought Claire Conrad owned this place.”

“He sold the Cardshire Arms to Mister Moribond six months ago.” He tossed over his shoulder as he scurried off.

“Oh well, no matter, we’ll find him somewhere” I told Kellgale as we elbowed our way to a table.

We sat down ordered some food and drink and I started telling her about the many people in town we needed to take revenge on.  The many, many people.  I really had a hair trigger for putting people on the List back in those days.  I’ll forgive myself though because it was early on, I was still pretty angry about being drugged and left for dead in a provincial backwater.  Kellgale seemed to start coming alive a little as we discussed what contacts she still had in town and what kind of schemes we could get cooking.  Things were going well until I realized that the town watch – the normal town watch not the wolf monsters – had come in and were looming over us.

“Good evening gentlemen what can we do for you?”

The leader had that gruff voice that they must teach in watchman school “You’re wanted by Lady Cornelio.”

I put a hand to my chest “Little old me?  Tell me is ‘Lady’ Cronelio the broad who’s face is plastered all over the city next to the Queens’?  Has the country girl I knew by the name of Belker social climbed that high?”

He didn’t care for that.