I trotted my steed into Three Rivers a couple hours before dawn. For a brutal commercially sponsored dictatorship security is surprisingly lax in the city. I suppose you don’t worry about tax revenue when you control everything and there’s nothing being imported outside of your own little monopoly. I dismounted, leading my fine stolen steed into the lower city and asking the first person I saw (there were a lot of people working already even before sunup) where the local chapterhouse of the messenger service was located – the idea being that I had found the grand equine wandering in the woods and wanted to return it to the proper authorities. The fellow I asked had one of those beards without the mustache part and his eyes were wide and unfocused. He told me that there was no royal messenger house there which I didn’t believe because I’m ninety-nine percent sure that’s illegal – every community with more than a thousand residents on a royal highway is required to at least have a swing station. But several other people told me the same thing so it must be true. Maybe I can take down the Consortium with that legal issue.
Eventually I just found a stable and turned the horse over to the stablemaster to let him figure it out. I was sad to hand him over, he was a fine steed and I would have liked to keep him, but aside from the fact that I was technically committing treason by riding him I’ve found that my lifestyle doesn’t support me having anything that I can’t carry on my person – including things that could carry my person on them. I made for the safehouse but at the first leg of the journey I was intercepted by one of the street performers that had been feeding us information – a preposterously flexible woman with jug ears and lank dirty brown hair named Eaevn. She told me that the safehouse was no longer safe, Hessenmeel had been captured and executed. Milani and Damrow had taken over the reins of the group but they had shifted things more from rebellion mode to non-violent protest mode.
“What about Martialla?”
Her face was blank “Who’s that?”
“Tallish, dirty blond hair, pancake face, stupid hat – she was recruiting with Hessenmeel.”
She shrugged “If there were any other leaders they must have been captured and killed as well. Milani and that out of towner are the only ones left that I know about.”
I sighed, this is what happens when I’m out of it for a minute – everything falls apart. I would be lying though if underneath my exasperation there wasn’t a rich seam of fear as well. When Martialla hadn’t shown up at the safehouse the night I was captured I didn’t think for a moment that anything had happened to her – we’re not joined at the hip and she can take care of herself. But the casual way Eaevn declared that she must be dead made me go cold all over.
There was a part of me that was angry for being worried about someone else, that said this is what happens when you form attachments of any kind. And for a long time I would have given that voice its head. But you know what? Martialla is my friend, and that’s nothing to be ashamed about, that’s not a weakness. I realize that now. My grandmother always told me that the strong are strongest alone, but as wise as she was her words in that case undermined her own argument – because she was sharing them with me. We weren’t alone, we had each other, and we were both better off for it. I was alone for a long time, so much so that the idea of every trusting or depending or caring about anyone else was repugnant to me. I was a survivor and I valued that over everything else – I didn’t need anyone else. I didn’t want anyone else.
And that’s still true that I don’t need anyone else, but by the same token I don’t need delicious wine. I don’t need good food and a soft bed and a stable full of fabulous horses. I don’t need for my enemies to be destroyed. But life is so much better with those things. And my life is better with Martialla as my friend as well. I would have avoided becoming her friend had I know it was happening. In order to make a connection with someone you have to show your ass – and being vulnerable it something that I would never voluntarily do. She showed up and we were going along and then one day we were just friends. And I’m glad that it happened, because even though it opens up the possibility of something like this – her being taken away, it’s worth it.
I hit the streets and started doing some legwork like in the old days, gathering information to see what had happened to Martialla. Enough people said that she had been captured by the consortium that I decided that it was probably true. Unlike with Hessenmeel there had been no public execution for her, people assumed that she had been killed in private. But no one had seen her die. I wasn’t going to believe that she had been snuffed out by the consortium until I saw a body. That’s hard information to come by though, unless someone was actually there – assuming that it happened at all. I was contemplating some kind of ill-advised covert action against one of the Consortium bigwigs when I was approached by a stern looking man with grey hair wearing an overgenerous forest green mantle. I recognized him as one of Hessenmeel’s merchant contacts.
He told me that Martialla had indeed been captured by the consortium, but that some of the group of Hessenmeel’s followers that she had helped escape had staged a reciprocal rescue operation. Sounds like it turned in a bloody mess but she was spirited away successfully. Speaking with a chain of the surviving rescuers, who were more than a little bitter about the experience, they told me that she had been hidden out of the city with a band of Ples Del’mer travelers/wildcat lumberjacks/itinerants. Which doesn’t seem like a very safe haven to me, but since they were already feeling salty about the rescue mission I didn’t break bad with them about it. Plus they probably weren’t spoiled for choices in people willing to hide a condemned fugitive.
From there I was eventually able to make contact with some shady operators who put me in touch with some smugglers who were able to convey me to the Ples Del’mer camp away from the city several hours after sunset. By this point I was exhausted, which seems to be my normal state of being these days. I’ve promised myself before that once this is all over the Duke is dead and gone I’m going to sleep for several weeks straight and never get up early or stay up late again. I reaffirmed that promise to myself as I crouched in some bushes with the smugglers made dumb bird calls to the hidden camp of the wandering people.
What no one told me is that Martialla had been badly injured – either during her capture, during her imprisonment, or during the escape. Or possibly all three. I was trundled to a covered wagon back in the brush where a single candle was lit and jealously shielded to reveal Martialla’s waxy and pale face. Her legs were both bound with splits and she had bandages all about the head as well – based on the amount of missing hair it looked like a piece of her scalp had been ripped off. My relief at seeing her alive was squashed instantly by her condition – I’ve seen her wounded in battle many times but never before had she looked as fragile and weak as in that moment. Her face was slick with sweat and her breathing was labored.
“Good Gods you look like shit.”
Her eyes fluttered open and after a moment she woke “You look fine . . . . as always.”
She had an accusatory tone that I had never heard in her voice before, gone was our customary lighthearted mockery. I wasn’t sure what to say but she had no issue coming up with something to say.
“Where the fuck were you?”
“I was captured too. I just managed to get back to town.”
She frowned “What do you mean? Why were you out of town?”
“A man named Peronell Missplitter grabbed me and sent me downriver, he works for Pyshundt and . . .”
She clenched her fists so hard I thought she might break her own fingers “Who the FUCK is Psyhundt? Another Gods damned person on your Gods damned fucking list? So while Hessenmeel was getting fucking drawn and quartered and I was getting my legs FUCKING SMASHED you were fucking around with your fucking list?!”
“No, no, nothing like that. Peronell grabbed me because he knew I was wanted by the Consortium, it just so happened . . .”
She was frothing at the mouth slightly as she shouted “Where the fuck were you Ela? Where were you? You LEFT me! You LEFT me!”
“I was only gone for four days, I got back as soon as I could, I got pinched too! What the Hells was I supposed to do?”
She nodded sarcastically “That’s what I’ve been wondering too. I’ve been wondering what you could have done. Seems like every time you’re in trouble I come to save your skinny ass but gee, come to think of it every time I’m fucked you’re nowhere around are you?”
“That’s not quite true, you know that . . .”
“Shut up! Shut UP. I am sick of your lies. Lies, lies, lies! All you do is lie! Do you even know what the truth is anymore? Could you even recognize if it slapped you in your ugly scarred face?”
“I don’t lie to you Martialla, I mean . . . not anymore I don’t.”
She snorted “Well, what a fucking comfort that is. Thanks for remembering that I’m alive and coming to check on me. As you can see I’m fucked up so I’m no use to you anymore. I guess this is goodbye then right? Good luck burning the whole world down because things didn’t go your way. Things didn’t go exactly the fucking way you wanted them to so clearly that justifies killing hundreds of people. Thousand even.”
“I had my own problems Martialla, I came back as soon as I could. You’re an adult and you are more than capable of handling yourself, it’s not my job to babysit you. You want to be mad at me that’s fine, let me have it, shout your lungs out, but you’re being unfair. This is a bad beat and it sucks, it happens. You’re going to have to deal with it, if you want to be pissed at me for a while go right ahead. You’ll get over it. I’ll be back tomorrow with something to heal you.”
“Sure, because we’re such close friends.”
She closed her eyes “You don’t know what friendship is Ela, you’re dead inside. Blow out that candle and go away.”
Funds: 6937 gold
Inventory: Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, Noble’s Traveling Outfit, Ring of Invisibility
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