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?”

Montresor 16 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I arrived at the Compass River today.  I’ve had bad luck with river crossings what with the pirates and monsters and undead beasts, so I was not looking forward to the ferry but when I got there I saw that a brand new bridge was ready and waiting for me.  I guess because of the all the troops moving through here (you know the war and all) they decided it made sense to toss up a bridge.  It’s startling when presented with actual proof that the government can accomplish things when they want to.  And building a bridge is no easy task – they must have really busted the asses of some indentured servants to get this completed so quickly.  I’d like to take this moment to remind everyone that slavery is illegal in the Kingdom. 

It wasn’t some rickety little country affair either – this was a Hells of a bridge.  I mean if you like bridges.  You could have marched a whole platoon (I have no idea how many people are in a platoon) across it with room to spare for their train of cooks, laundresses, bootleggers, nurses, prostitutes, and war profiteers.  Truth be told it was far more bridge than you would ever need on the road to a place like Graltontown but fighting wars is mostly about building bridges I’m pretty sure.  The ferryman’s little shack was still nearby but the ferryman himself was nowhere to be found.  I assumed he hanged himself once the bridge was completed and now haunts it at night, strangling travelers unlucky enough to be crossing under the light of the moon with the very ropes with once he made his livelihood. 

As I crossed over this new construction I passed a man pushing an overburdened cartful of cabbages accompanied by a girl dressed in boy’s clothing stooped under a pack bigger than her.  I think it wasn’t just dressed, I think it was supposed to be a disguise, probably as an attempt to dissuade potential rapists.  Surely they couldn’t have been planning on taking those cabbages all the way to Ardint but where else would there be to take them?  I was almost curious enough to ask them.  Almost. 

Aside from cabbages the other thing I wondered about was how I crossed this river the first time.  Five hundred and twenty seven days ago I woke up in that garbage-strewed alley in Graltontown being molested by a diseased mongrel.  What happened before that?  Was I whisked there by magic?  Was I bound and gagged and drugged the entire time, did the ferryman watch as the Duke’s goons manhandled by unconscious form onto his skiff?  Was my mind overthrown by enchantment and I was going there “willingly”?  I suppose before I finally kill the Duke I’ll wring that answer out of him, just for my own curiosity.

On the other side of the river a man was waiting for me, leaning against the bridgehead (is that a thing?) the kind of lean where you need support rather than want it.  He was mostly dressed in dilapidated traveler’s garb, several layers of such in fact, but had added a few items.  Some puffy culottes, a frilly light violet dressing gown, and a horribly clashing floppy red hat with a sad feather really added something to the ensemble.  What that something is I’ll leave for each individual to arrive.  He had a very unmasculine long neck and a disgrace of a beard.  About the only thing that recommended him was the bottle of Oldlaw whiskey he was working on as he leaned at an awkward angle.

“Aren’t you hot under all those clothes?”

He peered at me from under his hat as if trying to assess if I was real “I have a skin condition.”

“And sweating your balls off makes it better?”

He took a moment to consider that “Yes?”

“You also appear to be wearing women’s trousers.”

He took a drink before corking his bottle and tucking it away without offering me any like a real asshole “No such thing madam.  Women won’t wear trousers so there can be so such thing as women’s trousers, ergo and therefore all trousers are men’s trousers.”

“I’m a woman and I’m wearing trousers.”

He frowned and then leaned forward preciously to examine me for a moment “Yes . . . . it seems that you are.  Hmm . . . . this changes things.”

I carefully pushed him back into a more upright position before he fell on his face “I could go on at some length about your fashion choices but in the interest of brevity let me ask what it is you need from me.  It appeared you were waiting for me.”

“Yes . . .” he nodded as if he had just decided “Yes, I talked with a Shepard of the Wandering God and his disciples, he was called Dormus, and he told me of a meeting with a witch hunter by the name of Buckleuck.  It’s him that I was waiting for but it appears that you are him.”

“Good eye, most people would never peg me for Buckleuck since I look nothing like him and also he doesn’t really exist.”

“Existence is not as black and white as people think.  And appearances can be deceiving, I try not to rely on anything so undependable as vision if I have other options.”

“And do you?”

He nodded slowly “Oh yes, I’m quite a powerful wizard.”

“You look like a vagrant.”

“I’m that too.”

“I suppose you must be a wizard since here you are in front of me when the people you said you talked to yesterday are now far behind me.”

He looked around, confused “They are?  I admit that directions and geography aren’t something I’m good with, I have the bad tendency to get turned around.”

“That’s something we have in common.  I have to tell you my shabby new friend, I don’t get on with wizards very well.  They have a disturbing tendency to live in isolated towers where they can kidnap and torture women without being bothered by angry mobs.”

“I don’t blame you there, most wizards are real stiffs.  I can assure you that I have no problem with women.  I love women, why else would I pay them thirty silver to have sex with me?”

“You don’t look like you have thirty silver to spare very often.”

A sighed sadly “True enough, wizarding is not a very lucrative profession.”

“Disagree whenever I buy anything magic it costs a fortune.  I feel like you’re just a bad wizard and that’s why you’re poor.”

“Maybe, but it takes a lot of money to make those things too.  The overhead is substantial.  And it takes forever.  One measly little magic ring takes months to create.  It’s crazy I tell you.  Plus I never really mastered the art of crafting magic items, mine had the bad habit if not working which doesn’t do much for your reputation.”

 “That is pretty strong mark against any merchant – your competitors can say mean things like ‘at least my stuff actually works’ and what can you say back?”

“Exactly.  That’s why so many wizards get drawn into the tawdry and ugly world of adventuring, there’s just not a lot of other ways to get rich using your skills of setting people and things on fire at fifty paces.”

“But you can do other things with magic other than killing right?”

“You’d think so wouldn’t you?”

“We seem to have gotten sidetracked again, what is it you want from me?”

“I need a witch hunted, what reason would there be to look for a witch hunter?”

“Maybe you want one of those big hats they seem to love so much.”