Fruit of the Fallen

Road to Lathleer

Progress and Delay

Part 3 of The Adventures of The Split Falchion

Three Days Later

It’s an hour before dawn. The Split Falchion is fully assembled in the common area of the Half Moon. Vargard is busy arguing with Malius over the combined tab, while Cletus and Jorduna sit solemnly at a table, waiting to leave. Lesani and Marwyn chat amiably by the fire, Marwyn having mostly recovered, and able to recite a few lines of verse, to which Lesani attempts to accompany. Eventually, Vargard slides one gold piece away from the pile on the bar, and Malius lets out an annoyed yet satisfied grunt.

“We’re all set. I have enough rations for all of us to get to,” Vargard stops himself midsentence, glances at Malius, and then continues, “our destination.”
“It’s about time Var, I thought we’d eat up everything we’d gained from our last engagement sitting here waiting on the kid.” Jorduna shoots back.
“Just be happy we are moving on, Jor. You spent most of your time complaining while we rested here, there is no sense complaining now either.” Lesani interjects, walking over to the rest of the group, “and his name is Marwyn.”
“His name is kid, as far as I’m concerned, until he manages to finish a job conscious. Not all of us measure a man by the sword he keeps below the waist” Jorduna replies, acid in her voice. Lesani starts to counter, but Vargard gruffly cuts in.
“Enough. We make for the North gate. Continue this bickering outside of city limits.”

The group sets out. Cletus, head down and avoiding glances. Jorduna, bitter and tailing the rest of the group. Lesani, putting on a brave face, although Vargard could recognize the distress hidden in his old friend. He himself was solely determined, keeping eyes set straight ahead to the Eastern gate. Finally, Marwyn, joyful in his newfound wealth, and ignorance of the mark that they all share. It is not until they reach the gate itself that Jorduna catches up with the group, in a hurry.
“What is it Jor?” Vargard asks.
“You don’t see him Var? The man at the guardhouse, peering out one of the windows, watching everyone like a hawk.”
“What about him?”
“He was on the roof, the watch leader. You were wearing cloaks, but he saw my face. I got too close to him.” Vargard peers closely at the indicated man, and curses slightly.
“You’ll have to sneak out on a rail, Jor, and jump out just after you clear the walls,” he lowers his voice, “we can’t risk you going through any of the other gates. Don’t worry, we’ll camp out and wait for you. Contact me when you get out. Good luck, Jor.”
“You too, Var.” Jorduna bluntly replies before turning to leave.

“NEXT!” The guard at the gate calls out. “Papers,” he holds out his hand as he has all day. Vargard gives him the group’s papers of entry. The guard briefly inspects them, and then hands them back, satisfied. He motions for them to move on.
“Wait, one moment there. Hold them” The man Jorduna pointed out before steps out of the gatehouse, calling out in a nasal voice.
“Yes Captain Merrick!” the guard salutes, ushering the four off to the side.

The man, Captain Merrick, sizes them up. He paces back and forth, wearing the full regalia of a captain of the city watch, quite different from the ordinary guardsman clothes he wore a little over a week ago. Harsh eyes, hooked nose, and widow’s peak combine in a rather unpleasant way.
“Business in Passage.” It was a statement, expecting an answer.
Vargard steps forward, “We were coming to collect my nephew, this lad here,” he nudges Marwyn, who nods. “He had taken the rail from Breland, where he was staying with his parents. I promised them that my old friend and I could show him the wonders of Aundair.”
“And the dwarf?” he asks sharply.
“Protection. He also brings in fresh supplies while we’re on the road. I wouldn’t bother asking him anything, he rarely speaks to me, and I’m his employer.”
“Well, I see no legal reason to… hold you. For now.” Merrick leans in, and whispers into Vargard’s ear, “Although if I see you again with a certain hobgoblin, anywhere, I’ll be sure and throw you so deep into our system that it’d take you decades to crawl your way back up.” He then returns to the gatehouse, and motions to the guard.
“Keep moving, come on, let’s not hold the line up people!”

An hour later, the group sets up camp in a copse of trees, far enough from the main road to avoid suspicion. Cletus, seeing the camp set up, departs.
“Var, shouldn’t we worry about Cletus? I mean, Jor could be back at any moment?” Marwyn asks, watching Cletus leave.
“First of all Marwyn, it’s Vargard for now. Jorduna as well, you do not want to call her anything else. It’s.. our thing. You’re tight with Les, which is good, but the others don’t really see you as a part of this group. I don’t either, to be honest, but at least I’m open for you proving yourself. And no, before you ask, I don’t blame you for what happened in the warehouse. Don’t worry about anything that went down there.”
“Yes, sir.” Marwyn said confused, not sure whether to feel abashed or supported.
“As for Cletus, he’ll know when to come back. He always does. He’s reserved, but not usually hostile. Try not to confuse the two.”
“Same for Jor, uh, Jorduna?”
Vargard lets out a laugh. “Oh no, she’s hostile. Very hostile. Don’t get on her bad side or you’ll regret it. Just stay out of her way and follow my orders. She respects discipline, even if she can’t bring herself to admit it to anyone. Why don’t you play something for us, Les’ managed to get the fire going, after all.”
“Yes sir!” Marwyn replied, enthusiastically, returning to the fire. As his hands ran across his lute, letting his music take him away from his current predicament, and smooth over what he had experienced in the past few days, he did not notice Vargard slip into the woods.

After a few minutes, he rejoined Cletus. “The kid keep you long?” Cletus asked.
“Nice to see you chatty again, always more talkative the greener the scenery,” Vargard bantered back. Cletus frowns slightly, and stares back, while absentmindedly whittling a stick.
He finally breaks the silence, “so what’s this job you’ve been going on about all enigmatically? The one that’s supposed to bring in a mint?”
“Asset retrieval. Not like last time, the other kind. Live.”
“Willing or elsewise?”
“Don’t know. I heard it through the grapevine. We’ll hear more at Lathleer. I’d like to press on, but..”
“Aye, the mark.”
“Yes. Nothing on that either. Lesani checked with her people, I checked with mine, and there’s nothing so far.”
“Thus, Fairhaven.”
“It’s a better place than most, that’s for sure. Next job should allow us to afford some serious personal time with the intellectuals there. It goes without saying that the kid should be kept out of the loop. I don’t want hysterics. Hell, I don’t even know if he’s noticed the marks yet, and if he has, he probably just thinks it’s some Split Falchion team tattoo or something.” Vargard glances at a pouch on his waist, “Hold on, it’s Jor,”

Marwyn finishes playing, and is surprised to see only Lesani sitting around the fire. “I thought, where’s Vargard?”
Lesani takes a deep breath, “He left, during your song. He took a hit in that warehouse, Marwyn. Whoever that Redmont was with the Cloak, he matched him. Vargard has not met many people who could do that before, it took 2 to 1 odds to beat him. Even then, I am not sure we beat the Cloak. My wager, he needs time to think to himself.”
“Oh. Another thing, I, never thanked you properly for taking care of me before, in the inn. It sure wasn’t Jorduna or Cletus, and I can’t imagine Vargard staying in one place for so long. We’re alone, and, if you want, I could…”
Lesani held up a hand, cutting him off, “Nice try Romeo. I’m nice, but I am not some blushing barmaid. Vargard does not like mixing business and relationships in any case. But you could help me in other ways. Ever tried a ritual?”

Vargard holds the stone close to his head, “Jor, good to hear from you.”
Jorduna replies, “You too. I was worried the kid would sneeze or something and get you all locked up.”
“Get out ok? You were right, by the way. You were made by one Captain Merrick of Passage’s city guard. Had all the guards out looking for you.”
“Yeah, I know. Ran into a couple of them before the train took off. And before you start, no, don’t worry. They’re napping. They might be napping inside of a now empty crate of fine wine bound for Fort Light , but they’re quite healthy. I’m back on the main road, about a mile outside the city. Took me a while to circle around.”
“Good. I’ve set up the usual signs, you’ll know our camp when you see it.”
“Looking forward to it, I must have sprained something jumping from that rail, waited too long and it picked up too much speed I guess. Please tell me we have an op you can distract me with when I get there.”
“The hazy outlines of one. And it’s good to see your spirits have lifted, though I won’t fool myself into believing this is permanent?”
“No, the kid’ll probably do something to set me off again. I just took a few swigs of the cargo I liberated after the jump. Had to ignore the pain somehow, and I think they put something magical in it. Encourage happy drunks, that sort of thing.”
“Jorduna, I am being completely serious right now, you have my permission to keep everything you found in that crate, and even consume it during jobs.”
“Haha. I’ll see you soon.”

Cletus looks at Vargard as he replaces the stone. “Jor sounded off.”
“It’s nothing, I didn’t hear a distress word and we’d know if she missed the jump and got carried further South. That reminds me, gotta teach the kid all our signals if he’s going to stay with us for a while. Might as well head back.”
“Aye.” Cletus remains sitting on his stump, unmoving.
“You’re going to stay out here a few more hours even though you don’t have anything else private to ask me, aren’t you.”
“Never change, Cletus.” Vargard makes his way back to the camp.

Vargard returns to see Lesani and Marwyn kneeling by a ritual circle, Lesani guiding Marwyn’s hands and helping with his diction. He leans on a tree, waiting for them to finish. Soon, the circle glows bright, and a faint pop sounds off, followed by a flash of light, the results of a gold piece being consumed by magic. “Running him through the ropes, are you Les? Hope you don’t get any ideas about his soul, now that you own it.”
Marwyn glances at Lesani in horror for a moment, until he sees the grin on Vargard’s face and matches it. Lesani, however, stiffens. “Var, how could you? This was a genuine educational moment and I am offended by the implication.”
“Ah take a joke Lesani, Marwyn clearly can. Standard training ritual, even I can see that. He’s got potential, and you’ve got a good eye.”
“You think I’ve got potential?” Marwyn asks, honestly moved.
“Yes Marwyn. I personally know it took Lesani several tries to do even that ritual the first time, and you got it first time.”
“But Vargard, it did take me mul..”
Vargard cuts in, “Just take the compliment kid, you’re doing a great job proving my brilliance in fishing you out of that gutter.”
“Speaking of things coming from gutters, have you hear from Jor yet?” Lesani asks, letting herself go along with the playful mood.
“She’s ok, got out of the city fine, managed to do it without killing anyone this time. Sends her love even.”
“Jor? Love? You sure it wasn’t a doppelgänger?” Lesani says, astonished.
“I’m sure. Just be sure to rib her a little, it’s good for her to be taken down a peg once and a while, especially since this is one of the rare times she probably won’t try and kill you over it. It’ll take her a good half hour to catch up, might as well pass the time with another tune. Say, Marwyn, you know The Emerald Seas of Greenheart?”

Night falls, and Marwyn has long since passed out due to fatigue and inebriation. Lesani, after talking with Vargard, enters her trance. A quick check of the moon reveals Jorduna to be several hours late, and as Vargard raises the stone to his head, a crack of a branch is heard near the camp. “Who goes there?” Vargard shouts while nocking an arrow, rousing Lesani.
“Oi! Do not shoot, it’s Cletus.” The dwarf yells, louder than he has for quite some time. Cletus enters the clearing, hefting Jorduna in his arms. He puts her down and leans her against a log, and she grimaces as her left foot hits the ground. “Thought there’d be a great ruckus when Jor got back, so when the dead slept soundly I thought I’d look for her. Found her lying by the side of the road cursing herself and every creature in sight.”
“Jor, that leg’s broken. You walked on that?”
“Dragged herself, more likely.” Cletus interjects.
Jorduna shoots him an evil look, then turns back to Vargard. “Var, I’m not kidding. Just shut it and let me walk it off. I’ll be fine by morning.” Pain laces Jorduna’s words, but it’s clear that whatever was in the wine has worn off.
“Jor, not the time. Lesani, wake up the kid, he’ll have to take a look at this.” Vargard responded.
“Var, if you let the kid touch me, I’ll kill him. Not kidding.”
“Well then it’s a good thing he doesn’t have to touch you then, is it Jor? Just stop being difficult for one second and let other people worry about you.” Vargard’s concern becomes overlaid with steel, and the commander is back.
“Var…." Jorduna starts, then sees that it’s pointless, "just make it quick. His music hurts worse than this leg.” Jorduna winces as she shifts herself up, and again as she sees Marwyn approach.
“Uh.. Jorduna, if it’s ok I’m going to heal your leg…” Marwyn says hesitantly.
“Kid, just get it over with so I can stop seeing your face for once.” She sharply retorts. Marwyn strums a few chords to accompany his healing verse, and Jorduna’s face clears, and then instantly returns to the same grimace she had before. “Can we please get some rest now Var? Some of us actually did something today and would like some rest.”
“That would probably be best. Cletus, if you don’t mind taking the first watch, Lesani can relieve you in the morning.” Cletus nods, and the rest go into their respective states of stupor.

The next morning greets Marwyn with overcast skies and a long day of marching. The rest are already stretching themselves and consuming fire-scorched chunks of venison from a deer that wandered to close to the campsite during Cletus’ watch. He joins them, mirroring the stretching he sees Vargard doing. Soon, Vargard addresses the group. “The map suggests we’re six days out from Lathleer, our next job. I’d have hired horses but because someone was made during our last op,” Lesani shoots a vicious smirk at Jorduna, whose brooding intensifies, “we’re on foot. Let’s get to it people, and, Marwyn, play if you must, but keep it away from Jorduna.”

The group sets out walking, the clouds providing at least a relief from the sun. The plains are mostly featureless, a few villages scattered about. Villages like he came from, Marywn thinks to himself. If only his father could see him now…. he’d probably still tan his hide. That’s what you’d expect from a seventh-generation tanner. Thoughts like that kept him from playing the most part, though the evil eye from Jorduna helps with that. His mother was far more supporting of his life ambitions, he wondered what she’d think of his ritual casting. There was a mage in her family somewhere, he could remember a few stories told by firelight, but they were early memories, loosely formed. The day grew darker, and camp is made without much talk. Everyone is too tired from the walk, and Marwyn could not bring the strength for even one song before bed. Despite his exhaustion, Cletus still volunteered for first watch, a show of true mental fortitude Marwyn had rarely seen.

The next few day was much of the same, mindless drudgery tempered only by the hope of reaching Lathleer by nightfall, and broken only by Vargard throwing handsigns at Marwyn randonmly, drilling him in the ones he showed him yesterday. Indeed, when the sun was near the horizon on the sixth, did the walls of Lathleer become visible. “We’re close now. Push on a few more hours, and we’ll rest in inns tonight. Jorduna, keep your face covered, just in case our dear friend Merrick sent word ahead to bordering cities.” Vargard ordered, and it was done.

Continued in Part 4, The Lancaster Job – Collection and Return


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