Fruit of the Fallen

The Armsdealer in Ardev

Heroes and Villains

Part 7 of The Adventures of The Split Falchion

1000 feet above Aundair
Marwyn looks out over the bow of The Asarclane, still bracing himself from the takeoff. A slightly green tinge to the air surrounding the immediate area around the ship telegraphs the elemental, bound somewhere inside. The struts, two flanking each side, remain closed, though Marwyn knows that at any moment they could be opened, propelling the ship forward. He walks back to the center of the ship, where Vargard and the rest converse with a well-dressed man, while the captain of the airship gives the final orders, preparing the ship for departure.

“I must say, Mr. Garodin, I was surprised to get your sending. Where is that nervous man, anyway?” the elf in rich clothing asks Vargard. He must mean the bandit wizard, Marwyn thinks to himself.
“We… just hired him for the sending. Left him in Passage after we left.” Vargard responds.
“Well, I didn’t expect you to call in that marker this century,” the man, an elf with a rich, Brelish accent says, “I can see your apprentice enjoyed the ascent. I can assure you that ride will be even better,” he addresses Marwyn with the last statement, catching the awe in his eyes.
“He’s not my apprentice, he’s my employee,” Vargard corrects the man, “We’re The Split Falchion.” He pauses, and adds, “Though I have to thank you for coming, Ramerie. It’s refreshing to see someone is still good to their word,”
“A mercenary band, that’s amazing,” the elf, Ramerie, replies, “I would never have believed Lieutenant Garodin would turn to brigantry to make ends meet,”
“Vargard, please,” Lesani interrupts, looking at both him and Ramerie intermittently, disbelief showing in her eyes, “Surely this is not The Asarclane. That was given to the Brelish government, not… who are you?” she asks, eyeing the elf suspiciously.
“Ah, yes, Zilargo gave The Asarclane to Breland during the war, indeed,” Ramerie explains, “But after the Treaty, certain players within the Brelish government decided that one airship could be…” he searches for the right word, “liquidated to cover ‘government expenses’. And I, with my vast fortunes, found myself in the market for one,” he runs his hand across the railing of one side, “Yes, she is a beauty. Had some slight damage when I picked her up, but we got her fixed,” his voice fills with pride, edging on narcissism, and he continues, “As for myself, I am Ramerie Malsinger of Breland. Formerly Captain Malsinger of Breland, if that turns your fancy,” he winks at Lesani, “Captain, let’s get moving. Destination: Wroat!” he yells at the gnome at the wheel of the ship, and the captain echoes the orders. Vargard begins to speak, but Ramerie cuts over him, “Please, let’s take this below deck, I believe you’ll find the accommodations extraordinarily satisfying.”

He opens a hatch on the deck, and users them through the stairs below. They are led to a small room, fitted with a round table and enough seats for 10 people. “This used to be where the CO planned movements and coordinated with the next link in the chain,” he explains, taking great care to seat both Lesani and Jorduna, while the rest seat themselves, “Now I play a few hands here once and a while, whenever I’m in a locale… receptive to such a game.”
“You met Vargard during the war?” Marwyn asks, his curiosity getting the better of him.
“Marwyn, I’m sure he doesn’t want to relive…” Vargard starts, but Ramerie cuts him off again.
“Yes, and it’s a grand story. I’m sure you in particular would enjoy a good story, bard.” He adds, after reading Marwyn’s equipment, “You wouldn’t mind, old friend?” he asks sideways, towards Vargard.
“Come on Var,” Jorduna teases, letting rare excitement into her voice.
“I’m sure you’ll tell them whatever you want no matter what I say,” Vargard replies, in a slight bitter tone.

Ramerie ignores the inflection, and says, “Splendid. This was, what… 15 years, 16? I remember because Aurala’s reign had just been announced. Anyways, things were still tense by the Brelish-Aundarian border, the only thing standing in the way of major pitched battles being the Blackcaps,” he pauses as an attendant brings in a tray of drinks, fancy bottles filled with various colors of liquid, “Thank you,” he dismisses him, and takes one, gesturing for the rest to do the same. The heady feeling of alcohol enters the scene, “No one likes fighting a war in a craggy landscape, Marwyn was it? Remember that. Everyone always imagines an open field, either side lining up before doing glorious pitched battle. Mountains are inconvenient for the romantic appeal of war, and at that time no one wanted to start anything at the border,” he pauses, dramatically
“And that’s where the dragon comes in,” Vargard cuts in, ruining the suspense.
“Yes, yes, that’s where the dragon comes in. Thank you Vargard, for telling them my favorite part,” Ramerie says, annoyed, and then continues, “So a great big dragon comes out of the Blackcaps one day, just out of the blue, and tries to destroy Drum Keep. Poor bastard bit off more than it could chew, and retreated, trailing blood all over the mountains. So much, that Breland sent a team, led by me, by the way,” he brags, “to try and find where it had come from. So we did, took about three days of mountain paths, and the blood trail led us to this great big cave. The dragon was lying there, right outside, having bled to death. Only thing is, my tracker saw fresh footprints going into the cave.”
“My guys,” Vargard interrupts again, “Vanguard Keep had seen the dragon go down in the distance. We thought it was on our territory… let’s just say having well defined borders is a good thing. We had gotten there first, a few hours ahead of the Brelish side.”
“As we expected,” Ramerie agrees, continuing the story, “I had 5 men with me, the heavies were following behind. We were only a scouting force, meant to assess the dragon and its lair.”
“Our orders too,” Vargard now participating fully in telling the story, alcohol loosening his tongue “I guess no one wanted a pitched battle with a dragon thrown into the mix. We had found the dragon dead, though, and thought to explore the cave behind it. Horrible place. The smell of sulfur was everywhere. At first it appeared barren. Then, Ramerie walked in.” Vargard takes a drink.
“What happened next?” Marwyn asks, after the conversation had stalled.
“We…. Well, we were at war,” Ramerie shifts uncomfortably, “And they were in Aundair uniform. In what we believed was our territory…”
“We started fighting,” Vargard picks up as Ramerie stalls, “There’s no point arguing over who started it, both sides fought each other without hesitation.”
“It was a horrible, bloody affair. My men were mostly green, they didn’t understand how easy it was to die,” Ramerie’s face turns grim, as does the story, “We slaughtered each other. Soon, it was just Vargard and I, staring at each other over the corpses of our men. Both of us bloody, tired from the melee. Both waiting for the other to make a move.”
“Then, fate made the move for us,” Vargard says, as Ramerie takes his turn drinking, “Both our sides had a caster, and during the fight some of the magic went into the walls. The stone had weakened, and finally collapsed around a hidden door. Behind it, was what we’d all really hoped to find: the dragon’s treasure.”
“You found a dragon’s treasure and you still have to work for a living, Var?” Jorduna asks, incredulous, “Exactly how long did it take you to spend it all?”
“See, that’s the thing,” Ramerie answers for Vargard, “He took one look at it, and then did something I never expected. He said I could take all of it, all I could sneak past Breland anyways. All he wanted was enough gold to raise his fallen comrades, and a favor from me. He didn’t ask for anything else, didn’t even wait for a reply, just walked towards the pile and filled his bag. Took an ear off the corpses too, for the rituals”
“I did ask for your name on the way out,” Vargard corrects, “Though it took you a while to tear your eyes off of the treasure. After that I left, made contact with the team following me, walked back to Vanguard Keep, and made sure my men were taken care of. I told them that the dragon had a pretty small gathering, that we’d fought and defeated the Brelish forces at the cost of everyone but myself, and burned their bodies. Aundair confiscated everything I had taken from the cave, save the cost of the resurrections.”
“I spun the same story,” Ramerie picks back up, “Save for the treasure stash that I had hidden in the mountains. Left a bit in the original spot for Breland if they ever checked. Or Aundair, I guess. They had their eyes on me for a while, but I was cool under the pressure,” another smile at Lesani, who had glanced away, moments before, “A decade later, after I was discharged, I took a little vacation to the Blackcaps. I had to be careful with the money, of course. Breland still probably had a file on me. The airship deal was probably a little careless in retrospect,” he muses, leaning back in his chair, “but it was definitely worth it,” he thinks for a minute, then looks at Vargard, “I never did find out why you gave me that deal.”
“I was young and idealistic, we both were,” Vargard replies, “But that battle, it was my first. My team wasn’t supposed to get into trouble, we were a scouting force. Unprepared. I didn’t break… but I didn’t want to fight that war anymore after that. I didn’t want to do anything but go back to the keep, treasure be damned. So I took care of my men and got out of there. Honestly, thinking back on it, I’m just glad I thought to get a favor from you. I figured you would have a better chance of getting the treasure out, anyways. Surprised they let me keep the gold for the revivals.”

Silence falls over the group again, everyone taking slight sips from their drinks, a dark mood in the air. Ramerie suddenly perks up, trying to lighten the mood, “But hey, in the end everyone lived… after a time, I got rich, and Vargard here got a ride to Wroat. I’m always a bit careful travelling there, so I hope you don’t mind if I set you down outside of the city. I wouldn’t try getting into the center of the city,” he says, forcing out what Marwyn can tell is a fake laugh, “but you shouldn’t have any trouble with the outer city so long as you keep your noses clean. Now, if you excuse me, I have a few… other passengers I need to entertain,” he smiles, throwing out a wink to the group in general, “I’ll have one of the crew show you to your quarters, I always have rooms well equipped for charters.” He leaves, whistling a tune.
A gnome wearing standard sailor’s gear walks up to the room a minute later, informing the group, “Your rooms are ready, if you will follow me.”

He leads the group down another level, to a large door. What was once the cargo hold seems to have been repurposed as several lavish, small apartments. Finery usually not seen outside of royal chambers fills the rooms, which divide the fore cargo hold into four. Two rooms fill the remaining space, another apartment, and what appears to be a locked storeroom. “Please inform the crew if you need anything. We believe we will be in Wroat by tomorrow morning,” the sailor tells them, and starts to leave.
“Thank you,” Vargard says as she leaves. Jorduna runs off to one of the far rooms, claiming it, “Jor, do not get us thrown off this airship,” Vargard orders, eyeing her hands. Cletus ambles to one of the middle doors, closing it behind him.

Lesani stares at Vargard, disappointment on her face. Marwyn, sensing an awkward situation, ducks between them and takes the other middle room. Lesani finally speaks, “I disapprove of your friend, Var.”
“Come on Les, I had no idea what the man was like. I met him briefly a decade and a half ago. I was surprised he still remembered me,” he defends himself, trying to placate her.
“Be that as it may, I am surprised you did not tell me about the dragon hoard in our years together.”
“I still have my secrets, as I imagine you do, Les. And when I brought this team together I told you exactly how it would play from then on, and you agreed it was for the best if we…” he trails off, looking away.
“If we were only professional with each other,” she finishes his statement, “I do not despise you for that, Var. I understand the need to keep strong emotions out of the team. That is not why I am upset,” she steels herself, keeping her tone level, “I am afraid you are getting too involved in the hunt for Blue Cloak. You had no reason to keep this airship from the team, we have a right to know what you are getting us into, Var. That was the agreement from the outset, yes? ‘No blind jobs’?”
Vargard sighs, “Yes, you are right Les. I should have told everyone what I was planning the moment I had the wizard send for Ramerie. But this isn’t just about Ramerie, is it?” he asks, voice low.
“I find that we are still lying to Marwyn to be reprehensible,” she whispers back, looking nervously at Marwyn’s door, “At first, yes, I understood. He was not truly a member of our group, and as such did not deserve the same measures we extend to ourselves. But now I am left wondering if you are as serious about group discipline as you pretend to be. What more must he do to prove himself? Why do you continue to break your own rules?”
“Because I gave the order to keep it from Marwyn. It’s been a little over a month, true, but I don’t like going back over myself after any amount of time. To be honest with you, Les, Cletus feels the same way you do,” he sighs softly, “It’s Jor I’m worried about. I’ll talk to her in Breland, I want to you assess Marwyn. See if he can take the news that he’s cursed. He seems fairly stable, but that kind of shock can rattle anyone. I plan on telling him, Les,” he reassures her, “I’m just also taking into consideration group discipline, that’s the reason why I’m not telling him. When I give an order, it has to stick.”
“I can see how your decision is logical, though I still disagree,” Vargard starts to talk, but Lesani holds up a hand, “I will do as you say, Var, otherwise my words would ring hollow.”
Vargard nods, and the mood returns to something resembling normal. The two stand in the hallway for a few moments. Finally, Lesani walks towards one of the two last rooms. Vargard remains for a few moments, enjoying the sense of acceleration he had finally noticed in the silence of the cargo hold. The slight whir of the energy driving the airship is faintly audible, and he ponders whether to return to the deck and watch the nighttime landscape. He decides against it, finally entering the last room, and setting down for bed.

Morning comes with Ramerie’s voice, shouting down and echoing in the cargo hold, “Hey, sleeping beauties, Wroat’s waiting and we’re taking off in an hour.”
The Split Falchion rouses itself, packing and heading for the deck. A ladder is flung across one of the railings, the means of descent. Ramerie waits on the deck, sitting in a small chair facing the city, drink in hand. He stands, hearing them behind him, “A good rest, was it? I pride myself on having the best equipped airship in the five nations.”
“Yes, it was a pleasant journey,” Vargard shakes his hand, thanking him.
“I assume this makes up square?” Ramerie asks, slightly nervous.
“Yes,” Vargard replies, “The debt is satisfied, as am I. Fair travels, Ramerie,” he starts walking towards the rope ladder, as does the rest of the group.
Ramerie yells out over the balcony, as they climb down, “If you ever need a lift again, call me. I’ll charge you, of course, but I’ll come all the same!” He watches the figures walk south, towards the city of Wroat.

Wroat is built around a small river, an offshoot of the Dagger. Two gates guard the flow of the water, which forms a small lake in the center of the city, which is divided into three parts. The first two parts compose of the lower city, built into the opposite banks. The southern bank is the larger of the two, as it both feeds into the lightning rail that services the city, as well as connecting to the inner city. The center of power in Breland sits at the center of the city, in the middle of the river. Two bridges connect the south bank to the island, which itself is divided into three segments. Two outer keeps, one containing the most infamous Tower of Inquisition, guard the innermost section, the actual King’s Citadel.

This, however, is of no concern to The Split Falchion, as their business does not involve the royalty of Breland.
“So what’s the plan Var?” Jorduna asks, refreshed from the ride on the airship, as they close on the city gates, “I don’t imagine we’re just going to walk up to the Evalyn chick and get the answers from her.”
“First of all, we need to know if she’s in the city,” Vargard answers, “Marwyn, that’s where you come in.”
“Me?” Marwyn asks, surprised.
“Yes. Ms. Guilihart has offices here, in order to manage the business in the city. I don’t want Evalyn hearing that some burly fighter, shifty hobgoblin, or mysterious elf asked where she was.”
“What about Cletus?” Jorduna asks, straight-faced. Everyone looks at her strangely, until she doubles over in laughter. Cletus glares at her.
Vargard frowns slightly, but then continues, “But you, Marwyn, you are young, and have a common face. You don’t have the look of someone who’s seen a lot of fighting, no offense intended. If you ask someone politely, and don’t make a big deal about it, I doubt they’ll even remember. Once we know where she is, however… I’m still working on that. It all depends on where she is and how many guards are watching over her,” he grimaces, “and I don’t want things to play like they did with Merrick. She’s a businesswoman, hopefully we’ll be able to cut a deal.” He looks ahead, and sees that they are nearing the gate, as well as the queue to get inside of the city, “We’ll worry about that later.”

Guards regularly check the entrants into Wroat, examining papers and taking note of business into the city. They process many people each day, but everyone is still given the same deep scrutiny. The guard’s eyebrows raise slightly when he sees the Aundair origin of the group’s papers, yet allow them through, seeing no sign of forgery or cause to hold them. To Marwyn, the city has nothing of Fairhaven’s grandeur, though the size is still impressive.

The group travels across the western bridge, picking up breakfast from street vendors on the way. Vargard picks out an inn, The Startled Badger, and motions the group to stop there. It lies near one of the few open fields inside of the city, which serve as parks for those who don’t wish to pass through the gates to enjoy open air. For this, it is slightly more expensive than the average inn fare, but that is no qualm to the group’s healthy wallets.

Vargard talks with the owner for a few moments, and then turns back to the group, “He has space for us. Three rooms, standard arrangement. Les, ride along with Marwyn to the offices, stay outside the building but be ready to respond to a distress. The rest of you, you’re free, but stay in the area.”
“Yes boss,” they all respond, breaking up.

Lesani and Marwyn walk through Wroat, travelling towards the financial district in the southeast corner of the city. “She has offices there, near the railway,” Lesani explains to Marwyn, “There will likely be one or two receptionists, they handle incoming packages and shipping orders. There should not be a large crowd.”
“How should I start? I mean, I don’t think I should just walk up and ask ‘Where’s your boss?’” Marwyn asks.
“That would not be wise,” Lesani answers, stepping out of the way of a carriage moving down the road, “Good lies begin with half-truths. Tell the clerk that your employer wants to place an order but needs to run it by Evalyn first, as it is sensitive. Think of a name now, do not get caught in the lie by stammering when they eventually ask who it is for,” she thinks for a moment, “Do not use her name, however. You’ll want to stammer a little and try to sound out the beginning of her name. It will play better if you seem somewhat forgetful, as if this is just another day, another job,” she pauses, thinking, “Simplemindedness can also ward off suspicion,”
“Apparent simplemindedness, right?”
“Yes, of course,” Lesani reassures, as they pass by the first bridge leading towards Brokenblade Castle. She appears to brace herself, then speaks again, “I must speak with you on another matter, related to our conversation in the forest,” Marwyn looks away slightly, dreading what she is about to say, “Please do not take this the wrong way, but I told Vargard about your hesitance surrounding my magic. Understand that keeping it from him would be wrong,” she rushes to reassure him, his face falling, “He needs to know all of our weaknesses.”
“It’s not a weakness, Lesani. I’m ok with it. I swear,” Marwyn says, defensively.
“Yes, and Vargard knows this. However, he wants to clear one thing up first, and believes that I should do it.”
“What’s that?” Marwyn asks, both relieved and worried.
“You have to understand that in our line of work we often face those with powers similar to mine. It is one thing to work with a warlock, quite another to face one in battle. If it comes to that, and you are affected by such a spell, do you believe you will… lose your composure? Let your fear overcome you?” she asks gently.
“I… I’ve thought about that,” Marwyn replies, stuttering slightly, “I guess this is why normal people have religion. To have something they can put their trust in to protect them.”
“And you feel that you do not have this protection?” Lesani asks.
“That’s the thing. I do have people I can trust. You, Vargard, Cletus. Maybe even Jorduna,” he pauses, and Lesani can see fear start to grow in Marwyn’s eyes, “But the things you can do, that people like you can do, terrifies me. Hell, the things I’m starting to do terrify me. What the hell am I doing here, Lesani? I’m the son of a tanner for crying out loud, not some world-famous hero,” he stops, looking out over the crowds.
Lesani pulls him aside into an alley, looks into his eyes, and asks seriously, “Do you still want to be a part of The Split Falchion, Marwyn?”
Marwyn, taken aback at the iron suddenly present in her voice, tries to answer, “I… uh….”
“Yes, or no Marwyn?”
“……….yes,” Marwyn answers eventually.
“Why?” Lesani asks, with the same serious tone in her voice.
“Because… because….” he stalls, trying to think, “because I… godsdamnit, I care about what happens to you, ok Lesani?” Lesani releases him, surprised at his answer, “You, Vargard, Cletus, and Jorduna, you guys took me in when no one else would and gave me the opportunity to better myself. I feel like I owe you. Honestly, I do. And, despite myself, I want to learn more. So if that means I have to be afraid in order to explore the world, I’m ok with that.”
Lesani stares at him a few moments, stunned at his sudden outburst, then asks, “While flattering… and revealing, your speech did not cover one of my questions, Marwyn. Though I thank you for answering,”
“What did I not answer?” Marwyn asks, confused.
“Will you panic in battle against an enemy warlock, or similar caster?” she repeats.
“No, I think I’ll be fine. Like I said, I have you guys to watch my back,” he smiles, feeling confident again.
“Good, in that case I suggest we continue to our destination. It is not far.”

The front of Guilihart’s Shipping is guarded in the front by two of Wroat’s guard. They stand by the impressive door of the large building. It is clear that the facility is mostly a warehouse, a large building jutting out the back of the well-designed façade. Lesani had dropped back a couple dozen feet as they neared, and to the casual observer Marwyn entered the building alone.

The front office of the building was a single hallway leading into a small room. Two desks, separated by a light screen, occupy the center. As Marwyn walks in, he sees unoccupied chairs line the near wall. A man talks with another half-elf to the left. To the right, a female dwarf sits at her desk, facing an empty chair. He hesitates, but the dwarf beckons him over with a smile.
“How can I help you today, sir?” she asks, eyeing the formal clothes that Marwyn had kept from the trial.
“I… uh,” Marwyn takes a breath as he seats himself, “My master, Jared Gidwin, would like to schedule an appointment with Ms…” he pauses, faking concentration as if he was searching for a name, “Erm…” he fakes embarrassment next, “I’m sorry, he was in a rush when he told me. It was the owner, I think the name started with an E?”
“That would be Ms. Evalyn?” the dwarf responds kindly, “Unfortunately she is away on vacation. She won’t return for a few weeks. You can schedule an appointment for after then, but it will be impossible to contact her before then. My apologies. Is there anything else?” she asks politely.
Marwyn, nervous, simply replies, “No, it had to be this week,” he then takes a chance, “It’s a really important… um, ‘item’ that has to get to Thrane by the end of the month. My lord wants to deal with Evalyn personally, though. He just won’t go through a proxy. There must be something you can do,” he pleads, but the dwarf just gives him a helpless look. Marwyn decides not to press the situation, any further, “I’m sorry for wasting your time,” he says, moving to leave.
“It’s no problem, sir,” she pauses, then adds, unsure of herself, “Although… if your lord can travel, I mean, if it’s really important, I suppose…”
Marwyn sits back down, sensing an opportunity, “Oh please, anything you could give me. It’d really help. I’ve been on thin ice over hot water ever since,” he gulps, “well, my master’s horse threw a shoe I had attached.”
The dwarf grimaces sympathetically, and she leans in close to Marwyn, “She’s in Ardev. A home just outside of the city. We were told not to give her location out, but I know Evalyn hates losing good business. Don’t tell them where you got this, ok? Just nod and walk out disappointed.”
“Thank you,” he whispers back, then wears a frown and walks out, head down.

“Well done,” Lesani compliments Marwyn, after he had walked out, “By the lack of any alarm, I assume you were successful?”
“Yes,” Marwyn replies, surprise in his voice, “I managed to get it out of her, the assistant,” he clarifies, “It wasn’t even hard. I’ve never tried manipulating people like this, but with her it was… easy.”
“Well, I would not advise ‘manipulating’ everyone you meet. People will eventually call your bluff,” she thinks for a minute, and then remembers, “Like that barkeep in Lathleer.”
“Point taken Lesani,” he says, chastised, and they move to return to The Startled Badger.

“Ardev? A vacation home that close to Droaam?” Vargard asks, everyone gathered together again in the inn, after Lesani had enchanted the room. “Well, in any case, good job Marwyn. We’ll stay the night, then take horses in the morning. Once we’re in the city, we’ll scout around a bit, get the lay of the land. Les, Marwyn, and Jor, you’ll have at least a day off, although I might need you, Jor, if there’s locks to be picked or guards to be traversed.”
“You’re forgetting something Var,” Jorduna returns, “Hey kid, any bartenders in Ardev you pissed off lately?”
“N..no,” Marwyn replies, stuttering slightly.
“Jor, not the time,” Vargard chastises, “and if this goes smoothly, you’ll have to start calling him Marwyn,”
“What!?” Jorduna says, incredulous, while Marwyn looks at Vargard with astonishment.
“Yes, Jor. Tracking down a solid lead on Blue Cloak is his third job with us. He’s capable in combat, constantly improving, and just handed us the next link in the chain. If he doesn’t screw up the end, he’ll be a full member of The Split Falchion. Whether you like it or not,” he adds, giving Jorduna a look. “Anyways,” he sighs, “It’s getting close to dusk. I’m going to get an early start on the morning, goodnight,” Vargard says, as he dismisses them.

The next few days are filled with riding, as the party travels across the Dagger, through Galethspyre, and to Ardev. Ardev is a small town, close to the Droaam/Breland border. It’s closest kin that Marwyn has seen is Lathleer, although there are only a few market stalls, instead of the raging marketplace of Lathleer. The selection of inns is also drastically reduced, only 3 within the town. However, as travel between Droaam and Breland isn’t popular, there was plenty of space in all of them. The walls that surround the city are also lower, with lax security. Droaam may be the nation of monsters, but the Thrane/Aundair border that Lathleer sits next to is a far more volatile region.

The inn The Split Falchion lodges at is unnamed. Rooms are procured easily, and, as it is still the middle of the day, Vargard and Cletus leave to gather information. Lesani elects to stay in her room, focusing on a ritual she had picked up back in Wroat, the ride to Ardev not affording her the time to do so. Jorduna storms off, still upset at Vargard for his statement concerning Marwyn. She must have been really angry, Marwyn had thought, because Vargard and Jorduna had gone off to talk alone multiple times during the ride to Ardev. Jorduna looked displeased after each time.

Today, however, Marwyn was free. With no obligations, everyone busy, and not much to do in the sleepy country town, Marwyn decides to practice his archery at a local range. A guard amiably points him to the nearest one, “Best one in town. Hell, maybe even the best one outside of the military,” he adds.

The directions lead him into what looks like a holy complex, the symbol of a halved gear appearing on facades and banners. Marwyn doesn’t recognize it. It’s a small compound, a temple and a few houses. One of the largest, almost big enough to qualify as a manor, sits beside the location Marwyn was given. For some reason, flowers decorate the bannisters of the front porch, as well as small notes. Marwyn doesn’t try to read them, not wanting to appear nosy. He heads towards the range.

Marwyn enters the long, covered archery range. It sits empty, though it shows signs of constant use. A wide variety of targets line the walls, ready to be placed on wooden stakes driven into the ground at marked distances. He shows surprise at the variety, the targets ranging from simple wooden ones, to more complex targets, covered in metal to emulate armor. Marwyn hefts one of the simple ones, and places it at medium range. He then drags a barrel over to one of the stalls, dropping his arrows in.

The rhythmic firing of the bow puts Marwyn in a trance-like state, his practicing allowing the movements to become somewhat instinctual. That, in addition to his new skills, allow him to strike the target with greater accuracy, at least 1 out of every 3 shots. Eventually, he stands in surprise, as he notices an old man sitting in a chair, watching him retrieve his arrows. “I’m sorry,” he says, deferentially, “I wasn’t sure if you had to pay to use the range or not. It was empty, so I thought…” he trails off. The man says nothing, and simply stares at him, seemingly taking his measure.

Marwyn, uneasy and unsure what to do, returns the arrows to the barrel. He looks at the man, who simply nods encouragingly, and he fires another volley. As he finishes, the man behind him speaks, in a strong voice that belies his physicality. “You don’t sound Brelish, where are you from?”
“Aundair,” Marwyn answers simply, putting down his bow, “That… isn’t a problem, is it?” he asks, worried.
“No, boy, it’s fine,” the old man answers, “I couldn’t care less about that war. Besides, it’s over now, and at my age you tend not to bother yourself with petty rivalries,” he pauses, then quips, “Or, you become utterly consumed by them. It’s a 50/50 either way,” he smiles.
“Are you the rangemaster?” Marwyn asks, warming up to the conversation.
“In a way,” the man chuckles, “I own the range but I also use it fairly regularly. I was a good archer in my youth. Still am, despite this blasted leg,” he rubs his right leg, which Marwyn now sees is crippled.
“Certainly you could have it healed, you are a member of this church, I presume?” Marwyn asks in a sympathetic tone, not liking the look of the leg.
“They tried, boy, they tried. Blasted thing was nearly torn off in the first place. Magic can only go so far, especially for someone my age.”
“What happened?” Marwyn asks, curious.
“I… was being a good father,” he replies eventually, a guarded tone in his voice, “It’s not a matter I can speak on without bringing my son embarrassment, you understand.”
“Yes, I do. It’s no problem, I shouldn’t have asked,” Marwyn says. There is a pause, until the man’s eyes fall on Marwyn’s bow.
“That’s Aundair stock alright. Good quality, not the best but serviceable. Buy that in Fairhaven?” he questions, interest showing in his voice.
“Yes. Or rather, my boss bought it for me,” Marwyn admits.
“Your employer? What are you?”
“Honestly, I’m a mercenary. Been so for about a month and a half,” Marwyn adds, not sure whether to be proud or reserved.
“A mercenary. Interesting. Your employer has good taste in bows, I’ll give him that. Is he a good man, though?”
“Yes,” Marwyn responds, not entirely sure what was meant by the question, “He pretty much picked me out of the gutters. Gives me fair pay too. He’s even talking about letting me become a full member after this mission.”
“And you believe him?” the man asks, skeptically.
“He’s an honest man,” Marwyn says plainly, “And I trust him with my life. Have trusted with my life.”
“Well, such a man is rare these days. Count yourself lucky you’ve found yourself one,” the man pauses, grabbing a nearby arrow and twirling it in his hands. He studies Marwyn closely, and sees the lute leaning against the wall alongside his pack, “And you’re a bard. Explains why your form is terrible. Magic archery is a cheat in my opinion, but at least you don’t use it as an excuse to skip on practice. I also assume you haven’t been at it for long,” the man adds, reasonably.
“I really haven’t had the chance to get real practice in a while. I have to say, this range is impressive,” he adds, smarting from sidewise critique but staying deferential.
“It better be,” the man says, taking the compliment, “I built the damn thing myself. Not as good as the one I had back in…. nevermind that, but I made do with what I had,” he pauses, staring uncomfortably deep into Marwyn’s face for a moment. Marwyn shifts uncomfortably, unsure of the reason for the sudden silence, “Don’t take this the wrong way, kid,” he finally says, “But who is your mother?”
“Mivalee Verdani,” Marwyn responds, surprised at the question, “Though I don’t see what that has to do wi..”
“Maiden name?” the man asks again, abruptly.
“Idransong,” Marwyn tells him, still confused. The man sits back in his chair, smiling for a brief moment, and then asks, “And you’re 21? Maybe 22?”
“Yes, 22, what is this telling you?” Marwyn questions.
“Ah, nothing boy,” the man says again, this time satisfied, “Just something I already knew,” his eyes glance over as he stares out into the middle distance, remembering something, “Just something I already knew,” he comes back to reality in a moment, saying “feel free to use the range. I never charge anyone for it anyways,” he rubs his leg, and then adds apologetically, “My leg’s starting to act up, I better head back and rest it. A shame you caught me on a bad day, else I could have given you a few pointers. It was nice talking to you, boy,” he says finally, taking his time standing up and leaning on his cane, “Come by again if you’re ever in the area.”
“I will. It was… interesting, talking to you. Thank you,” he says, genuinely, “I’m Marwyn Verdani, by the way. What’s your name?” Marwyn adds, as the man leaves.
“Rodin Whirdon,” the man says, and he exits the range. The sound of arrows hitting targets fills the air again, and the man smiles as he hobbles back to his house.

Marwyn eventually makes his way back to the inn, night already fallen on the town. Rodin was an odd man, and he thinks of him even as he enters the bar. His thoughts turn to the mission, however, when he gets a tap on the shoulder. “Vargard’s waiting upstairs. We’re planning,” Cletus tells him. Marwyn runs upstairs, and walks in on the rest of the crew sitting around a map.

“Good, Marwyn, you’re here,” Vargard says, “As I was saying, it took some doing, but we found the estate. I just went over the perimeter with the rest, you can look it over later,” he pauses, then resumes, “It’s well guarded, but cutoff from the guard here. They won’t have reinforcements, and they’re probably not expecting trouble,”
“We’re going to smash in the front gate, Var? Sounds fun.” Jor asks, pointing to the front gate on the map.
“If we have to, Jor,” Vargard says, eyeing her, “Though avoiding violence is preferential. We’re going to spend tomorrow, Cletus and I, I mean, observing guard and target movements. If possible, we’d like to sneak into the compound and catch her unawares. Got that?” he asks the room in general. They all nod, though Jorduna looks disappointed, “Good. We should turn in, it’s already dark. If all goes well we should have a solid lead by weeks end,” he dismisses, as he had done in Wroat days earlier.

The next day Marwyn returns to the range. Another archer is there, one he doesn’t recognize. The other archer prefers silence, however, and Marwyn practices without speech. Rodin doesn’t show up either, though Marwyn finds he didn’t expect him to. He returns to the inn, about 4 hours before dusk. The dinner crowd fills the bar when he returns, and he joins them, not seeing anyone he recognizes. Someone sees his lute, and asks for a song he knew. Marwyn, at first, hesitantly declines, but after alcohol and continued plying, he finally agrees. Marwyn is surprised when he finds his playing has improved, despite his lapse in practice in favor of the bow. The crowd enjoys the tune, some gathering around him, and by nightfall he is several silver richer. He returns to the planning room with a smile on his face.

“Glad someone’s enjoying himself,” Vargard addresses Marwyn, himself and Cletus the only other occupants so far, “I heard some of it. You aren’t half bad, how did you get kicked out of that bar in Lathleer?” he asks.
“Tonight was an exceptionally good night, Vargard, let’s just leave it at that,” Marwyn says, trying to enjoy the night without being reminded of past failure.
“Alright, I suppose we wait for Jorduna and Lesani then. Any idea where they are?” Vargard asks
“No idea, I spent all day at the range.”
“Ah well, might as well try the stone,” he sighs, opening a pouch on his waist and withdrawing the sending stone. A moment later, and Vargard curses. He grabs up the map laid on the floor, and starts hurriedly packing his supplies.
Lesani walks into the room as he does this, and asks, “What is going on, Var?”
“Jor got herself captured by Guilihart. Trying to sneak into the house I assume. That was Guilihart, saying we have exactly three hours to get to the manor before…” Vargard lets the sentence drop. Lesani shows a look of surprise, and then runs to her room, grabbing her supplies. Marwyn and Cletus do the same, and they are mounted and exiting the town in 10 minutes.

An hour later, the four stand in front of a gated manor, outside of the city. A fairly sturdy wall surrounds the majority of the house. Guards stand on the parapet, though few in number. Evalyn Guilihart is clearly someone of moderate wealth. One of the guards approaches the gate, sword out. He hands them a small bag, “Place your weapons and armor in the bag. You’ll be escorted to your friend,” he tells them in an uncompromising tone.
“Do it,” Vargard answers, and the party strips their equipment, placing it in the bag, which Marwyn realizes is a bag of holding. Lesani and Cletus comply too, the latter grumbling to himself. The guard takes the bag, and leads them inside of the manor, more guard tailing them, others on the walls training bows on them. They are eventually led to what looks like a dining table. An elf sits at the head, and Jorduna sits near the middle, in a rage, but unmoving due to the two guard who flank her.

“Ms Guilihart,” Vargard states, addressing the woman.
She looks up from her meal, and stands to greet them, “Ah yes, you made good time. Not even two hours by my estimate. Please sit, we have much to discuss,” she points to the chairs near to Jorduna. They remain silent as they do so, though Vargard and Jorduna exchange glances. The guard that brought them here delivers the bag to Evalyn, and she places it on the table, away from her plate. She sits, and continues eating, ignoring them.
“So, what happens now?” Vargard asks eventually, trying to read her face.
“Now,” she answers, finishing her dinner, “We discuss business. I apologize for taking your associate hostage, but I felt it best to preempt your raid on my abode,” she says, adding, “You didn’t really think I never noticed you peering over my walls, did you? I believe this makes us even.”
“Something like,” Vargard answers, keeping a level tone.
“Well, in good faith, I will be returning these to you, although I remind you my guard are only a shout away,” she says, sliding the bag across the table towards Vargard, “Feel free to keep the bag, by the way.”
“That is… very kind.” Vargard returns, confused now.
“So, what compelled you to track me down? I don’t remember overcharging any… charming customers recently,” she adds, Vargard shifting under her gaze, thrown off balance by the situation.
“I must admit your manner is, perplexing, Ms. Guilihart.”
“Evalyn, please,” she corrects him.
“Evalyn,” Vargard repeats, then continues in a serious tone, “We need information on why you bribed the captain of Passage’s guard to leave the Carmikle warehouse empty, almost 7 weeks ago.”
“Passage?” she answers, surprised, “You’re hunting him? Very brave, or very foolish. Either way, very… attractive,” she adds.
“Are you willing to help us?” he asks abruptly.
“Calm down, Mr… what is your name?” she asks.
“Vargard. Garodin.” He replies gruffly, trying to remain composed against her charm.
“Mr. Garodin, wonderful name by the way, I would be more than happy to supply you with all that I know of the man who arranged the bribe… for a price.”
“What’ll it take?” Cletus suddenly asks, speaking for the first time in a week.
“Um, excuse me, Dwarf, we’re talking here,” Evalyn says, annoyed, “I deal with the handsome mercenary leader only,” she pauses, looking at Vargard expectantly.
“What do you want?” Vargard asks, eventually.
“Thank you for asking. As you probably know, I run a shipping business. A large shipping business. I have all sorts of customers from all the nations. One such customer is late on his bill. I would like you to remedy this,” she says, “They’re near here, holed up in the Graywall Mountains. I would send my men, but seeing as the perfect solution just happened upon my lap,” she smiles at Vargard again, “I think I’ll defer to fate. I wouldn’t normally betray a client’s trust, but for a man with your ravishing looks, I’ll make an exception,” she takes a sip from her glass, still half full, and adds, “The other man was rather rude, as well.”
“So, in summary, we bring you what these debtors owe, or the debtors themselves, and you give us our information?” Vargard asks in a guarded tone.
“Yes, that sums it up nicely. I’ll have my man give you the details on exactly where they are and what to expect. That is all,” she rings a bell, summoning the first guard back. He starts leading them out. “Oh,” she says, as they do, “One more thing, I’ll need the name of the person who gave you my location. I just hate disloyalty. Give me that or the deal’s off.”
Vargard nudges Marwyn, who looks at him. Vargard nods solemnly, and Marwyn speaks up, hesitantly, “I didn’t get her name, but it was a dwarf in Wroat. She was at one of the front desks. Red hair, youngish?”
“Ah, I know just who that is. Thank you, young man. Our business is concluded, then. Hurry back, Vargard,” she says, as they finally exit. The guard gives them a map, as well as a piece of parchment estimating the strength of the resistance they should expect. They are then escorted out of the gate, to their waiting horses.

“Damnit Jor, why did you move on the house before we were ready?” Vargard seethes at her, as the gate closes behind them.
“Hey, I was in town,” she says, defensively, “They grabbed me out of the back alley of a shop. Just be thankful I didn’t try and rip her smug throat out when they unbound me.”
“That… I am sorry, Jor,” Vargard responds, “I was wrong to assume so. At the very least, we have hope that Evalyn will give us the information we need,” They start mounting their horses.
“Vargard,” Marwyn asks him, worried, “What will happen to that dwarf?”
“Oh,” he says, the softly tells him, “Marwyn, there was no easy way out of that. We had to tell her, else we wouldn’t have gotten the information we needed. She’ll probably be fired, maybe given jail time depending on how deep Evalyn is in bed with Breland’s government. The world is cruel sometimes, Marwyn. If you’re going to blame someone for what happened, blame Evalyn. If you can’t, then blame me, I was the person who sent you to get the information out of her,” Marwyn looks away, still ashamed of himself, but comforted by his words. The begin riding west, following the map they were given. Lesani rides close to Vargard.

“Var, I despise that woman,” she says, “Forcing us to sell out the contact was despicable, as was her flirtation of you,”
“She’s ruthless under that charmed exterior, no doubt. Trying to keep me off balance with wayward looks and compliments,” Vargard answers, “I’m wondering if I should start a bet on whether or not these people we’re going to actually owe her anything at all.”
“I’d put 7 on that,” she bets, and Vargard smiles, despite himself.
“You’re on. 2:1 for both, it’s too close to call. I’ll tell the others… including Marwyn,” he says, as he slows his horse, joining the three riding behind him. Before him, the sun begins to set, slowly falling behind the Graywall Mountains.

Continued in Part 8, The Guilihart Job – Loyalty and Betrayal

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