Part 13 of The Adventures of The Split Falchion
It is often said of one naturally gifted, after first taking the mantle of his profession, that the regalia suits them. A blacksmith savant’s heavy frame and muscled arms, for example, are as much a part of the attire as the heavy, fireproofed apron and hardened leather gloves.
The same could be said of Marwyn, who’s slightly drunken manner and personality only enhanced his appearance, a quality common among all bards. His drinking companion, however, was resistant to such charms. An elven woman of admittedly average appearance had been drinking alone in one of Ghalt’s bars. As commonly happens to such a sight, a potential courter soon approached her. Marwyn, six days into his vacation from mercenary work, and with some past trauma to lose in drinking, had gladly filled the role.
Unfortunately, as he was learning, sometimes nothing is stranger than the truth. “You seriously want me to believe this shite?” the woman yells, annoyed. She pushes herself away from the bar, turning to leave.
“What.. I was telling the truth!” Marwyn yells back, his drinks with the woman pushing him over the point of tipsy.
“Right, and I’m the damned Queen of Khyber,” the woman fires back, storming out.
“Tip for next time, kid,” the dwarven bartender says, sliding him another full mug, “Don’t lead with impossible feats of heroism next time. Just mundane stuff, like surviving 3-1 odds. You don’t reel in a fish before it’s bitten on the bait,” the bartender looks Marwyn up and down as the bard takes a long drink, “Shame you’re too young to have any war stories. Those do nicely.”
“But I really did do all those things,” Marwyn complains, words slurring slightly.
“Sure, sure you did,” the bartender says placatingly, “You definitely have the coin of a mercenary, or other of its ilk.” The bartender looks around and notices the mostly empty inn, the time being midafternoon. He sighs, and keeps talks to the only (semi-)conscious person in the room, “Let’s say you really did survive a fall in a bottomless pit, you can’t just tell a woman that and expect her to be impressed.”
“’y not?” Marwyn asks, confused.
“’Cause the very same woman’s probably had plenty of other ‘gentlemen’ tell her how they slew dragons or sliced the heads off of evil monsters,” the bartender responds in a jovial tone, “Even if she were to meet the 1 in a million man who’s telling the truth, odds are she won’t believe him.”
“That’s not fair,” Marwyn responds.
“It’s how it is lad. Wooing a woman is an art to itself, you have to learn how to dance on the line between bored and skeptical. But you’re young, ‘ou’ve got plenty of time to learn. And there’s no way to learn better than to ‘ave a woman storm out on you.”
“Yeah… guess ‘re right,” Marwyn says, spirits lifted somewhat.
“Well of course I am lad. That fair maiden’s been playing the same game at my bar for years now, and has yet to find one man who doesn’t try and spin some epic about his own wit, or brawn, or…. well, you get the picture.”
“Not one,” the bartender responds, nodding his head solemnly. His keen senses and experience let him know that Marwyn was reaching the bottom of his mug. Quick calculations were done as to how long it would take him to finish the next, whether the bard could take another without collapsing”, and how long the bar would need to stand empty to prepare for the night ahead. Balanced against the prevailing opinion to gently suggest that his customer go to sober up was the coin. Marwyn had ordered the most expensive drink in the house when he had arrived, and hadn’t changed his mind yet.
The dwarf decides to risk one more round, and slides a fresh mug to Marwyn the moment he had drained the one in his hand. “’hanks” Marwyn says, accepting the mug.
“How old are you anyway?” the dwarf asks, “You look fairly young for a man-elf.”
“20…no,” Marwyn thinks, “21 ‘n two months.”
“Ah,” the dwarf replies, a gleam in his eye, “When I was your age I could barely see above this here bar. Though if all’s to be fair My father had tried making me into a smith, branch out the family business. Ha! Should’ve known I’d be as stubborn as he was.”
“You’re father owns the bar?”
“No…” a dark look enters the dwarf’s face, “He was felled in the war.”
“No, no,” the dwarf says, waving away his apology, “I brought it up. It was decades ago, anyways. A boon of being a long-lived race, I suppose. Plenty of time to grieve and move on.”
“I ‘ave a father. Right…bastard,” Marwyn says, searching for just the right word to describe him.
“Oh?” the dwarf asks, intrigued.
“’e said I’d be a tanner. A tanner!” Marwyn spits,” I’d rather be tanned myself than be a tanner.”
“I take it you turned him down.”
“Right, yeah. Ran awa’ to become the best damned bard this country’d ever produced,” Marwyn slams his empty mug on the bar in emphasis, then says, “Almost wish he’d of died in the war.”
The bartender eyes Marwyn, not liking where the conversation was going, and already imagining the ways the situation could turn into a fine from the town guard. “Well, you’d best go sober up and rest that aching heart,” the bartender suggests, “Don’t want to get passed out drunk when the sun’s still up anyways.”
“’re right,” Marwyn says, fumbling a little as he withdrew enough coin to cover his tab. He then stumbles out, walking back in the general direction of his lodgings. His walk takes him through the center of Ghalt, a small town just North-East of the Eldritch Woods. The Aundair lightning rail passes close to the town, and the establishment of the railway stop just outside of its borders brought much business to the town. A small village centuries ago, it had boomed into a modest center of trade and travel. Plenty of taverns line the center of the village, and Marwyn heads enters one, The Middle Lantern, where the rest of his fellows had taken refuge.
“And that’s strike three! Pay up,” Jorduna exclaims, as Marwyn walks into The Middle Lantern.
“Yeah, yeah,” Marwyn says, handing Jorduna a small amount of gold. The walk back had sobered him somewhat, the cold air of approaching winter doing wonders.
“I warned you that you should not have taken that bet,” Lesani replies from her seat, while reading from a small book.
“Ah, his ego needed deflating Les. Admit it, you had fun at least,” Jorduna responds gleefully.
“I… well, up until the part where they leave me in the dust,” Marwyn says, “I thought it’d be easy. This stuffs always easy for bards!”
“I concede to your point, Jor,” Lesani says, in response to this, “I hope you will not take for granted a woman’s honor in the future, Marwyn,” she admonishes.
“I’ve learned my lesson, don’t worry,” Marwyn says, chastised, “Var say anything about new work?” he asks, eager to shift the topic.
“Week’s not up. Probably hasn’t started looking yet,” Jorduna answers, settling back into her chair and counting her winnings. “I’d start looking for a new bow, though. That crossbow I gave you is absolute shit for anything other than emergencies.”
“I..I’m working on it,” Marwyn says, hesitantly.
“Well I’d speed it up a little. You’re out of practice, and to me that means I have to worry about arrows in my back.”
“Jor, I would..” Lesani starts.
“No, Les, it’s ok,” Marwyn cuts her off, “I just… Every time I think about a bow, I remember my old one. And when I think of my old one…”
“Jeez kid, way to play the death card,” Jorduna replies, “Fine, I’ll lay off it.” She turns to the human woman at the bar, yelling, “Mabel, know what the cook’s putting on tonight?”
“No!” the bartender yells back, irritated. Most people are after a week of Jorduna’s patronage.
“Ex…excuse me,” a timid voice asks from behind Marwyn, near the door.
“Yes?” Lesani answers first, looking up from her reading. The rest follow her glance and see a poorly dressed man, obviously a farmhand or peasant.
“Masters, I am in dire need of your assistance.” The tone is deferential, though not at the level of groveling.
“We are not your masters,” Lesani answers again, “And what makes you think we can help you?”
“My name is John Fielding, ma..” the peasant says, cutting the honorific off, “Everyone around here has heard of the warriors that left the Eldritch Wood unscathed, and sought refuge in Ghalt.”
“We may, or may not be them,” Jorduna responds, “Real question is if you can pay us.”
“Well… no,” the peasant replies simply.
“Wait, Jor,” Lesani interrupts, “We should at least hear him out.” She looks expectantly at John.
“I… I take it you are…,” he starts, then stops himself, and gets to the point, “My daughter has been taken by a vile man, Cutthroat Jack.”
“I have a fairly good guess as to how he got that name,” Jorduna says, though her tone remains uninterested, “Why’d he take her?”
“Jack was a farmhand two years ago,” John explains, “Until he beheaded a soldier trying to recruit him. He fled, and has been a pestilence for us since, stealing crops and holding up travelers.”
“So your average bandit?” Jorduna asks sideways, focusing more on her drink.
“Y… yes,” the man responds, “A few others fleeing from enlistment seemed to have joined him after a time. He seems to have taken to kidnapping to fill his purse now, m’lady.”
“I told you to cut it out with the honorifics,” Jorduna says, annoyed, “And you can find some other saps to bother. Try the guard.”
“Jor, I would not suggest we igno..” Lesani tries to reason.
“Cut it out, Les,” Jorduna bites back, “I’m not going anywhere, or fighting anyone, without getting paid. I, at least, have some dignity.”
“Please,” the peasant begs again, “I do not have the silver to pay him.”
“Do you not know what get out of my face means?” Jorduna menaces.
“Wait,” Marwyn cuts in, “Silver? How much is the ransom?”
“10 pieces of silver, sir,” John responds.
“Jor, we can give him that much,” Marwyn says.
“10 silver?” Jorduna replies, astonished, “Jeez, the hell kind of guy kidnaps someone for 10 silver. You do what you want kid, I’m finding a table where I can drink in peace.” She then moves to the far side of the room, closer to the disapproving bartender.
“10 pieces of silver, are you certain?” Lesani asks.
“Yes. One of his lackeys, a foul-smelling brigand, threatened that she would die if the amount wasn’t paid by morrow’s end,” John responds. Lesani furrows her eyebrows, examining the man for any signs of deceit, and then nods in acceptance when she finds none.
“Why not ask for the ransom? Surely you could get that much by begging?” Marwyn asks, surprised at the depth of the man’s poverty.
“That would be ignoble,” the man responds, pride for the first time entering his voice. He then adds, “And… it would bring me great pleasure to be rid of that evil man.”
“I’m sorry,” Marwyn replies, hesitantly, “But I can’t give you more than the ransom. Not without my master’s approval, and I doubt he’d want to take a contract like this.”
“That is probably true,” Lesani adds.
“That is… more than I could hope for,” the man says eventually, grateful, “One cannot be greedy when his daughter’s life is at stake. I thank you kindly.” He takes a few pieces of silver from Marwyn, who gives them freely.
“Good luck,” Marwyn adds, as the man walks out of the door.
“Thank you again, kind sir. May the Host be with you on your journeys,” John says in farewell.
Jorduna fakes a gag as this happens, and comments after the man left, “Never took you for a sap, kid.”
“Come on, Jor. His daughter’s life was in danger,” Marwyn responds.
“I almost thought it was a con, but 10 silver? No one spins a tale that complicated for 10 silver,” Jorduna continues, ignoring him, “What’d you think, Cletus?”
“Wha..?” Marwyn begins to ask, confused, then jumps, startled, when he realizes that, once again, Cletus was sitting at his table without him noticing.
“Seemed honest,” Cletus responds, also ignoring Marwyn.
“How long has he…” Marwyn asks, looking at Cletus.
“Less than a minute,” Lesani responds reassuringly. Everyone looks up when the door opens again, and The Split Falchion sees their leader enter. He sits at the more populated table, and Jorduna rejoins them as well.
“Everyone staying out of trouble?” he asks, slightly winded from what must have been either a long walk or a short run.
“Yeah, some sap tried to take a run at us. Tried to offer a job,” Jorduna reports.
“Oh?” Vargard asks, interested, “What kind of job?”
“Rooting out a local bandit who had kidnapped someone,” Jorduna answers, disinterested, “Couldn’t even pay us, but Marwyn just decided to give him the 10 silver for the ransom. Yeah, 10 silver,” she adds to address Vargard’s disbelieving look.
“Interesting. You believe him?” he asks the room in general. They all nod, and he continues, “Well, I guess that’s settled then. I’ll start reaching out to my contacts tomorrow to look for a job. Might even ask the guard about this bandit, see if they’re willing to pay for someone to gut him. Did the ‘sap’ say who it was?”
“Cutthroat Jack,” Lesani responds.
“Oh, it’s one of those bandits. Well, nothing to do until tomorrow. Know when they’re serving?”
“MABEL!” Jorduna yells, “How long ‘til dinner?”
“Cook’s here,” the bartender responds, in a level of annoyance only found in those who take abuse they cannot challenge.
“Jor, get us thrown out of this place, and you’re paying for the next one,” Vargard orders, starring her down.
“Alright, alright, jeez,” Jorduna says, backing off, “And here I thought we were on vacation. I’ll ‘behave’.”
The group’s meals arrive soon, as do the rest of the dinner crowd. Marwyn had taken part of the week to work on improving his lute playing, having no bow to practice with, and no reason to acquire a new one. His playing marginally improved, he had been performing in the tavern after sunset for the past three days, and repeated the performance again today. It was, as the other nights had been, a mediocre show, though often that is all that is expected in a small town, and spirits were lifted. Marwyn ended his performance a little after midnight, most of the patrons having left, and goes to bed content.
Around midday, the next morning, the four lower members of The Split Falchion mill around the tavern of The Middle Lantern, on edge, expecting a new job to be delivered to them shortly. A few hours pass, the time spent readying equipment, chewing on tough bread, or elsewise talking with each other when a topic crossed their minds. Cletus was an obvious exception, keeping only to his constantly refreshed drink.
After a few hours, the lunch crowd coming and going during this time, Vargard reenters the tavern, with two of the town’s guard in tow. “What’s this about?” Jorduna asks, sitting up suddenly, a hand unconsciously reaching for a dagger.
“Next job,” Vargard says calmly.
“I believe you met one John Fielding of Ghalt?” one of the guards asks. The pins on his uniform suggest him to be the superior officer.
“Yes?” Marwyn is the first to answer.
“He, along with his daughter, were delivered to our headquarters. Dead,” the guard says, emphasizing the last word.
“What?!” Marwyn exclaims, the rest echoing his surprise.
“Their bodies were dropped at one of the main entrances. A guard spotted them and brought them to the headquarters, where one of the men recognized John from the day before.” The guard sighs, and sits down at one of the larger tables. Vargard and the other guard do the same, and the rest of The Split Falchion follows. “We believe Cutthroat Jack may be involved.”
“I believe that is who John claimed kidnapped his daughter,” Lesani confirms, grim-faced from the morbid news.
“I assume you have some revenge in mind?” Jorduna asks, more excited than worried.
“Y..yes,” the guard responds, a little put off by Jorduna’s eagerness, “Cutthroat Jack has been a constant nuisance in the area, but whenever we get close to grabbing them they run to the Thranish border, where we can’t follow. We didn’t feel he warranted outside help, but now that he’s started killing again…”
“You would be remiss to do otherwise,” Lesani finishes.
“I have our fee negotiated already,” Vargard takes over, “We’ll track down the bandit, and receive 50 each in return for capturing Jack, half for only his body, as well as 1 for each of his lackeys. We leave today to track him down. Vandradi’s men have tracked them running parallel to the road to Bluevine.”
“It’s a little more than a day’s hard ride, you should reach the village by sunset tomorrow, as long as the trail doesn’t diverge,” the guard, presumably Vandradi, adds, “I have a scout ready to guide you to the end of the trail. It goes without saying that if Jack manages to reach the Thranish border before you catch him, you’re to officially stop following him.”
“Just like that?” Jorduna asks incredulously.
“Well….” Vandradi leans in, whispering, “Let’s just say if Thrane’s border guard doesn’t notice you dragging him back into Aundair, there won’t be a problem. If there aren’t any more questions, I suggest you hurry. Cutthroat Jack has at least half a day on you.”
“Var, I still need a bow,” Marwyn says hurriedly, regretting his hesitation in finding one before.
“Don’t worry, Vargard told me about that. I’ll give you one from our stores,” Vandradi says, waving away Marwyn’s concerns, “It’ll be worn, but functional.
“Th..thanks,” Marwyn responds, grateful. The crew quickly packs their things, and, having already vacated their rooms in anticipation of such haste, were ready to depart in minutes. Marwyn takes a bow from the other guard, who had remained silent throughout the conversation. Marwyn inspects it briefly while following the group out of the town. The bow showed signs of heavy, repeated use, though a brief tug at the string showed that it still held most of its tension. It would do, but it wasn’t the well-crafted bow that Marwyn had trained with.
Another Aundair guard waits at the beginning of the main road out of Ghalt. Vandradi bids them farewell, and the six move out. Eventually, the scout stops, having led them to a spot a fair distance from the road. A trail, clearly visible, leads East. The scout leaves, heading back West, while Cletus takes lead. “’can follow this from horse,” he grunts, and spurs his mount. Their pace is less than what Marwyn was accustomed to, though he was glad that they were able to move on horseback at all. After some time, their travels briefly interrupted from time to time as Cletus untangled parts of the trail that intercepted with others, Vargard calls for camp. The sun had set a few hours back, though the moon had provided enough light to continue following the trail. It could not, however, provide energy for both men and horses.
Their rest is short, and Lesani wakes them an hour before dawn. Groggy, they continue on horseback silent throughout the morning. Marwyn falls into a half-sleep, his horse becoming accustomed to what was expected of it, and able to keep on track without too much input from him. He is brought back to attention when Jorduna, of all people, talks to him. He realizes that he had fallen a little distance from the rest of the group.
“What?” he asks.
“You need to pick up the pace,” Jorduna repeats, bringing her horse level to Marwyn’s.
“Sorry.” Marwyn moves to increase his speed, but Jorduna interrupts him.
“Wait.” She says. Jorduna hesitates for a second, clearly unsure of herself.
“What is it?” Marwyn asks, surprised at Jorduna’s unusual manner.
“What did you see? When you died?” Jorduna responds, no hint of malice or jest. It was a genuine question.
“I…” Marwyn tries to think of an answer, “Why do you…”
“Nevermind.” Jorduna replies when Marwyn doesn’t.
“N…no Jor, It’s fine. I just…” Marwyn gulps, “I don’t remember.”
“There was nothing?” Jorduna’s eyes flash in shock.
“No,” Marwyn reassures her quickly, “I.. think there was something. I just can’t remember what it was. Or why I can’t remember. I just have this… blank patch.”
“——,” Jorduna curses softly to herself. She spurs her horse forward.
“W.. hold on,” Marwyn accelerates to catch her, “What the hell was that about?”
“Let’s just say I’m less confident about what lies beyond then most,” Jorduna answers, and rides in silence, impervious to Marwyn’s few following questions. Marwyn drops the matter entirely when they catch up with the other three.
“Good,” Cletus says abruptly, several hours later. He stops, and dismounts to get a closer look at the ground.
“What is it?” Vargard asks.
“They split up. Some on foot, others on horse. Horses go North, men go East.”
“We’re close to Bluevine. Some of them must have holed up there,” Vargard muses, “And the others are heading away from the border. Interesting.”
“Which way?” Cletus asks.
“To Bluevine. If we can find the men who took shelter there, they might be able to lead us to Jack. I doubt he’s on foot if he’s the leader.” Cletus nods, walks a short distance, and remounts, having separated the two trails fully. Not even an hour later, the trail leads them to the outskirts of Bluevine.
Bluevine is one of the larger hamlets of Aundair, large enough to make it on most of the maps of the continent itself. This is a source of personal pride to all who live within it, as is the vineyards that are cultivated in the land around the village. One species of grapes, known as the Bluevine grape, first made the town famous for its alcoholic derivative of the same name. Now, some of the finest vintages of Fairhaven originate in the fields of Bluevine.
The recent peace had drastically reduced tensions in the village, as it is only a few days ride from the Thrane border. Rooms that had once housed the Aundair garrison now stood open to travelers once more. Crude signs posted outside some of the inner houses of the village advertised this very thing. It is past nightfall, though the travelers find one man still awake, sitting by a fire outside of his home. He raises a hand in greeting to the weary travelers.
“Looking for rooms?” he asks, standing and extending a hand.
Vargard shakes the hand, then answers, “No, not now. I’m actually looking for some other travelers that should have passed through the village some hours past.”
“A gruff troop passed not too long ago,” the man responds, thinking, “I offered them rooms like any good host, but they just waved me off and kept walking. Completely rude. Back in my day we had manners.”
“Wasn’t the continent still at war with itself back in your day?” Jorduna asks critically.
“Did you come here to insult me, or ask for my help?” the man answers indignantly.
Vargard shoots Jorduna a nasty look, and apologizes, “Forgive my companion, please. We have been travelling far tracking these men. If you know anything…”
“All I know is they headed East. One of them looked injured,” the man makes a cutting motion with his hand, “big gash in his jerkin.”
“Thank you,” Vargard replies, half-bowing to the man in deference, “These men are dangerous, if you see them again, don’t approach them.”
“I’ll take your advice, stranger, though in truth you look no better,” the man responds, nodding to the group’s weapons.
“I hope to prove you wrong,” Vargard says, and the group departs. The head East, following the main path outside of the town center. Cletus points to the ground, noting a faint divergence from the many footprints on the main road.
“Fresh. Hour, less maybe,” he says.
“If it’s this late, I doubt it’s anyone else,” Vargard, as well as the rest, look down the trail, towards the horizon. A faint path leads off the main village road, twisting between the houses. In the distance, they can see it disappear into a small gathering of trees as it winds northwards. The group walks down it, careful not to disturb the slumbering villagers on either side. They quickly pass the fence which surrounds the inner portion of the town.
“Blood here,” Cletus points to a spot on the ground. It’s faint, but the torchlight from the village is enough for even Marwyn to notice the few drops of blood on the ground.
“The fire-tender mentioned one of them was wounded. They might have stopped here to change bandages,” Lesani muses.
“They must have camped nearby. And if their man is still bleeding, they’ll need a fire,” Vargard says.
“Or we’ll find a body. Hey, you saw that farmer,” she adds to Marwyn’s incredulous look, “I get the feeling they don’t have the same… comradery we do.”
“I smell smoke,” Cletus, who had been focusing on the surroundings, reports, “Faint. Maybe a few hundred yards ahead.” He nods to the small forest ahead.
“Looks like we got lucky,” Vargard responds, “Chances are they won’t even see us coming. This could be bloodless. Relatively bloodless,” he corrects himself, glancing at the ground again.
Seven figures sit around a small fire, surrounded by trees. They wear a collection of dirty clothes, dirtied by their hasty travels from before. One, an elvish man, sits against a tree stump, wincing with every breath. His chest is bare save for the relatively clean rags tied across his lower abdomen. The rest lie sleeping, untroubled by injury. The snap of a twig drags the attention of the conscious man, but before he can muster the breath for a warning, a dagger is pushed against his throat.
“Not a word,” Jorduna whispers into his ear. The man nods slightly, keeping utterly still. Marwyn, Vargard, Lesani, and Cletus fan out carefully, quietly collecting the weapons from the satchels of the sleeping figures. Lesani nearly wakes them when she withdraws what appears to be a quarterstaff, only to be surprised by the weight of a halberd. She catches herself, however, and soon the sleepers are utterly defenseless.
“Wake up!” Vargard yells, and the prone figures rise, startled. One or two reach for their weapons, while the rest stare in confusion at the four baring weapons at them. Vargard tosses a coil of rope at the largest, an orc, and continues “No sudden moves. You, tie up your friends, and make the knots tight.
“Jack, what the hell is this?” one of the women asks.
The injured bandit coughs as he tries to speak, the dagger not allowing him much room, “Just do it,” he forces out. The name catches Vargard’s attention, and he orders Jorduna to lift the man’s face up. She does so, and Marwyn realizes that the injured man matches the sketch given to them by the Ghalt guardsmen.
“It’s him. This is a surprise,” Vargard remarks, waving Jorduna off of Jack, “Bind his hands, Jor,”
“AH!” Jack protests, as his arms are forced behind his back. Meanwhile, the orc grunts, having finished restraining the other five bandits.
“What’s your name?” Vargard asks the orc.
“Niles,” the orc responds simply, eyeing the two arrows pointed at his chest.
“Les, still got the warrants?” Vargard asks, and Lesani nods, withdrawing the parchment given to them by Vandradi. Vargard glances through them for a moment, then continues, “No mention of an orc. You’re free to go.” Both Marwyn and Jorduna look at him uneasily, but don’t challenge this.
The orc looks surprised, but backs away, grabbing his satchel as he does so. “My axe…” he trails off, eyeing the greataxe among the pile of confiscated weapons.
“Take it, but remember this,” Vargard answers, “You owe us one.”
The orc departs, heading off into the tree line. The five uninjured bandits are brought to the feet, and their bindings are inspected. Cletus nods, satisfied by the orc’s work. He and Lesani start gagging them. Vargard, meanwhile, sits down in front of Jack.
“So… you’re Cutthroat Jack.”
“Yeah… guess I am,” Jack responds, “Who are you?”
“We’re your escort back to Ghalt,” Vargard responds, “They’re very keen on making you pay for those murders.”
“Those..” Jack starts, exasperated, “That bastard attacked me! I barely survived tha… ah!” Jack groans again, his wound flaring up.
“You kidnapped his daughter,” Marwyn responds.
“Yeah…” Jack responds, gathering his breath, “But I didn’t ask for much! The old bastard could have…ow, ow,” he clutches his abdomen, then continues, “Bastard bought a dull dagger. Thought he could gut me and save his daughter. Idiot. By the time I recovered my men had killed ‘em both.” Jack coughs, then says, “Shouldn’t of.. stopped here…”
“With that wound, you would have been dead within another day of hard riding,” Vargard observes, lifting the bandages slightly to gauge the depth of the cut. “We’ll need a wagon to take him back.”
“What about these jokers?” Jorduna asks, “Without enough horses it’ll take a few days to get them to Ghalt.”
“We can get help from the guard here in the morning,” Vargard answers, “Vandradi gave me a letter to the guard captain just in case we caught up with them. Have one for Tower Valiant too, in case we went that far.”
“Where did the rest of them go?” Lesani asks, “The ones that went North.”
“Went to find a healer,” Jack responds, “Though I guess now they’re on their own.”
“I’m sure Vandradi’ll get them eventually. He’ll have you, after all.” Vargard replies. He turns to the rest of his group. Lesani and Jorduna remain standing, while Cletus rests, tired from the long tracking job. Marwyn keeps his bow ready, watching for any sudden movements, “No use bothering the guard now. We’ll wait till morning, then get there help. Should reach Ghalt in a few days.”
4 days later, outside Ghalt
“This is a good haul,” Vandradi compliments the five mercenaries, standing beside the convoy of prisoners, “Doesn’t look like you hooked all of them, but I see Jack there on the wagon. What happened to him?”
“The farmer stuck him with a dagger when he met to get his daughter. Apparently he thought it better if he tried to save her than pay the ransom. At least, that’s how Jack told it,” Vargard answers.
“Right, well, we’ll take his word for what it’s worth. You did good. Here’s your pay.” Vandradi hands each of The Split Falchion a small bag, containing the bounty for Cutthroat Jack and five of his cohorts.
“What’ll happen to them?” Marwyn asks, not bothering to count the gold he received.
“Gallows, most likely. If one of them leads us to the rest, well, a deal could be cut.” He gives a hard glance at Jack, who groans, the wound in his abdomen only beginning to heal, “But this bastard will be swinging from the town center just as soon as the magistrate lays eyes on him. We’ve been looking for you for a while Jack. It’ll be a pleasure to watch you swing.”
The convoy is ushered into the town, the five other bandits still gagged and bound. The men from Bluevine sheath their weapons and stand relaxed, the Ghalt men taking over their prisoners. “Will you be staying in Ghalt?” Vandradi asks.
“No, unfortunately,” Vargard responds, “Though I would appreciate it if you knew the time for the next train North.”
“One should be pulling up just before noon,” Vandradi answers, “Though if you’re ever in Ghalt again… well, I’ll see if we have anything for you.”
“Many thanks.” Vargard says, and leads his group West, towards the rail station.
“Where are we going?” Lesani asks, once they are out of earshot of Vandradi and his men.
“Sorry I didn’t tell you beforehand. I didn’t want the men from Bluevine hearing,” Vargard answers, “I got a sending from Gilmont during the second day.”
“Had he any more news on the marks?” Lesani asks, interested.
“Wait, what about the marks?” Marwyn asks, the last word catching his attention.
“Professor Gilmont. He was the man who contacted me prior to Trolanport. Incidentally, he was also who I met when we went to the University of Wynarn,” Vargard answers, “Sorry Marwyn, I don’t think I recall telling you that.”
“Right,” Marwyn says, remembering, “It’s no problem.”
“Uh… Var? What’d he say?” Jorduna asks.
“Yes, right,” Vargard replies, “He needs our help and that he didn’t have any news on the marks. I’m not sure if he couldn’t explain his problem concisely, or if he didn’t want to discuss it except in person. I told him we’d be there in a week. Should make it if we take the rail.”
“Guess we’re going back to Fairhaven then.” The group approaches the station, joining the queue waiting outside of the tracks. A few hours later, a train comes screeching to a halt, the active elementals creating a roar as they are motivated to provide the train with energy. Uniformed attendants stand at the entrances to the passenger cars while workmen move over the cargo portion of the train. When The Split Falchion reaches the passenger train, they are relieved to find space remaining. Gold is exchanged, and they take seats.
The travelers within the car are an assortment of people. None bear the fineries of the upper class, better and more well-furnished cars service them. Instead, the majority of the travelers are composed of ordinary folk, above the likes of the average peasant. Marwyn shifts uneasily under sideways glances, until he realizes they are directed at Jorduna, who is seated next to him. With this realization, he notices that she is the only hobgoblin, or any goblinoid for that matter, in the car.
Marwyn ponders this, and Jorduna’s stoic disregard of the actions of those around her, as the train jerks into motion, all cargo and passengers loaded. The train departs North, heading towards Passage, and, eventually, Fairhaven.
Continued in Part 14 – The Honor of a Dragonborn – A Friend in Need