This is the third chapter in my Blood and Lies series, the tale of a band of mercenary adventurers hoping to survive a mission to arrest and bring for judgement a man accused of evil magic.
Along the way they discovered an army of undead along the road. Had one of their number killed and two others badly poisoned in a fight with a forest monster. Were saved and joined on their journey by a good priest to an evil god in an isolated forest town. Bloodlessly captured their prisoner who was treacherously released by their own magic user. Arrived in Verwich, the second largest city in the kingdom where they discovered they had been embroiled through their mission in some larger political conflict.
And now, with no further ado… The Corncord of the Reborn.
The streets of Capital are paved with the trampled dreams of thousands who sought a scant taste of the dragon’s hoard and instead became a part of it. The air is loud with the voices of people as they claw to carve niche in the crowded metropolis of merchants, priests, and soldiers.
Vahkragg shoves his way through the throng, the source of his hatred for cities being reminded to him, all this meaningless noise and people. With his great height he is able to see over the heads of most folk who make up the crowd and above him gold dragons segreant on purple banners, the sign of the King’s House, hanging from the towering stone walls let him know they all but arrived at their destination.
By the giant’s side, Telfor weaves through the crowd with the skill of a local. While lacking his companions perspective he knows Capital far better and he also knows they are close to the magistrate. The prospect is not a pleasant one in this moment.
Together the companions break free from the market crowds as they approach the court.
Inside is they are granted reprieve from the manic rush of the market, but in it’s place is the hallowed silence that only places of significance can command. The high stone roof and wide open interior trapped sound and suffocated it, creating an atmosphere of judgement and oppressiveness.
Pleased to be excluded, Vahkragg hangs back to wait in the hall with their weapons as Telfor offers his writ to the clerk and is granted entrance beyond the dividing barrier into the court proper. Boots clumping satisfyingly on the solid marble floor as he marches down the hall towards the office. Arriving, a pair of armed guards search him for weapons before allowing him entrance.
Through the tall dark wooden doors, Telfor enters the office of Reeve Arnhilde. She is seated at her desk, busy with some documents when the sound of Telfor’s entrance draws her attention away. Standing too greet him, she gestures to a seat which he takes.
“Your contract?” she says, prompting Telfor to hand her the writ, which she glances over quickly before looking back up at him, “Your report?”
“We have been unsuccessful in our mission, Lord Reeve.”
Arnhilde cocks an eyebrow suspiciously, “That’s unlike you, Captain. Do you have an explanation?
“No ma’am,” Telfor answers professionally, “We had him in custody but ran into complications on our return that enabled his escape.”
“What manner of complication?”
“There were two, first we were driven off the road by the presence of a significant force of undead. Unfortunately I cannot be more specific as to their numbers as we were warned before we saw them by Crusader Verumalleus of their presence. While travelling through the forest we were attacked by a monster. We slew the beast, but it killed the Crusader in the process and almost killed me and one of my men. He escaped while we were still recovering. I decided that bringing word of this undead threat was more important than pursuing our contract.”
Arnhilde nods ponderously, the Reeve, Telfor knew, was good at her job. An ex-soldier herself, she understood things got complicated in action, but she was also known for her gentle demeanour.
“What you say is dark news, the Crusader was a good woman and a better soldier. Her loss will be felt. What is more pressing, however, is the presence of unknown, likely hostile, force on our lands. You were right in your decision, however that doesn’t change the fact that you failed to fulfil your contract. I cannot pay you for it.”
Telfor’s expression darkens, though he manages to keep it civil enough to express his displeasure but so Arnhilde would not feel compelled to challenge him. Raising her hand in response, Arnhilde continues.
“I understand your frustration, soldier. I will speak with the magistrate to try an authorise some funds to reward you for the information you have brought, but I cannot promise anything other than that it will be less than the contract’s worth.”
The heat lessened around his neck and ears, he could handle less. Anything but nothing.
“Appreciate it, the main force is reconvening by the full moon so I’ll need anything I can get to cover their pay.” he said, it was less than they deserved but better than he expected. Believing this meeting over, Telfor moves to stand but is stopped by a gesture from the reeve.
“Just one more thing, Captain. Does your band have work lined up yet?”
Telfor squints, usually repeat work follow successful jobs, not failures, “We’ve some offers, but not accepted any yet.”
Opening a drawer, Arnhilde produces a contract of identical dimensions to the previous and places it on Telfor’s side of the table, “Here’s another. It’s another small team job, same as the last one but it takes place right here in the city so you should have plenty time to finish it before your soldiers need paying.”
“A bounty in the Capital? Why not have the guard do it?”
“The subject is a priest, and with things being as they are, the magistrate felt sending King’s Men would be unnecessarily provocative.”
“And how exactly are things?” Telfor intones.
Arnhilde shrugs, an strangely informal gesture for her, Telfor thought, “The churches of the Pantheon are frustrated with the crown exercising its authority to collect taxes from them. We understand their feeling and do not with to press them more than necessary.”
Telor nodded, he’d heard something about the new taxes. The logic made sense. Something felt off about it however, but he definitely needed the money.
“If you succeed on this task it will make things a lot simpler for me in requesting the magistrate approve you a reward for the information as well.”
He almost physically winced, she had him by the throat. The threat was clear, do the job or you get nothing. This was not the Arnhilde he’d known, she dealt straight. Whatever this was making her play him like this, he didn’t want anything to do with it.
Reaching forward, he took the contract from the desk. It didn’t feel heavy, or hot or cold like he felt it should have, but he hated it regardless.
“Will that be all ma’am?”
She waved him off, already getting back into the pile of documents she had been working on when he entered. Avoiding making eye contact. Good he thought, at least she seems as unhappy with this whole exchange as I am.
And he left.
Thank you all for reading, hope you enjoyed this one and are excited to see what’s coming up ahead.