I expected that Ancin, Reda, and Wine would try to murder me in the night. They’re pretty salty about getting fired despite the fact that it was entirely justified. Or maybe that’s why they’re so peeved about it – people are weird like that. I suppose there’s a lesson there about taking it easy on people. I should have killed Ancin and Reda and dumped them in the Heathgrove sludge for the gators or eels or wamp trolls whatever the Hells is down there. Wine probably wouldn’t have sought revenge without being roped into it by those other too. Maybe leaving him alive was okay. Seems like being alive is plenty of punishment for him.
I don’t think that Kellgale even put them up to it. It seems as though she’s had a rough time of it, there’s not a lot of fight left in her. She’s so abjectly afraid of me that it’s not even fun. What’s the point of taking revenge on someone who’s been beaten down by life so much that you almost feel sorry for them? It’s like the world stole my chance for revenge. What can I do about that? I can’t get revenge on the world. I suppose what I should do is build her back up to some semblance of the cocky scam artist she once was and then ruin her so that it has some teeth to it when I do it. But that seems like a serious commitment of time. It’s a real pickle.
But what other options do I have? Forgive her? That certainly doesn’t seem like something that I would do. I’ll have to think on that – how do you solve a problem like Kellgale? Anyway, when the three murders snuck up on the tent I had commandeered I was standing a ways off in the darkness. I give them no points for subtly and high marks for enthusiasm. They collapsed the tent and started wailing away on what was inside (nothing) with their weapons. I don’t know about you, but I have a pretty good idea if I’m stabbing a human body or a pile of bedding, seems they do not. I guess they were too excited to take notice. I wonder what their plan was for after, if they had one. Loudly murdering someone in the middle of a camp doesn’t seem like a good way to get away with murder to me.
With the fire behind them it was pretty easy for me to see them, although they clearly had no idea I was there. They picked up that something was going wrong when I shot Reda (or maybe Ancin, I don’t actually remember which is which very well). I was aiming for the chest but he moved just when I loosed and I ended up hitting him high on the side in the ribs. One of the Duke’s torturers told me one time that burning someone in the armpit is one of the more painful spots you can target. I wonder if that’s true.
Before I could get off a second shot the camp was up in arms – which is pretty damn good response time. I’ve seen far worse from far more professional organizations. I belayed (what does that mean actually?) taking another shot as someone lit up the night with magic and people were rushing about with weapons drawn. I stowed my crossbow and carefully came out of “hiding” into the light while Ancin, Reda, and Wine were surrounded.
Someone asked what was going on. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a Striderian and based on the amount of grizzle going on I think it was one of the mercenaries rather than a bandit. Mercenaries are often very grizzled whereas bandits tend to be hungrier looking like starving coyotes. I told him what was going on was that these three men had stolen up upon me in the night intent on murder and I had barely managed to slip away from their depredations.
They offered nothing in the way of a defense. Although they did loudly complain about how I had fired them for incompetence. Normally providing a motive for the crime you’re being accused of is a very risky legal move but I suppose since they were caught in the act there wasn’t must to be gained or lost no matter what they did. I told the gathered assembly how I had dismissed them from my employ on account of their incompetence and drunkenness respectively and a tribunal was quickly assembled of the three leaders – the mercenary captain Blick Rissa, Stor Hairtail most senior Strider person based on whatever dumb system they use (most worn boots probably) and Pittacus Peatmoss the guy claiming to be a merchant who was clearly a bandit lord.
They quickly decided that the defendants were guilty and the sentence would be death – carried out immediately. Swift and arbitrary justice is much more enjoyable when you’re not on the sharp end of it. I thought about asking for some manner of lenience for Wine since he’s more of an easy suggestible doormat than a stone cold killer, but what would be the point? He’s the drunkest drunk I’ve ever encountered and I’ve encountered a few. How he’s still alive I don’t know. There was some talk about holding Kallgale responsible as well since they were in her employ but I put in a good word for her. She was exiled from the camp but that’s fine since she’s coming with me to Graltontown anyway.
There’s nothing like three men being decapitated before breakfast to start the day off with a bang.
For some strange reason in the morning the rest of Kellgale’s hired swords decided they didn’t want to be around her anymore and made themselves scare. Therefore it was just the two of us girls heading south full of light and promise and other good female stuff. Late in the morning the stench of Graltontown came wafting northwards. A couple of hours later the crouching toad of a town came into view. Even from miles away it was clear that fustulent and brawling Graltontown was much changed since last I was there. It seemed to have doubled in size and somehow gotten even shabbier and sadder. I would liken it to an aged sow that somehow managed to become pregnant well past the day it should have been slaughtered out of pure mercy. I suppose several thousands of soldiers passing through both ways along with all their hanger’s on will do that do you.
Kellgale perked up enough to comment “What a shithole.”
I snorted “What do you think it was before?”
It’s hard to say at what point we actually entered the town, at one moment we were amongst a shanty town of tents and the next we were in amongst the glory and beauty of what has to be one of the worst cities in the Kingdom. Aside from the population explosion (despite doubling in size it seems to have quadrupled in smelly morons) two other things were immediately evident. Like in Cathars there were paintings of the Queen on the walls of many buildings. There weren’t nearly as many but they were generally all of good quality, surprisingly. Even more surprising though was that along with portraits of the queen were many paintings of none other than little Elth Belker herself. She never looked so fine in real life as in those depictions but you have to make allowance for artistic license I suppose.
The other interesting thing is the dozens of worgs we saw stalking through the streets. Crowded though the streets were the beasts were given a wide berth – people flowed around them like fish around a shark. A few of them were mounted by uniformed Shirelings like we saw before out on the plains but most of them were free and unencumbered. I don’t know if they’re supplementing the town guard or supplanting them but they were doing more to keep people in line than that pack of lazy imbecilic fatheads ever did. I saw a pickpocket get his hand snapped off to a bloody stump right there in the market. Justice as swift and merciless as I saw that morning.
Kellgale and I made our way to the Cardshire Arms – the place was hopping. Mr. Conrad has really done well for himself with the influx of travelers. The harried fellow at the desk told me that they had no rooms available and that none would be coming available. I told him that I was old friends with the owner which seemed to really throw him off his game.
“You’re friends with Mister Moribond?”
“Who’s Moribond? I thought Claire Conrad owned this place.”
“He sold the Cardshire Arms to Mister Moribond six months ago.” He tossed over his shoulder as he scurried off.
“Oh well, no matter, we’ll find him somewhere” I told Kellgale as we elbowed our way to a table.
We sat down ordered some food and drink and I started telling her about the many people in town we needed to take revenge on. The many, many people. I really had a hair trigger for putting people on the List back in those days. I’ll forgive myself though because it was early on, I was still pretty angry about being drugged and left for dead in a provincial backwater. Kellgale seemed to start coming alive a little as we discussed what contacts she still had in town and what kind of schemes we could get cooking. Things were going well until I realized that the town watch – the normal town watch not the wolf monsters – had come in and were looming over us.
“Good evening gentlemen what can we do for you?”
The leader had that gruff voice that they must teach in watchman school “You’re wanted by Lady Cornelio.”
I put a hand to my chest “Little old me? Tell me is ‘Lady’ Cronelio the broad who’s face is plastered all over the city next to the Queens’? Has the country girl I knew by the name of Belker social climbed that high?”
He didn’t care for that.