The ride back to Meeroever on the small fishing vessel was, for Markoa, hell. The small craft wasn’t designed for all of them plus their horses, the sacks of treasure and the corpses and trophies of trolls, forest drake and the grim sadness that they were hauling back to town. The smells of fish and corpses plus the rocking from the unsettled water was beginning to take their toll on Markoa. He had awoken from their rest in the watchtower feeling poor and as the day progressed he’d felt worse and worse. He had grown weak, uncoordinated and he had not slept last night from the aches and shooting pains in his lower torso where the damned trollhounds had locked their jaws onto him and had tried to rip him in two. It had been embarrassing. Well, frightening and embarrassing that the two beasts had come so close to killing him like a rabbit caught by hounds. Still, Corbin had died and Markoa hadn’t made too much of a fuss over himself in light of the passing of his friend besides Zero had looked at the wound and was keeping an eye on it.
Markoa noticed Regik looking at him out of the corner his eye giving him a grim look expecting the half-elf to die any second. Markoa was sorely tempted to shoot the warrior but Regik’s sudden turn back to the side of the boat to continue to throw up brought a moment of satisfaction to the archer. Markoa gritted his teeth as another wave of painful spasms wracked his guts. When Markoa again opened his eyes he noticed Zero making his way from the stern of the boat towards him. Zero had been deep in conversation with the fisherman, the guard and the Yorick since the trip had gotten underway.
“Still here so…”
“Hmm. Feel up for some news, spymaster?”
“I think so. What’s up?”
“Interesting development in Narlmarch, Valthis there says a man has been visiting the taverns up and down the Zebulon Pike making speeches about us that don’t paint us in a very favorable picture. Prog says he’s heard even some of the guard talking.”
“Really, what’s he saying?”
“The gist is that all the bad events lately have been because of us. We’ve been agitating and driving out the evils of the forest. We taunt and truck with the fey. We have made pacts with evil creatures like the kobolds for mutual benefit. We purposely set the Tatzleforders up to lay the groundwork of a town only to let them starve so we can absorb it into the kingdom without resistance. The small folk of the Kamelands are unimportant to the greedy tyrants of Narlmarch who are murdered in their homes while we are out filling our pockets with wealth and bravado. The man has even suggested that Yorick isn’t even human rather he’s a witch himself and that we are all murderous and deceiving minions.”
“Minions?! I’m nobody’s minion.” Markoa gasped at a shooting ache though the groin.
“I can see that. I’m taking a lot of this with some salt. Neither man has directly heard this man speak but Prog says that Ismort is absolutely raging between the news of Corbin and now this. He says that the warden is barely keeping himself from gutting the man the next time he speaks. Prog says that the rumor is that the magister might have fey tricked Ismort into not going into a rage. He also knows that Akiros is stretched thin. He’s in a fit looking for Topper Red and there have been more murders, a family of three was discovered stretched out on a fence along the Pike skinned and gutted.”
“By Erastil,” Markoa whispered. “By Deadeye I will drive a shaft through each of Happs’ eyes. I suppose our not having a marshal isn’t helping.”
“No. Yet another issue mentioned in passing by our new political critic over ale and agitation. Yorick is really bothered by the whole mess. He hasn’t told me what he wants to focus on first but I think he wants to get us settled in and attend to Corbin first.”
“Yeah, let’s get into the castle, get a bit of rest, gather some information and meet at the table.”
“I’ll tell Yorick. You see if you can get some sleep, Valthis says he’ll have us beached in three to four hours.”
The small craft eventually landed and the nobles aboard were able to enter the castle but rest was not available for most. Yorick least of all as duties, demands and a sorrow and rage filled warden descended upon him. Zero found himself informed that a Cointender of Abadar had arrived a few days ago and had been settled into the castle to await his return. Korrah Daggerthews had seen her husband, knelt by his corpse in silence and then had departed the city with a look of cold death for what the Khellid guardsman Prog had called a mourning ritual. Markoa alone was able to resign to his bed. He was bathed by a fetching young maidservant but could not summon the energy to care. His bed was a welcome treasure and after being examined and treated by a novice healer from Jhod’s temple slipped into a sleep that lasted two days when the spasms and pains finally abated. He awoke to a dim room barely lit in the gloaming of the day. The half-elf inhaled deeply and rose out of bed feeling the sweat soaked sheets peel from his body. The humidity had increased even more so than when they had left the watchtower and Markoa wondered how many days he had slept. He stood and noted that he was still not at his best with a slight shakiness to his balance that would no doubt pass given time. Markoa looked out the window and smelled the evening’s scents of city, shore and the faint pleasure of wildflowers from the outskirts when his gaze fell to the table by his bed. There in the shadows that a human would miss lay a oilskin wrapped bundle. Markoa peeled the covering off and found a letter of fine paper folded and sealed with wax. He sat on his bed and examined the exterior but could find nothing distinctive. Regardless of the darkening room the half-elf broke the seal and let his elven eyes read the note within despite the gloom. As his gaze drifted down the page his lips tightened and his pallid face flushed with color. The sun finally disappeared leaving the moon to cast a hazy aura upon the sweltering city as Markoa Surtova crushed the papers in his fist and made silent vows to whatever gods would listen.