Kingmaker - As the Ravens Gather

Off to Tatzlford

After following the instigating bard for the last several days, and subsisting on bugs and tubers, Markoa decided that he has learned all he can of the protester. Zero, Ismort, and Yorick have headed west towards Tatzleford in hunt of Bydon, and he is stuck here following this pinhead.

Enough.

Markoa breaks off his shadowing and beelines straight to Meeroever. A bath and an ale sound just about right to this half-elven bastard. Once he enters the castle, he instructs the staff to draw him a hot bath and to send for several bottles of ‘the good stuff.’ Then he is intercepted by a page with a letter.

“What?” he growls, taking the letter. It is affixed with the royal seal of Surtova. “Shit,” he breathes unenthusiastically. He reads the the letter where he stands. “Shit!”

He cancels the drink order, but heads towards the bath. After an hour of soaking, he emerges pink skinned and ready to spend one night in a comfortable feathered bed. In the morning, he gears up, mounts up, and rides out towards Tatzlford.

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The Attention of a Certain Boy

Zhang sipped her pint and watched the Hay Bales patrons. The blacksmith Sammet sat quietly staring into his glass. He looked stoic, but Zhang knew that he was nursing a heartache; the barmaid Bella was lavishing her attentions on some young caravan guard that had been frequenting Grommel’s tavern down the Pike. The baron’s man Redgik stood among a crowd of locals, dryly recounting his exploits with the Council. In this one, he himself apparently fired the killing shot that killed some otherworldly troll. It was hard to believe that this snot-nosed lickspit would stand against a troll, but Zhang knew that the baron’s man was indeed a deadly shot with a bow. And at the far end of the crowd, Zhang marked the dark archer himself, Markoa Half-elf. His hood was up and no one else seemed to notice him but there he was, half in the shadows, pointed ears perked up and listening to the conversations around him.

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A Father's Plea

20.Sarenith.4711
Markoa,
No doubt that this letter comes as a surprise to you and I ask that you do not cast it into the flames before reading this.

I have recently survived a serious illness and only by the grace of Pharasma regained my strength during which I was given an opportunity to give many things a great deal of thought and the matters concerning your mother and yourself were foremost in my mind. I know you bear me great ill for her leaving you but your mother understood the constraints of station and propriety that dictated that I divest myself of my mistress and my bastard. I see now that I should have handled matters differently. I thought to seek you out and find a manner through which we could discuss the issue and I could impart to you information that you do not have concerning your mother. As is the way of the gods’ whims no sooner than I had regained my strength but I am informed that you have embraced your Surgova blood and become a builder of a kingdom. Honestly, I was surprised for I felt sure that your mother’s elven blood had dimmed your Issian birthright so I am proud that you show initiative but to discover that you have undertaken these tasks under the auspices of the Rostlander Lord-Mayor to an end that threatens Brevoy and your family has filled me with dismay and shame and it is my hope that you can be saved and the situation rectified before matters progress too far. His Highness King Noleski Surtova, your rightful lord and liege and cousin, is dismayed that one who bears his family blood would be a party to activities that threaten to upset the peace of Brevoy and has given me leave to invite you, Markoa, home to the family hunting lodge in order that we discuss the matters of this small holding of Narlmarch and your part in its creation. Noleski has told me in confidence that he sees your obvious proficiencies and has expressed a desire to keep a man of “obvious exceptional qualities” within the love and grace of our family. So come, Markoa, to the Winter Lodge, the family hunting preserve, and meet with me.

However, I must warn you that your involvement in the Rostlander Affair has reached the ears of the other noble houses and it threatens to cause embarrassment and political opportunity for ill maneuverings against your cousin the king so I ask that you understand that you must enter Brevoy as quietly as possible engaging neither guards nor small folk in your travels. The issues with the Lord-Mayor of Restov are tense and there is talk of potential civil war which is something that I know you would not see occur and would ultimately mean the destruction of your barony. I, as well, in public forum must denounce you and curse you lest the suggestion of impropriety occur. Shoulder it with Surtovan fortitude and with the resolution of these issues between Rostland and Issia where your barony are concerned, as well as between us as father and son, I am sure that King Noleski will offer you royal absolution and a return to your home.
Markoa, I cannot stress enough the delicate position you have placed us in and stress the importance of your coming alone and in stealth to Winter Lodge. The lodge is usually empty during the summer excepting for the permanent staff and Conneth.

Arrive by the 20th of Arodus and stay hidden as much as possible and we shall meet. It is my hope, Markoa, that great things can come of this and I will be able to tell you those things regarding your mother that you will want to know.

Good journey to you, my son.

Domani Surtova, Duke of the Dragonscale Throne, Royal Defender of Port Ice, Primogen of House Surtova
“Ours is the Right”

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A Visit in the Dark

Katilyne the Black let out a broad yawn and shuffled her feet. Guard duty on a caravan run down the Zebulon Pike was usually good for some surprises: bandit raids, owlbear attacks, fey trickery. But this trip had been quiet all the way. In another day, they would all be back in Mereover, and she would be back at the Hay Bales listening to another wild story from Dannell.
I wonder what she will have to tell me this time, Kat thought. Perhaps she will say she stole Warden Ismort’s pants again. Or maybe this time she will have swiped the booze of the Lord General himself. Kat snorted. That one was easy enough to believe; the man often could be found sleeping near the town well, and he usually had a wineskin with him. On second thought though, those skins were rarely anything but empty. So perhaps stealing his wine might be a fine trick indeed.

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Easy Coin

For the fourth time in the last hour, Dannel cursed the tardiness of drunken merchant’s sons. The damned fool had been due to stagger by this alley an hour and half ago. She had trailed him three nights in a row! He always staggered home this way. Where the hells was he? Her legs were cramping from crouching behind this cursed barrel, and the rattle-brained idiot had six gold crowns of hers that she had basically handed to him back in the tavern’s dice game. She had fed him drinks all the while. When Dannel left him, he was already well in his cups, and his purse was screaming her name. She’d almost risked snatching it from him there, but she liked Grommel and his wife and didn’t want to hurt their business by stealing in their tavern.
The halfling shifted silently, slowly bringing her hand up to scratch her nose. As if the lush would hear me, she thought. He couldn’t hear Aroden rising from the dead under his feet! She felt the weight of the sap in her hand. A fool like that was destined to be parted from his coin. She was doing the gods’ work. Yes indeed. A holy act, she told herself.
A sweet noise drifted to her upturned ears. The boy was singing loudly to himself as he staggered down the street. Finally, she thought. I’d best take care of him quick before he brings down the ghost of the Stag Lord himself with his caterwauling.
As the young man passed by the alley opening, Dannel took a quick step forward and prepared to leap atop him.
“Lovely night, isn’t it?” a voice said behind her. The cutpurse was so startled she all but tripped. Spinning around, she reached for her short blade.
“Now, now, there’s no need for that, Miss Dannell.” Out of the alley’s shadows, a tall thin form emerged. It was a man, wrapped in a dark overcoat. A hood was pulled up over his head, and the darkness of the alley hid his features. The shadows seemed hesitant to let him go, and appeared to play at his feet.
“Who are you? Why are you skulking around in the dark? And what do you want from an innocent maid?” she said in her most girlish voice. In response, the figure threw back his head, crowing with laughter. His mirth was joined by the shriek of a bird somewhere behind him, the sound of which sent a cold shiver down Dannel’s spine.
Oh. Oh no, she thought. I’m in big trouble.
“M’lord,” she stammered, dropping to a knee. I’ve just been caught by the Baron of gods’ damned Narlmarch!
“Oh please. This is the River Kingdoms. We don’t require such formality here.” The man was at her side, pulling her up. “We lords of Narlmarch are an informal group, you will find.” She could see his face now. He had a broad, easy smile, and his green eyes twinkled as he looked down at her. She had seen him from a distance and knew he was a handsome man, but up close . . . whew. She felt flustered. At some point she realized he still had her hand and was speaking.
“ . . . I’ve been watching you, young lady.”
“M’lord, I meant the lad no harm. Just a frakkin’ prank, of course. Why, I’ve known the bloody boy for years . . .”
The baron’s eyes glittered, and his lips curled into a smirk.
“Now, now, Dannel. No need wasting your breath. You are speaking to a fellow street rat, one who has taken coin from dozens of beardless youths who looked just like that one. I suppose this was part of the joke?” He handed her back her sap. Handed it back? When did he take it? She was baffled to the point of silence . . . a condition she had rarely experienced.
“I’m not here to arrest you, my dear.” The baron lowered his hood and ran a hand over his shaven head. A shadow fluttered down out of the darkness to land on his shoulder . . . a raven. The thing cocked its head and stared down at her. The blasted thing made her feel weird.
“Then what would you have of me, m’lord?” Dannel asked, tucking one of her wild red locks behind her ear in a way that the boys liked. She let her other hand wander to her cleavage. The baron smiled again and then crouched down. The two were eye to eye.
“Why, Dannel the Damned. I wish to offer you the opportunity of a lifetime. I’m going to make you a legend.” In the roofs above them, a dozen ravens all begin to screech.

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The Duel for Corbin's Life

The slim looking half-elf stands in the open field looking awkward dressed in forester’s attire and carrying a very large heavy shield strapped to his off hand. He borrowed that from Brother Zero. He is used to a buckler or no shield at all. In his other hand he carries Warden Ismort’s longsword. That at least feels familiar to the lithe ranger. Across the field a brute of a man, wearing a full suit plate mail, taunts him with his massive zweihander. Markoa stares at that armor and the heavily scarred man inside. Markoa, you damned fool. Let the dead lie.

“Use whatever means you feel necessary, not that any of those will help you survive this day.” Cadog of Gorum declares when Markoa asks him if his hawk-eagle may be by his side. “You may still back down yet; for I mean to kill you!” Markoa swallows hard, waiting for the whistle to sound and the scarf to drop indicating a start to the duel. Cadog just stares straight at Markoa. No emotion. Markoa looks away towards the scarf-bearer, keeping Cadog in his periphery.

He sees the scarf drop. He reacts.

Cadog hears the whistle. He reacts. Slower.

Markoa is already charging and has the drop on the much larger, but slower warrior-priest. Ouray screeches and flies in an arc around behind Cadog while Markoa slides across the grass and draws first blood. Akiros’s sword drives deep into a gap in the priest’s armor. Cadog barely flinches as he brings the two-handed sword around, catching Markoa in the shoulder. Ouray squawks and flaps his wings, distracting the warrior while Markoa and Cadog circle each other. Markoa with feints and footwork. Cadog swing that grand sword with all his might. Once again Markoa connects, bringing the longsword in for another deadly strike against the flank of the Gorumite. Cadog is not distracted enough, and this time slices across Markoa’s face, slashing through his upper lip. At the same time, Ouray is trying to maneuver and gets caught in the backswing. The bird drops to the ground. Markoa stumbles back with his hand over his face as blood gushes. The duel pauses.

The battle-priest prays over the bird, bringing it back to consciousness. Markoa drives the tip of his sword into the ground and pulls a potion from his belt and pours it into his mouth. His lip heals and the bleeding stops. The two combatants start to circle each other again.

For the next minute that seems like an hour to Markoa, but probably only a second to the priest of Gorum, the two duelists circle and parry. Thrust and dodge. They pound at each other and strike glancing blows. Sometimes Markoa is able to get Brother Zero’s shield in between that massive sword and his head. And sometimes, Ismort’s sword strikes sparks across Markoa’s opponent’s armor.

But it seems Desna has other plans for this battle. In an unfortunate stroke, Markoa swings his sword with all his strength, desperate to finish this fight. The sword breaks on Cadog’s armor. Markoa stares at the broken blade with shock, then lets it fall from his hands. Cadog takes the moment to drive his sword into Markoa’s side. The half-elf stumbles backwards away from the big man. He reaches over his shoulder, grasping for one of his short spears, the only other weapons on his person. He draws one.

“Erastil, guide my spear,” he prays as he hurls the spear at the cleric. Erastil answers his prayer and the spear strikes Gorum’s priest right in the center of the breastplate directly into the symbol of Gorum. Cadog stares at Markoa in disbelief as he drops his sword and wraps both hands around the shaft of the spear protruding from his chest. He topples backwards like a tower falling.

Markoa drops down onto his backside, breathing heavily.

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Blood is Only Blessed When it is Shed

The gates of Meeroever’s palisade were busier than usual. All manner of creatures and conveyances jockeyed to enter or leave the city. The guards were hard pressed keeping things moving and the oppressive heat didn’t help. Sweat dripped off man and beast and mixed with the dust of the road on the faces of those trying to go about their business. City guardsman Helmut One-ear wiped his face on his sleeve and drank deep from the bucket hung by the gate. The heat and sweat made his missing right ear itch horribly plus the day had been busy and grim. General Corbin still lay in state as he had for the last week and the people of the city were disturbed by his passing. It wasn’t as if the Gorumite had been effective at anything as far as Helmut could see; he had just gotten drunk and fought about anything. Helmut had seen the General months ago stumbling and swimming deep in his cups with his half breed whore. Helmut shook his head at the memory of the marriage as he threatened a slow farmer to move or be fined. The drunken sot was a joke as far as he was concerned and he’d seen quite a few in his many years. Joke or no,however, his passing had brought poor times to the city. The wind had died along with the priest and the sun had shed tears of fire from a cloudless sky. Day or night the countryside sweltered and baked causing people living in it to become irritable and prone to fights. There were fights daily all over the city and barony. Helmut had knocked heads several times to end conflicts. It was too hot to be wearing armor and standing in the shade of the gate didn’t help at all. Warden Ismort had become a thunderhead wandering Meeroever looking for any excuse to demote, punish, yell at or smite the guard. The leaders, such as they were, had returned with the body and were in somber moods themselves. At least they stayed in the city, thought Helmut. He had been sharing cups with friends several nights ago before the Baron had returned and had listened to a man at the tables speaking to the crowd about the Baron and his council. Helmut had found himself agreeing that the recent troubles, the murders, the werewolf killer, the rampaging trolls, the dark things rumored to be happening in the forest were no doubt caused by the Baron and his friends’ actions agitating things best left alone. They wandered off to fill their pockets and left good folk to suffer. Helmut noticed two carts become locked together wheel to wheel and pushed off the wall to crack some fool farmers’ heads and get the opening clear. It was when he was shouting and swatting at the scurrying farmers that he noticed the visitor coming towards the city.

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The Cost of a Soul

10.Erastus.4711
Brother Zero trudged up to his quarters in Castle Stag. Zero felt the stiffness in his limbs and chest that were the hallmark of being healed but it was more than that, Corbin had died, badly. Zero had thought Corbin would have pulled through after escaping what seemed like sure death earlier in the dwarven watchtower but seeing his friend ripped apart by the rock troll was sobering. The ride back in the fisherman’s boat had been terrible with the bodies of Corbin and Kundal lying in their respective sacks, Markoa sick, Regik nauseas, the smell and the oppressive humidity that washed over the Narlmarch and Kamelands just made everything worse. The last thing Zero wanted was to talk with anyone; however, a servant had informed him that a Abadarian priest had been waiting the last few days for an audience with him. Abadar knew that bringing civilization to a wilderness like this was dangerous; that people would die and Zero knew that the danger only became worse, not less with each settler and settlement that he carved out of the Stolen Lands. Zero would shoulder the sacrifices; he had to, every market bringing food, every patrolled road that safeguarded travelers, every institution that ensured that the people coming to the barony could live a good life would be a step towards the goal. Zero just wasn’t always sure that he felt that the road he was on had an end.

Zero entered his rooms and found the man standing by his desk. Zero paused and sized the man up. He was young, Taldan, with short dark hair that clung at the sweaty ends to his skin and hazel eyes that were cocksure and betrayed a hint of annoyance. The Abadarian priest was dressed in a simple but expensive white silk robe with gold thread embroidery on the fringe belted with black leather and gold studs. The gold key of Abadar hung around his neck on a gold chain and the young man held a few books and a travelling writing kit in his hands. The presentation was supposed to evoke wealthy restraint, the boy was obviously a noble’s son, but the humidity robbed the youth of his poise as the silk clung and stuck unflatteringly. Zero took a breath and closed the door behind him entering with a bow to the priest.

“Treasurer-Inquisitor Brother Zero, may the wealth of Abadar’s blessings enrich you. I am Johten, Teller-Acolyte of the Grand Temple Vault of New Stetven sent by the Holy Exchequer Markus Orlovsky, First Judge and Royal Treasurer to his Royal Highness, holder of the Dragonscale Throne, King Noleski Surtova. I have been sent to audit your progress here and record the accounts of your achievements in the name of the Master of the First Vault.”

Zero looked at the young man and nodded as he settled into his chair and filled a couple of goblets with wine poured from a chilled brass ewer. He offered one to the appreciative man and unlocked his desk drawer to retrieve his own copies of Order of Numbers, Abadar’s holy book, and the accounting ledgers he used to keep track of the barony’s funds and resources as well as scraps and pens. He then pointed a chair out to the priest and raised his goblet.

“To the glory of Abadar…” he toasted and Zero took a deep drink, silently thanking the servants for their foresight, as the priest echoed him and enjoyed the cold beverage.

The two men went over the books together and discussed the concerns and accolades from the Brevan church for hours. The Holy Exchequer had expressed a desire for Zero to give thought to raising a temple vault or church court in Narlmarch to hasten the divine presence of Abadar. In time the priest noted the dwarf’s demeanor and begged for some time to check his figures and continue in a day or so, offering his condolences and services to the inquisitor as he exited Zero’s chambers. Zero could see that the young man was very capable with sums but Zero accepted the gesture and promised himself to give the boy more regard. It troubled Zero that the Exchequer himself was involved but the audit seemed to come more from the church than from the Dragonscale Throne and Zero had been clear with the Holy Vault in regard to his goals and aims so it wasn’t that they knew but that they had sent an auditor. What was going on in Brevoy he wondered? Zero pulled a bell rope and politely asked the answering servant for a bath to be drawn. He would think on this while he had a chance before Yorick’s council meeting in the morning where, no doubt, he would be handed many more issues to add more concerns.

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The Most Dangerous Foe is the One You Cannot Fight

10.Erastus.4711
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.

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At The Drunken Stag

Markoa slams the empty tankard on the bench, then orders another ale shouting. “To Corbin, the bravest companion a man could have!” Shouts of “Here, here!” and “Gorum bless him!” are heard throughout the common room. “Fuckin’ trolls,” he mumbles into his newly filled mug. He feels some of his hatred boil at the thought of the monstrosities. Should have studied them more instead of the stupid fey. Fuck them too!

“What!” he snaps as a shady, somewhat bug-eyed man taps his shoulder. Gremlin, sneaky bastard.

“Sir,” the spy says. “Correspondence from Brevory and Tatzleford. Also, on the road I spied more signs of Bydon. Another arrow.” Markoa snatches the proffered shaft and grips it in both hands. “Mother fucker!” The arrow snaps. “I’m gonna get that sucker. Dirty mother…” He stops and breathes for a few seconds.

“Thank you, Gremlin. You do good work. I need you to gather some discreet fellows and head to these coordinates.” Markoa’s hand is steady as he scrawls numbers and symbols down on piece of parchment that seemed to magically appear under his pen. Gremlin is that good. “There is a ton of shit work down there, and I’m sorry. You will be paid time-and-a-half for this, but it has to remain a secret. There are a ton of supplies to be brought back, and the place needs to be cleaned out. I’d send shit-heads, but this place needs to remain a secret. You’ll need someone who can cast the spells Prestidigitation and Mage Hand.

“Sir?”

“Trust me. Prestidigitation and Mage Hand. Also, here is a list of some unusual supplies…” Gremlin accepts the list and scans it.

“Soap, sir? When you said cleaned out, I thought you meant…”

“Yes, soap. I said it was a shit assignment. And I meant literally cleaned out, but I need people I can trust on it. Not some castle servants or probationers. Here is something else.” Markoa pulls out a chit and scribbles a list and some numbers.

“Thank you, sir!” an excited Gremlin takes the chit for several months worth of benefits from the brothel up in Olegton. “Don’t worry. I’ll have your most dependable and trustworthy on this.”

“You will get a month off after this one. I was there and know how bad it will be. Get to it.”

“Yes, sir.” Gremlin pockets the papers and rushes out of the tavern, seeking out the right men for this job. Markoa grimaces at his empty mug. If I keep this up, I’ll be as bad as Corbin. He smiles and orders another.

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