Holt tried to figure what was happening. It wasn't hard, given that the bartending shape-shifter seemed to want to give them a story of some kind. The wording implied a "quest". Those took time. Holt was busy, he didn't have that time. He would have to decline, but at least he could listen to the man's story.
Holt looked the newcomer up and down. A warrior, from some far away land. Very, it seemed, given his facial features were that of another race. The man was likely capable with a sword, more so than Holt would ever like to be on the wrong side, finding out. But there were several openings presented, and the man would be destroyed by an arrow or three. Not that he was looking to fight, but Holt always made sure to be prepared, just in case.
Holt listened to the bartender carefully, and slowly sat down. His legs were croseed, and under each other. He made sure to keep himself well concealed in the shadows, as was his way; he'd be nearly invisble with his cloak on.8/9/2011 #31
Ashala inclined her head toward Malachi. "Pleased to meet you, I am Ashala."
Then she turned to the barkeep wondering what could be more important than their private affairs. After all, the realm hadn't treated her, not the other three occupents of the room with much fortune, if she could assume anything by the state of their clothing.
She glanced at the tracker wishing to speak about the band of rogues, hoping that not everyone was dead. She would have to ask later.
"Speak, good sir," she said inclining her head toward the barkeep. As he began his tale, Ashala glanced up at the entrance of an Easterner nodding her acknowledgment of his presence.
The barkeep took her words as compliment, seeing as he associated 'Sir' with knights. He put this out of his mind and began to address the people in the room.
"You may be thinking: 'Why should I take on a quest? I am much too busy," he began giving Holt a pointed look. "Or, you may be thinking that the realm has not done you justice or service, so why should you serve it."
He paused glancing quickly at the Eaterner and Malachi. "Or, you may be of the mind that you are on a personal quest already, and that this foreign realm means little to you."
He gave a sardonic smile. "I would say to each of you... You have been chosen for your ability, station, and because you will go relatively unnoticed. You have bee chosen to aid the realm, above the knights and Lords and Vassals that would normally come to the ruler's aid. The truth of the matter is, each of you has already experienced the result of the realm's danger. My tale begins when the great King Andre Wolfinstag was in the high seat."
Ashala tilted her head. This tale seemed familiar to her. "And," she said from her chair in the shadows, "he was usurped through the betrayal of a Knight, who was forsworn to the Singer clan. It was this betrayal and the unfair treatment of knights and Lords that sparked the earliest conflict."
The barkeep turned his head toward Ashala. "Indeed, miss," he said slightly narrowing his eyes. It wasn't everyday that someone, including a woman, came into the Inn with prior knowledge. He wondered if she had more to her station in life than she let on.
"You four have been chosen to seek out the Lost Prince's heir," he said. "This quest is dangerous, time consuming, and trecherous. However, you have been chosen to aid the realm in a way that may redeem your past actions."
He paused, pointing to the map-strewn table. "All I can do for you is provide the location of Woflinstag's only surviving heirloom. It is this heirloom that can be used to determine the proper heir to the throne."
He trailed off waiting for questions or any other verbal ques.8/10/2011 #32
Holt sat throught the story, thinking. There was a lot to this strange bartender. His accent had slipped as he spoke, it seems. Maybe "switched" would work better. Holt shook his head slightly, sighing inwardly. This made no sense, and wouldn't help him whatsoever. He had a war coming, and he didn't have time to find a lost... heir to the throne. Maybe there was something to this.
Holt spoke up first. "I have no idea what you mean by "redeem my past actions", because that would have to mean I have done something I regret. But... I'd think that an heir to the throne, if we could put him on the throne, would be rather grateful, yes? Perhaps grateful enough to start up an alliance with the country that saved him?" he asked curiously.8/10/2011 #33
The bartender was about to answer when Ashala cut him off. "Right now, there is only one country, divide by war and political differences between rulers." She glanced across the room at Holt, wondering what he wanted to gain from aiding this quest. "However, if you were from another country, and you were able to restore the rightful kind to the throne, you may earn an alliance between this country and your homeland."
She sat back letting her mind wander toward the possible freedom she could gain from aiding this quest. However, she was well aware that her true identity would cause a stir in the kingdom because of her family's longstanding loyalty to the Wolfinstag Line. She did realize she had been missing for quite some time, and she wondered if her parents would accept her for what she had become. Shaking her head she said, "Well, what about this heirloom then?"
The barkeep nodded quickly unrolling the largest map on the table. "It is the Wallander Estate," he stated pushing a small needle upright at the right location at the map.
Ashala felt surprise and shock run through her system. That was the Estate she needed to rob and the man, Vincent Wallander was the Knight she was sent to kill. She kept the shock of her face for the most part only a quick scowl showing any emotion. The scowl was so fleeting that few would notice it, if anyone were paying her any attention at all they would have to be good readers of facial expressions to catch it.8/10/2011 . Edited 9/13/2011 #34
Malachi listened in silence, his face and body language relaxed and neutral. He did not speak to offer questions or suggestions when the Barkeep finished, nor in response to Holt or Ashala's words. They would make their decisions based on whatever concerned them, but he thought they might choose to engage in this quest when all was said and done. Did Ashala feel uncomfortable with some aspect of it, or was it just his overactive imagination trying to tie everything to what she had said earlier about freedom? They had yet to speak of that, though it might be hoped that she would find it in this this quest.
As for Malachi, he was open to it. He knew he'd been brought to the Inn for a reason and this reason seemed as good as any. Of course he could live his life as well under one ruler as under another, as long as they stayed out of the wilds and those areas secured by the concealed ones and the Nistarim. But that autonomy could by no means be guaranteed. What he could hope to do, however, was to vette this alleged heir to the throne. No doubt their quest would be shrouded in secrecy and no one outside the company would know whether they succeeded or failed. Such things could be arranged if need be.
Then, it occurred to him, there was the question of righteousness and justice. He put little stock in the royalty of rulers and their families, but God lifts up and brings down kingdoms, and sometimes he uses his servants, such as the Nistarim, to propel events in the right direction. If this were God's will, then . . .
"I'm in," he said after a moment. He was well aware that the details had yet to be ironed out and the others were still discussing the whys and wherefores. He cared little about that. Much could be worked out on the way and he'd feel much more comfortable discussing these things in the woods and hills than in this smallish inn room.8/10/2011 . Edited by Fleur-de-lis Evans, 9/13/2011 #35
Shichi returned the bow and moved into the room to sit. He listened to the barkeep's requests and such, not feeling much conviction in the matter. When the woodsman agreed to the charge, Shichi instead respectfully declined.
"It would be unwise for me to involve myself in foreign affairs for the time being. My only focus is to find my brothers, and I plan to return home once I do this."8/10/2011 . Edited by Fleur-de-lis Evans, 9/13/2011 #36
"Ah, erh, hrm," the Barkeep said when it appeared the quest was falling apart before it began. What ever would he do if he couldn't muster a team of woodsmen and warriors and the like to go and fetch the heir to the throne? His superiors would not look favorably upon this failure.8/10/2011 . Edited by Fleur-de-lis Evans, 9/13/2011 #37
Holt immediately decided that this woman, Ashala, had no knowledge of what happened outside this kingdom. Oh well. But still, the promise of military, at least monetary partnership with a large country was promising, so he'd stay. For now.
He raised his voice to be heard. "Mr. Barkeep, if you can get some sort of contract or vow that my country shall receive aid if I succeed, I'll be more than happy to romp through the forests and dungeons of this land to find the heir," he said, deadpan.
He caught a fleeting scowl upon the woman's face. She was angry, or confused about something. What that may be, he wouldn't know, but it might be useful to pull her aside and ask later, if only because she seemed like she would become his ally.8/10/2011 #38
Ashala gauged the responses from the other members of the room. It was clear, from Holt's reactions that something was happening in his homeland. She wondered if she could help, maybe bring the state of his country to the attention of the throne. And, honestly, it made her original reason for coming to this town slightly easier.
"I will lend my aid to the quest," she said. She did not elaborate, nor did she let on, hopefully, how she felt about where the quest would take them. She glanced at the warrior, from the Eastern lands. "What of your homeland, sir?" she asked the Easterner. "Even if you are not from Brandire, surely the politics and exports and other workings of a country affect your homeland."
She did not push the issue, allowing the solider to make his own choice. "I believe that is a quest including three," she said.8/11/2011 #39
Malachi glanced around the room. Seemed everyone had weighed in. That resulted in the uncomfortable silence, as there was little else that would be said in the presence of someone who wasn't "in." These things had to be kept secret, after all. Already the collectors might be moving, trying to find him or perhaps even the others in this room. Even if they hadn't picked up the trail yet, it was said by some watchers that they were positioning themselves to take advantage of political instability and any movement that might take place to deal with said instability. The collectors were powerful, and could easily manipulate most other people to their ends. The saving grace was that, with a little tradecraft, the concealed ones could remain so. That and the power of the Most High was available to them that believed, even against the collectors.
When no one else said anything Malachi looked back at the barkeep, eyebrow raised in question.
"Right. Well, I'll not be pressuring you none," he said. "As I told you earlier, your brother has been here, and you may still find him where I described. Will there be anything else for you?"8/14/2011 . Edited by Fleur-de-lis Evans, 9/13/2011 #40
Shichi regarded the woman; "I am from Yamatochi," He said, "An island nation with many mountains." To the barkeep; "No thank you." He stood. "I'll be off now."
And with that he silently left the room.8/14/2011 #41
Ashala raised her eyebrow in slight bemusement at the Easterner's reaction. If she remembered correctly Yamatochi provided many exotic items through trade with the kingdom of Brandire. She didn't push the subject, though. If he had personal business than so be it.
She turned toward the barkeep after the Easterner left. "I assume you are going to fill us in now?" she asked. She was interested to hear what it is they were to steal. Perhaps it was the item she was sent to retrieve. Although, this time, she had not met her employer. That didn't sit well with her. If it turned out the royal heirloom and the item she was to retrieve were the same, she would steal the item and go on her quest, duly ignoring her employer.8/15/2011 #42
Holt cocked his head to the side, watching the exchange with interest. The Easterner, from Yamatochi, was curious. He must have had urgent business, as Holt had felt he had. And curiouser was the high-born's reaction to the fact that the estate is where the heirloom was being held. She seemed... eager, nervous, and thoughtful about it.
"Barkeep, if you would hold back the details a moment. Now you, woman, Ashala was it? What is your interest in the estate?" he said, leaving certain bits concealed for an air of mysteriousness. That helped confuse, or make people wary of him.8/20/2011 #43
Ashala gazed around at the people still assembled in the room. "It's part of my job," she said, "to obtain something of value from the estate. I'm considering not murdering the owner of the estate or giving the object of value to my employer. I believe the object I seek, and that of the quest, are the same."
She didn't let on to any more information. She didn't have any more information to give.8/20/2011 #44
"I'd suggest not murdering him if you don't want me stepping in to stop you, and arrest you," Holt said softly. His viridian eyes reflected orange in the light of the fireplace, the only part of him visible past a shadowy form.8/20/2011 #45
"I am in a delicate situation," she said. "The man we seek to steal from is heavily involved in politics. Stealing from him puts me into a much more dangerous situation." She glanced at the map throwing a small red dart into a region miles away from the village they sat in.
"And there," she says, "lies my problem. You see, I am nearly finished completing my imprisonment." She paused staring thoughtfully into the fire. "I do not have the option, as much as I would like, to bargain with my permameters. I have to steal the heirloom. There is no choice in that."
She picked up a piece of broken arrow shaft twirling it in between her fingers. "However, that dart," she said pointing to the one sticking out of the map, "stands for my employer. If I do not give him the heirloom or kill this man, I become a bounty for someone to make and lose any chance of freedom I have come close to regaining."
She trailed off waiting for a response. She had shared enough information for now. She would give more, if it meant freedom, if it meant not having to kill. But she was dealing with her life and her freedom. If Holt, or anyone else, could procure her freedom she'd get the heirloom and deal with whatever her employer threw at her.8/21/2011 #46
Holt sighed tiredly. "I am sorry for your situation, and it seems you've been through a lot. But, I would have to stop you if you tried killing that man, or anyone. It's my job," he said softly. He shrugged his shoulders back and extended his arms to stretch out a few kinks, breathing softly. The air tasted of sweat and dirt.8/22/2011 . Edited 8/23/2011 #47
Ashala's confession was quite disturbing, and what was worse, for all her apparent skill she didn't seem to be willing to consider options. Malachi supposed he should expect the same. That was the whole thing about slaves. They were beaten down to the point where they could no longer conceive of any life outside of slavery. The understanding didn't make it any less frustrating. He stood and began to pace a little in the small room as Ashala and Holt continued their discussion.
"Wait a minute," he finally said. "The barkeep said we needed to find the rightful heir to the throne in THIS kingdom. The alleged heirloom, if we are to trust his information, MAY be on this particular estate, and you think you're supposed to steal it. Holt may think it his duty to stop people from killing each other, but I want nothing to do with it either way. Restoring the crown I'll do. Investigating family lineage I'll do. But I want nothing to do with theft or murder or slavery. Either we do this thing and go on the run together, we do it and go on the run separately, or we don't do it, because I'm not going to go on a quest with the two of you and then abandon you to your fates. It's not my way. So the question falls to you, Ashala. Will you or will you not abandon your current master? I understand the risks and I will endure them with you if you agree. But like I said, the choice is yours."
He stopped pacing and drilled Ashala with an assessing stare.8/23/2011 . Edited by Fleur-de-lis Evans, 8/25/2011 #48
Holt glanced at the man idly. He wasn't really interested in what he had to say. His viewpoints were odd. He obviously didn't recognise Holt for who he truly was. Probably thought of Holt as a vigilante or the like. Not Holt's problem. This "Malachi" could believe whatever he wanted, and it wouldn't change a thing. And now Malachi seemed interested in freeing Ashala of her... was she a slave? He knew the word "master" came up a lot, and it was important here, but he once had a master, but was never a slave. Holt realised he'd assumed the best.8/23/2011 . Edited by Fleur-de-lis Evans, 8/25/2011 #49
Ashala titled her glass to the side noticing the amber colour of the spiced cider. She let her mind drift noting Malahchi's willingness to aide her. She wondered if he was one of the pepople who believed in a higher spirit, and if that was why his motivations seemed so compicated. She turned to Holt fixing him with a claculating look.
"I am bound to the realm in a complicated fashion," she admitted. "I was caught stealing from an important house hold, but I was given pardon on the condition that I submit to ettiquette training and do the bidding of those with power. I am to complete this last mission, and then I am absolved of my previous mark."
She glanced at the map again. "I have not actually killed anyone, although I have been charge to no several occassions. I have merely aided them into safe exile on other islands or in other lands until further notice, giving a false recrod of death. My previous employers, all of whom I have met, and know by face, have not argued against the document. However, my most recent employer refuses to meet in person, and yet I know he will be able to spot a forged death notice."
She reached forward picking up a rough portrait carving of the man who owned the estate. "I believe this man is a Count, who served the prevous royal family. It may be easy to convicne him to hand over the heirloom without a fight. There would be no death or stealing in that regard,f from me. But, I can gaurenttee that the man I have been forced to serve will stope at nothing to catch me and prove that I am a dishonest and uncouth rogue."
She tapered off wondering how long it would be until the crown, or for that matter the realm, figure out who she was. It may take no time at all for the Count to identify her and the family she belogned to. When that time came, she would have to face whatever charges were put on her head. For now, she focused on the tasks ahead, hoping she wouldn't have to go this one alone. There had to be a peacable way to sort through the current situaton she was in.8/25/2011 #50
Malachi chuckled a little and rose slowly to his feet.
"Okay. Maybe I'm simple compared to everyone else here, but the way I figure, there's an heir to find and return to where he might claim the throne. I mean to go get im. Planning can happen on the way, but this room grows unduly stuffy to my nostrils. If either of you, or anyone else, wants to come with me, God speed to you. It's been a pleasure."
He bowed to each person in the room in turn, last and most deeply to the lady Ashala, and jogged to the window. With practiced ease he opened it, dumped his pack outside, and slipped out after it.
By neccessity he failed to wait for anyone to respond or interrupt him. They might well do so, but he ignored them in his rush out the window. Perhaps they would follow now, or perhaps later. The collectors and their pawns might even try to follow once they caught up to him here, or if in their wanderings they picked up his trail. He'd have to skirt about to lose them, but would head toward the estate initially for about half a day just in-case the other "good guys" tried to follow.
He hefted his pack and paused for a moment under and beside the window to listen to whatever continued to happen inside.8/26/2011 #51
Holt shrugged. As long as she wasn't planning a murder, he could care less. He listened intently to Malachi's final words, watching his movements. Then he suddenly turned, grabbed his gear, and jumped out of the window. Which was rather dramatic, but hey, whatever fits him. He turned back to the high-born, adjusting his hood, glancing at her poise and hands.
"So, Lady Ashala," he began, standing up and approaching her. "Are you ready to go, or do you feel you need to leave separately and dramatically as Malachi did?" He felt leaving at the same time was less suspicious than jumping out windows after being seen entering the front door.8/29/2011 #52
"Well then, Oil be off. God speed to ye," said the barkeep, and disappeared, this time not bothering with phasing through the wall.
Malachi had only just entered the margin of the brush, quickly finding a dark spot against a tree to watch the inn for pursuit, when he heard something . . . off. People, no doubt, moved about this place at all times and in all ways and in all locations. But how many of them moved through the woods so as to avoid being seen or heard? And how many reasons might they have for doing so that were without cause for suspicion? And how many of them . . . smelled so aristocratic, at the same time?
None of that necessarily meant they were bad guys, but Malachi loosened his dagger in its sheath non-the-less.
The Barkeeper re-appeared behind the counter just as one of his wenches turned from the official and very stern looking man who had just walked in and accosted her. She didn't seem the least bit surprised by her employer's simply appearing behind the bar, though the official blinked a few times in-spite of himself, and the two large men flanking him whispered something to each other.
"M'lord," said the wench, "This official from the king's court . . . "Deputy Chief of Special Police," the man interrupted, "This deputy chief of special police," the wench continued without a hint of the derision that the Barkeep could see in her eyes leaking into her voice, "Would like to speak with you about your guests."
"Very well then," the Barkeep said, and shoed her away. She curtseyed with the slightest upturn of a corner of a lip, and hurried off about some task or other.
"What can . . ."
"I am here about most urgent business from the King himself," said the deputy, "And must know immediately if you are harboring any of a number of individuals in this establishment."
"Achem. Yes, well. That may present a bit of a difficulty," the Barkeep said. The two large men moved forward. The Barkeep's own people moved into position and he waved them back.
"My business is of the highest priority," said the deputy chief, his lowered voice dripping with menace, "And if you do not cooperate immediately I have ample means at my disposal to ensure that your . . . business does not do so well in the future."
"Uh, yes, yes of course, sir. Whatever you say, sir." The Barkeep mopped his brow.
"What were the names of those people you were looking for, sir? Or perhaps their descriptions. They wouldn't have used their real names, if they were running from you, now would they?"
In the kitchen the wenches began to move about with purpose. The Barkeep was trying to stall these new, official visitors. They might bully him, and he might comply to some extent. They might rough up the other help. But an official of the king would have to be hard pressed to give a wench a hard time in front of the assembled guests, all of whom would be watching.
A plan formed in moments, and they began to rush about with large platters full of drinks and food. Several times in the next few seconds one or another of them found the need to move between the official and his body guards, or between him and the Barkeep. Of course the official and the Barkeep had to put their business on hold to wait for the wenches to clear out. They managed to do it without spilling anything.
Finally the official got a sentence out. He was clearly perturbed. "Scoundrels, they were. Three of them at least, and suspected of being foreign spies."
"Excuse me m'lord." Another wench slipped through, pausing to throw in a slight shoulder roll and bat of the eyelash. She was attractive, after all. He wrested his attention from her and continued.
"Uhm, you might have heard an unusual accent. And clothing. They fancy themselves some sort of rangers, in liege with dark elves,"
"Oh, I do love the elves," said another wench, sidling up to him from the other side. "We get them through here once in a VERY long while, but they tend to avoid so many people." She sniffed and pursed her lips. "I don't think they like the way we smell." She shrugged. "You simply MUST tell me more about these elves!"
"Now, Eloise, don't you have customers to serve?" The Barkeep admonished her. She pouted, flipped her hair, and sauntered off.
"Now, sir, what were you saying? Something about elves, as I recall," Said the barkeep.
"Achem. Yes. Elves. But if I could just get a word in edgwise without these confounded interruptions!"
"Oh, most certainly. Let me take you to a private meeting room where we can discuss this matter in greater comfort."
"Blast it, you buffoon! I don't have time. Are they here?!"
"Well, they may have been at some point. Many people come through that meet that description, but I honestly couldn't tell you if they remain. . . ."
"Search the place!" the official shouted, glaring at the Barkeep. "Leave no space unexamined. They're a tricky sort, probably in disguise."
Several additional people moved into the room behind him, all of them in the official livery of the King's Special Police. They fanned out and began searching and questioning the patrons, all of whom either had minds fuzzy with some substance other than alcohol, or had one of several conflicting stories about the people being sought. No one was very helpful, however. Still, the officers moved steadily through the inn, getting closer to the room where the Barkeep met with Ashala, Holt, Malechi and Shichi. The wenches had mysteriously disappeared. There also seemed to be multiple hallways where the deputy chief was sure there was only the one when he came in.
All things considered, the people in the room had about ten minutes to clear out before they would be found by the agents coming in through the front room. Even then they ran the risk of meeting one of the agents surrounding the inn in the woods and streets outside. Certainly there were ways, and it would soon be seen what ways were preferred by these two.8/29/2011 . Edited by Fleur-de-lis Evans, 8/30/2011 #53
"I believe we should," Ashala began before stopping prematurely. The hairs on the back of her neck and her arms rose prickling against her skin.
She rose darting behind a screen in the room. It took less than a few mometns to change attire, and she emerged wearing an outfit similar to a blacksmith's boy. She grabbed her dagger trying to figure out what to do about her hair. She's have to cut if off if she were to do this guise correctly. She quickly decidded against it, using the sheathed dagger, instead, as a holder and shoving a worn hat over her head.
"We should meet up somewhere," she said, wondering how they had found her so quickly. Not her exactly, but it never hurt to be overparanoid. Her eyes flicked to the door. "Somehow, I don't think the front door in an option anymore."
Grabbing her travel essentials and rolling the map into an easily transportable scroll she moved to the back door of the room. It closed behind her and she moved down the stairs, letting her feet lead her. A flustered wench appeared, and even with her graps of many languages Ashala couldn't udnerstand what she was saying. She nodded toward the staricase, "The room needs to be cleared out."
She dropped a few coppers into the woman's apron moving past her and out the rear door. She found herself emerging into mahem. Standing near the barn were knights, no doubt of the King's Guard. She moved to the left falling in line with the rushing Inn workers. She was pushed over and found herself covered in soot, but didn't find that she cared. A blacksmith's boy rushed passed her, and Ashala moved with him, keeping a fair distance so as not to look suspcious. She carried her travel cloak bunched up to seem like she was headed back to her master. She made it to the backstreets, finding herself confused and disoriented. However, she was in a less crowded area and was able to throw her cloak over her and stride out into the square.
She guessed the woods would be crawling with soldiers, so she struck out using crowded avenues and streets. She let the people behind her dictate where she was to go, and quickly found herself in the poorer part of town. That's when she exited the backstreets yet again and started heading toward the modest farmland around the estate. She hoped she'd be able to meet up with Malachi and Holt at some point, although she was uncertain if they'd manage their first task.8/30/2011 #54
Holt watched Ashala, making notes of what she did. She had multiple outfits, could change between them quickly. She was well prepared for escape, having thought through several exit strategies, likely. Interesting. She was obviously accustomed to this lifestyle, something that fit her background story. She valued her hair, which was inkeeping with her nobility, and likely some underlying attachment; be it vanity, or memories.
Holt had moved to the door they had entered. His ear was pressed against the hardwood, listening intently. Someone was nearing, the others exploring elsewhere. He waited a moment, then shoved the door open, swiftly moving down the hall to a man that had moved ahead of his team, grabbing the guard's (that is what he appeared to be) neck. He yanked the man inside the room, closing the door behind him silently. Holt managed a swift punch to the temple, dazing the man, before holding him in a headlock. He squeezed for a while, keeping the jaw from opening, closing the nose. Some seconds passed, a less-than-violent struggle, before the man was unconscious.
Holt quickly dressed in the man's garments before hiding the man behind the screen. Holt straightened his collar and left the room, heading back to the main group. He adopted a "native" accent, one that should fit the town, saying that he noticed some movement in a direction perpendicular to where Malachi and Ashala went. As the men went to check, a few looked at him oddly, but none too closely, as Holt made sure he never looked at them directly, slowly letting himself fall to the rear of the pack, exiting a side door when no one was looking. He started off by removing the outfit, donning his cloak, and heading to where he assumed might be a meeting area in a roundabout way.9/7/2011 #55
Malachi figured he had about ten seconds from when he first heard people approaching through the woods to when they would see him. Maybe not quite that. He had a decision to make. He could run. He MIGHT evade them as he did so, being good at that sort of thing, but the chances of being seen would increase with the movement. Of course, that might be a good thing if he wanted to draw these guys, whomever they were, away from the others. But why would he do that? He owed loyalty to none of them. Not even to the barkeep. If they wanted to join him they were welcome to, but it seemed each was in on this "quest," if such it could be called, for their own reasons. There was no cause. None of them really cared who ruled this land. Even Malachi, though he was a citizen of sorts, was part of an autonomous enclave of monks and the like at the far reaches of the realm. He could walk away even now, just as easily as these others could.
He could stand and confront these people. If they proved to be hostile he might be able to fight his way out, again, being good at that sort of thing, but how many of them were there? If he had a cause that was worth potential bodily harm to himself he might take the risk, but again, there was no cause for him. Not one worth harm or death to himself.
That left either giving himself up to them and hoping for the best, never something he wanted to do, or hiding.
Hiding then. He leaped upward and grasped the lowest stout branch on the tree against which he stood. Swung himself up and quickly ascended beyond easy view of the agents of the current king -- for such they were -- that swarmed below. There were a lot of them, but they were spreading out. Still he would have to wait for dark before descending. At that time he would stand a far greater chance of walking among them without being found out.9/8/2011 #56
Frederich swore under his breath through gritted teeth. He'd lost them again. He was sure of it. He could feel it. There was this tingling excitement almost in his bones that he felt whenever one of them were near. He didn't know what caused it or how it worked, but he always knew when he was close. The trait had come in handy more than once in his service to the current king. If he were to be honest -- which Frederich rarely was -- he would admit that he couldn't have cared any less who was king, as long as they gave him work to do and pay commensurate with his qualities, which were great.
Yes, one of them was near, still, and stationary if he didn't miss his guess, but that wasn't much to go on. His men, trained though they were, were not trackers. Even the one who could sometimes follow a trail wasn't half as good as the four they'd been tasked to capture. Frederich believed he could catch any one of them but he wasn't about to go up against all four by himself, nor even one on one. Such was the way of foolish pride.
It had been fifteen minutes since he'd deployed his people. More than long enough for them to either set up a good perimeter, in which case all four would still be somewhere within said perimeter, or for everyone to escape said perimeter. What bothered Frederich was how the feeling in his bones had gotten weaker by stages, starting only a minute or two after he sent his first agents searching. Unless it was just by chance -- and Frederich didn't believe in chance -- the four had picked up on the agents. No surprise there, but frustrating none-the-less. These agents were among the best he had and their query knew the agents were here. But what was worse was that one of them remained. Why? That made no sense at all, especially given what he knew of this sort of people. They either ran or fought, but this one was doing neither.
Frederich called his people back in. It was no use to have them running around, mucking things up, engendering negative feelings from the people. He knew they didn't appreciate him or his agents, but that couldn't be helped. The King's interests had to be defended, and Frederich had to keep his place in society. The kind of pay he demanded didn't come without the kind of service he provided, and he wasn't about to rent himself out to the highest bidding criminal interest. No, he wanted one thing more than he wanted the luxuries and money he was payed, and that was the favor and prestige of whomever was in power. To keep it, he had to keep that person in power, or gain the favor of whomever would replace him, and to try to gain the favor of rivals was a dangerous game. One he would play if need be, but at the moment no one really knew who or where the king's rival was. No one except these four, IF they knew. Which was why he was on their tail. Or had been up until five minutes ago.
He gave a curt order to his second in command to keep the agents contained and away from the locals, and strode through the inn and out the back door. He didn't have to look to make sure his personal guard were there behind him. They knew better than to stray. He didn't pause to check the rooms. His targets weren't there, he was sure. Outside, he paused, hand on the hilt of his sword, and waited for his senses to adjust to the surroundings.9/11/2011 . Edited by Fleur-de-lis Evans, 9/13/2011 #57
The trees near this side of the village were evergreens, which meant, geographically, that the villagers were living near a mountain range or in a valley. Ashala stood at the edge of the evergreens near the farm land attempting to understand the layout of the village. She had feeling the village was bigger than the few buildings she had passed through, or even the seemingly run down houses further out. The people who lived here must have revenue from something else besides travelers.
She knew, from the maps she had that there was farm land. The estate must be set back farther in the valley, so that whoever owned it could take advantage of a flow of fresh water instead of having to walk miles in the opposite direction to get access to another river. Shaking her head, Ashala quickly dug through her things changing back into the clothes she arrived in. She kept the hat on concealing her hair, it was easier that way.
She was about to backtrack, putting herself closer to danger, when she noticed a slight reflection in the trees. She kept her hand on the hilt of her weapon turning slowly toward the trees. Beneath the lowest hanging branches of the evergreens, near the trunk of the tree, she noticed a door with a large window in it. She stayed where she was moving on closer, but not moving away.
"Hello?" she said quietly.
She approached the door, making sure to show she didn't mean any harm. Before she could reach to knock on it, it swung open. For some reason, she couldn't shake that this may be important, so instead of turning to leave, possibly looking for Holt or Malachi, she moved forward tensing only slightly when the door closed behind her with a definite thump.9/13/2011 #58
Malachi sat still in the tree. As still as he could, anyway. It was getting a little chilly for just sitting still, here in the highlands. They weren't in the mountains, per-see, but rather a broad valley among the foothills. It was good farm land, being flat enough and fed by long creeks from the mountains to the east and north. Still, it was at a high elevation, probably 7000 feet above sea level give or take a couple hundred, and thus the cool wind out of the mountains. He began to shiver a little.
The agents moved away, back to the inn it looked like. That left the area around the tree open. Likely ruse. One Malachi would have used himself if the tables were turned. So instead of descending from the tree Malachi just stayed where he was, tensing and releasing one muscle group at a time to keep the blood circulating.
Frederich moved away from the back door of the inn, questing with all his senses as he took one slow step after the other. He really had very little to go on. He was a good enough tracker but his agents had destroyed any trail left by his targets. Which meant that the only way he was going to catch them tonight was if he kept moving out and happened to find a trail. It was slow, frustrating work, especially in the failing light. Good thing there were plenty of lanterns about. Still, after fifteen minutes moving away from the inn he began to wonder if this were in vain. If so, he'd have to put out feelers again, call on his networks go where he expected them to go, and wait for a good lead. Detective work. It was definitely the worst part of his job. That and/or the waiting.
He wandered into the woods. They were woodsmen, after all; his targets. There were only so many trails and he began to inspect each for signs of recent passage. Again, they'd all been trampled by his agents, and he blew out a breath of frustration. They were just following his orders. The idea was to set up a perimeter, but it seemed the targets had gotten through it before it was secure. Except for the one. The one who was close. Pitty he couldn't fine tune this feeling to get a direction and distance on it. He could call in his people again but they'd only mess things up more, and to be honest, at least with himself, Frederich was tired of the chase. He wanted a fight, a capture, a kill. Something to indicate that he was making progress.9/13/2011 . Edited by Fleur-de-lis Evans, 11/5/2011 #59
Ashala turned with the intentions of leaving only to find the door was not visible. Her heart began to thump a rhythm against her ribs. Her eyes adjusted quickly to the semi-darkness and she moved slowly forward scanning for a way out.
A light reedy voice startled her and she jumped back knocking into a large earthenware jar. "Your destiny has unfolded as I decreed."
Bright light erupted to life to reveal a male - creature - standing a few feet in front of her. He had the consciousness of a person, but was clearly a badger that, as Ashala quickly noticed - walked on its hind quarters using its forepaws as hands - because as far as she could tell he was holding two bowls in his hands and holding things was only possible with opposable appendages. A tingle settled over her skin and she found she couldn't say anything.
She was struck more speechless by the arrival of a second badger. "Your manner are slipping," a voice said. A female badgers moved forward. "Sit," she said pulling out a chair. "Bardwin often forgets the formalities."
In the back of her mind her "lady lessons" kicked in and Ashala glided across the floor sitting in the chair. "Thank you," she said in a voice she didn't quite recognize.
"She is wondering who we are, Bardwin, and why we no so much," Barwin's wife said. She moved toward the hearth checking the pot that hung over it.
Bardwin nodded taking his place on a high stool across from Ashala. His eyes were deep with knowledge. She found herself unnerved that someone -a badger- would know more about her life than she did.
"You are Mariah Tannigan, daughter of Marquis Tannigan and the Lady Mir-Ans Burdough." His gaze seemed to penetrate to her core.
"Bardwin, dear, you've forgotten to tell the girl... Oh dear," she said moving to Ashala grasping her hands, "Bardwin is a Seer. "
The words flooded Ashala with a feeling of recognition - not of Bardwin - but of furtive glances and urgently whispered conversations between her parents. She wondered - now that she looked back on it - if the reason she was taught everything wasn't just because she was the oldest by a long shot but because... As soon as she thought it her rational mind banished the idea as perposterious.
"Yes, Yes, "Bardwin said. "I was getting there." He pulled out a drawer behind him lifting two grass linked pieces of wood.
Lifting the cover he set it on the table. In between was a burned carving of her parents. Her mother's eyes were relieved, but her father's were drawn and he looked aged..
"You're parents came seeking a name," he said indicating her. "Baleesa," he indicated his wife, "is a words-smith, that's her gift. She is is well versed in naming. Your parents came seeking what very few should, the future."
He indicated the burned carving. "Now, my prophecy - what I did not deem to tell them has come true. You have set foot here - taken the quest that will bring you face to face with the person your soul seeks."
His shining claws tapped on the wooden table top. "I tell you - Ashala Mega - daughter of the Bandit Racquelle - embrace your true identity. You are named so, Mariah, because your destiny is to become a Dame - first high-born Lady to advise a ruler. You will only be successful if you trust those you've allied with. You will meet ruin otherwise- but keep always the lessons you've learned from your travels."
He stopped speaking and Ashala noticed then a bowl of stew in front of her. Her stomach growled and she found herself eating, under the penetrating gazes of Bardwin and Baleesa. When she finished she heard a slight creek, and turning her head the door was open. As if in a daze she walked out, grasping the hilt of her rarely used sword. She didn't notice where she was nor where her feet took her. She stopped eventually sinking to the ground her mind beginning to work out the meanings - the layers of them - conveyed to her without actually processing them.11/5/2011 #60
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