By Brian Flood
Chapter 35 - Losses and Gains
Asbravn, The Sunset Vale
Morning, 1st Day of Marpenoth; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
The first day of autumn is slightly cooler than Higharvestide. A thin layer of dew coats the grass of the caravan camping grounds and twinkles softly in the early morning sun.
The companions rise and ready their equipment for the next leg of their journey – this stretch will take them northward from Asbravn, along the Dusk Road, to the town of Hluthvar. Approaching rain clouds threaten a late morning rainshower, but that concern is for the future. For now, it is time to pack up and prepare to move. One lingering concern, however, is the absence of Kryian. Evidently, the mariner had a successful night in his search for companionship, for he is not present among the bedrolls.
Tomar frowns in displeasure at the mariner’s tardiness. “Perhaps we shall find him when we pass through town,” he says.
The party has just finished readying their gear when a six-man patrol of Red Cloaks, led by a sergeant, arrives at their small campsite.
“Are you Tomar of Iriaebor?” the sergeant asks the book-merchant, who sits on the front bench seat of his wagon next to Ori.
“Indeed I am,” Tomar replies, nodding his head.
“You need to come with us, sir,” the sergeant orders. “There has been a murder. You are summoned by Abject Supplicant Asgar and Captain Crassius. They await you at the House of the Suffering God.”
Tomar’s face pales at the word ‘murder.’
“Indeed,” is all he can mutter in answer. Then, clearing his throat, he turns to his remaining guards and announces, “You have heard the Red Cloaks. We go now to the House of the Suffering God – again.”
With that, the small detachment of guards leads the small group from the caravan camping area to the temple of Ilmater. Passing through the main marketplace, the adventurers see that the merchants are preparing to open their booths once again. Harvestfest can continue for weeks, according to the citizens they met last night. Traffic along the trade roads will also increase, they were told.
The small band of soldiers, the adventurers and the book merchant arrive at the front of the House of the Suffering God. Ori halts the wagon and announces that he will stay with the wagon and the other pack animals while the party goes inside.
Tomar dismounts the wagon and waves for the companions to follow him. Abject Supplicant Asgar is waiting for them on the stairs of the temple.
“Thank you for coming, Master Tomar,” the priest says in greeting. “I am afraid I have bad news for you. One of your guards – the one named Kryian – was apparently murdered last night. Please, come inside. Another caravan guard and two Red Cloak soldiers witnessed the event and can tell you more than I.”
The priest leads the way up the steps and into the now-familiar temple. He turns left to head to the small infirmary where Lucas and Kjira spent most of yesterday recovering. He lets the small band into the chamber and then closes the door behind them.
Inside the chamber are Alric, Captain Crassius of the Red Cloaks, two Red Cloak soldiers, and a fifth man. This new arrival is clothed in a gray cloak and shirt with black breeches covering his legs. His face is unweathered and handsome; green eyes are framed by short-cropped black hair. At his waist, he wears a swordbelt, from which hangs a long, slender rapier.
Next to this man, on one of the stone pallets, lies a shrouded body. Wordlessly, Crassius removes the shroud to reveal the pale face of Kryian. The slain mariner’s white blouse is torn is several places, and is soaked with dried blood. It is evident that he was struck several times by piercing weapons; the wounds cover his torso and it appears they came from several different weapons.
Crassius clears his throat before speaking. “It appears that your friend was murdered last night. This man here and these two soldiers were able to come to his aid, but were not able to save him from his fate. His attackers were some sort of frogmen. From the description these men gave, they were bipedal creatures that looked and sounded like frogs. It sounds as though it could be bullywugs – but those creatures usually reside around swamps or rivers and the like. The nearest place in which I have heard of them lairing is along the River Reaching – but that is a score or more leagues to the west of here.”
A few long moments of silence follow. Then, Asgar breaks the uncomfortable stillness by turning to the gray-and-black clad man.
“Perhaps you can explain what you saw?” the headpriest asks the unidentified fellow.
Kjira listens to the priest’s words
with shock clearly evident on her face. A
How was it possible after all they had survived yesterday?
“Yes, please,” she beseeches of the unidentified man with the priest, “tell us what it was you saw. Kryian was a valued companion of ours.”
Alani's slanted eyes widen in horror and her elegant elven face pales as she stares for a long moment at the sight of Kyrian’s body. Wordlessly, she walks over to Kyrian, reaches out with one slim hand, and touches his face. A tender gesture.
“I hope the maidens are prettier in
where ever you have gone to, my friend,” she says in small sad voice.
Looking up at the new entrant, she first blinks rapidly to clear her eyes before asking, “Caravan guard eh? What is your name, friend? And when and where did this attack take place?” she asks. Her voice is cold and angry.
Corax turns calmly toward the young
elven woman and the rest of this dead sailor Kryian’s former companions and
begins what he hopes will be an adequate description of the previous nights
events without further disturbing or enraging the obviously grief-struck
companions. Making at the same time
a cool mental note regarding his recent loss of employment and this new caravans
loss of one of its guards.
“I am truly sorry for your loss, all of you... It is not a kind day when an oak so strong is cut in twain in its youth. My name is Corax Winterhorn and I too was passing though town as a caravan guard. Last night I was relaxing at the Tankard and Sheaf when I noticed, not your companion, but an elven maid he’d succeeded in romancing. Your companion was quite intoxicated, it seemed, from his need of her assistance in walking to the door.” Corax adds a tasteful raise of the eyebrow after his last statement.
“When I left the tavern,” he continues, “I soon after heard a scream and alerted the guards. The source of the scream, I would learn, was from the drunk sailor I’d seen earlier...He was being attacked by six – I believe they’re called bullywogs – and I decided to even the odds a bit. Your companion was a courageous swordsman and killed at least three of the creatures before he succumbed to their treacherous blades.” Corax solemnly bows his head.
“I am sorry for all of you that this happened...but, if I may, I would like to talk to the one called Tomar privately.”
Cyzicus speaks up before Tomar can
answer Corax’s request. “Where
was the maiden you mentioned during all of this?” the halfling asks.
“And your name is...?” Corax asks the halfling.
“My apologies,” responds the halfling, “I am Cyzicus, Truesword of Arvoreen – and I am pleased to hear about your efforts to protect our comrade. Now, about the maiden?”
“That... is a very good question,”
responds Corax, “I was hoping you could explain Kryian's final words.
As he lay dying, he said ‘half-elf’, -- I’m sure that was in
reference to the girl – ‘tell Tomar’, ‘route’, ‘danger’,
“Also, Master Tomar, I would like to inquire, as inappropriate as it may seem, about the possibility of employment, as it seems, due to these proceedings, my former employment has left without me.”
“Alas,” signs the red-robed mage, “Kryian was a good companion of our company. He will be missed.”
Turning to address the speaker of Kryian's woes, the mage says, “Corax, I am Lucas of Silverymoon.”
Pausing a moment to offer a slight bow
before continuing, “You say Kryian dropped three of these ‘froggies’? Did you slay the rest of the bunch or what happened to
“Indeed,” Kjira chimes in after
Lucas, “What happened to the other attacking creatures?
Did they flee? Are the
corpses of the three ‘froggies’ that Kryian slew available for our
inspection? I, for one, would like
to see what killed him, particularly if these creatures are not native to this
area. It may be that he was
fighting another foe and they were summoned magically...”
“Well met, Lucas of Silverymoon,” says Corax in reply. “And you, my dear lady are...?”
Corax explains, “I dispatched two of the beasts myself and the arriving Red
Cloaks cleaned up the rest. As to
your inquiry about the use of magic; a very likely possibility, for when the
froggies were killed, they vanished into thin air...most curiously.
One may be left wondering what enemies your Kryian might have made.
Or, was this was an indirect strike at one of you who are left alive...
“As to my inquiry about employment,” he continues, “I can only hope that I have proven my nature and ability yester-eve and that you would accept my assistance in your protection and the protection of your charge.”
Tomar nods his head somewhat absently. “Employment…Yes, it would seem that we have an opening in our ranks for a new guard. The terms I offer are the same as I offered these others. That is, one gold coin per day – payable in prorated amounts at our stops – and a fifty-coin sum individual bonus upon my safe arrival in our final destination.
“But,” the merchant continues, “due to recent events, I must ask that you submit to a small test. I am quite leery, you must understand, of hidden agendas. Will you allow Alric here to search your thoughts for foul traits or tendencies?”
At the merchant’s nod, Alric – the tall, armored paladin of Tyr – steps from the ranks of Tomar’s employees. The large, handsome man looks at Corax and raises his eyebrows.
Before Corax can reply to the merchant’s request, the stout, armored dwarf nods in Corax’s direction. “I’m Dolak, the smith,” he says, in introduction. “Wish I could say I was pleased t’ meet ya.”
to Tomar but speaking to all, Dolak continues on, “Before the cryptic
warnin’ provided by Corax here, I woulda guessed one o’ three different
reasons for the murder. Someone
didna like Kyrian, Kyrian was in the wrong place at the wrong time or, someone
was after this group – Tomar’s group. After
hearing his final words, though, I see only two possible reasons for his death,
and the key is the ‘Z’: Either Zell is back t’ cause us trouble, or the
Zhents are after Tomar and his group – us.”
Speaking directly to Tomar, Dolak asks, “The Supplicant's words on the day o’ the hearin’ hinted about ya havin’ Zhent problems a’fore; if it’s them, what kind o’ trouble should we keep a weather eye out fer on the trail ahead?”
Before Tomar can reply, Abject Supplicant Asgar steps forward. “The Zhentarim have been increasing their activity throughout the Sunset Vale in recent months. I believe it may be the result of the fall of Zhentil Keep some two years ago in the Year of the Banner. That incident may have caused a shift in the hierarchy of the Black Network. All of this activity may be an attempt by Semmemon of Darkhold to gain the favor of the Manshoon and thus put Darkhold on an equal footing with the Citadel of the Raven as the premier Zhent strongholds.”
Captain Crassius makes to add something, and Asgar surrenders the floor to the Red Cloak officer.
“As for the recent Zhentarim activity,” Crassius begins, “they seem to have increased the number of brigand and bandit bands that they finance in the region. They have even sent raiding parties of Zhentilar soldiers – numbering a score or so riders per party – to harass and strong-arm caravans along the Dusk Road. As a result, both our Red Cloaks and the militias of Hluthvar and Corm Orp have been forced to increase the size and range of our patrols. This then leaves less soldiers and guards to maintain order in the towns which are, in turn, infested with Zhentarim agents.”
“And speaking of the Zhentarim,” Asgar adds, regaining the speaking position, “I questioned the spirit of the man who was killed in the market yesterday during the melee. He was named Charles of Secomber – and he was NOT a Zhentarim agent. Unfortunately, that is all I he was able to divulge before I lost contact with his spirit. Perhaps I have disappointed the God of the Rack in some way…”
The bronzed, blonde-haired half-elven woman raises her eyebrows at Asgar’s supposition. Adjusting the longbow that is strung over her shoulder, she voices a question of her own to Corax.
“Corax…let me begin by saying that I am named Slyvia Brightleaf. I am concerned about the woman you mentioned. You first said she was an elf but you then said that Kryian’s dying warning about a half-elf most probably referred to his female companion. Which is it? Was she elven or half-elven? Could you – CAN you – discern the difference?”
“First,” Corax replies, I would like to respond to Master Tomar; thank you for the extending the offer of employment...and yes, I will submit to your test. But only if it is in public – I’ve had enough surprises from this group already.”
Corax bows toward Slyvia before
continuing, “I apologize Lady Slyvia, I misspoke, and yes I now can tell the
difference, though I once could not...The woman was a half-elf – as some of
her features were decidedly human in origin; much like your...er...our own, I'm
Alric nods in approval at Corax’s acceptance to the small test. Then, the tall paladin closes his eyes and mutters a petition to Tyr, the God of Justice, asking him for the power to discern those of evil disposition. His hands stretch forward toward Corax as he concentrates on his innermost thoughts.
After a few moments, Alric opens his eyes and glances from Corax to Tomar, and then to the nearby headpriest and Red Cloak officer. “I detect no propensity for evil in this one,” he announces, much to the relief of everyone involved – especially Corax.
Then the paladin addresses Tomar. “Master Tomar,” he intones, a solemn pitch taking hold in his intonation, “I regret that I must ask leave of your service. While your path most obviously continues to Hill’s Edge – perhaps more urgently now, judging from the clues that relate this murder to your own safety – my path must follow that of ultimate justice, as Tyr the Even-Handed demands.”
Alric takes a moment to regard Kryian’s still body before he continues. “The murder – or murderers – responsible for Kryian’s untimely death MUST be brought to justice; both for the sake of this town and for our friend’s mortal soul. It is for that reason that I have decided that I must remain here, in Asbravn, to help Captain Crassius and Supplicant Asgar hunt down the perpetrators of this foul deed.
“And once we have brought those individuals to their final justice,” he concludes, “I must perform one last duty for our departed companion. More than a tenday ago, when we all first met, he mentioned that he was from Baldur’s Gate, as am I. As my final service for this brave warrior, I will return his mortal remains to his home, to be near his beloved sea.”
Tomar nods solemnly at the paladin’s announcement. And then, Slyvia adds to the moment by making an announcement of her own.
“I also request to take leave of your service,” the half-elven archer-mage declares. “If what Corax has said is true, then there may be one of half-elven blood involved in this foul play. If that is so, I cannot allow the citizens of this town – or anyone else, for that matter – to judge those of half-elven heritage as criminals or murderers. It brings disgrace upon all of us with mixed blood.
“And so,” she persists, “I will also stay here to help in the search for the guilty parties. Once I have avenged our friend’s death, and cleared my people’s fair name, I may attempt to rejoin you along your route. Otherwise, I will accompany Alric to this place called Baldur’s Gate. As we have found, these trails are not always safe to travel.”
Tomar accepts this additional loss to his employees with equal grace. He seems accepting of the moral compasses that drive the two adventurers to depart his employment and seek their own paths. Turning to face Corax, he says, “It would appear that I am more than sufficiently in need of replacement guards. Your company on this journey will be most welcome. I hope you are ready to travel, for we plan to depart immediately for Hluthvar. It is not quite highsun; if we persist, we can make up for our lost time by dusk tomorrow.”
Without waiting for Corax’s reply, the merchant speaks to Crassius and Asgar. “I thank you for notifying me of this tragic news. And I trust that you will find those responsible, soon. As for me, I have watched this group in action; I feel I shall be in good hands for the remainder of my journey.”
“Be wary, my friend,” Asgar says softly, a look of concern briefly shadowing his features. “I fear that we have not yet seen the end of this unseen enemy.”
“I shall,” the bookseller replies solemnly. Then, he turns to address his remaining employees.
“Are we ready?” he asks. “I suppose we should take a couple of moments to sort out how we shall proceed as we resume our travels. I would surmise that the loss of three comrades, and the addition of a new companion, would change our order somewhat. Who would care to give a suggestion as to our new order of march?”
Seemingly exhausted by the string of events, the bookseller goes silent. His eyebrows remain raised, however, as he waits for the adventurers to decide on their adjusted movement formation.
Throughout the exchanges between the
various individuals and power figures in the chamber, Darius has been standing
quietly at the back of the room, waiting for all the conversation to be
finished. He is anxious to get on
the road again, as he and Soft Fang have had enough of town life.
“Getting on the road again will be good,” the young druid muses aloud, and stoops to scratch Soft Fang behind the ears.
Feeling better already now that they will shortly be leaving the city behind, Darius takes the lead and suggests, “The new order of march should be similar to the old, Master Tomar. Myself, Alani and Soft Fang will take the point off road. Corax and Cyzicus should be on road but perhaps 100 feet behind us, with their mounts. Then Kjira and your wagon, with Lucas and Dolak with his cart bringing up the rear. Mounted, Corax and Cyzicus can move quickly to help where needed, either up front further or in the rear. Our good dwarf Dolak here,” Darius pounds the smith heartily on the back, “can fend off most anything for a while. This also puts a mage near both ends of the caravan.”
“We will also need to reset the watch order. First watch - Cyzicus, Kjira, Second - Dolak, and Corax, Third - Alani, Lucas and myself,” Darius finishes.
“I’ll second Darius’ suggestions,” Kjira pipes up after the druid finishes. “It seems a good marching order and I don’t mind taking the first watch, either.” She grins a little as she says that last bit.
“But perhaps we should be on our way quickly, as Master Tomar has said we have a lot of road to make up. Besides, with Alric and Sylvia remaining behind, I feel confident Kryian's assailants will be brought to justice.”
“Aye sounds like a good plan Darius,” remarks Lucas to Darius’ plan of attack. “Let’s get moving so we can put some miles behind us before nightfall.” The red-robed mage bows again in thanks to the priests who healed him and takes his leave to prepare his things for departure.
Judging that the adventurers are finished, Tomar addresses Asgar one last time. “We shall take our leave now,” he tells the head priest. “May good fortune bless your search for the villains.”
“And may it guide you to the end of your journey,” responds Asgar. “I will attempt to contact your slain guard’s spirit as I did that of the man from the market. If I find anything substantial, I will send word to you.”
Tomar nods in thanks. Then, gathering his remaining employees around him, Tomar heads for the exit to the temple of Ilmater and to his waiting wagon.
The small band readies their mounts and pack animals in silence, the impact of the loss of three of their companions weighing heavily on their hearts. Finally, the caravan forms into the arrangement that Darius suggested and heads north for the Dusk Road. Soon enough, they have left the House of the Suffering God, and all of Asbravn, behind them.
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