By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff
Chapter 51 - Return to the Castle
Berdusk, 1371 DR, Eleint, 10th day, late morning
The sound of hooves and rattling wheels on the wet cobblestones comes to a halt as the carriage stops at the castle gate. A guard steps up to the carriage, “Hail and well met. Please state your business.“ The driver addresses the guard, “Three gentlemen to see the Captain.“ She replies. The guard walks along the carriage and peers inside, looking at each of the occupants. When the guard nods his consent, the woman slaps the reigns and the horse moves forward pulling the coach onto the courtyard.
In front of the stables a patrol has freshly dismounted. Both soldiers and horses are caked with mud and wet from the muddy roads and rainy weather. Captain Zaina is apparently debriefing the commander. When the carriage halts near the huge doors that provide access to the castle, the driver jumps of her box and opens the door for the occupants.
As they step out, more of the castle’s courtyard comes into view. Under a shelter next to the gate, Matteo and Telsom recognize two of their companions: Jezbodiah and Immerine, as well as Immerine’s stallion Qwenta. Both companions look worse for the wear, wet from the cold drizzle and smudged with a gray-greenish substance. Immerine is wearing her old and damaged armor and looks a bit bedraggled with strings of damp moss in her braids. Immerine’s lips are pursed into a straight line, her hands clenched into fists at her side. She paces back and forth beneath the small shelter, grinding the earth beneath her feet. She appears indignant and angry and her back is straight and stiff.
Climbing out of the carriage after Telsom and Matteo, is a broad shouldered person, a few inches shorter then the other two. He is dressed in black trousers and boots, and wears a chain shirt over the wide torso. A symbol of Kelemvor is prominently hanging from a cord around his neck. The half orc steps out and looks around. Rarely having the chance to leave the temple over the past year or so, his social skills, while never great, surely have not had the chance to develop. So, he stays quiet and follows Matteo and Telsom out of the carriage.
Captain Zaina looks over her shoulder at the arrival of the carriage. After a brief glance at the occupants, she returns her attention to the guardsman in front of her. With a nod of her head she dismisses the man. After returning his salute, she marches up to the shed where Immerine and Jez have taken shelter against the pervasive drizzle, an impassive expression on her face.
Immerine watches the carriage roll in and unload its passengers, she snorts when she sees who steps out, then her attention is captured by Zaina’s approach. “Captain, we have some information regarding an attack of a young woman on the Tor last evening. Albeit, it is probably information you are already privy to considering the skill of your guards.“ Immerine’s look is direct but her tone speaks volumes concerning her opinion of the investigative efforts of the Berduskan guards.
Putting on his best impression and impeccable manners and letting Immerine finish, Jez bows before the Captain of the Guard but does not let too much of his tattered cloak show. “Jezbodiah Wisp, son of Mathou and Evaleen Wisp, all of Berdusk. It is an honor and rare privilege to meet you. I can vouch for Immerine’s discoveries.“ He says in a polite and efficient manner.
Glancing around the courtyard, Matteo’s gaze finally settles on the growing knot of people under the shelter and his eyes cloud over and go flat. “Oh gods…“ He mutters under his breath, “Perhaps we should have bought our swords first, we’re likely to need them if those two women spend any time in each other’s presence.“ Shaking his head he gives a dry chuckle and heads across the courtyard.
Looking over the courtyard, Telsom’s eyes settle on the forms of Jez and Immerine. As Matteo speaks, a small smile creeps its way onto the paladin’s face. Telsom nods his thanks to the coachwoman. “We shall be back good Lady. For all of your trouble in bringing us around the city, I’m sure a few more coins will find their way into your hands before nightfall.“ Giving the woman a small smile, Telsom walks after Matteo heading across the courtyard.
“Well met again Lady Immerine. And well met to you too master Wisp.“ Captain Zaina greets the two smudged visitors. Though her tone is friendly, her eyes have a neutral expression. Her long blond hairs are wet from the relentless drizzle, though she appears unperturbed by the weather conditions. “Any news regarding what happened in the park is of interest to me.“ Looking at the others approaching, she says to Immerine and Jez, “You must have much news to tell, bringing all these people along.“ She gestures to one of the guards in the courtyard. “Well met again to you Lord Ashgale, and to your companions.“
“My Lady.“ Matteo replies carefully, eyeing the two women warily. “You look… well. Are we interrupting something?“ Immerine smiles tiredly, “No Sir Ashgale, you haven’t… yet.“ Tempest shows a faint smile and nods to each woman.
Turning to Captain Zaina, Immerine answers, “I did not bring these people along and truth be known I do not know the half-orc. However, Jezbodiah and I have information regarding the attack in the park. We both went to the Tor some time ago to look around. Jez told me of the attack yesterday and was wanting to look at the site I went with him to help. I found sign of a struggle. The tracks from the guard were almost everywhere. Fortunately, I found even more tracks and a slip of cloth that led us to the edge of the cliff. Jez told me of the cave lovers frequent and we descended. In the cave I found more indications of recent passage and a concealed entrance. We entered the passage beyond, found more tracks and another strip of cloth. We came to an intersection and I lost all trace of passage.“
“I am Tempest, cleric of Kelemvor, sent here by Father Sillisten to aid in finding Portia and bring about her safe returns as soon as possible!“ The half orc says slowly and hesitantly, feeling way out of his league here. Immerine turns back to Matteo, “I believe Portia was the lady taken through that passage.“ Tempest spins towards Immerine the moment he hears her name. “And what happened?“ He inquires.
Not wishing to interrupt the naturalist or cause a commotion with the captain of the guard, the youthful half-elf waits until Immerine has finished speaking. Looking at both Captain Zaina and Sir Matteo with sincerity, he opens his mouth and speaks politely as if talking to his superiors. “Yes, it’s true. I will take an oath to Lliira if to prove my good intentions. We discovered two patches of cloth in our investigation. There is something odd occurring under the streets of Berdusk. If you’re friend is indeed in the clutches of these villains, there may be little time to waste.“
“Thank you, Immerine, Master Wisp.“ Matteo replies, turning his attention to the Captain. “That matches with other information we have so an expedition into the sewers looks like our next step.“ Pausing for a moment he adds, “If I may, I would like a word with you once you have finished here.“
A slight tightening around Immerine’s eyes is the only indication of her annoyance towards Matteo. Openly she smiles sweetly, “By all means… after all you and the Captain have so much to catch up on, Lord Ashgale. While you entertain – I will tarry here with Master Tempest, Jezbodiah and Telsom. I am sure three such gentlemen are more than capable of understanding what a Lady requires.“ She turns her back abruptly on Matteo and Captain Zaina to face the newcomer Tempest.
“I want to join you.“ Tempest says. “I can fight and if anyone gets hurt, the blessings of Kelemvor will help!“ He insists regarding the sojourn into the sewers. “Tell me, Master Tempest, what do you believe our next step in seeking Lady Portia should be?“ Immerine gives the half-orc her full attention. Behind her, Qwenta snorts abruptly and paws at the cobblestones beneath his feet. It is obvious something is upsetting the great stallion.
Blushing that the woman is giving him all of her attention, Tempest replies, “Enter the sewers with a small force of well armed soldiers as well as a mage or two and myself.“ He adds. “Once in, track where they could have taken her!“ He says excitedly, eager to go save a friend and fellow clergy of his. The half-elf’s eye widen in surprise as he gazes upon the disciple of Kelemvor. “Orcish blood…“ He mumbles. “He’ll never fit through the passage.“
Immerine smiles at the eagerness in Tempest’s voice, “I tracked as far as I could. Granted my skills are probably not as advanced as some of what this great city can offer, but there has been snow and rain. The sewers will very soon be full of wash erasing what little remains to be found. And a group or armed men no matter how skilled cannot swing swords in some of the tunnels below.“
Immerine purses her lips in annoyance, “I wish I had not lost the trail. I should not have given up so soon. Khelliara forgive me.“ The recrimination in the young woman’s voice is poignant and obviously there is something even deeper behind her words. “Time is wasting then, please take us to the last spot you were at and we will go from there!“ He pleads, fearing for his friend’s life. “I am ready and Kelemvor will watch over us!“ Tempest declares with conviction.
Jezbodiah waits for Tempest to finish his remarks. The half-elf nods his head in Immerine’s general direction. “My Lady Immerine, we did the best with what marginal equipment we had.“ He says with reassurance as he swings hid cloak around him and to his front. All standing can see that it is shredded and torn at its base. “I suggest we gather two torches for each person and two lanterns before we enter the sewers again.“ He pauses and says, “And I have a few special items I need to retrieve before we go.“
“I can see in the dark as well as conjure light with Kelemvor’s blessing, so let us go.“ Tempest says eager to explore. “Where are these sewers?“ He inquires.
Telsom who had been spreading his attention between Immerine and the Captain turns to Jezbodiah as he finishes. “Torches are good, but I would prefer some sunrods if any are available. A mix of the two would be good.“ Turning to Tempest, Telsom offers the half orc a small smile. “I’ll trust in Kelemvor to prevent me from coming back to haunt the lands as an undead creature but I’ll put my faith in Lady Firehair and trust her to keep my ass out of the fire.“ Turning back to Immerine, Telsom offers the woman a sheepish smile. “Milady, I don’t want to slow down our venture to the sewers but I would be better equipped if I could find a sturdy blade and shield to take along before we head out. If possible I might be able to borrow a decent pair from the good Captain or purchase some since we have little time.“ The last is said with a nod to the Captain and a warm smile.
“I need a new rapier as well.“ Matteo adds with the hint of a wry smile before glancing away from the group around the courtyard. His eyes drift back to his companions, settling on Immerine briefly before moving on to the Captain. “Could we impose upon you for some equipment Za… Captain, or would we be better heading into town? I have enough coin with me to pay, provided we don’t get carried away.“
“Let’s not be hasty.“ Replies the brash half-elf. “Although I am not blind in near darkness, three others are. I have twice visited the sewers today and I care not for another visit unless armed with sword and light. There are kobolds beneath the city and they are armed with crossbows.“ Turning to Telsom, Jez looks at the paladin questioningly, “Sunrods? I have never used or even heard of one. I hope they are bright enough.“ He says as if looking for advice or information before dispensing some of his own. “It also looks like we may be wading through sewage. Don’t carry to much weight. If you fall, you may drown.“ The last is spoken with a degree of caution.
Immerine smiles gently. “I could use a new set of armor and a cloak. It would also be a relief to see where we are going. The last time we went into the passage we had a makeshift torch. Perhaps we should gather Nik, Marc, Emlyn and Ditalidas? Would we have time to send word to them? And, I cannot take Qwenta into the depths.“
She reaches up and strokes the velvety soft muzzle of her friend. She whispers, “I am sorry old friend, this is one adventure you cannot come on… my life will depend on these others and their strong arms, not your strong back and swift legs.“ The half-elf smiles as Immerine talks to her dutiful friend then speaks. “I need to gather some equipment from my house. Perhaps I can round up the others and return on my way back.“
“I’m not quite sure exactly on how they work, alchemy has a hand in it.“ Telsom answers the half-elf, “Sunrods are… well rods. One end of the rod radiates light once the rod has been struck on a hard object. Where no fire is involved I imagine they’d even work underwater, I could be mistaken though.“ Jezbodiah’s eyes light up in surprise, “Say, those could be useful. If someone manages to drop one it won’t snuff out. One could cover it with a heavy cloth to douse the light in darkness.“ The half-elf pause for a moment then says, “I wonder if Thunderwood’s Forays would carry them.“
The only visible reaction of Captain Zaina to Immerine’s words is a little squaring of the shoulders. Her face keeps the same neutral expression when she turns to Matteo. “As your advisor suggests, it might be wiser not to send in a full force of armed soldiers. Two of your group have already investigated part of the sewers and know what they are looking for. Also between all of you there seems to be a mix of talents that might be useful in the mission.“ Her eyes leave Matteo for a moment and roam over his companions, sizing up their measure, before returning to look at the Sembian. “I’ll give you the authority to track down and arrest the criminals responsible for abducting a citizen of Berdusk. For equipment you can check with Quartermaster Blackriven in the armory. He should have the items necessary for your expedition, including sunrods. I understand there are some things that need to be discussed, and your advisor seems to have more to tell you. When you are done, come see me in my office.“ With a nod of her head the captain takes her leave and strides across the courtyard to her quarters.
In the courtyard, the soldiers that arrived a little while ago have finished cleaning their mounts and are marching off to their barracks. A new patrol is assembling, a little heavier armed then the previous one. One of the troopers, a woman, looks over at the group near the shed. Matteo and Immerine both have a flash of recognition when they see the young woman. Just as quickly however the trooper is busied again in preparations.
“As I said, I can conjure light and place it on armor, shield, or weapon, as to kobolds, they are foul evil little creatures that are scared by light.“ Tempest replies to Jez. “And the power of Kelemvor will lay them low!“ The half-orc says with a toothy smile.
Immerine sighs as the Captain takes her leave, Qwenta seems to calm noticeably as his mistress relaxes. “We are fortunate to have the Captain on our side, are we not Lord Ashgale? Now that we have the approval of the official city military, what are our plans – My Lord?“ Immerine bows to Matteo but anyone can see she has a smirk on her face.
“Must you?“ Matteo asks quietly, looking at Immerine, “This is already difficult enough…“ Glancing up at the others he gives a moment shake of the head, as if to clear his mind or banish some thought. “If we are going to try and chase down Portia then I suggest we head off to the armory.“
Quickly pointing out directions to the armory in case anyone wishes to go, Matteo turns back to Immerine. “Was there something you wanted to tell me? Or were you…“ Biting down on his lip he glances at the retreating Captain and then back to Immerine.
Immerine gives Matteo an indecipherable glance, “Go to her and speak. I have nothing to say to you that has not already been said. While you are gone I will outfit myself and prepare for our task.“ Immerine watches as the Captain disappears into the stone edifice, “She is a good woman Matteo. She does not deserve my spite.“
Immerine turns from Matteo and heads to Qwenta and keeps her face averted from the others while leading the stallion to the Quartermaster’s. With a wry smile, Telsom looks at both Immerine and Matteo before releasing a small chuckle. “I’ll fetch you a rapier my friend. Is there anything else you will be needing?“ The half-elf keep his ears open but his mouth remains shut.
“What?“ Matteo replies, tearing his widened eyes from Immerine. “What was that you said? Need something?“ Closing his eyes momentarily, Matteo tries to clear his mind. “Ahh… just a rapier. And some armor, something light. Some of those sunrods you mentioned might be a good idea, possibly some chalk to mark our way.“
Digging into his jacket, Matteo digs out a pouch that clinks with the sound of coin, which he hands over to Telsom. “Here, this should cover what you need.“
“So, how much longer must we wait?“ Tempest says a bit agitated. “I understand the need for preparation, but a friend of mine is down there and the longer we tarry, the more I fear for her safety!“ The half-orc appears anxious to leave, his hands opening and closing into fists again and again.
“We shouldn’t be long at all.“ Matteo replies, turning to Tempest. “Just long enough to replace broken or lost equipment.“ Running his hand through his hair Matteo’s eyes turn to the far door into the barracks the Captain has used. “Portia has been gone all night. If her captors wanted her dead, then she will already be so. Lord Sillisten assures me she isn’t, so they must want her alive in the meantime. The extra few moments to prepare are well spent. In the meantime, I had better go see the Captain.“
“Just because she is alive, doesn’t mean she is safe from any harm!“ The half-orc retorts, but he stops when he recognizes the wisdom of preparation. “Fine, I’m ready to go when you are.“ He says, “But please let us not tarry!“ Following Matteo’s directions the group arrives at the Quartermaster’s office while the Sembian makes his way across the courtyard to the Captain’s office.
Standing in front of the Quartermaster’s office is a small person in a greasy looking apron talking to a uniformed guardsman. The small man, he appears to be a gnome, scribbles some notes on a small chalkboard and the guardsman leaves. Mumbling to himself the gnome turns around intend on entering the office when he notices the people nearby. “Ah, new recruits to be sized up for uniforms eh? Shoo-shoo, you need to come back after Highnoon. No exceptions! It’s the rule. Your sergeant should have told you.“ The gnome looks a little annoyed and steps into his office.
“Good saer, with all due respect we are not new recruits. After speaking to the good Captain however, we were told we might come here to request equipment for a foray into the sewers.“ Telsom says as he follows the gnome into the office, a small frown on his face. “There is trouble afoot in Berdusk, murders, kidnapping, and monsters abounding. I trust we can count on you to aid us in our preparations.“
The half orc pulls himself up to his full height and growls, “We don’t have the time to waste, gnome.“ He warns, “Get back out here as you don’t want to see a mad orc, do you?“ He inquires with a wide smile, showing pointed teeth.
An incredible deep sigh for such a small person can be heard. The gnome turns around and with his fists on his hips looks undaunted at Tempest. “Hmmpf, if you want to spend the rest of the month scrubbing pots and pans in the kitchen you might want to go ahead and get mad.“ The little man says scowling, though there is a glint of humor in his eyes. Wagging a small finger at the big half-orc he says, “And don’t say I didn’t warn ye.“
Ready to reply, the half orc gives a sheepish smile as he can no longer keep up the rough and gruff charade. “Ok.“ He says quietly as he listens to the others talk with the gnome.
Turning his attention to the young paladin the gnome further ignores the half-orc, “Murderers and kidnappers eh… and I need to equip the lot of you?“ He regards the four members of the group squinting with one eye as he seems to be sizing up each in turn. “Hmmpf, I’ll see what I have… though I don’t have anything to protect against stupidity.“ He gestures to Telsom to follow into the building, and saying over his shoulder to the rest he says: “The rest of you can wait outside.“ Immerine shoots the little gnome a dark look but keeps her mouth shut for once. She leans into the building for a rest. “I hope Telsom remembers what it is I need.“
Inside the office, one wall is set up as a huge blackboard filled with scribbled words and numbers. It takes a moment for Telsom to find out what it is; an inventory list. A ladder mounted on a guide rail stands in front of the wall, allowing the small gnome to use the entire surface of the board.
“See if there’s something you need, and I’ll write it down.“ The little man says as he takes place behind a large desk. Climbing onto the surface of the desk he starts rummaging through some papers while Telsom tries to make sense out of the chaotic listing of items. In the arms and armor section the list offers the following:
Small shield (wood) 3x, medium shield (wood) 1x, medium shield (metal) 8x, studded leather 4x, chainmail 10x, banded mail 1x, plate mail 3x, longsword 5x, shortsword 17x, shortspear 19x, light mace 5x, javelin 20x, morningstar 3x, shortbow 10x, longbow 6x, arrows 234x, light x-bow 7x, bolts 165x.
The other sections of the board show several other items, from common utensils to military field equipment.
“I could use a shield as well as a sling with some bullets.“ Tempest says through the door opening. The little man looks up from his desk, a small frown on his face as he regards the big half-orc. “Hmmpf, a sling, good choice of weapon. The guard never wants to use them.“ The small quartermaster digs into one of the drawers of his desk, almost hanging upside down as he reaches for something. Crawling back on the desk, the man throws a leather sling to the half-orc. “Used to be mine, now it’s yours, I’m out of practice anyway.“
A flush of red covers his face. “I am honored and my profuse apologies for my rash words a few moments ago, I fear for my dear friend’s safety and I find the delay very frustrating!“ Tempest remarks with a nod as he takes the gnome’s sling. “I promise to put it to good use!“
“I will need some sun rods, chalk, and a new cloak, if your armory or quartermaster has any. And sir, if it’s no trouble, I would like to use one of your horses, to retrieve some items before they go after Portia. It shouldn’t take me long.“ Jez looks at Telsom and says, “I will see you all at Clearspring Tor.“
Looking past the half-orc, the gnome Quartermaster replies to the half-elf, “For horse ye need to go to the stables, not my office.“ Without waiting for an answer he scribbles some more notes on the little chalkboard and looks up at the paladin.
Jezbodiah throws an irritated look at the gnome but keeps his mouth shut. Turning about, he nods at Immerine and Tempest and quickly crosses the courtyard to the stables. Skirting the puddles that have formed on the cobblestone yard, the young half-elf dashes into the stables. Moments later he reappears on the back of a horse and rides away through the gate huddled in the saddle to shield as much as possible from the rain.
Having given the list to the gnome, Telsom steps outside to join Immerine and Tempest while the diminutive Quartermaster is collecting the requested items. Though the sky does not get any less gray in color, the rain that has been falling all morning seems to abate, only to be slowly replaced by a mist that slowly creeps in.
After only a little while, the gnomish Quartermaster returns pulling a little cart behind him. The cart is laden with sets of armor and various weapons and some small chests. “There’s several set’s of armor, go through them to see if any fit.“ The small man says, as he crosses his arms and looks at the group. “The other stuff besides the weapons and the torches are in the small chests.“ When the sorting and fitting has finished, the gnome produces his small chalkboard again and makes some notes. “Who’s gonna pay?“ He asks.
Immerine smiles sweetly at the gnome, “I believe Telsom has a pouch given him by Lord Ashgale for the coverage of costs.“ That said, she approaches the wagon and begins poking through the items and armor. She smiles girlishly when she finds armor that will fit. She strips immediately, not seeming to care that men-folk are standing in front of her. The Witch’s pale smooth skin is marred only by recent scars across her shoulders and one wicked, reddened scar on her abdomen.
Completely nude, she shakes about and rubs her body briskly before donning the new set of armor. “Ahhhh. Much better! I am armored properly again.“ She says in relief then starts picking through the equipment again and pulls out a cloak, 2 torches, flint and steel and one sunrod. “If Jez does not return in time I will claim his items and give them to him when we meet up at the Tor.“ Finished, she stands straight and smiles at her companions. A wicked sparkle in her eyes tells you she knows exactly what she has done and dares any of you to say a thing about it.
“Yes, as I was about to say, I have been given funds to purchase the equipment.“ The paladin says with a slight chuckle. Holding out the pouch to the gnome, Telsom turns to watch Immerine go about her business. As the witch disrobes a wide smile comes over the paladin’s face, his left eyebrow arching. So absorbed by the show before him, the paladin lets the pouch full of coins slip from his grasp.
“You’d make good money in a great many taverns for doing what you just did for free lady.“ Finding both hands empty the paladin gives the witch a small round of applause while chuckling.
Chuckling, Immerine bows to Telsom. “I will have to remember that, it seems my current employment is woefully lacking in everything except stimulating arguments. You people do have some unusual ideas about morality though. Men may have sexual encounters with any number of women, while each woman may think she is the only one in his life. Yet the moment a woman takes any advance on her own, a man believes she is only interested in gaining something through the use of her body. Or at least that is what I have come to learn from my short time among you barbarians. Of course, I have seen the glint in some women’s eyes and I know they use their, ehm… charms to entice men for their own gain as well. I do not understand these customs of yours. Now as for me, my body is mine… a sacrosanct temple of purity until the day I choose to mate. Any man who thinks otherwise will have portions of his anatomy removed – painfully. Of course…“
The cleric of Kelemvor blushes when the subject of sex is mentioned. He says nothing but nods slowly through Immerine’s explanation. “Aye, lady.“ He finally says in a low voice, “though Kelemvor’s brood are not shy, I believe waiting until you meet the right one to share all that you can with that one, both soul and body !“ He replies.
Immerine smiles wickedly again, “I do enjoy watching men swell at the sight of me.“ Immerine’s laughter is like tinkling silver bells as she gives way to her mirth for a few moments. The big half-orc blushes again when she mentions “swell“. He smiles awkwardly to Immerine and just follows the others as they disband.
“Words of caution, good Lady. Most of us inhabiting the civilized lands will frown upon, and indeed will be most insulted should you continue to refer to us as barbarians. I also think one who claims to be a teacher wouldn’t jump to conclusions, I’ll leave you to them however, I hope in time someone will show you that you are wrong.“ With that done, Telsom moves to the cart taking forth the equipment he had chosen and started to place it around his person.
“We dally too long. Take your things. If Matteo does not return in a few moments I will go and bodily retrieve him.“ The laughter is gone and the woman before them is again the grim visage of a woman expecting to obeyed.
“I’m not some lackey to be ordered around. You’ll find a great deal things different in these lands than your own. I mean no insult to you, but I follow no one’s orders, save those of Sune. Please remember this, I consider you a friend and hope you do the same of me, but I will not be treated as a child or be ordered around like an underling.“ Telsom’s holds his steady gaze on Immerine for a moment before giving a shake of his head. The paladin looks to the gnome to see if he has moved to retrieve the bag of coin from the ground, if not the paladin moves to pick up the coins and offers the bag to the gnome again.
“My thanks.“ Tempest says as he pockets the gnome’s sling and closes his left hand around the straps of the wooden shield. A wide grin crosses His face as he is truly ready for the tunnels, or so he believes.
Matteo walks over to Captain Zaina’s office. After checking with the guard, the Sembian steps into the office. He finds Zaina in the finishing stages of putting on her armor. A page is helping her get into the suit of banded mail. The Captain’s weapons are on the table awaiting a last inspection before being girded on. “Come in Sir Ashgale.“ Zaina says. His movements still a little stiff from lingering pain Matteo steps into the office, closing the door behind him. Moving to the side he awaits the Captain, his arms folded across his chest.
“You can leave me now, I’ll finish the rest.“ Captain Zaina says to the page. With a crisp salute the page takes his leave and disappears through the door. “Sir Ashgale, you wanted to see me?“ Zaina says will adjusting some straps on her armor.
“Yes.“ Matteo replies, still standing near the door with his arms folded while he watches the page leave. “We have some reason to believe that those responsible for the murder of Tharkas Lhun have been hiding out in the Reaching Woods and may still be doing so. If we could possibly prevail upon the guard to provide us with a map of the forest detailing known sites used as bandit lairs and the like that would be most appreciated.“
“In addition, Lord Jalarghar has kindly offered to provide us with financial support in our endeavors to such an extent that it is unlikely we will require further funding from the City. If we could make arrangements for reimbursement of early expenditures that would tie that end off nicely.“
Moving from the wall, Matteo steps around the table in the Captain’s room towards her. “Here, let me help you with those straps.“ He says softly. Zaina offers the Sembian a smile and turns her back to him while bundling her hair in a ponytail. “Thank you Sir Ashgale.“
As Matteo fastens the straps on her armor, Zaina finishes bundling her hair. “I can provide you with a map, though there are not many known locations nearby. Most bandits and raiders either disappear deep into the Reaching Woods while others seek refuge in the vastness of towards the west. Yet there are a couple of locations the guard frequently checks. A series of caves up in the hills and some partially ruined farms.“
Stepping away from Matteo when he’s finished she walks over to the table while continuing to speak, a slightly angry undertone in her voice, “I will be checking some of those locations myself today. The patrol that arrived this morning reported two plundered and destroyed waystations along the route to Scornubel. Someone has become very daring lately in challenging the Berdusk Guard.“ Slamming her fist on the table she hisses: “They will pay for their defiance.“ Turning towards Matteo, he can see that the Captain of the Guard is a person who would give many a criminal or monster second thoughts before messing with her.
Matteo’s hand half lifts towards Zaina before closing and dropping back to his side as he raises his eyes to meet hers. An uncomfortable smile flickers across his face, quickly gone. “I know it may be a bit rich coming from me, but take care of yourself Zaina. I would hate to see anything happen to you.“ Glancing away, his eyes sweep the room looking for something to settle on while he leans lightly against the table for support. Not finding anything to hold his attention, he finds his eyes dragged back to the Captain. “We need to talk.“ He says quietly.
Turning around at the table towards Matteo, Zaina holds her swordbelt in one hand. Wrapping the belt around her waist and fastening it she says, “Thanks, I will.“ Looking at Matteo after adjusting the belt to a comfortable fit she regards the Sembian for a moment. Stepping closer to the Sembian, her face mere inches from his; she puts her hand on his shoulder, “What do you want to talk about Matteo?“
As his eyes trace the length of her arm to where her hand rests upon his shoulder, Matteo swallows and whets his lips with his tongue. “I… we… about us. My wife, Immerine, about what I feel for you. It is…“ Leaning forward, Matteo brushes his lips against hers. Leaning into the kiss, Zaina lets the sensation overwhelm her for a moment, caressing Matteo’s cheek with her hand. Then suddenly she pushes him away, a surprised and almost embarrassed look in her eyes. “Matteo, what…“ A little bewildered she runs her hand through her hair while looking at Matteo.
Stumbling back a step, Matteo cannot quite contain a brief indrawn hiss of pain from his wounds, though it passes largely unnoticed as he looks at Zaina in shocked surprise. A slightly haunted expression flickers into life in his eyes before he can regain control. “I… I… I should not have done that Zaina.“ Matteo’s hand clenches into a fist at his side as he continues to stare at her wide-eyed. Taking a half step towards her, Matteo catches himself and comes to a halt. Drawing himself up, he closes his eyes momentarily before looking back at Zaina and straightening. “I am sorry Zaina. I should not have done that. I do not know what came over me.“ Running his hand through his hair, he shakes his head as if trying to banish a memory. “My wife died not long ago…“ He continues quietly, “… And I was sure I would… could… never feel anything for anyone again. Now there is you and Immerine. I…“
Zaina’s blue eyes seem to reflect the roiling emotions within her as she keeps an outward calm. Self-consciously readjusting some straps on her armor she regards the Sembian as he talks. Taking a deep breath Matteo pauses then adds, “I should probably leave. If you could have that map drawn up and fifty in gold made available to cover initial expenses I would be… that would be most appreciated.“
Zaina walks to the other end of her desk and opens a drawer, “I’ll have a map ready for you when you return. Check with Lieutenant Aluar or one of his officers. I’ll probably not be here.“ Pulling a small chest out of the drawer, she opens it and quickly counts out fifty golden coins. Putting the coins in a small canvas bag, she closes the chest and puts it away. Zaina steps around the desk again towards Matteo and hands him the pouch. “I do expect you to report back to me when you have finished your expedition to the sewers. Good luck, may Helm guard you and your friends.“ Zaina keeps standing at her desk, her eyes never leaving Matteo while he leaves the room. Once the door closes behind him, Matteo hears the sound of a fist slamming on a hard surface.
Leaning back against the closed door Matteo stares out across the hallway into nothing, breathing heavily. Running a hand through his hair he tentatively touches fingertips to his lips before pulling his hand away to look down at it in wonder and dismay. A soft groan rises from deep within his throat and he clenches his eyes tightly shut, lightly thumping his now-closed hand against the wall. “You fool.“ He whispers in a hoarse voice, “How could you…“
Shaking his head in denial he winces at the jolts of pain running down his spine and stumbles away from the door, regaining his balance after a couple of unsteady steps. Closing his eyes momentarily once again he sways as vertigo assails his senses, quickly reaching out a hand to lean against the wall for support. After a few seconds pass he takes a deep breath and straightens to walk back outside.
The gnome accepts the money from the young paladin and counts out what he needs, handing the rest back before disappearing into his office again. Having girded the weapons and put on the new armor, the group suddenly find themselves waiting in the courtyard for Matteo; impatience most visible in the bearing of the large half-orc. The Kelemvorite paces in front of the quartermaster’s office, fidgeting with the straps of his new shield. In the slowly thickening mist, a new patrol has assembled in the courtyard. A few subdued mutters from the guards and a few short commands are the only human sounds that accompany the strangely close sounding scraping of hooves across the wet cobblestones and the occasional snorts from the horses.
Immerine smiles patiently at Telsom, “I do forget that I am among barb… I mean outlanders. And I do not know this Lady Sune to whom you owe allegiance, but I hope she knows how true you are to her. As you are my first ‘friends’ outside my homeland, I hope you will help teach me your customs and keep me in – line so I do not make mistakes. I will agree to be patient and I will try to keep my orders to a minimum. But habits and years of training are quite difficult to overcome.“ Immerine turns when Matteo approaches.
A door opens from across the courtyard and Matteo steps through, pulling it shut after himself and pausing for a moment to look back before turning to cross the yard towards the group, still moving a little stiffly. As he draws near his eyes pass over those present looking for some sign of his requested armor and sword. “Everyone ready?“ He asks quietly, “Is Master Wisp joining us back here or at the Tor?“
Immerine’s nostril flare as Matteo draws closer and a dark look closes on her face. “It is good you arrived when you did. Your things are in the wagon, mayhaps they will fit. Jez will meet us at the Tor. I have his things in hand. I trust your meeting was eventful, MY lord.“ Again her nostrils flare and she winces slightly. “Once you are adorned and have sword in hand, we really should be going.“
There is a barely perceptible tightening around Matteo’s eyes as he regards Immerine before giving a moment shake of his head. “Very well.“ He replies before crossing over to the wagon, unbuttoning his knee-length jacket on the way. With his back to his companions he slips the jacket off and begins to unbutton his doublet, his movements a little stiff.
Immerine rolls her eyes at Matteo’s back. “Here, let me help before you sprain something else!“ She moves forward and begins undressing Matteo. “You shouldn’t even be out of bed much less preparing to make a trip into the damp cramped sewers. Stubborn fool!“ She says the last as she pulls his doublet free. She holds the armor up to him, “Hmmm, might be a little snug here and here…“ She touches his arms and thighs, “but you will live.“ While bedding in closer to him she sniffs her nose in frustration.
Grimacing as Immerine helps him there is a sharp indrawn breath as she pulls his doublet free to leave him standing there in his silk shirt. As the wind presses the shirt against his body the thick bandages covering him from waist to neck become visible, dark stains cover his entire back. “What is wrong with you?“ He asks in a flat voice as she sniffs her nose at him, “Just help me get this armor on and we can be away.“
Immerine returns his flat glance, “You cannot possibly imagine what is wrong with me.“ Her fingers quickly search his wounds. “You have been overdoing, Lord Ashgale. I told you to stay in bed. You are going to be sore for twice as long now. Well, at least you don’t have any open wounds now so the threat of disease from sewage will be minimal to you. Might be good for you to catch one you know. It would force you to stay on your back for a week.“ Her nimble fingers have already begun assisting him into the armor. Her hands run leisurely down his sides, nipping and tucking the armor so it will be more comfortable.
She steps back and gauges his strength and ability for a moment before attacking his trousers next and pulling them off. “Lean on my shoulder and step into the lower part of your girding, My Lord.“ Grabbing at his trousers as Immerine moves to pull them down, Matteo half steps, half stumbles back. “Gods, let it be woman, the last place I need to be is on my back!“ He snaps angrily, “There is no way I am wearing those. We are going into the sewers, as soon as leggings like that get wet they’d weigh more than plate and drag me down.“
Telsom groans as yet another of his companions begins to undress. “Come now. Before you remove any more of your clothing let me ease some of your pain. You should have told me that you were wounded so that I could give you aid my friend.“ Telsom moves forward, murmuring under his breath as he goes. Kissing his hand he brings it gently onto Matteo’s back letting the soft pink glow move from him to Matteo’s wounds.
A soft warmth flows through Matteo’s body as the paladin’s healing power takes effect. For a mere moment Matteo experiences as if he is falling onto a soft bed of rose petals, and in his mind’s eye he sees a beautiful red-haired woman caressing his back. Just as quickly though the young Sembian returns to his senses, and barely a trace of the soreness and stiffness remains in his body. Only his leg still feels awkward, now the sole physical reminder of the battering his body has been through lately.
The soft pink glow seems to seep through the bandages into the pained Sembian, bringing visible relief and enabling him to dress himself further without the aid of Immerine. Yet to all it is visible that the man still has a slight limp, which draws forth a frown from both the Rashemen witch and the Sunite paladin.
Frowning, Matteo is about to snap back at Telsom when the Paladin gently lays his hand upon his back. His eyes widen in momentary surprise before closing over once again. Pulling his trousers back up he straightens and says, “Thank you Telsom.“ About to turn away he pauses and grudgingly adds, “I did not mention it as earlier today healing did not work as expected, causing the healer more pain than it cured. There seemed little to be done.“ Flashing Immerine a heated look he says, “We might as well be off. We wouldn’t want to keep Master Wisp waiting.“
Immerine turns from Matteo and smiles sweetly at Telsom, “What Lord Ashgale has declined to state is that he is the worst patient any healer could possibly be taxed with. If he had been more understanding and willing to follow advice – healing would not have been so stressful.“ With that she takes Qwenta to the stable so she can be off with the others.
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