Cuana Chapter 8 Entry 7

9/06

It took only seconds for me to reach the fourth floor, but what I saw when I stepped into the hallway nearly stopped me dead in my tracks. There was Tullweim coming toward me down the hall, his greatsword no longer in his grasp, being led by three armed men – one in front, one behind, and one more directly at his side, his blade pressed against Tullweim’s flesh through a gap in the Aesir’s armor. What’s more, I remembered this one from our first evening at the Bull and Bear – it was that rabbit-faced dog who got up and left just before Darios was murdered. Sensing that I was about to strike out at the man in front, Tullweim told me to hold, lower my sword, and back away. I thought surely this was a ruse of some sort, but the Nordheimer repeated himself, indicating rabbit-face with a sidewards nod of his head, and told me that he struck a deal with Galbro (rabbit-face was Galbro! Mitra’s teats, we should have figured that out before now!) and was taking him downstairs to where the crucible was hidden. It took me another moment to relent – what the hell was Tullweim talking about? The crucible had been stolen at least two days ago from Enaro’s room. Growling a curse and lowering my blade slightly, I began to slowly back down the stairs. The group proceeded down the stairs an inch at a time, the thug in front waving his puny blade toward me and Galbro keeping his own blade pressed against Tullweim’s flesh. I paused on the landing below and raised my sword again, drawing curses from the theives and an impassioned urging from Tullweim to back down the third floor hallway and relent.

Once I was out of their way, the three thieves and their captive continued to descend the stairs. I waited until they had reached the second floor and began to descend behind them, slowly and quietly. Tullweim spoke in a loud voice for any below to hear, that he was bringing Galbro downstairs, that he was giving him the crucible, and for everyone to back off. I had crept down to just above the second floor when I head the Nordheimer loudly announce that he’d pay one thousand silver to whoever handed him Galbro’s head, followed by the clammor of running feet and steel upon steel. A few steps to turn the corner and a leap down the last flight landed me directly behind the melee, a woman’s scream in my ears sounding from far upstairs.

The battle was brief but intense. The thieves quickly cut Tullweim down for his deception, but during the time that the Nordheimer was luring the theives down the stairs, Dhak and Xacksmith had been busy alerting some of the Wolves and placing themselves in hiding. Both were leaping out from concealment as I was stepping into the fray, and thanks mainly to their efforts the thieves were soon down and bloodied. The Stygian in particular was impressive, managing to subdue a stricken Galbro through his archery skills without killing him. The Wolves that were present looked fearfully at their downed leader, fearing the worst, but we were able to bring Tullweim back to consiousness and get him on his feet in a matter of moments. These Aesir are actually made of pretty tough stuff despite the impression left by their somewhat effeminate accent. He then went upstairs to survey the damage to his quarters, returning moments later in a grim mood after finding his slave girl had had her throat slashed, and that Lady Julia was missing from her room with signs of a struggle and the words ‘hawk’ and ‘urn’ written in blood on the wall.

We bound Galbro and his two surviving goons along with one of the bandits that the Hyrkanian had brought down outside and advised Timeon that we had the one responsible for Katos’ murder in custody. The fat little Baron’s face lit up like a forest fire at the news, and he commanded we take the prisoners downstairs to be questioned. Galbro refused to speak unless he was released, insisting that the one who hired him would see him dead for his betrayal if he was held in Ianthe. We relented, giving Galbro our word that he would be released unharmed if he cooperated with us. Timeon sputtered with outrage at our agreement and began beating the prone Galbro with an iron rod in a frenzy of anger. We mamaged to calm the baron enough to stay his hand, and Galbro began answering our questions. The only thing of real significance we learned was that his patron, known until now as ‘A’ (Timeon had earlier rebuked my claim that ‘A’ was Antimides), was a woman who wore a mask and went by the name ‘Avatar’. The only other thing he could say about her was that she had a connection or affinity of some sort with birds. We stuck by our word and released Galbro after he was questioned, and I walked him to Timeon’s gate myself. As he was preparing to depart, he turned to me and asked if we had been wondering how they had been getting into Timeon’s mansion unseen. I was stunned at the question – none of us had even thought to ask him about that. He indicated our man on Timeon’s balcony, Taras, and said that he had simply paid him more than he was already earning from us to look the other way when Galbro’s men came calling. I thanked him for the information and received what seemed like a sort of nod of respect, before he disappeared into the night. If he spoke the truth, he would be as far from Ianthe come sunrise as possible.

As I turned to head back into the mansion, I saw that Taras was looking in my direction so I hollered for him to come down, go find Enaro, and for the two of them to meet me back inside where we’d join the others. Taras was immediately suspicious, and asked me what it was that Galbro had just spoke to me about. Crap – that was just plain stupid of me to do. I tried to cover my mistake by telling Taras that all Galbro said was that he had to leave the city immediately or he’d be killed, but Taras wasn’t buying any of it. I tried once again to have him fetch Enaro and for them both to meet me inside, but he shook his head, turned, and made to climb to the roof. I broke into a run, heading for the nearest window. I was there in just a few steps, bellowing an alarm, calling for everyone in the building to get outside immediately. Once I knew I had been heard, I ran back to where I had been and saw that Taras had gained the roof.

Within a few heartbeats the Crimson Wolves were pouring out the doors, and I told them to surround the house. With the mercenaries came Tullweim, Dhak, and Xacksmith, each looking at me as if to say ‘what in Ymir’s frosted balls are you yelling about?’. I quickly told them all what Galbro had told me – that he had payed Taras in silver to keep quiet and allow Galbro’s men to pass without raising an alarm. Taras was still up on the roof and the mansion was now surrounded, so the Hyrkanian began climbing up one end of the mansion and I started climbing up at the other end. The whole time Tullweim tried to talk Taras down, but the traitorous little bastard would have none of it. After seeing what the Stygian was capable of doing to a prisoner, Taras was never going to surrender to us, no matter what promises we made.

The roof of the mansion was of the standard type – one long beam in the middle, sloping downward to end in a slight overhang where the walls met the roof. It was steep though, more steep when standing on it than it appears when you’re on flat ground looking up at it. I was at one end of the roof, the Hyrkanian was at the other end, and Taras was right in the middle, between us. We tried again to parley with him, but he started waving his blade at us. Tullweim was still trying to coax him down as well, but I could hear the note of resignation that had crept into the Nordheimer’s plea – he knew that Taras was as good as dead. Xacksmith and I started moving in on Taras and I almost immediately lost my footing, just barely catching myself on the edge of the roof’s overhang. I was in a precarious spot – Timeon’s mansion has five floors, the roof effectively being six stories high. As these thoughts were racing through my mind I began to drag myself back up onto the roof, and was attacked by Taras. Thankfully he missed and I was able to regain my footing. I made to move after him again but only succeeded in losing my footing a second time, again half-rolling, half-sliding to the very edge and clinging to the overhang again lest I fall to the ground. All my attention thus far on the roof had been devoted to trying to keep from falling to the ground, so I’m not certain who it was that picked Taras off with an arrow, but if it was the Stygian, I probably owe him once again. Taras tumbled off the roof and landed with a thud on the ground below. Once all had calmed down and we had all the guards returned to their posts, I retired for the night, and using my last two doses of the healing salve I slept soundly until morning.

I had only been awake for a moment when I heard a woman’s scream coming from upstairs. Without wasting any time donning my armor I ran out into the hall where I met the others, sleepiness still apparent in their faces as they too had been roused into action by the cry of distress from above. I’m sure the thoughts racing through my companions’ minds were the same as mine – that Galbro had broken his word and was retaliating for the humiliation he suffered at our hands. We’d had him chained in Timeon’s dungeon and questioned, Timeon beat him with an iron rod, we’d ransacked his headquarters and personal chambers, we killed his goons, and we thwarted his last desperate attempt at gaining the crucible. He had every reason I can think of to break his promise of leaving Ianthe for the sake of revenge, and an attack on the fifth floor – where Timeon’s private chambers were located – would be where his best way of getting rid of us once and for all. No Baron Timeon, no contract for the Crimson Wolves, and therefore no access to the city for any of us. We’d be forced to flee the city or end up with our heads mounted on pikes. All this we feared as we pounded up the steps to the top floor of the mansion. We went straight to Timeon’s room and our fears were immediately confirmed – the baron, our employer, was lying face down on the floor, still warm to the touch but utterly lifeless. His concubine stood stunned, occasionally gurgling an inarticulate cry of denial while Timeon’s ill-tempered servant, Vanemoth, stood gaping and fidgeting a few paces away. Could Galbro have been responsible for this? Taras was dead now, and he was the one we had charged with guarding Timeon’s balcony from intruders. But again, Taras was discovered to have been bought by Galbro – Timeon could have already been killed quite easily had that been Galbro’s desire. Who else would have a reason to kill Timeon? Maybe the question wasn’t so much ‘who would have wanted Timeon dead’ as it was ‘who had access to Timeon’. Tullweim had by this time rolled the body over onto it’s back and had begun questioning the girl. ‘Why, he just got up and took a sip of the wine and ate one of the figs’ is what she said, fear and disbelief stealing her breath as she continued. ‘He was fine, he had just got out of bed and was talking to me. He poured himself some wine as he does every morning and had was eating when he suddenly fell to the floor’. Tullweim had been examining the body for any kind of sign or indication of what may have killed Timeon, and within just a few moments declared that he had been poisoned, indicating the Baron’s eyes and a discoloration of the tongue. Okay, Timeon had been killed. But by whom? If it had been Galbro, then why just stop at Timeon? He could have crept into any of our rooms and done for us, or at least tried to anyway. This was someone else, and I said so to Tullweim. Timeon’s concubine was sobbing, her face buried in her hands. Vanemoth still stood nearby, visibly shaken by the scene – or maybe by something else. Fear perhaps? I said it aloud so Tullweim could hear. The Nordheimer immediately met my gaze, quit his inspection of the Baron, and approached Vanemoth, who’s discomfort became more apparent as Tullweim loomed over him. The servant tried to lie, but his assumed superiority had fallen away and he withered under the Nordheimer’s gaze. He stammered out a few attempted denials, but finally relented. He was paid 700 silver pieces, he said, by a mysterious man wearing a black mask, to poison the Baron. When Timeon had slept off the prior nights excesses, he’d pour himself a glass of wine and help himself to the fruit that Vanemoth brought him every morning, never thinking that death lurked in his normal morning routine. We grabbed Vanemoth and demanded he tell us where he hid the silver that he had been payed so we could present it as evidence of his betrayal to the authorities. As we did so, a loud knock sounded from the front door. A quick look outside revealed someone who looked like a local official in the company of armed members of the city watch. They immediately began knocking on the door again, their insistence apparent in the way they pounded harder upon the door. I looked at Tullweim and said ‘we’ve been set up! Someone croaked Timeon and told the authorities that we did it – We’ll be charged with his murder for sure!’. The pounding on the door was becoming more urgent, so one of my companions stuck their head out the window in order to stall them by parley while I moved to grab Vanemoth. As I was doing so the words ‘they’re here because of the tax collector’ caught my attention. Crap! I didn’t expect this to come back to haunt me so soon. I waited in Timeon’s room where I could guard Vanemoth while the others went downstairs to deal with the authorities.

Tullweim returned momentarily with the news that I was to be placed under arrest for killing that mouthy quilldipper who insulted me the other day. The armed guards were here to see that I was handed over, by force if necessary. I told Tullweim that I was going to quit the city, and that in a couple minutes time I could have gathered all my posessions and be gone, and to look for me in the Sarellian forest by the road leading into Ianthe. With that, I entered one of the second-floor rooms at the back of the house, moved out onto the balcony, and seeing no one around I climbed down to the ground, ran to the wall surrounding the property and scaled it with ease. I took to the streets, moving quickly but so as to avoid too much notice. Within only a few moments time I was at a portion of the city wall where I was able to scale it without challenge, and was soon out of Ianthe and headed to the forest. By evening I was high in the branches of a tree, just a few yards from the road into the city, positioned so I could have a clear view of the road and of any who may approach from either direction.

It wasn’t long before a youth wandered into view, timidly looking around as if seeking something or someone in particular. I silently climbed down from my eyrie and approached the lad, trying not to frighten him as it was nearing dark. He asked if I was named Cuana, his obvious nervousness tying his tongue as he tried in vain to pronounce my name properly. He produced a Crimson Wolves patch and said that Tullweim had sent him looking for me and to tell me that it was okay to return to the mansion. I was skeptical at first – how could the Nordheimer have possibly managed to smooth matters out with the authorities when we were all foreign mercenaries in such a racist city and our patron dead? But then again, why send a youth all the way out to where I had said I’d be if it was a trap? They could have sent a small army had they wished to try to take me. I made my way back to the city, parting company with the lad before we could be spotted from the gate. I moved along the city wall until I found a portion that was well-shadowed and climbed up. Once the way was clear I scrambled down into the city and continued on to Timeon’s mansion.

When I arrived at the mansion I could see that a note had been left on the gate. It was addressed to me and was from Tullweim – the Aesir wrote that our new patron (we have a new patron now?) had taken care of the charges against me and that the Crimson Wolves were housed elsewhere, with directions to our new headquarters included. I took down the note but decided to give Timeon’s place a quick going over to see if there was anything that might be useful to us, since Timeon no longer would be needing any of his things. I had hoped that there might be a wagon or maybe a cask or two of wine to take to the troops, but I found nothing. I did find a small bag of diamonds under a loose floorboard beneath Timeon’s bed that I decided to keep, but that was all. I decided it might be best to leave the mansion for good and not risk any further charges by being accused of burglary. I left the mansion and followed the directions to our new headquarters, a run-down, seedy-looking place on Crown street. Despite the increase in pay from our new benefactor, the troops were in an ill mood due to the obvious neglect of the house. Tough as they may be, the Nemedians in our employ are still city-bred, and the comparitive opulence of Timeon’s palace seems to have softened them considerably. We straightened the place up a bit and bedded down for the night. Servants of Lady Synelle arrived early the next morning and immediately went to work cleaning and repairing the house. They also brought us food, blankets, razors, mirrors, clean cloaks of red wool, and some fine Aquilonian riding boots. We also learned that one more mercenary had deserted overnight, apparently finding the condition of our new headquarters somewhat lacking. It seems that so far we’ve lost more troops to desertion than we have to death in combat, and the Stygian continues to murmur threats of what he’ll do if he ever catches up with any of the deserters. I don’t doubt for a second that the sorcerer’s threats are sincere, and I hope for the sake of their skins that they’re by now far gone from here.

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Cuana Chapter 8 Entry 7

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