Medievia Mudslinger

August 20th, 2002

The Consequence of Valor - By Koryne

I reared my black warhorse to a slow trot, and attempted to wipe the road dust from my face. Squinting into the setting sun, I silently regarded the man walking towards me. Except for the large musical instrument he was carrying, the man appeared to be wholly unclothed.

I blinked in confusion.

The man also appeared to be having an intense conversation with absolutely no one. A madman - I could ignore him. Hunching further under my dark cloak, I patted my pocket, feeling for the parchment inside. I resisted the urge to take it out and read it again, as I was sure that my eyes would start wearing the writing off the page.

"Trellor West Gate. Fourth Day of the Mage’s Fury at first cover of dark. Password, ‘Prophet’. Don’t be seen."

At long last. After months of searching, from that rat-infested ship where none of the crew knew what Fury meant until I had arrived, to the marginally better, mage-infested Vanlarra after which my skin still crawled at the thought of magic. I had found nothing; in fact I had not heard even the slightest hint of a whisper. It appeared that the beloved Duke had disappeared like breath into the wind.

Then the summons had come.

I mused over how such a small thing, a piece of parchment, could mean so much. Sunset today would mark the dawn of a new era for better or worse. I would be told the information that had eluded me for so long, and the Duke would die by my hand. The mantle of power would be wrested from the idle shoulders that wore it now, and the Underground would rule Trellor with a firm hand. I would be honored as the assassin who killed the Duke and I would surely be Vonleige’s right hand. A feeling long unknown bubbled up inside me. After a moment, I realized that the rattle in my chest was laughter.

A second possibility had been gnawing at my mind for some time. It quickly intruded on my thoughts and my rare moment of cheerfulness was cut short. If I was simply being called back to report my findings - or lack of them - then it would be my blood that was spilled. A pang of fear spread through my body, but I quickly schooled my mind to calm. I was close now, mere hours from Trellor, and the realization of my destiny was imminent.

The lunatic musician pulled me out of my reverie. The bloody images of how I could ensure my passage to Trellor remaining unnoticed rolled through my mind with practiced ease. My head swam with the sickening mix of trepidation and exhilaration as I spurred my horse into a run. As I sped towards my target I was dimly aware of the cool weight of the dagger in my hand. As I drew near, the musician, clad only in a toothy smile, dropped his lute and shouted, "Ho traveler!"

I was shocked for a moment, but quickly recovered. I struggled mentally around the thought of riding the naked, smiling, lute-carrying madman down. I adjusted my position in the saddle, and decided that the naked fool did not have enough wits about him to cause me any trouble. I cleared my throat and broke my silence.

"You appear to have dropped your lute."

The man’s cheeks began to color, as he picked up the discarded instrument. Still blushing a deep shade of crimson, the man opened his mouth and assaulted me with a barrage of words so torrential he could have been a legend among Medievian hawkers. In one seemingly never-ending sentence, he pointed out a number of obvious truths such as the fact that he was naked, how blistered his feet were, and how heavy the lute was. He then rambled on about his name being Bornhald and how it was imperative that he got to the City of Medievia. Amid the barely intelligible rambling’s, including something about ‘ruby-boots’, one sentence caught my attention. This ‘Bornhald’ had said that the Trellor City guard was in uproar because of him, and this fact presented a potential problem for me.

"And the curse is gone!" yelled the man triumphantly.

"Curse?" I asked, the question painted plainly on my face.

"The lute, it was cursed so I couldn’t drop it. But... Ah, as you so kindly pointed out, I finally seem to be able to rid myself of the infernal thing. While we’re on the subject, would you by any chance have a spare..."

I could see what he was alluding to so, I tossed him a spare cloak I had picked up in The Rhaiaden. Grumbling to myself, I remembered that only one person had had to die for me to obtain it, and in the end my old one was much better anyway.

"Sir, I am most deeply indebted to you," began the man while hastily wrapping the garment around him. "And I'm sure I could do something about this nasty wine stain when I get to the next town. I hear Misty Potions are good for removing all kinds of..."

"Blood," I interjected.

"What?" asked the man, as the wonders of the Misty Potion slipped from his mind.

"The stain. It's blood," I said, adding a touch of menace to my voice. He had clothing now - maybe I could encourage him to leave?

"Yes! Well... I’m sure we could do something about it all the same," he mused quietly. "I don’t believe I caught your name friend?" he said, trying to change the subject.

I grinned viciously as I answered, "That is because I have not supplied it, friend." My emphasis on the last word seemed to belie its meaning. I was eager to be on my way, and had no time for idle prattle. "Now what was this trouble you had with the guards?" It had occurred to me that this was something I ought to take note of.

Nervously, he began, "Oh, that little incident? Nothing really, just the entire Trellor City guard conducting a thorough man-hunt to find me. Last I heard they were even searching all the houses on Rose Hill. In fact, just as I was making my decidedly hasty retreat, I heard some one say they were going down the..."

Pushing the inane commentary out of my mind, I forced myself to think. Guards swarming the city. If it truly was an all out man-hunt all entrances and exits would be closed, and my ‘associates’ would most definitely not be out in the open. I had been riding hard for some time - memories of the days and nights of dirt and wilderness had melded into one another, and through the fog of tiredness I was only faintly aware of how long I had been traveling. All that effort was for naught now because of some rambling fool! No matter, I thought to myself, time is no longer an issue, and the fool's dying screams would provide an excellent evening of entertainment.

"...also, this retired guardsman I passed on the road a while back said they were questioning the Priestess! Can you imagine that? Her Holiness implicated in a crime!"

"Truly astounding Bornhald." I said, slipping smoothly from my horse. "I’m sure that once you have tethered my horse, I will be enraptured by the explanation of how this came to pass." My sudden change in attitude seemed to give him pause. I needed the fool to trust me enough to tell me the whole and exact truth, and intimidation would most probably not achieve that. "Immediately if you please," said I. My tone was cool and commanding, but betrayed no hint of unfriendliness, "and I’m sure you can find something for us to eat in my bag there. There will be no more traveling for us this evening." And, I thought, after you finish with my chores, there will be no more traveling of any kind for you. Ever. My face split into a contorted smile, as the muscles of my face were largely unused to it.

The madman diligently cared for my horse, adeptly made a small campfire and began preparing an evening meal. He seemed in good health and I was sure he would be long in dying, a fact which I found most pleasing. Rolling a dagger expertly between my fingers, I half-hoped that my façade of friendliness would fail and I would be forced to torture the truth out of him.

With a contented sigh, I asked him, "So, Bornhald, how did you manage to land yourself in such a compromising situation? It must be quite a tale."

"Well," he began, taking a bite of waybread, "it was my twentieth birthday yesterday, and a few friends took me out to Heron’s Tavern. Knocking over a number of empty bottles of Wytherwind’s finest, I stumbled out of Heron’s to be greeted by the three brightest sunrises I have ever seen. No amount of rubbing appeared to be able to clear my vision, so I followed the straightest and most solid looking road in the general direction of my home. Within minutes I ended up lying face down in the Trellor sewers. In my state of acute intoxication, I had managed to fall head-first into some hole on Oryn that I had never known existed.

"The rancid fumes cleared my head almost immediately, and I became aware that I was not the only one enjoying a visit to the sewers this morning. Two voices were reverberating off the sewer walls.

"'You sure you heard right?'

"'Sure I’m sure. Now pack ye’r stuff and lets go make Pherrence dead.'

"The voices began to grow louder, and were interspersed with the clink of boots on metal. The darkness of the sewer was punctuated by two patches of even greater darkness that were moving towards me.

"'You know what it's going to mean for us after the Duke is gone right?'

"'Yea, Vonleige said he’s gonna make the Priestess his personal servant. And he said we’re all gonna be made royalty or something. Titles and houses and everything.'

"Realization slowly dawned on me as I registered the meaning of the words. These were not two common criminals discussing a petty crime, this was the preamble to an assassination and the take-over of the city!

"The sewer had suddenly gone silent. My heart skipped a beat as I searched the blackness for the two figures. Forsaking stealth for a quick exit, I hauled myself to my feet and half-stumbled, half-ran to the ladder leading to the surface.

"I had not been back on the street a moment when it became apparent that the assassins were giving chase. Early morning light was just beginning to spill across the city and the streets, although passing quickly under my rapidly moving feet, were still deserted. With no help in sight, I raised my voice to the air and shouted, "Help! Guards! Assassins!" This seemed to have the desired effect, as the streets suddenly sprang to life. Shouts of guardsmen and confused citizens alike, spread through the city like wildfire.

"Amid the rising commotion, I ducked into a small side street and stopped. In between deep, ragged breaths I tried to scrape something sticky off the bottom of my boot. Even in my current state of panic I would not tolerate soiling my ruby-dragonhide boots. The offending substance appeared to be congealing blood, and at my feet was a corpse. Judging by his clothing and the ornate lute lying next to him, he must have been a bard. My revulsion at the grisly sight was short-lived, as a plan began to take shape in my mind. The underground would most certainly have people watching the gates of the city. A great hero in big, shiny armor like myself would be easy to spot; a traveling bard on the other hand.

"I said a quick prayer of thanks to the deceased, and hastily stripped to my birthday-suit. The moment I had set my equipment down, a flash of metal alerted me to imminent danger. I spun around to find a black-cloaked figure lunging at me with a dagger. With lightening-quick reflexes, I tried to dodge the blow and pick up my sword at the same time. I managed neither, my hands finding only the lute, and the dagger burying itself in my completely exposed chest. My vision swam for a moment, and darkness engulfed me."

His narrative seemed to wind down and he looked at me expectantly. "And? What happened then?" I asked in an unsteady voice, as the implications of the man’s story slowly filtered into my mind.

"Well, there was a man making funny patterns in the air, and I remember something about scarabs," he said, creasing his forehead in thought, "I remember thinking how nice that day was when one of the Gods made it rain gold, and whoosh! I was alive! Gods are a great lot sometimes aren’t they?"

A flood of unanswered questions made themselves apparent. Who were the two thieves going to collect my contract? Why were they being allowed to kill the Duke instead of me? And more importantly, was the Duke still alive and could I get to him first? Anger roared through me as I thought about the wasted months and the betrayal of the Underground.

I tried to calm myself so I continued the conversation. "And you didn’t go to collect your things because?"

"Because how long do you think a pile of weapons and armor worth hundreds of millions of gold coins, would last lying in a street in Trellor?" the man supplied. "In any event, going to warn the Duke and save the city is a slightly bigger priority than a pile of metal and the risk of sunburn."

My pulse began to quicken as I realized what Bornhald had just said. My anger was renewed as I looked at his pathetic form hunched over his waybread in a too-large cloak. This inferior specimen of humanity knows where the Duke is, and I do not. Even the suggestion was ludicrous. "You know where the Duke is?" I said mordantly.

"Of course, he’s a guest in Castle Medievia. I thought everyone knew that?" Bornhald replied, matter-of-factly.

I could feel my face darkening and I felt my glare could have struck him dead on the spot. My knuckles were white from the force of my grip on the hilt of my dagger. It felt cool and solid in my hand, like the only real thing in the world of unreality unfolding around me. Everyone knew that the Duke was in Castle Medievia? The sheer lunacy of the idea threw me into a fit of laughter that left me gasping for breath.

"You thought everyone knew that did you?" I said, in between gulps of air. "I would wager that not a soul in Vanlarra, living or dead I might add, knew that particular piece of information. If I were a betting man, I’d make a similar wager for any settlement bigger than an anthill west of where we are now!"

"But," Bornhald stammered, "everyone in Trellor knows! Word hit the street almost a month ago!"

My maniacal laughter sputtered out, and I could see my hands quivering with rage. Thoughts and questions swirled through my mind faster than I could fully comprehend them. My assassin brothers had betrayed me. Was the Duke still alive?

I could almost taste the menace in my voice as I spoke. "Tell me Bornhald, why is it that you assumed this daunting task?" I could simply have stayed in my own city and waited. Could I reach Medievia and kill the Duke first? "Wanted to act the part of the hero didn’t you?" I spat. Bornhald’s blind valor would force him to oppose me. Had I fallen out of favor with Vonleige? Or was he simply making haste to kill Pherrance? "Why not run into Trellor and tell your whole story to the first guardsman you could find and let them handle it?"

Bornhald’s pained expression made his panic clear. In a weak voice he managed to say, "I didn’t tell the guards because I couldn’t be sure who to trust."

Bornhald’s naivete instilled a sudden sense of calm in me. The pure will to do good that emanated so strongly from this man pulled me into the eye of my cerebral storm. A single thought now lingered - Bornhald was going to learn the price of valor. The weight of the dagger in my hand drew my attention, and I felt an evil grin spreading across my face as I said, "Bornhald, you have no idea how frighteningly right you are."

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