Five days. I’ve been riding five days. All feeling in my bottom is gone, I think. But it’s been enjoyable, if nothing else, to see all this countryside. I don’t often leave Seabotl, and while this isn’t exactly a vacation, it’ll be nice to get out there. Finally I reach the crossroads. I can see a traveler – alone from what I can tell. A harmless enough looking human. Having been weaned off talk for the last several days, I am admittedly a little eager to attempt some interaction with this long-legged individual. My North Varan’s good. Assuming that’s what he speaks, I heartily try and coax this bashful-looking man into some casual conversation after catching his eye. He calls himself ‘Patrius Atte Loitre’, and he’s heading for Smalwood, too. Soon, after some more prompting on my part, he tells me that he too is seeking out Sword and Sorcery – just like me. From what he says, the Sword and Sorcery group have been roughing up the Dorls – and the Dorls are roughing up his town. Where ever that is! He does seem reluctant to give me anything more than that, though I wont test him. We are strangers. For all he knows, I could be the enemy. But then, for all I know, he could be just the same.
After a bit more chatting, I learn Patrius encountered what he calls ‘Baldanno foot soldiers’ four days ago. I’ve never heard of them. I end up informing him of my duties, and before long, considering our identical tasks at hand, we’ve seemed to have buddied up and arranged a partnership – however brief. In due time, I can see Smalwood – finally, a gratifying sight after so days on the road. For want of a good, well-needed leg stretch, I dismount my mule and walk off the saddle soreness for the remainder of our walk into Woodsedge. As we approach town, I can see an inn settled in the middle of a mass of buildings. Upon closer inspection, we both notice there’s a pair of men dawdling at the entrance – both clad in odd blue cloaks. Patrius labels them ‘Bluecloaks’. Go figure! He seems to recognise them. Myself? No wordly clue. I sure don’t like the looks of ‘em, that’s for sure – even if Patrius seems to have deemed them nonthreatening. They’re mercenaries, he says, who offer the caravans here protection for goods. Apparently, they don’t like the Order of the Sword Militant. Probably I’ll have to make it a point to keep quiet about my intention to go seek their help then.
The closer we draw to the inn, the more crowded it appears to be. Once we are there good and proper, we see that the place is absolutely swimming in blue. And I don’t mean water. Bluecloaks, at least a hundred of them, everywhere. They seem neutral enough to our being here, though. And my new companion seems real bent on the idea of seeking food and quarters! I admit, the idea is real tempting – even if these mercenaries strike me as fishy. And not in the good way. Patrius says the inn is called “Nobol’s”. To ask me to make heads from tails of the squiggly North Varan nonsense scrawled on the inn sign is asking a lot. I never learned to read or write – though I have always been interested. Maybe one day after all this war rubbish is all done with, I can get someone to teach me. At any rate, I do suppose we‘ll be staying here. The Patrius fellow loans me a gold coin to hand off Thistle to a stable boy. Good man! He’s won my favor already, I think! As I go about making sure my old mule’s good for safely staying the night, I can hear Patrius making nice with the suspicious looking Bluecloaks. The boy is chock-full of gall. If he keeps putting off such a high profile, he may make short both our journeys.
From what I can hear passing between Patrius and the mercenaries posted out front of the inn, the Bluecloaks have been hired by the king to defend the Vales. A relief! They are on our side then! They have secured Hilstadt and Woodsedge already. They seem to be ready to drive out Weylic troops once they reach the Western Vales. Patrius is from a place called Summerdown – more than he let on to me earlier. And apparently the band of Baldanno footsoldiers he’d encountered some days ago were trying to assist in a severing of the Weylic supply line. This last detail seems to have struck the Bluecloak as news – he seems interested in informing the king, and a ‘Captain Hektor’.
I rejoin Patrius just as the Bluecloak is excusing himself and heading back inside. After I return Patrius his change, I have a feeling he is poking fun at my weight. He makes a cheeky remark about how I’ll soon be getting back the money I just returned to him. Though just as well! I suppose I am a bit… full-figured. Made of thicker stuff, you know. Who am I kidding? Leesha’s treated me well these past years. Clearly, if he and I’d met on more agreeable circumstances, I’d eat this poor fellow out of house and home!
As soon as we enter the inn, we catch mumbling inside. And the Bluecloak – the one that was just now prattling with Patrius – points right at him. Before we know it, the captain – and I say captain because he’s dressed a bit more pretentiously than his fellows, is accosting us. And we haven’t even been served yet! He seems to have it out for poor Patrius at once. I can’t imagine why! I suppose my companion’s kind have a real knack for being ‘squirmy’. Patrius seems real intent on bargaining with this grumpy man – seems real intent on convincing the captain that we’re on the same side. The captain has other ideas. He wants to hold us here. Hm, well. Us? No, not ‘us’ – I don’t really think the captain has noticed me yet. Backing away in this case. I’ve no hard feelings for Patrius, but I don’t rightly feel like throwing my life away for a debt of a stranger’s two silver coins – I’ve got a town to save. And I like to think I’m worth more, at that!
The Bluecloaks are quibbling now – the lowerdown from the front of the door protesting the captain’s harsh ruling. Martyn, the captain calls him. Martyn, the Weylic… Valelander sympathiser. After Martyn reminds him that ‘Saeda’ ordered them to remain benevolent with the people of the Vales, Captain Hektor’s ordering the poor guy – the single poor guy who is siding with us – quiet. Just our bloody luck.
I don’t think Patrius understands the seriousness of the situation. I wonder if humans mature later than they appear to. Who knows. Everything about this rangy race is pretty backwards if you ask me. And, ugh! Will you get a load of him. He keeps backtalking! Oh, we’ll be killed, we’ll be killed! Shut up, shut up! Aw, BALLOCKS. That Patrius’s giving me money now – continually drawing attention to my existence. That’s it, he’s done me in! I’m finished. These vicious, war-loving creatures will tear me to shreds because of his insolence – and there goes the neighborhood. My neighborhood. Every neighborhood.
Horrified by all Patrius’ cheek, I find myself speaking up finally to defend Patrius and his horrendous plight. Just the same, the captain shuts me up without much difficulty. I’m not used to this kind of savagery. I bite my tongue. The captain is eager to drill it into Patrius’ thick skill whose got the power here. He threatens that if Patrius attempts to leave, his knees will be broken. Finally, after Patrius tells Captain Hektor that he will inform the king of his unnecessary cruelty, the old brute backs off. Though Patrius still isn’t allowed to leave. But, really? The implied safety here is enough for this hobbit! After the Bluecloaks back off, we’re finally free to get along with our quest to wrangle in a few refreshments. The place is swarming, so we’re lucky to find a few vacant seats at the bar. Ere long, a giant moustache is greeting us. The gnome behind it seems happy enough to see us – which is a welcome enough sight in its own! First jolly person we’ve encountered, this Nobol fellow. I’m beginning to think violence and aggression is a human thing. You don’t often see this in Smallfolk! Using the silver Patrius earlier handed me, I pay for the drinks. Ferling Cream. Now this next-to stranger Patrius is offering to cover my stay at the inn. I’ve a tent and am very comfortable outdoors – this coddling isn’t really necessary. But the gesture’s nice.
So what’s that now? One gold, two silvers, five coppers. Already I am racking up quite the hefty debt! A shame I didn’t think to grab money off my mother before I left home – not that I thought I’d need much, if any.
As we enjoy our drinks, Martyn joins us to apologise for ratting us out. I’m wary, but for the most part, Patrius and I don’t harbor any hard feelings – I think it’s understood here that one has their obligations. The two men talk. I imagine most of this doesn’t really concern Halflings, so I am content to keep my nose exactly where it is and butt out of the conversation. Especially since Martyn explains that at Hilstadt and Hockton both, the Bluecoats delt with the resistance with violence. Hmph. I admit, all this war-talk isn’t a most favorited subject of mine. I’d rather something a bit less bloodshed-oriented, myself. Blood. Terrible stuff. Makes me sick to my stomach.
Abruptly I am startled by Martyn’s mentioning of Seabotl – his mentioning of how the Bluecloaks are headed there, I can’t help but inquire. And what an awful answer! They’re looking to take us over to establish a strong port. They want to conquer us in the name of strategy! I don’t believe that Seabotl is caught in the middle of this. Weylic, the Dorlish, and now these chest-beating Bluecloaks are all heading for my town? Does Fycan know about this? The Weylics and the Dorls, absolutely. They are weeks away at least. But these mercenaries? Five days! Only five days!
The thought does occur to me that Seabotl doesn’t have to be invaded. At the very least, not by these Bluecloaks. If I headed back now, I could reach Seabotl long before these mercenaries do – by several hours at least. With Fycan in the know, he can make preparations for the mercenaries. Surely he wouldn’t be happy about it. But if there’s a way around the fighting, I imagine he’d strive for it. This doesn’t really need to end badly. And I tell Martyn as much. He says the Bluecloaks would eventually turn south, but the reassurance doesn’t occur to me as comforting as I think he meant for it to be.
And now Martyn says that it’s quite possible that the captain might not even send for the king. That ‘The Three Crowns’, whoever they are, are pulling his strings. I don’t know much about these people, but this has a foul smell of corruption about it. On top of that, Patrius has been ordered not to leave because of Captain Hektor’s request that he be proof for the king’s messenger. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. Either way, this wont end very well. Patrius hints that I work as his messenger to the king. But I shoot that down at once. While I owe the guy more than my fair share, I do have my priorities. There’s got to be a different way to get him out of here that doesn’t include a risk – no, a guarantee of instant knee-busting. Martyn, on top of my decline, even says that it’s unlikely I’ll even be allowed to leave anyway. Fantastic! Just fantastic. Martyn seems highly skeptical that, unless we escape this place, the king will hear anything…The Bluecloaks are supposed to already be at Seabotl. We learn that the king is in Hilstadt – though, really, I’ve no desire to encounter the king. It’s Patrius who seems involved. Really, I only wanted to keep my head low until I sniffed out the Sword and Sorcery. Now look where I am. Held captive! I wont stay here for long, regardless of anybody‘s orders. They can smash my knees, my elbows, my whatever. I’ll be hardpressed to do much of anything with no workable joints, but I’ll be damned if I dillydally while the captain thinks up a way to do us in and cover it up. If that – considering the king wont hear of us regardless.
Oh, finally a drop of good news. Martyn’s pretty confidant that – if, hypothetically speaking, we should find something that proves the captain has soured – he and his men would, hypothetically speaking, have our back. While this is good news, the knowledge doesn’t seem immediately useful to us. That is, until Martyn speaks of a man, a Damyn, fella whose been slumming it with Hektor of late. The tender Nobol details the man as foul – both by smell and appearance. Helpful, I think. We know now to look for a putrid, unsightly man at least. And, upon informing Patrius of this Damyn character’s quarters, we finally can get to working on our escape plan! It’s exciting. Mostly of the nerve-racking variety, but exciting nonetheless!
Martyn elects to be the one to speak with Damyn, and so it’s Martyn and I who take it upon ourselves to distract the old grouch holed up in his room. I knock on the door a little gingerly. I’m surprised with how smoothly things go. It’s working like a charm! Though, as expected, Hektor is one spark short of breathing fire, he does let us in! Success! Martyn and I distract him. I can’t be sure what all is being said and done as far as Patrius and Damyn go, though I hope he executes this leg of the plan successfully. He’s talked us into this awful situation. He can talk us out. And, by Leesha, if he does it – I mean, if he actually pulls it… Woah! Oh no. Knocking. Loud, angry knocking. This cannot be good. He didn’t. He didn’t pull it off. Oh, that’s it for us! The jig’s up! They’ll for sure kill us now! I wonder if I can get a prayer in before…
Well, huh! There’s Damyn. Never seen the man before in my life. But I know foul when I see foul. The gnarly he-beast is thundering in, blade drawn, bellowing at Hektor. Who else has he told this? Who else has he told what? Now the captain is calling us traitors. Plotting to kill the king. Whaaaat? We didn’t! He’ll rot his teeth out with all these lies! Oh, we have to now. There doesn’t seem to be another option. If ever we were going to found a revolt before, now it’s clear we’ll have to take a more direct approach. I move in front of Martyn; we’ll need him as a witness.
We’re fighting. Damyn starts hacking at Patrius. Hektor casts a spell on himself. Since Martyn seems safe enough, I go for Hektor now. Before long, Martyn also is assisting us. Hektor casts another spell. Patrius again takes a nasty hit. Tonight is not his night. On the wounded Patrius’ instruction, Martyn calls for help. It’s my turn to cast a spell – save mine is an attempt to heal my incredibly injured companion. A terrible attempt. It barely did a thing. I bet Fycan’d spit in my eye if he saw me now. I’m amazed to see the battered Patrius smash his weapon into Damyn, unseaming the ugly man the very next instant. The sight of guts slapping the floor might have otherwise made me nauseous, though I am far too hyped up on adrenaline to remember how to be squeamish. Nobol will never get that stain out.
Hektor’s the last one left. He’s trying to leave. To run away. Interesting. The captain seems prepared to loose another spell on us. I don’t blame Patrius for stepping behind me. I’m prepared to fight him, but I don’t think it necessary. If the Bluecloak coward wants to flee, I’ve no particular desire to get my weapon dirty. We have our witness. And he’s fetching help. I’m letting Hektor go. Too bad Martyn isn‘t inclined to. The poor captain never sees it coming. Martyn, back, and with company, knocks him out cold with a hilt blow to the head. For the first time since I left Seabotl, I am happy to see all this blue. At least, at first. Even after all this, Martyn still intends to march the Bluecloaks to Seabotl. I want to warn Fycan. I try and reason with Martyn – with Patrius, too, now as he’s siding against me – but when threatened with imprisonment, I don’t say another word. What good would I be doing tied up. After the pair of them discuss their religion, the Bluecloaks leave us. Good riddance. I imagine for a hobbit I am beginning to look like a surly old dwarf. Patrius is trying to what – to talk me down? He does bring up some good points, I suppose.
Nobol’s giant moustache is appearing in the doorway before long – fussing about the mess. Somewhere inside the gnome’s rant, and paying for damages, Patrius and I catch something about the Sword and Sorcery, and our attentions sync up instantly. A man in the taproom spewing noise about Sword and Sorcery? Almost sounds too good to be true! My mood turns upside down in that instant, and at once Patrius and I are making a beeline for the taproom. Soon as we get there, we see him. It’s not real hard to, really. The man is a real nut. Going on about independent men and an Olin Griswald. So much for us keeping a low profile. I don’t imagine this… vendor? even knows what that is. Patrius decides to be the one to break the daft, weirdly clean man’s sale’s pitch – because that’s undoubtedly what this was. A sale’s pitch. I don’t think the people in the inn mind our interrupting the noisy, showy rant for some questioning. One of them just farted. He approves. Nevermind that though; this fella’s it! A mite bonkers. But who are we to complain? He’s with Sword and Sorcery.
Hm. So he’s looking to recruit us. We’re in. Though I’ll only do it temporarily, I imagine. And only if this famed group agrees, at the very least, to see me to the Order and back. The nut speaks of a contract. Marvelous! I’ll get to ask Patrius to read it to me. Though likely not at this second – he looks fit to collapse at the moment. I ask the nut if knows where medical aid can be acquired. And I can almost swear it, the nut is going to kill poor Patrius with all that manhandling as sure as I am standing here on my two feet. He does claim to have a ‘healing draught’ on his horse though. But for all his talk, it sounds like the potion is more likely to kill him. Though Patrius is in no position to be choosy – likely he’d die anyway if left to just sit there and… ooze. Ah, well, he’s survive the administering of the potion – thus far. Suppose the only thing to do now is wait. The bizarre man still hasn’t introduced himself, and he wont. I can’t say it’s doing anything in the way of making him not appear sketchy. Though if this potion ends up working, I suppose we’ll have to invest at least a bit of trust in him. With Patrius drugged up, we’re tucking in for the evening. Better Patrius find a bed to be unconscious on than the middle of the taproom, I wager. I’m a little iffy about leaving him in the captain’s old room with that stranger – helpless as he is, but he seems well off. Enough. I’ll check on him in the morning, just the same. I opt for sleeping in Damyn’s room, though I surely wish I didn’t. It smells horrific. I think I’d be better off sleeping in the stables with Thistle for an extra two silver, rather than the gold it costs to have my nose rotted off in this hole.