23. Grave politics
19th of Lamashtan – Fireday – 28th day in South-Western Varisia
Magnimar, Capital District
Lord Mayor Grobaras slumping to the ground did not for some reason activate my sense of flight or fight. Someone among the guards shouted a surprised bark of an order and we found four spears and two short swords pointing at us in a flash. I disregarded them. I was cursing our luck.
From the shadows in the level above, a young woman with a shaven head and very ornate, very expensive clothing emerged. She wasn’t panicked but rather determined, as if she had seen this happen before. I realized she had been following the discussion from afar and made herself known just then. She paced hurriedly to the side of the fallen Lord Mayor and the alarmed servant. As she kneeled next to him, she glanced at me. She was no mindless drone in the service of the Mayor. I saw a sharp mind behind her eyes. A kingmaker, the notion came to my mind from nowhere.
We were walking out of the situation, I decided. But I really wanted the documents back. “We’d need those papers back”, I called out loud to the kingmaker. Alfred and Alice were cautiously regarding the tense guardsmen around us, who were gripping their weapons, unsure what to do until they heard their master was fine. I struggled to remain composed, fearing that my animal companion would sense my tension and provoke the guards. The shaven-headed woman had a look at the papers that too had fallen to the floor. She calmly ordered with authority the guards to lower their weapons before replying to me. “Ten minutes. Wait outside, and you’ll get the papers.” I gritted my teeth. Again we faced the possibility of losing the documents that would help prove our innocence. But we really didn’t want to worsen our situation by getting into a fight in the house of the Lord Mayor of Magnimar. With the firm guidance of the guardsmen, we found our way out. Then we waited, just outside the main doors.
Twenty minutes later the doors slowly opened and the kingmaker appeared. She had the documents in her hand.
“I am so happy you waited for me”, she started, looking relieved. “My name is Eiko Carrol and I am a personal aide to the Lord Mayor. The Lord Mayor is fine but he is resting.” She considered her words and looked at the papers in her hand. “The news you bring are.. alarming at the least.”
Alfred was first to answer. “But they are the truth”, he said, “we’ve seen to the killer, but there is more, as it says in the letter.” The woman nodded. “How did you come to get a hold of these papers?” She asked. I told her briefly how everything started with the murders in Sandpoint, leaving out our affair at the Sawmills, and ended how we had battled the Brotherhood at Underbridge. After I was finished, the kingmaker was nodding. “I believe you. I know a little of the Brotherhood of the Seven, and this conspiracy does not surprise me. But I have an offer for you that relates to this letter.” She handed me the papers, and I hung onto them like they were the most precious thing in the world. “You seem able-bodied and the kind of men and women I am looking for – would you be interested in a mission, for a good reward?” I could hear the sellsword counting the platinum coins in his head already. Alice was smiling, and I had to admit I was interested as well. “Of course we’re open for suggestions”, was my diplomatic answer. Carrol flashed a contented smile. “Good. We should arrange for a meeting to discuss details, somewhere else than here”, she explained, looking around like checking no-one was listening. Alarm bells sounded in my head. We had just met this person and we knew nothing about her, about her position and motives. We needed a public enough place for the meeting, and one that did not reveal where we lived. “Let us meet at the Cathedral of Iomedae”, I suggested frankly. She looked at me oddly, but accepted. We fixed a meeting there the next morning.
It was late afternoon when we arrived back to the Kaijitsu Manor. Harsk was already there, having returned from the Cathedral. Alice was still with us, which irritated me not so slightly. But she was a burden we’d have to carry. At least until we got out of Magnimar.
The sellsword presented her to Harsk, who greeted her in his warm, friendly manner. So we were four again, I thought bitterly. I needed a drink. I fetched a bottle of the fine red wine and a crystal glass from the house cellar. I strolled back to the main dining hall, sat down, removed the cork and poured myself a glass. The others had gone to examine magical artifacts we had found to the adjacent room.
As I was drinking and thinking, I overheard Harsk interview Alice. She was telling him about her history – how she had been training to become a wizard at the Mage Tower, but had found the regime too rigorous, dull and not suitable for her. So she had left and joined forces with Garnet Alexandros. She preferred the free, exciting lifestyle working for her provided. I could relate, but it didn’t mean I approved of her presence the slightest. I emptied my glass with a long swig and poured another. I really would’ve liked to have an apple.
After a while, they finished with the artifacts and returned to the main hall. Alfred excused himself and left, probably to get drunk again and play cards. Alice had the sense to get the heck out of my sight, but Harsk walked over to me and I saw he had a curious look. He was seeing how I was faring.
“Sit down and have a drink with me”, I suggested. He nodded and fetched a glass and took a seat across the table. I poured him a glass and pushed it to him. “To the carmine lady”, I raised a toast, my voice level. “To Ilori”, he responded, and we drank.
“Vincent Valentine promised me we could bury her to the Cathedral grounds”, Harsk told me and had another swig. He was still regretful. I was glad I wasn’t the only one. “That’s good”, I responded soberly, not really knowing what else to say. A proper burial, like for Vidarok. It’s not like we could’ve burned the fire sorceress’ body anyway. I didn’t find my dark humour funny at all, so I left it unsaid.
I told the cleric what had happened with the Lord Mayor earlier that day, and the next morning we carried Ilori’s body to our cart and left for the Cathedral. The priests welcomed us, took Ilori and proposed she’d be consecrated and buried later that day during evening prayers. With heavy hearts we agreed, and Harsk slipped a bag of gold coins as compensation for the temple’s services.
We had the meeting with Eiko Carrol as agreed at a small chapel within the cathedral. She was alone, but not without incentives. Safe to say, negotiations were over the minute she handed us each 300 platinum coins and promised more was to come if we agreed to take the mission. The rest was just agreeing on details. She told us about Fort Rannick and Turtleback ferry, the locations in Central Varisia that had been mentioned by Xanesha’s sibling in the letter. The former was a fortress built to protect the latter, a fishing town of crucial importance to Magnimar’s interests in the area. While on paper the fortress guarded the town from hostile intentions of Korvosa, a rival city-state, in reality it typically fought off ogres and giants that infested the area and were a general nuisance. I raised my brows in interest when she told of the Black Arrows, a guard of rangers that operated from Fort Rannick. The fort was a pet project of the Lord Mayor, and the initial problem with Fort Rannick had been its costs – it was expensive to maintain and thus had been a issue of much dispute between Grobaras and other politicians of Magnimar. But beyond the politicking was a far more critical matter. For the past months or so, there had been no word from Fort Rannick. Fort Rannick could not be lost. Carrol felt that our letter and the situation were closely interlinked so it would be up to us to go there and investigate what had happened.
We were of course interested. I was interested – this offered me a chance of getting out of Magnimar and continuing my personal mission across Varisia. And as said, Carrol was willing to pay us handsomely. She even offered to pay for the travel arrangements.
The only thing was that the Lord Mayor was a vain, self-conscious creature, and to ensure he would hire us, Carrol wanted us to meet with the Lord Mayor personally and make sure the plan came across as something he originally suggested. The political games amused me, though I admitted they were not my playing field. But she made it abundantly clear that this was something that she and Grobaras had been planning for some time now – the Lord Mayor had even been thinking about sending troops. We would be visiting him per his request, and we would be the natural choice for him.
We agreed to meet with the Lord Mayor on the 22nd.
We got rich that day. After the meeting with Eiko Carrol, and a trip to the bazaar, where we made Alice barter our unused magical equipment for Garnet’s platinum, we each had became almost a thousand platinum coins wealthier.
I’ve never been keen on carrying or owning gold per se, so I immediately considered ways how to improve my equipment and weaponry. Ultimately I too found myself at the Mage Tower, where I reluctantly handed out my longbow, mithral armor and my adamantine blade for enchantment by the wizards working there. It was the first time ever I would be using magical weaponry, so I was a bit nervous. How would they turn out? Would they serve me better in combat?
The wizards needed some time to imbue mine and Alfred’s equipment with the necessary spells. We were to wait for at least five days. This irritated Alice, who was already eager to leave Magnimar for Turtleback Ferry. Naturally, we wholly disregarded her opinions.
At day’s end, we walked to the Cathedral of Iomedae to lay Ilori to rest. The funeral, I have to admit, was tougher to me than Vidarok’s. It was more devout, more beautiful and longer than his. I remember being angry at Vidarok, then calmer, when I realized how he had died the way he had wanted – even if it had been a freakish, stupid death caused by his stubbornness.
In Ilori’s case.. I don’t know. I felt her life had been stolen from her. A story left untold, a book that had been begun but never read to the end. The pragmatical, the true me knew it was not my fault she had fallen.
But still I regretted. I felt remorse. I had never felt remorse for anyone’s death. I touched Faroth’s fangs, hanging in a thread around my neck. You too, my friend, taken from this life too soon.
She was in a simple wooden coffin that had engravings at each side – longswords and an armoured woman kneeled in prayer – the goddess herself I guess. The coffin was open. I didn’t have a look inside. I don’t know why.
Chanting filled the cathedral chapel. As part of their normal evening rituals, the temple priests said their prayers and sanctified her first with holy water and incenses, and then we walked out of the chapel to the graveyard. Cathedral clerks carried the coffin and we formed a small procession behind it. When her coffin was lowered to the grave, we said our goodbyes. I did not linger.
Days went past. At first lights, I woke up to train Dûath at the yard of Kaijitsu Manor and strengthen our bond. He was maybe not as sharp of mind as Faroth had been, but he made up for it with brute strength and durability. In the evenings, I walked the Shore, looking for clues about my brother. I wasn’t really surprised to hear nothing. Nothing at all.
I also revisited the Serpent’s Run, the hippodrome, and tried to get myself into the exhibition games as a participant. But I was turned down without even a chance to show my fighting skills – I found out that I lacked a prestigious and or wealthy sponsor who would support me and serve as a reference. As I was a nobody, and I didn’t have any friends among the city elite, my plans for earning extra gold had to be given up.
On the 22nd we met with the Lord Mayor. Carrol introduced us to Grobaras, and barring some tension between him and Dûath (he really didn’t like big wild animals up close, it seemed!), we struck a deal with the Lord Mayor and agreed to travel to Fort Rannick and investigate what was going on in there before reporting to him. Each of us got a down payment of no less than 500 platinum for our efforts. I have to admit I was shocked. Then again, I knew we’d be walking into a wolf’s den anyway, so anything less would have been offensive.
The meeting with Grobaras strengthened my opinions on both the Lord Mayor and his personal aide, Carrol. The Lord Mayor was a tool, simple as that, but the lady was truly a kingmaker, the real power player behind the scenes. She seemed fair, likeable even, but I wasn’t sure. I would need to keep an eye on her.
Alice was still whining for us to leave immediately, but we chose not to. After all, we were still waiting for our equipment to be returned to us from the Mage Tower, and I was in the middle of training Dûath. Harsk left for Sandpoint for a quick one-day visit to see how the orphan boy Zack was maintaining his budding chapel for Iomedae. When he returned the next day he brought along an old acquaintance to my pleasant surprise.