Chapter 3: A Leisurely Day in a Foreign City
In a note from Creigal berDuvante to his daughter, the Lady Daphne berDuvante:
It is called many things: the Red Initiation, the New Rising, the Coming of Oblaran, the Breaking of the Great Egg. Although most sources say it happened as little as three thousand years ago, there are some that argue for more time, even one that says its been a hundred thousand years. Despite the debate on when it happened, they all agree there was a time when the White Moon was whole and the Red Moon was not there at all.
This is what occurred: the Red Moon approached from the dark recesses of space and disturbed our heavenly court. It was a turbulent and violent time, and caused all sorts of difficulties for the world's inhabitants. Giant arcs of energy and plasma lanced from Oblaran and struck both the Earth and the Old Mother Moon. The Earth quaked, volcanoes erupted, storms rippled across the land and sea. All manner of strange occurrence harassed and confounded the inhabitants. The people of the planet cowered and many perished.
These geological disruptions lasted for months and echoed for years. Eventually, the new Red Moon settled into orbit around our world. Destruction subsided. Everything calmed. The peoples of the world – those that remained – wallowed in the destruction and began again the slow process of rebuilding. They need only look up to remember what happened: above them the Old Mother Moon stretched across the sky in a long thin ring, shattered into a million billion pieces – some of which occasionally rains down on us.
Many books speculate about the reason and meaning for this occurrence. I cannot validate any of these claims. Indeed, I feel people often make up stories about things they can not possibly know. I feel these stories are a mix of, 1) eternal truths, and 2) the self-serving assertions of men looking to anchor their delusions in the natural world. I've sent two of my favorite books on the subject along with two of the most popular in case you wish to continue your investigation. I look forward to hearing your observations.
Summer takes too long. A part of me wants to order your immediate return – but no – I will not steal time from your beloved cousins. Give them my love.
Despite the loss of his men, Creigal still wanted to find Humbert. "We came all the way out here. If he's in town, I'd sure like to know it," he said.
Baet was not surprised that Creigal wished to continue. He thought it best if he volunteered. "I'll go in there after that squirrelly rat." He said. He was the only one to do it. Carringten couldn't go, he was far too noticeable. If they were in the south, where Borz were plentiful – but they were not, and even the most oblivious citizens of Wibbeley would to stare at his dark face.
As for the duke going into town – well, the was man brazen, not foolhardy.
On the other hand, Baet had a most common countenance. He had the odd quality of specifically looking like none of the Saot peoples while looking a little like all of them – especially with a few days dirt behind his ears: then he was practically unnoticeable in a crowd! Baet was also relatively new to the duke's personal guard, and not well known outside Rottershelm or Gaurring Heart. No one in Wibbeley knew what Baet looked like except Banifourd and his cronies. All in all, Baet was perfect for this mission. After all, he was a trained spy, a sneak, and an opportunist!
"If I should find Humbert, do you want me to bring back what he stole, or shall I come back and tell you first?" Baet asked. "I'd bring him out, but I do not think that is possible."
Creigal looked to Carringten as he answered. "If you can recover my treasure, that will suffice," He turned to Baet. "There is some coin and two fanciful weapons which would be nice to have. What I really want back is my daughter's necklace. It is a locket in the shape of the broken moon, and when you open it, the two halves form a heart."
As Baet memorized his orders, Carringten continued. "It is quite possible this house is nothing more than a trap," he pointed out. "Be back here before sunrise tomorrow or make your way back to Gaurring Heart."
Baet nodded. Despite a solemn front, he left the hay shed in high spirits. He had his own reasons to go, and they were not so noble. He was more than a passing acquaintance of the thief. Two months ago, Humbert came to Baet claiming to be studying the military, and asking questions. When the questions became too candid, Baet called the clerk on his behavior. But Humbert was an old gambling buddy, and one that had Baet in his debt. Ever so subtly the thief reminded our guard of the two gold sovereigns debt he owed. It was more than a year's pay as a poke. And the questions were not that big of a secret... Assured the debt would be fully forgiven, Baet answered the questions.
A week later, Humbert returned and gave him a gold sovereign just to look the other way. The Duke was gone, and Humbert had no weapons. Baet figured he could check Humbert on the way out to make sure nothing was stolen, but Humbert never returned. He must have had a different way out.
To think Humbert wanted nothing more than a necklace the whole time! He simply wanted a lure to get the duke out of Gaurring Heart. And it only cost him three gold sovereign! It was a cheap price to pay for the death of a duke.
Baet fingered the gold sovereign he gained for selling out his duke. It was a good deal closer to a cabin near Haver's Port – or so goes the lure – but it was also blood money. The relief of debt and strange questions were merely an incremental compromise. It was a set-up from the beginning. Humbert just wanted to soften Baet up. Baet knew the moment the questions turned suspicious, and once he had the faintest reason to give in, he did. After all, the answers were worth two sovereigns! And then he looked away for a coin in hand. Now, a life of honorable work was mired in omission, deception, and confusion...
It was a solid step back into the duke's good graces to save the captain of the guard. Hopefully, it began to make up for Baet's wrongs – known or unknown. Or so he thought for a moment. Then he remembered the cost in lives the duke paid for Baet's gaff. They saw Vearing die and Marik's corpse. He saw Banifourd strangle his best friend...
Baet held the blood money in hand as he walked and considered his crimes. He pitched the coin as he passed a well and begged the gods to wash him of his sin. Could he be rid of it so easily? He hoped so.
Still, there was the chance he might get his hands on Humbert, and then he'd have word with the man! He'd take back the duke's treasure and give the clerk a round beating. He was quite excited about that: get the treasure, thrash Humbert, and skip the city! He couldn't think of a more opportune outcome. If this should happen, then the duke never need question the thief and might not ever find out that Baet was his accomplice. But that was suspecting the duke didn't already know of his involvement... Now there was a question... Did Creigal know? If he did, would Creigal and Carringten be at the barn when he returned? Or were they simply waiting for Baet to be off before they fled?
Baet trudged along the road to Wibbeley in the ill-fitting clothes of his dear friend, Haddelton. Last night, in the stables, Creigal mistook Haddelton's spare horse and supplies for Baet's own. Having only his own dirty underwear, Baet was forced to wear the slimmer, longer garments of his lanky best friend. The outfit bit and pinched at the joints. Thank the gods Baet maintained possession of his boots! Haddelton's spare boots were far too thin! To think of wearing such evil shoes with glass still in his foot made Baet shudder. Thank the gods for small graces!
As he walked, Baet smiled and stayed mostly to himself. He maintained a casual demeanor and a slow gait as he made his way into the city. He walked as if his task was some mere drudgery he must always attend – and not the dangerous work of a sneak. The numerous guards paid him little attention. By late morning, Baet approached the address he was given. He decided to take the direct approach. He was just happy to see the address actually existed. What were the chances Banifourd gave the duke good information? But everyone knows it is always easier to convince an enemy of the truth than a lie. With any luck the door would pop open and Humbert would be on the other side. Baet knocked.
"Yes, yes..." an unfamiliar voice called. The door opened and a man in blue and white stood in the doorway. At the very back of the room sat Garf. A flush of anger overcame the traitor's face as he recognized Baet. "Banifourd!" Garf roared as he leveled a crossbow at the door.
"Balls," Baet muttered.
The guard in the doorway grabbed at his dagger. Baet didn't go for a weapon. He hit the guard in the neck and shoved him back. Baet grabbed the door's handle, and slammed it shut. The door trembled as the bolt from Garf's crossbow impacted. The wood of the door split as the tip just poked through. Wide eyed, Baet stared at the chevron of the bolt, mere inches from his face. He turned and jumped down the steps. He winced with the pain of the glass in his foot as he limp-ran into an alley.
The alley forked. Baet stopped and turned. He pulled Thunder Maker from its sheath and leveled the weapon at the entrance of the alley. Garf and two others in blue and white stepped around the corner. They saw the musket and broke for cover.
Baet ran on. He could not allow himself to be flanked. If he was caught, there was nothing but torture and death ahead of him. He hopped a couple fences. His foot throbbed as the glass pounded deeper into his foot. He told himself it was his foot or his life, and ran on with clenched teeth. For a good dozen blocks, he ran, jumped, and dodged like the devil was after him.
Winded, Baet stopped and listened. Ahead of him and to his left, he could hear crowds on the street. He eased through the alleys and small streets and found himself around the corner to a large open air market. With a smile, he peeled off his cloak and pitched it over a fence. He walked into the market and got lost among the various stalls and shops. If he couldn't interrogate Humbert, at least he could fix his clothes!
The market stretched on and on. Thousands of people moseyed about, and all the necessities were available. After a few blocks, Baet found himself browsing among massive baskets filled with basic clothes for commoners. Baet bought a decent outfit and a white hat with fur trim. He also bought a new cloak: white with fanciful red stitching. The cloak looked good with the new cap. He looked perhaps a bit of a dandy – all sparkly and new – but the cloth was a strong and comfortable material. Best of all, everything was clean and fit. He looked nothing like before in Haddelton's sparse utility travel clothes. For the price of four lunes, Baet went from every other man on the street to a man of some means and accomplishment.
As he paid for the garments, Baet realized the red sigil of Gaurring on Haddelton's undershirt. His friend's clothes sat in a neat pile to one side. The clerk put a hand on the sigil. "For two bits I'll give you a sack for your old clothes..." he began.
Baet shook his head. "I care for none of it. Burn it, launder it, sell it to some other, and I shall thank you for it," he said and placed a couple bits on the counter. "How much for a pair of socks?" He asked, as he grabbed them from a rack. His fingers trembled as he fastened his new cloak and took a sore step from the shop.
Carringten sat in the door of the barn and looked out over the countryside. Creigal slept as there was little to do but worry and wait while Baet snuck about Wibbeley. The sun approached its zenith. Unable to sleep any more, and uninterested in simply lying about, Creigal joined his captain.
"Morning," Creigal smiled.
"Barely," Carringten looked up at the sun. "And how are you?"
"I've had better days," Creigal shrugged. "Indeed, I'm feeling a bit of a fool."
"Life is folly," Carringten noted.
"We could be safe in Gaurring," Creigal said. "Vearing, Marik, Haddelton – the lot of 'em would still be alive."
"Including Willem," Carringten noted. "And we might not be safe at all. I distinctly remember two botched assassinations in the halls of your own manse. Beside, it is a sad existence to beg for safety. Now at least we have adventure."
"Is that what you call this?" Creigal asked. "And yet, you justify my position. We would not be here if I did not insist on it."
"We would not be here if Humbert did not steal from you," Carringten noted.
"And he should not have stole from me if not for Baetolamew," Creigal added.
"Now he is trusted with finding his accomplice," Carringten replied. "Do you think he will do it?"
Creigal shook his head and gave a shrug. How was he supposed to know? "He did save your life, and quite possibly mine. Even if he is still in league with Humbert, he seems to have no interest in Banifourd's betrayal. What of Haddelton? Do you still presume he was innocent?"
"I did not speak with him about it, but I did notice he's been suspicious for some few days," Carringten said. "Whether or not he was guilty, he is now given God's innocence."
Creigal frowned at this. "I would not feel so bad about this adventure if it was not purchased with the death of such good men."
"I am sorry for your sons," Carringten put a hand on the Duke's shoulder. "But you mustn't beat yourself up."
"I am sorry for your brothers," Creigal replied. "I shall keep the bruising to a minimum."
Carringten shrugged, "They would be pleased to know you escaped. They thought it an honor to serve."
"To think I am worthy of their deaths is an honor," Creigal remarked. "Though, I wonder if I have spent them foolishly."
"Most soldiers die for mere coin," Carringten said. "These men died to protect you. Yes, we could be safe in Gaurring. Safe-ish. We would die there, eventually. Of age. Of boredom. And what would we have to show for it? Here and now, we pursue a thief! We right wrongs!"
"We mean to collect a necklace – a base and simple necklace if I admit the truth of it. I could buy a thousand identical necklaces, and not blink at the cost," Creigal replied.
Carringten shook his head. "There is none identical. None other was draped around Daphne's neck. No. Nothing of Daphne was base or simple. She was your one and true born child. Your pernicious sons count for nothing."
Creigal frowned to hear this, but offered no argument. He knew it was true.
Carringten continued. "Daphne's memory deserves your defense. Plots against you will not stop simply because you stay home."
Creigal wondered if the other men might agree. For his part, Vearing would not have cared. He lived to fight. But the others had considerations. Barkaloe, Haddelton, Marik, and Ainju all had women, and all but Ainju had children.
"Last night, as Willem stared me down with his bow, there was a long second when I thought I was dead," Carringten stirred the Duke from his own musings. "I did not mind that I would die, except that I could protect you no more. I was happy I put two enemies at your feet. I was happy to have their blood on my hands. I only hoped you might also kill Willem and yet escape any others."
"But you did not die."
"I did not," Carringten agreed. "And imagine my surprise when I picked Baet off the ground."
"Even more so when you noticed Baet was all but naked?" Criegal smirked. "Wearing mostly dirt and blood."
"He had his boots," Carringten shrugged, then let out a long sigh. "I thought of Baetolamew too much. I wanted to make sure he'd cause no further trouble. I did not see Banifourd actively plotting." Carringten paused for a long time as he looked out over the landscape.
"We had reason to question Baet's loyalty," Creigal began. "His debt to the thief was known."
"Then you trust him now?" Carringten asked. "He will not take this opportunity to betray you once more?"
"He has allowed me to be robbed, and yet he has saved my life," Creigal remarked. "It seems he is willing to cross some lines, but not others."
"He is no good as a guard," Carringten frowned. "Not in the long run."
"No, not in the long run," Creigal agreed. "But I think he can be trusted, for now, in this situation."
"Then you believe he has more love for Haddelton than coin? You believe he was never in league with Banifourd at all?"
I do," Creigal nodded. "If Baet had not fired his musket, we never would have been alerted to Willem and his men sneaking in on us."
"And if they were in league, then Haddelton's death has soured the deal?" Carringten rationalized.
Creigal snorted. "There's too much to know. We take a risk no matter what we do."
"Then it is truly an adventure," Carringten smiled. "And if Baet does not return, which way shall we go?"
Creigal shrugged. "If Baet does not return, our task is impossible. It will take weeks to get reinforcements to continue the search. By that time, Humbert could be at the far edge of Minist. He could be aboard a ship to Hof Hebrin for all we know – or even a boat back to Balliwex."
"Balliwex! Let him return to the south! Better yet, let him return to Gaurring Heart!" Carringten laughed. "No, he will never go home. That is folly!"
"And we will not go into Minist," Creigal shook his head. "If the thief goes west, we will not follow. Not for Daphne. Not for anything. If Baet does not return, I think we shall go to Land's End and have a candid conversation with the Dunkels. Perhaps we can get something out of this trip after all."
"Perhaps. They chafe under the rule of Gred duReb. Or so it seems."
"Or so it seems," Creigal spit. "That is an apt description of all politics, my friend."
"One that has kept you alive for a long time," Carringten smiled. "Gred duReb is still unsure of where you stand."
Creigal shook his head. "I cannot believe that – not any longer. He is on to us. He simply doesn't know how to address the problem."
"Or he has plans we do not know," Carringten stated. "Still, you have been thorough. It'll take nothing less than all out war for Gred duReb to regain Gaurring and the Breck – and even that may not succeed."
"Open war is what I fear. It is too much death. Too much destruction. Yet, my people want freedom, and they will have it, even if it means so many must die," Creigal surmised. "Now that we have prepared ourselves for all out war, we should come up with strategies to force a peace."
"Truly, that is the thing," Carringten agreed. "For now, your army is ready, and the Breck will throw their support behind us. Greb duReb's best play is to give no provocation and hope to keep us as we are: with some few strings. If he was not such a tyrant, he might have more options."
"If he was not such a tyrant, we'd have no reason to defy him at all. His tyranny will be his undoing – or simply our escape. He will do something rash. There will be such an uproar that the people will demand we secede, and we will succeed," Creigal said.
"And then we will have our own King," Carringten smiled. "Creigal berDuvante, King of the Gaur!"
"I will have to make you a general," Creigal patted his friend on the back. "Lord General of the Armies of Gaurring."
"Lord General Carringten, Orphan of Borzia!" Carringten laughed. "Ah, we are such presumptuous men. Last night, we ran for our lives, with tails tucked, as friends died. Now, by the light of day, we are brave enough to give each other exalted title!"
"We gave as good as we got," Creigal stated. "Still, I miss my loyal men."
"What is done is done," Carringten shrugged. "Do you think Greb duReb might act against Gaurring? While we are gone? Perhaps we will not even see this glorious revolution."
"Then no man will be able to pin the blame on me," Creigal smiled. "Having missed the war, we will return home, and not even know our own country."
"Such thoughts!" Carringten laughed. "The return of King Creigal and Lord General Carringten! They have won great title by being absent! Such thoughts indeed!"
"If we believe our imaginings, we have had a very lucrative morning," Creigal smiled. "I only hope Baet fares so well."