–Dark of the Moon, ch. 6–
In which the companions discover they are wanted for murder and strike a deal with a possibly corrupt sheriff.
The four adventurers woke with heads throbbing and bodies bruised. Elendithas hummed a melody and light danced from her fingers, illumining a small square room. Packed earth walls met at a thick wooden door that had neither handle nor lock. Three close set bars secured a small window in the door.
“Well, at least we’re not dead,” said Norros.
“Yes, we’re alive,” said Nadarr. “But alive where?”
“This floor is squishy,” said Elendithas.
“There’s a lot of water in the ground,” said Danath. “It smells…like decay. A swamp?”
“Let’s find out,” said Nadarr. Without warning, he charged the door. A loud thud and a bruised shoulder was all he got for his effort.
“Maybe we can do this more, ah, delicately,” suggested Elendithas.
“I assume it’s secured by a crossbar on the other side,” said Norros. “But my arm’s too thick to fit through the bars. Elend?”
“Mine fits. Nadarr, hoist me up. Danath, give me your belt.”
It took two tries, but Elendithas managed to wrap the belt around the bar and pull. The heavy piece of wood hit the ground with a satisfying squelch. Elend sent her dancing lights up the hallway, revealing an earthen ramp leading to a second door.
“Out of my way,” said Nadarr. He charged again. Thud.
“At least you have matching bruises now,” said Norros. “Oh, look. It’s unlocked.”
The door opened onto a cell block. Three empty jail cells stood to their left, and the passage ended in a third door. Nadarr saw the door and started running. Danath got there first and tried the handle. It worked, and Danath swung the door open. Nadarr launched himself in the same moment and tumbled through the opening. Norros and Elend heard a crash and a groan.
“All clear,” came Nadarr’s voice. They followed him into a utilitarian office. Nadarr and the desk’s chair were in a heap on the ground.
“My turn,” said Norros, rolling up his sleeves. With practiced hands, he rifled through the desk. In half a minute, the sharp letter opener disappeared on his person and all the drawers stood open.
“What do you have?” said Elend.
“We’re in Miresedge. This is the desk of the Rasmussen Wyle whom Frea told us about. He arrested us, apparently. Look at this.”
The rogue handed Elend a piece of parchment. “It’s a warrant. Four names. Norros Arborshade. Elendithas Day. Danath Errandir. Nadarr Kasdann. How do they know our names?”
“How does who know? Who issued the warrant?” asked Danath.
Elendithas traced her fingers across the lettering to the seal at the bottom. “The Duke of Torniel. That’s who’s seal is on this warrant.”
“The Pinnacle in Tornby is after us?” said Norros. “This is bad. What did we do?”
Elend continued scanning the warrant. “For the murder of Holba Darif.”
“Who?” asked Nadarr. “We didn’t kill anyone.”
A flash of insight lit Elend’s features. “Oh no. Yes, we did. The werewolf we killed on the barge. She turned back into a human when she died. I fell next to her and saw the Lupine Pact brand on her shoulder. And something else.”
She sat down in the desk chair that Nadarr had righted. “What else?” he prompted.
“A tattoo on her forearm. It was a heart and inside was written the name ‘Bela.’ Holba Darif. Bela and Jerol Darif. This Holba must be their daughter.”
“The Darifs who we protected south of Cold Harbor?” said Danath. “Their daughter’s a werewolf?”
“Was, I suppose.”
“It might explain why the Darifs were targeted by that pack,” said Nadarr. “What if they knew what their daughter was and she was tying up loose ends. Trying to keep her identity a secret. It’s a bloodthirsty tactic.”
“Completely cold-blooded, trying to kill your own parents,” said Elendithas. She waited for Nadarr to respond, but the Dragonborn fell silent at her remark.
“Did you find anything else?” said Danath, attempting to fill the conversational void.
“One more thing of interest,” answered Norros. “It’s an order to collect all the silver from Miresedge east, including Hourglass Island.”
“This also has the Duke of Torniel’s seal on it,” said Elendithas. “How curious.”
“Let’s keep looking around,” said Norros. He produced the letter opener and tried to pick the lock of a closet behind the desk. But the implement was too thick to trigger the mechanism. He sized up the door. It appeared to be made of less sturdy wood than the other three. “Nadarr, now’s your chance.”
The Dragonborn smiled. It looked fairly intimidating on his long snout. He charged the closet and smashed through the door. “Here’s your bow, Danath. And my axe.” Four crates lined the floor. Nadarr began hacking at the nearest one. “Here are your things, ‘Steven.’”
The paladin raised his axe to smash a second crate, but Norros halted his swing. “Allow me,” he said, whipping out his lockpicks. In a trice, the other three crates stood open. All their gear was there save the silvered weapons. “Back to square one, I guess.”
Where the office was spartan, the large living room they entered next was sumptuously appointed. A patterned rug lay beneath a trio of overstuffed couches. The ceiling was two stories high, and a second floor balcony overlooked the living room. Two portraits hung on either side of a door beneath the balcony. Norros approached one, a middle-aged man with a pointed goatee, wearing blue silk draped with a yellow sash. “Arlan Esris, Duke of Torniel,” he read.
“Was the Duke of Torniel,” reminded Elendithas. “Remember what Jerol Darif told us. The duke died last month.”
“Yes,” said Danath. “It was right around the time the wolf attacks started.”
“If the duke is dead,” said Nadarr. “Then how did his seal get on the warrant and the collection order?”
“That is a good question.”
“The other painting is the duke’s wife, Duchess Samara Esris,” said Norros. “Maybe she’s in charge now that the duke is dead.”
“Could be,” said Nadarr. “But I doubt it. My guess is that the duke’s advisors are in charge now, at least until a son is old enough to take the title.”
“It’s going to be a while, then,” said Norros. “The duke’s only son died about five years ago. Calder Esris. He wasn’t but fifteen or so.”
“How’d he die?”
“Hunting accident, if memory serves. They have a daughter, Kirra, as well. She must be close to twenty now.”
“But Torniel is part of Sularil,” said Elendithas. “Women are allowed to be heads of government.”
“Nadarr’s right. Old traditions die hard in Torniel,” said Norros. “Maybe Samara has tried to take over. Maybe she has succeeded. But knowing how conservative the Pinnacle is, I doubt it.”
“Hold on a tick,” said Danath. “Who was that fellow Perix Ren’s informant got the name of the Lupine Pact from?”
“The court wizard. The duke’s advisor!”
“Now we’re getting somewhere,” said Elendithas. “So if this Silvern is using the duke’s seal, he’s got as much power as he wants. And he’s part of the Lupine Pact, we assume. Maybe the head of it. He could have gotten our names any number of ways.”
“My money’s on Perix Ren,” spat Norros. “He’d have no qualms selling us out if it suited his purposes.”
They continued exploring downstairs. The door between the portraits opened into a dining room. The large table was set with chargers, napkins, and cutlery. Conspicuously, none of it was silver. A third portrait hung on the dining room wall, a rotund gentleman doing everything to look thinner. A trimmed beard adorned his jowls. “Rasmussen Wyle,” read the plaque affixed to the frame.
“How does a sheriff have a house as nice as this, I wonder?” said Nadarr, pushing open the door to the kitchen. Since the door obviously opened both ways, the Dragonborn did not try to knock it down.
The cook was busy at the hearth when they entered. Norros snuck up behind her and put her in a choke hold, much to Elendithas’s dismay. “Must you always resort to violence? I’m sure this cook is a good sort, aren’t you?”
The cook nodded her head and whimpered.
“Let her go, Norros,” said Elend.
“My name is Steven,” said Norros, letting the cook go.
“Now, my dear, are we correct to understand that we are in the sheriff’s house in Miresedge?”
“Yes, yes,” said the cook. “Oh no, you’re the prisoners the master brought in this morning. How’d you get out?”
“That’s not important. Also, we were held by mistake. Just a misunderstanding.” Elendithas laughed lightly.
“Does the name ‘Holba Darif’ mean anything to you?” asked Danath.
“Holba? Oh yes, she’s dined here on several occasions. Pleasant girl. The master does so love to entertain.”
Just then, they heard a door open and footsteps enter the house. Elendithas strummed her lyre. “Now, cook. May I call you ‘cook?’ Good.” Elend’s voice took on a sing-song quality. “We are old friends. You’d never think to betray us. Go out there and tell your master that everything is fine and dinner will be prepared on time. No reason to come to the kitchen.”
“Whatever you say, old friend.” The cook waddled into the living room.
“I have an idea,” said Danath, reaching into the bag of holding. “Yes, they’re still here.”
He produced a handful of silver spoons. “I took these from the Archon. I was going to melt them down and make silver arrowheads, but I haven’t had the time. I can melt them down here and at least dip the arrows I have to tip them with silver.”
“Get to work then,” said Norros. “We don’t know if the cook will keep Wyle out of here.”
Danath grabbed a cast iron skillet and dumped the spoons in. Setting it in the hottest part of the fire, he waited. “This might take a while. You guys go keep a look out.”
The other three returned to the dining room. Through the window, Nadarr noticed a dire wolf and two smaller wolves stalk past the house. Thirty seconds later, another trio of wolves went by. “There are wolves patrolling the town.”
“I don’t like this,” said Elendithas. “Where’s Norros?”
“I’m here,” he said from the shadows.
“How do you do that?”
Just then, they heard a roar of anger. “I think Wyle found his smashed closet.”
A moment later, the dining room doors flew open and a large man – much more portly than his portrait – stamped in. The cook followed chattering about various dishes she was preparing. “Where are they?” bellowed Rasmussen Wyle.
“Where are who?” said Elendithas, batting her eyelashes.
“You and you. And there are two more.” He spoke in a slow drawl, and his right hand gripped the pommel of a greatsword slung across his back.
“Before you draw that sword, sir, please listen to me.” Elendithas took a step between the sheriff and Nadarr. “You must understand that we are innocent of the crime for which we were arrested.”
“You didn’t kill Holba Darif then?”
“No, we did, but it was self-defense.”
“Ah, this ought to be rich. Go on,” said Wyle.
“We were aboard the barge Current Events when a second barge slammed into it. Four dire wolves like the ones outside attacked us, and then a werewolf too. Have you ever seen a werewolf, sheriff?”
Wyle took a breath to speak, but Elendithas continued without giving him an opening. “They’re enormous, sinewy creatures with great big fangs inside vicious mouths. We killed two of the wolves and the werewolf. When the werewolf died, she transformed back into a human. She was so small in death, so innocent-looking. But believe me, sheriff, she would have killed us all if we hadn’t killed her first.”
Elendithas paused. “Come to think of it, how did we not die? How did we end up in your cell?”
Wyle chewed his lower lip. Sizing up the pretty young bard, he concluded that she seemed truthful, at least. He knew from their wounds that they had been attacked by wolves. That part was true, if nothing else. And yet something nagged at him.
“I don’t know what’s going on here,” said the sheriff. “You four showed up unconscious on my doorstep before first light with a warrant pinned to you. The warrant was certified by the duke’s own seal. I tossed you in the deep cell, just to be sure.”
“The question is then,” said Nadarr, “who dropped us off at your door? We were left for dead on that barge. We could easily have died. But we didn’t.”
“I can at least tell you who was the last person I saw,” said Norros, stepping from the shadows. “A man came from the barge after you three went down. He knocked Dalvin unconscious, then came to me. ‘Wolves, finish him,’ he said. And that’s all I remember.”
“Maybe that man dropped us off here,” said Elendithas. “But why?”
Wyle continued chewing his lower lip. “Perhaps, he didn’t want anyone asking questions when you didn’t turn up wherever you were going. Clever. Get a law-abiding sheriff to do his dirty work.”
“And what about the silver?” asked Nadarr. “We saw the order on your desk.”
“Ah, yes, the silver,” said Wyle. “I delivered the silver collected here in Miresedge to a place in the swamp. Had some help doing so from Frea Marquis.”
“Oh, we know her,” said Elendithas. “She tasked us to bring the silver from Hourglass to you here in Miresedge. That’s why we were on the barge in the first place.”
A faraway look stole across Wyle’s face. “Yes, Frea and I have had some times.” The meaning of Elendithas’s words penetrated his reverie. “What? You were bringing the silver to me? I hadn’t gotten around to arranging delivery of the Hourglass silver.”
“The barge owner Dalvin said his orders were to bring it to Tornby,” added Norros, “Not to Miresedge. I don’t understand what’s going on here.”
“Nor I,” said Wyle. “And as a general rule, I don’t like not knowing what’s going on. Come with me.”
He slammed through the dining room door and headed for the stairs, talking all the while. “Frea didn’t know I was collecting the silver on Hourglass. And yet somehow she knew I wanted it. Someone else must have tipped her off, perhaps as a check on me — to make sure I did my job. At the same time, the silver was shipped from Hourglass without my say so, delivered to Port Eldasin, and then on to Tornby. But before it could reach the city, you intercepted it in an attempt to bring it to me on Frea’s orders. And then a third party, which included at least one werewolf also intercepted the cargo.”
Wyle stopped at a hall closet across from the master bedroom and pointed to Norros. “Presumably, the cargo is now in the hands of the man you saw, whoever he was.” He opened the closet door, wrapped on the wood, and then slid away a false wall. A stash of weapons hung from hooks. “Silvered weapons,” said Wyle. “Insurance policy. If you’ve got the coin, you’ve got the weapons. I don’t like being jerked around by official documents that turn out to be less than official. And that warrant doesn’t pass the smell test.”
Nadarr eyed a longsword. “How much?”
“A mere one thousand gold,” offered Wyle.
The three adventurers’ mouths dropped open.
“I’m a businessman. These are my wares. That is my price.”
“We can’t afford that at all.”
“I could have taken all your money when you were unconscious. I didn’t. I have my scruples. Not many, but I do have them. One thousand gold for the sword. Four hundred per dagger. Five hundred for the arrows. I’ll throw in the quiver for free.”
“No deal,” said Elendithas. “Sheriff, isn’t there any way we can earn these weapons without coin?” She put a hand on Wyle’s shoulder and counted to five. Then she removed it and put it to her forehead, as if she might faint.
Wyle melted. “I suppose if you help me investigate what’s going on, you can have the longsword on a loan. Find out who sent the order and the warrant, and we’ll talk about the weapons.”
“You’ve got yourself a deal,” said Nadarr, hefting the sword in both hands.
“A barge leaves for Torniel-by-the-Sea at noon. If you hurry, you can catch it.” Wyle stalked back downstairs. “Don’t breathe a word of our deal to anyone, not even people you think you can trust.” They met Danath at the bottom of the stairs. “Oh, there’s the last one. Where have you been?”
“Be off with you, then. And watch out for those blasted wolves outside. All month they’ve been in town. Can’t get rid of them.”
The four adventurers left the sheriff’s house and made for the Glassrun. The dock was in sight when they looked back and saw a pair of dire wolves and their pack stalking them.
“Just walk slowly and calmly,” said Danath.
Elendithas ignored his advice. “I can make it,” she said, and dashed for the barge. The wolves reacted instinctively, and leapt to action.
Norros broke into a run and made it to the barge. Hiding behind the gunwale, he unslung his shortbow and nocked an arrow.
The wolves were on Nadarr before the paladin could raise his shield. “Take them out,” he shouted. Arrows flew. Notes from Elend’s lyre filled the air. Nadarr’s axe hummed. But there were too many wolves. Then out of nowhere, a wolf’s head was sent skyward. The greatsword swung again and another wolf lay dead.
“I told you to mind the wolves,” said Rasmussen Wyle, grinning gleefully as he strode to another wolf.
The fight was over in a minute. “Now get going,” he said. “And remember our deal. I want to get to the bottom of this.”
The four adventurers boarded the barge. “To Torniel-by-the-Sea, then,” said Elendithas.
“To Tornby,” said Norros. “To home.”
Written by Adam Thomas, Dungeonmaster
Jarrod Antkowiak as Norros Arborshade
Allissa Leonard as Nadarr Kasdann
Jack Leonard as Danath Errandir
Leah Thomas as Elendithas Day