Rise of the Thrall Lord
Knights of the Couch - Part X - The Barons Heart
Smells Like Trouble
It was a sad scene in the Throne room. Lloyd, off to one side comforted the Lady Andrella. Meanwhile, the Baroness tried her best to remain strong under the circumstances, despite her obvious duress. Both women were dressed somberly, in grey and black. The castle guards all wore black armbands around their left arms.
Aksel, Elvisda, Glorfindel, Donatello and Lloyd had all rushed up to the keep as soon as they arrived in town. Martan had taken Cyclone to the Golden Golem Inn to get him a room.
Elvisda was doing his best now to console the Lady Fairwind. He lent a sympathetic ear as she talked about the Baron. “He was a good man. He always tried to listen, and be fair. His people loved him,” she finished as a tear came to her eye.
“There, there, my dear,” the bard replied as he handed her his kerchief.
She took it and used it to wipe her eyes. The she blew her delicate nose into it. “Oh,” she said realizing what she had just done.
“That’s ok your ladyship,” Elvsida replied with a smile, “I’ve got plenty of them. Consider it a souvenir.”
The Baroness couldn’t help but smile. “Oh Elvisda,” she said, “it is such a comfort to have you around.” Then, realizing what she had just said, she said loudly, “It’s good to have all of the Knight of the Couch here.”
“Baroness,” Aksel asked, “Can you tell us exactly what happened?”
“Yes,” the Lady Fairwind replied. “That’s a good idea. Let’s adjourn to the private room.” She got up and led them all to the room adjoining the throne room. The KOTC, Lady Andrella, and Captain of the Guard, Gelpas, all followed.
They all sat down around the now familiar meeting table, Fairwind taking the Baron’s usual seat at the head of the table. She took a moment to gather her composure, and then began.
“It was two nights ago. Grellus had retired to his chambers for the evening. It was late and he was tired after a long day of town business. I bid him good night and then went on to my chambers. The guards were at their usual stations, out in the hallway. No one could have gotten in without them seeing.”
Donnie coughed, “Beg your pardon, ma’am. But I could have.”
“Yes,” Fairwind amended, “No ordinary person could have gotten by them. The head butler, Gevies, usually goes in around ten o’clock to turn down the sheets and lay out his night cloths. He reported that the Baron was fine when he saw him. He seemed tired but otherwise in good spirits.”
Fairwind paused a moment, then went on. “Then, when Gevies went in to wake him in the morning…he found Grellus’s body.” She paused. Andrella, seated next to Lloyd, buried her head in the warblade’s chest.
Gelpas moved up behind the Baroness and place a hand on her shoulder. Elvisda, seated to her left, reached over and did the same. The Lady Fairwind looked up and smiled at the two of them, placing her hand on each of theirs. Then she patted both hands and said, “I’m fine. I’m fine. Thank you gentlemen.”
Gelpas dropped his hand and stepped back. Elvisda said comfortingly, “Take your time your ladyship.” Then he dropped his hand and sat back in his seat.
She smiled again and took a deep breath. Then she went on. “His body was on the floor. But his heart had been cut out. We immediately called Qualtan, the head cleric, and he came to examine the body. He said it looked like some kind of weird ritual had been performed and without the heart, Grellus could not be resurrected. Qualtan placed the body in magical stasis to preserve it, but he said that if we could not retrieve the heart in three weeks at most, the body would be too far gone to resurrect.” Fairwind’s face had gone ashen at this point.
Aksel stood up and said, “That is one of the most heinous things I have ever heard of your ladyship. Such an act is an abomination against all good creatures that live in this world. I promise you, we will do whatever is in our power to find the Baron’s heart and return it to Restenford so that he can be resurrected before the time limit is up.”
“Baroness,” Glorfindel chimed in, “would it be possible for some of us to examine the Baron’s chambers?”
“Yes, of course” she said. As she went to rise, Elvisda stood up and lent her his hand. “Thank you Elvisda,” she said smiling briefly at the bard.
The party proceeded to the Baron’s chambers. There was a guard outside the door.
“We kept the room exactly as it was the night he was murdered,” Fairwind told them. “No one has been allowed in since Qualtan removed the body yesterday morning.”
She had the guard open the door, and they peered in. It was a large room, with a huge ornate poster bed. There was a round table with some chairs at one end. There was a mirror, two dressers and a large wardrobe at the other end. Two windows opened onto a balcony which oversaw the gardens below.
As they looked around the room, they could see the bed was still turned down and the Baron’s night clothes lay on the bed untouched. On the floor, traces of blood were still evident in front of the mirror.
“Let’s stay out here,” Aksel decided, “and let Lloyd and Donnie investigate.”
Lloyd entered the room followed by Donatello. They began a careful sweep of the area, Lloyd carefully examined where the body had fallen, while Donnie moved around the room attempting to spot anything out of place.
After a few minutes Lloyd spoke up. “Not much here, but I do detect a few human scents in the room that don’t seem to be the Baron’s.”
Glo turned to the Baroness and asked, “You said the room has been sealed since the Baron was found?”
“Yes,” Fairwind replied.
“Did anyone else have a key besides the Baron?” the wizard asked.
“Just Gevies, the head butler. Captain, please fetch him,” she told Gelpas.
“At once Baroness,” the Captain replied.
He turned and instructed the guard to go get the head butler.
Donnie, who had just completed a quick sweep of the room, walked back to the group in the doorway. He held a gaudy silver button in his hand.
“Does this belong to the Baron?” he asked. “I compared it to the clothes in his wardrobe and there did not seem to be a match.”
The Baroness took a closer look the button in Donatello’s hand. Finally she stood up and said, “No. I don’t believe Grellus had any clothes with something as garish as that on it.”
“Then we have our first clue!” Elvisda exalted. “Lloyd, come here and look at this.”
Lloyd had finished examining bloody area and was in the middle of sweeping the rest of the room. “What did you find?” he asked as he walked over to the door.
“A button that does not seem to belong to anything the Baron would wear,” Donnie told him.
“Interesting,” the warblade said. “Let me see it.”
Donnie handed the button over to Lloyd.
Lloyd examined the button carefully. He paused for a couple of seconds, and said, “There are a couple of human scents on this button. One of the people was in this room recently, but the other one was not.”
“Hmmm,” Aksel said, “Sounds like someone entered this room in borrowed clothes. Perhaps the person was masquerading as someone else.”
“One more thing,” Lloyd said. “I found this string under the Baron’s bed. Not sure what to make of it though; it looks golden.”
“Let me see that,” said Elvisda. “Well what do you know! That’s a lute string! A golden lute string. These are quite rare.” He turned to the Baroness and said, “I don’t suppose the Baron played the lute by any chance?”
Fairwind looked positively puzzled. “No, he did not. My husband wouldn’t have known a lute from a harpsichord. Grellus loved to listen to music, but alas, he could not carry a tune to save his life, let alone play an instrument.”
Just then the guard returned with the head butler.
“Grevies,” the Baroness said, “These people are investigating the Baron’s murder. Please cooperate with them in any way you can.”
“As you wish,” the head butler replied. He took a quick look into the chambers where he had found the Baron earlier the previous day and visibly shuddered. Not the kind of reaction you would expect from someone involved in the Baron’s death.
Lloyd approached the man and examined him closely. The servant looked uncomfortable, but followed orders and complied with the inspection.
Finally, Lloyd turned around and said “Yeah, his scent is here too, but it one of the regular scents around the room. It kind of lingers on objects and the room itself, just like the Baron’s scent. But there are still two human scents that I cannot account for. One of them is on that button.”
The group questioned the head butler a bit more and then adjourned back to the private room next to the throne room.
“So there were two people recently in the Baron’s room that cannot be accounted for,” Aksel began. “One or both could have been involved in his murder. We also have a rather ornate button, and a golden lute string found on the scene.”
Elvisda spoke up. “This was obviously done by a hired assassin, maybe disguised in order to gain entry to the castle”.
Donnie cleared his throat. “Ahem. The removal of the heart suggests more than a regular assassin. It is not a typical skill. It would require someone with a higher level of experience; probably from the Assassin’s Guild.”
The room was silent for a moment, and then Aksel said, “Well then, it looks like our next step then is to go back to Garrotten.”
“We’ll need provisions,” Elvisda added.
“I’ll draft you a royal note declaring that you should be provided with whatever you require for this journey,” Fairwind said fervently. The thought that some action was finally being taken towards finding her husband’s heart seem to bolster her spirits.
Andrella suddenly stood up. “I want to go too!” she declared.
“Andrella!” Fairwind said astonished.
“I can’t stand the thought of just sitting here while father’s killer is running loose out there,” she said angrily.
Lloyd stood up and grasped her by the shoulders. He looked down into her face and said, “Andrella, you’re mother needs you hear now by her side. And so do your people. I promise you, on my honor as a noble of Penwick, we will find those who are responsible for your father’s murder and deal with them accordingly. And we will return your father to you!”
“Aye!” the other KOTC members said all standing up.
Andrella choked the words, “Thank you. All of you.” Then she buried her head in Lloyd’s chest and began to cry. Lloyd turned to the Baroness and said quietly, “I’ll escort the Lady Andrella to her chambers, with your permission.”
“Of course, Lloyd,” Fairwind replied with a look of deep gratitude. “I also want to thank all of you; both for your concern and for putting your considerable abilities to use in our time of dire need.”
“We could do no less, your ladyship,” Elvisda replied for them all.
The company departed the castle and headed into town to stock up on provisions for the trip to Garrotten. This included a stop at Haltan the merchant, who was just “so happy” to see his “good buddy” Elvisda. Elvisda had already bested him twice in mercantile dealings. The third time was no different than the other two.
Once they had their supplies for the morrow’s journey, the group retired to their newly acquired Inn, the Golden Gollem. After a quiet dinner, the party split up to go to their separate rooms. Elvisda went off with Shalla, the female bard who was now manager of their inn. Aksel normally shared his room with Seth. But now that the little ninja had left the party, the cleric was left all on his own. Lloyd was supposed to share a room with Cyclonne, but the Dragoon had disappeared before they had all headed upstairs, briefly mentioning something about “watching the stars”. Glo suspected he was probably going to spend the night on the roof.
Glo shared a room with Donatello now that Ellistra and Allana were both gone. Donnie had gone out gathering information around town after dinner. However, he had not found anything new on the Baron’s murder other than the fact that the town was in a state of great unrest.
“Back to Garrotten in the morning then” Donnie said. “Lovely place. I was hoping to be able to miss it for a few more years before having to return there.”
Glo smiled at the swashbuckler’s joke. It would be a bitter sweet trip for the two of them without Elistra, Alana or Ruka.
“Doesn’t seem like we have much choice,” the wizard replied.
“I just hope we can find the Baron’s heart in time,” Donnie said. “Garrotten is not a large place, but infiltrating the Assassin’s Guild is no small task.”
“We’ll just have to give it our best shot,” Glo responded.
Donnie briefly smiled, and then sat on the bed, entering into the Elven trance that passed for sleep.
Glo now had a headache from trying to make sense out of all the strange circumstances surrounding the Baron’s murder. These recent events had a rather ghastly nature to them. There were definitely dark forces behind what has transpired here. The next few days should prove to be very interesting he thought as he, too, fell into an Elven trace.