Rise of the Thrall Lord
Knights of the Couch - Part X - The Barons Heart - Chapter 2
Wanted, Dead or Alive?
The road to Garrotten seemed empty this time. A mere two weeks ago, the party had been on this road, headed to find the black monolith and stop the Serpent Cult from retrieving the Golem Thrall Master’s legacy. Now, however, they were traveling without the seeress, Ellistra, nor the dragon girl, Ruka, or the Knight of the Rose, Allana.
Donatello was a lot quieter now which was unusual for him. Even Elvisda, seemed somewhat subdued.
“What do you think the odds are that the heart is actually in Garrotten?” Lloyd asked.
Elvisda turned in his saddle to look at the warblade. “Don’t worry Lloyd. If it is not in Garrotten, then we will at least find more clues there.”
“It is rather obvious that the Assassin’s Guild is involved” Aksel added. “The trick will be in finding out to what extent…and who has the heart now.”
“We’ll have to be discrete,” Donnie chimed in, breaking out of his funk. “They already know us in town. And being that we are from Restenford, and we were just in Garrotten, our sudden return might send up red flags to anyone involved in the Baron’s murder.”
“It might be best to split up into a few groups when we get there, actually,” Aksel added. “Maybe Cyclone and I can go check a few questionable places I ran across when I was there getting Ruka cured of that snake poison.”
“And, Elvisda, Lloyd and I can go have a talk with his Bard friend, Balmarrow,” Glorfindel replied.
“That might work,” Donnie agreed. “The rest of you can keep a low profile while I go scout around the town for information.”
Elvisda turned back to the Lloyd and said, “See, we already have a plan. So stop worrying.”
They continued on their way down the Old Knight’s road. They had traveled a few more miles when they heard the flapping of large wings from overhead. Looking up they saw three armored men on hippogriffs flying high above the road ahead of them.
“Sky Knights of Dunwynn,” Cyclone muttered. “What are they doing here of all places. They don’t usually travel this far south.”
The Sky Knights must have already spotted the party below as they were descending towards the road. They looked rather impressive as they spiraled downward. However, their landing was not as graceful as one might expect.
“Guess they need more practice on those mounts,” Donatello chuckled. Everyone snickered at the swashbuckler’s quip.
Aksel spoke quietly to the group. “Let’s not antagonize them too much. I am very curious as to why they are here. And as Cyclone said, this is highly unusual. Let’s see if we can find out what they are up too.”
The lead Knight trotted up to the party, still on his strange steed, with the other two knights trailing not far behind. “Good day travelers,” he said. “Who are you and where might you be headed?”
Elvisda, moved forward and spoke for the group, “I am the Bard Elvisda, and this is my entourage. We have just come from an engagement in Restenford and are on the road to Garrotten for an impromptu performance before next month’s fair. You may have heard of me.”
“Elvisda, you say?” the Knight replied. “Actually, yes we have, as a matter of fact. Your name and likeness are on wanted posters all over the towns south of here. It seems that the Princess of Lanfar has put out a nice reward for your return.”
Lloyd’s hands moved towards the hilts of his swords. Cyclone could also be heard unclasping his spear from his back.
“Gentlemen,” Elvisda said quickly. “I am sure this is just a simple misunderstanding. The Princess and I are very good friends. However, I had to leave her side abruptly a few days ago, without the chance to explain or even leave so much as a note. I am sure she is merely concerned for my wellbeing. I assure you I will make every attempt to contact her at the earliest opportunity and clear up this matter.”
The Sky Knight paused, but did not look completely convinced. But before he had a chance to speak again, Glorfindel quickly interjected, “And who are you good Knight, and what business do you have so far from the skies of Dunwyn?”
“I am Diarmid, Captain of the Sky Knights of Dunwyn. As to our business in these parts, I am not at the liberty to discuss that matter with you. However, having just come from Restenford, I am sure you know of the Baron’s untimely demise. Due to these tragic circumstances, we must return to Dunwyn at once. It’s actually a lucky thing for you my good fellow,” he said looking back at Elvisda. “Otherwise I might be tempted to claim that reward for your return to the Princess of Lanfar.”
“Well then, good Knight,” Elvisda said quickly. “Let us not keep you from your duty any longer than need be.”
“Very well,” said Diarmid as he trotted his steed backwards in preparation for a take-off. “Pray that we do not meet again, however, as next time you might not be as fortunate!” With that he launched into the air, his companions immediately following them.
As they rose out of earshot, Cyclone’s said. “Yeah, we’ll see who’s fortunate next time we meet.”
“Well that was certainly interesting,” said Glorfindel. “I wonder how they knew so quickly about the Baron’s death?”
“Who cares about that!” Elvisda cried. “That frick’in witch put a price on my head!”
Two days later, the party trotted into Garrotten. However, the white clad bard was no longer with them. Instead there was a man in black riding with them with a lute strapped across his back.
“I gotta admit,” Cyclone said, “I’m really diggin the new threads, Elvisda.”
“I told you,” the bard said softly, “I’m not Elvisda.” Then he raised his voice and replied, “The names Johnny. Johnny Cash.”
Elvisda, aka, Johnny stopped his horse and said quietly, “You guys have to be more careful. I don’t need anyone figuring out who I really am. Did you see those posters all over the road on the way into town? You’d think they’d have done me more justice than that. It’s a horrible likeness!”
“If you really want better wanted posters, I could do a portrait of you and give it to the authorities,” Donatello quipped.
“Next time we get into a fight, remind me not to play him any tunes,” Elvisda retorted.
“Well then,” Aksel interjected, “Let’s first head over to the House of Abraham and secure accommodations. Then we can head out in separate groups like we talked about on the road.”
“I have a better idea,” Elvisda replied. “This is the second time we have come to Garrotten in the last month, the third for you Aksel. If we really want to keep a low profile, maybe we should think about purchasing a house to stay in.”
“I think that’s a good idea,” Aksel agreed. “Maybe something remote at the edge of town?”
“Exactly what I was thinking,” Elvisda said.
They were just coming up to a fork in the road which went behind the hill north of town and passed some houses on the lake. They took the fork and passed north of the hill. They could see Lake Farmin through the trees. Then the road turned south. The land between the hill and the lake was very secluded. They continued south and finally came upon some houses.
“This is perfect!” Elvisda declared.
“Yes,” Aksel concurred, “very secluded.”
“I think…that one,” Elvisda said, nodding towards the first house. “It even has a dock with a little boat.”
“So how do you intend to get the owner to sell his house?” Glorfindel asked.
“Watch and learn, my friend. Watch and learn,” the bard declared dramatically.
They rode up to the little house. It was a small farmstead, with a few acres right up against the lake. It looked cosy: a one-story, wooden house, with green shutters and flowers planted all around the outside. The view of the lake was beautiful. The morning sun was just rising, and the lake looked as if it was on fire from where they sat.
As luck would have it, the farmer stood out front, loading a wagon for a trip into town.
“Good day to you sir!” Elvisda cried.
“Good day,” the farmer answered.
“My friends and I have just come from a long hard journey up north and were looking for a place to stay,” Elvisda continued.
“Well,” said the farmer, “there is a nice inn right in town. The House of Abraham.”
“We are familiar with the place. But we were looking for a more permanent residence,” Elvisda said. He then took his coin purse off his belt, opened it, and started to pour some gold coins into his hand. “How much do you think this farm of yours is worth?”
“My farm?” the farmer replied incredulously. “You want to know how much it’s worth?”
“Why yes, my good man. What is your name?” Elvisda asked.
“Barley,” he replied as he eyed the gold coins in the bard’s hand.
“Well, Mr. Barley, we would be willing to pay a fair price for this farm of yours. Cash, in fact, right now,” Elvisda offered as he poured a few more gold coins into his hand.
The farmer visibly gulped, his eyes widening at the sight of so much gold.
Then he said, “But then, where would my family and I live? And how would I make a living? I’ve got my wife and children to think of, you know.”
“Fear not,” Elvisda replied. “We want to hire you to maintain the farm for us. We are not the farming types, as can probably tell. And you should easily have enough gold at the end of this transaction, to buy you and your family a nice place, or even build a new one, elsewhere in town.”
The farmer thought it over for a minute and then said, “Come inside…all of you. You can meet the family and we can sit down and talk it over.”
The group went inside and had a delicious home cooked breakfast. There were pancakes, sausages, bacon and eggs, and enough cider to wash it all down. The farmer’s wife went to a lot of trouble to make them all extremely comfortable. It had worked. By the time they were done, they had settled on a price for the house and determined a rate of pay for the foreman of their newly acquired farmstead. Barley and his family then packed their belongings, loaded the wagon, and were off to town before the morning was over.
“Nicely done…Johnny,” Glo said after they all went back inside.
Then Aksel said, “Now, let’s get down to business.
They agreed to follow their original plan. They split up into groups. Glo, Lloyd and Johnny headed to Abraham’s first and then would go to the theater to find Balmarrow. Donnie set out to explore the town to see what information he could gather. And Aksel left with Cyclone to check out the seedy potion vendor he had run into on his last visit to the town.
As Lloyd, Elvisda and Glo approached the House of Abraham, they ran into the stable boy, Falpir.
Elvisda called to the boy, “How’s it going son?”
“Do I know you?” the lad replied. Then he looked at the other two and said, “Oh yeah, you’re that Wizard. Garfinkel? Garfindel?”
“Glofindel,” Glo corrected him.
“And you’re that mighty Warblade. Lloyd, right?” the stable boy gushed in admiration at the hulking young man.
“Sure. His name you remember,” Glo muttered under his breath. Then he said to Falpir, “This is our new friend, the bard Johnny Cash.”
“Nice to meet your Mr. Cash,” the boy said. “You all back in town for awhile?”
“For a bit. We are actually on a quest,” Glo said lowering his voice and talking conspiratorially. “Maybe you can help us.”
“Sure” the boy replied, also talking softly. He looked excited at the prospect of being involved in a real quest.
Elvisda leaned in and lowered his voice. “We’re looking for an assassin. There’s been a murder and we’ve been given the job of finding the culprit.”
The boy nodded knowingly and then replied, “Well you’ve come to the right place. Did you know that Garrotten is the home of the Assassin’s Guild? In fact, the rumor around town is that the guild is run by…”
“Falpir!” all of sudden a voice shouted from the direction of the inn. “What are you doing just standing around talking? You’ve got work to do! Get going before I take a switch to your hide!” It was Abraham, the owner of the inn.
“Ye-ye-ye-yes sir!” exclaimed the boy. “I was just headed back to the stable right now!” he yelled and turned on his heels and ran across the yard like his life was in peril.
“Well then gentlemen, what can I do for you?” Abraham said as he walked up to the three men. “Oh, it’s you Wizard Glorfindel, and Master Lloyd. But I don’t recognize your friend.”
“The name’s Johnny. Johnny Cash. Bard extraordinaire.”
“Well met. Mr. Cash. I must say, you’re the complete opposite of the bard these folks were with the last time I saw them. Actually, it’s a good thing you’re no longer with him. He’s a wanted man in case you didn’t know.”
“You don’t say,” Elvsida replied.
“Yeah. Seems he got himself into some kind of trouble with the Princess of Lanfar. She put up a pretty handsome reward for his return. Seems she wants him alive though.”
“Well, isn’t that lucky for him?” Elvisda replied sarcastically.
“So what brings you back to town?” Abraham asked.
“We’re looking for information on the Assassin’s Guild,” Glorfindel said quietly.
“The Assassin’s Guild? Ha! Next you’ll be asking me about pink dragons with purple polka dots. The Assassin’s Guild is a myth. A story someone fabricated to scare little children in their beds at night. There is no Assassin’s Guild; certainly not here in Garrotten. If there was, I would know. Now I’ve got a lot of work to do, so unless you are looking for rooms, I need to get back to work. Good day gentlemen,” he said, and turned on his heel and headed back into the Inn.
The three men turned and began to walk away from the inn. When he was sure they were out of earshot, Glo said, “Dragon-Dung. He knows far more than he was letting on. Did you see the way he scared off the stable hand just as he was about to tell us something useful?”
“I believe you’re right,” Elvisda replied. “But there is no help for it now. Even if we did try to go back and talk to the boy, I am sure Abraham would interrupt us again. And we would probably just get the boy into more trouble.”
“I could take care of the Inn Keeper if you want,” Lloyd said.
Glo shot him a look. “Lloyd!” he said in a shocked tone.
“What?” the warblade replied. “I was just going to conk him on the head! You didn’t think…”
“Sorry Lloyd,” Glo apologized. “With everything that’s happened lately, my nerves are on edge.”
“That’s because you’ve lost your regular method of relaxation,” Elvisda said.
Glo turned and gave the bard a dark stare. Then he saw the big grin on Elvisda’s face. Glo couldn’t help himself. A smile crept onto his face.
“Now that’s’ better,” the bard said. “What say we go and find Balmarrow.”
They headed north up the road to the theater.