Knights of the Couch - Part X - The Barons Heart - Chapter 3

Something Rotten In Garrotten

The “Theater of the Mystic Celebration” hadn’t changed much in the two weeks since they had last been in Garrotten.
“I wonder which Mystic they’re celebrating this week?” Glo quipped.
“Did you just make a joke?” Elvisda asked, pretending he was stunned. “Donnie must be rubbing off on you!” He laughed raucously.
The three men entered the theater just in time to see Phyllis and Willis, the Wizard and Illusionist, on stage botching some new magical performance effect. There was greenish smoke everywhere, and a foul odor to accompany it.
“That’s ok Phyllis…cough…cough…and Willis…cough…cough. We’ll get it right next time!” said a voice from the center of the stage, amid the still billowing green clouds of smoke. Then a figure appeared pushing its way out of the fog, and climbing down off the stage. It was the bard, Balmarrow.
“Heck of an effect you got going there!” exclaimed Elvisda as he walked down towards the stage. “Or at least it will be once you get all the bugs worked out of it.”
“See, that’s exactly what I keep telling them! Phyllis, Willis, this gentleman obviously knows showmanship. A good stage act requires perseverance. We’ll get it next time!” Balmarrow declared. He looked over at the three men, and recognition dawned on his face. “I know you two. You’re the Wizard…Glorfindel, Elvisda’s effects man. And you’re Lloyd, Elvisda’s percussionist! But I don’t know you sir, although your kindness precedes you. May I ask your name?”
“The name’s Johnny. Johnny Cash,” Elvisda said, bowing deeply to Balmarrow. “I am also a bard, like you and Elvisda. But since he can no longer travel with this party, I agreed to take his place until his return.”
“Nice to meet you Johnny. You are obviously a man of taste. And another bard too. Come, take out your lute and let’s play some tunes!”
Both men took out their instruments and began strumming and singing. They took turns playing songs ranging from sad and melancholy to boisterous and bawdy. By the time they were done, they both had wide grins on their faces and were clasping hands like old friends.
“Bravo, Johnny, bravo!” cried Balmarrow. I haven’t had this much fun in a long, long time. I think this group is mighty lucky to have you as Elvisda’s temporary replacement.”
“Thank you Balmarrow,” Elvisda replied. “It’s been a real privilege trading songs with you. Maybe we can swap stories as well. Over a tankard perhaps?”
“Yes! Of course!” Balmarrow declared. “But first, I must change out of these stage clothes. They seem to have picked up an odor from that cloud. Let me stop by my house and change. I will meet you at Abraham’s within the quarter hour.” With that the bard of Garrotten left the theater.
“I think I’ll take a few minutes to go catch up with Willis and Phyllis,” Glorfindel told the other two.
Willis was in the first room Glo came upon. He was still trying to work out the kinks out of the cloud effect that had just exploded in his face. He pointed Glo down the hall to another door which was Phyllis’s room. Phyllis looked even more disheveled than the last time Glo saw her, if that was possible. Her room was a mess. Scrolls here, vials there, and papers with scribbling on them all across the floor and tables.
Glo spent a few minutes catching up with her, seeing what spells, if any, they might swap. But he soon realized that he had reached a new level beyond that of theater mage. He did, however, find out from her that the Mayor of the town was also a very accomplished Wizard. Glo made a mental note to visit the Mayor before they left Garrotten.

On his way to the inn, Glo ran into Donnie.
“We’re meeting Barlmarrow at the inn in a few minutes. We should be there for awhile. Do you think you might be able to sneak into his house and have a look around?”
“I can try.” replied Donnie glibly.
“Very good,” Glo said and took off down the road.

Glo caught up with Johnny and Lloyd outside Abraham’s. Balmarrow joined them a couple of minutes later and they all entered the tavern together. They found a booth in a corner and proceeded to drink some ale and talk about performances and traveling and the like.
After awhile, Elvisda said, “We just came from Restenford. Nice little town. Ever been there?”
“Sure, I’ve been to Restenford. It’s been awhile though,” Balmarrow said.
“So you wouldn’t have heard then,” Elvisda said, lowering his voice. “About the Baron’s death?”
Balmarrow looked surprised. “The Baron? Grellus? He’s dead? How did it happen?”
“Seems he was assassinated,” Elvisda said, lowering his voice even more.
“Assassinated?” Balmarrow replied, also lowering his voice. “Is that why you folks are here? Are you looking for his assassin? “
“Why would you think that?” Glorfindel asked him.
“Well, because Garrotten is the home of the Assassin’s Guild of course,” Balmarrow said. “So it would only make sense that if the Baron is dead, and it is not common knowledge yet, that you folks must have inside information. And if you have come to Garrotten, you must be looking for the Baron’s assassin.”
“You are very astute,” the wizard replied. “We have come here looking for the Baron’s murderer. Would you be willing to help us?”
“Sure,” replied Balmarrow. “I would love to see the Assassin’s Guild get a black eye. I’ve been speaking out against them openly for a long time. In fact, I am probably near the top of their list by now.”
“Well then,” Glorfindel said, “Perhaps you can help us identify some of these items.” He pulled the button they had found in the Baron’s room out of his pocket and placed it on the table. “Ever seen a button like this before?”
Balmarrow looked down at the table and his eyes opened wide. “Now that’s the strangest thing. I’ve been looking all over for that.” He looked up at them. “It’s from my dress vest. The one I only wear to festive occasions. Where’d you find it?” Understanding slowly dawned on him. His eyes opened even wider. “Noooo. Don’t tell me. You found this in Restenford?”
Glo nodded.
“Now how could that be?” Balmarrow continued. “I haven’t been there in at least 3 months, maybe 4.”
“Wait,” Elvisda said. “It gets better.” He took out the gold lute string and laid it on the table next to the button. “Ever seen one like this before?”
Balmarrow’s eyes opened even wider, if that was possible. “Wait a minute now. What is this? You folks aren’t trying to accuse me? Everyone around here knows I use golden strings on my good lute. ”
“The one you use on festive occasions?” Elvisda asked, already know the answer.
“Why yes,” Balmarrow replied, starting to look scared.
“Calm down Balmarrow,” Glorfindel said. “We are not trying to frame you. But it sure looks like someone is. Whoever killed the Baron went to a lot of trouble leaving these clues behind that point straight to you.”
Balmarrow gulped. “But you don’t think I killed the Baron?” he asked.
“Well…” Glorfindel said slowly, “we do have a way to test that out. It would not satisfy the authorities, but it would prove to us your innocence.”
“What do I need to do?” Balmarrow asked immediately.
“Just stay seated where you are,” Glo replied. He turned to Lloyd and said “Do you think you can recall those two rogue scents you picked up in the Baron’s room?”
Lloyd considered for a moment. Then he said to Balmarrow, “Take off your cloak and hand it to me.”
Balmarrow complied, handing his cloak to the young man.
Lloyd inspected the cloak closely, then he held it up to his nose. Finally, he handed it back to Balmarrow. He turned to the others and said, “Definitely the odor of the third man. The one that was on the button, but not in the room.”
“I knew you were innocent the whole time!” Elvisda beamed. “But you’ve got some serious enemies there my friend. Framing you for the Baron’s murder is a death sentence itself.”
“Yes,” Balmarrow replied, wiping his brow. Then he leaned forward and said very softly, “It must be the Assassin’s Guild. As I told you before, I’ve been saying things about them for months. They probably thought this would be a great way to shut me up without having to assassinate me themselves.”
“That makes sense,” Glorfindel said. “Unfortunately, it leaves us back at square one. All the evidence points to you, and we have no solid leads to the true assassin.”
“Well,” Balmarrow said slowly “you might, and you might not” He leaned in close. “There’s been a lot of talk around town about how the Assassin’s Guild can set up shop here and no one ever gets caught. You would think the Mayor and the Magistrate would have apprehended someone by now with all the killing and thievery that goes on.”
“So…” Elvisda said “You think the Mayor and/or the Magistrate might be in on it. Is that it?”
“Exactly!” said Balmarrow.
“Well,” said Glo, “that gives me two reasons now to pay the mayor a visit.”

When the companions gathered back at their new Garrotten home they related their findings to each other. Aksel and Cyclone hadn’t been able to find out anything from the potion vendor directly, but did come across scuff marks on the floor around his bed, indicating that it had been moved on a fairly regular basis. They believed it might be an entrance to the lair of the Assassin’s Guild.
Donatello did not have much luck getting into Balmarrow’s house, which was fine because they already knew the bard was innocent. But it turns out that Balmarrow had a magical dog which was watching his place. The dog could talk and was quite intelligent. It could also teleport over short distances. It was called a Blink Dog and his name was Winky of all things. After talking with Winky, Donnie had independently reached the conclusion that Balmarrow was being framed. So he warned the dog to watch out for his master.
Then Glo and Elvisda related their run-ins with the Falpir, Abraham, Phyllis and finally Balmarrow. Lloyd remained silent in the corner through the whole conversation.
“So it looks like our next move is to meet with the Mayor” said Aksel when everyone was finished. “Glo, you should definitely go; and Donnie too. And probably Elvisda, I mean Johnny, as well.
“I’ll go with them too,” Lloyd said, “in case there is any trouble.”
“Fine,” Aksel replied.

Elvisda, Lloyd, Glorfindel, and Donatello headed to the Mayor’s castle. When they arrived they requested an audience with the Mayor. It took a bit of pushing – they had to remind them that they had helped clear the lake of the Octopi monsters a few weeks back – but the Mayor finally agreed to see them. However, only Glo and Donnie were allowed in the Mayor’s chambers.
“Don’t worry,” Johnny said. “Lloyd and I will stay out here and entertain the guards.” He took out his lute and began to strum it.
The pair walked in to a small throne room. The Mayor, Arness, was sitting on an opulent “throne”. The Magistrate Tellish was in deep conversation with her as they walked in. There were a few armed guards on either side of the room and a couple of individuals in robes as well. Wizards or Sorcerers no doubt, Glo thought to himself.
“Ahhh,” Arness said as they walked into the room. “The Wizard Glorfindel, and his companion….”
“Donatello, your honor,” Donnie said with a flourish and a deep bow.
“Donatello,” the Mayor repeated. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?”
“Well your Mayorship,” Glorfindel began, “the reason for our visit is actually two-fold. First of all, I had a conversation with the Wizard Phyllis.”
“Ah yes. Phyllis. I’m sorry to hear you had to waste your time with that rank amateur,” Arrness said rather scornfully.
“Um, that’s all right your honor. She pointed out to me that you yourself where a Wizard of talent,” Glo continued.
The Mayor looked pleased and said, “That’s true.”
“Hence, the first reason for my visit. I was wondering if your honor would be willing to train me in spells of the 4th order. You see, I have been traveling a lot of late, and when I last returned to Restenford, my current Master, Peltar, had left on journey of his own. So I have been left to develop my talents without proper instruction.”
“Ah, yes. Peltar. He has some talent from his reputation, although he is getting on in years. I’m surprised he is still taking students at his advance age,” the Mayor smirked. “Anyway, yes. I’d be willing to train you. However, due to budgetary concerns, I will have to charge you a reasonable fee for your instruction. Say…7,000 gold crowns for each spell of the 4th order I provide you with.”
Glo almost choked, but recovered quickly. “7,000 you say. Hmmm, I can manage that. When would we be able to start?”
“I am busy with affairs of state right now,” Arrness replied. “You will have to come back tomorrow. Now, as to the second reason for your visit?”
“Ahh, that,” Glorfindel paused. “My companion, Donatello here, is a rather talented fellow. He has certain skills which may be of…interest…to your honor?”
“What sort of skills are we talking about?” the Mayor asked, showing little interest.
“Well, your lordship,” Donatello began “I have any number of talents. I have done portraits for a number of officials and royalty in various kingdoms. Also, if there is ever a need for acquiring items that are, shall we say, difficult to obtain, I can be very adept at that.”
“Well, I have no need for a portrait at the moment” the Mayor said placidly. “As for your other skills…here, what can you do with this?” Arrness gestured to the robed figure at her right and the woman pulled out what looked like some sort of puzzle box, and tossed it to Donnie.
Donatello examined the object closely for awhile, turning it over and over in his hands. He seemed to be attempting something with his fingers for a bit. Then suddenly, he opened a latch. Almost too quick for the eye to follow, a dart shot out from inside the box. The only thing that saved Donnie was his quick reflexes. He barely dodged out of the way as the dart went flying past his head. “That was a little too close” the swashbuckler exclaimed. Then he looked in the box and said, “All that for nothing,” showing everyone that the box was empty. He tossed the object back to the Mayor.
Arness took the box, flipped it on its side, pressed something, and a secret compartment popped open. Out of it she pulled a beautiful blue gem.
“Damn,” said Donnie under his breath. “How could I have missed that?”
“Well then,” the Mayor said forcefully. “I believe our business here is done for today. Stop by tomorrow, Glorfindel, if you wish to begin your training.”
The two men turned and left the audience chamber. They met Elvisda in the entrance hall. He had lulled the guards into a stupor.
“So?” the bard asked.
“Nothing useful,” Glo replied.
“I still can’t believe I didn’t see that!” Donnie exclaimed.
“What?” Elvisda asked.
“Never mind. We’ll tell you later,” Glo replied. “For now let’s just regroup with the others.”

They returned to the house and reported their findings to the others. When they were done, Aksel said, “No offense Donnie, but I think we need someone with a little better skills than yours in the area of opening locks and disabling traps.”
“No, that’s okay,” Donatello replied. “I freely admit I flubbed that badly.”
“Well, I’ve been studying on the trip down here, and have now mastered the sending spell. I therefore should be able to send a short message to our friend Seth, wherever he is, and ask him to come and join us here in Garrotten.”
Everyone agreed that that was a good idea. The rest of the day went by fairly uneventfully. Aksel and Cyclone went to town to do some shopping. Most of the group, however, stayed at the farmhouse, catching up on studies, etc. Evening came and they all bedded down for the night. Sometime close to dawn, however, Glo suddenly jumped up from his trance and swore loudly.
“Damn! How stupid can I be?”
“What is it?” Elvisda exclaimed, jolted out of a deep slumber. All the companions had heard him and had woken up as well.
“Those Sky Knights – the ones we ran into on the road to Garrotten. They already knew about the Baron’s death.”
“And?” Aksel asked, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“What if Dunwyn was the ones who had contracted the Guild to assassinate Grellus? It would explain why the Sky Knights were so far south. They could have been in Garrotten paying the Guild and maybe even retrieving the heart! For all we know, they could have had it with them, right under our noses!” Glorfindel declared, obviously upset.
“Maybe,” Aksel replied, thinking it through. “But there is no way to know for sure. Anyway, what would it gain Dunwyn to have the Baron assassinated?”
“Fafnar,” Elvisda said. “If he returned the Baron’s heart to the Baroness, it would get him back in her good graces. Especially after Lloyd humiliated him so badly in front of all of Restenford.”
“Well we can check on Fafnar right now,” Glorfindel said, taking out his crystal ball and beginning to scry. After a few minutes, he told the group that Fafnar was on a hippogriff in a formation of Sky Knights flying over some terrain.
“Describe the area,” Elvisda said.
Glo gave an account of the landscape he saw in the crystal.
“Why that’s just north of Restenford,” Johnny said finally. “We were right. That royal wind bag is headed to see the Baroness as we speak!”
“Well, we’ll just see about that,” Glo replied angrily. “Give me a half an hour to prepare myself. I also learned some new spells on the way down here. I have one that lets me conjure up phantom steeds. With those we can be back in Restenford in half a day!”
“I’m still not sure about this,” Aksel stated looking at the wizard. “After all we just got here this morning. But if you insist on going, then take Elvisda, Lloyd and Donnie with you. Cyclone, Martan and I will stay here until you return.”
And so it was settled. A little over a half hour later, Elvisda, Donnie, Lloyd and Glo took off on phantom steeds for a rushed journey back to Restenford.

Knights of the Couch – Part X – The Barons Heart – Chapter 4

Knights of the Couch - Part X - The Barons Heart - Chapter 3

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