Knights of the Couch - Part XIII - Assassin Season - Chapter 11

Chapter 11: To Con a Castle

“And how do you propose we do that?” Glorfindel asked looking at the bard like he was crazy. “Just follow my lead,” Elvisda replied. The bard walked over to Balmarrow and had a brief conversation with the little bard. Then the elf turned and began walking around towards the front of the castle. Glo shot Aksel a look, but the cleric just shrugged his shoulders. Then the entire group took off to catch up to the bard.

“I like a good con as well as the next guy,” Donnie said as they caught up with Elvisda. “But how do you intend to pull this off?” Elvisda smiled slyly as he continued to walk. “I have a plan,” the bard replied in a matter of fact tone. “Just follow my lead and we will be fine.” Elvisda sounded quite sure of himself, but the others still seemed nervous. “Well if you don’t mind,” Lloyd said, “I’ll keep my blades ready…just in case.”

“Do what you want,” the bard answered, “but you won’t need them.” Then Andrella, of all folks, came to the bard’s defense. “I get it,” she said suddenly. “Act like you’re in charge,” she said as if reciting something she had been told over and over again. “Someone is bound to believe you.” Elvisda looked over at the young girl, put his finger to his nose and then pointed at her nodding. “Exactly” was all he said.

“Sounds like a dangerous game,” Glorfindel commented. “But it’s probably a better plan than running away. We’re worn out and would be useless in a fight right now.” The bard nodded, “Which is why we do the exact opposite.” Aksel nodded slowly then said, “It’s risky, but you’re right. It’s our best bet.”

They all grew quiet as they rounded the corner of the castle and headed towards the front gate. Guards were now pouring out of the keep and stood waiting with unsure looks on their faces as the adventurers bolding walked right up to them.

Elvisda walked right up to them and stopped. “Where’s the Captain of the Guard?” the bard asked in a very official tone. The men stared at the elf and then glanced at each other. “I need to see Captain Ascue right now.” Elvisda said a little louder. The guards continued to stare at the elf and each other, obviously confused. “I’m on official business for Mayor Arrness!” Elvisda said raising his voice. “Now will someone please take us to Captain of the Guard Ascue?!”

Finally, one of the guards spoke up, “The Captain’s still on the battlements. He was observing the battle going on in back of the keep. “Yes,” Elvisda replied, “we just came from there. The Mayor was attacked by assassins.” The guards looked at each other nervously after the mention of assassins. Finally the one guard responded, “Did you say assassins?”

The elf bard was using his best powers of persuasion on the guards. He had them now. “Why yes,” Elvisda replied, “they tried to kill the Mayor; and would have succeeded to if we hadn’t come along when we did. As it stands, most of her apprentices are dead.”

“And where is the Mayor now?” a voice came from the open castle gate. A tall man wearing the castle guard’s uniform, but with a captain’s insignia on his breast, strode out to join them. Elvisda turned to face the man. “Ah…finally! You must be Captain Ascue.” The captain walked up to the bard and looked him straight in the eye, “And who might you be?” Elvisda bowed low and replied, “Elladan Narmolanya, bard extraordinaire. Better known by my stage name, Elvisda.” The captain stared at the bard sizing him up and then gazed at his companions. Finally he said, “Yes, I remember some of you. You visited the keep a few weeks ago. The wizard behind you was supposed to be one of the Mayor’s new apprentices.”

“Yes, that is correct,” Glorfindel responded. “I had been called away on urgent business, but had just arrived back in town.” Elvisda interrupted, “And none too soon I might add.” Captain Ascue turned his attention back to the bard and said, “Yes. So I heard. The assassin’s had the nerve to openly attack the Mayor? I find that hard to believe.”

Elvisda said as smooth as he could, “As did we. Imagine our surprise when Glorfindel here received a mental summons from the Mayor herself. She was under attack and called for all her apprentices to fight by her side!” The bard could see the captain begin to waver and continued, “As soon as he told us, we all geared up and headed up here to help. But by the time we got here, most of her other apprentices were dead.”

Glorfindel and Aksel exchanged glances. Elvisda was weaving a very believable tale. The bard was using his silvery tongue on the captain now, and the wizard and cleric could see that it was working. “So where is the Mayor now?” Captain Ascue asked. “Not to worry my friend,” Elvisda replied, “she is fine. But it was a battle royal as you may have seen.” Ascue nodded, “Yes, we observed the fireworks from the battlements. It looked quite fierce from there.” Elvisda gave the Captain a grim look, “Trust me, it was even more fierce up close. But we managed to win the day. But with almost all her apprentices dead, Arrness felt it would be prudent to go to the Wizard’s Council to inform them what happened and ask for their support.”

The bard let it hang there for a moment. He carefully gauged Ascue facial expressions and his body language. The Captain had bought it Elvisda thought triumphantly. Just one more hook and they would be homefree. “But before she teleported, she asked a favor of Glorfindel here.” Elvisda stepped back and put his arm around the wizard drawing him forward the continued, “She wanted him to keep an eye on things here in her stead until she returned.”

Captain Ascue looked from the bard to the wizard. “Yes,” Glorfindel added taking up the queue, “my…master, Arrness, asked me fill in for her while she was gone. She wanted me specifically to make sure that there were no more assassins lurking around the keep.” Ascue’s face took on a worried look. The Captain replied, “Why? Did she think they had gotten inside?”

Elvisda squeezed Glo’s shoulder and nodded almost imperceptibly. The wizard picked up on it and ran with it. “Why, yes,” Glo told Ascue, “as a matter of fact she did. I think we should gather everyone in the castle and make sure they are all accounted for. Then we should probably do a room by room sweep to make sure there is no one else hiding in the keep.”

“That’s an excellent idea,” Captain Ascue agreed. “If there are any assassins lurking in the keep, we’ll find them.” He turned to one of his guards and said, “Go. Gather everyone in the keep and have them meet us in the courtyard.” The guard saluted, “Yes sir!” Then he turned and ran back into the castle. Ascue turned back to the companions and said, “Gentlemen…and ladies,” as he looked over the group, “Please follow me!” Then he turned and strode back into the keep.

“Nicely done,” Elvisda whispered to Glorfindel as they followed behind the Captain. The wizard whispered back, “I learned from the best.”

The KOTC and their companions marched into the keep of Garrotten and waited in the yard for the guards to gather everyone in the castle. It was daybreak now and the sun had peaked over the horizon lighting up the courtyard. It took almost twenty minutes, but finally everyone in the castle had been assembled outside.

Ascue strode over to Glorfindel and reported, “That’s everyone who lives or works in the castle. That is except for the Magistrate Tellish and two other apprentices who were seen leaving the keep before you arrived at the front gate.” Glorfindel turned to Aksel and Elvisda. “Strange that they should leave just then,” the wizard mused. “Maybe they were in league with the assassin’s guild as Arrness feared.” Aksel nodded his agreement. “That seems likely. Or they were being controlled like those folks with the black amulets.”

“Oh, yes, I almost forgot about those,” Glo acknowledged. “The assassin’s were wearing them,” the wizard explained to Ascue. “Can we have the men check if anyone else is wearing a black amulet?” Captain Ascue nodded, “Right away.” Then he sent his men to inspect everyone in the courtyard. However, when they were done, it was discovered that no one else was wearing an amulet like that.

“Very good,” Glorfindel said. “Now we should probably start searching the castle.” Ascue replied, “I’ll send the men at once.” Then the Captain went to organize search parties. “Nicely done guys,” Aksel commended Elvisda and Glorfindel. “Now we should do some searching and information gathering of our own.” He turned to Balmarrow and said, “Can you send some of your folks to get Wilfong and Basmar? They may be able to answer some of our questions.” The Kobold bard said, “Sure thing,” and sent two of his stagehands to get the prisoners.

Aksel turned back to the others and said, “And someone should probably guard the back door.” Seth replied, “I’ll go.” Elvisda added, “Martan and I will go too. But I want to take some guards with us.” Aksel nodded, “Good idea. Glo can you get us some guards?” The wizard nodded and went over to talk with the Captain. He returned a couple of minutes later with five castle guards. “Here you go,” he told Elvisda.

The bard looked over the men and nodded, “Very good. Come on men. Follow me.” Then he turned and began marching towards the gate. Martan and guards strode behind the bard. Seth shrugged his shoulders then turned and followed the others. As they walked away, Donatello spoke up for the first time in awhile. “Are you sure it’s safe to send those two out together? After all, neither one of them is well known for their restraint.” The companions just looked at each other and began to chuckle.

Suddenly, a loud bang was heard from inside the keep. “What was that?” Ascue yelled and went running towards the keep. The companions all followed. They entered the front door and saw a page come running down the stairs from the second floor. “What happened?” the Captain asked the boy. “There was an explosion…in the Mayor’s room!” the boy gasped out of breath. Glo spoke up, “Captain, you stay here and coordinate the search parties. We’ll look into this.” Glo motioned to Aksel, Lloyd, Elvisda, Andrella, Donnie and Kara to all follow. Then the group headed up the stairs led by the young boy.

As they went up the stairs, Glorfindel asked, “What’s your name son?” The page answered, “Torvil, sir.” Glo nodded, “Well Torvil, what exactly happened?” The young boy gulped and replied, “Rota, she’s the maid sir, told them not to open the door. It was the Mayor’s private chambers. But they wouldn’t listen!” Torvil’s voice rose in pitch as he continued, “It was horrible, sir. There was an explosion and they were all caught in it!”

Glo reached out and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “It’s ok son. You did the right thing coming to get us.” The wizard turned to look at Donnie. The swashbuckler mouthed the words Fire Trap. Glorfindel nodded and turned back to the boy. He had seemed to calm down a bit.

They reached the top of the stairs. There was a wide landing with an open doorway opposite the stairwell. They crossed to the door and entered into a 20 × 30 room. There were two more doors, one on the left wall and another on the right. The maid, Rota, was kneeling on the floor crying in the middle of the room. In front of the right door lay three burnt bodies. Aksel immediately went to them. He knelt down and looked at each one. Then he looked up at Glo and shook his head.

Andrella went over to Rota and knelt down beside her. “Hi Rota,” she said quietly. “I’m Andrella. Torvil came to get us. He told us what happened.” Rota stopped sobbing for a moment and looked up at the young girl. “I…I tried to stop them…” she began. Andrella reached out and grabbed the woman’s hands and said softly, “Shhh. It’s ok. We know.” She stood up bringing Rota with her. The maid instinctively reached forward and put her arms around the smaller girl, burying her head on Andrella’s shoulder. Then she began to sob again. “Shhh. Shhh. It’s ok,” Andrella said, trying to sooth the woman. She patted her head until her crying began to subside. Then she gently lifted her head off her shoulder and said, “Let me take you downstairs. My friends here will take care of things.”

Rota looked around for the first time and saw the group. She immediately cried, “No! No! You can’t! You’ll be hurt too!” Then Lloyd surprised everyone. In a very gentle tone he replied, “It’s ok ma’am. We’re used to handling things like this. Donnie here is great with traps. Aksel over there is a cleric. And Glo over there is a wizard. Together we’ve handled a lot worse than this.” He stopped and smiled reassuringly.

Rota stared at the handsome young man and calmed down. Andrella stared at the warblade, her eyes brimming with tears. He never seemed to stop amazing her. She was so used to the warrior, but here he was, gentle as a dove with this woman. Gods she loved him.

Glo leaned over to Torvil and said quietly, “I think Rota could use you right now. Why don’t you help Andrella take her downstairs?” The young page perked up at the thought of being useful. He immediately went over to the maid and offered her his arm. Then he and Andrella escorted Rota out of the room.

At that same moment, outside the keep, Seth, Elvisda and Martan, along with their castle guard escort, had retraced their steps to the battlefield behind the castle. As they examined the field, Seth quickly pulled the other two aside and said, “The Mayor’s body is gone.” Elvisda did a double take. “Say what? Are you sure?” Seth nodded. “It was right over there,” he replied pointing to an empty spot in the field.

The three companions went to the spot. Martan began searching the ground and immediately found some tracks. “He’s right,” the archer said softly. “I see three sets of tracks here. It looks like they were dragging something with them.” Martan stood up and followed the drag marks and footprints to the edge of the clearing. “They went this way,” the archer finished.

Elvisda called the guards and the group followed Martan into the woods as the archer continued to track whoever had absconded with the Mayor’s body. They did not have to go far. After about 500 yards they reached a clearing. Lying in the center of it was the Mayor’s body!

Elvisda quietly motioned for the guards to fan out around the clearing. Seth moved off in a counterclockwise path around the glade. The ninja did not get more than 20 feet when he heard a noise in the bushes a few feet in front of him. Suddenly there was the sound of something crashing through the bushes away from halfling. Seth strained his eyes to see what it was as he began to cast a spell on himself. He barely made out the outline of a figure darting through the underbrush. Seth finished conjuring in about ten seconds, then took off after the retreating figure at a ridiculously fast pace.

Meanwhile, some of the guards had crept out to the body in the middle of the clearing. One of the guards suddenly cried, “It’s the Mayor!” Elvisda quickly stood up and rushed out to them. The guards were now coming out of the bushes to stare at the body. The bard reached the men and hunched down motioning the men to do likewise. As they knelt down beside him, Elvisda said “Hush. Don’t you recognize a trap when you see one?” The one guard looked at the bard and said, “But…it’s the Mayor!” Elvisda looked at the man as if he was crazy. “Well that’s just impossible. I saw the Mayor teleport to Lymerida less than an hour ago. There’s no way she would come back that quick.” The bard saw a flicker of doubt in the guard’s eyes and pressed his advantage. “This is probably one of the assassins that died on the battlefield. Someone cast a spell on whoever it was to make him look like the Mayor. They probably heard us coming and decided to set this trap for us.”

The other guard nodded and turned to the first guard. “It kind of makes sense. After all, who would just leave the Mayor’s body lying in the middle of a clearing like this?” Elvisda nodded and said, “Exactly. If this were the Mayor, then wouldn’t they have brought it back to the keep?” The other guard looked down at the body in front of them and then back at the bard. “I…guess you’re right,” he finally said.

At that very moment, a person in robes stood up on the other side of the clearing and cast a spell towards the three men. Elvisda realized that it had been directed at him, but the spell fizzled out before it could affect him. “See!” the bard cried as he reached into his robes and pulled out a wand, “I told you it was a trap.” Elvisda waved the wand and sent a volley of purple projectiles hurtling at that hapless conjurer. The robed man tried to turn and flee, but the missiles caught him in the back and sent him reeling to the ground.

The two guards moved out and surrounded the fallen man. But on examination they found he was already dead. “What should we do with him?” the first guard asked. Elvisda thought for a moment and then replied, “Bring him over here and place him with this body.”

As they dragged the body towards the center of the clearing, Martan returned from the woods. “Seth took off after the second man,” he reported, “and I found a third set of tracks going off towards the east. I followed them about fifty feet and then they just vanished.” Elvsida nodded. It must have been another caster the bard thought to himself. Most likely Tellish if he could teleport. That means he could be anywhere by now.

The guards had finished placing the second body next to the Mayors. Then the first guard turned to the bard and asked, “What now?” Elvisda winked and replied, “Now…we have a bonfire!” Both guards went wide eyed at that suggestion, but the bard put up his hands and said, “Gentlemen. Gentlemen. I am a priest of Alaric. I merely wish to consecrate these bodies and give them a proper cremation…even though they were most likely assassins.” The two men still looked skeptical, but Elvisda added, “Would you rather start digging graves for them?” Both men exchanged glances and then replied in unison, “No. No, we’re good.”

Elvisda smiled. His bluff had worked. “Okay then,” he told the guards, “You gather some firewood while I bless the bodies.” The two guards nodded and began walking into the woods. As they were leaving the clearing, the one guard turned back and saw the bard standing over the bodies with his back turned to them. If he did not know any better, he could have sworn the elf was relieving himself on the corpses. The guard turned and shook his head. “What’s the matter?” the second guard said. “Nothing,” the first guard replied. “I must be seeing things.” The second guard nodded. “It’s these woods and this early morning light. The shadows can make you see funny things.” The first guard nodded, “Yeah, that must be it,” he agreed. But he didn’t sound completely convinced.

Around the same time the wizard had tried to spell Elvisda and the guards, Seth had caught up with his quarry. It turned out to be a man in a brown leather tunic. The ninja ran past the fellow and turned around and continued running backwards in front of him. As he did so, he said, “What’s up Doc?”

The man in brown leather slowed down and stopped, pulling out his sword. He waved it around and declared, “They made me do it!” Seth had stopped a few feet in front of the man. He put up his hands and said calmly, “Come back with me and we’ll let you live.” His adversary stared at the little halfling for a moment or two, as if weighing his options. Then he threw down his sword and replied, “Fine.”

The little ninja stepped forward and bent over to retrieve the sword. As he did so, the man in brown reached behind his back and pulled out a knife. He took a quick step forward and tried to stab the ninja, but Seth nimbly dodged out of the way. The assassin, overextended, fell forward on his face.

The man scrambled to recover, but froze as he saw Seth just standing there. Then the little ninja gave a wicked smile and to the man’s surprise started clapping. “Nice try their friend,” Seth said finally. “I probably would have done the same thing myself. But then, I would never have missed.” At that the man stood up, threw up his hands and said, “Okay. I give up.” He paused a moment, and then turned and took off into the bushes once again. “Here we go again,” Seth said shaking his head.

It took the ninja all of ten seconds to catch up with and pass the man in brown. As the halfling nimbly jogged in front of him backwards once again, the assassin slowed down, then finally stopped, dropping to his knees. Seth stopped too and was about to say something when the man began to chant. A strange feeling came over the ninja as the woods around them seem to grow darker. As the halfling looked on in eerie fascination, the assassin reached the culmination of his song and suddenly fell to the ground seemingly dead.

Seth drew his knife and moved forward, carefully examining the body. The assassin did appear to be dead, but to be sure, the ninja quickly jabbed him in the arm. The man did not flinch. Revolted but also relieved, Seth searched the body and found the assassin had been wearing a black amulet. The ninja threw it to the ground and crushed it with a nearby rock. Then he turned around and headed back to the clearing to join the others.

Back in the keep, Donatello was carefully examining the entrance to the Mayor’s room. Lloyd and Kara had moved the bodies so that they were out of the swashbuckler’s way. Donnie noted the scorch marks on the door as he searched for the cause of the explosion. As he scrutinized the entryway, he noted a faint outline in the upper left corner. “Glo, can you shine a light over here?” he asked the wizard.

Glorfindel slowly walked up behind the swashbuckler and lit the stone on the end of his staff with a quick spell. “Hold it up just a bit higher,” Donatello told him. Glo slowly raised his staff into the air. “Stop right there!” the swashbuckler ordered suddenly. The wizard held the staff still and peered over Donnie’s shoulder. “Yep, look there,” the swashbuckler said pointing towards the upper left corner of the door. “An explosive rune,” Glo nodded, “Very clever.” Donnie nodded and replied, “It was drawn so faint that it was almost impossible to see, even if you knew what to look for.”

“Well the Mayor obviously did not trust anyone,” Glo commented. “Do you think you can dispel it?” Donnie asked. Glorfindel nodded, “Yes, but it won’t last long.” Lloyd walked up behind the two and said, “That won’t be a problem.” He drew his two large swords and hefted them in his hands. “I can hack the door down with these, and then we’ll throw it out that window behind us.” Glo and Donnie looked at each other. “That just might work,” Donnie said approvingly. “Nice thinking Lloyd,” Glo acknowledged putting his hand on the warblade’s shoulder. Lloyd grinned a big toothy grin.

“Well, let’s get to it,” Glo declared. Then he began conjuring. The wizard slowly lifted his arms and began to gracefully spin them in concentric circles. While doing so he began to chant in a soft rhythmic tone. As his hands both reached the high end of the arc, the elf wizard pushed both hands outward and directed his spell at the door. The companions turned to look at the doorway which began to shimmer. Then a thin layer of light seemed to peel away from the door and fall to the ground dissipating into nothingness.

“It’s done,” Glorfindel declared, “now hurry.” Lloyd nodded and spurred into action. He closed on the door and began methodically hacking away at it with both of his huge blades. Lloyd was very being very clever this time, Glo noted. The warblade was targeting the part of the door just inside the hinges.

For a brief moment, the elf wizard had a flashback to their adventure at the Cape Marlin Lighthouse. He clearly pictured the Lloyd hacking away at that huge thick door like a lumberjack. However, this door was nowhere near as heavy the one at Cape Marlin. Lloyd was through it in less than two minutes.

As the door dropped out of the entryway with a resounding thud, Lloyd leaped back. Then he sheathed his swords and called out, “Kara, give me a hand with this.” As the warrior woman ran over to grab the other end of the door, Lloyd turned to Donatello and cried “Donnie! Check the window. Make sure no one is below!”

“Got it!” Donatello replied and bolted across the room. As the two fighters hefted the door up and ran it over to the window, the swashbuckler stuck his head out the window. After a couple of seconds he swung his body back in and said, “All clear!” Then the elf quickly backpedaled out of the way.

Lloyd and Kara moved around to either side of the door. “Okay then,” the warblade said, “On three. One…Two…Three!” Both fighters heaved the door out the window. Then Donnie, Kara and Lloyd all bolted to the window and watched the door arc through the air and land with a resounding thud on the ground below. And none too soon, either. Two seconds after the door crashed to the ground, it exploded.

Up on the second floor, Donnie, Kara and Lloyd pulled back from the window and ducked for cover. Glo and Aksel watched as splintered pieces of wood came flying past the open window, some even making it into the room. When it was over, they looked back outside and saw a smoldering pit where the door had hit the ground. But there was no trace of the door.

“Nice little explosive rune there,” Aksel commented sardonically. “Yes,” Glo nodded, “that certainly packed a punch, didn’t it.” Then Lloyd came walking back to the doorway and with a big grin on his face, gestured with his hands at the now open entrance. “After you gentlemen!” he said enthusiastically.

The elf and gnome exchanged a knowing glance, both realizing that their formerly quiet, reserved friend had been influenced by his association with their chaotic little group. But seeing how exuberant the young man was, the cleric and wizard broke into smiles of their own. Lloyd was so good natured his enthusiasm was positively infectious.

“Well,” Aksel said moving forward, “we might as well check inside then.”

Knights of the Couch – Part XIII – Assassin Season – Chapter 12

Knights of the Couch - Part XIII - Assassin Season - Chapter 11

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