Rise of the Thrall Lord
Knights of the Couch - Part XIII - Assassin Season - Chapter 14
Chapter 14: The Baron of Graceland
When they reached Ascue’s office a short time later, Glorfindel explained to the Captain that he had heard from Mayor Arness and that she was not coming back, having accepted a position on the Wizard’s Council. Then they outlined their plan to fill the gap by appointing Elvisda Baron, while Glo and the others would fill supporting roles such as town wizard, etc.
Ascue sat back in his seat behind his desk. As he did so, Glo had a momentary flash back to their many meetings with Captain Gelpas of Restenford in his office which was very similar to this one. Ascue had his hand on his chin and was rubbing it gingerly. Finally he sat forward and said, “I think that given the circumstances…that is probably the best approach we could take for now. Order must be maintained or Garrotten will quickly fall apart.”
“Graceland,” Elvisda said quietly. “What’s that?” Ascue asked leaning forward. “Graceland,” Elvisda repeated. “The name Garrotten is too well associated with Assassins. It has an unsavory reputation. We want a new start and a new name will help with that.” The Captain of the Guard considered for a moment and then replied, “That makes a lot of sense. Very well. From now on we shall call the town…Graceland.”
In accordance with their plans, Ascue sent guards out to gather the townsfolk at the keep. It took a few hours, but by midday, the entire town’s population was in the castle courtyard. Elvisda, along with Captain Ascue, Glorfindel, Lloyd, Andrella, Aksel, Seth, Donatello and Kara stood on the second floor of the keep just inside the doorway to a large balcony from where the entire courtyard could be addressed.
One of the castle guards informed them that the entire town was now in the yard. “That’s our cue,” Elvisda said brightly. The bard looked like he was getting ready for one of his stage performances. “Very well,” Ascue said. Then the Captain beckoned to two guards standing on either side of the balcony doorway. The men opened the doors and Ascue stepped out onto the balcony. Elvisda and the others followed close behind.
The noise from the crowd below was deafening. Rumors had been flying around town all morning and now that everyone had been called to the castle, the gossip had reached a frenzied height. As Ascue walked up to the railing, two guards with trumpets passed around the party and stood at either end of the large balcony. They raised their horns and blew loudly. The crowd below began to quiet down and looked upwards en mass.
“Citizens of Garrotten,” Ascue began. “I am sure the rumors have been flying all around town by now. Let me assure you, Mayor Arness is NOT dead as you may have been led to believe.” Murmurs swept through the crowd at that statement. Ascue continued, “The Mayor was, however, attacked by members of the Assassin’s guild last night.” The crowd got noisy once again. The Captain waited a few moments and then began once again. “The Assassins…” he paused as everyone quieted down, “made an all out attempt to seize control of this town. During the attempt, many of the Mayor’s apprentices were killed while defending her. HOWEVER,” Ascue said loudly as the crowd began to get noisy again, “the Mayor’s newest apprentice happens to be a member of a band of adventurers. They all came to her aid last night and routed the attempt on her life.” At that some cheers went up from the crowd. “What’s more than that,” the Captain continued, “this brave band of adventures followed the Assassin’s back to their lair and destroyed the rest of the guild down to the last man!” At that the crowd began to really cheer. The townsfolk were ecstatic that the grip of the assassin’s had been lifted like a noose from their necks.
Ascue turned to the others and said, “They don’t need to know that the Assassin’s lair was under the keep nor that any members got away. That would raise too many questions and leave folks nervous.” Aksel appraised the Captain anew. This was indeed a shrewd man. He had a good grasp on the current situation and seemed very capable of handling it. They had a good ally here.
The Captain turned back to the crowd, now calming down once again and announced, “Let me now present the band of adventurers who saved Garrotten from an evil fate. I give you…The Knights of the Couch!” Ascue stepped to the side and then the companions all stepped forward at once, Elvisda in the center. The crowd went wild! They cheered and clapped and whistled and threw hats up in the air. “Nice intro,” Elvisda said sidelong to the Captain. “If you’re ever our out of a job, you would make a fine emcee…” Ascue just smiled back and nodded.
The cheering continued for a few more minutes and then began to quiet down. When he thought the time was right, Elvisda threw up both arms and said, “Thank you! Thank you very much! My friends, I am Elvisda,” he announced. Then he turned and pointing with both hands to the tall elf to his left and said, “And this is my good friend the Wizard Glorfindel.” The crowd “ooed” at the sight of the Wizard. Whoever had picked out the robes for Glo had an eye for the dramatic. The elf looked positively majestic in the long flowing purple outfit. Aksel suspected it might have been Ascue himself who picked it out. The man had a flair for presentation.
“And this is our friend the Warblade Lloyd Stealle!” Elvisda continued pointing to the huge man to his right. Lloyd looked regal in a royal blue doublet. But he still had his dual blades strapped to his back and he looked quite intimidating. The townsfolk “awed” as they took in the sight of the big fighter. The introductions were having their desired effect and the bard was pleased. But he needed to speed things up. He quickly introduced Andrella as “the Sorceress”, Donnie, Kara and Seth as martial weapons experts, and finally Aksel as their beloved cleric.
Elvisda then rapidly moved on. “Glo here alerted us to the Mayor’s plight and we immediately came to her aid.” Again the crowd began to cheer. Elvisda nodded and smiled but then made a lowering motion with both hands and the townsfolk quieted down. The bard, in full performance mode now, continued, “We are glad we could be of service to your fine town. But now, there seems to be a slight problem.” The crowd grew very quiet. “With all her other apprentices dead, Mayor Arness went to the Wizard’s Council in Lymerdia to seek their aid. In her absence, she left my good friend Glo here in charge until her return. However…” the bard paused dramatically, “it seems that she was offered a position on the Wizard’s Council and has decided to stay in Lymerdia.”
Elvisda stopped and waited for it to play out. Muttering began in the crowd and finally shouts of “Were does that leave us?” and “What do we do now?” cropped up. After a minute or so, the bard raised his hands once again and said, “Good friends! We understand your concerns. You’re greatest threat has been removed, but you have also been left leaderless, in the cold as it were.” The bard paused again giving that a minute to sink in.
More murmurs swept through the townsfolk below. Elvisda gauged the crowd’s mood and at the proper moment threw up his hands once again. “But fear not good people! We of the Knights of the Couch hear your concerns and once again will rise to the occasion! We will offer our services to you once again and continue on as temporary leaders until elections can be held!”
With that the crowd went wild! Folks threw up their hands and hats once again. Shouts of KOTC! KOTC! went around as well as Elvisda! Elvisda! The bard turned to his friends and smiled broadly. “They love me,” he said sidelong to the companions. “Just don’t over do it,” Seth chided back. “Never!” Elvisda declared. Then he turned back to the crowd and raised his hands once again. “Friends,” he cried. “Good friends!” The crowd began to quiet down once again. Elvisda yelled, “Thank you good friends. We will do our utmost to serve you! And to that end, we will start by renaming this town. No longer will we be known by the name of Garrotten, the den of the Assassin’s Guild. No my friends! From now on we will be known as Graceland! The fair home of the free and the brave! What say you all?”
The crowd roared. All at once cheers of Graceland! Graceland! Graceland! came from the townsfolk. It was as if they were one huge entity screaming out their collective name. “Hit a cord there,” Donatello commented over the shouts below. “Yeah,” Elvisda shouted back over his shoulder. “I still got it.”
The bard then bowed deeply in front of the crowd. The rest of the companions followed his lead and then they all backed away from the railing. As they entered back into the keep, Ascue followed them. “Nicely done,” the Captain said approvingly. “That should calm things down for a bit. Though I don’t remember us mentioning elections.” Elvisda quickly responded, “We can if you want, but I think you’ll find the townsfolk quite satisfied with us in charge.” Ascue raised an eyebrow but declined to respond.
“But for now,” the bard continued, “please gather all the clerics for an audience in the throne room. And I also think it might be good to start recruiting for more castle guards. We had been talking it over and Donnie and Lloyd here could train your men with some very special fighting techniques.” Elvisda had put his arm around Ascue’s shoulder and had begun walking away with him towards the general direction of the throne room.
“I think we’ve created a monster,” Donnie quipped. “Don’t kid yourself,” Glo responded. “Elvisda was born for a role like this.” “That’s what I’m afraid of,” Seth said acidly. “Guys. Guys!” Aksel interrupted, “we have plenty to do. I suggest we all start our studies and training as soon as possible. It is key that we put our plans into motion as quickly as we can. We only have a short time left to raise the Baron.” Everyone agreed and then went their separate ways. “Now,” Aksel said to himself, “I think I should sit it on this meeting with the clerics.”
The next few days went by quickly. Elvisda was busy in town business. He had pulled the clerics together and had made it clear that Aksel was now head cleric. He also requested an altar to Alaric be built. Signs were posted around town advertising openings for new castle guards. Applicants began pouring in and were interviewed.
Glorfindel had holed himself up in the room next to the Mayor’s old room and was studying intently. The only one allowed in or out was Andrella, and that was only when he was tutoring her. Aksel spent time at the local church in deep prayer, enhancing his divine abilities. Seth went off into the woods to train, but could also be found in the throne room more often than not, conferring with Elvisda. Somehow the halfling had convinced him that he would be an excellent town treasurer. Elvisda then appointed him to the post.
Lloyd and Donatello had begun to train together in the courtyard. Although Donnie held his own quite well for awhile, mostly due to his speed and agility, eventually the warblade overpowered him through sheer brute strength. A number of castle guards stood on the sidelines watching the display of fighting prowess.
Off to one side, Kara and Andrella also sat and observed their two men training. The two women, although obviously different, had somehow bonded down in the castle baths and had been inseparable ever since. Now, after seeing Donnie falter, Kara stood up and offered to step in. Donnie, fatigued, gratefully accepted the chance to rest. He plopped himself down next to Andrella and sighed, “Whew. That boyfriend of yours is really something else!”
“Yes, isn’t he,” Andrella responded. But her mind was obviously somewhere else. She watched intently as Kara engaged Lloyd in combat. While the warrior woman was not as agile as Donatello, she was very strong. She was able to meet Lloyd head on in combat. The big warblade grinned as they clashed weapons and the warrior woman held her own.
All in all, Kara was proving to be a much better match for Lloyd than Donatello. Andrella seemed to be having mixed emotions about this turn of events. The young lady genuinely liked the warrior woman. But now it was beginning to look to the young lady like Kara was far better suited companion for Lloyd than she was.
Donatello caught the look on the young ladies face as she watched the two warriors spar. He guessed correctly that she had finally realized that there was something between these two. He decided to speak up. “They sure seem well-matched, don’t they?” he said quietly. “Hmm?” Andrella replied lost in thought. “These two…they seemed well-matched,” Donnie repeated. The young lady turned to look at the swashbuckler. “Why do you say that?” she asked shrilly.
“Woah Andrella!” Donnie said throwing up his hands. “I was only talking about them sparring.” The young lady looked hard at the elf and then turning back to watch the fighting replied, “Were you now. Well thanks for stating the obvious.” Donatello winced but quickly shot back, “It’s what I do best.”
Lloyd and Kara became regular sparring partners over the next two days. Occasionally Donatello would join in against one or the other. Although not as strong as the other two, he was still no slouch and managed to surprise them both with some new techniques he had learned. Andrella continued to sit on the sidelines and stew over this new found bond between her boyfriend and the beautiful blonde warrior woman.
Lloyd and Donatello also began training the castle guards as they had promised Captain Ascue. They lined the men up in the castle courtyard first thing in the morning and led them through morning exercises. Then the men were split into groups. Half went with the warblade and the other half with the swashbuckler. The training lasted for a couple of hours each day, but after only two days, the castle guards show signs of improvement in battle techniques. When Ascue came to observe at the end of the second day he was quite pleased.
On the morning of the third day, Glorfindel finally came out and joined the group at breakfast. He reported that his studies were successful and he was ready to send Lloyd, Donatello and Balmarrow off to Lukescros. Kara offered to stand in and continue the martial training of the troops while they were gone. The castle guards did not seem to mind a bit.
After breakfast, the companions gathered in the courtyard. The Wizard Phyllis also joined them. She had been sequestered in the church watching over Willis’s body the last few days.
Now Glorfindel conjured three phantom steeds; one for the man, one for the elf and one for the kobald. As they got ready to leave, Andrella and Lloyd and Donnie and Kara said their goodbyes. “Be safe my love,” Andrella told the warblade. She quickly glanced over at Kara, but the warrior woman seemed happily entangled in the swashbuckler’s embrace. Then Andrella reached up and kissed Lloyd passionately. In fact so much so, that the big man began to turn red. Finally he had to gently unravel himself from her.
“Think about me,” Andrella said as she stood back and watched them mount their phantom steeds. Lloyd grinned sheepishly and replied, “I will. And I’ll return with help to get your father.” Tears brimmed from the young woman’s eyes. As the three adventurers turned and rode towards the gate Andrella yelled, “I love you Lloyd Stealle!” The big man turned on his mount and waved back and cried, “Love you too!” Then they were through the gate and away.
As the group turned and began walking back inside, Kara fell in next to Andrella. “He’s a fine warrior that Lloyd,” Kara said to the young lady. “Yes, he is,” Andrella replied, “but he is so much more than just that.” Kara nodded and said, “Maybe, but those other things are inconsequential to me.” The warrior woman picked up her pace and left Andrella behind. The young woman watched the warrior’s back as she tried to decipher the intent of that last statement.
Lloyd, Donatello and Balmarrow were out of Graceland in a matter of minutes. The open countryside flew by them as they followed the south road towards Lukescros. The ride was unbelievably smooth as the spectral horses glided over the ground rather than actually stepping on it.
Lloyd and Donnie were familiar with this mode of travel as they had ridden phantom steeds before from Garrotten to Restonford a few months ago. Balmarrow, however, was totally unprepared for this. The exhilaration of the ride made the little bard giddy. He took out his lute and began playing all sorts of traveling tunes, one sillier than the next. After the fifth tune or so, Donnie turned to Lloyd and grinned, “I guess he likes to travel like this.” The warblade nodded and replied, “Gee, I couldn’t tell.”
In a little under four hours, the three riders had reached the outskirts of Lukescros. They reigned in their spectral steeds and discussed how to proceed. “I’m going to go straight to the Penwick Manor house and talk with Lord Hightower,” Lloyd said. “Good idea,” Donnie agreed. “Meanwhile, Balmarrow and I will go to the market district and sell this stuff Elvisda gave us.” He patted his saddle bag which was filled with treasure and items they had confiscated from the Assassin’s lair as well as the Mayor’s rooms. “Very well,” Lloyd responded as he turned his mount towards the east side of town. “Meet me at the manor house when you are done!” And then the warblade took off like a shot towards the eastern horizon.
Ten minutes later Lloyd was on the eastern island heading towards Penwick manor. As he rode south he passed Dunnwyn manor. The guards out front watched in amazement as he sped by on his spectral steed. As the warblade approached Penwick manor, he could see the southernmost manor beyond it. Sitting behind that mansion was an airship! No, it couldn’t be Lloyd thought to himself. He would have to ask Lord Hightower when he saw him.
When the warblade arrived at the gate to Penwick manor, the guards recognized him immediately. They sent the young Penwick noble through the gate, though the both raised an eyebrow at his see-thru mount. Lloyd entered the manor and found out that Lord Hightower was in his study. The young warrior bounded up the stairs and down the hall to the Lord of the Manor’s room.
When Lloyd burst into Lord Hightower’s room, the older gentlemen looked up startled. “Lloyd!” he cried, and jumped to his feet. Then he came around to the front of his desk and threw his arms around the younger man, hugging him and patting him on the back fiercely. “I am so happy to see you! We haven’t heard a word since you left 4 days ago.” Lloyd grinned and replied, “Sorry, but a lot has happened and we had plenty to do these last few days. But I planned on coming back here as soon as possible and telling you about it in person.”
“Excellent!” the older gentlemen cried. “Come, sit down and tell me everything. Did you find Grellus’s heart?” As Lloyd sat he said, “Yes sir! We certainly did. And the Assassin’s guild is no more!” “Really?” Hightower exclaimed. “Tell me more.”
The two Penwick nobles sat down and entered into a long conversation. Lloyd told Hightower everything that had happened since they left Lukescros. He explained about the gathering of allies in Garotten, the failed search at the Tavern, and the finding of the actual Assassin’s lair under the castle keep. He further detailed their adventures in that lair ending in the discovery of the evil temple and the finding of the Baron’s heart. “That’s some story,” Hightower commented. “So what about the Mayor?”
“I was just getting to that,” Lloyd replied. The warblade proceeded to tell him about the fight on the way out of the Assassin’s guild, the killing of the Mayor and the way they took control of the castle afterwards. “That Elvisda seems plenty handy to have around,” Hightower observed. “I knew he was a good man, or elf that is, as soon as I saw him.”
Lloyd finished with the story of what they had found in the Mayor’s room, their taking over of the town of Garrotten and renaming it to Graceland, and their efforts to rebuild the town’s forces now that they Mayor and her cohorts were gone.
When he was finished, Hightower sat back and breathed a sigh. “Wow”, he finally said, “you really have been busy. So now, you came here just to tell me all this?” The old gentlemen was quite shrewd Lloyd realized; a quality that reminded him of his father. “That was one reason sir,” Lloyd replied emphatically. “But I also need to ask you for some forces to help maintain control of the town. We need to leave for Restenford in another day or so, and we cannot afford to leave Graceland so poorly manned.”
“Good thinking,” Hightower replied. He was impressed with the young man sense of decency and forethought. “I can supply you with some men at arms. How many would you need?” Lloyd stood up and began to pace. “We talked this over and were hoping that you could provide us with maybe 20 soldiers?” Hightower replied, “Easily done.”
“Graceland is also on the lake and has a number of ships. We were thinking that it might be a good idea to man some of them and patrol the lake.” Lloyd took Hightower’s silence as a negative answer and tried to explain further. “You know, with Dunwynn navy vessels out there, there’s no telling when a stray one might make its way up river and into Lake Farmin.”
The warblade looked back at Lord Hightower and saw the old gentlemen smiling. “You are your father’s son Lloyd!” he exclaimed. “I guess the call of the sea runs in your blood.” Lloyd smiled back. “Well, I don’t intend to personally captain one of these vessels sir, but I must admit that with my family background I am quite familiar with the advantages of navy power.”
“Well spoken,” Hightower applauded. “We shall provide you with 20 seamen.” Lloyd grinned, “Thank you sir! By the way, speaking of my father, any word from the fleet?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact,” Lord Hightower replied, “there was an inconclusive engagement with two Dunwynn ships a couple of nights ago. They tried to run the blockage, but were driven back.” Lloyd cried, “That must have been Ignar’s ships! What happened to them?” The old gentlemen sat back down again and sighed, “We don’t know their current whereabouts. All we know for sure is that they were repelled and headed back north up the coast.”
Lloyd had a pensive look on his face. “That makes me want those sailors even more. Chances are probably slim that those ships would come up the river to Lake Farmin, but you never know.” The talk of ships jarred something in the warblade’s memory. “Oh yeah, by the way, on my ride in I saw an airship parked behind the south mansion. That wouldn’t by any chance belong to Lanfar, would it?”
Hightower sat forward in his seat, placing his fingertips together in front of his mouth. “Yes Lloyd, as a matter of fact it does. Lanfar took up residence at the manor the very day that you all left for Garrotten.” So Princess Anya had followed them here after all, Lloyd thought to himself. He would have to warn the others when he got back to Garrotten. “Well Sir, please keep an eye on them. They are not the most trustworthy people; especially the Princess.” Hightower nodded, “Yes, I remember the stories you had told us about your encounters with her. But having her here where we can keep tabs on her is probably a good thing,” the older gentlemen finished.
Lloyd nodded. What Lord Hightower had said made a lot of sense. “Well then Sir, has there been any other developments in the last few days we should know about?” Now the older man looked pensive. “As a matter of fact Lloyd, there is. We’ve been hearing about undead sightings in the area of Three Forks for the last few weeks. About a week ago we sent a contingent of troops to check it out.” Hightower was staring intently now. “We have not heard from them since.”
This news greatly upset the warblade. “Something must be done!” he cried and jumped up out of his seat. His first instinct was to ride out towards Three Forks and confront whatever it was that had waylaid all those men. “Easy Lloyd,” Hightower said though obviously touched at the younger man’s concern. “It is being taken care of. We have sent out scouts to find out what is going on out there. We should know more in a few days.”
“In the meantime,” the older gentlemen continued, “you have your own contingent of troops now to lead back to Garrotten.” Lloyd calmed down and sat. “Yes, I guess you’re right. Oh, and that reminds me of one other thing. Elvisda was wondering if you could recognize him as the Baron of Graceland. He thought the title would help him to solidify our control over the town.”
Hightower considered for a moment. “That is an interesting idea. A leader with a title might make our friends in Dunnwyn think twice about invading Garrotten…I mean Graceland.” Lloyd added, “It would also probably piss off the Princess of Lanfar who is a Dunnwyn ally.” A small smile crept onto the Lord Hightower’s face. “Yes, I believe it would. Very well then, we shall do so. I shall draw up the paperwork and give it to you to bring back to Elvisda; the Baron Elvisda that is!”
The two Penwick nobles stood up and shook hands. “Now Lloyd, how about we get something to eat and then we’ll go and pick out your troops.”
Back in the castle keep in Graceland, the Baron to be, Elvisda was sitting on his throne. Aksel stood next to him and the two were deep in conversation when Captain Ascue entered. Two guards followed behind him dragging a man in chains. “Ahem,” Ascue cleared his throat. “Baron Elvisda, we have brought Captain Basmar as you requested.” Elvisda turned and waving a hand replied to Ascue, “Very good. Bring him up here.” Ascue motioned to the two guards who dragged the prisoner forward and dumped him unceremoniously on a chair that had been placed at the bottom of the steps leading up to the throne. Then Ascue motioned the guards away. The two men saluted and went back outside the throne room to stand guard, closing the double doors behind them.
Elvisda looked down at the former sea Captain. The man looked ragged. Never very clean shaven, Basmar was even more unkempt now. His clothes were disheveled and ripped in spots. And his face was covered in dirt. “You’re looking well Basmar,” Elvisda said with a lilt in his voice. Basmar looked up and the spat in front of him. “You’re no Baron. When the Mayor catches you on her throne, you’ll be toast.” The bard laughed and then replied, “Why Basmar, haven’t you heard? The Mayor has moved to Lymeridia. And even if she hadn’t, we are all best friends with her now. After all, we saved her from the Assassin’s Guild!”
“Dragon dung!” Basmar cried. “You and I both know the Mayor ran the Assassin’s guild.” Then the sea Captain realized what he just said. He looked around the room quickly seeing that it was just him, Captain Ascue, Elvisda and the little gnome cleric. The prisoner sat back in his chair then and clamped his mouth shut tight.
“Come come now Basmar,” Elvisda said tauntingly. “You have been such a useful source of knowledge. Don’t clam up on us now.” Through gritted teeth Basmar replied, “That’s all your gonna get from me.” Elvisda turned to Aksel and said, “I think our friend Basmar here intends to be less than cooperative. Aksel nodded and answered, “Yes, just as we expected. Well then, should I proceed with our original plan.” The bard looked down at the sea captain, smiled a wicked smile and said, “By all means.”
The little gnome cleric walked slowly down the steps and then began to circle around Basmar. The prisoner followed the cleric with his head looking more and more uncertain. Finally Aksel stopped and began to intone a magical spell. “Wh…what are you going to do?” Basmar asked, his face taking on a frightened expression.
“Don’t worry,” Elvisda replied with satisfaction. “It won’t hurt a bit. He’s just going to convert you, that’s all.” Basmar looked wild eyed from the bard back to the cleric and back again. Then he began to scream and rock back and forth in his chair. “Guards!” Ascue yelled. The two men opened the doors. “Restrain the prisoner!” the Captain ordered.
The two men marched in and grabbed Basmar from either side, holding him in place. “No!” Basmar screamed. “Noooo…” Then his voice trailed off as Aksel unleashed his spell. A wave of golden light washed over the hapless sea captain. He seemed to struggle internally for a minute or so, then suddenly his body relaxed and a peaceful look appeared on his face.
Aksel nodded satisfactorily and then looked up at Elvisda. “It’s done.” The bard rubbed his hands together and then announced, “Very good. Captain, you can tell your men to let go now.” Ascue nodded and sent the two guards back outside the room. Once they were gone, Aksel walked up in front of Basmar and said, “How do you feel?”
Basmar blinked as if seeing the cleric for the first time. Then he cleared his throat and replied, “Pretty good your holiness.” Then he looked down at his clothes and added, “A little bit dirty though.” Then his stomach growled. “And a bit hungry too I guess.” The prisoner’s whole demeanor had changed. No longer did he seem belligerent, nor unconcerned with his uncouth appearance.
Elvisda said, “Well then, it looks like we have a new man on our hands here. Captain, can we get our friend some clean clothes and maybe some lunch as well?” Ascue grinned, “It would be my pleasure.” He went to the door and spoke briefly with one of the guards. Then he returned and nodded to both Elvisda and Aksel.
The little cleric whispered something to Ascue who then turned and walked over to Basmar. He bent over and then produced a key and unlocked the chains around the man’s hands and feet. As Basmar gingerly rubbed his wrists he said, “Thank you,” to the Captain.
Aksel smiled at the change in the man. Then he told Basmar, “Sounds like we’ll have some food for you shortly and some clean clothes. When we’re done here, you might even want to take a bath.” The sea captain did reek. Basmar actually smiled back and replied, “That is very kind of you all considering how I have treated you. Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?”
“Information would be good,” Elvisda said from up on his throne. “Yes, yes of course,” Basmar replied. “Anything you want.” The sea captain seemed quite eager to help now. Aksel smiled at the converted man and then said, “Okay then. The really big question first. Who killed Baron Grellus of Restenford.”
“That was Tellish,” Basmar replied sincerely. “Tellish?” Ascue said in surprise. “High Magistrate Tellish?” The sea captain nodded and continued, “Yes. Tellish. He’s some kind of highly trained cleric assassin. I heard him bragging about how he performed some kind of weird ritual on the Baron. He said was it was going to bring great power and wealth to the guild.”
Aksel and Elvisda exchanged glances. Ascue shook his head. “I always thought there was something strange about that man, but I never thought a cleric would be an assassin!” Basmar replied, “He was one of the highest ranking ones. He reported directly to the Mayor.” Aksel nodded, “Just as we suspected. So did Tellish say exactly how this ritual would bring power to you all?” Basmar shook his head. “No, he wouldn’t tell anyone but the Mayor. All he said was it would all clear by the end of the month.” Aksel looked up at Elvisda. “That corresponds to what you found in that book,” the cleric noted. Then he turned back to Basmar and said, “Was there anything else?”
Basmar talked for a good hour. The sea captain knew who all the members of the assassins guild were and provided them with a list. He described how the Mayor ran the organization, but how most of the jobs were given out by underlings in the local taverns. Basmar knew all about the lair under the keep, but had no knowledge of the evil temple or of the guild’s involvement with the god Amon. The sea captain himself was not an assassin, but would provide them with transport across the lake and even down the river when it was required. In the end, he gave them enough information to arrest a few assassins they had not know about who were still lurking around town. Basmar also offered to further make amends by captaining a vessel for them now. Elvisda agreed.
Ascue left the throne room with Basmar. After having their new ally escorted to the baths, he sent a contingent of guards out to capture the rest of the assassins in town that Basmar had named. A few hours later, all the assassins were either dead or captured. None had escaped.
About the same time Ascue was reporting their success to Elvisda and Aksel, Donatello and Balmarrow arrived back in town. They came speeding up to the castle on their near invisible steeds and dismounted quickly in the courtyard. The elf and the kobold entered the throne room just as Ascue was saying, “…down to the last man.”
“We’re back!” Donatello announced as they strode into the room. “Where’s Lloyd?” Aksel asked immediately. “Oh, on a slow march back with about 40 men or so,” Donnie replied drolly. “He should be here before nightfall.” The swashbuckler had successfully bartered the loot Elvisda had given him and had made enough money to both raise Willis and double the coffers of Graceland. “Nicely done,” Elvisda told him with obvious glee. The bard was obviously doing mental calculations of Graceland’s worth in his head.
They had also purchased the materials needed to perform the raising ritual. Balmarrow handed those over to Aksel. The cleric looked them over and then told the little bard. “This will do it. We’ll send for Willis’s body and I’ll raise him here.” Balmarrow squeaked, “No, I’ll go get them. Phyllis is sure to be with him and I want to tell her myself.” Aksel nodded understandingly. Then the little Kobald turned and ran out of the room with that strange kobald gait.
“So,” Donnie began, “what’d I miss?” Elvisda sent for Glorfindel and the others members of the KOTC. Then he proceeded to bring the swashbuckler up to speed on the conversion of Captain Basmar. When the others arrived, Aksel repeated the story for them. Then Donnie told them what Lloyd had learned about the Dunnwyn attempt to run the Penwick blockage and Anya’s taking up residence of the manor next door in Lukescros. He finished with the tidings of the lost regiment in Three Forks.
“That does not bode well,” Kara commented. “There is much evil at work in the world all of a sudden.” Aksel nodded his agreement. “Yes, it is almost as if a dark shadow has fallen upon the world and all the evil things have begun to crawl out of the woodwork at once,” Donnie added. “It makes you wonder if these are actually all separate incidences, or if there is one hand behind all of this,” Glorfindel mused.
Just then, Balmarrow and Phyllis walked in. Between them they wheeled in Willis’s body on a cart. The body was still intact as one of the town clerics had cast a stasis spell on it to keep it from decaying. Aksel had them place the body in the center of the hall and then took out all his components. The cleric spent a good twenty minutes preparing and then finally launched into the complicated spell. The rest of the companions stood quietly around awaiting the results of the attempt to raise the valiant, yet hapless, illusionist.
Aksel was in deep concentration. Beads of sweat formed on the gnome’s forehead as he focused all of his mind on this single important task. Then, finally, he released the spell. As he did so, a shaft of white light appeared from the ceiling and shone down on the body of the illusionist. The shaft expanded from a couple of inches to a few feet and then enveloped Willis’s entire body. The light became so bright that everyone had to avert their eyes. Then the light abruptly disappeared.
Everyone turned their heads and looked at the spot where the corpse had been. But instead of a dead body, the form of Willis, the illusionist, sat up in the wheelbarrow. He looked dazed and confused. Phyllis launched herself across the room and in seconds had her arms wrapped around the man. She was showering him with kisses. Willis, still confused, said, “Wh..what happened?” Phyllis, inbetween kisses, replied, “You…were…dead…silly.” Willis grabbed her shoulders and said, “I was?” He seemed to ponder the thought for a moment. Then he declared, “Interesting!”
Phyllis laughed and began kissing him again. This time the illusionist kissed him back. Balmarrow squeaked, “Death hasn’t changed him a bit.” The two lovers were still locked in an embrace, oblivious to the staring crowd around them. “How lovely,” Andrella sighed. “How embarrassing,” Seth noted.
“Ahem,” Elvisda said clearing his throat loudly. The couple paused and looked up at the bard. “We are exceedingly pleased to see you so well again goodman Willis. It would please us greatly if the two of you were to share a room in the keep for the next couple of days at our expense.” Phyllis looked at Willis and then back to the bard. “Thank you soooo much!” she gushed. Then she got up and ran over to Aksel. She grabbed the little cleric, lifted him up, and hugged and kissed him saying, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
“Youuuurre wellllcome,” Aksel managed though his ribs were being crushed. When Phyllis finally put the little gnome down, Aksel seemed dazed. His face was also scarlet red.
Ascue escorted the two lovers out of the throne room. Andrella sighed once more as they left. “Isn’t love grand,” she declared. “I guess,” Kara replied, “but some of us don’t have time for that kind of thing.”
Andrella looked at the warrior woman reproachfully, but before she could reply, Aksel interjected, “Now that that’s settled, it’s time to plan on how we are going to retrieve the Baron’s body.” Andrella stopped mid-retort and turned to look at the cleric. She took a deep breath and said, “Thank you Cleric Aksel. You are absolutely right.”
“Very well then,” Elvisda said having gotten up off his throne and walked down to join the others. He motioned them all to follow and they adjourned to a side room off the throne room quite similar to the one in the keep in Restenford. “Now then,” the Baron of Graceland said after everyone sat down around a familiar, yet unfamiliar table, “Let’s talk strategy.”