Chapter Sixty-Four

August 11, 2012


4th of Vintagemonth


                As Briggette is riding through town a few days later, I notice two small creatures following us.  When we get to the middle of a large crowd, I get lost in it and cut around behind them.  I find them up on a nearby roof and use my shadow jump ability to appear in one of their shadows, "Looking for me?"
                They separate and jump back, but one of them falls off the roof.  I manage to swoop and catch him, but his friend gets away.  I pull him up an question his motives, ultimately finding that they are, in fact, after me.  He won't tell me why, but says that "the Master" sent them to watch me.  I ask him to take me to the Master, and he agrees.  As we go, he leads me into the back of the haberdashery.  We walk to a wall and he removes his cloak, revealing large curling horns atop his head.  He must go through a series of trap doors, one of which he must open with his blood.  We go down a long and winding staircase before leaving me to retrieve the Master.
                When he comes out, he questions my association with the noble and good company I keep.  I explain that my looks may be deceiving, but that I am truly a good and noble person.  I tell him of my devotion to Cuthbert and my friends.  He questions my veracity further, and he asks if I am willing to prove my worth.  I agree without hesitation, and he has the horned halfling, Roy, bring out a box.  "We call this the box of truth," he says.  He explains that once I put my hand in, if I lie, my hand will be severed.  Further, if I prevaricate, I will receive a shock and pain until such time as I admit the truth in full.  Before he can finish his speech, I put my hand into the box.
                He seems a bit shocked, but begins to question me.  He asks my name and who I serve, as well as whether I would die to protect innocents.  He also asks whether I would choose to protect innocents over my friends, to which I reply, "In most cases, no."  As I understand my charge from Cuthbert, it is to protect those in my group.  He tells me that I am not ready to join his cause, but intimates that he is working for the side of good against my family and others.  He also mentions that he knows my family is plotting to eradicate the followers of Cuthbert as a whole.
                Meanwhile, Sir Ulric arrives in Reghin and sits with Sir Connor to discuss the matters at hand.  Connor is somewhat offended that Ulric is likely to be blamed for the killing of the baron here when he was the one responsible.  They share a good laugh and an ale or two, and then Ulric continues along his route to Brasov.  His journey is one of the most pleasant he's ever had, and he arrives safely back home to a celebratory populace.
                He finds that his father is home and they share a warm embrace.  The Count has heard of our adventures at Reghin, but not so much of our exploits further east.  Ulric fills in the details over dinner and beer, and listens intently as his father shares of the troubles closer to home.  They discuss Ulric's Right of Recruitment, and the Count talks to Ulric about taking lands.  Sir Stefan then pulls out a sword and lays it on the table, "This is a sword that I took off of an orc coming up from the Lepescue's land."  He pauses and pulls out another shortsword, "This one came from a ratman coming down from the swamp.  And this one," he pulls out another, "came off of a hobgoblin."  All three are identical and carry the same maker's mark.  "Someone is supplying these very different people with weapons.  That alone could be a problem."
                "I've often said that this is all far too convenient," Ulric replies.
                "Well, despite the improved equipment, they still died just the same."  His father continues with an admonishment, "Just be aware that when you're taking your fallen county, somewhere around here there is a real enemy, and he's manipulating more than just us."
                After about a month of blessings and general interaction with the people, Briggette has gotten used to refusing advances from men offering to run away with her.  A letter comes in from Brannick which reads:
Protector of the West,
             I, Sir Brannick, Protector of the East, First Paladin of Grozney, am sending back Knight Protector Johannes to relieve you of your duties in protecting Tulcea.  I hope your stay has not been too bothersome, and has not forced you to put aside any duties you have in the West.
                About two days later, Johannes arrives in town, and we make our preparations to leave.  He gives Briggette a letter from Silas which is sealed with a nine-pointed star.  It has a strange long word that stretches the width of the page along with the admonishment "Don't read that!"  The remainder of the letter says that if he is absolutely required, we should read that word and he will be summoned to us.  Further, it says that the page will be consumed once the word is spoken. 
                After having me check her appearance, we all go to see the Duke.  She tells him that Johannes has come to man the post in the city and asks his leave to go.  We spend a moment saying our goodbyes to Rotheschilde, too, then stop to see Nicodemus.  After a nice short chat, we head back for a good night's rest before leaving in the morning.
                Our journey takes about three weeks, including a stopover in Reghin.  When we arrive in Brasov, the gate guard--who has been instructed for this circumstance by Gustav--tells us that Ulric is at the castle, so we ride that way.  Lucien informs us that he is not, but it would be rude to leave without speaking to her father-in-law.  When Sir Stefan arrives, he invites us to have lunch here at the castle, and we acquiesce.  Meanwhile, Ulric and Gustav are preparing a celebration in town.  After a long, drawn out lunch, Briggette turns to the Count, "So, Father, do you think you've wasted enough time?"
                "I have no idea what you're talking about," Sir Stefan replies, "I'm simply having a pleasant lunch with my beloved daughter-in-law."  He grins at her and changes the subject.  "You know Ulric is planning to take a county, don't you?"
                They discuss that for a bit, then he offers an escort back into town.  We politely refuse and make our way back to town.  As we exit the castle walls, Finn is waiting for us on his horse.  He knows that we would want to make an entrance, and he rides with us to trumpet our arrival with his Horn of Fog.
                As we enter the gates, the people are cheering for Briggette.  She rides in front with Wren just behind bearing her colors.  Gustav is standing in the center of the town square, and greets her, "Sir Briggette, it is good to see you!  Ulric will be a more pleasant person with you around."  He waits for her to dismount and leads her to the tavern.
                When they enter the tavern, there is a large cry of "Briggette!" and a cheer erupts.  She looks around, but does not see Ulric anywhere.  A moment later, a lyre starts to play, and a minstrel steps out and begins to sing Briggette's favorite song from her childhood.  Ulric steps in a moment later, resplendent in his armor and cloak which billows alluringly along with his hair.  He carries a handful of wildflowers and kneels before her.  She takes the flowers and he lays his sword at her feet.  "You're home."
                "Yes, I am."
                "I was not informed that you were going to be here."
                "You have this habit of being inconvenient."
                "Well, I shall have to make this up to you somehow," Briggette grins down at him.
                They continue with some rather suggestive banter before buying a round of drinks for the bar.  Then Ulric directs the minstrel to play some dancing music and lifts Briggette up and dances her around like a rag doll.  There is general fun and merriment had by all.  Briggette is quite suggestive in her manner of speech and eating, and as the general level of chatter increases, they make a quiet exit. 
                They spend the night and most of the next day in the bliss of their wedded bed, until Sir Stefan knocks at the door to have dinner--as Briggette forgot she'd invited him to.  Despite their lack of preparation, they have a lovely meal, and they discuss the area Ulric is planning to take.  After nearly three hours, Sir Stefan makes a graceful exit, and the two return to their reunion.
                Time passes, and we have a time of peace and contentment.  One day, as Briggette, Ulric and I are walking down the street, Boian comes flying out of a window ahead of us with his weapons drawn.  He stands up and jumps back in through the window.  We run in and find him fighting a woman we don't recognize.  She appears to be fighting better than he is.
                "What's going on?"  Briggette asks.
                He turns to Briggette and screams, "Briggette, get Ulric out of here!  Now!"  The woman chooses that moment to bury her rapier in Boian's shoulder.  I run into the fray and stab at her before she turns to slice into me. 
                She turns to our friend, "Boian, this has nothing to do with you."
                Briggette interposes herself between Boian and his assailant, "What is the meaning of this?"
                The woman pauses and has her rapier pointed at Briggette's head, "Where is this Sir Ulric?  I don't know you."
                "Well, I don't know you, either, so that makes us equal," Briggette replies.  "What business do you have with Sir Ulric?"
                "I am here to kill him," she replies.
                "Well, as I prefer my husband alive, that's not going to happen," Briggette smirks and attacks her.  The blow connects, but not before the woman flips Briggette to the floor.
                "I have no quarrel with you!"
                "Yes, you do!"  Briggette begins to get up.
                "Sir Ulric," she calls out, ignoring all other foes.
                "I'm here," he replies from outside.  The woman challenges him to an open duel, and they agree to meet in ten minutes in the town square.  As a lawful challenge has been made and accepted, the rest of us are forced to stand down.
                Boian explains that she is from Nevers, her name is Livia, and she kills knights professionally.  Apparently, Ulric has quite a bounty on his head, and she intends to collect. 
                Ten minutes later, we all meet in the town square.  After Ulric ensures she will have safe passage out of the county should she win, they begin to fight.  Her first two strikes are quick and strong, but Ulric hits back just as decisively.  They trade blows back and forth for a few moments before her cloak disintegrates and crumbles to the ground.  "Madam, I offer you the chance to withdraw," Ulric says.
                "Are you kidding?" she asks, "This is the most fun I've had in years."  She stabs at him again.  Ulric fights back and again they trade blows.  She aims and is poking her rapier right through the eye socket of his helm just as he reaches up and chops her arm off.  She falls and the eerily silent crowd stays so in shock from the battle.
                Ulric and Briggette walk back to their house as the rest of us clean up the street.  We take her body outside of town and burn her on a pyre made of the branches of fruit trees.