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    The Silver Wolf-Behind The Mask: On A Knife's Edge
    Posted on Mon, February 20, 2023 by LordCeb
    CruelSummerLord writes "

    “Then you might as well prepare the axe, because we know as much as you do,” Morland said, half-smirking. “When I receive a sack with thousands of gold wheatsheafs,” he said, referring to Furyondy’s gold currency, “and a message telling me who my band’s targets are and where I’ll strike, I don’t ask questions. Maybe it’s the Horned Ones. Maybe it’s one of the Bandits. Maybe it’s Iuz. Maybe it’s some entirely new power. You truly expect me to care?” he said, his smirk widening.

     Chapter Eleven

    On A Knife’s Edge

    The Furyondian town of Baranford was not large, being home to just over 2,000 people. Despite its small size, it was a crossroads for many different people. Travelers regularly used the ford it was built around to cross the Velverdyva. Merchants came to and from neighboring lands like Highfolk, the Shield Lands, Perrenland, the Vesve Forest and the Yatil Mountains. Many high-ranking nobles, soldiers and royal officials passed through Baranford using the Royal Highway, Furyondy’s most important road.

    Most significantly, Baranford was a regular meeting place between the Furyondian Knights of the Hart and their counterparts in Highfolk, often nicknamed the Knights of the High Forest, and in Veluna. The Furyondian delegation to the meeting in Highfolk was going there overland, and they stopped in Baranford at the same time as the Velunese delegation.

    The companions and the Velunese delegation took rooms at the Golden Fox Inn, but they joined the Furyond delegation at the High River Inn for an evening of drinks and celebration. Besides enjoying a fine feast, the partygoers traded stories of their exploits, competed in archery contests, gambled with cards and dice, sang both heroic and bawdy songs, and celebrated in a spirit of friendship and brotherhood.

    The delegates didn’t notice the people who came to Baranford over the course of the day. The people came in their ones and twos, dressed as everything from tradespeople to pilgrims to young newlyweds, taking rooms at the Long Trail Tavern and Hostelry, practically buying the place out between them.

    Despite his capacity for drink, Weimar was a light sleeper. When the companions made camp in the wilderness, he often volunteered to take the final watch before they set out the next morning. He enjoyed watching the sunrise, and liked walking off any overindulgences from the night before. He didn’t actually drink that much last night anyway. He wanted to keep himself sober enough to participate in the archery contest, and he was distinctly proud of the small pouch of gems he’d won.

    Near the Golden Fox Inn, there was a small wooded park that extended to the riverbank. Weimar walked towards it, hoping to take in the sights of the trees and the waters before returning to the Golden Fox for breakfast. As he approached, a familiar smell told him he wasn’t the only person who wanted to greet the sunrise.

    The scent of burning tobacco and cedar led Weimar to a small clearing where Revafour knelt in front of a small bowl he’d placed on a tree stump. The bowl contained the tobacco and cedar Revafour was burning, releasing the smoke that Revafour fanned on himself. The Flan had long considered herbs like tobacco, cedar, sage and sweetgrass to be sacred medicines with important spiritual roles. Smudging was one of the ceremonies many Flan used the medicines for, a means of cleansing and strengthening themselves.

    Weimar waited until Revafour was finished before walking up to join him.

    “You wanted to thank the Velverdyva for our getting here safely, I take it?” Weimar asked.

    “And this was the perfect place to do it,” Revafour said, gesturing to the rushing waters they could see through the trees. “I’m surprised Luna didn’t come with you.”

    “Everyone was still asleep,” Weimar said, shrugging. “And Luna can bond with Pelor in her own way.”

    Revafour only smiled at that. The two men’s wilderness training, born of the time they’d spent on the land, gave them a special appreciation for it the rest of their friends generally lacked.

    As they walked back through the park towards the Golden Fox Inn, Weimar paused at the movement he saw beyond the edge of the trees. Moving forward stealthily, with Revafour close behind, Weimar saw a group of people walking swiftly towards the High River Inn. They were dressed in a variety of outfits, but they all held short swords and daggers. They all had the same choice of weapons, and they all had the same determined expressions on their faces.

    Weimar and Revafour exchanged glances, wondering what these strange people wanted. They’d seen a couple of the people around town, but they’d mostly kept to themselves. Now, they were all gathered together, bearing similar weapons.

    “Go tell our friends what’s happening,” Weimar said to Revafour, who nodded. “I think the Furyond Knights might be needing our help.”

    “Sure, but what about you?” Revafour said. “You don’t have your equipment, so-“

    In response, Weimar drew two of the daggers hanging from his belt and twirled them in his hands. He didn’t usually fight with the two-blades style favored by some warriors with ranger training, but he still knew how to use it.  

    Smiling wickedly, he drew one of the daggers across his throat in a mock gesture, before he turned to pursue the strangers.

    Revafour ran in the opposite direction, determined to warn the rest of their friends.

    He could feel the old Tenha battle lust stirring within him.

    Furyondy was one of the Flanaess countries whose citizens were more inclined to goodness overall. No citizenry and no population was entirely one thing or another, though. Just as Iuz and the Horned Society had more moral citizens, Furyondy and Veluna had residents who thought nothing of wicked deeds.

    So it was with Morland and his compatriots. They were well-known in Furyondy’s underworld, taking contracts from various leaders in the Bandit Kingdoms, the Horned Society, the Temple of Elemental Evil, Dyvers and elsewhere. When Morland received a substantial payment to target several leaders of Furyondy’s Knights of the Hart, he didn’t need to be asked twice.

    The plan was straightforward. Morland and all of his crew were to come to Baranford individually, dressed as different kinds of travelers. One of them would sneak into the High River Inn while the knights were feasting, dressed as one of the servers. The disguised assassin added a potent, slow-acting sleeping drug into the Knights’ food, making sure they were the only ones to consume it. Then, while all the knights were drugged, Morland and his friends would sneak into the inn and cut all their throats.

    Two of Morland’s compatriots waited while he picked the lock to the inn’s back door, their daggers already in hand.

    “Isn’t it a little late for nightcaps? Or are you just early for a hair of the dog?”

    Morland started at the voice he heard behind him. He and his friends turned around and stared in shock at the rough-looking blonde man who’d come up behind them. He held a dagger in each hand, and had a wry grin on his face.

    The assassins were in no mood to banter with him. At a nod from Morland, his minions attacked the blonde man while he returned to working on the lock.

    Weimar easily parried both assassins’ sword thrusts, before he rolled his daggers over their blades. He slashed both of the assassins’ wrists, and they fell back in pain. The male assassin screamed, and Weimar drover his dagger into his chest. The female assassin simply stepped back and thrust at Weimar again, but he easily blocked her attack with his left dagger. He pushed her sword aside and stepped forward, cutting her throat with his right dagger before she could stop him.

    Morland managed to unlock the door, but he was forced to draw his sword and turn around as Weimar advanced on him. He raised his sword but gave a loud screeching cry not unlike that of an eagle, the signal to the rest of his minions to help him.

    Morland grinned as he saw the figures he saw advancing towards them from either side. Weimar followed his glance and saw more than a dozen people, far too many for him to fight by himself. He turned back to Morland, who only smirked. Ignoring the approaching assassins, Weimar simply thrust at Morland, forcing him away from the inn door. Morland skilfully parried, knowing that the rest of his assassins would tear Weimar to pieces once they caught up to him.

    It never came to that. Revafour shouted a battle cry as he charged at the assassins, the rest of the companions behind him. He slashed his sword at the nearest man, a vicious-looking man whose piglike snout revealed his half-orc ancestry. The half-orc blocked Revafour’s first blow, but Revafour simply stepped back and slashed again, severing one of the half-orc’s hands. The half-orc fell screaming in pain, and Revafour swiftly beheaded him. Another half-orc, this one a woman, managed to pierce Revafour’s side with her spear, but he forced her back with a sideways slash. As she tried to lower her spear and thrust again, he cut right through it with his sword and caught her straight in the torso, killing her instantly.

    Airk had only his helmet and shield for protection, but that was all he needed as he deflected one man’s sword thrust with his shield. He slammed the man in his other arm with his morning star, forcing the man to drop his dagger before Airk crushed his skull. Two more men all charged in at him at once, but they perished from the magical bolts Seline shot at them. A female assassin threw a dagger at Seline, but it bounced harmlessly off the protective barrier she’d cast before entering the battle.

    The female assassin charged at Seline, joined by two more of her fellows. Seline showed no fear, throwing a pinch of multicolored sands in the air as she cast her next spell. Her hand glowed with colored lights that she cast at the assassins. The colored lights struck the assassins head-on, knocking them senseless.

    Ma’non’go thrust his trident deep into a dwarven assassin’s chest, hurling the sudden corpse at the two assassins following behind him. Knocked down by the flying body, the two assassins were easy prey for Ma’non’go as he ran past them. Another assassin ran at Ma’non’go, thrusting his own spear, but Ma’non’go merely spun in place and skewered the man.

    Two assassins charged at Luna, who was only carrying her shield. The assassins smiled, thinking her easy prey, but Luna simply pointed at them as she chanted a spell. When she shouted at them to “surrender”, the assassins did just that.

    Morland turned to flee, shocked at how easily the companions overcame his band. A couple of assassins distracted Weimar, and Morland didn’t waste the opportunity. He knew the Knights were still drugged inside the High River Inn, and if he could at least kill some of them…

    A searing pain suddenly tore through his leg, causing him to collapse. Screaming and holding his leg, Morland rolled onto his back. He saw a dagger protruding from his leg where it had hamstrung him. Amyalla came over and pulled her dagger out of his leg, holding it close to his face.

    “I’d stay where I am if I were you,” Amyalla said, giving Morland a very good look at the dagger’s bloodstained blade.  

    The sounds of the fighting brought Baranford’s town watch running, as well as several members of Veluna’s Knights of the Hart. They took Morland and his surviving assassins into custody. Priests from the local temple of Hieroneous treated the drugged Furyond Knights. Several hours later, several of the Knights’ and Baranford watch’s leaders sat down to interrogate Morland.

    “As it stands, you and your band are all facing lengthy prison sentences for attempted murder,” Lord Edward Silverhelm said, staring coldly at Morland, who was now tightly shackled. “You could be spared your meeting with the royal headsman if you tell us who your masters are.”

    “Then you might as well prepare the axe, because we know as much as you do,” Morland said, half-smirking. “When I receive a sack with thousands of gold wheatsheafs,” he said, referring to Furyondy’s gold currency, “and a message telling me who my band’s targets are and where I’ll strike, I don’t ask questions. Maybe it’s the Horned Ones. Maybe it’s one of the Bandits. Maybe it’s Iuz. Maybe it’s some entirely new power. You truly expect me to care?” he said, his smirk widening.

    “We can interrogate your spirit after you’re dead, you know,” His Grace Jaycek Wenford, one of the Knights’ military chaplains, pointed out.

    “And I’ll just repeat everything I said,” Morland said, unimpressed. “You should quit wasting all our time.”

    “And you don’t fear being punished?” one of the Baranford watchmen asked.

    “You must be new to your position,” Morland said, flexing his arms and taking a long stretch as much as he could in his shackles. “I was just out of boyhood, on the streets of Dyvers, when I started this life. After fourteen years, a part of me always expected it’d end like this. An executioner’s axe…a rival’s knife in the back…a target who turns the tables…but no, it was just a couple of adventurers in the wrong place at the wrong time. One fate’s as good as another.”

    “You’re still facing the axe, though,” Lord Edward pointed out.

    “Maybe, but I’d wager you have bigger problems,” Morland said, the smirk returning to his face. “Someone went to a lot of trouble to have you killed, someone with a lot of power. Compared to them, I’m nothing,” he said as he burst out laughing.

    Edward, Jaycek and the rest of Morland’s interrogators exchanged concerned glances, unable to refute his point.  

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    Re: The Silver Wolf-Behind The Mask: On A Knife's Edge (Score: 1)
    by FaithSa on Fri, April 14, 2023
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    Despite its small size, it was a crossroads for many different people. 

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