Cracking the Rock
It is said that good fortune and fine sail await those who can control the Rock, a rugged clump of rocks barely one mile wide by two long. Tidewater Rock. Scourge of the Hurricane. A small fortress protects Windward Isle. But a fortress nearly impregnable to assault. Treacherous waters and unpredictable tides about the isle offer but a single, difficult entry for an approaching ship. And many are those who have faltered upon its rocks. And once within the narrow, secure harbor, tall walls await in overwatch, which when manned with but a few defenders, certain destruction rains down upon those unwelcome. It is no easy task to crack the Rock, and no one has been able to accomplish the feat in hundreds of years, though the bodies of the unsuccessful are plentiful in the waters about.
Undaunted, the Lesser Evil has taken up the challenge. Success has followed them thus far, and the desirable location of the Rock within the Fever Sea offers a convenient base for pirating activities with easy access to major trade routes through the Shackles.
So She approaches the Rock just before day’s break, Brother Jamie at the wheel assisted by Tilly, for the tides prove to truly be vagarious. Fens issues a wall of fog to go roiling before them while Rosie plays a mournful song upon her fiddle. The bell tolls slowly, Cog keeping up his slow, steady beat chanting “Death” with each strike. Fens’ undead line the deck of the whale-boned skeletal ship. The bloody flag of piracy raised high on the top mast, a more terrifying aura could hardly be achieved.
But with a nod and wave from Gorbo, Rogald, positioned high upon the mast, brings down the red flag. And in its place, a white flag is raised. The flag for parlay. A flag which offers those upon the Rock a chance to survive, confident though they may be, secure in their hundreds of years of autonomy.
In the Shackles, the parlay flag is not one lightly dismissed. And so it is to the Mistress of the Rock, Lady Agasta Smythee. For many years a widower of the famous Free Captain Iron Bert Smythee, who was betrayed and slain by Captain Harrigan, she nods to her captain of the guard. Captain Royster, long a faithful servant of the Rock, and the Lady, clenches his fist in frustration, yet bows to the Lady and proceeds down to the dock to receive the guests.
Having successfully maneuvered into the small bay, Brother Jamie leans heavily on the rail of the ship as the anchor finally drops down. It was a tiring task sliding between the deadly rocks upon approach, and he is exhausted from the effort. Bruno offers him a water skin, which Brother Jamie gladly takes, then smiles when he realizes that more than water are its contents. A bit early, perhaps, for the libation, but a welcome reward for duty so strenuously achieved. Refreshed, he joins the rest of the officers in the jolly boat and glides to the lone dock, skillfully oared by Tilly and Caldor. Tumbling out of the boat, they gather upon the dock as a contingent of guards approach, led by the captain of the guard.
Greeted with suspicion by Royster, Brother Jamie takes the lead and introduces the officers of the Lesser Evil.
“And finally Captain Gorbo Gutstabber, First of His Name, Destined for Greatness” Brother Jamie announces, as Gorbo pitters forward and bows grandly, sweeping his over-sized hat before him.
“A mangy goblin as captain?” an astonished Royster replies. “Unbelievable. What sort of devilry is this, for no serious ship of the Shackles would run under a goblin.”
“Oh, Captain Gorbo indeed” an unperturbed Brother Jamie continues, now accustomed to the bewilderment betrayed by those who have yet to hear of the Lesser Evil and her goblin captain. “And yet great accomplishments we have achieved, one most recent of which is the taking the Wormwood and the slaying of Captain Harrigan, cruel scourge upon the Shackles.”
“Captain Harrigan you destroyed” an unbelieving Royster proclaims. “Most doubtful.”
“Ah, but it is true nonetheless. Blessed Besmara guided our hands, and the Wormwood is no more. In fact, if you gaze closely at the vessel in which we have arrived, perhaps you will notice a similarity to the Wormwood?”
“Well, perhaps it is of similar shape” Royster admits “but of many ships could be said the same. A quick squibbing would all that be’s needing to accomplish. What true proofs have we that you even know the wrath of Harrigan, much less defeated the villain?”
At that, a silent Fens glides forward. “It is these scars upon my back that prove my acquaintance with that menaced one” he declares, his ghostly appearance even more disturbing than usual in the chill morning breeze. Turning his back to Royster, Fens lets drop his robe, revealing the many permanent scars crisscrossed across his back. “These were bestowed upon me by Plugg and his sycophant Scourge, who served under Harrigan. But no longer will they wield the whip, for all three now serve a new master, yet in life no longer.”
At that, Fens moves back to join the other officers, as the normally implacable Royster gives a shiver in response.
Lady Smythee then comes forward from the shadows within the main gate, from whence she had listened with intent the tale. Hearing the claim that the Lesser Evil’s latest victim is Captain Harrigan, she is hopeful that her long-time bane is finally destroyed. Her long dark hair streaked with grey billows about her shapely form in the wind as she greets each of her guests and bids them welcome. She then instructs her servants to bring them inside so they may refresh themselves. “Time enough for further discussion this evening at meal” she proposes. “The wind is chill this day”, then turns and re-enters the Rock.
Royster frowns at the officers of the Lesser Evil, and then grumbles a command to one of his soldiers. The soldier steps forward, and ushers them quickly to the guest quarters, which are gratefully received. As security, though, Bruno is lead separate from the group, as insurance that the tales spoken are true, and that the Lesser Evil are indeed intent on true parlay.
The chamberlain, Albers, attends to the needs of the Lesser Evil.
“Welcome lords. My name is Albers, and I will attend to your needs.” Old and wiry, yet still Albers has a bit of spring to his step
Thinking to have a bit of fun, though, Gorbo speaks up. “Owlbears? Owlbears? Why, we have a crewman called Owlbears on board the Lesser Evil.”
“Not Owlbears” a patient Albers says. “Albers!”
Acting bemused, Gorbo continues on “Yes, Owlbears. He’s a large one, and strong. Can pull the anchor up by hisself, he can.”
“Sir” a tolerant Albers tries again. “My name is not Owlbears. It is Albers, if you please.”
“Oh, Owlbears pleases and serves the Lesser Evil quite well” Caldor says, thinking to join in on the jest. “A true and trusted crewman.”
Clearing his throat a bit awkwardly and loudly, Albers tries again, speaking very slowly. “My lord. It is Albers. Al – ber – s.”
“Oh” a suddenly enlightened Gorbo confesses. “Albers! Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place” and turns away with a sly grin on his face.
Despite the bit of fun, and with a bit of a sigh, Albers proceeds with duties befitting the host, of which he is well acquainted after long years of service to the Rock. Bringing some light food, and making available baths and a refreshment of their clothing, much of the day is spent in preparation. Fens, though, approaches Albers during the preparations.
“Albers” he says “I have need of platter. Can you fetch me one?”
Albers, with a quizzical look in his eye, stammers “A planter? A planter? What would ye do with a planter?”
“Not a planter. A platter!”
“I don’t believe we have any planters about. Perhaps me wife Birney, or the gardener mayhap, knows where one may be found.”
“Not planter, fool” Fens remonstrates. “A platter. P – l – a – tter.”
“What are ye planning to grow?” a hardened Albers continues.
With a swift slap, Fens gets the full attention of Albers. “Bring. Me. A. Platter.” Towering over Albers with a look of menace, it seems Albers finally understands the request.
“Oh, a platter” he finally guesses. “Well why didn’t ye say so right off. I’ll go and fetch one from the kitchens, master.” Turning from Fens, Albers glides from the room, stifling a small smirk that betrays his little prank with the necromancer.
“Idiot” a furious Fens hurls at Albers as he closes the door behind him. “The sooner we’re done with this business, the better. Now, what are our plans?”
The officers of the Lesser Evil discuss their strategy for the coming evening. It seems as though an opportunity exists to make an alliance or an understanding with Lady Smythee. The tale of the demise of Harrigan seemed to go over well with her, though perhaps less so with Royster. If an alliance could be wrought, the Rock could be used as their base of operations, being well situated within the Shackles, proving beneficial to both the Lady and the Lesser Evil.
Presented at dinner that evening, the Lesser Evil enter the banquet hall into which the Lady Smythee had already arrived. Albers presents each formally to the Lady, and she greets them with comfort and sincere welcome as before. Bruno, released from his hostage, also arrives. Last is Fens, who enters with the platter which Albers had so adroitly provided, and presented it to the Lady as a gift. Upon the platter were a fine pen and ink set, as well as a wrap of parchment pages.
The Lady seemed taken back by the gift. “It is not often we welcome visitors. And fewer still offer gifts. And though but a simple item, still it is well received, for long it has been since a trade vessel has presented itself to the Windward Isle. Instead we have become accustomed to being presented with demands and threats from the thieves who ply the waters of the Shackles.” A tear begins to slide down her check, and she looks down to retrieve a kerchief. Not finding one, Bruno is quick to offering her his own, freshly laundered that afternoon by Albers, and unspoilt.
“Ah, Lady” Bruno declares. “Perhaps it be hard times, but things will look up. You’ll see.”
Thanking Bruno, see dabs at her eyes. “Oh, the days are long gone when Iron Bert commanded such respect throughout the Shackles. My poor husband. Lost, certainly withered and dead now. Much like the glory days of Tidewater Rock.”
“Good days will return, me Lady. Of that I promise. And now, my gift.” Clapping his hands, he calls out to the kitchen staff with whom he had worked all day, who enter carrying a marvelous and wide assortment of food, fitting for a feast not long seen upon the Rock.
The food indeed is the best the Rock had seen in many years. Even Royster reluctantly admits the fare is palatable, high praise from one so openly distrustful of the objectives of the guests.
Lady Smythee takes to trying to talk with Rogald. A chore for even the most loquacious in the best of times.
“Tell me, large bright gleaming one” she teases, “what is your intent to do with me?”
Rogald puts down the chicken carcass which he had savagely stripped clean of flesh. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he drinks a draft from his mug while pondering his answer. Agasta awaits his answer with patience.
“Well” Rogald finally rumbles, examining the remnants of his mug. “It depends.” He looks first at Royster, then slowly back at the lady.
“You see, we may kill ye. Or, maybe we won’t.” Swirling the mug one last time, he drains the contents and thumps it on the table.
Royster slams his fist down on the table, and begins to bark in outrage before Lady Smythee interrupts.
“Now Royster, these are our guests” she says, bestowing on her captain a small smile of admonishment. “I offered the question. And what Rogald here has offered is a good thing. Honesty. Another rare gift conferred this evening. I am pleasantly surprised. Though I must admit I hope I may have influence in your decision.” Rogald grunts to the comment, then reaches for another fowl.
She ponders for a few moments in silence, and then continues “My hatred of Captain Barnabus Harrigan is boundless. He is my one true sworn enemy. I believe your tale, Brother Jamie, of the demise of that hated villain and his cronies as a true deed accomplished by the Lesser Evil.”
Holding up her hand again to Royster who was about to protest, she continues. “For too long the Rock has been without a master. And too long that I have been without a husband. Therefore, I propose a bond of marriage between the Lady of Tidewater Rock and the master of the Lesser Evil.”
“Wee Hee!” and elated Gorbo shrieks, thinking he is being offered a fabulous prize, while a flustered Royster sputters in anger.
“I am not sure that will exactly work between you and me, diminutive one” a smiling Agasta says, while again casting a scalding eye towards Royster. “Besides, you are much too famous and important and handsome to want to be married to me, an aging and decaying owner of but a small, unimportant island.”
“That’s right!” Gorbo declares, after briefly considering the constraints of the possibility. “I’m still young, and need to sow my oats a bit, if ye know what I mean. And besides, I need someone rich. And famous. No disrespect meant to ye Lady. And yes, maybe a bit greener and shorter!” he admits with a hint of shyness.
A relieved Agasta continues “Yes, you show wisdom, and are most correct, Captain Gutstabber. But I believe it must be one you nonetheless.” She looks over the rest of the officers, and her questioning eyes rest upon Fens.
“Nay, lady, not I. Though my duties involve all aspects of the Triad, for now my craft must needs my talent to concentrate upon those of death and undeath. For the pleasures and pursuits of the living, I must leave to one of my fellow companions.”
Nodding acceptance, she seems a bit relieved. Though he exudes an unsettling cryptic aura, Fens does betray a certain magnetism which she finds unusually difficult to resist. But accepting Fens’ decision, she reviews the rest, and then sets her sights upon Bruno.
“It is you I have selected, master cook” Agasta declares, rising from her seat. “If the Lesser Evil accept this bond, then to you I shall find marriage, according to the code. For a year and a day we shall commit to one another. And perhaps more, if we both find it an acceptable embrace.”
“A blinkering cook!” Royster finally shouts, unable to contain his anger anymore. “This cook is barely fit to provide provender for you, much less sit at your table. Though for some reason, of which I do not understand, you seem to think otherwise.” Slamming both fists upon the table which knocks askew several of the mugs, though not Brother Jamie’s who wisely anticipated the outburst and thus saved the precious contents within, Royster continues. “There is malevolent arcana involved here, of that, I am certain. I’ll not allow the bond. Never. The honor of the Rock to which I am pledged would be stained forever.”
A stormy silence fills the room, with the maids and servants standing silent in unease. Finally, Lady Smythee’s chambermaid breaks the silence and steps forth. “Royster is correct” Birney says, perhaps speaking out of place. “It would not be fitting for the Lady of the Rock to enter into marriage to a mere cook, no matter how valiant his deeds.” Herself married to Albers long years ago, Birney has lived her entire life upon the Rock, and well understands duty to the Rock. And chief amongst them has been tending to and advising the Lady Smythee, whom from her breast she had nursed many years ago.
Holding up a finger to still her chambermaid, Lady Smythee nonetheless considers the advice. “Perhaps you are right” Agasta muses, accepting the unsolicited advice from her longtime maid and companion. “Well then, love, we must grant you a new title. One which is befitting of my honor.”
Bruno stands stricken, much like the servants before him, unable to respond to the quick turn of events.
“Rear Captain!” Gorbo suddenly proclaims. “That’s what you’ll be. I’ll promote you to be my Rear Captain.”
With a groan, Caldor strikes his forehead with the palm of his hand. “Does this goblin even have a brain?” he mutters in disbelief, certain that the goblin knows not the words he has spoken.
“What?” Gorbo asks, befuddled that Caldor did not take instantly to the honorific. “Rear Captain is a good title. I’m the Captain, Bruno will be my Rear. It makes sense. I say we do it!”
“Rear Captain suffices” Agasta accedes, smiling at the innocence of the goblin.
Banging upon the table once more, Royster stands up, frothing in a rage, unable to form words sufficient to portray his anger.
“My Lady” Tilly speaks up before Royster can form words. “This bond between the Rock and the Lesser Evil is wise. But the joining must be accepted by all, or else those of the Shackles will know that the pledge is weak, which may draw enemies to exploit the perceived weakness of the Rock.”
Tilly had been observing the captain of the guard throughout the evening, and it is clear to him that Royster has betrayed that his feelings for the Lady go far beyond his duty to the Rock. Thinking to have a bit of fun with the captain, though, Tilly continues. “For this reason, I feel that it is imperative that one respected upon the Rock give you away in marriage for all to see. That way, there can be no doubt of the verity of this marriage.” Casting a quick glance to Royster, with a small smile, he concludes “Royster, Captain of the Guard of Tidewater Rock, holds the proper station for such duty. He must present you in marriage before the Free Captains of the Shackles.”
Pleased, Agasta proclaims “Marvelous!”, while once more granting a measure of lenience towards the rage demonstrated by Royster who again slams his fists upon the table. “Royster” she continues, turning to him “you shall walk me down the dock when Bruno and I marry. But it must be soon, and it must be spectacular.”
Royster can contain himself no longer, and stands up throwing his goblet against the far wall, splattering a maid with its contents. “I will not tolerate this! Lady, I beg thee. Turn from this ill-advised course – for no good will come of it, I assure you!”
“Enough!” Agasta shouts, finally having enough of Royster’s impudence. “The marriage shall take place as I say. And you, Royster, shall give me away. The Lady of Tidewater Rock has spoken. It shall be so!” she concludes with finality.
Royster growls once more, and storms from the room, knocking the heavy oaken door aside, tearing it from its hinges.
The servants and maids look on in horror, stricken in place. The Lady Smythee, long accustomed with Royster’s moods and affections, puts them aside for the moment. She has a higher duty to consider. That of her duty to the Rock and its return to prominence. So instead, she stirs her servants into action. Clapping her hands, she commands them to clear the broken crockery, and they respond swiftly. Soon the table is cleared, the servants all retreating from the room in relief. Only Lady Smythee and her chambermaid, Birney, remain behind with those from the Lesser Evil.
“But know this, my love” Agasta says, standing and gliding next to her betrothed “betray me with unfaithfulness, and you shall know my sure wrath” and delivers a kiss upon his check.
Stuttering and not sure how else to respond, Bruno stands and clumsily bows. “I accept the terms, Lady”, while beads of sweat begin forming rapidly on his brow as he looks in vain in his pocket for his kerchief.
“Woo hoo!” an elated Gorbo shouts. “We’re going to have a wedding” and begins to caper about the newly minted couple.
They spend the rest of the evening celebrating and discussing the upcoming wedding. Lady Smythee presents a dowry of gifts. A variety of trinkets she bestows to the Lesser Evil to help offset the cost of sailing. To Gorbo, she presents a far seeing spyglass, magically enabled to looks further than any mundane spyglass. But it is to Bruno that she provides the most special gift. An iron shirt finely woven, it also is magical, and was once the property of her late husband, from which he had received his nickname Iron Bert.
After breaching and draining the finest cask of wine from the Rock’s stores, the unsteady officers of the Lesser Evil finally seek out their beds to rest for the night. But as is often the case, the repose of these pirates does not proceed without interruption.
Deep in the night, cries of alarm ring out, awakening the officers of the Lesser Evil. Stumbling out of their beds, they go into the greeting hall where Royster has gathered a number of guards and is questioning an old man, whom Bruno recognizes as Tidewater Rock’s cook. Having spent the day in the kitchens with the man, he was kindly enough, but of limited culinary talents.
He tells Royster the tale of his grandson, Mortiss. Having returned to his home on the far side of the island after the feast, he came back to discover that Mortiss had been attacked and grievously injured while tending a flock of sheep.
“We ne’er should ‘av let him tend the sheep alone” the grandfather explains. “The lad is too young. But we made him as comfortable as possible, and I left Mortiss with me wife and returned in haste to the keep.” As Lady Royster enters the hall, he beseeches aid be sent.
Looking at Agasta, Royster declares “We must send aid, that much is sure. My Lady, may I recommend you send your newly betrothed to fetch the boy?”
The night has turned stormy, torrents of rain pouring down, and the chill wind from the morning has not abated. Lady Smythee frowns, not at all pleased that Royster has decided to not send Tidewater Rock’s guard on the errand. It is a foul mission with the weather, making the prospect of trekking across the island a miserable affair. Clearly it is not one that is suited for guests.
“Captain Royster, I am not at all pleased to send my guests on this task. Cannot you send some of the guard to fetch the boy? If someone or something out there attacked the boy, it is your duty to investigate.”
“Ordinarily, I would, my lady. But my first duty lies to the safety of the Rock, and to you. I can spare no guards for such a task whilst a pirate vessel is docked in our bay.”
“Captain, you are talking about my husband to be.”
“And foul though the task may be” Royster admits” I intend to make sure you are delivered safe to your wedding. My decision is final. Either your guests attend the task, or the cook can return with a cart and fetch the boy hisself.”
Still not pleased at the petty display, Lady Smythee realizes that the decision is his to make.
Turning to Bruno, she begins to speak.
“Of course we’ll go” Bruno interrupts, before she even has the chance to ask. “But we will need someone to show us the way.”
The decision made, Royster dispatches four of his guards to accompany the pirates. Lady Royster promises to follow in the morning with more of the guard to investigate.
Into the howling wind they walk, girding themselves against the whips of rain lashing down from the flashing sky. A miserable walk for all, Brother Jamie in particular is unceasing delivering his litany of complaints. Not in the least pleased that he was stirred from bed, still feeling the effects of the banquet and its excesses. But fortunate for all, the island being rather small, within forty minutes they manage the trek and arrive at the hut where Mortiss lay.
Brother Jamie, continuing the litany of curses, nonetheless examines the boy, barely twelve years old. The leg is severely torn up. It is a good thing they arrived so soon, for the wound is critical. Brother Jamie tends the boy, and casts healing into his leg. Thus stabilized, the boy speaks of green devils who came and attacked him and the sheep. He was able to scare them away, but not before the devils killed one of the sheep. The exhaustion of the wound and experience finally sends the boy into a slumber.
While Brother Jamie tends the boy, Fens and Rogald scout the area, discovering the dead sheep surrounded by a large number of unusual tracks. Evidence of claw marks tell the tale of the sheep’s brutal death. Fens gathers the remains, and they return to the shepherd’s hut.
Insults soon fly as Fens enters with the dead sheep. They had seen Fens’ power revealed in bringing the dead to unlife, including humans, elves, saughin, and even velociraptors. But bringing a sheep back presents an especially unsavory set of possibilities that Fens’ companions explore and expose upon in vulgar detail.
Scoffing at their banality, Fens ignores them and takes the sheep to the butcher’s block in rear of the building. Calling to Bruno, it is decided a shame to waste the flesh and wool of the slain animal. Under the skillful knife of Bruno, it is soon butchered, with Mortiss’ grandmother taking the carcass into the small smokehouse to cure. The task complete, Fens removes himself to rest, openly showing his disdain for the others.
In the morning, Lady Smythee herself comes to check on her subjects. Accompanying the lady is Royster and a half-dozen guards. After discussion, it is concluded that the most likely assailants were the sahuagin. Agasta explains that from time to time, the sea beasts had raided the island. But such an occurrence had not happened in many years. It seems like too much of coincidence that the attack has come the same evening the Lesser Evil arrived. Royster is none too coy about believing the pirates are in league with the sahuagin.
“What about your ship?” Lady Smythee asks, dismissing Royster’s mistrust. “Is it OK? Perhaps this attack is but a diversion.”
Startled by the possibility, swift decisions are made. Caldor offers to go directly to the ship. “With my magic, I can make the ship quickly. I’ll then return to the keep.”
Rushing down to the water’s edge, Caldor dives smoothly into the water and begins to speedily swim. Enabled by magic, Caldor can reach the vessel much faster than if traveling over land.
In a short time, he arrives at the Lesser Evil. Greeted by Sendara, she relays that the ship was indeed assaulted during the night by sahuagin, but the creatures were repelled. With all hands on board alert, nothing more is to be done, so Caldor makes his way back to the keep.
While Caldor checked on the ship, the others decide it best to return the Lady to the safety of the keep. Gorbo, Fens and Bruno accompany Lady Smythee, Royster, all but four of the guards, along with Mortiss and his grandmother. Brother Jamie and Rogald remain behind with the four guards to further explore the environs about the hut now that day has come.
When Lady Smythee’s party arrives back at the keep, they meet Caldor who tells them of the sahuagin assault upon the Lesser Evil. It is clear to all that an all-out assault upon the Rock is imminent. The sahuagin had never before acted so bold and brashly. Tidewater Rock must be prepared, and all hands must return to defend it.
So Bruno makes his way back to the hut to alert the others, while the rest of the party stay behind to help prepare the keep for an expected sahuagin assault.
But back at the hut, suspicions have begun to set in. Brother Jamie and Rogald move aside and discuss the situation. Brother Jamie relays to Rogald his distrust of Royster. The attack by the sahuagin was too convenient, and to Brother Jamie it is apparent that Royster is making a play for the lordship of the Rock. Rogald is easily convinced of the plot, and determines that the four guardsmen left with behind are part of Royster’s nefarious plot.
Not wishing to be taken unawares by Royster’s perceived machinations, Rogald approaches the guardsmen while they are huddled outside near a small fire for warmth. Growling, with Brother Jamie at his side, the two present an intimidating façade, and the guardsmen meekly submit without a fight. Without Royster to steel them, they are of a mind to survive rather than fight, and they certainly are unwilling to test their meddle against an enraged northman.
Rogald and Brother Jamie truss up their captives and place them in the hut while awaiting word back from the keep on the state of affairs.
When Bruno arrives back at the hut, he sees what Brother Jamie and Rogald have done, and demands that the guards be released. But Brother Jamie explains his suspicions of Royster, and is adamant that the guards stay as prisoners. Further, Brother Jamie proclaims that the party should immediately return to Tidewater Keep and kill Royster and his guards, taking the Rock by force and thus breaking his league with the sea monsters. An argument ensues, and after many tense moments, Bruno storms out of the hut.
“I’m heading back for the Captain. Any decision we make he must be part of” Bruno declares.
“Which one, the Captain in front, or in the Rear”, an amused Rogald mocks. Ignoring the gibe, Bruno stomps away after admonishing no harm be wrought upon the prisoners.
Bruno soon makes it back to the keep, a trip with which he is quickly becoming all too familiar. Gathering the rest of the Lesser Evil officers about, he tells them of the happenings back at the hut, and of Brother Jamie’s suspicions.
“Oh vey” a suddenly Hassidic Gorbo exclaims, “we must return to the hut and sort this out.”
So Bruno puts his rapidly wearing boots back on, and they trudge back to the hut to decide the Lesser Evil’s next move. Fens is disinterested in the predicament, so elects to stay behind to keep an eye on Royster.
“Let me know the decision” a bored Fens says. “It matters not to me, so long as I continue in my studies.” Though confessing his disinterest, Fens does manage to stay close to Royster over the next several hours to watch over his actions.
But Royster stays true to his task, and appears with veracity to busy himself in making proper preparations for the garrison, bringing in supplies and peasants from the few nearby farms. But Royster also demands that Fens stay near to him. It seems the distrust which the Lesser Evil has for Royster goes both ways, and he is suspicious of the frequent back and forth trips to the hut which Bruno is making. The sahuagin attack coming the same evening as the arrival of the Lesser Evil is just as compelling an indictment of malevolent intent to Royster as it is to Brother Jamie. Paranoia is rampant, indeed.
Arriving back at the hut with Caldor and Gorbo in tow, a fresh argument ensues as they gather about the small campfire outside. Brother Jamie offers plots and twists where Bruno sees none. Of particular issue is how a mere boy could fight off a gang of sahuagin by himself. It is improbable. And as evidence, damning.
Tired of the arguing, Rogald decides to take action. Grabbing a firebrand, he tosses it onto the roof of the hut, setting it afire with the captors still within. Shrieks of dismay sound from Gorbo and Bruno, and shouts of fear come from within. Caldor, not yet decided on which side he is on, quickly quenches the fire with a spout of water emanating from a spell casting.
But despite the water hosing, it does not drench the paranoia. The argument continues unabated and heated.
Finally reaching his limit, Caldor proclaims “Flute it, burn the skanky hut!” Rogald quickly responds, once more tossing a burning brand at the hut, which soon begins to smolder again to shouts of fear.
But Caldor promptly changes his mind, and again casts a spell to quench the fire.
Back and forth it goes, and soon it is clear that no clear decision is in the offing. Finally, Gorbo has had enough.
“That’s it. I’m the Captain” he declares, drawing himself up to a towering three feet of height on his tippy toes. “And knock it off, Rogald!” stopping the crude comment which the burnt one was about to offer.
“This is how it’s going to go. We’re heading back to the keep. We’ll keep watch during the night. If the sahuagin are gonna attack, it’ll be tonight. Then, we’ll see which side Royster plays. Brother Jamie, yer to be the one staying near to Royster. If he twitches wrong, ye can kill him. But if not, no harm shall come to him. We got Bruno pledged in marriage to Lady Smythee, and that is a pledge given under the pirate code. Like it or not, to that we’re beholden.”
“We’ll leave these guards here for now, and release them in the morning, if Royster stays true. That is if any of us remain alive to do so. Now back to the Rock. It promises to be a bloody night, and I hope it’s sahuagin blood that wets me blades this eve.”