Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Little Town Called Tolometto--Part 19

The Erl had come to the barricades holding a green branch. Gregory knew what that meant, and allowed the slender fellow through.

“Much obliged,” said the emissary, as they walked towards the Traveler’s Friend.

“Don’t mention it,” replied Gregory. He watched the Erl’s eyes looking over the barricades, and sighed to himself. It was of course an unwritten rule that emissaries do a little spying, but it still worried him. The Shrikes had three men dead, and three times as many wounded. If the Cthonique forces hadn’t known the advantage they had--which to be sure, he rather doubted--they would now.

Colin and Cyrus were standing at the doorway of the inn. When the emissary raised his green branch, they scowled, but let the pair pass, with Cyrus turning and following them in. “Where’s Braddock?” asked Gregory quietly.

“Checking the barricades,” said Cyrus. “Fool insisted on it.” Gregory choked back a response. You didn’t yell at the Lieutenant. No matter what an ass he was.

The Captain was in bad shape when they came in, sweating and coughing. Eirene dabbed his forehead, trying to keep from crying. Gregory realized then that Captain Brand’s death was coming sooner, not later. Of course. It’s not like anything good had come to the Shrikes in this town--merely shame, defeat, and dishonor. His hand reflexively went to the miniature that was no longer there.

After a moment, Brand’s eyes focused on the pair. He gestured for them to speak.

“An emissary, sir,” said Gregory quietly. “From the Cthoniques.”

“Rollo Grassgrown, Shire Reeve of the Southern Expanse,” noted the Erl with a bow. “Her Excellency sent me here to deliver our terms.”

“What… are they?” croaked the Captain.

“If you surrender now, and return Vathek yn Baurbur to our custody, we will allow you to depart from our territory,” stated the Shire Reeve flatly.

The Captain chuckled weakly. “Not… very favorable.”

“Neither is your situation,” said the Shire Reeve.

The Captain shut his eyes, and was silent for a long time. “Tell her… I will consider…” And then he began to cough again. And he didn’t stop, but instead began to writhe on the sheets. Eirene grabbed his hand, and gritted her teeth. Brand seemed to calm down, lying there still, his breaths coming slow and shallow.

Eventually, they stopped.

There was silence for a moment. Then Cyrus turned to the Shire Reeve. “Tell ‘Her Excellency’ we categorically refuse her terms,” he stated. “And tell her that we have terms of our own that we’re going to share with her in a little while. Am I clear?”

The Erl stared at the Lieutenant for a moment, then nodded, and backed out of the room. Cyrus turned to Gregory. “Go tell Braddock that I’m giving orders now,” he stated.

Gregory blinked. “I… sir… there are rules…”

“Screw ‘em. This is an emergency,” said Cyrus, leaving the room. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have things to do.”

Gregory watched him leave. “So, that’s it, eh?” said Eirene bitterly. “Your Captain dies, and the only things that matter are the job, and the power play.”

“I’d be weeping, lady,” muttered Gregory. “Except that I’ve got a hunch that I’m going to have to ration my tears. A lot of people might need them before this is through.”

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