His head was swimming in reports, words floating across his eyes even when he closed his eyes. Cassiel was about to drip every piece of parchment in acid and be done with it all. But he wasn’t allowed to do that. All around him were empty shelves, candles giving a flickering glow to the near empty room. Scrolls filled with orders and numbers crowded the dark wood of his desk, despite every effort to keep them organised. He couldn’t even see out the window behind him, the glass hidden behind boxes of books waiting to be shelved.
Three days from Restov saw him to the gates of his new capital, workers already busy making it into a home fit for a baron. It was so tiny, yet he had been assured that it would grow. Already a few settlers had arrived, a pair of merchant stalls sitting in the town square, a tavern being hoisted up before his very eyes. Why they started with drink was beyond him, but Cassiel figured someone knew what they were doing.
Keston Garess was waiting at the gates as he arrived by wagon, the new baron already lamenting over the state of the roads in his lands. Sure, they had been fine when he was adventuring through them, but now, he really needed to fix them, to make for easier travel between Ismenia and Restov. Or perhaps not. Why should he make it easier for an army to retake his lands?
Already he was paranoid. It did not bode well.
After a brief tour of the… town, village, he really wasn’t sure exactly… Cassiel had been led to his new manor, the building surprisingly well put together already. It seemed no cost was spared to make him comfortable, and that made him more uncomfortable than anything. Cassiel wasn’t… okay, he was a noble now… but he was supposed to help people, not just himself.
Octavia met him at the entrance to the manor, immediately showing him to a study full of documents that needed his approval, and here he sat nearly six hours later, only just now getting a handle on things. It was both an underwhelming and overwhelming arrival. Sure, he hadn’t been expecting a party, but to be greeted after a long journey with paperwork instead of a nice glass of wine was almost rude in its abruptness.
Someone knocked on the door to the study, Keston standing just outside.
“I have Kassil waiting for you when you are ready for visitors. Tristian and Jhod are waiting as well, something about a bald hill,” the man said. “And when you are free, Theofrid needs approval on a few expenditures.”
Cassiel bit back a sigh, the half elf setting aside a fresh stack of papers.
“Please send Kassil in.”
Keston nodded, turning away. Moments later, the half orc was standing before Cassiel, dressed in simple clothes that nonetheless showed status, just enough that noble and commoner alike would feel relatively at ease around him.
“My lord,” he bowed politely.
“I trust your journey was pleasant?” Cassiel asked.
Kassil nodded, a slight grimace on his face.
“Was there a problem on the road?”
“A few bandits, nothing I could not handle,” Kassil replied.
“Ah. They must be holdouts from the Stag Lord. I will need to rectify that. What brings you before me?”
“I see you have already filled a few of your advisor roles. I questioned Octavia, and while she is a little unrefined, and somewhat chaotic, I believe she will make a fine regent to aid you when you are not in the capital.”
“Will that be often though? Given all this paperwork, I fear I may never see the light of day again.”
Kassil let out a low chuckle, the half orc lowering his head slightly.
“Rest assured, adventurers will still be needed. As small as your barony currently is, you will not be as successful in drawing daring young explorers, so naturally, that role will continue to fall to you and your companions for the time being. I have some concern about your choice in treasurer, however.”
“Oh? Is Theofrid not fit for the job? I am working with a very limited pool of trustworthy companions here,” Cassiel frowned.
“I am certain that he himself is as honest as any. It is his race that I am concerned about.”
Kassil raised a hand, forestalling the indignant response from Cassiel.
“Please my lord, allow me to finish. I can explain my words. Do you know of something called the Bleaching?”
Gritting his teeth, the half elf shook his head.
“Why don’t you enlighten me? I would have thought a half orc would not wish to bring race into a decision.”
“I do not,” Kassil admitted. “However, it has an important bearing on this. You do know that gnomes are one of the few who are immortal? Unfortunately, that comes with conditions. If a gnome does not satisfy his curiosity regularly, his hair will start to lose its colour, and he will slowly fade from the world. This is known as the Bleaching. From what I understand, it is something all gnomes eventually experience, and many live their lives in fear of it, bouncing from hobby to hobby in the hope that they never lose their zeal for life.”
“So, they eventually get bored of living?” Cassiel frowned.
“Essentially. With Theofrid in the position of treasurer, I fear he may not be challenged enough. Eventually he will grow stale, and you will lose him. You see, I’m not concerned about his ability; all your companions are new to this, and they will take time to train. It is more a concern for his well being.”
“How would you suggest I handle this then?” Cassiel asked. “He has proven himself to me, and I really do not have another option aside from him.”
“Take him with you on your journeys. I know that Tristian will continue to travel with you. While Theofrid’s job is a little more intensive, he should be able to spend some time on the road, and that should give him enough excitement to forestall the Bleaching, at least for some time. Above all else, do not allow him to fall into a pattern. It may seem a little cruel, but I believe he would thrive if you switch things up on him regularly.”
Cassiel nodded thoughtfully, the half elf tapping his desk. He looked at the stacks of paperwork, wondering idly what he was supposed to do with them now. Perhaps Octavia would know; she seemed to be on top of things already.
“This is all well and good, but why are you the one telling me this? Shouldn’t Theofrid be the one to discuss his needs with me?”
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, my lord, but that gnome is terrified of you. Well, perhaps terrified isn’t the best word for it. He is so scared of upsetting you, disappointing you, that I’d be surprised if he ever brought any problem up to you. It is something we will need to change.”
“I will take it into consideration. Was there anything else you needed to discuss?”
“As far as I know, you have not yet put someone in charge of your army.”
“I have an army?” Cassiel frowned. “I thought I needed to recruit people for that.”
“Lady Aldori has graciously provided a company of warriors trained in the ways of the Swordlords. Their loyalty is to you, and their new home. But they have no leader.”
“And you have a suggestion?”
“If I may be so bold,” Kassil nodded slightly. “The way I see it, among your immediate circle, you have two choices, Amiri or Regongar. Neither is truly fit for the role. As a barbarian, Amiri’s place should be in the front lines. Her mentality would lead to more injuries than necessary, even in training. Regongar… something does not feel right about him. Perhaps it is his time spent as a slave, but I feel he would inspire more fear in our forces than loyalty and courage. But there is one other option. I have been trained to lead men since Lady Aldori took me under her wing. I understand that making an outsider, and one whose loyalties might be in question, leader of your forces seems a foolish choice, but you also don’t really have much choice.”
“And tell me, what would you do if war broke out between us and Brevoy? Where would your allegiance lie?”
“With you my lord. I am no longer beholden to Lady Aldori, beyond ties of the heart. And those can be put aside for a worthy cause,” Kassil said firmly.
“I will confer with my other advisors,” Cassiel decided. “My trust comes easily, but at the same time, with so many lives now dependent on me, I cannot afford to be careless.”
“Of course my lord. One more thing, you might wish to look into annexing the outskirts of the Stolen Lands. Oleg’s Trading Post would bring in some much needed trade, should you bring it into your kingdom.”
“Isn’t Oleg a vassal of Lady Jamandi?” Cassiel frowned.
“His home is set at the edge of the Stolen Lands, still a wild territory controlled by no one. He pays taxes to Restov, but should Ellesmera annex the outskirts, including the post, I do not feel Restov would worry too much, as it would still offer trade opportunities, and in fact, might increase trade between Ellesmera and Restov. It is something to consider. The Tuskwater is a good start to your barony, but it is not that large, and not many people can live here. Claiming the outskirts more than doubles your land, does not really step on any toes, and it allows you to ensure most bandits between here and Restov are dealt with.”
“If you think it is best, then I will see about setting up an expedition north,” Cassiel said. “Is there anything else?”
“No, my lord. Thank you for your time.”
Kassil bowed, waiting for Cassiel to release him before spinning on his heel and walking from the room.
“Captain?” Cassiel called, Keston appearing a moment later. “I am ready to speak to Theofrid.”
The gnome approached the study nervously, a sheaf of papers in hand. He had been surprised at how quickly work had piled up, but the small loan from Restov’s lord mayor had been a godsend, allowing them to quickly set up the start of Ismenia. While it would take much longer to make the tiny village into a thriving town, let alone city, Theofrid was starting to believe they could actually pull this together.
He passed through the small door into a well lit room, his feet echoing slightly as he came to a stop before the large desk. Barely able to see over the top, the gnome took a step back, angling his head up to face his lord.
“You have papers for me to fill out?” Cassiel asked, a grimace on his face.
“Yes, my lord. I need your approval on the pay for the city guard and taxes on those entering the capital,” Theofrid said, his eyes glued to the half elf’s breast.
He didn’t dare raise them any higher. Cassiel was a baron now, a noble, and Theofrid was fortunate just to be in his presence. To take liberties with a noble would only get him in trouble.
“Your hair is looking rather… light,” Cassiel noted, the gnome frowning slightly as he played with a strand.
It wasn’t really light so much as an off white cream. He’d been watching the change for a couple days now, dreading the slow creep of the colour. The gnome had enjoyed his blue hair, but with the change in his station, that seemed to have changed as well. He still remembered when the blue had taken over from the red, mere months before setting out for the Stolen Lands. It wasn’t uncommon for his hair to change this fast, but this change in particular seemed a little… sinister. As though he was trading an adventurous blue for a stale white. It wasn’t the Bleaching, he knew that much, and yet it felt like a step in that direction, a settling of sorts.
He slid the papers on the desk, Cassiel taking them silently. The half elf scanned through them briefly, before turning his gaze back to the gnome.
“Can you explain this to me please? My head is a little messy right now.”
“Certainly, my lord. There is a small garrison right now, no more than fifteen men in the guard itself. Standard pay for the guard in Brevoy is generally two gold a week, and if we pay monthly, fifteen men should get 120 gold in total. Much of that will likely go toward maintaining armour and drinking off the job, giving two outlets for spending, and stimulating the start of an economy. We can expect to recoup the cost of paying them through taxes. Lady Aldori is sending us 2400 gold weekly as her promised aid in starting our barony, with only about eighty sent back as taxes to Brevoy, though we can expect that to increase as our wealth does. A natural income, that is disregarding Lady Aldori’s aid, of about one hundred sixty gold, is making it a little difficult to build the village properly, but I can look into ways of increasing our gain each week, if you wish. We also have a potential trade agreement with Restov and Port Ice respectively, though we lack the funds to negotiate directly with the Crown,” the gnome said, the numbers coming as easily to him as drawing breath.
“And if we were to claim the lands between here and Restov as part of the barony, how much would that get us?”
“If we can expect taxes from Oleg, not exactly guaranteed considering his relationship with Restov, I think gaining the lands north of us would help in the long run, however, I do have to warn that the roads between the trading post and Ismenia are not the safest,” Theofrid said. “It would be a shame to gain taxes from Oleg only to have the collectors robbed or worse.”
“I was just informed that Lady Jamandi sent us a company of soldiers. Perhaps we can put them to use guarding the roads?”
“It is a possibility, though I would think an expensive one. You would have to outfit everyone with survival gear on top of their armour and weapons. They would have to wander the land in search of bandits, who could very easily avoid them. A better option would be to scout for bandit strongholds and send soldiers there to end them. It would still have the desired effect while being slightly more cost effective.”
Cassiel nodded slowly, a pen signing over the papers Theofrid had brought.
“I trust your assessment,” he said, dipping a bit of warm wax on the parchment before pressing a ring into the wax. “Here you are. If anyone questions you, let me know. And Theofrid… if you ever have any issues, feel free to talk to me, okay?”
“Yes my lord,” the gnome said, bowing as he took the parchment back.
He looked up, briefly meeting Cassiel’s eyes. Closing his own, the gnome took a breath.
“Would you like to head north with me? I would like to explore my lands a bit more, understand exactly what I’m supposed to rule.”
“Of course, my lord. I can… Octavia can set my work aside until we return. I work better when everything is fresh in my mind anyway, and a day and night of calculations never hurt anyone.”
Cassiel chuckled quietly.
“You never saw me in the Royal Academy in Iadara,” the half elf said. “Try casting a prestidigitation to change ink colour when you’re going on no sleep for three days. It’s not quite the same, but damn, they worked me to the bone. Said I was human enough to handle the fast pace.”
“But you are elven blooded?” Theofrid frowned.
“And there lies the problem. Not elven enough for them. They seemed to think my human blood meant cramming a normal fifty year course for an elf into a two year course would work. I mean, it did work, but it was like going through the Nine Hells.”
The half elf sighed quietly, shaking his head.
“Anyway, if that is all, I will be setting up an expedition in about fourteen days time. That should give us time to officially claim the outskirts, and at least try to explore it a bit more. I think I recall a hill that would be perfect for a guardpost out there.”
“Of course, my lord.”
Theofrid bowed slightly, before stepping out of the room. He took a massive breath of relief, his feet carrying him back to his own office. He had a lot of work to do himself.