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    Yeoldebard
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The Troll Hunter - 4. The Noble Trap

CASSIEL

 

The baron looked at his throne in the so-called Grand Hall, really not much more than a tiny room where he could receive petitioners. He hadn’t expected it to be as fancy as Lady Jamandi’s, and in fact Cassiel preferred the understated grace of the wooden throne sitting on the short dais. The banner that hung behind the chair, of a white stag at graze on an emerald field, just made the place seem that much simpler, while still announcing to everyone who he was. Even the motto under the flag, By the People’s Grace, spoke to his values. The half elf wasn’t in this for himself. He had people counting on him, something he was reminded of every single day.

“My lord.”

Turning his head away from the banner, the baron gave out a welcoming smile as Tristian bowed at the waist. It was something he was working on, trying to put people at ease. So far he’d had a farmer willing to crack a joke about her chickens’ eggs with him, so he liked to think it was working.

Straightening, the cleric returned his smile, a beatific image if the magus had ever seen one. Once again he had to remind himself, Tristian was not to be approached in that manner. Not only was the man devoted to Sarenrae to the exception of nearly all other pursuits, but he was straight as well. Cassiel’s heart had wept the day the cleric spoke of a former girlfriend, but such was the way of the world.

“How can I be of service to the people?” Cassiel asked, turning his full attention to his councilor, his bridge between the people and himself.

“The people are still recovering from the Stag Lord’s tyranny, my lord. You have been a baron for just barely eighteen days now, and they still wonder, what kind of baron are you? Are you better than the Stag Lord, or will you continue his reign of terror even after he is dead?”

“We both know I will do what I can to make the people happy,” Cassiel said. “But I’m not sure how exactly we are supposed to show that. We’re a little stretched thin as it is, what with building up the village.”

“Lady Aldori is still sending supplies and aid, correct? What I propose is a fair for the common people. It would be expensive, but it would allow people to celebrate freedom and family alike,” Tristian suggested.

“How expensive exactly? The immediate happiness of the people is not worth anything if they are freezing to death come winter,” Cassiel frowned slightly.

“Truth be told, I am not sure. I believe that it wouldn’t take more than half of what Lady Aldori usually sends us each week. Of course, it would take time to set up such a fair, say fourteen days? But you can rest assured that the people would feel much more loyal to you should we proceed.”

“And the merchants around here? Those who would style themselves as above the commoners?”

“Including yourself, my lord?” Tristian laughed quietly. “I jest of course. You must decide who you will build your barony for. The common folk? Or those who are wealthy enough to ride the ebbs and flows of life without much worry?”

Cassiel let out a quiet sigh, nodding slowly.

“Keston?” he called.

The guard appeared moments later, bowing at the waist.

“My lord?”

“Have someone bring Theofrid in here. I am in need of his advice.”

“At once my lord.”

Keston bowed again, before stepping out of the hall. Minutes later, the gnome appeared, bowing rather nervously before his baron.

“My lord?”

“Relax Theofrid, I’m not going to bite your head off,” Cassiel smiled slightly. “I have need for your brain. Tristian would like to hold a fair for the common folk, sometime in the next two weeks preferably. Do you have an estimate of how much it might cost?”

“Of course, my lord. Tristian already mentioned something of it to me. It shouldn’t be more than 2300 gold. Expensive, but doable over a two week period.”

Cassiel looked between the two of them with a surprised smile.

“Well, I’m happy to see the two of you working close together. Are you sure we can afford that Theofrid?”

“Yes my lord, though I would be hesitant to start any new projects until we can build up a bit of a cushion,” Theofrid replied. “As it stands, we are running low on funds, what with the construction in Ismenia. And if you want to found a settlement in our new lands, that will be even more expenses going out. It is something I would wait on, unless you wish to pick up your bow and go reclaim some gold from the bandits still plaguing the north.”

“You have no idea how much I want to do that exact thing,” Cassiel sighed quietly. “Very well. Tristian, ask Octavia to make an order and I’ll have it stamped. The people will have their fair. How will this affect our plans to go to the Bald Hilltop?”

“I can assure you this will have little to no bearing on that at all. The fair should be held two days before our deadline, and the hill is not even a day’s walk from here. Unfortunately the time needed means that you will not be able to take your trip north just yet.”

“I’m tempted to go hunt boar nearby. Do you think Amiri would join me? I can’t imagine she’s happy being cooped up like this,” Cassiel frowned.

“Amiri is fine for now. I’ve talked things out with her, and she is actually helping some of the locals with hunting,” Tristian said. “It takes some of the edge off.”

The half elf let out a quiet sigh, sitting in the wooden throne. He had known this would be a lot of responsibility, but Cassiel had thought he could at least escape occasionally. There weren’t even any good books to read, aside from Linzi’s and he had promised not to read that until the bard was finished.

“My lord, if I may, there is nothing keeping you here. I mean, in this building. You could go for a hunt anytime you’d like,” Theofrid said.

“No, I really can’t,” Cassiel frowned. “There’s too much to do. I still need to plot out the trip north, and Octavia only finally cut down on the orders for me to sign. What am I going to do if something urgent comes up while I’m off hunting?”

“Trust your regent to act. It is what she is there for, isn’t it?” Tristian pointed out. “Octavia is a kind person, she works well with us all. I believe you made the perfect choice in naming her regent.”

“Part of me feels like I should be doing more to help build the barony. I mean, I do have… what was it, eighteen thousand gold at last count?” Cassiel asked, glancing at Theofrid.

“Yes my lord, but no one would fault you for saving that. We could use it on our travels.”

“Assuming we ever escape this place,” Cassiel grumbled quietly.

“There may come a time when you’ll be grateful for the days you spent in safety here,” Tristian mentioned. “I shall see to the fair then, and keep you informed of our progress. With luck, this will help us secure the loyalty of our subjects.”

He bowed low, before retreating from the hall. Theofrid followed quickly, leaving Cassiel alone with his thoughts. Another fourteen days. This was getting old fast. But if this was how he could help people, the half elf supposed it was worth the constant paperwork and sitting.

 

THEOFRID

 

The gnome whistled cheerfully as he walked down the street. Banners and flags inspired a festive mood, made all the more prevalent by the smell of cooking pies and meat at various stalls around the town square. An enormous block of marble stood on a hastily erected pedestal in the center of the square, nearly five feet around. He’d heard that a sculptor was working on making a statue of the band that had brought down the Stag Lord, but it was going to take ages for the elf to finish. He hadn’t even started yet, too busy arguing about the structural stability of the pedestal he’d be working on. But that was an argument for another day. Today he was joining the festivities, the people’s fair in full swing.

Someone raced past Theofrid, a halfling darting through a crowd with a large purse spilling coins. With a word, the gnome created a greasy slick under her feet, the halfling yelping as she skidded and fell flat on her face. A half orc grabbed the halfling, Kassil nodding his thanks to the gnome as the halfling was handed off to a guard.

“Sorry about that,” the half orc general said.

“Don’t be. It happens,” Theofrid shrugged, clearing his spell with a quiet word. “Who’d she hit for that much coin?”

“Octavia,” Kassil chuckled. “She said she didn’t feel like a chase so we went instead.”

Theofrid rolled his eyes, spotting the mage working on her nails by the tavern. Beside her, Regongar was glaring at the crowded street, his eyes watching for trouble.

“She should be glad we grabbed her then,” the gnome shuddered.

“Yeah. I already had to explain to him we could not hang her by her thumbs,” Kassil grunted. “Lord Cassiel was very explicit about the lack of torture. Honestly, I think Octavia is the only reason Regongar is still here.”

“Where is Lord Cassiel anyway?”

“I don’t think he’s joining the festivities. Something about today being for the people and not wanting to ruin the atmosphere with people bowing,” Kassil shrugged.

“He doesn’t seem to appreciate me bowing,” Theofrid admitted.

“Well no, you’re already the perfect height, aren’t you?” Kassil winked.

The gnome’s jaw dropped, Theofrid quickly closing his mouth as a guard approached.

“Sir.”

The guard inclined his head respectfully toward Theofrid, before turning to Kassil with a slightly deeper nod.

“Lord Cassiel requires your presence in the throne room. He says it’s urgent.”

“I will head there at once,” Kassil said. “Why don’t you come with me Theofrid?”

“Sure. I was getting bored anyway. Who needs a fun fair when you can have gloom and despair?” the gnome scoffed.

“That’s the spirit!”

They travelled through the fair, finally breaking free from the small crowd as the street led up to the baron’s manor. A guard bowed to them both, opening the door to let the two through, and Theofrid led the way into the manor, feeling like Kassil’s eyes were watching his entire body. It was a bit of a heady feeling, and the gnome put a slight strut in his step, feeling just a little more confident. Sure they were about to talk to someone who could order him killed, but he hadn’t done anything wrong and Cassiel never seemed overly murderous, so he was just not going to think about that.

Stepping through the throne room toward the baron’s office, Theofrid paused as Kassil knocked. The door opened, the half orc nudging the gnome forward. They bowed as one to the half elf, Cassiel setting a report down carefully on a relatively bare desk. Tristian stood nearby, the cleric’s face troubled.

“Spiders. The size of a horse, by the reports. They’ve been popping up all over Tuskwater,” Cassiel said. “I have the feeling they’re originating from the old sycamore.”

“But we cleared out those tunnels. I think they’re a symptom of the hill. I’ve already suggested sending Regongar on the hunt for their nest while we handle the hill,” Tristian added. “We wanted to see if either of you had suggestions.”

“We need to find the nest,” Kassil said. “I could send out soldiers through Tuskwater-”

“That would take days, and we might not find anything,” Theofrid said. “I already explained that the barony cannot afford an extended manhunt of any sort for little to no gain. I think Tristian has the right of it. We’re paying him as a guard anyway, why not have him roam Tuskwater and root out any trouble areas while we clear the hill? It would be cheaper than sending an entire company of guards.”

Cassiel nodded thoughtfully, looking at Kassil. The half orc shrugged back.

“I know when I’m beat. It’s not necessarily a bad idea, just a cheaper one. Maybe. And more dangerous for those involved. You intend to use him as auxiliary, to clean up any hotspots that appear?”

Tristian nodded.

“Of course we will outfit him appropriately. I’ve talked with Regongar, and while he is not the most intelligent caster in the barony, he does have a way with spells. It shouldn’t be too difficult for him to deal with any spiders he finds.”

“I must admit some concern about sending him out alone. He’s not the most moral of people,” Kassil frowned.

“It is merely a precaution either way. Our goal is to end the problem on the hill, not deal with damage control,” Cassiel said. “Tristian, can you gather Valerie, Linzi, and Amiri, and make sure they’re properly geared? I will talk to Octavia, make sure if something goes wrong, the barony will be provided for.”

The young baron took a deep breath, before throwing another concern out to the study.

“We have also received reports about trolls in the Narlmarches. While they are not necessarily in our lands, it is far too close for comfort. After the business is concluded with the spiders, we will be investigating these trolls. Make sure to stock up on acid if possible, as they are said not to fear fire.”

The room fell into a deathly silence, Theofrid looking around at Kassil and Tristian warily.

“They… do not fear fire?” Tristian asked uncertainly.

“That is what Keston told me. A camp was ransacked, most of the merchants within torn to pieces. The sole survivor spoke of using fire, to no effect. This is a hazard we cannot allow. I want everyone outfitted appropriately to deal with these trolls swiftly. We will show them what happens when they insist on eating people.”

“And what of me, my lord?” Theofrid asked.

“What do you mean? You’re coming with us Theofrid. I will carry an enchanted journal on me that will allow me to communicate with Octavia while we still roam our lands, so you do not have to fear our work piling up over much. Get your spells ready for the morning,” Cassiel replied. “Kassil, you can keep watch over the fair, right? And discuss the plan with Regongar? I want him to talk to the mites and kobolds under the old sycamore. They might know something we don’t, at least about the spiders.”

“Of course my lord,” Kassil bowed. “Will he be allowed access to the armoury?”

“We have an armoury?” Cassiel frowned. “Yes, let him have good gear. It’s a dangerous job, and I don’t want him hurt. But make sure he understands that he is to talk with the tribes. No blood is to be shed. If they attack, he needs to retreat. Understood?”

“Yes my lord.”

“We do this for the people. Remember that.”

Theofrid bowed, leaving the study. Moving through the manor, he slipped into his room, looking at the messy piles of gear he had been working over. The gnome had been trying to figure out enchanting gear, with no luck thus far. But now he had to clean up, and pack a bag for what sounded like a quick hike to a quicker death. They’d faced worse though. He just hoped his spells would come out as fire and not ice. Spiders were supposed to burn.

Copyright © 2021 Yeoldebard; All Rights Reserved.

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Heavy lays the head wearing the crown...like death and taxes, paperwork is a plague!

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