Two Graves

Xander's Journal: Entry 49

Entry Forty-Nine

Days 4-6

When Bartholameau arrived back at the Praesidium, he bore neither arms nor armor. I tried to convince him to go down to the armory to see himself properly outfitted. He quickly declined. I thought that perhaps he felt he was not entitled to the gear. I tried to explain to him that he should be allowed at least as much gear as the officers assembling around us had. He demurred again. He would not even accept a dagger. I am trying to follow my code and believe in my brother, but it is proving to be so very difficult for me. I am worried that he doesn’t know what it is like on a battlefield. I am worried that I will not be close enough to help him if he gets in over his head.

Farraj initially gave me pause as well, but that turned out alright. I went to explain to him that the people could act out because they are afraid. I asked him not to kill them if they did rise up. He stubbornly insisted that he will protect Master Eshrin. That is certainly a laudable goal, but he said it in such a way that it sounded like he would destroy anyone who threatened Eshrin. After talking further, he finally said that he understood. He said that I did not want him to kill the spooked heard. Clearly this not referring to the citizenry as “the heard” is going to be a much more difficult conversation. I didn’t have the time to have that talk. He seemed to grasp the important part, so I left it at that.

Mercifully, Sal said that he would be amongst the other socially elite members of the community. Bartholameau said he would join him. Thankfully Master Eshrin is just as pragmatic as I suspected he would be. He immediately saw the sense in accepting a “Shield Other” spell when I pointed out that he could be a target at the announcement.

When we arrived at the large town square where the announcement was to take place, Emperor Blackwood was already present. A good many senators and representatives were also there. The crowd that had gathered was quite large. I was relieved to see that there were a very respectable number of guards present.

Emperor Blackwood delivered the news of the wardens’ deaths with very little prevarication. I respect him for that. He told his people the truth while still being very respectful of the wardens’ memory. Unsurprisingly, the people took the news very hard. They were clearly shocked, and several of them were reduced to tears.

As Emperor Blackwood continued to speak, a flare was launched into the sky off in the distance. I wasn’t sure what it signified, but I gathered it did not bring good tidings.

The emperor explained to his people that the threat that took the wardens’ lives still exists. He told his people that even in death, the wardens had brought the country invaluable knowledge that would help them quickly and decisively end the threat. The crowd grew increasingly uneasy when he said this.

As the emperor was telling his people that they had to stay strong, another flare appeared in the sky from across the square. I noticed that several of the guards near my post were wringing their hands in concern.

The emperor concluded his speech by imploring his people to keep the wardens in their thoughts and to remember their bravery. He asked his people not to let panic seize their hearts.

After the briefest silence, someone in the crowd bellowed: “You sent them to die!” Then a torrent of cries filled the air. There were calls demanding to know what everyone else was doing while the wardens were out dying. People were yelling that the emperor had failed them. I stood and watched a wave of palpable agitation wash over the crowd. Then people started throwing punches.

Sal stood up and yelled out: “The wardens would have wanted us to be united!” To my surprise, Warden Eshrin stepped forward to the fore of the stage and called out: “I believe people had questions. I can answer your questions, but you must keep it civil. I will only be able to answer one question at a time.” I don’t know what came over me, but I nearly laughed aloud at that. I know the fellow was doing his best. Truly I do. It was just such an incongruous thing to say to a mob of people who were growing violent.

Still, along with Sal’s help, it did help. Eshrin was able to continue and say that he and the “warden” Raya had survived. He assured the people that the emperor had not sent them to their deaths and that they had done very significant damage to the enemy. Several people called out questions. Eshrin once again demanded that people raise their hands and ask one at a time. To my surprise, the crowd stilled a bit, and people did raise their hands to ask questions.

Eshrin explained that various police forces had been protecting the outlying lands while the wardens were making their assault. He also explained that it had not been tenable to bring a large fighting force where they had been.

As Master Eshrin spoke, another black flare flew into the sky directly behind the square. Master Eshrin continued talking about the fact that the group had brought a large number of police with them to end the gnollish threat. At that point, the crowd had quieted significantly. Master Eshrin continued to give them very matter-of-fact answers to their questions.

Just as I thought this might go off without significant violence, the sound of a group of angry voices could be heard approaching the square. Sal and Eshrin both beseeched people to stay calm and to exit the square in an orderly fashion. A handful of people left. The rest seemed to want to wait and see what was happening.

They didn’t have long to wait as a group of about sixty or so angry people approached the back of the assembly. Eshrin called out to them to be peaceful and that he would answer questions. The people in the back of the assembled group tried to tell their angry brethren that Eshrin was answering questions if they would just ask. The rioters were having none of it, and they began to clash with those in the back of the audience.

I was torn as to whether to leave my post, which blocked the way to the emperor, Eshrin, and a great many senators. Thankfully, Sal and Bartholameau rushed forward together to try to calm the newcomers. I took that opportunity to start evacuating people from the square.

Sal did a commendable job of calming several of the would-be- rioters. Some of them yelled that he was rich and fancy and didn’t have a clue what they were going through. Sal kept his cool, and Bartholameau stayed right with him.

As I watched, a group of four antagonists broke from the main body, blocked the path of those I was trying to evacuate, and began getting physical with them. I hurried forward to intercept them and protect those who were remaining peaceful. I was confident Farraj would be able to hold the stairway leading to the stage. I called out and told the antagonists that they were welcome to ask questions. I drew enough attention from the four men that the rest of the people were able to continue leaving. I proved to be a very good target for their frustrations. They didn’t like me, and they didn’t like the fact that I was from another land.

I did cast a look in Bartholameau’s direction and saw that at least half a dozen people in his vicinity were still very angry. They began pushing their way toward the stage at the same time that my four began to do the same. The agitators did have simple weapons visible, and they were doing their level best to push through the police lines at the stage.

I kept pace with my angry quartet of citizens. Finally, insults did not seem to suffice for them, and they began pushing me and trying to hit me. Allowing the citizenry to assault an officer of the law unpunished does not bode well for future order in the city. I have seen law and order disintegrate for less. Nonetheless, I understood that they were acting out of fear. I told the four of them that they had one chance to peacefully disperse. I told them that if they tried to lay hands upon me again, I would retaliate.

Two of the men were sensible enough to back down, and I let them go peacefully. The other two shoved me again. I ensured that my blade would be mercifully blunted before I drew it. Over my shoulder, I saw three attackers advancing angrily on Sal and Bartholameau.

I certainly did not take any pleasure in attacking these two men. Nonetheless, I issued them an ultimatum, and they chose to ignore it. I hit the larger man squarely in the chest with my blunted blade. He doubled over, gasping for air. His companion, who had also assaulted me twice, spewed profanities at me. Then he tried to drag his friend away. I slashed him soundly with my blunted blade as he tried to push past me. It is not something I really wished to do. I just didn’t want to chance him dodging the remaining police or injuring one of them as he tried to escape. I hurt him badly, but I didn’t drop him outright. He let his friend fall to the ground and took off at a run.

I was grateful to see that a goodly number of officers were converging on the man. Though he was evading arrest, I was completely loath to chase down an injured, fleeing man. My conscience was feeling pretty bruised as it was. It turns out that neither my theoretical pursuit nor the many converging guards mattered one bit. I saw Farraj go streaking past me with hammer drawn. I had barely enough time to shout: “Don’t kill him!” before Farraj reached the man.

Farraj yelled: “Stop!” The man turned his head toward Farraj and looked terrified. Farraj drew back his fist and smashed it into the man’s mouth so hard that blood and broken teeth went flying. The man dropped like a stone. He didn’t even crumple. He just…crashed to the ground. I truly thought he was dead.

Our unfortunate incidents sent people flying into a frightened frenzy. Many of them fled the square. I know that is what my aim had been but moments ago, but it felt pretty awful to have people fleeing me.

Master Eshrin prudently erected some manner of glowing wall in front of the people left near the stage in order to keep them safe. I was relieved to at least see that the group of men that had been menacing Sal and Bartholameau were backing away and were being taken into custody. Sal and Bartholameau were both uninjured. Thankfully, I was able to channel positive energy in time to save Farraj’s “detainee” from dying.

As the last of the citizens were dispersing, Bartholameau told me that he was able to hold off three attackers and that he hoped that instilled some confidence in him. I confessed to him that I had not seen the fight but that I was glad he had done well.

I could see the emperor speaking to Chief Croft onstage. He did not look pleased. I couldn’t hear what he said. Sal did hear, and he looked affronted. Eshrin said something to the emperor, who then departed.

The representatives from Regunt were quick to approach those who were arrested to ensure that they had adequate legal representation. Sal offered to write them statements explaining that the situation had been very emotional.

Once we were dismissed, Eshrin said he had no issue with me going to the church. I prayed for guidance and understanding. I did not feel displeasure from the holy realm. I know that I was properly keeping the peace and protecting those who were not being violent. I know that I even offered the men mercy and forgiveness. I think it is the facts that these men were not my equals in combat and that they were not overtly evil that caused me such discomfort. I have upheld the law and have not transgressed, so I have chosen to make peace with my conscience.

The rest of the group had gone to Master Eshrin’s office in order to get some sort of report from Wilhelm. To my surprise, they fetched me near dusk and said we were riding out. I must say, Sal’s carriage exceeded my already high expectations. The carriage is both luxurious and cavernous. It has a team of six matched black geldings. The inside is very well-stocked, and it has a large work area for Master Eshrin.

We traveled until late into the night before arriving at a fairly large town. When we reached the inn, Sal let me know what Wilhelm had discovered. He said Wilhelm had not specifically turned up much about the heralds of the dark crown. He did find a story of a wealthy, old (by Saorsite standards), but extinct family. Apparently the last son of this line was named Archibald Fisher. His manor and estates had been located but half a day’s ride from the arboretum. According to his servants, Archibald had died in a drunken haze. This alone was not shocking, since he was a known alcoholic. He had even been heard arguing with himself, which was also apparently common. The strange thing that was reported on the night of his death was that the voice that argued with his own was a bare echo of his own. Archibald was heard yelling: “No, I won’t wear it! Get that thing away from my head!” It was also recorded that for the past three generations, the Fisher scions had grown increasingly withdrawn from society. They had also been known to associate with very disreputable people. It is also reported that Archibald was obsessed with some possession that had belonged to his grandfather.

Master Eshrin ordered Wilhelm to continue researching the backgrounds of these people of ill-repute, the lost properties, and contracts the family had entered into over the final three generations.

Sal also let me know that before they left the office, a Maiden Charavesedlaren stopped to visit. This is the Maiden Chara mentioned in earlier reports. She brought the group a beautiful white orchid and expressed her condolences for Eshrin and Bartholameau’s losses. She told them that her group would be distributing these orchids as a reminder to the people of all that the wardens had done.

When I suggested that we set a watch, Sal openly scoffed and asked what could possibly happen in a large town’s inn at night. In my experience, a great many unfortunate things can happen in just such an inn. Master Eshrin said he had no part in the past watch and left it to me. We did set up a suitable watch, which Sal commended me for in the morning.

During the night, whilst he was on the rooftop, Farraj saw a shadowy figure. He said it was wispy and insubstantial. It was on a rooftop just a few buildings over. When it saw him, it dropped to the ground.

On the following morning, Sal, Farraj, and Bartholameau climbed the building to see if they could see tracks on the rooftops. Thankfully Master Eshrin had no desire to go above, and I was able to avoid the perilous task of scaling a building in full plate mail.

The three scouts did find a slight disturbance amongst the moss and dust on a nearby rooftop. It was made by something about the size of a medium humanoid. The men dropped down to the street where Farraj had seen the shape drop. We followed its tracks to a rather ordinary looking shed. The footprints seemed to stop there. After determining that there was no magic within, we entered. The shed held nothing of interest. Sal shared his concern that perhaps this could be a particularly subtle agent of the black cloaks. Farraj rumbled in reply: “Not all dark clouds on the horizon bring rain.”

We got back on the road early that morning. Sal and Eshrin continued to enjoy the comforts of their carriage. Farraj continued to run alongside the horses in his armor like some sort of super being. Just looking at the guy makes me tired. Abraxis seemed content today. I think he’s just relieved not to be cooped up. Our travels were uneventful. We reached the arboretum in the evening. As we passed, I could just make out some very beautiful and exotic looking plants. The town that supports the arboretum is a modest collection of cottages.

We found a somewhat interesting inn called the Storm’s Mouth Inn. The inn has been here for a long time. The proprietors refuse to change the name to a plant-related name like the other two inns in town. When we entered, business seemed to be decent. The proprietor proved to be a large-bellied man with a thick moustache. He was quite pleasant in his welcome. We went another round with Farraj because he said he did not want a box for the night. Bartholameau kindly reminded him that it is illegal to sleep outside inside communities. That one still seems to completely baffle Farraj. He reluctantly agreed to share the King’s suite with the rest of us.

When the innkeeper noticed Eshrin’s scarf and asked if there was trouble, Eshrin assured him that we were just passing through. Sal proceeded to talk the man’s ear off. The innkeeper seemed to enjoy the talking though. He said that we may want to visit the horticultural center to talk to the horticulturalists and botanists that support the arboretum. He also let us know that we wouldn’t want to miss the blooming of the plants at sunrise. Apparently this is some manner of special event. Farraj was insistent that we go to see that. We all readily agreed. It does sound like something nice to see. I lost interest in the conversation when the innkeeper started rattling on about getting pressure to change his inn’s name.

When I wandered over to Farraj and Eshrin, I caught the tail end of Eshrin saying he needed to start teaching Farraj how to read. Farraj calmly told him that he could read and pointed to the tome he always carries at his hip. Eshrin said he had never actually seen him read it, and Farraj said Eshrin simply was not very perceptive. Eshrin agreed with good grace. After we enjoyed an ale, Farraj took half a dozen pots of ink out. He began illuminating a page in his enormous book in Sarenrae’s scripture. It was actually quite good work, and he has the scripture down cold. He’s an interesting fellow. I like him.

I joined Bartholameau in the room before we dined so I could get out of my armor. He was kind enough to help me out of my plate. On a whim, I asked if he wanted to join me in my exercises for the night. He is an affable fellow, and he readily agreed. I have to say, he wore the strangest attire for our outing. He donned a shirt with only a narrow band for sleeves and very short pants. I do not mean knee breeches. I mean short pants that stopped above his knee.

During our run, I tried to convince Bartholameau to accept a dagger from me in case he needs it. He refused again. He said maybe if we got into combat he would ask for one if he needed it. The point is to outfit oneself before combat begins. I am…vexed by his obstinate refusal to adequately arm or armor himself. He did say that armor gets in his way. He seems fairly spry, so that at least makes some sense to me. I was relieved to find that his stamina seems good. He did a decent job of keeping pace with me while we ran. His physical strength was a bit of a different story. Again though, he does seem very spry. He doesn’t necessarily have to be strong as long as he’s fast.

As we were about to go back inside after our exercises, I saw a well conveniently located right in the courtyard. I pushed myself hard in my exercises, and I was quite hungry. I decided to just sluice myself off with a bucket of water and get something to eat. Farraj had already gone to bed. Sal, Bartholameau, and Eshrin were all disgusted with me for merely rinsing off with well water. Sal and Bartholameau both adjourned to the room to bathe. Eshrin told me I was disgusting and prestidigitated me clean while I ate. I’m not going to call them fussy or anything. It’s just unusual for me not to actually be the most fastidious person in my adventuring party.

In the morning, we got up very early and headed over to the arboretum. We were joined by families and other tourists who were also headed to the botany center. For a moment, I really felt like a regular tourist just going to see something beautiful. Except for the full plate. I suppose if I took a vacation, I probably wouldn’t wear heavy armor.

At the center, we were welcomed for the “morning sprouting.” We were given a tour of the arboretum. In the center, there was a rather strange arrangement of plants. There were four plants that resembled gigantic dandelions. In the center of those, there was a curled over stalk. It was about three feet tall. Eshrin recognized it as the same kind of plant as the one in the marsh.

The guide told us that the bulb is called the Lorde bulb. He said it is the only one in Bloomington. Apparently it acts as a brain for the other plants. It allows the botanists to communicate with all of the plants in the arboretum. That is really incredible. I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to how many plants there are. The arboretum is really amazing though. It is one of those wonders that makes you smile just because it is so beautiful. It feels so peaceful here.

When the sun hit the center of the structure, the dandelions began to shiver. They shed many seeds, which flew off into the air. Bartholameau asked the botanists how the plants were created. They said they were created by Alexander Lorde but that he had sadly never lived to see the final version of his Lorde bulb. Eshrin asked what had happened to the prototypes. They said a few had been preserved in a very dense state. Farraj very brusquely demanded to know how many they had lost track of. The attendant seemed uncomfortable but said they had not lost any that they were aware of. As Farraj made a beeline for the bulb, Sal ably engaged the attendants in conversation. The rest of us hurried after Farraj as Sal was asking questions about soil.

Nothing appeared to be inside the bulb, but it was somewhat difficult to tell. Farraj did say the plant had a great deal of flexibility built into its make. He felt confident that it could be made to generate things. Farraj took his glove off and placed his hand directly on the plant. He spoke to it in Sylvan. He waited a moment and withdrew his hand. He didn’t make any move to destroy the plant immediately, so that at least is a good sign.

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