Two Graves

Xander's Journal: Entry 51

Entry Fifty-One

Days Six-Eight

After we finished up at the arboretum, we decided it would be best to rest and collect ourselves. As we headed back to the inn, the citizens of the village gave us an extraordinarily wide berth. Some whispered and gave us condemning looks. Some were simply afraid. I do regret the rash way that we plunged into that encounter. I know that I was the one that got the others worked up to do it. I will try very hard to be more circumspect in future.

When we reached the inn, the innkeeper said that we would have to explain our actions or leave. Sal did a good job of explaining everything. The innkeeper said he believed us. He said we could stay for the time being. We thought it best to lay low in our room. Sal went out to talk to the people about what had happened. He said there was an air of tentative unfriendliness towards us. He also said the people were widely questioning the rapid execution of law and order regarding the assassin.

While Sal was out, Bartholameau and I had a very ugly exchange of words. In retrospect, I was still worked up about the whole encounter, about having to execute a person, and about having to autopsy a dead baby. I was determined to have a serious discussion with Bartholameau about his freezing up in the field and my concerns that he is not ready to fight with us yet. My concerns are legitimate. I should have waited to have this conversation. My frustration bled through and set everything down a bad path. I take responsibility for that. Nonetheless, I hold Bartholameau responsible for his own words. They were mean-spirited in the extreme.

I started by saying that I believe that in his heart he thought he was ready for this. I said that be that as it may, he had frozen completely in the field when he saw carnage. I told him that this contributed to my overall belief that he is not ready to adventure without more training. My intent going in had been to offer to train with him. He started to coyly demure and try to deflect my concerns like he always does. I raised my voice, and I did interrupt him. I was harsh with him when I said that he is always talking over me during these conversations and that it is my turn to talk. I shouldn’t have handled things that way.

Bartholameau began yelling then and never stopped. His words dripped with vitriol, and there was no chance that he was going to try to see things my way. He leveled complaints that I, as a military man, resort to fighting without ever using my words. He said I needed to learn to try to find a diplomatic solution instead of just hitting. I took offense to his words. I told him that I had often used words first. I tried to steer things back to his training. I reiterated that he panicked. He was already too angry with me to make offering to train with him a good option. I said that perhaps Farraj had many skills that he could share with Bartholameau. He took offense and said they had very different fighting styles. His very tone suggested that what I proposed was complete stupidity.

Then he said that he was in bar fights all of the time. I tried to point out that bar fights are not the same as combat to the death. I talked about how difficult being run through or set on fire could be. I asked if he had ever had his femur pulverized. I have seen a hard bitten warrior cry for his mother and beg for his end from that very injury. He sneered and said he didn’t make it a habit of getting hit like that. He said he was able to get out of the way fast enough for that not to happen. He said clearly I do not possess his skills or I would not need to wear armor. Then he asked if I had seen his military record. I admitted that I had not. He essentially told me to shut my mouth then. If he had chosen to offer up his military record when Eshrin and Farraj had concerns before rather than offering up a sheaf of papers detailing wins in boxing matches, perhaps I would be less concerned.

Then he went on about how Farraj was the only one he had seen hit anything. He railed about how he hadn’t seen me do anything (intimating that I need to prove myself.) I don’t. I have been completely upfront about my gear and what I bring to the table. I haven’t bragged about strengths I don’t have. I haven’t tried to hide my weaknesses. Then he snidely added that he hadn’t seen me hit anything…except two peasants.

I say again that I brought a lot of his anger on because I was too blunt and broached the subject very poorly. I didn’t invite the barrage of insolence from him. I should have walked away sooner. I was still foolishly trying to salvage things whilst simultaneously losing my temper.

I was not suggesting that Bartholameau turn around and go home. I was trying to say that it seems like he needs to learn to do a different kind of fighting than what he is accustomed to. He screamed that it was not my decision but Eshrin’s. He turned on Eshrin and demanded to know if he found any fault with his performance during the battle.

Eshrin seemed a bit flustered but said: “It would have been beneficial if you could have acted sooner.” Eshrin told him that I had been yelling for awhile to get him going before he moved. Eshrin also said that he was not a martial expert. He said that Farraj and I seem competent. It seemed like he was implying that Farraj is quite capable of teaching him. He also said that I would not have been made a knight if I had not been competent.

Apparently dissatisfied with this answer, Bartholameau turned back to me. Farraj added fuel to the already blazing inferno by eagerly goading Bartholameau to spar and reminding him that he had suggested it before. Bartholameau spat out that he did not want to fight Farraj. He talked about how no one would want to. I didn’t bother saying that I had only meant for Farraj to teach him. It would have been pointless.

I think I said again that my concern was that Bartholameau had frozen when he had seen something gruesome. I don’t know what my exact words were. I was fuming by that point. Bartholameau said he had been concerned for “that poor woman” that Farraj had hit. He pointed out that the injury was gruesome. Indeed it had been. I also do not believe for one moment that someone that powerfully evil was actually felled by that one blow. The woman made it her life’s work to murder and manipulate. Bartholameau yelled at me asking if I really expected him to hit her again. Of course I did not and had not. I had asked someone to open the casket and to keep the cleric from healing the woman more than I and she already had. He asked how I could not have felt sorry for the poor grieving mother. I told him I saw that her soul had been incredibly black and evil. I reminded him that I had told him I detected evil and that is what I had seen. His response was a very rudely intoned: “So you say.” He asked something along the lines of “why should I believe that?”

The man was there when the woman confessed, uncoerced, to murdering dozens of people! She confessed to kidnappings and to controlling the undead. He heard her confess her great evils. He watched her sign her confession. He participated in her questioning. I got very angry. I asked him why I was expected to believe in him when he did not believe in me. The man accused me of lying about either my ability to detect evil or the fact that I had detected evil in the woman. Either way, I am not a liar! And he knows it.

The final nail in the coffin was when he asked again how I could not care about the “poor woman” suffering on the ground. Then he said: “I can’t just stop caring about people whenever I want like you can, Xander.”

I had a terrible impulse to do him violence then. At least I did not indulge in this impulse. I was choking on my anger though. I managed to bite out the words: “You need to stop talking.” Then I hastily withdrew from the room before things became any more disastrous. I was seething with anger. I still am. His flippant, blatantly disrespectful words keep cropping up in my mind. He could have gotten his point across without such intense and purposeful rudeness. He chose not to. I feel my anger like a burning in my heart. I must pray long and hard on this so that I can find forgiveness for him. I have hope that I have it in me to do at least that much.

In the morning, a messenger arrived. He was very nervous when he asked for the Warden. Eshrin met him and received his delivery. The messenger handed over a great deal of paperwork before quickly scurrying away. Eshrin sat down to skim through everything. He said that nothing jumped out at him other than the letter of introduction to Ms. Lorde. He said he would need more time to review the papers more thoroughly. Sal’s eagerness to return to the Lorde estate got us moving pretty quickly.

When we walked through town, people were visibly afraid of us. A few cheered for us, but the cheers were driven by some malice toward the scientists. As we left the town behind us, we had a peaceful walk with a lovely view. It took us about an hour to reach the Lorde estate.

When we reached the door, Sal was greeted by a cantankerous older man. He was very surly and seemed intent upon turning Sal away. Then Sal presented the letter of introduction from Dr. Ludimere. As he did, Eshrin mentioned that it said something about a stipend and assisting the warden. The caretaker gave us a sour look after reading the letter and said he supposed we could come in. He bade us wipe our feet. Farraj pointedly refused to do so.

The home was a pretty, well-kept manor. There was a great deal of wood and lovely décor. We admired this from afar as the caretaker withdrew.
Not long after he departed for the upstairs, the caretaker returned with a pretty, well-dressed woman. She had a cascade of thick chestnut curls and a look of pure disdain on her face. She told us that she had received our letter of introduction and that she was Isabel Lorde.

Sal started out by telling her that we had just taken part in capturing a dangerous assassin in town. Ms. Lorde gave us a snide look when he said this. She asked what we wanted. Sal told her that we would love to see Dr. Lorde’s notes and plants that he may have kept at the house. Ms. Lorde briskly replied that the estate no longer housed her father’s work. I could tell that she was telling the truth, but it was just as clear that she was holding something important back. This made it even more likely in my mind that her ex-fiancé had stolen these things of import from her.

Sal gently pressed and asked if there was anything else that might help us that she could remember. She sniffed and curtly replied that the items had been removed from the estate. Bartholameau said: “Removed where?” She said: “Have you asked your friends at the research center? What were you going to do with the notes anyway?”

After sharing a quick, hushed exchanged with Eshrin, Sal divulged that some of the research may have been used to facilitate wrongdoings. He stressed that it was very important that we find out where the work had gone.

Ms. Lorde’s face lit up at that. Her look grew sly as she said: “Do you have reason to believe the person who took my father’s things is involved in criminal activities as a result of it?” Just like that I felt like I had been transported to the Queen’s court. I could read Isabel Lorde’s motives like an open book. Not that she made that difficult. I knew exactly how to talk to her then.

I waited for Sal to reply that it was possible and that it really depended upon what we found. I figured that Sal could play her game at least as well as I could. Probably better. Ms. Lorde quickly made it clear that she wanted the thief crushed like a bug. No more doubts about it being the fiancé who jilted her. Sal whispered back to her in a sly tone of his own saying that any information she could give would aid in the investigation.

Ms. Lorde said that a short time ago, a man named Ali from the research center lived in town. She said he may have stolen miscellaneous journals of her father’s. Sal asked why. She angrily replied that he was a shifty fellow. Sal coaxed her on and asked if they were definitely stolen from the estate.

Just then, Farraj, who had been standing close to me, whispered far too loudly in my ear: “Is this her lover?” I tried to quiet him, but the damage had already been done. I saw Sal struggling to keep from laughing. Ms. Lorde’s face grew red and angry as her expression soured. Then she continued on as if she had not heard. She said: “Ali was charming. Far too charming for those fools at the research station. He probably stole their research too.” She went on to say that she had been hosting a gala at the house the previous year. Some of the doctor’s things had been moved from their usual place to make room. She said that was when some of his possessions had gone missing. Sal seemed a bit reluctant at that point to push her any further.

I very deliberately met Ms. Lorde’s eye. Perhaps the storminess of my own emotions called out to her anger and distress. She seemed to relax into her anger like it was a favorite shawl. I said: “Did Ali disappear that night then?” She said yes. I asked her if she had any idea where he may have gone. She haughtily held my gaze and demanded to know if we were going to charge him with anything. I said it certainly sounded like he had committed larceny. I said: “If we can find him with the property…” I let my words linger in the air. She put on a great show of trying to remember a lost detail.

Then she said: “He was here with people who said something about going to one of the central cities. I think it was Regunt. To kiss behinds no doubt.”

In the background I heard Farraj say: “This is very strange. Is this a common greeting?” Eshrin murmured back that it was metaphorical. I held Ms. Lorde’s gaze to convince her I was serious about what was happening and willed her to continue. Sal chimed in with: “What does Ali look like?” Ms. Lorde turned to Sal and said: “He is a half-elf. He has dark hair and a medium complexion.” She gave another haughty sniff and said: “He was always too formal and stiff. Excessively so.” Sal continued on and said: “Does he have any trinkets he likes to wear and doesn’t usually take off? You know, something to help us identify him. In a wistful tone, Ms. Lorde said: “Ali always dressed well. Far too well for those slobs up at the research station. His clothes were always embroidered with gold thread.” Then she more briskly said she looked forward to hearing the results of the investigation. She grilled Sal on how public the charges and investigation would be. He told her they would likely be fairly public.

As we were departing, Eshrin admonished Ms. Lorde not to discuss what she had heard today. He warned her that it could jeopardize the investigation. Ms. Lorde readily agreed.

As we were walking back to town, Farraj casually said: “Is this Ali not the half-elf who greeted us at the Ledger? The one with the gold robes called Alistar?” We all stopped and gaped at each other. No doubt everyone else also felt foolish for not recalling this fact. I need to be more vigilant about really noticing the people I interact with. Once we recovered, Sal said: “He is new to the social scene. It really could be him.”

When we reached town, we were ready to go to Archibald Fisher’s manor. Sal settled up with the innkeeper as we prepared the carriage and all of the horses. As usual Abraxis picked up on my simmering anger. He was irritable and fussy all the way to the estate. I couldn’t calm him no matter how hard I tried. I can never calm him when I cannot find calm myself.

After riding for half a day, we traveled up a well-kept drive to the Fisher home. There was a large manor with a sizeable lawn and garden. There were also several outbuildings. When we arrived, it was clear that the estate was well-kept and occupied. We knocked and waited for some time before the door opened. A bewildered looking servant of considerable age answered the door.

Sal introduced us, explained that Eshrin is a warden, and asked to speak with the owner. The man hurriedly said it was not yet time for the state to seize the property. He said the family fortune was running out but that it was not gone yet. Sal reassured the poor man that that was not why we were there. When the gentleman was calmer, he explained that Archibald Fisher had died with no living relations. He said that Archibald had not left the estate to anyone. He had made provisions in his will that it should be tended to as long as possible.

The man welcomed us into the home. He said it was nice to have visitors. He said the only visitors they ever had were tax collectors. Eshrin chimed in that they should be coming annually.

As soon as I entered the house, I felt like I was back in Krig. It almost felt like a bad dream. The house was lavishly decorated with Krigori arms and armor, banners, and other such things. Sal chirped that the décor was very interesting.

The butler led us to a sitting parlor. Then he politely but firmly asked about the reason for our visit. Sal explained that things Archibald had said toward the end of his life line up with the unfortunate circumstances that are happening now. He said that we wished to investigate that further. I was momentarily distracted from the conversation as I observed a large sigil of an eyeball pierced by a sword. Later Eshrin told me it was the symbol of a once prominent Krigori house. The name has been changed a little but it is essentially Fisher. He said the Fisher clan were once well-regarded warlords. They fell out of power in one generation when the clan chieftain wed with a witch.

When my attention wandered back to the butler, I heard him say that he had served the Fishers his entire life. His parents had served Archibald’s father and his grandfather before that. He said that both the father and Archibald were troubled men. He said the father was very sickly. He also said Fisher had been troubled by something. He would not say what it was.

The butler said that Archibald had died of either a failure of the heart or the brain. He expressed anxiety about Archibald’s death being linked to the current troubles. He said Archibald had died with unfinished business. He had been obsessed with his grandfather’s legacy. Archibald’s documents and journals were still at the estate. Sal convinced him to let us look at them.

The butler escorted us to a storeroom which adjoined the master’s chamber. In the bedchamber, there was a longsword of unusual quality. It bore a very curious crimson blade. Eshrin cast “Detect Magic” upon it. He said it allowed the wielder to wound himself in order to temporarily gain greater health. He said it was a stronger cousin to the axe the gnollish king had wielded. When Bartholameau asked the butler about the sword, the man said it had been with Archibald always.

As seems to be the nature with all venerably aged men, the butler insisted upon dragging about things that were far too heavy for him as he was searching for the journals. My ceaseless stubbornness finally won the day, and he allowed me to move the boxes for him. I scanned about as I did so but did not sense any evil.

We took the journals downstairs and began reading them. I asked the aged man if he had considered closing up one or two rooms of the house and selling the contents so he and the other servants could remain there comfortably. He said that the master would hate that. He did seem to know his master’s mind. It just seems so odd that the man would prefer to have his entire house and belongings seized by the state rather than have his servants remain for as long as they could. What use is the house to a dead man? The butler assured me that the servants would receive stipends when they were forced to leave. That at least eased my concern somewhat.

The journals detailed how as a child, Archibald despised his father. He repeatedly described him as a weak invalid. The grandfather died when Archibald was quite young, but Archibald venerated him in his writings. In early adulthood, Archibald seemed to be obsessed with having successful business ventures. The journals detailed some truly ruthless business tactics. A reemerging theme of something that was bothering him was also written about. When he wrote of the death of his father, there was no lamentation. I don’t honestly know if I will feel any sadness when my father passes. But even after what he did to me and to Aurora, I don’t truly hate him. I do suppose he despises me as a weakling and would not mourn my passing. I guess the roles were simply reversed in this family. I wonder if my father ever feels any remorse for the things that he did. I wonder if he ever misses his children.

Clearly I digress. The later journals said: “I found a thread…I shall follow it to…” At that point the words were blotted out unintelligibly, and there was dry blood on the page. Another entry said: “I shall use them to make my way forward. First I must prepare. I found the writing of my grandfather. I see where his power lies. Great grandmother must have been quite something.”

Later still, it said: “It is done but unsatisfactory. It is nothing close to what grandfather had.” Then there were a great many details about espionage that had been committed.

Near the very end of the journals it said: “I am discovered.” Then there were more blotted out words. There were a great many lamentations and morose words. Then it said: “My preparations have been for naught.” In the last entry it said: “It all ends with me.”

We returned to the storeroom. Eshrin and Sal began casting “Detect Magic” to find any magic items. They found a few magical items that were fairly routine. There were no headbands. In a lockbox, they did sense strong transmutation magic and faint divination magic. The box held an ornate, oversized iron key. The butler told Eshrin it was for the family mausoleum. He said that one was for the father. There was another that was for the grandfather’s tomb. Eshrin discerned that the keys carried the spell “Knock” upon them. He also discerned that there was a strange spell something very similar to “Detect undead.” That is very interesting indeed. The butler said he carried the key for Archibald’s tomb. He also said he had not been in the mausoleum in years. I looked around at my companions and discerned that they also felt we needed to go to the mausoleum. I gently told the butler that we needed to see the mausoleum. I reassured him it was simply to make sure that nothing was disturbed or amiss.

He took us to a modest sized mausoleum. Eshrin noticed right away that the architecture was very peculiar. The building was divided into three parts for three sarcophagi. The first one showed signs that it was prepared for eventual expansion. The second and third parts seemed to have been built together. They were not readied for expansion. Why would that be if they were built well before Archibald was even born?

We decided to open Archibald’s tomb first. The butler insisted upon opening the door despite our best efforts to convince him otherwise. I do admire him for the sense of duty he feels toward his former master. I did not detect any evil as we waited. Eshrin informed us that there was a very potent “Protection from Evil” spell upon the doors. That is very strange as well.

We half expected trouble as the tomb was opened, but we found none. Eshrin noted that the chamber was smaller than it should have been, but no one could find any hidden doors or the like. I was prepared for the body to be propped up and unshriven as is the Krigori custom. There were four side chambers off of the main room. They were clearly intended to be for wives. They were all empty, and there were no demarcations for children. Again, that is very odd as the tomb was built well before Archibald was born.

As we searched about, the butler told us that Archibald’s father doted upon him. I had a closer look at the body along with Bartholameau. There were no signs of harm to the skull. There were severe gashes in the bones of the arms and the legs. Two wounds seemed to have been from slashing damage. Two seemed much deeper as if they perhaps came from an axe.

The butler told us that the Pharasman family who had interred Archibald lived nearby. The family had long been friends of the Fishers and had likely cared for their dead for many generations. He gave us directions to reach the previous cleric’s daughter.

Archibald’s crypt was oddly devoid of magical things or things that are normally of significance when burying one’s dead. When we commented upon this, the butler said that he had changed his will and asked not to be buried with such things.

The father’s crypt was a larger room. It had unfilled spaces for children. Two of the spaces for wives were filled. This crypt contained a great many personal possessions. One of the items was a scroll case. Sal opened it to find that it contained Archibald’s birth certificate. Farraj noticed a brief case of sorts that looked like it had been tampered with. The buckle had been haphazardly left open. Eshrin examined it and asked the butler if he had accompanied Archibald to visit his father’s body. He had not. The papers pertained to his successful businesses. These stopped at papers detailing a local gold mine. The butler confirmed that the family owned a gold mine nearby. He said that it had saved the family from financial ruin.

As we approached the grandfather’s tomb, the butler grew very nervous. His hands were shaking, and he said that he had never been in the tomb. When he opened the door, he shouted: “Yee gods!” Then he clutched at his chest. I was able to snatch him out of the way as Farraj nearly ran him over in his haste to see what had happened. I shuttled him over to the far side of the mausoleum and reassured myself that he was alright. I briefly went back over to see what the matter was. I entered a wildly decorated crypt to find that there was no body displayed in the place of honor. There were three wives laid to rest and no other children. The tomb was filled with plaques, rare coins, and battle worn armor. At the peak of the tomb was a carving of the sword through the eye. It had an indentation where something should have been. As I moved back out to watch over the butler, I heard Eshrin say that there was magic on the socket. It was moderate transmutation and necromancy. As I continued to try to soothe the poor butler, I heard Bartholameau call out that there was a maker’s mark near the eye. Eshrin recognized it as belonging to a society in Vergen. After we discovered all that we could, we closed up the crypt.

When we reached the house, the butler was very clear that he wanted to help in whatever way he could. He explained that the gold mine had been dormant for some time. He gave us schematics and two keys. He said one key was for the front gate. He did not know what the other was for. He also had Judith (the housekeeper I think) write us a letter of introduction to the Pharasman friend of the family. Her name is Jody Cooper.

After we thanked the butler, we traveled to the village where Jody Cooper lives. We gave Jody the letter from Judith, and she gladly invited us into her home. Sal explained a bit about what is going on and why we were there. After giving us tea and snacks, Jody retired to a shed in the back. She returned with burial records for the last two Fisher scions. The grandfather’s burial records were conspicuously absent. Jody was as puzzled as we were. She returned to the shed while we looked over the burial records for Archibald and his father. For Archibald, the physicians determined the cause of death to be from fatal heart strain. There were notes that the arm and leg wounds were sustained earlier in life.

When Jody returned, she brought us a record that showed preemptive preparations were made for the grandfather’s burial. The record then said: “Voided at the request of the family.” As I was asking Jody if there had been any signs of poisoning, Farraj burst out that the grandfather was an undead monstrosity wandering the lands. This, of course, caught the full and undivided attention of the devout Pharasman. It necessitated further intervention on Sal’s part. Sal explained the fact that the grandfather’s body was missing. He also said that Farraj was jumping to wild conclusions. Jody told us that the family had meant a great deal to her. She said that she wanted to help in any way that she could.

We did have a few more questions, which Jody answered for us. She said Archibald had died eleven years ago. His father had died eighteen years before that. The father died of lung failure. Jody said that she was familiar with the society in Vergen that made the tomb. She has friends in the society. She said that she wasn’t busy and that she could go talk to them for us.

Jody doesn’t seem particularly combat capable. I was worried about her traveling alone for a day and a half each way to Vergen, so I offered that we could accompany her. It would be unconscionable for us to put her in danger while undertaking a mission on our behalf. The group seemed okay but not thrilled with this idea. Eshrin nodded his ascent though. I wanted to leave for Vergen in the morning. Sal was burning with curiosity about the mine. He was quite insistent that we go there first. Jody didn’t seem to mind either way. Sal wanted to leave immediately. That would mean arriving at the mine at night. I voiced objections, as did Eshrin. Sal begrudgingly agreed to leave at first light.

After Jody directed us to the inn, I invited her to have an ale with us. I could hear the entire group murmur in surprise around me. I’m really not sure why. She seemed like a very nice woman, and she had helped us. I just wanted to repay the favor in some small way. Perhaps they think I am incapable of getting along with a Pharasman. Jody happily accepted my invitation. We had a pleasant evening of conversation with her.

We departed bright and early for the gold mine. Sal was practically bouncing with anticipation. On the way, Farraj asked me why I have a problem with Bartholameau’s perceived inability to fight but that I’m fine with Sal being with us. I explained that Sal had been up front at the beginning that his way to help the group would be to talk to people and that he had been clear that he could not fight. I said that I knew that he would hide if danger drew too near. I’m not sure if Farraj understood the difference. I know up front that Sal may need protection and that I can turn to him for aid in political matters but not martial ones. He knows his limits in combat.

My conversation with Farraj elicited from Bartholameau a very loud “whisper” to Eshrin about me having a big, dirty stick up my ass. Certainly not even the hundredth time I’ve heard that. Well, the “dirty” part was new. That was a bit weird.

We arrived at the mines with keys and schematics in hand. Sal seems intent upon going inside. He does seem to brim with curiosity. I may have to shield him if he is set on the idea of going in. Inheritor knows I don’t need or want to stir the pot anymore by alienating another party member.

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