A Tale of Sorrow

Steverooo

First Post
Why such a thing was important to The Watchers, Morchaint-Din didn't know, wasn't told, and didn't ask. He was told to join a troupe of travelling minstrels, and weed out the trouble-making rogues within it. Given a large, empty metal box, he set off on foot, catching up to the travellers, and asked to join their company.

There were 18 people in the group, most of whom were assumed to be harmless. As he travelled with them, he carried his box everywhere with him, and evaluated the folk as best he could. They were a mixed lot, as such travelling players always were.

There were three animal acts (a dog and pony show, a dancing bear, and a trained tiger), and four animal handlers spaced out among three wagons, one for each of the animals' cages. It took him the whole four days to determine that none of these folks were the trouble-making type, too busy with their animals. He managed to make enmies of two of them, as they seemed irritated by his presence.

There was a fortune teller ("The Amazing Esmerelda") with her own wagon. It took him a few days to determine whether or not her friendliness was genuine, or pretense, but in the end he concluded that she was for real. Perhaps she really could sense the power...

The wandering priest leading the group was the same, and also had his own wagon. Friendly, but was he in on it? It was hard to believe that things could be going on under his nose without his knowledge, but the Watcher knew that humans were less observant than wylves, so it took a few days before
xenophobia could be overcome, and Morchaint-Din accepted Brother Theodolus' friendly good cheer as being real, as well.

Then there were the "three brothers", Ron, Rog(er), and Berry. Ron (the youngest) was friendly and curious, but poorly trained in being a Rogue, and unobservant to boot. The Watcher was onto him, immediately. He knew that carrying the locked box with him, everywhere he went, would make any rogue curious as to its contents, and that they would assume it contained something valuable. MD never set it down, unless he was using it as a stool, and the first chance he got, Ron asked what was in it. The Watcher shrugged, honestly admitting that no one had told him, he was just supposed to keep it until he got to the town of Triolus, and deliver it... He kept the fact that it was empty to himself. Ron asked if he could open it, and MD shook his head, showed him the lock. Ron acted surprised when he found MD didn't have the key.

Roger and Berry were a bit less noticable, and a lot less friendly. They didn't talk to much of anyone except for a couple of the roustabouts. MD suspected them, especially since they shared a wagon with young Ron. The Watcher made a mental note to watch these three, and anyone they associated with.

One of those was Desdin Rondal. MD couldn't get a fix on him, either, but he was friendly enough. There were also five other roustabouts, only one of whom the brothers hung out with, on occasion. The other four MD was sure were just ordinary carnies, but the fifth he also watched.

The three jongleurs weren't exactly friendly, but then again, they weren't exactly distant, either. By the fourth day, MD had ruled all of them out as accomplises, as well. That left two roustabouts, and two of the brothers that he wasn't sure of (one who he was sure was in on the robberies). Out of the 18, he had five suspects.

So during the days, he walked along behind one wagon or another, helped out where he could, kept his senses open, and his mouth generally shut, except when he was able to attempt to get to know someone he was unsure of. Since he was good with campcraft and rope use, he frequently found ways to pitch in, and earn his keep. Whenever a wagon needed pushing, something needed lifting or moving, he would carefully put his strongbox in his backpack and join in.

When night was near, the wagons stopped, and camp was pitched. Some troupers slept in or under the wagons, others in bedrolls under the stars. MD always set up his little one-man tent somewhere on the edge of the woods, and retired into it. From there, he would then teleport to a spot he had previously picked, someplace shielded by vegetation, which would allow him to watch the troupe, and set up his real camp there.

The first three nights passed uneventfully, and each morning he would take down his hidden tent, and teleport back into his decoy. Sometimes he saw various of his suspects conspiring, but nothing happened.

The fourth night, they came for him. A sense of danger woke him, instantly, and he looked out of his blind to see Berry, holding what appeared to be a bladeless sword-hilt, and dressed in leather armor, in the lead. Desdin, with dagger, and also in leather, came next. Ron, belt axe in hand, also wore a full suit of leather armor. Rog brought up the rear, dressed in only half leather, but also sporting a long dagger. Only the edges of their weapons reflected the starlight, and all carried bucklers on their left arms.

MD spared a quick glance at the stars, then the camp. It was the soul's midnight, about 3 AM. Berry moved to one side, silently pointing where he wanted the rest. Desdin moved up, flipped back the tent flap, and entered quickly. Berry slipped his right hand through the sword-hilt's wrist-strap. Inside the decoy tent, MD heard the sounds of Desdin doing something with the strongbox, then the flap reopened, and he emerged holding it.

The other three crowded around, shooting glances about as they looked for their victim. He was nowhere to be seen! Within his hideaway, MD removed a steel, half-pint flask from his beltpouch, took a sip, then sealed and replaced it, reclosed the pouch, then drew his staff and silently slipped from the shelter. In the meantime, the men were looking at his strongbox.

Then, as usual, things went awry! Although MD moved in total silence, Berry somehow saw him, and pointed. Desdin and Rog charged, Ron bringing up the rear. MD turned and ran a few steps, then whirled to face them. As Desdin hit the bushes surrounding his blind, MD raised the staff. Desdin began pushing his way through, as Rog hit the bushes. As Desdin began making progress, MD commanded the bushes to intertwine. Shocked, both men began to make noise; the first of the battle, so far!

Wasting no time, MD stepped in on Desdin's unprotected flank, and took a swipe at both hands with his claws. The man screamed as the wylf drew blood, but hung onto his weapon. Stepping in, MD clawed at Rog, also trapped by the impenetrable bushes' intertwining. One swipe across the rogue's weapon hand was all it took to make him drop the blade.

Young Ron, in the meanwhile, had crashed into the suddenly-solid underbrush, fallen, picked himself up, and flailed away at it with his handaxe. He was beginning to realize the ineffectiveness of that tactic. Giving up, he tried to help Desdin free himself, but found that, too, beyond his capabilities.

Behind them, Berry stood watching. Listening to the sounds of the awakening camp coming to see what all the screaming was about, he decided it was time to move. He stealthed around the outside of the bushes, looking for a way in, and waiting to make an attack. Ron, too, was prowling around by his two trapped comrades, looking for the wary wylf.

MD kicked Roger's long dagger away, then stepped back to claw at Desdin, again. Two more sets of welts marked the man's trapped hands, and he finally let the long dagger go. Kicking it away, the wylf wheeled to claw Rog, again. His two foes disarmed, MD stopped to see what the other two thieves were up to. He easily spied Ron standing outside the ring of vegetation, but Berry had disappeared.

Warned by a sense of danger, he whirled to see a blade of silvery flame come through the impenetrable flora behind him. He was barely able to catch a glimpse of Berry, there, wielding the formerly-bladeless hilt, as it barely raked across him. Despite the foliage and his armor, pain ripped through the wylf, and he knew this was a powerful magical weapon. He backpeddled, bringing his shield around from where it hung on his back, and drew his staff, yet again. He hated being limited so, but preferred the greater defense to another encounter with the sword.

He watched as Berry moved off, trying to sneak, and noted where Ron was lurking. He also noticed that the foliage that Berry's silver sword had passed through was undamaged!

Not willing to leave enemies free behind him, he moved back towards Desdin and Rog. Using his staff, he pounded Desdin in the temple, knocking him out. As he prepared to do the same for Rog, the first of the travelling entertainers began to show up, asking what was going on.

"These men are thieves who attacked me!" MD called to them.

"No, he lies! He attacked us!" Berry responded.

"All four of you?" asked MD, incredulously.

While the questions began, MD thumped Rog in the head, knocking him out, as well, then looked around for Berry and Ron. Both had moved towards the men and women coming from the camp. Berry was making good use of his acting ability, spinning a yarn about how MD had set upon the lot of them, and bewitched the trees to form a ring about him and bar them...

"Hardly an offensive tactic!" MD called. Berry shot him an ugly look. MD noticed that his sword-hilt had lost its silvery blade, again.

"I bet the amazing Esmerelda, or Brother Theodolus, can tell us who's lying!" MD called out. Narvon, one of the minstrels, nodded, and motioned for one of the others to fetch them. Meanwhile, the rest closed in around the pair.

"All right, you, come on out of there!" Narvon called. Since everyone was armed, and his two opponents were unconscious, MD picked up their weapons, then complied. He doubted that Ron and Berry would try anything in front of the whole troupe. Calling upon the staff, once again, he caused the foliage to part. Desdin and Rog dropped to the ground, and he stepped out.

"Murderer!" screamed Ron, belying MD's estimate of his acting abilities. The young man charged him, waving his handaxe. Not fast or stealthy enough to take the wylf by surprise, MD's staff took him on the chin before he closed. Ron's axe, however, forced down the wylf's shield, penetrated his armor, and cut into his side. Did all of these troublemakers have magic weapons, MD wondered? He was glad he'd finished off the two in the bushes!

Narvon was calling for them to stop, and MD put up his staff, sliding it down into his backpack, yet again. Ron, however, was going for broke. Raising his axe, he stepped in to bash the wylf. Hands free, however, MD clawed at him as he came. The resulting damage was not only enough to tear up the young rogue's armor, but also enough to make him miss in his return swing!

Seeing all of this, Berry tried to rush forward to aid Ron, but other members of the company blocked him. In the meantime, MD clawed again, catching Ron in the unprotected face, and bringing him down. As he stooped to retrieve the magical axe, his danger sense went off, yet again. He turned to see Berry with his silver-bladed sword, flame-like projections dancing along it, swipe the blade effortlessly through two of the men. They jumped and moved out of the way, but seemed unaffected by it. Having felt its bite, MD would have wondered about that, had he the time.

As it was, he crouched, then sprang at the thief running towards him. The first swipe barely caught, but penetrated the tough leather. The other blows were better. Then his opponent swung the sword at him, with awesome speed. The leaping attack was almost enough to make him miss, even as skilled as he was, but the savage swipe managed to catch MD, anyway. This time, however, it went clean through him, without harm!

Roaring anyway, MD wondered at the lack of pain, but concentrated on attacking. He managed to get in one hit on an unarmored area, and a few more penetrations, before Berry was able to reverse his swing and strike again. Berry got a good hit, but once more the flaming silver blade passed through his opponent without harm. Before he could try once more, MD swatted him for the last time, and he fell to the ground, unconscious.

Holding up a bloody-gauntletted hand, MD let the troupers know that he was done, then put his boot up on Berry (to hold him down, in case of any more tricks), and removed the odd sword hilt from his wrist. Once again, it was without a blade. MD wiped his hands on his former opponent's cloak, and began removing his weapons and armor.

As he did so, danger again flew towards him, only to find him a few feet away, ready and waiting. This time, there was no opponent to face, however. One of the other roustabouts, a mere novice with weapons, had thrown a dagger at him. The other carnies quickly tackled and bound him, so there was nothing left for the Watcher to do.

By then, Brother Theodolus and the amazing Esmerelda had arrived, and began the questioning. A quick account of the fight followed, while the downed men were checked. Desdin, Roger, and Berry were dead. Roger had been killed, instatly, but Desdin and Ron had bled to death. Berry had been at death's door with the last hit, and the grim reaper had pulled him through. Only Naljon, the roustabout, survived.

Thoroughly cowed by the loss of his comrades in crime, he confessed that Berry had been their leader, and that they five had stolen whatever they could from other travellers, although he maintained that they had stolen nothing from the troupe. No one seemed to believe him, and many cried out to string him up! MD asked Esmerelda if she could read minds, to see if what he said was true. She did, and found that most of it was, but that he had lied about not stealing from the other carnies. He had taken five hundred dragoons (the whole sum he had on him). His goods were quickly confiscated to refund the other roustabouts.

It seemed that Berry was an accomplished rogue, and a fair minstrel. He had trained Roger and Ron, and had fallen in with Desdin Rondal, a city-slicker. Together, they had been taking what they could from travellers along the roads, whenever they could. A search of the bodies uncovered 18,000 Dragoons, and gems worth about ten times that amount!

There was little question of MD's veracity, by that point, but just to be thorough, Brother Theodolus asked if Esmerelda could read his mind.

"She could try, but there would be little point, until the morning. She would get little.'' Esmerelda tried, anyway, and found it was true. So the roustabouts dug graves and piled the dead thieves into them, while Brother Theodolus and MD gathered their gear. When all was done, the priest said a few words, new sentries were set, and everyone else went back to sleep.

While it was hard for him, MD endured the insects-crawling feel of Esmerelda reading his mind, the next morning, until she was satisfied that he was telling the truth. Then everyone wanted to know about the Watchers, and finally the question of how to divide the treasures came up.

MD claimed all the weapons and armor, by right of conquest. No one objected, so that was settled. Next, he asked if anyone had had anything "missing" since the five joined the troupe, and their loot was searched for the few items missed, but none turned up. Next, Brother Theodolus asked for a portion to help repay those travellers who had "lost" funds while staying with the troupe. They talked for a while about how to find such folk, then agreed on 20%. MD then offered another 30% to be divided among the travellers as their leader saw fit, used to compensate the victims found later, or to aid the troupe.

The treasure divided, the troupe left the graves marked only "Here lie four robbers, slain along the road", and pressed on towards Triolus in relatively good cheer. Some new roustabouts would have to be hired, but money would be no problem. MD, too, was of good cheer. Brother Theodolus had healed his wounds for free, he had picked up five miscellaneous magic items (including four expendables, for healing), two magic weapons, one magical suit of armor (and three more normal ones in need of some repair), four bucklers, four long daggers, with sheaths. And in the dark of the previous nght, he had learned that he and Berry were among the few souls capable of calling the silvery blade from the sword-hilt!

In the morning, the wild elf left his empty strongbox in Triolus, spent a little time repairing armor, then found a place to sell used weapons and armor for some quick cash. He said his goodbyes to the troupe, then went to eat. After dinner, he turned in his key, then retired to the room... In moments, he was back in the Watchers' Guild-Hall, yet another mission successfully completed.
 
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