Swords and A Squandering Snail: The Minstrel and the Prophet

As related in Swords and Meetings, Cade of Galaras, a poet and dramatist opposed to the Church of Herotus, has joined three accomplices to oppose the Church of Herotus: Eam, a sorcerer and ex-mercenary; Drustan, a Half-Orc Barbarian; and Sabrine, an attractive and stealthy archer. The four now find themselves in the Temples district of Bowden, a relatively wretched hive of scum and possible villainy.

In “Dramatic Entrances,” the first episode of Swords and a Squandering Snail, the group is in the city of Bowen to meet a contact of Cade’s. They intervene when a Holy Knight chases an unarmed man into the tavern in which they drink. The three of them face the Holy Knights and his initiates.

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Two: The Minstrel and the Prophet

Sabrine loosed, catching one of the Initiates in the throat. He fell to the ground, clutching at the arrow, his life spilling onto the ground. “They haven’t improved their armour any. That’s good of them.”

Drustan traded blows with the Holy Knight as the Initiates surged forward. Cade slid into the combat, covering Drustan’s left. Drustan’s right remained undefended. Sabrine loosed another arrow.

“Eam, get to work,” she said.

I exhaled, reaching inside with my will, seeking the place of power. I envisioned energy in my hands and projected it at the Initiates moving on Drustan’s right. Just as I had seen in my mind’s eye, a bolt of light stretch from my hand to an Initiate. He staggered, raising his arms as though to ward off a blow. Sabrine’s arrow buried itself in his armpit.

Drustan used his spear as though it weighed nothing while the Holy Knight fought as if immersed in water. Each time Drustan’s spear connected, the Holy Knight staggered back another step. Each time the Holy Knight swung his sword, Drustan blocked it with his dirk. Cade did not seem intent on killing his opponents, rather he seemed intent on staying alive.

My magic and Sabrine’s arrows could not protect Drustan’s right. I drew my sword—Frost—and whispered a single word—ice. The sword’s blade covered with its namesake and I darted forward. I had trailed the pike in my day and knew how to use a sword. Still, against armoured Initiates, I had hard work ahead of me.

Then the time for thought and conscious control left. I faced two men ready to kill me. I didn’t want to die. My muscles knew the process. I couldn’t hope to put my blade, long and supple, against those beasts of the Initiates. I focused on deflecting them and not inhabiting the air through which they swung.

The dynamics of the fight all changed when the Holy Knight fell to his knees, blood dribbling out of the mouthpiece of his helm. Drustan ripped off that helm, revealing a head topped with dark hair. The Holy Knight looked up, his lips split, bruises along the sides of his face.

“You’ll burn in the Hells,” he said.

“So be it.” And Drustan removed that head.

The Initiates all stepped back. Cade took advantage and slid his blade through an opening at the hip of one Initiate’s armour. Sabrine caught another in the shoulder joint. The ice of Frost touched another in his elbow joint. Bleeding, disheartened, the Initiates fled the tavern.

We four stood there, panting. Drustan kicked the body of the Holy Knight then turned to the man the Initiates had beaten. “Are you harmed?”

The man rose. Though he moved with stiff caution, I saw no marks, neither bruises nor blood. He looked around, as though confused. Finally, his eyes rested on Drustan. He smiled.

“My thanks. I had not expected help in such a place. But I can see that you have good hearts and strong limbs. I wish I could show my appreciation, but all I can offer is the truth of the moment, which I do not believe you would wish to hear.”

I considered that a rather cryptic statement, but before I could comment the door behind the bar opened. It disgorged a stout man with broad shoulders, dark hair, deep set eyes, and clothes that while not fine, certainly set him apart from the majority of people in the tavern. Following him came five brutes, all armed with shortswords. The dark-haired man crossed his arms.

“I’m Murnac and this is my place,” he said. “You’ve just caused me plenty of trouble, so you’re leaving. Right now. You don’t walk out of here on your own, you’ll get carried out.”

I heard a low growl issue from Drustan. It sounded like he was only too willing to cross Master Murnac and his brutes. The undamaged man touched Drustan’s arm. “Please, let us go. There is no need for further violence.”

In all honesty, I wanted to disagree. I still held Frost in my hand, blood frozen along the blade. Sabrine lowered her bow. “He’s right. Let’s be gone.”

I lifted my sword and whispered the word ‘ice’ again. The frost left the blade, though the blood remained congealed. I reached down and cleaned Frost on the cloak of the Holy Knight Drustan had finished. I saluted Murnac with my sword before sheathing it. Murnac and his brutes made no move to attack us, but let us gather our belongings and depart.

The stench of the Temples assailed me as soon as I stepped out that door. Of the cities I knew, Bowden and its Temples wasn’t the worst. It smelled of rotting fish, too many people, and coal smoke, but I could stomach that. The street seemed close, with the buildings leaning in on it. So early in the evening, the streets of the Temples flowed with a strange mixture of the destitute, the dangerous, and the ignorant. We stood for a moment, unsure where our next steps should take us.

“I thank you for your help,” the undamaged man said. “My name is Incarnos. I have rented a room nearby where I would like to offer you sanctuary, at least for this night.”

“Sanctuary, for those who have killed Holy Knights?” Sabrine offered a mirthless chuckle. “Not a wise decision.”

Incarnos shook his gaunt head. “There is nothing the Holy Knights can do to me they have not already done. Besides, they will not seek for us here. They would not believe ones who have slain those of the Order would remain so near the scene of the slaying.” Incarnos gestured to a four story building made of chipped and marked wood. Staircases and landings girded it like a loose belt. “I have a private room on the second floor of this tenement. I can offer food, drink and a tale that will make you wonder at the very world around you.”

Before anyone made an answer, I heard Cade’s name called out in a sweet, feminine voice. We all turned. The woman approaching strode with confidence, head held high. While I liked everything I saw, her bright hazel eyes and broad, frank mouth drew my greatest admiration.

Cade smiled and gestured to the woman. “My contact.” He took her arm and shook it as a comrade. So, friends rather than lovers. That gave me hope. “This is Carylle of Temelburh.” He then turned to us and made introductions. Perhaps it was simply ego, but I thought her eyes lingered on me and her smile had a suggestion behind it.

“We need to get away from here,” Carylle said to Cade. “If Murnac sees me with you, I’ll be done.”

Incarnos again pointed to the tenement. “Please, we can speak inside.”

Sabrine nodded. “We’ll join you, if only for a moment.”

We followed Incarnos up one of the wood staircases on the exterior of the building. I followed Carylle who followed Cade.

“I hardly expected you’d come,” Carylle said.

“How could I ignore an invitation couched in such mysterious terms?” asked Cade. “You know talk of secrets and conspiracies is enough to draw me in.”

“And I didn’t lie. You won’t believe what I learnt”

We passed through a door on a rickety landing that I couldn’t believe actually sustained the group of us. A large table dominated the centre of the room beyond. Settees and divans rested against the walls while chairs surrounded the table. Tapestries—perhaps once impressive and vibrant, now dull and uninspiring—covered the walls.

As though answering an unheard call, a young man followed us into the room, leading bearers who deposited a variety of food and drink on the table. That done, the young man sent the bearers away and then followed them, closing the door. Incarnos placed a padlock on the door. We all stood silently inside the room. I had the sense I watched some mystery unfold. I almost forgot to breath. Finally, Incarnos sat at the table and sighed.

“So, here we are,” he said. “Do please sit. I have much to tell you. The most unbelievable I will offer first, hoping you believe it. You know my name as Incarnos. It is my name in the tongues of men for my true name would slay you if you uttered it. I am an immortal servant of gods lost centuries ago tied to this flesh by Herotus.”

He placed his hands, palm down, on the table. His eyes moved from one of us to the next. Did he expect a response? What could we say? Had I not seen the lack of marks left from a fair beating by strong men, I would have laughed. I thought him mad. But the Holy Knights sought him out. If he were mad, why would they?

Carylle broke the silence by clapping her hands together then covering her mouth with them. The sound of the clapping made us all start, save Drustan who did not move.

“A messenger of the Old Gods.” Carylle spoke from behind cupped hands. She took a seat and then clasped her hands in front of her. “I had hopes of discovering secrets, but not this.”

She didn’t seem fazed at all by the news that froze the rest of us. Perhaps Incarnos was not the only one in that room hiding secrets.

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Swords and A Squandering Snail continues in “These are Not the Myths You’re Looking For.”

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