6 Sarenith, 4719
“If the leaders seek only to preserve themselves, that is what they become: preserves, dried preserves.”
- Francois Marcel, Galtan Revolutionary
You’ll never guess what I heard today.
“And, of course, Ursundova should be arriving…”
Diary, if it had not been an excellent Andoren Red, I might well have spit out my wine. As it was, I had to cover my faux-pas with confusion. “Who?”
“Kingdom just across the eastern border.” Luco was trying not to go through all the refined pesh I’d provided him, so he was taking slow, intermittent pulls on the hookah. I stopped worrying. He hadn’t seen through my disguises, and his current intoxication meant I probably could have stopped being Leonardo Calilli right then and he would have thought it a hallucination of the drug.
“Wait,” I said, turning on my suspicious voice that always made him volunteer more information. “I’ve heard of them, but they’re on the other side of the slough. Some jumped-up camp calling itself a Barony.”
Luco laughed. “For once, my contacts are more recent than my sellsword friend’s! They hit Fort Drelev two years ago and have been expanding eastward ever since. Call themselves a Kingdom now.”
“And who’s King?”
“Some Brevoyan twat. Yarrick or Yancy.”
No. I thought. Would they have…? He was a little sweet on Katya as I recall. “And now they just get invited to the Rushlight Festival?”
“They’re big and aggressive. His Majesty probably wants to take their measure.”
I leaned back in my chair, too many disparate thoughts in my head. “We’ll see, I suppose. You going out there tomorrow?”
“Me?” Luco laughed again. “Not with my benefactor’s most recent gift to keep me company.” He tried to do a little bow from his chair and nearly fell out of it. I dropped a few coins on the table and headed out into the Pitaxian night.
I got several blocks south, to where the houses were still in a state to give the district the “New Ruins” moniker, and slipped into an alleyway. I looked into a moonlit pane of glass and watched as Leonardo Calilli’s face melted away. My ears raised to sharp points, and the dark circles around my eyes pooled and slid into the pupils, filling them, while the dark scar over my left eye appeared like a furrowed line in a garden.
I took two breaths to remember my own face before putting on Gaspar Ibruzzi’s, half-elven actor of little skill but zero fear, which actually goes a long way towards getting one places in the ongoing assault on good taste that Irovetti has cleverly disguised as a theater scene. I had planned to get to the festival during the Wine Festival for the parties, but I had discovered a gap in my information.
I wore Gaspar’s face across the center of town, doing a few loop-backs to ensure I wasn’t being followed, then retired to my room in an inn at the far end of Trouthmouth. I dropped the curtains and put out the lights and let my face be my own again.
Ursundova. I died there seven years ago. Six years ago, Severina and Senubar persuaded Kyonin’s secret service that I might be of use to them. Four years ago, I told the secret service where they could put their endless plans to uproot Treerazer’s demons, but, let’s be honest, diary, that might have had something to do with Severina finding she appreciated Senubar’s stability more than my capriciousness. I have, apparently, been a little too focused on what was right in front of me. Perhaps time to broaden my gaze.
7 Sarenith, 4719
This is what comes from living and working amongst my peers, but Savored Sting preserve me, I didn’t know practically anyone in Ursundova’s tent. One barely recognizes Severina’s former bodyguard now, what with his fine clothes and semi-humble crown. I had known, in an off-handed way, that he was of Brevoyan nobility, but he certainly seems to have stepped into the role. When I mentioned Dyimi to one of the guards, he didn’t seem to know who I was talking about. That bodes ill.
This new monarch carries himself like he’s part eastern ruler, part menagerie collector. I feel certain the enormous half-orc behind his chair was not for show, though his archery left much to be desired. The elf was clearly undergoing human madness – she kept losing her clothes in a delightful manner and bouncing off to the lake. Sometimes the Forlorn get that way, but “Forlorn” is not the word I would use for her. Some Kelish fellow was trying to get people to ignore the skinny-dipping elf and talk about trade, with about as much success as one could imagine such a venture having. I’m pretty sure at least one of the three people besides me in a hat of disguise was also working for Ursundova, but so was one very undisguised man I knew well enough to approach, or, that is, to make myself a target to be approached.
My green plume feather drooping sadly, I sat and muttered about the unfortunate fall of the Cattanei family, wondering why anyone would listen to a poor old sellsword such as myself. Before I could have spelled out “elicitation target,” I was being offered a goblet of fine wine and had a fine new friend with a lilting voice, a sympathetic ear, and a mind for treachery as twisted as my own. I was a perfect mark. I corrected all his misstatements, and held forth at length to show my former importance. I really had no idea how much Eoghan already knew or how dated his information might have been, so I was as thorough as my cover allowed. When he felt he’d gotten all he was going to get from me, he was disengaged as rapidly as he had become my fast friend. I watched him go with a strange mix of emotions. I wanted to drop all pretense and tell him it was me. Glass nin gen achened! -But Ursundova had come to dance with the snakes and I could do better for them if I didn’t compromise my cover.
Better for them – that was my thought, to be certain, Diary. Seven years and I felt the strange pang of loyalty that had dragged me into that troll hole. I lived in Tuskendale but a few months – a bare breath in my lifespan – but for one of the first times in the years since I took my second breath, I felt my old honor stir. Udulen gi nathad.
It was late and the party was certain to get into full swing tomorrow. Clearly, I needed some cheese. I wandered over to where The Turning Wheel had closed its cheese cart hours ago. There was no light from the tent, but the guard was awake and saw me approach. He looked past me, then nodded that I had not been followed. I slipped through the tent flap.
Ingras Quill was brushing her hair and looked up with a start when I appeared. “I thought you weren’t coming up until the wine festival.”
“Small matter of the newcomers.”
“What about them?”
“They might be your key.” Poor Ingras. All she wanted was to make her cheeses, delicious and stinky. Then Irovetti killed her boy at a crime lord’s behest. She still played the cheerful cheesemonger to all and sundry, which meant that, with some help from those who understand such things, she had one of the most successful resistance cells in the city. She was also one of the people who had seen my actual face.
“You know them.”
“Not all of them. I was out that way some time ago, but there’s enough trappings of what has gone before that we might have had treasure dropped in our laps.”
She put down her brush and bowed her head. I was still getting used to how rapidly humans aged and she was still getting used to contemplating revolution, as opposed to cheddar. “I’ll turn a few folks onto it.”
“There a man who speaks with an odd, lilting accent. He’s their whisperer, named Eoghan.”
She nodded. “I’m glad you came out, then.”
I smiled. “Me too. Sleep well.”
And that leaves you and me, Diary. Ursundova is here and it prospers. I have no leads on Dyimi, Anton, or Lem – Katya was mentioned by name in the Ursundovan tent, so she apparently found the time to return Jacek’s affections. Poor Lem.
20 Sarenith, 4719
You’ll never guess what I saw today.
It was sinfully early in the morning, and I was passing time in Gaspar’s face with a lovely young half-human priestess of Calistria out in front of Her Cathedral. I had dropped a few choice tidbits that Drey Yarnes would no doubt be repeating by afternoon, and she was telling me how Eliste Strocalle’s second-born boy had needed some of the alchemical aids I’d passed her both to last the whole hour beneath her ministrations and to walk home under his own power. We were enjoying a laugh about humans who think us the frail ones when across the Square of the Common Man walked the most uncommon common man I’ve ever met. The Thalionen.
Lem Berrybrook had exchanged his forest colors for, quite frankly, a somewhat unfortunate boar-oriented ensemble, and he’d made some real effort to get his facial hair into line, but that mop of chestnut on his head was as unruly as ever, and, of course, there was that engine of death that he calls a crossbow in his ongoing quest to become the god of understatement.
I almost called out to him before I recalled that I wasn’t wearing my face. It was just as well, for he looked to be moving with purpose and to be more than a little blood-spattered. I tell myself that I was mere minutes from putting it all together when the voice sounded in everyone’s head simultaneously. Irovetti was dead. Soldiers were put on notice to lay down their arms. Like the others in the square, I looked around stunned for a few moments, and then I heard it start.
“The Minstrel Boy to the war has gone
In the ranks of death you’ll find him.
His father’s sword he hath girded on
And his wild harp slung behind him."
It was Mattrin Aerlie’s friends. The Wardens had snatched him only two days ago, and the musicians of the city were as near to heartbreak as they had ever been. Now, the crowd started to pick up the tune. Everyone knew the song, though no one had sung it within earshot of a Warden in years.
“And he said, ‘no chains shall sully thee,
Thou soul of love and bravery!
Thy songs were made for the pure and free
They shall never sound in slavery."
After that, the cheering started. Lem returned with the city watch, which probably prevented the celebration from turning ugly (Look who’s grown up and thinking ahead!). People started hugging and laughing and crying. My would-be conversation partner was whisked back inside for celebrations that would likely leave a mark or three. I almost didn’t notice when a note was pressed into my hand.
The Strocalles are meeting at their second warehouse. Leonardo should look into it.
Leave it to Ingras to keep her head about her – what is it about cheese that makes one so diligent? I made my way through the crowd and down towards Troutmouth.
Sure enough, several Strocalle goons were gathered in a small office near the front of the warehouse. Eliste herself wasn’t there, unfortunately, but the group who was there represented a lot of the house’s strategic thinking. And I never could pass up a bulk purchase bargain.
I made myself invisible and lurked near the window. At a moment when they were passing the wine around, I reached through the glass with my mind and twisted their thoughts this way and that. Some of them looked around in panic, others began to babble in the sing-songy way humans do to their young. But enough of them went for weapons that the conclusion was never in doubt.
They slaughtered each other and even when the watchmen came after the noise, the fierceness of the fighting made it easy to seed in them the thought that discretion was the better part of valor. When only two of the criminals were left, I opened the door and slipped in. My invisibility dissipated when I ran Scorpion’s Sting through the first one’s back and out her chest. Her opponent, my power over his mind fading, began to look around in panic. I slashed him once and opened a terrible wound across his thigh. I pushed agony through my gaze and his eyes started to bleed.
“Why?” I said softly, casually knocking his blade aside. “Because your house helped put Irovetti in place, which makes you a threat to the fine people that have removed him.” I cut his arm, severing enough tendons that his sword clattered down. “Because Eliste convinced Irovetti to kill an innocent boy who didn’t know whom he was spurning.” His back hit the wall and I ran the point of my blade slowly down his chest. “Because even good people deserve revenge.” My last cut spilled his guts on the floor and he collapsed. I pulled my dagger and relieved him of his jaw, lest someone ask simple questions with complicated answers. Then I rejoined the celebrating throngs.
Nothing gets out blood stains like prestidigitation.
28 Sarenith, 4719
You’ll never guess what I did today.
I said my goodbyes nearly a week ago, but I didn’t feel like me again until today. I had seen a few vaguely familiar sights on the road to Tuskendale, but nothing had prepared me for what the city had become in my absence.
It would take millennia for my own people to make this sort of progress and I think it was in that moment I understood why we had lost the wars against humanity. The city walls are tall and thick and the city itself has expanded so far beyond whatever meager plans of expansion I had left behind, that I could barely take it all in. I confess that I gawked like a bumpkin for ages.
There’s a fancy new palace that commands a view of the city, a cathedral that everyone seems to think is dedicated to their god, I eventually found the old castle, which triggered a strange wave of nostalgia, and the park where the first and second Barons of Ursundova look out over the harbor.
I paid my respects to Dyimi and added a fancy hat with a black plume to my outfit. I had not noted His New Majesty with a Hat of State, so I felt free to appropriate it for my own style. Suddenly, I missed Duath, who had quite reasonably departed while I was dead, but then I was through missing things today.
From the castle, I had my bearings and found what I was looking for easily enough. They’d made some improvements, but I would have recognized the Chocolate Wench if they’d planted it on Sovyrian (Remember to ask Kaydee about franchising).
I looked at myself in the window of the bar. It was me. El sila erin li e-govaned ‘win.