Yes, just put another log on the fire; that's fine. It really is nice of you to visit with me of an evening like this; a break from study and research and all that. You are a sweet girl and a fine apprentice too, I must say. Did you enjoy your muffin? Excellent, aren't they? And the cider! Hmm? What? The story? You mean I didn't finish it? Well, now that you mention it, I suppose I didn't at that! Ha, ha! The mind, it's the first thing to go you know! No, no, no, catching the half-orc did not end the search for . . .
The owner of the barge – a local surprisingly and not a Rhennee – was a bit out of sorts given all the ruckus taking place aboard his craft, but I produced another noble and he was mollified.
We were at a loss as to where we should take Irontusk for his interrogation and then Eileen suggested that Brother Nicholi Nortoi might be willing to assist us in this matter. I agreed that it was quite possible, given that the priests of Saint Cuthbert have no love for criminals – their followers swell the ranks of the Nightwatchmen – but it was not by any means certain. But thinking of the cleric put me mind of a way to accomplish two goals; getting the information we needed and helping the halfling lass, Solnia.
So Irontusk was gagged and trussed up like a hog for market and thrown into the back of a cart that Bubbagump had miraculously procured for us. The halfling then proceeded to inform me that we could rent the rig for a noble a day, or buy both cart and donkey outright, for 'just' seven orbs.
(First, I wasn't taken in by the proffered price; either the donkey and cart were going for half the normal value, or they were stolen! Second, I was beginning to feel that the halfling was just a bit 'free' with my coins.)
My three companions looked at me expectantly. "What, in all the Oerth, am I supposed to do with a donkey and cart?" I inquired.
"A gift!" Bubbagump cried out. "For Brother Nortoi!"
(The halfling's affection for the mild mannered cleric of Shack Town was easy to see and touching, but what I didn't see was anyone else volunteering coins!)
"It will go far in procuring his aid in this matter," Eileen interjected, noticing my expression.
"I don't think we need his help so much as to pay seven orbs for it!" exclaimed Wolfsire.
"No, I wouldn't think so," I readily agreed. "Especially since they're my orbs! Still," I was thoughtful. "There is the problem of Solnia."
"What problem?" the barbarian asked.
"Her safety," I retorted. "I want to stop Irontusk's bullying of her, but I need to do so without causing her to lose what little protection she has in this lawless place. You might recall her implication that there are 'others that would do worse'?"
Although I was willing to go far to aid the little halfling, I still shook my head and grumbled under my breath, "This idea of mine is going to bankrupt me."
Wolfsire laughed, nodding agreement. "Welcome to my world, Magician. Eileen is always doing this sort of thing to me."
Seven orbs constituted half my remaining purse, but I needed to make certain that Brother Nortoi would willingly play his part in my plan; so there was nothing else to do but buy the rig.
I was taking a considerable monetary risk, but the memory of Meldorp's intense desire to have the key back urged me onward. I was gambling that the key would be something of such importance – or, at least, of such interest – that my Master just might reward me for it's acquisition.
(Of course I realized even then that it could all be nothing more than 'smoke and mirrors,' but as my former master, Maldin, is always saying; "In for a common, in for a plate!")
So we covered Irontusk with a tarp, then threw in a couple of crates of potatoes and other vegetables, as well as two sacks of flour, in answer to the pleas of Bubbagump and at the cost of yet another noble. This was all just a cover of sorts, we wanted to move Irontusk over to Shack Town as inconspicuously as possible; which wouldn't be easy given the fracas that capturing him had caused.
Bubbagump took the donkey's lead rope and moved the cart along at a walk. Eileen, Wolfsire and I fell in behind the cart, just out of Irontusk's hearing and I explained my idea to them; the incident with Marek and Flegon earlier that morning gave me the notion.
Brother Nortoi greeted us warmly upon our return and we quickly outlined what had occurred. When we asked if there were someplace where we might question Irontusk, Brother Nortoi offered us a room in his humble home.
Insuring that the half-orc was bound securely, we returned to the outer room and discussed my plan. In an effort to foster the cleric's receptiveness to my proposal, we offered him the gift of the donkey, cart and food to assist him with his work among the poor. Brother Nortoi was so delighted that he immediately blessed us – again. Our desire to aid Solnia swayed him further, since the cleric was well aware of her situation and agreed something needed to be done.
Everyone had their own suggestions regarding my proposal and all realized that a little adilbbing would be needed as the plan unfolded. All agreed to follow my lead, so we entered into the room where Irontusk was bound to a strong, oak chair. I moved to a table along the wall, drawing from my robes that same blue vial which had caused Marek and Flegon such discomfiture.
"No, no, I can't have any permanent damage done to the creature," I informed everyone. "My Master simply would not approve. We should begin preparing the beast for transfer into the city."
"Good, let us be done with the entire matter," Eileen nodded. "We mean to collect our reward."
"Of course!" I assured her. "My Master will pay you handsomely for as fine a specimen as this." I pulled my spell book from my robes and laid it upon the table. "He's always able to use such creatures in his experiments." As I flipped a few pages I could see, out of the corner of my eye, the half-orc's eyes begin to bulge from their sockets, the veins throbbing at his Temples; like many commoners and demi-humans, Irontusk had an illogical fear of magic.
"I can appreciate your Master not wanting him mutilated in anyway," said Wolfsire. "Or missing any of his body parts, but surely a little torture wouldn't hurt anything?" He looked at Eileen. "We still need answers."
"He is a common criminal," Brother Nortoi volunteered. "As such it is permissible – under the law – to place him on 'the rack' for a time." He looked at me. "Perhaps he will supply them the information they seek? Afterward, he can be turned over to the Watch for additional punishment."
"As you said, the creature is a common criminal." I replied, dismissively. "Who will care if it goes . . . 'missing'?" I shrugged, "No one." I looked at Wolfsire. "And it will be 'dismembered' . . . eventually."
"As a cleric of The Cudgel, I can hardly approve of your using this person for magical experimentation!" Nortoi insisted. "Criminal though he may be. He should be turned over to the authorities!"
"I thought you wanted money?" I asked, looking from Wolfsire to Eileen. "I can certainly appreciate your desire to find out about this stolen 'key' you spoke of; you want all the money you can get! But I understood you to say that this 'Meldorp' fellow has only promised you a couple of orbs. And the Watch!?" I added contemptuously, looking at Brother Nortoi. "What could they possibly offer; a few commons?" I guffawed. "This orcish thing is no important criminal, just a common thief! Now, my Master, on the other hand, is offering you ten plates for such a specimen!"
"That's a fortune!" Bubbagump exclaimed.
"Besides, the creature will not be used for 'magical experimentation,' as you say," I retorted. "Its body parts are to be used for . . . spell components."
"What is it, exactly, that your master plans to do with him?" asked Eileen.
"Why, Polymorph the beast, of course!" I cried. "Unfortunately, potions of Longevity require the body parts of elves as a crucial ingredient. Now, my Master is not an evil man and would never consent to the killing and butchering of real elves; noble race that they are. But! A polymorphed half-orc? Humph! Who in all of Greyhawk is going to care if it's chopped into pieces?"
Irontusk's muffled scream could be clearly heard as he struggled mightily against the thick ropes that bound him to the chair.
"You can really turn him into an elf?" asked Bubbagump, wide-eyed.
"Certainly," I laughed. "Why, I can even turn you into a radish! And then," I leaned down to look him in the eyes, "I could turn your friend there into a rabbit!"
Bubbagump squealed and ran to hide behind Wolfsire. Irontusk began to thrash around madly, desperate to escape his bonds. There was a crash as he fell over onto the floor, taking the chair with him.
"Those who serve the Lady of Our Fate are aware of the many destinies possible for a creature such as this," said Eileen, looking down at Irontusk. "A fate far worse than that proposed by the Magician could easily befall him."
"Yeah, I guess that's true," admitted Wolfsire. "But, people can change! Isn't that right Brother Nortoi?"
The cleric spread his hands and shrugged. "It has been known to happen. On a few rare occasions, of course."
Wolfsire pointed at the prone Irontusk. "Do you think that a half-orc fellow like this can change?"
Seizing upon this proffered opportunity at salvation, Irontusk began to vigorously nod his head in affirmation.
"It would not be unheard of," Brother Nortoi conceded, looking down at Irontusk. "I suppose I could take him in hand and teach him the ways of The Cudgel."
Irontusk's eyes were pleading with the cleric to do just that.
Turning to Eileen, Wolfsire said, "Tell you what, let me question him about the key. If he cooperates we'll cut him loose, with the stipulation that he has to study with Brother Nortoi and turn over a new leaf. If he doesn't . . ." Wolfsire shrugged.
"Hmm," Eileen seemed to ponder this. "It might work. But I'll only believe it if he fully cooperates with us. No holding back!" She looked meaningfully at Irontusk. "Or the Magician can have him."
The half-orc's facial expression revealed his terror.
I was all aghast at this turn of events. "But, what about the generous bounty my Master has offered?"
"Saint Cuthbert teaches us; 'Unceasing effort should be made to bring unbelievers into the fold,'" Brother Nortoi pronounced solemnly, grasping his holy symbol – a crumpled hat. "And that's certainly much more important than mere money."
Eileen seemed skeptical, while Wolfsire and Bubbagump nodded agreement.
"I don't know," I replied, thoughtfully. "My Master is not above assisting a being to 'redeem their soul,' certainly. But what if this . . . animal . . . should be playing you false? My Master would grow wrathful with me for letting it go! He sent me with you for the specific purpose of acquiring just such a specimen as this!" I stabbed my finger at Irontusk.
"He's still our prisoner, however," Wolfsire pointed out. "To do with as we please!"
"Its true that we haven't yet sold him to you," Eileen was forced to acknowledge. "No money has exchanged hands."
"That's true!" Bubbagump nodded emphatic agreement.
"I bare witness that I have not seen any monies change hands," Brother Nortoi solemnly intoned, still grasping his crumpled hat.
"Well," I sighed. "I suppose I can always find some other . . . beast, to serve my Master's needs. But I will expect your assistance in procuring one!"
"Very well," Eileen agreed.
Wolfsire and Bubbagump nodded.
"Of course, there's always a chance that the creature will prove uncooperative," I continued, looking down at Irontusk. "One can always hope so anyway. You'll agree to sell the creature to me under such a circumstance?"
They agreed and so I left it to the four of them to handle the interrogation of our prisoner. Wolfsire reached down and removed the gag, none too gently.
"I did it!" Irontusk cried out. "I stole the key from Meldorp's place!"
Soon he was telling us everything.
Two days previously, Irontusk was approached by two members of a group of thieves calling themselves the Green Dagger Gang. They hired him to steal what they claimed to be a 'plain copper key' from Meldorp's Locksmithy. They offered him one hundred orbs to do the job.
He had only ever met two of them; a human male, who seemed to Irontusk to have been sick and a rich-looking elf. Both were dressed all in black and each had worn little green dagger ornaments pinned to their cloaks. Irontusk had delivered the key to these two individuals early this morning, after attempting to throw off any pursuit by setting up Marek and Flegon to take the fall for the burglary. To demonstrate his complete cooperation, Irontusk offered detailed directions – and a crudely drawn map – to the Green Dagger's Guild-house, in the River Quarter.
After Irontusk had finished his tale we searched him. He didn't have much; a club, an especially nice piece of studded leather armor, a tangle-foot bag and a belt pouch containing some seventy-nine orbs; the half-orc explained that he had lost some of it gambling earlier that morning. The five of us then went back into the outer room to discuss our next move.
"The orbs are forfeit," I said. "I'm sure you'll agree, Brother Nortoi, that Irontusk should not profit from his criminal activity?"
"The Cudgel teaches us; 'The word of The Cudgel is law,' and again, 'Honesty, truthfulness, practicality and reasonability are the highest virtues.'" Nortoi earnestly intoned. "Irontusk must forgo his former life completely and so may not profit from his ill-gotten gains. I assure you that – although this little subterfuge was necessary to get any information out of Irontusk – I am most genuine in my resolve to assist him in 'turning over a new leaf,' as you said. The Cudgel truly does teach us; 'Unceasing effort should be made to bring unbelievers into the fold.' There are three Orders of Priesthood within my faith, each with its own unique calling. I am of the Order of the Chapeaux and bringing new worshipers to the veneration of Saint Cuthbert is my Order's particular calling. But what will you do with the money?"
"The money shall be used to aid us in seeing this affair through to its conclusion," I said. "I must honestly confess that this little adventure has been draining my personal purse, something I did not foresee."
"Perhaps not," said Eileen. "But it is now obvious that you were meant to play a key role in our great adventure. The Lady teaches us; 'Accepting your destiny is the greatest service you can make to yourself.' As Irontusk's destiny lies with Brother Nortoi, so then is it your destiny to journey with Wolfsire and myself."
Wolfsire laughed loudly and slapped the table, "She's always telling me stuff like that! I guess this makes it official, Magician, you're one of us now."
Eileen looked at the Norseman, "The Lady also teaches us; 'Some . . . webs of fate have a strong and inevitable pull that cannot be escaped.' Everything occurs just as has been foreordained; just as The Lady has foreseen it. The Magician was destined to join with us, it is for this reason that we were led to Greyhawk." She ended with one firm nod of her head.
I shook my head in amazement; it seemed that my 'future' was being laid out for me, without any regard for my own thoughts on the matter. Like it or not, I was being included in the mysterious quest which had brought Eileen and Wolfsire to Greyhawk after two years of traveling together.
"Well, we can discuss predestination and fore-ordination another time, right now we have other business to conclude," I said in response to Eileen, then turned to Brother Nortoi. "Now, what can be done for Solnia? We four need to move 'light and fast' as they say, so we're really not in any position to take her with us."
"Nor is she suited for such adventure," agreed the cleric. "She has always shown a keen interest in the teachings of The Cudgel, so I shall offer her a position as my acolyte. She will serve The Cudgel."
"Solnia's going to be a cleric?" asked Bubbagump, his eyes wide.
Brother Nortoi smiled and nodded.
"Well, if there's going to be three of you staying here, we'll have to see to better living quarters," I suggested. "And the three of you will need to eat." I counted out ten orbs and passed them to the cleric. "My friends and I will help you to improve the living arrangements; such as a shed and coral for the donkey, with a vegetable garden for the three of you, but not today. First we need to finish this present business and call upon the Green Daggers."
"What next, Magician?" asked Eileen.
Wolfsire and Bubbagump were looking at me as well.
I breathed deeply and exhaled slowly, my first 'solo' adventure – without my Master – and I was expected to take the lead and do the planning; a 'key role' indeed. Of course, my Master had taught me well, still . . . I found myself fervently hoping that I didn't 'lead' any of them to their deaths.
(Needless to say, I was concerned at this sudden and unexpected turn of events, but as my former master, Maldin, so often says; "Even rocks can fly, if you throw them hard enough!")
"Our first move is to return to the Foreign Quarter," I said. "There are two people I need to speak with. One – a friend and mentor, named Mortellan – is currently staying at the Sages' Guildhall, which is next door to the Silver Dragon Inn, on Hardcobbles Way. You two might as well pick up your gear and move it over to the Green Dragon while we're in that area."
"Do we have time for that?" asked Wolfsire.
I looked Wolfsire in the eyes. "One hundred orbs . . . for a 'plain' copper key?" I let that sink in for a moment. "There is nothing 'plain' about this key, my friend. At such a price, there can be no doubt that the Green Daggers were, themselves, hired to steal the key . . . by an unknown third party."
"Then we should head straight for their guild-house!" cried Bubbagump.
"Yes," agreed Wolfsire. "Let's go! There's no time to waste!"
They jumped out of their chairs.
"You weren't listening," I said. "Or didn't understand my meaning; the key is no longer in their possession. They've already passed it on to the unknown person who hired them." I rose from my chair. "The chase has just begun, my friends, and time is no longer the most important factor."
"What, then, is of primary 'importance,' Magician?" asked Eileen, as she also stood up.
"Information," I answered her. "As my Master, Maldin, is always telling me; 'Knowledge is power.' And that is simple truth. I see many possible pieces to this puzzle. We need information." I looked at Wolfsire. "And we need it before we go charging into someone else's stronghold."
I counted out three orbs for each of us. "Also, we need to 'eat' as well." These orbs went into our personal purses.
My new companions also insisted that I take another eight orbs to replace the funds I had already spent on our adventure; a gesture I truly appreciated. The remainder – some forty-nine orbs – went back into the leather belt pouch we had taken from Irontusk, to serve as a 'communal fund' for our group. The tangle-foot bag I had slipped into my robe, leaving Irontusk's remaining equipment with Brother Nortoi.
We then returned to our captive and everything was explained to him in detail. In the presence of us all, Brother Nortoi took a ring from his vestments and placed it upon Irontusk's finger.
"This will compel you to speak the truth," Brother Nortoi explained. He then questioned Irontusk for several minutes, had the half-orc swear an oath to Saint Cuthbert and, just like that, Irontusk became the cleric's acolyte.
"Irontusk and I are off to find Solnia," said Brother Nortoi, removing the ring from the half-orc's finger. "After he's properly attired."
"And we have business of our own," said I. "We will return, possibly in a day or two. Until then, stay well."
"And you," Nortoi replied.
"What do you think, Bubbagump, back into the city through the Warfgate?" I asked, as we stepped into what passed for a street in Shack Town. "Or should we use the Cargo Gate instead?"
"The Cargo Gate," he replied and we headed for the river road.
"Any particular reason for the change?" asked Eileen.
"Yep!" Bubbagump replied. "According to the map Irontusk gave us, we'll pass near to the Green Dagger's guildhall by going this way. Its not real far from the Green Dragon Inn."
I concurred. "We can use your move from the Blue Dragon to cover our surveillance of the place."
Wolfsire walked beside me. "And so 'the chase' for the key begins! This may turn out to be more trouble than we bargained for, you know. Considering what 'ole Irontusk got paid, I think our price of twenty orbs was a bit too cheap."
I laughed at that. "Wolfsire, my friend, we've already gotten more than twenty orbs for our efforts." I patted the belt pouch. "And I don't think our rewards are going to end there."
The giant barbarian gave me a questioning look.
"Trust me," I laughed.
And so we continued our journey to the Cargo Gate along
the hustle and bustle of The Dockway.
Next... Go to That Infamous Key, Part 4
To the beginning... Go to That Infamous Key, Part 1
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