Just Business- A Gale Party

“This is boring as all hell,” grumbled Count Strongbull. “Not a single auroch in sight.”
“That’s because this is civilization, Richard.” Count Archibald shook his head.
“It’s late spring now, the aurochs are at their most aggressive. This is the *perfect* time for some wrestling.”
Dame Josefine brushed past William. “Raimunde is looking for you.”
Sighing, William pushed off from the wall and started toward his most recent employer. The party, or ball or whatever, was in full swing now and he found Raimunde Gale talking to Kirk Renett. Perhaps an alliance, though frankly William disliked the boy. He stood to the side and waited for their conversation to end.
“I can’t *believe* Rosomon and Alexandra are going to be finished schooling soon. It’s such a waste,” the Renett boy was saying.
“What do you mean?”
“Well. Why *should* they study. It’s not like they’re going to be doing anything *important*. Just wives and mothers. Why don’t they learn things that would be more fitting to them?”
Raimunde shifted uncomfortably. “Well, it’s better for everyone when knowledge is more widespread. Otherwise why would the University be there.”
“*I* don’t think women *belong* in the university. Like I said, they should be learning things more fitting to their future tasks.”
Raimunde smiled to William, then looked back to Kirk. “I’m sorry, I’ve been waiting for news. Perhaps we’ll find more time to talk later.”
Kirk looked at William. “He looks like a clown to me. I thought you’d grown out of that sort of thing, what’s with the mask?”
Raimunde shook his head, but maintained his smile. “Excuse me.”
Leading William away from the boy, he apologized. “My father told me I should make friends. No one my age seems to be worth knowing, frankly.”
“I’m sure that I couldn’t say, my Lord,” William replied.
Shaking his head again, Raimunde sighed. “Anyway. Did you hear anything interesting?”
William glanced toward the table where the representatives from the Houses were sitting, specifically toward Count Dracian, who he assumed was the one who was really employing him, rather than Viscount Harlan, Raimunde’s father, who sat beside him. “Oh yes,” he began.
“I heard a rumor that Baron Valerian there came in the same carriage as Count Bradford. The Valerians *could* use the support and the Bradfords haven’t the military to defend themselves if anything were to happen. Though at the same time, Baron Telford sent a few gifts towards the Valerians as well, so perhaps it has something to do with trade, rather than warfare.” He paused as one of the Ascalon servants passed by.
“Master Corvo di Talmerin, there, with the Baines family. He swore he’d seen a servant of House Drake slipping a sealed note to Viscount Avery when she was pouring his wine. Meanwhile I also heard that Count Gareth Addison has sent his second son in secret on a vampire hunt towards the City of Lanterns as well. I *believe* that his eldest hasn’t yet had that opportunity, so perhaps there’s something there.”
Raimunde smiled and pressed a coin into his hand. “Thank you. You’ve done wonderfully so far.”
William nodded, bowing slightly. “There’s nothing else for the moment, but I think I’m going to go wait by the drinks and see who comes around.”
Nodding, Raimunde put on a more serious face.
William laughed. “Keep smiling Raimunde, you’ll find better company that way.”
Raimunde’s façade broke somewhat and he smiled again. William patted him on the back and headed toward the drinks. He stopped at one of the tables on the way and wrote a quick note, then handed it to a passing servant. “Can you take that to Dame Josephine please?” He gestured in her direction. The servant acceded and headed that direction. William watched until Josephine had received the note and had started heading toward its true intended recipient before he continued toward his destination.
Sir Harry Callahan met him there and William smiled again. “Did you talk to Baroness Ismania Faulkner?”
Harry nodded. “She says there’s nothing you can do about the trade guilds on Ard Kreight.”
Sighing heavily, William shook his head. “I wish more of these noble houses acted like the Telfords. They’re not *all* bad.” He wrote another note and did the same as the last, sending this one toward Corvo.
Turning back to his companion, William shook his head. “I’m sorry, Harry. You probably don’t care.”
He laughed. “You asked, I answered. I owe you after how you helped me with the Faulkner’s problem.”
William shrugged and smiled. “I’ll find you later if I need anything else. Thank you. I mean it.”
Harry shrugged and took a drink, then walked away.
William listened for a while longer, then moved to a corner to write his reports. As he worked, he hummed along with the Wind Singers guildmembers staffing the party. A hand came down on his shoulder and he looked up, glad he’d been writing in his own personal code.
“You are William, yes?”
Nodding, William covered his notes and turned. “How can I help you?” He noted the House Valerian sigil on the man’s armor.
“You will come with me now.”
William stood. “I’m sure there’s no need for that. Perhaps we could talk here? Or someplace quieter?”
“Come with me.”
The man walked away and William sighed, waving to Harry as he followed.
They walked out onto the balcony and the man punched William in the gut. He fell to his knees, winded, and let out a groan of consternation. “What was *that* for?”
“Stop looking into House Valerian’s business. It’s none of yours.”
William shook his head and stood, using the balcony railing for support. “Alright, alright. I have nothing against you or your house.” He backed away a little, putting a hand between them in case the man tried to hit him again.
The man went inside and William sighed and straightened. A moment later, Harry came out. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m alright.” He shook his head again. “Just business.”

Sailing the Sea of Coils

Sharp wind cut through the thin blanket that William had wrapped around himself. He took a shuddering breath and crouched next to a crate to block the wind.
“First time to Njordr?”
William looked up at the voice, eyes dead. He nodded.
“You look cold.”
William nodded again.
“I’m Asja. Asja Gatewatch. And you’re William, yes?”
Sighing, William sat straighter. “What do you want, Asja?”
“Well… the others were saying that you were one of the guys in charge of the Sea Beggar? Big fan of your business. I was the one who helped Fearghas Llewyn get North.”
William shrugged, still not really interested in pursuing the conversation.
“Well, before we left, the captain, Julio de Monique? He said that you could use some help.”
William sighed. “No. I really don’t want any help. I don’t care who you are. I just want to be left alone.”
“God, you’re depressing.” Asja folded her arms and shook her head.
William shook his head as well and huddled down again.
Asja shook her head. “Look. Julio told me about Miss Tiarnan. Said you’d need some help getting back on your feet.”
William felt his anger building, but shook his head again and didn’t respond.
“I’m trying to help,” she said with a sigh. “If you don’t want it, I’ll just leave you alone.”
Pulling the blanket tighter around himself, William sank back down to his slumped position.
Shaking her head, Asja turned and walked away.

How dare he. How dare Julio tell this stranger about him, about his business. And how dare she bring up Lile. He gritted his teeth and tried to fall asleep. He dreamt of Lile.
He awoke to wind whipping past his face and his stomach lurching. He was falling. He hit the water and his breath was slammed from his chest. He fought his way to the surface and took a deep breath. He looked around, treading water. It was dark. William grabbed the edge of the boat and began to pull himself from the water, letting his waterlogged blanket fall from his body. He heaved himself over the rail and collapsed to the deck. He rolled over, still gasping for air. An axe hit the deck next to him and his eyes rose to meet those of a thickset man with njordic markings coating his skin. William’s eyes opened wide.
“What the hell?!”
The man lowered the axe toward him. “Don’t move you fat swine.”
William held his hands up, somewhat relieved. Maybe they’d just kill him.

Sitting in the boat, all William could hope for is that he’d freeze to death. His eyes were dull and he couldn’t feel his fingers anymore. He wished they would at least have left him his mask. They were sailing North, towed behind the enemy’s ship. He tried to feel something at the very least, but honestly couldn’t. Maybe it was good that he’d survived, but he didn’t care, not without Lile. North.

A Wilted Lily

William pushed his hair out of his face, grinning as he tied off his final line. He waved toward the Capitan. “Julio! I’m going to go! I’ll see you later!”
Julio laughed. “Say hi to Lile for me.”
William waved again and snatched his bag, and the box next to it, from by the gangplank as he left. He smelled the lily he’d gotten for her; his terzo regalo. She’d finally asked for it when she gave him the ring. He grinned as he thought about it, shifting his gear around himself to make it more comfortable.
“William!” came a friendly call from behind him.
Laughing, William turned. “Slaine MacAlister, what are you doing out here?”
“What, I can’t come see the Sea Beggar make its triumphant return?”
William rolled his eyes. “What do you want Slaine?”
His friend put his hand on William’s shoulder, smiling. “Conor and Malmuira are making a big meal tonight to celebrate, why don’t you and Lile come?”
“I suppose we should,” he laughed. “Since we’ve skipped the last few.”
“That’s not your fault, you’ve been travelling a bunch. How many are you at now?”
William smiled. “I don’t keep track. Not enough until we can fix the whole issue.”
Slaine shook his head. “You’ve helped a lot of people William. Don’t forget to take care of yourself.”
Laughing, William shook his head as well. “Why do you think I’m trying to get back to Lile.”
Slaine grinned and patted his shoulder again. “I’ll see you later.”

Craigellachie was beautiful in the fall. William took a deep breath as he walked through the town. He waved to a few people he knew as he went. It’d been nearly three years since he’d come to Dunland. He’d never thought he’d fall in love, not with the city or with Lile. Something was different in the air that day. Maybe it was that he’d been away a couple of weeks, maybe it was that he was going to see Lile again. He smiled as he thought about Saoirse, the girl he’d taken to Port Melandir, who reminded him so much of Lile. But there really was something different on the air. He sniffed it again. There was the smell of fire on the wind. He frowned. Was there a fire somewhere? There was no smoke on the horizon. Leaving the city boundaries, he kept walking toward the Tiarnan family farm, still thinking about the fire. It didn’t smell like a cooking fire, nor really a bonfire. He shook his head. It seemed too much for that.

William stopped on the corner of their farm, hands growing weak as he saw the stake rising from next to their house. He dropped the box in his hands and sprinted toward the building, dropping his bag when it got in his way. There was the pyre, burnt out on the yard. There was the stake, still standing from the charcoal. He paused there, looking at it. Who had been burned? What had happened here? A moment passed and he tore himself away. He pushed open the door. “Lile!?” he called.
Llwyn, her brother, was standing next to their crying mother. He turned to William with fire in his eyes and ran forward to meet him, then slammed his fist into his jaw.
William collapsed against the doorframe, eyes wild and hand to his cheek.
“It’s your fault, you bastard!” Llwyn yelled in his face.
William shook his head, not understanding. Then his eyes grew wide and he staggered back out of the building, back toward the pyre. “Lile!?” he cried out again as he pushed through what was left of the pyre. His palms were tearing open on the rough wood as he cleared the wood. He found a bone, carbonized flesh fused to it. He cradled it and screamed out.

He didn’t know how long he sat in the pyre, ash coating his skin. When he came back to himself, it was raining. His exposed skin was burning under the ash, but it didn’t matter. His heart was broken. What had happened? He began to cry, probably not for the first time. He slowly began to stand, pulling what bones he could find from the pyre. He pulled his blanket shawl off himself and wrapped up the bones. He walked up to the house, but Lwyn stood at the door.
“You’re not welcome here anymore.”
William didn’t say anything, he just stared.
He glared at William. “They said she was a witch. She was screaming about ‘just wanting a child’ as they burned her.”
William still didn’t respond.
“Get out of here. You’re not welcome here,” he said again.
After a moment, William turned and walked back toward the pyre. He stopped, tears still streaming down his face. He bent down and picked up the little tressertag bracelet he’d given her months before.
He walked to the pyre and paused again, then pushed past it. He kept going, stopping only to take his bag before he continued back to his ship. He left the lily behind, wilting in the mud.

The Lily of the Valley

William looked up from his notes at the pile of boxes that had just been delivered. He sighed and rolled up his sleeves, picking up a crowbar to get them open. Bottles clinked together as he counted them. All there. He grinned and stuck his head into the main part of his new tavern. “We got everything. Rai, can you come help me for a second?”
Raidho, his first real legitimate employee, approached with a smile. “Let me guess, need a hand unpacking?”
William rolled his eyes, chuckling. “You know I have a bad knee.”
She shook her head and pushed open the door, moving to pick up some of the boxes.
William moved back to his notes, double checking a few receipts. He’d have to go talk to Alonso before too long, see if he found that consierge he was looking for. He had mentioned Isadora… He sighed again and stood back up when he heard the door open. He stuck his head out the door again and smiled. “Azra. You finished the sign?”
“Yes sir.” They bowed and William frowned.
“I told you, you don’t have to call me that.” He shook his head. “You’re in the Throne now, free. You don’t have to call anyone sir anymore.”
“Yes sir.”
William sighed, but didn’t comment on it. Instead, he looked toward the pile of boxes Rai was unpacking. “Will you please help Rai with this?”
“Yes sir.” They moved to do so.
He shook his head again, but smiled and nodded. Yawning, he left the bar to see how Azra had done. Excellent, as always. He nodded and flipped the sign to open.

Not long later, William sat back at his desk, journal open in front of him.
‘Finally the Lily of the Valley is now open in Silbran. I never expected things to happen so quickly Lile. But here we are. I hope you approve. You would’ve liked it here. Silbran is nice, small town. Baroness Drake is certainly intimidating, but I’ve worked for her before. Do you remember?’
William put his quill down and sighed. He looked out the window and thought for a moment.
‘Hekte has recently become Master of Coin in Silbran. Things move so quickly here. Corvo is leaving, Saoirse’s made some good friends with the other Duns in the area. There’s quite a few of them that you would’ve liked. Niamh and Elona both remind me of you. I am curious, by the way. Saoirse says that her mother’s name was Sloane. Coincidence I’m sure, but it’s crazy to find out that there was another Sloane Tiarnan. But if it’s not coincidence… That would make her my niece I suppose. Don’t even know what to think about that.’
He sighed again. “Can’t believe it.” He shook his head.
‘I’m thinking about getting back into singing. You always loved that. I just found it too hard after you were gone. Saoirse thinks I should. Maybe I will.’
He paused, taking another breath.
‘I wish you were here. I’ve been relying on your memory, and that’s been enough for me, at least for now. This valley could certainly use your touch. You were always more adventurous than me. I didn’t expect things to be so hard here. Maybe in the future things will become better. But starting with nothing here was not the best of ideas. I probably should’ve brought more with me, maybe returned to Dunland first. At the same time, I’m almost glad I didn’t. Kirk Rennet showed up here. Apparently, he arrived a few months ago. If I had gone back, seen your family maybe, I wonder if more than just him would’ve followed me here, though Dame Kirsa Blackiron said that she took care of the problem. I owe her. She said that I don’t, but you know I can’t leave things like that. Apparently, we’re worth three gold apiece, Saoirse and I. That’s all we’re worth.’
He tapped his quill on the table for a moment, thinking.
‘I made some new friends in the meantime. A freed Jharad, Shazaad Jharad Azra ibn Jahan. I wish that they would understand that they are free though. They’ve been treating me just like their new master and I hate it. But they’ve started to work for me, just helping out around the place, maintenance stuff mostly. My other employee is named Raidho. It means Journey. I think you would’ve liked her too. Though frankly, I wish I could’ve found someone who knew how to use a sword for the place. I wonder if the MacLaren siblings would be willing to come this way.’
William looked up. The door was opening again. He grinned and set down his quill. “First Customer.”

Newsletter Flyer

If I haven’t spoken to you already, could the newcomers to Stragosa reach out to me? We like to include introductory information for newcomers in the newsletter and would love to help you find your place here.

To El Maestro di Mille Delize

To El Maestro di Mille Delize
I have done as you have asked and learned some fascinating things. Despite having followed them and learned what I could, I learned much less than I expected. I was surprised to find their information gathering skill the same or higher than my own. But despite this, I have still learned much. Their current practice and occupation seems the least of their skills. They are a skilled craftsman and inventor, who’s focus seems lit on the incendiary. Specifically those outside the techniques of Capacionne-born technology. But I also learned that if they are capable beyond natural means of creating this fire, they are unrelated to the guild. Unfortunately I was unable to determine the full truth of their abilities. Additionally, I have been told that their current services are quite addictive, though they had few, if any, customers at this last gathering. Unfortunately I don’t know how much of that is innuendo or if it just emphasizes the skill of their practice. I know they prefer wine to beer, and the current deal they have arranged with the Farmer’s Daughter.
Despite my small harvest, what I did learn has given me much to think about. I don’t know how much you knew about them before, but I hope that this service has been performed adequately.
With Regards,
The Friends of the Orange Baron.

Arriving at Costa Nera

William blocked the sun from his eyes, looking toward shore. He would’ve smiled under different circumstances. Glancing over his shoulder, he shrugged to his friend. “There it is Leo.” He shook his head. “Costa Nera.”
“Dreary place isn’t it.”
William nodded in agreement.
A voice rang over to them. “William! On the lines!”
William glanced to the speaker. “Aye Capitano! Moving to Port!” He laughed and shrugged to Leo again. “Duty calls.”
Leandro smiled. “Get going then. We’ll talk when we dock.”
Moving to the portside beam, William called his readiness and, as they pulled alongside the dock, he leapt across the gap with the line and tied it off. “Lines Secure!” he called when the others were done as well.
“Full stop! Hale up the brails!”
A chorus of “Aye Capitano”s rang out as the crew moved to store the mizzen sail.
William looked over to one of the crewmen on the dock. “Trice that line,” he called to the man, who coiled the spare line.
William waited while the gangplank got moved into place and the crew began to disembark to their various chores. For his part, William pushed his way to the Capitano. “Julio. I’m going to miss you.”
The man laughed and wrapped him up in a hug. “With your luck William, you’ll be back aboard the Sea Beggar in no time. Just take care to save some of that coin, don’t gamble it all away. You can’t win anything with nothing.”
William looked at the purse that held the last of his inheritance. It was all his mother had left him. “Don’t worry. I’ll buy back the Sea Beggar if it kills me.” He smiled. “I can’t let my mamma’s company just disappear.”
Leandro laid a hand on his shoulder. “You ready to go?”
He nodded to his friend and hugged the capitano one more time. “I’ll see you soon Julio. I’ll write you when I can.”
The capitano smiled. “Take care of yourself, piccino.”
William and Leandro headed down the gangplank together.
“Thank you for coming with me Leo. You didn’t have to.”
Leandro laughed again. “You think I was going to let you leave Le Sorelle without me?”
William smiled. “No I suppose not.”
The two headed toward the town.

Grave Marker Translation for Freydis and Balthazar

“The sun shone, sweet golden

the day that Freydis died

torn asunder by Ghoul claws

there lay the undying

The moon shone, bright white

the day that Balthazar died

broken heart in cold hands

the day the pair became undying.”

“Sólin skein, sæt gullin

daginn sem Freydis dó

rifinn í sundur af klóm náæta

þar lá hið ódauðlegur

Tunglið skein, skærhvítt

daginn sem Balthazar dó

brotið hjarta í köldum höndum

daginn sem þeir ódauðlegur.”

Downtime Journal #1

After the last forum ended, I found myself in a unique position to connect with many different people and organizations. But the first thing I did was talk through my suspicions with Saoirse. That’s when I realized that perhaps what I had witnessed regarding Marius the Masseuse was a malefica poisoning. If the Shariqyn’s are developing such a tool, they would need to be stopped. I took my concerns first to Father Renatus, then to the Mother Superior. They told me that it was more likely a drug or a poison of some kind, and not the malefica I was concerned it might be. Unfortunately, Mother Superior asked about my fiance, and asked why I hadn’t been baptized yet. Although I deflected the questions as best as I could, I’m sure she’ll have her eyes on me in the future. But my fears of malefic were allayed somewhat, though I was disappointed that nothing came of it, so I stepped back and got to work with my other projects.

Lady Gale had asked if I could be of assistance with the newsletter and I thought it might be a chance to become better connected with the woman whose cousin I worked for in the past. I was given the assignment to seek out each of the newcomers to Stragosa and learn what I could about them for the newsletter. I also managed to summarize the events of the forum for her. I found Saoirse again and asked her to decide how much of her background to share. When we had that figured out, I found Daciana and asked her as well. Hekte, unfortunately, was harder to find. Though I managed to write several letters back and forth between us. Khala and Father Gideon were definitely more complicated. I couldn’t speak to Khala, but I had overheard that she was fleeing an arranged marriage in Sha’ra. I figured they didn’t need to ultimately know that, so I wrote instead that she was seeking personal freedom, which is just as true, if less accurate. Father Gideon was hard to catch. I eventually managed to do so, but it was a long time coming.

After I had completed my task, I sent a letter to Leandro Nicostratus, a friend of mine from home. Of any of my friends, he would know Marius the Masseuse. I wish I had some contacts within the Mage Circles, that would’ve been useful in this circumstance. I hope he can uncover what Alonzo is looking for. Speaking of Alonzo, I heard that he was going to try and get involved with the new monster school that Korvath is trying to start. I asked a bit into his motivations and found out that he might have malefic parts to sell. Saoirse might be interested, so I let slip that I knew an apothecary that could probably use the business, though I didn’t give him any names. Besides that, I thought it might be of interest of him to keep extra copies of the malefic lore books. The Magi and the Shariqyn’s may be interested in getting their hands on copies. And although I hope I can help the Magi, possibly earn their trust, I am concerned about what might happen if the Shariqyn’s do.

Conversation with Alonzo finished, at least for the moment, I turned my thoughts back to making connections here. I reached out to Alegra and, after trading a bit of information to earn her trust, arranged something with her regarding Vieve and herself. Luckily, Saoirse’s got my back already. Alegra promised to get me the rumors I was looking for in exchange for mutual sharing. I promised to share relevant rumors with them and I intend to secure some protection for the tavern as well.

A very productive time for me.

To Leandro Nicostratus- Costa Luceste

Leo!

I can’t tell you how many times I have set quill to paper to write you in this last year, but for once, words have failed me. These last two years have been more eventful than I ever anticipated setting foot on the rocky shores of Njordr. Visvind was a delight and, after what happened to Lile, a welcome respite from Dunland. Thanks to Ironbelly, I found some help in Mrs Gatewatch, who helped me get settled in. But you know how it is, I can’t stay in one place for very long. I was traveling with some of the goods we were transporting, on a Njord ship called Vindvald, when we were attacked by raiders from the Rimelands who drew alongside. Those of us that survived the initial attack were bundled up and tugged along after them. I learned later that our attackers were members of the Dogheart clan, though they had an emissary from the Hollow Song clan. Cannibals! They said that they would trade us as food stock, though I couldn’t really tell if they were telling the truth. Eventually Alrek, who was one of the guards originally protecting the caravan, helped me to run away. His knowledge of the forest and tundra was invaluable in the last year as we have traveled settlement to settlement trying to get back to Visvind. I have learned so much and I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that my education was Not useless. My year of botany saved our lives several times, though did nothing to stave off the cold or the wolves.

Obviously, I wasn’t going to stay in Njordr after such an experience. My string of bad luck has followed me all the way back to Costa Nera all those years ago. Do you remember that? We’d just come ashore from Le Sorelle when we were accosted by those ruffians? A long way from the Master Mercer you are now. But anyway, I decided to head to Stragosa. I have heard interesting rumors that I’d like to confirm. Besides, I hear Corvo di Talmerin, the one I met in Port Melandir, has also headed that way. Have you heard from Padraig Drust? He’s the only refugee I haven’t heard from recently. Last I heard he was working as an Arkwright in Carminia. Could you look into that?

When I arrived in Stragosa, I was met with more supernatural than I’d ever experienced before. A ghost on the road, a ghoul that attacked us from the woods, and a bear spirit that ended up killing at least four people before vanishing. It was incredible. Not the mention the fact that I got to see the Miracle in person! Father Renatus was the name of the man I think. There were a few others though. I’d be interesting in hearing what they all experienced. Anyway, I thought I owed you at least a story because it took needing something for me to write you. A Friend of the Orange Baron asked me to look into a gentleman by the name of Marius, a masseuse and engineer that just moved into Silbran. Marius is from Le Sorelle as well, though I don’t remember if he told me where in specific. I would appreciate any aid that you could give me.

Leo, I’ve missed you. Perhaps one of these days you can come visit.
Your friend,
William II