The parties unexpected jaunt to the Shadowfell that seemed to take a couple of weeks, but over a year had passed in the Nentir Vale when we returned.
Markelhay was crowned King of the Vale, and Marius’ father became the King’s Hand.
Thorinshield was named Warden of the East and Killian Warden of the West.
While they were gone, Markelhay was assassinated. Suspicion has been cast upon his wife and on Marius as possible assassins. Marius’ father has assumed the throne in practice if not in name, and elevated Marius’ brother to the Hand.
Marius Levant pushed his chair deeper into the shadows and sprawled his long legs out before him. The tankard of ale sat before him untouched, even though part of him would like nothing better than to get stupid, blistering drunk. Under the brim of his hat, the glow from his pipe would briefly cast an orange light over his face when he drew breath. Otherwise, he was still.
He had watched as the spellscale entered the tavern’s common room and sought out the message board, just as Marius had moments earlier. Marius watched Delvan skim over the mix of advertisements and announcements and then freeze, eyes wide and curious, at the place where Marius knew the bounty on his own head was tacked. The young sorcerer then hurried to the bar, where he no doubt learned that the sheet he saw had been superceded, the bounty doubled.
Fifty thousand regs.
That is how much his father despised him.
Fifty thousand regs.
“For that much, I ought to turn myself in,” he growled under his breath, shaking his head slightly.
The old bitterness, the old rage, the cold armor of isolation enveloped his heart, and the duskblade welcomed it like a long-lost friend. While the others had shaken off the unpleasant effects of their unexpected jaunt to the Shadowfell, the weight of gloom and hopelessness and ennui found fertile soil and took root in Marius. The spellscale’s furtive glance over his shoulder had snuffed out something in Marius’ mind. Not a glance full of hope and fun and friendship, but a pragmatic flicker of farewell and speculation.
The bounty sheet explained so much.
It explained the “toll collectors” on a road that, up until three months ago, went absolutely nowhere. It explained the company of Kamroth guards all over Winterhaven. It explained his brother’s presence in the North, far from the plush surroundings of his home in Fallcrest. It even explained the note of reticence he had sensed in Lord Killian’s communication. Now that he was Armand’s father-in-law, married into his father’s machinations, how could he do anything other than prepare a nice welcome party for naive Marius’ eventual return?
He could feel the net tightening around him even now, but he remained motionless except for the occasional puff on the pipe. How much did his father really know? That was the crucial question rolling around in his mind.
Does he know I am in Winterhaven? Probably not, since I didn’t exactly reveal myself to the spies on the road.
Does he know what I look like now? The three months growth of black winter beard hid his youthful features, but it was hard to hide the great-sword/chain combination. Did Armos Kamroth remember his disowned son’s favored weapons well enough to have warned his soldiers to be on the lookout for the distinctive combo? Had Lord Killian jogged his memory?
Does he know I am innocent of his charges? Almost certainly.
Would he have me executed if caught? Undoubtedly.
Do I care?
That question froze his thoughts. There was little that disgusted Marius more than self-pity. He thought that Nimozoran the Green had ground out of him the last vestiges his father had left, but apparently not. The duskblade gritted his teeth and flexed his hands angrily on the edge of the table, making the old wood creak. Puling and whining like a sick pup was a good way to be put out of your misery. Especially when you’ve racked up a serious hall of fame of enemies.
Orcus, Prince of the Undead
Tharizdun, the Chained God
Armos Kamroth, Steward of the Nentir Vale
Armand Kamroth, Hand of the King of the Nentir Vale
Lord Killian, Warden of the West
Not to mention his own companions. The kneeler, priest of the dead god of law and justice. Fifty thousand regs in the church coffers combined with St Cuthbert’s complete faith in the very system of laws and justice and courts that Marius’ father had spent his entire life manipulating for fun and profit? Zoltan would want to help, but he would think that turning Marius in and lawyering his case before the authorities would be “helping.”
The caster would follow the path of most fun and least resistance. Again, fifty thousand regs would provide tons of fun and still grease enough palms to take care of any resistance.
The rogue was a completely unknown quantity, but the size of the reward was not. There was no bond between them that his father’s wealth could not poison.
Everything seemed to hinge on that stupid reward. “Nine Hells! There’s probably already a team of hunters looking for me right now.” But if could make the reward go away?
He could go to Fallcrest and confront his father head-on.
He could sneak into Killian’s keep, kidnap his brother, and trade him for exoneration.
He could head north. Ride past Mistwatch and just keep going.
He could slip out into the night and start chopping necks.
What he couldn’t do, he decided, was sit here a moment longer waiting for Death to come for him. He tapped his pipe out on the floor and tucked it back into his belt pouch. Then he dropped a couple coins on the table, drew his cloak tight about him, and tiptoed out the back entrance to the tavern. After a slow scan over his shoulder to make sure he wasn’t spotted, he was gone.