The full moon created bold patterns of light and shadow across the grounds of Kamroth Manor. Two guards spoke softly to each other as they patrolled the low wall that encircled the estate. They were both burly men, bearded and helmed, and moonlight glinted off their oiled chainmail and the scabbards of their swords.
“Oy! Didja hear about the ruckus in Lowtown the other day?”
“Ruckus in Lowtown? How’s that supposed to stand out from any other day?”
“Not every day a gang of little folk starts stabbing people in the streets!”
“Wha?? Yer daft! Where’d you come by such nonsense?”
The pair stopped as the first guard replied, defensively, “From the barkeep at the Red Dragon! You want to call ‘IM a liar?”
“Well, not to his face. But still, that sound ridiculous!”
“Don’t mean ‘t’weren’t true. Also heard there was some kinda fella with horns leadin’ em!”
“Now I know you’re daft. Let’s pick up the pace — I know the big man ain’t around but the boss might still be checking our time.”
Their voices grew softer as they continued their rounds. After their voices and the soft clinks of their armor could no longer be heard, a long shadow rolled over the top of the wall and landed lightly on the inside. Cloaked and hooded, but with a greatsword prominently slung over one shoulder, the figure knelt by the wall and hurriedly scanned for movement. Spotting nothing, he rushed forward to the shadows created by a row of bushes, then froze and listened. He heard an old cracked voice singing softly from the stables, that old sappy refrain “Careless Love.” The swordsman turned that way and crept o the large wooden outbuilding that smelled of horses and straw. He could see a bit of candlelight between the boards, and as he leaned against the side, he could hear the singer working on a jingly bit of tack — probably a bridle. The hooded figure peered over his shoulder once more, but there were no guards in sight. He reached up then and scratched the wall three times, then paused, then scratched twice more. The singing stopped, and he heard the soft clank of the bridle being laid aside.
“Marius? Is that you, you young fool?”
“Who else, you smelly old fart?” the lanky swordsman replied as he swept into the barn and pulled his hood back to reveal a wide grin.
“What are you doing here, you fool??? You know everyone has orders about you.”
“Yeah, yeah — but I know you better than that. And I’m not staying long. I just need to know where the old man is. Is he here?”
“Nope – rode out two days ago. But then, he hasn’t been home more than a night or two at a time this whole month. That man is busybusybusy.”
“I bet. Know why?” As he asked, Marius reached under his cloak and drew out a full wineskin. “For you, oldster. Better than anything he will give you.”
“I know, I know. But I’m too old to be running off now.” His voice creaked as he tilted the skin up and took two swallows. “That is fine, boy,” he said, then resealed the skin and laid it gently aside. “And you too young to be running around like this. You a damned fool.”
Marius nodded, then asked again, “What’s he up to?”
“Not rightly sure, kid. He don’t invite me up for tea, y’know. But him and the Lord Marshal been thick as thieves just about every time he HAS been home. And nothing good ever comes of those meetings.”
“Heard anything about a big meeting coming up in a week, maybe ten days?”
“Yar — look around at these pretty new horses. Big Man brought them in two weeks ago, says, ‘Grover, you sack of wine, I want you to baby these lads. They’re to be gifts for highborn folk, and I want each one marked special with its own new lord’s sigil on its barding and tack. Have it all ready before the 1st day of Yellowsky, or I’ll have your eyes out myself.’ Sounded like he meant it, too, so I’ve been at it night and day. Look here — ” the old groom picked up the bridle he’d been working on, and Marius recognized the wolfs-head sigil of House Killian.
“That’s goodlooking work, especially with your old claws.”
“Shut your mouth ‘fore I shut it for you, boy.”
“Heard anything weird from Lowtown lately?”
“Didn’t HEAR anything weird, but I SAW sommat out of the ordinary. You know I have to go to Lowtown for pipeweed — can’t afford any of the fancy schmancy stuff they sell up here… Well, out I come from the smokeshop with my sack of weed, and I see this elfy fellow in ratty kit even for Lowtown, hurrying up the street. Looked like he might’ve slept in somebody’s chicken coop the night before, ‘cause he had a bright white feather stuck in his cloak. Wouldn’t remember it, ‘cept that he was in such a hurry that he bumped into this little fella, and the little fella just up and stuck him! Stuck him and run off. I tried to chase ‘im, but then arrows started flyin’ at the poor elf! I dunno what happened after that, ‘cause I got shut of the whole place! But I know what I heard — I heard a wolf snarl and a man get his throat tore out while he was screaming. I know that. Guess I’ll have to make this sack of weed last for a while — I’m not goin’ back down — “
Heavy footfalls from outside caught his attention, and Grover snatched the bridle out of Marius’ hands. “Get out of here, boy!” he hissed. “And be careful! Don’t want to see your head hung over the gate.”
Marius Levant shot a waspish smirk at the old groom, who snickered to himself, before he pulled his hood back over his head and faded back into the shadows at the far end of the barn. He tripped over a feed bucket, and swore softly to himself as he fell heavily into a haystack. He held very, very still as the two guards from earlier sauntered in and chatted with Grover for a while. From the volume of the conversation, Marius suspected that they’d had a few nips of something strong during their walk around the grounds. He grabbed his sword and scabbard, holding them tight to prevent any noise, and stood again. Suddenly he grinned wickedly and released them. His fingers darted into his spellpouch, from which he pulled a tiny ball of wool. With a few softly muttered syllables, he flicked the pinch of wool towards the three men. All three spun, putting their backs to him as they heard the scream of a mountain lion from somewhere out on the grounds. The horses nickered and neighed anxiously, and in the commotion, Marius slipped out the back of the barn into the night.