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"Hmmm." Willam considered the idea, turning it over in his head while he searched for a pen. "That will have to be good enough, I suppose. As long as you're willing to pay for anything he breaks or steals, I can live with having him around. Good idea, this. Glad I had it. Do what you see fit with the boy."
The quill was located, along with a pot of ink, and Tallhelm went to start taking stock of the items they'd acquired from the dead bandits. After a few steps, he paused, something else Alec had said working its way into his mind. "While you're gone? Do you mean to go off and search for the bandit encampment yourselves, then?"
"No, wouldn't want nothin' bad to happen. Then you might never find it." Thorus thought the bandit looked scared, at least a little. He was keeping his cool, though, after the initial burst of panic. Talking quickly, but quietly enough not to be overheard.
"Look, I want to deal, here. You can search the hills for the camp, and maybe find it, and maybe get the loot before it gets moved. Or I can show you, and we both get to be rich, aye?"
Cecily nods to Glaffin wordlessly. She moves to the foot of the grave and closes her eyes. She takes just a moment to recall the words before she begins to sing. The song speaks of loss and mourning for the fallen, and wishes for strength for those left among the living. She sings softly, but her voice still carries to even those furthest from her.
The song ends shortly before the others finish piling the stones. Her eyes open as she falls silent.
"Oh, no. That's why you keep Thorus around, among other reasons." Though not close enough to hear what either of the two are saying even if they spoke at normal volume, Alec gestures at the distant pair. "He'll find it, and I'll see who wants to go claim it for the caravan. If the bandits have been in this area for a while now, there's no telling what all they've collected; I can only carry so much by myself on one horse, not to mention the task of collecting the runaway mounts."
The merchant seems like his focus is wandering, which suits Alec fine, so he only keeps a hook in him for a second more: "As for our business, a verbal agreement is well and good, but the fairest thing would be to put it in writing. Would you draw up something for you, the boy, and I to sign, assuming he agrees to all of this? It'll seal my promise and keep your new worker from feeling homesick by Stormgate and telling the city watch that we kidnapped him, or some other such trouble." And it'll let Alec see both of their handwriting in one swoop. Even the contract itself might be useful at some point.
Glaffin pauses to wipe the sweat from his brow after the work is done, nodding his thanks to everyone who lent a hand. Then he walks up to Cecily, looking as if he wants to hug her, but instead lays a hand on her shoulder if she'll let him.
"We weren't ready for this, and nearly died for it. Let's... do better next time, alright?" It's a hard thing to get over, especially standing over a grave that could have been his own had his luck been a bit worse. He wonders if, when his time comes anyone else will have a shovel in hand and a song to send him off.
The half heard snatches of Tallhelm's conversation with Alec are mulling about in his head. There are hostages up in that bandit camp, and probably more bandits on top of that. From what he can see of that bandit off in Thorus' care, he's not buckling as much under pressure as Glaffin hoped.
The dwarf sets his jaw, and heads for the pile of weapons, bending down to scoop up a sheathed dagger that feels like it has a good weight to it. without missing a beat, he continues walking until he's come up even with Thorus and the prisoner.
"Good evenin' lad. I'll be yer cleric while you're in our care. That means, whatever happens to you, so long as you keep me in a good mood, I'll keep you healthy and right as rain. If fer example I took this knife." Glaffin unsheathes the dagger with a satisfying swish of well oiled leather, "And tickled your intestines with it, I could leave you bleed here for a while, come back after a good night's rest, and put you back in order. Well, mostly back in order. Only so much magic I can care to spend on a prisoner when everyone else is still ailing of course. You understand, don'tcha?" Glaffin is all smiles and cheer, even adopting what most uneducated people would consider to be a proper dwarven accent for the occasion.
"So, tell me one thing. By my count, there's seventeen of you around here including yourself. How many did we miss, and where do we go to say hello?"
Straight 1d20 since I'm making it untrained with Thorus' aura going. Going to try to aid another for Thorus, so I need a 10 or better.
So then, the boots were mundane. Nice, of course, finely tooled and well-oiled if a bit scuffed by the common wear and tear of banditry, but nice. A shame, then, that they were the wrong color entirely. Indrys sighs as he sets them down; they would clash terribly with his outfit, and he had an image to maintain, such as it was. He stands, then, and steadies the residual wobble in his leg that he hoped and prayed would shortly vanish. It does, and he breathes a sigh of relief before setting off to find the dwarf, Glaffin. As he travels - slowly, so as to reduce the impact on his recent wound - he picks up, inspects for damages, and then shoulders a longbow that he finds resting on the ground. He had neglected to take his own shortbow into battle, thinking that his spells would be enough to carry the day, and look at how that had rewarded him. This weapon, while perhaps not as finely tooled as his own, was still serviceable, had a greater range, and would propel its projectiles with a greater velocity. When he reaches his objective, he finds the dwarf indisposed by his clerical duties (namely the interrogation), and therefore he waits patiently, with his hands clasped neatly behind his back, until he is invited to speak.
"Rich, you say? What kinda stash are we talkin' about, here?" Thorus then pauses to let Glaffin speak, slightly surprised the dwarf heard enough to play along. After he finishes, Thorus sniffles and spits a glob of mucus into the grass. "Anyway, you were sayin'?"
"The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together." - Carl Sagan
"Big enough." Now that Thorus had backup, the bandit was looking a good deal more nervous. "Mostly silver, but that's almost as good as gold, aye?" With another glance at Glaffin and Indrys, the bandit jerked his head towards them. "You two want in? More than enough to go four ways, back at the camp. I can show you where it is, and there's only a few men left there. We put four as guards. Guarding each-other as much as the camp, really." Chuckling at his own joke, he looked around at the faces arrayed against him. "What do you say?"
"Oh, naturally, naturally, everything in writing, nice and legal, hm? I'll have work on that done by the time you and Thorus and whoever else gets back from catching horses. Perhaps some goods as well, if you can find the camp? Of course you'll find the camp. I have every confidence in that man's abilities as an interrogator, and there's no honour amongst thieves, they say. Rough the brigands up enough, they'll turn right over, you mark my words."
Shifting the ledger under his arm, Tallhelm gestured at the few unhitched horses, standing together under the control of a guard. "Take a few horses, when you go. Don't go riding them over hills like this, they're not meant for that. Rocks and hidden little foxholes all over the ground for them to trip up and break a leg on. Horses are expensive, I've said it before, so be sure mine aren't injured. Now, I've got to take note of everything we collected, so you'll have to excuse me."
Finished helping to build the grave, Laelaer bows her head and whispers, "Gods guide your soul." Adding her own rite to the ceremony, she unties the waterskin from her belt and uncorks it, spilling a few drops on the grave. A brief word of prayer in her native tongue completes the offering. It was a simple thing, but in her homeland, there often wasn't time for anything more.
The drowess moves on, heading back towards the wagon train. She finds a group of guards taking stock of the items stripped from the fallen bandits. Still looking for anything useful, Laelaer looks over the collected pile. One item stands out from the rest: a masterfully crafted blade. Wondering why no one else had claimed it, the duskblade pulls it from the pile and gives it a few experimental swings. A grin spreads across her face. The curved sword was beautifully balanced, easily following the motions she put it through.
"I'm taking this." Laelaer informs the guards, her tone leaving little room for arguments. She doubted more than a handful of people in the caravan knew how to use such a weapon, and who among them could wield if half as well as she? The drowess puts the saber through a flashy spin before sliding it through her belt and walking on.
Glaffin looks from Indrys to Thorus. Four men? He'd rather go with six if that was the case. Even if Thorus could heal, and Indrys still had spells left at hand, he liked their odds better if they outnumbered the enemy.
There's no way he would take the bandit with them either. He'd rather trust literally anyone else, even that kid in the wagon with a knife at his throat.
Well now there's an idea...
"Why don't we send someone to squeeze a bit of info out of our other prisoner? If this one keeps wheedling and won't tell us where the camp is, a bit of leniency for the other might loosen their lips more." The boy had to have been around the camp, and if he could point them in the right direction, they might not need to deal with this conniver at all.
Cecily (belatedly) nods to Glaffin. "Yeah, we will." She gives him a slight smile. She's gone through hard times in the past before. She'll bounce back from this like she has everything else.
When a gathering is rather apparet around the prisoner, and considering Glaffin among them, the bard goes to investigate just in time to catch what the dwarf says last. "I could talk to him. I'm sure I could get him to help us." She offers.
Seeing other people come by, Thorus decides he can pop out for a minute. He mumbles "Be right back," to nobody in particular and strides over to the fallen bandit leader. Thankful that he doesn't have to bully someone else for the armor, he starts trying to unceremoniously extract the well-crafted armor from the corpse. He is careful not to harm or damage the armor at all, but cares for little else, including the sanctity of the dead.
"The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together." - Carl Sagan
If any of the guards had objections to Laelaer taking the weapon, none voiced them. The display of mastery drew forth a few smiles, but they seemed mostly pre-occupied with discussing how to spend their new coin. Thorus, collecting the armour, was similarly unchallenged. Then Tallhelm strode up, carrying a fat book under one arm, and a quill and inkwell in his hands. The merchant flipped the book open and started taking stock of the remaining weapons and armour, talking as he went.
"A fine haul, don't you think? Little extra money for the men, and perhaps some more once this is all sold off. I'm not sure what the market will be like in Seabreak, don't imagine we'll be able to shift it all there, but perhaps once we reach Stormgate... plenty of men in need of supply in the city, hm?"
"Other prisoner?" The bandit looked confused, raising an eyebrow at Glaffin. "The elf and his spell got the better of me, but I think I can still count. You killed the other lads, didn't you?"
The other prisoner was right where Alec had left him. Once untied, he accepted the hand up after a moment's hesitation. "I'm Adrian, sir. Adrian Cooper." Looking at his surroundings, the empty coil of rope and the unguarded wagon, he paused, unsure of what to say next.
"D'you mean to let me go? Only, that merchant, he seemed fair upset earlier."
Glaffin snorts, "How do you think we knew where you'd be? We caught one of you snooping around even before we came across you. Now, you can either shut your trap or tell us where the camp is. I'm not going to suffer any more of your conniving peacefully." The dwarf tests the edge of the dagger on a thumb, waiting for Cecily to come back with whatever she can get from the boy.
"All you're doing by denying us that information is ruining your only chance at leniency for yourself. We're not letting you go to get a share of money yourself. You lost that when you and your fellows collapsed in the dirt, and only a bit of fate made it so you even got up again. Be thankful for your life, for as long as you'll have it."
"William Tallhelm, yes," Alec supplies. "I can't say he's happy. Well, he's happy in a general sense, now that we're all still alive. That might've inspired a little leniency on his part. He's agreed to give you a few options--" that's certainly true; agreeing was involved, "--and I came to discuss them with you. Unless you're fond of this wagon for some reason, we can talk while we walk. We're leaving to find your friends soon, Mister Cooper, and you can come along if you like. In fact, it's more convenient if you do; otherwise, I'll have to stay behind. I'm to keep an eye on you while you're with the caravan."
Cecily nods to the others and heads toward where the boy was left. Along the way she spots the obsidian charm on another of the bandits. It barely takes her a moment to grab it and continue on her way.
Looks like she's beaten to the punch by Alec, however. The bard holds back, moving just close enough so that she can overhear what they're saying, assuming they don't lower their voices for whatever reason.
"Seems I ain't likely to have it much longer, anyhow." The bandit sighed. "So, you caught the bait? Explains that, but he don't know where the camp is. How many landmarks you think there are in these hills? You want the money to yourself, fine, but I ain't telling you where it is until you let me go. Don't like that, too bad, you'll be rotting alongside my corpse before you ever find it."
"Alright. Can't say I much care to stare at the inside of this wagon much longer." Hopping lightly down to the road, Adrian turned to wait for Alec.
"If I'm getting options, that means you won't just turn me in, right?"
"That's the first option. Mister Tallhelm thinks that the hard labor and strictness of prison would be good for you; I told him I didn't think you'd like that. I take it I was right."
Alec sees Cecily and gives her a small smile and polite nod, perhaps indicating that he's glad to see she's recovered. He steps around to Adrian's opposite side so that she can come closer and walk with them if she likes.
"Before I tell you about your alternatives, I want to warn you of the obvious: we're still on the site of the battle. I don't know if you've ever seen a dead body before. We have a number of them lying around. The aftermath of even small war is usually a shock until you've become familiar with it, so take your time if you need to."
Indrys glances at the others before smiling down at their prisoner. It is a cold smile, a smile of imperious authority that sits easily on his features, and it speaks volumes without a single word. One of the phrases implied by the smile could be understood as Is that so? or, We'll see about that. There are other things in that smile, especially when he briefly quirks his upper lip to reveal a flashing glimpse of white, white teeth, but we'll not speak of that now. "Gentlemen," he says, his voice calm and even. "Let us not be swayed by thoughts of treasure, as there is silver to be earned in town regardless. Instead, let us remember that our primary goal is the rescuing of hostages. Their lives should matter more than coin, yes? Besides, we cannot trust so recent an enemy to tell us the truth, not even to save himself. We would find his dagger in our backs before too long." He looks down his nose at the bandit. "Sir Glaffin, I offer my services. I believe that I can wring the truth from him without the need for violence." He quirks his lip again, prompting another pearly-white flash for the bandit. The meaning of that should be obvious.
The dwarf considers Indrys' offer, and nods decisively.
"By all means, see what you can get. If you don't get anything, We'll just have to bargain a bit more, won't we lad?" In his head, The dwarf is already thinking about a search plan. These hills can conceal, but not nearly so much as a dense forest could. With enough people, they could fan out and easily comb over the hills using whatever the boy could give them. It was nowhere near as hopeless as the bandit made it out to be.
In fact... if there was a tracker among the guards, the horse's hoofprints could lead them straight back to the camp. It would take longer than being lead by directions, but it was an option, and probably far easier than spreading out.
"There's an easy way to get the camp, and the money, I already told you. You untie me, I tell you where it is, and then we never see each other again. Why d'you want to go making this complicated?" The words were brave, but it was clear the bandit didn't really want to see, or experience, exactly what Indrys was talking about.
"Aye, sir." Adrian took a few steps forward, peering around the wagons. Perhaps a sense of morbid curiosity compelled him; whatever the case, he caught sight of the bodies on the hill. They weren't close enough to see details, but it was still enough to elicit a curse. "God damn, there's a lot of them. How many were there? Not saying it's less than they had coming, but..."
Given the circumstances, Alec doesn't correct the profanity. He surveys the carnage too; considering it in Adrian's mindset makes him feel younger for a moment, and reminds him of earlier days.
"Hmm, yes," he says thoughtfully. This is a good platform from which to start. Some sympathy for the fallen is beneficial, in his opinion, particularly in the beginning when death seems like a bad thing rather than an inevitable transition in the chain. That can be worn down gradually if necessary; in the case of the alternative, it's very hard to mold a sociopath into anything but a sociopath.
"You may be right. These men attacked us for our belongings, and they kidnapped you and your friends for their own purpose. How do you feel about their end?"
"Be not afraid." The words are kind, almost gentle, but when they come from his mouth, that smiling mouth, they can be interpreted as anything but. "We will not harm you," he continues, and this time it's his eyes that flash, glinting in the sun like two gold coins. The gray elf motions to his allies with a hand. "Take a step or so back, please. Can't you see how nervous you've made him?" With that said, Indrys kneels down beside the captured bandit so as to look him in the face, smoothing his coat as he does, to prevent any wrinkles. "There now. That's better. Please excuse my allies; the battle has put them on the edge, I think. I would say that there has been enough violence today already, though, wouldn't you?" That glinting smile! Those flashing eyes! "I much prefer it when everyone is getting along, don't you? When everyone is nice and friendly with each-other, and no one is afraid of anyone else. It's so much better than crude threats of cruel punishments, in my opinion. I much prefer cooperation to confrontation." His voice has lowered to a whisper, so that the bandit has to strain to hear his words. "Will you cooperate, my friend?"
Standard: Indrys will cast Hypnotism on the bandit, in an attempt to make his attitude two steps more friendly. It's an Enchantment spell, so the DC is raised to 16 thanks to Indrys' Spell Focus feat. To avoid the -2 DC penalty that would normally be caused by focusing the spell on only a single target, Indrys will allow some of the magic to spill over Glaffin who, as a Cleric, likely has the willpower to resist. Sorry, Slii! Finally, and really as more of a formality than anything else, the spell can affect (2d4) HD's worth of targets.
Glaffin steps back, curious as to Indrys' methods. The beguiling elf certainly thought highly of the dwarf for some reason, but how much of that was dissembling and how much was genuine awe Glaffin had yet to see. It would be a treat to watch the elf work his own spells, and take a measure of his true ability.
Even a sturdy craftsman like Glaffin can appreciate the study of magic. Some things could not be crafted so ably without calling upon arcane and eldritch forces, or beseeching the gods for their aid.
Watching Indrys, the bandit seemed to find something fascinating about the elf. His eyes, perhaps, or the way he was speaking. His objections ceased, lips slowly moving to repeat what Indrys was saying. "Yeah..." he said, nodding his head. "Yeah, cooperation is better. Lot better than threats."
Turning his head to look past the group, into the hills, he spoke again, sounding dazed. "You want the money, right? It's hidden. Buried, in a chest, under a rock. You'll know the rock, it's right on the edge of camp. Too big to move."
Adrian stopped to think, looking at the hill and its collection of bodies. "Well, sir..." he said, scratching under his chin. "Over a dozen dead, that ain't supposed to be good. But then, they weren't good people, neither, were they? I don't know for sure, but I ain't really sad to see 'em gone."
Judging by his kind smile, that's more or less the answer he'd hoped for. "Yes, no one can argue they didn't bring this on themselves. You can't raise your sword to someone and then complain if they kill you first. But like you say, this isn't supposed to be good." Not even by Alec's code; he wants people to succeed at their tests, although in cases like this, someone probably has to lose. "But not just because of their numbers. We don't know why all of them chose this life; some for greed or bloodlust, probably, yes, but others might not have felt they had a choice. People have done stranger and harsher things to provide for their families; some might've even been brought into the crew by threat of violence, like you were. That doesn't mean they weren't responsible for their decisions, but all the same, we shouldn't hate them out of habit or treat them like they aren't people. All of them had parents; most had brothers or sisters; some had kids. Some respect and courtesy is still in order. At this stage, we can't give them much more than a decent send-off, so when we get to Seabreak tomorrow, I'll be speaking with the locals to see if we can find any of their families in this area. Putting their burials or burnings off for a day or two seems better than a quick, mass grave right now."
Bandits and farmers, kings and pirates, they all should have some of the same basic privileges. Alec's list of rights merely includes some uncommon items in addition to a funeral with someone who cares. Whether or not his bandit victim had that final ceremony in mind, at least it met that criterion.
By this time, Thorus has meandered back over to the now-hypnotized bandit and company, clutching his newly-found prize. He'll put it on later, he decides, after they get the opportunity to rest. The sudden shift in the prisoner's attitude elicited a raised eyebrow from Thorus; he could only assume a spell had been cast. He spits into the grass and sits himself down on a rock (or, failing that, simply the ground) and waits for events to unfold. He did not wish to get in the way of magic he did not know the parameters of.
"The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together." - Carl Sagan
"That's good, my friend," says the elf, his voice soft, soothing, as though speaking to a favored pet. One might almost expect him to reach out a thin-fingered hand so as to ruffle the bandit's hair in gratitude. "Thank you. But I need you to tell me more about the camp. Can you do that? How many guards are posted there? What sort of resistance might we expect? Where are the hostages being kept?" His questions are spoken rapidly, and in quick succession, so as to prevent the bandit's mind from forming a mental resistance. Indrys has had some experience with this spell, having used it once before, back at Shadeveil, to coerce a teacher's aide into lending him the keys to the university observatory. That quiet night spend gazing up at the evening sky had made the gross violation of mental sanctity seem almost worth it. But here, lives were at stake... not to mention the wealth to be gained. But it was the lives of the hostages, hanging in the balance, that drove him on. It truly was. He must believe that, or be sickened by himself. It was the hostages.