“Oh, my trousers!” Lord Jeneyeru cried.
The surprise of Captain Lafitte pouring liquor over his uninjured leg was almost enough to make the Selkie forget the knife in his side, but he was soon reminded.
The blade, having been deflected, did not seem to have penetrated very deeply, but penetrate it certainly had. With the passing seconds, Jeneyeru’s initial mental shock faded. In its place came rising pain and awareness of the hard metal inside him, but for the moment, the faintness of shock or bleeding had not hit. So he remained on his knees, strangely lucid and calm, frozen to avoid hurting himself more, in his hunter’s red attire, the Staff of Ghosts on the ground beside him. He tried to breathe without moving, in shallow gasps, and wondered what magic spell or other intervention could get him out of this sticky situation.
— — —
His Excellency, the Lord Admiral of the Grand Navigators, Ruili Windwolf Ereonis of the House of Ereon, was not one to waste time on unnecessary formalities. Therefore, he did not hang about for the various dog-and-pony shows of the local armed forces, guardian forces, or Brownie tavern loiterers.
Within half a day of seeing Y’lanna Sparti vanish down the underground stream in the custody of Brownies, he had retrieved his traveling bag, put on a blood-free green suede suit, and marched into the village of Teur, to the little tavern among the giant oak roots where he was told the local Brownies congregated. It was a tight fit for the tall Selkie in the tiny, burrow-like building, but he eased it up by tossing miscreants out the small windows until he found one who told him about the war going on at the Temple of Flidais and that rich travelers were being taken for ransoms to pay for it.
He then paid a fisherman for the loan of a boat, raised a sail, and rode the river into the Ogil Valley where, in the dark, afternoon shadows of the mountains, he came into sight of the smoke of the bandit encampment.
He beached the boat in some bushes and continued on foot towards the Temple. Keeping low, he observed a complex wooden structure in and around a copse of massive old trees rising out of a rocky hillside. The Temple building rose up towards the leafy canopy and seemed also to descend down into the rock itself, riddled with caves. The river flowed around it, but streams poured down it as well, and he was certain the underground waterway ran under it. He counted at least fifteen bandits outdoors on the side closest to him. Five were standing guard, the rest going about various chores. From the sound of things, a company of perhaps a couple hundred were encamped around the Temple on the far side of the hill.
Ruili slipped back and down to the river bank, to look for an obscure entrance into the Temple itself, but he did not get far before a hand reached out to grab him…
— — —
Shortly before that…
“Where is Baugl of Caernith?”
“Who wants to know?” The sentry’s question was punctuated by a phalanx of pike blades pointed at the newcomers who dared to ride into the camp.
“Tell him it’s Haug Handslayer of the Black Cliffs, and with me is Ashcat of Sesus. We have business of profit to discuss with him, and now is better than then if he’ll be wise.”
“Oh, aye?” a voice boomed from above, “and what wisdom does a man need to hear from the likes of you?”
Haug, Ashcat and the Sesus gangsters looked up from their tired, stolen horses at the massive, scarred and bearded hobgoblin who appeared on the rope walkway among the tree branches, straining them with the weight of his belly, armor and collection of battle-axes.
— — —
At that same time…
“I just happened to be travelling with your brother, Captain, Lord Ruili Windwolf. He and I were on the train from Sesus up here into the mountains to catch up with you when the train was hijacked. Most likely hijacked by the same bandits that have been causing our hosts’ troubles, nonetheless. I hid behind a large rock while your brother did his best to deal with the bandits and happen to get trapped in the Brownies’ netting. Your brother; he wanted to catch up with you. He had an item, something to do with your business with Mt. Isolla, that he wanted to get to you.”
“Truly?” said Peino with a sudden and deep interest. The Selkie’s dark eyes narrowed as he ran through the implications of Y’lanna’s words. When he seemed to have reached a conclusion, he smiled at the strange young woman again. “I take it you left my brother in good health. I am glad to receive you in the same condition, milady. However, my brother’s business with me is not our immediate concern. Lady Moonrain,” he turned to the faerie priestess.
“Milord.” Whatever response she may have had to the news of a Selkie brother in the picture was hidden behind a pale and radiant mask of serenity, which served to stifle the flutter among the curious faeries hiding out with them in the lower roots of the Temple.
“If I may state the obvious,” said Peino, “we cannot stay here with the enemy right above our heads. I wish to reconnoiter the camp to assess our situation and how we might best escape it.”
A quick consultation was had, with the Brownies tracing in the sand a rough map of the bandit personnel around the complex. Peino quickly dressed in fresh clothes offered (probably stolen from the very bandits I propose to spy on). Similar clothes were offered to Y’lanna, and then the priestess rose with surprising agility on her slender, deer-like legs. She slung a delicate faerie quiver and bow over her white shoulder as Peino arranged his sword and dagger. She pointed towards some rickety wooden steps out of the chamber,
“This way, milord. A passage to the surface from which we often peek at the invaders.”
The way was narrow and dark but soon led to a sliver of light leaking in around a faerie door. As the camouflaged door was shifted open, cold river air and the smell of wet green earth and cooking fires flooded in, along with the sound of bandits partying the day away.