The White Badge of Deceit; Chapter 5

The journey was always one of Twitch’s favorite parts of any job. He had always loved visiting new places, meeting new people, and learning songs from far-flung regions. He believed that music was the ultimate passport for a nomadic soul. Once you learned the songs of a people, you became a welcome guest. If you were able to create new songs in the style of another people, then you became one of them. Even if you had trouble speaking their language, knowing their music was a terrific way to communicate whatever was in your heart, and that had proven time and time again the easiest way for Twitch to slide right into acceptance with otherwise hostile foreigners.

The first day of travelling was spent riding across the rolling plains of Dreicounty, the north central Grafdom of Slothjemia. This was a very large territory, and had been conquered many decades ago when the three original counts that ruled this region between the Slothjemian Coreland swamps and the Grey Alps to the northwest had started a war with the goblinoids. They had lost that war, and their lands were absorbed into Slothjemia. Most of the original inhabitants of this land fled to Geldenreich, but after ten years or so a majority of those refugees began to move back. Slothjemia welcomed them; as long as they resumed their agricultural livelihoods and set aside any rebellious ambitions. There were no large cities in Dreicounty, just small towns and villages wherever the roads happen to cross. The population was overwhelmingly human, but there were several demihuman and nonhuman controlled farms and ranches. Most of the nobles were human, restored to their previous prominence by the Slothjemians once they had proven their loyalty. The top of the power pyramid however was still tightly controlled by the swamp orcs, also known as jors. Dreicounty was a bucolic place, and Slothjemia liked it that way. They had enough trouble everywhere else on the map, a calm northern frontier was of great comfort.

The end of his first day found Twitch in the small fortress town of Aburlya. There was a Slothjemian army garrisoned here, tasked with making sure Dreicounty remained the peaceful food production center that the goblinoids needed it to be. The shadow elf took a room in one of the towns three inns, and as partial payment for his lodging, he agreed to entertain in the adjoining tavern for a couple of hours. He had plenty of money, but it would be out of character for a travelling minstrel to simply pay and go to sleep. The struggling artiste as a cover story brought with it a certain amount of play acting. It also brought terrific opportunities to watch and study people. Twitch played several tunes, and told a few stories, and left his small audience delighted and satisfied. He then retired to his room, checked over his belongings to insure everything was safe, and then went to bed.

In the morning, he rose just before dawn and quickly gathered up his baggage, and got Sixx ready for the day. Two patrols were leaving the town at dawn heading the direction he was, up the road that curved northward around the Grey Alps. One was a foot patrol, the other was mounted on horseback. It was this second patrol that Twitch wanted to tag along with. As he took Sixx out to the center square of town he saw the patrols forming up. There were several people who were going to take advantage of a free armed escort. Some slower wagons and carts would end up travelling with the foot patrol. A few folks with horses would ride along behind the mounted patrol. This included Twitch, a baron and his squire who were heading to their property not far out of town, and a fairly wealthy merchant and his wife who were going to the Grey Alps. Everyone was pleased to have the elven bard along and it was obvious they were looking forward to some travelling entertainment.

As they rode Twitch had ample opportunity to learn about his travelling companions. The baron was a young human who had only recently inherited his father’s manor. His name was Rolker von Jondrar and he fancied himself to be quite the adventurer. His squire was named Ulger, a middle-aged goblin who had the scars of a creature well-adapted to getting the sons of wealthy men out of trouble. At no point did Ulger speak during the day, but whenever Twitch glanced over at him the goblin would smile. The bard and the squire shared a familiar passion for doing their duty in the shadow of greater personalities, of doing great deeds that polished somebody else’s reputation. Twitch liked the goblin instinctively.

The merchant and his wife were both human, and introduced themselves as Bort and Gerda Fenstelt. They were purveyors of fine cloth. They were headed to the Grey Alps to arrange the purchase of some dwarven cloth, the kind that were interwoven with metallic threads. Clothing made from such cloth was ideal for persons of discriminating taste who might want to have some protection against being backstabbed while out of their armor. It wasn’t real armor of course, but Bort and Gerda spoke so glowingly of its properties that the baron and the mounted patrol were pretty well convinced that a mere undershirt crafted from this cloth could stop a ballista bolt.

Twitch did his part to keep spirits up as the group made their way across the rolling plains. To the northwest they could see the towering mountains of the Grey Alps. Over the horizon to the east were the Kragalian Alps, the sprawling mountain range where Slothjemia and Romillia met. The bard sang some songs about dwarves, and one that he had composed years earlier about the battle of Garvin’s Gap, a pivotal event in the war between Romillia and Slothjemia. After hearing him sing that song, Gerda wiped tears from her eyes. “It’s almost as though you had been there! Such feeling!” Twitch had to turn away and bite his lip to keep from laughing and ruining the mood.

The soldiers they were riding with were from the 3rd Army, and they heartily enjoyed the music. Especially the songs that spoke of prowess in battle. They had not had such an enjoyable patrol in a long time. Everybody was having a good day and the trip went by very quickly.

That evening the group rode into the unfortunately named village of Turda. The running gag for the men of the patrol was for them to comment something along the lines of “what is that smell?” or “place looks like a latrine depot.” Coarse laughter all the way around, the humor of the uneducated brute. The reality of Turda was that it was a delightful little place. Nestled at the edge of the plains where the Grey Alps began their majestic ascent upwards to the clouds, it boasted several granaries and a small castle for protection. There were few highwaymen these days, and no rampaging armies to defend against, so the town was for the most part wide open. The army patrol said their goodbyes to the civilian travelers, and headed for the castle to bivouac. The travelers headed to the inn.

Continuing to keep up the appearance of a poor musician, Twitch bartered for his room and board. Fully provided, in exchange for entertaining the other guests. He stowed his belongings, tended to Sixx, and then enjoyed his dinner. Afterwards he played for the folks. He chose not to sing, just to play the mandolin. While he played he watched the other people in the room. He wasn’t watching for anything in particular, just trying to keep his skills honed.

Twitch turned in to his room when everyone else decided it was time for sleeping. He spent a goodly amount of time studying his spellbook, and went over the next few days of travel in his mind. Two days to cut through the Grey Alps, and then two more days across the plains on the other side to the city of Debreken. That last day would be the real challenge. All of it would be in Geldenreich, and Twitch would have to stay on his toes. He closed his spellbook and laid back on the bed. He closed his eyes and went over in his mind the outlay of Debreken. His recall of the city from the documents he had been given by the fat man in black was perfect. Until he drifted off to sleep, he kept going over the mental image of the map in the dossier. He was looking forward to seeing the city in person.

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