Avar smirks, "In this neck of the woods I guess they do. Funny that mine do but I am to regard the opinions of others in the highest regard."
While Scorpion-Woman reduces Avar to self-piteous whining, Alannah, Garren and Marta barge into the library, where Oskav was just about to look around for a stool or ladder that might give him access to a flirty little volume on the ethics of Kimmanuel Iant.
Marta immediately seats herself at one of the reading tables in the room, looking a bit shaky. Even in a relatively private place, though, the girl is apprehensive, calling out, "Oh, hello? Is anyone in here?"
Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold
Oskav looks up longingly at the text and sighs. He closes his eyes and shrugs, calling out, "Don't mind me! I was just perusing our host's literary selections." Stumping around the corner, he regards the trio with skepticism and frowns.
"Are you up to no good, Lady Alannah? Should I prepare to defend us?"
Alannah scowls at the dwarf and sighs, “Ignore him, sometimes if you pretend you don’t see him, he’ll go away. Either way, you can speak freely, Oskav has no interests in the dealings of the living.”
"A-all right," agrees Marta. And then sits there, clearly not sure how to begin.
Alannah pats Marta’s hand reassuringly and sits beside her. “Now what is all this blackmail business about?”
"My father has been dealing arms to the orc clans, and Wæmunding caught him," blurts Marta.
Alannah doesn’t let her surprise show, “Well, that makes sense now. I knew merchants from were dealing in weapons with the orcs. We even rode with one of the caravans. But what is he getting with this blackmail?”
Satisfied that no one is about to burst into the room pursuing his colleagues for any kind of high-falutin' hijinx, Oskav returns to the task at hand; he ventures back into the stacks and looks up at the Iant volume again, settling on mage hand as a solution to his problem.
You might say I have a... Categorical Imperative... to pursue knowledge in all its forms, he jokes to himself; which elicits a sort of giggle that sounds like rats trapped below the deck of a sinking ship, scratching desperately at the hatch to escape. The sound is startling and unnerving enough to frighten even Baldr, who flies up to find a higher perch.
Marta gives a start as she looks over in Oskav's direction, but settles after a moment and offers, "I don't know for certain, but I think he wants to force me into a marriage. It doesn't really make sense. Father says he doesn't seem to have any debts that would make him resort to blackmail to ensure access to my dowry. He borrows against his estate incomes to get access to cash, but most noblemen do that, and then pay off the loans at harvest or shearing time or whenever." The girl frowns, and offers, "At this point, I think he just does it because we can't force him to leave us be, and he knows I loathe him."
Alannah sits back in her chair and sighs, "I despise that man more and more." She glances at Garren, "I suppose we could make the problem go away if we just..." She trails off, not quite finishing the thought.
Marta looks between Garren and Alannah, obviously unsure whether she they're discussing a murder, and just as obviously uncomfortable with it.
Baldr peers down at the trio from his new perch atop the nearest bookshelf. "Lots of places around here to hide a body," the bird croaks, as much to himself as anyone else.
Nervously, Marta blurts, "Do ravens normally help people plan murders?"
"Only if there are more than one of them," Oskav replies, pacing around the corner with his new favorite book tucked under one arm. "Ravens, I mean. There's just the one murder being discussed here. In any event, he was just thinking out loud and would never help a stranger commit a crime; at least, not one that culminated in someone's death. That's really my only rule."
Regarding the young woman squarely, the dwarf looks apologetic. "This may not be the kind of problem you can stab or poison your way out of anyway. Much better to so discredit your blackmailer that it doesn't matter what he knows about your family, or claims to know. Or perhaps a bargain can be struck?" Turning to Alannah, Oskav shrugs, "The blade for his silence?"
Marta's eyes grow wide, and she offers, "I don't think it'd be right to kill someone over this, anyway."
Alannah looks aghast at the bird's suggestion, "Yes! I was thinking more of asking for that dwarf's help... Troglodyte or something? If the Wæmundings want something from us, they may have to lay off his whole blackmail business. But of course, there's nothing to stop him from babbling afterward. Maybe we can come up with some blackmail of our own. The guy seems as dirty as they come. Anyway, you can just kill a lord outright and get away with it. Stupid bird."
"Trogar, I think. He does not seem the sort that would favor his lord carrying on this way, but may be honor-bound to intervene on Waemunding's behalf if we tip our hand. Perhaps the information broker he mentioned can point us in the right direction."
"Does he have evidence beyond what he has seen?" Garren puts his fingers on the bridge of his nose as he waits for a response. "I'm sure we could portray your father as a victim of coercion regarding the sale of weapons if necessary."
"Papers," replies Marta. "Wæmunding maintains a set of wharves just outside of the city. My father was using them to load and unload from river boats that came back and forth from Kerial's Turn, and one of the baron's officials visited for an inspection. We didn't know he'd taken them until Wæmunding came by to visit my father." The girl sags, looking despondent, but also somewhat calmed to be talking to people who seem inclined to at least consider helping her, adding, "Father doesn't think he knows enough to charge him with a crime before a magistrate, but his reputation and business would be ruined anyway. Especially now. Gods. There could even be a mob over it, as stirred up as people are because of the goblins and Imperials."
Garren gives Alannah a meaningful look.
Alannah catches Garren's eye but its evident in her slightly confused expression that she failed to pick up any transmitted innuendo. She turns back to Marta. "What is he?" she asks, referring to Wæmunding, "A baron? There's too many of those around here to keep track of."
Marta blinks, and agrees, "Yes, he's a baron."
"Psst, figured. Did he have the papers to show your father? So do you happen to know where he keeps them? I wonder if he's got them on him now?"
Marta shakes her head, "I don't know where he keeps them, but he quoted enough names and numbers to convince my father that he had genuine documents."
Alannah considers, "Would your father be willing to pay to have the evidence disappear? I wouldn't take your money, but I have friends that might be willing to help... but they don't work for free."
Marta replies, sounding uncertain, "I suppose so? I mean, it probably would depend on how much it would cost him, and exactly what someone wanted from him. But if you know someone who could help, and who's trustworthy? I should think so."
She adds, uncertainly, "But it sounds like you're talking about having someone steal the papers. And then what happens if this person decides to keep them?"
"Well, then they wouldn't be trying to marry you. They might just want more money or weapons. Which is a much more reasonable blackmail demand. Seems like a better situation."
Marta sighs, "It's not the demand that's the problem, although I'm certainly not happy to be the bride of Wæmunding," she explains, "It's the threat. If your friends decide they want to be paid for their ongoing discretion, then my father and I still would have no recourse but to accede to their demands or be exposed to scandal. Or worse."
"It seems there are only two possibilities. Either someone will leverage this material until you have done things much worse that what they allege until you refuse, and it is revealed; or you do not succumb and it is revealed. I think if someone threatens blackmail, there is little doubt that they will do it, so it is a matter of time. Coming forward now with a plausible story of duplicity combined with a sincere desire to make things right risks some in the short term, but a businessman like your father should see the advantages."
"Perhaps I should invite you to call upon my father," replies Marta, sounding troubled. "He didn't feel well tonight, but insisted that I come out anyway."
"Assuming Alannah doesn't find a way to acquire and return the incriminating material. She has a knack for getting what she wants."
"It would be wonderful if the papers suddenly disappeared from wherever Wæmunding is keeping them," Marta agrees. "Speaking for myself, I don't really want them back. I'd rather they were destroyed. Father would end up having to take a few losses on deals that he no longer has the records to support, but it was foolish of him to get involved in that kind of business in the first place. We have plenty of money."
Alannah seems likely offended at Garren's comment, "I don't... I mean, sometimes just want I want is what happens. That's all. I mean, I guess we could take the most direct approach and just suggest he give the papers to us."
"I'm game. Perhaps he would opt to follow if Marta and I were seen leaving together."
"Oh, I was thinking I might play a song for him here. Perhaps one of the ballads about his family."
"A song?" Marta looks blank. "I don't follow."
Alannah frowns, "It's ok, it's not easy to explain either. But it's simple."
"Wait, how far away do you think he might be keeping them? How long would it take to get to his estate if he left right now to retrieve them?"
"I haven't any real idea," Marta replies, puzzled. "Father and I live in the city, and I've never visited the baron's estate. His estate is on the Mereflow River, somewhere in between here and Keriel's Turn."
Alannah looks disappointed, "Oh, nevermind then. That won't work."
Hesitantly, Marta offers, "He must have a townhouse. Most aristocrats do, if they live on an estate in the country some of the time. And after he, uh, visited my father to talk to him about the papers, he mentioned that he would be at home to us if we cared to discuss the matter."
"Oh, then if they are there, it may work after all!"
"I still don't understand," Marta replies, sounding perplexed. "I'm sorry, it's probably something that's obvious to you, but I'm not," she tries again, "I don't know anything about how one goes about, uh, whatever it is that you want to do."
"Sorry, well, I guess you could say that I use magic. But it's not really. It's more to do with music. When I suggest someone do something, they usually do it." Alannah reconsiders, trying to explain it in a way that makes sense, "I play magic music?"
"Oh." Marta digests this, and then asks, "So that's why you were asking how long it takes to get there. You're trying to figure out whether he'll stay magicked long enough to go get the papers." Frowning, she asks, "Why don't you just magic him into telling you where the papers are, instead of making him go get them instead? Is that against some kind of magical law or rule or something?"
"Well, we'd still have to go get the papers but I could suggest he tell me where they are. If it works, I suppose we could do both. But doing anything with magic is dangerous and it doesn't always work and someone like little lord lecher will get upset when he realizes he's being manipulated. Suggestions are difficult because they are open to subjective interpretation." In the course of her explanation, she sounds more like she's talking herself out of it than explaining the details to Marla.
"Would he remember what happened?" Marta seems interested in spite of herself.
"Oh yes... well, he'd remember what he did. He likely won't know why he did it, but he'd remember me suggesting it and him thinking it was a good idea." She considers, "I'm sure he could put two and two together though."
"That doesn't sound like something that'll make him happy with you," Marta observes. "Why are you willing to make an enemy out of this man for the sake of a stranger?"