"Because I don't like him. And so far this party is boring. And what do I care if he doesn't like me?"
"You seem to have political ambitions independent of your family's interests, Lady Alannah, and he could be dangerous to those even if he isn't personally dangerous to you," replies Marta, suddenly very sober. "Not that I want to talk you out of whatever it is that you believe you can do to help my and my father's situation. Gods know we can use all the help we can get."
Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold
Alannah looks surprised and as if she suddenly remembers that she does, at least to some extent, worry about what happens to her family. "Oh, I mean, you are right. If I were to just 'magic' him" Alannah pauses, questioning the use of the word, "It may not even work, but it would certainly make him mad and an enemy. I was thinking it didn't matter, as I'd be leaving soon, but I guess they would have to deal with him once I'm gone."
"So, do you know of a way we could help that isn't so... obvious?"
"Can you use magic to make him forget things?" Marta asks, tentatively. "I suppose that might help. But otherwise, I'm afraid I don't see any way that you can intervene without making an enemy out of him, other than by tricking him without getting caught at it, or offering him something that he would consider a fair trade for the papers."
Alannah frowns with disappointment, "I don't know of any magic within my abilities that would aid in altering memory. Though the premise is fascinating. As most magically effects are not permanent, he'd remember after they wore off. I think anyway."
"But that brings us full circle to the most obvious solution. Wæmunding wants us to find his family's blade, so we have something... or will... that he wants." She turns reluctantly toward Oskav, "Could you ask your friend... Trog something? To come to join our little discussion absent of his lord? Speaking to him on the matter seems like a good idea and striking a deal over it seems like the most direct approach as murder and enchanting are out of the question."
"He is not my friend, but I can ask. I will make it sound as little like a conspiracy as possible." Oskav bows and holds his arm up for Baldr; and when the bird finds his perch, the dwarf turns and stumps out of the room to go find Trogar.
"Men are the only animals that devote themselves, day in and day out, to making one another unhappy. It is an art like any other. Its virtuosi are called altruists." - H.L. Mencken
"I have an idea. If we can't get the papers we can make them appear illegitimate. If someone were to be caught forging paper of that type, the real ones would appear suspect."
Marta frowns, "So . . . you're proposing to frame a forger who happens to be producing faked copies of invoices from my father's counting house? Or are you suggesting that my father and I should find a forger, hire this person to fake the documents, and then," she trails off, seeming puzzled.
"If you arranged to have forged documents created, you could have them delivered to yourself but claim it was 'in error' and they were supposed to have been delivered to Wæmunding. Coming out with a claim that someone is trying to frame you and blackmail you will cast doubt on any actual attempts to blackmail you. As long as this creates a distraction before war comes, people won't have time to follow up on it. There may be a dark mark as some people believe the rumors, but it should remove the sting of true consequences.
"Why would my father have these documents delivered to the baron?" Marta asks, visibly perplexed by this suggestion. "Their only business with one another is that Wæmunding owns the docks father uses, and so he collects a fee for their use. The fact is that he stole these documents, although I don't imagine the mob will care about such niceties. In any case, this sounds like a peculiarly complicated story to tell to people."
Alannah nods in agreement, "I'm sorry Garren. It might be a great plan, but I don't know if I follow either."
Marta asks, "Do you think it's plausible that the orcs in the northern mountains would hire out their services as soldiers? Mercenaries, I mean? I don't know anything about how you'd even arrange such a thing, but if they were hired to intervene in the fighting with the goblins, or even against the elves, then at least that would make father look less . . . traitorous. That way, he could pass it off that he was arming his hired guards, rather than hostile savages."
Alannah nods at the suggestion, "I had to hire orcish mercenaries north of Morville... or what was once Morville. I think it was more of a coincidence than a standard, but they were all killed before I had too much time to strike up a conversation with any of them to find out more." She pauses to think, "Mercenaries come from all races, I don't think it would be unreasonable to think he might have hired some."
The girl nods, a thoughtful gleam in her eyes. "But it couldn't just be any orcs. They'd have to come from that general area, and preferably from the groups he was dealing with. All the same, uh, clan. Or tribe. I don't actually know anything about orcs or what they call their social groupings. But this makes sense to you?"
"It does. I don't know if Chuul could be helpful here, but we can introduce you if you think it might."
"I wouldn't like to drag him away from the party if you think he's having fun," Marta replies, ignorant of what Chuul is like and how bored he probably is right now.
Alannah chuckles softly, "Oh, I don't think you have to worry about that. Nothing here will be his idea of fun. He's just here because the rest of us came."
Marta accepts this comment with equanimity—attending a social function you don't really want to attend is right in her wheelhouse—and replies, "Then if you think he would be willing to offer some insight, I would be glad to talk to him."
While Marta, Alannah and Garren are arguing the relative sanity of various plans to deal with Wæmunding's blackmail scheme, Oskav's halting progress takes the wizard ever farther from the books and ever closer to the noise and movement of the ball. But he keeps his eyes peeled, and spots the dwarf he's looking for, not far away from where he left him after their last discussion.
Trogar is basically alone, and is propping up the wall as he watches the dancers drifting around the ballroom. He looks bored, but at this point he's eaten. So the only things to do, really, are to dance, gamble, gossip, or get drunk. None of which seem to appeal to the paladin.
Oskav approaches the paladin by entering his field of vision at the earliest opportunity, extending his fellow dwarf the courtesy of not appearing to creep up on him. "Master Trogar," he begins, clearing his throat. "I believe my colleagues and I have need of your counsel. We have begun discussing the matter you brought to us in earnest, but something else has come to our attention; something that might concern your lord, and perhaps even you, by extension."
Baldr interjects. "Probably nothing, right? But maybe you can clear it up for the woman who talks too much and says too little."
Oskav winces. "What he means to say is, Lady Alannah would be grateful for your counsel. I will say no more in mixed company, and would rather not involve you at all, but you really might be able to help us move forward with the quest to recover your lord's missing heirloom if we can put this to bed first."
Trogar spares a careful look across the dance floor to where his lord is still chatting with the Milkmaid, then replies, "I would be glad to help, if I can. Please, lead on."
In spite of his limp, it isn't too long before Oskav returns with Trogar in tow. The mustachioed dwarf enters the library, looking curious but not apprehensive.
Alannah turns to address the dwarf as he enters the library, only allowing a moment to close the door, "So, are you aware of your lord's plot to blackmail the patriarch of a local family so just so he can get into the skirts of this man's daughter?" She makes a dramatic pause, "And this is the lord you want our assistance in to recover his family heirloom?"
Trogar's expression immediately shifts from curiosity to something like a mix of displeasure and embarrassment. After a moment of stony silence, he grates out, "No. I was not. If I may ask without giving offense, what evidence have you as support for this allegation?"
Alannah motions to Marta, "Only the word of the girl he is trying to possess. Oh, and the conversation I've overheard while at the party. Though he did not speak of it outright, it was enough to corroborate what I've been told." She sighs, pacing a moment, "It's far from the most abhorrent thing I've heard of a noble doing in this city, but I've taken a liking to Marta here and a great disliking to your lord."
"I'll still help you, as I think what you've asked of me could only help," she pauses, trying to come up with the right word, "improve your lord's dispositions. However, I will not do so until I have the evidence he holds over her. I will not deal with someone who will coerce a girl into his bed by threatening her family. But if the evidence goes missing, I may forget this business ever happened."
The paladin's brows crease as he sinks into thought, clearly irritated (but it's not clear whether he's irritated as his lord or Alannah). After an uncomfortably long silence, he growls, "I can't say I approve of this development," then demands, "What kind of evidence? I take it that you mean the material you claim he is using to blackmail this young woman's father. What is the matter being held over his head?"
Alannah nods at Marta, "Tell him what you will. Garren tells me he's one of his order, which means I trust him, so should you." She studies the dwarf for a moment, "Besides, if he's also in service to the Baron, he's become an expert in handling delicate situations which may be best resolved best without damaging a family's reputation."
Trogar glances at Garren, and demurs, stiffly, "Moonguard Baur and I are of the same faith, but I'm not a priest. The nature of my commitment to Lady Moon is different." His demeanor softens a little as Marta stares at him, and he adds, "I will not promise anything except that I shall try to do the right thing by everyone concerned in this matter, young woman, even if it ultimately displeases the Baron." He still looks deathly serious, however. "If you would, please explain yourself."
The young woman makes a face, and then replies, "The Baron caught my father smuggling weapons into the mountains. He confiscated some papers when they were being loaded onto river boats at his docks, and he's been asking us to give him reasons why he shouldn't, uh, shouldn't," she breaks off into sniffles.
The dwarf takes a slow breath, stone faced, and replies, "I see."
"As I'm sure is obvious, the weapons were intended for what many would take as the wrong sorts of people. That's at least ambiguous in my mind, but even the appearance of providing material support to an enemy in war time is likely to become a capital offense."
"Yes," replies Trogar, gravely, "it would be quite a serious matter even in peacetime. Now, young woman—Marta, was it? Padishar Meel is your father?" He pauses only to see her nod, then continues, "Is it clementines he was dealing with? Or tuskers?"
"O-orcs," the girl manages.
Trogar looks slightly relieved, and nods a little, "Very well, then. I am willing to assist in this matter, but I will have conditions. Moonguard Baur is correct that this is a matter of life and death. The Baron's handling of his discovery has been unacceptable, and what is more, it places him at incredible risk if it becomes known that he has kept your father's crimes a secret. I will not allow him to continue to dangle the matter over your heads, but in return for my forbearance, your father will have to make amends for what he has done. At a minimum, he will have to satisfy me that the flow of arms to these orcs has halted. Permanently."
The girl nods immediately, looking relieved, "Yes, of course that's best. I was thinking that perhaps he could hire them as mercenaries on the city's behalf, and that way they'd be involved as allies instead of enemies. Do you think that's a good idea, Sir Trogar?"
The dwarf waves a hand absently, "I don't know a lot about orcs, young lady. Never had much to do with 'em, even before I was sworn to the Baron. If you have access to some kind of expert in such matters, I'd be willing to listen to what this person has to say, but on the whole I'm not terribly sanguine about anything that involves having them closer to civilized folk, or better armed than they already are."
He purses his lips, causing his enormous mustache to bristle like a walrus or seal's whiskers, and muses, "As for mercenaries in general? The problem is that you're paying 'em, and they want to live to spend it. Makes 'em treacherous if things go poorly, and slow to rush into the press when things are going well. Combine that with them being savages, and . . ." he shrugs, "I can't say I like the idea."
"Mercenaries have their purposes, orc or not. It all depends on their contract and whether you are hiring a company that cares about repeat work. Individuals may be little better than overpaid levies or conscripts, but with the war coming, I do not think we should turn down any swords we may have access to. However, you may have a point about an armed orc company near Port Hope. Though I share none of the prejudices of some people around the city, it would cause more unrest than peace of mind. But I think they could make fine irregulars, especially if put under the proper commander. I even know one raising a company right now that could likely use some extra funding and men."
Soberly, Trogar points out, "Some of the orcs may be willing to sign on as mercenaries, certainly. But they have no cause to love Port Hope, and no bond of lasting friendship with this city and its customs. Nor any history of old grudges against the clemmies. They'd be held to our cause only by greed and whatever respect they might bear for their commander. There's no disputing that they're doughty warriors." He waves a hand dismissively, "If you and your father wish to seek an arrangement, Mistress Meel, then I shall not gainsay you provided that your father does not arm them with fresh weapons. That's my sticking point, if I'm to assist you in this matter of my lord the baron's importuning."
Alannah nods in approval and turns to Marta, "It seems like the best outcome for this situation. Unless you'd rather share a bed with that slime... I guess there's still that way out as well if you aren't sure." She smiles at the girl, "And if you honor Trogar's requirements, I was not kidding. My brother is raising a company and traveling with one of our former companions to fight the goblinoids. He's a clever man and Jalen is experienced, together they could make a difference, but only if their soldiers are properly equipped and paid. Your family's recompense could really help all of the valley. My brother is here, I should introduce you."
Trogar breaks into the discussion, "I have stayed as long as I dare. Mistress Meel, you and your father may expect a message from me when I have acquired the papers my lord has in his keeping. I will watch your father's affairs closely for further evidence of misbehavior on his part, and I will destroy his papers when I am satisfied that he has halted his trade with the orc clans and will not sell arms to them again."
"Lady Alannah and Master Hruthsson. Moonguard Baur. I appreciate your bringing this matter to my attention, and I hope that we shall meet again under happier circumstances. Please do keep our previous discussion in mind." The dwarf sketches a bow to the four of you, and adds, "Now, I must rejoin the party before my liege notices that I am gone and decides to come looking for me, so please excuse me. I bid you peace and safety in your endeavors."
He makes for the door, briskly, as Marta replies, "I, uh, yes. Thank you, Sir Trogar. Truly." After he has stepped out of the room, she looks to Alannah, and asks, "Is your brother the man in the strange goblin mask who was with the Earl, earlier this evening?"
"Hobgoblin, actually." She too moves to the door, expecting the other woman to follow, "Let's leave Oskav in peace with his books. If my brother hasn't become bored and left already, I'll introduce you."
"He didn't look bored," replies Marta, cheerfully. "I think I saw him dancing with Baroness Rightwood earlier. Several times. And Olga Sam before that, and before her it was a halfling woman. Ewell, I think is her surname. Some kind of ambassador from the plains tribes. It was quite a pairing, and for a moment I thought he was dancing with a little girl. But then I realized she's a halfling."
"I will leave you ladies to this new business. I'll see if I can find more trouble. Or Avar. I think he plans to stay late enough to take someone home."
As the first meeting of your little conspiracy breaks up, Chuul and Avar are still in the drawing room, and growing increasingly bored, when a man dressed in a somewhat unconvincing hobgoblin costume strolls in.
He's clearly looking for someone. His costume isn't bad, once Chuul has a minute to look at it. It's just that the fellow stands somewhat less than six feet tall, and "average" height for a hobgoblin is just under seven feet. A lot of the details actually are pretty good; he's got a fake spear that is properly one-handed, with the right sort of long, leaf-shaped blade for its head. If it weren't made of paper, it would be a decent replica of the genuine article. There's a big bullhide shield slung across his back, and he's laced into a sort of leather corselet of the kind that the goblinoids prefer as armor. He's even barefoot, and his exposed skin is painted a dusky reddish orange. Best of all, he's wearing a really exceptional mask that features a large blue nose. Obviously, this guy has done his homework. Chuul has seen hobgoblins before.
After a moment, Avar recognizes him as Alannah's brother.
"Looking for your sister Boromil? I thought you two were conspiring together somewhere." Avar asks Avar wryly.
Boromil steps closer to Avar and Chuul, and answers the paladin, sounding annoyed, "Only so I can avoid her. I'm looking for an elf woman dressed in a sort of wolf costume. Alannah interrupted me while I was dancing with her so that she could harangue me about something, and now I can't find her."
After a moment's consideration, Chuul speaks up. "Pitted against others here, your costume is remarkably good. Whoever put it together knew hobgoblins."
"Thank you," replies Boromil, cheerfully. "Jalen helped me put it together. He seems to be something of an expert."
Avar offers, "Haven't seen her, either of them, for awhile." The paladin looks around as he responds.
"Its good to hear Jalen has met you. He is an honorable man. Seems so at least."
"He is," confirms Chuul, though he doesn't elaborate about which statement he was confirming.
The young man nods. "He'll be serving as a major in my newly formed regiment. Alannah's willingness to introduce him to me was fortunate for both of us, I think. She must think as highly of him as she does of the rest of you." Despite his willingness to stop and talk, his gaze is roving endlessly, presumably in search of the elf woman, and he asks, "If you see that elf lady, would one of you do me the kindness of slowing her down? I'm going to be wandering around for the next hour or so, trying to spot her."
"It apppears your busy Boromil but, if I may, what regiment?"
Avar appears thoroughly curious.
Boromil explains, "Mine. I purchased a colonelcy yesterday morning, and tomorrow I'll begin recruiting a regiment of light cavalry to follow my colors." A little surprised, he offers, "We don't have standing armies here, Sir Avar. Instead, those who're willing to serve as officers in time of war purchase a commission from the Surcaptain's cashier. When the Archduke calls his officers to war, they're obliged to raise troops and rally to his banner. The duchy pays a predetermined allowance for basic equipment and provisions, as well as the wages for a stipulated number of men."
"Huh. Seems like an efficient way to get a bunch of farmers and blacksmiths on the battlefield," opines Chuul. "The pay would have to be better than a laborer would make, so I doubt the duchy would pay for more time than it would take for the most cursory of training. Maybe cavalry is different? You will be giving these soldiers competent training before fielding them, I hope?"
"I'm going to recruit veterans, mostly. They'll want higher pay, but I won't have to feed, clothe, house and pay them for months on end before they're ready to ride." Boromil looks hopefully toward the door as someone comes in, but wilts visibly as it proves not to be the elf woman he's searching for, but rather a servant with a tray of drinks. Ignoring the beverages, he explains, "I'll try to get the jump on the peerage, because they always want horsemen to follow their banners in wartime. But there probably still won't be enough for a whole regiment, so I guess there'll be some farmers and blacksmiths, as well. And probably some younger sons who've no inheritance to rely on. Anyone I accept is going to have to be a good rider or warrior. Preferably both."