Author’s Note: For prior installments visit here.
In a half day they made it to the North Bridge. They had only stopped once along the way and that was to water their horses by a small stream. They had pemmican, dried fruits, and canteens full of water from a well in Red Spire. They also brought some bottled Elvish Travel Ale which does not spoil and stays cold until opened by the drinker. This came from the Grand Counties and Estalwyn always bought a hundred or so bottles when present in her homeland. They followed the main road, a highway north.
The scenery was varied. They spied tall oaks, pines, and firs. Then as they kept going farms situated amongst rolling hills. The only faces they saw then were farmers in the distance reaping their fields as it was harvest time.
We’ve got to make it right with Henricks. If we can catch these burglars we’ll have a lot of sales as we’ll have proved our devices and we will also prove our salt as sellswords who catch thieves and burglars along with protect property. All will be well in our world.
Paul thought this as they passed by bales of hay and wheat at the edge of the highway were it met a large farmers’ field. These were the fields of free people. There were no liege lords they bowed too. There were no peasants in or around the Free City of Red Spire. They’re council was of merchants, warriors, and farmers. There were no liege lords there. They were all free lords. Someone odd on the road near Pinningdale, a free city too, but less free told Paul about it. He used an odd word to describe Red Spire.
Democracy? I forget what he said.
This was a surprise to Paul. He typically had a memory as deep as wide as the great pits of Hielmon, just outside the Western border of the Grand Counties and just south of Pinningdale. There one could fall in and never ever be heard from again. Nor would they ever hear or see the object or the person dropping finally hit the bottom. It was the bottomless pit of myth realized. And many forget who put it there. It had been..
“How much further, Paul?”
It was Estalwyn.
Damn. I’m daydreaming again.
“You were spacing out again. We you not?”
On a long ride I am entitled too.
“What was your question?” He quickly replied.
“How much farther to the North Bridge?”
Rilles chuckled at Estalwyn’s repeated question.
“We’re almost there. Give him a respite, Estalwyn.”
So he’s siding with me again. This success changed him. He’s a fickle one that Rilles.
“I suppose I will, Rilles. But I do want to know.”
Paul said this as they crossed a small stream over a covered bridge and passed two Country Guards of Red Spire as they rode past on two chestnuts. They waved in friendship. Paul’s words were truthful they passed the small guard post and in minutes later they arrived at the North Bridge. A sign was the harbinger to their arrival.
“Cross this Bridge, and the traveler is at the Northern boundary of the Free City of Red Spire’s Hold. You are outside the city’s protection at this point, and you will be entering unclaimed lands. A hundred miles north is the city of Dothen and it’s lands. The city wishes safety and travelling mercies upon you, travelers.”
Nice enough message.
Paul dismounted from his horse and led it to the bridge’s entry. It was a long brick and mortar bridge painted a white gold hue. It spanned three hundred feet across and was two hundred feet high at it’s highest point across the River Griffyn. The bridge was wide enough to allow for four wagons pulled by teams of horses to cross from one side to another in both ways at once. Six massive round brick and mortar pylons held the arch of the bridge up to the sky. This was a marvel made possible likely by Estalwyn’s people. Their new methods helped create marvels like this. And the Free City of Red Spire was likely to thank an Elf for designing this wonder.
Impressive bridge! The water doesn’t look shallow here. Hard to say which pylon of the bridge is where this stump will be but perhaps it is on this side? We will find out soon enough.
“Water here is not shallow here, Paul. Hard to say where they put the drop. I doubt it is in the middle of the river. They’d drown. The Burglar’s Union is not known to have a strong cadre in swimming. They focus on breaking, entering, and elusion. Not aquatics.”
As Rilles said this he pointed his paw to the river’s length and span. Estalwyn acknowledged his thought as she dismounted from her horse and dipped her boot slightly in the water.
“It keeps getting deeper from here, Paul. And I am not seeing any stumps in the water right here.”
Hmm. So we should search underneath the closest pylons. And then we’ll take it from there.
Paul looked at the shine of the sun glinting on the water and heard the song of birds in the neighboring trees.
“Right. We’ll split up. Why don’t you stay with the horses and cross the bridge with me Estalwyn? Rilles you can cover this side. We’ll get into the water and swim around the pylons. From there we can see if we can find this stump. If we can’t find it, we’ll go to the guard post and see if they have seen anything suspicious lately.”
As Rilles said this Paul and Estalwyn crossed the bridge swiftly. Not a soul was crossing it at the same time they were.
Hopefully we find it fast and get out of here fast with obtaining the location of their hideout. The more time we spend out here is hess time we have to sell our services in Red Spire. Although these efforts are certainly a way we can further weight our services as being supreme and superior to a traditional mercenary company’s. In due time all of Red Spire will sing our praises for finding the hideout of these lousy burglars.
Paul and Estawyn arrived on the opposite bank of the river. Estalwyn’s sharp eyes could see Rilles swimming to the first pylon on the surface of the water.
“No sign of it yet, Paul. Rilles hasn’t even checked out the first pillar.”
“All right, Estalwyn. I’ll be checking out these now.”
Paul shed some layers of clothes and waded into the river, feeling the current slightly as his wading turned into swimming as the depth of the waters increased and the sands seemed like a distant memory as he entered the chilly waters in earnest. With every inch he descended into the water came a prickly feeling to his body as he immersed himself more.
Here we go.
Paul darted to the first pylon in the water. He didn’t care for swimming much. He didn’t like getting wet really. Too many treks in the rain left him with a bad taste in his mouth regarding such things. Also the aspect of swimming in water and then needing to dry off in the outdoors was not a fun idea to him.
I’d rather take a bath. The water is warmer than this frigid liquid. At least I’ve cloths to dry off with after a bath. This is not fun.
Once he reached the pylon he went under on his own voalition. His eyes burned on contact with the water. It felt like ground pepper was being thrown at his cornea’s and trapped by his lashes, the burn could be felt within his orbits. Paul swiftly went deeper and deeper to the bottom of the pylon. Maybe it was twelve or ten fathoms? He couldn’t tell he just had to find this stump.
I’m seeing weeds down here and a lot of silt and sediment. No stump. No woody stuff really aside from the small stems of weeds. On to the next one.
He could not see the next pylon from his current position through the murky waters. Paul surfaced.
I can see!
Paul wiped away the sticking water as best as he could. Drops hung from his ear lobes and plummeted back into the water. When he arrived at the surface he could see Rilles surfacing at the second pylon on his side. The Houndsman’s webbed paws like a Labrador dog enabled him to swim better than most. The webbed paw was a known trait common amongst the Peat Woad Clan which he came from.
I’d better catch up.
Paul swiftly swam to the next pylon and descended. Again, his eyes were burnt by the water as he plunged deep. By now he anticipated he was twelve fathoms deep at the bottom of the riverbed. A slope was present here that led to the center of the river bed. The water would be deeper there.
No luck here.
Again the same weeds and silt were present. A fish skeleton from likely a catfish or a flounder rested at the base of the pylon.
He’s water under the bridge.
Paul thought this with a dark humor as he maneuvered his body to point upward to surface. Upon his arrival he took a big gasp of air. His eyes loved the dryness and the light of the sun instead of the harshness of the water. He moved himself closer to the center pylons now. Rilles was nowhere to be seen.
He’s already at the next one. What an agile and artful swimmer, the lucky bastard. I can’t swim without burning my eyes. I want to find that map before him.
Paul thundered through the water vigorously with his breaststroke In seconds he was at the next pylon. He breathed deeply and dove into the water. As he descended it became darker and darker. Finally he saw the bottom it was bare. Rilles was approaching him and pointed upward. Rilles’s hands were bare.
What’s he getting at. He wants us to go up. It is down here, silly.
Paul kept descending deeper into the water and found nothing but a human skeleton and a box of some kind.
Paul found himself covered in a wire net with round and square weights attached to the end. His steady descent was replaced by a swift one. He hit the bottom of the river with his feet first and observed a human skeleton nearby. The skeleton had bones arrayed aside it to spell out: “Fooled you.”
Is this the end?
He struggled to get the net off of him. He fought it for a minute. His lungs were growing empty. He lost his control of his mouth and took water in. The water reached his lungs. Little daggers were carving his bronchi and the lungs themselves were blazing hot and peppery like his eyes were.
And then he heard a tearing.
It was Rilles behind him ripping through the heavy net with his claws and severing the remnants with his dagger. He then thrusted his arm out towards Paul and heaved him up while swimming with immense speed. In ten seconds they surfaced. A minute more down there, Paul likely would have drowned.
That would have been a stupid way to die. That girl named Jessey has some explaining to do.
Rilles swam silently to the shoreline where Estalwyn waited. She appeared immensely worried.
“What happened? Did you find the stump? I was about ready to go in after you both?” Her tone showed the worry as well.
Rilles had Paul up on his shoulder and then sat him down slowly on the turf. Paul coughed out the water in his lungs and the dagger-like pain returned and intensified.
“Estalwyn, Paul was caught in a trap. The stump is around here. I observed a carving on the pylon. The stump is actually on this side of the bridge near a tree. We’re on the right track.”
Paul thought this as he vomited up the remainder of the water that had been confined in his lungs. He wheezed and then it turned into the dry heaves.
Estalwyn patted him on the back.
“We’ll take a moment. Don’t rush.”
Paul could barely get those words out.
Rilles turned to them both and pointed with his hands to the forest ahead.
“I’m going to look for the stump. Rest now.”
Estalwyn merely nodded as she wrapped Paul in her cloak. While she did this Rilles’s nose picked up the scent of what the thought was the stench of the Burglar’s Union’s cronies. They had been at work here. Again, Rilles had found the clue and the stump had the insignia of the Burglar’s Union carved into it, and white chalk filled the etching. The broken lock of the Burglar’s Union here had an open keyhole carved into the stump.
Just like a real lock. Rilles thought with a slight amusement.
He stuck his hand through it and pulled a rolled scroll tied with the expected ribbon. It was a green one. After opening this he saw the map an it’s entirety.
They were northeast of Red Spire and outside of that city state’s borders. They were in proximity to the enemy base. It looked like they were eight miles west of it. This was land claimed by no one of any kind. The map indicated hillier terrain. They would likely arrive by nightfall. He returned to his companions.
When he returned he shared the news with them. Paul was back to normal, he was only damped and slightly waterlogged now. He stood upright wearing his full layers of clothing and weapons. Estalwyn was less worried and happy they were close, but she did not enjoy the idea of hills and hillier terrain. That would be hard on their horses.
The three of them mounted their steeds and rode the beasts hard until they came upon the hills. Once they had crossed over several of these rolling hills and came to one of the taller ones, Rilles’s nose told him everything he needed to know. He gestured for them to halt.
“What is it?”
“Their base is close by. Let’s tie up the horses here to these trees at the crest of the hill. They’re only a mile or two north of here. I smell beef and lamb cooking. I also smell a bit of rum.”
Makes sense. They’re out in the boonies, wouldn’t make much sense for ale to keep unless they’ve got caves near them.
The three of them hitched their horses to some oaks at the top of the hill and then they fed and watered them. They had not a clue how long they would be. Night fall was upon them and they tread cautiously across the rolling hills until they came into closer proximity to the camp. Rilles nose alerted them.
“We’re close now.”
As he whispered this they ascended the hill softly and even more cautiously. Finally, Rilles who had been leading them on their trek to this enemy camp ordered them to get low.
We’re within visual range now. I bet it’s just over that hill and he’s fully aware of it.
When they reached the crest of the hill, they could see the massive sawmill, the perimeter fence, and leather clad men guarding it.
We’ve found them.