The City of Campogrotta, Autumn 2403
It was the middle of the morning when Glammerscale encountered the damsel Perrette. As before, her face immediately lit up with a smile and she invited him to walk together a while, which suited him well for it had been his intention to talk with her. His servant, Thaldrin, a short, round fellow with a neatly trimmed beard, fell in behind the two of them as they made progressed along the way behind the ruined walls of Campogrotta.
Along almost the entire, ragged stretch of tumbled-stones there were scattered labourers and masons, both dwarfs and men, as well as ladders, piles of wooden planks, and other necessaries for the fashioning of scaffolding needed to begin the repairs. Campogrotta had suffered greatly from the attentions of the dwarfen artillery, especially the ancient ‘cannon-imperial’, Granite Breaker.
“You were hoping to meet with me, master Glammerscale?” suggested Perrette.
“Aye, my lady, I was. There’s much afoot and I would know your opinions concerning it all.”
“I think, in truth, it is my intentions that most concern you,” said the damsel with a grin. “And I suspect it is Thane Narhak who wants to know. I doubt he was keen to speak to such as I and so sent you as a suitable emmissary?”
“It is no burden for me, my lady,” said Glammerscale. “But aye, the thane is most keen to learn of your plans.”
“Master Glammerscale, you are a very poor spy,” Perrette said, chuckling.
“So poor,” he agreed, “that I had not even realised I was one.”
“Or, perhaps, you are so good a spy that you can conjure an illusion of honesty and lure me into a false sense of security?”
“I always strive for honesty, my lady,” said Glammerscale. “And so, with that in mind, I am told you have considerable influence now, like unto a captain.”
“The Brabanzon behave as if I were a queen,” she said, fixing her eyes upon him, channeling a most regal stare.
Glammerscale had witnessed her in action before the walls of Campogrotta, watching the fire she conjured broiling the brutes’ slaughtermaster. He had heard also heard how she had tumbled several lead-belchers from the wall during the first assault, causing them to explode as they fell!
“I think, my lady, they have every reason to show you due respect.”
Perette laughed at this. “If that were the case, then why do they not bow before the mighty empress Granite Breaker? I may have singed the ogres’ flesh a little but look here, look at what her massive majesty did.”
She gestured to the huge fissure in the wall they were passing, as if Glammerscale needed it pointing out.
It was his turn to laugh. “Ah, but my lady, Granitebreaker, despite her enormous size, is a dwarf, and the Brabanzon would surely never kneel to a dwarf.”
“Their days of kneeling for anything other than money are long gone,” said Perette. “What respect they have for me is born of fear.”
“Is that not the case in many a kingdom?” asked Glammerscale.
Perette did not answer immediately but came to a halt. She watched a pair of Brabanzon soldiers walk by, acknowledging their bows by gesturing with her fan, then seemed caught in a moment’s reverie.
“Now that both the Wolf and Jean dead,” she said, “as well as their closest companions, the survivors have elected me captain. If you and Thane Narhak are surprised to hear this, then I assure you that I am more so. I knew they had shaken off the yoke of vassalage to the nobility, but in choosing me it appears they care for very few of any of our homeland’s traditions.”
“Are you not honoured by this turn of events?”
“I suppose, in some ways. They no longer … pester me like they used to! Yet, I cannot say I am pleased by this turn of events. Responsibility does not sit comfortably on my shoulders.”
“I am glad to say I never had much responsibility, beyond a few servants to command and apprentices to instruct,” admitted Glammerscale. “If it means anything to you, my lady, I think the Brabanzon have chosen wisely.”
Perrette gave a little curtsey, saying, “I thank thee, good master dwarf.”
“So, captain of the Brabanzon, now that you have been paid what was promised, and your soldiers have had their desire for plunder sated, I must ask, will you go to Ravola with the wounded baron?”
“He has asked, and I have promised to put it to the men. We are a very democracy, you see, when it comes to such decisions.”
“You spoke with Baron Garoy, then?” asked Glammerscale.
“No, he sent one of his cavaliers. I asked the man if the baron was recovering well, but he simply said he had yet to get over the worst of it. Do you know if he is likely to live?”
“He is being tended day and night by the Sisters of Shallya and is under the care of the best doctor remaining in the city.”
Glammerscale hesitated a moment, then admitted. “In truth, I suspect the man is probably the only doctor in the city! Still, the baron is young, and the doctor assured me the break was simple. He still has the leg. He might walk forevermore with a limp, but what Bretonnian knight chooses to walk anyway?”
“Well, his messenger had little to say and could not answer at all when I asked about the terms of the proposed employment.”
“I doubt the baron himself has considered such details yet. Do not concern yourself, he’ll be fit to talk long before he’s fit to travel and so there will be plenty of time for such discussions.”
Perrette fanned herself a moment, then with a wry smile asked, “I wonder if he’ll receive me in his chambers for our negotiations?”
Glammerscale knew there was a joke in there somewhere but could not for the life of him work out how to ask without risking great offence. Had she been intimate with the young baron on their journey here? Was she suggesting she might become so? Or was it some reference to his arrogant nobility and her dubious past? He decided to play it safe and talk about chamber instead.
“The baron is comfortably lodged in what they say was wizard Lord Niccolo’s chamber. He has the largest bed in the city.”
“I wonder if the brute Boulderguts used the same the bed.”
“I doubt even that bed would have been of sufficient capacity for the likes of him!”
“This wizard-lord, Niccolo,” asked Perrette. “Has he been found?”
Glammerscale frowned. “No, nor is there any clue he ever was here in Campogrotta. A very mysterious sort of man, I have to say, for the supposed ruler of a city realm. The chamber in question contained no personal possessions and was buried beneath so much dust and cobwebs it cannot have been used in some considerable time. And he apparently had neither courtiers nor servants to tend to his needs.”
“I asked some citizens,” said Perrette. “They talked of him – his tyranny and cruel proclamations. One of them told me he treated them no better than the ogres’ goblin-runt servants. But they never saw him Not once! There was a friend of a friend, who saw him, or a neighbour’s nephew, and so on, but no-one I could speak to.”
Glammerscale had heard much the same. Only the previous day, Thane Narhak suggested Niccolo must have been as old as it was possible for a man to be, and maybe a little older than that, and as such would hardly have been able to address the crowds, never mind inspire fear in them. Besides, the thane had added, Niccolo had the ogres to do the frightening, and everything else too. The man did not have to leave his rooms.
But none of that rang true for Glammerscale. Although he had said nothing at the time, he was beginning to think there was something everyone was missing concerning the wizard lord, and not just the unused chamber. There had long been rumours that Lord Niccolo was a vampire, thus his unnatural age. This was why several Tileans had suggested there must be an alliance between the vampire duchess and Niccolo, such that while the brutes tore their way through the heart of Tilea, the vampires had conquered the north – and although neighbours, they conveniently stayed out of each other’s way. Niccolo had sent a company of brutes and the last of Campogrotta’s human soldiers to join Arch-Lector Calictus II’s holy war against the vampire duchess, but he had also dispatched Razger Boulderguts to ravage the homes of the soldiers in that same army! Hardly the actions of a true ally in the fight against the vampires.
Glammerscale was not at all convinced. Vampires might shun the daylight, but not the night-time too. They needed blood and when they ruled a realm they were not shy in the drinking of it, and when made mighty by their sanguine sustenance, they need not hide every moment in the shadows. Nor did they surround themselves with brute ogres, instead siring other vampires for their courts and resurrecting the dead for their armies.
There was definitely something more to the wizard lord; something Glammerscale could not put his finger on.
He noticed the two Brabanzon who had passed them by had come to halt by a doorway, far enough away that they could not hear what he said.
“My advice, should you wish to take it my lady, is to get more than gold from the baron for your continued service. Without the Brabanzon, he could do nothing now. What few ogres are said to remain in Ravola could easily defend the city against what few knights the baron commands. If your assistance is all that makes his conquest possible, then you and the men of the Brabanzon should expect to receive land too. You deserve a means to live and thrive, if you wish it.”
“It seems to me that you dwarfs think of us as seeds to be planted, so that come harvest time there will be good trade to be had.”
Glammerscale chuckled at this. “Trade is good, I cannot deny it. And yes, it is better to have strong neighbours as future allies, rather than rat-infested ruins. But many Brabanzon fell before the walls of Campogrotta, and those who survived deserve more than mere gold. There is good soil and sturdy homes to be had in Ravola. A chance for old soldiers to live well.”
“Then there is more for us to vote upon. If the men want it, then I shall demand it.” Fixing eyes upon him once again, she asked, “You speak of prosperous neighbours, master dwarf. What of Campogrotta itself? Now that his army has taken the city, is King Jaldeog not to rule here?”
“Oh, our king has no desire whatsoever to possess this city.” …
… “But like I said, and the king agrees, trade is good. Ravola is a Bretonian realm in Tilea, but Campogrotta is thoroughly Tilean. Its future has already been decided upon. The Compagnia del Sole, being nearly all Tileans, are to govern here, as part and parcel of their payment.”
Perrette snorted. “I suppose it costs a lot to replace their shoes.”
Glammerscale need not ask to what she was referring. The Compagnia had arrived too late to join in the assault upon Campogrotta, and now that it was becoming clear that Razger Boulderguts was unlikely to return to reclaim the city, their service was turning out to be all marching and no fighting!
“They fulfilled their contract,” he said. “And we have paid them, part in gold and part with the rule of Campogrotta. They might have accepted Campogrotta alone if your Brabanzon had not already removed so much of worth.”
“As we were promised, Master Glammerscale.”
“Aye, my lady. Well and good. I am not suggesting any wrong-doing on your behalf. Not at all. Both your company and the Compagnia del Sole have received proper recompense.”
Perrette looked around, shrugged, then asked, “Where are the new rulers, then?”
“They’ll be here tomorrow. Right now, Captain Bruno Mazallini is to swear an oath before the statue of the goddess Myrmidia in Buldio, where the Battle of the Fog was fought centuries ago.”
“All the Compagnia’s officers and chancellors are to swear too. It is to be quite the ceremony …”
“… drums, colours, and all the military rigmarole that suits such a solemn and binding oath before the goddess.”
“Thane Narhak himself will witness it.”
“Swear what exactly?” asked Perrette.
“That Captain Mazallini and his officers shall govern Campogrotta as agents of King Jaldeog’s will, heeding his majesty’s advice and instructions, doing all they can to make the city realm prosper, for three years, after which the city will become theirs entirely, in permanent friendship with Karak Borgo.”
“Not the king’s vassals?”
“No, as allies and trading partners. You see, who better than an army of veteran soldiers to defend this city at such a time of troubles? My advice to them was the same I gave to you.”
“So you are planting more seeds, master dwarf? Let’s hope the crop does not turn out to be weeds!”
“I like to think that whatever grows here and in Ravola, it has to be far more fruitful and pleasant than the brutes we have driven out!”