The Rescue Of Tyrlindax


Written by a player:

Consequences. That's all I can think of now, when I think of the barbarian kenag. Physically, he was perhaps the most intimidating man I have ever seen. Towering like the mountain he lived on, his hair as pale as winter morning sunlight, his eyes like grey frost lining the edge of a mountain pool… and all I can think is, "Did I lead this man to his death?" He was a pagan, a barbarian, but he was a friend of Iridine and he trusted me.

The responsibility I had to take shocks me. The consequences might kill me.

Well, I was in Rock Valley again. I should have known something would go wrong when I met Damov in the town square. Not that there's anything wrong with Damov — he's a fellow constable recruit, a gladiator and a very intelligent man — but his presence in the frontier village was an unsettling surprise. It didn't seem like the kind of place he'd like. And he made it plain he didn't like being there. I had some little religious trinkets I'd bought in Monlon, I thought I might give them away, but Damov sneered. He knows altogether too much, sees too much, but I like that about him. It's a challenge.

Why was Damov there? I never fount out. After I met Tyrlindax it didn't seem important. But maybe it was.

Rock Valley was unusually busy that morning. You don't expect to see major Black Centurion officers in a shoddy little wooden town. But that's who showed up — Dumond, with a couple of people in tow who might or might not have been his associates. I'd never hold a thing like that against anyone; I don't even hold it against Dumond. I'm just wary, and for good reason. Dumond doesn't like overly curious constable recruits whose fathers were Umbravi.

I couldn't do much about the constable or Umbravi part, but I could limit my curiosity… about Dumond's affairs, anyway, whatever that might be in Rock Valley.

A trader called out in our thoughts, asking for hired help with a small caravan to the Nehal village. Dumond and his entourage stalked off without a word to the rest of us. Damov suggested I go to try to convert barbarians. I wasn't really there to convert anyone, but he and I went along anyway.

It turned out the mercantile mission was one of the speciously clever ruses Legio affects when indulging in espionage. They'd rounded up some poor trader and ordered her to lead a group of spies into Stromheim to get Tyrlindax out. Tyrlindax is the Nehal chieftain (they call them kenags) who is on Iridine's side, alone of all the tribes in the area. So it made some sense for Legio to try to get him out. But aside from some people who had no intention of trying to sneak into a dangerous barbarian village, Signifier Tlaoic was the ranking Legio officer present.

Nobody liked this. Tlaoic has utter disdain for anyone who is not Legio and he clearly felt this should be an exclusively Legio operation. I couldn't say I disagreed with him — putting the trust of Iridine in the hands of a shady trader wasn't something I could imagine, say, the Phoenix Guard sanctioning. But the Phoenix Guard were guarding the Senate and we were in a dirty fronteir town, and I guess you have to make do. Whether you're Centurion Martennus or Signifier Tlaoic.

Tlaoic and his Legio went off to do mysterious Legio things not fully comprehended by the rest of us. Presumably they had their own plan for the job. We loaded the wagon and followed the trader and her ox through the grasslands.

I'm not a wilderness person, myself. It was pretty enough but I'd have preferred nice hard cobblestones under my feet, nice dark alleys to duck into and hide in. I didn't talk much, mainly because Dumond said he found my chatter annoying. He was more tolerant of the very nice man, Sempron, who translated the ox's mumblings for the rest of us. Sempron said the ox's name was Lucius. I didn't expect Lucius, or perhaps any of us, to survive this mission. It's unwise to have irrational expectations when facing mortal danger.

When we got to Stromheim, Tlaoic and his Legionaries were there but the gate was locked against us. Another man was with them, a tall, cold, sneering man whose name I never learned. It was hardly surprising the Nehal had locked their gates against them.

The trader knocked on the gate and explained we were traders. We were allowed to enter. I immediately smiled at the barbarians and took off my helmet, partly to look disarming and partly so they'd see I have red hair and look half barbarian myself (as my mother always said).

Everyone else disarmed, to look more like traders instead of Legionaries or elite mercenaries on a dangerous mission. I'm sure the presence of a wagon stuffed with authentic mercantile goods helped. The trader was a real trader, too. We were led to the center part of the village.

Then the trader, whom I'd been so nice to and had given a sunstone even, revealed herself to be a total backstabbing bitch and said to me, "You were interested in seeing the shrine, right? It's right here."

I stammered out something scholarly about comparative religion and Alsask's studies, but for a second all I could think was curses. I controlled myself, though, and Sempron revealed himself to be an absolute hero and said he wanted to see the shrine too. We went in — Tyrlindax was kneeling there. Dumond had already entered while I was play-acting with the trader, so fortunately I wouldn't be expected to be in charge.

Dumond apparently knew Tyrlindax and was some kind of kin to him. I didn't understand that part. How could a barbarian be a Black Centurion? Dumond looks as completely Iridinian as anyone ever did, anyhow. I was confused.

Tyrlindax was suspicious. After all, Dumond was accusing his own people of conspiring against him. It was clear we'd need the evidence Legio said they had, the map they'd given to the trader. I thought I'd recognized that map, and hoped it would provide the motive Tyrlindax needed. I went out and fetched the map and handed it to the chieftain. He studied it and scowled at me. I was terrified. But I explained that what Legio said was true — at least, I'd seen the barbarians gathered and heard their willingness to kill Tyrlindax. I realized I was the only eyewitness present right then, so I named the barbarian chieftains I'd seen in the deep gorge. Tyrlindax believed me, which he ought to considering it was the simple truth.

So we needed a diversion. That was obvious. Under cover of a diversion, we could sneak Tyrlindax out to safety. That's what we were there for. Dumond conceived the idea of picking a brawl with Signifier Tlaoic who was somewhere in the village doing something, we knew not what.

Dumond and Damov and some others went out to fight, leaving just a handful of us there with Tyrlindax. The tall man I didn't know began talking to Tyrlindax in a way that made me very uneasy. He cast doubt upon Legio's honesty and suggested that they only intended to kidnap Tyrlindax. I couldn't bring myself to defend Legio's honor absolutely. I couldn't help thinking of that poor man torn apart by beasts at the games while Maera laughed, the man who warned us first about the trouble brewing in Rock Valley. But I said I hoped Legio was being honorable, and Tyrlindax said I ought to hope for my own sake as well as his that they were. I knew he was right. I personally had taken on responsibility for Legio's honor somewhere in this crazy mess. There was no going back, no running and no way to foresee the consequences.

When was the damned diversion going to take place?

That is when Sempron did the most unexpectedly heroic thing. Unexpected — what a joke. I expected heroism from Legio, from Dumond, even from Damov in a way. They were all more or less the sort of men from whom an Iridinian woman like me is brought up to expect bold decisive action. But the same could not be said for this ambiguous person in a blue linen robe stitched with a star, carrying a walking staff. And yet Sempron volunteered to go out into the dangerous barbarian village and let us know what was up with the diversion.

The tall, sneering man started talking to Tyrlindax about "your new Legio captives" and I made a half-hearted protest — picking a fight with a signifier isn't treason, but helping a barbarian to capture one might be — but there was nothing I could do. I realized the man probably was not Legio unless he was involved in some bizarre ploy designed to play games with Tyrlindax's mind. I wondered if I'd been picked on by the trader bitch precisely because I was a clueless innocent. As I was ruefully reflecting on this likelihood, I heard Sempron yelling. "FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!"

That was our signal. The diversion was taking place. We had to go now or not go at all. And if we did not go then I, at least, was going to die. I imagined I could see my death in the sneering man's eyes, an inevitability plucked out of time. A promise. Helplessly, I asked Tyrlindax to come along please NOW and he did. He did. I didn't stop to ask myself what the consequences of having won would be. I just darted out of the shrine with the barbarian as fast as I could.

We loaded Tyrlindax into the wagon, covering him with crates, and the trader counted heads. When all were present we made off, looking like an uncommonly nervous group of people I'm sure. Well, they'd been fighting in the village — that made sense. The Signifier was nowhere to be found, Dumond explained tersely, so he and his friends had to make the diversion among themselves. One was bleeding, but not bad.

We made our way down the mountain as quick as we could. Once we were at an almost-safe distance, Tyrlindax insisted on getting out of the wagon. Well, we weren't exactly being stealthy anyway. I felt numb, stunned, hoping but doubting the source of my hope. The sneering man's logic was sharp. He was as intelligent as Dumond or Damov or Cyrillius or anyone. I praised the courage of Sempron and Lucius — and after all, we were all alive, things were going better than expected, so why was I so worried?

When we got to the fort, not much was left to be done. Centurion Martennus greeted Tyrlindax cordially enough and they went off to talk. Who knows what happened then? We were going to be paid, the trader said, by Legio. I didn't want the money. I felt like I'd given myself away for Legio's sake already; I didn't want their money. It would have been spiritual prostitution. I felt dirty enough as it was.

Consequences. I don't know what they'll be, but I'm sure to find out.

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