Episode 2: Reunions
Episode 3: Nigh Watch
Episode 4: Big Dogs
Episode 5: Judgment
Episode 6: On Display
Episode 7: The Uninvited
Episode 8: Departures
Episode Three - Night Watch
Cornelius led Jack outside. The misty, chilled air cut through Jack's light clothing. Odd shadows danced on the cobblestone streets thanks to the combination of magical light and fog. People nodded to the old gnome wishing him a good evening. Cornelius named each by name and asked polite questions about family or events. The gnome never bothered introducing Jack to anyone.
The stairs on the nearby city wall had half stairs next to the wall. As they they reached the parapet, a bored human guard waved at the gnome at the stair's base. "Evening, Cornelius. New recruit?"
"Greetings to you, Gerald. Yes, this is Mr. Largefoot. He arrived tonight and will go out soon on caravan duty."
"Welcome to Misty Bay, Mr. Largefoot," said the guard smiling. "Good luck with the caravan. We've had fits with ogre raiders lately. Good evening to you both."
"What if I don't take the job?" challenged Jack as they started up the stairs. "And I go by Jack Large."
Cornelius stuck out an arm stopping Jack. "Understand this first, Mr. Largefoot. Without my charter or someone else's, you'll be shot on site trying to enter the ruins. Second, each mission is important, or it wouldn't be assigned to me. My assignments come directly from Lord Lamangus. Third, if you work for me and fail to do your job, I'll make sure no one will hire one hair on your foot. So shut up, and do the work assigned. Assuming you live, you can retire in a year. Understand?"
Jack didn't take that kind of tongue lashing from anyone. Then he remembered what the dock master said about Cornelius' nose for treasure. Jack swallowed his pride with an audible gulp. "Yes, sir." Jack emphasized the "sir" with a bit of sarcasm.
"Good," said the gnome resumed going up the stairs again. "After the dwarves arrived from Kinhome Mountain, things got easier for us shorter folk," explained the gnome as if a cross word never passed his lips."
Jack spat, "Dwarves. I can do without that arrogant lot."
The gnome shook his head. "Do not think to harshly of them, Mr. Largefoot. The Kinhome dwarves lost their mountain to a dragon. The Sun Mountain King gave them a land grant to reopen the mines across the bay. Granted, it'll be a while before they can take it from the Goblins, but at least they have hope again."
"I don't care what they bloody lost. They're too big for their own britches, or at least they were in Straulia, and I ain't seen nothing that makes me think these are any different," said Jack.
"Leave that anger back in Straulia, and keep your mind on your job. Things are different here," said the old gnome. "Lord Havoq brings all manner of foul beast under his control. We're doomed if we don't work together."
"I've heard of Havoq, even in Straulia," said Jack. "Don't reckon it matters who's rules you're under, though. Havoq or the priests here about, its all the same."
Cornelius sighed. "You'll know the difference soon enough, Jack."
Jack just grunted as they made it to the top of the city wall. Human and elven archers stood ready, looking out towards the ruins. Magical lamp posts lit the ground below the wall. The area around the colony was clear of any buildings or plants. The ruins began at the edge of the light about 100 feet away.
A few camp fires here and there glowed in the darkness. "Is that Misty Bay folks out on night patrol?" Jack asked pointing to one of the fires.
"No," said the gnome. "That would be the residence of the ruins, what we call Old Town, coming out to watch. They stand guard as well."
"So it's a stalemate? You watching them, them watching you?"
"Something like that," said Cornelius. "We rule the day. They rule the night. When the King first sent troops up here to the bay, he secured the harbor because it was the most defensible. He brought the dwarves in for stonework, and they had the walls repaired in no time. He still sends troops out at night sometimes, just to stir things up, but mostly the city guard patrols during the day."
"Then what about this night patrol I keep hearing about?" asked Jack.
"That is what you're here to see," stated the gnome. "If the Lawgivers convict someone of a crime the sentence if often night watch in Old Town. Most times its a death sentence but sometimes the poor souls even make it back alive. That's why I brought you out here, so you'll understand why it's so important to obey the laws; especially the tax laws."
"Tax laws? Fah," said Jack. "You just got to be clever enough to get away with it."
"You never 'get away with it' here in Misty Bay," stated Cornelius flatly. "You can run, but the Priests of Law control all the outposts from here to Angel Bay. Outside of those, you'll be dealing with Havoq's minions."
A priest clad in blue and green stood on a balcony overlooking a crowd standing inside the wall. The crowd surrounded three sides of a cage holding four prisoners. Two of the four were seasoned warriors wearing arms and armor. One munched on an apple while the other cleaned his finger nails with a wicked looking dagger. The other two prisoners had old swords and dented shields and wore street clothes. One was crying for mercy. The other just stared dejectedly out the gates into the darkness of the ruins.
A line of city guards carrying spears formed two lines between the cage and the city gates. The Misty Bay guards bore themselves as veterans with hard faces and steady hands. Each looked ready for battle.
The priest spoke in a loud voice to the assemblage. "Tared Norbringer and Jordon Garthlow, you stand convicted of withholding the king's rightful share of treasures gained from the ruins. You are hereby sentenced to four nights on patrol."
One of the warriors gave the priest a one-fingered salute, which suggested the priest go fornicate himself.
The perturbed priest continued. "Tethrad Durg and Normid Fisher you are convicted of drunken brawling. You are sentence to one night in the ruins. May the Lords of Light have mercy on your souls. You have until the tenth bell to reach the light's edge. If you show yourselves before dawn, the archers are ordered to shoot you dead."
The guards pointed their spears at the prisoners as the cage door opened. The two surly warriors marched out of the gates as a large bell in the tower rang. The two commoners followed slowly.
The city gates closed with a thud, portcullises fell into place, and bars slid into place to hold the gates fast. Dark, guttural laughter came from the ruins.
"Poor lads," said Cornelius. "It'll be the ogres that are out tonight. The old towners await their fun."
One of the fishermen turned and ran back towards the gates. "Please," begged the man, "It was just a fight. Please let me back in."
"Tethrad Durg, you have until the tower bell tolls ten to get out of the light and into the ruins. If not, you will be shot to death by arrows," shouted the priest through one of the arrow slits. Jack watched as the guards notched arrows. One fired an arrow through a murder hole in the gatehouse. That sent Tethrad running back towards the three of the figures that stood at the darkness' edge. "Come on, hero," shouted one of the warriors. "It's time to play in the dark."
Cornelius turned away as the foursome entered the darkness. "The two toughs are all that remain of Shiva's guildsmen. They actually like going out in the night." Cornelius stepped down off the box that let him look out the arrow slit. "Well come on lad, there'll be nothing else to see."
Jack heard the clashing of weapons and looked back out the window. Tethrad ran back into the light, his face white as snow. Several archers let arrows fly which landed all around the terrified man. An ogre appeared, closing on Tethrad. No less than twenty arrows struck the giant humanoid. The accuracy of those shots showed just how lenient the archers were towards Tethrad. The ogre fell to the ground burying the arrows deeper into its flesh. With a quiver, it died.
Tethrad stopped, panting. An arrow buried itself in the ground between his feet. He looked back toward the wall, defiant. "I prefer death to a night in the ruins!" he shouted.
Another arrow grazed Tethrad's thigh causing him to yelp, but the man stood his ground. Jack watched the priest shake his head. "Make it quick," he said to an archer nearby. The last arrow struck Tethrad in the chest piercing the man's heart. He clutched the arrow. His mouth formed words with no sound. Tethrad sunk slowly to his knees, then fell to his side.
Jack shook his head. "All that fuss just for brawling. It don't make sense."
"You'll understand more the longer you're here, Jack." said Cornelius. "Now, let's get back inside where it's warm."
They began walking back toward the staircase. Jack looked out onto the bay. The harbor was completely covered in thick fog. A nearly full moon illuminated the mist covered water.
"Jack Large?" said a deep voice from behind him.
"Yeah, who wants to know?" asked Jack belligerently as he turned to see the officiating priest and four guardsmen.
"Did you assault Jeral Tannerson outside the Lovely Lady tonight and steal his coin purse."
Jack thought for a second, then remembered the fisherman he'd waylaid. "He started it," said Jack defensively. "He threatened to stomp me after he ran into me. How was I to know he wasn't going to do it?" The halfling backed up preparing to run. Cornelius grabbed him by the arm.
"Don't make it worse, Jack," whispered the gnome. "They sometimes give new comers a pass on their first offense."
Jack relaxed a bit. After all, it was his word against a drunken fisherman's. Jack heard a human scream from over the wall. The scream turned into a gurgle, then faded. A deep throaty laugh came out of the darkness.
"I'm all yours constable," said Jack as bravely as he could and walked away with the priest to the city below.
(To be continued...)