Hyboria! H4E61 Corinthian Conundrum: The Jade Apples, Part One

Plans

Morath summed the plans up. Phase one, the “misdirection” phase, would involve violent incidents in the lower city, near the walls. These included assaulting the old keep tower where their saddle-gear was stored, assassinating Lord Luiras, and perhaps an attack on one of the demon-dog kennels by the gates. Phase two, the “miracle” phase, involved Cass burgling the Jade Apples and spiriting them away to the temple where a miraculous reappearance would be proclaimed.

“Celo, how good are you at opening locks?” – Cass

“Pretty good. I can get a really nasty one open with enough time” – Celo

“Well, that leaves traps. How good are you at disabling them?” – Cass

“Mehh…” – Celo, waggling his hand in a 50-50 indication

“I think I know what we should do then. When you first suggested teaming up, I was thinking of a particular way of getting in. But if you can follow up with this Bailey Zaid and use her, we should both lift the goods.”

“I’m not sure I follow this ‘use Bailey Zaid’ plan” – Celo

“Duplicity. Here we have a noble girl that has access to the citadel, and likes a bit of rough. Charm her, get her to love you, and we have a way in that doesn’t involve swimming and squeezing through tiny gaps” – Cass, bluntly

Encouraged by the guffaws and rude japes of his comrades, Celo blushed but agreed to try. He put off the day when all this had to be explained to his lover Sasha, who had picked up the name Bailey Zaid but had not followed their plans, which had been discussed mainly in Cimmerian.

Captain Rodos meets the Striking Cobra

For the next six days, the lads went deeper under cover. Morath was installed in a butchery, where his knives would not draw attention. Bardic was happy to be a baker’s boy, though he did try to keep his “baker’s staff” by him at all times. Celo dressed as a prospector, so that he kept a bag of useful little tools with him. He even came up with a new identity, ready for his wooing of Bailey Zaid: he would be known as Hirst. Vorel turned his hand to the stock-pens around the carters’ yards, as he could deal with most livestock. Cass, dressed as a man for any public meeting, continued to spread her intelligence-gathering contacts deeper into the city.

On the seventh day, the chief conspirators, save for Reballah, met in the back of Morath’s employer’s butchery. Cass laid out a map of the old keep. As they discussed tower height – 40’ up for the lowest – proximity of other buildings – there weren’t any – and means of distracting the guards, Sasha spoke up.

“I know that tower. It’s inside a sort of triangle shape quadrant, along with the old mint” – Sasha

“What’s the old mint used for?” – Bardic

“Money, mostly. It turns out, when you try to make coins inside a citadel you run out of space. So most money changing and wage functions are still down there” – Sasha

She crudely sketched the walls around the map. Now ideas began to blossom. The chiefs agreed that a mob protesting Luiras’ outrages could be whipped up – with Reballah’s backing – and led to demonstrate around the mint. That would have most of the guards headed over there, or at least distracted.

“How about an effigy of the Luiras character to burn? The mob could be screaming ‘kill Luiras’ and burn it” – Bardic, helpfully

“I’m not sure that would work” – Sasha, coldly

“Uhrm, yes, protest is one thing, burning nobles another” – Celo, wisely backing Sasha up

At that moment the conspirators were interrupted. A harsh voice could be heard from the outer shop, or servery.

“Why you did not see me is because you’re sloppy and stupid. Now put the sword down and your hands out. Let’s see how you do as a prisoner” – Captain Rodos

The butcher rushed through to the conspirators, red-faced with fear.

“The Watch is in the shop! It’s all up with us!” – rebel Butcher

Morath stood, checked his knives, and stepped around his erstwhile master and out to the butchery. Bardic swept up the map and tucked it away. Celo cast his eye about, and signaled Vorel to help him with a couple of casks that had been standing in for a table. He’d spotted what looked like a trapdoor under them, and he was right. It wasn’t large, but he easily slipped through and gestured for Sasha to follow.

Morath put on a scared look and trusted his butcher’s smock would be sufficient disguise. Beyond the butchery itself, an open arch led to the servery. There, a heavily armored Watch officer, armed with a massive two-hand mace, was menacing the rebel guard. Two Watch soldiers, armed with unwieldy war-spears, watched. Morath hurried up to the rebel’s flank, edging closer to the officer as he spoke in feigned panic.

“Quintus, what’s going on? Master don’t tell me nothing!” – Morath, bluffing mightily

His bluff carried him close enough to the officer for his plan to work. Knives flashed into his hands. Four men began with weapons in their hands and within seconds, only one walked away, his knives dripping red.

Returning swiftly to the store-room Morath found Drosht squeezing his bulk through a trapdoor, with difficulty. The butcher was still wheezing with fear, which did not fade when he realized what Morath had done. Cass was the only remaining conspirator. The noises of guards levering open the rear doors could already be heard. Morath made to follow Drosht, but the butcher stopped him.

“Knock me on the head before you go! Otherwise I’m a dead man!” – butcher

Morath wasted no time. Reversing his dagger he delivered a smashing blow behind the butcher’s ear. The man slumped. Morath wiped his blades on the man’s smock, slid through the trap, and Cass closed it after him.

Market price

The night following the near-capture, Cass announced that the meeting Morath requested had been laid on. Morath followed her through cramped, squalid streets to where a large, pointy-headed, slope-shouldered thug drifted out to meet her. By the way he carried himself Morath judged him to be the local street-lord but noticed his respectful bearing towards Cass. He wondered briefly if Cass had first met him wearing female attire, or in the male guise she now wore. The trio passed along the thug’s turf, and into a cramped, noisome house where a large collection of cutthroats, foot-pads and second-story men were seated, all putting on a show of strength for the renowned and feared Zamorian.

From there they descended into a concealed temple of Bel, where waited Palena’s Fortunate of Bel. The temple layout was familiar to Morath: a small shrine to the laughing-eyed god of thieves and a pragmatic array of assaying and divvying apparatus. The light was minimal and the corners were shadowed, and Morath kept every sense alert as he greeted the Fortunate and placed a token of respect – a dozen or so gold coins – at the shrine.

The Fortunate agreed he could arrange a supply of the Yellow Lotus powder, but the price he asked was very high – equivalent to deadlier poisons. He remained adamant, explaining that to get the powder, in the breakable glassine bulbs that Cass had stipulated, was not a cheap matter. Morath agreed on a supply of nine of them and the two arranged how word and payment were to be made.

“I know you’re good for it, Morath. I’ll arrange nine to be ready” – Bel’s Fortunate in Palena

Robbery at the tower

The attack on the store tower was now a pressing need.  Bardic, muffin-tray laden, took the chance to tour the area himself. His soldier’s eye picked up the main flaws in the sketch plan. No wagon could get near the tower itself, as it was on a small but steep-sloped mound. A well inside the grassy, triangular ward seemed to offer a plausible excuse to get near the tower. He completed his scheme and explained it to the others: a rush assault from the back of a wagon, up the slope then up the steps, using the protest as a distraction. Reballah assembled her chief conspirators. In stirring, deep tones, she called on the downtrodden among the carters, drovers and tinsmiths – all found in the streets around the old Mint – to rally in protest on the agreed day. Ulysz, the oldster who had been recuperating from the severe wounds he took fighting alongside Bardic, volunteered to drive a wagon carrying the assault team. It would be hand-to-hand fighting so all aboard would have their hand weapons.

“Add a couple of shields – Ulysz can set them at his back for cover while he turns the cart” – Vorel

“And an effigy. The mob needs to know who it wants hanged” – Bardic

So it was that on the following early evening, Ulysz drove a two-mule wagon into the old ward just as a large and angry mob, egged on by would-be rebels and a few of Cass’ agitators, came rampaging down from the tinsmiths’ street, howling around the old Mint and crying for vengeance for daughters outraged and slain. In the back of the cart, a crude bundle of straw had been erected:  upon it a hat-like contrivance, supposed to suggest a noble’s headgear. Bardic was well-pleased. From his concealed bed under it, he could see a few armed guards hustling over to the old Mint, and a number of steel helms glinting in the evening light atop the watch-tower of the keep. There was no way to know if the keep was now mostly empty or the doors shut. Ulysz called to the mules to ‘giddup’ and cracked his lash: they halted.

Wasting no more time on what-ifs, Bardic launched his powerful frame up, over the cart’s side, and to the mound. His legs were already burning with the unaccustomed exertion as he hit the steps, twisted left, then hard-right at the corner. His shoes skidded slightly on the worn stone, but he kept his sprint going. The outer door was straight ahead: and it was closing!

Ramming his whole weight against the door, Bardic smashed the pair of guards backward before they could get it closed and the bar down! Vorel, coming in quickly behind him, piled over him and cut left and right. Celo dodged and leapt past all four of them and turned, stabbing them. Morath came in last, tumbled through all five, and the job of killing was done.

That left the inner door, reached by a sharp right turn. Lifting himself out from under the welter of bodies, Bardic launched himself around and through the open door into a largish assembly chamber. Stairs from here would lead up and down to various towers and stores, but Bardic only had eyes for the five men, in various states of arming themselves, scattered around it. Picking three standing near each other, the Cimmerian bellowed his war-cry, and leapt upon them. The great blade swept down and across, and all three men were down, silently bleeding out or thrashing in agony.

The remaining two, white-faced, threw down their weapons. Vorel had but to walk in and accept their surrender.

“Where’s the stores?” – Vorel

One mutely pointed to a side-room.

“Where’s the good stuff?” – Bardic

“Upstairs, guarded by a full squad of heavily armed men and devil-dogs” – mercenary

Even Bardic could tell the man was exaggerating. A moment of vacillation ensued. Should they try to get some valuable loot, or just do what they came for? In the end, prudence won out and they sorted through the stores to hand, identified the saddles and bags they wanted – already beginning to mildew – and loaded up.

“You men have your lives. You can throw in with us if you want?” – Bardic

“I’m with you!” – Calyx, mercenary of easy loyalties

Not much later the same evening, over a celebratory drink, Calyx added a little more to their knowledge of the enemy’s preparedness. There had indeed been a few devil-dogs upstairs in the tower, for example. And the descriptions the Watch had of all the chief conspirators were up to date and accurate.

“We had good descriptions and names for all of you. Especially you, Celo” – Calyx

“I’m Hirst, a forester and prospector” – Celo

“Uh-huh, sure, if ya say so” – Calyx

“Who was who knew us so well, do you know?” – Bardic

“A man named uh, Bosos, or Boson, something like that” – Calyx

After some head-scratching the four gave up guessing which of their many grudge-holding enemies might be this elusive Boson. Calyx joined the rebels, where he could be put to good use teaching commoners to use weapons, though Bardic made sure to mention to Drosht that someone who changed sides so easily should be watched at all times.

Cass and the lads now had to scrape together 450 gold worth of coin. Morath still had a hundred, Bardic 150 as he had had no need to buy new horses, and with her saddle now back in her possession, Cass was able to contribute 50 gold. Vorel confessed himself near-broke. Celo, or Hirst as he now called himself, had bought only a decent horse and contributed the remaining 150. All were now relatively poor, and were relying on the citadel robbery to replenish their funds. Though privately Bardic was beginning to think Cass might become a queen of crime in her own right.

Luiras must die

Cass bade farewell for the time being: she would be out of touch for six days. By that time, she hoped to have a better plan of the citadel, including an escape route; be trained in disabling traps; and Morath would have acquired the Yellow Lotus. If “Hirst” could gain Bailey Zaid’s favors within that time, the first nobles’ ball to mark the onset of winter would be the best occasion to penetrate the citadel.

In the meantime, the plan to draw chamberlain Martain’s attention down into the lower city must continue. The time was judged ripe for Lord Luiras to die. Cass had previously provided plenty of detail as to times and opportunities. Bardic decided on a daytime assassination, as the lordling and his friends and guards returned from a horse-ride. Using his military experience, he picked a street where a couple of alleys could be used to conceal carts, with a drop-off on the down-slope side sufficient to prevent easy escape, and a tall house on the up-slope where archers could sweep the street below.

The household was overpowered and tied up, and an exit knocked through the back wall of the house. Rebels readied two carts. Luiras’ party passed the first alley and drew level with the house, and the signal was given.

Both carts rolled into place without a hitch, and Celo and Vorel opened up on the male nobles. There were four that could possibly be Luiras, two in particular. As the arrow-storm hailed down, one went down under his horse, the other slid nimbly off his dying horse. A bravo riding front and rear of the nobles dismounted and drew swords and readied shields. Even so, Vorel’s vantage allowed him to wound one of them.

Bardic and Morath burst from the front door. Bardic swept past the lone female aristo, and cleaved through two of the males. That brought him to face the rear Bravo. Morath finished off the trapped noble, but was hurled off the street by the charge of the lead Bravo. The Zamorian performed a nimble tuck and roll and landed without hurting himself, and the Bravo crashed down beside him – the man’s heavy armor had caused him to over-balance after the body-slam. Morath drove his short-sword between gorget and helm, blood gouted out, and that was the end of that fight.

Bardic took a raking cut across the ribs, the chain links of his corselet parting, but instead of continuing the fight, the Bravo ducked away around his horse, and into the house.

“He’s in the house!” – Bardic

Celo, who was positioned above Bardic, heard the call, and made sure Vorel knew to get clear. Vorel followed him hastily, down and out the escape route, but still regretting the plan had not included the theft of one of the horses. Bardic hurried over to the edge of the street. Peering down over the drop he was reassured to find Morath perfectly fine and the other Bravo dead. He signaled the retreat and the four departed, splitting up to avoid pursuit. So far the devil-dogs had not been able to sniff them out, but precautions always had to be taken.

Introducing Lady Bailey Zaid

Hirst the prospector pushed his way into the seedy, no-name tavern, the door sticking a little as though to discourage any but the hardiest. It was very late, and only a few souls were awake and upright, scattered between a scarred and dirty bar-top and benches around the room. Only one table graced the tavern room and it was occupied by a drunken girl, dancing and yelling. As Hirst paused, she tugged her leather skirts up above her calves, shrieking with laughter as a couple of the watching men tossed coppers onto the table and yelled for more.

This was Bailey Zaid, the aristocrat, a girl with a penchant for the rougher parts of town. Hirst thought his chances of wooing her low, and to give himself time to muster up some courage, he chested up to the bar and asked for a drink. The barkeep, a diminutive little man, took the few coppers it cost and passed over a small leathern jack of cheap wine, then turned to snarl at a yellowed, trembling, beggarly man over on the nearest bench.

“No money, no more wine, Yellow-jack! Ya knows that!”

Hirst hoped this was worth the effort. Bailey seemed quite the scrubber. Sasha had been of great help to him but had taken this plan badly. He had had to explain his exact role in gaining Bailey Zaid’s help. Tears and recriminations followed, in which he was no match for Sasha, and beat a retreat. And now here he was, hoping to win the favor of someone who danced drunk on a table for coppers.

A bull-necked rough missing a hand pressed up to the table, reaching up his jack in encouragement.

“Another jug for ya girlie” – One-hand

“Jugs! Woohooo!” – Bailey, cupping her fun-bags

Overcome by the moment, One-hand reached for her. But this was not a swain to her liking, it seemed. She snapped a kick to his jaw, and he went down like a poleaxed steer!

The man leaning at the bar beside Hirst detached himself from his drink, and made his way over to One-hand’s body, and began rifling it. Nor was this to Bailey’s liking: sweeping up a coin from her table she threw it, hard, and it bounced off the man’s head.

“Avast, lubber, stow the jibs’l!” – Bailey, apparently all at sea

A rangy, bearded man rose from the corner where he had been puffing something resinous in a pipe, and strode over with long strides. His eyes shone with the dreamy look of the lotus-user. Whether he was about to say something profound or coarse will never be known. The beaned man decided to blame him rather than Bailey, and swung a punch. Strider swung back at Bean, and the two began fighting in earnest. Bailey screamed her approval and sank back on the table, squirming with pleasure.

Taking advantage of the disturbance, Yellow-jack blind-sided the barkeep, lifting him and slamming his head on a barrel. The little man passed out. Yellow-jack gleefully began helping himself to the drinks on the bar. Hirst spared this not a thought, for by this time he had crept up behind Strider, who stood panting above Bean’s prostrate form. Cold-cocking the man, Hirst delivered a stunning blow and laid him out with a one-two follow-up.

Bailey was his by right of conquest, and insisted on sealing the tryst in the nearest alley, up against the wall, where she screamed her ecstasy in loud caterwauls to the Palena night sky.

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