The March of the Rose
Chapter 10

Copyright© 2015 by R22CoolGuy

Merchant Marine Academy, port city of Re-An, Southern Reaches, Andor

Dunin Brandson's four years at the academy were finally over. The achievement was marked by a large ceremony of the graduating class. Dunin had excelled during his time at the academy and had achieved the rank of lance-corporal within the marines.

The Merchant Marines like the Malkurian Guardsmen were a sub-sect of the Fighter's Guild that used military ranks instead of the normal guild rankings. The marines were privates as an apprentice, and during their time at the academy. Upon graduation they were in fact journeymen within the guild but held ranks of Private First Class, Corporal, and finally Sergeant as they advanced. Within the master's ranking were Lieutenant, Captain, Major, Colonel, and finally General.

Dunin's rank of Lance Corporal was a lateral rank within the first level of journeyman status, and was awarded based on heroism during action at sea between his third and fourth year when he was stationed aboard ship during his apprenticeship cruise.

The time at the academy was good to Dunin. He grew another few inches and gained several more pounds of muscle, filling out his six foot two inch frame. His hair was still an unruly mop but now it was plaited in the back and banded, hanging down to his shoulder blades. His skill with a sword was legendary within the academy and in the four years he had never been bested in sword play. More importantly, he was no longer the naive young fisherman he was when he entered the academy. Four years with a Runesword as his only trusted companion and confidant had opened his eyes to the world at large and his place in it. Now he was strong, confident, and worldly, even if just from his interaction with Kalaban. Dunin was a changed man and changed for the better.

Now that he was a full-fledged Marine it was expected that he sign up with a sailing vessel with the other members of his class. Part of the requirement of attending the academy was the follow on posting. Marines gave two years following the academy to the fleet before being released to pursue their own endeavors.

Dunin and his class mates stood grouped around a bulletin board looking at the available postings. Dunin had graduated in the top ten of his class and was therefore afforded choice postings from a separate list. He selected a merchant cutter that was in dry dock undergoing repairs, giving him time to journey to Malkur and see his mother. He stopped in at the ship's afloat detachment headquarters to present himself to the Sergeant-at-Arms and explain his travel plans. The detachment's commander was happy to have him and gave him a reporting time of two moon cycles, sufficient to travel to-and-from Malkur and have a nice visit with his mother.

After leaving the wharf area Dunin made his way to the Merchants' Guild to see about booking passage to Malkur. There was nothing available by way of a personal conveyance, so he volunteered for guard duty with the next available train and was heartily accepted. The guild representative informed him where the train would be leaving from and the name of the wagonmaster. Dunin thanked the rep and returned to his barracks to pack his things.

Michael's cottage, on the edge of the Duskwood Forest, Western Realm, Andor.

When Tristan and Graydon woke the next morning they found that Michael had passed away sometime during the night. He lay peacefully in his bed, arms folded across his chest, and the hint of a smile set in his face. Tristan began to sew him up in the bedsheet while Graydon left the cottage to look for a likely burial site. Graydon returned after finding a likely spot and they placed the knight's tunic on his chest before Tristan finishing the sewing. Grayson had found a wheel barrow and they reverently laid the body in its bed for transport to the spot that had been selected.

Using shovels that Graydon had found in a small tool shed when looking for the wheelbarrow they dug a suitable grave and laid the remains of Brother Michael to rest under a large oak tree. Tristan fashioned a headstone and Graydon drew Lightbringer and said a few words over the grave. They returned to the cottage and after cleaning up, closed the door and took one more look around before walking their horses back to the main road.

"We should make Loudin about lunchtime," Tristan announced, mounting his horse and turning it south. "As long as we are unmolested."

"That would be nice," Graydon replied solemnly, mounting his own horse. "Both making it to the town, and being unmolested."

Tristan chuckled and urged his horse forward, easing into a nice pace. They did reach the city gates of Loudin unmolested and right before lunch. Tristan told Graydon he had a couple of errands to run and that Graydon should go ahead and book them rooms at the 'Pious Satyr'. He told Graydon where the inn was and then cautioned him not to do anything rash. Tristan dismounted and handed his horse's reins to Graydon, who replied by nudging his horse forward, leaving Tristan standing there alone, shaking his head.

Loudin was your typical city state of the Central Plains. It was laid out in a manner similar to Malkur to the east, except that Loudin had two gates, one east and the other west, instead of Malkur's one. Originally the western outpost of a bygone kingdom, the city now was the gateway to the Western Realm and trade hub with the Elves and other fae to the west. The city boasted a large Half-Elf community and its ruler was Half-Elf.

The city was large with three levels rising up above a fifteen foot outer wall and twenty foot inner wall. The lower city was the heart of the city-state; shops, inns, guildhalls, and businesses catering to all the various needs and desires of its populace. The city guard, as well as the ducal guardsmen, were housed in the lower city. The middle city was home to the affluent class of merchants, nobles, and other guilds. Various temples and religious institutions were also housed in the middle city. The upper city was dominated by a keep, the home of the current ruler, Duke Sanata Rees, the twelfth Duke of Loudin.

Graydon decided to stop at the inn, secure their rooms, stable the horses, and then go out and explore the lower city before Tristan returned. He followed Tristan's directions and soon found himself outside the inn. He dismounted and tied both horses to the hitching rail before entering the inn in search of the proprietor. Having secured two rooms, stable space for two horses, and a reservation for dining, he left the inn and began exploring.

Innocent to the ways of the world as he was, Graydon did not realize that he stuck out like a sore thumb, and did not see the glances cast his way. Seven feet tall, with sparkling bright silver chain mail and a sky blue tunic with a holy symbol on the front, he looked like some avenging angel. Paladins were rare enough on their own in the five realms but one of Graydon's royal stature and holy countenance caused him to stick out like a sore thumb. Little children pulled at their parent's arms trying to get close to him as he strolled down one of the walkways that were on either side of the cobblestone street. Eventually, he wandered into the seedier side of town, which housed rundown taprooms, and gambling establishments where one could and normally did lose one's shirt and sometimes even one's life. Not that people did not live down in this section because they did and made a living there as well.

Graydon was taking in the ambiance of the area when he heard a small voice calling out for help. He turned toward the noise and saw a small, little girl dart out from an alleyway and straight toward him. He stooped down and opened his arms as she leaped into them.

"Now, now," he gently said, patting her back in an attempt to calm her down. "Why do you not tell Ole' Graydon what is wrong?"

"M-m-my P-p-poppa," she wailed, pointing toward the alley. "P-please help him!"

"What is your name, little one?"

"Sally," the little girl replied. "They are hurting him, please help."

"Well, let us go see what is going on," Graydon replied, picking her up and setting her on his left shoulder.

He turned and entered the alleyway, quickening his pace and moving at a speed that belied his size.

Tristan left Graydon with instructions to procure their lodging and went in search of the man who owed him money for rescuing his daughter. The man, James Maylone, worked in the middle city for a trading house as well as having a home in one of the nicer sections. It took Tristan little time to locate the trading house, and he entered the establishment looking for Trader Maylone.

"Swordsman Baelfire, you are alive!" Trader Maylone exclaimed, approaching Tristan. "I thought for sure you were dead when I saw them capture you."

"You saw my capture and did nothing?" Tristan exclaimed hotly.

"When you did not return after going back for the other victims I followed after and saw them capture you," James explained. "My first responsibility was to see my daughter to safety. We made for Thebes like we planned and I booked a room at the 'Pious Satyr'. I had planned to send help and was actually on my way to do so when I noticed several men watching the inn. I got spooked and hired guardsmen from the local Merchants' Guild and left the same day. I am sorry that I did not help you but you told me that my daughter was more important."

"Yes, well, I know I did, but you could have sent someone out to check on me, at least," Tristan replied, his anger flowing away.

"I wanted to, except the guardsmen were more expensive then I hoped, and I did not have anything more to fund a rescue," James replied tentatively.

"Well, I am here now and wish to close the contract and get paid," Tristan declared. "How is your daughter?"

"Traumatized, as could be expected but doing better," James replied nervously. "She is being tended to by the 'Sisters of the Tender Mercies and Sweet Succor'."

"I hope she recovers quickly," Tristan replied. "Now, about my payment."

"Swordsman Baelfire, you have to understand," James began nervously. "When I saw you captured and presumed killed, my only thought was to my daughter's safety. When I saw those men hanging around the inn after we arrived I panicked and hired guards, like I said. I used up all of the rest of my available funds, even the funds that I had set aside to pay you, figuring you would no longer need them."

"Trader Maylone, we had a contract," Tristan stated firmly. "Secured and underwritten by the Thieves' Guild! Do you understand what will happen if you do not honor the contract?"

Waves of differing emotions flooded Tristan's senses; indignation, outrage, anger, and retribution threatened to completely overwhelm him. He staggered back as he tried to gain control of the feelings washing over him. James looked worried, and then looked back to where two men were standing, two men wearing the tunics of Malkurian Guardsmen! They stepped forward and closed ranks in front of James, hands reaching toward sword hilts.

Tristan's hand reached for the hilt of his sword as the two guardsmen made threatening moves toward theirs. Tristan's sword fairly leaped from its scabbard, vibrating in his hand as he brought it up in a defensive position. The sword seemed to move of its own volition, dragging Tristan's hand and arm with it. It took Tristan a moment to collect himself, fight down the emotions, and control his arm, but in the end he was able to wrestle control back from the sword and dropped the blade down.

"By the Gods I should just run you through right now, but I will not," Tristan declared, a baleful look crossing his face. "Trader Maylone, I will have to inform the guild that you broke a binding contract and let them deal with you. Either way you are a walking dead man, with or without guards!"

Tristan backed out of the business, keeping the two guards in his sights the whole time. When the door closed in front of him he took a deep cleansing breath and looked left and right before stepping away from the threshold. He turned to his left and leaned back against the building breathing hard and gaining control of his emotions.

"What in the name of the Gods was that?""_ he mentally asked, shaking his head to clear it.

He suddenly pushed himself off of the wall and drew his sword, examining it, for what he really did not know. The sword looked no different and yet he felt something from it, but that just seemed crazy. Sheathing it again, he made a decision, turned, and hurried toward the guild headquarters. He needed to report to his guildmaster and let him know about the status of the contract.

Tristan had just turned down the street that led to the Thieves' Guild when he saw a squad of city guardsmen quick time down the street, turn a corner, and enter an alley to his right. He could hear sword play and what he thought was angelic harping.

"No, that cannot be possible," he thought to himself. "What would Graydon be doing down in this section of town?"

He picked up his pace, following the guardsmen, and came upon a large open courtyard where he found Graydon fighting off several low-lifes that frequented the area. His sword was out and angelic harping could be heard emanating from it as Graydon battled a decreasing number of knife wielding adversaries, decreasing because there were more bodies laying at his feet then actually standing and attacking. The fallen men were not dead, most lay moaning and writhing on the floor, while some few others were still, either dead or unconscious Tristan did not know. Graydon was using the flat of his sword's blade to incapacitate his assailants, without doing any permanent damage.

Standing closely behind Graydon was a young girl holding the hand of a man, who appeared to have been badly beaten. Tristan quickly drew his sword and called out to him.

Graydon had turned the corner of the alleyway which opened up into a large open courtyard with doors on various sides. He saw a man being held by two others and a third man delivering a series of blows to the held man. Two other hard cases were standing around acting as guards or lookouts. From the looks of things the man had received quite a few blows to the face. He lowered the little girl, Sally, to the ground and then drew Lightbringer.

"It seems the odds are a little one-sided," Graydon declared, calling out, swinging Lightbringer back and forth. "I am going to have to ask that you unhand that man."

The two lookouts advanced on Graydon, brandishing short swords. They stopped to look around for the source of harping and looked back at him confused.

"Repent and lay down your weapons and no harm will befall you," Graydon declared. "Continue down the path that you are on and you shall surely perish."

The two closest assailants attacked Graydon, who easily turned aside their amateurish attempts at sword play. He was careful to use the flat of Lightbringer's blade to stun and knock them down without doing serious damage. Concentrating on the next attack, he blocking and knocking the next two assailants. He noticed that the bullies, or whatever they were, had left the father alone so Graydon began working his way to where the man lay stunned on the ground. Sally followed along, hiding behind his legs but not deterring his movements at all. Soon enough he was blocking any attacks against the father and daughter with his body as he continued to beat back the attacks of the men. He noticed several other low lifes entering the courtyard and figured that fairly soon he would have to rethink the non-fatal fighting.

"You do not have to end up like your compatriots," Graydon stated, trying to advert more bloodshed. "Lay down your weapons and back away."

The attackers spread out trying to encircle Graydon's position, but he kept moving back and forth to confuse them. Graydon heard the approach of more men and snuck a glance in time to see city guard enter the courtyard. Right behind the guard he saw Tristan.

"Graydon, are you all right?" Tristan called out.

Graydon nodded, keeping his focus on the remaining ruffians as well as the city guard. The squad leader, a corporal judging from his collar device, stepped forward and commanded everyone to halt. The ruffians, seeing that their position was indefensible, stepped back and lowered their weapons. Graydon also dipped Lightbringer's tip but continued to maintain a vigilant watch.

Tristan sheathed his sword and approached the man and the little girl. He explained that he was Graydon's companion and wanted to look the man over for the extent of his injuries. The man was bruised and had several cuts that would need tending to, but all in all his injuries were not life threatening. Tristan helped him to his feet as the corporal approached asking the man his recollection of the events.

"Corporal, we need to get this man to the healers," Tristan announced. "Can your questions not wait?"

"Can the paladin not tend to his wounds?" the corporal asked, pointing at Graydon. "None look to be life threatening."

Tristan shrugged and looked at Graydon, who shrugged back and then reached down to grasp the hilt of his sword.

"Lightbringer, can I heal and if so how do I?"

"Yes, Paladin, you have that skill now. I also have that skill. Place your palm over his chest and think of healing his wounds. Alternatively, you can command me to heal him as well."

He looked up at Tristan and nodded before approaching the man.

"Here, sit down and I will attend to you," Graydon commanded as he helped the man to sit down and then knelt at his side.

He placed his palm on the man's chest and followed Lightbringer's instruction. Nothing happened for a few moments, but then Graydon felt something well up inside of him and flow out through his palm and into the man. There was a white glowing light surrounding the palm and associated area on the man's chest and his visible wounds began to close up and disappear. He held his hand on the man's chest for several moments after the wounds healed and then removed it. Graydon felt a little dizzy as he stood up and shook his head to clear it and fought off the waves of lightheadedness.

The guard had arrested the instigators and had run off the rest, and were now waiting on their corporal to finish his interview with the father. Graydon learned that the man's name was Pitor Thresher and he had run afoul of a local loanshark when he was unable to repay his loan. The corporal was satisfied with the information and warned the man about dealing with the black market and criminal element. The corporal saluted Graydon and Tristan before leaving with his men.

Graydon and Tristan escorted the man and his daughter back to their home. Though they lived in the seedier part of the city, their home was cozy and well maintained on the inside. It was there that the complete story came out.

"I am ashamed of my actions," Pitor declared, after serving his guest tea. "But before I try to explain let me first thank you both for what you did for Sally and me."

"There is nothing to thank us for, or explain, for that matter," Graydon replied. "I am charged to help where I can and Tristan has adopted my code and helps as well."

"Well, most would have walked by without a further thought," Pitor replied. "My wife, Sally's mother, died suddenly about a season ago. I fell into despair and was unable to continue my job and therefore fell behind in my obligations. If it were not for Sally I probably would have not had the courage to go on.

"When I finally came to my senses I was behind on most of my obligations and was unable to secure funds the traditional way. It was then that I approached a man that is in the business of making loans of a riskier nature. I paid off all of my outstanding debts and was soon working toward replaying the loan I had taken out when the particulars of the repayment were changed."

"I have seen that before," Tristan interjected, nodding in agreement. "The idea is to keep you under the thumb of the loan shark forever."

"Yes, that was what I had come to believe as well," Pitor continued. "I work for the local merchant guild in shipping and receiving. The loanshark wanted me to give him information about various shipments; contents, dates, routes, guard strength. When I refused, well, you saw what happened when I refused."

"Were you making the agreed upon payments? Never short or late?" Tristan asked, a touch of anger slipping into his tone of speech.

"Yes, believe me. I want nothing better than to be done with the whole affair and even was so bold as to pay extra on the principle, while still meeting the interest or vigor."

"What is this man's name," Graydon asked, a growl in his voice.

"Phineas Sweeney," Pitor replied. "Why?"

"I think it is time to visit this Phineas Sweeney and settle your loan completely," Graydon stated.

Tristan looked at Graydon and said nothing, but a frown was evident on his face.

"What? No, you do not have to do that," Pitor replied, misunderstanding the expression of Tristan's face. "You have done more than enough, more than anyone could expect."

"Nevertheless, that is what we are going to do," Graydon declared with finality, staring straight at Tristan.

He then instructed Tristan to remove several gems from the bag of gems and give them to Pitor. Graydon told Pitor that as far as he was concerned the loan would be settled today and that Pitor had nothing further to fear from this Sweeney or any of his associates. The two men then left Pitor and Sally's home.

"Do you know where we can find this Sweeney character?" Graydon asked as they left the house. "Is he a member of the Thieves' Guild?"

"Yes, and yes," Tristan replied, nodding absently, deep in thought. "He has a small front business not too far from the inn where we are staying. It is a small second-hand trinket shop. He uses it as a base for smuggling and fencing of stolen merchandise.

"Graydon, we need to be cautious, Phineas Sweeney is a mean-spirited bully and quite mad. He passes himself off as an upper-crust merchant, dresses the part and everything, but deep down he is meaner than a cornered snake, and just as slippery. He is pure evil and likes to hurt people for fun."

"The Lawmaker requires us to take up the cause of the downtrodden, Tristan, and Sally and her father definitely fall in that category. How can you not want to help them after hearing their plight?"

"No, you misunderstand," Tristan stated emphatically, stopping, grabbing Graydon's arm, and looking straight into his eyes. "I am all for helping that little girl and her father. I have never been a fan of Sweeney or his tactics. And I understand you have Lightbringer and all that. I am just saying we need to be cautious and not just run in there without understanding the dangers."

"Will there be any repercussions from the guild?" Graydon asked, and started walking again.

"Possible, but with what Pitor told us highly unlikely."

"What do you mean?" Graydon asked; this time it was he stopping and grabbing Tristan's arm.

"The Guild has certain rules that must be adhered to by its members; Sweeney broke one of them if what Pitor said is true, and I have no reason to doubt him."

"Which one?"

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