Road to Torik (earlier part)
False Dragon of Torik
Second Part of the Torik Chronicle
|*Public Domain Illustration|
The four horsemen arrived at the town of Torik in late afternoon and while they could see the road continued up a small rise to the large chateau of the Duke of Torik, which also doubled as the townsfolk redoubt and keep. The Duke, Roget Willoughby, also owned a lot of the peppercorn fields overseen by such a residence.
They tied their horses and then entered Torik de Arms Inn. Most of the bottom floor was taken up by tables where supper was being served to patron. Upstairs there were actual rooms to let, not just a hay loft. The sign out front with the name Torik de Arms Inn had a wooden representative of a disembodied arm, with the end of it being painted red.
At first glance it was quiet and no one was in the street. Then again that was also suspicious to Meritor who still had no idea why they had been sent by the senile King's son, Prince Harald. Meritor looked from table to table as Braccus approached the man at the counter.
“Are you still looking for that dwarf?” Kaster asked, “Seems rather pointless. No doubt he was hired by someone else to get rid of us.”
“Funny little man.” Hodkins said with a chuckle.
Meritor frowned. He hadn't told them about “Lord Jasper”, but you would think they would at least have some desire to run a blade through the dwarf that tried to have them killed by trolls. The dwarf, Malwort, had no way of knowing how much experience the big men had at killing the beasts. A pathetic attempt to slay them it might have been, but really, he still tried to kill them!
Braccus returned. He had acquire a room for the night, just one, but there was a good chance they would do no sleeping. “I think our contacts will give us a message before long. They couldn't have missed our arrival in this small town.”
Braccus led them to the dining room where several rough-hew tables sat. Wine, bread and cheese were delivered to the table by a young lady. Meritor really hoped that Hodkins or Kaster didn't call her “wench” or they'd be asked to leave.
“If they approach us soon, we'll take to the ale house across the way.” Braccus said.
“Sounds like a good plan!” Hodkins said pouring the wine in his cup down his throat, although some missed and dribbled down his beard. Meritor tried to act civilized but his compatriots were chowing through the bread and cheese like it was their last supper.
“Calm it down.” Meritor said, “This isn't even the main course.”
Braccus laughed. He had already known but, he always let the men enjoy themselves. Sure enough a plate of baked chicken, potatoes and carrots with a side of raw tomatoes was delivered. Meritor was nodding deeply and saying “Thank you, young miss.” while the brutes were already tearing the meal to bits and stuffing it into their mouths. Meritor tried to think about something else besides his partners having the manners of a full-grown hog.
He was thinking about the large manor on the hill. The Duke was central to everything in the area and the town of Torik, his hill overlooked everything. Roget Willoughby was part of this whole thing, one way or another. Meritor also wanted to find a good time to ask, as casually as possible, about this Lord Jasper. Hopefully when the others were not around.
The dwarf would have to stand out. Probably everyone knew the dwarf, Malwort. Maybe he was the town mascot, might be he ran errands for employment. One never knew before one asked. A shadow fell upon the table and they looked up to see a thin, balding with the bearing of a noble.
“The Duke requests your presence at the manor house.” he told them in very precise language. Meritor didn't expect to find anything but illiterate bumpkins in these parts, he was impressed. Maybe this Roget Willoughby was a decent chap after all. If he was in contact with Prince Harald, then he already knew how things were going in the kingdom too.
The Duke's messenger had his own horse and they followed him up the hill and through the opened double gate in the fence. Another of the Duke's servants took care of their horses as they were bid to follow the messenger into the main house. Once inside Meritor noted how clean and well furnished the place was. It was like being in an antechamber of the palace.
“Please take a sit in the library.” The messenger said and waved his armed toward a door. Braccus opened it and entered a room as big as the dining room they had left. The walls of this one were covered with shelves holding books of all shapes and sizes. It would be heaven for Meritor to have the time to study this room and the books in detail, but he was afraid these three bears would trample these precious tomes.
“If it was a troll problem, we might have already taken care of that.” Kaster said with some amusement as they sat on the plush-cushioned couch.
“It is probably not so simple as that.” Braccus replied, “Otherwise they might not have needed us. A troop from the King's guard could have been dispatched. I think this is something else altogether.”
“I don't feel good about this and I don't even know what we're here for.” Hodkins said jiggling around antsy in the comfy chair. There was a light clinking of glass in the next room, Meritor was going to check it out but the door swung open.
“I am the Duke of Torik, Roget Willoughy.” The rather high and squeaky voice called out as a short, plump fellow in fine clothes entered. The other three rose to their feet, towering over the poor man who seemed to want to flee. Or at least that was Meritor's translation of the look on his chubby face.
He seemed to regard the men in the room with some trepidation for a moment before remembering what he had called them for. “Ah, yes.” he said reaching into the inside pocket of his tailored suit coat.
He withdrew a parchment. “I am in regular correspondent with His Highness Prince Harald and Heir to the throne of all Archlandia. According to him the King is without all of faculties, so when there was a problem I was to... to make it a short story he sent you to help.”
Braccus accepted the parchment and looked at it.
Dear Duke of Torik, Master of the Keep and Keeper of the Redoubt, Roget Willoughby of House Willoughby.
I understand your concerns. It is absolutely not an ordinary thing that field hands are being made too frightened to work and townsfolk dare not venture outdoors.
I am sending four men. They should arrive almost as soon as you receive this letter. You will explain to them what has happened and who you suspect. Explain whatever local politics you need to let them draw their own conclusions.
Since a power play may come at any time, I sent you men that you can trust to guard your back.
Yours truly and always,
Braccus gave the letter back to the Duke who folded it carefully and replaced it to his pocket, as if it would some day be considered a historical document.
“Dragons” Roget Willoughby said boldly. “A few people disappeared and the stories someone I spreading are blaming dragons. I placed lookouts on the top of the keep and there was never any sighting of a dragon. Suffice it to say, I do not think there is a dragon.”
Then men nodded.
“A dragon we could handle.” Hodkins said with a hand on the hilt of his sword. “Wouldn't be a problem at all.”
Kaster grinned and shook his head. “If I find a dragon's nest, I'll let you go in first.”
Meritor just frowned. He was leaning against the wall to the next room, the same one with the clinking glass. He heard shuffling in the wall.
“You might want to think about hiring someone to catch some rats.” Meritor said.
The Duke grinned but said nothing. “As I said the towns people and the hands are all frightened, I have peppercorn in the fields that need to be harvested. I would even have trouble finding a beggar to hunt rats at this point.”
“The letter said something about your top suspects?” Braccus said, rubbing his chin again.
The little man nodded. “The second largest landholder, Lord Jasper, hasn't had as much trouble keeping his workers in the fields. I find it rather suspicious.”
Meritor was all ears. Lord Jasper was involved in this after all. This man had sent the dwarf and trolls to stop them from coming to Torik. Suspicious was an understatement, this Lord Jasper needed to be in chains as soon as possible.
“I have little doubt that his men were the ones spreading the rumors about dragons.” Duke Willoughby told them, holding out hi pudgy white hands. “But I will defer to you and your men on this one. You work for the crown, or its prince, after all.”
“We need to speak with this Lord Jasper.” Braccus said, “If we can clear him, then we can start hunting the real culprits.”
“My assistant waits for you in the foyer, he can tell you how to find Lord Jasper. It is my bedtime and I bid you well and goodnight.” the man said before taking a bow in the hallway as they left the room and then he walked up nearby stairs.
“Funny little man. Seems harmless enough.” Hodkins mumbled on the way.
To Meritor, who knew what the dwarf had said on the way to his escape, Lord Jasper was most definitely the guilty party. It was dark but they followed the Duke's servant who carried a lantern on a stick in front of him. The gave him enough light to see where he was going.
“Are you certain we should call on Lord Jasper at such a time as this?” Kaster asked, for they weren't going fast enough to not hear each other quite well.
“Call on him?” Meritor said, “We should chain him and drag him out.”
Braccus chuckled. “That seems quite harsh for a first meeting, especially from someone who is usually the most cautious among us.”
“Maybe he knows something?” Hodkins said, grinning “I could make him talk.”
“He's on our side.” Kaster said, going along with the joke, “I think.”
Braccus hushed them. Even the Dukes man, stopped and listened. There was nothing but some rustling grass in the wind. “I thought I heard someone moving through the high grass.”
After another moment Braccus shook the reigns and his horse moved again, the rest of them followed suit.
“The house is up ahead. I take my leave of you now.” The servant said before galloping off in the direction from which they came. Meritor rode up closer to Braccus and said in a low voice. “Malwort, the dwarf mention Lord Jasper as he escaped. I didn't want to say this with anyone in hearing range.'
“Indeed?” Braccus asked, although barely more a question than a statement. They rode up to the gates of a large house. It was not nearly as large-looking as the great home of the Duke, though.
They dismounted and walked to the gate, There was a large metal door knocker there that Braccus pounded. It seemed like it might fall by the time someone in nightclothes and carrying a candle reached them.
“What is all this ruckus about? What do you, er, gentlemen want?”
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