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April 16, 1985
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"If we are to faitfully trust our neighbors, then how do they explain that the army of the Narls passed both of their cities by on their way down through the Greenvale and then throw themselves onto our defenses?" The Aggregator pointed north towards the southern pallisade that could be gleaned over the rooftops.
Lawman Herman Dauntless Voogansson, pushed his way through the crowd that had gathered to listen to the propaganda. Under ordinary circumstances, he rarely had to worry about congestion in his surroundings, it almost seemed like people flowed out of his way like water in front of a ship. Today, however was an exception, the audience could not have parted even if they wanted, and now their attention was firmly fixed on the small stage built from the remains of a razed house.
Herrman did his best to ignore the troublemaker and his speech. The hostilities between the various factions in the city had become increasingly belligerent in recent weeks, and now they had begun to adopt methods that were purely tasteless. Realistically the opinion of the mob out on Farisle didn't affect the big decisions being taken up in the city, but their dissatisfaction was nevertheless a currency that the Counts people now wanted to play in their favor. Just as they had spun Herrman's choice of closing the gates into a story of external threats and fearsome strangers among us.
The lockdown had not lasted more than a single day, even though they were no closer to finding the culprit. The city walls were never built with the intention of keeping someone locked in and by the afternoon. The guards had already found signs that people had managed to sneak out. After that, it was difficult to justify a continued isolation.
Two of the successful escapes were discovered in the direction of Farisle. One of them so obvious that there was even a ropeladder hanging down the outside of the palisade. Hense it did not come as a big surprise when now, two days later this was where his investigation carried him.
In the back lines of the crowd he could move more freely again and already he sensed the first stink from the crime scene. He rounded the corner of a slanting house and was met by Gusten who was standing guard with a handkerchief pressed over his mouth and nose. Further down the alley, Thomas stood bent double against a wall. He had lost a fight against his own stomach and his breakfast was now floating down a drainage ditch at his feet. The two adjutants shot a look at the stinking entrance and then turned expectantly toward their commander.
He lifted the cloth covering the entrance and stuck his head into the dark room. The scent inside was a lot worse and he could hear Thomas groan outside. Herman continued seemingly unfazed into the shed. Many assumed that it was the war that hardened him to the insensitive statue that his reputation described. That was undoubtedly a part of the truth, but few remembered that he as a child helped his uncle in the slaughterhouse. The only thing the war had contributed, was to erase the special treatment of a human body from the animals that he had already been indifferent to.
This victim however gave even him pause. Nailed up with arms stretched wide the older man hung from chisels that had been pierced through his hands and then stuck in the brittle planks of the walls. His knees rested on the packed ground, but were hidden by his intestines, that had spilled out from a tear in the abdomen.
Judging from the rag in his mouth and the tearing of his injured hands, it seemed terrible that the man was still alive when his other damage was added. It was difficult to see what could justify this sadism.
The cottage by the way was a chaos of vertyg and various other possessions spread freely on the bloody floor. What was in the way of furniture, they had been thrown away either in anger or in a careless search. It was impossible to see if it was the murderer who, or if later, successful successful seekers had taken action before Herrman's men had finished doing so.
Herrman turned around to leave the shelf but stopped before crossing the threshold. He took a deep breath into the terror of his subjects, behind the dominant scent of blood and contagion lay something stiff that stabbed him in his nose. He could not place it at the moment but showed that he knew it before.
Out in the sunlight, he waved his men to follow him as he went down to the water to wash his hands. "Thomas, get up to the wooden cemetery and see if they miss any of their members, it's doubtful that anyone in the federation would live in a mess here on Utö but it does not hurt to ask."
He then turned to Gusten. "It would be good if we could get some statements from the neighbors, but I think our presence here after that speech, will be perceived as offensive... Wait until people have a chance to settle down a bit.
He walked through alleys on the way back to Palissade, frustrated by having to sneak in his own city! He forced his hand, which unconsciously looked down to the ax in his belt.
When he came home from the war and picked up Mister Grim's cloak, many called him paranoid and overprotective, today they could call him whatever they wanted, as long as they did not stand in search of the monster that raided him's flock!
Mall stood before the towering wall while the morning light reflected in his sparkling eyes. The farmers wife who gave him shelter for the night had said that the gates usually opened at dawn, but this morning there seemed like something had interrupted the daily routine. The gate remained closed and he heard angry voices from the inside.
Eventually a man who did not resemble a guard, but rather a notary walked to the middle of the crenelation above the gate and blew a small horn to get the crowd that had now gathered in front of the gate's attention.
"The city gate will soon be opened for anyone who wants to travel into the city with urgent business. However, at the moment there is a lock down. A number of crimes and unexplained events have passed during the night and until we have more clarity in what happened, we can not let anyone leave the wall enclosure. I propose that you who came for today's market, make a provisional trading post in the field west of the city. We hope to open the flow back up as soon as possible, until then we ask for your forgiveness and understanding. " With his announcement completed, the bureaucrat gave a signal to the gate forts guards who were ready to let those who did not oppose the forced isolation enter.
In the mixed group at the foot of the gate, the arguments ran wild, many were upset at having to face this ultimatum, others were split on whether they really needed to do their business in such a hurry that they could not wait for this crisis to blow over. While some turned their back and returned to their homes in the neighborhood.
Mall had built a reputation for being vigorous and enterprising during his twelve years of life in the Black Cross, something he also strove to live up to. "If any of you have a minor errand or message that you need to get delivered to someone within the city then I can do it for you for five coppers a head!"
After mixed reactions regarding the young boy's trustworthiness, Mall still entered the fortified city with pockets filled with jingling coins. And a full day of courier work in front of him. However, promise and loyalty put their original destinations first on the list.
It had been many years since he had last been in this city at the continents point. At the time he had been riding his father's shoulders playing with an iron puzzle that he had made him. Nevertheless he could still see that much had changed over the years. In addition to the new wall and its adjoining palisade. The city within had expanded feverishly. Many of the buildings he passed in the commercial district were now large two-story houses.
He strolled in what he thought was the right direction to his uncle's office, but soon found himself disoriented. He considered heading for the house on the cliff, but then saw some guards flanking the side entrance of a house. Hoping to save some time in his search he went up to ask for directions. "Excuse me, I'm looking for Almu ..." Within the doorway at the foot of a staircase lay a body whose legs were spread at a definitely unnatural angle. Hunched over the corpse was the biggest man that Mall had ever seen. With black ruffled hair and a beard that concealed half his face, the giant looked like a monster from one of his mothers faerie tales.
Suddenly the door to the entrance was slammed shut by one of the guards who looked uncomfortable. "-Almund .. M-m-my uncle. I can't seem to find his workshop." Stammered Mall with a pale but oh so curious face.
Despite the tense situation, the guards were friendly and helpful. It turned out that Mall had already passed behind his uncle's property without realizing it, and he was now retracing his own footsteps back two blocks. If he could not find the way in his own service, the plan to run others errands suddenly seemed somewhat daunting. Maybe he could ask his uncle for help with a map or something simillar.
Once at the workshops, Mall slid through the open double doors and then sidled up to Almund's office beyond the busy work floor. He heard voices from within the closed of area and decided he did not want to interrupt them, so instead he stopped to listen.
"Do we know if the counselor has an alibi?" Said a rough voice that he thought belonged to his uncle.
"I think he's still in Roddrik's heath but I can look into it." Answered a quieter voice that could barely be distinguished over the hammering in the workshop.
"I guess it was to much to hope that the ferret would turn out to be a real monster in addition to his corruption ..." Sighed Almund.
Mall suddenly felt a heavy hand on his shoulder. "Going in or out? Choose before someone tramples you." He stumbled into the room, and felt how his cheeks blush when the men in the office switched their attention to him.
A series of emotions played over his uncle's face, everything from surprise to irritation and suspicion, over to confusion and landing on joy. "Malcolm?" He asked uncerntainly.
"Please say Mall, I'd prefer to avoid comparisons with grandfather." He responded as he leaned against a wall in a corner making room for the worker that followed him into the small room that now had begun to feel uncomfortably crowded.
Mall found himself out of focus and the conversation slipped into the days logistical problems of conducting exports in a city isolated from the outside world. "Let the trolleys remain loaded, but unharness the oxen and let the drivers have the morning of, Do we have someone at the North Gate so that we will know when the situation changes?"
The worker assured that someone would be sent on the assignment, excused himself and left.
"Should we really expect the gates to open so soon? Herman is not really known for letting up even lacking clues. The man is more blood hound than hum.." The older man was interrupted by Almund who had raised his finger, and then pointed it at the corner where Mal stood. "Well, Mall, if that's what you want to be called. It's not like we're not happy to see you, but what are you doing here?"
Mall walked up to the writing desk where the adults waited, dug around in his bag and produced a letter that he placed on the table. It was addressed to Almund but the wax seal was already broken. His uncle looked inquiring at his brother's sigil and then back up at Mall. "Yes, I realize it may look a bit bad, but I thought that if I get robbed on the road, I can pass on the message from my father risking my life over a piece of paper..." The fact that he had been worried about being mentioned in the letter and there by being tasked with delivering his own judgment, was never uttered.
"It's pretty dry in any case. Some scouting reports saying that the sellswords have now crossed over the Hammer River, and that you are free to reopen the trade route up to the Black Cross. Suggestions for a joint effort in helping the farmers along the coast getting back on their feet. And lastly an offer to help negotiating a truce between you and Uncle Jonas. I think that's all, but you have the letter so look for yourself." He turned around and jumped up into the only window the room had to offer, it stood slightly ajar airing out all the dust that came in from the workshop.
"Do you have any idea how he had planned to sort out our family feud?" Asked Almund with a humorless smile.
"Judging from your letters, Perhaps he hopes for you to set aside what separates you and instead remember that you are brothers, or something like that... It's better that he gets to present his arguments, rather than me trying to predict the future? " Mall now leaned his back out the window with his legs dangled as counterweights into the room.
"Your letters? ... Have you read what he wrote to Jonas too?" Almund took a subconscious step toward his nephew. Who quickly flipped out the window.
"Shame Uncle! I'm just a child, nobody gets upset if I'm curious. But you should know better!" He laughed as he ran up the alley toward the square and the fortress on The Rock. He realized later that he had forgotten to ask for the map. But he was not in any direct hurry, so he should be able to sort out his mail duties, even if it took him a week.
Thirteen years have past since the resupply fleet set sail. The bitter war against the Kemari was won after seven but the time that followed was if possible even more turbulent. Since every stronghold and lord had their forces mobilized and now stood without a common external threat. Neighbors turned on each other coveting each other's holdings, bloated sell sword companies stood without employment and found themselves turning to brigandry.
Out of the eleven aspiring heroes that set sail, only four returned. Though some of the others remain alive in the far north. Jonas of The Rock however did not return alone. With him, he brought four vessels from Count Rutland of Gilloy's fleet. After the fall of his high seat during the war, the Count lives in exile here in the south and now support Jonas claim to rule and defend the city through these difficult years.
As opposition in an internal city conflict, stands Jonas older brother Almund. He has gathered large parts of the city council to his side. Favoring a alliance among the the communities in the area, coming together in a joint defense and thus reducing the need for individual armament.
On a side note, the city achieved good growth during the war, as many craftsmen and merchants streamed in to sell their goods to the regular supply shipments. After the war ended, there has been a greater flow of refugees. Following the rumors of a safe port that has been spread through the more severely ravaged regions.
Those seeking asylum find heavy work in the growing defense works and now live in relative safety in ever growing shantytowns on Farisle.
As the city fends of external threats with increasing success, local pride has grown, and the heroes' banner is now flown as the city's emblem!
A more illustrative depiction of the city will follow in the next post.