The next day dawned clear and bright, a small boon to the weary and sore companions. They rode south to the Baron’s fort, every step seeming to jar their bones a little more.
“Dear God, I need a beer.” Wain grumbled halfway there.
Sir James said nothing, though he privately agreed. His nose still smarted from the solid blows he’d taken the evening before and if he turned his head to quickly his eyes began to water. Not tear, mind you, a paladin tears up only in mourning or pity, never from pain. But occasionally their eyes will water.
Riding at a slower pace did ease their discomfort some, and consequentially it was middling afternoon when they rode through the gates of the fort and listened to the men groan as they heaved the heavy oak door shut again.
One of the bandits, an older man wearing a linen sash that had been white in ages past, lead the two adventurers into the same dim building where they had last left the Baron. The great man himself was seated at a table in the corner regarding a steaming dish of something brown and awful smelling with apparent displeasure.
“The paladin, Sir James Flickerflame, my lord.” Their elderly guide announced them with a sarcastic flourish of his hand and left.
“Ah, the roasted dog crap again.” Wain sat down at the table, “Must be Friday.”
“You wouldn’t know the difference.” The Baron nodded, “Were you successful in your quest?”
“Yes. We vanquished both your evil spirit and the cursed wolfman dwelling in the forest. Your roads are safe once more. What news of the orcish horde?”
“Really? You really slew them both?”
“We didn’t get these bruises from knocking uglies with the local wenches.”
“As my less-than-couth friend stated: yes, we really did it. And we’ve ridden all day to bring you the news. A little water and something to eat would not go amiss.” Sir James spoke crossly, “And neither would news of the orcish horde, for that matter.”
“Food and drink first,” White said, “Then news. I’ll have some brought.”
“None of that Friday stewed horse droppings either.” Wain shouted after him as he went through the door to the outside.
“Wain.” Sir James looked around the room.
“It suddenly occurs to me that this building is rather dank and old and undesirable, is it not?”
“When you look to closely, yeah.”
“And if you wanted to get rid of annoying emissaries after they have done your dirty work, you would trick them into a building like this and set it on fire, would you not?”
“Well no. I wouldn’t.”
“Yeah. I’d just kill them.”
“Even if you were a clever bandit leader pretending to be the baron of Dunn?”
“Ooh. Really? You think…”
“I’m getting that feeling.”
“Cor! Why that sneaky bastard!”
“You have nothing to fear.” The runere, Black, detached himself from the shadows in the far corner, “My lord may be ambitious, clever, and ready to seize hold of every opportunity that comes his way, but he has a damnably honorable outlook on life. At least in his own way.”
“Why would I believe a dirty magician?”
The runere stared at Wain, who matched his gaze and reached for his sword.
“Fine. Don’t believe my words. Believe then that my laboratory is underneath this building and we would be loath to set fire to it intentionally. You can go through the door and down the stairs if you like.”
“Sounds like a trap.” Wain rose and started towards the indicated door.
“Maybe.” Sir James faced the runere, “We have little reason to trust you or your master.”
“As little reason as we have to trust the two of you. Yet you don’t see us quibbling about it, do you? So much for the vaunted surety and solidarity of the Church and her agents.”
“You are trying to irritate me into giving something away.” Sir James smiled. “It won’t work.”
“It has worked!” Shrieked the runere, “You’ve given everything away! I know where the poison is!”
“Whoa, poison?” Wain hesitated with his hand on the doorknob.
“And so we feast with our triumphant heroes,” White burst into the room, another man struggling along in his wake with a groaning platter of food.
Sir James felt for his danger sense, but received no alarm from there. The runere grinned at him, making him more uneasy, but he waved a calming hand at Wain. The last thing they needed was for Wain to go berserk right now, with everyone on edge as they were.
“Black, what have you been doing?” White noted the tension in the room.
“Merely offering the good paladin a test of his faith.” The runere cackled.
“What does that mean?”
“His instincts are telling him to be wary and cautious because we will probably try to murder him and his friend, but his faith tells him we will keep, ah, faith with them.” The runere did a gleeful little jig, “So now we learn which he trusts more.”
“You spiteful little wretch.” White took a purposeful step towards his adviser, hand raised.
“No.” Sir James stepped between them, “Spiteful and obnoxious he may be, but surely Black has his reasons. I’m happy to prove to him the truth of my faith and that there are true believers in the Church. Perhaps my greatest mission here in Dunn has nothing to do with banditry and everything to do with his soul.”