I’d been under the impression that the operation would be relatively small-scale. The intel I’d been provided with was apparently completely upended by the time we met up with Cyrus. I’d expected that we’d be taking on an Imperial legion, with their main advantage being overwhelming numbers and a handful of men with magical capabilities, and ours being extensive knowledge of the terrain. Instead, we slipped past dozens of small boats, all ready to execute ambushes on their own group of White Rabbit Runners. The operation had clearly expanded in scope significantly.
We were confronted with nearly the exact opposite of what I’d been told to expect – superior numbers, to be sure, but little magical capability, and a vexingly superior tactical position atop a recently constructed barricade. They were also to signal for reinforcements with flares. Fortunately Galen was able to cast a wind wall over the entire fort, making any attempt at firing off flares futile. All of us save Finn were able to take to the air, and Galen and I rained down fire and lightning from the skies. One of them tried to take Finn hostage, which surprisingly enough may have been what saved him. He decided that my suggestion to take a swim sounded like quite the plan, and was long downstream by the time we’d accepted the surrender of the remaining crossbowmen. Considering we hang slavers in Treff, he might be the only one to make it out of the swamp alive.
We tossed the place and found an eye-popping amount of gold. Cyrus thinks they probably intended to use as a bargaining chip if someone got to her first. We can only assume they were concerned with the bloodsuckers, but they’re not terribly interested in payment at this point. For that matter, it’s not unlikely they’re getting intel from the bloodsuckers. We found a leaden Mosquito Kingdom signet ring that looks like it was copied from a seal, and there was an encoded letter with wax residue on its edges. Galen’s trying to decode it but it’s taking time.
Cyrus had some sort of code that convinced her to dock, and I’m glad he did because I don’t think that I would have had much luck convincing her that going into the swamp blind is a worse idea than trusting the Exiles. Even better, the group we’d met with were prepared to get her into the city themselves, so we didn’t have to figure out how to get her (and more to the point, her bodyguard) to let us take them through to the city. They were led by a man in Bantam livery, although not the man himself – rather, his valet. In what I can only describe as a very uncomfortable coincidence, he knows me. Well, “knows” less so than “remembers” – he remembers one of two very small girls in the inn he frequented on Dockside and Silk-Weavers in Stone Table, when he was a sailor and not a spymaster’s assistant. Don’t know why he was so insistent that I’d “made good”, as far as the Lords are concerned a mercenary’s no better than an innkeeper.
Another interesting wrinkle in this plot emerged – he asked us to keep this quiet, especially from Bishopsgate. I’ll get back to that thought later, it’s wetter than a siren’s vagina on this boat.
Nine bleeding Hells, the bridle was in the Rose the entire time. Isabella smuggled it out of the Empire in her prayer beads. I’d soundly expected that the chaos in the Church had something to do with why Bantam was so sure that the bridle would be available to us, but we’d tossed Isabella’s belongings fairly thoroughly when she crashed into our dining room. I’m trying not to let this make me paranoid about everything, but gods above and below, I feel like looking over every seemingly mundane item with a detect magic to see if it’s actually an ancient artifact in disguise would only be the tiniest bit crazy.
Aedilia, the girl, is rather resoundingly confirmed to be a lost heir to House Anaxamander. It was one of the more amazing sights I’ve seen – two dozen horses all slipping their stalls to bow, followed very quickly by the Horselords. I hope Finn and I didn’t offend, I’m a Tabler and she’s an elf, we typically don’t bow to queens or empresses. I’d probably fuck up the protocol anyway, safer to just show that I have no reason to know.
Bishopsgate wasn’t there. I’d met all the lords in attendance before – Cyrus and his father, Greystone, Johannes Limber, and Lysander Bantam. All Marchers, save Bantam. I’ve only gathered a glimmer of knowledge about how many noble families are in the city from my acquaintances in Carmine, but even that small scrap tells me that if there’d been a representative of each, we wouldn’t have been outnumbered by horses. This means something, and it means something important. If I understand the laws and customs of the Empire, and even though I’m pretty sure I don’t, I think that Aedilia’s claim to the throne might be the strongest one that exists, and presenting a legitimate heir during a time of crisis in the Empire the best shot the Lords in Exile have at making that name obsolete. Just for the sake of putting down a guess and see if it’s right, I think that Bishopsgate wants the throne more than he wants to improve the lot of the Empire or return to his ancestral lands.
Up until Finn was rather abruptly bumped into by a horse, Cyrus informing me that the entire exercise was pointless bullshit. Not what I’d expected out of him, and it makes me wonder if there’s a reason he was being so vocal. If this works, he has a real shot at going home. Has this happened before? Is there some other reason he’d desperately want for her claim to not be true?
For the record, I wasn’t surprised. There were many intelligent and powerful people with wildly opposing motives convinced that this was worth spending thousands of gold and risking dozens of lives, which is generally a good indicator that even if it is bullshit, enough worth’s been assigned to it that it’s no longer pointless.