Chapter 23

The wizard could see Zwain and Leopold exit from the city and enter into the forest from the window of his office. It was way up in one of the castle towers and provided a clear view of the whole town. Finnegan stepped back to one of his walls and pressed in a stone, revealing a secret pathway. He lit a torch and followed the spiral staircase that led him down into the castle sewers.

The sewers were a part of a network of secret exits built to have multiple escape routes for the King. Finnegan didn’t care too much for them, the smell always lingered on his clothes for days following any visit to the dank and dark place.

He kicked out at a couple of rats that scurried over his feet as they ran about the floor scavenging for food. The wizard shivered at the though of their diseased claws coming anywhere near his skin.

He was happy when he came to the ladder that would lead him right up into the market. He knew he had to move fast if he didn’t want to lose their trail. Finnegan pushed aside the iron grate as he climbed up into the street. He didn’t even bother with replacing the grate and hurried his way towards the exit of the city.

A young man with a round face, wearing a grey cloak and missing his right arm stepped in front of Finnegan and began to ask, “Excuse me, but I was wondering–”

“Sorry, I don’t have time to deal with you lepers,” said Finnegan, cutting off the individual and brushing past him as briskly as his feet could carry him.

From behind him he could hear the puzzlement in the voice of the young man, “Leper? The fuck?” and rolled his eyes at the calloused way that today’s youth seemed to throw about those curse words.

Finally he made it out of the city and into the forest. He saw them make their way down the southeast path, so Finnegan hustled his pace and started down that path as well. After twenty minutes or so he finally came upon Zwain and Leopold.

Zwain was now telling Leopold about another many named Christopher Leg. From the distance that Finnegan followed, he was unable to pick up the majority of the story, so he didn’t pay it any heed.

Finnegan trailed behind them for the next hour or so and once they had exited the forest that surrounded Steveston, he knew where they were heading; back to the encampment. Finnegan veered off of the their course and assumed his own, sticking closely to the perimeter of the forest.

A short while later he came up to the foothills of another nearby mountain. This one did not contain a hidden cave entrance. This entrance was exposed and littered with various animals skulls–including human skulls–to ward off anyone who was less than the bravest. Finnegan didn’t even slow his step as he kicked his way past the bones making little white puffs of dust twirling around his ankles.

The Orcs never fully trusted the wizard, but with the air of arrogance he carried himself with they sure had respected him. Finnegan walked past the various members of what was temporarily Bartleby’s clan. Bartleby was by his own tent with sheets and maps laid out over a table; a level of sophistication that Unklar never dared to possess. Bartleby drew on the maps, marking places where there was the heaviest caravan traffic. He did not notice the wizard approach his table.

Finnegan place his hands firmly on the table and stated, “Bartleby, I have a request for you.”

Bartleby stopped what he was doing and looked up at the wizard. “Oh yeah? What be that?”

“First, I want to know, did you burn down the encampment like I asked you to?”

“Yes, fire burn good. We stomp rest into itty bitty pieces. So what request? We ready to attack?”

“No, not yet. Not as Leopold and his guards are still around. Which is why I have come here. It would seem that Leopold and Zwain are heading back to that encampment. Probably to look for some sort of evidence, but as to why, I know not. I just don’t want any damning proof to be found that I was involved. That could… complicate things.”

“So why that me problem?” asked Bartleby, folding his arms together in front of his chest.

“No, no problem for you, but if you want glory for the Orcs, then they will need to be taken care of. Just make sure you bring Zwain to my lab… Alive.”

“Bring Zwain-man to lab. Me understand.”

“Good, I shall expect you this evening. See you then, Bartleby.”

*          *          *

Bartleby was unable to get  any help from help of his clan. They still did not believe in him enough to follow his orders just yet. He managed to keep enough order for them to not go charging into Steveston, but even that was holding on by a thread. So instead, Bartleby made his way to the encampment on his own to bring this Zwain-man to the wizard.

His long stride carried him there in half the time it would have taken the average human; so it made for a brisk travel time. He spotted a three-pack of humans following one of the side roads in his same general direction. They were all wearing grey cloaks, but none were the Zwain-man. Bartleby made a big loop around them and continued to his destination.

He spotted them in the late afternoon sun. Leopold-man rarely left the town in anything but full armour, but here he was just wearing his leathers. He and the Zwain-man were hunched over some of the burnt rubble of the tents. Bartleby ducked behind some boulders to listen to them, as well as plan his attack.

“And look at these iron nails that were used to pin the canvas of the tent to the wooden poles. That the King’s insignia imprinted on the head of the nail, ” said Leopold-man.

“So it is just as we figured,” responded Zwain-man, “Who else would have access to these supplies, plus want to set you and your guards up for a suicide mission?”

Bartleby peeked a little further out from the boulder. Both of their backs were to him, staring out at the camp. With a level of stealth that no Orc could ever hope to dream about, Bartleby crept up behind the both of them.

He froze when the Leopold-man turned to the Zwain-man and said, “But Finnegan has been in service of the King ever since his rise into power, he fought valiantly beside King Stephen in the great war not ten years ago.”

Now the Zwain-man turned to face the Leopold-man. Bartleby panicked and rushed forward so that they did not have a chance to prepare for his attack. Bartleby’s roar interrupted the Zwain-man before he had the chance to even speak. The orc raised both of his fists into the air, the Leopold-man panicked and was unable to get his sword out in time.

Bartleby brought both of his fists down on top of their heads. The Leopold-man crumpled on the spot, hitting the dirt like a sack of potatoes. Bartleby caught the Zwain-man in his arms and hoisted him over his shoulder before running off for the foothills and Finnegan’s lab.

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