I received your letter, regarding your demand to explain my plea to The Brotherhood for a different assignment. I had been informed that I have provided sufficient relevant information to begin an inquiry into our missing civilians’affair in Summerglen which I acquired while being stationed as a diplomatic adviser to the de-facto ruler of Ashfall, Lord Voltarus, a revolutionary man, whom I have stated in many previous reports is someone whose authority is not to be underestimated. As you have been informed, I had succeeded in gaining his confidence after we provided support troops to champion his claim to a Council seat. Yet, he has always been disinclined to declare his future plans, which is not surprising considering his speculations of our agenda and his tenuous hold of a declining oligarchy.
I am told you are unacquainted with our history, hence for your recollection, he is is the eldest son of Lord Plutarch, a reasonable man and a prominent member of the Harad Council, the governing body of Ashfall prior to the coup. Upon the unfortunate and sudden death of Lord Plutarch, there was a power struggle between Lord Voltarus and his half-sister Lady Valena, the details of which are obscure, but it was evident that the Lady won the support of the noble houses of Ashfall and was elected by the Council to taker her father’s place. For conspiracies against the Council, Voltarus was banished and moved to Ramroth where he stayed for 7 years. He returned,approximately 5 years ago, on being granted amnesty by the Council after a heated debate following the death of Lady Valena. A short while after his arrival, he managed to gain the support of the peasant classes for his role in consolidating the complaints on the increased taxation by the Council into a writ to be passed in the Council sessions to balance the taxation evenly rather than by the weight of produce, which the Council rejected, and declared his illegitimacy to pass a writ. This was countered by a proposal to instate him as one but refusal by the Council to entertain such demands and the following unrest resulted in a short but bloody civil war, with only two Council members living through the coup, and the subsequent installment of a democracy with Lord Voltarus as Primus.
I have done my best to keep The Brotherhood informed, regarding the Lord’s activities and relationships. As you are aware, I have often suspected not being the only adviser with ulterior motives in Voltarus’ court and have not failed to notice the Lord’s growing disagreements on governance along with the hostility extended towards the existing class system prevalent in almost all of the eastern lands regions, not to mention the rumors of the clandestine exports.
That has been the background till last night. However, yesterday, there was a curious development in the form of an invitation to dinner by the Lord himself, apparently on the occasion of a customary Ashfari gathering, hosted for good luck before going off on a hunt. Being wary, I sent my steward, an honest lad hailing from Parch, a village in Summerglen near the borders of the southern swamps, to do a bit of scouting as to what exactly was probably in store for me. Just before dinner he arrived with news that the other advisers as well as several prominent dignitaries had been invited as well, but the sharp lad had caught sight of a pair of Ghislaini mercenaries,who as he informed me, are wandering folk native to the swamps, infamous for dabbling in certain nefarious alchemical creations, entering the lord’s estate. I brushed aside the lads prejudice as he admitted that it was known to the hold servants that the lord intended to set out on a hunt the next day and they had been summoned for that purpose. Assured with the comfort of mingling in a crowd, I went to the estate.
Upon arrival my fears were further soothed as I beheld the gathering, it was a usual Ashfari affair, notable for the fragrance of roast Banthorn and a performance by a band of Ramrothian bards. I noticed the lord’s steward, Varothren, stood near the entrance, warmly welcoming the guests and dictating the servants to discreetly distribute the appetizer-palates that were left over among the stragglers gathered outside the grounds. The evening’s festivities went by in a haze of typical opulence but the absence of the lord himself from the gathering was noted. As the night grew old, those of us with invitations were led from the grounds to the estate for a private dinner. As we entered the dining hall, I finally beheld the lord seated at the end of the table. His demeanor was the same as it had been when I first met him upon the docks of Ramroth, and the only apparel that bespoke a change in his status were the crimson robes of the Council over a modest black tunic emblazoned with the a seal depicting the bronze towers of Ashfall.
He stood up and addressed us with a warm smile “Welcome honoured guests! Please be seated, and make yourselves comfortable” After we had all settled in, I noticed the warmth of the pavilion, sealed from the winds of winter. “I called this gathering to seek your blessings, for I plan to go on a hunt soon. But, the details of that can wait for the comfort of a full belly. Tuck in!” Voltarus said. I couldn’t help but notice that despite the welcome, the presence of the chevalier guards being overseen by Varothren at attention bespoke the privacy of the affair. However, mid meal, I thought I saw the lord look at me, but he said nothing, which made my discomfort setback in and I partook as little food and wine as I could, knowingly estimating it lesser than an amount which could be fatally harmful if it had undesirable ingredients, as my paranoia told me.
“My noble highlords, I trust the food is satisfactory?” he asked with a smile after the first course. All of the gathered eagerly nodded, for it was truly exquisite. “Good. Now, as I said, I intend to set off on the hunt soon, but I thought it would be interesting to let you know about it’s intent and about the disturbing reports I have been receiving about the dangerous menace threatening the populace.” He paused dramatically. “Tis an unusual prey. I believe they are distributed, each serving their own base desires” he spoke with a hint of contempt. ” It shames us to let such occurrences grow unchecked. To demonstrate our resolve to solve such dilemmas, as proud Ashfarians, we must act.” As he spoke I noticed he rummaged in his robes and drew a vial containing a blue liquid. “But I beg your pardon for robbing you of the opportunity to savor the next course, save your compliments or complaints for our new chefs from Ghislain” He threw me a sidelong glance ” I realize the broth is outlandish to most, but it gladdens me to see all of you enjoyed it. But, just in-case it does not agree with you in a while, let me know if you feel unwell for you may urgently need this extremely rare brew of Aquatertia” He said again waving the vial. ” But fear not, I made certain that the chefs were careful not to poison my loyal friends.” He chuckled. With great effort I hid my relief at having been wary of the food and maintained an attentive composure.
Oblivious to the silence that pervaded the rest of the gathering,the lord carried on casually “The Ghislain are a curious folk. Did you know they rub their cutlery with Deathroot extract which is later wiped off? Apparently, besides being an extremely potent poison, it also serves as an anti-corrosion agent.They amused me with a tale of their Fire festival, of an ambitious lady, who once lined some utensils with Deathroot, and brought the ceremonial dinner plate to their Warlord. She was a known rival in the clan hence the wary Warlord cautiously pretended to consume the sacrifice, but wrongly suspecting that it was the food which was perilous, he still raised his glass to his lips quite often and toyed with the utensils in his mouth to give off an impeccable display of enjoying his food. Besides knowing regret for unnecessarily wasting a perfectly good broth, he also underwent an extremely agonizing death. Pitiful, but ingenious I think”. Voltarus’ saccharine smile was returned by none at the table.
It was a wonder I put down my goblet without convulsing. I felt sick, was it the food, what he just said, or was it the poison, I could not know. I realized my hands were sweaty, I folded them and by sheer will managed not to panic, at-least not evidently. Yet, the lord went on along with that noxious smile.
“Well then, I thank you all for coming, but I must bid you a farewell for it is quite late, and I have just remembered I need to send a letter. it has been almost half an hour since we finished dining and here I am ranting on, paying no heed to your valuable time. My sincerest apologies, I must now retire to my chambers, any of the issues we discussed during the ball will have to wait till tomorrow ”
He rose and bowed signifying the end of his macabre “act” and started towards the pavilion exit.
The assembly exploded with chatter, the most loud overtone being the astounding audacity of the act, overlaid with complaints of offence and hints of admiration at the ruthless display. However none of that mattered to me as images of my numerous visits to the consulate meetings haunted me. My frenzied gaze was met by two more, the Duke of Vauxroll and the Countess of Rumare, the only ones who, beside me, looked terror stricken. I looked at the watch, I knew I barely had a few minutes left for the Deathroot to begin its toll. I prepared for the end. I am old Guildmaster, I could not bear the thought of being made to live after being branded with treason and disgraced. The Duke and the Countess however, became aggressive, they stood and stormed over to where Lord Voltarus stood, speaking instructions to Varothren.
“Voltarus!” The Countess barked. “What is the meaning of this? You admit to your own council that you poison your guests without proof of any wrong doing? You, yourself, openly oppose monarchy, yet you have the manners of a tyrant, hypocrite! This will not go unpunished, I may perish here today but I beseech the rest of you Council members to recognize the threat that this megalomaniac possesses and banish him once again!” she screamed at us.
“Please Sire! Forgive me” wailed the Duke “I beg of you, give me the antidote and I shall never serve as a spy again, I shall denounce everything and become a faithful servant of Ashfall, give me one last chance to atone!”
Voltarus waived a hand to indicate silence. “Duke Crowl, faith is achieved by free will, not upon compulsion. Hence I reject your offer. And Countess, I admitted nothing, least of all an imagined poisoning of guests,what a despicable idea. However, considering your responses to a supposed idea, both of you are hereby banished from Ashfall till the end of time, you are stripped of your estates and assets, if you protest, you will be executed without mercy. Kindly let your respective masters know of what has transpired here today. Do you, the remainder of our council, agree with the verdict?” he addressed those among us. The members who were not too baffled to answer nodded obediently. “Varothren, take them away, looks like our hunt will go well, it has only just begun” the lord said and looked directly at me.
I do not know if Voltarus knows or suspects that I too am a spy. I do not know how many others that night, were as close as I was from stepping forward for the antidote. I only know that if he does not suspect me now, he soon will. I cannot win at the games he mastered long ago at the courts of Ramroth, I am not capable of what your organisation demands and I beg you, Guildmaster to use your influence and dismiss your loyal servant from this charge.