War Without Bloodshed

Tales from the Atreblan Valley

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Michelle Montoya
Posts: 145
Joined: Fri Apr 02, 2004 11:50 pm
Location: Atrebla Manor

War Without Bloodshed

Post by Michelle Montoya » Sun Apr 14, 2019 6:05 pm

The lieutenant led Mallory through a series of portals which took a traveller north along the valley from the Rhy’din portal. His badge clearly identified him as a member of The Guardians of Truth. The last portal opened up at the fork in the northern trail, the westward branch leading to the manor and the northern one leading further up the mountains. It was a mere two-kilometre walk along the scenic path to a large log structure which served as manor, dojo, and barracks. Mallory and the lieutenant passed through a part of the orchard as they approached Atrebla Manor. The sound of cheerful laughter rang through the fresh mountain air and a trio of children could be seen running among the various fruit trees. Instead of leading Mallory to the front door, the lieutenant guided her towards the back of the manor where a series of stables kept a number of pure-bred horses. In front of the stable entrance, Michelle stood talking with a stocky, gruff looking man with tufts of white coming out from behind his ears.

Mallory had been to court before, and spent a lot of time meeting with people she considered above her station in the last couple of years; so when she journeyed to Atrebla, she dressed for the occasion. Her boots were lace-up, polished brown leather and suited to a long walk, her jeans were clean and unfrayed, and she wore a nice but simple poet-style shirt under a well-kept leather jacket with a wide, upturned collar. There were a few rings on her left hand, none on her right (covered in a glove), the Baronial ring dangling from a necklace, and Drachenbane strapped to her back.

“Lady Montoya.” She bowed her horned head with the greeting. She was certain she had called her Michelle before, but not often, and this was her house.

With a quick nod finishing the conversation with her ostler Michelle turned towards Mallory and waved her over with a smile. “Baroness! Good afternoon. And please, you may call me Michelle. No one from Rhy’din ever called my father “Lord” from what I’m aware of and that’s not something I want to start with you.”

“Michelle.” Mallory smiled at that and closed the distance when she was beckoned. “It’s good to see you... up and about. That was a nasty swing.”

Michelle shrugged lightly. “It was, but I can’t say it was the first time I’ve had a concussion. Although never quite in that way. You’re also looking well considering what I’ve heard. But before we get into all that, I have a pressing question. Do you ride?” Her hand gestured towards the stables.

And that was where the limits of Mallory’s upbringing showed. “I haven’t before,” she confessed, sadly. “This looks like a beautiful place for it,” she added, her gaze turning to the lay of the land around them before returning to Michelle.

“It is. One day I can teach you, but for now, we can walk. I think and talk best while on my feet. And I’ve been in too many stuffy parlours with scolding women to go sit down again.” Michelle quickly set aside the riding helmet she had been holding under her arm and led the way around the manor towards the orchard. “If you have time after, my son Allen is desperate to meet you. I brought him to the match where you interceded for the Overlord and he was very impressed with your weapon,” she nodded towards Drachenbane.

“I’d be happy to meet him. It’s an interesting sword. I found it at Battlefield Park,” Mallory said as she fell in alongside Michelle. “Lady Arane Ganderfald found it there -- a weapon forged by a man named Drachen. She took it up not long after a man tried to hold her hostage at her husband’s challenge... and wielded it with skill and strength, I understand, before it was taken from her.”

At various points, Michelle would pause to examine a tree, checking its bark and the new growth forming on the branches all while listening to Mallory. At the description of Drachenbanes origin, she smiled. “You wield it well.” It seemed, as they walked, that Michelle was very comfortable with silence allowing Mallory to talk as much or as little as she preferred.

Mallory inclined her head gratefully to the compliment and lapsed into silence herself for a time, listening to the sounds around them, breathing the fresh air. She wasn’t used to air this fresh, most of the time -- it reminded her of her and Eri’s cabin, out in the mountains. “I’m lucky,” she said, at last. “Not that long ago, a wound like that would have killed me.” Her gaze slid over to Michelle. “I read that you don’t remember much... Do you remember the attack itself?”

“No, I don’t. I remember walking out of the locker room and into the rings. And the next thing I know I have a splitting headache and the urge to vomit, and Gren is telling me to lie down. I must say, it made me rethink my skill as a duelist. I can understand losing, but I’ve never blacked out before. Hope and Gren filled me in on the details. I did lose. We had stepped out of the rings. Jonn and I were talking. You came to join us. And then Jonn hit me in the head with his falchion and struck you with a dagger. And apparently, all infernum broke loose after that.”

Mallory nodded at that assessment. “My wife charged at him, but Rachael... valiantly stopped any harm from coming his way.” The witch thinned her lips, but forced herself to move on. “You’ve read or been told what he’s accusing us of?”

A small laugh escaped Michelle’s lips. “Yes, witchcraft and assassination. We were going to get the jump on him. The man is deluded, a sense of grandeur and arrogance which eclipses his stature.”

That drew a genuine laugh from the witch, one she badly needed in the moment. “I’ve copped to my part in this, to the parties involved... I did curse him. Weeks ago, after he passed the walls of my manor, asking Runt if they should kill everyone inside. I spared them both from the wards they’d triggered as soon as I arrived, but when he offered no apology? I cursed him to feel all the pain he inflicts -- for all the good that’s done.” Her smile faltered.

“I hoped it would be a good lesson for a bully, but I don’t know how much it bothered him to begin with -- and Rachael helped him to overcome my hex soon after.”

Michelle led them towards a look-out point, from which they could see the grand vista of the Atrebla Valley below them. She sighed slightly. “I don’t think pain causes that man remorse. I think he’s beyond empathy. He is bold, without inhibitions or restraint. Traits that can be turned towards good purposes but he lacks compassion or integrity and so they become a vice. But I think you and I agree on the sort of character Jonn has. As for cursing him, well, your reputation preceded you and it was a fool’s errand to trespass on your property. I’m not one to judge your actions.”

Mallory couldn’t help but laugh. “It was pretty stupid of him. And stupid of me, to think such a curse would work. But I think he saw an opportunity for chaos and death, and he took it... and that’s what happened Thursday night. And I think, now that he’s had a taste and gotten away with it... he’ll keep doing it, as often as he can get away with, for as long as he has the strength to raise a weapon.”

A look of worry crossed over Michelle’s face, although her gaze scanned the beauty of her home it did not drink in the peace it offered. Instead of responding, she remained silent letting the implications of Mallory’s last statement hang in the air like an unwanted visitor on your doorstep.

The witch’s gaze moved over to Michelle’s face, studying her in profile before she spoke again. “I’m trying to figure out the best way to handle all of this... and yes, my first instinct is to kill him before he tries again and succeeds. Or let some enterprising assassin do it and line their pockets.” She looked back at the landscape, letting out a little sigh before she admitted, “The bounty I posted was a little more detailed than a price on his head. That was my wrath, plain and simple. But I was surprised when I saw your perspective on it. No bounty, not on his limbs, not on his life, not even on his title.”

Turning slightly to face her visitor, Michelle started off thoughtfully. “Do you remember when Jonn first got his title? How he posted about his alignment being a matter of coin? That was the first real indication I got about his character. When a man's loyalty can be bought he has no loyalty at all. I don’t know if Matt paid him or if something else persuaded him to be loyal to the Overlord initially, but that loyalty didn’t extend far if he was going to invade another loyal barons territory. This sport is more than a sport to me. It is a community of people who, for the most part, have some code of honour and integrity.”

She paused for a moment, weighing her thoughts carefully. “It has never sat well with me to enforce political maneuverings through money or bloodshed. It’s a dirty way to do politics. I’m not naive enough to think it doesn’t happen, but I don’t support it. War starts the first time someone pulls the trigger.” She sighed, rubbing her temples a bit. “I can’t tell you what I am going to do, let alone what you should do. I only know what my gut tells me not to do. A wise man once told me that when you make a decision you can’t just look into tomorrow, but you must look ten, twenty, fifty years from now and try to imagine where that decision will take you. I haven’t always followed that counsel. But when I looked at the option of taking revenge on Jonn, offering a bounty for his head and his title, I saw where that would take me and I didn’t like it.”

“To war,” Mallory stated, simply. She folded her arms, turning her eyes to the landscape. “I can’t do nothing. I’ve overcome a lot to stay alive, and there’s a few important things I’m working towards... most of all, my life with Eri. And that could have ended on Thursday night. It could end another time, once another murderous idea crosses his mind... or he could start working his way down a list of everyone I know.” The witch heaved another long sigh. “You’ve been a part of this community a lot longer... so I’ll ask your advice. In my position, what would you counsel?”

There was a very long pause between them, Michelle’s face furrowed in thought. “What comes to mind is a story I read, a long time ago. Based on fact. It talked about two nations who were constantly at war with each other - over politics, land and religion mostly. The southern nation was often the attacker, ruthless and murderous in their intent. The northern nation was smaller and often on the defending side. On numerous occasions the north sued for peace, sometimes they got it often they didn’t. But as in all wars, there were ebbs and flows. Even when the north wasn’t at war they made constant preparation for war, building up defences and training their troops. They were often better equipped and better prepared. Although they never initiated the wars, they always beat the southern nation soundly.” She tilted her head to the side a bit. “There was one other important factor though. When the northern nation was unified they were successful. When political dissenters arose they were often unprepared and suffered heavy losses. Eventually, the northern nation lost completely because of in-fighting, not because they couldn’t handle the outward threat.”

Michelle turned to face Mallory a sombre expression on her face. “Jonn represents a threat to us on both fronts. Externally, and personally, he is dangerous well equipped and with murderous intent. But he also represents the dangers of in-fighting within our community. My counsel is to protect yourself and Eri - which I am sure you can do very well. And then to work with the other barons and invested members of the community, myself included, to find a unified way of handling this situation. It must be quick and decisive - not in pieces or faltering attempts that will only further aggravate the situation.”

Mallory studied Michelle closely as she weighed this in her mind, along with all of the weapons in her arsenal that she was preparing to array against this man. At length, she decided, “I’ll withdraw my bounty. As soon as I return to RhyDin. And reach out to others... including you, as you said.” She opened her left hand in offer. “I have a deep knowledge of black magic, I co-own a shop that has thirteen planar doorways across the city, and I am married to the leader of the strongest and best-organized gang in the city -- I can at least ask them to help. Do you have a suggestion in mind, a way to deal with a murderous Baron with a small army of mercenaries that we can unite over?”

A quick laugh escaped Michelle and her eyes lightened a bit despite the severity of the situation. “If I knew that this would have been a much shorter conversation. At the moment, I suggest we don’t let that man become Overlord. Beyond that, I don’t think he should remain in Rhy’din. Crime and punishment are tricky things in a stable society with a permanent culture, let alone one like Rhy’din where the law is… well, where it’s Rhy’din. If it were up to me, and I had the ways to do so, I would banish him. At least, if he were living the valley and had done to me what he did to you I would be exiling him without a second thought.” With that comment, she shrugged and began walking back towards the manor. “Alas, I am a Lady only in my small court here and I have none of the power of which you possess. But, perhaps there is a way to prevent him from staying in the nexus of worlds.”

Mallory turned to watch Michelle for a few steps, her eyes flaring at the thought. “That, Michelle, is a very interesting idea...” With that, she moved to follow.

((Co-written with Mallory!))
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