Brass-studded doors were thrown open as Led and Tors’ approached, a commotion of activity echoing from the wooden battlements of the Nest. Armoured heads peered through arrow-slits and murder-holes, and Led heard the telltale creek of crossbows being drawn.
As the pair entered the courtyard they where greeted by a modest collection of buildings, simple wooden things ranging from a smithy to a small ancestral temple. Chickens stalked the straw covered roads, and here and there cats lazily eyed the new arrivals.
At the edges of the courtyard stood a dozen men-at-arms, their crimson tabards tucked neatly into great leather belts. Wicked billhooks and stout boar-spears where held at the ready, their blades sharper than the winter chill.
In the middle of assembled soldiery stood a squat figure, a half a head shorter than the rest but more than compensating in width. Broad sections of boiled leather where arranged over their person, and blackened chainmail strained to contain layers of fat and muscle.
Hand on a sheathed falchion, the sergeant approached the traveling pair. A bulbous nose and close-set eyes betrayed common blood, as did the muddy hair that hung in matted strands.
“Greetings, Sergeant Miller!” Tors exclaimed, limply saluting the approaching guard, “how fares the family?”
“My goat of a husband boarded a ship with some Telucian whore. Now I’ve got to find a nanny to keep an eye on my little bastards while I’m out enforcing his lordship’s will.”
Tors seemed taken aback. “Ah, well, I’ll let you know if I find anyone interested in the position.” He cleared his throat. “Anyway, Led, this is Emilia. Emilia, Led.”
“Charmed,” Led hummed.
“Likewise, cyclops,” Emilia replied, looking the sellsword up and down. “Tors, is this the Lead Man you were talking about?”
“The one and only,” Tors proudly confirmed, “the Terror of Telucia, the Swordsinger of the Isles!”
Led shot his friend a sour look.
“And to what do we owe the pleasure of his company?” Emilia asked, the slightest hint of venom in her words.
“He has business with his lordship,” Tors replied, before leaning forward. “Personal. Business.”
“So either the Baron’s bed or the “sparring hall”,” Emilia stated, a crude smirk crossing her leathery face. “I pray for his lordship’s sake it’s the latter, otherwise you really missed the mark this time, Tors.” The guard inhaled deeply. “In either case, the Lord of the Nest will want to meet this Lead Man. Leave the cart here and follow me.”
Led and Tors hopped from the cart, the perpetually irritated passenger chittering madly from the back. A number of guards mumbled to one another, quietly arguing on who had he dubious honour of relocating the rattling crate.
The trio approached the reinforced entry to the keep, an arching portal atop a short flight of stairs. With ease Emilia opened the sturdy doors, before marching into the dining hall. Led followed behind, and was hit by a wave of warm, spice scented air.
The hall was by no means expansive, but its magnificent furnishings oozed excess. A roaring stone hearth filled the centre of the space, a callback to Anwex’s ancient nobility. Oak tables and benches encircled the pit of smouldering embers, lined with cutlery of silver and brass. And above, tinted light beamed through stained glass.
“Wait here,” Emilia commanded, before stepping through a small side door.
Once she had departed, Led leaned towards Tors. “I take it your friend is in on the Baron’s plans,” he muttered.
Tors nodded. “Since day one. She came up with the idea of using the old sparring hall as an arena.” The merchant nudged Led lightly. “She’s also taking part in the fights. If you want to win the champion’s purse you’d do well to keep your eyes on her.”
“Eye, sorry,” Tors corrected. “Now, before, the Baron arrives, I should warn you-“
The rattle of armoured guards silenced the merchant. Two soldiers stiffly marched through doors on either side of the hall, moving to flank the great seat at the head of the table. Turning in unison, they smacked their billhooks against the stone floor, their backs as straight as their weapons.
Tors elbowed his friend firmly, before placing his hands behind his back and lowering his head. The sellsword grumbled, and begrudgingly followed Tors’ example.
Through the left door appeared a figure, though it was like no noble Led had seen. A black velvet robe was left unbelted, and to Led’s dismay, the Baron hadn’t donned anything underneath. Skin as pale as milk was exposed for all to see, along with a blanket of body-hair that made the sellsword question if the Baron was man or beast. Thick, curly locks poured from his head and face, his hair and beard flowing into one sea of ebony.
“My lordship,” Tors said, dipping his head even lower. Led shot him a glance, his friend’s nonchalance at the nude noble concerning the sellsword.
“Who’s this?” the Baron asked, pointing a skeletal finger at Led as he took a seat at the head of the table.
“This is an old friend of mine, lord,” Tors replied, raising his head, “the one I’ve told you about.” He patted Led on the back. “Led, this is Baron Rayvek, lord of-“
The Baron shot up from his seat, wild gaze fixed on Led. “The silver eye! The scars! By my ancestors, it’s the Lead Man!” He clapped his hands together. “My, what an honour it is!” At a jog the Rayvek approached the pair, his pace forcing his robes to flow back and reveal more of his form.
Before Led could step away, the Baron had him by the hand, intensely looking the sellsword over. “Yes, calloused hands, burns along the arm.” Rayvek moved a ring-wreathed hand to Led’s face, grabbing his lip and pulling it down. “Even the lead teeth!” Rayvek giddily stated, withdrawing his digits before he took a step back. “Tors, you have no idea how happy this meeting makes me.”
“And I’m certain the feeling is mutual,” Tors replied, his hand firmly on Led’s shoulder. It had been the only thing stopping the sellsword from decking the Baron.
Giggling, Rayvek took a few more moments to ogle Led, before a look of shock came over him. “But where are my manners?” He turned, and cried, “fetch us two bottles of our finest Telucian wine! And almond cakes! Dawdle and I’ll have you lashed like a dog!” He turned back to the pair. “Forgive my lack of preparation. I hope my offerings will suffice. I’m sure you’ve sampled much greater delights in Telucia.”
Led was about to speak, when Tors interjected. “Your kind offerings will more than suffice, lord. And I’m sure Led will be happy to tell you of his travels to those far off shores.”
Rayvek’s smile widened. “Oh, delightful! Give me a moment, I must fetch my scribe. I wish to get all of this on paper.” He wheeled, before jogging to the far door. His guards followed.
Alone again, Led turned to Tors. “What in all the hells just happened?”
Tors shrugged. “His lordship has a few quirks.”
“I just saw his-“
“The Baron has bad nerves, clothes make him…. uncomfortable.”
“He jammed his fingers-“
“I’m sure he was caught up in the excitement,” Tors stated, “your teeth do give you away.”
“Excitement? I was less giddy after my first night with a woman!”
“Take it as a compliment,” Tors replied.
“A compliment? What have you been telling him, Tors?”
“Mostly the truth, though I spiced it up here and there,” the merchant meekly stated. “Just, please don’t rain on his parade. His pockets tend to open up when he’s happy, so try to play the part. Stretch the truth a bit, make it an exciting story.”
Led shook his head. “I’m not liking this already.”