Led sunk into the ornate chair he was offered, the plush seat threatening to consume him. An obscene number of intricately decorated pillows where stacked against his back, forcing him to slump forward.
“That chair,” Lord Rayvek stated, “is an exact replica of the one gracing the boudoir of the Telucian empress. Made by the same craftsman no less!”
“That’s…. interesting,” Led hummed, “at least it’s soft.”
“Stuffed with the finest hair I could find! It took ages to scour Ravensport to find women with suitable locks, but I strive for authenticity.”
Thoroughly uncomfortable, Led leaned further forward, hoping to take some of his weight off the questionable furniture.
“And your efforts show, lord,” Tors cut in, taking a seat by Led, “why, had you not mentioned, I would have confused it for the original!”
The baron grinned madly, pearlescent teeth shining through his thick beard. Gingerly, he lowered himself onto a couch, covered in dozens of exotic blankets. Leaning back, he sprawled, his robes opening despite Led’s prayers for the contrary.
“Oh but to have seen the Emerald Hall in person!” the baron exclaimed, his hands held before him. “You two have no idea how much I envy you in that regard.”
Led scowled. “We never saw the palace.”
“Not in its entirety, no,” Tors cut in, shooting his friend a nervous glance, “we sampled but a fraction of its opulence. In truth the scale of the Hall is so great that it would have taken weeks to fully explore it.” He turned. “Right, Led?”
Led sighed. “Months even.”
Lord Rayvek giggled, stamping his feet like a child. “My word, that’s incredible! And the guards? Is it true they’re half man half beast?”
“More beast than man,” Tors stated, “taller than a house and strong enough to pull a tree from the ground.”
The baron gasped. “And you slew such a beast?” he gawked, looking at Led.
“Uh, yeah, I killed one.” The sellsword inhaled. “It sure was… big.”
“Big hardly begins to describe it,” Tors said, “a living mountain, with the mane of a wolf and eyes of a viper. Where it not for Led’s swordsmanship and my quick thinking, both him and I would have ended our days as the beast’s dinner.”
The baron sat spellbound. “By my ancestors, that’s amazing! I, I….” He slumped in his chair, his eyes rolling back and his face drooping. After a brief moment, life returned to the baron, and he said, “please excuse me, these tales have gotten me worked up. I must relieve myself.” He stood, and without another word stepped out of the room.
Tors turned to Led. “Big,” he hummed, “that’s the best you could do? Not colossal, gargantuas, monstrous?”
“Piss off, you know I’m not good with words!” Led grumbled.
“It wouldn’t kill you to do a little more reading, friend,” Tors scowled, “you could stand to expand your vocabulary.”
“Didn’t learn to read and I’m not about to. Besides, this is horse-shit we’re feeding him Tors.”
“And he’s enjoying it,” Tors replied, “shouldn’t that be the only thing that matters?”
“What happens when we get caught up in our lies?”
“Like he’s going to fact-check us. Besides, Telucia is a world away.”
Led opened his mouth, ready to berate his friend. However, he was cut short as the baron re-entered the room. Fresh blood clung to his oiled moustache. “I apologize for the delay,” he stated, his tone subdued, “but I am now refreshed and ready to hear the rest of your adventure. Please continue.”
“Er, right,” Led said, “after meeting her Imperial Majesty…”
The sellsword went on about his time in Telucian, with Tors butting in now and again to embellish the story further. All the while, the baron sat with his eyes glazed, focused on nothing in particular. Now and again he would nod, humming to himself or slowly rolling his head from side to side.
As Led finished his tale, the baron exhaled, rolling forward. “And that is how you acquired your silver eye,” he stated.
“It was,” Led exhaled “though it’s no replacement for the old one.”
“Indeed,” Rayvek nodded. “Such heroism is something to be admired, however. Self-sacrifice is woefully undervalued these days.”
There was a long pause, the baron holding his eyes shut for a few moments. Slowly, they opened, and rolled toward Led. Then, in an instant, the baron shot from his chair. Madly he smiled, clapping wildly.
“Ooh, what and exciting tale!” Rayvek giggled. “What wonders, what adventure! Oh how I long to see that far off place! And to do battle with such exotic foes, the pinnacle of exhilaration!”
“It’s no small thing to take a human life,” Led grumbled, “there is no thrill in it, no sport.”
Rayvek visibly deflated. “But I thought that’s what you lived for. You are the Lead Man, after all, the swordsinger of Anwex, right?”
“My friend lives for battle, true,” Tors interrupted, “but he has no appetite for wanton slaughter. There’s no sport in slaying lesser men. No, Led always seeks out the mightiest foe. Anything less would simply be unfair.”
“Of course,” the baron chirped, life returning to him, “how knightly! Just like the tales of old, two great warriors going blade to blade to prove their ability. Almost makes me swoon just thinking about it!”
A distant look crept over Baron Rayvek. “Oh my,” he hummed, “but it is getting late.” He snapped his fingers, and two ornately clad servants entered the room. He waved towards the two. “Liam and… the other one will show you to your chambers. I pray they are to your liking, I just had the beds redressed with Telucian silks.”
Stepping forward, he grabbed Led’s hand. “It is an honour to meet you, Lead Man. I hope my unpreparedness did not put me in a bad light.” The baron brought Led’s hand closer to his face, and the sellsword could feel the warmth of his breath. “Tomorrow I shall make up for my error, with a gift from my armourer.”
Led began to thank his host, but the baron had already dropped his hand. He spun, his loose robes twirling, and exited through a curtained doorway.
One of the servants stepped forward, his head bowed. “Follow us if you would,” he said, his voice boyish and sharp. Led shot Tors a look, but his friend only shrugged, then stood. Led followed in kind.
Down a long stone hall they marched, a few steps behind their attendants. Slowing his pace, Led walked beside Tors, and nodded towards the servants.
“Castrated,” Tors murmured, his words dampened by their footfalls. “The baron has had issues with servants making passes at his wife.” He grimaced. “Although from what I heard she had been deceased a year and a half when the alleged incident occurred.”
Ledram’s stomach tightened. “By my ancestors, “his lordship” really is demented?” He tapped on the side of his head to emphasize his point.
Tors shrugged. “I suppose inbreeding does have its downsides. Don’t worry though, as long as you aren’t caught in bed with his dead wife you and your assets should be fine.”
Led sighed. “I knew I didn’t like this.”