Howl of the Carrion King – Chapter Fifty-two

Chapter Fifty-two
The Fate of Kelmarane

It was a massacre. Blood, guts and severed limbs were strewn all over the pesh fields. Three gnoll were left standing – the last of the Kulldis tribe. The Dust Digger was dead.

Bree frowned. She hadn’t expected any gnolls to live. What would she do with them now? Frustrated, she opened her eyes to the auras around her. The gnolls radiated evil. Her frown deepened. Should she kill them? Now? Like this?

But they were loyal to her now, weren’t they? She was their Queen.

Loyalty? Hah! Even the most loyal of gnolls were double crossing curs! What could she expect from these three? A knife in the back!

Bree frowned. These beasts had chosen to kill and enslave. They deserved to pay for their crimes. In blood. Bree reached for Tempest.

“Do not draw steel on them.” a gravelly voice beside her said.

“I have to, Kelestair.”

“No, you do not.”

“I’ve looked into their souls. They’re evil.”

“Then you must teach them virtue. Bring them into the light.”

Bree laughed. “I doubt they wish to learn.”

The corners of Kelestair’s lips turned downwards slightly. “How do you know what they want? You have yet to ask them.”

“They can’t be trusted.”

“Then you must instill loyalty within them.”

“And what of the people they’ve harmed? The children they’ve eaten? The men sold into slavery? The women who begged for death? They deserve justice.”

“The gnolls acted how they were raised to, just as you and I.”

“Do not compare me to them! I have strived to make a difference! To become a part of something greater than myself! Something good! To change our world for the better! I have nothing in common with those selfish dogs!”

Kelesteir’s eyes narrowed. “You were taught to do good, Bree. As they were taught to enslave. Allow them a chance to be taught something new.”

“And what of justice? I should let them go unpunished?”

Kelesteir shook his head. “No. They should be punished, but not with death. Imprison them. Rehabilitate them. Teach them. Let them work to rebuild this town we have fought for.”

“And then what? Let them go? So they may stalk the deserts once again, enslaving all they see?”

“I believe in redemption, Bree!” Kelestair’s voice was louder now and tense. His eyes flared and he gritted his teeth. He was upset. Very upset. “Without it, what hope have I?”

“You’re different, Kelestair.”

“Am I?”

Bree opened her mouth to speak, but he raised a hand to stop her.

“No,” he said sadly. “You are their Queen now, Bree. And it is you who has won us Kelmarane. But think on this: what kind of town would you build here, that death would be dealt upon your whims? What kind of Queen would that make you? What kind of leader?”

Bree frowned. It would make her a tyrant. But, if the tyrant was working for the good of us all, would she still be a tyrant?

Kelestair sighed. “I had hoped you would take this land and make it a bastion of hope and freedom. A safe haven within the chaos of this country. A bright light for the Dawnflower’s kindness to flourish. It seems I misjudged you.” He slumped his shoulders and walked away.

Misjudged her? Had he? Was what she was about to do wrong? How could she trust these dogs to change so drastically? And where would she even put them? She had seen no jail in Kelmarane…

“There’s some cells in the Battle Market,” Santon said softly. “They’ll do until we build a jail.”

Bree frowned. “You mean until Almah pays someone to build a jail.”

Santon laughed. “No. I don’t.”

Bree turned on him and raised an eyebrow.

“We fought for this land, Bree. You, and I and Kelestair. I have no intention of turning it over to Almah’s Pactmasters.”

“We did as we were paid to. You’re not going to break our contract, are you?”

Santon smiled slyly. “I think some renegotiating is in order.”

Bree shook her head.

“Besides,” Santon continued. “You’re here to end slavery, aren’t you? That’s why you’re after the gnolls.”

Slowly, Bree nodded.

“The gnolls are a good start, but they’re not the problem. The problem is that in Katapesh, slavery is legal. The Pactmasters consider it an entirely legitimate business.”

“I have to start somewhere.”

“And why not here?”

“What do you mean?”

“Almah’s going to rebuild Kelmarane for the Pactmasters. That means everything you’ve fought for will amount to nothing. The gnolls will resurface, trade will flow and flesh will be sold. Here. Everywhere. Just as it always has.” He paused, and a smile spread across his face. His eyes twinkled mischeviously. “Or, we don’t give this land back to Almah. We keep this land, rebuild this town, and place ourselves in charge. You can ban slavery and Kelmarane can be a town of free men.”

“Almah would just go back to the Pactmasters and request aid. They’d send a force here and kill us.”

Santon raised an eyebrow. “You mean like they sent us? An untrained, ragtag caravan with a handful of decent fighters among the lot?”

“We got the job done.”

Santon laughed. “We could hold this town, Bree! We could rebuild it into something wonderful. And the Pactmasters won’t take us seriously until it is far too late. They’re too confident for that. Besides, I don’t think Almah will run to them with her tail between her legs. She’ll negotiate with us. Maybe even join us.”

“Almah? Why would she do that?”

“She’s desperate.”

“What?”

“Almah is a Merchant Princess. So, what’s she doing personally running an undersupplied caravan in dangerous territory? This mission was practically suicidal. I’m amazed we’re alive, let alone her!”

“Maybe the Pactmasters sent her personally.”

“The Pactmasters do nothing personally.”

“Well, maybe she…”

“She’s desperate, Bree. She’s in trouble, probably because her family has failed the Pactmasters in the past. I believe that this madcap mission is her last chance to redeem herself. She’ll negotiate with me as long as we give her enough incentive and the promise of safety.”

“Incentive? Like what?”

“I’m thinking I’ll offer her the position of mayor. Maybe administrator, or judge.”

“Mayor?”

Santon nodded. “What about you?”

“Me?”

“Yeah, what will you do for this glorious town we’re going to build?”

“We?”

Santon smiled. “Technically, it was you who won us the town, Bree. I need you here if this is going to work.”

Bree smiled. “Really? And I thought you could do anything!”

Santon laughed. “I didn’t say I needed your help, I said I needed you here. You’re my temporary figurehead and main bargaining chip.”

“I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it.”

“You have no idea what you’re doing, do you?”

“Not a clue.”

“You travelled all the way here, without a plan, and now that you have some territory of your own you don’t even know what to do with it?”

“I don’t know… I guess I would make a bar, dedicated to Cayden Cailean.”

“Of course, you’ve got to practice your…faith.”

“And I’d build a free-house.”

“A free-house?”

“A place for refugees, and escaped slaves to come. They would get shelter, food and training in whatever fields they want until they earn enough money to build their own home and make a living on their own. It would be a refuge.”

Santon smiled. “That sounds like a good idea. It’ll drive you bankrupt, though.”

“I don’t care about that. And what about you? What would you do here?”

“I’ve always wanted to be a Sheriff.”

Bree burst out laughing.

“What?” Santon asked.

“You? Sheriff?” She laughed again. “Are you serious?”

“Laugh it up, Bree. While you’re handing out free food, I’m going to protect this town.”

“Rule it, you mean!”

Santon smirked. “Well, my first act as Sheriff will be to lock you up if you keep laughing at my dreams. My second will be to take these gnolls to their cells. Presuming, of course, your Royal Highness can keep her sword sheathed.”

Bree frowned. Slowly she nodded. “Let the gnolls live. They can help clean up the town.”

“You’re doing the right thing, Bree.”

“I’m not so sure.” She paused, lost in thought, and then shrugged. “I should head back to the monastery and let them know we’ve won the town.”

Santon quirked an eyebrow at her. “You?”

“Of course, why?”

“We don’t want to tell them they’ve won the town, we want to tell them we’ve won the town. For ourselves.”

“And you don’t think I can tell them?”

“You wouldn’t exactly be my first choice for negotiator. In fact, you wouldn’t be my in my top twenty choices for anything that involved speaking. You’re a pushover.”

Bree pursed her lips together angrily. “Fine.”

“See?”

Bree narrowed her eyes.

“Whoa! Keep your sword in it’s sheath, Bree!” Santon said with a chuckle. “You just need some practice. Besides, we’ll need you here to keep the gnolls in line.”

“So what masterful negotiator are you going to send?”

Santon smiled deviously. “Oh, I don’t want to negotiate. I want to make a statement. And I think I have just the person in mind.”

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