Howl of the Carrion King – Chapter Four

Chapter Four

An Answered Prayer

Bree awoke in the corner of a dingy bar. She was slumped over a dirty, wooden table with her blonde, sweat-soaked hair acting as a makeshift pillow. The sun stung her eyes and the roar of the outdoor market stalls made her head pound. The heat made her nauseous. She sighed and reached for a glass to find it gone.

“Bitter brew,” she swore. Her voice was raw.

Cayden’s curse was heavy upon her this morning. She hadn’t been this hung over in a very, very long time.

She groaned, pried her head off of the table and squinted into the bright, open bar. It was as packed as it had been the night before. Apparently the people of Katapesh indulged at all times of the day. This, at least, she had in common with them. As a devotee of the Drunken God she firmly believed it was never too early for a drink.

Bree had come in late last night, overwhelmed and defeated. She had drank and prayed and drank and prayed, hoping that her god, Cayden Cailean, would answer her prayers. That he would send her a sign.

He didn’t.

But, that hadn’t stop Bree from sampling the local spirits.

She wasn’t sure when she had passed out, but she was sure she had paid her bill, so that was a minor blessing. She had no idea how much it had cost, but was sure her coin purse was much, much lighter than it had been yesterday. In fact, it felt almost-

She reached down and felt for her coin purse.

Gone.

She groaned. “Foul brew!”

Here she was, halfway across the world from her home, hung over in a stuffy, hot bar in a sweaty, hot city filled with the most greedy people she had ever encountered and she had already been robbed.

She hated Katapesh.

If not for Norn she wouldn’t even be here.

She had been foolish to think that she could accomplish what he couldn’t. Foolish and naive. Bree had only been in Katapesh for three days, and it had already overwhelmed her. Defeated her. Now she sat listlessly in a bar, depressed, poor and alone.

It was the alone that stung the most.

Alone again.

Bree had been born to a very high-ranking Taldan noble and a courtesan. Although, if she was being fair, courtesan was a rather generous term to apply to her mother. She was a bought and paid for slave made up to look classy. The nobles liked it better that way. As Bree was the first child born to the nobleman, Lord Proulx, she and her mother were given a relatively comfortable life. Until, when she was twelve years old, her father’s wife finally bore him a child. A son.

That was the first time her life came crashing down.

At the time, her mother was being whored out to other upperclass noble families under the guise of being a mistress. Bree had just begun to understand her beloved mother’s delicate situation and was developing a rather strong distaste for society’s upper crust.

With the birth of his son, Lord Proulx looked into his illegitimate daughter’s mismatched eyes, one green and one blue – the eyes of his own mother – and knew, without a doubt, that she looked far more like a Proulx than his own son. Seeing the danger that she posed to his noble boy, he panicked.

He sent forth his best knights into the dark, cold night to kill both his daughter and her mother. There could be no threat to his son’s accession.

Fortunately for Bree, her mother was a smart woman. With the birth of Lord Proulx’s first legitimate child she saw not a blessing, but a curse. She saw her death. She gathered all the money and goods she had ferreted away over the years and gave them to Bree in the hope that her beautiful daughter could escape both death, and the life of enslavement waiting for her. She encouraged Bree to flee, when the time came, to the country of Andoran, the birthplace of freedom. There, she hoped, she would be safe.

When the knights came Bree lingered in the shadows of her and her mother’s dark chambers only long enough to see her mother cut down. In that one, final, fateful swing of a sword, Bree changed. Her dislike of nobility turned to outright hatred and her slowly budding social conscience birthed an abhorrence of slavery. Most importantly, she was now alone. Bree slunk away as quietly as she could, crying soundlessly to the night.

She no longer had a family. She no longer had a home. She didn’t even have a last name. All traces of her old life were gone.

Upon arriving in Andoran she met an old retired mercenary by the name of Norn Ironhand. He owned a tavern devoted to Cayden Cailean, the Drunken God of alcohol, parties and freedom. Norn offered her work and a place to stay.

In her he recognized the same drive he once had. The same fire.

“You’re all piss and vinegar,” he had told her when they first met. “Come on in.”

And he was right. Bree yearned to make a difference in their world. To cause a change. To protect the weak and ensure that no person was oppressed again, as her mother had been, or had to suffer loss, as she had.

They were lofty goals, she knew, but she worked for them all the same.

Under Norn’s guidance Bree practiced tirelessly to perfect her use of the scimitar, a light, curved blade. She prayed to Cayden Cailean for guidance and luck. She learned the art of diplomacy and studied the laws that enslaved and oppressed.

During her time with Norn, Bree worked in his tavern. She quickly became a popular part of the bar and made many friends. She always had a kind word and a smile for all of the patrons. But, her happy life in Andoran was not meant to last.

Norn was old and over the next six years, Bree watched him deteriorate. He was succumbing to his age.

Bree sat by his deathbed, helpless, as Norn passed from this world and went to join the Drunken God in eternal revelry. As he breathed his last breath she sobbed. She had once again lost a loved one. She was alone.

She could have stayed on at the tavern, of course. She could have taken it over and run it as Norn had, but she didn’t. She chose a different path for herself. She chose Norn’s path.

As a youth, Norn had tried to stamp out slavery in the desert country of Katapesh. It was a mercantile country as notorious for its greed as its slavery. More specifically, he had fought against the gnolls, intelligent hyena-like humanoids, who roamed the sand dunes enslaving locals and foreigners alike to sell on Katapesh’s slave blocks.

This is the cause Bree would take up. With his dying breath she swore, for Norn and for her Mother, that she would travel to Katapesh and put an end to slavery and oppression in all it’s forms.

How naive she had been then. How foolish.

How could one woman, no more than eighteen, with no allies, no friends and now, no money, hope to make any difference in the biggest slave market in the world? She wasn’t ready for this. She was going to get herself killed.

Bree sighed and reached for the wineskin hung around her hip.

And then she noticed it.

The parchment upon the table.

She eyed it curiously. It was written in a simple, neat script in the common tongue.

‘Travel under the blessing of the ever watchful Pactmasters!’ it read. ‘Join the Merchant Princess Almah’s Caravan. Retake the lost trading town of Kelmarane from the Gnolls of the Brazen Peaks and earn respect, prestige, gold, and the favour of the honourable Pactmasters! Caravan leaves on Fireday, the 8th of Rova. Contact Garavel at the Dawn Gate by Oathday for more information.’

Bree held the parchment in shaking hands.

Cayden Cailean had answered her prayers.

He had given her a sign.

No. He had given her much more than a sign. He had given her purpose. He had given her direction. He had given her hope.

Bree was going to Kelmarane.

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