Transcript – A Code of Honour

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Scroll & Dagger presents
The Pensive Tower
Episode Twenty Nine: A Code of Honour

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This is the memory of Uulla Hyrak. Orklin, aged twenty-four, identified as female. Memory regards a brief acquaintance with a Warder of Raak and was donated on the 2nd of Stillsky, in the year 704. Inscribed by Paxton Ferox on the seventh of Bloomingtine, 730.

We Begin.

It seemed like such an easy job when I first started. I finished university with a First in Business Administration and, thanks to a tip from a friend of my mother’s, I was able to interview for the position of Administrative Assistant to none other than Ser Marian duLocke.

I don’t know if you’ll know who she is, she’s the governor of Felinton City, very well known on the South Wind Coast and the archipelago but you’re a bit of a way from all of that here.

The duLockes are a very old and respected family and have long held the governorship of the area around Felinton. Ser Marian was made a knight of the Federation due to her charity work. She does a lot to help the homeless and low-income families and she’s a patron of the Merchants Guild in Felinton.

I figured most of the job would be keeping account books in order and managing her calendar, that sort of thing. And, for a while, that’s exactly what it was. I didn’t even meet Ser Marian for the first six months I worked at her estate.

I had my little office, I’d come in at the start of the day and find my to-do list and a stack of papers. I’d work through them, complete any necessary tasks, and then I’d go home. Simple and straight forward.

But then that changed. And it all began with the pirate raids. You see, Felinton is a pretty major port on the South Wind coast and we get a lot of merchant vessels coming in and out of our harbour. There is also a large shipyard for refitting, owned by Ser Marian, and a little way down the coast there is a stretch of land which is used for careening, also owned by Ser Marian. This all makes our shores a very tempting target for pirates.

They’ve always been a problem, of course. Anywhere that has a large amount of money is going to have someone trying to steal it. But they’ve never been so much of a problem that the losses couldn’t be absorbed by the total profit that the port makes.

In recent years though, that’s changed. The pirate crews of the southern archipelago have gotten themselves organised and are now striking more frequently at the vessels sailing for Felinton Port. They are smart about it too, they never attack enough ships to deter others from coming through but it has made a significant dent in the income of the port.

I remember some of the higher ups of the city council were talking about raising the duty on imports but that never made it past the Guild representatives. They said if the pirates weren’t enough to drive away the merchant ships then higher taxes definitely would.

I heard all of this second hand, of course, I was nowhere near important enough to be involved in the discussions and meetings that were focussed on dealing with these issues, which was why it came as such as surprise when one day I came into work, as usual, to find Ser Marian in my office, waiting for me.

She turned as I walked through the door and smiled. I was so stunned I couldn’t even speak.

Immediately my mind started preparing for worst-case scenarios. Had I done something wrong? Filed the wrong paperwork? Made a mistake in her calendar? But no, she was smiling, welcoming me. Asking how I was.

I hesitantly told her I was well, thank you for asking, and then asked what I could do for her. Her face became a lot more serious then and she asked if I was aware of the piracy problem.

I told her, yes of course I was. I doubted there was anyone in the city who was unaware of the issue.

Ser Marian nodded and told me there had been a lot of pressure from the city council for her to come up with a solution to the problem and she believed she finally had one.

She then said, out of nowhere, that she’d heard I’d studied cartography at university. I told her yes, I had minored in cartography, though that had taken a backseat to my Business Studies. She waved that away as if it didn’t matter, then asked if I had studied the Archipelago. I answered yes, of course, though I would hardly call myself an expert. Again, she waved away the part she didn’t want to hear and then asked me to come to her study that afternoon, after I had finished work.

I agreed and she left.

I went about the rest of my day, unable to believe what had happened. In all the time I had worked on Ser Marian’s estate, I had never been given access to her private study.

I finished my work and then, as instructed, made my way to Ser Marian’s study. There was soft music playing in the room when I approached. I knocked then entered.

The music was coming from an apophone in the corner of the very well-furnished room. A fine mahogany desk stood at the centre and two very expensive looking armchairs sat beside the large bay window. The entirety of one wall was given over to a huge bookcase made of well varnished dark wood which was full of leather bound volumes of various sizes. I think the combined worth of everything in that room was more than I’d have earned in two years.

I didn’t know what to expect when I walked in but I certainly was not expecting to see Ser Marian speaking to a human woman wearing armour, with skin as white as fresh paper and red hair that she wore in tight braids. I don’t mean red like ginger hair, I mean bright red.

Almost as surprising about her was that she was as tall as me. All the human women I’d ever met, including Ser Marian, were at least a head shorter than I am. I’d never seen any human this tall.

Ser Marian noticed me then, saw my astonishment and laughed. She introduced the woman as Tiea and said that she was a Raakian Warder.

The woman, Tiea, turned to look at me then and I saw something else about her that made me flinch. Her eyes were black, black as ink, with a circle of white where the iris usually is.

I had heard stories about Raakians, about the strange way they looked, but I never really believed it. I mean, what kind of climate could humans live in that would leave them looking so… alien?

But there she was, right in front of me, wearing a shirt of chainmail with a sword strapped across her back. A very strange looking sword with a long hilt and a crossguard. I didn’t think they even made swords like that anymore.

I stammered out some kind of greeting which she returned in a voice rich with an accent I didn’t recognise.

I asked what she was doing there and Ser Marian stepped in to provide the answer.

She had managed to enlist Tiea’s aid thanks to a friend of hers who’d been able to hire the warder just a few weeks previously to deal with some highwaymen operating on his property.

A Warder, she explained, would be far more reliable than hiring fighters from one of the mercenary guilds. Warders had a code of honour, she said, that made them loyal to more than just coin. Tiea inclined her head at this but otherwise gave no indication that she was even listening to us.

“She will be able to deal with those pirates easily,” Ser Marian said, confidently, “no one can stand against a Warder in combat.”

She might have been confident but I was a touch more sceptical. Everyone’s heard stories about what good fighters Raakians are but this Tiea was still only one person and the Three alone knew how many pirates lurked out there. And they would have guns and pikes and who knew what else, all the Warder seemed to have was her strange looking sword.

Ser Marian was still talking, explaining the route the warder would take through to the islands where she believed the pirates were based. She talked about the Sisters and the Anvil. I had no idea why she was telling me any of this until she said;

“And I’ve told her that you will accompany her.”

It took me a minute to really process what she’d said, but when I did, I looked at Ser Marian in open mouthed shock and horror.

“Me?” I said, my throat suddenly very dry.

Ser Marian was already walking towards the door.

“You,” she said, opening it and gesturing for me to leave. “You know the islands to the north, don’t you?”

“From maps,” I replied, doing my best to keep my tone respectful, “I’ve never actually been there.”

And again, Ser Marian waved her hand at my protest as if shooing away a bothersome fly.

“That will be enough, you’ll be able to guide Tiea to the right place.”

“But,” I was almost spluttering by this point, “but I can’t.”

A dark look seemed to come over Ser Marian when I said that.

“You can’t?” she demanded. Her tone was dangerous.

I was suddenly fearful I’d overstepped. I didn’t want to go into pirate infested waters but I was far more scared of losing my job. That would mean returning to the life I’d left behind, of having to scrape every day for a living. I couldn’t do that. So, I swallowed my fear.

“I mean,” I said, desperately thinking of how to save this situation, “I can’t think I’ll be of much use to the Warder once we get there.”

Ser Marian still looked annoyed but her face had softened a bit so I went on.

“Surely a cartographer or someone from the Lawkeepers’ department would be more useful.”

I think I was convincing. Ser Marian did smile then. Tiea hadn’t moved and her face was still stony. I don’t think she really cared what was said. She knew what her part in all of this was. All that was left was for me to fall into line.

“You won’t be needed to do anything,” Ser Marian assured me. “Tiea can handle everything once you get there. I imagine you’ll just need to stay out of the way.”

There was no way out, I realised. So, I agreed. I would be the Warder’s Guide.

Ser Marian nodded as if this had never been in question, which I suppose it hadn’t been, and bade me goodnight, telling me to meet Tiea at the docks at sunup.

I went home, quietly terrified of what the next day would bring.

I had no difficulty meeting the Warder at the agreed time, mainly because I didn’t sleep at all. I stayed up late, pouring over my map of the southern archipelago, planning out the route that Ser Marian had described. Then I tried going to bed but I couldn’t sleep. I ended up staring at the ceiling, imagining all the ways this trip could get me killed. I eventually gave in, got up and got dressed.

I had no idea how long this trip would be or what I should even bring. I just started throwing random objects into a knapsack. A change of clothes, dry food, a sponge, a towel, a book I’d been meaning to finish, a pack of pencils and other things I don’t remember. I was about to close the bag when I saw something on my bedside table. It had been under the book which was why I hadn’t seen it earlier.

It was the last page of the letter my mother had written to me when I’d first started my job, where she’d said how proud she was of me and how everyone back home was supporting me and knowing I’d do well.

It was something that always made me feel better, no matter how bad a day I might have had. I picked it up, folded it carefully, and slipped it inside the book. I then closed the bag and left my house, heading for the docks.

It wasn’t anywhere close to sunrise yet, but Tiea was already there waiting for me. I think she might have gone straight there from Ser Marian’s house and had just been waiting for me to arrive.

I found her on the pier, right at the end, facing out towards the sea. A nightlamp beside her gave out a faint white light that seemed to wash the colour out of the small area it illuminated. She was kneeling, her eyes closed, that strange sword laid across her knees. I think she was meditating.

I was about to clear my throat, let her know I was there, when she suddenly jumped to her feet, sheathing the sword in its scabbard in one fluid motion.

“Are you ready?” She asked me.

I said that I was, but surely she wasn’t suggesting we leave now. It was still pitch dark. If it hadn’t been for the nightlamp, I wouldn’t have even seen her.

Tiea shrugged and said it was bright enough for her to see. Then she walked back up the pier. I wondered how different her vision must be. She had those strange black eyes, maybe they were better for seeing in the dark?

Then I realised how far away she was already and ran after her.

By the time I caught up, Tiea had boarded a small boat and was in the process of getting it ready to sail. I have no experience on board ships but I didn’t want to be dead weight on this trip so I hopped down onto the deck and tried to give off an air of general usefulness.

Tiea, however, seemed to be quite content with taking care of things herself and left me standing there feeling more than a little awkward and useless.

Eventually, everything was made ready and Tiea sat herself at the tiller and finally looked at me.

“Which way?” she asked.

I’d been standing there quietly watching for so long that it took me a minute to remember what she meant. Ser Marian had told me that the pirates were operating from a group of three small islands called The Sisters. To get there, we would have to sail around a small peninsula that we called “The Anvil” and then head due north-east for around half a day.

I told all of this to Tiea who simply nodded and cast the boat off from the jetty. The sails caught the wind and we were away.

For the first hour or so, we both sat in silence with only the sound of the sea and the occasional screech of a gull flying overhead. I still couldn’t make out anything except the reflection of the stars in the sea. Then the sun finally started to rise, throwing colour into the horizon. I’m usually a late riser so I’d never really seen a sunrise before. It was incredible. It was just a shame I was sharing the experience with someone who apparently had no interest in talking to me.

The silence went on, broken only by me giving the occasional direction. After a while I grew brave enough to try and engage Tiea in conversation. Asking her about what had brought her to Felinton, how long had she been a warder, that sort of thing.

My efforts earned hardly more than nothing. Her answers were brusque and monosyllabic, and that was when she answered at all. She just sat by the tiller, her black eyes fixed towards the horizon.

After a few attempts, I gave up and sat in silence, watching the sun climb higher and the sky turn from purple and red to blue.

Soon enough we came in sight of the Anvil. I watched the coastline slip slowly past and then out of sight as Tiea turned our little boat out towards the open water.

It was a relief when, after a few hours, we finally came in sight of the Sisters. I’d been intimidated by Tiea at first but a half day at sea with her had overshadowed her mystique with my own boredom.

We landed at Merana, the largest of the Sisters and the closest island to the southern wind coast, beside a little village called Celstree.

Once the boat was tied up, Tiea immediately jumped ashore and began heading straight for the village. I did consider not following her. She obviously didn’t want or need my help. But I had been sitting silently in the boat for hours and I think I was excited at the prospect of something happening so I went after her.

I caught up with her as she was going into a tavern called the Fisher’s Arms. I would have thought people would be surprised to see the Warder. She was a strange sight on the mainland and I can’t imagine they see many people like her. But, they acted as if they didn’t see her, like she was just another person of the village.

When we entered the tavern, Tiea went straight to the bar, to a rather large woman that I took to be the landlady. I went to join her but she gave me a look which said, in no uncertain terms, that this was a private conversation.

So I hung back and waited. The landlady pointed towards a corner of the room where there was a small table with a single person sat at it. A very well-dressed diman man.

So, Tiea goes over to the table, beckoning me to follow. If the diman was surprised to see us, he gave no indication.

Tiea sat down across from him while I hung back, rather awkwardly. Without any greeting or introduction, she asked him where she could find the Raiders’ base.

The diman smirked and asked, in a rather inappropriate tone, what was in it for him. I couldn’t help but notice the way he looked at both me and the Warder, his eyes lingering in a way that made me very uncomfortable.

Tiea didn’t say anything, but raised her right hand to grip the hilt of her sword.

The cocky expression immediately vanished from the diman’s face and he immediately started babbling about the island north of Merana, that we’d find what we were looking for there.

Without another word, Tiea stood up and made for the door. I hurriedly chased after her.

As the door closed behind us, I asked Tiea what that had all been about. To my surprise, Tiea answered. She said she knew the innkeeper from a few months back and knew that she’d know who to ask about the pirates. The diman was one of them and so knew where the base was.

I then asked if she would have drawn her sword on him.

Tiea took a little longer to answer that question but finally shook her head.

“He’s a creep,” she said, “but he was no threat. The Way wouldn’t permit his death at my hands.”

“The Way?” I asked.

“The Way of Raak,” she replied, “what your governor calls my Code of Honour.”

I waited for her to elaborate, but she was apparently done talking for she said no more.

I had expected to have some time to relax, maybe that we would spend the night in the village. But Tiea went straight back to the boat and I only just managed to jump in before she had pushed it out and we were under way again. With my direction, Tiea steered the boat north towards the other two Sisters.

It was getting quite late in the day when we came into sight of the island the diman had told us about, the sun beginning to dip beneath the horizon.

“You should sleep,” Tiea spoke suddenly, “we’ll be there in a few hours.”

This was the most she had said to me all day. I considered refusing and staying awake but a wave of exhaustion suddenly swept over me and, rocked by the waves beneath our little boat, I fell asleep.

I awoke to the sound of crunching shingle as our boat grounded on another beach. I looked around. I must have slept through the sunset because it was dark again, though mercifully not as dark as the previous night. The sky was clear and full of stars with the moon shining above us casting everything in a ghostly half-light.

I looked around and saw Tiea strapping on her sword-belt, the long hilt of the weapon poking up behind her shoulder. I moved to get off as well but Tiea held up her hand.

“You wait here,” she said, calmly but sternly, making it clear she would not argue about this. “You have guided us, this now is my job.”

Even if she hadn’t spoken, those dark eyes fixed on me seemed to force me back down into my seat. And, without another word, she was away, across the beach and out of sight in a matter of seconds.

It took only a few more seconds for me to decide I had to follow. I was scared, of course I was, but after coming all this way I had to see how this ended. I wouldn’t get close, I told myself, just close enough to see what was happening. And it was light enough that I could see where I was going.

I climbed out of the boat and, carefully, began following after Tiea.

I didn’t know where she was heading. From what I’d seen on the maps, there were no towns or villages anywhere near where we were. Then, some way up ahead, I saw something take shape in the darkness. A large, blocky structure with flickering lights at the top that I knew had to be watchfires. I realised this must be some kind of fort and that this must be the place the pirates were using as their base.

There would be dozens of them in there, I thought, far too many for any one human to handle, even a Warder.

Would Tiea realise this and turn back? It didn’t seem likely. A part of me considered turning around and getting back to the boat but I had to know for sure, one way or the other.

I drew closer to the fort. The front gate, I was surprised to see, was wide open. There was a crowd gathered in the fort’s courtyard, talking and laughing. Had they captured Tiea?

I was about to get a closer look, when I heard the unmistakeable sound of the hammer of a pistol being cocked beside my head. I turned slowly to see a pencori woman smiling at me with a finger to her lips. She gestured with the pistol, indicating that I go inside.

I walked in, as slow as I dared.

The crowd turned to look at me, opening up to reveal none other than Tiea standing at their centre with an orklin man with long grey hair and a beard to match.

None of them had weapons in hand, in fact, they looked more nervous of me than of the Warder.

“She is with me,” Tiea said. There was no hint of emotion in her voice, “she is harmless, just my guide.”

The old man nodded and gestured at the pencori woman to lower her pistol, which she did.

“Your point is well made,” the old man said, in a voice like rustling leaves. And I noticed then how thin he was. How thin they all were. Gaunt and weather beaten. Were these really the pirates that everyone on the coast was so afraid of?

“We will do as you suggest. Assuming what you say can be done?”

Tiea held up two fingers and touched first the bridge of her own nose, then the old man’s.

“It will be done,” she said. Then she turned and walked towards the gate, gesturing at me to follow. I did, without hesitation and without looking back. I heard the fort’s gates slam behind us.

Tiea didn’t speak again until we were back in the boat.

“You should not have followed,” she said, “I said it was my job.”

I probably should have been frightened. If the Warder was pulling some scam, like taking our money and splitting it with the pirates, then she might kill me to keep the secret. But I was too curious to be frightened.

“I thought you were going to kill them?” I said.

“Kill them?” she turned to me, and I was shocked to see anger on her face. After a whole day of not a single emotion showing there, it was quite scary. “They are desperate people trying their best to survive thanks to the high taxes your governor places on them. She takes their money but does nothing for them, she hordes it, lives in luxury while her people starve in the streets. They flee to the archipelago and try to make a life here but there is no work. And you are surprised that they must turn to crime? When the choice is that or an impoverished servitude, what do you pick?”

I sat there stunned. She couldn’t be talking about Ser Marian. She did so much, had so many charities to help people. She gave money to the homeless and to low-income families. I always believed she was such a good person.

Final notes; Ser Marian duLocke was arrested on the 28th of Stillsky 704 on charges of tax fraud and gross negligence to her charge. Felinton is quite a way out on its own and historically has not been given much oversight. The port made more than its quota of revenue so no-one paid much attention to the place. Ser Marian used this to hike up taxes and skim quite a considerable amount off the top.

The evidence that was passed to the Ironwood Bureau by an anonymous source was indisputable. Ser Marian was arrested, her position as governor stripped away.

Local reports seem to indicate a rise in quality of life in the years since Ser Marian’s removal which has led to an increase in productivity in the town’s industries and an increase in revenue. So, that seems to be a happy ending.

No reports attached about the Warder, though that’s hardly surprising. I wonder what deal she made with the pirates. The only thing I can find that might be linked is the fact that, after Ser Marian’s arrest, the number of raids on merchant vessels dropped notably.

Inscription complete.

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