Count Batsuen Lowell waited impatiently on his high seat. His eyes were red. Counts didn’t cry, but then again most counts weren’t faced with executing their only remaining daughter for murdering the other. He had been up half the night, sobbing and cursing the gods for their injustice. The whole castle must have heard his grief, but nobody said a word. At some point in the early morning, someone had sent for Bishop Stonebrook, hoping the man could help console Batsuen, but the man retired quietly after having a bowl thrown at him. In truth, Batsuen regretted his actions – it wasn’t the Bishop’s fault – but he had sworn off any and all gods in that long night.
The thought of seeing Penelope reminded Batsuen of his late wife, Grace. The woman had died bearing Batsuen his only son, Rory. The boy was always a weak child, and he hadn’t reached his third year when a great fever took him, leaving Count Lowell with no wife and only two children, both girls. It would be difficult for a female to follow in his steps as Count, but luckily Selova had turned out to be a man in a woman’s body. Penelope, on the other hand, was always… softer. Batsuen had done his best to set her up with a good marriage, to an important merchant (in Nameless, relationships with the merchants were as important as relationships with the other nobles), but she had fled the island. That was five years ago. Now she had returned, allied with a rogue guild against her own father, and murdered her own sister. He would never have believed her capable of it, had Constable Berenger not seen it with his own eyes. The man was gruff, and a good military leader, but he had no way with his tongue at all; the man couldn’t lie if he wanted to.
Footsteps disturbed his contemplation, and he wiped his nose with a sniff just as Bailiff Wurth announced his only remaining child. The Bailiff had a look of consternation on his face, and half a dozen guards in full armor marched behind her, hands on weapons. Gods, Penelope, Why!? For her part, Penelope seemed rather at ease. Batsuen waved his hand, and the Bailiff began announcing the charges, “Lady Penelope Lowell, you stand accused of treason and murder, for consorting with his Count’s worst enemies, laying a trap that led to the death of his Count’s men, and,” the Bailiff choked a little bit, finding it difficult to say the last part, “and for murdering the Lady Selova Lowell in cold blood. The penalty for these crimes is death. As a highborn lady, of course you are entitled to address the Count before he announces his sentence. Do you wish to do so?”
“Yes. This is all false, of course.” With that Penelope straightened her back and stared her father straight in the eye, as if nothing more needed to be said.
Batsuen choked back tears, “Girl, must you make this harder than it already is? Constable Berenger saw you with his own eyes, consorting with the foul priest. You all but admitted to these crimes!”
The guards tensed as Penelope walked forward nonchalantly, but Batsuen signaled for them to stand down. If his last remaining daughter was going to murder him, so be it. He’d take his chances. She glided forward and put a hand on the Constable’s shoulder as she spoke soothingly, “Father, Gobert is a good man, but he does not understand the politics of court or the schemes of the highborn. I forgive him for misinterpreting what he saw that day.”
Berengar jerked his shoulder away from the girl and spluttered, “Misinterpreted!? You allied with the Forty Horse Thieves and attacked my men! You even rode in that godless contraption the dark priest conjured! Then you murdered your own sister, and you forgive me!? Then you come in here, and spew this nonsense in front of your father, further breaking his heart!?”
“Berengar!” Batsuen yelled, “My heart can break no more. Let the girl say her piece so we can be done with this.”
“Thank you, father. I also forgive Constable Berengar for his outburst.” With that, she flashed a sweet smile to Berengar, who looked like his head was about to explode. Then she continued, “It was actually the Forty Horse Thieves who murdered Selova. You see, I returned to the island two weeks past. I didn’t want to raise a big ruckus, and I wanted to get a feel for how things had changed on the island before revealing myself. So I was staying at The Dusty Dryad, down by the south docks,” Penelope rattled on like she was dishing some salacious story to one of her maids, “and one evening, I happened to overhear some men talking about a plot against the Count of East Rim. Of course, this caught my attention! As I kept listening, they talked about how they were going to setup a trap, and unleash their orc horde against your troops! For several more nights, they met in the same place, and continued their discussions. One of them was actually fairly easy on the eyes – an archer named Alberto. He was quite sweet to me.”
“Penelope, does this have a point?”
“Yes, yes, father, let me continue. As I was saying, he was quite sweet, and eventually I gained his trust enough that I could reveal myself. They immediately saw the opportunity to use me in their political machinations, and included me in their plans… well, most of their plans. They intended to crush your strength and make me Countess of East Rim so they could have a puppet ruler. I laughed and flirted and talked about how much I’d like that and inquired who my husband would be! Unfortunately,” she paused, “I didn’t realize their intention to do that by murdering Selova.” At that, a single tear rolled down her cheek, and her voice cracked, “I… I thought they were just going to do it with political maneuvering, or by discrediting you, I never thought,” and she trailed off into tears. Batsuen immediately felt an urge to comfort his daughter, but he checked himself.
“Is there more? This sounds like a confession.” A moment of mercy struck him, “if you wish to confess in front of the full court, your death could be in the light of the Lord of Storms, and your body could still lie with the rest of the family in the crypt.” He gave her a tender look, thinking this offer would be meaningful to her. Bailiff Wurth grunted; apparently his consternation was only growing.
“No! You don’t understand, father! I was going to come to you, but before I had a chance, they swept me away and said the battle would happen that day. Before I knew it, I was the fell priest’s captive in that horrible, metal monstrosity! It was there that he informed me my sister would die on the same day! There was nothing I could do!” Then she straightened and looked Constable Berengar in the eye, “So I made the best of it.”
Berengar couldn’t hold his tongue, “Made the best of it!? What, by joining them wholly?”
Again she patted the Constable soothingly, “I had to, Gobert, to get close to them.”
Batsuen’s heart lept at the possibility, “Close to them? What do you mean? Why?”
She gave him a look that said she knew he understood her meaning, “To find the real killer, of course.”
Batsuen looked up at Bailiff Wurth and finally understood the look of consternation. “Bring in the prisoner!”
The Bailiff snapped his fingers and a pair of guards entered the room dragging an older man with black-grey hair and an angular face. That face was black and blue, but Batsuen recognized it, and knew the man well.
“Imranul Montagu.” The weight of the previous night lifted almost immediately. His daughter was not a traitor, but a hero! No, he wanted too badly to believe this was true. He must be clear-headed, and sure. “Did you overhear my daughter’s accusations?”
The man was suspended between two guards, his legs buckled underneath him and his toes dragging on the floor. Still, his eyes were intense, and he spit a bit of blood onto the floor. Penny immediately walked over and hoisted her knee into the man’s stomach. He crumbled all the way to the floor and she shoved his face into the puddle of blood and spittle, “cleaning” the floor with his face. Once she was satisfied the floor was clean, she threw him onto his back by his hair. Montagu looked at her with a wild and incredulous look on his face. For that matter everyone in the room was staring at her. Finally, the guildmaster spoke, “If I deny, you torture me until I confess, then I die. If I confess, I simply die. Therefore I confess.”
It was certainly a weak confession, but a confession nonetheless. Batsuen stared into those deep eyes and searched. Maybe he just wanted to believe, but he found truth there. A smile crept onto his face as he lept from his seat and embraced his long-lost daughter. The other men in the room surely thought it improper, but he didn’t care. His daughter was saved – his daughter was not a murderer! Releasing her, he pronounced his judgement, “It is beyond clear the Lady Penelope Lowell committed no crime against East Rim. She was a prisoner and victim of the guild known as the Forty Horse Thieves, led by the vile Imranul Montagu.” Montagu nodded his head as if he was impatient for the Count to get on with things. Anger flared up and Batsuen turned to him, “As for you, Montagu, you stand accused of more murders than I can count, but none more grievous than that of my own daughter! I sentence you to death, immediately!” With that he signaled to Berengar for his sword.
“No, father!” Batsuen gave Penelope a strange look and Montagu arched a curious eyebrow. “This man has betrayed you. He has betrayed us all! His death must not be quick, in a small room attended only by your closest advisors. His death must be public and painful, to send a message.”
Batsuen regarded her carefully, “What exactly do you suggest?”
“Impale him on the wall and let his life drip out slowly in the sun; Let vultures pick at his eyes!” Montagu was aghast, and began cursing her with every phrase Batsuen knew and some he didn’t. It took one of the guards knocking him unconscious to stop the torrent. “Father,” Penelope moved close and looked up into his eyes, “He killed my sister.” Yes, he believed her. This was his Penny, and she had returned.
Within the hour, Montagu was carefully impaled on a spike on the outer wall of the keep, facing south toward the ocean. Batsuen and his daughter had overseen it personally, to make sure the spike did not pierce any vital organs, to make sure he bled slowly; Penny had become a hard woman during her exile, but Batsuen didn’t mind. Now that Selova was dead, Penny was his heir, and she would need to be hard.
Three days later, the men confirmed that Imranul Montagu was dead, but they doused his body in tar and ordered it left on display for a full month. Penny poured the tar herself.
By: Mike, 10/03/12