Brash Young Fools
Day Two, continued.
No sooner had I written the above than the worst happened. The oaf Boris, who claims to be a coachman by trade, displayed a level of professional incompetence which I can only hope would see him barred from any coach guild or company in the Empire – he managed, mark you, to overturn the coach!
For one brief moment the coach, which had felt to me to be rolling excessively for much of the journey anyway, indisputable span through the air, landing on its side and causing Karl, who whatever his manners at the card table does at least appreciate a good vintage, to spill the bottle which we were enjoying at the time. Let it be known that I bear Karl no ill will for the waste and place the blame fully where it belongs.
By the time I had managed to extricate myself from the carriage and locate a suitable replacement for the lost bottle, Boris had made himself a new friend. This man, Victor, struck me initially as a rough, salt-of-the-earth type, and soon confirmed this impression when he revealed that he was travelling towards Ubersreik with the intent of entering the service of the Aschaffenberg family. Their man Hendrick was apparently advertising around the district for labourers to help move boxes or whatever else it is that labourers do all day.
Being well acquainted with the Aschaffenbergs, and aware of their particulars regarding servants, I thought it best to point out to Victor that the advertisement calling for staff specified that candidates should be of good character and not afraid of hard work (I suspect he was unable to read the finer points himself). Victor’s appearance, as I explained to him, suggested neither to be the case. Sensing his disappointment, I made him an offer – if he agreed to carry my luggage, thereby demonstrating a strong back, respect for his social betters and a reasonable work ethic, then I would willingly testify to the above in the presence of his potential employer. Being the sort of man to recognise a bargain when he sees one, Victor accepted my terms and relived me of the burden of carrying the best part of a crate of questionable red the rest of the way to Ubersreik.
In natural deference to my rank, Boris and Karl followed my lead in remaining silent on the matter of the treasure reputed to be hidden in the Aschaffenberg property. It occured to me that, while I might reasonably invite myself into the place, my responsibilities as a guest would prevent me from conducting a thorough and discreet search. Moreover, Boris and Karl would never be admitted without some plausible story. This man Victor may have provided us with a ‘cover story’ (I am experienced in the vernacular of the more adventurous sort of criminal for reasons I do not care to explain here) to gain entrance and blend in the faceless masses for long enough to recover the hoard.
By the time we reached the Inn of the Red Moon, dusk was upon us. We entered what I can honestly say is among the four or five worst hostelries I have ever encountered (not counting that place beneath the bridge in that town I forget the name of). It was saved from the worst slot by virtue only of having a roof (albeit in a questionable state of repair) and the good sense not to insist that I drink the local swill in preference over my own private supply. Even so, I would strive to avoid the place in future if at all possible.
Somewhat fortified by the bottle, I introduced Victor to Hendrick and made the observations as to his strength of back et al as promised. I am sorry to say that Rickard Ashaffenberg clearly needs to employ better staff – his man utterly failed to recognise the von Winterstein name and dared to suggest that I, like the others, might be in want of employment! As a labourer! And for the paltry sum of six shillings per day! I was saved from the effort of chastising the man by the timely intervention of Karl who demonstrated wits nearly as quick as his fingers in explaining, in terms that I confess I was unable to hear, the nature of his error.
At this point, the plot thickened. Hendricks confessed that the search for labourers was naught but a ruse, a cunning plan to insert agents into the household staff of old Rickard, who fears conspiracy and is in desperate need of some sharp fellows to uncover the truth. Sensing this to be a game that would well suit my skills, not to mention provide me with the chance to spring out on Rickard when the work is done, demonstrating my talent at acting and earning me the favour of the old bear. Added to the treasure, that would be the icing on the cake, so to speak.
After a brief evening enjoying a passable vintage in poor company, I retired early last night. Boris, I might note, was last seen disappearing with some ill-favoured strumpet, and emerged in the company of the same the following morning. Having seen the woman I can only assume he was far into his cups the night before, and hope for his sake that he had yet to recover his sense before we left.
The cart ride to the Lodge was uneventful for the most part. Hendricks was every bit as dull as I supposed and, in spite of my best efforts to solicit his opinion on current events, or even ascertain the current health and whereabouts of the Aschaffenberg daughter, he remained tight lipped. I suppose I cannot entirely fault him for feeling uncomfortable in the presence of his betters, and should be grateful that he had no desire to repeat the insult of the previous evening.
Things became a little spicier when we approached the lodge itself. Hendricks had not previously seen fit to mention an infestation of beastmen (Karl suggests otherwise, but I’m sure I would have remembered if that were the case) but a band of such ambushed our cart within sight of the Aschaffenberg walls! While Karl, Boris and Victor combined their efforts to bring down a single foe, I leapt to the defence of the cart with a bloodcurdling cry and personally confronted no fewer than four beastmen single handed. It was only after the others had downed their one foe that they turned to assist me, and not before Boris had been pulled down, suffering a blow to the head (I believe the poor man was distracted by the close resemblance his attackers bore to the woman he shared his bed with only last night. As a result his blows were not as swift and sure as they might otherwise have been).
By the time we made our way, victorious, through the gate, old Rickard himself turned out to see me in. The poor man is clearly not aging well, and I feel he barely recognised me, although his enthusiasm for our arrival seemed genuine enough.
As I write this I am safely ensconced in the lodge having preserved my cover by means of carrying a hat box (a subterfuge of which I am particularly proud – there is something to be said for the art of the masquerade!). On my way in I noticed a disturbing figure observing us from an upper window. I’m not acquainted with the man, but something in his nature set my nerves on edge. Since none of my companions were sharp enough to have seen him themselves, I feel it may fall to me to investigate further – it is ever the lot of the family von Winterstein to lead so that other men may follow.