After some time seven older men were assembled and a large crowd of spectators had also filled the square. As he took in the council members his heart sank as he noticed the same tattoo on each one of them, in the same place as the barkeep, just under their neckline. What had he done? They were all in on it! They probably knew he was a cleric and he would be likely be killed. The council questioned him in front of the crowd and he tried to give answers that were a little crazy, so they might think his behavior just irrational. If they knew what he was really there for, no doubt he’d be without hope of escape. The council reached their decision. Because he was from out-of-town, he would be placed in stocks in the town square for the day and night, and would be banished in the morning. They’ll probably have someone come kill me during the night, Sigmar thought to himself. He just hoped his comrades could get him out of this…
The afternoon passed slowly. Random townsfolk would pass by and spit at him or jeer. Eventually his three compatriots came near. “What were you thinking Sigmar?” Xa tried to reason with him. “What are we supposed to do now?”
“Where’s Mardan? Did you see the tattoos? They’ll all a part of this… this whole Orien-forsaken town! Get me out of here!”
Ren, being not too bright and just as impulsive as Sigmar, grabbed his greathammer and with a fierce swing, smashed one end of the stocks, allowing Sigmar to wriggle his way out. A nearby guard noticed and came over, yelling at Ren. Without hesitation, Ren smashed the guard’s leg, crushing bone. The man passed out from the pain and the three fled the scene as fast as they could. They wouldn’t risk getting their horses from the inn, not yet. Sigmar didn’t know where Mardan was, but they couldn’t risk waiting around for him. So the three fled the town to hide in the nearby hills. Night was coming quickly, so they had a good chance of hiding…
- * * * *
The night had been a long one for Mardan. He had returned to the city square later, expecting to find Sigmar still in the stocks, but instead he found they had been smashed and the town was in an uproar. Men on horses were marshaling in packs, while others with torches went out on foot. Apparently something crazy had happened and Mardan was sure that Sigmar was in the middle of it. Some priest of Orien, he thought to himself. He had also made the connection that the tattoos were likely a bad sign, and being a good cleric himself, had tried to avoid most people in case they somehow identified him. He also didn’t want to risk going back to the inn yet. He figured they would have traced Sigmar back to there and might be waiting for any of them to return. They still hadn’t succeeded on their mission, and Mardan was going to try to do it, even if he had to do it alone. So he spent the night scoping out different places of interest. He too had detected evil of various strengths emanating from various buildings. The strongest he’d found was under the courthouse, and the emanations were quite strong, but thanks to Sigmar’s antics the city was like a kicked beehive and there was no way he was going to break in with town guards looking all over for the troublemakers.
He skirted the main streets and headed back towards the town square. There was quite a commotion going on and it would be easier for him to blend into a large crowd. People were jeering and chanting and yelling. Silence fell over the crowd as the main elder raised his hands. Mardan was finally able to see what they were all looking at. It was Xa. He was stripped down to his loincloth, and clearly beaten and bloodied. Mardan’s heart sank, but with this many people, nothing could be done.
“For the crimes committed against this township, you are hereby sentenced to death. And may this death be pleasing to our master,” the elder said in an official tone. The crowd cheered and pumped their fists in a frenzy. The elder drew a large silver knife that glittered in the torchlight. He held it up for all to see, then without another summarily slid it across Xa’ throat with great force. Blood spray out, but none of the crowd recoiled. Xa’s gurgled cries came out as he choked on his own blood. A large man brandishing a bastard sword stepped up, and proceeded to sever the rest of Xa’s head from his body. The elder picked up the head and showed it to all. What the hell kind of town am I in, thought Mardan, before he quickly backed away. Sigmar and the others were on their own, wherever they were.
In the wee hours of the morning Mardan was able to quietly free their horses from the inn’s stables and lead them away. Avoiding the main roads, he headed back to where they’d stashed their armor and was able to load it on the horses before heading out of the valley. He had no idea what to do, but clearly the others weren’t going to head back to Gripplin. He felt like he had no choice but to return to Dresdnik. He did spend some time looking for any tracks indicating where Sigmar and Ren may have gone but he found none. He wasn’t particularly adept at tracking, and he thought it for the best that he didn’t find anything. If he had, then surely the townspeople also would have. He would have to go tell Olsbrin, and the bishop, and hopefully come back with enough force to take care of the town. There was something definitely going on in Gripplin.
- * * * *
Sigmar, Xa, and Ren had split up and tried to hide in different places, agreeing to meet at the top of the hill they’d cross earlier after sunrise. Sigmar had found a small farmhouse far on the outskirts of the town and managed to pay for their guest room for the evening. They didn’t ask many questions, and also happily accepted his coin for their only horse. With what he gave, they’d be able to buy twenty. That morning he was able to find Ren, but with no sign of Xa and the town still in an uproar, the two rode back towards Dresdnik with all haste. Gripplin would pay for what they’d done. The wrath of Orien be on those cultists, he thought to himself. As he rode he made a sinking realization. The holy sword he’d been given was still hidden back at the town. What would he say to the bishop? His shame turned to renewed anger. Gripplin would feel the wrath of both the Church and the Nyderiwen army.