“Well, where should I begin?”, Magnus mused.
It was late afternoon and there were only the four of them in the kitchen: Magnus and Günther, lounging by the fire, Niko at the table nearby – preoccupied with creating a new spice mix, his head bent over an old recipe book and his hands rapidly darting among a bewildering number of spice tins – and Lise, who was half-heartedly scrubbing pots and pans, and putting rather more effort into pouting and batting her eyelids at the men.
“You remember the arrival of the package, of course – just before you and Dieter got that rather unfortunate bout of the runs…”
“I remember just fine, thanks – in fact, don’t remind me…” Günther winced.
“Well, I just happened to have some business close to Herr Greger’s room, and I just happened to overhear Greger and Waltzen discussing what to do -”
Here, Magnus was interrupted by a loud snort from Niko, who raised an eyebrow and said, drily, “Oh, you happened to overhear, did you? A likely tale!”
“As I was saying,” Magnus continued loudly, with a large grin, “I happened to overhear that the package contained a mysterious object sent by father, ahem, I mean my Lord, the Count, Peter, of course – anyway, it seemed to be a matter of life and death, and after some discussion it seemed clear the best course of action was to hide it away and immediately depart for Meissen to rescue fath-, ahem, the Count. Of course, you should’ve been a member of our party, Günther, but there was clearly no time to lose, and as you were otherwise occupied…”
“Yes, yes, get on with it! You set off on the boat the next day, as I recall – and got to Meissen all right?”
“Indeed – in just six days, which isn’t bad, really. Still, after six days on a cramped boat with Herr Greger, Brother Waltzen, Helmut and Niko – well, it gets rather fragrant after a while. Anyway, we got there, no problems really, until the harbour guards informed us that we’d have to leave our weapons outside the city. Standard procedure, really, but you know what it’s like – feels rather naked without your weapon…” – with a wink in Lise’s direction. Günther looked appalled at the very idea of parting with his beloved flail. Magnus hastily reassured him that, in fact, he himself was the only member of the party who’d had to leave all his weapons. “Somehow or other, Waltzen persuaded the guards to give a little leeway – he can be awfully persuasive, you know… And Greger of course had his gentleman’s sword, and nobody would deny Helmut – even Niko got to keep his sword. How’d you swing that, anyway, Niko?”
“Oh, well, you wouldn’t part a cook from his best kitchen knife, now, would you? Even if it’s a large one,” Niko grinned, and continued: “But I think it would’ve been harder for you, Günther, to convince the guards that your flail was gentlemanlike, hmm?” Günther made a sound that was something like an affronted growl mixed with a whimper of pain at this scenario.
“Well, so we headed for the Toad and Stoat. The grub was appalling, the wine even worse. The company, though – well, Martha, she had… ample charms!” Magnus allowed himself a small smile, and Günther resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Lise dropped a ladle with a loud clang and sent Magnus an angry look, and he hurriedly continued: “… but sadly, time was of the essence, and after a quick lunch we moved on. Martha had told us of a grisly murder that had taken place nearby just two weeks prior, and that there had been Bretonnians skulking around, asking about an older fellow. She recalled an ugly mug with a large scar lurking about, asking questions… To be honest, Günther, I was rather worried we were too late, and that Count Peter was dead.”
Günther seemed more eager now, and had sat up straight at the mention of Bretonnians. “But it wasn’t the Count who was killed, of course, seeing as you’re all home safe – so what happened? Who were the Bretonnians?”
“Patience, Günther! But you’re right, of course. After some investigations, we discovered that the murdered fellow was an old friend of Count Peter’s, and it seems he was involved with the delivery of the mysterious package. Not that I’m privvy to all the particulars. But never mind that. We’ll get to everything in due course. We headed for the market – Meissen’s a pretty good place to shop – if you’ve got money, that is… Anyway, we were clearly being tailed. These Bretonnians – not very subtle, really. But Waltzen, he’s even less subtle. He decided to flat out chase one of the buggers. Fast and effective, I’ll give him that – he cought the slimeball, although Herr Greger was less than pleased that the capture entailed a broken pie stall. You should’ve seen it, Günther – pies flying everywhere, and Waltzen pinning this poor little Breton to the ground… Well, the city guards came and I thought we’d be in all kinds of trouble, but Greger – well, he just blathered on about stuff and nonsense and the poor guard didn’t know what was going on. Really quite amusing to watch. Meanwhile, Waltzen used his, ah, persuasive talents, so to speak, and the Breton played along with us and joined us for dinner. His last supper, as it turns out – we didn’t really get much out of him before he bit down on a Manbane capsule and frothed out his last insults right there in front of us.”
Günther grinned. It wasn’t quite as bloody as he’d like, but still, a dead Bretonnian spy is always a good thing.
“Honestly, it was a little shocking. I prefer a nice, bloody fight. Poison is so… Well, it’s a little awkward, isn’t it, when someone just croaks over dinner. Well, we got out of there in a hurry and left the body in an alley nearby before heading over to Helmut’s parents’ house. Nice place, I have to say! Well, after a day of snooping around, gathering gossip, and some hints from the now-dead spy, we’d figured out that we had to get to the Bretonnian ambassador somehow – he was clearly involved, and we began to suspect that Count Peter was being held prisoner by the Bretonnians, right there in Meissen. It turned out that the ambassador was hosting a luncheon party the next day. So we needed an in, and, as it turned out, that in came in the form of Jean-Jaque Gasgoane, distinguished owner of Bretonnian Wines and Imports. Ah, Niko, that was some afternoon, hmm?”
Niko sighed and smiled, a look of dreamy satisfaction crept over his face and his eyes misted up as he recalled one of the best afternoons of his life, tasting his way through Jean-Jaque’s stock room and racking up a bill long enough to drain all the colour from Herr Greger’s face. Magnus chuckled and continued: “Well, Jean-Jacque was very helpful. In addition to fantastic cheese and the most wonderful wine, he gave us a letter of introduction to the ambassador, whose party he was catering for, and he introduced us to his very good friend, the best tailor in Meissen, who was able to kit us out in the most excellent garb… I so wish you’d been there, Günther, I would’ve loved to see you decked out in purple satin and a fuchsia cape with feather trim, you’d have looked so dashing!”
Günther scowled as Lise giggled.
“Well, eventually we made it to the ambassador’s party. We all did our best to gather intelligence, of course. I did my best to charm the ladies, you know how they like to gossip,” – another loud clang from Lise – “but to be honest, I think the Tilean ambassador was just as keen, and I was beginning to worry that I’d have to sacrifice myself for the team…” – Lise looked positively shocked – “… but Waltzen had apparently found a better source of information. It turns out that the Count was being held by the Bretonnian Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure – in the ambassador’s basement! The scarred fellow Martha had told us about, remember? Well, he turned up at the party, but immediately made himself scarce when he saw us. We gave chase as best we could, but in a crowded ballroom we didn’t have a chance. The scarred fellow – Guy, we’ve since learned – what a nutter! Mad bomber – we’ll get to that – anyway, he got the Count and another fellow – Lord Finchenschtein, it turns out – well, they were shoved into a large coach, a post-and-six, locked in, bars over the windows, an armoured coach – and Guy drove them off in a hurry. So we commandeered the nearest coach. Felt a bit bad about shoving the driver off the side, but there was plenty of dung on the road, I’m sure he got a soft landing…”
Günther gave an approving grin.
“Now, this Guy, he was a piece of work! Not only did he drive like a maniac, but, as it turns out, he’d brought with him a stack of bombs and kept chucking them at us – casually, you know, like you’d throw tomatoes at a bad bard! It was awful – shrapnel everywhere! The horses were terrified. It was all I could do to keep them from bolting. I swear, I’ve never felt quite so lucky before, I thought we’d get blown up any minute, or that the horses would panic and the coach would topple over…”
By now, Lise’s eyes were huge and she made a gratifying whimper. Günther was increasingly animated as Magnus painted a vivid picture of the carnage that ensued.
“So there we are, gaining on this madman, driving recklessly, overcrowding the carriage and evading bombs as best we can. We’re getting closer, we’re level with it! And somehow Greger and Waltzen leap over to the other carriage, and Waltzen hooks us on to the other carriage, ties the two together, you know? Well, I don’t quite remember all the details, it was all happening so fast, and all the while this maniac keeps chucking bombs at us. Crazy! Meanwhile, Helmut is mumbling and glowing and doing all of his magicky stuff, you know, and I’m barely keeping us on the road. Turns out the carriage is breaking down, and Niko – crazy halfling! – well, Niko realises there’s something wrong with one of the wheels, and he climbs down under the carriage and fixes it at full speed – saving our bacon as usual! And then – what d’you think Helmut manages to do! He casts a spell that instantly rusts the hinges right off the door of the Bretonnians’ carriage! Genius! So Waltzen and Greger grab the Count and Lord Finchenschtein, cut us loose, and leap back to our carriage just in time – I have to admit just a tiny bit of pride at my driving skills, here – in all modesty – as I manage to swerve away – you see, we’d just arrived at the market place, and were headed right for a rather massive statue of the Grand Countess, and all sorts of market stalls everywhere… Anyway, we avoided a collision – while Guy was not quite so lucky… Imagine, if you will, the slow toppling of this enormous statue, right on top of the madman’s carriage… And – of course! – the very same pie stand we had, ahem, patronised previously, once again smashed – pies everywhere… I imagine the reparations bill will not be pretty… Well, there you have it! Count Peter was rather the worse for wear, I’m afraid, but still, in one piece – not bad, really! And of course, we got to rough up the mad bomber a little. You’d think the old geezer would’ve rewarded us with some nice, shiny gold after all that, but of course he’s old school – it’s all about honour, glory and the joy of serving the Empire… But still, a good adventure, no?” Magnus sighed happily.
Günther protested that there was a distinct lack of blood and gore, but in the end had to agree that the adventure was Most Heroic and Excellently Executed.