They had been held at the West Gatehouse until well after sunrise the next morning. Berri and Ijah had been put in a cell, one of three in the small sub-level under the gatehouse. Berri wondered if it counted as a dungeon. There had been a dank smell and no light, other than the lamp old Kratler had on the small table outside of their cell. Though the concept of a cellar had been unknown to Berri until just a couple of months ago, everyone knew castles had dungeons. The gatehouse was like a small castle was it not? Either way, Kratler had not even closed the door to the cell. Instead he had pulled his chair to the door and asked them to tell him what had happened.
Oddly, no one had thoroughly searched them, though obvious weapons and pouches had been taken.
Kratler had been very amused that a couple of women from out of town had put a thumping on ‘the lads over at the Bonnet’ as he called them. He had been a little disappointed that they had not had better descriptions of the men they fought, almost as if he had been hoping someone in particular had been involved, though he never elaborated. Berri and he had spent most of the night talking, while at some point Ijah had fallen into a trance.
One interesting thing Berri had learned was that the bridge, for which the town was named, was in fact built by the ancients. Kratler had not known if it was Eldra or elvish but according to him, most folks here in town did not give much attention to such things. They just called it The Bridge. It spanned the gorge through which the East Madden River ran, just before it became the Madden River. At either end of the bridge was a modest keep and gated wall, there were stairs along the gorge’s sides to the water and stone peers at either end of the bridge. Another stairway went down past the falls, west of town to another large stone peer. He also claimed that there were underground passages and catacombs, also built by the ancients, though he had not seen them himself.
After learning that she and Ijah had been involved in the war against Tannica, near Swampdon, he had been content to sit back and let Berri tell him about that. Berri had been happy to have an attentive audience and told him about the different armies that had been fighting the Tannicans; the Pwhanna, the Swampdon Militia and the Children of the Gods all allied and working together. There were also the orc and their airships from the Combine, who had joined the war on the second year. Though the orc also fought the Tannicans, there had never been a formal alliance between Swampdon and the Combine.
Closer to morning Berri talked more about some of her own experiences. During the first year of the war she had been a messenger, typically riding back and forth from the front to the city with news. Often enough she rode alone and went back and forth three or four times during a fortnight. For both the second and third years of the war she had been assigned to a small force of skirmishers, which included a few of the Kereshi, many of her kin and a number of others comfortable with living off the land. They guarded the northern woodland approach towards Swampdon from enemy scouts, spies and slavers. While twice during the second year and once during the third year they had fought flanking elements of the Tannican armies.
At one point Kratler had commented, “Must be hard for someone so young. Sure you’ve the height and you appear fit and hale for someone just coming up on their naming day.”
Thankfully the near darkness of the cell hid her embarrassment, “This is my twentieth summer… I’ve the height, but nothing else that goes along with being adult.”
There had been an awkward pause, then the old man said, “Bah, tits and babies are a bother, I can’t think of a woman I know who hasn’t bitterly complained about both, one time or another.”
Berri shrugged, “Sure, and no bleeding means I’ve never had cramps or wild mood swing like my sister Pretha. She can’t be around anyone for a few days each month, or more to the point no one can stand to be around her.”
He chuckled, “I’ve known a couple women like that over the years.”
“Are they going to put us in a tree?”
He gave a loud, dismissive, bark of a laugh, “Hardly. Even if the Marshal finds you guilty, the worst anyone gets for public brawling is a fine and maybe a year and a day of exile. None of them lads were crippled, at least not by the two of you. None will claim you took their livelihood. Besides, we all know that crew at the Bonnet is a rowdy bunch. It’s an odd eight-day where I’m not sitting here keeping an eye on a handful of them for some sort of mischief or another.”
“Alright, I’m glad to hear that.”
“I’ve enjoyed your stories. Much more interesting than most of my nights here. You two will be fine.”
A while later a young fellow came down to replace Kratler, the new day was dawning. They were given some water and stale bread, then the young guard shut the door and locked them in. Berri slept briefly but it was not too long before they were taken to see the Marshal.
A pair of guards escorted them and Horse, Berri was happy to see, across town to the keep at the western end of the bridge. The three of them were turned over to a pair of guards there and taken to a training yard at the east side of the keep. There a number of town guards were training with practice swords and shields. A tall, dark haired woman was leading the drills, Berri noted there were a few other women training as well, though most were young men. The drills changed to spear and shield, the trainees were split into two groups and they started with a series of defensive formations. The tall woman left a middle aged man in charge of the drills and came over to Berri and Ijah.
“These the trouble makers?”
“Alright, you two return to your post, I’ll see to this business.”
The Marshal looked Berri over with a critical glance and then applied the same to Ijah, “Where are you two heading?”
Ijah replied, “The Republic of Caffern.”
“Fine. I need you to look over your stuff, let me know if anything is missing.”
They did so, some of their food was gone, the cheese and some dried fruit specifically. Also, there was no sign of their weight, at least not the little box they kept on Horse, with most of the rest of their gear. Though they still had the coin they carried on their person. Ijah told the Marshal what was missing.
The Marshal did not seem impressed, but commented, “Sorry to hear that. How much weight was lost?”
“Around fifty copper weight, a couple of silver.”
“Alright, your losses are about three times as much as I had planned on fining you. We’ve two options at this point, you can either be on your way now, with the understanding you will not be welcome here for a year and a day. Or, I can muster the guards from the West Gate and search for your missing belongings.”
Ijah was quick to respond, “We would like to get back on the road Marshal. We have -”
“Marshal!” the shout came from across the courtyard and a young guard ran towards them.
“Excuse me a moment.” the Marshal raised an arm, waving the guard over.
“Marshal, Dendobs, from the West Gate.” He came to attention and saluted.
The Marshal returned his salute, “Report.”
“We’ve just had a messenger come in. There’s a couple of large hordes moving towards the valley from the west and southwest. Upper West Madden was overrun. The messenger says the hordes are two to three days away.”
“Alright. Return to your post. I’ll be along shortly.”
He saluted and ran off. The Marshal turned her attention back to Ijah and Berri, “We’re going to have to cut this short. It’s been a few years since we’ve had a horde to deal with. I’ll have to trust you two ladies to see yourselves out. The East Gate will be open for a few more hours. The most direct route to the Republic is along the Old Trade road. It does skirts the Sudakkar though and many people have had problems with orc, especially south of the Madden Hills. However, it would be ill advised at this point to to be travelling westward.”
Berri asked, “What’s going on? A horde of what?”
Both Ijah and the Marshal said in unison, “Undead.”