For Want of a War

Chapter 13: Ramza

oOo

Hours later, wearing a spare set of loose clothing I'd found, I sat with Mustadio as we waited for Rudvich Bart to awaken. On the table in front of us lay some cards: Shortly after arriving, I'd taught Mustadio King's Game and we were now gambling with a small pile of gil each.

Despite learning the game less than two hours ago, Mustadio had proven himself an apt, perhaps even treacherous pupil. Each of us had put five hundred gil into the pot to begin, and he was now proudly sitting on roughly twenty-three hundred.

I'd been forced to buy my way back into the game three times thus far... and unless I missed my mark, this hand would likely fare no better for me. With a scowl, I tossed my cards down, folding the hand, and instead reached for my mug of ale, drinking deeply.

Mustadio had produced a bottle of the stuff shortly into the game. Not enough to render even one of us drunk and inattentive, let alone the two of us sharing, but enough to relax us a tad as we waited.

Our prisoner was currently tied to a chair, strips of his former clothing binding his hands and feet, leaving the corpulent man in nothing but his smallclothes. His leg, broken during his capture, had gone unhealed by magic in favour of a simple splint for the time being. I'd taken the liberty of loosely gagging him, enough that he couldn't properly scream yet could emit loud grunts and poorly enunciated pleas when he awoke.

We were not presently in the sort of place in the city where muffled screams would be investigated.

Mustadio's father, Besrodio, on the other hand, was currently far away from our temporary hideout. We'd left him with sufficient gil to stay at a very nice inn in the upper quarter, with instructions to stay there for a month unless we returned beforehand. The humble engineer had initially protested, noting that the accommodations were far too refined for his sort.

His intelligence overrode his humility when I pointed out that it was precisely for that reason that he would be recovering there.

It was roughly when I began considering giving up my foray into King's Game with Mustadio for something a little less costly, such as dumping my gil directly into the ditch outside, that Bart finally began to stir.

Frowning at the off-suit three and seven in my hand, I tilted my head towards the fat man and Mustadio nodded with a groan, pocketing a little less than four thousand gil for his trouble. I stood and walked in front of our bound prisoner, squatting lightly so that my eyes were level with his.

I knew this would be an interesting interrogation when he narrowed his eyes rather than widening them. He still thought he possessed a measure of control over the situation, stripped practically bare and with his broken leg unhealed.

I would have to disabuse him of that notion. I yanked the gag free from his mouth, allowing him to speak.

"You dog. You don't know who you've enraged by this. I will see you dead for this indignity," Rudvich spat, a little bit of spittle splashing my face. I briefly considered gagging him again, before discarding the idea.

Then I broke his foot with a sharp stomp, his threats devolving into wordless, pain-filled screams.

During interrogation training at Gariland, I'd been taught that gagging an uncooperative subject allowed them to feel the full weight of their pain, while allowing them to scream allowed them to mitigate the pain, but if their cries went unanswered it would demoralize the torture victim as they would quickly come to the conclusion that no help was on the way.

As the leader of Bart Company's screams faded into pained gasps, I smiled at him. It struck me as funny that a course designed to allow a captured noble to resist torture would instead allow that same person to be so effective at performing it.

"Rudvich. You've been a very bad man," I informed the keening bastard jovially, reaching out and patting him on one shoulder. He flinched, but I paid it no mind. I stood to my full height, and his head tilted to track me as I did. "Now who put you up to it?"

He continued to pant, wordless. After a moment, I tilted my head towards his unbroken knee.

"Shall I provide you with more motivation?" I asked politely, bending and flicking the indicated joint.

"Mustadio, please..." The silver-haired man pled to me, flinching away. "You have your father back... Can't you let me go?"

A dry chuckle behind me caught Rudvich's attention as Mustadio stepped closer.

"Actually, my stout friend here is not Mustadio. That would be me, actually," my engineer friend noted with a wry grin. He flopped onto a nearby crate and rested his jaw on one fist. He savoured the way Bart's jaw quivered before he continued. "In fact, even with my father back, I'm not sure he's inclined to forgive you your trespasses. You do remember having your men beat him, yes?"

Rudvich's eyes were looking wild at this point, as they flickered from my comrade to myself. No doubt the experience was terribly confusing for the criminal.

"I'm... I'm-I'm sorry!" The head of Bart company sputtered, attempting to bow to me despite being bound hand and foot in a chair. He only succeeded in proving that perhaps his ancestry contained a measure of bullfrog, his grotesque neck pushing out with each nod of his head.

"What do you think, Mustadio?" I asked, indicating the profusely apologetic man. My new friend considered him for a moment, meeting the fat man's eyes as Rudvich trailed off in his apologies, pleading with the engineer with watery eyes.

"I think I remember dreaming of having him in a situation remarkably similar to this one, back when he had his dogs chasing me down to capture or kill me," Mustadio noted darkly. He got up and stepped closer to Rudvich, drawing his weapon and placing the barrel directly against the man's uninjured knee. "I also think I'm smart enough to realize that simply cutting him loose after a half-assed apology is just going to get me and my father killed later. I think he and I need to settle this account properly before I'll see any sort of peace."

"No..." Rudvich moaned. I ignored him.

"I do believe you're right, Mustadio," I admitted, rubbing my chin and taking a step back. I reached out a foot, tapping the knee my friend was aiming at. "Now Rudvich, let's make this quick so we can heal you and be on our way. You're not a known collector of holy artifacts, so chasing Mustadio down for this holy stone he's got isn't your style. There's no profit in it for you, unless someone's told you to keep an eye out for them. So who wants them?"

"He'll kill me. I can't!" The head of Bart company protested. Mustadio caught my look and nodded once, his finger squeezing on the lever of his weapon. In the closed room, the thunder of the weapon shooting was multiplied, and it took a moment for my hearing to clear before I could make out Rudvich's pained screams.

I slapped him. Hard. Once again reduced to pained keening as he stared at me in horror, I gripped his jaw as Mustadio began to bandage the wound he'd made.

"You seem to be under the impression that we won't," I informed the man, his eyes meeting mine. I squeezed a bit, ignoring the drool running over my knuckles. "Do you even know what sort of mess you now find yourself in? Do you even know what sort of forces have been put into motion by your actions?"

"Who... Who are you?" Rudvich moaned to me, and he shuddered as I grinned.

"Rudvich Bart, I'm pleased to introduce my good friend Ramza Beoulve," Mustadio announced with a flourish, enjoying the way the man's face went pale. And with good reason, at that.

Certainly, I wasn't the first bastard produced from a prominent family. While some are indeed left with their birth mothers, perhaps even as much as the majority, said prominent families will often find other uses for those born as I was: As spies, saboteurs, and even assassins. Embroiled in the family affairs while also being uniquely deniable, a bastard could be sent places where no ordinary spy or assassin could ever hope to be allowed... And should their work be discovered, well... They aren't actually family. It's easy enough to leave them to their fate and deny all responsibility.

Those thoughts and more were going through Rudvich Bart's mind, I could tell.

He knew of me vaguely, I was sure, but I was also such an unknown compared to my brothers that it must have appeared that my father was hiding me. Especially given the way I'd vanished with Tristana. Now I was here, with a monk's skills... And most nobles knew that monks made the best assassins: No need for a weapon when you could just harm your target barehanded, or even just press a few pressure points and watch as they died moments later.

In short, to anyone who didn't know my father or myself personally, I would have appeared to be exactly the sort of bastard I wanted Rudvich to think I was.

He knew I'd already infiltrated his security and led him into a trap, and as the man panted and took me in he realized precisely how much trouble this situation could lead him into.

Killing a couple no-name engineers from Goug? Why, even if he'd been more blatant it wouldn't have raised a fuss with anyone important. They were commoners, and even if Rudvich did have an unsavoury reputation he was still a noble: Nobody would ask too many uncomfortable questions. Within a month the matter would have been swept under the rug, and within three it would have been forgotten.

However, my very presence changed everything. Just by being here, Rudvich wasn't just killing off a couple commoners any longer. He was involving himself in business which could lead to his ruination even if I were to cut him loose right now.

Short of Larg, Goltana, and the High Priest Funeral, there weren't many, if any existed at all, for whom Bart would be willing to keep his mouth shut in the presence of a Beoulve. He knew it, and as his eyes met mine, he knew that I knew it as well.

"You will give me a name before we're through, regardless of what you think you will or won't do at the moment," I informed him bluntly. I reached out and flicked the recently-shot knee, eliciting a pained whimper. "The only question which remains is how much pain you're willing to endure before you do finally break."

"I've got money on not much more," Mustadio added with a nasty smirk. He was hiding his discomfort at the situation well, and likely only because the man we were torturing would have done worse to him and his father if he'd had the chance. However, days spent in his company let me see just how pale he was. His hand barely trembled as he slowly reloaded his weapon. "However, please... Feel free to prove me wrong."

Bart whimpered, his head rapidly turning from myself to my companion, finding not an ounce of pity to split between the pair of us. His head dropped.

"Draclau. Cardinal Draclau wants the stone," Rudvich finally admitted, almost sobbing with the confession. "Four, maybe five months ago, he came to me with an offer. Money and favours, if I could just find the artifact he was looking for. I was supposed to send it to him with a trusted courier when it was found."

I grinned a bit, walking over to the shelf where we'd placed the good viscount's belongings. His gil had long since been split between Mustadio and I while I taught my friend King's Game, but we'd left Bart's rings and necklaces alone. I picked up the Bart Company signet ring, bouncing it thoughtfully in my hand as I turned back to our prisoner.

"You're in luck. Mustadio, free his hand. Your dominant hand is your right, is it not?" I asked Rudvich politely, reveling in his confusion. I dragged a table over. "You are going to write us a letter of introduction for the Cardinal. You will only state that we bring the item he asked you to find."

I waited for him to write the letter, then read it. I then made him rewrite the letter with words of my choosing, changing the structure of key phrases and even using synonyms for words. At the sick look on the viscount's face, I knew he'd tried to harm us one last time, even now, by using a code word to signal treachery.

Sly man. The look of terror on his face as I made him rewrite the letter made it plain that he realized I'd found him out.

"So that's it, right? You'll let me free now?" Rudvich pleaded, to which I responded with a dark laugh.

"Of course not," I replied simply, enjoying the way his face fell. "At least, not yet. I don't trust you not to betray us the moment we release you, you see. In a week, someone will be along to cut you free. Whether it's Mustadio and I to finish what we've started tonight, or someone else coming to set you free will depend entirely on whether or not what you just told us was a lie."

Mustadio hefted a large water skin, which he set on Rudvich's shoulder. Using the rags we'd gagged him with before, we secured his mouth and left the bulk of the water resting on his shoulder, propped with ropes.

"As long as you don't struggle too much over the next week, you'll have enough water to survive. Try to escape, and..." I trailed off, with a significant look towards the water skin. It was secure if he didn't struggle too much. If he tried to break free, the skin would fall to the ground long before he freed himself. "Well, you know your options. I'd suggest that you try to make it last."

A fat man like Bart could probably go a month without food. Water was another matter entirely. Without something to drink, he'd be dead inside of three days. With the water skin tied to his shoulder, as long as he didn't squander it, he could easily last more than the week we'd told him he'd have to endure his current situation.

It wouldn't be pleasant, but he'd survive. We'd leave Besrodio with instructions to come by in a week to check up on things.

Ignoring the sweating man behind us, Mustadio and I gathered our things leaving him to his fate as we marched towards our own, the introduction letter in hand, sealed with Viscount Rudvich Bart's own ring.

We had a meeting with a Cardinal to attend, and many questions to ask.

oOo

Author's Notes:

Not much to say. I hope this was enjoyable for you to read.