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Pathfinder Tales: The Crusader Road

Michael A. Stackpole

  Pathfinder Tales: The Crusader Road

  Number XXI of Pathfinder Tales

  Michael A. Stackpole

  Paizo Publishing, LLC (2014)

  * * *

  * * *

  When the aristocratic Vishov family is banished from their native Ustalav due to underhanded politics, they're faced with a choice: fade slowly into obscurity, or strike out for the nearby River Kingdoms and establish a new holding on the untamed frontier. For Lady Tyressa Vishov, the decision is simple. Together with her children and loyal retainers, she'll forge a new life in the infamous Echo Wood, and neither bloodthirsty monsters nor local despots will stop her from reclaiming her family honor. Yet the shadow of Ustalavic politics is long, and even in a remote and lawless territory, there may be those determined to see the Vishov family fail...

  From New York Times bestselling author Michael A. Stackpole comes a new novel of frontier adventure set in the world of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and the new Pathfinder Online massively multiplayer online roleplaying game.

  As others hacked at its limbs, Jerrad's mother leaped onto the ogre's chest. The monster's head came up. It hissed a challenge. Tyressa roared back, the stepped on its throat and thrust the fishing spear straight through the larger eye.

  The ogre thrashed, ripping the spear from her hand and tossing her into the crowd. Its death throes crushed one man and broke several others. The people withdrew, weapons ready, as the monster thrashed out the last seconds of its life, then cheered as it lay still.

  Tyressa emerged from the bloodthirsty throng bruised but otherwise unhurt.

  Jerrad stared at her, and wasn't alone. You're my mother, but are you my mother?

  Tyressa bent, resting hands on knees. She breathed heavily for a moment or two, then let her skirt hem slip down and straightened up. She looked around, then nodded.

  "This is a terrible night, but you've all done well. See to yourselves. See to our wounded. Then we shall attend to our dead." She wiped her bloody hands on her skirts. "This is a night we mourn now, but shall celebrate in the future. And because of you, Silverlake will have a future."

  The Pathfinder Tales Library


  Prince of Wolves by Dave Gross

  Winter Witch by Elaine Cunningham

  Plague of Shadows by Howard Andrew Jones

  The Worldwound Gambit by Robin D. Laws

  Master of Devils by Dave Gross

  Death's Heretic by James L. Sutter

  Song of the Serpent by Hugh Mattews

  City of the Fallen Sky by Tim Pratt

  Nightglass by Liane Merciel

  Blood of the City by Robin D. Laws

  Queen of Thorns by Dave Gross

  Called to Darkness by Richard Lee Byers

  Liar's Blade by Tim Pratt

  King of Chaos by Dave Gross

  Stalking the Beast by Howard Andrew Jones

  The Dagger of Trust by Chris Willrich

  Skinwalkers by Wendy N. Wagner

  The Redemption Engine by James L. Sutter

  The Crusader Road by Michael A. Stackpole

  Reign of Stars by Tim Pratt

  Nightblade by Liane Merciel


  The Compass Stone: The Collected Journals of Eando Kline edited by James L. Sutter

  Hell's Pawns by Dave Gross

  Dark Tapestry by Elaine Cunnningham

  Prodigal Sons edited by James L. Sutter

  Plague of Light by Robin D. Laws

  Guilty Blood by F. Wesley Schneider

  Husks by Dave Gross

  The Treasure of Far Thallai by Robin D. Laws

  Light of a Distant Star by Bill Ward

  Short Stories

  "The Lost Pathfinder" by Dave Gross

  "Certainty" by Liane Merciel

  "The Swamp Warden" by Amber E. Scott

  "Noble Sacrifice" by Richard Ford

  "Blood Crimes" by J. C. Hay

  "The Secret of the Rose and Glove by Kevin Andrew Murphy

  "Lord of Penance" by Richard Lee Byers

  "Guns of Alkenstar" by Ed Greenwod

  "The Ghosts of Broken Blades" by Monte Cook

  "The Walkers from the Crypt" by Howard Andrew Jones

  "A Lesson in Taxonomy" by Dave Gross

  "The Illusionist" by Elaine Cunningham

  "Two Pieces of Tarnished Silver by Erik Mona

  "The Ironroot Deception" by Robin D. Laws

  "Plow and Sword" by Robert E. Vardeman

  "A Passage to Absalom" by Dave Gross

  "The Seventh Execution" by Amber E. Scott

  "The Box" by Bill Ward

  "Blood and Money by Steven Savile

  "Faithful Servants" by James L. Sutter

  "Fingers of Death—No, Doom!" by Lucien Soulban

  "The Perfumer's Apprentice" by Kevin Andrew Murphy

  "Krunzle the Quick" by Hugh Matthews

  "Mother Bears" by Wendy N. Wagner

  "Hell or High Water" by Ari Marmell

  "A Tomb of Winter's Plunder" by Tim Pratt

  "Misery's Mirror" by Liane Merciel

  "The Twelve-Hour Statue" by Michael Kortes

  "In the Event of My Untimely Demise" by Robin D. Laws

  "Shattered Steel" by F. Wesley Schneider

  "Proper Villains" by Erik Scott de Bie

  "Killing Time" by Dave Gross

  "Thieves Vinegar" by Kevin Andrew Murphy

  "In Red Rune Canyon" by Richard Lee Byers

  "The Fate of Falling Stars" by Andrew Penn Romine

  "Bastard, Sword" by Tim Pratt

  "The Irregulars" by Neal F. Litherland

  The Crusader Road © 2014 Paizo Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embedded in critical articles and reviews.

  Paizo, Inc., LLC, the Paizo golem logo, Pathfinder, the Pathfinder logo, and Pathfinder Society are registered trademarks of Paizo Inc.; Pathfinder Accessories, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, Pathfinder Adventure Path, Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Pathfinder Cards, Pathfinder Flip-Mat, Pathfinder Map Pack, Pathfinder Module, Pathfinder Pawns, Pathfinder Player Companion, Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Pathfinder Tales, and Rise of the Runelords are trademarks of Paizo Inc.

  Cover art by Steve Prescott.

  Cover design by Emily Crowell.

  Map by Robert Lazzaretti.

  Paizo Inc.

  7120 185th Ave NE, Ste 120

  Redmond, WA 98052

  ISBN 978-1-60125-657-7 (mass market paperback)

  ISBN 978-1-60125-658-4 (ebook)

  Publisher’s Cataloging-In-Publication Data

  (Prepared by The Donohue Group, Inc.)

  Stackpole, Michael A., 1957-

  The crusader road / Michael A. Stackpole.

  p. ; cm. — (Pathfinder tales)

  Set in the world of the role-playing game, Pathfinder and Pathfinder Online.

  Issued also as an ebook.

  ISBN: 978-1-60125-657-7 (mass market paperback)

  1. Aristocracy (Social class)--Fiction. 2. Exile (Punishment)--Fiction. 3. Acquisition of territory--Fiction. 4. Good and evil--Fiction. 5. Pathfinder (Game)--Fiction. 6. Fantasy fiction. 7. Adventure stories. I. Title. II. Series: Pathfinder tales library.

  PS3569.T137 C78 2014


  First printing June 2014.

  Printed in the United States of America.

  To the Mem
ory of Aaron Allston

  A great storyteller, and a greater friend. #3236236, Corry Douglas , Aug 10, 2014

  Chapter One

  In The Court of Baron Blackshield

  Jerrad's back itched. Right there, right where he couldn't get to it. His green woolen tunic scratched everywhere, but just not there. He wanted to do something, just twist or rub against a door jamb, but he couldn't.

  He didn't dare move. He barely dared breathe. He really hoped everyone would forget he was there. I'll just be as quiet as a—his cheeks burned—mouse.

  Tension filled the dark and close castle room. Thornkeep's sneering master, Baron Tervin Blackshield, stretched his lithe form across a throne woven of antlers and covered in animal skins. Mounted heads of other animals hung in a glassy-eyed gallery, half-hidden in the shadows near the ceiling. Even the most placid of the beasts had a sinister look, and the predators all flashed fang.

  Jerrad could feel them watching him. He couldn't shrink back to escape them. They'd be hunting him in nightmares.

  And the baron will lead the pack. Tervin Blackshield had a lupine cast to his features and hard eyes. Flesh tightened around them as he listened. He clad himself in fine clothes—not as fine as the ones Jerrad and his mother and sister had donned—but he wore them uncomfortably, as if they were woven of nettles. He seemed the sort of man who'd only be happy following a blood trail.

  Less a man than an animal in a man's skin.

  Lady Tyressa Vishov, Jerrad's mother, stood tall before Blackshield. Her dark hair had been plaited into a single, thick braid that rested between her shoulder blades. Unlike Lord Maraschal Sunnock, who had dropped to a knee beside her, Jerrad's mother showed no sign of subservience to the castle's master.

  "Your kindness in receiving us so late in the evening is appreciated, Baron Blackshield." Tyressa nodded toward the slender, wizened man hunched in the shadow of Blackshield's throne. "Your man Cranstin made clear your desire to see us without the least bit of delay."

  Irritation flickered over Blackshield's face, then retreated behind a facade of affected boredom. "He is good at stating in diplomatic terms that which I put in more direct language. But pleasantries, like noble visitors from Ustalav, are rare in my court. We must cherish them."

  Tyressa nodded briefly. Jerrad had seen her do that many times. She thinks he's lying. She would never trust him, but for the sake of form, she would accept the lie.

  Blackshield's right hand flicked up idly, a finger pointing at the severe woman standing near his right shoulder. "You are acquainted, Lady Vishov, with my wife, Lady Ivis Druscor. She's told me you met at court, years ago."

  Lady Ivis smiled cat-like, her skeletal fingers clawing the back of the throne. "When you were still welcome at court, my dear."

  "I do remember you, Lady Ivis. You were most talented at the dance." Tyressa's voice took on an edge. "I recall you being very popular with the prince's officers. And here you are, with your own court and, as I have been told, two beautiful children. I actually hope that your children and mine will be able to pass time together."

  Ivis's eyes widened. "And be tainted? I think not."

  Jerrad's cheeks flushed and burned, a sensation contrasting sharply with the chill running down his spine. His sister, Serrana, likewise blushed, but raised her chin and stared hard at Ivis. Jerrad waited for the woman to burst into flames or die—which is what he'd thought would happen to him whenever his sister locked her incendiary blue-eyed stare on him.

  Ivis didn't, but Lord Sunnock, who knelt halfway between them, did waver as if faint. Jerrad wouldn't have minded if he dropped twitching. The steward of the Vishov holdings in Ustalav, Baron Creelisk, had sent Sunnock to spy on them—though he told everyone he was an advisor. The youth hadn't heard a joke from the man that he considered the least bit funny, and Sunnock was less inclined to physical labor than Serra. This is the first I've seen him being quiet, however.

  Tyressa cocked her head ever so slightly. "I am certain I don't understand what you mean, Lady Ivis."

  Before his wife could comment, Blackshield silenced her with a glance. Smiling coolly, he rose from his throne. "We may be on the east bank of the river, deep here in Echo Wood, but news reaches us faster than you might imagine. Within six months of his execution, we heard of your brother's treason. To think a Vishov could seat himself on Ustalav's throne is as silly as believing your brother's gallows confession exonerating your family and accepting full blame for his crimes."

  Blackshield raised a hand to forestall a rebuttal. "And we had copies of Ailson Kindler's Winds of Treason within a month of publication. My wife is devoted to her books. Though she fictionalized things, the name Urshov is so close to Vishov that even a fool could read the book for the history it was."

  The chill which had run down Jerrad's spine now spread out and started him shivering. Kindler's novel had taken facts from his uncle's trial as a start, then built around them a huge conspiracy to create a political backdrop for her novel. She turned his mother's friendship with Prince Aduard into a torrid and illicit affair that implicated the prince in the death of Jerrad's father. It was all one big pack of lies, but the prince's political enemies used it to force him to act against the Vishovs, and Blackshield clearly understood that.

  Tyressa opened her arms. "M'lord, I'm pleased to see that news travels quickly. This will make what I've come to do so much easier."

  Blackshield gave her a half-smile, then settled back amid skins and antlers. He offered his right hand to his wife, who took it, then he nodded to Tyressa. "Enlighten me." His words came as a lupine growl.

  "What that scurrilous novel did was not reveal truth, but libel a noble man—that being Prince Aduard. Your wife will recall how gracious he was at balls and fetes—a man who saw intellect as a desirable form of beauty. His enemies thought that a weakness, and used the novel to attack him.

  "As you noted, only a fool would not see that the Vishov family, and my friendship with his Highness, was the dagger with which they stuck him. Because he is my friend—and remains so—I came to him with a plan. To prove our loyalty to the crown, my family and I would come here, to Echo Wood, and establish a new town, Silverlake, on the shores of Silvershade Lake. We would maintain it and grow it for twenty years. At that time, having proved our worth and innocence to the prince, the Vishovs would return to Ustalav and resume direct control of our lands. Until them, Lord Sunnock's master, Baron Creelisk, will administer our holding in service to the court. Lord Sunnock will see to it that we are true to our mission here."

  Sunnock smiled, opening his hands. "I'm not here to be any bother, really, I merely clerk for my master."

  Blackshield stared at him until the man cast his gaze down and folded his hands together, then threw his head back and laughed aloud. "Oh, bravo, Lady Vishov. You spin a fiction worthy of Kindler herself. The prince exiles you, tossing you a tiny bone suggesting a return to honor if you can do the impossible. I have no doubt you wish me to believe that's the truth. What I wish to know is if you believe it yourself?"

  Tyressa shrugged. "Belief is immaterial, my lord. Were your children's future ransomed, would you hesitate to act to secure it?"

  Blackshield raised an eyebrow. "You have a fair point."

  "I'm glad you see that, my lord. So I can count on your help in this matter?"


  Tyressa brought her hands back together. "And this means?"


  The castellan crept from within the throne's shadow. "Your party consists of sixty individuals. You have fifteen warriors, a few artisans, their families and apprentices. Not enough to do what you want. You're doomed."

  "He's telling you only half of it, Tyressa Vishov." Blackshield released his wife's hand and sat forward. "You and your party haven't been fallen upon only because I have proclaimed you inviolate. So far. Your fighters are insufficient to defend you even here in Thornkeep. We have goblins here that would g
o through them like grass through a goose. I'm sure they're all loyal retainers, but they're too young to be good, or too old to be great. Echo Wood will swallow you utterly."

  He rose from his throne. "Likewise, you have poor food stocks—hardly enough to see you to winter, much less through it. You do have trade goods—nails, hinges, finer things we don't often see. I believe my wife likes the gown your daughter's wearing, for example."

  Tyressa stiffened. "You're saying you can be bribed into cooperation?"

  Sunnock raised a hand, halfway bent, as if to ward off a blow from Thornkeep's master. "What Lady Vishov meant to say was..."


  The fact that Tyressa and Blackshield had snapped the command at the same time appeared to surprise and briefly unite them.

  Tyressa glanced down at Creelisk's minion. "I said what I meant to say. Bribery. Extortion. Consideration. Protection. I have not deluded myself as to the reality of Echo Wood and your demesne, Baron Blackshield. We are more than prepared to pay fair market value for supplies. You'll find us a good trade partner."

  "And I'm afraid you'll find little fair in what we consider market value." Blackshield shrugged. "Tell me why I don't just take what you have? Your fate means nothing to me. My wife is happy to see you humiliated. And your family already has debts run up here. I believe you already owe me ten gold."

  Tyressa shook her head. "For?"

  "Oh, did I not tell you?" Baron Blackshield reached up and parted black hair, revealing a jagged scar over his left ear. "Ten years ago, when your late husband came through, we had a discussion much like this one. The courts awarded me a judgment against him for assault."

  "Only ten gold? You must not have gotten up after that first punch."

  Ivis hissed, but Blackshield smiled. "Shall I lie to you and say I was sorry to hear he died at the Worldwound, in the Crusades?"

  "He's not dead."

  "Cling to threadbare hope if you will, but the rest of the world knows the truth." The man shrugged. "I didn't like him, but there were things to admire about him."

  Tyressa nodded. "I shall see to it you're paid your ten. Twenty, even."