Tales from the Vineyard: The Message
Deen Greenapple whistled as he dashed thru the freshly fallen snow. He had almost missed the farmer’s trail leading off of the Old Rocky Point Road, heading to the Berm’s coast gate. The shortcut took him thru Hammy Cornpiper’s apple orchard, and even in the dead of winter, the air smelled richly of the ripened fruit. Ordinarily, Deen would take the road, and enter Peckton thru the Berm’s main-gate, but the bumpkins had already started lining up for market and the runner at his mother’s place had told him to make haste.
Deen had no idea what this was all about. Peckton’s mayor seldom had council meetings, perhaps once or twice a year. And he had never invited Deen, even after he was sworn assistant sheriff. And to send a runner at this hour, during Winterfeast! Deen made good time traversing row after row of old Hammy’s trees, and in no time was at the rocky cliffs that marked the southern edge of Zella’s Vineyard.
Where the berm met the sea, a small tower and gate jutted up from between the waxwood pines. The gate was small, just big enough for two ponies riding a-breast, and the ancient flagstone tower was grey and cold and weathered; covered with moss and seabird droppings. It was built not for smallfolk who manned it thus but the men that ruled these shores when the land was known as Rocky Point. Deen called out to the guardsmen, who knew his face and lowered the gate. He made his way thru a damp stone tunnel, a 500 foot cut thru Peckton’s bedrock foundation, up a short flight of stairs, and into the town.
Peckton was a lively place, an old stone and wood fort built for the men who lived here hundreds of years ago. The halflings did little to change the place since that time; though it wasn’t the style they might have preferred, it was sternly built and met their needs well enough. To the left, down Catspaw Alley, was Deen’s home away from home, the old fort’s brig. To the right across the market square was his destination this morning, the Mayor’s Hall, and though he’d seen it a thousand times, Deen was gripped by a sudden wave of apprehension. The building loomed in the morning mist, and though he never noticed it before, it looked terribly imposing just now.
The Hall was the largest structure in Peckton, a three tiered fortress of a building, wrought of ancient log beams and cedar slats, built overlooking the sea cliff on the southern edge of town. From the widows walk atop the manor it was said you could see the lighthouses of Est Harbor. Jutting out from above the front door, barely discernible in the gloom, the banner of the Vineyard hung; the crab and horn-of-plenty. Deen’s mind was racing, and for a moment he thought on how queer it was for a halfling to bear the standard of a crab.Though most hobbits tended to shy away from the seafaring life, the smallfolk who settled here had made a comfortable living for themselves. The wet, windswept land behind the berm was perfect for the Vineyard’s famous grapes, and the clamfields and crabflats along the coast had kept the town’s belly’s full and then some.
With some trepidation, Deen entered the great hall. Massive raw beams held up soaring vaulted ceiling, decorated with a thousand intricate rosettes carved out of the darkest hardwoods. Man-sized suits of armour and tapestries embroidered with delicate glass bead-work festooned the landing of a huge spiral staircase. Only Men could build so grandiose an estate snorted Deen as he entered the Mayor’s office. His attention quickly turned from levity when he realized who was in the room. This was no ordinary council meeting.
“Ah, Deen.” said Mayor Thorntree, without looking up from his parchment.”You’re late. Please take a seat.”
Deen quickly sized up the room and it’s occupants, just like his uncle Stiles had taught him, and the examination of the Mayor’s chamber made plain the import of this assembly. To the far left was the conjurer Cotten Cornpiper, and his partner, Coolridge Copperpot. Cornpiper was much older then he remembered, but he had a certain youthful twinkle in his eye that Deen had never noticed, and he looked dressed for battle in his resplendent quilted robe, with tiny squares of a thousand different colors. Likewise Coolridge Copperpot, who looked a decade older then his sixty odd years since coming back from Mt. Ire, was dressed sharply in blue leather breeches and crocodile skin coat. Next to Copperpot was a hobbit unknown to him, but the roughspun grey wool robe and necklace of seashells he wore made him for a Beach Brother. After that, three militiamen: an older man and two much younger lads, perhaps five years apart. Their bronze pauldrons and flat rimmed helms were shiney and new, and their talberds bore the green and white of the Wormwoods of Flume. The last fellow he recognized instantly: Dagwood Grubb, truest friend for all his years. Was he back from the Palladium already?
Mayor Thorntree began. “Deen, I understand that your appointment to assistant Sheriff was important to you, and to your dear mother, but I’m afraid there’s been a change of plans…” The wizard Cornpiper chimed in. “A pigeon arrived last night, from Lakewood, by way of Armsby Abbey. I seems our dear Porter makes mischief even from beyond the grave.”
Deen’s stomach tightened at the thought of Porkins. He still could not believe that after Porter had been through so much, he could meet his fate in a simple fire. The apple of the Vineyard had been engulfed by the flames of war. The gods could be terribly cruel. And men still crueler.
The Mayor continued. “It would seem, Deen, that your late companion left very specific instructions with the Abbey regarding his affairs in Lakewood. We’ve received word that he named you an executor. Therefore…” Deen could contain himself no longer.
“Your Honor, I was only sworn into office a fortnight ago! I have responsibilities…who would look after the jailhouse? The night patrols…making my rounds?!” Deen was beginning to stammer.
It was Coolridge who spoke this time. “Deen, the only thing you see on night patrols are the cats in the alleyways. It’s the dead of winter. Peckton is a quiet town…you could have your dogs patrol the streets this time of year.”
The Mayor cleared his throat. “Master Coolridge has agreed to act in your stead, at least until the time of his next excursion, after which we have chosen a worthy stopgap. Shelton Wormwood has sent three of his new militiamen, his cousin Merrill and his two sons here. The year’s crop is harvested, the wine barreled and the coin vaulted. The townsfolk are happy and the Berm is fully manned. And as they say, there is no safer place in the Duchy then behind the Berm. Peckton will be perfectly safe.”
Deen was undaunted. “We were raided just last year, Mayor Thorntree! When I was first deputy, I led the patrols from Hag’s Hook to Bartertown. The roads just west of there are crawling with Vermese deserters, goblinfolk and gods know what else. My men expect me to lead them. You can’t just…”
The Mayor was getting visably annoyed “This Mayor expects you to get the hint, Deen Greenapple! I’ll hear no more of this…I henceforth strip you of the rank and title of assistant sheriff until this business in Lakewood is attended to. Then you may give your full and undivided attention to the office. Sergent Merill will stay here in Peckton as acting first deputy until you return. His sons will accompany you as escort. I sent word of our needs to Highrule, and Songsmith Strand at the Bard’s College sent his best student. It’s my understanding you know each other?” The two looked at each other and gave a quiet nod. “Good, then perhaps you can keep each other company. He is to assist you however he might in this en devour.”
The Mayor continued. “Furthermore, Brother Hurley here has made himself available for your escort.” The sunburnt hobbit smiled broadly “The Brother’s would have me parley with the beastmaster that prowls the forests of Lakewood. We have great need of his council. So my journey is your journey. I will accompany you as far as Armsby Abbey, then retire to the trees and snow.”
“You never told him what this business was in Lakewood, sir.” It was Dagwood who finally asked the question. The Mayor adjusted his spectacles. “Hmmm…yes, well, I suppose I didn’t. The message reads I, Porter Shankweed, as witnessed by etc etc..in the event of my death etc etc…do name one Deen Greenapple owner, manager and sole proprietor of of one Wharf Playhouse, once known as the Bear Club, now known as The Dirt Palace, effective immediately.“