Chapter 28 - The Return to Markwald
The last savage expires from his wounds, and the trio, along with their donkey, continue along the forest road to Putzdorff. The gate to the palisade fence is ajar, so they walk in and begin to converse with the villagers about what has been happening in the area since they were last here. Soon, the villagers fetch Wilhelm and Käthe - the de facto headpeople of the village, who certainly remember Dietmar and Cilly. It seems like half a year has passed since the party traveled through the village last, on their way to the Albenheim portal. In that time, it seems that the Plague has not returned, but in other ways, the situation has become worse. Marauders working for (or in the name of) Matilda roam through the woods, taking what they will. The fields around the village seem like they have not been sown. The bandits imprisoned by the margrave von Rabenwald were released to help deal with Matilda's predations, but they seem to have been no match for them. And further north, the town of Wunschau seems to have fallen under the control of the Flagellants, which only means that Matilda's power south of the Wunsch is unchallenged. The travelers thank the locals for the information, and continue their way back toward the city, which now seems closed to them. Once having crossed the river, they walk through the suburbs in a counterclockwise fashion, not daring to walk through the gates. In Kleinsumpf, they stop off to visit Edda's old house. A woman tends to the garden, and proceeds to fetch Friedrich from inside. Dietmar tells him that his wife longed to return, but perished in an Albenheim pond. Friedrich is unsurprised, and still holds much bitterness toward them, but he does tell them that they are being sought in town, including by representatives of the Vehm. They continue to the old mill compound, where Wolff the Miller, the old Vogt, made his residence, and find it apparently abandoned. Continuing to Westweg, they come to the Sacristy of St. Beatus Church, Westweg, outside Wunschau. It seems to have been partly rebuilt, but not finished. The rest of the suburb seems abandoned. Dietmar decides to stay here to pray, in hopes of receiving some divine insight, but Cilly, Nit, and the donkey continue on to Schloss Rabenwald, to speak to the margrave. Under the pretext of being a traveling performer, Nit convinces the guards to let her in to the castle in order to entertain the lord over supper. But she manages to turn her companion invisible, and as she rests in the stable to prepare for her performance, Cilly makes her way to Hildegard's quarters. She addresses the lady invisibly, and tells her that she has been to see Edelweiss in Albenheim, and that the elves are committed to protecting her son (and perhaps Cilly's own half-brother) Guido, and making sure that he succeeds to the throne. The countess seems more engaged than Cilly has ever seen her, and asks clarifying questions (about Edelweiss' appearance, and the timeframe of the succession, as well as what the elves' plans are for her husband the margrave). She insists that the first step is to provide support for her husband to reestablish control over the town, because without that, the throne is worth little. She says that Cilly should make her case to him directly, but since the spell is soon expiring, Cilly says she will return for supper. Prior to slipping out of the castle, she informs her companion about what was said, and says that she will return in person around suppertime, so some sort of plan must be manufactured to alter tonight's proceedings. Nit tells the servitors that she has changed her mind about performing, and will return on a subsequent night. The servitors are openly skeptical, saying that there isn't anywhere else to go, as other castles are distant. Nit is already here, and the lord has been informed, so she might as well perform. Nit does convince the servants to release Carrot - he was to be a part of the show, but now has indigestion. The servants are a bit bewildered by this turn of events, but they do escort the donkey out of the castle. The show starts off well, and Margrave Konrad is visibly impressed by Nit's skill (though Hildegard remains typically impassive) Soon, however, there is a commotion at the gate, as Cilly has now openly returned, leading Carrot. She is escorted into the great hall, and is quickly recognized by the margrave. He questions her about her prolonged absence, and she briefly tells him about her sojourn in Albenheim, and her involvement in making an anti-Plague elixir, which is now in the possession of the elves. The margrave wants to hear more, and asks what the cost of acquiring it might be, and she responds that it would involve making a compact with the elves, and bringing the two peoples back together. Sensing that the time has come for serious bargaining, the margrave clears the chamber, leaving only his major domo, Florian von Ecke. Cilly suddenly puts in that she does not trust Florian, and wants him gone as well. Margrave Konrad objects that Florian is his most trusted aide, and that it's his decision who will bear witness to the conversation in any case. Cilly stubbornly refuses, and Konrad, citing the whole charade with the donkey as an additional reason, expels Cilly, Nit and Carrot from the castle. After the sun has set, the three return to the sacristy to meet Dietmar.