The Long Road To Ruin Ch. 51byLady_Blackhawk©
Author's Note: I'm getting close to the end of this beast, a few more chapters is all that is left to be written. It has been an immensely wonderful time spent. I've gone through extreme bouts of writer's block, financial woes, and even a mental breakdown or two. This story has been a labor of love. Shiloh has been somewhat of a lifeline for me, in that I could exorcise my own demons through her bat-shit craziness. I thank all my readers for sticking with me on this journey. It still seems like there's still a long ways to go, but I can see the end of the road in sight.
Disclaimer: This fanfic is based off the Neverwinter Nights community module by the name of "A Dance with Rogues" created by Valine. I fell in love with this story and felt compelled to write something that compliments it. This story contains explicit content and graphic violence. All characters except Shiloh, Bastian, Rhys, Nicca, Ni'as, Narev and Essex are property of Valine.
... ...and the road becomes my bride
I have stripped of all but pride/so in her I do confide
and she keeps me satisfied/gives me all I need
~~~ "Wherever I May Roam" -- Metallica
Before the small group made their way from the castle grounds, Shiloh returned to the gardener's shed, changing out of the black dress and into her armor. She wasn't sure where she'd find Pia and Vico, but assumed they'd still be near the old hunting lodge. She knew Simon would be returning to the lodge in order to gather his belongings that Klennard had sent there before they began to journey to Dhorn by ship. She wasn't sure how Vico would react to being surrounded by the contingent of Dhorn soldiers so it would be up to her to make sure Vico didn't do anything stupid. That might be easier said than accomplished, though. She figured the blackguard would insist on accompanying her to the Dhorn kingdom. That was well and good just as long as Pia was with them. She knew she would need the bard along with her, if she hoped to retain any semblance of sanity.
Shiloh looked back one last time at the castle and its once majestic grounds she'd spent her life in. It seemed almost surreal that when she next saw it, she would be returning as queen. Her mind still reeled. A small part of her almost couldn't believe Simon had agreed to her daring scheme. Just to think that he would become her husband... well if everything happened according to plan. She hoped it would. She wanted him like no other. She was so close to realizing a dream and fervently prayed to the gods that it wouldn't disappear like a puff of smoke.
No alarms were raised as each of them slipped over the wall, shimmying down a rope Klennard had in place. She was pleased that she wouldn't be taking a dive into the cold depths of the moat either as one of Klennard's men was a druid with the ability to manipulate the earth around him into a natural bridge that when no longer needed was easily dismissible, therefore leaving behind no trace of their escape. It also pleased her when a carriage pulled by a pair of matched greys which had been hidden on the far side of an abandoned house was driven over to collect them. Shiloh was happy to be out of the rain, even if it meant sharing the conveyance with five other people. To her delight, it was roomier than the average carriage. She didn't mind tight spaces, not when it brought her this close to Simon, but with this many people. Thank the gods for small blessings, she mused. Snuggling into his side was so very nice.
After the carriage had traveled a few miles, it stopped almost suddenly, jerking the occupants forward. Simon let out a soft curse while Shiloh grabbed onto him to keep from landing on the floor at Klennard's feet. The Commander rapped his knuckles on the wall, his face displaying a look of sheer annoyance, as he called up to the driver, "Why have we stopped?"
The answer came in the form of the door being jerked open violently as a darkly cloaked intruder lunged inside. With teeth bared, the assailant tossed back the hood of his cloak, bringing his sword to bear against Simon's throat. Shiloh gasped as the red tinged blade tip of Kinslayer rested at the blonde prince's Adam's apple. Tense seconds passed before she found her voice, "Vico, stop it! Simon and these men aren't going to hurt me."
The blackguard turned his gaze to her, slightly lowering the blade, "And just where in the hells have you been? And where do you think you're going?"
"I don't think I have to answer to the likes of you, but if you must know, I'm going to get my kingdom back."
A startled gasp came from the door. Shiloh peered past Vico, her eyes settling upon Pia as well as Alfons. "Shiloh," the bard spoke up. "Not to sound negative, but do you really think that is the right course of action? Shouldn't you be concentrating on rescuing Master Nathan?"
Simon glared up at Vico, pushing the blade further away from his body, "If you are still seeking the release of the old tavern keeper and the workers that weren't killed in the attack, I am your best option for that."
"And just who are you?" Alfons spoke up as he suspiciously eyed Simon.
"I am Lord Simon Lyonson, fourth son of His Eminent Majesty, Eadric Kirkland Lyonson, Emperor of Dhorn. I am also Princess Shiloh's betrothed."
Rage flashed through Vico's eyes as he raised his sword to Simon's throat once more, "Give me one reason why I shouldn't gut you?"
"My death will not bring the release of the people you seek. In fact, it might make it worse for them, and for you. These men will not suffer you to live if you spill my blood. Now, lower your blade and let us speak like the civilized adults we are," Simon replied as his blue eyes turned dark and cold towards to the blackguard and though the delivery of his words were most eloquent, Shiloh could feel the rage simmering below the surface.
She rolled her eyes, "Vico is more or less a wild dog when it comes right down to it. I doubt being civil is part of his repertoire, darling."
Dark eyes flashed as the blade lowered. He stormed out of the conveyance as swiftly as he'd entered with vile curses slipping from his lips. An uneasy silence descended upon them for a few moments before Alfons spoke again. "We've been looking for you for days, Shiloh! The whole city's buzzing with Dhorn searching for you!"
"Of that I have no doubt. It's that damned Benthur. I know I have some explaining to do and I will. We were coming to find Pia and Vico. I have a plan."
Alfons nodded slowly, "Did you find out anything about Nathan's whereabouts?"
"I did. Nathan, Chella, Mando, Jacia and a few others are on a ship heading for Westwood. They'll be taking them to a place called the Isle of Prisoners. From what Simon has told me that place is heavily guarded and nigh impregnable so a tactical rescue may not be possible. However, as I said, I have a plan."
"How does sacrificing yourself figure into their release?" Pia spoke up as her teeth worried her bottom lip.
"I assure you, dear lady, Shiloh will be safe in my company. I know I can reason with my father," Simon spoke up, flashing Pia a genial and reassuring smile. The bard nodded, relaxing visibly as she turned her gaze back to Alfons.
"The rest of the Family is holed up in a ruined house a short distance to the west. If you are serious about this harebrained plan, whatever it may be, then we need to regroup and decide who amongst us is going with you. And don't give me that look, Shiloh. You are too important to us to risk, despite what your new betrothed might claim," replied the bushy bearded man.
Shiloh chuckled, "You really are an old bear, aren't you, Alfons? Just listen to your growling. I do agree with you. That is why I was hoping to find you. Shall we? There might be room in here for you and Pia."
Pia squeezed in next to Shiloh with an uneasy expression of being surrounded by the Dhorn soldiers on her lovely face, but Alfons declined, preferring to be on the outside of the carriage beside the driver. A heavy thunk told her that Vico had chosen the footman's stand at the rear of the conveyance. Alfons directed the driver to a run-down building not far away which may once have been a roadhouse, cautioning Shiloh to allow him to enter first as not to cause a panic to those who were hiding within. Shiloh, Simon, Pia, Klennard and his men filed out, waiting alongside Vico for Alfons' signal, which came a few minutes later.
The small house buzzed with various members of the Family. It looked to Shiloh like pretty much everybody who is left had come. She took hold of Simon's hand, leading him into their midst alongside Pia and Alfons. An uneasy feeling slithered down her spine, wondering just how wise it was for all of them to be in one place at the same time. What if Arto Benthur attacked them? She knew it was necessary to let everyone know what was going on, but it didn't make her feel any better.
A hush fell upon the room as Alfons joined Shiloh and Simon, closely followed by Pia and Vico. Alfons looked upon all that had gathered, his gaze settling upon Drago, Yance, Pett, Simo, Dara, Kenny, Dalino, Taka, Cynn, Perto, Lenton and Cata as well as a group of thugs he didn't recognize. He mulled over their presence for a few moments before he directed his attention to everyone. "Is everyone here? What happened to Wally and Frank? Perto, have you seen Benny?"
"Benny ended up at the old hunting lodge. He'd been caught by the Dhorn. As far as I know, Simon let him go before we made our way back to the city," Shiloh spoke up as she glanced at Simon for confirmation. He nodded at her before speaking, "The young man in question is safe. I promised that to Shiloh."
Alfons gave a hard-eyed stare at Simon before re-addressing the gathered members, "Very good. Shiloh has found out where Nathan and the others are. They're on a ship heading for Westwood. Commander Arto Benthur is planning to take them to a dungeon called the Isle of Prisoners. It is deep in the heart of the Dhorn Empire and from what I'm told will not be easy to break in to, but Shiloh tells me she has a plan."
The room exploded with shouts and voices of horror and disbelief at the mention of the island. "Please, be quiet. I know this all sounds bad, but like I said, Shiloh has a plan --"
Lenton stepped forward, concern and shock clearly displayed on his face, "What kind of plan? Attacking the Dhorn Empire? You cannot be serious, Alfons! And why, Shiloh, are you with him?" He gestured wildly at Simon before he pointed at Commander Klennard and his men, who were still standing near the outer door of the house. "Doesn't anyone seem to care that our enemy is within this building?"
Cynn Nottian took that moment to speak up, "Our coffers are empty, Alfons. I can't earn my money anymore. Do you know when I last had a warm meal?"
Cata sneered, "Rough times for an ugly mugger harlot, huh?"
Cynn rolled her eyes, "I imagine your business isn't any better, Cat."
The dark haired assassin grinned, "I'm not the one who's fucking sailors for breadcrumbs." Cynn pulled her short sword, lunging at Cata, "You fucking bitch!"
Drago stepped in, grabbing Cynn by the waist and pulling her back, "Enuff o' our blood has be'n spilled. We don' need t' be fightin' am'ngst ourselves."
Alfons rubbed his beard wearily, "We don't have much of an alternative. We need to get to Nathan. Do you all wish to stay in Betancuria until Benthur finds you? Do you all want to be hunted mercilessly?"
"We could leave the city and go somewhere else. Sargoza, for example," Dalino suggested.
A scoff came from Yance, "Yeah, right. I'm sure the Sargozians are just waiting for another group of smugglers and thieves."
Drago shook his head, "Def'n't'ly not. 'Specially aft'r all th' trouble wi' Tony."
"The Sargozians really didn't have much to do with Tony's death," Shiloh sighed. "I killed him for being a mean bastard. He was angered that I chose Essex over him. I won't go into the details, but he thought he could take what he wanted from me. I proved him dead wrong."
"Fucking bitch," Cata snarled. "I saw what you did to him."
Alfons let out a bellow, silencing the room, "Quiet! Both of you! This gets us nowhere. Tony brought that upon himself. Nathan warned everyone to keep their filthy hands off Shiloh. Many, including her, chose to ignore that."
"But Cynn's got a point. If we stay at Betancuria, we're all going to starve sooner or later," Yance chimed in. The trader wasn't fond of where this was going. Even his business had suffered as the Dhorn continued to bleed the masses dry.
Vico rolled his eyes, "Starve. Pshaw!"
"Shiloh," Alfons spoke up in hopes to allay the fears of those gathered, "Perhaps now you can fill us in on the details of your plan; tell us how your betrothed can help us."
"There may be some of you who aren't aware of whom I truly am. I came to the Family in the aftermath of Commander Benthur's attack on the castle. Vico found me and brought me to Nathan. It was decided that for the most part my true identity would be a secret... only I'm not very good at keeping my mouth shut. For those of you who don't know and I suspect there aren't many, I am the only living child of the late King Rolan Aurelius the Third. I am being hunted by the now Lord Commander Arto Benthur, who seeks to marry me and usurp my throne. I won't go to that bastard because it will only end in my death and with my death goes any chance of rescuing Nathan."
Murmurs throughout the room grew louder, reaching cacophonous levels until Alfons motioned to Pia, signaling the bard to cast a thunderclap to silence everyone.
"None of you will starve. I have enough coin raided from my late father's treasure vaults to make sure that won't happen."
Cata stepped forward, grinning evilly, "Whatever your plan is, Princess, we do not need to hear it. Everyone should listen to me for a moment. It has been brought to my attention that Commander Benthur is offering a sizable reward for the capture of this whore, as well as a pardon. How can we even think of turning down one hundred thousand gold coins? We'd all benefit and once the whore is out of the way, we would be free to do whatever we want."
Shiloh glared at Cata, "Call me a whore once more and you won't live to see any kind of reward."
Simon scoffed at her, "Lord Commander Benthur will not be in the position to offer such a reward once I am through with him. His Grace the Emperor will not take the word of one of his commander's over that of his own son. Now listen well to what we have to say."
Shiloh nodded to him, her eyes fixed on Cata. "I came to the realization that the only way Betancuria would know peace again was if I were to take my rightful place as Queen. I believe Nathan would think it for the best. I had met Simon a few months ago during a job Jacia had given me. I was to assassinate him. All I knew was that he was of some relation to the Emperor. And I thought I had succeeded because I brought his 'head' to Jacia. Simon knew who I was and took steps to prevent his own demise. I only discovered how wrong I was when I attempted to break into the old hunting lodge in hopes of finding Nathan.
Instead I ended up getting caught. I had been climbing up a wall when some of the stones broke free. I fell and one of Simon's men saw me. I was placed in the jail of the old lodge. Once I awoke, I managed to break out, but again one of Simon's men caught me. It was then I was brought before Simon. Imagine my surprise when I realized who he was and that he wasn't dead. But he explained everything to me and then proceeded to hire me for a job. So I agreed. I needed to know where Nathan was and he needed to break into the castle.
We succeeded in making our way to the castle and broke into a vault holding the sum of twenty-five million gold coins. Simon thought it best that my father's ill-gotten wealth not end up in the hands of someone like Benthur. I agreed. I have in my possession a fifth of that sum and I am prepared to share it with those who need the coin.
It was only after we managed to escape from the castle that I learned just who Simon really was. Yes, I was outraged, but truthfully it wasn't that he didn't tell me, it was because I had hopes of a future together. He's his father's fourth son and will most likely never become Emperor. I'm a princess in need of a prince. Simon and I came to the agreement concerning my throne and have agreed to marry for the sake of the Betancurian people. And well because I have come to the realization that I can't live without him."
Vico scoffed loudly, "It won't work, birdie. His father will most likely kill you. He won't hand things over to you."
"Goes to show how much you know, Vico. His Grace already gave permission to Benthur to marry me, which would justify his rule over Betancuria, but we all know that Benthur will kill me the first chance he gets. He's already made two attempts on my life. Need I remind you how that bastard tortured me?"
Simon stepped closer to Shiloh, "Before King Rolan started this war he had sent a missive to my father, proposing the betrothal between his only child and myself. At the same time, he was plotting to wed her to the exiled Prince Daryl of Min-Toras. Such a union would have incited the Min-Toran people to riot against my father and would have left Dhorn open to invasion. That is why Betancuria was attacked. Not all of us are as Arto Benthur is. We all don't share those extreme views. There is also the fact that my father has been putting pressure on me to settle down. When I initially began making plans to raid that horde of gold, my plans had nothing to do with staying here in Betancuria. I even told Shiloh that my interests lie elsewhere, but in spending time with her during such a crazy adventure I began to think otherwise.
If she and I present our case to my father, I have every confidence that he will grant his blessing. Once we have his blessing, I have promised to personally see to the release of all those taken. I have promised her Benthur's head on a platter as well and I mean to see this through. I know many of you have been subjected to horrors beyond imagination, but all I ask is that you have some faith.
I know my lady has some ideas for the rebuilding of Betancuria as well as the rebuilding of what you call the Family. Unlike many of my constituents, I see a need for the kind of skills you possess. It is my hope that having these skills at our disposal will strengthen our hold on the throne. Who would dare challenge a kingdom when they have the fiercest band of assassins and spies at their disposal?
When it comes right down to it, I think we can all see that further bloodshed will not win the day."
Shiloh picked up where he left off, "Besides I think we can do without further bloodshed. I know that is something coming from me, especially since I've hacked my way through our ranks. I was wrong when I killed Paurie, Mick and Tony so coldly. I was wrong to let my anger rule me. Even just yesterday I killed on of Simon's good friends because the bastard called me a whore. Seeing how few we are, I see that to survive it will take all of us."
Cata glared at her, eyes narrowing to thin slits before she spoke again, "And I say you are no different than your greedy father and you will lead us all to our doom. We would all be fools to trust you."
Yance turned to Cata, "You seriously want to hand Shiloh over to this Benthur, Cat, in exchange for a pardon and some gold?"
A growl came from Vico, his murderous glare speaking volumes, "You'll get to feel my steel in your bowels. And that's it."
"I thought you'd be the first to hand her over, Vico." Cata retorted as she returned his gaze. Pia pushed in front of Shiloh, coming face to face with Cata, "You mean, nasty bitch, you know that they'll torture and kill her. Then one-by-one Benthur will hunt us down and do the very same."