“So. Who’s Bernard, then.”
He seems a little thrown off by the directness of the question.
“He’s another knight here. About a month in, he started talking up Ash to me, tried to get me to meet with him. I said I wasn’t interested, he wouldn’t take no for an answer, got more aggressive about it until I yelled at him to leave me alone. He finally took the hint, but any time his path and mine cross, it gets unpleasant. So I really didn’t want him catching me, he wouldn’t believe anything I told him.”
You get the sense there’s more behind this than what Mark’s telling you. But you can probably wait a bit on getting it out of him. So you move on to sharing some info of your own.
“I think your hunch about Squib Squad and Ash is right,” you say. “That bearded fellow on the squad got real touchy when I started asking some things about Ash.”
“That’s real worrying. Especially since he could take command soon.”
You won’t comment on that just yet.
“But there’s something I’m wondering. What would the Guild want out in the swamp? Poached swamp creatures? Passing off our plants as exotic?”
Mark shakes his head.
“It’s simple, really. There’s a bunch of kingdoms sponsoring us, right? The Guild’s noticed.”
“So, what, they want a piece of the action on whatever’s in the Marsh Fortress?”
“I doubt they’d be against that, but I don’t think that’s their scheme,” Mark says. “I think it’s something like this. The kingdoms are sending their own soldiers out here, to a unit that they don’t directly control, right? So they want to keep an eye on things, make sure the Bogknights are doing what they’re supposed to. But it’s hard to do that with your regular spies, because you’ve got people from your own kingdom here who might recognize them, or know enough details to catch holes in their cover stories.”
“So then the Guild comes in and says, hey, for the right price, we can send our spies in for you,” you muse. “And all they have to do is send over a few underlings to give them back reports. In exchange, they’ve got a ruler indebted to them, which is no doubt very helpful for their various businesses, legitimate and otherwise.”
“Right. But if Squib’s actually making contact with them in order to make deals… well, that means it’s more complicated than I thought.”
Thought. So what he just told you, he had some kind of evidence for already. That’s why he was more surprised to hear about Squib’s involvement than about the Guild being present at all.
“Why would it be, though?” you ask. “I mean, Squib suggested they might be willing to deal in weapons for the right price. But why would anyone want to do that? We’ve already got plenty of weapons here.”
“Weapons approved through official channels,” Mark points out. “Might be too risky to use illegal stuff in regular combat, sure. But would it really be that surprising if someone had a grudge against a particular Marshguard, and wanted something with more punch than what Captain Long would permit?”
That’s without Ash entering the picture, though, you realize. If he really is involved with this Guild… well, the kinds of things he could do if he were in command would be simply terrifying.
Which means you’re going to need hard proof. You’ve convinced yourself, and you can probably convince the Postmaster to cast his vote against… but for serious action against Ash, well. You’ll need more than speculation, no matter how informed.
But you might be getting a little bit ahead of yourself. Once you’ve gotten your egg from Squib, well, that’s a start in creating a trail. Could take a while, but you’ll have some time so long as Ash doesn’t take command.
For the moment, though, you really don’t have that many options. You can stay here and question Mark some more; you can go poking around in places you’re not wanted; or you can just call it a night and figure out your next move in the morning.
So. What’s it going to be?
Swear Mark to secrecy on this subject, but let him know that you’ll be looking into it and may need his assistance again.
And then I think it’s time to report back to Postmaster John.