Session One Hundred Forty-Six - September 15, 2018

Wherein the ongoing story of the FtF campaign may be found ...

Session One Hundred Forty-Six - September 15, 2018

Postby Matt » Thu Oct 25, 2018 5:20 pm

Peonu 26, 733

The fog hid the immense mountains, revealing at times glimpses of gray rock and snowy crown.

The Baron of Habe laid out a fine hearty breakfast for his guests before their departure. Then came the road to the northwest, past villages of men. Even here, there was not a single dwarf to be seen.

Then came the battlements of Azadmere, the capital, a smaller mountain under the great one. On the crags of the mountain sat The Keep, heart of the dwarven king’s power.

The Kaldoric Embassy reached the Zerhun Gate, where they were greeted by porters to take their luggage and ostlers to care for their horses. Escorts guided them over the moat and through the Inner Gate, to the city itself.

The capital of the dwarves was a city of stone. Stone walls and slate rooves lined the way, with an occasional wattle-and-daub wooded structure. Every house boasted glass windows, a wealth of the precious material. The streets were clean. Next to Azadmere, Tashal was a pit, Golotha an open sewer.

But, oddly enough, this city of dwarves was almost all men. The arrangement was the same as any other town the party had seen, with street-level shops topped by homes. Even here, the occasional Khuzan was an exception.

Near the center of the city stood a ring of buildings, six of them in shape almost like a cell in a beehive. The party was led to a structure in the southwest point of the ring, a fine looking lodging with a tower rising out of it. At the door stood a group of several men and one dwarf, all clad in livery of a yellow field blazoned with a red cross—the royal colors. The dwarf’s surcoat was distinguished by a badge on the upper left side.

The party’s escort, Lord Esatol, met the dwarf. They bowed—the livery-clad dwarf first.

“Welcome to Azadmere!” said the dwarf. “We hope that your stay here at the palace of Tasokin will be comfortable, honored embassy of Kaldor.”

Lord Ewen replied “I thank you for your hospitality, the hospitality of your esteemed city, and of your esteemed liege lord.”

They both bowed—the dwarf first—and the party was led, through huge iron-bound doors, into Tasokin.

The interior was dominated by a huge stair case, running up the three stories up the building, past an overhanging balcony on the second. All around were elaborately carved pillars, some bas-reliefs of famous scenes, some caryatid columns in the forms of dragons and other fantastical creatures. Through a large arch to the right, the party found themselves facing a table full of refreshments: cheese, bread, sausage and more.

As he picked at some lunch, Lord Ewen surveyed the chamber. Statues lined the walls, figures that appeared to be Khuzan kings. At one end were a pair of fireplaces, and between them on the wall was mounted a large coat of arms, the same arms as on the servant’s livery, but with a crown above and a great jewel—a very real jewel—embedded in the middle.

Lord Esatol spoke. “This guest house is for honored visitors to the kingdom, those who are essentially at the table of the king. But because humans are generally not allowed in the Inner City, this facility is provided for distinguished mannish guests. The last such was a prince of Melderyn ...”

The dwarves, with their keen sense of protocol, directed each of the embassy to a room precisely befitting their rank. Sir Baris and Squire Goreg were each given a chamber of his own, but most of the lesser lights were require to bunk together. Lord Ewen was given the finest lodging, a private suite at the top of the palace with a balcony to himself in the rear and exclusive access to the tower jutting out of the palace’s southwest corner.

At the top of the central stairs stood a massive rosette window of beautiful stained glass, sending sheens of light over all. At the bottom was found a lounge area, complete with small library and complimentary pipes and pipeweed.

Lord Esatol showed them about the place. “I fear I must return to Zerhun within a day or two. Sigam will take over as herald and guide for you. Lord Relkazam shall organize your introduction to the proper officials. You are at liberty to move about inside the city walls, but if you wish to leave them, you will require an escort.”

At dinner, a great roast, with all the trimmings was laid upon the groaning board. Ewen tried to count the servants—there seemed to be about eight, all humans. Rather overstaffed, considering how few visitors there were. Esatol informed here that all the staff here were of the Clan Dhuzak—including the humans, as it was no strange thing for humans to be part of a dwarven clan in the Outer City. The palace had been the responsibility of the Dhuzaks for generations.

And when the were the last guests?

Oh, several years ago, Esatol thought. In dwarven terms, that might be fifty. “It was Prince Chunel, King Darabor’s eldest son. There was the custom, for generations, for the Crown Prince of Melderyn to make a progress through Azadmere.”

Were there ever any ambassadors from Lythia?

No, as far as anyone can remember, all visitors have been from Harn.


Peonu 27, 733

The Kaldoric embassy had reached the city; the royal household informed of their presence. The royal bureaucracy put in motion. How long until they meet the king? No one could say.

Dwarves have a different sense of urgency than feeble humans. It could be weeks before any message comes from the Inner City. In the meantime, the party tries to find things to be busy about.

Goreg went to see Lord Relkazan. “I have a letter from a man in Pedwar that I promised to take to the House of Clan Garibath. Where might I find the clan house of Garibath?

“I would be pleased to send someone to deliver the letter.”

Goreg handed it over to the servant.

Well, that occupied ten minutes.

Ewen resolved to go shopping. Relkazan informed him that the artisans they were recommended in Zerhun could be found on the far side of the canal. There the Lord of Ternua found himself upholding his feudal responsibility to properly equip his retainers.

For his Lordship himself, there was a new plate cuirass. His current piece was perfectly solid, but also very heavy—better suited for a tournament than the battlefield. He purchased a new one with provided equal protection while weighing only 14.6 pounds. The cost was 1944d, almost 6 Khuzan crowns.

Cekiya went back and forth between a better short sword or throwing dagger before settling on the former. The blade cost 540d, but was a masterpiece of quality, better than anything available in Tashal.

In the next year, Goreg would be of age to be knighted. It was time to get him some equipment worth of a retainer of Lord Ewen Ravinargh. The shield—blank now, but arms would come soon enough—cost 180d, and a heavy broadsword another 900.

Arva chose a dagger for 60d. She would have to purchase a scabbard elsewhere.

The total came to 3624d, or 11 and a third crowns. Ewen forked over 8 of his Khuzan crowns, leaving fifty and another 377d for only Khuzan coinage was accepted as payment.

Sir Baris, a landed knight, was on his own, but he wasn’t thinking of money. The Naked Knight almost drooled as he explored the shops, fingering all the goods. The dwarves were driven almost frantic by his curiosity, but the master told them to leave the good lord alone. Anyone with that gleam in his eye would start spending money soon enough.

“How much is this hand axe?”

“That would be 864d.”

“Can you decorate it? Can you inscribe with awe-inspiring dwarven runes?”

“Of course.”

Besides the axe, Baris purchase a shield, like Goreg’s, for another 180d. When they returned to Sigam, the knight said “Look at the runes on my axe!”

Sigam turned discreetly away so Baris couldn’t see her smile. Indeed, every dwarf to whom Baris showed the axe had that same mysterious reaction.

After dinner, Arva, who hadn’t had an opportunity to practice in recent weeks, performed in front of the party. Everyone was most appreciative.

Lord Ewen excused himself to attempt contacting his sister Rahel at their agreed evening time. However, once alone in his chamber, he failed to trance, and then failed to cast the rapport. Annoyed, he retired to bed.


Peonu 29, 733

Lord Ewen’s retinue kept up its old tradition of the breakfast meeting—apart from the rest of the embassy, for there were matters here of which the others should not know. The discussion began around the goals of their mission: 1) To protect the caravan, 2) to divert the caravan from Gardiren to Kiban, and 3) to convince the king to contribute more security for the caravan, and further down the route.

But did they truly want to succeed? Would it help destabilize Kaldor further if they failed? The Queen’s new regime is looking far too stable. How could they skew their efforts here in favor of their long term goal, to overthrow the rightful Kaldoric monarch and deliver the kingdom into Thardan hegemony?

The general consensus was that the dwarf king need not be told every little detail of what has transpired in Kaldor over the eventful past year. Goreg remembered, from his squire training, that Khuzan kings were hailed by the royal clan, with an eye for competence, not set in strict primogeniture. Ewen decided to say that the Kaldoric king fell in battle, with a wound that rendered him non compos mentis, at which point the Clan Elendsa hailed the best successor. Irrelevant details like the prince’s fratricide, or the murder of the queen, would not be mentioned. The group resolved to do more research on Khuzan history, with an eye towards analogies that might inspire the dwarf king to reroute the caravan. The collection of books in the palace lounge would serve as a starting point.

That left the day to fill. Goreg, Baris and the other knights began sparring, a proper occupation for them. Goreg enjoyed the swordplay, but Baris grew rapidly bored. Cekiya and Arva wandered the town, taking in the sights, finding houses that served the excellent dwarven ale. The Little Adder could not stop looking up at the mountain, and wondering if she could sneak into the Inner City. Were there sewer entrances? She found several gates, but was turned away from each by pairs of heavily armed, heavily armored, heavily stoic, dwarves. Her curiosity ate at her.

Ewen found his new private tower an excellent place for contemplation. He spent hours overlooking the city, watching the maritime traffic on the lake. Sturdy looking craft were loaded with goods in the haven. Occasionally one would shove off. Fishing boats went out and returned, laden with their catch. The only dwarves were a few overseeing the stevedores. Otherwise all the denizens of the waterfront were human.

Arva began a bibliographical survey of the palace bookshelves. There was at least one, perhaps more, titles on the subject of Khuzan government. She found Goreg’s recollection was largely accurate, but that in practice the eldest son, or even eldest daughter, was typically acclaimed. There were exceptions though.

As she read further, a realization stole over her: there was very little actual Khuzan “law”. There was a body of customary usage, and every dwarf knew it, but hardly any was written down. In terms of the power of the King, there was theory and there was practice. In theory, the King of Azadmere was an absolute monarch, whose word was command. In practice, the King was a consultative monarch, hemmed in by a great wall of tradition. The king did have the last word in the end—but the end hardly ever came around.

Goreg joined in the research. They were attempting to find out if the Silver Caravan had always taken the traditional route when the squire happened upon an intriguing note someone had made in a margin. It stated that in 712 Clan Garibath, one of the wealthiest of Azadmere’s four mercantile clans, was tempted by tax concessions to leave the trail at Naniom Bridge and barge their goods down the river to Kiban. So for at least that one year, one-quarter of the caravan took the new route proposed by the Queen. What was the outcome?

In addition, Ewen asks Arva to check when and why the Guthe Bridge was destroyed. It turns out the breaking of the bridge took place centuries ago during the Atani Wars. The Lythians were swarming over the island, and the Khuzan wrecked the bridge deliberately to prevent from overrunning the kingdom.


Kelen 1, 733

In the morning, Lord Relkazan mentioned that an expedition was being planned to go to the mountains, to depart on the morrow.

“What sort of expedition?” Ewen asked.

“There are rumors of a wyrm in the area. We do not wish it to remain.”

Ewen leaned in. “May I be counted among the expedition? It would be a singular privilege.”

The dwarf smiled. “It had occurred to us that while you were ‘resting your forge’”--the Khuzan equivalent of “cooling your heels”--”we through you might like a diversion, pleasant or unpleasant”

“I have heard legends of such creatures, but never encountered one before. I would consider it an honor to be included.”

“As would I!” said Sir Baris.

“The expedition in question is not intended to kill said wyrm--that would be difficult in any event—but rather, to encourage it to relocate, closer to a gargun colony. Pyxyn, in specific.”

“What does this wyrm like to do?” Cekiya asked. “Eat things?”

“That’s the general idea. If it relocates, it will eat gargun. Mind you, we’re not talking about a great dragon, like The Zuthwyrm. That is the dragon that protects our upper reaches, above Mount Zuth. No, this is one of its lesser cousins, a ‘bjaka’s eagle,’ so to speak.”

A dragon, a beast of legend! There were so many contradictory tales. Some said they breathed fire, others that the breathed ice. To human knowledge, none were left alive. Obviously, there must be two, at least.

Goreg thought they were talking of the beast whose skin decorated Athel Atan’s floor. He wasn’t scared. The thing wasn’t that big.

“Who is leading the expedition?” Ewen asked,

“The expedition will be led by a sergeant of the High Guard, Kelak Hurinfal. He will be accompanied by two members of the Guard, and whichever of your party wish to go.

“Milord, I wish to go!” said Goreg.

“Of course you will,” replied his master. In the end, all of Lord Ewen’s retainers decided to take part.

Lord Relkazan nodded “Present yourselves at sunrise at the canal by the West Gate.”


Kelen 2, 733

At dawn, the party fell out in full kit at the West Gate, ready for adventure in the wilderness. Sir Baris had made sure to bring his new axe, so he could show it off to every dwarf he met.

By the head of a bridge over the canal was a talbar. Its human crew was scurrying about, getting ready to sail. At the gangplank stoof a dwarf in a mail halberk, double-bladed axe at the ready.

“Sergeant Kelak?” Lord Ewen addressed the dwarf in Khuzan.

“No!” replied the dwarf.

A little confused, Ewen continued. “I am Lord Ewen Ravinargh, Baron of Ternua, presenting myself to Sergeant Kelak.”

The dwarf peered at him and said, in broken Harnic, “What about Ternua?”

“I am from Kaldor.”

“Kal-dor?”

“Where the Silver Carvan goes?”

“Ah, the great black hole! What business here?”

Evidently the dwarf was refusing to admit a human could speak his language, so Ewen switched to Harnic. “Join you to find the wyrm.”

“Ah! That way! Building Three!” He pointed to a structure.

“Thank you.”

“Your service!”

“Obliged.”

The dwarf actually grinned at that.

They walked over to the building, only to find a clothier’s sign on it. Ewen was getting annoyed. Would they miss the expedition due to this confusion? “Dammit,” he muttered.

A young dwarf entered the clothier’s, unarmed, almost fashionable. A Khuzan a mode.

Ewen said, again in Khuzan, “I beg your pardon...”

“Yes, sire? May I help you? You seem in need of a new suit of clothing!”

“I am trying to find a Sergeant Kelak of the High Guard.”

“Well, I imagine you would have to present yourself at one of the gates to Inner City, though they will not admit you.”

“I was to meet him this morning.”

“Here? Oh, I don’t think so.”

“At the West Gate.”

“The West Gate is up that way. About where that boat is tied up.”

“The guard directed me here.”

“For Sergeant Kelak?”

“Yes.”

“No, this establishment caters primarily to your kind. If you’re looking for the clothier who caters to Khuzan, it’s on the other side of the canal.”

Baris stroked his chin. “Maybe he didn’t mean the third building. Maybe there’s a Building Three.”

“Where is Building Three?” Ewen asked the dwarf.

“Building Three?”

From there the exchange degenerated into mass confusion so through that Ewen broke it off and marched back toward the gate.

As they passed the dwarf who had given them the directions earlier, he said “Hello?” in a loud voice. Giving him no attention, Ewen kept going, only saying “Thank you ... jackass,” in a low voice.

Arva heard something from the ship. “I can’t quite make out the words, but somebody on board is awfully angry.”

At the staircase at the bottom of the West Gate, another pair of dwarven soldiers stopped them. One said, in oddly accented Harnic, “Halt! State your business!”

Lord Ewen, now rather testy, replied in Khuzan. “We are in search of Sergeant Kelak of the High Guard. We were told he was somewhere in this vicinity.”

“You were told true! On yonder watercraft!”

“Thank you!”

They returned to the lone dwarven guard. “Hello! Again!” he said.

“Good day!” Ewen said, pointedly, in Harnic.

“Hope it will be!”

Arva said, in Khuzan, “Do you know where Sergeant Kelak is?”

From the deck came an aggressive voice. “I’m Sergeant fucking Kelak!”

“I found him!” chirped the guard.

The sergeant was almost five feet tall, every inch a grizzled veteran. His head was bald, his face decorated with scars, and he pounded on the deck a pole-axe cut down to Khuzan proportions. He did not look happy.

“Who’re you people?”

“I am Ewen, Baron of Ternua.”

“At fucking last! Get these assholes on board! Time and tide, we are two hours late!”

Ewen pursed his lips. “I was misdirected, but I’m sure the error was ours, we being strangers here. We know we must haste--”

“Of course it was your mistake! Babysitting humans on a wyrm expedition ... Prepare to cast off!”

The crew sprang to action. There were rather few—a ship this size in Tashal might have twice the hands. About five all told, all doing double duty. One appeared to be the pilot, but was also helping to reef and steer. Two others began to pole the craft down the canal, under the bridges. As they approached the first gate, the sounds of creaking and chains could be heard. The first gate opened, the boat passed, then it closed again, so sharply it almost clipped the stern.

After the last bridge, the two men poling looked at each other, shouted “Oi!” in unison, and gave a great heave. The boat sped into the harbor. Then the poles were shipped, the mast stepped, the sails raised, and presently they were under way, heeling in a light breeze as the craft made course, first to the south, then the southeast.

The entire time the talbar was exiting the canal, the three dwarves had been standing in the bow, doing nothing and ignoring everyone.

Dawn lit the lake, breaking over mountains, a beautiful sight. One of the crew pointed due east, to the highest.

“That’s Mount Esig. We can steer by that peak in good light.”

The party appreciated the information. Emboldened, the crew member pushed on.

“Are you really a baron? I mean no disrespect, milord.”

“Yes, I am,” replied Ewen.

“Ah, like Baron of Habe?”

“Yes, like the Baron of Habe. We supped at his table.”

“They say he’s a good man.”

“He is a good man.”

“I’ve never stood so close to a baron. You’re like a real person. I wouldn’t have expected that.” The sailor fell silent. “I can tell I’m bothering you, milord. But ...”

“Not at all. Tell me more about Mount Esig. How far is it?”

“Almost twenty leagues, as the bird flies. But it seems like it’s just right there.”

“It does. And this lake—how far across is it?”

“At its widest, almost five leagues, and it runs top to bottom for fifteen or so. Really just a big pond.”

“The fishing is good, though, I gather from the activity.”

“Indeed it is. Many a delicious fish swims in this water--”

“Sneed, mind your business!” shouted the pilot.

The sailor cringed. “Begging your pardon, milord.” He made to turn back to his work. “Oh—I wouldn’t read too much into the sergeant there. I wouldn’t take no guff from him. I mean, I would, but you shouldn’t. I’m just a little person.”

“I know this kind of man.”

“Begging your pardon. Good voyage, milord.”

As the boat proceeded down the lake, they could see what Sneed meant by navigating by Mount Esig. The peak was never not visible. Some other mountains might vanish from view at certain angles. To the west was another mountain, not as tall. Esig dominated the entire area. By midday, it was due east.

A sailor passed out hardtack and cheese—it was hard to tell which was which—followed by another with pewter mugs and a bucket of water to fill them. Gnawing at the fare, Cekiya wondered if the dwarves were eating the same. She crept forward, close to enough to see. The Khuzan were wolfing down fresh bread, good cheese, dried sausages, and ale.

She began talking to the dwarf who’s been at the end of the gangplank, one Mulen—until the sergeant bellowed out “Hold your tongue!”

Cekiya returned to the party. “I don’t think I like that sergeant.”

“He must owe the Lord Steward money. That’s why he’s here,” Baris said. He’d have liked a swig of that ale, but he knew Ewen would disapprove under the circumstances.

By midafternoon, Mount Esig was behind them. The craft passed an island and then turned inland, making for the inlet of a small river on the southeast coast of the lake—the Taz, one of the crew called it. They moored at its mouth.

Sergeant Kelak left his perch at the bow and came to address Lord Ewen.

“I have a hard march before dark!”

“I look forward to a hard march,” Ewen replied.

The party and the three dwarves were put ashore. A brisk hike brought them to a familiar spot—the Zerhun Road, which they had traversed just days before to reach the city. They were well south of Habe at this point. The sergeant led them east, paralleling the river. At a random spot, before a large rock ledge, he halted.

The dwarf inspected the stony outcropping. Finally he pressed at a certain place—and the rock split and opened to reveal a circular chamber, filled with hay and the smell of old manure. In the center rose a spiral staircase.

“C’mon!” ordered Kelak.

They entered and climbed the staircase. Mulen brought up the rear and closed the secret entrance behind them. Torches lit the chamber. They ascended past a second floor to a third, where living quarters were found. In what looked to be a dining room there waited a dwarf.

“Hail and well met!” he said, in Khuzan.

“Hail and well met to you, Narad” replied Kelak in the same speech.

“Another mission?”

“Aye, and nursemaiding, too. We’ll be needing your hospitality of the night. Hopefully on the way back as well.”

“Ah, we’ll see to you both. I’ll give you the table to the right, away--” looking toward the humans, “from the smell.”

Ewen spoke up, in Khuzan. “I’ve had quite enough of this. I’m in need of no nursemaid; I’ve left plenty of foes in my wake. If your intention is to continue to disrespect me, let’s settle this as two warriors should.”

Narad, the caretaker, took a step back. Kelak just looked at Ewen, giving no response.

“I am a baron, like the Baron of Habe. My predecessor was slain by my sword. I am no infant who needs care. I am here to assist in whatever fashion I can. Shall we proceed with the mission? You tell me, sergeant?”

Kelak broke into laughter. “So! Not so useless after all. You have a spine! Very well, milord, we shall proceed as warriors. Narad, we don’t need the table to the right. We shall all eat together. Bring them what you bring us.”

“Well spoken, sergeant. We shall test the true nature of our relationship when the wyrm presents itself. For now I accept your hospitality.”

“You have asserted your rank, Baron. But make no mistake: this is my mission, and I am in command.”

“I’m a military man, sergeant. I knew that all along.”

Kelak nodded. “Now, you’re in for a treat. Narad here is famous for his ale. He refuses to divulge his secret.”

“Excellent. In Sir Baris here, I have one of Kaldor’s foremost experts in ale.”

They both laughed. Sir Baris was confused. They had almost been at blows moments before. Why were they now laughing?

Over dinner, with the excellent ale, Narad reported no one else was staying at The Fringe, as this secret outpost was known. The place was almost entirely concealed. There were a few windows, but they functioned more as arrow slits. The place must have been available as lodging. Ewen noticed Kelak pass Narad a chit, presumably to be redeemed later.

“What is the plan for the morrow?” Ewen asked.

“We will march east along the trail to another outpost, not dissimilar to this one, but ruined. That will serve as a forward base. From there we shall seek the wyrm. When he find it, we shall encourage it thither.” Kelak cocked his head to the south. “If we so fortunate to encounter Gargun, we shall slay them, and and bring their putrid corpses along with us, so that the wyrm may be encouraged by the smell and taste of their flesh to seek out more of their kind.”

“This is a method that has worked before?”

“Saying that this is a method that has worked before would suggest it is a common occurrence, which it is not, but it has not been known to fail.”

“How far from the expected area of the wyrm are the Pyxyn?”

“Not far. Pyxyn is closer to the wyrm’s area than we are now.”

“I see. So any gargun we encountered would be scouts.”

“Possibly, or outlying colonies. If we don’t destroy them, places like Pyxyn do expand. If we find a small colony of them, I have no doubt we could handle it. Pyxyn, on the other hand, is a place we do not want to go. We do not have enough strength.”

“Are those Gargu-Hyeka?”

“Ho, I see you know something of the Gargun! Yes, there are Heyka at Pyxyn. They are the slaves. But it is ruled by the Khanu, the biggest, meanest, most dangerous of the foulspawn. If we run into Khanu, we could be hardpressed. But your man’s axe there suggests he knows what to do with Gargun.”

“We disposed of a fair good number of them on the our trip to Azadmere.”

“I heard that. Glad to hear it’s true.”

The expedition bedded down for the night in the outpost’s rooms. Tomorrow promised the wyrm.
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Matt
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