February 27 - April 9, 2-15
To The Crossing
Loshdain 2nd of Yarthmont
|The Grey Company travels across Karameikos|
Marching Songs and Traveling Companions
Draven shook himself as he suddenly realized he was sitting in the saddle of his horse near the barely visible fork in the road. The sun was shining. His friends were nearby. Stephan was staring at the tumbled and weather worn stone marker, a slight look of confusion on his face. “We stay to the left, right?” he asked, not to anyone in particular. “It’s always been to the left.”
“To the right,” Draven blurts out loudly. “We need to go to the right.” Everyone looks at him strangely.
Stephan looks back at the young priest. “But I’m pretty sure it’s to the…”
Draven cuts him off, “To the right,” he says, then urges his mount to the right. After a few shrugs and unsure looks, Stephan and the others follow.
Griffin and Marcel both notice that Draven keeps giving them strange looks as they ride and has trouble making eye contact. They both assume he is just tired. The whole camp was aware that Draven had suffered particularly restless sleep the night before, though no one ever talks about it in front of the priest.
As the day drags on, the temperature continues to rise, turning into a fairly hot day. Fortunately there is a strong wind blowing in from the north, keeping riders, mounts and walkers cool enough.
As the travelling party naturally spreads out, moving ahead, Draven makes sure to stay close to Griffin and Marcel.
“We’ve fallen under the judgement of the gods,” he tells them, sotto voce, “and they have seen fit to give us boons. Tarastia is just and fair altogether, and gave me a vision of what would befall us if we took the easy, familiar road.” He shudders at the memory and says no more.
As he rides, he considers the events of the last couple weeks. He felt certain he had angered the gods with his presumption - only so much power is granted to man, after all, and he’d been taught not to overstep. But this recent turn of events made him think harder on what had truly transpired.
His chosen patron had not forsaken him after all, but being the mistress of judgement, perhaps he could not truly serve her until he, too, had been under her judgement. He hoped that it spoke well for him that, even in the face of terror and a time where any number of gifts would have served them well, he stayed true to his patron.
Others in the group, it would seem, were thinking hard about recent events as well. Iris and Sen had both taken some serious wounds in the attack on the Iron Ring camp, though both were reflecting on it in very different ways. Sen kept telling the story over and over of how the Reaver, Harkam, had slashed him from shoulder to hip and nearly killed him. He was proud and the other boys and followers listened intently to every retelling. Iris, on the other hand, seems to be a little more quiet and withdrawn since the incident, though maybe she is just lost in thought, thinking about all the ancient writings, tapestries and treasures that seem to be the focus of everyone's attention.
Griffin again tries to offer a sympathetic ear to Iris, and is again rebuffed.
Marcel listened carefully to Draven until his friend fell silent. He had a splitting headache as if it had been crushed and put back into place. Kiddo Sen was shooting the breeze in the background. He was drawn to take off to the left to tempt fate that same way many are drawn to jump off the edge of a cliff. Why did the gods even care?
The rabble of people of feet felt to him vulnerable, weak. The light was dim, at least in his mind. He felt that the time was right to bring everyone together, at least in spirit. He remembered the long forced marches of his days in the Guard. He ran down the list of simple song which tempo fits a good paced-march that everyone could sustain.
His eyes scans the crowd to take stock, looking for anyone in need of a ride for the next little while. He gallops along the path once and twice, calling for smile as he begins to sing a simple ditty in Thyatian about heading to town to find a bride.
Draven is pulled out of his reveries for a moment. Marcel winks, “Tarastia told me to sing, you should too!”
Marcel’s casual irreverence drags a laugh out of Draven, lightning his spirits almost against his will. No singer himself, not even much capable of carrying a tune in many of the hymns he grew up with as a boy, he tries to keep up with Marcel’s ditty, hoping to drag the others into joining in as well.
When in Specularum,thought Griffin, and he joins in the song with his comrades.
Marcel is most pleased by Draven’s élan. He zeroes in on the Kradjzic family and approaches Tanis. He stops and slip off his horse. He then speaks in Traladaran:
“Graciate me with the honor to keep my saddle warm.”, he thought the line pretty sleek until it came out of his mouth. However, it comes across more like a brothel kind-of offer rather than a nice thing to say.
Tanis, too tired and worn out to put up much of a show, accepts the saddle but tends to avoid eye contact with the warrior. Marcel feels like a sleaze and resolved to offer his horse out of altruism the next time around.
Marcel and Draven do their best to raise the spirits of the group, though it seems that no amount of singing will make up for the abuse taken at the hands of the Iron Ring. The new members of the caravan do their best to keep up and the other refugees really step up and do their part to help them and try to make them feel safe and welcome.
Marcel tries chatting with Tanis as she rides along on his mount though she isn’t very talkative. She seems like she would be a pretty enough girl, though she is very dirty and her face bears not a few bruises and small cuts. She mutters an occasional thank you to Marcel but will not look him directly in the eye. Somewhat oblivious to her internal condition, Marcel continues his conversation with her for most of the afternoon. Eventually, his light hearted banter gets through to her and she breaks into a short bit of laughter and smiles.
Camping for the Night
The Company does not make as many miles as had been hoped this day, mainly due to the added travelers and their conditions. Camp is set on a low hill with a commanding view of the immediate area. The Fairy King of Horses again provides perimeter defense and Remar does his best to cover the camp with a magical mist of protection. He immediately looks exhausted and takes first watch.
Draven tends to some of the travelers wounds again before settling down for the evening as well and leads as many as will participate in prayers of thanksgiving for deliverance.
That evening in the camp, the Darokinian merchant, Anders Hallonica strikes up a conversation with the Company, asking about their destination and other details a merchant might like to know. He comments on the fine quality of the horses, though admits he has never had much experience in trading livestock.
Finally taking the time to interact with the merchant, Draven listens to him speak, and using the gifts given to him by his patron, attempts to divine his truest, inner nature. While he does, he engages the man in conversation about what sort of things he usually finds himself trading in when he comes into this part of the world.
Anders Hallonica is only too happy to talk with Draven about his business. “House Hallonica deals in pretty much any type of trade good. It it is traded, we trade it. Legal trade goods, of course, of course,” he chuckles uncomfortably, rubbing his wrists where the red marks of his recent bonds are still visible. “Dry goods, valuables, foodstuff, textiles. You name it, though like I mentioned before, live animals is not something we trade on a large scale. Not enough profit, too much risk, especially in bulk and over long distances, you see. Of course, this type of trading is important, just not something our House deals with very much.”
“We’ve definitely seen that in this little adventure. It’s been weeks since we were supposed to get these horses on the move, and in that time we’ve been all over these lands, dealing with all manner of fell creatures, from werewolves to goblins, ancient cultists to our friend the equine monarch. It has felt very much like we arrived here precisely when we were needed to right the scales of justice.” He pauses to look around the gathered folk in the camp, yet another impromptu flock to watch over. “I have a hope that, once you are returned to your own homeland, you won’t shy away from returning here. The settlers are good folk, and can only benefit from the wares you bring in. Ships and merchants from Kelvin only arrive on occasion after all. I have high hopes that a little civilization can be brought to these lands, in time.”
“Most of the trading we do is with the major markets only, Kelvin, Threshold, Specularum, Fort Doom. We rely on local merchants and traders to supply the smaller, out of the way markets. Even some of the smaller towns and villages we pass through we don’t do much business with. Unfortunately it’s just not worth the expense to stop and spend all that time unloading and loading back up for just a few handfuls of coin. Pre-arranged trading is an option, though, as long as everything is taken care of upfront before the merchandise is exchanged. But that’s just business. I will not be shying away from trading with Karameikos at all, though I will not be traveling in such a small company next time! I was called back home to Selenica and thought if I traveled light, just the 15 of us, we could move much faster. I was right, we were making good time until we were waylaid, of course. They fell upon us in the night. We never heard them coming. I think they must have had some magical aid because they were able to get close enough without triggering my mage’s defenses. I’m not too sure though, as he was one of the first ones killed.” Anders pauses for a moment, his normally smiling face darkens a bit. He chokes back a quiet sob. “We lost some good men that night.” He looks at Draven, “Brother, thank you for speaking with me, you have done much to soothe my heart and to look after all of these good people you and your companions have stolen back out of slavery. House Hallonica will not soon forget the name of the Grey Company. Thank you.” He stands and puts his hand firmly on Draven’s shoulder and gives it a squeeze before he heads off to find the tent that he and his men had taken from the slavers and claimed as their own.
Draven sits and watches the fire for a moment as many of the other folk start heading off to sleep as well. There are several fires lit around the huddled campsite. Remar’s magical mist covers everything in a sparkling shimmer. He smiles as he looks around at the many sleeping folk around him. Though he has had doubts from time to time about his work, he sees now the direct impact he has had here. These folk had been unjustly wronged and he had helped to set those scales right. Tipped the balance back. He smiles.
Just then, a cold, howling wind comes whipping through the camp. Though the day had been very warm, bordering on hot, this wind was freezing and seemed to bite right through Draven’s clothes. Shivering, he looks around at those near him. No one else seems to have been bothered by this cold breeze. The mournful wail rises to a crescendo then slowly dies down to a faint whisper, and then as suddenly as it arrived, it was gone.
A horse snickered behind him and he heard Akaios snoring from beneath his blanket near the wagon. The sound of crickets and other bugs from the moor once again filled his ears, melding with the slow crackle and pop of the fires.
Unsettled by the strangeness of the wind, Draven sends up a last prayer to the gods, not for his own protection but for that of his impromptu flock, before seeking his own bedroll. He does make a point, however, to try to remember to speak to the King of Horses about this come morning.
Soladain 3rd of Yarthmont
A Blustery Day
The night passes without incident, though as the sun begins to rise in the morning, the wind begins to pick up until it is blowing strongly enough to nearly knock some of the tents over. Cloaks and blankets fly as easily through the air as the leaves, sticks and pollen from the Moor. As the morning progresses, the temperature rises, though it does not get as hot as the previous day. The Company gets the horses ready and on the road in short order, hoping to make the best use of another clear, if not windy, day. Though there are no clouds in the sky, Griffin believes that there may be rain on the horizon for the next day or so. Hoping to catch up with the Fairy King of Horses sometime that morning, Draven rides out ahead of the group, volunteering for outrider duty, a job he has shied away from for the most part.
The young priest rides out ahead of the group, galloping slowly across the soft ground of the moor, letting his horse lead the way for the most part.
Draven canters up to the Fairy King, careful to use his legs as he’s been taught, avoiding any overt use of the reins.
“Your highness,” he begins, dipping his head deferentially. “May I have a word? I hoped to speak to you about any goings on in the night. I was the only one still awake when an unnatural chill passed through our quiet camp.”
The large, dark monarch of the horses snorts and throws his head back, letting the heavy wind blow the hair out of his face. “Yes, I experienced that as well. There are often cool breezes across the Moor, but I believe that was something different. I tried to divine the meaning of it, but the wind blew all my leaves away.” He frowns and continues, “that tells me that the wind was nothing more than a cold wind blowing from the north or something entirely more sinister. But what? Only our Patrons above know, though I am sure if it truly is some evil portent, it will be revealed at the right time. Always be prepared.” Loshad looks Draven up and down and his eyes fall upon the place where his missing hand should be. “You ride well, for only having the use of one hand. That is a fairly recent injury?”
Glancing down at his mangled hand, Draven grimaces. “I took this wound since coming to this land from the city, yes. I have worked under the assumption that it, too, is a lesson from our Patrons above,” he says, mimicking the manner of speaking that Loshad used. “I have some hope that, upon returning to my order in Kelvin the gods will see fit to restore me to full health, but if not I will bear the wound as a reminder and a badge of courage.”
Loshad nods at Draven and his explanation of the missing hand. “As the Patron’s will,” he mutters under his breath. “We are close to the edge of the Moor. The Duke’s road is only a few miles further on past that. We will head out and scout the rest of the way. I suspect that you will reach the road some time in mid afternoon, the terrain at this end of the Moor is more hilly. Our time together here is coming to an end. Farewell, Human. Treat your horses well. They are gentle souls not hardened tools to be used and discarded.” With that, he bows his head ever so slightly and gallops off. Draven watches him leave and shakes his head and blinks when he realizes that the Fairy King has somehow reverted back into his full horse form right in front of his eyes and he didn’t even notice the change.
After a few more hours of travel, it is clear what the Fairy King of Horses meant by more hilly and difficult terrain. The ground rises and falls frequently, not only making travel slower, but cutting down visibility considerably. Everyone remains on guard, wary of an attack or ambush, but nothing comes. Finally the marshy, moist ground of the Moor gives way to the harder, rocky ground that runs along the banks of the Shutturga, or Hillfollow, River.
The loud whinny of horses draws everyone’s attention to a ridge behind them. A group of horses stands on the ridge, the larger form of the Fairy King of Horses at their center in Centaur form. He rears up on his hind legs and waves. The group of horses then turns and gallops away back into the Moor, disappearing over the rise.
Another couple of hours and the Duke’s Road is spotted by the outrider. Burik comes riding back waving his arm and shouting. A wide smile can be seen on his face. Clearly this young Traladaran is happy to be back in ‘civilization.’
Burik blurts out, “The Road, it’s just a few rises further on. I could see the river from the rise as well. Didn’t see the Ferry though. Should I have seen the Ferry?” he looks at Griffin and Stephan with a confused look on his smiling face. The heavy winds keep blowing his dirty, dark hair into his face.
Griffin pulls out his charts and squints into the distance. “Yea, if I recall correctly, we should have come out at the ferry. It must have been that fork we took. We went right instead of left, so the ferry should be south of here.”
Griffin turns to the group. “We’re close, folks. There should be food and shelter close by. Let’s stay close and hopefully we’ll have a safe place to stay tonight!”
The Grey Company leads the ragged group of refugees, horses and wagon up and down over the last few hills then down one final slope to the Duke’s Road. By Griffin’s account, the Ferry should be to the south, maybe only a mile or two. The group stops for a moment once they actually reach the road, taking a side trek to the river, no more than a quarter mile from the road here, to get water and let the horses drink as well. The wagon won’t be able to make the trip down to the water, though so some stay back with it.
A few moments later, dust can be seen coming up over the horizon to the south and three armored riders appear, cantering down the road. They pull up and stop about 300 yards away. One of them stands up in his saddle and waves in the direction of the Grey Company and their wagon. One of the riders turns and heads back down the road. Further behind the riders, coming north along the road is a long caravan of wagons and animals.
Griffin waves in return and rides up to meet the approaching caravan.
The two remaining riders move forward. Griffin notes that Marcel, Draven and Ree ride out with him. When the riders draw near, they rein up and stop their mounts. “Hail, travelers,” one of the men shouts. The riders are wearing chain and pot helms and are armed with swords and shields. The non speaking rider has a spear or lance tied to his saddle as well.
Griffin continues to approach. “Hail, yourself! We’re the Grey Company, escorting a herd of horses from Susikyn to Rifflian. We also have a bunch of rescued slaves we found out on the moors.”
The rider seems to be somewhat shocked or confused at Griffin’s statement. “Grey Company? What? Slaves? You have rescued slaves?”
Griffin smiles. “They call me Griffin. Is there someone I should give this story to, so I can only have to tell it once?”
“Do you have a large party? The caravan is coming up the road. You say you are the Grey Company? I have heard of no such Company before.” He looks to the right and left suspiciously. He then spies the others off at the rivers edge and he relaxes a bit. “If you wish to speak to the caravan master, they will be along shortly,” he says, looking back over his shoulder. “I am Roberk. This is Galen. We work as guards for this caravan. We are traveling north, to Selenica and beyond to the Emirates. I am sure Tsorvano will hear your story. This is his caravan.”
“Is it all right if the group walks past you, or is there likely to be no room?” Griffin pauses. “Tsorvano you say? Well, well, well…”
“Well, we are 20 wagons in our train. Well over 100 beasts and mounts. Plenty of walkers as well. We do take up most of the road. But it looks as if your Company is off the road now. We will pass by. Should take no more than an hour or so. You know of Tsorvano? He is known in these parts.”
As Griffin and the guard talk, several more riders approach from the south. All armed and armored similarly to Roberk and Galen. Five more riders approach and spread out. One rider comes up to where the conversation is going on. Immediately Griffin recognizes the man as Halmaro, the Caravan Master.
|Halmaro, the Caravan Master|
Griffin inclines his head to the caravan master. “Halmaro, sir. It has been a few years. You knew my father, Costas Constantine.”
The older man scowls. He replies in accented Thyatian. “Oh, I remember you, son of Constantine. What are you doing here?”
Griffin chuckles. “Yea, I was afraid of that. Anyway, we’re escorting some horses from Susikyn to Rifflian. We took care of some slavers crossing the moors, and we have some folk we freed in tow. Any chance you have any food we could purchase? They’re pretty hungry.”
Halmaro squints his round, weathered face as he looks at Griffin and studies his companions. “We are a caravan. Tsorvano is a merchant. Of course we have food for sale.” He grunts and wheels his horse around and gallops off back toward the main bulk of the caravan.
Roberk chuckles, “So you know him, ehh. Looks like old friends.”
“Yea, we’re real close… Looks like he’s mellowed with age, too. Let me get things in order and I’ll be back to chat with you all.” Griffin wheels and rides back to the Grey Company.
Griffin and the others ride back to where their companions are and spread the news of what is happening. Stephan and the Darokinian merchant, Anders Hallonica, are both pleased by this news and both say they know the merchant Tsorvano. Anders rushes back off toward the river to wash up and make himself presentable to such a man as Tsorvano. The two Ylari men also seem pleased once they hear that a caravan is approaching. The rest of the group is split, half seem excited and anxious while the other half seems fearful and suspicious.
|Tsorvano, Merchant Prince|
The main part of the caravan moves slowly up the road toward the Company, which has moved to the side of the road to allow the larger party to pass. Soon, Roberk, Galen and Halmaro lead another group of riders over to where the Company is waiting. Another man rides with them, this one dressed in silks and other finery, clearly a merchant lord of some standing. The young, bronze skinned man smiles widely, his white teeth flashing in the afternoon sun. “Greetings and well met, travelers, members of the Grey Company. I am Tsorvano, of Tel-Akbir. Where is the son of Andreas?” He looks around, then sees Griffin. “Ahh, you have grown much in a few years, son. I am sorry to hear of the passing of your father. Costas was a dear friend of mine.” He pauses for a moment and bows his head, eyes closed, mumbling something quietly to himself.
“The Old Ox tells me you have freed slaves or something of that sort? And those horses, what of those horses? Those must be out of Susikyn. Oh, what’s this? Stephan Susivik, how do you fare? Are these your brother’s horses?” Stephan steps forward and greets the merchant and affirms that they are in fact his brother’s white horses.
Tsorvano turns back to Halmaro, “We are meant to stop soon to camp for the night, are we not?” Halmaro frowns and starts to shake his head no, but Tsorvano continues, “This looks like a good enough place, don’t you think. We shall make camp here. Constantine, Susivik, you and your companions will dine with me.” He looks at the rest of the group and the refugees, “and I am sure we can come up with some sort of arrangements for the others as well, for a price of course. I am a merchant after all. I will feed all of your people for a gift of one of those fine steeds,” he says, as he eyes the horses more.
Griffin eyes Stephan, who shrugs and shakes his head. “Forgive me, noble Tsorvano, but I fear that would conflict with our promises to the good people of Susikyn.” Griffin leans over to Stephan. He whispers, “Perhaps a discount on the purchase of one horse to show our gratitude for his generosity?”
“Of course, of course, let us strike a deal. I shall give you 100 gold, feed your people and let you share the protection of my guards for the night! More than fair!” He looks around at everyone, smiling. “But wait, let us not haggle here in the road. Let me make arrangements to set up camp. I am sure we will come to some agreement before the night takes us. I shall send for you when dinner is ready.” He bows and wheels his horse around. Halmaro sneers at Griffin and grunts before following his employer. Halmaro begins barking orders and the caravan stops and begins setting up camp.
Griffin strokes his beard as the Ylari ride away. The possibilities for resupplying with Tsorvano are excellent. But he doesn’t want to put Stephan on the spot. He’d have to talk to the rest of the team and their employer first.
Roberk and Galen smile and bow to the Grey Company, “Well, thanks for that, it’ll save us some riding today. A little extra time in the camp is never a bad thing! Do you mind if we look over your group? Security purposes, you know. Wouldn’t want anything dangerous surprising us this evening.”
“It would be well if you could satisfy your own safety, of course. But understand, these people fall under the protection of Tarastia, and are all folk of good character, fallen on hard times. We can but hope that our fateful encounter will serve them to find a better future than the one to which they were bound before our intervention.”
Roberk nods and smiles at Draven’s dictum. He mouths a quick prayer to Tarastia also, showing reverence. The two guards just walk among the Company’s area, smiling and greeting the refugees. They check out the horses and packs, but do not get nosy at all. They poke around for a moment near the wagon but are clearly not making too careful of a search. Galen speaks to one of Anders’ men in Darokinian and also speaks to the two Ylari men in their own tongue.
Anders Hallonica makes it back to the group just after Tsorvano has left. He is disheartened that he missed the opportunity to speak to him, but then is pleased again to hear that an invitation to dinner has been made. He skillfully insinuates that he should be included in the party that dines with the merchant.
As Tsorvano’s caravan pulls past the Grey Company’s wagon, it is easy to see that he is quite a successful merchant. Each of the 20 wagons is laden with goods. There are close to 50 mounted guards escorting the caravan. Countless other animals are plodding along, many of which are also carrying goods. Drovers, porters and other laborers walk along as well, while some hitch rides on the backs of wagons. In all, there has to be well over 100 folk in this caravan. When they see the motley crew of the Grey Company they almost immediately start hawking wares, food and other trinkets of dubious worth. The refugees all look at the stuff the lesser merchants are hawking and quickly those folk that had salvaged gear from the slavers camp begin haggling to sell what they have for food, supplies or easier to carry coin.
As the caravan passes, Draven keeps an eye out for any sort of theological representation. If this large a party is travelling without clergy, doubtless many will welcome an opportunity to seek absolution, or at least to unburden themselves. He prepares himself mentally to offer a larger and more expansive service for the evening than his usual, more subtle time of meditation and prayer.
Draven does not see any priests or other religious men, though he does catch sight of plenty of religious items of various faiths hanging from different wagons, beasts and people. Most of the symbols are familiar to him, either the Thyatian or Traladaran Patrons. The other symbols, he assumes are from the Ylari pantheons, or possibly other more exotic places.
Dinner With a Merchant Prince
After an hour or so, Tsorvano sends Roberk to announce that he is ready to entertain the Company for dinner. Behind Roberk, several caravan men come forth carrying sacks and small barrels of food for the those not invited to dinner in the tent of the Merchant Prince. “Food for your charges,” Roberk says. The men pass out food to the refugees and former slaves. They take it readily and begin splitting it up among themselves. “Lord Tsorvano requests the presence of the senior members of the company at dinner,” Roberk continues, looking at Griffin, Marcel and Draven. “Stephan Susivik as well.”
The Darokinian merchant, Anders Hallonica, steps forward and bows to Roberk. “I will be joining Lord Tsorvano and my companions as well. I am Anders Hallonica, of House Hallonica. Lord Tsorvano and myself are business acquaintances, friends even.” Roberk looks, scrutinizing him carefully, measuring the man’s words against his appearance. He then shrugs his shoulders and smirks, “Sure. That will be between you and Lord Tsorvano.”
He bows and extends his arm toward the caravan camp, indicating that they are to proceed in that direction. As they pass, Ree moves to follow but he stops her, “Girl, Lord Tsorvano has only room for the senior members of your company, I am sorry. He will provide a meal for the rest of your Company shortly though.” Griffin watches this exchange curiously to see how Ree reacts.
The young Half Elf wrinkles her brow and nose and her eyes narrow. She throws her shoulders back and juts her chin and face forward, ready to let this guy have it, but then she stops and straightens back up and merely responds, “Oh, ok,” before heading back the other way.
The tent of Lord Tsorvano is huge, at least 15 feet tall on the sides, and 25 at the topmost pole. It is made of colorful material that billows in the wind and glows with bright light from within. A serving girl dressed in expensive silks holds the entry flap open. Roberk says, “Enjoy,” before taking up a position nearby.
|Tsorvano's luxurious tent|
The inside of the tent resembles an exotic palace. Many lanterns and glowing glass globes hang from the numerous poles and candles and incense make the place smell like a dream. The floors are covered by plush carpets and exotic animal furs and several long, low tables are in the middle of the tent. Fluffy, overstuffed pillows line the floor near the tables. Decanters of wine and other drinks line the tables in between bowls and plates of fruit, cheese and breads.
From puffed up and ready to represent the Church of Karameikos, Draven deflates like a punctured air bladder. The closest thing he’s ever had to finery were the formal robes he’d wear on high holy days, a far cry even from the gold thread-chased raiments of his fellow priests higher up in the hierarchy. Internally chastened for his pride, he looks for a seat near Tsorvano, but not in his immediate circle.
Tsorvano sits at the middle of the central table. He waves his arms and beckons everyone over to sit. He seems genuinely happy to see Anders Hallonica and listens intently to the story of how he and his company had been attacked and taken by the slavers as well as the story of how the Grey Company had saved them. After Anders is done with his story, Tsorvano appears quite impressed and makes many pronouncements of the good deeds of the Grey Company and its prowess. Anders tells Tsorvano that he would like to travel with him back to Selenica along with his escort and also tells him that some of the other refugees may like to travel north as well. Tsorvano is more than willing to allow anyone to travel with his company and offers any a job who wish to work hard as well. Anders makes arrangements to repay Tsorvano for any food and necessary supplies required by the most recent group of refugees and the Ylari merchant agrees.
Soon dinner is served while several musicians play music and dancing girls spin around the room in provocative costumes. Several times, Draven blushes nearly as red as the apples on a silver platter in front of him as girl after girl passes close to him, trailing their silken scarves across his shoulders, head or face. Stephan enjoys his time and maybe drinks a little more wine that anticipated. Before long, he is dancing around the room with the girls as well.
During dinner, Griffin will enthusiastically partake of the many delicacies that Tsorvano shares with them. He encourages his comrades to enjoy the feast, pointing out taste treats he feels might appeal to them.
Remembering his manners - and that while living together before marriage is a sin, merely talking to pretty girls is not - Draven starts to interact with those around him, hoping to learn more about the character of the caravan and those that travel with it. He knows full well the mixed nature of people who venture out into the wilds (which includes himself, now, looking at the tattered state of his travelling clothes) and that some unsavory sorts can use the freedom of the wilds to escape their checkered pasts.
Draven quickly learns that he is right about the previous lives of some of the caravan folk, but finds that while in Tsorvano’s employ, they are expected to behave appropriately. He learns that the merchant is fair and just, pays well and tolerates no deviation from proper manners. All of his employees seem proud to work for him, and speak only the best of Tsorvano.
After dinner, Tsorvano sits smoking a gold inlaid hookah, offering its smoky contents to anyone interested in partaking. He sits atop a small mound of pillows, Griffin, Marcel and Draven all sitting around him, the others all engrossed in the indulgences of the room.
“So, horse traders, ehh?” he queries. “I retract my initial offer of 100 gold and now say 250 gold for one of those fine beasts.” He smiles mischievously as he watches Anders across the room being entertained by one of his dancing girls.
Griffin laughs and nods to the rich merchant. “I am certain that that offer is a most generous one, sir, but,” and he inclines his head towards the partying Stephan, “the horses are his, and I feel certain that he is too wise to try to negotiate with such an august personage as yourself with less than his full wits about him.” He shakes his head, “And from the looks of things, that could be a while.”
Tsorvano chuckles, “Ahh, yes, good Stephan appears to be in no condition to do any horse trading at the moment. Maybe I shall speak to him in the morning, unless of course you wish to change your mind. I could no doubt make a good profit off of these fine beasts to the north. I will give you 175 gold for each horse, if you sell them ALL to me, right now.” He reaches forward and opens a good sized coffer revealing golden trade bars. “You can be rid of the burden of caring for, protecting and feeding the horses in one fell swoop. Think about this for a moment, but I would like a decision before I have finished with my wine,” he raises his glass and a serving girl fills it, nearly to the top then moves to fill everyone elses cup as well.
The Price of Information
“But regardless of your decision on the horses, I want you to know that you all are welcome to share the camp, and my tents, for the night. You and your people will be safe in my care,” he offers. “And if you do not wish to SELL to me, then, possibly, I have something that YOU may wish to purchase. As you can see, I am a buyer and seller of things, but that is not all I buy and sell. I sometimes trade in things much more valuable than property. Information can be a valuable commodity."
Griffin’s ears perk up at this latest pronouncement. “I agree, wise one. Knowledge is power, as they say. Are you in possession of information that you think could be to the benefit of the Grey Company? Conversely, what sort of information might we have that could prove valuable to you? We should definitely find a way to pursue this further.”
“As it happens, I do believe that I am in possession of some information that might be valuable to you. Today is not the first I have heard of the Grey Company, in truth. I had heard the name whispered not but a handful of days ago. So, yes, son of Constantine, I think we have business to attend to.” Tsorvano smiles and folds his hands in front of his face. “As I have said before, all information comes at a price though it be more valuable than gold. My first bit of information will cost you a pittance, a mere 50 gold. If you agree, then I will share with you what I know and possibly offer you more. The game is easily played. If you can entice me with information, then I may play as well, though I like to believe that my well of information may be deeper than yours. Shall we trade?” He takes a drink of his wine and waits for an answer.
Griffin looks to Marcel and Draven, then pulls out a heavily laden purse. “It is a steep price, but I am confident you would not offer anything less than intelligence of the most useful quality.” Griffin counts out fifty gold pieces. “Please, let us begin our game of knowledge.”
“Very well. A few nights before my caravan left Kelvin, a tall, dark woman began to inquire about town seeking the Grey Company. She was frequenting some of the popular bars and brothels. Her descriptions closely matched those of you and your companions. I take it information like this is worth the coins exchanged?” Tsorvano asks. “Shall I continue?”
“Could I ask for a brief bit of clarification, o purveyor of very interesting information? Could you share when exactly your great caravan left Kelvin?” Even as he asks, Griffin winces, but counts out fifty more gold coins. “And yes, please continue.”
“But of course, we departed from Kelvin some 3 days ago, on the 1st of the month. This happened a few days before that I suppose. I do remember it was quite a warm day for this far south. That information is free. But the next shall cost you.” He puts the first pile of gold on a pillow in front of him and sips his wine. “I had learned that a haggard looking man in yellow robes had been consorting with the woman just before she began her line of inquiry. It is believed he may have been some sort of sorcerer perhaps. He arrived and left town the same day, though to or from where, I do not know,” Tsorvano states. “Has your curiosity been sated, or do you desire more information? Though about these two individuals, I confess that I do not know more about.”
Griffin sighs, “My curiosity is filled with unfortunate news, great one. Can I offer some small tidbits gleaned from our own experiences to this game?”
“You wish to sell some information to me, is it?” Tsorvano looks curious. “Possibly, though I would know the general nature of this information before I agree, as I told you that the information I knew directly referred to you and your Company.”
“The information you shared indicates that it was somehow of at least mild interest to your august self. We have intelligence more as to the nature of this.” He pauses, “Or, if the changing nature of northern Karameikos is more relevant to your pursuits, perhaps we could talk about that.”
“Ahh, this man and woman were of no true interest to me. I had taken note of her that evening as I visited one of my favorite establishments in Kelvin, the Celibate Maiden. Her stern demeanor had caught my eye but before I could approach her this yellow robed fellow arrived and they went to a private room for some time. When she returned, he was not with her. That is when she began asking around about the Grey Company. Always interested in knowing the word on the street, I had her followed to find out more. She had descriptions of several of you. I believe some in the Maiden recognized you," he looks at Marcel. "And I think he may have learned you were from the local Church," he says to Draven. Both men look at him with shocked looks.” He pauses for a moment, “Ahh, I am playing the game poorly, I give you too much, but oh well. I suppose I owe as much to the son of Constantine.” He collects the second pile of coins from Griffin and places them by his side. “If you are offering me information, then I would know of the condition of the surrounding area. That seems to be more of interest to me. But if I purchase this information from you, then I will have at least one more bit for you, fair enough?”
“Yes sir, that sounds excellent.” Griffin takes some time to explain the goblin raids and how that has strengthened Susikyn’s role in the region.
Tsorvano passes the pouch of gold back to Griffin, “Yes, yes, interesting. My next bit of information may have had some connection to that as well, so I will share it for free and give you the privilege of purchasing another sweet morsel of knowledge. The roads of northern Karameikos and south eastern Darokin have been plagued with increased bandit activity this spring which no doubt has plenty to do with increased Goblin activity and the nasty business of these slavers you speak of. What did you say they called themselves? The Iron Circle?”
“The Iron Ring. Said to be connected with Fort Doom.” He watches the merchant to see if this causes any flicker of reaction.
The merchant flinches and sneers a bit, turning up his lip. “Fort Doom. I do not trade with those black hearts. They are not honorable or worthy of my goods. When in Karameikos I keep to the Duke’s Road and Eastron Road if I have business in Thyatias, though I do more business in Thyatias to the east, through the desert. I would trade with the Shires, but it is too far out of my range to go around and if I travel west through Darokin, I generally keep to the north and do not make it down to visit the Hin.”
He cracks his knuckles and continues, “Now, for my next bit of information, same rules as before. This one is quite interesting, if you ask me. You are familiar with Duke Stephan, I assume? He is the ruler of your country, no?”
Griffin nods. “Of course. He has even passed through Penhaligion a time or two.” He slides the pouch back to the well-informed Ylari.
“Well, the Duke’s daughter, Adriana, has run off from Specularum. It is said she left with a Captain of the Duke’s Guard. A beautiful girl, young woman really, she would have to be twenty and one or more by now. She has been gone for some time now, since the beginning of the year, I believe, though there were rumors that she had been spotted in Kelvin earlier this spring. The Duke and his Court were trying to keep the information quiet, but something of that magnitude is bound to escape.” He brings the wine glass to his lips and finishes the dark red liquid. He stares down quietly at his empty cup then speaks without looking up, “So there is no deal for the horses then? I will give you 5000 gold for the lot of them. That is my final offer.”
“And I wish that I were in a position to honor such a generous deal. Alas, these horses are already promised to the Elves of Rifflian, and, truth be told, that is the only reason they are still with us. The Fairy King of Horses contemplated ‘liberating’ them from us, but changed his mind when we told him of their destination.” He looks at his comrades. “We would certainly not want to incur his ire in any way.”
“Fairy King of Horses? I am not familiar with this King,” Tsorvano looks curious and passes a bag of gold back to Griffin. “Tell me.”
Griffin happily retrieves the bag of gold, but leans back into the pillows. “To be honest, it would be Marcel here’s story to tell. Marcel?”
Marcel launches into a spirited telling of the cuppy cake song and the Fairy King of Horses.
The remainder of the evening revolves around drinking and partying with Tsorvano and his “court.” He asks everyone if there is anything they are interested in purchasing and promises to check with his people to see if they have it in the caravan. He promises to sell anything he has available at fair market prices. He says he can part with some oats and grain for the horses since the Company’s supply has nearly dwindled due to the slower travel times with the extra feet in the train. Pytor’s coins are used to purchase this and the rest will be purchased at the Gnome’s Ferry, if it is available.
The night carries on for many enjoyable hours for those enjoying the festival like atmosphere of the merchants camp. The evening also drags on for those looking for a good nights sleep so near the sounds of revelry.
Marcel turns in early, hoping to be refreshed for the road the next day. Draven leads a small service after dinner for anyone interested in joining. He is happily surprised to have nearly 50 people show up to worship with him, including most of the folk that had been traveling with them already. After that, he heads to bed for the night. Griffin on the other hand, stays up to mingle with the caravan and partake in all that it has to offer. Several other members of the Grey Company do a little shopping, mainly to purchase new clothing to replace their very travel and battle worn apparel. Burik even splurges a bit and purchases himself a very finely tailored outfit, as does Iris, though Iris seems to wear it considerably better than Burik does. Remar buys himself a heavy woolen robe that looks like it might provide some protection while still allowing movement. Ree also manages to find herself a well fitting new suit of layered cloth armor and a new blade, a finely crafted long knife.
Draven makes an early night of it as well, hoping against hope that his recent bout of nightmares might be behind him with his test now passed and in the greater safety of this large caravan.
Griffin spends the rest of the evening circulating through the caravan, chatting with folk about all sorts of things. Trade, horses, Rifflian, Kelvan. He will probably get distracted by a beautiful girl or a card game, but he knows that about himself, so he tries to make sure that he returns to the camp of the Grey Company to update the others on current events and to give them an opportunity to enjoy the caravan as well. He makes a point of thanking Ree for taking charge of the camp when they got pulled into the powwow in Tsorvano’s tent.
After shopping, he changes into his new clothes and goes back out into the night. His search for a pretty girl or a card games strikes gold when he finds a pretty girl playing cards!
A few guards sat in a circle on a fine carpet, spread under an awning from one of the large Ylari tents. Lanterns shed a warm glow on the cards, and an even warmer glow on the lone woman holding forth in the camaraderie of the card game. Her name was Kitara, and she was one of Tsorvano’s wagoneers. Her hair was a lustrous, silky black. Her skin was a dusky tan. Her eyes, well, her eyes were smoky, and hinted at all sorts of interesting things.
|a beautiful card player|
Which was damned distracting in a game of Three Dragon Ante. He caught himself several times focusing on how she licked her lips when she had a good hand. He should have been thinking “Aha! A tell!” but instead, his mind wandered off in other directions.
He swore and tried to bring his head back into the game. He got so intent on the cards, he almost didn’t notice when one of the guardsmen had to ante a piece of crossbow gear. He almost casually won that round, wiping out the fellow, but still he watched her.
As the games wore on, he became aware that he was playing two games at the same time. Maybe even three. There were the cards, of course. But, instead of just going for the easy win, he found himself also working to keep her in the game. Lead a little lower dragon than he could, so she could still come out on top.
He gradually became aware that she was playing the same game with him.
Slowly but surely, without any more agreement than the occasional promising glance, Griffin and Kitara forced all the other players out of the game. Eventually, it was just the two of them.
He smiled, almost apologetically, as he swept the last pot into a pile in front of him. She smiled back, then stretched in a most distracting way. “You played an excellent game tonight, my new friend.” She moued,”I think we both did.”
She rises, and he scrambles to scoop up his winnings as he prepares to say his good nights. She says, “I must return to my tent, now. Tsorvano likes an early start.” Griffin nods as she starts to walk away, unsure what to say next. Good game? No, too trite. Why not try my tent? Better. He starts as he realizes she has stopped and turned around. “Are you coming?”
Griffin grins and pockets his winnings as he hurries after her. It looks like the night is not over yet!
Lunadain 4th of Yarthmont
Saying Farewell to the Caravan
In the morning, he offers a rather larger and more ornate ceremony for those who are interested, looking around hopefully for any penitent faithful to come and seek absolution from this fresh faced young cleric.
Draven is pleased to have an even larger group show up for a service the next morning, though he does notice that Griffin is not present this time. Marcel stands nearby, listening, but not actively taking part. Iris is there, listening intently as she does most times he speaks. He thinks he sees her smiling at him. Not just the smile of a happy and devout young lady, but maybe something more. Many of the caravan workers, Karamekians, Thyatians, Darokinians and more gather to listen and participate in worship. Draven even sees folk that he recalled bearing symbols of other Patrons and religions. Clearly, many understand the value of being reverent, regardless of who one might be revering.
The bigger the turnout, the bigger the ceremony. Catering to his audience, Draven makes many references to, and leads several prayers to, Asterius in his roles as the patron of merchants, hoping that he will bring a greater sense of peace to his audience and perhaps even the blessing of the gods in their travels ahead.
Having seen what a frightful sight he must have been at supper the night before, Draven purchases for himself not one but two sets of clothing, items better suited to outdoor wear than those he’d been given by the church in Kelvin, but of a similar class.
He peruses the armor available to him, wondering if he could afford anything that protects as well as his faithful heavy mail, but lighter to wear and less likely to chafe - or to buckle under the blow of a club or a mace. Seeing that anything better than what he currently wears would also be heavier, he sighs and considers perhaps having some sleeves added - when there’s time for such fripperies, of course.
Not long after sunrise, Tsorvano’s caravan is already on the move while the Grey Company, many times smaller, is still breaking camp. Quite a few of the Grey Company’s charges have decided to travel north with the caravan, either taking on jobs or merely traveling toward Penhaligon and beyond. Anders Hallonica and his party have graciously accepted an offer by Tsorvano to escort them back to Selenica across the Darokin border.
Anders gives the Grey Company a rolled parchment with the seal of Tsorvano on it. “This is a letter for you to present to any member of House Hallonica if you ever are in need. It is witnessed by Lord Tsorvano here, his name should be known to most all of my agents. If you are ever in Selenica, please look me up. House Hallonica will not be hard to find. Thank you again, Grey Company. I am truly in your debt.” He bows and his men all nod and clasp hands as well.
Just before the caravan is gone, Tsorvano approaches and bids the Company farewell. “I thank you for accepting my hospitality last night. I hope my merchants were not too harsh with you if you chose to sample their wares.” He bows and gives formal hugs to everyone present. He then turns to a groggy and disheveled Griffin. “Son of Constantine, it was good to see you again. You are much like your father. If you are ever looking for a job, come to me, I will find work for you.” He clasps Griffin’s arm and pulls him close, hugging him more informally. He reaches into the folds of his robes and removes what looks like several pieces of paper, possibly pages from a book. “Years ago, your father tasked me with finding something for him. Alas, I was never able to locate what he was seeking, but I did find this. Unfortunately I was never able to deliver it to him before he left us. I thought maybe you would like to have it.” He hands the papers to Griffin then turns to leave.
As the members of the Grey Company stand and watch Tsorvano and his caravan leave northward, dark grey clouds begin rolling in from the west. The bright morning turns darker. Someone calls out that it is bound to rain soon. Without looking at the pages, Griffin carefully stows them inside his jacket and gets back to work breaking down the camp. It was learned the previous evening that the Gnome’s Ferry is only a few hours to the south and if the Company got there soon enough, they could probably get the horses to the other side of the river before the end of the day.
Griffin joins in the wrangling to get things moving, even though he still feels sluggish from his lack of sleep. But it was soooo worth it.
He looks over the camp. “C’mon, Sen, Rood, get those bedrolls and the cooking gear onto the wagon! We’ve got a horse drive to get going.”
Griffin will help the recruits get things settled in the wagon. As he does, he trips over the tapestry - the one that started all this trouble in the first place. What if that were to get stolen? He steps gingerly about the cramped wagon interior. Where could he hide it? He takes the rolled up cloth and gently slides into what could be the perfect spot. He turns, and trips over the other end as it protrudes from under the cooking gear. Okay, maybe over here… He spends some more time getting it just right, but then the wagon lurches as Sen and Rood hitch up the team, and the carefully laid camouflage falls away. Dang it! He tries several more places, none of which seem to be what he wants. He straightens up to try and survey the whole interior of the wagon, and, of course, bumps his head. Dang it again! I didn’t see… Hey, wait a minute! He closely examines the ceiling of the wagon. If I can secure it behind this beam, it’s totally obscured from the door. Satisfied, he decides to test his smuggling job by having Marcel, Ree, and Draven try to find it. If they have trouble, that’ll be a good sign.
“I’m not sure I’m the right one for this, not being a scout or anything, but…” Draven gives the space the once-over without wasting too much time. Tilting his head from side to side for a moment, he circles the space once, reaches up, and pulls down the tapestry. “I’m not sure that’s a secure enough location, honestly.”
Griffin re-hides the tapestry, still believing that it was a good hiding spot and that Draven had just gotten lucky. He calls Ree, Marcel and Stephan over at separate times and has them look for it. None of them can find it, and Ree even takes extra time and does a very thorough search of the wagon.
Not long after that, the Company is ready to get back on the road again, this time with quite a bit fewer feet tagging along. The showers start shortly afterward, though the sun continues to shine between the grey clouds that are beginning to fill the sky. The road quickly becomes a muddy mess which slows down the horses and wagon even though the rain only comes in sporadic spurts. Several groups of travelers are met upon the road, though the rain seems to put a damper on too much interaction. Most are farmers heading back north after selling goods in Kelvin or at the Ferry. One is an artist of some type, heading north after having sold all of his masterpieces to the nobles of Kelvin.
A Taxing Encounter on the Duke’s Road
The Grey Company also runs into a mounted group of men of the Duke’s Guard. They halt the caravan and ask some general questions regarding the caravan and the group. The lead guard wants to know where the horses are from and where they are going and whether the Company had paid the appropriate taxes on the goods in order to take them along the Duke’s Road. The Guard Sergeant looks the Company up and down for a moment, then asks, “What is the general business of the Grey Company? You don’t actually look like merchants.” The remaining guards remain alert, though they make no aggressive moves.
|The Duke's Guard|
The Sergeant dismounts and approaches the Company, taking his helm off. “I am Jaran Dulkos, of Specularum. We are of the Duke’s 4th, heading to the Duke’s Road Keep in the north. We are to check and assess commerce taxes while on the road and will be happy to help you with your quarterly taxes as well, though if you have a complicated income, I suggest squaring up with the collector in Kelvin, but know that the 1st of Yarthmont has passed and your taxes are due. You will also be responsible to handle the sellers tax on the horses, but you can take care of that when you sell them in Rifllian. Lady Prestelle will handle that for you, I am sure.”
Marcel looks the soldiers over. Most of them appear to be young and probably new recruits. He notices that most of them wear the colors of the Dukes Guard though a handful of them are garbed in the colors and style of the Kelvin Guard, that he used to be a part of. He catches the eye of the Sergeant as he sizes up the unit. The soldier gives him a sour look.
“May I see your charter, Grey Company,” the Sergeant says out loud to no one in particular, though he continues to give Marcel a steely look. “As you know, all operating Free Companies must have a charter. If you do not have a charter, I would warn against advertising yourselves as a Free Company. You should register with an office in Kelvin or one of the other nearby cities. Penhaligon, Threshold, Verge, one of those places should be able to do it or you with no problem.”
Hoping to head off any ill-feelings, Draven steps forward to speak. “Well said, Sergeant, and had the company formed in Kelvin, we’d surely have registered ourselves already. Instead, our group was an ad-hoc gathering out here in the wilds, with some fortuitous meetings along the way. As should become obvious, I have a few friends in the Church there who should be more than able to help us find those with whom we will need to meet to formalize our company.”
He smiles at Draven, "Ahh, yes. Of course, Brother. I did not mean to assume wrongdoing. Just doing my job. The presence of another Free Company in the area is always welcome, especially one allied with the Church. It's just that, without an official charter, it's difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. There have been reports of increased bandit activity on the road recently. That's why I'm leading this squadron to the Keep to help bolster their patrols."
“Actually, Sergeant, here is the current charter for the Grey Company. As my learned colleague has pointed out, we are just starting our adventures. As soon as we get to a place to register, we have the paperwork ready.”
Sergeant Dulkos takes the document from Griffin and quickly looks it over. "Ahh, ok. Yes I see what you have done here. Ok, yes, umm, yes. OK." He hands the document back to Griffin. "Its definitely not official but it's a decent start. Get this worked up with a scribe and have it entered into the record. I see you are missing your ledger. Do you wish to declare your income to me now or will you do that back in town? Rifllian probably won't have anyone there that can take care of those types things. Business is a little bit different in the Elf communities. I'll still be needing your Commerce Road Tax though, at the very least."
Griffin nods, “Yes, of course.” He feels around and produces the Road Tax for the entire Grey Company. “Er, I’m afraid I’m pulling together our ledger, Sergeant. We’re more used to bladework than paperwork, I’m afraid.” He smiles, “But your suggestion of finding a scribe is an excellent one! I’m sure that’s just the sort of individual who could help us with something like getting our books in order, in addition to putting together a more formal charter.”
The Sergeant happily takes the coins from Griffin. He says he will need to look in the back of the wagon to make sure there are not other trade goods in there. “I trust that you are only transporting supplies and personal gear in there, but I wouldn’t want word getting out that the Duke’s Guard were getting soft, you know.” He smiles at Griffin and the others, waiting for permission before going to the back of the wagon.
The rain has stopped for a minute and the other Guards seem eager to get back on the road before it starts again.
Griffin smiles, but gulps inwardly. Of course, there’s really nothing out of order in there, right? He opens the door to the wagon and steps aside to allow the sergeant to enter.
"Oh, one thing I had a question about, Sergeant." He pulls out a set of the shackles they'd retrieved from the Reavers. "Can you tell us anything about the sorts of folks who might carry these around? Seems more than just in case they got an opportunity to take a slave..."
After making a cusory glance in the Sergeant Dulkos takes the shiny manacles from Griffin. He examines them carefully, pulls the chain taut. “Well made, and well cared for.” He looks at them with a puzzled look on his face. “Manacles are not generally the type of thing to be given this much care. You say you took these off a slaver? Could some sort of badge of honor or identifying mark. Do you mind if I keep these. I will show them around to those at Castellan Keep. Maybe someone up there knows more about it. But to answer your question, I’ve not seen the like of it before. Strange and dangerous business it seems to me. Glad that you were to come across these scoundrels and help those enslaved folk to freedom. I give you the gratitude of the Grand Duchy. Thank you.” He bows slightly.
The detachment of the Duke's Guards say their farewells and move along to the north. Shortly after they depart, the rain begins to fall again, slowing the Company down and reducing visibility considerably.
The next few hours proves to be difficult going. The horses plod along slowly and the wagon gets stuck in several ruts and mires in the soggy road. By the time the Gnome's Ferry comes into sight, everyone is soaked to the bone and thoroughly exhausted.
The Gnome's Ferry
The Gnome’s Ferry consists of one large, two story building with a large, wide porch facing south. A small barn sits behind the building, between it and the forest pushing down along the river’s edge. A tall fenced enclosure sits directly behind the main building, nestled back among the edge of the trees. A pig yard, Griffin says with a bit of a chuckle.
|The Gnome's Ferry and Trading Post|
Past the building and down a slight slope there is a wide dock with a good sized ferry raft moored to it. On the other side of the river, downstream just a bit stands another pier and a beaten path can barely be seen leading up into the wooded hills there. There is large, beaten earthen yard, full of large areas of standing water, in front of the main building and several long hitching posts, though no animals are present. Several lit lanterns hang from the front and back of the main building and there are several windows, though all of them are covered with curtains. A thick stream of smoke billows up out of the chimney and fights with the falling rain before turning into a fine, grey mist. Faint traces of something hot and meaty try to waft up from the large building but the constant downpour of rain threatens to erase the smell altogether. A large whitewashed board can be seen hanging from the roof of the porch but the writing on it cannot be read through the falling rain.
Seeing the structures, and the small bit of civilization they promise, Draven mutters a quick prayer to Patura before setting to helping with the horses and wagon. A hot meal will do much to mend our sodden spirits, but I fear for ever getting these new clothes clean. He knows nothing of hog butchery, but recalls even as a boy the rich smells of meaty stews and roasts on high holy days.
“C’mon you lot, the sooner we get things out here squared away, the sooner we can get in out of this muck!”
Draven heads toward the barn, noting all too quickly that there will not be near enough room inside the building for all of the horses, probably not even half of them. He looks to the treeline past the barn, thinking it might be ok to put some of the horses under the trees. As he contemplates, he hears a loud snort from behind him and some movement in the pig enclosure. He turns and looks but the tall fence around it prevents him from seeing anything. He turns back to the horses and is startled by an ear-piercing squeal. He nearly jumps out of his boots and his horse nearly yanks its lead from his hand. Griffin rides up, eyeing the yard. “That’s Tibby. The owner’s pet. No worries,” he chuckles again.
A quick look inside the barn reveals room for about 10 more horses. There are currently 2 mules sharing a far stall and 3 other horses stabled in the three frontmost stalls. Wet saddles hang on hooks nearby and the horses look as though they have been riding in the rain fairly recently.
Seeing that there were other guests, Griffin’s suspicious nature gets the better of him. After the horses are put into the corral, he tells Draven and Marcel to head in, and that he would catch up.
He calls Ree over and speaks to her quietly. “There are other folk here at the inn, and we know there are slavers looking for us. Can I presume on you to watch the back door with me, while we send Draven and Marcel in? Let’s see if anyone tries to slip away.”
Not all the horses fit inside and the remaining are tied under the trees just to the north of the barn and the wagon is pulled right up alongside it. While some of the others start dealing with their equipment and such, Marcel and Draven head around to the front door at Griffin’s urging. Ree looks at Griffin and slides a stone into her sling. Remar steps up behind them and speaks softly, barely audible above the falling rain, “Expecting trouble? We’ll be ready.”
Draven and Marcel make their way around to the front of the inn. Though it is still daytime, the warm glow of firelight shines out through the windows. Draven can finally read the sign hanging above the door. The Thyatian letters carved in its whitewashed surface read “Thigwhistle Ferry and Trading Post.” Another set of letters is carved beneath, no doubt Dwarven runes by the look of the sharp, angular letters.
|The comfortably crowded main room of the Trading Post|
The main room of the inn is large and crowded with trade goods. A handful of small round tables dot the room. Two Human men sit at one of the tables hunched over plates of food. They look up as the door opens. Several display cases and racks line the walls to the right. A large bearskin rug lays on the floor in front of them. To the left, several boxes, crates and barrels line a wall with 2 doors. In the center of the room, more boxes, sacks and crates lay piled up, a rolled up rug thrown atop the pile. The far right corner of the room holds a steep set of steps leading up to the upper story of the building, no doubt where the lodgings are. Directly across the room stands a large stone fireplace with a fire blazing. A large black cookpot sits in front of the fire. A portly gray haired Gnome stirs the contents of the cookpot and turns to greet his new customers. “Come in, come in, friends. I thought I heard more horses out back. What can I do for you? Dinner? A dry bed?”
Draven relaxes a little as he sees things are on the up and up. “More than just one bed, good sir. We’ve plenty of companions outside and horses to overfill your stable twice over.” Moving inside and toward the fireplace, he continues, “And if you’ve facilities for a warm bath it would be most welcome, as would any hints on anything approaching a laundry?”
“Of course, of course! Bath and laundry, yes yes! How many companions do you have? And many horses? Good good. I have a few private rooms upstairs, the floor here in the common room and the hayloft available for lodging. I have a large pot of otter stew here, bread, cheese and some veggies,” the old Gnome says. “
“I suspect we’ll fill and overfill your rooms, as our company has swelled to nearly a quiverful, and even more horses, numbering in excess of twenty.” He waits to see the gnome’s reaction while he ponders the food on offer. Once I’d have turned my nose up at otter stew, but after a month or two under Marcel’s tender ministrations… He looks sidelong at the young mercenary, wondering how he’ll react to the options.
The Gnome seems quite pleased at the influx of travelers and is more than happy to accommodate everyone. The two other visitors to the Ferry are just a pair of travelers stopping over to get out of the rain. “I’ve got room for about 10 of ya upstairs, the rest can sleep down here on the floor. These two,” motioning to the other travelers, “will be bunking out in the stable, so never mind them. I can maybe find a large tarp for you to string up in the trees and maybe keep a little of the rain off your other horses.” He goes over the numbers with Draven and Marcel for a moment and tells them a total for his services. “I’ve also got other supplies and items for sale as well, feel free to look around the place and see what you like.” He waves his hand about the main room of the trading post.
Two younger Gnomes appear from through one of the doors in the left wall. The old Gnome, Barcus, tells them to head out back to assist with the horses and to find a tarp in the barn for those that don’t fit inside.
“I imagine we can set up a bit of protection for the horses, yes. And a place for those who wind up standing guard to stay out of the wet as well.” Draven eyeballs the stairs up to the rooms, intent on securing one for himself for the evening. “As for our financial arrangements, you’ll have to speak to our quartermaster outside. I believe he’s made your acquaintance before…” Draven says to the Gnome.
After giving the rest of the troop time to move in to the inn, Griffin and Ree putter about, getting the horses settled in and the wagon secured. All the while he keeps a close eye on the inn. If the Iron Ring has put the word out about them, they probably have most of the major crossroads under surveillance. Despite the rain, Griffin thinks he’ll feel happier if they set watches for the evening, against both the serious threat of the slavers, as well as the more mundane issue of horse thieves. With most of the herd out under the trees, it'll be too easy for someone to waltz off with one or two.
A couple of young Gnomes come out with some spare rope and a tarp after a bit, and together they all manage to create a shelter for the rest of the horses. After a half-hour, Griffin decides that were someone intending to dash out at the sight of the Grey Company, they would have done so by now. “C'mon, Ree, let's go dry off and get some dinner. Who do you think should get first watch?” She smiles, just a bit. “I bet if you throw in a keg Akaios will volunteer!” They laugh as they head into the inn.
He drinks in the bustle of Barcus’ great room, with the roaring fire and the folk all crammed in around the pile of trade goods in the middle. Marcel with his “platoon,” Stephan sitting quietly with Taras and Markos, the old horse traders, Akaios and Burik laughing about something, Akaios already looking like he’d had a few. He notes the two strangers, and keeps them in the corner of his eye.
He lets Ree wander over to his two boisterous friends while he decides to checks in with Stephan. As he crosses the room, he sees Barcus’ “Trading Post.” His eyes light on a true work of art and he stops dead in his tracks. He forgets for the moment where he was heading.
“Well, hello, beautiful,” he murmurs. A Gnomish composite crossbow hangs on display on the wall. Dark wood, maybe mahogany. Polished spring steel. He gently takes her down off the hooks and just cradles her in his arms. He thinks of the crude tool he currently uses. It is like night and day. His old weapon was made for the Penhaligion town guard. Put together fast and cheap, functional. Now, chipped, with that one screw that refuses to stay tight, he knows it will be just a matter of time before it fails him, probably at a crucial moment.
|such a beautiful weapon|
This beauty, though, she is different. A joy in the hand, a little more heft, but only to steady his aim. His finger finds the trigger; a smooth mechanism, highlighting the Gnomish craftsmanship. Sure, he might be able to find someone to craft something special just for him, but to find this pearl just hanging on a wall? He has to have her. It was like... destiny.
His mind goes to the sword on his hip and the pouch on his belt. He has already spent quite a bit on himself. When did I get such expensive tastes?
His eyes fly across the room to Stephan and Barcus. How to make a deal with these two? Stephan will soon sell the herd to the Rifflian Elves, and then he’ll pay me. Could I purchase now, and pay later? Barcus is already well-disposed to me, due to the matter of the Brulligum Brothers. The seeds of a plan start to take shape in Griffin’s mind.
Griffin adopts a jovial air as he approaches the Gnomish innkeeper, carrying the crossbow under his arm. “Barcus, my dear friend, a word if I may?” The fellow turns and smiles at the warm greeting, then eyes the weapon Griffin is holding. “Yessir, Griffin, isn’t it? I see you have an eye for quality weaponry.”
Griffin nods. “Yes, it is a fine example of the craft, isn’t it. How much would you take for her?”
The Gnome’s ears perk up at the way Griffin already seems to ‘own’ the piece. “Er, well, let me see now. I probably could part with her for, hmmm, $1100?”
Griffin’s face falls. “Ah, no, Barcus, What a shame. I thought we were friends. I’m afraid we resupplied with the caravan up the road. I have not that much on me any more. I’ll tell you what. We’re on our way to Rifflian to sell that herd of horses out under the trees. Beautiful white horses. Why, Tsorvano, the head merchant in that caravan offered us 250 gold, just for one of them!” The old Gnome’s eyes widen. Griffin continues, “So soon I will be in a better place financially, easily able to afford, say, $1000?” He pauses. “But alas, I and all that money will be heading west after that, and I don’t know when I’ll be back this way.” The Gnome frowns, not sure where this is going.
Griffin brightens again, “Oh, but wait! My good friends Taras and Markos will be returning this way on their way back to Susikyn. They could bring you the money! Why, I could even write something up, guaranteeing you your gold. One hundred gold. And they should be back this way before the next full moon! Hardly any time at all!”
While the innkeeper tries to process all that Griffin has thrown at him, the young adventurer quickly scribbles an agreement on a piece of paper, signs with a flourish, and thrusts the paper and pen at the Gnome. “Sign here, initial here. Excellent!” He shakes Barcus‘ hand. “Pleasure, as always.”
He then leans in again, “Now, you’re not charging my friend Stephan for the room and board for me and my friends, are you? I seem to recall we had a free stay for a year…” He leads the innkeeper off, to adjust the bill appropriately and to acquire a bowl of that delicious-smelling otter stew.
The Gnome things for a moment, rubbing his hands together, “Deal. 100 gold for the crossbow, paid before the next moon. And I’ll knock the lodging fee down to 300 silver for the whole lot of you, my house is yours.” He smiles and hurries back to his cookpot to begin expanding the meal he had planned for the evening.
Cast of Characters:Garrett "Griffin" Constantine, a Thyatian rogue of a gambler from Penhaligon rolled by +Arne Jamtgaard
Marcel Maas, a homely but sincere wielder of spears aspiring to cooking greatness commanded by +Christian Blouin
Draven Rickart, a Thyatian Acolyte of the Church of Karameikos ministered by +Jason Packer
and +Jason Woollard as The DM