“Bringing Home the Mutton”
Mid morning of the 17th of Dasad, 1331 Avard.
After the terrifying battle against the undead, the clan rested for a moment, thinking things through. Some of them wanted to return the remains of the Baron of Lena's sons to him, but after consultation with the dwarf Orven Lightforger, they realized that such a journey would take considerably more time than they felt they had. With that in mind, they carefully and respectfully stripped the remains of valuables, and erected a stone cairne over them.
With Orven as witness to the locations of the remains, they set out again for Mount Basilisk, to escort the dwarf to the seat of the kingdom. With the two kobolds Sebathik and Kabeturk acting as scouts, the clan listened to Orven speak of how things were in the kingdom. Coming down out of the pass, they could see the vast snow-covered Rakoran forests below them, and a thin corridor hinting at a river flowing away from the pass and out into the distance.
To the left of the corridor, Orven explained, was the Duchy of Alsavier. Just months after the War of the Four Winds was over, about the time the Clan of Caerne was establishing their farm hold near River Crown, a fleet of elven ships appeared off the coasts of Rakore. A member of the royal family, third in line for the crown of Banoc'bae, had lead a group of anti-Inquisition wood elves to the one place in all the world that dared outright defy the Inquisition. The elven prince had been given the title of duke, and given those forests to the left of the unseen river. Orven explained that, although people like themselves had been accepted by the king – former members of the Inquisition – many in the court liked the balance of having mage-friendly elves and haters of the Inquisition just across the mountains from the powerful paladins and crusaders that had once been members of the Inquisition.
Orven also told the old stories of how Rakore was founded, by two feuding clans of dwarves during the War of the Undead. The Warkore Clan of warriors were an easy match against invading ogran bands, and the Rakanus Clan of priests were an easy match against the occasional undead that stirred before the War of the Undead really kicked off. The human lands in the middle were bludgeoned by both ograns and the undead, and so Ulrich, Chief of the Graniteshoulders and Chief of the Warkore, forged an alliance with the High Priest of the Rakanus Clan, and included all the lands between. To entice the humans into joining, they were given full dwarven status – else without the humans, both clans would have likely fallen. When the desert elves escaped the growing ogran presence to the east, they, too, were given full dwarven status. And slowly but surely, all the clans and races of the peninsula were given dwarven status, and became dwarven citizens of Rakore. King Ulrich's reign, though, was short. Vampires assaulted the Warkore Clan, and King Ulrich was turned. His son Feldspar was forced to kill him, and became King in his turn.
They camped that night in the ancient remains of an elven building of stone, its ceiling long since gone, but its walls providing protection from the wind. Aelar brought in two goats and a snow hare to make fresh food for the evening, and they found enough wood to start and keep a small fire going.
The next day proved to be snowy, with the wind as reduced as the visibility. They began to note the tracks of dogs or wolves, but with paws the size of dinner plates. Orven shivered, fearing that they were being hunted by snowfell – great wolves that kept to the icy peaks in summer, but roamed the land in winter. The party emptied its meat and stores, leaving a pile of it, and then moved as quickly as they could towards Mount Basilisk, Capitol of Rakore.
Though they kept a wary eye out, they saw no more sign of snowfell, and passed into the lands of Mount Basilisk. They were met by dwarven guards, and in each case, Orven had to give his lineage and relations to his clan leaders. He was the nephew on his father's side to Shale Lightforger, first cousin through his mother's side to Nodrom Fistforger, Baron-and-the-Bishop of Mount Rilan; both Shale Lightforger and Nodrom Fistforger were grandsons of Kulin Wirebeard, brother to Father Bryan Stongrudge, High Priest of the Rakanus Clan, Lord Priest of Rakore, ArchBishop of Galgiran.
And then the other dwarves would respond in kind, with their own lineages. The clan quickly tired of this, Maleah not bothering to translate after the first exchange.
They managed to get onto one of the well-maintained roads along Mount Basilisk, and soon made the entrance some time after sunset. Great fires kept in pits to either side of the entrance let all know its location. A stone statue some twenty feet tall on its pedestal, showed a human man pointing into the distance, set up before the great outer steel doors into the mount.
Orven explained that the statue had been made by the king's hands, as tribute to the mages that fought and died during the War of the Four Winds. Dwarves lamented the fall of the Stonehelm Clan, but all Rakore owed a debt to the mages that sacrificed themselves to destroy whole ogran armies, and force the surrender of the ograns. Duke Henrik, Lord of Hallis Island, had been the king's advisor on the arcane. Lord Hallis Island discovered an ancient spell that would let a mage turn himself into pure energy, burning away even the land itself within leagues of the sacrifice. Duke Henrik used the spell, first, to show that it could be done – and other mages soon followed in his sacrifice.
The path into the mountain was wide enough for two wagons, and the Clan of Caerne, the two kobolds Sebathik and Kabeturk, and their guide Orven Lightforger went deeper into the mountain. They saw men with skin the color of chocolate, elves with skin the color of ink, orcs with green and brown skins, kobolds, men with red skin and sharp noses, and more people than they had seen since leaving Kur Maeth some years before.
Orven led them to a small city in its own right, the trading enclave of the mount. A vast cavern had been hollowed out into a square, with balconies along its sides, facing into the inner cavern. Off of each floor of the seven-stories-tall cavern were many tunnels into the mountain, and the floor of the cavern was covered in stalls for merchants and hawkers of wares. Inns and taverns and homes, a temple and stables and even a slaughterhouse were all there. Light came from varying colors of green, flameless torches ensconced here and there, or from lanterns burning oil or gases collected from within the earth.
Orven, keeping to his word, paid them a handsome purse of ten golden coins and one-hundred and fifty silver coins. The dwarf said that he was proud to travel in their company, and told them that they did the Janissaries proud, and River Crown as well. But, he had to bear his messages, and it was there that they were to part ways.
At Orven's praise, and with such a wealth of gold split between them, Lucard began to have delusions of glory. The fiercesome and terrible Avenger of Arpelos slowly but surely began to believe himself an equal to those of much greater station than himself.
Telemon, too, fell for the trappings of civilization – seeking out the first tavern he could find, determined to get drunk off his newfound wealth. Maleah followed, to keep him out of trouble. Liam set about to determine the nature of the strange ring found on Galthin of Hodrax. Aelar and Lucard, with Sebathik trailing, explored the stone city, trusting their noses and ears to keep them out of trouble.
Later, with Liam negotiating, they managed to set the purchase on twenty-five goats and twenty sheep, plus feed. They worried about how to get all of the animals back, because the feed would be quite heavy, but felt they would find a solution eventually.
Telemon got himself drunken stupid on a strange dwarven brew called 'lead gut'. The tavern he had found catered almost exclusively to the dwarven guard, and was run by a dwarven woman with a patch of fur between her breasts, and hair cut short to her collar. When she had waved an ironic good-bye to Telemon, whom was being carried out by his family, her hairy pits made them shudder. The name of the bar was, after all, the Hairy Pit.
Lucard cleaned Telemon up after he puked on Aelar, and the clan purchased a room from the inn for the night. The room was simple, with airflow, a wash basin, and one of the green, flameless torches to provide light. It barred from the inside, and there was no key, but it was serviceable and included a meal in the price.
In the morning, Sebathik brought them a solution to their feed problem. Thirty kobolds agreed to hire on to the clan for three coppers a day, plus two coppers' worth of food per day. They could help haul the feed, and in turn help shepherd the lot back to River Crown. Sebathik explained that it was well below his normal prices as a mercenary, but he was considering 'retiring' and going into business as a merchant. As such, such a welcome return in River Crown would help set him up with trusted contacts in the Janis Plains.
A young dwarf with barely any fluff for beard approached Maleah, asking if she was of the Clan of Caerne. The beardling explained that the clan had been summoned by the Duke of the Janis Plains. Unfortunately, this only served to fuel Lucard's delusions.
The beardling led them deeper into the heart of the mountain, through a maze of corridors with carved motifs upon them and strange names written in dwarven script, deep into the stone. In some parts of the maze, their footsteps glowed for a brief instance after they passed – the floors and walls were runed with wardings to prevent evil and the undead from encroaching.
The young will-o-wisp known as Will tried to communicate by glow and light with the runes for some time, seemingly unable to understand why they did not talk back. He had had a similar problem with the flameless torches, and it only served to amuse Maleah, who called the wisp back to her.
The beardling turned them over to an exciteable human youth named Robin, whose voice occasionaly broke. Robin spoke with them while the duke was entertaining another guest, and served them wine in crystal goblets. Lucard began to beam and interject their supposed importance.
The duke's guest left in a trail of perfume, she being a dark-skinned woman from some distant land they had never heard of. Liam and Maleah, being more familiar with the higher workings of the lands, remained standing, while Telamon and Aelar and Lucard took to a knee.
Duke Talon Bhramord, ArchPrelate of Yatindar, Lord of the Janis Plains, cut an imposing figure. He was tall and powerfully built, with a touch of gray at his temples and lines of laughter around his intense blue eyes. His forearms were covered with the tattoo-like holbraces of a paladin – holbraces awarded by the gods, taking an effort of will to hide even when wearing clothing. Six holbraces graced the duke's forearms, telling all the world he the most high-ranking of all paladins of Yatindar. Over his shoulders protruded the hilts of two longswords with barbed wire hilts, indicating a man that drew his blades only when he must.
Duke Talon's coup on Kur Maeth and defection to Rakore with his people had been a severe blow against the Inquisition, as Yatindar, God of Justice, was considered the leader of the Inquisition.
The duke told them to rise, as he was informal lord; the titles of Rakore meant little to him, for they were just a formality bestowed upon the ArchPrelate. He welcomed them into his richly furnished office, and offered them food and drink. When Lucard began to speak, the duke realized the problem, and plied the young elf with food and drink to keep him from saying something he should not.
The office had a gas fire that threw out considerable heat, and there were chairs and couches aplenty. One wall had been painted to look like a forest scene, with shafts of sunlight streaming down through the branches.
Liam told them their tale, from start to finish, bringing word to the duke of his lands. With the winter snows and the pass cut off, there had been little word from the duchy, though he had known some of the troubles with the undead. The boy with the black elven femur with owl feathers attached, matched the description of an apprentice to the mage in Fasra, capital of the Janis Plains Duchy. The mage in Fasra had been given a powerful item that appeared to have corrupted him into necromancy, and perhaps the apprentice had been corrupted, as well.
The duke hoped that, with the apprentice defeated, peace would once again descend on the Janis Plains. The remains of the elven femur were turned over to the duke, who carefully put them aside, indicating just how dangerous the object of necromancy had been.
Upon hearing of the elementals and their strange cave, that which Boredmin Dunnigan of Lena had been searching for, the duke encouraged the clan to explore it and clean it out. It represented an obvious danger to anyone traveling the pass, and was within his duchy. He would be grateful for any news of the elementals, and hoped they could clear the scourge from his lands.
With receipt of Boredmin's gear and equipment, he returned the map of the elemental cave to the clan, and promised to forward the rest to Baron Dunnigan or a messenger as soon as possible.
When the duke heard of how Galthin of Hodrax had been outcast during the winter season, Duke Talon seemed concerned at Sir Tyrne's methods, and how he was nearly skirting the law. But, he reassured them, he had considerable faith in Sir Tyrne, and knew he would not have become the paladin he is, without Caerne by his side to support him. Caerne's loss was a loss to all of them.
They showed the duke the ring that Galthin of Hodrax had had, and the ArchPrelate seemed to recognize it, at least in part. He asked if he could keep it, to find out for sure if it was what he thought it was, and wanted to know anything else that the party could tell him about the ring. The duke gave little information in return, save to say that it was from the far northeastern lands near Nor and Labond. Liam allowed that he wanted a wax imprint of the ring, and the duke hesitantly agreed to let him, but asked that the information be treated carefully, and that strangers should not see it. Beyond that, the duke said little about the ring.
Duke Talon had no great rewards he could give them, but upon finding out the amount Sir Tyrne of River Crown had sent, and the mission the clan was on, said that he would reimburse Sir Tyrne the gold the knight had sent. As well, had they need of anything, they could count Duke Talon Bhramord their ally.
When Lucard finally passed out, they lamented to one another that they had no good tale to tell the delusional elf of his missing out on gradeur. The duke had a solution for them, and drew up a ceremonial title for them, as official members of the Order of Caerne, signed and sealed by the duke himself. He hinted that they could always just not give Lucard his until he earned it, with a smirk on his lips and a smile in his eyes.
They left the duke's office feeling better about the state of the world, carrying the passed out Lucard with them. The beardling messenger said nothing, while Robin took the duke's orders to deliver copies of the Order of Caerne on the morn, along with a purse to reimburse Sir Tyrne.
The rest of that day was spent organizing the return trip, purchasing two sleighs that the kobolds could pull, and preparing for the trip back to River Crown. Aelar purchased a considerable amount of tobacco and other luxury goods to help keep the spirits of the people up. He also purchased as many blankets as he could, just in case.
Maleah managed to convince the priests of the pantheonic temple in the city to give her the rituals necessary to create such runes of warding. Though she lacked the necessary power for the rituals, she felt certain she would unlock the ability in the not-too-distant future.
On the morn, Robin met them with their documents and a purse for Sir Tyrne, and well-wishes from the duke. After another hour's preparations, they were ready to head out with over fifty animals, thirty kobolds, and a puppy Aelar had purchased.
The puppy was six months old, and already able to keep up easily with the party. Aelar intended to train the pup in the ways of shepherding and more, and named it Austic.
Only six of the thirty kobolds had any real weapons, including Sabathick, and so the party took to helping protect the flanks. Those kobolds without weapons drug the sleighs with the feed and provisions.
They traveled quickly for a day, until a snowstorm hit them in the night. They huddled with the kobolds in amongst the sheep, using the blankets and the warmth of one another to insulate them from the storm. In the morn, they had lost only one sheep, and continued on in heavy snowfall, with Lucard and Aelar leading.
They found more snowfell tracks, and kept a very wary eye out for them. They hunted only as needed, but managed to find two wild goats that they could keep with the herd.
Two days later, they came down out of the pass, only a day from River Crown, able to see it down on the plains. Caerne's Totem was still intact, though there was carnage around it. Six horses and six men, all apparently bandits, had been cut down around the totem. Their valuables had been taken, though four of the saddles and bags were still salvageable. The hoof prints around the carnage indicated that the attackers of the bandits had come from River Crown, and so did the weapons used against the bandits.
The situation seemed odd, but they could do little other than move perhaps a quarter mile from the carnage and set up for the evening. The kobolds asked for the horse meat, and so long as they kept together, were allowed to take all the meat and bone and hide they could carry. The reptile-like creatures were ecstatic at that, and salvaged quite a bit more than the party thought was possible.
In the morn, they took their small army down the pass, to be greeted by Sir Tyrne and several other mounted men-at-arms. Sir Tyrne dispatched some men to finish burying the bodies around the totem, and apologized for leaving them there; it had been evening when the bandits had been attacked, and despite the totem, they had not wanted to linger in the night.
The only news Sir Tyrne had for them, was Wyanne missing; she had wandered off two days prior, and none knew where or why. One of her cats had been found in the pass by the clan, and so that solved one question, yet raised many more.
The whole village turned out to welcome them and their sheep, and a day of celebration seemed to be called for.
Mid morning of the 25th of Dasad, 1331 Avard.
Dinner at my place was stew, graciously made by Sommer. There was a bit of a hiccup in updating Will, in that I and Sommer apparently miscommunicated quite a bit about what she was wanting, and what I thought she wanted. Once we got that ironed out, things went much more smoothly on that front.
Most memorable event of the evening: Liam the Banner Paladin crushing any merchant's resistance, and securing for himself and his clan the best available goods at the best available price. I knew paladins could be formidable, but I never thought of using one against merchants!
A high charisma rocks. 'Nuff said :)