Heroes of Sand Point

Part 10

The Price of Gifts

Baba Durana

Quarrell and Baba Magyr arrived at Baba Durana’s palace, which was less opulent than Baba Magyr’s, and his coterie of slaves had obviously been chosen by his wife. Durana greeted his guests warmly and led them through the main house straight out the back. Forge smoke lent the air an iron tinge well before the neatly arranged dual rows of open fronted sheds came into view. As Quarrell drew near, he could plainly see the broad, sweaty features of a dozen dedicated Duergar smiths lit by the fierce red glow of heated metal.

Durana ushered his guests into one of the sheds and, speaking loudly over the incessant ring of hammers, he asked the exotic adventurer to show the smith a sample of his craftsmanship. Awkwardly, Quarrell explained that none of his work was available at the moment.

Doubt and skepticism reconfigured Durana’s features. The squat, swarthy arms merchant asked, “You know of long swords, great swords, and flails, yes? These are the barbarous implements of your depraved and benighted homeland, no?” Baba Durana wanted to know if Quarrell had ever forged these weapons, or had he rejected them entirely. “What sort of weapon might a competent warrior wield, if such could be found, beyond the lands over which blessed Serenrae reigns?” inquired Durana, hoping the alien might prove useful in some fashion and that his day would not be entirely wasted.

Piqued by the Parthian’s derision, Quarrell produced his longbow and requested a series of targets at increasing distances. Then, the soldier performed prodigies of marksmanship, a truly once in a lifetime performance that awed merchants and slave smiths alike. What’s more, Quarrell explained, the bow was not his forte, and should Durana be willing to lend him smiths and workspace he would produce samples of the requested weaponry.

The merchant gladly agreed and assigned his chief smith to aid the strange and magnificent warrior. Over the next few days, Quarrell and the smith turned out an excellent set of arms. Pleased once more, Baba Durana made the adventurer a splendid offer. If Quarrell could train a trio of gladiators with his abominable weaponry and if those fighters could win in the arena, then Quarrell could keep the prize money and become a full partner in Durana’s business. As supplier all of the weapons to the local Civil Militia, arms for all of the retainers of the local Ensi houses, and product for many shops across Parthia, Baba Durana was offering an alliance worth 5,000gp a month. Quarrell accepted.

Tyche Smiles

Meanwhile, the packages began to arrive from Ensi Sargon. Beautiful and powerful items were eagerly unwrapped and gleefully donned by the vagabond adventurers. The fruits of their fortune were wondrous indeed, and each was well pleased with their winnings. Throughout the following weeks, such packages arrived daily, eliciting great joy.

As might be expected, Quarrell applied all of his industry to labors with smiths and gladiators while Ja became the toast of the town. Lauded at a banquet held in his honor, the monstrous barbarian circulated with a girl on each arm. Nani and Meski, clad in scandalous togas and dripping jewels, accompanied the barbarian, serving as minders, translators, and those who must see a drunken demi-Titan home in the wake of a truly epic revel.

Fridays were sacred to Serenrae, thus at dawn on Friday, the pious of Lothal gathered at the central temple, a massive ziggurat draped in greenery. After the proclamation of the Haptanghaiti and the pronouncement of fortune for each sign of the zodiac, the masses migrated to the race track. Friday’s races were special. No chariots, no teams, no violence. Horse and rider ran beneath Serenae’s blazing eye for the prestige of victory and the glory of triumph… and the tremendous prize money.

Nicto, Sam, and Toska insinuated their own newly bought racing stock into the daylong event with varying success. Sam’s filly won early on in the preliminaries but could not maintain her pace in the finals. Alas, Nicto’s magnificent Loins of Treasure was all shine and no show. The impressive stallion lost focus in the home stretch. Toska’s fillies proved formidable, earning the witch a gleaming heap of prize money. Nevertheless, it was a pair of terrible falls, a tragedy common to the races, that won Toska the most glory. The Druid’s healing skills and undetected magic spared the lives of two fleet-footed racers. In the days to come, demand for her gifts would make Toska rich.

As the sun set, the crowds dissipated and the foreign trio strolled along with their slave girls, grooms, and weary horses heading back to Baba Magyr’s stables. Shadows lengthened in the narrow twisting streets. The odors of food preparation drifted on the air as families gathered to speak the Haptanghaiti over their evening meal. Suddenly, three men stepped out to block the adventurer’s path. The ensuing conflict was shockingly brief and spectacularly fatal to the gladiator slaves sent to take from the revolting barbarians what so rightfully belonged to true sons of Parthia. In the short time prior to their demise, the assailants spoke in signs because their tongues were cut out, leaving the adventures to guess at who might have sent them.

Meeting with Rasmus Rask

On the following morning, yet another glorious day dawned in Lothal. When they awoke, the guests of Baba Magyr were informed that their host had invited them to breakfast so that they might meet someone.

“Welcome, Friends,” beamed Baba Magyr as the adventurers entered a tree shaded garden. The swarthy little man’s dark eyes gleamed with a restrained giddiness that the foreigners had not seen before. “I have the honor to introduce to you one of the Empire’s most esteemed scholars, Amar-sin Rasmus Rask.” Magyr gestured to the bald man in red robes seated next to him. But here was no librarian. Amar-sin Rasmus Rask was too tall to be Parthian, and his sharp angular features marked him as a man of the North in spite of his deeply tanned and leathery skin.

“Please, you will call me Rasmus Rask. The titles of our castes mean nothing to you and are of no consequence to me either,” he said with a smile and stood to shake hands. “Magyr tells me that you are experienced adventurers, great travelers, and skilled warriors.”

“As you see, I am not so young or so hardy as I once was, and it grieves me to find that so late in life am I come to the task for which I was born. You see, Magyr was on an errand for me on this most recent, most unfortunate voyage. Nevertheless, by the mercy of Serenrae…”

Baba Magyr habitually interjected, “Praise be Serenrae, the munificent! There is no Majesty and there is no…”

But a cold glare from Rasmus Rask cut him off. “These people and their infernal yammering,” murmured the scholar. “But you see, Magyr returned with a map, a map I have long desired and yet am desolated to hold. I seek the Yasna, the original tablets of the Primary Liturgy. Alas, according to this map, they lie in an ancient temple high in the White Mountains, and I dare not travel there alone.”

Baba Magyr groaned, “There are Giant Kin of every kind in those mountains. Worse still, the temple in question is now known as the House of the Beast. A Gnoll warlord holds court there. His revolting pack regularly descends to raid the caravan route. They call him the Carrion King, and his power in recent years has grown great indeed.”

“So, you see,” resumed Rasmus Rask, “I covet the aid of bold and resolute companions. I hope to depart in three weeks. Naturally, I shall provide for the journey, thus you need bring only such personal effects as you desire to my home in Sut’kagan. From there, we will follow the river North, and turning away from the caravan route, wend our way to the temple.”

Three more weeks in Lothal sounded most agreeable to the assembly. Several had “irons in the fire”, so to speak, but only one of their number was contemplating abandoning the adventurer’s path.

Reconciliation of Ja

At sunset, Ja’s Duergar slave (whose name is Navus Canis) approached his barbarous master. The gray Dwarf’s head was shaved and his beard braided. Clad in a leather apron, a loincloth, and stout boots, he carried an identical, though much larger, outfit for Ja into which the pair wrestled the demi-Titan. Given their relative heights, the scene was comic.

“Come, Thomniel, chosen of Droskar,” the Duergar solemnly urged then led his master to a newly erected forge complete with an assortment of smithing tools, an anvil, a bellows, and a bed of red hot coals.

“As three is the number of completeness, so 4 is the number of Droskar, for he endures,” intoned Navus Canis. In a bass chant, the Duergar began to recite the 1st Dogma of Droskar and gestured for Ja to repeat after him.

Strike Hard to split the stone
Strike Hard to forge war gear
Strike Hard to crush the foe
Strike Again

The hour long repetition of the 1st Dogma gave Ja time to think. The barbarian had come less and less to care for his new life, his elevated calling, and the nature of the world in which he found himself. People, places, and his destiny were strange… confusing. Worse still, he was being used by one deity, loathed by another, and protected by a force of nature solely for spite. Ja was not happy. Ja interrupted Navus.

The grim Dwarf listened patiently to his master and obediently accepted Ja’s instructions. Navus Canus would take the Grasp of Droskar. Navus Canus would assume the mantle of Redeemer of the Temple Made Forge. Navus Canus would stand before the god of his people and lead the Duergar against the ancient foes.

Navus raised a sacred implement and called to his master’s Master, “Great and mighty Droskar, will you hear me?” When a celestial messenger erupted from the earth, Navus was agog, terrified, and speechless.

“Hail Thomniel the Redeemer! I am Tarkus messenger of Tireless Droskar. What is your petition?” demanded the messenger.

Clumsily, the barbarian explained that Navus was Droskar’s tool now and that he had other things to do.

Perceiving that such news what not what Tarkus wished to hear, Navus Canis swiftly intervened.

“What my master means to say, O’ diligent Emissary of Enduring Droskar, is that he is grateful for the abundant resources you have granted to him, for the enslaved guide who will direct his dutiful steps, and for victory over giant kin, the ancient enemy of our race.”

“What is your master’s desire, Navus Canis, favored tool of the Lord of Toil?”

Carefully and discretely, the Duergar explained that Ja felt himself unsuited for the role of Redeemer and that, in obedience to his master, Navus would serve in his stead.

Relief filled the face of Tarkus. Cheerfully, he pulled the gauntlet from Ja’s hand and held it for Navus to assume.

Before the sun rose again, the barbarian collected his things, left his home, and set out alone to meet his fate in the harsh lands far to the North and West.

Assassination

On the same night, Nicto and Sam were engaged in other affairs. The dashing sorcerer dressed carefully for a rendezvous with Ensi Suen while the comely assassin donned the garb of a favored slave and disguised her Elven features. Together, they made their way through the evening crowds to a shadowed gate where the Ensi awaited her paramour. Naturally, the aristocrat urged stealth as she led her guests through the gardens to her quarters. What’s more, she promised Nicto a most suggestive surprise.

Sadly, the wide-eyed and ill-trained slave girl proved to be quite an irritant to Ensi Suen. When instructed to nip across the way and retrieve Nicto’s surprise from the nearby bungalow, the silly creature meandered about as though lost. Suen grew impatient. She turned her impatience on Nicto who did his best to calm the woman down with rapidly diminishing returns for his efforts. At length, he went in search of Sam… and found her hiding in the bath. After applying a new disguise, she emerged as a different slave girl who was promptly sent after the first.

Eventually, Sam came to the conclusion that perhaps she should simply do as she was told. She knocked on the door of the bungalow across the way. When the door opened, there stood Amar-sin Shulgi in nothing but a towel. Perhaps it was shock, perhaps assassination was against her nature, perhaps she just wanted to see Nicto’s face when he met his surprise, it’s hard to say. Sam didn’t kill her target then and there; she took him directly to Ensi Suen’s boudoir.

Nicto was indeed surprised. Not so much by the fact that Shulgi was certainly not a eunuch, but that because Sam brought her target into the room, Ensi Suen must die as well. Worse still, Nicto must do the killing himself. Scorching Rays leapt from the sorcerers hands leaving a cauterized hole through the middle of Amar-sin Shulgi’s chest and a second in Suen’s abdomen. Finally, Sam realized that her mission was in fact occurring around her and promptly finished the woman with a sword thrust through the cranium.

Thinking quickly, Nicto wrapped the Ensi’s fountaining head in clothes from the wardrobe then orchestrated the extraction of the bodies to the alley. After stealing a small two wheeled cart, the sorcerer hauled off and disposed of the bodies.

In the morning, Nicto led the shaken assassin to Ensi Kubau’s palace to collect the remainder of their fee. Kubau was content and paid happily.

In the Arena

The Arena of Lothal was of traditional construction. Row upon row of stone seats ringed the fighting floor. The crowd at the arena was rougher and louder than that of the race track. The rabble of Lothal came to the arena for blood. Naturally, sections were set aside for members of the Baba and Ensi castes. Above the arena, the sky was bluer. In the stands, the togas were brighter. The air tasted sweeter, and every sensation was more intense at the crossroads of life and death.

Quarrell, Toska, and Nicto joined Baba Durana in his box, and the program was what they expected: bear baiting, a farcical reenactment of a famous historical battle conducted by midgets, a few heretics fed to exotic toothsome predators, and then the melee.

Four gates along the wall of the fighting floor opened, and twelve armed and bloodthirsty warriors spilled forth. Chaotic combat of the most vicious sort ensued. Quarrell’s trio entered the affray cautiously. They appeared comfortable with their exotic longsword, greatsword, and glaive, but despite adequate tactics and superior weaponry, all three gladiators ended the day in the dirt. Triumph went to others, and the promising partnership of Quarrell and Baba Durana evaporated.

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Irkthyn

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