Heroes of Sand Point

Part 9

Vagabonds Abroad

With the anchor chain wrapped round his waist, Ja marched across the becalmed sea. Each stride drew the survivors closer to a mysterious vessel on the horizon. This strange ship, little more than half the size of Row Ander’s beleaguered boat, sat high in the water bobbing erratically with the merest hint of a wave. It was an oddly constructed craft with oar locks high on the sides and a single, massively thick mast.

The ship was obviously of foreign make, but so foreign as to appear absurd. The sail hung from an un-raised spar, draping much of the deck. Small rowers benches sat on the deck, their shackles empty. The tiller was a pole long enough for a dozen men to clap onto. Along the center of the deck, large iron rings were mounted on cunningly crafted covers concealing the hold below. One of these had been slid aside just enough for a man to descend into the belly of the ship.

Quarrell led the way down into the narrow maze formed by stacks and bales of cargo. Unable to follow, Ja waited, watching from above while Toska and Nicto joined the soldier below. Scarcely had the trio reached the floor of the hold and produced a light against the dense gloom when the sound of rapidly approaching webbed feet reached their ears. Quarrell was staggered by the hideous visage of the Sea Hag, but Ja kept his head and directed the others as best he might from his superior vantage. Toska helped Quarrell recover, and with a few earnest thrusts, the fighter dispatched the monster.

While searching the hold, the survivors found a miniature fortress hastily constructed by someone alone and desperate. Walled by boxes, sacks, and artfully crafted furniture the squat edifice retained its inhabitant. A man called out greetings in a dozen languages before “Hello?” in accented common was clearly heard by all.

With great courtesy and a gentle tone, Quarrell coaxed a short, swarthy man in bedraggled robes to crawl out of a concealed opening in the rear of the makeshift fortress. “Praise be Serenrae, the munificent!” cried the filthy little man as he rose to his feet. “There is no Majesty and there is no Might save in Serenrae, the Glorious, the Great!” The man’s coif was a wild nest of wiry black hair. His eyebrows were dense and connected above a bold, rounded nose. He was an inch or two over five feet tall.

“I, Baba Magyr, am a merchant, a trader upon the seas and your servant,” announced the survivor. “Let us abase ourselves to Serenrae for the provenance of your arrival, for there is neither conscience nor good faith left among men, and yet, yours is the hour of deliverance!” At that Baba Magyr prostrated himself and began a sing-song litany that rambled on and on until as one, the survivors stopped him.

When asked how he came to be there and what happened to the ship, Magyr explained, “Know, O fortuitous strangers, that when I had been awhile on shore after my last voyage; and when, in my comfort and pleasures and merry-makings and in my rejoicing over large gains and profits, I had forgotten all I had endured of perils and sufferings, the carnal man was again seized with the longing to travel and to see foreign countries and islands. Accordingly I bought costly merchandise suited to my purpose and, making it up into bales, repaired to the docks, where I walked about the quay ‘til I found a fine tall ship, newly built, with gear unused and fitted ready for seafaring. She pleased me so that I bought her and, embarking my goods in her, hired a master and crew, over whom I set certain of my slaves and servants as inspectors. A number of merchants also brought their outfits and paid me freight and passage-money; then, after reciting the Haptanghaiti…”

“Praise to Serenrae, the Bounteous and Immortal!” “Great is the practice and diffusion of the true worship” “To Serenrae and the Fire!” “To Serenrae, high above all, the Prosperer of the Just” “To the earth and the sacred waters” “To the soul of the Urus, his meats are propitious” “To the Lillend Azatas, their forked tongues, and their correcting swords” “To Volgash, Commander of the Faithful, the King, the Life, and the Rewarder.”

… we set sail over Serenrae’s pool in all joy and cheer, promising ourselves a prosperous voyage and much profit.”

After a lengthy narrative, the survivors gathered that Magyr’s ship had suffered contrary winds, an irresistible current, and baffling astrology until they were becalmed then assaulted by an entire coven of Sea Hags. Magyr hid himself him while everyone else was butchered.

With the survivors’ help, the enormous sail was set, a cable was affixed to Row Ander’s galley, and the long tiller was manned. An easterly wind picked up. Even the professional sailors were amazed how well the foreign vessel behaved before the wind. In a night and a day, they reached the port of Lothal in the Harap’an province of the Parthian empire.

The unexpected appearance of Baba Magyr’s ship was a spectacle at the busy docks. Long boats were rowed out to tug to the vessels into births. Row’s ship was easily the largest in the port. The quays were thronged with dark, mono-browed faces, gesturing and gibbering. Magyr, in turn, shrieked and flailed with the best of them. The survivors picked out “Serenrae” about every third word.

Eventually, litters were shoved through the mass of ululating humanity, and the entire party was born away to Baba Magyr’s palace where walls of bleached stone ringed fountained gardens, lush with exotic and fragrant flora. The palace itself was nothing short of a work of art. Colonnaded walkways lead to broad, arched doorways. Intricately carved lattices opened onto hanging gardens.

After a sumptuous dinner, each of the survivors was assigned to a lovely slave girl and sent off to luxurious quarters. As a display of respect and gratitude, female members of the party were treated in all ways like men. The slave girls were fair skinned with glossy black hair.

For the valiant Quarrell, there was Entemina, a shapely creature, with a dancer’s grace and suppleness.

For the resilient Toska, there was Argandea, petite and doll-like. Her voice was lyrical, and she sang quietly as she cheerfully performed the duties of a hostess.

For the handsome Nicto, Kushana was attentive; she was never out of reach and more often than not much closer.

For the dangerous and exotic Sam, Hadanish had beautiful eyes, large and dark. Her face was exceptionally lovely.

For the swashbuckling Row Ander, Keshin wore a mysterious smile. Her lips were coral, and her laughter melodic.

For the monstrous Ja, only tall girls would serve. At nearly five and a half feet in height, Nani and Meski towered over many of the men one might see in the street.

A breakfast of strong coffee and fresh fruit was served when each of the survivors awoke in their separate apartments. Those who required meat, enjoyed a delicious dish of Urus (something between a cow and a wildebeest) marinated in oil, garlic, and peppers. Baba Magyr returned to the palace around mid-morning. His head was shaved, his beard oiled and bound in a net of jeweled silver. He was in high spirits and greeted the survivors with:

“Praise be Serenrae, the munificent! There is no Majesty and there is no Might save in Serenrae, the Glorious, the Great!” “Praise to Serenrae, the Bounteous and Immortal!” “Great is the practice and diffusion of the true worship” “To Serenrae and the Fire!” “To Serenrae, high above all, the Prosperer the Just” “To the earth and the sacred waters” “To the soul of the Urus, his meats are propitious” “To the Lillend Azatas, their forked tongues, and their correcting swords” “To Volgash, Commander of the Faithful, the King, the Life, and the Rewarder.”

“Today, Serenrae generously shines upon you. You are made men of rare and wondrous wealth. In the markets this morning, I, Baba Magyr, labored on your behalf, and my work was not in vain. Come and see.” He led the companions to the rear of the palace where a broad courtyard of hard-packed dirt was walled by stables with a barn anchoring each corner. Ox drawn wagon after ox drawn wagon rolled through the far gate, each loaded with iron bound chests. “One hundred thousand Dinars… gold pieces, yes?… for each of you! Praise be Serenrae, the munificent! There is no Majesty and there is no Might save in Serenrae, the Glorious, the Great! …” Magyr launched once more into the Haptanghaiti, and more than one of the survivors joined in, compensating for mangled litany with sincerity of adulation.

“Shall I show you the fabled Bazaar of Lothal?” offered Baba Magyr.

Trade routes from the lands of Shun and Hind terminated in Lothal. Mountains from the north bent down to the coast in row after row of formidable ranges. Further north lay the brutal wastes of the Sea of Sand, thus caravans from the east sold their goods in Lothal, and the local merchants shipped their wares on to Uruk, the Imperial Port.

The narrow, winding corridors of the covered market were the soul of Lothal, offering excellent shopping: beautiful Parthian carpets, glazed tiles and pottery, copper and brassware, alabaster, and ivory. The air was filled with the fragrance of the exotic East. Spices, dried fruits, nuts and seeds, lokum and other alien edibles filled entire shops.

Taylors also provided the services of armorers, working in exquisite painted and dyed silks, fine linen, and rarities like damask and muslin. Most marvelous of all to the survivors were under things (for men and women), luxuries available nowhere on their native continent. Baba Magy first introduced Lalan Kalibun, a quiet, unassuming, fastidious older man, who wore spectacles and tended to mumble to himself. Each of the survivors ordered a wardrobe to their own personal taste.

Lalan Puanum’s shop was the next stop. The loud, energetic, heavyset woman, constantly touched whomever she happened to be addressing, while shouting orders to half a dozen scrambling shop girls. Jewelry was her specialty, and the survivors proved to be profitable customers.

As to weaponry, the formidably armed companions were as shrewd and discerning as any expert might hope to be. The selection to be found in Lothal was limited to scimitars, spears, short bows, falchions, and small wooden shields. The survivors were not impressed with their options or with Baba Wang Ho, a thin man with a reedy voice, who wrung his hands and never took his suspicious gaze from them. His weapons were gaudy and poorly made from low quality steel.

Baba Durana, on the other hand, was a muscular fellow in a short leather jacket, baggy pants, and low heeled boots, who enthusiastically demonstrated his wares. Everything in his shop was masterfully crafted from exotic Wootz steel. He and Quarrell at once sensed common interests. Through Baba Magyr, a meeting was arranged for later.

The survivors were pleased to find that the local apothecaries produced a panoply of potions… and poisons. The first they encountered was Baba Arwium, a pockmarked man, aged beyond his years, who spoke in a raspy voice. Conditioned as they were to the ready availability of divine magic to be found in their native land, the companions showed little interest in Arwium’s wares.

This surprised Baba Magyr, for by now, he knew well that his saviors were bold adventurers and that such was dangerous work. He questioned them on the way to the next stop. After enduring an account of their corrupt, heretical, and utterly vile homeland, Baba Magyr patiently explained that in Parthia, the aristocracy performed the ritual duties to Serenrae, the Great and the Glorious, the Munificent, the Bounteous and Immortal. Prophets occasionally arose along the margins of society, but sensible folk avoided fanaticism of that sort. Thus, for the maintenance of body and soul, apothecaries provided an essential service.

“And look, here is Baba Etana’s booth. Shall we look in?” proposed Baba Magyr.

Baba Etana was a particularly swarthy man with moles dotting his face and bags under his yellow eyes. He moved grudgingly about his little shop, collecting a large list of urgently needed unguents.

Suddenly, a ringing blast of brass horns pierced the ambient roar of hawkers and bargainers. Along the central corridor, a pair of heralds led a procession. Three men of the merchant cast followed the trumpeters, and in their wake tramped a hundred muscular men in chains, a score of comely maidens in linked manacles of gold, a dozen spirited horses, and last of all, a covered cage that filled the back of an ox cart.

Ja indifferently observed the spectacle until his attention fixed on a Dwarf, a strange Dwarf with dark gray skin and red hair. The crossed hammer and pick were branded into his flesh on shoulders and thighs, on chest and back. A nimbus of flame radiated from him. After a moment, Ja realized the he could see as well through his missing eye as through his good one.

So much was new, strange, and wonderful to Quarrell. His catalog of experiences had grown with staggering rapidity. He watched the procession with open curiosity. In the line of slave girls, he saw a number of Nubians, Shunese, and Nordics, but it was seeing the fair skinned, dark-maned Parthians pass that recalled infatuations from his youth. But, Quarrell had been a dutiful, focused boy with no time for skirt chasing. Regret and curiosity formed an alloy of intent within him. He wanted a closer look. Chestnut hair, ivory skin, and emerald eyes captured his attention. There was a girl with classically Varisian features. When she looked up, an expression of surprise and recognition rendered her face lovelier still. She stopped, and was about to speak when she was jerked forward by the momentum of the procession.

Slaves failed to interest Toska. The horses looked promising, but it was something unusual about the covered cage that intrigued her. The Druid’s sharp ears caught the irregular breathing of a wounded cat, but the scent was wrong. Feathers? Perhaps some sideshow charlatan had concocted a homemade chimera. Toska had seen that sort of thing before… and then she heard a groan to Erastil, a prayer for a quick and clean death.

Between winking at the giggling girls and married women who should’ve known better, Nicto lent the procession an occasional glance. He considered the usefulness of purchasing a steward to maintain and transport his newly purchased wardrobe. A girl might be nice too… but why should he pay for girls? They came free and in quantity if you played your cards right. But the string of horses! Such a string of horses! There were truly rare and wonderful specimens among the horseflesh on display. Deep-chested, long legged creatures. Fast runners that could maintain a wondrous pace for mile after mile. Nicto’s fortune clipped along in that queue.

Thus it was that the survivors joined the buyers trailing the procession.

Nubian water bearers preceded the auctioneers into the circle of the Sook; using aspersers of palmetto leaves, the dark men sprinkled the ground and laid the dust against the tramp of slaves and buyers. When they finished, the Chief Auctioneer stretched out his hands as though to catch a blessing and intoned the commencement.

“In the name of Serenrae, the Pitying and the Pitiful, who created man from clots of blood! All that is in the Heavens and upon the earth grovels beneath she who is Mighty, the Wisest of the wise. Her kingdom is the arc of the firmament. Serenrae maketh alive and killeth.”

The assembly shouted, “Great is the Light!”

“The blessings of Serenrae and Volgash the Auspicious be upon this market and all who buy and sell herein, and may Serenrae increase their wealth and grant them length of days.”

The assembly shouted, “Great is the Light!”

Amidst the ritual, the ignorant foreigners stood awkwardly glancing at each other, exchanging shrugs, and receiving poisoned glares from the faithful. The Sook was a place for the prominent, the wealthy, the significant, not alien vagabonds.

The Chief Auctioneer beat his hands together, and the curtains were drawn aside revealing the slaves in their pens. A junior auctioneer stepped forward, bowed to his master, and gestured grandly for the sale to begin. First on the block were a stout pair of Tanjungs from the islands of southern Shin. Wide as they were tall, the dull-eyed islanders were guided around the ring. Those who would, stepped forward to check their teeth or to feel the soundness of trunk and limbs. Spirited bidding ensued.

After a dozen or so slaves, the Duergar was brought into the ring. Renowned for their craftsmanship and deft handiwork, the dusky Dwarfs of the deep were much prized in Parthia. Nevertheless, Ja heeded the will of Droskar and paid no small price for his piety. As the God of Toil had requested, Ja acquired the appropriate Dwarf.

After all of the male slaves were sold, the first female was brought into the ring. A busty blonde with ice blue eyes and the figure of an Olympian was paraded around the circle. Few hands reached out to test her qualities as she passed, and those that dared to do so were met with a dangerous glare. Here was a 6’ 8” Amazon from the steppes beyond the Sea of Sand, a dangerous creature, but no more dangerous that Row’s other mistress. The ship-less captain paid an impressive amount, outbidding Baba Durana, Ensi Tural, and Ensi Gudea for her.

A trio of statuesque Nubians followed in quick succession. One was touted as a peerless cook, one a matchless weaver, the third proclaimed to be of a guaranteed producer of sons. Ja thought a moment and realized that he would like to have a cook, a weaver, and many sons. When he made his bid, the other buyers counted their coins and contemplated alternate investments.

After the Nubians, a trained courtesan of Goguryo took her turn. With willowy grace, the alabaster skinned Shunese stoically endured the abundance of eager hands that left pale pink prints on her delicate form. To his surprise, Nicto found himself nudging Baba Magyr to bid and bid again. He wanted this girl. If he must buy her, then so be it, but she would belong to him alone.

Eventually, a green-eyed Varisian girl was brought out. Her beauty was haunting, her bearing proud. She moved slowly around the ring, ignoring the groping throng, while she scanned the faces in the crowd as though she expected to find a certain countenance. The bidding began. Baba Rimash, Ensi Marma, and Baba Puzer bid furiously at first driving the price to 5,000gp. Baba Kubaba, Ensi Gudea, and Quarrell took it to 10,000gp.

“An outrageous sum for any slave girl,” murmured more than one of the buyers, bitter that they had not the coin to swim in those waters.

When the bidding flagged, the Chief Auctioneer leaned in to whisper something to the girl. Gathering herself, She broke out into the Varisian analogue of Edelweiss with Julie Andrews-esque power and emotional content. Midway through the first verse, the auctioneer silenced her with a sharp slap, bloodying her lip.

“Serenrae pardon her infidel tongue! Yet, who among the devout would fail to bring her to the True Faith? Imagine the glories of Gathic Hymns from such a songbird!” urged the auctioneer, and the bidding resumed with renewed vigor. Eventually, Quarrell found but one obstacle in his path. Only Amar-sin Shulgi, a hairless, portly eunuch charged with procuring for the Emperor’s guest palaces carried the bidding to 20,000gp, but Quarrell would not yield. His was a costly victory with a precious prize.

The Chief Auctioneer stepped forward once more and raised his hands. “In the name of Serenrae, the Great and the Glorious, who created the first horse from souls of the four winds! Let all who walk the earth marvel at her handiwork!”

The assembly shouted, “Great is the Light!” And the sale of horses began. The more perceptive of the party recognized at once that the rare and marvelous animals before them were vastly superior to the horses they had known. Speed and endurance were inscribed into every magnificent dimension of the racing stock presented at the Sook. To the dismay of the locals, only one of these extraordinary beasts escaped the clutches of the newcomers.

Almost apologetically, the third auctioneer stepped forward. From his youth and nervousness, it was apparent that he was an apprentice. His voice cracked as he explained, “Hear, O’ hear, Blessed of Serenrae! There remain some… oddities for your… um… consideration?” He looked uncertainly to the Chief Auctioneer who nodded encouragingly. “Behold!” cried the boy with a grand gesture.

A spectacularly wretched Hindi peasant rode into the ring on a saddled and bridled Northern White Rhino. Laughter erupted on all sides, and the apprentice auctioneer’s face reddened with embarrassment. Ja was not laughing, though an unsightly smile did spread across his face. Here was a creature that could serve him as a mount. He bought it for next to nothing.

“One last… er… thing, Brothers of the True Faith…” The apprentice auctioneer was cut off by an ear splitting roar as twelve men dragged a living griffon into the Sook. The crowd fell back against the walls while the mythical creature writhed and thrashed in its chains. The beast was clearly wounded and starved. Its eyes rolled wildly, and foam flecked its lips while its sides heaved.

Panic seized the close-packed crowd. Escape meant passing through the exit, and a great many bodies jammed the opening. Toska, more concerned for the creature than her own safety, approached it cautiously, murmuring soothing words with each step. The griffon’s white-ringed eyes focused on the Druid. It understood her words and sensed the sincerity with which they were spoken. The beast’s mind settled, its body relaxed, and at Toska’s touch, the griffon collapsed into quiet slumber. For the price of five gold coins, the Druid claimed the ill-used monster.

In the wake of the uncharacteristically eventful Sook, Baba Magyr swept his guests out of the bazaar and off to a more refined area of the city. On the way to the home of Ensi Jendit, the swarthy merchant explained that only members of the aristocracy possessed magical powers; there were no common arcane spellcasters Parthia. The very idea of such made him shiver, but he knew his saviors to be barbarians, beset by all manner of offensive forms of ignorance, so Baba Magyr made an effort to take nothing for granted.

“Wizards are men, and sorceresses are women as Serenrae, the Great and the Glorious, intended,” he stated with a sidelong look at Nicto. “And no Ensi will stoop to selling empowered items like a lowly merchant or base tradesman. No, these rare treasures are treated as heirlooms and must be gambled for, thus the will of Serenrae, the Munificent and the Immortal, is manifested. You will provide gold and the item you desire to be enhanced then cast the dice. If Serenrae, the Pitying and the Pitiful, gives you victory, yours is the gold and the empowered object. If she who is Mighty, the Wisest of the wise, wills your downfall, the gold and your item go to the Ensi.”

Ensi Jedit proved to be a gifted young mage, arrogant, handsome, and devil may care… until Ja, triggered perhaps by the absence of the smell of dung or the uncomfortably appealing finery surrounding him, chose a stream of death threats as his reply to a cordial introduction. Swiftly, Baba Magyr hustled his companions out of Ensi Jedit’s home while the terrified wizard did his best to collect himself.

Ensi Sargon, a paranoid, neurotic, palsied, and inhospitable old man was blessed with silence from Ja. Sadly, the venerable wizard was neither favored nor pitied by Serenrae. The guests of Baba Magyr spun the dice like archfiends, leaving Ensi Sargon nigh penniless and his store of magics ransacked. It was a broken old man who at last bid a hostile farewell to the foreigners.

• Dice Game: • 1st cast: sets the Point, a 7 or an 11 wins, 2,3, or 12 loses • 2nd cast: Point wins, 11 wins, 2,3, or 12 loses, 7 ends your roll • Side bets: Pass = roller wins or passes the point without losing; Don’t Pass = roller loses or rolls under the Point

It must be said that Baba Magyr was relieved to have contented the shopping avarice of his guests before he conducted them to the home of his good friend, Ensi Kubau. The short, stout aristocrat greeted his friend with open arms and welcomed Magyr’s saviors with genuine gratitude.

As the heat and dust mounted with the climbing sun, Baba Magyr escorted his guests once more to his palace. Toska headed for the stables to tend her griffon, and Ja, who had won a mansion off of the unfortunate Ensi Sargon, led his newly purchased household to explore their domain. Row Ander retired to his quarters in the company of his Nordic gladiatrix.

Thus it was, that Quarrell, Nicto, and Sam sat drinking chilled wine while Baba Magyr shared about the loneliness he endured in his struggle with bachelorhood. “What sorrow, what affliction of spirit a man must endure without a wife to share the burdens of life, no? How long must I travail without a mate? Alas, in so many of my affairs, Serenrae is abundant in her generosity, but in this one, most vital…”

Baba Magyr’s tale of woe was interrupted by the arrival of Bazzi, the loveliest of his comely host of slave girls, with trays of ripe fruits and savory Urus. The favorite of and personal mistress to her master, rolled her beautiful eyes at the repetition of this frequent refrain and sat down on the arm of Baba Magyrs chair. From her bodice, Bazzi plucked a folded note and handed it to her master.

“Ah, friend Quarrell, Baba Durana invites us to his home. He would see more of your bizarre and unwieldy foreign weaponry and witness both the construction and application thereof, if you would be so kind as to share knowledge of that nature with him,” explained Baba Magyr as he passed the soldier a note that he could not hope to read. Quarrell eagerly assented, and the pair rose to depart.

Kushana, Nicto’s attendant, proposed a day at the races. Hadanish, Sam’s girl, thought it a wonderful idea, and the quartet retired to dress for a public appearance then gathered once more to depart.

The races at Lothal were the city’s grandest spectacle. Chariot teams charged around a mile long oval accompanied by the cheers and tears of spectators. There were booths for bookies, but in the covered Merchants Section, wagers were made among the patrons. Kushana and Hadanish led Sam and Nicto to Baba Magyr’s private box where scantily clad hostesses brought drinks and delicacies. Given that it was a market day, the Merchants Section was practically empty, but the adjacent Ensi Section was quite full. The foreigners even recognized a few faces.

Kushana pointed out Baba Etana who sat grumbling and scribbling furiously whether he won or lost. “Don’t ask him about his system!” urged the attentive slave girl. “And that’s Ensi Dumzid. He owns several of the teams in contention. Listen how he rails about cheating then shrieks for his driver to ‘Whip him across the face!’ and ‘Break his axle!’”, said Kushana with a little snicker. “There’s Ensi Kubau. I don’t understand why he comes to the races. He shrugs when he loses and shrugs when he wins. Oh, he’s waving. I must go.” Kushana walked quickly to the Ensi’s booth and returned to speak with Hadanish.

Hadanish led Sam to speak with the even keeled aristocrat. Ensi Kubau sipped his wine and gestured for the halfelf to take a seat next to him on the vermillion draped bench. He didn’t look at her as he spoke, rather he stared at nothing in particular. “There is a man, an inconvenient, presumptuous man in the home of my daughter. One day, I mean to make my son in law my heir, but this ‘guest’ is from the Imperial Court and feels that he may take what he wishes from whomever he wishes in these ‘hinterlands’. I would see this man removed permanently. Have you an agent with whom I might discuss the terms of such an arrangement?”

The perceptive Kubau had recognized Sam for what she truly was and, while assassination was perfectly legal in Parthia, making a contract with a woman was not. He would make no agreement with Sam. “Perhaps that man…” he nodded toward Nicto “would be willing to speak to me of these things?”

The ladies in the Ensi booth had noticed Nicto as well. They knew what he was and assumed he was a number of other things as well. Exchanging salacious whispers, the bolder among them openly appraised the handsome sorcerers more appealing attributes. The boldest, in an embarrassingly shear toga summoned Kushana with the pretense of a wager. Finding himself in familiar waters, Nicto casually strode over to Ensi Suen and, through the slave girl, enacted a flawlessly executed seduction. The young spellcaster may have lost a bet, but before all was said and done, he would have it back many times over.

Wearing a mask of neutrality, Sam was waiting for him. Sadly, the sorcerer was not nearly as observant as Ensi Kubau. Sam preferred to be circumspect about her occupation, but nothing short of a blunt statement of her shadowy profession could generate the essential realization she required. Again, Nicto was pleased to find that an atmosphere of cultured vice permeated Lothal. No novice to shady dealings, he assured the assassin that negations of this sort were no problem. Motioning for Kushana to lead the way, he made for Ensi Kubau’s box.

“You are sorceress, yes? Man sorceress?” Kubau sighed and shook his head in an “it takes all kinds” type of gesture. “You have met Ensi Suen?”

Nicto replied that he had.

“Ensi Suen travels with a man that I wish Lalan Sam to eliminate. Were you to catch Suen’s eye, you might win an invitation to her lodgings. That would be fortuitous for Lalan Sam. The price for such services normally would be 500gp, but I desire discretion as the affair must take place in my daughter’s home. For discretion, I will pay an additional 2,000gp upon satisfactory completion. Do not leave bodies in the home, you understand?”

To see that the deal was conducted properly, Nicto bargained the discretion fee to 2,500gp and called it good.

“The man is Amar-sin Shulgi; do you know him?”

Nicto thought a long moment. Memory was not his strength, but eventually he recalled the doughy eunuch from the Sook, who bid against Quarrell for the Varisian girl.

“Perhaps, you should have words with Ensi Suen,” suggests Kubau, signaling that the interview was over.

Meanwhile, three Nubians chatted and sang as they stood scrubbing Ja’s bulk in the pool-sized Roman bath of the barbarian’s estate. The girls were ecstatic to land in such an outstanding situation. To be sure, their new master was more monster than man, but his monstrosity was on the outside, whereas others hid theirs within. The trio were already hashing out plans to furnish the palace with recommendations from Nani and Meski. It was the latter pair who flanked Bazzi when Baba Magyrs mistress rushed into Ja’s bath.

“Come quick! Ogres are ransacking the plantation!”, cried Nani. “Oh, hurry, Ja!”, urged Meski. Scarcely wasting a moment to wrap a towel around his waist, the demi-titan snatched up his axe and followed Bazzi while Nani and Meski ran off to find the rest of the party and Baba Magyr.

Ja came upon the Ogres in a large pasture. One carried an urus under each arm; the other had slung a prime specimen of the breed over his shoulder and was squeezing a second with his great paw to judge the creature’s qualities. At Ja’s approach, they shared a glance and the nearest lifted the questionable urus from the ground and flung it at the oncoming barbarian. Ja was less stunned by the verbal abuse hurtling through the air alongside the livestock than by the fact that he understood every word of it. Even so, the opportunity for conversation was but fleeting. Once Ja closed the distance, his axe spoke volumes on the disparity between his powers and those of the ogres. In a magnificent display of what a truly motivated barbarian can accomplish under ideal circumstances, Ja wrought a horrific orgy violence upon his distant kin.

As viscera, gray matter, and liberated limbs rained down upon the close cropped verdure, the hastily mustered civil militia of Lothal gaped in open wonder at the nightmare scene of their deliverance from certain doom. None would sleep well for months, but all would return to their homes that day thanks to the foreign dog of an infidel. The Ensi in charge stepped forward cautiously and through Bazzi expressed his gratitude and that of the town. What’s more, he requested, “would the savage infidel be willing to aid the Most Pius and Devout Defenders of Parthian Lothal should similar situations arise in the future?”

Ja agreed so long as his friends might do so as well. The Ensi gave a “whatever” sort of shrug and had the guards remove their insignia and hand them over to the barbarian. Bazzi, leading Ja back to his mansion, urged the demi-Titan to have the patches sewn onto his clothing so that people in the town would understand that, in spite of his frightful and wicked appearance, he was not so awful as he looked.

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