Lamashan 21 Fireday waning moon
For a mere 3 silver pieces, Ameiko is able to find a peddler heading to Roderic’s Cove willing to deliver a letter to Sandru. She simply writes: “Going to meet Jethrik at original destination. See you there.” As a courtesy, when they pass the River Runner Inn on the way to the north gate Amiko stops by to let Lord Slyeg know that they are leaving to find their friend and to thank him for his assistance. Lord Slyeg is not available, however, so word is left with one of his men.
The lands north of Riddleport are sparsely populated, with a few struggling farms near the city and the occasional hunter’s lodge further afield. A winding dirt road that quickly becomes a Varisian caravan path leads north from Riddleport, a route only infrequently used by travelers making their way between Varisia and the Lands of the Linnorn Kings. This road follows the Velashu River for much of its length, rarely veering away from its winding course to reduce travel time. (Pathfinder #15, p. 9) It will take at least a couple of days before they are following their original planned route to Brinewall.
At about noon Jharad is the first to spot a cloud of dust heading south towards them. All except Zeyala see it as well. “Those are horsemen, a host of them, and they’ll be passing us in ten minutes if we don’t get off the road. They may not have noticed us.” She looks to the thickets of trees and bushes on either side of the path. “We could try to hide, but if they’ve already seen us or if they notice our tracks when they pass they will surely be suspicious.”
Keng scoffs, “Why should we hide?”
“Our fight is with Jethrik’s captors,” says Zeyala. “An encounter here only serves to delay that goal.”
“Best to observe what comes before it is upon us, Keng. And Zeyala is correct, we should avoid any delays.” Jharad smiles, “Even as short a delay as I I am sure you would make it, my friend.”
“Agreed,” says Toshio. Let’s get off the road. Besides, I doubt these are holding Jethrik.”
“I grow weary sneaking around and skulking in the bushes. I seek combat and the taste of blood. Any delay getting to the gnome is irritating.”
Toshio keeps his exasperated sigh to himself.
Jharad chuckles, “As is the gnome himself.”
After moving into a nearby copse Jharad and others watch as the cloud of dust dissipates as the riders slow to a canter. They are barbarians by their dress, bearing distinctive patterns of war paint on their faces and shoulders, marks repeated in the same dark color on the necks of their equine mounts. They are twelve in number, although they are followed by a train of two dozen additional horses. They pull to a stop just outside of shortbow range, a little more than twenty yards away, and hold up their right hands, showing that they brandish no weapons.
The leader of the group, a tall, sun-tanned man with dusty black hair, urges his mount forward a few steps before speaking. “There is no use hiding. If you are honest folk you have nothing to fear from us. There is no need to leave the path to skulk in the trees. I am Windbraid of the Horse Lords. Come out and let us greet one another in peace. Otherwise, know that you are surrounded.”
Jharad hears the stretching of at least two bowstrings from somewhere behind them. A quick glance reveals to his keen elvish senses that there are two Horse Lords crouched on branches above and about nine yards behind them.
Jharad chuckles and steps out of the copse of trees they are hiding in. “Well met, Windbraid of the Horse Lords. I am Jharalion Aeirandi and these are my traveling companions. We certainly mean you no harm as our only intentions were to avoid any unpleasantries on an unknown road. Please have your archers withdraw from behind us so we may continue to talk without threatened hostilities.”
“Well met, Windbraid,” says Zeyala.
Toshio follows ‘Jharalion’ out of the brambles. Bowing formally he says, “I am Izawa Toshio. Well met, Horse Lord.”
Ameiko walks out as well, leading her horse by the reins. “I am Ameiko Kaijitsu of Sandpoint. We apologize for causing you concern.” She bows, Toshio notes as an equal, to Windbraid, and continues, “As my companion Jharalion said, we just wished to avoid any unpleasant encounters and we intend no harm.”
Windbraid bows in the saddle. “Your apology is accepted.”
Just then, Keng steps out leading his horse, inflates his chest and stands as tall as he can saying, “I am Keng of the Shoanti Spire Clan from the Storval Plateau.”
Keng’s self-introduction is greeted with murmurs, sidelong glances, scoffing, and even snorts of derision. One of the riders, says, “We Horse Lords are sometimes called the Eighth Quah, but never in the hearing of true Shoanti. Even we would never admit an orc, or any with orc taint. How dare you call yourself a member of the Spire Clan?” The rider turns to Windbraid and says, “How convenient that there are no true Shoanti here to gainsay this tshamek.” The last word being the Shoanti term for an outsider, stranger, or even “foreign devil.”
Keng snorts and shakes his head making the bones woven into his dreadlocks rattle allowing his war trophies to speak for his acts of conquest and prowess. He is used to being treated as an outcast, it means nothing to him other than the speaker is fearful.
Addressing Windbraid, Keng speaks in Shoanti, “Storval ekbitel nalharest” (We walk the land as brothers!) He continues in Common, “One is not known by their blood but by their deeds. I am on my three-year journey through the World. It does your tribe no honor allowing such a small one,” he gestures towards the rider who insulted him, “to speak ignorantly of strangers.”
Turning now to the rider he says in Shoanti, “My blood boils at your insult! I challenge you to sredna!” With that he raises his head to the sky, throws out his arms and lets loose a mighty battle cry!
The rider who insulted Keng snarls back, but looks to Windbraid and does not speak.
Still smiling and addressing Windbraid, Jharad says, “You were saying something about greeting one another in peace? Apparently your leadership skills need some work.”
Zeyala simply let’s out a sigh of exasperation.
Toshio hopes Jharad and Keng don’t make beds that are too uncomfortable, but he doesn’t interfere. He keeps an eye on the riders and stays close to Ameiko.
As Keng steps up for the contest, Zeyala gives him a kiss on the cheek. “Rip his fucking head off, Keng,” she purrs while glaring at his opponent.
Windbraid grimaces, not pleased with Jharad’s criticism. He turns to the rider and says, “Well, Quick Wolf, will you take up this challenge from a mere orc pretender?
Quick Wolf looks affronted but under the stern gaze of his leader he relents. The other riders grin and chuckle. One of them tosses a long cord of leather tied in a loop to Quick Wolf who catches it in his left hand and then climbs down from his horse. “I will meet this challenge.”
Windbraid gets down from his horse as well and takes the loop from Quick Wolf. The two Horse Lords walk over until they are in the middle of the space between the riders and Keng and his companions. Windbraid beckons Keng forward. “Take your positions and I will do the binding.”
Keng walks forward and faces his opponent. Together they crouch down upon the ground on their hands and knees glaring at each only a foot apart. Windbraid places the cord so that each opponent has one end of the loop behind his ears. Windbraid check the cord and then steps away. After a moment he shouts, “Begin!” and raises his fist ins the air. It is known to the opponents that they must spend three “breaths” testing each others spirits before they can begin to pull away.
Keng and Quick Wolf glare, growl, gnash their teeth and spit out insults at one another and at first Keng seems a bit taken aback by the ferocity of his opponent and the way in which he causes his muscles to jump and bulge. It is clear as well that Quick Wolf has already entered a blood mad rage. Keng, however, keeps his cool and his steely glare begins to unnerve the young Horse Lord. Then they begin tugging back and forth for almost a minute. Those around them can hear the straining of the cord as the two engage in a painful game of tug-of-war. At first Keng digs in and Quick Wolf is unable to move him, then Keng jerks back and pulls the Horse Lord towards him. Then Keng digs in again and Quick Wolf fails to pull him back. That is when Keng begins to call upon his own rage and tugs back, but the two of them, even raging, are of equal strength and Quick Wolf is able to dig in and keep from getting pulled. Then Quick Wolf slowly but surely begins to pull Keng back until at last Keng is forced to bow his head and allow the cord to slip off. He is still in the heat of his rage however, while Quick Wolf fall back with the release of the cord. The Horse Lord is panting and out-of-breath as exhaustion overtakes him with the end of his exertions.
Zeyala fights back the urge to check Keng for injury, fearing that such an action would cause him to lose face.
Toshio nods acceptance of the results, appreciating it as an alternative to a duel of wills before blades are drawn.
Quick Wolf looks to Keng with newfound respect in his eyes. “You are, if nothing else, a worthy opponent. Few could last so long against me. I guess you do have Shoanti blood after all.”
Keng growls at Quick Wolf’s grudging acknowledgement. Then realizes he has lost and this now calls for him to be gracious. “You are strong and a great warrior. But I need not your acknowledgement of my blood. I know who I am; my mother was human and my father an orc pig, I was adopted into the Spire Clan at the request of Shalelu an elf ranger of great repute. I offer you my oath as battle brothers that we may seek valor and glory in battle in each others need.” Keng offers his right arm and open hand.
Quick Wolf arches his eyebrow at the mention of Shalelu. He does not take Keng’s offered hand but says, “Is this true?!” He looks past Keng to Jharad and asks, “You, elf, do you too know Shalelu? Is this true?”
Windbraid and the others all turn their attention to Jharad. Windbraid says, “Shalelu is known to us and considered a trustworthy friend and ally. Is what this half-orc says true? Does he really know her? Do you?”
Jharad responds to Windbraid, “Yes it is quite true. Shalelu is an old friend of mine and a member of our group. She would be with us now if she were not running a separate errand of her own.” Smiling at Windbraid as if sharing a private joke, he continues, “If you know Shalelu then you know how she can be.”
Windbraid eyebrows raise in surprise to hear of Keng and Jharad’s familiarity with Shalelu. He nods saying, “Yes, we do know.” He turns to look at Quick Wolf who nods in turn and then at last clasps Keng’s offered hand.
Quick Wolf says, “Friends of Shalelu are friends of ours.”
Windbraid laughs. “That is true. Well, we have no intention of delaying you any further. We are on our way to Riddleport to sell or trade some of these horses. I assume you are coming from there. How are things in that den of evil? I’d rather turn back now if its undergoing another uprising or there is another street war between the crime lords.”
Ameiko answers, “When we left things seemed peaceful. Your horses are beautiful and I’d offer to buy some of them myself, but we couldn’t possibly afford them. Still, Desna’s blessing be upon your journey.”
Windbraid responds, “And upon yours.”
Toshio sizes up the horses Windbraid’s people have. Fine though they may be, he’s more than happy to keep riding Onyx. “Farewell, riders” he says as they part.
Jharad holds up his hand with a single wave as they depart from the Horse Lords and continue on their way.
“Fortune has smiled upon us,” says Zeyala. “This delay was brief. We can ill afford another…for Jethrik’s sake.”
Kengs coughs into his hand. “Windbraid Horse Leader. Please wait. We have great need of assistance. One of our party, a gnome bard of great skill and repute, has been kidnapped by the scum pirate Grudge of the Teeth of Araska. We are on a quest to rescue him. Might we interest you and your men in an adventure?”
Windbraid laughs. “I know nothing of pirates. If they tried to raid the uplands we’d show them a thing or two, but we stay away from the coasts except to trade horses in Riddleport. I am sorry but we must be about our business. But tell me, why do you head north by land to seek this pirate?”
Ameiko sighs, not wanting to have to explain their business to the Horse Lords but seeing it is now unavoidable. “We believe they are heading to Brinewall, so we are riding there as swiftly as we can to get there before them.”
“Brinewall! That place is cursed! Is there some treasure they seek there? Is that why they took your gnome? Was he leading you to some treasure?”
Ameiko replies, “They may believe so, but that was not the case. My family lived in Brinewall and my grandfather died there. We were heading there to find out what really happened to them and so that I could see if there were any family records left. We know nothing of any treasures but the pirates may believe otherwise.”
Toshio hides a smile. He appreciates how smoothly Ameiko deflected the inquiry, neither giving away too much information nor lying about the quest.
Windbraid shakes his head. “Treasure or not, we will not go to Brinewall. I’d caution you against it but I see you are determined and now you must rescue your friend. Still, I must warn that there are things haunting the lands around the castle. No one has seen them but awful screeching has been heard echoing through the forests like cries of doom. Those bands who dared investigate further never came back. We Horse Lords have avoided the place for many years now. I hope you are able to rescue your friend, but you will have to do it on your own. We have more profitable business to attend to. The blessings of the gods go with you.” Windbraid spurs his horse and moves on with a final bow in the saddle. Before long he and his riders have passed beyond the bend in the road, leaving only a cloud of dust from their horses.