The Horse Lords

Lamashan 21 Fireday waning moon

Leaving Riddleport

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.

Business with Lord Sleyg

Riddleport

The trip through to the northern end of town to find the River Runner Inn is indeed uneventful. North of the wharf district the condition of the buildings improve somewhat, through the streets are still dark and winding except for those areas lit by functioning oil lamps. It would be easy enough to get lost but some helpful drunkards point out the way and they soon enough find themselves at the River Runner Inn. It is a large establishment that is perched on a bluff overlooking the Velashu River. It must have once been quite grandiose, but now its paint is peeling and in the light of the moon they can see several patches on the roof where its shingles have fallen away. The common room is full but there are a couple of places open at the bar. A middle-aged man with mutton-chop sideburns and a hook on his left hand bustles over to them and asks if they’re looking for drinks, dinner, or perhaps a room.

Toshio responds, “Drinks, please.”

The man grunts affirmatively and says, “Take a seat at the bar then if you will. Either that, or for a couple of coins we have a room for private parties available.”

Ameiko says, “We’ll take that room then.” She hands him a few coppers and they are ushered into a small room as their host heads out to get mugs and a pitcher of ale for them.

While he is gone Toshio says, “We should have planned a bit more on the way over.”

Jharad looks at Ameiko, for she is clearly more adept at dealing with these types of people.

Ameiko says, “I suspect that Lord Slyeg is a business man, as am I. I think what we need to do is approach him with a business proposition. We will ask for whatever assistance he can give us to recover Jethrik, in terms of information or even a ship, and in return we will bring him back Captain Grudge, dead or alive. Does this sit well with all of you?”

Keng, Jharad, and Zeyala nod in agreement.

“That sounds like a fine plan,” says Toshio. “I look forward to ‘settling’ our grudge with Grudge.”

When the host returns with the mugs and ale, Ameiko asks him if an audience could be arranged with Lord Slyeg. She tells him that they have news of someone that Lord Slyeg would like to find. The host nods, surveys Ameiko and her companions with an appraising eye and then leaves telling them that he will see if Lord Slyeg is available.

“At least we weren’t turned away at the door, so to speak,” says Zeyala. “That should be a good sign, right?”

Toshio checks the locations of the ex its before agreeing. “Yeah. That’s a start.”

The host returns after what seems like an hour. “Lord Slyeg has agreed to see you. If you would please come this way…” He leads them out of the room and down a dingy hall to an iron bound door. He nocks and the door is opened to reveal a large and luxuriously appointed chamber. A large mahogany desk takes up one corner with a high backed chair. Gold threaded tapestries depicting nobles riding and hunting adorn the walls. There is a square tower display case whose shelves are filled with miniature ships that seemed to have been carved out of driftwood and other pieces of flotsam, but exquisitely done and delicately painted. Near this is a table with a large bowl of water. The surface of the bowl has been painted to show the entire Inner Sea region of Golarion. Before a hearth sporting a cheerful fire is are two long couches set at angles to form an L. A low table of mahogany like that of the desk in the other corner is before them upon which is a silver tea service. Close to this is what looks to be a small bar with shelves lined with silver goblets and even various kinds of glassware. By the door is a stern looking bruiser in a chainmail shirt and dark cloak. His sharp eyes look over Ameiko and the others as they enter but he says nothing. In the center of the room a tall man dressed in a scarlet lined black cloak, pearl gray military uniform with shiny brass buttons in two columns, and shiny black riding boots stands drinking from a silver bejeweled goblet while gazing into the fire. He turns to greet his guests and it can be seen that he is at least partially of elven blood. His ears taper slightly and his features are refined and aristocratic. He is fair skinned with golden hair and bright green eyes. He sports a moustache and beard in the style known as the “anchor.”

The host closes the door behind them and announces, “Lord Slyeg, I present to you Ameiko of Sandpoint, and her companions Toshio, Jharad, Zeyala, and Keng.”

“Ah, what a lovely surprise,” purrs Lord Slyeg. “Please, come and join me.” He indicates the couches. “Perhaps you would like some brandy to fight off the chill?”

Ameiko bows slightly and replies, “I thank you Lord Slyeg, especially for agreeing to see us on such short notice. And yes, brandy would be nice.” She walks over to the couch followed by the others. Lord Slyeg smiles and they all take seat with Lord Slyeg sitting on one end and apart from the others, but directly facing Ameiko.

Lord Slyeg turns to the host and with a nod dismisses him. Then he says to the bruiser by the door, “Beval, please bring brandy for my guests. We recently received a shipment from Corentyn.”

After the brandy is served in small glasses with short stems, wide bottoms, and narrow tops called “snifters” and pleasantries are exchanged between Ameiko and Lord Slyeg, who soon insists that she and the others call him Avery, they are able to get down to business. “I am told that you have news of someone I have been looking for. Pray tell, who would that be?” Avery asks with a bemused expression. He finishes off whatever he was drinking in his goblet.

Ameiko smiles and says, “We understand that you have been looking for Captain Grudge, captain of the Teeth of Araska. We are also seeking him as he left Roderic’s Cove only a few days ago. We were hoping to find him in Riddleport but have been told he is no longer welcome here.”

“Indeed, he owes me. I am surprised he even dared come as close as Roderic’s Cove. Still, he is not there now, so how does your news help me? For that matter, why are you seeking him?”

“He took one of my friends with him when he left Riddleport, a gnome named Jethrik. We cannot rest until he is returned to us safe and sound. It seems that we have a common interest, so perhaps we can assist one another?”

Avery smiles at Ameiko. Then he stands and walks over to his bar and refills his goblet from a bottle of red wine. He sips from the goblet as he eyes Ameiko and her friends. “You are quite a remarkable group. It is not often that one sese an elf and a half-orc traveling together with three humans, and two of those of Tien ancestry. And of all things you are seeking a gnome! You all seem to be warriors as well, but I think you will need magic to intercept the Teeth of Araska. Fortunately, I can work some minor spells that may help. First, however, I want your word that if I help you, in turn you will bring me what Captain Grudge owes me. Do I have your word of honor?”

“For my part, I would give it if you can help us find the Teeth of Araska. I cannot speak for my friends though.” Ameiko turns to Toshio, Jharad, Zeyala, and Keng.

With little hesitation Jharad smiles and responds, “You have mine as well.”

“I give my word” responds Toshio.

Keng has been sitting quietly, the brandy snifter almost disappearing in his large hands, and doing his best not to fidget. He is definitely very uncomfortable in these ‘fancy’ surroundings. He musters up his courage to ask a questions, “Pardon me your lordship, but what do you mean bring you what this pig captain owes you? I will do my best to bring him to you but I can’t swear an oath to you without knowing what this something might be.”

“You are obviously a man of means, but what aid do you offer?” asks Zeyala. “I’m not so concerned with what you are owed, but know that I can not violate the laws of my order or willingly break the laws of the land. Jethrik’s return is paramount, but like Keng, I need information before I strike this bargain.”

Avery chuckles good naturedly to hear Keng and Zeyala’s questions. “Well, you came to me asking for aid. I didn’t come to you. But if you promise to bring me what I feel I am owed I will tell you where the Teeth of Araska is going and I will provide a ship and crew to set out after him. As for what he owes me…” Avery looks to Ameiko and Toshio who have already given their word, “I simply want his head.”

Ameiko is startled and seems about to say something but then thinks better of it. She nods in acquiescene and looks pleadingly to the others, beseeching them with her eyes to go along with this.

Keng shrugs his shoulders, “His head is all you want? That was the plan anyways. I would be pleased to bring it to you milord in exchange for your help,” replies Keng. “You have my word,” Keng bows slightly with his right fist on his forehead. “Uh, might it be okay with you if I keep one of his finger bones for myself though… as a trophy?”

Avery chuckles again. “You may keep any other part of him you wish. I just want the head as proof that he has indeed been dispatched to face the judgment of Pharasma.”

Keng nods as he considers the matter settled.

Hmm…’ thinks Toshio. ‘Maybe we can bring his head, but still attached to the rest of him. It ‘ll be hard to sell that to Keng and Jharad, but I think I know how…’

“Very well,” says Avery. “As I have your agreement to bring me what I want, I will help you get what you want.” He walks over to the display case and plucks up one of the small ships there. He then opens a shelf hidden in the base of the display and retrieves a scroll in a silver cae. The miniature ship is then placed into the bowl of water. The ship has three masts with triangular sails, a draconic masthead, and a little flag bearing a scarred red skull. It is a miniature of the Teeth of Araska. “This was carved from a broken spar the ship discarded when last in port. We make sure to collect such things so that I may keep track of my friends and enemies. It’s just good business. Gather around now.” Avery beckons them to come and gaze into the water filled bowl as he unrolls the scroll and reads off the incantation. When he finishes, the little ship starts to drift from the center of the bowl until it floats above that part of the map depicting the Gulf of Varisia. “Odd, they are heading north out of the Gulf. Why would they be heading north at this time of year? Surely they are not heading to the Lands of the Linnorn Kings?”

Ameiko looks intently at the bowl chart and the floating miniature. Her eyes gaze up the coastline to Bunyip Bay, over which looms the ruins of Brinewall Castle. She mutters, “I think I know where they are going.”

“Will you require a ship? It will be hard to find one on such short notice heading north at this time of year but I am sure I can arrange something.”

“Thank you Avery, but I think I had better consult with my friends first. May we come back and talk with you again tomorrow.”

“Certainly. My door is always open,” replies Avery graciously.

With her eyes Ameiko bids the others to please be silent. They take their leave and make their way back to the Captain’s Chamber. There the crowd has thinned and the innkeeper has laid out blankets by the hearth for those who will be staying the night there.

Quietly Ameiko says, “It is clear that Captain Grudge has tortured or otherwise coerced the goal of our quest from Jethrik. I can only pray that he is still alive. I believe the Teeth of Araska is heading for Brinewall Castle. They probably believe that we are seeking a treasure trove there and want to loot it before we can get there. Today is the 20th, and it will take them about a week or more to sail to Brinewall as they have to sail out of the Gulf before they can follow the coastline up to Bunyip Bay. That gives us some time. We are only a four days ride from Brinewall. The problem is that Sandru and the caravan won’t get here for a week. If we wait for Sandru we might arrive too late. We need to leave a message here for him and then continue on. The problem is there is no one here we can trust. I certainly don’t trust Avery. Also, how are just the five of us going to take on Captain Grudge and his whole crew? Dare we ask Avery for men-at-arms to go with us? Also, what if the Teeth of Araska really isn’t headed to Brinewall? What if they are going further north or if they turn south? We might want to take a ship afterall, but it will have to be a very fast one to catch-up. We might even need a weather-wizard for that. What do you all think?”

Keng says, “Safe enough to leave a message for Sandru with Avery now while our interests align,” replies Keng. He continues, “We should leave at first light and set an ambush at Bunyip Bay.”

Toshio, thinking aloud so the others will know what’s on his mind and can contribute, says, “Finding a fast enough ship and getting the correct winds seems too much to ask. We should ride there. Riding will be faster and more reliable this time. But we still need our other people to have a hope of taking on a whole crew.”

He ponders a bit, and then suggests, “If Ameiko agrees, we could send our fastest rider back to get Koya and Shalelu while the rest ride ahead to scout out a likely place to ambush Grudge. We’ll send the rider with extra horses – we’ll have to buy some – so he and the others can swap them out and keep riding hard without killing any mounts. With that kind of speed they should be able to regroup on time. But that leaves the caravan unguarded. I don’t like that idea, but our first mission is to rescue Jethrik. Sandru wouldn’t like to hear it, and I don’t like to say it, but the caravan and its good are our last priority.” He leaves Ameiko’s mission to Brinewall – their second priority as Toshio sees it – unspoken in case there are extra ears listening. And besides, everyone present already knows that mission. “Still, we will need the others if we’re to take on Grudge and his crew. Maybe we can borrow some guards from Avery to keep the caravan safe? He has no reason to betray us, and at least one good reason not to do so. What do you all think?”

“I don’t like any of this,” says Zeyala.  ”We are undermanned and ill equipped, but do we have even the luxury to wait for the others to join us?”

Ameiko ponders and finally replies, “I don’t think we do have time. I agree with Keng. We should ride together at first light and leave a message here for Sandru. I think we had better not leave it to Slyeg though. I do not trust that he won’t manipulate things to his advantage. He now knows that that we were originally seeking something in Brinewall and that now Captain Grudge seeks it as well. Slyeg would no doubt love to lend us men so that he can find out what is being looked for, believing it to be a treasure hoard or artifact. We should go to the city gates and pay someone who seems trustworthy among the merchants heading south to deliver a letter to Sandru. The letter of course will only give enough information to inform Sandru of where we have gone but not enough to give away our exact destination. Once we have done that we ride full speed for Brinewall. Do you agree?”

“Under the circumstances,” says Zeyala, “that seems the most sound.”

Toshio nods in acceptance of Ameiko’s plan.

Learning the Ropes

Teeth of Araska

Over the next couple of days, Jethrik literally “learns the ropes” of sailing aboard a pirate ship. He learns that the Teeth of Araska is an Abendego tricorne, a broader variant of the caravel designed to handle the rough seas near the Eye of Abendego. It is a small, fast, and very maneuverable ship. He learns to say port and starboard instead of left and right, fore and aft instead of forward and behind, bow and stern instead of front and back, and aloft and alow instead of above and below. If he forgets, he gets a rope bash, a strike from a nearby pirate with the hefty, sealed end of a ship’s rope. He also learns that the three masts are called (from fore to aft) the foresail, the mainmast, and the mizzenmast attached to which are the foresail, main-sail, and mizzen-sail by the yard-arm aloft and the boom alow. As for the ropes, he learns about the halyards, hawsers, backstays, lanyards, sheets, and shrouds, and of course the ratlines. Even for a bard who thrives on information, it is a lot to take in.

In order to better learn the ship, Jethrik is first employed as a runner. The runner passes messages between the officers and the crew in all parts of the ship except the officer’s cabins. This keeps Jethrik quite busy and out of breath, but it does help him get familiarized with the ship, its crew, and its terminology. Unfortunately, Jethrik succumbs to seasickness on the first day as the seas get a little rougher that afternoon. He finds himself unable to do anything but cling to the rails and retch or sweat and groan down in the crew commons on his hammock. This earns him some buffet and rope bashes from Ishana and the crew but they otherwise leave the ‘land lubber’ alone to his misery. Fortunately he recovers by the next day and as the seas are fairly calm has no more trouble for a time after that. He finds himself delivering messages and orders from one end of the ship to the other but as Jethrik is quite nimble he is able to get around without tripping over any of the lines and being in fair shape doesn’t get too winded by the end of the day.

Sunset is when the crew assembles on the main deck for the “bloody hour” when punishments are meted out just before the evening meal. There were no punishments the first day, though Captain Grudge did deliver a tongue-lashing at the crew in general for laziness and shirking. The second day one unfortunate named Tubbs was tied to the mainmast and given three lashes of the whip by Ishana, who truly seems to enjoy her work. The Captain, however, talks her out of throwing a bucket of salt water on Tubbs before releasing him. After that they “enjoy” a meal of pickled vegetables, salted pork, and rice, washed down with grog, staggeringly strong rum that has been watered down a bit. After this the crew has some leisure time before hitting their hammocks. The pirates arm wrestle on barrels topped with broken rum bottles, or “hog lob” whereby they throw a lead ingot wrapped in a greased piglet skin across the deck, or they play “heave” which involves throwing down half pints of grog until they either heave or pass out and the last pirate standing is the winner.

For his part, Jethrik cheers on the contestants in the various games, though he really is too small to take part in the wrestling, hog lobbing or excessive drinking. During the course of this one of the pirates comes up out of the hold with a gnome sized plumed hat and sticks it on Jethrik’s head. “Arr, he’s a real pirate he is now!” announces Solemn Jack, the boatswain.

When the pirates begin their drinking songs he enthusiastically leads them in those songs he sang back at the Rusty Dragon. He happily learns some new ones as well.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.

We pillage, plunder, we rifle and loot.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

We kidnap and ravage and don’t give a hoot.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.

We extort and pilfer, we filch and sack.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

Maraud and embezzle and even highjack.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.

We kindle and char and inflame and ignite.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

We burn up the city, we’re really a fright.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

We’re rascals and scoundrels, we’re villians and knaves.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

We’re devils and black sheep, we’re really bad eggs.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

We’re beggars and blighters and ne’er do-well cads,

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

Aye, but we’re loved by our mommies and dads,

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.

That night, Captain Grudge gives Jethrik a small chest with a poor quality lock on it. “This here’s your footlocker. Keep your personal gear in here. I’ll give you back your rapier in time, but your dagger’s in there. You’ll need it for splicing ropes and other tasks. I don’t think I need to tell you that anyone who harms another member of the crew will be keelhauled.”

Jethrik is able to find space along the bulkhead among the other footlockers for his own. Inside he finds that everything he was carrying with him that night he was Riddleported has indeed been returned to him, even the gold and silver in his belt pouch. Only his rapier has been held back. The other members of the crew have seemed to take a liking to him as well, seeing him as a kind of ship’s mascot.

Into Riddleport

Lamashan 20 Oathday waning moon

Riddleport

 

At sunset on Oathday the weary travelers finally reach Riddleport. Once a secret pirate haven, Riddleport has grown over the last three centuries into a port city in its own right. At first it served as a secure base from which to conduct raids against Chelish merchant vessels bound for Korvosa, but over time the city has expanded into a true settlement, the frontier’s frontier, the northernmost outpost on the lonely strip known as the Lost Coast. Yet while Riddleport has grown into a proper city, it remains true to its roots—you can get rich quick in Riddleport if you’ve got skill and a bit of luck, though for every Riddleport success story there are a dozen nameless bodies buried in potters’ fields or tossed to the hungry denizens of the sea.

 

Riddleport is located in a secluded, rocky harbor situated at the easternmost reaches of the Calphiak Mountains, where the meandering Velashu River meets the sea. Although the site was partially chosen for ease of defense (either from Chelish privateers or raiders from the Lands of the Linnorm Kings), the original settlers picked the site as much for its singular Thassilonian monument: the mysterious and intriguing arch known as the Cyphergate.

 

The city proper is tucked in between two rocky ridges, the easternmost rising just over 300 feet in elevation and blocking the city from a tidal swamp of hillocks and mires that serves today as a dumping ground for refuse, derelict ships, bodies, and undesirables. The western ridge ascends swiftly into the Calphiak Mountains themselves. To the north, the Velashu River threads its way between these ridges, leading up into the Velashu Uplands. While roads from the east and north exist, they are not well-maintained—the most notable access to the city is its harbor. No one who sails into Riddleport by sea can avoid passing beneath the Cyphergate.  Many sailors have favorite private signs or rituals for good luck they perform as their ships pass under the storied arch, for one can never be too careful around Varisia’s storied monuments.

 

Riddleport today bears an air of legitimacy that eluded it in earlier times when it was little more than a haven for those seeking shelter but not necessarily law. This legitimacy arises from a growing influx of scholars and experts, for of all Varisia’s monuments, the Cyphergate may be the best preserved. It’s certainly one of the most enigmatic. An entire tradition of arcane study has risen in the Cyphergate’s shadow – the growing Order of Cyphers has become one of Riddleport’s most powerful factions – quite the feat in a settlement known for traditional values of piracy and bullying. This newest faction of Riddleport’s already complicated administration may just be what it takes to force the growing city into a stable government – or it may be the final load that causes it all to come crumbling down. (From Pathfinder #13, pp. 48-49)

As the sun sinks beneath the western ridge, Toshio, Ameiko, Keng, Zeyala, and Jharad look down upon the city from the top of the eastern pass that sharply descends 200 feet into the city. At a glance they can see that most of Riddleport’s buildings are composed of wood – logs or planks – with multiple floors and steep, high-peaked roofs of wooden shingles. They are built in close-quarters, and in some cases their wooden upper floors sag and lean together from the constantly sodden conditions. Stone fireplaces ward off the child that lingers in the fog-laden streets. (Ibid, p. 50) The fog is currently engulfing the city but throughout they can see the twinkling of lights. At the mouth of the harbor they are awed at the sight of the Cyphergate. The arch rises 350 feet above the water below at high tide, rising from the rocky crags on either side of the harbor mouth – its diameter is exactly 700 feet. Rectangular in cross section and 35 feet wide, the sides bear massive Thasillonian runes and glyphs. (Ibid, p. 50).

There are no walls nor a gate to bar them from riding down the pass and directly into the city. They find that the major streets of Riddleport are cobbled and slick with drizzle. Cobbles are often missing or crushed by incessant traffic, leaving gaping holes and ruts in even the most well-tended thoroughfares. Side streets tend to be relegated to muddy tracks, some of which have become stinking morasses of sucking mud and filth. Riddleport doesn’t have much of a sewage system, and relies mainly on gutters along street edges to carry refuse to the river and harbor. One feature unique to the major streets is the frequent oil lamps mounted in iron poles that provide beacons of light in the benighted mists. They are set in sturdy hurricane lamps and burn thick, rancid oil from barrel-shaped reservoirs at the lamppost base. These wavering lights give off illumination equal to a torch even in the midst of the fog and drizzle but they don’t seem to be well-tended as over a third of them are out – in need of repairs or refueling. (Ibid, p. 50, adapted)

Jharad looks to Ameiko, “I think asking anybody in this town for directions would be a mistake. I suggest South towards the Docks is best as that is the first place we should look. I am sure we can find a place to stable our horses close to there.”

“That sounds like a good idea. To the docks it is,” Ameiko says.

Zeyala pulls her cloak tightly around her and instinctively grasps at her spear. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could for once, ride into a town with brightly lit welcome sign marked with an arrow pointed to a row of honest inns?”

Toshio laughs, “Yes, I look forward to that day!”

The way to the docks takes them past a massive stone coliseum from which the roars of a huge crowd can be heard. This would be Zincher’s Arena, infamous throughout Varisia for its bloody gladiatorial games and uneven contests between unfortunate slaves and convicted criminals against wild beasts and even monsters. Across the street from the coliseum is an immense structure of brick and iron with dozens of foul, smoke-belching stacks. A small party of dwarves, cloaked against the fog and evening chill, can be seen entering what are most probably the Gas Forges, a dwarven run forge fueled by gas that is one of the few places on the continent of Avistan hot enough to forge even difficult metals like adamantine. Past these structures, are rows of buildings beyond which lies the wharves. One can turn either right and head further east to where the Velashu River empties into the cove, or turn left and head to where the city hits up against the southern terminus of Riddleport’s eastern ridge. There, atop a lonely crag, a beacon tower shines out into the night to guide ships to the safety of the harbor and away from the treacherous rocks just to the east of the harbor mouth.

Ameiko says, “It’s all the same to me, right or left?”

“I think right. There will probably be docks where the river meets the cove,” says Toshio.

“Agreed,” replies Jharad.

It turns out that the docks run all the way from the mouth of the river to the eastern ridge. Heading down the street toward the river are a series of warehouses and cheap grog shops where merchant and pirate crews mingle in a haze of rum-soaked debauchery and blood. Inns and shops have grimed windows and peeling paint hinting at a properity that no longer exists. All around can be heard the sound of pipes, concertinas, and tambourines and bodhran’s accompanying the singing of sea shanties and forecastle songs. There are also the shouts and cursing of drunken sailors and bar wenches. The reek of offal, smoke, sweat, rum and ale is almost overpowering, though a bit mitigated by the salty tang of the fog-laden and chilly breeze that sweeps in from the gulf. One of the inns they find is named The Captain’s Chamber. This one actually boasts a stable in the rear. As they consider the place an aged and bewhiskered drunk is shoved out of the swinging doors that lead into the common room. He stumbles and fetches up against Toshio who was leading his horse down the street. With a mumbled curse he lurches away and disappears into the fog.

Keng has become sullen and quiet. He mutters to Zeyala, “This place is disgusting – full of filth and trash. We will never find Jethrik here nor, if we do, will we be able to get him away from the pirates and live to tell about it.”

Jharad smiles at his friend, “Have hope my friend, we are here now and with luck near getting Jethrik back. Oh and you might want to keep your belt pouch tucked inside your pants.”

Toshio frowns and wishes that just once they could accomplish a mission without unpleasant complications. Toshio takes Jharad’s advice (meant for him or not) and tucks his purse away securely.

Jharad notices this and with a mischievous grin says, “You should keep yours out and slid further back along your belt Toshio. It will take attention away from the rest of us.”

Zeyala simply grimaces and shakes her head.

“Jharad…” says Ameiko warningly. “Someone should wait out here and watch the horses, maybe Keng. Toshio, Jharad, Zeyala, come with me and lets see if they can stable our horses and provide us with a room or two. Then we can start asking around to see if the Teeth of Araska is docked here or expected. We should tread carefully though, as Captain Grudge and his crew almost certainly have friends here.”

Jharad slaps Toshio on the back, “All in jest paladin, all in jest.” With a quick glance at Toshio he adds, “After you beautiful,” and follows Ameiko.

In Minkaian, Toshio says, “Yes, Lady. Right with you”

The inn is small, shadowy, and clouded over with the smoke of oil lamps, pipe-weed, and flayleaf. A scruffy looking man stands behind the bar wiping dirty mugs with an even dirtier looking rag. A couple barrels of ale and wine are on the shelves behind him, as well as some bottles of rum. There seem to be only a dozen or so patrons in the common room, all talking in low murmurs. A small three-man band plays on a raised stage in a corner. As Ameiko and her comrades enter, the band stops playing, and the murmuring stops. Furtive glances are directed at the newcomers but after a moment, seeing that the strangers pose no immediate threat or need for acknowledgment, the patrons turn their attentions back to their drinks, cards, dice, or quiet scheming. The band starts up again with pipe, fiddle, and concertina.

“Who’s that knocking at my door? Who’s that knocking at my door?
 Who’s that knocking at my door?” said the fair Young Maiden.

“It’s me and my crew and we’ve come for a screw!” said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.

“It’s me and my crew and we’ve come for a screw!” said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.

“What if I should lock the door? What if I should lock the door?

What if I should lock the door?” said the fair Young Maiden.

“I’ll smash the lock with my diamond-hard cock!” said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.

“I’ll smash the lock with my diamond-hard cock!” said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.

The song continues on in this vein, getting no more delicate and even quite a bit rougher. The innkeeper lips twitch a bit in what might be a smile and as he nods a greeting.

Jharad says quietly to Ameiko, “Nice crowd, maybe you should talk to the bartender.”

“Hey, I know this one,” says Zeyala. ”Who wants to dance?”

“I’ll take this dance” replies Toshio.

Ameiko grins and says to Jharad, “They’ve both heard this song before at the Rusty Dragon. Not all my patrons were simple farmers. We got our fair share of sailors. Let’s go to the bar” While the paladin and the blind oracle are dancing a jig Ameiko, Jharad at her side, talks briefly with the tall and homely bartender-innkeeper. She asks him if they have any rooms and learns that there is only room by the hearth for them but there is room in the stable for their horses. They banter a bit about shipping and Ameiko then tells him a tale about wanting to visit Kalsgard in the Lands of the Linnorn Kings. This leads to a conversation about which ships are in port, which might be heading north, and which should be avoided. From this she and Jharad learn that the Teeth of Araska is not in port and in fact has been avoiding Riddleport lately as its captain apparently has had a falling out with Avery Sleyg, one of the eight powerful bosses who govern Riddleport under the rule of Overlord Cromarcky.

“You don’t want to mess around with those guys, let me tell you,” the bartender informs them. “Lord Sleyg runs his business out of the River Runner Inn upriver. Hardly anything comes through or gets sold in town without him knowing about it. Captain Grudge, the Teeth’s captain, tried to slip some things by without paying the fees due to Lord Sleyg.” With a chuckle he says, “I don’t think the Teeth of Araska will be docking here again any time soon. Probably heading down to the Shackles anyway to join the rest of the Free Captains.”

Ameiko is careful not to show any undue interest in the Teeth of Araska or Captain Grudge, but nods and subtly draws out this and other information about the licit and illicit traffic that comes in and out of Riddleport. She thanks him, gets a pitcher of ale and some mugs and finds a free table where she and Jharad can sit and where Toshio and Zeyala can join them.

Jharad looks over the rest of the tavern to hide the disappointment he feels as Ameiko finishes her conversation. Once seated at a table he mentions quietly to Ameiko before the others join them, “Nicely done. I had hoped for better news however.”

Seeing his opportunity to speak with Ameiko alone he continues quietly, “For what it is worth, while it does seem clear that Jethrik was taken with the assistance of the poison I sold I do believe that he still would have been taken without it. I am sure that another method, probably more painful, would have been used. Regardless, any guilt on my part would not enhance my efforts to get him back. Jethrik is my friend and that is something that I hold very important in life.

“As for the issue I have with Toshio, it is more to do with his judgmental approach to everyone else than whether he was right or not regarding the poison. The fact that he treated me as guilty immediately without a shred of proof is the crux of it. I also understand that it puts you in a bad position as the leader, and with your… well… relationship with Toshio. For that I do apologize.”

Ameiko responds, “Well, I think we need to stop worrying about who is or is not to blame and concentrate on what we need to do to get Jethrik back. Toshio has a very rigid code of honor from our home country, he was raised to be a ‘samurai’, that means ‘one who serves’ and he has always done his best to live up to it even though here he has never received the actual training of a samurai. Instead he joined Iomedaeans and they instilled in him a more idealistic code on top of the one he already had. He is someone trying to live up to the ideals of two cultures and I don’t envy him. In fact I think he is a little crazy, but I can’t help but admire him for his efforts and the strengths and blessings it gives him.” She smiles and turns to watch Toshio and Zeyala dancing, then returns her attention back to Jharad. “Please, try to be understanding. You elves live so long I think you forget how hard it is to have only a few decades to figure out what we want in life and then to do something about it. Please be patient with him and I’ll ask him to be patient with, well, with all of us.” She smiles. “Now lets get everyone together and tell them what we’ve learned.”

Ameiko goes out and tells Keng to go ahead and bring the horses around to the stable and to join them inside. Then she catches Toshio’s eye and crooks her finger to indicate that he and Zeyala should join them at the table. Once everyone is together and Keng is informed about what they learned she asks them, “Well, what do you all think? We’ll at least need to wait here for Sandru, Koya, and the others to join us. Then I think we had better find a ship to take us to the Shackles. A pity, we are less than a week away from Brinewall, but I can’t rest until we get Jethrik back.”

“I agree,” says Zeyala. “We need to rescue Jethrik. As for the added delay of getting to Brinewall, I say we take it out of his shares,” adds Zeyala in jest.

“I agree as well,” says Toshio. “We should wait for the others to catch up and then work out a plan to rescue Jethrik. Sandru won’t be pleased at the delay for the caravan, but I’m sure he’ll support the rescue. It’s just a pity we need to wait – finding Jethrik will get harder and harder the more we wait.”

Keng grumbles, “Yer all daft. Lets go see Lord Sleyg and offer him a deal. We help him find Captain Grudge and the Teeth and he helps us get the gnome back. Then we split the take from selling the Tooth.”

Toshio nods and says, “Good idea, Keng. Sleyg seems to be the last loose thread here.”

“Agreed, says Jharad. “We should try and see Lord Sleyg. But Ameiko should do the talking I believe.”

Zeyala pantomimes the raising of a glass in cheer saying, “Here’s hoping for an uneventful stroll to Lord Sleyg’s.”

Riddleported

Lamashan 19 Wealday waning half-moon - Teeth of Araska 

The first thing Jethrik sees when he awakens is a large mahogany table surrounded by sturdy bar chairs that dominates a shadowy shipboard lounge. Morning light streams in through the porthole on the starboard side. Dented and worn cabinetry displays a variety of mismatched dishes and dull cutlery, rolls of maps and sea charts, and a few grizzly trophies – scalps, bloody eye patches, and even a leathery severed hand. A large nautical chart, covered in scratches and crisscrossing marks, hangs upon the port wall. A hint of perfume lingers here, and as the ship rocks, mugs and plates clink softly.

Jethrik remembers leaving the Sailor’s Rest and feeling the prick of a dart hit his neck. He had wheeled around to see several shadowy figures in an alleyway but before he could draw his rapier or run he started to feel woozy. As he sank to the cobblestones the figures stepped out of the alley into the light of the nearby streetlamp. It was Captain Grudge, his woman, and the elf first mate. He recalls that as he lost consciousness he heard the elf say, “Ha ha, got ‘em. It was fortunate for us that the elf who came up from Ravenmoor unloaded a stock of blue whinnis poison at the apothecary just before we got into town. A good buy. It sure makes recruiting a lot easier.”

Turning his attention back to his current predicament Jethrik finds that his hands and feet are numb from being bound. He is propped up against the cabin wall aft by a cabin door. He is not alone for long. The door opens and into the cabin strides Captain Grudge and his closes comrades. The captain introduces himself as Captain Elreth Treeg. He then introduces his woman, Ishana, a priestess of Calistria, and his first mate, the elven sorcerer Selis. Now Jethrik remembers, the vengeful Captain Elreth Treeg, known as Captain Grudge, is the commander of the Teeth of Araska, an Abendego tricorne, a broader variant of the caravel designed to handle the rough seas near the Eye of Abendego, the gigantic, permanent hurricane to the far south that cut off trade to the southern colonies of Cheliax. Jethrik realizes the he has been Riddleported aboard one of the more infamous of the Free Captains of the Shackles, the pirate fleet that sails under the banner of the Hurricane King who have been ravaging the merchant shipping near the Arch of Aroden for decades.

“Now,” says Captain Grudge, “we really want to hear the rest of that story you were telling. And since we have already set sail, we will have plenty of time to hear it.”

“I would be happy to finish the tale. Shall we go above deck so your crew can enjoy it as well?” Jethrik smiles broadly.

“Aye, matey, I think that can be arranged.” Captain Grudge gestures at Jethrik and says “Untie.” The ropes binding Jethrik fall away. The captain nods and Ishana and Selis help Jethrik to his feet and rub at his wrists and ankles to get the blood going again. The prickly feeling is not a pleasant sensation but it is good to get the feeling back into his hands and feet. When Jethrik is able to walk they lead him out the forward hatch onto the main deck.

Three sturdy masts rise above the marred wood of the broad deck. Although well scrubbed, fiery scars and the gashes of boarding axes mar the dark wood. Above swings a webwork of rigging and ropes, connected to the yards and crow’s nest. Two longboats hang above a hatch leading below, while nearby a smaller trapdoor stands closed. To the ship’s aft, twin pairs of stairs rise up to the sterncastle, where the ship’s wheel and a large iron bell stands. Between these steps hangs a heavy door adorned with a bronze nameplate bearing the word “Captain” followed by a second scratched-over name. It is out this door that Jethrik has been led. At least a dozen pirates swarm about on the deck and riggings tending to their duties and singing a sea shanty.

Yo, Ho haul together, hoist the colors high

Heave ho, thieves and beggars, never shall we die

Yo, Ho haul together, hoist the colors high

Heave ho, thieves and beggars, never shall we die!

The King and his men stole the queen from her bed

and bound her in her bones

The seas be ours and by the powers

Where we will… we’ll roam!

Yo, Ho haul together, hoist the colors high

Heave ho, thieves and beggars, never say we die!

Some men have died and some are alive

And others sail on the sea

With the keys to the cage

and the devil to pay

We lay to Fiddler’s Green!

Yo, Ho haul together, hoist the colors high

Heave ho, thieves and beggars, never say we die!

 

The bell has been raised from its watery grave

Do you hear its sepulchral tone?

A Call to all, pay heed to the squall

And turn your sails towards home!

 

Yo, Ho haul together, hoist the colors high

Heave ho, thieves and beggars, never say we die!

Captain Grudge takes Jethrik up to the sterncastle to overlook the main deck. He strikes the large iron bell on the sterncastle and calls all the crew currently on watch to assemble on the main deck to hear Jethrik’s tale of the lovesick paladin. Standing on a large coil of rope on the sterncastle, Jethrik is able to perform in sight and hearing of all. The assembled pirates are greatly appreciative. Even Captain Grudge, Ishana, and Selis clap, guffaw, and roar in appreciation. At the end, Jethrik receives a standing ovation. It seems as though these fearsome pirates aren’t so bad after all.

Once the story has been told, Captain Grudge, whom Jethrik suddenly realizes is certainly one of his most trusted friends and allies, puts his arm around Jethrik and invites him to come back down to the wardroom to talk discuss some business he’d like to propose. The wardroom is the room where Jethrik first awakened. Once back there, Captain Grudge apologizes for their rather unceremonious recruitment of him. “We were just a little over eager to hear the rest of your story is all. I hope we can let bygone be bygones?”

Once those niceties are out of the way Captain Grudge offers Jethrik a position on his ship as the new quartermaster for as long as he’d like to stay. He explains that the quartermaster is a kind of middleman between the captain the crew who settles disputes, acts as a kind of magistrate aboard ship, and is a trustee for the entire crew. He would also lead attacks against enemy ships, the dreaded Chelaxians for instance, and make sure that spoils are distributed fairly. “So, do ye accept?”

Jethrik frowns “Well, I won’t say I’m not a bit irritated by the method of your recruitment. I lost some gear back there in whatever shithole town that was. Besides, the guys I was with are a decent sort. They may even do something stupid like try to find me. If you had let me say my good byes, it might have saved some trouble for them.

Brightening up a bit, he continues, “Still, this sounds like fun. I’ve never been on the sea, and I think I could do you some good. Yep, I’m pretty sure I could earn enough to replace my gear pretty quickly if the shares are fair! And those Chelaxian ships have it coming.”

Captan Grudge says, “Well I’m very glad t’ hear that. Where were you and your buckos goin’? Maybe we can meet them further on and you can let them know your fine and say your ‘I’m shovin’ offs’ t’ proper way. “

“Brinewall.” Jethrik beams “That was our next stop. Though it may take them a while to get there since the caravan is so laden down with goods.”

Captain Grudge’s mouth gapes open in shock. “Brinewall! Why would they ever be goin’ t’ that accursed place?”

Jethrik shrugs. “Ask Sandru, he’s the guy who whips the horses. Not me, fortunately, just the horses.” He adds with a chuckle.

“There must be a hidden treasure thar for him t’ risk goin’ thar. Don’t you think? Well, maybe we can ask him ourselves and if he needs our help we’ll be glad t’ give it.”

“It would be wonderful to meet up with my old friends and give them help from my new crew.” Jethrik warmly agrees.

He then calls out to Ishana to have her explain to Jethrik his new duties and show him his hammock in the crew commons.

Ishana explains that they’ll give Jethrik his weapons and other equipment back once they’ve had a chance to secure a footlocker for him. “The Captain will keep your gear safe in the main hold until then. You shouldn’t need them. You’re safe with us and we’re not planning on any actions until the spring. We’re heading home now to our homeport in the Shackles.”

Ishana leads Jethrik back out ot the main deck. This time Jethrik notices the tattered triangular sails of the foremast, mainmast, and mizzenmast. He also sees that the masthead is carved into the likeness of a fearsome dragon. At the moment the ship if flying the colors of Riddleport, but Jethrik has no doubt that if running down a merchant ship they’ll hoist a “jollie roger” to signal that the victim should surrender peaceably and give up their goods or suffer the consequences – a fight to the death with no quarter asked or given. Nine crewmen man the deck, with the elf Selis up in the crow’s nest as lookout. Perhaps a dozen others lounge about the deck, talking, playing various musical instruments, throwing dice, or simply enjoying the sea breeze and sunshine while off duty. If he had to guess, Jethrik would estimate around two-dozen pirates are currently aboard the ship. Not a very large compliment for a ship that could easily carry four times that many.

Ishana leads Jethrik down a small trapdoor just aft of the hatch beneath the longboats. They go down a splintered ten-foot ladder to the crew commons on the lower deck where a dozen hammocks swing between narrow beams, swaying amid the stink of sweat and spilled rum. Three doors head to the ship’s aft, and another smaller door heads to the stern. Several empty bottles clink together, rolling across the floor with the ship’s swaying. A couple more pirates lay in bed, sleeping off hangovers no doubt. Ishana shows him to a hammock and informs him that he’ll be sharing this with another crewman as is typical aboard sailing vessels. They’ll have to simply take turns, one sleeping while the other is on watch. Ishana tells Jethrik that the doors aft lead to the quarters of Tralter, the ship’s accountant; to Selis’ quarters; and to a hall that leads to the food stores. The door to the fore opens into the middle hold. She warns Jethrik to stay out of these areas – as he has no business in them at present. She then takes him back up to the main deck and goes over the duties of a quartermaster.

While touring the boat, Jethrik does his best to be attentive. He tries to show the crew confidence and warmth. He very much wants to be accepted and respected by the crew. He finds he is intrigued by the prospect of being a pirate… for a little while anyway. It is something he never imagined for himself, and it will make a great story! He can’t recall any gnomes back home taking up piracy. He’s a little worried that he will be called upon to do things against his principles. But then, principles are fluid things. And while he misses Ameiko and wants to get back to her, losing his companions does not seem like a great loss. He has only known them for a short while, and a gnome lives a long time… so long as he says entertained.

A few hours later, as Jethrik stands upon the forecastle by the helm he begins to wonder why he feels so at home upon the Teeth of Araska and why he feels that Captain Grudge is so trustworthy. Then he realizes that he does not in fact feel at home and that the captain and his crew are not at all trustworthy. With growing horror, Jethrik realizes that he has been under the effects of a charm spell that is at last fading. He is now unarmed and unarmored in the midst of a crew of ruthless pirates and worse he has revealed the destination of Ameiko, Sandru, Koya, and the others. Captain Grudge has already pointed the ship north towards Bunyip Bay. Jethrik becomes acutely aware that just a few feet away, Captain Grudge and Ishana are talking quietly together and eyeing him at the same time.

“Not havin’ any second thoughts about signin’ on are ye matey?” asks the captain as he fingers taps the hilt of his rapier.

“I am having second thoughts about all the scotch I drank.” Jethrik quips, “You don’t have any hair of the dog do ya?”

Capain Grudge laughs. “Sorry matey, but we’ve not much but some grog. Ship life can be hard at first for a land-lubber like yourself. Still, you’re free t’ go if its not t’ your likin’. You can just walk away…” He nods to a couple of pirates down on the main deck who are standing by the side rails with a plank. They grin back up at the captain, as do a couple of others nearby who are busily throwing chum in the water to the sharks that have been following the ship.

Jethrik pantomimes shocked disappointment. “What and miss all the fun?”

Captain Grudge laughs. “There’s a good lad. I think we’ll all be gettin’ along just fine then. Get this man some grog!”

Lost Comrade

When Sandru joins the others later that night in the common room of the Sailor’s Rest he can’t help but pick up on the awkwardness around the table. Ameiko and Toshio, and Keng and Zeyala seem particularly uncomfortable, and Jethrik seems rather put out. Not wanting to pry, at least for the moment, he informs them that he has decided that it would not be wise to cross through the Velashu Uplands without their main healer and diviner, Koya, or without one of Varisia’s most renowned rangers, Shalelu. He proposes that since it has taken them longer to conduct business in Roderic’s Cove anyway, they should just stay for an extra week or so and wait for Koya and Shalelu to join them and then leave for Brinewall together. “I can easily find a peddler who can deliver the message to Ravenmoor, or a couple of us can just make a quick trip back there.”

While these logistical considerations are being discussed, Jethrik’s vexation over the refusal of his comrades to tell him what was going on earlier increases. Furthermore, he is upset that he was interrupted while on a roll telling his latest ribald tale. He considers trying to find a more attentive audience at the Pirate’s Booty, the Port of Call, or the Fat Gull. In the end he decides to try each one in turn. Quietly, he slips outside and heads over to the taverns.

Lamashan 19 Wealday waning half-moon

The next day, Keng asks Jharad at lunch if anyone has seen the gnome.

Washing down a bite of bread with a swallow of water Jharad responds with little enthusiasm, “I have not. Maybe he is still asleep.”

Toshio finishes his own mouthful and adds, “He’s probably sleeping off the evening’s ‘entertainment.’ No point in worrying yet.”

“I’m not sure where he went,” says Zeyala. “I haven’t seen him.”

With a bit of concern Jharad asks Zeyala, “Are his bedding and possessions still where he slept? Does it look like he slept in them at all last night?” Without waiting for an answer he and Toshio go to check for themselves. Keng wipes his face and follows them.

Zeyala, a worried Ameiko at her side, follows and tells them that Jethrik had not come in when she had gotten into her blankets to sleep. Nor was he there in the morning. She had thought nothing of it because Jethrik had on occasion stayed out late and/or gotten up early to wander about during past caravan trips.

Jethrik’s folded bedding, backpack, shortbow, chainshirt, light wooden shield and other items are still on his section of the raised and heated wooden floor where travellers sleep. It does not look as though he came in at all the night before.

Sandru walks in, and outside they can all hear a dog barking and whining. “Good morning everyone. Where the hell is Jethrik? His dog Sherman is raising a ruckus. Usually Jethrik has come out to walk him by now.”

Keng curses. “I do not like this. I am going to get my weapons.” Keng then goes upstairs and grabs all his armor and weapons and heads back downstairs, as do Ameiko, Jharad, and Toshio.

“We need to find him now before any ships sail this day!” says Keng as he hurries back to the common room.

Sandru says, “We’d better head to the docks first then. Maybe Sherman can sniff him out.”

Sherman indeed catches Jethrik’s scent. It seems that he had left for the taverns and/or the brothel, but then veered towards the docks. When they get there a couple of small merchant vessels are still at anchor. One ship, however, is already on the horizon – the infamous Teeth of Araska. Sherman runs to the edge of the pier and howls mournfully.

Jharad pales as they watch the Teeth of Araska sail away with his friend. “We need horses, now; to ride to Riddleport,” he says with anger in his voice.

“Oh, no, no, no…” says Ameiko in despairing tones.

Keng bellows his rage, his eyes glowing like red hot coals, “A curse on pirates!” He looks about to see if there are any pirates nearby on which he can vent his rage.

Sandru says, “It would be swifter perhaps for a couple of us to board a ship if any are outbound this morning. I’ll go find the harbormaster and see if we can arrange passage. I’ll meet you all back at the Sailor’s Rest in an hour or so.”

“I’ll go with you,” says Ameiko to Sandru. The two of them hurry over to the harbormaster’s office. Sherman runs along with them.

On the way back to the inn, Toshio finds a dart near the alley where Jethrik changed directions. It has blue whinnis residue on it. Toshio holds the dart up for all to see and shoots a withering glare at Jharad.

Toshio says to Jharad in an angry, low tone “We’ll talk later. Right now we need to rescue Jethrik, and I expect your efforts to do so will outshine the rest of us, as your choice did not.”

Jharad bites back, “And your choices have all worked out for the best have they, paladin? Don’t even attempt to lecture or question the strength of my efforts where friends are concerned.”

“Okay, we’ll talk now. It’s your choices when away from your friends that concern me. You sold that poison I’d say, and now it looks like someone has used it to kidnap Jethrik. I only hope your future choices are better.”

“You are wasting time, Toshio,” Jharad retorts. “A better leader would be working on a plan to rescue Jethrik. You instead choose to deliver blame and pick fights. If you continue to see finding our friend as a secondary concern then step aside.”

“Stop arguing like women,” growls Keng. “We have little time to waste. I am going to get my gear. Then off to Riddleport by ship or a fast horse to find the gnome and burn that ship to the water.” He looks at Jharad, “You coming?”

“Best suggestion yet my friend, yes of course I am,” Jharad responds to Keng. Then glaring at Toshio he adds, “Are you coming with or do you have better things to do, paladin?”

Toshio ignores Jharad’s ridiculous accusations. “I’m with you, Keng. Let’s go get our gnome back.”

Already moving, Toshio asks of Jharad “How much did you get for the poison anyway? Was the gold worth the hazard our friend is in?”

“You presume much Toshio. I was under the impression that paladins believed in justice rather than blind pronouncements of guilt. I am fairly certain that there is more blue whinnis in others hands beyond what we found in Ravenmoor,” Jharad replies as he digs out a vial of the poison from his pouch then replaces it.

“And the other vials we found? Do you feel sure they were not involved?” Toshio asks accusingly.

Jharad replies more calmly than before, “Why are you so sure that they were? Why are you so quick to inflict blame? Have I wronged you in some way?” Then in a much lower and almost friendly voice he says, “Toshio I suggest you stop the inquisition. Our friend has been taken and we need to focus on his return.”

Matching the friendly tone but without lowering his voice (he doesn’t feel the need to hide anything in this situation), Toshio responds, “I had hoped to discuss it later, but you didn’t take that route, so I can walk and talk. I notice you haven’t denied selling the poison. Nor have you owned up to the possibility that your actions may have contributed to Jethrik’s plight. My purpose is not to inflict blame, but rather to get you to realize your actions were poorly chosen, have probably put our friend in danger, and to get you to choose more wisely next time. We are not neglecting our friend. We are merely talking about a contributing factor in his abduction as we prepare to rescue him.”

Abandoning his quiet demeanor Jharad matches Toshio’s volume and responds, “Contributing factors like inviting stray werewolves into the caravan without warning any of us of the very real danger? Abandoning the group, as its designated leader, to a combat instigated against the brothel guards and priestess by us only to blindly support you? Blindly, I will add, because you never seem to find it important to actually explain these situations you get us into, whether because you just do not trust us or do not realize that as a leader that might be a good idea. Toshio, on all of your questionable escapades I have stood by and supported you as best I could. While ribbing you occasionally yes, I continued to support you with the understanding that in all cases your intentions were good. I gave you the benefit of doubt. You on the other hand assume guilt without proof, take no time to consider any other explanation, and frankly lead without wisdom nor forethought. To end this now I will admit to you that yes I did sell some of the poison, for reasons of my own which I am sure your black and white judgment cares not to know. Whether it was this that contributed to my friend’s abduction I may never know but certainly regret now if it is at all a possibility. But one thing is very clear to me now, I will no longer follow you anywhere. You can go to hell Toshio. My trust, loyalty and friendship to you is at an end.”

“A working relationship within the caravan and Ameiko’s quest will be satisfactory,” replies Toshio simply and formally.

Jharad matches pace with Keng who has been walking several strides ahead of his two bickering comrades and says, “Come on Keng, lets find horses and get our friend.”

Keng shakes his head. Then slaps Jharad on the back, “Time for talking is over. Go secure us three horses from the horse train so we can ride if Sandru can’t find a ship while Zeyala and I collect our gear. We will meet you out front of the Inn. Pretty boy can catch up to us. Speed is critical to save the gnome. I plan to be waiting when the Teeth of Araska arrives. We ride hard.”

Keng takes Zeyala by the arm and says, “You can ride with me.”

“Thank you,” replies Zeyala to Keng’s offer.

Jharad tosses Keng his room key and says, “Grab my pack as well, I will meet you within the hour,” says Jharad as he heads to the caravan encampment.

An hour later they are all gathered together again in front of the Sailor’s Rest. Sandru and Ameiko have brought horses with them, saddled and ready to go. Sandru informs them that there are only two ships at anchor in Roderic’s Cove and neither of them will be outbound that day. He tells them that they should take the horses from the horse train and ride to Riddleport as fast as they can. They should be able to get there in two days.

Ameiko says, “It is a slim hope that the Teeth of Araska will head there, but on the off chance they are we should go. Even if they do not, we may be able to find out where else it may be going. I’ll put everything at my disposal to get Jethrik back. Sandru, can you get word sent to Ravenmoor to have Koya and Shalelu rejoin you, I think we may need their help after all and they deserve to know what happened, especially Koya.”

“Certainly. Once they have rejoined the caravan I’ll head to Riddleport by the main road, unless you find Jethrik and can get back here before we leave. I’ll send word by way of merchants and peddlers heading south to Magnimar.”

“Excellent,” Ameiko replies. “Now who will be riding with me to Riddleport? And why are you all shooting daggers at each other with your looks? Is there something more I need to know?”

Keng says, “I have been ready for over an hour now. Zeyala rides with me.” Keng straps Jethrik’s pack and gear to his horse and then nimbly, for a large man, leaps into his saddle and gently lifts Zeya in front of him. “Lady Ameiko, please don’t encourage them,” he looks at Toshio and Jharad, continuing, “They can entertain us along the way and keep us awake.”

While getting on Keng’s horse Zeyala says to Toshio and Jharad, “I have tried to remain silent, as your disagreement has nothing to do with me, but I am concerned and frightened for our friend. Toshio, does it really make any difference if the poison used was the same sold by Jharad? Do you think the pirates who Riddleported Jethrik could not have found an equal substitute, let alone simply bashing him over the head to accomplish the same end?” she asks. And Jharad, you’re no better. Why put it upon Toshio to come up with a plan?” She questions. ”With the way your acting, the same could be said about you regarding secondary concerns.”

“Well, Zeyala, I suppose Jharad is right – we’ll never know if it was his poison that was used. I just think we shouldn’t do things that encourage or support actions like piracy or slavery, even if it’s indirect support.”

Keng kicks his horse and gallops off down the road towards Riddlesport.

Without saying a word Jharad leaps into his saddle and rides off with Keng.

Ameiko exchanges a glance of dismay with Sandru. Incredulously she says, “Jharad sold the poison and…?” she shakes her head and groans in frustration. Mounting her horse she says to Sandru, “Get word to Koya. Maybe her divinations will help us find Jethrik. I’ll see you in Riddleport.”

“May Desna’s stars guide you,” Sandru says as he waves goodbye.

Ameiko and Toshio gallop after the others. Once they are out on the open road it is clear that Ameiko and Keng are barely able to control their mounts. Keng’s mount esp. is overburdened with two riders. Jharad and Toshio, both experienced riders, are easily able to overtake Keng. Furthermore, as Toshio’s mount, Onyx, is a light warhorse she is just a bit faster than the others even with a rider.

As Toshio rides up to Keng and Zeyala he says to the latter, “Well, Zey, it looks like Jharad will get to pick on Keng’s leadership for this one.”

Jharad remains silent, non-responsive to Toshio’s continued attempts to bait him into furthering their argument.

“As long as Keng has this target on which to focus, I trust he will lead us to Riddleport in great haste,” says Zeyala. “Once we get there and in the thick of it, as far as any further direction other than, ‘burn everything to the ground,” all bets are off.”

Gently patting Keng on the side of his face, Zeyala adds, “Until we have Jethrik back, all dissection of your leadership skills will have to wait.”

With a happy chuckle Toshio says, “Lead on, mighty Keng! Our friend needs your strength.”

Ameiko clears her throat, “Excuse me, but I am the leader of this expedition and therefore finding and rescuing Jethrik is primarily my responsibility. So neither of you boys is leader.” Jaw set firmly she positions her horse ahead of the others, or tries to. Ultimately the horses all seem to instinctively look to Onyx as their leader. Ameiko fumes but says nothing and refuses to look at Toshio, Keng or Jharad for quite some time.

Keng replies, “Yes, Lady Ameiko.” He then chuckles, “perhaps you and Pretty Boy can figure things out for us… just in case something unexpectedly small pops up.”