Feeling better than he had in some time, Sahlman el'Musafir gave his borrowed steed its head. These horses, he thought to himself, are faster and far more comfortable to ride than the camels of my homeland. Following that was another thought. He now felt more concern, more passion, for this place than he did for the place of his birth. That idea rolled back and forth for a bit inside of Sahl's head. In a moment or two, he decided that, while perhaps that fact should bother him, it did not. His homeland, Tchu'dan and the other city-states which constituted the Shirahjat Coalition, were already lost. The Faaruk and his council would never look past their profit margins to see the things that were truly important in life. This place, though: the land was rich, game plentiful, and resources abounded. People seemed to have only the most tenuous hold on the land. A strong man – Sahl's mouth grew into a wry grin as he remembered present company – or group of people, could easily make a very good life for themselves in such a place. As the small group continued to travel, the wryness left his grin, transforming it into a contented smile. The grin transformed again, as the desert warrior realized that he now actually had friends. He thought it might be easy to get used to that.
The sun reached its zenith, illuminating the four people as they took a light midday meal. Sahlman found himself fascinated with the brilliant prism of reds and oranges reflecting from the sparse hair of Galgewe. “So, Galgewe,” began Sahl, around a mouthful of spiced dry fish, “I am interested. Would you to tell me, us, some things about yourself? You can understand, surely, that we are feeling very curious.”
Galgewe looked at Sahlman respectfully. “Me, m'lord? My life is hardly one to impress someone of your standing. I was born of a soldier and raised in Grenzig. When I reached the age of sixteen years, I offered myself as a servant of Grenzig. I protect and serve it regardless of who rules it, whether they be of the old order, or townsman Balban's. I was honored when the new townsman assigned me to accompany you, m'lord.”
Genuinely amused, Sahl let out a resonant chuckle. “Friend Galgewe, I am thinking that you are listening to the wrong people, perhaps.” Barely contained mirth strained at the corners of the desertman's thin lips. “It is the truth that I have no, er, standing. I am a man who travels, and in traveling, seeks. It is not even myself who knows what it is that I might be seeking, though.” A broad grin painted itself across Sahl's face. “What is it that a man such as yourself looks for, when all is said and done?”
“I look merely to serve. I have always been a soldier and servant to the townsmen of Grenzig –” He looked nervously at Sahlman. “But you are of the desert nobility, are you not?” he asked with a worried look on his face. “I do not mean to offend by asking such a question of you, m'lord,” he quickly added, bowing his head.
Sahl's grin assumed something of a forced quality, but it was to his credit that it remained, nonetheless. “No, friend Galgewe, it is not the nobility for me. There is little that is noble about having to raid the herds of the clansmen for one's food, or in going hungry because one is too proud to do so. Perhaps at one time…” the strangely accented voice trailed off. “But, Galgewe,” renewed vigor brightened Sahl's speech, “surely, it is not my humble self that you will ever have to fret over offending.” With this Sahl clapped Galgewe on the shoulder in a friendly fashion, lurched to his feet, and moved off to attend his mount.
As the rest period came to a close, Sahl walked over to Ardith. “Do you know which way we are to travel, yet? I have been trying to make the wisdom of it, and I think that perhaps the route which passes through the forest and over the narrow river. This way.” Sahl pointed out the path he was speaking of on Ardith's map. “Unless you perhaps can speak more about the dangers that might await us on this shortest way?”
“A reasonable suggestion, Sahl,” Ardith responded. “But I know not what dangers these marks represent. The shortest way may be the longest, if we must fight. The fight would at the best delay us, and at the worst keep us from reaching our destination at all.”
She turned to their new companion. “Galgewe, what do you know of the dangers marked on the map, here and here? See, the map only says there are dangers, but not of what kind. Are there bandits? Or do worse… things… lurk in these forests?”
“I know not, milady. I have not traveled these lands before.”
Strange, Ardith thought. 'Lord' and 'Lady' were titles reserved for nobility, which they certainly were not. Why would Galgewe think them of such high prestige?
“Sahlman, you have suggested the path to the river,” Ardith said thoughtfully. “Galgewe has no further information to help us choose. Kay, what thoughts?”
“I don't know these lands either, but being in the middle of a dense forest sounds not a good place, especially if we may have to fight. The wider road is long. I'll go with the path to the river. At least that way there's a path.”
“Then we agree – unless Galgewe objects?” Galgewe stood in silence.
“Then, let's go,” Ardith concluded.
The group traveled along the road for the rest of that day and part of the next. As they moved, Sahlman looked in amazement at the many colors of treetops along the road. He had never before seen the colors of autumn; desert plants retained their green color all year, if they did not brown from lack of water. Traveling on horseback allowed him time to relax and watch hundreds of colored leaves slowly flutter to the ground.
At noon the next day, the group came to the path that they were to follow for the next ten days. They halted their horses, reconsidering their choice, but resolved that this path was indeed the best way to go. The well-packed road would be easier to travel, but they did not have time to waste.
Sahlman volunteered to travel ahead of the group, to watch for danger and soften the path. Ardith insisted that he could not do it alone, so another should take his place after a few hours.
He rode his horse several hundred yards ahead, marking a path with his kukri where the path was hard to follow. This path had not been used in a long time. It was overgrown with thorns and vines, and at least one fallen tree lay across it every ten miles. These plants could be beautiful, but they could also be annoying. Travel was not easy, especially when leading horses that often had to be dismounted and guided over and around obstacles. All were happy for their mounts, though, as they gave them many hours a day to rest their feet.
Two days of the journey were difficult but uneventful. Sahlman and Kay, the two best suited for the job, switched off taking the point. On the fourth day since they left, Ardith, Kay and Galgewe saw an arrow on the ground, the sign that Sahlman had left the path to investigate something. They waited for his return.
Sahlman heard whistling. He halted his mount and looked back at the group. He could not see them through the dense forest behind him, and soon realized that he would not have been able to hear them either. The whistle had to have come from somewhere else. He waited in silence for a minute, and almost decided to continue ahead when he heard it again, along with a shout. Now he knew it was not his group calling him. He looked into the woods to his right and saw something dart through the trees about twenty yards away, and then the whistle came again, louder and closer than before.
Sahlman decided to investigate the noise. He tied up his horse and left an arrow on the ground, pointing in the direction he was about go. He slowly walked between the trees, scimitar in hand in case of danger. Each time he heard a whistle or shout, he turned to walk in its direction, mapping in his head the way back to the path.
“Did you hear that?” Kay asked Ardith. She paused for a moment. “There it is again. A whistle.”
“No, I didn't hear anything.”
Galgewe stood still and concentrated. “I heard a whistle, milady.”
“Maybe Sahl is trying to call us.”
They all heard the fourth whistle.
“It doesn't sound like a noise he could make,” Ardith answered.
“Who else would be whistling near an unused path?”
Sahlman nearly fell when something ran past him, no more than a foot ahead. He caught his balance and lifted his weapon. Another whistle sounded, much closer than before, followed by a series of incoherent, shouted sounds. Sahlman hid behind a large tree and watched. A boy ran past the tree. No, not a boy – his features made him look of the age when young men marry, but he was short, and had the body of a boy. His dress was sparse, so Sahlman could see his poorly-muscled limbs and narrow shoulders. Just as the small man was about to pass out of view, Sahl caught a glimpse that nearly made him fall back again. He had never before seen such long, pointed ears, even in the wetlands where he had spent so much time of late.
He waited for ten minutes before he saw the man again. This time he held a rope in his tiny hand, tied on its other end around the neck of a gigantic rodent. That must have been what rushed passed Sahlman ten minutes before. The man headed off west with his animal, without noticing Sahlman.
“If it pleases you, milady, I will go find him.”
Ardith was not sure she wanted to disappoint Galgewe. Most likely, he thought he was performing an act of generosity and might be disheartened if she insisted on accompanying him.
“Ardith and I will go with you,” said Kay. “He's been gone for half an hour. If he's in danger, three of us will have better chances than one.”
“Very well. So it will be,” Galgewe said quietly.
Sahlman watched in the direction the man was going. His skin was as dark as a desert-dweller's, and his hair as red as Balban's misguided servant. Sahlman was deciding whether or not to follow him, when he heard a noise behind him. He did not want to let the man or rodent hear him, so he turned slowly and silently to face what was approaching. Three familiar heads could be seen between trees. As soon as Ardith, Kay and Galgewe were close enough to see him, he put a finger to his lips and pointed at the small man.
“An elf,” Ardith said when she was close enough to whisper. “Of the Brinninig* variety, I'd guess.” Ardith explained to Sahlman what she knew about the Brinninigs. They were little like the Tiiph* she had seen near her home. They spoke a similar language, but were a much wilder variety. They valued strength over intelligence even more than did humans, which made them difficult to deal with at times. She knew little more of the Brinninigs, as she had heard of them only from vague descriptions in a language she could not fully comprehend.
“I don't know why he wouldn't have heard you though. Elves have very good ears and eyes, and should have noticed when you moved behind the tree.”
“Maybe he's deaf,” whispered Kay with a grin.
“That's possible,” Ardith replied with a serious voice. “He could also have been ignoring you.”
“Well, I'm curious what he's up to. I've never seen an elf before.”
“If you follow him, you might get a chance to see many more than you want to.”
“I'm going to follow him.” Kay left her hiding position, and walked in the direction toward which the Brinninig left. Ardith was unsure of the consequences, but could not leave Kay to find them alone. Kay could make a mistake somewhere, and Ardith did not want that. She followed Kay, and Sahlman and Galgewe followed behind Ardith. After no less than an hour of following the elf (and Ardith making careful notes on her map), the elf climbed quickly up a tree, his rodent scurrying up behind him. The party's eyes followed him up the tree, and saw him enter through the bottom of a house that was held up by the maple's thick branches. They looked around, and spotted two more such houses in other large trees. They viewed the area further and saw small huts scattered all around. Apparently, they were in a village or town of some sort.
There was no movement anywhere that they could detect.
Brinninig: Closest AD&D equivalent is “Wood Elf.” Tiiph: Closest AD&D equivalent is “High Elf.”
Unfortunately, that's all I can think to write right now. Sorry for once again writing a turn that's hard to respond to. If you can't think of enough to write for the next turn, please include a couple of “if-then” parts in your response. There are so many possibilities that you'll only be able to list the most likely, but see what you can do.
Ardith: You can ask me any specific questions about the Tiiph or Brinninig that you want. I'll respond based on what I arbitrarily decide that you know. :) In fact, if any of you have any questions about something that your character “knows,” please ask me. If any of you want to add some more details to your character's background, feel free to do that too. (All details are subject to my arbitrary whim, so don't be too tricky). :)
To all those curious about Ziedon: He's alive (I won't venture so far as to say “and well”), and we've been playing a one-on-one internet e-mail game since the last turn. When (if) he catches up with the rest of the group, I'll post a BIG compiled turn supplement (or several of them, or maybe I'll just call it a turn. Who knows?)
To any non-ZIOTH players: I'm looking for more players. If you are interested in joining, please contact me here or at my E-mail address (below).
Remember: A copy of all public ZIOTH-related messages that you use the internet to send should be posted on Fidonet. A copy of all private ZIOTH- related messages you send to each other should be sent to me so that I know what's going on.
I now have a web page where I store old ZIOTH turns and the rules supplement: [address removed]
Ardith: Looks like you raised a level. I'm not going to make a big deal about it in a turn (at least not now), but you got 4HP (9 total). Is there anything else that's supposed to happen when you go up a level? (don't mention spells).