Korisca stood up and looked at Kreemon. “I suppose I should go take this … bath, and get new clothes, but I don't know where such places are.”
“Well, I know where the bath house is and can escort you there if you wish. As for clothes … the market place probably would the best bet. You might even find someone with a cart of second hand clothing you could sort through to see if anything would fit you. I've found a few good bargains doing that. You do have to be careful though. They, the clothes that is, might have come off a dead body. You can never be sure, so I'd wash them before wearing them.”
Kreemon stretched his arms over his head, and motioned to his dog.
“Come, let's get going. I have some things I have to do too this morning. After I show you the places you need I will leave you. I will be back here around noon if you need my help further.” Kreemon avoided stepping near Ziedon when he left the inn, and Korisca followed his example.
Ziedon paid for Sahlman's breakfast. While the two men ate, Ziedon spoke to Sahlman. “Have you thought about the minstrel of last night? How did he know of whom we seek? We are to go to the supposed quarters of this townsman today at noon, unarmed. I think caution is called for here. What say you?”
Sahl managed, but only just, to keep from flinching at the mention of the mysterious minstrel. Indeed, the aches and pains that resulted from the fiasco right before the chase last night were easily remembered. “For the truth, you have the right of it, Ziedon. Caution. Yes. My thought was to take my weapon and perform the Jadg-Himam, er, I am not knowing how to say.” The foreigner paused a moment, his dark brow creased even more than usual with his strain for just the right words. “It is a sacred ceremony among my people, showing trust on the part of one and hospitality on the part of the other. It is more binding than the breaking of bread. Even more than the sharing of water.” Sahl seemed to hold what he was saying in no small amount of awe.
Ziedon kept his voice level out of respect for the desert man's traditions. “Not to offend, but if the townsman doesn't know of your culture, he won't know what the ceremony means and will just see a swordsman and a sword.”
Sahlman's mind seemed swathed in robes more substantial than those shrouding his body as he tried to comprehend how anyone could be unaware of the importance of the Jadg-Himam. He became so flustered that his meager command over the wetlander tongue left him and he sat staring dumbfounded across the table at Ziedon. His thought was the the ritual would serve to form a bond between Ulan and the emissaries of Balban. That thought took flight as a realization dawned; the lands of the infidels were stranger than Sahl could ever have imagined.
“Perhaps,” Ziedon continued, “it would be best if only a few of our party were to see the townsman. Ardith, myself and perhaps Galgewe. We would leave our weapons with Kay and yourself. You two could position yourselves where you could watch the building. If for some reason there is treachery, Kay and you will be able to avenge us. Ardith has the powers of her Goddess to call upon and I…” Ziedon gave a wry look, “am not defenseless myself. Galgewe will be able to defend us with his strength as well.
“All we are tasked to do is to deliver the document, yes? I think this is a decent plan. What do you think, Sahl? Do you have a better plan of your own or suggestions to mine?”
The strategist in Sahl was able to think in spite of the muddled state of its host. “It is sound, I think,” he said, “though Kay and I will assist, not avenge.” The mahogany face took on a feral grin. “Sahlman would only interfere with talking, anyway.”
Ziedon nodded. “I think that the sooner we complete this task the best.” Ziedon thought back to the guards who seemed to have been hounding him since his arrival in town, and shuddered. “I wish to be away from here as soon as possible; there is something rotten afoot.”
Ardith and Kay swayed over to the two men's table. “I was thinking the same,” said Ardith. “It would be best not to place our entire party in the jaws of whatever goes on here in Maelbourg. I agree with your plan. You, Ziedon, and Galgewe and I shall go to the meeting.”
“But, Ardith!” Kay shouted out, “I want to go with you. It might be dangerous. You might run into trouble!”
“And, weaponless, what would you do? Best you keep your sword and bow, my friend, and if we run into trouble, be our back-up and rescuers. If we are imprisoned, come back here and find Kreemon and Korisca. The four of you should be able to come up with a plan to get us out. The thief may be useful in this. Her clever hands and swift feet were demonstrated to us last night, remember.
“I will go to our room now and pray to Andritha for guidance, and for some spells of protection. I will be back in time to go to our meeting with the townsman.”
Ziedon watched Ardith return up the stairs and asked the remaining members of the group with a puzzled expression, “Who are Kreemon and Korisca?”
“I can tell you that,” Kay responded. She looked around to make sure no one but the members of the group were close enough to hear. “Kreemon is the ranger with the dog, the one who helped us catch the thief last night and recover the scroll that we're supposed to deliver. Ardith talked to him this morning. I overheard them. Ardith has him doing some 'spy work' for us in the town. She didn't tell him anything about why we're here, but he's going to snoop for us anyway. And, by the way, he may be traveling with us.
“Korisca is the thief who took the scroll to begin with. Ardith had a long talk with her this morning. I didn't hear anything, though. Ardith wanted it to be private – just the two of them.
“I watched them, though. They both looked real serious until the end of their talk, when they both smiled. They looked happy, then, both of them.
“Even though she's dirty, and that she stole from us, I kind of like her. Hey, it's not her fault that she's poor. Besides, Ardith asked us to include her in any rescue plans, Andritha forbid that comes to that, that says something about her, too.”
Ziedon arched his eyebrow. “Andritha? You invoke the name of her Goddess? Has she converted you to her religion?”
“Actually, I don't know. I have been praying with her. It's a comfort to me. I want to believe in something – something bigger than – than – I don't know.”
Kay turned away looking confused, then turned back. “I know this: I believe in the friends I have – Ardith and all of you.”
She turned away again.
A patron of Grabble's Place entered the common room and Sahlman saw through the door leading outside that the sun was rising high in the sky. He realized that it was past time for his morning devotions to Ay'wah, and so pushed his chair back. “Ziedon, my thanks for the food and for the talking. I feel easier about things, and my hoping that you also do. I go to pray. May Ay'wah guide me in this matter of the thief-girl, for I do not seem to have the same knowing as Arditta about her. In my … in the lands where I was born, thieves and cutthroats were to be shunned and avoided. Sahlman has found many things to be different here in the wetlands. Perhaps this is but another such thing.” The lithe figure in its swaddling stood, nodded respectfully to the seated mage, and made for the street.
Ziedon nodded in return to Sahlman and watched the bedouin leave the building. Ziedon frowned as he thought about Sahlman's and Kay's words. After a few minutes, he spoke again. “When did Ardith plan on telling us about Kreemon? It is mighty convenient that he happened to be there last night and even more convenient that he will 'spy' for us without even knowing why.”
Ziedon's mind turned to the next dilemma as he thought of the dirty little guttersnipe who had caused so much trouble so far. Ziedon began to gather himself up to find the thief and then paused. He turned his gaze back upon Kay and his face hardened. “What is the thief doing here? Why hasn't she been turned over to the town guard? She committed a crime and should be punished accordingly.”
Kay responded by shrugging her shoulders. “I only know that she talked with Kreemon last night and again this morning, then had a serious talk with Ardith also this morning.
“I'd guess she'd bring it up when everyone was here, and when we're not pressed for time to prepare for the meeting.”
Ziedon frowned again but said nothing. His mind was awhirl with the events that had taken place since the group arrived in town. Ziedon's suspicious mind mulled over Kreemon and the soldiers who seemed to be scattered about the town in such a way as to see the most of Ziedon as was possible. Was there a connection between them? Finishing his drink, Ziedon decided to return to his room and await the group's departure. “I shall be in my room,” he said, rising from his seat.
Quick strides took Sahl around the side of the inn and tavern to the courtyard in back. With any luck, the foreigner hoped to find a private place where he could be alone with Ay'wah, Master of What Is, for a time. Uncertainty was gnawing at him, and Sahl knew that this day would not be a good time for any doubts.
Locating the nearest spot where he could be out of the way and also have a view of the sun, Sahlman removed his outer robe and deftly folded it such that it formed a small mat, which he placed on the cobbles of the courtyard. He knelt there, facing the red radiance of the most spectacular symbol of his god.
Kay, who was by then alone at the table, was curious about the the swarthy man's devotions, and shortly after Sahlman excused himself, she also rose. Although she felt guilty at spying on her friend and companion, she could not stop herself. She followed his trail, and found him in the back courtyard. She watched from behind a bush.
In Tchu'dan, even the rising sun was strong enough to sap the strength from a man. At its peak, the brilliant orb hammered the desert into sparkling glass, along with anyone who happened to be out upon it. Here, though, the sun had barely strength enough to defeat the chill of night. In truth, Sahlman was uncomfortably cool most days here. This comparison brought forth the disturbing revelation that Ay'wah was not the all-encompassing power here that he was in the desert. Sahl would have to remember this, for it meant he was even more alone in the lands of the infidels than he had thought.
Sahlman removed the tunic that he wore beneath the outer robe and shivered. He then reclined his torso, spreading his arms and welcoming whatever bit of Ay'wah's warmth would manage to seep into his bare arms, face and chest. In a low voice, he mouthed his mantra, while at the same time letting his thoughts flow around the quandary he felt. Korisca, the girl's name was.
Kay caught her breath at the sight of Sahlman, standing half naked before his god. He looked magnificent to her. As he prostrated himself before the sun, Kay thought, 'He's beautiful.'
Then she thought, 'I'm intruding on a very private ritual. I should go,' but she hung on a few more minutes, taking in the sight of the dark man's body. Finally, tearing herself away, she returned to the inn's common room and ordered another cup of morning brew, lost in tumultuous thoughts best not dwelt upon.
After a time, Sahlman had no real notion of how long, peaceful resolution settled itself comfortably upon his weathered features, smoothing away a few years, allowing him to actually look nearly his own age for a change. As he did with Ziedon, Sahl would give the benefit of the doubt to this girl that Ardith seemed to value so much. He would watch, surely, and be on guard for any of the girl's light- fingered tricks. Who knew, maybe she would prove herself in some way, in time.
The replacement of his tunic eased the chill in Sahlman, and caused the gooseflesh on his spare body to subside. He rose from the ground, feeling relaxed and whole, shook out the robe, and donned it while walking back around toward the front of the building.
Galgewe walked thoughtfully down the stairs, paying close attention to each step, and letting his plump fingers slide over the imperfections in the old wooden railing. His time was soon to come. When he reached the bottom of the staircase, he assumed his normal respectful, obedient look, and walked to Kay. “Lady, the hour is near. We must depart.”
Kay looked up at the man who had been so loyal in the past few weeks. His face looked different this day, but Kay could not figure out in what way. She stood up and went to gather the group.
Ziedon meditated in his room, trying to regain the focus and discipline needed to practice his art. Every time he began to see things more clearly, images of the guardsmen came into his mind. Finally, he cursed in anger.
Ziedon removed one of the two remaining rocks from his pack, and laid a coin on top of it. He focused all of his attention on the soft glow, and saw his doubts, fears and suspicions spiral down into the rock, leaving his mind blank. He remained focused on the rock for some time.
A knock on his door reminded him that he had other responsibilities that day. He quickly pocketed the coin and the rock, and got to his feet. He glanced at his message stone, and headed for the door.
The townhouse was a large building with a domed roof on one of the widest streets in town. It was located between the House of Morenth and the marketplace, and could be seen from either location. Large houses, fairly close to each other, were lined up on the other side of the road, but the townhouse's side had nothing but grass and trees for a hundred feet in either direction.
The windows of the building were large and high up. Most were shuttered, but two of the largest windows in the front were filled with glass. The large front door of the townhouse, with three marble steps leading up to it, was guarded on each side by a well-armed soldier.
Before arriving at the townhouse, Ziedon gave his dagger to Sahlman. He kept his staff though, using it as a walking stick. Ardith gave her oaken staff to Kay, and hid her sling and pouch in her clothing.
As planned, Kay and Sahlman did not enter the townhouse. Kay positioned herself near the House of Morenth, and Sahlman accompanied the others until they were almost at the townhouse, wished them the luck of Bal'jan, and waited for them there.
Ardith, Galgewe and Ziedon arrived at the townhouse. There was a guard on either side of the door. Making no threatening moves, Ardith and Galgewe, followed by Ziedon, walked up the stairs to the main entrance. “Your weapons, please,” said one of the guards. Galgewe glanced at Ardith, drew his sword, and placed it in the hands of the guard on his side of the door. He then reached down, pulled at a strap on the side of his right boot, and removed a dagger, placing it too in the guard's hands. Ardith wordlessly produced her sling and pouch of bullets and handed them to the guardsman.
Ziedon walked up the steps, leaning heavily on his staff, as if he would collapse without its support. “I am not carrying any weapons,” he said when he arrived at the top of the stairs.
The three adventurers were allowed to pass. One guard knocked on the door a few times with a definite rhythm. The door was unlatched from the inside, and then both guards pushed it open. Two more guards were waiting inside to escort the three visitors. Neither was wearing heavy armor, but each one had a broadsword sheathed to his side. They were both tall and well-built, most likely hired for those characteristics.
The entrance hall was long and narrow, and opened up to a larger hallway at its end. The soldiers walked, one behind the visitors and one in front of them, with long, even steps. At the doorway between the smaller and larger halls, each guard walked off to a side and stood up against the wall, blankly facing an indeterminable point between them.
The three adventurers continued on into the larger hall, and waited. The hall was at least a dozen feet wide, equally tall, and three times as long. The walls were made from stone and oak set in a pattern that was pleasing to the eye, yet clearly artificial. It was a wonder how the builders of the townhouse had managed to rest heavy stones atop carved beams of wood. There were three doors to the hall, one at the end and one on each side, and the single open doorway through which the adventurers had passed.
A minute or two later, one of the side doors opened. “I see you decided not to leave town after all.” Forgolon Deepthroat walked into the room and closed the door behind him. He was wearing more formal clothing, but still of the type that could hide almost anything. “I assume you were intelligent enough to come unarmed.” He paused and walked closer to the group, looking at each member in turn. A narrow smile formed on his lips.
Suddenly, Forgolon drew his sword and swung it at Ziedon. Ziedon fell backwards to avoid being hit, and swung his staff up in front of his head to block the attack. Forgolon stopped his sword in mid-swing and resheathed it, letting it hide itself in his excessive clothing.
Ziedon lay on the floor, tangled in the folds of his cloak, with his staff on top of him. Forgolon bent over, took the staff and handed it to one of the guards. “You won't be needing this to help you see the townsman.”
Ziedon slowly rose to his feet and frowned at Forgolon. “If I would have raised my hands to stop your blow would you have them removed as well before seeing the townsman?” He motioned for Galgewe to come over, and used the servant's arm for support.
Forgolon seemed genuinely amused. “Ha! Clever words. If it puts you at ease, I have no intentions to harm you. Follow me, and you will see the townsman.” Ziedon turned his head briefly and noticed that there were now six well-armed soldiers in the area. His frown deepened as he followed Forgolon. Ardith smiled secretly at Ziedon's attempt to get his staff into the townhouse.
One guard stepped up in front of Forgolon and opened the door at the end of the hall for him. He nodded at the guard, and walked through. Ardith, Galgewe and Ziedon followed him, and the five remaining guards walked quietly behind everyone else. The hall opened up to a large room, most likely the primary meeting place in the townhouse. The room was round and had a high domed ceiling which was decorated with various wood etchings and statues. A great Sign of Morenth was carved into the center of the dome. The eight-legged goat of Morenth looked down into the townhouse, as if in judgement.
The walls were lined with evenly spaced paintings, the likes of which the adventurers had never seen before. It was not often that one found himself among works of art. Their beauty was reserved for those who could afford it: the nobility and the church. Two glass windows high up on the walls let in ample light.
There were three doors leading into the room. The six guardsmen who had just entered stood at one door, and six more were already at another. No one guarded the third door. Most likely, it led to a side room and did not need to be guarded. There was a raised podium in the center of the room, directly under the Sign of Morenth, which was surrounded by chairs and tables. On a large cedar table near the side of the room rested a candelabra that was still lit. The table had scrolls and pens scattered about on its sides. On the chair in front of the table sat Townsman Ulan.
Ardith and Ziedon could not tell for sure that it was the townsman, but his elegant clothing was good enough evidence. Ulan was of average height and build. Much of the hair was gone from the top of his head, and a few strands of gray hung limply among what black hairs remained. Wrinkles wove their way in and out of Ulan's forehead as he watched the approaching group, and long creases folded down the sides of his lower lip.
“Townsman,” Forgolon said.
Ulan nodded. Forgolon lifted his hand, and all the guards left the room, closing doors behind them. Forgolon himself walked around the table, leaving the three visitors in the center of the room, and stood erect, staring straight in front of him as the guards had been doing at the townhouse door.
All: One note's needed to clear things up. The time scale got messed up over the course of this and last turn. I tried to make references to time vague in this turn, but there were still some problems, particularly Sahlman's devotions to Ay'wah, which were supposed to occur at dawn, but couldn't.
Your responses to this turn have already begun, so there's not really anything I can say about that.
Ardith: Your fall holiday is tomorrow, on 9/1, the middle of fall.
Hitpoints: Sahlman: 10/14