Kreemon left Korisca at the bathhouse and took a short walk back to the marketplace. The market was not crowded, but it was not empty either. There were many people about, entering and leaving shops, examining the few booths that lined the main road, or just standing and talking to friends. A group of children was playing a game Kreemon did not recognize. Every time a horseman, those few that there were, came by, the children grabbed a few dozen trinkets from the road and ran to the side.
Kreemon entered a grocery to buy a bag of nuts, and then went back outside and watched the children again. After a few minutes, another horseman rode by, and the children scurried to Kreemon's side of the road. While they were waiting for the dust to settle, they saw Kreemon and his bag of nuts, and slowly made their way towards him.
Kreemon saw the children approaching out of the corner of his eye, and, when they were close enough, turned his head and offered them some nuts. They eagerly accepted the offer. After they stood there for some time with their nuts, Kreemon decided to start an interrogation.
“Are the taxes in this city always this high? I've been in places it's lower and the government has enough to work with. Your parent must have to work awfully hard to pay them.”
Kreemon received little in the way of intelligible answers. His best explanation afterwards was that eight-year-olds neither know nor care how high the taxes are.
It was Kreemon's good fortune some time later to happen upon a ragpicker. Such people spent their days rummaging in garbage, finding rags and other items that could be sold at a minimal price. Ragpickers were also known for their collections of information. Wandering the streets day after day, one gets to know things.
“Good morrow, goodman.”
“Goodman? He takes me for a man of rank,” the ragpicker mumbled.
“I'm a stranger in town. I couldn't help but notice what you do. Is this the way it is in a city? I come from a small village where everyone takes care of each other.”
“Ne'er been to a city, and never want to go.”
“May I ask you some questions?”
“I'm busy,” he said, bending over to pick up a horse-shoe bolt.
“Please, everyone here abouts seems so busy. I'd be willing to pay for your time, not much as I'm without a patron at the moment.” Kreemon opened his hand and showed a copper piece.
The ragpicker glanced down at his armful of garbage. “This is worth more than that. I could find this much more before you finished with your questions.”
Kreemon took out another coin.
“Two. He offers me two.”
Kreemon put his hand in his pouch, and after a moment's jingling of coins, came out with five copper pieces.
The ragpicker looked at his armful, and looked at Kreemon's hand. He dropped the garbage and snatched away the coins. “What do you want?”
“Things seem peaceful here. We had some pretty strong feelings back where I come from. A good and decent baron died and left his estate to his only son. I left. He sure was ruining the place what with higher and higher taxes and harsh punishments for the least little thing! Why, the day I left he had a man lashed 20 times for not taking his cap off fast enough!” Kreemon shook his head and sighed. “Are the people here content?”
“You talk too much. They're as happy as they want to be. Those tax collectors don't bother me; there's nothing to bother.”
Kreemon was getting nothing along this line, so he changed the topic. “I've heard of a few townsmen around here, Worsen, Orfort and Silnquost. Would it be likely they'd need an out of work fighter? Perhaps as a guard?”
“Guard? There's more guards around here than anyone'd ever want, protect'n the town, and gett'n in everyone's way.”
“Thank you,” Kreemon said, and tossed the ragpicker an extra copper. The ragpicker looked at in his hand, shrugged his shoulders, picked up the garbage he had dropped, and continued along his interrupted path. Kreemon followed alongside the ragpicker, who glanced at Kreemon and grunted.
“I heard someone mention a minstrel call Deepthroat,” said Kreemon. “Is he any good? I'd like to hear some good music for a change, though if he only plays in places that charge a lot for a good ale, I guess I will have to pass. Have you heard about him?”
“I don't ask minstrels their names.”
Kreemon stopped the ragpicker by taking his shoulder, and dropped a silver coin into the ragpicker's hand. “Perhaps you could buy an ale or two this evening.” Kreemon rubbed his nose, hoping the ragpicker would take that to mean that he should not tell anyone about Kreemon's questions.
Waving a friendly hand and wishing the ragpicker good luck in his business, Kreemon returned to Grabble's. Korisca was not there, so he had a quick meal and continued wandering the town.
During the rest of his wanderings, Kreemon found out little about Maelbourg. He heard of the same three townsmen that Ardith and Kay had heard of a few days before, but could not find much specific information about them.
Kreemon was surprised at the number of soldiers about. There was probably a soldier to every twenty or thirty people. That may have been normal in a town like this, but it was not a familiar sight to the villager, even though he had served in Baron Velhelm's military in a city. The actions of people did not change much around the guards, but people did seem to avoid standing too close to them.
Kreemon did find out a bit about the layout of the town. The entire town was centered around the market and the House of Morenth. The perimeter of the town was primarily empty of everything but grass, weeds and trees. Most buildings in Maelbourg were one story high and had very low ceilings.
The ranger visited several taverns that day, but could not find any information about Forgolon Deepthroat except for the known fact that he was a minstrel, and a good one at that.
Kay took her post and watched the Townhouse. She paced back and forth worrying about her friends. It seemed to her a lifetime had passed since they went inside the foreboding building, but she held her check. After all, the sun had not moved so many minutes of arc. It must have been her excited state that had her thinking it was so long.
“Excuse me, grace,” a small voice said.
“What?” Kay replied.
“I wish to enter the House. Please let me by.”
Kay looked at the poor man before her and felt kinship with him. After all, she had grown up poor as well.
“My best apology, good sir,” she said, emulating her friend Ardith's speech. “By all means, pass and be well.”
When the man passed, Kay glanced behind her and saw a tall man in long, black robes looking at her from a distance. Most likely, this was some religious official of Morenth.
Keeping the Townhouse in her view, Kay moved toward the robed figure, and by positioning herself behind the him from the point of view of the Townhouse, Kay asked, “Sir, are you a priest of Morenth? Can you tell me of Morenth? I am a seeker – I have no religion.”
“You dare come to this holy town armed as you are, and with no belief in the Master?”
“Hey,” Kay began, but then thought of Ardith's calm manner, and continued, “Sir, I'm sorry if I offend you or your city. I come from a far place, and the journey is not safe without arms.
“Besides which, it is my profession. I am a mercenary. That is, I am paid to protect travelers between cities and towns, and to hunt game for their sustenance while on the journey.
“Please tell me of Morenth – of the faith in what you called the Master.”
He watched her suspiciously, but answered her plea none the less. Kay listened with half an ear to the obscure practices of the followers of Morenth, while keeping a watchful eye over his shoulder. The robed man spoke of dozens of laws and requirements, but left Kay with no feel for the religion. He ended by telling Kay that it was too late for her, and she would feel the Eternal Death even if she repented. Kay moved away from the House after that.
“So,” Ardith began with a grin, “the minstrel is in fact a guardsman, or perhaps a more personal guard, it would seem.”
She turned to the townsman, and her grin faded. “Townsman Ulan, I presume? My name is Ardith, and these are my companions, Ziedon and Galgewe. Forgive my presumption, but I would like some proof, other than Forgolon's assertions, that you are indeed Townsman Ulan, before we get down to the matters at hand.”
Ulan raised a soft bushy eyebrow at Forgolon. “You bring me this? Where is the messenger?”
“She is the messenger, townsman: a priestess of Andritha.”
“Andritha? Who is Andritha?”
“One of the goddesses of Grenzig.”
“Grenzig?” Ulan's eyebrow dropped and he looked at Ardith. “Well, out with it. Give me the message.”
Ardith sighed dramatically. “Perhaps you did not hear me, sir. Before I do what you ask, I must have some proof of your identity. Our employer was specific in his instructions; to give the message only to Townsman Ulan of Maelbourg.”
“What is this insolence?” Ulan said, looking at Ardith but referring to Forgolon. That part was made clear by the quick movement of the minstrel's head. “You told me there was a message!”
“There is a message, townsman. She is a stubborn woman. Priestess,” he said, turning to Ardith, suddenly more polite than she had ever seen him, “only the townsmen may call meetings in townhouse, and no other townsman has eyes out for a message to townsman Ulan.”
Ardith looked at Ziedon, then Galgewe, seeing only agreement in their faces and gestures.
“No insolence intended, nor any slight to your person,” she said, “only concern for the privacy of this message intended for your eyes alone, Townsman. After all, we are strangers in Maelbourg and do not know you, nor the ways of the city.”
She stepped forward and extended the scroll, with its seal showing, toward Ulan.
“Here is the message, sir.”
Forgolon moved toward Ardith to take the message, but Ulan's hand came up in front of him. Ulan himself stood out of his chair and took the scroll.
Townsman Ulan held the scroll in his hand, and turned it over a few times. His fingers traced over the frayed edges of the document. “What happened here?” he asked.
“We have had some adventures and misadventures on our way here from Grenzig, Sir. It is of no consequence, as you can see, for the seal is unbroken.”
The townsman's eyebrows curved up in concern. He raised the scroll to the level of his eye, and looked at it carefully. Seeing no other damage to the scroll itself, he shifted his eyes slowly to the seal.
Ulan spent several minutes examining the seal. He circled his finger around its edges, apparently checking for imperfections in the wax. He then removed a small, reflective object from his pocket, and looked at the seal's reflection, circling his finger again around its edges. He looked momentarily nervous. “Bring me the Book of Seals.”
Forgolon bowed and walked to the open door, from which two guards emerged to stand by the townsman. Forgolon returned shortly with a large sheet of parchment. The guards exited back through the open door. Forgolon spread the parchment out on the cedar table.
Ulan laid the scroll on the parchment, and looked at both, comparing the scroll's seal to over a dozen circular drawings on the parchment, before he stopped and smiled nervously.
Finishing his inspection, he held the scroll carefully over the candelabra on his table, and let the wax drip slowly off.
When nothing remained of the seal, the townsman opened the scroll slowly, and stretched it out to its full length. He examined the penmanship reflected in the first word, nodded, and read the first few lines of the message. His head jerked up and he looked at Ardith.
“It says here there are four of you.”
Ziedon raised his head to look at the townsman with fettered impatience. He sucked in a lung full of air in preparation, his hand tightening on Galgewe's arm. Just as quickly, Ziedon let out the air in a slow hiss and lowered his head, the words on his tongue blocked by the gates of his closed mouth. Forgolon turned at the noise Ziedon had made while Ardith replied to the townsman.
“Aye, Sir.” Ardith smiled. “Actually five of us, since a member of our party has returned from a personal quest. It did not seem necessary for us to confront you 'en masse,' as it were. The others of our party are enjoying the pleasures of buying and trading in your fair city. It seemed to us that three, including Sir Galgewe here, would suffice to deliver the message.”
“As a point of clarification,” Forgolon said, “at least one of the two remaining messengers is standing, well-armed, within sight of the townhouse.”
Ziedon looked at Forgolon inquiringly, thinking of convenient ways to torture the minstrel to death, and then shook his head to clear it of such thoughts.
Ardith merely shrugged her shoulders.
Forgolon began to speak, but Ulan raised a hand and stopped him. “We will deal with such matters later.”
Townsman Ulan returned to the scroll and read it through several times. Each time, the look on his face became more nervous and confused. Finally, he sat down in his chair and put his head in his hands.
“No, no. Not yet. I'm not ready. You'll have to go back and tell him I'm not ready.”
Ziedon looked at Ulan and spoke with a voice as dry as the grave. “You have made your pacts and know your duty. It is too late for second thoughts. Our time here is finished.” He motioned to Galgewe. “Let us depart.”
“Just a moment, Ziedon,” Ardith said. “I wish to know what, exactly, is going on here. What is it that our client wishes from the townsman that he is not ready for. It's true, as you have said, that Ulan has made his pacts, and has his duty, and whether he discharges it in the time set or not, I – we – have become involved in this plot, and if we are to go further in whatever machinations are afoot, _I_ at least wish to know what it is we have become party to.”
To make her point clearer, Ardith sat on a chair near Ulan's table, and glared across the littered surface at the townsman.
“It is not our place,” Ziedon replied. “We are messengers, not partners. Our involvement ended with the delivery of the letter. I think it would be best if we did not know the details.” He looked at Galgewe for support, but the servant of Balban stood fast.
“Never did I suggest partnership,” Ardith said to the mage, “yet, with our compact with our benefactor, we are complicit with whatever pact is afoot. I wish to know what is happening, and therefore if we are to be a party to it or not.”
“Our compact is to deliver the message. We have done so. If the townsman decides to renege on his accord with Balban, then,” Ziedon said with a grin and a glance at Ulan, “I am sure that Balban will deal with him accordingly. It is not our concern.” Ulan looked more worried than before.
Ardith glanced first at Ziedon, then at Galgewe, and finally at Ulan. “Master, what _is_ afoot”
“The robed one is correct,” Forgolon said. “You are only messengers. As messengers, you will return to Grenzig as the townsman has requested, and deliver your new message.”
“Wrong. We don't work for him.” Ziedon laughed and waved toward Ulan. “We already have a destination and it is not Grenzig. Why don't _you_ run the errand?”
The smile on Ziedon's face disappeared. “This is becoming tiresome.” Ziedon turned to the townsman. “You have your message. Do as your conscience tells you; don't let honor or your word get in the way.” Ziedon let go of Galgewe's arm and slowly walked towards the door they initially came through.
“Forgolon,” Ardith said, glancing back at Ziedon, “you annoy me, but you and Ziedon are correct in this case. We have no agreement with the townsman. The townsman's response should be sent back to Grenzig, to alert our client there of Ulan's response. Yet, that would be a long and dangerous journey which we had not originally contracted for, and we have other journeys to make.”
“No such journey will be necessary.” Everyone turned to Galgewe, who had been silent until that point.
Forgolon looked quizzically at Galgewe. “Who are you,” Ulan asked.
“I am a servant of townsman Balban.”
Ulan turned his head sharply down and skimmed the scroll that still lay unrolled on the table. When his head rose again, it had an unquestionable look of fear on it. “Continue.”
“If I may, lady,” Galgewe said to Ardith. “Townsman, you must make yourself ready. Balban's plans depend on your cooperation.”
“I… but… but one month?”
“That is the time he has allotted you. You must prepare Maelbourg before he comes, or all will be lost. How far have you come toward that goal so far?”
“I… I have been busy,” he mumbled.
“So you have done nothing?”
“No.” The townsman bowed his head.
“Perhaps I should report your incompetence to Balban. There may be better candidates to lead Maelbourg.”
“No, no. I will have the town ready.” Ulan spoke in a soft, mournful voice, as if given the order for his execution by a respected superior.
“I will remain to be sure all goes as planned. Ardith,” Galgewe said, omitting the title of 'lady' that he had been using for so long, “I am sure you can lead your group to the city of Huerten without my help. I don't expect you will have any trouble with the Baron once you arrive.”
Galgewe turned and walked briskly to the door opposite that which the adventurers came from.
“Thank you for delivering the message,” Ulan said quietly. “You may go.” Ulan and Forgolon followed slowly after Galgewe, and two guards appeared to escort Ardith and Ziedon out of the townhouse.
Kreemon was ready with his meager information when the group returned to Grabble's, but it was no longer needed.
All: I apologize to the players and to the AD&D echo for the lateness of this turn. I've had a pretty crazy month for various reasons. I assume I'll be able to go back to at least a turn every 3-4 weeks.
Unfortunately, Diane has dropped out of the campaign this turn. I'll try to figure out what to do with Kreemon, but until then, I guess he'll just be an NPC.
Congratulations, everyone! You have successfully delivered the scroll to Ulan, and have thus completed the quest and this chapter of the Coming of the Zioth. I'm looking to improve the game as usual, so what do you think of it so far? Anything you don't like about it? Is it too slow or too fast? Too easy or too hard? Are levels rising to quickly or too slowly? Any comments you have (even if you're not a player in this game, and just happen to be reading this remark) would be appreciated.
Kay: Sorry I didn't give a detailed description of Morenth. I'm not very good at thinking up religions.
Hitpoints: Sahlman: 18/22
For successfully delivering the scroll and thus completing this chapter of the Coming of the Zioth, Sahlman, Kay, Ziedon and Ardith will receive an extra 400XP. Korisca and Kreemon will receive 200XP because they were present for part of the quest.
Sahlman and Kay both raised a level. Sahl got 8 HP bringing him up to 18/22 and Kay got 6, bringing her up to 12.