Sahlman stood staring at the townhouse. His mind raced from one to another of the topics currently facing himself and the other members of the small band. Balban's trustworthiness, or lack thereof, was one concern. The day to day matters of survival were another. Ziedon was a third. The young woman who'd caused so much trouble the night before presented yet a fourth dilemma. Too much. Far too much for a simple man like Sahlman el'Musafir to deal with. He didn't want to have to think about most of those things, yet he had worries as to whether or not Ardith would make the right decisions.
For such a young woman, Ardith showed admirable devotion to her goddess. Sahl could not help but admire and envy that kind of zeal, but the cynic that had been crudely formed under the harsh hammer of the desert wanted more substance. Where was this goddess, anyway? Sahl could put faith in Ay'wah's warmth, but how could be be expected to place himself at the disposal of an entity completely without presence? Still, Sahl didn't see where haste on his own part would be of any benefit. It would be best to stay aware of his own feelings regarding these events.
The shrouded figure grasped the hilt of his scimitar, subconsciously tilting the long weapon upward as he squatted. He faced the edifice where his companions were having their meeting and waited.
Ziedon retrieved his staff from the guards and used it as a walking stick. His mind was awhirl with the information that he just learned, and its ramifications. It seemed it was Balban's plan to put Ulan under him as ruler of Maelbourg in a month's time. If Balban's conquest was successful, and, after seing Grenzig, there was no reason to assume it would fail, what would it mean to the law of the land? 'I must get word to the king,' Ziedon thought, 'but how? What role does Galgewe really play? Perhaps I should not have made him gather firewood.' Ziedon smiled wryly at the last, but the smile was short-lived. 'But to warn the King…' Ziedon walked absently next to Ardith, planning impossible events and wondering how they could be manipulated. Gaining an audience with the king of Rang was not an easy task, and then what if the king ignored him? Balban, after all, was only conquering towns over which the king had no juristiction, but what if Balban were to attack Huerten? If he won such a battle, he would gain control of one of the largest baronies in Rang.
Kay saw Ziedon and Ardith leave the building, and made her excuses to the holy man of Morenth. The robed priest watched her walk briskly toward the townhouse and the odd-looking pair emerging from it. From another angle, he saw a bulky man wearing an unusual headdress look suddenly alert, and run to the group. 'Ah, the lives of heathens. They will learn of the True Path soon enough,' thought the priest.
Sahlman and Kay asked about the encounter with Ulan, but Ardith waved them off. “Not here. Not so close to the town center. Let us go back to the inn. We can discuss it there, in my room if the common room is too crowded.”
Ziedon was still in deep thought as the collected group entered Grabble's. He let himself collapse into a chair, which squeaked loudly at the impact. After a few minutes more thought, Ziedon slammed his hand down on the table. “Damnation and Hellfire! We need to get out of here now!”
Several patrons, working calmly on their first ales of the night, looked at Ziedon momentarily, but, seing nothing of interest between the folds of the bent man's cloak, turned back to the more interesting subjects in their hands.
Ziedon turned to a wall. Hearing no immediate response, he waited a minute, then rose to his feet and explained himself. “I don't trust that townsman or the ministrel. I will feel much safer on the trail to our next destination, than in this city where a hand with a blade could be poised anywhere.” It was then that he realized his companions were gone. His face flushed a deep, uncharactaristic red when he remembered Ardith's plan to discuss matters in her room. He quickly recovered and his face set into a scowl that seemed to be intended for all patrons of the inn, blaming them for this happening.
The rest of the group climbed the stairs and entered the room let to Ardith and Kay. It was a fairly large room for the rude inn, but still small for an assembled group.
Several times, Ardith began to address the company, but was interrupted by the arrival of one or another. Finally, she threw up her hands and said, “No use until we are all here. Meanwhile, Kay, would you please go downstairs and retrieve the mage, and bring up a flagon of ale, some bread and some cheese?”
The archer agreed, but before Kay could complete her errand, the dark mage found his way to the room, and shortly thereafter, Korisca also. When Ziedon entered, he gave a brief glance to Kreemon, who noticed it and turned away. When Korisca arrived, Ziedon's eyes fixed on her and did not move.
Kay returned with her armload of food and drink, to the cheers of most, and shut and barred the door behind her.
“All right, we are finally all here,” Ardith began in hushed tones, passing the bread around. “Much has happened since this morning, and there has not been time or opportunity to tell you all everything.”
Ardith proceeded to relate the tale of their encounter with Ulan, of Galgewe's apparent importance in the scheme for the town, and of her conversations early this morning with the ranger and the thief.
“I believe,” she summed up the latter, “that both Kreemon and Korisca will be of value to us in our quest. I know many of you will find it hard to trust Korisca since she stole – or better said attempted to steal – from us, but I believe that, in the absence of hunger and need, she will be trustworthy, and her nimble feet and fingers will be of use to us before long.
“I suggest we take them both, ranger and thief, into our party, and leave this place no later than dawn tomorrow.”
Ziedon was the first to object. His rough voice emitted slowly from the dark recesses of his hood. “The brigand should have already been turned over to the authorities. Law and Justice need to be satisfied.”
Ardith sighed deeply, then raised her eyes to bore directly into those of the mage. “Ziedon,” she began, softly and in measured tones, “have you never done anything of which you were later ashamed? Have you never made a mistake out of need? This young woman was hungry and in need. She saw my pouch, thought it full of coin, and meant to use it to fill her empty belly.
“It was a mistake. An error of judgement, born of hunger and thirst. Since last night, I have spoken with her at length, and judge her to be good at heart. I invite you to do the same before you render your final verdict.”
Ziedon pulled back the hood of his cloak. “I have committed my share of mistakes in the past, but I never broke the law. I have even allowed myself to be arrested and tried when I did no crime. If the magistrate finds her innocent, then so be it. This nimmer committed a crime, her justification doesn't matter. She did not have to resort to thievery, she could have found other ways to sate her needs.”
Ziedon's cold eyes turned again on Korisca. “It was a crime. Poor judgment and ignorance do not excuse it. Neither you nor I is a magistrate, so we have no right to judge her. She is to be turned over to the local constable and her punishment decided.”
After a long moment, Ardith broke off eye contact with Ziedon, and looked around the room at the other adventurers. “How say the rest of the company? I have told her she may need to stand for an interview if you so decide. For what it is worth, I vouch for her.
“Sahlman, what say you?”
Kay stood. “Friends, I've been hungry in my time. I know what it is to have nothing to pay for food or clothing, though it's true I always had a trade, as fletcher, if not archer. But this woman has nothing to fall back on but her nimble fingers and fleet feet. I think that we can use these talents. We do not know what we will run into when we go where we've been sent.
“Both these people can do under-cover work that none of us know how to do. Spy, listen in places where we, armed as we are, would raise suspicion. They know how to use the shadows.
“I say we take them both in. True, maybe we should watch them both to be sure they are worth our trust, but I at least don't want to see Korisca in jail. I'd rather have her with us than against us!”
Ziedon shook his head in disbelief. “She has nothing to fall back on? She has a strong back and is light on her feet, there are several jobs that she could be doing. She chose not to learn honest work. Instead, she honed her arts of thievery. More the evidence that this was not an act made out of desperation but of deliberation.
“I doubt that she would be placed in jail. I believe they brand thieves in this part of the kingdom.”
Korisca backed away slowly. At the mention of branding, Ziedon transformed in her eyes to her father, ever preaching about his “just punishments.” The rest of Ziedon's words were not heard, as Korisca slipped from reality and could think only of long-past memories and insane fantasies. Curling up against the wall and pulling her arm up by her head, she cried.
Ziedon's look of disapproval quickly changed to disgust. The fires of his anger were kindled at the thief's attempt to extract pity. Her breed was known for their misleading performances, and Ziedon was not one to be fooled. He turned away from Korisca and took a few breaths to calm himself. “Would you place yourself above the Law?” he asked all those around him.
Ardith sighed. “Whose Law, Ziedon? I follow the Law of my goddess, Andritha. The laws of men are secondary, and carry not the weight of Her Truth.”
Ziedon's jaw dropped for a moment. Ardith was telling him to ignore the law of the land. Such words bordered on treason.
“Andritha has spoken to us, saying, 'In all things be moderate,' and further, 'Before ye judge another, walk three miles in her sandals,' and yet further, 'Lest ye be judged, judge not.'”
“The law of _your_ god you say. I am sure I could find another whose faith calls for swift and merciless justice. You are in this town, and in this town, their Law rules. To do otherwise invites anarchy!”
“We are not of this town. Who can say what law applies to us? Allow me to finish, in any case. I do not believe that Korisca is faking. She is a very troubled woman with hurts we cannot imagine.
“But I am not a dictator who wields above the heads of her flock the sword of vengeance. I merely do my best to interpret Andritha's word.
“What say you, all? Kay, Sahlman? Shall we turn this poor wretch over to a magistrate as Ziedon demands, to publicly brand her? Or worse, to incarcerate her with brigands far lower than she? Or shall we forgive and forget her attempted transgression against us, and welcome her – and her talents – into our company?”
“Do not twist words. Justice demands the thief to be tried in accordance with the law. Nothing more and nothing less. If she is found guilty then she will pay for her crime. If you truly believe that the magistrate will brand or incarcerate her,” Ziedon paused, his eyes aglow, “then you admit that she is guilty.”
“Ziedon, you have made your case. Let us hear from the others.”
Sahlman turned from the others, silently pacing to the other end of the small room. There he stood for some time, pondering what words he could say. When he faced them again, his dark eyes held trepidation and sorrow.
“Arditta, it is my sorry. I would much like to agree with you about this girl, but I cannot. She has done wrong, and it is not being my place to decide about it, though my mind has been full of such things for all of this day. At the end of it, the only certain thing I can be saying about this girl is that she is having the will to do wrong. When it is ourselves at stake, I am not being able to trust her. Not with my, or your, life.” He held Ardith's gaze for several moments before adding, “Can it be that you would adjudge another on your own, without the knowledge or counsel of the leaders of this place? It does not seem like you.”
Sahlman braced himself for the hurt and accusation he was certain would leap at him from Ardith's eyes at his words. Hearing a small, pitiful sound over to one side Sahl looked down at the young thief where she lie huddled on the floor sobbing. The man's broad shoulders slumped just a little as the hopelessness in the girl wrenched unmercifully at his heart. Her sobbing brought hidden memories back into the awareness of the gnarled man: memories of a boy leaving his home, his father dead and his reputation in ruins; of time spent stealing goats from other bedouins in the black of night; theft resulting from hunger; deaths of other men whose sole crime was attempting to prevent the loss of their property; the vision, so clear even after more than a decade, of a living human being screaming soundlessly in pain as a scimitar was drawn from his body, blood staining the length of it with crimson ichor. The nausea that had been the reward of young Saladin al'Hakariim returned full force to the older Sahlman. He had not been able to eat at all from the booty gained that night.
His breath catching in his throat, Sahlman turned from his curious friends. “Let her stay with us, Arditta, Ziedon, Kay. For my part, let her stay.” But, remembering the lessons learned from his own experience, Sahl tuned a haggard visage back to the others. “But only this one thing. She must have the learning from it and never do its like again.”
Ardith nodded at Sahlman's contribution, but Ziedon only frowned and shook his head at Sahlman's indecision.
Kay chimed in. “I agree with Ardith and Sahlman. Let her stay. I'm not saying it was all right for her to try to steal from us – or from Ardith. It was wrong. But who are these magistrates of this town to judge her? After all, it was _us_ she tried to steal from, not them.
“I don't want to see her flogged, or whatever they do to thieves in this place. And if we turn her over to them, after they punish her, then what? Won't she just be in the same pickle-barrel that made her try to steal before? With us, she can learn better ways, and maybe even an honest trade. I could teach her to make arrows, for instance.
“I, for one, am tired of other people pushing us 'little folks' around, trying to make us do things their way.”
Korisca seemed harmless enough, Kreemon thought, and if she tried anything, he'd be ready for her. Anyway, she was the closest thing to a friend he had in Maelbourg, other than Bork, and if it wasn't for her, Kreemon would still be out of work. He thought the last with a grin. It was strange how things worked in Kreemon's life. Spotting the wild chase the night before was little more than an accident. Kreemon normally was not out so late at night. He couldn't sleep that night and left for a breath of air, when he heard the running and checked it out. Now, through an unlikely series of events, he was part of this group, ready to leave Maelbourg and start on a more interesting life than he ever expected for himself.
Kreemon definitely was indebted to the thief. Still, there was Ziedon. Seeing such amazing power flow from the necromancer's fingers, did he dare confront him? The others disagreed with Ziedon freely, but perhaps they were already more friendly with him, or perhaps – Kreemon could not discount the possibility – the whole group was capable of wielding that same power.
The worst that could happen if Kreemon confronted Ziedon was that he would be killed. Kreemon did not fear death. When he was young, the teachings of Zahira persuaded him not to. “When we die, we return, and come and go and come and go until Zahira proclaims neutrality.” Kreemon did not fear death. No, who was he kidding? Every man fears death. After all, Zahira also taught that “everyone suffers the little death.” Suffering was always something to fear. Kreemon's fear of death had been lessened by his devotion to Zahira, but not removed. At this moment, Kreemon feared the cold death that he knew Ziedon could provide him.
Kreemon said a short, silent prayer to Zahira. Korisca might be killed if she were put before the authorities. Kreemon feared death, but Korisca surely feared it more than he. Whatever the result, he had to make an attempt to help her.
“How much power does the magician have in this group?” he asked Ardith. “Most of you want to let Korisca come along, so let her. If you're afraid she'll steal something and run, I'll be happy to keep an eye on her.”
Ziedon gave Kreemon a cold look, and Kreemon closed his eyes and awaited death. Death did not come, but Ziedon's glare remained when Kreemon's eyes reopened.
'What say does this vagabond have in this matter?' Ziedon thought. 'He is only here by sufferance.' Ziedon shook his head again. He realized that the group was going to allow the cutpurse to avoid justice. Ziedon slowly turns his head to let his chilling gaze rest upon the young thief. At Ziedon's treacherous grin, she burst into another crying spasm. “The thief may be allowed to skirt Justice now,” Ziedon continued to himself when he was satisfied with the results, “but that doesn't mean that I will not be able to be Justice's representative in the future. The others will relax their vigil and then Justice will be served.”
Ziedon quickly glanced down at his concealed orb, and then relaxed in his chair, knowing that the outcome of this encounter was all but assured.
Ardith nodded, with a look of finality about her. “OK then,” she said. “It's settled. Kreemon and Korisca come along.”
All: I apologize to the players and to the AD&D echo for the lateness of two consecutive turns. If all goes well, this trend will not continue. As the players, at least, must have noticed by now, this turn has been cut short. I thought it only right to give _something_ to the FidoNet echo. Turn 26, with luck, should be out in a week, but just in case it's delayed for some reason, it's nice to have this one around.
Ardith and Ziedon: I took a bit of liberty with your characters to get the turn out. If you didn't notice, then I guess it didn't matter. If you did, I hope it wasn't out of character.
Your Bill, Sir:
- Ardith: .6ag*(bread&ale)
- Kay: .6ag(bread&ale)
- Korisca: 1.7ag(bread&ale, clothes&bath)
- Kreemon: .6ag(bread&ale)
- Sahlman: .6ag(bread&ale)
- Ziedon: .6ag(bread&ale)
Hitpoints: Sahlman: 18/22
Korisca, you raised a level. You get 5HP for a total of 10. You also get 30 points to distribute among your thieving skills. You can not add more than 15 to any skill, and no skill can be raised above 95. Since you've been hiding in shadows a lot, it makes sense to put at least a few points into that.