When the vendors saw how many people had arrived at this fair, they hastily raised their prices. Still, stocks were diminishing quickly. Sweetened breads, pies, ales, wines and more expensive foods were sold everywhere. Games and contests, farther from the castle, were held every hour, and were always accompanied by shouts and cheers. More exclusive events could be found indoors, in one of many homes and commercial buildings that had been rented out to the fair.
Sahl, Ardith, Kay, Johannes and Mineasia toured the fair together, sampling foods and participating in games. The elation of getting the women acquitted was still with them, and was only enhanced by Mineasia's infectious glee at every person and sight that came before her. The light flurries of snow did nothing to harden the mood.
Kay entered an archery contest and picked up second prize. The first went to a local knight who won every year, and the third to a foreigner from Terradia, who tried to strike up a conversation with Kay, before she saw her friends waving and had to excuse herself. The spectators were surprised to see a woman not only enter but actually win.
The five of them wandered the fair all morning. An hour or so before noon, they heard a familiar voice yelling nearby. “No, I am _not_ here with the circus, you lousy pile of blackmold! Go mind your own business before I shove this up your ass!” The source of the voice was a man only two and a half feet tall, his waist-length hair tied up in a ponytail. It was Brinn, who they'd last seen two months ago leaving Grenzig to deliver a special message to the baron, while they brought their own message to Maelbourg. The man who had won third place in the archery contest was standing next to him while he shook his warhammer at someone in the crowd.
“Are these the people you look for?” Daluar asked in a carrying bass, with a strong Terradian accent.
“Huh? Oh there you are,” grumbled Brinn, looking at Ardith and Sahlman. When they merely stared, he added, “Surprised to see me? I'd think you'd be, after you left me to rot in that dungeon, and now I find out you've been in town for weeks.”
“Brinn!” Sahl said. “I didn't know you were in town. To tell the truth, I thought you had delivered your message to the Baron and then left town. I did not know that you were in prison. Who put you in prison, and how did you get out?”
“And you didn't think to check? The baron kept me locked up so I wouldn't send word back to Balban until _you_ got here. Then he let me and a few other guys go this morning in public, as a gimmick to get more business for his inn. What?” he suddenly yelled at Mineasia, who was giggling.
“You're very small,” she said.
Brinn glared at Johannes, then looked back at Sahlman. “You're just living it up here, aren't you?”
“Actually I am doing small jobs around the fair, just to earn a few coins. Don't be angry. We have been in trouble with the Second Clerk and we have been busy trying to get Ardith and Kay declared innocent. It is not so easy for us to ask the Baron who he has in his dungeons. Anyway, it is good to see you again. Come, I will buy you a meal and a drink and we will talk about what we have been doing.”
“You can't sweet talk me out of this one. Damn! Don't tell me it's starting to snow again. Alright, I'll go with you just to keep out of this weather.”
While the group walked off, Brinn taking two steps for every one of Sahl's, the Terradian nodded to Kay with a little sardonic smile. “What a small fair, isn't it?” he asked. Daluar was a wiry, coal- skinned man in his early twenties. His face and head were both clean- shaven, leaving only ink-black brows to accent his broad features. Pale, green-flecked gray eyes contrasted sharply with his dark skin. His lips were full and wide, the corners turned ever so slightly downward. He bore a stiff military posture, and wore a gray and blue uniform that even Johannes didn't recognize. The uniform included a wide, tan leather strap encircling the head, with two shoulder-length spatulate strips hanging down in front of the ears. The style was typical of western Terradian substates, though the insignia had been scraped off. In fact, all indications of rank or affiliation throughout the uniform had been removed.
“Following me?” Kay asked with a grin. “You shoot pretty well. Work the kinks out of the string and get a bow with some balance and you might win next time.”
Daluar nodded and said, “Thank you. It is good advice.” Glancing at the furious short man, whom he'd just helped find someone else to argue loudly with, he took a half step back, and leaned slightly toward Kay. “Please pardon, I think I intrude.”
“Don't worry about him. He'll cool off once Ardith and Sahl talk to him.” Daluar recognized the name “Ardith.” She was the witch he'd been warned about when he first came to town – the one who was said to have destroyed a temple's windows and caused the blizzard. “Maybe we'll see each other around.”
“Wait, wait. Ardeet?” Daluar glanced at the young woman next to the man Kay had called Sahl. “The one they say the witch? Is her?” After another, somewhat longer look, Daluar turned back to Kay. “Ha, come -on-.”
Kay laughed. “I don't know about 'witch,' but she does have a few tricks up her sleeve. You should have seen that guy's face when water came out of nowhere and made him drop his crossbow. Come on. I'll introduce you.” Kay gave a slight wave and walked toward Ardith, and then immediately spun around and looked past Daluar. This put Daluar instantly on the alert; he followed her gaze and spun around also.
Women screamed and people of all sorts ran off the road, knocking into each other and merchants' stalls, as a hawk swooped just over their heads with a loud “yawp!” An overweight man in a tight traveling tunic ran after it yelling, “Back here, stupid bird!” between whistles. He had a hood in his right hand, and his outstretched left arm had a blood stain where a bit of raw meat had slipped off.
Daluar snatched at the jesses as the hawk passed. They slipped between his fingers, but the motion set the bird off-balance, and it had to slow its flight and hover for a second to stay upright. Taking advantage of the situation, Daluar ran a few steps and leapt for the bird. This time, he got the jesses firmly in hand. The hawk flapped its wings, trying to escape, then pecked at the hand that held it, and then became inexplicably calm, as if it knew its struggles were a waste of energy. The falconer finally arrived, panting, and forced the hood roughly over the hawk's head. “Stupid bird will be the death of me,” he said, totally out of breath. “That's the third time it's escaped this week.”
Daluar said nothing, glaring fiercely at the fat falconer for his abrupt treatment of the bird, mostly because he was so mad he couldn't think in Rouch. The falconer must have mistaken his glare for a grimace of pain; he hastily swiped the bird off Daluar's sleeve and onto his own gauntlet. All Daluar trusted himself to mutter then was a snappish “You're welcome.”
The falconer turned and walked away, muttering. Then he stopped and turned around, suddenly the smiling merchant. “You handled the hawk very well – a good lot of falconer blood in you, I'd guess. Say, I could give you a good deal on her. One of the finest of her kind. I picked her up in Gallia, so you can be sure she was bred by royalty. What do you say to thirty five hundred? She'd be a round five G for anyone else.”
Daluar nursed his talon-mauled forearm for a moment, switching numbers to Terradian. Three thousand five hundred. Aglars! Almost ten times what he was worth. “Thank you, but I have not enough to pay what you ask. Perhaps,” he added, unable to resist the jibe, “I will wait until she escapes again.” A corner of his full, dark lips twitched up, calculated to let the falconer know he might possibly be teasing.
“Alright. It'll kill me, but I can go as low as three thousand.” Seeing that Daluar still wasn't interested, he dropped his act, turned around and continued on his way. Daluar watched him stump off, then, still nursing his forearm, shuffled back toward Kay and the others.
When he arrived, Sahl offered his hand to Daluar. “I am Sahlman. Welcome to Huerten.”
Daluar gripped the proffered hand. “Thank you, Sahlman. Daluar Sulanguan - is a pleasure.”
“I have not seen a black man since I left my homeland of Shrijat. You are wearing a uniform of some sort, so you were a military man, but where is your armor? Surely the soldiers in Terradia wear armor?”
It took Daluar a moment or two to realize Sahlman was not literally asking where he had left armor he did not own. “Most, yes,” he answered slowly, stalling for time to put together a decent sentence in Rouch. “Those at the front of battle. Heavy armor. This is not so heavy,” he tugged at the hem of his heavy leather jacket, “but is good to move fast, and quiet. I suppose there is more forest in Terradia than Shrijat.”
“So Daluar, what are you doing so far from home?”
“Enjoying it,” Daluar said bluntly. “All fight and fight about useless things… how good it is not to be there.”
“Are you working for some lord, do you have any plans?”
“No, and not really.”
“And what are your skills? Are you a soldier?”
With a glance at Kay, Daluar replied, “Yes, thanks to my father. I can use a sword and a bow, and follow men for miles – until they jump in the sea and swim away,” he finished a touch bitterly. “Now, be fair. The same questions, from me to you.”
“I come from Tchu'dan, the largest city in the Shrijat Coalition, in the deserts south of the Great Sea. My father was a rich merchant, also a nobleman and city official. Like most boys of rich parents, I was brought up by a foster family in the desert, where I learned the life of my people and also the skills of riding and fighting. But my family had powerful enemies, so when my father died, I left my homeland to seek my fortune elsewhere. I now live and fight in the armor and manner of a Rouche knight, but I serve no master, because I have found a better cause. I am trying to find out about the Zioth, which people say will destroy the world. I want to see if it is possible to stop this from happening, or to survive this calamity. I have some friends who are helping me in this quest.”
As he listened to the recitation, Daluar nodded, glad that Sahlman's speech lacked the rapid-fire cadence of native speakers. Also, Sahlman was volunteering a lot of information whose counterparts Daluar did not feel ready to share; he hoped the desert man would understand. When he was finished, Daluar nodded again. It was a lot to take in, but one thing had caught his attention: “The Zioth? I don't believe that you have nothing to be afraid of, but if really you want to investigate the thing, I can't you say no. Pardon for appearing nosy, I only want to know – what got you to doing something like this?”
“Since I came to Rang I have seen many strange things. I have seen a place where the people have magical powers, I have met with people who are not human, the forest dwelling Brininig, I have seen Ardith perform miracles of healing and I have felt the dread power of the sorcerer Ziedon, so I am ready to believe that there was an age before this one in which such wonders were commonplace. The legends say that this age was destroyed by the Zioth, the lining up of the moons, and learned men say that this will happen again in twenty years time. I don't want the world to be destroyed again, so I seek to learn about the Zioth and how to survive it.”
“I have not seen these things. If they exist, I would fear the Zioth even less, or why would Hartung let that Andritha would destroy the world with things so strange and wonderful? Even that I envy you now, that you have seen this and I have not.”
“Who can understand the motive of the gods? I say a man should take his fate in his own hands, and then pray to his gods to help him. I believe the world was destroyed once, so it can be destroyed again. If you wish to see wonders, then stick with me, because I am in search of wonders.”
“I have seen less of I would have liked of Rang, and more of I wanted of Terradia, but little marvels. This promise of wonders sounds very inviting. Think your friends are of accord to let me, heh, 'stick with you'?”
“You guys are too philosophical for me,” said Kay. “Let's catch up to the others and watch Brinn explode.”
Kay, Daluar and Sahlman arrived at a small inn far from the busy First Knight a couple minutes after the rest. Ardith had already calmed Brinn down, and was relaying the stories Brinn had missed. She didn't look concerned when Sahl pulled up an extra chair for Daluar, so the Terradian sat down and listened to words that could only have come out of a fairy tale. When Ardith was done, Sahl took over, and by the time it was Brinn's turn, it was already well past noon. The tavern keeper had put out the fire, but the room was still getting hotter. Kay peeked outside and realized that the weather had taken yet another of its strange turns. The snow had disappeared, and been replaced by a heavy heat that rested on fairgoers' shoulders like the coats they'd removed. Taverns and drink stands were getting more business than ever.
Brinn's story wasn't nearly so exciting as the others'. Balban had sent him to Huerten with two soldiers. They'd followed the main road, making good time. They fought off a very disorganized group of bandits on the way to Eltweig, but had no other adventures of note. In Eltweig, the soldiers went off to do some business of their own. Brinn had followed them and eavesdropped on a conversation that showed they were getting the latest update from Balban's agents. Nothing surprising there – Balban seemed to have people everywhere in the barony. From Eltweig to Huerten, nothing special happened.
Brinn and the two soldiers dutifully brought the message to the castle. It took them a while to get it to the proper person, who turned out to be the Second Clerk, not the baron. Brinn did get to meet the baron though. He and the soldiers waited in the Second Clerk's office for three hours before the baron was available. Brinn was relieved that his adventure was finally over and he could go back and get paid, but as soon as the baron was done reading the note, he instructed some nearby knights to escort the three men to a political prison. Brinn continued to call it a dungeon, but it was clear to everyone that it was a much kinder place than that. The baron had merely wanted to keep Brinn from returning to Balban before the rest of the group arrived. No doubt, it was Brinn's descriptions and Balban's message that gave the baronial knights enough information to watch the roads for the party.
“Alright, fine.” Brinn said after a brief flare of anger, and a few apologies from the others for not thinking to look him up. “I get it. It's not your fault. But I'm out of this business. I'm going back to Balban to see if my reward's still there, and then I'm on my own again. If there's enough money in Grenzig, maybe I'll settle down. No more of this mercenary stuff.”
Unseen, Daluar's hand made a fist, but he kept his mouth shut.
“Come on, Brinn,” Kay said. “What we do is more fun.”
“Try spending a couple weeks in a dungeon; we'll see who's having fun. If you want to see me, look up the wealthy townsman in Grenzig who just lies around all day, letting beautiful women cater to his every need. That'll be me.”
The heat was excruciating when the party went back outside, and everything seemed to be moving slower as people walked sluggishly between stalls and lingered in the shade. Mineasia was once again enthralled by the sights of the fair – thousands of sweaty, over- dressed men and women didn't take away from it in the slightest.
The next few hours went by peacefully, if uncomfortably. Daluar had no compunction about shrugging out of his jacket and shirt entirely, and went about bare-chested, shiny and black like a seal. Late in the afternoon, they passed by the falconer's cages, where a half-dozen birds and a few cats waited to be sold. The hawk that had escaped earlier was perched on top of her cage, and the falconer was trying to get her down. When she saw the group passing by, she leapt off the cage and landed lightly on Daluar's head. Mineasia giggled. “You again?” the falconer asked. He looked back and forth between Daluar and the cage. “Alright. Five hundred. That's only fifty attles, a tenth what she's worth. Causes me too much trouble anyway.”
Daluar hastily wrapped his shirt around a forearm and urged the hawk onto it. She preened, perfectly willing to be looked over while Daluar rubbed his bald-shaved head; she did seem to be in good health and most certainly in good spirits, worth every attle of the three fifty the falconer had originally asked for and perhaps more. But if he was willing to sell for fifty – if she was trouble, Daluar could be doing the hawk a favor; the fat merchant might even grow abusive – Daluar could hardly turn it down. A significant portion of his funds, yes, but if that was what it took to save the hawk … “Fifty attles will pay, sir,” Daluar said, “but I have some not in coin. This is all right?”
“Show me what you have.”
Daluar pulled out Rang coin, Terradian coin, ten-attlers, small gemstones and jewelry until the falconer was satisfied.
“I'm finally rid of that stupid bird. Nothing but trouble. Say, for another twenty attles, I'll throw in the gauntlet, hood and cage.”
With a little smile, Daluar said, “I will not cage her or blind her, sir, but,” he held up his shirt-wrapped arm, “a gauntlet I need it…. Thank you. Can I know, what is her name?”
“It never answers to any name,” he said, glaring at her briefly. The hawk flapped her wings and settled down an inch higher on Daluar's arm. “It's trainers called it 'Missy' or something.” Having finished the deal, the falconer was clearly losing interest.
“Missy or something, huh?” Daluar murmured to the hawk. Her head darted about. “Missy,” Daluar cooed. She turned and bit the bridge of his nose, gently but pointedly. “Ow.” Daluar murmured to the hawk in Terradian for several moments, then turned to the falconer. “Many thanks, sir. I don't doubt you are happy to have rid of her.”
A couple more hours passed in peace before the next adventure. A man stopped them as they were walking along a lesser-used road. He was dressed in street clothes, but he held himself like a soldier. Two similarly-dressed men stood behind him. “Well you've made a good mess of things. Maelbourg in chaos, and Huerten all but ready to launch an attack on the southern towns.”
Sahl stepped back and struck an aggressive pose with his fists raised. “What fellow ho! Are you footpads? If so then I warn you we are the fiercest fighters in the whole of Rang and will make short work of you! Best to flee now while you still have your skins!”
The man looked stunned for a few seconds, then he relaxed, though Sahl noticed his hand was readied at his side, possibly preparing to grab a concealed weapon. “And now you threaten officers of Balban? Who are you working for? Which of Balban's enemies is masterminding this plot to keep him from power?”
“Officers of Balban are you? You should wear some identification. From your look and smell I took you for a walking dung heap! And keep your hand from your weapons or I will scream for help. As for Balban, I know nothing of any plots, but I resign from his service. Our group delivered his message as he requested and he betrayed us in his message scroll by writing to the second clerk that he could put us in prison. I'll not work for a lord that betrays his own men!”
“A few months as hostages in the baron's castle for the noble cause of uniting the barony under a good leader? That's what worries you? You would have been compensated. Alright.” With his other hand, he reached for his belt and tore something loose. Sahlman, Kay and Daluar grabbed their weapons, but the man just tossed Sahl a full belt pouch. “Here, for the… four… of you. It's more than you should have expected, after making such a mess of things. If you show yourselves in Balban's towns again, I'll kill you myself.”
Sahl took the money and beamed at the soldier. “No need to threaten us. Remember, we did our job as best we could; it was Balban that betrayed us, not the other way around. However he has finally shown some style by paying us, so let bygones be bygones I say! Have a nice day”
“Did I speak well?” asked Sahl of Ardith, as he counted out the money, giving Ardith and Kay fifty attles each, and keeping a hundred for himself. “I will hold on to Ziedon's share. It's fifty attles. If we see him again I will pay him.”
Quietly, Daluar asked the group in general, “Who is Sidon?”
“Ziedon is the sorcerer I spoke about earlier. He was a member of our party but he has been traveling alone for some months. I am not sure if I want to work with him again, because he has an evil temper and dangerous powers. These two things, together are too dangerous.”
“Dangerous, yes,” Daluar agreed, quietly. “What will you do if comes back crazy, tries force you to do what -he- wants? And even not – will he help fight Zioth?” His steady storm-gray gaze told Sahlman, 'I would.'
“I don't know what Ziedon wants. If he wants to help then he will be useful. But it all depends on how he acts.”
Daluar nodded. This purported sorcerer seemed intriguing, but unless he actually showed up, there was no point in fretting about it.
Nathan (Johannes) has officially resigned from the game. It's been great having you as a player, Nathan. You've added a lot to the game both in-character and out. For those who don't know, a lot of the game world wouldn't exist if it wasn't for contributions from Nathan. That's what you get for creating a character who knows more than the DM. :)
I'd like to welcome a new player to the game. Jason will be playing Daluar. You're off to a good start, Jason. Keep it up!
Ardith and Kay are still NPCs.
I'm still working on the next game segment. Hopefully, I'll finish it tomorrow morning.
Your Bill, Sir:
Ardith and Kay each gained 50at. Sahl gained 100 (50 is for Ziedon, but I didn't distinguish it on your character sheet. It's up to you to remember).
I removed one of the pearls from Daluar's character sheet for the gauntlet.