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Daralis and Vaelis ride slowly through Drellin toward the claims office. A strand of heads dangles from Vaelis' saddle: 5 orcs, 6 goblins, 2 hobgoblins and a bugbear. Altogether the heads should bring twenty gold. Mercenary work had been slow in the Empire and many had come to Vrath once the garrison commander posted the bounty. Daralis and Vaelis recognized each other in the bounty office from their service together.
"We're running low on funds, so until Bowen gives me more I'm only paying half. Here's your ten." After counting them a second time, the soldier pushes an assortment of copper, silver, and gold coins across the counter toward you. "Sorry best I can do," he shrugs and turns his back to walk away.
"Okay, okay. No need to get violent, friend." He shakily counts out the rest of the money and slides it over the counter. "But when the next guy comes in wanting to get paid, I am going to tell him you took the last of the money." He turns and walks away.
Something touches your shoulder from behind. You turn and see a dwarf in wizardly robes tapping you on the shoulder with an iron staff. His robes are brown. He has a scarred face, an overly large nose, and two large iron hoops dangling from his ears. He wears an odd stone ring on his right hand and carries a large satchel over his shoulder. "You and your friend here are obviously underpaid for your talents. What do you say we head over to the tavern and talk about a more lucrative opportunity."
"Didn't I tell you to stay out of here you no good dwarf!" The officer shouts from behind the counter.
"By imperial law you must show me respect, dog!" The dwarf draws a garnet medallion out from under his robes.
"So do you have time for a pint of ale? My treat."
Daralis remained passively in the corner. Past experience had proven it was best to leave “negoiations” to Vaelis, and today was no exception. It was a trifling amount of gold to quibble over, but as she gingerly fingered the dwindling gold in her pouch, she knew Vaelis was right. Berwyn was growing rapidly. Each evening the badger pup gobbled down his barley more rapidly, and his wet, black nose sniffed her pouch wistfully.
Daralis surveyed the dwarf and concluded he did not appear entirely trustworthy, but warily nodded her consent.
"Ha ha! Excellent, I think you both will like what I have to say." The dwarf leads you across the street to a tavern. The sign outside has a picture of a fat giant drinking from an overly large mug. You know this to be the Giant's Tankard, Home of the 2-pint ale mug. The dwarf selects a table in the back corner and orders a drink for everyone as well as some food. After everyone has settled, he opens his satchel and places 8 small rubies on the table. "There's two of these for each of you right now if you agree to help me, and the other two once we're done."
He takes out a roll of scrolls and unfolds them to show you. "As you can see, I'm an ambassador from Halstein, with diplomatic commission to convey me through the empire on my mission. Now, I assure you, I take no part in the hostilities between our two great nations currently. As you can see from my letter from the emperor, my diplomatic status is recongized even in war times. Who cares about those damn iron mines in the Red Hills anyway. They're slag heaps, I say you people can have 'em if you want 'em that bad. However, that dolt of a garrison commander here doesn't like me for some reason, sent all my armed guards home. With situation as it is in this province, I can't go about my mission without some protection. What's my mission, you say? I'm glad you asked. I am a professor of languages and history in my home country and am currently studying ancient Giantish rune inscriptions throughout the known world. As I'm sure you are aware, my scholarship has conclusively established a link between the Giant language and proto-Dwarven and has even suggested it may be related to Common. There is a pillar here of ancient Giant origin that I have not been able to study in person. I have been relying on secondary accounts of the runes from the works of Halman and Haridar but I have found their scholarship... lacking in certain areas. It has been difficult to obtain the necessary permissions since the tensions have been running high among our people. I am not about to turn back now that I am so close without seeing the pillar for myself! If you two agree to protect me on a n expedition to the pillar and then guide me to the border of Vrath, I will reward you handsomely with these rubies, and give you a credit in my next book."
Daralis felt famished, and was grateful when a generous meal of braised rabbits, stewed carrots and various rye and poppyseed breads arrived at the table. She ate hurriedly, and slipped a few choice morsels to Berwyn in her satchel.
The conversation did not allay her concerns. The dwarf’s words were eloquent; however, his charming mannerisms failed to conceal the devious glint in his eyes. Despite her misgivings, his documentation appeared legitimate, and the offered payment was certainly attractive. An acknowledgment in a linguistic book was of little consequence to Daralis, yet she thought fondly of her parents, Mibbtmottin and Seewyn, and knew they would be pleased to have the Ellinger name associated with a scholarly work (however remotely).
The rubies were another matter…
Daralis' initial inclination was to accept the dwarf’s proposal, but she desired to consult Vaelis privately. She hesitated to interrupt the Dwarf, who was currently expounding on the various intricacies of the proto-Dwarven language, but Daralis grew weary of feigning interest. She smiled congenially and interjected awkwardly,
May Vaelis and I have a moment to consider?
Daralis got up from the table, satchel on her shoulder, and motioned for Vaelis to join her.
Vaelis listened closely to what the dwarf had to say while he ate sparingly from the rich foods offered. While he didn't much care for the rubies, that the dwarf was offering them indicated the job would not likely be a waste of time. Which is good since the bounty office all but admitted they would not honor further work. And while a citation in a linguistics book is hardly a ballad of valor, any increase in renown is an honorable achievement.
In response to Daralis's motion for him to follow, Vaelis shrugged, nodded an acknowledgment to the dwarf, then followed Daralis away from the table.
Vaelis, what's you're inclination? I sense he's not entirely forthright. Still, he's a rather squat, slow-moving fellow. After we have fulfilled our obligation, if he rescinds the offer, we could manage to procure our rightful payment. Shall we accept?
It is apparent the bounty office has no more work for us, and few others in these part will provide suitable employment, even for a fraction of what this dwarf is offering. I cannot speak for his forthrightness, but something tells me that he walks a path that will lead us to a worthy foe; in fact, I would not be hasty to dismiss the thought the worthy foe is in fact he.
I say we take the job.
Vaelis raises a questioning eyebrow, awaiting Daralis's final dissent or concurrence.
Daralis nods in agreement and returns to her seat.
Ambassador, I believe we have an accord. What direction shall we travel in first? Orcs patrols are dense to the West, so I suggest we leave through the Northern gates at daybreak. Do you have any maps to ease our travel?
"Yes, I have several maps of this area and I believe I know the route well. Daybreak will be fine. I'll give you each one ruby now and you can have the other in the morning when we leave. Don't spend it all in one place."
At daybreak the others find Vaelis at the Northern gates, brushing down Silvermane, his steed. As they approach he feeds Silvermane an apple, gives his tack a final check, then mounts up. As Vaelis waits for the others, he retrieves another apple out of his pouch and bites into it, while Silvermane snorts and paws the ground anxiously. Yes, my friend, we will soon be on our way, away from these confining walls.
The dwarf arrives riding on a large pony. "So did you get your training in the military? I know your people have a tradition of service. Its obvious from your skills that you are not a draftee. Pathfinder perhaps?"
It is true that my people are known for their service, but our traditions and skills have a long history, reaching back before the empire, well before humans first appeared in this land, and even before we came to these lands ourselves.
He pats his mounts neck.
But it is good to be traveling.
Roll Survival (weather): 18 + 8 = 26
Roll Sense Motive: 7 + 2 = 9
His questions seem to you to be those of an overly-inquisitive academic, who perhaps doesn't know what's impolite to ask.
"So why'd you leave the military? Surely you weren't kicked out? Though I've heard Ilium's military forces reward loyalty to immediate superiors more than talent. I think our forces are much better regimented in that regard. Then again, we don't have nearly as large an army as you. Though, we did manage to beat back General Nestor's assault on Ironcrag. Sent his army fleeing back here to Ilium and the capital as I've heard the tale. Though maybe the news has traveled differently here in the Empire."
Indeed, why was I decommissioned? For months I have asked myself that very quesiton...
Hmmm... It is common knowledge that most of our highest echelons of leadership get their ranks through political pull, rather than strategic or tactical genius. Most have able lieutenants upon whom they rely for plans and guidance, but I sometimes wonder if it would not be better for...
No matter. For now I seek out to find my own honor.
After travelling with Vaelis for the previous four weeks, Daralis was accustomed to awaking before daybreak. By torchlight, she prepares for the upcoming journey. She deftly bends her bow to restring it, and plucks the string gently, listening carefully to the subtle harmonics of its reverberations. Satisfied, she turns to grooming Tirion's wooly coat and examines his paws for new abrasions. She pads quietly into the galley, noticing the baker has delivered three fresh sweet cream pies along with a number of other pastries, breads and meatpies. With the smallest pang of remorse, she cuts a few small slices, tucks them neatly in a spare tin, and then packs the rest of the pies in her satchel, leaving a glittering gold piece with the crumbs.
With preparations completed, she mounts Tirion and lopes toward the city gates. As she rides alongside Vaelis, she overhears Vaelis describing his heritage to the Ambassador. As they pass under the watchful eye of the perimeter tower, Daralis opens the tin and distributes the small slices to her companions before asking
I know only the history of my clan. Will you tell me more of your people's history as we ride, Vaelis?
And so, Vaelis proceeds to recount the common oral history of the Valenar, beginning with the tale of Creation, and ending at the point when the Gamemaster decides to push the plot along. There is much battling and begetting, deadly dragons and dead giants, victory through unconventional means, and grave losses brought about by betrayal.
Last edited by SamRoswell : 01-30-2008 at 08:34 PM.
"So I take it you're not a believer of the alternative history offered by the Crimson Brood? I'll go ahead and tell our gnomish friend about that. See, some elves think that the elves were enslaved by dragons early in their race's history. Most of the elves were used as toys or labor, but the prettiest the dragons used as mates. The Crimson Brood believes that draconic blood still flows in the veins of some elven families and that the elves should again partner with the dragons instead of trying to hack off all their heads. I met a Crimson Brood fellow one time. Nice guy, a little bit too serious for my taste, though. Kept talking about Elves First and Elf Power and all that. The guy couldn't shut up about mating with dragons, either--kind of gross if you ask me. But, I guess you aren't one of those. Do you think that red mithral that they use is really forged in dragonfire? But enough about that. Let me tell you about the history of my people."
Thorius proceeds to tell you the legend of the dwarves, which he interupts at every turn to express his doubt for such fantastic stories. In the end, his story is a boring 10,000 year theory of natural selection and language development.
The Crimson Brood? Those heretical abominations were supposed to have been wiped out when my grandfather was but a child... For them to still be around? Dangerous times provide one with more oppurtunity for Honor and Glory.
When the party stops for its midday meal Vaelis rechecks his tack, equipment, and weapons. After ensuring everything is in its place and in good condition, Vaelis proceeds to sharpen his knife and polish his sword.
"I've never understood why your people are such staunch supporters of the Empire. Your people are strong, you could be independent. You could rule such an empire if you wanted. Although I guess there are advantages to being part of it. Even I've considered if my people would be better off as part of the Empire. I guess we must all do what brings the greatest advantage to our people, and our selves. I guess I just don't see that you gain that much being a part, that's all," Thorius says, between mouthfuls of bread. "Pass me another of those rolls, those are good. Sorry, I shouldn't talk about politics so much. Its a bad habit of mine. I mean no offense."
When Vaelis is content that his black mithril blades are clean and sharp, he resheaths them, finally gathers some food for himself, and silently eats as the others finish up and prepare their own equipment and mounts.
Daralis perches by a small rivulet under the shade of an outcropping. As she fastidiously bundles her remaining bread into her satchel, she fondly strokes Berwyn. Daralis' brow furrows as she perceives her ward has become quite dusty. Berwyn contorts himself into ball and retracts to the farthest corner of the satchel trying to avoid the inevitable. Despite his valiant efforts, Berwyn is unceremoniously extracted from his pouch. His smooth fur bristles in defiance, his beady eyes squint at the offending sunlight, and he squawks with displeasure. Tirion, familiar with Berwyn as she was, decides that she would prefer to join Vaelis sharpening his blades, and trots quickly away from her master. Daralis speaks in a series of chitters and hisses that Vaelis had some time ago learned to it was best to ignore, as she gently submerges the irate badger. Berwyn emerges seething, but cleaner. Satisfied, Daralis gingerly tucks him back in the satchel.
As they rode out, Daralis ruminates on the exchanges between Vaelis and Thorius, and decides it is time to interject.
I certainly know less of history than you, Ambassador, but I believe I agree with Vaelis. While the Empire isn't perfect, it affords opportunities for those willing to work for them. My cousins in Blenheim are ceaselessly tariffed and squeezed by the larger guild families, and it has only worsened over the past few generations. In Ilium, my clan can practice their trade in relative peace and security, and we are granted our own local governance. Can you say that Halstein would treat Gnomes more fairly?
"We have several gnomes on the faculty of our college of wizardry. We dwarves don't seem to have a penchant for illusion or enchantment magic. But we attempt to teach it anyway. The minister of the exchequer is a gnome in Halstein. We reward skill in Halstein, what's more fair than that? I imagine outsiders such as yourselves would find it easy to ascend to the highest ranks of society in Halstein based on your skills, not forced into petty mercenary work like here. But I've said too much again. Why don't I just shut up until we get there. It shouldn't be too long now."
As the dwarf is rambling on and on, Vaelas catches a glimpse of three figures at the top of a hill to the side. Though he has to look into the sun to see them, Vaelas's sharp eyes and elven instincts tell him they are orcs mounted on war-boars. They are about 400 feet away at the crest of a hill.
Thorius and Daralis are now both aware of the orcs. Your warning and preparations seem to have been discrete enough not to alert the orcs. They haven't seemed to change their behavior and are still slowly following on the ridge.
"Holy Moradin, how long have those goons been following us?" Thorius asks in a low voice.