Wednesday, 24 July 2019

THE CRYSTAL SEAS... EPISODE 12: Rest and Recreation in Romani

After their incarceration by goblins in the Sunken Citadel, the remaining party members mounted an audacious escape, fleeing over the Ishmakh mountains towards the village of Romani...

14th Sositi

When he opened his eyes, Horace did not find himself on the floor of a barn. He was on a firm yet comfortable bed, swathed in a cotton sheet. He heard the sound of a woman singing. Soon the woman's face was immediately in front of his.

With sunlight cast from the window behind her, his eyes could not discern the details at first, but the shape was certainly appealing. Swiftly his eyesight adjusted, he could not help but wince ever-so-slightly at the enormous birthmark covering the woman's face, as though her dark skin had been bleached pink by a splash of bleach around her nose, eyes and mouth. He felt the shame double when the woman momentarily cast her eyes down, acknowledging his brief moment of revulsion, only to return to meet his gaze with a wide smile.

Rebekah: apologies to the real owner of the original face.

"Ah, you are awake!"

"Yes... where am I... my friends... ?"

The woman explained that in the night Zadu had come to her small temple-come-infirmary requesting aid: Analicia, Horace, and Ursula had been brought from an old barn. They had been unable to move themselves. Horace had no memory of the incident.

"I am Rebekah, maiden of the temple. My father, Elijah, is its priest. I run a small infirmary for those infidels who refuse to take the waters of the New Temple. You... you are a holy man, are you not?

Horace did not reply.

"It's just the other one... the other small one, smaller than you, he was a holy man."

Horace frowned.

"Erky. We made a shrine to his dragon! He went to the sunken citadel to find it...."

A cruel joke crossed Horace's mind.

"Did you... did you see him? I mean, you come from there, right? That's where the other foreigners went... only they never came back... but... but you did..."

"We.. we saw many things.. I don't think so..."

Rebekah's face grew sullen.

"Oh... and what of Masika? She was from the New Temple, but she was kind. She went with Erky and the scholars. Analicia awoke to the sound of Horace and the young woman, Rebekah, chatting idly. Ursula did not stir. Analicia winced in pain as she tried to move: her burnt torso was swathed in bandages. Forlornly she fingered the broken stump of the antler erupting from her head.

"Will it grow back?"

She shrugged.

The dormitory also provided a bed for a near-dead old man and a small boy covered in a nasty red rash. Neither spoke common, with the old man apparently cursing wildly before collapsing back into a stupor. Rebekah made a simple breakfast of wheat gruel, sweetened with pomegranate seeds. Horace and Analicia devoured their meal rapidly, before bringing a bowl to the prone Ursula.

The yellow woman was downcast, distraught at having lost her comrade, and rambling a little inanely about needing a new weapon. She protested that they needed top get back: to save her books, to kill goblins, and to rescue Ulf..

"Ulf! The scholar! He was sent to the sunken citadel by my master Ignatius Maus!"

Analicia shrugged again. Somehow the conversation veered back to Kuriakos, and Analicia inadvertently laid the blame for his death at Ursula's feet, prompting an almost childlike tantrum. The pair left hair to let off some steam, and stepped outside hoping to find Bolg... and Zadu?

"If you're looking for your friend, he took the chestnut horse and left. He gave me this!"

The young woman presented a silver coin proudly. 

"He said he considers the horse to be proper payment."

"That's the last we'll see of him, I suppose... did he take the boy with him?"

Rebekah replied no, but she indicated that strange scent in the air might provide them with some answers.

They followed the smell of charcoal and incense through a series of crumbled stone ruins, until they arrived to see Bolg performing a magical ritual... after a minute or so, the bonfire he has constructed collapses in on itself, forming a brilliant shining light... which then transforms into a small, black cat.

"What the f-"

"Familiar. I summoned a familiar!"

Bolg explained that he'd been practising his magic, and demonstrated his command over the creature, which appeared to dematerialise and reappear at his command.

Momentarily forgetting themselves, the three of them strode into the centre of a seemingly pleasant market village in the cool foothills of the Ishmakhs. A gentle breeze blew over the shimmering waters of the Ezran oasis, and in the village square a circular fountain gurgled before a well-constructed yet unadorned temple.

Perhaps the pressure of the last few days had gotten to him, it was unclear, but for some reason Horace almost immediately began proclaiming his holy powers, perhaps as a way by which to gain money. Analicia seemed to catch on and was soon in on the ruse, wildly proclaiming that Horace had cured her of all manner of ills. The irony of Horace a) actually having healing powers and b) him not using them on his comrade was apparently lost on them. Only Bolg cringed with embarrassment.

The streets were all but bereft of a few vendors. It was already late morning, and people were perhaps retiring for lunch. An old woman seemed vaguely interested, but soon left after uttering a tirade of nonsensical curses. Finally the doors to the temple opened, and a dark skinned man in fine white robes emerged, his head shorn to the bone but his face resplendent with a luxuriant white beard.

"You are aware that you are preaching in my village?:"

Horace protested, but kept his bearing amenable as best he could: in the event he relied upon the intervention of another to spare him from himself.

"You mean my village, Abu Moheb!"

...a second figure had arrived on the scene, similarly clothed in brilliant white robes, but with a curved silver scabbard fastened at his waist. His heard was likewise shaved bare, but unlike the priest he kept his face similarly clean-shaven.

"I am Shaoul, lord of-"

"-Geta, defender of the faith-"

"Lord of Romani. My ancestors liberated this land during the anarchy, and have since served at its protectors. We built the temple at which father Moheb evangelises. But yes, all is the domain of the New Temple."

There was an awkward silence.

"Speaking of evangelising, Geta, this rather short northerner was doing some preaching of his own."

"Merely to get your attention," said Horace, thinking on his feet. "We desired to speak with the higher powers of this village."

The two local men smirked, and bid him continue. It appeared they already knew a little of where they had come from, and what ills had befallen them. When Horace tried to warn them of the "goblin problem", they were unflustered, stating that the goblins have been nothing but an irritation for decades, coming but once a year to sell their magic fruit... nonetheless, the lord invited them to dine at his castle that evening, and the two elders bid the foreign party adieu.

Back at the infirmary, they explained what was to happen to Ursula, who was still too weak to travel. She emphasised that they should press the local nobles for assistance in mounting another expedition. More than anything, she wanted to get her spellbook back, but also see if Ulf was still alive. Her colleague, she revealed, had also once been her lover, and though she no longer had strong feelings for him, it would be remiss not to attempt his rescue. 

"But after that... I'm out. I've had it with dungeons and death and danger and... and dragons... once we've killed every last fucking goblin, I'm going back up north. Fuck the college, fuck Dr. Ignatius Maus, I'm going to set up my own business with the treasure we make. You can come too! Analicia: you could carve bits of wood! Horace! You could... heal sick people!"

Horace presented her with an artefact he'd been holding on to for a very long time: an ancient book written in an indecipherable language. after overcoming her displeasure at being denied such an artefact, Ursula happily informed him that it was n fact two books: an omnibus of spells and....

"...a tome of gainful exercise. It's a magic exercise book."

Dinner at Shaoul's

In preparation for the meal at Geta Shaoul's, Analicia wrapped herself in a crimson robe, tied with a blue sash. She took care to cover the scarred flesh around her chest and neck. 

By nightfall two adolescent soldiers arrived at the infirmary,evidently to escort the party to their evening rendez vous. Horace and Analicia mounted up and made their way through the gloaming light, up the mountain trail and past  small orchard groves to the small fort that served as the Geta's homestead.

Across the courtyard they were led, thence into the keep, wherein a large group of white-robed individuals sat on the carpeted floor around a low table. They were greeted in the local tongue with smiles, but were mostly left alone to enjoy their meal. No wine was served.

A Private Audience

After a lavish meal of fresh fruit, breads, and stewed meats, many of the guests exited, with some being led to anterior chambers adjoining the hall. Geta Shaoul led Horace and Analicia to one such chamber, where they were invited to drink mint tea and smoke shisha. Shaoul explained that he was interested in funding an expedition to the sunken citadel, mainly as a rescue attempt of local heroine Masika. She was a protege of the High Priest (whom they met previously in the square), but he has been unwilling to mount such an operation. It would therefore be politically advantageous for Shaoul to perform this.

Nonetheless, he had reservations about the party, who had come away in such a terrible state from their previous expedition. So, he wanted them to prove themselves by performing a task for his second wife, the young Lila. He departed, and two servants arrived to take them to the Lord's courtesan.

From behind a translucent veil, the young aristocrat explained her predicament: she had been born to a powerful Kyran family, but an indiscreet former... associate... had damaged her reputation. One Thranian sorcerer by the name of Kharzan.

"He was my friend, yet he claimed that he was my lover. In consequence, my family were not able to marry me to a station befitting my birth, instead I am the courtesan of a provincial warlord...I will honour my husband in this role, but I seek to end th elife of the one who has so damaged mine."

The pair debated a short time, before realising they had no real options.

"What's in it for us?"

"Well, my husband will ensure you are fed and your expedition back to the citadel is funded and equpped..."

Analicia was sety to agree, but Horace interceded:

"What will YOU do for us?"

"My family will be indebted to you. You will receve 200 gold from my father."

They assented.

"Next week will be his birthday. My informants tell me that he will celebrate with a group of friends at a lavish bordello, but prior to that he will visit the Bishoftu Bathouse."

"...and... how will we.. prove to you that we were successful?"

"Bring me his fingers and his tongue. I will know him by those relics, and he will not part with them alive."

To be continued...

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