So, as I was saying, my plans for a life of leisure under an appreciative (and wealthy) patron died rather horribly along with my prospective noble gentleman in the dusty mill of the rustic armpit called Turner's Luck. I quickly devised a new plan, however, as one must be flexible in dealing with life's little surprises. The dead gentleman's bastard son, Broderick, was clearly in need of a firm hand to guide him towards his new destiny (and inheritance) in the big city and I had just the man for the job.
Young Broderick looked to be the perfect protege, naive and yet conniving at the same time. His natural grasp of situational advantages and budding arcane talents could be nurtured into something worthwhile over time, although his social graces were more akin to something one might scrape off the bottom of one's shoe. His father had provided support to him growing up but apparently much in the same manner as one would support a favorite dog. I started to feel a twinge of sympathy for the young fellow until I remembered that my own upbringing had consisted primarily of back alleys and beatings.
We spent the night at the inn with accommodations provided gratis by the proprietor in thanks for preventing the complete destruction of his already ramshackle establishment. In addition to our earlier efforts, the larger of the odd-fellows had "repaired" the hole in the inn's wall using an enormous boulder he'd found outside somewhere. The boulder did nothing for the ambiance of the place but if the only horse you've got is a dead one you might as well go ahead and flog it anyway.
Our "rooms" upstairs were merely sections of a larger room pathetically divided into sections with sheets or blankets. The gnome, who provided us the the obviously false name of Boomtock Fizzlebang, kept waking us up all night with illusions of clinky piles of gold swirling about his head created by his dreams. Not that I have anything against lovely clinky piles of gold. Quite the opposite, in fact. And if we do ever find out his real name there might be a reward attached to it. I shall have to keep an eye out for Wanted posters.
We arose to depart at a reasonable hour the next morning and I convinced my assorted companions that we absolutely must take the deliciously posh coach which essentially now belonged to young Broderick as next-of-kin to the now-deceased councilman. To my chagrin I found that I alone amongst them was qualified to drive it, based on some experiences in my youth handling the wagons of the traveling carnival. I took the driver's seat with as much grace as I could muster and consoled myself that although coach driving was much below my desired station in life it certainly was superior to walking in the mud.
Our progress down the road to the city of Adan was much noted by those we passed. I drove the coach, accompanied on the bench at times by young Broderick. The two odd-fellows, appropriately named Kull and Brute, strode along on either side in impressive fashion with their long legs easily matching the speed of the carriage. Inside were the gnome, the fisherman "Onri", the puzzlingly androgynous cleric who went by the name of Keith, and Broderick when he was not up top with me. I was still rather confused as to why my companions wanted to include the fisherman amongst our number but on a road trip larger numbers can help forestall attack.
We had not been long on the road when we came up on a group of small children also headed in the direction of Adan. There were about twenty and all quite young and quite grubby. Clearly they had been stationed here to hit up gullible travelers for spare coinage while maneuvering for the occasional unguarded purse. I tried warning the others not to fall for it, but when a tiny little girl offered her small stuffed bear to the massive Kull further discussion became moot. A couple of our motley crew went back to the inn for food and the gnome "lit" a fire with a reasonably competent illusion to keep people amused. Eventually the children were fed and watered. Then the lot of them were actually allowed to board my lovely new coach over my objections as to the obvious thick layer of grime about their persons. I also noticed that one of the children was actually an adult gnome (or dwarf, they're had to tell apart).
The children also spun a story about an older girl called Merity who had been taking them all to safety after goblin attacks up north. She and a number of other children were allegedly missing after several attacks by wolves on the road. The rubes in the party fell for it hook, line, and sinker. I tried to point out that this was an obvious ploy to lure us into some lonely ambush spot but the others showed an unhealthy keenness to get cut to pieces by hordes of marauding goblins in search of her. The gnome also came up with some fantastical tale of "goblin gold", no doubt kept in a pot at the end of a rainbow somewhere, and was eager to be off in search of it. Once again I sensed something of a kindred soul in regards to the appeal of the noble yellow metal--but also a competitor who might eventually have to be accidentally left behind tied in a sack somewhere.
Not long afterward we came to a rest station for travelers at a river. A vendor of arms and armor had set up his stall there, selling wares from a far away land called "Pongo". He had with him a massively built bodyguard. Having no need of armor or weapons of any kind I took the horses for water. It wouldn't do to have my fine new dobbins collapse from lack of simple care. Later two other travelers bought Pongo swords from the merchant which snapped off at the hilt after only a few practice parries. I made a mental note to avoid anything with the word Pongo associated with it.
The bodyguard entered into an arm wrestling contest with the largest of our odd-fellows, the one named Kull. Onri seemed to think something was amiss and I had seen enough rigged carnival games to look askance at the bodyguard's eagerness against our massive lad. And indeed the first bout went quite quickly to the shorter but thick-chested merchant's employee. However our fellow regained his composure and prevailed in the following two bouts. I magnanimously gave half my wager winnings to our triumphant champion. Hopefully he'll invest it in a pair of proper undergarments in the near future.
While we were finishing up our activities at the way station, Keith set about attempting to convert some of the locals to his religious persuasions. One actually took him up on it, no doubt due to the paucity of other entertainment in the vicinity. The rest of the locals, however, made themselves scarce with alacrity.
We set off again for Adan and came upon a decidedly non-descript fellow coming from there. He noted that there was an orphanage there which could take the flea-bitten little brats off our hands. (Gods only know how I'll get the fleas, lice, and stains out of the upholstery, but I digress.) He assured us that the place was known for training its charges for useful employment, such as cleaning the city sewers. To my surprise Kull asked the man whether there were any temples in Adan. Our interlocutor noted that there were many, including ones to Light, Vice, and Law & Order.
Our journey to Adan was uneventful and when we arrived the city was wreathed in a fog, the walls and spires emerging romantically from the mist. Ah the city, a place of a thousand civilized delights and a thousand more opportunities for entrepreneurship! We obtained a visitor's day-pass at the gate and were warned that wares from Pongo were not allowed into the city. That was rather awkward news because on our journey we had discovered that the coach was previously repaired using a wheel of Pongolean manufacture. But the stout fellows defending the grand portal to civilization were clearly too busy for us to bother them with such mundane information at that particular juncture.
We crossed through the main market on the way to the Temple of Light which Keith was curiously eager to visit. Now if it was the Temple of Vice I might be persuaded by one (or more) of the Joy Priestesses to participate in a bit of goddess worship. As we were passing through the multitude of stalls in the marketplace Kull almost became overwhelmed with the magnificence of it all. Ah yes, I remember my first trip to the markets and my head did indeed spin as well with the vast array of wares displayed there. It has that effect on many people. His companion seemed most disturbed by the episode, almost as though he feared Kull might go berserk or something. Clearly this was his first time in a metropolis as well.
At the Temple of Light Keith was recognized by the clerics as a co-religionist. Well at least we were now clear on his denominational affiliation. He spent a bit of time with them before we moved on to deliver young Broderick to his family's mansion. In particular I could now rest assured that he was not with the Temple of Law & Order and all the awkwardness that might entail later. The "L&Os" are a desperately stuffy lot as a rule. Whenever they're in the vicinity it's best to keep a bag of necessaries ready in case one must make a quick exit out a back window. Besides, if the group persisted with their odd obsession to visit goblin country it would indeed be convenient to have a "Shiny" from the Temple of Light along. The carnival had always been careful to treat any Shiny with extra hospitality in case anyone needed a curse removed some day or something.
Our arrival at the mansion of the young heir was, alas, far less felicitous. In fact the place was completely shuttered and bereft of anything even remotely resembling joy. A neighbor told us the family and staff had been taken somewhere and the house closed by order of the council. And apparently the council was already aware of the death of their former colleague Remi Natall even prior to our arrival. This was shocking news. Was there really no hope of a fine meal, a vintage bottle or two, and a pouch of round, clinky spendables offered in gratitude? We decided that we must effect entry and look for some clue as to what was happening. (Also, there might be some fine vintages left in the cellar in need of a good sampling.) Luckily there was actually one servant left, a mute named Kevin. He let us in just as the cheap Pongolean wheel on the coach collapsed.
Realizing that we would need at least another day here (and longer if the wine held out) a couple of us dashed back to the gate to get an additional ridiculous day-pass. On the way there was a hue and cry for some petty thief (obviously an amateur) and the gnome "child" suddenly ran up. His pathetic lack of professionalism was embarrassing even from a distance. He desperately begged us to help hide him but I was having none of it. For a moment I was worried he might soil one of my shoes with some attempted groveling but he made himself scarce instead.
We repaired the wheel, stabled the horses and Kull, and settled in for the night. The house was quite bare of decent sustenance and I'd rather not even mention dinner. However the house was still fully furnished. The style was rather nouveau riche with a large number of portraits of relatives--including the recently deceased Remi himself. Not long after we had turned in an oddly rhythmic squeaking could be heard coming from the gnome's room. At first some disturbing images came to mind but I decided to put it all down to the little odd-job probably jumping up and down on the bed. It's just the sort of thing you'd expect from one of the wonky little half-pints.
I dozed off but was awakened by a strange premonition. I had a vision of Remi Natall in his (rather mediocre) portrait pointing at something which I could not quite make out, possibly a blank square on a wall where a painting had previously been hung. The urge to search something out in the house came over me. Then I remembered the ghost of the mother of young Broderick who'd been burned as a witch. An ancient pile of lumber like this one could well have collected any number of haunts over the years. It might also have, I reasoned, any number of secret rooms and passages where the family could hide treasure. I conjured up a bit of light and cautiously set off in discovery.
Several halls, staircases, and galleries full of dusty, moderately priced antiques later I had found nothing. But then suddenly a pale spectre came down a hallway towards me. It was a young woman in a long white nightgown. She was a vision of loveliness but I feared she might be a spirit. But the closer she got the more she appeared to be real but walking in a trance. And she looked strangely familiar: suddenly her features resolved into the face of "Keith" the cleric. Stunned and intrigued I followed her through the house to the master bedroom--where the gnome had chosen to stay the night. And indeed the little pipsqueak was in there, oddly entangled in the bed hangings. I quite honestly didn't want to know how he had gotten there. He was asleep but making swimming motions and grinning outrageously. The dream-illusions about his head indicated rivers of gold.
The young woman opened a secret door in the wall which led into a hexagonal room. Inside she sat before a small mirror and began a magic ritual. Fearing another summoning of the spirit of Broderick's deceased mother I intervened. "Keith" awakened and looked about confused. I explained the circumstances leading up to the situation. Then she swore me to silence about her deception. Now, normally for me a promise is more a provisional statement reflecting my current attitude. But seeing her like that, lovely and vulnerable in a secret place, made this particular promise feel more real than I wanted to admit.
|Perhaps a promise really is a promise...|
[Special thanks to our DM Kaiser for suggesting Bruce Campbell's Autolycus character in the Xena: Warrior Princess series as a great avatar for The Amazing Trevor.]