Thursday, April 8, 2021

[Marklands Campaign] First Session -- Arrival in the Marklands!

Session #01: April 7, 2021

Adventurers Present:

Delfonzeo, Male Roglaran Human 1st level Charlatan Bard. Delfonzeo failed a big-time con, and jumped on the departing Majestic Princess with the angry guards of his last victim mere tens of feet behind him.

Garrew Thornbeard, Male Kazadurul Dwarf 1st level Hermit Cleric of Kazadarum

Marin Steelswinger, Female Kazadaran Dwarf 1st level Mercenary Veteran Fighter

Garrew has developed a new theology of a personal, direct relationship between a dwarf and the Dwarf-Father, Kazadarum. The hierarchy of the Temple of Kazadarum in Gaehill had him declared a heretic, and he fled to his cousins in Anvil. There, the high priest found his beliefs offensive, and thus the Patriarch of Kazadarum in Thunderhold also declared him a heretic. He and his cousin, Marin, fled to Dwarfport, and there took ship with the Majestic Princess

Zylven, Androgynous (?) Nilborin Elf 1st level Folk Hero Monk, was orphaned in a three-way battle in the Palewood between the Men of the City State, the Skandiks of Ossary, and their native clan of Nilborin Wood Elves, who recognize no borders drawn by mortals. They were rescued from slavery or worse by Calaquende, a Gray Elven hermit and monk. Calaquende raised Zylven in the martial arts and trained them with the eventual goal of returning to their people to lead them against the Men of the City State and the Skandiks of Ossary to free the gnomes and elves of Palewood from their influence. Unfortunately, they were discovered, and sought to lead a rebellion far too soon… a rebellion that was soundly crushed. Calaquende and Zylven were taken to the City State for a fair trial to be followed by a first-class drawing and quartering, but they escaped. Calaquende was caught, defeated, and slain by the Red Wizard moments after turning Zylven over to some allies to get out of the city. After watching their master die, Zylven was smuggled onto the Majestic Princess.

During their weeks a sea, the four became fast friends as they learned the way of the sails and ship, and Delfonzeo picked up some bits of Dwarvish. They put in at some ports, but were never off the ship for more than a meal, until they reached the end of the Majestic Princess’ route – Finmark, the City of Blue Pearls in the Marklands, the last civilized settlement before reaching the Elephas. There Captain Ulf Ulf’s-Son let them leave the ship to see if they were interested in remaining, or finding another ship to go further afield from the City State and Thunderhold. The captain gave a pouch of coins to Ulrik the Urchin, a young Markka lad whom he has worked with before, to show the adventurers around town, and pay for meals, drinks, and three nights at Karl’s Longhouse, a modest inn in the Foreign Quarter.

Ulrik took stock of the party’s desires and figured they could get what they were looking for at the Drunken Dwarf, a tavern in the Dwarftown section of the Foreign Quarter, next to the Temple of Kazadarum and across from the Smials, the small hobbit quarter (or the “Eighth Eighth’s” as the Markka jest). The elf felt out of place, but fortunately only got quizzical looks rather than angry looks from the crowd, but they were nonplussed by the Roglaran human (after all, Dwarftown is right next to Viridian Row, the stronghold of the Green Clan Alliance). The party dug in to the first real meal they’d had in weeks, and the first real ales in as long, and discussed their situation while also listening for opportunities. They quickly discovered one when Garrew overheard a pair of dwarf merchants discussing how their brother was “overdue to return” and “might have been taken out by the competition.”

Garrew has the tavern maid take them a round of drinks; they nod at Garrew and join the party at the table. There they discover that the two are Thror and Thrun, two of three brothers who own and manage the dwarven jewelry shop on the Street of Swords, one block over. Taking stock of the party and their strange dress and dialect, the brothers surmise that they are new in town, looking for friends, and maybe looking for work. Garrew and the others agree, and so the brother dwarves offer them a proposal.

They explain that the pearl market in Finmark is controlled by the Great Clans and the Middling Clans, who together with the Lesser Clans have put together three factions – the Blues, led by the Blaukrone Clan (all Markka/Valonar bloodlines, and distantly descended from Fin the Founder and his Warrior-Queen, Griselda); the Reds, led by the Roedhalle Clan (descended from Markka and Roglaran survivors of the Orc Wars); and the Greens, led by the Groenblad Clan (descended from Markka and the Viridian survivors of the Orc Wars). Between them they control the vast majority of the market, and independents such as Thror, Thrun, and their brother Thorkel have a hard time even getting bids in to be considered. Thus, the brothers decided to go around the market in Finmark and buy directly from one of the pearl-gathering hamlets on the Perlevik – Blaoystron, a small hamlet on the verge of the Uther Pentwegern Sea, such that they harvest few of the sought-after blue pearls – but more than enough for the brothers to sell at market.

And so three days ago, their brother, Thorkel, set out on a small sailing ship piloted by Storgald Svein’s-Son; he was supposed to finalize negotiations with Odo, the chief of Blaoystron, and return after merely an overnight stay. But he has not returned, though the seas and skies have been clear. And so they need someone to go to Blaoystron and check on their brother and his ship, to see what has happened. They cannot hire locals, as it is a very sensitive matter – if others find out, they could get outbid for the deal, or worse. And so new folks in town, with no loyalty to any faction or clan, and looking for friends and money, would certainly be willing to help…

And they agree – 10 gp each up front, 100 gp each if they bring him back dead, and 250 gp each if they bring him back alive. They decide to meet at Fisherman’s Pier #1 at dawn, where the will receive their down-payment.

After that, the party finished off several more ales, then at around 9:30 decided to go to Karl’s Longhouse and sleep for the night, as they had an early morning. They dismissed Ulrik, telling him that for now, they had decided to stay in Finmark for the nonce, and to thank Captain Ulf for his kindness and generosity. Ulrik then gave them a letter, saying that the captain had expected such. Garrew opened the letter; it contained a blank card. The letter said that Captain Ulf would check on them again when he returns in two months (or thereabouts), and to give the card to Ulrik, he would know what to do if and when the time came. Garrew gave Ulrik the card; Ulrik smiled, nodded and with a mysterious smile said he would use it when the time came. They then tipped him several week’s pay for a laborer, and he said they would meet again… and be careful on South Road. It is not as bad as in the southern cities (he said, looking Delfonzeo in the eye), but there were still men here who preferred to earn their keep “by the blood of others rather than the sweat of their own brow.”

As the party passed the Temple of Kazadarum, they noticed the main doors on High Street were slightly open, and light was streaming out, so they decided to check out the situation, as it seemed late for activity in the temple. The discovered that the High Priest, his priests, and acolytes were performing the “Banking the Coals” ritual, at which point the forge between the altar and the idol was set “to sleep” for the night, to preserve the fire for the morning. They waited a respectful distance, then spoke with the High Priest when the ritual was complete. Garrew and Marin explained that they were migrants looking for opportunities (not mentioning anything about heresy), and the High Priest, Gothar Gorm’s-Son, said that the temple would be more than willing to assist in that effort if they needed help getting settled in, but “there’s not much we can do for an elf and a human.”

After that, they made their way to the Longhouse, where after meeting with the night-watch, they were shown to their room and fell into a deep sleep.

The next morning they made their way to the Fish Market, as Fisherman’s Pier #1 was all the way on the north side of the docks. Along the way they saw a lord of the Greens and his gentlemen entourage trying to calm a horse newly arrived at the stables – the Markka-folk not having much experience with horses, as the forests of the region are too thick for good horse country. Garrew and Delfonzeo tried to assist, but were rebuffed, and one of the Greens insisted they needed no help from some “Roglaran Wild-Man.” So they continued, and made it to pier in good time. There they met with the brothers, were given their down payment, and introduced to Svein Svein’s-Son and his son, Svein Svein’s-Son, the elder Svein being the younger brother of Storgald, the missing ship’s pilot who went with Thorkel. Unfortunately, he and his brother had been for some time estranged so he knew nothing more than he had been told by the brother dwarves.

They set sail across the Perlevik; it was a fine day, with good winds, and Svein told them it would only take them five hours to cross, if the winds held and they did not encounter pirates or vikings or some sea monster… which fortunately their sole encounter was a large merchantman, sailing the Blue Bear of Valon, which Svein told them was a near-mythical city to the north, ruled by a line of ice-blood sorcerers. “Good folk, from what I’ve heard of them,” he said, “Not at all like those Sverkka bastards, the Dragon-Bloods. Pray to your gods we do not meet any of them on the vik…”

They arrived at Blaoystron in timely fashion, having left around 6 am, arriving around 11 am. They first passed through two dozen small boats, “Diver’s boats,” Svein grunted. “Not easy work, but lucrative enough for the effort. I prefer the open sea and fishing, myself.”

The hamlet turned out to be one and around a round, sheltered cove. The could make out more than two dozen small steadings, two large houses, a large longhouse, and next to it, a temple, built in the distinctive high-gabled Valonar fashion. They put in at one of the small piers used by traders and made their way to the longhouse, “We have to check in at Odo’s longhouse,” Svein explained. “He’s the chieftain of the hamlet, and likes to know who’s hanging around with his people.”

They enter the longhouse, and the front portion is almost set up like a tavern, though with central hearths, barrels and tuns along the walls, and tables in-between; a tall, old, almost weary man sat in a tall chair at the far end, the remainder of the longhouse behind him being hidden by curtains. “Is that Svein Svein’s-Son I see in my hall?!” the old man called out. “Come here, Svein, it has been a good while since we have drank together. Bring your son and your friends. Women! Ale all around!” The womenfolk, who were preparing food, or weaving, or doing a half-dozen other things, jumped to, and within moments the group was sitting before the chief with tall leather jacks of frothing ale.

“To your health!” Odo called out, then everyone drank. Then Odo got to business. “What brings you and your friends here, Svein?”

Svein explains that they are here to find his brother, Storgald, and a dwarf jeweler by the name of Thorkel, who were supposed to arrive four days ago, and returned three days ago.

Odo looked surprised, “I was not expecting Thorkel for another week! But he is not here, nor is your brother. I am afraid we have not seen or heard of either of them in the last few days.”

“This bodes not well,” the chief exclaimed. “It has been good weather for more than a week. If they have not arrived, something untoward must have happened to them. The Sverkka are raiding into the vik of late. Or maybe a whale or sea dragon?

“I looked forward to finally meeting with Thorkel to finalize our agreement,” he turns to the party. “You lot I do not know. Are you here to represent the dwarves?”

They replied that they were here to discover what happened to Thorkel, and nothing more, but they would be willing to take a message back to the brothers.

“Well, I do not know what happened to Thorkel or your brother, Svein. But I know someone who might help us. The volva!” At that the women made strange little signs with their fingers. “Bah, women, do not be superstitious! Her sight is a gift from the gods, you know! Nothing to fear!” He swigs down his third large jack of ale. “Yes, let us go to the priestess. She will help. She has the sight!”

And so he led the party next door to the temple, hobbling with the use of a longsword, wrapped in its scabbard as a cane. He explained to the party that their village priestess is “Old Style, not like these new clerics. The young fear that which they do not understand.” As he entered, he cried out, “Kongula! Kongula, where are you! We need your sight, seeress!”

As they entered the party looked around; they knew each a little of the Valonar faith, for most folk in the Roglaras shared in it to a greater or lesser extent, and Odin and Thor were well known, even of the others were not so much. Like most Markka structures they had seen, this one had every inch of it covered in carvings, here representing some sort of mythical tales – warriors, dragons, wizards, wolves – lots of battles, lots of dead. At the far end a large painted wooden statue of Odin, complete with wolves and ravens, and to either side, smaller and smaller idols of other gods.

“Why do you summon me!” the strong feminine voice suddenly boomed throughout the temple. They all looked up from the carvings, or away from Odo, who had been calling out incessantly. They never saw her enter the temple, yet there she was, at the altar before the statues. Tall, with graying-blonde hair in a single long braid held within a mesh of silver. Fine robes of blue that still showed off a voluptuous, athletic form.

“Bah!” Odo shook his head. “Some seeress you are, if you do not know why I have come here!”

“You know that it not how it works, old man! I must be asked a question, and ask the gods themselves! Or be given a vision by the gods of their will, and never could I imagine that the gods would give me a vision of your old and weak self!” They stared at each other across the temple, wills beating at each other, as had obviously been done many times before.

“We have guests, volva! They need to know where their wayward friends and family are. The dwarves, do you recall? We were negotiating with the dwarves of Finmark to sell them our pearls. I thought the dwarf was coming next week, but here they are saying he was supposed to arrive earlier this week, and there is no sign of him.”

She looked at him bitterly for being called to serve in such a fashion, but resigned herself to fate, and sighed. “Very well. Do you have anything of theirs? Clothing, perhaps? Maybe a weapon?”

The party looks at each other; no, they had no such thing. Then Svein spoke up. “I have this…” he said, as he pulled a chain and amulet from his pouch. “My brother and I, before… well, before, we were firmest friends, and we had matching amulets made. Can this maybe help? Maybe he still carried his, as I carry mine?”

The seeress looked him over and took the chain. “Perhaps it might help.”

She turned to the altar. She lit some candles and incense. She bowed over the altar, raised her hands in mystic passes and signs. She chanted in an old tongue, Old Valonar, most likely. The incense and smoke from the candles merged above the altar. The smoke whirled; motes of light danced within. She looked up from her prayers and stared into the glowing smoke.

“I see… a small sailing boat. I see… a man sailing… and a dwarf, sitting. It is a blue sky day, a calm sea day. They are at the heart of the vik… on the horizon is see… a cloud? Dark… a thundercloud? No, a sail. A dark sail. A purple sail!”

At that, Odo and Svein cursed, “Sverkka!”

The volva heard them not. “They are coming! The man, the dwarf, they see them! They try to sail before them, but the Sverkka howl at their stern like wolves! They are gaining. The man pulls out his sword… the dwarf an axe… The dragon-prow hovers before them! The warriors on the longship cast their spears! Blood! Blood on the waters! Red ruin on blue seas!”

She bows her head and covers her face with her hands. The light fades, the smoke breaks and drifts to the ceiling, where it dances among smiling dragons.

She turns to Svein. “I am sorry, but your brother is dead,” Svein bows his head in grief. “But rejoice, for he died with his blade in his hand, and so the Valkyries are sure to have gathered him to their bosom and taken him to Valhalla. Hel holds no grip on the soul of warrior-born and warrior-died.” She grips his shoulder and nods sagely. She turns to Odo and the party. “The dwarf, too, is dead. I know not of his fate, but he fought, too. You can tell that to his brothers.”

Odo turns to the party, his hands wide, a look of sorrow on his face. “I am so sorry that this is not the news you hade hoped for, but at least now, we know.” And he went on, first assigning blame to the Sverkka Vikings – to be sure, they, kif anyone, owe weregild – but also to ask after furthering negotiations, lest the opportunity be lost for the dwarves and his people.

The party was intent upon speaking with him, save for Delfonzeo, who surreptitiously kept his eye on the priestess… he did not trust her (he had little trust for gods or their clerics) and wanted to see where she’d go, if her leaving would be as sudden as her arrival. He was not disappointed. While everyone seemed distracted by Odo, she swiftly made her way to the back wall, where she pressed on the woodwork, opening a secret door, and disappeared through, in a flash. And when the party looked up, she was gone! Though Delfonzeo saw where she went, and how…

And as the rest of the party was speaking with Odo, he went and investigated that part of the woodwork. Looking around, he saw more of the mythological carvings – Thor fighting a great serpent, Sif, perhaps, fighting a large wolf? And then, in between, a pattern of… diamonds? Perhaps a net? No, there… a spider. A large, round spider, in the midst of a web! He looked around, and noticed that the web motif spread throughout the temple walls, amidst the other carvings… but there were no other spiders that he could see.

The body of the spider of which was more worn than the rest of the wood around it… and yes, the body was inset into the wood around it. If he pressed it, he was sure that it would open the secret door.

He looked back, and Odo was finishing his discussion with the party. Odo went up to Svein and his son, to console them on the loss of their brother and uncle, and led the way out of the temple. “It is a shame you will not stay the night,” he said, as he looked back over to the party, and nodded to Delfonzeo to catch up. “There is plenty of meat, fresh wild boar, fish, crab – and ale to spare even for dwarves. I wish you would reconsider.”

The party slowly followed Odo and the Sveins, slowly holding back so as to speak out of earshot of the chief. “We’re not staying the night?” Delfonzeo said. “But there is much strange here… I do not trust this seeress. Or the chief.”

“Nor do I,” said Garrew. “But first, tell me your reason.”

Delfonzeo explained about the secret door and the spider-button and web.

They all thought for a moment, then Garrew spoke softly. “There… is no spider in the myths of the Northmen, at least, of which I am aware.”

Marin nodded, “There is the Spider-Goddess, but then, too… there is the Old Spider Goddess, from which the new Spider-Goddess stole her temples and much of her power.”

The others looked on; of this, they had not heard.

“During my time with the Anvil Hammers, we patrolled the Rorystone Road from Anvil through Byrny, even at times unto the village of Haghill in the Howling Hills. There still stands a temple of the Old Spider Goddess – Yezud, the Spider-Queen of Hell.”

“What is this cult like?”

“I know little more, save that the priest of that cult in Haghill is a pig! As are most of the men in Haghill…”

They all look to Delfonzeo.

“What, I’m not from Haghill.”

“Just checking,” grinned Marin.

“Well, this is bad news, then… you see…” continued Garrew, “While I am no seer myself, I know that she used no divination magic of any sort. I fact, she used nothing more than a simple thaumaturgy cantrip.”

They all look at him in surprise.

“I am sure it works well on the local yokels, and even most simpler believers, but to the trained eye… it was little more than smoke and mirrors, so to speak.”

“So it was all a lie, then?” Marin stated, not asked.

Garrew nodded. “All a lie.”

“Odo has to know, though, that she’s not a real seer. Or at least, that what she did there was not a real divination, no?”

Delfonzeo chipped in, “Oh, Odo is definitely in on the con.”

They all look to him, surprised. “You know this how?”

“The seeress, as Garrew said, was all smoke and mirrors. And Odo was her shill, making sure at all times that we were looking elsewhere, or not paying attention, or interjecting with leading terms…”

“You seem to know a lot about confidence games…” Marin said, eyes narrowing.

“Oh, well… a little… maybe,” Delfonzeo grinned.

“All beside the point,” Garrew said. “We can’t leave now. We need to find out what is really going on here…”

“Well, yeah,” piped up Zylven. “We don’t get paid if we don’t bring back a body, at least!”

They all looked at Zylven; it was one of the few things they had said for days, and the most mercenary thing they had ever said in the other’s presence. They chuckled, and nodded.

“I will go tell Odo, then, that we shall partake of his hospitality after all…” And Garrew strode over to the pier, where Odo was saying farewell to the Sveins…

And thus ended the session…

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