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Giraine summary 344: Into Tiskos: Carbo - Part 1 (2024/03/08)

You go shopping around Estali and find some nice stuff, enjoying an evening of the best that the capital has to offer. Boamund sees that there are horse races scheduled for the night, sponsored by the Galanini of the Sun Temple (Ehilm), so he and Bog and Fraud check it out while Shrett goes snooping around, asking about Black Eyes but no one knows of them. Except one: a young Pralori mercenary reacts with fear at the mention of a Telmori shaman Black Eyes, says that such a thing does not sound good and he’d not want to know more of that. Shrett tries to keep him around talking with some kind words and coin, but the Pralori just takes the coin and bolts. Shrett easily tails him back to a camp of Pralori, where he has headed into a tent, and Shrett carefully sneaks up to the back of the tent to listen. He catches the end of a conversation about him, how he is some suspicious stranger asking about Hykimi shamans, but they don’t find it too upsetting then they turn conversation over to the fact that there is a procession of the Ancient Beast Society that night from the east to west gates of Estali. Twilight comes.

While the others are at the arena, witnessing grand feats of horsemanship and crowd-pleasing stunts, Shrett watches this procession. The Ancient Beast Society, led by an impressive Pralori shaman, drums and dances through the streets in a large procession, from the east gates to central fountain/plaza area. By the entry gates to the central complex, those in the procession appear to become possessed, making beast-noises and wearing beast-masks—in a few cases, even taking on elk-heads. City guards tightly surround the group, with some yelling back and forth, and some non-lethal violence. Then at the plaza they feast and have orgies (a private affair only; the guards keep gawkers at bay). They gather at the Temple to Hykim and Mikyh: a very old ziggurat, covered in cracks and crumbling areas, made of marbled black and white stone. Mounted Pralori guards keep watch on the front and rear entrances. Shrett watches it all, having easily blended in with the crowd of onlookers, but as they thin out after the ABS people vanish into the Temple, he goes back to the inn and meets with the others.

You decide the next morning that it’s time to move on into Tiskos, so you pack up, get your mules and get going. Crossing the Estali-Tiskos bridge, some Estali guards look you over and one says, “Adventurers headed into Tiskos County, eh? You’re probably stopping at Carbo…”, chuckling a little with another. They’ve been carefully checking and questioning some larger groups such as merchants; and Hykimi; going in/out. For the latter, they’ve been grilling them about beast-blood, with careful investigation. The Tiskos guards question you formally. They take records (a scribe of the wizard caste handles the writing) of names, affiliations, and other basic facts of each person coming in. Fraud makes a good impression on the main guard handling your group and they say, “The next stop down the road is the town of Carbo. You might like it. The wizard caste has been trying to shut it down, but the other castes often enjoy its basic comforts. Its Lord is a Permissivist but we don’t mind. He’s no warrior, but he knows what the people of Tiskos want.”

The road that continues from the Estali-Tiskos bridge leads straight for about 2 key miles. The rich and fertile plains around Felster Lake support intensive agriculture. You see farmers with ox-driven scratch plows at work, their harvests done. Cattle in Safelster are raised mainly for dairy; sheep for wool and meat; and you see plenty of pastures for both. Then a side roads turns northwards a short distance to a small border town with a little port on a tributary of the Jrimb River, near Lake Felster. It immediately strikes you as a very different town from those you’ve seen before. Clean, shining white stone walls surround it, about 2m high, with an open gate from the east. A large sign ahead along the road to the gate reads (in Safelstran), “Comfort lies in Carbo, where the delights of Tiskos can be yours to have by the generosity of Lord Sigeric Grimoald of Carbo.” The sign bears what must be the seal of the Lord: a white field with a gleaming black stone on it, and a bright blue bar along the bottom.

As you approach the gate, you see a sizeable arena, stadium or theatre outside the walls on the south side of town. There are some residences and shops out here, too, mainly appearing to be of merchants, fishermen and others that ply the river and roads, and few of them showing evidence of poverty. The modest town walls are decorated in Western script of the Safelstran dialect, with phrases from Saint Rokar’s Sharp Abiding Book, such as “Hold fast and steady in your faith in the Invisible God”. It’s like being home again, not in a good way. Boamund is on edge. You join the short queue through the gate and only get a passing inspection by the Rokari guards, who seem relaxed and are polite. You’re directed to stable your beasts outside, in a large tent. A guard recommends the town’s bathhouses, and on Fraud’s request gives a few basic directions to points of interest, including options for inns. He says Carbo’s a nice place to recuperate: “Folks come to Carbo because there are already one or two cracks in their vase.”

The town is buzzing with activity. Much as it seemed from the outside, while not large by Safelstran standards, it is a well-to-do town, laid out in a grid pattern. And it quickly becomes clear that, in addition to normal business and serving traffic along the river and lake, it is a town for those that seek finer pleasures. Most of these pleasures are wholesome enough even by Rokari standards, but some would cause a Rokari to blush or worse. This is despite the fact that evidence of the Rokari faith is on display everywhere; there are the more austere decorations that one would expect, too. For a small town, it is nice. There are diverted aqueducts from the river and lake that keep fresh water always to hand throughout the town, feeding fountains and pools. This water promotes lush greenery, too; all reasonably well-maintained.

Amongst the heavy street traffic, you spot people in sparkling silvery robes handing things out, with plenty of interest from passersby. As you draw closer, you see they are giving trinkets: simple, thin silver bracelets with no carvings or other adornment. (Commerce: worth a few guilders, so it is generous) They hand them out saying, (Safelstran) “Come, tonight, to witness the Night of a Thousand Lamps! Wonder and mystery and beauty for all!” Fraud comes up to them and chats them up, which they politely respond to. They have been hired by a company of performers to do this, for tonight’s event at the arena, sponsored by the Lord. They get paid OK so they’re fine with the work. They have not seen the people in charge; just hired by unremarkable intermediaries. Fraud feels suspicious as you leave them. Something is off with them. A nervous tic here, a wide staring gaze there, an odd unnerving smile elsewhere. You go to the inn, and Shrett talks up the barkeep. There’s a big performance tonight in the arena, and there are some foreigners about promoting it, but no one is sure what it’s about. “Hopefully it is another monster hunt, maybe even a knight against a manticore like last time.” He recommends the bathhouses. Very popular and nice.

Shrett goes to the gardens alone. At the entry, a guard in more ceremonial than martial attire is speaking with those who go in, and speaks (Safelstran) to Shrett, switching to halting Tradetalk, “Have you seen a little girl? Six years old, in a white tunic, blonde of hair and hazel of eyes? She answers to Nelaria, and has run off from her father today so we are searching for her and would appreciate any information.” Shrett says that sure, he’ll watch for her. He browses through decorative gardens with beautiful flowering plants and fruit trees from around the West, and numerous fountains with carvings of Malkioni scripture reminding of rational control over the senses, and fine statuary of people and creatures from the Actions of Malkion, telling those myths. The paths are twisting and lined with white gravel. There are many white stone benches. It is tranquil and filled with lush aromas.

Then Shrett sees a little girl sitting on the ground off the path, blocked from casual view by a bench and grape vines. She has tangled blonde hair. She seems to be playing with something; her back turned to him. He comes up and sits at the bench, looking at her. She turns around, standing up, toward him. While much of her hair is held back by a nice silver headband, her bangs oddly hang so far down as to cover her entire face. Her white tunic is spattered with blood. She holds a dead kitten, its head bashed bloodily against the side of the bench, and she swings her arm, continuing to bludgeon the corpse against the stone, but little blood is left. She mutters to herself in Safelstran. He tries speaking with her but she does not respond. He catches her arm before she bashes the kitten again. She offers no resistance, and so he picks her up and carries her back to the guard. After he arrives, with the guard expressing shock over what has happened, while holding her he accidentally brushes aside her hair and sees that she has an empty, blank space where her eyes should be. Incidentally, she wears one of the silver bracelets seen earlier in the city. The guard calls for another guard and soon the father Nelor, a merchant of the peasant class, comes and thanks Shrett at first, taking the girl from him, but falls down sobbing in grief and horror at seeing where her eyes were. He leaves with her, despondent. The guard thanks Shrett for his service and agrees that word of this bizarre event will be passed on to his superiors; the guard then leaves as Shrett does.

Boamund and Bog go to the larger southern bathhouse while Fraud goes to the other. Each is a lavish, very clean stone bathhouse here fed by a cistern from the river. In proper Rokari fashion, the mens’ and womens’ areas are well separated. Male and female slaves, all of them strikingly attractive and fit, hurry about tending to visitors and other duties. There is a shop for all of the essentials for bathing. Signs (Safelstran) explain the services here: in addition to public bathing, there is grooming and massaging, and provision of local wines or kafl leaf pipes to dull undesirable senses and sharpen reason, and simple magical blessings (Calm, Invigorate, Sleep, etc.). You all choose massages after a public bath. The bath conspicuously clears out as Bog comes in. Boamund gets a great massage, and more, from a male slave while someone else; Bog didn’t really pay attention to whom; does a massage on Bog. Each massage begins with rubbing warm lake-herbed oil in, buffing with rough stones, then scraping it all off with a short, curved knife.

Meanwhile, Fraud has a bath and then Samara (a female; Ralian with unblemished skin, raven-black hair) gives him a massage. At first all is normal. But he then notices that she is distracted, mouthing or whispering words to herself in Ralian. But the massage continues fine. Then the slave’s breathing becomes uneven and their work less attentive or regular. Fraud looks to see her standing beside the table, her eyes now empty voids that draw his eyes into them along with the sloughing flesh around their sockets. Her grooming knife is drenched with blood that drips onto and around Fraud’s back now. She has made multiple cuts into her outstretched left arm and prepare to do another. Fraud has a brief struggle with her, but she slashes her arm’s arteries and is bleeding heavily, yet he grabs her thigh and then punches her out. Burly bathhouse guards come in to help. Fraud repeats what he can remember of her words. She screamed things like, “Let me die! Let me die! …. Let Ralios crumble!” and other things he didn’t catch, but she sure seemed insane. The bathhouse guards haul her away, and the city guards come in with some basic fact-gathering, which Fraud satisfies. He’s thinking of how Samara wore one of those silver bracelets. Hmm…

You reconvene at the inn. Fraud opts to go look for those bracelet-promoters, and finds them not far away from where they were. He asks them more about these bracelets, and they don’t know much more but have handed out plenty. He says he wants to take them away, buy them or whatever, and they listen but say that they were hired to do their job and don’t think it’s right to sell what they were given to distribute, or to just give all of them to him. They go away. But as they turn, he catches one mumble to themselves, distracted, “One of the seven am I; in bright cold ash shall I lie.”

Fraud, headed back to the inn, is passing another alley when a voice down there calls to him in Handran, “She will free you. She can see through the darkening lies.” There’s a woman in black leather armour in some out-of-place shadows for the morning light. She does not introduce herself (thinking later about it, she must be an Unnamed Elandran; who cannot even own a name, needing to steal what they need and then let it go). “You will only see her this once. Danger chases her shadow. Agents of Eurmal, or of the Devil, or both, are here in Carbo. Lord Sigeric Grimoald will need help. He has done her a favour whose debt she cannot keep. Here, take this knife, which she must not have any longer.” She offers her black dagger, which Fraud takes, and as he holds it he knows immediately that it is a weapon of the Truth rune. A Shadow Warrior Blade: ignores armour on Eurmali and servants of Deceiver Chaos; 1d4+4 damage and Neutralise Magic Magnitude 10 on hit vs. them; can be concealed inside garments without possibility of discovery on mundane inspection; for 1 week then it will vanish. Nice!! The Elandran slips into the shadows soon; without a farewell.

You chat at the inn. Boamund goes downstairs to leave, but sees a young, well-dressed messenger boy talking to the barkeep, who points to Boamund and says “That’s one of them there.” Boamund approaches the boy and is informed that you’re all invited to have lunch with local Lord Sigeric Grimoald at his manor. You tidy up and go along. It’s about midday. The Grimoald manor appears to be a converted fort or remnant of a keep; about 20m square, and two storeys high at 6m total. It is made of the same greenish-blue limestone as much of Carbo and some other parts of Safelster nearby. Each corner of the roof has a statue of an eagle looking down onto the grounds before it. A narrow garden surrounds it all, with a small stream running just within the shrubs that form the boundaries of the garden, and a short bridge over that and onto the path to the doors. The double wooden doors are robust, and above them the house heraldry is brightly painted. Two well-armed knights attend the doors. You walk on up with the boy.

A blonde slave-girl comes to the doors, (in Safelstran) “I am Tularan, and I have been sent to escort you within.” She beckons down the hall. It is luxurious within, but you haven’t much time to gawk, as Tularan briskly hurries you into the central courtyard. She directs you to comfortable seats, and quickly grabs a platter of dried fruits and some cheeses for you, followed by wine and water jugs and goblets. Another slave is singing softly in a corner. Incense burns in another corner, giving the courtyard a spicy scent. Another slave comes in dancing some exotic Ralian routine. You’re given time to relax.

After a pleasant break, although Bog ate all the snacks and some of you are impatient to discuss urgent matters, a finely-dressed nobleman comes in, with a calm smile. (in Tradetalk) “Honoured guests from afar, welcome to my home; I am Lord Sigeric Grimoald of Tiskos County and your host in Carbo. I hope that you have found your visit pleasing and partaken of the fare here. Please, I would like to make your aquaintances, may you tell me who you are?”

He listens as you sit at places in the courtyard, having a light lunch, and he asks a few follow-up questions, and is unnerved by what you have to say about the bracelets seeming linked to a weird occurrence of people becoming violent, with vacant eyes. He says that he brought you to meet with him because his guards said you knew of some strange things happening in Carbo. He adds about himself, “My family has traded along the river and lake for centuries. We have made Carbo a haven for those trying to escape the disorder of Ralios for a time, too.”

Lord Grimoald knows the name of the performance, the two people in charge, and that they have come at a good price, well-outfitted. He chose them because he needed to fill an opening at his arena, and they seemed appealing. He is not sure where they come from but their accents are Safelstran. There’s a man and a woman; she will sing tonight; he will make the music. They did a little demonstration for him and showed good talent.

You ask about a wizard/Zzaburi that might inspect the bracelets. His previous one had problems, he says; he sent them off. A week ago he was released back to his Church in Dainmol for having too many of his sorceries go awry; he had become too inept.

Thinking over your news, he says that he had first intended to invite you here once he heard of your arrival at the gates. He just found word of your arrival to be interesting and he likes the company of interesting people. But now his intent has changed. “I wish you to dine with me late this afternoon and evening. I have a special party planned: we will take my family’s barge out for a celebration cruise on the river, with dinner and activities and other delights for all. That will bring us back to the docks before nightfall so we can all attend the performance of the Night of a Thousand Lamps I have commissioned. It promises to be a marvellous night. I am hoping that the son of Prince Locryn of Walim [a nearby city] might attend.” He says that now you could be useful in a different way: gathering any more evidence of what is wrong around Carbo. Many important local people will be aboard. Indeed, Lord Grimoald has had strange dreams that have troubled him lately but he dismissed these as punishment for his unreasonable stress over tonight’s event’s details. Now he thinks that there is good cause to be more concerned.

Does he have enemies? Well, he and his family have done well at Carbo, so certainly there is jealousy; it is Safelster after all, so there are always complex feelings and relationships, but he can’t point to one obvious threat.

Shrett sees a little parchment on the courtyard floor, with just a few big letters in Western script on it. You inspect it and it just says “URCHETH”, which doesn’t seem to mean anything to you. Lord Grimoald sees you inspecting it and wonders about it, but guesses it is just rubbish that blew in; didn’t know it was there and doesn’t recognise if it came from some larger work, nor does he know the name. You ask Lord Grimoald if you can use his library and he consents, so you spend the hour remaining before it is time to head out to the cruise looking for any useful clues, but the library is just too basic, with information on history, politics, art, Rokari religion and such; not esoteric knowledge.

One of the Lord’s personal guard explains: Only the Lord’s guards may be armed and armoured on the cruise. If you were too, you’d stand out as very unusual, for newcomers to town with no clear connections warranting such extreme armaments. You must leave your gear (except minor things like jewelry or such) in the treasury at the manor; it is guarded by an armed knight outside and a Rokari essence inside, so it is very safe. You consent. Inside the treasury, you catch a glimpse of a large, stunning onyx: curved to a point at the top end, and broader but jagged at the other. This matches his family heraldry on display around Carbo. Your gear is locked away, although Fraud is sure to slip that black dagger into his clothes. You are dressed in finery; even Bog squeezes into some clothes more suited to a young man.

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giraine/summary-344.txt · Last modified: 2024/03/31 08:21 by tim45tenwa