The only thing we saw on the river today was a canoe. Who the fuck would travel down a river by canoe? It’s madness. However they were waved at as they paddled by. I have the whelming urge to throw a rock at them, but I did not because it wasn’t an overwhelming urge and I am a good person. One of the best really. I suppose to be accurate I should say that the only rivercraft we saw on the water today was a canoe – early in the afternoon (late in the morning?) we did see a caravan “on” the river in the sense that it was crossing. We stopped and watched as the drovers (that’s the right word isn’t it?) coaxed (beat) their animals into dragging wagons through the water – as nature intended.
“You know if I was a bandit I think this would be when I would attack caravans. Hang out by the river and wait for someone to cross. This way you can take them one half at a time.”
“Makes sense, but why are there here at all? There’s not even a road. This isn’t any kind of trade route.”
I shrugged “Maybe they’re avoiding bandits.”
“But if they came from that way they probably went right past the Faith Woods – isn’t that where ALL the bandits are.”
“Before they all died in Renwick. Remember that? Remember how everyone died in Renwick? Maybe now that all the bandits are gone someone is trying to start a trade route from Coalmoth. Trade routes have to come from somewhere right? They don’t just start off with nice roads and lots of travelers, someone have to blaze the trail.”
“Coalmoth has nothing to trade anyone.”
“With Renwick destroyed maybe they’re coming up in the world.”
We waited for a giant crocodile or a bunyip or a boondoggle to attack them as they crossed the river but nothing happened. They just made their way safely and secure across (I forget which river this is) which I have to admit is irksome. I guarantee you if I had been with that caravan when we tried to cross the river we would have been attacked by freshwater river cyclops or the river would have been an illusion and we could have fallen into an underground lair of a gorgimera or some other damn thing. And I suppose to be one hundred percent accurate I should say that the canoe and the caravan were the only things we saw on the river that weren’t the severed heads of dragons. In the afternoon (if Martialla tells it was right after I had a “hissy-fit” about the quality of lunch she’s lying) I saw a dark shape bobbing along in the water that I assumed at first was a tangle of tree branches or a dead bear or something like that. Once I saw the giant yellow eye I took a closer look.
There aren’t many creatures that retain any hint of splendor or dignity post-decapitation but I can tell you now that a dragon’s head is still pretty fearsome even once it’s been separated from the body. Just looking at it gave me a little jolt of fear through the old spine. I halfway (maybe three-quarters of the way) expected it to come alive and start chomping through the waters after me. Dragons are unrepentant assholes but it’s always a little sad to me when one dies – they’re so rare and extraordinary that even though they slaughter entire towns for laughs its a little melancholy when one dies. Something unique has left the world. I mean consider this, dragons are so much more powerful than humans or elfs or orcs or what have you that can you really blame them for not caring about us? Think about ants. If ants started talking would you crush them any less? Maybe a little, but if they get in your house they’re going to get the boot even if they scream when you crush them.
The head was longer than I am tall and maybe half as wide – I’m no expert in dragons (yet) but it looked rather, skinny isn’t the right word, but maybe serpentine? The scales looked sunken right up against the bone – like there wasn’t a lot of dragonmeat on them dragonbones. Maybe the dragon had an eating disorder. If every talked about your ravenous appetite all the time it might get to you too. At first glance you’d say the scales were dark as midnight (like when there’s clouds or something and its dark at midnight) but it wasn’t like that exactly, there was a predominance of onyx-black but there were marks and accents in dark blues and vivid purples. Even in death it was quite a sight to see.
Martialla whistled “Well, that’s not something you see every day.”
“We should see where the lair is, I hear dragons are into hoarding treasure.”
Martialla looked around “Where would a dragon lair be? I thought they lived in mountains, or maybe clouds. Plus don’t you think whatever killed it took the treasure? Plus that head could have been floating downriver for hundreds of miles, why would the lair even be around here?”
“What else do we have to do?”
“Rescue Hardra. Free the Baron. Get revenge on various people.”
“Sure, but what’s the hurry?”
“I’m going to remind you of this next time you’re complaining about how you get diverted from your goals like it’s not something you have control over.”
“How about I remind you to shut your yap?”
“Nah, I’m good.”
We never did find the lair but it was easy to find where the dragonfight had started – a little ways upriver and we found the trailed of seared land where its blood had fallen. Some people say that dragon blood is poisonous – it certainly doesn’t do grass any favors. Again, I don’t claim to be an expert but it looked to me like the dragon had been injured badly enough that it couldn’t fly and was making a dash for the river – maybe to swim for it? Following the trail of blackened vegetation and scorched earth we saw a campsite of sorts with a several makeshift drying racks upon which were stretched big swaths of dragonskin. Bustling about a large central firepit doing whatever it is one does to cure (tan?) hides were four dwarfs. Before I even saw him I recognized the booming voice (and thunderous flatulence) of one Bonder Greysmith dwarf exile and famous adventurer/murderer. He was carrying on in his ridiculous accent instructing the other three on the proper technique for monetizing a dead dragon.
Martialla must have noticed a look on my face “Another friend of yours?”
“Yes, from back in the early days. I went on a caper with him and his friends in Malgareth, or Heathgrove, whichever one is less of a shithole.”
“What went wrong?”
“He must have had a falling out with his old crew, those are all dwarfs down there and his other band was the standard multi-cultural adventurer mix. I’m not sure if that makes him more dangerous or less.”
“How dangerous was he before?”
“Obscenely. I wouldn’t want to go up against him.”
“You don’t want to go up against anyone.”
“Fair, but with good reason this time.”
“What do you think?”
“Well I’m told that dwarfs are goodly and wise folk, I haven’t seen any evidence of that yet but still I’d like to talk to those friends of his down there and see if they’re violent exiles like him or ‘normal’. Maybe we can get them on our side. Do you think you can lure him away for a while?”
“Which one is he?”
“The one that’s a man.”
“Which one is a man?”
“Hilarious. Can you do it or not?”
I asked her what her plan was but said she was “just going to wing it” and headed down. I think that was supposed to be some kind of swipe at me but let’s see how well she’d do if she had to come up with plans all the time. Whatever she did it worked. The dwarf quartet didn’t seem alarmed at her strolling up their dragon rendering camp and after a few minutes she and Bonder walked off heading towards the river. I waited until they were out of sight and then covered myself with the appearance of a random wanderer and approached myself. The three dwarf maids were conveniently color coded – blonde, brunette and redhead. They seemed youngish for dwarfs, although it’s hard to tell really. Also what’s young for a dwarf? Sixty? Unfortunately I saw that the first two were both Strider priests (I thought dwarfs had their own gods) although since I’m in disguise that shouldn’t be an issue even if they have heard of me. They were definitely on guard as I walked up, not sure if it’s because Bonder wasn’t there or because it was the second stranger approaching them in short time period.
I held my hands up “At ease ladies, I’m not here to cause trouble.”
We chatted for a bit, the blonde who said her name was something or other (I thought she sad Gutnish but that can’t be right) Bellringer is Bonder’s niece and the redhead is related to him in some dwarf way that I didn’t quite follow. The other one was the daughter of a former adventuring companion of Bonder’s and they had sought him out so he could show them the ins and outs of the adventurer lifestyle. They weren’t exiles exactly, Bellringer’s mother (Bonder’s sister) was also an exile so she grew up amongst people and the other two had been in the Kingdom from a young age as well by circumstance. They were very forthcoming but eventually the redhead asked me who I was and why I was asking so many questions.
I paused for dramatic effect “I’m from Malgareth, it’s down south a ways if you haven’t heard of it. I just happened across you here.” I blew out a long breath and continued ‘reluctantly’ “I don’t mean to cast aspersions, but your uncle . . . do you really know what kind of man he is? I don’t claim to know much about dwarf culture, but I understand a little bit of youthful rebellion, thumbing your nose at the old timers and having some fun without really doing anything bad. You probably think that’s what you’re doing here going ton quests with this man . . . . but I think you need to be very careful with Bonder Greysmith.”
I told them about how it all went down, how Bonder and his friends went on a killing rampage when they thought that they had been cheated (which they had but I didn’t mention that) including cutting down the lawful authorities that tried to stop them and then escaping like the criminals they are. They didn’t want to believe it at first but I can be very convincing – and I had something on my side that helps, what I was saying was the cold plain truth of the matter. I was around Bonder enough to know that he’s a true mercenary and a stone killer. He’s not some raving lunatic psychopath, he acts like a normal person, but what he’s after is coin and he doesn’t care who gets hurt for him to get it. Morality means nothing to him, let alone a silly thing like the law.
“I’ve seen him in action and it is terrifying. There’s nothing in those eyes, when he kills people it’s not hatred or battle lust – there’s no more emotion there than a woodcutter working on a quota. I don’t know you, I don’t know if you care about that but there’s two things you should care about either way. One, he’s wanted man. There’s a price on his head and if you’re hanging around with him you’re not safe from the law. And two, you’re not safe from him either. He’s an exile, a kinslayer, a murderer, an oathbreaker, and a traitor – you are safe from him only so long as it makes him money. As soon as it’s more profitable for him to take you out.” I snapped my fingers.
“How do you know all of this?”
“Because I was there that night at the Sabre. I saw it. I saw the whole thing. Bonder killed the bodyguards of the woman he thought stole from him. He killed the city watch. He killed the innkeeper and his wife. He killed anyone he could reach. I thought for sure that I was going to die. I hid in the corner and I prayed to Adariel to keep me safe. I squeezed my eyes shut and wept like a baby as I heard the sounds of killing. When I opened them he was gone and I hoped to never see Bonder Greysmith again. But then I did, and I knew, I knew that I had to warn you.”
Bellringer shook her head, not in disagreement but in disbelief “What can we do?”
“I don’t know, all I know is that I had to tell you the truth.”
Bonder returned a little while later muttering about a “blue-balling bitch” and not noticing me for a moment. When he did he seemed unwarrantedly upset about my presence. He started blustering about that when his three relatives/trainees confronted him with that I had told them. He tried to keep his temper for a little while, saying that the story had been misconstrued but he quickly lost his cool and started in with a little speech about how there is no good and evil, there is only power. This didn’t go over well with the dwarfs three and when he said that being a great dwarf warrior means that you’re above the laws of the short-lived races they were done.
Bellringer backed away from the bristling dwarf warrior, raising a crossbow “Uncle you leave us no choice but to believe these accusations. You must come with us to Malgareth to speak with the authorities there.”
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more incredulous look “You dare to raise a weapon to me? Othok ekonum ardol?! Tha var drakna kadeek!”
I don’t speak dwarf but I’m pretty sure he was calling her names you’re not supposed to call a lady. His axe was in his hand like magic (pretty sure it was literally magic) and he was advancing on her like a rolling bank of storm-clouds. I doubt it even occurred to her to fire, she cowered before him like an hours old lamb before a dire lion. She would have died with a single stroke had her red-haired pal not blocked the attack with some kind of complicated dwarf spear/axe/thing. This seemed to enrage him even more. I told a bit of a fib before, I have seen Bonder fight and it’s not the calculating emotionless workaday thing that I said it was – he’s all bloodlust. I’ve seen battle fury a time and two and this had all the earmarks of a classic case. Rage in a fight is generally not a good thing, not at all, but I guess if you go far enough around the bend it circles back around.
In Malgareth (or Heathgrove) when I first met this gentleman no power in the Heavens, the Hells, or anywhere in-between would have persuaded me to stand against him in a fight no matter what the odds were. But things have changed. I’ve changed. I’m no great warrior, but in a five against one scenario? I had no problem hitting him in the back of the head when his attention was elsewhere. How far I’ve come. If we’re being honest, and I feel like we are, Martialla did most of the damage with her spells. Dwarfs are reputed to be resilient to magic but I didn’t see any evidence of that, must be bold talk. Once Bonder was down and out of the fight I walked up and turned the head of my Walking Stick into a real live snake as it does and had it bite him in the neck. Dwarfs are also supposed to be hard to poison so I let it chew on him for a while to make sure a good amount of venom got in there. Bellringer moved to stop me but Martialla blocked her.
Bellringer looked on in alarm “You don’t have to do that!”
“He’s too dangerous to leave alive.”
Even though I was completely right they weren’t pleased by this cold blooded murder – seems to be my lot in life. Wasn’t there some broad in the olden times that knew the future but was cursed to have no one listen to her? I’m kind of like that. Only, you know, different. On the plus side they left the area immediately in their anger so they didn’t have to endure the sight us looting his body. He had a journal full of weird dwarf-scribbles. Maybe if I find someone who can read dwarfish it can tell me where his friends might be.
Funds: 53,040 platinum, 8,000 gold
Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Ela’s Dazzling Garment, Belt of Physical Might +4, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Extraordinary Walking Stick, Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, +1 Adamantine Dwarf Waraxe
Noble’s outfit (5) collegium ring, pocketed scarf, wrist sheath, signet ring (2) assortment of fake signet rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), garnets (700), gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, tax collector’s badge, gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, disguise kit, covenant ring, tiny diamonds (26), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring, tiara, masterwork red and black long greatcoat, Turnbill blade of first forging (one of three), darkwood and platinum music box, silver bracelet set with bloodstones, platinum ring set with fire opal, silver and moonstone bracelet, holy symbol of Kozilek, dwarf journal
Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane,
Piltis Swine, Rince Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle the butler, Alice Kinsey , “ Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Claire Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror, Eedraxis, Skin-Taker tribe, Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family, Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee, Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer, Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin, Lumber Consortium of Three Rivers, Hellerhad the Wizard, Forsaken Kin, Law Offices of Office of Glilcus and Stolo, Jey Rora, Colonel Tarl Ciarán, Mayor Baras Haldmeer, Rindol the Sage, Essa, eyeless hag, Baron Saltwheel, Baron Harmenkar, Colonel Tarl Ciarán’s wizard soldier, Victor, Beharri, Cebuano, Mayor Eryn, Chimera Trading Company