Madripoor – People at their most beautiful, humanity at its ugliest

As part of my continuing promise to deliver significantly less content with 70s super-Ela than D&D Ela I think what I might do is make narrative posts on Monday and Friday and have Wednesday for backgrounds posts.   When I was thinking about where to kick this story off I thought of someplace like Madripoor.  Then I decided to just call it Madripoor.  It’s already an expy of Singapore, no reason to get meta-removed another level.  Unless I get sued by Marvel.   

Madripoor 

The city of Madripoor is the capital and lone urban area of the Kingdom of Madripoor, located in the southern portion of the Strait of Malacca, southwest of Singapore.  There is no official data but most estimates put the population of Madripoor around 9 million, making it one of the most densely populated places in the world.  

Madripoor is controlled by a cartel of influential individuals and families that reestablished the government after the death of the King and the dissolution of the parliament during the Japanese Empire’s invasion in 1942.  A treaty constructed under the influence of the United Nations in the early 50s secured Madripoor’s sovereignty, ending years of occupation.  

After independence Madripoor saw a population explosion as refugees from other Japanese Imperial conquests, having lost both home and property, flooded into the “free” city.  Madripoor does not extradite criminals making it a haven for people fleeing political or criminal issues as well.  

Dutch political scientist Amelia Guttmann described Madripoor as a “non-aligned crypto libertarian pseudo republic”.  Heiress Robin Hayworth said that Madripoor was “a great place to be rich”.  Travel author Kimble Anders called Madripoor “the closest thing I’ve seen to Hell on earth away from an active battlefield”.

Languages

The major languages spoken in in Madripoor are Indonesian, Malay, English, French, and Filipino.

Economy

Madripoor is home to the most luxurious and expensive hotels and high-end service industry in the world, while also possessing one of the most severe wealth inequities in history. This economic polarization has effectively divided the city into the ultra-modern haven of the very rich and powerful, and the domain of the hopelessly poor.

Madripoor grew prominent as a transshipment hub port during the days of wind-powered shipping. In modern times this aspect has declined but it remains a duty-free port with a high volume of re-export trade.

For several years, Madripoor has been one of the few countries with an AAA credit rating and the only Asian country to achieve this rating.  Madripoor attracts a large amount of foreign investment as a result of its location, skilled workforce, low tax rates, and advanced infrastructure.  Despite market freedom, Madripoor’s government operations have a significant stake in the economy, contributing 44% of the GDP. It is a popular location for conferences and events.

Montresor 28 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

This collar tries to murder me if I attempt to take it off.  That makes sense.  Simple enough.  If I undo the thing the magic happens.  But it also tries to murder me if I ask someone else how to get it off.  This is where things get weird.  How does it know?  And what is “it” in this context?  I’ve never heard anyone make the claim that magic is an entity of some kind capable of thought and decision making.  I’ve never even really heard anyone claim that there’s a God that’s in charge of it.  So how does it work?  How?  You summon fire and you burn someone alive, I get that, that’s pretty straightforward.  But once magic has conditions what are we talking about anymore?  If you curse someone to have donkey lips and a monkey tail until they make a princess fall in love with them who’s keeping track of that?  Who or what decides when someone is in love?  Or who’s a princess?  Is the magic fully versed in geology?  No one has any clue how these things work.  Why does this not bother anyone else?

“Ela you’ve talked about this many times, give it a rest.”

I will not.  There has to be an explanation for this.  If I sit down for lunch I’m not technically “making progress” towards the North, but the collar doesn’t murder me.  Does it know that I need food to keep going so eating counts as progress?  If I have a long lunch will it strangle me a little to get me going?  Is there a time limit for lunch?  If I head due east or west will it kill me?  If I take one single solitary step to the south does it kill me?  How does “it” even know what south is?  That’s just something we made up.  Magic is supposed to be an elemental force of nature – animals don’t know directions, mountains don’t know directions, gravity doesn’t know directions, but somehow magic does?  How can it “know” anything?!  What is it?!  What?!I can’t let this go because as rare and “wonderful” as magic is it’s more a part of the Kingdom than I ever realized.  A mule farmer up in the Beregon Valley might not think that magic effects his life but it does.  Look at Chenmost, those people probably never thought about magic, didn’t make them any less dead when the place fucking blew up as a result of magic shenanigans.  Magic is an integral part of our lives, even if we don’t know it, and yet somehow no one seems to know anything about it or how it works.  

What are wizards doing out there and why are we as a people allowing them to do it?  I’m the last one to call for government intervention in just about anything, but shouldn’t we be keeping an eye on these people who are meddling with the fundamental building blocks of the universe?  Some of the really remote county oafs would gladly kill all the magic people in the world on account of their backwards and violent ways.  I could almost get on board with that if not for the fact that magic can make life so much more comfortable.  And bring me booze.  

Anyway, enough about magic.  We set out on the road to Three Rivers by way of Gevudan seeing as the area to the north is under enemy control.  Last I heard Gevudan had been captured by the enemy as well but no one seemed to be concerned about that.  The northern road was full of people.  People heading in both directions, which is a good indication that no one knows what’s going on.  The people whose villages had been wrecked along the Compass River were fleeing to Graltontown – the people in Graltowntown were fleeing north to get away from the front lines.  I’ve often wondered if someone was fleeing and they see someone else fleeing the other way if they would continue fleeing in the same direction or reverse course.  Looks like most people are content to trust their own judgement.   There was no one else on the south road.  At all. 

The “we” in this case was myself and four Ducal guards sent along as my shepherds.  Just in case the magic murder collar didn’t make enough of an impression.  The Duke’s personal guard is in theory a highly elite military force fanatical in their loyalty to the Eaglevane family.  The reality is that these days the guard is a largely ceremonial force that varies widely in quality.  The captain of the Ducal Guard for instance I don’t think has ever trained for battle, let alone been in one, he was give his position because one time he loaned one of the King’s friends his horse.  There are couple real hardcases in the Ducal Guard but they’re generally there because they made poor life decisions.

The Ducal Guard was formed in secret by Duke Anton Eaglevane in 812 from forces loyal to him in the neighboring county.  This is what is known as “treason” but given all the other treason that was about to happen people tend to forget about that.  Four regiments of the Ducal Guard were raised and based on this show of force Duke Anton gained the loyalty of several Eaglevane fighting forces as well as negotiating a contract with the infamous mercenary lord Eustace Lobar the Wolf Monk.   Anton declared himself Archduke, launching a civil war against his brother (the current Duke’s grandfather) Morton.  The fighting prowess of the Ducal Guard was so renowned that it became common to drunken louts in the taverns to debate if they would a match for the King’s Own – which is of course a highly elite military force fanatical in their loyalty to the Crown.  Seventy-six years later the Ducal Guards mostly stand around and sometimes fetch things like stools.  I have my doubts about their current efficacy as a military force in the field but they look damn good in a parade.  

I don’t know how many guards the Duke has now, but it must be a lot less than four regiments because I know two of the ones sent to escort me.  Cottom Finchley is what people generally think of when they conjure up the image of a dashing cavalryman – long, athletic, rangy, handsome in that foppish way some women like.  I prefer men who spend less time on their hair than I do personally but to each their own.  Finchely has one of them faces that are so striking that people often overlook the eyes – those cold snake eyes tell the real story.  The man is a monster.  At court he loved to play a little game with people where he’d have them arrested on false charges and then come in to “save” them only to have them be captured again when he betrayed them.  The Duke’s court has its fair share of utter shitheads and he’s one of the top ones.  For some reason he always smells like honey.  

The other fellow I know, Bolbec Forthwind, is much less striking but on the other hand he’s not a piece of human waste either so it balances out somewhat.  If he wasn’t short and closing on fifty he’d be a decent looking fellow.  Although you can’t do much about that round peasant face of his.  I told him once he would look better if he stopped painting his hair with that awful dye he uses but it doesn’t look like he listened to me – his head still glistens like an oil slick.   Finchley is younger, bigger, quicker, and meaner but if they ever came to blows I would wager that Bolbec would beat his balls off.  Some people are just fighters you know?  You can tell.

Around the time we reached Narhold we noticed vast plumes of smoke to the north.  I speculated that it was Three Rivers, you may remember that as the city we’re heading for, being burned to the ground but Finchley laughed at this idea.  Although he offered no alternative opinion on what else could be causing enough smoke that there was an early sunset.  I’ve never been to Narhold before, the only thing I know about is it that Martialla killed one of the men who killed her niece here.  His name was Bass or Flounder or some stupid fish name.  What I’ve heard about Narhold is that this is good fertile land but on account of being right next to an enemy nation no one wants to live here.  Rumor has it that it was founded by Vieland criminals who fled across the border to avoid justice in their homeland.  Consequently it’s populated mostly by outcast and criminals of various sorts, willing to make a hard life among the dangers of the region.  It’s also whispered that Nahold regularly bribes officials in Vieland with food, gold, and slaves – which is treason you know.

Once we were firmly installed in one of the rat-infested hostels in this crap border town that Bolbec Forthwind told me that he was going to set me free. 

Montresor 27 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Remember when I was first “exiled” to Juost Manor and they yoked me with that ugly silver necklace?  Of course you do, I talked about it a lot.  “They” could use it to track me down somehow, as evidenced that first night when I escaped and they immediately caught me and brought me back.  With extreme prejudice.  Looking back on it now I realize that the impact of those events had more psychological effect on me than the actual magic of the necklace was useful to them.  Because of that experience the first night the notion got in my head that I couldn’t get away from them until I got rid of that necklace.  But it wasn’t true really.  Once the Baron was off fighting his war, and then later was the willing sexual pawn of a wizened old crone, the things got pretty chaotic.  The Baroness herself sent me off on many a wild goose chase.  I could have wandered off at any time and it’s unlikely much would have been done about it.  I’m sure she would have sent someone after me, but I could have dealt with it.  It’s rather embarrassing in retrospect that I put so much importance on that trinket.

They’ve upped their game this time.  I could kid myself and say what they fitted me with this time is a choker, but let’s call it what it is – a slave collar.  A very nice slave collar made of silver and gold, nice enough you would think that it’s jewelry of some kind, but a slave collar nonetheless.  They demonstrated to me that if I try to remove the collar before I get to the North – directly or by encouraging others to do so for me – it tightens and chokes me until I fall unconscious.  Have you ever been choked unconscious?  I don’t recommend it.  Why some people find that enjoyable I can’t fathom.  They also enjoyed showing me that they could make it strangle me whenever they felt like making it do so.  Yesterday they seemed merciful and stupid, today they were leaning heavily on the cruel post in the fence.  They explained that any day I didn’t make progress towards the North the necklace would also make me get very sick, and progressively so until I died after a few days.  No demonstration but I believe them.

Once the strangulation portion of the evening was concluded the Duchess said to me “All you have left is memories and if you cross me again I’ll take those away from you as well.”  I don’t know what she meant but that was a pretty cool thing to say.  I admit that even more than Elth I misjudged the Duchess.  All this time I’ve laid (lain?) all the blame for my current predicament on the Duke, but clearly she was more involved in this than I anticipated.  I honestly didn’t think she had it in her.  She always seemed like a timid powerless woman.  I had a hard time imagining her doing so much as speaking sharply to one of her maids, let alone putting together some manner of black bag squad to drug and kidnap me.  I suppose I should give me some credit for that. Not much, but some.

Of course if the trio holding my fate in their hands was truly cruel they would have just slapped me with the collar and then tossed me out on the street to make my way north on my own as best that I could – that would have been something.  It’s what I would have done were I am.  Well no, if I was them I would have killed me on account of I am far too dangerous to be left alive, but if I was going for this whole exile thing that’s how I would have done it.   But even in their spiteful vindictiveness they were rather civilized about it. 

They booked me passage on a ship heading north.  And I mean way north.  The Umberlee River is the big swinging dick of rivers as far as most of the Kingdom is concerned.  If you follow The Umberlee north you come to the Scale River, which is still a pretty big deal as far as rivers go.  But if you follow that north you come to the so-called River of the Sun (if it can so be called) which is THE river.  Any river that’s any river has . . . you know whatever.  That metaphor got away from me there.  Our primitive stupid ancestors called it the River of the Sun because they thought one of their stupid primitive river gods piloted the sun up and down it each day on canoe while fighting off hippos and river walruses and Bokrug The Great Water Lizard with a long stick or something.  Our ancestors were so stupid.  The sun doesn’t travel north and south, how did that ever make sense to their puny primeval brains? 

Anyway, I guess it was called the River of the Sun for so long no one bothered to change it even though it’s a pretty bad name.  Point is the River of the Sun empties into the Sea of Shatai and right across that august body of water is “the North” which is another stupid name.  People can’t even be bothered to call it the Northlands or something slightly less silly, they have to say “the North”.  It’s childish is what it is.  So this riverboat is taking me all the way across the continent to Etherasawn where I can catch a ride to my new exile home.  Although last I heard Etherasawn was in the hands of the dirty Vielanders so I guess we’ll see how that goes. 

Unless of course I can figure out a way to get this collar off and escape before we get there.  Which I probably will.  I’m pretty slippery you know. 

Since the Compass river is now in the hands of the enemy I will be transported to Three Rivers overland by a contingent of the Duke’s guards to embark on this grand journey.  Which I think we can all agree is a pretty good use of manpower during a time of war.  Given my history with the Lodge Woods and with Three Rivers itself I wonder if I’m even going to make it to the boat (ship?).  Imagine that you’re a guard whose job it is to get someone on a ship (boat?) taking them into exile– how hard are you going to fight to make that happen if you’re attacked by Kostelos savages that want to kill your ward?  Or if the legal authority of a city wants to execute them?  Do you really care that much about making sure an exile is exiled or are you glad to just get them off your hands? 

Not to mention that by the time we get there Three Rivers may also be in enemy hands.  I would imagine the Ulpine fleet is on their way there right now.  I’m not militarian by any means , but my understanding is that the main defenses of the county were Castle Leastwhal, the Three Keeps, and Fort Obrinth – since the Ulpine fleet is already here that means they’ve been crushed.  What defenses are there to keep them out of Three Rivers?  A bunch of lumberjacks on floating logs with really big axes? 

It’s going to be an interesting journey. 

Macendamandel 7 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

The Lodestoners stopped for only a couple of hours last night before we were moving again.  Riding at that fast pace at night is usually dangerous – horses can’t see in the dark any better than we can – but they were unconcerned to the point where there must have been some magic at play to smooth things over.  Not being privy to whatever that information was I found it pretty nerve-wracking.  We rode into Three Rivers maybe an hour before sunrise.  I’m not familiar with this part of the county, but it has to be more than a hundred miles from Cathars to Three Rivers and here we are – probably not record time but it was a Hells of a speedy trip regardless.  The Lodestone people eagerly passed me off to the “authorities” in Three Rivers, which for some reason I’m still having a hard time comprehending are thugs in the employ of the Law Offices of Office of Glilcus and Stolo.  It’s hard to imagine a bigger conflict of interest than having a law office enforce the law (somehow even criminals enforcing the law themselves makes more sense to me) but here we are.

Remember how despite their corruption I was commenting on the steadiness (is that a word?) and competency of the Cathars city watch?  This militia or private army or whatever you want to call them in Three Rivers was a fun reverse image of that.  I was handed over to four fellows in somewhat similar civilian clothing who had clearly provided their own weapons.  I don’t know if there’s anything about having uniforms and matching equipment that actually makes you more effective at fighting or whatever job you’re doing, but it certainly makes you seem more professional.  I think they had pins or badges of some kind but only one of them was visible – I saw a flash of metal inside the coat of one of the others so maybe they had them inside their coats, or maybe they didn’t have them at all.  The one with the badge showing was large and hairy, his gut had make him a good three feet from navel to spine, with a thick mane of hair and what looked like perpetual stubble that would never turn into a beard.  I would have thought that he was the leader if not for the fact that I didn’t think they had even that small amount of discipline slash organization.

I looked up at him, something I rarely have to do “Which one are you Glilcus or Stolo?”

His words emerged slowly as if it was something he rarely bothered with “I’m just a real estate and banking law specialist.  Don’t ask me about contract law though, I was sick they day they taught that in lawyer school.”

“How do you feel about bribes?”

He looked at my plain prisoner dress and bare feet “What would you have to bribe anyone with?”

I smirked “I can think of three things.”

He cracked the tiniest of smiles “Wrong tree girlie, get moving.”

He poked me with a single finger.  A poke that staggered me a half of a step.  People sometimes mistake any big man for a strong man, but they’re not always the same, some big dudes are just big.  This guy was not one of them.  He had a lot of extra weight on him but he was strong as an ox and knew how to get his weight behind a poke.  If you know what I mean.  As the ragbag bullyboys led me through the streets I got to see Three Rivers as the sun came up.  I was expecting it to be a collection of cramped shacks overrun by squatters covered with dirt and grime.  I also imagined soot everywhere for some reason even though lumber processing doesn’t involving burning anything as far as I know.  But it wasn’t like that at all – it was actually quite beautiful.  Building a city around the waterfall convergence of three rivers is probably not very practical, but it does give you a nice foundation for an appealing city layout. 

I’m sure it’s a pain in the ass going up one of those lift conveyances from the lower city to the upper, as is needing to cross a bunch of bridges once you’re up there, but it sure is pretty.  All the merrily turning waterwheels were rather nice and soothing themselves.  Most of the houses were small but they were all in good shape and seemed to be evidence of a real pride of ownership – it was actually contractual obligation because the Consortium owns them all and fines you if you don’t keep up the property to their exacting standards but if you didn’t know that it looked very much like civic pride.  The point is that it looked nothing like the squalid Hellshole that I was expecting, it looked very pleasant.  It was kind of a letdown, like when you have a friend you think is a fuck-up and then you go to their house and see that it’s actually pretty great.

I hadn’t noticed it in the dark but the road split between the two levels some ways back and we were coming in on the upper portion of the city – I knew that we were riding uphill but I didn’t realize how much we had climbed until I saw the city laid out before and below me.  The upper portion of the city covered both banks and the three islands (are they still island in a river?) where the rivers came together – it was a clear progression for the houses getting bigger and nicer the closer you got to the center island.  After crossing many a bridge to get the central island I was taken to a house that was not quite a mansion but was knocking on the door of mansionhood.  Bigman and his pals handed me off to some liveried fops with rapiers on their hips that looked like they were we made of spun sugar.  They led me through a few rooms into a splendid dining area overlooking the falls encased in enough glass to build a greenhouse. 

Sitting at the table at a sideways angle with his back half to the glorious view of the falls was one of the judges from Newberry where this all started.  The impartial judges that made up that panel were pretty much all hard looking bastards, except the Halfling who were merely hard to look at, so it doesn’t no good to say this was the hard looking one.  This was the one who wasn’t bald, the one with the dark hair and sideburns framing a face that looked like a strip mine full of scree.  He was dressed more like a gentleman than the last time I had seen him and he was reading a curious little volume that looked like a bunch of broadsheets fastened together somehow.  Kind of like a very thin book with no cover.  There was quite a repast on the table for one man so I sat down and enjoyed some fresh blueberries and honeyed bread.

He glanced over his papers at me “No, please, help yourself.”

“I didn’t see any reason to stand on ceremony, given the givens, past history and so forth.”

“One might think that’s the exact reason you should want to get in my good graces.”

I sighed “Oh, I know that I should try to cozy up to you, but I’m just too tired to care right now.  I didn’t catch your name when last we met.”

He folded his papers and set them down, taking a long drink of steaming hot coffee and making a satisfied noise “Farvin Mitzegarld, and who might you be? You who’ve caused me so much trouble?  Not Cirthana Juost I don’t think, since there is no such person.”

“That name will do as well as any.  What trouble have I caused you?  I remember being acquitted at your trial in Newberry.”

“There’s acquittals and then there’s acquittals.  My friends didn’t like being shown up like that, especially not by a woman.”

I gestured with a crispy piece of bacon “You didn’t mind though?  You’re a more enlightened type?”

“I’m a business man, enlightened don’t enter into it – there’s not a lot of money in revenge.”

I nodded “I used to think that too, but now I’m not so sure.  Speaking of which, what are the chances that I can go for trial by combat again?  I can’t pull that same trick I did in Newberry but I’ve acquired quite a bit of money in my revenge quest and I could probably hire a Hells of a champion with it.”

“They’ll be no trial this time, as soon as the others have arrived to watch you die that’s what you’ll do.” He pointed “Out there in the world we have to play by the rules to some degree, here in Three Rivers we can do what we want.  Having a trial would send people the wrong message.”

“What message would that be?”

“That they have rights, that we can’t kill them whenever we wish for any reason we want.”

“Well that’s definitive.  Did you bring me to your lovely home just to talk or what’s the purpose of this friendly breakfast chat?

“I wanted to get a good look at you, things happened pretty quickly in Newberry I didn’t get a chance to study you, you don’t seem like someone who could have caused us all this trouble.”

“You know what they say, it’s the punch you don’t see that knocks you out.”

“Who says that?”

“People that go around punching other people I would wager.  I feel like you have a number of such people on your payroll, you could ask them.”

“I’ll take your word for it.  I have to say you look a good deal worse for the wear than the last time I saw you.”

I snorted “Give a girl a break, I’ve been awake for three days straight because of the drugs your goons injected me with.  Not to mention being dragged across country by those selfsame goons thugs.  I don’t know how much you know about beauty but it takes work.  I assure you that I clean up pretty good.  What I need is a bath and some clean clothing.”

“Why did they give you something to keep you awake?  I would have assumed they’d want the opposite.”

“Normally probably they would have, but I get possessed by a dream-demon sometimes when I sleep and it gave them the business something fierce.  I think one of them was killed that first night by the dream possession maneuver.  After that they took measures to make sure it didn’t happen again.”

He raised an eyebrow “Dream demon?  Interesting.  Is that a true thing or are you insane?”

“From my point of view it doesn’t much matter does it, the result is the same.  You know what they say, sanity is what you make if it.”

“Who says that?”

“Crazy people mostly.  How long until the rest of the gang shows up and I’m ripped to pieces in front of a roaring crowd by some piece of timber processing equipment?”

“Hard to say for sure, a few days at least, once Bandsitta gets here he won’t want to wait for the others – he’ll demand you be killed immediately.  He’ll probably want to do it himself.  Strangle you or beat you with his fists.”

“Is that the screaming guy who took his shirt off at the trial?” He nodded “Can you hold him off?”

“I could, but usually it’s easier just to give him what he wants when it’s not something important – when you die isn’t something important.”

“I respectfully disagree.  I have word out to Duke Lodvocka that you lot are going to kill me.  If you dismember me before he has a chance to weigh in I think that could cause you a lot more problems than I ever did.”

“You’ve stepped up in the world of who you’re claiming to represent.  The Duke is certainly someone with a lot more juice than Baron Juost.  Are you his cousin too?  Or maybe his favorite niece?  I don’t think he has any daughters.”

“He has four actually, five if you count effeminate sons, but I’m not one of them – he just owes me a favor.  Hopefully you’ll be hearing from him soon.”

“Noted.  I think we’re done here.” He gestured for his frilly thugs to take me away.

“So soon?  I thought we were going to hang out, really get to know each other.”

“Sadly business precludes me from indulging in lazy days like that.”

“Sad indeed, but I understand, poor people aren’t going to oppress themselves.” 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 1,190,751

Inventory: Whiterock family signet ring (Ring of Binding)

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, maker of the manacles

Macendamandel 1 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

After two days (or a day and a half, whatever, what am I a calendar . . . . checker?) in North Yokelville Township the caravan staggered back into motion today.  After yesterday’s rains the road was a real mess and our progress was even slower than normal.  Several times as the waggoneers were busting their balls to get a cart we were sitting on out of the mud they looked at Martialla and I like we should be helping them.  Good one guys.  I think by mid-day we have traveled about three miles – if I squinted I could still see Hamletshire Villagetown in the distance.  Pretty sure I could still smell it at the very least but that may be the stink that attached itself to the caravaneers while we were there.  The slow progress got bad enough that even I was thinking that maybe we should have stayed in Countryside Crossing Community another day to let things dry out.

Despite the poor road conditions as the mud-splattered and exhausted caravaneers were eating their dried onion and liver paste sandwiches for lunch a couple wagons passed us going north.  Looked like a professional outfit.  A while later a long train of Halfling wagons went by as well.  Not less than an hour after that another wagon was coming out way.  A veritable deluge of traffic compared to what we had seen so far on the road to Cathars.  I whacked Martialla on the shoulder, waking her from a deep sleep – I have no idea how she can doze off stacked on boxes like that, it has to be terrible for your spine.  Whatever other flaws she may have (and she has many) that girl can fall sleep like a champion.

I pointed “Hey, magic float me over there, I want to talk to that guy.”

She lifted up the dumb straw hat she found to cover her eyes “Why?”

“I want to know what’s going on, fifteen wagons just went past us.”

“It’s a road Ela, wagons go on roads.”

“Just do it you lazy cretin.”

“I’m lazy?  You’re the one that wants me to magic you over there.”

“That’s because the road is all muddy not because I don’t want to exert the effort of walking.”

She laid back and put her stupid borrowed/stolen hat back over her face “Why?  Are you worried that that your magic automatic self-cleaning clothes will get dirty?”

I kicked her in the side of the leg “My boots don’t clean themselves off!”

“Whose fault is that?  Besides, I can’t ‘float’ you anyway, have you ever seen me float anything?”

“Yes, tons of times.”

“Okay, fair point, but those things were all small.  I can’t lift you with magic Ela, even as sprightly and dainty as you are you’re way too heavy for my mage hand.”

“You are the worst wizard ever.”

“Since I’m a sorcerer that’s absolutely true.”

I thought about snatching that hat off her and throwing it in the mud but I decided in the end that it would be unbecoming for a lady of my stature – it’s important that I don’t allow myself to be dragged down to Martialla’s level.  I climbed off the wagon and into the mud, but by that point in the day it wasn’t so bad anymore – I’ve seen thoroughfares in cities that were worse and in those places it’s not all mud you know?  The wagon I was approaching looked to me more of a very large coach really than anything else, not that I’m an expert in these things.  It was massive and the roof was lined with probably twenty large barrels, in addition to which there were all manner of goods strapped to the sides with cargo nets like it was a hull (hold) of a ship.  The thing must have weighed a ton, how it wasn’t getting swamped in the mud I don’t know.  There must have been some magic in play there.  It’s hard to imagine a form of magic simultaneously more useful and more boring than preventing a wagon from getting stuck in the mud.

One side of the wagon was opened up/folded down to create a sort of market stall, but the proprietor was outside of it anyway.  He was a blandly attractive fellow in a grey tunic over an odd whitish garment that looked either very baggy or like it was individual strips of cloth, with a matching grey hat with a jaunty purple feather.  A sign on the back of the wagon declared him to be Choquette – merchant, tinsmith, alchemist & troubadour.  I could tell by the way that he was carrying on with one of the caravan drovers, extoling the virtues of some small green vial, that you could add liar and swindler to that list as well.  I have an eye for these sorts,  Some criminals get by my hiding their true selves, some develop a “straight” persona, some just avoid talking to normal people as much as possible. 

But then some, like Choquette unless I miss my guess (which I don’t) just look and act like criminals and rely on somewhat dubious charm and audaciousness to see them through.  You ever have a friend that whenever someone else meets them you end up saying “if you knew them better you’re see that . . .”?  Choquette is that friend.  You know he’s not going to pay you back but you end up loaning him money anyway.  He sleeps with your lady but you decide you weren’t that into her anyway so be kind of did you a favor.  He stole all the silver and booze but he needed it more than you anyway.  He’s that guy. 

While I waited for him to finishing fleecing his current customer I was surprised to see a woman inside the wagon manning the counter.  I would have pegged Choquette as a lone operator.  She had all the earmarks of a highborn lady lain low – reduced to poverty but still in possession of her dignity and sense of superiority.  She was probably mid-forties with pale blue eyes and apple-red hair, she had peeling skin on her face from a sunburn despite the parasol she was holding.  She was dressed like a common wanderer but she had an extravagant signet ring on one hand and a gold band with an emerald on the other – along with an absurd primitive looking necklace with a hunk of bloodrock around her neck that has to be magic.  It’s probably not unlike what I have looked like at times – accessories not appropriate to the clothing at all.  Since Choquette was still swindling I approached her.  She asked in a quiet voice what I was in the market for.

“Information today.  I’m curious about all the traffic on the road.”

She smiled politely “Information is one of the few things Choq doesn’t charge for.  The Count is sending relief to Renwick, what you’ve seen on the road today is just those who were quickest to get underway.  There’s going to be a lot of materials heading north along this path over the next few weeks and months.”

“The Count or the council in Cathars?”

She nodded knowingly “The Count himself has ordered it.  He made an appearance in Cathars to give a speech about the importance of rebuilding Renwick.”

“Will wonders never cease?  I never would have expected the Count to do anything as crass as governing the County that the Crown has entrusted him with governance over.  I would have expected any supplies to come from Peerana, actually I would have expected everyone to let Renwick rot, but since they aren’t that seems like the best place to offer help.”

“I don’t know the politics behind it but the Count was clear that Cymrile would be leading this effort.”

I glanced at her ring “I think you probably know more than you’ll admit.”

She hid it well but I could tell she was slightly wistful “In truth I do not, I have no insight into that world anymore.  If you’re heading to Cathars I can tell you as well that the city is likely to be filling up right now.  Not just with merchants heading to Renwick but also with revelers – there’s to be a celebration in honor of the great victory the Queen’s forces won.”

“Good to know, so you two are hauling supplies for Renwick then?”

“No, just looking for opportunities – Choq is much more of a freebooter than a merchant.”

I glanced over at him, still pitching his snake oil, now to several caravaneers “Somehow that doesn’t surprise me.  Well with all these people converging on Renwick I’m sure he’ll find ample prospects to get himself into trouble.  With all these goods about to be on the road is would be a fine time to be a bandit.”

“The Count has promised forces to patrol the roads.”

I couldn’t help but smile “I’m sure he has, help is such an easy thing to promise after all.  What sort of name is Choquette?”

“Tobriandos.”

“Pardon?”

“We’re both from Tobriandor.”

“Is that a city up north?”

She seemed mildly embarrassed that I was asking “No, it’s a kingdom, one allied to yours actually.”

“Are you fucking kidding?  This is the second time in as many days someone has claimed to be from a country I’ve never heard of.  How is that possible?”

“No offense, but perhaps you’re not as worldly as you think.”

I smiled warmly “Don’t worry, I don’t take offense easily – and when I do I don’t tend to hold grudges.  What have you got back there?  Doesn’t look like a lot of room for cargo in there so I assume that you specialize in high end type items, perhaps of the enchanted variety?”

She (or they I guess) did indeed and surprisingly in the small offering there were a couple items I needed.  I purchased a dagger and a new crossbow (finally) for when things get rough and a handsome pair of gloves for everything else. I chatted with her and Choquette until my caravan finally got moving again and I bid them farewell to clamber onto my box-perch with Martialla.  After I spent several minutes pointedly trying to stomp mud off my boots over the side of the wagon she sighed and cleaned them off with a wave of her hand and a magic word.

“Was that so hard?”

“No, but it would help if you asked instead of just glaring at me while you kick mud on everyone.  So what’s the news?”

“The Count is sending supplies to Renwick.”

“Good time to be a bandit.”

“I said the same thing.  Also it turns out that the Queen’s men won a big battle down south, sounds like we should have this whole war thing wrapped up in a few months.”

“Another one for the good guys eh?”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Behind the curtain: As always I rolled randomly for what was available and one item that came up is the Cloak if the Bat.  It’s a good item, but I just couldn’t see Ela skulking around in a Batman cape.  It’s a real problem with gearing Ela up – most magic items are so terribly gauche that she would never be caught dead in them.  A ring of protection is fine, but unless you look damn good wearing it why bother?

Funds: 47,040 platinum, 12,880 gold

XP: 1,190,751

Inventory: 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 Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Brooch of Shielding, Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, Ela’s Stately Greatcoat, Ring of Eloquence, +1 Dagger, +1 Thundering Light Crossbow, Cheating Gloves  

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