Lunch with cousin May stretched out into the afternoon and before you know it the two of us were sitting on the stern (that’s part of a boat right) trading tales of her social climbing and my . . . whatever you call it that I’m doing. A good time was had by all. With all the whimsicality of the idle rich she invited me to stay and I saw no reason to refuse her. We drank to the ill-health of our enemies and continued our nattering until sunset. It was a particularly picturesque sunset, probably because of all the miniscule wood particles in the air from Three Rivers. I’ve heard that just the right amount of air pollution is what you need to have a really nice sunset.
Driven below decks by the emergence of the night’s biting insects I was treated to a somewhat less extravagant meal than lunch had been which was saved by the appearance of the good wine. There was a part of me that wondered if my dear cousin was suckering me in to betray me to the consortium but a much larger part of me that didn’t care if she was. I don’t meant to be dramatic but the wound from Martialla leaving was still fresh and if there’s better ways to stitch those wounds than getting drunk I don’t know what they are. Cousin May could still drink like the farm girl she was but she was still no match for me, she retired to her state room hours before I decided that I had had enough.
The room I was given was basically a fancy closet, but what do you expect on rivercraft? No matter how rich you are there’s only so much space you have to work with inside a boat. Unless you get magic involved and I guess she either isn’t that rich that she can afford it or is that conservative not to do it. I feel into a deep and dreamless sleep in the closet. I can’t imagine that it’s because of the booze, it couldn’t be that simple, maybe she is rich enough that the boat has some kind of protective wards. I was just happy to get some good hours of sleep for once.
In the morning she had some new clothing for me, not anything she’d wear now, clearly some clothes from the trunks of her servants – I’m sure she was delighted by that. She made sure to load me down with food and supplies. She was quite enjoying lording her success over me and I wasn’t embittered in the least by it. After all if you can’t count on family you can you count on? No one. Which you can’t. She was kind enough to confirm that it was the Umberlee River we were on and she dropped me off on the west side so I could make my way further west to the Pipestone. She wished me well and we were off our separate ways – she floating downriver and me heading upriver, although not on the same river as we just established.
The Pipestone is so named because there is (or was) an abundance of a kind of mudstone in the area that the natives use (or used) to carve pipes and other trinkets out of seeing as it is a fine-grained and easily worked stone that even their primitive methods could handle. As I understand it the Pipestone was once (maybe still is) considered a sacred land by the Kostelos and several differing tribes went to war to control it – as one does when something is sacred. Allegedly all the Kostelos have been cleared out of the area south of Gib’s Tor but with my luck I’ll stumble across some stragglers looking to even the score. I believe a tor is a rock formation of some sort but who Gib might be and why he or she decided to lay claim to a rock formation I have no idea. I suppose I’ll find out when I get there, assuming that I’m not killed by savages before I get there.
If there’s anything good about walking alone in the wilderness (there’s not) it’s that it gives you time to think. Thought such as, what was the point of chasing the Kostelos away from here if no one was going to live here? I frequently came across the remains of what used to be logging camps, small towns even, all abandoned now that the timber trade has moved south. Seems like we could have just come to an agreement with the natives “hey we’re going to spend a couple decades cutting down your scared woods but then you can have the land back okay?” All they had to do was give up with primitive stupid religion and they wouldn’t have been driven away. Doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
It was a little eerie seeing all those deserted communities but I’ve certainly seen worse. At least this desolation was just the march of progress rather than the result of war or plague or something like that. Still it all seems rather wasteful. If people living in the slums of Paladore knew there were whole little towns sitting out here idle I wonder what they would do. Would they come? Can you just claim a town once everyone leaves? If I convinced people to settle and populate all these places did I just make myself a Baron or a Lord of some sort? Is that how new counties are formed? Not by an edict from the Crown but simply by taken action? Could be, I’ve often said that one of the main things I’ve learned from my exile that no one is really in charge, you can get away with quite a lot just my having the balls to do it.
I suppose it’s like that old story about the circus elephant that’s held in place by a tiny stake – a manner of learned helplessness. They could get away but they never try because they don’t think about it. I suppose that’s what society is in a way, just a veil pulled over people’s eyes to keep them from trying too much. After all we can’t have everyone trying to live a good life and we now? That would be bloody anarchy. It’s important to make sure that the blood is spilled only when and where the government says. More or less.
I walked all day and didn’t see another soul, nor any traffic on the river. My understanding is that of the three rivers the Pipestone is the one that doesn’t have a lot to contribute to decent society. The Umberlee is an main artery of trade, the Visgoth will pick up more once the war is over, but there’s still plenty of traffic that way – the Pipestone is the old maid of the three watery sisters though, her virtue given away and used up long ago. I didn’t see much in the way of animals either other than beetles, which I guess is what you get when you cut down a forest. Still though it seems like by now some other kind of ecosystem should have developed – come on nature get off your ass and repopulate this new desert we made.
Late in the afternoon I came across a riverside shrine to Strider. I always think of Strider as the God of roads, but I suppose he oversees river travel as well, although I’ve never seen such a shrine before. Maybe there’s some other river God that usually handles river stuff, I don’t know exactly how the Gods decide who’s in charge of what. Seems like there should be a lot of Gods fighting over the interest of revelry and getting wasted but instead as far as I know there isn’t a single one. What kind of management structure is that? Maybe there is and I just haven’t heard of them – there are so many Gods who can keep track of them all? And most of them are real duds let me tell you.
I figured that was as good a place as any to bed down for the night, and by bed down I mean sit down and have some of the food my cousin packed with me. Even with all the travel that I’ve done I’ve never really gotten the hang of making a camp. I suppose a more rangery type would have a hammock set up and a fire merrily blazing and be snatching fish out of the river and digging a latrine and all sorts of things. I just leaned against the pipestone carving of a boot or whatever the lump dedicated to Strider was supposed to be and enjoyed a box of sweets from my dear cousin. They won’t keep long anyway so there’s no reason not to polish them off, and if you ask me there’s little that compliments wine better than sugar. Since I was there anyway I figured a prayer wouldn’t hurt anything.
“Dear Strider, how are you? I am fine. I apologize for not praying to you more often but I don’t really believe in you. I mean I know you’re real because your priests can do magic, I meant that I don’t believe in you in the sense of I don’t trust in you or care what you deal is. I’m praying to you today because I would like to apologize for killing some of your priests. Just two I think, but I don’t really remember so it may be more. Not that they didn’t have it coming but I could have been nicer about it. I realize now that there’s no reason to torment people before you croak them, it’s best just to kill them and be on about your business. So that’s my bad.
But I wanted to ask you something as well. If you’re so into travel and exploration and people moving all around for the pure joy of it shouldn’t you be doing more to make it safe for them to do it? Seems like you can’t walk five miles in any direction without being ambushed by bandits or attacked by monsters or set upon by a rape gang or slavers or some other damn thing. Shouldn’t you be doing something about that? Just the other day I ran into some Vultur people who are going to patrol the roads – seems like the kind of thing that your people should be doing.
I don’t want to tell you your job but it seems a little embarrassing to me that another God is taking up your slack. Instead of be trail-worn wanderers with dusty backpacks and battered hats shouldn’t your followers be hunting down monsters and killing bandits and so forth? Again, I don’t want to tell you how to run your religion, but it seems to me that people might be more willing to travel if there wasn’t a one hundred percent chance of them being murdered when they leave the city.”
“That was some prayer.”
The voice came from a lanky woman with deeply tanned skin, dark hair is tied in a tight braid with the sides of her head shaved to the scalp. She wore a shabby work shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow and those leather braces that workmen have sometimes along with coarse trousers tucked into well-used boots. She had a hatchet dangling on each hip as well.
“You step lightly friend, it’s pretty hard to sneak up on me.”
“You were clearly deep into your religious observations, probably your awareness as impaired by your piety.”
“Probably. Are you going to kill me?”
She smiled slightly “Something tells me that wouldn’t work out if I wanted to try, but no, I’m not one of the bandits you mention – I’m one of the people that you think should be doing something about those bandits.”
“You’re a Striderian? Wow, who knew that prayer worked so quickly? Is maintaining thi rocks a full time job or what do you do all the time? Travel I suppose, seeing as how that’s your divine mandate.”
She sat on the ground across from me “Not as much as you might think, I mostly just hang around here. I’m from the city, I’m still getting a handle on this thing where you have to catch and cook your own food.”
“I was just wondering if that happened, this is really some kind of divine intervention.”
“People typically find the hand of the divine anywhere if they look hard enough.”
“That’s a surprisingly coherent statement for a priestess.”
“Well I’m new to that too, I’m sure over time I’ll become a true fanatic. I couldn’t help but overhear in your prayer that you killed some priests of Strider, so I turn the question back to you – are you going to kill me?”
I shook my head “I don’t think so, you seem like a decent enough sort at least on first impression, I’d keep an eye on me regardless though, I’m very dangerous. See, I have a scar and everything.”
“Very tough looking.”
“Do you want to escort me safely to Gib’s Tor? You know, because of your God and all?”
I laughed shortly “Aren’t you the one who worships the travel God?”
“I told you I’m new to it, until a few months ago I never set foot outside of Three Rivers, and I was never much of one for geography.”
“Seems like you have no choice but to come with me then, isn’t visiting new places what your religion is all about?”
“Something like that.”
Funds: 6922 gold
Inventory: Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, traveling outfit, Ring of Invisibility, potion case, potions (Cure Light Wounds x3, Enlarge Person, Protection from Evil, Cure Moderate Wounds x2, Oil of Fire Trap, Rage)
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, Calvados Eure, Law Offices of Lampblack and Brimstone, Peronell Missplitter, Nightmare Hag