The celebration at Omsford, where Matthias Blackshear lived was incredible. The families were so overjoyed at recovering their lost children they threw us a feast! It was the first time other than my annual day of birth that anyone had thrown a party in our honor. I’m not counting that time we killed those Owlbears. That was not a feast but more of a drinking event. Many a chair and table were broken that night! Compared to this meal, the whole Owlbear incident was nothing more than a fading memory.
Everything thanked us, shoot our hands, even kissed our cheeks. This was what it was to be a hero – one of the greatest thieves in the land.
Matthias’s granddaughter Miley stayed close to him and her mother, Clarissa. She thanked me three times, so we all know what that means…she was in love with me! I saw her eyes catching mine, and that smile. I remembered Guild Rule #88 Never pass up an opportunity to make a new friend, especially if she is cute.
After my third ale I asked Matthias, “Is your daughter married?” I saw no ring nor sign of a husband.
He didn’t answer. He just glared at me with squinted eyes and flashed his gritted teeth. I got the impression he was offended. How could that be? I was a hero like him and the others! Surely Clarissa could do no better in this tiny farming community. Blackshear stalked off.
“You had better watch it,” Arius said. “He’s likely to take your head off.”
“I think I could seduce her,” I added as I finished another tankard of ale. “Besides, she’s cute.”
Theren heard our conversation and shook his head. “We’ve done a lot to win these people’s trust Galinndan. Don’t do something that is going to get us killed.”
“What—killed? All I’m saying is that I think we could hit it off. Me helping rescue her daughter and all.”
“Do you really want Blackshear as a father-in-law?” Arius asked. “You slip up one time and your head will go bouncing like that Amber Elf he decapitated.”
That was a good point. Over the years I had become quite fond of my head and neck and they were right, Matthias seemed to be a bit over reactive at times. I settled on giving Clarissa a wink. She didn’t return it but I could tell, she wanted me.
Blackshear pulled us aside an hour later as the party began to break up. “We are only two days travel to Karn. Sleep well and tomorrow I will escort you there myself.”
We thanked him for his hospitality. My father had gone to Karn before, usually to pay taxes and homage to Lord Sklaver. I always wondered why he had never taken me. Our home was but a village. Karn was a small city, or so I had been told.
The next morning there were potato cakes and we found our haversacks stuffed with dried meats and fresh fruit, compliments of the citizens of Omsford. We set out and saw little more than a farmer with an oxcart who we passed along the way. The next day five riders approached us, all in full armor, glinting with the morning sun. Their armor was matching, as was their slung shields.
Blackshear rode out a few yards ahead of us, meeting them men. One of them was a lanky fellow with a flowing yellow beard that poked out from under his helm. “If it is isn’t Matthias Blackshear,” he sneered. The other men seemed amused. Two put their hands on their swords.
“Blondebeard,” Matthias spat back as if it were a curse. This had to be that Syrus Blondebeard that he had told us about, the First Knight of the Royal Guard.
“Where are you going old man?” Blondebeard asked.
“I am taking my friends here to Karn.”
“I thought you were banned from there,” one of the men said half-jokingly.
“Who would stop me?” Blackshear countered. “You? You’d piss yourself the moment I drew my sword – we both know that.” He turned back to Blondebeard. “What are you doing away from the whorehouses and taverns?”
“There have been reports of Amber Elves roaming the countryside. We are merely doing our job – your former job – searching for them.”
Blackshear flashed a grin of pride. “Well you can turn your pansy-asses around. We found them and recovered the children they had kidnapped.”
“Really?” Blondebeard said suspiciously.
“You doubt me Syrus?” His jaw set firm.
There was an awkward pause, I sure felt it. Finally Blondebeard spoke, not to Matthias, but to us. “You men have thrown in with a dangerous man. I’d advise you to part ways with him now. He’s not welcome in Karn, which means the same will apply to you.”
Theren spoke for us. “Thank you…but we will stick with him. We’ve shed blood together.”
“Your choice then,” Blondebeard said. “You watch yourselves in Karn. That is our city…our rules.” He and the other men in the patrol passed us without further comment.
“You make a misstep in Karn, you’ll be dealing with me, Krolf Lorraine, or Adrian Kraverhall. None of us have much use or patience for farm boys causing trouble.”
Farmboys? We had been to the Gellesian Fields, had battled ogres, cockatrice, and had even been tested by a member of the Sisterhood of the Sword. Not to mention the Amber Elves. If anyone was a yokel, it was this Blondebeard. Armor made men pompous – I saw that.
“He sure doesn’t seem to like you,” I said.
“Mounted pile of shit wearing armor he doesn’t deserve to polish,” Blackshear replied. “I trained that arse in everything he knows – and only half of it stuck. Now he and the guard are nothing but playthings for the Vizir. Look at them, riding out five days too late. When they were under my command the Guards were there to protect the citizens. They would have driven off those yellow-skinned bug-suckers days ago. Now they hide in Karn. It is getting more dangerous to live outside of the city every year.” There was a longing in his voice, the first time I had heard it from him.
We arrived at Karn later that day. The road leading to the city was dotted with farm houses and cottages. The city itself was surrounded by a stone wall that was very old. Vines and moss clogged every mortar seam in it, given the twelve foot walls a green shimmer. The gate was manned by five guardsmen, though I thought none of them looked too impressive. They seemed to notice Blackshear. One of them said, “We don’t want any trouble,” the oldest of the guards said.
“No one ever does,” Matthias said in response.
At the inner portcullis we were told to stop and to read the sign. It was red lettering painted on a white background with the rules for visitors. I presume that the red lettering was supposed to instill a sense of warning or threat. It was faded and chipped.
Murder, arson, or rape is punishable by death administered immediately by the City Guard.
Theft is prohibited in the city limits.
Fighting is frowned upon.
Laying of hands on members of the royal family or the City Guard is prohibited.
Magic of all kinds outside those of the church is prohibited. Violators will be turned over to the church for justice.
All dangerous animals are to be kept secured.
Horse thieves will be whipped in public.
Have a glorious day!
Theren pointed to the theft line and gave me a knowing wink. “I think that means you.” I had no intention of stealing here – not now anyways. Doing so without checking in with the guild would result in punishments that I didn’t know the details of, but feared nevertheless.
As we entered the city the smell gave it away first. Unlike our home Whiterock, it was a stink of sewage, dampness, and dirty feet that stung at your nostrils. Smoke mingled with the odors and I swore I could smell rotting meat too. There were people walking through the cobblestone streets, more than in our village.
Blackshear pulled us into a huddle. “Alright ladies, here’s the plan. For you to get to Lord Sklaver you have to do it through his bloody Vizir. Krolf Lorraine is as crooked as Wilding Creek. I may be able to get you in to see him. You’ll have to work your way past that greasy weasel to get to Lord Sklaver. I don’t trust Lorraine in the least…for reasons I’ll tell you about sometime.
In the meantime – I’d recommend you stopping by Grayson’s Maps. Chester is well known and worth stopping by the see. No matter what, you should go to Odd-Bob’s too. Robert is, well, strange, but always good for a story or two. Stay away from the Wayward Knight Inn if you go and seek a drink. Try and get a room at the Copper Horse – I’ll find you there later.” With that Blackshear waded into the people on the street, most of them parting to get out of his way.
Arius stabled our mounts at Kurn’s Stables for what seemed like a lot of money. We made our way through the twisting main street of Karn, finally spotting a sight for Grayson’s Maps.
The inside smelled musty with a hint of old man. Rolled maps stored in wooden tubes lined the walls, along with books. In the center of the building was a skylight directly over a large table where an old man leaned over a map, looking at it with a magnifying glass. “Just a moment,” he said as he moved his pen over the large parchment on the adjustable table. Then he looked up only out of the corner of his eye at us.
“What are you working on?” Theren asked, genuinely curious.
“A map of Tempora,” the old man said, dipping his pen in ink and continuing to work.
“What is Tempora?” I asked.
“The lost city of the dwarves to the north of the Gash. I found some references to it in a book I recently purchased and wanted to add to the map that I started. Tempora has been lost for ages, it was said to be a great city that could only be accessed on the path of blood…whatever that is. A lot of adventurers have tried to find it, only a few have come back and none of them sane.” He set his quill on a stand and turned slowly to face us, flashing an instant smile.
“Ah, visitors! I am Chester Grayson. Welcome to my humble cartography works.” He waved his hand to point to the maps. “What are you looking for?”
“Matthias Blackshear told us to stop here,” I said.
“Matthias? Is he here in Karn?” the old man’s voice got excited.
“Yes. He’s helping us,” Theren said.
Grayson smiled. “Friends of Blackshear – well, you must be travelers from afar.”
“We’ve been to the Gelllesian Fields and back,” I said with pride.
“Marvelous. Did you happen to make a map of your journey? The fields are difficult for many to navigate.”
I shook my head. “Sorry.”
“Well then, you are travelers, so you need a map of the realm,” he climbed off his stool and shuffled over to a tube, pulling out a map. “This is one of my best sellers – the most accurate map of the realm.”
“How much?” Airus asked.
“Fifty gold…but well worth it.”
“Not exactly the ‘Friends of Blackshear’ price,” I said half-under my breath.
Grayson heard me. “I will also give you a map of the city. If you are new here, it may help you.”
“Done!” Airus replied, dolling out the money. I checked my own funds and was surprised. I had a bag of copper pieces where there had been gold. It was the coins we had found in the fields, in that offering urn. Damn! I guess I should have not stolen the contents of that urn.
Outside he saw some men pass and Chester Grayson winced. “Blue Cloaks!”
“What are they?” Theren asked.
“They have been here for a year or so. Strange monks. They make people nervous more than anything.”
I watched them in their hooded azure cloaks. These were bald men shifted in and out of the people on the cobblestone street, almost blending in – but not quite. There was clearly more to these men then meet the eyes. I had heard of monks before, but these were the first I had ever seen.
We huddled over the map and for the first time realized how far we had traveled. I focused on the Great Gash. That was tied to that message we had gotten from Lexa Lyoncroft. It was a like a nasty scar on the map. I wondered for a moment what had happened to those paladins.
“Come on,” I said. “We need to find the guildhall and Odd Bob’s.”
I hope you have enjoyed the saga thus far. Here are the previous parts if you have missed any installments. Enjoy!