Written by: John Baumgartner (email@example.com) Notice of Copyright 2017
CHAPTER 1: The Midas Stone
THE MASTER OF LIFE’S FICKLE FATE
And to the mortal fallen who has been dealt the final blow And smirking bastards lie to you and in disdain doth crow Turn to and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain And like a Master of Life’s Fickle Fate, Rise and RISE AGAIN!
Rise Again! Rise Again! – though your heart be broken And your life about to end No matter what you’ve lost, be it fortune, love, or friend Be that Master of Life’s Fickle Fate, Rise and RISE AGAIN!
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Paraphrased from the lyrics of the folk song ‘Mary Ellen Carter’ by Canadian Folk Singer and Song Writer Stan Rogers
THE STORY SO FAR: I had poured my money and reputation into the jungle covered ruins of a watch tower looking for a cultural link to the great Elven Diaspora and the rewards it would garner from those both moneyed and blessed with a trace of Old Ehinofey in their bloodline. I had lost to the interference of artifact thieving interlopers and the poisonous bite of an elongated serpentine monster with one hundred clawed feet and venom dripping, boot piercing pincers lurking in the broken pavement where my left foot would land.
My mind reeled under the impact of the pain, too befuddled to remember the words for spell casting. But my fingers reflexively grasped a scroll of Recall and broke the seal.
There was the brief flashing sensation of disorientation that ruptured the pain and then I lay sprawled on an islet in the muddy waters of the Gee-ha River in that festering garbage dump of the Septim’s Empire known as Black Marsh.
My grimy fear stricken fingers clutched an accursed, gold inscribed headstone to my breast but there was no satisfaction in its presence. The pain radiating upwards from my left foot to my brain cast a film obscuring reality to a smeared and almost incoherent image.
“Dark waters for you Mister Midas! Ain’t no cure fer Crawler Poison.“ Thus quoth He-Smirks-in-Smoke my Archein guide, while Orcus, the smuggler leader and captain of my rented skiff, built a campfire on the shore to heat the blade of his axe while his crew stripped off my torn and violated boot and trousers for that most terrifying of procedures ... there would be no pay for anyone if the red line of blood born poison crept up past my ankle and reached my heart.
“And there’s no restore health spell or potion to slow the ‘pedes poison neither!” The Archein continued. “Not until yer foots’ gone!”
The AXE, my savior! The iron, red and stinking hot and the pain, the POISON climbing up my veins, greedy, devouring my life’s essence as it rose, and the PAIN! OH GODS ... THE PAIN!
“De rapids grow swifter!” Once again He-Smirks-in-Smoke took charge. “Now load him on de skiff and get him back to Asylum Island and de Fenlee House!”
“NAR!” Orcus growled as he wiped my poisoned gore off of the blade of his axe, and casually tossed my severed foot into the river where it caused a brief feeding frenzy of twisting fishy bodies before the waters exploded upwards and a huge horseshoe shaped, tooth lined mouth swallowed fish and foot and sank back into its murky home. “Fenlee too close to da @#%& Coast Guards. We go to home at Maromer’s Wharf N’ keep de Midas’ Stone. You hie off to hiz place at Fenlee get money N’ come back with help to carry stone! One day ye gets Argonian – afore we take gold from da stone’s words as pay.”
The pain was there but without the poison’s bite my ravaged tissues allowed the words to penetrate my consciousness. Comprehension stirred the survival instinct enough to realize that I couldn’t afford not to think through what was being said and the consequences. The stone ... the granite passageway plug block inscribed with an epitaph in gold ... what Orcus called my ‘Midas Stone’. The gold in the engraved epitaph would be my abandonment and destruction ... UNLESS ...
“Fool!” I croaked. “The stone is cursed! You just saw what happened to me! Remove the gold and release the curse on your sorry souls. Try and sell it to the wrong buyers and they will serve you up to the dark gods that made it. Deposit me anywhere on Asylum Island in less than full health without an appurtenance to replace my left foot and the Factors at the Topal Goldcorp Office in Old Town, Maor-Tojay will cheat you blind and you will never see your money any time soon if ever. Unless you honor my contract you will have screwed your scrib most royally.”
“And ...?” Prompted He-Smirks-in-Smoke, not sure himself where this was going. Could be trouble here. My trust in him and his smuggler lads was beginning to stretch.
“So here’s the deal and the reason why you are all going to be very rich!” That got everyone’s attention but how to follow my bold proclamation up before they got together to ditch me and take the gold from the #@$%$ stone for their time and trouble?
“So let’s find ourselves a legitimate ally who can have me taken to a barber surgeon to clean up the mess you left with the remains of my left leg, heal me up enough to get to Fenlee House and my proper clothing and supplies and then to my money at the Topal Goldcorp Office. I’ll fulfill my end of our contract, and retrieve my Midas Stone”.
“So ...” I detected a sly tone in He-Smirks-in-Smoke’s voice. There was rustle as his inventory pack shifted to clear his ‘Blood Hero’s Spear for use. Orcus grinned past my shoulder to where the Argonian stood behind me. Was this to be the end of a venture that began with a splendid unexpected clue on a limestone sherd to end here sprawled in mud, blood and rotting vegetation? I was helpless.
He-Smirks-in-Smoke thrust the blood red Wa-obsidian blade over my shoulder and into Orcus’ bull necked throat. The spear withdrew and as the burly Nord boss fell the Argonian sidestepped around me and skewered another smuggler below the Imperial’s sternum and dragged it down and out, spilling his entrails into the mud. The other two looked aghast at this slender serpentine figure of explosive motion and red tipped obsidian death and vanished into the foliage.
“Quick boss. Crawl into the skiff and I’ll put you anchored in mid-stream where the haj-mota (hidden hunter) will keep you safe from the others. Now tell me the who and the how at the tower to look for an ally.”
“Nay!” Said I. “Not the tower.” He-Smirks-in-Smoke is smart and has no doubt realized that he’d over reacted against the smugglers and now had no way to move the half ton Midas Stone without an extra body or two or for me to cast the proper spell for him to move it. He would need me now, but at the tower who could tell. I need to get him focused elsewhere beyond my rivals in the tower into a situation where I had a legitimate partner. The Bay, - yes the Topal Bay and perhaps the Imperial navy or coast guard.
“Nay again I say. The tower would be the worst place. Of the two leaders of the expedition the Breton one is foolish and therefore unpredictable and dangerous as was Orcus and his lads, and the other, the Imperial, Quintus Falco – he would slay to claim any fame and glory to be gained from this site to himself with no inconvenient witnesses, if you get my meaning.
“So let us sail this skiff out into the bay where the eastern shipping from Morrowind, and the western sea lanes from the Summerset Isles, Valenwood and the even the Iliac Bay converge on their way to the major ports of the Niben River. There be legitimate traffic there, and pair of victims of piracy might find a Coast Guard or merchant vessel with a barber surgeon to clean up my leg and a carpenter to make an appurtenance for my missing foot and drop us off at Asylum Island.”
‘Sail this swamp skimming skiff out into the open waters of the bay? Not likely boss!” He said. “But can you levitate? Because as mud is my mother I thought I saw an airship moored above their coastal lugger.
“If you’re up to it you can rest up until nightfall. I can sneak into their camp, scale the mooring line, kill anyone on board and you can levitate up, with the stone if possible, and we can drift with it out to sea until we can spot a ship to bring the airship down and be ‘rescued’.”
“No my Argonian friend.” I said, “Too many loose ends of dead Patricians and a missing airship that could undo our efforts. Leave us remain here and watch the tide. Which is it now? High tide I think since I see no water line of debris left when the tide recedes. But how about we just let the Gee-ha’s sluggish current and receding tide just float us out into the East Salt Newt Channel between Asylum Island and the coast. We should find a ride in the local traffic. If not I can shoot a few fireballs up into the air as a signal.”
“And what if we don’t get ‘rescued’? We can either be swamped by rough waters or drift until we die.” He said.
“Well you’ve got that Hero’s Blood Spear which tells me you’ve played with risks before. Besides I’ve got a scroll or two of Water Walking that I can’t use. Of course you’d have to leave the Midas Stone in the skiff to the winds of chance but you’d still be alive and safe.”
But try as I might I couldn’t concentrate enough to levitate the Midas Stone into the skiff. I was exhausted and so we attempted to rest. Him throwing bits of floatable debris into the river to gage the current flow, and I constantly shifting my thoughts away from that awful, aching lodestone that was the stump where my ankle had connected to my leg. And then, fighting to keep my attention focused away from the pain I stumbled on what one of my more sarcastic old pedagogues would call a passing of intellect gas but which I would simply call a brain fart.
“I’d like to know what our competitors found in that collapsed passage the Midas Stone had blocked.” I said.
He-Smirks-in-Smoke froze, eyes wide, suddenly alert. “Quiet! Too quiet! ... Dark waters my friend. Dark Waters!”
He was right! The cacophony of insect buzzings, amphibious splurchings through mud and swamp water had stilled. A shadow passed over the fronds high up atop the towering scaly tree tops. A glimpse ... an airship, a small triple netch privateer model as used by and afforded by either of the two leaders/funders of my competitors’ expedition floated past ... then a landing tether whipped through the muggy air and snagged in a tree top. An airship had broken loose from its mooring and was snagged by its tether more than a hundred feet over our heads.
Was this luck or what?
Then footsteps blundering down the trail that He-Smirks-in-Smoke and I had cut to the tower gave the first clue that if luck it was then it was not destined to be good. One of the remaining smugglers stumbled into view, bloody and vainly struggling to dislodge the numerous leeches and insectile monstrosities crawling and flying about him.
The smuggler gasped, tripped and was instantly swarmed by the ravenous mass. Then more footsteps and a figure, part mummy and part Bonewalker wearing a crested crown and looking like some ghastly warrior king with fires from some infernal clime ablaze in its empty eye sockets emerged and stood over the prostrate, gibbering smuggler. It wore a corset of some chitinous scaled material under what once must have been a furred cape. It raised a thin arm of bone and gristle overhead and muttered a curse from some ancient Ehinofey sounding bastard Aldmeric language that reeked of the arcane and to my shaken senses utterly evil. Ali...kam-mash...nag-mash...GATH-Thag-A!
A centipede, like the one I’d nearly stepped on and probably similar to the one that took my foot appeared wriggling in those upraised boney fingers. With a gesture that could only have been a nonchalant contempt he tossed it on the writhing mass of the smuggler being devoured. Giyee – noooo!
But then there came the sounds of more crashing and thrashing and Quintus Falco stumbled into the edge of the river’s bed. Like me he had once been sensibly coated with salamander swamp oil to keep off the biting and sucking insects and wore the light weight quilted cotton armor that was so much lighter and more sensible than conventional types.
But that had been before whatever disaster had occurred at the dig.
Now the swamp oil was smeared and insects swarmed around the bare spots on his skin and the pristine cotton quilting smudged with filth, tattered and torn. He carried an immense two handed glass claymore in his hands and he turned to face the apparition and snarled “Die you whining nameless fiend of yesteryear! Slink back to the muck and flooded filth where fate had left you to rot into nothingness!”
Gee hee hee hee! The apparition actually giggled. It raised its arms and gestured to the Imperial and there, before my red rimmed eyes, a huge blood red multi-legged monstrosity reared up out of the ferns and fungoid jungle and ‘slithered’ (the only word my febrile senses could think of) towards Quintus Falco.
Gods! The thing was more than twenty feet long, and for each ‘foot’ there must have been a dozen claws on either side.
The claymore connected with the monster sending segements of claws and chitin spinning, but the immense pincers fastened on Quintus’ arm and ripped it off.
GAAAH aaa aaa H!
Quintus, whatever his faults and there were many, was incredibly brave and I had to say that he died like the man he was during a life time of ruthless acquisition and fearless competition.
I felt myself lifted and flung unceremoniously into the skiff by my Argonian companion. The flat bottom of the skiff momentarily hung on the muddy bottom of the river bank, but the sluggish current slowly eased it into the Gee-ha River proper.
He-Smirks-in-Smoke deployed his Blood Hero’s Spear and stood astride the Midas Stone. And the specter’s crested crown and glowing eye sockets turned to look, first at the Argonian and then twisting downward on its rotted ligaments and vertebrae to the Midas Stone and its gold filled inscribed epitaph.
Steel True Blade Straight Rimtil of Erntide Doon Brother in Blood to Ruuvitar Poet, Sage and Soldier
I can swear that I heard the jungle sigh but a fever was coming on and every bone and muscle in my body ached. And as the skiff slowly drifted out of sight around a bend in the Gee-ha a final, fleeting thought passed through my mind as I slipped into that too long delayed state of delirium and dreams. I’d be back and claim that Stone and that airship tethered to the tree tops. What a splendid way to begin a new return on my original investment. Oh YES! Oh My Goodness YES!
-------------------------------------------------------------------------- Author’s Note - If you enjoyed this chapter and are at a loss to do with an extra smile or dollar please consider a person having a bad day and gift them that smile, or maybe an anonymous gift of that extra dollar to a charity might help to save just one lost person in need. Think about it, and if you are able to - do it.
Sorry I have no tax deductible receipts to give but sometimes just a touch of honest compassion is worth more than money.
Written by: John Baumgartner (firstname.lastname@example.org) Notice of Copyright 2017
CHAPTER 2: The Rime of the Ancient Maormer
A SCRAP FROM THE LOST ILIAD OF OLD EHINOFEY
T’was an epic journey That was neither old nor new The voyage to seize what should be theirs And for gold and plunder too
For thus have the Sea Elves wandered Forlorn, on their golden quest Their sails in the sunset dipping Aslant from the reddened West
And so doth the Great Fleet gather The fleet of a thousand sail With a twin hulled Voyager piloting And the War Canoes in tail
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Paraphrased from the poem ‘The Ways of Many Waters’ by E.J. Brady THE STORY SO FAR: It was the gentle drip of rain that woke me from my fevered stupor lying in the in the bilge of a smuggler’s skiff with sloshing muddy water and bits of flotsam bobbing in time with the ocean swells in Topal Bay.
Tink! ...Tink! ...PLOP! ...Tink! ...Tink! ...
The drops were a deceptive rhythmic falsehood that was quickly denied by the fevered ague and throbbing beat of a deep bass drumbeat of pain to remind me that I was the heir to a failed plan and a failed treasure hunt where the stump at the end of my left leg was my only payment.
No more the link to an undiscovered tomb. No more the prospect of academic fame and access to the purse strings of the wealthy with a trace of Old Ehinofey in their bloodline.
Something hit the skiff, jarring its gentle rocking. A shark, a salt water big mouthed Salt Newt or something worse?
Well why not end it all in the belly of some predator? What else could go wrong?
A clawed hand grabbed the gunwale, then the other hand, followed by its reptilian forearm, and then the ugly face of my Archein companion and survivor of our debacle on the banks of the Gee-ha River, He-Smirks-in-Smoke.
“The tide has turned boss. The skiff is being dragged back to the shore.” He said, each word separated by a gasp for air. “I don’t have the strength to swim pushing the skiff against the tide to Asylum Island.” His other forearm braced itself against the gunwale and he boosted a leg up and rolled into the skiff and lay there for several moments panting.
“What happened to that animated Mummy Obscenity and the Midas Stone you were guarding?” I asked. Hoping that he wouldn’t say that the stone had been destroyed or somehow been reclaimed.
“Naw it was still there when I decided to join you.” He sat up and looked at me, something in his demeanor suggesting that he had come to some sort of an important decision. “There’s a lot of money owing to me, even more if you count the money promised to Orcus and his smuggler lads that they won’t be around to collect. So it’s like what you said. You must be delivered in good health to the Topal Goldcorp to collect my gold. So here’s the deal as I see it.
“You’ll not live to survive another tide change and neither will I swimming and pushing the skiff to Asylum Island. But I know of a nearby camp of Topal Bay ladies n’ gents with money and a preservationist nature who are a working to re-enact the days when the Maormer Sea Elves n’ Khajiits ruled the islands in the Topal Bay. They call themselves the Mist-Trees, and their camp is an easy push. So we be going there as soon as my breath be catched.”
And so gratefully right the Archein was, but not without yet another mystery or two to be discovered.
The night passed slowly as we progressed back to the Black Marsh shore in fits and gasps for He-Smirks-in-Smoke was nearly done in, but I could hear the Topal Bay waters lapping on the shoreline. As the sun slowly vanquished the starry vapors of Jode and Jone and rose above the jungle horizon its advancing rays disclosed a large stockade of the Black Marsh’s unique scaly bark tree logs embedded vertically in a foundation of limestone grit and gravel that had been laid to stabilize the semi-solid ground that substituted for dry land here on the Black Marsh coast.
The shadowed roof lines of several buildings and cabins appeared. I saw they were raised well above ground on more vertically embedded scaly barked logs, an architectural decision which made excellent sense in view of the aggressive and mostly poisonous nature of the native fauna.
And then as the shoreline was exposed to the sun I could make out what looked like a pair of giants’ fleshless torsos, ribs lying on their respective spines against supporting struts and braces likewise projecting upwards from the limestone graveled foundation and perpendicular to the shore. Was I looking at a frontier shipyard? I then recalled the shipyards of my experience from my many ports of call in search of antiquities and exotica and concluded that what I was seeing was a sort of frontier ship yard, and the pair of insectoid appearing outrigger canoes pulled up onto the beach told me that He-Smirks-in-Smoke was correct in inferring that the Mist-Tree Camp did indeed suggest a Maormer, Sea Elf, presence.
And then another surprise, one as enchanting and unlikely yet as natural and yet fantastical as the Mist-Tree Campground-Shipyard I was seeing in this land of putrid vegetation and swamp decay. I heard a burst of female laughter, as melodious and liquid clear as water poured from a crystal decanter held high to fall splashing many inches below into a crystal goblet held in the hand of some noble lord or lady. And thus did she sing:
The sea is a life of endless dreams That sings in the sailor’s soul And sings a tune without the words And never stops at all
And sweetest –in the Gale- is heard And sore must be the storm That could abash the sea’s sweet song That keeps the sailor warm
You can hear it in the chillest land And on the strangest sea Yet-never-in extremity Will it ask a crumb – of thee --------------------------------------------------------------------------- Paraphrased from “Hope is a Thing With Feathers” by Emily Dickinson Then a bell sounded to rouse the camp’s occupants and a female figure sprinted down the steps of what must have been the shipyard’s loft. Her form was indistinct yet definitely elvish, each footstep kicking up a faint trace of sandy grit flying from beneath bare feet. Yet again her form was indistinct, milky pale, almost translucent in the light of the early dawn. There was a splash of foam and surf as she entered the water and ...VANISHED.
He-Smirks-in-Smoke and I both stared. Then he laughed and said. “I know you’ve passed through the Topal Bay many times boss, and you must have seen how pale and white the Maormer bloodlines can run in the descendants of the warriors who once competed with your ancestors from the Summerset Isles. I think we’re about to meet one of the purest of bloodlines remaining on the Bay.”
The waters swirled and splashed in the pale reflections of the girl’s/young lady’s/woman’s figure as she swam to us. Translucent within the waters, opalescent above, with eyes like twin pearls peering from a face of classic sculpted beauty beneath swirling tresses which in the ocean waters took on the colors as startling and vivid as a coral reef and its myriads of denizens. I was transfixed and in total awe as she gracefully clambered aboard and surveyed our situation.
“He’s in a bad sort ma’am,” said He-Smirks-in-Smoke. “His foot is gone and the stump is wet. If the gangrene sets in there ain’t no spell or potion will cure it. He needs a surgeon or doctor type to fix the wound proper so’s he stands a chance.”
I tried to give her an ingratiating smile but I must have failed miserably. She glared down at me and said, “You are one of those scoundrels from up the Niben River despoiling the environment looking for treasure!”
“And so,” I croaked. “I am condemned to be denied succor for attempting to tie a knot in the history and culture of OUR – yea I said OUR – common elfish peoples .... “
“OH DO SHUT UP! You can’t wriggle out of the fact that you are a LOOTER and a GRAVE ROBBER. I heard this first hand when I was attending my investments at the Topal Goldcorp when you strutted in with all your money, Mister Midas Truncator. I heard the whispered rumors of your notorious reputation.
“Well help is coming! “ She continued. “Our Mist-Tree Club President and Shipwright Foreman, Flyson Aisake is coming with help to get yourself and boat ashore.”
And right she was, at last help would be forthcoming if not the exoneration of my character. I glanced at the shoreline and saw that another of the Maormer albino descendants and a large khajiit were coming. As they reached the skiff I turned and looked up at the angry but undeniably beautiful ‘White Witch’, smiled again with my most ingratiating smile and asked, “And who might you be Miss, so that I might know to whom it is that I owe my rescue?”
“Gwynnestri Tupou,” she said. “And you will not owe your rescue to me.” She jumped back into the water to join the others in hauling the skiff to shore.
And on the shore a pair of pale elves, more looking like Altmer than Maormer, fetched a large mat of woven fibers from the squat barrel shaped, Spliney Toad Tree to use as a stretcher. Then Flyson Aisake took charge, surveyed my situation closely and called to a small, very old, quadrupedal housecat sized khajiit grandmother.
My mind searched through a mental catalog of khajiit physiques. The more common humanoid types I well knew, as well as the big tiger looking ones but here ... AH! YES! ...granny was an Alfig. But why? My mental catalog distinctly said that she would be very smart but very unable to vocalize the words necessary for communication.
“This is Qa’ssa’ko Sea Reader,” Flyson said. “She is our pilot, our reader of the stars and the ocean swells, and very much our source of wisdom for our venture here.”
Qa’ssa’ko’s sniffed my injured leg and her feline eyes fixed on me for several minutes with an intelligence that was most discomforting. Then she shifted to Flyson. He nodded, extracted a thin, flexible shingle of Tenmar mahogany and laid it on the gritty sand between her paws. Then the President/Shipwright and several others, both Maormer and khajiit, knelt around her as her paws begin to tap on the thin shingle which flexed and snapped out a message.
“Qa’ssa’ko says that your Archein companion is correct. You must seek out a surgeon soon. She thinks your wound is already beginning to fester and the rotting flesh must be be cut away. There’s a settlement nearby that the Emperor awarded to the Archein legion veterans from the Wrothgarian Goblin Wars. She says that we should take you to the settlement, named the Uxlapak Township, where there is a retired Capsarius (battlefield medico) named Many Stitches to tend to the surgery. And here at Mist-Tree we have an artificer of marine hardware and such who could contrive a foot or leg to replace the one you lost.
“There is however,” he coughed apologetically, “The matter of payment for the services, food and lodging rendered by both the Archein and we here at the Mist-Tree Camp. Can you pay for these or will you sign on as an indentured sort of ‘handy elf’ as payment.”
Ho! Ho! At last the greed that is the rub in the affairs of mortals. “Of course,” I moaned with an agonized grimace that was not totally thrown in just for effect. “I have a line of credit at the Topal Goldcorp that can pay for ...”
“Oh he has a credit line at the Topal Goldcorp!” Gwynnestri, my ‘White Witch’ tormentor interrupted. “He also has a reputation as a grave looting destroyer and peddler of the very history we are attempting to re-create here at Mist-Tree! His trust worth is bankrupt in my opinion! Make him sign an indenture before saving his dishonest life.”
My entire audience turned to Qa’ssa’ko. Her feline eyes focused on me and then shifted to the ‘White Witch’ then back again to me. Her right paw then tapped ot a message on her Tenmar shingle.
When Qa’ssa’ko had finished tapping out her message Flyson said,, “You will be indentured for the cost of your rehabilitation, and you Gwynnestri Tupou shall be the keeper of the tally.”
And with that my fate for the immediate future was sealed. I looked towards Gwynnestri ‘White Witch’ expecting to see a smirk of triumph, but she had already turned away to walk towards one of the buildings.
Oh well! The sun will rise again and I remembered the words of my sainted old grandmother Truncator who always loved her ‘boys’, “Beware the holes that look down.” And indeed I would! Tomorrow will indeed be another day!
----------------------------------------------------------------- Author’s Note - If you enjoyed this chapter and are at a loss to do with an extra smile or dollar please consider a person having a bad day and gift them that smile, or maybe an anonymous gift of that extra dollar to a charity might help to save just one lost person in need. Think about it, and if you are able to - do it.
Written by: John Baumgartner (email@example.com) Notice of Copyright 2017
CHAPTER 3: Many-Stitches
THE BATTLEFIELD MEDIC
Some of us have scales and tails and some of us have none Some of us curse the gods, some have none at all
Most of us are assholes But every single one of us
Will stand face to face with Death and say “Fuck off, this is my Legionnaire”* ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ *Paraphrased from the Pinterest images of the U.S. Navy Fleet Marine Corpsman
THE STORY SO FAR: Under the orders of the Maormer (Sea Elf) descended ‘White Witch’ I was carried and hoisted, rung by agonizing rung up a ladder to a ‘Mist-Tree Club Cabin’ instead of down a flat horizontal road to the Black Marsh Uxlapak Township as suggested by the ‘Club’s” matron of wisdom, an elderly Alfig khajiit known as Qa’ssa’ko Sea Reader. Doubtless the ladder’s jarring addition to the throbbing agony in my mangled left leg would receive an additional insult since her ‘Witchiness’ would no doubt add a rental fee for the use of this cabin to my ‘Indenture Account’ along with the cost of the exquisite hand blown glass decanter filled with a most excellent brandy that she had contemptuously handed to me as an anesthetic for the coming surgery. No doubt it had been purchased from some upscale purveyor of beverages to the Topal Bay’s upper crust and I would be billed that cost plus, most probably, a cost conjured up to cover the trip to the Club’s and re-enactment and yachting campground.
SANCTIMONY! Sanctimony with a subtle dagger of fiduciary sadism thrown in. Some things never change!
No sooner was my ‘stretcher’ laid upon a table than the cabin floor was jarred as the former Capsarius (battlefield medic) Many-Stitches climbed the ladder and entered muttering an apology for the change of venue due to my unexpected arrival. (Well. Well. Maybe this awkward cabin wasn’t just a bit of facetious whimsy by the White Witch).
Arriving with the good Capsarius was his argonian entourage of three. Two were dressed like Many-Stitches in neck to knee tunics of plain tapa and each carrying a large waterproofed leather cylinder on a shoulder slung strap bearing the unmistakable scarred markings of government issue (these I later learned were Capsas or Bandage Boxes), while the third party in his entourage was a tall, very thin and obviously of different argonian stock. He wore voluminous linen pantaloons with many bulging pockets around the waist and a baggy sleeved batik tapa shirt likewise with many pockets and bearing a large backpack of native design. Lastly came my Archein mercenary companion He-Smirks-in-Smoke clambering up the ladder.
With the inclusion of my witchy nemesis my total complement inside the cabin was six ... ALAS NO ... for to my fevered pain came the sight of the medicus’ bandage boxes and a vision of saws and blades and then ... PANIC! ...THE RIDER ON THE STORM ...arrived bringing visons of Orcus and the red hot blade of his axe and the pain of it biting onto and severing my flesh and bone... OH MOTHER MARA! ...My fevered guts and bowels turned to liquid ice and I vomited and voided bowels and bladder soiling the stretcher and the cabin.
“Nothing to be ashamed of Mister Midas,” said Many-Stitches calmly and unperturbed by my stinking mess. “I’ve seen worse, much, much worse on the battlefield with the Tigermoth Legion during the Yellow Fang Goblin War*. What I’m going to do to you is terrifying and beyond painful, but I will save your life! I have amputated mangled limbs dozens of times and stuffed and sewn many a soldier’s belly after a goblin spear spilled his guts on the ground. But more than the sawing and sewing and patching, I have learned by doing and watching the results of my labors. You see my legionnaires had no camp hospital and no doctor or surgeon other than me. They stayed and traveled with our Tigermoth cohort for we were campaigning in the field against the Yellow Fang Gobbos for near onto a year and a half with constant battles and skirmishes. I saw how some my lads recovered from my treatment and what I did and also why some died or made poor recovery from what I had done. These were lessons that no college or training could ever teach, and you will be a beneficiary.
“Now life in the swampland jungle,” he continued, “is the most varied and unique in all of Tamriel and is the great happy hunting ground for the physician and alchemist willing to explore its possibilities. Now my tall companion is a Kota-Vimleel (Black Tongue) Alchemist named Vitriol-Raj and he and I will be your best friends during this procedure.
“Now I want you to return that prissy bottle of fruity brandy to your lady friend and drink this potion that Vitriol-Raj has distilled from a fermented blend of the bog lotus, bark fungus and mandrake root.”
My White Witch (Gwynnestri Tupou), a descendant of the sea roving Maormer who had once shared the Topal Bay with the Khajiiti, twisted her beautiful face into a disgusting grimace and daintily stepped around my mess and took her decanter. One of Many-Stitches aides then handed me a bottle of thick green blown glass and I could see out of the corner of my eye Vitriol-Raj standing near a fire place and beginning to unpack his herbs and equipment.
I took a mouthful from the mysterious glass bottle. It burned like the fires of Dagon’s lava and filled my sinuses with a flammable odor that threatened to explode my skull with the least encouragement.
“I want you to drink it all.” Said Many-Stitches. “And while you drink that and we prepare I’ll tell you the story of my first venture into battlefield medicine when a cohort of the Tigermoths was dispatched to the Barony of Dwynnen in the Iliac Bay to help deal with the goblin bands terrorizing their borders.“
Many-Stitches spoke in a deep basso monotone that smoothed the rasping, burning roughness of the liquor and fogged my visions of blades and blood. And this is the tale that he told and that carried me beyond the blades, the arms that held me down, and the sponging of the wound by Vitriol-Raj with an antiseptic and anesthetic concoction held on the end of a stick whenever Many-Stitches paused in his sawing, cutting and stitching.
“Back when I joined the Tigermoths I was given my bandage box and a quick and cursory class in battlefield aid. Eager for action and an opportunity to use my new box I volunteered to accompany a reconnaissance patrol committed to engage the gobbos and capture one or two for interrogation. So here was this stupid young Archein Argonian with his box of bandages, probes, forceps, a sharp knife and a lancet or two wearing his cotton padded jack given to him by his egg mates when he had rashly decided to join the Emperor’s service and see the world.
“There were nine of us. We were a motley crew of experienced vets save me: one Breton – our Decanus (Sergeant), two Imperials, two Orcs and three Redguards plus me, the only Argonian. We departed the fortified watch tower of the Dwynnen home guard’s Order of the Raven in the early hours of the morning under the cover of darkness, and proceeded to a rugged, sparsely vegetated hill where goblin campfires had been seen the night before.
“As we proceeded up the hill we encountered a small goblin scouting party. They fired a volley of arrows at the lead members of our patrol before fading away into the darkness. The fight, if such it might be called, had resulted in one of my patrol leads being skewered in the chest by an arrow that had penetrated his gambeson.
“I scrambled up from the rear. The injured legionnaire, and Imperial named Calvus Geta, was down. Even in the darkness of the early dawn I could see the arrow shaft protruding from the front of his gambeson where it had broken off when he fell. I used my knife and sliced part of quilted fabric away so I could hook the arrow head with my probe and extract the arrow. Although I didn’t know it, by not removing his gambeson I had missed seeing that the arrow although it had been spent when it penetrated the gambeson had nicked the chest cavity. By removing the arrow I had opened his chest to the inrush of air whenever he took breath and thus collapsed his lung and sentenced him to a slow death by suffocation.
“But that was just the first of the many bitter lessons I was to learn that campaign.
“I wrapped the wound with bandages told him to put the gambeson back on to keep warm and lay down until we came back to pick him up on our return to the watch tower. And then I rose and scrambled to follow the rear of the patrol as it continued the mission.
“As climbed upwards in the direction I thought the patrol had taken I came upon a trio of goblins so intent on attacking the patrol that they hadn’t noticed me. The one closest to me had nocked an arrow and as I looked up the hill where the gobbo was pointing his bow I could see the back of one of my patrol mates. I rushed forward and caught him by the neck, gave it a tug and a twist and heard it snap.
“The other two rushed at me spread apart to take me from either side. By their deployment it was obvious that they had no concept of how to fight an argonian, the winning strategy for which is unlike that for any other opponent on Tamriel.
“Lesson one, Never, Ever give an argonian room to maneuver. You must crowd him close lest the strength of the structure of his unique avian hip and the powerful musculature of his thighs and tail makes him the most maneuverable race on Tamriel. And this is what my opponents were about to discover.
“I charged the nearest and as he raised his spear I planted my right foot and spun rightwards with my tail extended to control my balance while I lashed out with my left foot to knock his legs out from under him. As he fell I snatched my pugio (combat knife) and leaped at my second opponent, using the impetus of my leap to ram the blade deep and straight between his greedy goblin eyes. I released the knife as he fell rather than waste time and motion extracting it. The first gobbo still lay on the ground. The strength of my kick had either shattered his thigh or bruised it beyond immediate use. HA! HA! We had our prisoner and it was my doing! Oh how this foolish one did swell his chest with unjustified pride.
“Now the rear most of the patrol had heard my scuffle and brought the rest back to secure the incapacitated goblin. The mission we thought was accomplished, but how very wrong we were.
“As we headed back down the hill we collided with a goblin raiding party probably intent on the same mission as we were. This time it was down and dirty. A kick in the groin, thumb in the eye, the stab in the back. The gobbos gave us as good as they got and when we finally stumbled apart in the early dawn three more of our patrol were down but at least we still had the prisoner which was the purpose of the mission.
As I went over to the first of our wounded trio I was hit in the leg by a goblin’s parting shot which had missed, glanced off a rock and hit me in the calf.
“#@!$%#! My wound was painful but did not appear serious. I broke off the shaft and proceed to tend to the others: a goblin bite that ripped through the forearm of the legionnaire’s gambeson - twelve and twenty sutures to close the tears in the flesh that ran down through the muscle to the ulnar bone; another arm wound, a break from a strike by a gobbo’s war hammer - splint constructed from the victim’s wooden gladius scabbard; and lastly a badly lacerated scalp and cheek caught in a sword slash - more sutures.
“As I hobbled after the patrol I was thankful that I had caught that ricochet arrow in the calf. The prisoner was unable to walk, so tied and gagged he became an added burden to be borne back to the watch tower. However my gratitude was lessened as we came upon my first patient stretched out upon the rocky ground. It was obvious that my removal of the arrow from his chest had left him in dire straits and that he would not survive much longer out here.
“It was time for a tough decision. The party consisted of five walking wounded including myself, and an incapacitated prisoner with only our decanus and three other uninjured legionnaires left to fend off any future goblin encounters and still return to the watch tower with the prisoner. The Orc with the head and scalp wound, Gotwrug, stayed behind with me to help carry my patient while the remainder of the party went on ahead.
“Now I did what I should have done when I first treated Calvus Geta’s arrow wound. I opened his gambeson and cut away his tunic to examine the wound and saw what I had done. He was suffocating, almost dead but still trying to breathe. I cut a leather patch from the supply in my bandage box and strapped it tightly over the wound and prayed that it was not too late.
“Gotwrug and I gently tried to hoist Calvus across the Orc’s brawny shoulders but Calvus gave a final shudder and died on my watch due to my carelessness. It was a guilt that I will never forget and I swore that no patient of mine will die on my watch ever again because I was careless.
“And as to the mission. We carried Calvus back to the watch tower so we could at least give him proper funeral rites. On the way we encountered a pair of goblin skulkers attempting to return to their fellows. The conflict was swift and brutal. We set Calvus down and charged them, breaking bones and smashing skulls until there was scarce left but blood and gore scattered on the hill side.”
My mind was foggy but I was aware of Many-Stitches monotone buzzing and felt the pain in my stump being momentarily sponged away by Vitriol-Raj’s gentle wielding of his stick mounted sponge.
I looked around. My shoulders and right leg were being held down by Many-Stitches’ aides, and I felt a tug on my stump and saw Many-Stitches’ pull a curved bronze needle and thread upwards.
He saw that my eyes were open and he said, “And so Midas Truncator, you are my patient and you shall not die on my watch which will not end until the stump of your left leg has healed cleanly and you are ready for Master Artificer Rhistel Kahuna – a member of this so-called Mist-Tree Club and one of the two finest artificers in the Topal Bay to fabricate a suitable replacement for the leg you lost.”
*The Yellow Fang Goblin War is an epilog to one of the best battle mods the writer ever played “The War of the Yellow Fang – Chapter 1”. A fifteen year old Hall of Fame Neverwinter Nights mod by a modder named Implimian. It is still played and can be downloaded from the Neverwinter Vault.
Author’s Note - If you enjoyed this chapter and are at a loss to do with an extra smile or dollar please consider a person having a bad day and gift them that smile, or maybe an anonymous gift of that extra dollar to a charity might help to save just one lost person in need. Think about it, and if you are able to - do it.
Written by: John Baumgartner (firstname.lastname@example.org) Notice of Copyright 2017
CHAPTER 4: A Proxy Leg and Subterfuge
WE ASKED NO OTHER THING
We asked no other thing No other was denied We offered service for it; The Emperor he smiled
A Pension for a Service?
He shrugged his shoulders Without a glance our way: “Your own land in perpetuity I will offer you today” ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Paraphrased from the poem “I asked no other thing” By Emily Dickinson
THE STORY SO FAR: I awoke to the green tinged light of early afternoon filtering through the cabin’s beaded door screen and the distant buzz of the voracious Black Marsh insect population. It was the day following the reconstructive debridement of my gangrene infected leg by Many-Stitches and Vitriol-Raj. I was in the Mist-Tree Camp in the Topal Bay and someone was in the room with me. I sat up in the cabin bunk and saw my Archein companion He-Smirks-in-Smoke seated before the fireplace pouring a thick brown liquid back and forth between a pair of brass cups. Back and forth between the cups: SWISH ...SHAKE...SHAKE ...SWISH! The warmth from the embers in the fireplace released a delicious, rich aroma from the liquid which incited the first pain free hunger pangs I had felt in days.
AHHhhh ...how the aroma stirred my connection from the terrors of the past to the present. He-Smirks-in-Smoke was pouring the liquid back and forth to create the frothy Bitter Water beverage that (I once had read) was the preferred luxury beverage throughout all of the many and varied Argonian peoples. It was a drink of courteous hospitality to offer an invited guest, and it followed therefore that somebody important had been invited and was expected soon.
And sure enough, the cabin floor shuddered briefly as someone climbed the short ladder and stepped into the cabin. It was either mid-day or mid-afternoon, a time when even the most industrious Archein tend to seek shelter in the shade. And so I surmised that my arriving guest was most likely someone from the Mist-Tree Camp.
And indeed he was another of the would-be Maormers. Once again a handsome aristocratic elf with a pair of striking opalescent eyes which added a most distinguished and mysterious effect even though he was dressed in workman’s clothes and covered with grimy sweat.
“Good afternoon Mister Truncator.” He said, and his voice was baritone rich with culture and education that totally belied his sweat and clothing. “My name is Rhistel Kahuna. I’m one of the shipwrights here and artificer of specialty items both marine and otherwise. I’m here to measure you for a crutch.”
I was stunned. A mere crutch and for this He-Smirks-in-Smoke was ‘frothing’ some elixir of the gods?
He-Smirks-in-Smoke handed each of us a cup of the frothy drink and poured the remainder into a mug of his own. He said, “My employer, his Mister Midas Truncator, extends the “Bitter Water” of welcome to you.”
Rhistel Kahuna accepted his frothy mug of “Bitter Water” and sipped it with great satisfaction. “Truly your hospitality is like a cool rain upon my back.” He said. “I have acquired a taste for this beverage. I shall be taking a supply of the bean pods and peppers with me when I return to Asylum Island.”
He must have sensed my frustrated confusion. He smiled and I must swear that a sparkle came into his eyes, and he said, “Not to worry my host. In the kingdom of the one-legged, the man with the crutch is king.
“But seriously, before I can make you a new left leg and foot I must measure you which is why I am here today. I will return by nightfall with a simple crutch with a notched “foot” to help you negotiate the ladder. When you have learned the skill of climbing and descending the ladder we can meet with Many-Stitches and discuss the options and costs for an artificial leg that will make you better than you ever were without it.”
“How better?” I snorted. His glibness was an affront to my intelligence.
“Enchantments Mister Truncator! An enchanted leg to make up for whatever Agility, Speed and Endurance you lost with your left foot and perhaps a little luck thrown in.”
For the first time I could see a positive aspect to my current situation: Ho! Ho! Ho!
And Rhistel Kahuna was good to his word. Well ...at least as far as a crutch in the evening which the next day’s practice allowed me to successfully mount and dismount the ladder. This achievement was followed by a mid- afternoon meeting the following day with Many-Stitches to discuss and design my new left leg, not just an interim model but one could be enchanted to replace the injury to those attributes which had been damaged when I lost my left foot to a centipede’s poison. Perhaps with a flourish or two and a dashingly suitable nickname.
But when it came to fitting a lordly stump With a proxy limb—an Enchanter’s trump
To be named in the spirit of the gods of olden;
He couldn’t-he shouldn’t-he wouldn’t have wood Nor a leg of cork, if he never stood And he swore an oath, or something as good
The proxy limb must be golden ------------------------------------------------ Paraphrased from the poem “Miss Kilmansegg and Her Precious Leg” By Thomas Hood
But the fact that Rhistel’s first attempt was just an interim model takes nothing away from the skill and craftsmanship expended. A securing harness of soft laced calf leather to secure the below knee stump socket to my thigh. A padded socket custom fitted to my stump, a ‘shin bone’ composed of a single hollow stemmed woodsy stalk and lastly a foot that was a flat base incorporating a flexible core that provided a near life like response when I shifted my body weight whenever I stepped and walked.
But my first positive impression of Mister Kahuna’s workmanship was dimmed when I got his cost estimate for a properly enchanted model. Drat! My dream leg even without the cost of the soul gems and Enchanter might as well be golden. But that was a thought for a future consideration. As for now I was truly mobile, and I determined that the most suitable occupation for the moment was to come to an understanding of this so called Mist-Tree Club what these Maormer descendants and khajiits were attempting to accomplish and how it related to the Uxlapak Township.
As I moved around on my newly constructed “leg” it became obvious that the Mist-Tree Camp and the Uxlapak Township were in fact the remnants of a much larger Imperial endeavor. The two outstanding features that spelled out the site’s genealogy were the roads and the use of concrete. The roads straight and free of potholes. Concrete pier pilings, foundation slabs and the occasional standing wall for wooden and limestone structures rotted or eroded away long ago in the moist humidity and rains of the Topal Bay Coastal jungle.
If the Tamrelic Races each have their specialty in magic, woodsy craft, the working of metals and such then the Imperials are the most surely gifted in the art of Engineering. Roads straight and true set to a single standard width and impervious to traffic and the whims of weather. Concrete, that most ubiquitous of Imperial inventions to bind the lesser construction materials permanently in their designated places for aqueducts, bridges and buildings. The roads and the concrete remnants here spoke of the same hands that designed and built the communications network that the Remans and Septims used to link and tie the dis-separate lands of the Tamriel continent together into an Empire.
The magnitude of the Imperial Endeavor here must have been huge even though the network of roads, ruined buildings and evidence of other prior usage were quickly covered by jungle growth wherever the constant vegetation pruning and maintenance thinned and vanished. Given the obvious richness of the muddy soil, generous and evenly distributed rainfall, and tropical climate some Emperor’s exchequer or Mercantile Combine had concluded that the area was ripe for exploitation of its natural resources and large scale commercial agriculture.
HAH! WHAT FOOLS THE UNWARY INVESTORS HAD BEEN!
No one who has read Waughin Jarth’s tales of the adventures of that middle aged Imperial clerk Decumus Scotti in the Argonian Account Books would be unaware that these rich, moist, tropical swamps of our Argonian friends were in reality voracious money swallowing mires of quick sand that could easily digest the fortunes of an empire without giving anything in return.
So, the Mist-Tree Camp and Uxlapak Township are located on what had once been an Imperial enterprise prior to the 398th year in our Third Era when the intrepid Decumus Scotti first began his adventure in Black Marsh. I wondered just which of Uriel Septim the Seventh’s predecessors had made this costly mistake. Was it possible, perhaps, that these lands were still part of a royal preserve and that the Mist-Tree clubbers and Argonians were poachers?
Now that would be a warming thought that might possibly be useful for the subject of my paying for services rendered here in a grudging manner especially for Miss Gwynnestri Tupou, the White Witch.
So I continued my explorations and conversations, especially with the inhabitants of the Uxlapak Township. The population greatly outnumbered the Maormer descendants and Khajiiti who seemed to be juggling their ‘regular employment’ somewhere else in the Topal Bay with ship building and ‘canoe-man-ship’ at the Mist-Tree Camp.
Most of the adults were Archein and even those such as Vitriol-Raj of the Kota-Vimleel (Black Tongue) and other ‘tribes’ had seen years of service in the Imperial Civilian and Military bureaucracies in the far flung reaches of the Empire. Indeed, it was not long before I was convinced that these Argonians were not to be easily manipulated ‘indigenous peoples’ but first class manipulators and business peoples who could more than hold their own in the modern cut-throat worlds of business and industry.
The above point was rammed home during a visit with an Archein gentleman who had seen service in the Royal Exchequer in His Majesty’s White-Gold Tower in the Imperial City. His native name I knew not because everyone both in the Township and the Club simply called him “Mister-Double-Entry-Equity”.
What a mind he had, and he lived in a world of numbers and fiduciary chicanery yet with a sense of humor that charmed and ensnared me into the following conversation that lasted over several frothy cups of the Argonian ‘national’ Bitter Water beverage.
“I must tell you Mister Truncator that we here in Uxlapak are impressed with your curiosity about this site and how we came to be here.” He said.
“Well,” I answered, “I am a collector of ‘facts and artifacts’ as it were and am naturally curious about most anything new or unusual that crosses my path.”
“And you turn a profit from this?” He asked. Then he raised his cup and sipped.
“Most certainly”. I said. “For example I can tell you that the cups we’re drinking from are a dwemer design that is not peculiar to the known ruins of Morrowind, Skyrim or the Illiac Bay. So if the materials and workmanship stand up under expert tests and examinations and you happen to know their provenance I can get you at least 40 septims for each plus much, much more from the wealthy collectors of Dwemer-bilia to fund an expedition.
“It was from such a commission of collecting facts and artifacts from an old xanmeer pyramid that I lost my left leg and that brought me here for the services of Many-Stitches and Vitriol-Raj.”
He set down his cup as if the question of dwemer values and provenance were of no interest and asked, “I see. And what is it that you find so interesting about Uxlapak?”
“Well this entire area of Uxlapak, the Mist-Tree Cub and beyond had once been a huge Imperial enterprise. The roads and concrete remnants tell me that. But now I want to know, just for curiosity's sake, which of our Septim or Reman Emperors embarked on the folly of attempting to wrest a profit from Black Marsh.”
He laughed his reptilian laugh ...Sssh! Sssh! Sssh! ...”I worked as a clerk in the Royal Exchequer for over 30 years and I can tell you that getting the Imperial Revenues to look as if they exceed the Imperial Expenditures requires great ingenuity and manipulations in terms of counting money. I’ll not bore you with the intricacies of that subject but I will tell you that in the years preceding the establishment of our township the forecast of imperially funded pension obligations, known in the governmental jargon as ‘Entitlements’, due within the immediate future would create an embarrassing unbalance that sent us on a scramble to find a believable exit.
“And thus,” he continued, “An expedition went down into the Royal Flotsam and Jetsam in the lowermost bowels of the White-Gold Tower. And there in the moldering records I had the good fortune to find the “Portfolio of Overseas Projects” from the years of the Jolly Emperor, Antiochus Septim. Within its moldy contents I found the records of the “Topal Waters’ Earnings Return Program”. A troubled project in that part of the bay to which the Empire still had a tenuous ownership claim justified by a proximity to the Imperial presence at Soulrest. Because of this proximity a value could be extrapolated with say the addition of a few hundred thousand septims ‘operating expenses’ to equal the current Emperor’s pension obligations to his Argonian employees. Or, to put it another way, if the current value of the project and the ‘operating expenses’ were expressed as a negative and then subtracted from the ‘Entitlements’ the combined result would appear as a zero in the Exchequer’s annual report of His Majesty’s Financial status.
“Q.E.D! Every Argonian retiree gets the pension promised and a piece of property to retire on and Uriel Septim the Seventh gets his budget somewhat the better balanced. Numbers never lie, and what could be fairer than that?” He drained the last of his Bitter Water.
Ah Yes! The numbers and simple arithmetic and no one in the Exchequer, even if they discovered the subterfuge, would dare upsetting the Imperial budgetary process. I bowed my head in admiration and swore to Zenithar the God and Patron of Accountants that Mister-Double-Entry-Equity was indeed a master of all things financial and wished that he had been an esteemed partner in my businesses in the Imperial City.
And now my next move would be to build relationships within the Mist-Tree Club. Mayhap between the Mist-Tree Club and the Uxlapak Township I might enlist allies for a return to the Gee-ha River estuary. There was much of value that might be salvaged there if the hostile flora, fauna and the mummy guardian of the ruined xanmeer could be dealt with or otherwise got around: the granite ‘headstone’ block with a potentially priceless cultural epitaph of gold, a wrecked airship snared in the branches of a scaly barked tree top, a debt owed to me by the family of the late Quintus Falco for the return of the glass claymore family heirloom he had dropped when he was slain by a gigantic centipede summoned by the above mentioned mummy. Yes! Yes! And who knows what other heirlooms and objet d’art might be found in that ruined tower topped pyramid?
------------------------------------------------------- AUTHOR’S NOTE If you enjoyed this chapter and are at a loss to do with an extra smile or dollar please consider a person having a bad day and gift them that smile, or maybe an anonymous gift of that extra dollar to a charity might help to save just one lost person in need. Think about it, and if you are able to - do it.
CHAPTER 5: Baadargo Bahrajabari Written by: John Baumgartner (email@example.com) Notice of Copyright 2017
THE ANCIENT MARINER It is an ancient Mariner, And he stoppeth one of three. ‘By thy long beard and glittering eye, Now wherefore stopp’st thou me? --------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Taken from the poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” By Samuel Taylor Coleridge THE STORY SO FAR: And so I left my delightful discussion in the Black Marsh township of Uxlapak with Mister-Double-Entry-Equity, the old argonian veteran of fiduciary maneuvering in the Emperor’s Exchequer for more than 30 years. After listening to his account of using the financial follies of the Jolly Emperor Antiochus Septim to balance the budget deficit of Emperor Uriel Septim the Seventh and thus prevent the sacrifice of Imperial pension obligations owed to his people, I swore that the jolly old Argonian himself must surely be the Archangel of Accounting in the pantheon of Zenithar. Oh I do so love it when the greed of a bureaucratic bully is turned against him to the benefit of his intended victims.
But alas our conversation had triggered other thoughts of plans for a financial recovery from my disaster at the Gee-ha River Ruins. It was time to return to the Mist-Tree Camp and build relationships with the Maormer and Khajiit occupants there. Accompanying me was my Archein companion, He-Smirks-in-Smoke. By now he was owed a considerable sum far beyond our original negotiated contract. He was a victim of too many lifesaving challenges on my part and quite justified in fearing the loss of income that would accompany my loss of life. Even though I had been ‘peg legged’ by one of those challenges, by now I now was mobile enough to present him an additional challenge of keeping me in sight at all times during waking hours.
Now the difference in ambience between Uxlapak and the Mist-Tree Camp is quite striking and worth commenting on despite their common ancestry from the Jolly Emperor’s failed attempt at the exploitation of the Black Marsh.
The Mist-Tree grounds around the housing and areas subject to traffic have a graveled surface in an attempt to stabilize the ground which can vary between damp dirt, mud or if the near daily rain has passed for long enough, a dry dust bowl; while in contrast Uxlapak simply had a coarse fiber door mat to scrub the dirt/mud/dust off of the soles of the climber’s feet before entering the house or building.
Uxlapak had no stockade but kept the jungle growth a goodly distance away from the township with a morning sweep to remove any hostile intruders which had strayed from the jungle overnight. Mist-Tree Camp on the other hand had surrounded their camp on the landward side with a stockade of approximately five feet in height planted to slant outwards towards the jungle to make a gravity assisted barrier to prevent most of the identified hostile fauna from climbing over.
The Mist-Tree Camp occupied a much smaller area despite the density of construction. As I peg legged through the camp I noted a rudimentary pier for coastal vessel tie up and unloading of which a small somewhat bulbous hulled cargo vessel (which I was soon to learn was called a Fluyt) was currently doing. There were also a ware house, a sawmill and lumber yard, housing, a kitchen and a combination business office and mess hall. This all of course was in addition to the camps apparent primary purpose which I learned was to provide a rudimentary Shipyard upsized to build a replica of a Maormer twin hulled Voyager canoe.
I stopped and watched the ‘Fluyt’ as it was being unloaded by a mixed crew of Khajiit and Maormer stevedores onto a wagon that was apparently to be drawn by a huge Senche khajiit standing nearby. An old khajiit Ohmes dressed like a fisherman was talking with the Senche, again with a “shingle code talker” like the shingle that the Alfig Grandmother Khajiit and the Maormer shipyard foreman had used to discuss my plight and treatment when He-Smirks-in-Smoke had once again saved my life by delivering me and my gangrene infected leg to the beach here.
I ‘pegged’ over to the pier, politely intruded into their ‘conversation’ and learned something about the shingle which I found was called the Tenmar Talking Shingle, and the use of “raps” and “scratches” as a means of conversation. The stevedores had finished and the Senche, whose name was Ma’fer gave me a nod and what I assume was the Senche equivalent of a smile. He then lowered his head and ‘mouthed’ the shingle with lips which looked to be as prehensile as a hand full of fingers, picked it up and deposited it in a pouch slung round his massive chest. Then he strolled over to the wagon where one of the stevedores helped him with the harness, and Ma’fer the wagon and stevedores headed to the warehouse.
When I asked the Ohmes if he was the Fluyt’s captain he laughed, shook his head and said he was doing two things. First he was helping an ailing friend complete a delivery contract via the Fluyt to the camp. And as for the second he broke into a song with a verse that sounded as much as a sea shanty as poetry.
The thar’s ship was stole, by pirates long ago on d’ swells of d’ Black Marsh Main T’was a Slaver’s whip, that he gave the slip to return to d’ Topal Bay Where the dream of a ship, just for one more trip to sail for another day
Yo-Ho-Ho, d’ thar says so , just so you’ll know Yo-Ho-Ho, d’ thar says so, just so you’ll know
Now the shipwrights ‘n he, fell from the same Topal tree all cut from the very same grain He needs a ship, to break boredom’s grip else death will be his pain
Yo-Ho-Ho, d’ thar says so, just so you’ll know Yo-Ho-Ho, d’ thar says so, just so you’ll know
Another ship will save him from that long, n’ drowning roll Where the sharks’ll have his body And the daedra have his soul ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Paraphrased from the “The Dead Horse Shanty”
Gods how I loved that scraggy old tom cat’s enthusiasm. It transpired that his name was Baadargo Bahrajabari and he was a product of the Topal Bay khajiit/Maormer community. He had been a successful carrier of odd cargoes too small or local for the East Empire Monopoly. His ‘tramps route’ covered ports of call stretching from the Imperial City, down the Niben, east to the ports of Morrowind and west to the Summerset Isles. Treachery at Alabaster City and the Renjira Maor pirates had cost him the unexpected loss of his ship and being sold to Morrowind slavers along with his cargo of Mail Order Brides for a khajiit enterprise further along the southern coast of Black Marsh.
He was another quality individual like Many-Stitches and Mister-Double-Entry-Equity that I had met as a result of my disaster at the Gee-ha River Ruins. For a second or two I embarked on a daydream. Baadargo was looking for a ship and ...Baadargo as the captain and Mister-Double-Entry–Equity as a purser could be a good, if somewhat old crew ... well ...maybe if I had a ship of my own. A ship that could carry my ‘found’ art and antiquities away from the discovery site and back to my Antiquities Athenaeum in the Imperial City. A ship with sufficient cargo space plus speed and maneuverability to avoid any unpleasantness with pirates or the authorities. YEAH! ...I’d call her the ...uh ...’My Golden Grimoire” ...with Baadargo at the helm and Mister-Double-Entry-Equity as my purser and maybe He-Smirks-In-Smoke and one or two other younger ones for the heavy lifting. Yes, Yes! A Pinnace or maybe a refurbished Imperial Mail Runner or perhaps even a Sloop.
Heh! Heh! We’d sail back to the Gee-ha River and retrieve that granite block with the golden epitaph of Old Ehinofey history. I thought of that stone and its golden epitaph as my Midas Stone. Maybe I could conjure how to avoid its bony undead guardian and also retrieve the Falco ‘family heirloom glass claymore’ and salvage the airship tangled in the tree tops.
...PLOP! ...PLOP! ... It was starting to rain, and the rain drops broke my train of thought.
Oh well, my sea faring daydream was another thought for another day.
The cloud cover showed no immediate break in the sky, and the three of us headed over to the large building that served as a business office and dining room.
Inside, horker oil lantern wall sconces filled the common room with a dim wavering light and I could see the dreaded White Witch, Gwynnestri Tupou, and an older Maormer sitting at one of the long trestle ‘dining tables’. He I learned was Edwyrd Ratu, and he was the permanent Camp Administrator. They were going over accounts using an expensive Nordic ‘Stormwind‘ glass shielded candle holder set between them for the added light. Odds and Zenithar’s bodkin how did a Nordic status symbol end up here in the grunge of Black Marsh? And add the presence of Gwynnestri Tupou! She was the last person I wished to encounter. I didn’t like that woman and her snide comments about me being a grave robber and despoiler of history.
As it was Baadargo arrived before I had the chance to exit unnoticed. He shinned up the ladder with a deft heft-boost-climb maneuver which must have come from years of climbing ratlines and rigging sails. He lightly stepped through the doorway, saw the pair of Maormers at the table across the room and said, “I’m sorry to interrupt. I be Baadargo Bahrajabari, originally from Ryark Island near Alabaster, but today I’m standing in for Captain Hakopa on his good ship the Pinchpool. I be making the delivery as listed on this manifest.” He walked over to the table to hand the manifest to Edwyrd Ratu but the White Witch held out her hand and said, “I’ll take the manifest Captain. I’m the Treasurer here at Mist-Tree... and as soon as Ma’fer confirms delivery at the warehouse I will release the monies to Captain Hakopa when I return to Senchal City in three days’ time.”
Well that ‘three day’ lag between the delivery date and the payment date didn’t sit well with me. Not after her uncalled for ‘grave robber and history destroyer’ accusations at the Topal Goldcorp Offices on Asylum Island, her demeaning attitude during the debridement of my left leg and her punctilious attitude about recording every infinitesimal item that could possibly be charged to my account. I was about to make a suitably nasty comment but she cut me off and asked Baadargo, “Are you the same Captain Baadargo Bahrajabari who did the south bound tramp runs out of Senchal Port for the Stilt Strider Cartage Company?”
He nodded. She continued “Being the Mist-Tree Camp Treasurer is my part time job. My full time occupation is as the financial officer for the Southern terminal of the Stilt Strider Cartage Company. The owner Gaius Cornelius is a fan of Maormer history and is also a backer of the Camp. I must ask the reason why you ceased supporting the Stilt Strider Cartage Company with your excellent transport and delivery services?”
I could see that Baadargo was getting wound up for another musical rendition of his recent misfortunes but when she glanced over and took notice of me she scowled and held up her hand to stop him. “I must advise you Captain that the one legged person who’s accompanying you is the nefarious Midas Truncator of ill repute and much more. I’d recommend that you guard your good name and reputation with the Stilt Strider Cartage Company and sever any connection you might have with his odious person.”
Baadargo turned and faced me with a troubled look of question etched across his grizzled gray countenance. “Your name be Midas Truncator?” He asked.
“And does you have a homeport in the Imperial City? The Maormer lady says you be a disreputable looter and robber but ‘cuz of your name this old thar has got to ask if a character such as you has n’ port of home n’ address some where’s a person a looking to do business would go to meet ye?”
A strange question and unexpected. What was this old sea captain getting at? Maybe a future customer? HMnn ...
“Why yes,” I replied adjusting my face into what I hoped was a friendly and winning smile. When not out on a ‘job’ (the White Witch gave a sarcastic snicker) you can find my place of business at the City Isle, the Antiquities Athenaeum on the Admiral Richton Perimeter Road south of the City Isle Water Front District.”
His brow arched upwards, the arc accentuated by his gods know how many years of salt and weather, and his hazel eyes twinkled from beneath their grizzled furry ceilings. “Ah! Well there’s still enough blue in the sky to make an old salt’s trousers.” He said. “Answer me this’un lad n' I’ll tell you a tale of import if ye be the antiquarian n' expert you's supposed to be.”
“Is that good or bad?” I asked, still keeping my face set in a friendly smile.
“Well mebbe the thar is flogging the glass n’ his shipmates should be a doing this but he is here n’ they is not so he’ll ask you one more n’ twill be up to ye to decide whether it to be Canteen Medals or d’ Main Stay.” He pulled a weathered gold coin strung by a rawhide thong through a hole punched near the rim and handed it to me.
I went over to the table and moved the Nordic Stormwind‘ candle holder to get some better lighting for Baadargo’s mysterious ‘test’. The move warranted an irritated glare from the White Witch and I noticed that He-Smirks-in-Smoke moved into a position where he could quickly intervene if a ‘Wrong’ answer carried physical consequences.
Now examining the coin in the improved lighting I was appalled at its condition. It was gold yes! So soft that was probably near pure! Both faces and part of the rim deformed by the hole Baadargo had presumably made in it to hang around his neck. It was the rim that recorded most of its retrievable story. The rim attempted to be circular but was irregular and of inconsistent thickness. Clearly it had been cast in an ill-fitting mold, and the coloration of the coin although barely noticeable indicated that the mold had probably been made of a copper. Furthermore the faces of the mold had been mismatched, each the product of a different engraver and the fit had been not good enough to prevent the protrusion of casting flash as again evidenced by the condition of the rim.
Now large parts of the identifying legends were nearly flat and indistinguishable. The coin’s “face” was just a humanoid blur, but it was the “rear” that told the tale of a Great House Dagoth origin. On the “rear” face was the indistinct but recognizable outline of a beetle the heraldic insignia of the Great House Dagoth.
I returned the coin and thong to Baadargo. “Too bad my friend. If your coin were in better shape I would show it to my contacts in the Dunmer emigre community in Cyrodiil whose ancestors had fled Morrowind during the “cleansing” of Great House Dagoth by the Tribunal Temple. Indeed! Your coin has a proud heritage! It was cast in the first era before the cataclysmic events that produced the fall of Indoril Nerevar, the rise of the Tribunal gods, and the curse of Azura which turned their ancestors from the Chimer into the Dunmer. These events are milestones not forgotten in the memories and prayers of that community. Many of these descendants are pillars of the Cyrodiil Community and quite wealthy.
“If you have coins or other artifacts from those glorious days of Great House Dagoth in reasonably good condition, I suggest you treat them carefully and bring them to me, whenever Gwynnestri Tupou here decides to retract her financial talons from my purse strings. I can guarantee that I would bring you a handsome profit for coinage and artifacts from the glory days of Great House Dagoth far beyond the intrinsic value of their materials.”
Baadargo laughed, jumped upwards and let out a gleeful “Har! Well blow me down and shiver me timbers!” He appeared so excited that I feared he would break into another shanty but instead he sobered and said, “Tis not the coins my friend although this old thar has many others collected as booty from an old Dunmer fort in Morrowind. The test, my peg legged friend’ was the thar’s concern that ye be knowledgeable enough to guide a friend who is in possession of an ominous package from a Morrowind Sorcerer addressed to you at the Antiquities Athenaeum in the Imperial City. If he be ye than perchance ye kin cope with whatever is in the package, n’ if not I’d not have my shipmates n’ other innocents put to risk.”
“A Morrowind Sorcerer you say?” I asked.
“Aye! T’was said so by the Calico Khajiit what has your package. He’s on the good ship Alik’r Dawn with other refugees from the Dunmer Slavers. They’re harbored for a time at Port Senchal. They be there for a week while Sindbad the Captain offloads and takes on cargoes for his next voyage. Then the Calico will be heading up north by Stilt Strider to the Imperial City to deliver your package. Now mebbe you kin persuade the Maormer Lady to turn you loose ‘n sail with the thar back to Asylum Island. Finish your business while I tend to a delivery and then we’ll sail back to Senchal n’ ye can get your package.”
Well, well! A package from a Morrowind Sorcerer. Well I knew who he was. He and I had done much profitable business over the years. Usually he was the customer and I was the procurer. But now? Perhaps he had some magical artifact he wanted me to sell. Things were looking up. The commissions from Baadargo and his House Dagoth artifacts and the Sorcerer with a magical curio could more than make up for my losses on the Gee-ha River and the Mist-Tree Camp.
Time will tell but the path back to the Gee-ha River and My Midas Stone is beginning to clarity.
Until next time. ------------------------------------------------------- AUTHOR’S NOTE If you enjoyed this chapter and are at a loss to do with an extra smile or dollar please consider a person having a bad day and gift them that smile, or maybe an anonymous gift of that extra dollar to a charity might help to save just one lost person in need. Think about it, and if you are able to - do it.
CHAPTER 6: The Circle Closes Written by: John Baumgartner (firstname.lastname@example.org) Notice of Copyright 2017
THE DAY OF WRATH, DAY OF RUMOR
Day of wrath and doom impending Betrayal scheme and Slaver blending The doom of each in judgement ending
Lo, the book, exactly worded, Wherein all hath been recorded, Thence shall judgement be awarded.
A deal is struck, and nature quaking, An ancient rumor is awaking, To its end an answer making. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Taken from the Medieval Latin hymn “Dies Irae”
MEANWHILE IN ELSWEYR PROVINCE: The night-time phase of the Ja-kha’jay lunar lattice has shifted. Jode (Masser the Big Moon God) and Jone (Secunda the Small Moon God) are both waxing and the laws, customs and conventions of the Elsweyr Body Politic now fall under the purview of the Circle of Clan Mothers. Henceforth the Circle of Clan Mothers shall be the referee and judge governing the province until the night-time phase of the Ja-kha’jay changes again and shifts governing power to another group: The King of Senchal, The Circle of Chieftains, or the Lunar Clergy. The goals and aspirations of each group are different but for now it will be the tending of moon sugar production and trade, khajiiti culture and tradition, the suppression of foreign influences, and the education and care of the common citizen that shall prevail.
AND IN SENCHAL: In Senchal with the coming of the Circle of Clan Mothers all books of non Elsweyr Origin except for those in the Foreign Quarter have been hidden or secured away from prying eyes, for books written and published beyond the borders of Elsweyr are forbidden and subject to seizure if found. Any foreign business or Imperial entities outside of the Foreign Quarter have closed their shutters and locked their doors until the Ja-kha’jay indicates the next shift of governing power to one of the other groups. The Tax Collectors engage in assiduously tracking moon sugar production and trade and the penal system adjusts the penalties for tax evasion and the smuggling of moon sugar and its derivatives accordingly.
Schools and social services flourish and the citizens and visitors to Senchal all fall under the awareness and scrutiny of The Clan Mother of Senchal, her ‘Favored Daughter’, and her network of ‘Mothers’ Apprentices’. For as long as the Ja-kha’jay favors the Clan Mother of Senchal the Skooma dealers and smugglers discreetly fade into the background along with activities which might be construed to be tax evasion.
At the wharfs of Port Senchal, the coming dawn brings a flurry of activity on a galleon named the Alik-r Dawn as the captain, Sindbad the Sailor, bids goodbye to six angry khajiit ladies, once intended to be Mail Order Brides, then captured by pirates and sold to Morrowind Slavers and their dowries stolen. Now the ladies have been rescued and returned to Senchal with the value of their dowries made good. But the fires of Dagon’s flame whipped oceans of lava have no fury to compare with the ladies as they descend the gangway and begin their search for the Senchal Clan Mother, her Favored Daughter, or other of her Family apprentices. Their search will not take long for it is the sacred duty of the Clan Mother and her ‘children’ to know each and every person in their purview, and during this phase of the Ja-kha’jay their reach will be so very long and furious.
SENCHAL TWO DAYS LATER: In the Var Shothi (Sugar Bazaar) the accountants of the Paj-aferro Fraternal Holdings Company are in the opening throes of preparing for the intensive tax audit and investigation of business activities that regularly occurs each time the Ja-kha’jay places the Circle of Clan Mothers in power.
KACHING! ... the bell over business door rings as the door opens.
The chief accountant looks up and does a double take. The callers are not from the Senchal Tax Franchise, they wear the livery of the what is the Palace Guard when the King of Senchal is in power, the High Sheriff of Senchal under the Circle of Chieftains, the Inquisitor of Senchal under the Lunar Clergy, and now under the Circle of Clan Mothers the Senchal Public Advocate.
“But You...You ...You’re not the Tax Franchise!” The accountant stammers.
“Stop all activity!” A stentorian command freezes the offices occupants. It is issued from a huge Cathy-raht wearing the chest patch of the Scales of Justice embroidered on his jerkin. “The Public Advocate has a warrant for the arrest of the Alfig scum named Jotathra, otherwise known as the Bishu-Aran (the Little KIng).
Thud-thud-thud ...Klick-Klack ...SLAM! The prevailing silence of surprise and fear is ruptured by the sounds of a series of footsteps climbing the mezzanine stairs and a door opening and slamming shut.
The Public Advocates leap up the stairway and throw open the door to reveal a well-equipped room set up for gambling: Five Claw Khajiit Cards, Rahjin Dice, the Ja-kha’jay Sugar Wheel (based on a highly illegal import from the Gee-Rusleel Miredancers of Black Marsh). The gamblers panic. Cards, chairs and coins scattered as the khajiit patrons hid as best they could, stuffing packets of moonsugar, extra cards, loaded dice out of sight. At the far end of the room was another door but it was the open window on the sidewall where another Cathay-raht had one foot over the sill and was hoisting himself through that drew the Advocates’ attention.
WHAP! ...A steel bolt from an Advocate’s crossbow buried itself into the window frame next to his hand.
The Cathay-raht slowly climbed back to the room and surrendered, but the Little King, the key perpetrator of the Mail Order Bride’s Scheme had already leaped through the window, crossed the street and vanished into the crowds, an Alfig with the size and look of one of the many feral housecats in Senchal, and was gone.
And the civic outrage, anti-Dunmer riots and search for scapegoats both foreign and domestic began. The legion establishment in the Foreign Quarter went on full alert to bolster the Public Advocates, and in the docks that surrounded the city on three sides there started a slow but steady outbound trickle of private yachts and foreign owned shipping.
MEANWHILE AT THE MIST-TREE CAMP IN TOPAL BAY: “You should feel ashamed Mister Midas Truncator." Gwynnestri Tupou, my odious White Witch curled her pale lips in a condescending sneer. "Space is at a premium in our ancestor’s canoes and I regret the fact that our Administrator saw fit to let you leave without allowing me to include the cost of the premium space required to transport you and your Archein Mercenary’s return to Asylum Island to claim your tainted monies for the repayment for saving your criminally infested life.”
“Premium space – utter bureaucratic BOSH!” I smiled but took pains to do so in a condescending semi-sneer. ”How can that be when this ...boat ...(I curled my lip for emphasis) ...as you so painstakingly pointed out will carry us through to Asylum Island and the Topal Goldcorp where I will most graciously repay your curmudgeonly rendered hospitality.”
A long outrigger canoe had arrived bringing a mixed party of khajiit and Maormer shipwrights and other participants from their regular jobs elsewhere in the Topal Bay to Mist-Tree and picking up a few others to return to their homes and places of employment. My companion, He-Smirks-in-Smoke, and I were added baggage on the return trip and Ms. Tupou made it quite clear that we were added deadweight for the good people providing the motive force for our return to Asylum Island.
Now I must admit that despite my disdain for our reprehensible Maormer female companion the Maormer canoe struck me as a masterwork of maritime art. Although not suited for moving large amounts of cargo it was admirably suited for the rapid transport of personnel from one location to another. The narrow hull and outrigger seemed to skim across the water’s surface like a Colovian water strider with each stroke of the paddles a dancer step in a motion in accordance with rhythms of the Topal Sea.
The motive power on this canoe was provided by a team of six rowers augmented by a triangular sail with the peak of the triangle downward unlike the lanteen sail rigging employed by all of the other maritime powers. And also unlike the rowers elsewhere, the Maormer and Khajiiti rowers faced forward in the direction of travel. The rearmost rower was named the ‘Steerer’ who steered the canoe with a single paddle using a combination of port, starboard, cross hull poking, drawing and paddling maneuvers. In the front was the ‘Stroker’ who called out the pace and then the remaining ‘Power House’ of alternating Port and Starboard Rowers to provide the motive power either solely or in combination with that beautiful inverted triangular sail bearing a gorgeous batik sea serpent pattern that rippled life-like with the wind. Gods! No wonder their maritime foes held the ancient Maormer in fearful awe.
Now there in that gorgeous Maormer sea serpent sail was an untapped upscale market for the discerning sailboat or yacht man. Mayhap I’d return to the Mist-Tree sometime in the future, but for now I had bigger fish to fry.
But I’m digressing for in the space of slightly less than two hours Asylum Island hove into view. As we ‘skimmed’ round the East Salt Newt Chanel Point into the Anchorage I saw the Imperial East West Mail Runner gliding into the Maormer Bait and Wharf facility that was shared with the Imperial Topal East Coast Watch. Moored Further in I spied the hulking bulk of Baadargo’s Pinchpool Fluyt. Indeed as the canoe glided up to the nearest open pier I saw the old mariner awaiting us with two other individuals. The first was a friend of Baadargo’s, a rather smallish Suthay khajiit with a calico face named K’thri-Dar. The second for an Imperial in the utility uniform of His Majesty’s Coastal Watch with a letter for the White Witch.
Then we, Gwynnestri Tupou, He-Smirks-in Smoke and I heard the latest news about the unrest in Senchal and the other locations along the Quin’rawl Peninsula. Both the Legion and the Public Advocates had been mobilized and the city itself was under quarantine until the violence ceased.
For me personally this situation seemed to be auspicious. A trip into Old town with the White Witch to the Topal Goldcorp. Settle my accounts with ‘Her Ladyship’ and He-Smirks-in-Smoke, then over to the Fenlee House to settle there, pick up the remainder of my belongings and then to join Baadargo on the Pinchpool and then ...and then ...well I knew that the last stop on Baadargo’s route was Senchal where Captain Hapoka would hopefully have recovered enough from his illness to take the return of the good ship Pinchpool, pay off his crew and then continue to resume his business. But ...HEH, HEH ...since the city was under quarantine Baadargo could not complete his contract and a crew of unpaid, underemployed seamen could turn into a real problem. But good old Midas Truncator was here with a solution that could be profitable for the good captain Hapoka and his crew!
But my train of thought was interrupted by the White Witch who speechified as follows: “I have received instructions from my superior at the Stilt Strider Cartage Company to return to Senchal as soon as possible for the upcoming audit by the Clan Mother of Senchal. Unfortunately, at least for you, I cannot proceed to Senchal as directed and cannot return to Mist-Tree Camp without displacing the cargo here at Asylum for delivery there.
“Now I can stay here until news arrives that Senchal Port is again open or I can perhaps rent a cabin on Captain Baadargo’s ship and return to Camp to accomplish some useful work in the interim.”
DRAT THAT WOMAN! SHE’S GOING TO RUIN A PERFECT BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY!
Baadargo exchanged a significant glance towards his calico faced companion who returned a nod.
“So Madame Tupou,” he said. “Is going to pay the old thar’s crew with smiles and tidings to meet their obligations with perhaps a payment or two for labor in the shipyard or janitorial work. And you Mister Truncator,” he looked to me. “What have ye to counter her most generous offer?”
But it was the #@$% lady who interrupted again before I could compose my thoughts to sell ‘The Real Deal’ in the Gee-ha River Ruins.
“Mister Truncator shows you the face of a genuine gods fearing citizen but look to his eyes. Do they not remind you of a High Rock Weasel – all the color of Fools Gold and guile? He’ll want you to look for certain treasure in the Gee-ha River Estuary. But while you listen to his tale of wealth and glory look to where his left leg used to be and ask yourself would that cost be worth it”
“Well yes,” I said in my most reasonable and urbane manner. “The Maormer Lady is correct I lost a leg due to my own carelessness, but I was nursed by this same beautiful Maormer girl (an angry red flush suffused her neck and rose to her cheeks ... a most delicious sign that I’d put a dent into her claim of my malfeasance). So I tell you lads, my loss was my fault. But rather than dwell in grief over my loss I’ll tell you Baadargo and your calico friend that the crew of the Pinchpool will be paid a full sea duty wage out of my own pocket while they remain safely anchored off the coast of the Gee-ha during which I and my picked crew of ‘shareholders’ investigate the ancient tombs and ruins for artifacts of potentially great artistic and historical value to be returned to the emporia and auction houses of civilization.”
And thus did the course of current events lead to the jolly ship Pinchpool being revictualized at Asylum Island out of my pocket and then sailed to a post offshore at the Gee-ha River Estuary while I, He-Smirks-in-Smoke, K’thri-Dar the Calico Khajiit, and our self-appointed ethics monitor Gwynnestri Tupou set out to begin our explorations. But that story is a matter for the next chapter.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Credit the DeviantArt SIte by AedricDaedra, Justin Tym for all things fascinating about the Khajiits and their political system of governmental change by the lunar lattice rather than the electoral process. You can find out about this and much more at [url]http://aedricdaedra.deviantart.com/ [/url] Author’s Note - If you enjoyed this chapter and are at a loss to do with an extra smile or dollar please consider a person having a bad day and gift them that smile, or maybe an anonymous gift of that extra dollar to a charity.
CHAPTER 7: The Voyage of the Good Ship Pinchpool Written by: John Baumgartner (email@example.com) Notice of Copyright 2017
Blue Water Ambush
What flecks the blue of the depths beyond The sunlight’s golden trail? The dead white flash of needle teeth And gleam of driving tail
The prey swims in the sunlight The beast of no concern
The shadow surges from the depths The prey no way to turn Its pointed teeth they stab and shut Those jaws of no return -------------------------------------- ------------------------------------------------------------------------
Poem paraphrased from “The Dead Ship of Harpswell” by John Greenleaf Whittier
THE STORY SO FAR: I heard the creak of the ladder to the poop deck and the scuff of boots on the rungs ... DRAT! … the White Witch, Gwynnestri Tupou, was coming and she would bring a veritable end to my inner tranquility and planning for the retrieval of another priceless relic of Old Ehinofey. The very relic that had cost me my left leg! … Had the woman no shame?
She reached the deck and glared at me just as the sails of the old tramp merchant ship, the Pinchpool, began to flap momentarily as they caught the wind and Baadargo’s crew began to set the sheets to tack her across the East Asylum Channel in the direction of the Black Marsh and the Gee-ha River Estuary.
Oh yes, I knew the petulant owner of those boots and her instinct for disrupting any mature, sane activity!
“Why aren’t we heading West to wait for the riots to end in Senchal?” She demanded in a voice as sharp and nasty as a barber’s rusty razor. ”Don’t you know that I'll be needed at my office in the Senchal Financial Quarter to reopen things when order is restored and the next lunar cycle changes the khajiiti pecking order!”
Baadargo Bahrajabari, the Pinchpool’s khajiiti captain, and ever the practical peace maker intervened before I could cut loose with my own acidic retort suggesting that I had shrewdly taken advantage of Senchal’s closure and hired the unemployed ship, her captain and crew to pick up my relic left by necessity on the bank of the Gee-ha River and deliver it to its contracted Senchal terminus when the port reopened. In the mean-time SHE could abandon ship if she didn’t like it and swim back to Asylum Island to maybe find a room to rent and await the return of peace and a ship to Senchal if she wished.
But as I have said the old captain gave the Lady an undeserved bright and friendly smile and composed a brief, hoarse, ad libbed brine salted shanty accompanied by an exaggerated pantomime of hoisting the anchor and raising a sail in response to her imperious, petulant question.
Missy don’t yer know, Mister Midas runs the show The anchors aweigh, way sail away With gold he’s filled me purse, to solve the Gee-ha River’s curse The anchors aweigh, way sail away
Naow Oi didn’t ken that curse an’ so Midas told me The anchors aweigh, way sail away Cuz if Oi didn’t sail away the treasure would grow moldy The anchors aweigh, way sail away The anchors aweigh, way sail away
The brief shanty as timely and well delivered as it was did nothing to deflect her from her purpose, whatever it might have been.
“Gold?” She said. “Paid by Mister Truncator? It’s stolen gold more’s the likely!”
“Aye Missy.” Baadargo replied gravely. “Stolen it be tis true. But that’s what was stolen was stolen years ago, from an old Noble House destroyed n’ forgotten by all but history. Yer see to this old thar ‘twas just old gold n’ tarnished silver to sell at a dealer’s value fer the metal be it gold, silver or brass. ‘Twas Mister Midas who spied the coin strung round the thar’s scrawny neck n’ kenned its nature. There be descendants of those what fled the destruction of their Noble House, and they be – Mister Midas says - rich ‘n inclined to pay well to regain relics of their lost history.”
“So,” she answered, “we’re sailing East because of his say so on an old coin strung round your neck?” Her tone had softened, probably thanks to the good humored and natured Baadargo, who was like her a native of that unique and curious blend of Khajiiti and Maormer cultures native to the Topal Bay and nowhere else in all of Tamriel. “And this treasure which he’s touting. If it’s so valuable, shouldn’t it be in a museum where everyone can enjoy it?”
“Oh yes!” I interrupted her before she could get started. “A museum – hah – and who pays for the building and staff? The rich Patricians, the so called ‘Patrons of the Arts that’s who! The plebes would prefer having money for food and rent. Your ‘Patrons’ may bask in the title but in truth they would prefer to pay an expert like me to acquire the rare and exotic for their private personal collections and the bragging rights with their Patrician peers.”
Her retort was not long in coming and I swore a fire glinted in those opalescent eyes. “And this is how you justify the looting of a peoples’ heritage?”
“I’d say that sharing the heritage of an artifact is the responsibility of my customer, not me. I work long and hard studying the histories and context of the artifacts I am either commissioned to locate and retrieve or choose to acquire for later sale. I certainly have no obligation to anyone else to share my expertise with; especially if it’s for nothing.”
I could see to my satisfaction that the White Witch was beginning to glow and redden about her neck and cheeks. I swear that the overall effect was quite good and if I were a good 30 or so years younger I would have enjoyed it much more than the simple satisfaction of pricking that tender self-righteous pride of hers.
This last exchange with the White Witch was overheard by my Archein companion, He-Smirks-in-Smoke, who had just arrived on the poop deck. He stepped to my side, giving Gwynnestri Tupou a wide berth and whispered in my ear in a voice so low that only I could hear.
“Have a care boss! I’ve done many jobs for the Maormer and Khajiiti families of the Topal Bay and have picked up a bit here and there about which are who n’ what are what. This one, Miss Tupou is well known and rumored to be connected to the old Maormer noble bloodlines. Worse, does yer see the mark on her right cheek below the outer corner of her eye …no, don’t look now …. it’s a tiny little trident what marks her as somehow special to the rest of Maormer society. Offending her could have severe repercussions“
“Ah!” The light slowly dawned. I’d never noticed her tiny beauty mark before. But I knew from my studies of Old Ehinofey that the location of facial moles and birthmarks on a lady’s face had special meanings in some quarters.”
I thought about this some more and decided that He-Smirks-in-Smoke had a valid point. It was time to forgive her past insults and attempt to get her on my side or at least out of my way.
“I see your point Miss Tupou.” I gave her what I hoped was my most sincere smile. “If history depended on the egos of the wealthy patrons neither I, my competitors and any other minds inquisitive about the past would not have any resources to access: no museums nor even worse no libraries open for use either public or private.
“Why any such information as there was would be in isolated fragments with access either dependent on the good will of the owner or perhaps just lost forever.”
In response, her stare hardened, her eyes now glowering like twin fire opals beneath her angry brows. “Are you attempting to mock me Mister Truncator?”
“No not at all Miss Tupou.” I replied. ”You’ve made me consider the paradox of preserving the past and the power of patronage. Without art and antiquities from the past there can be no patronage, and without patronage there can be no search for the art and antiquities.”
“Cleverly spoken.” She said. Her voice was still sharp but the flames in her eyes had dimmed.
“Well there is the possibility that I can locate a patron for this effort, and perhaps if you help me retrieve a long-lost piece of a puzzle behind the epic Old Ehinofey tale of ‘The Siege of the Red Fire ’ that you may find yourself and the Topal Bay Maormer community to be the patrons of much more than the creation of replica Maormer canoes at the Mist-Tree Camp. What would you say, Miss Tupou, if I could present you and your Topal Bay community, with both an exhibit worthy of a museum and a link to Old Ehinofey and the historic events which resulted in the separation of the Maormer from your Aldmer kin.”
“What sort of a link are you speaking of?” The fires in her eyes had dimmed further and I could detect that she was interested.
Slowly now, leave the bait dangle a bit …there could be money, a lot of money to be had from the Maormer of Topal Bay as well as fame and academic glory from the Fellows of the Imperial Society. But my thoughts and plans were suddenly interrupted by a call from the crow’s nest!
The call came from the other khajiiti on board the Pinchpool, the calico faced Suthay-raht named K’thri-Dar. The one who Baadargo said was supposed to have a package for me except that he had left it on the galleon that had brought him and Baadargo to Senchal from Morowind. That lapse, which he excused since the galleon was either stuck in or out of Senchal, could be corrected when the current crisis was over. As for now he seemed to be almost gleeful in his zeal for my current endeavor. This he demonstrated when he followed his call by jumping onto the crow’s nest rim and executing a Slow Fall complete with somersault down to the poop deck, landing in front of Baadargo.
“It’s a ship’s boat sir, adrift with a passenger attempting to row towards us with a single oar and not making a good job of it.”
The White Witch was the first to respond and she instantly took command of the situation. “I’ll take a look and bring the boat over!.” She threw a look at He-Smirks-in-Smoke and added. “You too! Your tail will make a better oar!”
With that she quickly stepped out of her knee-high cotton trousers and doffed her batik tapa shift. She reached up and removed a hair comb fashioned of mother of pearl, dropped it on the deck next to her clothes and dove over the side, her pale white hair and body a brief vision of witchy beauty that clove the water with a stiletto grace and vanished only to resurface almost a hundred yards away in the direction of the boat, her long tresses no longer white but a wet myriad of pastel colored strands floating gracefully in the waters.
Was this Miss Gwynnestri Tupou just a vision of a Maormer lady I asked myself, or was she a mermaid in elvish form?
He-smirks-in-smoke grumbled, “Does the noble Archein Argonian have to do everything on this voyage? Is my person and tail to be degraded into an oar for a lifeboat?” None the less he removed his quilted cotton jerkin and belatedly followed her into the water.
The confused action and fury of what happened was like nothing I had ever seen and hope to never see again! The waters of the topal Bay, calm with only gentle swells at first, and then the heads of swimmers reaching a bobbing lifeboat and then ... then ... NO! I can do no better than to be put what happened in the context as described by the participants.
Gwynnestri had reached the boat and rolled over the gunwale to assess the condition of the occupant when the Argonian spotted a trio of large fish rising from the depths. They started to circle the boat, probably attracted by the ineffectual attempts by the occupant to row towards the Pinchpool. To his horror, he recognized their shape, streamlined and powerful with a huge, square, down-turned mouth lined with long needle sharp teeth. They were Pandomeic Swift Killerfish, one of the apex marine predators in the Topal and Pandomeic waters and each of a length and girth to render the boat an unsafe perch. The closest killerfish emphasized that point by flicking its tail and rocketing upwards to bite the oar as it was clumsily stroked and splashed about.
The oar exploded in a cloud of splinters, and the column of displaced water and emerging head of the Killerfish nearly capsized the boat, almost tipping its occupants into the water.
As the boat settled He-Smirks-in-Smoke yelled “Hang on tight Missy! There be a school of killerfish targeting the boat. They must know there’s fresh meat on board!”
He took a deep breath and continued. “Be still and don’t move. Maybe they’ll decide you’re just inedible junk and go away!”
But now the Calico Khajiit had arrived. He heard the Argonian’s shouted instructions, appraised the situation and began splashing and stomping the water to create a surface disturbance while moving away from the boat.
”Don’t make a splash or a ripple near the boat!” He shouted. “This little khajiit will splash around like a guar taking a swim to get their attention and lead them away. A stab of a spear when one broaches to grab a meal will make it bleed. Enough blood will make a feeding frenzy over here and you can get the boat back to where Cap’n Baadargo can help.”
Now He-Smirks-in-Smoke like all Argonians was gifted with clear vision under water. He submerged and looked therefore to see what effect the khajiit’s efforts were having on the killerfish. Indeed two of the trio seemed to be attracted by the frantic splashing, but the third had paused and hung motionless just beneath the surface next to the boat.
The sight was terrifying! Its down turned needle toothed mouth was partially open into a maw that could easily swallow the boat, its unknown occupant, and the Maormer maiden.
He froze in terrified awe! Then the muffled sound of Gwynnestri’s voice above water broke the spell and he surfaced to chance a look at the boat and saw the Maormer maiden sitting and gazing down with concentration to where the monster hovered.
“Calm yourself ‘Smokey’!” She said, all the while keeping her attention focused on the motionless dark shadow hovering next to the boat. “I have command of this fish for a time. So if you get behind the rear of this dinghy and “row” with that tail of yours quickly enough to get to the ship before my ‘Beast Tongue’ power is depleted, we can unload both ourselves and this swooning nobleman onto the Pinchpool.”
“Uh … what about the Khajiit?” The Argonian said, his voice a tremble due a ghastly mental image of impalement on those deadly needle teeth between the crush of the monster’s jaws.
“He needs to keep the rest of the school occupied until we get onto the ship. If he can create a feeding frenzy before we reach the safety of the ship all of the attention will be focused on blood and biting. I may lose control of this killerfish if there’s enough blood spilled into the waters but if that happens his attention will be focused on the food, not on us. Hopefully the Khajiit can skitter back to the boat without being missed.”
And such was the plan as envisioned by Gwynnestri, however the events that unfolded from the Calico Khajiit’s point of view were somewhat different.
As he stamped and stirred the ocean surface there occurred a sudden up welling of displacing water causing his foot to slip and he skidded backwards as his world exploded in a staccato series of visions of swirling water, a vast open mouth, and a scaly torso rising against the force of gravity and then tipping and splashing lengthwise back into the waters of the Topal Bay.
It was a bad moment, but cats and khajiits always land on their feet no matter how sudden and wet the fall might be.
And the Calico Khajiit scampered back and quickly shifted his Devil Spear, Snakeir, from its strap behind his back.
“BLOOD-BLOOD! DRINK-DRINK!” Snakeir shouted in the sheer glee of anticipated coup to count towards his next level up.
But … OH NO! … the Calico One’s ‘Water Walk’ spell chose that moment to expire and he began to sink towards those agitated shadows with the khajiit snatching teeth! He freed his right hand from Snakeir and cast magic while he incanted Water Walking … “Solvitur agua ambulando! ”… and rose again to stand on the surface just as he felt another up welling and leaped aside as a monster erupted in a flurry of foam and frustrated fury.
The attacks were too quick and too risky to chance a lucky strike by Snakeir. He needed to anticipate and avoid the killerfish and also keep an eye on the boat. Once the boat reached the Pinchpool and everyone was on board he could forget the Killerfish and just run for it and jump aboard. Trouble was that he couldn’t watch the boat and anticipate the killerfish at the same time!
As the last attacker fell away back into the water he ‘skated’ a short distance away. He could already feel the surge of another water column as yet another killerfish acquired his surface image as a target for its next meal. It was time and high time for the augmented jump and controlled slowfall of the Tinur’s Hop Toad spell … “Solvitur circumsilo buffo!”
The spell took hold and he leaped but it was nearly too late. The huge open toothed jaws overtook him and for a terrifying moment the momentum of his ‘hop’ and the creature’s momentum met in mid-air. His visual horizon shrank to tooth lined jaws beginning to close off his view of the sea and sky. But then gravity took hold on the killerfish and it fell away as its jaws snapped closed while Tinur’s Hoptoad carried him upwards on the impetus of his jump.
It was then as his upward momentum lessened in preparation for a slow falling descent that he slung Snakeir back over his shoulder … “FRIMBLE-FRAMBLE AND RUMBUMPTIOUS!” - the disappointed Devil Spear swore in its private version of daedric lingo.
The Calico One glanced over to the Pinchpool and saw that the dinghy propelled by He-Smirks-in-Smoke’s tail had almost reached its destination. It was time to guide his slow falling descent away from the ship, land and cast Tinur’s Hoptoad again and repeat until all were safely aboard.
And such was the course of events as occurred between the time my three fellow ship mates left the Pinchpool poop deck and their return.
When the boat, a ‘worse for wear’12 foot dingy shortly arrived and I saw that the occupant was a very sun burned, raw and wrinkled Breton prune named Gwendal Pontius, the Baron of Camlorn, I was very much inclined to tell his rescuers to return him back where they found him. It was he and his indiscriminate spell throwing in the ruined Xanmeer that had resulted in the loss of my left leg from a centipede’s bite . But there was some satisfaction in the pathetic sight he presented. Plus the bow of the dinghy bore the name of the ship to which it evidently belonged: the Euryen Brynn. A name that spoke of a Breton origin somewhere to the far north on the Iliac Bay and that certainly implied that the dear Baron Pontius had been the owner!
Well! Well! Well! A ship abandoned by its owner would be considered salvage: finders keepers, losers weepers!
HA! HA! YES! Captain Baadargo Bahrajabari and the Pinchpool were in my employ when Gwendal Pontius was saved so therefore his abandoned ship was salvage and belonged to...ME! ME! ME! … OH JOY!
Visions of Midas the Magister, the master manipulator of the rights of maritime salvage, standing at the helm of my splendid newly acquired for free ship the renamed ‘Golden Grimnoire’ danced a glorious fandango in my head.
Until next time. ------------------------------------------------ AUTHOR’S NOTE If you enjoyed this chapter and are at a loss to do with an extra smile or dollar please consider a person having a bad day and gift them that smile, or maybe an anonymous gift of that extra dollar to a charity might help to save just one lost person in need. Think about it, and if you are able to - do it.
CHAPTER 8: Gwendal’s Tale Written by: John Baumgartner (firstname.lastname@example.org) Notice of Copyright 2017
Secrets Better Left Untold
Ye say the tower ruins hold a lost and ancient key Of clues to secrets hidden in the rhymes of poets old Of treacheries and long lost tombs and curses scribed in gold
Search across the wind tossed waves and dark and stormy sea But the ancients dealt with demons, as I know ye have been told So seize that tower of secrets if ye think ye be so bold
And beware of what ye find there when ye slide the doorway free
-------------------------------------- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Poem paraphrased from “Miser's Gold” by Robert E. Howard
THE STORY SO FAR: My Archein Argonian companion, He-Smirks-in-Smoke, and our resident mermaid, Gwynnestri Tupou lifted the stricken Breton Baron of Camlorn, Gwendal Pontius into an upright position in the lifeboat and secured a sling under his arms to raise him to the Pinchpool’s deck. The crew were preparing to carry him down to their quarters but I stopped them. He was faking it, no doubt to get sympathy from Miss Tupou, and there was no need to waste a good hammock and crewman’s berth on an idiot like this “Babbling Baron!”
Well that roused His Nibs! Although he was in no shape to make much of a fuss about my desire to house him in the bilge, when he turned his sorry head in the direction of my voice and saw me he was able to croak out a hoarse and brief but audible spurt of scurrilous invective that caught the ear of Miss Tupou.
“YOU! YOU murdering unscrupulous fiend and LOOTER! You caused this! You roused that monster inside the Xanmeer to gain time for to complete your THIEVING activities and have your duplicitous cohort, Lord Falco, point the beast in our direction!“
“What is this about LOOTING and THIEVING?” Miss Tupou arched an eyebrow.
He stared blankly at her for a moment paused and then, apparently too fatigued and rattled to observe the civilities of polite conversation, opened his mouth again and blurted out, “Yes … Midas Truncator … master criminal and all that! Now get thee hence GIRLIE and fetch the Captain. I would charter a trip to the nearest port.”
HO! HO! HO! The fat, blithering idiot had just insulted the one person who might have had the slightest morsel of sympathetic support for breaking my contracted charter with Captain Baadargo – especially since I had paid the crew well beyond what they could earn marking time at sea waiting for their home port at Senchal to reopen.
But sometimes its better to appear to ‘forgive and forget’ (NOT) and act the concerned and sympathetic friend. I knew all about the monster in the Xanmeer and the certain fat, blithering idiot who had apparently nicked it with a fireball and set it off on a vendetta in the ruins … BUT ... but I was curious as to how he came to be on the Euryen Brynn’s lifeboat and how came it that he considered Lord Quintus Falco to be my ally.
Miss Tupou of course was more interested in Gwendal's assertions that I was a nefarious thief and looter, but Baadargo arrived and interrupted what might have been a spirited discussion. He over ruled my decision to stuff Baron Gwendal in the Bilge and gave the order for the crew make a spot for His Nibs in the crew quarters. Prior to returning to his post at the helm he issued an invitation for him to join Miss Tupou and I at the evening table to share mess with himself and his the crew.
The subject of his safe delivery to the nearest port came up as soon as Gwendal rolled his fat self out of his hammock in the evening and was led to the aft crew area to be seated at the community mess table. When he learned our destination was the ruined Xanmeer at the Gee-ha Estuary, he paled beneath his sun burn and thrust a trembling forefinger in my face. “Haven’t you done enough already … Truncator? My ship is wrecked, its crew dead or turned into revenants by pasty skinned lizards AND … “
“AND what else Mister Truncator?” The brisk snap of Miss Tupou’s voice cut the Baron off.
Oh yes, what else indeed? The news about the wrecked ship confirmed that there was a likely profitable salvage diversion after I retrieved the Midas Stone from the Mummy or whatever it was. Our illustrious guest apparently knew nothing about that Mummy, but what was that about his ship being wrecked and the crew killed? Not also to mention pasty skinned lizards and revenants?
“Its the Veeskhleel-Tzel, Ghost Nagas!” He-Smirks-in-Smoke said in response to Pontius’ comment about ‘pasty skinned lizards’. “Very bad!”
We all turned and stared at the him. ”They must have their village and Hist Tree in the area.” He said.
And this was bad news. The Naga were the Argonian “big mouthed snake men”. Seven to eight feet tall with a reputation for villainy and violent crime. The fact that the Veeskhleel-Tzel offshoot of the Nagas were even worse and desecrated the dead by using the bodies of their victims or stolen elsewhere as fertilizer for their Hist trees made them outcast and untouchable aberrations to the other Argonian tribes.
Gwendal Pontius looked at each of us nervously. “You … You ... can’t go back there .... can you?”
“Of course he can!” Miss Tupou said brightly. “He only lost one leg on his prior visit to his Xanmeer ruins. Why, SHUCKS he’s got two. And what’s a few grave robbing gardening kin to stand between him and the acquisition of the very relic he promised to the Topal Bay Maormer Families. I’m sure when they find out about his gift they will simply shower him with gratitude.”
Touche! The White Witch scored again!
I nodded to Miss Tupou and smiled warmly to him. “Why yes! Miss Tupou is quite right. I did lose one leg to a centipede’s bite, but look …” I leaned back (I had already learned that the ship’s stools were more or less permanently affixed to the deck) and raised my peg leg so he could admire the craftsmanship. “I can now carry many, many additional enchantments.”
I allowed myself to be carried away with my speech and golden tongue. I stood up, raised my doublet’s skirt with my right hand and dropped my breeches waist with my left to expose the top of my auroch calf skin thigh harness for my peg leg. “Do you see my good Gwendal, an exquisite auroch calf skin harness, highly enchanted; fastened with exquisite laces of braided Summerset Silk sung into an exquisite enchanted securing beings? The leg itself, a marvelous exquisite construction of the lightest and sturdiest Black Marsh bamboo and Pelletine ebony wood also enchanted, and a cushioned foot of Mirkwood latex and, again with fittings of Pellitine ebony wood and screws of purest ebony. So attached to my left thigh are harness, laces, leg, foot and fittings all of exquisite construction and each enchanted with the finest enchantments from the finest enchanters available in the Topal Bay. Why, I don’t understand why every adventurer, magus, nobleman or woman doesn’t sacrifice a limb or two for marvelous accouterments such as these.
“So my Good Friend (NOT), as Miss Tupou has so eloquently stated, of course I can return to the Gee-ha ruins and to deftly retrieve that most valuable of artifacts that Miss Tupou has so justly earned and deserves.”
Gwendal stared stupidly at me, apparently unsure whether I was serious or mocking him. But Miss Tupou, bless her little conniving heart, gave me a wicked smile and said, “So when do we leave?”
“That depends.” I said. I’d play this game with her a little further. Perhaps the verbal thrust and parry between Miss Tupou and myself would encourage the Blithering Baron to re-inflate his ego by lecturing his audience at the mess table with his version regarding what had happened back at the Xanmeer after my departure.
“I’d like to spare the sensitivities of so young and innocent a maiden such as yourself Miss Tupou by asking my worthy competitor, the Baron Pontius, to share the calamities which befell him and his good assistants. Perhaps if you would be so gracious as to take your leave and retire to your cabin (the Witch had somehow contrived to usurp the captain’s cabin). After you leave, us male representatives of our respective races being of sterner constitution might persuade him to share with us the nature of those horrific calamities so that I … er … we might be better prepared when we arrive at those dread shores.”
Ah ha! A spark of irritation crossed her face, but … Oh No! … my thrust was too easily parried. Oh Midas, I snarled to myself, how could you have misplayed this duel so badly? She quickly recovered and reached across the table and placed her small, graceful hand upon the Baron’s flaccid, flabby one and looked innocently up into his reddened, decadent and watery eyes.
“Oh Sir!” She said. “Pray not burden your self with thoughts of my welfare. ‘Tis a daughter-like concern for the safety and well being of my manly protectors that I would beseech thee to assume the role of the Magister to his students so that I might rest assured that they have been warned and properly warned of the perils that lie ahead on their journey into the Black Marsh.”
“Harrumph!” Gwendal cleared his throat, settled on his stool and donned his version of a serious, scholarly expression and began to tell his version of the events at the Xanmeer.
Our native Argonian beaters had cleared the path to the limestone ridge on which were the tumbled ruins to which Captain Agelastus, Quintus Falco, me and our bodyguards were climbing. I remember the heat: hot, sticky and thick with bugs of all sizes that swirled in a hungry swarm around us and kept away from exposed skin by the stinking, greasy liquid that sold as bug repellent on Asylum Island.
Armor? Forget it! Too hot for iron, steel or any other useful material. Quilted cotton was the Topal Choice. But anyway … this was part of the jungle rotted coast where Quintus Falco had claimed was likely to be near “the River of the Cat Folk” mentioned on the limestone scrap that I’d bought from under your nose, Midas, in that Leyawiin estate sale: heh, heh! (Heh, heh indeed! More fool you for divulging your secret to a bandit like Falco)
The coast was mainly a long, shallow beach of poorly graded gravel. No sand here, also no protected bay or coves to shelter my ship from any change to the currently still and steamy weather. My ship, named after my mistress Euryen Brynn and like her namesake a bottomless pit requiring a constant infusion of money, was anchored off the coast with her dinghy being the only means of ship to shore communication.
Most of the crew was occupied setting up a camp on the beach while, as I said earlier, the four of us accompanied by a pair of Argo beaters entered the central ruin which looked like a large stepped pyramid crushed beneath a fallen tower.
Quintus had presumed upon our casual relationship in the Fellows of the Imperial Society (Oh No my dear Gwendal, I'm sure the presumption was the other way around). He volunteered the thought that your interest in the inscription on that sherd must relate to the greatest mystery in the long and often murky history of the Aldmeri people regarding the disappearance and fate of Old Ehinofey.(Arrogant Breton).
Anyway we used my boat, the Euryen Brynn, to get here quickly and didn't expect your arrival until after we'd established our claim to the site. I won't go into what happened inside the pyramid when we encountered each other (you had best not, tossing that fireball was inexcusably amateurish, aroused a monster, and cost me my leg)
So there it was, a huge toad or frog the size of an ox further aggravated by Quintus and his bodyguard. I don't know if you saw (I didn't, I had your fireball inflicted problem of my own to deal with) that tongue lash out and drag one of the beaters off his feet!
We ran for the exit and I saw Falco and his bodyguard turn as if to secure their cowardly escape by blocking our retreat (highly doubtful. Falco was many things but never a coward).
The beast jumped right out of black nowhere, cleared our heads, landed in a squat outside and turned to face us. Seen in the day light our gigantic frog monster sported a contrasting crimson belly against a shiny emerald green back coated with slime that was probably poisonous as a protection against predators that were - Gods Forbid - even larger. Snagged across the bottom of its broad, grinning jaws and draped across its brow and shoulder was the torn remnant of some long ago warrior’s gold chain mail. Although hidden in the murk and ruins for centuries the golden links of the remnant appear pure and untarnished as the beast emerged from the gloom into the jungle sunlight (hmmm ... golden chainmail ... and whatever else ... interesting)
My bodyguard, I and our remaining beater turned to run towards the camp, and then the sun went black for a second as a huge shadow passed overhead. I confess that thoughts of dragons put speed to my feet (oh yes Fight or Flight and we know which option you took my fat friend).
Well anyway we ran for the camp and I never saw Falco or his bodyguard alive again. although I was later to be accosted by a soulless, shambling corpse minus one arm, holding the Falco family huge glass claymore in its remaining hand and stumbling towards me while a pale white Ghost Naga Shaman gibbered in the moonlight (truth at last although it was most unnerving. I had seen Falco's demise and disarment at the bite of a monstrous centipede while a Mummy danced and giggled a short distance away. But there was no Ghost Naga, and what happened to the Mummy? The plot thickens).
As to the shadow that had blocked out the sun. I'm not sure, but Agelastus claims he saw an airship on an erratic path that vanished beneath the thick clusters of tree tops towards the river (I saw that airship and its capture by the tree tops. The why of it is apparently still a mystery. Maybe when we get to the river the airship will still be snagged in a tree top by a landing tether and the Calico Khajiit can climb up and investigate).
There was confusion at the campsite and a scramble to evacuate via our sole dinghy to the safety of the Euryen Brynn. Suddenly there was a loud sound of jungle undergrowth crashing and the ground quaked.
It was the frog again. The remnants of the gold chain mail were still hanging from its shoulder but the links were stained with red. It seemed to me that the frog, the camp's occupants and the dinghy's passengers mid way to the Euryen Brynn were locked momentarily in a frozen tableau which broke when Dives, my bodyguard, raised his short re-curved assassins bow, nocked a silver arrow, quickly drew it back to his ear and loosed.
TWANG ... SCHHWAFF ... WHAP!
The arrow hit the beast squarely between its huge ovoid eyes and glanced off its thick skull. The frog bellowed again ...
and JUMPED, closing the distance to us before we can scarce react.
Dives disappeared beneath the squat body, stunned, bloodied and out of action.
The huge, long, prehensile tongue lashed out. Captain Agelastus attempted to dodge but the Imperial versus tongue contest is not even close. One second he was a statue with a horrified expression on his face and the next he was held between the huge jaws and literally sawn in twain by the side wise grinding of the jaws. Blood, flesh and gore mixed with the remnants of the golden chairman links.
The frog then shifted its body and Dives was snatched between the padded tips of the frog's four fingers which even without an opposing thumb were more than capable of crushing the bodyguard into a lifeless rag doll.
I had been trapped at the shoreline, left by the departing dinghy and dreading my fate (probably true). I remembered from my childhood how frogs and toads were only interested in prey that moved, jumped or flew. So I kept still and sure enough the frog's attention was attracted by the frantic activities of the camp survivors as they scrambled through the underbrush towards the beach and the safety of the Euryen Brynn. The activity must have screamed "PREY" for it began to move off in pursuit (Oh so lucky for you).
When the frog was gone, I and a few, a very few, others who had the sense to remain still were able to swim to the Euryen Brynn while the other lower predators, dragon flies, centipedes, oversize salamanders and other monstrosities gathered to partake in the feast.
On board I attempted to restore order, but the captain and most of the sailing crew were either dead, seriously injured or lost somewhere out there in the ruins or the jungle. Against my orders (Oh, oh blame shift coming), some of the panicked surviving crew ignored my orders and raised the anchor not thinking to check the tide. So instead of drifting out into the bay and added safety, it wasn't long before we saw the shore approaching and heard the boat scrapping along the rocky bottom of the bayshore.
I thought that the change of the tide from high with the water carrying us towards the shore to low would float us back out into the safety of the bay. But no! It seemed like the change of the tide only dug the boat in more firmly and gave the decks an alarming tilt in the direction of the Xanmeer ruin lurking there in the moonlight as Masser and Secunda rose above the jungle.
And then, rising from the tree top lining of the eastern horizon there came from the direction of that accursed river one of the most godsawful musical serenades that I never wish to hear again.
BRAHNK ...brekekekex ... koax...KOAX!
The damn frog was either courting a female or issuing a territorial challenge to any other males in the area! The frog's croaking and crooning continued until well into the early hours of the morning.
And then someone pointed towards the shoreline, "Look!' And look we did to catch glimpses of a pale humanoid shape filtering through the gaps in the undergrowth surrounding the campsite or what would have been our campsite had it not been for the giant frog raised by that blaggard Quintus Falco (That's right! Blame anybody but yourself!).
The sight of an unknown scavengers in our camp stirred us to action the following morning. I and four of the able bodied members of our crew armed ourselves and took the dingy back on a foray into the camp to retrieve any food, water and other supplies that might be needed while we figured out how to free the Euryen Brynn from the shore and sail her back to Asylum Island.
There's no need to tell you what the camp looked like after an afternoon and night in the Black Marsh heat and humidity. But neither the bodies or supplies seemed to have been disturbed except for the Argonian in our party who spent any free time collecting bugs, worms and such off of the corpses and stuffing them into a bag he'd brought. To make himself a"wriggle pillow" he said. What SAVAGES these natives are! (For once I almost agree with Gwynnestri Tupou about disrespecting indigenous people. Heck a "wriggle pillow" stuffed with aromatic herbs and leaves to kill the smell might be quite a comfortable substitute for a neck massage if one doesn't have a masseur at hand to deal with a stiff neck).
As I said, nothing at the camp had been disturbed but I had a constant feeling that we were being watched.
Again that night the monster frog continued his riverbank serenade, and this time there were several pale gray forms flittering about the camp and undergrowth. The next day our shore party found that the bodies had vanished ... but now in view of what your Argonian servant had said about the Ghost Nagas, I assumed that the savages had removed the bodies to use as fertilizer for their Hist Tree, whatever that was.
Also today we loaded the anchor and as much chain as the dinghy could carry and dropped it out to sea as far from the Euryen Brynn as possible. Then we returned to the sloop and attempted to right and haul her back away from the shoreline by hauling in the chain. But it was no use. We were stuck here on this godsforsaken strand of Black Marsh coast.
Our failure was observed. Although no greetings or offers of assistance were made we could see three of those pale Ghost Naga figures standing on the limestone rise and observing our every move. Once again as the sun fell and the lights of Masser and Secunda lit the night sky our froggy neighbor began his serenade again. I guessed that was a good sign that he was the only big frog in the area. Another possibly good sign was that there were no pale prowlers to be seen.
The arrival of daylight brought new and ominous tidings. Standing in a row along the shore were no less than six of the Ghost Naga brutes. Woefully thin they were, clad only in loincloths save for one whom I took for a shaman. He wore as a helmet the upper half of a large amphibian's skull and had painted his chest a noxious shade of red. In his right hand he grasped a long, thin ,wriggling, three foot salamander with fangs that would have done justice to a viper, and wore a belt of bones and twiggy ferns strapped around his left ankle. Their figures spoke of almost comical poverty but the corded muscles stretched across their skeletal frames spoke of physical power beyond the intimidation of their eight foot height and huge toothy mouths. Their message was simple.
"You outsiders r' lost n' have no bizness here n' that includes 'ur Archein toads n' back door lizards! Gonna cost u all ur gold n' stuff to liten' de boat to float offen de shore. So come overt to de shore n' leave ur stuff so's de boat kin float."
Some of my people (ha!) wanted to accede to this pure intimidation but not I.
"No need to lighten the ship." I said. "Get your uppity lizard bodies into the water and use the anchor chain to haul my ship into deep water. You will get the price for your labor when the boat is free and not before," I said this brusquely to let them know that I was the one in charge (again highly doubtful).
The Naga Ghost Shaman answered by curling his already impressive lips back in a canine exposing snarl. The salamander in his right hand actually spit at me while he raised himself up on his toe tops, made a cast magic gesture with his left hand and invoked a spell in some unknown, native language.
"Talax ... wak' xu suuk!"
The turbid air filled with an angry insect buzz, and his raised left hand was surrounded by a swarm of insects that swelled and merged into wasps. He made an exaggerated over the shoulder throw and the swarm flew off across the watery gap between the shore and the Euryen Byrnn.
Shaman he may have been but he was slow and his swarm of wasps progressed across the distance separating the ship from his controlling hand even slower: Ha! Ha! Too slow for Gwendal Pontius, "Master Loremaster and Mystic" of Drustan Hall back in his halcyon University days of mead and merriment. Tranasa's Spelltwist reflection spell would deal with his pathetic effort. "Vae commoneo vos"
The swarm's forward motion in our direction came to a halt and veered back in the direction of the summoner and his accomplices. The contingent of Ghost Nagas rapidly turned away and vanished into the undergrowth and that appeared to settle that. (Well done Gwendal!)
But it was not to be. There occurred somewhere in the brooding green distance north east of the ruins the ominous sounds of drum and singing that went on for hours. Then the noise subsided and as the twilight began to gather the Ghost Naga's appeared again, accompanied by a dozen or more of the former members of my expedition, only they had been dead and decomposing for the past few days and presented a horrific site made even more horrific by the grim variety of weapons held in their corpse rigored hands.
The Shaman's living cohorts waded into the water and grabbed the hull and mast ropes dangling within reach and began to drag the Euryen Brynn up closer to the shore. The Shaman had been keeping a slow tapping rhythm on a tabor drum as the group had emerged from the undergrowth and approached the ship.
TOM ... tap .. .tap... Tom
Now as his companions began to strain at the ropes the rhythm took on a frantic, frenzied pace.
The dead grappled with the railings and began to climb up the sides.
The THWACKS of arrows penetrating dead flesh had no effect, nor did the slashing and stabbing of blades. The wave of animated corpses crested the side and poured onto the deck. Only the crushing blows of hastily prepared truncheons seemed to slow them down.
A fireball did more harm than good, and a flaming fiend stumbled towards me. I turned and ran into the cockpit looking to find a refuge in the cabins below deck. But the slanting deck tripped me up and saved my life as Falco's grotesque corpse swung that huge glass claymore at me and missed and my frantic dodging took me over the side and into the dinghy.
Falco's corpse raised a leg over the rail to descend after me. I slipped the rope over the thole and kicked our to shove the dingy away from the hull.
The boat slid away and Falco paused .... and then
BRAHNK ...brekekekex ... koax...KOAX!
The monster frog was back, and mounted on its neck, oblivious to the poisonous slime was a black figure swaddled in linen and with tatters of golden chainmail on its arms and chest, a gold diadem and with a scepter raised in the air while it's other arm stretched out and pointed at the Shaman!
The monster's mouth opened and the Shaman was snatched through the air and vanished in a blur of tongue and thrashing limbs into that cavernous maw.
I fumbled for an oar and began to paddle frantically away into the darkness. As to the outcome of the frog and its rider and the Ghost Naga's and their animated corpses I know nothing.
"I implore you Midas! Old friend!" His voiice quavered and broke into a sob. "Don't take us back to those haunted ruins! Let the dead keep their ruin and my ship. I want neither. Only a safe return to a port where the dead don't walk and the frogs are just little creatures sitting on lily pads in big puddles." --------------------------------------------
And thus ended Gwendal's tale. Self-serving in part as I expected but certainally containing more than enough truth to promise a most interesting return to MY ruins.
Another thought crossed my mind. Perhaps Gwendal's story would convince Gwynnestri Tupou to stay behind on the Pinchpool when we arrived.
One could hope!
------------------------------------------------ AUTHOR’S NOTE If you enjoyed this chapter and are at a loss to do with an extra smile or dollar please consider a person having a bad day and gift them that smile, or maybe an anonymous gift of that extra dollar to a charity might help to save just one lost person in need. Think about it, and if you are able to - do it.
CHAPTER 9: The Midas Stone Written by: John Baumgartner (email@example.com) Notice of Copyright 2017
The Xanmeer Pyramids
Lost in jungle, mirk and mire Of sorceries manifold Secrets whispered in the fire Of mysteries and of gold
The Aldmer fates played round their knees Like children round a sire Guardian of those days they be Stony secrets in the mire
-------------------------------------- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Poem paraphrased from “The Mountains Grow Unnoticed” by Emily Dickinson
THE STORY SO FAR: Our dinghy pulled away from the Pinchpool leaving her Captain Baadargo Bahrajabari, the Maormer Miss, Gwynnestri Tupou and Gwendal Pontius, the Baron of Camlorn to settle into the ship-borne comforts of home. Meanwhile the Calico Khajiit finished rubbing Topal Bay’s finest, and most disgusting insect repellent into his splendid Calico facial fur and handed the nauseous packet to me. I smeared some generous daubs across my face and hands, closed the parcel and put it into my inventory with a grimace. Our companion and third for our doughty crew, He-Smirks-in-Smoke, being a native Archein Argonian was immune to the bugs of course and had the good graces to ignore our plight and continued with his steady, powerful working of the oars taking us into the mouth of the Gee-ha River. Already the stench, both from ourselves and the fecaloid brown watery flow over the sandbar of coarse limestone blocking the river’s mouth made me relish the prospect of a bath even if only in a saltwater tub on board the Pinchpool.
But then the boat’s progress ground to a halt upon the sand bar, and as we dismounted to tow it across the several inches of brown water flowing across its top we were challenged by a very large and belligerent lung fish that apparently felt the sandbar to be his private hunting ground for creatures stranded by the turnings of the tide.
The Argonian deployed his Wanassathix ‘Blood Hero’s Spear’ and took up a stance between us and the creature but made no offensive move save to nod his head and indicate for us to push the boat across and get back in. This we did and quickly felt the dinghy surge forward as my Archein companion slid into the waters behind the stern and began to push us forwards, keeping to the bank on which side lay the ruins hidden somewhere’s not far away beyond the green growth, amphibious monstrosities, and insects crawling and flying both great and small.
It had only been … what? A week or so since He-Smirks-in-Smoke and I had made our escape but where the river had given graceful ground to the islet where had lain the smugglers and their skiff, the river was now clogged with an elevated bar of mud sprouting a bamboo forest and ... nothing!
My stone! My precious Midas Stone with the golden epitaph of Rimtil of Erntide Doon! Gone! But who? But How?
I stopped to take thought and then cast Detect Enchantment: partem defixio! And, lo, in the thick layers of mud left where the river had risen and receded so many times since last I’d been here was a faint azure glow. I rubbed the mud, but instead of wet, yielding grit my fingers encountered smooth hard stone: MY MIDAS STONE. A rectangular red granite block of near a ton or more with a fortune of gold filling the incised words of an epitaph for a warrior hero of Old Ehinofey’s legendary poet, Seadwen the Blind. A stone worth a fortune to any scion of mer wealth if I could retrieve it from the Gee-ha’s grasp.
But was the enchantment something imbued ages ago or was there a mage hidden here playing with me? I cast Detect Creature: partem reperire animus! I sensed more than saw a glow from a stand of bamboo stalks and then I heard a voice of thunder. I looked around and saw that the Argonian and the Khajiit had heard it too.
"BEHOLD … THE FOURTH BANE … ITS NAME BE DEATH!" The voice spoke the words in a language that was old when Aldmeris sank beneath the waters of eternity. An involuntary chill ran down my spine.
"DEATH!" It spoke again in the electric words of muscular contractions of terror rippling across my skin and raising the hair on my arms and neck!
We looked and and beheld a mummy in a pale winding shroud beneath a corset of crusty insectoid scales. A corroded and rusty iron crested crown was placed upon its withered skull, and upon the crown a fan of decayed and molting feathers. Fire flamed in its empty eye sockets, and in its right hand it held a scythe as if to venture out to reap death and to conquer life itself.
The creature fixed its fiery orbs upon me and for just a passing moment I swore I saw a glint of recognition and heard a snicker: MOCKERY? The scythe wavered and glowed in a green tinged light that flickered, thickened and began to wriggle between those bony fingers. The scythe became a gaseous thing but became ever the more mindful of the centipede, the wriggling horror that had pierced my left boot and inflicted pain, humiliation and the prospect of a horrible blood borne death!
But it hadn’t. Had it? Instead of a blood borne death it had given me a friend in place of a hired servant with He-Smirks-in-Smoke and introduced me to Many-Stitches, Mister-Double-Entry-Equity and other Argonians I never would have met. Oh yes! Khajiits too! Captain Baadargo Bahrajabari and K’thri-Calico-Dar from Morrowind and Qa’ssa’ko Sea Reader the tiny Alfiq lady at the Mist-Tree Camp who’s diagnosis of my poisoned foot had saved my life. And, even though I be loath to admit it, the acid tongued Maormer Miss, Gwynnestri Tupou!
OH NO! This mummified whoreson fruit of an ancient adultery between a prune and a baboon shall not make a mockery of me and mine! I glared at the mummy and at the threat wriggling in its withered hands.
The shroud fell away from the thing’s arms as it raised it’s hands to strike. The bones I noted looked like sticks held together by dry sinews and dark leathery skin. The fingers opened and the long wriggling green gaseous thing stretched out towards me with oversized pincers snapping in the air.
Opisto inficio ...ego mantatum! I incanted Resist Poison and cast reflexively. One does not get bitten by a giant centipede and easily forget the consequences of a delayed decision.
The mummy’s scythe transformed into an abstract vaporous wriggling emanation and then into a living, elongated centipede stretching out to slash my at casting hand with its sharp, venomous pincers. Kaaa-ZA-aaaFTT!
The pincers closed and there was an explosion of lightning, shrouding its head with a shower of sparks and electric fury .
The mummy shrieked and drew back with the centipede dissolving into a cloud of noxious vapor with the nostril burning stench of a nearby lightning strike.
“Not so fast you sick and bone buffoon!” I shouted in triumphant release of adrenaline and fear.
But that was before I had time to consider the possibilities inherent in this encounter and recant my insult.
But alas it was too late. It had struck and I had demonstrated my ability as a mage and equal to the threat by the evidence of its retreat and smoking hand. But it had stopped its retreat and now the mummy or revenant or whatever it was stood still. Perhaps it was not too late to find a bit of common ground between us.
I had no clue if it could understand me but it was obvious that it recognized the threats posed by me and perhaps also by my companions. So maybe it was mortal or had some form of mortality? Maybe we could strike a deal? I wanted the Midas Stone, but Miss Tupou was expecting some sort of a token, and, maybe access to a participant in the events of the long vanished Old Ehinofey and its explorations and who knows what else in Tamriel could be an even greater return? Thoughts of a book, the definitive history of Old Ehinofey as told by an actual participant titillated my imagination. The fame! Tenure at the worlds most prestigious universities, book tours and signings … GLORIOUS EPHIPANY!
So how could I explore the possibilities of a deal? We stood there for a minute, which is a very long time to remain in a suspended state of animation. And then … it sighed! A dusty gust of ancient spices and motes of ages past escaped those ancient withered lips drawn back over yellowed teeth.
The mummy vanished! One minute standing there a grotesque promise of undying fame, fortune and academic glory and the next … gone. A phantasm! A stinking lousy phantasm! Oh somewhere within this obscene tangle of swamp, lies and ruins was an illusionist who dead or alive was going to pay a price for this foul deception!
OR … ?
I looked at the my stone again, now half buried in the Gee-ha mud as it should have been. I held my hands out to grasp an imaginary object of about the stone’s size, shut my eyes and visualized my precious Midas Stone all clean and pristine to gauge my illusionary abilities and …
I was dragged face down into the Gee-ha mud by the weight of the Midas Stone held in my arms. He-Smirks-in-Smoke and the Calico stared blankly at me as I released the stone, sputtering and wiping the mud from my mouth and eyes. I stood up and looked down at the stone. I shut my eyes again and pictured it back in its original position in the mud. I opened my eyes again expecting to see it back where it had lain for days, but no! There it was at my feet.
The stone was haunted or possessed by something else. Once again thoughts of money, fame and glory flashed across my mind. But I couldn’t really study it here. Probably not on the Pinchpool either. The Midas Stone would need to return to my shop on City Isle. And so to get He-Smirks-in-Smoke and the Calico Khajiit back into the dinghy while I cast Feather on my stone: solvitur volantis mutato porridato.
I cast the spell and and cast again – two ‘Feathers’ picked the stone up and carefully placed it in the center of the dinghy. Time to let the spells wear off and see if we could still float without constantly casting and recasting on the trip back to the Pinchpool.
I shoved the dinghy into the water and waited. When the first spell expired the gunwale sank just slightly, but when the effect of the second Feather faded into the ether the gunwale dipped close to the lapping current. It was going to a little close I calculated with the three of us plus the stone to return to the Pinchpool, but if the bay was calm we should be able to do it.
But my thoughts were interrupted when He-Smirks-in-Smoke called out.
“Hey Boss,” he called. “Afore ye start casting spells on your stone, the cat has been scouting around the trees n’ found something you should look at.”
I left the stone on the riverbank and carefully pushed my way through the underbrush to where old Calico (as I had taken to calling him) stood at the base of one of those curious tubular and branchless trees with the scaly bark that are unique to the environs of Black Marsh. He was probing the ferns and vines on the ground with his trusted devil spear, Snakeir. When he saw me, he straightened and lifted his spear, from the tip of which dangled a torn portion of what had been an expensive lacquered jerkin now covered with mold and the process of decay which seemed to infect most things of a newly deceased nature.
“There’s the remains of an airship like you and the Baron had mentioned.” Calico said and pointed upwards to where an occasional gust riffled the distant foliage and exposed a glimpse of netch skin which had covered a gas bag. “Whoever fell and left this memento was most likely khajiit and a big one … possibly one of the ‘rahts’. Can’t tell you more since he was probably one of the bodies animated by the Ghost Naga’s that the Baron had been talking about."
Now this was news, and make no doubts about it! Airships are famously expensive and whoever had been in it would most certainly have left a story worth reconstructing. Why even more that the Baron Gwendal Pontius and his ‘yacht’ that was probably beached nearby on the coast. The laws of maritime salvage should apply to the tree tops as well as the sea level: FINDERS KEEPERS LOSERS WEEPERS! HEH! HEH!
“So let’s get up there and see what we can see!” I said, taking some effort to keep the excitement and anticipation out of my voice
He shook his head sadly and answered. “The problem, Boss, is the dragonflies. Those suckers … (and indeed I could see several of those yards long horrors flitting hungrily through the tree trunks) … would like as naught remove a hand or worse as an appetizer for when this poor acrobat fell to his demise into the swamp.”
Now I knew well how to levitate and perhaps between a levitating mage and an acrobatic khajiit we could penetrate the swamp’s canopy. But levitating with a leg missing, even though I had one of the finest enchanted peg legs available at the time, was a losing proposition. Oh I could gain the altitude right enough, and sustain it for a respectable period of time, but the problem was balance. Steady, straight and level was not a possibility but perhaps if the khajiit clung to the tree trunk and steadied me we could sort of rise together and I might fend off any dragon borne attacker with a lightning strike or fireball. I was going to suggest this unique and, I thought brilliant strategy even though I already had retrieved my stone and it lay there ready to be ‘Feathered’ and taken back to the Pinchpool. But sometimes I thought a stone in the mud could be less than an egg tucked high in a tree.
Yeah! Good sense that! “Stay with the stone!” I told He-Smirks-in-Smoke. “I’m going to cover Calico as he investigates.”
I spotted one of the dragon fly monsters hovering about fifty feet above and to the west of the khajiit and let fly with an electric blast: conicio tempestas ...ego mantatum!
The creatures’ diaphanous wings and iridescent body segments flew apart and started to drift towards the ground. Instantly another, and yet another dragonfly appeared from between the greenish gloom of the towering, scaly barked tree trunks and snared the falling bits.
Calico looked at me in amazement and shouted, “With one leg you probably can’t fly straight. Is this right?”
I nodded in the affirmative and although I hated myself for the infirmity, I waved him upwards. “But I can cast straight! Now get up there and I’ll keep the dragonflies off. I need you to find a rope or such to drop to me. If I can levitate close enough to grab it and use it as a guide while I levitate to join you and investigate.
“AND … while I’m defying gravity and holding onto the rope, you can fend the dragonflies off that come too close with Snakeir or a star or two. Can you do it?”
Calling his devil spear by name struck an ardent chord in his feline manhood as I knew it would. “Of course!” He roared. “Climb and scale the heights above and dare the depths below! Its what we acrobats do!” And with that he rapidly ascended up the tree trunk.
As he vanished into the long, sword shaped tree topping fronds some hundred or so feet above I tore my eyes downwards and saw not only the remains of the lacquered armor that Calico had displayed earlier, but here and there beneath the moss and detritus there glinted the glint of gold! Not the soft, buttery glow of old gold untarnished but mellowed by age, but new and shiny. Coinage newly minted. I reached down and picked up a heavy die cut coin of gold with the profile of none other than our current Emperor, Uriel Septim.
But I had not time to marvel at this most curious find! For we heard the baritone crooning of doom impending for our chance to retrieve the Midas Stone!
BRAHNK ...brekekekex ... koax...KOAX!
The frog! It’s call, not the challenge or mating call of some lovesick frog at the edge of a night time pond. That long, deep croon that rolled across the jungle could only have come from Gwendal Pontius’ giant frog monster!
GODS SAVE US!
Then there came the crash of a tree trunk falling, and the crunch of vegetation being crushed under foot. Perhaps it was just my imagination but I thought I heard that voice like thunder say, ““BEHOLD … THE FIRST BANE ...ITS NAME BE CONQUEST!”
He-Smirks-in-Smoke had leapt behind the dinghy’s transom in readiness to shove us out into midstream and away from the scene. I reflexively snatched up a coin then felt a brief spasm of guilt and glanced upwards to see Calico slow falling from the tree top to join me.
Another crash and foliage trampled. The beast was coming this way!
We, the Calico and I, reached the dinghy. He jumped in the front ahead of the Midas Stone and I clambered behind at the transom. I looked down at the waterline and saw that my calibrating eye had been good, we had about six or more inches between the top of the gunwale and a trip to the Gee-ha bottom.
We reached the sandbar and I saw to my dismay that even though the tide was turning to add clearance we weren’t going to clear without dismounting and shoving our way across and into the open waters of the bay. of
And there cresting the water were a pair of platter sized bulbous frog’s eyes and behind them, protruding above the splash and spray sat a mummified horror similar to the one I’d defeated earlier. This one, however, was not dressed in the rags of decay and rust. Here was a shiekh, a prince in a crown topped turban of gold with skin of wrinkled, shining ebony, eye sockets filled with molten gold and the glint of golden canines between lips of darkest midnight. Across his torso and shoulders was a torn hauberk of gold chain, and in his left hand was a gigantic bow of gold and steel and horn.
Now the bow might or might not be a problem but the frog if it got up onto the sandbar could easily pick us with its long prehensile tongue,of which I had seen a brief example within the xanmeer ruins and so artfully described by Gwendal Pontius. It was time and past time to extricate ourselves from this pursuit by “THE FIRST BANE OF CONQUEST” and his croaking horse.
I chose Tragrilar’s Exit as the spell to lock up our pursuit (burden plus drain strength plus weakness to magicka) except that I chose the frog as the most dangerous opponent: pondus debilito fortitudo precantatio ...ego mantantum!
The bulbous eyes blinked and the beast lurched to a sudden halt. A huge backwash of displaced water surged over the beasts back carrying the shiekh over its head and into the river while it lifted our dinghy over the sandbar and deposited us into the bay.
OH WHAT SKILL! HA! HA! I felt like jumping to my feet and taking a bow but He-Smirks-in-Smoke quickly brought me back down to the reality of our situation.
“You gots your stone boss n’ you’se got us outta de swamp. Now let’s get outta here wit it. I don’t like depending on Baadargo for a way home with that Miss Tupou and de Baron, specially de Baron, on board. N’ what happens if pirates or Imperials show up n’ wants to know why he’s anchored there?”
Yes loyal readers, Midas Truncator and his companions have escaped the clutches of the Gee-ha River and the guardians of the Xanmeer, but the Argonian’s concern may be well founded indeed. And, as the young Scarlett O’hara once said in Margret Mitchel’s immortal novel Gone With the Wind “Tomorrow is another day.”
--------------------------------------------- AUTHOR’S NOTE If you enjoyed this chapter and are at a loss to do with an extra smile or dollar please consider a person having a bad day and gift them that smile, or maybe an anonymous gift of that extra dollar to a charity might help to save just one lost person in need. Think about it, and if you are able to - do it.