From the Oral Histories of Iktomi
After a productive period of rest, recuperation, learning and industry, Atsin called our intrepid group together with our next job. We were to escort the armadons we’d dealt with previously to the village of Drumhead, from whence they’d step off into the Desiccated Plains to complete their journey to their home. Once we reached Drumhead, we would also trade various finished goods with Father Bulgash, leader of one of the two major farming families in the village, in exchange for some of his famed gritroot (the key ingredient in a refreshing ale known around Ahtenko), and a list of requested goods for their next exchange.
Atsin would furnish us with a wagon half-filled with goods, along with four draft horses and enough feed to last them 25 days. We had the opportunity to stop and rest in Tseni, my own hometown, though their hesitation to trade with outsiders would certainly be an obstacle, and Atsin requested that we try to return within two weeks – after all, the other adventuring companies were making their own moves, and many opportunities could be lost to our competition in our absence.
We were also given 2,000 silver pieces in advance, as a discretionary fund to purchase our own trade goods, or deal with whatever issues would arise. Gen used 45 of this silver to immediately pay back a debt he had recently incurred, while another 750 silver was used to buy various weapons, tools, and textiles to trade with the villages. We also learned a bit more about Drumhead, where the Bulgash and Ken families coexisted with a human named Garin brokering between them, and Tseni, where an attack by horror constructs unleashed by the Jubilant Knives years ago was a major reason for the town’s distrust of outsiders.
We quickly made our preparation before reconvening at Snore & Boars where we met our armadon friends for a goodbye celebration. I ended up enjoying a spirited drinking game with three armadons who did not speak Trade, while Tala engaged in a rather serious heart-to-heart with the young armadon boy we had rescued as well as a guards-woman we had cured. Lokan defended Atsin’s reputation to Layla, while Tywon prepared a fine meal and Gen conserved his strength for the road ahead.
We set out at dawn, Lokan taking the reins of our wagon, and made it to Tseni a couple of hours before dusk. As we looked down into the quarry at the bottom of a difficult switchback, Layla and Grooge commented on their icy welcome on the way to Ahtenko, so Gen and I opted to head down with some trade goods to smooth things over. We were met at the bottom of the switchback by a dozen guards, led by the mayor, an old one-armed ork named Kzizh. Recognizing me and instantly taking a shining to my charming friend, the Mayor informed us that the armed men had assembled due to a recent drop in the number of caravans stopping by, and the fear that bandits may have been operating in the area. We showed him some of our trade goods and he offered to have one of my cousins, Keya, look over them and make a deal. He also mentioned a recent cave-in deeper in the tunnels of the cliffside town, and that only one of two bodies was ever recovered, two elf victims who had recently moved into Tseni – some superstitious folk saw this cave-in as an ill omen. First, however, we opted to stop at the Cliffside Inn and speak with the proprietor, my dear brother Cinull.
Cinull has never been one to stay quiet when there is news to be shared, and this meeting was no exception. He expounded upon news of this cave-in, explaining that not two, but three elves had recently moved into Tseni looking to reopen the quarry. The surviving elf, Fyus Gorinjer, had been lobbying to begin stone excavation again, and the talk of the town was the fear of a Horror haunting the quarry, though wildcat mining may have been the culprit – that surviving elf often frequented the Cliffside Inn late at night, and might possibly have stone for sale. He also mentioned Kzizh was looking for a contract for arms and armor, but that he would only do business with a reputable smith. We both agreed that anyone who handled the bandit problem would likely be seen as such a reputable character. Finally, Cinull mentioned our poor uncle Manaloh, maimed during the Gnasher assault years ago, whose sculptures had taken on a distinctly dark and literal bent of late. They, too, might be for sale, though I dared not voice the fear that perhaps Manaloh had gone mad – or worse.
We met with Keya, who inspected our weapons and offered 100 silver for them – our first trade profits! The textiles did not hold any interest for the villagers, so we opted to leave the folk of Tseni be and stay with our armadon charges at the top of the switchback, passing on the news of what had transpired and settling into a guard rotation for the night before setting out early at dawn.
Given the tension in town, and Cinull’s enthusiastically wordy exposition, I made note of Kzizh’s interest in weapons, as it could be a key role in my dream to rebuild Tseni to its former glory. The more immediate issue of banditry was troublesome. Many look at merchants and think of trade as simply a series of transactions, merely a game of haggling. True, there is much technique involved, but were one to map the various caravans or peddlers making their way across the land, one would find a web more intricate than that of any spider, each strand strengthening the communities it connects. In its sum, the web is strong, building relationships and providing much-needed goods to the far-flung corners of Nemahay, but the individual threads can easily be snapped by such things as banditry. To ensure a strong legacy for the outlying villages of Ahtenko, we would need to deal with these brigands threatening honest traders connecting these communities, and so we moved on, wary of any traps.
We did not have to wait long to find something that raised our suspicions, as we found a hungry child in the rough terrain that passed for a trail between Tseni and Drumhead. The boy called himself Abbin, and Tywon fed him while we tried to understand his story and the caravan moved ahead. The boy claimed his parents had been attacked by a bear and ordered him to run, and he had found himself lost in the wilderness. The story didn’t add up, but we kept an eye out, especially after night fell, and found he had escaped. We worked with the armadons to prepare for an ambush, and by dawn we spotted a dozen riders on the horizon. With my passing knowledge of the High Plains dialects, I understood from their leader’s orders that they were to leave no survivors.
Tala and I, along with most of the armadons, hid in the wagons while arranging some of our textiles in our bedrolls to look like sleeping figures. Tywon used his elementalism to empower myself and Tala, while Gen and Lokan moved further out to put distance between themselves and the riders. As the outriders trampled over the empty bedrolls and looked at them with some confusion, we sprang out of the wagons, unhorsing their leader and unwittingly triggering his gahad. We subdued this leader and five more of the twelve riders before they dispersed, but not before I took some heavy wounds. While this leader, clearly an adept, refused to speak with us, we learned much from our other captive (his subordinate), who swore a blood oath to end his banditry in exchange for information and his life.
This man explained that they were members of the Nizan and Karasan tribes who rode down to the region around Timbertown and broke off from their main group to prey on caravans to the east and make quick money. The group consisted of two dozen tribesmen, three of whom were adepts. Aside from the outrider we had captured, an archer and elementalist led this group, though they remained at camp. The tribesmen who had escaped our counterambush would likely head straight to their camp and warn them not to assault our group, though this left us in somewhat of a quandary. The immediate threat had been taken care of and our path to Drumhead was clear, but the continued existence of the bandits posed a threat to the entire area.
Speaking with the armadons, they agreed to help defeat these brigands in exchange for an even split of the bandits’ ill-gotten goods. Rushing to the camp, we found it in a state of relative peace, with roughly half a dozen guards patrolling with no particular level of alarm – perhaps we had beaten the bandits to their own camp! Lokan snuck ahead to get a better picture of the camp, and then it was time to formulate a plan while we still held the element of surprise…