Well, yeah. Chapter 5 is done. Hope it isn’t too dull for you.
Chronicles of Koeleth: The River’s Tale
Tom awoke late the next morning. Not yet adjusted to his new abode, Tom panicked at the foreign sight of a bedroom. He soon regained his bearings, however, and, realizing how late it was, began to prepare for the day ahead. There were still a few matters to sort out, being a new citizen of Ramsthrone, and his house was ill-furnished, having only the barest necessities. He groomed himself in much the same manner he had the day prior, robing his body once more in his finer clothes and storing his other possessions, meager though they be, in his overlarge closet. Despite the racket he was causing, Tom failed to disturb his housemate, Aaron, who was sleeping in one of the guests rooms. After preparing and consequently consuming to a meal, he surveyed the mansion, planning what he wanted and where he wanted it. He grimaced when he noticed the small golden ram sitting in his gallery but decided it would only encourage Aaron if he removed it. Having determined what he wanted done, he left through the large front door of the mansion.
Shortly after noon, Aaron stirred from his sleep, feeling well rested and ready for another day of not caring. Realizing that he was hungry, the thin man meandered down into the kitchen, where he prepared himself a poor excuse of a breakfast. Unlike Tom, Aaron had nowhere he needed to be, so, to keep himself entertained, he began to rummage through the house, investigating anything of Tom’s that he had not already seen. He was hoping to have another try at Tom’s strongbox, but he quickly discovered that Tom had taken it with him, wherever he went. Aside from a text written in Ekoalem that he could not read and an oddly shaped package that was addressed to a noble he had never heard of, Aaron found nothing of interest, and he soon grew bored. A thought had occurred to him at that moment: instead of toting around all those treasures he lifted from their rightful owners, why could he not use some of Tom’s space to store it until he felt like finishing the job? At once he went back to his room and grabbed his treasures. He dragged them all into to the gallery and began to grace the hall with his stolen trinkets. After he had placed roughly eight objects on pedestals throughout the room, he leaned back against the wall and let out a satisfied sigh. He was now unsure what he should do. He could go spy on Tom, possibly, but that usually carried very little appeal. Maybe that Lilly girl led an interesting life. That weapon of hers might pose a problem, though. No, that was not an option. For now, he settled on staring blankly at the fireplace in the grand hall. He had been doing that for some time when he heard a loud knock at the door. The visitor was probably there to see Tom, and that might be bad news for Aaron, if it was the wrong kind of visitor. Aaron silently made his way to a window and peeked at the front door. Standing there, decked out in her steel armor, was the very person he feared meeting: Captain Lilly Flowermaiden, attended by two steel clad guards. She looked serious, too. Which stolen item was she after? After several tense moments, the young captain of the guard gave up and left, much to Aaron’s relief. It seemed whatever business she had with Tom did not warrant home invasion. Sighing deeply, Aaron returned to his staring match with the fireplace.
Tom had just finished his day’s business and was preparing to head back to his home, a small crew of movers and cart full of furniture and decorations in tow, when Lilly came up to him in the street.
“Tom! Do you have a moment?” Lilly asked, sounding slightly winded, as if she had been active all day.
“I was just getting ready to head home and work on the place, but these guys can do it without me, I suppose. I’d bet my bottom kelon that Aaron’s still lying there, doing nothing, so he can handle it. What did you need?”
Tom gave some simple instructions to the movers and sent them on their way.
“Remember how you told me you might be able to help with a robbery? Well, we got a strange one. Given the timing of it all, I figured you might be able to shed some light on the matter.”
“Yeah, I’ll offer any help I can. Tell me what you know.”
Aaron heard the mansion door swing open and saw the glint of clean steel. Tom’s voice could be heard, slightly perturbed. Aaron knew he was in trouble. He attempted to sneak away, but Tom was too quick for him.
“Got you!” Tom shouted, as he grabbed Aaron’s hood.
“I am willing to stay out of your business, as long as you don’t drag me into it, but you dragged me into it,” Tom reproachfully lectured to no avail.
“I would come back with a witty remark, but I just don’t care enough.”
“Wait,” Lilly interjected. “Are you telling me this goofball is the thief? The thief left no signs that he had been there, except that the ram was missing!”
“Believe it or not, he’s really good at his job,” Tom explained. “I can even bring you to the ram. Follow me.”
He led them to his gallery. Much to his surprise, a number of items he had never seen before adorned his trophy hall. He had a sneaking suspicion that these precious artifacts were acquired through less than lawful means, but he kept these suspicions to himself.
“Here is the golden ram in question. Take it. I don’t want stolen goods tarnishing my home.”
“I will. Thanks for all the help. We wrapped that up real quick thanks to you. There’s still some legal action that needs to happen, but that shouldn’t take more than a couple days to clear up, thanks to you.”
Lilly had her guards arrest Aaron, who put up no resistance.
“It’s been awhile since I’ve been caught.”
“So, you admit your guilt?”
“Yeah. My policy is that if you’re not good enough to get away with it, you deserve to be caught. And I wasn’t good enough.”
“Well, at least that makes it easier on me.”
“Take it easy on him,” Tom said. “He may be a thief, but he’s still a friend.”
“Thanks for all the help, ‘friend,’” Aaron sarcastically remarked.
“No problem, friend,” Tom mockingly replied.
Tom watched the guards take Aaron away and then returned to the business at hand. By the time the matter had been settled, the movers had shown up at his house. He helped them carry his new furniture inside and directed the placement of the new décor. Each of the rooms received some significant upgrades, including the gallery getting a magnificent statue of Lady Sorowa. When they were finished, Tom paid the crew and let them go. Tom felt proud of himself for being so urban and civilized, but that quickly faded away. He went into his library and unloaded his travel pack. Before going shopping for furniture, he paid a visit to the local bookshop to peruse their collection, a rare opportunity and one he could not find travelling in the small towns and villages that he frequented. He found a fair amount of interesting texts, including a few rare documents written in foreign languages and ancient Ekoalem. After having a hearty dinner, since it was late in the day, he began digging into his new literature. Several hours had passed, and he had not noticed when night fell upon Ramsthrone. He heard the doors of his mansion open and close, so he got up to see what was going on. Much to his surprise, Aaron was standing there, a free man.
“Who let you out?”
“I worked out a deal with the guard.”
“Yeah. Lilly couldn’t definitively prove it was me who stole the ram, and the noble wasn’t going to press charges as long as he got his precious artifact back. Therefore, we worked out an enticing deal. As long as I don’t steal from Ramsthrone anymore, she’ll leave me be. If I’m ever caught thieving in the city again, though, she’ll open a full scale investigation into all my crimes and I’ll be put away for quite some time.”
“Fascinating. Well, I’m glad to hear my house won’t be subject to repeated investigations. Well, I’m beat, so I’m off to bed. As usual, you’re free to do what you will, so long as I’m not an accomplice in your criminal hijinks. Night.”
Tom walked upstairs to his room and flopped onto his bed, worn down from the day’s activities. Aaron was surprisingly exhausted from his mostly eventless day, so he followed Tom’s lead and holed up in the same guest room he had slept in the night prior.
The next morning greeted Tom with a bright, shining sun. He garbed himself in his travel rags, leaving off only the outer robe and the battered steel breastplate. To look at him, one would be shocked to know that he was actually quite well off. He was wearing a tattered long sleeve shirt over a black undershirt and an equally worn down pair of pants tucked into his road weary boots. He departed for the market once more, without notifying his lodger. His first stop was the town guard, where he confirmed Aaron’s story. He didn’t want to be the unwitting accomplice of an escapee from prison, after all. After that, he ran by a local shoemaker, as he knew full well his boots would not be surviving another adventure. The cobbler confirmed his suspicions that the trodden down leather was beyond repair and told Tom he could have him a brand new pair ready for him in about five days, if the price was fair. He then paid a visit to one of the many local armourers, where he commissioned a new steel breastplate, the best quality that could be managed in five days’ time. His armor was not in any better condition than his boots.
His final task took him by the tavern he had stayed at a few days ago. The tavern sported a quest board, where interested parties could take on a posted mission, if they so desired. Tom reviewed several jobs and narrowed them down to a handful of agreeable tasks. All that were left were a couple of escort missions for travelling merchants and a handful of personal bodyguard positions. The travelling missions were going to take him out of town for several weeks, and the personal bodyguards were full time jobs. Neither of these options appealed to Tom. He was looking for something to occupy the next few days, until his new gear was finished. After some more digging, he found something that might do the trick. A travelling scholar was looking for a guard to take him out to the White Tower, one of a series of old watchtowers on the western edge of Ramsrest. Relics of a pre-Koeleth era, the watchtowers were largely abandoned now. It was not uncommon for scholars of historical studies to want to visit the towers, but it was often dangerous due to bandits, highwaymen and wild animals. The White Tower was one of two towers near Pasture’s Edge, positioned southwest of the small village, while the Shepherd’s Tower sat to the northwest of the village. While the towers were abandoned, the roads leading to them were well maintained and lead directly to them from Ramsrest, rather than winding through the hills like the road to Pasture’s Edge. With a pair of good horses, he and his client could get to the White Tower in a day and a half. The quest form mentioned that the scholar was staying in the tavern, so Tom consulted the bartender.
“Really? That one?” the bartender replied, clearly shocked at this adventurer’s decision.
“It doesn’t pay particularly well, given the nature of the job. Are you sure?”
“Money isn’t a big deal for me right now. I’m doing this for fun.”
“If you say so. See that man in the robes over there? He’s your man. Claims to be a scholar. When asked about what he studied, though, he gave the vaguest of answers. In his words, he studies ‘this and that.’ Odd fellow, that one.”
Tom headed towards a dimly lit corner of the bar, where the robed scholar sat. His robes were dusty, but Tom could tell they were once a clean, bright white. The man had sandy hair and sky blue eyes, and he carried a plain wooden staff, presumably a walking stick. His head was buried in some sort of document, but Tom could not tell what it was about.
“Excuse me, sir,” Tom politely said.
The man did not stir.
Again, no response.
“Sir!” Tom shouted.
“Agh! Don’t hurt me!” the man begged, startled by Tom’s intrusion.
“I’m not here to hurt you. Quite the opposite, in fact.”
“Oh! You’re here about my request, then!”
“Yes, sir. You need someone to guard you on your way to the White Tower, right?”
“Yes, that is correct. I am a scholar looking to study the architectural properties of the tower. I am afraid that I am no good in a fight, though. From what I‘ve heard, it’s a dangerous road.”
“It can be. For the price you were offering, though, you’re lucky I came along.”
“Being independent of a school or organization, I have few spare funds. Thank you for taking an interest. I don’t think I’ve introduced myself yet. I am Collin Softvoice, travelling scholar, follower of Lord Peaz the Serene.”
“I am Thomas Riversedge, guard for hire, blessed follower of Lady Sorowa, Maiden of Tears. If I may be so bold as to advertise myself, I have several years of experience, a blessed weapon, and a mild interest in the western towers myself.”
“Oh, you do? Excellent! That shall make the journey all the more interesting.”
“Excellent. By the way, do you have horses? That would make our journey quite a bit easier.”
“Yes, I do. I have a cart that I use to haul my equipment. It’s pulled by two horses. Does that help?”
“That’ll do just fine. That should make things go quicker, then. I can take you by the straightest route to the tower, and it should only take us a day and a half to get there.”
“Thank you! I would like to stay out there for at least a day, if I could. Are you willing to stay long enough to get me back here?”
“I’d prefer to keep it under five days, but, yes, I will stay with you until we return to Ramsthrone. That is what I signed up for, after all.”
“Excellent! When can we begin?”
“The earlier the better. Does dawn tomorrow work for you?”
“The more time I get spend at the tower the better. That works for me. We have ourselves a deal, then?”
“So it would seem. I look forward to working with you, Mr. Softvoice.”
“As do I, Mr. Riversedge.”
The two men shook hands and shared a few drinks to celebrate their temporary partnership. They eventually returned Tom’s home, which would serve as their starting point and free lodging for the destitute young scholar. The two men went into Tom’s study, where they exchanged the various scholarly texts and ancient documents they had in their possession. Their research went on well into the night until weariness conquered them both.
Tom, who was displeased with the recent early mornings, awoke his client, and they made the final preparations for their journey. Aside from his usual gear, Tom grabbed a couple of maps, in case they were needed, though he felt confident in his knowledge of the roads. Much to Tom’s relief, Aaron had not pulled any of his usual shenanigans on Collin’s equipment. After a hearty breakfast, Tom and Collin climbed into the cart and set off. Aaron was still sleeping in his bed, blissfully unaware Tom’s mission.
“So, how does someone so obviously optimistic get a weapon from Sorowa?” Collin asked.
“Haha, it’s funny you should ask that. Someone asked something similar, just the other day. I’m optimistic, which is part of what makes me so sad. I hope for the best, I expect the best, and when the worst happens, it crushes me. Because of this, I’ve developed a sort of duality where I’m sad about the depravity of life, but the good in life brings peace to my heart. How about you? You mentioned your staff was blessed? ‘The Arbiter’ is what it’s called? How did you get the attention of Peaz?”
“Oh. Well, my family historically has been involved with the military. Every male in the past three generations has been involved in the military in some capacity, and even a few of the women. Well, I took after my peace-loving mother and adamantly refused to join the army, despite my father’s strong urgings. I really hate violence, as a general rule. Eventually, he relented. Well, Peaz took notice of my strong desire to avoid conflict, and he sent an Erscheinung to deliver the Arbiter to me. It’s fantastically useful when tempers rise.”
“Lucky! I got the Einberufung, but everyone I talk to seems to get the apparition.”
“Well, you seem to keep the kind of company that has guardians either too lazy or too kind to go through with the summoning.”
“True enough. Anyways, why do you want to go to the White Tower, specifically?”
“As I said yesterday, I am interested in the architectural properties of the towers. Few structures have managed to stand as long as the western towers and I would like to know why. You see, that is the focus of my studies, and I have traveled all over Koeleth to study the architecture of historical structures. Sometimes it’s artistic, sometimes it’s purely functional. Either way, it’s very interesting. You said you had a minor interest in the towers? Can you tell me what you know?”
“Sure. During one of my missions, I was working with another scholar, who informed me that the towers dated back to 3980, just over three thousand years ago. The architect, Joseph of Bloodcreek, stubbornly refused to work on the towers until they paid his steep price. No one is quite sure what the price was, not even whether or not it was in the form of money, but the ruler of Ramsrest didn’t want to pay it. Eventually, the old man relented, though, and paid the architect. Coincidentally, that is the day that the Jeweled Ram, a gem-encrusted gold statue, was removed from the palace. No definitive connection was ever made, but there was a lot of speculation. With the exception of the Ranger’s Tower, all the towers are still standing, despite having endured a beating in the War of Unification in 4228. By the time the Ranger’s Tower fell, in 5617, the towers had been directly involved in twenty or so conflicts, had housed countless gangs of bandits and thieves, and had been ransacked by vandals hundreds of times. It hasn’t seen any serious action since then, however, and the towers seem to be relatively unharmed, except for the ever present cobwebs. I’ve been to the Shepherd’s Tower on a number of occasions, and I can tell you that it’s a solid piece of stonework. You could spend days there and still wonder what keeps the old place standing.”
“Seems like a much storied place. I can’t wait to discover all the wonders it holds,” the scholar said in hushed tones.
As they passed through a particularly narrow spot in the road, Tom caught a rapidly moving object out of the corner of his eye. Grabbing his halberd, he jumped off the cart and readied himself, only to realize that it was a doe and her fawns crossing the road behind them. He chuckled at the silliness of it all and mounted the cart once more.
“Sorry, false alarm.”
“At least I know I can trust your senses now. I didn’t pick up on those deer at all until you reacted to them.”
“Yeah, it’s something I’ve had to learn through experience. Got myself into a couple of tight situations by not paying attention to my surroundings.”
“I can see how that would be a problem for a professional warrior.”
“Yeah. It was certainly a hard learned lesson. Hey, it’s early afternoon. We should probably take a break, let the horses rest, and get some food in us. What do you think?”
“Oh. I suppose we have been going for awhile now. That might be a good idea.”
Since they were in agreement, the two travelers stopped along the side of the road in a nearby clearing, one of several. Though most of Ramsrest was farmland or fields, there were a few small forests scattered throughout the province. The road to the White Tower went through one of them. This particular clearing cut out a perfect semicircle in the trees, large enough to house a camp, if need be. Collin and Tom, however, settled for a small patch of grass near the road.
“For a supposedly dangerous road,” Collin began. “We’ve had a safe journey so far. I wonder why.”
“Normally, I would say patrolling guards have kept the criminals at bay, but that doesn’t seem to be the case on this desolate stretch of highway. The normal bandits who hang around this road usually belong to a particular gang that I’ve run into once or twice. If they’re around, they might be avoiding me.”
“Are you talking about that gang whose leader you killed?” Collin asked perceptively.
“Yeah. They’re still around, but they avoid Pasture’s Edge and none but their current leader will even get near me, if it can be helped. That only works for those bandits, though. As to why we haven’t encountered any other groups, well, let’s chalk it up to good fortune.”
The break lasted for roughly an hour before Tom and Collin decided to hit the road again. No sooner had they packed up than a small band of rogues appeared before them. Having come up behind them, Tom had not foreseen their assault. They were obviously skilled, since one of them had even managed to get up behind Tom and put a knife to his neck. Unlike the Greedy Grove bandits, whose faces were familiar to Tom, these bandits wore thick masks that covered their entire heads. The only openings were mouth and eye holes, and shaded goggles covered their eyes.
“Now,” said the one holding Tom. “If you want to make it out of here unharmed, you best listen well. We are going to take your horses and your cart and everything contained within, and you are not going to do anything about it. One of my fellows and I will remain here and watch you both until after that cart has left our sight. If you behave, nothing will happen. If you don’t…”
At this point, the highwayman pressed his knife against Tom’s neck.
“It won’t end well for you.”
The thieves began rummaging through the cart, checking to make sure no one was hidden within and to see what the value of their catch might be. After a couple minutes, the cart shuttered into motion, and the greater part of the bandit group walked along with it. The knife wielder and another bandit remained, just as he said they would. When the cart and its entourage had passed the clearing, Tom and Collin lost sight of them. Collin looked at Tom with hopeful, pleading eyes. He hired the man for just this occasion, and it seemed like it was amounting to nothing. Maybe he would have gotten a better guard if he had offered more. Tom, however, was as stoic as a statue.
Just as they had lost sight of the cart, the rogues accompanying it had lost sight of their unfortunate victims. Tom knew that the knife wielder would soon let down his guard enough to release his captives. As soon as he did, Tom grabbed his arm and slammed him to the ground. Picking up the knife the thief had dropped, he ran to the other guard, who was taken aback by the warrior’s brazen attack on his enemies, and tackled him to the ground, as well, pinning his shirt to the earth with the knife. This thief had a sword, a weapon which Tom was much more adept at wielding. This was fortunate, since the Hardened Tear was taken away from him by one of the others. The other bandit had recovered and was sneaking up behind Tom, but his attempt was unsuccessful, thanks to the warning of the recently released Collin. Tom swung around and punched the man with his right hand. The two men tussled for a while longer, but Tom emerged victorious.
The other man had fled by the time Tom had finished. Fortunately, he had fled towards the cart to get help, and soon the two travelers saw several rogues rushing towards them. Tom counted seven in all. He was sure they had left one or two behind to guard the cart, but it looked like most of them had shown up for the fight. Immediately identifying which one was holding his halberd, Tom targeted him and ran into the group. He had, unfortunately, forgotten about Collin, and three of the bandits had broken off from the group to chase him. Collin found that he could run a lot faster than he previously thought he could. Tom, meanwhile, had managed to retrieve his halberd, much to the chagrin of the bandits, who found out far too late the power hidden within it. It took no time at all for Tom to rid himself of the vagrants. The group was composed of excellent rogues, but terrible fighters, as far as Tom was concerned. Remembering his client, Tom ran to Collin’s aid. These other two bandits seemed much more adept at combat than their companions, and they skillfully dodged Tom’s attacks. As they were keeping him distracted, the third man slowly snuck up behind him and…whack! Collin knocked the man unconscious with a solid blow from his staff. Just then, Tom overwhelmed his two opponents and pushed them away with a powerful water wall. Tom turned around to see what Collin had done.
“Nice job! Maybe you can fight after all, huh?” Tom congratulated him.
“It was only because he was going to attack you. I couldn’t let that happen. Otherwise, I would be down my only defender.”
“Man, that was fun. Let’s do it again!”
“Let’s not and say we didn’t.”
“Let’s get your stuff back!”
Tom charged up the hill, with a frantic Collin following close behind. The man guarding the cart was none other than the knife wielder from before. Upon seeing that the two men who were to be his victims were coming towards him, alive and well, he simply fled. Tom and Collin reclaimed the cart, and, much to Collin’s relief, nothing was missing from it.
“Is that enough danger for you, Collin?”
“That was a bit too much excitement for me, Thomas. Thank you for your help, though.”
“That is what you hired me for. I’m just sorry we couldn’t have avoided the situation altogether. That could have gotten messy.”
“That wasn’t messy?”
“Well, nobody died, and bloodshed was minimal, so I’d say it was pretty clean.”
“You raise a valid point.”
“Listen, after that, I’m not sure how much longer we want to go. It was pretty intense, so I can understand if you want to stop for the night.”
“No, I am fine. We can press on until you feel it is acceptable to stop.”
“Are you sure?”
“Alright, let’s get going, then.”
The two men continued down the road until the world was embraced by dusk. The earlier delay meant that they had not gotten as far as they had originally planned, but Tom had accounted for that possibility. The next day would see them at the White Tower, but for now they would rest.