Ingr Gilrid, Priestess of Torag in the Dwarven City of Kovlar had deemed it prudent to keep the group in the Temple as guests until she could make arrangements to send the group out on a quest to redeem Ox’s name, and thereby his families name. During that time, she kept Ox under close lock and key, encouraging him to sit in prayer in her private chapel to Torag.
As for the rest of the party, she encouraged Surya to venture out into the city and meet with the dwarves, for MANY of them are mindful of the poor reception she has received. Some of those who have offended her have gone so far as to offer her gifts in return for her forgiveness… a very dwarvish sentiment. Being raised as a prima donna in a rich merchant’s house in Qadira, Surya is not beyond such sentimentalities herself. Although her complexion is one that does not tolerate the harsh wools, linens, and leather of dwarven tailors and tanners, Surya was able to appreciate the fine fur coats that were presented to her in her favor.
With the winds of good fortune blowing in her favor, Surya also sought to develop relations with the local guilds as well. She spoke once more to the mining guild, who received her quite warmly this time – taking her immediately up the gilded staircases to the leaders of the organization. They treated her with dignity and respect and took her request for dwarven miners quite seriously.
She was not at all pleased with the terms they offered – 1/3 of the take for the miners, 1/3 for the guild, and 1/3 for the landowners. This seemed a paltry share from for her OWN gold mine! The guild, however, insisted that they have learned by experience that NON-Dwarves do a pathetic job of maintaining the infrastructure necessary for a good mine, so the 1/3 for the guild was imperative for these purposes.
When she what they meant about infrastructure, they replied, “Building smelters and forges, smithies and stonemasons. Engineers, surveyors, geologists, and appraisers. The building of outer walls and fortifications. The planning and placing of roads. Not to mention funding construction of houses and taverns and shops and storehouses. Dwarves don’t just leap into a hole and dig, like kobolds. It may seem to human-folk that we chew on ore and crap gold, but it ain’t that simple… if it were, I’da lost my teeth YEARS ago!”
Before she could mention it, the Guild Leader declared, “And as for the miner’s share? Well, that’s standard. The Dwarven miner in an established dwarven settlement gets a share of ¼ of the take. This is bumped up to 1/3 for any miner in a pioneer claim… unless, of course, it’s his own claim. You go any less than 1/3 and you won’t get anyone to bite. Besides, greed makes the pick swing harder.”
Surya felt as if they were on the verge of making a deal, but the Guild Leader then said, “The only problem is the company you keep. I would never ask you to turn your back on a friend, but I just can’t do business with a… well… there’s not a good word for it. Any dwarf that associates with a human who associates with… well, its sort of a deal breaker, lass. I know it is something you may not understand, and that’s to yer credit – and frankly I’m glad to know that forgiving human folk like yerself are out in this world. But, I wouldn’t do right by the guild to make a deal with you. Maybe things will change, but I can’t see how.”
As per Ingra’s instructions, Surya kept quiet about Ox’s revival. She simply nodded her head and continued the conversation in more pleasant terms. Surya found the same circumstances when she met with the stonemason’s guild, and the smithies guild, and the jeweler’s guild, and the tanner’s and tailor’s and merchant’s guilds. They were all pleasant, welcoming the Priestess of Sarenrae whom their people had so rudely offended with open arms, good cheer, and free sausages. Yet they all balked at any future deals with a human (no matter how gentle-spirited and good-natured) who would travel with the likes of Ox Gilridslagsun.
Over the next ten days the gifts piled up at the doorstep of the Temple of Torag. With each gift was a note attached, “For the Dear Lady of Sarenrae, May the Purest Fires of the Goddess give strength to the Forge of Torag – TO ANY SLAGSUNS, KEEP YER MITTENS OFF!”
Such notes were easily respected when it came to the furs and leatherworkings that were piled at the door, but the warnings were also tacked to kegs of fine beer, wheels of stout cheese, hard candies and well cured sausages. Ox, however, was keenly focused on his redemption and was otherwise sated by the excellent beers, cheese, hearty breads, pastries, and meat from Ingra’s larder.
As for Sebastion and Ping? They did not have much money in their pockets, and not one dwarf would consider giving them a copper farthing in credit. Neither did anyone in town seem all that interested in talking to them. So they mainly lounged about in the temple common room, eating cheese, sausage, and meat pastries and drinking beer (all of which was the common fare for those living in the temple) while passing the time away playing cards with the off-duty guards.
After ten days of lingering in the city of Kovlar, Ingra declared that preparations were ready and it was time for the party to move out to Highhelm. The night before they were to set out the Guild Leaders insisted on throwing the Lady of Sarenrae a farewell feast. It was not a raucous event, but a large table was sat with many esteemed guests in attendance. Speeches were made, toasts were given, and good cheer was passed forth to all. Sebastion and Ping were also welcomed to this farewell feast, even though the two were seated nearby at the children’s table (for those Dwarves under 25 who still had but stubble on their chins). Nevertheless, they were given adult sized tankards, so it was not long that they couldn’t care less WHERE they were seated.
At the end of the dinner, when everyone was as snockered as paste but still standing, Ingra (who was a little more than drunk herself) stood at the end of the table. In what might have been a tear-wrenching speech, had it not been for the drunken drooling and slurring of speech, Ingra presented Surya with a gift as a token of respect on behalf of all the Guilds and the entire population of Kovlar:
A dwarven crafted Scimitar (+2 Cold Iron Holy Scimitar). Surya (after three tankards of dwarven ale) accepted the scimitar with all the grace of the girls from Jersey Shore. But everyone was drunk, so what the heck.
The next morning, after a few draughts of Torag’s hangover cure, the party set out for Highhelm. Ingra made sure they left very early in the morning so no one in the city would see Surya walking with Ox (which could have tarnished their good favor of her). They wound their way through town to the main tunnel leading to High Helm. Waiting in the darkness was a padded cart being pulled by a pair of mules – their taxi to Highhelm through the darkened tunnels. They traveled down the tunnel for no more that five minutes when a dwarf stepped out of the shadows and waved the cart to stop. The two drovers, called out to the dwarf, “Who are you? What do you want? State yer business!”
The dwarf replied under a darkened hood, “My business is none of yours, and I wish only to speak with one of your passengers.”
Thinking the dwarf was referring to the Cleric passenger, the drover waved him to the back of the cart. Everyone was surprised when the strange dwarf waved Ox over to speak with him.
Ox, not really having fear of neither man nor beast (except spiders… yeah, those fucking trapped door kind! Those are pretty creepy), walked to the strange dwarf and addressed him plainly, “What will you have of me then?”
“Good fortune to you cousin!” the strange dwarf whispered.
Ox beamed a smile. Toma was his favorite cousin – the two boys grew up veritably chewing on the same strap of leather. Ox’s smile turned immediately to a scowl, “Are you daft, cousin!” he hissed, “What if someone sees you talking to me!”
Toma nodded, “It shames me to hide my faith in you Ox, but I am sneaking about not for my sake but for ma and pa’s. Still, Ingra told me what you have planned and I couldn’t let you leave with out giving you this.”
Toma handed Ox a fine, blue sack (Type III Bag of Holding: 150 ft3). “Ingra said you were gathering orc heads… well, this should hold quite a few! I crafted it myself.”
Ox choked back a tear, for it was the most genuine act of kindness towards him that he had known from a dwarf since before he was cast out. “I… I don’t know what to say…”
Toma patted his cousins shoulder. “There’s some fireblade oil in there as well. Put just a little on your axeblade and it will burn through an entire fight. I wish I could do more for you cousin, but you know how it is. Anyway, go lop off some orc skulls and come back a hero! Then we can celebrate for real!” (Oil of Flaming Burst; 6 charges; 10 minutes per charge)
The two dwarves grasped shoulders in salute and then they turned away. Ox hopped onto the cart and it rolled down the cave, while Toma pulled his hood over his eyes and blended into the darkness.
I took two days to reach Highhelm, with no encounters on the way save for tunnel guards and traveling carts, wagons, and merchant caravans.
They reached Highhelm late in the evening, and they rushed through the near empty streets. Surya asked the drover where a reputable inn might be where they could stay the night, but the drover informed her that his orders were to take them directly to Captain Hoarfürst aboard the Guilded Pike, the ship that was the next vessel of their journey. So quickly, the troop journey through Highhelm’s darkened streets (passing without notice the greatest occupied Dwarven city in the world) and straight to the docks.
The Guilded Pike was a formidable Dwarven Longboat with 40 oarsmen and the complementary crew. Most were wrapped in blankets, sheltered under their oarsman benches. Captain Hoarfürst greeted the troupe as they came on board. The talk was polite and swift – Surya was given the Captain’s quarters while the rest (including the Captain) were to sleep in the shelter in the aft compartment. They had not yet fully resupplied, so they would be in dock for at least one more day. Captain Hoarfürst was intent on pushing off at the crack of dawn, the day after tomorrow. This suited the group, as there were still a few supplies of their own they wanted to procure from town.
“Before you do,” Captain Hoarfürst explained, “There are a couple of gifts that were sent ahead for each of you, compliments of the Church of Torag. And before you ask, YES… they are paying the bill for this ship as well, so you can’t rest assured that you are in good hands, Blessed be the Highfather!”
The Captain took the group to his quarters and unraveled a large tied bundle. “You’re going to be going into Orc country in about the worst time, but what’s bad for you is going to be worse for Orcs… as long as you got the right gear!”
Inside the bundle were four sets of gear. A large fur lined cloak that was as white as bleached snow (Snow cloak – non-magical, +5 stealth in snow/blizzard conditions); a pair of bone goggles that tied in the back with a long slit to see through (Snow goggles – non-magical, -2 visual Perception; immune to snow blindness), and a fur lined pair of boots (Boots of the Winterlands – magic item, see core rules).
And finally, once the sets of gear had been parceled out, all that was left of the bundle was a single compass. Captain Hoarfürst picked up the compass, “This little item is your ticket to victory… or to getting your head bashed in. About two hundred years ago a dwarven expedition into the Hold of Belkzen was led by a noble dwarven lord from the Tirriark Clan, a family from down south in Taggoret. Well, suffice to say that none returned from that expedition.
“About ten years after that expedition, the Tirriark’s decided to venture out to see about recovering the dwarven lord’s axe, and in the process maybe recover his remains as well. So, they made this little compass to search out that axe. Problem was, the compass was taking them deep into orc territory – there was no way that they were going to recover the axe where it had been sending them.
“After about 50 years of waiting for an opportune time to go for the ax, the clan leaders decided to hand the matter over to the Church of Torag. From what they say, by their recollection the axe is now in as good a position as any to make a go at retrieving it, and Ingra thinks that your search for redemption makes you the ideal candidate to do it.
“So… let the compass guide you to the band of orcs who have the axe. Kill the orcs, take the axe, find some way to bring back their heads, and then we can send you home a hero!”