Friday, January 31, 2014

The Old Storeroom

Entering the area marked 'old storeroom' on the map, you find yourself in a long room that slopes about twenty degrees from the right to the left as it shows on the map. The right area is no more than 4 feet high; the left, about eight feet in height, but in general the bottom of the left wall is about eighteen feet below the bottom of the right wall.

The area where the 'key' is indicated is a hole about eighteen inches wide and a foot deep, evidently empty. The 'bug hole' is indeed about five feet in diameter, with unnaturally smooth walls which Maximillian wouldn't think was a beetle. It appears to have been some sort of boring animal, most likely insectoid - beyond that he can't be certain. The bug hole descends about 20 feet within the 40' illumination of the torch (the last twenty feet of that illumination being very dim at best), so that the slope is quite precipitous.

Lukas would think the walls were most likely built by smaller creatures than something nine feet tall. The stones are simply too small for hands of that size. There are small bits of graffiti about, mostly the sort that would be done by children, of small humanoid creatures with stick hands and fingers. The floor is made of pressed, rotted grains, hay, straw, clay, dirt and stones that have been allowed to crumble somewhat over perhaps two or three decades, and is slightly damp.

Aside from the bug hole, there is no sign of an exit.

cross section of bug hole

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Map

Here is the map you find in the Elder Untern's coat.

More Details about the Route

May 3, 1651, morning.
With clear skies and pleasant temperatures, a moderate breeze and a crosswind originating from the southwest, blowing warm air from the Mediterranean.

Untern the Elder & Younger lead the four members of the party into the brush that begins a half-mile east of the road. The going is rough for a time, the brambles are overgrown and you soon realize this is a thorn forest. The Elder explains that they lost the paths they were following when they came to this, and that the effort to find their way without going through it proved fruitless. It was only after pushing through the thorn forest that they found the road.

Once on the other side, upon a low hardwood/spruce tree slope, where the deciduous trees are old and gnarley, the going gets easier. The Elder marks the barren-topped peak a few miles off as his guide, and from time to time it comes into view as you walk along deer trails in a generally northeasterly direction. You stop mid-morning for a drink, and once settled down the Elder chats while the Younger scouts ahead.

"I'm sorry to mislead you," he says. "There were things I didn't want to say until we got into the woods. Not that I don't trust you, but there's those who would take advantage of us." He reaches under his coat's lapel and draws forth a folded mass of paper. "We've got a map, you see. Tells us where the minotaurs are, and speaks of thousands of gold pieces there. Didn't want some thief slipping this out of my pocket in a town. I've learned not to trust towns so much. I'm sorry if I seemed a bit cagey yesterday. Just watching out for myself and my son."

He doesn't show you the map, except very briefly, just long enough for you to see that there is one.

"We should get there sometime about five hours from now, I'm guessin'," he says. "We're on the right side of the valley, that's the main thing. The boy will find our way - there's an old road somewhere along that direction, and we can follow it easily for about six miles. After that, we climb a bit down into the valley, where there's a forgotten temple from Greek days. That's our destination."

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Meeting On the Edge of the Forest

Wednesday, May 2, 1651, mid-morning.
With overcast skies and pleasant temperatures, a light breeze and a prevailing wind.
Last Quarter

The party begins making their way back up the valley towards the Anti-Tarsus mountains, up and over the pass into the plateau of Sebaste once again. They travel through the arid grasslands there until they find themselves once again among the plantations south and north of Sebaste ... only now, the trees have exploded in white, pink, red and orange blooms, so that there are flowers everywhere. The fragrance is overwhelming, and the vision of the landscape spectacular - even Ahmet, who has seen this many times in his life, cannot help feeling his heart softened.

On the second night after Melitene, Sevim woke up screaming in the night. Mist was able to hold her down and steady her, with a bit of water and wiping her brow ... but it has happened four times in the 13 days that have passed since the journey back to the Black Sea began. On one occasion, Mist was struck unconscious by one of Sevim's flailing fists, and I'll just say that it took Andrej issuing a command spell to stop her from hurting herself inside the vardo. It has now, however, been three days since an incident - the last therefore being Sunday. It seems to be no more than horrific dreams, where she is either begging for her life or denying that she's done something.

She has yet to say a word. She will do nothing except fall and bow when Ahmet is in sight, and in order to make her eat she has to be physically dragged away by Mist and Hichem, or Ahmet asked to step out of sight for a time. The woman is completely unable to do anything for herself, but it is clear that Mist is developing some maternal feelings towards Sevim.

The weather very quickly turns warmer after the 20th of April. It is as though the sun were unleashed, for the clouds clear, it rains only lightly now and then, and the weather improves so that it is no worse than cool at night, while during the day it is either pleasant or even warm. The party finds themselves stripping off their coats, rolling up their sleeves, even sweating now and then along the journey when for a time they must do some hard work.

I don't know if Andrej's create food is still supplying all that's needed for the extra two people (but then, Mareo is gone). He'll have to let me go.

On the morning of the 2nd, the party will meet two half-orcs as they move into the hilly forest lands north of Sebaste, where they reckon they're six or seven days from Amisos. The first will be enormous, about 6'2", weighing about 290 lbs. of hard muscle, about 40 years of age; the other will be slightly smaller, and only 20. The youth is about 5'11" and only 200 lbs. They are unusually tall and hefty for half-orcs, and Andrej guesses they might be of a newer generation, almost certainly from more eastern stock than Cumana.

They look pretty worn. They're both in armor, the elder in scale with shield, the younger fellow in ring mail; both are bearing maces and short swords on their belts, with back-packs and rope, grapples, heavy boots and tough woolen cloaks, hoods thrown off their heads. The cloaks are torn, and show signs of blood; they've both been lately wounded, the elder with a gash on his forehead that looks only a day or two old, the youth with his nose broken and bruised, and a wide patch of blood greasing the cloak on one of his shoulders. They haven't washed in perhaps two or three weeks.

The elder approaches a few steps ahead of the other and says, "Travellers, harken a moment."

The younger squawks, "Look, Papa - the half-orc's a Catholic priest."

"Yes, I see that son, shut up."

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Black Ivory Hostel

Monday, April 19, 1651, morning
With overcast skies and brisk temperatures, a light breeze that's a prevailing wind
Waxing Gibbous

Judging that Saturday was spent purchasing items, and Sunday waiting for the Kadi, there being no Sabbath, and Andrej effectively resting and doing no business of his own, it is Monday morning when the 'next day' arrives. For the record, Hichem should have arrived in Melitene last night, but he did not, and there is some concern that he's been waylayed.

The party finds themselves at the Black Ivory Hostel, a medicant's home in the high hills three miles east of Melitene, that Ahmet knows of, though he's never been. The Hostel is a single story collection of plaster and stone rooms that are kept warm with terra cotta pipes and many, many small ovens, so that the party feels almost as though this is the first time they've been able to be warm since last summer in Germany. This despite the brisk weather that still speaks uncomfortably of early spring and late fall.

You expect to wait all day, but it isn't yet noon when you're told of the sound of wheels making their way up the final road to the hostel, just out of sight. You half expect it to be Hichem, but it isn't ... it is a cart, pulled by a donkey led by three men, with a woman sitting in it. Ahmet recognizes without question that it is Sevim.

As it nears, the party gathers to watch it come forward. The men stop the cart forty feet from Ahmet, who has moved forward from the Hostel. There, they let Sevim go. She is wearing a white cotton dress; her hair is free to the wind, dirty and scraggly. She does not resist as she's pulled from the wagon, and her feet do not support her as they touch the ground. She collapses to a kneeling position; she looks around her, uncomprehending. The men simply begin to turn the cart around.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Kadi

The Office of the Tax Collector in Melitene, or rather that of the sub-Vizier in Authority over Central Cappadocia, is a massive round stone and mud building that sits like a beehive at the rear of a court-garden, bounded by single-story dorm-like offices that form a curtain between the garden and the outside world. The party is permitted through the entrance way, to where they are directed to take a seat in the garden. There, they are met by a minor functionary, Fouad, who sets about identifying Ahmet and copying down his claim. From there you are marshalled further along in the garden, to a pond, where you sit in a place in the open (the day is cool), away from trees, and wait.

Eventually, you are met by a higher official, Jaredi al-Koum, who lets you know that Ahmet has been confirmed in his identity, and that the inheritance has been confirmed to exist, but that the matter has been tagged and must be seen first by the Kadi, or civil judge in authority of the case, and that will require his being informed. At this point, the party is moved along further still, to a slightly more comfortable place in the garden, nearer the beehive, which rises fifty feet in the air and from closer inspection appears to be covered with brown and gray mosaic stones. You are given a drink, allowed to rest on benches in shelter by the trees, and another great period of time passes, while you wait.

A minion appears to let you know the Kadi is looking over the document, and mentions the Kadi's name - Al'Azam Yacak Nazir - in passing. At this point, Ahmet's ears prick up. Yacak was the name of someone he knew when he was very young, only thirteen or fourteen, the sun of the quarter's chief grocer. He also knew Sevim, and as Ahmet remembers, was very fond of her. Yacak and Ahmet did not like each other very well, mainly because Yacak was weak-hearted and emotional, unable to train as a fighter and somewhat prideful about his father's importance, a belief with which few agreed.

The party is, at last, permitted to see the Kadi. He dwells in a very comfortable chamber within the bee hive, with a stone floor and a brazier which keeps the room warm and comfortable. It does turn out to be the very same Yacak that Ahmet has not seen in decades - he has aged, and the years have not been kind. His skin shows some yellowing that suggests the use of opium; he is thin and much of his hair is gone. His ears, never an attractive feature, now jut from his head and flap when he speaks, like wet cabbage. His eyes are sharp, however, and distrustful, and his tone is condescending and remorseless, as someone who has had opportunity to be cruel often.

The party is directed to hard benches, while Yacak sits on a sofa, reclined upon pillows, chewing dates. "We thought you dead, Ahmet," he says, having made his greetings.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Melitene At Last

Friday, April 16, 1651, afternoon
With overcast skies and cool temperatures, a light air and a prevailing wind.
First quarter

The party wakes at Yazigi's hut on the 15th, the wind descending to a light breeze, and leave Hichem behind to deal with the wagon and to procure a mule. The party strikes out, descending down a steep valley between outcroppings of the Anti-Taurus mountains on the left or right, rising eight or nine thousand feet. At Darende, reached in late morning Thursday, the land flattens to a great wide plateau filled once again with fruits, plantations and farmers sowing cereal crops. From there to Melitene there's a great many people, with the party encountering traders, caravans, scholars, pilgrims, soldiers, patrols and carters. Everyone is friendly, offering knowledge and directions, pointing out the mountain range rising majestically and snow-covered to the south and east as the Taurus, those left behind as, I said, the Anti-Taurus.

The party is held up outside of Akcadag in the late afternoon, as Janisaries there are searching for a party of criminals. The party is searched and sent on its way, but by then the sun has set and Melitene is still 20 miles away. You consider seeking lodgings in Akcadag, but one of the pilgrims you have met along your way offers you a free meal and rest in a garden they know south of the town, only a mile out of your way. You follow (just to keep this campaign on its way) and find a lush, green garden with grass like carpet, with fruits, almonds and chestnuts. The pilgrims tell tales of the Crusaders when they marched through these lands, of the capture of Edessa by Baldwin of Flanders, and of the days when the Sultanate of Rum, created by Turkish invaders from the east, controlled all this country.

So it is at the start of the afternoon, after a friendly but difficult to complete goodbye, that the party gets back on the road again and makes their way, at last, to Melitene. Virtually every bit of ground within site of this city is cultivated, there is no wild country at all that you see, and the city is large, a great mass of enclosed and indestinguishable buildings set upon a single shield-like hill, well known as The Fortress of Cappadocia. All around to the south are hills in a half circle beyond the city's plain, with very high mountains (still the Taurus) to the southeast, and a spreading plain (the Dove river basin) spreading out and down to the north. Distandly, fifty miles away, the party can make out the Anti-Taurus to the north.

Ahmet knows the city, but I'll explain that the streets are like a maze, the buildings having grown together completely. Platforms, passageways and bridges cross between the buildings high over the streets, even the widest boulevards, so that all the ways through the town seem like tunnels more than streets. The people are dressed extravagantly, no one seems to be poor, and EVERYONE seems anxious to sell something. Melitene is a market town, and I will post prices if needed, but to buy seems less a process of going to a shop to see what's available, and more of walking down the street and being continuously harrassed.

There are Chinese here, Indians, Africans, Russians, Italians, Greeks, and quite a few half-orcs sorted through the population, but all the people actually selling seem to be Turks. The city is a crossroads between two silk roads out of the east, the north and south roads, and business retail seems to the desired purpose to everyone's existence.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Yazigi's Hut

Yazigi leads the party two miles to his abode, a small circular domicile in the woods, where the ground is covered in old hazelnuts and leaves left over from last autumn, concealing treeroots that the party trips over before learning to recognize where they are. The domicile is large enough for sleeping no more than four persons, and is made of mud and plaster, supported in places by pillars of stacked rocks. It appears, for all the world, that Yazigi and his compatriot Hayund, the orc, may have built it themselves.

Hichem settles the vardo and all is done that can be done to wrap Mareo, before you're invited into the hut to eat and warm yourselves. There's room enough for all to sit inside.

He has a haunch of goat that has been slow-roasting on the fire, a circular pit in the center of his hut, and around the outside of the fire pit there is a small dog, only 9 inches high, that apparently has been walking in a circle for perhaps hours, turning the meat, that hangs on a metal frame suspended over the fire. Yazigi takes a sack that hangs outside, yet under the eave, about the size of a back pack, and draws from it unleavened bread. He teaches the party - though Ahmet, of course, knows the method - to catch the drippings from the meat on the bread. Hayund cuts slices from the meat to add to the repast, and all settle comfortably.

Eventually, Yazigi brings up the conversation around, saying, "I must tell you, Ahmet, that Ramazan has been cast from the faith. His whereabouts are unknown, and his family lives in shame, having been driven out of Melitene. All is not as you remember."