Week 14, King Smerdis
The morning after our bloody battle with the bandits, the party continues on the south road. Near evening, we come within sight of Khazad. Since this was the headquarters of our late foes, we skirt this city and camp by the roadside well to the south. In the middle of the next morning, we come to a large, paved road coming in from the east -- the Great Silk Road. The south road beyond this point is also paved.
We travel this road for two days, then come to a middling city. There we learn that we are leaving the Old Lapidian Empire for West Chyoxus, and that this city has the last inns on the road. Chyoxans don't do inns; they have public hostels instead. And they have a different monetary system. Also, we are leaving the pseudo-Islamic faith of the Lapidians for a standard polytheism and a greater use of magic. We learn all this from Beygar the Stick, who has been this way before.
We stop in this city for some re-stocking, baths, and desert clothes, then continue south. Two more days later, we cross the uncertain borders of West Chyoxus. Six days later, ten days out from Khazad, we come upon a large pavilion of vermilion and gold. No people in sight.
We approach cautiously. There is a thunderclap, a dustdevil springs up, and quickly resolves into a red-haired dancing-girl. "Welcome in the name of my master!" quoth she. "Come and see the pavilion. He will provide you with enlightenment and refreshment."
While Cantrel conjures himself a magic shield, Wu asks who her master is. "A good and wise denizen of these parts." She backs up toward the pavilion, beckoning. Dubiously, Cantrel, Wu, Tom, and Beygar follow her. The others stay behind, feeling that this is a trap.
The pavilion door-flaps open for the girl. She backs through. Tom stops at the threshold, but Cantrel barrels in, rolls and lands on his feet. Wu tells the others, "Avenge us if necessary," then enters. He does a magical detection and analysis. The whole tent detects magically. There is a misdirection spell on the whole thing, with many other spells hidden beneath. Wu does very well just to detect the misdirection. To the eye, it is luxuriously appointed but completely empty.
Meanwhile the tent flaps have closed behind us. The girl invites Cantrel to open them. It is Beygar who takes her up and finds we are trapped inside. No poking, prying, or peeling opens the flaps or pierces the canvas. Meanwhile, Wu has deduced that, from the outside, the tent probably doesn't detect as magical. The girl mutters something and the flaps open easily, revealing the rest of the party, who had been trying to get IN. "For the next demonstration," she says brightly, "you should be outside." We leave hurriedly.
She incants something else and the whole pavilion rolls up into something the size of a soccer ball. It then unrolls, opens, and a cool breeze wafts out. She says that her master will give us this handy and luxurious tent if we will attempt a certain task. If we succeed, the rewards will be even richer.
We explain that we would have to know what the task is before we promise to attempt it. We also ask wistfully if the tent can be packed into itself, a la pantope. (Huh? No.) She then conjures a high, thin dust-devil, explaining that this is a signal to her master.
Soon, twenty hippogrifs come swooping out of the sky with startling speed. "King Smerdis and his retinue!" the girl announces. The most lavishly dressed rider, King Smerdis, dismounts and enters the pavilion with us. There he explains the task he would set us.
It seems that he has been robbed. A man has taken one of his hippogrifs, a great jewel, and one of his daughters. He wants the thief and the goods back, and he will give us the pavilion just to try. If we succeed, we get our weight in gold. For partial success, we get a proportional fraction of our weight in gold (except for the hippogrif; for that we get the hippogrif's weight). For good information leading to capture, we get our weight in silver. Certain auguries had recommended that he seek aid from a motley party of strangers coming down the south road. (Well, they don't come much motlier or much stranger.)
We go into hasty consultation. How far can we trust all these special effects? How honest is His Majesty? We decide to try for greater surety and something more immediately useful than gold.
We explain to King Smerdis that we have had rough treatment from magicians in the past and ask if we could hear those terms again under a truth-hearing spell. He permits this but is a bit miffed and casts his own lie-detector spell. Good enough.
He is telling the truth, so far as we can determine. He's really been robbed, he really means to reward us, he isn't laying any traps for us. He declines to give us an alliance against the northland wizard we say we are out to get. But when we suggest that our reward be magical weapons and protections rather than gold, he agrees to the terms. We will try this task.
He then briefs us on the crime: It seems the thief teleported into the castle without any obvious magical method. (Or he snuck in, our own thieves consider.) The thief turned the king's magical defenses against him. A slave heard the thief summon the hippogrif with a strange call. The daughter was riding the animal at the time, so that's how she got into the mess, and no one is sure how the gem got stolen. Then the thief, the girl, and the gem all flew away toward the city of Maratesh, yet further south. The king shows us a portrait of the thief, but it isn't very informative.
We collect a scarf of the princess's and the name of her pet cat, so as to establish our credentials with her should we meet her, and set out in search of this thief. We are still wondering if the princess views herself as being kidnapped or as eloping, who the thief might be (the Black Mage for instance), and how any of this relates to the dynastic struggles we've heard were going on around here.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.