Wergild: Chapter Eight: The Road to Zilargo
Chapter Eight of a complete Eberron Novel: Orgok, Brig, and Mith make their way over land to Zilargo.
Chapter 8: The Road to Zilargo
Orgok pulled the vile, evil little craft ashore, cursing, spitting, and ready for blood. While Brig couldn’t speak goblin, he got the idea of what Orgok’s ranting was about. The little boat hadn’t reacted well to the addition to three hundred pounds of warforged, and five hundred pounds of loot. The last two days had nearly seen the little boat sink twice from someone leaning a little too far one way, and the rough waves flooding in over the gunwales.
Brig kept an eye on Orgok as he assisted Mith in unloading the little craft. When the craft was clear, Mith turned it upside down to drain the ocean water.
Everything they owned was wet. Orgok’s eyes were bloodshot from the salt water, and in general he looked exhausted, but to his credit, with no real skill as a sailor, he’d gotten them and their goods to shore in one piece.
“Just take a break, Orgok. You did great. I mean, we got to the village alive, right?” Brig offered, smiling his characteristic grin.
Orgok’s rage finally dwindled, and he stood huffing on the beach. His attention quickly turned to the small wharf, and the nearby village. He turned in that direction. Mith watched him for a moment before speaking.
“Orgok. Maybe you should just come relax for a bit, and let Brig talk to the locals.”
Orgok turned bloodshot yellow eyes, which seemed full of hate, toward the warforged. Brig chuckled at the expression.
“Yeah. Nothing personal, but they’ll take you for a murdering lunatic. Come have a seat. Relax. I’ll go see if I can get interest up in any of our wares.”
The dwarf repositioned his cap, slid a dagger into his belt, and trudged off to the docks. He looked over the modest fishing village, guessing it to hold maybe five hundred inhabitants. The place had a uniform grayness about it that was far from inviting. The wood used in most of the construction had a dead, unwashed color to it. Still, he could smell the cook fires, and see the locals wandering the simple dirt streets. However rustic it might be, it was better than another day on the floating deathtrap.
The harbormaster, a human of great age and poor eyesight, took notice of him, and smiled a mostly toothless grin.
“Zat a dwarf? In these parts? What kin we do fer ye, sir?”
“I need to sell some wares. Who might be buying?” Brig intoned.
The old human rubbed the loose skin under his chin, and crunched one eye closed.
“Might try the general store. If ya need to sell something a bit more exotic,” he said with a bit of emphasis, “there are a few goblins in town that might help ya. In any case, I got to ask ya fer a docking fee. How big is yer boat?”
The harbormaster squinted out across the three docks before him, trying to figure out which boat belonged to the dwarf.
“I came here on a row boat, down the beach,” Brig said, pointing to the craft.
The old human cackled one shrill laugh, and slapped his bony hand on his thigh, then wiped away a small tear from the corner of his eye.
“Ah. We’ll call it a single silver coin for you and yer crew,” he said, chuckling.
Brig paid the harbor master, not liking whatever jest the old man had found in the position he and his companions were in.
“The general store can be found just a block norwest. I don’t recon you’ll need no harbormen to help you unload, will ya?”
Brig ignored the man, and strode off to find the general stores. As he walked, he passed a tavern on the far side of the street. He had to pry his attention away from it and continue his way to the stores.
This street, like the rest of the village he’d seen, was a gray place, with buildings that seemed to consistently lean a little off plumb. The front door of the stores was propped open, and a fat retriever dog lay on a small rug at the entrance. It looked up and gave a half-hearted bark as Brig stepped across the threshold.
The stores appeared to be little more than a barn inside, with an unfinished wooden floor. A small steel-barrel stove sat to one side, supplying a degree of warmth in the cold months, he supposed. Four gnomes tended the store, humanoids that were about three feet tall, or a bit shorter. Brig thought from the look if them, it was a family; the parents and two sons. All around the store, there were short step ladders to accommodate their small stature.
What they lacked in height and brawn, they compensated for with speed. They scurried all over the place, mostly busying themselves with keeping shelves orderly and well stocked.
The elder gnome, a modestly dressed fellow with long sideburns which made him seem more distinguished, greeted the Dwarf. Brig looked down at the gnome, who was easily a head shorter than he was. He hadn’t had much dealing with the small folk, but had found them amiable in general.
“Welcome, sir. Let me know if there’s anything I can help you find,” the gnome said, shaking Brig’s hand firmly.
For being so small, the gnome had a surprisingly forceful grip.
“Well, actually, my friends and I are carrying some wares, and I was hoping maybe you’d give them a look, see if you’re interested in any of it.”
“What have you got?”
“We’ve got some sturdy wool shirts sized for humans, a few good bows, and a fine rowboat, including sail, oars, and harpoons,” Brig said.
The gnome nodded, “Badger, mind the stores, I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
One of the younger gnomes nodded in response.
Brig escorted the gnome toward the waterfront.
“Do you know anyone who deals in arcana here in town?” Brig asked as the two moved near the docks.
Brig pointed to the little row boat, where Mith and Orgok rested. The gnome hesitated a moment, then continued toward the odd pair.
“What sort of arcane? We don’t traffic in Xen’drik artifacts around here.”
“Nothing of that sort. I acquired a spell book. That’s all. It was taken from a campsite miles down the beach that we’d found deserted.”
The gnome looked at the dwarf suspiciously, but finally relented.
“Well, let me have a look at it. Maybe someone would be willing to take it off my hands if I bought it.”
Brig dug into his packs as the gnome examined the rowboat.
“Well, she’s a nice one, well fitted and in good shape. Why are you selling her?”
“The dwarf hates water,” Orgok announced.
The gnome nodded. He turned his attention to the tome that Brig handed him. It seemed ridiculously oversized in the hands of the gnome.
“I’ll give you thirty gold for the boat, ten for those wool goods, fifteen for each bow, ten for that studded leather armor,” he said, pausing to flip through the heavy book, “and two hundred for the spell book.”
Brig leaned against the edge of the rowboat.
“I don’t know boats from apples, but that book you have in your hands is easily worth over a thousand. I’d wager nearer to fifteen hundred. So, while I appreciate your interest, I won’t let the book go for less than eight hundred.”
Orgok raised his eyebrows. He had no idea Brig had found a spell book, let alone one of such worth.
The gnome pulled a pipe from his jacket, and packed it. With a slight gesture, a small flame appeared at the tip of his finger. He touched it to the pipe, and puffed.
“I know a bit about spells myself, and I know my market. The book might be worth fifteen hundred in Sharn, but you’re not in Sharn. I’d be willing to go as high as three fifty.”
Brig snagged the book from the gnome’s grasp, and slid it back into a pack.
“I’d rather tote the thing across the mountains than let it go for anything under seven.”
The gnome grew a pained look, rubbed his forehead, and grimaced.
“I don’t have that kind of coin. I might be able to manage four hundred in coins, another hundred in trade.”
“Four hundred coin, two hundred trade,” Brig countered.
“Four hundred coin, one fifty trade, and that’s my last offer,” the gnome said harshly.
Brig knew the gnome was getting a bargain at anything under seven fifty, but he really was in no place to dictate terms. He held the book in his hands, as if holding a family heirloom, soured his face as if devastated, and handed the book over to the gnome.
“I could change that to three hundred coin, three hundred trade, if you’re so inclined.”
“Do you have horses?” Brig asked.
“Not as such, but everyone in town keeps accounts with me. I could talk to some folks, and arrange for credit in the store in exchange for their horses. So indirectly, I could got them for you.”
“Done and done,” the dwarf said, shaking the gnome’s hand again.
“Don’t ever feel bad about being out haggled by a gnome, son,” the gnome said to Brig, patting him on the shoulder.
Brig shook his head and snorted.
The trio gathered their things, and headed back to the stores with the gnome.
“Feel free to go have a bite over at the tavern. I’ll see if I can arrange for horses. You need three, with harness and such, I take it, right?”
Orgok nodded and pointed over his shoulder to the warforged, “Probably better get a draft horse for this one.”
The gnome scratched on a piece of slate, working out the math, then showed Brig the figures.
“It’s going to be an even four hundred for the horses, with the gear. I’ll throw in a weeks feed for free.”
The gnome counted out three piles of eighty three gold coins, at Brig’s request. Brig handed one to Mith and one to Orgok.
“Now, gentlemen, I think it’s time we go to the tavern for a well deserved tankard, and some warm food,” Brig suggested.
“Here here,” Orgok said smiling.
The trio wandered across the street. Mith tapped Orgok on the shoulder.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” Mith said, indicating the gold.
“Whatever you want. Maybe you could see about getting a better bow, or buy yourself a gold necklace. Give it away to charity if that makes you feel better. But realize that I consider myself a charity, and you can feel free to give me the money. I won’t feel bad about it at all,” Orgok said jokingly, throwing his arm around his comrade.
“However, I would suggest you not wave it around. There might be brigands or cutthroats about,” Brig said softly.
The tavern had no letters on its sign, only a simple painting of a mug with foam spilling out. The group entered the smoky room, filled with simple wooden tables and chairs. Along the left side of the room was a high counter, with stools lined up next to it. A moderately attractive human female stood behind it, filling earthenware mugs from the tap on one of several elevated kegs. Near her was a door, which Brig assumed led to a kitchen. He inhaled the wonderful scent of home cooked food. There were half a dozen people in the place, all of which were bellied up to the bar. Otherwise, the room was empty.
“Hey, boys,” the woman shouted cheerily, “You look new to town. Any news from the outside world?”
“The war is over,” Mith said.
Orgok looked his construct friend over, wondering if he had a mental defect. He and Brig arranged themselves around a low, square table, on round, three legged stools. Mith followed, and emulated their actions, after watching them. He positioned himself cautiously, unsure of the stool’s ability to support his mass.
“Why are we here?” Mith asked.
“That’s a very deep question,” Brig said, chuckling to himself. “Why are any of us here? Philosophers would have us believe…”
“I think he means what are we doing sitting in a tavern,” Orgok cut the dwarf short, before addressing his warforged companion. “Well, see, we fleshy folks like food. I guess you know that by now, and we like good food, when we can get it, but cooking is not a skill I have spent a lot of time with. I suspect the same holds true for Brig. But see, in places like this, you pay other people to make the food, and it’s usually a lot better than what I can do for myself. So, it’s a luxury.”
Mith stared at him, as if waiting for the rest of the explanation.
“What?” Orgok asked, annoyed by the staring eyes.
“Wouldn’t it be more economically feasible to hunt game and learn to cook for yourself?”
Brig pounded the table with his open hand and laughed.
“Yeah, but see, that’s woman’s work where I come from.”
“What do you mean by woman’s work? Don’t all people eat?”
The woman they’d seen behind the bar finally approached.
“What’ll it be, friends? Food’s listed on the chalk board over there. We’ve got two local ales on tap, dark and amber. We got red wine on tap as well. Might have a few bottles from Aundair in the root cellar, if you’ve got fancy tastes.”
Orgok leaned back behind the woman, looking at the board.
“How about some fried potatoes, with bacon, a bowl of whatever chowder I’m smelling, and a pint of dark ale.”
Brig sighed just thinking of feasting on something other than dinosaur or snake.
“Give me a big hunk of cheese, and some bread. And how about stewed cabbage and beef? I’ll have a dark ale as well.”
The woman looked at Mith, and moved away slowly.
“Is it all right if I sit here if I’m not consuming your products?” he asked.
“Yes, it’s alright,” she said laughing.
The waitress returned swiftly with the ales, bread and cheese. Orgok took a long, satisfying pull from his ale, licking the foam from his upper lip.
“Oh, that’s good.”
Brig hastily sliced the bread, and cut a thick piece of cheese. He slathered it with the coarse ground mustard the waitress left, and shoveled the whole mess into his mouth, barely able to chew. He rolled his eyes and groaned in bliss.
Mith sat and watched in silence as the two non-warforged consumed food. He felt strangely excluded in some important ritual of normal living.
When the two had finished, each retrieved a gold coin. The tab was just a hair over one gold. The waitress returned with their change, and each left a generous tip of a silver coin for the waitress. As she began clearing their table, Orgok bowed near the exit.
“Ma’am, I can honestly say that was the best meal I’ve had in months.”
The waitress smiled and swept bread crumbs into a wash pale.
“Are you after something more than food?” Brig asked.
“With a human? Don’t be disgusting.” Orgok scoffed.
The gnome awaited them across the road, with saddled horses ready.
The companions rode northeast along the main thoroughfare leading away from the docks, and came to what was obviously the main road. It was a cobblestone road, wide enough for two carriages. Brig caught a glimpse of a milestone bearing the house Orien mark.
“That’s an Orien maintained highway,” Brig noted, “We’re not going to get far out of town without papers if that’s the only road.”
Orgok wheeled his horse back toward the docks. His companions followed. He scanned the little wharf, and finally spotted what he was looking for. Among the larger humans, there were also a few small goblins skittering about. Orgok dismounted and handed Brig his reins.
“Excuse me, master,” the goblin said humbly when he saw Orgok in his path.
The goblin moved to step around, when Orgok stepped back in his path.
“I’d like a word with you,” Orgok said in the tongue of goblins.
“I done nothing wrong,” the goblin whined.
“I didn’t think you did, but you’re a goblin, and you probably know who I’m looking for. I need papers. Who do I talk to?”
“Try the Gull Wing tavern,” the goblin said, pointing toward a lone building setting some hundred yards down the beach.”
Orgok dropped a copper coin at the goblin’s feet. “You done good.”
The three companions rode down the beach to what looked to be a long decaying boathouse, which now seemed to be alive with music and patrons of all sorts.
Orgok reined in, and turned to Brig.
“We ought to take our horses back up to the general store to hitch them. This place looks pretty rough.”
There was no discussion on the matter. The three rode off to the general stores, returning to the beach on foot minutes later.
Orgok opened the swinging door into the Gull Wing. The smell of spilled ale, and sweat greeted him. The place was a frenzy of activity. In the center of the room, two men fought bare fisted, while the rest of the room formed a ring around the fight, screaming encouragements, insults, and bets.
The trio squeezed in, circling the edge of the room, finally finding a table against the far wall. A burly half-orc female approached. She wore a rough tunic, opened enough to see her ample cleavage and chest hair.
“What’s your poison?” she asked the three.
“Pitcher of ale and two glasses.”
“You want any gear oil for your tin friend?” she said, as she turned to fill the order.
Brig tensed, and Orgok reached across the table to restrain the dwarf. Brig simmered, and finally calmed. When the server returned, Orgok handed over a gold coin.
“You can keep the change if you point out who I should talk to about getting some traveling papers.”
The waitress sank her pronounced teeth into the soft metal of the coin, examined the dents, and tossed her head toward a far table.
“See that man over in the green? That’s your fellow. Ya might want your dwarf friend to do the talking. He ain’t too fond of orcs nor goblin kin.”
“Much obliged,” Orgok said, nodding slightly.
Brig swigged his ale, wiped his mouth with his sleeve, and stood up.
“You guys just cover me, okay?”
With his usual merry demeanor, Brig picked his way across the room to the man in green. Several other beefy humans sat at the table with him.
“Good evening,” Brig said cheerily. “Word has it that you’re the man to talk to about traveling papers.”
“Whose word?” one of the burly bodyguards growled.
“Yon serving wench,” Brig said, still smiling.
“Who needs papers?” The man in green asked.
“Just myself and two retainers. Those two over there, the warforged and the other fellow.”
“Maybe so, but his gold’s the same color as anyone else’s. Either we’re doing business or not,” Brig said forcefully.
“Where are you headed?”
“I’m headed through Zilargo, Breland, Thrane, across Karrnath, to the Mror Holds. My hobgoblin friend may only go through Zilargo to Darguun, but I don’t know yet. Best if things were left open at this point. I suspect the warforged will be going with me, wherever I go.”
“You want to be anyone in particular?”
Brig shook his head.
“Thirty gold coin apiece,” the human said.
His eyes told Brig this was not open for negotiation.
Brig returned to his table, and brought his comrades along to the man in green.
“Follow Gradar here into the back. He’ll see to your needs.”
The day passed with the three outfitting for their trip. Brig thought the papers they now held were excellent. They certainly should be for the cost.
They made camp a little way outside of town, along the side of the highway. The spot appeared to be a well used camp ground. Other travelers, mostly teamsters and other freight haulers were scattered along the stretch, some near enough for Brig to smell their dinners cooking.
“We ought to see if we can hook up with some of these teamsters. If they’re headed toward Sterngate, maybe we can even make a little money while we travel,” Brig mused.
He tossed a twig into the fire, and looked at Orgok and Mith in turn.
Orgok shook his head.
“Not if we want to make good time. Wagon trains are slower than dwarven footmen,” he said with a wicked smile.
“It would be about thirteen days to Trolanport,” Mith calculated. “It would take about another twenty one days to Dragonroost. That would leave us with another nine days to Sterngate, probably with no wagon train traveling there, so we’d be moving at best speed. It would take twenty eight days if we were alone to cover the entire distance.”
Brig and Orgok stared at Mith, marveling at the geographical knowledge.
“Well, I guess the question is ‘are we in any hurry’?” Brig responded. “Are we willing to give up a fortnight for the benefit of getting paid on our way?”
“I’ve got places to go, myself,” Orgok stated. “Of course, you two are free to do what you will.”
“Safety in numbers, I say,” Brig said with a shrug. “Besides, there’s probably not a lot to be made as escort anyway.”
“I’ll wake you two at first light,” Mith said.
The passage through checkpoints at the boarder between Breland and Zilargo went flawlessly.
Mith noticed the sense of relief in his companions.
“What were you both worried about in crossing into Zilargo?”
Orgok pulled his mount close to Mith’s, and spoke quietly.
“Well, see, Brig and I got off a prison galley. In theory, Breland authorities could put us back on one if they were so inclined.”
Mith nodded in understanding.
The highways of house Orien were paved in cobblestone, slightly humped in the middle, and often had troughs at the sides for drainage. The companions became intimately familiar with them as the days rolled by. Every five miles was marked by a large milestone. Travelers were frequent, and as the three neared Trolanport, the traffic became thick.
Mith stared out across the inlet to Zilargo’s capital city. Trolanport stood across the water, a large city, although Mith was certain it was not a tenth the size of Sharn, his city of origin. Trolanport had a huge waterfront. And in fact, the city itself had canals the way most places had streets. The riverbanks for miles in either direction of the city were populated with shipyards, ranging from small family businesses, which accounted for the majority, to huge dry docks, making all manner of great vessel. Several tall towers stood in the city, marking its importance.
The road they traveled on came to a great intersection, where it continued forward and branched east, leading to a huge bridge spanning the inlet into Trolanport. The trio continued north, finally relieved of the heavy traffic.
Four more days passed before they crossed the fords headed toward the crossroads at Quesk, and another two before reaching the village at the crossroads itself. The trio barely slowed in Quesk, a cheerful little village, before returning to the trail.
The horrors Orgok and Brig had faced in the weeks before began to fade, as they days slipped by. The friendly and good natured manner of the gnomes had at first set uneasily with Orgok, who was accustomed to being more guarded. Still, every farmer’s cart they passed, and every little village they passed through seemed to thrive on kindness. The days between Quesk and Dragonroost were pleasant and passed quickly. From there, the trio departed the highways of house Orien, and took to the roads and trails which cut a path across the grasslands toward the hills and finally the Seawall Mountains. They held to a generally northeast course, led by Mith’s seemingly unerring navigational ability.
Eight days into their trek across the less traveled portions of Zilargo, Mith reined in his horse, and climbed from the saddle. Before him was a large stone set into the ground. It was traced with arcane symbols, and crackled slightly with sparks of electricity. Other stones traced a dotted line north and south. The trees of the rolling hills in which they traveled had been removed or neatly trimmed to leave a clear path, about fifteen feet wide following the course of the stones.
“This is the lightning rail line leading to Sterngate. We can follow it the rest of the way. It’s not far now.”