Witch Queen of Perrenland

Kirk and Aaron were just two travelers hoping to find adventure in Greyhawk’s most notorious drinking establishment. Little could they have known that adventure would find them just a few feet from the Green Dragon. Joined by the mysterious and tight-lipped merchant Rarsirrien, a female thief, and a disgraced Paladin, they become caught up in a plot to thwart the infamous and evil Iggwilv from obtaining the secret to immortality. To do so, they must breach the magically protected borders of the secretive Valley of the Mage. If they succeed, they will have to find Iggwilv’s agents while avoiding detection by the most powerful spell caster on the continent. Discovery will mean capture and death, and failure will mean the loss of countless lives to Iggwilv’s cruel experiments. But in the Valley of the Mage, not everything, nor everyone, is as it appears. Along the way, our heroes will have to confront the demons of their past and a few in the present. If they succeed, their reward will be freedom, fame, and the riches that come from it.

Rarsirrien

Rarsirrien

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Rarsirrien looked the pair over, and Kirk and Aaron cautiously lowered their swords. “We need to have a chat. However, this isn’t a conversation that should be had in an alley. Come.” He walked past them and headed back towards Cargo Street. Aaron and Kirk looked at each other. Finally, Kirk broke the silence.

“You heard the man. Follow him.” He started in the same direction.

“Follow him?” Aaron asked incredulously. “You do know he is the same guy who was staring at me in the Green Dragon.”

“You have a better idea right now? He just took out two large armed men without a sound or drawing a sword. I’m willing to hear the man out.” With that, he turned and disappeared around the bend after Rarsirrien.

Aaron sighed. Then he noticed Kirk was out of sight. He took off at an easy run to catch up with the two men.

Rarsirrien walked through the city up to the gates leading into the Garden Quarter and led them to a large stone and wood building on Welkwood Boulevard. As he entered, both Kirk and Aaron stopped and looked at one another. This was no slum dwelling. They were in a very affluent area of the city full of artisans, diplomats, and high society.

“Not at all what I expected,” Kirk said softly.

“Yeah…,” muttered Aaron, still trying to take it all in.

“Come in, gentlemen. Have a seat, please.” Rarsirrien gestured to a pile of thick pillows that lay spread out on the floor around a brazier with burning coals.

The pair sat down and loosened their swords from their belts and laid them on the cool marble floor next to them. Rarsirrien watched Aaron remove his sword and stared at it for a few long moments before addressing them.

“I don’t normally invite fools who try and get themselves robbed on the way home from the pub into my home. But,“ he paused and looked each of them over before continuing, “in your cases, I’m prepared to make an exception.”

Kirk’s eyes narrowed. “Why?”

“Why don’t I invite fools, or why am I making an exception?” He didn’t give Kirk a chance to answer before continuing. He waved his hand dismissively and walked over to a small table with wine and glasses. “No matter. It’s a good question either way and one that has a longer answer than you may expect. Drink?” He held out two glasses of wine.

They took them slowly and with eyebrows raised and waited until Rarsirrien took a sip from his glass. “Feel better? It’s not poisoned. I didn’t save your skins just to kill you myself. Certainly not here in my own home. The mess, after all. Much neater if I had killed you in the alley.”

“So why did you help us?” asked Kirk.

“Because I was curious. About your friend at first,” he said, nodding in Aaron’s direction, “but then about you as well. I think I know you. If I’m right, your parents had a shop not far from Cobbler street. As I recall, the two were murdered by an extortionist named Gaxhaj, and you spent your early years here getting in a bit of trouble before a relative was found and able to come and take you.”

Aaron, who had been looking around the room at the various artwork, now glanced at Kirk, who made no indication whether Rarsirrien was right or wrong. He didn’t have time to focus on Kirk long as he suddenly found himself the topic of the conversation.

“As I said, your friend is the one who initially attracted my attention, and I’m sure he’ll attract more the longer he remains here.”

“Why’s that?” Aaron was immediately suspicious and more than a little uncomfortable at being the focus of attention.

“Because you’re what I’d call…a paradox. Oh, half-elves are common enough around the city. You couldn’t swing a dead gnome and not hit one, but not one with olive skin, green eyes, a Sunndi dialect, and a sword in a scabbard with the markings common to the Rangers of the Gnarley Forrest. No, I’d say your mixed parentage includes an elf mother and a father who was a Ranger. How those two came to meet would be an interesting tale in and of itself, but then there is the dialect. So how does an Elf and a Gnarley Forrest Ranger manage to have a half-elf child who grew up Sunndi?”

He drained his glass, poured himself another, and then sat across from them and pulled his pipe from a pocket inside his robe and a small pouch of tobacco leaf and began repacking it. Both Kirk and Aaron sat and watched in silence. Their guest was very observant and evidently well-traveled or had encountered enough people to be able to pick up traits giving him clues to parentage and origin.

Kirk glanced at Aaron. He knew the half-elf was different, but he never really paid attention to just how different. He assumed Aaron’s darker skin was a result of hours spent outdoors. He knew he was from Sunndi, and they had met in Oldred. That was a journey of several weeks under the sun. He just assumed.

Aaron noticed Kirk’s gaze, “What’s that look for? You’re starting to make me uncomfortable.” He turned to Rarsirrien, “Yes, my father was a ranger, but he never mentioned the Gnarly Forrest. I don’t know much about his past. He never really spoke about it. It’s true, though; my mother is an elf. She was captured by orcs from the Pomarj. My father was hired to help guard a caravan that was passing through when they came upon the orc raiding party and killed them. They freed my mother and several other prisoners who’d been captured. I always thought she wanted to get as far away from the Pomarj as possible. “

“How do you know so much about us?” Kirk interrupted.

“Oh. I’m a collector of sorts, and I like to observe people as a hobby. I deal with traders and merchants from all corners of the Flanaess. I collect,” he paused, “special items. And information. Knowledge is also power. More wine?” He held out the crystal decanter to Kirk, who took it and refilled his and then Aaron’s glasses.

“You can learn a lot through observation. For example, I can tell you’re right-handed. I have the advantage of having known your parents, and I knew that after their death, you spent time here in an orphan’s home before a distant relative came and took you back with him to Oldred. I can see you were once a Captain of the guard there.” He paused, noticing Kirk’s expression, “the sword. It’s standard issue for the Oldred City Guard, and I guess that you were at least a Captain because they are the only ones allowed to keep their issued weapon after they leave or finish their service.”

Aaron took the glass and set it beside him. He removed the glove from his sword hand and tucked it into the pocket of his cloak, and picked his glass up.

Rarsirrien noticed the small silver ring on Aaron’s pinky finger for the first time. “That’s a nice piece of work,” he waved his hand dismissively, “fine craftsmanship though otherwise unremarkable.”

“What?” asked Aaron.

“Your ring. Silver strands are interwoven with that small piece of turquoise stone inset. Not worth much, I’m afraid, but then I’m not much interested in rings. No, I’m more interested in swords. Yours in particular.”

The ring belonged to Aaron’s mother, Ondoher. She had given it to him when he had left. Something to remember her by, she had said. Aaron was slightly tenser now and drew his sword closer to him. Their host had a remarkable eye for detail. Aaron wasn't sure what his game was just yet, but he didn’t want to get caught unprepared.

Rarsirrien evidently sensed Aaron’s apprehension. “Have no fear. I don’t intend to rob you of it. As I said, I could have just as easily killed you and taken it in the alley.” He paused and took another sip of wine. “Just out of curiosity, have you noticed anything peculiar about it?”

Aaron’s brow furrowed, “What do you mean, peculiar?”

“I mean anything out of the ordinary about it. Do you notice if your senses seem more attuned or understand things more clearly, does it react to the presence of any type of animal?”

Aaron was even more suspicious of their host and his motives now. “No, nothing. Just an ordinary sword. It was my father’s.” He lied. He had noticed some odd things when holding the sword, but he had chalked them up to his imagination, but now that Rarsirrien had asked, he began to suspect that perhaps there was more to his father’s sword than he knew.

“Hmph.” Rarsirrien took a long pull on his pipe and exhaled slowly, the smoke drifting slowly upward to hang above him like a low cloud. “I’m considered a rather knowledgeable person in regards to magical items and, in particular, swords. Especially ones with special abilities. It’s a hobby of mine. Perhaps passion is a better word. I thought I recognized the markings on yours. I might be wrong and could be just a copy of another sword.”

“I’m sure that must be it,” said Aaron, now resting his hand on his sword.

“There are many magical weapons in the world,” said Rarsirrien. He stood and walked to a wall where several swords, shields, daggers, and maces were hung. “Most aren’t all that special because the spells used to create them, or the spell caster, weren’t all that powerful. However,” he took a longsword similar to Aaron’s off the wall and held it, “there are a handful that are legendary. Ancient relics were forged by great craftsmen and enchanted with powerful spells for a special purpose. Those are very, very rare. Many have been lost to the ages. Take the Five Blades of Corusk, for example.” He hung the sword back on the wall. “Five ancient blades created by barbarian magic and now lost. Their magic blocks any attempt to use magic to locate them. Many believe that they are no longer in this world but are lost on some other plane of existence. Of course, some less scrupulous spell casters have tried to create fakes. Hoping to sell them to some unwitting fool who would be willing to believe that anyone could truly put a price on, or part with, such an item. Others hidden deep in dungeons are illusions. Traps to lure foolhardy adventurers and treasure seekers to their doom. Some say there are still ancient magical relics hidden in the depths of the ruins of Castle Greyhawk.”

Rarsirrien walked over and stood before Aaron. He held out his hand, and Aaron could see he was wearing a ring with a stone that seemed to be filled with blue smoke. “May I see your sword? I give you my word I have no intention of stealing it from you.”

Where was Rarsirrien going with this? Aaron glanced at Kirk, who merely shrugged. “I don’t see what harm it could do. Knowing if your father’s sword is enchanted might be interesting.”

Aaron stood and handed the sword to Rarsirrien, who took it and held the ring against it.

“Well?” said Aaron.

“Interesting. The hilt, crosspiece, and pommel appear to be made of adamantine. My ring has a detect magic spell cast upon it so that if it touches a magic item, the stone should change color.”

“Did it?” asked Kirk.

“No.”

“So it’s not enchanted,” said Aaron.

“No, that’s not what I said…interesting. The detect magic spell was dispelled.”

Aaron’s brow furrowed again, and his eyes narrowed. “What does that mean?”

“It means that your sword dispelled my ring’s magic to prevent detection.” He drew the sword from its scabbard and studied the blue steel blade for a moment. He turned the blade in the candlelight, trying to see all the markings clearer. Then he was able to see some of the runes. His eyes widened, and he hurriedly sheathed the blade and handed it back to Aaron.

“What’s wrong?” asked Aaron.

“I think you should keep this hidden as best as possible. Better would be to try and disguise it.”

“Why? What is it?”

“I’m not positive, but I have an idea. The less you know, for now, the better,” Rarsirrien told them.

Suddenly there was the sound of glass breaking against the front door, followed by a sudden sheet of flame and searing heat. Aaron and Rarsirrien turned to face the only other exit, an arched doorway leading out to a stone patio, while Kirk jumped to his feet. They saw several shadows pass before another sheet of flame spread across the exit to the terrace.

Trapped. Or so it appeared.

Rarsirrien moved to the wall with the swords and took the long sword he had been holding just minutes ago off the wall. Then he placed the tip into a small gap near the bottom of the wall and turned the blade. There was a click and then the sound of stone on stone as a section moved slightly inward. Rarsirrien pushed it the rest of the way open.

“Had this made years ago. Never had to use it.” Then he motioned Aaron and Kirk to go through before following them and pushing the wall section closed behind him.

It was pitch black at first, and neither Kirk nor Aaron could really see anything; then suddenly, a series of torches began to burst into life. Rarsirrien pushed past the pair and led them down a set of stairs. Aaron sensed that they were about twenty feet below ground level when the stairs ended and in a stone tunnel almost four feet wide.

“This way. Quickly. It won’t take them long to figure out we must have another way to escape once we don’t come running outside.” The trio ran along the tunnel for several minutes. It was hard for Aaron to keep his bearings through the twists and turns. Eventually, the tunnel they were in ended in what appeared to be a dead end. Rarsirrien felt along several stones near the top, then paused and pressed one of them. There was a groan as a section of the wall moved outward, and the tunnel they had been in merged with another series of tunnels. These were different in construction. Older and out of brick, not the smooth stone like the one under Rarsirrien’s home.

“We’re in a part of the old sewers now,” Rarsirrien whispered. “We need to move quickly. This way.” He started off and took a branch of the tunnel that went to the right as the section of the wall closed behind them.

The three moved as quickly and as silently as they could. Kirk and Aaron followed their host and were now forced to trust him. After nearly half an hour and countless twists and turns, no sound of pursuit was behind them. Finally, they came to a section with some faint light streaming down and a ladder of metal rungs anchored into the wall leading up. Rarsirrien started up, and when he reached the top, he paused and slowly lifted the (hatch) open just enough to peer through. The opening was into what appeared to be a dimly lit storeroom. He glanced around, and once he was satisfied there was no one around, he made his way out, then turned and reached down to help them up.

They found themselves in a small, narrow room full of barrels of beer and wine and other foodstuffs. Kirk recognized the markings on one of the barrels. “We’re back in the Green Dragon!”

“Shh.” Rarsirrien was looking out the door to see if the coast was clear. Once he was satisfied it was, he motioned for the others to follow, and they stepped into the kitchen, which was empty for the moment, save for stacks of dirty dishes and mugs.

Aaron glanced around, “Is there a back way out?”

Rarsirrien looked at the two, “Unfortunately, no. There is only one way in or out of the Green Dragon, and that’s by the front door.”

“Wait for a second; you led us into an escape route with only one exit?” Kirk said, shaking his head.

“The owner and operator of the Green Dragon are both friends of mine. They showed me the secret door in the storeroom, but I only ever expected to be escaping from the Dragon, not into it.” Just as Rarsirrien finished, the door to the bar opened, and in walked a middle-aged woman with an arm full of dirty dishes. She gasped and dropped her arms to her sides. The sound of plates crashing to the floor could be heard over the noise of the crowd out front. Apparently, the patrons heard it, too, as there was suddenly thunderous applause, cheers, and whistles.

“Sorry, Flo. Didn’t mean to startle you,” Rarsirrien said apologetically. “ I’ll pay for the damaged dishes, but right now do you think you could help us get out without attracting too much attention?” he asked. “Ricard showed me the secret exit in the storeroom. I’d love to explain, but there’s no time. Please trust me.”

Florence was gathering the pieces of broken glass together on the floor with a small broom. She jerked her head towards the back wall, where several baskets of dirty towels and aprons hung.

“Put those on. A few empty barrels need to be taken out for the morning pick-up. Don’t expect anyone would pay much attention to the help carrying empties out.”

Rarsirrien followed her gaze and spotted a sack with dirty aprons and bar towels. He grabbed three, put one somewhat stained one on, and passed the other two to Kirk and Aaron. Then they each picked up an empty ale barrel and placed it on their left shoulder so that they hid their faces.

Florence held the door open so that they could make their way behind them around the bar. “And don’t drop ‘em. We’ve got to pay for damaged ones,” she said with a snort, then let the door slam behind them.

The trio made their way through the now-thinned crowd, which took no notice of them, and out the front door back into Cargo street, where they had been just hours earlier. There were already several empty barrels sitting against the wall, and so they stacked the other three neatly and carefully with the others.

Rarsirrien and Kirk looked up and down the street while Aaron scanned the rooftops for anything suspicious.

Rarsirrien pulled Kirk and Aaron close. “Looks like we’ve had a bit of luck and managed to duck our firebugs for the moment. Let’s press our advantage. I know a safe house not far from here near the docks.”

“Who are our ‘firebugs’?” Aaron asked, taking the apron off and stashing it behind the barrels.

Rarsirrien followed suit. “First, we make sure we’re safe. Then we ask questions.”

Kirk removed his apron and placed it with the others. The three then headed off down Cargo Street towards the city gate and then down to the docks, where rows of warehouses stood dark.

D A STEMPNAKOWSKI

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