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.

Bissel

The Margrave of Bissel

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Rarsirrien led the pair through now-empty streets leading down to the docks along the Selintan River. In a few hours, this area will be bustling with activity as men work to load and unload barges traveling to and from towns downstream. The river is the lifeblood of trade for the free city. Much of the food comes to the city over water as it is faster and often safer than over land. In the early morning, everything was quiet, and only a few fishermen were preparing their nets for the day’s work.

They turned down a narrow gasse and walked past a few dark warehouses when Rarsirrien suddenly stopped at a darkened doorway. He pulled a key from inside his cloak, unlocked the door, and ushered them inside. Once inside, he locked the door again and led them between crates and boxes.

“Where are we?” Aaron whispered.

“Warehouse,” Kirk answered back.

“Not helpful,” replied Aaron sharply.

“What we’re going to be is dead if you two don’t keep your voices down,” Rarsirrien snapped.

They moved carefully between the rows of boxes, trying to be as silent as a thief. Rarsirrien had led them to the back of the warehouse, where several large wooden crates were sitting on the dusty floor. He went to the larger one on the right and lifted it up slightly. Underneath was an opening and a ladder leading down.

“Not back underground. I’m beginning to feel like I should have been born a dwarf,” complained Aaron. Still, he slid under the crate and crawled down the ladder. At the bottom, he found himself in a larger underground room. Kirk followed behind, and then Rarsirrien. Before letting the crate back down, Rarsirrien reached into a small sack hanging beside the ladder. He pulled out a handful of dust and dirt and scattered it, obscuring their footprints, then he set the crate down silently.

They were in a comfortable eighteen by eighteen-foot room. The walls were lined with glow stones which provided plenty of light. Crates lined the wall opposite the ladder they had just come down, and several comfortable-looking chairs were in the other corner.

Aaron was looking at the crates along the wall. They were each marked with elvish runes and a tree. He looked at Rarsirrien, “These crates, they’re marked with the elvish letters ‘FKC.’” He lifted the lid off one of the crates and removed some of the straw until he could see several bottles carefully packed inside.

Aaron’s eyes widened. “These bottles are from the Faerie Kingdom of Celene!” Elvish wine from Celene was a rare commodity as the elves made enough to supply themselves but didn’t focus on exporting it to the rest of the continent.

“For some very special clients,” Rarsirrien replied.

“Bribes.” Kirk looked at Aaron, then at Rarsirrien.

“Business. Sometimes if you need a favor from someone, it’s good business to do one for them in return. I keep a few cases on hand just in case the need arises. And right now, I think the need has arisen. Besides, they were very well compensated for it.” Rarsirrien took the bottle from Aaron, placed it in its crate, and put the packing material and top back on. “Now, if you don’t mind, we should move on. I didn’t bring you here to hide in my private cellar. I’m sure our pyromaniac friends will be searching my warehouse for us next, if not torching it to make sure we’re not here. So we best be moving on, but before we do, let’s do something about your sword..”

Rarsirrien went to another wooden box set against the wall next to the crates of wine and removed the top. Inside were several long swords, each in scabbards and unremarkable in all respects. He removed one and compared it to Aaron’s sword.

“This should fit it well. Leave yours here in the crate. It will be safe here; no one other than I, and now you, know about this room. As for that hilt, that may require a touch of color. I think I have just the thing.” He opened a tin of what appeared to be silver paint. Aaron dipped the pommel and hilt of the sword into the liquid and withdrew it. The color adhered to the adamantite but not to the leather. They could see it dry before their eyes, and it was dry enough to handle in a few seconds.

“That should do for now. No one will recognize us based on a description of that blade.” He closed the container. “Useful stuff for touching up items.”

With that, he set the can down, moved a stack of wine crates aside, and opened a secret door.

“Our new friend has a thing for secret passages,” Kirk whispered to Aaron.

“I don’t care what he has a thing for as long as we can get out of here alive.” With that, he and Kirk followed Rarsirrien. They walked along a damp passage for what Aaron judged to be about fifteen minutes. They were close to the river, and the moisture content of the soil was very high. It was so musty Aaron was finding it difficult to breathe. They must have covered a good bit of distance. At last, they came to a round wooden door. Rarsirrien opened it, and fresh, cool air rushed in.

The three stepped out into the night air. In the east, the night was beginning to give way to the coming dawn. Sunrise was another thirty or forty minutes away. Aaron looked around. They were in a grove of trees on a slight bluff. Behind him, he could make out the city wall, and before him was an open field leading down to the river road. He could make out no sign of any pursuit, which didn’t make any sense. Who was the intended target? Was it himself, as Rarsirrien had suggested, or, more likely, was it someone who Rarsirrien had cheated? Maybe even a jealous lover.

“So what now?” Aaron asked Rarsirrien.

“Well, I suppose that depends,” he replied.

“On what?” asked Kirk.

Rarsirrien tugged at his beard. “On who that was and what they were after.”

“It’s not us; it must be you. Cheat someone?” Kirk asked.

Rarsirrien’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t need to cheat. Never had any problems in all my years here until I met you two,” he shot back tersely.

Aaron thought he saw a flash in the man’s eyes, and he would have sworn the man’s eyes had changed color for a moment. “Who or what isn’t important now. Either way, we need to go back into the city. Kirk and I need to return to our hostel and retrieve our things. If they’re still there. And we need to buy two horses. Ours…died on our journey here.” He decided this wasn’t a good time to mention that they had been attacked on their journey to Greyhawk since that would have given Rarsirrien more reason to suspect them as the reason for the attack.

“I agree. I should try and discreetly assess the damage to my home. See what I can salvage. Where is it you two were staying?”

“On Horseshoe Road. The hostel near the corner.”

“The Sleepy Knave. I know it. Okay, we go back, and we enter the city through the Marsh Gate. Keep to the busy streets where there are lots of people. Regardless of who is after whichever of us, they most likely won’t risk drawing attention by making a move in broad daylight in a public area.” With that, Rarsirrien started off and led them south through the woods until they came out along a field way. Several thatch-roofed cottages and well-tended gardens lay on either side of the road. The paths were clean and well-kept, and they made their way to the Marsh Path, then turned and followed it into the city where it became Marsh Street. This led into the main square, where plenty of booths and tents were set up, and farmers and merchants were preparing to sell their goods.

The trio made their way through the crowd, keeping one hand on their swords and the other on their purses. At the square’s north end was a fountain and a statue of Zagig Yragerne, Greyhawk’s most famous resident and ruler. The way narrowed slightly and became a broad street called The Processional. They followed it past the city gardens and park on the left and past the way to the arena and various universities off to the right until they finally came to Horseshoe Road.

Kirk and Aaron nodded silently to Rarsirrien, then turned left and headed for the Sleepy Knave while Rarsirrien continued on towards the next gate, which led to the richer part of the city. Kirk and Aaron glanced northward, where they could make out the top of the wall that divided the noble and wealthy from the more common folk. They could see wisps of smoke drifting skyward from what they guessed were the remnants of Rarsirrien’s home.

They got to the Knave just as a group of halflings was departing. As they made their way past the innkeeper and bounded upstairs, he hollered after them, “Quarter-hour more and I charge you another night’s stay!”

They found their room undisturbed, which was a relief and bolstered their theory they weren’t the target after all. Otherwise, their attackers should have made their way back here to either wait or search for clues as to where they may have gone. They gathered their belongings together and packed their kits. Slinging their bags over their shoulders, they made their way back downstairs, gave the man at the desk a wave, and headed back out into the street. “Which way?” Kirk asked. “I say we head back to the Processional and then direction Rarsirrien’s. See if we meet him along the way,” answered Aaron. They started walking back up the avenue, making their way through the crowds headed the opposite way to shop in the market. As they turned the corner, Kirk glanced up and down the street. Then he spotted him. With his height, he stood above the crowd. Kirk tapped Aaron’s shoulder and nodded in the direction of Rarsirrien. The two started walking after their mysterious new friend when they saw him suddenly stop. Before him stood a rather imposing-looking and dark figure of a man. Kirk and Aaron slowed their pace as they were only about a dozen paces or so behind him now and were waiting to see how this encounter was about to play out.

“Someone wants to speak with you, Rarsirrien.” The man’s voice was rough and low, but now they were close enough to hear him above the crowd. Kirk and Aaron turned to walk in the opposite direction when three other similarly dressed figures cut them off, shaking their heads.

The pair did an about-face and were escorted back to Rarsirrien.

“Now really isn’t a good time, I’m afraid. I have quite a lot of house cleaning to do that I really must attend to.”

The hooded figure looked past Rarsirrien at the wisps of steam and smoke drifting slowly skyward. “I’m pretty sure it can wait. We’re on urgent business, and our employer wishes to speak with you immediately about a serious matter. Your servants may accompany you. I imagine their schedule is also pretty light today.”

“These two are not….” Rarsirrien started to reply, but Aaron cut him off.

“We’re all too happy to accompany you. I believe dusting the mantle and cleaning out the fireplace can wait another day,” Aaron managed to say in a tone that conveyed total seriousness. Kirk gazed skyward and remained silent.

Their escorts led them back in the direction of the High and Garden Quarters and then made a sudden right turn into the thieve’s quarter. Kirk touched Aaron’s arm lightly, and the half-elf nodded slightly but kept his eyes on the road ahead. He had expected that these men were perhaps associates of one of Rarsirrien’s rivals. But now they were heading directly for the Thieve’s Guildhall.

Not just anyone could stroll into the Guildhall. You have to be a thief on official guild business or summoned. There was something about Rarsirrien that they had failed to guess. What business could he possibly have with anyone in the Thieve’s Guild? Then he thought back to the warehouse basement. Perhaps this would explain how he had managed to amass all those things.

There were only two guards posted outside the entrance to the guildhall. That didn’t matter because once inside, you would be instantly surrounded, and it was common knowledge the guild employed several assassins who kept watch over the more sensitive areas. They were escorted through the open hall, and then in the back was a more secure, private meeting room. There their escort paused, knocked once, and then opened the door and motioned for the three of them to enter. Inside was a single dark oak table with twelve chairs on each side and one larger, ornate oak seat with gold and silver inlays at the head of the table. In it sat a man of medium build and stature. He was modestly dressed, not in anything that would be considered typical for a member of the thieves guild. His blonde hair was neatly trimmed, as was his beard and mustache. He wore no jewelry or anything particularly distinguishing except for one ring on his left hand. There was something inset in it, but none of them could tell what it was from this distance.

Rarsirrien stepped forward and bowed low. Kirk looked at Aaron, and the two managed a somewhat awkward copy of Rarsirrien’s movement.

“Walgar, I didn’t expect to see you here. Most certainly not here.” Rarsirrien gestured to their immediate surroundings.

“I need your assistance Rarsirrien, but it’s a matter that requires utmost,” he paused, “discretion. No one would think to look for me here. Sometimes it pays to have friends in low places. In this particular case, family in low places. What they say about black sheep is true, but this time it worked in my favor. Of course, I now owe him a favor, and he will eventually come to collect, but it may be well worth it.”

“What is it that I can do for the Margrave of Bissel? Certainly, you have access to a more qualified pool of talent.”

Kirk and Aaron both glanced at each other. Margrave of Bissel! They were in the presence of the ruler of Bissel, in the heart of the Thieves Guild in the City of Greyhawk. It was too much to believe - in fact, Kirk was certain that no one would believe him if he repeated this to anyone.

“This is a matter which may require someone with your unique abilities. We have a problem. A potentially grave and serious problem. Over the past few days, my forces have been monitoring a group of four human necromancers who have been moving along our northern border. At first, we thought they were alone, but recently we discovered they are accompanied by a band of orcs bearing the seal of Iggwilv. We’ve learned that the Witch Queen has made a deal with them and is providing assistance to them to enter the Vale of the Mage. These four are hungry for power, and we believe they want to usurp the rule of the Dark One and take his secrets. She has promised them aid and additional power.”

“And what does Iggwilv get out of this in return? She’s certainly not doing this out of the goodness of her heart, considering she has neither.”

The Margrave leaned back in the chair and motioned them to sit at the table. From the shadows, several servants brought in plates of cheese and fruit as well as glasses of water and red wine. “Please,” he gestured to the food, and Rarsirrien filled a glass with wine and took a hunk of cheese and several pieces of fruit.

Walgar continued, “Over the years, the Mage has never made any overt moves that indicate he’s much of a threat to the lands around him. Instead, he has seemed content to remain in his own realm and consolidate his power. So we have coexisted for decades, respecting each other’s boundaries. I believe he has been focused on developing new spells and increasing his own knowledge. Now it is rumored that he has found the secret to immortality. I am certain that is what the Witch Queen is after. These necromancers are just pawns in her attempt to discover that secret. If she should obtain it, the whole of the western Flanaess will not be safe. No telling what horrors she and the Old One could unleash if she need not fear death.”

“Walgar,” Rarsirrien began, “I’m flattered in your faith in my abilities, but I haven’t the means to take on four necromancers and the Iggwilv., and not even I would dare think about going up against the Mage of the Vale.”

Kirk and Aaron sat quietly, listening to all that was being said. They were figuring out that there was a whole lot more to Rarsirrien than he had been leading them to believe. A successful merchant might have the resources he had, might even know the Margrave, but also be powerful enough to even consider taking on the Mage of the Vale? Not all that likely. Unless there was a whole lot more to Rarsirrien than they knew.

“I’m sure someone of your talents and resourcefulness can manage to put together a team. Greyhawk is teaming with adventurers looking to make their fame and fortune. The only real problem you have is time. We know they have already entered our land and are making their way toward the Vale. I can provide you and your party with transportation and assistance crossing our lands. The only challenge you will have is the same that they will face, and that’s gaining entrance to the Vale. Its borders are protected both by its inhabitants and powerful spells. Besides, I don’t think I need to remind you…you owe me, and I know something about you that you would prefer to remain undisclosed.”

Rarsirrien sank back in his chair. It was the first time either of them had seen any sign of weakness from the man. He had exuded self-confidence and strength from the moment they met, but now it seemed there was a chink in his armor.

“It would appear I have little choice in the matter. How much time do I have?”

“By our best estimates, two days. No more. They lost their horses in a skirmish with a few members of our light cavalry when they crossed into our territory.” “And how many men did you lose?” Rarsirrien interjected. “All of them. All they managed was to kill a half-dozen horses, but it should give you some idea of what you’re going up against. “ Rarsirrien nodded and looked at Kirk and then Aaron. “Can I count on you two?” “Yes” “No” The replies were simultaneous. Aaron looked at Kirk. “Are you mad? The three of us against four necromancers, the Mage of the Vale, and some Witch Queen?”

“We’ll be famous,” Kirk replied with a broad, toothy grin.

“Yes, for our stupidity. Our names will be remembered and spoken as a warning to other foolish adventurers. We’ll both likely end up stuffed and mounted on someone’s wall, no doubt.”

“It’s settled then. We’re going; seeing how you two owe me your lives, I’ll consider this repayment.” Rarsirrien’s statement was taken as the final word.

The Margrave stood and pushed the chair back. “Good. I’ll see that you’re provisioned out here and provide you papers of transport that will see you safely through Gran March and the Duchy of Ulek. Other than that, I’m afraid that is all the official help I can provide you.” He turned and walked towards the door in the back of the room but paused and turned his head and said, “Good luck.” With that, he passed through the door and was gone.

“Well, seeing as how we became two of your partners in this enterprise, I think it’s time we get to know each other a little better.” Kirk was looking at Rarsirrien, then glanced back at Aaron.

Rarsirrien nodded, “But that conversation can wait until we’re out of here. Better where there are no ears up against the walls or listening at keyholes. I’m sure this conversation wasn’t as private as you think.”

The three of them were escorted back out the way they came, and once outside, the one who had stopped Rarsirrien pulled a piece of parchment from his tunic and handed it to the large man. It bore the stamp of Bissel. “He already knew what your answer would be. He may be an old soldier, but he’s also a good judge of character.”

With that, he turned and walked away, leaving them standing in the street in the middle of the Thieves Quarter.

Rarsirrien took the parchment and tucked it into the inner pocket of his cloak. “Let’s make our way out of here before what’s left of our good fortune vanishes.” As he started to walk away, he looked over his shoulder at Aaron, “And it’s not some Witch Queen, it’s the Witch Queen. Iggwilv, mother of Iuz.”

Aaron pursed his lips and made a sucking sound. “Yep. That was it. The sound of what was left of my good fortune vanishing.” Kirk patted Aaron on the shoulder and started after Rarsirrien. “Come on, what’s the worst that can happen?”

“What did we agree on about challenging ‘worse’?” Aaron shouted after him. He shook his head and muttered to himself, “Worse will take you up on it every time.”

Rarsirrien led them back through the city to a provisioner not far from the Sleepy Knave. He found the stable boy and whispered something in his ear. The boy ran off and returned a few minutes later with a man who was undoubtedly the owner. Rarsirrien spoke with him in low tones, and it was a tongue that Aaron couldn’t understand. Rarsirrien dropped a few coins into the man’s open purse, and about ten minutes later, the boy returned with three horses, saddled and with provisions packed and ready.

“I’m a very good customer here. We should have everything we need for two weeks’ journey if we’re careful.” Rarsirrien was looking through the packs as if he was making a mental inventory of what they contained. “Thanks, Tom!” He hollered, then swung up on the larger of the three horses.

Aaron and Kirk followed suit then the three rode toward the gate as quickly as they could manage in the city. Rarsirrien was leading them toward the Highway Gate. This was one of the few city gates that were always open. They slowly made their way through the thongs of peasants and merchants entering the city, and Aaron caught his first glimpse of the massive gate. It was composed of two doors, each sixteen feet high and twelve feet wide. Secured above was an iron portcullis whose two-inch bars were interwoven to prevent any but the smallest creatures from slipping between them.

Aaron rode up to Kirk and leaned over where he could speak without everyone in the street hearing him. “Everyone and anyone is going to see us leaving the city and our direction.”

“That’s the general idea,” Rarsirrien said over his shoulder. “Trust me a little.”

“Very little,” Aaron whispered.

D A STEMPNAKOWSKI

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