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9 - Go East, Young Man

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IN WHICH Osmorn plays music. Reception to his music is mixed to say the least. He is offered a position in a small company of adventurers, and negotiates the terms of that position, to his own disadvantage.

I spent a few happy days in Madreach, trying hard not to spend Andraste’s money. And trying less-hard to make a little more.

I learned something, by the way. If you want to earn money, seek it from the richest. Not as a gift; they don’t give gifts. But they over-pay for services.

The Statesman was a serviceable inn, but it was clear that I would eventually need to pay more money to stay there, and I wanted income, not out-go. (I was still learning financial terms. I still am, if it comes to that.)

So I headed up to the big buildings again. Just me, some decent clothes, and the lute.

And I started playing. Not introspectively, but the other kind. I started playing old songs, playing them well. Songs people love. Okay, songs about people in love.

It worked. I gathered a small audience. That was a start. Next, I needed someone who had a party coming up, perhaps a wedding or a child’s birthday. I watched the crowd for anyone who was looking speculative, and moved gently toward that person, so that when they reached a decision it was the work of a moment for them to reach over and ask me if I could play at their son’s engagement party tomorrow evening. Turns out honest work doesn’t have to be all that hard. And if you’re not afraid of quoting an outrageously high price that they will agree too almost too easily, it’s even less difficult.

So on the morning when I was finally to leave Madreach I had fifty-five gold and some assorted silver and copper. And all my supplies, and I had kept my kind gnome hostess supplied with a steady stream of little coins to ensure that if I ever stopped at the Statesman again it would be expensive, but also the best inn in town, as far as Osmorn was concerned.

I had thought about heading to Lightmere, my original destination all that time ago. After all it was only about thirty miles, and was in the right direction. The only problem was the river. Half a mile wide and uncrossable anywhere north of the town of Sereford. So I would head southeast. I might head back up to Lightmere, if the traveling was good. After all, I didn’t exactly have anywhere I needed to be.

It was the middle of Brightmoon, the sun was high in the skies and the weather was getting warm. I was determined to learn to camp without hating it, or at least being in control of the parts I hated. Which means the sleeping arrangements, of course.

The first day on the road was uneventful, even boring. I made good time, followed the wide, well-traveled road south until it curved southeast, and then started looking for a good inn or hostel, hoping to put off my own personal camping trip at least one more night.

Fortune, I thought, was smiling on me, because I found a small, well-kept inn not far south of the bend in the road. I pulled my lute around and walked into the common room. The bartender was a human, not surprising in this part of the world. He stood behind the bar, the sort of person that looked like he poured fair drinks, charged fair prices, and would be exceedingly unfair to anyone that damaged his profits. The five tables in the bar were scattered almost randomly, and there was a small, sad stage next to the hearth. A few people were talking quietly, but for the most part the bar was altogether too quiet.

I approached the bar. “I wonder if you could use an entertainer for the evening,” I asked, tuning my lute.

“You’re really asking if we have a free bed for the evening. Six silver, same as for anyone else.”

“I’m sure that’s an entirely reasonable rate. May I play for a bit down here? Perhaps your patrons will see fit to help cover the cost of my lodging."

The bartender just nodded at me. I bowed my thanks and headed across the floor of the bar and sat on the little stool on the sad stage. I tuned my lute and started picking out an old human song. At least, I had been told it was human. It certainly wasn’t elven.

The effect on the audience was instant and amazing. As a single person they ignored me completely. I sang the first verse, and then the refrain. At the beginning of the second verse the people at the closest table stood up, went to the bar to refill their drinks, and sat down at a table farther from my stage.

I thought about switching from this old ballad to something more exploratory, to see if I could get a sense of who these people were, to see if I could explore my power a bit more. I worried for a second that someone might notice if I changed songs mid-third verse, but looking at my audience I realized that would be a net positive.

I switched songs mid-phrase, letting my lute and my fingers play the room. And made a small, (oft-broken) vow to never touch alcoholic drinks again. The “personality” colors in this room were dimmed, some nearly extinguished, like the’d been drinking for hours with the sole intent of reducing themselves to insensibility.

There were still a few bright minds in the room. The bartender had noticed the change in song, but didn’t seem to much care one way or the other about what I was playing. I caught his eye briefly and he half-smiled, which I considered high praise.

And there were two others. They were seated near the hearth. They were dressed like everyone else. At the time I simply called anything that was made of leather or muslin “peasant garb” but looking back I can tell you that they were dressed like farmers, and I can further tell you that their outfits would only have fooled someone who hasn’t spent any time around farmers. Fortunately for them, at the time that included me. I thought they were simply intelligent farmers.

It seemed that my “spy music” had reached the end of its usefulness, so I switched to trying to inspire others. I quietly worked themes of generosity into my music, casually trying to convince the gathered patrons to unbelt a few coins for the musician. Again the bartender seemed to be fully aware of my tactic and just shook his head a little, still cleaning steins behind his bar. I made a note to talk to him later, he seemed like a smarter bartender than I was used to. Not that…ugh, again, not that I was used to bartenders yet.

The new song didn’t have much effect on the more inebriated customers, but after a few moments the ones who could still walk and talk started smiling a little. That seemed like a good thing, so I pushed a little more “happy confidence” into the song.

First one table, finding their cups empty, stood, got refills, then came and dropped a couple of coins on my satchel that lay at my feet. I nodded my gratitude as I kept up the song. A few other patrons seemed to stir themselves. One even started nodding in time to the music, or would have done, had he had any sense of rhythm at all. A halfling near my stage smiled widely, and tossed a silver coin onto my satchel, then walked out the door, trying to whistle my song. A good trick, since I was making it up as I went. Two more people dropped silver on my satchel as they walked back to the bar. I was most of the way to a free room for the night. This was going far better than I expected.

At long last one of the farmers stood up. I didn’t think they would be worth much, but if I could present five silver and change without touching my own reserves that would count as a win. The farmer stood up, pushed his hood back, and looked me in the eye. His own eyes were dark brown, and moving quickly and intensely as he looked at me. He was clearly sizing me up. His face was stony and calm, at least, the parts of it I could see were. He was about four feet tall, quite tall for a dwarf, and his beard was as lustrous and thick and long as any dwarf could hope for. His eyes searched my face for a long moment. I quietly used my heel to push the coins that had been thrown my way into the opening of my satchel, still playing, trying to change my song to one of trust and complacency.

That might have been too much, in retrospect. To be fair, at the time I didn’t really know what I was doing, I was just experimenting. The moment my song changed, however, the dwarf’s face lit up. But not with happiness. Instead he seemed to be experiencing a revelation, a call to action.

“My friends!” he called out climbing up onto his chair so he was taller. “This charlatan is deceiving you! He is using evil magic to beguile your minds! Shake yourselves out of your stupor and attend to his words! ‘This song is so peaceful you are such a good person’. Who would sing such a thing? It doesn’t even rhyme!” He called out. I couldn’t decide if the accusation of magic or the accusation of bad poetry hurt worse.

“Let us cast this evil worker of deception out of our midst then, my honest brethren, and enjoy our cups in peace, without some elf seeking to profit from our own hard labor!” He didn’t seem capable of speaking without exclamation points. I stopped playing and slung my lute to my back, picking up my satchel and settling it into place as well.

“My friend, if you don’t like my music that’s one thing, but accusing me of sorcery, that’s something entirely different.”

“But no less true! I have detected the subtle strands of power you have worked into your paltry lyrics, but they have no effect on a mind like mine! For I have spent years training my soul to be attuned only to my god! He directs me and none other can dissuade me from my path of true righteousness!”

(He was wrong about that, by the way, but I didn’t find that out for a while.) His speech didn’t seem to have much of an effect on the other patrons, but they did start to rouse themselves. They looked between the two of us, and sat up straighter, clearly not wanting to miss any of the ensuing action.

“Confess! Confess, dark hearted elf trickster! Lay bare your seditious ways that the light may cleanse you of this corrupting evil!” He really didn’t seem able to let this go.

“I’m only half-elf.” I started but he wasn’t in any mood to consider logical points. Instead he picked up a chair, holding it easily above his head.

“If you will not confess I will prove your guilt upon your body! I will wrest the truth from your broken visage, so that your soul may go somewhat cleansed into the next life!” I wasn’t sure if I was comforted by knowing that he had my soul’s best interests at heart.

“Put the furniture down! You break it, you pay for it!” The bartender called out, but made no motion to move out from behind his bar.

“Paladin! Bestir yourself, and smite this worker of evil works! Why do you sit idly and leave me, though weak of body, to do works of physical righteousness?” The dwarf yelled. His companion, who had been sitting this entire time, trying to make himself look smaller, finally stood up. He was human, and taller than me. His facial features were plain and angular, giving the impression that he hadn’t been born so much as chiseled from granite. I tried to imagine an infant form of that face and the image was comical.

“Gentlemen, I’m sure this has been nothing more than a misunderstanding, I’m simply a humble player of my own poor songs, I’ve no idea how to weave anything into anything,” I said.

“Liar! Not only did I detect the subtle words of deception in your two-penny songs, but even now your face proclaims your duplicitousness!” And then the dwarf fitted actions to words, and swung a chair at me. I was able to dodge, moving back towards the bar.

The other patrons moved to the edges of the room as well, but showed no intention of leaving. Apparently a bar fight counted as high entertainment.

“Brumli, I don’t think we have to do this,” The tall man said.

“Do not speak your words of effete pacifism to me today, you cowering paladin! I will smite this worker of evil spells in the name of my god!”

“And which god is that?” I asked, trying to change the subject from smiting to gods.

“I will not blaspheme their holy name by speaking it to an infidel like you! Pray to him now, if you have the wit, that he may receive your soul unto himself! For I shall send you to meet him anon!”

“How can I pray to him if I don’t know which god you’re talking about?” I asked, but “Brumli” wasn’t in the mood for theological debate. The chair came flying at me again, and I turned quickly…choosing to meet it on my chest and stomach instead of risking my lute. It seemed a good decision until I got hit with a chair. I staggered back towards the bar, thinking perhaps that the barman would put an end to this if he didn’t have to stir himself too much to do so.

Turns out I was right. As my back pressed up against the bar I heard a quiet voice behind me.

“I’m sorry about this, bard. But I can’t have him breaking up my bar.”

“My name is Osmorn, not Bard. Who is named B—“ I said, and something heavy came down hard on my head. I slumped to the ground, remaining conscious just long enough to feel my head bounce off a barstool on the way down.


I woke up in the dark. I wasn’t bound, so that was good. But I was on the ground, which is Never good. My head was pounding, and as my eyes started to regain the ability to focus I saw a small campfire not far from me.

“Ah, you’re awake then.” Said a low deep voice behind me.

“No idea. Seems likely, though,” I said.

“Nah, don’t sit up, lad. You’ll bide fine where you are.”

“I’m not a lad…ough, my head”

“Aye. The barman hit you right hard. And then said that you were our concern, since we’re the ones that broke you in the bar.”

“Seems like he could have taken some responsibility for it.”

“I don’t think he wanted to set a precedent of putting up the losers of bar fights for free.”

“I didn’t lose, I was surprised.”

“Call it what ye will. But two of us walked out of there on our own.”

I rolled over, setting off all manner of explosions in my head as I did so.

“The dwarf called you Paladin.”

“Aye.”

“But that’s a title, not a name.”

This time he just nodded.

“I’m Osmorn.” I said, trying to get the conversation back on track.

“Crannog. Crannog Pritchett.”

“That’s not a name, that’s a…geological formation,” I said and he smiled. I got lucky, I guess. The big one was the one with a sense of humor. Good to know.

“Is that dwarf…Brumli? Is he here as well.”

“Aye.”

“But he’s not yelling at me, so presumably he found someone else to bother.”

“He’s praying just now.”

“Ah, he’s bothering his god. Oh, um…no offense meant if you also worship…um, which god was it?”

“Your guess is as good as mine, Osmorn. Those who aren’t of their faith only know the one they worship as “the unknown god.” They won’t tell us his name, and after a while it’s more than your job is worth to ask.”

“But…Why are you traveling with him then?”

Crannog was about to answer when heavy footsteps thudded behind me, approaching the fire from the far side.

“He has been called to be my protector and guide in these wild and uncertain times,” Brumli said, without even a trace of an exclamation point, “And to protect me from workers of the dark arts such as yourself.”

“I don’t know any dark arts, just music.” I said but my heart wasn’t in it. There’s no reasoning with some people.

“Brumli, perhaps I may be able to guide this soul. I lived my life before my penance in alehouses and I’m more familiar with the minds of the lost ones who wander therein,” Crannog said.

“Very well, Pritchett. Perhaps you were sent here for just this purpose, by the grace of the mighty.”

“I think that quite likely, Cleric Mountainspear.”

The dwarf stomped off into the woods and Crannog seemed content to say absolutely nothing.

“Are you going to guide my soul, then?” I asked after a few minutes of quiet.

“Anywhere your soul wants to go in particular?” Crannog asked, not looking at me, just looking over me, at the fire pit.

“I was thinking of heading up to Lightmere, then Casinia if the season holds.”

“Well, we might be able to guide your soul to Casinia, but neither Brumli nor I have any real call to head to Lightmere. But I should ask; you’re the least braggart bard I’ve met in my years.”

“One, that wasn’t a question and two…I’m not a…what’s a bard?”

Crannog sat silently for a few minutes more. “Well, it seems there’s a lot for you to know about the world, but perhaps the best way to teach you is to start from where you are.” He leaned back, looked around for Brumli, then reached into his cloak and pulled out a small flask. “I find that melodrama makes me thirsty, and I got a feeling I’ll be getting a fair dose of it along about now. Tell me your story, Osmorn.”

So did. What choice did I really have? I glossed lightly over Chaedi and just explained that I was exiled because of elf politics, and explained Andraste’s camp and that there was a contract in Madreach and it ended and the party disbanded and they bought me a new lute and…

“Where’s my lute?”

“Your instrument is fine, though don’t ye try to sound it while Brumli is near. Perhaps it’s best if I hold it for a bit. And your satchel. You can have that back. No magic in there.”

“But…my money?” I said, taking the proffered satchel.

“All safe; we’re not robbers. Brumli just thinks you’re evil.”

“Oh, well, that’s good. That’s all then. I’m an evil musician.”
Crannog laughed a little at that. “Tell you what, try not to judge Brumli too harshly and I’ll see what I can do to get him to cut you some slack as well.”

“Why would I care what he thinks of me?”

“Because you’ll be coming with us for a while now, my friend.”

“Why? Why does everyone out here want me to come with them?”

“Extra pair of hands, you can cook, and anyway our good friend Mountainspear thinks we need to save your soul from the dark ones.”

“The dark ones have no real interest in my soul, I’m pretty sure.”

“Ah, well, I wouldn’t know, you see. So best not to chance it, is my advice.” He said, aa small smile on his face.

“Also, he thinks your abilities could be helpful in an upcoming operation we need to undertake.”

“What? I thought my skills were an abomination and a curse upon the land.”

Brumli had approached again at some point during the conversation. “If ye use them to beguile the poor farmers out of their hard-earned cash, that’s the abomination, sir. The power ye wield is neither good nor ill, ’tis your will that makes it so,” The dwarf said.

“So, you don’t think I personally am a child of the everlasting darkness, but my works were?”

Brumli nodded. “If ye were a fiend of the under realms, I wouldn’t seek to redeem you, just remove you from this world and cleanse your stain from existence.”

“Funny, I thought that was what you were doing with that chair yesterday.”

“Sonny, if I had wanted you erased you wouldn’t be laying here right now, drawing breath.”

Given that I was in his camp and had been knocked out, the facts were definitely on his side in this one.

“So, what is it you want me to help with?”

Crannog started speaking but Brumli cut him off. “Your penance will not be complete until you have assisted us in a calling most holy! indeed it was clearly the will of the Nameless One that we met you, both to raise you from sinful ways and to assist with our holy quest!”

“We weren’t sure how to proceed and a bard would be helpful right now,” Crannog translated and Brumli shot him a dirty look.

“Yea, the subtle workings of musical magic were a key that was denied us heretofore. But now that you have arrived, we have access to this great power, provided us by the Unnamed god!” Brumli said.

“Look, I really don’t know what you’re talking about, or why I’m going to help you…well, I know that last one. Because I’m lost in the middle of who knows where and if I don’t help you I’ll never find my way back to civilization.”

“Nah, we’d help you back, no problem,” Crannog said. “We just figured this is a good way for ya to make some coin without fleecing farmers.”

“Oh…okay then. Well, then. I guess I should know what you want me to do?”

“So ye’ll still join us on our quest?” Brumli asked,

“Well, you asked so nicely. And…okay yes, I’m a little curious.”

“Good lad!” Brumli said, and I realized that of all the people I’d met so far he was the only one who likely had actual cause to call me a lad.

But Crannog took over the discussion at this point.

“We’re going to a sunken temple of a forgotten god—“

“Is this the same as the unknown god?” I asked, reasonably, I thought.

“Bite your blasphemous tongue. The temple we seek was built to a lesser god of the dwarven people. Not my tribe, ye ken, and clearly not as powerful. Do ye not know the ways of the gods? Surely you know the gods of the elves and men?”

“Why would I? I was never invited to rituals of my elven heritage and I never really knew my mother. My religious education is almost nonexistent.”

Brumli looked at me for a long moment, and it was hard to tell through all the facial hair, but there might have been sympathy in those features.

“Aye, ’tis a hard road, to be neither one thing nor t’other.” He said quietly. “Well, we gain strength by walking hard roads. Attend now, bard. Here’s the calling to which you are called.”

I’ll summarize the mission on which they were calling me. In a temple to a forgotten god was a relic. The relic was important to several religions, for reasons I didn’t totally follow. Brumli’s god had sent Brumli to get it, but there was a problem, namely the Beltaine.

The beltaine, it turns out, are a race of sentient serpents. Not like nagas, which are some odd mix of serpent and human. Beltaine are entirely reptile, but warm, meaning they don’t grow sluggish in the cold. They are also intelligent. They plan, they communicate, they work in packs, and they also had a sect that worshipped the great whatever-it-was in the temple.

Brumli’s mission was to get past the beltaine and take the relic. The problem of course is that the beltaine were dead set against this plan.

“What makes your demand any greater than their rights?” I asked and Brumli looked offended. “My God has demanded I reclaim this from them!” He said.

“Because they’re lizard people?”

“No! Because it is the right of my faith to contemplate the relic free from others.”

“Why isn’t it the right of their faith to do the same? Seems like they have a prior claim.”

“Ah, but that is the beauty of the situation! Now we see whose right is more keenly felt, whose god will prove the more powerful!”

“You’re employing a faithless half-elf. That hardly feels fair for a god duel.”

“Ah, but such is the power of the Unnamed god that he drew you into my sphere of influence—“

“No, look, I’m sorry, Brumli. But this feels like robbery dressed up like righteousness.”

Somewhere in the shadow Crannog snorted.

“And what about you?” I asked Crannog. “Are you okay with this?”

“I’m supposed to follow Brumli for another year,” Crannog said. “To be honest, ‘retrieving’ a relic is pretty standard stuff. And he is trying to do this without getting anyone—human, dwarf, half-elf, or beltaine—killed, so sure, seems fine.”

“So what’s to stop the beltaine from getting a ringer as well? Why can’t they hire outside help as well?”

“Ah, but they could, you see!” Brumli said. “And so it is less a contest of we poor mortal pieces, than a contest of the wills of our gods who directed these ‘ringers’, as you say, into the right places!”

“Are the Beltaine evil?” I asked. Brumli looked down for a moment.

“No,” Crannog answered. “They just have a thing that Brumli’s faith wants.”

“So give me one good reason why should help you instead of them,” I said.

Brumli glared daggers at me, and seemed about ready to speak, but stopped suddenly, and pondered quietly for a moment.

“Very well then, half-elf. We’ll try it your way. We’ll go in there, and we’ll reason with the beltaine. Perhaps even strike a bargain with them. Perhaps there is something they want that we have, or some service we can perform for them, in exchange for the relic.”

“That seems reasonable,” I said.

“Good. And since you’re so good at helping others see reason, you’ll be our negotiator” Brumli finished with a grin.

“I can’t believe you just walked into that,” Crannog said, shaking his head with a slight smile on his face.


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