First published in Tales of the Reaching Moon issue #5
Copyright © 1991 by Michael O’Brien
Jaxarte’s first journey in his capacity as Commissioner of the Imperial Census was to Sun County, where his political inexperience and lack of guile helped make him most unwelcome. Soon after his return, Governor Sor-Eel (his uncle) sent him forth again; this time to the lands of Duke Raus of Rone, a disgraced Lunar noble charged with responsibility of taming the wilderness along the River of Cradles south of Sun County. (Duke Raus is of course one of the main characters in the superb RQ2 scenario pack Borderlands. The events described here by Jaxarte take place some two years after the duke’s arrival in the valley.)
Once again with have the benefit of the sage Floriat Fedora’s footnotes, taken from her translation of Jaxarte’s private journal.
All Praise the Reaching Moon!
I, Jaxarte Whyded, Commissioner of the Imperial Census, record here my impressions, observations and experiences in the Domain of Weis, Prax County.
The lands of Duke Raus, Lord of Weis Domain, lie along the River of Cradles beyond Sun County. I had hoped that I could avoid entering the Sun Folks lands again, but the river was too low for river traffic above Harpoon and once again I found myself at the Garhound ford, waiting for the Yelmalio escort. However, I was lucky enough to have caught up with the relief garrison on its way to Corflu, and was able to join them. They too had to travel part-way through Sun County, and like me, intended to raft the rest of the way from Harpoon (the highest point navigable at this time of year) .
I was interested to learn that Duke Raus’s daughter, the Lady Jezra, was also travelling with the contingent to her father’s holding. She had been in Pavis for the social season. Lady Jezra had been introduced to me at one of the receptions at uncle’s palace and despite her reserved, almost aloof manner, I found myself curiously attracted to her. I prudently selected the “Rose Crescent” as a suitable dance to ask her to join me, but she demurely refused. Later that night someone told me Lady Jezra was engaged to one Dion Deathbringer, Raus’s Chief of Mercenaries .
When I remarked to the commander that Raus Fort was my destination, he exclaimed at the happy coincidence and said there was “another traveller who was on their way there”. When he offered to introduce me I gladly followed, thinking I was to have the lovely Lady Jezra as my travelling companion. Instead, he sought out a stout, ruddy-faced fellow, sweating profusely under a powdered dress-wig in the Tarshite style. After a hasty introduction, the officer muttered something about “seeing to his horses” and I was thereby saddled with a most tedious travelling companion for the rest of the journey.
Sir Geo Wither (for that was his name) said that he had lately been the court poet of King Moriades of Tarsh, but explained that he was making this journey down the River of Cradles to “seek inspiration” . He was quite affronted when I said I was unfamiliar with his work , and would have immediately launched straight into his latest epic “The Defenestration of Harl”, had not the Yelmic escort arrived to escort us across the river . Lady Jezra travelled in her own wagon, and I did not see her until Harpoon.
Harpoon is utterly charmless settlement, remarkable only for the great spear-throwing machine the Sun Domers placed here on the cliffs overlooking the river. This amazing machine (said to be wrought by dwarves) was apparently constructed to prevent sea beasts or pirates travelling further up- river, but as the Yelmites view this device as some sort of “secret weapon”, I was not permitted to view it closely. The seasonal target practice was taking place as we marched in though, and I was fortunate enough to witness the great machine in action .
Several large kegs had been lashed together in the water, and the gunners made a great show of lining up the target in their sights. A carnival crowd had gathered to watch the spectacle, and all commented favourably about the skill of their lads on the cliff. I overheard one of our archers whisper to a fellow soldier that he doubted they would hit the water let alone the barrels, so I wagered Sir Geo a gold wheel they’d miss their target.
The crowd gasped as the great cord was slowly wound back and the first missile (fully 12 yards long!) was lowered into the breech . Then, just as the bolt was to let fly, the horns of the watch-tower on the bluff began blasting a warning: a sea-monster had been sighted, making its way upriver! The crew of the spear-thrower answered their call, and the crowd cheered. I thanked the goddess for my good fortune.
The excited spectators craned their necks to see a large grey-green beast coming round the bend, splashing and spraying through the water. The leviathan had a great fluted horn protruding from its nose, something like a unicorn. A couple of Yelornan warrior-women tried fruitlessly to convince the crowd of this fact, but few people took notice, being too busy buying castings of the Farsee spell from a pair of canny vendors (who turned a tidy profit before the monster drew close). Finally the beast came into range of the machine and the crowd gave the gunners an encouraging cheer. There was a tremendous TWANG! and the great arrow lurched out from the machine, flew through the air in a graceful arc …and firmly embedded itself in the target-barrels. In their excitement the machine-crew had forgotten to realign their sights. Sir Geo won his gold piece after all.
Our rafts arrived some two days after this unedifying display of Sun Dome marksmanship, and the journey to Raus Fort was uneventful (thankfully, the sea-beast had made its way further upriver ). By tipping the river-captain I contrived to gain a berth on the Lady Jezra’s barge, but Sir Geo followed my initiative and joined us. This proved to be a blessing in disguise because, in an effort to escape the crushing bore, Lady Jezra turned and gave me the benefit of her attention. By the end of journey I was smitten!
The settlement of Ronegarth  lies at the confluence of the River of Cradles and the Vilinar, atop a stony rise. As we approached I could see the banners depicting the Lunar crescent fluttering in the breeze and it heartened me to think that even here, deep in the wastes, had come the rule, justice and bounty of the Red Goddess . The duke had built a small landing on the river bank, and was waiting for us to arrive with his household. Lady Jezra permitted me to take her hand as she stepped ashore. “It is good to see a poet has such courtly manners,” said Raus, taking his daughter’s other hand. Turning to Sir Geo (who had muddied his hose stepping clumsily from the barge) he asked, “And you, sir, must be the Imperial Commissioner?”
Sir Geo took advantage of my momentary confusion to solve the problem of our identities. As we walked up the hill I could not help overhearing Raus mutter to his priest Daryli that “the envoy has the youth and manners of a poet; the poet, the age and dress of an envoy!”
Despite his lofty titles, I was warned by uncle that Raus, Duke of Rone and Lord of the Weis Domain, was in fact an exile, banished to Prax by the Red Emperor himself for past treasonous misdeeds . But Raus had made good out of his misfortune, and proudly showed me the layout of his town, which, in true Heartlands fashion, had been pegged out in a grid style. In one corner the duke had reserved a site for his villa, and the foundations had already been laid. But for the most part, there were as yet few permanent buildings and most of the inhabitants still dwelt in tents. Safe haven against nomad and storm remained the fort, a sturdy stockade built of rammed earth and wicker, with towers of stone.
There was little time left in the day after our inspection of the town site, and the duke promised that his Chief of Mercenaries, presently returning from a bandit-hunt, would show me the rest of the Domain in later days. We repaired to the fort, where a feast had been arranged in my honour.
Raus’s table was plain but generous, and he ordered a keg of his best Pelorian be opened for the occasion. Our hopes of a pleasant evening were dashed however, when after dinner the duke invited Sir Geo to recite. I was shocked to learn that Raus, ever mindful of the pangs of exile, had invited Sir Geo Wither to join him as Ronegarth’s first poet-in-residence . Jezra furiously whispered in her father’s ear, but it was too late. Within the hour half the hall were fast asleep, and wretched Wither only broke his stride once, to chide the priest Daryli: “Pious Daryli, rouse yourself. You snore so loud you will wake the Duke.”! We were only saved when the poet’s drone was drowned out by excited shouts in the courtyard. Raus’s Chief of Mercenaries and his band had returned!
Although strict protocol demanded the returned heroes present themselves before the duke, Raus himself rose eagerly from table and made his way to the courtyard. Taking this as a sign, we deserted the now speechless Wither and followed him.
Even as he was dismounting, Raus was embracing his lieutenant and clapping him on the shoulders. I knew of the duke’s right-hand-man by reputation only, and judging by the pile of newtling heads (and tails) taken as trophy, Dion Deathbringer’s fame was deserved . Raus bade me meet the warrior, and I strode over to take his hand. Imagine my surprise when I realised I was being introduced to none other than my own brother Goslem! “Play dumb, kid”, his Mindspeech whispered in my head as he took my hand. Speechless, I followed the party back into the hall and watched as my own brother dutifully took his place beside the duke and dutifully took the hand of his daughter. He gave me a wink, downed his cup and began to tell of his adventures against the newtlings.
I was roused early the next day by Gos himself , who on the ride to the village of Weis told his story. After dad threw him out seven years ago , Gos made his way to Casino Town. He soon blew the last of his remittance money. Broke and without a friend, he joined the Humakt cult, taking up the life of an adventurer. Gos should have known that getting mixed up with a foreign cult is trouble …..and it was: Gos won the lottery.
Humakti lotteries are a characteristic example of Esrolian decadence (in architecture alone could Esrolian style be considered virtuous – oh to see the fabled City of Wonders with its mile-high walls of crystal!) Unlike our own war cults, Humakti accept gifts and geases from their god, much in the same way Yelmalios do .Perhaps the best of these “gifts” are those that bless the warrior’s weapon. One makes the blade stronger; another increases the damage one does with a weapon against certain parts of the body, and so on.
The lottery works like this: a group of candidates for initiate status band together, pool their resources, and buy a very fancy sword. Instead of blessing their own weapons with their initiation gifts, they all bless this blade to make it extremely potent. Then, a series of Humakti duels are fought to see who gets the prize. Thus the blade goes into the hands of one, but all must still abide by their restrictive geases. My brother won fairly, but his disgruntled comrades retained the right to challenge him for the sword. It didn’t take Gos long to realise that soon enough he’d either be dead, or without the cherished blade. Neither prospect thrilled him much, and he decided to leave Esrolia, taking the mighty sword with him (it was only after he told me this I noticed it was chained to his wrist ).
Drawn to Pavis as many are by tales of loot abounding, Gos gave up adventuring to work for the duke and, after the original Chief of Mercenaries was killed fighting the newtlings, filled the position . Once Raus saw that he was right for the job, he offered my brother Jezra’s hand. Although dad had disinherited him, one day a duchy would be his!
As we rode into the squalid hamlet of Weis, the sullen inhabitants came out of their filthy huts to stare. As Commissioner of the census I was required to call a head-count, but although Goslem sought out the headman – a shambling lout with a pocked face – I couldn’t make myself understood. Neither could I understand his babble, a curious mix of many tongues . I tipped the oaf a silver, which he promptly misunderstood and pushed forward his toothless daughter. Goslem laughed, kicked her back and started rounding the wretches up. Plague had swept through the village several years back, and only fifty-nine souls remained.
After Weis we left the farmlands of the Domain and made our across the desert to the Horn Gate oasis – the westernmost limit of Raus’s territory. Although nominally the duke’s, Horn gate is actually controlled by whatever nomad band happens to be holding it. At present it is our Sable Rider allies, and they provided us with a safe escort across the wastes .
To the parched, weary, saddle-sore rider, Horn Gate comes as delightful sight. Behind white walls lies a lush garden of date palms, green grass and cold water. The inhabitants (strangely blue-eyed and speakers of a tongue unknown anywhere else) seem happy with their lot, even though the insufferable Sable Riders like lording it over them. A band of White Healers have also taken up residence here, and although polite, were reluctant to talk to a Lunar official . Also located within the bounds of the oasis is an ancient holy place, shunned by all. A great cavern, it is said to run underground for miles.
My brother and I spent a restful few days there, sampling the fruits of the oasis (dates and grapes being the main produce). We were all set to return to Ronegarth when one of Goslem’s mercenaries arrived. Taking a spare mount, the hardy fellow had made a quick dash across the desert, making the four day journey in two. Dodging a morokanth ambush and chased by a band of sprinting Agimores, he had come to tell Goslem that “the one-armed man in black” had arrived at Raus Fort and was seeking him. Upon hearing this my brother visibly paled and instinctively grasped the hilt of his sword. “They’ve caught up to me”, he said. Who were ‘they’?
“They” were the Humakti who had entered into the lottery with him and lost. “They” wanted Goslem’s sword. “They” would have to kill Goslem in a duel to get it, and Gos wasn’t going to give them the chance. With his loyal companion, Gos decided to strike out south, turn due east at Spirit Mountain and make his way down Bilos Gap to the river and Lokazzi. From there it was a short raft ride to the port of Corflu, where he hoped to get a boat somewhere.
I didn’t want to lose my brother after missing him for so long, and couldn’t believe that he planned to run. “Why can’t you fight him Gos?”, I asked, ignorant in the ways of the Humakti.
“You don’t understand kiddo”, he replied. “There were fourteen guys in this lottery. One’s already buckled under, another one’s switched blades, I’ve managed to slice another two, which makes nine to go . I just might be able to do in Stumpy (the “one-armed man” at the fort), but after him they’ll just keep coming. Eventually I lose.”
“But what about the duke?”
“He knows I’m a wanted man, running from something.”
“Well what about the duchy, …Jezra? Can’t you just hand it over to him and stay? It’s just a sword!” There were tears in my eyes.
“Don’t blub kid”, said Gos, as he packed his saddlebags. “It bites me to give it all up, I can tell you. Especially Jezra. But this is a matter of Humakti honour. I won the sword fairly and I intend to keep it .”
“But where are you going to go?”
“Who knows?”, he shrugged. “Maybe I’ll even try to get back into dad’s good books again.”
No matter what I said or did, Gos had made his mind up. Pausing only to arrange for me a safe passage back to Ronegarth, he spent the remainder of the evening purchasing supplies and remounts. As Yelm broke over the mountains, my brother was ready to leave.”I’m a Humakti Jax, I can’t lie. But when Stumpy asks you where I’ve gone……” He left the request unanswered.
Goslem handed me two letters, which he had hastily written during the night. One was to Raus, asking the duke to release him from his oath. The other was to Jezra but, knowing how painful it was for him to write it, I could not to ask him what it said. We embraced, he mounted his horse and rode out of the oasis with his companion. I stood watching as his shape shimmered and diminished in the heat haze until it was lost in the glare of the desert. I wondered if I would ever see him again .
Later that day Goslem’s one-armed pursuer rode into the oasis, with a band of bravos. I’m no Humakti, and I told him Goslem was last seen riding into the great haunted cavern. With a grunt he and his followers off, pursued to the cavern’s mouth by whooping Sable Riders, furious at the sacrilege. “Stumpy” and his bravos were not seen on this plane again .
With heavy heart I returned to Ronegarth, dreading what I would have to do and say. Raus took the news well- he’d sacrificed a lot already in his years taming the domain and one more disappointment wasn’t going to break him. Of Jezra’s distress, rage and grief I cannot bring myself to write of. I did not tarry long at Ronegarth, and instead set off by river to Corflu, where I hoped to see my brother one last time .
- 1617 was a year remarkable for its arid summer (followed by an unusually mild winter). The local Orlanthi speculated wildly that the Lunars were to blame, just as it was said they had mucked about with the weather in their own country. The Lunars, used to being the scapegoat, went about conserving water and limiting the grain. Thus no-one in Pavis died that summer from famine or want of thirst, and the Lunars never really expected to be thanked by the ungrateful populace anyway.
- All I can say is, the tragic death of Varna (Jezra’s mother) must have had a profound effect on her. We were in the same deportment class here at the temple, and the Jezra I knew in – as they say -the days before she became a virgin, was a real hellraiser! Jezra was once kidnapped by a band of Tusk Riders, and it is said that she taught them swear words they didn’t know.
- Until he fell under Imperial displeasure, Sir Geo Whither was Court poet to King Moirades of Tarsh. The corpulent king failed to appreciate the artless irony of a heptameter tone-poem composed on the occasion of his birthday, and had his laureate arrested. Although lese-majesty is a capital crime in Tarsh, Whither was spared by the intercession of the Lunar provincial chief of Liaison, Gordius Silverus, himself an amateur composer in the heptameter style. When Silverus heard of Whither’s imminent execution, he passionately entreated King Moriades to spare his life. When asked the reason, Silverus is said to have replied, “Because that so long as Whither lived, I could not be accounted the worst poet in the Empire.” Chuckling, the king spared his poet, but sent him to exile.
- Jaxarte needed only to go as far as our own temple library to find reference to the execrable Wither. A footnote in the Sisters of Inspiration’s Concordance of the Master Poets notes that his work “…is mainly remarkable for its mass, fluidity and flatness. It usually lacks any genuine literary quality and often sinks into imbecile doggerel”. As an example I need only quote the final stanza of his romantic epic “I Loved a Lass”:”
- She would me ‘Honey’ call,
She’d – O she’d kiss me too.
But now alas! She’s left me
Falero, lero, loo.”
- She would me ‘Honey’ call,
- An intriguing aside: a poem with the title “The Defenestration of Harl” cannot be found as Wither’s in any of the authorities. Has Jaxarte given us a tantalising hint of a lost work, or (as was his wont) was Wither about quote someone else’s version of this popular classical theme and claim it as his own?
- The Harpooners invariably held target practice when a Lunar detachment was in town, presumably to show off Sun Dome military “prowess”.
- The three great spears launched against the Giant’s Cradle in 1621 were said to be twice this length and tipped with obsidian points.
- Consulting Baythir Teen’s Menagerie of the Outer Deep, I conclude the creature Jaxarte describes was a Narwhal, a whale-like beast rarely found in temperate waters. After the encounter at Harpoon it continued its way up river for some miles until it foundered in the shallows. A passing band of Impala riders slew it with darts, but sold the horn to the Yelornans, who had been following it.
- Only Jaxarte, Raus, the Cartographer-General and similar pedants would refer to the settlement by its correct name. To everyone else “Ronegarth” is known simply as “Raus Fort”.
- Jaxarte neglects to mention that flying alongside the Lunar banner was the black banner of Raus, depicting the Rone Sword (a fabled family heirloom lost for generations but recently returned to the duke).
- Raus was exiled after a clan dispute (over land-rights in the Redlands) erupted into open warfare. A Lunar legion decided the matter in his opponent’s favour, and the fate of House Rone was sealed.
- And last. It did not take long for Raus to recognize his mistake and soon Sir Geo found himself bound for the coast with a letter of introduction to Tolkazzi Ingilli, lord of Corflu.
- I find it remarkable that anyone could get excited over a pile of newtling skulls.
- Goslem Whyded (1590-1624) was actually Jaxarte’s half-brother: their uxorious father, Sir Arapiles Whyded, sired them on different mothers (both of whom he later divorced). Sir Arapiles was by all accounts an insufferable martinet, and the main cause of his eldest son’s estrangement.
- Goslem was apparently disinherited for attending a trollball match.
- Too late I fear, Jaxarte: little remains of that amazing city after its sacking by Harrek the Berserk and the Wolf Pirates.
- Unlike the Sun Domers, Humakti may choose the gifts they want. Initiates may only take one such gift upon their induction.
- Goslem was prudent to leave Esrolia so quickly: it is usually not long before each of losers decide to challenge the bearer of the sword. This often goes on and on until all but one of the original band are either incapacitated, dishonoured or dead. Often these challenges are made as first blood duels, but the wielder has the right to refuse with honour. Only a challenge to the death cannot be refused. Of course, as each competitor dies, the properties imbued in the weapon are progressively removed. Because of the distrust, animosity and greed that these lottery swords seem to engender (as can be seen in this account), few temples outside Esrolia permit them to be made. Fighting to the death over such a sword is also forbidden in most Humakt temples nowadays, except among the decadent Humakti of the Holy Country.
- Raus’s first Chief of Mercenaries had been another Humakti, named Daine. Although Daine was slain at the Five Eyes temple of the newtlings, subsequent investigation revealed that he had in fact been treacherously stabbed by one of his followers rather than killed by newtlings.
- Anias’s Old Pavic Lexicon claims that language goes through several distinct stages: colloquialism – standard speech – idiom – cliche – archaism. Crude and guttural, the Weisian dialect has degenerated to the archaism stage. It is Anias’s hypothesis that once this level is reached, the people who speak it will eventually die out. Much as I deplore Sage Anais’s infuriating smugness in matters scholarly, I must own that in the case of Weis, his hypothesis is probably correct.
- This was the Horn gate situation at the time of Jaxarte’s writing (1617). The Sable Riders’ star began to wane around 1620 and with Sor- Eel’s disgrace a year later, they were dislodged by the Impala People who hold it to this day.
- The Healers’ reluctance to cooperate with Jaxarte is understandable: his uncle goaded them into leaving Pavis by progressively removing their privileges. They were also recently driven out of Horn Gate by the Impala Riders, after a similar disagreement.
- “buckled under”, Humakti parlance for breaking one’s geas; “switched blades”, Humakti slang for a warrior who converts to the scimitar and joins the rival war-cult Yanafarl Tarnils; “sliced two already”, by this I assume Goslem defeated two opponents in death duels. A Humakti friend of mine assures me that a lottery sword would be quite capable of cutting even a fully-armoured foe in half.
- Methinks if Goslem was truly honourable, he would have stayed back and fought his adversary fairly rather than run away. A covetous man can rationalise anything I suppose, and only an Issaries over his money-belt is as covetous as a Humakti over his dress sword.
- One presumes Jaxarte did, when he returned to the Heartlands. With encroaching senility, Sir Arapiles’s mind and attitude softened towards the wayward Goslem, and he returned to the family fold in late 1619. Goslem then formed the Gray Blades, a Humakti company serving as Lunar auxiliaries. His subsequent military career is detailed elsewhere (see for example And Then There Were None, Goslem’s own account of how he slew or otherwise pacified his remaining ten adversaries). I shall only relate here the circumstances of his suicide.
- In early 1624 the Gray Blades were ordered to storm the battlements of rebellious Bikhy, and Goslem rashly swore that he would “take the walls or die trying.” The attack was stalled by diplomacy, but Goslem felt his honour was therefore compromised. He led his assault on the walls anyway, under heavy fire from both sides. Later, in full view of all, he fell on his own sword atop the ramparts. His famed weapon has since disappeared, and the surviving Gray Blades now form part of a Danfive Xaron punishment legion.
- That “Stumpy” had one arm suggests he took one of the most powerful Humakti gifts, the gift which increases the damage wrought by a sword twice over. However, the most powerful gift needs must have the most costly geas: the taker cannot use magical healing again. Thus, if a limb is lost, it is lost for good.
- Unlike Count Solanthos of Sun County, the duke was happy to assist Jaxarte with his amendments to the census. Raus’s personal survival depended on him keeping in Sor- Eel’s favour, and no matter what population figure Jaxarte recorded, Weis Domain was exempt from Imperial taxation for a period of seven years anyway. I quote from Jaxarte’s report:
- Ronegarth……578 souls, including 41 of the duke’s own newtlings; seat of Duke Raus of Rone, lord of the holding. Most of the inhabitants are Redlands immigrants, transported here under the Governor-General’s forced resettlement programme. Varna…….102 souls. A small settlement recently established near Five Eyes Rise. Named after the duke’s late wife. Unlike the farmers of Ronegarth, the inhabitants here were transported from Talastar.
- Weis…….59 souls. Inhabited by wretched indigents, who speak their own crude dialect. Plague carried off almost half their number several years ago.
- Fort Daine …….52 souls. Controls passage at the “easy ford”, in the South Bog.
- North Fort…….34 souls. Located at the southernmost tip of the North Bog. The Duke has not selected an appropriate name for this settlement yet.
- Raus plans to build a stockade about every 10km along the river. Although the sites have been selected, Fort Daine (named after the duke’s first Chief of Mercenaries) and Northfort are the only ones yet to be permanently garrisoned.
- Horn Gate…….1002 souls; excluding nomads. While the inhabitants might owe fealty to Raus, they give tribute to whatever nomad tribe holds the oasis. Currently controlled by the Sable Riders.
- Five Eyes Rise…….unknown number of newtlings. These cliffs are known to house a sizeable newtling population, who are unfriendly yet unantagonistic towards the duke. Two years ago Raus sent a punitive raid against them and they have been quiet ever since.
- 1617: TOTAL POPULATION OF WEIS DOMAIN, IMPERIAL PROVINCE OF PRAX: 1827 souls (excluding nomads and newtlings).”
- A Hard Landing
- Jaxarte and the Bison Khan
- Jaxarte and the Chaos Fiends
- Jaxarte and the Emperor
- Jaxarte at the Sun Dome
- Moonson’s Number Two
- The Lismelder Tribe – the Lunar Traveller’s Point of View
- The Son of Light Awakens
- Yolanela Spurned
- Jaxarte Introduction and NPC stats
- Goslem Whyded NPC stats and his fabled Lottery Sword
Page Last updated: 2022-10-23 10:10:30