The "Cackhanders"

First published in The Booke of Tentacles II (German RQ Con 1999 Fundraiser Book)
Copyright © 1999 by Michael O'Brien

The Origins of the Retirement Towers in Sun County  by Benedict Adamson, © 1999

Men of Gold

The elite fighting force of Sun County, the famous Sun Dome templars, have resisted nomads, trolls and other enemies for centuries.  With the aid of their god Yelmalio and his priests, and the faith of their people, the templars have helped keep this small bastion of civilisation independent in the face of terrible adversity and testing times of trial.

As we learned in Cults of Prax, Gods of Glorantha and Sun County, Yelmalio rewards the faith of his people by blessing his initiates with divine gifts.  Yelmalio's gifts include mastery of cult weapons, magical powers, and a range of physical enhancements; such blessings make each templar a superior soldier and the regiment as a whole into a formidable military machine.

To test and strengthen their faith, those who take a gift also take a geas. Yelmalio bestows these so that his people will serve him better, and his priests may also admonish and correct the wayward with further geases. Unfortunately, some of Yelmalio's geases make it difficult for those who receive them to continue serving in the line of battle, which relies on a uniformity of action and singularity of purpose.

Templars whose collection of geases renders them incapable of joining the line of battle are instead sent to a serve in a specialised unit at Harpoon, as are other Templar misfits: shirkers, inveterate left-handers and reprobates not considered bad enough to warrant a spell at Pent Ridge, the Sun County prison.  Here they guard the famous giant spear-throwing weapon that sits high on the bluffs.

The Unlucky Thirteenth

Although officially designated the XIIIth Square ("the Unlucky Thirteenth"), the misfits give themselves another nickname: "The Men with the Golden Gun", in honour of their weapon.  But the rest of the templars fix on the left-handers in this group and derisively call them the "Cack-Handers".

Led by the senior initiate (and sometimes Light Son) Auric Goldfinger, whose chronic insubordination, chequered career and tumultuous sequence of promotions and demotions has led him to earning a record 67 different simultaneous prohibitions, the Cack-Handers are formed into outsized half-files of 10 or more, depending on the geases they follow.  The lowest of the low are the final file, the "Dirty Dozen" who all share that same unfortunate restriction, "Never bathe".

The XIIIth Square on parade are an interesting sight, lining up with a variety of armour missing, and carrying assorted weapons or shields in either hand.  The other templars snigger and say that the only thing more amusing than watching the Cack-Handers try to form a reasonable shield wall is watching them try to eat at dinner time (unless you count their seasonal excursions to the local Uleria brothel)!

The Great Harpoon

This great machine sits high on the bluffs above the settlement, and serves as a prestigious symbol of the Sun Dome's military might.  Built on a pivot and capable of firing enormous arrows over huge distances, the device is only used on rare occasions, such as upriver incursions by sea monsters. Its main use is actually as a deterrent against raids by pirates and the like, and its presence helps the Sun Domers regulate and impose a tariff on the passing river trade.

In addition to guarding the artefact year-round, the Men with the Golden Gun are responsible for loading and priming the harpoon when it goes into use.  With a full square (64 men) manning the winches to prime the weapon and using a block and tackle to load the next missile into place, the harpoon can fire three shots in about 10 minutes.  The Cack-handers perform the manual tasks, but the actual aiming of the device is done by the toxophilites, hereditary priests from the town of Harpoon whose gifts from Yelmalio give them prodigious aim.  While the machine has a number of powerful spell matrixes and spirits to boost both damage and distance, in times of crisis the toxophilites are also supported by teams of priests from the Sun Dome.

The toxophilites have a number of missiles to chose from, of varying lengths.  The great bolts fired at the giant cradle were some 25 meters long and tipped with razor-sharp obsidian points and imbued with incredible magical properties.  There are three such arrows, which date from the harpoon's original setting at the Sun Dome.  Old stories say they would be powerful enough to pierce the hide of a dragon and kill it, should one ever threaten the land.  Most of the missiles for regular use are only 10-15 meters long.  They are fashioned from redwood by specially trained artisans at the hamlet of High Water, several keymiles down river from Harpoon.  The redwood tree trunks come from the great forest around Leaping Place Lake at the headwaters of the Zola Fel.  It is a difficult and dangerous journey floating them downstream through the troll-infested Desolation Hills, Pavis County and the Big Rubble to the Lands of the Sun.  Ensuring a supply of these logs is one of the main responsibilities of the Men with the Golden Gun, and Auric Goldfinger has led three such expeditions in the past decade.

The History of the Harpoon

The history of the Harpoon is all but forgotten by the people of Sun County.  Only Hector the Wise, the temple librarian, knows the whole tale. As one might suspect, its original purpose had nothing to do with skewering sea monsters swimming up the Zola Fel.  It actually dates from the period just after the Dragonkill War (1100 ST), when the people of the Sun Dome tore down their old temple, purged themselves of any vestiges of EWF-inspired solar draconism and returned to the unsullied, pure light of Yelmalio.  Fearing the vengeance of the Sun Dragon, to protect their land the Sun Domers built a series of watch towers throughout the county.  And with the expertise of Tinlizzi Goldenbeard (said to be a dwarven refugee from EWF persecution at Pavis), the Great Ballista was built at the new Sun Dome Temple, to protect it from draconic retribution.

The Great Ballista originally sat atop the temple's lookout tower, always loaded, a great arrow pointing directly at the sky.  There it stayed for several hundred years, ever ready to strike deep into the heart of a marauding dragon.  But the dragons never came, and the fear gradually passed from people's minds [1].  The County, however, was beset by other enemies during this time, which is known in the histories as the Solitude of Testing.

One terrible year (1380), in addition to the depredations of marauding nomads and ravenous trolls, the folk living along the river were ravaged by a beast they called the medusoid.  It was a great, many-tentacled sea monster which wreaked a path of destruction up and down the Zola Fel for months, sinking river craft, wrecking  settlements and eating people and livestock.  When attempts to destroy the menace proved fruitless, in desperation the new count, Monallyn the Calm, performed the River Ritual (see Sun County, p.40), seeking the aid of the river nymph Kinope.  With her assistance he was able to lure the beast to a spot on the river under some bluffs.  Here he had the great spear-throwing machine set up, and with the aid of special iron-tipped arrows, used it to kill the monster.  For this he is honoured in the Light List as one of the county's great leaders, even if few people today actually remember the deed [2].

Sun County fell into desperate times after Manallyn's short reign, and the device, which became known as the "harpoon" was never returned to the Sun Dome Temple.  Instead, a settlement sprung up around it; first just the toxophilites and their retinue, later, a fishing and market town.  It wasn't long before it was known, with true Sun Domer bloody-minded literalness, simply as "Harpoon".  The XIIIth Square came later.  It was first banished to Harpoon in 1459 by Narokoris the Wise, a reformist count who picked over the ranks of the templars, redeploying here those considered unfit or unworthy to stand in his shield wall [3].

Recent History

The giant harpoon has only been used a few times in anger in recent memory.

Most notable was its role in the great Cradle epic, when (to everyone's surprise) a giant cradle floated down the Zola Fel in sea season, 1621, the first in nearly 800 years.  As loyal allies of the Lunars, the Sun Domers fired three great missiles at the cradle and used hundreds of oxen to try to drag the prize ashore.  Despite a full mobilisation of the county, the templar assault on the cradle was ultimately unsuccessful and resulted in heavy casualties [4].

Sometime shortly before this, the Zola Fel was afflicted by a gorp plague and a colossal gorp formed in the river just below the weapon.  Ironically, the harpoon proved completely ineffective against the menace, and had to be destroyed by other means [5].

A Lunar official, Jaxarte Whyded, recounts how a narwhal was spotted swimming upriver while he was visiting Harpoon in 1617.  Despite the best efforts of the Sun Domers to show off their prowess in front of him, they failed to hit it [6].  So much for the Cack-handers.

Notable Figures at Harpoon

Auric Goldfinger
Captain of the XIIIth, Auric Goldfinger [brave, intractable, arbitrary, headstrong] has been both showered with honours and blighted by misfortune, tragedy and near-disgrace throughout his long career.  Although a hero at Moonbroth and other battles, Auric has always been a maverick; a thorn in the side of the Sun Dome authorities, though one whose loyalty and courage is unquestioned.  Over the years, his unorthodox conduct has earned him many geases as punishment, and following his most recent disgrace, was stripped of all but his first Yelmalio gift [permanent Catseye ability].

He is indeed lucky to have never seen the insides of the mines of Pent Ridge, given his close association with the now disgraced priest Daystar, who lies brooding in a dark pit unseen by the sun.  Daystar personally selected Auric and a number of his men (most of them left-handers) to serve as his personal bodyguard while carrying out his unauthorised excavations at the Old Sun Dome.  Fortunately, Auric had strong alibis to show he played no part in the priest's abominable crimes that were exposed soon after, and he narrowly avoided sharing his patron's fate.  Following a passionate intercession by Lord Belvani, the lieutenant of Sun County whose life he saved at Moonbroth, Count Solanthos was persuaded to merely strip Auric of his Light Son status.  He was given a slew of new geases and sent in disgrace back to Harpoon.

Auric currently has every geas in the book (see Sun County p.27) and a number of others besides.  No one knows why he has recently taken to fighting in reverse (ie left-handed), which will no doubt earn him further censure from the cult.

The Luxor Brothers
Three brothers, all inherited the rank of toxophilite, which has passed down the Luxor family line for generations.  Considered acolytes of Yelmalio, Mow, Laris and Cerlis [argumentative, eccentric, emotive, irritable] share the same gift from their god: mastery over the great weapon.  While Mow is the natural leader of the three, Cerlis is the most industrious and Laris the best eagle eye.  A fourth brother, Shempeh was killed in a tragic misfire accident some years ago.  While each could fire the harpoon alone, the Luxor brothers have jealously guarded prerogatives and usually work as a team.

The Town of Harpoon

The town of Harpoon is distinguished only by its famous spear-thrower high on the bluffs.  Other than that, it is much like any other Sun Dome settlement along the river, protected by a rammed earth stockade and with a small but fine temple of its own, modelled after the great Sun Dome.  The XIIIth Square is quartered in a crowded barracks by the temple and parades in the market square.  Lord Luxor [aged, patrician, benevolent, ineffectual], the town headman and priest, is notable only because he still practices polygamy, a custom which is now all but extinct in Sun County.

A number of river folk live down on the shores of the Zola Fel; many of their homes and building were damaged or destroyed when the colossal gorp blighted the area.

A file of militia is based at the town (IV File, known as 'Jovian's Men' after its leader, the no-account elder brother of Lady Vega, Guardian of Sun County [7]).  Although they share the same barracks building, they try to have as little to do with Men with the Golden Gun as possible.  Jovian's men spend their time dabbling in the hazia trade and corruptly regulating the local river trade, often using the harpoon on the cliffs above them as a hollow threat.  For more information, see Sun County, p.42.


[1] Though it is told that Count Zolan II (reigned 1273-1301), known as "Wyrmslayer", may have used the device to kill such a creature.  It is known that during his reign there was a brief resurgence in interest in the old forms of worship, quickly crushed by the count who killed the heresy's leaders and married their widows (earning him his other sobriquet "Manywife Sinner").

[2] The Light List tells us Monallyn the Calm 'used iron darts and brought peace' (1380-1383).  It is rumoured a forbidden codex in the Sun Dome Library claims the medusoid was actually the misbegotten spawn of an earlier count,  Zeoluz (nicknamed "the Shadowlord") and an unknown water spirit.  Looking into the count's soul, the nymph Kinope refused to couple with him in the annual reenactment of the pact between land and river.  Most people were unaware it was with an imposter that Zeoluz later completed the ritual. In fear, the next count Cruk (known as "the Dissenter") refused to take part in the River Ritual, adding drought to the misfortunes already blighting the land.

[3] Narokoris's Light List entry reads: 'Narokoris the Wise, who trained all his people once again to the drill of spear and shield, and made his land peaceful' (1458-1498).

[4] For further reading see 'The Cradle' scenario in the RQ2 supplement Pavis "Episodes" book (or the new Pavis/Big Rubble reprint) and my RQ3 tournament Mad Prax - Beyond Sun Dome.

[5] For more about this (and a map of the village), see the 'Troubled Waters' scenario in River of Cradles.

[6] See my story Jaxarte on the Borderlands from Tales of the Reaching Moon #6.

[7] For more on the useless Jovian Rex ('J.R.') Goldbreath, see 'The Secret History of Sun County', in Questlines II and at Jane's Glorantha Page.  Yes, he is mysteriously shot...

Scenario Hooks
  • The Cradle Cometh! #1:  If you can get your hands on it, play the most epic RuneQuest adventure ever published, "The Cradle", found in the RQ2 supplement Pavis "Episodes" book and recent Pavis/Big Rubble reprint.  Wow!
  • The Cradle Cometh! #2:  The RQ3 tournament Mad Prax: Beyond Sun Dome sends the characters on an urgent mission from the Sun Dome to Harpoon and culminates in the Yelmalio attack on the giant cradle.  Looks at  Pavis' "Cradle" adventure from the other side!
  • Blockade Runner:  The player characters are smuggling a load of contraband down river to Corflu, and must somehow get past the menacing weapon on the bluffs and Jovian Goldbreath's grasping boatmen below.  Incoming!
  • The Kraken Wakes:  Another sea monster threatens life on and along the river.  The PCs must perform the River Ritual, and convince the nymph Kinope to help lure the creature to Harpoon where it can be slain.
  • Deliverance:  It is a perilous journey bringing redwood tree trunks down from Leaping Place Lake to Sun County, but a necessary one, for it is from redwood that the Sun Domers make their famous pikes - and the great missiles fired by the harpoon.  The PCs could be just the people for such an epic task, perhaps in company with some of the Men with the Golden Gun.
  • Crimson Tide:  The Lunars plan to bring the Bat to Prax and Pavis!  The harpoon, said to be powerful enough to bring down a dragon, is the only weapon that could possibly stop it.  The PCs might be agents of the Lunars, ordered to secretly destroy this threat to the Empire, or bold rebels, keen to use the device to kill the chaos horror once and for all!
  • Raiders of the Lost Art:  Without plans, it would probably be nigh impossible to build another Harpoon without dwarven assistance.  But, the original blueprints of the weapon are rumoured to still exist: immured in the bricked-up library at the Old Sun Dome.  Such diagrams could command a great price.
  • Broken Arrow:  Rogue elements (Auric Goldfinger? the PCs themselves?) take control of the giant weapon and threaten shipping, the town of Harpoon and the security of Sun County.  Or perhaps the harpoon gets secretly relocated to the Old Sun Dome, or another machine is built there and a couple of the great golden missiles are stolen.  "I don't know what's more disturbing. The fact that one of our harpoons is missing, or that the Count has a code word to describe such an occurance."

"The Origins of the Retirement Towers in Sun County"
An excerpt from Hector's Yellow Book

By Benedict Adamson

[1617 S.T. XXVIII-902]
"After the dragonewts betrayed the EWF, they set about provoking the people of Pavis. They even drove out Tinlizzi the dwarf, for a time. He fled south, and met Count Yamsur. The Count had no love for the Sun Dragon, because it had seduced people from the right worship of Yelmalio. Count Yamsur was eager to lead his great army to Dragon Pass, but feared leaving his lands unprotected. In return for sanctuary, Tinlizzi (who become known as "Goldbeard" on account of the rewards he was given) built the Dragonward Towers and the Great Ballista, to defend Sun County against the dragons.

"Tinlizzi Goldenbeard brought with him the secrets of the arms of Pavis [1]. He erected cylindrical towers throughout Sun County, as watch towers and heliograph stations.

"As fear of the dragons waned, and the prosperity of Sun County declined, the expense of maintaining the Dragonwardens weighed heavily. The network of towers was slowly dismantled, and their garrisons reassigned. The mirrors were placed in the temple treasury, and the internal timbers reused elsewhere. Some towers were demolished. Most were left as shells. Retiring priests took to using them as hermitages, so now visitors call them retirement towers, and even the locals have come to use that name.

"Orogurri the Bison loved drink more than ceremony. He melted down all the great mirrors in the treasury to make gold cups for his warriors, and since then much of the art has been lost.  The Great Ballista was moved to its present location centuries ago, where it is used as a giant harpoon against pirates and other menaces from the sea.  Ignorant folk think it has always been there, and was once used to skewer and reel in the giant cradles that gave the river its name.

"The retirement towers of Sun County are in various states of repair, and broadly two styles. The oldest towers, judging by their weathering, were the best built, and some are still in better condition than younger towers.  The older towers are usually taller and narrower, and always built from fine stone, but with little decoration. None of the brick towers are old.  When retirement towers are grouped, no more than one is in the older style.  The priests would not permit me to examine the interior of a tower. Lieutenant Belvani joked that I should become a Light Priest, then await decrepitude."


[1] Aerial-defence towers: for more information see the Arlatan section of Strangers in Prax.

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