Jaxarte on the Borderlands 
First published in Tales of the Reaching Moon issue #5

Copyright © 1991 by Michael O'Brien

Weis Domain
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) [1].

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 [2].

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" [3]. He was quite affronted when I said I was unfamiliar with his work [4], 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 [5]. 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 [6].

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 [7]. 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 [8]). 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 [9] 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 [10]. 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 [11]. 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 [12]. 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.

Dion Deathbringer
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 [13]. 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![14] "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 [15], 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![16]) Unlike our own war cults, Humakti accept gifts and geases from their god, much in the same way Yelmalios do [17].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 [18]).

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 [19]. 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 [20]. 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.

Horn Gate
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 [21].

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 [22]. 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 [23]. 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 [24]."

"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 [25].

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 [26].

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 [27].

Floriat's Notes

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