Sailing from Sibilan
[Wednesday, 24 December 1997]
Griflet's Report: Beginnings are delicate, sometimes dangerous times.
THE DUEL OF THE SWAN SHIPS - Lizard's Dawn, Frost Moon, Year of the Ogre
You, Ash, will you take part in the slaughter of your own kind? Would you steal from your own, our boats, our last chance? I for one will not let you do it. So if blood is to be shed let it be yours and mine and not what is left of the Elven people. If you still insist on the theft of the Swan Ships I challenge you to arms!
Your challenge rings out in the mist, which deadens all sound and paints trees, rocks, ships and motionless elves a uniform, dull grey.
A challenge? shouts Ash across the grey water, I'll willingly spill your pale outcast blood, Griflet, for you are a traitor, a kingslayer and a degenerate curse upon the People. My blade will put an end to your lies and deceptions forever.
You draw your rapier and hand your cloak and armour to a young elf as Ash approaches through the thick mist, sword drawn. You and Ash stand facing each other in the mist, in silence. Then the duel begins. You swing your blade, Ash deftly parries. His style is elegant, more refined than yours, but you are faster. With lightning speed you block his flashing blade. The clink of steel on steel and your laboured breathing are the only sounds; even these are deadened and swallowed by the mist. Seeing an opening, you lunge. Ash blocks, but badly and now his white shirt is stained with his blood. Panting with effort, but not losing his head Ash parries your next strike easily and aims a master blow at your throat, but you spin your rapier and block the deadly strike at the last moment. Your faces are inches apart; Ash wears an expression of cold hatred. Your swords clash again and again and again. You circle around each other, looking for advantage, feinting, blocking, two master swordsmen in the mist. Ash's defence is marvellous, a whirling sphere of steel, but he is tiring now and he is in pain. You see your chance and take it; he reacts too late to your swift stroke. Ash collapses at your feet. You have won the Duel of the Swan Ships.
Ash will live, though his blood pools and drips through the ancient beams of the pier into the sea. Again you address the Free Protectors. With their leader defeated, their will to flee is broken; you persuade them to stand down. The Crisis of the Port of Swan Ships has been averted and your plan of evacuation can now commence.
THE LEAVETAKING - Night of the Dog, Frost Moon, Year of the Ogre
A week after the Duel of the Swan Ships, the Leavetaking begins. The Swan Ships with their first load of Elvish passengers and cargo depart for Vardin's Protectorate. Sailing by night, the fleet travels through the Quarmallian Canal, then past Antim Town, down the Throat to the Great Lake of Pleea, then to the edge of the Lower Lake of Pleea, where you disembark on the Sibilan side. The voyage takes five days.
Vardin, looking older than you remembered, greets you. Hail, Griflet. Without further ado, he and his rangers help the elves to disembark from the Swan Ships. Soon after, the ships set sail to continue the Leavetaking.
The process of relocating the People is slow. Using just the Swan Ships (there are no other ships available without alerting humans en masse to the move) it takes just under two months (the rest of winter) to transport the three thousand elves (excepting a few stragglers and hardcore Servants of Sibilan) from the area around Imric's Hold to Vardin's Protectorate on the edge of the Wild Wold. The hardiest remained until last, for indeed the winter has been a harsh one. There are a few fatalities, but many more have been averted by the use of the Swan Ships. A land trek across the Quarmallian Canal (Antim Town would have had to be involved) and through the Druid-held lands of The Throat might have been much more dangerous for the People.
A TROUBLED SPRING - Wolf's Moon, Year of the Gorgon
THE ELVES: With mere survival no longer a critical problem, the elves have turned their attention to the restructuring of their House system, and their search for an appropriate royal heir. With so many members of each House dead after the Nightmare (some Houses were wiped out altogether) this task has proved to be a formidable one. House Mercantile has opened trade with Lorn Velpa, trading elf-crafted artifacts for food, clothing and building materials. Such trades with humans were once carefully monitored, but You can't argue with the Lords of Necessity, as Tolinthis has been heard to say whenever the matter has arisen. Meanwhile, with Ash out of action and the leaders of the Servants of Sibilan up north, Gorianthas of the Royalists has gained much support, though he is not a particularly charismatic leader. Ash went into exile as soon as his wounds were recovered. Many of the Free Protectors have reverted to House Protector, though some may still have some sympathies to the absent Ash.
THE HUMANS: Vardin is not happy. While the Beastmen have been quiet during winter, they often come raiding in spring, for food, sport and so that their cubs and spawn can bloody themselves in battle. Vardin fears that his rangers' position has been compromised by the arrival of the elves. Furthermore, there have been an increasing number of unpleasant incidents between elves and rangers, a growing friction and ill-will. Vardin says privately to you that his men are losing discipline and that is his opinion the rangers are being provoked by some elves' superior or insulting attitudes. They are fine warriors, my men, Griflet, says Vardin. Disciplined. I hand picked every one. They're not fools, though, and they don't like being treated like dogs by some of your people. I don't like it either, not one little bit. Something must be done about this situation.
A MEETING WITH MERRICK QUICKSTRING - Fox [28th], Lover's Moon, Gorgon
Near the beginning of the Leavetaking, while disembarking with the third fleet of elves at Vardin's Protectorate, you met an old ally leaning on his bow and smiling a half-smile. Well met, Griflet Graycion, said Quickstring, whom you haven't seen since the Battle of the Grimlock Caves, more than four years ago now. Since then he has been wandering the human lands of the Lankhmar Continent. He brings you news of the Stormlands. After the death of the druid Medusa (here Merrick smiles slightly), Lord Carkspur could no longer control his (largely mercenary) armies. Several human merc captains rebelled and took possession of castles formerly held by Lords of the Stormlands. The Stormlands is once again filled with feuding, vengeful warlords. Only the names have changed. Quickstring also brings darker news. The paladin Daphne, working with Lord Weemsley in the south succeeded in taking Caer Tollund (now called Castle Lawden). Unfortunately, she disappeared in the Tresswck Marsh; some say she was killed by the Giant of Tresswck. In any case she has not returned and the work she began of reuniting the Stormlands is unravelling.
You thank him for this information. Quickstring seems impressed by your efforts for the People. I'm a wanderer, Griflet. Always have been, always will be I suppose. I'm not one for courts, manners and Laws. I'm leaving again now - but if you need me some time, send for me and I'll help you if I can. With that, he shoulders his bow and strides off into the woods.
A MEETING WITH POLYDICES - Night of the Crab, Snow Moon, Gorgon
Yesterday night there was no moon. You heard a voice in your mind which was not Mysteriones inane chatter. Griflet, it is Polydices. Are you alone? May I speak with you?
Show yourself, Polydices, you command, vaguely irritated by this infringement of
your mental space - already crowded enough by Mysteriones. Your keen eyes spot a figure several hundred metres away in the trees. Sure enough, it is Polydices, wrapped in a hooded cloak.
I apologise for bothering you in this way, Griflet. I feared being discovered by other elves or humans. Polydices seems troubled, though he hides it very well. We have a mutual enemy, Griflet. It is the Dragon, the bane of both our people. Has it not destroyed two mighty Elven fortresses, and slain the best warriors and magicians of the Quarmallian army? I believe we can help each other, Griflet. I know where Bloodbane lairs - in a cave above the Grave of Ships in the Wild Wold. I know a potion which makes one resistant to fire and dragon-venom. I have my spells and powers. But Griflet - I cannot fight the Dragon alone. Will you help? I know that I am a Quarmallian and you are an Elf, but I - I trust you. He seems almost pleading.
They have called for me, Griflet, he continues in a quieter voice. They have called for me to return. I have no stomach for the caverns and halls and plots any longer. Killing the Dragon would convince them of my use out here and would rid both our peoples of an ancient enemy. I am not suicidal. I believe that it could be done with your skill and stealth and my sorceries. Surely those of Law believe in righting ancient wrongs? If you will help me, Griflet, I will be in your debt. If you wish to contact me, leave a stone in the bole of an old oak in a clearing five miles west of here, on the edge of the Wild Wold. Goodbye, Griflet.
As Polydices' hooded figure slips away into the woods you ponder his words, unsure whether he spoke the truth or not. Then you turn and head back to the Elven settlement.