The Stacked Deck Chapter 3

Copyright Ronald Soller © 2005

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

"Randae Terinson was no mere man.  He was a Loremaster"

Making Friends and Enemies Part 1

Tyron sat at the bar of the Raging Threk. A half finished cup of mead sat in front of him as he chatted a little with a few different patrons who happened to stop by. He even got a new order to fulfill for one of the prospectors.

Keltos, the bard, sat on a stool in front of the fireplace and played his zither as he sang the Ballad of Rame Kelfor. That was probably the most well known song in town and a number of patrons quietly listened or tapped their feet with the music.

As the song came to an end a tall young man walked in the door. He was quite large in the chest and arms and at the moment he had sawdust and wood shavings all over his hair, beard, and clothing. He looked around the bar until his eyes happened upon Gerdar, and the lumberjack headed straight across the floor and stopped right in front of him.

"I heard you'd made a challenge," the lumberjack's voice sounded like a wagon wheel in gravel.

"Well, my friend, you have heard right. I am even going to provide a prize to the man who can best me in a fair duel, but it is not yet ready," replied Gerdar.

Gerdar was an adventurer who had been grievously injured a few years ago in a fight with some trolls. He now walked with a limp and could not travel great distances without a cart or a mount.

He stood up in front of the lumberjack and had to tilt his head back to look the huge woodsman in the eye.

"I will take that challenge, old man." The lumberjack had a confident sneer on his lip.

"The prize should be completed by the end of the week. I will see you in the park on Air-day, and make sure you bring your payment." Gerdar sat back down and went back to drinking his ale and the big guy went over to a group of woodsmen where they noisily cheered him and ordered him drinks.

Two young boys took off out the front door and sprinted down the dusty street. They ran right past Tyron's shop, where Paul was busy trimming tags off from the pommel pieces he casted earlier.

They continued down the street turning here and there until they came to a tall wooden building, and went right in the front door. The faded shingle on the side had no words on it, but it depicted a hand of cards and a pair of dice. After a few minutes, one of the boys headed back out of Baldreck's Gaming House and ran all the way back to the Raging Threk.

The boy walked up to the man at the corner table with the dark scraggly hair, and whispered to him. The man put his knuckles on the table and stood up a little.

"Odds on the challenge start at three to one in favor of the Lumberjack." With a sparkle in his eye he sat back down. Immediately, the crowd got loud, drowning out poor Keltos, and a majority of the patrons crowded around the bookie to place their bets.

Keltos hoped down from his stool and worked his way through the excited crowd towards the bar. He went behind the bar and stood his zither in the corner for safekeeping, then he nodded to Tyron and went back around to take a seat in the stool right next to him.

"Sein is going to make big coins on this challenge," Tyron said as he tipped his head towards the bookie and his mob of customers.

"Did you hear the news", Keltos asked Tyron? He motioned to Millie to bring him a drink.

"Yeah, I will be going for a look myself in a little while," Tyron responded to the bard. "Do you have any interest?"

"Just wondering what is in it for me. Keep me posted," Keltos said with a nod to Tyron. He got up from his stool and grabbed the mug of ale that was just put in front of him by Millie. He noticed that she wasn't her usual chipper self and logged that back in his memory for further action as he headed through the crowd on his way to the privy chamber.

Tyron picked up his cup and drained the mead before he got up from the bar and headed towards the exit. With one last look back at the throng of patrons that were still trying to get their bets placed, he quietly exited the inn.

The fog came from off the bay and made its way up the beach. It was not stopped by gate or by wall as it crawled inland and it grew thicker as evening slid to night. With the disappearing of the sun, so went what little warmth it provided in this cold region of northern Jaiman and the realization caused Tyron to shiver. He took all precautions to make sure that he was neither seen nor followed as he made his way along the winding animal trail that headed further up the side of the crags of the Dragonsfang Mountains which lined the south shore of Claedasbrim Bay.

The light from the moons caused the mist to glow with an eerie luminescence. It was not so thick this high up, and Tyron could see the scrubs and rocks around him. The call of a few night birds could be heard, but the air was still and quiet beyond that. The path leveled off to form a small, gravel covered precipice and the view from here was not very good since there were too many large boulders and scrub trees in the way to see any of the surrounding countryside.

Tyron looked around a little, as if he was expecting to find something,

"Well met, my friend", said someone.

Tyron's stomach jumped straight into his mouth. He turned to watch a tall thin man materialize from the fog. Make that a tall thin half elf; Randae Terinson was no mere man. He was a Loremaster, member of one of the most powerful organizations on Kulthea. They were associates and usually allies of the Grey Ring, of which Tyron was a member. After he recovered from his shock, he reached out his hand in greeting.

"Well met, Randae. It is rare that I receive a summons; usually you are just a visitor to my shop or the Raging Threk. So what is so worthy of all this secrecy and urgency?" Tyron brought his hand back after the shake and crossed his arms over his chest.

Randae pulled out a scroll, and handed it to Tyron. "A young man has arrived in your community recently. He is a craftsman of sorts, but has some bitter and powerful enemies looking for him."

"His name is Paul, and he is currently employed and boarded by yours truly", Tyron responded with a smirk on his face.

"How fortuitous that is! Keep him well and do what is in your power to advance his skills. He is more than he seems." Randae said with a quick smile. Then he turned and started back towards the fog.

"That is it? All this to tell me something I pretty much already had figured out?" Tyron asked.

"Don't forget about the scroll." That voice came from the fog, which swirled in and then Randae was not there.

"Oh yeah, the scroll. Great, more mysteries; oh well, life would be boring without them."

Tyron put the scroll in his pouch and peered into the fog where Randae went. He shook his head, turned and headed back down towards Kelfor's Landing.

Making Friends and Enemies Part 2

Paul had just finished wrapping the hilt of Gerdar's great sword in leather from a threk when Tyron walked up to him.

"Looks like you will have it all done by the Air-day challenge, not that it will be necessary."

Paul looked up at Tyron, "Why do you say that?"

"This lumberjack has absolutely no chance of beating Gerdar, although I am sure the old warrior will make it look good," was Tyron's response.

Paul's face looked puzzled and slightly disgusted.

"Oh, don't mistake me, my young friend; this fight will be honest and fair. It is no setup, at least on the part of Gerdar. I would be surprised if this lumberjack wasn't somehow convinced into making the challenge. Just wait and see, Gerdar is a very skilled warrior," Tyron explained.

As he finished talking he reached out and picked up the nearly completed sword that Paul was holding.

"This is a truly amazing piece of work." Tyron backed off a little and placed himself into a battle stance. He closed his eyes and his breathing lessened until you could not tell he still was. He then launched into a fluid routine involving different strikes and defense positions, moving the huge two-handed blade around like it was a small bread knife. When the motion stopped, Tyron opened his eyes and returned the sword to Paul.

"Where did you learn that?" Paul inquired. He was delighted to have seen such a display of muscle control, and the huge weapon wielded with such grace.

"Well, it was not so hard to do as you would think, once you get used to it. Especially with a blade as well balanced and crafted as that piece you are finishing up there, it is quite enjoyable. Would you like, I could teach it to you." Tyron offered.

"If you would teach, I would be honored to learn," said Paul.

"Alright, then we start at dawn on Moon-day, in the storage area behind the shop," Tyron said as he started to walk towards the entrance. "Oh, I almost forgot," he stopped, fished a pouch off of his belt, and tossed it to Paul who reached out and caught the small bag. "Gerdar also wants this mounted on the pommel."

Tyron continued to walk out of the building.

Paul untied the strings holding the small bag closed and unsuccessfully peered inside. He then resorted to dumping the contents into the palm of his hand. A chunk of raw ivory tumbled out. The ivory needed to be shaped and worked before it could be split into two inlays, so Paul headed over to the bench to begin the task.

The sun was peeking high on Air-day, the midday quintar. It was an unusually warm day for this season and there was no fog to be seen. Nearly all the traffic in the town was headed in one direction; toward the park.

"I am amazed at how many people are here for a little duel", Paul said.

"This is a major event here at Kelfor's Landing. There are not a lot of things that go on around here; even executions are usually no big deal. This challenge is very gladiatoral, and highly entertaining. Besides, you have never seen Gerdar perform," Tyron replied, the smile on his face spoke volumes.

The two turned off the road and headed into the park. In addition to his own sword on his belt, Paul had a huge sword shaped cloth slung over his back.

It seemed that nearly everyone in town was gathered at the park. There was a large wagon with a huge barrel of ale off to the side and patrons were lined up looking to get a cup full. The dingy haired Sein was taking final bets on the outcome of the challenge and there was a mass of people around him trying to make their bets as the odds were now up to 4 to 1 in favor of the woodsman. A number of vendors walked around selling breads and sweets to the crowd, and a few were actually pushing carts. The atmosphere was festive and it reminded Paul of a carnival he once saw as a young boy.

Paul saw Keltos off to the side of the beer wagon, reciting an adventurous story to a small throng of listeners and at the other end of the park a group of about two dozen woodsmen stood around the huge lumberjack. As their champion in today's event they were working him up and telling him how bad he was going to pound on the poor crippled warrior. Gerdar stood at the other end of the park alone stretching a little and getting his body warmed up. Tyron pointed Gerdar out to Paul, and the two of them headed off towards the man.

"So that is the blade under the cloth?" Gerdar asked Paul.

Paul nodded at the rhetorical question and started to unsling the weapon for Gerdar's inspection.

"No, leave it covered," Gerdar put his hands up. "You will get to show off your work soon enough."

Gerdar looked Paul in the eye. "Is he always so talkative, Tyron?"

"Not usually, but he has only been in town for a little over a week. He'll warm up to the place. Gerdar, this is Paul. He is my new, ah, craftsman." Tyron pointed towards Paul in introduction.

Gerdar put out a hand to shake, "My name is Gerdar, nice to meet you, Paul."

Paul took his hand and shook it. There was that split second where the two of them looked each other in the eye, and assessed the quality of the other man based on what he saw and the grip of the shake. With a nod and a small grin from both of them, the shake ended.

With a clap on Paul's back, Tyron headed off towards the ale cart and the area where Keltos was finishing up his story. Paul watched him go up to the bard and whisper something to him.

Gerdar began rolling up the sleeves of his tunic. "So let's get this show started. Paul would you please follow me?"

Keltos thanked the audience for listening to his tale before he headed over to the ale wagon. He pulled two wooden great swords off the side of the cart and headed over to the center of the park where the majority of the crowd was located.

"Men, women, and children of Kelfor's Landing." Keltos held up one blade in each hand and walked the perimeter of the fighting area while speaking. Those gathered moved back out of the way to make room. "We are gathered here today to witness the newest challenge to the sword mastery of our undefeated champion!"

The crowd cheered and applauded after the introduction.

"Eleven warriors have failed to bring the mighty Gerdar low. Will the record go to twelve, or will the record stand upon our hero's defeat?"

There is a mix of cheers and boos from the crowed.

"We have today a challenger, little known in Kelfor's Landing. A great and powerful woodsman, as I have been told. He stands a full head above our champion and is sized much bigger. I present to you...ah..." Keltos walked over to the woodsman's friends at the edge of the circle, and bent his ear close, "Daggon, the Tree Killer!"

The crowd cheered some more as the huge woodsman entered the combat area.

Keltos moved down towards the other end of the area.

"We have over here our champion and the standing host of the challenge, the indomitable, Gerdar!"

Gerdar walked out into the combat area. Again the crowd cheered, a little louder this time.

After the noise died down, Keltos addressed them again. "Dear peoples of Kelfor's Landing. Gerdar has upped the ante on his little challenge. Instead of offering double their gold if they defeat him, he now offers this beautiful prize."

Keltos pointed one of the wooden swords at Paul and for a moment Paul did not know what to do, then some of the people pushed him towards the combat area. Paul moved toward Gerdar and started to sling the sword off from his back. Gerdar took the sword as Paul presented it, and motioned for Paul to pull off the cloth.

Paul took off the cloth and flung it over his shoulder. The crowd went from cheers to quiet whispers, which eventually grew louder as discussions broke out. Even Gerdar was taken back at the sheer attractiveness of the blade. He looked up at Paul with a smile of gratitude and pulled the great sword out of the scabbard. Paul took up the scabbard as Gerdar swung the weapon around a little bit. The crowd again began cheering as Gerdar presented the sword for their viewing. He took it back to Paul, and as they re-sheathed it, and Gerdar spoke in Paul's ear "I want you to build another one like this, for me".

Paul was quite pleased with the reaction he got from Gerdar. He wrapped the weapon back up in the cloth and put it back over his shoulder as he retreated to the outer edges of the combat area.

Both fighters removed their shirts. No armor was allowed in the challenge, only foot and leg wear are allowed. The removal of shirts allowed for dangerous wounds to be seen and hopefully tended to before any serious consequences occur. A wound of that nature would also signify the end, and loss of the challenge.

"Fighters, to me," proclaimed Keltos.

Gerdar and the woodsman walked to the center where Keltos now stood.

"Do you have your payment?" Keltos asked the woodsman.

Daggon threw a bag full of coins on the ground in front of the bard.

"Very good, now choose your weapon." Keltos offered both of the huge wooden swords to Daggon and he quickly chose one. Then Keltos turned and gave the other blade to Gerdar.

"Please back to the further ends of the combat area," announced Keltos. He bent over and retrieved the bag of coins.

Both combatants walked backwards while staring each other down.

"Quarter may be asked and given. This is not a combat to the death. That is why there are no steel blades in this competition. Head shots are frowned upon, as well as low blows."

Keltos looked at each fighter. "Do you both understand the rules?"

They both nodded and Keltos backed into the crowd.

"Then let the competition begin!" The cheers from the crowd hurt Keltos' ears.

The huge woodsman came in straight away; swinging the wooden great sword down toward the head of Gerdar, and the blade sank into the dirt as Gerdar had already spun away and was on the move toward the side of the huge fellow. Gerdar turned his blade to the flat side and gave his opponent a swat on the back that sounded wet and left a mighty welt. Angered, Daggon swung a powerful backhand that sent Gerdar backwards into the crowd. He was quickly ejected back into the combat area by the spectators.

As the combatants began to circle each other, Paul's attention was captured by an apparent conversation going on between Tyron and Keltos on the other side of the fight. After a few minutes, he noticed Tyron handing something to Keltos; a scroll or tube of some sort. Then Keltos looked his way and Paul quickly shifted his eyes back to the fight so they didn't see that he was watching.

Gerdar had a number of welts and even a couple of cuts on his chest, sides and back. His limp had become quite noticeable, and he winced in pain as he fended off a flurry of hacks from the towering woodsman. The powerful assault drove Gerdar to his knees and ended with a kick from the lumberjack that sent the warrior sprawling backwards. Gerdar was a bit slow in picking himself back up. Seeing his shot at victory, Daggon pointed his blade toward the back of a recovering Gerdar and plunged a potentially deadly thrust. With a sudden move, Gerdar kicked the woodsman's blade out wide and spun off to the right. The movement left Gerdar standing above the woodsman as he started to stumble forward. With a quick swing, again with the broad side of the blade, Gerdar landed the wooden sword right across the back of Daggon's head, breaking the sword in two. The woodsman collapsed in an unconscious heap.

Cheers went up from the crowd as they have witnessed their champion in victory yet again. Gerdar walked over to Keltos and collected the bag of coins that he just earned. People gathered around and they slapped him on the shoulder and congratulated him on his victory.

Tyron put his hand on Paul's shoulder, which startled him. "Quite a fight, don't you think?"

"How much does he make when the challenger loses?" Paul asked.

Tyron and Paul turned from the crowd and started to head back towards the smithy.

"The current rate is fifty gold coins, but after seeing that sword I sure the price will be going up." Tyron was smiling.

"Gerdar asked me to make another one," Paul informed Tyron. They both looked at each other and smiled again.

"I suppose your price should go up as well," replied Tyron.

They quietly walked the rest of the way home.

Making Friends and Enemies Part 3

Paul was awakened by a knock on his door. He climbed off from his cot and opened the door to see Tyron standing there. Then he remembered that his new training was supposed to begin at first light. A smirk grew on Tyron's face as he watched the sleep slowly wear away from Paul.

"Put on some loose pants and comfortable boots, and then meet me out back," Tyron said.

Paul pulled the appropriate articles out of his footlocker and headed out to the storage area behind the forge. Tyron was in the middle of doing some stretches and warm-ups. Paul quietly joined as he watched what Tyron did and then copied him. After the warm-ups were done, Tyron walked over by a combat post and pulled out two wooden swords, one of them was nearly identical to the ones used in Gerdar's challenge, the other was a normal size, similar to Tyron's blade. Tyron stood to the front and left of Paul, with his back to him.

He turned his head to Paul, "I will start with the routine steps, and explain them as I perform them. Watch, listen, and follow."

Paul nodded that he was ready and Tyron began the lesson.

The forms and motions were slow and fluid. The end of the different forms were locked and held for a few moments before moving on to the next. After Tyron displayed a new movement, they would repeat it about eight times or so before going on to the next one. They went through about ten different movements total. By the time they were reached the last movement and were holding the final position the wooden sword felt so heavy to Paul that he could hardly lift the wooden sword. Just when it got to the point that he didn't feel like he could hold it any more, Tyron suddenly whirled and brought his blade in low and to the left. The movement startled Paul, but his combat reflexes were honed enough that in reaction, he brought his own sword down to block the swing. At the same time an instantaneous red glow lined in silver erupted around Paul and immediately went down his arm to settle on the wooden blade. Tyron's two handed weapon struck against the glowing weapon held by Paul. A silvery red flash light erupted and Tyron's sword dropped to the ground, and Paul yelped with pain and dropped the weapon in his hand too. Tyron and Paul both stood there in shock as they looked down at the ground. The practice weapons lay broken in two like a decayed stick, and Paul's blade was actually lit up, black smoke starting to rise from the treatment on the wood. Paul quickly stomped it out, and when he looked up at his mentor the look on Tyron's face made him realize that he had some explaining to do.

"So you possess Magic? Why have you not shared that with me?"

It was obvious that Tyron was less than happy with this revelation.

"Can we take this discussion inside? I don't want to explain this out here," was Paul's response.

Tyron looked down at the now useless training tools as he passed them on his way back into the forge area.

Paul looked at them too, after Tyron passed, to make sure the wood was no longer burning. His sword spells are not supposed to be used with anything but HIS sword. He was puzzled as to how it even worked. During his training with Treya, he was taught to use his Sword spells in conjunction with combat techniques. It was just a reflexive action to enhance his blade in defense of a surprise attack.

Paul headed in to the forge room as he tried to think how he would explain this to Tyron.

"So, you are telling me that you are a Tarot Mage, and that your spells revolve around your chalice, staff, blade and coin, and eventually a deck of tarot cards that you have not made yet?" Tyron seemed a little confused, but not upset.

"Right. I am working on my staff, right now. Then I must create a chalice and a coin and those will be the foci for my spell casting. The last things I make are the cards. A complete set of those will take a few years." Paul explained.

Tyron nodded in response to show that he understood. Now the interest of the Loremaster's in Paul's welfare made a little more sense to him. Paul was indeed a potentially powerful ally.

"So the sun is already up and we have work to do." said Tyron, "We had best get started for the day." He got up and headed toward the front of the shop to get it opened and ready for customers.

Now Paul's interest was piqued as well. That was a fairly strange reaction from his new friend and employer. Between this and Tyron's odd behavior with Keltos, and possibly Gerdar, Paul was seriously wondering if there wasn't something more to this story. He decided to perform a little reading later and see if the cards could help shed some light on this mystery.

Making Friends and Enemies Part 4

Later that evening Paul was in his room. He had already cleaned up and would soon be heading out to the Raging Threk for some dinner. He sat on a small stool next to workbench that was here when he moved in. It resembled a desk, and it worked well enough for his studies, writings, and card readings. He picked his deck up off from the cloth that he had already spread out and began to shuffle. Paul closed his eyes and he thought about Tyron, Gerdar, and Keltos and the things he has seen between them. After a few moments he felt focused and proceeded to cut the deck and lay out a seven card spread.

After a few minutes of looking over the cards Paul had a general idea what they revealed to him. The three were definitely a band of some sort, possibly belonged to a larger organization, just as he was a member of the Delvers.

The cards hinted that Tyron was the reluctant leader, Gerdar was a person in it for himself, and Keltos was more than he seemed and that there was a darker side he did not show.

As Paul sat there pondering the cards further he faintly heard a low growl. When he focused his attention on his surroundings he realized that it was his own stomach that had issued the sounds.

"Definitely time for dinner," he said out loud to himself as he put all the cards back together, wrapped them up and put them into a nice new pouch hanging off his belt. He bought it the other day from a second hand equipment store. Tyron said it was a good place to look if you found something missing and decided you might want to buy it back.

Paul walked out of the shop and headed up the street towards the Raging Threk.

Paul decided that the equipment shop might be a good place to start looking for information on the seedier sides of Kelfor's Landing and the gambling hall was another, especially since it had ties to that filthy Sein character Paul had seen around.

As he walked up the dusty street he heard a commotion in the side alley and looked down to notice that three dirty young boys were all kicking at someone who was cringing on the ground trying to protect himself. Paul turned and headed down the alley.

"Hey, you boys," was all Paul could get out before they looked up. Two of them took off down the alley. The third one, and biggest of the bunch, landed one last kick and as he started to run yelled, "You'd learn to keep yer nose to yer self."

Paul stopped when he got to the fourth youngster on the ground.

"It is okay, they are gone now. I can help you." Paul said as he leaned over to lend a hand.

As the boy unraveled himself, Paul realized he was looking at Tam.

"Thanks, mister." Tam said as he wiped the dirt off his face and clothes. "I am okay now."

"Go back to the shop and clean yourself off." Paul said. He had looked Tam over and didn't see any major damage; some small cuts and bruises were about all.

They walked out of the alley and Tam headed straight for the shop. Paul watched to make sure he made it down there, and then headed to the Threk for some dinner.

He arrived at the inn and entered into the common room. The place was quite full of patrons and at the moment, Paul did not see anywhere to sit. He went up to the bar and saw that Millie was working it this evening. Paul smiled at her.

She gave a weak smile back, "What can I get for you Paul?"

"I will take some mead, thanks. How are..," but he couldn't finish because she turned and headed away to get his drink.

Paul looked around some more to see if he recognized anyone when he noticed a fully robed figure heading towards the hallway to the rooms, and what a figure she was. As tight as the robe was there was no question that she was a female. She disappeared around the corner, but Paul kept staring, the vision of her still in his mind.

A man tapped Paul on the shoulder. "Are you going to sit here, cause if'n you ain't, I'm gonna."

Paul turned and noticed that the stool next to him was now empty, and then he noticed his mead was sitting on the bar. He absently nodded and sat on the stool. Then he came back to himself and turned to focus on the person who tapped him. He was moving away in the crowd, but it wasn't anybody he recognized as having seen before. Then he noticed that Sein was talking with that tall blond man Paul had seen selling that poor man into slavery with the Ice Kral's. He kept glancing over as the blond man sat there listening to Sein for a little longer before he got up and started making his way toward the exit, working himself though the crowded mass of tables and patrons. As the man left the Threk, Paul looked back over to Sein, who was already occupied with someone else. Leaving a coin on the bar, and an untouched glass of mead, Paul headed out the door to see if he could find some answers.

Sein looked up at Paul as he was leaving the inn. A dirty street urchin in the chair opposite Sein pointed and smiled.