The Stacked Deck Chapter 2

Copyright Ronald Soller © 2005

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

"With a whirl and a blur Tyron spun around the blade aggressively"

Arrival at Quellbourne: Part 1

Paul stumbled forward as the world came back into view. The fog was even thicker than when he left Tendorn and it felt much colder. He folded his arms around himself to keep warm as he turned to face the navigator. The navigator reached out and handed him a token. "The price you gave was worth more than this jump, so take this token as credit for future services."

Paul took the strange looking coin and dropped it in his belt pouch where his cards were stored, it would be safe there. "Thank you," he replied.

The navigator gestured down a path that headed away from the clearing. "About a half-days walk down this path to my right will take you to a village called Kelfor's Landing."

Paul nodded as he looked to where the navigator was pointing.

A smirk appeared on the navigator's face. "It is not the nicest place to visit, but the only one you will find around here that won't get you immediately killed or enslaved. If you have no further need of me I will take my leave." Paul numbly shook his head, "Thank you for your assistance and directions."

The navigator fiddled with a compass device on his wrist, and then he glowed for just an instant and was gone.

With the navigator gone Paul took in his surroundings. He realized he was next to an obelisk that looked exactly like the one in the square at Tendorn, which seemed to be standing in a sand-covered clearing near the base of a rugged mountain range. Paul could not see how high he was or very far in either direction because the fog was too thick. The air had a salty flavor to it and was nearly a constant chill breeze. It seemed to him that it might be getting dark already, or maybe it was just a trick of the fog. Paul debated camping for the night and then decided against it since he didn't have the equipment for camping nor did he have any knowledge of this area or its dangers beyond the navigator's cryptic warning. He just hoped he had a half of a day available for the trek to Kelfor's Landing. Paul wrapped his cloak about him tighter, picked up his staff from out of the sand and headed down the trail.

The trail led in and out of the rocks and crags as well as up and down, but mostly down at this point. A faint sound of the ocean could be heard sometimes as Paul walked, but it was getting louder as the trail descended from the heights. He also noticed that there was more sand on the path as well. The fog seemed to hang a little higher as the trail went down so he could see more of the pathway ahead of him.

Paul had been walking for some time and figured he couldn't really be too far away from finding the town, which was a good thing because it had started getting even darker.

The clunking sound of wood on wood brought Paul to a dead stop. The noise was kind of muffled and hidden in the clamor of the waves collapsing on the shore. Paul slipped over to the side of the trail and climbed up a small embankment to see if he could make out the source of the sound. He could see the shoreline of the ocean and the beach that led down to it from the bluff he was overlooking. Down on the shore, a small rowing boat was pulled up on the beach. A short distance away Paul could see two humanoid looking creatures and three human men. The creatures had wild hair and pointed ears and their features all seemed oversized, including their muscles. They were dressed in combat leather and each had a broad bladed mace hanging from their waist.

One of the humans was bound at the wrist and he struggled to get free. A stocky blond man gave the captive a punch in the gut that doubled him over and ended his resistance. The two humanoids stepped up and took control of the captive and forced him in the direction of the boat. One of them turned and handed something over to a tall dark-haired man. Paul could hear them talking but not well enough to know what was being said. The two men turned back and headed up the beach on an angle that could reach the trail that Paul was following, heading in the direction that Paul understood to be where Kelfor's Landing was.

Paul looked back over at the two humanoids. One of them took out his mace and hit the captive on the back of head. The prisoner slumped face first into the sand and didn't move. They picked up their new cargo and half tossed him into the bottom of the boat. One went to each side of the boat and they began to push it back out into the water until it cleared the shore. Then they climbed in, pulled out two oars and silently rowed out into the fog.

Paul began to wonder if this place was any safer than the one he left. He climbed back down to the trail and quietly headed in the direction of the two men. Paul was torn between his desire to reach civilization and his unwillingness to tangle with the men. Then again he figured, maybe it would be better if he could keep his eye on them. He continued down the path towards the town taking care not to bump into the men.

Arrival at Quellbourne Part 2

Paul stood behind an outcrop of rocks that overlooked the wooden palisade of a small town. He watched the dark-haired man and his crony as they slipped out of a small copse of trees, quickly crossed a small open area to the wall, and climbed over. The town was right up by the shore and he thought he could make out a river leading into what could only be Kelfor's Landing. Paul could see a guard post and a gate into the town further down to his left. There were no obvious signs of guards present, so no one else seemed to have witnessed the two strangers.

Paul climbed back down the outcrop and over to the main trail that headed towards the gate. As he approached, a guard appeared from inside the gatehouse and spoke.

"Where might ye be comin' from, traveler?"

"I arrived by Navigator, and seek the town of Kelfor's Landing. I presume that I have found it?" was Paul's response.

"Ye found it alright." The guard leaned over and with a lower toned voice asked, "Did you see anythin' on yer way here?"

"No, it was a pretty quiet walk I must say." Paul lied. Now he was feeling a bit suspicious.

"Ye'r pretty lucky then. The Ice Kral have been prowl'n around looking for victims." The guard emphasized the statement and it was obvious he was trying to put a scare into Paul.

"What do they look like, so I will know what to avoid in the future?" Paul was pretty sure that he already knew what a Kral looked like.

"They are really ugly, really tough, and love human slaves." The guard was really laying it on thick. "I killt me a few last time we went patrolling." He tapped the ax that was slung at his waist. The grin on his face drew a raised eyebrow from Paul.

"It is getting late, and I could use some rest. Can you recommend a place for me to stay?" Paul had heard enough from the guard and his stomach was growling.

"I'd say the Raging Threk would be the best place for ye. Good ale, warm food, and the serving wench's a sight!" The guard turned to his right and pointed, "Take this road up the next corner and then right. Follow for a bit and ye'll find the place."

Paul nodded to the guard and headed up the road.

Paul sat back in his chair abandoning a plate of bones that had started out as roast, bread, and squash. In his hand was a nearly empty glass of wine and he took the last swallow as he looked around the room. The inn had a very diverse and lively crowd that evening and Paul could pick out some town guards, some men that looked like sailors, and a few who looked like merchants. Over in the corner was a table that had a man with dark scraggly hair that caught Paul's attention when he first walked in the inn. His face was gaunt and his eyes were a little on the crazy side. Just in the little amount of time that Paul had sat in this room he noted at least three different people had visited that table.

A small party of what looked to be laborers of some kind got up and left a table that was against the wall by the fireplace. It seemed a less noticeable area to sit for while, so as they made their way toward the exit with a few goodbyes Paul got up and moved. Just after he sat down the server came around with a cloth and a tray for cleaning up their mess. She was pretty nice to look at; the gate guard was spot on with his assessment of the Raging Threk. After she finished removing dishes and wiping down the table top, Paul gave her a silver and asked her for a refill on his wine.

After watching her leave, he pulled a small cloth out of his waist pouch and spread it on the table. He then reached into his breast pocket and pulled out his deck of cards. Paul looked around a little bit more while he shuffled the cards. The action was very relaxing and familiar to him and the cards just felt so natural in his hands. This deck was really old and quite worn, but he wouldn't even consider finding a replacement. Although these tarot cards were not empowered, they had been meticulously cared for by members of the Delvers for generations; ALL of their decks were. Some day these cards would be passed on to the next generation of members.

Paul realized he was staring at the flames as they danced in the fireplace and he was still shuffling. He cut the cards and pulled five of them, starting from the left, placing them in the shape of a cup and then he set the rest of the deck on the top corner of the cloth while he looked at the spread. The chalice spread allowed the reader to analyze their current situation. A reading started with the cards on the left as the past, the bottom card as current time, going toward the future on the right side. Paul shook his head as he looked over the cards that were pulled, a small grin appeared on his face.

He felt the presence of someone behind him, when he turned his head he saw the server was standing there with the wine jug for his refill. She took a curious but subtle glance at the cards as she poured his wine and the spark of recognition lit in her eyes. With a smirk on her face, she turned and went to tend to some other customers. Paul returned his attention to the cards spread out before him.

As usual, the cards shed light upon the mystery; Three of Staffs, Seven of Staffs, and Six of Blades were in the first three positions. Plans coming to fruition, defending ones position and escape; they validated his recent past. Paul nodded his satisfaction and then he looked at the fourth position and saw the Eight of Coins. He had every intention on finding a smithy in the morning to inquire about any possible craft guilds that might be operating in Kelfor's Landing. The fifth card caused Paul to wrinkle his brow. The card depicted a maiden standing next to a chimera with her hand on its shoulder; Strength. The Strength card in the future position? Maybe he would find himself in a position of strength soon? Paul wondered if the local crafts guild was lacking in talent that might allow him to quickly rise to a position of strength here. He decided that there were too many options that could be applicable so he reached over to the deck, pulled another card and laid it on top of the strength card to help clarify; Two of Chalices. Strength found in an alliance.

Paul stretched out his arms and looked around the inn and noticed that there were still quite a few patrons here, maybe it wasn't as late as it seemed. Of course after the day he just had, it was no wonder he was ready for rest. After he finished his stretch, he carefully put all the cards back together, wrapped the cloth around them and put them away. Paul drained the wine in his cup as he stood up and headed over to the barkeep.

"Barkeep, could I get another glass of that wine to take up to my room please?"

The barkeep popped the cork of the wine jug and started pouring. "Retiring early are ya now?"

"It has been a long day and I need to rest. Can I get a meal here in the morning?" Paul was planning an early day; he had a whole new town to explore.

"Eggs, ham, and biscuits will be ready ne'r dawn," was the man's response.

With a nod Paul grabbed his cup and headed down the hall.

Arrival at Quellbourne Part 3.

Paul pushed away his empty plate and leaned back from the table. Those were some of the best biscuits he had ever tasted. The server was over almost immediately to clean up, and while she wiped down the table she asked, "Do you read cards for others or just ye'self?"
"I can read for anyone," was Paul's reply. "Do you have a question for the cards?"
"Aye, but I'm sure I don't have the coin to pay ye fer one," she said as she grabbed the dirty dishes.
"What is your name?" Paul asked her before she had a chance to head back to the kitchen.
"Milenna, but they call me Millie around 'ere"
"Well, Millie, I usually charge what people can afford. If I get back before things get too busy this evening, we will see what we can do about looking into your question."
Millie smiled, "Thank you, uh..ummm."
"Paul. My name is Paul."
She repeated, "Thank you Paul," as she headed back towards the kitchen. Then Paul, with his sword hanging off his waist and yew wood in his hand, headed out the front door.

Paul walked through the streets of Kelfor's Landing, on what the locals would doubtless consider a beautiful day. The sun was shining and had burned the fog away and only a few fluffy clouds decorated the clear blue sky. The air was still chilly though, and Paul pulled his cloak around to keep off the slight breeze. He had seen a few smithies already, but they were rather crude facilities, he had inquired at the first one about the existence of a craft guild, and the man did not know of any guilds 'of THAT type', so Paul continued to explore this little town. Kelfor's Landing had a lot of shops and businesses for being such a small community, but that was only to be expected of a boom town.

'I wonder where that name comes from?' Paul said out loud to himself. Then he was brought back from his thoughts as he heard the banging of metal further down the street from where he walked. As he drew nearer he could see the shingle on the side of the building looked like it might signify a weapon smith. The sign read 'Tyron's Arms'. Paul stopped outside the building as he watched the smith work what appeared to be the head of a poleax of some sort.
"Hello there. Might you be the owner of this establishment?" Paul asked as he began walking toward the busy man.
The smith stopped hammering, looked over at Paul and gave a nod. He lifted the bronze ax head in his tongs, looked it over, and dropped it into a bucket. Steam rolled out of the container with the hiss of cooling metal. "The name is Tyron, just like the sign says." He held out his hand to greet Paul.
Paul shook his hand, "The name is Paul, and I was wondering if we could talk for a moment."
"Tam, take a break," Tyron shouted. A young lad walked out from behind the bellows drenched with sweat and streaked with dirt. He grabbed a cloth to wipe his face off and headed over to a bucket of water to get a drink.
"So what can I do for you?" Tyron asked.
"I am a craftsman, of sorts, and I am in need of access to facilities like yours. I was wondering if we could come to some sort of arrangement that would allow me to work on my projects at your facility."
"I run a good business here; there is always plenty of work. Are you talking coins here, or assistance?" Tyron raised one eyebrow when Paul mentioned the second option.
Tam walked over and gave a cup of water to Tyron. He smiled at the lad, downed the cool liquid and gave the cup back to Tam. The boy took the cup and then trotted back into the building.
"I could do either one, whichever you found the need for most. I have little experience at working armor, but I have weapon making skills." Paul reached over and pulled out his own sword, laid the blade across the palm of his left hand and presented it to Tyron. "I just finished this blade about three days ago."
Tyron took the offered blade in one hand and lifted it straight up to inspect the work. He moved his hand and wrist around to feel the balance. Again, with the raised eyebrow he looked at Paul and asked, "May I?" as he nodded towards a hacking post over by the side of the shop.
Paul smiled, "Be my guest."
With a whirl and a blur Tyron spun around the blade aggressively while he moved towards the post. The pure grace that was displayed was beyond anything Paul had ever seen in a combat routine before. Even beyond what he had witnessed from Treya. Without even noticing a change in the routine, Paul heard his sword hit the post four separate times, and splinters of wood flew in all directions. Then Tyron turned back to face Paul and swinging the blade straight over his head, lodged the blade into the top of the post and let go, leaving it to quiver in place.
"That is a most excellent weapon, Paul. I have an extra room in the back that you are welcome to use, and I have a small stack of projects for you to get started on. If your work is always so good, I expect business will grow." Tyron had a huge grin on his face as he reached out to shake Paul's hand again. "Is that an arrangement you can live with?"
Paul took his hand, "I will go back to the inn to gather my stuff."
Tyron went back and removed the sword from the post and handed it back to Paul. Paul slid the blade back into his sheath and headed back to the Raging Threk.
Tyron watched him leave, and then he turned around and went back to his position at the forge. "Tam, give me some heat."

Arrival at Quellbourne Part 4.

It was late afternoon when Paul arrived at the Raging Threk and proceeded to sit down at the table by the fireplace. There were only a few patrons here; a couple of groups mostly, talking to themselves over a few ales. Millie came over, "What can I get for you Paul?"

"I will have some cheese, some bread, and a little honey mead to wash it down."

As Millie headed back toward the kitchen to get Paul's order he pulled a cloth bundle out of his pocket and set them on the table. He unfolded the cloth to reveal those ancient cards, picked them up and began to shuffle. After a few minutes Millie arrived with his order and Paul set down the cards.

"Set the tray down on the end of the table and have a seat across from me, will you Millie?" Paul said as he motioned with his hand to the empty chair. She did as instructed and slid into the chair.

"So how can the cards help you today, Millie?"

"My brotha' left some time back. Was wit' some trappers and ain't no one heard a word 'bout 'em since. They were only 'post to be gone fer a few days, but they been gone fer more 'n a month. The patrol went a lookin' fer 'em, but they din't see nothin' and stumbled on some Kral ta boot." She was fidgeting with her towel.

"They killt most of 'dem buggers and the ones that lay die'n weren't talkin'. But the patrol figer'd the Kral were too close to town to have done it."

Millie was becoming very agitated, the worry and panic rising in her eyes.

"I believe the cards may be able help guide us to some answers," Paul said as he reached out to touch her arm to calm her a little.

"We shouldn't get too excited though, for that may cloud our vision. Just relax and let's see what the cards say."

Paul patted her arm and pulled his hand back to begin shuffling the deck again. Millie calmed down a little, but she was eager to find out what Paul and his cards might say. He fanned out the cards on the cloth and looked into her eyes. "Point to a card."

Millie pointed at one and Paul took all the cards above it and put them in a neat stack. Then he made a stack out of the cards left, and put them on top of the others. He pulled the top three cards and placed them face down on the cloth from left to right. After setting the rest of the deck in the top right corner of the cloth he reached over with his left hand and flipped over the left card. It was the Five of Coins, which depicted a rural farm with a famished family, a field full of dying crops, and sickly skinny livestock.

"It looks like the group of trappers fell on some hard times." Paul looked up at Millie and she was just staring at the card.

"Maybe they lost their food or supplies somehow. Bears might o' got it!" Millie's eyes were wide open at her thought of bears. "Or maybe the Kral, or TROLLS."

Paul put his hand on her arm again. "It looks like something must have happened but we can't be sure what."

She calmed down a little, but she sat on the end of the chair and bounced her leg nervously. Paul reached over and flipped over the second card. This one was the Four of Staffs. It depicted a small keep that was under construction, with a completed tower on each corner. On top of each tower was a Staff with a pennant flying in the breeze.

"This card suggests that he may have found himself something new. Maybe they found a rich hunting ground or some other way to live. It seems that whatever was found he has welcomed it and continues to help build upon it."

Millie's apprehension seemed to subside but a more quizzical look took its place, so after an awkward pause Paul reached over and flipped over the last card. It was the Ace of Chalices.

"It appears that he has a real opportunity for happiness with this new prospect. Something he really wants deep inside may be on the horizon." Paul felt pretty good about the reading as things seemed to look towards a positive outcome.

The look on Millie's face said otherwise. Her brow was furled, and she looked as if a cold dark cloud suddenly loomed over her head. She shivered, and wrapped herself with her arms.

"What did you just see?" Paul asked. The transformation he just witnessed was very unsettling. How could this seemingly positive reading bring such dread?

Millie just shook her head. She mumbled a word of thanks and quickly got up from the table and ran back into the kitchen. Paul sat there dumbfounded as he stared at the kitchen entrance, but there was no sign of Millie's return. Paul put together his cards, folded them back into the cloth, and put them away. Then he packed up the food to eat later, he wasn't hungry anymore. Paul walked up to the bar and placed a silver coin on the counter to cover his lunch. He took one last look into the entrance of the kitchen and shook his head as he headed back to his room to pack.

Paul poured some more mineral oil on a cloth and continued rubbing it into the Yew wood. This treatment would keep the wood from getting brittle, and protect it from moisture. Tyron came out of the supply room, "So is that room going to work for you?"

"It will do fine," was Paul's response as he set down the staff and stood up.

"Then come over here and let me show you what project I would like you to start with", Tyron motioned Paul over to a table by the entrance to the supply room.

Lying on the table were the plans for an ornate two-handed sword and a wooden plaque for it to be displayed on. Tyron explained, "This order is for an interesting fellow named Gerdar. He plans to use it as a prize for a standing challenge he intends to make for anyone who thinks they can defeat him in combat." He watched the look on Paul's face as he looked over the drawings. "Does it look like something you can handle?"

Paul nodded and said "I can do this," pointing at the paper on the table, "but I am not so sure about the combat challenge." They both kind of chuckled at the mild humor. Paul grabbed the plans and headed over by the entrance to see them in a better light and to formulate his approach.

Tyron looked on with a small grin on his face, nodded once and headed towards the forge. "Tam, fire it up would ya?"