Our road through Bissel led us through Thornward, so we dropped in to see Alpheus, and Ezekiel’s brother Peter. Alpheus says Mother talked about our visit in one of her letters, so I hope she didn’t include anything embarrassing. He says they fought some centaurs with the raiders from Ket, but I hope Chesnut and Madam Whinny are different, since they have Sirion’s recommendation. Ezekiel told Peter what their sister has been up to, and Alpheus’ boys asked why we didn’t bring the dragons.
Alpheus also recommended we travel with a caravan when we head north – he says the Bramblewood Forest can be very dangerous, quite apart from the political turmoil in Ket. Says he thinks the power struggle is turning the Baygraf’s attention outward, to galvanize his supporters with raids and external enemies. Hope it doesn’t become more than Alpheus and the others can handle.
Aliana and Ezekiel have gotten us passage with a caravan. The Bakluni seem pretty grumpy on average, but I guess dealing with outsiders would bother anybody. Raven is making sure we have plenty of rations, and we head out first thing tomorrow.
This many people doesn’t travel very fast, but it’s a good experience. We’re towards the back of the train, so we can hear everybody chattering all in their strange languages – and once in a while, in accented Common. (Raven says I sometimes get an accent, but he’s wrong.)
The road is very well built, though very old – I asked Ezekiel who built it, but he didn’t know. Sometimes, I think I can see something dark skulking through the trees. We’ve been spending nights in the forts spaced conveniently along the road.
Saw some wyverns fly overhead today. They make a racket like cats getting murdered. I think I don’t mind that they and pegasi are uncommon – otherwise everyone might have to travel in covered wagons. Ogre camp in the woods. They were smart enough to leave us alone. What else do these woods hold?
Ezekiel has been busy trying to make friends. He spotted a half-orc traveling alone and invited him over…demonstrating that the line between friendly and creepy is very thin. The half-orc (very green, but I think his ears were not standard) seemed very tense, especially around Aliana, but he consented to share dinner. He had a book and staff, and said he was seeking “wisdom”…but he also said he hadn’t been here before, so he couldn’t give Ezekiel and Raven an opinion on the two Faiths. Says he’s aiming to live longer than most of his “kind”…and like with most people, that depends on making good choices. I think Ez made a positive impression.
Arrived safely in Nehez (even Ezekiel’s new half-orc friend, who continued on right away). The locals say we should have no trouble following the road to Lopolha, which is where the “Great Mosque” is. The inns here have bead curtains instead of doors. Theoretically, that should say something about the trust and crime-rate in this society. I’ve heard of places that have half-doors on their taverns.
[sketch of inn front]
So we met Lydia’s uncle today. We were heading out of town when a couple men came flying out of an inn, followed by a towering man dressed in leather and chest-paint. The big man tussled with one of the others while we tried to decide if this was socially acceptable in Ket. He recovered some kind of gem from the smaller man just before the thief dealt a parting blow with a dagger and ran off.
Lydia spoke to the big man in a language I didn’t know, and he seemed to be arguing with her. Finally, he stomped off toward the inn – but weaving a little, and looking paler than I think he’s supposed to (he has pink eyes, and his short hair is almost white).
Lydia explained enough to say he was her uncle, and when I asked she said she wouldn’t stop me from saving him from poisoning…but she didn’t look super worried about him, either.
Fortunately, Ezekiel decided to make not-our-business into our business (maybe that “all flocks are my flocks” thing influenced him) and he and Raven and I followed the big man (“Uncle Sveri”, Lydia called him). He was definitely looking greenish when we found him on a bench, but Ezekiel got a scroll out before I got my Keoghtim’s ointment out, and “Uncle Sveri” shifted back to what I assume is his natural color and balance.
He was still quite grumpy, and asked what we wanted, and Ezekiel said, just the story. So Sveri called for drinks – though Raven went back to his disciples (he said if anyone should tell us this story, it should be Lydia) – and we sat down (though I was on the edge of my seat, as the crowd looked a little rowdy and overly interested; but I wasn’t about to leave Ezekiel on his own).
Sveri told us how the Suluese used to have an empire – a big, prosperous empire – but they used magic, and now their empire is a vast sea of dust, where nothing can grow. He says their people now swear off magic, so Lydia is a traitor to her people, like her mother. (Remember this in any dealings with them.) Finally, he gave Ezekiel a coin for healing him, and we took our leave with all our stuff intact. L seems thoughtful; I guess she and Agnar have more in common than either of them guessed.
Reached Lopolha in a few days. Lovely weather for the time of year. The palace of the Baygraf catches the eye first, but I think the temple is actually bigger – it certainly has bigger spires. There’s also a tower of dark stone in the center of town that’s not clearly related to either of them…though if I stayed longer, maybe I could tell the pattern. Aliana got us into an inn where I don’t think they will rob us.
Took Raven to the mosque first thing this morning. They told us to leave weapons outside (I suppose because we were strangers), so I stayed outside to hold everything, and Lydia stayed to keep me company. She may be a big learner, but comparative religions isn’t her focus.
Raven explained to us what the priest who talked to him said: the “True Faith” (this is the one that split off when their leader was banished) teaches the four feet of the dragon…Honor, Family, Generosity, and Piety. The problem is, they seem to use some of those words differently than we do. “Honor” is the most important, but I’m not sure I completely understand how they use it. To lie or be a coward in the face of danger is dishonorable – and I can understand that – but for a man to marry a woman outside his class “shames his family” and is also dishonorable. Good thing no one brought up Ezekiel and Aliana…How would they feel about them?
“Generosity” applies mainly to giving sage advice to people under you – which I guess is helpful, but not often appreciated in my experience. And “Piety” refers to honoring the four gods of the True Faith – the Lady of Fate, the Lady of Perfection, the Lady’s Hand, and the Lady of Living Waters (and presumably Al-Akbar, the “restorer of righteousness,” although Ez says he’s technically a demi-god). I would never have guessed from looking at the outside of the temple that it was such a goddess-heavy religion.
Raven found us an inn that faces the main city square, because he says he wants to observe the people in their daily lives. On the one hand, people’s common actions are a great way to judge character. On the other hand, most of the ordinary people I’ve interacted with seem…much more focused on the Flaneas than the Wheel, so to speak. Someone (I forget if it was Mother or Uncle or who) used to say the most popular deity in Oerth was – that guy I can’t remember, but it’s something like “Mercury.”
[sketch of the front of the palace] [sketch of a tall, square tower]
First thing this morning, a woman started carrying on in the square outside, bawling her eyes out. Raven and Ezekiel raced out the door into the crowd gathered around a platform, but everyone was speaking Bakluni. From where Aliana and I stood in the doorway, we could just see some priest in elaborate garb climb the platform and address the crowd. Soldiers dragged out a prisoner of some kind (trailed by the woman who was making all the noise), and the priest (Ez says he’s called a Mufti) sounded very stern and insistent…(sort of like Father about to wallop Bartholomew and Wolfgang and Clarence – wait, that can’t be right, why would Clarence be involved with that? He was always in the kitchen. Maybe it was Dexter and Wolfgang?) Anyway, the crowd sounded much more expectant and rowdy than Bartholomew and Wolfgang would have…
The soldiers brought the prisoner forward, and lopped off his hand – then bound the wound and let him go. I lost sight of him and his woman in the crowd, but Ezekiel says he and Raven found him, and asked for his side of the story. They say he admitted to being a thief, but didn’t admit there was anything wrong with stealing because he was “providing for his poor old mother.” And providing for your family is Honor, even if you steal for it. So, was the merchant he stole from also Honorable for catching him and turning him in? I never thought of Honors as being mutually exclusive before.
And the punishment… Ez says the Mufti went on about how “justice must be applied equally” and “watch yourselves, you who hear” kind of stuff, but I didn’t get the feeling that the spectators paid much attention to him. Raven has gone back to the room to meditate, and to ask Keom and Ronhass what they think. Lydia also went back into the inn, before the “ceremony” was over. I’m trying to think what I could compare it to. I know Father hanged some bandits years and years ago, but I was not exactly old enough to sit in on his court. I think I sat in the window one time he was hearing disputes from the villagers, and I fell fast asleep, and Mother was cross when she found me.
Aliana has been asking around, and thinks we can reach the Great Mosque of the Exalted Faith in about a week and a half.
I was a bit worried about the border crossing, but everything worked out. Maybe because of Aliana.
The capital of Ekbir also has a huge Mosque. I must say the city is nice. Sweeping lines, and lots of color. Even Mikael admitted there were patterns from nature in the designs…they clearly put some thought into their buildings’ ornamentation.
When we passed the Caliph’s palace this morning, a line of poor beggar types was waiting at a side door for donations of bread. Raven and Ezekiel went into the Mosque again, and Raven says the priest who talked with them was very nice. He says the punishment for theft here is also losing a hand (I guess they don’t mess around), but if a man was the only provider for his family (say, a widowed mother) he could be put to labor instead. Seems to me that’s a net gain for everyone in the society.
Ronhass says, law without mercy strikes at the heart of goodness. It does seem like mercy is what marks the clearest line between Good and Evil, because mercy looks beyond yourself – and beyond what is “fair” – to someone else. Mercy says there’s a higher court than your own hand – where the gods of righteousness sit above us all.
Aliana and Ezekiel got talking at dinner and kept going after the rest of us all left.
Find the previous entry here.