Aug 18th, 2016
Editor's Note: This is our first piece of fiction from a listener of the show. You can imagine the players have heard rumors to this effect. The story depicted below may be factual, or it may be fiction, but it's probably somewhere in between. If you want to write a story like this, shoot us an email and you may find your story part of the world.
Jaques Slysong: Bard From Across the Sea
By: Adam Vachon
The man who walked into The Rusty Goblet was distinctly not from Emberfall. It was the cut and style of his clothing mostly; knee high boots that folded over at the top, pants that were snug but cut in a manner that did not restrict movement, baggy shirt, leather vest, pristine blue cloak and gloves, and a fancy wide brimmed hat with a feather in it… a merchant perhaps, although the man also carried a musical instrument case, a number of daggers strapped to a baldric, and not one, but two swords. One appeared to be a sailor’s cutlass and the other a dueling saber. A nobleman perhaps, on business from Varina. Kahl Sourtap, the proprietor of the Goblet kept a neutral face while taking note of this particular man. He had seen far stranger, but then again he always took note of non-regulars entering his establishment; especially when they appeared to be the type of patron who had plenty of coin available to them. Very special note indeed when the individual in question also looked like they themselves might be worth plenty of coin.
“What can I get for ye” Kahl asked the man, who sat down at the bar with a sigh, clearly distracted and apparently thoroughly troubled by some demons which Kahl didn’t particularly care about unless they caused the man to buy more drink.
“What iz ze most vile drink you can create, good man?” the man asked. Kahl lifted an eyebrow curiously, and poured a flagon of ale and a glass of milk.
“White American,” he said matter of factly and pointed to a sign; “Though ye wretch it up ye clean it up”.
The mysterious man shrugged and downed both. Kahl tried to hide his surprise when the man simply wrinkled his nose after swallowing both down in one gulp; most men tossed the disgusting drink back up again almost immediately.
“Truly dizgusting,” the man said. “For ze next round I’ll take your finest wine” and the man plopped far more than enough coin to cover the wine and the foul concoction that was quickly becoming a popular drink in the taverns of Emberfall, as measure for boasting one's’ drinking fortitude as much as practical jokes. Kahl licked his lips, scooped up the coin and hurriedly fetched the man his wine. Before he set down the cup however, he pointedly looked at the man’s swords.“Look, I appreciate the coin, but ye better not be causing trouble in the Goblet. We have ‘nough trouble as is. Yer kind makes some o’ the regulars… itchy, if ye know what I’m sayin’. Best not to be stayin’ too long; I’ll not be held responsible fer yer well being is all.” The tavernkeep’s eyes flicked rapidly to a corner of the room where a particular set of regulars sat, a mean bunch whom he had an arrangement with. The arrangement was along the lines of Kahl not asking questions when patrons of note (new, or poor, or foreign, or female, or especially if they seemed particularly wealthy) disappeared, and occasionally ignoring various cries coming from the backroom where said patrons would go with those rather nasty looking regulars. He winced at that thought. He wasn’t particularly proud of the arrangement, but the men paid him well to let them continue operating, and who cared about foreign strangers besides?
The Mysterious Stranger grinned broadly at the warning, “Perhaps zis iz an opportunity to make some friends zen, yes? Good sir, will you allow me ze privilege of playing a song for ze guests of your fine establishment? I am a traveling minstrel you see, and have had the honor of performing at the Royal Court in Varina. But for you my good Tavern Master I shall play for free. First, however, shall I tell you ze tale of how I came to be here today? Zis iz what ze bartenders do, yes? Listen to ze problems of ze patrons? Do zey do zat here in Emberfall az well? As I am sure you could tell by my accent, I am not from around here,” and as he spoke those last words the man slid his hat off and placed it on the bar with a flourish, and suddenly he was much less than a man, and much more than one at the same time. He had the large, slitted yellow eyes of a predatory cat, his ears were pointed similarly to that of an Elf, but his ears were covered in fur and much more round and curved at the base, like a wild animal. His nose was somewhere in between that of a man and a great cat, and when the man smiled he revealed the sharp teeth of a beast as well.
Kahl raised his eyebrow and harrumphed; “Never seen yer type before, and I’m not impressed by yer fancy tricks neither. But ye do ‘ave me curious,” Kahl said, loud enough for his friends in the corner to hear. It was one of the signals they commonly used to draw attention to particular targets. “Aye tell yer story then and be quick about it, I’ll be ‘avin other customers t’day no doubt.”
“Ah, most excellent! Zen you may call me Jaques Slysong,” the man said, grinning wider to reveal more sharp teeth. “You know, my good friend, eleven years is a long time…”
Eleven years is a long time. Much can change in that time, especially if you consider that time itself can be molded like clay, and eleven years, in truth, has very little meaning. It seems unfair if you do return to a place, especially if it was not your choice to leave to begin with. I was snatched from my home at the tender age of nine, and my memories of Erwost are of great sweeping structures, monuments, flying ships, horseless carts, and many many wondrous things. I was always a curious boy, and recently it had been discovered that I had a talent for magic, and in my culture this was a thing to be celebrated!
The day of my manifestation celebration came and I woke up much earlier than the rest of my village; it was a sound, I thought I heard. I went outside and saw a strange sight: down by the sea the air rippled and was distorted. Every sense in my body screamed at me, saying “this is magic!”, and curious as I was, I went to take a closer look. It was difficult to tell where the magic started and stopped, and the world seemed to twist and distort the closer I got. And then all of a sudden the world was clear again.
I was at the edge of the woods, where the sands greet them that I saw the ship; a great hulking thing with three masts. It was then that I was snatched by smelly, strong hands from behind and thrown below deck. I did not recognize any of the other captives on the vessel and none of them spoke my language, not did I speak the language of my captors. It was only later in life that I learned that this vessel, the Chained Man, was here simply looking for new “recruitment” grounds. Slavers. I was exotic, the only one of my kind I have met outside of my home in Erwost. On board the ship I was… abused. In ways one should never abuse a child.
The ship docked in Varina where the slaves were all sold on the black market. I was sold for a very high price to a nearby brothel, where my exoticness bread curiosity. The patron was a kind mistress; my first years were spent learning to perform and entertain. My teacher was the finest court bard in all of Varina, who also happened to be a lover of the mistress of the house. I was schooled in magic (as they discovered quickly I had a talent for it) and, when I was old enough, in the art of love… for peoples of all types and genders.
My bardic talents grew, as did my recognition; being the only one your kind means you cannot keep a low profile in Varina if you are a bard. In time, it was requested that I perform for the King, who respected my talents, found me interesting, but cared little for me otherwise. Yes, I was “exotic”, but to her eyes also too similar to lycanthropes in this continent. She tolerated me, but viewed me with suspicion. One of the nobles, however took a fancy to me and fell in love with me. Her husband, on the other hand, grew quite jealous; thankfully he was also a very shrewd man. For my “services” he rewarded me with a gift: the chance to go and search for my homeland. I took his offer immediately. I had sung many songs of my homeland, and the many things I remembered from my youth. Most, of course, said that these were all fairy tales, and that I was but a cursed young human boy, or one in a very elaborate magic disguise. The noble, a sorcerer of some renown figured he could both be rid of me AND perhaps learn of new and wondrous things from this far away land. Of course, I did not know at the time that this was a conspiracy with the King to get me out of Varina! Apparently the King and some of the nobles did not like the fame and renown I was collecting… Former “slaves”, brothel employees, and most importantly those who may or may not be distantly related to lycanthropes are not suitable to the court of Varina.
The ship he chartered was a not the most reputable, but one whom he paid handsomely. In return, they were to bring back wondrous things from my homeland and I was to secure “first contact” with others of my kind. The journey took months, and I became close with the captain and crew; my talent for entertainment was sorely needed on the long trip, my magical abilities greatly helped face the dangers on the sea, and many of the crew also appreciated my gifts when it comes to pleasure…
When we finally reached Erwost it was a nerve wracking day; what would I find on this distant shore? Once we were close enough to land we started to sail north from our position, following the coast looking for something I recognized. Tall buildings from my memories, other ships, docks, really any sign of civilization. Days became weeks, weeks months as we followed the coastline up and down before I recognized the very beach from which I was taken. My heart sank. Where were the soaring towers? The skyships? The Great Domes? Something wasn’t right. There was only jungle here. We took a boat ashore and began an exploration of the are nearby and found nothing. Simply nothing but jungle.
Months went by, and eventually we found signs of the inhabitants of the area… True lycanthropes, living in barely tribal communities. We spied on them from afar, for we had no desire to run afoul with the beasts. They were deep into the jungle and far from our ship. From my memories, I knew they occupied the area my People called “The Cradle”; what we believed to be the origins of civilization itself. I felt my face go pale when I realized where I was, and I went numb from the shock of it. No not where, WHEN. I refused to believe it at first, but after days of carefully watching the creatures (some could not even fully shift to animal forms!) I could not deny the truth: I was looking at my ancestors. I had been thrown into the past, literally thousands of years. I called off the search. There would be no reunion with my clan.
While the concept manipulating time was not new to me, I could not conceive of spells powerful enough to restore me back to my own time. There was no going home. And in a strange way this was a relief: I had a life here, and a good enough life. Besides, despite some rather overzealous and xenophobic Lords and Nobles, the people of New Merrita were largely rather wonderful and interesting!
Back on board the ship, after a long conversation with the Captain, who now knew he had been set up for this fall as well, we began to formulate a new plan. It was obvious there would be no reward for myself or the crew, and infact we would be, by Varinian law, indebted to the Lord who funded the expedition. Going back to Varina empty handed was not an option, but this was what the Lord had hoped for. Indentured servitude. Captain Avery, however, suggested a different approach: take from this Lord instead. Steal, smuggle, and sell his treasure somewhere else. It had a strong sense of appeal to someone who could never get home and had just figured out that going back to Varina meant more slavery or worse.
For the next five years we acted as little better than pirates, though pirates with a very specific code: We would only target ships carrying items of value for the sorcerer, Lord Silverstorm, we would leave the crews of said vessels as unharmed as possible BUT would meet resistance with a fight, and we would take no slaves or prisoners. In addition, we made it a point to free any slaves in the process. On more than a few occasions we even came across an entire slaving vessels, though not for Lord Silverstorm. For these vessels, we slaughtered the crews and freed the slaves.
Suffice it to say we made quite the impression on the Lords of Varina, and in due course the ship decided to disband and go our separate ways in order to not be caught. That is when the hunting began. We all kept in touch, and soon enough word went around that members of the old crew were disappearing or being killed off. Some were captured by peacekeepers for our “crimes” against the lord, others died in mysterious accidents, others were simply never heard from again, and whether that was Silverstorm or the crew members themselves I shall never know. I knew then that Silverstorm was a patient man and would not so easily let our actions go “unrewarded”. And so I went to Emberfall, the land of thieves, one place that Silverstorm would have a harder time reaching.
“And so you zee gentlemen, my story iz a sad one indeed! For here I am, with a price upon my head, and adrift upon ze road.”
Kahl smiled on that statement, “A bounty, eh? Ere now, looks like we‘re gonna ‘ave to keep this one around a bit longer den usual boys, te figure if he’s worth more to dem slavers or more to that fancy Lord Silverstorm he was gabbing on about!” and sure enough the men from the corner were almost upon Jaques, weapons drawn as Kahl gave an greedy little chortle. “Now come easy kitty cat and we won’t be harmin’ ya too much.”
Jaques sighed, finished his wine in one gulp, and looked up at Kahl and the pupils of his eyes narrowed to deadly slits that gave Kahl and his men pause, “You said somezing about slavers, yes? Now zat, my good man, will make it so I do not feel quite so terrible about zis”, and all of a sudden Jaques feature shifted. He looked more feral; it could have simply been a trick of the light, but his teeth seemed longer and sharper, more hair seemed to cover his body, and he now appeared to carry himself with the same presence as a panther does before it pounces on a helpless beast in the forest. And he began to sing. Or hum. Or purr? It sounded more like a growl!
Several moments later, the men from the corner lay dead in pools of blood, and Kahl was cowering behind his bar.
“Now zis was a shame my good friend… and I had so hoped to play in your establishment, as a bard must perform to make a living. But I cannot sit idly by when I know zat my employer may ‘ave connections with slave traders, you see. But it zeems I must now take my leave. Be careful who you keep az your friends Master Sourtap, I may pass by zis way again in ze future.”
Kahl couldn’t recall ever telling this man his name, which lead him to believe that there was a good chance that none of this was a coincidence. He had been marked by this mysterious man with whom he now wanted nothing to do with.Jaques flipped his cap back on his head and instantly transformed back into a normal human man, but one dressed in more common attire. Kahl stared dumfounded as the strange bard, now disguised as a perfectly average commoner, simply walked out and disappeared down the street. And then Kahl made a choice. With the goons from the slave trade dead in his tavern, and without a culprit to blame for their deaths, he was now considered fair game for the slavers. There was only one thing to do.
Soon, the shouts cried out around town: The Rusty Goblet was ablaze. Kahl Sourtap was already out the gates, and a long ways down the road before the fire was under control. He did not know where he was going to go, and he did not care. He was no goody two-shoes, but he had held no true love for the slaver either; so he was done with them. Perhaps he’d go to Varina, where money seemed to flow easily. Or maybe he’d go the Carapath. He had a cousin working in Mughamara, where that fancy adventuring company was from. Whatever his path, he intended to stay out of trouble, and hopefully never see that man, Jaques the Cat, The Bard From Across the Sea, ever again.