The Kingmaker

"Enter the Stolen Lands, a wilderness claimed by nobles, bandits, and beasts alike. Into this territory the fractious country of Brevoy sends its emissaries, tasking them with subduing the lawless folk and deadly creatures that have made it a realm of savagery and shame. Beyond the last rugged frontier stretches the home of voracious monsters, capricious fey, wily natives, and bandits who bow to the rule of a merciless lord none dare defy. Can the PCs survive the Stolen Lands, bring their dangers to heel, and lay the foundations of a new kingdom? Or will they just be one more fateful band, lost forever to the ravenous wilds?"

The Stolen Lands, a wild lawless place awaiting the hand of strong justice. A politically ambiguous place where many parties vie for control. Into this cauldron of woe walk five heroes-in-the-making to create their own nation. Patriots—but to what cause?

Kingmaker is a Pathfinder Adventure Path role playing game published by Paizo Publishing under the terms of the Open Game License. It provides a rich backdrop for a group of pioneers as they attempt to bring civilization to a wild, untrammeled land. This website is not published, endorsed, or specifically approved by Paizo Publishing.

This blog represents the letters of one of these characters, Marquand, a bitter, righteous man—an Inquisitor defending his faith in the deity Erastil against all the enemies of civilization.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Letter Eight—Lily of the Valley

Dear Pino,

Running a nation is dry work—between bloodlettings, I mean. Taxes, defense, expansion, enrichment, culture, and basic needs are all things that have to be thought about and planned for. Pay attention when your teachers speak, Pino, no matter how boring you think they are, it’s all information you’ll need later.

At the weekly P.U.R.K. Cabinet meeting Lev was anxious that our nation soon reach the legal status of duchy. “I want to get married,” he lamented, crossing his legs.

“Have you found someone?” Piea asked, disbelieving.

“I have. It’s just that she can’t marry anyone less than a duke.”

“Or be less than virgin.”

“There’s no worry about that,” he replied stiffly. “I’ve known her a long time.”

Overall, P.U.R.K. is a happy land. Our citizens are content, our finances sound, all threats cleared out.

“It’s crazy,” Kelm noted. “It’s like—we killed the guy who was being a rabble rouser and now it’s all calm!”

“I’ve spent two months going around making speeches, making sure everyone’s happy and fed,” Lev protested.

“It’s worked!” Piea agreed somewhat amazed. “And all this time I thought we should just go and hang everybody!”

Kelm reported that it was time to extend our control south while the land stood unclaimed. We don’t know how much the other groups have expanded or when we might butt heads with the River Kingdoms, so it’s essential that we lay claim to as much as we can. “We can claim the swamp-witch hex,” he added.

“But she’s nice!” Cane and Piea both objected.

“We’ll see how nice she is when we claim her on our tax roll,” Kelm chuckled. “Or we can claim the pool with the murdered lovers.”

“Oh! The murdered lovers,” Piea sighed. “Let’s do that!”

“That’s sweet,” Cane agreed.

So we claimed the east side of the Tuskwater and the delta of the Gudrin River near where we dined on Old Crackjaw.

We then received a delegation of kobolds from the silver mine. Chief Sootscale, seeing which way the wind was blowing, had decided it was time for his community to ally with P.U.R.K. as a vassal state. We quickly accepted his offer, sending back a handsome legal document suitable for framing along with our standard regulatory package, bundled with a flag and sundry other welcoming gifts.

We turned to lighter things, rewarding citizen Daveed for his portrait Bokken en Coitus. I admit, having broken a few on the wheel, that artists don’t bring out the best in me. They tend to be tobacco smoking rulesbreakers, living on the margins, providing camouflage for real criminals. Still, their work has some value, I suppose, if it keeps our people happy.

Skot Skevins announced that he had finally finished the national anthem, excitedly ushering in a chorus of eunuchs from the new Academy to sing it for us. I was moved, although in what manner I’m still uncertain. He said he was leaving immediately after our meeting to play it for everyone in the realm. Climbing onto stages all over the country is not exactly the low profile you might expect of your Spymaster. “It’s the perfect cover,” he laughed, taking a big swig from a flagon of fangberry wine. “This way I can interrogate the local ladies without anybody suspecting a thing.”

“Except their daddies,” Cane muttered.

Piea reported that the rumors were true about her and Arven the fisherman, but claims they haven’t gotten past “first base,” or, as Arven puts it, “A nibble don’t make a bite.”

“I don’t want a ring yet,” she shrugged dismissively. “It’s still too early in our relationship.”

For myself, I’m getting nowhere fast with darling Lily. She was understanding about my not finding the Elven ruins but I couldn’t help noticing that she wasn’t servicing my table as often as she had in the past, favoring others with her charms. Be glad you’re a woman, Pino. We men are laughable creatures when ruled by our hearts, whereas women rule by theirs.

Right before the meeting broke up a messenger arrived from Brevoy. After breaking the seal Lev let out a yelp of surprise before telling us with excitement that P.U.R.K. had finally been recognized by Brevoy. Lev immediately sent his own messenger north to House Lebeda, where Ilse his lady love lies waiting, to prepare for his imminent arrival.

With Lev heading north  to meet his new in-laws I decided to go on pilgrimage west of the Thorn River to the Temple of Erastil. I found that Jhod Kavken and his disciples have cleaned up the site admirably while leaving the nearby forest wild. A soaring bower of old oak trees serves as the temple's nave while a vigorous spring emerges from beneath the carving of Erastil to spray downwards before flowing along one perimeter. Nearby I spied Jhod helping a young man transplant a small honeysuckle bush to a more convenient location. We warmly embraced.

Pausing to give tribute to Old Deadeye, I thanked him for my peaceful journey and prayed that all those I love remain safe in my absence. Then I repaired to a nearby place to freshen up, the cold water invigorating me after my long ride. I put on the plain gray robe offered me, joining the other acolytes for a modest dinner of lentils and rice, its saffron and herbs saturating my senses for a long time afterward. Then I walked with several others up to the cave where we’d fought that wild grizzly so long ago.

For the next week I would get up an hour before sunrise and wash in the cold stream, then hike through the woods until the place seemed right and spent the rest of the day in silent repose with the forest about me. I ate what the land offered and drank where I could. Elk piss tastes like fine wine when you’re thirsty. At night I would join the others in their Ritual of Sacred Humming. Then it was s'mores and ghost stories around the campfire before retiring for four hours sleep.

When I returned Tuskland was busy preparing to welcome Lev and their new Duchess. A festive air pervaded the town, garlands of flowers decorating streets cleansed of the offal and trash that usually lay there. When Lev arrived with his new bride the streets filled with cheering citizens.

 Of course you know all about that, having spent the reception sitting next to Duchess Ilse. She couldn’t help but be charmed by you, Pino. You’ve made a good friend there.

I invited Lily to the wedding's reception but was afraid that she wouldn’t accept due to her pique with me but the attraction of a prime seat at the social event of the year triumphed over her reservations. You can ask why I continue to pursue a woman who seems to care so little for me but it’s a true thing that all people desire what they can’t have—especially when it comes to love. A lucky person it is who can love easily. Most of us stir and stop, wallow and prevaricate. Remember, Pino, it is never a tragedy to lose at love. The tragedy is never to try.

Yes, Lily was beautiful that night. She wore a long blue silk taffeta gown with décolleté neckline and delicate lace trimming. I was nearly struck dumb as she approached the carriage for our short ride over to the Academy where the reception was held. I helped her remove her cape before entering the great hall to the cheers of the hoi polloi. How she glowed! I think her beauty rivals that accorded the legendary Queen Ileosa of Korvosa, or so I told her. She blushed, smiling warmly at me for the first time in weeks, twirling spontaneously like a young girl, her gown billowing, revealing a glimpse of her strong supple legs. I caught her hand, for a moment holding her closely, her eyes challenging me, laughing, provocative. She escaped with a light “Tra-la,” and soon we were in line waiting to be presented to the happily married couple.

I envy Lev’s happiness, although I share in his joy. As you know, Duchess Ilse was weaned on the intrigue within the court of the Swordlords. Something I, too, am familiar with. (I’m sure I’ve met her sometime in the past and probably dandled her on my knee as I did with you before you grew too old.) Lev couldn’t have found a better helpmeet. That he loves her too—well, that’s the blessing of Erastil.

The first dance, of course, I saved for you, my darling Pino. But the second, third, and fourth I gave to Lily and we glided around the dance floor in mutual embrace, feelings I’ll never share with anyone but her. Then I had to give her up to my many rivals and watch helplessly as she danced and laughed with each in their turn.

When I could stand it no longer I went to a bountiful table where an impeccable servant—part of Ilse’s entourage—offered me fruit punch with a hint of fangberry brandy. I saw Cane sulking in one corner of the room, wearing his tuxedo stiffly like armor, sneaking a plate of ribs outside to Sizzles, who seemed to prefer the attentions of Ilse’s mastiff Tinkerbelle, causing Cane to slouch inconsolably back into the hall. That’s where he discovered—too late—that Little Billee had left him a big watery surprise in a trashcan over the door. I can’t say that I’ll begrudge Cane his reckoning when it comes.

Kelm was showing off his new grill to several bridesmaids. They tittered as he leered at them, smacking his golden choppers with their inset diamonds and rubies glittering, slapping his naked chest with excitement. The young women seemed impressed, at least until later in the evening when he tried to show them how to dance without moving. “It all happens inside!” he crowed as they left on the arms of various counts and haberdashers.

Piea, of course, was with her Arven, who was managing to watch the dancers and his beloved at the same time. She wore a long gown, mithral halter top, thick metal bicep bands accentuating her feminine muscularity, causing more than one potential suitor to gulp fretfully when he saw them. Arven seemed blissfully unaware that she could snap his neck as easily as she was the breadsticks she was casually noshing. But I did observe him slyly putting his arm around her to sneak a kiss behind the ear. She ignored him, waving her hand idly as if shooing a mosquito.

I danced with you one more time before your Mother and Big Billee took you children home. Never have I seen you more radiant or happier. It was your night as much as it was Lev’s or Ilse’s. I pray that there will be many more like it in the future.

I walked Lily home afterward. She said she was too excited to ride in the coach. I held her hand as we traveled the darkened streets, stars blinking in their vault overhead—I made out the constellations for Desna and Sarenrae. Lily responded by taking my hand and outlining the forms of Shelyn—the Eternal Rose—and Cayden Caylen. At the door to the Inn, where we could still hear merriment inside, I finally kissed her. She gasped, smiled shyly—a look I’d never seen—before hurriedly excusing herself.

Nothing has been harder for me in my life than obeying propriety and turning away from that door—and nothing more necessary for the spiritual leader of Tuskland. I spent the rest of the night on my knees south of town with the other penitents in a cove sacred to Erastil.

Life fell back into its familiar patterns in the days that followed. Lev paid to imbue weapons for Cane and myself with magic. I hate taking charity but in this case it’s for the good of the nation. “I am not a thieving lord,” Lev said to explain his generosity. “I make sure that there are no starving people in our kingdom before I take any pay.”

“A mix of social politics and totalitarian police force,” noted ’Bert Askew, who had recently been appointed court gofer by Lev.

Then Kelm filled us in about the notorious Candlemere Tower where we were to begin our next adventure. There are many stories about strange lights, cries, and screams in the night. Few venture there and fewer return. The tower is said to be about 40 feet high, amongst crumbling ruins, and the island is covered in fangberries—your uncle’s greatest foe—and spotted with willow trees.

When we reached the shore of the lake and could see the tower clearly in the distance over the horizon, Lev paused to give a speech. “It’s time to quiet this plague on our border!” he proclaimed booming out over the water. This inspired Piea and Kelm to sing a bawdy tune that is a bit too salty for your ears, dear Pino. Let it be said that I hope never to hear you singing it.

We found a small boat by a rickety pier and, for a few silver pieces, rowed it to the island. Candlemere Lake was quiescent, its pristine waters vibrant with the bright colors of spring reflecting from the surrounding forest.

Pulling our boat onto the beach we made our way gingerly around the fangberry patches to the tower, overgrown and long disused, where we were greeted by a faintly glowing ball of light—hard to see in the sunlight—containing a nebulous image of a skull in its depths—a will-o’-wisp feeding off the fear of its victims. It was something like the costume Little Billee wore last All-Nethys-Eve to extort candy from the neighbors.

Wisps only appear when they attack, although the ones on Candlemere Island seemed to forget that. Their main weapon is a bolt of electricity that burns, which Piea quickly discovered to her anger. Most of us missed hitting the thing but Lev managed to tame it with magic missile until Piea could get her revenge.

The tower was long disused, open to the sky. It’s an ancient edifice, dating from the Age of Destiny—when civilization first rose from Chaos. We could make out faint ancient carvings of disturbing Aklo symbols representing fragments of blasphemous prayer given to Yog-Sothoth, one of the Great Old Ones! What had we stumbled upon? I was shaken with unnameable dread.
That’s when the second will-o'-wisp appeared.

This time Lev and Kelm were ready for it, hitting with magic missile as it shot a bolt of lightning through Piea. Cane finally hit it hard enough that it fizzled out.

Even though there was nothing else at the tower Lev wanted to stay for nightfall but every hour a will-o'-wisp would find us—even though everyone was more bored than scared—and we took turns killing them while taking considerable damage of our own. It was no fun, Pino. As Erastil says: “Know when to cut and run!”

We decided to come back another time when we were better prepared to find out why there was a nest of will-o’-wisps here and weed them out. So we retreated to our boat and rowed back across the evening waters to our camp, finding Bert Askew sleeping in the shade of a large oak tree while our horses foraged willy-nilly throughout the woods. That night, with the campfire’s glow reminding me of the will-o’-wisps, I thought for a long time about the Old Gods. Erastil preserve us if there is a connection between them and Candlemere. 

The next morning we set out on the second part of our quest to find the burial spot of the "Lonely Warrior," passing by the tendriculos' mud bowl and weeding out a few of its babies, before taking the road east past a gang of convicts tending our new highway. Crossing again overland through barren plain we eventually reached an ancient burial spot, grassy knolls hiding barrows of the dead surrounding us. We searched until we came to place where the earth had cracked open, allowing us entry beneath the ground, then followed a cobwebbed tunnel deeper, through a swarm of bats flying past us. A disgusting thick cover of guano coated the floor crawling with insects that squished under our boots, the sharp tang of ammonia suffocating in the still air.

Soon, we were standing in an octagonal chamber, its walls decorated with crude mosaics depicting hunting, fishing, farming—could this be the resting place of an early cult of Erastil? Four tunnels exited the room’s cardinal points. At each tunnel’s entrance a monstrous face leered and grimaced. Kelm said they represented the four winds incarnate as malevolent elemental spirits.

“I like that,” Piea said.

A skeleton lay face down in the middle of the room, most of its gear rotted away—except for a single ring, which Cane immediately bent down to take. Suddenly the four monstrous faces gasped as misty tendrils blew softly into the room. Piea and Kelm reeled suddenly with exhaustion. Sitting heavily, Kelm, grabbed the ring from Cane, slipping it on his finger with a sigh of contentment.

"It's a ring of sustenance," he explained, waving his hand to show it off. "I feel better already." 

We were interrupted as we heard scraping sounds from two of the tunnels surrounding us. “Oh my goodness!” Piea exclaimed as the creatures emerged. “That’s a lot of skeletons!”

“We’ll weed through these things like they’re chicken feed!” Cane replied dismissively.

Lev immediately stepped forward. “Could I be in front of everyone?”

“You?” we gasped.

“I have an idea,” he said, annoyed.

“You always never want to be in front,” Bert Askew, who had followed us into the tunnel instead of watching the horses, added unhelpfully.

“All I want to do is cast a spell and then run into the back,” Lev replied testily.

“Don’t put me forward!” Kelm protested when Piea suggested he join Lev. “I’m not playing this crazy ‘in the front’ game. That’s not how I roll!”

Lev cast a cone of cold down one of the tunnels, freezing the group approaching us from that direction.

“Maybe we should stay out of your way,” I bowed to him as the rest of the skeletons tried futilely to overwhelm us. Piea, despite her weakness, reaped them like wheat, leaving a very skinny one for me to polish off.

We searched the side rooms as Cane rode Sizzles like a “lover,” in his words.

One wall was adorned with weaponry, shields, armor, tattered banners and standards; interspersed with scenes carved in the wall of battle, pillage, and conquest. Flaking pigment was all that was left of the once brightly colored walls, which looked as if they’d been defaced by repeated blows from a weapon. At the far end of the room a withered corpse lay atop a stone catafalque, bony hands clutching a sword.

It did not take lightly our disturbing its slumber, rising with an eerie moan as we entered the room.

There is no reasoning with the undead, dear Pino, try to remember that. I ignited my sword with Flames of the Faithful while Kelm and Piea engaged the creature. Piea took a good shot from the desiccated swordsman. Kelm hit him with magic missile. Using Sizzles as a diversion, Cane thwapped him hard across the skullcap. Then we all took our turn as the creature concentrated on Piea. Incredibly, Lev and Kelm took this moment to argue the finer points of power attack while I finished him. He had:
•    +2 fey bane bastard sword
•    broken chain mail
•    heavy wooden shield

Everything else had been removed long before, although how the tomb raiders had avoided waking the overly sensitive warrior is beyond me.

Once more outside the chambers in the sweet night air I reflected that there was still a lot about our realm that we do not know. I thought pensively about Lily and then about you, my most faithful friend. I trust that you have spent your day productively.

All my affection,
Uncle Marquand

1 comment:

  1. So much good stuff in here that I'm not sure what to praise first. The wedding was great, and the dialogue top notch. Probably my favorite Pino letter to date.