The Devil of Amaranth
By Deuce Traveler
Deuce Traveler paced back and
forth outside his guest room. He had just wrapped Dwollin's Axe
in a bundle of cloth and slung it on his back. Now that he was
back in Amaranth he was worried about his friend, Rothor. The
rogue wished he could simply leap the remaining few miles to the
shore and start running west to Rockby.
"Deuce, stop that damn pacing. You're distracting my thoughts," Captain Yor yelled from his doorway. He came out and looked at the impatience in the rogue's face. "Worried about your friend are ye?"
"No, it's just driving me crazy not knowing if I should head straight for Riversy or Rockby with this blasted artifact. I wish I could contact Dirk and ask him what our contacts say. He's probably drinking it up in the Carrion Inn right now."
Yor looked thoughtful, "The Carrion Inn? I miss that place, good firebreathers. Come into my room and have a seat at the table for a moment." Deuce did so, seating himself on a richety chair across from a wooden table they used to play chess. Yor sat down across from the rogue holding an urn of water and pan. The captain poured the water into the pan and said without looking up, "Now stare into the water and concentrate on this Dirk character." Yor began to chant under his breath.
Deuce raised an eyebrow in question, but did as he was told. Dirk's face appeared, staring solemnly back. "Dirk, Deuce said in surprise. "Can he see us?"
Dirk stared back in surprise. "Damn, I've only had two of these things and now I'm seeing Deuce in my beer and hearing his voice."
"Don't flip on me, Dirk, it's me. I have the Axe, but I know I'm late. I'm currently approaching Radaan."
"Oh, so you couldn't stop by Riversy or Rockby and drop off the artifact while you decide to tour the other side of Amaranth." Dirk turned his head to someone out of Deuce's vision and said snidely, "What the hell you looking at, pal? You never seen a man mutter in his drink before?" Turning back to his drink he said, "You're going to get me locked up in the asylum of Craindre at this rate. I'll make this short. Esk got back three days ago, and when you didn't show up Rothor finally left. He headed to Rockby yesterday, which means he's got two more days to get there. It's going to take you four by horseback to get there. Looks like you've failed. We'll have to sell the Axe of Dowwin to the council anyway. Look on the bright side, there's more money in it this way. Oh, and I've started training those lads you didn't want me to train." Dirk winked into his glass at the image of a grimacing Deuce.
"It's not over yet, Dirk. I guess I could use those lads. Get them together and meet me in Rockby. I have a feeling that Rothor is going to be in trouble with his people when we get back, and he's going to need the help."
"That's a three day trip for me and I hate to travel. I especially hate traveling in the desert."
"You can pull three quarters of the profit on this one instead of your usual one."
"Ha! You're a fool, but you're my kind of fool. One that makes me rich. I'll see you in Rockby, Deuce. We'll leave in a few hours." Dirk turned his head suddenly as his image began to disappear. His voice faded with his image as he told another patron, "What the hell are you looking at? Can't a man mutter in his beer in peace..."
Deuce looked up at Yor. "So you're a mage? That firegate wasn't some Evening Star Mercenary trick like the scryer?"
Yor nodded at Deuce, "A bit of one. One doesn't get into a mercenary's work unless he has a few tricks up his sleeve. And I created the scryers." Yor studied Deuce for a moment. "You care about this friend of yours, don't you?"
"He saved my life once. And he was a great hero. I'm simply trying to return the favor, give a man his due, and make some profit at the same time."
Yor smiled at the rogue, "I watched as you and Tomas went over. You held onto the man a long time before you both were thrown to safety." Deuce simply shrugged, his mind on the quickest path from Radaan to Rockby. "Deuce, I want to start the Evening Star Mercenaries back up. We were well respected in this land before our forced departure. I could use a man such as you as first mate."
The rogue broke off his train of thought and stared at the man across from him in surprise, "But I don't know the first thing about seamanship."
"You could learn. You've done well in the short number of days you had. You could also use the Evening Star Mercenary name for yourself in Rockby. We once hunted a tarrasque that was invading their town. We took some reward money for the job, and the epic battle that ensued became one of the dwarven legends of the town. When last I visited, our guild's exploits were still legend there."
"Trust me, you don't want me."
"Nonsense! The measure of a man is how far he is willing to go for his friends. You can hide under the guise of being just a mercenary, Deuce Traveler, but the fact is you care about people even if you don't want to. I'm impressed by how far you've gone for this Rothor. I wonder how far are you willing to go for a friend?" The two men stared at one another. The docking whistle blew and Yor stood up, motioning the rogue to follow. They put out a boarding plank to the harbor of Radaan and the crew of five stopped out to meet the harbormaster.
Deuce Traveler recognized Harbormaster Omar al Waleed instantly. His mustache was well trimmed, golden rings sat on his fingers, and two golden, looped earrings adorned his ears. The fat, greedy man was also involved in smuggling operations and used his port to expand such illegal profit. Deuce had no problems with the man. Omar offered him good work from time to time, to their mutual gain. Upon seeing the rogue, the greasy man pat his pudgy hands together and said pleasingly, "Aaa...Deuce Traveler. When I saw this wrecked hulk enter my beautiful harbor, it put me in such a bad mood, but now you walk from it. I should have known that any ship looking this torn to shreds and still floating would have you on board."
"Wrecked hulk! This is the greatest ship you'll ever see in your lifetime! 'Tis the SS Vesper," Yor cried in protest.
"Well, unless you can show me some money you have for ship repairs, I want that floating pile of kindling out of my harbor," Omar turned to Yor.
Yor looked angry, "Listen, if you give me time I can get you whatever money you want to charge me for repairs, but I had to leave our last stop in a hurry and have only a few dozen coins on us left to spend. My ship won't make another harbor."
"Not my concern. If you can't pay the repair and a two week advance on the docking fee I'll have to have your ship towed to the bay and burned."
Deuce reached into his pack and pulled out the sapphire necklace he took from Doom. "Will this pay the two week advance and for the repairs?"
Omar gasped as he looked at the beautiful necklace, it's jewels flashing in the sunlight, "That will be more than enough. Where did you get that? If those are real that could pay for a two month berthing."
"Good, make it a month instead and bring me two fresh horses within the hour," Deuce said, putting the necklace back in his pack.
Omar winced, cursing his own greed for making him a poor barter. "Alright, Deuce. You'll have the horses in the hour, but then turn over those sapphires. I'm trusting their not fakes."
"I'm as good an appraiser as any of your men, Omar, and I know their worth," Deuce said. He shook hands with the harbormaster and watched him go.
Yor ordered Tomas to go into town and buy some food and water for the remaining crew. He then slapped the rogue's back heartily. "Good work, lad! I knew you were a good luck charm!"
"Good luck? More like horrible luck. You're ship was almost entirely destroyed by the storm and we are all half starved. If anything I just used up some of your food."
"The luck of the devil, then. I'll take the bad luck to know that I'm alive, and now with that stunt you just pulled, the SS Vesper will live, too," Yor grinned happily. "And I'm back at Arainor again! Deuce, I want you to have these." Yor gave the rogue Garen's cutlass and cloak clasp. "If you change your mind about being my first mate just contact me with the clasp. I think Garen would have wanted you to have his cutlass. He was always a charitable fellow."
Deuce accepted the gifts humbly. Tomas came back and Yor insisted the rogue eat and fill his waterskin before he went into the desert. He also gave him enough food to last a few days. Then Omar came with the horses. Deuce traded the sapphire necklace for them, leapt on one of the horses, waved to his companions, and with a kick to his mounts flanks galloped off into the setting sun.
The rogue headed west out of Radaan and towards the desert town of Qazus. Halfway through the night his horse stumbled from the pace Deuce put it through and refused to go any further. He leapt on the fresh horse and continued on. As the sun began to rise, exhaustion set in and he pulled himself and the horse into the shade of a strange needle-like rock formation. He fed and hydrated himself and his horse, slept uneasily for only two hours, and leapt back on the saddle. He galloped hard through the mid-day sun, but had to slow down towards evening as his mount began to heave and froth. Finally, they came to the desert city of Qazus, a town Deuce tried to avoid due to their policy of no alcohol and their harsh treatment of people in his profession. He traded his strong horse for a smaller, yet fresher horse in the merchants square, filled his waterskin again and headed west. He had made good time so far, traveling more than a third of the way in a day and wished to keep the pace. Deuce made it to the desert oasis in between Qazus and Rockby as the sun was beginning to come up. He allowed his abused horse to drink sparingly from the pool of water and refilled his own waterskin. Then he collapsed and slept so long the stars shone brightly in the sky when he woke. With an angry curse, he mounted his exhausted horse and galloped swiftly toward Rockby.
The next day brought a sand storm that stung his face and blinded him. His suffering mount struggled against the storm, but gave out from underneath him with a sad cry. No prompting could get the horse to attempt to rise again. Its heart had burst and the beast was dying in pain. Deuce spoke comforting words to the beast that served him so bravely and put it out of its misery with one of his gleaming daggers. Then he gathered up his equipment, wrapped some cloth around his head, and disappeared into the storm towards where he thought was Rockby.
Deuce Traveler had not slept in
more than a day, but he had the satisfaction of knowing he had
made a four day trip from Radaan to Rockby in three. His feet
were close to buckling from the weight of both the cloth bundled
artifact on his back, and the cutlass in a scabbard on his hip.
The rogue gulped down the last of his water as he entered the
courtyard of Rockby. He kept his face hidden under the wrap of
cloth that protected his head from the sun. He was known in this
city as a chief suspect in the theft of a gold statue from
Rockby's famous museum. Deuce frowned when he tried to figure out
why everyone thought he was some common thief. Soon he was
smiling again when he thought about how much money he made from
that statue. It currently adorned some minor Laketown merchant's
The courtyard was full of dwarves who were shouting obscenities at the figure of Rothor. Rothor and two other men stood on top of a wooden platform. The dwarven warrior stood in a circle of blue chalk that designated a defendant's circle. In a red circle prosecutor's circle stood an angry dwarf with a blonde beard. In a white circle stood the only chair on the platform, and in it sat a white haired magistrate of Rockby. Deuce realized this was a trial, and from the look of things, it could be going better. "Maybe I can somehow get Rothor the Axe of Dowwin and slip out of here before anyone recognizes me," Deuce thought.
The blonde dwarf let the crowds settle down before speaking loudly again, "We have already established Rothor's disgusting habit of diving into the green flow. We have established that this man, who was once respected and loved in this community, has turned his back on the trust we have given him and spent nearly all the money entrusted onto him on his green potion addiction."
The man went on about the effects of the green flow for some minutes, as Deuce got closer to the platform. Deuce rolled his eyes. It was one of those grand mysteries he couldn't begin to fathom. "Why is it typical for lawyers to be long winded?" He was now halfway across the courtyard. He looked up at Rothor and noticed something different about the dwarf. Rothor's eyes appeared alert and comprehending, so unlike the glazed look they had possessed for nearly a year. His shoulders were stooped with regret, but there was a newfound nobility in the warrior, one like there used to be in years past. "Rothor," Deuce wondered to himself, "what caused this change? Maybe I'm not too late." He spotted Dirk and some young men in front of the platform. He began to walk to them, thinking he could probably get one to bring the Axe to the magistrate and have Rothor spared.
A cloaked woman passed the rogue. A hood hid her face, but she had a familiar walk and a sword almost totally hidden under her cloak. "Esk?" Deuce whispered to her. The woman seemed not to hear him, however, as she continued to walk towards the platform. The rogue started noticing a number of cloaked people working their way through the crowd.
The blonde dwarf decided to change topics. "And is it also true that with the rest of the money entrusted to your care, you had also hired a man by the name of Deuce Traveler? A Deuce Traveler that has not only stolen from our beloved Rockby before, but had also had been found to put into place spies in our peaceful town?"
Deuce Traveler stopped in his tracks. The silent, angry faces in the crowd waited for Rothor's response. "If he has not returned with the Axe, it is probably because he had died doing what was my duty. Deuce Traveler is no thief. He is my friend, and a better man than anyone gives him credit for."
The crowd went mad. They had trusted Rothor with what little remained of their treasury and had found that he spent it on drugs and a man with a bad reputation. They picked up stones and sticks from the ground and began to pelt the dwarven warrior. He stood unmoving; taking the beating they dealt him as his penance.
One of the cloaked men threw off his cloak, showing a large armored man in plate mail armor. The man was Khan Glarin, of the guild Khan's Troopers of the Night. He waved a scepter high in the air and yelled, "Troopers! KTN! KTN!"
More of Khan's Troopers of the Night threw off their cloaks. Rothor may be a criminal to his own people now, but to the Khan he was still his man. Esk led the charge of screaming warriors yelling over the din, "KTN! KTN! For the Khan! For Rothor!" Dwarven guards began to intercept them.
Deuce ran through the crowd for the platform. Rothor looked like he was living his worst nightmare. He was screaming at the top of his lungs for the Rockby dwarves and his own guild to cease fighting one another. The two forces fought as if they were trying to only disable one another, and not kill, but Deuce knew it was only a matter of time before there would be a fatality. The rogue pulled himself next to Rothor and started unwrapping the Axe. A dwarven bailiff ran towards Deuce with a club, but a quick kick to his gut sent him falling off the platform. Deuce Traveler pulled the Axe of Dowwin over his head and screamed at the top of his lungs, "Stop it!" It took some seconds, but the dwarven combatants eventually ceased fighting to stare in awe of the Axe. The Khan then ordered his own people to stand down. Deuce spoke so the whole courtyard could hear him, "I understand if you don't trust me, a stranger to you, but Rothor has been an epic hero for this town. How dare you question his loyalty to Rockby. He asked me to retrieve this artifact for him and I have returned with it. Do you know what I've been through to get here?"
Rothor pulled on Deuce's sleeve and hissed in his ear, "This is my responsibility. What are you doing?"
Deuce whispered back, "Saving your damn life, now shut up."
The magistrate came and took the Axe from Deuce and patted it lovingly. "Thank you, sir, for returning this to us. This makes up for your own transgressions we suspect you of. However, how are we to forgive Rothor? He has turned against his own people in his addiction and must be punished." The magistrate gave a worried glance to Khan Glarin, who simply glared back and fingered his scepter.
Deuce decided lying was the best policy, "No other sell sword accepted the job. Doom is a fortress and not a hospitable place. I took all of the money Rothor was sent with. I am ashamed to say I cheated the man and plead forgiveness. And the green potions Rothor bought, were purchased with his own money. Rothor is still a good man; he just needs to get his life back together. Don't destroy it now when we all know the hero this man can be."
The crowd's mood seemed to relax some, and the magistrate nodded, but the blonde prosecutor then stepped in. "Oh, you must be joking to listen to this man. He's a suspected thief and con artist. Rothor has acted treasonously. And we are supposed to believe that Rothor did no wrong on the words of this silver tongued devil?"
Deuce felt everyone's eyes on him waiting expectantly. Dirk stared at Deuce as if the tall rogue was crazy. The young men Dirk had brought looked at the man they idolized with pride in their eyes that he did not understand. He could taste the tension in the air. Even Deuce agreed with the prosecutor. All he was was a criminal, what right did he have to speak of a greater man's heroics? Why did Dirk's men look at him like that? Didn't they understand that he wasn't the man they thought he was? He looked down at the pommel of Garen's cutlass.
The rogue heard Yor's voice in his head, "I wonder how far are you willing to go for a friend?"
"To live a lie," Deuce thought to himself. "To pretend to be a man that I'm not." His next moments felt like a dream to the rogue. He pulled his new cutlass from its sheath, the engraved, gold E.S.M. on the blade shining in the sun. "By this blade I swear to you this. I am Deuce Traveler, first mate to Captain Yor of the SS Vesper, berthed in the good city of Radaan. By the authority entrusted in me, I stand by the integrity the dwarf, Rothor of Rockby."
The news started like wildfire from Rockby. It stretched east to the desert village of Radaan in four days. In a week the western isle of Tiraca received the word, and it was all the village of Elwyn could speak of. In two weeks the messages had traveled all the way north to the town of Henn. And this is what the most frequent rumors said:
That the great hero, Rothor, had quit retirement to bring back Dowwin's Axe for his beloved people of Rockby.
And that the lost guild of the Evening Star Mercenaries had returned.
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