Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Beyond the Shore: Session 27

What’s the best life for a man?
Never to have been born, sings the choros,
and the next best is to die young.
I saw the Sybil at Cumae
Hung in her cage over the public street—
What do you want, Sybil? I want to die.
You have got your wish.
But I meant life, not death.

I will have shepherds for my philosophers,
Tall dreary men lying on the hills all night
Watching the stars, let their dogs watch the sheep.
And I’ll have lunatics for my poets,
strolling from farm to farm, wild liars distorting
The country news into supernaturalism—
For all men to such minds are devils or gods—and that increases
Man’s dignity, man’s importance, necessary lies
Best told by fools.

I will have no lawyers nor constables
Each man guard his own goods:
There will be manslaughter,
But no more wars, no more mass-sacrifice.
Nor I’ll have no doctors,
Except old women gathering herbs on the mountain,
Let each have her sack of opium to ease the death-pains.
That would be a good world, free and out-doors.

But the vast hungry spirit of the time
Cries to his chosen that there is nothing good
Except discovery, experiment and experience and discovery:
To look truth in the eyes,
To strip truth naked,
let our dogs do our living for us
But man discover.

They never touch it: consider what an explosion
Would rock the bones of men into little white fragments and unsky
the world If any mind for a moment touch truth.

-- Robinson Jeffers

The crews of the Damned Jewel and the Doomplum were partying with the locals on the shores of Tauranga. Sheep were roasted and eaten, music was played, ale flowed freely. The large pile of spars that was meant to be their payment for the hundreds of sheep they had brought with them was burning. Seemingly oblivious to the importance of the large pile of wood, the revelers migrated their debauched dancing to encompass the new and conveniently large bonfire.

Dona-Teresa.jpgSeemingly decided that they had sufficiently foiled any plans to turn them into legitimate merchants, Rummy and Caddis slunk off into the dark to find a place to sleep, leaving the crew to their partying. As they rounded the corner of a house, they ran headlong into a ghost — or what seemed like such. A woman, clothed in white, with pale skin, white hair, and colourless eyes. The person, or apparition, immediately began crying and apologizing to them profusely in Portuguese.

Rummy, the only one of them able to speak Portuguese, managed to calm her down and learned that she, at least, was aware that the spars were burning. She continued to apologize that the colony had nothing to pay them for the sheep now. They went back and forth for a while, ranging from requests for coin to admiring her jewelry, all of which ended with the simple statement that even the entire wealth of the village simply was insufficient to compensate the Doomplum for the sheep they’d brought.

“How much are sheep worth in this colony?” was the general response.

Caddis, with Rummy translating, shifted the conversation to less concrete methods of payment, explaining that they were ‘traders of fortune’ and more interested in adventure and additional crewmen for their ships than monetary recompense. At the fairly obvious pirate discursives, the party stopped, instantly, and the eyes of every single villager turned as one to stare at the Doomplum officers. Their crew, mixed up in the party, simply looked confused by the sudden, synchronized glaring. From out of the crowd, a lone villager made a mad dash for the largest house in the village.

Leopold, meanwhile, had been winding his way through the festivities, trying to learn if there were any interesting sources of threats or potential wealth that the villagers were aware of on the island. He learned little other than a handful of rumors alluding to an ancient Maori temple, some twenty five to thirty leagues inland. As the brief standoff built to a head, Adriana and Leopold joined Caddis and Rummy.

Leo cast share language to enable them all to speak freely and Caddis quickly explained that they meant to harm to the colony, and really were only looking to trade. Finally the villagers stood down, returning to their partying just as suddenly as they’d stopped, as if nothing at all had happened. The Pale Lady invited them into the large house to discuss how they might settle the debt that the sheep delivery had caused them.

Right inside the door, they found the runaway villager standing stock-still and impassive, holding a polished silvery shield and sword reverently in outstretched arms. The Pale Lady introduced herself as Doña Teresa Pàmies de Cameros, the Lord (or Lady rather) of the colony. Curious, Caddis cast detect magic over the villager and the lady, finding no magic on them directly, but a large number of magical items — including the weapons held by the villager and most of the lady’s garments.

They pivoted the conversation regarding payment for the sheep to a trade of her magical trinkets. These, she insisted, would also be insufficient to cover the value of the sheep. Rummy then suggested a situation of vassalage. Tauranga would agree to serve as a safe port-of-call for the Doomplum and its fleet, a place where they could offload, store, and trade goods without either Imperial or Hapsburg officials being notified, and in exchange, the Doomplum would agree to provide the colony with a steady supply of sheep whenever they could acquire them.

“And your jewelry…and the weapons…” Caddis added.

They tried to sweeten the pot, offering unicorns (which had to be as good or better than sheep, right?) which Doña Teresa clearly had no interest in. They also grilled her on how the whole collective consciousness thing the village clearly had going on worked. To which she pleaded the fifth, acting like she had no idea what they were talking about (though she was a horrible liar).

Finally they agreed—her finery, safe harbor, and the village’s discretion in exchange for the sheep. Again, without a word, a villager came in bearing a tray with ink, quills, and parchment. Doña Teresa drew up a basic contract and bill of sale, detailing what had been agreed upon, and signed. She seemed very determined that the sale and official transfer of ownership of the sheep be finalized. Caddis hesitated signing himself, but finally did, signing only as ‘Henry’.

As soon as his mark was on the paper, there came screaming from outside. They looked, and, as was expected by this point, saw that every last one of the sheep they had unloaded had turned into what appeared to be humans, all wearing white tweed suits. There crew seemed thoroughly disturbed by the sudden change, particularly given the number of dead sheep they had unloaded from the overly stuffed hold of the ship, and the fact that everyone had been eating roast mutton made from those same sheep.

Again, they detected no magic. The party’s internal debate turned to whether they had polymorphed people into sheep for easier transport (or sheep into people), though they could find no real evidence for either, and whether their recent actions amounted to slave-trading or cannibalism or both. The Doña seemed genuinely confused that they were even debating the nature of these ‘Sheeple. "Aren’t all people like this?"

Business finally dealt with, Leo brought up the stories of the Maori temple. The Doña explained that her people avoided it. They had poked around when they’d first established the colony, but several of the colonists had been killed by crazed monkeys, so they’d avoided it since. Nothing ever really came from the temple to bother them, and they never bothered it.

As they talked, Doña Teresa stripped off her finery, handing over the weapons, her jewelry, her gown, and even her corset, leaving only her drawers and chemise. She explained the magic that each item held, and Caddis and Rummy both promptly switched out the ladies’ clothing they were already wearing for choice pieces of her garments.

Caddis and company insisted that, since they were on the island anyways, they’d like to explore the temple, in order to give their crew a little more downtime. The Doña offered guides from the village to show them how to reach the temple, and also implied that she herself was a bit bored. At this they tried to convince her to join the crew, sure that whatever strange hive-mind-like control she exercised on her people would be useful. She promptly declined, explaining that she didn’t know the first thing about sailing, and that the colony could not possibly function without her.

They retired, claiming that they would set out to explore the temple in the morning. As soon as they murmured to that effect, three villagers appeared in the doorway, offering their homes for the night. Caddis and company declined, retiring to the ship to sleep.

The next morning, they called the Doomplum in, allowing both crews to rest in the village while they went exploring, and calling Fishguts over to accompany them to the temple. On shore, the villagers, now doubled in number, were busy building. Three new houses had already been raised, and two more were in progress, being constructed with the perfectly synchronized precision of an Amish barn-raising, yet without a word said between them. In the distance more of the forest was being clear-cut and converted to lumber with similarly astounding coordination.

BRITISHOFFICERINPALANQUINWITHINDIAN.jpgDoña Teresa met them at the shore, with five palanquins, all looking freshly built, bore by teams of ten sheeple each. After a little coaxing, they all climbed in, with Rummy joining Teresa, uninvited, in hers, and the caravan set off. Fishguts trailed after them, downwind and about fifty feet behind to keep the sheeple from being overcome by his stench.

The palanquins moved slowly, much more slowly than if they’d simply walked, but were at least comfortable. They passed the area cultivated by the village and into the woods. As they went Rummy continued to grill Teresa on how she coordinated the sheeple.

“I just shout and they obey,” she explained.

“I haven’t heard you so much as raise your voice the entire time we’ve been here.”

“But I’m shouting right now.”

“Maybe I need my ears checked.”

She proceeded to paw through the hair on the top of his head. “You don’t have any? Where are your ears?” she gasped. He pointed to the things sticking out of the sides of his head. “No, those are for detecting sound. How do you hear?” Thus confused, the conversation continued to a variety of other topics on which they clearly had no shared vocabulary. She had never heard of a unicorn, even as folklore. She appeared completely blind to race or species among humanoids, having never heard of an orc, and not recognizing that he had green skin. “You look just like everyone else, only slightly darker in complexion.”

chocobo.JPGFinally their conversation was interrupted by the sound of things crashing through the underbrush. Three large birds, easily nine-feet tall and covered entirely with yellow-brown feathers leaped from the bushes and charged the rear-most palanquin, which Leo was riding in. The palanquin bucked as the bearers dodged at the last second, sending two of the birds rushing past harmlessly, but the third caught one of the front bearers, knocking him to the ground and sending Leo tumbling out of his ride.

Adriana rolled out of the next-nearest palanquin and charged the two birds that had rushed by, striking one a terrible blow. Leo stumbled to his feet behind her and unleashed a chord of shards at them. Caddis hit the one attacking Leo’s palanquin bearers with Ballkönigin, putting it to sleep. Rummy hopped out and called Fishguts forward, where he promptly engulfed the two facing Adriana and Leo, ending them.

Throughout it all, the Doña remained daintily reclined in her palanquin, seemingly unconcerned. Adriana sauntered over the decapitated the sleeping one with a single stroke, and then they were back on their way. Leaving one dead bearer in their wake.

The palanquins plodded along for hours. Near lunchtime, they passed into a defile, a broad stretch of forest nearly a mile wide where the trees had been cleared and the ground plowed up in a long, deep furrow. Here they heard more crashing through the trees, and felt some impact tremors. Doña Teresa explained that these were from the ‘great lizards’ that roamed the island, herbivores, and no threat unless they stepped on you. The pressed on, veering away from the crashing sounds.
Near nightfall they finally broke free of the forest, a little under five leagues from the village, where they now faced towering, rocking, snow-capped mountains. Doña Teresa told them that the way to the temple was to climb the nearest peak, then follow a path along the cliffs south and east towards the coast.

Caddis, climbing out of his palanquin, noticed some impressive-looking stone ruins not far off to the west. A small, abandoned village of beehive-like stone huts surrounded by tall, wooden idols of humanoid figures, and large stones carved with intricate swirling patterns. As he gaped, the palanquin parade kept marching, the sheeple heading strait up the mountain, easily picking their way over the steep slopes, while carefully adjusting the palanquins to keep them level.

Caddis rushed after them, clambering up the slope over the sharp rocks to pile back into his ride.

To be continued…