Cuana Chapter 13 Entry 1
It was good to get back to the more familiar surroundings of Messantia after our ordeals in the desert lands of Stygia and Shem. Although a warmer climate than that which I grew up with in Cimmeria, Argos was much more comfortable than those infernal, sun-parched lands to her east. I could rest and relax, and that’s exactly what I did. I purchased a poniard from a local weaponsmith and had some maintenance performed on both my greatsword and my leather armor, the latter of which was in need of a few replacement rivets and a good oiling. I had stopped shaving my face on the return trip from Stygia, and was now sporting whiskers like many from my clan. The next several days were spent drinking, feasting, and carousing with my comrades.
I was nearing the end of my money and wondering where I could earn more when we were approached by a man named Kalamos, who wanted to hire us and our captured Stygain galley, to sail to Zabhela, a port on the coast of Kush. The others were all agreeable to his offer, so we made our last-minute preparations and put out to sea aboard The Crimson Wolf.
At first glance, Zabhela looked much like a Stygian port – too much so for my taste. As in the port of Khemi, a great statue of a serpent reared its scaly head to the sea, as if keeping watch upon the horizon. Many Stygians and Shemites bustled along the docks amid the Kushites, as did a smaller number of hyborean peoples. Kalamos bid us meet him later at a tavern called The Sailors Folly, and left to meet his contact, a man named Artelios. My attention was drawn to the galley in port next to us, as several men were in the process of lowering a cage containing two giant cats – lions, I was told – onto the galley’s deck from the docks. The lions were clearly agitated, obviously upset at both their capture and all of the activity going on around them. The men who were lowering the cage onto the deck seemed to be having a little trouble, whether from fear of the cats or from a troublesome pulley, I couldn’t tell. As I was watching, the rope suddenly snapped and the cage containing the lions crashed to the deck. The door of the cage swung open, and with the span of one heartbeat both lions were free and attacking their captors. One handler was mauled instantly, while the other lion leapt down onto the boardwalk after a young woman who had happened by. I leapt down from the deck and drawing my blade, sent a mighty slash across the beast’s back. It spun with amazing quickness, narrowly missing me with its giant fangs. I could hear shrill, sing-song battle-cry of my Nordic friend above the din of panicked locals, and I knew he was engaging the other beast somewhere behind me. I struck the lion again and was rewarded with a hot, crimson spray across my face and arm from what surely must have been a mortal blow, before the Nemedian moved in and sank his blade hilt-deep into the beast’s chest. Tullweim helped the girl up from where she had fallen on the boardwalk, exchanged a few words with her, and watched her as she walked away.
Seeing that we were already very close to The Sailor’s Folly, we went inside to await the return of Kalamos. I settled at a small table and began drinking some ale, while the others drank and made their own entertainment – Tullweim by playing at throwing knives at his feet with one of the locals. I kept a wary eye, not trusting in anyone, since we were in an unfamiliar place populated by unfamiliar people. The relatively high number of Stygians did nothing to ease my suspicions either, so I sat watchful and mindful, awaiting the return of Kalamos. Several times I heard talk among the locals of trouble in the part of town called The Shanty. Apparently the priests of a local god named Jullah had been telling of strange horrors in the streets at night, and many people feared to be out after dark.
The sun had set and Kalamos had not yet returned to the tavern. We were beginning to wonder if he might be trying to skip out without paying us, when a cry from outside was raised. There was a fire on the docks! People poured out of The Sailor’s Folly to see what was happening, and we were greeted by a sight I feared might be awaiting us – The Crimson Wolf and the Stygian galley moored next to it were both ablaze.
The flames tore through both ships, up the masts and into the rigging. The sails caught fire very quickly, and within moments large glowing ashes were wafting about, floating down from the thermal lift of the flames in all directions. The crews from both vessels quickly formed bucket brigades in an attempt to stem the spread of the fire, but it soon became apparent that it was no use. Both ships were lost. The crew grew angry, and began to demand their pay. The Hyrkanian nudged me with his elbow and indicated a darkly cloaked figure watching the fires from a distance. I nodded to him in understanding, and I watched as he slipped away during the confusion, into the night. Keeping a cautious eye in the direction of the stranger, I only half-listened to the demands of the angry crew. Thankfully, they were used to dealing with the Nordheimer, so most of their attention was on him and Ambrose, who had stepped in and was trying to help soothe tempers and calm angry nerves. I noticed the figure in black stiffen, and the gleam of a blade appear by his throat, so I took that as my cue to walk over and see what he was about.
The threat of death was clear in Xacksmith’s voice as he urged the man at knife-point to speak. He denied all accusation of setting our ship afire, saying that he was simply watching the blaze from a safe distance as any bystander might do. I sensed something more about the man than he was letting on, but shy of open violence or murder, I knew we’d get nothing more from him. He said his name was Anubar, and I was considering asking him to join with us – or to allow us to join with him, since we were now without a ship and likely without pay, but the Nemedian stepped over to play peacemaker, so I just let the matter drop. I was to regret that decision later.
Almost as soon as Anubar walked away, a slave – a man of the lower, Gallah blood – came running up to us, panting, and urging us to follow him immediately to see Artelios. We were eager to finally hear something involving our business here, especially since losing our ship and not having heard yet from Kalamos.
We followed the man as he led us very swiftly through the dark streets of the Shanty, through narrow alleys and less-traveled streets. We were led into an open square with an obelisk at its center, and at the foot of the obelisk, battered, hacked, and bloody, Kalamos struggled to maintain a barely-sitting position. He bore many stab and slash wounds, and several large bruises as well. Recognition flickered in his eyes at our approach, and he gasped something to the effect of ‘they came for her…I escaped….but they hunt me still’. He clutched something like a scroll in his hand, but there was no time to see what it was – a horde of naked, black-skinned men, each bearing a green arm-band, poured into the square from every direction.
I moved directly for the middle of the square, seeing both the Nemedian and the Hyrkanian each slay one of the attackers as I went. Reaching the obelisk, I drew my greatsword and prepared to face as many of them as could surround me, since the fools were coming at us with nothing but their fists. I was suddenly struck from behind – our guide was one of them and had led us into a trap. The bastard hit me hard, for I saw spots dance before my eyes, and I thanked my Cimmerian ancestors for providing me with such a thick skull. Four others had moved in on me, and I unleashed my full fury upon them all. One by one they fell as I swept my blade in a bloody arc of death that left all five of them desperately grasping at their guts or gurgling their death-cries through ruined heads and throats. It was a slaughter – although as savage as Picts, at least the Picts have enough brains to use weapons. As I looked around, I saw that all save one that Tullweim was dealing with had been slain. Kalamos had dies during the fight, ans one of the others took the scroll from his clenched fist. Deciding to find the house of Artelios, we went to the ‘high city’, but found the gate closed.
We circled about the wall a bit before deciding that the way was clear. Both the Nordheimer and the Hyrkanian scaled the wall easily, and I followed, Ambrose clinging to my back. Once inside, it took but a little while to see several bloodied slaves fleeing a large home. Tullweim caught one up in his grasp while Ambrose questioned the gibbering savage, who babbled something like ‘never again will I serve foreign masters…Jullah is angry…’ along with more nonsense I can’t recall. Once he had pointed out Artelios’ house to us, we let the wretch go.
When we arrived at the courtyard entrance to the house, we saw more of the Gallahs in green arm-bands fighting Hyborean guards – mainly from Koth, Argos, and Shem – whose movements were sluggish and off-center, as if they were drunk or had been drugged. We spread out, moving over and through the manicured hedges, and I made for an area further into the fray, by a large statue of Mitra set in the middle of a fountain which marked the center of the courtyard.
Several of the savages swung fists at me as I passed, again surprising me at the strength of their blows. Ignoring them, I hit a cluster of three right by the fountain, cutting them down where they stood. One more came within reach of my blade, dying as his head toppled from his rank, sweaty body.
Taking a passage out of the courtyard, we heard screams and the sounds of fighting throughout the house. Moving into the more opulently furnished chambers, we encountered more guards. They had indeed been drugged, and when asked where their captain was, they answered with a slur and a vague wave of the hand toward an adjacent chamber. Looking into the room, we found the captain lying in a pool of his own blood, dead. Finding a stair, we ascended to the second floor of the house. Opening the closest door, we found a large bath chamber with another group of the Gallahs fighting two men – Anubar and another that looked a great deal like him. So Anubar was mixed up in all this after all, eh? I wished that I had questioned listened to the Hyrkanian and beat some answers out of the man while I had the chance. It was too late now, because as soon as they saw us, they fled the house. Looking around the room, we noticed large footprints, like those of some great ape, trailing out from the blood and leading down a corridor at the other end of the room. Weapons out and ready for the worst, we followed the tracks, and looked into the next chamber.
The room was packed with Gallah. In the center of the room was a large statue, apparently of a Hyborean goddess or princess. I didn’t see it at first from all the people crowded into the room, but at the far end, by the window, was a large white ape. The ape grabbed a young woman as an older woman pleaded with the beast to let her daughter go. The ape sent the old woman flying against the wall, where she crumbled in a heap and stopped moving. Another look at the face of the frightened young woman brought recognition to me – it was that girl from the boardwalk that Tullweim saved from the lions. Her scream faded into the distance as the ape bounded out of the window and vanished into the night. We wanted to race after her, to free her from the clutches of that monstrosity, but we were faced with a room full of Gallah.
I waded deep into their ranks, several of them landing those brutally powerful blows about my shoulders and head. One fell before me, my sword protruding from between his shoulder blades as his heart was sliced in two. The next one fell dead to the floor, his shoulder completely shorn from his body. One attempted to grapple me and failed, his eyes glazing as he fell, disemboweled, to the floor. The room stank of bodies, blood, and guts, firing my rage to fever pitch. Two more fell, gasping wet, bloody cries through ruined faces and gaping throats. One of the Gallah bastards managed to wrap his arms about me, trying to pin my sword-arm to my side. I broke his grasp and smashed his face, sending him staggering into the waiting blade of one of my comrades. Another two of them came at me, and I cut them both down despite the blows they rained upon me.
Once all the Gallah had been slain, we tried to revive the old woman and her husband, but I was unsuccessful at helping to restore either to health. We resolved to bed down for the night, with Tullweim and I trading shifts walking the grounds of the estate. I took the first watch, but nothing happened. Waking my Nordic friend for his shift at watch, I slept.
The next morning, the old man – who turned out to be Artelios – offered to hire us as retainers for fifty silver pieces. Glad to refill our near-empty purses, we readily assented. While discussing recent events, Artelios happened to ask us if we knew anything of a map that he was expecting from Kalamos. Before I could caution or counsel silence, the Nemedian offered the map we had taken from the slain Kalamos for a fee. By my way of thinking, we had found the map ourselves, and owed him no information regarding the map whatsoever. An obvious key or clue to what was going on around us, the map seemed to me to be too valuable to be rid of. My companions disagreed, and sold it to the man. Irritated at the turn of events, I asked Artelios if he had any idea where they may have taken his daughter, but he simply shrugged and said that she was probably already lost to the savages, and dismissed us from his service – all the while gloating over his newly acquired prize. The man made me sick. In addition, it was obvious to me that everything centered on that indecipherable map – the burning of our ship, the appearance…twice…of Anubar, the slaying of Kalamos, and the kidnapping of Artelios’ daughter. It was in the grasp of the little bastard that was squirming in my fist. I raised him off his feet, pulled his face close to mine, and told him to give me the map or die. All I wanted to do at that moment was squeeze his scrawny bastard neck until his face turned purple and his eyeballs popped from their sockets. My companions descended on me, panic-stricken at my turn of mood, imploring me to set the man down and let him live. Reluctantly – very reluctantly – I set him down and let him go. They bustled me out of the house, telling me that the old woman had hired us to save her daughter, and had directed us to seek out a man named Eshiba who could help in locating her.
Now I feel we have a serious score to settle with Anubar after all, and the gods help Artelios if I get my hands on him again.