By Brian Flood
Chapter 5 - Campfire Talk
The Sword Coast Backlands
Early Evening, 29th Day of Eleint; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
The autumn air is cool on the riders' skin as they make their way southwest from the Halfway Inn. The trail they follow stretches out to the horizon, cutting through the sea of grassy plains. The high ground marking the Greycloak Hills is the only other significant landmark by which one can become oriented.
As the small group rides, Aranor chats lightly with Rashid. He explains to the Bedine warrior that there are few permanent human residents of Pelleor's Prairie. The elf attributes that to the lack of sources for both water and shelter in the flat grass-covered plains. The primary intelligent inhabitants of the prairie, he explains, are wemics - a breed of humanoid that is half man, half lion. The most populous species of the area are bison. These huge, hairy animals move lazily across the prairie in an endless search for food. They also provide the primary food source for the nomadic wemic prides.
The quartet makes camp that first night under the stars. Establishing a simple guard rotation, the four traveling companions settle down for the evening, lulled into relaxation by Aris' sweet, lilting voice accompanied by the strings of her elven harp and a piping melody that Aranor provides with a flute.
When the two elves finish their musical selection, Aris addresses Rashid. "So tell us, brave Bedine, what do your people do for entertainment at their evening fires? Music? Tales?"
"At night," Rashid begins, "many of the young warriors will keep watch, in the hope that they will bring glory to themselves should an attack come. Others will hunt for what desert game can be found. The younger boys will practice their fighting and desert skills."
He continues, "Those in the camp will talk about their experiences and exploits, and if we are lucky, one of the elders will come to us and will tell us the tales of our ancestors, of their bravery and valor. They will also tell tales of the deceptions and treachery of the other tribes against us, those committed by the various creatures with whom we share the sand sea, and those of the outlanders, especially the jackals in Black Robes, with their tongues of sugared water and hearts that match their clothing."
Rashid turns and spits on the ground with this last comment. "That we know of the treacheries of the past allows that we are armed that they do not have the opportunity to treat us so again."
Aris nods at Rashid's response. Her face flinches briefly as she controls the surprise she feels at Rashid's venomous tone when he speaks of the 'jackals in Black Robes'.
Her brother asks the question that rests of both of the elves' minds. "By the 'Black Robes'," he asks, "do you mean the Zhentarim?"
"I do indeed mean the Zhentarim," Rashid replies, spitting again, as if trying to clear a bad taste from his mouth. "They, with the aid of their Laerti allies, and using their foul magics, did take Lundeth and enslaved all who lived there. One day, I shall return, and will will see them driven from my former home!"
Aranor nods grimly at Rashid's description of Zhentarim treachery. "It is so. The Black Network is a bane upon all that seek to live a free and safe existence. Their evil schemes and designs are a blight upon us. But there are those that seek to thwart the Zhentarim. And someday, Corellon willing, they will triumph."
Aris gives her brother a stern look, apparently disapproving of something he has said or perhaps his tone. Turning to Rashid, she asks, "You mentioned something or someone called 'laerti'. Who are these men?"
Rashid settles down to begin his narrative. "The Laerti, or 'asabis' as my people call them, are not men. Our name for them means 'The Evil Ones Below'. They are large lizards, usually brown or grey in color, that live under the desert. They stand a good head taller than I do, and have a tail that is longer again by the length of an arm. They move faster than a man, and can also burrow through the sands. They come out at night to hunt; we, and our camels, are their favored prey. On many a morning has a tribe found a number of its guards dead. They feed on the internal organs, leaving the remains for the vultures. They are the enemy of all the tribes."
Aris winces at the Bedine's graphic description. Beside her, Aranor nods. "Yes, I can see why," he says. "And thou say that these laerti are somehow allied with the Zhentarim?"
"Some of them are," Rashid replies. "They act as hired soldiers for other evil creatures. The alliance of the Black Robes, with their magic, and the asabis allowed them to capture Lundeth where my people had repelled them separately in the past. They seem to be trying to destroy many of the tribes."
As Aris sits silently and considers this new information, Aranor clears his throat. "I am glad thou have shared this information with us," the elven warrior states. "We have heard rumors over the past several years about Zhentarim activity in the Parched Sea. Perhaps once thy mysterious mission in Hill's Edge is complete, we can accompany thee to the desert to see these asabis for ourselves."
"It would please me much to show you my lands," Rashid replies to the two elves, "and also the asabis." He adds, "I would be interested to hear what you have heard about the Black Robes, and also of their activities elsewhere. Also, who do you refer to when you say 'We'?"
Aranor opens his mouth to answer but Aris quickly cuts in. "He means the both of us, of course," the minstrel says. "As for the Zhentarim, we have merely heard that they have opened traderoutes across the great sand sea for several years now. Of course, with the recent fall of their stronghold far to the east, it will remain to be seen how they maintain their grip on their holdings in the desert and elsewhere."
"How long ago did their stronghold fall?" asks Rashid. It occurs to me that, with the loss of that base, they may look to use Lundeth as a new center for their attacks."
"I would also be interested in hearing about the fall of the Black Robe fortress," he adds. "There may be something of use for the future in this."
Aranor snorts at this last bit. "Not unless thee has a god in one of thy saddlebags!" the elf exclaims.
Aris rolls her eyes and casts a disciplinary glance in her brother's direction. Calmly, she explains, "Zhentil Keep fell some two years ago, in 1368 Dale Reckoning. The Lying God - he who is also called the Black Sun - destroyed it as punishment for what he saw as blasphemy on the part of the Zhentarim. He sent an enormous army of evil monsters against the Keep - dragons, giants, and ogres among others. The stronghold was more or less razed. We have heard tale of some communities rebuilding within its walls, but the Keep no longer serves as a center of Zhentarim power. The nearest citadel of the Black Network in western Faerun is Darkhold - a stronghold that lies within the Sunset Mountains to the southeast of here."
Rashid nods at the comments, noting both Aris' reaction here and her previous interruption. It occurs to him that there is something that they are not telling him, but decides to let it rest for now.
"As I do not have access to such an army," the Bedine begins, "or influence with a god, I suppose that there is not much to learn from this. Tell me, were they greatly weakened by the losses?"
Both of the elves nod in affirmation. Aris again answers the question. "It is said that the Zhentarim suffered heavily. They have not been able to generate the overt military might of which they were once capable. Instead, they now tend to work their schemes through fronts and mercenaries. Sometimes, I think it was easier the old way."
Rashid nods in agreement, appearing somewhat cheered by the news of the Zhentarim weakness. "It is so in their dealings with my people. An attack, or open aggression, is something that the tribes can deal with. The sugared words and concealed magics are things that we have not the experience to deal with at present. Perhaps, in time, as our understanding of the ways of the Black Robes increases, we may be better placed to deal with them. If it is not too late. Some of the smaller tribes have fallen already, and my people in Lundeth are enslaved by the magics, or worse." Anger crosses Rashid's face at this last comment, quickly replaced by a neutral look.
"Yes, may that be so," Aranor nods in grim agreement to Rashid's declaration. "But for now," he continues, "it would be best if we turn to getting our rest. We still have many miles to travel before we reach Yarthrain. Good night, brave Bedine."
"And a good night to you both also," Rashid replies.
Then the Bedine warrior looks over to his D'tarig companion. "How has the first day in the sea of grass treated you, my friend?"
Yassir, in keeping with his habitual surliness merely shrugs. "As good as any oth'r," he says. "I'm feelin' a bit out of place, but I'll be alright," he adds as he pats the crossbow that lies on the ground next to him.
With the evening conversation coming to an end, the four travelers make themselves ready for slumber. After establishing a simple watch schedule that has one of them awake at all times through the night, the quartet settles down for the night.
The content of Rashid's Tale are the property and copyright
of Brian Flood,
and are not to be published or redistributed without permission.
References and content relating to the Northern Journey campaign resources are the property and copyright of their repective owners.
Return to The Rashid's Tale main page
Return to Campaign Logs