By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff
Chapter 2 - Breakfast in the Heartlands
Somewhere between Iriaebor and Berdusk, 1371 DR, Eleint, 6th day, early morning
They discovered Immerine wandering in the Urlingwood when she was about four years old. The girl-child was fearless and skilled in the ways of the spirits and their paths. The wychlaran took her into their fold and tested her, finding Khelliara had gifted her. The witches placed Immerine with an Ethran and the young girl trained in the skills she would need to protect herself, her people and her country.
Immerine has a special connection to Khelliara and the goddess gathered the young girl to her bosom from the first moment she heard her name. Her feet walk the path and her heart reaches out to the purity of life. The elders taught her the languages of the surrounding countries so she would not be a stranger when called in her time to serve. Healing and wilderness lore have become second nature to the girl. So attuned to the calling of the natural order is Immerine that elders placed her with a Hathran and taught the special skills of an Ethran and Forester.
The years breezed by and Immerine grew to be a lovely young woman. She has become a woman full of the mystique and commanding grace of the wychlaran, but for now, she yet lacks the experience to wield true power. When her time for dajemma came, Immerine felt the pull of Khelliara. It was in high spirits that the young woman gathered supplies and mounted her companion Qwenta, a pure white stallion she raised from a foal. The pair left the Urlingwood and they have traveled each day always pushing further, seeking something.
From Rashemen she traveled by land through The Great Dale, Impiltur and The Vast. She took a ship from Procampur to Suzail. From Cormyr she traveled overland through the Western Heartlands following the Chionthar towards Berdusk. After having passed by Iriaebor, City of a Thousand Spires, the many tall crumbling towers leaning on each other or standing close together, reminding Immerine of the remnants of Citadel Rashemar, Immerine and Qwenta rode on along the banks of the Chionthar.
Immerine suddenly wakes; something is bothering her, a disturbance of the natural balance. Looking about she sees the beautiful colors of fall already touching the trees along the banks of the river, clouds overhead racing in the wind. All seems at peace, yet Immerine feels something out of place, as if nature is sending her a warning. The spirits in this land speak an odd tongue, but even so, she can feel their screams of injustice. The natural order, the circle of life, something was being tampering with it.
From the banks of the Chionthar, she sees a humanoid creature emerge, malevolence burns in its wild frantic eyes, as it gazes to Immerine and Qwenta. Water drips of the leathery, desiccated flesh. The skin appears tightly drawn over its bones. A leering grin reveals sharp, jagged needle-like teeth. It seems to hesitate for a moment, looking into the woods. Grunting it shakes its head and looks again to the Rashemen woman, and approaches her cautiously, its feet barely making a sound. Qwenta whinnies nervously as he tries to move away from the creature.
Defiance and hatred burn in Immerine’s emerald eyes, her hand drops to the symbol of her faith, “Abomination against nature! Keep your distance here. Khelliara grants me strength to protect the land from your kind.” Immerine feels a strange, yet welcome force entering her body as one of the local spirits melds with her. Feeling the power of the spirit, she calls out with a voice not entirely her own.
The creature stops dead in its tracks and cocks its head to one side, a strange questioningly look on its face. Qwenta whinnies nervously again and takes a few steps backward, struggling against instinct, not willing to leave Immerine. The creature also takes a step backward, looking once more into the woods; it suddenly sets off in that direction, quickly disappearing into the depths of the forest with long loping strides.
The nature spirit inside her is still upset, yet it has quieted down a little, a lingering feel of injustice prevailing. Then, all of a sudden she feels the spirit go, leaving a part of her empty. Immerine rushes to Qwenta, stroking his nose and muzzle. “Calm my friend, calm.” Turning back to the direction the beast disappeared; Immerine falls to her knees placing her hands on the ground. She closes her eyes and prays to Khelliara. Opening her eyes again after her meditation, she stands, trying to control the shaking feeling she has on the inside. The injustice remaining and the emptiness seem deep. Yes, something is wrong here, very wrong.
Feeling troubled after the early morning’s encounter with that foul beast, Immerine mounts Qwenta and continues her trek along the river. The river has a strong current, but seems navigable, a fact proven when she sees a boat sailing up-stream. Later in the day when she can see the towers of a castle up ahead, she hears the sound of rapids. The forest had obscured the river for a while, and when it comes into view again, Immerine can see a strange contraption build in the river next to the rapids. It seems as if people have cut some sort of channel through one of the river’s banks, along which ropes run. A dirt road runs to the river and then parallels it up to the gate.
Beyond the rapids, she can see bridges connecting to the opposite bank running across an island. Further, she can see the walls of the city surrounding a two topped, forested hill, which dominates the city’s center. The castle, which she saw earlier, sits on the highest top. Between her and the gates to the city are some large pens for holding animals. Lot of activity is going on at those pens. In one spot, people are very busy unloading carts, wagons and pack animals. Goods seem are transferred onto smaller, horse drawn carts, which, along with peddlers on foot, form a steady stream into the city.
Immerine sits astride Qwenta watching the activities of these folk. She finds their activities odd in that not even a single spirit seems disturbed by the spirits around them. All signs are ignored and in some cases, trampled by herd animals. She shudders at the callous disregard for the land. Still, she feels drawn to these callous, ignorant folk, a protective seed sprouting inside, growing from her encounter earlier in the day. Uncertain how these outlanders will view her – wait, she realizes… she is the outlander here. She nudges Qwenta forward keeping a steadying palm on his quivering neck. Leaning over she calls to the first person she sees, “What is this place?”
“Hey there, well met.” A jovial looking, somewhat heavyset man, carrying a peddler’s-pack on his back, turns to her, “This is the Jewel of the Vale; Berdusk. I can here from your accent that you are not from around here.” Pulling himself up a little straighter the man continues, “I’m Halacan Kysus, merchant in fine household wares, I’ve got everything a housewife needs, needles and pins, buttons and combs. You name it, Halacan sells it.” He sketches a small bow, as far as his peddler’s-pack allows. “At your service milady, let me show to the Heartlands’ finest city.”
“Thank – you Ha – la – can.” She says as she stumbles over his name. She dismounts and leads Qwenta as she walks with the peddler. “You say this is the hartlands, but where are all the deer? I’ve seen fewer and fewer forest dwellers the closer I get to the city.” Looking back at the river, she shudders nervously, but says nothing to the man about the beast. Instead, she lets him speak and listens to his words.
“Deer? …Oh those hartlands! Hah!” Halacan gives a hearty laugh, his belly shaking heavily. “I’m afraid the only deer you’ll find in this city are the doe-eyed lasses in the Festhalls. Those deer are not your typical skittish ones. Hah!” As the pair walks further down the road, Halacan tells some more about the city, a tale punctuated by his big laughs when Immerine, in her innocence, questions him about the strange behavior of the city dwellers.
Walking in the throng of people, animals and carts, the pair walks up to the large gate, which provides access through he city wall. From the ramblings of Halacan, Immerine understands that this gate is the ‘Drover’s Gate’. Walking underneath the large stone gate, its span as wide as almost three wagons, Immerine gets her first view of the city within the walls. If the stockyards and pens looked crowded, she can almost imagine walking on people’s heads here. Within the walls of the city, it is as if there are more walls, walls made up out of houses: Small houses, large houses, short houses, tall houses, and all kinds and varieties. It is with heavy heart and soul that she enters the city known as Berdusk. Making her way through the unfamiliar place, she faces the accoutrements of ‘civilization’. Tranquil nature seems to be far removed from here, yet Immerine can still sense the presence of spirits within the walls, but these spirits feel different, less pure, more adapted to the city.
Halacan takes her along, as they turn right into a wide lane. Wide on ground level, but the houses seem to loom overhead, like overhanging stone and timber trees. Garbage and some refuse litter the small alleys and streets, and strange iron grates are set at regular intervals in the cobblestone street. Most of the people seem to be heading in the direction Halacan is taking her. The further they walk, the thicker the crowd gets. If it were not for Qwenta on the one side, and the rotund Halacan on the other, this river of people would have jostled Immerine around. When they arrive in what looks like a dell in this forest of houses, she sees the biggest gathering of humans short of a Thayan army. A huge wide-open expanse holds many people, tents and stalls. It is then that she realizes they have stopped, and Halacan is looking to her, a smile on his face at her expression.
Fighting down a rising urge to flee the city, Immerine looks at the man escorting her. “What is this place Halacan? Why are people packed in here as if they are herd animals? Is there a less crowded place in this city?” Looking about, she tries to open herself to the ebbs and flows in this strange place. She keeps one hand on Qwenta to aid her sense of place. “This, my veiled lady, is the heart of the city, as some would say. This is Amberside, Berdusk’s marketplace.” Halacan makes a grand sweeping gesture to encompass the wide expanse. He looks again at Immerine, a hint of compassion on his chubby face. “I know just the pace that would suit you.” He says with a comforting smile, “Come on, I will take you there.” Halacan sets off, walking along the shop fronts on the western side of Amberside.
Following the curve of Amberside, Halacan turns into a somewhat wider street, which leads along the slope of the first hill, and up the second hill. Ahead some green is visible from the trees and bushes that grow on the hilltop. “If you seek a quiet place outside, yet within the city, Clearspring Tor is what you might like. It’s a nice park and offers a beautiful view of the harbor and across over the Chionthar into the Vale.” Halacan indicates to the first hill. The park is somewhat obscured by a row of houses, but Immerine notices a more serene place within the hustle and bustle of the city.
“But that’s for later, first we go to the Stag.” Halacan walks on again, huffing and puffing a little, now that they have to climb up. The road leads along the base of the castle. Tall houses seem to form a ring around the hill, vying for importance with the castle, but having to sit lower on the slope. Passing the castle, Halacan leads on, walking a bit easier now that the road slopes down again. He stops at a collection of buildings. A wooden sign with a painted running stag hangs out from the wall. “Here we are!” Halacan says with a wide smile. “You can leave your horse in the stable.” Turning away, he whistles, and a young lad comes running up. Halacan looks again at Immerine, “Let’s go inside? I’m sure it will be to your liking.”
“Wait a moment please Halacan. Qwenta is unused to being handled by others.” She speaks quietly to her stallion and talks to the boy. While she keeps up a steady stream of soothing words, she has the boy touch Qwenta and let the stallion get his scent. After a few moments, she moves back to Halacan leaving Qwenta with the boy. “Thank – You Halacan for your kindness. I would like to see the inside of this Running Stag now.” The boy leads Qwenta away to the stables, and Halacan makes a sweeping gesture for Immerine to enter through the door. Some writing is visible on the door, but it makes no sense to Immerine.
Once inside, the sight is something Immerine would not have expected, it is as if moonlight filters through a forest. However, it is a forest whose branches are holding up the roof of the building. A small rock formation dominates the center of the room, from where the tinkling sound of a spring drifts into the room, and on a closer look, Immerine sees that a spring cascades out of the rock into a little pond. The place smells like a forest, yet also of a taproom, several people can be seen and heard talking, drinking beer or other beverages. The clientele resembles people, which one might find in a forest, dressed in leathers, carrying hunting knives or bows.
Halacan gestures to one of the log-benches, “Let’s go over there, and have a drink.” He moves over to one of the tree-like pillars lifting his peddler’s pack from his shoulders and putting it against the pillar. A dark-skinned man, bare-chested save for a barman’s apron, walks up with a noticeable limp. “Good afternoon, can I get you something to drink?” On the bald-man’s head, Immerine can see scars as if made by a claw. While waiting for your answer, he idly flips a coin with his right hand. Halacan looks again at Immerine, “I’m going for a pint of Elder Root. Maybe you would like a wine?” Then he turns towards the dark-skinned man, “Oh, and my good man. Some cheese would do as well.”
The woman closes her eyes and listens to the play of water. Opening them, there is a sparkle within, “No, may I have some water from the spring?” She looks at Halacan. “The spirits are still here. The ones of the water are unchanged unlike the ones of the earth and air in your city. There is still something that escapes me, something… odd.”
The dark-skinned man stops flipping his coin, and folds his hands in a sincere greeting and bows his balding head, “Ah, milady recognizes the true value of pure water, unlike our friendly berrani here.” The man speaks with an accent different from the other people around. A white-toothed smile appears on his face. “You are a berrani to this land, but not a berrani to me. Welcome to my humble tent, though a strange and unworthy tent it may seem.”
“What a character isn’t he? He’s not a real Heartlander; he’s one of those Bedine people from the great desert.” Halacan says yawning and stretching his limbs, his ample belly sticking out prominently. Seeing Immerine looking at him, he slaps his hands on his belly and shakes it with a hearty laugh, “Good for comfort, and keeps a man warm in winter.” When the dark-skinned man returns, he bows his head again, carrying a plate of cheese, a pint of beer in a clay mug, a large pitcher of water and a tallglass. He puts the plate on the bench between Immerine and Halacan and hands Halacan his beer. With a flourish, he artfully pours the water from the pitcher into the glass, never spilling a single drop and offers the glass with a bow to Immerine, “Here you are milady, the pure essence of life.”
Looking to the dark-skinned man she says, “You honor me with courtesy. A blessing on your establishment, may the spring forever run clean and pure in memory of the Three’s gift to mankind.” She drinks a sip of water beneath the veil. “Tell me saer do you have a room I may stay in? If so, how much?” Immerine quietly enquires. “I’m honored that milady wishes to spend the night under my roof.” The dark-skinned man bows his head again; “I will prepare a room for you, though I must apologize for only being able to provide you with a humble room.” He flashes one of his white smiles again, “Though I can make up for it in the price, for some tales of your homeland and 35 coppers, I can provide you with a humble room and a meal in my humble kitchen.”
“I accept.” She pulls out a pouch and two silver coins appear in her hand. Both men notice there is very little in the way of coinage in the entire thing as she drops it back to her waist. “I need also to have my friend Qwenta attended. How much more will it be for her?” She looks up and reaches for the pouch again. The dark-skinned man bows his head again, a painful look crosses his face briefly, “You will not have to pay upfront milady, and for a copper or two Javroun will take care of your horse.”
“I mean no insult. I have learned most dealings are handled in advance. I can wait and settle my… account later.” She bows her head to the man, “What may I call you?” Halacan rudely drops in, a small belch preceding his words, “‘Cuse me.” He quickly wipes some beer foam from his mouth, “You better start looking for a job my dear. You do have a nice figure, but the Festhalls do not seem the right place for you. Maybe you can do as our friendly innkeeper here suggested. With telling of good tales like a bard, one can earn a decent pay.”
At the suggestion of her figure, Immerine’s eyes flash in anger but she quickly douses it. “I do not know what you mean by a ‘Festhall’. I am sure it is something I would not like if it has to do with the physical. I have stories, but they are to teach the young. I am not an entertainer like your bards. I am a protector and teacher. I am skilled with animals and the spirits I am also a healer.” She looks around the room. “I can tell stories here though. It is comfortable compared to the press of people outside. I will begin this evening if I may. I believe there is much I can teach the people in these lands.”
The dark-skinned man gives a quick, almost unnoticeable, dark stare at Halacan, before returning to Immerine with his warm smile once more on his scarred face, “I was given the name of Mumadar milady. Mumadar Ibn Huzan.” Absentmindedly he starts flipping a coin with his right hand, “People are never too old to learn the tales for the young. It would be a great honor on my house if you were to grace my tent with your tales milady.”
“I am called Immerine and I am from the land of Rashemen. It is an honor to meet you Mumadar Ibn Huzan.” Immerine bows her head to him. Mumadar turns around and waves one of the serving girls over. “Elisa, would you please show the lady where she can stay the night?” Turning to Immerine and giving another small bow, Mumadar gestures to the serving girl, “Elisa can show you to the humble room I can offer you. A pitcher with cold water from the spring will be provided, as well as a washing basin for milady’s refreshment.”
“Again, my thanks Mumadar.” Immerine stands up. “Thank – you again Halacan. You know where I am staying for now. If I can aid you, please come to me and ask. I owe you a debt of kindness.” Turning to the young woman Immerine says, “Greetings Elisa. Please lead on.” Halacan looks up from his pint at Immerine, “No thanks milady, the pleasure was all mine. I might be sticking around tonight though, to hear your tales.”
Elisa smiles warmly at the veiled woman before her, “Well Met milady, let me show you to your room.” Elisa leads Immerine through the forest like taproom, pushing aside a curtain, made of ivy leaves, on one of the walls, revealing a small corridor. At the end of the corridor are stairs leading up to the second floor. A landing gives access to two hallways, each with rooms on either side. The muted noise from the taproom filters through the floor. Elisa takes the rightmost hallway, stopping at the second door on the left, she hands Immerine a key. “This is you room milady, number four.” Immerine can see five more doors in this hallway.
Opening the door, Immerine sees a simple, yet comfortable looking bed on one side and a small table and stool on the other. On the table, Immerine finds a washing basin and a pitcher. Mounted on the wall above the basin is a small metal mirror. Opposite from the door is a build-in closet. A sluice bucket stands at the foot-end of the bed. “Thank – You again Elisa. I think I will clean up now and rest before tonight.” Immerine waits until the young woman leaves before removing her veil and beginning ablutions. Then she unpacks her things and begins meditations and prayers.
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