We awoke in the early afternoon. I had slept continuously since our return shortly before dawn, replenishing my limited vital energies after the extensive use of my sorcerous powers the previous night. Adralat, Bōdric, and our loyal slave Myluk, in contrast, took turns ‘guarding’ our sleeping quarters. We had reason to fear the possibility of treachery from our newfound ‘ally,’ Nhagren Fhuur, Assistant Governor of Ryfel.
After I awoke and broke my fast, I began to have some serious doubts concerning our deal with Nhagren. No doubt the snake would betray us as soon as it became convenient. Nonetheless, it seemed unlikely that he would attempt to have our throats slit until we had at least performed the services he sought from us. By that time, I could only hope that we would be in a position to strike first against the vile Pan Tangian –- or be far away, sailing to Imrryr.
In any case, we now had an immediate objective: the delivery (willing or not) of the courtesan Aneera into Nhagren’s grasping hands. Obviously, a ‘willing’ Aneera would be easier to deal with than an unwilling one.
Given his training in negotiation and his aptitude for fast-talk, despite his rather prosaic appearance and odd accent, we decided that it would be most prudent if Adralat investigated whether Aneera might be willing, somehow, to participate in our scheme. And so our human companion disappeared down into the common room of the Frozen Gem, pretending to ‘hire’ Aneera’s services as a ‘client.’
Still somewhat weary from the previous night’s exertions, Bōdric and I remained in our room relaxing, while Adralat went about his business. Returning to our quarters after an hour or so, my half-brother and I noticed immediately the cut on Adralat’s left hand, bandaged with a silk strip, most likely cut from a dress or gown.
“My fascinating Melnibonéan friends,” Adralat exclaimed, “I have negotiated a deal with the prostitute Aneera. She will aid us in our task –- so long as we perform a service for her in return.”
Sighing loudly in irritation, Bōdric snapped, “What must we do now, human?”
“Ah, well, let me explain,” Adralat began. “It was a most intriguing experience! It seems that Aneera’s room is completely blue. Clearly it was her dream that I sensed last night, when we returned to the inn. She radiates a remarkable presence, a power of some sort.”
“Anyhow, during my discussion with Aneera, in her wondrously blue room, I learned that she, unfortunately, loathes our ersatz ally Nhagren. Apparently, the Pan Tangian, despite his protestations of love and devoation, is quite abusive in his treatment of her.”
Adralat paused for a moment, scowling. I shared his anger, recalling the ill treatment experienced by my own mother, an Ilmiorian concubine of Lord Yrvim, during my childhood.
“Nonetheless, she has agreed to surrender herself to Nhagren, so long as we liberate her eleven sisters, also prostitutes here at the Gem, and deliver them safely to some other, more lawful realm, preferably Argimiliar. Apparently, Aneera and her sisters originally hail from the cosmopolitan and learned city of Cadsandria, but through some cruel twist of fate, were captured and sold into slavery. Graciously, she is willing to sacrifice herself in order to free her sisters.”
“By Arioch’s right ear, man, now we have to free a gaggle of whores? Could things become even more convoluted before we can leave this miserable pustule of a town?” snarled Bōdric in obvious frustration. I must confess that I shared his complaint. Things seemed to be becoming ever more difficult for us.
Shrugging, Adralat continued, “Well, I’m afraid that I am now sworn to this course of action, my friends. Aneera compelled me to take a blood oath –- hence the cut on my hand. We joined our bleeding hands and swore a pact in the name of some entity called ‘Eequor, the Blue Lady.’ I’m not sure…”
I bolted forward, spitting some stale small beer from my mouth. “You what?!”
Startled, Adralat replied softly, “I, um, swore a pact in the name of ‘Eequor’ … what could be wrong with that?”
Groaning, I explained, “Eequor, my horribly naïve friend, is a Power of Chaos, the Goddess of Sorrow and Dismay! A blood vow to her will sear your soul if you fail to keep it. You have committed yourself to a most dangerous course Adralat –- one that could doom us all!”
“At least her commitment to Eequor explains all the damned blue,” I continued, in a softer voice.
Shrugging, Adralat seemed unperturbed by his predicament. “What is done is done, gentlemen. We have our agreement with Nhagren. In any case, I feel sorry for Aneera and her sisters. It seems that the chap who runs this roach hotel, that Zherez Zheringen whom we met when we first arrived here, is even crueller than Nhagren.”
(‘Roach hotel’? Adralat’s expressions frequently mystify me.)
As we discussed these matters, a note was slid under our door. It was from Aneera, asking Adralat to speak with her again.
This time Adralat disappeared only for a few minutes. Upon his return he said, “Aneera plans to convince Zherez to allow her to go to a nearby herbalist in order to have her hand treated. She plans to blame a client for the cut –- apparently, some vile pirate who, consequently, will not live much longer. I think that we should arrange to transport her to Nhagren now. It will be our best opportunity.”
After a few minutes of considering Adralat’s proposal, Bōdric and I agreed to it. We departed the Frozen Gem, heading towards the herbalist’s place, guided by instructions given to Adralat by Aneera.
The herbalist’s establishment proved to be little more than a crude hut, crammed between some of the ramshackle buildings found in Ryfel’s unpleasant Harbourside district. Bōdric opted to remain outside, lurking in a nearby alleyway, while Adralat and I entered.
Within the herbalist’s shop were many bunches of drying herbs, hanging from low rafters, conferring a sickly-sweet odour upon the entire place. The herbalist herself –- a rough looking woman with tangled hair and a well-lined face, most likely from one of the primitive clans of Pikarayd –- introduced herself as ‘Auhora.’
“Excuse me, my good lady, but I was wondering if you might be able to facilitate the healing of my wounded hand?” inquired Adralat with his usual flowery politeness.
Grunting and mumbling, Auhora bathed Adralat’s hand in salt water, placed some dried herbs within his cut, and bound the wound tightly. She uttered some instructions to Adralat, to which I paid little attention, before accepting some of my colleague’s coins in payment. We left the herbalist’s place and joined my half-brother in the alleyway. There we awaited our prey.
Perhaps an hour passed before we spied Aneera, the hood if a voluminous cloak placed over her fiery hair. Accompanying her was a scruffy young man and a kitchen woman, both of whom we recognized as wretched employees of the Frozen Gem.
Acting with catlike grace, I approached the party, uttering my rune of Sleep while doing so. The young man and kitchen woman, soon unconscious thanks to my remarkable eldritch power, were deposited in the alleyway. The three of us then escorted the concealed Aneera away from Harbourside and towards Ryfel’s less squalid ‘Old Side.’
Much to my enormous relief, the journey to Nhagren’s green gabled house in Old Side proved uneventful. We spotted a band of Governor Boorg’s swaggering Black Guard down the street, but they fortunately chose not to accost us.
A painfully obsequious Pan Tangian named ‘Graive’ greeted us at Nhagren’s house, showing us into an antechamber, in which we were served fruit and wine. According to Graive, his master, Nhagren, was expected to return in approximately an hour.
Eventually, the craven worm left our company. We waited anxiously, not daring to drink the wine, lest it be poisoned in an attempt to double-cross us.
Finally Nhagren returned, limping noticeably from the blow my sling had inflicted upon his knee the previous night. I felt no sympathy for the two-legged serpent.
Clearly, the Pan Tangian was delighted that we had succeeded in bringing Aneera to him. The beautiful red-haired woman, however, regarded the Pan Tangian wth cold contempt. Obviously Nhagren’s passion was not reciprocated by her –- hardly a surprise, given Aneera’s report to Adralat of how Nhagren treated her when not in the company of others.
“Thank you, oh thank you, my Melnibonéan friends,” hissed the Pan Tangian at us. “You have kept the first part of our bargain! I am most thrilled, gentlemen, most thrilled indeed. In return, I will give you letters of entry, with my seal. These letters will entitle you to enter the Black Citadel two days hence, to attend the gladiatorial games and the banquet that my half-witted cousin, the Governor, will be holding. At that time, it is my most sincere hope that the rest of our agreement can be fulfilled!”
Nodding, we accepted the letters, and began to move towards the exit. Before we could leave the antechamber, though, Aneera suddenly grabbed Adralat’s head, and kissed him passionately for several long seconds. Nhagren looked on with poisonous envy. Given Adralat’s rather plain features, I inferred that this simply was a ploy by Aneera to wound Nhagren’s pride. Inside, I silently applauded.
Finally out of Nhagren’s manor, we breathed in the salty air, and let out a collective sigh of relief. We then made our way back to the Frozen Gem.
Upon returning to the inn, we spent some time in the common room. It was clear that Zherez had discovered the absence of Aneera, and was outraged at this development. Much to my intense concern, he seemed to be eying Adralat with suspicion. After a few minutes, the innkeeper leapt dramatically upon the bar.
“Patrons of the Gem! Men of taste and distinction!” exclaimed Zherez forcefully, “Something has been stolen from me. Something of great value! You all know her. She is the red-haired goddess who has given many of you moments of happiness in the past. Aneera, beloved of all who frequent the Gem and appreciate true beauty, has gone missing! This injustice cannot stand. I will not let it stand. And so, my friends, I offer a reward –- this bag of a dozen gold coins –- for her safe return! I offer half that number of gold coins for reliable information of her whereabouts. A kingly sum!”
After spending a few moments surveying his motley clientele with an imperious glare, Zherez leapt off the bar and stormed out of the common room, leaving it in the care of his gruff bartender and serving wenches.
Trying our best to lay low, Bōdric and I chatted with some gambling sailors and merchants who seemed somewhat less uncivilized than most of the rogues and thugs that patronized the inn. From our newfound friends (purchasing a round of black ale seems to be the price of friendship in Harbourside) we learned a number of interesting things about the power structure of Ryfel.
Zherez is a former pirate and, it seems, the de facto ruler of much of Ryfel, especially Harbourside. To cross him, according to our drinking partners, is to ensure a painful death. Nhagren, despite his de jure authority, is very much dependent on Zherez for much of his effective power. And Zherez enjoys –- or rather, enjoyed –- using Aneera as a pawn in their ongoing power struggle.
Furthermore, according to our new friends, the obscenely fat Governor Boorg, unsurprisingly, is despised by all in Ryfel, even his cousin and right-hand man Nhagren. Boog continually squeezes the city of its wealth, and sends most of it back to Pan Tang. Despite being generally loathed, however, no one in Ryfel dares to challenge Boorg’s power, as the Governor is supported by the sorceror Malagan, who is feared by all. Malagan, it seems, can do as he wishes. Indeed, Boorg is simply Malagan’s puppet.
No wonder Nhagren wishes us to eliminate both Boorg and Malagan. Simply removing Boorg, while likely leaving Nhagren as Governor of Ryfel, would leave him at the mercy of the malevolent sorcerer.
While Bōdric and I chatted with these helpfully informative fellows, Adralat spied someone whom he referred to as ‘Eleus.’ Winking slyly at me, our human friend approached Eleus, spoke with him briefly, and then disappeared with him upstairs.
Despite the passionate kiss given to Adralat by Aneera earlier, I wondered briefly whether our human friend’s animal inclinations bent towards men rather than women. But then I remembered what Adralat had told me earlier, and realized that he no doubt was on a mission to obtain another dream for his mystical staff. Such is the business of a ‘dreamthief,’ it would seem.
The thought of dreams made me realize just how horribly weary I was! And so my half-brother and I retired to our chamber in order to steal some much needed rest.