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Heroes of Mystara - Chapter 13

by Jesper Andersen

Experiencing the city

Gromdain 16th, Felmont, the Year 1000 after Crowning

'So let me get this straight', Wulfgar said, 'any man who wins this tournament of yours will be king?' 'Yes' Eveil replied. 'And if it is a woman she will be crowned queen. But only for one year - until the next tournament'. 'Interesting system', Ikaros said. As usual, he was taking notes in his journal. Mostly on things magical in nature but also on his journeys in general. 'But what happens if a king or queen won't step down when the year is over?'

'Well', Eveil replied, 'it may have happened once or twice but I cannot recall when. You see, although the king governs and commands the army and the navy, the tribunes are the ones with the real power. They descend from long lines of noble families - pirates the lot of them - and they control the economy and most of the politics behind the scenes. The annual tournament is a legacy from the reign of the Pirate Kings centuries ago; the strongest captain would be king but only as long as the others allowed him to'.

'So a strong fighter could just kill the other contestants and remain king for years?' Wulfgar said with an interested look on his face. 'Well, he would have to be much more than just strong' Eveil replied. 'The tournament includes a test of arms but there is also an extensive test of the contestants' knowledge of history, economy and world politics. A panel of judges oversees these trials or tests. Some of them just have to be overcome and in others, such as the test of arms, you have to be the final victor measured in points'. 'Points?' Wulfgar asked confused. 'Yes, yes, they don't have to kill each other. The marshals of the tournament grounds award points during the joust and foot list and the winner is declared king. The current one, King Palfrit, has won four years in a row now'.

'I see', Wulfgar mumbled. At first, the idea of fighting a tournament and winning a crown seemed appealing to him but as he learned of the other tests, his enthusiasm cooled off. He was painfully aware that he was not the best of educated minds. Ikaros would talk of planar matters and arcane lore that made his head spin and Petja seemed to know a lot of stuff about trade and goods and money. And Thaminor and Whitemane had the natural knowledge of the proud long history of their races and culture. He was born and raised in a small fishing village on the far eastern coast of Ostland and his only skills were hunting, sailing and use of arms. Although he spoke the desert people's language as well as his native Antalian and the Common Tongue, he could hardly read or write at all and deep inside it nagged him.

'Fancy having a shot at the title?' Petja said to him with a grin. 'Bah!' Wulfgar said scornfully. 'Southern kings are weak! A bunch of puppets with greedy merchants holding their strings! Our king Hord Dark-eye is strong. The line of Cnute is a line of warrior kings. Odin the all-father blesses us and keeps us strong in the face of the godless peddlers and foul sorcerers who would seek to destroy our traditions and turn us all into nursemaids!' 'I see', Petja said. He thought it best not to pursue the matter further.

The Moon was making good time across the ocean to Ierendi's main island and the capital city. Several times on their journey they saw groups of dolphins swimming alongside the hull in the sunny seas. The playful creatures almost seemed to observe the vessel as if to determine whether she was friend or foe.

It was late in the afternoon when they saw the coastline in the distance. Ierendi Island had long, white beaches and green, fertile lowlands of forests, plantations and farmland, which rose up into foothills and then a chain of low, volcanic mountains down the central spine of the island. On the west side of the mountains were mosquito-infested marshlands, where only the most desperate of pirates or uncaring of monsters took refuge.

With the sun slowly setting behind the Ierendi Uplands, the sea approach to the city was incredibly beautiful. From afar the party could see the white walls protecting the city and the two lighthouses flanking the entrance to the harbour. As the Moon neared the approach, Wulfgar spotted several huge metal spikes rising up from the water right in their path. He started to shout a warning to the helmsman but a moment later the spikes disappeared beneath the waves with a low groaning sound and captain Calanthar's ship sailed smoothly past the gate into the harbour.

The city itself was a picturesque landscape of low, white buildings with colourful window shudders in blues and reds and most houses were beautifully decorated with orchids, hibiscus and other tropical flowers. There was the distinct smell of seaweed and tar in the harbour, which was quickly replaced by the sweet smell of fresh fruits when they disembarked and walked to the marketplace. For all of them except Eveil it was the first time they saw and tasted coconuts, pineapple, oranges, bananas and sugar cane.

Signor Luigi looked around at his travelling companions. 'Ai will be de-lai-ted if you would ca-re to be mai guests at my hause'. The party quickly looked at each other before Ikaros replied 'that is very kind of you, signor, but I think, for now, that we must say goodbye. Belmer's dispatches require our full attention and we cannot relax just yet'.

'In that case', Madame Sorelli said, 'I will also say goodbye and make haste to pay my sisters a visit. The immortals only know what they must have been going through since the Goodhope failed to reach port. I will see to it that they use their influence to get you an audience with Tribune Thalados Thundersword as soon as possible'.

'We thank you, madam' Ikaros replied and bowed his head.

'Well, I have to look up an old friend and mentor at the School of Arts' Thomas said. 'Fare thee well, it has, indeed, been an adventure!'

With that, the group split up and went their separate ways. The party headed north from the marketplace past the School of Arts and turned left down an alley towards the marina. Everywhere scores of merry natives and foreigners wearing necklaces of flowers were dancing, singing and playing music in the streets. The smell of delicious, exotic cooking hung thick in the air and they soon came across a noisy place called All Night Long.

'I like the sound of that!' Whitemane exclaimed and rubbed his hands together in anticipation of a keg of beer and perhaps even a bar fight.

Inside, the All Night Long was a smoky hall built from burned bricks. Heavy wooden beams supported a roof of stone tiles quarried in the Ierendi Uplands. The place was filled with round tables and chairs where customers were sitting, eating. Not many of them looked like warriors or even just strong craftsmen and Whitemane's hopes for a brawl diminished. In fact, he would swear several of the customers in the restaurant looked almost like wizards...

The party sat themselves down at a table and a pretty girl immediately came up to them and handed around pieces of paper with the word 'menu' written in large letters at the top.

'Listen to this', Petja said, reading from his menu: "Try the All Night Long Burger; roasted beef in one of Ruly the Baker's famous seaweed buns topped with lettuce, spicy tomato sauce and slices of delicious pineapple!" SEAWEED BUNS??'

'Yes', Eveil replied, 'the locals use seaweed for many dishes. It is full of vitamins and very good for your health'.

'Yuk!' Whitemane said with a disgusted look on his face. 'I'll just have the barbequed spareribs. 7 cokip - how much is that, Eveil?'

'Cokips are the local copper pieces', she replied.

'Really, well that is certainly cheap. Now, what do they have to drink around here?'

Just then, a tall man wearing an expensive red set of clothes with gold trim came up to their table. 'Good evening dear guests! Welcome to the All Night Long. I am Gelek, the owner. What would you like to eat?'

Eveil, Ikaros and Thaminor decided to have a seafood platter while Whitemane and Wulfgar went for the spareribs. Petja hesitated but then decided on the All Night Long Burger.

'Very good sirs!' Gelek said, 'and the spareribs - how would you like them done?'

'I take mine well done' Whitemane replied. Wulfgar nodded. 'Oh, and bring us a bottle of your strongest booze!' Gelek bowed and headed for the kitchen. 'After all that blasted ocean I need to get drunk!' the dwarf said with a grin. Eveil smiled quietly to herself.

A while later Gelek returned with the seafood and the burger as well as a pitcher of mango juice. He went back into the kitchen and came back with a large metal grill on wheels on top of which were Whitemane and Wulfgar's spareribs sizzling over the hot coals. He parked it next to their table.

'You said well done?' he inquired.

'Sure', Whitemane nodded.

Gelek made a few gestures and chanted a few words and then released a burning hot cone of flames from his hands down on the meat.

'WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING, MAN?' Whitemane shouted while Wulfgar reached for his great northman's axe.

'Cooking your food, sir' Gelek said with a confused look on his face.

Thaminor could hardly stop laughing at the sight of Whitemane and Wulfgar's slightly scorched spareribs and Ikaros had immediately gotten his notes out to record this fascinating application of minor magic. Just then the pretty wench returned with a large clay bottle, which she sat down in the middle of the table. 'Your spirits, sir' she said cheerfully.

'Finally', Whitemane said grumbling and grabbed the bottle. Without stopping to smell the contents he put it to his lips and drank five hard swallows before his face turned a sick colour and he bent forwards coughing violently and spitting on the floor.

'By Kagyar's Hammer! What in the world is this stuff??' he shouted.

Eveil smiled at him. 'It's called "waikeke" - seaweed spirits!'

Next time: A nightly visitor