As related in Swords and Meetings, Cade of Galaras, a poet and dramatist opposed to the Church of Herotus, has joined three accomplices to oppose the Church of Herotus: Eam, a sorcerer and ex-mercenary; Drustan, a Half-Orc Barbarian; and Sabrine, an attractive and stealthy archer. The four now find themselves in the Temples district of Bowden, a relatively wretched hive of scum and possible villainy.
In “Dramatic Entrances,” the first episode of Swords and a Squandering Snail, the group is in the city of Bowden to meet a contact of Cade’s. They intervene when a Holy Knight chases an unarmed man into the tavern in which they drink. The three of them face the Holy Knights and his initiates.
“The Minstrel and the Prophet” relates how the group rescues a strange individual known as Incarnos, and meets with Cade’s contact, an attractive woman named Carylle. Incarnos has a tale to tell, claiming to be an immortal servant of gods lost centuries ago. This doesn’t faze Carylle at all, and she in fact speaks of the Old Gods.
Three: These are Not the Myths You’re Looking For
“You know of the Old Gods?” Incarnos leaned forward. “How?”
“There are many secrets hidden in Highstone,” Carylle said. “For those patient and tireless, its vaults are as much a mine of treasure as any cave of gold.”
Drustan sat at the table. “My people still knew of Gorshebah and Falielle, of stern Hetheniphet and dark Bascorelzeron. Because of this, the Church took my people from me. Your name I do not know, but I know of the Devas, the servants of the gods, spirits of power.”
Incarnos reached out and touched Drustan’s hand. “Drustan of Teyrs, son of Kaemar and Drusta, clan son of Hengist the Ironeye, the Old Gods did not abandon your people. Your people were betrayed by me.”
Cade sat. “What do you mean? Those names mean nothing to me, though Falielle sounds something like Faliel, the Queen of the Faeries in children’s tales.”
Incarnos filled a pewter cup from an earthenware jug. “I have troubles calculating the time, but in the past long forgotten, other gods watched over the world you call Morvia. Twelve great gods controlled the elements and forces of nature. They cared for mortals as best they could, but left to them age, disease and pain. Some thought this unfair, and in their concern, looked for a way to alleviate the suffering.”
“But they gave us gifts,” Drustan said. “Music and poetry, the dance of feet and sword, they come from the gods for our delight.”
Incarnos smiled. “I would not consider the dance of the sword a delight.”
Drustan’s grin highlighted his lower canines, appearing akin to tusks. “You are not a clan son of Hengist the Ironeye.”
I looked to Sabrine. She shrugged. We two sat without commenting. I filled a cup from a jug. The wine smelled rich. I drank as I listened, unable to comprehend all that I heard.
“Many of us, we who served the gods, hated the suffering we saw here,” Incarnos said. “We pleaded with the gods to end it. They asked us which pleasure they should deny the living in trade. We could not understand it then, but I understand it now.”
“Everything has a price.” I spoke without thinking.
Incarnos seemed to notice me for the first time. He nodded. “Yes, that is the truth we could not see. Herotus came to us and offered himself as an alternative, promising to rid the world of care. Many flocked to him, believing him. His servants came to the world and set themselves against the servants of the Twelve, the Old Gods. The people turned from the Twelve, believing the words of the servants of Herotus. Who would not be seduced by the promise of life without care?”
“Anyone with any sense,” Sabrine said.
“It is more seductive than you would admit,” Incarnos said. “But the servants of Herotus had more than just words. The Church now condemns sorcery, but in those days Devas had turned to Herotus, and they used their powerful magics. It seemed as though Herotus had more power than the Twelve. In the end, without worship, without the devotion of the people of this world, the Twelve disappeared.”
“They did not lose our worship,” Drustan said. “Not until I buried my people.”
Incarnos did not look at Drustan, only at the cup he held in his hands, the cup he hadn’t drank from. “Perhaps we didn’t understand what had happened. Perhaps I didn’t understand what had happened. No one could say if the Twelve had been destroyed, banished or simply left this reality.”
“But what of you?” asked Cade. “You survived. And you say ‘we.’ I will assume others survived as well.”
“Some, yes,” Incarnos said. “But with the Old Gods gone, Herotus betrayed all those who had supported him. Many spirits and demigods were destroyed, others bound with powerful spells. I was banished to the mortal world, to live as an immortal and behold all that I had unwittingly helped bring to pass.”
“And so Herotus has won,” Sabrine said. “Does the Church reign supreme, secure with its usurping god?”
Incarnos raised his head, his eyes resting on Sabrine. “Nothing is secure. Not now. In his arrogance, Herotus failed to complete his victory. While his servants attempted to erase all knowledge of the Twelve, they did not succeed. Even that knowledge is tangled with myth and legend. You know of the twelve swords of Herotus’ bound knights?”
“The ancestors of the Holy Knights,” Sabrine said. “We know that story quite well.”
Incarnos pointed at her. “And a story it is. A myth. The Temple of the Holy Mount once housed the last relics of the Twelve Gods. Staves, crafted at the dawn of the world, and instilled with a small essence of the Twelve. After Herotus’ victory, they were hidden in the vaults of the Temple of the Holy Mount. The servants of Herotus were unwilling to destroy such powerful items and may have hoped to one day tap their awesome power. However, greed, as is common, led to an unexpected end.”
“And that is our advantage?” asked Carylle.
“The twelve swords,” Cade said. “They are linked to this.”
Incarnos leaned forward. “Yes. Stories tell of the minions of demon lords stealing the twelve swords, hiding them as staves. This is the myth. There were no twelve great knights, no twelve swords, only the staves. The staves themselves, perhaps sensing their own peril, transported themselves through their own mighty magics. They returned to those temples in which they had first been formed. There they wait.”
It all came clear to me. “The Temples.”
“The Temples.” Incarnos repeated my words slowly with careful enunciation. “Here was once the Temple District of the ancient city of Baudus. And on this very ground, where Murnac’s shabby temple of sin stands, once stood the Temple of Parwen, the Goddess of Knowledge and Thought, the Great Sage. It is her staff that is the first key. It is her staff that can lead to the resurrection of the true gods of Morvia.
“How do we do this?” asked Drustan.
“Each of the twelve staves holds a key to unlocking the mystery of the Twelve Gods,” Incarnos said. “Each staff will lead the bearer to the next. When all twelve are assembled in the temple of Soldrenar the Shining, King of the Heavens, the Old Gods will return, to once again lay claim to Morvia and free it from the dominion of Herotus the Deceiver.” Incarnos stood, his eyes unfocused, and he raised his arms to the ceiling, to the sky. “I am here, in this place, because the staff calls to me. It is time for it to come into the light. The Old Gods are ready to oppose Herotus, but the door must be unlocked. The fortress’ gates must be opened for the battle to join.” He lowered his arms and turned to us, all sitting at his table. “I ask for your help in finding this staff. I ask for your help in freeing Morvia from the grip of a deceiver.”
“Bloody Burning Hells, this is madness,” I said. “I’m more willing than any to oppose the Church, but you’re talking of Old Gods, of magic staves. I just can’t believe it.”
“If we found the staff of Parwen, would you believe?” asked Carylle. “It’s here, just like he says.”
“How do you know?” asked Sabrine.
Carylle met Sabrine’s gaze with a bold glare. “In my travels, I reached Highstone.” Her bold glare melted and her face turned to a sprightly beam. “Forget what you’ve heard, it’s not a dreary place infested with hell-spawned demons. It’s the greatest fortress I’ve ever seen, and it’s open to all. It has libraries that beggar any king’s or university’s claim. It was there that I learnt the fairy stories and campfire legends of the old powers were true.” She leaned forward, her voice laced with passion. “Some treatises from the time before Herotus still exist there. Many of the old scrolls have decayed beyond use, but some remain. One tells of the ancient city-state of Baudus—Bowden. It spoke of the Temple District which sat close to the docks. I’m certain that Murnac’s Squandering Snail stands on the site of the ancient temple of Parwen. I’ve been hoping to find some remnants of that time, but I’ve found nothing.”
“Nothing?” asked Incarnos.
“Nothing yet,” Carylle said. “That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to find.”
“You’ve searched?” asked Cade.
“Most of the Snail, yes,” Carylle said. “But there’s got to be more. Everything here was built over older structures. That’s the way of cities. If one wants to find the secrets of a city, one needs to dig into its roots. The problem is, I haven’t found a way into the roots of the Snail yet.”
Sabrine steepled her fingers before her. “Yet. Which means there are parts of the Snail you haven’t searched.”
Carylle frowned. “Some parts.” She tapped the table with her fist. “So you think there’s a way to get below the Snail.”
“It’s a tavern,” I said. “They’ve got to have a cellar for the ale and beer.” Everyone at the table turned to look at me. I sank back into my chair. “What?”
Carylle waved a finger at me. “The cellar, there’s got to be a way into it, a way from the gambling hall and the tavern both.”
Cade rubbed his hands together. “And you think you know where that might be?”
“I think so,” Carylle said. “But I need help getting to it.”
“We can help,” Sabrine said. “We’re good at that.”
“Yes we are,” Drustan said. “My feet are set on a path of vengeance, a path that will lead to success.”
Sabrine slapped Drustan’s shoulder. “You’re so melodramatic.” She turned to me. “What do you say, Eam? Should we get in there?”
I looked from her to Carylle. My cousin wanted to get it done, and what could I say to the beauty that sat at the table with us? “Let’s get in there.”
The brilliance of Carylle’s face warmed me. I knew I made the decision for all the wrong reasons—well, except for Sabrine saying we should do it—but I actually thought we were doing the right thing. The Old Gods? Did I believe the story Incarnos had just told us? No, I didn’t, but I also didn’t disbelieve him, if that makes any sense. I had known of Drustan’s odd religion, but I had never lent it any credence. And now I had just agreed to enter a building secretly to find magical sticks to bring Drustan’s gods into this world.
Yes, I did feel rather like an idiot. I also felt like a hero of legend, or at least the squire of a hero of legend. I needed to say something, to get my mind off my motivations for throwing my cap into that ring. “When does the tavern close?”
Carylle held her chin in her hand. “It doesn’t really ever close. Still there’s almost no one there for an hour or two before or after sunrise. They sometimes bar the door then.”
“That gives us a few hours, which is more than we need,” Sabrine said. “There isn’t a lock I can’t foil. Drustan and Eam can lend us muscle if we need it. Cade, what do you offer?”
Cade tapped his temple. “I’ve got the smarts.”
“Do you now?” Sabrine waved off the comment. “I’m sure you can do something useful.” She sank into her chair, crossing her arms. “Well, we seem to have a few hours to wait. I would suggest enjoying the food Master Incarnos has provided and then getting some sleep.”
Swords and A Squandering Snail continues in “First Blood of the Morning.”