Kingdoms of Kalamar

Aegis Goes Carousing

A Tale of Intrigue Never to be Finished

Aegis’ plan seemed to work. The cultists were splitting up and many were pursuing her. After running a safe distance she ducked into one of the Halfling hovels that lay along the main street, much to the surprise of the dwellings’ inhabitants. She wasted no time, leaping through a window and crashing through another doorway into one of the many back alleys of the district. Sweat pouring out of her despite the cool night breeze, she tore through the back alleys zigging and zagging. Surely there was a way into the city, hopefully the others were able to use her distraction to their advantage. She hugged a wall while she caught her breath, glancing back to see if she was being followed. The coast was clear. She let out a sigh of relief before turning back, only to find members of a Halfling street gang before her.

She smiled. Friends wanting to play! The madness had not quite worked its way out of her system as she drew her rapier and danced with the boys. It was just like her uncle had always taught her, dancing smoothly and gracefully, not allowing their blades to touch her as she danced about drawing pretty pictures with the tip of her rapier. Some of her friends got tired of dancing and decided to take a nap. The last one left seemed to be done dancing, throwing his blade down and raising his hands in surrender.

“You don’t want to play with me?” She asked, innocently. No sooner had she spoken than an explosion shook the hovels around her and fire erupted into the night sky.

“What the hell was that?” Her new playmate asked.

“Probably my friends. Why won’t you play with me?” She took a step toward him.

“What do you want man? Seriously, you’re freaking me out.” The Halfling looked ready to run.

“I just want inside the wall tonight. My friends are expecting me.” The Halfling looked at her in confusion and bolted. She matched pace with him through the alleys and before long exhaustion began to set in. She overtook him and stood over him as he panted, hands on knees, trying to catch his breath. The point of her rapier raised his chin. “Do you know a way through the wall?”

“Whatever, man. I know a guy who knows a guy.” He backed away from the rapier’s point and gestured for her to follow him. A smirk crossed his face as she calmly skipped behind him. This elf had no idea what he was getting himself into. Looking back, the Halfling began second guessing himself. Damn elven androgyny and flippant behavior. If it’s a girl the boss will be pleased. “We’re here.” He knocked on the door to one of the upscale hovels and a grate slid open.

“Who’s the elf?” A coarse voice from behind the grate muttered.

“Someone to see the boss. Business.” The Halfling muttered back. After a second of looking Aegis over, the door was unlatched and opened revealing a much more stout Halfling with a cudgel at his side.

“Alright, I’ll take her from here.” The coarse voice boomed without the grate in the way. The original Halfling leaned in and whispered to the stout Halfling. “Alright” Was his only response.

Aegis looked up from dusting off her cloak to marvel at the hive of new friends she had found. Surely they would help her find her other friends. She followed the stout Halfling deep into a back room, where a Halfling lounged on a sofa, smoking a pipe. The pipe smoker stopped puffing on his pipe as the stout Halfling walked up and whispered in his ear. A smile on her face, Aegis looked about the hovel’s accommodations. It seemed a very nice, clean change from the streets outside. As her eyes met the pipe smoking Halfling, his smile matched hers.

“So I hear you have some business with me. What can I do for you, my tall friend?” Yay! Friends!

“I need to get through the wall. My friends are waiting for me.” Aegis beamed with joy at the thought of being reunited with the others.

“I know a guy who will let you through the tunnel. For a price. And of course there’s my finder’s fee.” He smiled a wicked smile. The elf must be loaded, walking around with that sort of armor on display. “But first there’s the issue of compensation for my boys that you slaughtered.” The stout Halfling drew his cudgel and began tapping it in the palm of his hand. More Halflings surrounded Aegis.

“You want to dance too! I hope you’re not as tired as the other little guys!” She drew her rapier and began dancing with the room full of Halflings. It was harder to avoid their weapons in the close quarters, but before long the room was filled with bleeding men. No blood fell from Aegis’ wounds as her armor slurped it up greedily. The pipe fell from the mouth of the boss. “Why won’t you play with me, mister?” Aegis smiled at him innocently. “It seems like all your friends got tired, but I’m just starting to have fun!”

“Okay, okay, put that thing away, I’ll get you through the wall.” Aegis never stopped smiling. It unnerved the boss. Something was seriously deranged about this elf. He whistled for more of his boys to come treat the wounded and motioned one over. “Take this elf to Rogarr’s tunnel. It’ll be his problem then.”

Bowing graciously, Aegis followed the new Halfling out of the hovel and through the alleys to a nondescript building not terribly far from the moat around the city. A cryptic knock opened the door into a regular room with a dining table and some chairs. Two humans moved the table aside after closing the door and lifted the carpet beneath it, revealing a hatch. Opening the hatch they motioned Aegis into the tunnel. She smiled and bowed to them, traveling down the tunnel. Realizing the Halfling wasn’t following she turned and waved him goodbye. He looked relieved for some reason. Oh well.

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Aegis turned and continued down the stairwell, the steps becoming slick with mildew from the depth. Finally Aegis rounded a bend and came to a cavern of sorts, water dripping from the ceiling in a handful of spots. Sitting atop a makeshift throne was an Ettin, while the room was filled with humans and a few Halflings, seemingly in the middle of their evening meal. Nobody looked surprised as Aegis strode in, her elven chain shimmering in the light dancing from torches on the walls.
“Hello! Does this tunnel lead under the wall?” Her voice rang out cheerfully.
“Why yes, it does. Do you have the toll?” One of the humans stood from his meal and walked over. “It’s a special deal, today only we’ll let you pass for one thousand gold.” Snickers filled the room.
“I don’t have that many golds. How else can I go through the tunnel?” Aegis was filled with disappointment. These didn’t seem like friends.
“Well perhaps you have something else you’d like to pay with. Say, that armor?” The human smiled, his missing teeth apparent despite the torchlight to his back obscuring his face.
“I can’t do that. My daddy gave it to me and told me to never let it out of my hands.” Aegis began to pout. “Surely there’s another way.”
“Do you like to play games, elf?” The Ettin stood, his booming voice echoing through the chamber. “Would you like to play a game?” The other head chimed in.
“I love games, mister!” Aegis perked up. Everyone wanted to play with her tonight.
“Do you play chess, elf?” The Ettin rubbed his chins. “Yes, play with us.” His other head chimed in.
“I love chess! Okay, I’ll play with you!” Aegis beamed. Not only would she get through the wall, she’d get to play with her new friend on the way!
“Let’s make it interesting, elf. A small wager.” The Ettins faces both smiled “Yes, a bet! You win and you get to go through the tunnel, free of charge!” The Ettin’s second head laughed a hearty laugh.
“Okay, that sounds grand!” Aegis clapped in delight.
“But what do you have to bet, if not your armor? Perhaps a year of servitude is worth a thousand gold?” The first head mused. “No, no, a year isn’t worth a thousand. Two years.”
Aegis counted on her fingers. 12 moons. 24 moons. “Yay, counting is fun!” Aegis exclaimed. “24 moons seems like a long time, but a thousand golds is a lot. Okay, it’s a deal. What’s your name, friend?”
A hearty laugh from both heads filled the cavern. “I’m Ro,” The first head declared. “Yes, yes, and I’m Garr.” The second head chimed in. “Welcome to Rogarr’s domain.” They spoke slightly out of sync. “Follow us, elf.”
The Ettins motioned: 15 humans and all the Halflings stood. The humans smiled, while the Halflings glowered. The next room held a crudely scratched chessboard in the dirt. The Humans and Halflings each grabbed a tabard off the wall and stood on their designated starting positions. “Welcome to humanoid chess.” Ro laughed. “Yes, a very fun game!” Garr exclaimed.
“There’s no king.” Aegis pointed as Rogarr took his place as the human side’s king. “Ohhh, I’m the king.” Aegis skipped to her place. “How are the rules different from ordinary chess?”
“Standard movement rules apply, but the pieces have to fight to be taken. You’ll see what I mean.” Ro chuckled. “Yes, and if one of us cheats they forfeit.”
“I’ll begin. Pawn to D5” The Ro and Garr smiled a knowing smile at each other.
“Ok. Pawn to D4” Aegis smiled as the Halfling trudged up to his place being stared down by his human counterpart.
“Queen to A4” The ettin chuckled.
“Pawn to B3” Aegis giggled. What a terrible player.
“Queen take pawn at B3” The human stepped into the square and began grappling with the Halfling, easily winning out and pinning him while counting to three. The pawn walked off the chessboard.
“Pawn at A2 take Queen at B3” Aegis stopped laughing as the Halfling walked into the square and began grappling with the human. He was losing. After he was pinned and the human counted to three the pawn stood up, dusted himself off, and walked off the board. It was a cheat. He was cheating! Aegis looked around at the tired, weary halflings. They must always be on the losing side, having to throw the game.
“Queen at B3 take Pawn at C2.” Again the Halfling halfheartedly grappled with the human and lost. “Check.”
“Shall we up the bet?” Aegis gulped. A glimmer of clarity shimmered within her. She was going to have to take a huge risk. “I want to add the friendship of these Halflings to my wager, their freedom from your service.” Aegis looked around at the faces of the Halflings and saw hope glimmer in their eyes. Hope of Freedom. The wager was beginning to pay off.
“I accept.” Ro smiled cheerfully, “But for this many Halflings your wager has to be higher. Your life will belong to me, to do with as I wish.”
“Very well.” Aegis drew in a deep breath and turned to her new Halfling friends, sudden clarity reaching her mind in a moment of dire need. “Listen to me, all of you, and truly hear my words. Are you not sick of being downtrodden? Are you not sick of being on the back foot of every stride? This is your chance to make a fair effort at being superior to the taller folk. This is your chance to rise up from your shackles and take a chance at winning for a change. You are not the runts of civilization. You are not the broken, the worthless. I shall re-forge you into a new blade, one of virtue and valor. You will strike swiftly and with heart and at the end of the day, for a noble cause. No more will you live in the dark, dank underground waiting for your next day of slop. No more shall you be broken beneath the whips of your oppressors. Rise up, my Halflings. Rise up, my army. We shall defeat Rogarr and all his might. All I ask is that you give your all in escaping the grasp of these humans, for you may not be as large as them, but you are more nimble and slippery. I have seen the powers of a bold Halfling who never backs down from a challenge. Bruno Trickfoot, the Halfling who has become both honorable and dragon-slayer is with you this day. Rise up and be counted among those who would stand with him and his friends. Rise up and fight with the courage and might I have seen Halflings are capable of. The legend of the Halfling Outriders is well deserved and inundated with victory. Feel the strength of those whose legend comes before you and lash out against your oppressors. Trust in me to do my part and I will do the rest.”
“It’s your move, if you’re quite done.” Rogarr chuckled as they cracked their knuckles.
“King takes Queen at C2.” Aegis declared, boldly stepping up to the human, who reached immediately to grab her. Slipping out of his hands she turned, slamming her heel into the back of his knee then dropping her body weight in an elbow to the throat. He dropped to the ground and she held him down counting loudly to three. Two of the halflings that had been taken out already ran out to drag him off the board. “Your move.”
“King to D7.” Ro grumbled. He was going to have to handle this himself. “No, No, let the humans handle the elf. We don’t have to be gentle with them anymore.” Yelled Garr. “What fun is it if we end the game now?”
“Knight to C3.” Aegis declared.
“We can’t possibly beat Rogarr. It’s hopeless.” The Halfling knight cried out as he moved.
“Leave that to me.” Aegis gulped. How could she pin him for three seconds?
“King to D6.” Ro grumbled. “No, No, Pawn to C6. Pawn to C6!” Garr shouted, stepping back while Ro tried to step forward. The pawn moved as ordered.
“Knight take pawn at D5.” Aegis crossed her fingers. It seems Garr was more interested in the game than winning outright. The Halfling moved into the square, circling the human looking for an opportunity. The human caught his arm but got kicked in the shin then tripped for his troubles. The Halfling pinned him and shouted one, two, three, as quickly as possible. The human stood, kicked the dirt of the square in the Halfling’s face, and then walked off the board.
“Pawn take knight!” Garr shouted, covering Ro’s mouth with one hand while the other scrambled to remove it. The Human moved into the space as the Halfling finished clearing the dirt from his eyes. Seeing his opening the Halfling slipped through the Human’s legs and climbed onto his back, punching the back of his head until he went down hard. The Halfling looked surprised as hell to have won, and forgot to count for a few moments. A quick jaunt to three and the human was pulled off the board.
“Knight to B4.” Aegis commanded. The Halfling sighed in relief as he moved further from the front lines. “Good Job Knight. Rest for a moment.”
Having clawed the hand off his mouth, Ro shouted “King to D6. I will crush all who stand before me.” Garr slapped him. “You’re ruining the game. Look how much fun I’m having!”
“King to C3.” Aegis boldly stated, much to Garr’s surprise.
“You’re moving your king forward? Let me take her with our other pieces, please Ro?” Garr pleaded. “No. I will end this now and punish all those who fought for her.” Ro’s mouth frothed with rage, but Aegis couldn’t tell how much was directed at his other head and how much was directed at the game.
“It’s your move.” Aegis tried to remain calm, the clarity of mind allowing it to dawn on her what she had bet and what would happen if Rogarr found out she was a she instead of just an elf. She grasped at the clarity within her mind as she felt it slowly slipping back away.
“Knight to C6” Garr called out before Ro could say anything. The human moved as ordered, but Ro punched Garr in the cheek. “Quit that. I’m the one who challenged her, I get to decide how we play!” Garr punched Ro back. “I came up with the game in the first place. I’m the smarter one. I’m the leader!”
Aegis gulped. Time to face down an Ettin in unarmed combat, “King to C4.”
Garr, despite being choked by a red-faced Ro, managed to call out “Bishop to E6. Check.”
And a realization hit her. You don’t have to take the king if you manage to maneuver into checkmate. Of course, she was so caught up in the changed rules she forgot the ones that remained the same. If she could just keep him from being able to make a legal move she would win. But now she was in the middle of the board. Caught between two strategies, Aegis scrambled to figure out her next move. “King to B5.”
Ro got jabbed in the jaw and released Garr’s head. Garr quickly spit out “Pawn to A6. Check. See, I’m winning!”
“Knight take pawn at A6!” Aegis called, “I believe in you!” The Halfling ran past her and slammed into the Human’s torso, tackling him in surprise to the ground. Aegis had never heard anyone count to three that fast. The Human got up and spit in the Halfling’s face before walking off the board.
They continued fighting with one another, first Ro seems to have the upper hand, then Garr, then Ro, until Garr shouted “Knight takes pawn at D4.” The Human approaches slowly, cautiously, then proceeds to gradually beat the Halfling in fisticuffs. The Halfling collapses and is dragged off the board. “Check.” Garr manages to sound smug despite currently battling his other half.
“King to A5” Aegis is backing into a corner. This is looking bad.
Ro finally gets the upper hand and shouts “King to C6”
“Queen to B4” Aegis is starting to have fun again as her delirious state begins to overcome her. No, fight it. “I’ve got to stay cogent.” She mutters to herself.
Ro laughs. “King to B6. I’m going to enjoy beating you, elf.” As he starts to take a step he staggers around a second and stays in the same square “You can’t, that is a threatened square!” Garr whines. “So what? I’ll beat whoever tries to take me.” Garr finally loses the battle of wills and Ro walks into the square.
Aegis decides it’s time to play ring around the Queenie. “King to A4” She calls out, skipping to the square and sticking her tongue out at Rogarr.
“King to A5” Ro demands of his legs, which cooperate this time.
“King to B3, checkmate.” Aegis giggles a gleeful giggle. “I win.”
“We lost. WE LOST. I TOLD YOU TO LET ME DO IT.” Garr is now the red-faced one. “WE DIDN’T LOSE YET! OUR KING HASN’T FALLEN YET!” Now both of the heads are shouting at their loudest. “CHECKMATE MEANS YOU WIN WITHOUT TAKING THE KING. IDIOT.” Garr and Ro are turned to face one another. “NO MATTER, WE’LL JUST KEEP THE HALFLINGS AND TAKE THE ELF IN SHACKLES!” Ro grins evilly. “OKAY!” Garr shouts “FINE!” Ro shouts. “AGREED!” Garr shouts.
As the two heads are arguing, the Halflings are panicking. “I won. Where’s the exit?” Aegis smiles, oblivious to the danger she’s in. The Halflings usher her into a web of tunnels, carrying the unconscious Halfling.
“When he gets like that, he starts hurting people.” The sound of Rogarr and his lackeys chasing them echoed through the tunnel as it got more and more narrow. Finally the Halflings pushed Aegis into a larder. “You’ll need this to fit with us!” One of the Halflings pushed over a barrel full of grease “Hurry!”
Aegis sat staring at the grease on the ground in amazement as the colors swirled in its oily fluids until one of the Halflings pushed her into it. She sat up dazed and covered in grease. “What did you do that for?”
“Good enough. Now hurry!” One of the Halflings slid some barrels out of the way to reveal a Halfling sized crawl space. Aegis barely squeezed through the first fifteen feet by the lard on her armor before the tunnel started to widen, the Halflings piling in behind her and shoving her with all their might as she got snagged time and again.
“COME BACK HERE, WE OWN YOU!” Rogarr’s howls echoed through the tunnels after them.

Aegis Goes Carousing
 

After crawling for what felt like hours the howls of the enraged Ettin faded, light was visible in the distance. Reaching the source of the light, Aegis saw where the Halflings had etched their tunnel into the inner wall itself, just enough that once again, with much pushing from behind, Aegis was able to slip through the wall by the lard on her armor. Wiggling the rest of the way free from the wall, Aegis discovered they had come out hidden behind one of the many estates within the inner wall. “Let’s play hide and seek. You all hide and I’ll try to find you!” Aegis clapped her hands happily.
“Do you realize where we are? We accidentally tunneled up here trying to tunnel into the market district! Keep your voice down!” The Halfling Knight tried to shush Aegis.
“One. Two. Three…” Aegis closed her eyes and began counting aloud.
“Hide!” The Halfling Knight shouted at the others, still wearing their tabards.
“Twenty. Ready or not, here I come!” Aegis opened her eyes and saw a very concerned looking guard. Two more stood behind her.
“We’re going to have to ask what you’re doing here.” One of the guards looks at her while snapping fingers in front of her face.
“I’m looking for my friends. That’s why I had to get inside the wall so I could find the senator they were going to meet.” Aegis pieced together all that she could remember. “So that’s what I’m doing here!” She seemed pleased with herself.
“Why are you covered in… Oh, never mind. Come with us.” As the guards march her out from behind one of the estates the sound of horse hooves on paving stone rings through the streets. “Perfect, let’s ditch her with Honor Hold and let them sort it out.” The guards push her out into the middle of the street in front of the oncoming cavalry. As she stands up she hears a familiar voice from her childhood “Company Halt!” The familiar ring of elven greaves on paving stone greets her ears. Is this part of her delirium, she wonders. How could anyone familiar be in this strange land?
“You there, what are you doing walking the streets after martial law has been declared?” The voice boomed with command. She turned around, blinking.
“Uncle Cull!” She dove to give him a hug, only to be held at arm’s length by the head.
It takes the elf a moment to recognize her. “It really is you. How did you get here? What are you doing here? What happened in Soreta? Why have you let your armor get so filthy?” His mannerism remains militant, as always.
“Ummm. Yes.” Aegis smiles up at her uncle, Selemar Culmereian. Known as The Culling to his enemies, Aegis had grown up calling him Uncle Cull, as she had always heard him referred to as Commander Culmereian. But Daddy said he was her Uncle from Doulathanarian. Everything Aegis had ever learned about a blade she had learned from Uncle Cull. Her father was Uncle Cull’s commander back in Doulathanarian, but they had forged an eternal bond of friendship the likes of which Aegis had never known. Having traveled with her new friends for so few days and having so many tales to tell had finally allowed her some semblance of an understanding into the depth of her father and uncle’s bond.
“Let’s try this again, little lady. How did you get here?” A stern expression sits atop the claw marked cheek and halberd cleaved forehead.
“I came with my friends. To see a senator. Through a tunnel.” Aegis pauses between each statement to recollect her thoughts.
“Show me this tunnel.” As they walk he continues the interrogation. “What are you doing here? You say you’re to see a senator. Which Senator? Are they expecting you?”
After a long thought Aegis shrugs “I don’t know. A Senator. I don’t think so.”
“What happened in Soreta? Why aren’t you with your parents?” This has Selemar especially concerned, stressful tones in his voice as he rubbed the noose scaring around his neck.
“Kalamar.” Aegis looked at him, as if seeing him for the first time. Her mind snaps back to clarity, for the moment. “I ran. Kalamar came and took them. They took them away and left me alone. Daddy told me to come here, that I would be safe here. That people are free here. Kalamar took them away from me. Kalamar took everything away from me. If they had never come, if they had never lorded over us, Mommy and Daddy would still be with me. We would still be happy.”
The stern expression has completely boiled away at the sight of his niece in tears. He is relieved that it is behind this estate where nobody can see his softness. He braces her shoulders in his gauntlets and looks down at her through the crest of his helm. He is the exact image he was so long ago. “This is a land of freedom. Kalamar managed to put me in a noose once, but I escaped. I have no doubt your father would as well and he would never leave without your mother. I have the utmost faith they are safe. Little lady, tears do not befit you.”
Remembering her bearing, she swallows her fears and Aegis dries her eyes, looking up with a determination in her eye that had been absent since the Halfling Massacre™. “Kalamar must be toppled.”
“That it must, but little lady, how do you expect to topple anything covered in grime like that?” He lets out a hearty chuckle. It has been forever since she saw Uncle Cull smile. “How are you enjoying our Capitol? I see you still bind. Surely you’re not still pretending to be a man when you don’t have to. Women are Senators here. Positions of power that women can only dream of elsewhere.”
“It’s what I know Uncle Cull. It’s what I know.” Aegis looked down. She rarely thought about her binding, merely renewing it every morning out of habit.
“Perhaps part of why your parents sent you here was so you could break out of the mold you had grown so accustomed to. I see you have fully embraced your elven ancestry. It would do your father proud to see you wearing his armor so openly, albeit maybe not covered in such ichor.” Uncle Cull let out another brief chuckle. “Let’s see about reuniting you with your friends. If they have business with a Senator they’ll have to come through my jurisdiction anyway.”
“Here’s the tunnel and the friends who saved me.” She gestured.
“I see an opening, but what friends, little lady?” Uncle Cull looked around.
The halflings slowly came out of hiding seeing that Aegis was not being bludgeoned. “You’re a lady? Wow. Elves.” The Halfling knight walked forward.
“Thank you for helping my dear girl, little ones. Unfortunately this is no place for you to be. Come with me, all of you.” Uncle Cull marched them out to his cavalry. “Send word the wall has a breach that needs to be seen to. We’re taking these Halflings into protective custody until we can arrange their escort home. This elf is an honorary member of Honor Hold until it can be formalized, treat her as such.”
“Uncle Cull, can you please treat me as a boy around my friends once we find them?” Aegis coughed lightly into her hand. “They kind of think I’m a guy.”
“Understood, little lady.” Uncle Cull looked stern, but Aegis caught a twinkle in his eye. “I mean Aegis. You, help him up behind you. You Halflings will have to walk.”
After what seemed like moments of riding, they reached a gate that opened from the hearty bellow of Uncle Cull. Everywhere he went he seemed to command such authority. “How did you come to be here, with these people, Uncle Cull?”
“I arrived with nothing but my blade and armor. Barely escaped those Kalamaran dogs. I worked as a sell-sword for a time before Honor Hold picked me up. I rose through the ranks well enough and here I am, though I’m looking to retire. I’m getting too old for this.” Uncle Cull seemed to say the last bit at the scene ahead of him. It looked as though there was a fight between mage knights and guardsmen ahead. Kicking his steed into a gallop he bellowed “You all, have you lost your minds, fighting at a time like this? The city burns, explosions rock the walls, burglars could be preying on the state of emergency, and yet you fight amongst yourselves?” Now that they had paused their scuffle at the sight of his cavalry, he dismounted and walked amongst the combatants, laying about with his gauntleted hand. “Back to your duties, back to your duties, I say! The damned lot of you!”

Aegis Goes Carousing
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