I couldn’t wait to get off of that gods forsaken barge.
I didn’t know what I was getting in to when I agreed to sign on as a laborer for this barge. My only previous experience with a boat had been the ship that brought me over from the Empire of Oran. Once I got used to the motion and got past the sea sickness, the journey on the ship wasn’t so bad. At least I had lots of room to roam about with plenty of cool, fresh ocean air and I never had to go anywhere near the actual water. I enjoyed climbing to the upper reaches of the masts and just watching the horizon. At night I would sleep on the open deck, under the stars. All in all, not a bad journey.
Foolish me, thinking that this barge would be similar. Instead it was a hell that could have only been dreamed up by Morgath himself. The barge plodded along down that river at a maddeningly slow pace. It was hot and muggy and at times there were so many mosquitoes that it looked like we were passing through a fog bank. I lost count of the number of times that we had to get in to the river to push and pull that stupid barge when it would get hung up on a particularly shallow spot. (And there is NOTHING that makes a Koori grumpier than having to get in to dirty, nasty, muddy water). It seems that our merchant Obadiah Milinthus had loaded down that barge with so much cargo that it was riding lower in the water than it should. He is lucky that it didn’t sink and dump his precious cargo in to those dirty, nasty waters! It would have served him right!
And the smell… gods above, I can’t describe the smell. We were surrounded by water and yet those disgusting humans couldn’t be bothered to bathe even ONCE. Even as dirty as that river water was, it had to have been better than wallowing in their own filth! I don’t think I will ever get the stink of those humans out of my nostrils!
I didn’t know what to expect when we arrived at Nemora Ater. It was a lot smaller than I expected it to be. Really nothing more than a small farming village in the middle of nowhere. The others that were accompanying the barge fled for land almost as quickly as I did. I guess that they were as sick of the barge as I was. I considered heading to the inn with some of the others, but decided that I needed some time alone in the woods to regain my center first. I saw Ulgaden Chinbat walking away, and briefly considered asking him to join me. It wasn’t often that I encountered a fellow Koori this far from home. But then I remembered how stand-offish he had been during our weeks on the barge and decided that I would rather be alone.
It didn’t take me long to find a cool clean stream, and for the first time in weeks I felt clean again. The woods were surprisingly full of game, and it took me almost no time to track and kill a deer. I decided to eat my fill of raw meat – a pleasure that I don’t often get to indulge now that I am in the land of man. The sight of somebody eating their meat raw (the way Larani intended) seems to offend most men (and especially their women). So I have learned to eat most of my meals lightly cooked.
I quickly field dressed the deer and took the remaining meat back in to town with me. As I walked in to town, I asked one of the townsfolk to direct me towards the inn. He was surprisingly nonchalant about encountering a Koori. I have grown used to being stared at, and sometimes even feared by men who are not familiar with Koori. This man informed me that one of the inns in town even had a Koori for a cook. I didn’t even have to think twice about which inn to choose.
When I got to the inn, I circled around back to the kitchen, where I spoke to Tosudan, the Koori cook. He was a bit simple, but friendly. He gladly agreed to store my deer meat in the inn’s pantry, and even offered to cook it for me in the Koori style. In following Koori customs, I offered to share the fresh deer meat with him.
I spent the night at the inn. They offered a surprisingly good ale, better than any I have had since leaving home. Apparently it appealed to Ulgadan as well. He drank himself in to an embarrassing drunken mess, and seemed to be upset about something. I briefly thought about going over to see if he was alright, but then one of his fellow guards from the barge joined him and let Ulgadan cry on his shoulder.
The next morning, I took pity on my poor hungover fellow Koori and asked Tosudan to bring Ulgadan some fresh deer meat for his breakfast. That seemed to cheer Ulgadan up and for the first time he actually seemed to be a bit friendlier. But for some reason, Maximus, the fellow guard that had been consoling Ulgadan the night before seemed to be keeping his distance from him this morning. They almost seemed to be uncomfortable in each other’s presence. It wasn’t any of my business what occurred between the two of them after I went to bed, so I didn’t ask. After breakfast, Ulgadan, Maximus Decimus Meridius and I decided to bond as warriors do – with blood, sweat and violence. We found the town guard’s training area and did some sparring. A young Ainu girl (Akatsuki) with her own katana and wakizashi was watching us with interest but declined our invite to join us.
About then, things took a turn for the worse.. and the weird. Obidiah, the merchant who had hired us to work on the barge got himself in to a bit of trouble. The whole thing was confusing, but apparently Obidia had caught his wife in a compromising position with Varas, one of the local merchants (and the leader of the town council). Obidia almost killed Varas, and even injured his own wife. Even more confusing, Varas was an old friend of the couple… and apparently gay. Something about the whole deal seemed suspicious, and myself and a few of the other people who had worked for Obidia on the barge started to nose around to see if we could figure out what was up. We quickly figured out that the wine that they had been drinking had been drugged with something, and there was an odd candle giving off an intoxicating odor.
There was a young, dark skinned girl named Morwenna amongst the townspeople. I don’t think she was a native, but I am not sure how she came about being here. Anyway, she has a strange form of magic that I have only heard stories of. She used a small doll to summon a creature that healed Varas and saved his life. She then summoned a spirit wolf that told her what kind of magic was used on Obidiah, his wife and Varas. The wine had been spiked with a love potion, and the candle was some kind of enchantment to incite rage. Varas was still unconscious and Obidiah’s wife was too distraught to be of much help.
We tried to investigate more around town but weren’t able to find out much more. We did notice that we were being watched as we moved about town, and it appeared that a Wangai named Muin seemed to be in the middle of all of this far too much to be coincidence.
The next day, Varas finally regained consciousness. His first words were to tell us to rush to the warehouse where he had been attacked, but didn’t want to tell us why. When we got there, we discovered that the guards who had been posted had been poisoned. We checked inside the warehouse and discovered a hidden room that had been opened and ransacked of it’s contents. When we reported this back to Varas, he informed us that the hidden room had been where the funds of the entire town had been stored. We quickly figured out that it had been Muin who had “robbed the bank”, and that the altercation between Varas and Obidia had been setup as a distraction so that Muin could gain access to the warehouse. Varas was distraught – the loss of the entire town’s funds would destroy the town.
We looked around town for Muin but he was long gone. We thought that he had left by the same barge that brought us to town, but that turned out to be a dead end. Morwenna remembered seeing the tracks of a large group of men leaving the trail outside of town. A couple of us went to check it out and confirmed that it was the trail of Muin. We gathered the rest of our ragtag group and set out on the trail after Muin.