Chapter 07: Customs

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Session Number: 78
Date: Sunday 19 December 2010
Venue: Fergus'
PCs & Players:

Arrian Rog1/Clr8 (Fergus) (kills: none)
Feren Rog9 (Yeran) (kills: none)
Rowaine Pal9 (Craig) (kills: none)
Tomen Rgr9 (Ash) (kills: none)
Troll Wiz9 (Densial) (kills: none)

XP Awarded: TBC

Rowaine has been thinking about how to approach the mayor - what her group could possibly bring to the table. On the way to the library, she chats to Princess Ethalyn.

"How amenable do you believe your mother would be to setting up a trade arrangement with Aquilla? Is that one of her goals?"

"It might be," the princess replies. "I believe she seeks mainly to reestablish political ties."

"More than just trade, then."

The library is a large timber building with thick wooden columns. The double doors open into a small chamber, inside which a man sits behind a desk. There are double doors behind him, and to the left and right. He looks up.

"Good sir," Rowaine says, "would you please direct me to the library?"

"You are here."

"Ah. Where might I find the books?"

"They're in the back."

"I see," Rowaine says. "How does the system work?"

"Well, if you want a book, you let us know what you want and we'll get it for you."

"And if I don't know what book it is specifically?"

"Subject, topics, the sort of thing you're after. Here's a card. Can you write?"

"Of course."

"Write down roughly what you're after and we'll send one of our people to look for what you want. Reading rooms are to the left and the right." He looks around. "Are all of you wanting books?"

"We're all interested in a similar subject." Arrian says. "We are new to Aquilla and curious about its history, the legends and stories about how it came to be."

"You're not citizens then?"

"No."

"I'm sorry, library resources are only for people who are residents."

"Is there a way we can get temporary membership?" Arrian asks.

"No, I'm sorry."

"Do you allow a citizen to sponsor a noncitizen to read books?" asks Rowaine.

"Sorry. All the books in the facility are paid for by taxes. It was decided a long time ago that it was fair that only citizens should have access."

"If we had a friend who was a citizen," Arrian says, "could we come and read with him?"

"No."

"What if we donate money?" Tomen says.

"Sorry sir, there are rules preventing that. We do not allow access simply because one is rich."

"It seems like a good idea to me, if you want to gain funds to maintain your library," Arrian points out. "But I respect your rules."

"Our library is well maintained." He replies coldly.

The group leave.

"So," Arrian says, "how do we go about buying a house?"

"There may be other means to becoming a citizen," Rowaine says. "Maybe buying property doesn't make you a citizen… We don't know what the rules are."

"Let's find out," Arrian says. They return to Moradin's temple. Rowaine and Arrian enter. Rowaine bows and speaks:

"Your holiness, I was interested in obtaining some books from your library, but I find that it is only accessible to citizens."

"Oh yes, you're right actually," Crane says. "'Crewmembers' is the more technical term."

"Crewmembers?"

"Yes. Totally slipped my mind. This sort of thing doesn't come up often. A number of services available in Aquilla are only available to crewmembers. This might be relevant to you, given that you wish to see the mayor. It is Captain's day in about five or six weeks time. It happens once a year. It used to happen once a month in days long past. It is a day when any crewmember may approach the Captain. It was traditionally a chance for the crew to voice a grievance, but these days it is used for other things as well. Any citizen may approach the Captain, who holds audience for as long as it takes to see them all."

"How would one become a crewmember?" Arrian asks.

"You need to be sponsored by two existing crewmembers, one of which must be a crewmember of note, somebody who was born here. You also need to be employed. Even the richest people here who are crewmwmbers have a job. It is frowned upon to not do your job. Rich merchants still do their job at least once a week, often more. Crewmembers can be discharged and lose all crew privileges, including trading rights.

"Membership is rarely turned down, provided you meet the criteria. You provide evidence that you have gainful employment and have held it for a reasonable amount of time - at least a couple of weeks - plus the two sponsors. You are also required to take an oath to protect the ship. It is somewhat similar to becoming a member of a kingdom, although not usually quite as strict and definitely not permanent for some people. On a normal ship crew members would sign on for a distinct period or voyage, so it's not a life sentence, but the Captain could rightly expect you to defend the ship, do your chores, obey the hierarchy, things like that."

"Were you born here, Crane?" Arrian asks.

"Yes.

"Does this place have diplomatic relations with any other kingdoms?"

"Only on passing. Once the ship passes it may be many years - sometimes thousands according to legend - before we pass that way again. It becomes impractical to maintain ongoing diplomatic relationships, especially when the people who made the agreement may be long dead."

"Our thanks again, Crane," Rowaine says, and they leave. On the way out, Rowaine talks to Arrian about these new opportunities.

"I wonder whether the princess would consider a diplomatic role and seek audience with the mayor, or the Captain, whatever he calls himself," Rowaine says. "She would probably want to talk to her mother first. What are our other options? The Harbourmaster? We have nothing to offer."

Arrian and Rowaine rejoin the others outside Moradin's temple. Rowaine looks around at the busy market fringe.

"Ethalyn," she says, "what are your immediate intentions? Will you be spending the night at your mothers'?"

"I will be staying here," the princess replies.

"As you wish. I am at your service."

"May I inquire as to your interest in staying the night?" Arrian says.

"I just want to see what it's like here. You can investigate a place for an hour, or a day, or a week, and after years you can still learn more. It would be remiss of me to stay here for an hour or two and then say I know the place."

"We should probably arrange accommodation," Rowaine suggests.

Arrian stops a passerby who seems to know where he is headed. "Excuse me sir, we are looking for lodgings for the night."

"Dockside. Where you came in."

"Thank you."

The man continues on his way, muttering "Bloody landers" not quite under his breath.

The party head to Dockside, on the opposite side of the market from which they originally entered. Arrian identifies a wealthily-attired person.

"Excuse me sir, I was wondering if you could recommend decent lodgings for myself and my friends?"

"Uh, mmmmmmmm… The Roasted Goat," he says, pointing at a building not far away. "Quite nice. Not too many rats." He smiles and continues.

"That doesn't sound like a glowing endorsement, does it?" Rowaine says after the man is out of earshot.

It appears the man was not adverse to hyperbole. The Roasted Goat is large and luxurious. A balcony wraps around the accommodation on the second storey. The party walk in and find a table. Feren arranges three rooms for a week, including breakfast and dinner for under 72 silver.

Not bad, Feren. Show a little more leg next time, you might get it for 60.

Rowaine wanders over towards the end of the negotiations. "Are you reasonably full at the moment?"

"About normal, ma'am."

"Should we expect a lot of noise from your other patrons?"

"Oh, you won't. We have excellent insulation in the walls, ma'am."

"Might we inspect the rooms?"

"Of course. One moment…" The man ducks through a doorway, returning with three large keys. He shows the group upstairs. The street frontage has five rooms. The man indicates the middle three, handing Feren the keys.

"Thank you, sir," Rowaine says. "What time is supper served?"

"Any time after six." He smiles and leaves.

Princess Ethalyn and Tomen will share the middle room. Rowaine and Shalélu will take a room, leaving the boys the third. Once alone, Rowaine turns to the princess.

"An idea, princess. A thought. Something you may wish to speak to your mother about. If her highness is interested in establishing ongoing diplomatic relations with this vessel, then it would seem that there would be some sort of diplomat involved. Would you consider yourself a candidate for that role?"

"As an initial contact, I may. It would depend on… what things are like here."

"How would you start this particular diplomatic ball rolling?" Arrian asks.

"I don't really know."

"If you arrive through a branch, there there would be no record of you arriving. It would be difficult to start a diplomatic relationship without revealing that you have a secret entrance to their kingdom."

"Indeed. Once again, all these things have to be assessed. I'm sure there is a way."

"I know that you trade with Holt," Rowaine says, "which is a good distance from your capital. Trina herself is considerably closer. It would seem expedient to use Trina as a trading portal, if nothing else."

"Maybe. It was used for that in legend. Not so much a trading portal in the way we might think of it… When you read the old archives, it is difficult to picture what times were like then when there was no animosity between any of the races or peoples. I suspect it will be some time before I will be in a position to convey to my mother any useful information. It's obviously very civilised here. There is no anarchy that we expect from the floating mountains. Still, it will be some time before I get to grips with the political and social structures and the history.

"How long to you anticipate being here before returning?" Rowaine asks.

"A week, for a start. I'll need at least that long to begin to understand the people."

"Ethalyn," Arrian says, "do you know of our interest in this place?"

"No."

Arrian tells the princess about Krag's plight and ends with asking for the princess' help should she enter into diplomatic negotiations with Aquilla. "We shall see," she says in response, seeming diplomatically evasive, continuing to keep her answers short and non-committal.

"Is there anything else we can do for you while you are here?" Rowaine asks. "Do you wish us to travel with you?"

"That is not necessary. You have your own task and I do not feel unsafe here."

"Do you intend to approach the government at some point this week?" Arrian asks.

"I have not yet made that decision."

"What information about your identity are you going to put about? Will you say that you are a princess?"

"I should think not. I shall initially just be a traveller interested in the city."

Arrian beckons Rowaine closer and whispers in her ear.

"We haven't secured these rooms at all, or made sure that we don't have any listeners. Now I think about it, we have been quite indiscreet. I wonder whether it would be a good idea to have a look around."

"Wise," Rowaine says.

Arrian whispers to Troll, asking him to check the rooms for magical emanations. He then begins a thorough search of the middle room. Rowaine Detects Evil. Feren checks the locks. They wouldn't stop a master thief or an ogre, but besides that he thinks they are up to the task. The windows have bolts and latches, deterring entry from the shared balcony.

Once Arrian and Rowaine are confident there is nothing suspicious in the center room, they move on to the other two. Tomen accompanies them, seeing that Feren stays with the princess. After they leave, Princess Ethalyn turns to Feren:

"It's been so tiring! It's a big place. A lot bigger than I thought it would be. How are you, brother?"

"Not bad," Feren says. "Interesting place."

"Not my kind of place. I prefer a forest. Have you met Tomen before? He's more at home in a forest too."

"I'm more… urban."

"So… Tell me about this Étella.

"Étella?" Feren says.

"Étella Roulae. The Roulae. You call him Troll"

"I don't know that much," Feren says. "Perhaps you should ask him."

"I'd rather have your view."

"What I know is that there was something going on between the Roielles and the Roulae years ago…"

"I know all that… The man himself. What's he like?"

"He's a magic-user. I don't like him. When he is with Rowaine, he generally follows orders and doesn't think for himself. But he can be impulsive."

"So he follows the paladin?"

"Yes, he does. Other than that there's not much to tell."

"Interesting… Interesting that the Roulae is controlled by Moradin's mouthpiece. That troubles me."

"I think he trusts her because he sees her as a protector of sorts."

"If she makes requests, he may just follow them blindly, believing that whatever she says is the right thing to do…"

"That may be true," Feren says. "What do you know of the Roulae and the Roielles?"

"Not a lot. Third in line, don't get to know as much. I know that there was trouble within the families, that something went wrong, and that the matre and arachtria were the result."

"I heard the same."

"But I don't believe that either family is wholly at fault…" Her eye's go distant as she considers "…Or wholly blameless."

"What do you know about the falling-out?"

She appears to snap back to reality, blinking as if from deep thought "Hearsay… You would do better talking to the scholars back at home." she replies evasively, then turns away making a dismissive gesture.

An hour later, no one has found anything suspicious. Troll says the wood radiates the same faint magic that he finds everywhere.

"Tomen," Rowaine says, "are you happy with the arrangements?"

"Yes, I am."

"I'm going downstairs," Arrian says. "Rowaine?" The paladin nods and follows. Shalélu looks around and follows Rowaine. Arrian finds a table in the taproom downstairs and gestures for a drink.

Shalélu pulls Rowaine aside before she joins Arrian.

"I don't trust that girl up there."

"The princess?" Rowaine says.

"Yeah."

"Why not?"

"When she thinks nobody's looking, when we're all busy, she spies on Troll. I see her looking at him when she thinks nobody's looking. But here's the thing: I'm always looking. I don't trust her and I don't like her."

"Thank you for telling me this. What intent do you sense in her?"

"It's almost like she's sizing him up."

"Could it be that she is only here to gain information on him and not this platform at all?"

"I would be surprised if would not want to gain information on both, as both are quite important."

Royals: they never just have one purpose in anything.

Rowaine thinks. "Woman to woman… It is not that sort of interest, is it?"

"I don't think so, although… Hmmmmm it could be, the way she…"

That would produce interesting offspring: able to control both the Towers and the One Tree.

"…but I doubt it. I do know that she spies on him."

"We should probably take steps to make sure the time that they are alone is minimised. Would that seem wise to you?"

"Yes… And no. It would be interesting to see her force her hand. Troll is a smart lad."

"Does he confide in you?"

"Yes, often, and he is definitely capable of looking after himself."

"He is also very good at reading others. I wonder whether he himself is already fully aware of what's going on."

"I would not be surprised. He is much better at that than I. But I think I notice things because I am purposefully looking out for things like this. He is my employer and I have a lot of loyalty to him. He has shown me wonders, we have fought evil, and we have dealt justice. I have seen him happiest in the caverns under the ground when fighting evil."

Troll's got a girlfriend!

"Oh, he definitely loves the high life," Rowaine says with a worried face. "Maybe I should have a chat to him. I would be very happy if you were there to voice your findings, Shalélu."

As Rowaine steps away, Shalélu follows her, waiting until she is alone, quietly stepping up beside her and averting her eye's.

"I think you miss-understand my intentions", she whispers, attempting to summon courage, "I know you worry about him, and it is right to do so, I too worry about him. But my gut says he has potential that won't be fulfilled as long as he is constrained by his loyalty to his friends, especially you. I've seen the half elf wander off on her own and make her own way whenever she pleases. The Elf, an actual member of the royal family, travels as he wishes. Even the Priest gets to do whatever takes his whim and pass it off as a religious requirement."

Shalélu tries to hide her embarrassment, obviously uncomfortable with speaking to Rowaine in such a manner, she drops her voice further. "The point I am trying to make is, it seems as if everyone says they want to protect Troll, but that usually involves controlling him, telling him where to go, what to do, and what to say, sometimes I think his words and actions are yours, not his. Even the Priest uses you as a rod for Trolls back, manipulating with shame and loyalty where logic won't work. I am worried that one day it will have the same effect you would expect of the queen, one day he may just rebel against your authority."

She steps back demurely "Just think on this, why did Troll insist on going to the Underdark almost alone, I could tell even he thought it was a bad idea". She then turns quickly and almost flees from the Paladin.

Arrian asks the barmaid for dwarven ale, but finds they have none. He orders strong ale, then after taking a sip requests some in bottles for a friend. The barmaid returns with two small flagons.

After the drink, Rowaine and Arrian walk to Moradin's temple. Rowaine greets Crane.

"Good to see you again… today," Crane says.

"I have a story to tell," Rowaine says. She recounts the rise and fall of Krag and the advice that led them to this place.

"Whatever powers this vessel," Rowaine says, "I don't think I will have access to. Krag was a cleric of Moradin, in good standing. Crane, might you be able to open doors that I cannot?"

"I will see what I can do," Crane says. "Come back in a couple of days."

Arrian clears his throat. "Do you have a source of dwarven ale around?"

"The temple has some…"

"Is there anyone that sells it around here?"

"No. There's not a lot of call for it."

"I feel I couldn't prevail upon you… Your stock that might be needed for religious purposes."

"We can provide some for religious purposes," Crane says.

"I couldn't partake of it under those circumstances, but I surely do thirst for a good drop."

"I would be prepared to pass a sacrament upon you should you wish..?" Rowaine says.

Arrian ignores Rowaine. "Anything you could spare would be most appreciated." Crane provides Arrian with a keg.

"Might you be able to make use of me at Evensong, Crane?" Rowaine asks. "I feel like lifting up my voice to the All-Father."

"Come, Rowaine, paladin of Moradin, for the fourth time today! I am sure we can squeeze you in somewhere."

The pair leave, walking across the marketplace towards the ship at its center. Arrian picks up his frying pan after paying the balance. They return to the Roasted Goat. Troll and Shalélu are on their way out while Feren drinks.

"Troll," Rowaine says, "Shalélu has told me that the princess seems to take more than a passing interest in yourself. Are you aware of this?"

"I have noticed, yes."

"What do you read in that?"

"I am not surprised that one of the royal family is interested in me. It would only be appropriate. I would be more surprised if they were not, given our history. With Feren it is different. He has not been brought up in the royal family, although I have noticed that even he has taken something of an interest in me. The princess casts sidelong glances in my direction. I expect that."

"You have encountered sidelong glances from elves many times in the past. That's not what we are talking about now though is it? Is she spying on you - is that what you think?"

Troll seems evasive, not quite answering the actual question. "I would not be surprised. " He hesitates as if considering his words.

Troll the unwise, high sense motive, low bluff, that's how he gets into so much trouble :)

"I suspect that the elven kingdom would be better off if the towers were totally bent towards their safety. It's only natural."

"It's definitely in the elven kingdom's interest to have an assessment of Troll's character," Arrian says. "To know who they are dealing with. He is a power in the land."

"If they were not interested in me," Troll says pointedly, "that would worry me an awful lot more."

Rowaine's brow furrows. "The princess and the queen are probably as interested in finding out about your character as they are in the character of the city…"

"I would not want to place odds on which one she places more importance," Troll says, once again seeming to think through a conversation in his head.

Low Bluff again

"It is probably far more important for them to know your character, Troll, than it is to know this place."

"Possibly. This city has been inaccessible for many many years. Trade would be beneficial, but I'd say the towers are more important to them at this stage."

Arrian speaks. "Is there anything about the towers, or you, Troll, that we don't want the queen to know about?"

"Not that I can think of. Apart from what my forebears did, the towers are not themselves evil. They don't do anything other than things that are good, or required, or needed. They don't deplete the world of anything except a material that doesn't seem to have any other use."

"The queen may seek to coerce you or control you," Arrian warns.

"That's what I want to know," Rowaine says. "Is this a threat that we need to face? Or is this simply their curious nature? Are you as interested in knowing about them?"

"I am very interested in knowing about them," Troll says.

"Then it may not be of huge concern. Although Shalélu, you said you didn't trust her… Tell me about that feeling."

"I don't trust anyone that spies on Troll," Shalélu says. "You should be up-front with people, not scuttle around behind their backs." Both Arrian and Rowaine sense a slight discordant note in her words, as if she does not truly subscribe to what she is saying.

"I don't think we have anything to hide," Arrian says. "I can't see anything about your life or story Troll that they could use against you. They are the rulers of a kingdom, and so have the duties and responsibilities that go with that. Their motives may not always be aligned with ours. But in these matters I can't see any particular reason not to trust them."

"Me neither," Rowaine agrees. "In my personal dealings with the queen, she has seemed more up-front than I would expect of a monarch."

"So," Arrian says, "when it comes to the princess and Troll, we take some caution…"

"Don't worry," Troll says. "I can take her out. I can take anybody out. Except maybe the guy with the sword. I'm a bit worried about him."

"Along those lines," Rowaine says worriedly, "if it comes to that, take her out without killing her."

"I don't think that I could bring myself to attack a princess."

"I don't think that it will come to that," Rowaine says. "I can't foresee the circumstance. I think they believe you are more useful to them alive. I think that if they were to move against you, it would be far more subtle and it would be about control and manipulation."

Shalélu and Troll leave. Rowaine, Arrian and Feren spend some time walking around Aquilla's edge. The ship is roughly eggshaped, and massive. From bow to stern it is something like a mile and a half long, and nearly a mile wide. The market is towards the bow. Along the stern are a number of docks.

In the evening, Rowaine attends the evensong service, taking part in the choir. She then returns. They party take supper together: a tasty fish stew.

The next day, the party discover much. Aquilla extends beneath the surface, sometimes as much as two or three stories. It is mostly flooded below, home to citizens of aquatic or amphibian races. Some areas have been abandoned by Aquilla's citizenry and have been taken over by other creatures.

Feren looks for the local thieves' guild. Troll discovers there is an informal and unpublicised mages' guild that meets in library. He is currently trying to join.

Rowaine returns to Moradin's temple with Arrian and talks to Crane. He has made enquiries and has secured a meeting in two days time with someone who knows more about how Aquilla works magically.

"Thank you so much," Rowaine says to the priest. "What might I know about this person, that I might meet him properly?"

"His name is Gershwin Fallowhay, an old elf from a very old and very distinguished family. They have been Aquilla crewmembers for as long as anyone can remember. Very aristocratic, very well thought of."

After they, leave, Rowaine and Arrian discuss a suitable gift for the occasion. Arrian suggests a long sword. They gather Feren and return to Trina's grove via the branch in the alley. Rowaine greets Abbey and commissions a masterwork imithrium alloy long sword, with suitable scabbard.

"Oooooh, I'm glad you came to me, dearies. A long sword, is it? Buisnesslike, but a little bit fancy? You got it. Ooooh, I'm gonna enjoy this…" They leave Abbey to her industry and return to Aquilla.

Feren currently has creation rights in Elondel, but not Abbey. Upon returning from Fort Rannick Feren said "I need some stuff," Troll relented with "Just give him what he wants."

Troll spends the day trying to get a job in the library. The princess spends most of her time in the markets and surrounding shops, not buying much but entering into many conversations. Increasingly often, she asks Tomen to leave so that she can conduct her business alone. Not quite sure what to do when seemingly off-duty, Tomen spends his time gathering information about Aquilla's history.

The next day Rowaine, Arrian and Feren return to Abbey and collect the sword. It is an exquisite blend of function and form. They head back. At the Roasted Goat, they see Tomen.

"Where is the princess, Tomen?" Arrian asks, noting her absence.

"She has asked me to let her shop in peace."

"You are you no longer guarding her? Her word overrides your commission?"

"She feels pretty safe here, and I believe she is. We still meet regularly."

"Haven't been to many towns, eh?"

"No."

"Even if this is a peacable place, I'm not sure that it is wise to let the princess, a young female, wander the town shopping by herself. I'm not certain that that is the safest course. Rowaine, apparently the princess is wanting to wander around by herself. I understand she is a fairly accomplished fighter, but…"

Rowaine completes his thought. "Anyone can be taken by surprise. Or by numbers. Tomen, do you know where she is? Did you leave her in a certain place?"

"No."

"I think it is probably best to find her quickly. I don't doubt your skills, Tomen, and I am not slurring your integrity, but I would like to know that she is safe. I am sure that you do too."

"Of course."

"Where did you last see her, Tomen?"

"In the shops on the market's outskirts. She seemed to be moving from the market stalls to the shops, but she sometimes doubled back to revisit places she'd been before."

The four form two search parties: Arrian and Rowaine, Feren and Tomen. Feren quickly spots the princess at a market stall, haggling over price of a hat.

"Hello," the princess says, hiding her surprise and irritation.

"Why are you walking around without Tomen?" Feren whispers.

"What are you doing?" the princess replies. "I was getting some good information there."

"I saw Tomen on his own. That worried me."

"Tomen is good in a stand-up fight, but he's not much good when you want to blend in."

"Can you not allow him to just keep his distance?"

"Don't be ridiculous, Feren," the princess says. "Mother needs information and to get that information, I need to talk to people. There are times when having a guard is valuable, and there are times when just being an average person is valuable too."

"OK," Feren says. "But can you at least let him keep tabs on you?"

The princess sighs. "Alright. I'll let you both know where I'm going to be, and what I'm going to be doing. Although I'm a bit annoyed about it."

"Thank you, sister. I feel much more comfortable with that."

Princess Ethalyn says where she will be for the rest of the day. Feren leaves Tomen shadowing her, then finds Rowaine and Arrian.

"I'm wondering whether someone else might be better with her," Rowaine says after hearing the story. "Someone that blends in better. Perhaps you, Feren? If the princess is concerned that Tomen stands out, you don't as much. You have a lot more skill with blending in and adopting personas. Maybe suggest that to her."

"I will," Feren says. "Tonight. She's a bit annoyed with me right now."

"What are you doing?" Princess Ethalyn says to Tomen in a berating tone after catching him tailing her.

"Protecting you," Tomen says. "As the Queen ordered."

"But she also asked you to obey me, yes?"

"Yes…"

"How about you go over there," she says, pointing to a nearby bench. "If I need you, you will hear me. I will be in the vicinity. I will tell you if I move."

"OK."

Over supper, Troll informs the party that he has a job at the library, running book requests to the librarians within.

Troll likes this: he is one step closer to the books.

Rowaine makes a mental note to ask Troll and Shalélu whether they have noticed the princess tailing them.

It is the next day, the party's fourth morning on Aquilla. A servant arrives at the Roasted Goat, bidding Rowaine to accompany him to Lord Fallowhay's residence. Arrian accompanies Rowaine. They are taken to an affluent house at the very front of the ship. A doorman greets the pair. Rowaine leaves her weapons at the door and hands over the sword, explaining that it is a gift. The doorman carries it out of the room, returning moments later in the company of a butler, who pointedly glances at Arrian's weapons but does not voice his disdain. He guides the pair to a conservatory that overlooks the ship's bow, pours each a glass of water, then excuses himself. Ten minutes later he returns, bearing the sword. He places it on the table and leaves.

The door opens and in walks an elderly, gentlemanly elf. Both Arrian and Rowaine discreetly notice gills above his stiffly pressed white collar.

"Greetings," he says.

"Greetings," Arrian replies. "It is a pleasure to meet you."

"Rowaine Kharag, sir. My companion, Arrian."

"Gershwin. A good friend of mine says that you are interested in the history of the ships and has asked me for a favour?"

"We certainly are," Arrian says. "Anything that you could tell us would be most appreciated."

"What do you want to know?"

"Has Crane told you the circumstances of our being here?" Rowaine asks.

"I do not know this 'Crane' that you speak of."

"Oh. My apologies. A priest of the temple of Moradin." Gershwin signals and his butler enters. Gershwin orders drinks.

Rowaine continues. "My acquaintance mentioned that you knew much of not only the history of this place, but also the mechanics of it how it works - the magic involved."

"Well, it's wood, so it floats, obviously. Wood floats doesn't it, where you come from?"

"I understand that there may be more to it than that, that the whole structure itself radiates quite considerable magic which seems to be centred around a ship in the middle of the marketplace."

"Common legend," Gershwin splutters. "I wouldn't… It doesn't really mean anything, just stupid housewives' tales about how the ship is supposed to hold everything together. I mean, can you imagine the power it would take to hold up something as large as this?"

"I can," Arrian says, "and it would be rather stunning."

"Right. So obviously that can't be true."

Arrian scratches his chin. "If it were true, I wonder how it would work…"

"Oh, well obviously, it can't be. It can't be so, it doesn't make sense does it? I mean, what sort of magic could… I don't know, maybe you could have lighter-than-air magic, maybe some sort of fly spell cast on all the pieces of wood, that would do it, but it doesn't make sense because wood floats all by itself. This is a wooden platform. It is floating."

"A collection of wood this large would not hold together or float," Arrian says in tones approaching steel. "Sir, I think you insult our intelligence if you would continue with this line of thought." Rowaine coughs. Arrian does not take the hint.

"I would understand if you choose not to share the knowledge that you have. Obviously, you are a learned man. I was raised to respect someone of your obvious experience. If you choose to keep your knowledge to yourself, we would understand, but please don't tell us that it just floats."

"What would you have me say? That there is a giant turtle underneath it, keeping it up? Very well, there is a giant turtle underneath it, keeping it up."

"I would have you say what you know about it. You are at liberty to keep that to yourself. Either way, that is your choice."

"Might you wish to know the reasons why we are asking?" Rowaine says.

"I don't see it has any bearing on the subject, since wood just floats, as your friend here obviously does not believe… Enough wood held together will float. A large boat could easily carry a thousand men, and it is just made of wood. But if you don't believe that…"

"A ship this large," Arrian says, "that has been in salt water for a thousand years, let me assure you, does not float."

Arrain's knowledge in shipwright obviously comes from years of seaborne experience

"Maybe the magic that you speak of just protects the wood. Once again, it just floats."

"Indeed," Arrian says. "And so we start to get on to how it functions."

"Functions? It is wood, man. It floats. What are you not understanding?"

"If that's the choice that you would like to make about what you will tell us…"

"So that whole 'respect your elder' thing was just lip service for you to insult me by calling me a liar?"

"Arrian," Rowaine says, "would you excuse us?"

"Certainly." Arrian leaves and waits outside.

"Lord, Fallowhay, I…"

"Call me Gershwin, that's fine. I understand that you are a paladin, of a dwarven clan?"

"Indeed."

"Your height surprises me."

"It surprises many."

"I have respect for our shorter bretheren in certain matters, hence your audience. But your friend, I have no respect for."

"Please, for any offence he may have caused please accept my apology. My friend is very forthright and sometimes it is at the expense of manners. My apologies."

"Hmmmmph."

"The heart of the matter, sir, is that we have heard stories about how old this particular vessel is, and that it may have a source of energy which would help us greatly. Our circumstance is that we have a friend magically entrapped. A sage has told us that this place may hold the key to his release. He himself is a cleric of Moradin in good standing, who made a great sacrifice to bring me back to life as it happens. I wish that he hadn't, but even more than that, I wish that he would return to us. I have come here to seek help in firstly finding out whether our advice is true, or whether I am wasting mine and other peoples' time here; and secondly if I can ask for help in accessing this - if it is indeed available. I wish to speak to those responsible, for the sake of my friend."

"Interesting tale. I sense no dishonesty in you. If your information were true, that in fact there is some sort of magic that keeps the city afloat, I would expect that if you wanted to tap into that magic you might be removing some of it, making the city less stable."

"I hoped that maybe it would be like some sort of fire. To keep a fire going, you add fuel, and that maybe it was the fuel that I required to free my friend, rather than actually extinguishing part of the fire."

"I would imagine that kind of magic would be old, and everburning, and immense, to be able to hold up something like this."

"I cannot begin to imagine the scale. I have never seen a vessel of this size. It is quite outstanding."

"I would not be surprised if something this size needed more than one power source to keep it afloat, assuming that you are right, and that these sources would have to be strategically and geographically placed, and that if any of them were depleted or removed then entire sections might fall to the ways."

Rowaine's hopes visibly plummet. Gershwin continues.

"Legend has it that originally there were a number of floating cities. There wasn't just the one."

"We know them by the name of the Ships of Song."

"Hmmmmmm… That's an interesting name. Where did you hear upon that?"

"We have relations with a kingdom of elves from where we come from. They had dealings with the Ships of Song many thousands of years ago, particularly this one, a place known as Aquilla."

"Hmmmmmm. Interesting."

"The family name was 'Roielle.'"

"Hmmmm…" The elf looks incredibly surprised and taken aback at the mention of the name, and attempts to hide it.

"Interesting. That name rings a minor bell. Um. Would you like some tea?"

"I'd very much enjoy tea, sir."

The butler enters with a steaming pot and a pair of teacups. Gershwin's cup shakes as he sips.

"It's very good," Rowaine says after tasting her beverage. "It must be imported, I imagine."

"All tea is imported," Gershwin says. "You can't really grow a lot here."

"I imagine the mechanics of living on the sea for extended periods of time are rather interesting."

"It is for most. My family finds it hospitable. We like the water." The conversation turns to small talk for a short time; Rowaine senses that Gershwin is regaining composure before continuing.

"So, this elven kingdom you come from. Is it far from here?"

"I've been thwarted at trying to find out," Rowaine answers. "Nobody here seems to know of it. The best I've managed is that my dwarven priest friend has heard of some of the clans in the area, but none of my homeland's geography seems to be known here. I believe it is probably a very long way away."

"Hmmmm… So you did not get here by boat, then… How did you get here?"

"Ah, by magical means."

"Interesting. Hmmm. It is not normally lawful to land on Aquilla without going through the harbours and registering."

"The means by which we came has not been used for many thousands of years. Possibly the regulations have changed in that time." Gershwin chokes on his tea at the words. Rowaine pretends not to notice.

"Does the word 'Trina' mean anything to you, sir?"

"Hmmmm. Would you like more tea?"

Gershwin is obviously shocked. His face loses colour, he seems to struggle for breath and his hands are shaking. He puts his cup down noisily. Rowaine cannot easily ignore the display.

"Sir, is there anything I can do?"

"Sorry, the tea went down the wrong way."

"Of course."

"Hmmmm. Trina. Interesting word. I have heard of it before. You are saying that's how you got here?"

"Yes, I am. Not to change the subject, sir, but the sword before you was made by a friend of mine by the name 'Roulae.'" Gershwin's discomfort does not abate.

"I don't know your areas of interest sir," Rowaine continues, "but it contains a rare material called imithrium which is especially keen. Its properties resemble adamantine, but it is uniquely effective against a species of construct called arachtria and matre." Gershwin is nearly reeling at this point.

"Well, you have been very forthcoming. Your mode of transport is somewhat interesting. My family is quite old, and knows much of the history of this place. I suspect that you might already know some of the history… Are you a Roielle yourself?"

"No."

"Then whoever helped you in your transportation would know some of this as well. Interesting… So there is a Roielle on board."

"Yes, there is," Rowaine confirms.

"I think they shall find it different than when they last visited."

"I dare say that your people might find the Roielles quite different as well."

"I would not be surprised. Well, you have laid your cards out on the table. I will tell you that I know of the Ships of Song. My family claims the original captain of one of the ships. You knew that there were seven?"

"Yes."

"And you know what the head one was called?"

"No, I do not. I only know the name 'Aquilla.'"

"Thousands of years ago, the seven Ships of Song sailed the seas, protecting them from evil. Legend tells that the One Tree was used as a conduit between the head of the high elves and the head of the aquatic elves, my people. Communication broke down between our kingdom and theirs, after which the ships continued to wander the oceans and slowly they have been broken down. What you see before you is in fact all seven ships, which have been joined together to make this city. The ships were not as small as you might think. A number of the buildings and a number of the below-air areas are not original; they will rot with time, but the planking that creates the platform itself will not rot. It is magically protected."

"The ships were dismantled to make this structure?"

"Yes. Over time, from what I understand, my ancestors decided that seven ships, while good at the time, were unsustainable. Repairs necessitated the cannibalization of the ships. Well, less cannibalization and more merging, since the resultant vessel tended to grow larger. Aquilla, one of the original seven, was the first to undergo repair and its name has survived. The last ship was broken down and made part of Aquilla some four to five thousand years ago. The whole structure was finally redesigned into what you see now, the original Aquilla at its heart. The ship that you saw at the centre of the market isn't actually the original ship. It is just something for people to hold on to. The original ship would have been ten times that size."

"Wow." Rowaine tries to take this all in. Gershwin continues.

"Although there is talk about people adding onto the ship, I think you'll find that pretty much all requests are declined. Because you can't add on. There aren't any more ships. What actually holds this place together is seven power sources, not one.

"If what you seek is one of the power sources, then you cannot have it. You cannot actually gain access; they are very well protected magically, guarded by a number of wards that none of us know how to get past any more. That knowledge has been lost."

"I do not seek to gain this by foul means, sir," Rowaine says. "That is not my intention."

"However. A priest of your following has been captured, and you wish to free him. There may be some alternatives which I would be willing to discuss with you, once I have had time to open a few books. I can say that my family would be interested in meeting any Roielles that wish to meet us."

"I will see if I can arrange it."

"Come back in a couple of days."

"I shall. I thank you for your time, Gershwin, and for your understanding. You have buoyed my heart. It is good to have met you."

Rowaine and Arrian are shown out.

"Sorry about that," Arrian says to Rowaine as they walk away from the residence.

"No matter," Rowaine says. She recounts her private conversation with Gershwin.

"You told him that much?" Arrian says when Rowaine is through.

"Yes, I did."

"I think we'd better make sure that we are not followed." He keeps his eyes open as they walk back to their accommodation.

"I may have taken a risk, but a calculated one. This gentleman is an aquatic elf. The Ships of Song were supposed to have been originally built and inhabited by aquatic elves. He mentioned that the relationship between both elven races was solid. I believe it was a gamble worth taking."

"Well, let's see how the dice will roll."

Arrian sees no pursuit on their return to the Roasted Goat.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

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