It Started in Saltmarsh: Chapter Three
By Kirt Wackford
A Dungeons & Dragons campaign adaptation edited by Thomas Kelly and Greyhawkstories
4 Goodmonth, 570
Standing among their gear on the docks of Saltmarsh as they watched their former ship set sail, Tyrius, Larry, and Thokk contemplated their options. Or, rather, Tyrius contemplated while Larry and Thokk returned the open stares of the passers-by. The dockworkers seemed rough-and-tumble men, and if they were taken aback by the newcomers in town, they did not let on. The inner harbor, however, was lined with a dirt road that ran all along the shore. Judging by the number of commonfolk stopping and gawking, the town did not see much in the way of huge half-orcs, grubby dwarves, or noble paladins. Tyrius could not have guessed which of them made the bigger spectacle. Keoish manners seemed to prevail, however, and the bystanders did nothing more provocative then staring and whispering to one another, occasionally cuffing the bolder children who would have spoken to the strangers had they been permitted.
With the decision-making left to Tyrius, it seemed meet that they should first thank the gods for their safe arrival. Enough of the commoners sported the dusky hue of the Flan that Tyrius dared ask about a temple to Pelor, but the look he received spoke louder than the answer itself. Overhearing the exchanges, an old man who sat mending nets nearby remarked that anyone who had any sense would thank Osprem for a safe arrival after a voyage at sea. He motioned a hand toward the back of the harbor, where what was obviously a temple stood overlooking the water.
The temple was of limestone without, decorated here and there with bits of coral. Inside were simple wooden benches without backs for pews, and a stone altar in front of what looked like a marble-lined wading pool that smelled of saltwater. No clergy were present, not even novices, so Tyrius offered what he hoped was an appropriate prayer. He looked up just in time to stop Thokk from entering the pool. The half-orc argued that they should collect the coins and pearls from the pool and use them for drinking money; Tyrius tried to explain to him several times that the valuables there were offerings, not for taking. He only succeeded in convincing the barbarian not to take anything when he suggested that the treasures belonged to a sea goddess who would be angry when she found them missing, a line of argument Thokk found reasonable.
By the time they emerged from the temple, a gaggle of town watchmen waited for them, word of their arrival having apparently spread to the authorities. They were escorted to the Customs House, which seemed to Tyrius’ surprise to be a center for civil governance in the town. A junior customs officer questioned Tyrius at length, establishing that they were not merchants, had nothing of value that they needed to declare (or pay taxes on), and were not mercenaries. Having determined that they were not there on business, the functionary made it plain to them that Saltmarsh had laws against vagrancy—they would need to establish a residence by sundown, and gainful employment within a week. Tyrius replied that he doubted they would be staying that long, and the officer helpfully gave him the names of the three inns in town, as well as that of a tavern that had a common room. Finally, the officer clarified that as Larry and Thokk were neither humans nor crown subjects, they were legally considered to be Tyrius’ chattel—meaning that he would be responsible for all their actions within the town, and any consequences thereof. Furthermore, the man said that while there was no law against freemen carrying weapons, he had already received several complaints about Thokk and his axes. He advised Tyrius to make sure that the half-orc never drew or brandished his weapons, or they would all face charges of disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace, at the very least. Tyrius agreed to these terms, but he thought to himself, I can see that this is not going to be a leisurely sail through the Hool Marshes.
With so many ways to run afoul of the local law, after they left the customs house Tyrius decided the best thing to do would be to find a room at an inn and placate Thokk with food and drink while he thought about their next move. The Inn of the Merry Mermaid was close at hand, the owner Madam Ruth friendly even after seeing Thokk, the room adequate, the common bed cramped for the three of them but acceptable. Tyrius washed before preparing for supper (his companions saw no reason to do so) and then counted the coins remaining in his purse. Not enough for a week’s food and lodging, to be sure.
As the trio of misfits prepared to take their board at The Merry Mermaid, a ship called The Merchild took harbor and three passengers disembarked: an attractive young woman with fey features, a brooding and hooded elven warrior, and a halfling minstrel with lute in hand. The streets were by then deserted; apparently the good folk of Saltmarsh had gone to their homes to take their evening meals. Only stray dogs and cats prowled the docks, sniffing out the offal from the day’s gutted fish. In the town, lights filled the windows, one by one, as candles and lanterns were lit. Sea air mixed with the smoky scents from dozens of hearths and cooking fires. At the end of the dock a single human figure, a man dressed in brown robes, stood, as if awaiting them.
“Welcome to Saltmarsh,” the man said warmly. “I am Flern, priest of Fharlanghn.”
“A priest, excellent!” Aurora responded enthusiastically. She launched a barrage of questions, “Do you have a temple in town? Can we stay there? Can we use it as a base of operations? Can you sell us healing potions …”
The priest held up his hand as if to ward off the inquiries and laughed good-naturedly, more amused at the pretty maid’s impertinence than offended. “No, no,” he said, “I have no kirk in town, neither temple nor chapel nor shrine, and nothing to sell you. My order exists to help travelers.”
Barnabus suspiciously eyed the simple wooden bowl the man carried on his hip. “It looks like your order exists to beg.”
The man smiled again, though this time the smile looked a little more forced. “I am a mendicant priest, yes, as there is not a local endowment for my order. Nevertheless, I help travelers such as yourselves. What do you wish to know about Saltmarsh? Where do you wish to go?”
“Know?” pondered Aurora. She quickly remembered her instructions and considered how best to locate the sellsword adventurers she would need. “What great deeds need to be done? What wrongs need to be righted? Who is in danger here that we can …”
The man laughed again. “At sundown in sleepy Saltmarsh? The only ones in danger here are you, in danger of being arrested for vagrancy if you do not find a place to stay for the night. Let me right that wrong and I will take you to an inn.”
Flern led the trio along the shore of the inner harbor. He did not have to work hard to avoid Aurora’s questions, since she kept asking another before he could answer the first. They turned right at a crossroads and came to a solid, two-story building with a hanging sign depicting a mermaid. “The Merry Mermaid,” said Flern. “Best inn in Saltmarsh.”
“I like the sound of that,” Aurora said cheerfully. “From out of the The Merchild and into The Merry Mermaid! It must be providential; don’t you think Father Flern?”
Inside they found a cramped common room, most of the first floor space apparently occupied by the kitchen, and a steep stairway to the guest rooms above. At a rough wooden table, a strange trio sat supping; a golden-haired man whose fine robes bespoke noble birth, a dirty dwarf in course traveling clothes, and a huge half-orc who might have been naked, for he was bare from head to table (below the table he was unseen). As Babshapka entered the room, the half-orc stood and his hand went at once to a huge axe strapped to his bare back. Now that he was standing, they could see that he was indeed clothed – but in a dirty loincloth that covered little more than his privates. The nobleman spoke to him and laid a hand on the brute’s shoulder. The half-orc released his hold on the axe, sat, and resumed his meal.
A door to the kitchen burst open, and a matron entered with a platter and three mugs of ale. She smiled broadly at the trio of potential customers and nodded at Flern.
Barnabus looked at those at the table, then at the ample-figured, middle-aged hostess. “Yes, well, I’m for the tavern,” he said, and turned for the door, pushing past Flern. He paused, turned back, and stared at Aurora. “You really should come with and hear my full repertoire,” he said suggestively as he left, “It is much more refined than anything I play on ship.”
Aurora spoke with the matron, a woman named Ruth, and arranged the let of a room with a single bed for herself and a separate chair for Babshapka. She ordered dinner for herself and the wood elf, thanked Flern, and sat down at the table with the other guests. The odd trio looked as much as anything like candidates for an adventuring group. When Aurora learned of their quest to enter the Dreadwood, she remarked, “I myself have no interest in Dreadwood, but I might be persuaded to join your expedition if it promised some incentive.” Babshapka shook his head wearily.
“We are short of coin and in need of supplies,” Tyrius complained.
“Perhaps we can scare up some adventure,” Aurora suggested. “Like treasure hunters who fight monsters in some dank dungeon and steal away with a horde of gold, or like heroes who save the town from some terrible danger and receive a goodly reward.”
The unkempt dwarf nodded, “I like the sound of that.”
Tyrius agreed, “A heroic quest!”
Thokk ground the bones of the fish he was eating between his teeth, and Babshapka silently shook his head again.
In the meantime, Barnabus had no trouble finding the tavern. The noise of a boisterous crowd was easy enough to follow through the quiet streets of the town. The tavernkeep looked dubiously at the halfling when he offered to sing in return for supper, drinks, and tips. “I’m Barnabus the minstrel,” he said reassuringly, “known in every port of the Azure Sea, and this is my standard deal.”
“Well, I don’ ken ye,” responded the tavernkeep sourly, and he might have turned him out if not, by a stroke of luck, some of the crewmen from The Merchild arrived and, recognizing him, enthusiastically greeted him by name and asked for a song. The locals soon joined the seamen in calling for the halfling to sing, and the tavernkeep relented. By evening’s end, as the last drunken sailor staggered from the tavern, supported by an equally-drunk shipmate, Barnabus was working on a plate of cold mutton. The singing was a success, of course, for such a small town rarely heard an entertainer of his quality, and he had a pouchful of copper sparrows—more than he came in with. But the vexing half-elf woman never came, though he kept watching for her through the evening. Damned if I am going back to the “Merry Mermaid” without an invitation from her, and fie on her! Besides, he saw the knowing look exchanged between the “priest” Flern and Matron Ruth when he arrived. Obviously the “priest” was hustling customers for the woman. Finest inn in Saltmarsh, my hairy halfling-hind! He had seen some highlands as they passed at the harbor entrance with merchant warehouses and fine craftsmen’s shops. I would wager more than this bag of coppers that there is a better inn there. He bade goodnight to the tavernkeep and gave a salacious look at his daughter, a serving wench. Why did I waste the night waiting for Aurora, when I could have been working my charms on her? He stepped out into the cool night air. His head felt heavy with ale, but he managed to find an inn called The Full Moon. He had to knock hard to rouse the innkeep, but his bag of coppers earned him a private room with a bath. Better than anything those fools at The Mermaid will have tonight.
Used with permission. Adapted for Greyhawkstories.com from the original article posted to Canonfire!2/23/2018;
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