13th Voyage

23 - The Three Wives and the Statue

The tale of how wine became a necromancer's undoing.

While the three women were partaking of Igwu’s hospitality, Abd and Attsu sought out the isolated campsite they had spotted, where they discovered peril. The men there immediately drew blades, and one called out Abd’s name before they attempted to kill the two. The strangers were skilled with their blades, but the paladin and the ancient clockwork warrior slew two and routed a third. Attsu shifted into his cat form and pursued the fleeing scout over the crags, while Abd searched the campsite. Abd quickly deduced that the camp held supplies for a larger number. Among the bags, he noticed signs of the merchant Ubarid from the oasis, and an enchanted candle of cascading flame — with the marks on it suggesting manufacture in Izir.

Before Attsu returned, Abd looked back into the river valley and saw a large figure marching toward the waterfall. The individual seemed to be seven feet tall, cloaked and veiled against the desert wind. Abd remembered riding past a similar figure in the desert, when taking the wind-steeds to the oasis. He moved down the mountainside to follow, as the large individual marched up the conjured stairs to the parted waterfall.

Abd followed the strange wanderer up into the manse of Igwu. Though clearly built like a man, the figure’s footfalls crunched against the floors like stone on stone. The otter servants tried to catch the attention of the large visitor, but were utterly ignored as it marched through the halls as if knowing its destination. Then they turned to Abd, and guided him to his companions.

Abd exchanges his story with the women, who in turn tell him everything they’ve discovered, from the hospitality of Igwu to the treachery of Ubarid. Aya explains the nature of his sorcery, and Abd recognizes her description of the glyph-adorned urns at his belt. He tells them that he recalls the words to stopper and unstopper such vessels, knowledge hard-won against a prior battle with a necromancer. But Aya reminds the others that even if they free Ubarid’s wives, he will still be able to control them unless they find his focus item.

A small voice from below speaks up, saying “His wedding rings still have binding force.” Aya glances down to see the small white snake lying across a curved portion of the ivory molding, and nods. “His beard,” she says. “He wears rings in his beard.”

The group decide to pin down Bwuup and extract his assistance. Abd, Kismet, and Aya find him lazing in the kitchen with a hookah, and instruct him to attend them in the giants’ guest suite. The ogrish steward is taken aback by their forceful demand, but complies.

Once they have Bwuup back at the giants’ guest suite, the four launch a barrage of intimidation on the massive ogre. “Who do you serve?” “We know what you did.” “Was that not a betrayal of Igwu?” Before the steward can answer any one charge, another comes from a different direction.

“No, no!” protests the frog-headed ogre at last. “The giants and my master were always safe. Ubarid’s business was with you.”

The venturers are not a whit fazed by this revelation. Bwuup helped violate the bond of salt, they point out. Igwu is not bound to protect his servant after that. And Ubarid has no reason to trust Bwuup, who clearly is not honorable.

“Also,” says Abd, “you must remember that I am not a guest here. I have eaten no salt and taken no drink.” His hand rests on his scimitar hilt. “I am not bound by the laws of hospitality to refrain from violence.”

“If… if all of this were true…” Bwuup croaks, “then what do you want of me?”

“Drug Ubarid. As you did your master and his guests.”

Bwuup’s throat sac flutters. “…Agreed.”

They let the steward free, and he cautiously vanishes down the corridor. The four wait quietly, unsure how long Bwuup might take, or even if it will work. Then one of the lamps in the suite flares up, its flame expanding into a ball of white fire two feet across. A face manifests in the pale fire, and regards them — a keen-eyed man with rings in his beard.

“Ah,” says the image of Ubarid. “Here you are. And I see you have rejoined them, Abd Al-Rashid.” Abd steps forward, and the fire-sending smirks. “My words are not for you, however.” Ubarid’s fingers appear briefly in a dismissive gesture, as he turns to face the three women.

“I felt it was only fair to warn you,” he says. “I am charged to deliver those who oppose me to my mistress Nehedza. My mistress’s attentions are unkind. This is true. You would no doubt be separated from your own bodies, though such a waste that would be, and given other flesh.” He smiles in an ingratiating manner. “But she has agreed to spare anyone who would become my wife, and I think you are clever enough to at least consider the offer.”

“And what do your current wives think about that?” asks Wind-of-Embers.

The image smiles thinly. “My previous wives have nothing to say on the subject. But no matter. I merely wished to make a civil offer, before the inevitable shrieking and violence begins.” Ubarid’s smile vanishes. “To move against one of the Uncrowned is dangerous. You know that— oh, thank you—” and the image turns for a moment, and lifts a cup to his lips, then resumes— “but I should—”

And then the image’s eyes slam shut, and it falls forward out of sight, and the white flame puffs and gutters away, leaving only the lamp’s flame again.

The four quickly set out for Ubarid’s guest quarters. They arrive in time to see Ubarid’s two bald servants carrying their unconscious master back from the library. The seven-foot figure stands motionless by the door to the suite, fists at its sides. The venturers slip quietly into the rooms nearby, where Kismet muses that there would likely be a secret passage between the guest rooms in such a palace, in order to facilitate liaisons. She examines the walls, contemplates where the most likely place would be, and then opens a secret door with a confident flourish. The desert elf slips into the hidden corridor with a confident smirk.

The door into Ubarid’s quarters does not open as easily, jostling a nearby chair. But Fate smiles on Kismet, for the two servants are absent — speaking with the otters in the hallway, requesting some remedy to wake their master — and only Ubarid lies snoring on a bed. She neatly snips away the lower third of his beard, rings and all, before she slips back through the secret door and rejoins her companions.

The four decide to wait, reasoning that it would be most fitting for the necromancer to be awake when his wives are freed. They watch as the liveried otters return to his suite bearing towels and ice water. Not long after, Ubarid’s voice echoes from his quarters, clearly aggravated. He emerges into the hall, still sputtering.

Then Abd steps into the hall as well, leveling a stony glare at the necromancer. Ubarid returns a more puzzled stare, then his eyes light up with recognition. “You!” he shouts. He gestures behind him for the seven-foot guard, and then points at Abd. “Crush him! Now!” The massive figure raises its fists, and as it steps forward, Abd notes that his suspicions were correct, and he faces a living statue.

“I have only one word for you,” intones Abd in return, holding the braids and rings aloft in one hand. As Ubarid focuses on them and reaches in surprise for his truncated beard, Abd speaks the command word, and the stoppers at the necromancer’s belt fly free. Ubarid fumbles after the falling corks, but three unholy voices keen through the corridors as three ghostly women come spiraling out from the small urns.

The living statue strides forward, heedless of its master’s shrieks as his wives fall upon him. Wind-of-Embers strengthens Abd with a blessing of fiery strength, and the two stand against the statue. It shrugs away their initial strikes, but when Aya strikes it with a bolt of terrible cold, Wind-of-Embers follows with a lance of flame. Another cold blast, and the statue’s torso begins to crack and split. Abd widens the flaw with an imposing strike. A final fire javelin splits away its arm and shoulder and part of its torso, and the statue falls in two inert pieces.

After rising from the corpse of Ubarid, inhaling the remnants of his dying breath, the wraiths fell upon his homunculi. The venturers turn their attention to the ghostly wives, seeing that both of the vat-grown servants lie dead, their flesh melting like wax under a noonday sun. Abd and Wind-of-Embers step forward, speaking words of propitiation from the rites of their faiths. Abd offers them their wedding rings as part of the appeasement. As each wraith accepts her ring, her features become less ghastly, and she resembles the woman she once. All three return quietly to their urns, and Abd quickly speaks the word to reseal the vessels.

The venturers go about the pragmatic business of looting Ubarid and his room. They find letters to his mistress Nehedza and another carefully sealed small wineskin. Some of his personal wealth was clearly in the form of jewels and rings, which they confiscate. Wind-of-Embers disposes of his body with flame, and a chastened Bwuup oversees the remainder of the cleanup.

They take their rest for the remainder of the day. That evening, they wake their Kholos-Sahar traveling companions, reassuring them that nothing untoward happened — it was merely strong drink, and nobody embarrassed themselves. They then proceed to Igwu’s chambers to wake their host. They allow Bwuup to explain what happened, and if the steward plays down his own self-serving actions, he makes amends by praising the venturers’ perspicacity and courage.

Igwu offers his formal apology over dinner, to both the venturers and the giants. He apologizes for the bad behavior of a guest he had admitted, and asks how he might make amends for the insult of failed hospitality. The venturers respond by asking Igwu to attend the gathering that they are organizing, at which the young giants in their care — who seem somewhat bashful as the topic is raised — will be circulating with the Kholos Sahar to see if any potential love-matches might arise.

Igwu strokes his mustache. “I prefer my seclusion,” he says carefully, “…but that seems a pleasant enough way to repay a debt of honor. I will attend.”

After the assembled party has returned to the pleasant business of eating and drinking, Igwu focuses on Wind-of-Embers for a moment. He asks if she was one of those who stood alongside the Sentinels of the Broken Wall. She affirms that such was her honor. The mist giant nods, and calls for Bwuup to bring him an article — a cloak of cloth woven from fog, which he presents to her as a sign of respect. The Hakasarrean priest accepts most humbly.

The venturers sleep lightly that night. In the morning, they speak with their host, who promises to attend the gathering at the ruins of Tegwali. He opens the waterfall door for them, and the venturers and the three giants with them depart.

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