Your goddess, your words

The wynser deck was the standard within the coalition lands. It consisted of one hundred and twenty-five cards, each a unique combination of one out of five symbols, one out of five colors, and one out of five quantities. It was a simple deck, but one that allowed for complex games of probability and chance.

Red, Blue, Yellow, Dark or Light. Snake, Knife, Chalice, Coin or Horn. One, Two, Three, Four or Five. It was simple, so simple that once you got used to it you began to think of them as the only cards that existed. Perhaps because other card games rarely made it to the west side of the continent. Lyon in his good time had come up with a collection of other decks, consisting of exactly three different units. All of which he had known.

Perhaps that was why Lyon was surprised to see the strange deck held by that uroaiser in the grips of its secondary arms. It was shiny and unlike any he had ever known, and the fellow was shuffling it through the air without using the hands of his primary arms, but gracefully despite that and despite the fact that common sense dictated that he should trip over one out of his three pairs of insectile legs.

Lyon had never seen an uroaiser in person. And apparently Rhandligh had only done so on rare occasions. But in that caravan there were about a dozen, accompanied by an even stranger elleserech with two small horns, who seemed like their caravan leader. They claimed to be merchants, but they were heading for The Loathed and were armed to the teeth. Or rather up to those crustacean-like jaws, in the case of the uroaiser.

When Lyon approached the one with the cards, who was entertaining the rest with some simple tricks while the others finished taking down the tents and making camp for the night, he returned a glance with his huge all-black eyes, with just a speck that glowed white from reflecting the light, and spoke a few words to him in a very good Illiserian, but loaded with a clapping sound from underneath.

– Well, well. The emblem of the lion of fire isn’t seen much around here these days. – mumbled the creature, as he tucked the deck of cards into a pocket on the side of a fluffy poncho that covered that strange bulbous extension of his torso that extended behind where his waist should be.

– On behalf of House DeFyr I offer my sincerest apologies if our absence in this region has caused you any inconvenience. We have had some internal problems of late. Nothing personal with your people.

– That’s good, that’s good. – the uroaiser clapped his hands, at a faster speed than before. – My person is… – made a set of rhythmic clacking and clapping sounds, which seemed to be equivalent to his name, in his language. – … but weirdies like you can call me Ih’trr.

– Ihtrr – Lyon tried to imitate. Ignoring the fact that he had been called “weirdie”.

– Ih’trr – corrected Ih’trr. – with a very small space between the syllables, as if you were separating words, but less.

– Ih’trr – pronounced Rhandligh, earning a nod from the uroaiser. – We are on our way to The Loathed on house business. My master and I are seeking protection and cooperation. We understand that you will also be heading in that direction.

The uroaiser mumbled a few short clucks in his language before replying. – I’ll have to take that up with Little Horn. Give me a few minutes.

“Little Horn” sent for Lyon and Rhand shortly after Ih’trr told him about them. He wore formal wynser clothes awkwardly matched with some ynser garments and an uroaiser poncho over the top, evidently custom made for him. The other ponchos were not made for just one pair of arms.

– A pair of servants of House DeFyr. – He accused after seeing them arrive, in a deep voice that had a certain bitter melodic lilt to it. – They’re a long way from home, eh? What news do they bring me? Are they escaping their master? Has the once famous House of the Lion of Fire fallen so low it lets its vassals wander as they please? My person is earnestly intrigued.

– An answer for an answer. – Lyon proposed in a haughty tone. – In honor of the customs of the merchants of these lands.

– Sounds fair enough. Then I will ask exactly what you are doing here.

Lyon realized that this had not been phrased as a real question, so he held his tongue. It was one of the oldest tricks in the book. Lyon himself had used it on occasion.

He stared at him without saying a word. It looked like the guy wouldn’t budge, but he finally did.

– What exactly are they doing here?

Now that was a question, so Lyon was obliged by force of the custom he had invoked to answer as much as he could, though nothing confidential. Of course, he could lie, but if he was found out, that would annihilate any chance of getting out of there on good terms, which was what he was interested in.

– We’re heading for The Loathed. – He replied without further frills before replying. – And what do you do in this region?

– I lead this caravan. Also to The Loathed. I continue.

– Continue.

– What are your full names?

>>Sands! That is a dangerous question, but if I tried to turn it down, he would almost certainly know it anyway.<< Lyon thought.

– We are Lyon DeFyr, wynser, and Rhandligh, ynser. How about you, what is your name?

– My name means Bloodthirster in a tongue you would not understand. But here among traders I answer to the alias of Nellvan Reveil. I continue.

A mysterious name. An alias that consisted of a moderately common oorgonser first name and a clearly elleserech surname. Lyon could take it for granted that his words were true. Still, that answer was strange.

– Go on. – Lyon said instinctively while still chewing on that answer.

– I have almost no need for more information. You’re the talk of the town around here, DeFyr. The second heir to your house, a gambler and a drunkard, who never stops sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. Now he’s sticking his nose into The Loathed . There’s talk of an Expedition Right. What is it, exactly? That’s the part I’m missing.

He was good. Lyon couldn’t dodge such a direct question without lying, and the lies he could come up with were too obvious. He could close the deal outright by refusing to answer, but that would prevent him from asking his question, one he needed to ask.

– It’s an old custom that has fallen into disuse. According to it, a wynser whose house incurs too many debts and becomes insolvent can still save it if he goes to The Loathed and, within a month of his departure, returns with a relic of the goddess. If he succeeds, all other wynser and ahwynser houses are obligated by custom to forgive his debts without regard. Now, with what intention do you go to The Loathed?

– My followers are merchants. For having shown independence they’re forbidden to return to their colonies, but the others do not deny them a visit or the right to trade. Now we’re going to one that is a few days’ journey into the desert.

– I thought no one was going to The Loathed of their own free will. – Rhandligh interrupted. That did not break the treatise.

– As the case of young master Lyon here shows – Nellvan pointed out, – almost no one goes to The Loathed if they have a choice. But there are always people bold, desperate or stupid enough to try. Anyway. I for once don’t care what my colleagues trade. I’m here on a mission. I can’t give too many details, but basically I have to deliver a dangerous package. The recipient is someone who needs the package as much as the package needs the recipient. But the recipient doesn’t know he’s getting the package yet, and he won’t find out until some time after he gets it. I continue.

– Sounds complicated. – ventured Rhandligh.

– Don’t go on. I’m in. As long as I get to keep the first relic I find. You don’t let us die, and in return I’ll help you with this mission until it’s time for me to return to the Coalition city-states.

– Are you offering me a deal? – Nellvan asked, already out of the exchange.

– I am. – Lyon replied, offering his hand.

Nellvan shook it.

– The deal is accepted under seal, two wills come to an agreement. – Lyon said, quoting the first part of a well-known trade oath.

– May your Goddess and your Words judge you, according to your respect for your treaties. – Nellvan continued, making an uncommon change to the second part of the oath. It was not enough to invalidate that, there were several merchants who rejected the Dead Goddess as their own. So the variant, though rare, was known.

The Goddess well knew that Lyon himself dared to use it in the past.

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