Chapter One: Brief Introductions (cont’d)

Belgeon Urthadar absently rubbed at the scar on his forearm as Shann Tharden outlined the impending mission to the Village Stethlan, an outpost farming village on the Hazur River, near the northern edge of the Hazur Mountains that lay southwest of Tashluta. The village’s prosperous brewery, famous throughout the region for its potent Stethlan Stout, had recently been targeted by the Rundeen Consortium, a powerful organization of Tashlutan merchants that controlled much of the trade, legal and illegal, throughout the Tashalar and most of the Chultan peninsula.

The Rundeen, Shann explained, operated on two levels. On the surface was a legitimate concern that monitored trade, mediated disputes and provided security on the docks and along the various trade routes, land and sea, in and out of Tashluta. The Consortium’s directors were comprised of representatives from the major merchant families in Tashluta, effectively mirroring the majority of the membership of the Merchant’s Council that governed the city. While these positions were permanent, a single slot was given to a selected representative of the numerous smaller merchant families, typically one more interested in currying individual favors than in fairly representing their fellow merchants, which rotated annually amongst the various lesser industries.

Beneath the surface, however, lie the true power of the Consortium, a shadowy network of despots, rogues and pirates that controlled everything from inventories and distribution to prices and profits through extortion, vandalism and assassination.

Both levels claimed fealty to Waukeen.

Shann’s voice rose a bit at this, speaking with the fervor of the recently converted, her passion for the Reform Church’s mission of fair trade and prosperity for all an infectious thing.

Assassination, Belgeon remembered, was exactly how he’d unexpectedly found himself the leader of the Church two years prior, barely a year after his own conversion. His mentor, Davgretor Swordhand, had established the reform sect seven years ago, shortly after the end of the Interdeium of Waukeen when she had inexplicably disappeared for more than ten years, a result of the traumatic Time of Troubles that saw the gods banished to the mortal world and Waukeen secretly imprisoned by the demon lord Graz’zt. Formerly a prominent and trusted advisor to the Urthadar family, his decision had opened Belgeon’s eyes wide to the realities of life in Tashluta, the hypocrisy of his own family and what responsibilities and self-interest they had in preserving the status quo.

Swordhand was a passionate convert whose previous notoriety and position found him with many following his lead to the new church, casting him as the unlikely leader of a growing revolution of thought that threatened the very foundation of the city. Trade was to Tashluta what air was to breathing and for someone to challenge a system that had enriched its most powerful families, not to mention its rulers, was tantamount to a death wish. Undaunted, he proceeded, even locating the Church in the most unexpected of places – a non-descript warehouse on the very docks that the Rundeen controlled.

The first couple of years were uneventful as, in a city of over 50,000 people, Swordhand’s vocal but relatively small band of followers were seen as little more than a nuisance, no different from the various cults that roamed the docks and the market district passing out colorful flowers and a message of peace. The Rundeen underestimated how Swordhand’s message of trade benefiting all would resonate with the disenfranchised merchants and general citizenry alike, and by the time they turned their attention to him, it had grown exponentially, uniting scores of small merchants under the banner of the ambitiously named Chultan Trade Cooperative.

Like the Rundeen, the Cooperative operated on two levels – as a unified representative that enabled its small merchant families to better compete with the larger Rundeen-backed families, while also providing protection for those families, their caravans and inventories. The primary difference was that membership was open to all and the wealth generated was spread fairly amongst them thanks to the generous twenty percent tithing that was a requirement of membership. In only three years, the Church had filled its coffers beyond expectations and the Cooperative had managed to carve itself a sizable niche in the Tashlutan marketplace while beginning to expand its reach into the surrounding countryside, bringing several farms, granaries, vineyards and breweries into the fold. As a result, a new class of merchants had risen from the slums and began to demand better representation on the ruling council.

This unexpected turn of events took both the Merchant’s Council and the Rundeen by surprise and their first reaction was their usual one – intimidation; by all available means, legal and otherwise.

While a generally peaceful man, Davgretor Swordhand was also a veteran of several wars with the Yuan-ti empire that ruled deep in the Black Jungles and could wield a weapon as ably as any Rundeen sellsword. Descended from a long line of swordsmiths, his grandfather, Durgan Swordhand, had been the head of the Tashlutan militia before retiring to the clergy in the Rundeen-interpreted service of Waukeen. Davgretor had resisted the same call into his late thirties, preferring blood on steel to thoughts of enlightenment, before turning in his sword for a set of cleric’s robes, forsaking weaponry in favor of the gospel to his last breath.

Thirty years later, his controversial decision to reform the Church took many by surprise, not the least of whom was his lifelong student Belgeon Urthadar, the promiscuous scion of the Urthadar family who held total control of the immensely profitable spice trade Tashalar was famous for – Urthadar Spice was highly coveted not only in the lands around the Shining Sea but as far north as Icewind Dale, and east into Luiren.

Predictably, Swordhand was more a father to Belgeon than his own, and his decision to turn away from all that he understood to be true left him confused and conflicted. After years of loyal service, Swordhand quickly went from loved to loathed by the Urthadars, as well as the other prominent families of the city that generally followed their lead.

He never let that sway him from his chosen path, however, continuing to preach Waukeen’s basic belief that the more coin everyone had, the greater the urge to spend than hoard – making everyone the richer. Despite the inherent dangers of his mission, he refused to arm himself against his enemies, not even carrying the nunchaku favored by most other Waukeenar.

Eventually, the Rundeen began to take action, from raiding Cooperative warehouses and caravans, to the overt execution of less-prominent members of the Church. One such murder had caught Belgeon’s attention – that of a young bard he’d taken a fancy to who had begun to make a name for herself with praise songs to Waukeen brashly sung on the Tashlutan docks. Her murder on those same docks, during a Cooperative protest at the offices of Urthadar Spice, happened in broad daylight, unprovoked, and came at the hands of a loyal Urthadar guardsman against whom no charges were ever pressed.

Demanding an explanation from his father, Theodor Urthadar, Belgeon was summarily dismissed with a stinging rebuke: “It is bad enough that I have been cursed with an unworthy heir such as you, do not make it worse by siding with the ill-conceived ramblings of those that follow your disloyal friend. It was he that turned his back on your family and that girl’s blood is on his hands, not mine. You would do well to remember that.”

Within a tenday, Belgeon found himself standing at the end of the docks, looking out across Turtle Harbor towards the shining Tower that dominated the peninsula’s skyline, a simple canvas sack of basic possessions and a few sentimental items slung across his shoulder. His clothes were not the usual colorful vestments that marked him as nobility of the highest order, but a simple leather tunic, leggings and boots he’d purchased from a Cooperative clothier in the market district. Clutched in his hand was a gold coin bearing the profile of Waukeen and in his heart was a feeling he’d never felt before but would become quite familiar with in the coming years: steely determination.

It was the same spot where, one year later, he would hold a dying Davgretor Swordhand in his arms, a poisoned dagger sticking from his back, the assassin having melted into the crowd of protestors and militia, all of whom looked upon the two in shocked disbelief.

It was clear to everyone what had happened and two years later, Shann Tharden, standing in a small warehouse less than a hundred yards from that same spot before a quartet of Waukeen’s newest converts, sweat beading on her delicate brow and a fire burning in her heart, concluded her tale thusly: “War had been declared.”

+++++

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.