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The Rise and Fall of Sedicolis

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The Rise and Fall of Sedicolis

By Lotharion

 

 

Founded on the lush green coastal plain of the northern sea, the town of Sedicolis remained a small agricultural society for many years.

Then one day, to allow for the swift movement of his legions, Emperor Scylla IV of Irilion ordered the construction of a road network, connecting the major cities in his realm. The Irilion Empire has long since crumbled, its cities ruined by the ages or the undead hordes that roamed the land during the late Era of Diamonds. All was lost, but the roads remain.

The elves closed the gates of their cities, the dwarves fled into their mountain strongholds, and humans were left to die. And many did, in ways saturated with unspeakable horror. Only when enough corpses had nurtured the hungry earth, the Age of Darkness passed at last and light returned to the realm.

The surviving towns were mostly rather small, and as such they managed to escape the initial attention of the hordes. Because of this, they provided the impetus to the ravished economy of that time, feeding the ruined cities with their excess agricultural produce.

Sedicolis was one such place; and being connected to one of the older Imperial Roads, it was invaluable for travellers and traders. Sedicolis started its rise to glory as a resting place for traders heading from the inland to the coastal ports. The town offered shelter and supplies to weary travellers.

 

Pilgrims had a particular fondness for Sedicolis, since it was the guardian town of the sacred Cave of Merciful Tears in which a shrine for Aluwen has been for as long as people can remember.

In fact, according to the foundation myth of the city, the area where the town is located now used to be a barren desert until one day after a group of settlers built their farmstead in the middle of the lifeless sands. The people from other towns considered them to be dangerously suicidal fools, with a misplaced trust in Aluwen.

Yet, even though the soil was barren and infertile with the salts of the desert, the few people starting planting crops in the lifeless ground, convinced that Aluwen would help them.

Every night they prayed to the Goddess, but their prayers could not save their cattle.

Not that much later the children became ill from the harsh desert climate, and one by one they shrivelled away before the eyes of their parents.

Still the settlers maintained their faith in Aluwen, and when finally the last settler buried his wife and died on her grave, saying praise to the Goddess, she wept.

The tears of Aluwen rained down upon the wasteland, carving out a cave for the weary bones of her followers to rest. Since that day, the Cave of Merciful Tears provides the region of Sedicolis with sweet water. It is only because of the water of the wells in the cave that the town could ever survive a single season in the sun.

The shrine of Aluwen, situated in a cave near the town, has since been a place frequented by pilgrims on their way to greater places of worship.

The passing crowd entailed a good deal of wealthy traders and travellers, looking for something to ease their mind from the sorrows of the road.

Three local inns flourished side by side. After a while, the construction of a town wall was commissioned to provide better protection for citizens and guests alike. But stonemasons and builders also brought a force of resident dwarven labourers, eager for drink and games!

 

One of the innkeepers cleverly exploited the demand he noticed, and commissioned a table for dwarven dice games to be installed. It involved gambling, as amongst dwarves the fun of the game is related to the stakes. Soon the inn provided entertainment of all sorts, catering to every demand and every desire a tired merchant or worn out stonemason could have.

After a few days, the playing tables were no longer frequented by dwarves alone.

The chance to win a fortune lead many travellers to lose their cargo to the landlord of the inn. And where dwarves knew restraint, many others knew only despair. Soon the other innkeepers saw the great profit involved and followed the leading example.

More games were installed to attract travellers.

The competition between establishments was fierce and Sedicolis became more popular than ever. The town boomed, but the councillors refused to let any other people settle permanently, forcing all to stay in the extended inns, with associated places of play.

Even pilgrims lingered, forsaking their pilgrimage to spend their days with sleep and their nights with debauchery and depravity.

And so it came to pass that Aluwen's shrine slipped in disrepair, and became the scene for sacrilegious festivals and feasts, where all indulged in every vice known to man. Until one day, that is, when a pilgrim by the name Salmir of Uth traversed the domain of Sedicolis.

 

The night was stormy. Thunder and lightning seemed to be the celestial heralds of doom. And doom did come, in the most unlikely guise one could possibly have anticipated.

 

The old, skinny Gnome stood before the gates of Sedicolis and entered slowly, his confusion gradually turning to anguish with every step deeper into the town. The sound of his worn deerskin boots through the soiled and muddy streets of the city died in the Dionysian screams and songs that echoed through the narrow alleys. His loyal pet squirrel scurried under a porch, nervously looking back at its master with beady eyes.

The door of the 'Rat and the Snake Eye' squeaked open, its saddening chirp usurped by the loud cheers of the drunken mob inside.

Salmir remained motionless in the open door, and stared inside with blank eyes. The squirrel, hiding behind his ankle, suddenly decided to climb up the gnomish robes, and settled on Salmir's shoulder. It pressed its furry little body against the cheek of the pilgrim, as if it knew it would be safe there.

Salmir quietly took his pipe, and lit it. He inhaled firmly and exhaled the strong, pungent smell of Gnomish Greenleaf, in one puffy cloud of smoke. He understood all too well what had happened to the city, for his ears were not deaf to the stories told by travellers.

Many Pilgrims shunned Sedicolis, for the pleasures of the game and the ecstasy of the flesh can make even the most devout follower turn his eyes away from the celestial deities. Salmir approached the table where the innkeeper was seated on a richly decorated cedar wood couch with lavish crimson pillows, stained by the grease of roasted meat and carelessly spilled wine.

 

"You rival the glory of the king, innkeeper. But can you provide me with a quiet room for the night, for I must say my praise. Tomorrow I shall see the Cave of Merciful Tears and bow to the Shrine of the White Lady. By high noon I shall be on my way to the greater Holy Places that lie ahead."

 

The Innkeeper bared the few rotten teeth he had remaining in a grin. "A pilgrim... and a determined one it seems. It has been a while since we last saw your kind around. A room will cost ye 100 pieces of gold."

The gnome knew Sedicolis would be more expensive, but 100 pieces of gold! That was quite an amount of money for a poor pilgrim.

Inns all over provided them with food and shelter for a mere 5 coins, but in Sedicolis the excess had washed away any remaining sense of hospitality.

"Ye can wager some coins at the tables. Who knows, ye might be lucky and earn yer room. Ye might even like it... I could also loan ye some pieces to get started, after all, ye'r a man of the faith." The innkeeper grinned again, bearing even more rot and a single golden tooth shimmering in the back of his mouth, as a diamond in a cesspool.

Nothing was said for several minutes.

The innkeeper maintained his chiselled grin, sweat drops dripping from his brow down his many chins, and for lack of a neck, dangling there for a second, before plummeting down on the cedar wood table at which the King of Lard was seated, wallowing in his depravity. Salmir stared directly at him, and when the silent tension had muted much of the crowd, the small gnome spoke with a surprisingly forceful voice.

 

"I shall not bend to thy depravity, I shall not denounce my Faith for the empty doctrine of thy games of want and excess. I shall not wallow in self pity and I shall not grow bloated with the putrid lard of Mortos as thou hast! May the White Lady have Mercy on thy souls!!"

 

The common room turned silent almost immediately. Not the whispering of cards, the ringing of coins, not even the breath of Unolas disturbed the awkward tranquillity of the inn.

For seconds the silence dwelled, sticking to the walls like thick snapdragon-syrup, until it suddenly and violently erupted in a roaring burst of ale-infused laughter.

Salmir recoiled slightly, he could taste the alcohol in the air they exhaled and felt how the looming weight of corruption had rooted out what little decency remained in their hearts.

 

The Gnome frowned, and slowly turned his back, heading outside. Tacitly he pondered, for it was not laughter of joy that resounded, but the madness of the doomed. As the Gnomish Pilgrim slowly made his way outside, the crowd behind him continued in their ways.

 

After wandering outside for a while, the old gnome decided he had little option but to either sleep outside or return to the inn and come to some sort of agreement. The night was cold and inhospitable, the sands carried by the strong winds capable of ripping the skin from a careless traveller in a matter of hours.

Today was not a good day to camp outside.

Carefully Salmir counted the shiny coins in his purse.

About one hundred and forty coins remaining. The forty he would have left would take him to his pilgrimage, but would most certainly be insufficient to return to the monastery.

He decided that these matters would have to be solved later, since the need for shelter was more pertinent now than ever. He lovingly stroked his squirrel on the back, as if reassuring the small critter before diving into the turmoil once again. The unforgiving storm ripped into the wooden scaffolding of the masons, tearing it apart limb from limb in a cacophony of breaking wood, falling rock and twisted metal.

The storm quickly dissipated the heavy dust cloud, spreading the debris and rubble in the streets of Sedicolis. Salmir sighed and retreated back into the Rat and the Snake Eye. At least the large hearth would provide some warmth and relief to his old arthritic bones.

 

When the Pilgrim returned inside, the uneasy silence almost immediately returned to the common room.

Every step he took made the dry wooden floor squeak in dismay, the silences between the timber moans seemed to last an eternity.

A dwarf was frozen in his drinking motion, his tankard balanced halfway between the table and his widely opened mouth. His eyes dim from anticipation and surprise. Yet, it was not a drinking dwarf that was fixed in the eye of Salmir, it was the bloated ruler on his crimson throne that met his gaze with a grin so wide it looked as if his mouth would yield to the exceptional strain and tear from ear to ear.

The Gnome reached out and unceremoniously chucked a pile of gold on the small table next to the cedar couch. The innkeeper relaxed his cramped facial expression into a more natural, somewhat devious smile.

 

"And what would THAT be...," he spoke, spitting out the words in what could only be described as self-indulgent condescension. He was visibly pleased with himself, and smiled some more. The crowd was still silent as a mouse, a single dwarf struggling with his digestion being the only notable exception. Yet not a soul laughed when the dwarf broke wind, rivalled only by the fury of the raging tempest outside. The innkeeper turned his eyes and threw a mild grin at the flatulent mason, who instinctively flinched and faintly stammered; "oops.. sowwy 'bout that..."

The innkeeper turned his gaze back to the Gnome, and spoke "Well, I don't know what ye hope to do with a mere one hundred coins here, the price of lodging is 250 gold."

 

"But it was one hundred only ten minutes ago," the gnome exclaimed in surprise.

 

"Aye, but that was ten minutes ago, on my first offer, in the meantime the price has gone up a bit. I have to make a living too ye know!"

 

Salmir realised he was being had by the greedy toad facing him, and he was quite aware that no appeal to pity or decency would find an ear. However he did not have the gold to pay, and staying outside would almost certainly result in an untimely death.

Still, the vicious streak in his smile betrayed that the innkeeper was not done playing yet.

 

"Ye could, of course, risk a little wager..."

 

Salmir expected as much. He realised there wasn't much he could do about it so against all his principles he gently nodded.

 

"We play the dice, if I win I take all yer gold and ye get out of my face, if I lose ye can stay here for half price, only one hundred and twenty five gold coins! Ye won't get a better deal, pilgrim." The crowd chuckled.

 

"Very well," Salmir answered dryly. The stakes were hardly fair, but it was clear that he was in no position to barter for a better deal.

The innkeeper laughed loudly and clapped his hands. Almost instantly some servants brought a pair of dice, carved from the finest ivory. The burning of the eyes on the dice was clearly the craftwork of the finest dwarvish artisans, every eye a perfect diamond-shaped indentation, with a perfectly smooth and glossed inside, making the black specks catch the flickering light of the hearth in a most playful way, as if it were inlaid with the black gems of the Netherforge itself.

Funny how such small things could be so valuable and so significant in the unfolding of history as we know it.

 

"We play for 17," the patron said. "Closest to 17 wins the game, if ye get more, yer arse is mine. You start by throwing the two dice once, than you can choose to throw an extra die twice." Salmir knew this game, and it was tricky to play since the difference between victory and defeat was always but the width of an elvish eyelash.

The patron would start and roll two dice, than he would have to roll two himself.

Then both men would get one die and decide whether or not they would roll it again, adding to the sum that was scored before. The second roll could be made twice, and both would add.

 

The innkeeper glared and cast his dice; scoring eleven on his initial roll. Salmir silently flung the dice over the table, resulting in a roll of ten.

The guests of the inn had stopped their own play and many were standing on their benches and tables in order to get a better view of the ongoing wager between the patron of the house and the gnomish pilgrim. When the second casting came and both men rolled their die, the spectators held their breath.

The innkeeper managed to score a five, bringing his total score to sixteen, while Salmir only made a four, limiting his count at fourteen. He had one more chance to make up the difference.

He held his breath as he threw the cubic piece of ivory, it energetically bounced across the surface of the table before it came to a stop. Salmir was afraid to look. The silence that filled the room was uneasy at best. "We'll increase the stakes and continue", the innkeeper shouted, launching the pieces of smoked ham lodged between his teeth in Salmirs face. Salmir peeked at the die and noticed the two black gems facing up, a draw.

 

"I have nor gold nor property to add to the stakes at hand," Salmir replied. "All I have left is my faith and I could never put it at stake for it is not for mere mortals to dispose off. Only the White Lady of Mercy holds sway over my faith in her goodness."

 

The grin of the innkeeper became ever more sardonic. "If ye renounce yer faith ye can stay here for free! Hell, I'll even cook ye some soup!" The guests of the inn laughed an empty laugh. "All ye have to do is curse the name of Aluwen; not a bad deal for a free board it seems to me! Besides, if ye don't I'll have ye kicked out and I'll keep yer gold anyway. If ye don't play, ye lose the game."

 

Silently the gnome turned his back, walking outside with small, but firm steps, unable and unwilling to renounce his faith. The cold winds brought the icy ocean rain , showering down incessantly on the soaked and shivering pilgrim, seeking refuge under a tree while praying vigorously to Aluwen in praise of her goodness.

There he was found by the bakers' wife, half buried under the sandy deposits carried by the wind, his hands clutched together in prayer.

 

The Merciful Tears turned bitter and bloody in rage, for the strength of Salmir's faith overcame the sloth of those that inherited the fertile soils of the settlers that perished so many years ago.

Aluwens blood is the very blood of the Earth.

The waters springing from the sacred cave turned acidic with sulphur, and boiled with the rage of her blood, surfacing all around, scorching the land.

Her Breath would no longer bring the seasonal rains.

The inhabitants of Sedicolis were punished harshly for their crimes. Within the year, the land was barren, the soil infertile.

And so it came to pass, that man's greed and weakness surrendered the town once more to the unforgiving desert it was born in.

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