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Kingmaker: Rivers Run Red, Jhod’s Story

April 19, 2015

Just to note, the following was played out over email between Satampra’s player and myself between sessions, which is why it’s speech-ier (and longer!) than normal.

During the downtime between kingdom turns, Emperor Satampra received a sealed letter. It bore the seal of Jhod Kavken, who had recently been appointed Lord Mayor of Last Hope, the village that arose around the restored Temple of the Elk. In the letter, Jhod requested that Satampra come to Last Hope at his first opportunity, alone aside from his personal guard, and in secret. The priest apologized for the secrecy and for not coming to Stagfell himself, but hoped that his reasons would become clear once the Emperor arrived. Satampra was intrigued enough to comply, and publicly arranged for a journey to Restov in the morning. At the fork in the road near the gold mine, he and his guard took the left branch and rode west into the forest, rather than north towards Restov.

When the Emperor and his entourage arrived at Last Hope, they were greeted warmly by Jhod and given the tour. “Welcome to Last Hope, Your Grace,” the mayor said with a bow. “Behold your handiwork!” The tiny village was basically just a collection of crude huts, shelters, and tents scattered around the outskirts of the restored Temple of the Elk. The temple itself was a wonder to behold, even though it looked much as it had before. But the broken stones had been replaced with the finest granite and marble, and the weeds replaced by saplings and flower beds. Acolytes in plain robes and pilgrims were everywhere.

“Can you believe that has not even been two years since I came to Oleg’s, chasing visions of this place and its guardian?” asked the mayor. “I was so fearful of venturing into the Narlmarches to find this place. Well. I will be forever grateful to you for re-discovering the Temple, and providing the materials to rebuild it. And the church is grateful as well, of course.”

Jhod lead his ruler to his humble one-room dwelling, which was nevertheless one of the better homes in town. “We will want to have some proper homes built here soon, but I didn’t ask you up here to talk about that.” The cleric poured some wine into two wooden cups, handed one to Satampra, and invited him to sit in the room’s only chair. Jhod remained standing. “Rather, I wanted to tell you a story or two. You and your companions never asked about my life prior to our meeting, for which I was grateful at the time. But I believe it’s important that I tell you a little about my past before I explain why I’ve asked you here.” Satampra sipped his wine as he settled in for the tale.

Jhod’s Tale

“Once upon a time,” Jhod started as he stared off into space, “I was a village priest, far from here. I was highly respected for my counsel, and my voice carried weight. I felt important – a big fish in a small pond, I suppose you could say. It was a good life. I hadn’t found a wife yet, but otherwise I had achieved all I could hope for.

“But it all came crashing down when several villagers were found mauled to death outside of town. Large wolf tracks were found near the bodies. While the hunters went searching for the beast, I prayed for guidance. Looking back, I don’t believe that I received a clear answer, but at the time… I thought I was reading the signs correctly. And it felt as if everyone was counting on me to do something. So. I did something.” The cleric snorted in disgust.

“There was a stranger staying in our village. He had arrived shortly before the deaths, so of course I assumed he was responsible. And given the wolf tracks, and what I thought the gods were telling me, I came to believe that he was a skin-changer. A man-wolf, like the one that came to Stagefell last fall, or the one you encountered near Oleg’s. In any case, confronted with such a monster, I… I raised the town against the man. I sentenced him to death at the hands of the mob. A mob that I created, that I crafted, using those I was charged with leading and protecting. They… they tore him to pieces. In the name of justice. Justice for the dead.”

Jhod paused for a long while, and then sighed before continuing. “Of course it wasn’t justice. But even worse, it was… wrong. That man wasn’t the killer. The killer was a worg, and not a skin-changer at all. The man we murdered – that I murdered – turned out to be a spy sent by a rival village, although we didn’t know that until after. But even so, his actions did not warrant death. My ‘perfect’ life fell apart, then. I felt such guilt that I could not sleep. Every time the other villagers looked at me, I could see the accusations in their eyes. I had turned them into murderers, and they hated me for it. I hated myself for it.”

“Well I’m sure we’ve all done things that we regret. Not me, mind you,” Satampra interrupts, shifting in his seat and looking around nervously, “but most people have, I expect.”

“Ah, yes. As you say, Your Grace. In my case, regret was the least of it. A senior priest from the nearby town heard what happened and came to investigate. I was not cast out of the priesthood – I hung on to the fig leaf of the stranger’s dastardly intentions for dear life – but I was exiled from my home. I wandered for a long time before Erastil blessed me with visions of the temple. And the visions brought me to Oleg’s, and to my second chance. To my Last Hope.” He looked at his Emperor then, and smiled.

“Yes, and you’re doing a fine job here,” Satampra said nervously. “Is it hot in here or is it just me?”

“Oh! Let me open a window for you, Your Grace. My apologies for going on and on while you were overheated. That was inconsiderate of me!” Jhod opened a window, letting the chill winter air flow into the room. As the cleric retrieved his cloak and donned it, he said, “Please, allow me to get to the point, rather than hint.

“In that former life, I let pride and arrogance blind me to the truth. To the will of the gods. I’ve since learned that faith can only grow in the fertile soil of doubt. When I was truly humbled, when I was unsure of my place in the cosmos, that is when Erastil came to me and showed me the path to atonement. I am living proof that redemption is possible. Uhm. But still I digress. Let me try again.

“I’ve heard the tale of Grigori the trouble-maker, of course. People are upset, but I’ve tried to keep the followers of Erastil out of the fray for now. I am no longer one to rush to judgement.” He smiled. “Grigori had one particular claim, or so I hear, that he knew of a witness to murders committed by you and the other council members. But Grigori was arrested and executed before he ever produced that witness. Rumors fly about with great speed and variation about who this witness was, what he saw, if he existed, if he told the truth, and so on. And I know that Mestinous has his spies out searching for this man, though they have not yet found him.”

Jhod looked at Satampra and said flatly, as if commenting on an unremarkable day of weather, “That man, the witness, he is here.” As he spoke the words, the priest studied his liege’s reaction with great interest.

The Reaction

“I… see,” the Emperor replied, speaking with caution as he scrambled to determine what game was being played here. He had expected another lecture concerning their execution of Grigori, and was caught off-guard. Satampra realized he needed to say more, and started giving voice to unspoken thoughts, in part to buy time. “I should tell you that in my early days, back in Commoriom, that if a deed suited Satampra Zeiros, that was justification enough to do it. But recently I have grown troubled by certain activities I have been party to, and even as I have these misgivings it is not lost on me that certain members of my council are capable of deeds more nebulous than I.”

Satampra paused for a time to gather his thoughts before continuing. “As to the incident in question, let me begin by saying that things happened quickly and perhaps decisions were made that were, ah, imprudent. We had it on good authority that in a hollow to the south lived a malevolent tree which, for the good of the forest and its inhabitants, had to be dispatched. As it happened we had also encountered a band of woodsmen who were obstinate about felling a grove of trees that were sacred to a friendly fey creature. Travaris, who as you may recall was a man of, shall we say, fluid moralities, proposed that we enlist these woodsmen to our cause.

“Although of late I pay obeisance to Erastil, for such is the prevailing custom in the land in which I now find myself, I am not a strictly pious man. However, if I were to recount my sins in the affair, the first would be that I was party to the deception wherein we did not divulge the nature of the tree we enlisted the woodsmen to fell. These dozen poor souls were not privy that the tree may fight back. Nor were we prepared for the ferocity of the thing.

“Of the twelve woodsmen, ten were killed by the tree almost immediately. Did we murder these men? That is for the gods to decide. We misjudged the situation, and certainly for our deception we are at least partially culpable. But we fought alongside them to the end. Had they stumbled into the grove of their own accord the outcome would have no doubt been the same.

“But one man, Corax by name, become sorely wroth with us. Here Travaris did something that surprised even us: as Corax tried to flee the monster, Travaris bound him in place as his sole companion fled to the trees. Between us we slew the monster, but in the aftermath we had Corax to contend with. He was in a murderous rage, seeking to kill Travaris. After unsuccessful attempts to subdue him we were left no choice but to kill him. I believe Boliden dealt the killing blow, but that’s perhaps not important. Travaris did something unspeakable, and as his companions we sided with him and slew an innocent man. That was my second sin. Travaris is now dead and I think the kingdom may be the better for it.” Satampra fell silent for a moment, and Jhod took that time to say a prayer for the departed cleric’s spirit.

With a voice heavy with resignation and perhaps even regret, Satampra went on. “My third sin in the affair was to obscure our role in the death of Corax by positioning his body near the tree, such that it appeared that the tree slew him. But by now we were in too deep: the news of our actions could not reach the city, and this deception seemed the only way to spare the life of the lone remaining woodsman, who was running insensate through the forest. My hope was that he had not witnessed what had really happened, but it seems now that he had. That this third sin was intended to spare the life of this man provides me with some sense of absolution for it.

“We returned the bodies of the woodsmen to their families, and paid what reparations we could in gold. I said we had no choice in the slaying of Corax. I suppose there was an alternative, but what was it? To subdue our High Priest? To return to Stagfell and admit our deception? To make Travaris stand trial, when any of the rest of us could be implicated for our complicity? The kingdom would devolve to chaos, and many more would surely die. Is that disingenuous? It may appear that way as it also spares me any scrutiny, but at the time it seemed the lesser of two evils.”

Jhod stood in stunned silence at the lengthy confession. The only sounds left in the room were voices carried through the window by the breeze, and the rustling of papers by that same cold air. The priest opened his mouth as if to speak several times, then closed it, and then thought for a time before finally responding.

“That… I was not expecting that.” Jhod was both surprised and impressed. “In truth, I do not think the woodsman had seen the death of this Corax. Grigori had convinced him that you all had tricked them into getting eaten by the monster, and furthermore had talked him into coming forward so that justice could be done. When Grigori was arrested, Anatov – the ‘witness’ – had instructions to come here and blend in with the acolytes. I believe Grigori intended to come fetch him after escaping from jail. Or perhaps not. We will never know now.”

“Well now you know the truth of it,” replied Satampra, clapping his hands on his thighs and standing as he did so, signaling that this talk was over and now they could put this whole unfortunate business behind them. “I hope by telling you I haven’t placed any of the burden of guilt upon you. Either way, I would not mention it to Mestinous – his vocation is the security of the kingdom and it would not sit well with him to know I told you. Breen or Simon either. Or Boliden. Best to just keep it to yourself, actually.”

As the Emperor prepared to leave, Jhod stood by his dwelling’s lone window and looked out upon his town. “When I received the visions of the Temple,” he said, “I knew they were a sign from Erastil. And when you and the others re-discovered the long-lost Temple and defeated its cursed guardian, I knew that too was a sign. When you adopted Erastil as your patron over the gods of your homeland…” He turned and held up his hands before Satampra could object. “I know, you say you’re not a pious man, but I took that as a sign as well. And now the Temple is rebuilt, and Erastil’s teachings are spread over this land once more. In large part because of your actions. Pious or not, I believe that Old Deadeye has chosen you as one of his agents in this land.

“But what the gods give us, they may also take away.”

The mayor looked down at the floor and waved a hand dismissively. “But again I digress. Forgive me, Your Grace, for my ramblings. I only have one question to ask of you, if I may, before you take your leave. The woodsman Anatov is here amongst the acolytes, as I said. He is frightened of you and the council, with reason, as it turns out. And some of your council members would no doubt be happy to have him in hand.” Jhod turned to face Satampra once more. “But I leave his fate up to you, and only you. What do you wish your loyal subjects to do with this man, oh mighty Emperor?”

Satampra thought a moment before replying, “I should like to speak with him myself and give him another perspective. He may continue to fear the council but it’s my hope that he might cease to fear me.

“And then he will have a choice. He may choose to return home. He may move to Brevoy or the River Kingdoms. Either way I will provide him with a stipend from my personal income so that he may live comfortably.

“If he turns up in public discourse again, however, he should know that any protection I afford him will end. Mestinous will take whatever actions necessary for the good of the country, and then I will not stop him.”

The priest looked gratified by his liege’s response. He bowed his head and said, “As you wish, so it shall be, my liege.” As he headed towards the door, he added, “It was good to see you again, Your Grace. Please, visit us more often! And as I said before, I will keep the followers of Erastil out of the current controversy.” But when he opened the door, he paused and turned back. “Uh. As far as talking with Anatov goes… I would advise against it. He is afraid for his life, specifically from you and the council. And he’s already been- No? Very well, I will have him sent in. Please wait here.” Jhod left the room.

The Confrontation

Several minutes later, Anatov entered. He looked much as Satampra remembered him, although he was now dressed as an acolyte and his hair was dyed black, although his natural red hair was starting to show in the roots. The man’s posture was defensive, and he avoided making eye contact as much as possible. He clearly did not want to be in this room.

At this point, Satampra wanted to make a Diplomacy check to improve Anatov’s attitude towards him. I rolled for him, since this was being conducted through email, and rolled low. Very low. Anatov’s attitude worsened as a result of the verbal fumble.

As Satampra made his case to the woodsman of Travaris’ and Grigori’s perfidy and the Emperor’s own trustworthiness, his brain fed some very unfortunate word choices to his mouth, which greatly offended Anatov. And as the woodsman’s fear turned to anger and he let his displeasure be known, Satampra found himself reacting in a peevish manner, which further escalated the situation. Anatov became more and more agitated until finally he snapped! He yelled a wordless growl and swung his arm with great violence across Jhod’s desk, flinging its clutter across the room. He then jabbed a finger in Satampra’s direction and loudly denounced him for his culpability in the deaths of Corax and the other woodsmen, for his silencing of the truth, for his evasion of responsibility. He named the Emperor a liar and a person of low character who will surely receive a just and painful reward in the afterlife.

A crowd of curious on-lookers was drawn by the sound of the shouting, and attempted to peek in through the house’s door and window without seeming too obvious about it.

Satampra, all too aware of the gathering crowd, fought to regain his calm. “I see you are aggrieved and require satisfaction. We shall settle this as men in the form of a duel. Since the grievance is yours, the choice of weapons falls to me, as dictated by long tradition. I choose blades. My personal guard shall be my second. I will meet you on the road to the temple one hour before nightfall. Good day, sir.”

Anatov was brought out of his rage by the Emperor’s words, and as his mind returned to him he saw the line he has crossed. He blanched and dropped to one knee, and stammered, “My-my lord! Please forgive my words! I was overtaken by grief. I recant! Please Your Grace! I just want to return home. To see my family again. Please! I am no swordsman. Your Grace, please take pity on me! Spare my miserable life!”

“Then in that case, I accept your apology,” Satampra declared magnanimously. “We have settled this as civilized men, and there is no need for blood to be shed.” And then, for the benefit of the gathered crowd, he added, “Back to your affairs, my loyal subjects! Goodman Anatov and I have amicably resolved our differences and he is eager to return to his loving family. I wish him nothing but the best, and all is forgiven!”

Epilogue

Outside of Jhod’s hut, the Emperor declared that a feast would be held on the morrow at his own personal expense, in order to celebrate the founding of Last Hope, the restoration of the Temple of the Elk, and all of the hard work of the citizenry. Soon after, Satampra Zieros, Jhod Kavken, and their personnel embarked into the forest to find an animal worthy of sacrifice for the celebration. While they were about in the woods, Jhod used the opportunity to confess his relief to the Emperor that Anatov’s life was spared. The priest also went over his plans to transport the man back to his home in southern Brevoy, and the expenses thereof. After several hours, the group tracked down a mighty stag, slew it, and brought it back to the Temple. In front of the inhabitants of the village, Jhod proclaimed the stag as a sign of favor, and a gift, from Erastil, and called upon all to share in the bounty provided by the gods. Food, wine, music, and dancing went on into the night.

In the morning, the Emperor and his entourage mounted their horses and rode back to Stagfell.

Next: trolls on the march!

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4 Comments
  1. Pinkius permalink

    Now that was some fine roleplaying! My congratulations to Satampra’s player, a good redemption arc is more entertaining than perfect behavior, although it remains to be seen if he slips back into conniving mode.

    • Pinkius permalink

      I’m not really a fan of tossing previous party members under the bus like that, but you do what you gotta do. Theoretically it won’t happen again

      • I dunno if it’s tossing them under the bus when it’s the truth. The whole plan to trick the woodsmen into fighting the scythe tree was Travaris’, and when Corax and the surviving lumberjack tried to run, Travaris cast hold person on Corax. That doesn’t absolve the others of their part, of course.

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