Week 16, Tracking a Hippogrif
We were in the bazaar, trying to trace hippogrif sightings. No one has seen any lately. Pfusand tries smelling for one back in the merchants' quarter, but her nose isn't really much keener than human. Beygar opines that we are being too direct and are frightening the informants away. On the other hand, Daewen thinks we've been pussy-footing around too much.
We drop by the south bath house around noon, but the animal trader hasn't shown up yet. Beygar, Alag, and Tom go visit Cantrel, outside the city, while Wu and Chris stay at the bath hoping the animal trader will show. Pfusand, Daewen, and Lorelei return to the market.
Soon, at the bath, the attendant (Zazag) announces that the trader is here. His name is Darnak and he doesn't have any hippogrifs, though he could get one in two or three days. It belongs to a young dilettante and is colored gold. (It's not the 'grif we're looking for.) It's very mild-tempered so Wu declines it on the grounds that we want something more martial and spirited. He then asks after any reports of hippogrifs in town. Nothing.
Nothing more turns up in the bazaar, except a harem costume small enough to fit Daewen.
Meanwhile, Cantrel proposes that he pose as a hero sent by the Golden Archmage, on a quest for a hippogrif. Or he could go sneaking through the merchants' quarter. We suggest that he sneak first, since proclaiming himself a hero would give him too much visibility for sneaking. (Of course, it would spoil the hero image if he went sneaking and got CAUGHT.)
That evening, while the others minding the pegasi, Cantrel goes skulking by moonlight through the merchants' quarter. After ten villas or so, he notices that someone is trailing him. Cantrel circles around for a look; the trailer is in pseudo-Persian garb, with turban and helmet. The trailee ambushes him and knocks him out. The trailer was also carrying some armor and a sword. City guard? Guard at a private house? Cantrel ties, gags, and blindfolds him, then stashes him in some bushes.
None of the big villas give any sign of hippogrif habitation, or even horses (except for the tenth -- but it showed just hoof marks in the dirt, no claw marks). Cantrel checked out the Magistrate's house, but it was much too heavily defended for easy sneaking. He returns to the merchants' quarter and picks up the captured guard intending to fly away with him. Alas, everyone rolls bad dice sometime. The flight spell gives out a couple of dozen feet up and they land with Cantrel underneath. The guard has recovered consciousness by now and starts yelling, thanks to the gag coming loose in the fall. Cantrel knocks him out again and looks around. They have landed in a garden. He takes his victim into the nearest bushes.
Guards come around to investigate the noise. They find some broken tree branches and some crushed grass, then start beating the bushes. Behind the bushes, Cantrel kicks in his flight spell again, but hovers about a quarter inch above the ground. A spear comes through the bush, then withdraws. The next thrust pierces Cantrel's shirt but not his skin. A couple of thrusts further down the hedge, they hit the unconscious guard, who moans but very softly. Finally they leave.
Then one of them notices his bloody spear. They come charging back into the garden and Cantrel grabs some altitude, taking the much-battered guard with him. The other guards are mightily startled.
Cantrel returns to the party outside the city walls. The guard is still alive, though just barely, so Wu patches him up. Once he is partly conscious, Chris casts his ESP spell and we start questioning him. Beygar takes off the gag (but not the blindfold) and tells him he is out in the desert and that we saw him fall out of the sky. He vaguely remembers falling, all right, and being carried and crashing through a tree. It takes him a while just to remember that he is a guard -- he's in a bad way still. Beygar "assumes" he works for a djinn, which is a realistic touch but just confuses the man further. He remembers tracking someone, but never saw Cantrel. Good. Cantrel would rather like to kill him for safety's sake but Tom argues there is no necessity, so we leave him some distance down the Silk Road, full of wine but untied.
Next morning, back in the city, Hakim shows up dry. He's found no more reports of hippogrif sightings. We ask him which merchant keeps the biggest stables. Cyrus. (This gives us a name for the tenth villa, where Cantrel's luck ran out.) Cyrus is VERY rich and runs lots of caravans. Wu, Chris, Beygar, and Tom go to see Cyrus about hippogrifs.
We find the house in a state of agitation. The guards encountered something strange in the garden last night, it seems. Also, another merchant has come calling with deliveries for Cyrus. Pages park us in the waiting room and we get to see Cyrus (a chubby gent in gaudy clothes) greet the other merchant, "Avram," who has come with a vast wardrobe of clothes for the lady of the house. Cyrus sends Avram off to lunch then turns to us. Chris remarks on the wardrobe and we learn that Cyrus has just acquired a new wife.
We then explain that we are looking for a hippogrif to purchase on behalf of a northern mage. We've come to him, we say, because of his widely-known reputation as a keeper of horses. We thought he might also know of less common mounts. Well, no. There's one hippogrif in the city, owned by a man named Mikael, who bought it to impress the girl he married as his second wife. (We suspect this is the dilettante we heard of earlier.) He knows of no others. The only other hippogrifs he knows of belong to the raiders -- i.e. King Smerdis, whom we are working for.
Cyrus invites us to have some sherbet (more like iced orange juice than modern sherbet). We accept and thereby get to meet the new wife, a heavily veiled figure accompanied by a eunuch. Cyrus introduces her as "Salome." Wu works a cat named Shaherezad into the conversation but she doesn't react. This doesn't seem to be the missing princess, despite her timely arrival. We leave politely. Another dead end.
We try the dilettante, who lives on his father's estates. He's a Persian fop, bored and indolent, but he's happy enough to show us his hippogrif. It is indeed NOT the one we are looking for, and he knows of no other, except for a dim rumor of one landing at dusk in the bazaar last week.
We leave. Wu pauses in the bazaar to buy a garment of some kind for Salome, the new Mrs. Cyrus, by way of a diplomatic compliment.
Beygar returns to the hostel and strikes up a conversation with the mercenaries who are staying there. After a little prodding in the right direction, he gets a strange tale: The mercenary captain once stayed at a caravansary with six travelers who got up in the middle of the night to meet six more on hippogrifs. The original six mounted and flew off, leaving their luggage and a camel behind. That was a year ago, along the Silk Road.
Beygar shows him the portrait we have from Smerdis. He instantly identifies this as Navrish the Agile, the "princely thief" we heard of from Hakim's fake-blind friend. The mercenary knows him as the chief of a small band of nomads and once worked for him. He was a good employer, but wanted the man to stay on permanently or leave, so he left. He has no idea where to contact Navrish now. We also learn that Navrish robs from the rich (who else?) and gives to the poor. ("How classic!" quoth the Mo Pi.)
At last we have a lead.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.