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Silver Wolf: Chapter I

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Published: May 8, 2009

Chapter I:  Armored Wolf

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Lightreach Army 1st Brigade, Aster Company Camp
Curzon’s Gap, on the Thaymount
Northwestern Thay
Alturiak 18, Year of Risen Elfkin, 1375 DR

“Milady, the scouts report that our target is approaching the gap.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant Savann,” Commander Kalir Patten the Wolf replied, and got up from the boulder on which she sat.  “Well, everyone, looks like the party’s about to start early.”  She stood, and regarded her force, which lay in wait for a slave trader caravan that her spies in the town of Nethjet in southeast Thay had reported intended to pass north of her abolitionist bastion of Lightreach, near the Smoking Keep.  Slavery was an anachronism and an abomination, she believed, and she acted accordingly.  At least one slaver guild avoided the town entirely by traveling far out of their way to avoid Kalir’s patrol routes (she had an acknowledged vicious streak when it came to what she termed “crimes against humanity”).  But the others had not yet cottoned to the fact that they were unwelcome within Lightreach territory, and the light reached a long way indeed.  (This last was a common joke among Lightreachers.)

One of these rings had sent a caravan of slaves to the town of Umbthal on the eastern slope of the Thaymount.  Her intelligence said they then intended to pass north of the Smoking Keep and make for the town of Sefriszar on the south bank of the River Thay.  The Smoking Keep was well within her patrol routes; it was almost as if the guild was daring her to raid it, but her intelligence indicated no traps.

Kalir ran a final check on her equipment.  The Silver Sword of Gith hung securely at her side (willed to a one-handed longsword length when she had re-formed it during the War of Shadows the previous year), and her shield, made from the shed scales of the ancient blue dragon Sey’ryu, was safely strapped on her left arm.  Her heavily enchanted adamantine plate mail was also fully secure.  She pulled her helmet on and fastened the strap.

Kalir looked at the sky, sniffed the air.  It was cold still, and the clouds threatened a heavy snowfall, but her clerics believed the weather would hold at least until they had captured the caravan.

“The passages home remain clear of snow, correct?” she said to Hamish Savann, a tan-skinned, slim, short knight with gray hair, a neatly trimmed goatee, and piercing green eyes.

“Yes’m, as they were when you asked ten minutes ago.”

“Just checking—I don’t want any surprises when we bring the prisoners home.”  She called out to her troops.  “Strike the camp and prepare to move out!  I want us en route to the ambush point in ten minutes or less!”



Kalir took a spyglass from her belt and focused on the caravan.  “Odd, that’s Irik Thar insignia on the wagons.  I was under the impression they didn’t deign to operate out of Nethjet.”  The Irik Thar (meaning “chain of fate” in Infernal), was among the richest and most powerful of the Thayan slaver guilds, and one of the harshest to its merchandise.

“Apparently they do now,” Savann said.

“Apparently so.  Is Lieutenant Maurus in position?”

“Give the signal and he’ll ride right up their asses if he has to.  Anything special planned, milady?”

“Nah, standard procedure.  We wait for their outriders to enter the gap, the wizards dominate them, we tell them the pass is clear, Maurus rides up the rear, and we drop on the leaders.”

“Standard procedure,” Savann agreed.  “Do we take prisoners?”

“Accept surrenders, but make no special effort otherwise.”

Less than five minutes later, the caravan’s forward scouts entered Curzon’s Gap.  The outriders trotted lazily into the narrow gorge, almost shoulder to shoulder.  Amateurs.  Her allied Red Wizard enchanters were hidden in the scrub and among the rubble from a recent minor rockfall, and as the riders passed, cast spells of domination.  Only one scout was of sufficient will to realize what was happening, and a hand dart tipped with drow sleeping potion silenced him before he could sound the alarm.  The dominated soldiers turned their horses and returned to the caravan, reporting the pass clear at the wizards’ behest.  The caravan leader sounded a horn, signaling “all clear,” and then cracked his whip, putting the oxen and his wagon into the gap.

As she had first done at West Harbor so many years before, Kalir drew on her innate abilities and summoned a globe of bluish light into the air, a prearranged signal for Lt. Maurus’ mounted knights and horse archers to attack from the rear.  They swarmed in from the hills, his knights’ steel-tipped lances leveled, and the horse archers firing with abandon from the eight full quivers hooked to their saddles.

Kalir mounted her white warhorse and grabbed her enchanted zalantar lance, a gift from one of the Masked Lords of Waterdeep, then led her section of Aster Company down the slope of the gorge, turned, and charged the lead wagon.  The wagon driver panicked at the sight of the fifteen-plus mounted knights charging, dove off his perch and hit his head on a rock, out of the fight.  Kalir turned to the left to avoid the wagon, then swung her lance right to send an enemy flying off his horse from the fiery blast of her lance.  He landed fifteen feet away, his shirt on fire.

A crossbow quarrel ricocheted off the right side of her helmet.  That was fast—some of the guards must have actual training.  Won’t help, though.  The experienced paladin called up one of her favorite spells.  She waved a gauntleted hand at the crossbowman, who was scrambling to reload his bow, and a blaze of divine energy erupted from her eyes, blew the man off his wagon perch and into the rocks.

She raced past the caravan on horseback, trampling men on foot and smashing horsemen off their mounts.  She reached Lt. Maurus’ force and swung around, came to the rear wagon, then vaulted off, landed on her feet, rolled to absorb the momentum, and came up with the Sword of Gith swinging.  The nearest fighter, an axe-wielding half-orc, brought up his shield to block, and sent the blow wide.  Kalir spun to the right to gain momentum; the silver blade went through the haft of the axe, and the fighter’s head flew.  She stepped across the decapitated torso to reach the next man, but he threw his blade down and put up his hands.  “No, don’t!  I give up, I give up!”

Kalir nodded and said, “I accept your surrender.”

By now the few surviving caravan guards (not to mention the caravan drivers) were also surrendering.  The aasimar said to the man she had captured, “Where are the slaves?”

“Uh, the five wagons in front.”

“Show me.”

The five wagons held over fifty heavily chained slaves.  Each was chained to the others, and the rear-most was chained to the wagon.  Kalir brought up her blade and chopped once, freeing them from the wagon.  Then she sheathed the sword.  “Come on.  You’re safe now.”

“Safe?” said one elderly human woman in disbelief.  “This is Thay, and we’re prisoners to be sold as slaves.  ‘Safe’ isn’t in our vocabulary.”

Kalir smiled.  “It is now.  I’m a paladin of the Red Knight, and my name is Kalir Patten.”

“Never heard of you.”

“Well, that doesn’t matter.  The point is, we attacked this caravan to free you all.  Now, come on and get out of the wagon so we can talk properly.  You,” she said to the guard she’d captured, “where are the keys?”

“Caravan captain.  Uh, the guy you beheaded, ma’am.”

Kalir beckoned to a private.  “There’ll be a dead half-orc back at the rear wagon; bring his keys and free these people.”

“Yes’m.”  The soldier saluted and dashed off.

“The rest of you, gather the prisoners so I can inform them of their rights.”

“Way ahead of you, Milady,” said Lt. Savann.  “This way.”

Savann led her to the wall of the gorge, where a dozen-odd guards and a Red Wizard sat under heavy guard.  “Bitch!” the wizard said, jumped to his feet, and spat at her.  The soldier next to him cracked him in the head with a gauntleted fist and roughly threw him to the dirt.  “Mind your tongue, prisoner.  Her Ladyship may be merciful, but I am not.”

“That’s enough, Sergeant Haret,” Kalir said.  “Let me see:  Sakra Harrak, apprentice to Zulkir Aznar Thrul, correct?  I wish I could say it was a pleasure, but it’s not.”

“You’ll pay for this, my master will see to it.”

She rolled her eyes.  “Are you going to let me speak or just make idle threats?”  The wizard stared at her, incredulity overcoming hatred for a moment.  “Thank you.  Now, you all are prisoners of war.  You shall be afforded the rights granted to such prisoners under Lords’ Alliance law.  Attempts to escape will be prevented, and you will be tried for any crimes you have committed.  You have the right to request asylum.  Sergeant, keep close watch.  We return to Lightreach within the hour.”



The sky was darkening with the casting of night’s cloak as the captured slave caravan turned the last corner and Lightreach’s stone walls came into distant view as the crags opened onto a wide mesa.  The town had once been called Erlamir, and had grown up around the Red Wizards’ Academy of Shapers and Binders, a wizardry institute focused on the schools of Transmutation and Necromancy.  But when Kalir had returned from the Sword Coast, married to Gann in the wake of her battle in the Fugue Plane, she learned quickly how poorly Thayan commoners – primarily ethnic Rashemi – lived.  The lot of slaves was even worse; their life expectancy was little more than a year.  Slavery had long been illegal in her homeland, and Kalir wanted to bring the principles of enlightened governance to Thay.  It would be a long, hard struggle, she knew, but someone had to do it.

Now Kalir was the effective leader of the burgeoning population of Lightreachers.  She had been placed in nominal command of the Order of the Lanceboard’s new garrison here late last year, but quickly earned recognition and full command from the order’s headquarters near Waterdeep.  Her army was composed mainly of refugees and former slaves, all volunteers trained by her order’s best drillmasters, and highly motivated.  Her own Lieutenant Savann was one of the first slaves freed by her raids.

Her supernaturally sharp eyes picked out the guards on the wall at this distance, though of course she was still too far away to make out any details.  But she wanted to get home, so she asked Savann if he would be willing to take over.  “Of course, Milady.  You needn’t worry about a thing.”

“Famous last words, Hamish,” she remarked.
He shrugged.  “Besides which, I think you’re needed at the fort; they’re signaling us.”

Kalir glanced back at the wall, where one of the guards was waving a set of semaphore flags.  “So they are.  Well, heavens help you if that wizard, Harrak, tries something.”

“He won’t.  He’s smart enough to know when he’s beaten, I can tell.”

Kalir put spurs to her warhorse and trotted off.</i>

Kalir passed the gate without incident, and two soldiers moved ahead of her into the narrow, busy cobblestone street saying “Make way for the Commander!  Make way for Lady Patten!”  Kalir rolled her eyes; at heart she was still one of the hardy, stout-hearted Harbormen, and impatient with the pomp and circumstance that occasionally went with her dual positions as Commander of Fort Lightreach and Lady Mayor of the town of Lightreach.  After five minutes her patience wore out, and she told the soldiers she’d make better headway if they were back at their posts.

Having ditched her would-be heralds, Kalir rode the horse much faster, whipping past market stalls and racing down the back alleys.  In ten minutes she was at the castle gates.  She dismounted and handed the reins to a waiting page, then unlaced her helmet and walked into the great hall.  A page ran up.  “Milady, we have a visitor.”

“Can he wait until I’ve changed out of my armor?”

“He’s in the dining room.”

“Whom?”

“Ambassador from Zulkir Szass Tam, I understand.”  Kalir was surprised.  Szass Tam, the Zulkir of Necromancy, was a lich, and hardly friendly to the Order of the Lanceboard.  I’ll let him wait a little longer.  I’m tired, and I need to check on Narra.

Kalir walked out of the hall and down the west corridor to her chambers.  She walked through her war room and into the bedroom.  The room was warmly appointed with a large four-poster bed, thick carpets imported from Kara-Tur, linen curtains, and a trophy case inside which hung her medals and awards, all of which she ignored, aiming instead for the northern door to her armor chamber, where a golem with many spindly arms aided her in stripping the dense adamantine plates from her body, laying them carefully out on the table for inspection and leaving her in the cotton and leather under-suit.  Kalir carefully checked each plate for damage.  Admittedly she expected none—adamantite was the hardest natural substance in Faerûn, with dragonhide its only close competitor—but she had seen the results of taking such things for granted all too often.  The only damage she was cosmetic, a scratch in the paint on her helmet from the crossbow bolt during the attack.

She left the armor for the golem to clean and store, and walked back through the bedroom and into the bathroom.  She filled the tub, stripped out of her leathers, and slipped nude into the water with a sigh.

She didn’t hear the door open, preoccupied as she was with bathing, but a floorboard creaked loudly enough to alert her.  She started to reach for the dagger on the soap rack, but stopped when she sensed no evil intent.  She looked over her shoulder, where a handsome gray-skinned young man—strike that, hagspawn—stood watching her.  “Hello, husband,” she said to Gannayev-of-Dreams, and smiled.

“Welcome back, Kalir.  I’m glad to see you’re all right.”

She grinned.  “You weren’t worried, were you?”

“When you go out without me, I always worry,” he said seriously.  “I hate to see you hurt.”

“Nothing out of the ordinary, just a routine raid.”

“Aren’t you the one who always tells me that ‘routine’ isn’t in a good planner’s vocabulary?  More to the point, I wouldn’t want to leave our little one motherless.  She dreams strongly, you know.”

Kalir knew.  Long before the two of them had met in Rashemen, Gann had been a wanderer, a shaman who could walk through people’s dreams.  The Unapproachable East was saturated with old magic and ancient spirits, and those with strong souls left indelible marks on the land itself through their dreams.  And paladins, like Kalir and her deceased lover Casavir, Narra's biological father, had some of the strongest souls of all.  Possibly due to the influence of the magics of Rashemen, Thay, and Mulhorand in which her body had been steeped while in Kalir’s womb, their four-month-old daughter Narra had even more celestial traits than her mother.

That brought up another subject.  “Where is Narra, anyway?  The crib’s empty.”

“Neeshka’s taken her on a walk.”  Neeshka, a devil-descended tiefling and professional thief, had been one of Kalir’s closest allies on the Sword Coast North during the events of the Shadow War.  Neeshka’d always been lucky, and was utterly loyal and a good friend to Kalir; Narra was safe with her.

Kalir stood up from the tub, proffered her hand, and said, “Well, if Narra’s not going to be interrupting us, why don’t you join me?”

Gann gave a wicked smile, then sobered.  “I’d love to, but don’t you have a visitor?”

“Feh.  Szass Tam probably just wants us to stop hitting slavers.  If the ambassador wants to deliver Tam’s message to me in person, he can wait a while longer.  Now, come here.  That’s an order, Gann.”

“Well, if you put it that way…”

She didn’t get much washing done for quite a while after that.



Clean, refreshed, and sated, Gann and Kalir walked out of their chambers and into the great hall about half an hour later.  A page reported to her that the Thayan ambassador—yet another Red Wizard—was becoming “quite grumpy,” and looked about ready to start blasting things if he didn’t see her soon.  “Send for Ammon Jerro, Safiya, and a scribe, then bring him in,” she ordered.

“Aye, milady.”

A moment later, Safiya, the red-robed headmistress of the Academy of Shapers and Binders teleported into the throne room, followed closely by the dark, leather-clad figure of Ammon Jerro.  “I hope this is important, Kalir,” the warlock said.  “I was in the middle of a conversation with Mephasm.”

“This shouldn’t take too long, if I know her,” Safiya said, the lights reflecting off her bald, tattooed head.

“Here’s the deal:  you two and Gann know a lot more about Thayan politics than I do, but I’m the one officially in charge of Lightreach.  Tam’s ambassador won’t deal with you, but I need your help.”

“Fair enough,” Safiya said.  “Szass Tam probably sent his lieutenant, Phasir Krenn.  He’s not too strong a wizard, but he has a good deal of talent for pyrotechnics, and is an experienced diplomat.”

“Though the majority of his diplomatic expertise is mercantile in nature,” Ammon added.  “He’s a fool to think he can talk you down.  A fool, but a dangerous one.”

“Kind of like that githyanki sword stalker, Zeeaire,” Kalir remarked.

“Somewhat.”

Then the side door opened, and the herald announced, “Phasir Krenn, Ambassador for Szass Tam, Zulkir of Necromancy.”

A skinny, bald young man with a bizarre network of cranial tattoos unlike any she’d ever seen on any Red Wizard didn’t so much as walk as he did glide into the throne room.  He stepped up to the throne where Kalir sat, kissed her signet ring, and said in an oily voice, “My lord Szass Tam sends his greetings, and this correspondence.”  He handed a scroll to her.

“Safiya?”

“The only magic there is one of preservation.”  Her voice sounded strained.

“Something wrong?” Kalir whispered.

“Nothing to worry about; it’s just that Krenn and I have an … unsavory history.”

“You seem to have an unsavory history with half the Red Wizards this side of the Thaymount, old friend.”  Safiya snorted.

“Am I missing something funny?” Krenn asked.

“Private joke.”  Kalir untied the ribbon and unrolled the scroll.  Figures—it’s in Mulhorandi, using Infernal script.  Let’s see…

“Commander Kalir Patten:
“I and the Council of Zulkirs have received numerous complaints from merchants across Thay regarding your patrols and their thievery of their merchandise.  In all your troops have stolen slaves worth more than five thousand four hundred Sembian nobles, and addition of the caravans brings the total to nearly nine thousand.  Once is more than enough, wouldn’t you agree?
“My terms are thus:  You will cease your raids and submit to the Thayan central government.  In return, I shall arrange to misplace the letters of complaint and ignore further such correspondence.  If you refuse, my forces will raze Lightreach to the ground.
Sincerely, Szass Tam, Seventh Zulkir of Necromancy.”

Kalir stared at the letter, then started laughing.  She laughed so hard she started to cry, blew her nose on the letter and threw it into the fire pit.  When she saw the dumbfounded expression on Krenn’s face, she laughed even harder.  Finally she stopped laughing.  “My thanks, Ambassador Krenn,” she said, wiping a tear from her eye.  “I haven’t laughed that hard in years.  You got any more good jokes up your sleeve?”

“Jokes????” the wizard sputtered.  “That was a serious declaration of—”

“Oh, I’m quite certain your master thought he was being serious,” Kalir interrupted coldly.  “And I’m quite certain he thinks he can destroy us, and snuff out the beacon of hope that Lightreach represents to the oppressed in this nation.  But you see, Krenn, where I come from, governments are responsible to and for those they govern.  The Red Wizards, particularly the Zulkirs of Necromancy, have long abused their citizens and neglected their responsibilities to the people of Thay.  As long as this continues to be the case, I cannot in good conscience submit to Thayan authority.  Also, he mentioned the ‘Thayan central government?’  No such thing.  You have essentially two sets of governors here, the zulkirs and the tharchions.”

“The tharchions are subordinate to the zulkirs!  And as long as you remain on Thayan soil, so are you!”

“Wake up, Krenn,” Safiya said.  “Kalir’s a paladin.  You’re not going to talk her out of doing what she feels is right.”

Gann spoke up.  “Take this message to Szass Tam:  Lightreach is a free city, and we will regard any hostile action as an act of war, and will respond accordingly and with all necessary force.  Slavery is an abomination and an anachronism, and necromancy doubly so.”

Krenn’s mouth opened and closed a few times, but no sound came out.  Finally, he managed, “Then may the gods have mercy on you all.  This means war.”

“Feh,” Kalir spat, and waved a hand dismissively.  “I’m a paladin of the Red Knight.  War’s what I do.  I’ve fought humans, githyanki, undead, Red Wizards, and damn near every creature under the sun, and I’m still around, and better than ever.  Tam doesn’t scare me, and you certainly don’t.  Captain!  Escort the ambassador to his conveyance, and see to it that he’s outside the walls by sunset.”



To be continued...

Silver Wolf, Chapter I: Armored Wolf

Finally finished the first chapter of Silver Wolf. Kalir Patten is now an adult, and Commander of Fort Lightreach, located in the northeastern Faerûnian magocracy of Thay. It begins with a battle, Kalir and her troops raiding a slave traders' caravan.

Previous chapters:
Prologue: [link]

Subsequent chapters:
Chapter II: Never Trust a Lich [link]

Chapter III: Two Meetings [link]
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Notes:

1. Spells: Lantern light, from the Book of Exalted Deeds [link] , is one of only a small number of direct offensive spells available to paladins. As you saw in this chapter, it fires a blaze of divine light from the caster's eyes.
Teleport lets the caster transit the Astral Plane in order to instantaneously travel from one point to another.

2. Geography and Cosmology: Thay is a magocratic (mage-ruled) nation located in northeastern Faerûn, a region known colloquially as the Unapproachable East. It is home to the infamous Red Wizards (see below).
Rashemen is a spirit-rich nation on Thay's northern border. Ruled by a clan of goodly witches called the wychlaran, it is the main setting of Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer. (Source: Unapproachable East)
The Astral Plane (or Astral Sea in 4E D&D) makes is a transitive plane between the planes of existence. Corpses of dead gods float about aimlessly in the Astral Plane, and often become home to creatures like the githyanki.

3. Races: The githyanki are a xenophobic race of once-humans that were altered by centuries-long slavery to mind flayers, and one of the two gith sub-races. A heroine named Gith finally freed them wielding a silver sword forged for her by the prophet Zerthimon, also a gith. Eventually, however, a great schism occurred and split the gith into two peoples, the warlike githyanki and the more intellectual githzerai. The githyanki live in the Astral Plane, whereas the githzerai live in the ever-changing plane of Limbo. Both races play roles in Neverwinter Nights 2.