Friday, June 14, 2013

Beatriss in the Valley of Spiders

Beatriss bought some cotton cloth from a shop and became acquainted with the shop's owner, named Ó-rě.  Ó-rě was from Northern Zhou and a prominent member of the Silk Merchants' Guild.  Like Beatriss, he felt isolated in Pasar and was glad to meet someone who attempted to speak his language correctly. "Unlike most of my friends who excel at speaking my language incorrectly."  He shared with her, in an oblique way, his dislike of the Black Flowers Gang.  "Until several months ago, if I needed to hire some guards for my caravan, I could go to the tavern and pick out five or six men who I knew and trusted.  Now, I am forced to employ men I do not know, and pay them as if I do."  He did not know what happened to Gwinch, but if anyone did, it would be the Black Flowers.  After Gwinch and many of the other monks from the Two-fold Path were exiled, the remanant invited the Black Flowers into their monastery to provide protection. "And now the monks are servants to the men they employ.  Those few who remain are afraid to leave."

Beatriss decided the Black Flowers were her best lead to Gwinch's whereabouts.  Together with Naron and Afu, she visited the Two-Fold Monastery.  As they approached their destination, they saw evidence of a battle having being fought in the surrounding neighborhood: buildings were burned and otherwise damaged or destroyed.  The still intact buildings seemed to be deserted.

For their part, the monks were happily suprised, even confused, by the arrival of visitors.  The monks introduced the visitors to the resident Black Flowers who received the guests warmly and brusquely dismissed the monks "back to whatever you were doing."

Neetla, who introduced himself as "in practice, the leader of the Black Flowers," was glad to meet Beatriss and to talk about her missing friend, but later that evening, when he wasn't so busy.  She told him the name of the inn where she was staying.

Late that evening, a monk arrived at the inn.  He told Beatriss that he had been sent by Neetla and asked her to accompany him-- alone-- to the monastery.  Wearing her magical kimono of protection and with her invisible sword at her waist, Beatriss agreed to follow the monk. 

The city was very quiet and the streets were empty.  The monk brought her into the monastery through a posten gate and led her to Neetla's apartments.  Neetla showed great hospitality.

  A servant washed Beatriss's feet and she was offered fine food and drink.  He dropped a few hints that he did know of Gwinch's whereabouts, but provided few details.  Beatriss was patient.  She listened to Neetla's stories of his adventures on the high seas, his flirtatious banter, his half-veiled insults with regard to Gwinch.  Beatriss, when she had an opportunity to speak, explained that she was not a close friend of Gwinch's-- rather she was tracking him under orders from the Emperor.

This got Neetla's attention, setting him at ease in one way, though perhaps not in others . . .
In the morning, he promised, they would go to the place outside the city where Gwinch was staying.

There was a monk who was supposed to know the way.  Beatriss wanted to enlist the help of some of her friends, but Neetla refused.  "My men are strong and I don't want any priests around."  Beatriss gave a monk a few coins to take a message back to her friends at the inn.

And so they set off on horseback:  Beatriss, Neetla, the monk guide, and three bodyguards.  Neetla and his men rode through the city openly carrying their weapons.  The townsfolk avoided even looking at them.

They rode through rice paddies for half an hour and then into the jungle.  They followed a narrow path that forced them to ride single file.  After a couple hours, the monk announced he had taken a wrong turn.  Neetla dismounted to berate the monk, striking him, and threatened worse treatment if he made any more mistakes.  Beatriss remonstrated with him, and he became sharp with her, explainin gthat monks were cowards and traitors.  When the monk announced again that he was lost, Neetla beat him more forcefully.  Beatriss argued that if Neetla had a genuine fear of treachery, they should simply return to Pasar.  Neetla refused and commanded her to be silent.  He warned the monk that "this was his last chance to get it right."

There was a sudden loud rustle in the jungle, the sounds coming from all sides.  Neetla laughed sarcastically, cursing the monk, as a band of goblins, each mounted on a giant spider, emerged from the jungle.  They surrounded the party on all sides and even from above them, pointing long sharpened stakes and commanding surrender.  The bodyguards fird their crossbows at one of the riders, killing him, while Neetla drew his sword and charged.  The monk surrendered.  The cries of the goblins and spiders were answered by their comrades and the whole jungle seemed to rise against the party.

Tarantula! by Brayo
Tarantula!, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.
Beatriss drew her magic sword, becoming invisible, and slipped off her horse.  She dove into the jungle, seeking only to get away from the melee.  She broke into a small clearing where a dozen more spiders were charging across it to join the battle.  She found a safe place to avoid being badly trampled.

She heard Neetla calling out for her and then his surrender.  Judging herself safe from being seen by the spiders, she crept closer for a better look.  She observed a parade of giant spiders-- two dozen or more-- most of them ridden by goblins.  Neetla was carried as a bound prisoner as was the monk and one of Neetla's bodyguards.  The bodies of the other two bodyguards were also carried.  Beatriss noticed that the monk was not bound so tightly as the others.

Beatriss followed the spiders through the jungle to their lair, a slit in the earth with a steep tunnel leading down into a huge cavern with a strange green glow.  Hundreds of spiders were gathered there, with a human woman presiding over them.

The woman congratulated the returning spiders for having caught several prisoners.  The entire cavern squeaked and jabbered with excitement.  A disk of obsidian began to glow, and sharp, mettalic voice demanded silence.  The human woman spoke to the prisoners.  She ordered that they be freed from their bonds so that she could inspect their hands.  Having done so, she announced that they would make lieutenants "for their cause" and she announced her plans to interrogate them in private.  The woman led the prisoners away, accompanied by a hanful of spiders.  Beatriss decided it was too risky to follow and clambered back up the tunnel out of the cave and into the late afternoon jungle.

Not knowing from which way she had come or where she would find safety, Beatriss chose a direction and bore of a straight course through the jungle.  Spider webs seemed to be everywhere, and although she only encountered tiny, seemingly harmless spiders, they were so numerous, that she felt propelled to keep moving.  She travelled through dusk, only pausing when night fell completely.  In the dark, she could not see any spiders, but she felt them, and found it impossible to sleep.  The howling of wolves gave her the unusual comfort that at least if some other warm-blooded creatures could survive there, so could she.  She climbed a tree and held tightly onto her sword. 

12-7429-1.jpg by Robert W Gilcrease
12-7429-1.jpg, a photo by Robert W Gilcrease on Flickr.
The brush of spider's legs and the barking of wolves kept her company the whole night.  When morning came, she continued moving, still following a straight course.  It rained frequently and she found water to drink, but she became very hungry.  The day passed without her finding any food.  She spent the night in a tree again, but stopped her journey early enough to make better preparations-- using vines to tie herself into the tree, she dozed fitfully, without the risk of losing her perch of safety.  the night was not restful, especially since this time she not only heard, but also saw the wolves who were tracking her.  They did not see, her however, and were distracted by the scent of other prey.

The next day she moved more slowly, taking time to look for fruit, edible tubers, and insect larvae.  Late in the afternoon, she reached a wide river, more mud than water except for a narrow ribbon in the center.  There she saw the flash and splash of what she reasoned must be fish. 

The mud was soft and her feet sank quickly with each step.  But she still saw what looked like a supply of fish so plentiful that she should be able to scoop them up in her arms.  By the time she got close to the actual water, she was struggling through ooze that rose up to her thigh.  Also, she could see that the "fish" were odd, bipedal creatures with razor-sharp teeth-- all at once they turned their heads toward her and sprayed her face with water.  She held up her arm to shield herself from the spray and the vicious creatures scampered toward her.  She drew her sword.  The invisibility confused them, but she was nearly immobile in the deep mud, and they were soon upon her.  She stabbed with her sword, killing several of them until it flew out of her hand.  The survivors sprayed more water, this time hitting her in the eyes.  She was temporarily blinded and they bit her savagely.  She slapped at them with her hands, and when she could grabbed them and tore them with her own teeth.  By the time her vision had cleared, the vicious creatures were dead or had sampered back to the water.  She retrieved her sword, gathered the dead mud creatures and returned to the banks of the muddy river.  She roasted the mud creatures, ate them, and slept on the ground, clinging to her sword and hoping for the best.

Beatriss rose the next morning in high spirits.  She decided to follow the muddy river upstream, reasoning that eventually she would encounter human beings who relied on it for water.  She had already lost track of the days that she had spent in the wilderness, and saw some things whose reality she questioned or would like to. 
Monk in jungle by ntthanhhang
Monk in jungle, a photo by ntthanhhang on Flickr.
But at last she came upon a number of human footprints in the mud.  Following these, she found a path that led into a patch of half-cultivated jungle in which bananas and other fruit trees were plentiful.  She came upon a group of men returning from their hunt, carrying their prey slung to a pole.  Still invisible, she followed them and saw that they had killed a giant spider.  When the hunting party reached a collection of hunts, they were welcomed with cheering and singing.  Too hungry, fatigued, and desperate for human companionship to spend any more time surveyeing the situation, Beatriss, retreated into the trees, sheathed her sword to make herself visible, and then strolled into the village.

Her appearence inspired even more excitement than the spider-meat.  After everyone had a chance to touch her, they brought her to join them in the circle around the fire pit where the spider was roasting.  Too hungry to wait for the spider, she asked for food and devoured it hungrily.  The spider itself was delicious.

After resting for a few days, Beatriss let it be known that she wanted to go to Pasar.  Or so she thought.  There was a man who wanted to go with her, but he seemed to believe that she was going to lead the way.  So Beatriss spent several days in the village.  She played hide-and-seek with the children so that she could learn how to say "Where is Pasar?" 


By this time, the villagers had brought an old woman to the village, a respected shaman who, when in a deep trance, could speak to Beatriss and be perfectly understood.  She invited Beatriss to stay with them in Muban, their name for an alliance of villages in the area.  They understood that she was a powerful spirit-person and wanted her to bles them and protect them from the spider people.  Beatriss expressed interest, but warned the shaman to understand that she had children and that sometimes her children turned into foxes.  Would they also be welcome in Muban?

The shaman seemed to consider this a bonus.  Beatriss explained that she still needed to go to Pasar and then to the place where her children were hiding.  She was grateful for the inivtation and would consider building a stronghold to settle in Muban.