The Iron Seal - A Cadirath Short Story
By: Jeff R. Young
What started as a small fishing town along the eastern shore of the Claw River, Riverhelm quickly grew into a vast city where thousands have come to call home. Ships of all sizes exploit the opportunities offered by the docks along its shores, including the larger frigates that cruise the waters of The Eastern Deep. Connecting the large harbor to the cities interior rests an extensive lucrative market that draws merchants from all corners of Cadirath.
Hundreds of sturdy wooden buildings, built by the various residents, surround four large opulent structures constructed of stone and brick, three of which house the Lords of Riverhelm, while the fourth is a dedicated Temple to the five main goodly gods of the realm. Cobblestone roads circle out from around the center buildings like ripples in a pond, with many crossroads connecting like spokes in a wheel to create trapezoidal shaped blocks.
Unlike other large cities around Cadirath, Riverhelm had not surrounded itself with high protective walls and gates. Instead, its urban landscape melted into green grasses and gentle fields filled with cattle farmers and agricultural spreads. Scattered about the meadows and knolls rest small groves of maples and oaks providing shade for travelers and livestock alike.
In addition to Riverhelm's economic value, it's close proximity to the Forest of Dar'shee, home to the Elven Nations, helped in elevating the cities status among the regions. Though most elvenkind stay within either Cor'serin or Lith'ath'rad, their central woodland cities, many of their merchants and sojourners travel to Riverhelm for trade.
Although the city is patrolled and guarded by a significantly sized militia filled with guards and soldiers, all who patrol and serve to uphold the laws set forth by the ruling Lords, several criminal elements have risen within the city. These organized gangs, ran by corrupt overlords, control the illicit aspects that make up the underworld and often play puppeteer as they manipulate the political climate.
Lord Dorian Arius, considered the second most predominant of the governing lords, always presented himself as friendly, fair, sincere, and sympathetic to the plights of the everyday people of the city, as well as liberal in the ways of laws and legislation. Yet, under that favorable persona, lay an unsatiable appetite for treasure.
His hunger for precious items was legendary among the underworld of Riverhelm. Dorian Arius was a skilled negotiator when it came to bartering, but had no fear of strong-arming a seller, or worse; he had a heinous reputation among the black-market dealers and grew used to getting his way.
Despite the methods used to obtain any items or relics, Lord Arius was prone to bragging and showing off his precious possessions, going so far as creating dedicated rooms to his booty where guests could view the items in all their glory.
Draven stood in one such room, slowly walking from one display to another, feigning interest as best he could. He was dressed in a white silk tunic tucked into tight black leather pants held up by a decorative belt with boots to match. He also wore several expensive rings on his fingers in hopes the entire wardrobe gave him an air of nobility. Behind him trailed Cora, dressed in an outfit of red leather armor with golden bracers on each arm. Her raven black hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail as her deep brown eyes scanned the room silently.
Draven and Cora both had infiltrated the Lord's Manor under the guise of Caleb Areli, a wealthy merchant from Whitehaven, and his bodyguard Keren Eden. Using their assumed personalities days earlier, Draven set rumors among the nobles of the city of a unique artifact worthy of collection, hinting at a steep price for the precious item, should any be interested. It didn't take long for Lord Arius to take the bait, and an invitation to his Manor was offered to the pair.
Draven continued his tedious inspection of the various artifacts, pretending to marvel at one item or another. There were ornate daggers, jewels, gold goblets, even a few decorative swords among the relics. There were valuable items from every race on display, and the Ranger held no doubt this room was a thieves dream.
"Such a wonderful collection," Draven murmured loud enough to be heard. Behind him, Lord Arius sat at his desk, beaming with pride over Draven's appraisal of his collection.
"Is it not a praiseworthy collection?" Dorian asked.
"Applaudable," Draven countered, feeding into the man's pretentious view of his gathered treasure.
Having moved to yet another showcase, this one along the left side of Dorian's desk, he paused and bent in for a closer look. He was careful to keep his hands laced behind his back to dispel any thought that he might try to grab an item. He appeared to be looking intently at a ruby jeweled brooch but was secretly studying the piece below it. He had found what he was looking for, the Iron Seal.
Draven fought the urge to look at Cora as he spun a bit, taking silent note of the Lord's bodyguard, a rather imposing man standing at attention near the door. Letting his hands drop to his sides, he turned his full attention to Lord Arius, who motioned to the empty chair on the opposite side of the desk.
"By all means, master Areli, please sit," Dorian offered.
"Please Lord Arius, call me Caleb, I insist," Draven said, his tone pleasant and friendly. He glanced around the room as he smiled inside; he was getting good at this.
"And this lovely lady is?" Dorian asked, looking Cora up and down.
"Keren," Draven lied, knowing full well the Lord's leering gaze was most likely lighting a raging fire deep within the woman.
"Protection?" the Lord probed.
"Among other things," Draven mused. He could feel the slap across the face Cora will give him later, but he couldn't help himself.
"Interesting," Dorian considered, "I see you have excellent tastes in treasures as well."
Draven kept a relaxed smile on his lips, praying Cora didn't jump in and punch the man. She did, however, step to Draven's side, and for a moment, he thought the fight was on. But she remained there silently, face showing no emotion as she seemed to study the room continually.
"Speaking of tastes, you have developed quite the collection," Draven remarked, looking to the various items in the room. "A rather significant investment, I assume?"
"Quite, why?" Lord Arius asked. Draven noted the suspicion in his tone and the sudden hardening of his features.
"I know from experience that those with wealth often draw the attention of characters of all unsavory sorts. Don't you worry about thieves?"
Dorian relaxed a bit and chuckled, "I‘ve taken precautions, I assure you that."
"I certainly hope so," Draven remarked as he poked a thumb back to the man at the door. "Protection?"
"Indeed. In truth, Simeon has many roles. But let's talk business, shall we?"
"Ah, you wish to see the item?"
Dorian leaned eagerly forward, all but bursting with excitement, "Yes, yes, please!"
Draven reached down into the pocket of his leather pants and pulled out a slightly ridged piece of round silver and set it on the desk before him. The coin was worn and dirty, only showing the partial form of a winged creature stamped on it. Using one finger, he slid the piece across the desk to Dorian.
With a furrowed brow, the Lord picked up the silver piece and studied it carefully. He flipped it over, eyes narrowing at the sight of another winged creature on the back, known as a gargoyle. After looking it over, he set the coin down, staring across at Draven.
"I don't understand, Caleb, this is just a piece of silver," He handed it across to Draven, "The smoothed out etching and tarnish suggests to me it's old, but its value would be minimal at best.
"Ah, but my Lord, you misunderstand," Draven suggested with a smile, "It's much more than you think."
"Oh?" Dorian asked, looking a bit bored suddenly.
"There are four coins exactly like that one," Draven started, "Each coin said to be paired with the others, to be used as keys of sorts." That piqued the Lord's interest a bit again.
He motioned for the coin again, which Draven happily handed over, "Indeed? Tell me more."
"This is one of four coins said to awaken the guardians of the Great Temple."
That caught the Lord's full attention, and Draven nodded to the coin in the man's hand.
"There has always been the rumor that the gargoyles along the roof of the Sanctum were imbued with magic. It's said the dwarves embued an enchantment that could bring the creatures to life. Those coins, when placed on the proper alter within the Temple, unlocks that magic."
Dorian frowned, "That's fascinating and all Caleb, but do tell, how is it you have this?" He asked seriously, "You can not expect me to believe you, or anyone stole this from the Temple's vault."
"The god of chaos did." Draven offered bluntly. It was not some carefully guarded secret that Seteus, a malicious deity of chaos, had raided the vault. However, some only considered the rumor a well-fabricated story for parents to scare their naughty children straight.
"The tales are true?" Dorian recoiled. Draven nodded, staying quiet to let it all sink in. "Where are the other four?"
"No one knows for sure," Draven answered. "That there is the only one I have heard being found."
"So, your asking price?" Dorian queried, mesmerized by the coin.
Draven slid back in the chair, stretching out his legs in a casual manner, and laced his hands together at his waist. "My price? Well, that's another matter entirely."
"How so?" Dorian set the coin on the table, eying Draven skeptically.
"Two-hundred-fifty-thousand," Draven said evenly. Truthfully, he had no idea what an item of that caliber would be worth, so he made the number up.
Dorian's eyes narrowed again, "That wit of yours, I find it amazing."
"I don't understand," Draven frowned.
"You insult my intelligence," He said darkly, "This is one of what, four? And nobody knows where the others are. Plus, I have no guarantee it is even real."
"Hey, look, I'm sure a man of your means has ways of confirming the truth!" Draven said quickly, holding his palms up. He glanced at Cora beside him, but her gaze was over on Simeon.
"I'll offer twenty-five thousand," Dorian said, leaning back in his chair and offering Draven a stern gaze.
"Twenty-five?" Draven stood suddenly, doing his best to look offended. His hasty action surprising everyone in the room, including Simeon, who took a few steps forward. Cora matched his efforts, moving closer to him in a silent stand-off.
"You want to cheat me?" Draven said, coming around to stand to the left of Dorian's desk. The Lord stood, his eyes angry as he spun on Draven, somehow he had produced a wicked-looking dagger in his right hand. With startling speed, Dorian rushed forward, grabbed Draven by the shirt and pushed him back against the display case, and put the dagger to his throat. The Ranger leaned back, his hands landing in the case of items, scattering them about.
Cora glanced between Draven and Simeon, who had produced a dagger as well, and seemed conflicted about what to do. But Draven halted any action as he raised his right hand towards her.
"Let's take it easy now," Draven said carefully. "There is no need for violence."
"My offer is twenty-five, or " Dorian paused with a menacing look as he pressed the dagger a little tighter against Draven's exposed throat., "I take it for free."
Draven swallowed, doing his best to look nervous and scared. He knew he should be a little worried; this man did have a nasty reputation and could quickly kill him, given their positions.
"Twenty-five," Draven conceded behind a nervous swallow, "I think twenty-five sounds about right."
Dorian let the pressure off his neck and lowered the knife far enough to tap him on the chest with the tip. They locked stares for a few heartbeats before Draven pretended to crumble under the Lord's gaze and looked away as if whipped. Finally, Dorian backed off a few steps, letting Draven stand, but keeping the dagger ready.
"Simeon, be a good man and fetch them their coin," Dorian instructed, never once taking his eyes from Draven.
"And tell your pretty little guardian to behave herself." He remained close enough to merely thrust his hand out to stab the unarmed Ranger in the chest. Draven did as instructed, earning a worried frown from Cora.
Simeon fumbled over a lockbox producing a big leather pouch and set it on the Lord Arius's desk. The big man then walked around his master and stood between him and Draven, and with a quick thrust, slugged Draven in the stomach, knocking him back against the case again. He fell to the ground, rolling about as he gasped for air.
Cora again wanted to move, but Dorian slipped closer to Draven, and Simeon spun with his dagger ready. She shot both men a wicked glare but remained silent and still.
"I said the twenty-five was good," Draven whined as he stood awkwardly, half rolling, half pushing himself up with one hand, the other moving from his back to his stomach, nursing the pain in both.
"I know," Dorian said smoothly, "I was simply just making sure."
"May I then?" Daven motioned to the leather purse with his left hand while he held his right still tight to his abdomen. "I hope our business is done?"
"Go ahead, Caleb, as you say, our business is done. And please, allow Simeon to escort you out."
Draven snatched up the purse quickly and began to hobble towards the door; Cora moved to help him, still glaring at the other men.
"I know the way out," Draven mumbled.
"I insist," Simeon returned.
With Cora helping Draven walk, Dorian's bodyguard led the way down the halls towards the outer doors. They had made it as far as the entrance hall when they heard Dorian bellow "Wait!" from somewhere behind them.
"Oh crap," Draven swore, standing straight suddenly as Lord Dorian Arius burst from the hall in a rush, dagger in hand with a wild, angry look in his eyes.
Cora sprung into swift action, moving between Draven and the charging Lord. Dorian attacked, stabbing out with the knife, aiming for her chest. But she proved quicker, stepping outside of the attack and spun to the left, grabbing ahold of his right wrist. Using his momentum against him, she placed her other hand on his shoulder and turned him around, letting go to watch him slam into the wall near the hall. He collapsed into a heap, where he remained unmoving.
Simeon finally gathered his wits and was about to lurch towards Draven when the Ranger, still holding the hefty bag of coin, swung the purse upward and slammed it into his chin. The large man staggered back, clasping his mouth with one hand as blood started to flow between his fingers. Draven was about to swing his makeshift weapon again when Cora flew past, jumped into the air, and landed a solid punch to Simeon's left cheek. The man stumbled under the blow, falling to his knees. Cora followed the jab with a roundhouse kick to his other cheek, which sent him twirling him to the ground.
"We need to get out of here," She said in a hurry.
"You think?" Draven agreed.
Cora scrambled to the door and swung it open as Draven, who was now walking a little bull-legged, followed. They sped for the street, moving only as fast as Draven could manage. Once there, they pushed on, doing their best to make their way to a safe spot where they could rest. No doubt, Lord Dorian would have the city guard looking for them once he woke up.
They made it several blocks before Draven came to a halt next to a decorative fountain on one of the busiest central avenues and groaned.
"I can't take it any more," He hissed as he dug into the front of his pants. With just a little wiggling, he pulled an old greyish hand-sized object, then sat with a sigh on the ledge of the fountain.
"Thank the gods," He huffed in relief, "that was [not] comfortable!"
"I bet not," Cora giggled, but cringed as she shook her head when Draven tried to hand the object over.
Draven looked the object over. It had a round center from which six triangular points jutted out. As far as artifacts go, it was somewhat dull, no jewels or runes to decorate it, yet was considered priceless to the Dwarven clans who called the Ash Mountains home. The relic was a key of sorts, said to activate a great weapon within the dwarven hall, should they ever be attacked. There were only two made, and one was given to the Temple. It, like all the others, had been stolen when the god of chaos raided the Temple's vault.
"The Iron Seal," Cora nodded.
"I told you the plan would work," Draven grinned.
Cora rolled her eyes but nodded. "Alright, you win this one. But I really wanted to kill Dorian."
Draven laughed, "I figured, but Lucian said we needed to leave him alive."
Draven stood and started to move off down the busy street but paused, digging into his pants again.
"What are you doing?" Cora asked skeptically. "Finding " Draven wiggled again, then produced the silver coin with the gargoyle imprint. "This." Cora laughed as she watched him flip it into the fountain. Then he tapped the coin purse hanging from his belt. "After all, it's worth quite a bit of coin!"
"Come on," Draven said, smiling towards his companion.
The smile Cora returned was sincere. "Let's go home."