We’re blessed to find a letter from our Bard to his wife, detailing his story, situation and his unique perspective of the world.
Year two of my Exile – the Cats
My dearest Anne,
It has been some good while since I took up arms, and by that I mean the pen. I dash out these lines from a lighthouse off the coast of Cheliax just as the hope has been dashed out of me. Perhaps, like one of the beams of light from this beacon, these lines will help guide a lost traveller home, and will not become the flotsam and jetsam of a message in a bottle.
For a moment I was led believe the portal might bring me back to you, as it did Filibuster the Entertainer. He claimed to me once he had been adrift in a sea of sand, finding a palace in the midst of the desert. It had been occupied by about seven hundred cats and a merchant prince who made him sing for his supper! Having entertained the prince and his strange harem, Filibuster had been led to a tree where he had fallen asleep, only to wake at home.
I find myself in strange company and now it seems in a strange company. Despite the rough-and-tumble nature of this merry band of misfits, I have decided to throw my lot in with them and hang the consequences. Let me start from the beginning rather than the middle, and hopefully not the end.
As I was wending my weary way to the next town, I resolved that temperance would be my reward at the inn that night. I trudged to the barn to stable my beast of burden (I call him Bottom because he is an ass) and no sooner than had I crossed the threshold I was up to my ears in pussy cat. Just like old Filibuster, I had stumbled into a harem, not of women but of cats! None of which compared to you, my summer’s day.
Looking about the room, I recognised it to indeed have the trimmings of the tales told by Scheherazade. How the cats lived in this place I do not know, as it seemed decades old, and there were no servants nor prince. A dead cat lay in the centre of the room. But I was not alone.
A dog-like man, Picklick, skulked in the shadows, but he bade me no harm as many Hobgoblins would have. I tried both doors, but I was as trapped as he. Then I noticed one of the cats was sleeping on a peculiarly-shaped mat, a fish-shaped patterned one of circles and woven bands. The marking of Yog-Sothoth, the Traveller. Indeed the décor of someone with the power to create, borrow or move realms into a pocket plane, for this room seemed to be one of those. A key lay under the paws of the cat, which I retrieved gently, but it would not open any doors.
I sat my ass down, and for hours we waited. I am ashamed to say I drowned my sorrows in low spirits.
And then the travellers arrived, and each time we secreted ourselves in the shadows to see what they would do.
A gnome came out of nowhere, running into the room, and slipping a little on the dead cat. He asked about a dragonkin and keys. Explaining my dilemma, I traded him my key for one of his. He promptly took the key, ran to a door that it had not worked on before, fidgeted for a second, and opened the door. From outside I heard something that was halfway between a great bell ringing and a razor being drawn along a metal edge. The door shut behind him and he was gone.
Later, a catfolk woman came in similarly, asking about a gnome. On the way out she saw the dead cat, looked at me snarling, “I’ll be back for you!” She disappeared through the same door.
I tried the new key and it opened the door to what looked like the inside of a dingy, coastal shack full of nets and lures. With a tempest raging there, I thought I would wait until it died down.
My surroundings reminded me of an old story from the East where the Monkey King chased a demon through a palace of ten thousand doors, fighting enemies and parting magical oceans within rooms.
Some time later, I swear I saw something speed through the room, scattering the cats. It was far faster than the cat lady or the gnome. Perhaps it was a magically endowed elf, shadow beast or quickling?
Minutes later, the motley crew arrived. They didn’t seem dangerous (to others) and I spoke with them, introducing myself as Bill Johnssonne, a journeyman. The one who spoke most with me was called John and was a most peculiar prophet. Although he was my father’s namesake, he could not be more different: his skin was dark and he spoke in riddles. Knowledgable as I am on the terrible gods of this place, including Azathoth, his expounding on the ways of Astley was new to me. I must look further into this.
The half-orc, Brus, as I later learned his name was, recognised the sign of the Traveller on the mat. Picklick joined us and together they prised the dead cat from the floor (it had been crushed) and found an envelope. Once dog man had licked it clean, it was opened up to reveal a threat – something would soon be here to greet eat us. It was signed Limen, which reminded me of Limenology, the study of doors and portals.
We needed no more encouragement, and left together with their grey Svirfneblin brute through the door which opened to the fisherman’s cabin, and I learned they bore their own key and ornate ring.
We crowded into the cabin and the sounds of the sea assaulted our senses. The door fell to fragments behind us and there was no way back. Love notes and marooned bottles filled a bench there, which we would learn about anon.
Along the beach, which transpired to be a small island, lay a lighthouse. A lighthouse under siege by an old woman, a parody of some star-crossed lovers. At the height of the tower stood a young man calling for help as she professed her love below. The hag turned on us with great violence and we replied in kind. I gave her a serve and was forced to run her through with my spear after she tore through Brus. Together our party harried her off the island, and she was last seen clinging to the back of a shark.
We were welcomed in by Alain as heroes before our host had much thought about how we had appeared on his island with no boat in sight, and a pack animal in tow! He had accidentally become betrothed to a sea hag by way of messages in bottles.
Having abused our host’s hospitality and quietly relieved him of his key (very much like ours), we ate and swapped tales. I apprised them of the story I have set down here, while they told me of their journey from dragon via knight and dwarf mine.
The knight’s note they showed me put me in mind of an old story of the White Paladin, whose symbol is the same. As for the dwarf mine, I have heard talk that a company of miners on the Crown of the World had dug through the ruins of an ancient empire, delving deeper until a sinkhole collapsed under them, leaving them to perish. Some say they succumbed to cannibalism, but surely that must be a story to frighten the children away from the mines.
All in all, I fear we are as foxes being hunted. John associated my comment with a Kitsune he had met, which put me in mind of one of their tales. One of the greatest dungeons of legend is the Halls of the Ur-Kitsune, trickster legend of the Kitsune folk. The rooms themselves are not fixed, but move around amongst themselves, confusing those foolish enough to enter. There are rumours of an even greater dungeon, but no-one can agree on the specifics.
Knowing the next boat is weeks away, that something may be on our heels and that these portals may yet bring me home, I am resolved to press on with this band, should the opportunity present itself. They are merry enough, and already call me Will, which I take as a sign of affection.
Your loving but errant husband,