Posted below are tales, anecdotes and stories of Rika, an Uthgardt warrior from Spine of the World
Love and Death
The rain came down in a light cold drizzle, the aftermath of a steady rain. Rika sat on a bench overlooking the Icelace, two empty bottles at her feet. She was inebriated and she knew it, and like most times, simply didn’t care. Her clothing and hair were soaked and plastered to her skin. She should be shivering, but like many of her people, endured.
She had fallen in battle, yet again. This time, facing giants and their pets with the great warrior Varya at her side. She had stupidly sought better position and became trapped instead. Regardless, she had acquitted herself with strength, bravery and honor. Uthgar would be proud she thought. What happened next however, shocked her.
She had woken up in the Temple of the Triad. She had expected to see a priest of Tempus in High Hold, or the smiling face of the priests of the Earth Mother in Norwick. These were the gods of her people here in the Nars, and she had been brought back by them before.
But never Torm. Never, ever Torm. Why would Torm even give her favor? Why would Torm even care? She followed the teachings of the Great Worm. She prayed to the gods of the Uthgardt and no other. Uthgar and her ancestors blessed her and gave her strength. The Great Worm himself had even blessed her axe. Not once had she ever said a prayer to Torm. Not once.
She had been surprised, astonished, and upset. Raryldor had simply walked away. Varya stood there and had tried to explain.
It had taken two entire bottles and a wine skin to understand. Unable to rise, the liquor taking her legs, she sat there on the bench gazing to the sea. While, large angry waves leapt over the peer, Rika wept. Uthgardt were not afraid of tears.
Simon, the priest of Torm was her best friend. He was not an effete priest who stayed in the elaborate trappings of a grand temple. He did not involve himself in politics. He brought the words of duty and honor to the common people. He traveled from town to town, offering prayer, guidance, and healing. Despite being a priest of a god often at odds with Uthgar, she was proud to be his friend. He was a good man.
She had faced death many times with him. They had fought side by side, explored new places, shared drinks, and laughed over stories. When he had been poisoned and shivered with fever, she had stripped down and held him close to keep him warm, terrified his next breath would be his last.
That was why Torm had raised her. It wasn’t just that she fought beside him. It wasn’t just because she accepted the blessings. It wasn’t because he was her friend.
It was because she loved him.
Rika stood outside the entrance to the cavern. Even in the sunlight, the deep recesses looked foreboding. Though it was the holiest of places of her people, it was said it was connected to the Underdark. She had been inside only once during the Runemeet of her womanhood.
The elder shaman of the village stood next to her patiently. He was once a tall man, but now stooped with age. Despite that, he miraculously had a full head of hair, though mostly grey. Legend had it that he was once a powerful man. His arms were still knotted with muscle, and his hands large and strong. He gestured with his long staff towards the entrance.
“The answers you seek are within Rika. All I can say is what the ancestors have told me. You’ve been given a great gift. It’s true nature however, was not given to me.”
Rika looked at him with disappointment. The thought of going in both exhilarated and frightened her. With a nod she straightened herself and summoned the courage to step inside. Her heart skipped a beat when she looked over her shoulder and saw the shaman leaving. With a long breath she continued walking.
The way soon became dark, and Rika drew her shield. Her shield had been blessed by Tempus to emit light, but the light was absent on the design of the Great Worm on the shield. The design of it cast a shadow ahead of her on the floor of the cavern in the shape of the one who guided her people. As she turned the shield around, her breath caught in her throat.
The mound was ringed in various layers. Carved stones marked each one. At the top of the mound was an altar, perhaps a statue. It was large, in the shape of a winged serpent. It awed her now as much as it did those many years ago.
The whispers were subtle at first. Tired and ancient, yet insistent. They didn’t seem to come from anywhere in particular. Rika drew her axe and crouched, trying to determine direction.
The laughter was different. Lighter. Almost inside her head. “Who are you to invade this holy place!”, Rika shouted.
“HELLO FROG CHASER”
A rustling came from the other side of the mound. Rika squinted into the darkness, but saw nothing.
“I STILL REMEMBER THE LITTLE GIRL WHO CHASED THE WOOD FROG TO MY DOOR STEP. THE CHILD HAS GROWN”
Rika gasped at the sudden memory. She was three, perhaps four years old. She was out playing, chasing this frog with a raccoon like mask. Every time she got close, it would leap the length of a grown man away from her…. then nothing. Her memory ended there.
“Who…”, Rika started, but in her heart she knew. Rika bowed her head out of reflex and forced herself to remain standing. Every fiber of her being screamed to kneel, but that would have been disrespectful. Uthgardt do not kneel before others.
“STEP FORWARD FROG CHASER”
Rika stepped forward. The light in her shield cast its shadow of the great worm on the mound. A large shadow appeared behind it, next to the statue. Bright serpentine eyes glinted in the light. Rika stood there, her feet pinned to the floor. There was a deep, almost pleased rumble.
“WE HAVE LITTLE TIME FROG CHASER. YOU HAVE QUESTIONS AND A FAVOR TO ASK. ASK THEM”
“Why me? What have I been given?”, Rika stammered. There was a brief pause before the Great Worm spoke.
“YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN UTHGAR’S FAVOR. I HAVE ASKED HIM AND YOUR ANCESTORS FOR THIS, AND YOU WILL USE IT TO DO MY BIDDING. YOU WILL SLAY EVIL. YOU WILL QUELL ITS NATURE, AND BE A FORCE FOR GOOD. PEOPLE WILL KNOW UTHGAR THROUGH YOU AND THE DIVINE STRENGTH HE GIVES YOU.”
“But my br…”, Rika started.
“IT WAS NEVER YOUR BROTHER. IT WAS ALWAYS YOU”
The was a long silence. Magnus she thought, was always the better person. Taller, stronger and far more clever. He was kind and caring. He was a good person that died far too young. Even after all these years, she teared up at his memory.
Rika cleared her throat. She was going to ask the elder shaman for the blessing. Asking the Great Worm himself seemed arrogant. She closed her eyes and exhaled at length.
“Will you and the ancestors bless my axe?”, she asked timidly.
Rika took out the mithral axe that Sonja had laboriously crafted. Beside it, she put the fang of the great spider she had slain, along with several gems she hoped would help. She had bargained for them at great expense.
The Great Worm came forward into the light, and Rika’s breath caught in her throat at the sight.
He was vast, the size of a dragon. A serpent’s head rested atop a long slender body covered in bright feathers. Large wings extended to balance. As she watched, the gems, the axe and the fang floated off the ground. A large globe of light formed above them. The old and tired whispers started again, but this time in ritual unison.
“ONE PART ME”, he intoned, and the globe of light touched the axe.
“ONE PART OF YOU”, he intoned again. Rika’s head flooded with the image of herself before battle, the ritual of her axe clanging on her shield rang through her. Her legs grew week as the orb of light grew brighter and touched the axe again
“ONE PART OF THE FIRST GREAT EVIL YOU SLEW”, he intoned a final time. The floating fang pulverized to dust. The large gems did the same. The dust intermingled, twisted and swirled, and laid itself out on the filigree of the designed on the axe. The axe glowed green and spun in its axis before settling back on the mound. The surrounding whispers stopped.
Rika looked up at the Great Worm. She could almost sense that something was wrong.
“NOW FROG CHASER, YOU MUST GO. THE ZHENTS ARE UPON US”
Alarmed, Rika picked up the axe. She could almost feel the power within it. She turned to face the entrance.
“…NO FROG CHASER. IF YOU STAY HERE YOU WILL PERISH. YOU MUST CONTINUE.”.
Rika turned to object, but large wings wrapped around her. The Great Worm’s voice became soft, sad, and insistent.
“Wear his power like armor. Use it to rid the lands of evil. Honor your ancestors, for they will give you strength. Fight in Uthgar’s name…”
Rika felt disoriented, tumbling through blackness. Trees, mountains, lakes and rivers flew before her vision. When she recovered, she stumbled and fell sitting on a muddy field. The city of Peltarch was in the distance, smoke curling lazily from its many chimneys.
Rika cried out in anguish, then hung her head and wept.
In the latter half of the 14th century DR, the Great Worm was slain by a band of adventurers who had been sponsored by the Zhents (Silver Marches Sourcebook)
Petr and Sif sat on a log by the fire. Sif’s head rested on her husband Petr’s broad shoulders, a happy smile upon her lips. Her bright blue eyes glistened with pride. Petr held Sif’s hands in his, his thick fingers caressing hers. Together they watched as their daughter Rika told animated tales of her many adventures of the land she had visited.
She had arrived three days ago, haggard and worn. The scouts had spotted her a half a day’s journey from the village, and had escorted her the remainder of the way. She had slept almost a full day after she arrived.
Petr and Sif had doubts about ever seeing their daughter again. That she had even returned was a miracle in of itself. But the gifts she bore were surely the result of their ancestors’ favor. Beautifully crafted weapons, gems, and an astounding amount of gold were given as tribute to the chieftain and the village. The axe she bore was made of a strange silvery metal. Her armor crafted and polished steel. She almost looked like someone from one of the shamans’ tales come to life.
The gathering was large. Many of the tribe of the Great Worm had come, some of whom had known her when she was little. Now she stood telling great tales, the eyes of the village upon her.
Rika was no skald, but she had an uncanny ability to draw attention. She was tall and fair of face, and when she spoke, people listened.
She told tales of a land called Narfell, besieged by orcs, giants, and all manner of foul and evil creatures. She told tales of great warriors. Amongst them a yellow haired princess who fought with a two handed blade, and a great warrior named “Scott” who waded through fire and smoke, and had learned to dodge the magic of evil wizards.
She told of dwarven adventures in search of metals in cold mountains and deep mines, along with a priest who dedicated himself to a god of prophets. She told of another who dedicated himself to honor and duty, who wandered the land helping the people. Petr noticed she spoke of the latter with some fondness.
At one point, she spoke of a great battle with a spider the size of the chieftain’s yurt. No one believed her until she pulled this fantastic fang from a pack which seemed to hold endless amounts of trinkets. The villagers gasped, many of the warriors looking upon her and speaking amongst themselves. Petr had no doubt that Rika could have any man she wanted that night. More than one if she wished.
As the night wore on and Rika’s voice grew hoarse, people succumbed to the ale and mead which were plentiful. People fell asleep or drifted back to their homes, Rika included. Sitting beside the chieftain, the elder shaman watched with sadness. The ancestors had spoken to him in dreams, and he knew that Rika’s destiny lay elsewhere. Her stay here was temporary, and it was not time for her to be with her people.
Uthgar, the Great Worm, and the ancestors had given her a great gift, and she was expected to use it.
When Rika, her father and her uncle traveled east, they bypassed Silverymoon to the north. Neither of them wanted anything to do with the city or its residents.
Silverymoon was a known Magocracy, having been ruled by mages for centuries. The currently ruler Taern Hornblade was a mage of great repute, and many of the Tribe of the Great Worm feared or outright despised dealing with Silverymoon in any fashion.
Rika’s attitude had changed in the years following that journey east. Living in Peltarch had given her exposure to magic of all sorts, and her tolerance of it had improved. She still didn’t trust mages. Their power was unseen and chaotic. Most of them she had encountered were either power hungry or crazy, Zoma being the latter. The only mage she tolerated on a regular basis was Salin, and that’s because his specialty was making other mages not use their power.
This time however, Rika was guarding a merchant wagon headed directly into the heart of the city. She thought of collecting her pay in the outskirts and bypassing it again, but it seemed cowardly this time. As she approached the eastern gate, she steeled herself and followed the merchant in.
Rika followed in awe.
Silverymoon was easily three to four times the size of Peltarch. It boggled her mind how so many people could be in one place. Row upon row of houses, stands and stores lined the streets. Men and women dressed in colorful and fancy clothing. Some women carried sticks with broad brightly colored cloth stretched over their head.
They ventured no further than a hundred paces when two guards approached. Like Peltarch’s guards they were well dressed. One was pinched face and short. The other was average height, sported a full beard and was rather portly. They regarded Rika with some trepidation, but engaged the merchant and his wife professionally, asking for papers. When they were satisfied, the small one tipped the lip of his helm and they both left.
As Rika watched them go, she began to notice her surroundings in earnest. People walked around carefree. Most of them were unarmed, save for a dagger or short blade. There were far more elves here than she had seen anywhere else and they too, walked carefree and largely unarmed. Some of them were fat. Even the guard was fat. “How does a guard manage to get fat?”, she thought to herself in disgust. An Uthgardt child would be a mortal challenge to most of these people. Civilization truly made people weak. The sooner she got home and away from these effete, self-indulgent people the better.
She escorted the merchant to a vast open space. It was as large as the entire docks district in Peltarch. Merchants hawked their wares as far as the eye could see. If you wanted something, anything, it was likely it could be found here.
The merchant and his family found an open space and folded down the sides of the wagon. He paid Rika with a heartfelt smile and added another small purse as a bonus. He cupped her hand and said a blessing to Waulkeen. Rika hefted the coin, returned the smile and left.
Rika spent an uneventful three days in the city, gathering supplies for the final leg of the journey. She was excited. She had made good time. Runemeet was still two months away and she would easily be home before it started.
There was no road home. The journey back to the Spine of the World would take a long trek through the glacier fields of the Icy North, The High Ice, the Silver Marches, and past Mithril Hall. It would take months, most of it through freezing temperatures and desolation.
It started off the way it had ended. Rika had gathered her things, near emptied her bank account, and booked passage on the Icelace north to Hoarsgate. From there, she journeyed north, where the ruler there held sway over 4000 nomads and warriors. She stopped to pay her respects, and let her know that the gifts had been received, and her tasks complete. Now it was time to head west.
Rika used some of her coin to pay three guides for what would be the hardest part of her journey. There were no bandits and few beasts. Their greatest enemy was the climate. Rika, her father and her uncle had no guides going east when the journey to Narfell had first been made. With the guides, a third of the time was shaved from the trip.
Nonetheless, food became scarce. There was only so much that could be carried on the snow ponies and sleds. Ice Mephits attacked one night and stole some of it. A blizzard came through and forced them to hole up for almost three days, after which the deeper snow made progress slow. They were tracked at length by some great white beast that never showed itself, and had to veer around territory marked by some orcish tribe whose symbols no one recognized.
Eventually, after weeks of travel, the ruins of Hlaungadath appeared on the horizon. Those ruins marked the start of better climate. Once the ruins were reached, Rika and the guides parted company. From there, the journey would be alone until the walls of Sundabar were reached.
Rika bypassed the ruins to the north and across the tip of the Anauroch past the ruins of Ascore. She kept her distance at all times and fearfully watched without a campfire lest she draw unwanted attention. The ruins of Ascore flickered with lights, and she didn’t want to meet what manner of evil spirits dwelt there. Two days later, she discovered the abandoned road to Sundabar.
Sundabar was her first sign of civilization she had seen in some time. Originally a dwarven citadel, it was now home to humans as well which made up at least half of the population. It reminded Rika of Peltarch in a way but with a different language. Tall stone buildings lined cobblestone streets. Guards were everywhere mostly bearing symbols of Helm or Tyr along with the city’s sigil.
Rika spent three nights there regaining her strength, eating all too well and drinking far too much. She guarded her coin purse diligently. Although she drew attention, her bearing and equipment gave an appearance of someone who was not to be trifled with and she was largely left alone.
At the end of the three days she hired on a guard for a merchant headed to Silverymoon. It was just the merchant, his family, and two other guards. It would also be the first time her axe had drawn blood since the quest to the Fire Temple in the Giant Spires.
The merchant and his family were a nice lot. He was loud, a bit overbearing, and his wife was petite with an attitude twice her size. Their two young boys were quiet and helpful. The other two guards were human, but Rika was sure one of them had a bit of elven blood.
The bandits attacked while they were traveling through the Nether Mountains. It wasn’t even really an attack. It was eight men in a mix of chain and leathers who saw three guards and figured eight was greater than three.
A fallen log had blocked the road, and the eight came from around rocks and hidden crevices behind the wagon. One of the wagon guards stayed with the family, a look of despair on his face. The other had a crossbow, but looked ready to drop it. What appeared to be the leader of the group of bandits stepped forward. He had a decent sword. The chainmail was well crafted. He had a look of cruel confidence, his eyes greedily looking at the wagon.
Rika stepped up to meet him, weapons undrawn. She looked them over as she approached. All she saw were desperate men with little to no combat experience who wanted an easy target. The leader looked at her with a smile, but his eyes betrayed uncertainty. The woman that approached was in well crafted plate, and was as tall has he was.
There was the forced bravado. The call for surrender and the promise of spared life. But the leader was killed mid-sentence when Rika quickly drew her axe, and with a summoning of divine strength nearly cut him in twain. His eyes registered brief surprise, but little else.
Rika stood there silently for a moment as she drew her shield. Her axe dripped blood on the sand and stone. The other bandits, leaderless, looked unsure and stunned at the turn of events.
“Who’s next”, Rika said, spitting on the ground.
They turn and ran. The leader wasn’t even worth looting. Several days later, they reached the vast city of Silverymoon.
Rika stood amongst the surviving Defenders. Blood still dripped from her axe. The screams and loud clashes of weapons on shield and armor had been replaced by an eerie silence interrupted by an occasional moan.
The battle had been brutal. The orcs had out numbered the defenders considerably, but they had held fast. Four defenders lay dead. Two more lay dying.
Rika had heard the clashes in the forest when heading north past the west gate of the city. She had rushed deep into the forest’s shaded interior and around the hillside to bear witness to the onslaught. With a battle cry upon her lips, she had joined the fray.
Now, the defenders milled around momentarily dazed. The battle had required all of the group’s balms and healing potions merely to survive. There were none left for the dying.
Of the two that still lived, one was a young lad the sergeant called “Daniel”. A three month recruit, the boy looked barely out of his teens. The sergeant had tried to put a healing potion up to his mouth, but the lad was too far gone to drink. The sergeant merely pursed his lips and sighed.
“He will die a warrior’s death”, Rika thought, though she was dismayed at his youth. Her brother was about the same age when he too had fallen in battle. It just didn’t seem fair.
It was then she realized, that she had a choice.
She didn’t understand how or why she knew. She only knew that she could either let him live or die. The dreams of the brightly colored cloak of feathers was suddenly a sharp memory, and the weight of bearing it seemed all too real now. She knelt beside Daniel and took his hand. Somehow, it seemed like the right thing to do.
Rika suddenly felt warm. Daniel’s eyes briefly fluttered open to meet Rika’s startled gaze. It was a curious sensation that was followed by a sharp intake of breath. Vague color returned to Daniel’s face.
“Glad you had one left in you priestess”, the sergeant smiled with relief. “Perhaps the lad will see another sunrise”
As the survivors gathered the dead and a runner was sent to the city, Rika followed silently. She was no priestess. Yet somehow, she had saved the boy’s life. Though she didn’t truly understand the significance of the event, she knew where she must go to find the answers.
Back to her people. Back to the Spine of the World and perhaps, the ancestral mound itself.
Rika sat in Jonni’s spot at the table in front of the Mermaid. It amused her to no end how he claimed the chair and this spot. She took it upon herself to occasionally move the chair he had marked with his name to other locations, even bringing it inside and replacing it with others. She smiled at the thought of his semi sincere protests at her incursions. They were completely ridiculous, and her light hearted teasing at the situation brought mirth to an otherwise overcast and dreary day.
The heated and spiced cider sat cooling in the stein that she carried everywhere. It had been a parting gift from her favorite village shaman. The shaman had gifted it to her they day before she, her father, and her uncle left to travel north. He reminded her that life wasn’t always that serious, and to drink, enjoy, and take it all in, both good and bad. It was dwarven crafted and bore her name in their odd runic markings. It was probably her favorite possession.
She took a long sip, cupping the stein in her hands for warmth. She was slow to wake up this morning. The over abundance of mead last night didn’t help.
The dreams had started innocently enough. She was drifting through the village where she grew up, proudly bearing a cloak of brightly colored feathers. Her parents seemed proud that she owned it. Some warriors looked upon her with envy. Some mocked her as unworthy that it graced her shoulders. Sometimes her brother was there just as she remembered him.
The dreams never told her how or why she had it. There were hints that it had been bequeathed by her brother. Sometimes it was kept under a bed at her parents’ house, and had been hers all along until she grew into it. Sometimes it was a gift from a mysterious stranger, some larger than life figure unspoken of. Last night she thought she had the answer, but the wisps of the dream world carried it away on little quiet feet and hid it in the shadows of her thoughts.
To the Uthgardt people, dreams meant something. They were portents and visions often gifted by the ancestors, great spirits or the gods themselves. She knew this dream was important, but couldn’t explain why.
Someone clearing his throat disturbed her thoughts. Rika looked up into Jonni’s older face. Blonde hair framed a disapproving scowl as he gestured to the chair in which she sat. Rika kicked out a different chair and pointed to it.
“So Jonni the Seer … Do you do dreams”?