Sansas - First Noble of Khare by Jared Milne
Below is a most faithful interpretation of a day in the life of Sansas, the First Noble of Khare, by the esteemed scholar, Jared Milne, Lord of the Cruel Summer. It is believed that the source used for the interpretation were the diaries of Lord Sansas's secretary, Kelissa.
Kakhabad. The most savage and evil place in the Old World, where chaotic magical energies turned nature and the land into an ugly harridan. Bizarre monsters found nowhere else on Titan roamed its strange wildernesses and forests, its rivers polluted with white and blackish fluids, its trees stunted and warped. Its monsters were gnarled and bent, as if violated by some otherworldly presence leaching onto the land.
There were few pretenses to civilization in this evil region. Outside of the primitive black elves and tribes of Klattamen, the great bastion was Khare, the Cityport of Traps. A polished, gleaming veneer of a city bridging, like a lovely gem, the Jabaji River. It accentuated the majestic Cloudcap Peaks and Lake Lumle to the northwest, the other end of the Jabaji feeding out into the Kakhabad Sea.
At first glance, Khare might seem like a wonderful place to live. Unlike the ugly, ramshackle heap that was Port Blacksand, the city of thieves, Khare had fine towers of ivory and white stone, grand harbors full of fine ships, pera houses, opera houses, great casinos, and other civilized trappings.
But underneath the beautiful makeup was a rotting corpse. Khare was known as the Cityport of Traps, and with good reason. Blacksand was at least open about its criminal corruption, the home of the scum of Allansia. But Khare was seen as something that reeked of debauchery, a thin film of civilization creeping over it all.
Historians too afraid to visit the city themselves made up all sorts of fanciful tales. They said black elves and red-eyes walked the streets and dallied with women while rolling in piles of excrement, while demons played music on the bones of their victims. Torches carved from burning heads would light up the night, while ritual hunts were conducted in the back streets.
All this was pure nonsense. The city, while being a wicked place filled with many (often hostile) races and traps introduced by the better citizens to protect themselves, had its rules of conduct-mostly to prevent riots of destruction and keep the slave and drug trades running. Who knew this most of all?
Sansas, the First Noble of Khare, of course.
Sansas himself appeared in public as a tall thin fellow with a curly black moustache and hair to match. He dressed in brilliant purple and red robes, with a plumed hat to match. A smiling chap with gleaming brown eyes, his hail-fellow-well-met attitude often surprised most of his citizens. A ruthless crime lord with connections across Titan, he ran his business most efficiently.
One day saw him strolling into his offices one morning. He threw a wink to his secretary (and leman) before promptly stripping off his moustache and wig, dropping them into his pocket.
"Good morning, Kelissa," he said with a grin. His secretary merely nodded back, handing Sansas a pile of papers and scrolls. Taking them up with a sigh, he marched into his office.
The latest sales figures for the slaves, red-dust leaves, and artifacts, he read and tossed aside without much thought. Business was run as usual, he reflected. Of course, he thought with a smile, having an angry barbarian with a large bullwhip as your employer would make anyone work hard.
The set of letters from the temple of Slangg he looked over, before writing some hard replies. Soft-spoken priests did have to raise their voices sometimes, he knew. Looking over his list of appointments for that day, he reached into a desk drawer and pulled out his pipe. He then marched to the back wall of his office, before pulling on a mantle set into the wall. A secret door opened, and after tidying up his office, he marched into this back room. The permanent light spell allowed Sansas to gaze over its contents, and he smiled.
Sansas's office was decorated with portable items and trinkets to make a sea man proud-model ships, naval flags, telescopes, and other such items. No paintings or other large items adorned the walls, but this was lost on Bartella. Sansas was the same as always-a short, balding man with a thick mass of facial hair, dressed in a too-big overcoat, two cutlasses hanging at his side.
The two men shook hands before sitting down. Sansas happily poured his guest some grog, before lighting his pipe with his favorite brand, Ship of Fools. He got right to the point.
"How goes the business down in Khul?"
"Bad," Bartella answered with a disgusted sigh. He took a long draw on the grog before continuing.
"We had a good run against Anghelm, but I lost one of my ships to their blasted shot. Then, (another long pull) we ran into lizard man pirates. Lost two more and all their contents. Only about four thousand nobles worth this time, I'm afraid."
"How many people is that?"
"That's it?" Sansas asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Business has been bad recently. Brice and Arion have all the damned naval patrols, Azzur is raiding the best spots "
"Well, you know Azzur. Always treats his employees like they're stupid fools."
"Pull the wool over their eyes? Aye. If I ever see that two-timing skunk's real face, by Edeluk I'll " Sansas merely sat quietly, his Ship of Fools tobacco forming a ring around his head.
"I'm sure I'd love to hear about all the misadventures you have with your competition," Sansas said sarcastically, "but I have a city to run. How many in numbers?"
"A hundred. Like I said, business has been bad."
"Twenty-five? You son of a "
"Like you said, business has been bad. Perhaps if I told Third Noble Rishid about your dallying with his wife?" Bartella was silent. Sansas had found out about this somehow, and he hung it over the pirate like blasted blackmail.
"Deal. Here's my letter of credit-the gambling halls will be good for it."
"The gambling halls? Don't you Khareans use banks or lending-houses?"
"I like to play the odds. The emotional thrill, you see, of everything turning on a die "
"Whatever. You rant on sometimes, Edeluk curse you." Taking up the letter with a grumble, Bartella left in considerable ill humor. Sansas grinned, before moving back to the mantle and the secret door.
Ly'ren'ellik Onorino Cha, High Priest of Ishtra and member of the Council of Thirteen, was a short, solidly built lizard man who had scales appearing much like rocks and stones, sharp, pointed and edged. One of his heads was large and glaring, given to shouting rants and ugly threats. It preferred going to Port Blacksand, while his other head, a small, serpent-like thing with slitted eyes, rather enjoyed the intrigues of Khare.
Only two-headed lizard men could serve as Ishtra's priests; as such, they had a high rank in their race's society, with almost limitless authority. His blazing red robes, burning with the fire of his personality, accentuated his rank.
He burst into Sansas's office, and looked around in distaste. Lizard man religious relics, portable ones, that could be stolen and carried easily. It infuriated him to see the sacred relics of his people held by a warm-blood, but this one held all the cards, he knew.
The tall, imposing Sansas greeted his belligerent guest. His own slit eyes, and heavily scarred face suggested that he was easily a match for his foe in a battle of arms. The dragon-hide armor he wore was testament enough for that. The horned dragon helmet topped off the entire piece. His pipe was burning with the aroma of Dragon Smoke pipeweed.
"My information was correct?" Sansas asked, speaking the lizardly language perfectly.
"Yes. They will be delivered and sold as you want. The pirates' weaknesses were as you said." Onorino snarled with his smaller head. "Your offer?"
"Two thousand, plus your choice of any two of your artifacts from my collection."
Onorino's smaller head narrowed its eyes, as if trying to see what trickery the First Noble was playing. He was not lying, the lizard man knew. Yet he knew that warm-bloods changed with the temperature, warming to you or cooling off as necessary. In other words, they were treacherous, double-dealing snakes.
"Two thousand, then. And I want the twin idols! The gold ones! Sacred to Ishtra, they are! You pollute them with your touch!" Onorino's large head bellowed.
"Blowing off steam, are we? I grow weary of your fiery temper. If you want to cross swords, feel free. You are on my ground, lizard, and I will take the most profound pleasure in grafting your hide onto my armor," Sansas snarled, his demeanor becoming cold as ice. Both of Onorino's heads frowned.
"Very well, warmblood. Will we waste our time with any more pointless threats, or do we "
"Bring me some souvenirs from the Siege of Vymorna. I'll happily trade all your own artifacts for them. I have interests in that region, anyway."
"Interests?" Onorino asked, his suspicions aroused.
"Never mind. Just have the slaves ready, and next time, bring me the pennants of Vymorna. You can have some more of your treasures then."
"I want them all!" Onorino raged.
"And you can't have them all not at once, anyway. Now get out!" Sansas ordered. Onorino hissed, turned around, and marched out.
Sansas always felt dirty after dealing with the filthy lizard. Marching back to the secret door, he was eager to prepare for his next meeting.
Sansas himself was dressed in matching robes, although his own black skin was more pale from spending so much time indoors. He fanned himself desperately against the oppressive heat, which had by now gotten to its worst point.
"Greetings, friend Lionel," Sansas said. The merchant grinned back and sat down. Sansas now had his Pangara's Tornado pipeweed going, much to Lionel's satisfaction. "How go the latest spice shipments?"
"I'm trying to break into Kallamehr and Arion, but it's so hard," Lionel sighed airily. "That bitch Sharatan still has a stranglehold on the Arantis markets, and the tariffs the Inland Sea cities put on my merchandise are just sickening. I've had to sell off my Royal Lendle mansion just to break even this year!"
"Poor fellow," laughed Sansas. "Any nice tax dodges?"
"Apart from here? No. There's talk of Fre-delric passing one on the wealthy for cleanup of the Siltbed River honestly, now! No one drinks from it. The Lendlemen won't pay one darned silver for it, and they collect all the tariffs from people who use the river. By Logaan, is that fair?"
"I dare say not," Sansas replied. "What are things coming to these days?"
"I don't know," Lionel sighed. "I just don't know. By the by, what of the sales to the Vymorna refugees?"
"Clear sailing," Sansas grinned. "They'll pay almost anything for what we can offer them."
"Oh goody! That makes me so happy "
"You will remember my directing you to this, won't you?"
"Of course, my boy," Lionel said in a condescending tone. "Your taste, after all, is impeccable. I've already given you the money you asked for but why in Gallantarian moons?"
"That's my business," Sansas said. "Now, I have more appointments. More money to be made!"
"A good man, a good man indeed," Lionel said happily, before leaving the way he came.
Sitting right where he was, Sansas saw a tall, rotund woman, who bore a striking resemblance to Lionel, enter his office. Ignoring the decorations, she sat down and immediately glared at him.
"You have the money?"
"Gallantarian moons? Of course."
"No way of tracing it?"
"Of course not. My lady, I could have had this job done on my own orders. Why the Gallantarian assassin?"
"You know how he feels about foreigners. It just adds to the irony," she said with a grin. "Half the estate, I promise."
"And all the profits from the Vyrmonan venture."
The woman frowned.
"You demand a great deal."
"I give a great deal," he replied airily.
"'Tis good you're one of us," she said. "I would not deal with you otherwise."
Sansas shook his head. "My lady, when will you realize that my talents are more important than how I dress? I am a Femphreyan, and so I am trustworthy? What an odd syllogism."
The woman grinned back. "I know enough about you to see the truth." Sansas tossed her the pouch of money, and she dashed out, grinning fiercely.
"Just as I do, lady," he chuckled, before returning to the secret door.
Sansas's last client of the day was a tall, gangling ogre. He had yellow, wart-covered skin, rotting greenish breeches and vest, a single black eye, a nauseating stench, and arms the size of tree trunks. Naagamenteh, the Master Torturer of the Archmage in Mampang, was a figure that few wished to anger. Sansas was dressed as a splendid diplomat and courtier. The First Noble's own features, pointed, sharp and harsh, and the glare of his eyes, made even the ogre pause and think his words over. Sansas's pipe wafted with the odor of the Chess and Game weed.
"The Archmage sends his respects," Naggamanteh grunted as he sat down, pouring himself a jack of ale. The disgusting and violent scenes on all the desk clutter greatly pleased the ugly sadist. A blood-red tablecloth topped it off perfectly.
"And you will send mine back to him," Sansas answered. Tapping a long, thin knife against the desk, he appeared to be waiting for the ogre to ask him something.
"You'll release the Air Serpent?" Naggamanteh said slowly.
"Naturally. Once I have the promise that your master's minions will stop harassing my shipping from Lake Lumle! I believe that was what I wanted from our last meeting " Sansas appeared very testy, narrowing his eyes as they met with the ogre's single bloodshot orb.
"Very well then," the ogre replied. "Is that all we have to discuss?"
"No " Sansas let it dangle.
"Out with it, then!" Naagamenteh shouted.
"Calm yourself, my friend. Surely you can't imagine that your master would want you to alienate such a valuable ally, especially with the need for caravans " Sansas spoke in his sweetest and most honeyed tone. The ogre suddenly realized the danger of pressing Sansas too far.
"The Samaritans of Schinn. The rebel bird-men who've made life so difficult for your master."
"I know who they are. You know something of them?"
"I might "
The ogre was about to leap across the table and beat it out of Sansas. He then noticed the ogre skulls sitting on the corners of his side of the table, and sank back warily.
"For what's in this scroll," (here Sansas produced a vellum scroll tied with purple silk), your master will send troops to assist me against the Shieldmaidens of Lake Lumle.
"Give it to me, then."
"And let you muck it with your filthy hands? Never. Your master knows how to contact me. Let him reach me, and then we can discuss our terms." Sansas sat back and placed his hands together, smiling with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
Naagamenteh merely grumbled. He was in a bind-Sansas could have him murdered in the streets by sundown, if he wanted. And yet he could not return to his master with more than mere speculation. The return of the Air Serpent was not guaranteed, and he could not pass up information on the Schinn
"Where is the Serpent?"
"It will be in your caravan by nightfall if I have the written agreement from your master. If not "
The ogre merely grabbed another vellum scroll, tied with black ribbon, and tossed it onto Sansas's desk, knocking over a small hand-portrait. He relaxed when he saw the image on the picture-a dwarf having his skull crushed by an ogre. Seeing Sansas's face again, he tensed up, before preparing to leave. There was little more that he could do-the Archmage would decide if the scroll was worthwhile, and whether to stop harassing Sansas's caravans. Shaking his head, he marched out.
"Why do you do all this, milord?" Sansas's secretary asked him as he prepared to go home.
"Surely you know how someone in the Gambling Halls of Vlada feels when playing Kharean Roulette?"
The secretary suddenly remembered Kharean Roulette or Knifey-Knifey, which involved participants picking knives at random and stabbing themselves in the chest. Five of the six knives used were fake and spring-loaded, doing no harm. The sixth was very real and very sharp. The one left alive was the winner.
Sansas winked. "Now you know." He marched over to the far wall, opened another secret panel, and ducked inside.
From a high-class tailor shop three doors down from the First Noble's offices, a short, balding man stepped out. With a round, aristocratic face and rheumy blue eyes, he appeared very much the dandy. Fashionably dressed in purple robes with gold and silver shoes, he carried a walking stick adorned at both ends-one with the decoration of an eagle, the other end with a serpent. Few people paid attention to him, nor did they much notice the smell of Gurny's Leaf pipeweed that he smoked.
Gazing all around him, the man calmly but surely marched home, reassured of his place in the world. Stopping in at a rare flower shop (the high-class district had a selection of elegant shops), he purchased a selection of black lotus and blood-red roses, as gifts, of course. Unfortunately, the poisonous plant he had ordered had not yet arrived. It was on this disappointing note that he returned home, to a low-key but elegant house near the city walls.
|Illustration of Khare by John Blanche from 'Titan'|