Session/Game: Conan #18 Date: 12/19/2004
Episode 18, "Rise of the Pirate Kings"
In the fall of the year of the Year of the Rat, an upstart Aquilonian nobleman named Rumset provoked King Conan’s wrath. Using an unknown source of wealth this warlord built a handpicked mercenary army and conquered several outlying provinces of the kingdom of Aquilonia. As Rumset neared the province of Bitta, a fief just South of Heironymous Valanus’ ancestral home, the famed Aquilonian adventurer met with the ruler of Bitta to discuss the fate of the border provinces. Edmund Bitta and Heironymous Valanus are childhood friends, and the uncharacteristically effeminate Valanus agrees to do his best to defend Bitta until the king is able to arrive.
After fleeing Koth with Turpin, Vegeta found himself in the employ of the Jagged Edge mercenary company. Vegeta has fought his way West across Aquilonia with this company ‘liberating’ provinces from their heredity rulers and giving power to the company’s employer -- the Earl of Rumset.
At first things were well. Vegeta was living the life he had always known fighting for his supper and enjoying the spoils of war. He moved up the ranks and managed to win the loyalty of all the infantrymen of his unit. However, Vegeta’s patience ran out once the Earl of Rumset started using the Jagged Edge unit for black purposes in a search for magical artifacts. Grave digging, tomb robbing, and temple sacking were among the commands the unit received.
Vegeta fears no mortal man or beast. However, dealing with the dead and tempting the gods has always brought the South Islander grave misfortune. Vegeta decided to ally himself with Rumset’s current enemy – the Province of Bitta. Vegeta entered Bitta’s capitol city of Kantople alone in search of opportunity.
Turpin has done well since he arrived in the province of Bitta. The unrest caused by the continued advance of Bitta’s neighbor Rumset has given the rogue free reign to plunder. Noblemen are fleeing the path of Rumset’s army. Most retreat to the North, entering the Province of Valanus – also the Province of Hieronymous Valanus’ birth. That leaves Turpin and his crew just enough time to slip into these unguarded storehouses of wealth and clean them out just ahead of the advancing army. So far, things have gone great. Three manor houses have yielded over ten thousand silver coins (one thousand gold) worth of flatware, cutlery, candelabras, jewelry, furniture, fabric, and spices. The haul has grown so big that Turpin has been forced to transport it all in a cart.
Unfortunately, in the city of Kantople, the seat of Bitta’s nobility, the underworld seems to have rejected Turpin. Turpin’s crew can’t seem to get a decent price for these ill-gotten gains. As soon as the Border Kingdom’s favorite son even shows his face, honest fences and reliable thieves come up with crude excuses or call off the deal completely. To carry this swag overland would be suicide with Rumset’s army on the move, and to just bury it all would leave the crew penniless. Turpin has all this wealth, but nowhere to cash it in!
This has left Turpin with only one opportunity. He once took a lover named Rosalie in Kantople early in his career. She is now not only one of the foremost courtesans in Bitta’s court, but also a reliable buyer of stolen goods. Turpin supposes that given that history, he should be able to at least get five hundred gold coins for all the loot.
Of course, Slink will have nothing to do with Turpin once he insists on visiting Madame Rosalie.
Meanwhile, Vegeta has agreed to meet a nobleman named Goethe in an abandoned alleyway to cart away some valuables from the city for him. Just as the deal is sealed, they are set upon by two units of mercenaries. Goethe goes down hard, and Vegeta bashed open a nearby door and stands in the threshold to fight off the hordes. Even though the mercenary commander manages to sunder Vegeta’s trusty warspear and his greatsword, Vegeta keeps fighting against the press of soldiers who file past him each dealing blows. Vegeta nearly manages to escape by hiding inside an abandoned building, but he is eventually found, beaten, and captured as well.
Turpin and Vegeta awaken to find their wounds crudely treated, picked bloody from the streets, bound hand and foot, and dragged to what must be the inner palace of Bitta. Several other commoners are rounded up and bound here, awaiting some dark fate. Earl Rumset himself enters with a cadre of guards and beings to interrogate Turpin about what he knows of King Conan’s plans. At first Turpin tries to pass himself as “Honest Bill Hodges”, but the Earl is even on to that pseudonym. Just as Earl Rumset raises a sword to behead the helpless Turpin a soldier calls him away on some urgent business. That was when Renudo the Zingarian sorcerer enters the room and smiles at the two. With a wink, he touches them both and turns their bones to jelly.
The two adventurers are forced to then suffer the indignity of being thrown in a cart and taken to the Black River where they are chained hand and foot to rowing benches inside a war galley named the “Hopeslayer”. As their liquid forms start solidifying again, they catch a glimpse of the captain. It is none other than “Vlad the Bandit King” who once betrayed Turpin on the Isle of Mists and condemned Conrad to the kiss of the Troll Queen. Here he has taken the name “Smiling Jack” . He confronts another new recruit on the rowing deck who refuses to row. Jack dismisses his other crewmen, and Vegeta can smell an acidic, throaty scent that can only be from monstrosities of the outer darkness. The obstinate rower shrieks and screams in horror and pain, and then is suddenly silent. The smell retreats, and Vegeta and Turpin see Jack drag a body burned by acid and drained of blood down the center isle of the rowers on its way to be thrown overboard for the sharks.
The next day, “Smiling Jack” visits with his new rowers and promises them that if they make his ship go faster, he will make their lives easier. He introduces his first mate, “Left Hand” Lew, and then makes a quick exit. Lew takes a liking to the new rowers and starts to formulate a plan to take over the “Hopeslayer”. He leaves extra food for the two adventurers and starts to recruit quietly among the crew. Lew takes note of “Smiling Jack” and realizes that the captain is quite a creature of habit. He lets none into his stateroom (he has the only one) and always rises with the dawn and exits three bells after the setting sun. Many sailors swear that he has a secret island base somewhere to the South, but that any sailors who see the island are then never allowed to leave for fear of giving away the location of all the buried treasure.
Turpin spent his nights trying to wriggle free of his bonds. Vegeta did his best to weaken his chains with force. After eight days of trying to get free on their own “Left Hand” Lew knocks out the two rower handlers and brings Turpin some cooking fat to finish freeing himself. Then Lew and his followers walk into the main stateroom of the sailors, and took the rower’s key after performing a silent coup de grace on the sleeping officer. None of the other sailors noticed the growing bloodstain on the underside of the officer’s hammock. Vegeta is freed, and Lew and company make plans to ambush “Smiling Jack” at dawn. Vegeta and Turpin put on what passes for uniforms that the rower handlers wore.
That morning, “Smiling Jack” wakes and opens his door. Lew says that he has captured Turpin in an escape attempt (Turpin is actually standing with his cutlass held behind the mast, not tied as Lew suggests). Jack scoffs and approaches Turpin and the trap is sprung. Turpin lashes out with his cutlass beheading “Smiling Jack”. The final officer claims the right to challenge Lew for the captain’s spot on the ship. Lew agrees to a duel and neatly cleaves the officer’s head in twain with a single blow. The Hopeslayer falls under new leadership and Lew has the entire crew sign a charter making each a “Gentleman Adventurer”. The compact specifies that each man is due a fair share of all the loot provided that they follow the Pirate Code. All sign but Vegeta, and the approximately ten thousand silver coins worth of swag found in the Captain’s quarters is split about sixty ways.
Lew finds a map pointing out the location of an uncharted island that falls in the path that the Captain was plotting. The heroes guess that this island might be “Smiling Jack’s” secret hideaway for all his wealth. They rally the sailors and marines and hold their course for it.
As the heroes approach the island, they see evidence of habitation, but no docks for ships. They put up the “Smiling Jack” flag – a smiley face with an eye patch – to keep any enemies from being tipped off. The Hopeslayer sails into a sizeable network of caves in the island where they find three ships docked and almost two hundred surprised sailors and marines. The heroes fight their way off the Hopeslayer and onto the docks where “Left Hand” Lew fights a tough but snappy Hyrkanian named Moskan. Finally, the heroes make their way to a tunnel in the depths of the massive sea cave where they fight some elite soldiers and what they believe to be a sorcerer. Of course, the sorcerer-type dies (ironically) by way of some of the sorceries alchemical artifacts found on “Smiling Jack” himself. Lew falls after a lucky hit from a soldier catches him in the ribs, but the rest of the enemy soldiers flee when they see that “Smiling Jack’s” pet giant ape-man is on the loose. The heroes play a cat-and-mouse game with the giant ape, dodging its giant spear and moving into flanking positions. Finally Vegeta transfixes the beast with his spear, and the island is won. “Left Hand” Lew extends the piratical compact to all sailors and marines on the island, and a new dynasty of pirate kings is born.
On the mainland, a cruel, early winter has stopped all warmaking. Earl Rumset and his mercenary army choose to dig in around Kantople, and King Conan's relief force is called back until the spring thaw.