Saturday, February 21, 2009

Olwe Lorearthen's Deep Desire

While drinking at the Sailors' Guild during their first night in Kharschum, Olwe and Pangold hoisted several toasts to the potential spoils and new freedoms that a life of free-lancing adventure was likely to bring.  Both had started their adult lives each as their own man, only contracting with the King of Saxony for the Tigalda expedition given the paucity of work available at the time.  So for both Olwe and Pangold, the thrilling sail into the harbor of Kharschum - however inhospitable a locale - was like a return to an earlier way of life that had been placed on hold some months back.
 
As he fetched his sixth round of house mead, Pangold overheard Olwe kibbitzing with the bartender Taluee [dm: spelling?] about different exotic sites they have visited or would wish to visit before death.  A prick came up Pangold's ear when he heard Olwe's low grumbling voice mention the name of the famous dwarf enclave called Porshaft.  It wasn't the proper name itself that struck Pangold, but, rather, the ever-so-slight hint of desire in Olwe's voice when the name passed over his lips.
 
After Olwe had wheeled around and joined Pangold across a long, oak table that sat a dozen patrons, Pangold took control, though not obviously, of the conversation.
 
"I heard you mention the great underground halls of Porshaft.....I have heard a great many stories that extol its wonder.  Tell me about it and explain why your tongue wags so sloppily when the thought of it enters you mind?  This is a side of you that I confess I have not seen before."
 
"Tell me Olwe," Pangold persisted as the dwarf attempted to waive off his question in favor of a deep pull from his cup.  "Tell me why such a place is so important to you, you are not related to the Porshaft clans are you?  I have heard you sing at length of your people, of the Mineshadow, the Lorearthens, and the Wilward.  But I did not realize a filial connection existed between you and that wondrous place."   
 
"It's true that when I think and speak of Porshaft, I do so fondly.  It is indeed a marvellous place.  And although I have share no family blood with its founders or current inhabitants, I have had the honor of laying eyes on its rightly praised Great Staircase as well as several of the first level antechamber rooms and halls."
 
"But if you must know why I always smile a little when I think of Porshaft it is because it reminds me of the fantasy that keeps me going."  He gulped his drink deeply.
 
Pangold listened intently to the story that followed of a young Olwe journeying with his father to the trading centers surrounding Porshaft, and of a short day-trip into the mouth of the great city set a mile deep into the granite base of an imperious mountain.  He savoured the care in word choice and imagery that the budding bard of a dwarf demonstrated in his telling.  And he could not help but be desirous of seeing it for himself, so finely did Olwe portray its endless and finely crafted passageways, stairways, intersections, pillared underground boulevards, great solid stone doors, and its miles and miles of expanse.
 
At the conclusion of his impassioned description of seeing the upper rooms of the great city of Porshaft, Pangold thank him and blankly asked just what moral should be taken from his tale.  Just what is the appetitic fantasy that moves him when he thinks of what he has seen at Porshaft?
 
"Surely you could take up residence if that is what you want so much?" said Pangold.  "It doesn't have to be just a fantasy, does it?  I've heard often that dwarf clans will adopt those of other family's if the desire to join is sincere.  Surely all you'd have to sacrifice is your bachelorhood at most."
 
"I think you do not fully understand.  You see, I..wish...it...all," Olwe replied, almost sheepishly chewing his thick, coarse whiskers.  "I want all of it," his grin widening enough to show his broad front teeth.  His look told his listener that he was well aware of just how outlandish, even childish, his dream must sound.  
 
"I want my own kingdom under a mountain, with my own endless walkways and soaring rock cathedrals and layers and layers of intersecting stair and passage."
 
Olwe continued his simple grin as he looked down into the soggy remains of his cup.  "It is not a humble wish, I grant you.  But you seem to be asking for honest truth and not just easy conversation, so there you have it."
 
"It is a dream fit for a king, I'll give that to you.  But surely there are any number of the great ancient dwarf underground cities that that suit you.  It would take some work, but you could eventually seize and take it up for yourself.  And if such deep places are what you think of most, why do you not reside in one now, if such a thing is your deepest love?" asked Pangold sincerely, although not without purpose.
 
"I think you still misunderstand.  I want more than to live in such a rock city, I want to build and design it as well," said Olwe after freshening his cup and sopping the foamy collection at its brim through his beard.  "I do want to be its lord and master, and I also want to make the impenetrable rock walls cleft at my easy command and whim.  I want to wander for weeks and months and never see the same room twice.  I want to lose myself in an endlessness of my own design.  
 
"Now, if you ask me how I plan to obtain my heart's true desire, then I can honestly say that I do not.  I came to terms with that fact when I ceased being a child.  In fact, I fully expect to die of old age without making any substantial progress toward its attainment.  But, somehow, this fact does not seem to matter much.  
 
"It's funny, isn't it, that sometimes our most abstract ideas seem more real and more important than the hard and smelly, red tooth and claw details of what we usually call 'real life'."  He grew sleepy giving breath to what seemed at the time a profound piece of wisdom.
 
"But you are among friends here, Olwe of the Clan of Legend," Pangold persisted.  "Be at ease and let your thoughts and tongue run freely.  If you were to obtain it - create your own kingdom vast enough to span the entire base of a great mountain -how would you set about doing it?"
 
"To obtain it, I would need many other things as well.  I would need men, good, smart, hardy men to hire to begin and continue the labors.  And I would need countless tools and supplies.  Of course, I am currently without claim to a mountain.  The Mineshadow clan digs shaft-mines, straight down into the stone, following the natural cracked veins.  They never thinking of using their mountain kingdom to build horizontally as well as vertically.  Inefficient, they would call it.
 
"But, thankfully, the Drowned World is full of mountains without a hold laid against them, so perhaps this task is not insurmountable.  But, to secure all the above I would need a mighty fortune."  He finished again with his simple, reflective smile.  This thoughtful and powerful dwarf seemed to Pangold very much like a child who has reached that strange age when reality overtakes fantasy for the first time, and who is left behind only with a pleasant, if melancholic memory of just how big they used to be able to dream.
 
"And here you sit, with a mighty treasure almost fallen in your lap, my stout fellow," brightly contributed Pangold, pouncing on his companion's last remark.  And here Pangold Silverkin, son of Marshal, son of Francis, brought the conversation to its purpose.
 
"How do you mean?" sloshed Olwe, his eyes now heavy with drink, but piqued with vague curiosity.  
 
"I mean just this: You, my friend, are a decent fellow.  A likable fellow.  And you now find yourself in a city of dank inequity, filled with whores and thieves and backstabbers and grifters.  To decent fellows such as you and I, these folks are just ripe for the plucking.  After all, Kord teaches us that it is never evil to out-evil evil itself."  Pangold shot the dwarf a straight, knowing look that spoke to Olwe both of his sincerity as well as his inebriation.
 
"Like good strong foam," Pangold continued, "let us rise to the top of this gritty and mealy draught of a city."
 
"You mean we should lighten the purses of this grimy city's unscrupulousss?" The final consonant lingered and reverberated in a drunken, sibilant fashion.  He chuckled to himself at the thought.  Clearly he thought it a good idea.
 
"No, I mean more than this.  I mean we should set ourselves to taking over."
 
"Phew!  Ha!" guffawed Olwe, slamming his mug with a clumsy silliness into the thick, knotted wood plank that served as their row table, spilling some contents onto surface now smooth from great use.  "All Hail King Pangold the Bold!  Much good luck to you, my ambitious friend.  But of course you are joking."  Several nearby drinkers, startled by the abrupt noise, slowly turned back to their conversations.  Only once all these gawkers had all resumed their prior engagements did Pangold respond, sotto voce.     
 
"But I am not joking.  What force can stand against this team we have assembled before us?  We must be smart, no doubt.  But smart we are.  And what is more, we are also strong, and brawny, and blistering and possessed of the blessings and energies of both nature and the gods.  What mere mountebank can stand against that druid that calls forth the spirit of nature in the form of wild and angry beasts that despise the unnatural?  What grifter could resist our fire-breathing dragon woman who controls the sky just as deftly as she does the ground?"
 
Pangold's voice dropped to a near whisper.  He leaned in close.  "Conceive of it, Olwe.  Set your shoulder to it.  This goal is attainable."
 
No sooner had Pangold finished speaking when he replied to his own comment.  "Yes, I confess to some ambition.  I do dream big, my friend.  But you dream deep.  Perhaps there is a way...to work together on these things."
 
Olwe sat motionless.  His eyes, unblinking, slowly looked up and down the face of his ever-so bold companion.  When he replied, he did so almost without thought.
 
"A final drink, then, to toast all dreams big and deep," he eventually snorted.  Olwe's frozen face warmed into that familiar churlish smile.
 
"Await and watch for my next move," was Pangold's last word on the subject.  

6 comments:

Aeschere said...

Very nice! Pangold and Olwe's ambitions could certainly add an interesting twist to the campaign, and I look forward to seeing how they pursue them. In the newer versions of the game, the assumption seems to be that characters will eventually become something an awful lot like superheroes, hopping from plane to plane, vanquishing gods and saving the world time and time again. In the older versions of the game, the assumption was that the characters would use their wealth to gain influence and become nobles/rulers in their campaign world. Remember the rules on building a stronghold? Thus, I love the idea of the party trying to take over the city and Olwe's dream of establishing his own underground kingdom.

Porshaft is a very cool locale. Thank you for adding it to the Drowned World.

300 XP to Olwe Lorearthen for an excellent backstory.

Ironbeard said...

Nice work Olwe and Pangold. They can certainly count on the dragon woman for support in their endeavors.

Did I hear a slight echo of Fafrhd and the Grey Mouser in there? I'm totally into that. Kharschum is kind of Lankmar-esque now that I think about it.

post festum said...

Thanks much, dm. And good ear, my good Ironbeard.

One thing: Pangold has only had the conversation with Olwe, so this is meta-game knowledge to Alayna and all the others. Just to be clear.

And indeed I have been reading me some Leiber over break - my first time. You can certainly tell I was..inspired.

In my own, clearly uniformed opinion, I find REH to be the unquestioned master of action and plot pacing in sword-and-sorcery, and even in just descriptive power and beauty. This shocked me, but I just can't deny it, the guy writes a descriptively beautiful and vivid tale.

But next to Leiber, Howard's dialog is often just plain silly and weak and tinny.

Leiber's dialogues carry the actions further, and they even contribute to the pacing of the story at times. In Howard, dialogue serves mostly to clue us in on the goings on.

Don't get me wrong - Howard's writing is across-the-board exceptional and nothing like his popular reputation as a paycheck-to-paycheck hack. But all of Leiber's characters are so so smart and that smartness comes out best in his dialogs.

And this grand opinion was formed on the basis of having read just the first in the Lankhmar series.

post festum said...

wow...Nothing seems to kill discussion and comments on this blog like a post from post festum...Sorry.

Aeschere said...

Oh heavens, it isn't you at all. I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't read Leiber, and it's been quite a while since I've read Howard, so I really didn't have anything intelligent to say in response.

Ironbeard said...

Post Festum - I totally agree with your comments. Many who are unfamiliar with Howard tend to assume that he was just a pulp hack, but he can turn out a passage that is incredibly beautiful. His dialogue . . . well that wasn't his thing.

Lieber was a writer in every sense of what that word means.