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Geoff Keyes

The full story behind my KITH

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The setting is an ancient city, once the capital of an empire, now a rich, but much reduced trading center, the crossroads of 4 trade routes. To the city comes an adventurer, sent by a politically powerful trading family, in search of gem stones and trade partners. The story is told as a series of diary excerpts


My first thought was a forged Atheme, a rough, powerful, magical implement. After I made that, this ring pommel thing jumped in and I decided to do that instead. All of the items in the picture are supposed to be ritual pieces taken as booty from the fight described in the text, which includes the Atheme, BTW.


The setting, Noor-Qualish,(the Crown of Noor), was first intended as a set piece for a now disbanded RPG group. Since then I have used it as the setting for a few short stories, mostly for my own amusement. One I am working on is a Feng Shui war, where the city itself becomes a character in the story.


The Diary of Sebastian Cantacuzene


The following documents are transcriptions of the travel diaries of Lord Sebastian Cantacuzene, the famous adventurer and scion of the illustrious Chrysaphes clan of our noble city. In the year 1583 (Old Reckoning) Lord Cantacuzene was dispatched to the city Noor-Qualish, that ancient Eastern Imperial Capital, city of traders, wizards, priests, and madmen.


Lord Cantacuzene was tasked with purchasing gem stones, most notably Sapphires that came down the River Road to Noor-Qualish. The items displayed herein represent the spoils of his encounter with a hill Shaman far to the North of the city.



Early Spring, 1583, aboard the trading ship Manticore.

I have lost track of the exact date since we boarded the Manticore, far away to the South in the port city of Belq. We have been six or eight weeks making our way up the what the traders call the River Road ( the river in the south is called the Melkish, but has many names the further one travels) to the Imperial Capital, Noor-Qualish. The time passes slowly, nothing of note to relate.


Spring 1583.

Arrived at dusk at the fortress called Low Gate to find the portals closed for the night. Spent the night aboard Manticore. At daybreak we proceeded, towed by mule teams, to the lower docks. Were directed to a good quality inn, called the Ivory Cup. My party includes 4 guards of the household, tasked with protecting my person and the strongbox, my two personal body servants, and my physician Constantus.


Local date, 18th of Mazen, year 1583.

I will use the local calendar until I return home, since I am unable to tell with any accuracy the actual date. As it seems we may be forced to stay here some time (the city’s customs are strange, and it is taking us some time to discover the places of business of the traders we are seeking). Gem merchants often keep their stock in trade in their pockets, and work in the coffee houses, inns and market faires.


Coffee here is a revelation. I realize the coffee that we see is but the poorest grades, the better beans having been siphoned away in the long trade road. I am negotiating a shipload to take with me on my return.


Until such time as the dealers in stones can be found, I have taken a small house on the Eastern bank of the city, not far from the Island called by the locals the Serpents Head, or just The Head. In the upper part of Noor-Qualish the river is split by 9 small islands, called as a group, The Serpent. The Head is covered with many fine houses and villas, many of the important Families keep homes there and the Embassies of foreign Kings are therein located.


20th of Mazen, 1583.

Little to note, I have been invited to several parties, but the contacts I wish to make elude me.


23rd Mazen, ‘83

Have met with the Guildmaster of the Gem Cutters Guild. Have been informed that local stocks of uncut stones are very limited and that it might be half a year or more before shipments arrive. It is very frustrating, my letters of introduction have been so much waste paper. I think the locals are just attempting to increase the prices to take advantage of my recent arrival.


30th Mazen, ‘83

I have met with little success. I have, however, found a guide who claims to be able to take us directly to one of the tribes that claim and mine certain mountain rivers wherein are found Sapphires, Garnets, Topaz, and other diverse gems. I am wary, but I also believe that we waste our time in Noor-Qualish.


3rd Narr, ‘83

Have agreed to trip into the high mountains North of Noor-Qualish, wherein the stones we seek can be found. Our guide, one Abdullah Khan, is procuring a barge to take as far as the First Cataract, thereafter we will proceed on horse. It should take us five or six weeks to go and return, according to Abdullah, if our contacts go well. The hill tribes are notoriously jealous and protective of their lands and do not wish to have “outsiders” making free in them.


6th Narr, ‘83

Boarded barge, took aft cabin from the “captain”, installed myself, strongbox and servants therein. Teams of mules will tow us North, the River Road being too fast and narrow to proceed by sail. Asking, I discovered that each piece of the towpath (sometimes several miles of the path) are owned by a family who have exclusive rights, going back generations, to work that section of the river. They maintain the path and defend it, oft times with great force, from rivals above and below them. They cut piratical figures, festooned as they are with great curved knives and swords, bows, lances, and firelocks. Even the youngest, boys and girls, are armed to the teeth, and nothing loath to draw.


27th Narr, ’83

Arrived at the First Cataract. The barge will return in three to four weeks and wait seven days. If we are prevented from making that rendezvous, we will have to make other arraignments for our return. Abdullah assures me that we should have no problems making our way back to Noor-Qualish as it will be Summer by then and traffic will be thick upon the River Road.


31st Narr, ‘83

Set out in the early dawn. Abdullah Khan procured hill ponies for us all. They are fierce ugly creatures, always ready to bite and kick, but sure footed and tireless. My servants complain bitterly, and Constantus has named his pony Bastardboy, as it bit him three times before midday. He has taken to mounting with a thick stick in hand.



3rd Veq, ‘83

Up and up and up, the Mountains tower above, mantled in snow and ice. Each pass reveals more peaks in serried rows, like the teeth of the shark. Even though it is near the start of Summer, the air is bitter cold even at midday. At night water freezes, and each morning we must shake the ice from our tents. Abdullah laughed when one of the guards complained and said that this is a fine Summer day, but that Winters here are very cold.


10th Veq, ‘83

We camped last night at the base of a steep cliff. Near the cliff face there is a huge pillar, perhaps five times the height of a tall man, of a fine green Jade. It has been carved into a phallus, near the base are many inscriptions, most are indecipherable, but they seem most ancient. I have made some sketches and rubbings for further study.


Abdullah unwrapped a trumpet made of a silver chased sea shell, and blew a long, echoing blast. He repeated this blast every hour until, near dark, there came an answering blast from high above. Satisfied, Abdullah settled down to sleep.


Fall, 1583, Noor-Qualish

I have been unable to keep this journal until now, and once again, I know not the date.


It is only by the heroic efforts of my physician, Constantus, and the one remaining household guard, Septimus, that I am able to continue at all, though I am still very weak.


A full day after Abdullah made contact with the local Tribe a group of them made their way down from the high pass and set up camp near the base of the Jade phallus. There were perhaps ten or twelve men plus a few women and a shaman and his apprentice. Another full day passed while the shaman performed strange rites and purifications. The tribesmen are a bizarre and savage bunch, every one of them is armed and armored, wrapped in furs, with braids and elflocks of hair sticking out in wild profusion.


After the shaman finished, the hill folk laid out carpets and furs, as did we, and we began the long process of bartering for raw stones. A single stone was set in a bowl, or on a flat stone, or on a piece of hide. If we were interested, we indicated that by laying something of our trade goods near the stone. The first stones we all of poor quality, and at Abdullah’s prompting, we ignored them, laying a single iron knife, or a single strand of cheap beads at the edge of the trade blanket. This indicated that we did think much of the items offered.


At the same time, we laid out own blankets out and piled our own goods thereon. We had knives, axe heads, beads, cloth, dye stuffs, rope, and even a cask of gunpowder, along with some liquor and coffee.


For several days we re-arranged our goods, better stones, and more of them appeared. We separated our goods into smaller and smaller piles, shuffling things from place to place. We had not gotten to the point of making transactions, but were well along the path, when we were attacked.


I had gone to sleep for the evening. I woke in the middle of the night. I now think that one of the amulets I carry about me must have been efficacious, for in the normal course of the night I rarely wake. I stepped outside my tent to empty my bladder. The night air was crisply cold, above me were stars of surpassing brilliance and color. The Moon was down. Our camp was wreathed in tendrils of creeping mist. Out of the mist a figure appeared, a great curved blade in hand. For an instant we both stood in shocked silence, then he charged and swung his blade. I let out a yell and, to my deep shame, fell backwards over a stone.


The sword flashed over my head, and then my attacker stumbled over the selfsame stone and fell across me. I grappled with him and my training in wrestling took over. I swept his hips to the side and rolled us over. In the ascendant position, I slammed his head into the ground, his braids making a convenient handle. As I rolled to my feet I say the whole camp engulfed by the wild hill tribe, and my people just making their way into the open. One of my servants sprang from my tent and threw me my sword belt and buckler, ducked a wild swing from another hillman and tackled him, driving him into the ground. The second of my body servants emerged, armed with a lantern and a three legged stool, which he used to good effect on the downed assailant.


I drew my sword and grasped my buckler. After making sure of the hillman I had felled, I cast about for further dangers. From the direction of Abdullah’s tents I could hear him organizing his men, shouts and yells erupted all around me, but the tendrils of fog made vision useless. Another wild figure rushed out of the mist with a short spear and made to impale me. I passed the spear on my left and cut down into his calf, as he dropped I fetched him a blow to the temple with the buckler and stabbed him through the body.


Off to my right, up hill near the base of the obelisk, I spied a fire, flickering in the mist. Making my way that direction I came upon an uncanny scene. Sitting on the ground was the shaman, a skeletal man wearing just a skirt of fur, his body covered in strange, writhing marks beneath his skin. His hair was pulled into long stiff spikes, his beard and moustache were braided with bones and teeth. Between his thighs he held a smoking iron pot, which he stirred round and round with a worked iron rod as long as my arm. He swayed back and forth and the fog boiled out of the pot. His apprentice danced about him with a small drum and a mans leg bone as a beater.


As I emerged into the light of the fire the apprentice yelled, and pointed his leg bone at me. One of the amulets around my neck shattered. I rushed the apprentice and battered him with both pommel and buckler. As he fell back, I cut him across the neck. I rounded on the shaman and cut at his head. In the instant I felt a numbing blow to my face and fell to ground. A hillman rushed out of the fog. From my knees I weakly fended his sword cut, receiving a deep slash to my left shoulder, and stabbed him through the belly. He fell upon me and I knew no more.


I awakened as Septimus pulled the body off of me. I had the deep slash to my shoulder, other cuts less deep and one of the short spears, apparently thrown by my last opponent, had passed through both cheeks, breaking the jaw bone on one side and shattering several teeth. Septimus and I made our way back down the hill to our camp. With the death of the shaman, the fog vanished. As the Moon rose behind us we could see the destruction. There were bodies scattered all over the hillside. Of my four guards, Septimus and Victor lived, though Victor was badly wounded. Both of my servants were dead, we found one just outside my flattened tent with his hands about the neck of a wildman, and a knife deep in his belly. The other had followed me up the hill. We found him surrounded by four dead tribesmen, he had taken up a sword from somewhere and guarded my back.


Constantus was uninjured, he was tending Abdullah’s only surviving servant, as Abdullah stood guard. After delivering me to Constantus’ care, I ordered Septimus to make a sweep of the camps, and to gather up whatever he could find.


In the light of day our true situation became clear. At Abdullah’s insistence we gathered up a tent and blankets, weapons, two surviving ponies and what food we could. Our trade goods, and our dead we left. We could do little for them, but laid them out as best we could. Fearful that that rest of the tribe would fall upon us, we quit the dale. We also took two small bags of gems, and at my insistence, as much of the shamans things as we could, lest they be used against us.


Our sadly diminished band set out back the way we had come. For the first few days we all walked and our progress was painfully slow. About the third day a fever came on me. All of the rest of our decent to the First Cataract I have from the accounts of my companions.


About the time I was felled by the fever, Abdullah’s servant died of his wounds and was buried along the trail. My guard Victor survived several more days. According to Septimus, one morning Victor declared that he could go no further, and that he would stay behind to guard our retreat. He was given a share of the food, his armor, weapons, a pair of crossbows, and a supply of firewood. It is my belief that he knew that his wounded state was slowing the party, and that it was best for me that he stay behind. I pray for his spirit every day.


Septimus, Abdullah, and Constantus made a horse litter and proceeded by fits and starts to the First Cataract. Constantus believed me too weak to travel, and so Abdullah took his leave and returned to Noor-Qualish. It was not until the start of Fall that I was well enough to travel, and it was only then that I once again took up my pen.


Arriving in Noor-Qualish I discovered the tale of our adventures proceeded us, thanks in great part to Abdullah. Where I had been ignored before, I was celebrated now. Gem dealers called upon me in droves, as did merchants of every diverse sort. I even received an invitation to the Imperial Court. Late in the Fall a distant cousin of mine, Gregoras Cosmas, arrived. Since nothing had been heard from me (the letters that I had sent, Gregoras must have passed in transit), he had been sent to find if I still lived.


Still weak from my wounds, I turned our embassy over to Gregoras, and began preparations to make for home. Constantus proclaims himself full to the brim with foreign people and strange places and will away with me. Setptimus, who has been a pillar of strength, has asked to be allowed to stay. As my last formal act I have appointed him Chief of Security for the mission, and factotum. Gregoras will stay until called home, as the official face of the Family. He is much suited to life in the courts and coffee houses here.



There are more of Sebastian Cantacuzene’s travel diaries in the archives, though a volume, one that presumably covered the trip down the River Road and home, is missing. Upon his return, covered in glory, he was put in charge of the Family gem trade. Claiming that his wounds still troubled him, he asked to be sent on no more foreign missions, and seems to have lived an untroubled life until his death in 1618 (Old Reckoning) at the age of 76.


Upon Lord Cantacuzene’s death his estate bequeathed to the Imperial Museum the items found in this display. They are the items that the survivors of the attack upon the trading party gathered up from the dead. Most of the items are of ritual significance to the hill tribes. Among the items is a knife with a ring pommel hung with fetishes. This was taken from the body of the shaman and Lord Cantacuzene appears to have carried it on a daily basis the rest of his life. The blade is of an unusual construction. The Cantacuzene family believed that it had been forged partly from a stone that had fallen from the sky. This is disputed by Professor X. Chrysaphes in his monograph “Pattern Welded Blades of the Noor-Qualish”.


Though at the time the gem trade was a significant source of income for House Chrysaphes, Sebastian Cantacuzene is known today as the man who introduced the coffee trade, and coffee houses, to the Empire. His first coffee house, Abdullah’s, is still operating today.


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I wanted to dirty up the wrap on the knife and the scabbard (which Marianne labored so hard on), but in the end left it clean. Orien should be getting it today! Or tomorrow :o .


Thanks for looking,



Edited by Geoff Keyes

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Great story, Geoff! :D


Ever consider filling that out and publishing?

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Thanks. I tried 12-15 years back to get some pieces published, but not hard enough. I probably should look into an agent, I do have a backlog of 20 pieces, more or less, plus notes for at least that much more. This piece was written pretty much in a chunk, with some "borrowing" from a biography of Sir Richard Burton I was working my way through at the time.


Know any literary agents? :lol:



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Nice story.



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Thanks. I tried 12-15 years back to get some pieces published, but not hard enough. I probably should look into an agent, I do have a backlog of 20 pieces, more or less, plus notes for at least that much more. This piece was written pretty much in a chunk, with some "borrowing" from a biography of Sir Richard Burton I was working my way through at the time.


Know any literary agents? :lol:




No, I don't. Unless you want to try an academic press? :lol:



You know, Robert Heinlein was known to say regarding "originality" in fiction that he just took good universal stories and filed off the serial numbers and changed the clothes, but if you look in the right place you could still see the original. B)

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I received the knife yesterday...thanks Geoff, it's wonderful! :D Very impressed with the lovely steel and forging, and kudos to your wife on the handle wrap and sheath, too. I fancy I feel a certain Shamanic power when I sit quietly and hold it... :ph34r:...:


Heck of a story...it sucked me right in! Definitely publishing-worthy stuff.

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Thanks for all the kind words, I'm going to look for a literary agent and see where that takes me.


Orien, I'm pleased you like the piece, and the story, too.



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Geoff, before you look into an agent, check these two books out: Dan Poynter's Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write, Print and Sell Your Own Book (Volume 2) and 1001 Ways to Market Your Books (1001 Ways to Market Your Books: For Authors and Publishers) Kremer


Both used plus shipping from amazon should run $20-25 I'd say. Well worth it.


The publishing game has changed, it's never been easier or cheaper to get your ideas out there. There are a million ways to do it. First question is, What do you want to accomplish by publishing stuff?



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