Monday, March 1, 2010

Into the Baths...

Maximinus led everyone back down into the baths while Holth returned to Der Mobile to fetch the remainder of the crew. Saladin was especially grateful for the warmth as the remains of the icy behemoth were still clinging to his head and shoulders. After a moment, Holth returned with the others.

“Clavdivs! A treble batch of tea, post haste!” A young boy snapped to attention and scurried away down the corridor, limping noticeably. The group then followed Maximinus down the steeply curving corridor, noting again the increasing temperature and humidity levels as they descended. What was at one time a luxuriant spa, replete with elaborate mosaics depicting men and women in various states of frivolity and undress, had fallen into an extreme state of disrepair. The torches in the passageway burned with an eerie green light.

“Jolly good of you to show up when you did. I trust you’ve procured more of that warmwire? Excellent. That stuff bally well’s been keeping this ruddy ice at bay for the past few months. We wouldn’t have been able to finish the Championship without it. You’ll be happy to hear we beat the Emperor’s XI again to retain the Cup.”

Maximinus picked his way through the rubble of a partially collapse ceiling and lead everyone into a large, circular chamber. It is dominated by a large, round wooden table. A dozen chairs sit around it, all carved out of the same deeply red wood. Tapestries hang between the five passageways that branch off of the room. The distant splashing of running water echoed through the room.

“If everyone would take a seat, we can go over the latest scrolls from the Omphalos you’ve asked us to collect. Ah, Clavdivs is here with the tea. After you’ve served everyone, how about trotting down to the docks and collecting our shipment? There’s a good boy.” Clavdivs dutifully passed out the china cups and poured the tea from a large silver pot shaped like an elephant. The tea smelled earthy and strong. It tasted like a sweet and spicy cup of dirt.

“Poor idiot boy,” Maximinus muttered as Clavdivs shuffled off with the heavy teapot. “He’s my brother’s boy, poor thing. My brother, not the boy. He sent him down to me just before the ice came. He’s useful, don’t get me wrong - makes a great cup of tea - it’s the stuttering that drives me mad.” Maximinus sipped his tea and glowered at the passage long after the boy had left.

“So you mentioned winning the Cup,” Xeno quipped as he sipped his tea. “I take it you thrashed the Emperor’s team all the way back to the Palace?” Maximinus came back from wherever his mind had taken him. His countenance brightened, obviously pleased to recount the tale.

“Ah, yes… What a fitting way to end the season. Granted, the final was won by forfeit as we haven’t had any contact with the First Empire in over two years, but I assure you if WE were the first one’s to succumb to this blasted ice, Egalabulus would’ve claimed the Cup forthwith.” Maximinus took another sip of tea. “You know, we’ve enjoyed quite a bit of success since you chappies dropped in on us last season. I think we’ve managed, oh what is it again, Quatruus? Twenty wins against three losses? Yes, quite a rub of the green, I think you’d agree. Why, you’ve become a bit of a lucky charm for us at our matches. Germanicus has even taken to wearing a carved ivory turtle in his box.” A large, ruddy soldier near one of the doorways shifted uncomfortably as two of his compatriots slapped him on the back and chuckled.

“Oh, don’t be bashful, Germanicus. We can hardly blame you after they appeared the way they did. Do you remember that? It was, what was it, the third match of the Championship? Ah, yes – it was at Carborundum – before the ice covered the pitch. Germanicus was batting fiercely, taking everything the Carborunds could throw at him. He was on 97, and I, filling in for their wicketkeeper (who’d taken a bunger to the bean in their innings, poor chap) noticed something odd about the moon. I looked up at Ictinus and cried ‘What ho, what phenomenon is this?’, whereupon you, Germanicus, got very cross at me and brandished your bat with some malefic intent, I don’t mind saying. You said ‘Shut your bloody mouth, my lord, and stop trying to distract me from attaining my century!’ To which I quite wittily replied ‘If you stand your ground much longer, Germanicus,’ I said, pointing skywards, ‘I fear we’ll have to declare your innings closed - permanently.’”

“It was then that all the players noticed the outline of a turtle silhouetted against Ictinus. Germanicus, finally coming to his senses, turned and looked up at the sky and said ‘By the gods, has the Great Turtle Spirit come to bless my innings?’, to which I replied ‘No, I believe that a Spelljamming vessel, having entered our unusually turbulent atmosphere, has lost their Spelljammer and is about to come crashing down on us. I’d leg it deep and square if I were you old boy or you may just lose more than your wicket.’”

All the assembled Sulians chuckled heartily at Maximinus’ wit.

“And what ho was that a spectacular crash! When your ship finally came to rest, it had ruined the pitch, taken out the Marsyas Stand, and buried itself in an encroaching ice wall. By the time we pulled the six of you out of the wreck, you’d all nearly frozen to death – especially Saladin there.” He gestures towards Saladin, then points at his feet. “Those boots are the only thing that saved your life that day. I don’t know how you manage life on Athas, but in my opinion, if you can’t learn to deal with a little chill once in a while you’re never going to get anywhere in life.”

At that moment, Clavdivs limped into the chamber carrying a bundle of scrolls in his arms. Maximinus gave a grin and gestured to the boy.

“Ah, my nephew is here with your scrolls. Would you be a good boy and leave them here for us? Then pop round and ready some baths for our guests.”

Clavdivs dumped the scrolls clumsily on the table, and with a quick wink to Iryien, shuffled off towards the distant splash of running water…

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