The Journal of Dagmar Shingles

Campaign: Fallen Lands

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In the Shadow of Secrets
The Strangers make camp in the perpetual gloaming that is the Plane of Shadow, each quiet and subdued. Despite their anxiety, the adventurers make quick work of locating firewood from the edge of the impenetrable forest and building a fire. Relief washes over them as they see the wood actually burn. It doesn’t provide much protection from the wet coolness of the sea air, but at least the light helps fight off the gloom of this place and provides at least the illusion of comfort.

After a meal of pemmican and hardtack, the party sits and ruminates privately over thoughts at home in such a land of shadows. Dagmar Shingles sits with his back to the fire, in the penumbra of the flame, picking at a stick of wood, splinter by splinter, until he has a pile of toothpicks and kindling in his lap. Finally he clears his throat and begins to speak in an unusually shaky voice.

“I’ve been thinking about what Old Moorg from the rag and bone shop said about the power of secrets. They do have great power, mainly to harm, and that destructive force is their value to her I guess.

“I do not know what secrets you gave up to the hag’s keeping, but I know my own. I have no idea what use she could have for it, but I do not want to rely on her its caretaking. The only way I know to diffuse that power, the only way I can think to take back the power is to render the secret inert. I have not spoken to anyone of this--no parent, no friend, no lover--so I don’t do this lightly. I hope, though, that bringing this shame into the light of day will wither the power of the secret in this shadowy realm.”

The silence of The Strangers has grown even deeper as each companion leans forward, understanding the embarrassment the Silver Singer feels as he prepares to disburden himself. Dagmar wipes at his eyes and clears his throat and rushes on before he can lose heart.

“When I was ten, I ran all over Fellstonia when I wasn’t helping my father in the smithy or practicing the mandolin and learning songs with Parthic. It was an early spring day and I had just mastered a particularly difficult dwarven war ballad. My teacher told me I could have the rest of the day to myself. I remember the scent of new sap in the pines and the hum of insects in the late afternoon as I ran to Kessel’s Mounts to see if any new foals had been born. Usually Gob was there mucking the stables, but I couldn’t see anyone around. I slowed my run so as not to spook any of the horses. Everything seemed quiet until I got to the entrance. As I waited for my eyes to adjust to the dark, I heard rustling in the back of a far stall. Hoping it was a newborn, I walked slowly forward.”

Dagmar’s voice, usually such a confident, vibrant instrument, caught in the bard’s throat yet again. He coughed, drew a deep breath and continued.

“I stopped at the edge of the deep stall because the sound was no longer just rustling. I could also hear the muffled cries of a woman and the deep guttural chuckles of a two or three men. I’d never heard a laugh that left me feeling more afraid. The heat and joy of the spring day were gone, but I stayed. Who knows why. Was I too afraid to move, fearful I’d interrupt whatever was going on? Was I curious?

“I continued to peak around the corner and could now see in the gloom of the dark stall, a woman on the ground, her bare legs showing with a man on top of her, grunting and wheezing as two others looked on, their eyes focused and their tongues running over their lips. One of them kicked the woman in the side and growled, ‘You had your chance to have it nice, but you were too good for the likes of us, cunt!’ Her muffled cry at the kick startled a noise from me loud enough to be heard over the harsh words and gasping man atop the woman. They all turned eyes on me and I froze, hands on the post of the gate, mouth gaping open.

“I wanted to run, but was locked in place not only out of fear but because I realized I knew the woman underneath the grunting man. She was someone who worked with my mom in The Empty Map inn. Her name was Brayeen and worked in the kitchen and helped serve food and drinks. Her eyes grew huge when she realized who I was and struggled frantically beneath the prone man whose pants were down. I could only hear a muffled sound though as his hand remained clamped on her mouth.

“We were all frozen in place for what seemed like forever, all ignoring the struggling woman. Finally, the man who’d kicked her elbowed his companion and nodded towards me: ‘Hey, I think he likes it! Look at the little pervert just watching. Hey, boy, would you like a turn? Can you make your little cock hard enough to do any good? By the devils, look at him! Maybe he wants some of what *she’s* getting, eh?’ As he took a step towards me, the spell was broken, and I ran as fast as I could, didn’t know where. I could hear the rough, booming laughter of the men over the stifled screams of Brayeen.”

Dagmar’s breath comes raggedly now. The party can see his shoulders shaking in the light. Gulping down air, he starts again, speaking rapidly now, hoping to end his story as quickly as possible.

“By the time, I got back home, my father was cleaning up the smithy and gave me a sharp look as I burst in. ‘What have you done this time? I can tell you’ve been up to mischief, I can see from the look on your face. You can’t lie to me boy.’ I open my mouth to tell him what I saw, but feel bile rising in my throat as I revisit the scene in my head. I can’t stop thinking of the gleam in the men’s eyes as they asked if I wanted my turn. I knew I was every bit as guilty as those men of whatever they were doing to Brayeen. My parents would send me away if they knew I was like those men.

“I mumbled that I was just tired and went to my room and lay down in the dark, numb and full of confused self-loathing. My mom said Brayeen quit and went to live with her aunt in Andronia. Everyone was confused by her sudden exit, but I knew it for an attempt to escape. I kept the secret as well, afraid of what others would think of me. I still see her eyes open wide, wordlessly begging me for help and the look of complicity that the men ensnared me with.

“I know now that I stumbled upon a rape and as a ten year old could have done nothing to prevent the men from savaging her. I know this, but still feel the weight of that guilt and shame. No matter what I tell myself, no matter how much I try to be rational about my ten-year-old self, I can find myself waking in the middle of the night, hearing the conspiratorial laughter, the muffled cries of a terrified woman, and feel my chest crushed with such self-loathing that I can barely breathe.”

The bard trails off and the susurration of the ocean is joined by the quiet sobs of the singer. His fellow adventurers remain frozen in place, unsure how to comfort their companion. After a few minutes, his shoulders stop shaking and he wipes at his eyes and he draws a deep, shuddering breath and continues: “I have fought beside you, laughed with you, and even bled for you, but I don’t know how you’ll respond to this story of my shame. However, I know one thing. Old Moorg will be sorely disappointed to realize that my secret is no longer secret. They only have power in the keeping. “

“I don’t need to know your secrets because it won’t affect how I feel about you. I will always trust and love you. I just don’t know if I can love myself.” With that, he struggles to his feet and walks into the darkness towards the cliff to watch the dark ocean in this land of constant crepuscule, wondering if perhaps opening up about his most shameful story could finally remove him from the far darker shadow realm of guilt which he has carried with him all these years. After several minutes, Dagmar finds his breathing has returned to normal and feels his head clear. He turns his back on the dark water and walks back to the light.
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There and Back Again
He was coughing again, his sides already racked with pain after 3 days of this. The afternoon sun shone weakly though the small window onto the silvery-blonde-haired bard, but it was bright enough to hurt his eyes anyway as they watered under the onslaught of the catarrh. Dagmar swore that he could still feel water moving around in his chest with each red-faced heave.

This particular fit had been brought on by an attempt to sing, even just a simple running of scales, but his lungs obviously weren’t ready. Once Dagmar’s coughing died down to a raspy rattle and wheeze, he began banging the left side of his head with his open palm because the water he’d drowned in was still clogging up his ear, making him nearly deaf on that side. A scary thought indeed for a lore singer.

The bard had to almost smile at this thought. Considering what he’d been through--a trip through the final gate and a return trip at that--taking time to worry about a clogged ear seemed pretty minor indeed, but it seemed like that’s all he had room for. Everything else was too big. Dagmar remembered Eleanor had hesitantly asking him what it was like on the other side when bringing him some broth and fresh bread on the day they brought him to his room. He’d put on the crooked Silver Singer smile and told of her being surrounded by loved ones in the most peaceful place imaginable. The air was sweet, the food was delicious and there was more ale than even a thirsty bard could drink. Eleanor had smiled at that: “Well, I hate to have you leave such peace behind, but I know The Strangers will be grateful to have you back. Mother Galsay be praised. I was never one much for religion, but I might have to bring a gift to Ingvild for bringing you back to us.” She brusquely wiped tears from the corners of her eyes and left, closing the door quietly.

Dagmar remembered all of this clearly, knowing it for the lie it was. He’d died and the gynosphinx who’d borne him hear from White Plume Mountain, or so he’d been told. But he had no memory of any of it. He vaguely remembered the song, the watery, seductive tune that he fought so hard to reach, but couldn’t even pick that tune out on him mandolin now. After that, nothing. No bright light at the end of a tunnel, no divine presence, no fields of plenty or fellow dead. Dagmar couldn’t even say he remembered Nothingness, just nothing.

How could he tell Eleanor that, though, the bard mused. Everyone looks for meaning in death, perhaps because those answers are so hard to pin down in life. How could he dash those hopes for a final resolution? The lie was more comforting. Beautiful lies, fortunately, are something singers are very familiar with. He knew he’d have to have more of the same ready for when his loyal friends finally made it back from the sea voyage.

The Silver Singer was a mask of sorts for Dagmar, a mask he’d need to get back in working order to hide the confusion and guilt he still felt over his resurrection. What right did he have to return when so many others had died. Brave, mysterious Bretherton. The healer, Cobus. The otherworldly spellcaster, Ithealwa. Even more disturbing was the source of his second life: Glasya, the Princess of Hell. The bard’s face darkened visibly in the shaft of sunlight falling on his bed as he thought of Ingvild’s evil rites bringing him back from beyond the Final Gate.

He’d need his friends now more than ever to help him carry these burdens, to help him understand what they mean. He may not have seen any loved ones in the land beyond life, but he could at least be comforted by knowing he would soon be surrounded by them here. Now that his coughing fit had died down, he could finish Eleanor’s salty broth and focus on the light that warmed him, the featherbed that comforted him, and the gentle hubbub of the streets below.
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The Ballad of Skumarg
Sung loosely to the tune of Little Drummer Boy. Each verse is followed with two spear butt bangs or claps if spears are unavailable:

Who shall lead us?
Skuma-a-a-arg.

Who shall lead us?
Skuma-a-a-arg.

Who has grown us?
Skum-a-a-arg.

Who has grown us?
Skuma-a-a-arg.

Who has saved us?
Skuma-a-a-arg.

Who has saved us?
Skuma-a-a-arg.

Gruumsh has blessed us:
Skuma-a-a-arg.

Gruumsh has blessed us:
Skuma-a-a-arg.

Session: Game Session 32 - Saturday, Jun 29 2013 from 6:00 PM to 2:00 AM
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Tribal Ties
In the half-light that Skumarg and his orcs kept perpetually burning beneath the hill giants' steading, Dagmar Shingles looked out at a very changed sight from just a couple of days ago. When first The Strangers made their way into this hidden enclave of escaped orcs, they found a suspicious and basically defeated group. Despite the boastful words of their leader, these orcs were ready to die here beneath their enemy's heel.

The Silver Singer had to suppress a smile, though, as he looked out at the drunken and loudly singing orcs now. He recalled vividly the time between. The bard remembered the drinking of dreadful wine and the eating of suspicious meats. He remembered the bold words he himself spoke about the bravery of the orcish people and their innate love of freedom, words he didn't even believe at the time. However, none of that would have mattered if not for the successful raids his party had made, shoulder to shoulder with orcs who just months ago The Strangers would have freely slaughtered.

Bone tired from difficult fights and well aware of the dangers they still faced, Dagmar breathed shallowly the fetid air of this underground space, now full of over 240 orcs, and reached under his linen shift and fingered the scab over the tribal tattoo he'd accepted in a ceremony led by Skumarg.

The vision of the newly hopeful blurred as he thought about the leader's story about Gruumsh, the one-eyed god of the Orcs. It was a story he'd read before in one of his old mythology books, but he'd never seen what it meant from the orcish point of view. The other gods laughing at Gruumsh as they divided all the plushest places of the earth for the Elves, Humans, and Dwarves. It was only now, here amongst his new "brothers" that the bard saw the courage of the one-eyed god's actions as rent apart the precious plunder of the others to find a home for his people.

Dagmar had even attempted to sketch out the scene in his journal, to capture the existential defiance of the moment, one that he was slowly coming to see in the actions of the orcs themselves. He certainly remembered the violent and bloody past of these pig-faced people, had even battled them himself as he learned the craft of adventuring. They often were selfish and brutal and without mercy to their victims. However, all of that seemed very distant to the Silver Singer, compared to the camaraderie he'd shared with this tribe, one whose mark he now shared, and the bravery they'd shown in fighting back against the deathly viciousness of the hill giants. While the words he'd originally spoken about their love of freedom and the tragedy of seeing them trapped and beaten down as a ploy to gain their aid, those words now tasted truer as he whispered them again to himself.

Dagmar certainly wouldn't be abandoning human society for his new tribe--his palate demanded a better fare than the orcs had available and their taste in songs while lusty and full of life was too one-note for his liking--but he'd never be without the mark of the tribe, a mark that went much deeper than a crude tattoo.
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Unstrung
The sails snapped above the bard's head in the afternoon breeze as Dagmar sat at the base of the mainmast, hoping to soak up some of last bit of warmth from the autumnal sun.

In his lap, he cradled his mandolin, examining it carefully. He'd broken a string last night in the final verses of "The Blacksmith's Hammer" and would need to have it ready for this evening's entertainment. These Farholme sailors were insatiable and unlike Thimble and Lilyth, the Silver Singer didn't have much in the way of practical skill to help with the voyage back to the land of barbarians.

His bluegrey eyes squinted in concentration as he ran his hands over the now scuffed and peeling starburst varnish of the face of the mandolin. A fingernail caught a crack in the ivory bridge. Dagmar imagined the look on Parthic's face if he were to see this instrument and felt ashamed. The mother-of-pearl inlay on the headstock and fretboard was pitted and stained with blood and dirt. He shook his head and wondered how this instrument could still even make music?

The Silver Singer looked at his hands as he carefully loosened the screw of the tuning machine and unwound the broken string. He saw the shine of calluses hard-earned on his fingertips but was surprised by the scars he saw. While the calluses reminded him of his hours of practice with the mandolin, the scars recalled his work with other instruments far more dangerous. The bard wondered if his old mentor would recognize his hands any more than he would the mandolin.

Dagmar flexed his hands to loosen up the cramps in them from the string repair and searched his pack from a replacement. He found the silver deerhide pouch that held his musical supplies and was surprised to find only 4 replacement strings left. How in all of Ny'Ray's green seas did allow myself to get so lackadaisical about my professional supplies, he asked himself sternly. It didn't help that the voice he asked this question with sounded just like Parthic.

A shadow momentarily covered up the bard and his labors as a huge flock of birds flew overhead, traveling to their winterhome. Their song sounded as jangled as his nerves. Dagmar took a soft cotton cloth from his bag and worked his mouth to gather enough saliva to moisten it. He carefully cleaned the nut and the frets which were lichened over with greasy grit.

Once the bard had cleaned the mandolin as much as he could, he put away the now filthy rag and pulled the string through the notch on the tailpiece and screwed the endpin back on tightly. He pulled the string taught through the key on the other end, being sure that it settled into place on the nut. Looping the string around the tuner several times, he tightened up the tuning machine and plucked.

Dagmar smirked at the off-key sound and proceeded to tune it. Mindlessly, he began playing a plaintive song he'd learned as a child, "She Said No." As he did, a sunburnt sailor walking by stopped and said, "Oi, I know there are plenty of sad songs in the world, but on a day like this how in the seven hells can you play them" before slapping the bard on the shoulder and walking away. The Silver Singer looks at the retreating back of the old salt and breaks into a heartfelt smile and starts up a bouncy jig he'd been working on back in Caneladaer Keep called "Greta's Grace." The departing sailor begins snapping his fingers and bobbing his head as he finishes up his last tasks of the afternoon.

Dagmar closed his eyes and tilted his head back to absorb what little warmth remained in the waning sunlight and his hands continued to play a happy tune, scars and all.
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