The Silk Road
However, these accounts appear to have been forgotten, lost, or at least not widely known by 1699, since other Tilean traders didn't know what lay beyond the Worlds Edge Mountains and the Dark Lands. In that year, the brothers Ricco and Robbio, Tilean merchants in Karaz-a-Karak, bought a tattered but exceptionally fine silk banner from some Dwarf adventurers who had been far to the east. They claimed to have captured it from a band of Hobgoblins. The banner bore the symbol of a Dragon, and the Dwarfs, not bothered about keeping what they believed to be an Elf banner, were eager to sell it for gold. The significance of the banner was not lost on Ricco and Robbio. If it was an Elf banner captured by the Hobgoblins, it could be the answer to a question which had been vexing the minds of many Tilean merchants: was it possible to get to Ulthuan by going eastwards as an overland route instead of sailing westwards over the sea? If such a thing were possible, it could mean that Ulthuan was at the eastern end of the great Old World continent. It would also mean that the world was round and not flat as most people believed. Elf seafarers had never revealed much about Ulthuan. The Norse seemed to think it was an island. Marco Colombo in his writings speculated as to whether it was an island or a peninsula of a great northern continent attached to Lustria. He believed, as did many others, that only this could explain where the Dark Elves came from and why they fought against the High Elves. Ricco and Robbio suspected that if they journeyed far enough to the east they would either arrive in Ulthuan, or maybe even Lustria, or on the far coast of the Old World continent opposite Ulthuan. Unfortunately this coast might be held by Dark Elves. The fine workmanship of the silk banner and its Dragon motif suggested a High Elf origin, so perhaps it had been lost in battle with the Dark Elves and captured by Hobgoblin lackeys in their employ. Ricco and Robbio scoured the Dwarf strongholds of the Worlds Edge Mountains seeking more artefacts of Elven workmanship which had come out of the east. They acquired a small hoard of objects including scrolls bearing what appeared to be Elven writing, weapons, and silks which Dwarf traders were pleased to sell for gold.[1a]
The two brothers returned to their home city of Verezzo and tried to raise funds for an expedition into the east. Their intention was to find an overland route to Ulthuan and possibly even Lustria. This would avoid the hazards of a long sea voyage and show the High Elves that they might rule the seas but not the land. Also it would enable Verezzo to get one up on her trading rivals in Remas, which was enjoying a monopoly on the western sea trade at this time. The Prince of Verezzo was very enthusiastic and all the Merchant Princes of the city followed his example. Merchants from Luccini, Miragliano, and Pavona also contributed to the enterprise. It was decided that the expedition was so dangerous that only a powerful armed force could be expected to fight its way across the continent. Therefore a great mercenary army was gathered, led by the best mercenary commanders of the day. Furthermore, there was a large civilian contingent of merchants, artisans, craftsmen and others, together with their wives and camp followers. The baggage train stretched for over a mile. The intention was to set up a trading post as far east as possible. As the expedition passed through the lands of the Border Princes it gathered further contingents motivated by a sense of adventure. When it reached the Dwarf Kingdom, several Dwarf contingents joined the column, notably Slayers, attracted by the generally held belief that the expedition was doomed. In 1699 the expedition, now numbering over a thousand Tileans and various other mercenaries, left Karaz-a-Karak for the east, travelling up the Worlds Edge Mountains to the Road of Skulls and beyond.[1a][1b]
It was many years before anyone in Tilea heard of the fate of the expedition or what they had discovered. Then in 1714 a merchant caravan of pack yaks arrived at Verezzo, laden down with bundles of silk. With the bales of silk came a message from Ricco and Robbio explaining they were now residing in the westernmost outpost of the Empire of Cathay. It was now clear that there was no eastern route to Ulthuan or Lustria. The world was indeed flat and much much larger than anyone could have imagined. Instead of Elves, the Tileans had encountered an entirely unknown realm. Indeed it was a populous empire of vast extent and unimaginable wealth. Apparently Ricco and Robbio had not been permitted to enter the Empire of Cathay because, as the Cathayans had politely explained, they were hairy and uncouth barbarians. However, the Dragon Emperor Wu had been intrigued by these strangers. He had been delighted with the return of the banner of his Palace Guard and was gratified to receive the submission and tribute of the entire land of Tilea - which was a ruse pulled by the cunning Ricco and Robbio in order to avoid being summarily beheaded. The Emperor had agreed to hire the entire expedtion having been impressed by a battle in which the mercenaries had held off a Cathayan army which, although small by Cathayan standards had in fact outnumbered the Tileans by about three to one.[1b]
Since that time a mercantile quarter has flourished in Shang-Yang which is the westernmost of the Cathayan fortress towns on the Silk Road. This is the name by which the trade route to Cathay, opened up by Ricco and Robbio has become known. Trading caravans go along this route very rarely and only a few reach their destination due to the terrible hazards of the journey and the scourge of the Hobgobla Khan and his great horde which, when all his loyal tribes are drawn up for battle, is said to extend from horizon to horizon. The mercenaries in Shang-Yang have become 'guests' of the Emperor of Cathay and valued warriors in his service. The Emperor uses these troops to help defend his western frontier against the wrath of Hobgobla Khan. Of course by doing this, the Tileans serve their own interests by keeping open the Silk Road.[1b]
- Ricco and Robbio may be an alterego of the two unidentified monks that spied the methods for raising silk worms and carried secretly their eggs in the Byzantine Empire from China.