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Icewind Dale 2 "Working Title"


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Author's Note: Firstly, I don't own any of the IWD characters, and I am only borrowing Domi's, (thanks :p ). I guess I can lay claim to Anariel.

Secondly, this is my fist fanfiction and I can't figure out how to get the indent to work on this site (?)

Thirdly, Translations of elven & drow will be provided at the bottom of the chapter.

And lastly, I hope to entertain suggestions for a title after another chapter or two and I hope you enjoy!



Chapter 1

In the far north of Faerun, there lies an untamed wilderness, known as Icewind Dale. Above the Spine of the World, the frozen tundra was home to the Ten Towns. A confederation of sorts, the towns had sprung up around the three lakes in the south-central area of Icewind Dale. Most of the inhabitants of the towns were of a solitary ilk, choosing to live apart from the warmer, more civilized parts of Faerun. In their quiet attempt to survive, a discovery of a rare fish was made. This fish, the knucklehead trout, was unique to the three lakes fished by the ten towns, for from its bones, an ivory-like scrimshaw craving could be made. The demand for these items was profitable enough that the towns banded together to better accommodate the harvesting of the fish and the trade of scrimshaw in Faerun.


It was 1312, the year of the Griffin, nearing the month of Mirtul, when a message for help came from the Ten Towns. Throughout the northern reaches of Faerun it was learned that hordes of orcs and goblins had begun besieging the northern towns without mercy. It was rumored that they were organized and precise in their attacks beyond any other raid known in the dale’s history. Stretched beyond their limits, the inhabitants of the frozen dale, sent forth a spokesman with an impassioned plea for help. Promises of trained soldiers from both Neverwinter and Luskan would be dispatched to the northern climes as soon as they became available. In the meantime, what could not be had quickly by pleas, was sought with the promise of gold and fame. This drew out mercenaries, fighters, and adventures alike, from as far south as Baldur’s Gate, and Silverymoon to the east. Worried that it would still be too little, too late, the the frozen dale’s ambassador, called on the clergy to pray for divine intervention.

And so it was that a plan was devised by the clerics of both Tyr and Helm.


It seemed of late that the prisons of Neverwinter and Luskan were teeming with criminals from all walks of life from fighters, to rogues, and even bards. The priests brought forth their idea to the city magistrates. With executions planned daily for the next several ten-days, why not put these men to better use. So the condemned were given a choice, die by the hangman’s noose or, stay their execution by taking up arms and fighting the orcs and hobglobins that threatened the good townspeople of Icewind Dale. A promise of freedom was to be granted to all who survived, but only if they truly fought for the inhabitants of the Ten Towns. Those who chose to fight for their redemption, would be put under the direct supervision of the captains and knights leading the fight against the invading hordes. Many men decided to join in the fight figuring their odds would be better to the frozen north. Or at the very least, die with honor.


The day was half gone when a half dozen squads of Neverwinter guardsmen made their way through the busy city streets toward the docks. Amidst the sights and sounds of the sailors, cart-merchants, and passers-by, the dragging of chains and shuffling of feet heralded the prisoner’s armed escort. Awaiting them, anchored in the safe harbor were a number of ships. Each vessel bobbed up and down on its moorings as if just as anxious to be away with the evening’s tide as the chained men now nearing the docks.


Overlooking the harbor, standing on a grassy slope beneath a shady tree, a young woman looked out upon the gentle white capped swells slapping against the hulls of the vessels. Flags on the dockside and ships were whipped, snapping loudly as the the westward wind picked up from off the Trackless Sea. The same sea breeze tugged and pulled at the woman’s woolen cloak and blew her hair in enough disarray, to allow for a glimpse of delicately shaped ears that proclaimed her elven heritage. With an absent toss of her hand she moved aside the thick braid of night black hair from were it had fallen to her shoulder. At first glance, one might think the young maid to be merely taking in the sights or perhaps seeing her beloved off to adventure upon the sea. They would be sadly mistaken, in fact, they might be surprised when, as the sea wind one again, whipped the heavy cloak aside to reveal a faint gleam of silver, from the chain mail beneath. The eldest daughter of a noble elven lord, Anariel Peranwyr Ni’Tessine was in truth, awaiting her appointed time to board a ship heading to the chilly north. Like those criminals that were given a choice to do or die, so too had she been given an ultimatum.


Anariel’s birth had been a rare one among elves. She was born a twin. Tears stung her pale green eyes as she recalled her brother, the other half of her soul. Lavir had been born first, their father’s heir, his pride and joy. She had come, happily second. Although the couple had been blessed with four more children, the twins had been special in their eyes. A special blessing, or at least Lavir had been, thought Anariel. She had not cared that she was not quite the apple of her father’s eye, for she had all she needed in her twin. It is not uncommon for a brother and sister to be close, especially twins, but Lavir and Anariel had been closer than most. As children they were nearly inseparable, so much so that Anariel trained with her brother in both range and melee weapon and Lavir learned rudiments of healing with Anariel. Many in the family teased them saying that the two two shared one heart. In truth, they were the perfect halves, balancing one another. He was level headed, and respectful, the perfect knight and diplomat’s son. She was the opposite, willful, and defiant. Always getting into one scrape or another, with Lavir usually keeping her from going too far. Lavir was also the one who would calm their father down, buffering his anger.


Several more tears slipped from Anariel’s eyes, her vision blurring. It was the loneliness that tore at her spirit. Never had she been alone when Lavir lived, for even if they were leagues apart, they still shared an unbreakable bond. A link.

He had always known when ever she was sad or in trouble, and she had known when he had need of her. She had known that dreadful night, when he was mortally wounded and lay dying. She could not save him that night.

Her healing skills had been too meager for the wound and the magic that had struck him down. Everything changed that night in one misstep and plunge of a sword. One cast of a dark spell. He died. For her folly. Her wildness.

She knew she was responsible as surely as if she had had her hand on the sword hilt herself.


The wind from the sea whipped up her cloak, exposing Anariel to the cold sea air. A shuddering sigh racked her small frame. With ease born of much practice, she pushed the memories of that night from her thoughts, but her mind continued to turn over the events after her twin’s death. The relationship between her father and herself had always been strained, but now it threatened to snap. The elven lord never accused her of causing Lavir’s death, but she saw it in his eyes. She saw it clearly as if he had uttered the words aloud, it should have been you who died.

The past year proved a difficult one, for how did one live with only half a soul. Her behavior changed. She became quieter, less troublesome. But she knew in her heart it was not an attempt to please her parents, but rather, her joy in life had died.


There was even one night that she wondered if she wouldn’t be better off dying. Toying with a vial of poison, she contemplated just that. It was in the quiet of that night, that Anariel heard Lavir’s voice, clear as day, telling her to go on living. She was meant to go on living. So she tried to survive.


Her father did not make it easy. Almost all of the freedom she had known and loved vanished. Her life as a diplomate and former knight’s daughter became restricted to the point of near suffocation. What spare time she had to herself, Anariel kept her fighting skills honed, and her talent for lock picking a secret.

Then one day it was announced that she would be wed. A match had been made for her to another elven lord’s son. Her head reeled at the thought of going from one prison to another. What could her parents be thinking, she had never even met the man.

Unbending her pride, she caroled and pleaded with both parents. but it was to no avail. Then, tired of her father’s deaf ears, she schemed and plotted, taking matters into her own hands. It had been a mere ten-days ago when she broke one of her father’s strictest codes of correct behavior, and although she had truly not meant to shame her family, she also knew she could not go through with the wedding.


Dark days followed as Anariel awaited her fate. Having deftly out maneuvered her father’s handpicked marriage, she was now given two choices. Either enter the clergy until a lesser match could be found outside of Neverwinter and Luskan, or journey north to take charge of a fighting party. To her mother’s sorrow, she chose the north. Her father was somehow not surprised by her decision. He believed that within several ten-days, she would either find her own footing, return and willingly enter a marriage of her parent’s choosing, or die fighting for the innocent. Confident in her skills as a fighter, she watched as her sire calmly made all the necessary arrangements.

So here she stood, with two finely crafted swords. Hers and her brother’s swords, sheathed to her back, awaiting her departure. Her freedom.


Behind the petite eleven woman, stood four men. One of the men, a human paladin named Sir Wind Nord, stood to the side in deep conversation with the elder of the three elven men. The man with whom he spoke was tall, even by human standards. A Sun Elf, his dark golden hair was braided and bound in cuffs of burnished gold to keep it from blowing about in the sea winds.

His piercing blue eyes briefly left the face of the paladin to look at the elf maid upon the grassy knoll. A frown marred his brow as he noted the stubborn line of his daughter’s stance. L’orvarin Ni’Tessine sighed inwardly, wondering if he was making a mistake by sending his daughter away like this.

Something of his thoughts must have shown on his face, for his friend smiled, “She will be fine my friend. She is made of sterner stuff than she looks, aye? I am sure she will try her hand to a fight or two and then come straight home to you and your lady wife. Just you wait and see.”

“I wish I shared your certainty old friend. I fear she is far too stubborn for her own good, said L’orvarin sadly. He knew she was better off away from the family. They were better off with her gone. The elven lord sighed, closing his eyes briefly at the thought of the peace her departure would bring to their household. She set such a poor example to her younger brothers and sisters. Silently he thanked the gods that at least one of her sisters was safely wed and her two brothers settled as squires before Anariel’s misadventure happened.

“But enough, it is nearly time for her to be aboard,” said L’orvarin aloud. Without raising his voice, the elven lord spoke clearly across to were Anariel stood, “Daughter.” Her spine visibly stiffened.

“Anariel, I would have you meet some of your traveling companions.” As she came closer to her parent, her father secured his daughter’s arm, guiding her. “You remember Sir Nord of course.”

“Aye, greeting Sir Nord. I trust you are well this day,” said Anariel politely. Her father frowned at the lack of warmth in her voice.

“Good day to you lass,” greeted the paladin. “I have assured your lord father that ‘tis a fine day to start our adventure.”

“Indeed sir,” came the maid’s simple reply.

“Sir Nord has already secured a few likely adventurers from among the prospects. This young man being one of them,” gestured L’orvarin to the other side of the knight. A slender golden haired elf came forward to be presented. His clear blue eyes held the depth of a cold mountain lake as he looked at Anariel.

L’orvarin continued with the introductions, “This is Driel, who Wind tells me has agreed to join your party to the north. He is a druid from the High Forest. I am sure his maturity and knowledge will prove invaluable in your travels. ”

“You honor me Lord Ni’Tessine,” said the younger elf formally. Addressing Anariel, he blowed ever so slightly, “Lady, I am pleased to make your acquaintance. It shall be . . . a mutual benefit I am certain.”

A smattering of small talk was made before, a bell was rung to announce the beginning of the embarkment. L’orvarin turned to his daughter.

Taking her hand, he drew her away from the others, “I shall be leaving soon, Anariel. Once I am through with the diplomatic talks here in Neverwinter I shall be returning home to Luskan.” Placing his free hand over his heart, where he had placed a letter, he added, “I will deliver your missive to your mother as you requested.”

The elder elf paused, swallowing hard as he looked at his daughter. Several minutes passed, as the elven lord looked into the eyes of his daughter. Quietly under his breath, she heard him whisper,“You look so like him. If only . . .” tears welled up in his eyes. Tears Anariel knew, were for Lavir.

Knowing her father seldom bowed to emotion, and realizing that this could be the last time she saw him, Anariel unbent her pride. “Heruamin, may your heart be at peace,” she began. Raising herself upon her toes, she stretched up to whisper in her father’s ear as she did as a child. “Amin mela lle. Aa’ menealle nauva calen ar’ malta.”

L’orvarin swept his daughter up in a quick embrace, “Namaarie daughter,Tenna’ ento lye omenta.” Releasing her just as quickly, the elder lord stepped back. Once again in control, he inclined his head to his daughter before calling out for his aide and departing the docks.

Seeing that the paladin and elven druid had discreetly left the father and daughter to their farewells, Anariel was once again, alone. Grateful for the solitude to gather her thoughts, her pale green eyes moved back to the ships at the docks. The bell rang a second time. Anariel started to move forward to rejoin her companions.

As she walked toward the dock, her eyes watched the guardsmen ahead of her. The new, albeit, coerced recruits were securely being marched aboard several of the awaiting ships. Each squad was made up of six men that were responsible for an equal number of able bodied criminals.

A guardsman called out to make way as the squad at the end turned to make its way back toward the town. The elven maid stepped aside for the last squad as it approached. She noted that this last group of six soldiers, surrounded a single man.


A involuntary shiver touched her spine as she sensed her regard being returned. Before her mind could register whence it came, a burly guardsmen swept his halberd’s staff to knock the lone, chained prisoner to his knees. He was yelling at the fallen man for looking at his betters.

The head that had been covered with a cowl was now in plain sight. Anariel raised a black brow in surprise, for the man on his knees, now mere feet from her, looked to be a drow. Or at least what looked to be a half-drow. Another of the guardsmen grabbed the drow’s long silver white hair and yanked his head back. His brother in arms raised the halberd once more for a blow to the dark elf’s face. The blow never fell.

Anariel held a wickedly curved blade to the soldier’s throat. As he started to move, he felt its razor edge bite into his skin. In a calm, even voice, the elven woman asked,“What seems to be the matter here that you must needs abuse this man?”

“He is no man. He is a stinkin’ drow. He deserves no less,” came the soldier’s reply.

“What was his offense that warranted being brought to his knees in such a way?”

“His being alive is an offense. An offense to all the innocents that have been killed by his kind.”

“And what kind would that be?”

“Elves . . . I mean, drow. Ya know . . . dark elves.”

A single black brow raised, “Elves, you say? Indeed. We are a bloodthirsty lot, aren’t we. Mayhap I should prove your point with one of my own.”

Leaving the sword at his throat, she smoothly produced a slim dagger which she pressed into his side, below his armpit. The elven maid heard Sir Nord’s voice blustering not far behind her.

Before the situation could escalate any further, the captain of the guards approached, “What is the meaning of this?”

Looking at Anariel he said, “Lower your weapon lass.” Noting the stubborn look in her stance, he added with an edge of authority, “That wasn’t a request.”

Satisfied that she was complying, the captain again address his man, “Why isn’t this prisoner, er, volunteer aboard ship? Isn’t he the one that is supposed to be delivered personally to Lord Ulbrec? Where’s the dwarf that agreed to escort this one?”

“Drunk. Tore apart the Seedy Tavern and landed in prison sleeping off the ale,” offered the burly soldier, as he cast a worried eye to his fellow guardsman.

The man held a cloth to the thin cut from Anariel’s blade.

“Damn it all to the nine hells,” exclaimed the captain. He really didn’t want the drow back in the prison. Even if the dark elf’s execution was rescheduled, his presence still caused too much disruption within the prison walls.

“If it is an escort for yon Tel’gothrim to the Ten Towns that you need, then you have one,”said Anariel calmly.

The six guardsmen of the squad looked at the maid in surprise. Anariel even saw a flash of disbelief in the drow’s eyes, before he rose to his feet. The captain looked as if he suspected her of joking, and nearby Anariel thought she heard a moan from Sir Wind Nord.

It took Anariel a quarter of an hour to convince the captain that she was indeed, both going to the frozen north, and capable of taking charge of escorting the drow. As the third and final bell tolled, Anariel was walking across the gang plank that led to the ship with the dark elf by her side. Just as they neared the ship, Anariel leaned toward the drow and unlocked his chains.

In a voice that only he could hear, she said, “What is your name Tel’gothrim?”

With eyes still cast down, the dark elf answered, “Jabbress, I am called Rizdaer.”

“Look at me Rizdaer,” she said in a voice that was at once soft and yet edged with steal. A full head taller than her, Anariel waited and watched as Rizdaer raised his eyes to hers. Thin white, graceful brows arched over amber colored eyes. Intelligence glittered in their depths, reminding Anariel of a big cat she had once encountered in the wilds of Graypeak Mountains with her brother Lavir.

“Know this and understand Rizdaer. I have saved you from certain death. Should you even try to escape or cause me grief, I will take your life myself.”

Jeweled eyes silently took the measure of the elven maid. He saw a look that bespoke a stubborn, independent pride, and strength was worn upon a pale, thin, heart-shaped face. In the depths of the pale green the dark elf could see that her words were true. He acknowledged the elven maid with an incline of his head, lowering his gaze once again, “I understand mistress. I am drow, I will obey.”


A slim black brow raised. How many times had she said something similar to her father?

‘I understand father. I am your daughter, I will obey.’ She wondered if it left just as bad a taste in the dark elf’s mouth as it had hers. She also wondered if he was lying through his teeth just as she always had. Just to survive. If that were any indication, drow or no drow, this elf would bare watching just as she had.

The first smile she had smiled all day tugged at the corners of her mouth. A small smile, but one never the less.




1. Heruamin: my lord (familiar)

2. “Amin mela lle. Aa’ menealle nauva calen ar’ malta.”: may thy ways be green and golden.

3. Namaarie: farewell

4. Tenna' ento lye omenta: until next we meet.

5. Tel'gothrim: drow

6. (Drow) Jabbress: mistress





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A Winter's Tale: Chapter Two


Later that night as the Wicked Wench plied her course toward Luskan, the traveling companions sat down to take their meal. They had been lucky enough to secure a spot on a small deck to the aft of the ship. Truth be told, the Wench’s captain, Hedron Kerdos, wanted the group where he could see them. Even if the elven maid was able to keep the drow in check, he wanted to keep an eye on the dark elf as well.


Seated under a tarp that had been placed to keep out the worst of the sea’s spray and any inclement weather, the small company awaited dinner’s arrival. With his back to some cargo boxes, Rizdaer watched each one of the company in turn.

The tall, slender elf, Diriel moved with the grace attributed to his race. Pale golden hair fell to his shoulders, with the braids of a warrior on either side. The elf was reserved in his speech and spent much of his time observing the other members, his eyes missing little. By his clothing and manner, the drow recognized him to be a druid. He had never met a druid before and found watching this one interesting.

As Diriel moved away toward the midsection, Rizdaer gaze focused on Wind Nord.


The paladin began to clean another piece of his armor. Knowing that the salt sea air could spell disaster for his equipment, the old soldier carefully applied a cleaner that would also act as a protectant. The knight was a big man, even without his armor. He stood above six foot in height and looked to be solid muscle despite his age. The drow found himself mildly amused by the man’s rough manner and less than noble speech. He lacked the normal refinement found in most knights. Time alone would show if he also lacked the singleminded, judgmental zeal attributed to many paladins. That the knight did not trust him, did not surprise the drow.

In fact, Nord had been nagging at the elven maid about him for most of the evening.

“Ye should have left the chains on the wily bastard,â€Âadmonished the paladin. “I can see if the good captain has something aboard that we can use.â€Â

“No. That will not be necessary Sir Nord,†came the simple but obstinate reply. Turning her back on the knight, she pulled a bottle of wine from one of her packs.

“I am sure your lord father would not approve of . . .†started the knight.

“I do not see my lord father aboard ship Sir Nord,†interrupted Anariel rather sharply. Lack of sleep and irritation finally started to tell in her voice.

Sighing heavily, she dug around for some goblets, “Besides, I am past trying to gain my good father’s approval.â€Â

Nord looked at Anariel and sadly shook his head.

Rizdaer watched the maid through hooded eyes. He sensed that there was more to this female than one could see at first glance. She had a hardness to her, his jailer. A strength that the paladin had yet to discover. In truth, the drow doubted that the maid was even aware of her own power. He continued to listen to their exchange with interest.

Uncorking the bottle, she poured a goblet as she continued to address the soldier. “Let us be clear before we go any further. It is not Lord Ni’Tessine who is leading this party,†she paused. “Or you.†The older man frowned but remained silent as she continued, “You see, this journey is a two sided coin. It was my choice, but it is also my punishment. That being so, it is I, who will decide which path to take or not take.â€Â

Anariel reached out a graceful arm and handed the soldier a goblet of wine, “Do not mistake me, sir knight. I welcome your counsel, but the final and only decision, is mine.†Smiling rather sadly she added, “If this is unacceptable to you and you wish to return to Neverwinter, or be left at Luskan, I would understand.â€Â


Over the goblet’s rim, Nord looked hard into Anariel’s green eyes, “Nay lass. I told your father I would help you, and help you I will.†Sighing heavily the knight sipped his wine before continuing, “I don’t mind taking orders, but damn it to the nine hells lass, I am nigh on old enough to be your father.â€Â

A soft smile played about the elven maid’s lips, “Sir, it is I who is older than you. Should we count years, I am but a score shy of one hundred winters.â€Â


With those words, she moved gracefully across the small deck and poured another goblet for Rizdaer. The drow watched her approach although his eyes were properly lowered. As she moved closer, he could see the grace of her movements.

A goblet was being held out to him as a soft voice inquired,“Would you care for some wine Master Drow?†Rizdaer looked up. First he eyed the goblet, then he brazenly raised his eyes to look at her warily. Seeming to understand his hesitation, Anariel took a sip from the goblet first and paused a minute before handing him the wine. “It is not the best wine, I admit, but it is harmless never the less. Take it, it will keep away the night’s chill.†Rizdaer took the goblet and sipped the dark, fragrant wine. His eyes never leaving Anariel’s.

From behind the elven maid, came the sound of booted feet and jostling dishes. Several sailors approached, followed by Diriel. With them they had a small cook-pot and several metal plates. Nord accepted the dishes of what looked like a stew. Anariel gathered another two goblets, one of the druid and one for herself as Nord ladled the savory smelling stuff into the plates. With the addition of bread and cheese, the meal was complete.


Over the next several days, the weather remained mild as they continued to Luskan. By the close of the second day, the ship left the Trackless Sea and sailed up the River Mirar to safely weigh anchor. Here, in the City of Sails, they would take on new passengers heading north and gather any personal provisions that may have been forgotten in Neverwinter.


Diriel was one of the first to leave the ship once they had set anchor. Knowing of a shop where he could procure a few rare herbs and other medicinal elements necessary for their trip, he quickly disembarked.

Realizing that he too, had not packed certain items, Nord decided to go ashore. Turning toward Anariel he tried to persuade her to join him. “Are ye sure ye do not want to go ashore with me lass?†asked the knight kindly. “I know of a little hole in the wall that serves the finest ale and fish chowder.â€Â

“I have no need nor wish to visit Luskan, but you have my thanks for the offer.†Flipping the knight a coin she added, “Have a nip of the ale for me as you toast our adventure.â€Â

“As you will,†replied the knight. He glanced over to where the drow sat and sent the elven maid a warning glance before departing.

Smiling at her overly protective paladin, Anariel fetched a soft leather pouch from her pack. She was content to stay aboard ship, and intended to make good use of her time. Making a small pot of tea, she poured a cup for herself and then offered some to Rizdaer. The drow scowled only slightly at the proffered tea and leaned back onto his pallet. Toward the prow of the ship, one of the remaining sailors pulled out a set of pipes and started playing a lively tune, to which another man joined with a lute.


Humming along with the tune, Anariel set down her tea before beginning to clean her swords. Both perfectly balanced, the swords were an exact match. The twin swords had been a gift to the twins, Anariel and Lavir. Both were enchanted and of elven craftsmanship giving them sleek, graceful lines. The dark metal, had a slight curve to the blade, not unlike a scimitar. The blades had an edge so keen, that it rendered a deeper cut than most blades. The victim of such a wound would also find that the bleeding was harder to stop.


In addition to the swords, she carried a long, black bladed dagger. Balanced for a more feminine hand, it was crafted for throwing as well as hand to hand combat. A bittersweet smile crossed her face as she recalled her brother’s insistence that she have the dagger enchanted to return to her once thrown.

It had been mere months before his death, when she had gotten involved in a particularly foolish prank with some friends. It ended poorly in a fight that she could easily have lost after being left unarmed. She could still recall how angry with her, Lavir had become. Regret, even now, weighted heavily upon Anariel’s thoughts. Quickly swiping away an unexpected tear, she applied the whet stone to the dagger’s edge.


Time passed by with little effort. The cleaning of her swords and long dagger complete, she reached for her last weapon. Carefully she drew out a large wrapped object that had been secured to her pack. With great care she unwrapped a large bow and taking a soft cloth, proceeded to carefully clean it. The weapon was created from a dwarven master-craftsman of a hard wood. Polished to a warm, rich color, it was a thing of beauty. Several centuries old, it was just as strong now as at its creation. Facing outward, just above and below the arrow rest arose a dragon. Its wings arched gracefully down each limb, ending in a blade-like flare were each end recurved away from the archer.


Made of the strongest and lightest metal, the flaring design protected the archer, allowing one to weld the bow against their attacker at close range. A deep red garnet was placed as the dragon’s heart, giving it its name, Dragon Heart. When properly strung, the bow required no ammunition, creating its own supply of fire arrows. Lavir had gifted the magic weapon to her on the year they had both reached their adulthood.

“That is a fine weapon you have there,†came a woman’s pleasant voice. Glancing up, Anariel found herself looking at a tall woman leaning on an iron shod quarter staff. “Would you be Anariel Ni’Tessine ? I was told by your knight, Sir Nord, I believe he said his name was, that you were in need of a few more people to round out your party. Please, forgive my manners, I am Valeero, a priestess of Lathander.â€Â

Having gained her feet, Anariel smiled at the woman before her, “Welcome. ‘Tis true, we are in need of a good cleric, and Lathander is a better choice than many I have met.â€Â


From across the way, amber eyes assessed the new comer. He had been half dosing and half watching the elven female attending, lovingly, to her weapons. Now, he fully awake, listening to her speak with the human female. He noted the cleric’s attributes. Her face was tanned and without blemish, or wrinkle. The drow had trouble pegging the female’s age, especially as she was human. She appeared to be young enough. Strong of limb, with muscle evident under the sheen of chain mail beneath her traveling clothes. He noted that she was not foolish enough to wear the full robes that some clerics wore, but instead wore breeches and a long, knee length tunic, split to the hip. Hazel colored eyes showed wisdom and a glimmer of humor.

A decent size buckler hung from her back, while a wicked looking mace hung from her belt. Keeping it company, was a sling and a pouch of bullets. Rizdaer’s drow eye sight detected a faint glow from the mace when ever the cleric’s hand brushed the weapon. From the conversation he learned that Valeero was from Neverwinter. It was her intent to join the fight and meet up with Captain Mariner who was leading a contingent of soldiers from Neverwinter to Targos.


Voices from the dock drew the attention of the two women. Nord was returning with Diriel as well as two others. A tall man in a sorcerer’s robes and what almost looked like a female child. The knight ushered the newcomers forward while the druid placed his purchases safely in his pack.

“I have found these two likely adventurers heading north. They were looking for a party to join, and as we have have a need . . .†began the soldier. Anariel raised a black brow at the knight. He had taken matters into his own hands without discussing it with her. Instead of feeling angry, she found herself curious about the the newcomers. What did it matter now who chose them, she reasoned with herself. They did indeed need a few more to round out their party. Surely, being a soldier, Nord must be a descent judge of character.

“Why not introduce your friends sir knight,†she said finally.


Nord breathed a small sigh of relief. Soon the introductions were made. Both were magic users. Of the two, Jaemal, was a gifted sorcerer who, Nord explained, had also received rigorous weapons training. This combination had been too good for the knight to pass up. Anariel learned that Jaemal was from the east, a country called Mulhorand. She observed the man as he spoke, his tones cultured and soft. He stood tall in robes of a dark wine color. To his belt was attached a sling, a pouch of bullets, and a sheathed dagger. A wand tucked into the another specially made sheath also hung from the leather belt. He leaned casually upon a staff, encrypted with numerous magical runes and figures. Dark brown, almost black hair hung in waves to his shoulders. Anariel found his countenance and manners most pleasing, for he lacked the usual haughtiness that one found in most sorcerers. The intense dark eyes that looked back at the elven maid were full of intelligence, and something more. Realizing that she was staring, Anariel quickly looked to the remaining spell caster.


Peony was a gnome. A rock gnome to be exact. The first that Anariel had ever met. The petite female was several inches shy of five feet tall. She dressed in the robes of a mage, a whirl of blues and purples. Silvery blue tresses hung below her shoulders in soft curls. Her dark blue eyes literally danced as she told the story of how she had traveled from Silverymoon to Luskan. As Peony continued her story, Anariel started to feel a slight headache forming between her eyes. She knew that size could be deceiving, but in reality, could this talkative gnome hold her own in a fight?


Anariel sighed heavily as she considered the lives of those in her party, and the responsibility she now carried. A bitter laugh threatened to escape her. She could barely take care of herself, and know she was to lead a band of adventurers. They were now a party of six now, seven while the drow was still with them. She knew without having to look, that the amber eyes of the dark elf were watching her, as always taking her measure. She rubbed her forehead with her fingers, closing her eyes in quiet desperation. She had been looking for escape, for freedom. To succeed where others expected failure would take all of her strength and cunning. As she listened to Peony launch into another story, Anariel wondered which would be the first to go, her feet, or her sanity.


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A Winter's Tale: Chapter Three


With the next tide, the Wicked Wench had left her moorings and headed out to sea. The weather had gone from clear to cloudy while they had been at port. Swells now slapped against the ship’s hull with more frequency and strength. Not being the best of sailors, Anariel chose not to break her fast that morning. Swallowing the sour taste already in her mouth, the elven maid plaited her black hair into one thick braid. Being but a fair-weather sailor, she knew what to expect.


Noting her discomfort, Diriel offered her an old druid remedy, “Best you drink this, slowly, and then try and rest. I added a bit of valerian root to help you sleep.â€Â

With a wane, almost shy smile, she gratefully accepted the brew and sipped the herbal tea. She silently prayed that it would help diminish the sea sickness rolling in her belly.


By mid-day, a storm arose from the west, bringing with it rain and harsh gale winds. The ship rose and fell with each swell. Most of the party were braced for the storm, whether seated or standing. Rizdaer sat under the tarp, a mere arms length from Anariel’s huddled form. She thrashed in a restless sleep, moaning softly every now and again. A frown creased the dark elf’s brow as he looked up into the storm clouds. Across the aft deck, you would think the day was clear and fair. The foul weather did not seem to affect the smallest member of the party, as Peony laughed and told several of her grandmother’s stories.


Anariel moaned and clutched her stomach. Awaking, she rose quickly and staggered to the side of the ship as another spasm of nausea lanced through her gut. Hanging her shoulders and head over the side, she retched into the sea.

A sudden crack was heard from the rigging above. Several screams came from the sailors above, having been caught in the rigging like flies caught in a web. Captain Kerdos yelled orders from near the wheel. He gestured and yelled at Diriel, “Druid! Ye are an elf, fleet of foot and all. Mayhap ye can climb above and help my lads, aye?†Seconds passed as the elf fought an internal battle. He despised the the way humans viewed all elves. Would it be so bad if these human sailors met their deaths at sea? With a quick glance to his companions, he leapt to the rigging and nimbly climbed aloft. Nord and Valeero crossed to where the druid had climbed, waiting to assist where they could.

“What is going on?†exclaimed Peony. She turned to Jaemal and grabbing hold of his robes. She pulled him over to a stack of crates that were still lashed securely to the deck. “I can’t see past all these giants and their big heads! Here, help me up,†Stepping on the sorcerer’s knee, the gnome agilely climbed atop the crates.


It was then that a large wave slammed into the ship. Rizdaer watched as the gnome fell from her perch directly into the arms of the hapless Mulhorand mercenary. A cruel smile lurked about the drow’s mouth. Turning to see if Anariel had witnessed the comedy, the dark elf’s gaze found only an empty rail.

“Jabbress! Mistress!†yelled the drow as he ran to the rail. The wind swallowed up his words. Reaching the rail, he looked over the side to see his jailer, dangling from a rope. Looping another rope through an iron ring on the deck, the drow secured it to his own waist. Leaning far over, he lowered his torso over the side, shouting, “Mistress, reach to me your hand!â€Â

Grasping first her hand, and then her forearm, the dark elf fought to haul Anariel’s slim body up and over the rail. She gained the top of the rail just as another large swell hit that side of the ship. It sprayed them both with a deluge of salt water, pitching the maid hard, into the drow’s arms.

Loosing his balance under the sudden weight, and slipping on the wet boards of the deck, Rizdaer started to fall, taking Anariel with him. Instinctively, he twisted his body to shield her from as much impact as possible.

Panting, the sodden pair lay for a minute regaining their breath. Sliding his hands from Anariel’s shoulders, down her arms, the drow spoke into her ear, “I need to see that nothing is broken Mistress. With your permission.†Shivering almost violently, Anariel nodded her consent. Arms and legs were unbroken. “You seem sound of limb. You must stand before you are trampled.†Standing on unsteady feet, she allowed the drow to lead her back to her pallet under the tarp. Taking one of her blankets, Rizdaer wrapped it around her. He stiffened as the elven maid leaned against him in both relief and exhaustion. He held her arms and almost gently pushed her upright. “If you have need to retch again, I advise you to have one of us help you. If need be we can secure you with a rope.â€Â

Through chattering teeth came a reply, “Yes of course. My thanks Rizdaer. You surely saved me from a watery grave.â€Â

“Save your thanks foolish surfacer,†said Rizdaer. His tone brusque and cutting. “You deceive only yourself if you think I saved you for any other reason than to save my own life. We both know that I would have been thrown over board if you should have drowned.â€Â

A sound halfway between a bark and a laugh escaped Anariel’s lips, “Of course.†What was she thinking to expect gratitude from a drow. Yes, she was foolish indeed. Laying down, and resting her head on her pack, she willed the storm to abate.


The next day revealed a break in the storm, much to everyone’s delight. With several days yet to reach the river leading to Targos, life aboard the ship fell into a haphazard routine. To help alleviate the boredom many of the adventurers played cards and dice, while others slept. But even under the captain’s watchful eye, there were fights and disagreements. With so many adventurer types on board, to was to be expected. With the help of some of the soldiers and his loyal crew, the captain was able to maintain order without too much bloodshed. Confining one to the brig came only after the failure of time consuming tasks, meted out like punishments to ill mannered children. The final punishment was to be placed in irons.


Finally the ship began to pass through the Sea of Moving Ice. As the ship neared the mouth of the River Shaengarne, the captain instructed his crew to drop anchor. Light was fading and they would spend this last night at sea within sight of the river’s mouth. Grateful for the furs that Sir Nord had procured in Luskan, Anariel pulled them closer around her. All six of the party members, and the drow, awaited dinner.


For added warmth and due to lack of space, all seven sat within the the canopy of the tarp. Despite there being little room to spare, Rizdaer, sat a little apart from the others. Dinner arrived in good time. A thick, hearty fish chowder was served with flat bread. Anariel’s stomach had yet to return to normal. She contented herself with nibbling on her flat bread, and sipping slowly on some cider. Conversation was light hearted amongst her companions as Jaemal described one of the exotic eastern cities of Mulhorand, at Peony’s request.


One of the sailors, a man called Garsh, still lingered as if waiting for something. He stood near to Rizdaer, pointedly glaring at him. The dark elf had pushed the chowder aside, choosing not to partake of it. Garsh snarled at the drow, “What? Is Cook’s food not good eno’ for the likes o’ you? Ye should be damn lucky we even feed you. Go on, eat it I said!â€Â

“What seems to be the matter here?†asked Nord.

“This bloody drow is refusing to eat,†growled the sailor.

“Bugger man. Mayhap the fool doesn’t like fish. Here, hand me his bowl. I like it just fine,†said the knight as he reached out his hand to take the bowl.

Ignoring the paladin’s hand, the sailor turned back to the drow, the lines of his body clearly showing his growing agitation. Thrusting the bowl at the dark elf’s face once more, he commanded, “Eat ye foul creature!†Rizdaer rose to his feet in avoidance of both the man and the bowl. Slowly, he moved back a pace or two until he felt the rail at his back. He had no where else to go.

Rising to her feet, Anariel addressed the sailor, “Just where do your concerns lie sailor? Are your cook’s feelings that easily hurt? If so, I too fear I shall crush them, for I have not the stomach for the meal.†She paused only briefly before continuing, “Or is there another reason you are so worried about my charge’s eating habits?â€Â

While the sailor’s eyes where fixed on Rizdaer, Anariel eased her hand to the small of her back where her dagger rested.

The raised voices brought the notice of several more sailors. Curious about their mate, they joined the crowded aft deck.

One of the sailors called out to his friend,“What’s going on here Garsh? That drow givin’ ye trouble?â€Â

Teeth bared at Rizdaer, Garsh ground out, “It was one of your kind that killed my father. Ye don’t deserve to live!â€Â

Lunging forward, he threw the bowl and its contents at the drow. Pulling a dagger from his boot he drove his blade toward the dark elf’s abdomen. With little room to maneuver, Rizdaer barely avoided the dagger’s thrust. Raising his left hand in front of his body to guard his face and throat, he readied himself for another attack. Garsh came forward from a crouch and drove his blade toward the drow. Rizdaer snapped his body back, away from the direction of the strike, and then retaliated. Before his attacker recovered his balance and fighting stance, Rizdaer took Garsh’s weapon hand in an iron grip. Holding the weapon away from him, the drow struck the sailor violently in his abdomen with his knee, then slammed his clenched fist down on the man’s head. As Garsh doubled over, slumping to the deck, Rizdaer wrenched the dagger from his hand. It was now he who was armed, but instead of attacking, he lowered his weapon several inches and waited.

Several of the sailors came forward, all of them armed and shouting angry words about throwing the drow over board. Before they took two paces forward, the lead sailor was halted when a black dagger struck the boards a hair’s breath from his bare feet.

Anariel drew her right sword as she moved to stand between the sailors and Rizdaer. “I think not,†she said simply. Several of the sailors went to advance when they noticed the black dagger materialize as if from no where, in her left hand. Hesitating, the sailors grumbled amidst themselves and looked askance at the diminutive elf before them.

One of them made to move forward until the elf lowered the point of her blade to his belly. “Do not try me. You would loose,â€Âshe warned in a deceptively soft voice.


The sound of strong foot falls came from behind the sailors. They quickly parted and made way as their captain approached the aft deck. “What is this?†asked Captain Kerdos. Taking the situation in with a glance, he continued, “How did all of this start?†He glanced at the paladin who was now standing along with the rest of the party. The captain assumed he was the party’s leader, “If that drow of yours is causing trouble, he will have to pay the price.â€Â


Before Nord could answer the captain, Anariel spoke,“You may pay your addresses to me captain. I am this party’s leader.†She sheathed her sword and dagger. As she continued to speak, the captain raised an eyebrow in surprise at how such a small woman could have such a commanding voice.

“Rizdaer does not belong to Sir Nord. In truth, he belongs, to no man. He is however, under my protection.†Gesturing to Garsh who was just now gaining his feet with the help of his shipmates, she continued, “Your man there was attempting to force Rizdaer to eat food that I suspect had been poisoned. When he refused, your sailor rushed at the unarmed elf with his dagger drawn. His intent was no less than murder, as Rizdaer, although a drow, had nothing to do with Garsh’s father.â€Â

“Aye, but are not all drow murderers, if not worse?†asked the captain. “There are well known tales of their evil exploits.†The sailors all nodded their heads in agreement with their captain. Maybe they would be throwing the evil drow over the side yet.

A black brow raised at the captains words. “I wonder . . . would those be from the same story tellers that proclaim that all sailors are villainous cutthroats and pirates?†countered the elf.

Silence met her as the captain continued to face her. Then his lips twitched, and a smile broke his face, “Well said lass. Aye, well said.†Looking across the deck he called to one of his men to bring him the bowl. “Just how deadly is this poison of yours Garsh?†Captain Kerdos took a finger and wiped up some of the thick chowder. He raised it to his own lips until a voice stopped him.

“Nay! Stay thy hand captain, and don’t be takin’ any o’ that stuff.†A shuddering sigh escaped the sailor. “I laced it with a poison most foul.†Glaring over at Rizdaer, he spit out, “I meant his death to be long and painful!â€Â

“Ah Garsh, ye should know better. If it was his death ye wanted, ye should have challenged him once we land in Targos. Now ye will spend the rest of the voyage in chains until these people here disembark.â€Â

“But everyone knows that the drow don’t fight fair,†said Garsh. “They cheat every chance they get.†His voice had thinned and was starting to take on a whining quality.

“You call what you did fair?†chided Anariel. “He is a warrior. It is not cheating to have superior fighting skills. Besides, he is not accountable for the death of your father.â€Â

The sailor looked at Anariel with loathing and hate. “It is ones like you that will bring our downfall. Ye can’t trust elves! None of them, no matter what color they are,â€Âgrowled Garsh. His face was inches from the maid’s when he spit upon her. In mere seconds, a black blade flashed forward and rested at the sailor’s unprotected throat. Stunned expressions were worn by most everyone, while Garsh panted in shock and fear.

Eyes darkened in anger, Anariel spoke, “You had best have a care just who you insult. Others may not be so generous and stay their blade, elf or human.â€Â


No one spoke for a time and then the captain finally broke the silence, “Go on lads, take Garsh to the brig. Everyone else, get back to your own business. Go on now.†Turning to Anariel, he offered her a handkerchief, “I apologize on behalf of my crewman.†Bowing slightly, he too then quit the aft deck.

Anariel turned to face her companions. Peony and Nord fell into speaking almost at once, nearly tripping on each other’s words. Diriel had retreated to his pallet, pulling out what looked to be a journal. Valeero and Jaemal seemed locked in a discussion about what should befall the erring sailor. Shaking her head, the elf returned to her own make-shift bed, the weight of the day suddenly making her feel exhausted. All she wanted to do was to retire for the night, but a shadow fell across her. Rizdaer stood before her.


Looking none the worse for wear, he held out Garsh’s dagger to her, “Mistress, perhaps I could trouble you to return this weapon to the captain. I do not believe it would be a wise idea for me to do so.†Pausing briefly, eyes still lowered, he continued, “My thanks Mistress for your timely . . . help.â€Â

The bitterness and coldness in his voice belied the politeness of his words. Raising a slim black brow, Anariel took the weapon from him. Unreasonable anger shot through her and she quipped, her words reminiscent of those he used the day before when saving her from the frozen sea.

“Save your thanks foolish drow. You deceive only yourself if you think I helped you for any other reason than . . . it pleased me to do so.†She watched as the dark elf’s shoulders stiffened ever so slightly. Regret filled her instantly. Moving past the dark elf, she dropped the dagger to the deck. Sitting on her furs, she rummaged around in her pack and pulled out some dried meat and bread. In a soft voice she spoke to the drow, “Here, you should eat something or cold and hunger will claw at your belly.†He looked at her, his face giving none of his emotions away. But his slight hesitance spoke of his confusion with her quick change in manner. She poured herself some more cider, enjoying its sharp taste. She passed the remnants of the bottle to the drow before burrowing under her furs. She wanted no more thoughts or feeling for now, but welcomed sleeps oblivion.


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Note: Sorry for such a delay, blame it on work, holidays, and company; not necessarily in that order.




A Winter's Tale Chapter 4


Miles of frozen tundra slid by as the Wicked Wench sailed up the Shaengarne River. That morning the ship had entered the mouth of the river, starting the final leg of their journey. As the Wench neared her destination, Anariel came to stand at the rail. Enjoying the small moment of relative peace, she watched as the setting sun bathed the snow covered banks of the river in a soft rose color. Soon, the town’s fortifications came into view, drawing her eyes upward. Cliffs rose high above the small harbor, their outline silhouetted against the now darkening sky.


Nord came to stand next to the elven maid, “I imagine you will be glad to feel solid ground beneath your feet, eh lass?â€Â


“That I will sir knight, that I will,†she replied simply.


“Captain Kerdos offered to let us stay aboard until morning,†the knight continued.


“I told him I would speak with you.â€Â


“I will offer my thanks to the captain, but if it is all the same to you, I would prefer to go ashore. Night not withstanding,â€Âcame the soft but firm answer.


“You may want to reconsider lass,†came a voice behind them. Captain Kerdos grinned at them both as they turned to face him. “Most of the townfolk have left Targos for Bryn Shander. ‘Tis naught but the soldiers and mercenaries left. Well, that, and a few hardy souls.â€Â


The trio spoke together for several minutes before it became clear that Anariel would not be swayed. The Wench’s captain shook his head. Anariel had proven herself determined, but the seaman did not believe that this was a place for a female.


“Well now, if I cannot persuade you, so be it. Let it not be said that I did no’ offer you shelter or a way out. If the local inn can no’ spare a room, come back to the ship. I am sure a bunk to two could be found for you and your party.â€Â


“My thanks captain,†replied Anariel. “I would ask one boon. A question, would you happen to know where I can find the commander of Targos?â€Â


“Well, that would be Lord Ulbrec. He is the one in charge now. He can be found at the town hall beyond the cliffs.â€Â


The captain reached into a pouch that he kept on his belt, pulling from it a wad of a dark brown substance. Anariel recognized it as an herb whose leaves are cured, fermented, and aged to develop a pungent aroma. Some people liked to place the herb onto a thin piece of paper, roll it, and smoke it, inhaling its often addictive vapors. Others, like the sea captain liked to chew the cured leaves for its flavor. Hedron paused before he spat over the rail and wedged the stuff between his lower lip and his teeth. The herb made a lump near his chin, as he bared his brown stained teeth in a grin.


Gesturing toward Rizdaer, the captain continued, “You will need to be seein’ the commander regardless, I wager, to rid yourself of that villain the priests saddled you with.†The sea captain leaned down toward Anariel as if to speak to her in confidence.


The smell of the noxious herb and sweat, caused the maid to step back, maintaining her distance. Hedron chuckled nervously, “Between us, I cannot reckon why you did not push your dark friend overboard, quiet-like. Less bother.â€Â


“That would explain all the friendly shoves I received from the crew,†Rizdaer muttered under his breath, loud enough for only Anariel to hear.


“Mark my words lass and turn not your back on the scoundrel,†warned Hedron. A raised black brow, and the stubborn set of a slender jaw, were the only responses he received from the elven maid. He shook his head and sighed, “Very well then, I will no’ be mentioning it again.â€Â


Behind them, the rest of their party started to disembark the ship when Hedron continued speaking, “I must say, I do no’ like the looks o’ things ashore. ‘Tis quiet in an unnatural way if ye be understandin’ me. What’s more, that the money hungry harbor master has yet to show his oily face. Best you be cautious lass. If ye change your mind . . .â€Â


“My thanks for your concern and kindness, but we came here to fight not to hide aboard ship,†answered Anariel. With those words, she stood her bow on end and effortlessly strung the finely crafted weapon. Turning, she walked down the gangway to disappear into the darkness of the docks.


Anariel did indeed find the captain’s instincts to be true, at least were the docks were concerned. Trouble was indeed brewing, and the group fell almost immediately into fighting as soon as they cleared the pier.


Goblins, at first a scattered few, but then the frozen ground seemed to crawl with them. In the light of several burning wagons and carts, the adventures fought their way to the northern end of the docks.


Time passed as it often does in a fight, an odd mixture of swiftness, and lethargy. A glance around the immediate area, showed the enemy to all be slain. Their first fight as a group, Anariel took quick note of where everyone stood at the battle’s end, and was pleased. Most of the members of their little group were seasoned, and had not allowed any of the members to scatter despite the large number of goblins.


Diriel stood above the group on ramp leading to a warehouse, his bow, now being held in a relaxed position. The ranger had shown he had not only a keen eye, but a hunter’s instinct for timing.

Sir Nord, being an old hand at battle, had stayed close to the rock gnome, the greenest member to battle. Peony, had managed to climb atop a pile of crates with the tall knight’s help. From that vantage point, the gnome had been able to weave her spells, and fire her sling with a fair amount of accuracy. Still near to hand, Wind, now stood at his ease, wiping clean the blade of his great sword. Anariel doubted that the knight had barely broke a sweat, as he easily picked several goblins off with a single swipe of his weapon.


Anariel glanced opposite of the knight and the mage. Jaemal’s height had made him an easy one to watch in battle. The elven maid found it easy to believe that the aasimar had trained as a warrior prior to that of his magic. After numerous spells to slow and encumber the enemy, Jaemal had stood back to back with Valeero. While the cleric’s punishing warhammer fell many a goblin, the sorcerer had wielded his quarterstaff with deadly results.


As Anariel sheathed her blades, she glanced at the last member of their group, the drow. The dark elf had been in the thick of the battle, as if glorying in the physical release. A warrior bred, here was something he knew, and felt comfortable with. Grace personified, the drow fighter knew his craft.


Next, the adventurers went toward the large dockside warehouse. At the furthest end of the dock, it lay beneath the shadow of the cliffs, below the town. At the locked door, Wind gestured for Valeero to bring forth her warhammer.


“Hold,†came the sudden command. Anariel came forward as, she pulled a small dark green roll of leather from her belt. “I need the practice,†she said.

Selecting two slender tools from the roll, she inserted them into the tumbler. After a few attempts, and several soft cuss words, the lock finally opened. “There we are,†she said. A small smile of pleasure played about her lips at her success. Glancing up, she saw a half dozen faces watching her. For some reason, she was reminded of her father. Suddenly self conscience, she fumbled with the lock and opened the door.


The inside of the warehouse was completely in the dark, save for two wall torches to the far rear. Boxes and crates were stored along both sides of the large room. At the back, a raised platform shared the wall with more crates. At first glance the building appeared vacant, but the drow knew better.


“Mzild goln,†warned Rizdaer. “More goblins, on both sides.†He moved to the forefront, slightly in front of Anariel, as he drew his weapons. A sword given to him upon leaving the ship, and a double bladed axe, he had picked off one of the goblins, were only mediocre weapons, but wielded by a skilled warrior, they were deadly.


“We need more light,†Sir Nord bellowed from across the room, as he fought off several goblins. Almost at once, Anariel fired a fire arrow into some old tarps covering numerous crates. Seconds later, Peony finished the last words to her spell and sent a small host of fire balls careening across the warehouse’s open expanse.


Amidst a hail of arrows, Valeero and Nord charged into the goblins, counting on the keen elven eyesight to miss hitting them. Poisoned spell arrows joined the fray, as Jaemal’s eyes became more accustom to the dim lighting.


The fighting under control, Anariel watched her party members. Knowing that the knight would want to discuss the strengths, and weaknesses of the group, she studied each one as best she could. She noted each member’s style and abilities.


Over all, she felt pleased. With a little time and guidance, they would fight well together, even the Rizdaer. The elven maid felt certain he would prove a strong fighter, but had wondered if the drow would fight with or apart from the party. As she watched the dark elf’s graceful moves, the thought occurred to her, that she was to turn Rizdaer over to Lord Ulbrec. A frown creased her brow as she wondered what awaited the drow.


Soon, all that remained alive in the warehouse were the seven adventurers. As they rifled through some of the fallen weapons, and potions, Peony climbed up the wooden stair to the rear platform. The delight on her face at the sight of two chests dimmed only slightly when she found them locked.


“Hey, do you feel the need for more practice?†she called out to Anariel. The dark haired elf joined the mage, looking intently at the locks. Nearly a quarter of an hour went by, before Anariel was able to spring both locks.


“Sorry, told you I need prac-,†she started.


A squeal abruptly ended the elf’s apology, when Peony found a scroll case in the first

chest. Quickly opening the container, she found numerous scrolls. Each one seemed to delight her more than the first, “Oh, it is like a treasure hunt!â€Â

Turning around she caught sight of Jaemal. “Oh do come here and have a look. Have you been schooled in any of these?†Peony grabbed hold of the tall sorcerer’s robe as soon as he came within her reach. “Here look at this while I open the other one.â€Â

Strong for her size, Peony gave a hearty tug on Jaemal. The tall sorcerer nearly collided into Anariel, causing her to stumble. He quickly reached out a hand to steady the elf.

“I beg your pardon,†began Jaemal. He glanced down at Anariel shyly and the two shared a half smile over the gnome’s enthusiasm.


“Do you think there is more treasure about?†inquired Peony.


“Who knew we would have such a pirate in our midsts,†teased Anariel, the smile now reaching even her eyes.


Jaemal found himself at a loss for words, as he was drawn into the warmth of her smile. He looked intently at her eyes, trying to determine their color.


“Jaemal, come look at these,†cooed Peony. “Do you think they are magic? I wonder if it will fit?â€Â


Realizing that he was staring at Anariel, Jaemal blushed slightly, “Perhaps I had best make sure that she does not put on something cursed.â€Â


“I will leave you to it then,†Anariel replied. Turning away, she left them to Peony’s

discovery. Glancing over at the others, she saw that a fair amount of weaponry had been salvaged. Valeero seemed pleased by the number of healing potions that had been found as well.

The cleric walked across the platform give a few of the bottles to Anariel, when she noticed a puzzled look on the elf’s face.


“What is it Anariel? What is wrong,†queried Valeero.


“Nothing, but, well, can you walk across that section of the floor once more?â€Â


Anariel cocked her head to the side as if to better her hearing. “Can you hear that? The sound change in the floor boards?â€Â


“She may not be able to, but I can,†offered Diriel. The tall elf started to move some of the litter and canvas from the floor. Tapping the floor with the end of his bow, he determined an area from which a hollow sound could be heard.


“A trap door perhaps?†suggested Nord. “These buggers are getting onto the docks somehow. The gods know that they are not seamen.â€Â


Within minutes a passage that went below the warehouse was revealed. The party gathered together near the hatch of the passageway.

Quickly, stowing the last of her treasure, Peony grinned, “Do you think we will find more treasure below?â€Â

Rizdaer hefted the weight of a slender dagger, which he then, sheathed into his boot. Quietly, in a dark sardonic drawl, meant only for Anariel, he leaned down toward her ear, “Just like a gnome, to like any shiny object. Lucky for her that there is no silver or gold in the harbor.â€Â

“Just like a drow, confusing sarcasm with wit. But you do see better in the dark,†quipped Anariel. Gesturing to the trapdoor, she smiled and arched a black eyebrow, “Perhaps, you would like to go first?â€Â

No emotion crossed the drow’s face, but a slim, silver brow arched in answer to her challenge, “Follow me then. Do try not to stumble.â€Â


mzild goln = more goblins

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A Winter's Tale Chapter 5


Snow started to fall softly, just as the sun began to rise above the eastern most mountain peaks. Slowly and silently, the small band of adventurers made their way up the cliffside toward the town. Hours had passed since they had discovered the passage beneath the warehouse. It had led them to an abandoned smuggler’s cave, with numerous twisting tunnels. However, instead of treasure that Peony hoped for, they found more goblins.


After diligently clearing the cave of the enemy, they had found evidence of recent tunneling from beneath the cliff. An opening, some eight feet high, and at least three feet wide, allowed the goblins to attack at Targos’ unprotected underbelly. Lacking the skill or intelligence to maintain such a tunnel, the goblins had inadvertently caused a cave-in, filling the crude archway with heavy rocks and rubble. Nord carefully examined the tumble of rocks, and declared the breach sealed well and good. He felt assured that if the goblins tried to bust through the wall again, it would only result in additional cave-ins.


Upon exiting the warehouse, the group had been recruited to clear the rest of the dockside to the south. As an added measure, they had also gone through all the buildings, both occupied, and abandoned. Once it was clear that the goblins had all been eradicated, they had started toward the pathway that climbed to the cliffs above. Before reaching the beginning of the trail, the company had been met by Lord Ulbrec’s messenger. He sent his greetings, and suggested that they rest awhile at the inn, before coming to see him. Grateful for the respite, the weary band now wandered up the trail to find the Weeping Widow.


Nord led the way, trailing Peony in his wake. The gnome seemed to have an endless supply of energy, as she kept up with the knight’s long strides. Her cheerful voice could be heard telling the soldier another of her grandmother’s stories. The druid walked next. His dexterity and grace barely tested as he easily ascended the cliffside while scribbling in his journal. Then came Valeero, purposely walking next to Jaemal, her voice, hushed and quiet. She was instructing the aasimar on his injury, for not all in the group had come away from the night unscathed. Listening patiently to the cleric, he continued to walk resolutely up the path, clutching his injured shoulder. Several barrels filled with explosives, had ignited during one of the numerous skirmishes in the cave. Debris and rock had scattered, striking the tall sorcerer, and dropping him to his knees.


Caught in the same explosion, Anariel had been thrown against the opposite rock wall. The stubborn elf had waved off Valeero after it happened, only to nearly collapse later above ground. Now, with every step Anariel took, her limp was becoming more pronounced. Since the start of their climb upward, her ribs had started to hurt horribly, causing her to breath more shallow.


They reached a small flat ledge, midway up the path. From there you could see the river, and the lake. As the snow began to fall in earnest, Anariel looked out over the edge at the beautiful sight. It was all so peaceful, just watching the falling snow. In her exhaustion, she leaned forward. Her eyelids drooped, and then she stumbled. A sure, and steady hand, shot out to keep her from pitching over the cliff’s edge. Although startled awake, the elf remained too tired to raise her eyes to her savior. A voice she had come to know well, left little doubt of his identity.


“I have always held the belief, that all surface elves were our suliss’urn kaovehen, how do you say, graceful cousins. Imagine my surprise,†Rizdaer nearly purred. Although his face remained focused on the path, he could almost feel the heat from Anariel’s flashing green eyes.


Momentarily speechless, the elf found herself surprised at the drow’s sudden boldness. But then, perhaps he felt he had nothing to loose, as he would be handed over to Ulbrec’s tender mercies all too soon. The maid’s head began to ache as she contemplated the decision before her. Guilt, and irritation now joined with exhaustion, to strain her temper even further. She gave voice to her short temper, as she tightly warned, “Continue to taunt me, and you will regret it ilythiiri.â€Â


Rizdaer inclined his head in deference, once again the obedient male. Without changing his stride, he stepped around Anariel, placing himself between her and the cliff’s edge. Briefly he wondered at the wisdom of placing himself so close to the edge, given the petite elf’s temper. Keeping a gentle, but firm hold of her arm as a precaution for them both, the drow continued to walk beside her.


Upon entering the cozy inn, Nord turned to speak with Anariel. He sighed heavily as he saw that the exhausted elf, was standing only because of Rizdaer’s support. “Damn drow,†muttered Nord under his breath to no one. “Damn good fighter though,†he said in the next breath.



Over the morning, the company saw to their wounded, and then enjoyed the simple pleasures of both, a good hot bath, and a home cooked meal. A vigilant healer, Valeero had watched Anariel through the meal, closely. The elven woman had sustained several broken ribs and a bruised hip, requiring no less than two healing potions. Persistent pain, and stiffness, convinced the elf to leave off her usual chainmail and fighting leathers, for her one and only gown. The deep garnet colored gown, had happily been made without stays, thus allowing it to flow gracefully over Anariel’s lithe, albeit, injured figure. With her night-black hair, braided and cuffed, she had presented a comely picture at the morning meal. Having been given strict orders to rest, she was now seated before the fire, in a large, cushioned chair.


After one last check on her patients, Valeero decided to go above-stair to rest. Diriel took advantage of her departure to make his own. He brusquely bade them all a good day, claiming he needed to compose his thoughts.


With their departure, Rizdaer took his ale and made himself comfortable in the inglenook, beside the hearth. Leaning his head back against the cushions, he leisurely observed those who remained. Anariel had opened a battered book, and resting it on the chair’s arm, began to read. The company’s knight was softly snoring in another of the fireside chairs, his thick mustache moving gently in time with his breathing.


To the side of the room, where they had taken their meal, came the sound of laughter and much talking. Scattered the length of the long oak table, lay dozens of scrolls. Jaemal and Peony were shuffling through the sheafs of paper, separating them into schools of magic. A debate inevitably ensued.


A snap and sizzle came from the fire as a log dropped. Enjoying the warmth, Rizdaer allowed his gaze to fall once again on Anariel. A silver-white brow arched as he discovered his jailer, fast asleep.


Sipping the heady ale, the thought occurred to the drow that this could be the last few hours of relative freedom. His last ale. His last look at a beautiful female. Thoughts of a cold cell or at best, cold nights on guard duty made him want to shiver. Might he not take away a sweet memory to warm him? Perhaps, something to keep him company when he was once again, alone.


As he continued to watch Anariel sleep, his jeweled eyes traced her gentle curves. He followed the gentle rise and fall of her breathing. Her face, so at peace while asleep. How soft, and pale her skin looked now, after having been scratched and bleeding only hours before. Rizdaer frowned as he recalled seeing her small body slammed against the rock wall of the cave. He did not like seeing her hurt. . .


Rizdaer blinked, where had that thought come from? From the dark recesses of his drow soul, he knew that should not be. A dark scowl marred his face, and a flash of anger stirred within the dark elf. What a fool he was. When had he become so soft? His own thoughts betraying him, and for what, an inferior surface elf. Perhaps he would be better off away from her, this, this rumunasin. Rising from the inglenook, he tossed off the remaining ale, and quit the room.


Later that day found the skies heavily overcast with the foretelling of more snow. Nightfall would come early this day. Already lanterns and torches were being lit here and there about the town. Rizdaer welcomed the darkness to come. He stood with the company, as they awaited their audience with Lord Ulbrec. He could feel Anariel’s eyes upon him as he stared at the frozen cliffs. He stood as stone.


A page came to the doorway and bade them all to enter. Rizdaer watched as Anariel hung back from entering first. Dressed once more in fighting leathers, she swallowed visibly and braced her shoulders. He could swear that her skin paled even further than was normal.


“This then, is were we part,†he said simply. He had not meant to speak to the elven woman at all.


The dark elf’s cold voice and countenance gave Anariel no comfort, nor any clue. Her tongue suddenly thick, she swallowed, “Look, Rizdaer . . .â€Â


“Do not bother yourself upon my account jallil. I do not care who is going to make use of me next.â€Â


“And if that use is no better than being a target for hatred. Or even death?â€Â


“I have been hatred’s target all my life, surfacer,†replied the dark elf bitterly. “In the underdark as well as the surface,

my death has been of no consequence to any save me.â€Â


“But Riz-,†started Anariel softly.




Anariel flinched at that single syllable. That one word, spoken with such finality, cut to her heart.


Blindly, she followed the others. They were ushered into a large room that served as both a receiving room and a study. A large stone hearth at the far wall, warmed the room comfortably. Several old tapestries graced two of the other walls, while a large bookcase filled the final wall. In front of the bookcase, presiding over the room, was a large, black oak desk.


As Anariel stepped to the forefront of the company, Lord Ulbrec rose from behind the desk, “Ah, you must be the mercenary company that cleared the docks for us. I am Lord Ulbrec Dinsmore, and you have my undying thanks.†As he stood, it was clear to see that Ulbrec was a big man, several inches taller than even Nord. Short, sandy blonde hair, with more than a whisper of gray, encircle his head. Gray too, were his eyes, which had an air of confidence, and forthrightness.


“My lady,†started the commander. Looking directly at Anariel, he continued, “I had the honor of meeting your father, Lord Ni’ Tessine, some years ago. I am grateful for his having sent you to help us here. But, before we discuss the Targos’ troubles, we must discuss another matter.â€Â


A knock from the side door interrupted the commander. The master of arms entered the room, trailing several soldiers behind him. All fully armed. Two of the men carried a heavy set of chains and manacles between them.


Motioning the men to remain against the wall, Lord Ulbrec turned once again to the company. Lifting a letter from the top of his desk, he addressed Anariel, “I see that you were also charged with escorting this drow to me. Judging from the length and details of this letter from Neverwinter, this man’s fate is an important matter.â€Â


At the sight of the chains, Anariel recalled the first time she had seen Rizdaer. On his knees, bloodied, and chained. She felt sick. In a voice that sounded far calmer than she felt, she replied to the commander, “My lord, the fate every man is important. No less can be said of Master Rizdaer’s fate."


“Of course, but good men die by the score every day and I am burdened with finding a use for this troublemaker.†Ulbrec sighed heavily as he stepped from around his desk. Leaning upon its edge, he continued, “I have no desire for fighting to break out among my own troops, as it did in Neverwinter. And if you think I am comforted by the clerics saying that he appears to be innocent, well . . .â€Â


Anariel leaned in closer to the Targos commander, quietly she said, “My lord, you must know that Rizdaer put his life on the line, defending Targos’ docks. He has saved my life on more than one occasion.â€Â


Ulbrec pinned Anariel with a critical stare,“I would have thought that a daughter of a paladin, like Ni’Tessine would not be so easily taken in by a drow prisoner. I am sure he made a fine show of saving you. Just as surely as he manipulated the situation to his advantage. Continue this, and you will have me doubting your ability to lead this company.â€Â

The commander then gave Anariel a curt, dismissive wave of his hand, “Come now, we must needs speak of more important matters. Let us settle things with this drow.â€Â


“His name, my lord, is Rizdaer,â€Âstarted Anariel. Ulbrec’s disapproval, was so reminiscent of her father. She bit the inside of her lip in an attempt to maintain her outward calm. She wanted to rage at the commander that the company might be under his general direction, but her position in it, was not his decision to make.


Swallowing the blood in her mouth, she asked, “Just what will be his fate, my lord?â€Â


After a deep sigh, the commander replied, “Well, he will be kept as separated from my men as possible. Perhaps we can chain him up in the guard tower at the outer wall. He can fire a bow, I presume.â€Â


“Chained, like a dog? Left as fodder for the hordes, unless your soldiers kill him first?†At her words, one of the soldiers rattled the chains and grinned. Anariel’s mind envisioned pinning the guard to the wall by his throat with her dagger.


Calm down, you must be careful, she thought. Must not piss off the commander. Thinking rapidly, Anariel changed tactics, “My lord, you do yourself a great disservice. This man is a trained warrior, whose skills cannot be faked. Not by anyone. Countless numbers can fall to his sword. Why waste him in tower?â€Â


“And what will stop him from turning his sword against us? Your word? Noble you may be my lady, but I cannot trust my men’s lives to your word alone.†With a shake of his head, Ulbrec replied in a voice of finality, “A possible war howls at my gates, I cannot play nursemaid to any prisoner, let alone a drow. I cannot afford to have any disruption among the ranks. No, he will be chained at all times, whether in the brig, or on duty in the tower.â€Â


Anariel recognized that tone of voice, one that brooked no further arguments. Without glancing at anyone in the party, she spoke, “Perhaps I misspoke, my lord. But might I offer one final suggestion?†She continued without waiting for permission, “My company and I have had no difficulties with Rizdaer. We have found him a proficient fighter.†She nearly held her breath as she added, “He may stay with us, if you will allow it.†In her heart, she knew there was no way she could leave Rizdaer here, not among those so eager to see him slain.


“You trust him that much?†Ulbrec looked askance at the petite elf before him. He felt in his heart that the woman was making a big mistake. But at least the drow would not be his responsibility. But was it not too heavy a burden to leave to this woman? Briefly he balanced the guilt he felt between his duties and the elven maid. Hardening his heart, he decided to let her father worry about her lack of judgement. Besides, her chances of survival in this battle were slim.


“I stand by my offer,†Anariel said, schooling her face to remain impassive, she awaited his answer.


“So be it. He can die, or prove his worth in your company.†The big man paused, resting a surprisingly gentle hand on Anariel’s shoulder, he added, “You have no father to guide you, so I feel compelled to warn you. Watch your back, for his kind is treacherous. Remember to take Sir Nord’s words to heart lass, let his wisdom guide you.â€Â


A shiver raced up Anariel’s spine. She did not have to look back at the company, to know that a pair of amber eyes were glaring at her. Inclining her head to Ulbrec rather stiffly, Anariel stepped back several paces, removing herself from the commander, “I endeavor to glean all that I can from all the members of my company, my lord. Now if the matter is settled, perhaps we can discuss the outbreak of goblins at your docks.†The discussion then became focused on the current situation in Targos.


From the back of the room, the dark elf stood silently. But one question plagued him. Why?


suliss’urn kaovehen = graceful cousins

ilythiiri = drow

jallil = lady

rumunasin = sorceress

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WARNING: Adult subject matter near end of chapter; You can blame the drow society . . . :)



A Winter's Tale: Chapter 6


The day was waning, when the company left Lord Ulbrec’s home. Tomorrow they would go to the palisades to receive their orders from its commander, Captain Shawford, but for this evening, their time was their own. Stepping out into the evening air, Anariel welcomed the cool breeze that brushed her cheeks. Closing her eyes, she raised her face to the falling snow. Exhausted from the day’s raw emotions, she looked forward to a good meal, a goblet of wine, and a warm bed.


The heavy, wet snow had been falling steadily for many hours, and now, with the temperatures falling, was likely to freeze. The cliff path back to the inn would be a treacherous challenge. Carefully walking in single file, the company started to make their way toward the inn.


Just as they rounded the last bend on the path, Peony slipped and slid right into a snow bank, laughing all the while. Nord and Jaemal offered the tiny mage a hand up out of the snow.


“Wait, wait, just one thing first,†said the gnome brightly. Laying flat on her back, she straightened her arms at her side and then dragged them on the ground until they were over top her head. She then, moved them back down to her hips. Likewise, she dragged her legs to either side of her body, as high as they would go, and back again.


“What ever are you doing?†asked Nord.


“Are you hurt Peony?†asked the sorcerer. Turning to Nord he asked again, “Is she hurt do you think?â€Â


Peony giggled, “Nah, you silly man, it’s called a snow angel. Come on, you should try it! Its fun!â€Â


Laughing despite herself, Anariel shook her head at the gnome,“Of all the craziest things, you take the cake Peony. You know if-â€Â


A loud sigh interrupted the elf. Nord stood to the side with a wistful look on his face, “Do ye think there might be cake for dessert tonight? I would so love a big chunk o’ the stuff.â€Â


Stunned looks were shared by almost everyone at the knight’s confession, before chuckles and snorts of laughter took all of the company.


Well, almost all.


They were all greeted warmly by the innkeeper upon entering the Weeping Widow. In short order, dinner was set before them. Master Butterman did himself proud with a venison roast, winter vegetables, and fresh baked bread. Praising the innkeeper’s board, served the company well, as Butterman brought out his finest wine for after the meal.


The company sat around the fire sipping the wine and sharing stories about how they became adventures. Unsurprisingly, both Diriel and Rizdaer remained quiet through most of the evening. More wine was poured as the conversation continued. Somehow the topic came around to innate talents, to which Valeero asked Jaemal of his. The sorcerer was quiet for a moment, and then proceeded to tell of his gift of discernment.


“Of evil,†queried Peony.


“No, of potions. Odd as it may sound. I can tell you of a magical potion’s ingredients by a mere whiff or two.â€Â


“Can that not be most dangerous?†asked Anariel


“Well, yes, it can, unless . . . here, let me tell you a tale,†offered Jaemal. The aasimar then launched into a lively story of his dealings with a potion vender in Baldur’s Gate. His handsome face became even more animated as he felt Anariel’s eyes upon him.


Quietly sipping his wine, Rizdaer watched as the aasimar blushed under Anariel’s smile and kind words. ‘Simpering fool,’ thought the drow. He wondered if his mistress knew of the sorcerer’s regard for her. The man was a skilled sorcerer, but in the drow’s opinion, he was no match for one such as Anariel. He thoughts again returned to the scene in Lord Ulbrec’s study.


‘Ele? Ele xunus il xun ol,’ the drow asked himself. ‘Vel’bol zhah dosst ilindith?’ He could not understand why Anariel championed him yet again. What motivated her? Was she so desperate for a rothe, a slave? Laughter from across the room scattered his thoughts.


Another hour passed before the group started to disperse. Yawning, Valeero, and then Diriel went above stairs to their respective rooms. Nord followed soon after. As Anariel rose from her seat, she dropped the book she had been holding on her lap. Jaemal made a flourishing bow and was about to retrieve her book, when it was snatched up before his eyes.


“I do believe that was uncalled for . . .†said Jaemal, his voice edged with mild irritation. His comment fell on deaf ears, as Anariel and Rizdaer stood almost glaring at one another. Neither of them had spoken to the other since before the meeting with Lord Ulbrec. Jaemal shifted his feet, uncomfortable at the open tension between the elves.


As Rizdaer handed the book to its owner, he inclined his head. In a voice meant only for Anariel’s ears, he asked, “Is my Mistress satisfied with her purchase?â€Â


The innocent question was laced with so much bitterness and rancor, that Jaemal could not remain silent. Just before entering Lord Ulbrec’s home, he had heard Anariel’s gentle pleading with Rizdaer, and the drow’s rejection. He could not bear to see the dark elf treat her so.


Angered on her behalf, Jaemal asked, “How much malice can be in a man that he begrudges a noble deed?â€Â


The drow lifted his gaze from the elven maid to look at the aasimar, “For a good surfacer you are spying way too eagerly. Another innate talent of yours?â€Â


Jaemal’s face colored, “Just leave her be, and I will take not a sand grain of interest in what you have to say.â€Â


“I cannot do this. I am hers.â€Â


“She does not wish that!â€Â


A silver-white brow arched, “Since when are you speaking for my Mistress?â€Â


Though spoken simply, Anariel thought she caught a hint of threat underlying the drow’s words. Before he could say anything, she reached over and firmly gripped the sorcerer’s arm, “My thanks for your concern Jaemal, but I prefer to speak for myself.â€Â


He bowed his head, a rather sad smile on his lips, “As you wish dear lady. But know that I meant no disrespect. You have proven a most capable leader.â€Â


Anariel smiled up at Jaemal, and gave his arm a gentle squeezed, “My thanks dear sorcerer. I appreciate your confidence in me.â€Â


Beaming with pleasure, the sorcerer returned the elven maid’s smile, patting her hand, “Tis naught but the truth.â€Â


“It is appreciated nonetheless,†came her reply, as she removed her hand. Turning to face Rizdaer, she asked, “As for you Master Drow, what purchase are you referring to?â€Â


“Why, this humble male, Mistress,†said the drow, eyes downcast.


Refusing to rise to the bait, Anariel answered, “I will say this only one more time. I vouched for you because I do not believe you are deserving of death. There was no purchase, no exchange of coin.â€Â


“Forgive me Mistress, but, if you recall, there was a promise of coin for my delivery to the human commander. Your offer to keep me in your party, was in essence purchased with that promised coin.â€Â


“He does have a point . . .†began Jaemal. Further words died in his throat as he looked at the elven maid. Her pale green eyes had taken on a dangerous glitter.


Closing her eyes, Anariel sighed heavily to release her frustration, “I must seek my rest, as both of you should also. We are to report to the palisades early on the morrow.â€Â


“My lady . . .â€Â


“Good night Jaemal.â€Â


Thus dismissed, the sorcerer was given no choice, he inclined his head to the elf and bid her good night.


Tucking her book in the crook of her arm, Anariel turned to follow Jaemal up the staircase. Before she had gone halfway up, she turned to face Rizdaer.

Gently, almost hesitantly, she raised his chin to look directly into his jeweled eyes, “Please know, that regardless of coin, or lack there of, it was not my intent, to purchase you. I truly believe that you do not deserve death merely for being a drow. But, if it is death you so eagerly seek, then you may find it yet while in this company, in battle. If instead, it is freedom that you strive for, well, I know something of the desire for freedom and would help you. Mayhap as we drive back the hordes, you will gain the acceptance of the dale people.â€Â


Rizdaer remained silent. His countenance as telling as stone. A frown marred Anariel’s forehead with his silence. With no clues to his thoughts, she felt less than confident.


Removing her hand from his stubborn chin, she continued to speak, “Know also, that I value your skill as a warrior, and hope to gain your loyalty as a member of this company. I offer you my trust, and friendship, in hope of gaining yours.†With those words said, she turned and continued up the stairs to her room.


The dark elf followed, going to the end of the hall where his room was located. He lit no candle upon entering, for there was no need. The darkness was comforting, and after a moment or two, his eyes easily slipped into dark-vision. He sat on the bed without removing either his weapons or clothes.


The last ten-day ran through his mind as he sat with his back against the wall, facing the door. Oddly, he did not worry so much at what the future would bring, but instead, he was still troubled over Anariel’s actions. How ironic that his champion, his savior, came in the form of a petite elven woman. He had to acknowledge that without her intervention, he would have been dead already several times over. But why did she protect him?


Were her motives as simple and as unselfish as she claimed? Was it just a sword arm she was after, or could there be something else, something more that she desired? Trust her, she said. Rizdaer knew better than to trust females, even ones from the surface often said one thing when they meant another. All females were lying, selfish, and deceitful creatures, serving only themselves. Even the farmer’s wife who had hid him while he healed from a near fatal wound, had done so for a price. Bitterness twisted the dark elf’s lips into a half smile, ‘She wants me to trust her.’ When had trust ever brought him anything other than pain, disappointment, and grief?


A shadow of pain crossed his eyes, as shards of memories filtered into Rizdaer’s thoughts. From his earliest recollections, he had suffered at the hands of females. His mother, Felyn’tel, had been a merchant of all manner of books, and scrolls. Yet, despite being born a commoner, Rizdaer was raised just as strictly as any drow noble. He was taught to observe all the drow tenets of society, and faith in the Spider Queen.


Felyn'tel's first child, he had been given over from birth, to Shar’a, his mother’s younger sister. Rizdaer’s wean mother had only been too eager to teach him all about the drow’s cruel, structured society. Fearful that her first child being a male was a sign of Loth’s disfavor, Felyn’tel and Shar’a had been ever vigilant to any slight or misstep, that young Rizdaer might take. To that end, Shar’a took great gratification, and pleasure in inflicting pain when teaching the young drow male.


Rizdaer may not have survived his wean mother’s ministrations had not two things occurred. First, his mother gave birth to a strong, heathy daughter, thereby lessening Felyn’tel’s belief that Rizdaer was a sign of disfavor.


Secondly, Shar’a’s ambition to enter Arach-Tinilithbeen had been realized. Years of pouring over books and scrolls had not gone unnoticed by one of the shop’s longtime patrons. A priestess of Loth, she had sponsored the young drow female.


So it was that Felyn'tel found another female relative to act as her daughter’s wean mother, while she started to train Rizdaer as a clerk in the book shop. For a time, life for the young drow male was bearable, until one fateful day.


Rizdaer was approaching his twentieth when Shar’a came back into his life. She had been training diligently as a priestess at the academy when a visit, marking her tenth year, was granted. On that visit she was not alone, for with her came several acolytes. One young female, Malafae T’orafin, was a noble from the fifteenth house. Her arrival caused quite a stir in the humble book shop. Only the best was brought forth in honor of her visit. For lack of servants, Rizdaer was made to serve the young initiates of Loth.


This caused much teasing and laughing among the females. The young drow male was tripped on several occasions, causing him to fall to his knees. More often, he was accidentally cut with a dagger on his arms, legs, and torso. Bitterness had filled the young drow male, as his mother and aunt merely watched and smiled, only too pleased to see him bleed.


‘How old is your nephew, Shar’a?’ asked Malafae.


‘It is nearly twenty years since the day of his birth. All praise be to Loth that my sister has now been blessed with a much superior female,’ she had answered.


Malafae smiled absently, more interested in the young male than in Shar’a’s praising of her niece. ‘He is a mere child then, untried and . . . untouched,’ The drow noble watched Rizdaer intently and leaned over speaking quietly to first Shar’a, and then Felyn’tel.


Soon Rizdaer’s mother stood and addressed her guests, ‘Ladies, most honored guest, there are several hours yet before the evening meal will be served. Might I suggest you take your ease until then? May all praise be to our dark queen.’


Shar’a rose and led her fellow students from the room, all but Malafae. Rizdaer waited impatiently to be dismissed, when his mother spoke to him, ‘Son, come before me,’ commanded Felyn’tel. ‘Mistress T’orafin has need of an ancient scroll in the our library. You will take her to it. Do as she bids you, and do not shame our name.’


Rizdaer had been confused at the his mother’s words but said nothing. Bowing first to his mother, and then the noble drow, he started for the hall that would lead to their private library.


Reaching the room, Rizdaer had opened the door and then allowed for the drow noble to enter. He spoke a simple word of command, thus lighting a single candle at the center of the room. Surprised, Malafae turned to look at the young drow male.


‘So, you have some learning, how interesting.’ Malafae walked toward the center table where numerous tomes were laid open. Glancing at them briefly, she continued speaking, her eyes still trained on the words before her, ‘Your kinswoman, Mistress Shar’a shows great promise. She and I have become very close at the academy. It could be that she might be accepted into a noble house once she becomes a priestess. It would prove most beneficial for your family if she was. She told me of her great sacrifices in raising you.’


Malafae paused briefly, looking up from the books, ‘I believe she chose wisely in her methods of teaching. Most males have a limited capacity to learn, and require the strictest of methods. I wonder, do you know your place yet?’


Eyes still downcast, Rizdaer could feel her wicked smile as she eyed him boldly, almost hungrily, ‘Come here male.’


Silently, he did as commanded. Standing before the female, he had kept his eyes lowered. ‘Kneel before your better, worm.’ As he made to comply, Malafae threaded her fingers through Rizdaer’s silver hair and yanked his head up with a strong jerk. Staring into his face, she said, ‘You have the eyes of a child, so deep, so clear. No guile at all. How innocent your eyes are. Yes, little male, your face pleases me. Maybe I will make you my pet. But of course, that all depends on how well the rest of you pleases me.’


Before he realized what was going on, Rizdaer found himself being brutally kissed. He fought to draw breath, only to have his lips savagely bitten.


‘Mistress, I-’ started the young drow male.


Rizdaer’s words were met by a back handed strike from Malafae, her numerous rings cutting easily into his face. ‘Silence, worm. I will take from you what I want, pray to Loth I leave you your pitiful life.’


‘But, my lady mother, surely she does not . . .’ came his shaky reply.


A harsh laugh greeted his ears, ‘Your gracious lady mother knows the drow way. Soon I shall be a noble priestess of Loth. She knows better than to question a noble’s daughter. Foolish pet, you really think she would risk my displeasure for you, a mere male? Rest assured my little male, she knows exactly what is going on. Why child, she gave you to me to do as I will.’


Then, the drow acolyte stood above her prey and started to unfasten her outer garments. While still on his knees before the noble, Rizdaer had watched as Malafae slowly started to disrobe before the bewildered young drow. Having never seen a naked female other than his own mother and younger sister, Rizdaer was somewhat awed at the nubile body before him. Laughing at the boy’s innocence, Malafae caressed Rizdaer’s cut and bleeding face with one hand as she drew out a dagger with the other.

As she saw the confusion, and fear come unbidden unto Rizdaer’s eyes, a look of enjoyment suffused her face.


Slowly, she lowered herself in front of Rizdaer, and taking the dagger, cut the boy’s tunic, from collar to hem. She then drew the tip of the blade down the length of Rizdaer’s small chest to the drawstring waist of his breeches. A smile of purest joy came to her face as she heard the boy’s muffled cry of near terror.

She sliced the fabric carefully, not so much because she cared if she cut him, but she wanted to intensify his fear. She wanted to make him whimper and cry.


Rizdaer lost much more that day than his virginity. His innocence lost, the trust of his family crushed, he remembered how later that day he had drawn snickers from his mother, and aunt, as he limped about the dining room to serve his family and their illustrious guests. Open laughter met his attempts to answer questions from Shar’a, with a torn and bloodied mouth.


From outside, the haunting, lonely call of an owl, brought Rizdaer back to the present. No longer finding comfort in the dark, he stood and paced about restlessly. Taking a blanket from the bed, he went back out into the hall, stopping at Anariel’s door.


He laid a hand upon the rough wood. Trust? She wanted his trust. Rizdaer shook his head, causing long silver strands of his hair to fall over his shoulders. He could, willingly, give her his sword, skill, and expertise as a warrior. He could, and would even protect her with his own life, but his trust? No, trust was the last thing he would willingly give to the elven maid.


Wrapping himself in the blanket, the dark elf sat down within his mistress’ doorway. Sleep eluded him for a time, but soon, exhaustion took its toll.


Ele? Ele xunus il xun ol? = Why? Why did she do it?

Vel’bol zhah ilta inth? = What is her plan?

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Close to the docks lay the tavern known as the Salty Dog. Owned and run by a former sailor, Gohar, the tavern offered three different ales, one wine, and one dark black lager. The latter, nearly as thick as it was dark, was claimed to be a meal in itself. To his credit, Gohar also offered the patrons a hearty, if not mysterious, fish chowder.


The heavy wet snow outside was just turning to sleet as the dinner hour came and went. None of this mattered to the mercenary group known as the Iron Collar. The four had traveled north from Baldur’s Gate some time ago with a sorcerer by the name of Phaen. Hired then by Captain Shawford, the group seldom budged from the tavern. They sat now at a table closest to the fire swapping tales with two sailors. The men all cheered as the ale wench brought a ewer of fresh ale to the table. Slapping the maid on the behind as she turned away, Black Geoffrey laughed heartily before returning to his tale.


At first glance, one would think that Black Geoffrey was named for his long black hair, and his beard that hung past his stomach. In truth, that was only part of the reason. As a young man, Geoffrey had ended up on the wrong side of a sorceress’s jealous anger. In a fit of rage, she had cast a spell that had gone awry. With the doubtless intent to disfigure the fighter, and deter other women, the sorceress permanently blackened Geoffrey’s nail beds, and teeth. It was rumored that other, areas, were blackened as well.


Oddly, the spell did little to affect Geoffrey’s appeal to women, and the new visage only enhanced his ability to intimidate others. Given his bully like nature, Black Geoffrey soon found himself sought after. In time, his fame and talent allowed the self-made mercenary to form his own little group. They were often hired as body guards or enforcers to those who could afford to pay them. They were also known to turn on their employers if not paid what they believed was their due.


Intent on his tale, Geoffrey paid little if no attention to the group loosely gathered near the bar. Anariel had just finished speaking with Gohar, confirming the identity of the Iron Collar party, when Nord leaned down to ask, “So lass, will you be wanting me to speak with them, one soldier to another? These mercenaries can be a rough bunch. Quick tempered and spoiling for a fight.â€Â


“Nay,†she replied simply. “Truth be told Sir Knight, after playing lackey for Captain Shawford the last two days, I could do with a fight. I am tired of playing fetch.â€Â


Nord nodded in understanding. They had all tired quickly at the never ending list of errands the good captain had sent them on. In the knight’s mind, it had bordered on insulting. Raising his head, he suppressed a smiled at Jaemal’s expression of dismay, at the elven maid’s desire for a fight. Looking behind the sorcerer, Nord glanced over at Rizdaer. The knight was not surprised to see the drow’s half smile, whether at the maid’s words, or the prospect of fighting, was anyones guess. Nord then looked over at Peony. The petite mage loosened her newly purchased, wand of sleep from its sheath. One would think from the look of excitement on her smiling face, that she was attending a party or dance.


Nord’s careful scrutiny of their group was on account of their diminished rank that evening. Valeero and Diriel were elsewhere, after the Palisade’s healer asked for their assistance. It appeared that a number of men had been injured when the crane’s pulley system collapsed during repairs to one of the inner walls. Many of the injuries involved crushed or broken bones, which required more healing spells than the usual. Valeero had gone willingly to offer both healing and comfort, while Diriel went rather grudgingly. Nord had heard the ranger mumble under his breath, as he left, that playing nursemaid was little better than being Shawford’s errand-boy.


Yet even with their smaller company, Nord felt that they would be able to deal with the Iron Collar. He watched in quiet approval as Jaemal moved to the right, and Peony to the left. Both kept their distance while flanking Anariel, as she moved forward toward the mercenaries. Nord stayed just off her right shoulder, while Rizdaer moved to her left. Snatches of Black Geoffrey’s story assailed their ears.


“And mind ye, she was a right looker too, she was.â€Â


One of the sailors shook his head in disbelief, “Aye, they all are if ye drink eno’ man.†Sailors and mercenaries alike laughed.


“Nay my friend, she was ample in all the right places, aye? So then, it gets even better, aye? After the barkeep left, the feisty wench, well she thinks ta’strike me aye? So she grabs the bottle, and as hard as she co-â€Â


“Oi, Geoffrey my friend,†Kickshaw tugged on Geoffrey’s sleeve and pointed toward Anariel. Kickshaw grinned as he continued, “It seems one o’ the serving wenches wants a word.â€Â


“Wonder if its about the tab,†suggested Blanchard Pike. “Gohar sure is gettin’ heavy handed.â€Â


Several snickers broke out around the table. The Iron Collar’s newest member, Ricarver the Rogue, openly stared lasciviously at the elven maid, “Mayhap we can take it out in trade, aye? I know I would no be adverse to it. Speak up wench, how much?â€Â


Nord heard Jaemal exclaim as he moved in a bit closer, “How drunk must a man be to confuse a woman, every inch a lady, with a tavern maid.â€Â


Then Black Geoffrey spoke, “Here now, what are ye about girlie?†While his comrades laughed he continued, a slight edge to his voice, “If ye be stopin’ my story for no good reason, there will be hell to pay. So tell me, what the devil do you want?â€Â


“Maybe she wants to hear your tale mate,†suggested Kickshaw.


“Nah, more like she wants to be apart o’ Geoff’s next tale,†answered Pike, with a snicker.


Ricarver just rubbed his chin and let his eyes travel up and down the elf’s form.


A faint rose color suffused the elven maid’s heart shaped face. The line of her jaw set in anger, but her voice was calm and even as she spoke. “I am here at the request of Captain Shawford to escort you gentlemen to the Palisades. It seems your presence is needed.â€Â


“Oh, well aye, if the old crow wants us to slip up to the palisades, then we had best do so then, shouldn’t we lads? Trouble is girlie, that neither me or my mates here are done with our drinks yet, so ye had better creep out o’ here right quick like and tell Shawford that-â€Â


Black Geoffrey’s words fell away as he watched the elven maid pick up his tankard and gracefully turn it upside down over his head. He sputtered as the golden ale drenched his head and beard.


“If that was all that was delaying you, then I suppose you are now free to report for duty, aye?†said Anariel sweetly. “I am sure as Iron Collar’s leader, you

understand the occasional need to expedite matters.â€Â


Chairs scraped across the floor. More than one, clattered across and collided with the wall, as the men of the Iron Collar, found their feet. After a moments hesitation, three of the sailors rose to add their number to the mercenaries.


Impatient to be done with this task, Anariel continued, “Pray, do not misunderstand me, ye have a choice. Ye will come with me now, and fulfill your obligations. Lie here unconscious and await the guard to drag your worthless bodies to the Palisades, or, die where you fall.â€Â


“Ye bitch, that bloody well ripped it! Ye will be sorry ye tangled wi’ the likes o’ me!†promised Black Geoffrey. With speed that belied his bulk, Iron Collar’s leader lunged for Anariel. He had drawn no weapon, assuming his size alone would be enough.


Anariel smiled, foolish man. As he came forward, she stepped to one side, grasped the man’s wrist with one hand, and placed the other upon the elbow. Rotating the arm outward, she braced the elbow till it nearly pointed to the ceiling. She used Black Geoffrey’s momentum to add to the pain.


Balling like a wounded calf, the mercenary leader, drew a long, ugly looking dagger from his boot. Seeing the gleam of metal in the firelight, Anariel shifted the placement of her hand at Geoffrey’s elbow, and with some added pressure, neatly snapped his arm. She then grabbed a fistful of the heavy black beard, and yanked his head down, while at the same time she raised her knee. The breaking of the mercenary’s nose made a satisfying noise. As a finishing touch, Anariel brought the half empty ewer crashing down onto the leader’s head.


To the elven maid’s right, Nord had drawn his sword, and with hilt in hand, delivered a punch to his adversary’s jaw. The unfortunate sailor in front of him, dropped like a rock. A broad smile split the knight’s face,“Now that was a good one!†Without glancing at the elven maid, Nord raised his voice, “Ye were right lass, it sure feels good to be at work again.†Turning to his right, the knight readied himself for the sailor’s mate.


Still to the far right of mercenary’s table, Jaemal was intent on taking out the man who had so insulted Anariel. He quickly ran through a series of spells in his head to use, “Surely, if one were to use feebleminded on a person who was already lacking in intelligence, he would be left without a brain.â€Â


Finally, a spell chosen, Jaemal started his incantation. The sorcerer’s concentration was rudely broken when a searing pain lanced through his arm and neck. A small, but deadly dagger was buried, hilt deep, in his chest, below his left collarbone. “Villain,â€Âgrowled Jaemal. He quickly began casting again, encasing himself within death armor.


As the spell settled into place, Jaemal found himself facing one of the remaining sailors, instead of Ricarver. The sailor came at him fast, and with some measure of skill. The sorcerer didn’t dare look away to track where the rogue had gone.


On the other side of the room, Peony was in trouble. The gnome had discovered that her wand of sleep was empty of charges, useless. She turned her back on the fight in her effort to examine the wand, and so distracted, was unaware of KIckshaw. A squeak escaped her lips as he grabbed hold of Peony from behind.


“Ugh, do you people never bathe,â€Âshe exclaimed at the stink of the man. Thinking quickly, she reversed her hold of the wand. Now, point side down, she plunged it into the man’s leg. Foul curses spilled from his mouth, as his arms fell away from her. Removing the wand from his leg, he sneered at Peony.


Throwing the wand aside, he started to menace her with his blade, when all of a sudden, he staggered forward, once, twice, and then a final time. Peony watched, her eyes wide as the man before her opened his lips to curse, only to spill blood from his mouth.

Nord reached Peony’s side just as the man fell forward onto the straw strewn floorboards, three daggers buried in his back, near his heart. Peony looked up from the corpse to see Rizdaer pick up his axe from where it had rested against a chair.


A dreamy smile played about her lips as she stared at the drow. Rizdaer shook his head muttering under his breath about silly gnomes, and turned back to join the fight.


Pike Blanchard advanced on the dark elf, “Oi, ye black devil. Ye should no ha’ gone and murdered ol’ Kickshaw.†A twisted smile revealed a row of crooked teeth, what there was of them. “He still owed me money, so I guess I will have to collect it from your hide, eh?â€Â


“Better surfacers than you have tried, rivvil,†stated Rizdaer, holding his weapons at the ready. The fight between the two was brief. A flurry of strikes and parries. After several well played feints, Pike brought his sword sweeping down from above his right shoulder. Grace and power where in its stroke.


Rizdaer twisted his body to the side and brought up his axe in an arc, catching the blade of the long sword within the axe blade’s curve and moving it off to the left just enough to be able to thrust his sword into Pike’s exposed body, delivering a killing strike.


Looking up into the amber eyes of the drow, Pike smiled a lopsided grin, “You are a right bastard you are.â€Â


“So I have been told,†was the simple reply that Pike heard before all went black.


The tavern had turned into a battle field. Rizdaer glanced about to see where he was needed next. As was becoming a habit, he searched for Anariel first. He saw her squaring off with the rogue, Ricarver. He heard the rogue berate the elf for killing his brother at arms. But it was not the man’s words that had the dark elf make his way toward Anariel. Rizdaer sensed the abnormal hunger behind the cold eyes.


“Pretty or no, ye shall have to pay for what ye have done here this night,†began Ricarver. “Only question is, what shall I take in payment. What say you, my sweeting?â€Â


“The only payment of mine ye shall get is what comes of my steel,†replied the elf. She repressed the urge to shudder, at the penetrating gaze of the man before her. Instead, she held at the ready, her sword, and her magical dagger.


The rogue drew a fine, keen edged dagger from a sheath at his thigh. The long blade had a wicked curve to it. Drawing Anariel’s attention, he wove the blade in a mesmerizing pattern in the air before him., while reaching into his belt pouch. With a sweeping gesture he let fly a glittering blue powder, directly into the elven maid’s face.


Anariel coughed several times, her green eyes teared, blinking rapidly. She heard a voice command her to put up her weapons. She felt herself moving to comply with the issued command. ‘Whatever is wrong with me?’ she screamed in her head. ‘No-’


She saw Ricarver’s face loom closer to hers and could feel his hot breath on her skin. Then suddenly, he was gone. Gentle, but firm hands guided her to a chair, and she was bid to rest. She complied, her mind in a fog.


As the Iron Collar rogue had been advancing on the elven maid, Rizdaer had approached. Casting a globe of darkness on Ricarver, the drow had entered the darkness as well. The fight was swift, and purely one-sided. A gurgling scream declared its end. A moment later, the drow emerged the victor.


All of the Iron Collar Mercenaries were dead, except for Black Geoffrey. The sailors lay about the floor, stunned, dazed, but alive. Nord helped Geoffrey to stand once he had him trussed up like a goose. “Come on now man, ye are to report to the good Captain. If ye are lucky, it will be the brig for ye, if not the noose.†The knight pushed the man toward the door.


“Oi, wait just a bloody minute,†hollered Gohar from behind the bar. “Who is going to pay their tab? Now that ye killed them all. Well, nearly. And who is going to clean this up? Ye are all responsible for this mess! â€Â


Nord pinned the man with a gaze that brooked no argument, “We are neither lenders, or maids. Neither are we this mercenary group’s keepers.†He tossed a pouch of coin to the barkeep, “That’s from the Iron Collar lads themselves. If it is no eno’, well then, ye can take that up wi’ Captain Shawford, seein’ as how their leader is still alive.†He paused for affect, “For now.†Turning the large mercenary toward the door, the knight continued, “Come on ye black sod, lets hie ye up to the Palisade, aye?â€Â


Gohar looked like he would like to pursue pushing for payment. He had heard empty promises from knights before. He was about to push home his point to the elven maid who remained, until he caught the eye of Rizdaer. He swallowed visibly, his Adam’s Apple bobbing like an apple in a barrel of water. He had seen the body of the rogue once the globe of darkness dispelled. A severed spine was the least of Ricarver’s injuries.


Peony helped Jaemal to rise, following the knight out into the night. She stayed close to Jaemal’s injured side, intent on giving him her support.


“That was very clever of you Peony, the way you used that wand as a defensive weapon. We shall have to talk with the vendor who sold you that dead wand. Do you remember who sold it to you?â€Â


The conversation stopped as the door closed, leaving Rizdaer and Anariel. After adjusting her cloak about her shoulders, the drow bid the maid to rise and come with him. Quietly, she obeyed. The magic properties of the glittering blue powder, rendered its target completely compliant and subservient to commands.


Following the drow out of the tavern, Anariel sucked in her breath at the cold wind. Ever at her side, Rizdaer spoke quietly into her ear, “Mind your step now Mistress. ‘Tis a treacherous path we walk.â€Â


The elven maid immediately dropped her head to better view the path before her feet, watching her step . . .


Rizdaer sighed, “Come Mistress, let me guide you. Eyes ahead, aye?â€Â


Nearing Nord, Jaemal, and Peony, the drow noticed that Valeero and Diriel had rejoined the party. He could hear Peony’s voice as she told them both of all that had occurred. She waxed on about how he had saved her life . . .


An inward groan escaped the dark elf.


They started to ascend the trail leading to the town of Targos. Rizdaer slipped an arm through the elven maid’s in case her clumsy tendencies overpowered even the magic powder. The elf clung to his arm, pressing herself closer to the drow.


“Riz, I,†came a small voice. “I cannot seem to think clearly? What? Is?â€Â


“Everyone is safe Mistress. Ease your mind, for you are safe with me. I shall allow nothing to harm you,†replied the drow.


“Thank-you . . .â€Â


A silver white brow arched.


Climbing further up the trail, Rizdaer wondered how long the powder would keep Anariel open to commands. He remembered reading about such magics from among his mother’s books in the store. Some remained potent for mere hours, while others could last for days. Some had the additional trait of rendering the target incapable of lying. Naturally, he had pocketed the thief’s pouch containing the remainder of the powder.


The cold sleet continued to pelt the companions. Despite the cold, Rizdaer was content to think about what he might ask of Anariel, given the right opportunity.


A slow smile played about his lips. It was a most entertaining thought.




rivvil = human

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Smoke filled the sky, obscuring the weak winter sun. Down from the northern passes, an icy wind began to blow, creating as it went, whirling eddies of blackish smoke plumes mixed with newly falling snow. Barely recognizable, the shreds of a once proud flag, yet flew over the broken timbers of Targos’ Palisade.

It could have been worse . . .  


Numerous piles of burning wreckage scattered throughout the palisade grounds. Everywhere the eyes looked, lay countless bodies of defender and foe alike. The fallen weapons of man and goblin, littered the ground haphazardly. As the break in battle lingered, soft moans, developed into faint cries. Some voices lifted up to their gods, some cursed. One or two priests went about seeing to the wounded and dying.


Near one of inner walls, beside a mound of smoldering wood, a body stirred. A thick braid of night black hair, easily identified the elf from the rubble. Anariel and Rizdaer had been fighting near the Northwest gate, when they had been caught in a large explosion.


“Riz,â€ÂAnariel moaned as she gingerly tested her limbs. When she went to move her head, a sharp, a stabbing pain twisted behind her eyes, and her stomach rolled with nausea.


Several minutes went by as she concentrated on slowly breathing in and out. The pain receded to an ever present ache. Ever so slowly, she tested her limbs once more, moving and rolled slowly to her side. After waiting for a short time, she drew her knees up in an attempt to rise. Another wave of nausea lanced through her gut, halting her progress.


The elven maid remained on her hands and knees for a time, dry heaving unto the snow. Finally, she was able to gain her feet with the help of her long bow. Using it as a makeshift staff, she stood swaying slightly as she looked about her.


Breaks had been blasted through the Palisade’s wooden walls. Large timbers lay were the explosions had cast them, crushing any in their path, no matter their allegiance. The air was heavy with the stench of burning hair and flesh as the bodies of men, goblins, and worgs lay singly and in groups. Magic too hung in the air, the smell of certain spells stronger than others. 


Anariel looked up at the sun trying to gage the time of day. Just that morning they had reported to Captain Shawford to receive their assignment. Then there had been the rumble of a great explosion. The first of many.


It quickly became apparent, that under the cover of nightfall, their enemy had managed to slip right up to the Palisade’s walls. Anariel recalled Nord’s words to Targos’ leader just last night. Both she and the knight had been to speak with Lord Ulbrec about their concerns. Both had felt another attack was eminent and that they could better serve the town by taking a more offensive stance. But it had been to no avail, for Ulbrec would not let them leave the town, not even to scout the area. 


Distant shouts brought Anariel back to the present. She looked up toward the Northwest gate, and saw two soldiers from atop one of the walls, gesturing wildly in her direction. At the same time, there came a low growl from behind her. She turned.


Not more than several feet from the elf, stood a wounded soldier, holding his ground against a worg-rider. Demonic, yellow eyes stared balefully at its intended victim. Lips curled, its long, razor sharp teeth bared. From atop the worg, the goblin took aim and fired his crossbow. The soldier staggered back as the black bolt pierced his shoulder.


Silently, Anariel thanked the maker of her bow, as it required no corporeal arrow to be fired. this enabled her to fire more rapidly than a normal bow would allow. Taking careful aim, the elven maid let fly an arrow. Finding its target, the arrow seared into the deep chest wall of the wolf like creature. The creature turned and fixed its stare upon the elven maid.


Anariel was able to loosen one more arrow at the goblin himself, before the worg lunched for her. Both hands braced the bow as she swung it at the worg. The metal blade like flares at the end of the bow, cut through the rough fur and sinew of the creature, but did little to halt it. 


Turning quicker than the muscle bound creature had a right to, the worg twisted his body, knocking the soldier to the ground before toppling the slender elf over.


The goblin slid off of his mount to finish the soldier. Their weapons clashed as each struggled to gain the upper hand. Voices raised in battle cries could be heard accompanied by the sound of booted feet.


The shouts were lost on Anariel, as the worg’s throaty growl filled her ears. Its large hairy body, more than covered the elf’s entirely. A glint of metal flashed as the maid drew a long, black bladed dagger.


Nearly overcome with the stench of the creature, Anariel could feel hot saliva drip onto her face from the beast, as its jaws snapped at her throat. With all her strength, she drove the blade up through the underside of its jaw, pinning the worg’s mouth shut.


Placing both hands on the dagger, she twisted the blade. Tucking her legs up from under the beast’s body as best she could, she kicked out at the worg in an attempt to free herself. But it was to no avail, the beast was too heavy for the slender elf to move.


The worg continued to growl menacingly as it tried to work free of the dagger. Suddenly, it shifted its weight and swiped at Anariel. A harsh intake of breath, and a muffled scream marked its successful strike. Across the elf’s cheek, and down one shoulder, the worg’s claws raked a line of deep furrows.


It was then, that Anariel felt a prickling sensation that made her body feel flushed and almost weightless. Light shifted before her eyes as a magical shield formed around her. Just then another wave of magic could be felt near by, as a spell of Destruction was cast on the worg.


The shield of protection around the elven maid held but did nothing to protect her from the overwhelming smell of disintegrating worg. She held her hands over her nose and mouth in an attempt to block the worst of it.


Finally a strong pair of hands were under her shoulders, dragging her out from under the carcass. 


In tandem, two voices anxiously inquired, “Are you badly hurt?†“Do you think you can stand?â€Â 


Jaemal helped Anariel to her feet, and supported her slender frame, as Valeero cast a healing spell from her patron god, Lathander. It had been the cleric’s shield that had protected the elf while Jaemal had killed the worg. The goblin had also been slain by the soldier he had wounded. Anariel watched as one of the town’s healers helped the man toward the infirmary.


“My thanks for your timely intervention,†began Anariel. She had known that death would be a possibility this day, but preferred to not to provide the enemy with a tasty meal. Looking down at her badly torn, blood splattered leathers, she added, “Ha, I must look a sight.â€Â


“Not half as bad as you smell-†replied Jaemal. The sorcerer’s eyes flew open as he realized what he had said. “Oh my dear lady, I did not not mean that as it sounded. Please forgive me, I . . .â€Â


Laughing softly, Anariel placed a gentle hand on Jaemal’s arm, “Never fear my friend, there is naught to forgive. I can only imagine why the snow does not melt at my feet from the stench of me. Worg and all.â€Â


The elven maid sighed heavily, her expression becoming more serious. “What of the others? Are they about? I fear I lost sight of them before the last explosion.† 

“We need to get your injuries seen as soon as possible. I fear it was only a minor healing spell I had left,†apologized the cleric.


“Never mind my injuries, I am fine,â€Âreplied the elf.


“The claw marks are quite extensive. I must needs see if there is further damage,†insisted the cleric.


In truth, Anariel felt a pulse of pain with every beat of her heart, from where the worg had clawed her. Brushing aside their concern for her she asked, “Where are the others? Peony? Nord? Have the goblins been routed?â€Â


Gesturing to a small crate, Valeero suggested firmly, “Sit here a moment. Jaemal can fill you in on what has happened while I take at look at these wounds.â€Â


The cleric wisely did not push the elven maid, instead she changed tactics. “Please . . .† 


Anariel sighed heavily, but complied. Jaemal smiled at the look of exasperation on the elven maid’s face. He schooled his features to a more serious expression before beginning, “The enemy has indeed been routed. Save for the straggler you so cleverly found. Captain Shawford requested that Sir Nord, with a small contingency of soldiers, go after the last of the goblins. Our good Diriel went along as well to track any who may have managed to escape, and to scout the area beyond the edge of the neighboring forest.â€Â


A yelp interrupted the aasimar’s tale as Valeero probed the elf’s head wound a little to deeply, “My pardon Anariel. But it would be easier if you held still.â€Â


“But what of the others,†asked the elf.


Well,†continued Jaemal. “Peony was injured when-â€Â 


Anariel started to rise up, “Injured?â€Â


“Stay put,†admonished Valeero. “I need you to be still. There looks to be a splinter of wood lodged in your scalp.†The cleric caught Jaemal’s eye and mouthed the words, ‘Hold her down.’  


 The sorcerer gently, but firmly placed his hands on Anariel’s shoulders, being mindful of her injury. He continued to speak as the cleric removed the splinter, and cleaned the wound. 


He continued to speak, if only to distract their leader,“You need not be concerned for our small, but mighty wizard. Her injury was a minor one, but was also one that left her vulnerable. It seems a rather large goblin, er, well, he stepped on her foot.â€Â


The aasimar continued to explain how Peony had immobilized the goblin fighter with a holding spell, only to be be pinned down by his big booted foot. Nord had rescued the small damsel, and when the final shaman had been slain, she had been taken to safety.


“She did quite well, casting her spells while balancing and hopping around on one foot! She was thinking of calling herself, the dancing wizard.â€Â


Through Jaemal’s tale, a small smile had played about Anariel’s lips. The sorcerer watched as the smile suddenly vanished.


The elf looked at her companions, “Where is Rizdaer?†At their silence, she asked again, her voice coming out a bit sharper than had been her intent, “Has anyone seen him? No? Then where and when was the last place you saw him?â€Â


Anariel did not wait for either of them to answer before she rose up off the crate, Jaemal’s hands not withstanding. Slinging her bow to her back, she began her search.


In her mind, the drow would not have been far from her in battle. More to herself than either of her companions she said, “He was never very far from me throughout the attack. It must have been the explosion that separated us.â€Â 


The sun was starting its descent, marking the time as early afternoon. The battle had waged most, if not all of the morning. As the snow continued to fall gently, the three companions call out to Rizdaer, and searching the debris for the dark elf. 


Just as Anariel was starting to fear the worst, the elf’s keen hearing caught the sound of a drow curse.


There, against an outer wall, facing down four soldiers, stood Rizdaer. The drow had suffered numerous injuries from the same explosion as Anariel. The worst being his leg, which had been impaled with a broken piece of timber. He had crawled from the wreckage, and managed to wrap a makeshift bandage around his leg.


But before he was able to locate Anariel, he had been cornered by some of Lord Ulbrec’s men.


Yet despite being wounded, and out numbered, the drow’s reputation commanded enough respect, that the soldiers remained a cautious distance from the dark elf.


Rizdaer shifted his weigh off of his injured leg, leaning heavily on a discarded iron shod staff.


“For the last time rivvil srow, I am a member of a fighting party, sanctioned by your leader to fight your enemies and save your worthless, pitiful hides.â€Â


“You’re a liar. All you sub-human breeds lie,†spoke one of the soldiers.


“Aye, but you dark ones are the worst of the lot. Suppose we’ll be a heroes bagging the likes o’ you.â€Â


“I tire of your ignorance. Die then you bigoted fools,†said Rizdaer with a sneer. “For I shall not be taken easily.â€Â


With the ease born from much practice, the drow warrior willed away the pain from his wounds. Smoothly he lifted the staff, making it whirred sharply in the cold air as he put it through a series of moves. Focused, he moved into a fighting stance.


“Enough of this nonsense! Stand down,â€Âcame a clear, strong voice. Anariel moved to stand between the soldiers and Rizdaer, while Valeero and Jaemal flanked the soldiers.


Knowing that it would not do to kill their misguided allies, the cleric, started casting a Shield of Lathander on her party. Meanwhile, the sorcerer prepared to stun the soldiers.


Anariel continued to address the soldiers. She pinned them with a glare as cold as the snow and ice around them, “Have you not had your fill of fighting that you must needs attack an ally?â€Â


One of the soldiers, their sergeant, began to move forward, causing Anariel to put a hand to her aching head and growl, “I swear by all I hold dear, if you make me raise my voice again, you will wish you had been killed by the goblins.â€Â


To emphasize her intent, she drew both her blades from the sheath at her back. When the soldier remained where he was, she continued, “This man is one of my companions.â€Â


“But lass . . . he is a, a drow,†hissed one of the older guards.


“Truly? How very observant of you,†Anariel retorted. “How much better would it be if you had observed instead how he has fought for you. He has placed his life on the line for this town, bled for it, just as any of you have. He deserves your thanks, not your ire.â€Â


“So speaks a pointy eared wench,†jeered the sergeant. The expression on his face reflected the scorn in his voice, “How do we know it was not your kind that started this attack? You elves are all the same, no matter the color.â€Â


Green eyes flashed and narrowed, “We are not your enemy. Are your eyes so poor that you can not tell a goblin from an elf? Or is it your judgement that is lacking?â€Â


Anariel closed her eyes and sighed heavily, “Either way, I grow sick and tired of educating those of you without common sense or decency. Know this, had I wanted your deaths, they could have been had without so much effort. I simply would not have traveled from the south to stand here and bleed for you.†Anariel would have shaken her head if it did not feel like it was about to explode.


The elven maid felt a slow, and purposeful movement just behind her left shoulder. She knew without turning, that Rizdaer now stood near her.


For her ears alone she heard, “Ussta sea’an, come to rescue me. Shall we bleed on them together mistress?â€Â


Anariel could sense the drow’s half sneer. Relief flooded her in the knowledge that he was hale enough to needle her. Her reply came just as quiet, “Mistaking sarcasm for wit again, I see. If you had but shown the smallest consideration to fly in the same direction as I did when the explosion occurred, this rescue would not have been necessary.â€Â


Rizdaer puzzled over the the elven maid’s words, said with heavy traces of humor and warmth. Her voice warmed even more as she expressed her pleasure in his surviving the explosion. He felt a sliver of emotion he could not quite identify at her words. Not understanding, he growled, “I suppose you expect me to be grateful.â€Â


Before Anariel could answer, several guardsmen approached with Captain Shawford. The seasoned soldier took in the scene before him, “What goes on here Sergeant Fletcher?â€Â


“Well sir, Captain, we were checking for any enemy survivors like, and we came upon this darkling, this drow.†The captain remained silent, causing the sergeant to swallow nervously before he continued, “We figured that this darkling was in on the attack. An inside man like. We were going to bring him in for questioning, when this lady elf drew weapons on us. ‘Tis my belief that the she-elf is a party to this evil. Shall we bring her in too?â€Â


“Let me ask you this Sergeant,†began Shawford. “Where have you been this past sennight?â€Â


“Why, I have been on guard duty at the Northeast gate, Captain. ‘Twas yourself that placed me there.â€Â


“Have ye been both deaf and blind then Fletcher?â€Â




“Since you have either been asleep, drunk, or both, I will explain,†began Shawford. In a voice laced with sarcasm, he continued, “You see Sergeant, Lord Ulbrec and his elven lady wife, have bid Lady Anariel and her party welcome here. The lady and her companions, all her companions, were responsible for clearing the docks and discovering were and how the goblins were gaining access to the docks. Furthermore, I suggest you think long and hard Sergeant, for the lady you accuse of being the enemy, is the daughter of a paladin.â€Â


“But sir, I-â€Â


“Put up your weapons Sergeant, or I will let the lady use you as a practice dummy,†said Shawford. “You and your men can report to Isherwood, as he needs help in securing the main gate.â€Â

As the man made no move to follow the orders, Shawford voice snapped like a whip, “Move Fletcher, now. Lord Ulbrec and I will be having a little chat about you Guardsman Fletcher, I can promise you.â€Â


“Aye sir,†replied the demoted soldier. Before leading his men toward the Northwest gate, Fletcher cast a look of hatred toward Anariel and Rizdaer.

Under his breath he mumbled, “Loosen my rank on account o’ the likes of her. Well, I can promise that the paladin’s daughter had best be watchin’ her back, eh lads?â€Â


As Fletcher turned around toward the gate, he collided into a broad, solidly built chest. The former sergeant looked at the deep hued robes of the Mulhorandian sorcerer, swallowed nervously, and then looked up. The dark eyes of the aasimar seemed to pierce the guardsman were he stood. Fletcher swallowed.


Without warning, Rizdaer suddenly appeared near Fletcher. The dark elf stepped in close to the soldier’s side, his voice dark and menacing, “I offer you a promise rivvil. Should any harm befall my mistress, it will be your back that bears watching.â€Â


Jaemal, still blocking the soldier’s escape, added quietly, “Only if I decide to share.â€Â


Fletcher swallowed again, then stammered, “I must carry out the Captain’s orders, let me by.â€Â


Almost reluctantly, Jaemal stepped aside.


Valeero, having joined the sorcerer, and the drow, smiled a lopsided half smile, “Nicely done gentlemen. I shall sleep easier at night knowing that chivalry is not dead.â€Â


Jaemal smiled at the cleric’s gentle teasing, while Rizdaer frowned.


Anariel approached the trio, “Captain Shawford said that he expects Nord and Diriel to be returning within the hour. Come, let us go back to the inn and see how Peony is fairing. Shawford’s healer, Nolan, has given us enough healing potions for us all.â€Â


As the group started walking back toward the town, Anariel fell back to walk along side Rizdaer. After waiting a moment or two for the others to widen their lead, she said, “You never did answer my question.â€Â


“What question are you referring to mistress,†asked the drow.


“Are you grateful? For being apart of the party I mean.â€Â


After a slight pause, the dark elf answered, “You needed another sword arm. Should I to be grateful to this rabble in Targos, that they do not know one end of a blade from another?â€Â


“What about being grateful that I know the difference between just another swordsman, and a true warrior I can depend upon.†As the silence grew, she added, “I am grateful that I have found such a warrior as you, and such a man that I know I can trust.â€Â


Another pause,


“Mistress, I am not use to hearing fair words from a female. You have saved my life, and as such, you have both my sword, and my life. I serve you willingly.â€Â


Anariel sighed, “Well, one step at a time I suppose. I shall have to see that you become use to fair words.â€Â


“I shall give it my best try, mistress.â€Â


Silence reigned the rest of the way to the inn. The warm glow of light from the Weeping Widow’s windows was a most heartening sight as the foursome hurried up the walk.


rivvil srow = human scum

Ussta sea’an = my hero

rivvil = human

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Author's Note: Much thanks goes to my Beta-Reader; not sure how I managed without her, :)


Now on with the story . . .




The sun, mere hours from setting, shined weakly upon the newly fallen snow. Too tired to notice the sparkling play of the evening light, a small group of soldiers walked toward the broken and sundered gates of the palisade.


Hailed, and waved through by the watchmen, they made their way wearily toward Captain Shawford’s quarters. Within minutes, they entered to give a full accounting of their scouting mission. It was relayed that the pack of fleeing goblins had been destroyed. Also revealed was the discovery that a large group of goblins were amassing near the Shaengarne Bridge. With the captain’s thanks, the group was then dismissed. As the soldiers emerged from the building, two figures broke away from the others to cross the frozen palisade grounds toward the darkened town.


Even at a distance, one of the figure’s grace and fluidity of movement reveal him as an elf. Diriel walked with purpose toward the town’s one and only inn. Lost in his own thoughts, he walked in silence. Beside the druid, easily matching his pace, walked Nord.


Although the knight’s long strides were smooth and even, tension could be seen in the line of his shoulders. His face, etched in lines of brooding as he chewed on his thoughts. It had been a long and grueling day, filled with fighting the goblin hordes, followed by trudging in the drifting snow after those that had fled. But even that could not account for the hard look on the paladin’s face. Something was eating at the swordsman, something the elven druid had said, something he could not leave alone.


Earlier that day, on the trail homeward, the soldiers had been talking among themselves. Mostly they spoke of what may have prompted the goblin’s attack, and if it could have been avoided. It was acknowledged that Targos, and indeed many of the Ten Towns had all been attacked by raiders over the years, but this time was different. Not only had it been well orchestrated, but there was an almost menacing, and driven quality to the attack. It left the soldiers unsettled, even fearful. While talking about the battles fought that day, one of the younger soldier wondered aloud, how many had fallen to the blade and axe of their enemy.


Ahead of the scouting party, Diriel had been walking point. For the most part, the druid had been ignoring the party that he led. But, having heard the young man’s query, a slow, sardonic smile had crossed the elf’s handsome face. Too quietly for the guardsmen to hear, he had spoken his thoughts aloud: “In my calculations, too few humans have fallen.†He had then sighed heavily. “What bitter irony it is, that it falls to me to help humans survive.â€Â


Nord had been positioned midway between the others and the druid, and had clearly heard Diriel’s words. Shocked to his core, the tall knight was about to take him to task for his words, when the palisade had come into view. “Another time you pointy eared ingrate,†Nord had muttered under his breath. The disciplined knight had held his tongue, but the druid’s words had continued to stew in his mind, even in Shawford’s quarters.


Now as they past the gateway from the palisade to the town, Nord’s frayed patience snapped, “Oy, Master Diriel. What did you mean by that comment of yours back on the trail?†At the quizzical look payed to him by the elf, Nord continued, “When ye said that not enough humans had fallen to the enemy. It has not been the first time I have heard you say something against other races. How is it that ye have such dislike of humans? Whatever have they done to you?â€Â


Diriel stopped walking and turned to face the knight. Nord felt as if the temperature dropped several more degrees as the elf’s gaze settle upon him. A look of barely subdued hatred, glittered darkly in the druid’s eyes, “Your kind disrupt the greater balance.â€Â


Puzzlement apparent on his grizzled, worn face, Nord replied, “Come again?â€Â


With a smile that did not reach his eyes, Diriel answered, “I will simplify it for you, Sir Knight. Once upon a time the world was green and fair. The elves and minor races populated it, and lived in joyous harmony with nature. It was good, but the ugly humans bred and bred in the dark caves. The high procreation rate together with their low cunning caused them to eventually become a military threat. One by one, the green lands became riddled with human filth.†Diriel paused but briefly. Then with quiet, deadly promise, he added, “But there are those who would oppose them and restore the greater balance to the People.â€Â


A growl came from Nord, “Bugger that! Why you arrogant-â€Â


Diriel interrupted the knight, his voice, clear and passionate, ““Humans know nothing! It was your race, ever the opportunists, that took my people’s lands and caused the elves to diminish!â€Â

Throwing back his hood, the druid looked skyward as if beseeching the heavens themselves, “Daily we recall the great cities that now lie in ruin, the great forests murdered in service of human avarice! Yet still we sing to the stars, and hope for renewal. We shall overcome this human blight.â€Â


Nord’s stance grew threatening, his jaw tight with anger, “Bloody hells boy, be ye doubly careful droning on about murdering decent folk around me. Had we no need of your skill in this blasted wilderness, I would drag you even now to Lord Ulbrec’s office by the scruff of your skinny neck. They would sort you out, be you a loud-mouth or a murderer.â€Â


Suddenly aware of the paladin’s massive bulk towering above him, Diriel took an involuntary step back. Neither flinching, nor cowering, he glared with dark promise at the knight, “Attempt to execute this move, and I will dismember your arm at the shoulder.â€Â


“Arrgh! You’re blighted arrogant prat!†Nord shook his head in disgust. “This I swear, by my holy oath as a paladin, when we finish once and for all with this mess, we will come back to you, elf. Till then, consider yourself warned. If you get us in trouble, I won’t go out of my way to rescue you.


Nord was answered by a bitter smile, “Should I even add that I reciprocate your feelings?†In a voice nearly dripping with contempt he added, “Do not inconvenience me.â€Â


Diriel watched as Nord worked his jaw angrily, looking for all the world as if he would rain dragon fire down upon the elf. Wisely, the druid remained silent as he raised his hood, turned, and continued on to the inn. The knight waited a moment before following, feeling it was best to stay several sword lengths apart from the elf.


The door of the inn opened just as they turned down the snowy path. The inn keeper gave them a toothy smile in greeting, as he held the door open wide, “Come in, come in now. You must both be cold, tired, and hungry.â€Â


Warmth enveloped the weary knight, causing his shoulders to sag in relief. Just as he was soaking in the welcoming comfort of the inn, a voice greeted him brightly.


“Halloo, so you’re back!†cried Peony from the top of the stairs. Jaemal stood patiently at her side, proffering his arm to assist her down the stairs. Leaning against the wall Peony looked up at the sorcerer. She batted her eyes and smiled at him sweetly, “Might I trouble you to carry me down the stairs? After all, I wouldn’t want to pull you down after me if I were to fall down the stairs.â€Â


Realizing that their height difference would indeed make it difficult for the gnome to make use of his arm for support, he replied,“I, well, I suppose it would be all right.†Smiling good naturedly, he added, “Can’t have you dangling off my arm now can we.†He went to pick up the petite mage and was greeted with a giggle.


“Oh no, not that way, Jae, Piggy-back!â€Â


“Oh,†Jaemal said, surprise coloring his voice, both for the idea of giving the mage a ‘ride,’ and his newly christened nickname. Carefully, he walked down a step or two, and then allowed Peony to climb onto his back. Thus settled, the two came down the staircase to greet the returning adventurers.

Again, Peony greeted Nord and Diriel, “Hail the returning heros! A fine pair of soldiers you both are, too. Lord Ulbrec and Lady Elytharra sent word that they will pay us a visit on the morrow, sometime after the noon meal. Seems that they want to thank us in person for our help at the palisade!â€Â


“Thank you for the warning, small one,†responded Diriel. “I shall endeavor not to be on hand. Their union sickens me beyond the bounds of civility.†With that acerbic remark, the druid swiftly climbed the stairs to his room.


“What is ailing him?†asked Peony.


“Nothing that a good beating would not cure,†mumbled Nord. Peony opened her mouth to speak, but before the diminutive gnome could pepper him with more questions, he asked her where he could find Anariel. 


“I am here,†came a reply from near the fire. Rising from her chair, Anariel took one look at Nord and poured him a goblet of mulled wine. Pressing it into his hands, concern etched on her face, she said, “You look exhausted. Here, rest a short time, while a hot meal and bath are prepared for you.â€Â 


Jaemal entered the room with Peony on his back, her hands clasped together below his chin, like a bow. Forgetting that he was providing the mage with a means of safe transportation, he bowed his head to the elven maid, “Good evening Lady Anariel. I trust you are recovering from your wounds?â€Â


At that moment the mage started to slip, Jaemal raised up all of a sudden, nearly clipping Peony’s head, “Oh dear, I am dreadfully sorry. I beg your pardon . . .â€Â


“No worries Jae,†said the mage lightheartedly.


“My, my, what is this? Why Peony, how you have come up in the world,†laughed Anariel.

Glancing at the tall aasimar, she added, teasingly, “I did not know that you gave rides. Is this a Mulhorandian custom or a personal talent?â€Â


From the neckline of his robes to the roots of his dark hair, Jaemal blushed under his bronzed skin. He began to stutter, “I, well, I. Peony’s injury was such that I thought it best to help. And then she suggested that-â€Â

Taking pity on his plight, Anariel smothered a laugh, “Master Jaemal, you are a fine figure of a sorcerer and a gentleman, helping a lady in distress, and here I am teasing you.†Placing a hand on his arm, she gave a gentle squeeze, “Pray, forgive me, for it was not my intent.â€Â


Jaemal’s response was mingled with soft laughter, “Dear lady, if I may quote Mistress Peony, no worries.â€Â


The gnome laughed as well, taking delight in having her words quoted. Gracefully she slipped from the sorcerer’s back onto the colorful settee cushions. As she began arranging the pillows to her liking, she looked up to find another one sailing through the air toward her. Glancing up, she saw the culprit grinning at her, “Why sir Knight, I do believe you meant catch me unaware!â€Â


Chuckling, Nord answered, “You have brightened my day lass, and I am in your debt.†Raising his goblet in a silent toast, he took a drink of the warm spiced wine. Stretching his long frame, he gratefully seated himself, as he looked about, “Where are the others?â€Â


Turning aside from making the necessary arrangements for the knight, Anariel answered simply, “Rizdaer is resting, I hope. He was severely wounded in one of the explosions, and, well, you know how stubborn our drow can be. Valeero had to strongly dose his healing potion with a sleeping powder.â€Â 


Nord frowned at the fondness for the drow that he heard in Anariel’s voice. Rather than speak his concern though, he merely sipped his wine. He had had his fill of foolish and argumentative elves for one day. 


“It is my hope that our dear cleric is also resting,†the party leader continued. “Her gifts were stretched thin this day.†Before sitting once more before the fire, Anariel handed a goblet to both Peony and Jaemal.


“So . . . what prompted Diriel’s bitterness just now?†Noticing the thinly veiled anger flare up in the knight’s eyes, at the mere mention of the druid, Anariel changed the direction of her questions. “Belay that. You can tell me later. I am more interested in what you found beyond the palisade walls.â€Â


The knight started his account of what had occurred since they had left Targos that afternoon. His goblet refilled, twice, he ended his tale by honestly relating Diriel’s diatribe about the worthlessness of humans and their leaching off of the ‘People.’


“I suspected his dislike of humans, but I did not realize how bitter he was,†commented Jaemal. “Aboard ship he often alluded to the superiority of elves, but to the exclusion of all other races? That is a bit harsh.â€Â


Not one to be left out of the conversation, Peony started bouncing up and down in her seat. “Oh, oh! I remember once when a group of elves came to visit Silverymoon, they started talking all about taking back the land. Got a lot of people all stirred up. My grandmother was ready to take a stick to them when the Lady Alustriel herself threw them out of Silverymoon! I think they were called Eldreth Veluu something.â€Â 


“Eldreth Veluuthra,†said Anariel quietly. “They have been around for many years. The Tar’Ael Veluuthra, their treasured tome and manifesto has a quote I once learned: ‘May we drive the cursed vermin from our blessed land, may they despoil it no longer with their sweat, axes, and blood.’ They are rather, extreme to say the least.â€Â


“I wonder why he has chosen to travel with us?†asked Jaemal, as he poured himself more wine and refreshed everyone else’s goblets. 


“That is a good question, and one I am almost afraid to know the answer to,†replied Anariel.


Silence fell on the weary company, as each followed his or her own thoughts. Long minutes passed in quiet contemplation, until a chambermaid entered the room and announced that Sir Nord’s bath awaited him. 


“Well, I bid you all good night. I am for a bath, a meal, and then my bed. I will greet thee on the morrow.â€Â  As all rose to say goodnight, it seemed appropriate for everyone to follow the knight’s lead, and seek their well-earned rest. Last to climb the stairs, Anariel thought to pause and glance in on Valeero. 


Since the diminutive wizard shared a room with the cleric, Peony quietly eased open the door and peeked at her roommate before turning to whisper back to the elf, “She’s good and asleep.†Jerking a thumb toward the dark room, she added, “I’m for the same. Pleasant dreams!â€Â


Anariel wished the gnome a good night before continuing on down the hall toward her own chambers. Pausing before Rizdaer’s door, she lifted the latch, hoping it wouldn’t wake him. Soft light from the torches in the hall spilled into the chamber, allowing her enhanced elven sight to easily discern the steady, slow rise and fall of the drow’s chest as he slumbered. Oddly she found herself comforted by this. Shaking her head at her own silliness, and pleased that the drow rested, she also retired.




The day dawned clear and cold. Rays of winter sunlight spilled through the eastern windows of the inn’s common room, dappling the stone floor. A large calico cat stretched lazily in the warming slants of light, her eyes blinking sleepily. The cat indolently groomed her face, studiously ignoring the comical attempts of the company’s early risers to avoid stepping on her as they came downstairs to break their fast.


Butterman greeted Valeero, Diriel, and Nord as he busily set out the morning fare. A steaming platter of sliced ham, accompanied by big dishes of pan-fried potatoes and scrabbled eggs, were set upon the table. As Jaemal, Anariel, and Rizdaer joined the others, fresh baked bread with honey-butter was added.


Soon, all seven of the companions were present, as Peony came down the stairs, rubbing her eyes. Half asleep, the petite mage chose a seat between Jaemal and Rizdaer. The former passed her a thick walled teapot, and a small matching pot of honey.


“Good morning, Peony,†he offered along with the crockery.


“What’s good about it? I see no merit in rising so early,†she grumbled, stirring honey into a steaming mug of strong tea.


“If it is sleep you crave, then you may rest while the rest of us go and replenish some of our supplies.†Peony’s eyes suddenly lost their sleepy glaze upon hearing Anariel’s words. The elven maid smiled before she added, “I could have used your help, for I fear I shall have to replace my fighting leathers. What that worg did not slash, he managed to ruin with his filth and saliva. They had to be burned, they smelled so rank.â€Â


“Shopping? Well, I suppose helping you would be the least I could do, you being our leader and all. Surely we can’t have you looking like a beggar.†The mage sipped her tea and then tucked into her meal with gusto. “Aye, I shall have to go with you. You can never be too careful about choosing what to wear. And we must not overlook the color! Why, my grandmother always used to say . . .â€Â




Several hours had passed before the company was once again all together. Peony regaled all who would listen about their foray into the Galloway Trade Depot. Much of their supplies had been replenished or supplemented, but luck had not been with their leader in her search for armor. Although Diedre had been most co-operative, nothing had been found that was of the appropriate weight and quality for the elven maid.


Near the end of the meal, Swift Thomas entered the room to deliver a missive from Lord Ulbrec. In short, it informed the company that matters had changed. Targo’s leader was now requesting that they come to see him as soon as possible. Most of the companions met this change with curiosity and anticipation, but there was one in the party whose irritation was evident.


With a look of distaste clearly stamped on face, Diriel rose from his chair. “Typical human. He can not even keep his own dictates, but changes his mind midstream.â€Â


Frowning at the druid’s obvious animosity, Valeero replied, “There is little harm, and surely no insult, meant by this change in plans. As leader of a besieged town, I am sure Lord Ulbrec has much to attend to.â€Â


With a bark of a laugh, Diriel sneered, “One can only expect such behavior from any human. ‘Tis not his equivocation that has insulted me, priest. No, I am insulted -- as all elves should be -- by his unnatural union with an elven female.â€Â


“Not this again, druid . . .†Nord began. The knight rolled his eyes and sighed heavily.


Diriel proudly drew himself up to his full height. “I will not enter his home. Nor will I be ‘summoned’ by that human, that amada.â€Â


Suddenly everyone was talking all at once, save Rizdaer. Mildly entertained by the discord, the drow poured another goblet of wine and took a seat against the wall. He watched as the dispute dissolved into an outright verbal free-for-all. Sipping the spiced wine, the dark elf studied the faces before him.


Closest to him was Jaemal, whose gentle voice was raised in an attempt to be heard. To no avail, the learned sorcerer sited several logical counterpoints to the druid’s radical beliefs.


Peony, flushed a rosy pink, excitedly tried to interject a lesson she

had learned with the help of her grandmother, and the Lady Alustriel herself. As no one was truly paying her any mind, the pint-sized mage climbed up upon a chair. Her injured foot caught on the seat of the chair, pitching her forward. Quickly reaching across the chair, Jaemal stopped Peony from toppling headlong onto the table.


Rizdaer then glanced at the head of the table, where stood the cause of the chaos. Ever poised, Diriel wore a neutral expression on his face, despite his passionate homily. Point by point, he listed the historical occurrences that supported his views. Turning from the Mulhorandian sorcerer, Diriel once again faced Nord. Even at this distance, Rizdaer could almost feel the contempt the druid had for the knight.


Nord’s complexion was ruddy as he heatedly argued in defense of the human race. With each point he tried to drive home, the knight would jab the air between himself and the tall druid, as if sword fighting. In his zeal, he accidently jabbed Valeero, who had returned to the table after sending an answer to Lord Ulbrec through Swift Thomas.


Beside himself with remorse, the towering knight started apologizing to the cleric, when Diriel made a rather sarcastic remark about Nord taking up more space than was needed by a human.


Rizdaer glanced over the rim of his wine goblet at Anariel just as Nord started to growl and reach for his dagger. Judging by the look on the elven maid’s face, the argument would not last much longer. The drow counted under his breath, “Uss, draa, llar-â€Â


A singe word rang out, clear as a striking bell, “Enough!â€Â


Sudden silence reigned. Even Peony saw the wisdom of remaining quiet, as Anariel looked around the table. She pinned Diriel with an unwavering stare. Her voice was deceptively soft, but edged with steel, “Tura taur’amandil, with respect, you are entitled to your own beliefs, but I will not tolerate disrespect within this company.â€Â


Anariel paused briefly, as she continued, her eyes traveled around the table, “We have come far in a mere sennight. Our company has grown in strength from the skill, knowledge, and diversity of each member. It is as a company that our presence has been requested, and it will be as a company that we go to speak with Lord Ulbrec. Respect will be shown to him and his lady wife, as honor dictates.â€Â


Holding the druid’s gaze, she addressed him alone, “If this is not something you are willing to do, then I will give you your share of supplies and coin, and you may be on your way. Detholalle.â€Â


Silence fell as Anariel finished her ultimatum. No noise could be heard except for the flames snapping in the hearth. Finally Diriel spoke, his gaze still fixed on Anariel, a mixture of grudging respect and something else in his eyes. “It is my . . . choice, at this time, to remain with this company. I will comply with your wishes.†The druid paused, and then inclined his head to the elven maid before retiring to his room upstairs.


Anariel must have looked as dazed as she felt, for Valeero stepped in, buying the elf some time to recover, “Right, then -- off we go to freshen up before our audience with Targos’ Lord.â€Â


As the others started to file toward the stairs, Anariel felt a goblet being pressed into her shaking hand. Turning she found herself looking into jewel-toned eyes.


“Drink. You have need of it,†Rizdaer calmly said. “I must commend you Mistress. You nicely put the druid in his place.†The drow sipped his wine before adding in an almost teasing tone, “But I still believe that the suul’et’jabar t’zarreth deserves to be lashed for his disrespect. Anytime you would like me to --†the dark elf paused, a sly smirk on his face, “amend his behavior, shall we say -- I shall be pleased to obey.â€Â


“I will keep that in mind,†teased Anariel. “No, I think it will be punishment enough for Diriel to be civil to those he despises.†Her thoughts drifting, the elven maid sipped her wine absently. “My father introduced Diriel to me back in Neverwinter, and yet I have no idea why he chose to come. I thought he was motivated by the trouble here in Targos, but it seems I could not be in greater error. Why then has he chosen to stay.â€Â


Anariel’s pondering was met by the raising of a single, silver brow. “You cannot be as naive as all that Mistress. The druid, like you and I, is running from something,†came the response.


“You are insightful Master Rizdaer. I believe you may be right,â€Âthe elf replied softly.


Intent on enjoying the brief respite from leadership’s mantle, Anariel sipped her wine and asked Rizdaer to translate the words that he had spoken in the drow tongue.


When he complied, he was rewarded by a muffled, throaty laugh from the elven maid. His surprise increased when he was met with dancing green eyes, and a cheeky smile. “A very expressive language, is the drow tongue. Much more so than the elven language. I don’t suppose you would be willing to teach me some . . . choice phrases?â€Â


“As you wish, my Mistress,†replied the drow male dutifully. Ever alert to any possible danger, somewhere in the back of Rizdaer’s mind it registered that those eyes, and that smile, could be trouble.



Tar’Ael Veluuthra = Whetstone of the Blade

amada = fool (elven)

uss, draa, llar, = one, two, three (drow)

Tura taur’amandil = Master druid (elven)

Detholalle = Your choice (elven)

suul’et’jabar t’zarreth = pompous ass (drow)

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A/N: Sorry for such a long delay. Chaotic holidays :) ,

bronchitis :) , and writer's block :) were the culprits. But not to fear, here is an extra long chapter. Hope you enjoy it ;)



Dark, snow laden clouds had hung over Targos since before dawn. In truth, most of the frozen north, from the Lonelywood, east to Icewind Pass, and across to the Western Pass, were completely enveloped within the snow storm. So it was that the sun had not been seen for several days, but although hidden from view, its setting in the west marked the close of day.


This particular evening found the town of Targos quiet and devoid of activity except for the torch-lighters, and several guards patrolling the parameter. Evidence of their passing was brief, as the heavily falling snow quickly filled in their boot prints. Torches sprang to life, one by one, fighting the increasing darkness. A bitterly cold wind had risen from off the lake, encouraging the torch-lighters and guards to quickly complete their tasks and seek shelter. It was a good evening to be fireside.


The company had been closeted with Lord Ulbrec for several hours, deciding the best course of action for Targos. After some sound counsel, the company had decided to accept the task that the commander asked of them. In a day, weather permitting, they would leave Targos heading southwest to retake Shaengarne Bridge from the goblinoids.


Now, in thanks and appreciation, Targo’s commander was honoring the company with as sumptuous a feast as could be had in all of the Ten Towns. Within the private wing of Lord Ulbrec’s quarters, lay a room meant as a quiet haven from the outside world and its demands.


Adjoining the dinning hall, the snug room was richly appointed, warm and comfortable with a large stone fireplace, and ample, cozy seating. Numerous, colorful tapestries, depicting well known times in Faerun’s history, graced the walls. A well laid fire within the hearth, chased away the chill of the evening. Its heat beckoned, as did the goblets of wine, hard ciders, and tankards of golden ale, that had been set up on the side board.


It was here the company was asked to wait until the dinner hour. Their host had excused himself as soon as he had shown them to the private parlor, stating he had an urgent matter that demanded his immediate attention.


Left to their own devices, the party members drifted about the room.

Dressed in new robes, of a dark, opalescent blue, Peony wandered about the room as gracefully as any noble lady. After several moments of indulging her innate curiosity for her surroundings, the rock gnome helped herself to a goblet of a light pear cider. Giggling softly as the effervescent bubbles hit her nose, she continued her exploration.


A table set to the side of the room, caught her eye. It boasted a beautifully carved wooden game board. Several types of wood inlaid the board in a design of intertwining knots that resembled different animals. Atop the board were placed intricately carved pieces of white and red marble. Setting her goblet down, the petite mage, looked at the pattern in which the pieces were arranged.


Clapping her hands in delight, Peony turned to ask, “Does anyone know how to play Tafl? Who will play a round with me?â€Â


“Come little one, I will take your challenge. A hearty ale and a rousing game will lend itself well to the wait for dinner,†stated Nord.


The tall man looked the part of a titled knight at his leisure, a quilted, dark brown gambeson, beneath a fine, silvery chainmail shirt, topped by a surcoat in the colors of the Radiant Heart. Costly in their prime, the clothing’s age was apparent, showing some signs of wear at cuff and hem. But with each article of clothing, there was also evidence of meticulous care. Playing the part of gallant knight, Nord pulled out the chair for Peony, and the two started their game.


Smiling at the knight’s gently teasing tone, Valeero made her way over to a bookcase at the rear of the room. Dressed this evening in the robes of a Cleric of Lathander, the young woman had a much softer appearance. In muted, multihued shades of golds, russet browns, and soft rose, her robes seemed to imbue the warm colors of the dawn.


A medallion representing her order, was suspended on a chain around her neck. The delicate looking links fell to her chest, where lay the pale, golden disk. Several rays of the sun stretched heavenward, extending beyond the upper curve of the circle. Beneath the sun, the medallion depicted, rolling, green hills. Valeero absently fingered the necklace as she became absorbed in the numerous books before her. Gently her fingertips brushed their aged, leather spines, as she read the titles. Volumes on the history of various countries within Faerun were among them. Along with tomes on the different schools of magic, and healing.


A few steps away from the priestess, a very proud, but subdued Diriel, casually perused the books on herbal lore. In an attempt to genuinely honor the commander’s house, or at least, for Anariel’s sake, he had dressed in the robes of a druid. Visions of a deep, ancient forest came to mind at the rich, green color of his robes.


The candlelight that fell across the herbal tome, also touched the tawny gold of his hair. Warrior braids on either side of his head, were well tended, bond in leather strips. As the elven druid turned yet another page, there came a whiff of lavender and rue. The scents were old and faded, yet their fragrant lingered, soaked into the very pages of the book. Diriel closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, his shoulders lowering in relaxation.


Walking near the opposite wall from the books, the dark elf was the picture of elven grace. For once, his handsome features were visible, his silver white hair plaited and cuffed in silver bands. Under the insistence of Anariel, who claimed it was a poor reflection on her, Rizdaer’s old clothing had been replaced with new fighting leathers. Black leather, lined in a soft lambs wool for warmth. Soft black fur edged the collar of the doublet.


Pleased with the warmth that the new clothes provided, the drow was happier still with the numerous new sheaths, which had been purchased for his growing arsenal of throwing daggers. Even now, he had some ten daggers secreted about his person. For the first time in a long time, the drow felt a small measure of security.


At the moment, Rizdaer was looking over Lord Ulbrec’s favorite collection. Against this wall, there was a large display of centuries old weaponry, dating over several thousands of years. Bladed weapons mingled with weapons that were strung. Long bows and cross bows, shared space with everything from swords, and axes, to daggers, and halberds.


Many of the finely crafted pieces had ancient scripts and pictographs decorating them. Rizdaer looked them over intently, mentally gaging each weapon, its weight, and best use. One rather ancient looking dagger looked to have a form of the drow language written upon the hilt. His mouth silently formed the words, wondering what magic, if any, remained.


Across the room, the fire snapped and popped, as a log fell from atop its perch. Sitting near the hearth, Anariel gazed into the flames, her thoughts lost in the past. She had been thinking of her past quite a bit lately, finding herself distracted at times. Perhaps it was all the inactivity. Surly it would be better once they were away and on the trail.


A soothing, warm voice startled her from her revere, “May I offer you some wine, my lady?â€Â


The Mulhorand sorcerer stood next to the settee. As was his wont, he was dressed in jewel toned robes. This evening, he had chosen a deep sapphire robe, with a long, blue, inner tunic, several shades lighter in color. Suspended from a black leather belt, were his wands, and an exotic looking dagger. Its long, curved blade following the flowing line of his robes. His shining, dark brown hair fell in gentle waves to his shoulders.


Glancing up at the handsome aasimar, Anariel noticed that Jaemal was patiently holding out a goblet of fragrant wine to her. She accepted the wine and motioned for the sorcerer to take a seat near her, just as Valeero joined them.


Jaemal looked over at the tome she carried with her, with interest. The dark leather book was bound in dark copper fittings, with pages edged in a golden gilt.

The sorcerer brushed his fingers gingerly across the tome, “What is it you have there Valeero?â€Â


“It seems to be a history of the dales here about,†explained the cleric. Turning the preserved pages slowly, all three members of the company eagerly perused the book. Fine flowing script marked the passing history of the northern climes in concise detail. On several pages near the tome’s center, beautifully rendered maps covered numerous pages. Even though the trio studied the maps for technical reasons, their craftsmanship and artistry did not go by unappreciated.


Two quarters of an hour past when at last the doors to the dining room were opened. Within the graceful arch, Lord Ulbrec and his lady wife greeted the company. Pleasantries where traded by all present.

Even the brooding druid, who conducted himself politely, with nearly faultless manners.


Still dressed in his robes of office, Lord Ulbrec coughed politely to gain everyones attention, “Now my friends, if I may, before we go in to dinner there are some things I must share with your leader.â€Â


A small dramatic pause followed as their host faced Anariel, “Firstly, in thanks for having accepted this mission, my lady wife and I have selected some personal gifts for each of you. We hope these small tokens will help you in your struggles against the enemy. You will find these items awaiting your return to the Weeping Widow. Secondly, my Lady, I am pleased to inform you that I have had messages from your father, Lord Ni ‘Tessine. Better still the messages were delivered by his envoy. A fine man, and by his own words, one special and known to you.†Targo’s commander smiled broadly at the elven maid, his arm encircling his wife’s shoulders.


Lady Elytharra, gowned in a rich dark topaz brocade, smiled at her husband before also addressing Anariel, “He is to return shortly from the inn. I fear we were unable to house him and his escort here at this time. But Butterman promised some of his best rooms for your friend.â€Â


Suddenly anxious about seeing someone from home, Anariel smoothed her braid, and tugged on her newly purchased clothes. With her fighting leathers ruined by the worg, she had been left only her gown to wear.


Not wishing to wear the garment in the snow storm, the elf had opted for a pair of youth’s black leather breeches, topped by a russet colored shirt of softest wool, and a black leather jerkin. The clothes were warm, but hung on her slender frame.


Anariel drew in a deep breath to settle her sudden nervousness. Messages from her father were bad enough, but who is it that delivered them? Lady Ulbrec said the person claimed to be someone special?


There were only two people that her heart held as special; one was beyond the veil, and the other, her youngest brother, would not have been permitted to travel north to see her. Unless, a thought then occurred to Anariel, could her father’s retainer have made the journey?


Kethlon had long been with the family and was more like a trusted family member than a retainer. But would he have claimed to be special to her? Doubt clawed at her insides. Cinching her belt tighter, the maid straightened her shoulders, head held high.


Voices could be heard in the hall. Anariel smiled at the thought of seeing Kethlon. Chewing her lower lip, she wondered if he had brought news of her brothers and sisters.


Then a tall figure stepped into the room, his dark, hooded cloak obscuring his face. The man tugged off his fur trimmed gloves, revealing not the hands of a servant, but rather, the long tapering, manicured fingers of a noble.


“Kethlon?â€Âinquired Anariel, hesitantly, for the figure was too tall. The hands too refined.


Swirling his full, furred cloak in a graceful arc, before capturing it with his arm, the tall figure bowed before those present. He then faced Anariel alone, before bowing again. He rose to his full height, resplendent in a plum colored doublet of a rich velvet.


He smiled warmly at her, “Mae govannen Anariel Peranwyr, nae saian luume,†said Ruach D’irthaear in greeting. Placing his right hand over his heart, he continued,“Cormamin lindua ele lle.â€Â


Anariel froze upon seeing the man before her. As the smile faded, and the words of welcome stuck in her throat, the nearly healed wounds from the worg’s claws became more pronounced, against the pallor of her skin.


The smooth, cultured voice from her past, spread a chill though her blood as no goblin or worg could. Her hand instinctively went to her back, to draw her dagger, but propriety and awareness of others stayed her hand. In a voice something like a strangled growl, she whispered, “You.â€Â


Turning from her shocked expression, the golden elf politely greeted all those remaining, “Please, allow me to introduce myself. I am Lord Ni’Tessine’s Emissary, Ruach D’irthaear.â€Â


His manner was charming, and his etiquette, exact. Tall, handsome, with pale grey eyes, and shoulder length hair, the color of darkened honey, the elf drew everyone in with the warmth of his smile, “I bring tidings from Luskan and Neverwinter.â€Â


What followed was a flurry of polite gestures and words of greeting, as Lord and Lady Ulbrec led their guests into the dinning room. Somehow, Anariel found herself on Ruach’s arm, being escorted toward the dining hall. She fought the strong desire to snatch her hand from Ruach’s arm.


The golden elf leaned his head down toward the maid, “So lirimaer, how do you fair in these northern climes?†Pausing a moment, Ruach glanced down Anariel’s form. “Tell me, has being in this desolate wasteland done away with your sense of decorum? As a paladin’s daughter, you should attire yourself as befits your family.â€Â


Realizing that Lord Ulbrec and his lady wife were right behind them, Anariel thought better of her retort. Nearing the curtained archway to the dining hall, she answered, “I and my company are fairing well, thank-you. As to my, choice of attire, well, even though it is all the rage with the goblins we have been entertaining, I will be sure to pass along your suggestions to my dresser.â€Â


Her smile openly counterfeit, her curtsy exaggerated, she moved away from the elf lord before she gave into the temptation to garrote him with the drapery cording.


Lady Elytharra took charge once everyone had gathered in the dining room. With the ease of an experienced hostess, she saw that everyone sat in their assigned seats. A grave error was discovered when all were seated and Rizdaer was left without a place at the table.


Unruffled by the slight, the dark elf stood aloof and quiet, to the side, and behind Anariel’s chair. Anger warmed the elven maid as she looked at their hosts in askance. Targos’ commander flushed in discomfort at her direct stare. In truth, he wanted for all the world to just send the drow to the kitchens, or better yet, back to the inn.


Seeing this as a slight to his own elven heritage, Diriel also rose from his seat and looked to the commander, a thinly veiled look of disgust on his handsome elven face.


Adding to the company’s solidarity, Valeero and Jaemal quickly rose to their feet. Then, as Peony made to rise to her feet, a delicate cough came from Lady Elytharra, prompting her husband to call for another place setting. The wordless battle won, room was made for Rizdaer, and the party members resumed their seats.


A polite stream of conversation was initiated by Lord and Lady Ulbrec, who sat at either end of the table, as was their due. Lord Nord sat to the elven sorceress’ right, while Valeero sat at her left.


As fate would have it, Anariel was placed in the middle of the table to one side, while Ruach was seated directly across from her. Rizdaer was seated to her right, while Jaemal sat to her left. As soon as everyone took their seats, a wonderful jewel colored wine was served.


As the first course was served, Ruach told of how he, and his men had found themselves tramping cross country in the blinding snow from the mouth of the Shaengarne River northward to reach Targos. “Now I may say that I have traveled as far north as I have southward. But enough of me, shall I give you news from the southlands?â€Â


All at once several names of faraway places were called out to the elven lord. Smiling, he then gladly gave news about the lands to the south of the dales. He touched on matters as far south as Amn with the recent trading skirmishes between Athkatla and Calimport. Then there was the recent marriage of the daughter of Neverwinter’s leader.


He was charmingly polite with Peony’s queries about Silverymoon and laughed as she related one of her shorter stories.


Sipping his wine, he turned toward Valeero, as she asked about the promised troops from Neverwinter. As practiced as any statesman, he gracefully parried Valeero’s questions, side-stepping a definite answer without alienating the Lathander cleric.


From her end of the table Lady Elytharra interjected, “My, I am sure you have proven your worth to Lord Ni’Tessine many times over. My lord husband mentioned that you were formally the paladin’s Field Marshal, and yet you are so very polished and such a poised speaker. Have you considered following in your patron’s footsteps and becoming a diplomat?â€Â


“Madame, you honor me with you flattery,†replied Ruach in a humble manner.


“Oh, but I only speak the truth,†simpered Lady Ulbrec. Turning her attention to Anariel, she continued, “Surely you and your father must often count this young elven lord, a blessing. What with his many skills, and experiences as a soldier, and diplomacy, like so many gem stones in a crown.â€Â


Anariel once thought of Ruach as everything the Lady Ulbrec suggested, and more. To her undying shame, she remembered how she once believed that she loved this man. Then one fateful night, she learned the truth.

Like honey on a thistle, her reply came in a sweet, yet barbed voice, “Oh yes, Master D’irthaear has always been known for his swordplay, his silver tongue, and his stones.â€Â


Finding her sarcasm amusing, Ruach smiled, “As you have experienced in the past, my lirimaer.†When the object of his innuendo flushed, the golden elf felt certain that he still had a hold on her.


Unaware of the many underlying currents, Sir Nord commented from the other end of the table, “So then sir, given your military training, I have a few questions for you about what can be done here at the palisades.â€Â


Ruach artfully directed the conversation about Targos’ battles, allowing for the soldiers to dominate the conversation, as he sipped wine at his ease. Lord Ulbrec and Lord Nord filled the golden elf in on all that had happened in the last sennight with the goblin hordes and the attack on the palisades.


“As soon as we arrived we happened upon a secret tunnel where the buggers were infiltrating the docks,†explained Wind. The knight continued the tale through the day of the latest attack on the palisades.


Ruach’s smile grew tight when he heard of how Anariel had led many of the skirmishes against the goblins. A furrow of concern creased his brow when he learned she had become pinned down by the worg.


Facing the dark haired elf, Ruach addressed her, his tone taking on a gentle, concerned quality, “I wondered at the marks on your face and neck. I fear Anariel, that this will distress your lady mother most grievously,†he sighed heavily.


“Your concern is touching but unnecessary, and you need not tell my mother any of that particular tale,†came Anariel’s terse reply. Softly, with regret, she added, “I have no wish to worry her.â€Â


“Your actions . . .†Ruach said with a pause. “Your actions grieve her. In truth, it was she who begged me to take the assignment to come to you. The sweet woman fears so for you so, and only wishes for her dear child to return home.†There was a slight pause and then, “My sister Naerwen also sends her wishes for your return home.â€Â


Silent, a pale Anariel drained her wine.


Shaking his head, he tried to hold Anariel’s gaze, “I remember, even as a child you always did insist on playing at sword fighting.†One golden brow arched, the smooth voice taking on an edge, “You are no longer a child Anariel, and one of these days, you will find yourself on the wrong end of the the blade, with no one to rescue you.â€Â


As the paladin’s emissary continued his attempt to stare Anariel into submission, Rizdaer leaned closer to the maid, his voice laced with contempt toward the golden elf, “How long has he known you?â€Â


Anger washed across Ruach’s golden features, especially as Anariel flashed a radiant smile to the drow. Choosing to ignore the dark elf, he continued,“Would that you had chosen to remain home where you are most needed, lirimaer. You know it would be best to leave this fight to the men.â€Â


Glancing around the table, as if for added support, the former Field Marshall found the men quiet, while he himself was under the keen scrutiny of four sets of feminine eyes, none of them pleased. Laughing gently, he quickly added, “Please, do not misunderstand me. I admire the deep, quiet strength of the fairer gender. My ladies, I but voice the concern of all decent men for your safety and well being. It is in the male’s nature to shield females from all manner of evil.â€Â


“I take it you have never met a drow female,†quipped Rizdaer.


Cold, pale grey eyes glowered at the drow, but Ruach continued to pointedly ignored the dark elf’s remark.

Glancing over at Diriel instead, he asked, “Tell me Master Druid, from where do you hail?â€Â


Diriel’s reply was ambiguous, if not a little abrupt, “Far to the south.†It was unclear if his bored tone was due to having to endure the celebration, or if he disliked the newcomer. Either way, he continued with his meal in silence, resisting all attempts from either his host or hostess to be drawn out in conversation.


“Ah, the far south. I see, how mysterious of you,†replied Ruach lightly. The golden elf’s smile did not reach his eyes. Lady Elytharra gracefully filled in the silence with polite small talk as the next course was being served. He noticed that Anariel had not eaten much from the first course, and was yet again, receiving another goblet of wine.


“Anariel, should you be drinking so much. You of all people know the trouble it leads to,â€Âcajoled Ruach gently, as if speaking to a child. “I will ask you to please refrain,†he continued as he reached across the table to place a hand on hers.


Jaemal heard the slight hiss from under Anariel’s breath as her father’s envoy touched her hand. Jerking her hand away as if burned, the wine sloshed in her goblet, threatening to spill.


In a quiet, controlled voice, Anariel spoke simply, “Unless your intent is to wear my wine, touch me not again.â€Â


Jaemal shifted slightly, in his mind, the tension in the air nearly crackled as if magic had been cast. In an attempt to distract the golden elf, who was showing marked signs of a scowl, the sorcerer asked, “From whence do you hail Master D’irthaear?â€Â


“I have lived for a time in many places. I lived for a short time in Shadowdale, Waterdeep, and Luskan, but most recently, Neverwinter.â€Â


“Ahhh, a most pleasant city. Filled with such diversity and yet also brimming with culture. Although I must admit, the city of Waterdeep quite won my heart,†Pausing to lift his goblet, the sorcerer intercepted a whisper of a smile, in gratitude, from Anariel. “Tell me sir, if I am may, just what is it you do as the emissary of a paladin? Does it require much traveling?†Warming to a favorite topic, Ruach told of his duties and responsibilities.


An additional course was added to the present one, and still Anariel had eaten very little. Having learned over the last sennight of her partiality for coney, Rizdaer set several small, choice pieces of rabbit on her plate from his.


The dark elf leaned down towards the elven maid, and spoke quietly, for her ears alone. In a gentle voice laced with a light mixture of humor, and concern, he said, “Eat mistress. If only to have strength to thrash the bastard within an inch of his life.â€Â


Having imbibed a little too much wine, Anariel snicker softly at the drow’s words. Feeling the disapproving gaze of her father’s envoy upon her, she turned her attention to her food and thoughtfully brought a piece of meat to her mouth, but it was thoughts of Ruach that she chewed upon. Looking directly at him, she asked, “Master D’irthaear, when did my lord father name you his emissary?


“Why address me so formally dearest sister?†asked Ruach. Upon seeing the undisguised anger in her eyes, he smiled, “Ah lirimaer, your father deemed me worthy, and gave me the honor over a fortnight ago.â€Â


“I am no more your sister, than you have honor,†growled Anariel.


“You forget yourself Anariel Peranwyr. As always you need to learn respect and to curb your tongue,†warned Ruach quietly. “It is these tendencies that led to your elder brother’s death and my sister’s undying grief.â€Â


A few heartbeats passed in silence as grey and green eyes warred. Despite her anger at the elf before her, Anariel felt the ever familiar tendrils of guilt, twist and coil about her heart. She reached for more wine.


Tension filled the growing silence. To cover the discomfort, Valeero politely asked what she thought was a safe question, “I am confused Anar. I thought you said your brothers were younger than yourself.â€Â


“Well, they are, but-â€Â


Without his usual politeness, Ruach spoke over Anariel, “Well I am sure that most of you are aware Anariel’s twin, Lavir. Before he was tragically killed nearly two years ago, he was betrothed to my sister, Naerwen. ‘Twas he that was the eldest. So, you are right priestess, Anariel’s surviving brothers and sisters are all younger.â€Â


The golden elf sipped from his wine goblet, before continuing, “I but call Anariel my sister because, well, aside from knowing her since she was a youth, she is also my younger brother, Sian’s intended. Once they are wed, we shall all be as family,†A slight pause then, “as it should have been.â€Â


Ignoring the stab of guilt, Anariel exclaimed, “Married?†A bark of a laugh nearly choked Anariel,“What illness has affected both you and your brother that you talk of marriage to me?â€Â


A smug smile crossed Ruach’s face,“Ahhh, my lirimaer, you must not be so hard on yourself, using sarcasm to deflect the pain. Given your past mistakes, you should be honored that Sian still wishes to wed you.†He chuckled briefly, “He will not be please with me telling you this, but, when you left, he became so distraught that he settled an agreement straight away with your father.â€Â


Reading the elven maid’s face rightly, Ruach saw the anger building, and set himself to quench it with more guilt. “You must know that Naerwen has forgiven you your part in Lavir’s death, and welcomes you into our family. As do we all. Anariel, it is your father’s wish for the joining of our houses. His letter to you will explain more.â€Â


Self doubt and guilt warred with the desire to scrape the smug smile off Ruach’s face with her dagger. Or better yet, her spoon. But was something of what he said not true? In her selfishness, had she not slain her brother? She shuddered inwardly as she remembered the inconsolable Naerwen, consumed by grief. Remaining trapped in her misgivings, Anariel drained yet another goblet.


Watching her closely, Ruach smiled contentedly. There was a slight tremble in her hands, and the tumult of emotions he saw behind her eyes pleased him. He felt certain that he could, in time, break her willfulness.


The golden elf considered telling Anariel he was under direct instructions from her father to bring her back, willing or no, but decided to wait until they returned to the inn. It may not be wise to speak of taking Anariel back to her father when Lord Ulbrec believed her to be delivering Targos from the goblins.


Glancing back at Anariel, he noticed her openly hostile glare. He smiled.


“Ah, here is our last course,†announced Lady Elytharra. The elven sorceress made a last effort with small talk as dessert was served. Anariel declined the delicacy and accepted another goblet of wine instead.


Stung by her apparent disregard for his earlier warning, Ruach grabbed hold of Anariel’s wine goblet, “You forget yourself Anariel. I asked you to refrain from drinking any more wine.â€Â


A dangerous glitter flitted in Anariel’s eyes, belying her contrite words, “You are so right . . . here, take it from me.†With a quick turn of her wrist, the wine splashed the golden elf’s brocade doublet.â€Â


“Oops . . .â€Â


A split second of silence was followed by muffled snickers. Hiding behind strategically placed hands, those present were beset by the unmitigated nerve to laugh. All though not joining the mirth, Diriel gave the elven maid a small smile, and a nod of approval.


Even Lord and Lady Ulbrec seemed to be having difficulty keeping a straight face, “Oh dear, poor man, mi’lord, accidents will happen. Would you care for a cloth?â€Â


Taking the proffered cloth from Lady Elytharra, Ruach dabbed at his face and clothes. Glaring pointedly at Anariel, he sighed wearily, disapproval and censure heavy in his voice, “I had hoped that you would have stop behaving like a child. But I see Sian will have his work cut out for him.â€Â


“Cretok shu,†growled Anariel as she hiccuped loudly. Fortunately for her, no present knew what she had said, except for Rizdaer.


As it was, the dark elf nearly choked on his wine as he laughed out loud. Only today his mistress had asked him to teach her some of the more choice drow phrases. This one had been one of the easier ones to learn. The simplest, most direct translations was, orc shit.


Some of the golden elf’s mask cracked at the edges, as his cold eyes glittered dangerously. Although he did not understand drow, Ruach was a smart enough to know he was being disrespected. Anariel needed to be put in her place, and if Sian could not handle the task, then he would gladly tame her.


As for the drow, well, it rankled his sense of personal honor to be laughed at, particularly by someone as inferior as the dark elf. Before he left Targos, the golden elf promised himself the pleasure of killing the drow. That thought brought a genuine smile to his handsome face.


Finally, the meal came to an end. Leading the way to the main hall, the hosts saw that everyone was properly cloaked and bundled up against the frigid weather out of doors. Several guards were to lead the company, carrying lamps suspended on poles. As they gathered at the door to leave, it was determined that Ruach would follow them back to the inn shortly, as he had military dispatches from Neverwinter to deliver personally to Lord Ulbrec.


Rizdaer and Anariel were some of the last to depart. Unobserved by anyone, the drow glanced back across at Ruach. The golden elf was watching Anariel as she was fumbling with her cloak. Rizdaer had seen that look often in the eyes of his people, one of ruthlessness, and secret hatred. Oh yes, surface dwellers were no better than drow.



As the company made its way to the inn, the snow continued to fall, thick, wet, and heavy. Two soldiers lead the small troupe, their lanterns swinging wildly in the cold, bitter wind.


Placing himself behind the soldiers, Diriel took up the lead to guide the little band onward. Nord, after adjusting his cloak’s furred collar, reached down, and deftly picked up the rock gnome. With a chuckle, he set Peony on Jaemal’s back. The knight then proffered his arm to the cleric as they trudged forward. Anariel closely followed, Rizdaer trailing just behind her. The wind howled.


What seemed like an hour pasted by as the party made their way to the inn. Struggling at the rear of the party, Anariel found the wind to be a mighty adversary.

As it tried to knock her down, or push her over the cliff, she fought to stay upright and walk forward. Her weaving steps did little to aid her against the wind and icy terrain. Hampered by too much wine, wind, and exhaustion, she continued to lag further, and further behind her companions.


Rizdaer watched Anariel as she continued to struggle. He knew it was inevitable that she would trip, fall, or slip. She was often times clumsy when sober, he shook his head at the thought of her inebriated. So it was that Rizdaer had wisely kept several paces behind the elven maid.


Finally, her ungainly steps got the better of her. Stumbling, slipping on the frozen ground, her arms flailing like pinwheels. Pulling up short, her back came into solid contact with the hard, unyielding surface of the drow’s chest.


A strong, leather clad arm wrapped about her waist, and held her securely against him. Lowering his head, Rizdaer spoke into elven maid’s ear. Laced with a touch of gentle sarcasm, he said,“Careful my graceful jabbress. Come, let us get you inside where you will be safe.â€Â


“Safe,†Anariel parroted, her speech slightly impaired. She shivered from the chill wind, and snuggled closer to the drow. Rizdaer kept an arm around her waist, tucking her even closer to his side, as they continued to walk toward the inn. It made her feel secure, and oddly comforted. A scattered thought took root in her brain. With the help of the wine, it made her laugh out loud, “How odd.â€Â


“What is odd, my mistress?†A small smirk teased his mouth as he listened to her slurred words.


“You are illl . . . ilythiiri, a drow,†replied Anariel.


“This should come as no surprise to you mistress, and yet you find it, odd?†queried the dark elf.


“No, no, no, you have it all wrong, how do you say it? My friend? Ussta abbil?†Pausing, she patted Rizdaer’s arm that looped about her waist, “I will explain. You sssee, you are from a people known for their cruelty and evil ways. It is odd that I feel ssafer with you, a warrior of the drow, than one of my own. Why are people so blind? They see you as evil, all dark, but he is the one, the golden one. They see only that he is tall, handsome, and charming, but he iss the evil one.â€Â


Anariel stopped suddenly, forcing Rizdaer to do the same. Looking up at the drow she said, clearly, seriously “Sleep with your weapons close, Riz.â€Â


“I always do mistress, I always do,†came the soft reply.




Next Chapter to Follow Shortly (I hope;)






Saesa omentien lle = Pleasure meeting you

Mae govannen Nae saian luume’ =Well met, it has been too long

Cormamin lindua ele lle = My heart sings to see thee

lirimaer = lovely one



kyone, ussta suliss’urn jabbress = careful my graceful mistress

cretok shu = orc shit

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