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celticrose

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  1. I have the feeling that Jaheira and Aklon would have some interesting conversations . . . fun to ease-drop on May the Muses bless your efforts this new year! CelticRose
  2. Thank-you for your encouraging post! I fear I have been neglecting our intrepid little band of adventurers as life has been quite chaotic the last month or so, but now that things have settled down a bit in real life, I hope to pick the treads back up and continue writing. Boy, that was one long, run-on sentence! lol. Again, thank-you for your comment and for reading along, CelticRose
  3. Real life does put a damper on things. But glad to know you are still plugging along. Hope you backed up all your hard work before your hard-drive started to die. When you find you need a pick-me for you, or your muses, just whistle. Glad to be of help. CelticRose P.S. Lá Fhéile Pádraig (Happy St Patrick's Day) :p
  4. 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?†“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?†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?†“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.†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.†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.†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.†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.†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.†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.†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.†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?†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?†“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.†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.†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.†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.†“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.†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.†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?†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.†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.†“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?†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.†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?†“I have lived for a time in many places. I lived for a short time in Shadowdale, Waterdeep, and Luskan, but most recently, Neverwinter.†“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.†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.†“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.†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.†“Well, they are, but-†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.†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.†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?†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.†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.†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.†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.†“Oops . . .†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?†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.†“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.†“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.†“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.†Anariel stopped suddenly, forcing Rizdaer to do the same. Looking up at the drow she said, clearly, seriously “Sleep with your weapons close, Riz.†“I always do mistress, I always do,†came the soft reply. ********************* Next Chapter to Follow Shortly (I hope;) ******************** Elven: 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 Drow: kyone, ussta suliss’urn jabbress = careful my graceful mistress cretok shu = orc shit
  5. 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.†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?†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.†Puzzlement apparent on his grizzled, worn face, Nord replied, “Come again?†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.†A growl came from Nord, “Bugger that! Why you arrogant-†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!†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.†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.†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.†“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.†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.†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.†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!†“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!†“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?†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 . . .†“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?†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-†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.†Jaemal’s response was mingled with soft laughter, “Dear lady, if I may quote Mistress Peony, no worries.†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!†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?†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.†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.†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.†“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!†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.†“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 . . .†********************** 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.†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.†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.†“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.†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-†A singe word rang out, clear as a striking bell, “Enough!†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.†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.†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.†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.†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.†“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.†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?†“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)
  6. LOL, no, I know, I shouldn't laugh, really I am not laughing at your misery, but the idea of nauseated muses in a sugar induced coma is not a pretty sight. Kinda like drunk fairies or brownies . . . oh my, what a mess! In all honest empathy Yuwakusha, I hope you are recovered. Maybe next time, chicken soup? Thanks for the input on the gender of muses C.R.
  7. Okay, here's a question . . . Are muses female or male? I ask because chocolate almost always works on females. (I can say this because I am one, and it definitely works on me; okay, I am not a muse, but I have the female part down pat, ) I have heard a rumor that muses like honey, so if chocolate is out, honey cake? Either way, here's hoping that BigRob can tame RL and charm his muses!
  8. 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.†“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 . . .†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.†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?†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.†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.†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.†“But what of the others,†asked the elf. Well,†continued Jaemal. “Peony was injured when-â€Â Anariel started to rise up, “Injured?†“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.†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.†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?†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.†“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.†“I tire of your ignorance. Die then you bigoted fools,†said Rizdaer with a sneer. “For I shall not be taken easily.†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?†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.†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.†“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.†“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.†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?†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?†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.†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.†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?†“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?†“Let me ask you this Sergeant,†began Shawford. “Where have you been this past sennight?†“Why, I have been on guard duty at the Northeast gate, Captain. ‘Twas yourself that placed me there.†“Have ye been both deaf and blind then Fletcher?†“Sir?†“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.†“But sir, I-†“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.†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.†“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?†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.†Jaemal, still blocking the soldier’s escape, added quietly, “Only if I decide to share.†Fletcher swallowed again, then stammered, “I must carry out the Captain’s orders, let me by.†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.†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.†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.†“What question are you referring to mistress,†asked the drow. “Are you grateful? For being apart of the party I mean.†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?†“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.†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.†Anariel sighed, “Well, one step at a time I suppose. I shall have to see that you become use to fair words.†“I shall give it my best try, mistress.†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
  9. The Flu? Or the [cough-cough], flu?? Here's hoping you get some good solid time to devote to your writing without a fever, chills, or nausea . . . although you are writing for Edwin CelticRose
  10. 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.†“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.†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.†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-†“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.†“Wonder if its about the tab,†suggested Blanchard Pike. “Gohar sure is gettin’ heavy handed.†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?†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.†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?†“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.†“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-†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.†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.†“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.†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?†“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.†“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?†“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! †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?†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?†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.†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?†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?†“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 . . .†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
  11. Quietly visits site to see if there has been any mention of progress . . . then leaves a bowl of milk & honey soaked bread for muses. Oh, and some cookies for BigRob. C.R.
  12. Thank-you for reading along and taking the time to comment. It really helps out alot to keep me going and on track. Hope to hear from you again, CelticRose
  13. With all the numerous name generators online, and other name references available, why on earth would someone choose a name so close to BibRob's character. Silly person. Maybe he is from Ohio . . . not that Ohio is silly, but . . . ya know, Akron, Ohio. Never mind . . . [Go ahead and groan everyone, it is just my strange sense of humor] C.R.
  14. 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?†Peony giggled, “Nah, you silly man, it’s called a snow angel. Come on, you should try it! Its fun!†Laughing despite herself, Anariel shook her head at the gnome,“Of all the craziest things, you take the cake Peony. You know if-†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.†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.†“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?†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?†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?†Jaemal’s face colored, “Just leave her be, and I will take not a sand grain of interest in what you have to say.†“I cannot do this. I am hers.†“She does not wish that!†A silver-white brow arched, “Since when are you speaking for my Mistress?†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.†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.†Anariel smiled up at Jaemal, and gave his arm a gentle squeezed, “My thanks dear sorcerer. I appreciate your confidence in me.†Beaming with pleasure, the sorcerer returned the elven maid’s smile, patting her hand, “Tis naught but the truth.†“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?†“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.†“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.†“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.†“My lady . . .†“Good night Jaemal.†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.†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?
  15. I too have had this problem, and I did/do have Nord in my party. Is the custom robe to be found among the initiates that you take the robes from? C.R.
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