Disclaimer: The world of the Forgotten Realms is not owned by me.
NSFW Warning: None.
Like a thread fed expertly through the head of a needle, Jherek stole through the backstreets of Baldur’s Gate. His course taking him ever nearer to the city’s slums, and his ultimate destination that night.
Despite his time away from the city, the Harper Master was sure-footed on his path, a perfect mental map of the city etched securely in his mind.
He kept to the shadows as he moved, careful to avoid the odd patrol of watchmen, their halberds resting lazily upon their shoulders as they strolled, torches aloft but their demeanor suggesting their comfort in the security of their station.
It really had been a stroke of genius on the behalf of Duke Belt to form The Watch as he had, Jherek mused. By filling their ranks with members of the common and craftsman classes, the Duke had all but ensured their respect within the city. After all, they were the city, and though their ranks were no doubt rife with corruption their dishonesty, in a way, kept them honest for they were all dishonest. Likewise, no one within the city truly wanted the return of the firm, uncaring hand of the Flaming Fist patrolling their streets. Foreign mercenaries who cared not if a loosed arrow killed the intended criminal or the baker’s daughter. At least that’s how the people saw it.
Stepping lightly through a dark alleyway that smelled strongly of piss and rot, Jherek arrived at his destination. A small yard stretched now before the Harper at the far end of which stood a small, rundown cottage of wood and thatch. No light shown in its windows and no smoke rose from its dilapidated chimney, but Jherek knew the one he sought resided within. Glancing furtively to and fro, he padded lightly across the muddy yard to the cottage’s door. Drawing himself up close to the structure’s wall, the Harper rapped smartly on the swollen planks. Ensuring his hood was drawn to obscure his features, he awaited the portal’s opening.
Within the cottage, a flicker of light could be discerned through the heavy shutters that covered the windows, and Jherek heard the soft shuffling of unsteady feet crossing the room within. In short order, a small peephole set into the door slid open and a pair of beady black eyes peered forth, framed by shaggy locks of greasy, black hair. Pushing his face close to the peephole, Jherek lifted a gloved hand and snapped his fingers, conjuring a small flame upon their tips to illuminate his features. The beady eyes widened momentarily and a rasped gasp uttered the single phrase, “Jherek!” Before the peephole was slid closed and a multitude of locks could be heard opening within.
Once the myriad of safeguards had been cleared from the door, it opened to reveal a short, frail-looking man with an uncomfortably rat-like appearance. He wore ragged clothing and held a small candle aloft in one hand. As soon as he opened the door, the man stood aside, allowing the Harper to sweep into the dingy space within. Once Jherek was inside, the man hastily closed the door and set about resetting the numerous locks once more.
“I take it that it was not I whom you were expecting to see this night, Lortimer,” Jherek said, removing his hood and seating himself at the man’s small dining table.
“I don’t think anyone in the city of Baldur’s Gate would expect Jherek, the long lost Harper Master, to turn up on their doorstep this night,” Lortimer replied wheezily and ruefully. “This night or any other for that matter given your long absence.”
Jherek did not reply to the man’s statement and so he busied himself with lighting a number of other candles around the small room and digging in a cupboard before producing a cloudy bottle of amber liquid and a pair of stained glasses. Seating himself opposite the Harper, he poured a small amount of the liquid in either glass and slid one to Jherek.
The Harper accepted the offered drink, slowly lifting it to his lips whilst also watching the other man closely. Lortimer, for his part, drank his down in a single gulp, eyes closed, a look of bliss on his life-ravaged features.
“I see that you haven’t changed, old friend,” Jherek said, sipping his own beverage.
Lortimer looked at him reproachfully, pouring himself another.
“I don’t like change,” he said. “Nor judgment for that matter.”
Setting his glass back down on the tabletop, Jherek shook his head.
“I meant it not as judgment, old friend, but rather comfort,” he said. “It is good to know that the world has not shifted terribly in my absence.”
“Stagnated more like, leastways as far as your ilk go.”
“Which brings me to my purpose here this night..”
“You wish to know what your Harpers have been up to since you left,” Lortimer surmised, sipping his drink and squinting at Jherek closely over the brim. When Jherek did not immediately reply he continued. “One may wonder why you didn’t go to them direct, they being your people and all.”
“One’s wonders are of little concern of mine,” Jherek grumbled.
“Then why come to me, Jherek?” Lortimer inquired. “Why not Ethon? He has more contact with them than I.”
“You’ve answered your own question, Lortimer.”
“Ah, so I have. If you are trying to avoid them knowing of your return I do hope you were exceedingly stealthy in your entrance to the city, otherwise, I guarantee they already know.”
“I am not trying to hide from my people, Lortimer,” Jherek said tiredly, rubbing a hand over his face. “Nor do I have the patience for your pestering.”
Lortimer sighed. Pouring more liquid into his glass he asked, “What do you want to know?”
“What has occurred within the city in recent days? Any newcomers causing mischief? Any new guilds?”
Lortimer arched an almost nonexistent brow at him. “You’re still chasing him aren’t you, Jherek,” he said incredulously.
“Nay, I will not help you,” the worn man waved his hand in Jherek’s direction dismissively. “You leave on his trail nigh a decade past and now return looking as though you’ve passed through at least four of the seven hells. You enter the city and come to me rather than your people to inquire further of the whereabouts of the man you left in the first place to pursue!”
“Lortimer, I said nothing of Kharne,” Jherek said with forced calm.
“You don’t have to, Jherek. I know you, we all know you. We all care about you…she cares about you…”
The narrowing of the Harper’s eyes told Lortimer he had gone too far and so the little man deflated, averted his gaze to the contents of his glass.
“You speak of things not your concern,” Jherek began, visibly seeking restraint.
Lortimer remained deflated for a moment, his breathing heavy, then he took a deep swig of liquor, grimaced, then nodded.
“You’re right, Jherek, it’s none of my concern but I warn you,” he raised his gaze to lock it with that of the man across from him. “It is theirs. You left, they closed ranks. You are the outsider now, and you did more damage than you know when you walked out that gate.”
“I am still the Harper Master of Baldur’s Gate.”
“You are a specter, Jherek, just look at yourself!”
Leaving his unfinished glass on the table, the Harper rose. “I see that I will get no assistance here,” he said, turning on his heel and making for the door.
“You’re a good man, Jherek,” Lortimer spoke in defeated tones as the Harper worked on his multitude of locks.
Finishing with the locks, it was the Harper Master’s turn to deflate slightly. Half turning, he said, “I am no longer a man, Lortimer.” Before lifting his hood, wrenching open the door, and departing swiftly into the night.
* * * *
The guardswoman, Seara sat alone in the armory of the guard tower opposite that in which her commander had, just moments before, met with Jherek. Her blade taken from her, her fate within the guardforce unknown, she sat with her head in her hands, her mind reeling from the night’s events.
Presently, the door to the armory swung open to emit Captian Emilia Jannath who strode in, a look of concern etched into her normally stoic features.
Seara glanced up and immediately stood to attention, her chair clattering to the floor behind her.
The captain regarded her evenly for a moment before closing the door slowly behind herself. Turning from the door, she glanced about to make sure they were alone. Seara kept her eyes fixed on the ceiling above them, her body rigid, as her captain moved to the stairs to ensure no one was eavesdropping.
Her inspection complete to her satisfaction, Emilia strode across the room, her soldierly demeanor evaporating as she neared the other woman.
“Seara, are you okay?” she implored as she approached, arms outstretched, fully meaning to embrace the half-elf. When the guardswoman remained rigid, however, she checked herself. Withdrawing slightly, her arms lowered, she said, “you have nothing to fear, Seara. You did nothing wrong. Kullik is your superior, his actions are unacceptable and you are not to blame for what happened.”
The guardswoman remained stoic, though her mouth contorted as if she wished to speak but some line of thought was impeding her.
Taking a further step back, Emilia adopted once more the demeanor of an officer.
“What is your issue soldier?” She spoke officially, though it visibly pained her to do so. “Speak freely.”
Seara’s gaze dropped to her captain’s, and Emilia saw that her eyes brimmed with tears, though when she spoke her voice was steady.
“I wish to recount my version of the events of this evening, Captain,” she said.
Emilia, though visibly confused, nodded, bidding the guardswoman sit whilst she pulled up another chair across from her.
Once they were seated a bit of Seara’s stoicism dropped and Emilia glimpsed to turmoil within her.
“The interloper goaded Kullik, ma’am,” the half-elf began. “My guess is that he used some magic or some such to enrage him. Made him take leave of his senses.”
Emilia eyed the guardswoman skeptically.
“Why are you defending Kullik, Private? He is a mediocre guardsman at best, having risen through the ranks only through tenure, not worth of deed. It was mere happenstance that the two of you were assigned to the gate this night. Your allegiance is to the city over all. Why risk a reprimand for one who would do no such thing for you?”
“He is my Sargeant, Captain,” Seara said incredulously. “We have each other’s backs at all costs. Why would I speak out against him for the sake of a vagabond? Why should I receive special treatment? Because you and I are..?”
“Lovers?” Emilia demanded cooly. “I would not have guessed such was the case given your reaction to me just now.”
“You are my Captain, Emilia…” Seara spoke desperately.
“And Kullik your Sargeant, yes,” the Captain retained her cool tone. Giving the half-elf and long, hard look, Emilia shook her head and stood.
“I am indeed your Captain, Seara, and while I respect your loyalty to your fellow guardsman, I declare it misplaced. Kullik was drunk this evening, as he has been in the past. Knowing you I cannot believe you to be ignorant of this fact, and given your defense of him, I must hold you complicit. He is relieved of his rank and his blade and armor have been surrendered, be wary lest yours is demanded as well.”
“But Emilia, he has…”
“Children? I know, and that’s Captain Emilia to you, Private. His dismissal was on the order of the Commander, though I agree fully with his decision.”
“Captain Emilia, Private.”
“I will confer with the Commander as to your punishment, thank you, Private.”
With that, the Guard Captain turned on her heel and departed, ensuring to secure the door to the armory behind herself, leaving Seara to stare, crestfallen, in her wake.
* * * *
In the predawn hours, Jaryn Moorstrider departed the Friendly Arm Inn, maneuvering Sundril southwards along the Coastway, towards Beregost. None bore witness to his departure, save those guardsmen upon the gatehouse and curtain wall. All others within the keep yet slept, blissfully unknowledgeable of the trials to come, all save Tyma Mirrorshade who lay awake bed, her gaze transfixed on the ceiling above her as her husband snored contently beside her.
While he rode, Jaryn carried with him a heavy heart. One filled with the words the priestess had spoken to him upon him reaching the Inn. Words that all but ensured he would bring destruction to their home. He who sought naught but the security of the Sword Coast would be complicit in one of it’s greatest institutions downfalls.
Not one to play the puppet of fate, he could easily dismiss such prophetic words as merely the machinations of divine beings in the lives of mortals. Something all too common in Faerun. Somehow, however, those words spoken by one as earnest as Tyma, and granted by a god as focused upon the well being of his worshippers as Garl Glittergold, held more weight for the Ranger. Riding now from the Inn’s gates, he couldn’t help but look back in worry before pressing onward, head bowed against the sky’s onslaught.
* * * *
The sun would have been cresting the eastern horizon had not the cloud cover impeded its ascent when Rendrick once more approached the dell in which the Amnian caravan camped.
He was alerted that something was amiss by the level of activity within the camp as he drew near, and so chose to slip past the guardsmen at watch rather than make his presence known just yet.
Keeping low, he passed between the posts of two sentries, their attention on the proceedings within the dell, and expertly scaled the trunk of a massive oak, its growth twisted so that it bent over the cavity below, allowing him the perfect vantage point to what lay within.
Raised voices drifted up to the ranger’s position and he crept further out onto a sturdy branch to gain a better view. Below him, it seemed as though the caravan was making ready to head out with merchants and guardsmen hurrying to pack wagons and secure beasts of burden to their yokes. At the camp’s center lay the handful of wounded from the night before being tended to by Tiberius and Katarina. There were ten who lay prostrate upon bedrolls which gave the ranger hope that there had been no further attacks since his departure the previous night. Any elated feelings, however, were quickly quashed when the nature of the argument unfolding between Keira, Mellick, Publio, and Edwin, who stood over the wounded, made itself known.
“We await the Ranger, as I have said again and again since this idiotic notion that we should abandon the wounded first entered your mind!” Keira said, loudly and with strained calm.
“We know not whether he will even return, and if so, when,” Edwin drawled disdainfully. “You were hired to protect this caravan, Captain, the caravan is leaving, are you suggesting that you are abandoning the contract which you signed in Amn?”
“I agree with Edwin,” Publio declared loudly. “These goods must reach Baldur’s Gate. If the attack which occurred last night is an indication that your ranger was correct in his assumption that we are being hunted then that is all the more reason to hurry onwards!”
“And abandon our wounded to a sure fate!?” Mellick bellowed back, his mustache flaring. “These men and women were hired to protect you and this is how you repay them?”
“Nothing wrong with trimming the fat of the clearly incompetent,” Edwin sneered prompting Mellick to take a step towards him and Keira moved to restrain him.
“Perhaps we should hear what the ranger has to say!” Katarina called and Rendrick was shocked to find her staring straight at his hiding spot. Without any time to try and fathom how the young woman had known he was there, Rendrick leapt free of his branch, somersaulted as he fell, and landed beside the wounded. Rolling to absorb the force of the drop, he came up nimbly beside Keira and Mellick.
For her part, Keira’s face lit up at the sight of him and moved to face him fully.
“Were you successful?” She asked.
“I was,” he nodded, moving to crouch beside Tiberius at the closest of the wounded’s side. Reaching into a pouch tied to his hip, the ranger produced a small handful of crumpled mushrooms. “I will need some time to brew a tea from these but it will help negate the poison’s effects.”
“How long before they can resume travel?” Publio asked.
“On foot, a day, but if we can load them on the wagons they should be fine until we reach Beregost once more.”
“Beregost!?” The merchant was shocked. “My good man that lies in the opposite direction from where we are headed.”
“The Friendly Arm Inn then,” Trotter growled in annoyance. “Unless you are suggesting that we leave them here.”
“That is exactly what he is suggesting,” Mellick grumbled, glaring at the merchant.
In response to the mercenaries’ glare, Publio puffed out his chest and declared, “the caravan is leaving. Those who wish to continue traveling onward to Baldur’s Gate can do so with it. Otherwise, stay here and mewl over those who did not have the wit to protect themselves.”
“They were hurt protecting you!” Mellick shouted, jabbing a finger at the pudgy merchant.
“Father!” Katarina cried, standing. “How can you be so heartless.”
“Come away, Katarina,” the merchant said, turning and striding away, Edwin in his wake. “I have humored you thus far by allowing you to play nursemaid but no more! Come now! Return to the wagon, we are leaving!”
The young woman stared after her father in confused anger and seemed as though she meant to defy him until Keira stepped forward to intervene.
“Go with him,” she urged the younger woman.
“But Trotter must make the tea!” Katarina insisted.
“He will,” the Mercenary Captain assured her. “Now go.”
The young woman spared Trotter and Tiberius another glance, they both nodded their assent, before padding off after her father.
“How much time do you need to brew that tea, Ranger?” Keira asked.
“Shouldn’t be more than an hour to seep and administer,” was his reply.
“I can get you that,” she smirked. “Mellick, stay with our men.”
“Yes ma’am, but…” Her second began but she waved him off, striding away after Publio, Edwin, and Katarina. Grabbing an ax they’d used to chop wood the night before as she did.
“I believe I have said repeatedly during the course of this venture,” she called as she approached them beside their wagon and they turned as one to regard her. She strode among them, planting herself directly behind the rearmost wheel of Percin’s wagon. “That I am in command here,” she finished, heaving the ax over her head and bringing it down hard upon the wheel’s side.
“Have you gone mad, Captain!?” Percin wailed as Edwin’s hands began to crackle with flames.
“I wouldn’t, Wizard!” Rendrick called, now approaching the group, his bow raised, an arrow leveled at the Red Wizard’s breast.
As Rendrick and Edwin glared at one another balefully, Publio watched in horror, Katarina with as mixture of surprise and glee, as Keira split the wheel of the merchant’s wagon in twain.
By now the entire camp was watching as Keira stepped back, allowing the ax to drop as she caught her breath. She allowed her gaze to fall on each person standing before her in turn before rotating and hailing a pair of her guardsmen standing near at hand.
“Aid Mister Publio in repairing his wheel, lads!” She called to them, before beginning to walk away.
“This will not go well for you, Captain,” the fat merchant said darkly in her wake but she ignored him, moving instead to rejoin Tiberius and Mellick with the wounded. As she passed Rendrick, she laid a firm hand on his arm, guiding his arrow to point once more at the dirt.
“I think you and that man have a reconning coming,” she murmured to him, her mouth close to his ear. “But first, how about seeing to my men?”
Tearing his gaze from that of the Red Wizard, Trotter met her instead. Immediately relaxing the tension on his bowstring, he nodded and turned to follow her back to the wounded.