Forgotten Realms & Highlander: The Series crossover
It took me twenty-one days to make the trip from just outside Mithril Hall to Silverymoon on my own since I had to take a slightly indirect route to keep from getting lost.
Once the city walls came into sight, I stopped and worked on changing my appearance. I'd grown a mustache and beard over the previous couple months, so that altered the lines of my face. Changing my cloak clasp to the plain one, I removed that easily identifiable accessory. Pulling a baggy shirt over my armor and moving my sword around to the other hip, I completed my "disguise".
The guards at the gate I approached didn't bat an eye at me. "Name and reason for entering Silverymoon?" asked the bored watch leader.
"Hale," I answered, giving the name of one of the other characters I'd played so long ago. "I'm here for supplies before moving on."
He nodded without paying much attention, waving me through.
[That was easy.]
What, you WANTED them to recognize you? Flick asked.
[No, of course not.]
Then why are you disappointed?
I thought about it before answering, [I guess I'm disappointed that they didn't recognize me.]
You and your ego, he grumbled as I headed toward the castle.
I had made it to the guard post in front of the castle during my conversation with my sentient dagger. "Can I help you?" asked the slightly more alert guard.
"Is Lady Alustriel here?" I asked.
He nodded hesitantly, leaning casually on his halberd.
"I would like an audience then, please."
He took in my dusty and slightly unkempt appearance before asking with slight contempt, "Name?"
"Theodore," I answered calmly.
"Reason for requested audience?"
I shook my head. "She'll know my name."
His face fell into a slight frown. "I can't be interrupting her Ladyship for anyone showing up on her doorstep demanding to see her," he said tightly.
Looking at him condescendingly, I said, "Look, just ask her if she would like an audience with Theodore. I'll abide by her decision without question. If you don't go along and do that, I'll take the matter up with Armsmaster Starkin. Your choice."
His eyes narrowed at the implied threat. "Stay here," he answered grudgingly before disappearing inside.
He was back in less than a minute. "Go right in, sir," he said without looking at me.
"Thank you," I said politely before I walked past him. No sense beating on some poor guard that was just trying a little too hard to do his job. The additional guard at the door to the audience room just nodded to me as I walked past.
"Ted!" greeted Alustriel as I entered the room. She hugged me shortly before waving me to a chair. She spoke with the guard outside for a moment before pulling the door shut. "Welcome back," she said, crossing the space between us. "That beard looks particularly rakish on you; I like it. Did you have a nice trip?"
I blushed and laughed at her rapid fire questions and comments as I seated myself. "It's nice to be back. Thank you for the compliment, Lady, though I grew it to disguise myself instead of becoming 'rakish,' as you put it."
"Either way, it does," she stated with a smile as she sat down near me.
I blushed a little more before moving on. "Yes, I had a good trip. Armorer Bracer produced a suit of mithril chain for me, as you apparently requested."
She smiled and nodded. "It was the least I could do."
I refused to get into that argument with her again. "Thank you. It is a wonderful suit of armor." I leaned back and laced my fingers. "You asked that I come back?"
She nodded again. "Yes. Kith Stormbow is in town. I wish to talk with her about you."
I frowned in confusion. "Why?"
"In order to get you a job," she answered.
I sighed. "Thank you again, but you don't need to do that."
She waved it off. "It is no trouble. I do a great deal of business with the Stormbow Merchants."
The door opened quietly and Armsmaster Starkin entered. He closed the door behind himself before coming to a loose 'attention' stance. He studied me for a moment before nodding. "Welcome back, Knight Thian," he greeted.
I groaned. "I thought my disguise was better than that."
He smiled slightly. "I knew you would be back into town about now. When I was summoned, I suspected you'd be here."
Mollified, I nodded. "How've you been, Armsmaster?"
"Well enough," he shrugged. A slight grin appeared before he added, "Though I wish I HAD been promoted two months ago as planned. Now I have to find someone else to become Armsmaster before I can."
"Hey, blame those assassins, not me," I objected with a grin.
Alustriel interrupted our banter. "Armsmaster, please arrange a meeting with Kith and Survan Stormbow. Early tomorrow if this even is not convenient. You will be able to contact them through 'Storm Tales', of course."
"Carith as well if she wishes to come," I added.
At Alustriel's confirming nod, he spun on his heel and left.
Alustriel stood and waved me along. "Let us get a room for you, Thian. Might I suggest a bath?" she asked delicately.
I laughed. "A little dusty, am I?" I asked with a grin.
"Among other things," she acknowledged, opening the door. Addressing the guard, she said, "Please take Theodore to one of the guest rooms." Turning back to me, she said, "I will call for you when I know the time of the meeting. Make yourself comfortable until then."
A guard led me to the audience room the next morning. I found five people sitting there. Carith was sitting with two other elves, and Fredegar Rockcrusher was seated beside the desk that Alustriel was sitting behind.
Approaching, I smiled timidly at Carith. "Hi, Car," I said.
Standing, she studied me before she smiled back. "Thi," she sighed, pulling me into a tight hug.
"Thi?" asked the male elf. "This is the Knight Thian that you told us about, Carith? I thought he died protecting Lady Alustriel months ago."
Alustriel waved at the female then male elves. "Thian, I would like to introduce you to Kith and Survan Stormbow, sister and cousin respectively to Carith. You remember Fret, of course," she continued, indicating the dwarf.
I nodded to the tidy dwarf before taking the remaining seat next to Carith, who only released me from the hug but kept one of my hands. I studied the other two elves. Survan had the typical elven features of fine brown hair and thin frame hidden in a robe. Kith was slightly taller at five foot three or so, jet black hair, and unusually dusky skin. Her facial features were similar to Carith's, proving the family connection. Her outfit was close to something one of the Knights would wear, including excellent chain mail with a green tint, bracers, a saber on one hip, dagger on the other, and a long bow propped against her chair.
"You died?" repeated Survan, still staring at me.
"Obviously not," replied Kith dryly. Even with the sarcasm lacing it, the voice was still the typically melodic elven accent that I so loved to listen to.
Alustriel shook her head. "No, Survan is correct. Thian died two months ago, just not permanently. He is from another world, and his people call themselves Immortal."
I sighed. More people who knew my secret. Well, no helping it now. Besides, I doubted elves would be a problem. They lived centuries naturally anyway.
"Immortal?" asked Survan in continuing astonishment. Kith merely raised an eyebrow.
Taking a deep breath, Alustriel launched into an explanation of who and what I was. By the time she wound down, I was the uncomfortable focus of four sets of intense scrutiny. Carith was hearing the whole story for the first time, and even Rockcrusher was surprised by a great deal of it.
"Immortal," said Kith in a thoughtful frown.
I nodded calmly.
"Forgive me, but why are you telling us this?" asked Survan of Alustriel without tearing his gaze from me.
"You are under no obligation from me, but I would suggest that he join your group as a man-at-arms."
Kith's eyebrows shot up. Staring at Alustriel for a few moments before returning her gaze to me, she asked, "What are your qualifications?"
Alustriel continued answering, "He had been a Knight in Silver for a year. Before the attack, I offered him the position of Armsmaster." Rockcrusher's and Survan's eyebrows rose at that. "I have several letters of recommendation from visiting dignitaries whom he guarded while in town," Alustriel continued as Rockcrusher gathered a few pages from the desktop and handed them to Kith.
As she read and passed them over to Survan one at a time, I turned to Alustriel. "Letters of recommendation? I didn't even LIKE some of them."
She laughed, a high, musical sound. "You do not have to like them, Thian, just guard them adequately and be diplomatic with them." She turned back to Kith and added, "Finally, he saved my life the night of the attack, as you apparently heard."
After finishing with the letters, Kith studied me silently for a few more moments before saying, "My sister Carith told me about that night in 'Storm Tales' as well. What equipment would we need to provide for you?"
"Nothing but a mount," I answered her. Turning to Survan, I held out my hand and asked, "May I read those?"
One of Kith's eyebrows went back up. "You can read?"
I nodded absently. "My world believes in a great deal of formal education," I mumbled as I began reading. I found letters from almost half the people I recalled guarding over the past year. Most of the letters were pleasantly flattering, and one or two were downright embarrassing in their praise.
After I handed the letters back to Rockcrusher, I turned to Kith to find her nodding slowly. "Very well. I offer you a temporary position as guard for us. We will provide you the mount, meals, lodging when in town, and two lions per week, payable upon request. In six months, we'll see how it is working out. We leave Silverymoon in the morning. We're staying at 'Storm Tales', of course. Meet us there. Any questions?"
I nodded. "What kind of merchants are you?" I kept my gaze focused on Kith. Elven clans were matriarchies, so she was probably senior to Survan.
"Supplies to the family taverns and inns, mostly. Some small contract items for mages such as Lady Alustriel and transport of the same as well."
Oh, "Storm Tales" and Stormbow. I should have seen that connection a lot earlier. "How about you two? What positions do you hold?"
"I am an archer, chief of our guard, and holder of the Stormbow," she answered, tapping the long bow at her side lightly. "Survan is a mage and merchant. He does most of the financial dealings, and I keep his foolish head alive," she smiled fondly at her cousin, eliciting a blush of embarrassment.
There was a story there, I was sure. "Other guards or members of your group?" I asked instead of pursuing that line of questioning.
"Two to four more guards, always temporary. Mostly we bring along sell-swords who want to be moving to the city were we are stopping next anyway."
"Then why are you accepting me as a potential permanent guard?" I asked in curiosity.
She frowned slightly in thought before answering, "I've noticed a potential problem in our defense when we are attacked by raiders, goblin tribes, and the like. I'm much more useful as an archer, but I need someone to stand by me as guard while I use the Stormbow, else I have to defend myself with my saber. With a guard dedicated to me and Survan, we can hopefully emerge from attacks much less painfully and with fewer losses among our guards."
That made sense. If I stayed and defended her from the up close and personal attacks, she could use her bow for a lot longer. "You have called that," I said, waving at her bow, "the Stormbow. Is that not your clan name?"
Kith smiled slightly while Survan shifted nervously. "Yes," Kith answered. "We are named clan Stormbow after this weapon. It is a family heirloom of sorts. If I have cause to use it, you will see what I mean."
Another intriguing story there, I was sure. "Do I need to wear your colors?" I asked, indicating her deep purple with gold trim cloak held together by a clasp featuring a stylized bow.
She nodded. "These are our colors, so I will have one at 'Storm Tales' for you."
"It has been quite a while since I've ridden, so I may be a little rusty. Will that be a problem?" I was understating the case. It'd been seventy years.
Survan grinned wolfishly. "Our wagon moves slowly enough that this isn't a particular problem, but be prepared for some sores the first few weeks."
I smiled slightly. My Immortal physiology would take care of that easy enough. [What do you think?] I asked Flick.
Why are you asking me?
[I have no right to make decisions that affect both of us. If I go, will you want to come with me or stay here in Silverymoon? Or do you have other suggestions?]
Thank you for asking my opinion, but it makes little difference to me where we are. We are bonded, so to speak. I go where you go.
[But you'd tell me if I was making a bad decision?] I queried.
I always have before, he said in amusement. I'm not about to stop telling you how much smarter I am than you are.
[Oh, very funny.] To Kith, I said, "I accept, then. In the morn?"
Nodding, Kith stood and bowed to Lady Alustriel before picking up the Stormbow and looping it over her shoulder. I still hadn't noticed a quiver of arrows and began to wonder why she carried a bow but no arrows. To prevent the theft of the weapon from her room, maybe?
Alustriel interjected, "Perhaps he should stay at 'Storm Tales' tonight. It would be easier for all concerned."
Nodding her head in agreement, Kith strode out with Survan hastily bowing and leaving behind her.
Carith stood and touched my arm. "Come over soon?" she asked timidly.
"If I can," I promised, standing to see her out the door.
Giving me a quick peck on the cheek, she hurried after her sister. When I turned back to Lady Alustriel, I noticed that Rockcrusher had quietly slipped out as well.
"Thank you again, Lady," I said, taking a seat nearer to her.
She nodded, steepling her fingers. "I must admit that I have an ulterior motive," she said.
Here it comes, moaned Flick.
"What might that be?" I asked as calmly as I could.
"Have you heard of the Harpers?" she asked.
"Only vaguely," I answered with a frown. "Nobody knows much about them besides their secrecy. Though they're generally regarded as 'good', nobody can point to one specific action of theirs and say with certainty that it was a Harper who did it."
Alustriel gave a half smile and nodded. "That is intentional. We move quietly."
My gaze focused in on her. "We?" I queried.
Her smile grew a fraction. "We," she agreed.
"Okay, you're a Harper." Whatever that means. "Why are you telling me this?" I asked curiously.
"If you travel with Kith and Survan, you will always be traveling among the largest cities in this portion of Faerun. The Harpers are a vast network of individuals, Thian. I need a trusted emissary to communicate with all of them." She paused and tilted her head, staring at me intently. "Are you willing?"
"I would be honored to serve you in any way I can, Lady," I answered with a frown, "but what would be expected of me?"
"Hand carry messages, for the most part. Some small actions as well. Occasionally, you will be required to memorize a message instead of carrying it, but that is uncommon. As a Harper agent, you would be expected to help fellow Harpers without question."
"What do the Harpers DO?" I asked in confusion. So far I hadn't heard anything about their goals.
"Our primary focus is preservation of history and knowledge. Secondarily, we're opposed to peoples who would corrupt nature or the truth."
No problems there. I certainly believed in those goals. "How do I recognize a Harper?"
"A harp or crescent moon on a blue background usually. Most bards and rangers are Harpers."
I nodded slowly. "Is Drizzt a Harper then?"
She smiled. "Not officially, no. I offered him admittance, but he realizes that he would face prejudice even among our ranks. Though he is not a Harper, his actions mark him as one of us."
It didn't take long to make my decision. "Based on what you've told me, Lady, I would be honored to become a Harper."
She nodded, pulling something out of one of the desk drawers. When she tossed it to me, I caught it reflexively and studied it. A belt buckle stared up at me. It was mostly iron, but there were a series of sapphires arranged in such a way as to create a deep blue crescent on the buckle.
"Have you noticed that I keep getting expensive gifts from you?" I asked her with a smile.
She shrugged and smiled as she leaned back in her chair.
I put the buckle into a pocket and asked, "My orders, Lady?"
She chuckled. "None for the moment. The Stormbows come through Silverymoon twice a year. By the time you return, I may have an assignment for you. Until then, I shall let you settle into place with Kith and Survan."
"I thank you for the honor, Lady." I got up from my chair and knelt on one knee in front of her, bowing my head forward. "I am at your service."
One hand came up under my chin and pulled my face back up to meet her gaze. "Do not kneel before me, Thian. I do not deserve that."
"And I do not believe I deserve everything you've done for me," I returned.
"You do, but I understand what you are saying."
Once done speaking with Alustriel, I wandered the city for hours, stopping and remembering scenes from some of the oddest places. That intersection held the memory of an encounter with a drunken mage who insisted that his "Staff of Power" was longer than any man's and did you want to see it? That bar over there was where I'd drunk Famkins under the table one long night (and thank God for an Immortal liver). There was the fountain where I'd fished two halfling children out of the foot deep water as their hysterical mother watched, convinced that her children would drown. That bench was where Carith and I sat one spring afternoon while a street musician played us an elven love song. The city was filled with memories.
I eventually got done saying goodbye to the city and headed over to "Storm Tales". Walking in, I spotted all the regulars, though nobody recognized me. Seated at my usual table, I saw Chavim nursing a drink. I suppressed the urge to sit with him. Instead, I took a seat with Kith and Survan.
They both looked at me and nodded at me in acknowledgement. "Well met," said Survan.
I smiled slightly at him. "Well met. I decided I'd better sit with you rather than my friend." I indicated Chavim with a minor tilt of my head.
"Wise," Survan commented.
Kith nodded agreement. "I'll get your cloak from upstairs."
While she was off getting my cloak, I idly asked Survan, "You are a merchant?" At his nod, I asked, "Can you tell me the value of gems?"
He shook his head. "Sorry, that is one skill that I've never had any aptitude in. Most any dwarf can, or jeweler, but you would have to trust them."
I nodded at him. It would have been nice, but it wasn't a big deal.
Carith approached our table with a plate of stew and a flagon for me. Placing it in front of me, she said, "Well met, stranger."
I gave her a sour look as Survan stifled a snicker. "Call me Ted," I told her. "It is my real name, after all."
Kith came back to the table, shaking out a cloak with the same colors as hers. Transferring the plain iron clasp from my brown cloak to the purple and gold one, I swung it over my shoulders and hooked it.
Kith nodded in satisfaction. "There, you're a member of Stormbow's Merchant Band." She took her seat and smiled at her sister. "What do you think of our newest guard?"
Carith grinned mischievously. "I think he'd look better without the beard." So saying, she turned on her heel and circulated around the room.
"Ouch," I winced as I sat back down.
Survan and Kith chuckled.
Oh, I like her, said Flick maliciously.
"She has a wicked sense of humor," I commented.
"No," Kith said in blatantly fake shock.
"Remember that those two grew up together," Survan said, grinning at me with a head tilt toward Kith.
"I have GOT to separate you two before you pick on me too much," I said to her.
Kith grinned widely. "Never happen. I pick on everyone. Besides, Carith and I are inseparable when I'm in town. I'm sure I'll learn ALL about you before we leave."
I groaned. Looking over at Survan, I pleaded, "Help."
He laughed. "No way. Kith has someone else to pick on, now. I'm not about to interfere in my good luck."
I didn't say much else to anyone that night, instead spending most of the evening staring morosely into my drink.
The next morning at dawnfry, when there were fewer people in the tavern, Carith and I talked. More than once I forcefully kept myself from pulling her into a hug and kiss. I knew I was teetering on the edge of falling in love with her, and I couldn't afford to do that. For all sorts of reasons.
Finally extracting a promise from Carith to not tell Chavim that I was still alive, I leaned over and held her cheek in one hand. She rubbed her cheek on my palm for a moment, not even trying to hide the tears. I finally stood and dropped a quick kiss onto her cheek. "Fare thee well, Lady Carith of the clan Stormbow," I whispered.
Turning, I quickly left the building before I broke down into a sobbing mess.
Survan was standing just outside the door to walk with me to where the merchant wagon was waiting. He took one look at my face and nodded, silently leading me toward the warehouse district. "Will she ever forgive me?" I quietly asked him once we approached a mule drawn wagon and Kith standing by a saddled horse.
"She understands what you're doing and why you're doing it, though it pains her."
He nodded and continued his previous thought, "And so she has already forgiven you. Just remember to look in on her whenever we're in town."
"Not a problem," I replied. "I already intended to."
"Are you okay?" asked Kith, standing next to a chestnut mare.
I nodded as Survan answered, "He's trying to hold his heart in, Kith. Let's give him a day." He turned to me and said, "Hop in the back. We've got a ferry to catch."
I climbed into the back of the wagon and then held on for dear life as the wagon jostled and bounced its way to the ferry landing. "Oh, you want to avoid most everything back there," Survan called. "Some of that can explode in your face if you're not careful."
My hand jerked back away from the bag it'd been creeping toward. "Thanks for the warning," I called back.
However, we only traveled a short distance before we got to the ferry landing where we boarded a ship on the River Rauvin. "Ten days on the river before we get off at Yartar," Kith said in resignation.
And so it was a full ten days of boredom.
It wasn't totally a loss, though. I spent hours in conversation with Kith and Survan, learning what I could of them personally and elves in general.
I told them about Immortals and Earth. They were just as entertained by some of my stories as I was by theirs.
During this time I also met Midnight.
When I first met him, I made a mistake. I mean, when you spot a black cat sleeping on Survan's bedroll, what are you SUPPOSED to do? Thinking it was a stray or pet of one of the other passengers, I gently tried to push it off Survan's bed. I'd never seen the cat before in the wagon or in Silverymoon, so I didn't even think it might be Survan's.
The cat woke just enough from my jostling to give me an evil glare and then laid its head down again, totally ignoring me.
I tried pushing a little harder. I didn't want to hurt this animal, but I had no idea what Survan's reaction would be to cat hair. Some people are allergic, after all.
This time, the cat woke and gave me a nice set of four parallel claw marks down the back of my hand. Quickly removing my wounded appendage from the line of fire, I stood back and considered my options. For his part, the cat just looked at me warily and growled low in its throat.
Survan burst into the room, looking around in concern. "What's going on?" he asked in confusion.
"This cat is on your bed," I answered. "I was trying to get him off, and the little minx clawed me."
He laughed. Sitting down on the bed and allowing the cat to curl up on his lap, he petted it absently. "This is Midnight. Midnight, meet Thian."
"You have a pet cat?" I asked, wondering at how formally he was treating it.
"He's not a pet," Survan answered. "Do you understand the term 'familiar' as it applies to mages?"
Ah, that explains a great deal. I nodded and answered the question. "Yes, I am. Empathic but not quite telepathic link to an animal that becomes your companion." At his nod, I asked, "How do I treat him?"
He shrugged. "Like a feline friend. Have you ever had a cat as a pet?"
I nodded. I liked cats much more than I did dogs, and I'd had them as pets on and off for decades.
"Like that, then," he answered. "Just remember he's much smarter than the average cat, and you'll get along with him fine."
Squatting down, I held my healed hand down for his inspection, back facing toward him. He studied it for a moment before giving a delicate sniff and licking the blood off. After that, he allowed me to rub behind his ears.
After our initial disagreement, we got along handsomely.
As promised, the morning of the tenth day we pulled up at a ferry landing and everyone stepped ashore. While Survan stayed with the wagon and Kith's mare Baram, Kith led me to town and the local stables. I needed a mount.
On the way into town, we discussed what I needed. As I doubted that I'd ever be able to fight from horseback very well, she decided that a riding horse would work just fine.
I stood outside of the stable master's office and watched the world go by for the hour or so it took before Kith came out and handed me the reins to a gorgeous black stallion with a silver blaze and white socks. I was relieved to find him already outfitted with a saddle I figured that I could deal with.
Studying the animal and petting it absently, I asked Kith, "What's this fine fellow's name?"
She shrugged. "Harak didn't mention, though he's clearly a well trained animal. You name him."
Running one hand along his neck, I muttered to him, "How about Shadow, fella? How's that sound?"
He neighed quietly and flipped his head. Kith laughed. "Shadow it is, then. Come along, Thian. We're burning daylight."
Kith and I walked back to Survan before we all got ready to go. After settling my new saddlebag across Shadow's back, I cautiously climbed up into the saddle. Shadow followed behind Kith and Survan easily. He was indeed a well trained mount.
I was profoundly thankful for that fact over the next week. It took us ten days to reach Triboar. During that time, I relearned the art of horseback riding. Kith was a decent teacher, though, and Shadow was forgiving enough that neither he nor I ended up hurting the other. As we'd been traveling with part of a larger caravan, nothing of note happened during this week long trip. By the time we rode into sight of Triboar, I was at least an adequate rider.
After hiring two guards to accompany us for the ten day ride to Longsaddle, we headed out again quickly. That ride too passed without incident.
After two days in Longsaddle where Survan spent most of his time talking to the Harpell family of wizards who made Longsaddle their home, we headed north again. Heading out of town on the Long Road, we quickly approached three men standing near horses. Since they didn't react to our approach, nor did Kith seem surprised by their presence, I assumed they were the other three guards.
She stopped near them and nodded. "Gentlemen," she greeted them. Without turning around, she tilted her head back at Survan and I and said, "Survan is on the wagon, and Thian is our other guard. You'll each get your promised six lions upon reaching Luskan. I'm head of the guard, so if you'll just follow my orders and behave, we'll get along just fine."
The younger looking of the two humans asked, "If you get killed, who do we obey then, Lady Kith?"
"Survan then Thian," was her reply.
All three of them looked at me. "Why him?" asked the older human in a deep, gruff voice.
"Because I know him," Kith answered calmly. "The four of you can determine a pecking order tonight once we camp, but for now, he's third." Turning to Survan and me, she said, "Meet Jak, Fontan, and Murag," she indicated the younger human, older human, and dwarf in turn. The three of them nodded and then climbed onto their mounts. Jak was outfitted in studded leather, long sword, and a small shield. Fontan wore chain mail and had a crossbow across his back and a mace at his hip. Murag had a battle axe and shield in addition to his scale mail. I rode to the right of the wagon, Jak took the other flanking position, and that left Murag and Fontan to bring up the rear.
The rest of the day passed quietly. Survan engaged Jak in light conversation, and I joined in. We learned that Jak was the son of two adventurers who'd retired years before. He was new to adventuring, wisely starting off doing guard duty while he got some seasoning before doing anything more reckless.
Once we'd stopped for the night at a frequented campsite, Fontan insisted that the four of us determine who's the better. I sighed at the foolishness but agreed. Jak bowed out, and Murag waved one hand and said, "Bah! I've no use for such shenanigans. Beat each other up if ye must, but don't be including me in it."
Removing my cloak and dropping it next to the saddle I'd just removed from Shadow, I asked, "How far do you want to take this?"
"How far do YOU want to take it?" he asked in return.
Brother, what a blowhard. "I'd rather not draw blood on you unless I have to," I answered calmly.
He tensed. "If you can," he growled.
Drawing my sword, I stepped into an open space and waited for him to approach. Discarding his cloak and crossbow, he drew his mace and shield before stalking in. He swung at me, but I parried it cleanly. He paused, clearly expecting me to counter, but I just waited for his next move. Once again, he swung, and once again I parried, throwing his mace arm out wide. Quickly, I feinted an overhead chop with my sword. Because his mace was out too far, he brought his shield up.
Right in front of his face. Instead of bringing the sword down, my right foot snaked forward to clip him behind his left knee. He fell to one knee, instinctively bringing both hands down for balance. My sword immediately came to rest on his shoulder.
He froze in place for a moment before looking up at me slowly. "I yield," he said calmly. Nodding agreement, I sheathed my sword and walked away.
Kith nodded in satisfaction. Murag chuckled in appreciation. Survan called out, "Well done, Thian."
Kith said, "Now that that is taken care of, can any of you cook or hunt?"
"Aye, I can cook a bit," rumbled Murag.
"My crossbow is more for battles than hunting," said Fontan, apparently not at all bothered by his defeat.
"I can do a field dress, but I'm no good with a bow," said Jak.
I just shook my head. Drizzt had taught me several useful skills, but hunting and cooking were not among them.
"Okay, rations tonight and tomorrow morn," said Kith. "I'll bring down some game if I see any tomorrow. Meanwhile, Thian and Fontan, get a fire going."
"I'll gather if you start it," I offered him. At his agreement, I went off to find dry kindling.
The next few weeks passed quietly. I watched everyone around me to learn as much as possible. From Jak's field dressing the deer that Kith brought down with her bow, to Murag's preparing some of it immediately and slow smoking the rest for storage and travel.
Oh, yes, that bow. I was on the wrong side of the wagon at the time, so I didn't see how she did it, but I heard the twang of the bowstring and came around the wagon just in time to see a deer fall over a hundred yards ahead. Jak and I rode up to it only to find a scorch and puncture mark over its heart but no arrow.
I asked Kith about it later. She just smiled.
It wasn't until the twenty-fifth day near dusk that I finally saw her using the bow.
We'd bypassed Mirabar days before, deciding that we didn't need to stop since we were bound for Luskan anyway. Once again on the right flank of the wagon, I heard shouts along the other side before Survan suddenly brought the wagon to a halt. Urging Shadow around the front of the wagon quickly, I saw Jak, Fontan, and Murag head straight at a group of thirty or so charging figures. Their large upturned noses, sloping foreheads, and grunted yells marked them as orcs.
Survan was already standing with his arms waving. I looked at Kith and saw an amazing sight. She'd taken the Stormbow in hand as usual, but she didn't have an arrow notched. Instead, when she pulled back on the string a flame shaped arrow materialized in place. She released the string, and the fiery "arrow" went rocketing straight into the chest of one of the charging humanoid attackers, dropping him instantly. Not even slowing down, she continued to fire, the bow creating an arrow every time she drew back the bowstring.
Tearing my gaze away from Kith, I saw how everyone else was doing. After felling one orc with his crossbow, Fontan had mowed over two more with his charge and was now continuing into the woods behind our attackers. Murag had pulled up short of the orcs and was now on foot, wading into the charging horde and singing in Dwarven at the top of his lungs. Jak stayed mounted, staying at the fringe of the group and picking off one orc at a time in brushing attacks.
I stayed in front of Kith and Survan, knowing I was to guard them from immediate attack.
After cutting down another handful of the charging monsters with her magical arrows, Kith rode around the charging horde and off into Fontan's wake, shouting for me to stay with Survan. His spell had already gone off, producing four glowing darts of magical energy that sped toward two orcs, felling both.
Murag had finished off three by this time and was happily hacking at two more.
Considering the over fifty percent losses on their part, I was amazed that the orcs were still moving forward.
Climbing down from Shadow quickly, I pulled Flick out and threw him at the nearest of the charging monsters. Ignoring his screeching flight, I drew my two other flight daggers and hurled them at other orcs as well before drawing my sword and walking forward to give me some space to work with.
Just before the nearest charging orc reached me, I heard Survan finish his second spell. An orc in the second wave back from the front runner suddenly had a hazy outline of a dwarf dropped over him. Seeing an apparent dwarf in their midst, two of the orcs flanking the illusion immediately attacked him.
Laughing at the clever use of such an illusion, I blocked the first attack by the orc that was just reaching me. Holding my sword to keep the mace at bay, I brought my left fist into the orc's stomach and then my elbow came whipping around to crash into his temple. He dropped like a felled tree. Giving his head another quick kick to make sure he was down, I turned to the next orc in line, only to find that there were actually two. Quickly parrying both swinging short swords, I kicked at the stomach of the one on my left. When he hunched over with the force, I stepped around him quickly to place him between me and the other orc, bashing him on the back of the head with the pommel of my sword as I moved. Awkwardly trying to hop over his fallen comrade, the other orc swung at me weakly. Easily parrying that, I slashed straight across his stomach. His rotting leather armor had no hope of stopping my blade.
Turning from the kill, I only found one last orc facing me. Murag was finishing off his last opponent, Fontan and Kith were still hidden in the copse of trees, and Jak was on his way to join them.
Since one of my throwing daggers was still sticking out of my opponent's shoulder, a quick parry and thrust was all it took before the last standing orc was no longer standing. Looking quickly over at Survan, he nodded to me and said, "Go to the trees. I'll check all of them."
Nodding, I quickly sheathed my sword and hopped up on Shadow who was pawing nervously at the ground near the two mules yoked to the wagon. Guiding him around the field littered with orcen bodies, I charged him toward the trees only to allow him to slow to a gradual stop when Fontan calmly walked out leading his horse, followed by Kith and Jak who were still mounted.
Stopping and waiting for them to approach, I took a quick inventory. Fontan's horse had a few scratches on its chest, and Murag was idly poking at his bleeding shoulder. I turned back to the wagon to find Survan leaning forward with a dagger to finish off one of the orcs I'd just stunned earlier. Thirty or so orcs dead for a price of two minor wounds. Hurray for the good guys.
"You okay, Thian?" asked Kith as she and Jak approached.
I nodded. "I'm fine. Not even a scratch."
Kith nodded and turned away quickly. Not before I saw a slight smile and heard a quiet sigh, though.
"What did you find?" I queried Fontan as he finally approached the three of us.
"Just one leader," he remarked casually. "This must have been a raiding party."
"You sound disappointed," I noted.
He shrugged. "I only got four."
Jak chuckled, but Kith and I frowned. "We aren't trying to keep score here, Fontan," remarked Kith in disgust.
He shrugged again. Deciding I'd better change the subject, I asked Jak, "You and your mount okay?"
He nodded and ran a hand along the horse's neck. "She's just tired. We're fine."
"Fontan, can you see to your mount?" I asked.
At his short nod, I turned and trotted Shadow over to Murag. "You okay?" I asked when I got close enough to him.
He looked up at me and gave a half shrug, favoring his bloodied shoulder. "If ye can help me clean and bandage this scratch, I'll be good as new."
While Kith chased down Murag's mule that had bolted during the fight, I helped Murag with his shoulder, and Fontan did the same for his horse. Jak and Survan dragged the orcs near the road further into the field and then started removing all their weaponry, armor, and assorted valuables.
The pile of armor only produced one usable mismatched set (taken off of the leader). Poking through the weapons, I found several swords that could be cleaned up and resold. The wooden spears and maces turned into our campfire for the evening once we'd moved a couple miles further.
After setting up camp, I spent a few hours with my whetstone and oil, repairing those few swords that could actually be fixed. Jak was watching me closely, so I explained what I was doing as I was doing it to him.
"If ye'd let me, I coulda made ye all some fine orc steaks," Murag muttered again.
He'd been saying that on and off since we'd prevented him from cutting off choice portions of the orcs we'd killed. Kith finally chuckled at his comments. "You and Ork would have gotten along handsomely."
Murag glared at her dangerously. "Me and a stinkin' orc get along? Never!"
She shook her head. "Not an orc. I was referring to a human I once knew named Ork."
"A human named Ork," I commented disbelievingly.
She nodded. "Swear by Silvanus. A human named Ork Deathbringer."
"With that name, I like 'im already," remarked Murag.
We all chuckled as Kith continued, "He'd been a slave to an orc tribe since he was a kid. After he was rescued, he joined an adventurer's band that I was in at the time. Fiercely strong, but he was simple as a child outside of battle. He'd sworn a blood oath against orcs, and he had a dozen recipes for various bits of orc."
"Sounds disgusting," Fontan commented.
Murag commented, "Bah! Yer innards just ain't strong enough to deal with it."
"I'll freely admit that," said Kith with a slight shudder. "I tried his orc stew once. Made me sick for a week."
The thought of eating another sentient species sounded close to cannibalism, but nobody here seemed to be treating Murag like a barbarian in that respect, just that the taste wouldn't be pleasant. Besides, my curiosity was getting the better of me. "I'll make a deal with you, Murag." His eyes shifted to me, eyebrows raised in query. "You and I'll go back and cut some of those orc steaks. You show me how to prepare it, and I'll try one. Deal?"
His eyes brightened. Jumping up and moving to his mule, he said, "Well, what're ye waitin' fer? Come on!"
Chuckling at his enthusiasm, I pulled one of the mostly destroyed swords out of the pile and handed it to Jak. "You want to try?"
He nodded and reached for the whetstone as I stood and moved to saddle Shadow.
It turned out that the orc steak had been too tough for me to eat, but Murag assured me it would make jerky just fine.
Oh, and orc tastes just like chicken.
Arriving at Luskan five days later without further incident, Survan led the wagon to a warehouse where he produced a key and entered. Pulling a pouch off his belt, he counted out an eagle and a lion each to Jak, Fontan, and Murag before bidding them a friendly goodbye.
As they walked their mounts back toward town, I helped Survan lead the wagon's mules into the warehouse and then release them from the yoke. Holding the two sets of reins, he bid me to pick up the three bags with the assorted weapons and armor from the orcs. The bags over my shoulder, Kith and Survan led two animals each to a local stable where they were apparently known. Leaving the horses and mules in the stableman's hands, we split the bags that were about to tear my arms from their sockets.
Keeping half an eye on following Kith, I looked around in curiosity. On the surface the city of Luskan was almost identical to Silverymoon, just a little smaller.
Kith led us into a shop where a human was standing behind the counter, looking over long tallies of numbers. He looked up and smiled, "Stormbow! Welcome back to town. What can I do for you?"
"What's the going rate for scrap metal?" Kith asked, dropping her bag (that held the repaired swords) to the floor.
"Two sparrows to the pound," the human answered, looking at the bag at her feet.
"Oh, good," I commented, dropping the larger sack with the ruined swords onto the countertop. "With this ten thousand pounds, we're rich."
Kith smiled slightly while the smith chuckled. "Ten thousand pounds is it? You're stronger than the barbarians from the north then." He smiled to me. "Janan the smith at your service," he introduced himself.
"Thian the sell-sword," I answered, stretching out my shoulder.
I nodded back while Kith said, "Three sparrows to the pound, and we've some decent short swords to sell you as well."
His face fell. "The last time you tried to sell me swords . . . Ah, let's just say they weren't in good condition."
Survan snickered, but Kith didn't even bat an eye. "Okay, but these are in better shape." She squatted down and gingerly retrieved one of the swords, holding it out to Janan for inspection. He looked it over for a few moments, peering closely at the edge.
He finally looked up and nodded. "Much better. Three lions for each if they're in as good a shape."
Leaving them to do their bartering, I wandered around the shop. Seeing a display of knives, I asked permission before hefting them and checking their edges. Finding them to be in good condition, I placed them down and continued browsing. By the time I got back to the front, both bags of swords were on the floor by Janan's feet and he was counting out coins.
Once he was done and Kith turned to go with a cheerful farewell, I asked Janan, "How much for the knives?"
He glanced over at them and said, "Five lions each."
I thought it over for a second, also calculating what else I needed. "One of those knives, a scabbard for it, a pot of blade oil, and a new whetstone for two eagles."
"I've no scabbards in stock," he replied.
"Okay, minus the scabbard for one eagle."
"Two eagles," he countered.
"One eagle, two lions."
"Done," he agreed.
I walked back over to the knives and selected one, and then walked back to the counter. He'd placed a whetstone and small jar of oil on the counter when I hadn't been looking.
Dipping into my coin pouch, I withdrew an eagle and two lions and dropped them onto the counter. He nodded and pushed the oil jar and whetstone to me.
Gingerly tucking the bare blade into my belt, I grabbed the oil jar and stone before following Kith and Survan out the door.
Our next stop was an armorer where we unloaded the remaining bag of mismatched armor. I also got a leather belt sheath for the knife.
Strapping the knife in place further around behind Flick, he commented, Just don't mistake one for the other of us.
Suppressing the smile, I replied, [Don't worry about that. I'm sure this thing can't fly worth crap. It's just for meals, unless you really WANT to continue being a steak knife for me.]
He gave a wordless growl. He'd made his disgust obvious when I'd used him trying to eat the orc steak a few days previously.
With no more bags to slow us down, Kith and Survan casually led me further along the street, pointing out various items of interest before pushing open the door of a place called "Winter Storms". Another of the family chain, no doubt.
My assumption was proven correct when I was introduced to the proprietress Verith Stormbow. She was just over five feet tall, had straight brown hair, and pretty blue eyes. After introducing us, Kith said something in Elven to which both Verith and Survan smiled widely.
Flick broke into hysterical laughter but refused to explain when I asked about it.
I cocked an eyebrow at Kith after bowing to Verith. "You going to translate whatever it was you just said?" She shook her head, and Verith and Survan both broke into smiles again. Sighing dramatically, I changed the subject. "You're going to have to explain your clan to me sometime. I'm losing track of all the Stormbows running around."
Survan laughed and explained. "Verith is sister to Therth, whom you met in Silverymoon."
Nodding, I smiled pleasantly at her as she led us up to three rooms above the bar.
Two days later found Verith, Kith, and I sharing a midday meal and conversation as we had done the previous day. Also as usual, Survan was off doing whatever it was he did in the course of business.
"So Ork was standing on one side of the door, Shantal on the other side, and I was in front of it with my bow. Shantal was going to open the door, and I was going to start firing arrows as fast as I could. Once the orcs made it through the door, Ork and Shantal were going to engage them, so I could keep firing as long as possible. Well, when Shantal opened the door, everything started going wrong all at once. None of the orcs were where I could see them immediately, so I couldn't fire. To top that off, an invisible, magical wall sprang up between Ork and us, so he was cut off where he couldn't help us. However, he could see the orcs from his angle. As usual when it came to Ork Deathbringer facing orcs, he went crazy. Apparently knowing he couldn't get through the invisible wall, he pulled out his only ranged weapon. Unfortunately, it was a Wand of Wonders."
"Uh, oh," I commented to Kith's story with a huge smile. Those things had a horrible reputation for random effects, as often producing more problems than they solved. Verith giggled and waited for the story to continue, eyes shining in mirth.
Kith took a sip of her wine and continued her story of one of her adventures. "His first discharge of his wand filled the whole area with thousands of butterflies."
Verith and I started laughing. I could just picture it. In a stone corridor, eight foot ceilings, thousands of butterflies trying frantically to escape.
"I was blind, of course," continued Kith with a smile. "What good is a blinded archer? So I backed off. Ork, meanwhile, got frustrated with his first attempt to kill the orcs. So he fired his Wand again."
"Oh, dear. What happened this time?" asked Verith with a huge smile.
"The wand spat lightning bolts, killing every orc in the room. The one member of our party who COULDN'T reach the orcs managed to kill all of them! Not to mention who knows how many butterflies."
I started laughing so hard that my stomach hurt. Leaning forward with one arm wrapped around my middle, I wiped the tears streaming down my eyes with the other hand.
Gasping for breath, I looked up to a sight that was very much out of place.
A human wearing a cloak was stalking through the room, hunched over and looking this way and that in suspicion. The problem was that he was hazy. He was also heading directly for the till containing the money collected so far today.
Recognizing the invisibility effect for what it was, I turned back to Kith and Verith and said, "Ladies, please excuse me for a moment."
Standing, I walked toward the restroom, which was fortunately nearly on a direct line to where this guy was currently standing.
What are you doing? Flick wanted to know.
Seeing me coming, the guy jumped out of the way. I forced myself to keep my eyes focused on the restroom door, hopefully convincing him that that was my destination. I peripherally noticed that he'd made no noise when he'd jumped. Inaudible as well as invisible? Nice effect.
The instant I got as close to the guy as I could, I quickly drew Flick and pointed him at the intruder's face. Stalking straight at him, I looked into his eyes and smiled evilly. For his part, the guy shifted sideways a little at first. When I started tracking his movements and still advancing, he began backing up with a frightened expression on his face. I backed him up until his back bumped into the bar top. Flick advanced toward his neck until it came to stop hovering over the guy's jugular. He'd already bent over backwards, trying to stay away from the blade.
"Hi," I said, conversationally. "Might I ask you what you're doing here?"
"What are you doing, Thian?" called Kith.
I suddenly became away of the utter silence in the room. I twisted my head to look around.
LOOK OUT! shouted Flick.
My reflexes took over. His left hand had grabbed my dagger hand, hauling it away from his vulnerable neck. His right suddenly had a dagger of his own in it, streaking toward my chest. My left arm chopped sideways to hit his forearm, stopping the blade from hitting me. My right knee also came up between his legs.
Letting out a high-pitched screech, the man suddenly dropped his dagger, released my arm, brought his hands down to cup the injured area, and dropped like a stone. He was completely visible by this point.
I winced in sympathy. My action had been automatic, making the easiest disabling attack available to me at the time. 'Course, it was hard to explain that to a man whose voice had just gone up three octaves.
Well, his inaudibility had been dispelled. After that initial shriek, his moans came with no decrease in volume.
I tried to flip him over with a toe, but he was curled up rigidly. Instead of forcing him to unfold, I kneeled down, pinning him in place with a leg across his arm and side. Placing Flick's blade along his neck, I said over his low groans, "Don't move now." Looking up at Kith's and Verith's open-mouthed stares, I calmly remarked, "Verith, you may want to get the city guard. I believe I found a thief."
She waved curtly at one of the gaping waitresses, who immediately bolted out the front door.
Kith walked over and expertly searched him, dropping another dagger, a coin purse, and a large empty bag on the floor next to his dropped dagger. She started to stand, but then pinned one of his hands to the floor with a booted foot. Once his hand stopped moving, I could see the silver ring he wore. Kith tugged it off without too much effort. After checking the other hand, she stood and waited calmly, subtly checking my over.
I was about to ask her why she was looking at me like that when the missing waitress returned, followed by three guards wearing identical uniforms. Quickly taking in the scene, the apparent leader approached me and asked, "What happened?"
Without releasing the man beneath me, I explained as another of the guards interviewed Kith and the last did the same with Verith.
Nodding at the end of my explanation, the leader asked, "You could see him?"
"My cloak clasp allows me to see through invisibility, yes."
He looked down at the man on the floor. "What do you have to say about this?"
Coughing once or twice, he began, "I was just approaching the bar to get a drink when this guy attacked me."
"Completely invisible?" asked Kith in sarcastic amusement.
"Hey, I wasn't invisible! How could I do that? I'm no mage."
"That ring," I nodded to the ring among the small pile near him. "I'm willing to bet it's a Ring of Invisibility and perhaps inaudibility as well, since you didn't make a sound until you . . . um, cried out in pain."
Verith snickered. Three male customers and the guard leader winced.
"Hey, you attacked me!" the guy objected, still looking a little pale.
"Can I point out that you drew a dagger?"
"You drew first!"
"To prevent a crime," I answered in a bored voice.
Two men came walking in the door. One was clearly another guard and the other was wearing the same colors, but in a robe instead of armor. The robed man asked, "Okay, why was I brought here?"
So I had to repeat everything again. At my suspicion that the ring in question was magical, he quietly cast a spell and studied the ring intently.
"Quite right, sir," he finally announced. He turned to the guard leader and said, "I believe this man has just caught your Invisible Thief that's been giving you fits for the past three months."
The guard leader nodded shortly and called out, "What have you got, lads?" to the other three guards who had been quietly circulating through the room during the conversation.
All three converged. "Everyone I talked to substantiates his story," one said, nodding at me. The other two guards nodded and murmured their agreement.
Nodding, the leader looked down at me. "You can let him up now, sir." He waved his hand to two of his guards, and I cautiously handed him over to the guards.
As they drug him out of the room, the leader gingerly placed all of the thief's items into an empty bag he was carrying. He and the mage conversed for a moment before the mage gave a sharp nod and left with the bag of evidence in the wake of the prisoner. The leader turned back to me and asked, "Do you work here?"
"Indirectly," answered Verith. "He works for the Stormbow family, and this inn is owned by the same family."
"You are the owner of this building then?" he asked of her.
"If you two will come to the Hall of Justice in two days at highsun, lady and sir, we can conduct the trial then. You can claim his possessions as is your right at that time." His eyes had included me in the "sir", so I knew I was required to attend as well.
She nodded back. "Two days, highsun. My thanks, Guard."
He nodded politely to her before giving me a polite bow and word of thanks. Once done, he spun on his heel and waved the remaining guard out the door with him. The excitement over, the customers slowly drifted back to their tables. I heard variations of the story start up in four different locations, varying in size and race of the thief as well as the viciousness of the fight.
Shaking my head at the notorious unreliability of eyewitnesses, I reseated myself and leaned back with a sigh.
Well, wasn't that fun? asked Flick idly.
[What, catching some idiot thief who had a good thing going before he ran into someone who could spot him?]
Something like that, he agreed.
"You could see him," stated Kith as she slowly sank back into her seat.
I nodded. "Like I told the guard, this clasp allows me to see invisible people and objects."
"So that's why you're so attached to it," she nodded.
"And how I prevented that assassination you heard about in Silverymoon," I added softly.
"What are you talking about?" asked Verith.
"Long story," answered Kith. "I'll tell you about it later without so many ears around if you're still interested."
Verith nodded slowly. "I think I will be." She smiled over at me. "Looks like we have a date in two days."
I brought my hand up to my face in mock shock. "I don't have a THING to wear," I exclaimed.
Kith just rolled her eyes and poked me in the shoulder.
She left her hand resting on my forearm for the rest of the night. I decided that it was for her to reassure herself that I was okay. Not that I was complaining, of course.
Being part of that trial was an interesting experience. I didn't have to attend the trial after the attempted robbery at "Storm Tales", but as a civilian witness to this one, I did. Without lawyers, everyone spoke on their own behalf, the presiding judge doing the questioning.
A priest of Tyr standing nearby with a "Detect Falsehood" spell going definitely simplified life. At the thief's attempts to explain that he was simply trying to buy a drink, the priest chuckled and shook his head.
Me, Verith, the guard mage, and guard leader all were questioned quickly. Since all the evidence pointed in the same direction, it didn't take long for the judge (another, higher ranking priest of Tyr) to reach the verdict of guilt. The dejected thief was sentenced to five years imprisonment and the next case was brought forward.
The guard leader intercepted Verith and me on our way out of the building. He handed the bag containing all the thief's useful items to Verith and then turned to me. "I want to thank you again," he said quietly. "That fellow's been stealing for months, and we never could catch him. You have my thanks, sir." He gave me another bow before offering a arm clasp, a high honor for an established city guard to offer to someone he doesn't know.
Smiling, I clasped his arm and replied, "I was hired to guard for the Stormbow clan. I was just doing my duty as Helm and Torm require of me."
Nodding in agreement, he said, "Fare you well, then." Smiling politely at Verith, he turned and strode off down the street.
Verith and I turned back toward "Winter Storms". She poked through the bag as we walked.
"Anything interesting?" I asked idly.
"Goodly amount of money," she answered. "You already saw the daggers and ring. Nothing else of note." She fished the ring out of the bag and presented it to me, closing the bag by its drawstring with a quick jerk of her other hand.
"What's this?" I ask, indicating the ring she was offering me.
"It's a silver ring," she said dryly. "Rumor has it that it's a Ring of Invisibility and Inaudibility."
[No shit, Sherlock.]
You asked, bozo, shot back Flick.
I rolled my eyes at her. "I know that. I was wondering why you are offering it to me."
She shrugged. "I've no use for it, and I wanted to thank you for what you did. This seems to be the easiest way. It's officially owned by the Stormbow clan, and I'll inform Survan of that, but it makes sense for you to wear it."
I took the ring hesitantly and studied it. It was silver, lightly scratched, and utterly featureless otherwise.
"How do you use it?" I asked hesitantly.
Put it on your finger, wiggle your eyebrows, and say, "Abracadabra."
[Very funny. I'm serious.]
She shrugged. "Ask Survan. He's more likely to understand such items."
I did ask him about it that evening. After some thought, he gingerly heated the ring over a candle and revealed glowing blue letters spelling out, "Aberlith".
It took several days of experimentation and consultation with Flick and Survan, but I eventually concluded that I could use the item once a day to become completely invisible and silent by uttering that word.
Voluntarily speaking again negated the silence, and attacking or a desire to become visible again negated the invisibility. I had to be wearing the ring, of course, but I could immediately see the use of such an item.
It was quite the chore to avoid using it for pranks, but I decided that I'd better only use it in cases of need. If I only used it during such times, it would multiply its effectiveness.
Due to the trial, we left on the fifth morning, two days later than we originally planned. Winter was approaching and Survan and Kith both wanted to head south before that happened.
The next two months passed relatively quietly (except that quick skirmish against the goblin party that thought we didn't look too tough).
Stopping in Neverwinter and Leilon only long enough to replenish supplies and change guards, we made decent speed toward Waterdeep, following the road south along the Sword Coast.
I was still learning a great deal from the other guards traveling with us. One of the humans was something of a chef, so I learned as much from him as possible. Likewise, I taught two of them how to care for bladed weapons. Most everyone had basic understanding of the proper care of their swords or axes, but very few seemed to know how to work out a nick or blemish.
We all also taught each other fighting techniques. My long sword style was pretty standard, but I was a good sparring partner because I could point out flaws in others. I also used my left arm as a weapon, instead of holding a shield with it. That was more uncommon than I had first appreciated. I learned how to fight against axes, warhammers, and maces held by some very good fighters. There was even one guy who used a spear with deadly efficiency.
We arrived at Waterdeep, City of Splendors fifty-nine days after leaving Luskan. After Survan produced another key to yet another warehouse, I began to wonder how many warehouses the Stormbows owned in how many cities.
The horses were safely stabled at another corral that recognized my employers on sight. Upon arriving at "Storming Knights", I was introduced to the proprietress Canth, who was sister to Survan. They shared a quick hug before Canth politely greeted Kith. Kith again introduced me, finishing with another spat of Elven that went by too quickly for my fledgling Elven skills to keep up with.
Canth broke into giggles and looked at me appraisingly while Flick began chuckling.
"You aren't going to explain this, are you?" I asked Kith in resignation.
She shook her head with a grin. I turned to Survan with a raised eyebrow, but he held up his hands. "Don't even think about asking me, Thian. Kith would kill me if I translated for you."
[What about you?] I asked Flick.
Muffling down his laughter, he replied, Nope. I'm not telling.
Since it was still relatively early, Kith, Survan, and I seated ourselves at a table. One of the barmaids, a lovely young half-elf named Saran, took our orders and returned with our drinks and plates of venison stew. Canth joined us and the four of us spent a pleasant evening listening to a bard tell her tales two tables down.
When the bard retired for the evening, my three table mates started discussing the family news while I divided my time between staring at the fire and light flirting with Saran.
Yawning over dawnfry the next morning, I asked Canth if there was a good jeweler nearby. She replied that there was and gave me directions. After she finished, she casually mentioned that if I waited a few hours, Saran would be up and no doubt would be willing to be a local guide. I was momentarily concerned, because I remembered Kith's unusually short temper with Saran the previous evening after I started flirting with her. Hell with it, I thought. If Saran agreed, why not?
Sure enough, Saran was quite willing to guide me around, provided I didn't mind making a few stops with her.
Holding my arm out with a charming smile, I said, "I have no problem with that. Just don't ask me to stay in a women's clothing store. Some shopping I just refuse to be subjected to."
She giggled as her hand slipped into the crook of my elbow. "Fear not, good sir, I shall not subject you to such horrible peril."
Canth's laughter followed us out the door.
Saran first led us to a butcher, explaining that she was the purchaser for "Storming Knights". After the butcher was a baker and then a cheese maker. All the store owners seemed to know her, and all also expressed surprise to see her come in with me.
Walking out of the cheese store, I asked her about it.
She was silent for a few paces and then answered, "My husband died autumn before last. Everyone's surprised to see me with another man, assuming that we're together in that way."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable -" I started.
She waved it off. "You didn't. Besides, you're off limits."
I frowned in puzzlement. "I am?"
She stopped and looked at me in surprise. "What do you mean? You don't know?"
"Know what?" I asked in exasperation. Flick groaned again.
"Never mind," she said quickly before starting off walking again suddenly.
"No, NOT never mind," I said, stepping rapidly to catch up. "What did you mean, Saran?"
"It was not my place to say anything," was her only reply, refusing to explain further when I pressed. Hoping to distract me, Saran promised the jeweler next. I grudgingly let her off the hook when I realized how much the conversation was bothering her.
I was surprised when Saran led me into a store called "Flanner's Jewels", remembering a store by the same name in Silverymoon was where I'd gotten my infinity clasp made. I vaguely wondered if Flanner would be there and recognize me. I'd long since grown a mustache and beard in an attempt to disguise myself to some degree, but it was still possible that someone who knew Knight Thian could recognize me even after all these months and miles.
I was relieved when a different female halfling came out of the back in response to Saran and I ringing the bell.
"Saran!" she greeted. "How are you this fine day, lass?"
"I am well, Banner. I just brought Thian here so he could do some business with you."
"Ah, and here I thought that you'd introduce him as your boyfriend," Banner said in a teasing tone.
Saran giggled. "Nay, he's already spoken for."
Banner nodded and turned to me. "What can I do for you, sir?"
I was spoken for? That would explain the "off limits" comment, but I STILL didn't know what was going on. "Can you appraise gems?" I asked the halfling, shaking off the mystery.
"For one sparrow per three gems appraised, aye, I can. If you'll permit me to buy one at my stated price, I'll waive the appraisal fee."
Nodding agreement, I removed the gem pouch from my belt and handed it over. They'd sat there since leaving Silverymoon so long ago, and I was finally going to do something with them.
Banner had rolled up her sleeves by this point. Taking the pouch, she gingerly opened it and peeked inside. Cautiously dumping the gems onto a felt cloth she'd spread on the counter, she began poking through the eleven exposed gems.
Seeing how much care she was showing with my gems, I quietly pulled four sparrows out of my coin purse to show my willingness to pay her for the appraisal.
She quickly swept six of the smaller gems aside. Each was a different stone, but every one was barely bigger than a chip. "These six aren't large enough to be anything but decorative," she explained. "I'd pay you perhaps two lions each for them, but you'd do better turning them into ornaments, perhaps for that fine clasp you're wearing. Now let's see about these other five." She studied each intently for several minutes, including pulling a jeweler's eyeglass (called a "loupe" I later learned) from behind the counter for a closer look. Finally satisfied, she leaned back and said, "The small diamond is worth fifty lions. The ruby, emerald, and larger diamond are one hundred lions each. This lovely sapphire is worth five hundred."
Nodding, I placed the sapphire and small diamond back into the gem pouch but didn't pick the rest of them up. I stared down at the remaining nine gems and drummed my fingers in thought.
"What are you thinking, Thian?" asked Saran in curiosity.
You're assuming he IS thinking, interjected Flick.
Completely ignoring Flick, I glanced at Saran for a moment before turning back to Banner. "Do you have a purple, yellow, and orange stone of roughly that size?" I ask, waving a hand at the pile of small stones.
She blinked and looked down. "Yes," she answered slowly. "I've an amethyst, topaz, and citrine of about that size. The amethyst is dark purple, the topaz is deep yellow, and the citrine is actually light yellow, but looks almost orange. Why do you ask?"
"What do you think of this?" I ask, rearranging the stones into a rough circle, leaving three open spaces. I started at the top and pointed, moving clockwise as I named off the stones. "Clear diamond, white opal, red ruby, orange citrine, yellow topaz, green emerald, blue sapphire, purple amethyst, and black onyx around the edge of my clasp."
Banner looked from the arrayed stones to my clasp and back again. "Rainbow in order, plus white, black, and clear," she murmured, frowning in thought. Nodding, she looked up at me and said, "One suggestion?"
She pointed to the space between the opal and ruby. "That color shift is a little much. How about a pink garnet in between?"
Saran smiled. "Sounds good."
I nodded in agreement. "It does. How much would it cost, and how long would it take?"
"Two lions and a falcon each on four gems and mounting of all ten," she muttered to herself. She looked up and said, "Call it three eagles and I can have it done in two days."
I chewed my lip in thought, peering at the larger ruby, emerald, and diamond still lying on the counter. Each was about an eighth of an inch. Decently sized, but not gaudy.
I can hear the gears turning, said Flick. What are you thinking?
[I thought you didn't admit that I DID think,] I teased before my attention returned to the gems. [I've always liked emeralds and rubies,] I continued absently.
"Three eagles?" asked Banner again, not knowing why I'd fallen silent.
"Keep that in mind," I answered. "How much to turn the diamond, ruby, and emerald into earrings?"
She blinked again at the rapidly changing conversation. "What kind?" she asked after a moment.
"Three individual earrings. Studs, not dangling."
"Would you be wanting them to be holding spells as that clasp can?" she asked.
Saran gasped softly, but I smiled at Banner. She'd recognized the clasp as mithril and not silver, then. "No, not magical foci. They'd have to be sturdy, though. Non- corroding, so iron won't work."
She sniffed disdainfully. "As if I would USE iron in jewelry."
I bowed slightly. "Forgive me for suggesting that, but I was just using iron as an example of a material that cannot survive indefinitely."
She nodded, mollified by my explanation. "How hard does it have to be?"
I shrugged. "Not particularly, just hold itself together. It can't bend at a casual contact. Things like that."
"Okay, a gold alloy would work, then." She stared off into space for a moment and said, "One eagle each to make them as studs, or two eagles each to enspell them so they'll never fall off."
"I can remove one and replace it with another of the three, can't I?" I asked. I didn't want one of them to become a permanent earring. All three on a rotation was what I was after.
She nodded. "It IS for you, then. Aye, a command word to attach, and another to detach each."
"How soon?" I asked.
She looked down and chewed on her lip a moment. "You thinking of the clasp AND the earrings?"
"Four days," she answered. "And that's three eagles for the clasp, plus two each for the earrings, for a total of nine eagles."
Damn. Survan had mentioned that we would be leaving town the fifth morning we were here, assuming Kith could find guards that fast. Which would mean that we were leaving the morning of the day these things would be done. "It is now second day morning," I said. "If you can have it all done by evening of fifth day, AND you have a way to pierce my ear, then I'll give you the other diamond as exchange." Doing the math, I was actually overpaying her by an eagle, but then I'd also pushed up the timetable.
Banner smiled. "Your ear need not be pierced for the magical clips."
I breathed a sigh of relief. That solved several problems, not the least of which was my rapid healing would make an earring problematic. "Good. Offer stands IF it can be done by evening of fifth day. Oh, and I'd like to see the amethyst, topaz, garnet, and citrine before I go."
She nodded. "Done." She began to pull out several small drawers of loose gems, searching for the four small items to show me. "You know, I like that idea of the ten gems around the edge of the clasp," she said, pulling out the stones and placing them in position. "I may start making clasps like that just for my show room."
I smiled. "What, I don't get a commission for the idea?" I teased.
"Thian," Saran hissed at me.
Banner just laughed. Pushing the four sparrows I'd placed on the counter a while ago back to me, she said, "Here's your commission, Jeweler Thian."
I laughed with her, appreciative that she recognized my teasing.
Tying my lighter gem bag back to my belt, I removed the cloak and detached the clasp. Laying the clasp inside the circle of smaller stones, I made sure it was oriented correctly for what I wanted.
"You can borrow one of my other clasps until you return for this one," offered Banner, still searching for the garnet.
As I'd given my plain one away some time ago, I needed another one. Nodding, I walked over to her clasp display and perused the selection. I saw the holy symbols of several of the common gods, a couple relatively plain ones, and one that caught my attention. "This one of a unicorn," I said. "I've seen that symbol on a medallion worn by a ranger. Do you know if it means something more?"
Saran answered, "It is the symbol of Mielikki, Lady of the Forest, patron god of rangers."
I nodded, not surprised. "Okay, then can I borrow the clasp with the amethyst?" I asked Banner. The deep purple nearly matched my cloak with Stormbow colors, so it wouldn't look out of place.
"Surely," she answered. Having finally found the garnet, she gingerly placed it in its location then came over to the clasp display and pulled out the object in question, offering it to me. I wasn't terribly surprised she'd offered me a "loaner" so to speak. I was leaving gems worth much more than this clasp, so it was in my best interest to return.
Hooking the clasp back onto the cloak, I followed her back over to the counter. "Oh, and there ARE spells in that clasp. Mounting those stones won't be a problem, will it?"
"Not so long as it isn't a fireball or some such spell," answered Banner hesitantly.
I laughed lightly. "No, nothing nearly so drastic. One spell of protection and a light spell."
She nodded. "No problems, then. Couple last questions before I forget. Will you be wanting the gems along the outer edge of the clasp, partway in, or just outside the symbol?"
"Halfway, maybe shaded toward the outer edge. Evenly spaced around the oval, of course," I added.
"Of course," she agreed. She waved at it where it was sitting in the circle of small gems. "This orientation?"
I nodded, doing a quick inspection of the four new gems. Dark purple amethyst, deep yellow topaz, light pink garnet, and nearly orange citrine.
"And the earrings? Pointed side forward, or flat top forward?"
"Flat," I answered.
"Well enough, then," she answered. "Come back before dusk on fifth day with that diamond, and I'll have all this done for you."
I nodded. "I'll be staying at 'Storming Knights' if you need to get in touch."
She looked at Saran and grinned. "Of course. See you in three days."
Saran spent the rest of that morning showing me around Waterdeep, occasionally stopping in front of a women's clothing store just to laugh at my exaggerated shudder.
We finally came back to "Storming Knights" well after the midday meal, arm in arm and laughing at a joke that Saran had just finished.
Saran's laughter faded out the moment she noticed that Kith was sitting at a table, staring at her. I was surprised to see Kith's expression hovering close to anger for some reason. Survan and Canth were also at the table but didn't make a move. Midnight was lying on the mantle, watching intently. The room was empty otherwise.
Saran quickly rattled something off in Elven, disengaging her arm from mine and dropping her head in submission. Kith answered in a cold voice. Flinching and swallowing hard, Saran kept her eyes down and quickly headed behind the bar.
I'd watched the whole thing in mounting anger, not understanding anything said. I spun on Kith and snarled, "What's your problem?"
"You and Saran," she answered flatly.
"What'd we do? If you're mad at one of us, tell us why so we can avoid getting in trouble again." Her jaw tensed, but she didn't say anything. Seething, I shouted, "WHAT'D WE DO?!" Kith's anger made no sense, and that was driving me crazy.
Kith continued to stare at me, emotions flickering across her face too fast to identify. Without a word, she stood and headed out the door, slamming it behind her.
I nearly followed her, determined to hash out the problem immediately, whatever the problem actually was.
Drop it, Thian, Flick's suggestion stopped me before I moved to pursue Kith.
"WHY?" I roared, tired of all the dancing around.
Because she loves you. "Because she loves you," Flick and Survan's answers overlapped. Canth just nodded.
THAT stopped me in my tracks. "Loves me?" I finally choked out in something that probably sounded suspiciously close to a squeak.
Canth propped her head in one hand and calmly said, "Yes, she loves you."
HOW? No, WHY?
"Kith's been terribly lonely for most of her life," said Survan, reading my expression with uncanny accuracy. "Growing up with Carith she was fine, but once it became obvious that she was becoming an archer and warrior, she drifted away from most of her friends. In loneliness she fled her home in a quest to find the Stormbow, which had been lost centuries earlier. She found it and several adventurer friends along the way. They've all eventually died or moved on by now. Once I became old enough to take over my brother's trade route, she joined me. We've been traveling for YEARS now, Thian. She has family, but no friends." He sighed and continued, "Humans are intimidated by an elf, for the most part. Elven men are intimidated by a female elven fighter, especially one as good as she is. Only in an adventuring band can she find friends, but they die so easily. In a merchant caravan life expectancy is at least much higher. But then we get back to having few friends." He paused, studying my shocked reaction to the entire conversation before going on. "Humans are always wary of befriending elves. Vice versa applies, I suppose. Elves can live centuries, easily. Humans are lucky to make it much beyond fifty years. You are already one hundred, Thian." We both ignored Canth's gasp. "And you can potentially outlive ANY elf," Survan continued. "Therefore, you're someone who is not intimidated by an elf. You've also always treated her as an equal, something most human men do not do with women."
"Men and women are finally being treated as equals in my homeland," I muttered, my mind fixated on the revelations. "Besides, female fighters demand respect or else they'll stick a dagger in you when you're not expecting it."
He nodded and continued, "We've watched how you treat everyone, Thian. You don't prejudge. You give freely of your friendship. You teach and learn what you can. She's also told me that you remind her of a human ranger she knew years ago. His strength and gentleness were qualities she admired, but your sense of humor brings you further in her estimation."
I stared at the tabletop. Over the months I'd been traveling with them, Survan had never steered me wrong before, so I had no reason to not believe what he was saying. Also during that time, Kith and I had grown close as friends. What if there was more there? "Her reaction to Saran was jealousy?" I asked eventually.
"For two reasons," Survan agreed. "Saran's half-elven, so Kith was worried that she would be more to your liking. Secondly, Kith has always been convinced that she doesn't look as . . ." he searched for a word before finishing with, "enticing to men as many women do."
I snorted in amusement. "You must know that by and large elves look better than humans, if you're asking about physical beauty. That's one of the reasons I fell for Carith so quickly."
Survan nodded, not surprised. Canth's eyebrows were lost in her hairline. Survan said, "I know, but you need to convince her, not me."
"Secondly," I said, ignoring Survan's interruption, "I don't care if someone's elf, dwarf, halfling, drow, or ogre. As long as their heart's in the right place, I don't care about the race when choosing friends. I'll admit that I'm more likely to allow myself to fall in love with an elf for the simple reason that elves live longer, but when picking friends, it DOES NOT MATTER."
"The heart rarely listens to the mind," commented Canth in amusement.
I snorted. "I've had lots of practice."
"What does your heart say about her?" pressed Canth.
I frowned. "I don't know."
I thought about it for a moment before answering, "I never allowed myself to think about it before, I guess. She's my employer. You don't get involved with your employer if you want to stay happy at your job."
"Are you happy at your job?" asked Canth, staring hard into my eyes.
I nodded immediately. "Very. Given enough time, I could do just about anything, I suppose, but I'm HAPPY where I am, doing what I am."
"Then TELL HER THAT," Survan stressed. "She's afraid to love you, worried that you'll leave when your six months is up. Also, don't worry about her being your employer. She isn't. Officially, I am," he smiled.
"You know what I mean," I groused. "If you're in a relationship with someone that you work with and it sours, then the working relationship can become a problem."
"Then quit," Survan shrugged. "Your skills would mean that you'd be welcomed into any city guard or merchant band."
"You're suggesting I quit?" I ask him in surprise.
"NO," he answered in exasperation. "I'm suggesting you decide if you want a relationship with Kith. As the bards say, 'The joys are endless if the love is deep enough to survive the storms.' Find out if there's any there, Thian, then decide how deep it is."
Saran found me two hours later.
I was sitting on one of the piers jutting out into Waterdeep's harbor. The gentle sound created by the small waves lapping against the pier pilings had allowed me to think.
"Sparrow for your thoughts," Saran quietly said from behind me.
I chuckled without turning. "They worth that much?" I asked sardonically.
She dropped down beside me, crossing her legs and facing straight out to sea just like I was. "Could be," she answered.
"How come I keep screwing up?" I eventually asked in resignation.
Her head tilted toward me slightly. "Why do you think you keep screwing up as you so eloquently put it?"
"First I damn near fall in love with Carith, even though it wouldn't have been fair to either of us if I had. Then I get here to Waterdeep, and what's the first thing I do? I start flirting with you. Don't get me wrong, that in itself isn't a mistake. What WAS a mistake was flirting with you even though I had someone right there in front of me that not only wanted me to flirt with her, but who my heart had already fallen for." Even as I said it, I was surprised to find it the truth. My heart HAD fallen for Kith.
"I'm still waiting for the part where you screwed up," Saran said into my silence.
"I was blind as a bat," I respond.
"How?! How could I have NOT seen Kith's reaction? How could I have ignored my own emotions?"
"You are arrogant, aren't you?" Saran asked in amusement.
My head snapped over to stare at her incredulously. "Excuse me?"
"Arrogant," she repeated. "You're assuming that you know Kith well enough to read her reactions? You've known her for all of . . . four months now?" She continued at my nod, "You already can read her well enough to know when she's hiding something from you specifically? Arrogant," she said again with a slight smile.
I frowned at that, moving my gaze back to the sea. "Okay, if she was trying to hide it from me, that does make sense."
"Survan told you she was. As for your inability to see your own reaction: you've said that you've had practice ignoring your heart. Why should this be any different?"
I looked at her with a raised eyebrow. "You were eavesdropping, you little sneak."
She smiled brightly. "Guilty as charged," she agreed without a trace of regret. Her gaze sobered, and she frowned at me slightly. "One hundred years old?"
Here it goes again. "Yes. Ninety-eight, actually. I'm from another world, brought here against my will by a teleport. My race calls themselves Immortal. There're rumors of Immortals living for five thousand years, so one hundred is actually quite young."
"So says an apparent human," Saran chuckled.
We stared at the busy port in companionable silence for a few minutes before Saran broke the silence. "So have you decided anything?"
"I don't know," I whispered, hedging around the real answer. "How would the clan react to her if we were together, or even married?"
I could see the shrug out of the corner of my eye. "This generation of Stormbows are all away from their homeland. Very few have children. As an elven noble clan, Stormbow will probably cease to exist within a couple centuries, so what her family thinks is pretty irrelevant. Besides, few of them go home anymore. The only ones that matter are the ones you've met."
"I already know nearly a half dozen Stormbows in various cities. Those I've met like me as far as I know."
"Yep," she agreed. "Though Carith DID fall in love with you. Give her at least a year before you see her again. She'll forgive you by then."
I narrowed my eyes at her. "You're a Stormbow, aren't you?"
She nodded. "Canth is my mother. She fell in love with a human guard of Waterdeep when she was a guard for her brother's merchant band. She stayed here when the caravan moved on. With the family's help, they opened 'Storming Knights', and so the chain of inns started. Uncle Survan has since taken over the merchant responsibilities."
"What happened to your father?" I asked in curiosity.
"He died of old age fifteen years ago," she answered with a faraway stare.
"I'm sorry," I responded quietly. "I didn't mean to bring up painful memories."
She smiled slightly. "They aren't painful. He and my mother loved each other and me." Shaking off the memories, she added, "To answer the last part of your earlier question: marriage to Kith isn't necessary in this day and age."
I shrugged. Call it what you want, being together indefinitely is close enough to marriage.
Now just to decide what to do.
I got back to "Storming Knights" after dark that evening. I stepped through the door and looked around the busy floor, looking for a few familiar faces. Saran smiled at me on her way past with a full tray. Survan nodded to me and then tilted his head over toward the hearth.
That's where I did find Kith at a table by herself, absently stroking Midnight's fur, a full wineglass sitting in front of her. Her gaze never left the flickering flames even after I took a seat. "I want to be left alone."
"Too bad," I answered simply.
She sighed. "What do you want, Thian?"
"To talk, for starters. We'll see where it goes from there."
She finally did turn her gaze over to me, and I held her blue eyed gaze steadily. "Okay, so talk," she finally relented.
"Why didn't you tell me?" I asked directly.
She grunted and turned back to the fire. "Tell you what? That I was falling in love with you?"
"Because it won't work out," she said in a resigned sigh.
She turned to stare at me again. Saran came by and placed a flagon in front of me. I absently thanked her, but it'd distracted Kith from the conversation.
"What happened to your clasp?" she asked.
"I'm getting it buffed up all nice and shiny. Now don't change the subject."
"What subject is that?" she asked in all innocence.
"Why you think we can't fall in love with each other," I answered patiently.
"Because it just won't work!" she exploded in sudden anger.
"Why not?" I calmly asked again.
"You're human, you'll find someone else, one of us will get killed. Take your pick."
"I'm not human," I remind her. Her lip twisted into a grimace, but she nodded in recognition of that fact. Having won that point, I continued, "As for the second item, I don't go looking for someone else when I'm in a relationship."
She made a rude noise of disbelief. "You don't have to go looking, Thian. They find you. How could you pick someone like me when someone like Saran is chasing after you?"
"You're actually that self-conscious," I marveled, realizing the truth of it even as I said so out loud. Shaking it off, I leaned forward and spoke intently. "Let me tell you something about this woman sitting in front of me. She is physically beautiful from the glossy, jet black hair, to unusual blue eyes, to dusky skin, to lithe grace. Even more important than that, though, is her spirit. She stands by her friends in the midst of battle, even leaving a position of protection just to chase after a comrade who may or may not even be in peril. Her sense of humor is sharp enough to slice through anything, even the depression of a close friend. She cares enough for her family to run away from their security to chase after a family weapon that may or may not even have still existed. She's the best friend that anyone can ask for." I leaned back and waved my hand as if presenting her. "What isn't there to love?"
Her eyes were wide, staring at me. "You . . . Me . . . I . . ."
"Try a coherent sentence, Kith. Elven will do if you can't handle Common," I teased with a slight grin.
Her eyes narrowed slightly before she said something in Elven. I'd caught, "You are a (something) human."
[What was that adjective?] I asked Flick, knowing his Elven skills were far in excess of mine.
Infuriating, he answered in amusement.
"Thank you," I smiled at Kith.
Her eyes narrowed further. "It wasn't a compliment."
I nodded, taking a sip of my drink. "I know. I just don't accept insults from friends when I don't think they mean them."
She grunted in amusement. "Oh, I meant it. You are infuriating."
"Okay, and that's supposed to be insulting somehow?"
She glared at me for a moment before it melted into a slight smile. "You're impossible."
"I aim to please," I fired back with a smile.
Her smile widened for a moment before she looked back over at the fire. Taking a deep sigh, she asked, "Okay, now what do we do?"
I pretended to think on it, leaning back in my chair and running a thumb along my jaw. "We could sit here, get drunk, and get to know each other better," I suggested.
One eyebrow went up. "I can't keep up with your drinking. You know that."
I grinned roguishly. "Well, then I'll get you drunk and take advantage of a beautiful elven maiden."
The other eyebrow came up. "Where, pray tell, will you find this beautiful elven maiden to take advantage of?"
I sighed. Back to that? "There's one at this table," I said. "Whether you believe me or not, I do find you to be beautiful, Kith."
She smiled and placed one slender hand on my wrist. "I was teasing, Thian."
Smiling in relief, I pulled her hand up to my mouth, dropping a kiss into her palm.
With a mischievous glint in her eye, she leaned over and whispered into my ear, "Why don't we skip the getting me drunk part and just go straight to the taking advantage of me part?"
I pulled back slightly and looked at her with a small smile. "You don't waste any time, do you?"
"Why should I?" she asked with a grin.
Hmm, good point.
As I was mulling this over, she stood up and walked over toward the stairs leading up to the rooms. Three steps up, she stopped with one leg a step higher than the other. Looking back over her shoulder, she stared at me with a seductive smile and pointed a finger at me. When she motioned for me to come along, tilting her head forward so she was looking through the hair falling over her forehead and the smile widening, three wolf whistles sounded around the room.
Startled out of our semi-trance, Kith whirled to look around the room, flushing scarlet. Taking a breath to bring my heart rate under control, I looked around as well. Survan and Saran were among those who wore huge grins. Canth was one of those who'd just whistled.
"Get going!" Canth called to both of us in Elven, waving an arm in a dismissive gesture.
That was the best idea I'd heard all day. Jumping to my feet, I charged at Kith who was still standing on the stairs. Seeing me coming, she darted up the stairs ahead of me, giggling all the way. I caught up with her at the head of the stairs as she turned the corner to the rooms. Scooping her up on my way past, I carried her into my room, kicking the door closed behind us on the cheers and laughter below.
I came stumbling back downstairs the next morning and fell into a stool by the bar.
"Good morn," greeted Canth in amusement. "Sleep well?"
I pried open one of my eyes and grinned at her. "Oh, was that the point of going to bed? I must remember that."
She burst into giggles, but quickly slapped a hand over her mouth to muffle herself. Composing herself eventually, she asked, "How about some dawnfry?"
Yawning, I nodded. "That's the second best suggestion I've heard all morning."
"Second?" she queried.
My wide grin and waggling eyebrows gave her the answer.
She sighed in exasperation and rolled her eyes. "Men!"
I laughed, and so did Saran who was just walking in from the back room, tying her apron on.
"Good morning, Mother, Thian," she greeted.
I was halfway through my breakfast when Kith called from the balcony, "There you are."
I turned and smiled up at her as she came down the stairs. "I thought you were asleep. Sorry."
"I was," she nodded, her charmingly tousled hair falling over her eyes, "but the bed became strangely cold. That woke me."
"By Selune, I thought HE was sappy," groaned Canth.
Kith and I grinned. Saran giggled from where she was cleaning the tables in preparation for a new day of business.
Kith turned toward Saran and called, "Saran, I owe you an apology. My jealousy got the better of me when I saw the two of you come in yesterday. Forgive me?" she asked.
Saran just looked at her and smiled. "One condition. You let me pry him away from you tomorrow for more shopping and sightseeing."
Kith turned to me and raised her eyebrows in thought. "I suppose I can let him out of my sight for a few hours."
"Hey, don't I get a say in this?" I protested.
"No," all three women chorused, followed by two laughs and a giggle.
Two months later I entered Silverymoon as a guard to Stormbow's Merchant Caravan. I hoped that very few would recognize me. Those who knew I was Immortal probably would, but everyone else would just see me as another nameless sell-sword. Between the mustache, beard, amethyst clasp (which I'd ended up buying from Banner), emerald earring, and purple cloak, I figured my disguise was as good as it was going to get short of magical illusions.
The guards didn't bat an eye at us, and Survan, Kith, and I went off to our respective errands. Survan went to the market to sell the few general wares we'd brought, Kith went to buy new provisions, and I hand carried three letters.
I headed straight toward the castle, stopping at the first guard station and politely asking for an audience with Lady Alustriel, identifying myself simply as a representative of the Stormbow Merchants.
The guard nodded and escorted me to the audience hall. I stood quietly while he announced me. Stepping into the room, I found Alustriel leaning over her table, writing something. Given a moment to study her, I did so, noting that she'd hardly aged at all in the intervening six months. Without looking up, she said, "Welcome back, Survan. How is the merchant business this season?"
"Is that any way to greet an old friend, Ali?" I asked in a teasing tone.
Her head shot up and took in my appearance. Her face lit up. "Ted!" She stood and walked over to me, wrapping me into a hug which I warmly returned. "How have you been? It has been a while since I have heard word of you."
"I've been well. You?"
She rolled her eyes. "The usual headaches of running a city. You are still with Kith and Survan?" She waved me to a chair by the fireplace and took one for herself.
"I am. Though it's closer to a four way partnership than anything, now."
One eyebrow went up. "Four way? Dare I ask?"
"Survan will marry Andras, a cleric of Waukeen later this year. She's joined us on the road."
She nodded, accepting that news. "And you?" she queried with a twinkle in her eye.
Deliberately misunderstanding her, I said, "No, I'm not engaged to be married to any clerics of the patron god of merchants."
She smacked my shoulder playfully. "You know what I mean," she chided.
I smiled and answered, "Kith and I exchanged vows last month."
Her smile lit up the room. "Good for the two of you."
I tilted my head a fraction and asked, "And you?"
She blushed. "No, I have not married, Ted."
I quietly studied her for a moment before adding, "Despite your hopes."
Her lip twitched, but she didn't say anything.
"He will eventually return to you," I predicted quietly.
She sighed but didn't comment.
"To business, then," I said, reaching into a pocket to retrieve two letters. "Malchor Harpell and Khelben Arunsun send you greetings and these letters." I handed them over, and she broke the seals, reading them quickly. Standing, she walked over to her desk and pulled a small Kings and Queens board from under a stack of paper. Comparing something in one of the letters I'd given her with the board, she delicately moved a black jouster and then studied the board again.
"You're playing Kings and Queens by courier?" I asked incredulously. That HAD to take forever.
She looked up at me and smiled mischievously before returning her attention to the board. "What more important communication is to be done than a friendly game between two mages such as Khelben and I?"
I laughed. "If you'd like, I can play you a game this evening."
She looked up from the board again. "You play?"
I nodded. "Certainly. Survan and I have to do SOMETHING when our significant others are shopping, after all." She laughed, and I added, "After you beat me, I can teach you the game of Chess that I learned in my world."
She continued to smile, but said, "I fear I do not have that much time to spare this even. Perhaps next time you are in town." She looked down at her board and moved a white castle. Leaning over the letter she'd been working on when I entered, she jotted down one last item and then rolled it. Muttering a few words over it to magically seal the letter, she handed it and another similar letter to me. "Please deliver these as indicated."
Taking them in hand, I stood and bowed before heading toward the door.
"Come by for evening meal with your troupe. It has been far too long since I shared a casual meal with friends. Besides, I must meet this Andras and discuss your assignment, Harper."
I smiled. "Until this even, then, Lady."
It was a ten minute walk, but it had seemed to pass by in the blink of an eye.
Taking a deep breath, I pushed open the door and entered "Storm Tales". Looking around, no one among the customers recognized me. Carith and Sherith were both working.
Trying to remain inconspicuous, I walked to the bar and took a seat, placing the letter of family news and business down in front of me. Carith was tending the bar this evening, but she was too busy to notice me immediately.
When she finally did break free long enough to turn to me, she immediately smiled at me. She picked up the letter and placed it under the counter, apparently to read later. "How fares my kin, Ted?" she asked calmly.
A smile tried to force its way onto my face. She didn't know. "We are well," I answered softly.
THAT answer stopped her in her tracks. Peering at me closely, her face shifted from confusion to growing comprehension. "We?" she asked significantly.
At my slight smile, she squealed in delight, dashing around the end of the bar to come barreling into me as I stood to receive her hug.
"You'd better have a good reason for hugging my husband like that, little sister," called Kith in amusement from where she was just entering the room.
Refusing to release me, she turned to Kith and said, "You didn't."
Kith smiled, pointed to my emerald earring, then to her own matching diamond one.
"Oh!" Carith huffed at Kith and smacked her in the arm with the dishrag in her hand. "Leave it to you to take the best looking guy around," she moaned. Theatrics over with, she smiled and enveloped her sister into a warm hug.
When they parted, I scooped Carith's hands into mine and quietly asked, "You're not angry at me for leaving you like I did, are you?"
She shook her head. "I understand why you did what you did, Thi." She smiled suddenly and added, "At least if I couldn't have you, my sister can." She shook a finger in my face and added, "Just so you come back and visit." She smiled suddenly. "Now that you're my brother-in-law, you'll have to visit more often!"
"Yes, ma'am," I responded humbly.
Laughing at my meek act, Carith waved at a side table, promising midday meal. Kith and I seated ourselves, content to quietly watch the world go by for a time.
One sight caught my eye during our meal. As we were talking and laughing, I noticed Chavim come in the door and quietly take what used to be my regular table. Sherith eventually noticed him and threw him a coy smile. Scooping up a plate of food and a flagon, she deposited them in front of Chavim before leaning in for a deep kiss.
I smiled at the cute little domestic scene, finally tearing my gaze away as Survan came walking in, arm in arm with Andras. Spotting Kith and myself, they made their way over and joined us.
"How'd the shopping go, Kith?" asked Survan.
"Well as can be," she answered with a sigh after a sip from her wineglass. "Trail rations are a sparrow more expensive than I recall."
Survan sighed. "Ain't inflation great," I commented, to which Andras smiled.
Survan smiled at his soon to be wife before turning to me. "And you? How did your meeting with Lady Alustriel go?"
I nodded. "Good. I've letters to take back to Harpell and Arunsun. Also . . ." I trailed off with a grin.
Kith smacked my shoulder. "Don't make us wait for it."
I pouted for a moment until Kith mock growled at me. Smiling, I finished, "She's invited the four of us to even meal with her."
"What's the occasion?" asked Andras with a frown.
I shook my head. "No occasion. She's a friend to the three of us, and she wants to meet you."
Survan and I laughed as she went into minor hysterics, claiming she didn't have anything at ALL to wear, and how should she act, and . . .