Long Fiction – Halcyon (Part One)

I play in a weekly Dungeons and Dragons group and I want to write some of what’s going on behind the scenes for my character and the two characters she spends the most time with. The player who plays Aryn is leaving us for a one-year contract overseas, so my intention is to write the side-story to where we currently are and then provide updates as the game progresses past his point of departure. Fingers crossed!

Charles and Nicole, let me know what I get wrong. It’s just a little weird putting my own spin on your characters. ^_~

***

Crammed into a stuffy hiring office vying for guard positions with the next caravan to Waterdeep was not how Shaava had intended to spend her day. The small room was awash in the effluvia of the unbathed and unlettered who were her competition. Fortunately, many of those in attendance were hung over or perhaps even still drunk, and the caravan master had announced to the earliest that he would accept no one impaired. That increased her odds of getting hired substantially. She had to get to Waterdeep. Someone had to know what had happened at WhiteRock. Blazing memories fed the urgency that kept her on her feet, despite the exhaustion dogging her footsteps.

She felt ghostly fingers try for her belt pouch almost the same time very brazen fingers pinched her ass, the third and fourth attempt at each since she’d joined the waiting almost two hours ago. There had been far fewer people at that point, and everyone had politely held themselves a little apart, stifling yawns with the backs of their hands and engaging in quiet small talk if anything at all. Since the crowd started to gather in earnest she had been receiving inquisitive pokes on an increasing frequency. Rolling her eyes she attempted to worm her way along the wall and into the back corner, away from the worst of the roiling mass. Around her conversation reigned; a voice she couldn’t connect to a face could be heard over the din, sounding for all the world like a carnival barker, continued hawking “GoodBarrel’s Finest”. Whatever that was. Whoever he was. She was fairly certain she had the patter memorized at this point and every repetition grated. Almost there, she thought, tiredly, smoothing a hand over her face. She wasn’t accustomed to waiting and had very little patience for it.

A few moments later, the caravan master entered the staging room from his office. The noise quickly subsided. “All right, yous,” he said, standing on a wooden crate so he could address the crowd. She could see a number of scars crisscrossed his shrewd face, two of which split his upper lip. That explained the peculiar lisp. “Yous know how dis goes. One line over ‘ere. If yous get a chit, line up agains’ dat wall. If yous don’ getta chit, bugger off an’ sober up.”

There was a mumble of assent and the mass of limbs organized itself into a line more quickly than Shaava expected. Her decision to tuck into the corner meant that she was almost at the end of the line, which suited her mood and her curiosity. She was able to watch as the line progressed, guessing based on observation who was going to get a chit and who wouldn’t, and from there trying to discern why those who weren’t obviously drunk hadn’t earned a chit. The line was more than half screened when she heard the hawker’s voice rise again.

“That’s ridiculous! Did you hear that, Quinn? I am too short to guard this man’s precious caravan!” His voice was practically vibrating with indignation. Now that she could see him, she figured she could be forgiven for assuming his was the voice of a larger man. Although a Halfling, he certainly knew how to project. She wondered with veiled irritation if he knew how to shut up. A tall, well-equipped Ranger stood beside him, presumably the Quinn in question, saying something to the Halfling that she couldn’t make out. The Halfling suddenly grinned at his friend. “Why, you’re right, my friend! I could use a drink!” Shooting a dirty look at the caravan master, the Halfling headed for the door. Quinn nodded silently to the caravan master before following. The caravan master watched them go, slightly puzzled, before rousing himself and refocusing on those still waiting in line. She waited patiently for another quarter hour before finally arriving at his desk.

He eyed her suspiciously. “You’s a girl.”

“Well spotted,” Shaava replied, fighting to keep the contempt out of her voice. I need this job, I need this job, I need this job.

“Why you wanna guard?” he asked skeptically, tapping his quill on the edge of the desk.

“I would like to go to Waterdeep. This seemed like an effective way to do so,” she replied.

He shrugged. “Why should I hire yous instead o’ sum utter guy?”

“I am a mage,” Shaava replied, holding her left hand out to him, palm up, crowned in tiny flames. She let them dance for a moment and then allowed them to wink out. The caravan master failed to notice her shiver as she dispelled the spell.

His eyes lit up. “Ah! You’s useful after all!” he grinned, passing her a chit. “Go wai’ over there, hey?”

She accepted the chit, carefully so as not to touch his fingers, and nodded. She joined the still-large group of chit-bearers along the wall and resumed waiting. It was easier to make out conversations now that the crowd had thinned. After a moment, she wished it wasn’t; to her left, three chit-holders were having a speculative conversation about their uses for her if she joined the caravan. It wasn’t easy to maintain her poise as their comments escalated from joking, to crude, to obscene. The other men eyed the three, clearly listening, some smiling, some joining in awkwardly, others remaining silent. It was listening to those joining in that finally unnerved her.

“Hey, Missy, where yous to?” the caravan master asked in surprise as she cut through the last of the line on her way to the door. “Thought yous interested?”

“I received a message with a better offer,” she lied, placing the chit on the corner of his desk with a slight curtsy. “Please excuse me.”

He gave a slightly disappointed frown and then shrugged prosaically. “Suits yousself, then.”

Oh, I will, she thought, clearing the door. Trust me.

 ***

In Aryn’s estimation, the common room in the Clearwater Inn was a bit too loud for conducting business, but it couldn’t be helped. Or perhaps it could if the Halfling wasn’t already half into his cups. Aryn had to give the bard credit; for a man his size, Finneas GoodBarrel could drink and, surprisingly, his strumming seemed to improve with each tankard. The Bard was currently wandering the room playing for individual tables in exchange for a few coins. Finneas had been at this for a while now and seemed to be making a mint. At the very least, Aryn observed, enough that his tankard never went dry. Grinning at the way two tavern beauties were flirting with the Bard, Aryn refocused on the others sitting at his table, mentally reviewing names as he looked at faces.

To his left Torrin Silverspear, a Dragonborn paladin, cut an impressive figure in his armor, holy symbol emblazoned proudly on his breastplate. The villagers in the common room were giving him wary looks, which was hardly surprising due to the dragon raids rumoured to be occurring in the north. So far no one had felt the need to make a scene. If Torrin was at all bothered by the stares and whispers, he gave no indication as he and Quinn continued their conversation. Seated across the table from Torrin was Quinn, a human ranger with no last name as far as his introduction indicated. Other than being Finneas’ best friend, Quinn was rather enigmatic. He wore dark, comfortable clothing tailored more for unfettered movement than fashion and gave the impression of having everyone in the room under careful observation while conversing with Torrin. Quinn rarely spoke unless directly addressed, although as he observed the room he would smirk a bit periodically as if he found something funny but didn’t want to laugh out loud. From the frequency of the restrained mirth, Aryn thought it was likely that Quinn had quite the sense of humour.

It was clear to Aryn that Torrin, Quinn, and Finneas had history, and equally clear that it would be difficult to enter that circle without their invitation. No matter, Aryn thought, drawing on his tankard. They don’t have to like me. They just have to be willing to work with me. The party was waiting on one more, apparently; Finneas had said something about the last-minute addition of a mage. Aryn hoped the mage would be both willing to join and useful. In his experience, it was always better to have a dedicated magic-user around. At the very least, they could usually catch you if you fell. A server came by, deftly balancing a tray laden with fresh ale, flashing Aryn a bright smile. He returned it, accepted the fresh tankard and thanked her as she placed the empty on her tray. She smiled hugely again and lingered a moment, trying to make conversation. Aryn was answering her questions politely when Quinn nudged Torrin with an elbow.

“He doesn’t realize she’s hitting on him,” Quinn murmured, sotto voce. Torrin snorted into his beer and casually looked over. The server’s interest was clear to Torrin, as it had been to Quinn, yet Aryn seemed completely oblivious to her charms. Where did Finneas find this guy? I hope he can spot vampires better than he can spot vamping, or our odds just got a lot longer. A moment later the server swung by their end of the table to refresh their drinks. Quinn caught her eye and nodded to Aryn with a half-shrug. She rolled her eyes at Aryn with a small smile and winked at Quinn, as if to acknowledged it happened all the time. Quinn slipped her an extra silver piece with a look of mock pity and she accepted it with a chuckle before heading back to the bar to restock her tray. Quinn watched her walk away appreciatively. “He’s a fool, Torrin,” he said quietly, raising his glass in a toast. Torrin knocked his glass against Quinn’s in response, nodding solemnly.

Within an hour Finneas had returned to the table, pockets jingling merrily, with two fawning ladies hanging on his every word. He was regaling them with grandiose stories that Aryn was suspicious of, but somehow couldn’t completely discount. The bard was both verbose and extravagant, but there were occasional turns of phrase in his recount that rang true to Aryn’s ears, carefully couched in self-depreciating humour and outright comedy.

“Ooh, Finneas,” the taller cooed at him, interrupting his story with a hand on his chest, “it looks like our competition has arrived.” The word ‘competition’ was laced with mockery and the shift in tone caught Aryn’s attention immediately. He turned to look where Finneas’ companion was pointing and saw a tall, obviously tired woman being guided by the server to their table. When they were a short distance away, the server pointed the woman in their direction and then returned to the bar.

“Well, then, lovelies, it’s off with you. Finneas has work to do,” he said, with a roguish grin. They pouted prettily and made quite a show of leaving, and although Finneas cast many compliments after them, he was firm about their exit. They were withdrawing into the crowd when the woman finally arrived at the table. Aryn stood immediately and offered her his chair, not seeing Quinn nudge Torrin again. She stared at him uncomprehending for a moment and then smiled gratefully and sat down, sliding her pack to the floor at her feet. Aryn gave a slight bow and sat in one of the empty chairs beside Finneas.

“So you’re Shaava then? The wizard?” Finneas asked her. She nodded and pulled the hood of her cloak back.

She’s an elf! Aryn realized, seeing her face clearly for the first time.

“I am,” she confirmed.

“Are you any good?” Finneas asked, with an exaggerated wink.

“I am,” she confirmed, eyes sharpening slightly. It seemed to Aryn that Finneas didn’t notice the increase in tension in her shoulders, or the way she raised her chin in subtle defiance of the Bard’s roguery.

“Well, that’s good then,” Finneas replied, setting his mug down and surveying the table. “So here’s the deal: I need to find a guy who doesn’t really want to be found and I need some help doing it. I’ve heard he could be in a few places that I don’t necessarily want to go to alone, hence enlisting all of you. It’s going to take a few months, I wager. There’s probably going to be adventure and treasure along the way, which is good because I can’t afford to pay you. At the very least, I’ll get you to Waterdeep and while we are there, buy you a drink. Sound good?”

“Sounds vague,” Quinn observed, taking a drink. “How are we going to do this?”

“I’ve got a bead on a caravan leaving Greenest in a few days that will take us on as guards. It’s going through a few of the places I’ve got in mind,” Finneas explained.

“You do?” Shaava was clearly surprised. “I saw you at the caravan master’s warehouse three days ago! You weren’t hired!”

“I do,” Finneas replied. “I may be too short to guard for that particular gentleman, but a GoodBarrel’s always got options. I’ve explored them and arrived at this one.”

Shaava’s expression remained skeptical. “That sounds convenient.”

“It is,” Finneas returned dryly, and then turned pointedly to look at Torrin, edging Shaava out of his field of vision. Mages. Good grief.

“Who is this person and why are you looking for him?” Torrin asked, casually, as if the answer didn’t matter to him one way or another.

“I’m collecting a debt for my Dad. This guy owes the Meadery a lot of money,” Finneas replied, glibly. Aryn wasn’t convinced—the Bard’s answer was a bit too swift, in Aryn’s opinion—but Torrin seemed satisfied. Concern melted off of Quinn’s face as well as he arrived at some silent conclusion. Finneas turned to look at Aryn. “So? You in?”

Aryn nodded. “Certainly. It sounds like you could use the assistance and I am on my way back to Waterdeep regardless.”

Finneas grinned widely. “Atta boy, Cleric.”

They spent what little remained of the evening negotiating what kind of kit they thought they would need. Aryn tried to keep his expression neutral when he failed to hear mention of any tents or survival gear beyond basic rations and individual bedrolls. He raised the oversight to have it blown off by Finneas’ enthusiastic, “We’ll figure it out! It’s all good, friend!” Unsatisfied and with a slight feeling of foreboding, Aryn made mental notes to pick up a few additions to augment his usual supplies. His training was too ingrained to allow him to be so blithe about preparedness. He noticed Shaava visibly wilting around the same time as the conversation seemed to shift from business to pleasure again. Aryn rose from his chair and nodded to the assembled table. “On that note, I’ll say goodnight.” He turned to the weary mage. “Shaava, may I assist you in getting your packs to your room?” Across table Quinn jabbed Torrin in the ribs again. Torrin shook his head.

She looked at him carefully. Whatever she saw seemed to satisfy her. “I would appreciate that, Stormborn. My thanks.”

He nodded. “It’s my pleasure.” He rounded the table and picked up her pack, inwardly surprised at how heavy it was. Shaava had the willowy, unmuscled build and pale complexion of a scholar who spent their time indoors, studying. What was in this bag?! As he shifted it onto his back, sharp corners peppered his ribs. Books? He thought, incredulously. Trust a mage to pack a library! No wonder she looks exhausted. Even I might be hauling this lot around.

Finneas, Quinn, and Torrin didn’t look up when Aryn and Shaava left the table. Aryn followed her up to the third floor and waited while she unlocked the door. He made to follow her into the room and was caught off guard when he bumped into her as she turned to face him rather than crossing the threshold as he’d expected. He apologized quickly and stepped back a pace.

She nodded in acceptance. “Thank you for your assistance. I will take my pack from here.”

“I can take it in for you, Shaava. It’s hardly a problem.”

“That’s unnecessary. I appreciate the offer.” There was something odd about her manner that Aryn couldn’t put his finger on.

He swung the pack off his back and she took it from him awkwardly. “Goodnight, then.”

“Goodnight, Stormborn. Thank you for your courtesy this evening.”

“It was what anyone should offer,” he replied with a slight bow.

She quirked an eyebrow. “Indeed.”

As she closed the door behind her, Aryn noticed for the first time that she was barefoot. He shook his head and wondered about that for the rest of the brief journey to his room. Mages.

 ***

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