By Brian Flood
Chapter 29 - Lunch at the One-Eyed Cat
The One-Eyed Cat Tavern
Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr
Highsun, 19th Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
The sun is high in the sky when the party finally reunites at the One-Eyed Cat. They arrive to find Alain sitting alone at a table, and the tavern filling with the usual lunchtime assortment of customers. The companions arrive in the space of a few minutes, take seats at the table with the warrior, and take a few moments to scan the customers that now fill most of the tables in the room.
Most of the customers unremarkable and the adventurers can recall seeing them about the Keep over the past few days. A few individuals, however, stand out from the growing crowd.
A pale, dark-robed young woman with straight short-cropped black hair is seated alone at a corner table. She sits quietly and sips on a goblet of wine. The large, dark-skinned woman from a few days stands against one of the taproom’s walls. She silently scans the crowd as she leans against the wall with her arms folded in front of her.
A quintet of newcomers sits together at a table of their own. The group is comprised of a grossly overweight, jovial man dressed in the fine robes of a merchant; two nubile and suggestively clad young women – one blonde and the other dark-haired; and two surly men clad in chainmail and wearing peace-bonded broadswords at their hips.
Salik eyes the dark robed woman curiously and takes a seat next to Alain, motioning to his companions to do the same. “That must be her!” he whispers. “Well, we’ve finally found her. I’ll keep an eye on her to make sure she doesn’t leave before the others get here.”
Tirondalin seizes a casual glance in the woman’s direction as Salik indicates. He turns back to Salik with raised eyebrows. “Would you mind running that past me again?” he asks.
Declan sits down and then says, “Wot Salik means is the lady over there in the bloomin’ dark robes is the chuffin’ one we ‘ave been lookin’ for.” He pauses then continues, “Why not invite ‘er ter join us, eh? After all, we do want ter talk ter her.”
Tirondalin pushes back his chair and rises from his seat. “Will anyone accompany me to speak to this here lady, or would someone like to visit her in my stead?” he asks of the quiet group. “I am vague as to what we need from her apart from general information regarding herself and her presence at the Keep,” he adds, perhaps another plea for someone to join him.
After waiting for several long seconds, Tiron decides that no one wishes to accompany him. With a sigh, he heads over to the black-clad young woman.
Velgardrin grunts and comments, “We wander all over the Keep and she’s where we started. ‘Tis an ill omen fer this day. And what o’ that snippy one keepin’ the locked door? I still has me suspicherns about what he’s hidern.”
Declan shrugs and takes a sip of his drink. Then he pushes away from the table and says, “I’m bloody well gonna join Tiron. I’m right curious about the lady.” He then stands and goes over to join the lady and Tiron. Along the way he motions for a barmaid to bring them another round by raising his glass and pointing to Tiron and the woman, then himself.
Scooping his work into a pile then gathering it up, Alain rises and joins Declan. “A little moral support couldn’t hurt either.” The warrior begins making his way towards the group.
* * * * *
“Greetings, lady,” Tiron says as he arrives at the young woman’s table. “I noticed your lack of company this day and my friends and I have certainly ordered much too much food for an intended light lunch. Would you care to join us?” he asks with a kindly, innocent smile that is so true to his nature that any kind of subterfuge is unneeded.
The dark-haired and dark robed girl looks up from her wine goblet. “Greetings,” she says simply in answer to the half-elf. She then glances over at the table where the other seven adventurers still sit and says, “It would seem that your table is quite crowded. What brings such a large group of travelers, here?”
With a flick of his eyebrows, Tirondalin answers her question. “Food mainly,” he states bluntly, almost cheekily. “The ‘Cat is apparently the only place one can find for a decent meal, or so I’m told! But also, the keep provides shelter from the less friendly elements of the wilderness, what with these vicious bandits about. Can you believe that I was attacked just the other day!? So, I’ve taken shelter in numbers. In fact, it’s quite unusual to see a lone, unarmed traveler, especially female!” he exclaims with obvious interest. He still wears his smile however, and in no way conveys any threatening attitude toward the young lady.
The young woman nods sagely at the ranger’s words. “Indeed, I have heard of these bandits. Is that who attacked you?” she asks.
Before Tiron can answer the young woman’s question, Declan arrives at the table to join them. The lady glances from the half-elf to the mage and asks, “I presume you two know each other? I’d welcome you, but since this man here,” she says, indicating Tiron, “has yet to introduce himself, I am a growing weary of strangers.”
Tirondalin grimaces. “Forgive my lack of manners, I often get ahead of myself and forget the simplest of things," he says, his features breaking into a soft smile. “My name is Tirondalin Niraldien,” he announces with a polite nod of the head. “And your name, milady?”
“I am Aseneth,” the young woman answers simply.
Declan smiles as he sits down, “An’ I am Declan, a bloomin’ mage. Pleased to bloody well meet ya, m’lady.” The mage smiles then looks to see the status of the drinks he waved for.
“I have invited the lady to join us, Declan,” Tiron says to his companion. “I thought she may enjoy the company?”
The young lady opens her mouth to say something and then frowns as a shadow comes over the table. Alain has now arrived to join the growing group. In his hands, the warrior holds the leather thongs and claws upon which he was working.
The girl raises her eyebrows at the collection of mortal trophies. “And let me guess,” she says sardonically, “you are also part of this band that has decided to keep me company!”
“Oh hullo, Alain,” exclaims Tiron, trying to remain nonchalant. “I was inviting this young lady over to our table, as I don’t really think the rest of the group could fit at this small table here,” he says with a contrived smile.
Declan, on the other hand, sighs and looks disgusted. He takes a sip of his ale and leans back to see what else happens.
The young woman frowns as she studies the varied and contrasting words and actions of the three men at her table. “You are indeed a strange lot,” she says in a somewhat condescending tone.
She nods her chin slightly toward Alain. “I take it by your … friend’s … words that you are known as Alain. I am Aseneth.”
The black-clad woman then returns her attention to the claws that Alain holds in his hands. “Are those the mortal remains of one of these … bandits of which you spoke?” she asks Tiron.
Startled out of a concerned frown in Declan's direction, Tiron turns to meet Aseneth’s enquiry. “Ah, Alain found those by the roadside. I believe them to be owlbear claws, the owner of which I’m glad we did not meet!" he exclaims.
Still standing, the ranger directs a question to Alain. “Did you come to join us Alain or to deliver a message?” he asks. “I’m sure I would question my safety should three men arrange themselves about my table.”
He laughs with only the slightest, almost indiscernible hint of nervousness. “May I sit down, Aseneth? It seems my friends here grew bored of the company at our table and decided to make a new friend,” he says offering the lady a warm smile.
“Why not?” Aseneth answers. She nods toward Declan who took a seat as soon as he arrived at the table. “Your friend here does not abide by any manners – why should I expect the rest of you to do otherwise?”
Declan looks affronted and then speaks, “Wossat sposed ter mean, eh, missus? Just because I don’t spot a need ter be all flowery and sweet wen I’m not, don’t mean that I’m bloody well cheeky, init? Instead, it means that I prefer not ter disguise meself. If yer don’t like me, right, ffen not so bad, at least yer don’t like me ‘onestly. Better that then bein’ all sweet and perfumy.”
Declan swirls his arms around, “And pretendin’ ter be some bloke or some fin’ I’m bloody well not.”
Tirondalin shrugs. “People are different,” he states as a matter of fact, closing the subject.
“Have you ordered any fare from the kitchen?” the half-elf asks the lady.
“Yes, and it should be coming shortly,” replies Aseneth.
* * * * *
“Would it not be simpler, friends, if we simply let Tiron invite the lady to our table?” asks Nathan, his expression showing obvious puzzlement with all the bustle. “If a troop of our company heads her way she may well run for the door as a defense reflex, regardless of her demeanor.”
Watching the rest of the group charge over to the lady, Amiel rolls her eyes skyward. “Way to carry out an investigation,” she sighs. “Well, Nathan, there’s no point in us sitting here. Yonder tubby merchant looks like he’s just come into town. Why don’t we see if they encountered any trouble on the roads in?” she asks.
With another sigh, Velgardrin stands and follows Amiel. With a shrug of his shoulders, Malk walks just behind Velgardrin, shortening his stride to keep his place. The departure of the two trios of adventurers leaves only Salik and Nathan at the original table.
* * * * *
“What manner of occupation do you pursue, milady, if you don’t mind me asking?” asks Tiron in a conversational tone.
“Why not?” responds Aseneth, “you have joined me without invitation so why not intrude upon my personal matters as well?”
“I am a practitioner of magic,” the young lady says in answer to the half-elf’s inquiry.
Declan leans forward, a trace of his surliness still there, but rapidly fading. “Right, eh, guv? Well, that is one fin’ yer and I ‘ave in common, Aseneth. Do practice in specific school or method?”
Being caught off guard by the banter already happening and the reference to the party’s unseemly conduct, Alain blushes lightly. Caught off guard, he shuffles the collection of leather and owlbear claws to one hand, and then back to the other.
Giving up on dignity, the big warrior finally sets the collection onto the table and gives the sorceress a sheepish grin. Hands free, Alain removes his hat and half bows towards the lady, “Greeting mistress of magic, I am Alain Mornswith. I am sorry for our abruptness, we are soon to depart the keep, and are in search of information. This fact compels us to actions that given time we would avoid. I humbly ask for your forgiveness.”
Aseneth switches her attention to Alain. “You are forgiven, warrior,” the young woman says, warmly visibly to Alain’s approach. “What information do you seek? And since your friends are so intent on my personal affairs, might I ask where it is you are going that is so urgent?”
Moving to an unoccupied chair, Alain seats himself. “We have been employed by the Keep to investigate some troubles in the surrounding countryside. To that end, we are off to explore the Caves of Chaos, to see if they are the source of these problems.”
Leaning in toward the sorceress, Alain lowers his voice so that the conversation does not carry farther than the table. “On our first excursion into the forest, we stumbled across a freshly dug graveyard. As we examined the site closer, the graves erupted, and we found ourselves surrounded by a group of the undead.”
Alain quickly glances around to make sure no one else is listening in. “Do you know of anyone capable of such a feat?”
Aseneth shrugs. “It is a simple enough spell for someone schooled in the necromantic arts. I believe that it might take a wizard that was a bit beyond his first years, but it is well below the level of master mages.”
“Where did you find these graves?” she asks, obviously interested in this new topic of conversation.
Alain looks over to Tiron. “You are much better at directions, especially in the forest,” he says.
Tirondalon responds only after a moment of thought. “The graves ... they were atop a small rise roughly where the road to Thunder Gap turns north, right on the edge of the forest,” he says to Aseneth. “As to why someone would be so vile as to bring dead into some sort of half-life, I have no clue,” he continues, features plainly disturbed.
Again, Aseneth shrugs. “They’re merely corpses,” she says, “their souls have long since departed. Do you think that their … animator … dwells within the ‘Caves?”
Tiron turns to Alain in wordless expectation that he shall answer that question.
Alain leans back in his chair, a worried expression on his face. “Hopefully our next excursion will shed more light on who or what is responsible.” Shaking the dower look from his face, Alain resumes his more cheerful look, and once again address the sorceress.
“So what brings you to the keep?” asks the warrior.
Once more, the black-clad woman shrugs her shoulders. “I have just recently finished my initial studies in the wielding of the Art. I came here looking for opportunities to employ it – as well as a source of income by which to sustain my continuing studies. Magical research can be costly,” she explains.
Declan sighs and toys with the bronze candleholder in the middle of the table, “Yer speak the truff, right, lass. But adventurin’ ain’t known for its steady income.”
“I’ll ask yer again,” the fiery mage persists, “have yer specialized in type of the Art, or are yer a generalist?”
“My studies are spread over most of the schools,” Aseneth replies.
Tirondalin rejoins the conversation after a few moments of silence. “And have you had any luck with opportunities to employ your skills as yet?” he inquires in a conversational tone.
Aseneth shakes her head and sighs. “Unfortunately, no. And my purse is beginning to show it.”
Declan speaks up, “Well, right, I can’t speak for the uvvers in me group, but I know I would like ter have anuvver mage wivin us knees-up. The only conditions that I would want is that we share us spells -- both the ones we recover and the bloody ones we already ‘ave. I ‘ave several spells that i fink yer would be interested in.”
Aseneth’s eyes grow wide. “Very … interesting,” she replies. “I would be accompanying you to the ‘Caves, then?” she asks.
“To be ‘onest wiv yer, right, it all depends on me companions” replies Declan. “I’ll get out me spoons. I would like ter have yer come along – one can never ‘ave too many wizards – but they may not feel the bleedin’ same way.”
The fiery mage then adds, “By the way, right, wot ‘ave yer ‘eard about the ‘Caves?”
"Only that they were the source of a great deal of fame and fortune some score or so years ago,” answers Aseneth.
Alain leans back into his chair. “I think we are moving a little fast here, Declan,” he says.
Alain switches his gaze over to Aseneth. “No offence to you mistress, but we have just brought a new mage into our party. We also have a leader, and I don’t think she would appreciate us recruiting without her permission – that would be a major breach in etiquette. I would be happy to let her know that your skills are for hire, though.”
“As you wish,” Aseneth replies simply. Then, as her food arrives, she adds, “I would like to eat my meal in peace. Unless there is something else you need, I would ask for some privacy.”
Declan nods, “O’course. We didn’t mean ter intrude on yer as much as we did. Put the mockers on by us table before yer retire and peraps we can rabbit and pork of magic and adventurin’. I’ll buy yer an ale,” Declan finishes with a smile and then stands.
Aseneth raises her eyebrows at Declan’s foreign dialect and terminology. “Uh … an ale at some other time would be fine,” she responds, “and I’ll be waiting to here of your adventures in the ‘Caves!”
The mage bows a bit to Aseneth, then moves back to the group’s table.
Alain rises also, “Our apologies for disturbing you.” Tipping his hat, Alain gathers all the leather and claws from the table and heads back to the party’s table.
* * * * *
Amiel’s progress toward the fat man’s table is blocked as the two armored men that sit with her target stand, their hands on their sword hilts and their eyes glaring at the newcomers. The large man holds out a hand to touch one their arms as a steadying gesture.
“Easy Devdas,” he says, “Let us not be so rude to these obviously interested customers.”
Returning his attention to the newly arrived trio of adventurers, the man speaks. “Greetings, friends. I am Master Merchant Mendel of Daerlun, as I’m sure your friend over their told you,” he says, indicating the table from which the three just left. He then indicates the two women with him, “This is Chantel and this is Sascia.” The two seductively clad females nod coldly at Amiel.
“Is there something I can do for you?” Mendel then asks.
“Yes there is, sir,” Amiel answers with a small smile. “We’re new to these parts and are moving on in the morning. Have you just arrived at the Keep? If so, I’d be interested in whether you encountered any trouble on the roads. We’ve heard rumors of bandits and the like.”
She bats her eyelids at the merchant doing her best to portray girlish innocence. “Best be prepared, is that what they say Master Mendel?”
“But of course, my dear,” replies Mendel, his voice silky smooth.
In answer to the lady ranger’s question, he says, “As I told your friend, I am a travelling merchant. I mostly work the East Way trade route from my homeland of Sembia to Cormyr and back again. I last left here only a few days ago – about the same time your group arrived, according to your companion. Apparently I was most fortunate, as I did not encounter any attackers. I do hope you find some clue when you make your foray to the Caves of Chaos.”
“I see,” Amiel says gesturing to a chair at the merchant table. “May I sit?” she asks.
“Of course, of course!” Mendel exclaims. Then, seeing that only six chairs are at the table, he looks at the two armored men. “Could you please surrender your seats to our guests? I’m sure I am safe,” he says to the pair of bodyguards.
The men wordlessly stand and move against the wall, nearby. They fold their arms and look warily at the three adventurers who join Mendel and his two female companions at the table.
With an exaggerated bow to each of the ladies that is planned to show that his axe is peace-bonded, Velgardrin moves up to the table and sits. Then he introduces everyone with a careful wave of his hand. “The lady be Amiel, this is Malk, and I be Velgardrin Silverforge. I be thankern ye fer yer hospitality, Master Merchant.”
“Well met, Master Silverforge!” Mendel replies. “Now then, is there something else I can do for you?”
“What goods do you trade in Master Mendel?” Amiel asks sliding into a seat opposite the merchant.
Mendel frowns slightly at Amiel’s question and looks over her shoulder toward the table from which she came. “Ahem,” he begins, seemingly a bit put off, “As I told your friend over there, am a free-merchant. I ship mostly small quantities of goods that I procure along my route – mostly such items that I am sure to sell in the next town. A few casks of wine here, a few barrels of fresh apples there. Odd that your friend did not tell you that.”
Velgardrin smiles back at the merchant and is careful to avoid leering at the very attractive women next to the merchant as he replies, “Amiel be wonderin’ a few therngs, so she be speakern about them.”
Mendel returns the dwarf’s smile with a jovial grin of his own. “I’m sure it was my mistake. I saw you talking to that young man over there – Alan or Alain, I believe is his name – so I assumed that he filled you in on the talk I had with him. Your friend has asked that I keep an eye out for any quality arms or armor – I imagine he thinks he will need them for your trip to the Caves. Are there any … goods … in which you three travelers are interested?”
Velgardrin can barely contain a burst of laughter as he responds, “O, Master Merchant! I would indeed be interested in much! Unfortunately, me purse sides be touchern’ and I be thinkern’ that would not meet with yer approval in trade.”
The dwarven priest continues a bit more seriously. “But if yer be in town when I returns, mehaps we could talk about fine axes and the glory o’ Clangeddin Silverbeard hisself.”
Mendel smiles at Velgardrin’s remarks. Bringing his grin under control, he replies, “That would be a pleasure, Master Silverforge. I plan to depart again shortly, but I will look for you when next I pass through. How long do you think your glorious expedition to the ‘Caves shall last?”
Malk feels himself starting to relax now that laughter and smiles are common currency between the three adventurers and the merchant. He too is longing to know how long the expedition will take, and looks with interest at Amiel.
“Hmmm,” begins the lady ranger in answer to Mendel’s question, “I really can’t answer that as we don’t know what lies in store for us in the ‘Caves. I’m not even sure if we will indeed be going to the ‘Caves....” Amiel says thoughtfully.
“Well merchant, business must be good for you,” she then says, looking directly at the two nubile women that accompany Mendel.
The jovial merchant smiles and then winks salaciously at the lady ranger. “Indeed it is,” he replies.
“Well good day, Master Mendel,” Amiel says, returning the merchant’s wink.
Standing, the ranger continues, “We must be off. We’ve taken up far more of your time than we had any right to. I wish you luck in your trading.”
Mendel stands as well, obviously conscious of maintaining proper protocol. “And I wish you good fortune in your expedition to the Caves,” the merchant replies to Amiel.
Velgardrin scrambles to his feet as well and bows slightly to Mendel. He bows much more deeply to each of the ladies accompanying Mendel. Then he turns to follow Amiel. Behind him, Malk – who in an unusual state of affairs has remained standing and silent – also follows protocol with a polite bow to the assembled table and follows along feeling slightly bemused.
* * * * *
After a period of several minutes, the two groups of adventurers return to the party’s table where Salik and Nathan still sit.
Velgardrin sits again and mumbles to no one in particular, “Hit almost seems as if therse people know more about what we’re doin’ than I do.”
“Yes, I’m quite curious as to HOW that’s happened too, Vel,” Amiel replies a little gruffly. “We’re talking a little too much, people,” she says, directing her comments at the group. Her tone brooks no nonsense. “That fat merchant yonder knew that we were off to the caves tomorrow, et cetera, et cetera. I found that a little disturbing. From now on, let’s try to be a vague as possible? We’re just a bunch of foot-loose, non-aligned adventurers who don’t have any overall direction than to see the world. Remember my comments, at the site of the ambush? There’s more to this entire issue than a few merchants’ caravans being ambushed. I still believe that right here in the Keep are a few people who know much more than they’re letting on.... I’m getting worried about an assassin’s blade in the middle of the night!”
Taking a deep breadth, Amiel looks at each of the ‘Claws’. “So I appeal to you all: keep our activities as close as possible to your chests. If you do need to reveal them, be vague. I’ll let you decide on the what’s ‘vague’...hell, take that as an example of vague!”
“Now, what did the lady over there have to say for herself?” she asks, quietly leaning forward.
Pulling up a chair, Alain seats himself. “Sorry about the loose lips, that would be my fault. As far as the woman over there,” Alain nods towards Aseneth, “She is a mage in look of work. She has offered us her services, but I told her we were pretty full staffed, and I would have to talk to you before any decisions where made.” After his brief, Alain spreads the leather and owlbear claws onto the table and begins working, while keeping an ear open to the conversation at the table.
Seeing the owlbear’s claws appear reminds Velgardrin of Baulin. “I’ll go check on Baulin just fer a minute and be right back unless something be wrong.” He stands and leaves to check on Baulin.
* * * * *
The Green Man Inn
Velgardrin finds that Baulin is resting comfortably. The wounded dwarven warrior awakens when the priest enters the room.
“’Ullo,” he says weakly to his fellow. “A priest came to see me this morning – a human priest. He has arranged for me to accompany a caravan that leaves in the morning headed east toward Sembia. They will pass through the Thunder Gap – I will take my leave of them there and return to my clan to seek comfort.”
“Ahh, ‘tis good you’ve awakened. Axe high, Baulin,” Velgardrin replies. “Be you needern’ anything fer yer trip? If so I will let the others know. And we be hevern a small gift fer ye. Hits from the owlbear that nearly killed yer.”
“Axe high, alaghar,” answers Baulin, using the dwarven title for a priest of Clanggedin Silverbeard. “I’ll be be fine for me trip; that human priest thinks that the more-po’erful members of me clan’s priests ‘ll be able ta restore me ta full vigor. Then I’ll be back to find ya!”
Baulin’s words bring a smile to Velgardrin’s face and he reaches out to grasp Baulin’s good hand in an iron grip then releases it and replies, “I must be tellern’ the rest o’ the Claws this news. Err wait, did yer know thet we named erselves the Silver Claws? I thernk yer was not waked yet when we did.” Then, if Baulin is willing, Velgardrin rushes back to the rest of the Silver Claws to tell the good news.
* * * * *
The One-Eyed Cat Tavern
Malk puts his back to the mage Alain indicated and looks over to Alain. In a low tone and with a relaxed expression, so as not to attract attention he says, “Aseneth is the person that we were looking for who had an unusual interest in the dead? I’ve only just found out that the magic user may be female, not male as I thought. Indeed he/she/it may well be able to appear as either. Does she know anything else of Silver Claw business?”
A long silence follows as the group awaits any answer to Malk’s question. Finally, the stillness is broken by the entrance to the tavern of two men, both dressed in the familiar chainmail and tabard of the Keep militia.
“We seek the Company of the Silver Claw,” one taller man announces. His eyes scan the crowd expectantly. In his hands, he holds a rolled sheaf of parchment.
Tirondalin stands from his seat at the table. “I may be able to help with what you seek, kind sirs,” he announces to the two soldiers in a friendly tone, “but not across the noise of a crowded tavern!”
The two soldiers make their way to the table. Then, the one with the parchment unrolls it and asks, “May I hear the names of those gathered here?” This time, his voice is lower due to his proximity to the group.
“Nathan of Eveningstar here, sirs,” smiles the young mageling.
Salik examines the soldiers with a suspicious look. “May I ask why you gentlemen are inquiring about the Silver Claws?”
Malk starts quietly humming to himself, looking up at the guard with interest whilst awaiting his answer to Salik's question. Keeping a smile on his face, he gently moves his chair back a little to give himself room to move if needed.
The soldier who spoke turns a cold look to Salik. “We are performing our duties as the loyal constabulary of this keep, visitor,” he responds, emphasizing the last word of his retort as if to remind the rogue of his status as a temporary resident.
“I ask again, are you the Silver Claws? And if so, please verify your names.” The soldier glances down at the parchment in his hands as his partner stands motionless beside him, scanning the faces at the table.
“Easy, easy....” says the rogue, attempting to calm down the soldier. “I didn’t know you were part of the local constabulary. My name is Salik. Pleased to meet you,” he says smiling at the guard.
“I’m Amiel,” Amiel says, remaining seated. “I lead the Silver Claws, though it is leadership by consent,” she continues. The expression on her face is calm but her sea-green eyes show signs of slight alarm, “What is your business with us?”
The soldier nods as he listens to Amiel and glances down at the parchment. “Since you are indeed the leader, can you confirm that all of those here are of your adventuring company?” he asks. “There are eight names listed here, but I see only seven of you.”
“Tiron, Nathan, Malk, Declan, Alain, Salik, Velgardrin and myself are the members on the Claw,” Amiel replies. “One of other members, Baulin, was injured several days ago. Does his name still appear on your records?”
“No it does not,” replies the soldier. “The names you mentioned are all reflected here, but it would appear one of you is missing.” He shrugs. “No matter. You have verified the identities of your company against the charter.”
He rerolls the parchment and hands it to Amiel. “On behalf of Lieutenant Jadale, I present you with an adventuring charter for the lands surrounding Kendall Keep. I am to remind you that this charter will hold no validity in other fiefdoms, counties, or holdings within Cormyr nor does it have the authority of a full royal charter. Lieutenant Jadale also wishes you good fortune on your near future excursion. Good day.”
The soldier nods briefly, an action that is mirrored by his silent companion. The two men spin about sharply on their heel and march away, leaving no time for any further talk.
“Weren't they friendly,” Tiron says with a smile. “Vel should be back from checking on Baulin shortly, and then we can get on with catching up. Let’s try and do this in an orderly fashion, I’m hungry!” he announces, looking at Amiel and awaiting her prompt.
As if on cue, Velgardrin then returns to the table. The dwarven priest finds the others where he left them. Amiel holds a rolled parchment in her hands.
“I thought the militia were very professional,” says Nathan matter-of-factly. “In fact, they reminded me of the Purple Dragons that I know from Eveningstar.”
Breathing a sigh of relief Malk glances at Nathan and says, “I’ve had dealings with militia in Highmoon. Professional does not always match up to trouble free.”
“I suggest we purchase a scroll case of some kind to keep the charter dry and safe,” remarks Salik. “It would be unfortunate if we needed to show it to someone and the document was ruined.”
The rogue turns to address the magic users of the group. “Do you have anything which we can store the charter in?”
“I have a sturdy leather scroll case that I use, but maybe a bone scroll tube with waxed plugs would be a better option,” Nathan volunteers.
“Here,” Amiel says handing the scroll to Nathan. “Keep it safe. The laws of Cormyr are strict in relation to the operation of ‘mercenaries’; I’d not want to spend several months in goal because we couldn’t produce that Charter when challenged by the Purple Dragons!”
A huge smile is on his face as Velgardrin changes the subject to announce, “Baulin be as well as can be expecterd. He will join the caravan and return to his clan. Alain, perhaps ye could soon finish one claw fer Baulin before he’s leavin’?”
Alain looks up from his work on the necklaces, "Of course Velgardrin, I hope to have all of them done by this evening.”
Malk turns and grins at the dwarven priest. “That’s great news about Baulin. Are we going to have a chance to have a drink with him and say our farewells?”
Sitting down, Amiel lifts her long legs onto a nearby chair. “Let’s go back to our plans for tomorrow. Oh, before we get onto that, the good cooper seemed to be hiding something. There’s more to his daughter’s disappearance than he’s letting on. He made a comment that she left town in a wagon. How did he know that? Why didn’t he inform Jadale of that fact? What that suggests to me is that if he knows her method of departure, he may know who was driving the wagon or how it belonged to. Now the question is why isn’t he giving that information to the authorities or us for that matter?”
Nathan opens his scroll case, which hangs on his chair by its strap. Opening it, he carefully tucks the charter inside before securing the case once more. “Yes, it did seem a bit odd to me as well,” he says as he turns to Amiel. “Of course, I’ve never had a missing teenage daughter, either.”
Glancing casually around to make sure his lips are out of ear and eye shot of the dark mage, Malk says, “That sounds more like wounded family pride to me. Five thumbs will get you ten that there’s a boy behind it, and maybe the expectation of a little cooper on the way. I feel that this is unlikely to be any of our business. But I do agree that we do need to plan for the morrow because the caravan is due to leave – and it’s a lovely target for someone.”
“Hmmmm....so you think that he’s not telling anyone because he’s embarrassed?” replies Amiel incredulously.
“Foolish pride....” she growls before raising her hand to attract the attention of Jess. “Asham said that Jess and Arpad were pretty close.”
Whilst waiting for Jess, she nods at Malk, “A plan for tomorrow would be a good idea. Let’s head for the Caves. There was also a trail leading north from the gravesite; that will definitely be worth investigating as it may give us the identity of those who ‘planted’ the zombies. After all this time, I still haven’t worked out why there were so many sets of footprints of so many different groups around the ambush site,” she finishes with a tired look.
In response to Amiel’s gesture, Jess comes over the group’s table. “Hello Malk,” she says, grinning to the bard. Then to the others she asks, “Is there something I can get you?”
Amiel’s eyebrows shoot upwards and she grins at Malk. “Errrr....Jess, I was wondering how well you knew Arpad. We’ve been told that she’s dissappeared and we’ll keep an eye out for any signs of her as part of our .... errr ....activities.”
Dropping her voice to low purr, Amiel asks conspiritorially, “Do you know whether she’s had any male attention in the last few months?”
“Attention?” Jess asks with a quizzical look. Then her eyes widen. “Oh …. Attention! Um, no, not that she told me about. Who told you that?” she demands a slight bit defensively.
Malk drops his gaze and shuffles in his seat. “Sorry Jess, that was my idea. I thought that she may have left because of a boy. Her father seems reluctant to have our help in finding her.”
“Well maybe that’s not normal in those big cities that you are all from, but that’s what it’s like out here!” Jess insists. “Would you want some total strangers intruding on your family affairs and asking questions like that?”
“Now then,” she says, her voice echoing a rather cooler tone than when she first arrived. “What is it I can get for you travelers?”
“We do not mean to have caused any offense, Jess,” Amiel says, her tone placating. “Our intentions are to help rather than interfere.... or insult for that matter. You have my word on that. Now, I’m sure my companions and I would love some of your excellent ale. Please bring us a round.”
“Very well,” Jess replies rather simply. She then turns and leaves to fill the order.
With a rueful sigh, Malk returns to the matters at hand. “I know that we are all keen to get out on the road – myself as well, it seems now. How about us heading off today, before the caravan? We could use it by selecting a spot to be able to observe and support the caravan guards. We know the area where the others have been attacked. We will be able to see who we are up against, what their numbers are, and where they come from.”
“Ert seems like a good plan ter me,” Velgardrin replies. “I’m thinkern that these walls be not tellin’ us much more unless we give them a reason and dead orcs be a good reason.” He pauses a moment and then continues, “Err whatever we find behind all this anyway even if it isn’t them filthy ones.”
“It looks like I’ll finally get to test my spells under adventuring conditions,” Nathan states. “I was beginning to think that adventuring consisted of nothing but drinking ale and chasing people around this keep!” he finishes with a wide grin.
“Fine,” Amiel declares. “One more drink to toast our new membership tokens,” she says, glancing at Alain’s handiwork. “And, of course, to the success of our second, but perhaps most significant, foray to date. After Jess brings the drinks, everyone get your gear. I hope that everyone has purchased any supplies they needed already. We’ll meet out the front of the Inn.”
“I’m ready to hit the trail whenever you’re ready friends,” Salik says with a flourish. “Is there anything anyone needs to do before we depart?”
“I be thinkern.” Velgardrin’s brow furrows as he speaks. “I be havern a bullseye lantern and oil that I’m not usern. Wouldst one of yer, a mage mehaps, want ter carry it ter light the way? ‘Hit just be gettern in the way er me axe if I carrys it.”
“Aye, I a’ready ‘ave a chuffin lantern,” Declan announces. “Anything more ta carry an’ I’ll not be movin’!”
In the wake of the mage’s reply, Jess appears at the table. She sets eight mugs of foaming ale on the table. “That’ll be a score ‘n four thumbs,” she says to Amiel.
Alain begins chewing on a piece of leather softening it before beginning to work on it. Looking up, he briefly joins the conversation. “All of my gear is packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Just say the word and I will retrieve it. And speaking of gear, everyone should lighten their load, so that they can help carry any extra weight that we pick up along the way.”
Jess momemtarily forgets her request for payment. She intakes a sudden breath of air and looks at Malk. “So, you’re leaving?” she asks the bard.
“It pains me to leave after we’ve only just started to get to know each other Jess,” Malk replies, “but I have to go with my friends here. Someone has to look after them,” he adds with a smile. “It’s for the good of the Keep, and if all goes well, we should be back within a ten-day.”
“Very well, then,” Jess replies somewhat coldly. “Now, who shall pay for the drinks? A score and four copper thumbs,” she reminds the group.
“I shall pay, Lady Jess,” Nathan replies as he proffers three silver falcons. “The change is yours to keep for excellent service cheerfully rendered.”
“My thanks,” Jess replies. Then, with a wordless glance at Malk, she turns and moves off to serve her other customers.
“I suggest that you pick some flowers for that young one on our way back, lest you find yourself the recipient of further disquieting looks,” Tiron comments with a wry grin at Malk, before drawing on his mug of ale. “I believe that we’re almost ready to go, yes? I do remember that certain members of the group wished to discuss tactics to use in combat, but what say we have that discussion on the way to the caves?” he asks of all his fellow adventurers.
“Regarding the first suggestion,” Nathan smiles, “my tip apparently did nothing to cheer Jess, so at a minimum flowers should be brought to her on our return. That is, if you favor her continued company.”
Taking a sip of his ale, he continues. “Regarding the second, I would venture that we finish all discussion here. When we start down the trail to the Caves, we don’t want to be distracted by conversation when there are bandits and possibly worse about.
“That said, I feel I should give you an idea of how much magic I have at my disposal. I can cast three spells of the lowest power each day, and I have the following spells readied - a missile of magic, a spell that causes sleep, and a magic shield for my own defense. Take note that I can cast any combination of those three spells until I have cast my three spell limit for the day.”
“Once those spells are gone, I can throw daggers or oil, but the staff I carry is merely a walking stick for me, as I am not trained in its use,” the mage finishes, taking another sip of ale before leaning back into his chair.
“If I don’t find something suitable for Jess, then I may need the flowers on my resting place, especially if I get more looks like that.” Malk pauses to take a long swig from his tankard.
“If we are indeed going to discuss tactics,” the bard goes on, “I was going to make a suggestion, now that Baulin is no longer part of the group. I have skills as a street fighter, I am quick and supple. I am not, however, skilled in the ways and particular disciplines of a warrior.”
He glances over at Alain who has a mouth full of leather. “If Alain is willing, perhaps he could instruct me in enough of these arts to be able to practice with him each morning. That could be of benefit both to himself – he gets a practice partner – and the to group and myself. If that is the case, then I would be willing to stand to the fore whilst I learn these skills, or until someone more able is available.”
Declan sets his mug down and follows in the wake of Malk. “As ya know, I ‘ave a special likin’ fer fire magics,” he says. “Fer today, I can liken any dweomer on a thing er two, charm a bloke er dame, ‘ave an affect on existin’ fires, an’ cast a spell that’ll ‘elp us to move er carry somethin’ – like I did at those chuffin’ graves a few days back! O’er than that, I’ll not be ‘avin any great ‘elp in a fight – it’s best if I’m stayin’ outa the nasty blade work. An’ as I told Velgardrin ‘ere, I ‘ave a lantern that I kin use ta shed a little light for those o’ us not blessed wit’ the gift o’ darksight.”
“Something I forget to mention earlier,” Nathan adds, “is that I can serve as mapper for the company, if you agree. I can also keep track of our party accounts – treasures gained, expenditures, etc. Since I have decided to keep an account of these details for my own use, I can kill two goblins with one arrow.”
“Hermm, I be thinkern I can help yer,” Velgardrin replies. “I be havern parchment, paper, ink, a quill, and a case fer them. Yer can use ert. And would yer be wantin’ me lantern, too?”
“My thanks for the offer, Vel,” Nathan says with a nod to the dwarf. “I already have the implements I need, but if you could hang on to them in case mine get broken or damaged, I would be grateful. The parchment and paper would be useful now, as I only have four sheets in my inventory.”
Spitting out his current piece of leather, Alain adds his comments. “I would be happy to work with anyone who wishes to practice the combat arts. As for moving indoors and outdoors, I would prefer to be at the front of the party. If we are outside, I would suggest that Malk, Amiel, and myself form a skirmish line. With Velgardrin directly behind us to lend an axe where needed, and to call appon the blessings of his god. Ranging out to either side, Tiron, to send his arrows, and Salik, to throw daggers. To the rear have the magi, to cast their spells uninterrupted.
“If we are in a corridor however, I think that Amiel and I should be in the first rank, to stop any onrushing enemy. Velgardrin and a mage should be in the second rank, probably Nathan, because he has combat spells. One of them should carry a lantern. Behind them I think Salik and Declan should follow, with Malk and Tiron defending the rear.” Finishing his comments, Alain looks around to see what his comrades think of his ideas.
Declan simply shrugs. “It’s a good a plan as any,” he says. “Also, you should be knowin’ that I ‘ave other spells I kin use – a magical dart like ya saw me use again’ the zombies and some o’er fiery spells that’ll be sendin’ our scorched foes runnin’. I just don’ ‘ave some o’ those in me chuffin’ ‘ead today,” he explains.
“Those plans sound good ter me.” Velgardrin’s right hand caresses his axe as he speaks his agreement with Alain’s proposal. “If we be on the trail are we sendern’ scouts out?” he asks.
Salik raises an eyebrow quizically and speaks in support of Vel’s suggestion. “Although that formation does protect the party’s weakest members, would it not be prudent to have a scout or two? I’d feel more at home and more of use to the party scouting for ambushes than staying behind to lob a few daggers.”
Alain nods his head to Salik. “Of course you are correct. I was speaking of combat situations. I think you and Tiron should be out in front scouting as much as possible.”
Tipping back his mug, Declan finishes the last of his ale and slams the mug on the table upside down. “Good then, it’s chuffin’ settled!” he exclaims. He stands and says, “I’ll be goin’ to get my kit, as Amiel said. ‘Fore I do, ‘r we keepin’ a room er two so’s to store our extra gear? I’m slower than a lava flow as it is, and I’d rather not drag the bigger of my spell tomes inta th’ forest ‘n caves ‘n such.”
“Aye, good mage,” agrees Nathan, “I would like to leave my tome as well. Most times its weight is reassuring, but other times it feels like I have a fat Sembian merchant riding piggy-back.” Nathan grins. “I tell you, as soon as my finances can afford it, I will be investing in a travelling book or two.”
“I shall surely be scouting whenever the need arises,” adds Tiron to the rapid-flowing conversation, “for you shan’t be able to hold me back!”
The half-elf swallows the last of his ale and stands, before another thought crosses his mind. “Does anyone have any spare room in their packs? I have a rope that I believe could be a great convenience in the caves but which is slowing me down under its weight.”
“I kin hardly break inta a trot under my own chuffin’ pack,” Declan snorts in reply. “That’s why I’m lookin’ to leave some things behind. Besides, leaves more room to bring any loot back! But no one answered my question – are we gonna pay fer a room er are we takin’ everything?”
“Well, it seems the weight of my pack has addled my wits,” Nathan announces. “I cannot leave my weighty tome here, for if I do I will be unable to regain spells,” he grimaces.
Turning to Declan, the mage continues, “Maybe those of us who have gear that we would like to leave here can share the cost of a room to store them in. That way, those who don’t have anything to store are not being penalized. Considering that I must take my book, I have quite a few other items I need to store while we’re out.”
“Sounds alright ta me,” Declan replies. “We’ll just pay fer a tenday er so fer room number ten – that’s the one I’ been stayin’ in. Calista told us a’fore that a tenday’ll run us eight gold lions. How ‘bout we each cough up four?” he asks Nathan.
Velgardrin looks puzzled as he glances at each of the rest of the Silver Claws. “I thought ther Claws would pay since this be part erv what we need fer our mission.” He looks questioningly at Amiel and Alain.
“I just have one suggestion,” interjects Malk. “And that is my Haynuss. If Nathan or one of the others behind the front line on the march can handle my ass, we could move quicker and have a method of bringing back what we find, or – Milil forbid – our wounded. It also means that we can carry more of what we need. We would not need so many rooms then."
“Sounds chuffin’ easy,” replies Declan, “but wot makes ya think yer ass’ll be willin’ to stay put while there’s spells and blades flyin’? Er if we end up goin’ deep inta wona der Caves, eh?” the mage inquires.
“Agreed.” Amiel responds finally. Listening time is over. “The ass will hamper us more than benefit us where we need to go. If the animal panics while fully laden with wounded comrades and gold, we’re going to have a devil of a time in controlling it, not to mention dealing with whatever panicked it. For a party of our size, we don’t need a baggage train,” she finshes with a note of finality.
“As to the room. Yes, I do think that the Claws will finance a room for stowage. I’ll also enquire whether we can hire a locker or such like rather than a whole room for stowage. It would be a cheaper option if available.”
Looking at Alain, she smiles. “Your suggested marching order and skirmish lines are fine. And I see the usefulness of Salik and Tiron foraying ahead. We’ll make do with a single scout in underground situations. Most likely, it’ll be Salik. He’s got the most appropriate skills. But one thing though, please be aware that we may have to do things on the fly. Alain and I will assess each situation and come up with the appropriate strategy.” She looks around, her fine features firm. “With all your input, of course.”
“The same applies to spell use, gentlemen. Feel free to use which spells you deem appropriate. If I’m trying to coordinate an attack or implement a strategy, I’ll let you know as quick as I can. So listen for orders ... comments anyone?”
Declan reaches into his robes and pulls out a small purse. He throws it into the middle of the table where it makes a soft jingling sound as it lands.
“That’s what’s left o’ the platinum ya gave me ta get last night’s rooms,” the mage says to Amiel. “I suppose you’ll be wantin’ ta use it fer the room er locker er whatnot,” he says.
Malk speaks in the wake of Declan. “As soon as we arrange whatever stowage we get, I’ll need to reorganize my gear. It shouldn’t take long. When we get back, I’ll see if I can lose my Haynuss for a good price. It’s a shame – he’s been good company, but I’m not going to pay for him to stay in better accommodations than I’m likely to get over the next few days.”
“Alright, then,” Declan says. “Sounds like it’s chuffin’ settled! Who’se gonna make the room reservation er whatnot so that we kin get movin’ along?” he asks, pointing at the purse that he threw to the middle of the table.
Picking up the purse from the table, Nathan stands. “I’ll go and ask Calista’s recommendation about storing our goods.” Noticing that there is still ale in his mug, he drains it before walking out.
Setting down his current project, Alain rises to join Nathan. “I’ll come too. I also have some money that is part of the Claw’s coffers.”
“When we get to the Green Man, I would like to count all of the coin in the company fund,” the young mage states as he pauses at the door and turns to survey the group. “If anyone else is carrying company coin, I would like to know the amount so I can begin tracking our expenditures. Well,” he adds, “that and the treasure coming in. I’m hoping that we do well on that last part, as I could really do with a smaller spelltome to ease my aching back!” he finishes with a grin.
Giving Nathan a hardy clap on the back, Alain joins his grin. “Fear not Nathan, if I see you getting shorter, I will lend you a steadying hand.”
Malk also finishes his ale, wipes his lips and says, “Right! I’ll take this opportunity to sort out my gear. I’ll be back in a candle mark or less.” He stands and heads for the door.
“Slow down Malk!” calls Tiron, hurrying to catch up with the bard so that he may collect his gear with excitement rapidly building for the adventure to come.
Smiling to Nathan, Alain says, “I have nineteen lions from the sale of the owlbear pelt. We can use that and the purse to rent the room. Amiel has the other half of the money, something like twenty-five lions, I do believe. Right Amiel?” Alain gives the party leader a wink and a smile.
“Oh, yes,” Amiel says. She tosses the purse of gold coins to Alain. “Take this as well.”
“I also ‘ave this ‘ere vial,” Declan calls out to Nathan and his two companions. “I wos gonna cast a spell on it t’day ta see if it ‘as any magical properties.” The mage holds up the vial of amber fluid taken from the bird-woman.
“Oh yeah...we were going to do it on this earring as well weren’t we Declan?” Salik adds as he holds up the earring to show his companions.
“I’ll be sure to make note of the twenty-five lions and the potion that remains to be identified,” Nathan says as he opens the door for Alain.
With that, Nathan and Alain go to seek Calista to find a room or other storage place for excess gear. The other party members go off to their rooms to sift through their gear and decide what they will take and what they will leave behind.
The content of Company of the Silver Claws is the property and copyright of Brian Flood, and are not to be published or redistributed without permission.
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