By Brian Flood
Chapter 17 - Sieb
The Dancing Bear Tavern
Hill’s Edge, The Sword Coast Backlands
Early Evening, 13th Day of Marpenoth; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
A near-cacophony of noise created by music and countless conversations and arguments fills the poorly-lit tavern. The room is filled with an overwhelming variety of humanity, demi-humanity, half-breeds, and the occasional humanoid. So too are evident various representatives of the town’s factions – mercenaries, merchants, poorly-disguised Zhentarim agents, and the occasional do-gooder. Conspicuously absent are members of – or even visits from – the town’s constabulary. A permanent haze of smoke fills the space between the tallest patrons’ heads and the ceiling rafters. From over the bar, the disembodied head of a bear glares down at the tavern’s patrons with glowing red eyes.
Probably the result of some minor enchantment, thinks a man who sits at a corner table, wreathed in shadow. In most places he would go unnoticed – and that is exactly what he prefers. His grey eyes warily scan the tavern from under a mop of dark blond hair, maintaining a sharp eye for trouble. On the floor nearby his table is a dark brown stain left by dried blood. The previous occupants of the table had had some sort of disagreement that ended with a dwarf lying skewered on the floor while a half-orc slipped away into the crowd – just another typical night in Hill’s Edge.
The man eyes the near-empty flagon of below-average wine that sits on the table before him. He jingles his purse and frowns at its ever-decreasing weight. Almost time to find myself a job, he thinks to himself.
Then he notices a form slipping through the throng of tavern customers, headed toward his table. The man – or woman – is dressed in a hooded grey cloak that hides his or her features. From the slight build of the cloak’s wearer, it quite possible could be a woman. His hand moves under the table to grasp the hilt of a dagger that lies concealed in this clothing.
“Good evening, traveler,” the hooded form says when it reaches him, the speaker’s voice rising to be heard above the constant din of the tavern. It is a male voice, but slightly melodic in its tone. An elf, the seated man thinks to himself.
“I would like to speak with you,” the newcomer continues. “Might we get ourselves a skin of wine apiece and go somewhere where there is a bit more privacy?”
“Good evening yourself, elf,” the seated man replies, clenching his dagger a little bit firmer. “I don’t go wandering with strangers… but if you tell me your name and business, I just might be looking forward to that drink.” He looks up to the face of the hooded visitor, trying observing the reaction of the person behind the face.
The hooded stranger’s lips – which are all the seated patron can see of the man within the shadowed confines of the hood – hint at no emotion at all. Then they move as the newcomer answers. “You may call me Aranor. Might I have your name?” At this, the lips twitch in a fleeting smile.
“So Aranor, you come to a place like this, seeking me, but you do not know who I am?” replies the seated man, a little curious. “That’s strange…”
“Is it strange to verify the identity of one whom you were sent to find?” asks Aranor. “I find it even more strange that you question such cautionary measures.”
“Alright, Aranor – if you tell me who sent you, I’ll tell you that my name is Sieb,” says the seated man, awaiting the reaction of the hooded newcomer.
Aranor nods and seems satisfied with Sieb’s proclamation of his surname. “I will tell you what I know once we can talk somewhere where we do not have to continue to raise our voices,” he says as he gestures with his hands to the loud and raucous tavern activity around them.
“Let’s go somewhere quiet then,” says Sieb. “After you.”
Aranor spins on his heel and makes his way toward the door. Just before leaving the tavern, he stops, turns to the bartender and holds up two fingers before jerking his thumb in the direction of the exit. A few seconds later, a gold coin rests on the bar and two skins of wine are slung over the hooded figure’s shoulder. Glancing behind him to ensure Sieb is still following, he exits into the night.
Once outside, the hooded stranger moves through the moonless night with ease. Sieb hurries his stride slightly to keep pace. The turn away from the north-south road that faces the tavern and make their way west between the tavern and the offices of the Windrider’s Trading Coster. A few paces later, the area opens up somewhat as they arrive at the large, fenced stabling area behind the business.
Aranor stands still for several heartbeats, listening for unwanted intruders. Apparently sensing none, he leans casually up against the railed fence and offers one of the wine skins to Sieb.
“There goes nothing better than a drink after a good walk, so yes, thank you, smoothed one,” answers Sieb.
“You know what I’ve been wondering…” he starts a moment later, “is how’d you pull off that wine skins trick?”
Aranor’s cloaked shoulders move in a slight shrug. “The Dancing Bear is known for its carry-out skins,” he explains. He sips from his own skin and his lips move into a wince as he swallows. “But not for the quality of such.”
“In any case,” the hooded one continues, “I was sent to find you and discuss the possibility of employment. Are you available for such?”
“Available I am, my good man… er… elf,” answers Sieb. “What is the job about? And you still haven’t told me by whom you were sent.”
“From what I know, there may come a need to infiltrate – or gain information about – a group here, locally,” states Aranor. “I am not at liberty to discuss the employer, except to say that they know of your… skills… from recent events in Waterdeep.”
“I’m interested… keep talking,” says Sieb.
“A group is being assembled to gather information about an item of concern,” explains Aranor. “I – and others – have been sent to search out certain individuals known to be in town in order to recruit for the company’s roster. The exact details of the group’s mission will be revealed once all those interested in participating have been gathered at one location.
“I can unfortunately offer no more information than to say that you will almost surely face challenges and peril during the cause. There is likely to be a great reward for those who participate and emerge victorious.”
“Hmmm…” murmurs Sieb. “It should be worth at least investigating. It sounds interesting… though dangerous.”
“It is said that they who risk much, gain much,” replies the hooded recruiter. “But I must stress that I am to return with a firm commitment or firm refusal – once the group is gathered, it would be unwise to allow those with sensitive knowledge to depart with it.”
“So let me summarize,” says Sieb. “The risk is very high… but so is the price. You can’t tell me what it’s about or who my employer is… and you know about me because of Waterdeep.”
Which I ran away from for a very good reason, he thinks to himself. What is this guy – or his employer – up to? I guess I have to find out.
“Count me in,” he announces.
Aranor nods. “Very well; I will come and find you when the group is to be assembled. Shall I presume to look in the ‘Bear first?”
Sieb answers saying, “That’s a good spot to look for me. When do you think the group will be assembled? Is it a matter of days, or perhaps hours?”
“I would think it will be in the next day or two,” the hooded recruiter replies.
Then he straightens from where he was leaning against the horse corral. “Since there is nothing further I can offer in terms of information, and I have your commitment, I will take me leave. Fare you well – and I shall see you again shortly.”
With that, Aranor tosses the wineskin into the pen behind him. Nodding briefly to Sieb, the hooded figure turns to walk down an alley into the moonless night and is soon lost to sight.
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