By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff
Chapter 9 - Tap Room Blitz
Berdusk, 1371 DR, Eleint, 8th day, early evening
After two days of quiet but speedy travel on the Chionthar, the two barges arrive early in the afternoon in Berdusk. The barges are moored, and the process of unloading begins. A harbormaster and dockhands come over to the two crafts, and after a quick conversation between the captain and the harbormaster, the dockhands start unloading with help from the sailors. Not needed in the unloading process, the others, Dixie, Tharkas, Kalil, Calathra, Sara and Grim disembark. On a suggestion from Sara, the entire company walks to the Memblar’s Minstrelry, a nearby tankard house on the Uldoon trail near the Riverroad Gate.
The place is busy, most of the tables occupied, but there is room at one of the tables, not far from the door. Drinks are ordered, and gaudy dressed serving wench delivers the refreshments shortly after. With some small talk and reflections on the journey, time passes rather quickly. Towards late afternoon, the place is almost packed, three minstrels are playing, but the din of the crowd almost drowns their music. Listening to the music, Dixie says, “Hmm, seems there’s room for a fiddle in this ensemble. If I hurry back to the barge and get my fiddle, I could show these people a REALLY good time.” And with that, she smoothly moves back to the door.
When the outer door opens once more, a young woman walks in, accompanied by a well-dressed young man. Their eyes are scanning the crowd and stop in your direction. They start making their way over toward your table. Almost on the heels of the couple, a huge man with a large black beard and a mean looking great sword strapped on his back, steps through the doorway. At his entrance, the noise in the room diminishes.
Circumventing the young couple coming in, Dixie makes to step outside, only to be almost stepped on by a burly man, who does not even notice her, much less apologizes. “I dare say…” Dixie mumbles, “This half-giant needs to learn some manners. But I guess obnoxious behavior goes along with obnoxious stench!” Lifting her nose in the air, she leaves the inn, and makes for the docks.
Tharkas Lhun rises when the well-dressed young man approaches, and upon seeing Tharkas, Matteo nods in greeting across the crowded room and begins to make his way through the press of people, guiding Portia in the right direction. Then Tharkas spots the black bearded man; his eyes grow wide with fear. He fumbles with his cup of wine, spilling some of its contents over his hands and the table. His hand darts towards his pocket to grab a handkerchief. He quickly wipes his hand, and puts his handkerchief away.
At that moment, Kalil feels the man’s hand brush along his side. Tharkas turns to leave when from the back of the tavern the distinctive ‘twanging’ sound of a crossbow firing sounds. The bolt connects solidly with the Tharkas’s head, knocking him forward, and dropping him half over the table, half over his chair. Slowly the dying man slips to the floor, the barbed point of the bolt protruding from his head. “Kelemvor… No!” Portia cries in anguish.
In the commotion, several people try to get out of the way. Everyone tries to stand quickly; no one wants to be crushed in the mob. Quite suddenly, the huge man stands next to the table with another man, dressed in what appear to be sailor’s clothing. The pair grabs Tharkas and hoists the corpse of the ground. Together the sailor and the huge, black bearded man leave toward the rear entrance. There, another sailor with a crossbow at ready stands covering the movements of his compatriots. The huge man clears a path to the rear entrance, and the trio disappears beyond view. The crowd is still milling about, yelling and cursing, while the Minstrelry’s personnel tries to get everyone calm again.
Totally caught off guard by this dramatic turn of events Grim pushes himself back from the table… his haste seems to influence his movements for the worse however because he falls backwards to the ground, the chair making a loud clattering noise. He makes a quick roll and is back on his feet momentarily. As Grim comes back into view above the table edge he is no longer empty handed. In his right hand he is holding a throwing dart… hand held high, ready to throw! He holds his left hand low holding a beautiful dagger, shining brightly in the light. Every last trace of smile or amusement has gone from his face, only to be replaced by a mask devoid of any emotion.
Portia does her best to try to reach the fatally wounded man, but the press of the crowd is too much. After one particularly severe collision, she ends up on her seat on the floor, spilled spirits staining her vestments. Muttering a very unladylike curse, she watches, tears of frustration in her eyes, as the man is carried off, likely to pass from this world without ever having had even the chance at survival.
Stunned, Matteo stands motionless in shock as chaos erupts around him. Portia presses forward and is soon lost from sight in the surge of humanity. Rudely jostled back into awareness, Matteo tries to push forward towards Portia and the table Tharkas was recently seated at.
Almost immediately, after the two sailors and the huge black bearded man went through the door with Tharkas’s body, the door slams shut and is lined briefly in a strange light. When the light is gone, it seems as if the door has fused with the walls. Struggling to her knees, the cleric catches the magical sealing of the door. Sighing, she climbs to her feet, stunned at the horrible events. Searching out Matteo, she moves close to her companion. “That man…” She says uncertainly, “He looked awfully like the man we’re supposed to meet…” The question in her voice is unmistakable.
“Yes.” Matteo responds in a clipped voice. Casting hard gray eyes around the room, he barely glances at Portia while saying, “Go to the table he was at. Tharkas was a resourceful man. He may have left a clue.” Moving away from her towards the entrance, he calls back, “I’m going to try and go around the back. Don’t let anyone who was at that table leave!”
Kalil is really surprised by what is happening. Like most bystanders, he now stands, feeling something stuck on his belt. He looks and sees a small belt pouch, which was not there before. The pouch has some dark red stains on it. Upon closer investigation, these stains smell like wine. He looks around, and keeps an eye on the halfling at his table. Kalil seems indecisive about what to do next. As he hears the uncertain voice of the woman, Kalil is drawn back to reality. “Excuse me, you say you we’re supposed to meet Tharkas?” He responds, disbelief written all over his face. “If you know him, what’s your business and what happened in here? Is it custom in these lands that people are brutally murdered in public?”
With lights out and all the people around her, Calathra suddenly realizes that she froze in place, holding Kalil’s hand trough the whole event. Still not sure what to do, she looks at the ground then raises her eyes to look at Kalil’s face. She turns and hugs Kalil, listening closely to what happens and trying not to get attention on her while she takes a dagger from its hiding place in her sleeve. Holding the dagger close to her chest, she breathes heavily and then turns again, carefully putting her right hand (with the dagger in it) behind her back. She hopes that the danger passed and she will not have to use the weapon. Perhaps she made a wrong choice, leaving Corm Orp. She gathers her inner strength and a moment later says in as loud voice as she can: “Of course it is not, merchant. Speak woman – what madness is this?” After her bold words, she stares bravely in front of her.
Portia steps up to the table, just in time to receive some silly man’s demands. Cocking her head and pursing her lips, Portia replies calmly. “You’re very free with your demands friend. I didn’t know the man personally, though my companion might have. I guess we’ll have to wait till he gets back won’t we?” As Portia speaks Grim stops scanning the crowd for a moment to look at Portia’s face. It looks like he wants to say something, but decides not to. With his right foot he pushes the fallen chair slowly in front of him. Apart from that he doesn’t move; the dart is still ready to be hurled at the first target offering itself while that beautiful dagger is still hovering low…
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you”, Kalil replies sarcastically, “But I’m simply not used to these events. Do you know who the killers are?” Wiping herself off, Portia readjusts her robes, briefly revealing the black, well-maintained scale mail beneath. Her readjustment also returns the holy symbol on her breast to view, that of the God of Death, Kelemvor. “As for my business, again, that’ll have to wait for my friend. She looks at the others sadly. “Was he a good friend?” Looking at the man that had just accosted her, she says, “As to what happened and why he died, I do have an idea. Once again, it’s not my place to say. Matteo can tell you, if he’s willing.” She looks after her companion. “He seemed to think Tharkas might have tried to hide something here when he saw what was coming. Did any of you see him try? It might help us track those murderers down.” She says this last grimly and there is little doubt that she intends to send the killers on to face her god at the earliest opportunity.
Kalil lets go of the halfling’s hand and steps forward to Portia. “Good business, my name is Kalil of Gildenglade. We traveled together with Tharkas, but personally I don’t actually know the man. We had some conversations, and I’m inclined to say it was a good man. Knew a lot about horses too! But maybe we should discuss this matter somewhere else, maybe we should go to the barge, to check his belongings.” Portia nods, a bit of her smile returning as Kalil introduces himself. “I’m Portia Coldspring. My companion is Matteo Ashgale, from Sembia.”
“Please, lets wait here a moment. I’m sure Matteo won’t be long, and he’ll want to go over this area carefully before he gives up on finding anything. He seems to be very meticulous, you know.” Looking back at the door once more, she adds, “And the barge is still unloading, it’s not going anywhere any time soon. We’ll see about that next.” With a look of mild irritation, she says, “Unfortunately, I’m not exactly sure what Tharkas was supposed to hand off to Matteo. There have been some economic troubles in Berdusk lately, as though someone is trying to destabilize the local businesses. Matteo and Tharkas were trying to stop that. Obviously, someone knows what they are trying to do, and isn’t too keen on having them do it.”
Seeing the man with the ready weapons, Portia quirks an eyebrow questioningly. She nods at the others as well, before looking over the now nearly empty tavern. As she watches, two bargemen, who hadn’t a clue as to what had just happened in the place, entered and called for ale, ignoring the tavern’s nearly empty condition. “And so life goes on.” She says softly, sadly. After a few more moments Grim’s features slowly move back into a more pleasant setting and with a faint smile on his lips he puts away the throwing dart into one of his boots. He gets the fallen chair from the ground and as he straightens himself again with the chair in his hands the dagger also has disappeared from view. “Ah yes, it seems life isn’t through with us yet…” Grim places his chair back at its old place by the table and starts to move towards the bar. “… And if life is indeed not willing to let go of us yet then we might as well enjoy the moment… especially if the moments before were less than enjoyable.” With these last words on his lips Grim waves to the bartender to get him a bottle of wine and some glasses and after paying the man he returns to the table. “A good story always becomes a better story with some wine sprinkled on the audience I always say… and I must say that I expect a very good story indeed!” Grim sits down, pours himself a glass of wine and motions the others to help themselves.
At the words of Grim, Kalil shakes his head in disbelief. “You mean you actually want to drink the wine and enjoy the moment? What are you thinking about? I would not be surprised if you proposed to toast on Tharkas! Foreclose that! Fool, now is not the time to relax, we should act. And quickly too, otherwise we’ll never find out what happened.” While he speaks, Kalil gets excited; his expression is one of anger when he is done. Then, he looks around, and sees the now half empty room. “Let’s go somewhere else, I don’t want to be here any longer”, he almost begs to Portia in a whispered voice. To the little Calathra he says, “Looks like you found your little adventure…” Something like a smile returns on his face.
“Now is not the time to act without thinking my hysterical friend.” Grim says with a smile to Kalil. “Most people know that wine is not merely a beverage to get drunk on, it’s also a medicine to put some color on the cheeks and to calm the nerves. No offence meant, but me thinks that you especially could benefit from a drink right now… it certainly looks like your tongue has a life of its own and is no longer driven by common sense.” Grim looks Kalil right in the eye and the smile is gone, “I for one will forget you calling me a fool… this time. It’s obvious you were still shaken by the murder and not thinking straight.”
Inside the situation has calmed somewhat, people are talking and whispering, some are glancing darkly to the table where the group is seated. Grim, Sara, Kalil, Calathra and Portia are still around the table where the murder took place, Grim casually sipping from his wine. Looking at the man now drinking once more at the table as if nothing had happened, Portia wryly says, “I think you took my ‘life goes on’ a bit differently than I meant it, friend.” Seeing how uncomfortable Kalil is, she nods sympathetically. “I suppose we can wait outside. There doesn’t seem to be anything left of the man here anyway.” She gestures for Kalil and his companions to precede her.
“Are you sure you want us to go out? Just a moment ago you were very clear that we should not leave the building at all… and now we must go out you say?” Grim stands up from his chair and shrugs. “A bit of fresh air would do us well I think, maybe it’s not such a bad idea after all.” At Kalil’s suggestion to go outside Portia agrees, and even Grim stands up to head out. Sara is still somewhat flabbergasted about what happened. “Outside… what do you mean?” She says. “You want us to go after those… those murderers?”
“Ah, I just suggested we step outside, not run about town looking like a flock of chickens with our heads cut off. We can come back in when Matteo rejoins us.” Portia turns toward the door.
Matteo moves to the entrance and goes outside, looking for a way around the building. Turning onto the Uldoon Trail, he runs to the next road on his left, ‘Porter’s Way’. Rounding the corner, he is just in time to see the huge black bearded man sprinkle some dust on himself and fade from view. There are four horses in the street, fully saddled, and they behave as though they are being mounted, though no riders can be seen. The horses wheel about and are of in a gallop toward the docks.
The fog rising from the Chionthar and the Clearspring harbor is slowly swallowing the docks. Lantern lighters are staring dumbfounded as four rider less horses cross ‘The Handspan’ bridge, disappearing between the houses in their flight northward, in the general direction of ‘Castle Hill’. Matteo’s rushed sprint comes to a halt as he sees the horses disappearing between the townhouses and up the hill, knowing he cannot keep the horses in sight for much longer. Breathing hard, he waits for a moment, straining to hear how far the horses gallop before the sound of hooves on hard ground fades. Catching his breath, Matteo turns back towards Memblar’s Minstrelry.
On his way back to Memblar’s, Matteo hears more hoof beats clattering on cobblestones. Though the mist is somewhat distorting the noise, it seems as if several horses are coming down the Uldoon Trail. When Matteo is near the corner of Porter’s Way and the Uldoon Trail, he can make out several riders, reining in their horses. “Halt, who goes there!” a voice demands. One of the horses rides up to Matteo. A uniformed man, a silver dragon’s claw on a royal blue field clearly visible on the man’s tunic, dismounts and walks over to you. With his hand on the pommel of a longsword at his side, he demands: “State your business saer!”
Pausing at the sound of approaching horses, Matteo flicks a cursory glance over the officer, taking in his uniform and features. Fighting the sudden urge to emphasis his Sembian drawl, knowing now is not the time or place, he replies, “My name is Matteo Ashgale. I was to meet a companion of mine at Memblar’s earlier this evening, one Tharkas Lhun, in a matter of some import. Unfortunately, just as I arrived someone shot a crossbow bolt through his head, abducted his body, and escaped by horseback. They’ve just crossed the Handspan and are heading in the direction of Castle Hill.” A wry smile touches his lips, but doesn’t spread to his eyes. “Not being mounted myself, I could not keep up. The riders are invisible as well, which doesn’t help. I was returning to Memblar’s to rejoin a companion, a priestess of the Death God, as ironic as that sounds.”
“Hmm, that’s a strange tale you have there, mister Ashgale.” The guardsman replies. He turns towards his patrol members: “Sergeant Ashcroft, please escort mister Ashgale inside…” He points towards Memblar’s Minstrelry, “…and report to Captain Zaina.” “Aye Saer” the sergeant replies. The soldier in front of Matteo, obviously in command of this patrol, turns to face him again. “Across the Handspan and towards Castle Hill right?” While waiting for an answer from Matteo, he mounts his horse again. “Yes.” Matteo replies. “Though remember, the riders are invisible. Look for lathered horses.”
“Follow me!” the commander orders the rest of his patrol. The horses gallop away, their hooves clattering on the cobblestones, disrupting the silence within the evening fog. A few moments later Matteo can hear them thundering over a bridge. The sergeant dismounts and leads his horse towards Memblar’s: “Follow me please saer.” Nodding his assent, Matteo follows the sergeant towards Memblar’s.
After having been all day at the cattle pens outside Berdusk, Marc finds himself walking through the city, hoping to find a place to sleep during the night, and get something to eat. Having earned a few coppers today, coppers that might buy him some decent food, he walks toward one of the places he knows he might succeed; Memblar’s Minstrelry. And indeed, Kim, one of maids working there knows Marc, and slips him some warm soup and some sandwiches.
Sharing his meal with Friend, he notices four horsemen approaching the Tankard house from the rear. One of the men is somewhat familiar to Marc. It is the big man with the black beard, known as Lohgran. Two of the other men are dressed as bargemen. The third man is hidden in a thick brown, hooded cloak. Knowing of Lohgran’s sinister reputation, Marc hides away between the crates and barrels stacked in the alley behind Memblar’s. Lohgran dismounts and walks around the corner of the Tankard house. The other three move towards Memblar’s rear entrance, the bargemen carrying loaded crossbows. One of them opens the door, and both enter the building. The brown-cloaked figure remains outside. Suddenly he looks towards Marc’s hiding place, and Marc feels a cold stare emanating from within the cloak, but nothing happens. Marc’s heart skipped a beat though it seems his position isn’t compromised. Out of fear Marc doesn’t want to move.
Then the door opens again, and Lohgran and the two bargemen hurry outside, carrying the limp form of a man dressed in leathers. The cloaked figure raises his hands dramatically in the air and begins a low chant. Green rays of mystical energy sprout from his fingers and the door seems to meld itself with its frame and the wall. In the mean time the three men walk to their horses and sprinkle some dust over themselves, disappearing from view, last of them Lohgran, who waits till the others have mounted. Now only four horses can be seen in the street, fully saddled, and they behave as though they are mounted, though no riders can be seen anymore. The horses wheel about and are of in a gallop toward the docks.
The fog rising from the Chionthar and the Clearspring harbor is slowly swallowing the docks. Lantern lighters are staring dumbfounded as four rider less horses cross ‘The Handspan’ bridge, disappearing between the houses in their flight northward, in the general direction of ‘Castle Hill’. From around the corner a man comes running, dressed in gray, he stops in his tracks for a moment. Looking in disbelieve at the four horses disappearing from view. Breathing hard, he waits for a moment, as if straining to hear how far the horses gallop before the sound of hooves on hard ground fades. Catching his breath, the man turns back towards Memblar’s Minstrelry.
More hoof beats clattering on cobblestones can be heard. Though the mist is somewhat distorting the noise, it seems as if several horses are coming down the Uldoon Trail. When the man is near the corner of Porter’s Way and the Uldoon Trail, he stops. “Halt, who goes there!” a voice demands. One of the horses rides up to the man, a uniformed man; silver dragon’s claw on a royal blue field clearly visible on the man’s tunic, dismounts and walks over to him. With his hand on the pommel of a longsword at his side, he demands: “State your business saer!” The man in gray replies, “My name is Matteo Ashgale. I was to meet a companion of mine at Memblar’s earlier this evening, one Tharkas Lhun, in a matter of some import. Unfortunately, just as I arrived someone shot a crossbow bolt through his head, abducted his body, and escaped by horseback. They’ve just crossed the Handspan and are heading in the direction of Castle Hill. Not being mounted myself I could not keep up. The riders are invisible as well, which doesn’t help. I was returning to Memblar’s to rejoin a companion, a priestess of the Death God, as ironic as that sounds.”
“Hmm, that’s a strange tale you have mister Ashgale.” The guardsman replies. He turns towards his patrol members: “Sergeant Ashcroft, please escort mister Ashgale inside…” He points towards Memblar’s Minstrelry, “… and report to Captain Zaina.” “Aye Saer” the sergeant replies. The soldier in front of the man in gray, obviously in command of this patrol, turns to face him again. “Across the Handspan and towards Castle Hill right?” While waiting for an answer from the man in gray, he mounts his horse again. “Yes.” The man in gray replies, “Though remember, the riders are invisible. Look for lathered horses.”
“Follow me!” the commander orders the rest of his patrol. The horses gallop away, their hooves clattering on the cobblestones, disrupting the silence within the evening fog. A few moments later the man in gray can hear them thundering over a bridge. The sergeant dismounts and leads his horse towards Memblar’s: “Follow me please saer.” Nodding his assent, the man in gray follows the sergeant towards Memblar’s.
From his hiding place Marc has observed the whole scene unnoticed. Still a bit shaky, he strokes Friend comfortingly, the dog blissfully unaware of the events. Marc finishes his meal in silence, and nestles himself against the wall of Memblar’s from which some warmth seems to emanate. After a short while, he hears more sounds coming his way as a group of people exits the Tankard house. A squad of city guards leaves the establishment and makes its way up the Uldoon trail. Followed shortly after by another group of people, including the man in gray and a small girl. This group walks to the docks, where they seem to board one of the barges moored there. From his vantage point he cannot hear what is being said, telling Friend to remain where he is, the curious Marc makes his way carefully over the crates and barrels to get a little closer.
All attention is focused towards the entrance when the outer door opens again. A guard patrol walks in; two members of the patrol remain at the door, the captain and the other patrol members walk up to the bar. After a quick conversation, the bartender points in the direction where your group is situated. The captain, dressed in a suit of banded mail under a tabard prominently displaying the city’s crest: a silver dragon’s claw on a royal blue field, scrutinizes the area and walks towards the table; “Who can tell me what happened here!” She demands in a firm voice, her eyes scanning each of you one by one.
Nodding respectfully to the guard captain, Portia says, “I’m glad you are here, Captain. I’m sorry to say that someone abducted one Tharkas right out from under our noses.” Looking a bit ashamed, she continues with, “I wasn’t even able to make sure he was alive before they whisked him through that door.” She points, “And spell-sealed it behind them. From the looks of things though, he hadn’t long to live. A crossbow to the head tends to cut life short fairly quickly.” The cleric looks quite upset about this thought.
“Well…” Says Kalil to his wine drinking friend, “… Maybe I just might take one sip of the wine, after all. Doesn’t look like we’re going anywhere for the time being…” He sits down and waits till Grim offers him a drink. He gives a look at Portia as if to say he’s not pleased with the guards showing up. “Damn the Black Forecloser”, he mutters. Then, he looks up and searches for Calathra. With a slight nod of his head Grim offers Kalil a glass of wine.
Portia goes on to describe the large man that she was able to make out well, including his unbecoming stench. She describes what little she can of the other man, the one with the crossbow. “My companion, Matteo Ashgale of Sembia, ran out almost as soon as it happened to try to catch them.” Portia looks a bit worried for the man as she ends with, “He hasn’t returned. I’m hoping he’s fared well, but I cannot be sure. As for these others, I only know the one, Kalil of…” She shoots the man a questioning look, “‘Gildenglade’ by name. The others are his companions, as well as Tharkas’s.”
As Portia mentions his name, Kalil, looks up at Portia and the guard. He finishes Portia’s story: “Yes, indeed. We traveled to this place by boat. Tharkas was with us and when we finally arrived, we went to this memorable inn. Before we knew what happened, Tharkas was shot down with a barbed dart. They took him and left us. Period. End of story. Can we go now?”
“Hold your horses saer, what do you mean, who is they? And where exactly did it happen?” The captain inquires looking from Kalil to Portia, and back to Kalil. “They were a couple of ore guys, some of them carried crossbows. One big man in dark clothing carried a huge mean looking sword. He came up to us and then Tharkas got really nervous for some reason. He spilled his wine, stood up and got shot to the head by one of the ore guys. The big man dragged the lifeless body of Tharkas away and before we realized what was going on, they disappeared. It took only a little while before Portia showed up… Did you buy that?” Kalil says in a hurried voice. When he’s finished, he takes a deep breath and want to says some more, but thinks better of it and shuts his already open mouth.
Calathra moves along the wall asking the sentry “Are we arrested then? We saw what we saw, the rest did too. Let us be on our way. You have my promise that we will do our best to find the murderers. I’m afraid you just have to believe me, TallMan. Now, let us go.”Quirking an eyebrow, the guard looks down at Calathra: “No little one, you’re not arrested and ye can’t leave. Not after the captain gives permission.”
Some of the patrons are grumbling about the fact that they can’t leave. Tension builds in the establishment. Noting the disturbance, the guard captain turns to face the rest of the room and in a stern authoritarian voice she addresses the crowd: “No one leaves until I say so. If you want to protest, do come forward and I’ll dip you in the harbor. That should give you a reason to complain!” Even the music stops as her gaze slowly goes over the people in the room. Most of them hurryingly pay attention to their drink. The level of tension seems to drop a little as conversations return, albeit with subdued voices. The musicians pick up their instruments, and start to play again, though all luster seems to have gone from the music.
“Excuse me, but this seems odd to me. I don’t know about these places, but at home you’re either arrested or free to go where you want.” As an afterthought, Kalil adds, “Well, that’s to most of the places you want to go, anyway… I cannot believe you threaten to dump us in the river. Who’s your boss? I would like to speak with him for a moment. What’s your name, anyway?” He continues not knowing the customs of this – for him – strange lands. “Yes, merchant is right. Explain yourself!” Calathra says with in a full voice, irritated by the brigands. Grim doesn’t look very eager to join this conversation so he keeps himself busy with his glass of wine.
“Well, that might be in your country saer.” The captain replies coolly to Kalil’s question, “But right now you are in Berdusk, which is under my jurisdiction. And as for my name, I’m Captain Zaina, commander of the city watch, reporting directly to the High Lady. Please have a seat, so we might discuss matters further.” The captain proceeds, and takes a chair to sit on. Waiting for the rest to seat them selves, she puts her arms on the table, hands folded. “Apparently a murder has been committed here, and it seems you are the most direct witnesses. You also know more about the victim and maybe the circumstances as well, than I do. I only request your cooperation in this investigation.”
At that moment the door to Memblar’s opens, and Matteo steps in, a slight look of disappointment on his face. Another guardsman accompanies him. The guard walks up to the captain, saluting: “Sergeant Ashcroft reporting Captain. Lieutenant Aluar asked me to accompany saer Ashgale inside. He saw some men leave… that is ehm… he didn’t see the men… but… well… saer Ashgale might be able to explain matters more clearly Saer.” Captain Zaina looks at Matteo, “Well met saer, I understand you have seen some possible murder suspects leave this building? Please do join us at the table.” She motions for Matteo to take place at the table, “I would like to get as much information as possible to help solve this strange case.”
Kalil looks at the soldier, sighs and sits down. He looks at his little friend Calathra, beckons her and says “Please, Calathra, sit down next to me and let’s get over with it. Let’s tell this soldier our story… Again.” He adds with an obvious amount of sarcasm. He looks the captain straight in the eyes and awaits her reaction. Calathra does as asked without arguing, putting the dagger in her sleeve, sniffing out the air, looking up at Kalil and then in the eyes of the captain.
Turning briefly to the sergeant, Captain Zaina gives a command; “Sergeant, dismissed. You may return to the barracks.” Saluting, sergeant Ashcroft leaves the tankard house. The captain looks at Grim, “Maybe you can start from the beginning?” Though it is as a question, captain Zaina makes it sound like a command. Seeing the Captain question Grim, Matteo holds his silence, awaiting the man’s reply. Glancing at Portia, he shakes his head slightly to let her know the horsemen escaped. Sighing, the priestess of Kelemvor shrugs. ‘At least…’ She thinks, ‘Matteo is safe.’
Grim blinks at all this attention for him. “Ehm… well…” He takes another sip of his wine and starts again. “We arrived in Berdusk early this afternoon and decided to have a drink in this fine tankard house. Shortly after we sat down I noticed that the conversations going on all around seemed to suddenly go quiet so I looked around. At that point I saw some people… a young man and woman followed by a big black bearded brute to be precise… heading our way. Tharkas acted very frightened and turned to run away I guess, but a crossbow bolt in the head hit him from behind. Before we could do anything the big brute grabbed poor Tharkas… who was probably dead by that time, but still… and left through the back door, covered by two sailors with crossbows. As soon as they all had left the door was outlined by a strange light… dunno what it was though. After that everything was rather confused with people running around.” Grim decides that he has told more than enough and gulps the rest of his wine down in one go.
Portia eyes Tharkas’s companions, a blank look on her face. She seems a bit surprised at their reactions to their friend’s death and/or abduction. Once the man is finished, she says, “If you require any further information, Captain, I, for one, will place myself at your convenience. Tharkas’s death was horrible, and should not be dismissed lightly. I’m not sure of what further use I might be, but I will surely try.” She then quirks an eyebrow toward Matteo, as if asking if that would inconvenience him in any way with his task. Going over Grim’s statement in his mind, Matteo shrugs his shoulders slightly at Portia’s silent enquiry, knowing the watch officer will be wanting to talk to him soon anyway.
“Thank you.” Captain Zaina says, as she turns toward Portia and Matteo. “I have heard their version of the story, what have you two to add to this? Saer Ashgale?” With a polite nod to the captain Matteo smiles grimly and replies, “I was asked by Lady Angruatil to investigate disturbances to trade flowing into the city. She asked Lord Sillisten for assistance, hence the presence of the Lady Portia. We were to meet Tharkas Lhun who was reportedly carrying information of some value. Kalil seems surprised when he hears Matteo’s words. He looks at Matteo and he seems to be thinking something. Then, as if he’s startled, he quickly shakes his head and listens to the rest of the story. Kalil seems really interested, now…
“We arrived here only to see someone put a crossbow bolt through his skull. A large man, who followed us in, grabbed Tharkas’s body and disappeared out the back with his accomplices, sealing the door with magery.” Grimacing with barely suppressed frustration Matteo adds, “I went back out the front to see the figures become invisible to sight, though I could tell they mounted a number of horses just outside. They then proceeded to gallop down across the Handspan and up towards Castle Hill.”
“Hmmm… the description of the big man starts so sound familiar.” A pensive look on her face as captain Zaina stares into the room, trying to put things together. “That big man you all have been describing, that sounds like Lohgran, a figure of ill repute. He does have the guts to come in to this city, and we have never been able to put something on him. Though he seems connected to a lot of criminal activities. Rumors have it that he works with the Zhentarim from Darkhold.”
She looks at Matteo again, “Lady Angruatil has requested you to investigate matters for the city. Perhaps you can continue investigating the murder of Tharkas as well. It obviously seems there is a connection. I can assist you in the background; in a way that the murderers might think the city watch has no further interest in these matters. Maybe Tharkas’s friends here…” Captain Zaina makes a sweeping gesture encompassing Kalil, Calathra, Grim and Sara, “…can assist you in the investigation.” She rises and nods to all assembled at the table. “I will hear from you if you are willing to further investigate the murder of Tharkas Lhun. Till Swords Part.” Matteo looks at the captain as she departs, nodding intently.
“We’ll do our best, Captain. Such foul murderers must be stopped.” Portia comments. “Good business!” Kalil mutters to captain Zaina. As soon as the guards have left the building, Kalil almost drags Matteo away, tugging at his sleeve. “Come, quickly, let’s get out of here.” He says, followed by a whisper “I have to show you something.”
Grim hurries after them with a bemused expression on his face. “I never pictured myself as the law-enforcing type, but why not.” Seeing Kalil’s excited expression, Portia follows the two curiously. Looking back at the others, she asks, “coming?” Calathra raises her eyes and using all of her great speed puts her hand on Kalil’s arm. “Merchant, you would leave without me?”
“Of course not, dear Calathra, you should know better!” Kalil replies to Calathra’s question, still he moves away quickly, more or less trying to drag Matteo along. “Please, come all with me”, he encourages the rest. Given the strange circumstances of the evening, Matteo makes no comment as the strange man manhandles him though he gives him a cool look. Matteo follows him to the door, but there his tolerance at Kalil’s manhandling of his person ends. Tearing his arm free, he steps back, readjusting his coat. Ushering the others out of the tavern he follows after under his own accord.
Kalil walks directly towards the barge in which Calathra, Grim, Tharkas and he arrived only a few hours ago. Kalil waits until everybody enters the barge. He shows them with a gesture of his arm to sit, and seats himself. He first turns to Matteo, looks at him, as he wants to read his intentions. Then he starts to speak “Please Matteo, answer me a few questions. Afterwards, I’ll have something for you in return. First of all, you got an assignment from a certain lady Angruatil. Who is she? You got help from lord Sillisten in the form of assistance from Portia. Who is this lord Sillisten? You were supposed to meet Tharkas tonight; he would have information of some value for you. Do you know what this information might be? And where it might lead? It seems that the killer of Tharkas, this Lohgran, is a notorious – or at least known – figure in this neighborhood? And what about him working together with the Zhentarim in that place Darkhold. Is this true, and where is Darkhold? In what way is this all connected to your assignment? And… and… and.” Kalil suddenly realizes he asking a lot of questions without really giving Matteo a chance to answer them. He abruptly shuts up, and looks at Matteo expectantly. Only then, he looks to the others. He shows a nervous grin.
Matteo sits still, watching Kalil intently for a few seconds after he finishes speaking. “The name is Lord Ashgale.” He says coolly, “or Saer Matteo will suffice. Before I divulge all you wish to know in response to some vague assurance of returning the favor on your part, you will tell me who you are and why you have come to this city.” Kalil seems taken aback. He hesitates and then suddenly begins to laugh. “Is everybody around here a lord? I always thought you’re only as tall as your last deal!”
Suddenly Kalil turns serious again. “Excuse me, Saer, I never meant to do you any wrong. On the contrary, I did give you ‘some vague assurance’ for I’m not sure what I have to offer. Just seconds before Tharkas was shot, he put this on my belt.” Kalil shows a small black pouch with red stains. He opens the pouch, and carefully he puts the intents on deck; a few coins, a gemstone, a signet ring, and a small scrap of paper. The signet ring depicts a stylized symbol of Kelemvor, the scrap of paper show weird markings and scribbling and a crudely drawn symbol of a grinning skull on what appears to be a hexagonal background.
Kalil looks at the goodies and says to Matteo “Maybe this will answer some questions. But first things first, I am Kalil of Gildenglade, a merchant from Amn. These are Calathra, who is looking for…” And now he smiles gently to the halfling, “Adventure. And this is Grim…” Pausing for a moment, Kalil continues “That’s for my part of the deal, now please answer the questions.” Calathra raises her eyes to look at Kalil and says “And just maybe a thing or two more” putting her arms around his chest, defensively. “I am who I am and I am tired of being ordered to the whole day, saer TallMan Matteo.”
Matteo leans over the deck, examining the items before him. Picking up the signet ring he wordlessly hands it over to Portia to examine before plucking the piece of paper and turning it over in his hands. Grinning at Calathra’s remarks, he replies in flawless halfling, “Then I shall be careful not to give you any orders, my dear.” Speaking in halfling Calathra replies with “So I hear. We’re both better off that way, TallMan Saer Matteo.” in the same tongue.
Straightening, Matteo retakes his seat, looking back at Kalil. Switching back to Chondathan, he replies, “The nobility of this city is much like that back in Amn, deriving their position by virtue of wealth and tradition. Lady Angruatil is engaged in the trade of fine fabrics among other goods and trades substantive amounts to Amn. She asked me to investigate local disturbances to the flow of goods in the region. Lord Sillisten has similar interests as well as other responsibilities, which Portia can inform you of if she sees fit. As to Tharkas, he has worked on occasion both with myself and for Lady Angruatil. I do not know the details of what information he possessed, though I now have a clue at least.”
Frowning slightly, Matteo purses his lips and says, “As to the Zhentarim. Well, they are an organization bent on securing trade monopolies in various products from slaves and illicit substances to foodstuffs. To secure this they resort to terror, assassination, and extortion. You might consider them comparable to the Iron Throne or the Rundeen. Darkhold is one of their strongest fortresses and lies in the mountains at the eastern border of Sunset Vale, just to the northeast of here. Given their proclivities, they may well be involved in recent events.”
As Kalil and Matteo ‘converse’, Portia looks at the goodies the man has just displayed. She takes the ring from Matteo, having spotted the ring with her god’s symbol on it quickly enough. ‘How interesting that the man would have such a thing… The crude drawing however…’ Portia thinks. Suddenly she pales, and her eyes widen in shock and revulsion. Ignoring the two men, she reaches for the scrap, holding it flat to get a better look. “It is! This is the cursed symbol of Velsharoon!” She looks at Matteo. “We must find those men! If they are involved with the god of the Undead, they could well be involved with the rogue I was tracking!” Her disgust at even handling the paper the symbol is drawn on is evident, as she scrubs her hands intently on her vestments. She’s already looking back toward the docks…
Portia’s anxiety is obvious. She glances at the gem, then at Matteo. “We must do something. If the undead worshipers are involved, the troubles the city has already faced are as nothing to what is coming.”
During the time Matteo speaks Kalil picks up the gem and examines the egg shaped, polished mottled blue-white gem with an experts’ eye. As soon as the name Velsharoon is mentioned, Kalil looks up to Portia. Visibly shocked, he says, “Figures, you know this gem?” He holds up the gem so anyone must see it. “It’s an adamantine Zendalure, and it can be used to strengthen magical wands dealing with necromancy!”
Kalil waits for a moment to let his words sink in, and then concludes to Calathra and Grim “We’ve put ourselves in a nice situation, even without actually doing something. I’m sure this ore Lohgran will come after us as soon as he finds out we took delivery of this pouch. Then, we’re in real trouble, and I’m sold the guards protection will be written in red ink. On the other hand, we can be pro active and join Saer Matteo and Portia – if they allow us – to fight the evil that’s threatening Berdusk. I’m for the latter. Are you in with me?” Calathra nods in assent, and smiles to the man from Amn.
“May I see that again, Matteo?” Portia asks; her dislike of even the symbol of the god of the Undead evident. She takes the paper and examines it thoroughly, going so far as to cast a minor spell. She examines it intently, for a bit, before doing the same with the ring. The ring she examines with even more care, for she does indeed detect a magical aura. When she’s gleaned all she can from it, she says, “Kalil, may I see the stone for a moment?” She spends her remaining energies examining the stone, but finds nothing magical about it. Finishing her examination, she hands the gem back to the Amnian, and the slip of paper to Matteo. Holding the ring carefully in her palm, she says, “I thought I recognized the ring, but I needed to be sure. It’s a ‘Death Shroud.’ They’re fairly common within the church. I wonder what Tharkas was doing with it?”
Matteo sits back with a thoughtful expression on his face, running over events once again in his mind. After a moment he says, “It seems these events are all connected somehow. Tharkas would not have carried those items back with him otherwise. If we can track down the followers of Velsharoon… that could well give us a link to who is interfering in the flow of trade. And it seems Lohgran may be the link we need. That means we need the good will of the watch, to provide us with information on Lohgran, his habits, places he frequents, acquaintances, if we are to find him.”
Portia nods. “That Captain assured us they would keep out of our way. If we can discover if and how they left the city, we might be able to hunt them down.” She looks out at the gathering dusk. “They’ll be active tonight, no doubt. The foul ones always prefer the night.” In the distance the sound of approaching hooves clattering on the cobblestones can be heard.
Following the movements op the mysterious paper with his eyes Grim seems to be muttering something softly. “Excuse me, could I have a look at that paper? I wouldn’t want to call myself an expert in these matters, but maybe I can make something of it.” Matteo hands Grim the piece of paper. Grim starts to study the paper very carefully and seems to be lost in his thoughts.
Nodding at Portia’s words, Matteo replies, “It would be best to contact the Captain again tonight before she finishes duty, at least to investigate the possibility of immediate pursuit. Tomorrow, no doubt, more information will arise but that is no reason to abandon whatever slim chances we have tonight.” Looking at Kalil, Calathra and Grim he says, “Will you aid us? Come with us to see the watch?” Calathra whispers “Yes, TallMan” looking at her feet.
Grim is still focused on the small piece of paper while every now and then muttering something. After a while he looks up from the paper… “I’m afraid I haven’t deciphered it yet, but there is something familiar about this. I’m fairly sure that I could find out what’s written if I could study this paper more thorough.” Looking around he notices that Matteo is looking at him as if expecting an answer. “Did I miss anything?” Smiling gently, Matteo replies, “I was inquiring whether you and your companions would be willing to assist us in investigating the matter?”
Kalil nods to Matteo and says, “Sure, I’m in. Already said so”, and then he smiles. When he gets the gem back from Portia, he looks at it again and mumbles “Those damn mages…” Grim looks past Matteo, and sees several men, and a woman, judging by the way she sits on the horse, on horseback crossing the harbor over the Handspan bridge. The riders seem to turn their horses in the general direction of the barges. Lantern light is reflecting of metal surfaces on the riders.
Hearing the hooves on cobblestone and seeing Grim turning his head, Calathra looks to the bridge, uttering “Humans coming our way.” Looking over at Portia again, Kalil asks “Dear Portia, could you please explain me about this death shroud you talked about? It sounds spooky but I’ve never heard about it.”
When Kalil finishes speaking, Portia reveals the ring once more, now on one of her fingers. “The ring, as I said, is called a Death Shroud. Up and coming priests of the Faith are often awarded one upon taking their vows. They are considered minor relics of the Faith. Through the grace of Kelemvor, the ring grants a bit of protection against the varied trials a Death priest might face. This one…” She wriggles her finger, “Will need to be returned to the Church at the first opportunity.” She sees the halfling, Calathra, is looking toward the riders, and does so as well.
Kalil turns to Matteo. “You mentioned Tharkas was your contact before he was foreclosed. What exactly was he doing outside the city of Berdusk, and who sent him on his mission?” Rising to his feet at the sound of approaching horses, Matteo peers out into the darkness towards. Without looking down he says, “Portia, gather Tharkas’s items together and hold them just in case.” With that said, he strides forward towards the edge of the barge to meet the riders should they come his way, one hand resting lightly on the hilt of his sword.
Portia picks up the pouch with the coins, and looks at Grim. “Let me know when you are finished with the paper, please.” She opens the pouch and holds it toward Kalil, clearly expecting him to drop the stone in. Kalil looks at Portia, at the gem and then at Portia again, sighs and adds sourly “Bought it, it’s a shame, such a golden specimen. One could really deliver something out of it, but now it just has to wait. What are we going to do with these gains anyway?” Kalil drops the gem in the pouch, sighs again and looks like he is relieved. “You don’t seem to be impressed to see, no own, an item that can be used by mages. Why not?” Kalil asks to no one in particular.
Torn between studying the paper, looking to the approaching horses, paying attention to Matteo and now listening to Portia… Grim makes a slightly confused impression. Still looking to the horses, he hands the paper over to Portia, “Here you are, I’ll study it later when there are less distractions if you don’t mind.”… And turning to Matteo he hastily adds, “Sure I’ll help, those responsible for these events have to brought to justice for their crimes!”
Portia smiles as the Amnian drops the stone into the pouch, and takes the note from Grim as well. “Remember, Kalil, the wealth we gather in this world tends to stay here. You can’t take it with you when you die… As for its magical properties, one, I’m not a mage, and two, its used for enhancing the undead. Why would I wish to promote such a thing?”
Kalil turns to Matteo after glance at the road and says loud enough for Matteo to hear, but not for the yet unidentified strangers “You still haven’t answered my question. Please tell me why Tharkas was on a mission outside Berdusk, and who sent him?” Then he raises himself, walks to Matteo, and stands more or less next and behind him. He stands straddle-legged and erect, much like a soldier. He awaits Matteo’s answer, and stares into the night at the strangers.
“I do not know who Tharkas was working for.” Matteo replies without turning his attention from the approaching riders, “But I intend to find out.” Calathra makes a soft smile uttering, “Such a grim Tallman you are. Now stand aside” and takes a dagger out of her sleeve. With a cat-like grace she takes two steps, concentrates for a few heartbeats, and faster then lightening tosses the dagger from her sleeve at the bridge, a few meters before the horses of strangers. Before she could even see if it hit the target she shouts, “Make yourself known, riders!”
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