By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff
Chapter 32 - Dread Tidings
Berdusk, 1371 DR, Eleint, 9th day, noon
Looking down at himself, Jezbodiah Wisp sees his clothes are all but ruined from his small escaped in the sewers. Shaking his head at the loss of the clothes, Jez looks around to see where he is. He doesn’t immediately recognize the surroundings, but the trek through the sewers wasn’t that long. The alley in which he finds himself isn’t that much different from the one he entered. He must be in the same neighborhood still. Deciding upon a direction Jez finds himself quickly at the sewer entrance he went in initially. The grating is still in the place he left it. Of the street-thief there is no sign.
Heading back through the alley to Steelsword Street, Jez doesn’t see the old lady. The merchant is still hawking his wares under the tree. A few passersby give a quick disapproving glance at the muck-stained outfit Jez is wearing before continuing, still no sign of the old crone. A suddenly voice beside him makes Jez’s hands go for his weapons, but he checks them when he sees its just a kid. “Saer, if you are mister Jezbodiah Wisp. The old woman asked me to tell you she’s already at the Stag.“ The kid looks up and down at Jez. “Oh… and she said you’d better not smell dirty when you go there.“
Feeling dirty and slightly mocked, Jez heads back home, sneaking in through the back door as not to give his pregnant mother too much grievance about the ruined clothes. He’ll have to explain it sometime to her, but that can wait. Silently he undresses and cleans himself of the sewer muck and smell. Getting into a new set of clothing he cleans his weapons and their scabbards as well, before girding the belt. After a quick look into the small mirror, Jez decides he looks as good as ever and pouring a little perfume, smells just as well.
Listening for sounds coming from the house that might indicate his family has heard him, Jez waits for a moment. After thinking the coast is clear, he heads out through the backdoor again. A brisk walk takes him to the Running Stag. Arriving there, he sees two men entering the establishment just ahead of him. One is wearing a suit of what once must have been a god looking set of leather armor. The man has a very handsome face. He surely would attract the attention of the ladies in the Festhalls, even with the sour expression on his face. The other is also wearing a set of leather armor, but one that has seen less abuse. The second man’s facial features and skin coloration seem to indicate he’s from lands further to the south. Both men are carrying their weapons and some equipment as they enter the Stag.
When the door opens, Telsom and Kalil hear soft music and singing coming from the center of the main room. Sitting on a log, a bard is performing. Dressed in a set of fashionable clothes and with neatly groomed hair, both men at first don’t recognize the bard, but then it becomes clear that this is the same person as the shabby looking fellow that they’ve encountered while battling the Troll. Following them into the establishment and momentarily held up by the pair is a young man, a half-elf.
Smiling pleasantly at Telsom and Kalil, Nik nods to them in greeting and finishes the song he is playing. He then stands, bows to the patrons, and makes his way over to an unoccupied table. Carrying his guitar in one hand and a cup in the other. He waves Telsom and Kalil over to his table with the grace of a nobleman holding court and sits down, his guitar laid carefully in front of him on the table.
There is now an air of dignity to the tall, gaunt man that they hadn’t seen before. Clean-shaven and with his ragged, waist-long mane of hair clean and pulled back in a long, tidy tail, Nik’s lean and craggy face looses its resemblance to that of a penniless vagabond or wandering madman. He looks almost aristocratic, his bearing calm and self-possessed. The finely made wine-red shirt and dark navy pants are a far cry from the threadbare dirt-brown clothes he had met them in. However, the silk scarf wrapped around his throat is still the same; the delicate tie-dyed swirls of royal blue and crimson have faded to orange and gray in places, obviously where years of wind and weather have taken their toll.
Nik takes a measured sip of whatever is in his cup, and leans back comfortably in his chair. His free hand idly patting the fine instrument in front of him, he says to Telsom and Kalil “Ah, you are back quickly. All went well, I hope. No trolls, undead or other nasties?“ His deep voice is smooth and mellow, and his eyes have the calm, lazy curiosity of a cat in front of a hearth.
“Hello everyone!“ Jez says as he strides through the Running Stag. “I have a message for Saer Matteo Ashgale. Is the gentlemen by that name in the establishment?“
Waving a hand at the messenger, Nik says “Over here, lad.“ His deep voice carries over the conversation in the room, even though he has barely raised his voice. As the messenger draws closer, Nik continues in a more conversational tone “I know Saer Ashgale, in fact I was with him only a few hours ago. These fine men…“ He nods his head at Kalil and Telsom, “…are companions of Saer Ashgale, and their arrival means Matteo should be close behind.“
“The Lady Jalarghar fell ill just shortly after you departed. We left Ashgale, the boy and the halfling behind to follow the tracks while we brought the young lady home.“ Scanning the room for a moment and smiling as he finds the face he was looking for Telsom turns back to Nik. “Please excuse me but a bath and glass of wine is what I seek at the moment. I shall return when I have finished both.“ Nodding to Nik, Telsom moves off across the room.
A frown furrows Nik’s brow at the news of Ditalidas’ illness and his deep-set brownish-green eyes are filled with concern and questions. He seems about to speak, but then his eyes turn dull and guarded and his expression becomes carefully neutral. He leans forward as Telsom leaves, elbows on the table and resting his chin on the fist of his free hand. Nik’s eyes follow Telsom until he is out of sight, a thoughtful look on the bard’s craggy face, his eyes narrowed and slightly suspicious.
He straightens up, turns back to the messenger and shrugs a shoulder, a slightly apologetic smile on his lips. “Well, I guess Matteo is NOT with Telsom and Kalil. But I’m sure he will be back soon. They will lose the light before long.“ With a cheerful smile and a wave of his hand to indicate one of the several empty seats at the table Nik says “Have a seat, lad. I’m Andreus Nikolai Estoba Winterborne the Third. Nik will do fine, however. So, what’s this message for Matteo?“ He takes another sip from his cup, and his other hand returns to the instrument in front of him, resting gently yet possessively on it’s brightly covered surface.
As Telsom walks over to the bar and starts speaking to the barkeep, Kalil moves towards one of the empty seats at the table. “It seems Lady Jalarghar was overcome by the events occurring around her person.“ Sitting down on an empty log at the table, Kalil’s eyes wander over to the half-elf messenger. “We are friends of Saer Ashgale, Matteo Ashgale. What news do you have, I hope it is not rimmed in coal.“ With a quick look at Nik, Kalil comments on the bard’s appearance, a friendly smile on the Amnian’s face. “Nice changeover. From copper to silver, just like that.“
Flashing a friendly smile at Kalil, Nik says, “People are a bit like coins, you know.“ His deep, resonant voice is soft and conversational, but there is a harder glint in his eyes. “Some are tarnished and easily dismissed at first glance, but under that grime lies great worth. And, on the other hand, a bright, shiny gleam may be nothing more than a layer of gilt over pot-metal.“ He takes another sip from his cup and says dismissively “Of course, some are just what they appear.“
“Can I get you gentlemen anything to drink?“ Elisa, the red-haired waitress asks, interrupting the conversation for a moment. She puts her left hand on her hip as she looks at the three men in turn while holding the serving tray in her right. “Another Westgate Ruby, Saer?“ She asks looking at Nik.
Smiling at Elisa, Nik hands her his empty cup and says “Why, Elisa, that would be just delightful. Put the drinks of these fine gentlemen on my tab as well.“ He smiles benevolently at Jez and Kalil, and says with a wink “Don’t get too extravagant on me, lads. I’m buying the first round, not the tavern.“
“Hmm, off about in Berdusk I suppose.“ Jez muses aloud. “Well, the message is for Saer Ashgale so I suppose I can wait.“ Jez takes a seat next to Nik and says, “Well minstrel, your not native to Berdusk. So tell me, what’s your name and who’s your friends.“ The last is spoken with a sly smile.
“No.“ mutters Nik under his breath, giving a long, pensive look in the direction Telsom went. “I’m not from around here…“ The tall, gaunt bard looks back to Jez, and smiles brightly, but there is a faint glimmer of distrust in his shadowed eyes. “You can call me Nik.“ He says cheerfully. “Everyone else does. This fellow is Kalil of Gildenglade. He’s not from Berdusk, either.“ Nik adds the last with a wink at the messenger and a conspiratorial grin. Nik waves in the direction Telsom went off in, continuing, “As for the lad who smelt rather pungent, well, I don’t know his name. Yet.“ A brief look of confusion crosses his craggy face, and he whispers absently “Or do I…?“
“Greetings good saer.“ Jez says as he offers his hand in friendship to Kalil. “Welcome to Berdusk. Are you enjoying the fair city so far?“ “Thank you saer.“ Kalil takes Jez’s hand and nods politely in greeting. “As my musical friend here already mentioned, I’m not from around here. I hail from fair Amn.“ Releasing the grasp, Kalil smiles at the half-elf. “Amn?“ Jez replies perplexed. “Ah yes!“ He replies exuberantly. “The merchant-nation along the Sword Coast. I can see money isn’t the only thing that brings you to Berdusk. Need any locks or chests? Something to secure your belongings?“
Nik blinks, and the confusion is gone, replaced by curiosity. “So…“ He says to Jez, one eyebrow raised in inquiry. “…Now you have the advantage of us. So what’s your name, lad?“ “My name is Jezbodiah Wisp, eldest son of Mathou and Evaleen Wisp of Berdusk. I’m here to deliver a message to Saer Ashgale, a letter from Lady Angruatil, if my memory serves me right. I was told that he was in the company of a priestess. But I do not believe I see her,“
“A priestess…?“ Kalil’s brows come together in a frown as he ponders momentarily on the question. “Hmmm, I think that would be either Immerine or…“ The man’s left hand cups his chin as he tries to remember, “… Or that priestess of the Black Forecloser, I believe her name is Portia.“
“Immerine and Portia. You say. Do you have any idea were they went or when they would return?“ Jez stops to catch his breath and says, “I do not wish to be rude but what’s the story with the Kelemvorites?“
Moving across the taproom, Telsom makes his way to Mumadar. “Greetings good innkeep. I bring word from Lord Jalarghar that he wishes the bill formed by our group to be delivered to him. Ashgale and the others shall be along shortly, in the meantime I would like to make arrangements to take a bath if at all possible.“
Mumadar is cleaning the bar with a rag when Telsom approaches him. Looking up from his work he answers the paladin. “Certainly good Saer. I will send the bill over when it is time.“ Putting the rag down the man’s hand dips into a pocket of his apron and returns back, flipping a coin and rolling it over his knuckles while talking to Telsom. “As for a bath. I can arrange one for you. Hot or cold water? And would you require service with the bath?“
“A hot bath with a bottle of wine would do wonders for me.“ Telsom replies, “Service is not required but the offer is appreciated.“
“A hot bath it will be saer.“ Mumadar answers, the silver coin rolling over the man’s knuckles. “Where will you be saer, when the bath is ready for you?“
“I’ll be at the table by the bard and the two others. You have my thanks Mumadar.“ Telsom says with a nod, before turning back to join the others. On the way back to the table anyone looking at the young paladin might notice his attention focused on the bard, however when Telsom reaches the table the look is gone. Telsom looks around the establishment a small smile on his face and sits down sparing the half elf a glance smiling as their eyes meet.
The bard looks over at Telsom as he arrives, a faint spark of puzzlement in his shadowed eyes. Nik offers the paladin a slightly bemused smile, his chin resting once again on his fist, when he is distracted by the arrival of Elisa and the wine. He carefully removes his beautiful instrument from the table, setting it beside himself with the neck leaning up against the table within easy reach.
“Good day fair saer.“ Jez says gracefully. “And you.“ Telsom says with a nod to Jez. Looking down at his soiled equipment, Telsom’s nose scrunches in disgust. Scraping some filth from his leather tunic the paladin shudders. Not before long Elisa returns with a pitcher of wine and four cups. “Gentlemen, your wine.“ She says with a smile. Her glance momentarily rests on the paladin, before she turns around to attend to some of the other clientele.
When the outer door opens, eyes momentarily wander that way. Two, somewhat unkempt figures enter the establishment. Their eyes sweep over the guests before making their way to a corner that is largely shielded from view by a large ‘tree’. Their entrance provided only a moment distraction in the crowd. Soon talk resumes normally. The locals seem concerned with the early snow, and mutter loudly about winter coming, and how trade will suffer under Auril’s blanket.
Kalil looks at the chest at his side before looking at Jez inquiringly. “My dear saer, at the moment I’m provided for. Yet if I have need of a chest or a good lock in the future, I will be sure to see you.“ The Amnian reaches for the pitcher and pours himself a cup. “Anyone else?“ He holds the pitcher over the other cups looking in turn at the others at the table.
Telsom declines with a wave of his hand, as Nik holds his cup for Kalil to fill, nodding politely to him. “Thank you, lad.“ He smiles. Settling back and taking a sip, he listens to the conversation between Kalil and Telsom, his expression neutral but his eyes resting thoughtfully on the paladin.
Finished pouring the wine, Kalil shifts his gaze to the somewhat uncomfortable paladin, he hesitates a moment before asking, “Telsom, could you seem to be more wise in matters divine. Do you have any idea what is going on? And why the Black Forecloser seems to take an interest in our actions?“
“I don’t see how the Lord of the Dead would take any interest in our actions.“ Telsom says looking to Kalil with an odd look on his face. “His priests and priestesses would want to look into the Velsharan activities though. Kelemvor’s followers want to see the dead lain safely in their graves not out and about attacking innocents and despoiling the land.“
“Hmmm“ Kalil muses while sipping from his wine. The man seems to lose himself in thought for the moment as he gently swirls the content of his cup.
Finally, he says “I see I have invited myself into quite a mystery, haven’t I?“ Nik smiles at Telsom, and adds, “I’m afraid I don’t even know the names of most of Matteo’s companions, yourself included. I’m Andreus Nikolai Estoba Winterborne the Third, but you can call me Nik. And you are…?“ He raises one eyebrow in polite enquiry, curiosity burning in his dull eyes.
“Telsom Torentshed servant of Lady Firehair.“ The paladin responds with a nod. “I hadn’t noticed in our earlier meeting but seeing you in this establishment, something about you seems familiar and yet I cannot place my finger on it.“ Telsom’s eyes wander as he speaks, the young man watches the fiery haired Elisa move around the establishment fulfilling her duties.
Brow furrowed in thought, Nik’s eyes are lost in some middle distance as he whispers something to himself. Suddenly his eyes widen, and for an instant he looks at Telsom with undisguised terror. Just as quickly the look is gone, the bard’s craggy features back to his former look of calm, lazy curiosity. He smiles again, but his eyes are sharp with the wariness of a cat in a yard full of dogs.
“Oh, I’m quite sure you’ve seen me around. I get that a lot, you know.“ Nik says cheerfully to the paladin, no hint in his voice of whatever frightened him about Telsom just a moment before. “I, like many of my profession, am well traveled. And no self-respecting tavern would turn down a skilled bard.“ His broad, friendly smile denies the wariness in his shadowed eyes. “I’ve been on the road all my life, and I’ve played in taverns and inns from the Dales to Cormyr. You might say I was born on the road.“ His normally smooth, educated voice slips a little, gaining a touch of a woodsy accent and becoming a bit rougher around the edges, and he tugs at the scarf around his neck before taking a long drink from his cup. He smiles and gives a shrug, adding “Nomad, wanderer, roamer, vagabond, call me what you will.“
Taking his attention away from the barmaid, Telsom turns to Nik with a small smile on his face. “I’ll call you friend and ally if you decide to help Lady Jalarghar and the others with the investigation regarding the Velsharans. Lord Jalarghar has requested that the bill of services be delivered to him for our stay here. He will also be equipping us with any equipment necessary for us to fulfill said investigation.“ Reaching into his belt pouch, Telsom pulls forth a single rose and stares at the petals for a few moments before returning it to the safety of his pouch. “There will be a reckoning.“ He mutters as he stares at the table his eyes distant.
The wariness in his eyes now replaced by relief, Nik’s smile broadens. “I’ve already promised the Lady that I would give her any aid I can. But there’s no need for her family to pay for my stay. I’m not without means, you know.“ He rests a hand possessively on the neck of his guitar, and continues “But if the House of Jalarghar wishes to pay for some small expenses I may incur while helping, well, then, who am I to say no?“ Nik falls silent as Telsom looks at the rose, a quizzical and curious look on the bard’s gaunt face.
Lost in thought the words coming from both Jez and Nik fall short of the paladin. The distant look remains in his eyes, and his jaw and neck are taught with restrained anger.
The half-elf listens intently as Telsom, Nik, and Kalil discuss the recent occurrences that brought them together. “Kelemvorites. An intriguing and dutiful faith, I myself prefer the merriment of Lliira’s Festhalls and festivals. I met them early today and they asked me to deliver a message to Saer Matteo Ashgale. The message is from Lady Angruatil.“ Jez stops and ponders Telsom’s words. “Velsharan activities in the area and so close to Berdusk. There are kobolds living in the sewers too. I wonder if the two are connected in some way. I must say I haven’t seen the city have this much activity in the past four or five years.“
“You haven’t seen an elderly woman around here have you?“
“Greetings good saer, my name is Jezbodiah Wisp, Son of Mathou and Evaleen Wisp.“ He offers his hand in friendship. “My parents operate their own business in Berdusk. You’re a servant of Sune Firehair, I see too. Have you been in the company of Saer Matteo Ashgale?“
A momentary shudder sweeps the tall bard’s lean frame at the mention of kobolds, and fear is once again bright in his eyes. He covers his discomfort by taking another long pull from his wine, but his hand shakes slightly.
When Jez asks about the old woman, Nik cocks his head to one side, visibly rummaging through his memory. Finally he says slowly, eyes still hazy with thought, “There was an old woman who came in a bit before you folks.“ His eyes refocus, and he looks at a table across the way. “She was over there… no?“ Nik’s gaze rests on another table “There? Hmm, no, I guess not…“ Eyes searching the room, Nik sighs and returns his attention to those at his table, saying “Well, I don’t see her now. But I did see an old woman come in before you. I was playing at the time, however, and I’m afraid I lost track of where she went. Is she important?“ He pours himself another cup of wine, but sets it down untouched in front of him.
“Well, yes she was… I suppose…“ Jez says. “I was told I would meet her here.“ Without waiting for an answer, the young half-elf stands and leaves the bard and the paladin. He walks over to the bar and retrieves the sealed letter he was given. As he looks into the common room, he sees the old woman disengaging from a conversation and walk toward him. “And, did you catch the little culprit? Or did he run of with your clothes and you had to get a new pair.“ She asks upon arriving at the bar.
Jez walks towards the common and then eventually to the old woman. “No, he was slipperier than a common variety street waif.“ He says with a jubilant smile. “He managed to lose me in the sewers where I found something else, well three some things anyway. Bumped into some kobolds, Nasty little vermin. I managed to shack them and return home to change.“ “I don’t see Lord Ashgale anywhere or his priestess. Are you sure they’re even here in Berdusk?“
“Your bath is ready saer.“ Elisa says to Telsom as she passes by the table on her round. “Mumadar will show you to the room.“ A quickly glance at Nik, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth, and she continues on her round serving drinks to a group of grumpy farmers a few tables away.
“Bath?“ Kalil looks up from his musing, a little distracted. “Ah yes, of course. A golden idea.“ Winking at Telsom, Kalil rises from his chair. “If you all will excuse me. I will fresh myself up and…“ Looking down at his leather armor, “… change into something more comfortable.“ Picking up his chest, the Amnian walks towards the covered doorway and is off to his room.
Seeming of their own accord, Nik’s eyes are drawn to Kalil’s little chest. He stares after it with an almost unhealthy hunger, and his fingers twitch restlessly on the tabletop. Suddenly his expression turns fearful, and he clenches his hands into fists so tight his bony knuckles are white. He tosses down the contents of his cup of wine like a man dying of thirst, and when he looks up again his face is calm and composed once more.
“My thanks.“ The young paladin says as he moves to stand. “I’ll be back when I am cleaner and less sober.“ He says to no one in particular as he moves off to meet Mumadar. Reaching the bar, Telsom sees the half-elf talking to an elderly woman. The woman is dressed in simple commoners robes, her gray hair tied on a ponytail. Though she is engaged in a conversation with Jezbodiah, her eyes rest on Telsom, a scrutinizing glance from a pair of steel-gray orbs.
“If you’d follow me saer.“ Telsom is momentarily distracted by Mumadar’s voice. When he looks back to the old crone, she seems to have lost interest in him, her attention focused on the half-elf again.
“I would think they’re about, or will return soon. You youngsters are much too impatient.“ The woman shakes her head slightly. “For one with blood of the fair folk, I would have expected more patience.“ Gesturing to the table where the bard is left in the company of pitcher of wine, she continues. “Why don’t we join that man over there. A few interesting tales or a song or two always make the wait easier. I’m sure he won’t mind our company.“ Taking Jez by his elbow, the old crone leads him back toward Nik.
“Maybe it’s not in the blood and I doubt you would understand if you meet or know my father the way I do. A man with skilled hands but capable of splitting an Orc’s head open with his favorite battle axe.“
As the pair walks towards Nik, the roguish half-elf speaks. “I’m as patient as an expecting mother.“ winks the half-elf at the old lady with unending mirth. “My mother is excepting her eighth or ninth child within a month and if I seem elevated and rambunctious, you now know why. We think it will be boy. Ha, you hear that. I get to be a older brother all over again. My father has set up a betting pool. Whoever is closest to the birth date and weight wins the pool, but the winner gives up the money for charity. It’s a good cause.“
Busily pouring himself another cup of wine, Nik hardly seems to acknowledge Telsom taking his leave. But his shadowed eyes follow the young paladin as he goes, and the hand holding the cup trembles. When he is alone again, the tall bard slumps back in his seat, running one hand down his face and sighing. For a long moment he seems the picture of a man granted a stay of execution, staring at his cup in a mixture of relief and repressed fear. When he notices Jez and the old woman headed his way, he tosses back his wine again, and pours himself yet another cup. As they approach, he offers them a bright smile, all traces of his previous anxiety gone.
Mumadar, flipping his coin again, leads Telsom past the concealed door and down the hallway beyond. Opening a door to the left, Telsom enters another hallway. The corridor almost turns into a maze as Mumadar leads Telsom through the collection of buildings that make up the Running Stag. Finally, Mumadar stops juggling the coin and bows while gesturing at a door to Telsom’s left. “Here are the baths, saer. I have one filled up for you with hot water.“ Straightening up, Mumadar continues, “The hearth is blazing and a bottle of fine wine is awaiting your company. If there is anything you need, pull the rope and a servant will see to your needs.“
Telsom nods to the innkeep and waits until the man has left the chamber before going on to strip his off his disheveled clothing. Scowling down at his dirty form once more the young paladin quickly settles into the bath, taking a deep drink from his bottle of wine before lowering his entire form under the surface to wash away the grime.
After a short amount of time, the paladin resurfaces brushing the hair from his face with his hands and taking in great breaths of air. Reaching for the rope, he goes on to summon a servant before relaxing in the water the bottle of wine in hand; it’s tip pouring the warm liquid down his throat.
Savoring the taste of the wine, Telsom relaxes in the hot water, the weariness of the day slowly leaving his body. Slightly startled for a moment Telsom’s quick movement send water cascading over the edge of the large wooden tub before he remembers that he called for a servant.
“Can I help you saer?“ A feminine voice asks. Turning his head, Telsom sees a raven-haired woman entering the bathroom. The young woman, wearing a white linen shift is pretty to look at, though not able to match the Sunite priestesses Telsom knew from his time in Waterdeep.
Smiling at the woman with mischief in his eyes, Telsom looks as if he is about to say something but then changes his mind. “Sorry to trouble you Milady, however I am in the need of having my clothing laundered. It is quite horrific and I hate to pass the duty on to one as fair as yourself, but alas I know no other person to contact.“ He says while indicating the discarded clothing which although filthy is stacked in a neat pile close to the tub. Closing his eyes, the young paladin tips his head backwards and the bottle upwards taking another large draught into his mouth. Slowly opening his eyes the paladin looks to the girl waiting on her response.
Smiling, the girl walks over to the pile of clothes. ‘Plain, but in a cute way.’ Flashes through the paladin’s brain as he comfortably soaks in the warm water. Kneeling to pick up the bundle of clothes, the girl almost imperceptibly flinches at the smell, but when she looks up at Telsom, her lovely smile is still there. “I will see to it that your clothes are washed and repaired saer.“ Holding her head a little cocked, she looks at the naked and soaking paladin, “Is there anything else I can do for you, another bottle of wine?“
Looking at the half empty bottle in surprise, Telsom’s mouth hangs slightly agape. Shutting his mouth he looks to the girl. “Another would be most appreciated my dear.“ Looking a little sultry, the girl peers quickly into the bathtub before turning away, swaying her hips as she walks out the room carrying all of Telsom’s clothes. An amused chuckle escapes the man as the woman peers into the bathtub and goes on to leave the room. Finishing his bottle of wine the paladin settles back into the tub his arms outside of the tub his head reclined and eyes closed.
The soothing warm water and the effect of the wine make sure that Telsom slips into a blissful nap, the combined effect banishing the weariness and the stress of the day. After a while, through the mists of his dreams comes the feeling of soft hands massaging his pectorals and the paladin relaxes even more.
Letting out a small moan of pleasure, Telsom stretches out in the tub. Bringing one hand into the tub he runs his palm up his face, combing his fingers through his hair while keeping his eyes closed. “That feels nice.“ He says in a low, tired voice. “Hmmm… It does.“ Purrs the girl as she removes one hand from the paladin’s chest. “I also brought you your wine.“ She holds the bottle dangling in front of him.
“Once again you have my thanks good lady.“ Telsom shifts in the water, now in a sitting position instead of reclining. Not trying to cover himself up, the young man accepts the wine with a smile on his face. “Mind if I join you. You look like you could use a good massage.“ The girl steps from behind Telsom to stand next to the tub, her eyes taking in the entire scene before her.
Telsom gives the girl a genuine smile, but the smile holds a hint of sadness. “The offer is most kind, and the company quite tempting.“ Looking the girl from head to toe he continues. “I’m sorry I must decline, I mean this as no slight to you but I am not in the right temperament for the company of one as lovely as you.“
Pouting a little, there is a flash of genuine disappointment in the girl’s eyes. Bowing her head briefly, she says, “As you wish saer. A bathrobe is on the chair yonder…“ She gestures to a chair near the wall. “…Your clothes will be taken to your room once they are clean and dry.“ Turning around she exits the room, lingering at the door for a moment, she looks once more at the bathing paladin before closing the door after her.
Letting out a sigh as the girl leaves, Telsom quickly climbs from the tub drying off and placing the bottle of wine on the floor. Putting on the robe, Telsom picks up the bottle of wine and leaves for his bedchamber. Quickly donning his set of clean clothing the paladin places the bottle of wine beside his bed. After checking himself in the mirror, the young man leaves his chamber and moves off the to the taproom. Arriving at the taproom, Telsom looks around briefly before letting out another sigh and returning to his chamber. Crawling into bed, the paladin leaves the second bottle of wine untouched and falls quickly into a deep slumber.
The bard’s dull hazel eyes are too bright and his smile too wide, however, and his lined and weathered face has a bit of a flush to it. Whether it is from the alcohol or something else is not apparent. “Hello, Jez! Hello, good mother!“ He greets the two cheerfully. “There’s plenty of wine and room for all!“ There is no slur to his deep voice, and his free hand tugs once at the gaudy scarf around his throat before returning to rest possessively on the neck of his beautiful guitar.
“Hello Minstrel. We meet once again.“ Jez says to Nik as both casually stride towards him. “Well met saer.“ The old woman greets Nik with a warm smile, a slight twinkle glimmering in her steel gray eyes. “I heard you play before. And though Berdusk is at times overrun with minstrels of all sorts, it was a pleasure hearing you play.“ The woman nods her head politely at Nik, and moves over to the chair previously occupied by Telsom. Folding her skirts, she sits down and looks at Nik intently.
Smiling graciously at Jez and the old woman, the tall bard stands and sweeps a graceful, formal bow to the old woman as she sits. “Why thank you for your heady praise, good mother! I do the best with what humble skills I have. Andreus Nikolai Estoba Winterborne the Third, at your service.“ He gives her a broad, guileless smile and adds “Call me Nik. It’s shorter, and easier to remember.“
Sitting back down, he tugs once at the scarf around his neck and offers them both wine. Turning his smile on Jez, Nik says “So this is the woman you were looking for? Now if only Matteo would return, you could deliver your message.“
“Yes, she is the one I sought.“ Jez says, “And I wish Saer Matteo ‘were’ here. It’s bad enough that my father and mother don’t know where I am. I was expecting this errand to be brief but it seems not. Say, I noticed everyone, well almost everyone, is bathing. Is there a reason? How come I feel like I have a social disease?“
Still scanning the crowd for something, Nik answers absently “It’s not you, lad. We had an unfortunate encounter with a troll earlier, and understandably everyone wants to wash the stink off them. I myself stayed far from the damnable thing, but I still needed a bath when I made it back here.“ A shudder runs through the bard’s gaunt frame at the memory of the battle. Nik looks at the old woman, and says, “I see you are a lover of fine music. An appreciative audience is the best gift a musician like myself could ever ask for. So. Have you lived long in Berdusk?“
Barely noticeable beneath the tall, gaunt man’s casual behavior is an undercurrent of tension that hadn’t been there before. He toys with his cup of wine but doesn’t drink, and his left hand is never far from the instrument leaning against the table at his side. His dull hazel eyes are in constant motion, watching the other patrons, and they keep returning to the direction Telsom left. Occasionally the right hand rises to tug at the scarf around his neck in what is plainly a nervous gesture.
“You seem nervous.“ Jez says as he scans the tall gaunt man from head to toe. “Can you give me a hint as to what is going on? I feel like a wandering Tormite. I have my duty but I’m lost without a purpose.“ He turns and looks at the old woman, raising a single eyebrow, as if he dares the elder to scold him, but in play and jest.
At the mention of his behavior, Nik’s head snaps around and he gives Jez a look that is both shocked and terrified. The bard’s whole body stiffens, his left hand clenching around the neck of the guitar and forcing a discordant whine from the strings. For a moment it looks like he is about to flee, the look on his craggy face is that of a rabbit before a stoat.
Then he blinks, and the fear is gone from his face. He throws back his wine, his eyes still wide and frightened, and when he sets the empty cup back down the cup rattles on the tabletop with the tremor in his bony hand. He clenches his shaking hand into a fist, and then lays it flat on the table, visibly regaining his composure.
Offering Jez an embarrassed smile, Nik says softly “I’m sorry. I’m still a bit on edge from the events of this morning. I’m just a musician, you see, but I seem to have gotten myself caught up in events that I neither understand nor am truly prepared to face.“ He pours himself another cup of wine, and drinks it down. The wine seems to be finally affecting him, bringing a bit of a flush to his waxy cheeks. He pours himself another cup, but stares at it instead of drinking. “You, too, may find yourself in over your head, if you’re not careful.“ He says, his voice a hoarse whisper.
After listening to Nik and Jez talk for a moment, the old woman addresses Nik. “Well Nik, I indeed do appreciate music. And for one as I who has been in Berdusk for so long, all the local bards tend to have lost it for me. I know most of their repertoires. Even some of the shady songs from Twilight Hall.“
“Twilight Hall you say? I’ve always wanted to peer, nay wander it halls, even as a kid. That place has a solid reputation if there ever was one.“ Jez’s eyes shine brightly at his comment.
The old woman’s eyes never leave Nik’s face. “I prefer to here new things from far and away. Mundane stories, not all those fancy ones about evil tyrants and glorious adventurers.“ Nik can only detect the slightest amount of sarcasm in the woman’s voice. It is as if there is no emotion at all, just as if she is stating plain cold facts. “Why not indulge us in some stories, perhaps the story of Nik? Bards always seem reluctant to sing or talk about themselves.“ Only now some humor creeps into her voice and a mischievous twinkle briefly lights up her eyes.
“Young Jezbodiah, it might be interesting to listen, you never know what you can learn from a bard.“ While keeping her eyes on Nik, the old crone speaks to Jez. “Besides, it livens up the wait for our handsome Sembian.“
“Yes grandmother.“ Replies the young half-elf in humor. Placing his elbows on the table and his chin in the palms of his hands, Jez says, “Okay Nik, let’s hear a tale or two.“
Whatever comfort the wine had given the tall bard is gone in a heartbeat as the old woman asks him to tell of his past. He stares at the old woman, terror plain in his face and shining from his sunken eyes. His hands tremble, drawing a whine of protest from the guitar and rattling the cup in his other hand, slopping wine over his bony knuckles. For a long moment he sits there, the tremor moving from his hands to shake his whole gangly body. Still fixedly staring at her, eyes blank with fear, he raises his shaking hand to his lips and absently sucks the wine from his fingers.
That little bit of wine seems to ease his fear a tiny bit, and he snatches his cup from the table and downs what is left in it. When he sets the cup down again, he seems to have control of himself once more, but his face is still ashen and terror is still bright in his eyes.
“You don’t want to know about me.“ Nik says hoarsely, eyes fixed on his cup now as he pours himself yet another cup of wine. “There’s nothing interesting about me. Nothing at all.“ The fear still in his eyes is a flat denial of his words, and he drains his cup and refills it again. Finding the pitcher nearly empty, he calls loudly “More wine over here!“
Tugging nervously at the scarf around his throat, the tall bard’s gaunt frame seems to sink into itself, his narrow shoulders hunched as he stares at the cup of wine in his hand. Avoiding the eyes of Jez and the old woman, Nik nurses his wine and mumbles to the tabletop “Nothing interesting about me at all.“
Nik tosses the wine back again, and finally looks back up at them. Cheeks flushed and eyes bright with the alcohol he has consumed, he says, “Ask me something else. Anything else.“ The deep voice is slightly slurred now, and he sways a bit unsteadily in his seat.
Quirking an eyebrow at the bard’s behavior, the old woman reaches out and in a motherly way pats the frightened bard’s hand. “Now, now, don’t be upset my dear. If it is something else you want entertain us with. How about improving the mood of the locals? They’ve been muttering about the early winter and lost crops the whole afternoon. A little ditty to brighten their lives then?“ For a brief moment the old lady stares into the bard’s eyes before reaching for the pitcher to pour herself a drink.
The bard jumps as the old woman pats his hand, and then looks ashamed and embarrassed. He clears his throat and tugs at the scarf again, and when he looks back up at the old woman he has an apologetic, sheepish smile on his gaunt face. He seems about to say something to her, but as their eyes meet, his face pales, and the alcohol haze in his eyes is burned away by fear. He cringes away from her, shaking his head in denial and nearly falling out of his seat. Recovering his balance with an awkward grab at the table, he sits shivering like a wet dog.
“Say now, you two wouldn’t be trying to drink each other under the table, would you?“ Says a charming Jez in a harmless half-caring manner. “Any song would improve my mood considering what I’ve been through today.“
In his head, Nik hears the voice of the woman, “I would still like to hear your story young one.“ The voice sounds different from the old lady’s croaking voice. More voluminous, heavier and richer, Nik has the feeling that it belongs to something majestic.
Turning his fear-haunted gaze on Jez, Nik stammers “N – n – not enough w – wine l – l – left…“ He empties his cup, and stares morosely into the empty cup. The alcohol erodes his fear with the inexorability of the tide, and the tension drains from the tall bard. Slumping a bit in his seat, he offers them a sloppy, lopsided smile. “Dunno if’n I can ‘member the words…“ He says, the slur now prominent in his deep voice. He looks at his guitar leaning against the table, and looks at his hands. They are shaking now, but not with fear. “Can’t play ‘er li’ thish… might drop ‘er…“ He scowls at them, with slow, drunken anger rising in his glassy eyes. “Why’dja haf t’go an’ ask me ‘bout me? On top o’th’ day I’ve been havin’…“
Putting the now empty pitcher back on the table, she looks at Nik’s backpack “Hmm… Seems you are starting to build a reputation, you have a following. All be it rather small.“ When Jez and Nik look at the backpack, nothing seems out of the ordinary. Just a well used backpack.
“Following? What are you talking about?“ Without asking Jez stands and proceeds to the backpack, to rummage at its contents, but to look only. Not to pilfer or steal anything. “Hey, I’m waiting to deliver a message to Saer Ashgale, which may never happen. The Sunite, the Amnian, and the rest of your friends took off for parts unknown plus I could be stuck here while the storm moves through Berdusk. I mean I can’t return to my family and that’s killing about me.“
Jez shuts his mouth and ponders the behavior of the alcohol-logged minstrel. “Okay, slurred speech, bad vision, oh yea, I’ve mean there a couple of times myself, but that’s was at the Ruby Shawl. No more wine for you my friend.“ Then it dawns on him, Nik’s earlier gaze on the elderly woman. “Are you alright? For s moment I thought it was the wine, but it looks you saw a ghost or something.“ Jez turns and faces the elderly woman with a puzzling look on his face.
The budding anger fades, replaced by confusion. “Wha…?“ Nik slurs, twisting in his seat to look at his backpack, and nearly falling once again. Only a hasty grab at the table keeps him in his seat, and his confusion deepens as his eyes focus on his backpack. He looks up at Jez, cocking his head in puzzlement. “What’cha doin’?“ He asks, nothing but drunken curiosity in his eyes. “Tha’s my pack, it is.“
“I know.“ Jez says rolling his eyes. “Just checking to see if your name’s on it. Don’t worry, I won’t damage anything.“ But moves away from the pack nonetheless.
Nik grins suddenly, and the confusion vanishes, replaced by the triumph of the truly drunk grasping a difficult concept. “Ah!“ He says brightly. “He’s invis’ble and stuff. You won’ be able t’see ‘im, lad.“ The bard smiles at Jez, waving a hand in drunken illustration. “I can’t even see ‘im some times. Most times.“ Confusion steals over the bard’s craggy face again, and he mutters. “Most all’a th’time, ak’tully. Only seen ‘im once, t’tell t’truth…“ Nik looks at the old woman, puzzled and slightly awed. “You ken see ‘im?“ He leans both elbows on the table and rests his sharp chin in his hands, squinting at her in an effort to make his eyes focus better. “How come you ken see ‘im an’ I can’t?“
The bard’s surly scowl deepens, and he says sharply “No, ‘m not a’right.“ He thumps his left fist on the table, and anger is a dangerous glimmer flickering in the alcohol haze in the bard’s dull eyes. “An’ you thin’ YOU’VE ha’ a bloody rotten day, do ya, lad?“ He growls, his voice like a menacing snarl. Obviously quite drunk, there is now something dangerous about the tall, gaunt bard. The light sparking off the brightly polished hilt of the obviously finely crafted rapier hanging at his right hip is matched by the anger flaring brightly in his slightly unfocused eyes.
Nik plants both hands on the tabletop and levers himself up to his full, impressive height, glowering down at Jez. “Stuck away from y’family while th’ storm blows over…“ Nik gives a snort of derision, and barks “I haven’t seen m’ family ‘n more’n seven years! I’ve seen things since daybreak this mornin’ tha’d send ya runnin’ to y’mother’s skirts! I’ve… I’ve…“ He sways unsteadily, and puts a shaking hand to his forehead. “I’ve drunk too much, haven’t I?“ He murmurs. “Or mebbe not enough…“
“Okay, that’s enough of this nonsense.“ Jez snaps irritated. “If you know something about the contents of this man’s pack, tell me. I slowly am growing weary of these games.“ He looks at the elderly woman rather annoyingly. The woman merely glances back at Jez, her gray eyes as hard as the steel they resemble in color. “Which games are you referring to Jezbodiah?“ The woman’s voice is flat and neutral, no hint of emotion at all.
Once Kalil has finished changing into a new set of clothes and studying the arcane intricacies in his small leather-bound book, he moves down the stairs again. Momentarily disoriented he stands at the bottom of the stairs debating with himself on which direction to go. Shaking his head clear of thoughts, the sounds of the common reach his ears. Following the sounds he arrives at the concealed door. Kalil hesitates a moment before pulling the door open. Pushing the green foliage aside he steps into the common, his gaze wandering over the assembled guests.
At the table where he left them, Nik is still sitting with the old woman and the young half-elf. The bard seems to have looked a little to deep into his cup though and the half-elf seems a little agitated. When he looks again at the old woman, she is looking straight at him, her gaze crossing the distance across the common. Without any further reaction she returns her attention back to the table. It seems the other two haven’t even noticed what happened.
In a shadowy corner on Kalil’s left, he sees two bearded and somewhat unkempt men are in a hot debate over the cold winter. The one seems to claim that the early onset of winter is a regular recurring pattern, though he hasn’t established what pattern yet. And the other is arguing that Auril’s early visit is divine or magical in nature, and that it can’t bode anything good.
The rest of the discussion is momentarily lost on Kalil, as all of a sudden there seems to be some commotion at the table Nik’s seated at.
Before Jez can answer, the red-haired waitress walks by the table, and Jez puts out his hand to stop her and says, “Enough wine luv. My friend here is deep into his cup. Way deep.“ Shrugging her shoulders and casting a glance at the bard, she bats her eyelashes at him once before moving off, her hips swaying a little in the process.
Looking up at Jez’s words Nik gives the barmaid a cheerful, if slightly brittle grin, Nik says sweetly “Another pitcher, if you please.“ The slur is gone from his voice, and the anger seems to have been instantly converted to a slightly feckless charm. When the barmaid leaves the bard turns to Jez, and snarls at him “Ignorant child… I’m not nearly deep enough… and it’s MY coin!“ The drunken anger is back in the bard’s eyes, and he seems to be building up to another rant when the old woman interrupts him.
Laughing drunkenly, Nik gives Jez a lopsided grin. “He’s not IN m’pack.“ He chuckles, waving a hand in an uncoordinated attempt to keep Jez from looking in his pack. “He’s sittin’ ON it, least I s’pose he is.“ The bard squints at his backpack again, brow furrowed in concentration. “Not fo’ th’ likes of us to see ‘im if’n he don’t want us to.“ Nik sighs, folding his arms on the table and resting his chin on them again. “I don’ feel so good…“ He mumbles, closing his eyes and grimacing. “Stop the world, I wanna get off.“
“Ah, bards is good for entertainment.“ Says Jez in a cheerful tone. The young half-elf has obviously figured Nik’s ruse. However, before he can continue…
Sighing, the old woman stands up and walks over to Nik’s side of the table. For a moment she stands there. Fists on her hips and a scowl on her face she shakes her head. “Stop the world from spinning? Hah, we’ll see about that.“ Before Nik has a chance to react, her hand snakes up and grabs Nik by his ear. Dragging him along by the ear, the woman walks over to the fountain in the center of the common. “This will make the world stop spinning!“ And before the amused onlookers, she forces Nik on his knees and his head in the cold water from the spring. “You didn’t get here to get yourself drunk Niklaus Winter!“ Then she releases the poor bard’s ear.
“Oh my!“ gasps Jez then his apprehension turns into laughter. Jez applauds and briskly cries “Bravo! Yes, a punishment so fitting my mother and father, especially him, would approve!“
Babbling nearly incoherent protests and scrabbling ineffectively at her arm as the old woman drags him along, Nik yelps as she dunks his head in the cold water. “My good woman.“ He begins indignantly. “Was that really necessary…?“ But when she lets him go and gives him her parting words, he shrinks back against the fountain, face ashen and eyes half-blind with fear. For a long moment he stares at the old woman, heedless of the water running down his fear-twisted face. He whimpers, a single breath of a word: “No… !“ Then the tall bard draws his knees up to his chest, burying his face in the crook of one arm, the other hand curling up over his bowed head like that of a frightened child. His gaunt frame shivers, but it is obviously not from the cold water soaking his shirt. The huddled, miserable figure rocks back and forth slightly, whimpering broken snatches of denial and despair “Not now… not again… why…?“ It is a terribly disturbing sight from a man who appears to be fast approaching forty.
Shaking her head once more, she turns around and walks back to the table. Looking at the backpack she says. “You’d better keep an eye on him. He seems to need a little help now and then.“ About to walk away, she addresses Jez. “I’m sure Matteo Ashgale will arrive shortly. Just a little patience will do.“ And she walks away at an amazing brisk pace for a woman her age.
“I’m glad you’re not my grandmother.“ Grins a chuckling Jez as the elderly woman walks away. He turns and scans the room looking for the red-haired serving woman. Once he finds her, he says, “Uh luv, I know you won’t believe this, but uh…towels please.“ Elisa looks at Jez for a moment wondering why he wants towels, but then she sees the bedraggled bard. Her hand covers her mouth as she utters, “Oh, poor man.“ Looking back at Jez, she says, “I’ll get you some towels. I’ll be right back.“ She puts her tray on the bar and disappears through a servant’s entrance to return shortly with two towels. Handing the towels to Jez, she looks once more at Nik. “Aww… poor man.“ And she casts a disapproving look after the old woman who is walking towards the door.
“Care for a dry towel?“ Jez says to Nik. The bard doesn’t look up, nor does he answer Jez at first. For a long moment the only sound from the trembling, huddled man is the gasping, panting, sobbing breathing of a man who has just run past his endurance – or a man frightened out of his mind. Finally coherent words come from behind the concealing arm. “Go away.“ The bard’s deep voice is strained and muffled by the arm covering his face. The long, bony fingers of his left hand tangle restlessly in his hair, and more than ever, he looks like a terrified boy of six instead of a man on the far side of thirty. “Go away.“ He whimpers again. “Let me alone… Just… let me alone…“
Dropping a few towels to Nik’s feet, Jez says, “You put on a good show, but I’ll give you a small hint. I’ve been born and raised in this city my entire life, and my mother is an Lliiran worshipper as I am. I’ve seen actors, mimes, merrymakers, and bards my entire life. If you and your friends do not like me, well, I can live with that. I will stay here long enough to deliver my message to Saer Ashgale then leave. But do not play me for a fool. I am not some half-scared Mystran cleric or some lecherous tiefling trying to find my path in life. I was asked by Lady Angruatil to do a task, and as a true son of Berdusk, I shall. But I will not be mocked and made fun for someone else’s amusement.“
When the towels hit the floor at his feet Nik flinches then curls more tightly into his defensive huddle, like a turtle seeking refuge inside its shell. Jez’s hard words seem to hit him physically, the bard cringes at every change in tone and inflection, as if the messenger’s anger was a whip lashing across his hunched back.
He turns and says, “I’m going to lean back in a comfortable chair and if Lliira has it, develop a keen ear for recipes about drinks and meals. If you can behave yourself, you’re welcome to sit with me when you dry yourself.“ As Jez turns to look for his comfortable chair his eyes briefly fall on the Amnian who has entered the common room again. The man, though looking in the general direction of Jez and Nik, seems a little self-absorbed. Then his attention, like most patrons’ is drawn to the outer door.
The old woman has opened the door and proceeds to step out, offering those within a glimpse of the chance in the weather; snowflakes are slowly falling to the ground, melting on the cobblestones, but lingering a bit longer in other places. Immediately the locals start muttering about the weather again as soon as the door closes behind the woman.
Both Nik and Jez hear the old woman’s voice in their heads the moment she steps outside, asking them individually to be present on the morrow. “Oh I’ll behave myself as any true son of Berdusk can. But just one last question.“ Jez mutters quietly. “Who’s going to flip the bill for my night’s stay?“ Yet the answer to the rogue’s question never comes.
The sound of the closing door seems to give the bard some comfort. Now that the old woman is gone, Nik slowly raises his head. His face is ashen and twisted with fear, his eyes wild with it as they dart from Jez to the towels to the other patrons. Nik swallows and forces the fear from his face with a visible effort, although it doesn’t leave his eyes. Looking away from the other patrons, he sees his precious guitar sitting alone at the table he was dragged from. The fear in his eyes grows, and the tall man scrambles to his feet.
Nik looks down at Jez from his gangling height, his face now the blank slate of someone struggling to control his emotions. The look in his wild eyes is that of a drowning man watching the sharks circle. He gives the messenger a slight bow, and says softly “I never meant to mock you, lad. And trust me, I have found nothing amusing about today.“ His deep voice is strained and thin, the brittle shell of its former warmth, and he doesn’t meet Jez’s eyes. “Thank you for the towels.“ No anger or mockery in his voice, Jez bows and says, “Your welcome.“
He bends and gathers them up, and then walks slowly back to the table where his guitar sits unattended. The bard flinches at every raised voice, but his haunted gaze never leaves the brightly polished instrument. When Nik sits down, he strokes the guitar with one shaking hand, as if to reassure himself that it is real. Then he leans his elbows on the table and buries his face in his hands. His shoulders shake, as if he may be crying.
“A mysterious one that elder is.“ Says Jez as he takes a seat at the same table, but across from Nik. “So are you interested in more wine or other drinks? I heard the Running Stag has quite a collection.“ The tall bard looks up slowly as Jez speaks to him. His gaunt, haggard face is wet with more than just spring water and he seems to have aged ten years in the past few moments. His bloodshot eyes are dull and haunted, filled with an aching loss that seems to be the only emotion that the white-hot fear couldn’t burn away. For a long moment he just sits there, lost in whatever private hell lurks just beneath his normally cheerful facade.
Finally he blinks, and seems to realize Jez is there. He grabs awkwardly after one of the towels he had dropped carelessly on the table, and wipes the water and tears from his face. When he is done, the pain is gone from his eyes and there is nothing but embarrassment in the lined and weathered face. Looking down at the table and tugging at the wet silk scarf around his throat, Nik clears his throat nervously.
“Ehm, yes. I think more alcohol is definitely in order.“ He says hoarsely, forcing some cheer into his voice and offering the table a awkward smile. He finally meets Jez’s eyes, a fleeting glance full of embarrassment and a spark of almost pathetic gratitude before the green-flecked brown eyes return to the tabletop. One hand tugs at the scarf, while the other toys restlessly with the now-damp towel on the table, and he adds softly “If I drink enough perhaps I can forget…“
“Poor man, that woman had no right to treat you like that.“ Elisa says, as she strokes the bard’s wet hair. With her other hand she pours the two men another cup of wine before putting the pitcher on the table and picking up the empty one. “Why did she do that?“
Nik stiffens as Elisa touches him, but it is only a momentary tenseness that is gone in an instant. He tilts his head slightly to look at her, a shy and somewhat awkward smile on his face. “She didn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before, and I’m sure it will happen again sooner or later.“ He says, the slightest edge of bitterness in his deep voice. With a dismissive shrug he adds “She just took me by surprise, is all. If I hadn’t been having such a terrible day I wouldn’t have over-reacted like that.“
The bard smiles at her, his sunken hazel eyes full of gratitude. He gently lays one long-fingered hand on her arm, and says softly “Thank you for your concern, Elisa. She really didn’t mean me any harm. I’m a little… edgy… right now. I’m sure she had no idea that her words would affect me like that.“
He grins, a bit of his old humor sparking in his eyes. “Anyway, I think I deserved the dunking. Alcohol and I have a long, tangled relationship.“
The tall bard turns his grin on Jez, and he says cheerfully “Don’t worry, Jez. I promise not to drink as much, if you agree not to dunk me in the fountain. I’ve had two baths now today, three if you count the rain I was slogging through this morning.“
“Dunking? Well, the thought crossed my mind but the elderly woman beat me to it. She’s remarkably agile for a lady of her advanced years and quit entertaining.“ He says with a mischievous smile. “And don’t worry about me dunking you. I’ve been through Berdusk’s sewers once today looking for a pick pocketing waif. Let me tell you, that’s one dirty bathtub all in all I would care to avoid again. Wet, smelly and especially since it’s home to Kobolds.“ Jez stops and ponders, “When the storm lightens, I shall inform the city guard. Care to join me?“
The humor leaves the bard’s eyes as Jez teases him about the dunking, but the smile never wavers. When Jez mentions his intention to visit the guard, Nik shakes his head and says “I’m afraid I would be of little aid in that errand. Since I was not with you in the sewers, I would be no help.“ A flicker of wariness lurks in Nik’s eyes, but his smile is still cheerful and friendly, and there is no trace of distrust in his deep voice. “Anyway, I should stay here until Matteo returns.“ Jez looks for an empty goblet and says, “Elisa, wine for my new friend and myself please.“ When she approaches, Jez says, “Red wine please, anything from Cormyr or Tantras but nothing from Sembia. They grow terrible fruit in their land.“
Pensively swirling the wine in his cup, Nik smiles at Elisa, charming and good-humored again. “This wine is more than fine enough for the unschooled palate of a vagabond like myself.“ He tells her with a wink. “Where is it made? Enlighten my more knowledgeable friend, here, and perhaps he can educate me as well.“ He grins at Jez, adding “Sadly, for the longest time my only concerns with a wine have been that it have alcohol in it and that it be neither too sweet nor vinegar masquerading as beverage.“
“Well, your definitely at the right establishment. The Running Stag has the best wine, beers, loggers, and spirits anywhere South and West of the Dragon Reach.“ boasts the young half-elf. “The comfortable atmosphere and not to mention the establishment itself is the best nature can offer. You’d have an easy time spotting rangers, druids and all sorts of wood folk. Even Satyrs and Korreds have been known to pop in from time to time.“
Jez drinks deeply from his goblet then sets it down on the table not far from his right hand. “However, I’d stay away from Hullybuck’s Gamble. The owner’s a halfling and a nasty person at that. He name is Raphtosz, but most call him “Hurl.“ If he doesn’t like you, he’d up and thump you in the groin for sheer meanness and bounce you out of his establishment. He gives all non-halflings the worst rooms and the place is also a hang-out for fences and other unsavory types. Irritates me that the city guard won’t close the place.“
Jez again drinks deeply from goblet and speaks, “I wonder if Vaiveve is here. I haven’t seen hide of smooth lock of her hair in close to two years. She’s a young dryad …I think. No more than a year or two older than I am.“
“Thanks you for the praise, young man. Indeed we have a nice selection of beverages.“ Elisa says, giving Jez a smile. “The wine you have now is our own Berduskan Red. Besides the Berduskan red, there are several local vintages. Most from vineyards across the river.“
“And good vineyards they are Elisa.“ replies Jez in a courteous manner. “More Berduskan Red for my friend and myself and any others who wish to join the table.“ Jez turns to Nik and says, “Do you know any folk music? something I and a lady can dance too? This place needs a party or a celebration. You know something to lighten the mood while we wait out the storm.“ Jez looks at Elisa and says, “Care to dance my dear?“
Patting the young half-elf on the arm, Elisa says, “That would be nice my dear, but I have work to do. If I were to dance with everyone out here, Mumadar would surely send me on my way.“ She beams a smile at Jez and before walking of throws a wink in Nik’s direction. Following her with his eyes, Jez sees the Amnish companion from Nik standing in the common. The man looks about a bit confused. Shrugging his shoulders, he walks up to the table. Addressing Nik he says, “I will be visiting the priests of Azuth in Berdusk. I want to expand my knowledge and receive some training. If you or the others have need of me, you’ll find me there.“ Nodding his head in the direction of both men, Kalil takes his chest and walks to the door.
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