By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff
Chapter 44 - Lifting Spirits
Berdusk, 1371 DR, Eleint, 10th day, just after breakfast
Apparently several of the patrons have seen the bard retrieve his instrument from the cover. And when Nik calls after Marc that there’s plenty of time for music, several patrons cheer. “Yay!“ “Time for music.“ “Please bard, play some songs!“ “How about the Lady of the Dawn?“ “No, Sememmon’s donkey!“ “The Drunken Sailor.“
While Immerine and Marc retreat upstairs, several more songs and stories are requested in a cacophony of pleadings. From the bar Elisa gives Nik a warm smile and an encouraging wink as Javroun fills several mugs of ale.
“Sememmon’s Donkey?! Ha, he killed everyone in this room if he heard so much as verse, no a chord from that song.“ dictates the roguish half-elf at the table. By now, Jez looks thoroughly lethargic. “How about the Bored Lliiran?“ raises Jez’s voice above all others. Obviously the young half-elf is stoned cold bored by the apparent lack of attention he is receiving, or rather not receiving. “Crap. I’m so bored I’d rather be at the Ruby Shawl right now.“ He says as the words flow muttering from his lips. He quietly retrieves a dagger from his boot and begins to carve artistic faces and other reliefs into the table’s wooden surface.
“By all means go then, pampered brat.“ The paladin says with a hard glare. Realizing the paladin has finally spoken, Jez raises one eyebrow upward and snorts rather loudly. “Pampered brat.“ He chuckles slightly then he stands, place one boot on the chair and sheaths dagger. Then planting both feet on the ground, he looks at Telsom and says, “Gladly, better here than with a Narcissus.“ The half-elf turns away and looks for Immerine. Although not eager to look for her, he needs to tell her something nonetheless. Telsom chuckles but his eyes hold little but menace. “Narcissist. If you are to use a misplaced name on me please use it correctly.“ As the half elf moves away, Telsom shakes his head and raises his cup of water to his lips looking around the room nonchalantly.
The bard looks up from his guitar at Jez’s comment about the song, a hard and angry look in his eyes. Once again he swallows whatever is on his lips, but this time it seems a bitter pill. With a faint scowl and a shake of his head, Nik returns to fussing with his guitar. He ignores the words between Telsom and Jez, and after only a few more moments, he is ready to earn his day’s pay.
Nik unfolds to his full, gangly height and stands there a moment, head bowed and a hand on his forehead as if his disgusting hangover remedy wasn’t quite potent enough. Then he straightens up, and self-consciously smoothes his rumpled clothing and tucks a few errant strands of hair behind his ear. He offers the three still at the table a smile, and says cheerfully “Well, duty calls.“ Nik winks at Emlyn before he turns away.
With the beautiful instrument in one hand, he strides over to the log he occupied the day before, a beatific smile on his lean and craggy face. Settling comfortably and absently strumming a few chords to warm up, Nik looks over the patrons around him. He once again seems like a lord in his hall, instead of a badly hung-over vagabond who slept in his clothes. It is an intangible change in the man, a slight lessening of his habitual stoop, a squaring of his narrow shoulders, and the absence of the nervous timid-ness that seems like an albatross around his neck. With a brief, sharp glare at Jez, Nik says to the gathered patrons “So. What shall I play first? Sememmon’s Donkey, was it?“
A confirmative cheer rises up in the audience. Tankards and mugs are raised in a toast to the upcoming song. The atmosphere in the inn, which had been a little subdued, changes to a more merry and happy one; thoughts about the inclement weather and the early arrival of winter seemingly forgotten. Elisa is busy carrying new drinks to the patrons as Javroun seems to be filling mugs, tankards and glasses non-stop. Jez, ignoring the bard’s sharp glare disappears through the concealed door into the Stag’s interior.
Relishing in the audience’s attention Nik plucks a few times at the strings of his yarting, fine tuning it a little before starting his performance. As Elisa walks by she beams a smile at the bard, before hurrying on to fetch a new load of drinks. Telsom and Emlyn settle a little more comfortable on their chairs and await the performance.
As Immerine and Marc are walking quietly down the stairs towards the common room, they see briefly light fall into the hallway from that room as the concealed door is opened. They hear steps coming down the hallway in the direction of the stairs. As the two descend the stairs further they see a man step into view; Jezbodiah. “Jezbodiah. You seem to be looking for something.“ Immerine says plainly. Marc, walking half a step behind Immerine, carefully holding the hilt of his sword to be sure he will not trip over the seemingly willful sheath of this new found weapon, nods with a meager smile at the man he hardly knows. “G’dday saer.“ He mumbles, returning his attention to the risky adventure of walking downstairs with a sheathed longsword.
“Truth be known my Lady.“ He replies courteously. “I was looking for you. Something has occurred to me and I need to perform a quick errand. It’s nothing much, I need to retrieve a message. If you are finished with young Marc, I can retrieve it on our way to Thunderwood Forays.“ He bows respectfully for Immerine. Immerine’s bearing is that of a noble woman though her appearance is less than Jezbodiah would expect of one in Baldur’s Gate. All appearances are shattered when she speaks, “I apologize to you Jezbodiah. I have promised my time to Marc. Perhaps when we each return from our tasks we could meet here. Then we could go to Thunderwood’s. That is, unless you wish to join us now.“
“Join?“ Jez replies with a somewhat perplexed look on his face. “I have no clue as what you plan to do with Marc.“ He shrugs his shoulders, “But it could be done without my assistance.“ He strokes his chin with his thumb for a moment then says, “I must decline your offer. I am off to the stables to fetch a message, nothing more. My trip should be short. Please wait for my return and I shall show you more of Berdusk, well other than this eating establishment.“ He pauses again and says, “After Thunderwood’s Foray, I wish to stop off at Clearspring Tor. There is an incident that occurred there last night and I have a feeling may be of some importance.“
Immerine cocks her head to one side and the single lock draping across her face shifts to her shoulder. “The Tor I know well. How long your journey will take, I do not know. Once we arrive downstairs Marc and I will be leaving to travel to a companion’s home. It may be you who waits for me.“ Immerine continues the rest of the way down the stairs towards the common room. “Very well, but please my lady, may we stop by the stables first.“ Jezbodiah gestures for Immerine to pass. “All I need to do is retrieve a message, nothing more.“ Immerine smiles, “I intend to stop by the stables.“ Jez’s eyes sparkle, he smiles mirthfully and says, “Thank you milady. Lliira dance with thee.“ He looks at both Immerine and Marc, gestures his hand and says, “Saer, my Lady, shall we go.“
Marc takes the last steps of the stairs, listening to the conversation without understanding it completely. He continues walking behind Immerine towards the common room. At Jez’s last remark he briefly looks at the half-elf with a questioning glance in his eyes, but he continues following Immerine.
The atmosphere in the common room has transformed from the morning gloom into a fest. It is as if even the inn has adapted itself, the entourage resembles a warm autumn forest. Several of the patrons join in the singing on the more popular songs, but when Nik starts a ballad, they all fall silent, listening attentively to the talented bard. From the corner of his eyes, Nik sees Marc, Immerine and Jez re-enter the common room. Jez makes a polite bow before Immerine and winks at Marc before walking to the door, heading out. Marc and Immerine walk up to where Telsom and Emlyn are enjoying Nik’s performance in silence. At the entrance of the threesome, Friend lifts her head and looks at them. Still laying down she straightens her back and passionately wags her tail.
Walking into common room Marc is struck silent by the apparent change of the room’s atmosphere. While walking as silently as possible to the table where he sat earlier, Marc gazes at the bard, who looks completely transformed. He gets seated, absent-mindedly nodding a greeting to Telsom and Emlyn, sheer automatically stroking Friend’s ear, and listens to the music, still gazing at Nik.
After cashing in Marc’s caress the dog relaxes and rests her head on her stretched front legs. She keeps wagging, but gradually less intense. Elisa walks by and puts a glass of water in front of Immerine and a mug of ale for Marc. Bending slightly towards Marc, she says softly to him, “Isn’t he good.“ A gleam highlights her eyes as she steals a look in the direction of Nik.
Marc smiles at the waitress when she comes close and winks at her. As she bends towards him he mechanically admires her shapes and mumbles in confirmation at her remark. He returns his attention to the performance before -after a few breaths- an earlier observation suddenly drops to his mind. Very slowly he turns his head up to Elisa, looking at her face with distinct wonder. There’s a teasing glitter in his eyes as he whispers “Elisa?!“.
Nik finishes up the song and stands up, lifting the guitar’s strap from his shoulder and bowing deeply to his audience. “A short break only, I promise.“ He smiles to the crowd and bows again, still as solemn and dignified as if he had been playing for kings, rather than the locals in a tavern. Although he knows the ribald, rousing tavern-fare that the patrons request, and plays them with the same skill and attention as he does the more serious ballads, it is obvious by his demeanor and skill that the tall man was not trained for the life of a vagabond. While playing he gives the impression that nothing would ruffle his calm dignity, even were he performing in a pigsty.
That dignity only lasts as long as it takes Nik to make his way back to the table where the rest of the group sits. He walks over to Marc, lips quirked in a roguish grin, and ruffles the lad’s hair affectionately. Sitting down beside Marc, and leaning the guitar against the table beside him, Nik says cheerfully “All better now, my boy? Hurts all mended, are they?“
At the end of the song Marc’s gaze returns from the red haired waitress to the approaching bard. When Nik ruffles his hair Marc shakes his head in opposite directions and his drying curls are jumping around his face. He watches Nik as he sits down and puts down the yarting and answers the man, “Well…“ Marc throws a glance at Immerine, “not really mended as such, but…“ He moves with his shoulders to sample his regained mobility, “much better indeed, thank you.“ Then he nods at the stage and says enthusiastically, “Gee, Nik! You *do* know how to play, don’t you!“
Nik looks up at Elisa, and says, “A cup of something sweet, if you please.“ Nik glances at the others, and adds quickly “Nothing with alcohol, mind you. I think I had more than enough last night.“ Elisa smiles at Nik, and lays her hand on his shoulder, squeezing in briefly. “I’ll get you something. Mumadar has just what you need.“ Giving the tall bard a wink, she walks off, a subtle sway in her hips.
As Elisa walks away, Nik stares after her for a long moment, an almost comical combination of confusion and disbelief on his craggy face. He looks away hurriedly, eyes now fixed on the tabletop, swallowing hard and tugging nervously at the scarf around his neck.
Marc’s look follows Nik’s, but Marc keeps looking at Elisa until she walks off. After a brief admiring smile he lets his eyes float down and thoughtfully rest on the fine instrument for a while. Marc suddenly realizes something in Elisa’s remark in combination with the gleam in her eyes. Makes him wonder and he intensely studies her and her reactions a few times, trying to grasp an indication of what this is with his colleague and friend. Resting his elbow on the table and his chin in his hand, Nik asks the table in general “So. What is the plan for you intrepid folks now?“
Again Marc throws a glance at Immerine. “Well…“ He starts answering, “… Ehm… we… well, it is to say…“ Marc nods indicating at Immerine, “Immerine here, will take me to Ditalidas’… ehm… well… ehm… house… soon.“
Marc places an elbow at the table and leans with his jaw on the knuckles of his fist, staring into the invisible distance awhile. Then he takes a deep breath, nods and shrugs his shoulders, “After that?“ Marc spreads his hands while he looks Nik in the eyes with raised eyebrows, “I… I just don’t know…“ Marc shrugs again and looks at Telsom and Emlyn for some clues or confirmation, “… We might continue yesterday’s journey…“ He gestures at the door leading outside and chuckles, “It certainly stopped snowing!“
Looking up at Marc and Immerine, Nik offers them an embarrassed grin and clears his throat. “Ehm, perhaps I will accompany you. If you don’t mind, that is. To the Lady’s home, I mean. To visit her. Lady Ditalidas, that is. Make sure she’s alright, and all.“ The tall man is obviously rattled by Elisa’s apparent interest, his words tumbling over themselves in a rush to get out of his mouth. He seems more like an awkward boy than a man in his thirties, and he finally reins his tongue in and stares at the table again, tugging at the scarf around his neck and looking like he wishes the ground would swallow him up about now.
Having maintained an impassive look throughout Nik’s performance, Telsom cocks an eyebrow as the man sits down. When the others have spoken, Telsom looks to Nik. “Emlyn and I had spoken of visiting the lady this morning, as well as doing a bit of shopping afterward. If there are no objections then I suggest we all go together.“ Swirling his water, Telsom looks into the tiny whirlpool created and then addresses the table once more, his gaze settling on Nik. “How soon do you suppose your throng of admirers will let you escape?“ He asks with a warm smile, a hint of mischief or suspicion in his eyes.
Nik pries his gaze from the table and looks at Telsom, a flush of embarrassment coloring his sharp cheekbones. “I… ehm… heh…“ He begins, then sees Elisa approaching, and clears his throat nervously, visibly forcing the embarrassment from his face. With refills for the entire table, Elisa returns. Stopping at Nik’s chair, she picks a small mug from the tray, “Here you are. A Bedine specialty.“ With a pat on the bard’s shoulder Elisa proceeds to set the drinks in front of the others, flashing a look now and then at – now more obviously – the uncomfortable bard.
Jez walks outside, lifting the collar of his jerkin a bit higher against the watery cold, he hurries across the courtyard to the stables. Quickly entering the stables, he is greeted by the warm, but typical smelly warm air. A couple of horses peek from their stalls, curious as to whom entered. Besides the horses and a cat jumping from one beam to another on above the stalls, the stables seem deserted.
“Whew.“ comments the half-elf as he waves the aroma of manure away from his nose. “Don’t mind me Saer Stallion and Madame Mare.“ He announces himself to the horses boisterously, “I’m just here to check the lanterns. I like the stalls by the way, reminds me of my grandfather’s farm. He’s a Chauntean by practice.“ The leaping shadows catch the half-elf by surprise somewhat. “Hello Mr. Kitty.“ quips Jez rather hastily. Jez pauses for a moment and watches the cat lick a forepaw clean. “Find any mice? You haven’t by chance seen a message around here have you?“
Expecting no reply, the young half-elf enters the stables cautiously but poised for the unexpected. Unsheathing his rapier, Jez advances towards the tack room. He begins his search for a loose tile. The floor of the stables is mainly packed dirt and loam, but in front of the tack room, and probably within, a mixed set of tiles cover the floor. Judging by their appearance, the hodgepodge of tiles must have come from several places, the dirt and grime covering most of the original designs. Carefully tapping the floor with the point of his rapier, Jez searches for the loose tile while keeping an eye, and ear, out for anything. It doesn’t take long before the sound of the rapier ticking on the tiles changes; this must be the loose tile.
Slowly and cautiously inserting the point of the rapier under the tile, Jez lifts it up slowly. In the dusty light of the stables, he can make out a grimy piece of folded parchment. Unfolding the creased and dirty scrap, Jez sees a few scribbled words. And a crude drawing of a ring, it seems a plain ring but for the symbol etched on it. It seems to represent a skeletal arm holding a balance, Kelemvor’s symbol. The note reads: ‘Ring found near sewer entrance close to Ruby Shawl. Don’t know what the rats below have to do with this.’
“Elderly woman…“ He mutters, “… What have you gotten me into? Ruby Shawl? Well, looks like my reputation is about to exceed itself. I better buy some sausages on the way back.“ Jez ponders for a moment and lets the thoughts roll from his head, “Rats, I hope this doesn’t mean wererats. Hmmm, could mean those pesky kobolds. Ring, what type? Shit on a stick, doesn’t anyone use the common tongue anymore?“
Not needing to ponder the contents of the parchment anymore, Jez folds it and stuff its carefully into his pocket. “Better head back to the common room.“ He says, “Getting cold in here.“ Jez quickly leaves the stables and secure it shut behind him.
As Jez closes the door behind him, he sees a carriage pull up in front of the main entrance to the Stag in the cold rain that has started to fall. The driver dismounts quickly and opens the door on the far side of the carriage. From his vantage point Jez can’t see who is entering the establishment. Judging by the carriage, they are probably members of the First Folk. As soon as the passengers have entered the Stag, the driver climbs back up on his perch and guides the team around, heading into the city.
“This looks important.“ He murmurs to himself as he approaches the entrance to the Running Stag. Jez makes a brisk but careful walk to the establishment being careful not to slip on any ice or sleet.
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