Family Business

21 Oct
family-business

Family Business

Caeth leaned up against the polished granite pillar, listening to Kir finish his tale. He truly was worthless, peddling half-truths and gross exaggerations and for what, a few coins and maybe a night of pleasure? She wanted nothing more than to grab the bard by the scruff and throw him off the nearest balcony, but she had more important business to attend to.

As the crowd cheered and laughed, she sank into the shadows and made her way to the servant’s entrance. Dressed as a plain scullery maid, the gathered nobles treated her as if she were invisible. Or rather, they would have if they could have possibly spotted her as she flitted from shadow to shadow.
The door creaked as it opened, but no one seemed to notice, enthralled as they were with the bard’s performance. Behind it was a staircase that led down to the kitchens and up to the Duchess’ private chambers. Caeth slowly began climbing the stairs, listening carefully for any other servants that might be about. Her ears picked up heavy footsteps, descending from above, giving her only seconds to prepare. She quickly dropped her shoulders, tussled her hair, and shortened her steps.
The burly man, dressed in the livery of the town guard, rounded the corner of the stairs nearly running into Caeth. She was lucky. He was not one of the house guards who would have immediately recognized her as an intruder, but instead one of the town guards brought in for extra security during the performance tonight.
“Beg pardon ser,” she said, laying on a thick tumble-alley accent as she stepped to the side to let him pass.
He looked at her suspiciously. “And where are you off to in such a rush?”
“The Lady’s chamber, mus’ be arranged for the… errm… g-guests.” She said with a meek stutter. A leer crossed his face as it suddenly became clear to him what she meant.
“Heh, off ya go then,” he chuckled as he walked past. The meek expression melted away as she continued her way up the stairs.
As she ascended, she stripped off her maid’s outfit to reveal a stitched leather doublet and matching pants. Despite their ordinary appearance, there was a magic woven into them, causing her to blend into the shadows of the staircase. With each step, she became less visible, looking more like a faint shimmer in the air.
At the top was a small landing with a pair of doors leading into the private residence. Caeth kneeled next to the door on the right and placed her ear up against the smooth wood. Faint whistling came from the other side, likely from a bored guard or servant. Moving to the other door she heard nothing. After two slow, even breaths, she turned the latch and let herself into the dinning hall.
As she suspected, it was completely empty. Avoiding the long table, set with valuable finery, she slipped along the inside wall away from the windows, toward a door on the far side. It was open just a crack, allowing her to peak down the hall. She knew that her goal would be easily found in the Lady’s bedchambers, which were at the far end. Unfortunately, there was a guard pacing the hall, looking anxious with a folded letter held tightly in his hands.
“Every job is one part luck and nine parts preparation,” she whispered. Those were her mother’s words. She said them almost absent-mindedly. Fortunately she was prepared.
She drew a tiny dart from her belt, the needle like tip of which was coated in a blue ichor. Anyone stung by it would fall into a fitful slumber and wake remembering nothing. It was the perfect tool for Caeth’s assignment tonight. The nightmare oil was expensive, but her client agreed to pay the price. He did not want anyone to know that she was ever even there.
She waited until the guard drew close and turned to pace back down the hall before flicking the dart at his exposed neck. He reached up to slap it, as if stung by a bee, but he was slumping to the ground by the time his hand found the source of the wound. A few seconds later he was face down on the floor.
Caeth went to the sideboard next to the door and grabbed a bottle of brandy before approaching the unconscious guard. With some effort, she lifted him to a sitting position, splashed him with brandy and tucked the bottle into the crook of his arm. She then picked up the dart and the letter he had been carrying.
She was worried it had something to do with her employer, but instead it was merely a report of strange happenings going on in the sewers beneath the city. Ominous news and disappearances, but they were not her concern. No one was paying her to care about that. She dropped the missive and continued on to her objective.
Reaching the Duchess’ bed chamber, Caeth found herself surrounded by luxuries. Plush carpets, embroidered draperies, a desk made from rich darkwood, and much more. There were valuables here worth far more than she was being paid, but that did not matter. She was a professional and this was not a simple burglary.
She quickly made her way over to the desk, set against the wall with a polished silver mirror behind it. Opening the drawers she found what she was looking for: an ivory comb. She quickly removed a number of hairs from the comb and tucked them away inside a pouch on her belt, before returning the comb to the desk.
She then looked around the room to make sure all was in order before making her way to the balcony. It was cold out. An autumn wind was blowing in from the mountains carrying with it the promise of rain. The lights of Silverspear twinkled at her from over fifty feet below as she climbed up onto the ledge. She muttered “nine parts preparation” and stepped off the ledge. Not a second later, the magic from her mother’s ring flared to life, allowing her to gently glide to safety below.
Hours later, Caeth finally made it back to her lair above an apothecary in tumble-alley, the slums of the great city. She dropped her payment into the chest at the foot of her bed without bothering to count it. She knew it would all be there. No one ever dared to short her.
Stripping off the rest of her gear, she made her way to the study and sat down to finish the letter she had started that morning. It was a letter to her mother. A letter to tell her that Caeth was coming home.

Fortune’s Favored Fool

14 Oct
Fortune's Favored Fool

Admit One

“Gather round my lords and ladies, for I have a tale to tell! A tale of adventure, daring, and deadly consequences! Gather round for another tale from Faulkir, Fortune’s Favored Fool!”

Polite applause rose from the assembled court as the garish halfling took to the raised stage in the center of the audience chamber of Duchess Halvar, ruler of Silverspear. While most were delighted to get a chance to hear him perform one of his legendary tales, the Duchess herself seemed rather bored of the spectacle.
“Now this story is from my younger days, when I was perhaps a bit more brash,” he finished that with a sly wink toward the Duchess, “if such a thing is possible.” Laughs from the crowd, but the Duchess did not seem amused.
“While passing through the tiny town of Aubenglade, I met a simple farm girl of a singular beauty, like a spring lily that had just come to bloom. Walking through the market, she sang a hymn to the Mother as she shopped. I was smitten by her golden locks and cherub smile.” The bard expression seemed lost in remembrance, like trying to recall a pleasant dream.
“For days I did woo her. I sent her flowers. I read her the sweetest poetry. I even sang to her! I sang every song that I know.” And then in a hushed tone “Well except for the bawdy ones. Alas she quickly became bored at hearing the same three songs over an over again.”
As the laughter subsided, Faulkir pulled am exquisite mandolin from his back, playing a faint tune to accompany his tale. As the notes carried through the audience, the magic of the instrument took hold. It was a subtle spell, one designed to ensnare the senses.
“Alas, she would not have me. I was too fat, she said. I was too foolish, she said. Why, I do believe she even said that I was too short! Can you believe it?” He said with a defiant tone. At that, even the Duchess let out a snort. The magic had her as well.
“I could not let such a slight go unanswered! I might not be tall in stature, but I make up for it in bravery and guile, and I decided that I would prove her wrong. So, after hiring a few local guides, we set off to prove that I was in fact the tallest man in all the land. I would prove it by summiting the nearby Teventas mountain! None could be taller than that!” There was much chatter in the audience. That peak was known to be deadly to climbers for its height and the terrifying beasts that live on its slopes.
“Five days we traveled into the mountains, making our way toward the peak. Alas, we would never reach its heights, for during our journey, we found something far more dangerous.” His voice had gone suddenly cold as the story took a turn. “A fane, made from the blackest basalt, carved with sinister symbols of the darkest intent. A shrine to the shadows of the mountain.”
“Now, I could have ignored it, continued on my trek to prove my stature and win the heart of my farm girl, but NO! For I may be a fool, and I may be a cad, but one thing I am not is a coward!” The crowd had grown silent, listening to his heroic choice. They were all consumed by his tale, and his magic.
“This foul place could not be allowed to be, not so close to the sleepy community of simple peasants and bumbling woodsmen. Bravely onward we ventured, me and my brave guides, but inside we found that the place was far from abandoned. Vile cultists roamed the halls, intent upon casting the mountain’s shadow across the entire world!”
The tale carried on with the brave bard and his bumbling guides venturing further and further into the shadow shrine. No matter how grim things seemed to get, Faulkir would find some way to win out in the end, if not by wit then through the cunning use of magic or sword play. By the end, the gathered crowd of nobles hung upon his every word.
“Finally we found our way into the heart of the foul place and there stood an obelisk of the blackest stone, floating above an unholy altar. No light would shine upon it. Indeed it seemed that the shadows from within were reaching out to ensnare our light and our very souls!” His strumming had taken on an ominous tone. “The terror of it left the mage I had hired in a state of babbling terror. The hunters I brought with me to guide me up mountain tried to fight the tendrils of darkness, but it tossed them about like mere twigs, killing one and driving the other to madness. Fortunately, I kept my wits.” It was silent in the room. Everyone was waiting to hear how he would come out victorious once again.
“My keen eyes noticed a series of runes on the altar, below the hovering menace. I could just barely make out the words of a summoning ritual and in that moment I knew what I had to do… for only I could do it!” The diminutive bard strode around the stage as he talked, more like a giant than a halfling.
“Ducking the nearest tentacle, I rolled up to the altar and climbed atop it.” Faulkir danced around the stage, dodging imagined foes. “None of my companions, being big folk such as yourselves, could ever have hoped to squeeze into that space, tucked beneath the floating obelisk. It was my small stature that allowed me to crawl underneath. Using my trusty blade, I scratched out the runes, ruining the ritual and breaking its unholy power. In an instant it was over. The obelisk tumbled to the ground and the remaining cultist fled. They knew I had beaten them.”
“After that, there was no point in climbing the mountain. I had proven my courage once again. This time, being the shortest was a virtue, and fortunately for this fool, the fair maiden did favor me with a kiss.” Faulkir ended his story by blowing kisses to the crowd, who returned the gesture before letting loose a thunderous round of applause. The magic had worked once again. Faulkir’s purse would be fat with coins tonight. Almost everyone seemed delighted, even the Duchess.
In the back, leaning against a pillar, one figure was not at all amused.
She was trying to decide whether or not to kill the halfling. She knew his tale was nothing but lies. Caeth had been there and she knew that the danger was far from over. It was about to happen all over again.

The Hunter’s Tale

30 Sep
A Chimera's Horn

The Trophy

The stout wooden door slammed shut as the last of them arrived. It was Harrick. He was always the last one to arrive, Renmar silently noted once again. As the elderly hunter hung up his cloak, Renmar stood up to call the weekly gathering of the Aubenglade Watchers to order.

Knocking loudly on the table with a gnarled wooden hammer, the leader of the group called out, “I hereby call this conclave to order.”
He continued by taking the roll. Harrick was just taking his seat, complaining about his bad knee. Orlon, and his cousin Palgin, were at the far end, both smoking a rich smelling tobacco from clay pipes. Ilmina sat to his left, picking burrs out of the hem of her cloak while Albinara and Yolt sat on the other side of her, quietly bickering over some small amount of coin spent on supplies. Finally, to his right sat the rotund Durwan, sharpening a dagger with flat stone. With the roll complete and everyone in attendance, Renmar continued with the agenda. “The first order of business tonight, who brought the ale?”
For the next hour, the eight of them laughed and drank, feasting on a smoked boar shank provided by Orlon. They talked about the wild animals that seemed to be growing ever bolder in attacking local herds. They planned their next expedition, which would be little more than a relaxing three day adventure into the wilderness, disguised as an important scouting mission for the town. As was their tradition, a flask of particularly strong mead made the rounds after the dinner trenchers had been piled up at the end of the table.
“Well, that just about covers all of the Watcher business.” Renmar concluded, letting out a small burp and patting his stomach. “Anyone want to hear the latest draft of the Hunter’s Tale?”
There were groans from all around the table. The other members of the Watchers had heard this tale over a dozen times already.
“Is the beast even bigger now, maybe the size of a cottage?” Durwan called out, drawing chuckles from the around the table.
“Did you finally get around to mentioning that the poor thing was clearly half-starved and asleep when you found it?” Laughter echoed throughout the small wooden lodge as Ilmina’s barb hit home. Renmar put on a scowl. She was right of course, the chimera had been ill when he encountered it, but it was still a danger to the town that had to be dealt with. Renmar’s battle with the beast was legendary around Aubenglade, and even after all these years he was admired and respected for his daring assault and expert marksmanship. It seemed that such feats of courage were a thing of the past for him now and holding on to the tale, no matter how embellished, was all he had left.
“Well fine, I’ll save it for my lovely daughter. She never mocks me for my heroism.” Renmar concluded with a wry smile, which brought on more laughs and a few hearty pats on the back.
The mirth died away slowly, leaving a calm silence as they all looked around at each other. It was almost time to go, to get home to their families before the dark came to the woods and the going became treacherous. One by one, the Aubenglade Watchers stood and gathered up their gear. Renmar looked as his friends and grabbed his exquisitely carved bow from the mantle above the fire.
“Remember, I won’t be able to make it next week.” Renmar’s voice sounded suddenly hard. “I have the reunion.” With that there were a number of grumbles and stern looks.
Harrick came up and looked Renmar in the eye. “Try not to be too hard on the boy. It’s been, what now, over fifteen winters?”
“You know that I can’t.”
“And all the more’s the shame for it. It will be good to see the lot of you again. The real heroes of Aubenglade.”

 

As Renmar made his way home, the thought of the upcoming gathering grew to dominate his thoughts. It would be good to see Karwyn again at the very least. The dwarf was a fine warrior, and even after she lost her faith in the group and the town, he still trusted her with his life. He hoped that this time it would not come to that, but they had to finish what they started. Eadmar would have wanted it that way, even if it meant working with Valtirus again.
In the fading light, Renmar approached the back door of his home on the outskirts of Aubenglade. There he found his daughter, lithely dancing between the trees with her rapier in hand, practicing her forms. He watched her silently, noting that she really had improved. He was so proud of her, of the young woman she had become. She was going to do amazing things someday, go on incredible adventures, and see wonders beyond his imagining.
He only hoped those days would wait a little longer.
Making his was up to the kitchen door, Renmar called out to his loving wife. “Leylinia, I am home!”

A Sermon and a Prayer

23 Sep

A sermon for the congregation of Aubenglade

16th of Agnath 816, Written by Leylinia, Abbess of the Mother

Blessing onto you, for the Mother’s bounty is ripe, her children are hale, and her song is with you.

The Mother's bounty

The Mother’s bounty

Litany of the Mother’s Bounty

As the harvest approaches, let us come together in thanks and forgiveness. Long gone now are the hardships of the summer, the strife over water, the fire at the granary, and the agonizing heat. The months of toil, laboring under a relentless sun, have borne fruit. Do not let those summer rivalries sour Her bounty. Let us rejoice in the cool autumn evenings, finding fellowship in our shared burden, understanding in our shared weariness, and peace in our shared sacrifice.

Unity Hymn

The summer has been long, but the people of Aubenglade have endured. You have lived. You have prospered. Now go in peace and with the Mother’s blessing.

Written in the margin of the sermon are a series of notes. Written in flowing elven script, they read as follows:

Remember to put emphasis on the troubles of the summer.

I am sure that Ren will see right through the symbolism, but he could certainly use the reminder. He spends more and more time out at the lodge these days. Father was right, humans spend far too much time dwelling on the past when they should be living today. It’s probably harmless, but it does not seem to be helping his mood, which seems to grow fouler by the day. It’s not surprising really. The anniversary is just a few weeks away and Valtirus is coming home. 

It will be good to see him and the rest of the company, it has been far too long. By the mother’s grace, this might just put an end to over fifteen years of strife. I doubt Ren can ever truly put those dark days behind him, but maybe after one last adventure, he can finally forgive himself. If not for himself, then maybe for our daughter.

Diary Entry: The Time is Near

15 Sep

15th of Agnath, 816

diary1-the-sign

The Diary

I had that nightmare again.

It comes unbidden every year, growing in frequency as the anniversary approaches. He dies every time. And every time it is my fault. This year is no different, but I take solace in the fact that it will be the last year.

Soon, I’ll be leaving for the gathering. We certainly stand a better chance together, but I cannot help but hope that Leylinia stays away. I am not sure I can face her.

Or her husband.

I wonder if his rage has subsided? I would not be surprised if he still seethed. He suffered for my failings more than anyone. I should prepare a protective ward just in case.

No point in trying to get back to sleep. I might as well take Axiptris for a hunt before I continue my studies. There is so little time remaining.

Will I be ready?