Session 3 Interlude
The weary group finally reaches the camp of the Harpers, a small, loosely organized collection of tents and hastily constructed shelters. It’s clear that the alliance is not planning on settling in one place for too long. Rough shelter aside, each of them finds warm welcome, and an acceptance that they had been craving, consciously or not.
Gronn drinks alone
The rest of his companions had all left, or indeed never entered the tent that passes for a tavern in the Harpers camp, yet Gronn remained drinking his fill.
Sometime after all the rest of the patrons had left he feels a hand on his shoulder, and a gravelly voice says “it’s time to go boy, it’s late and my woman is waiting for me.”
“I will go when I’m ready, you need not wait here, I’ll close the flap behind me.”
“If I leave you here alone there will be nothing left to serve the rest of camp, come on now, off with you, come back tomorrow!” The hand clamped down a little.
Turning just enough to see a middle aged man whose weathered skin was stretched tight over a face that was itself covered with a short black beard, he was somewhat shorter than Gronn but very broad, he would have no problem moving kegs of ale, the hand now felt like a vice. Gronn said “bah go to your woman leave me to the drink, I will pay for what I use!” And he started to turn back to the table.
Before he had finished turning he was hauled from his chair, slammed on the floor, and found himself being dragged to the entrance of the tent. He started to strain and fight, “still conscious?” came the voice like gravel “that slam should have taken all the fight out of you! "May as well stop struggling I’ve been doing this since before your father knew what girls where for!”
Indeed no matter what Gronn tried the man kept hold of him and dragged him towards the tent flap. At last, at the tents threshold and half in a rage Gronn summoned all his strength and managed to break free of the iron grasp.The man stood over him and Gronn knew if he tried to stand the man would be on him again and this time he doubted he would be able to break free again!
The man held out a hand. “So you want to walk the last steps your self do ya?” When the hand is grudgingly accepted he pulls Gronn to his feet. “That was quite impressive boy, I don’t even remember when last someone escaped my grasp, you are incredibly strong! Strength is only part of it though, you have to know about leverage, pressure and speed as well! The strength sure helps though, and unlike me you’re only going to get stronger,” he locks eyes with the sullen barbarian “and you could learn the rest!”
Pumping the hand he had never released he says “My name is Randy, Randy Savage, now go home!”
Any room for a Sister in a Brotherhood? (Ananshael)
Apparently, I am pretty. I spent most of my life at one of the more successful brothels in Calimport and all the girls there were beautiful. But I wasn’t really one of them, you know. As such, I had no real way of judging the mundane. So I have learned to take others’ word for it. Men praise parts of me endlessly – always the parts, mind you, never the whole. Admired the painting but not the message. They love my svelte physique, the long legs of a dancer, my graceful neck and the scythe of red hair that I kept clean and sharp. And my breasts (always the breasts). Not unlike a prize horse at auction.
Most of the men in Calimport were dark-skinned Calimshan desert workers, traders, warriors. As such, they admired the pale sheen of my skin and the glitter of my green eyes, even though I told them there were likely half a million more women in this world with the same features. Half a million is not so many when measured against this vast world; that always got included in their fragmentary, duplicitous admiration.
“Lovely,” they would say, and sometimes they sought to take me home and admire me in private. Jezzabelle kept me from these things, though the odd time I would sneak away with one of them, if only to sate the aching loneliness that would occasionally harbor in my thoughts and heart. “You’re beautiful, ’Shael,” they would whisper. “You’re the perfect woman. If only-”
Yes. If only I weren’t a whore. I wasn’t actually a whore but, there’s the thing – no one would listen.
I almost died today. Had I forgotten to mention that?
I am not even sure what it was that we fought down in that twisted tomb, me and File. Some undead shambling thing. Aaron might know more but to me it was a thing that should have been dead but was mobilized – animated – by some serpent coiled in the husk of its desiccated torso. We took it out, me and the bard, though he fell from its wicked bite. He saved me. I saved him. He knows it. I know it. The others might guess, might surmise, the wickedness we saw down there. But they won’t truly know.
Funny thing about File – he doesn’t look at me like that. His gaze feels of many things when it touches me, but lust is not one of them.
I will probably keep him around for that reason alone.
It was a humble enough camp. A clutch of huts and tents nestled in the thick copse of northern trees, just shy of the leeside of a stretch of angled hill and a brisk, cool stream. Interesting group of individuals, these Harpers. The poets will write of a tapestry of personalities, glimmering cloth and weapons, all manner of races and cultures, united for a glorious purpose. But to me, it was just a mishmash of people – lots of people – all huddling together, chatting and trying desperately to find their way in this vast world, find some purpose to their existence. Or at least to find a better outlook on life as the misery we endure between disappointments.
I could hear Aaron’s laughter behind me as he shared a word with his friend, Pender. They moved off as I caught the smell of honeyed buns and smoked fish. It didn’t take but a moment for my stomach to remind me with a less-than-ladylike rumble. I tried to find Gronn but I couldn’t see where he had gone. He and File had likely moved off with a few people, Harper friends I would imagine.
I turned toward the cooking fires and pulled up short before a dark-haired half-elven woman standing in my path.
“File says you can use those things well enough,” she said with a smirk. “Though I’d be tempted to see them as little more than accessories.”
“Wha- wh-what?” I hate it when I stammer. It took me a half second more to realize she was referring to my red-handled sabres. “Who are you?”
Her eyes were blue, flecked with gold, and she had a more human build than elvish, though her skin was still quite fair. She wore boots, trousers, a dark cloak, and a simple blue tunic over a loose shirt. A thin longsword – likely elven in design – hung at her hip. “Ananshael,” she said after a moment, testing the sound of it like she were testing a swallow of blush wine. “Quite the name. You seem quite the lady, although very far from home. Calimport, is it?”
“Is nothing sacred here?” I didn’t temper the bite of my tone.
She seemed to ignore it. “We are a little different around here, if File hasn’t told you. We do not judge. We don’t much care the path you took that led you to us – only that you are here. Here and now. All beings should walk free of fear, with the right to live their lives as they wish. Don’t you agree?”
I wanted to tell her to fuck off. I really did. But I didn’t. I gave her my best courtesan smile. You know – the look you give a man after he has already bought and paid for a dance. Right there – like that.
The half-elf beamed. “That’s better! Let’s get you a bite to eat and a place to wash up. Then, you can show me what you can do with your steels. Maybe I can help you.”
She walked away towards the cooking fires and a gathering of people chowing down on food and drink. I didn’t move. “Your name?”
The half-elf looked back. “Arilyn. Arilyn Moonblade.”
It was a start. So I followed her.
It did not begin well.
Arilyn was good, don’t get me wrong. She was very good, I mean, this was her profession. Her life.
Turns out she and I had a lot in common – she lost her adopted mentor at the tender age of fifteen and later adopted her surname, Moonblade, from her sword. For the next decade or so, she studied swordsmanship under the tutelage of Kymil Nimesin, one of the teachers for the academy in Waterdeep. She became an assassin and adventured with the Hammerfell Seven band during the Time of Troubles. She later began working as an agent for the Harpers and has been running their riot act for a good two years. Relatively new to the ranks, they say.
But it was how she began our little relationship that bugged the shit out of me -
“You afraid you going to drop them?” Her remark was casual, just a little put off.
I halted my opening routine and caught my breath. She was referring to the lengths of red chain that hung at the hilts, the braids I grasped at all times when in combat. “No,” I said. “Well, not really. It’s like-”
“What?” She raised an eyebrow.
I demonstrated. I am a Seven Sisters Dancer of Calimshan, a far east style of martial dance intended to mezmerize, infatuate then decimate. Well, in theory anyway. I lashed out with the blades, allowing the cords to extend my reach another foot, then retracted the weapons in a fast spin, twisting my hips and crouching low to catch them along my forearms. As I leaned onto the balls of my feet, I looked up at Arilyn.
She wasn’t smiling. She was merely watching me. “Try that again. But come at me.” She balanced her elven thinblade on her wrist.
I cocked my head. Then did as she asked. I slid forward with a typical dance opening – Red Swallow Embraces the Sunrise – and I slashed upwards, turning to the side, then down – right through the middle. Up again and she met the second and third thrust with her own weapon. Barely moving, she was there. Up and, yes – she got that one again. So I-
Fuck. On my ass again. I coughed once.
“You move very well,” Arilyn said. “But you’re everywhere. Your blades, your arms and legs. You are filling the sky with your dance. But that won’t help you.” She offered her hand and pulled me up to my feet. “The fight is here.” She pointed to the middle of her chest. Her feet. “And here.” She let her finger rest at the side of her head. “Here.”
“I’m not a fucking soldier, Arilyn,” I admitted. “I danced in a brothel my whole life.”
Arilyn shrugged. “So stop dancing for them. And start dancing for yourself.”
“Don’t cry,” she said. “Just come at me. Come at me. Not the sky. Not the trees. Me.”
I took a breath and we went at it again.
It did not begin well between Arilyn and me. But it did get better.
Wolves or Sheep (Aaron)
Pendar has an easy way with people, his disarming charm has me smiling and chuckling despite myself. He is a good man, perhaps a better one than I am. I envy him that. I can’t help but look at people as either wolves or sheep. The wolves need to be kept at bay. Always. Kept at bay.
We did good last night. We stopped the ghost. We sent it back to where it came from. No aid from the Jarl, no aid from the Thanes. Cowards.
A small part of me is angry because had I listened to the group and not my instincts, we would not have rid the town of the beast. The old woman had helped. It was her net. It was my vow that got us the net. But we had judged her, some harsher than others. That net of fire strung hair consecrated the ground and stopped the evil from fleeing. We all had our hand in killing the beast. We saved the village. That will bind us.
I honored my vow. I did not do it for the reward. Nor did I do it because of the glory. I offered my hand in marriage, because I believed that it was the right thing to do, at the right time. The others think I am crazy. That’s easy enough to see in their eyes. I let the gods guide my decision it is what the elves taught me. I would try to explain it to them, but I do not have the words to make another understand… so I will take solace in the fact we accomplished a great deed today, and we the Sheppard’s, kept the wolves at bay.
No longer was she an old woman, but a beautiful vision draped in a slip of flowers. It was hard for me not to let my eyes linger in places where they should not. Her wraith husband made it clear I was no longer welcome. She did not hold me to the vow… and a part of me is relieved but saddened at my shallowness. I too judged her. This is an important lesson for me…
Gronn’s roar of laughter breaks into my thoughts. I do not know where Anasheal has gone, or File for that matter. I would seek out the Bard and ask a favor of him but for now I will enjoy the heat from the fire, it is warm on my face, and the air smells of roasting pig. Pendar is safe.
For the moment I can relax.
“You are Aaron?” it was a woman’s voice. “I can see that your colors are bright.” I looked at the woman, whose voice seem to fill my head, and invaded my very thoughts.
She was tall, elfin by the soft tilt to her eyes but otherwise did well to hide her lineage. She was beautiful, elves usually were. I could feel color rushing to my scarred cheeks.
“Do I know you?” There was an uncomfortable shakiness to my voice.
“No. But I know you Aaron. You who are born of human, aon touched by elfin gods. You and I have much to discuss. Leave your friends. They are safe here. You must take a path they cannot follow, and I am here to guide you. I promise your friends are safe, you know they are safe. Take my hand.”
The soft chain shirt was much lighter than the half plate I had worn. When I stood it was more abrupt then I wanted, but no one seem to notice. My instincts were telling me this was ok… but I could not ignore the small niggling in the back of my skull, I wonder what vow I will be asked to make now….
“You know my name, but I do not know yours. What shall I call you?”
She does not look back at me “I am Aenil, and now that you know my name, the gods do not like to wait, come we must go now”
File led the group into the midst of the Harper camp. We dismounted and our horses were quickly taken by what I could only assume to be the Horsemaster’s stable hands, grimy boys in burlap with bare feet. I was glad for it. Unaccustomed to riding for long distances, my rear end was paying the price for a studious life. The place was a smattering of tents and ramshackle huts, clearly designed to be mobile on short notice. The thrill of the past few days had started to wane and I felt an odd sense of melancholy. Adventuring was intoxicating and I had caught a glimmer of what drove those hard men and women to such a life.
Despite the intended temporary nature of the camp it appeared that the Harper’s were somewhat dug in at this point and the place was awash with filthy bodies – men, women and children – as well as various forms of livestock. It appeared that the young boys and girls were orphans or runaways, for this did not seem to be an environment conducive with rearing children, and the women I did see were far from matronly in appearance. Rather, the whole mess of people seemed tough – though not unfriendly – and weathered from life on the road. I felt a certain disquiet in the presence of such folk as it served to dramatically highlight my own awkwardness and unfamiliarity with the adventuring life. For the moment, I stuck close to Aaron. These were his kind of people and, as usual, I felt safer in his shadow.
The weight of the book in my lap was comforting, like a blanket or a shield. I sat beside Aaron on a log by the fire, the warmth of the flames roasting my knees while my back remained chilled by the cool evening air. Aaron spoke occasionally with the Harper’s who joined us, other adventurers and the like, answering questions in his typical resolute fashion. I could tell they were more curious about us than they let on. Admittedly, we made a curious pair – the hulking, square-jawed knight in his half-plate and his bookish companion who looked, for all the world, entirely out of place in this remote wilderness camp. I tried to interject occasionally in the conversation, to join in the camaraderie, but my attempts were predictably awkward and either fell flat or resulted in excruciatingly long and uncomfortable silences.
I was resigned to calling it a night and retiring to my tent when a soft “caw” from Ember made me aware of a distant shape in the trees – a vulture. The bird of prey sat perched some twenty yards from the fire, high above us in the shelter of a decrepit jack pine whose upper half had been scorched by a long-extinguished blaze, it’s black branches like claws gripping at the starlit sky. The creature’s haunting black eyes focused on where I sat with an unblinking eeriness. The bird remained poised above the fire for what felt like an eternity and I began to feel naked under its scrutiny. At that moment Aaron stood from the fire. I desperately wanted to follow him but for all my mounting discomfort I was pinned to the log where I sat. I watched as my friend strode away and simultaneously the Harpers, the camp, the world – all of existence it seemed – disintegrated around me like ashes in a strong breeze, until I sat alone in front of a dim spark of yellow light, and beneath the gaze of that unsettling, bald-headed bird.
“The life of a wizard is not an easy one, Pendergast Redwynd,” came a hoarse voice out of the blackness.
I looked at the vulture but its gaze remained unmoved, fixated on my position, an ominous presence. Suddenly, the book in my lap began to lift gently into the air above my bent knees, floating out over the black expanse that enveloped us and toward the small spark of yellow light that was the only source of luminescence in this strange place. As the red book levitated several feet in front of me the cover folded open and the pages began to turn ever so slowly, as if some unseen force was perusing the contents of my treasured tomb.
“I must admit that I’ve missed this ancient relic,” the voice continued, almost tenderly. “Yet, there are so few of us left, and you needed a push in the right direction.”
“I don’t understand,” I heard myself whisper.
“No? You will – soon,” the voice assured. “That is my book and I am Nicadeamus Marmo! With it, I will teach you to be a wizard and you will succeed – or you will perish trying…”
Those last words echoed into eternity and I felt the blackness falling in on itself, devouring me, the book, the spark and the vulture in its inky depths.
I awoke with a chill. The cold morning frost had set into my bones and I shivered uncontrollably where I lay on the grass next to the extinguished bonfire that had warmed me earlier. The camp was deathly quiet and I rose unsteadily to my feet amid the freezing stillness. Ember alighted to my shoulder out of nowhere and cawed softly in my ear.
“Indeed, old friend, indeed,” I muttered and shuffled off wearily toward my tent.
Entering the Harper Camp, File gives a quick tour pointing out food, drink, and beds. Once his companions are settling, File heads to the main tent to check in and report.
Walking to the main tent File recalls the actions of each of the recruits. File starts to organize his thoughts preparing to present to the council.
Soon the sound of fires, people and the snow crunching under his feet fade as his ear focuses on a familiar tune played on a penny whistle.
Files thoughts are flooded with memories of him and his grandfather.
Opening the flap the penny whistle stops, the light from the fire momentarily blinds File.
When is eyes adjust he sees three figures sitting around the central fire. This seems odd. Usually the tent is filled with twenty or more. Coming closer File recognizes the three figures Nicadeamus, Aenil and Seanair. File sits in an empty seat next to his grandfather Seanair and says “Dia dhaoibh”.
The group responses simultaneously “well be with you”.
Nicadeamus Marmo leans towards the fire. An invisible had turning the logs. “File, what of the man travelling with the book?”
Leaning back away from the sparks that the invisible hand has stirred Nicadeamus continues, “we received the message you sent, that Pendergast Redwynd was not dangerous, and it was got necessary to dispatch him.”
Seanair twitches with excitement and interjects, “Dispatching? Yes how did Gronn do? Is he worthy of the Harpers?”
File breaks eye contact with visibly annoyed Nicadeamus, looking at Seanair “Gronn maybe the strongest, bravest man I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.”
Seanair slaps his knee with joy “I knew it! I said the same thing of a young Randy Savage”
Nicadeamus, annoyed “come, come can we focus on the matter at hand?” He Stands up, “File what does Pender know of the book?”
File looking up and across the fire, “Nicadeamus he doesn’t fully understand the book and it’s writing.” He pauses to organize thoughts. “Pender is, Pender is awk…”
“Yes, yes! File spit it out?” Nicadeamus urged.
“I believe Pender is unsure of himself, he finds comfort standing in the shadows of other men.” File instinctively starts to reach for a lead and paper. “Pender is ripe to be shown the light within himself.” Starting to scroll on the paper File continues “Nicadeamus with your guiding hand Pendergast will cast a light, to never stand in a shadow of another again.”
File concentrates on his writing doesn’t know Nicadeamus had left until he feels a cold breeze from when Nicadeamus opens the flap of the tent to leave.
From the shadows of the tent Arilyn Moonblade’s voice calls out “File what of the girl, Ananshael?”
File does not look back towards the voice, “She never opened up to me. She is still a closed book, one that I look forward to reading. She guards herself well. Her actions were honourable and brave. One like myself that can read eyes. Hers shows fear, she is running.”
Arilyn asked “what did you share with her?”
File responds “I told her of the Harpers.”
“You didn’t tell her that it was me that asked you to seek her out and recruit her?”
Arilyn walks around the fire into sight of File, making her way to the flap of the tent. Just before leaving Arilyn turns to look at File. “You have done well File, my blade is at your service when asked.” Arilyn slips through the flap of the tent effortlessly, no breeze entering the tent.
Aenil stands up and circles the fire sitting next to File.
“What of Aaron?” She asks gently
“He is most interesting honourable, brave and noble. He is the opposite of Ananshael . He’s morals and judgement are a open book.” Again pausing to gather his thoughts. " I trust him fully, I know I’m the Bard, yet he has…. charmed me."
Aenil pats File on the leg. “Thank you File, please excuse your self and leave me and your Grandfather to talk.”
File stands up “slán” he says to the both of them as he makes his way to the tent entrance.
“Well be with you” both reply.