Thursday, January 7, 2021

By Candlelight

Chains rattled beyond the threshold as the gate to the hold was raised. The dwarf stepped forward, the meandering gray hairs in his otherwise umber beard reflecting dim torchlight as he trudged along, flanked by two men armed with blades.

A guard met the trio at the entryway and grunted, tilting his head to indicate the direction to follow. They sauntered down a narrow hall, its centuries-old stonework glistening with dampness from the moist air.

“Your escort is to remain here,” the guard said, and the dwarf looked back, nodding to each of his companions in turn before crossing into the drier, arched chamber beyond. An iron-reinforced oak door closed slowly behind him, eliciting a wheeze as a final breath of air escaped the room, which was illuminated by a grandiose, flickering chandelier, a hundred candles glowing from dozens of brass arms.

Three figures waited around an ornate cedar table. Tapestries adorned the walls, depicting scenes of conquest in weavings crimson, blue and gold. His hosts, a dwarf, a woman, and a man, regarded the newcomer with interest, dressed in fineries layered atop merchant garb. The woman beckoned him to sit.

“Welcome... Revenant,” the man started, caressing his elongated, stubbled chin, “Your reputation precedes you.”

“As does the tale of your journey through the ruins of Illusk!" the dwarf host barked, his beard both thicker and grayer than that of their guest. “Your Mirabarran conglomerate must surely be pleased."

“And now,” the woman said, “you seek a new venture, in our city, on behalf of your own. Do I understand correctly?”

“Aye,” the dwarf across the table from her replied gruffly. “A venture for mutual benefit, I’d wager. The taprooms of Fireshear abound with tellings of recent peril within its mines...”

“Confirmed,” the man stated. “A full chartered company lost. Nearly three score men and dwarves in all.”

“My sympathies,” Revenant offered.

“ ‘Tis the danger of the business, I'm afraid. Our miners, along with any surviving families, are paid well for the risks of their toil, whether natural or... less so.”

Revenant nodded. “I propose to sponsor the cleansing of Fireshear's catacombs to help ensure the lasting prosperity of your teams, that they may continue to harvest wealth for the region from the rich veins that run through yon hills.”

The woman rapped her fingernails against the cedar. Rings of precious metals and shimmering gemstones decorated her hands. “For a price, I do not doubt.”

Revenant smiled. “There’s always a price. Or in this case... a partnership.”

The elder dwarf grinned, showing an assortment of gold and silver teeth. Revenant spared him a wink. “Indeed, what manner of threat assailed the fallen? Fell humanoids? Collapsed tunnels?”

The man eyed him grimly. “Neither...”

* * *

The rumors spread like wildfire through Fireshear’s streets and residences. In recent weeks, the frost giant known as Glaumarr had wrought doom upon no fewer than a half-dozen groups of caravaners traveling to and from Hundelstone. Previously, the menace had been driven south from Icewind Dale by a band of adventurers, which had subsequently gone missing.

Hundelstone, a passthrough town populated mainly by stout and small folk who lived in dwellings built into rock and below ground, was in dire need of resources to combat the growing threat. Merchant caravans departing Fireshear were paying high coin for capable guardship to Icewind Dale.

With winter ever looming in the Frozenfar, taking full advantage of the remainder of the trade season was paramount.

* * *

Dame Azurris thought of his perished daughter and took a deep pull of brandy. As the warmth flowed through him, he noticed a sliver of moonlight casting a pale glow upon the floorboards lining the farthest wall.

The door to the captain’s chamber was ajar. The woman who stepped lithely from the shadows trusted him not to call out, setting down on the table before her a jeweled dagger that could just as easily have pierced his throat.

Unflinching, he locked eyes with her, willing her to speak.

“Forgive my intrusion, Captain,” she offered, untying a braid of auburn hair and letting it fall about her leather-clad shoulders. “I seek passage south to Neverwinter, before the seas freeze over, and not aboard any merchant-owned vessel.”

Azurris studied her, trying to guess at her ancestry. Waterdhavian? “Moonmaiden will not voyage again before winter, I regret to inform,” he replied in earnest. “Care for a drink?”

“You could sail if your repairs were expedited, I don't doubt,” she mused, biting her lip. “What could I do?”

“Convince every carpenter and shipbuilder in Fireshear of the urgency of your departure. Whatever your means...” How many veils of ruse adorn this succubus? Can't tell if she means to kill me, seduce me, or take me for everything I'm worth. Possibly all three.

“I'd see this ship ready for journey before the first frost,” she replied. “Prepare to set your course, Captain.”

Azurris averted his eyes to the brandy jug still in his hand, smirking at the absurdity of this encounter.

When he looked back up again, she was gone.

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