|The Company of the Scarlet Phoenix
Author: Syngen Segumi PM
Dhaunre thought that if you wanted to see the world, Waterdeep was a good place to start. But when money starts running thin, she has to take an embarassing job that will change her life forever.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Chapters: 3 - Words: 12,878 - Reviews: 7 - Favs: 1 - Updated: 08-10-04 - Published: 08-03-04 - id: 1995034
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Dhaunre's brows raised in surprise, "You want me to what?"
"Sewer Jacking is an important job, Missy, and if you've not the backbone for it, there's plenty others that do," said the grungy old man at the table.
Oh how foul a thing was this? Did Waterdeep need patrolmen? Nope. Griffon Riders? Nope. Waiting tables at the Elfstone just didn't pay as well as she had hoped, and living in Waterdeep was expensive. So she had been directed here. The pay was supposed to be better, and the work might utilize her entirely too expensive training at the Arms College in Evereska. "How much does it pay again?"
"Ten gold a week. Plenty to keep you in good stead at an Inn until you figure out what you're doing with your life and your sword," he grinned at her. Privately he relished sticking an elf in the sewers. The entire situation promised lots of amusement and plenty of good tales told over warm ale at the House of Good Spirits.
She sighed, "I'll take it." It was technically not too much more embarrassing than playing at bar wench, and she was bound to be better at it. She had no head for remembering who had ordered what, and she kept bumping her head on the doorframe of the Elfstone. Plus, the beds were too small, and she was going to need new boots soon. There was no way she would be able to get out of having to pay the extra for them being custom fitted, her feet were too big.
"All right then. I'll see you at the House of Good Spirits at daybreak. You'll meet your team and get your route then. And I suggest you pick up a sword. That pig sticking polearm of yours isn't going to work well in the tunnels."
"Unfortunately, I'm short of coin to even buy a man made sword, let alone something I can actually use. Besides, this pig sticking polearm worked well enough as a Tomb Guard and on the Air Patrols in Evereska. I think it'll do just fine." Dhaunre tapped the leather sheath over the blade of the polearm that sat in two leather rings at her back.
"Suit yourself," the old man said, "But if you need a bit of an advance, you can get one after your first day of work. Once you've shown me you'll work, I'll make a bit of an allowance for you. If you're accommodations are too pricey, you can save a nib or two by stayin' at the House of Good Spirits. Just tell the innkeeper Jergenson sent ye."
"Thank you kindly, sir, I might just do that," Dhaunre nodded.
"And what was yer name again?"
"Dhaunre," she paused, trying to think of a good surname, since she'd no sooner sully her family's name with the knowledge that one of its daughters would be up to her waist in sewage, "Avariel."
"You happen to be able to able to spell that?"
"In Elven I can," she replied, "Never had to write it down in the common tongue."
He thought for a second and scribbled down "D-O-N-R-A-Y" in Thorass. She sighed, and thanked him again, before going off to find this House of Good Spirits.
The House of Good Spirits turned out to be in the southeastern end of the City, almost opposite from where she had been staying. The walk to the Elfstone would be a long one, and she would have to go through the Market Square; a prospect she dreaded with its loud noisy crowds and heavy population of cutpurses. Not that she had much of anything to offer them, but the few coins she had, she desperately needed.
It was a busy market day when she finally reached the square, and she tried to cut through as quickly as possible, ignoring vendors hawking wares she could ill afford. She rolled her eyes at a huge brawny man inviting all comers who could defeat him to join his adventuring company, and shouldered her way past a man on a crate hawking rebellion against the high tax rates in the city. The entire bleeding city was completely insane. It was such a change of the quiet bustle of Evereska, and the discipline she was accustomed to. Not that she was homesick at all. She missed not having to worry about where she would sleep or what she would eat. She missed her closet full of clothes. She missed having friends to go out drinking with. But, if she wanted to get her start, find her fortune, or just figure out what was going on in the world, this was the place to start.
She ducked into an alley as a shortcut back to the Elfstone, and brushed past a man who just looked to be of ill repute. Her hand went to the purse, covering it from any cutting attempts he may make at her meager fortunes, and she heard a crunch under her boot. The spindly legs of a large spider were stuck to the side of the sole of her boot. She made a face and scraped the spider guts off of her boot on a nearby broken crate before continuing. Outside of that, she made it back fine to the tavern and ducked into the door.
"Ow!" She had misjudged the width of the doorjamb and bumped her head, again. She stepped down into the main room rubbing her head with a sour look on her face. She was met by a near scowl from Ila, the barmaid on duty at the time.
"Keep it down," Ila hissed, "You're disturbing people."
Dhaunre made a face at her as she sat down, "Then make the doors taller." Ila was one of those entirely too pretty Moon Elves, platinum hair and beautiful blue eyes. Easily a foot shorter than a man and graceful and lovely and all the things Dhaunre just wasn't.
Ila frowned into Dhaunre's baleful green eyes, which held all the charm and verve of swamp gas in the light of the full moon, "Maybe we should just make you shorter."
Dhaunre shrugged, not inclined to argue that she was too tall. Her height had always been a problem for her. She topped out at just over 6 feet in height, which of course caused certain among the Council in Evereska to question her heritage. She was lanky and lean with a rangy gait. She looked like someone who had spent too much time at the Arms College, her shape lacked the supple grace of Ila's, it was hard and unyielding. Her hair hung loose to her knees, a grayish black of varying lengths, and a tousled frizzyness to it. Her eyes were luminously large and green, with black voids for pupils. But, unlike any poetry to most elves verdant gaze, hers was a cold green, with all the appeal and color of a disintegration ray. Her features were sharp and in profound relief. Her expressions always seemed a little exaggerated, she was striking rather than genuinely unattractive, and it would take a certain kind of man to see her as any kind of lovely.
That certain kind of man watched from his table near the tree trunk in the center of the common room. He had smiled into his cup when he heard the thud of her head hitting the door frame. To him, she seemed striking and powerful, if poorly dressed and lacking in manners. His mother would hate her.
"I hate to do this, but I told you I was looking for another job, and it doesn't pay much, so I'll have to move out," Dhaunre said, taking the cup of water from Ila.
Ila nodded, "So there was finally an opening in the City Guard?"
"Not exactly," Dhaunre said, "But I'm bound to be better at it than I am at this. It does involve violence, which if nothing else, you know I'm good at that."
"True," Ila said. She had given Dhaunre the job because she had stopped a fight from starting by tossing the offending parties out the door with brute strength. How was she to know that the girl had no head for numbers and the memory of a house cat?
"Well, listen, I appreciate your help. And tell you what. Dinner's on the house. I'll send someone up to pack your things. I might even wrangle you a carriage to take you to wherever your barracks are going to be," Ila was feeling generous, maybe a bit relieved.
"You're on," Dhaunre said, "But at least let me buy you a drink or five after your shift is done."
"Done? Since when have I ever waited for it to be done? Pass over your last silver, I'll drink with you now," Ila said with a smile. She drew another mug of Evermead from the tap, Dhaunre's preferred drink of choice, since it came from home.
Dhaunre dropped a silver piece onto the counter and then slapped her hand over it, "Hey, don't you owe me two of these? For work?"
"Not to pay for your carriage and porter," Ila grinned, slipping the coin out from under Dhaunre's fingers.
Several coins clattered onto the counter next to Dhaunre's hand, "This round's on me," said the man who had been watching them from the center of the common room. He sat down next to Dhaunre and smiled at Ila.
"Aye aye, Captain," said Ila, pouring him up a mug.
He scrutinized Dhaunre, "Air Guard, eh?" pointing to her tabard with the emblem of her company on it.
She nodded, "3rd Division, Greycloaks."
"Orcslayer then, eh?" he asked. He had a nice smile, and smelled like the sea. Not the harbor stench, the actual ocean.
She nodded again, "A few times. You?"
"No orcs lately," he said with a grin.
"No, I meant what do you do," Dhaunre muttered, not entirely comfortable under the scrutiny of another elf.
"I do what I please. Though currently that's working a ship from Evermeet to here."
She contained her contempt. She had no love for the island elves. The Retreat was a cowardly act in her mind, and not something agreed with. She had, so far, found most of Evermeet's populous to be arrogant and self-important, with little sense for the Tel Quessir as a whole. She managed to do not much else but nod, and pass a look to Ila, who was already waiting for her to let loose with her tirade of her opinion of Evermeet.
"Captain Valerian, How long will you be in port?" Ila asked, masking over Dhaunre's obvious disapproval.
"A week or so I suppose. Depending on the weather," he continued to smile, Dhaunre's dour look not even phasing him, "I look forward to getting back to Evermeet's waters though, they are so much more agreeable than the choppy seas around the mainland. I might stop off in the Moonshaes on the way back, play at privateer for a bit if I've not any passengers."
Dhaunre polished off the mug, "I hate to interrupt, But my shift starts at dawn. Me and the Lathanderites'll be up and about at the same time."
Ila smiled at her, trying to lift her mood, "You sure you want to leave so soon? The night is young and all?"
Dhaunre pursed her lips a bit, "I know I know, but I don't want to mess this up."
Ila nodded, "All right then. Can I trust you two alone while I go get the porter to get a carriage?"
Valerian grinned wickedly, "Absolutely not."
Dhaunre snorted, "Only if you don't notice when that handkeg of mead goes missing."
Valerian elbowed Dhaunre, "Mead? Please, she has some of those pricey bottles of wine back there. Much better resale value don't you think?"
So maybe he wasn't completely arrogant after all. She grinned back, "Yeah but lousy drinking. Too fruity for the likes of me. I like 'em sweet. Like honey."
Ila rolled her eyes and went through the door into the kitchen, brushing her hands on her apron as she went.
"Going on patrol in the morning?" Valerian asked.
Dhaunre nodded, "Something a little more in line with my overpriced education."
Valerian grinned, "Arms college, eh?"
"Third in the class," she said proudly.
Valerian said, "I know a few people from Evereska. What's your family?"
"Moonwing," she said, before she remembered what she was doing for a living.
"You're not N'thyd's little sister are you?"
Dhaunre looked surprised that someone in Waterdeep knew her brother, "I am. Though I'm a sight taller than him so little sister doesn't seem quite the right word."
Valerian chuckled at her, "N'thyd and I used to sit on the deck of the ship drinking and talking about women when he was coming back from Evermeet. He loved talking about something called a water tavern in Everska, where everyone would bathe naked in a clear pool from a spring and the drinks floated around on trays. Ever seen it?"
"Seen it?" she asked, "Hells, I spent most of my seventh year at the college there."
"Still there?" He asked
"Oh yes, and just as it's always been. Full of escaped students out on a bender."
He nodded at her Polearm, "Is that a Wing?"
She smiled proudly, "It is."
He whistled low, impressed, "Alentar didn't take just anybody to learn that thing. You must've caught his eye."
"I catch everyone's eye, if they crane their necks enough," she grumbled.
"So what changed your mind? Why leave?"
"Wanted to see stuff," she mumbled.
"Me too," he said. "You have the Talon too? Or did you not get past the Wing?"
She was just a touch insulted as she unhooked the small, clawed shield from her belt and handed it to him.
Valerian nodded in approval, "Very nice. You worked hard for these."
"So have you always been on Evermeet?" she asked.
"Born and raised," he said, "I wanted to go to Evereska's Arm's College. I had hoped to be a bladedancer."
She nodded, "Yeah, I hoped to be a priestess, like my mother. No head for it though."
"Well it speaks volumes the training you finished at the Arms College. At least to me."
"Kind of you to think so," she said, "I've been feeling a bit wasted lately."
He shrugged, "You've been good company. Let me pay for your carriage and porter to your new barracks. I remember how hard it is starting out, and it would be a favor you would do for me," He said.
She shook her head, "I can't let you do that. I need to get my own feet under me, not find myself in debt to every soft-hearted pirate I meet."
"Privateer," he corrected, "You'd have no debt on your head, I promise you. Besides, you may not see me again anyways," he smiled.
"Really, it's too kind of you..." she began.
"If you don't accept," he interrupted, "I'll follow you about and ruin your reputation."
Dhaunre made a face at him, exaggerating her disbelief. "Well I would suppose I am powerless to stop you," she said, "Besides I can't have my reputation getting sullied, can I?"
She nodded, "We'll drink on it then." She raised her mug to him and took a swallow. He did the same and then knocked on the countertop.
"Ila!" he shouted, "Ilandria!"
Ila bustled out from the kitchen, "What do you want now?"
Valerian leaned over the counter, "This fine young student's carriage and porter go on my tab. So pay the girl her two silver, plus the extra one for the drinks and you can take it out of me."
"Take it out of your hide, maybe I will," Ila grumbled, but smiled, "You are too generous when you drink too much, Captain." But she counted off three silver and set them in front of Dhaunre. "The porter's got your things, and he's waiting with carriage whenever you're ready Dhaunre."
Dhaunre nodded, "then I should get going then," She smiled at Valerian, "It was nice meeting you."
Valerian half bowed from his seat, "The pleasure was mine."
Ila wiped down the bar, "Be sure to come back and see me for a drink now and again. And remember I still owe you dinner."
Dhaunre nodded, "Don't you think I'll be forgetting that."
She turned out the door and into the darkening street where a buggy sat behind a horse. The porter had loaded her bag up on the buggy and was sitting in the driver's seat. He turned to her when she settled into the buggy and asked, "Where to?"
"House of Good Spirits, if you please?" She replied.
He nodded and set the horse to a fast walk through town. The buggy stuck to the main streets, partly because it was the law, and partly from the porter's own sense of self-preservation.
He pulled up at a bawdy looking squat building that smelled distinctly of pipeweed and spilled zzar. It was noisy inside, but pleasantly boisterous, not noisy as if a bar fight were starting up. The porter turned back around to face her and asked, "Should I get your luggage, Miss, or are you just here for dinner?"
She smiled, "I'll get my luggage. You go on home or wherever you have a mind to go."
She hauled her bag off the back of the buggy and slung it over her shoulder. She ducked under the door out of instinct, but didn't bump her head. She turned back and saw that she had plenty of room and smiled to herself.
There was a roundish woman working the bar. Dhaunre sat down at the end and waited for her to finish hearing a joke from one of the patrons. A musician was singing in a corner of the low-slung room, and an even lower hanging cloud of pipeweed smoke cloyed to the ceiling. She let out a boisterous laugh at the punch line and made her way down to Dhaunre, pushing a lock of graying brown hair off of her forehead.
"What can I get ye?" she asked. Her apple face shone in the yellowish light. She had a matronly look about her, but more the kind of matron who could hoist a young orc over her knee if the need arose.
"I'm Dhaunre," she said, "Jergenson said you might be able to help me with some accommodations?"
"You're a sewer jack are ye?" she asked, in a voice a little too loud for Dhaunre's comfort, "Aye, I can help ye out. Three gold will get you in the common room for a week. Five will get ye your own room and meals for the next week. The fare's not fancy, but it will fill you up."
Five gold would have her collecting five gold a week for expenses. That would be better than she was making at Elfstone, where she only had a handful of silver left over after her expenses. She nodded, "That'll do just fine."
"I'm Maril," the barkeep said, "Jergenson's my pitiable excuse for a husband," she grinned. "Good to have ye. Ye be an elf?"
She bit back the temptation to make a remark and nodded, "From Evereska."
"Ah, you're a fair piece from home, you are. Tell you what? Keep your coin for this week, and I'll just get it from what Jergenson would be payin' ye at the end of the week. Make things a spot easier on ye." She had a wonderful smile that lit up her whole face, glistening with sweat from the hard work she was doing.
Dhaunre smiled back, "That's kind of you. I won't forget the favor."
Maril nodded and reached under the counter. She handed Dhaunre a ring with two keys on it, "The big one's for the door, the little one for the footlocker. Upstairs, third door on the right. It's not big, but it's clean. And you'll get a hot bath each day. You'll need it." She laughed at her own joke. Dhaunre broadened her smile, privately worrying over what she had gotten herself into.
She lugged her bag up the stairs and counted the doors until the came to the third on the right. She unlocked the door and opened it into a tiny closet of a room with a bed and a footlocker and a small table with a pitcher and basin of fresh water. Well, it wasn't home. It wasn't even the Elfstone. But it would do all the same. She stripped out of her clothes, and dropped most of her things in the footlocker. The Wing and her Armor wouldn't fit, but that wasn't much of a concern, those would be with her during the day.
She poured the basin full of water and wiped off her face and body, enjoying the brief time she spent damp, and feeling a little cleaner. She climbed into the bed, and was happy to note that it wasn't too small before stretching out and letting her mind drift off into the reverie.
She broke out of her memories just before dawn. The sky was a lighter gray and the inn was quiet. She got dressed, pulling on her leather armor and buckling it into place. She dropped the tabard over the lot of it, and wiggled her toes in her boots to make sure they were fit properly. The soles were feeling thin. She checked them for holes, and scrunched up her face at the dried bits of bug guts from that huge spider she had stepped on the night before. Well, they'd be covered in worse before the day was out.
She went downstairs into the common room and there was Maril, bustling in and out of the kitchen. She banged open the door trying to hold two heavy buckets of water. Dhaunre, not thinking about much else than the water being spilt dashed over and took the buckets from Maril, "Here, let me help."
"I'll not argue," Maril huffed, "Can ye lift them?"
Dhaunre hefted the buckets, a familiar task to her, "I can. Done more than my fair share of bucket hauling in my day."
"Oh?" Maril said her tone teasing, "I thought elves just floated the water to wherever they needed it by magic."
"Maybe the lazy ones," Dhaunre answered, "Some of us actually have to work for a living."
"Oh we'll get on just fine," Maril said with a grin, "Can ye help me with a few other things?"
The sun was almost fully up when Dhaunre finished the short list of chores Maril had given her. She dashed out the back door of the Inn where a crowd of young people had already formed, and were clumped into groups.
Jergenson huffed at her, "You're almost late." He wasn't a tall man, but big in his own right, barrel chested, pot bellied and balding. He had a hooked nose and a wide smile that belied his gruff voice. His arms were thickly corded with old muscle that had seen years of work, and his rolled up sleeves showed more than a few pale scars. "Grab a stone from the barrel."
"I'm sorry," Dhaunre apologized, and did as she was told, pulling out a fist-sized red stone and handing it to Jergenson.
He nodded and pointed to a group near the stable, "That'll be your team over there."
The group was two humans, a dwarf, and elf, at least at first glance. She walked over to the group and introduced herself, assuming they all knew each other. "Morning to you. I'm Dhaunre."
"And a glorious morning to you, I'm Alek, I work at the House of the Morning." His face was positively cherubic, with bright eyes and a cheerful smile. His robes were plain and a pale yellow tied with red rope belt. "I'll be handling your faith and injury based duties. These here are Wesley, Sharain and Thorkin."
Wesley was a smallish man with a peculiar quickness to him. He seemed both perfectly still and agitated at once. His shirt was faded and graying, worn thin at the elbows. His leather breeches were patched at the knees. His fingers seemed to be in constant motion, and his mind looked to be constantly working a problem over and over. He offered a smile to Dhaunre showing his smallish teeth.
Thorkin was a site to behold, a small dwarven flurry of bright orange hair and iron spikes. He had blue tattoos that coiled over his skin where it wasn't covered by armored spikes or hair. He leaned on an axe that was almost too big for him, battered and nicked, and having seen well more than its fair share of fights. Probably not too unlike its owner.
Sharain looked the part of the Moon Elf. Lean and handsome with a rogueish glint, his dark blue hair was tousled just so. Blue eyes sparkled with mischief when he looked up from picking stones from the sole of his boot with a dagger.
Jorgenson came up behind Alek and clapped him on the shoulder, "You lot'll be working the Southeast Quadrant. Not a bad pace of a walk at all." He tossed a pile of lethery looking cloth in the middle of them, "You'd best be getting your waders on, it gets pretty deep in there."
"We're working together?" Wesley asked, looking around as if for the first time.
"That you are," Jorgenson answered.
Four pairs of eyes sized each other up slowly, taking in the possibilities, factoring in the variables. When they spoke, it was a common thought, and sounded in unison:
"We're all going to die."