|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
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Sharain offered her an approving grin, "You may not be as dense as you look."
Dinner was hot rolls and venison skewered and roasted over a fire. Dhaunre's mouth watered at smell of it, though it was heavily spiced and wouldn't normally have been much to her liking. It wasn't unlikely that the morning's hard work underground, and her afternoon spent trying not to look like she had been underground had helped her appetite along to the point where she mimicked Thorkin's action and snapped a roll up from the bowl.
Dhaunre grinned back, "Nope. Dumb as a tree stump. Ask any wizard that ever tried to teach me anything beyond basic concepts in magic and local history."
Wesley looked up, "You're a wizard?"
Dhaunre snorted, "Not likely. I was trying to take vows. I'm just…not cut out for it, I guess." She frowned, not liking the focus she was getting, "What about you? Why aren't you safe and happy in a lab somewhere learning new and interesting ways to blow yourself up?
Wesley swallowed, "Gets boring after a while. And expensive. I've thought about signing on with the Church, if for no other reason than to have someone pay my expenses. But I'm scared they'll just lock me up here and never let me do anything."
"Which Church?" Alek asked, interested in a religious discussion.
"Mystra's, of course," Wesley said, as if Alek had just asked what color grass was. "What about you?" he asked Dhaunre, What church tickled your fancy?"
Dhaunre shrugged, "Elven theology wouldn't interest you much, I'm sure."
"Hrmph," Thorkin grunted around a mouthful of meat, "Probably one of those gods that decides what time the flowers bloom."
Sharain poked Thorkin, "I'll remind you that it was Correllon Larethian that took Grumsh's eye; not Moradin the Soulforger."
Thorkin huffed, "Making the dwarves is complicated work, masterpieces take time."
Sharain retorted, "Obviously he's still trying." His grin showed he was teasing, but the remark earned a growl from Thorkin that made it clear he was treading ice.
Alek diverted the tension by looking at Dhaunre, "You were telling us about Elven theology and why we wouldn't be interested. We all seem to be thoroughly religious people in our own right; a little discussion among companions can't be a bad thing. Besides, if I don't think you have a direction, I'll be happy to guide you to Lathander's shining path."
Dhaunre smiled, "I wouldn't be too concerned. Like any of us, I honor all the Seldarine, though I suppose I identify most with Correllon, being the aspect of war and all. I think its fair to say I'm a fighter, not a lover." She chuckled at her own joke.
Thorkin scrutinized her, "Ye still take too long."
Dhaunre looked at him, "Well, I'm just not the skilled warrior that you are."
"Ye got that right," he grumbled, gnawing on a roll, "And don't ye be forgettin' it either."
Sharain grinned, "I doubt you'd let any of us forget it."
Wesley chortled, and waved his roll in Sharain's direction, as if pointing to him, "And you? Where do you hail from and whatever got you into a job like this?"
Sharain's eyes glinted as he prepared to tell a story, something he was a quiet master at. "As I sit and taste this humble fare, I think myself truly the fool for abandoning the unhindered beauty and magical spectacle of Evermeet. The air here has the tang of humanity, and is missing the crisp freshness off the mountains, or the sweet salty taste of the sea. Evermeet itself is a poem brought to life, a living breathing testament to the unity possible between elves and their world. How far short Waterdeep falls of that idyllic landscape. So why would I deign to descend to the realm of man when I have known only the poetry and beauty of Evermeet all my days? Because perfection, while a lovely thing, makes for a poor tale in the telling.
"And truly, in order to find my way as a musician and tale-teller, I must live in the world as it is, and let the world know me. Of course, the place to start any journey of this magnitude is in the bustling metropolis of Waterdeep. But alas, the work for musicians is thin and requires a certain reputation be established. With the work being thin, so too was my purse. And hence I was led to Jergenson and his band of merry sludge swillers to pad my purse and my repertoire."
The room had grown quieter with the musical lilt of his voice. His rhythmic cadence was well-practiced and designed to hold the attention of listener, no matter what he was saying. The expectant silence drew him to continue.
"Now surely Waterdeep is as full of marvels as any mortal could stand. It seems as the whole of the world meets in this one place to share the richness of their cultures, and, as I have heard only in the whispered rumors of shadowed tavern corners, there is as much Waterdeep above the ground as below. Above, the ever-present haunting scent of the sea, stilled the harbor, seems to permeate all things, adding a briny touch to the air and salty taste to every bite.
"But I often think the truth of things is found beneath the surface, the darker, danker aspects that one does not wish polite company to discover. Surely, the unwanted bits of Waterdeep that pass through her drainage system reveal the truth of the city? And I don't just mean the refuse you would expect, such as food gone bad, or other things much less palatable; I mean the living refuse. What has Waterdeep tried to wash away from itself, to keep the surface as lovely as possible? These peoples may well be the very best sources for character, their lives the stories I have been hoping to tell and never would have known about from the lofty shelter of lovely and perfect Evermeet."
His voice dropped off closing the poetic tale, and merited light applause from those tables close at hand. He smiled graciously and nodded his head in a sort of bow, before raising his tankard in an informal salute. Sharain looked over the rim of the Tankard as Jergenson sidled up to the table and sat down between Alek and Dhaunre.
"T'was a nice show there, Elf," he said amicably.
"Your compliment is an honor," Sharain replied, not showing he was offended in the slightest by being called "elf." After all, he could be called "lass" as Jergenson was wont to call Dhaunre.
"I don't suppose you lot could well remember where ye were when ye found those smugglers this morning, could ye?" Jergenson spread the oily map on the table, shoving the bowls of food out of the way, "This here is where ye were supposed to go in, and this here is where ye were supposed to come out. Assumin' ye did as told, where were ye seeing these smugglers ye were talking of?"
Sharin scrutinized the map, "Here." He pointed to the side tunnel where the conflict had taken place, "We found the kobolds here."
Jergenson looked at the map, leaning across the table, "That's an overflow tunnel. You see, here it follows this path, but on the map it seems to dead end. Overflow tunnels usually terminate in natural caverns or pits to take on the excess water from bad storms or heavy thaws. Not a shabby idea. The tunnels are largely dry and the caverns they end in can have plenty of nooks and crannies for hiding things. Of course, one flooding rainfall, and the whole thing is underwater, all the good ruined. What were they bringing in?"
Wesley piped up, "Magical potions of some sort. I haven't had time to analyze them yet or try to break them down into components. They had the boxes wrapped to look like bolts of cloth. Pretty clever if you ask me. Makes me curious as to who's behind it."
Dhaunre got up on her knees in the chair and peered over the bowl of venison skewers at the map. She pointed with the skewer in her hand, recently divested of its meat, at the tunnel they were talking about, "What alleyway is this under? Could the alleyway be used to moves the goods above and below ground?"
"Not likely," Jergenson said, "Overflow tunnels don't have openings to the streets above. They aren't needed. Besides, the system is designed so that all openings into the sewers are in major thoroughfares. It's hard to get in and out of them without being noticed."
"What about a basement?" Alek asked, "Since this tunnel is a bit higher than the normal sewer tunnels, would it be easier to gain access from a basement? Say, if someone were wiling to take the time to dig and reinforce a hole?"
"Not impossible," Jergenson said thoughtfully, "I don't suppose you lot would be up for checking that out would ye?"
"Do we look nuts?" Dhaunre asked.
"Of course we are," Wesley said at the same time.
Jergenson looked at the pair, "Aye, you do look nuts, which is why I asked ye. And yer friend here confirms yer insanity. So I'll be expecting a report from the lot of ye on the morrow then, after ye've had a chance to travel up the overflow pipe. Remember it's keep what ye take, and who knows what sort of riches could be hiding in there?"
Dhaunre glared at Wesley, "I'm just concerned that we don't know what we're going into and we could well wind up in way over our heads."
"Well," Jergenson said, "If ye don't surface, I'll send in two teams to come find ye."
Dhaunre sucked in a breath and looked at the others at her table, "When it comes down to it, I've not got much say. We just have to agree."
"Well, I'm in," said Wesley.
Sharain nodded, "Sounds like it could be a good story."
"I'm always up for bashin' criminals," Thorkin nodded.
Alek frowned at Dhaunre, trying to think of what to say, "While I agree that we could get into trouble, I think the reward outweighs the risk."
Dhaunre let out her breath, "Then I'm in."
Jergenson smiled, his teeth yellowed and a little crowded in his mouth, "Well then, Good on ye! Next round of drinks is on me, and You lot have a good night and good meal. I'll hear from ye in the mornin'." He pushed away from the table quite satisfied with himself, leaving Dhaunre that itching sensation of a lamb being led to the slaughter.
She looked around the table, "Well, then, at least we have a plan for in the morning. So what do we intend to do with the night?"
Thorkin looked almost thoughtful, "What say we drink ourselves into a stupor so maybe you'll forget your cowardice in the morning?"
Alek moved quick to cover, "Or dull our senses so maybe it doesn't smell as bad?"
"It's not cowardice, good dwarf," said Dhaunre, "More of a judicious sense of survival. I learned to fight to stay alive, not just to kill."
Thorkin nodded, again the thoughtful look almost approached, "Indeed, but ye take too long. Leaning on your longer lifespan to help you outlive your foe won't do much good for the blade in his hand then. Besides, ye keep fallin' all o'er yerself like that, you'll do yerself in long before they do, unless they die for laughin' at ye." He cheerily hoisted his tankard at her.
"Again," she said the wryness edging her tone, "I bow to the obviously superior skill present before me. Tell me Master Dwarf, how many years of training did it take to learn to thrash yourself about like that? Is there a particular method? Are you more favored to thrash right or left?"
He raised a bushy orange brow at her, "I think my method, though obviously not as artistic as yours, is by far more effective."
"On things you can get a hold of maybe," she countered, "When coming up against someone with similar training to mine, or even a wily caster, you won't be able to get close enough for the kill. Furthermore, I'm inclined to say that my costs for armoring myself are both more effective and more sanitary."
"War's not pretty, Princess," he grumbled, "Ye should get used to that."
"War may not be pretty," she countered, "But I certainly can be." She made an exaggerated movement to toss her hair off her shoulder, the jagged knife cut only adding to the comical effect. "See how the bruise on my chin sets off my eyes? The glisten of salve on my shoulder? Aren't I just desirable? Mayhap you need to envision my legs bare, but for the blood soaked bandages?"
"I'd need a lot more to drink to envision you lovely," Thorkin grinned over his tankard.
She nodded, visibly sobering, "I understand I'm a spot clean-shaven for your tastes. I regret that I cannot grow so lovely and lush a beard as yours."
He nodded, "So do I."
The entire conversation was punctuated with cautious laughter from Wesley and Sharain, while Alek watched quietly, hoping things wouldn't get out of hand. A barmaid brought over another round of tankards and these were passed around to ensure everyone had a fresh and full one.
Just before Dhaunre and Thorkin got started again, the room fell quiet to the tuning of a lute. A minstrel had taken the top of a table, tall and broad-shouldered, his sandy hair fell just so over his brow, and his blue eyes glittered in the flickering light of the lanterns. He keyed the lute again, just to make sure of it's tuning before raising his head and inhaling to begin.
"The Tavern Light!" Came the shout form the other side of the room. The outburst stopped the minstrel in his track and he turned his head laughing, "Well I don't normally take requests until I've at least warmed the crowd up. But you all seem to have gone and gotten warmed up without me. All right then. I am but a humble unworthy servant to a demanding public."
He started the chords on his lute, "Sing along if you know the words, and if you don't know them by the end of the song, then I need to drink more to catch up with you!"
Tales told by tavern light
Make all the wrongs seem right
Life ne'er looks so pale
When seen through a glass of ale!
The minstrel looked around the crowd and picked out a barmaid.
Such a lovely lass was Mae
With a bosom full as bales of hay
And such a sweet round bum
It made you wish to smack her mum
For havin' one so unlike hers!
The chorus came round again, giving him the chance to pick through the crowd to make up another verse.
A quick and nimble boy was Timmy
Up the drain pipes he would shimmy
To hide behind the fresh-washed sheetsAnd view all the ladies' tasty treats
Good thing he learned to hold on one-handed!
By the third go round, the entire tavern was singing along boisterously. His eyes fell across Dhaunre, and did a double take before starting.I met a lass from across the sea
Long and tall as a willow tree
'I am a lucky lass' said she
'to have three men to service me'
And a dwarf to tie my shoes for me!
Dhaunre blushed horribly, and hid her face in her hands, hiding either her embarrassment or her laughter as the chorus started round again.This song could go through winter's snows
It could last through spring's stiff blows
The folk one wouldn't greet in the street
But whence they buy the round at the bar,
Friends for life they surely are
Tales told by tavern light
Make all the wrongs seem right
Life ne'er looks so pale
When seen through a glass of ale!
He finished the song with a flourish, and winked at Dhaunre. She saw this through her fingers, which were still hiding her face. The men at her table looked into their tankards in what appeared to be deep thought, their own embarrassment hidden in the golden glow of the warm lanterns of the House of Good Spirits.
When she was able to look up at her dining companions, she only managed a smile and shook her head at them, "How silly was that? I'm sorry to have embarrassed you."
Alek brushed it off, ever the artist at maintaining an even keel in conversation, "But it's an honor to be noticed by Danilo Thann. He's quite the talent. Trained by your own people I understand it. Probably not that song in particular, but he has many very lovely songs in his repertoire."
Sharain laughed, "No, I imagine not quite that particular song. But he does know how to rouse a crowd. We should be honored that he noticed us."
"Fer the motley crew we are!" bellowed Thorkin. "How could we nay stand out to anyone, such a strange lot we are?"
Wesley grinned, "Then we're off to a stunning start. Fame and fortune, here we come!" He hoisted his tankard in a toast, and the others joined him. "To fame and fortune yet to be!"