THE HEARTS OF KNOWLEDGE
A Dungeons and Dragons: Forgotten Realms adventure
Albrec Twinblade crouched low to peer under the fern. The halfling scanned the camp in the orange glow cast by its flickering campfire. His wary gaze panned over the human stretched before the flames. The human was clad in an austere dark blue tunic, brown trousers, and soft leather boots. A huge warhorse stood near its master, intent on its grazing. A set of plate mail armor and a saddle lay under a greatsword propped against a tree trunk. Albrec didn't miss the purse tied to the human warrior's belt, and he licked his lips when he saw the half-eaten side of pheasant warming on a spit over the fire. The human was probably saving it for breakfast.
Albrec backed up slowly, careful not to make a sound, and scurried from the fern. He dropped into a nearby depression. Glannor Glimm, a gnome bard clad in a garish purple tunic and black hose, preened himself in a handheld mirror. Their two ponies stood nearby with saddles and gear strapped to their backs.
"The foolish human sleeps without a guard," Albrec said to his friend.
"It has been days since we ate. My hunger I yearn to sate."
Albrec glanced toward his twin baldrics tied to the saddle of his pony. He wouldn't need the two short swords sheathed in the scabbards on the baldrics. One sleeping human was too easy, and having the weapons strapped to his back had the potential to make too much noise.
"Do you have my back, Glan?"
"Indeed I do. Call forth, and my spell flies true."
"Sleep spell only, Glan, we don't want to hurt him."
Glannor nodded and tucked his mirror into his saddlebag. "What else can I do, with spells numbering only two. Magic missile and sleep, my magic repertoire isn't deep."
Albrec quickly returned to the edge of the human's camp and waited a moment to calm his breathing. The human was still asleep.
The halfling crept into the campfire glow and stopped, eying the warhorse. It paid him no mind as it grazed contentedly. He took another step, carefully placing his foot on soft ground devoid of any sticks or other noise-making debris. Another careful step. Closer he crept, his gaze constantly flicking between the man to the horse.
The human moved. Albrec froze, holding his breath.
The human rolled onto his side, but never stirred.
Albrec exhaled slowly, quietly, and resumed his calm breathing. He moved ever closer to the human.
This was too easy, he thought. The purse on the human's belt was in plain sight and would be easy to take.
But that wasn't his goal. Instead, Albrec reached for the spit with the pheasant meat.
Albrec and Glannor both had plenty of coin, but out here in the unsettled world, with no sign of civilization for leagues, the gold and silver in their purses were worthless. The half-eaten pheasant was worth more at the moment than all the coins in all their purses: his, Glannor's, and the sleeping human's.
Before his fingers closed around the grip of the spit, Albrec felt himself lifted up by the collar of his tunic. His arms and legs flailing, he craned his head around and found himself looking eye-to-eye to the human's warhorse. The beast had him gripped in its teeth!
Albrec faced forward and took in a breath to call for Glannor, but he exhaled a squeak when he gazed into the stern face of the now-awake human. The man's blond hair was too short and well-trimmed to be disheveled by sleep, and his ice blue eyes narrowed as he leaned close the halfling, their nose tips nearly touching.
"Robbing a sleeping traveler?" the human asked. "Not very hospitable, is it."
"We were hungry," Albrec said.
Glannor entered the camp dejectedly. "It is true, we are two."
"We're not very good hunters, you see," Albrec said. "Every time we tried to catch something, we'd muck it up and scare the game away. And neither one of us knows the local plant life enough to know what's poisonous and what's not."
"There was no need to attempt thievery," human said. "If you had only asked, I would have gladly shared my food with you."
"A man of your skill, we thought you'd catch another kill," Glannor said. "We believed this meal you'd naught fret, for another you'd readily get."
"Does he always speak in rhyme?" the human asked.
"You get used to it," Albrec said.
The human gave a noncommittal grunt.
Albrec pointed a thumb over his shoulder. "Um...could you tell your horse to let me down?"
"Katla, you can put him down now."
The horse sprayed the back of Albrec's neck with a snort.
"They're not a threat, Katla," the human said. "Believe me, if they had evil intent I could sense it."
Katla snorted again and set Albrec gently on the ground.
"You talk to your horse?" Albrec said.
"She's a smart horse," the human said.
"A bonded mount," Glannor said. "My first to see, on my count."
"She is indeed my bonded mount," the human said. "Pardon my rudeness. I'm Corwin Aldimar, paladin of Tyr. And that is Katla."
"I'm Albrec Twinblade of Waterdeep. This is my friend Glannor Glimm."
"Of the Waterdeep Glimms," Glannor said, bowing. "Master of ballads, marches, and hymns."
Corwin gestured toward the pheasant on the spit. "Help yourself to the bird, men. You obviously need it more than I at the moment."
Albrec and Glannor exchanged glances. Albrec grabbed the spit and yanked it off the fire. He tore off chunks of meat and thrust the morsels into Glannor's waiting hands. He ripped the remains of the meat off the bones and shoved the pieces into his mouth.
Heaven! Back home this would have been a simple meal, but out here in the wilderness it was gourmet.
The edge of his hunger dulled, Albrec slowed his eating to savor the flavor of the roasted meat. Realizing he hadn't even taken the time to sit, he plopped down in front of the fire.
"Better?" Corwin asked.
Albrec nodded, licking juices from his lips. "We owe you, sir."
"Next time try not to steal your supper."
Albrec wondered if the paladin would be as faithful to his morals if he was the one who was starving.
"Aren't you a little far from Waterdeep to be without supplies?" Corwin said.
"Between our blades, spells, and song," Glannor said, "we did not conceive to be without food for very long."
"I'm skilled with the arts of the blade and scouting," Albrec said. "Glannor is a bard of no small repute. Where do you hail from, friend?"
"Neverwinter," Corwin said.
"Methinks we are all far from home. What compels you to the Sword Coast?"
Corwin sat down and rested his forearms across his knees. "I am here at the bidding of my church."
"Must be important."
"It concerns the Triad."
"What's the Triad?"
"They are the allied gods three," Glannor said. "Ilmater, Torm, and Tyr they be."
"You must have a destination, sir paladin," Albrec said.
"Most journeys do have destinations," Corwin said. "Such as yours. What compels you to leave Waterdeep with little wilderness survival training?"
Albrec looked at Glannor. "We've hardly earned his trust by trying to steal his food," the halfling said. "Should we try to gain some of it back by revealing our important task?"
"If a paladin he truly be, then trustworthy is he," the gnome said. "We were vetted by Harpers three, and sent to Candlekeep by the sea."
Corwin rose to one knee, leaning slightly forward. "You were sent to Candlekeep by the Harpers?"
"Aye," Albrec said.
"I'm going to Candlekeep."
"Lord Nasher went to Waterdeep for a meeting of the Lords' Alliance, and when he returned to Neverwinter he asked the city's clerics of Tyr to dispatch a human warrior to Candlekeep. I was chosen."
"The three Harpers who came to Waterdeep requested that the Lords' Alliance convene. The leaders of Waterdeep, Neverwinter, Silverymoon, and other free cities of the region attended."
"Are you Harpers?"
"I'm not, but Glannor has helped them out from time to time. The Harpers who came to Waterdeep asked for Glannor specifically, and they readily agreed when he invited me along."
"It was an easy sell," Glannor said, "for they had wanted a halfling as well. I was inclined to take my best friend with me, even if out of Waterdeep never was he."
"You've never left Waterdeep, Albrec?" Corwin said.
Albrec scowled at Glannor. "I've been outside the city. Just not past its outskirts. I did patrol duty for the city guard."
"I see. Since we're all heading to Candlekeep, we may as well join company."
"Indeed," Glannor said. "And agreed."
"Well then," Corwin said. "We're all agreed."
"Shall we toast to our new alliance?" Albrec suggested.
"A toast would be fine," Glannor said, "if we only had wine."
"Sorry, can't help you there," Corwin said.
"The tenets of your order prevent you from imbibing spirits, sir paladin?" Albrec said.
"No," the paladin said. "As long as it's not in excess. I don't have any wine because it's added baggage that's not necessary for my journey."
"We can toast in Candlekeep," Albrec said.