AN: This is the beta'ed version. Enjoy
My children, it was many, many years ago when I met the Lady of Merne Dark, Phaeliandron Daergel. She was not the Lady of the Dark then; she was a wandering vagabond, freed from her cruel family and still bound by the needs of her worldly form. I was not myself then either, or at least I thought myself someone far different than Naïlo Meliamne. It was she, beloved Lady Phaeliandron, who gave us all the life, the freedom as we know it.
The traveler who had just stepped in the door of the Water Mark Tavern was cloaked in mystery and mud. The latter was easily recognizable as the muck churned up in the streets from the heavy spring rains. The former, however, though easily recognizable stuck to the figure and shrouded them in incongruity.
The creature was garbed from head to ankle in a thick oiled-wool cloak of indeterminate color, lined in fur. Close fitting boots were visible underneath the garment but disappeared under its hem. The only other clear features were the bandaged wrapped hands that slowly inched their way toward the swords strapped over the cloak. Sensing no immediate danger the hands dropped to a casual pose at their owner's sides. They obviously had not noticed me in the shadowy corner behind all of the other custom or the hands would have stayed at the blades and would invariably have drawn them. Or they did not know any better
A barmaid approached and exchanged a few words with the stranger, then led them to the innkeeper at the bar. They were by far too far away for me to hear their words, but it became apparent very quickly that the traveler was requesting room and board for far less than Job was demanding. I watched the desperation in his motions, the way the large pack shook on his back and the quivering of the blades as they stuck out from his body at odd angles.
I signaled the pretty, little barmaid over to my secluded table and whispered my request into her ear. She scampered off to tug at the innkeeper's apron. He leaned over as she repeated my message in his ear. He nodded his head, satisfied, and proposed my offer to the obviously weary traveler.
The traveler turned, located me in the gloom and hesitated. This I had expected, I saluted him with my tankard and gestured to the empty bench across from me. The traveler hesitated still and warred over the need for food and anonymity. I could not tell which won even as he turned back to the innkeeper, but he warily approached my table.
"I am known as Damian," I greeted him. "Be welcome and be seated."
"I am welcomed," the traveler replied in an oddly husky tone.
He removed his pack and set it on the floor by the bench. However, he removed neither sword nor cloak, merely adjusted them to allow him to sit. I noticed then the size of blades he carried. Both of them were nearly as tall as he was, the frogged baldric one of them was specially rigged so that the blade sat high enough as not to scrape the ground. I goggled at him using just one of the enormous swords at a time. I would never believe it if he told me he used both of them at once.
We sat in silence until the barmaid brought tankards of ale and a trencher of the mid-day meal. Even more warily than he had approached the traveler scooped up a bit of the stew with his flat spoon and brought it carefully to his shadow shrouded mouth.
"It's not poisoned if that's what ails you," I told him gently.
He started guiltily and quickly put the spoon in his mouth.
"Job is an honest man and will do his best to run a good place if a little shopworn. And he's the cleanest place in all of Faegelnor. I have a permanent room."
I could feel his eyes on me as I spoke. I could tell that were I able to see them, they would show nothing but wariness. He ate only a little while seeming to consume far more of the stew. I saw the wince in the tightening of his bandaged hand on the tankard as he took a sip of the sharp, bitter ale. He sipped it only occasionally after that. I sympathized with him, and wondered why I hadn't ordered another tankard of my special store of un-alcoholic drink when I knew he was a fighter and needed to keep his wits about him.
"What is it you do, Damian?" he asked in that odd voice.
"Is it not obvious?" I asked stroking the strung longbow that leaned against the table. "I am a mercenary, a marksman and an assassin."
"Oh," the boy said. I was sure he was of a tender age, his naivety and minimal height belied him. "And what brings you here?"
"Come now, boy, I've parted with far more than you have. I've not even been given a name."
"Oh, forgive my impoliteness. I am called Orient."
"What? No metal forged name like the blades you hold next to your spine like lovers?"
"No," he whispered hoarsely and looked down at hi hands in his lap. The fur-rimmed hood tipped back a little and a long lock of hair fell forward. The strands glittered a pale lavender white in the gloomy light.
"Where did you get hair like that, boy?" I hissed as I reached out to touch it.
He looked up sharply at me and the deep hood fell back. Bright eyes that shifted from red to indigo outlined in silver stared at me in shock, horror and fear. I realized that this was no boy and no human either. I was staring a female drow in the face. It was possible that she was between one and several hundred years old. She was a heresy, a witch, an enemy and impossibility. In those moments of realization half of the mystery fell away and sudden what she was wearing made complete sense.
She cowered away from me as I stared at her shocked and dumbfounded. She scrambled to get her hood back into place and grab her pack to escape. Luckily I came out my stupor and grabbed the bony wrist wrapped in bandages before she was gone.
"Pull your hood up again, girl, and sit down before anyone else recognizes you for what you are," I hissed at her.
I could see the fear in her eyes, but she did as I demanded. I picked up my tankard and took a hefty swallow to calm my nerves. The drow took the unintended hint and tried to look as casual as possible in the middle of a crowd of humans in which someone knew she was not. I scanned the rest of the tavern. The girl had been so silent that none of the other customers had noticed the little scuffle. We sat and fiddled with what was in our hands for a few minutes in an uncomfortable silence.
"Why don't we go up to your rooms to talk?" I suggested. "You tell Job you don't wish to be disturbed. I will follow in a few minutes."
She nodded carefully and rose to follow the course my words had set. I watched her walk to Job, pack in hand, and take the heavy key he held out to her. As she turned and took the steps to the upper level, I realized that the cloak concealed a swish of skirts and not breeches as female fighters normally wore. I waited in my seat in the corner of the tavern of Water Mark Inn in Faegelnor and wondered what trouble I had gotten myself into. Scrubbing my hands through my very short hair I sighed and resigned myself to another interesting adventure.
It was not difficult to tell which room belonged to the drow. Job was a man accustomed to catering to the wishes of sell-swords. He knew that all of them wanted at least two escape routes in any place they inhabited. That meant that the other back room overlooking the courtyard that housed his stables went to any sell-sword that came along before he gave them the smaller rooms that overlooked the street. Job, who was of course a keen businessman, charged more for the back rooms.
So I knocked on the outer door of the back room that adjoined mine. She called out for me to come in. I pushed the door open, stepped into the bright room and locked the door behind me. I had to search to find her though. She was huddled in the corner away from the bed and the windows, hiding her face. Her swords were askew and half out of their baldrics. She looked the part of a miserable and frightened urchin.
"What's wrong with you?" I asked as I approached.
She said something I could not hear. I asked her to repeat it and got a garbled reply about light. Then it dawned on me, she was a creature of darkness and the light impaired and harmed her. I immediately crossed the room to pull the covers off the bed for use as makeshift drapes. Tucking the edge out of the window effectively achieved what I was aiming for. But when I was done the room was as dark as a cave. I had always had terrible night vision so I was no longer capable of seeing anything.
"Thank you," I heard her say.
I was blind, only what I could hear told me about my surroundings and she was so silent I no longer knew where she was. Then I heard a sound, the faint jingling of small bits of metal as they touched each other. It grew slightly louder and I realized, she, by virtue, drew closer. I found that I could see, but only two gleaming, faint silver circles. And I knew I was seeing her eyes, the eyes I had thought red.
She touched my face with a hand still covered in rough bandages. The silver circles drew closer until I could make them out very clearly. The eyes stared at me, measured me, weighed the possible outcomes and backed away. The circles and the jingling of metal became faint again, and then disappeared altogether. I stood stock still where I was trying to make out anything in the darkness. I made out the sliver of light at the bottom of the door to the hall way. I had just begun to inch toward the door when a light appeared.
The soft glow of a candle lit the room. I could see the drow standing over the flame without her cloak, but her two oversized blades still strapped to her back. She smiled and seated herself at the table. Now it was my turn to be hesitant, but after a second I joined her at the table. I looked at her. Above the table I could see part of the exotic dress she wore. It looked like a patchwork of red and black silk, but it wasn't. The dress bodice covered everything important, but each section of black was a peek-a-boo of her ebony skin. It took me several more seconds to bring my eyes to meet hers.
When I finally looked up I saw a small smirk, a smug one. Now that we were alone, and out of bright light, she was at home. She was in control of the situation and my response I realized because the dress was engineered to evoke the dropped jaw response. This was the kind of drow I was used to dealing with. So I forced myself to ignore it.
"Why did you not reveal me," she inquired as she slowly unwound the bandages from her flawless hands.
I did not respond for a moment, and then I turned it around and threw it back at her. "Why didn't you kill me just now, like any other drow would have?"
"Because I'm not any other drow and everyone deserves a fair chance. That and I have the upper hand."
She smiled at me then, a bitter smile that spoke of pain and misfortune. "Even when one has the upper hand most other drow do not deserve the chance."
"You are different. I could tell from the moment you walked in the door."
She smiled again, a real smile that reached those odd eyes. The eyes that flickered from red to indigo depending on the way the light hit them. "Before you knew that I was a drow."
"The way you acted down there would have been an act to any other drow. What you felt was real, I could see it in every motion you made. That made you deserve the fair chance. By the way, you asked me what brought me here. Would you still like to know?" She nodded. "Work, night work. I've been offered a job assassinating the overbearing mayor of the neighboring city."
"You mean in Hydell?" she wanted to know.
"Yes. The self-styled, Lord Oriss is overtaxing and restricting his people to the point of affecting the trade."
"I know. I spent all of an hour in that prison before I headed here."
"I have three weeks to accomplish the feat, but I fear I cannot do it alone," I told her. "I know nothing of the man and his habits and therefore have no way to corner him."
"Is that an offer I hear?" Se smiled again, an amused and thoughtful curve of those full black lips.
"It could be. I would need to see your fighting skills before I could make it definite."
"How much is the take?"
"Five thousand bits apiece."
Her eyes went wide. "Gold?"
I nodded. "Payment upon show of the pendant the man wears and his heart."
"Who wants him dead? The Emperor?"
"Close enough. Deal…?"
She caught the meaning of the pause. "For now it's still Orient." She held out her arm and I caught it up at the elbow. "It's a deal, Damian."
I let go of the delicate and callused hand. Pushing the chair back, I rose and headed toward the door. "Meet me in the courtyard after dark. We'll see how good you are with those blades of yours. The first blood will seal our contract."
"Until then," she said as I closed the door.
That was how I met Phaeliandron Daergel. My life was never the same after that odd and exhilarating afternoon. I hardly knew that I had gained the companion of a lifetime not just a one-time mercenary. There were changes that came after that day that could hardly have been expected by anyone.