Prelude

Marpenoth 24 1369 DR, Year of the Gauntlet

The Harper Valliant Rowanmantle sighed as his eyes scanned through the empty lobby of the Old Skull Inn. The handsome young man, who had just turned twenty summers only days ago, ran his fingers across his smooth clean shaven head, then grabbed a white dish rag from behind the bar and began wiping down the Skull's smooth cherry wooden countertops.

"Say Val, have you seen Eyan around?" asked Val's friend Roland Heronious in his low, but soft voice. Roland, who stood a few inches taller than Val's six foot height, and who was also a few months older than his friend, was washing out the empty ale glasses from the back of the kitchen. Like Val and like his aunt Myrmeen Lhal (who just happened to be the Lady Lord of the city of Arabel) Roland Heronious was too a Harper.

Val shook his head and looked back, watching Roland put away the last glass. "Eyan's still not back from delivering ale to Elminster," he answered with a grin, suppressing the urge to laugh as soapy suds flew into Roland's thick head of jet black hair. "He probably got caught up in one of Old Beard's grand schemes to save the Realms."

Roland shook his head, muttering something about how it's always the unlikely folks who the old wizard chooses to save the world. As he removed the white cotton apron and tossed it onto a nearby chair, he said," Looks like Lady Silvermane going to need a new Ale Boy. I am just happy to have the next three days off from the Inn. Rumor has it that its going to be busy in the next few days."

As Roland went to grab his dark red cloak from the coat rack behind the bar, Val quickly finished wiping down the tables, then put away the chairs.

Just as he was about to grab the keys to lock up for the night, a loud wrapping came from the Skull's front door.

"Who in the devil would be arriving this late?" asked Roland as he walked over and opened the door. Standing in the doorway, was a tall, broad shouldered gentlemen with thick brown hair and amber colored eyes. He was dressed in chain mail armor and carried a stainless steel long sword on his belt. On the front of his armor, the man wore a white tabard that displayed the crest of the Purple Dragon, the symbol of the kingdom of Cormyr.

The man's thick mustache twitched as he looked over the two young Harpers. "I am Sir Stephen Sivill, servant to Cormyr. I would like a room for the evening. My servant is already in the stables, and surely there will be more Purple Dragons coming to Shadowdale in the days to come."

Stepping next to Roland, Val's baby blue eyes went to the man's sword, then back to the set of narrow amber orbs that lay inches above the knight's round nose. "My friend and I would like to help you sir, but we are closed for the evening," he said in a calm tome. "See, Lady Silvermane is in bed, sick with a terrible cold, so we've been taking care of the inn until she gets better. I'm sorry, but we just can't have any more visitors for the night."

The Purple Dragon's face stiffened at the young man's words. "Closed. This is an outrage. I'll have you know that I come bearing a letter from Tessaril Winter, Lord of Eveningstar." He handed Val a rolled up piece of parchment with a tiny miniature version of the Cormyrean symbol used for the wax seal.

Val opened the letter, read it, then tossed it back to Roland, who caught it with one hand.

"It says any Purple Dragons who come and stay at the Inn have a right to do so with the innkeeper's permission."

Roland's emerald eyes stared intently as he read the letter. He then ripped it and looked to the knight. "Aye it does, but as we said before Lady Silvermane is taken ill for the night, leaving us in charge. Neither my friend nor myself are going to her home and risk bodily harm as he try to rouse her. The last person who did that, found themself locked in the inn's basement."

"Barnabee was his name," Val began casually. "Very nice man he was." He turned back to Stephen and continued," Now if you want to come back tomorrow morning, I'm sure Lady Silvermane will be well enough to assist you."

Stephen's face flushed with anger. "You dare ignore an order from Lady Tessaril Winter, one of King Azoun's most trusted lords, who has been a friend to him for ages. Who in the nine hells do you think you are?"

"Oh no doubt Tessaril is friendly with Azoun," Val laughed as he stood face to face with the Purple Dragon. "Much like a common tavern whore is friendly with a wealthy merchant who buys her for the evening. As for who we are good sir, I am Valliant Rowanmantle, son of Brendan Rowanmantle."

The Purple Dragon's face darkened for a moment, then twisted in confusion. "As in related to the Cormyrean noble family?"
The blue eyed Harper nodded. "As in the nephew of Lady Shaeryl Rowanmantle Amcanthra."

Roland stepped next to Val and introduced himself. "And I am Roland Heronious, nephew of Lord Myrmeen Lhal."

This made Stephen let out a chuckle. "You want to talk about whores Sir Val-" The Purple Dragon gave a painful moan as Roland's right closed fist crushed the lower part of his jaw. The knight staggered for a moment, then fell unconscious to the floor.

Standing above the bruised Purple Dragon, Roland rubbed his hand, then looked at Val. "Looks like he won't have a problem finding a place to sleep."

"True," Val said as he watched the man's jaw begin to swell. "Good punch I must say, but why did you get to hit him and not I?"

"Because you're better than tying knots than I am Val."

"I'll grab the rope then, but what will Lady Silvermane say when she finds him tied up in the lobby?"

Roland grinned mischievously to his friend. "Who says we're going to leave him here in the Inn.

Underneath the cloudy night sky, Val and Roland walked through the grassy fields of Shadowdale and arrived at a small hill. Looking past the hill, they saw a beautiful four story wooden farm house. The house sat near the boundary of twelve acres of farmland that belonged to the infamous Bard of Shadowdale and Senior Harper, Storm Silverhand. On each corner of the farm was a very tall and very beautiful sculpted lantern that illuminated the acres of farmland.

"You think Storm is still awake?" Roland asked as they proceeded towards the farmhouse.

"Why wouldn't Storm be awake," Val answered quietly. "She is a Chosen of Mystra, and she doesn't need to rest, save the occasional nap she takes once every eight days."

The two friends continued towards Storm's house, but stopped when they spotted the silver haired bard standing outside, wearing a long white shirt and leather breeches. She appeared to be talking to a middle aged, but very beautiful woman, who was dressed in similar leathers as the Bard of Shadowdale. Flanking her on both sides were two very strong looking Purple Dragon Knights.

"Tessaril," hissed Val as he and Roland made their way to the two women, their ears picking up bits of their conversation.

"...and that's why Azoun and Vangerdahast have laid this charge to Eveningstar," Tessaril said as the two young Harpers approached where she and Storm Silverhand were talking. "With Castle Krag as a stronghold, Cormyr could help protect Shadowdale from Zhentarim forces, and other dangerous foes." Tessaril turned to regard Val and Roland. "And what are you doing here?" Shouldn't you both be drunk at the Inn, trying to bed some noble lasses? Like mother like son."

Up until the last few words, Val wasn't sure if Tessaril's comment was directed towards him or Roland, but upon hearing the last part of the Lord of Eveningstar's sentence, Val's voice exploded with anger as he yelled," That's rich, coming from a dirty whore who still beds a married man."

The taller of Tessaril's body guards stepped close and pushed Val. "You have no right talking to Lord Tessaril like that."

Val balled his fists and stared at the Purple Dragon who had just pushed him. "We're not in Cormyr, so her presence has little power here." That said, he sprang forth and tackled the Purple Dragon, pummeling the man's face with fast, but powerful punches.

Before the second of Tessaril's bodyguards could react, Roland grabbed the man by the chest and flipped him in a fast suplex. Pinning his foe to the ground, Roland began head butting and striking hard with his fists.

Tessaril looked at Storm, her face filled with concern for her men. "Aren't you going to stop this?"

Storm Silverhand sighed and muttered an elven curse as she plucked the two Harpers from off of the two Dragons.

After Storm took her hand off of his shoulder, Val smiled down at the knight he had taken down, counting the many imprints of tiny hammers that now decorated the knight's face and forehead, which had from the magical ring Val wore on his right hand.

Tessaril glared at the two younger Harpers, then looked at the Senior Harper. "We will discuss this later." As soon as her men rose from the ground, the Lord of Eveningstar walked away, her men in tow.

"It looks like you two made her mad," commented Storm as she patted both Harpers on the back, a thin smile on her lips.

Both Val and Roland shrugged it off, as if upsetting the Lord from Cormyr had meant nothing to them.

"So what did she mean by Cormyr wanting to make a stronghold from Castle Krag?" asked Val.

Storm shook her head, then headed back to the farm house. "Come on you two. I'll make you both some tea and we'll talk about it."