Since my laptop died with Chapter 38 of WDR trapped firmly inside it, I've been a little bit miffed (to put it lightly) and supremely demotivated... rather than dwell in the doldrums, however, I've decided to write a little piece of original D&D fiction I've been toying around with for a while in my head – hopefully, writing this will help me overcome my annoyance at having to re-write an entire battle scene!
Where WDR is more epic in scope, The Prisoner is a smaller setting – it is also (and will continue to be) quite (okay, decidedly!) adult in nature, and so reader discretion is definitely advised.
All characters in the Prisoner belong to Mistress Elysia (me!) - all settings (Faerun) and concept races belong to Wizards of the Coast.
Sinking into a sea of molten red, the sun set slowly over the vast, sparkling deeps of the Dragonmere, the dim, crimson light it emanated an indication to all who dwelt within its walls that soon it would be time for the city of Suzail to slumber once again.
As the principle city of Cormyr, Suzail prided itself in being ordered, law abiding and chivalrous... at least upon the surface. Dig deeper, however, and as with anywhere and everywhere, something that lay long and festering would soon be uncovered, like a scabbed wound thought healthy left too long to abscess and putrify.
Raising her head to watch pink tinged clouds drift lazily along the horizon, the mackerel-skin patterns they painted upon the sky a possible indication for later rain, Ellie propped her chin in one hand, lost in thought.
To be a bird... To see what lay beyond that horizon...
"Ellie; your throw."
Pulled violently from her musings and brought back to reality with a rattling clatter, the rogue shook her head slightly and took the roughly carven tumbler that had been thrust her way in one hand; shaking it three times for luck, she raised her top lip in a slight sneer as she released the dice, waiting to see if Mask still favoured her in games of chance.
A triple four.
"How in all the nine hells do you do that?" Bran snorted in annoyance, throwing down his tankard of ale, the golden liquid slopping down its sides to stain the top of the ancient table they were sat at a dark, sticky brown. "That's the fourth time you've beaten our throws!"
Grinning, Bear downed the last dregs of his pint and wiped a massive, grubby hand across his thickly bearded chin. "Ah, Bran; it's all in the wrist!" He winked in what he thought was a lascivious way at the rogue sat across the table from him. "Ain't it so, Swift?"
Raising an eyebrow, Ellie shrugged shoulders too thin and sinewy to be considered entirely comely. "I don't know, Bear... when it comes to wrist movements, I imagine you're the guy to ask."
At her good natured jibe, the barbarian grinned. "These wrists might have seen enough action, lass, but this tongue – that's seen more. Maybe ye should stop by one day and see what it has to offer?"
Chortling a little into what remained of his drink as Ellie desperately tried to think of a good rejoiner, Bran raised both his eyebrows, his dark, rat-like eyes glinting in amusement. "Seems like something's caught her tongue, Bear! Maybe she needs yours as a spare?"
To this, Bear said nothing and just waggled his offending appendage at her through a mouthful of broken, crooked teeth.
"Are you upsetting my girl again?" a soft yet dangerous voice suddenly asked, seemingly coming from nowhere. Turning their heads, both men just grinned.
"Aww, Caelan, we're just playin'" Bran answered, holding up the dice cup to the half elf who had just joined them. "She keeps winnin' and winnin' – she deserves it!"
Setting a tray of drinks on the table, Caelan cocked an eyebrow. "Is that so? Ellie... are you relieving these good men of their hard earned gold?"
Unable to do anything but snort in amused incredulity, the rogue shook her head. "Hard earned? Their ill-gotten gains?" She grinned. "In that case, yes; I am."
Giving her a sly smile back, the half elven assassin nodded. "Good girl..."
Reaching forward for a fresh pint, Bear rolled his eyes and clucked his tongue disdainfully. "Yer onna losin' streak there, Bran – y'know Caelan'll always be sidin' with the one that warms 'is furs..."
Taking a pull of his own ale, Caelan suddenly narrowed his cold, blue eyes at the barbarian. "I don't think I like your implication, Ragnar..."
Noticing a distinct drop in temperature, Bran and Ellie shared a slightly apprehensive look as Bear sat up and visibly bristled at Caelan's quiet threat.
"I think it's probably better if we all just forget the silly game and think about tonight, yes?" the rogue broke in, reaching for her own drink and laying a placating hand upon the assassin's knee in a way their companions could not see. "When do we have to meet Meren?"
Feeling her hand upon his leg, Caelan glanced towards her, a ghost of a smile dancing crookedly upon his lips. "Once the sun has set. We collect our payload and then make our way to the docks; there we will find a ship waiting that will take us to Pros. From there, we make our way along the coast to Westgate and hand him over. A simple job."
Frowning, Bran took another swallow of his beer. "Meren give any more indication as to what this poor sod done? Why's he need us to escort 'im across? Why not send 'im with one of the Purples?"
Caelan shook his head. "Lord Meren has decided to keep his counsel to himself... and for the amount of gold that has been promised to us for a simple escort job, I would say the details are irrelevant." He smiled knowingly as he took another sip from his drink. "And I would think it was obvious why he wouldn't want to send him with one of the Purple Knights... they would want to try him for his crimes here, and that is exactly what Lord Meren does not want."
Snorting into his tankard, Bear shrugged. "I don't care what ee's done; easiest spot o' gold I ever did earn, so I ain't complainin'."
At this, Caelan inclined his head graciously to the much larger man. "My sentiments exactly."
"But what if he's innocent?" Ellie asked, without thinking.
Offering her a slightly withering look, the half elf set his drink down carefully. "Whether he is innocent or not is not our problem, Elliana, and you would do good to remember that. A misplaced sense of justice is not what Meren has hired; discretion and confidence that his wishes will be carried out is."
Glancing a little shamefacedly at the floor, Ellie nodded meekly. "Yes, Caelan."
The assassin then looked up to the two other men. "This goes for you both, too. This... prisoner is worth a lot of money to us; all we have to do is deliver him to Lord Meren's associates in Westgate. Nothing more." He then took his glass and drained it as he glanced out of the grimy window towards the dying sun. "We don't have long. I shall meet you by Lord Meren's estate in an hour." He then raised his eyebrow in an unspoken question at the ranger. "Ellie?"
Smirking to themselves, the Bear and Bran said nothing as the rogue stood up, picked up her bow and followed the assassin out of the bar.
In what felt like a matter of minutes after tumbling into a rented bed together, Caelan rolled off Ellie's naked form sweating and mumbling something in elven at her, leaving him sated, but her feeling largely unsatisfied. Still, he was a marked improvement upon her previous lovers, and anyway, as her mother had always told her, he was the one that counted; women were merely vessels, and any kind of pleasure you could derive from any such encounter was just a bonus, and whilst her encounters with the half elf weren't exactly earth shattering, he wasn't entirely blind to her needs either, unlike some of her past engagements.
Sitting up, she shook her auburn hair from her face as she felt the slightly unpleasant sensation of his seed trickle from her down one white thigh; glancing around to look down at him, he ran a hand through his long dark hair and looked up at her, his gaze lingering over her naked breasts as a lazy, covetous smile curled at the edges of his thin lips.
"Love... lie down. We don't have to go anywhere yet. It might be a while before we get to lie together again..." He quirked an eyebrow in what he thought was an alluring manner; Ellie, however, just thought it made him look vaguely confused.
"I will in a moment," she replied, smiling at him in a way that she hoped didn't betray her inner conflict. "I want to go and clean up. I'll be back in a moment."
Before he could comment, she stood up, pulled on her now-rumpled breeches and tunic, padded her way over to the door and made her way down the corridor towards the bathroom located at the end of the hallway. Wrinkling her nose at the slightly sour smell that emanated from the room, Ellie entered, locked the door and proceeded with her ritual cleansing, trying all the while to shake the nagging feeling that this wasn't the way things should be. Once completed, she glanced up to the cracked mirror that hung above a rust stained sink and regarded herself: wide, green eyes, inherited from her mother; ever so slightly pointed ears, evidence of a distant elven heritage from a father she had never known; reddened, bruised lips from the attentions of a lover she no longer truly care for. All of a sudden, she felt a crushing wave of self loathing and disappointment so intense she found herself gasping for breath; when had this happened? There had been a time when all she craved had been Caelan's attention; when his touch had inflamed her to the very core... now, as she washed away all trace of his intrusion from her body, she felt nothing but a vague sense of revulsion and shame.
Had she ever loved him? Or had he been just another infatuation? He seemed to love her... since he had claimed her as his own, a good six months ago, he had – as far as she knew, anyway – given up upon casual dalliances and whoring; he spoke nicely to her, brought her gifts, praised her abilities to the point where he had allowed her to join his merry little band of cut-throats and reprobates as an archer - not bad for a Luskan-born gutter rat and daughter of a copper-a-trick whore, she thought bitterly as she cupped her hands and plunged them into the tepid water that ran from a leaky tap, splashing her face in an attempt at cleansing away her doubts, chastising herself for wallowing in self pity when she should be grateful to have a man that seemingly cared for her.
Sighing to herself, she pulled her breeches back on and ran her damp hands through hair that was thick and red; a colour that suited the whore she had become.
Mother would be so proud...
Leaning nonchalantly against the trunk of a gnarled tree located just outside the grounds of a large house, Bran and the Bear waited in shadow. By their reckoning, the hour Caelan had afforded them was nearly up; they had left the tavern with time to spare, for it did not do to upset the assassin, lest you woke up with a dagger between your ribs... you just had to ask poor Mokar about that.
If you could find a cleric willing to speak to his spirit, that was.
"Is he going to be late? He's not going to be late, is he?" Bran asked for the ninth time, causing Bear to roll his eyes.
"Ee won't be late," the barbarian answered a little testily. "Now shut up!"
"Maybe he ain't finished bangin' Ellie?" the shorter man leered, his lips pulling back to show elongated, rodent-like teeth. "I bet she goes like a nymph with a good dose o' the springtime fever, given half the chance... One day, I'll find out, you know."
"You wanna watch what yer tongue says, Bran," Bear answered with a snort. "If Caelan finds ye lustin' after his wench, you'll find a dagger in you, not your dagger in 'er, if y'get me meanin'"
"Never say never, me old mate!" Bran cackled. "She might be grateful for the change."
"And what makes y'think she'd turn to a pox-ridden cretin like you?" the barbarian countered with no small measure of amusement.
"And why not? Some women like a man who's good with his fingers..." As if to reinforce his point, the smaller man waggled his long, spidery digits, causing them to glow briefly.
"Stop that!" Bear snapped, cuffing Bran roughly around the back of his head. "We're supposed to be hidin', yer damn fool hedge wizard!" The barbarian then folded his brawny, scarred arms over his chest. "Anyways, any woman who knows what's good fer 'er would steer clear o' the likes o' you and come runnin' to the arm's o' the Bear..."
"Runnin' to the arms of the Bear?!" Bran smirked. "Oh, do please continue; I do so enjoy a good laugh... 'Ave you looked at yourself in the mirror lately, Ragnar? 'Cos if you ain't, it might 'ave passed you by that you look like a scarred sack o' shit tied up with ugly string, mate."
"Rich comin' from a scrawny, rat-faced streak o' piss like ye," Bear bantered back, a grin now plastered across his face. "Anyway... she don't interest me. Too bony by far, aye?" He made a lewd gesture with both his hands to accentuate his point. "Not even a handful."
"There's some that say any more than a handful is just a waste, Bear..."
"Yeah? Well, yer know what I thinks o' the likes o' them?" The barbarian grinned. "They ain't ever 'ad more'n a handful, so they ain't to know!"
At his own witticism, the Bear laughed before Bran nudged him swiftly in the ribs.
"Oi, I'd be shuttin' up, if I were you..." the wizard said quietly as he gestured to a pair of figures walking towards them. "'Cos if I ain't mistaken, that's Caelan and 'is wench now."
Looking over to where Bran was gesturing, the barbarian straightened himself up and cleared his throat, before making his way to meet the assassin half way across the tidy clearing in front of the mansion.
"So... you are here after all," Caelan said by way of greeting, his tone curiously flat as the Bear and Bran finally stood before him.
"Yeah," the barbarian answered. "We was standing by that old tre-"
"I know!" interrupted the assassin. "I – and quite possibly the rest of the city – could see you! Honestly; did you think an old tree was enough of a disguise to hide the likes of you?"
Glowering slightly, Bear exchanged a look with an equally disgruntled looking Bran, but said nothing.
Rolling his eyes briefly, Caelan then fixed his attention upon the mansion in front of them; as he watched, the iron-wrought gates that heralded the entrance to the expansive driveway in front of it opened, and from within came a large, plain yet expensive looking carriage, drawn by two well-bred horses.
"Don't say anything," the assassin almost sneered at all three of them as the carriage drew nearer. "Let me speak. Do I make myself clear?"
At this, the barbarian, wizard and rogue simply nodded dumbly.
Climbing aboard the carriage, Ellie was struck by just how sparse is was inside; the dark, luxuriously opaque velvet curtains that hung at the windows that had promised opulence actually hid nothing more than a wooden shell with two benches inside it, facing one another. One bench was unoccupied - upon the other sat a man dressed in plain black and next to him, a hooded figure; upon closer inspection, the rogue noticed that a pair of heavily wrought manacles encircled the figure's wrists, effectively strapping him to the bench, meaning that no matter how hard he tried, he would not be able to stand up.
Sitting down in between Caelan and Bran, she wondered for a split second how Ragnar was going to fit inside – he was not called the Bear for nothing – until he climbed inside awkwardly, hunkered down and sat cross legged upon the floor.
Raising a disdainful eyebrow at them as they finally settled, the man in black opposite then rapped smartly upon the roof of the carriage, and with a jolt and the crunch of hooves upon gravel, they were off.
"I trust Lord Meren has appraised you of the finer details of this endeavour?" the man finally hissed after they had been travelling for a short while, his soft, breathy voice reminding Ellie a little uncomfortably of a rather high-toned snake.
Nodding, Caelan sprawled back slightly, as if to emphasise his confidence. "Yes, he has. I take it you have our passage secured... and our gold?"
Nodding, the man handed over a small yet heavy purse. "As agreed. Half now, half when the criminal is delivered to Lord Meren's associates in Westgate." He then produced a key and unshackled the heavy looking chain that led from his prisoner's manacles to a ring set in the floor of the carriage. "My advice is not to let him out of your sight."
"I wasn't planning on it," Caelan replied, inclining his head as he accepted the proffered chain.
"What crime has he committed?" Ellie all of a sudden asked, regarding the chain a little distastefully.
Narrowing his eyes, the man in black offered the rogue a shrewd look. "That is something you need not concern yourself with, my dear." he then turned his attention to the assassin. "I trust you have picked the best for this assignment?"
Shooting Ellie a furious look, the assassin nodded curtly. "Forgive my comrade's impertinent question; she is forever curious, but I assure you, she is competent." He gave the man in front of him a knowing look. "She is from Luskan, after all."
"I... see," the man in black answered, raising a perfectly sculpted eyebrow before lapsing into silence again as the carriage rattled along narrow roads at full speed towards the docks, which soon made their presence plain as the scent of salt, fish and old mud assailed their nostrils.
Feeling the carriage finally grind to a halt, Ellie glanced at Caelan, all of a sudden feeling a little nervous, but the half elven assassin offered her no comfort as the meagre, dim light that filtered through the cracks in the curtains emphasised the shadows around his eyes, making his already pale face look hollow and almost cadaverous in nature.
After exchanging a look with their unnamed contact, Caelan nodded to Bran, indicating that he should open the door to the carriage; once his wish was fulfilled and the wizard and barbarian were waiting outside, he gathered up the chain that had been presented to him earlier, and without a further word, stepped through the carriage door with the prisoner in tow, followed closely by a very apprehensive rogue.
Stepping down from the carriage, Ellie took a good lungful of the salty sea air in an attempt to calm her suddenly fractured nerves. Almost as soon as she did so, she heard the crack of a whip and the jingle of a harness as the carriage immediately moved off, leaving the four of them plus their cloaked guest standing by an almost deserted quayside. Finding the docks so quiet was something the rogue found eerily disturbing; having been born and raised in Luskan, she was used to the dockside being busy at all times of the day, no matter what the weather, and to be in a port that wasn't bustling with drunken sailors, unscrupulous merchants and whores peddling their wares at all times was something she was just not used to.
Regarding each of her comrades in turn, Ellie finally turned her attention to the convict that stood by the assassin, his cowled head bowed, his face deep in shadow. Studying him for a moment, she could see that he was not tall, that much was for sure, and now he was standing, she could see that his general build was slender, leading her to believe that he was possibly elven in heritage.
Noticing her scrutiny, Caelan scowled.
"Come on; we're booked passage on a ship that sails very soon. We have little time to waste."
Jerking on the criminal's chain a little more roughly than was possibly necessary, the half elven assassin then led them away.
Boarding a swift-looking schooner, the small band of mercenaries was led through low-ceilinged cabins lit by swaying oil lamps by a stoop shouldered, sallow-looking first mate. Clambering down a particularly steep set of wooden stairs as they descended into the bowels of the vessel, even Ellie, with her guild-honed reflexes, had to place both hands on either wall to stop herself from pitching forwards as the schooner rolled slightly with the waves that lapped almost seductively along its sides, causing the lamps to flicker and sputter.
It was Ragnar the Bear who now led the prisoner; stumbling as the boat pitched a little, the barbarian frowned as the cloaked figure nimbly managed to keep his feet, and so to mask his own embarrassment, Bear suddenly and viciously jerked the chain he was holding, forcing the prisoner to fall forwards on to his knees.
Sighing audibly, the cowled convict stood up, but said nothing.
"Don't 'ee talk?" Bear grumbled, jangling the chain once more, looking unnerved.
"He's not here to talk," Caelan replied bluntly as the first mate of the Escher produced a large bunch of keys and opened a solid oak door, in to which a small, barred window was set. Pushing the prisoner inside, the first mate then removed the key from the bunch and handed it to the assassin.
"Cap'n says only you, him and me know of this, and that is the way it stays. The crew knows we've got passengers - that's you four – but him," he jerked his head towards the cloaked figure, "they don't know about. And that makes him your responsibility, not ours. You feeds him, you keep him clean, you keep him out of sight, otherwise he goes overboard – agreement or not." For some inexplicable reason, the first mate glanced nervously around himself before continuing. "Although we've not been paid in full, we don't care; if this goes wrong, there won't be any evidence to worry about, bags of gold owed or no."
With that sentiment in mind, he nodded curtly to Caelan and left, leaving Bran, Bear and Ellie frowning slightly.
Watching the first mate climb the stairs back to the main part of the ship, Bran was the first one to look back to regard the assassin.
"What in the bleedin' hells was he goin' on about, Caelan?" He gestured to the cowled figure who was now stood passively in the cabin beyond. "Why's he afraid of him?"
Quirking a dark brow, the half elf allowed his attention to slide from his companions and towards the prisoner.
"I think it's about time they knew, don't you?" Caelan asked silkily, stepping towards the door, unsheathing his longsword as he did so. "Why there is all this secrecy..."
Turning his cowled head towards the assassin, the prisoner again said nothing.
"Come now; there is no need to be shy," Caelan smirked, his tone dangerously pleasant. "They'll find out soon enough." The half elf then raised his sword so that the very tip of it caught upon the edge of the prisoner's cowl, and raised it slightly. "Or should I do it for you?"
Jerking his head back so that his cowl slipped from the edge of the assassin's blade, the convict nevertheless remained silent.
"Why doesn't he speak?" Ellie almost whispered, now secretly wishing that the half elf would stop tormenting the cloaked figure with such relish, no matter how heinous his crimes turned out to be.
"Nothing more than a misplaced sense of pride, perhaps" the assassin sneered, raising his sword to once again tease the edge of the criminal's cowl; this time, however, the prisoner raised his gloved, chained hands and batted the blade away, causing Bear to quickly unholster the greataxe he wore strapped to his back and Bran to grasp and raise a thin, exquisitely carven bone wand.
Rather than cower from them, however, the prisoner squared his shoulders, grasped the front of his cowl and lowered it slowly, revealing a cascade of silvery-white hair caught back in a warrior's tail and midnight-black skin in which was set a crimson eye that glowed like a ruby-hued ember, whilst his other eye was hidden by an unadorned black leather patch.
Feeling her heart jolt suddenly in her chest, Ellie took an unconscious step backwards as Bear adjusted the grip upon his greataxe and Bran visibly paled.
"Oh, shitty hells, Caelan... what in Mask's name have you got us involved in this time?" the wizard breathed as the dark elf allowed his cloak to fall completely to the wooden floor, revealing the lean, well muscled physique that only a seasoned fighter could possess.
"Nothing we cannot handle," the assassin replied softly, his cold gaze transfixed almost hatefully upon the dark elf stood before them. He then looked to each of his comrades in turn. "Now you might have an inkling as to why Lord Meren required a certain measure of secrecy; a dark elf within Cormyr walls? It simply wouldn't be tolerated. All you have to remember is that despite his race and their rather... unsavoury reputation, this is nothing more than a simple escort mission. Nothing more – nothing less."
Swallowing hard, Ellie nodded, whilst regarding the drow owlishly, all the while thinking the same thing over and over again within the safe confines of her mind:
A simple escort mission indeed...