Although of course there is a lot of satire and humour in my stories anyway, it's been a long time since I've written anything just for laughs. But recently I finished writing this tale which I now share with you. Of course, there are lots of heart warming little moments illustrating the strong bond these characters have, but mostly it's just fun so please enjoy!
The Twelve Labours of Imoen
Part One: Prologue
"I-I'm not sure this is such a good idea…" Aerie teetered bashfully on her feet. She was worried, and with good reason; Imoen had been unwell, so the others had all left her here at De'Arnise keep whilst they caught a ship all the way to Icewind Dale. There had a been a call out for adventurers from all over to help deal with some goblin hordes… it seemed like easy money and a chance for a nice vacation. Only the Avariel elected to remain behind with her friend, and now that the red head was feeling better a terrible storm was brewing. Imoen was bored.
"Trust me Aerrers, it'll be great!" Imoen winked as she leant over the pot she had on the oven. "All those stuffy bores ever do is stuff themselves with boar and talk about stuff… this'll liven things up for us, and them. Did you bring all the ingredients?"
"Yes, h-here," Aerie untied a small sack on the cabinet next to the oven, "I do think we ought to think about this a little more though… I-I'm not sure everyone has the same sense of humour you do…"
"Lighten up, will ya? It'll be funny and no one will get hurt."
"No…I suppose you're right," at least, so long as Aerie made sure Imoen used the right amounts of each ingredient, "Not too much of that!" The elf's arm snaked out and grabbed Imoen's wrist. "You… you don't want anyone to explode do you?"
"Hmm," the red head thought for a moment, "No… I suppose we don't."
Sighing wearily, Aerie leant forward and rested her head on the table. There was really no point in arguing… no matter how insane Imoen's scheme was she was going to be dragged along into it. It seemed she was just too weak to resist.
It was inevitable really that the two of them ended up doing so much together; they were both treated as the 'children' in the party, only Imoen had been around much longer so she'd assumed the big sister role which she seemed to relish. Whenever Aerie wasn't sure how she should react or behave around something or someone, she always looked to the red head. The red heads advice wasn't always helpful, but at least you know she meant well which was what Aerie considered important. Imoen always stood up for Aerie, made sure that others didn't try to take advantage of her… so really, the least the Avariel could do in return was help her with this… but of course Nalia was her friend as well and she already felt guilty just thinking about what they were going to do her…
But then, Imoen was often right… maybe she would laugh and everyone else would see the funny side as well and then everyone would have cookies…
"Quick, the bottle!" Imoen instructed urgently. Aerie immediately uncorked a small container and held it out so that the red head could pour in the now finished potion. Seconds later, just as the blonde was putting the cork back in, a visitor entered the kitchen.
"What are you two doing in here?" Lady Nalia De'Arnise, hand on hip, stood at the doorway in her luxurious blue and gold robes. Arching an eyebrow, she regarded the two other young women with great suspicion.
"Us? We were just brewing some healing potions," Imoen lied and Aerie, standing slightly behind her, nodded emphatically.
"Why? You're not going anywhere are you?"
"No, of course not… it's just always a good idea to be prepared."
"That's good," Nalia let go of her noble bearing and fell wearily into a chair at the end of the dining table (although it was only staff who ever ate in here whilst important people like her dined in the great hall). "I was afraid you were going to go and leave me with those bores…"
"Pigs, are they?"
"You got that right! They're already on their fifth course of roast chicken stuffed with bacon and showing no signs of stopping… I suppose it's worth it though. It looks certain that they'll build the new road through here which means well paid work for the local people and more trade in the future…"
"Well then silly, you need to cheer up! I mean it's all good news isn't it?"
"Yes… yes it is," Nalia forced a smile onto her very tired face, "But you two… you've been here more than a ten day now and I've hardly seen head nor tail of you. I mean… don't you like me?"
"Eh? What's brought this on all of a sudden… of course we like you, don't we Aerie?"
"I-I like you," the elf nodded affirmatively.
"There you go, and you know it's impossible for Aerie to lie."
"You're not just saying it?" Nalia twisted her finger against the table.
"Oh, sheez," Imoen rolled her eyes and sat down gently next to young noblewoman whilst Aerie went to other side of the table and did likewise. "Come on, what's bothering you?"
"It's just… all my life the people I've thought were my friends seem to keep avoiding me. It can't be the smell, can it? I have a bath every other month which is far more than the average person in Amn."
"You smell lovely," Aerie assured her friend, placing a hand supportively on her arm, "m-much better than anyone in the circus. O-only wash I ever got was every summer someone would throw a bucket of cold water over me."
"Yeah… I prefer a nice bath to these modern shower systems," Imoen nodded.
"So why do people never want to spend time with me?" Nalia asked.
"Nals… it's just," Imoen found it hard to look the noble in the eye suddenly.
"Well… you're doing all this great stuff for the good of all Amn, getting jobs for people, getting them rights, which is all very good… but, you never seem to have any time for the people actually close to you."
"It's not that no one likes you, it's just that you're always busy meeting all these other important people, or planning for the next meeting or political campaign. And we think, 'well, that's what she likes doing so we'll leave her to it'. Y'see?"
"I understand," Nalia picked herself up, "thank you for your honesty." Without betraying any emotion, she turned around and started to leave. Imoen looked at Aerie, whose face told her that the elf really didn't think it good to leave things like that, prompting Imoen to throw her arms and head back in a 'why me' gesture.
"Listen, Nal," the red head leapt up after her, "how about a holiday?"
"Sure… the others won't be back for ages so as soon as you've clinched this deal why don't the three of us go to the city and have a good time."
"We can go to the theatre!" Aerie clapped her hands together, a broad grin on her face.
"Sure… and we'll sing and dance and have a good time. Then, once we've toured the city we can down the coast and crash on the beach."
"I'll wear my straw hat!" Aerie beamed again. She had recently developed a passion for dressing up.
"So what do you say? Everyone needs a holiday now and then… even you."
"I have been feeling very tired lately," Nalia contemplated, "so it is a good idea I suppose. Yes… yes! We'll go. Just as soon as I've got those fat oafs to sign the contract."
Punching her palm and with a look of renewed determination, the noblewoman set off at once for the main hall.
"That's the attitude!" Imoen cheered after her. Moments later, she turned to Aerie. "And now, we've got to hurry too…" she shook the potion bottle a little.
"You… you're still going ahead with it?" The elf sighed. She was hoping Imoen might have given up the idea now they were going on holiday.
"Of course! This is what she needs to lift her spirits," the red head said with a knowing wink. Aerie shook and tried to hide her head in her arms. Maybe it would turn out to be a dream…
Unfortunately it wasn't, and shortly after the pair were standing outside the main hall just as a servant was running up the stairs with an amphora filled with wine.
"Oh hey," Imoen waved him down cheerfully, "we'll take that in for you. You go and rest for a bit."
"You wouldn't be up to any tricks now, would you Lady Imoen?" The servant asked suspiciously.
"Come on… you know me," the red head said, eyes fluttering innocently.
"Yeah I do… that's why I'm worried."
"Look, if anyone asks any questions later, not that they will mind, you just tell them I forced you to give me the amphora."
"Well… doesn't bother me if anything slightly unpleasant should befall these rich bastards. So long as I'm out of it."
"Excellent… you go and have a nap because I said it was okay, okay?"
"Right you are Miss. I'll be asleep throughout the whole thing… whatever the thing is."
Having procured the amphora, Imoen set it down and removed the lid.
"I-I'm still not sure about this," Aerie teetered again.
"You know me as well Aerie… when have I ever been wrong?"
"Well, i-it's not like I keep a logbook for each separate occasion but I'm sure you have been wrong before…"
"Once or twice, maybe," Imoen waved it off, "really, how often have we had this exact same discussion? And how often have you seen afterwards that there was nothing to worry about?"
"A lot… I-I suppose," Aerie sighed. It was true; she'd had these jitters before. And then Imoen's plan did turn out to be lot's of fun. Still, this was more ambitious than anything they'd attempted before…
"Do you think that's enough?" Imoen bent over and started pouring the potion into the wine.
"I think that should be plenty."
"Just need something to stir it with," the pair looked around, and then Aerie spotted and went to fetch a thin sword hanging on the wall. Despite the objections she kept raising, she found it impossible not to go along with Imoen. Even if it made her uncomfortable, it was nice to feel a part of something at least. And not get kicked all the time like in the circus.
As Imoen thoroughly stirred the mixture, Aerie walked into the corridor to keep one of her extraordinary Avariel eyes out. One of the dignitaries soon came slowly swaggering towards her from the bathrooms, his huge gut swaying from side to side. The elf stepped a little to the side to cover Imoen, but then…
"Owwwwww!" Aerie howled, jumping all the way to the ceiling and grabbing hold of the toes on her right foot. The pain caused a sudden surge of adrenalin, and she furiously started hopping after the man who had just passed her.
"Um… e-e-excuse me, sir," she said, her entire face flushing red.
"Yes?" He turned around slightly and spoke with a laboriously slow, yet elegant voice. The voice of someone used to extreme comfort and pleasure.
"You… you just trod on my foot a-and… I-I'd like an apology, please…"
"Stop whining, girl," he said and turned away.
"Wh-whining?" Aerie kept hopping towards him. "But I wasn't…"
"Well… b-begging your pardon sir, but… I-I've not spoken a word in your presence since you arrived three days ago when I said 'hello', so I hardly think this one complaint can be called whining."
"Your facts may be correct… but the truth is the very moment I set eyes on your blonde hair and heard your sweet as honey girlie voice I subconsciously labelled you according to popular cultural stereotypes. Ergo, despite having no knowledge of your background and having spent no time with you whatsoever, I have already formed an image of you in my brain as a whiner and a fake and probably rather stupid. It is only slightly possible that were I to get to know you better that image might change, but it is unlikely since I am now far too hungry to start doubting my prejudices… not that I need to explain myself to you anyway. You dumb blonde bitch."
"Oh," Aerie had to blink a few times as she took all that in. Also, by the time he'd finished, her foot was feeling much better. "I… respect your honesty, sir, e-even though I find your attitude rather callous."
"Yes, yes, of course," he waved contemptuously with one hand whilst patting his profusely sweating brow with the other, "now, since I assume you are one of the serving girls around here, I wonder why you aren't doing your job and bringing us more to eat. I'm feeling empty inside."
"I am n…!" Aerie, still fuming a little, started to protest when she felt a nudge from Imoen beside her. "Um… t-that is, we thought you'd like a drink before your eighth course," a facetious little smile appeared on Aerie's lips. Now she was starting to see the funny side.
"Hm… we could do with something to wash down the steak and onion pudding. Very well," he pushed through the doors to the main hall were nine of his companions, all from the road building committee, lounged about surrounded by fine drapes, grapes, and now wine. The two women immediately set about filling up everyone's cup.
Nalia just needed to take a moment to apply a new layer of makeup before she herself made her way to the hall; the sooner she could be rid of those bloated pachyderms the better. There was practically nothing left in the larder now, and were Jaheira to come back and find out an entire species of deer had been hunted to extinction just to provide their third course there would be hell to pay.
She didn't spot Aerie or Imoen when she arrived; the two were hiding behind a pillar waiting to see the results of their concoction. Although she did find that someone had already poured a drink for her, which was good because she needed one.
As she drank she took a moment to admire the new tapestry hanging on the wall depicting scenes from Amnish history. It had taken ten years and two hundred embroiders to make and cost her twelve thousand gold pieces… rather an extravagance for her to indulge in, but it was sure to impress visitors and help secure many business deals in the future so it was well worth every ingot. Besides, she liked it and it looked good.
"Now gentlemen," she stood and put the cup down, "I believe it's time we finalised the deal… oh, I say, are you feeling well Lord Windbreaker?"
"I'm," the well covered and well rounded noble hiccupped, then closed his eyes as he wiped away some gravy. "I'm fine my dear. Perhaps a little light headed…"
"Light headed indeed?" Someone said, a distinct note of surprise in his voice. When Lord Windbreaker opened his eyes he found himself looking down on a rather astonished committee.
"What the…?" An equally astonished Nalia said as she felt herself lifted up into the air. Around her the rest of the committee, all rather used to objects being attracted to the force of their own gravity, found themselves in the most unfamiliar position of having their bodies repelled from the ground below.
"They're like balloons!" Nalia heard Imoen's voice, accompanied by her usually infectious laughter. Aerie too was finding it hard not to giggle. "See, I told you it would be great!"
"Y-you… you two…?" The noblewoman stuttered, not believing her eyes or her ears.
"This is most unsettling," the blimp bobbing next to her drawled, "I have a delicate stomach you know…"
"Oh, shut it fatso!" Nalia sneered, her patience already wearing thin. But sure enough, the man in question's cheeks started to swell; he was going to be sick. She'd just had these floors polished as well…
"Bu… bur… burrrrrrahhhh!!" Unable to hold it in, the man had no choice but to let go. It came as no relief to Nalia to find that rather than vomit, a huge jet of flame erupted from his mouth. Whatever potion they'd used, it at least stopped him from burning himself, though it was small comfort.
"Hmmm… Nalia's looking very cross though," Aerie said, wiping away a tear.
"She's full of hot air alright! Heehee!" Imoen doubled over herself.
"Oh… I say," Lord Windbreaker was turning green also.
"No! Lord Windbreaker, turn your head…!" Nalia pleaded desperately, but it was too late. Another flame erupted, and seconds later a twelve thousand gold coins worth work of art fell to the ground as a worthless pile of ashes.
"My tapestry!" She cried, tearing at her brown locks.
"Oh… my…" Aerie gasped and covered her mouth.
"Hee!" Imoen however, kept laughing.
"That's' it!" The Noblewoman screeched. "This is not funny, you irresponsible micro-brained cretin!"
"Oh… heh… haha… I," Imoen was having to hold onto Aerie to stay upright. "Oh, I can't stop… haha!"
"I knew it was a mistake to let you stay here! Frankly, it was a mistake to ever rescue you from Spellhold… that's where a lunatic like you belongs! And as for you…"
"Er… m-me?" Aerie squeeked and pointed at herself.
"Yes, you! You know better and yet you always let her lead you around like a puppy! I'm surprised she doesn't you tricks!"
"Hey, steady on Nal," Imoen finally started pulling herself together, "Aerie's not a puppy… and anyway, I have taught her tricks…"
"Why don't you shut the hell up and let her speak for herself for once!" By now, Nalia's face was completely red. "I've had enough… GUARDS!"
Almost right away, the well trained and ever vigilant De'Arnise guards marched into the hall, resplendent in their yellow and blue liveries and spotless breastplates.
"My Lady?" The Captain looked around, confused.
"I'm up here," Nalia steamed.
"Er… why are you up on the ceiling my Lady?"
"Don't waste time asking stupid questions! Arrest those two lunatics!" The Guard Captain followed the point of Nalia's finger, and quickly realised that there was a good chance his Lady's orders were far more easily given than done. Aerie was one of the best spell casters in all Amn and had been favoured by several gods. Imoen wasn't bad either and was as slippery as a pond in winter.
"Er… these two? Are you sure my Lady? You… you do know who they are?"
"I know who they are alright! They're a couple of cretins! Now what am I paying you for, get on with it! Throw them in the dungeon!"
"You can't have us arrested!" It was now Imoen that was astonished.
"I'm the lady of these lands so I can do whatever the hell I like! Now carry out my orders!"
"Right… um," carefully, the Captain removed his helmet and stepped towards the people he had to take prisoner. "Ladies… I'm afraid my Lady has said I've got to arrest you," he nervously turned his helm around in his hands, "so, I was wondering if, as a favour to me, you would just come along quietly like… pretty please?"
"I-I think we should just go with them," Aerie whispered, "We don't want to upset Nalia more a-and it may help her to calm down."
"Yeah… I guess you're right," Imoen sighed. "We'll come along quietly… but no funny business, understand?"
"Wouldn't dream of it," the relieved Captain said. "Now, if you would kindly follow me to your cells. I'll make sure you don't get put in with any of the usual drunks and madmen."
"I suppose this means the holiday is cancelled now," Aerie muttered sadly as she was led away.
"I don't suppose anyone is going to get us down?" Lord Windbreaker asked.
"Don't worry," Nalia sighed, "the effects of these potions don't last very – " As one, the humans balloons were suddenly flung back to earth. "Ouch."
The cage door slammed shut. Aerie instantly found herself reliving painful old memories as she held forlornly onto the bars… although, this time at least her captors had a much more polite way of doing things.
"I hope it's not too claustrophobic for you in there Miss Aerie," The Captain smiled at her as he turned the key. "If you like, I could leave the window open."
"Thank you for your concern… but, I'll be alright," she smiled back.
"If you say so miss. But remember, if either of you needs anything you just call for the jailor. He'll make sure you're well taken of, and I've instructed the cook to prepare a special menu. And please don't escape until morning… I think my Lady just needs a bit of time to calm down and gather her thoughts."
"I hope so… a-and thank you again."
"Well, good night ladies," he bowed and disappeared along dank corridor.
"Definitely one of the nicest prisons I've been in," Imoen sat down on the filthy mattress. "Don't think much of the toilet facilities though," which of course consisted of a bucket and a sponge.
"I-I'm not talking to you!" Aerie huffed, and sat down sulkily on the other mattress. "In fact I don't even want to see your face," crossing her arms, she pointedly looked away.
"Because Nalia's right… I shouldn't let myself be led around by you all the time. I knew this would go wrong from the start, but you never listen to me, do you? A-and now, because I trusted you, I'm dragged down here with you."
"I'm sorry Aerie… but it's not my fault. Nalia just overreacted."
"We set fire to a priceless work of art…"
"It was ugly."
"I know… b-but it cost an awful lot of gold. She told me."
"If she wants to throw her money away on cheap tat then that's her problem. Look… you're not going to spend all night sulking are you?"
"Yes… and I've told you I don't want to talk to you," Aerie stamped her foot impetuously.
"Fine," Imoen too crossed her arms, "you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to sulk as well, so there!"
Although Aerie was trying very hard not to look at Imoen, she did, out of the corner of her eye, catch a glimpse of the red head with bulging eyes and comically pursed lips… after a few such glimpses she couldn't take it anymore.
"S-stop it!" She giggled. "Y-you look like a fish…"
"Well I'll stop sulking if you will."
"Oh… alright," the blonde elf relented.
"Everything will be okay. The jailor will bring us something to eat, we'll go to sleep and by tomorrow Nalia will have calmed down and everything will be back to normal. Okay?"
But the next day:
"How was it in our jail?" Nalia asked the defendants as they were led to the dock. "Unpleasant I hope?"
"A little damp maybe," Imoen answered, "But the room service was excellent. Almost choked on one of the prunes though." There were, she noticed, a lot of people around. Some of them in expensive robes tottering around officiously carrying scrolls and things, and opposite Aerie and herself were twelve of the local villagers. "Er… Nals, whats going on?"
"Your trial of course!" The noblewoman said with a broad smile. "Now… where's my hat and my hammer. Might as well get things started now you're here…"
"Your hat and you ha…" slowly, the nature of the situation was beginning to dawn on Imoen. "Hey… wait a minute! I object!" She shouted.
"You can't object… we haven't started yet dummy."
"But you can't be the judge!"
"Well… you're hardly likely to be impartial, are you?"
"Of course not. As far as I'm concerned you're as guilty as man seen leaving a seamstresses house with a big grin on his face. But the law states that it was responsibility of the nobility to dispense justice upon their own lands. Really, if you don't like the way we do things in this country then I don't know why you stay."
"'Ere 'ere!" One of the jurors applauded. "Blasted foreigners coming 'ere n'stealing our womenfolk! 'angings too good for 'em I say!"
"Now, now, no one is being hung," Nalia said. And then, with a sly wink, added, "at least not yet. There's got to be a trial first so that it gets done legally. Now," the young Noblewoman brought her hammer down, "This court will now hear the case of The State versus Imoen and Aerie. I sentence the two of them to…"
"Hang on!" Imoen objected again.
"Oh bother… what is it this time?"
"What about the case? The trial?"
"Everyone knows you did it so what's the point in wasting everyone's time? The jurors have all got homes and families to get back to. They don't be stuck in here all day."
"That's right," there was a general murmur of agreement from the jury.
"So what was the point of dragging them out here in the first place?" Imoen protested; unfortunately she knew she would probably loose the argument given she wasn't that well versed on Amnish law. Her instinct said that none of this seemed fair… but then that was probably the point.
"It's got to be done legally," Nalia explained, "never let it be said that Lady Nalia De'Arnise is above the law. Now where was I? Ah yes… your sentence. It would give me great pleasure to throw you in prison for a very long time…"
"I'm sorry Aerie," Imoen hung her head resignedly, "but don't worry. Soon as the others find out about this they'll get us out."
"… but," Nalia went on, "I though about it last night and realised that really wouldn't be much fun. So I thought of an alternative punishment. Together with the members of the road building committee, I have here a list of twelve tasks that you must perform for us. You will be of service to the community for a change and will repay the damages you've caused."
"What sort of tasks?"
"Oh… nothing too dangerous for a demi-goddess like you I'm sure," Nalia goaded, and Imoen promptly fell for it.
"Hm… go on then. Do your worst."
"Excellent!" Nalia smiled brightly. "Now then… this young man here," the young man she indicated wore apprentices robes and had sun bleached brown hair, "has volunteered to observe you and ensure that all the tasks are carried out exactly as required."
"Er… the names Ewan," he approached the defendant's dock, "I'm looking forward to working with you… Miss Aerie," he said taking and gently kissing the elfs hand, and then completely ignoring Imoen. Both females were stunned.
"And I see no reason for you not to get started right away," Nalia said. "Court dismissed!"
And so began a journey that would become a legend told for generations to come.