The recognizable characters appearing in this story are copyright by Wizards of the Cost, Inc. This story is written for entertainment purposes only; no challenge to the copyright holders is intended, neither should any be inferred.

A/N: This story is an adaptation of the 1906 poem The Highwaymanby Alfred Noyes. If you've never read the poem, read the story first, or else there will be SPOILERS galore! Secondly, pistols and muskets are extremely rare in the Forgotten Realms fantasy setting, but not entirely unknown. Followers of Gond the Wonderbringer have been known to make and use such weapons. Without further ado...

THE HIGHWAYMAN

Chapter 1: "Jack" & Bess

"Splendid, if I do say so myself," Jarlaxle proclaimed, striking a pose before the full-length mirror he had procured somewhere.

Entreri barely glanced up from sharpening his dagger. "You look ridiculous," he muttered.

"What was that, my friend?" Jarlaxle had heard him perfectly well, but he did so enjoy goading the assassin.

Entreri fixed him with a glare that normally had the effect of turning people's blood to ice. "I said you look ridiculous."

Jarlaxle smiled, unperturbed, and went back to studying his reflection in the looking-glass. The black tricorn hat would be more dressed up with a diatryma feather, but he supposed it would have to do as it was. His coat was wine-red in color, and made from the finest velvet the local taylor had been able to procure. A bunch of white lace at his throat contrasted nicely with the red color of the coat. Jarlaxle was particularly fond of his brown doe-skin breeches, as they fit perfectly and couldn't be surpassed for comfort, but the most fashionable part of his costume had to be his boots. Made of black leather, the boots reached all the way up to the thigh, but didn't inhibit his movements in the least.

Satisfied with his appearance, Jarlaxle buckled on his weapon belt, which held two highly polished pistols - a recent acquisition from a band of gnome tinkers - and one slender rapier. The light blade fairly sung through the air, and it amused Jarlaxle to adopt a one-sword fighting style at times, rather than the familiar two blades characteristic of the drow. It was also amusing to give the local travelers he held up more of a chance - for Jarlaxle was playing the part of a highwayman of late.

Lastly, Jarlaxle picked up an enchanted mask and slipped it in place over his face. Immediately his entire appearance began to change. His coal-black skin lightened to a golden hue. Ruby eyes became a deep brown. His pointed ears too, changed appearance, quickly becoming rounded. Jarlaxle turned away from the mirror and grinned. Thanks to the mask he looked exactly like a human male.

"How long are you going to keep up this charade?" Entreri asked, sheathing his wickedly sharp dagger.

Jarlaxle shrugged. "Until I grow bored of it."

"Or get killed."

"Really, Artemis. You're such a pessimist at times."

"I'm a realist."

"Call it what you like." Jarlaxle strode to the door and waggled his fingers at Entreri in a good-bye wave, then vanished into the night.

The assassin rolled his eyes.


Bess sat by her upstairs window, peering out into the windy night. He would be coming soon, and she could hardly wait! To pass the time, Bess began braiding her long, raven-black hair. On impulse she picked up a dark red ribbon and began weaving it into the braid, forming a stylish love-knot.

The sky was quite cloudy tonight, but the moon was full. Strips of cloud were covering the face of the white orb, and Bess thought it looked strangely like some ethereal ship, floating on a cloudy sea of white foam, subjected to the whims of the wind. The white road seemed to glow this evening as well, as if it were a ribbon of moonlight cast across the purple moor, and would simply fade to nothingness with the dawn.

Were those hoofbeats in the distance? Jack! Jack was coming! Her heart leapt at the thought. The handsome bandit whom others merely called "the highwayman" was the light of her otherwise dull existence. True, they had only known each other for a few moons, but Bess felt there could be no other love for her. Sometimes she wished there was someone she could talk to about such things, but Bess was an only child, her mother having died in childbirth with her. Her father, although kind, was certainly not one she would discuss such things with.

Bess' days were filled with helping her father run their small inn, located in a somewhat lonely spot across the moor. One day he had come - the handsome stranger who complimented her stew, saying it was a lovely meal, but not nearly so lovely as the maiden who was serving it. Bess couldn't help being flattered, especially since the compliment came from such a comely, well-dressed man. Later, when he had invited her to join him in a cup of wine, she hadn't hesitated. He had told her his name was Jack. He wanted to know all about her, and seemed genuinely interested in her day-to-day life, her likes, dislikes, and future dreams. Jack was absolutely charming, and such a gentleman. At the end of the evening he had whispered an invitation in her ear, and Bess had waited until the inn was dark and quiet, and then joined him in his room.

And so it had begun. Jack had never returned to the inn openly again, but he often came at night and tapped on Bess' shutters with his riding crop. Then Bess would slip down the stairs, unlatch the back door, and join him on wild, moonlit rides across the moor, or, more often then not, invite him up to her room.

One night she had asked him why he would not come take his supper at the inn anymore. Jack had grown uncharacteristically quiet, and then surprised her by reaching into his pouch and placing a heavy gold coin in her hand. Had she heard of a highwayman around these parts, he'd asked. Bess answered that she had. Jack had studied her face for a moment, as if deciding something. At last, he'd said, "I am the highwayman."

Bess didn't care. She loved him, and that's all there was to it. Besides, Jack had gone on to tell her that he was waiting for one great prize - a transport of gold would be arriving at the local bank one day soon. It would come in the night, to avoid other traffic on the road. Jack intended to meet the transport while it was still miles from town. If he successfully took this prize, he would be rich enough to leave his life of crime, and they could travel all of Faerun, yes, even all of Toril together, from the wondrous city of Silverymoon, city of splendors, to the hauntingly beautiful deserts of Calimshan, the fantastic metropolis of Waterdeep, or even the far-away Sea of Shining Stars. Bess was enchanted. It all sounded like such a marvelous adventure, and so romantic! After drinking in his every word, Bess had kissed Jack and whispered, "Your secret's safe with me."

Tonight he would be coming again. He had promised, and he never broke his word. Yes, those were indeed hoofbeats she heard in the distance, and they were getting closer. Bess peered out of the window eagerly. Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill, the highwayman came riding up to the old inn door.


In progress. All reviews appreciated.