A/N: This story is crafted from an old role play I did awhile back. I played as Raistlin and Caramon (and any other DL characters), the other character, Dai, was played by a friend. Anyway, I don't own Dragonlance or Caramon and Raistlin (I wish). That honor belongs to Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman and Wizards of the Coast. Please read, review and enjoy! More chapters to follow...
Summary: It has been five years since the companions have been back in Solace and in their return the Majere brothers cross paths with a strange female traveler. After much time on the road Caramon is glad to be home… Raistlin just wants to know what this woman is up to…
"Strange Times Make Strange Brothers"
The fall air is becoming more crisp as the sun sets and a breeze picks up, rustling the leaves of the Valenwoods. Mothers call to their children and men come home from their labor. Solace is a quiet town, made up of many different races of people and as such they prove tolerant to wayfarers and passers-by. The inhabitants build their homes into the massive trees, each home a unique design meant to conform to the tree it is built in. Long rope bridges connect homes and businesses and sway as people scuttle across; several staircases lead into the treetops from the ground.
Like the rest of the buildings in Solace, the Inn of the Last Home is perched atop a mighty Valenwood tree. The bartender and owner, Otik, is famous for his spiced potatoes and fine ale, the scent of the cooking can be detected throughout Solace. The Inn is a haven for locals and travelers alike and its owner prides himself on this fact.
The only light inside the common room of the Inn comes from several large stained-glass windows and a roaring fire in one corner. Otik and the barmaids keep the place tidy. Whenever one is not busy with customers, they can be seen polishing the gleaming wood bar, which was one of the limbs of the Valenwood itself. Tonight though, the place is relatively empty, except for a few sparse journeymen, the cool night air keeping most of the locals in their homes.
It is five years to the day since the last time the brothers have set foot in Solace. They keep up their slow pace into the outskirts of the town. Raistlin struggles to keep up with his larger brother's excited strides. Caramon has the strong feeling of calmness and elation that only comes with returning home; for Raistlin the homecoming only brings about an overwhelming sense of dread.
"I can practically taste Otik's potatoes now," groans Caramon while holding a hand over his growling stomach. "Do you think anyone missed us, Raist?" He tilts his head slightly, peering at his brother who keeps his face shrouded in the depths of his hood.
"Hush Caramon, for once think further than your next meal," came the twin's harshly whispered reply. "No one even noticed we left."
"But—"the warrior opens his lips in protest.
Raistlin simply held out a metallic-toned hand, making the conversation die instantly. "No one cared then, my brother. No one cares now. What makes you think they even gave one thought about us leaving?" The mage's voice is terse and much to Caramon's chagrin, they make the rest of the short trip in silence.
As to they come to the bottom of one of the sets of stairs that winds up one of the great tree trunks Raistlin lets out a soft sigh before starting upward, shrugging off all his brother's offers of help. By the time the sickly mage reaches the top he has to take a moment to catch his breath from the coughing fit that ensues. Now, he is forced to accept his twin's support as they cross the bridge spans. Caramon gently drapes his muscled arm over his brother's shoulders and holds him up as they walk. After what seemed like an eternity, they reach the Inn; the sweet, blissful Inn where they had all been before parting five years earlier. Caramon's face split in a dopey smile. Nothing makes him happier than being home.
As they walk in is like being transported back in time, at least in the eyes of the jovial warrior. Raistlin follows in just behind brother with the hood of his red robes drawn forward hiding his face in shadows. In one hand he clutches the Staff of Magius, the other hand claws at the robes at his chest as he wheezes.
Nothing has changed about the Inn, not even the tantalizing smell of Otik's cooking from the kitchen. Raistlin seats himself a chair nearest the fire. He pulls his cloaks around to keep himself from shivering. The barmaid traipsed over: tall, thin with pale skin, fiery red hair flowing down in bountiful curls. Caramon couldn't contain himself he held his mouth open like a fool.
"Caramon, is that really you?" She asks as her cheeks flush as red as her hair. She fidgets with the bodice of her barmaid's dress and pulls the blouse over her bountiful bosom. This action causes both the barmaid and the warrior to blush further.
"Tika?" questions the big man as he finally finds the courage to speak. "Wow. You really have grown up!" his eyes wander up and down her body; the body of a girl he had always thought an ugly child. They had all once joked that Otik would have to pay someone to marry her. It seems that way no longer, she is now a woman who had now filled out with beautiful curves. Raistlin glances at his brother ogling the barmaid and groans in disgust. It all ends with a sharp whap of the mage's staff against his brother's shin.
"Have you no dignity, my brother?" responds the wizard in a low growl
"Raistlin?" Tika takes a step toward the robed man who did not bother to respond. Seeing the golden toned skin of his hand clutching the staff she is taken aback. 'My, he has changed! What in the world happened? She stares, transfixed until the mage sends her a glare with his hourglass eyes. Those eyes send a shiver down her spine that threatens to topple her to the floor. 'It is like I am seeing my own grave,' her mind is reeling and her breathing quickens
Caramon clears his throat, bringing Tika back to reality "Uhm… Otik's potatoes and ale for me, a glass of red wine and a cup of hot water for my brother." The mage starts to cough and Caramon turns his attention back to his brother. The girl flees from the table the with red robed man with strange skin and even stranger eyes. The mage pulls his hood back low over his face and moves closer warm fire as the coughing spasm folds him in two.
Caramon places a tender hand on his brother's back. Raistlin, lacking enough breath to speak, places a small velvet pouch into the palm of the big man's hand. Caramon leaps up from the table and searches out a barmaid to get the cup of hot water. Several minutes later, Raistlin is near passing out and Caramon succeeds in sloshing about half the water on the floor.
Caramon quickly pours a measured amount of herb mix into the water and stirs it with his finger. With a well-practiced ease he sits his brother upright and brings the cup to his ashen blood-stained lips. With the medicine kicking in, the frail one gasps for air. He dizzily slumps back in the chair and tries to concentrate on slowing his breathing.
"Are you alright Raist?" the big man asks with genuine concern and takes the cup from his twin's shaking hand.
"How many times must—"he has to pause to catch his breath as his lungs are not yet ready to cooperate with speaking "I tell you? Your worrying will put me—"gasping, he clutches his chest, "in the grave sooner than this cough!"
A dirty looking haggard traveler shuffles quietly along the beaten path, her dark green eyes downcast and tired. Creaking and sounds of commuters clamoring along wood bridges pull the traveler's eyes from the ground to the little village in the trees in the distance. It is more amazing than she had previously envisioned. The stories about the town make it seem like a fairy tale of sorts, but indeed these people really seem to live in the trees. With renewed vigor the traveler unconsciously straightens up some, easing the appearance of a falsely hunched back.
An old, dull blue scarf covers the wanderer's mouth and neck while an ashen gray cloak drapes over her head and back covering most else aside from her eye and the fingers of her left hand as they rest on a walking stick. Her slim feminine fingers are dirty and somewhat pale. She holds them somewhat claw-like feigning the stiffened joints of elders. She has an enthusiasm for dressing up; it was too much fun for the contrite miss to give up. She loves it even if she is not very convincing at it.
Eventually she makes her way to the stairs and heaves a sigh. Slowly she eases her way up, one stair at a time, being lazy rather than actually meaning to commit to the old woman bit. Once she finally makes it to the walkways she resumes her 'elderly' appearance by hunching over and squints her eyes and then she shuffles her way along the paths. She mumbles pardons now and then. The sun is beginning to set and she has yet to find a place to stay or to do her bidding and so the young girl moves toward the most bustling place she can find: the Inn. She slips through the door quietly and settles into one of the empty tables.
Raistlin hears the door open and glances towards it. He narrows his eyes from beneath the billows of his cowl, watching at the female entering. He eyes her pasted together disguise, from the ease in her walk he can tell she is faking. He wonders what she could possibly be hiding. 'Probably another petty criminal or some such lowly type' he scoffs inwardly, 'with bounty hunters after her head.'
A mug of ale is placed before his brother by a smiling and blushing Tika, her glimmer quickly fading when she sets the glass of wine before the mage. Immediately she averts her eyes and hurries off back onto the kitchen, her face pale with fear. He gives the strangely clothed woman one last fleeting glance before turning his attention elsewhere.
One by one their old friends arrive. Sturm comes in first, heartily embracing Caramon and giving a leering look in Raistlin's direction. 'He is uncomfortable,' the mage smirks slightly 'good.' Tanis Half-Elven arrives with Flint and Tasslehoff. Raistlin sits: not saying a word, his hood covering his face and his staff held across his chest. The group is greeted by Caramon, while his brother stays to the shadows. Knowing the twins are never far apart, Tanis gathers the courage to ask "Where's Raistlin?" Caramon simply nods toward his brother in the corner.
The mage slowly draws back the hood of his robe and the companions gasp in astonishment as his skin gleams a faint metallic gold in the firelight. He begrudgingly explains a few sparse details of his Test in the Tower of High Sorcery. Caramon stays silent, talk of wizards and their damn magic makes him uncomfortable.
Raistlin takes advantage of the group's unease and adds in his final statement. "When I awoke, my skin had turned this color—a mark of my suffering. My body and my health are irretrievably shattered. And my eyes! I see through hourglass pupils and therefore I see time—as it affects all things." He points at the half-elf, Tanis "Even as I look at you now Tanis, I see you dying, slowly, by inches. And so I see every living thing. But it is worth it. I have power now. Great power." The mage breaks into a fit of coughing, effectively ending his strange tale. His brother moves close to him, but the twin raises a hand and waves him off. Caramon sits with his friends, but still keeps a close eye on his brother.
The companions quickly lose interest in the strange ways of magic and retreat to their ale mugs and other topics of conversation. They each talk about their journeys in turn, as well as the rumors of war and the strange goings on around Solace. Otik comes over and makes a flamboyant show of greeting his 'old friends' and tells them their meal and drink are on the house. After a while the barkeep pulls up a chair to listen to the traveler's tales. He never could turn down a good story or a bit of gossip.
The table is soon overrun by plates of food at Otik's insistence, of which Caramon voraciously devours. Raistlin refuses offers of food, his gaze intent on the cloaked female across the room. Caramon, who knows better than to question his brother, shrugs and goes back to gnawing on a turkey leg and stuffing his face with Otik's potatoes. The others are more happy to keep to their meals over the affairs of mages, and so they do not question Raistlin's intent stare.
The feeling of eyes on her drives the miss to further commit to the elderly role, and she hunches forward the chair. As a barmaid saunters over, the miss tugs the baggy sleeves over her hands, then clenching one hand and gives her sternum a quick tap. She speaks to the other woman in a raspy, tired voice, only peering up at the young girl from under her hood briefly with her partially squinted eyes before shifting her gaze back to the table.
When the barmaid makes her way back to kitchen, the young miss lets out a small sigh then starts her work. After a little fishing in her pack, she manages to drag out a pair of large metal knitting needles complete with a small bit of knitting from her cloak pocket. She minds her knitting only long enough to set the needles and then it's off to her eavesdropping.
It takes a little work at first but she mentally shifts to and from the conversations within earshot until she picks out a particularly strange one. It is so strange that she can't help but throw a sidelong glance just to see if she is hearing things right. 'Did he say hourglass eyes that see death?' she asks herself. She tilts her head in an effort to better hear only to have the interesting tale cut short. 'Darn, just when I finally hear something besides chatter and small-talk. Just my luck.' Quietly she continues to tune into the conversation, forcing herself to keep her eyes on the knitting in her hands. In reality she isn't doing very much knitting, she would just thread a loop every so often to keep the patrons from thinking she has fallen asleep.
Eavesdropping on what looks like an experience group of adventures isn't something she'd normally do…but she has a problem with gambling. Unfortunately it seems one of the members of the table has been watching her. She flinches inwardly when a quick glance reveals it to be the strange robed man with the 'death eyes.' A cold chill runs down her spine causing her body to stiffen as the other's gaze to tear at her paranoia. Being a thief and general troublemaker doesn't tend to get many allies in the world. She's used to being stared at but this just feels completely different, like the flesh is melting from her bones as she sits there.
Using one hand on the tabletop, the other tightly clutching his staff, he pulls himself to his feet. This quickly gains the attention of his brother who grasps at the fabric of his robe. "Where are you off to Raist?" asks the hulking warrior, with a mouthful of food. He glares at his brother, pulling his sleeve free and walking away without saying a word. Raistlin acts as if he were heading for the restroom, instead ducking into the shadows nearby. Few often pass in the dimly lit hallway short of the occasional drunkard or barmaid. From this concealed post he now has a more clear view of the strange woman.
He eyes her carefully; she surely is not as old as she makes herself out to be; though his cursed vision sees different. Her behavior is peculiar and Raistlin is determined to find out why someone this out of place is in Solace. He is lost deep in thought for quite a while when his brother taps him upon the shoulder. The mage startles, but quickly regains his composure. "Caramon! What are you doing?" He chastises in a low, harsh whisper. "Even an idiot such as yourself should know better than to sneak up on me!"
His brother's face softens with a twinge of sadness, "I was just worried about you Raist; you've been gone an awfully long time." Grumbling something incoherent beneath his breath, Raistlin follows his brother back to the table, his eyes never leaving the falsely-aged female. Caramon notices his brother acting rather distracted, but with his twin already cross with him he decides it is best not to press his luck and question why.
When he looks as his brother several minutes later to see him still staring off into the distance, Caramon follows his line of sight to what has captured his brothers attention. He is confused, 'it just looks like a girl playing dress up!' he thinks. He gives a quick glance back at the both of them before shaking his head and gnawing another bite of a large turkey leg.
As the odd robed one leaves the table the conversation she had been tuned into seems to fade to things out of her range so she refocuses on her knitting. The amateur thief allows herself to get too caught up in her knitting to notice the man moving into the shadows. Soon she is to the point of forgetting to gently squint her eyes and mistakenly lets her face relax. This causes the previously crinkled skin to smooth. Faster and faster the needles move and clearly give away her lack of arthritis, even if her hands are hidden in her baggy sleeves.
As if out of nowhere a dull thud and a silken voice break into her trance-like state chiming, "Anything else I can get for you?" A stocky barmaid with long auburn hair smiles down at her, placing a glass down on the table with one hand and carrying a tray full of ale mugs in the other.
This gave the miss a start to which she let out a gasp and dropped her needles. "Ah… I'm so sorry, dear..." she mumbles in her raspy voice, placing a hand over her heart. She heaves a small sigh as the barmaid bends down deftly, without spilling a drop of ale, to pick up the needles, "Why thank you dear!" she milks as she reaches out, carefully keeping her hands hidden, to grasp her needles.
When she is set once more, she dismisses the barmaid and idly looks toward the glass of water on her table top. After a quick glance to see that no one (as far she knows) is watching she tugs the scarf far enough down that it sits comfortably under her lips in order to take a small sip of water. After her thirst is sated she pushes the scarf back into place then sits the glass down. There isn't very much fun to be had here she decides, not beyond the usual stuff anyway. This place is just drunks being drunks, scandalous types flaunting their flirting skills and the other usual tavern-trolls with a few average locals tossed in.
She grins behind the scarf and her eyes twinkle as she thinks about having some fun eavesdropping like when she was little. No one ever suspected a child to hear one's every word. In those days her favorite thing to do was to feed gossip. A few whispers into the right ear and a rumor would spread like wildfire. The thrill made her giddy…that was until she got caught. Fortunately for her, the town guards did not know how to deal with one so young so they ended up letting her free. 'Those were the days' she thinks, the smile on her face widening.
She slips from her thoughts in time to see the warrior of the bunch maneuver over to… the red robed of the group. She watches them quietly out of the corner of her eyes until the robed one faces her. She turns her head back in a quick motion, 'Damn magic types. Why do they always seem so… utterly creepy?' She pretends to focus on her knitting again. If it weren't for the noise in the tavern she'd have had an easier time of listening in. She gives up snooping on the magic user and his brother and tries to tune into any other conversation of interest. 'Hmm…' she thinks, 'There is not very much going on here. Things just don't seem nearly as corrupt here as the last few places I have been.'
After a while, things start to wind down in the tavern and the miss grows bored. She begins to wonder what else is in this tree-top town. She contemplates asking the barmaid what else there is to do around here but stops herself just sort of actually doing it. 'You are supposed to be an old woman you dolt!' she chastises herself 'old people don't run around looking for adventure.'. Quietly she stuffs the knitting into her cloak pocket, places a small copper piece on the table and approaches the innkeeper who is wiping spilled ale from the surface.
"May I help you, ma'am?" Otik asks politely, shoving the damp rag in his pocket.