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Hero's Song - Chapter Twelve

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I was sober as the hells as we made our way from Aldanon's manse. Kidnapped. Right from under our noses. I figured who Nasher would send after him, but in all fairness I felt beholden to Aldanon. He was like the mind-addled uncle I had never had. Well; halfway had, since Duncan sometimes made me wonder.

When we entered Castle Neverwinter, Nevalle rushed to us, his face worried. "Is he...?

"Gone." I sighed. "His household are all right, and the thieves are...well, dealt with, but the wizard is gone. His manservant mentioned something about Aldanon's research with the shards?"

Nevalle shook his head. "Wizardry is beyond me."

"Among many other things." muttered Sand. Nevalle ignored him.

"I'll take you in to his Lordship right now; he's been speaking with the new Luskan Ambassador, but he'll want to hear this."

I was thunderstruck as I followed him. New Luskan ambassador? After the hells they put me, all of us, through, and Nasher was letting another Luskan dog through the gates?

When we entered the throne room, Nevalle bowed, along with some of my more tradition-weighted companions. My back remained ram-rod straight; pretty words and courtly flourishes, I had in aces, but when it came to Nasher's work for me I was a warrior, and Daeghun had once told me that warriors don't bow, lest you miss your opponent's move.

Nasher raised an eyebrow at me, but his next words were directed at the short, plump, frumpy looking woman at the base of the dias. "Sydney, I would like you to meet Squire Harper. She was the in Torio Claven's trial."

"Doesn't he mean 'survivor of Luskan's poorly-coordinated plot to kill her?'" muttered Bishop sourly; Nevalle glared daggers at him.

"Lord Nasher, what is a Luskan ambassador doing here? I thought they were thrown out of the city after the duel?" Shandra kept her voice polite, but she looked at Sydney like one looks at a stubborn rat that continuously gets into the bread cupboard and refuses to be tempted into the mouse-traps.

"If I may answer for myself, Lord Nasher?" Sydney looked at me; there was a curious, hungry light in her eyes that was disturbing, but her voice was even as she spoke. "I came here because certain crimes have been connected to Luskan via a few individuals. I am here to state that Luskan had no involvement in the actions of these individuals, and furthermore we remove ourselves from any connection with their future actions whasoever..."

"You're joking!" I had spoken without thinking, true, but this...woman...was impossibly smug. "You deny everything that happened at Ember as being connected to Luskan?!"

"That is correct. It seems a self-styled 'Master of the Fifth-Tower' named Black Garius was behind the massacre at Ember."

"Squire, that is enough." Nasher interjected when he saw the storm brewing on my face. I opened my mouth, but Nevalle kicked me surreptitiously in the shin. I seethed.

"Lord Nasher, Harper is right!" Shandra stepped up next to me. "Luskan had to know about the attack on Ember, and they did nothing..."

"Shandra Jerro," sighed Nasher. "The strength of Neverwinter is in it's citizens, and you show me that now." He leaned forward, looking directly in her eyes. "But now is not the time. You must trust me that the murderer of Ember will pay for his crimes, and that right now our attention is needed."

Sydney sniffed disdainfully. "Yes, well, as I was telling Lord Nasher before I was interrupted, our spies have informed us that Black Garius, the man who orchestrated the entire farce of a trial against you, has infiltrated an old, abandoned keep on Neverwinter lands. Crossroad Keep, I believe it's called. Some farmers are all that live there; or were living there, until last night, when I presume they were killed as Garius' forces overtook the land." Sydney bowed formally to Lord Nasher. "I will leave you to do what you will with this information, my lord." She turned, and with one more raking stare at me, left the throne room, her assistant stumbling behind her.

Lord Nasher looked at me. "Aldanon?"

"Kidnapped." I frowned. "For his research, I have no doubt."

"I'm having a sinking feeling that it might be connected to what the new 'ambassador' reported. If anyone can sneak a gang of thieves into the city and kidnap a powerful mage right out from under the watch's nose, it would be someone like Garius."

I snorted derisively. "You'd be surprised at what all happens right under the watch's nose, Sir Nevalle." I thought for a moment. "But you could be right about Black Garius having something to do with it. Seems all too convenient for me that right as we get a report of activity, one of the city's leading researchers and archivers of knowledge is kidnapped."

"I need you to go to Crossroad Keep, Squire Harper. It seems all of our answers lie there." Nasher nodded to the back of the room. We all turned, and watched as a group of Many-Starred-Cloaks made their way in. Their leader, a pale haired moon-elf, nodded to me, and then bowed to Nasher.

Lord Nasher continued, "My wizards will meet you there. I need this 'Black Garius' stopped, before he gains a foot-hold in our lands. Do this, and all of Neverwinter will be in your debt." Nasher rubbed his forehead, suddenly looking much, much older. "At the very least, Neverwinter will be alive."

I was beginning to feel very much a pawn of the nobles. Send the bard and her capable friends, she'll solve the problem. It seemed the more that I did for anyone, the more they came to rely on me. And the more dangerous each task became. But I merely nodded curtly at Nasher, and turned, leading my companions out of the throne room.

The pale-haired elf caught up with me. "Squire, my name is Vale. My wizards and I will be leaving as soon as we're able, so please don't delay in your travels. I would suggest provisioning for a difficult battle." His face looked grave. "I do not know the strength of Garius' men yet, but I know that he is not styled the 'Master of the Fifth-Tower' for nothing." He bowed to me. "May the gods speed you on your travels."

Nevalle was next. "Here's a map," he said abruptly. "It's farther south, closer to the Mere, so you might know the lands better than I do, but this should help you get there. Vale was right, you need to leave as soon as possible." His expression softened somewhat, and he reached out, squeezing my shoulder. "It was a fine sight, seeing you rout that Luskan scumbag Lorne; make sure you keep yourself in one piece, all right?" He watched as we walked out.

We set out on the road an hour later, Bishop leading with Elanee slightly behind him, since they both knew the woods better than anyone. I found my eyes kept moving to him as we walked, watching the muscles bunch and stretch under his armor as he cleared the path ahead for the rest of us. Once, when stopped for a rest, he stood apart, sniffing the air as he gazed into the woods. The shadow-dappled sunlight flickered as a breeze blew and shook the leaves of the trees around us, and I had to catch my breath; he seemed taller, more powerful in the midst of the forests, and more relaxed and at ease with himself now than I'd ever seen him. He turned to look at me, feeling my gaze; he smirked knowingly, but his eyes were full of an intensity, a smoldering heat that made me think of flickering firelight and his hands on my skin. I flushed and turned away, feeling that involuntary smile creep into my lips. I cleared my throat and stood, shouldering my pack. I had the map, and wood elven blood, and I didn't trust my eyes to keep to themselves while walking behind a certain ranger, so I merely announced quietly "Follow me," and took off.

Khelgar swore profusely as we began to walk again. "Have we made enough coin to buy some damn horses already?"

"No," replied Sand sourly, "I believe it all goes to filling the yawning abyss that is your stomach."

"You know, if you all just listened to me, I have a few ideas that would get us plenty of coin..."

"We aren't going to debase ourselves just for money, Neeshka," said Casavir sternly.

"And money isn't what's important here," interjected Elanee. "If we don't solve these problems plaguing the land, coin and horses will be meaningless."

"My gods, do you ever stop?" Qara's voice floated up from the back. " 'Oh, the land is suffering, the animals are all insane and they attack me instead of coming up for a cuddle! We must do something!' "

"I knew a dog once that attacked me all the time, and then I stopped carrying a shank of raw lamb with me everywhere I went, although I started doing that to begin with because.." chattered Grobnar.

I walked quietly, listening to them bicker, joke, laugh, and insult each other, anything to keep their minds off of what we were really doing. Who could begrudge them that? The only one not saying anything, following silently behind me like a shadow, was Bishop. He remained quiet.

As did I.

Hero's Song - Chapter 12 © Avariel

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