27th day of Mirtul. Shadowdale. Afternoon.
Beleg grimaced slightly as pain shot up his right forearm, the practice sword of Gnore stinging him sharply. Ignoring the sting to his swordarm, he concentrated on focusing on his two opponents somewhere around him. The thick, black strip of cloth tied around his eyes obscured his vision requiring him to use all his other senses to avoid the practice swords of Gnore and Druckner. Beleg of course had been quite sincere about his desire for training in night combat and once he had made that sincerity known to his dwarven companion, they had started their training in earnest. Early on, the pair had taken to practicing during the light of day, mostly late afternoons, as Gnore had seemed more interested in spending his nights at the Festhall of Mother Tara. Beleg could hardly blame his dwarven friends, they were all aware of the potential danger that faced them below the Garlstone mines and he wouldn't begrudge his companions seeking a few nights of indulgence before facing their possible deaths below.
"Whar's yer mind, ye big oaf!" grumbled Gnore as he sought another opening and bashed Beleg on the left side of his ribs. "Is that all ye've lerned in seven rides a training?!"
Gnore knew that speaking to his friend would give away his position and Beleg used the opportunity to launch a flurry of strokes at his friend, but the dwarf could tell that the Paladin was letting his mind wander. Such actions could lead to disaster in the darkness of the Underdark. The large Paladin slowed his attack somewhat as he tried to regain his bearings, he knew that Druckner was still out there somewhere and he had to try and find the other dwarf before he could cut him down from behind. Holding the wooden replica of Troll's Bane and his main gauche before him, he slowly circled around searching for any hint of his two opponents. Early on, Beleg had taken to fighting with his main gauche and his bastard sword instead of using his normal shield and sword style. The great shield proved cumbersome in the intricate moves necessary for the blind-fighting and it was best utilized when one could see an attack coming and maneuver the shield in it's way. Fighting blind, this left him with a heavy burden on his left arm but more importantly, one that was noisesome as well. Strapping the shield to his back to protect him there and fighting with sword and main gauche had proven very effective for the warrior.
Hearing Gnore speak of the time they had been training, Beleg's mind inadvertantly started to wander yet again. His thoughts returned to the morning they sought out the smith Bronn Selgard and commissioned him to fashion the armor and repairs they needed.
"Fourteen tendays! By Forseti's hammer, we haven't the time for that," exclaimed Beleg.
"Listen here," began Bronn as he turned to face the youth before Druckner stepped in.
"Calm down, Beleg, thar's certain laws of nature and smithin' that simply can't be ignored. Creatin' a whole new set o' mail for Gnore will take time, not to mention the repairs that we be needin'."
"I know, but Jelenneth could be dead or sold off to some slaver in Thay by then!"
"We'll find the lass," commented Gnore as he patted the forearm of his youthfull companion, "but ye know as well as any o' us that headin' down inta that hole unprepared will only lead ta our deaths. What good wuld that do the lass?"
"Jelenneth?" asked Bronn as he heard the name of the missing mage. "You fellas the ones looking ta find her for young Andrenn?"
"Yea, what of it?" asked Ortho, his natural mistrust of others quickly rising to the forefront.
"Pardon our dwarven companion," began Dain as he stepped before Ortho to speak to Bronn, "we are members of the Red Feather Company who have been seeking out the missing lady as well as several others. Have you heard of us?"
"'Course I heard of ya, everyone up and down the Dale has heard o'ya and what's going on in Haranshire. It's a good thing yer doing, we've all had business with Andrenn and his family from time to time as well as the girl. We hope ya find her safe and sound."
Bronn rubbed his chin in thought for a few moments, his hand leaving a dark smudge of soot across it. "I tell ya what. I can bring in a couple of apprentices more and run the forge all night if ye'd like. That will cut two tendays off the time but that's the best I can do."
The heroes had gladly accepted the work and quickly got out of Bronn's way to allow him to begin. For the seven tendays since then till now, they had been diligently working to prepare themselves for the trip below and pass the time.
A sharp rap to his right knee brought Beleg out of his contemplation of the past several weeks as he realized that it had to have been Druckner that hit him. Trying to turn all his focus on the task at hand, he slowly circled around as he formed a mental picture of the battle in his mind. Fighting without the use of one's eyes required all the concentration one could muster as well as the need to become quite acute with all other senses. Beleg could hear the soft shuffle of Gnore's feet a few yards ahead of him as the dwarf tried to move around for another strike. He was still searching for some sign of where Druckner moved to after his attack.
Taking a step to his right, he quickly smelled the putrid and unmistakeable breath of his companion as the dwarf exhaled before making a lunge with his wooden sword. The Paladin stepped back slightly and used his practice sword to meet Druckner's thrust and carry the weapon and the dwarf by him. Turning on his right heel, the warrior spun around and planted a firm elbow into the back of the dwarf as he stumbled by. The force of the blow carried his friend forward to crash into the unsuspecting Gnore. Beleg was glad to hear the crash of the two dwarves and the stream of curses that ensued as he realized he had knocked both of them down as planned. Grinning broadly, he stood and removed his blindfold.
"Enough for today, my friends?" asked the smiling Paladin as he watched the two dwarves disentangle themselves and rise.
"Ya were damn lucky," grumbled Gnore as he pushed Druckner away from him and dusted himself off. "We scored a number o' hits on ye so don't go a gloatin' like ye made away unscathed. Were that a real battle, ye'd probably be fallin' down aboot now from lack o' blood insteada showin' all them teeth!"
Despite his harsh words, Gnore was still proud of his pupil. A bit unsure of how the training would go at first, Gnore had come to realize that the Paladin of Forseti was an exceptionally skilled swordsman with a sharp mind. Shutting away other distractions and focusing on his other senses and the area around him had come easily to the youth. The Paladin was still a long way from being a match for Gnore in total darkness or even his other dwarven kin, but the warrior would no longer be a liability in combat without his enchanted light source.
As Gnore, Druckner and Beleg were taking off the wooden practice armor and seeing to the weapons, Ortho walked up on the companions, a stream of curses proceeding him.
"By Moradin's beard! That beardless, milk-drinking stench kow. Gibbering, gnat-ridden pixie! The witless, rust-minded, gasbladder!" Similarly entertaining curses continued to flow with ease from the mouth of the dwarven priest as the others looked on while trying to stifle smiles and laughs. A growing sense of adoration welled up inside of Gnore as he watched his kin with newfound pride.
"Who are ye cursin' at now?" asked Gnore finally. "And quite well, I might add!" Druckner roared at his friends appraisal of Ortho's speech as the priest of Moradin grimaced before taking a seat on the soft ground. Sweat glistened on the dwarf's brow as he removed his helm and wiped at it. Summer was well on it's way and the dwarves were liking it none too well.
"That damnable scribe of Elminster's, Lhaeo!" rumbled Ortho as he looked up at the others. "Make yerself usefull and stand over this way," he motioned to Beleg to move over and block out the sun for him. Beleg ignored the request as he continued to shed the wooden armor.
"What's he done now?" asked Druckner.
"He still won't let me see the mage, keeps saying that he's unavailable. Unavailable my arse! I know he's in that tower an' I'm gonna meet wit him!"
"Do you think that's wise?" pondered Beleg. "The mage is incredibly busy, perhaps he is out Plane-hopping or something? It has been known to happen."
"Are ye sayin' that my quest is any less important than his joy-rides around the Planes of existence?! I'm talkin' about the survival of the dwarven race! Or p'rhaps ye'd like ta see us die out?" Ortho's mood soured even more and he turned a critical eye toward the large Paladin across the field.
Beleg simply frowned at Ortho and shook his head. Since their arrival in Shadowdale and with the downtime from their appointed task, Ortho had become ever more consumed with his quest for the mysterious human, Pericles, and his research on the dwarven race and ways of increasing their declining birth rate. The dwarf was well aware of Elminster's reputation for knowledge and had been trying unsuccessfully for several weeks to get an audience with the mage. The lack of help was a thorn in the priest's side and it was becoming too much to bear. Ortho and the others were well versed in the mysterious traps that the mage had placed around his tower to keep unwelcome visitors away, so the dwarf had barely refrained from simply storming the tower, but the others didn't know how long that situation would remain the same!
"Ferget 'boot it today," began Gnore as he handed Ortho a half-full skin of ale. "Wash away yer anger and we'll enjoy another evenin' in the luxury of Mother Tara and her fine ladies." A large smile spread across the face of the dwarf as he thought of Brengi, one of the few dwarven women that was employed by Mother Tara. Gnore had taken quite a shine to the lass and vice versa. All of Gnore's evenings at the Festhall were spent celebrating with Brengi.
"Fa on ya and yer Hall," grumbled Ortho. "The lot o' ye waste more time an' gold there than any self-respectin' dwarf should. Ye be careful, Sharindlar, the Shining Dancer will ensare the two o'ye and ye'll never leave that place! I have work ta be aboot."
"Sharindlar will ensare me and guide me steps tonight as I dance wit' the lovely Brengi!" began Gnore as he ignored the rebuke from his kin. "And after that, Ah will take comfort in her arms and handy tankard of Mother Tara's finest!"
"Here, here! Ah-men, kin Gnore," roared Druckner as he joined his kin in taunting Ortho. The dwarven priest scowled and shook his fist at the pair as he turned and left the clearing.
With their equipment in tow, the three companions left the clearing that they had designated as their practice arena and headed back toward Shadowdale. Gnore and Druckner began a rowdy ballad as they walked back with thoughts on the evening before them. As always of late, Beleg's thoughts drifted off toward his wife, the Lady Rosamund. To his eternal joy, the pair had been wed shortly before he had returned to the company of the Red Feather. They only had a brief time together as husband and wife before he had come back to fulfill his quest of finding Jelenneth. And now the Lady Rosamund was far to the North, beyond the Spine of the World, running a barony that had been granted him for his service to his homeland. He knew in his heart that she was safe but he longed to see her once again. He missed her smile and sweet laughter and the days of inactivity truly forced a feeling of homesickness on the warrior.
Reaching the outskirts of the town, Beleg bid farewell to his dwarven companions as they headed toward Mother Tara's and he toward the Old Skull Inn and a hot bath. As had become his custom, Beleg's evening would consist of a bath, warm meal and then a stroll of the town and the vicinity before returning to his evening prayers and bed. The warrior had taken a liking to the hardened Dalesmen and their upfront ways and even though the town was regularly patrolled, he didn't feel it a waste to do the same himself. Besides, it gave him the opportunity to meet more of the locals.
Like Ortho, Dain Blackfeather had spent the weeks in Shadowdale in research as well. Only the mage's studies had nothing to do with the quest that Ortho was on. Dain was more interested in the happenings in and around Shadowdale during the Time of Troubles and the Second Battle of Shadowdale. When the young mage learned that the God of Strife, Bain, had personally lead the forces that attacked the Dale and that he was twarted by the efforts of the Lady Mystra, the new Goddess of Magic, he was thoroughly taken in.
Early on, the mage had trouble getting people to talk about the events in the Dale, almost every family had been effected by the battle, losing loved ones or being maimed in the confrontation. Plus there was the way the townsfolk had treated the Lady Mystra and her companions after helping to save the town; most people were embarassed by this. But the mage was a likeable fellow and soon the townspeople had opened up to him and filled his ears with their story. And again, everyone had a story to tell.
Milbourne. Baron of Mutton Inn. Early Evening.
"Barthelew, anoder round fer me mates!" bellowed Snagger as he staggered into the Inn and made his way toward the table of Garth, Rannigan, Talimar, Kersath and Ras. The others were calmly seated around a table like they had been most every night while in town and already eating the evening fare. The companions had decided early on that they would meet each evening to discuss the events of the day and report on any strange activity around town.
When Dain had ridden back to report that it would be twelve weeks for the construction and repairs to the armor, Talimar had been as unhappy about the news as Beleg. But he also knew that they had no other choice. He quickly decided that he wouldn't let the others get complacent however and he didn't want the work they had done in the area to be for naught. As such, he and Kersath had taken to patrolling the surrounding area from time to time with Garth occasionally and Snagger when he was sober, which wasn't very often. Rannigan had spent several weeks both studying with Tauster in Thurmaster and trying to convince the mage that he wasn't sent to spy on him.
Rasmussen had been a different story entirely. The death of Kre had been very hard on the usually jovial halfling. The pair had formed a deep bond through their travels together and now the halfling had begun to view himself as an outsider, feeling little or no connection with the others. Talimar had sensed the depression of his friend and tried to assign tasks to take his mind off Kre but it had been to no avail. What tasks Ras hadn't simply ignored, he had fulfilled quickly and returned to his moping around the town. This behavior consisted for a full tenday before the companions awoke to find the halfling returned to his usual jolly self and full of energy.
The next day proved to be a godsend for the young thief as his mother arrived with her meager possessions on a caravan passing through. Ras was ecstatic of course to have his mother safe and sound and with him once again. She was quickly set up at the house of Ephram and his wife and soon earned a reputation up and down the shire as a first rate cook. With his spirits lifted and his mother safely with him again, the young halfling had taken to investigating the town and the surrounding area much more. He had even started helping out Rastifer with his store, helping to purchase goods and stock the general store.
As Snagger took his seat at the table, all of the companions could easily tell and with no surprise that the dwarf was already quite drunk. The dwarf spent his afternoons at the Silver Crown with his uncle, Ol' Grizzler, drinking heavily and telling tall tales. He would come to the Baron to eat with the others and discuss the day but always head back to drink with his uncle. None of the others minded too much, the dwarf was tolerable at best when he was sober but drunk he was more than any of them wanted to deal with.
"How's Marley today?" Talimar asked Garth.
"Doing better, she seems to be adapting well to the environment here." Garth had taken it upon himself to visit the former thief daily to check up on her and see to her mental state. The lady was still quite mad, never functioning well outside the confines of her kitchen or private room of the temple to Tyr but she was getting better. Garth had now managed to get her to take short walks with him around the beautiful gardens of the temple when she wasn't cooking but it was quite evident that the girl was much more comfortable in the kitchen. Garth felt that with the proper care and attention she could one day be cured of her affliction. He still he had no idea what was causing the madness in the girl.
"Belongs ina proper nuthouse, does that one," mumbled Snagger around a mouthful of ale.
Garth ignored the comment from his dwarven cousin, he knew that Snagger would never understand his need to see to the girl and the dwarf did have a reason to think ill of the girl. Feeling a bit uneasy about his kin's drinking habits, Garth had one day convinced Snagger to come along with him to see the girl and try to help him. When the pair entered Marley's kitchen she took one look at Snagger and with a chilling screech attacked him with a butcher knife. No harm was done to the warrior but it took the pair of them to disarm the girl and calm her down, which was only achieved with Snagger leaving the kitchen. Garth had no idea why the girl had reacted that way, she had never done that with any visitor's before but ever since then, Snagger had spoken ill of the young thief turned cook and refused to return to the temple.
Talimar quietly chastised himself for bringing up the girl in front of Snagger, he knew that it would cause some type of disagreement between the two dwarves and that he didn't want. The group had become quite closer in the time that they had been out of the mines, much to the surprise of the elf. He knew that warriors often formed lasting bonds under the hardships of combat but they were beginning to truly know and understand each other. He and the dark elf, Kersath were a good example of such.
Wanting to improve his swordsmanship and learn another fighting style, Talimar had begun practicing with two weapons, his longsword and dagger. Upon hearing of this, Kersath had offered his services as instructor as he routinely fought with twin longswords. Talimar had been hesitant at first, after all, there was deep-seeded hatred between their two races that had existed for centuries before the pair were born. The elf had heard tales of the ranger Drizzt Do'Urden as well as other dark elves that forsaken the ways of Lloth and sought out the surface world but he still had his doubts. He had accepted Kersath as a part of the party early on because the warrior had proven his worth time and time again but there was a part of Talimar that still didn't truly trust the dark elf.
For his part, Kersath was well aware of the lack of true trust that his companions looked upon him with. He knew they were well aware of his skills in combat, but were he the only option would they truly trust their lives in his hands? He still didn't know the answer to that question. But he was delighted with the chance to ride with Talimar exploring the countryside of Milbourne and practicing the art of swordsmanship. The ranger found that he could learn much from the elf and vice versa. Talimar filled Kersath with tales of his elven homeland and the gods of his people while the dark elf talked about his childhood and growing up under the care of the svirfneblin. Initially, Talimar looked upon the exchange as a chance to learn more about the deep gnomes but he quickly became interested in Kersath's life and thus told more of his.
Talimar knew that he and the dark elf wouldn't be making any trips to the isle of Evermeet together, but he certainly felt that he understood his companion much more and could trust him if need be. He knew that the dwarves, excepting Garth maybe, would never be able to understand the dark elf as he now did but he didn't truly feel it was necessary either. As long as they trusted his battle skills, that would be enough.
"What say you, Talimar?" Rannigan asked, pulling the leader of the Red Feather Company out of his revery.
"I'm sorry, what was the question?"
"I mentioned returning to Tauster for a few days of more study, that ok with you?"
"Fine by me, just keep us updated of anything and be back here in plenty of time for our departure."
With the meal and the days business winding down, Snagger took his leave of the party and returned to the Silver Crown and further drinking. Ras also retired to see to his mother and Rannigan called it an early evening, professing to need a full nights sleep for his journey to Thurmaster. Preferring the quiet of the countryside rather than the commotion of the inn, Talimar and Kersath took their leave of the Baron of Mutton and headed out into the countryside as they had done each night of their time in Milbourne.