Disclaimer: The world of the forgotten realms is not owned by me.
It did not take Jaryn long to cross the further distance between the site of the ambush and his destination, the city of Baldur’s Gate. It was a journey that would take most a near half days travel but astride Sundril it had taken him a mere few hours and by noon the high walls rose before him across a stretch of flat, muddy moorland.
As ever the city struck an impressive sight, commanding the shoreline for several miles, its southern end climbing a rocky cliffside while the bulk of the city lay upon the flat moors, its northern wall curving to hug the banks of the River Chionthar. Impressive indeed, though under the moody sky, the high, dark stone walls took on a more sinister appearance.
Taking but a moment to soak in the view, Jaryn urged Sundril forward. There was no traffic on the road that day and the portcullis that barred entrance to the city through its main gate, flanked by two large, round towers, was shut. Upon spying his approach, however, a call of recognition could be heard among those guards manning the gatehouse and the portcullis was quickly raised so that he could pass beneath unhindered.
The guardsmen here all wore the black half-plate of the official Guardforce, the sigil of the Dukes emblazoned on their breastplates; a single merchant ship sailing black seas upon a blue field.
As Jaryn passed into the city, the splashing of the muddy moors giving way to the hollow clopping of cobblestone beneath Sundril’s hooves, the ranger was hailed by someone descending the stairs that led to the gatehouse top. Urging his mount to stop, he surveyed the man as he approached. He was human, of averaging height and build, with stern features and short, curly black hair. He wore the garb of a guardsman and Jaryn recognized him immediately as Commander Adrian Durham, leader of the city’s standing forces.
“Moorstrider!” The commander hailed him, lifting a gauntleted hand in greeting, as he reached the street and made for the ranger’s side.
“Commander,” Jaryn inclined his head.
“What news have you? Any time you cross the city’s threshold in such haste I know there to be some ill afoot.”
“There is indeed, Commander, I am headed for High Hall to confer it with Duke Eltan.”
Though the commander was careful to keep any outward sign of displeasure from his features, the slight twitching of his eye told Jaryn all he needed to know. Furthermore, it was no well kept secret that there was no love lost between the guardsmen and their compatriots, the mercenaries of the Flaming Fist. After all, it the Duke Entar Silvershield who had formed the Guardforce in an effort to tame the wild city and so it was to him that they showed the most fervent loyalty, and there was certainly no love lost between Entar and Eltan.
“I would have you share it with me first,” the Commander bade him.
“You could always come to the keep with me and hear it there.”
“I am needed at my post. Come, Moorstrider, what has cause to give you such haste?”
The ranger conceded with a nod and pointed out of the gate, eastward.
“A caravan was hit not a half days ride from here, I came upon it this morning. There were no tracks of the assailants and no survivors among the victims. What’s more is this storm hit seemingly mere moments after the attack’s commencement, whether by sorcery or ill timing it was fortuitous to the escape and concealment of the ambushers.”
“A rather brazen attack so close to the city,” Adrian observed. “I would send men to investigate.”
“You are needed at your post,” Jaryn reminded him, adding a forceful edge to his voice. The last thing he needed was the Flaming Fist and the guardsmen getting into a dispute of jurisdiction.
The Commander did not respond to the ranger’s comment, choosing merely to dip his head in thanks and return to the stairway leading to the gatehouse zenith. Jaryn watched him depart for a brief moment before guiding Sundril away, across the square where a fountain splashed, and up the main avenue that twisted through the city towards the seat of the Duke’s, High Hall.
* * * *
Commander Durham paused at the base of the stairway and watched the ranger’s departure. He bore no ill will towards the woodsman for his siding with the Flaming Fist on the issue. After all, all roadways beyond the city were indeed their domain since their removal as the city’s guardforce some years back. He couldn’t help but question whether such an attack would have occurred at all under someone else’s watch, however. With a sigh, he commenced his climb, his steel boots crunching audibly on the slick masonry.
Upon the top of the gatehouse, he spied his second in command, Captain Emilia Jannath, niece of the Duchess Liia Jannath, who was the sole woman among the seated Dukes of the city. Emilia wore the same uniform as him, her golden hair cropped short about her ears, her features youthful and pretty though the hard iron in her gaze detracted from their softness.
“What did the ranger have to say, sir,” she inquired, turning her gaze from her vigil across the moors to regard him.
“An ambushed caravan, not a half days ride from here,” he replied, moving to stand beside her on the battlements.
“Who were the attackers?”
“Unknown, which is worrisome within itself. Jaryn could track an elf through a thick wood and yet had no idea.”
“He’s going to speak to Eltan?”
“That’s Duke Eltan, Captain.” Within his tone lurked warning but it lacked the strong edge that it would have carried had he not shared her sentiments.
Adrian had been hired by Entar Silvershield to command his new guardforce upon its organization nearly a decade past. Before that he had been a member of the Waterdeep guard where he had served with distinction. Entar had used contacts he had made within Waterdeep before being elected Duke of Baldur’s Gate to secure Adrian’s transfer. It had been a great opportunity and Adrian had little question where his loyalties lay. As Commander of the Watch, he was sworn to obey all of the Dukes but only for Entar would he happily lay down his life in service.
“Apologies, sir,” Emilia was saying. “It’s just I have my doubts whether this would have happened had the caravan been protected by trained soldiers rather than thugs.”
“Noted, Captain,” was all he replied. “Send a runner to High Hall and see what Duke Eltan’s orders are, if any. And tell me if there is any more movement on the road.”
With that, he left her at her vigil and disappeared within the nearby tower.
* * * *
One upside to the foul weather was that Jaryn’s ride towards High Hall went unhindered by the citizenry. Though many of the peoples of the city were indeed braving the rain, they were mostly sticking to the sides of the road where the occasional shop awning or overhanging rooftop could afford them some reprieve from the deluge. This allowed Jaryn a clear path up the avenue’s center and he moved along at a quick canter.
High Hall was built upon the city’s highest point on its far southern edge. It was not in any way an impressive structure, those who had originally built it preferring function to majesty. It stood as a squat, square keep with a rounded tower on each corner, a single gatehouse, and the keep proper at its center connected to the rear wall and allowing room for a small courtyard between the gatehouse and front doors.
Here too, as with the outer walls, the black-uniformed guardsmen kept watch. Throughout Jaryn’s ride through the city those who policed the streets were the militia, easily marked by their orange and white checkered tabards, wide-brimmed helms, and halberds. The militia were the remnants of the original city guard and their ranks were bolstered on the insistence of Duke Belt, an adventurer through and through who resented Entar and Eltan’s attempts to tame the formerly wild city. He had wished to keep Baldur’s Gate a haven for adventurers and the like rather than the more metropolitan and trade-centric city of his counterpart’s dreams. As such the militia were led by an official elected from among the people every five years and thus enjoyed slightly more autonomy from the rule of the Dukes than the Guardforce or Flaming Fist.
Crossing beneath the keep’s gatehouse, Jaryn dismounted fluidly before the statue that stood in the courtyard. The statue depicted a man with a wild beard holding aloft a sword, his features contorted in a battle cry. The man was Balduran, the legendary founder of the city.
Sparing the city’s namesake nary a glance, the ranger strode towards the hall’s front doors. Sundril cantered his own way, headed for the stables along one wall. The doors swung inwards at his approach and an older man in a tunic bearing the insignia of the Flaming Fist, a gauntleted fist wreathed in flame, bowed him in.
Within, the entry hall was dimly lit and quiet, the only sound was that of the clicking of the chamberlain’s boots as Jaryn’s own footsteps made not a whisper upon the flagstones. No words were spoken as none needed to be. Jaryn was recognized here and his reason for coming was ever singular. He had come to see Eltan.
From the entry hall he was led through another set of double doors to the main audience chamber. This was easily the largest room in the keep with marbled floors and pillared walls. These days this too was left dim and quiet. With three quarters of the Dukes not present within the city there was little need for fanfare and Eltan saw all his appointments directly in his planning room at the hall’s far end. Indeed the only thing that stood as a reminder that anyone ruled here was the wooden dais set across the hall from their entrance, right before the large hearth, within which currently no fire crackled. Upon the dais were four high-backed chairs each with a banner hanging behind representing each of the four Dukes. The leftmost banner was black and bore the sigil of the Flaming Fist, Eltan’s chair. Beside his was a green banner bearing the roaring visage of a massive black bear, Belt’s chair. The next banner was blue and bore upon it a silver shield upon which an azure griffon danced. That was the banner and chair of Entar Silvershield. And lastly, the right-most chair had a violet banner behind, upon which was a silvered wand shooting sparks of many colors. The insignia of Liia Jannath.
As with the statue outside, Jaryn bore the thrones no heed as he had seen them a hundred times by now. Instead, he busied himself with pulling back his hood and shaking his short, reddish-brown locks to rid them of any clinging droplets of water.
Around the raised platform he was led to a small door set into the back of the hearth. The chamberlain approached the portal and knocked smartly upon it.
“Enter,” bid a tired voice from within.
Pushing the door inwards, the chamberlain stepped aside to allow Jaryn entry, before bowing himself out and leaving.
Within the room was well lit with a fire crackling merrily in the small hearth set into the back of the larger one without. It was a small room but in no way cramped, dominated by a large table upon which was spread a map of the city, as well as several others of the surrounding countryside. The stone walls were hung with the banners of the four dukes as well as that of the city and several small tables with decanters of wine and glasses were set between. Across the table from Jaryn stood a tall man with short, messy blond hair and pale, pointed features. He had a slender physique but broad shoulders suggested that he may have once possessed a greater muscle mass than he now did. He wore finely tailored clothes of crimson and black and upon his chest was sewn the insignia of his company, an armored gauntlet wreathed in flame. Even if the two men hadn’t been working together closely for some time Jaryn wouldn’t have found it hard to guess at the man’s identity. He was Eltan, High Commander of the Flaming Fist Mercenary Company and Duke of Baldur’s Gate.
At his side, as ever, stood his grizzled second in command who directed the company when Eltan was too busy running the city. His name was Nors, Jaryn knew, and he cut a fearsome image. Tall, muscled and bald with dark skin and a vicious scar cutting crosswise through one of his eyes, leaving it white and lame. A second wound to his throat had given him a rasped voice, adding to his intimidating appearance. He wore studded leather and mail mesh armor with the company’s insignia upon his breast.
Upon the ranger’s entrance a smile broke out on the Duke’s face and he strode around the table to meet his friend.
“Jaryn!” he said, clasping the ranger’s forearm firmly as Jaryn returned the gesture. “Damn it’s good to see you, what news have you from the wilderness?”
Though nearing fifty the mercenary commander showed no signs of feeling his age, moving about with the energy and exuberance of a man half his years.
“I regret to say that I had little to report until this morning when I came across an ambushed caravan not half a days ride east of here along the Tradeway,” the ranger said.
The Duke cursed and stepped away to pour himself a glass of wine as Nors stepped in.
“Any survivors?” He asked.
Jaryn shook his head. Moving to the table he selected a map that detailed the path of the Tradeway from The Dales to Baldur’s Gate and set it so that all three men could see it clearly. Drawing an arrow from his quiver he tapped it on the spot where he had found the wagons.
“The Chambers’ Caravan,” Eltan said, grimacing into his wine. “That isn’t a few hours ride from our eastern fortifications. They must have just left at dawn. Who hit it?”
“I don’t know,” Jaryn admitted sending Eltan’s eyebrows towards his hairline.
“The storm came in what must be mere minutes after the attack took place and washed away almost all of the evidence,” the ranger continued. “I can tell you that the ambushers used heavy crossbows and that there were a lot of them. Most of your men and the caravaneers were likely killed in the first volley, then sharpshooters took out the rest. There were no cuts of blades upon the bodies so the bolts did the work.”
“What of the cargo?”
Eltan released his breath slowly, staring intently at the spot Jaryn’s arrowhead indicated. Tapping a ringed finger against his glass he asked, “who are the most likely suspects?”
Again Jaryn shook his head, returning his arrow to his quiver.
“Stumping you is no easy feat, my friend,” the Duke said, “and is itself a cause for worry. I shall send a contingent out to scout the area and see if we can recover what was stolen. Markus Chambers is a respected merchant in the Dales and will not be pleased to know he lost a caravan on my watch. If we can recover the goods that may placate him. Nors, see to it that those we lost personally are identified and given what honors are demanded by their peoples.”
The tall warrior nodded. Jaryn knew that it was common practice among established mercenary companies to have those who signed on to outline in their enlistment papers what honors they would wish to receive upon their deaths.
“I will accompany them,” Jaryn said.
“I have a more pressing matter that I wish for you to see to, if you consent,” Eltan interjected, pulling a map of the entire Sword Coast to greater prominence. “There are two more caravans making their way north from Beregost.” He pointed to the town-stead far to the south.
“If there is something or someone seeking to rob us of our trade goods then those will be their next targets. I will send an escort for them myself but you can move with greater speed than any of my men. I bid you ride for Beregost with all haste and summon any aid you can en route. Those caravans must arrive safe.”
“I will go now,” Jaryn declared, turning on his heel and making for the door.
“What of your apprentice, Jaryn?” The Duke asked before he could depart. “Was she not to meet you here?”
“I have sent word to her to make for the city in all haste,” was the ranger’s reply.
“Good, I have a mission that I think she will be perfect for, if you don’t mind sparring her.”
A ghost of a smile played across Jaryn’s lips but he said nothing, merely dipped his head in assent and disappeared through the doorway.