Chapter 5: On the Word of a Storm Crow

Disclaimer: The world of the Forgotten Realms is not owned by me.

NSFW Warning: This particular chapter contains scenes of a graphic sexual nature.

While the rest of the Sword Coast weathered the steady drizzle, a much harsher storm head had descended on the town of Beregost. Rain fell in driving sheets upon the slate roofs of the cluster of buildings that made up the town’s center, as well as those of thatch of the numerous farmsteads dotting the landscape around. The only souls who stood outdoors were those poor Flaming Fist guardsmen unlucky enough to pull guard duty. All of the townsfolk had retreated to the safety of their homes, or else to the welcoming warmth of the Burning Wizard Inn.

Lightning lanced across the embattled heavens, throwing the town into shock relief, as well as highlighting the flight of a great black raven as it swooped towards the sheltered porch of the inn, where a single cloaked figure stood, packing the bowl of his pipe.

The man was ragged in appearance, his long, black hair falling about his features like the strips of cloth of a tattered garment. His skin was weathered and rough and a grizzly scar, the remnants of a mauling by some great beast, had left half his face in ruin. Despite this both of his eyes, black and pensive, remained alert, spared the attack that had cost him an ear and half a nose.

He leaned against one of the sturdy posts supporting the porch roof as he lit his pipe, gaze scanning the assembled wagons clustered in the large courtyard before him.

Just as smoke began to twist from the bowl of his pipe, the large raven swooped in and alighted on the porch railing near at hand. There was a soft whoosh of wind, almost drowned out by the ferocity of the storm, and in an instant the raven was replaced by the imposing figure of the High Druid Blacktree, standing on the porch near at hand.

Unbothered by the druid’s impromptu appearance, the man bowed his head low to the newcomer, murmuring a reverent greeting.

“And greetings to you, Rendrick,” the druid replied, inciling his head as well in mutual respect. “It has been too long, Ranger of Beregost.”

“It has,” the ranger agreed, “what brings you hence? For I am sure it is not merely to see me again.”

The High Druid did not immediately respond, moving instead to the railing of the porch and extending his hand out into the falling rain. He allowed the water to pool in his palm before shaking it out and retracting his arm, his expression sour.

“So there is something unnatural in this storm,” Randrick nodded, taking in the druid’s actions with a careful eye. “I had feared as such when it came on so suddenly. Is it the same all over the Sword Coast?”

“It is, though not as focused as it is here,” was the High Druid’s reply. “I have received word from Jaryn Moorstrider, there was a caravan hit on the Tradeway by unknown assailants with unknown goals. The cargo was taken but it is my suspicion that that is merely a distraction from more sinister aims. The fact that the rain falls more heavily here confirms my suspicion.” He glared at the sky.

Rendrick looked once more at the wagons gathered in the courtyard.

“You think that these caravans would be attacked as well. Should they continue north?” He asked.

It took a minute for the High Druid to reply and when he did he looked Rendrick directly in the eye. 

“I think we have an opportunity here to bring to light what evil works against us, and perhaps some insight as to their true goals.”

“You would use them as bait?” Rendrick couldn’t keep his distaste for the idea from seeping into his tone.

“Well protected bait,” the druid reasoned. “Moorstrider rides south as we speak, you are here, as am I with my kin. I also assume that these caravans aren’t without some hired mercenaries.”

“Was the first one hit unguarded?”

“Guarded by those lulled into a false sense of security by the nearness of their city and so yes, unguarded.”

Rendrick nodded, mulling over the High Druid’s words.

“I will speak to the caravan master,” he decreed after some thought. “See if I might join their enterprise.”

The High Druid nodded in satisfaction at the ranger’s decision then stepped close, laying a hand on Rendrick’s shoulder.

“I will tell you then what I told Jaryn’s apprentice. If shelter you seek go to where the rain does not fall.”

With those words left hanging in the air, the druid drew back and once more assumed the guise of a raven before swooping back out into the storm.

Rendrick watched him go for a moment, thinking over his words, before knocking out the contents of his pipe against the rail and striding for the inn’s front door.

Pushing through the double doors, the ranger was immediately struck with a wave of chatter, pipesmoke, and warmth. The taproom of the Burning Wizard was jam packed with a colorful assortment of patrons. From townsfolk, mainly human, with a smattering of halflings and dwarves, most of whom were dressed modestly, their clothes marked by the fruits of their labors, to lavishly dressed merchants from Amn, to their rugged and armored guardsmen. All mingled together, their voices merging into an almost singular buzz, the occasional shout or laugh breaking the tempo. 

Scanning the room, Rendrick marked the members of the first caravan to have arrived that morning seated together in one corner. The caravaneers were human, though alongside their dwarven guardsmen one might assume that they were cut from the same stock. And they were all of the same family, the Damestons, their patriarch, Karl Dameston, seated in a place of prominence among them. He was leading them to open a new branch of their metalworking business in Baldur’s Gate, or so Taerom, the local smith, had told the ranger.

The second caravan, supplying most of the yards of silk currently packing the taproom, came directly from Athkatla by way of Trademeet. They were a motley assortment of merchants who had brought with them numerous different wares. As such, they presented a juicy target for any enterprising group of outlaws or marauders. They had been, however, aware of this fact and had thusly hired a significant force of mercenaries to guard them. 

Said mercenaries Rendrick knew to be part of the Yellow Stripes Company. A wise choice indeed as their reputation was well cemented from Athkatla to Waterdeep. Furthermore, they would have been the cheaper option given the Flaming Fist’s greater involvement on the roadways of the Sword Coast. A move that had cost the Yellow Stripes a decent portion of their business.

Drawing his hood and keeping his head low, Rendrick made his way through the bustling crowd, well aware of the sidelong glances and disapproving sniffs directed his way by the silk-clad merchants.

Arriving at the bar, the ranger locked on to his target, a rather corpulent merchant clothed in a rich purple and white robe and turban hemmed in gold, and made his way over. He knew this to be Publio Percin, the caravan’s benefactor, and thus defacto leader. 

“Mister Percin,” Rendrick said politely, yet insistently, seating himself beside the merchant, forcing the man to heft his considerable girth to turn and regard him.

“Begone, vagabond, I have no coin to spare on you,” the merchant immediately blustered, waving a paunchy hand in the ranger’s face before making to turn away once more.

“You mistake me,” Rendrick spoke louder this time. “My name is Trotter, I am a ranger in these parts.”

“A vagabond by any other name,” Publio grumbled but turned to acknowledge him nonetheless. 

“And what is it I can help you with, ranger?”

By the way he spoke the word, Rendrick could tell he didn’t put much stock in it. Unphased, he continued.

“I wish to join your company. Travel with you to Baldur’s Gate.”

“I have plenty of guards, and a mercenary captain who knows these roads like the back of her hand,” the merchant gesticulated dramatically. “I have paid them well and have no more coin nor desire for further escort.”

“I require no coin and desire no dispute with your mercenary captain,” Trotter replied, now somewhat irritated. “This is a dangerous season for caravans and with the weather such as it is, I feel that it is my duty to accompany you.”

“Between my guards and the Flaming Fist patrols I see no cause to fear any danger,” Percin sniffed. “But you may do as you like so long as you carry your own provisions and keep your hands off of my daughter.”

“You’ve brought your daughter?” Trotter was incredulous.

“What of it? It is my wish that she learn my trade, perhaps well enough to look after my interests in Baldur’s Gate when I retire.”

Rendrick sighed. 

“Where is your mercenary captain?” He asked.

“Keira,” Percin nodeed. “She is in the back room pouring over maps or some such. I have every faith in her abilities.”

“I am sure you do.” Trotter dipped his head to the merchant and moved away from the bar, slipping through the crowd to make for a drawn curtain that would lead him to the private drinking area.

Pulling the roughspun curtain aside, Trotter found himself in a cramped space dominated by a large, stone hearth, as well as a bulky table. Any benches or chairs associated with said table had been pushed to the walls and the room’s occupants all stood about the table, a map of the Sword Coast spread out upon its surface. All looked up as he entered.

Nearest at hand was a massive man with a shaved head and a drooping handlebar mustache of a singularly mustard color. So big was his frame that it seemed to Trotter as though he would burst from the studded leather hauberk he wore. Across the table from him was a dwarf, the leader of the guards for the first caravan, Rendrick surmised, who wore a sturdy leather jerkin and black cloak. Between them was a woman with cherry-red hair formed into two short braids. She wore studded leather similar to the towering man beside her, and at her waist hung a pair of short swords. Her features were rugged and freckled from a lifetime outdoors and Trotter couldn’t help finding the way she held herself attractive.

“Wrong room, friend,” she said, her voice lighter than he would have expected but bearing the hard edge of command, before directing her attentions back to the map.

“I am looking for the mercenary captain, Keira,” Rendrick retorted. “ I am guessing you are her.”

“Indeed I am,” she replied tiredly. “But that doesn’t fully count you out of having the wrong room.”

“My name is Trotter,” Rendrick said, sliding past the massive man just inside the curtain, to stand beside the hearth.

“You’re the ranger ‘round here,” Keira nodded. “Well then I wouldn’t mind picking your brain a bit. This here’s Mellick,” she indicated the man. “And this is…”

“Forsten Blackpeak of the Blackpeak Brawlers,” the dwarf grumbled through his massive black beard, rubbing a gloved hand over his bald pait as he did.

“I would like to join your expedition,” Rendrick stated bluntly, pulling forth his pipe and piling tobacco into the bowl.

“We are two separate expeditions, ranger,” Keira corrected him, with Forsten holding up two fingers to further clarify her point.

“Well you may want to consider becoming one,” Trotter continued, lighting a match against the stonework of the hearth and lighting his bowl. 

There was silence in the room as he did this and the others glanced sidelong at one another before Forsten piped up.

“Ye jus’ gonna keep us in suspense, laddie?” He asked.

Rendrick waited a moment longer, ensuring his pipe was truly lit, before continuing.

“I was just approached by Criven Blacktree, the High Druid of Cloakwood,” he said. “He informs me that a caravan has just recently been hit along the Tradeway, not far from the walls of Baldur’s Gate. The attackers are unknown but everyone in the caravan was slaughtered and the cargo stolen.”

Forsten let out a low whistle and Keira and Mellick exchanged a look.

“While we grieve for them, I do not understand why this is cause for greater concern,” Keira said. “Where you say this attack took place is many miles from here and I do not doubt that they were being guided by the Flaming Fist who have grown fat and lazy as of late.”

Mellick grunted his agreement to her words.

“Jaryn Moorstrider is worried, and the High Druid Blacktree is worried, and so I am worried,” Trotter stated flatly. “If you have any knowledge of either of them you would know that any concern from them is cause for concern for us all.”

Keira cocked an eyebrow at his words before speaking in a disbelieving tone. 

“It has been some time since I have led a caravan up this way,” she admitted. “Thanks in no small part to the Flaming Fist, but since when did y’all get so jumpy? One caravan gets snuffed and it has everybody up in a huff?”

Rendrick gave her an even stare for a moment, puffing thoughtfully on his pipe, before responding.

“I was not advising that you turn back, mercenary captain,” he said. “I merely said that it would behoove you to travel in greater numbers, also that I will be joining you.”

Keira chuckled mirthlessly at his declaration.

“I have known many a ranger in my travels and you are all the same,” she said. “Blunt and arrogant to a tee. Lacking in any form of courtesy or respect.”

“Not unlike mercenary captains,” Trotter was quick to counter and Forsten guffawed whilst Mellick’s eyes narrowed dangerously.

“I fear he has us down pat,” the dwarf said to Keira, who merely grunted in reply.

“Fine, ranger, you may come,” she allowed. “But your position will be that of a guide, not that I need one, and a guide only. Is this sufficient?”

Trotter nodded through a cloud of pipe smoke, his gaze never leaving hers.

“Good,” she tapped the map before her. “Now, as I was telling Captain Forsten here, and have already mentioned to you, it has been some time since I have traveled this way. What threats might I expect on the road ahead beyond distant caravan raids and Flaming Fist incompetence?”

Mellick sniggered at her words but Rendrick ignored him. Instead, the ranger strode over to the table. Planting his hands flatly on its surface, he peered over the map, his eyes tracing the course north of the Coastway Road.

“Most of the orc tribes were driven north almost two years past,” he said after a brief pause. “There are currently no bandit gangs of note at work in the region, though the Ragged Ear gnoll pack is known to make their way west from the Green Fields from time to time to cause havoc. Last time they did so Moorstrider, his apprentice, and I bloodied them so bad I doubt they will come in force again anytime soon.”

“Sounds ter me like smooth sailin’,” Forsten said.

“Minus the weather,” Keira murmured. “But I agree with my counterpart, ranger, I see no great cause for concern. Ominous warnings or no.”

“The weather is perhaps the greatest concern,” Rendrick muttered. “It is the worry of myself and my counterparts that this storm is not the doing of nature but rather the machinations of some fell sorcery, perhaps even divine in origin.”

“Oooo, chilling.”

The words were spoken from the curtain and dripped with sarcasm.

Rendrick looked up to behold a man, tall and slim, with a short, braided, blonde beard and draped in a finely made, though slightly worn, red robes trimmed in gold runes. He had his hood up to cover his bald head but Trotter could make out the beginnings of tattoos that no doubt covered his scalp. His skin was pale and his eyes, a rich brown in hue, burned from deep sockets.

Instinctively, Rendrick’s hand fell to the hatchet he wore beneath his cloak but this only served to amuse the newcomer more.

“Oh Keira, you find such colorful folk to entertain,” the mage, for the air about him almost crackled with magical energy, crooned, his mocking gaze fixed on Trotter.

“Do you need something, Edwin?” The Mercenary Captain asked tiredly, obviously not very fond of the man.

“Percin wishes a word before he retires for the evening,” Edwin said, his gaze not leaving the ranger.

“Tell him that I will be there shortly,” she said with a firm finality, making it clear that he was dismissed.

The mage’s nostrils flared slightly at her tone but he did as she bid, casting one last sneer in Trotter’s direction as he did.

“You consort with Red Wizards?” The ranger hissed as soon as the curtain closed behind Edwin.

“He is Percin’s creature,” Keira waved a hand dismissively. “And you’d best get comfortable with him, ranger if you are to travel with us for I will brook no dispute whilst we are on the road.”

Trotter pursed his lips but said no more.

“Well, if there is nothing more I must see to our benefactor,” she said, speaking mostly to Mellick. “I will see you in the morning, Trotter.”

The finality with which she had spoken to Edwin now crept back into her tone, though far less harsh, and Trotter consented. With a final glance at the map he made for the curtain. Just as he lifted the fabric, however, he paused and, half turning, asked, “did you know that Percin traveled with his daughter?”

“What of it?” She shot back. 

Without answering he departed, leaving the drape to close behind him.

“Y’know, he may be right ‘bout tha’ wizard,” Forsten said to her after the ranger had left. 

“Ain’t nothin’ good ever come o’ them Red Wizards.”

*                                       * *                             * 

Midnight found Duke Eltan still awake, seated at his desk in his private quarters, pouring over a small mountain of parchment that comprised the latest goings on of the city. 

Compared to the room where he and Jaryn had spoken earlier his quarters seemed large and lavish, containing a dining area, reading corner complete with a small hearth in which flames crackled, his desk, and his large four poster bed raised slightly above the rest of the room at a height of three stairs. A large, red curtain had been hung along the border of those stairs and could be drawn to give his sleeping and bathing area some privacy from the room at large.

As the Duke sat perusing a particularly long report, the hand not holding the parchment idly swirling wine in a glass, rain clicking against the windowpane before him, there came a soft scraping noise to his right, originating from somewhere near to the hearth.

Eltan glanced back, unalarmed, to behold the gorgeous woman unfolding herself from the secret passage through which she’d crept. Standing no more than five feet, the newcomer was as elegance defined. Her hair was shoulder-length and straight and of a hue of silver one might associate only with the very matronly, though this woman appeared no older than her mid-thirties. A rather misleading attribute associated with her elven heritage, a heritage turned sinister by her unblemished skin holding the color of a moody grey sea that in some places seemed almost blue in color. Such hair, skin, and the soft purple hue of her eyes, marked her clearly as one belonging to the race of Drow, Dark Elves known throughout the realms for their cruelty and worship of the demon-goddess of chaos, Llolth. Despite this, Eltan showed no concern as she made her way towards him on light, bare feet. The folds of her grey and silver gown shifting quietly against the slight bulges of her hips and breasts. As she moved the gown parted along expertly placed slits, revealing an elegant thigh here, a suggestion of breast there.

“Ah, good evening, Viconia,” Eltan murmured as she reached his side.

The elven woman said nothing in reply but draped an arm along the back of his chair, and leaned forward, the long fingers of her other hand delicately plucking the wine glass he’d been ignoring from his grasp and lifting it to her lips. Her nearness allowed him to breath deeply of her scent and he closed his eyes briefly to savor the slight headiness of her perfume, as well as the more primal fumes drifting up from lower regions. 

Not allowing himself too much distraction, however, he pulled himself from the web of her alluring smells and back to the present where he idly folded the parchment he’d been reading, shielding it from her view.

“Some top secret missive keeping you up?” She teased, taking a casual sip of wine.

“Hardly,” was his response as he rose from his desk and made his way to the dining table where he poured himself a new glass of wine.

Turning to face her fully he continued. 

“Merely a report on the goings on of the harbor district.”

“Staring at figures all night will make you cross-eyed,” she replied.

He chuckled mirthlessly at her words, taking a long sip of wine as he did.

When he noticed her watching him intently he shrugged. 

“I suppose there is no harm in telling you, there is a new mercenary company in the city. They have already taken on multiple contracts guarding warehouses and the like.”

“Contracts that should belong to the Flaming Fist,” she nodded.

“Aye, and contracts that did until we were delegated to the roadways.”

“A foolish move by your counterparts, perhaps one with whom you’re now fearing you agreed too readily?”

The question was spoken innocently enough but the fire in her gaze could not be missed. Eltan held that gaze for a brief moment before a smirk touched the frown of his lips and he tipped her his glass.

“Oh you are a dangerous one,” he said.

The two had met almost a year past when his men had encountered an angry pogrom near Beregost intent on burning the drow woman at the stake. Her crime, as they claimed, was the murder of a local farmer, Roran Midfallow, as well as the arson of his farmstead that led to the further death of his entire family. The local ranger of the townstead, Rendrick Trotter, had been in the middle of trying to deescalate the situation when Eltan’s men had arrived and he had beseeched them to remove her from the town and bring her to the city to stand trial. When she appeared before Eltan she did not deny her crimes. Rather she agreed with the townsfolk’s accusations but defended her actions by explaining that she had killed Roran and his family only after he and his three sons had beat and raped her before burying her alive. Their reason for doing so? Prejudice on the basis of her race as well as her chosen deity, the goddess Shar, mistress of darkness and loss. Her goddess had protected her from death, she claimed, and she had climbed forth from her grave to seek vengeance. Before the attack had occurred she had lived in peaceful isolation outside of Beregost, though with the help of magical disguises to hide her true self.

After hearing her tale, Eltan had been moved by her strength in the face of such adversity, and found that he could not begrudge her her vengeance in the face of the cruelty she had endured. He could also not, however, freely allow her to leave as the turning loose of a drow, even one who had turned from the worship of Llolth, would not go over well with the general populace. 

Rather, he decided to banish her publicly, saying that she could never return to the Sword Coast on pain of death. Privately, he had offered her secluded quarters in High Hall should she desire to stay. She would be fed and clothed and could freely travel the city, under magical guise of course. And if she ever wished to leave he could procure her passage to almost anywhere else she desired to go in the realms. 

She had agreed to his offer with the single caveat that she would be free to continue her worship of Shar. The suppression of any worship, even to those deemed evil by most goodly folk, having never been strong in Baldur’s Gate, or within Eltan himself, he readily assented to her terms. It was not long after that that the two had become lovers and he knew that he had grown very fond of her. 

He was not, however, completely besotted and was careful never to share too much of the intricacies of his station with her. Not due to any wariness associated with her race but more so because he admitted that he knew next to nothing of her past. Nor was he blind to the reality that one day she would leave him, he could not ask her to stay within the confines of Baldur’s Gate forever, nor would she agree if he did. Furthermore there was the uneasiness among his officers who knew of her continued residency within the castle. Nors especially had voiced on numerous occasions his discomfort with her nearness with Eltan. He was also quick to point out the lack of understanding among the other Dukes when they once more took up residence within the city. 

“You like the danger, my lord,” she smirked mischievously at him as she sauntered over, her hips sashaying, offering him glimpses of her bare thighs with each movement. Coming right up to him, she pressed herself against him and purred, “why else do you keep me around?”

“I do like it,” he whispered as she tipped her mouth to his, their lips locking in a tight embrace, him wrapping his free hand about her waist, pulling her more tightly against him.

Almost as soon as the kiss began, however, she broke it and twisted from him, her lithe form slipping from his grasp as she pranced out of his reach. Looking back at him, she smirked and began her sashaying walk towards his bed, unclasping the buckles of her gown as she did, allowing it to flow off of her like water. Leaving it as a puddle on his stone floors, she stepped lightly up the stairs leading to his sleeping area, glancing back at him once more as she reached his bed. Placing a delicate hand upon the nearest of the four posts, she bent forward slightly, gaze never leaving his.

“Would you like something sweeter than that wine, my lord?” She asked, spreading her legs just a bit more and pulling at the soft flash of her ass to grant him a better view of her shaved cunt and taunting, puckered anus.

Needing no further invitation, he pursued her, stripping away his fine shirt as he came. Discarding it beside her gown.

Approaching her, the Duke lowered himself to one knee behind her, his fingertips running over her finely chiseled form as he did. Once he was at eye level with her offered gifts he wasted no time in setting about the task of devouring the offered delicacies.

Viconia moaned as he worked, his tongue expertly plumbing the depths of her pre-slickened pussy before teasing the pouting entrance of her ass. She reached back with the hand not stabilizing herself to bury her fingers in his hair, pushing his hot mouth harder against her most precious bits.

With a crooning cry she came, her juices flowing forth to run down his chin. As the pleasure reverberated through her her legs buckled and she began to collapse. He caught her and, pushing her onto the silken sheets of his bed, climbed atop her shuddering form. Having at some point in the process rid himself of his trousers and boots, he guided his hard length into her weeping pussy. Her moans grew in tembre anew as he set a steady pace, his thrusts even and deep. As he fucked her, he inserted the thick digit of his thumb into her moistened anus, thus turning her moans into open cries of ecstasy. 

In short order his thrusts became deeper, harder, and faster as he too neared his climax. She came anew just before he did, a string of exemplatives cried aloud in her native tongue bouncing off the walls about them, in concert with the reverberations of thunder without.

A short time later found the two, seated in reading chairs near the fire, wrapped in blankets and sipping wine. Gazes lost in the dancing flames.

“You know that I cannot stay forever,” she spoke in hushed tones, her violet eyes never leaving the flames in the hearth.

“I know,” he replied, his eyesight equally defocused.

“I think that you alone should rule this city.”

“I know that also.”

“But you will not take what fruit is so readily offered you.”

“I have already taken one such fruit tonight, I shan’t be greedy.”

The drow woman rose and, draining her wine, made her way back to the secret passage through which she had earlier passed.

As she passed Eltan her hand dragged across his shoulders and the nape of his neck. “Perhaps a little more greed would do this city a much greater good,” she murmured before departing, leaving the Duke to stare into the fire. 

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