Skin of Glass

Soldiers and Sailors

The Elven Temple to the Seldarine was a beautiful structure, surrounded by plants and greenery. Misara stopped at the foot of the stone steps and looked about. The temple had been built so that no one time favoured it. Looked at in moonlight, starlight or sunlight, it had a facet that brought out its beauty.

She walked up the stairs and passed through the doors into the temple. It was late, or early, a few hours until dawn, but there were people about. Day or night made little difference to elves. Worshippers were as likely to come into the temple at midnight as noon, and as many prayers were offered when the moon was high, or fullest, or at dusk, as were offered during the day.

Misara stood in the open foyer for a moment, closed her eyes, and breathed in deeply. There was a scent of magic in the air and scent of growing things. It was almost as if she were back on Evermeet, something of her Island home had been captured in the temple.

After a moment she opened her eyes and stepped further into the temple.

A young priestess wearing the symbol of Sehanine Moonbow stepped forward. "I bid you welcome. May you find the rest and peace you seek."

"Thank you for your welcome. I am Misara Anor'Esira, servant of Corellon Larethian. I wish to speak with Windama Nefalus."

"Windama is praying with many of the other priests and priestesses at this moment and I am afraid he cannot be disturbed unless there is great need."

"No, he need not be disturbed for I," Misara told her. "I can wait until he has the time to speak with me. I will await him in the Garden of the Crescent Moon if I may?"

"Go in peace Lady Anor'Esira," the priestess told her.

Misara nodded at her, and then turned and walked deeper into the temple. The garden she sought was a small area, open to the sky, near the centre of the temple. Soft grass covered the floor, and flowers that normally would only bloom in Evermeet grew there. In the centre of the room was a large tree, its branches extending above the room and the thick canopy forming a roof of sorts over part of the garden.

She walked to the tree and placed her hand upon the smooth, dark-green bark. She knew the tree well. She had brought it as a seedling to the temple when she had first came to Waterdeep, soon after leaving Evermeet. The seed had come from an ancient tree that had grown near her family's estate. Just touching the bark made her feel even closer to her home. She leaned forward until her forehead touched the tree.

For a time the sounds of the city faded and the scents of the flowers and tree grew stronger. She felt an ache in her heart, a longing for places she had not seen in a century. The sense of homecoming that entering the temple had made her feel, and that the garden had intensified, was not a balm to her heart, but intensified the ache until she thought she might collapse from the desire to return home.

And when she thought that she might not take it any longer she felt as if a pair of strong hands had gripped her shoulders and strength seemed to flow into her, a sense of homecoming so intense it banished the longing she had felt.

Misara opened her eyes and brushed the tears aside. "Thank you," she said softly, then turned to face the empty garden. She reached to her weapon belt and freed the sheath from the clip that held it. She placed her back against the tree and slid down the trunk until she sat amongst the roots. Placing her sword to the side she took a deep breath and then relaxed, open eyes staring across the garden.

In her reverie her mind wandered old and new paths of thought, putting things together in new manners, finding new ways of seeing things that her conscious mind did not have times for.

Corellon Larethian claimed no others as Paladins. He did not want them. He was a chaotic and capricious, though kind, god. The laws that limited freedom or that might cause harm the elves he protected he had no time for. And yet Misara, as a champion of law, often had to respect such laws, even at times enforce them.

His only concern was for the elven race, which was under his protection. Misara championed all good people.

She had always known this, but she finally came to think of it and what it meant to her. Yeshelné was right, she had been given something no other elf ever had. Was it due to the fondness of for a spoiled girl, as Yeshelné had suggested, or was it guilt?

How could she be expected to understand the mind of a god?

Did she really have to make a choice? Perhaps her concerns were a product of her own weakness, her desire to find an easier path. The path of a Paladin was difficult; perhaps it was time she remembered that.

Perhaps such ideas were simply the childishness that Yeshelné accused her of. One day it might no longer be possible to be both Paladin and servant of Corellon Larethian. What would she do if that day came?

She did not know.

What she did know was that she was travelling into danger, and she would be a danger to herself and her companions if she did not deal with her uncertainty For the time she would have to put her concerns and worries to the side. There would be time to deal with them later.

She hoped.

Such thoughts flowed like quicksilver as she became aware of the garden around her, of the light of dawn, and of the elf sitting across from her.

"Good morning Windama," she said, forcing a smile she did not entirely feel.

"Good morning Misara. I apologize for making you wait."

She stood, picking up her sword as she did so, and stretched. "There is no need to apologise. Waiting here is not to be looked upon as a task, but as a joy." It was true enough: Perhaps because there she need not be both Paladin and servant of Corellon Larethian.

He got to his feet as well. "Your words are as beautiful as you."

"Such a charmer." She lifted the magical belt-pouch from her side and traced her fingers along the pattern in the leather. "You are looking very well yourself."

Windama smiled. He was taller than her, with long, silver hair, pale skin tinged with blue and startling magenta eyes. He wore loose robes, marked with the symbol of Labelas Enoreth.

Misara opened the magical bag to a different compartment than the one she usually reached into. From that she brought out a series of books and handed them to Windama. He took each one from her, and then, as if he were handing it to someone, put it to the side. As soon as he took his hand off a book it disappeared.

The last of the books he kept and opened. The pages were covered in flowing Elven script, written in Misara's hand. He flipped through the pages, quickly reading the various passages within.

Misara had travelled the width and breadth of Faerûn and she saw much. More important she was a Paladin and she was allowed to learn things that others might not. Such knowledge was power, and one of Misara's duties to her god was to make such information available to the People.

It was one of the areas where the two paths she walked often threatened to diverge. So far she had not betrayed a trust, but the time might come when she would. Again she pushed that thought aside as something to be dealt with at a better time.

Windama nodded and closed the book, and then made it disappear like the others. "They will be in Evermeet in only a few hours," he told her.

"Hopefully they will be read."

"While things are still chaotic in Evermeet I have no doubt that those who need to will find the time to read through them."

"I hope so. Tell me, do the names Asharass or Taumon mean anything to you?"

"Asharass? No, but I do know the name Taumon."

"What can you tell me?" A sense of excitement filled her. Perhaps finding the answers would be easier than she thought.

"Taumon was a golden dragon, a powerful one who was friend to the elves many millennia ago. Supposedly there were many tales of Taumon and his Elven companions fighting the various evils that beset the land back then, but few survive to this day."

"But no mention of Asharass?"

He shook his head.

Misara did not press him. The clerics of Labelas Enoreth were likely to be scholars and sages, and they sought the hidden facts of the past as well as keeping the known history.

"Thank you," she told him.

"If the knowledge of the past has helped you then I am content," he answered. "Now, how long will you be about?"

"A few days, at most. I set off next for Candlekeep if I do not find the answers I need in Waterdeep."

"Candlekeep," he said, a touch of reverence in his voice. "If not for duties here I might ask to come with you on such a pilgrimage."

"You would be a welcome travelling companion."

"If not a pilgrimage to Candlekeep then perhaps you would have dinner with me tonight? I can spare time enough to visit one of the fine taverns in the city to share a meal with a friend."

"I would like that."

"Then I will see you tonight. Be ever vigilant against the return of banished darkness," he said in way of farewell.

"The sun always sets ere the next day dawns anew," she told him, quoting his own god's dogma back at him in farewell as she left the garden.

Jaztar Oakwater looked up as one of the acolytes of Bane entered his office. He recognized the young man as Marden, one of the converts he had picked up during his travels in Amn. He realised in a moment that it was not Marden and said as much to the new comer.

The one who looked like Marden stopped, looking disturbed. "How did you know?" he asked.

"It is not that difficult," Jaztar said as he pointed a wand at the intruder. "You do not move very much like Marden for a start."

He nodded. "I see. Very well then, I have come to strike a bargain with you."

"First, is that a disguise, or something deeper?"

"I have possessed the body of this man. I hope he was not too important."

"And why do you hope that?" Jaztar was curious about this man who came to him in such a manner, but he did not let his guard down.

"He will die, soon, I am sorry, but I have something to offer in way of apology."

Jaztar nodded, indicating that the man should continue.

The one who wore Marden's form reached into his robe, moving slowly, and drew forth a small, leather pouch. "May I?"


He approached the desk and then slowly undid the strings on the bag. He turned the bag upside down and let four large rubies fall out onto the desk.

"Very pretty," Jaztar said, "but I can easily find such gems on my own."

"These where the four blood rubies set into the blade of Painful Sacrifice."

That surprised Jaztar. He looked more carefully at the rubies. "They say that the Cyricists destroyed the sword during one of the Banedeaths years ago."

"Men are greedy."

Jaztar nodded. "May I examine them?"

"They are yours."

"Generous of you," Jaztar said, first casting a spell that would indicate any magical traps on the rubies, and then another that would indicate the presence of poison. Satisfied that there was no danger in the gems he reached out and picked one up.

Immediately he could feel an echo of Bane's power within the gem, gathered there over the hundreds of years that Painful Sacrifice was used to sacrifice the souls of heretics to Bane. Before his god's return such power would have been invaluable to Jaztar. It would have allowed him to perform holy miracles, calling on the power held within the rubies to fuel his prayers.

With Bane's return such a use was no longer required, but they were still quite valuable to him. He might use them to forge anew Painful Sacrifice. Such an action might help him reclaim his place in the church, convince Fzoul to allow him to return.

"One of these gems will suffice as apology for Marden's death. Now, tell me why you come here in such a manner."

"This concerns the Paladin Misara Dawntide," he said, as if it were of great importance.

"I am aware of her," Jaztar said simply.

The man looked confused, as if he had expected something more. "I understand that you have dealt with her in the past."

"I have."

"And that she is an enemy of yours."

Jaztar smiled. "You think that I hate her, that I wish to see her dead. You hoped to raise that anger in me, planning no doubt to have me direct my resources to her death."

"I had hoped that you would wish to see her dead."

"I do, but I do not hate her. She has been an impediment to my plans in the past, and may be again in the future. It is only good sense to want to see her dead, but that does not mean I hate her. Hate, you see, is a dangerous emotion. It clouds reason and causes one to make stupid mistakes."

"I see."

Jaztar reached out and pulled the three remaining rubies to himself. "Two of these will pay for an attempt on Misara Dawntide's life. I make no guarantees, but I will send a powerful force against her. She may very well die."

The man in Marden's body frowned, obviously not pleased with that. "And the last gem?" he asked testily.

"That one will guarantee I forget about this meeting and that I never try to find out what this is about. The fact that you have come to me tells me that you wish to avoid being associated with the elf's death."

"It seems that you come out far better on this deal."

"Perhaps, but I suspect that you came by these rubies easy enough. The forces I send against her will be considerable and they will not be traced back to you."

After a moment the man in Marden's body nodded. "Very well. I can only hope that you will be successful."

Marden suddenly fell forward, and only just stopped his head from hitting the edge of the desk. "Master Oakwater? What am I doing here?" Marden asked, looking confused. There was a sheen of sweat on his skin, and he was shaking slightly.

"That will become apparent soon enough. Have a seat, rest a moment to clear your head." Jaztar told him as he put his wand aside and then took all four of the rubies into his hands. He watched Marden sit and wondered how long it would be before he died.

Cirtimin closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. He had hoped for more from Jaztar Oakwater. The man's calm demeanour was somewhat at odds with the description that he had read in Etham's book. Perhaps Etham had not known Jaztar as well as he thought, or Jaztar had changed. Whatever the reason Cirtimin did not think he would get the service from the man that he hoped.

The half orc was likely to prove a much more effective agent in many ways. He might not have the mix of clerical and wizardly magic that Jaztar commanded, but he hated Misara, and he would die if it meant she would as well.

Perhaps between the two of them they might end her life. Perhaps not. He needed others to be certain. After levering himself out of his chair and shuffling to his desk, he sat down and opened one of Etham's books. He needed to find someone else.

The problem was that while the Paladin had made enemies, she tended to kill most of them, or simply outlive them. Finding one who was alive, or not a doddering old fool was difficult. He had read through the all the books once already, marking pages that he thought were promising. He turned back to those pages and began the research process once again.

It would be three days before Misara and the others would leave the city.

She had arranged travel on a four masted galleon named the Sea Rothé. She had chosen it for a few reasons. The Sea Rothé's captain, Adair Cooper, had a solid reputation for fairness and competency, as well as a fighter. The large ship was also well protected, with catapult and ballista on the fore and aft castles, as well as a short company of marines. There were also two spell casters that were part of the crew, one of whom was reputed to be an expert at weather magic.

Misara was fairly certain that she had picked up enemies with the quest, and she did not wish to go to sea unless she was certain the ship would be safe.

While the ship was an excellent choice, the captain would not leave port until after Greengrass. Misara would have liked to leave sooner, but the Sea Rothé was the best choice.

Her second night in Waterdeep Misara spent with Windama, inviting Rowan and Olpara along as well. It was a pleasant evening, most of it spent at the Elfstone Tavern. Rowan could not stay long. Greengrass was a very important celebration to the followers of Sune, and Rowan had joined in at the temple for the preparations. Olpara also had business to take care of, but she did not say what.

The third night, right before Greengrass, she was invited to a dinner at the Halls of Justice. As it was in her honour, arranged by the Priests and the Paladins of Tyr, she could not refuse. It was pleasant enough, with excellent food and drink, though a sombre affair. She was asked to once more take up Graceful Steel so as to pass it on to Egala Stararrow, an Elven Paladin of Tyr. For some reason she felt odd in handling that holy sword once more, as if it had not been her sword for more than a decade.

The next day was Greengrass, a feast day that Misara usually enjoyed, but she wanted to be on her way. And there were others things weighing on her. It was hard to enjoy it in such a state of mind.

When the Sea Rothé set out on the early morning tide on the first day of Mirtul she felt much better. She stood near the bow of the ship, out of the way of the sailors, listening as the harbour pilot called out his orders. The huge ship rolled under her feet as the sails were unfurled and pulled tight. A few other passengers were not ready for the movement; Misara offered an arm to steady a young woman.

Rowan had gone to her cabin as soon as they had boarded the ship. She had looked a little worn out. Olpara was somewhere on deck, but Misara did not see her.

Slowly the Sea Rothé made its way out of the harbour and into the open ocean. The pilot left the ship, climbing down to a pilot boat that had been following the galleon. As soon as he was gone Adair began calling out orders to his men. More sails where unfurled and the ship swung around to catch more of the wind. Rope and wood creaked, the sails snapped as they filled with wind. Angry oaths were called up into the rigging as sailors worked to pull the sails tight.

In a very short time the ship was trim and tacking southwards. Passengers began to make their way across the deck, following lines that had been painted on the deck for that reason. Most went below, only a few remaining above. Misara leaned over the railing, squinting her eyes against the wind.

"She's a fine ship," a voice said from behind her.

"Yes she is Captain Cooper," she told him, recognizing his voice.

He took up a position to her left, leaning on the railing as well. "You've sailed before I can tell."

"Many times, both as passenger and crew." She turned slightly and stared up at the rigging above them, "though I never crewed a ship so large."

"Working ships?"

Misara shook her head and turned to face him. He was a solid man, a little below average height, but with broad shoulders. His short brown hair was grey about his temples, there were fine lines around his blue eyes and his nose looked as if it been broken at least once. "Nothing so grand. My first was a small catamaran. Single mast with a lateen sail, she was fast."

"First ships, first loves," he said with a smile. "Well, that is not what I came to speak with you about."


"You seem comfortable on a ship. Can you fight on one as well?"

"I have before"
"I'd like to ask you to train a little with my marines. I know you're a paying passenger but, well, I never ignore an extra sword. I'd refund some of your fare of course."

"No need for that. I could use the practice, and, to be truthful, I make a bad passenger."

Adair nodded. "I know the feeling. Talk to Dagston; he leads my marines. He can be a right bastard and will probably give you a hard time, but show him you know what you're doing and he'll come around quick enough."

"Will he give me a hard time because I am an elf or a woman?"

"Neither. He'll give you a hard time because he's not fought with you before and he's a man who values his own skin too much to trust anyone he's not certain about." He finished with a laugh. "Now, I have to go and see that this ship runs smoothly."

Misara nodded. "I'll go and see Dagston in a little while."

The days on the ocean were enjoyable for Misara. She proved herself to Dagston with little trouble, knocking him on his backside several times to show her skill. As Adair had said, he became friendlier. She involved Rowan in the training with the marines, and, while uncertain at first, Rowan quickly picked up the skills she needed for shipboard fighting.

Misara also got to know the rest of the crew and, once she had convinced the first mate she was not going to hurt herself or cause any problems on the ship, she was allowed to go anywhere she wished.

She often climbed into the rigging, out onto the highest booms, standing high above the desk, staring out at the ocean and the sky. When night fell she would spend hours aloft, looking up at the so bright stars and moon.

Except for when she ate, and to change clothing, she spent most of her time on deck. Even when she rested she did so on under the open sky, sometimes sitting at the base of the bowsprit as the ocean flashed by under her. It was a time to lose herself in sea and sky, to put concerns aside.

For Rowan the journey was a little less idyllic. At first she had suffered from a minor bout of seasickness, but that had passed quickly enough. Then it was the boredom of shipboard life. She did not take the joy in the ocean journey that Misara did, and had no intentions of scrambling up ratlines so as to balance on a boom far above the deck.

She did find the training to be challenging, as well as interesting. She had thought fighting on a ship would be similar to any other engagement, but it was soon obvious that was not the case. There was an entirely different style required, one that took in the movement of the deck beneath her feet, as well as a somewhat limited fighting area.

She spent a few hours a day with the marines and Misara, and a few hours in her small cabin, reading one of the several books she had brought along for the journey-stories of love and romance penned by writers hired by her church. More than anything else, she spent time with Olpara.

It was obvious that the halfling was in a better state of mind than she had been before. She was more gregarious, interested in learning the meaning behind words and names, and happy to share her own knowledge. Where Rowan would spend time training with the marines, Olpara was likely to be playing talis with the sailors.

Rowan did not fool herself into believing that Olpara was over what had happened on the Evermoors, but she hoped that her friend was on her way to healing.

Late one afternoon, when the wind had died down to a gentle breeze, and all the sails were up to catch whatever they could, Rowan took a seat beside Olpara. The halfling had been sitting in a patch of shade afforded by one of the longboats. She had a notebook in front of her and was filling the pages with script and diagrams.

Olpara looked up when Rowan sat down. "Do you know that I really do not know that much about ships?"

Rowan shook her head.

"Rather odd for someone who is helping to finance a flying ship, don't you think?"

"A little."

"It was something that occurred to me several ten days ago. Now that I'm on a ship I'm trying to learn as much as I can. Fortunately the sailors like to talk when gambling. For some of them it's their tell."

"I'm glad that you are enjoying the voyage," Rowan said, putting a slight emphasis on 'you' without thought.

"You're not enjoying it?" A slightly puzzled expression crossed Olpara's face.

"No, well, not exactly," Rowan said, then sighed. "I just don't care much for ocean travel. I'd rather be on Rose Thorn, tearing across the land. I'm not interested in the working of the ship like you, and I don't really love the ocean, as Misara appears to. I should enjoy the chance to simply do nothing, but it grows surprisingly wearisome after a short while."

"That's unfortunate. How is Rose Thorn handling the voyage?"

"Well enough. I can tell that he wants to be on solid land soon enough, but he'll be patient. Berry," she said, naming Olpara's gelding, "does not like the journey."

Olpara nodded. "I'm putting some herbs in his feed to keep him calm, but it only goes so far. He'll probably be a little lethargic when we get back to land."

"You can ride behind me. We'll give Berry a lighter load for the first day."

"This ship is going to continue down the coast," Olpara said.

"I suppose so." Rowan was not certain why Olpara had said such a thing.

"At any of the port cities in Amn or Calimshan I could easily find a ship that would take me home to Lantan."

"I suppose you could," Rowan told her, understanding why the halfling had brought it up.

"I was thinking about it. About going home."

"Will you?"

"I want to, and yet, at the same time, I don't think I should."

Rowan shifted about to get her legs out of the sun. "Do you want to talk about it?" she asked. There was the possibility that it was still too soon to ask the question, but Rowan had decided to take the chance.

Olpara did not answer but returned her gaze to her book. From a small bag by her inkbottle she brought forth a small handful of dust, which she sprinkled, on the pages to hasten the drying of the ink. A few moments later she closed the book. As she began to pack her writing case she said, "I would, I think."

For a time Olpara did not say anything, simply packed away her pens and things. She finally snapped the leather case closed. "They were all my friends," she started, "everyone out on the moors that day. Ten of us, all used to the moors, and the area around Everlund. It was hard work, but we always were smart, until we got the idea to try negotiating with the giants."

She tapped her fingers against the writing case, closed her eyes, and then said, "It was a stupid idea. We should have known better, but we thought that it would work. And making a deal with the giants had to be better than fighting them. Maybe it could have worked, with a different group.

"They took us by surprise, boulders flying at us, and then they came charging in while we were still disoriented. Souky, Wren, Crowley, and Dee were killed in the initial attack. Amus died when the giants tried to force him to talk.

"The thing is," she looked at Rowan, "that all the injuries I had taken came from that initial attack. After the giants brought me and the others back the their camp they left me alone. They started with Amus, then after he died they alternated between Midan and Ockal, less of Ockal because he did not scream as much I guess. They never touched me. Maybe they thought I would die, or maybe they equated usefulness with size, I don't know, but I was just left there.

"I could hear everything, see some of it, and I knew, I knew that if they even looked at me I would start talking. I would tell them everything they wanted to know. I just did not want them to hurt me. I would have told them anything, betrayed anyone just so long as they did not hurt me."

Rowan was surprised by Olpara's story. She had assumed that the halfling had been tortured by the giants. She had not considered what Olpara was telling her. She was not even certain what to say to her.

"You think less of me now, don't you," Olpara said. "I knew you would."

Rowan wondered if she did. Olpara's admission had struck her as being rather cowardly, but she did not say that. What she said was, "A Martyred Champion of Ilmater once told me that torture can break anyone." She was not entirely certain why she said. It was something she had not thought of in a long time, perhaps had been trying not to think of it. Yet it was the right thing to say, she was certain of that.

Olpara looked at Rowan, a curious look on her face.

"He told me that the worse thing about torture is that the person doing the work often does not care for their victim. Torturers have been trained that way; they don't see the person they are working on as a person. It is just a job. If they hated you at least there'd be a reason. But they don't.

"Being helpless, in pain, and the person doing it sees you as a thing. I can't even imagine it, and I don't really like trying." Rowan was silent for a few seconds, the sounds of the sea and the ship rushing in to fill that void. "I don't think less of you. For all I know in the same situation I might have thought exactly the same thing.

"I was told one thing by him, the Champion, that is worth remembering. Flesh is weak, the faith in your god can be as strong as you need it."

Olpara shifted out from the shadow, partially into the sunlight. "That might help, if you followed a god like Ilmater, or you were a Paladin or Cleric. I don't think that Tymora would be likely to give me strength when I needed it."

"Then trust that she will send the luck to avoid such a thing when you need it." Rowan smiled, shifted forward and then up to her feet. "I'll see you at dinner." She walked away, thinking that Olpara needed some time to think.

Kesk looked at the camp. It was orderly, well run, and well defended, with a low earthen wall and sharpened logs pointing outwards. Sentries walked the inside and outside perimeter and a pair of guards stood at the gate, watching him, but not saying anything.

The sentries, the guards, everyone he saw in the camp were orcs. Well armed and equipped, disciplined, professional and apparently not bothered by the day's light. They were all part of a mercenary company, called the 'Tusk Soldiers'. The scroll his rescuer had left for him had contained information about them. The company was led by a human named Timmin Dours. He had brought them from the north, into lands that did not know much of orcs beyond their fearsome reputations.

Recently the Tusk Soldiers had been hired to keep a section of the road between Baldur's Gate and Waterdeep safe for caravans that travelled it near the Troll Hills and the Troll Claws. Kesk did not like that orcs were fighting to keep fat, human, merchants safe, but it likely kept the warriors sharp.

He walked up to the gate guards. "I want to speak with Timmin," he said in the language of the orcs. "I want to hire the Tusk."

The guards looked at him for a few seconds, saying nothing. Then one reached for something at his belt. He produced a small whistle, which he blew into, producing three quick chirps.

From around the cover of the wall a goblin ran. He was small and weak looking, as were all of his kind Kesk thought, but he was well dressed, and almost looked professional.

"Yeah boss? What you want boss?" he asked in a nasally voice.

"Tell Umar that there's a customer that wants to talk to Timmin," the orc with the whistle said, not bothering to look at the goblin.

"Yeah boss. Right boss," the goblin said before running off deeper into the camp.

The gate guards said nothing more. Kesk stood where he was, arms akimbo, waiting patiently.

Several minutes later a short, swarthy, bald man who walked with a rolling gait approached. He wore a hauberk of chain and metal plate and on his back was a quiver of short spears. Kesk supposed that the man was Umar.

"What's happening Turkon?" he addressed the orc that had sent the goblin off.

"Says he wants to speak to Timmin bout hiring us," the orc said.

The man turned his attention to Kesk, his gaze taking note of the way the he was dressed, almost as if he was deciding how much money that Kesk carried.

"Alright, come with me. I'll take you to Timmin." He turned and started into the camp.

Kesk followed after him, stepping between the gate guards. Inside of the camp he had a better view of how things were set up. The tents were placed in neat groupings, fire pits placed away from the tents, buckets of water and sand close to each fire pit. He saw orcs working on their equipment, and the small goblins moving about, obviously servants in the camp.

He had worked with bands of orcs in the past and the order and cleanliness of the camp amazed him. There was a professionalism to the orc mercenaries that he would not have credited to his father's people. It disturbed him slightly. The children of Gruumsh were not weak humans who needed to be concerned of such things.

His guide led him to an open area of the camp where only one large tent stood. A pair of orc guards stood on either side of the tent's entrance. "Wait here," the man said. Kesk stopped as the man entered the tent. Several seconds later he exited and said to Kesk, "You may enter."

Kesk nodded and walked forward, ducking slightly as he pushed through the canvas flaps into the tent. It was brightly lit with many lamps, and a thick carpet covered the floor. The tent was divided roughly in half with a hanging curtain. The half that Kesk entered appeared to be an office for there was a desk, several cabinets, a large table covered in maps and several chairs.

The man behind the desk looked soft and effete. Well dressed, neatly groomed with short, oiled, black hair, and moustache waxed, the tips pointing upwards. Kesk warned himself not to forget that the man commanded orcs, and apparently did so well. It was likely he was more dangerous than he looked.

Kesk could see that the man was giving him a thorough examination as well, and something in his eyes suggested he was seeing a great deal.

"You Timmin Dours?" Kesk asked.

"I am. You wish to hire the Tusk Soldiers I understand."

"Actually," Kesk said as he approached the desk, "I planned to come here, kill you, and take control of this band."

Timmin did not look concerned. "Is that still your plan?"

Kesk shook his head as he came to stand by the desk. "Your orcs are too disciplined." He stressed disciplined as if it left something of a bad taste in his mouth.

"You do not appreciate that?"

"Discipline like that is wrong for my people."

"We differ then on the training we feel befits a soldier. Now, let us get down to business."

Kesk reached into his belt pouch and brought forth a leather bag. He tossed it onto the desk in front of Timmin. Timmin opened it and dumped its contents onto the desk. A fortune in precious stones spilled out upon the dark wood of the desk, diamonds, sapphires and emeralds glittering in the lamplight. Kesk's liberator had provided the gems, with everything else.

Timmin spread the gems about and picked up a diamond the size of a fingernail. "What is it you wish of the Tusk Warriors?"

"I want someone killed. I want it done right."

"What sort of force might you be going against in order to kill this person?"

"Three or four."

Timmin looked up from the gems, apparently surprised. "Surely you could hire assassins to handle such a job." He waved his hands over the fortune on his desk. "You could hire some fine assassins for this."

"Like I said, I want it done right."

Timmin looked as if he might ask something else, then he shrugged his shoulders. "You are the customer. Please sit. Let's talk."

Kesk removed the great sword from his shoulder and leaned it against the chair before he took a seat.

"Currently the Tusk Soldiers are involved in a contract that I will not break. How close is the person you wish to kill?"

"Candlekeep. She'll be in Candlekeep soon and then maybe head north."

"If she heads north, I could put four of my sections at your disposal. That would give you forty soldiers, four sergeants, two lieutenants and a captain."

"All orcs?"

"One of the lieutenants is human, the other is an orc. The captain is human, you've met him, Umar."

"For how long?"

"With what you paid me, four weeks."

"I see."

"Assuming you remained within three or four days travel of this location. I can't afford to let my soldiers travel too far from here."

"Very well. I'll take the four sergeants with me for a job now. I'll be back in four days, no more."

"Why, and what job?"

"I need to see the quality I'm hiring. The sergeants will show me. What I will do is not your business."

For a moment Timmin looked like he might argue that. Then he looked at the gems on his desk and nodded. "As you wish."

The Sea Rothé had sailed pass Candlekeep, continuing south until the ship found a safe anchorage between the keep and The Cloud Peaks. A block and tackle on the boom of the forward mast created a crane. The crane was used to lift the three horses from the hold and then into the water.

Two longboats had been launched, the sailors pulling at the oars while a marine in each boat held a harpoon ready in case any sea creature tried to attack the swimming horses. Misara, Rowan and Olpara sat out of the way in the rear of the lead longboat. Misara held an arrow ready in her bow, watching for the same threats as the marines did.

The horses and boats safely reached the shore. Sailors quickly built fires on the rocky shore, using wood and tinder brought from the ship. They soon had a large bonfire blazing. The horses were covered in blankets and rubbed down by the fire to chase away the chill of their recent swim.

It was all done quickly and efficiently, and soon the two boats were being rowed back to the Sea Rothé. Misara stood by the edge of the water, watching as the ship pulled up its anchor and raised the sails to catch the wind.

As it turned away from the shore and started out into deeper and safer waters she saw Captain Cooper waving a bright scarf in farewell. Misara lifted her hand in reply, but was not certain if he would see it.

Once the ship was a spot on the horizon she turned and walked back to the fire. The horses had been dried off and both Rowan and Olpara were saddling their own mounts.

"We could ride east to the road and then follow it to Way of the Lion and the keep. Or we could just ride along the coast. The former will be longer but safer," Misara told them.

"Why go looking for extra trouble," Olpara said as she continued the complicated procedure she used to saddle her horse.

"I don't think we can spare the time." Rowan cinched Rose Thorn's saddle tight. "The sooner we arrive at Candlekeep the better. And what is a little extra trouble." That she directed at Olpara.

Misara looked between them, wondering if the halfling had really recovered from her ordeals on the Evermoors. "I think that as long as those troubles do not slow us. We'll follow the coast unless and until that proves to be a problem. There are a few fishing villages along the way where we can ask about the situation along the coast."

"Sounds good," Rowan said as she climbed onto Rose Thorn's back. Olpara, finishing her preparations, handed the reins up to Rowan and then let Rowan help her up onto Rose Thorns back.

Misara grabbed a handful of Iron's mane and swung herself up onto the horse. "Let's ride."

The horses set off at a trot, moving carefully away from the rock-strewn shore, but staying within sight of the ocean. All three of the horses were energetic after days spent in the ship's hold. It was obvious they wanted to run. Misara waited until the footing grew more certain then let Iron have his head. Rose Thorn followed not far behind, slightly constrained by Berry who was tethered to his saddle horn.

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