Please forgive this being written for Forgotten Realms
"Larceny is a good thing boy. It's put clothes on your back, food in your stomach and a roof over your head. A damn fine roof and the best delicacies at that, despite the fact that you choose to wear those local folk' rags." Deye looked dubiously at his father, unable to disagree with him but desperately wanting to nonetheless."I've allowed you to pursue your hobby with that bow of yours because it's good for business. Having you learn and compete with the locals reinforces the appearance that we are part of this community. Just the other day Farelly came into our shop to trade his skins, just because he was so impressed with your shooting skills at last month's Bel Fair. However, I'll not have a son of mine believing himself to be some simple country bumpkin! You remember our arrangement perfectly well son; you may participate in this silly, local preoccupation with archery so long as those activities do not interfere with your studies. I’m depending upon you to take over when I retire. I'll tolerate no further talk of the foolish ideas you've had placed into your head from some uneducated, half-drunk, archery instructor. It is no matter, his extolling the virtues of allegedly glorious adventures from days in his distant past. His stories are highly exaggerated and without question are mostly untrue.”
Deye sat alone that sultry summer night. Despite the moon's fullness, the night was dark, it enveloped the youth like a cold dispassionate blanket. The mood of which, intent upon making one wonder if all could ever be made right. Deye remembered his father's words; Da's lessons. He stared at the flames of his campfire, unconcerned with preserving his night vision. Bandits, wolves, monsters be damned Deye thought. His lone figure uncaring, oblivious to any danger that might find him, occasionally dabbing a watery eye with a tear stained kerchief; eyes that could not find the needed catharsis a bona fide sob would bring. Danger would not find Deye this night. It had visited him recently and would many times again but this night it abided.
Standing well over six feet tall, Garrick struck an imposing figure as he glanced down at the much shorter businessman to his left. The man might have been shorter, but he was a man of much power and wealth. Garrick was dressed in his finest business attire with his favorite black linen vest and matching waist coast, creating an illusion that he hoped would serve his purpose this day. "As you can see, our inventories are quite extensive and profits are booming. We have locations all along the Sword Coast and we will be opening new ones in Calimport and in fair Darromar next month." Garrick could tell this boast he'd made had struck home with this greedy-eyed merchant sent from Waterdeep when his pupils dilated slightly. Garrick let the prospector ask the question he so obviously wanted to. Now is the time to shut up. Let him be the next to speak, if he does I've won!
As if on cue Diegel spoke, "How can you have negotiated a favorable dispensation of the tariffs King Haedrak has imposed upon all non-Thethyrian wares? I must warn you against making unwarranted or braggardly claims when representing your company to us. Our own considerable prestige, that of the Devian 9 Corporation has been applied towards overcoming this problem for no short time. I don't see how you could have succeeded where we have failed.”
Precisely the response I expected from this pumped up pompous windbag, thought Garrick. Oh, to be matched against one that I could deem a worthy adversary, Garrick caught himself before he allowed a groan of contempt to escape his lips.
"Well, as you are aware Diegel, business in Calimport is only a matter of greasing the proper Pasha, or more accurately enriching the proper Pasha. As for Tethyr, let's just say it can be helpful dealing with King Hardrak when one has family with the Rhindaun sir name. King Haedrak looks at our arrangement not as breaking his tax policy but rather as nepotism."
Diegel looked at Garrick slyly," Ah, I see. We'll have to keep an eye on you. Well, as far as I can see all of your profit claims are accurate, inventory lists are spot on, and reinvestment to dividend ratios are well balanced. I'll tender my summary to Devian 9 upon my return to Waterdeep. If all other reports from your satellite offices are as favorable as mine will be, I expect you'll be receiving an offer from corporate within a couple weeks."
"Excellent. Let’s get to that banquet I mentioned earlier. You are the guest of honor, of course. It simply wouldn't do to have the festivities start without you there. I know crawling around in warehouses counting boxes and poring over financial documents all day has given me quite an appetite. Please, this way friend,” said Garrick as he placed his hand familiarly on Diegel's shoulder. "That is, I'd like to think of us as friends, if that's ok with you?"
"I'd always rather do business with those I call friends," Diegel replied, smiling stupidly.
Diegel was brushing the dust and cobwebs off his clothing; he didn’t want to attend a banquet looking disheveled, especially being the guest of honor. He looked at Garrick wondering how the man’s attire had stayed clean while his own was covered with dust. This Garrick, a class below his own, was wearing clothing much better that Diegel himself owned. He had made special effort today as he dressed for this warehouse inspection. Knowing full well that he would be climbing atop boxes of goods most of the day, he had chosen a suit that wasn’t as nice as the suits he normally wore. He’d chosen a simple blue linen shirt, belted at the waste, along with a pair of brown linen trousers and the most comfortable shoes that he owned. He’d worn a white linen tunic, but put it away once they started climbing on the boxes. He quickly donned the tunic, ran his fingers through his thinning hair, and met up with Garrick, who was washing up in his own office.
The two men enjoyed food and wine at the local pub with the mayor, before Diegel took a room for the night and Garrick walked back to the warehouse. On his walk back, Garrick stopped for a brief moment at a doorway in the alley, knocking as usual, with his cane. As the peephole opened, Garrick tipped his hat and continued on his way. He noted the calm weather, unusual for this time of year. He enjoyed the warmth, knowing that the icy cold winds from the north would move in soon enough. Pleased to have concluded his business for the evening, he began thinking about his deceased wife and the son that she bore him. The time was near for all to be made right, only a few loose ends to tie up. Ah, here is one of them now.
As he neared the warehouse, he recognized the short, stocky silhouette of his associate, Bernall. Standing only five feet tall with a girth of the same five feet, the little man always appeared sloppy in his dress. His blond hair was unkempt, long, and dirty, and his disheveled facial hair seemed scattered, oddly, here and there on his large, round face. Bernall’s foul body odor permeated Garrick’s nostrils as he neared the man. Garrick wondered if Bernall ever changed his clothing, he’d worn the same clothes every day since their first meeting. Bernall had the muscular upper body build and strength fit for the job of a warehouse worker.
"By the Gods I thought this evening would go on for forever. That Diegel must be the most talkative, odious windbag I've ever had the displeasure of acquainting."
"Never mind that Garrick, do ya think he bought it?"
"Bernall my friend, he bought it, and they will buy it. Our wildest financial dreams will come true in just a few short weeks.”
"I tell ya, the men, well; they busted their backsides today movin’ all ‘em boxes about from warehouse to warehouse tryin’ ta keep ahead o ya. There was the one time a bunch of the empty ones tipped over just afore ya got there ‘cause Stick put a full one atop o’ ‘em. I thought a ‘sure we'd be found out then. But we was able to re stack ‘em quick nough, by the skin o our teeth we did." Bernall winked conspiratorially.
Garrick hid his surprise masterfully, as he always did. He'd never heard Bernall use so many words consecutively; he'd begun to think the man incapable of any sentence longer than four or five words. Bernall must be nearly as excited as Garrick felt himself to become so talkative. Hmm, can't have ole Berny getting all chatty on me, thought Garrick. Good thing I’ve already arranged for a way to quiet the man. Pity, he's been a valuable tool these last few years, but I guess I won't need him anymore.
"We'll have to see to it the men are properly rewarded for all of their hard work. I think an extra five gold each is in order and ten for you Bernall; You should arrange to have it delivered it to them all personally."
Bernall's eyeballs looked as if they might pop out at this uncharacteristic generosity of his boss, no, no longer just his boss, his friend, yes Garrick was his friend; the uncharacteristic generosity his friend was demonstrating. "I...I... uh"
Oh good the old Berny is back. Pity it's too late, he's already demonstrated this unfortunate ability to polylogize, thought Garrick. “Do you still have that list of the men and their residences so you can deliver their gold tomorrow?"
Bernall’s dirty hand reached for the woolen pouch around his waist. He cautiously opened the pouch, not wanting to reveal its contents to Garrick, and pulled out a piece of paper. As he slowly unfolded the paper, he wished that he had learned his letters a bit better; his handwriting looked much like chicken scratch next to Garrick’s flawless penmanship.
"Ah yes there it is. You'll see to this personally Bernall? Good! Here is the gold for you and the men. Have a most wonderful evening! It's always been a pleasure knowing and working with you Bernall."
The two men shook hands then walked in separate directions from the shadowed alcove of the fraudulent warehouse building they had used earlier that day. As Bernall waddled away, he wondered, about the odd ending to their conversation; I don't think Garrick has ever been so formal or polite with me. Nor so generous either. His steps halted and he turned to watch Garrick leave. The man struck an imposing figure against the darkness of the alley. Tall, lean, and very well dressed; his clothing was made of the finest materials available. The splendid hat atop his head made the man look a bit sinister. Bernall turned away just as Garrick tipped his hat in the direction of the alley. Bernall's thoughts of Garrick's generosity, soon led him to thinking of how he intended to spend his unexpected windfall. All thoughts of Garrick's unusual behavior out of his mind he began to focus on the night's festivities. Bernall didn't notice the figure in the distance shadowing him, barely too precisely to be coincidental.
Garrick’s walking stick struck the stones of the street with each step reverberating through the empty night. He thought to himself as he walked home, I'm brilliant! Those idiots from Waterdeep think I'm some stupid country bumpkin they can buy out at half my company's worth. Oh, to be a fly on the wall when they discover the company they've bought. It would almost be worth getting caught, just to see the smug looks wiped off their fat faces. Almost. I'll finally have my vengeance for their foreclosure upon my family’s assets and properties. Tis a pity my father was such a poor businessman that he lost our family fortune. It was best for him and mother to die so soon afterwards, they didn't have the courage to go on anyway. Now all that is left is to eliminate witnesses and wait for my money.
Garrick imagined, about now Bernie will be having a most unpleasant encounter in that alleyway he so often uses after he leaves our meetings. Garrick didn’t flinch at the idea but he did feel surprisingly sad. Then he comforted himself; Soon I will have what is rightfully mine. I will have the money I'm owed by right, by blood, by guile. After that, in a few short months, I'll be in the Dalelands with Deye. A backwards land but one in which I'll never be found. I'll teach Deye my business. We can start over with a small trade’s store. I surely know, the barbarians out there have need of trade goods.
Two young men made their way deep into the meadow. As they meandered through the tall brush, they were fastidious to synchronize their movements with the sounds of the natural habitat. The sky was overcast; it was darker than normal due to the thunderstorm that was raging in the distant northern sky. The wind was starting to gust with wild abandonment. Without a sound, the two hunters proceeded. Deye had his mind on stalking a few cottontail for his evening meal. Suddenly both youths froze to the sight of what looked like the prey they were hunting. The brown fur of the rabbits was scarcely visible through the shrubbery.
"You'll not hit it from here Deye, tis a 100 yard shot at least,” Mergul whispered, "let's see if we can sneak clo-” Mergul was interrupted by the twang of a bowstring being released and the slight woosh of air being displaced by an arrow. "Dagnabbit Deye, I told ya you couldn’t hit it from," Again, Mergul was interrupted by the sound of a rabbit's death scream. "But, how could you hit it from so far away, in this wind, in those shrubs and it scamperin’ bout like that! Yer unnatural you are!”
"Actually the distance was closer to 135 yards Mer and there was more than one to hit. I figured I could hit at least one of them. Rollo has been teaching me lots. I tell ya, you ought to join his class, its lots better than the regular militia training. Plus, he's got such great stories! Did you know he shot the eye of a flying dragon out once?"
"Oh yeah," Mergul replied skeptically "How many beers had he drunk afore he told’ that whopper? Let's get yer rabbit afore a coyote or worse smells the blood and decides to rob it for its own."
"Good idea Mer. Let's go get it. But I still don't think Rollo was fibbing about the dragon. His story seemed too real, including details a person wouldn't know about unless they'd actually seen a dragon."
"I'll admit ole Rollo is a fine enough shot an’ a good teacher but my thinkin’ is if Rollo really saw a dragon like you say, it was already dead and he shot it's eye after it died. Why, dragons, they's supposed to have lots of treasure and such. If ole Rollo had helped kill one, wouldn't he be rich with dragon treasure? And if'n he's rich why would he be out here in the Dalelands living in a shack, usually in the bottom of his cups, teachin’ archery for scraps on the rare occasion he's sober enough to hold a bow without fallin’ over?"
"Those are some really good points Mer, but I still think Rollo was..."
"Holy Lathander!" exclaimed Mergul.
Deye had been walking over to the rabbit he shot, and was surprised enough by Mergul's exclamation to forget his argument about Rollo, to look at his friend.
"How'd you... how's that... look!" Mergul said pointing towards the rabbit.
Deye turned to look at the rabbit and was surprised to see all three rabbits that had been scampering about the den, were skewered on his arrow. In his shock Deye mumbled, "Holy Tymora more like. I'm not that good a shot Mer, that there was luck for sure! It'll be nice having a tall tale to tell Rollo for a change though.”
“Maybe I can even tell my Da about this one".
"I don’t know Deye; from what you say about yer Pa he's not too fond of any of your archery stories. He's friendly enough to any folks that come into yer store but from what you say, I'm amazed he's willing to pay Rollo the pittance that he asked for to train you."
"Well Da has actually been coming around lately. He's been somewhat preoccupied with something. He's less testy but more -- jumpy lately. He actually didn't crawl down my throat when I mentioned opening a new market in Icewind Dale just so I could go study with a bow master that Rollo told me lives out there. He actually, well he actually looked like he was considering it. I guess he was just thinking about how well the Icewind Dale market would work for us. I mentioned it to him because he's always preferred rural markets instead of big cities.”
Deye looked around furtively to make sure nobody was nearby to overhear and then whispered, "You know how he can't go into any of the large markets. I was thinking this might be a good chance for him to expand his business, as he wants and me to train under a bow master of legendary repute. Still I'm not certain if he understood my end of the deal or not. I was afraid to press him too much. Once he says no to a thing, there's no changing his mind. I'll bring it up again in a week or so. Da and I have a deal about business and archery, I think we can come to some arrangement. Still, I suppose you're right Mer, best if I don't mention these rabbits to him. I can't eat this many and I can't take them home or he'll want to know where I got them. Do you think your Ma would like to make a brace of coneys for supper tonight?"
"My mouth's watering just thinking about it Deye, thanks tons! You wanna come fer dinner tonight?"
"I'd be glad to come Mer, my Da's having some meeting tonight and he's told me not to be home till after it's over."
"That's strange Deye. Doesn't your father insist upon you being present during his meetings so you can 'learn the trade'?"
"Yer right Mer, It seems odd to me too. Usually he's a stickler about me being around for his 'important meetings'. I’m not sure why this one is different. As I mentioned before, he has seemed distracted lately, preoccupied with other things maybe. Whenever I ask him, what he's thinking about he dismisses me as if I'm imagining things. I guess he'll tell me what it's all about when he's ready. Well, there's no point dwelling on my father's motivations, he always has an angle, or two planned three steps ahead of what anyone else can see anyway. His mystery is to my benefit this evening.”
The young men reached the Walker home, dressed the carcasses, and proudly presented them to Mergul’s mother. Deye displayed his kills knowing that this small subsidy would be valuable to the Mergul's family. He and Mergul went outside to gather sufficient firewood to cook the meal, competing with each other as to who would amass the largest pile of firewood.
"Well now that was the best supper I've eaten in a long while ma’am,” said Deye as he pushed himself back from the table after spending a long evening visiting and eating. "I wish Da knew half as much as you do about cooking Mrs. Walker,” Deye said while only partially suppressing a belch.
"’Tis a pity your pa chose the life of a bachelor Deye. You'd be eatin’ better if he had not. I know many a lady that’d be happy being courted by him, they sure would. Like Nessa she's a real good cook ya know. You could say something to your pa abou-”
"Now, now Katie” interrupted Mr. Walker. "Deye aint come by to sit and cackle with ya about potential step mothers for hisself. Deye's pa is man enough to wed a woman of his own choosin."
Deye looked appreciatively at Ben Walker as he thought, blimey! The idea of trying to tell my father whom he oughtta date! Even some subtle attempt to suggest someone: he'd see straight through it. If they knew him like I do, they'd not be so ready to introduce their women friends to him. Da sure does a good job maintaining his 'image' as he calls it.
"I suspect my father still mourns the loss of my dear mother. That's why we moved to the Dales when I was just a babe, to lessen his grief and avoid the crime of the big cities." This was the canned response Deye's father had coached him on innumerable times for when this subject was broached.
"Speakin’ of which, Deye, did they ever catch the person that killed your ma? You and your pa speak of it so seldom, I don't recall if either of you has ever said."
"No ma’am, they didn't" said Deye, "my father believes it was a business rival that hired an assassin. Shortly after, my father sold his business and moved us here. I think he feels partially responsible for her death. Had he sold out to begin with, my mother might not have been killed as a warning to him. I think my father was worried about what other 'warnings' he might have received had we remained."
"Oh! Such tragedy! I do wish you would tell where this happened. It's hard for me to believe there is a city, where such turmoil is permitted. I'll not press you on this though. I'll respect your father's desires to not have word getting to ears that ought not to know you are here in the Dale."
Mr. Walker interrupted again by saying, “These are all things we've discussed in the past Katie. Don't cause Deye to dwell on such upsetting things. Tell us more about that amazing shot you made to fetch us this fine supper we've had this night Deye.”
Relieved to change the subject, Deye began to retell his tale. To his credit, it was only slightly embellished.
"I'll tell ya Deye I sorta envy you,” said Mergul.
"How's that Mer?" replied Deye.
"Well see, I think my sis, Anna, sorta likes ya and I'm not gonna throttle ya for it," Mer winked anserinely.
Both Mergul and Deye burst out laughing. Deye finally managed to reign in his mirth long enough to reply, “truly Mer, I've not noticed Anna's interest and probably wouldn't have had you not pointed it out. But now that you mention it, your sister is passing fair and I can't think of anyone I'd like better than you, as a brother."
Mer stopped laughing suddenly and appeared to think intently, "Aye. I can say the same Deye, but I think yer skippin ahead just a bit there boyo. I believe you've skipped right over the courtship part o` things. Just cuz my sis can get all doe eyed over some story about Deye The Mighty and his trusty bow 'Rabbit Bane', doesn't mean she'd wanna darn yer socks and cook yer suppers fer forever.” The young men burst out in laughter again. After the laughter ended Deye said regretfully, "Well I'd best be going. It's getting late and it'll take awhile to get home."
"You could stay over if ya like. I suspect it'd be ok with Ma and Pa and undoubtedly with Anna,” Mergul winked again.
"Thanks for the offer Mer but I'm pretty anxious to talk with my Da about his meeting tonight. I doubt I'd be able to sleep much if I stayed anyway."
"That's understandable Deye. I'm curious about it myself. We'll meet at the same time and place tomorrow so you can tell me all about it?"
"Sounds good Mer. I'll tell you all that I'm able to." Deye looked at his friend meaningfully.
"I understand Deye, just tell me what you can, that'll be enough." Mer looked at Deye, meaningfully,summoning the courage to ask a tough question before saying, "What's it like Deye? Having yer Da as a Da, having all of that money around, being afraid you'll screw up and accidentally reveal one of yer Da's secrets. What's it all like?"
"I dunno Mer, its just life. It's my life. To me it's not odd at all. I suspect I could ask you, with just as much amazement, what it's like having a farmer for a Da and a Mom and sisters around helping to cook and do chores. I can say this though; I suspect you've got the better end of things Mer."
The two young men met each other’s gaze for a long moment before Mergul broke the silence, "I spect yer probably right Deye.” No other words needed, the two friends turned from each other, one to walk inside, the other to walk home. Before closing the door, Mer turned back to his friend's silhouette in the night's darkness, "I'll see ya tomorrow Deye."
"Good night Mer,” came Deye's response from the night.
"Be sure to bring Rabbit Bane with you tomorrow," Mergul smiled toothily.
Mergul watched his friend's silhouette walk away; unaware he'd not see him again.
Deye hurried home, the sky was already pitch black, dark out and the young man sensed something about the night that felt off. As his Da had taught him, "It's an important thing for men in our business to be able to sense their way around in the dark.” Deye's father had made him practice for months, blindfolded, "use your ears boy and your nose, you'll be surprised at the number of things a man can learn by using his nose first, and his eyes last. I can tell a man's worth and how much he'll take for his goods within a few moments just by his smell.”
Deye had thought this was a ridiculous exaggeration on his father's part, he'd since learned better.
I suspect I've learned lots of oddly useful things from Da over the years. I expect he'll be furious if he ever learns I don't want to take over his business. Well I'll cross that burning bridge some other time, for now I'll stick to our arrangement. I need to stop thinking about these things, Da can read me too easily. Besides, I'd swear I can smell that burning bridge. As Deye rounded, the bend going towards his home the unmistakable eerie glow of a large fire stopped him mid thought. That fire seems to be... our house! Da! He's likely trying to put it out alone. Ah, maybe his dinner guests are there helping. Should I run to get help? No best to see what Da needs first before running off. These thoughts all raced through Deye's head along with a few others: lost belongings, surprisingly fond memories, and home. Deye almostbecame frantic and unable to think straight, then he remembered the breathing exercises his father had taught him. Momentarily he became distracted by the similarity those exercises had to the ones Rollo had been teaching him.
Deye raced towards his home no thought to the darkness or his inability to see potential neck breaking obstacles in his path. What could have caused this? The pond out back, they'll be hauling buckets, Deye raced around back expecting to see a makeshift bucket brigade. The fire lit a good part of the house with its all-consuming flames, casually stroking each room until the whole structure had been whipped by its tongue. The flames took over where a house used to be.
Arriving around back, Deye did not see anyone. As he prepared to yell for his father, he heard a scream. Deye raced blindly around the house towards the source of the scream.
As he rounded, the blazing corner of his home Deye saw his father, relief flooded his body, but then he noticed the others. Five men all dressed in black surrounding his father. Deye stopped running before the men noticed him. Something about their posture told him this was a dangerous situation. What are they doing to Da? He crept closer to listen. “Stay in the shadows boy," the memory of his father's voice in his head, all thoughts of stopping the fire gone. As Deye crept closer, he began to hear the raised voices of his father and the other men over the inferno he'd once called his home.
"Ye think yer clever burnin all the evidence do ya Garrick?” this accusation accompanied by a solid slap that rattled Garrick's teeth. "Where'd you put all the money ye stole from me Garrick?" another slap. "You were smart keeping the boy away tonight for sure Garrick but we'll find him and get the information we want from him or better yet, maybe you'll not be so tight lipped while watching yer son bein tortured !”
Suddenly Garrick's face showed an expression Deye had never seen nor ever expected to see... terror. “The boy knows nothing Bernall. I swear it!"
"You? Swear!? You have the nerve to swear anything to me!? I'll be so happy to report what ye've sworn to! Devian nine will take as much delight in your sudden conversion to truthfulness as I have! Here, take a small token of my appreciation for your newfound honesty.”
Deye watched as his father was beaten, they're gonna kill him, Deye made a decision.
"Yes ye gave me little choice Garrick with your shadowy friend in the alley that night, promises of gold, betrayal of friendship. Thanks be to this ring o mine, even still it took me 6 months afore I could speak. Ye were long gone by then." Bernall grabbed Garrick by the chin and forced him to lock eyes with him. "It's taken me 17 long years to find ye my friend. A few minutes longer for ye to talk are of no consequence. I ..." Bernall's speech suddenly halted, as if he was pausing dramatically to formulate his thoughts. Bernall's henchmen stared at him expectantly, admiringly, waiting for his next witty, to their minds, threat. Just as Bernall's dramatic pause began to cause the first stirrings of suspicion in his men, he reached towards his throat as he turned to grasp at the arrow lodged there. As Bernall fell forward, he plunged the dagger he'd pulled out to menace Garrick into Garrick’s stomach. Bernall's henchmen heard a simultaneous scream from both Garrick and the nearby woods. The men turned towards the woods, towards their deaths.
Thump Thump Thump Thump, it all happened so fast and then... "Father!" Deye rushed forward to his father's side. Garrick lay on the ground crumpled in a fetal position. As Deye reached for his father he heard Garrick draw a ragged breath. “Father, it's ok Da, you'll be ok Da. So much blood oh Lathander please... there's so much blood," thought Deye.
"Hello my boy. That was some fine shooting. Excellent job of staying hidden in the shadows as well." Garrick began a chuckle that ended in a rough bloody cough. "I didn't even see you there. Though admittedly I was slightly distracted." This said as if the bloody cough hadn't happened.
"Da, be still, don't talk."
"No son, there are things that need to be said before I pass, if I don't say them, it could mean your death."
"Da its ok, say them once you're better, I'll get you to help."
"I'll have no son of mine deluding himself, and don't think you can delude me either. I can still read your eyes; we both know I'm dying. Stop wasting time lying to yourself and to me about it."
Deye wondered how it could be, here he is on his deathbed, and still he's Da setting me straight on my lessons.”
"There will be more coming Deye you'll need to run. Go to Rollo I've made arrangements with him in case this should happen."
"You've made arrangements in case you were murdered by thugs in our front yard while our house burns down!?" Deye surprised himself with the degree of anger in his voice.
"Always appear prepared son even if you aren't,” Garrick replied amidst bloody coughs and chuckles. "Do not linger long son. The fire will alert the others and these five dead here, it'll be simple enough to determine what happened. Alas, my legacy to you is that of a hunted man. You may have had issue with my methods and lessons these many years.”
Deye began to object but was cut short.
"Do not argue with your dying father Deye I can read you still. I know your heart. You may have had issue with my methods. You are a more honest man than I am. My dishonesty has not been rewarded. I fear any punishment it has wrought will befall you instead. My enemies will want your head. You must remain hidden. Know this... my methods were questionable but my motivations were honorable. The Devian 9 Corporation is responsible for your mother's death and the seizure of our family's... no never mind that. I wish I had better to give you besides enemies, your inheritance and wealth is aflame. You cannot wait to salvage anything. You must flee, find Rollo.”
As Garrick spoke these words, Deye could hear the sound of many men running towards his home. Not the sound of farmers with buckets but the more distinct sound of men drawing swords.
I'll kill them all! Just as I killed these, I'll not run from my father when he needs me most. Deye stood and drew his bow nocking an arrow preparing to make a few 'sound shots’ as Rollo had taught him until he could see his enemies.
"Deye... Deye they know not your face or your name. It's all burning, all evidence of your identity. Run my son; please run so that you can..."
His Fathers voice faded just as the flames licked away at the last of his childhood home.
"So that I can what Da?" Deye said frantically listening to both his father and the approaching men. "Near 20 men coming” Deye counted mentally. “This cannot be happening. My father would never have stayed and allowed this to happen.” All thoughts and reason ceased as his father's labored breathing stopped. Deye nearly collapsed from the numbness he felt. The need to escape forgotten, the shock of his father dead before him, Deye lost all awareness of anything around him. This moment of his father's passing would last his lifetime.
Deye's next conscious thought found him in the woods near his house counting the men as they approached his burning home and his father's body. "Twenty four... I'd have run out of arrows before downing half of them". He could not hear their words over the raging inferno of his home but he marked well the faces. Several of the men began to search the bodies and the ground about the corpses. Others began to make apparent preperations at forming a bucket brigade. One man stood out clearly as the company commander. This man intently studied the ground and then suddenly all men stood listening to him. After a brief but vehement speach the commander pointed into the woods almost directly at Deye and all 24 men surged forward.
Deye's feet found the familiar woodland path he followed so many times to Rollo's home that moonless night. He'd never run it so fast.
Rollo sat near the fireplace of his small cottage looking wantingly at the ale he'd poured himself and disgustedly at the book in his left hand. "Well I suppose if it was going to happen it'd been by now. I'm having that ale. Silly Garrick always thinking he's three steps ahead of everyone. It'd almost serve him right if his worries came to fruition."." If not for his coin I'd have moved on long since. Well, there's the boy... maybe I'd still be here for the boy. Rare talent he's got. Just begining to understand his potential he is.". "Well it's time for an ale...". Rollo's first swig was interrupted by a loud pounding on his door.
"Rollo... Rollo, open up it's me Deye!".
Rollo's cottage door opened slowly to reveal a weathered craggy man half grey with age but still obviously possesing the strength, agility and guile of a canny hunter.
"Rollo I think I may have just killed my father" stated Deye,as he flopped inside the door then crossed the room to lean on the mantle of the fireplace hiding his tearless eyes.
"Killed your father?" said Rollo in disbelief. "Now, how'd you go and do that Deye?" Rollo disbelievingly asked.
"These men, they were hurting him. One was named Bernall. He wanted to kill Da I know he did but he wasn't going to. He wanted information. I don't know what about, likely money."
"So far it doesn't sound like there was any dyin Deye".
"Well they were hurtin Da something fierce. I thought for sure they would kill him.". "That Bernall fellow he looked like he had murder in his eyes and before I knew it I had shot him dead. As he fell forward he stabbed my Da with the knife he had."." If I hadn't shot Bernall my Da would be alive now".
"More likely he'd be on his way to getting good and tortured by professionals and you along with him."."I'm sorry yer Pa is dead Deye but he suspected this might happen.".
"If my Da expected this might happen he'd have skinned out long ago before these fellows ever arrived. He'd know better than to stick around and wait.".
"Well now it's true yer Da would normally have done that, but he needed to stick around. Haven't you noticed yer Da acting strange lately?".
Deye thought for a moment Rollo's words distracting him from his grief temporarily.
"Yes, I suppose I have noticed that. But why would he wait around here if he knew these men were coming?".
"Well Deye I can't say for sure but I suspect it'd have something to do with his desire to protect you.".
"Nonsense. If he'd wanted to protect me he coulda just up and relocated me along with him. I suppose I'd have hated him for it but that's not too altogether different from how..." Deye's sentence trailed off unfinished as he forced these words through his mind repeatedly: "I do not hate my father. I do not hate my father. I didn't mean to kill my father.".
After Rollo watched Deye's inner struggle for a minute he cleared his throat and said, "Perhaps some answers lay within the package he gave to me for you.".
"Package?' Deye asked dazedly.
"Yes, this package here.". Rollo walked into his bedroom and reappeared a few seconds later with a large package.
What's in it Rollo?".
"Well open it boy. That's the sureset way to find out.".
Rollo reclined in his chair as he watched Deye's obvious curiosity win out over his hesitation.
"Wait!" Rollo suddenly jumped up from his chair. "Were you followed?"
"What are you talking about Rol... Oh my gosh the twenty four men!! Surely they can't have tracked me so easily on a moonless night."
"Doesn't require much of a tracker to follow a trail boy, even at night." "I suppose yer Da dyin has rattled you but you oughtta think more clearly. Don't let death distract you so much in the future. If you do, it'll be your death distracting someone else. Quick out the back before they can surround the place. Stay on my arse, no sounds, no trails. Grab yer package.". As Rollo said the last he reached into the package and pulled out a backpack handing it strap first to Deye.
As Deye picked up the backpack he was surprised that such a large pack could be so light and wieldly, but had no opportunity to express his dismay. Quickly Rollo and Deye dimmed all of the cottage lights and crept out the back door of the cottage, the inky blackness of the moonless night hiding their passage from the men, audibly near the cottage and making preperations to attack.
Once Deye and Rollo had crept far enough away to risk talking Deye whispered, "How did you know they were outside?" "How did you know which way they weren't?" "They seemed all around and yet you led us straight past them.".
"Boy once you've been hunted by dragons a few silly humans is nothing to sneak past."
"But you said you hunted the dragons not the other way around."
Rollo allowed himself a low quiet chuckle as he said, "Boy it's one in the same thing. Dragons don't take lightly to being hunted. They come looking for you. It's about who spots whom first and who damages whom first.". "With dragons moreso than any other foe: hit them first, hit them hard, hit them dead." "You give your foe the chance to hit you first or to wound you mortally and he will.". "Tis why I prefer the bow. You can bring your sword to my bow fight any time I know who'll be walking away and who'll be dead.".
At this moment hearing Rollo's words Deye knew without question Rollo's tales of adventure were not some half drunken fictions, this Rollo, he was the real deal. "What could have caused this hero to have become such a broken man? Lost in his cups. A bard's tale in the making ,I suspect is this man's story.".
Rollo interupted Deye's musings,"Come Deye, we must make as much distance as we can this night, while the darkness cloaks our movements and tracks.".
"Where are we going?"
"We're going North. I'll explain more later, or yer Da will.".
Deye looked questioningly at Rollo but he said no more. Rollo only moved on leaving Deye no choice but to follow or be left behind.
Over the next week Deye and Rollo pulled every trick in the book. Deye was amazed at the level of knowledge Rollo demonstrated backtracking, covering tracks, misdirection, scent deadening. Even a little bit of brachiation. No matter the precautions taken, the pursuit was gaining. After the fisrt two days the gap between pursuers and pursued gradually narrowed.
"There's nothing for it, we'll have to kill them.", stated Rollo upon returning to camp after scouting the location of the pursuers.
"But they are twenty four and we are only two!".
"No lad they are thirty five now. With atleast two casters amongst them. I've suspected they had magical aid since we've been unable to shake them.". "They must want whatever information they think you have pretty badly.".
"But I have no information! Why would they want me so badly it can't be information.".
"I seriously doubt they'll be willing to discuss it without commiting violence first. You killed five of them after all."
"Looks like I'll end up killing more than five. Where will we fight?".
"First I need to know how they are tracking us."." I think I can eliminate you from the sites of any spell pretty easily. Strip everything you had on you the night your father died off. Throw it all in this bag. Put on only the items in your father's package he gave you.". "Yes that includes your bow 'Rabbit Bane'", Rollo said the last while winking slyly. "You'll have to use the bow your father had me make for you. I know it's a bit uncomfortable for you but you'll get used to it.""Rabbit bane is likely how they are tracking us. That or an item on my person.".
Deye looked at the backpack and Bow that had been in the package he'd received the night his father died. He'd not had many chances to read the letter included but he remembered what it said easily.
Son, if you are reading this, it's likely things have not gone well and you have many questions. At this time I cannot explain what you must be wondering: Why would I stay and face the men that I knew would likely kill me or at least undoubtedly torture me? I'm afraid any adequate answer I could give would necessarily require me to divulge facts I'm unwilling to. Just know this my son, it's not just me that is in danger. I cannot explain the source of that danger. But there are those who will want you dead or at least imprisoned. I'd tell you why this is but I've lived my life attempting to rectify an injustice, only to have my son endangered for something that is in the end meaningless. I'll not curse you to a life of wondering "what if" as I have. In the end I want you to live your life. Be happy, pursue your dreams. The bow master you mentioned to me a couple months ago in Icewind Dale: I've arranged an apprenticeship for you with him. Rollo will know the details of this as it is his introduction letter more than my own coin that allowed your placement. Icewind will be a safe place for you to begin your life anew. I'm sorry you must leave the Dale and your friends behind. Please know that if you stayed you would be endangering them all. The bow was meant to be a birthday present for you next month. Rollo is quite a skilled craftsman when he can stay away from the ale. The rest of the things in the pack are items you should find useful while on the road.Be safe my son, be well and though I never say it, you have my love.
"Thinkin o that letter again I see. Yer Da he couldna sign it or put yer name to it in case it was found. But I watched him write it himself. No don't ask. I have no idea what his big secret was and you'd best get it out of your head as well. He made it pretty clear to walk that road is naught but trouble and heartache. Yer Da was a wiser man than I gave him credit for. I'll not besmirch his good intentions for you by trying to reveal what he's so carefully concealed". "Besides, we've got a battle to plan".
One thing Deye knew for sure. He was without question glad to have Rollo on his side, "If ever I wanted to fight 35 with only one ally it'd be Rollo for sure".
Now remember lad we need to kill the casters first. They'll likely have protection from your arrows so don't expect your attacks to get through. That's ok your attacks will still serve a function. Trust me on this. Once the casters are down it's about attrition lad. We move we kill from a distance we hide we sneak we kill. Don't let them close the distance or we'll die. Select yer target based on threat. Whichever target threatens us the most take it out. Out ain't necessarily dead, just outta commission. The only ones that need to die during the battle are the casters. All the rest they can die after, so long as they can't keep fighting they'll keep. If things go badly I'll try to draw them off. If I fall you head on to Icewind like yer Da wanted."
"Like hell I'm leaving him to bleed to death while I run", thought Deye. He almost winced thinking Rollo had read his thoughts as his father would have but Rollo didn't seem to notice anything.
"Make sure you wear that hood so they can't see yer face lad. We don't want any deathtalkers comin to try and get an image from any of them. All right lad they'll be hitting the first of our booby traps soon. Get yerself prepared.
"The business of killing folks is not so tough as one might think", thought Deye. "One must only thrust oneself into the position where the other guys are trying to kill you and the rest just sorta comes naturally". The beginning of things went pretty much as Rollo had planned. Shoot the magic users till someone gets too close with a sword take him down, go back to shooting the magic users but then they all took cover. The battle had been taking hours and there were still atleast 20 guys out there. "Fortunately none of them is a very good shot". "It seems they want to take us alive too". "Looks like they are regrouping to discuss some new strategy. Maybe rethinking the whole 'take them alive' approach".
Rollo looked over at Deye and winked as he pulled out three arrows.
"Oh boy this oughtta be interesting he's pulled out his 'special' arrows." Deye watched as Rollo notched all three arrows on to his bow and released. All three sailed into the copse of trees to which the remaining twenty men had retreated". "My Gods the range he has!" thought Deye "Three at once further than I could ever hope to fire just one.". Deye looked on in amazement, simple admiration of a master working at his craft. Therefore he was completely taken by surprise when three separate explosions simultaneously incinerated the copse of trees in which the twenty men had gathered. Through the thunderous explosions the screams of dying men were unmistakable. Rollo had an odd look on his face upon witnessing his work. Not a smile, not admiration. It was a look of resigned acceptance. Deye struggled to keep the awe from his voice, "Is that all of them?".
"I believe so. Never assume. We'll wait and observe." Rollo's speech was more hoarse than usual.
"How'd you... what was... so those are special arrows then?" Deye stammered.
"Yes Deye, some day you too may learn to create such destruction. Use it wisely if you do. Never get so that taking life is a fun thing.".
Rollo appeared to lose himself in thought. Dusk was approaching. The battle and preparations had lasted the day. Deye wanted to ask Rollo how much longer they need wait but he couldn't bring himself to speak to his obviously disturbed instructor.
"This waiting, it seems unnecessary, thought Deye, surely if any lived we'd have seen them move by now. I'll wait a few more minutes before I ask Rollo what the hold up is, he sure looks upset."
Finally Deye asked, "How much longer..."
Phhhzt!! Deye found himself being knocked from his perch, as he fell he saw Rollo falling as well and the robed figure they'd been trying to kill all day floating in midair index finger extended.
"Where'd he come from? I swear he wasn't there an instant ago!", his final thoughts before impacting the ground, then... darkness.
Rollo had been hit by lightning in the past oddly he recalled the smell of ozone more distinctly than the pain associated with it. "This mage is quite powerful to have hurt me so thoroughly with just one spell and it was forked to boot.". "I hope Deye isn't dead.".
Rollo rolled to cushion the blow of the ground as he landed. As he tumbled away he loosed an arrow he'd nocked mid fall towards the robed figure. As expected it flew true but was deflected by some unseen barrier at the last instant.
"You'll not harm me with your piddling sticks and feathers. But you will die for killing my fellows.". "But the brat, he'll suffer for an eternity.".
"Oh he wants to chat, how nice. Perhaps I can catch him up in a stereotypical villainous monologue.". "So why do you want the boy?".
"You need not concern yourself with the why's of anything.". Suddenly tentacles erupted from the ground almost catching Rollo in their grasp.
"Well, so much for the monologue idea." thought Rollo." Eat this!!" As Rollo raised his bow to fire the wood began to warp and writhe in his hand snapping the string and disrupting his shot. "Well that's just entirely unfair.' thought Rollo as he was hit by a barrage of fiery missles. "How's this guy casting so fast?".
"Enough", stated the flying robed figure, "die!".
Deye awoke to hear the proclamation "die" he watched as Rollo began to gasp and clutch his chest. He looked on in horror as the spasms Rollo was experiencing caused him to vommit and then choke on his own bile. "This cannot be!" thought Deye. In a single motion Deye grabbed his bow notched an arrow let fly as he yelled "NOOOOOO!!". The robed figure clearly surprised by Deye lost his concentration on the death spell targeting Rollo for just a moment as the arrow Deye had shot entered his skull. "One speck of a moment longer and that pesky archer would have died", were his last thoughts.
"Rollo! Rollo! are you all right Rollo?". "Oh sweet Lathander he's not breathing". Deye worked at emptying the bile from Rollo's mouth. Trying desperately to clear the airway. Suddenly Rollo's eyes opened and he gasped a deep breath. He sat up, scooted over to a nearby treeroot and leaned his head against it. He sat there staring at the body of the mage that had almost killed him. For several long minutes Rollo sat silently. Deye watched, in silent vigil over his dear instructor, seemingly on the cusp of death, afraid to talk lest Rollo fall over the edge. Finally Rollo spoke in a raspy voice, "Gods that hurt".
Deye was shocked by his instructors succint summation of his recent experience. So much so a guffaw escaped his lips before he could stifle it. At this reaction Rollo began to laugh. The laughter was infectious Deye couldn't stop his own from joining in with Rollo's. Soon the two men were sore from laughter, all injuries from battle superseded by the simple desire to rest their ribs. As the mirth waned Rollo adopted his familiar far away look, "You saved me lad.". "You saved my life sure as we're both sitting here.". An instant longer and I was gone I felt myself dyin, I did.". "One thing, well not one thing lotsa things actually but the main thing I'm wonderin... how'd you make that shot lad?" "He was protected he was. Yer arrow went straight through his protections.".
"I dunno. I just shot, I didn't think.".
"Well my thanks for that shot Deye."."There's for sure more to you than meets the eye, it's been an honor teaching you the craft.".
"No more than you'd have done for me Rollo. Besides you saved my hide from the other 34 the least I could do was to kill at least the one.".
"Well if you put it that way Deye I s'pose we're even." Rollo winked.
"Let's see who this feller is. I bet he's got something on him that says why he hunted us so hard.". Rollo began searching the robed man. "Hmmm the odd coins here and there some potions a wand or two a couple rings. Nothing special oh hey what's this?". "Looks like some sort of letter", Rollo began to read.
"What's wrong Rollo! You've turned white as a ghost!".
"This letter here is a list of all yer friends and yer father's customers in town. It says here kill any that don't cooperate." By the Gods what business is it yer Da was saving you from?". "I don't know what business yer Da was mixed up in but he's not only endangered you but the whole Dale it would seem.". "I've got to head back to help them all Deye.".
"Ok Rollo I'm coming with you."
"No lad, yer not.".
"What!?" I think I've proved my ability to help this day, I can't let my friends risk death and standby without trying to help!". "What sort of coward do you take me for!".
"Listen lad nobody is accusing you of bein yella. Far from it, but think this through will you. Forty men have died us gettin you clear of town nearly 41", Rollo grimaced as he recalled his very recent and all to close brush with number 41. "You head back to town how many more will come? How many more will die? Ifin they think yer to be found in the Dale no Daleander will be safe. The best thing you can do to protect yer friends is to not be there and give no clue to yer pursuers about where you went. I know you want to help lad but as things are now the most help you can be is to head north, stay hidden, remain anonymous, forget about the Dale lad. Take this here letter of introduction with you and seek out Sygil in Icewind Dale. He'll teach you to become the master archer I see you can be. He was my instructor lad. He's the best.
"But... but I want to help.". I can't just ..."
Lad I told you ifin you wanna help, go north. Burn these bodies and bury the ashes so nobody can find them then head north. Take my map it has the main roads and some sneaky back roads marked on it. I wish you luck in your adventures Deye. I hope one day we can meet again. Mayhaps you'll be able to teach me a thing or two about flying sticks and feathers. Here take Rabbit Bane. Burn it too Deye, so you can't be tracked by it. Better yet, trade it off really quick to someone going in a different direction than yourself that might throw any pursuers off yer trail. Don't let on where yer goin to whomever you trade it to. Promise me Deye. Promise you'll get yerself to Icewind and stay away from the Dalelands for a good long while.".
"All right Rollo I promise", Deye said dejectedly. "I'll burn and bury what's left of these men and then I'll go.".
"Good. Skin out of here as soon as yer done with the bodies don't stop to camp till yer a goodly distance away.".There's not a minute to waste I need to head back now. I'll check on Mergul and his family first Deye. Don't worry they're in good hands.".
"Tell Mer for me... tell Mer I'm sorry we won't be brothers. Tell him he's mine anyways."
"I will Deye, I will.". Rollo gathered his belongings and ran off into the woods, into the night, out of Deye's life. Deye waved goodbye long after Rollo would have been out of sight. Almost in disbelief that his instructor, so much a part of his life, his survival, could be gone so quickly, so easily.
Rollo watched from the woods as Deye waved goodbye. Long after he ought to have stopped. Until finally Deye began to collect bodies and start a fire. "You'll do fine lad. I wish I could be there to see the man you'll become. The master bowman you'll be. Rollo turned, brushed a tear from his eye and headed home. "There's some folks need some protectin and some other folks need some killin", he mumbled as he headed off.
It had been several days since Deye had rested. He couldn't bring himself to need sleep. The ashes of the dead bodies he'd burned long since scattered and washed off. But he still couldn't wash away the death, nor his loss. "I have no home, no family". Deye rumaged through his pack to find the letter once again.
Son, if you are reading this, it's likely things have not gone well and you have many questions. At this time I cannot explain what you must be wondering: Why would I stay and face the men that I knew would likely kill me or at least undoubtedly torture me. I'm afraid any adequate answer I could give would necessarily require me to divulge facts I'm unwilling to. Just know this my son, it's not just me that is in danger. I cannot explain the source of that danger. But there are those who will want you dead or at least imprisoned. I'd tell you why this is but I've lived my life attempting to rectify an injustice, only to have my son endangered for something that is in the end meaningless. I'll not curse you to a life of wondering "what if" as I have. In the end I want you to live your life. Be happy, pursue your dreams. The bow master you mentioned to me a couple months ago in Icewind Dale: I've arranged an apprenticeship for you with him. Rollo will know the details of this as it is his introduction letter more than my own coin that allowed your placement. Icewind will be a safe place for you to begin your life anew. I'm sorry you must leave the Dale and your friends behind. Please know that if you stayed you would be endangering them all. The bow was meant to be a birthday present for you next month. Rollo is quite a skilled craftsman when he can stay away from the ale. The rest of the things in the pack are items you should find useful while on the road. Be safe my son, be well and though I never say it, you have my love.
"He loved me? Did I love him?"" What did The Devian 9 Corporation seize of our family's?""It must be related to all of these things that have happened". "Damn you Da! Why wouldn't you trust me with the facts and let me make my own decisions?""I think I may have hated you.""Did I kill you out of hatred.""Was it really my fault you died?""Was my love for you stronger than my hate." I didn't want you to die.""How should I remember you?". "So many questions. So many memories".
"Larceny is a good thing boy. It's put clothes on your back, food in your stomach and a roof over your head. A damn fine roof and the best delicacies at that, despite the fact that you choose to wear those' local folk' rags.". Deye looked dubiously at his father, unable to disagree with him but desperately wanting to nonetheless. "I've allowed you to pursue your HABIT with that bow of yours because it's good for business. Having you learn and compete with the locals, reinforces the appearance that we are part of this community. Farelly came into our shop just the other day to trade his skins with us, just because he was so impressed with your shooting skills at last month's Bel Fair. But I'll not have any son of mine believing himself to be some simple country bumpkin!" "You remember our arrangement perfectly well son, you may participate in this silly, local preoccupation with bowmanship so long as those activities do not interfere with your studies." "I'm depending upon you to take over my empire when I retire". "I'll tolerate no further talk of some foolish ideas you've had placed into your head from some uneducated, half drunk, archery instructor ; extolling the virtues of allegedly, glorious adventures from days in his distant past. Stories that are likely highly exaggerated and without question, mostly untrue".
Deye sat alone that sultry summer night, remembering his father's words, Da's 'lessons', long into the night. Much too far from home, he stared at the flames of his campfire, unconcerned with preserving his night vision. "Bandits, wolves, monsters be damned!", Deye thought. His loan figure, uncaring, oblivious to any danger that might find him, occasionally dabbing a watery eye with a tear stained kerchief; eyes that could not find the needed catharsis a bona fide sob would bring. Danger would not find Deye that night. It had visited him recently and would many times again, but this night it abided.