We had been in Mintarn for about three days by now, and I was completely bored.  Neither I nor any of the other crew of the Stormraven had any real idea of what we were doing here – the ship’s captain, Captain Corvus, tended to be very secretive about his plans.  All we could surmise was that it was something to do with the upcoming Tyrant’s ball.  And all we could do was wait to see what the captain had in mind.

In the meantime, I explored every part of the island.  Most of it was inhabited, with gleaming white buildings dotted all over.  However towards the north of the island, there were fewer people, and those that lived there walked with their heads down, not looking at anything other than where they were going.  It was strange, but no one would answer my questions.

Towards the south, the atmosphere was more lively, and it was here that we spent most of our time.  We spent the evenings in different taverns, some of the crew trying the local wine, others sticking to the traditional ale.  I stayed with water – I saw what alcohol did to a man and I didn’t want to lose my edge, not if my life might depend on it.

It was evening, three days before the ball.  I was sitting at a bar in one of the taverns in Mintarn.  It wasn’t the usual tavern the Stormraven’s crew frequented – I felt the need to be on my own for a little while.  There weren’t many people here and the tavern was quiet.  Just what I needed.

The silent atmosphere made me pensive.  Yet again the memories surfaced.  Sundabar, Astrid, Zhayne, the fire, and later on, the Ocean’s Bounty and the dragon – the dragon that might be close by.  All of it whirled around in my head.  I was lost in my thoughts when I heard a voice from nearby.

“It’s not often someone like you comes into a place like this.”

I turned to the speaker.  And my breath caught in my throat.  Sitting a little further up from the bar was a female tiefling with light blue skin.  She was wearing a dark blue dress with a slit that ran the entire length of the skirt, showing long, lithe legs.  Her tail was curled in a gentle circle and waved slowly from side to side.  Her arms were bare and lightly mottled.  Two delicate horns protruded from the side of her head and intertwined with her jet black hair.  Said hair fell in a mesmerising cascade down her back.  Her mouth was open slightly, showing sharp teeth, as she smiled at me.  Her eyes were dark blue, matching her dress, and as they met my eyes they seemed to twinkle in the tavern’s flickering candlelight.

She was the most beautiful person I had ever seen.

My voice caught in my throat, and all I could do was stare.  After a few seconds, she chuckled, the sound like music in my ears.  “You know,” she said, “Hello is usually a good place to start.”

“H… Hello…” I stammered.  She tipped back her head and laughed.  I was entranced.

“I’m pleased to meet you,” she held out her hand, “My name is Petrona.”

I managed to pull myself together enough to remember some noble etiquette, and I took her hand and brushed my lips against her knuckles.  She squeezed my fingers and smiled sweetly.

“I’m… my name’s Talon,” I said, my voice starting to come back under my control.

“Talon… that’s an unusual name,” Petrona said, leaning her chin into her hand, “But then again you look like an unusual person.  And I’m quite partial to unusual.”

I was staring into her face so much I almost didn’t notice her other hand.  She had dipped her finger into her goblet of wine and was delicately tracing patterns on the bartop.  I forced myself to concentrate on the patterns.  I nearly pulled back in shock – it was Thieves’ Cant!  I made out the symbols for “Target”, “Mansion”, “Tyrant” and “Soon”.  I looked back into Petrona’s face, and she saw that I understood.

“I think I might be able to help you,” she said, “And I think you might be able to help me.  I can see us entering into quite the mutually beneficial relationship.”  She leaned over and whispered into my ear, “Maybe we should retire somewhere more private to discuss this further…”

I couldn’t think of anything to say.  An image of Astrid appeared in my mind briefly but I soon shook it away.  Astrid was long gone.  Petrona was right here and right now.  I knew at that moment I was in love with her.  I let her take my hand and lead me out of the tavern into the night…

The next day I was strolling through the markets with an unfamiliar spring in my step.  I looked down at my left hand, which bore a gold ring around the third finger.  Flashes from the previous night sparked in my memory.

We had gone back to Petrona’s rooms where we had spent a couple of hours discussing a possible heist at the governor’s house.  The Tyrant’s wife was said to possess some of the most exquisite and valuable diamonds this side of Waterdeep, and Petrona’s idea was to steal them during the party.  She needed a partner though, and she had been looking for a suitable candidate.  The plan was to go to the party as a couple and then steal the diamonds from under the Tyrant’s nose.  From the way she spoke I don’t think she’d intended things to work out quite like this but here we were.  We drank wine and talked long into the night, and then…  My cheeks coloured at the memory.

One part I distinctly recalled was the two of us lying in her bed, her arm draped across my chest.  She turned to me and said, somewhat shyly, “You know, our cover would be a lot more convincing if we were married…”  I agreed wholeheartedly and in short order, we found a priest who was all too happy to unite us in matrimony, especially when Petrona slipped him a bag of gold.

I had to admit, things had moved very quickly, but at the same time why wait?  Life at best is very brief – many events had taught me that – so why not take the opportunities when they came?  I was in love with Petrona and she was in love with me, so why wait?  I had the dim feeling that I may be betraying Astrid’s memory but she was in the past.  I had to move on.  And Petrona was my present and my future.  Of that I was certain.

As I strolled through the marketplace I kept an ear open to listen for any information that might be useful.  Most of it was the usual chatter but one conversation stood out.  I stopped and moved closer to a nearby wall as I focused my attention on the speakers – two portly men carrying barrels.

“How much wine do they need for the party anyway?” One of them said.

The other thought for a moment before responding, “About twenty I believe.”

The first man sighed, “We’d better get paid well for this.  Maybe those famous diamonds we’ve heard about?”

His companion snorted, “We should be so lucky!  Those diamonds are held in a secure room!  I’ve heard that it’s guarded all the time!”

“Well, in that case, I’ll happily settle for a nice big pile of gold!”

They moved too far for me to continue listening but what I had already heard was useful enough.  There was a treasure room in the Tyrant’s palace and it was guarded.  We would have to factor this into our plans.

That night I told Petrona what I had heard and she nodded.

“I had expected something like this,” she said, “That’s why I need you.  Besides, you wouldn’t want it to be too easy would you?”  She always seemed to know exactly the right thing to say.  And the way she ran her hand up my leg left no real room for disagreement.  It still felt strange to think of her as my wife, but at the same time, it felt completely natural and right.

The next couple of days were spent surveying the Tyrant’s palace and the surrounding area.  Even though I wasn’t able to gain access to the palace itself, I was able to work out the basic layout from the walls and windows outside, and a few well-placed bribes to various servants filled in some of the details.  By the end of the time, I had a pretty good idea what the various rooms were and where they were.  The treasure room itself was deep within the palace with no windows to the outside.  I also learned that there were two guards posted outside the room at all times.

Petrona was not idle either.  She spent the time gathering various things that we would need, in particular, some appropriate clothing.  I didn’t see the outfit she had picked out for me but I trusted her.  Besides, I would have the most wonderful woman on my arm at the party, so really I didn’t care how I would look.  And the reward would be more than worth it.  We would split the diamonds between us equally.

If our days were spent apart from each other, finalising the details of our plans, then our nights were completely the opposite.  We enjoyed each other’s company in ways I never before thought possible.  I lay awake on the night before the ball, my wife sleeping next to me, her hand on my chest.  I realised something.  I was happy.

My thoughts turned to what would happen after the ball.  When we had wealth beyond our wildest dreams.  Would I get back on the Stormraven? Could I?  I looked at Petrona and gazed lovingly at her delicate features.  I couldn’t leave her.  Whatever happened, I would stay with her.  Maybe we would live on Mintarn, maybe we would head to the Sword Coast.  Maybe we would just set sail and find somewhere far away from everyone.  All I knew was that I wanted to be by her side and I knew she felt the same.  Together we would carve out our own future.

I felt a pang of guilt when I thought of Captain Corvus.  I was grateful to him for rescuing me, of course, but my path lay in a different direction to his.  He would understand, I was sure of it.  Pirate crew members joined and left all the time, and I was certain his crew was no different.

Besides, after everything that had happened to me, I felt I was owed some happiness.  Everything has a purpose.  That was what the captain had said.  Well, maybe this was my purpose.  To be with Petrona.  To spend our lives together.

I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.  Tomorrow would be a big day.

“Presenting… Sir Danyel Greycastle and his wife, Petrona Greycastle!”

We started down the steps to the ballroom as the page announced us.  I didn’t think it was wise to use Talon Shadowkin, and Danyel – a name from a forgotten life – was as good as any.

I was wearing what looked like a naval uniform – a dark blue tunic over a white shirt with a yellow and blue sash.  I thought it suited me – Petrona had chosen it herself and I had to admit, she had impeccable taste.

Petrona, her arm linked with mine, looked absolutely radiant and it was taking all my willpower to not just stare at her.  She was wearing a beautiful black dress which plunged daringly down her chest.  Her shoulders were adorned with delicate black lace, and around her neck, she wore a glittering gold necklace studded with emeralds.  The lower half of her dress trailed down to the floor, with a slit up the side similar to the slit in the dress she had worn when we first met.  Her hair was tied high on her head and pinned with brightly jewelled hairpins.  She had also applied makeup to add highlights to her eyes and cheekbones.

I felt like the luckiest man in the world.

The ballroom was full of people from all parts of the world.  They were all obviously members of the nobility or aristocracy.  The sheer opulence on display would have been sickening if we hadn’t been here for a different purpose.

I felt Petrona nudge me.  “Look at them all.  Waterdeep, Baldur’s Gate, Amn, all the major nations and cities are here.”  She grinned at me, “It’s a shame we’re just here for the Tyrant’s treasure.  With the loot, these people are carrying we could be set for life!”  She motioned to a corner of the room.  “I’m going to start there.  You go do what you do best, darling.”  She casually reached up to her hair and removed a couple of the pins, discreetly handing them to me.

With some reluctance, I let go of her arm and she drifted to a cluster of nobles.  She started talking and laughing as though she had known them for years.  I was alone.  I quickly looked around and saw no one was turned in my direction.  I swiftly moved to a side door and slipped through.  I found myself in a corridor with other doors leading from it.  I vaguely knew the direction I had to go to get to the treasure room, but it looked like it would still take me a bit of time to get there.

After moving forward for a few yards I heard footsteps approaching.  I quickly pressed myself against an alcove as a servant walked past, not looking any way except straight in front of him.  When he had gone past I carried on walking.  I turned one corner, and then another, and then I saw it.  There was a door that looked like any other door, except this one had two guards outside, exactly as the servants had described.

Fortunately, I had come prepared.

I ducked back around the corner I had just come from and took out a bag of ball bearings, kindly provided by my wife.  I scattered them on the floor and, as expected, the noise attracted the guards’ attention.  I heard them conferring with each other.

“What was that?” asked one of them.

“Sounded like something falling to the floor,” said the other, “We should have a look through.”

“I’ll go,” said the first.

I heard footsteps approaching and, as before, pressed myself against the wall.  The guard came slowly around the corner and bent down to examine the ball bearings.  I wasted no time and struck him on the back of the head, rendering him unconscious before he knew I was there.  He fell to the floor with a clatter.  I quickly grabbed his arms and dragged him to the nearest door.  It turned out to be open.  I pushed the guard in and closed the door, just in time to see the other guard standing behind me, a look of surprise on his face.

Before he could call for help I darted forward and punched him in the throat.  He fell to the floor gasping for breath.  After making sure he would live I threw him into the same room as the other guard and returned to the treasure room door.

Unsurprisingly, the door was locked.  After a quick look to make sure no one else was coming, I knelt in front of the lock and took out the hairpins Petrona had passed to me.  It took me a few attempts but I managed to unlock the door.  I stood up and opened the door.  Inside I saw treasures of all shapes and sizes – gold coins, statues, rubies, emeralds and more.  It took me some time to locate the diamonds we had come here for but I eventually found them.  I resisted the temptation to grab more – it never paid to be too greedy.  I put the diamonds into a pouch on my belt and left the room, making sure to close the door and lock it again.  I quickly made my way back to the main ballroom and reunited with Petrona.

She looked at me questioningly.  I nodded just enough for her to see.  She smiled – her face lighting up brighter than any of the baubles she was wearing – and I felt my cheeks warm up.  She held out her hand to me and I took it.  We danced the rest of the night as though nothing had happened.

It was in the early hours of the morning when we finally got home.  We entered Petrona’s rooms laughing at our victory.  I brought out the pouch and tipped the diamonds onto the table.  Petrona hugged me tightly and kissed my cheek.

“Well done husband! I knew you could do it! I never had any doubt!”

I said nothing.  Instead, I turned my head and kissed her full on the mouth.  We continued kissing for the next few moments until Petrona broke away.  “Wait, wait my love.  First, let us toast our success.  Then we can carry on where we left off.”

I sat back and waited as she poured two goblets of wine.  She handed me one and raised hers.  “To the future,” she said and clinked her goblet against mine.  I drank deeply and knew nothing more as the world went black.

I woke up the next morning, lying sprawled on the bed.  Petrona wasn’t there.  No one was there.  “Petrona?” I called out.  No answer.  With some difficulty, I got up and walked to the other rooms.  They were empty as well.  A sickening feeling began to fill my stomach.  I searched the chambers.  The diamonds had gone as well.  Everything was gone.  There was nothing to suggest anyone else had ever been here.

As I stood, aghast, I felt my mind start to clear, as though a fog was lifting from it.  She had bewitched me somehow.  Petrona had used me.  All of it had been a lie.  All she had wanted was the diamonds.

I was left with nothing.

The realisation was too much.  I sat down heavily on the nearest chair.  I felt numb.  Petrona had betrayed me.

After what seemed like hours I slowly rose and returned to the only place I had left – the Stormraven.  As I boarded, avoiding the stares of the crew, I saw Captain Corvus looking at me intently.  His words came into my mind.

Everything happens for a reason…