Back on the Road
Three years had passed since the Stormraven went down at Chult. I was the sole survivor. After Captain Corvus had knocked me overboard and I reached a cavern, I slowly made my way back to Port Nyanzaru, wondering what I was going to do.
Thankfully a smuggler allowed me to sign on as one of his crew. He was a jovial person who somehow managed to stay beneath the suspicion of port authorities. He was also one of the most successful traders in black market goods I had ever seen. It was by no means an exciting life, but it was hardworking and it paid well. I had plenty of opportunities to figure out what I wanted to do next. It wasn’t easy – I had been on the sea for a good few years now and even though some of the memories were full of sorrow, on the whole, I had thoroughly enjoyed the freedom it brought.
I also had time to consider Captain Corvus’s last gift to me – a leather drawstring pouch. When I opened it I was surprised to find it contained diamonds worth a considerable amount of gold. While the immediate and obvious course of action was to sell them, I felt that the Captain had something else in mind when he gave them to me. He had said that I would know what to do with them when the time came.
Just another mystery from a man who was made of them.
I had also learned to stop looking over my shoulder whenever we made port. The Zhentarim were still a real threat to me, but nowadays I saw less and less sign of them. I dared to hope that they had given up chasing me.
All in all, things weren’t perfect or as happy as they had been, but I was content. I knew that I would have to move on sometime, but I saw no real rush to do so. I just wanted to take things one day at a time.
The ports we visited on our business were very familiar to me – Mintarn, Nyanzaru, Waterdeep, Luskan, all the places I had been before many times over. The captain of the ship allowed me to remain on board when we put into port, and I spent the time helping to unload the cargo and maintain the ship.
Yes, things were good, but I knew the day would come when I would leave.
After three years – give or take a couple of months – I decided that it was time to move on. It was a bright midsummer’s day and I felt some amount of wanderlust, a desire to see the Sword Coast again. The captain of the smuggler’s ship understood and didn’t try to persuade me to stay. He had seen many come and go over his years. Instead, he wished me well and gave me a generous share of our profits.
I departed the ship at Waterdeep. The city was bustling with people of various lands and races – as it always was – and I found it very easy to lose myself in the crowds. I hadn’t really made any plans as to where I would go. Instead, I would just pick a direction and follow it to see where it would lead me. If I had learned anything up to now, it was that fortunes can change when you least look for it. I still didn’t believe in luck or fate, but I knew from experience that anything could happen.
After about a tenday in Waterdeep, I struck out along the road leading north. The first place I encountered was a small village named Rassalantar – this was a quiet settlement whose main centre of commerce was an inn called the Sleeping Dragon. I stayed here for a couple of days, helping the locals with various problems including wolves and bandits. The villagers couldn’t afford to pay much – and I didn’t ask much – but they were appreciative of my efforts.
My next stop after leaving Rassalantar was a large town called Amphail. This town had close ties with Waterdeep, as shown by the large estates maintained by the noble families of that great city. It offered more opportunities for adventure than Rassalantar, and I planned to spend about a month here.
During the day I wandered the town square, looking for promising jobs on the various noticeboards, and during the evening I stayed at the Stag-Horned Flagon, listening to various rumours about the surrounding area. On the fourth night, I was sitting at the bar alone. My memories had returned to plague me. I thought about the friends I had lost – Astrid, Captain Goldburn, Captain Corvus, Boden…
“Well, hello there, husband…”
My blood ran cold at the voice. I slowly turned my head to look at the speaker. My mouth went dry.
It was her.
“It’s been a while, did you miss me?” she said in her sultry voice. My mind was filled with the memories of us together on Mintarn. She was just as beautiful now as she was then. I felt something like a fog start to descend over me.
“NO!” I slammed my hands down on to the table, causing some of the other patrons to turn around and look. After a moment they turned back to their own drinks.
“You used me!” I hissed with all the venom I could muster, “You betrayed me!”
“Oh, but that was just business. And not a small amount of pleasure.” She smiled at me, showing her long pointy teeth. “Come on, are you telling me you didn’t enjoy it? Not even a little bit?”
“What do you want?” I asked tersely. I was in no mood to play her games.
“Well, it just so happens that there is something in this town that I want.” She leaned in close, “It’s held in the guard house. I need someone to help me get it.”
“And why would I want to help you?” I asked.
Petrona shrugged. “Well, I was hoping you would help me out of your love and devotion, or even possibly because I would reward you most agreeable.” She sighed theatrically, “Then again I hear there are still some Zhentarim looking for you. For quite a high bounty I understand. If you were to help me I suppose I could… not tell them where you are…?” She smiled again. It reminded me of a shark.
Every instinct I possessed told me I should refuse – I should get up and leave right now. My fists clenched and unclenched. But I was used to not being hunted, to not having to worry about who was watching me. I had no doubt that if I left now Petrona would go to the Zhentarim and tell them exactly where I was. As much as I hated to admit it, she had left me with no choice.
“Alright,” I said, my shoulders slumping in defeat, “I’ll help you.”
Petrona beamed. “I’m so happy to hear that! If you like we could go back to my room to discuss the plan…?”
“Don’t push your luck,” I said, “We’ll talk about it here.” There was no way I was letting myself be alone with her again.
Petrona just shrugged again. “As you wish, husband.”
The plan was as follows:
Petrona was looking to acquire a treasure held in Amphail’s guard house. She didn’t say exactly what it was, but I suspected it was evidence tied to some past crime. The sooner she had it, the sooner she would leave, and the sooner I could forget about her.
The guard house had soldiers stationed in and around it every hour of every day. And these weren’t the usual town guards, these were highly trained military from Waterdeep, bought and paid for by the noble families. Simply trying to sneak in would be very risky, and there were obviously too many to try a direct assault.
So Petrona had come up with another scheme.
The first stage required a guard’s uniform. This was why she needed someone else – namely me. I would wear the uniform and escort her as a prisoner I had arrested. Once at the guard house I would hand her over to the soldiers there. At least one or two of the soldiers were contacts of hers who she had bribed heavily. They would take her inside, and she would be able to get to the treasure she wanted. Once she had it we would go our separate ways.
“So, what do you think?” she asked.
I didn’t think much of it. “Won’t they notice that one of their guards is missing?” I asked.
Petrona shook her head. “We can be there and done before anyone notices. Besides, the troops are rotated between here and Waterdeep all the time. No one will report a missing guard or two.”
“How do you know I won’t just kill you when I have the chance?” I asked again.
She actually laughed at that. “Talon, Talon, you won’t do that – you’re a good man.”
I hated to admit it but she was right. I couldn’t kill someone I had promised to help. I had a further question though.
“How can I trust you to keep your end of our agreement?”
Petrona laughed again. “Well you can’t, obviously. But really, what reason would I have to betray you? What purpose would it serve me? We do this together, we go our separate ways and never see each other again. We both get what we want.”
I still didn’t trust her but she seemed sincere enough. We would put our plan into operation tomorrow. That night, I made sure my door was locked and a chair was hooked under the handle. Just to be on the safe side.
The next morning Petrona and I were on the streets of Amphail, looking for a likely guard to rob. Petrona was wearing studded leather armour which, I had to admit, was very hard to tear my eyes away from. It took us the best part of an hour before we found our best candidate – a well-built guard who wasn’t really paying attention to his surroundings. He turned down an alley, most likely to relieve himself, and I followed him. Petrona kept watching at the entrance to the alley.
He never saw me coming. My fist met the back of his neck and he went down like a ton of bricks. After checking him over to make sure he was still alive, I began to strip his armour. I had chosen someone slightly larger than myself so I could put the armour over my normal clothes. Even so, it was a fairly tight fit. Eventually, I managed to fasten the breastplate in place and put the helmet on. I turned back to the entrance of the alleyway.
And felt my jaw drop.
Petrona had removed her leather armour. Underneath she was wearing a shimmering blue gown that showed a lot of her pale blue skin. She saw me staring and grinned that shark’s grin.
“You like what you see?”
I managed to close my mouth and barged past her into the street. I heard her laugh as she went past. The plan called for her to play the part of a drunken noble’s daughter who would benefit from a stay in the cells. I hadn’t expected her to be so… overt… though. She stood next to me and turned her back.
“Ready?” she asked.
“Let’s get this over with,” I replied. I grabbed her arm, none too gently, and twisted it up behind her back. I had the satisfaction of hearing her take a sharp breath. I then pushed her forward and we marched towards the guard house.
She leaned her head back to me and said in a low voice, “I had no idea you could be so rough. I kind of like it.” I said nothing and pushed her harder.
As we walked through the streets I was aware of people staring at us. We must have made an interesting pair. I could imagine Petrona thoroughly enjoying the attention. She certainly seemed to be swaying her hips more than usual. No one made any noise or movement towards us. My presence as a guard and her captor was enough to keep people back.
It was about midday when we finally approached the guard house. As Petrona had said, there were two guards standing outside the entrance. So far, things were going exactly the way she had said they would. I was still on my guard though.
Petrona tilted her head back and spoke quietly to me. “That’s them. My contacts. Once you hand me over to them they’ll help me find what I’m looking for. Then it’ll all be over.”
I didn’t react. It seemed too easy. We drew closer to the guard house. I kept alert for any nasty surprises.
I wasn’t disappointed. When we were a few yards away Petrona turned her head to me. “Oh yes, there was one detail I forgot to mention…”
I had a sudden feeling of dread.
“… Those guards? My contacts? They’re Zhentarim.” She smiled at me, turned back to the guards, and screamed.
“Help me! This man! He’s an imposter! He kidnapped me!”
The guards rushed forward. As if called by some infernal fortune, a patrol of about half a dozen troops chose that moment to turn the corner and march to the guard house. Upon hearing Petrona’s scream they broke ranks and also ran towards us.
Petrona turned back to me. “I’m sorry, my love, the reward they offered was too good to pass up.” She did not sound the least bit sorry at all.
I still held her arm behind her back so she was unable to move. The guards surrounded us in a loose circle, swords drawn. One of them spoke. “Release that woman and surrender to us.”
I leaned towards Petrona’s ear. “If I see you again, I will kill you,” I hissed, my voice full of hatred.
Petrona just smiled.
“Release her!” the guard shouted.
I pushed her forward suddenly towards the guards. She staggered and would probably have fallen if not for one or two of the soldiers rushing forward to catch her. I took advantage of their confusion to turn and run.
I’ll give one thing to these guards – they were persistent. I turned left and right down streets and alleyways. Every way I turned I saw more guards. Word had spread quickly and pretty soon the entire city seemed to be against me. I looked up. For all the guards in the street, there seemed to be none on the rooftops.
I ducked down another alley and searched for a likely wall to climb. I found one – the brickwork was crumbling in a few places – and managed to scramble up to the top of the building. Once I had reached the top, I lay down and looked into the alley. Guards poured in from either end and searched the alley, but they found nothing and soon left to search elsewhere. Breathing a sigh of relief, I started removing the stolen armour. Once I had done so, I left it on the roof and made my way towards the city walls.
I took it slowly as I could still see many guards in the streets below. Any noise might make them look up and see me. I picked my way across the roofs until eventually, I reached a wall. There was a watchtower here so I made sure to be extra silent as I slipped past and down the wall to the fields outside.
My journey back to the road took me past the city gates. I hid as best as I could behind rocks and trees, but I wasn’t seen. There looked to be some sort of paper attached to one of the gates. I managed to get close enough to see what was on it.
It was a wanted poster. By order of the Town Guard of Amphail, a reward of 5,000 gold pieces was being offered for information leading to my capture, dead or alive. They didn’t have my name, instead, they had a rather poor picture of me. It didn’t look like I was in any immediate danger, however, I felt I should avoid this area for a long while.
I thought about Petrona. Where was she now? What was she planning? This was the second time she had betrayed me. I meant what I said to her – next time our paths crossed, I would kill her. I prayed I would never see her again. Thankfully I hadn’t told her about the pouch of diamonds and she hadn’t discovered it. It was still safe in one of my deepest pockets.
I turned back to the road and struck out to the north. I still had no real idea of what I wanted to do, but I was sure that adventure would soon find me. After all, as Captain Corvus always used to say:
Everything happens for a reason.
I journeyed on, never once looking back.