Letter #9: An Audience
I have done it! I have finally sent off my letters to you! I’m sure by the time you are reading this, it will have been some time since you last heard from me or even written back to me – if you feel so inclined. However much my letters have pined for your replying wit and your wordplay I do understand that perhaps you are not of the right mood to write back to me – though should you feel so inclined, I would not mind even the most basic of replies.
I hope, by the time you receive this letter, you would have told me all about uncle Gadolf, our boy Pyotr, and our most dedicated and wonderful staff. Yet, I’m sure my eagerness for such information is now palpable enough that you may feel it through these pages as if my fidgeting, childlike self was beside you right now. But just like a child on the eve of Koldia, I must wait before I open my presents.
Not only am I ecstatic to write to you, clear of slate and of responsibility for my previously written ‘novels’, but also that we have spent a good day upon the surface. While the day itself was not one filled with particularly fun nor enjoyable events, the ending was nevertheless sterling.
We woke up, Leith already dressed and set for the day, Brixton and Gudael discussing the proper ingredients for a potent yet nonlethal knock-out potion, myself feeding little Tupp with my honey-doused cheese, and Adrik stubbornly remaining in his own quarters like some quarrelsome schoolboy. Brixton and Leith tried to rouse the sleeping, short-statured giant, yet were unable to do so, especially as – rather than locking the door – Mister Fogdar had jammed a chair behind it, making it Brixton proof.
I freshened myself up with a glass of brandy left over from the night before, but as the sound of the decanter clinking against my glass as heard – the sweet sound of flowing drink cascading into the tumbler – a wooden screech resonated from behind the dwarf’s door and outstepped Adrik, his keen and perceptive senses acutely attuned to the most elegant of the beverages. I poured the good man two drinks so that he and I would be upon the same playing field as we drank another swallow together.
Gudael had emerged from her room dressed quite differently from the day afore – instead of her white robe, she wore a blue dress, divided from the waist down to the tails, designed for being mounted upon horseback; and rather than just the slender panels of leather, she was now adorned with twinned plates of metal encasing her torso. Brixton was eager for breakfast and thus led us – like he had led us so many times before – down into the guts of the barracks and to the mess hall, where Gudael was eventually able to convince me to dilute my morning drink with coffee.
As first dawn broke, the crimson-gold horizon was almost entirely shrouded by forms of merging grey clouds and a fast drizzle began to unleash itself from the heavens. Scant glimmers of light beamed through the windows of the mess hall, casting great streaks of orange and yellow against the stark, darkened halls of the early morning canteen.
Outside, against the gentle patter of rain droplets hitting the shingled and thatched roof, it took on an almost metallic characteristic. It then turned into the clatter of steel, a multitude of armoured boots marching against the light downpour, their steps bolstered by the splashing of liquified dirt and earth.
A horn announced their arrival and orders were barked at the battalion of feet. I will not lie, my heart thrummed against my ears and my hands shook – for I have not heard those sounds for nigh on thirty-years; and since the first day I heard this mating-call of slaughter, I cannot shake from my head the memories of my family’s ruin.
The wizards – apprentices and masters alike – rushed from the mess hall, robes barely covering their underclothes; even the masterly Zandor Rem wore nothing but a makeshift shawl about his heightened shoulders, for they had risen this morn with the stress that some grand invasion or massacre might be inflicted upon them.
With this clamour of impending battle and siege upon us, I sent Tupp – now, for our Underdark explorational purposes, turned bat – to investigate. Once I had sent my wee companion on his merry way, I grasped hold of Adrik’s bacon-greased hand and left myself.
Instantly, I could hear and see all that my little Tupp was doing. I instructed that we should head towards the courtyard, where this uproar of guards seemed to be coming from. Before him I saw the wizards, looking pitifully unprepared and pitifully under-clothed against the armed and armoured might of a Muldraean guard platoon – their halberds raised like spires of jutting shards, and the rain clattering against their helmed heads acting as their steady war-drum – all arranged in an offensive, circular formation. I got flashes of that day your father rode, on horseback, into my father’s halls – covered in burned blood and singed armour – to accept my brother’s surrender.
Rem, finishing his conversation with a herald, removed himself from the mud-caked courtyard and towards the mess hall – a physically visible wave of relief washed over the foreman – whilst the sergeant had his platoon make an about turn and exit the Envoy’s premises. I set Tupp about returning to the mess hall and came back to myself, much to the confusion and surprise of my fellow companions; Brixton was the only person present who knew I could do such a thing.
You see, Maria, as a wizard, I may see and hear through my familiar’s eyes and ears as if I where they. I do enjoy Tupp’s company. When I was lowly or down, his cheerful mood and cheeky disposition always seemed to lift my spirits. While it may surprise you, I do get lonely.
Yes, Maria, your isolationist, introverted, and broodful husband does sometimes seek the companionship of a fellow life. But, as you may have figured out, I am rather picky with those I decide to discourse and discuss with. I have, since childhood, found it hard to find a single person to connect with on a spiritual, intellectual, or emotional level. Whilst you alone seem to have been able to do so intellectually, I have found that these knew comrades – Tupp included – these vagabonds and scamps I seem to have fallen in with meet all three of these criteria; I might even dare to call them friends.
As my wasted life seems to draw to a close like a long-winded play, as those about wait with eager, tapping feet for the curtains to fall, do the actors finally find some convincing spark of a bond between them. For my life has been very long-winded. Too long indeed. Perhaps…
Again, I let my thoughts and fluff get the better of my correspondence. I returned to myself, Adrik wiping his grease across my garbs – easily cleaned up with my prestidigitation – and I told all present company of what I had seen.
No sooner had I finished my general debrief when Zandor Rem himself, now furnished with a hefty, black, fur coat – having been handed it by an apprentice-mage – to tell us of the discussion he had just had with the herald.
It turns out that the rumours of the Muldraean Queen knowing about the excavation were true, for the squadron of guards had, evidently, been here to inform Mister Rem of their awareness of these activities – which Rem himself described as “not exactly legal, but not exactly illegal” – and that they demanded an envoy of the Envoy to go meet Her Majesty in the palace. This task fell to us. I think less so because we were trustworthy or could represent the Envoy properly, but more likely because those of actual importance were needed here to sort out the oncoming storm and that – should we not come back – we would not be too sorely missed.
We freshened ourselves up while Rem wrote us up letters of introduction. Gudael returning to her ivory mantle, Adrik simply removed his armour, I cleaned myself up – for while I still wear fine clothes out and about, they do see some wear, for even in Vanderhold, as you know, nobles see little use in clothes that are not of good quality or practical use – Leith, in his usually sharpness, still looked rather dashing. However, it was Brixton that surprised us, coming down dressed in the height of Vaingatian fashion! Stockings that slimmed his legs, meeting inflated breeches that paired nicely with his doublet, all brought together by a stylish half-cape, topped off by a spectacular piece of headwear. I, personally, do not see the appeal of this type of aristocratic eccentricity. I know not whether that is due to my Vanderan upbringing or my distain for the excessive and exorbitant habits of the noble houses – yet, I am no ignorant of my hypocritically exuberant lifestyle when it comes to drink.
Dressed prim and proper, travelling by a particularly luxurious carriage, accompanied by two horses upon which Brixton and Gudael rode, we made our way to the palace. I have not been in such an elegant vehicle since we arrived in the Stretch for the first time. Those thoughts and feelings came flooding back to me, mixing with my already immense trepidation at our mission, creating a storm of apprehension, anxiety, and tension.
Once there, Brixton gave a steward our scrolls of identification whilst a stableboy aided with Adrik’s descent from the coach box. Upon the steps, Leith seemed to start having a headache. Immediately I thought it was the poor lad’s weak reaction to the brandy he barely sipped at last night, but it turns out that he was being talked to. It seemed evident that this was his patron guiding him somehow. Gudael, in her open-heartedness and good-natured spirit, gave Leith her arm to lean upon, feigning that it was he that was assister her in a gentlemanly manner. After it had abated, Leith remained anxious about meeting a queen – generally any royal really – and I said that ‘they are just normal people’ but also that there’s a good chance she’ll be mad; for they are either fair and virtuous or absolutely insane!
In the waiting room – they had a waiting room for heaven’s sake, not even your father has a waiting room! – there was a drink which I indulged myself in, unfortunately, upsetting my internal workings. Eventually we were led into the royal hall of the palace, where the Queen’s court is situated.
As we entered, the vibrant colours of crests and clothes hit our eyes. The ____ of the Muldraean banner flanked by the sigils and colours of their supporters. Grand pillars of marble stood like sentinels watching over the hall, reaching high into the ceiling; the Queen’s hall is at least double the width, triple the height, and quadruple the length of even your father’s halls. The drinking hall of the Mighty Phoenix of Vanderhold cannot hope to hold even a match to the extravagant architecture the Protectorate has erected in Karkaros. Gold-enamelled embellishments on the peak of the columns glimmered in brilliant lights cast by the hanging chandeliers of crystalline-glass. We approached the dias, upon which the royal throne was obscured by a sheer curtain. The Queen’s chamberlain, Savarond, announced all of us – even rattling off all my useless and redundant names and titles – before heralding the fanfare that were her titles.
“Her Royal Highness Queen Claresca of Skartabel, Empress of the Northern Skyreaches, Supreme Regent of the Lands of Muldraea, and Sovereign of the Kingdoms of Thrane, Belkinard and Gwyl, and by the ordinance of the Council of the High Wardens,” and then that veiled material was drawn to reveal a child. It was in this moment that my heart dropped – simultaneously so did my head and shoulders as I bowed in respect to this child. I was hoping that we would meet with at least an adult, for even in their entitlement there is a sense of maturity that the younger ones lack. It seems to be some cruel practical-joke of fate that all ruling nobles of any importance should either be fools (my uncle), mad (my father), or complete bastards (my brother). It seems this child might be all three.
She indeed spoke with an air of arrogance and superiority. As if her movements were any purer than that of the common man. That typical sheep-following aura immediately emanating from her attendants that stood watching us. This queen took plenty of time individually criticising and prodding our buttons, trying to find some nerve to strike that would give her reason to have some royally sanctioned hissy-fit. Adrik took some rude jest not very well and, doing as Adrik does, seemed to inflame the situation but his humility outweighed his hubris in the end and he conceded to take the joke – crushed by the wave of petty, slight laughter coming from the swathes of unimportant and unreliable nobles about her. Even presenting a gift of fine elven quality I somehow had to apologise for it, making concessions for my actions and reasons for her to be pleased by the fine wine. I see it is not only noble families in Vanderhold plagued by this self-important disease of the mind and soul.
Naturally, this very perceptive girl – do not mistake me, I am more than willing to have a queen, but one who has reached at least some level of maturity and who doesn’t need to be put to bed without a glass of warm milk and a bedtime story! – saw through whatever façade the Envoy had devised for us to give. Brixton, with his innate and inborn silver-tongued charisma, was able to appeal to the queen to have our discussion alone – thus, in a matter of minutes, it was us, the Queen, and her guards and most trustworthy staff.
Through the revelation of a more influential and virtuous origin than what the man often inferred or put across; Brixton was able to put the Queen at ease that she could trust every word he said. He confessed to all that the Envoy had done – the treasure, the drow, the Underdark, the ship! – and offered our services as spies of sorts. Along with some more pampering of the evidently self-conscious and delusional monarch, he was able to pursued her into a ruse: we spy for her, at the end, all gold and treasure goes to her, and we are kept removed from the criminal persecutions of the rest of the Envoy. She sent us out with Savarond to write up some ‘tax contract’ for our cover for the Barachial Envoy, and it was here that I sent my letters to you. Finally!
Leith also then suffered another migraine, evidently talking to his patron, Tozan, once more. I must say, despite however much Leith seems to look up to this patron or talk highly of him, whenever they are in conversation, the young elf appears to be in great pain and distress. Surely a more noble patron would not grant such woe upon their followers. Albeit, while Gudael has fits, at least mentally she feels safe whilst she converses with Sehanine; I feel Leith is not awarded such treatment. And that once coming out of her seizure, she is calm and reserved, feeling no stress or terror – unlike Leith who I saw as worrisome and afraid. I am sceptical of this Tozan, for perhaps Leith was not gifted his powers by his patron so much as he was cursed.
Returning back to the Envoy, we ‘divulged’ to Rem ‘what had happened’ – essentially, we lied through our teeth. Leith, in his quite apt insight said at some point “who are we working for?” and I must say, whilst we are the spiders who have woven this web, it may be us to are trapped within our silken prison and not our intended prey in the end. But, with the Envoy at ease, they are now in no hurry to wrap up their excavation and so may continue; giving us time to not only better plan our escape, but potentially pluck more treasure from under these wizards’ noses.
We discussed what our best course of action was – after, once more, riding ourselves of another scrying figurine – what with Rem himself wanting out of all this shady business; thus we decided that keeping a low profile, staying low once this Barachial business breaks, and journeying back into the Underdark would be smart.
Smart? The Underdark? Edryn you are either mad or drunk! you must be saying. I can assure you that we have our reasons. That discussion Adrik had with Mindrahl – over that precarious ledge – it turns out led Adrik to believe there might be some gain in exploring and finding Abnogg Gurr, that mythical city of drow our dark-elf ‘friends’ were supposedly from.
Tap, tap, tap. A midnight-black raven stood tapping at your chamber window. ‘Bad luck’, I shivered to myself, and retrieved the note around its ankle. It was from Hassildril, asking for an update. Some consideration later, Gudael and Leith agreed to go to the Daughters of Twilight’s library to find what they could about all this Underdark business – such as another way in other than the dig-site – whilst Adrik and Brixton would go out to Hassildril.
I, myself, was torn between staying here and using the Envoy’s library for research or go to meet with the elf. Adrik, ever the jolly and persuasive man that he is, asked me to follow my heart and “my liver”. I figured I had spent my whole life sitting in my study or my longue or my quarters reading. Reading. READING. And, whilst I always drink, I rarely have such an occasion as to drink with others. So, now, I leave for Nag’s Head where Hassildril often resides, and then to the town to paint it red with our hearts’ fire!
Have yourself a drink on my behalf. For having read thus far you have earned it, dearest Maria. Pray for my soul and tell none of my alcoholic debauchery to Herr Tunnerfrik, for even this far away, I can feel his judgmental eyes and his stern, pursed lips.
Here’s to you Maria, the best woman a stranger could ever have spent a life with.
Your indulgent and binging servant,
Baron Edryn Styewell Krillinovich Montkoff