Imoen looked around at her traveling companions as they walk towards the steps of the Friendly Arm Inn. The large stonewalls made her feel safe and reminded her of Candlekeep. It would nice to sleep in a bed, even if it wasn’t hers. She wasn’t sure she’d ever get used to sleeping on ground. Xzar and Montaron walked a few paces in front of them. “Are you sure we can trust Clown-Face and Midget over there?” she whispered in Katora’s ear, referring to Xzar’s facial tattoos. He looked a clown, a twisted and demented clown, but still a clown.
“Xzar and Montaron are a bit . . . odd.”
“I know dragons with feet like rabbits, ‘tis true I swear!” said Xzar. Strange how he’d say random things then go back to muttering. Dragon’s with feet like rabbits?
Imoen and Katora exchanged glances. “Anyway, they seem harmless enough, and there is safety in numbers,” said Katora, “and they did offer us that healing potion.”
“I don’t know Kat, they seem like mutton mongering riffraff to me,” said Imoen. Did they really have good intentions? Puffguts always said not to judge wine by its bottle. Maybe under the tattoos and dirt, they weren’t as bad as they appeared.
They made their way to the stone stairs leading to the inn. A man in dark black robes stood on the stairs with his hands crossed. “Hi friend. I've not seen you here before today. What brings you to the Friendly Arm?” the man asked in a cold dry voice. This couldn’t be the person they were supposed to meet.
“I’m here to meet some friends,” said Katora. Imoen nudged her. Trusting every stranger they meet didn’t seem like a good idea. Bad enough clown and midget had to come along.
“Oh, you must be whom I am to meet then. I will take you to your friends, but first I should be sure you are the correct person. Is your name Katora?”
“Yes, and you are…?”
“Perfect. You are indeed the person I seek,” said the man. His grin widened. “Hold still a moment, won't you?” The man cast a spell and in a moment there was not one, but five men, each with the same dark robes and smiling.
Imoen took a few steps back and readied her bow. The twang of a bow sounded as arrows struck an image, dispelling it. Xzar chanted and lauched a spell. Another image struck down. “I have become death, destroyer of worlds,” shouted Xzar.
A magic missle leaped from Katora’s fingertips.as the assassin launched a spell. She watched as Katora and Xzar turned and ran. Her hands trembled as she knocked an arrow. She pulled it back and launched it, hitting the last of the images.
The assassin’s face contorted in pain as he lost his footing and tumbled down the stairs. There was a heavy thud as his head hit the stone steps, followed by a crack of the neck. His body lay staring up at her. She looked down at him with her mouth wide open.
Montaron just chuckled to himself and wiped the blood off his sword. The halfling searched the assassin and a bounty notice. “Ye aren’t going all soft on me are ya?” She wondered how he could search the body with so little emotion.
“Me? Uh …nope, doesn’t affect me at all. Nope, not at all,” she said, trying to lie. “It’s just that I’ve never seen anyone die before, except the few monsters we’ve met on the way.”
“Well, ye better get used to it, kid. We’re going to see a lot more death on the road.” Katora and Xzar returned to the scene of the battle. “Looks like you made enemies already.” Montaron chuckled and he held up the bounty notice. Puffgut’s tales were never like this.
“Monty, give it to me. I want to read too!” said Xzar as he snatched the note out of Montaron’s hand. “Well, Monty, it seems like our friend here has quite the price on her head.”
“Let me read that,” Katora took the note from Xzar’s hands and read aloud. “It says ‘be it known to all those of evil intent, that a bounty has been placed upon the head of Katora, the foster child of Gorion. Last seen in the area of Candlekeep, this person is to be killed in quick order. Those returning with proof of the deed shall receive no less than two hundred coins of gold. As always, any that reveal these plans to the forces of law shall join the target in their fate.’”
A crowd was forming around the site of the scrimmage. Curious bystanders came to see what all the commotion was about. Inaudible babbles could be heard as the onlooker strained their neck to get a better look. “Move back. Nothing to see here people. Come on people move along, now,” said a guard as he pushed through the crowd. “What goes on here?”
“We were heading to Inn when this man attacked us. He was some sort of assassin,” replied Katora as she handed him the bounty notice.
“You must be Katora then?”
“Very well then, your story checks out. You are free to go.” They were halfway up the steps when the guard yelled, “Enjoy your stay!”
The party entered the Inn. It had the aroma of warm food and spirits. Imoen soon found herself humming a jovial tune as the party approached the bar.
Someone tapped Katora on the shoulder. They turned around to see a woman with light brown hair and classic half-elven features. Behind her stood a man with red hair. Both half-elves like Katora. “Good day friend! You are Katora, the child of Gorion, are you not? I recognize you from his letters,” said the woman.
“Yes, but who are…” replied Katora.
“Forgive my manners. I am Jaheira,” said the woman, “and this is Khalid, my husband.” she added pointing to the man behind her.
“G-good to know you,” said Khalid. He seemed uneasy, as if the slightest noise would make him jump out of skin. These were the friends Gorion mentioned. Funny, they weren’t the grand heroes she imagined.
Jaheira looked at her. “You must be Imoen. Gorion mentioned you in his letters as well, but I thought he was going to leave you in Candlekeep,” she said.
“He did but I followed them. Never let a friend down, I say.”
“Speaking of Gorion, where is he? We really should be speaking with him.”
“He’s dead. We were ambushed on the road. I got away. Gorion ...was not so lucky,” Katora said with a hint of sadness in her voice.
“He has p-passed then?” asked Khalid. Imoen and Katora nodded.
“Gorion often said that he worried for your safety, even at the expense of his own. He also wished that Khalid and I would become your guardians, if he should ever meet an untimely end. However, you are much older now, and the choice of your companions should be your own.”
“We could travel with you, until you get your l-lot in life.”
Montaron nudged his way in front of Imoen. “Excuse me ladies, but can we skip all the nice-nice talk, it’s making my stomach sick.” He grunted and muttered some obscene curses to himself.
Xzar flashed Montaron a cold look. “Now, now, Monty, lets not give our new ‘friends’ the wrong impression.” He turned to Khalid and Jaheira. “You really must excuse my associate here, he can get a little irritable at times. He is just anxious to get to Nashkel.”
“Oh, how rude of me. These are our new traveling companions, Xzar and Montaron,” Katora said with a chuckle, “they have been bugging Imoen and I to go to Nashkel ever since they joined the group. It is a miracle they agreed to coming here to look for you.”
“Indeed,” Jaheira said. “ Khalid and I are going there as well. There are rumors of strange things happening at the mine. No doubt you have heard of the iron shortage? You would do well to help us. It affects everyone, including you. We are to meet the mayor of the town, Berrun Ghastkill.”
“Can they come with us Kat? Please,” said Imoen. Any friend of Gorion was a friend of theirs. Khalid and Jaheira seemed nice, the kind she would want to travel with.
“Of course they can come Imm, Gorion would not have it any other way.”
“Good then. We should go as soon as you are ready,” replied Jaheira
“They look t-tired, perhaps we should get some rest before m-moving on,” said Khalid.
“That sounds like a good idea, huh, Kat,” Imoen noted the dark circle under her friend’s eyes. “Can we get some food too? I’m hungry,” she added noting the rumbling of her belly.
“Well, I am tired and, I do need to study my spells,” replied Katora. “Let’s stay here for the night and leave for Nashkel tomorrow morning. We can stop in Beregost along the way.”
That night the party rented one of the few rooms Bentley had left. The Friendly Arm Inn was unusually crowded with travelers too afraid to go on the road.The room they were given consisted of three beds, each big enough for two people. It smelled like freshly washed linen, and felt warm and cozy. They sat on their beds and prepared to go to sleep.
“I still don’t trust them Kat,” Imoen said discreetly pointing to Xzar and Montaron. They were too strange, even for her. Montaron had a violent streak a mile long, and Clown-Face Xzar was equally weird.
“They amuse me in the ‘what the hell is wrong with them sort of way’,” said Jaheira with a chuckle. “I would not trust them, if I were you.”
“Oh I’m sure they must have their good points too,” said Katora.
Montaron whispered something in Xzar’s ear. “Well, Monty it appears they do not trusts us,” Xzar said aloud.
“Not that they should. It’s not like we have given them a reason too,” Montaron chuckled. “Tell me girlie, how do ye know ye won’t wake up with my blade in your gullet?”
“Indeed halfling, she could ask you the same question,” Jaheira replied giving Katora a gentle nudge.
“Yes, Montaron. How do you know that I won’t murder you in your sleep?” Katora said. Montaron just sat there looking at her with his mouth gapping open. “I suppose, we will just have to trust each other,” she added when he did not answer her.
Montaron just grumbled to himself and got under the covers. “Sleep lightly task master,” he said, as the rest of them got ready to go to sleep.
“Kat, tell me a story, please,” said Imoen. Stories always seemed to help her get to sleep, and Katora used to tell the best of them.
“Not tonight, Imm. I’m not in the mood,” Katora said.
“I wish old Puffguts were here. He would tell me a story. Something about trollops or plugtails or…”
“Good night ladies,” came a voice from an irritated halfling in the next bed.
Imoen rolled over and tried to go to sleep. “Kat?”
“Do you miss Candlekeep?” Imoen waited for the answer but got none.
After only two days on the road she was feeling a bit homesick “Kat?”
Imoen looked over to see her friend sleeping. “Goodnight Kat,” she said as her head hit the pillow and she finally drifted off to sleep.
Montaron awoke at with an idea he could not shake. It stemmed from the bounty of two hundred gold coins that was on Katora’s head. Once planted it festered like a sore within his mind until it had taken control of all his conscious thoughts.
The halfling got out of bed and went over to Katora’s backpack. He searched for the bounty notice, careful not to wake the others. It was three in the morning and they would not take kindly to waking up to him rummaging through their belongings. He found the bounty notice, his golden ticket. Him and his partner would be at least two hundred gold coins richer, if they played their card right. Not that he cared about his partner.
The sound of snoring came from Xzar. Montaron walked over to where he was sleeping. He shook the wizard gently and whispered. “Get up! I must be speaking with ye!”
Xzar rolled over and muttered “Mommy, I don’t want to get up. The other kids make fun of me.”
“Get up, ye blasted wizard! Get up now!” Montaron whispered in a harsh tone.
“Wha-what Monty?” said the wizard as sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
“I must be speaking with ye. Come on get up.”
“Now Monty?” Xzar buried his head in his pillow.
“Yes now before we wake the others.”
“Oh, if I must!”
The wizard got out of bed and the two of them went downstairs to first floor of the inn. Bentley, the gnome innkeeper, had stopped serving drinks an hour ago. By this time most of the patrons had gone to bed. Not surprisingly, a few drunks were still up. Some of them were passed out on their table. None were sober enough to overhear their conversation. Xzar and Montaron sat down in a secluded corner away from wandering eyes and ears.
Montaron put the bounty notice on the table. “Look at this, Xzar.”
“I do believe that is the bounty notice from the assassin, what of it?” responded the necromancer.
Montaron slapped him on the back of the head. “What are ye daft wizard? This is what I’m talking about!” He pointed to the spot where it said the size of the bounty “Think of the gold, Wizard! Think of the gold!”
Xzar gave a puzzled look and asked “What gold, Monty?”
“The gold we’re going get when we turn in the bounty.” The look on the necromancer’s face remained that of confusion. “Look, ye brain-dead wizard,” the halfling continued “the way I see it we can kill Katora and take the bounty for ourselves.”
“But Monty, where will we pick up our reward?”
“That’s the problem. I say we stick with her, and when we find out where to turn the bounty in, bam!” Montaron took an old dagger of his and jammed it into the table next to the note. “We put a blade through her gullet and claim our reward, ye in?”
“Montaron, I like the way your foul little mind works,” said the wizard with a wide grin. He chuckled. “Sure we shouldn’t do it now why we have the chance?”
“No not tonight. The bounties will only get higher…the longer we wait, the more money we get.”
Part Four - Clown and Midget
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