Nearly every patron in the Helm and Cloak sung or wailed the lyrics to Alestorm’s final song; always a tavern favorite. “We are here to drink your beer!”
It was not long after when the popular Balder’s Gate tavern returned to the normal late night rumpus and seaside nightlife. It was Greengrass and all across the Realms it was a celebration of the Wide Earth’s transition into the Sowing. Balder’s Gate was teeming with individuals looking for employment on the seas or to aid in the burgeoning conflict on Moonshae. It was a time of opportunity.
Across from Jerit and Shar sat Cren Tosh and Harsk also new friends from the past year. Cren Tosh was a half elf dressed in a golden vest over invisible mithril chainmail; he was a spell-thief capable of stealing spell effects right out of the air. He and his colleague were familiar with the Sword Coast legends and myths form Waterdeep south to the Empires of the Sands. It was one of the interesting draws that made Cren Tosh quite likable to Jerit. His Dwarven compatriot Harsk was a discerning bounty hunter who, in combat exploits Cren Tosh’s martial skills by beating down opponents Cren trips up. Ever since Harsk lost his family during the godsfall five years ago, the dwarf as devoted his life to bringing death to evil religious zealots and getting paid handsomely for it.
Sitting in the middle of the group was Meghan Gundwynd. Jerit was instantly captivated by the woman from the moment he was introduced to her. Meghan’s stern countenance and dominance was a lure for Jerit; nevertheless he was hesitant in his actions toward her because he was not sure the depth of Meghan and Shar’s relationship. Was it intimate? Jerit ached to know.
“Can I get anyone more ale?” Allie asked looking directly at Harsk. Allie had been adeptly juggling several tables at once, Harsk admired her diligence.
“Another round if you please,” Harsk answered for everyone as he reached inside his beard, presumably for a coin or two.
“This round is on me,” came a deep educated voice- the voice of the stately man. “If that is I may join the table in its partaking.” A hint of a smile softened his hard features.
Jerit noted how Meghan watched the stately man, no- scrutinized the man. Had Meghan looked at him like that at a time before? The thought sent a warm flush down Jerit’s spine and into his groin.
“Pull up a seat,” invited Harsk and as the stately man reached for a chair when Jerit motioned with his hand, magically pulling up the chair for him.
“Thank you gentlemen, lady; I am Panthras.” Panthras was a pristinely dressed man with not a trace of an accent in his speech. He carried a military-issued masterwork long sword that contained a magical crystal and a bandolier of keen edged daggers. As Panthras sat he produced a merchant symbol emblazoned with the legend Panthras’ Procuring.
Taking up the token examining it Harsk asked, “So what can we do for you Panthras Procuring?”
After giving the dwarf a sideways look Panthras answered, “I require a band of adventurers who command a high level of magic and as much experience as possible to see a shipboard cargo safely to its destination.” Panthras said at length weighing everyone’s reactions before continuing. “The cargo consists of sixty tarred and sealed wooden crates, each containing twenty masterwork long swords. The swords must reach the Lord of Aithe on Alaron.”
“That’s one of the Moonshaes! Absolutely not,” Harsk said Allie brought the round of drinks. “Take them back! No, wait…” and tossed Allie two gold coins.
“Hold on Harsk,” said Cren Tosh. “How long is the trip?”
As the conversation proceeded Jerit saw Meghan’s reaction to Panthras’ proposal; it was almost the look of familiarity or was it foreknowledge?
“Eight days though it largely depends on the weather of course.” Panthras replied as he regarded the quiet drow cautiously. “The seas have been safe enough of late; the Mermaid Sword is a ship that has made the run to Alaron many times.”
“We will need time to discuss this, what do you offer?” Jerit asked, the dwarf Harsk nodding in singular agreement across the table.
Composing himself, “I am prepared to offer the five of you a thousand gold lions each as well as a respectable discount with regards to your outfitting; and once you arrive, another five thousand lions upon the safe delivery of the weapons to Aithe Keep.” Panthras replied.
“Can you allow us until the morning Panthras?” Cren Tosh asked looking to Jerit and Shar who both nodded in agreement, Meghan remaining silent.
“Then accept my hospitality until the morning my new friends!” Panthras said encouraged.
After the time was agreed upon and Panthras had taken his leave, it was Meghan who spoke first explaining that she was confident that Panthras was not lying or misrepresenting himself in any way. Her inquisitor abilities are formidable, but still Jerit could not escape the look of knowing recognition in Meghan’s enchanting eyes.
As the night wore on and each member of the crescent table testified as to their inclination on getting involved in what was sure to be more than just delivering weapons safely across the sea. In the end it would be everyone or no one, and no one wanted to be the individual to say no; so they all resolved to agree to Panthras’ offer.
A few hours later as the sun rose over the far horizon the next morning Shar Auvryndar and Meghan Gundwynd were situated on the rooftop of the Helm and Cloak. It was a long habit they shared since before Shar was not yet acclimated to the surface; they would prepare spells and incantations in the morning while Shar tried to outlast the brightness of daybreak until he must hide his eyes.
“You felt it too.” Meghan said to Shar after their morning preparations.
“I did. Do you think the evil we are looking for is hidden on this ship?” Shar asked Megan, his close friend and spiritual advisor to Mystra.
“Hidden on the ship or already along our path, mayhap on the Moonshaes?”
Suddenly Shar’s fingers gestured in the silent language of the drow: “We are not alone.”
From an adjacent rooftop stood a slim distinguished looking, long-bearded man of average height. He wore plain gray robes and a red cloak, a long, predominantly white beard was tucked jauntily into his belt.
“I am truly sorry my young friends, I do not mean to interrupt Lady of Mystra I come in peace. My name is Flamsterd the Gray and I have a stake in what is happening on the Moonshae’s right now.”
Walking over to the old man, Shar and Meghan remained on the roof top of the Helm and Cloak; the space of an alleyway separated the drow and the inquisitor from Flamsterd the Gray. “We will hear what you have to say.” Shar said revealing his true nature in the early morning light.
Eyebrows raised Flamsterd weighed his next words carefully. “Sell-swords, undead, and dark… creatures have been spreading like an infection since the godsfall, all in the name of the Iron Hand the new Lord of Tyranny and Domination. Unfortunately Chauntea is no longer the deity she once was; now as the Earth Mother her faith abhors violence. Many of the her clerics have gone missing or have retreated into the forests so it is up to those of us capable to bear arms where her priest hood cannot. I am hoping that your company are capable and agree to help the Moonshae’s before evil closes its iron hand.”
‘The swords must be safely delivered to the local lord, Haembar Cauldyth or his successor in the lordship of Cantrev Aithe, to the best of your honor and abilities.’
“There is more.” Panthras said after they all signed the agreement. “ but upon my honor, this document contains no alteration in your agreed task.” Panthras then produced another roll of parchment; this one was closed with a royal seal. “I must warn you once you have unsealed this document, I cannot allow you to withdraw from the mission. Consider your actions carefully.”
At that moment everyone looked to Meghan who unceremoniously took the sealed scroll without a word, broke the seal, and read it aloud.
“To those who accept the bond of Panthras and with it the swordguard mission to Aithe: My thanks and my debt. Dark days have come to the Moonshae Isles again, and we are in need of the strong and the valiant. Be it known that I personally shall award four thousand pieces of gold, above and beyond your promised reward, to each adventurer in your band who comes to Caer Callidyrr and asks for it, assuming the blades arrive safely in the hands of the Lord of Aithe. I will offer more, at that time, to those among you who will give us substantial aid against the foes that beset us in the Moonshaes - dark men skulking behind witless pawns who may try to seize that which I reign over. Bring this letter to me in Caer Callidyrr, and accept the thanks, welcome, and hospitality of Tristan Kendrick. High King of the Ffolk.”
“Sounds like there will be new bounties to collect upon!” Harsk said hopeful as he resolved himself to the short sea voyage. “When do we leave?”
The Mermaid Sword set out from Balder’s Gate the next day. The ship was almost seventy feet long and hosted a crew of thirty men and women; even her captain was a woman- a fact Cren Tosh did not fail to notice. Veldyrina Flaenitarr was a former pirate-captain in Luskan’s war with Waterdeep but found the overbearing politics of the North to her distaste. She then commandeered the Mermaid Sword for a more peaceful, less complicated career on the seas.
Besides providing ample cargo space for the twelve-hundred masterwork long swords; spices, textiles, as well as brass locks and hinges from Waterdeep. In addition, Captain Veldyrina has also accommodated several paying passengers.
One, a fat merchant, accompanying his precious stocks of carved ivory, scents, and liqueurs that come with long tale of their origins; three lovely and lively young high-born ladies who are on their way to visit relatives in the Moonshaes; and finally a strange, odoriferous homely man returning to the Moonshaes with rare seeds and plants.
On the second night after finishing his last scroll for the day, each mage said they would use the downtime on the Mermaid Sword wisely, Jerit heard a thud outside his room. Simply looking at the door revealed no results so Jerit got up, closed the distance to the sound, and put his ear to the door. Consulting his inner clock Jerit thought it sometime after one in the morning. What was somebody doing up that his hour?
With a snap of a finger Jerit was instantly dressed as his weapon quickly drifted to his outstretched hand. He opened the door to a dark hall that still held a trace of woman’s fragrance in the air. Looking around Jerit could see a faint light coming from the cargo hold.
Subterfuge on the high seas, or one of the lively young cousins getting into trouble?
Investigating the sound and the light, Jerit came across the first of the tarred and sealed crates they were responsible for. It was plain and unadorned but it had been moved. Then a low flat scrape emerged from the far end of the cargo followed by a female curse. One of the cousins mayhap, then Jerit stopped short surprised and pleased to find Meghan alone.
“Making certain all is secure?” Jerit asked in a humorous tone. The look Meghan returned was not one of mirth but something else. Damn but she was hard to read Jerit thought. Meghan had moved one of the crates to better access others behind it and in the process had caught a splinter.
“There is more going on here than our mission to the Moonshaes Jerit. Shar and I have been searching for a remnant from the godsfall, a weapon of great evil and breaker of men.”
“And you think what you and Shar are looking for it is here on this ship?” Jerit asked without a trace of sarcasm taking her hand gingerly to remove the splinter.
“If not here then perhaps our destination,” Meghan said yielding to Jerit's touch. “I can detect its evil, but I have to be close.” As if to demonstrate she cast a divination on the crate she had just revealed- she could discern no evil within the container of weapons.
“I would very much like to help.” Jerit said as he helped Meghan move the crate to the side to reveal yet another.
“Good have limited space; the majority of the work will be to shift the cargo around so that I may reach ever crate.” Meghan said. “Sixty crates and I only have until landfall."
The next night in the cargo hold as Jerit and Meghan moved and sifted crates around Jerit asked, “Shar told me how you two met but not why you travel together, are you two promised? You and Shar do not seem like typical swashbuckling adventurers.” Now that it was out in the open Jerit felt much better.
“I am Shar’s spiritual advisor and friend. Mystra, my goddess, gave me new life so that I may guide and aid Shar in his years to come.” Meghan said as she cast another divination on the newest revealed crate.
A few hours later feeling sore and tired Jerit walked Meghan back to her quarters. “Same time tomorrow…” Meghan’s kiss stopped any further decipherable words.
"To Arms. We Are Under Attack!”
“Meghan! We are…under…” Shar’s words of warning fell silent as the drow realized Meghan was not sleeping alone. Stunned the drow did not finish. On the upper deck of the ship crew members were shouting, screaming, Shar thought he had just heard ‘Man Overboard!’
“For the Realm!” Cren Tosh exclaimed from the hall behind Shar breaking him from his shock, the billowing shouts from Harsk quickly followed the half elf’s battle-rant to the deck above.
“Lacedons,” was all Shar could say before he hurriedly left, joining the attack against the salt water undead.
Feeling oddly embarrassed and ashamed Jerit and Meghan dressed as quickly possible forgoing armor of any kind and just making themselves decent, grabbing their weapons and escaping into the hall where they encountered a low vulgar chanting. It was coming from one of the passenger’s quarters away from the combat. Both Jerit and Meghan exchanged questioning glances.
On the deck above screams accompanied satisfied cries of victory as Shar, Cren Tosh, Harsk and the crew of the Sword fought off the ghoulish lacedons. Approaching cautiously, pressing their ears to the door Jerit and Meghan both recognized the necromantic incantations necessary for summoning undead. Without further hesitation Jerit flung open the door as Meghan bore down upon the unsuspecting necromancer.
Twenty-four hours later the lacedons were all destroyed and the homely seed collector/ necromancer Thazstar Rhiynn had been neutralized. Only two of the crew members had been killed in the undead attack, a fact that did not go unpunished as Meghan interrogated the necromancer and uncovered a frightening possibility if they did not act.
“Rhiynn gave up all the names of the cult of the Iron Hand called the Risen and their titles for what it’s worth. He does not know much but what he does is that the cult’s general plan is to seize control of the Moonshae Islands as a kingdom for their Iron Tyrant but their present goal is to get to the High King.” Meghan said forlorn. “I surmise the Risen gave Rhiynn a chance to prove his worth and he obviously failed. He does not know the daily workings of the cult only that he is to contact a butcher in Aithe named Duskerell Thimbottle, or failing that, a woodcarver in town named Kantivel Chonn, to report his return and the fate of the swords.” Meghan explained to everyone including the Captain.“He will never make it there to report anything unfortunately,” added Captain Veldyrina. “Tonight Thazstar Rhiynn will walk the plank.”