A Diversion, Then Unto the Swamps

The two adventurers travelled across the landscape, hiking through the light forest by day, then camping at night. The enchanted tent came in handy, keeping them safe as night. Meliantha would regularly fend off Caelar’s advances, but found herself warming to him. At the same time, she was suspicious of his motives – why would anyone want to be with her? She was no beauty.

Still, she found herself amused by it, even as she stayed on her guard.

She noticed the plume of smoke just off their path, and pointed it out to him. “What do you think that is?” she said, more for his impression.

He make a show of peering at it. “If we’re lucky, entertainers! If it’s average, a hidden Zhentish camp I can request assistance from. If we’re unlucky we’re going to have a fight.”

“Well, at least you’ve got some judgement.” Then she paused. “Are there hidden Zhentish camps inside Cormyr?”

“That would be telling, my dusk lady!” he replied, jovially, and flashed her a grin.

 

It turned out to be a camp of entertainers. They hailed the two as they stepped into view, invitingly. They did not blanche or look afraid at Meliantha’s appearance, but took her into their camp. They were putting a stew together, and some fresh meat and spices from the haversack were cheerfully appreciated and added in. The troupe – ‘Doctor Magestik’s Travelling Entertainers – Purveyors of Mirth, Joy and Amusement, renowned from Sembia to the Vast’ – was in-between engagements, and going from Sembia to the Cormyrian capitol of Suzail, and had thought to cut across. This had been a bit of a problem, as the ground was rougher here than they’d expected off-road, and one of the wagons had come up with a broken wheel.

This stopped being an issue for them soon, as Meliantha was strong enough to actually lift that corner of the cart and hold it long enough for them to get the old wheel off and its replacement on.

At dinner that night, Caelar asked her, as an aside, “Do you think this stop was worth the time we would lose?”

She replied, archly, “It’s my place to help those in Cormyr in all ways I can. If we knew it was impending, we’d be on horseback. As it stands, you think it’s soon, but not imminent. Besides,” she shot at him, “if this had been a Zhentish camp, I’d like to have known so I could report it properly.” He smiled, his opinion of her visibly going up a notch.

After dinner, one of the multiplicity of children in the carnival cartwheeled over to her. “Beg pardon, lady, but Mistress Danhielle has offered to do a reading for you for only a token fee if you’d like.” He pointed at one of the carts at the edge of the camp, painted purple and blue with, she realized, the symbol of Savras (the god of divination) worked into the sign.

“I think I shall accept,” she replied.

The child led Meliantha to the cart on the edge of the camp, and she went up the three steps and opened the door. Within, at a table, sat a young woman, apple-cheeked and cheerful, her brown hair pulled back into a gentle tail, lips and eyes tinted a deep purple, as was the blouse she wore.

“Greetings, traveller. I am, as I’m sure you’ve heard from Artorio, Mistress Danhielle. I will not give the entire spiel – we’re not really working – but I did have the feeling you might need some guidance. If…” she paused, then continued, “the two of you would be seated, I will see what I can divine for you.” With a raised eyebrow and an mental hush to Chainbreaker, she settled into the chair.

The young lady stared into Meliantha’s eyes, then took three cards from the old Talis deck on the table without breaking eye contact, turning them over and placing them on the table. Only then did she stop looking into the amethyst depths, and look at the card. After a few breaths, she began to speak in a strange tone, as if she was not entirely the one who was talking.

“My lady, you are in a place where your conventional attempts, the way that you feel like a master, where you feel like you know your domain, just is not working and is just not the time for it.  Instead, it is time to go back to a softer place, an acceptance of the more receptive and peaceful methods is called for and the lesson of the Empress instead of the Emperor.”

She touched the second card. “What’s missing is craftsmanship, a willingness or rather a desire to do the boring, drudgery type work that gets someone from being passable to being good at something that is the Eight of Pentacles. Taking the time to learn and to craft, taking the time to hone, having the patience to deal with the occasional failure in the lot of good work and see even that as progress.”

She finally indicated the third card. “Where it will bring you is the King of Swords, a return to the dominance and mastery and confidence that she once had as well as the external validation and esteem that comes with it. You will know how to handle your troubles, and the most clever ways to get around them specifically. You will know how to wield your anger and your pain, the swords that were used against you, against your enemies.” Her eyes returned to Meliantha’s, locking her gaze.

“Remember these things, and you will know how to continue past your trials.”

She didn’t remember leaving the fortune-teller’s cart, nor setting up her own tent, but she found herself half-undressed, armor on the stand, Chainbreaker on his rack, boots off, in shirt and loincloth, sitting on her bed. She was breathing heavily, as if she’d exerted herself, but there was no sweat.

“What’s going on? There wasn’t any mind-magic, what just happened?”

Perhaps, Chainbreaker sent to her, you’re reacting badly to hearing something you needed but did not really want to hear?

“What does that mean?”

Meliantha… The time we’ve been together, you’ve avoided any real connections to people. Even Storm – even her, you kept out. Perhaps it is time you worked on being more… human? Not the guardian your God is, but open to other people, to friends besides me.

“Who would care?” she said, viciously. “Look at me!” She pulled off her shirt and loincloth, standing naked. “This body! This… this face! I’m a monster! WHO WOULD CARE?”

“I can think of one who might.” The voice behind her was quiet, and full of emotion. She spun, hands covering herself, to see Caelan there, wearing a light robe and his hair wet.

“What are – why – get out!” Meliantha felt her face grow hot, as she backed away. Caelan stepped forwards, one hand reaching out, and touching her bare shoulder.

“You’re afraid,” he said, gently. “You’ve had a shock. Let me put you to bed and make you some tea,” he said, gently. Then he turned around and rummaged in her haversack, pulling out a shimmering long shirt.  Not turning back, he held it out over his shoulder. “Your nightgown, my dusk beauty.”

She reached out, mechanically, and touched his hand. Her head whirled, her breath came in halts, and she swallowed.

“…join me there?”

He turned around. The other hand had dropped, and she stood there, again, naked and unconcealed. Caelen bowed his head.

“It would be my honor.”

 

As dawn broke, Caelan woke to find himself alone. He rose, pulled his robe on, and looked out the front of the tent. Not for the first time, he found the tent to be eminently civilized – the floor, despite seeming to be canvas, was soft and level and warm and dry, and it magically kept it warm. This came to him because the morning was chill.

Meliantha had Chainbreaker in hand, and was doing her morning exercises, running through a series of routines that brought her awake and in motion, prepared for the day. He also had the feeling they had a calming effect on her, as she seemed to rarely sleep soundly.

Today, however, she was inspired. He watched her move, a small thrill going through him thinking of her muscles moving, the strength in them moving the bar of metal that was Chainbreaker as if it was straw. He pulled his head back in, and dressed.

When he fully emerged, she was finished with her morning exercise, and had built a small fire.  The entertainers were packing up and cleaning up, and he noticed one cart was missing – the purple-painted cart of the fortune-teller. He came up behind her, and gently touched her shoulder. She reached up and touched his hand.

“Good morning,” he said. “I hope you are well.”

“Quite well, good sir. It was a magnificent evening. I do hope I left you no scars.”

“A trivial one, my dusk mistress. Easily healed, and forgotten.” He took a deep breath. “Do you wish morning-meal? I might be able to put something together quickly enough.”

Meliantha turned to him, smiling a little shyly. “I’ve already gotten some.” She gestured at a small box. “A bit of dawnfry.”

They ate quickly, and then Caelan used a spell to clean the box. They broke down the tent, and packed up everything. A wave to the entertainers, and they moved on.

It was noon before they broke their silence.

“Lady, I don’t wish to be rude but… I do have a question.”

“Yes,” she replied, “you were my first.”

“…that wasn’t the question, actually, but I am honored to have been that for you.”  She blushed, grey skin shading deeper grey. “No, my question is what we will do when we get to the swamp?”

“I speak a smattering of the Lizardman tongue, and am fluent in a few others. If these cultists are trying to do what you think they’re going to do, we may well have allies. There’s a tribe of hobgoblins that lives in the swamp, and while they’re cruel and sadistic, they also prize an orderly existance. The Cyricists may well have enslaved some of each to do the heavy work.”

He nodded. “An excellent idea. Hopefully it will be possible without too much fighting!”

They turned part of the path, and stopped short. Before them was the edge of the Vast Swamp. Here it did not ease from forest to swamp; it simply became a dark, dank body of water with some drowned trees visible. Hung from one of the trees were the skinless corpses of two lizardfolk, pinned to the same tree by spears were two hobgoblins, and the mark of Cyric was carved into its bark and stained with a dark liquid – probably blood.

“…I think we may have fewer allies than you might hope for, my lady.”

Meliantha nodded grimly, then something pricked her senses. She knocked Caelar to the ground, then hissed as an arrow sank into her leg. She dropped Chainbreaker, then pulled her own bow, sending an arrow the way the first had come. With a strangled cry, a man in black leather armor fell out of the top of a tree and to the ground.  A dozen more came out of the trees, moving over the water – water that she now saw was very shallow, only an inch or two deep.  Arrows took two more of the warriors, and then they were upon her. Chainbreaker came from the ground into her hands, and in her hands was as deadly as ever. Three strikes, and three more of the fighters died.

Caelar’s voice called out, and a sudden burst of discordant music slashed through the party, felling a half-dozen more.  The three survivors turned to run, only for a half-dozen arrows from a completely different direction to bring them down.

The underbrush parted, and slogging through deeper water came four hobgoblins in a heavier armor than the fighters. They moved to a dozen paces away, then the one in front raised a hand in greeting, then spoke in the Common tongue:

“I am Torgez, leader of this patrol. We are not enemies. We have the same enemy, I think. We offer truce.”

Caelar, having gotten up, looked at them, then at Meliantha.

“We accept. I am Meliantha, and this is Caelar.”

“Come. Our camp is near but not too near. My warriors will strip the bodies, hide them where the beasts will get them, and join us.”

Torgez moved off, and the two adventurers followed.


A tremendous thank-you to my friend Danii for the tarot reading for Meliantha and being the model for Mistress Danhiela.

Posted by Meliantha Demonblood

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