The Story of Miplit

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Gurns
Sojourner
Posts: 554
Joined: Fri Aug 10, 2001 5:01 am

The Story of Miplit

Postby Gurns » Sun Feb 09, 2003 11:51 pm

Calinth,

Very well, you win. Curse you. I had almost managed to forget this. So be it. I have written down The Story of Miplit. Or rather, The Story of How Gurns Told "The Story of Miplit" to Calinth. I put the ranger in for comic relief.

Gurns

P.S. I know how you can be scared by big books, so I'll warn you in advance: This is very, very long.

***********

Calinth walked into the Waterdeep tavern, and sat down across from Gurns. The bard gave no sign of noticing, but drained his mug and slammed it on the table.

"Bring me another! Now!" Gurns yelled, and glared across the room at the innkeeper.

Calinth was surprised. He'd never seen the bard in a mood quite like this.

After but a brief moment, Gurns raised his eyes to the ceiling, and called in a penetrating voice, "Oh, for the love of the gods, bring me another drink!"

Conversations all around the room paused, then resumed as everyone glanced towards the bard. The innkeeper scurried over. "Nah, Gurns," he said "don't you think you've had enough? You've been here all afternoon, yes, all afternoon and it's well into the evening, and it's been one drink after another."

Gurns tried to grab the innkeeper's arm, and missed. He settled for another glare. "No," he said, over-precisely. "I have not had enough. You do not have enough drink in this bar for me to have had enough. Bring me another, and another, and another, and keep them coming until I no longer know my own name." Gurns pasted a professional smile on his face, and started to sing "Well, merry met, friends, I say merry, merry met…" He broke off, his face fell, and he spat out, "Merry." Then he glared again. "Another drink!"

"But, Gurns," said the innkeeper, wringing his hands nervously, "you've been running a tab since mid-afternoon, and you already owe quite a sum, quite a sum."

"You quibble over a few coins?" Gurns asked harshly. He fumbled in his bag, and pulled out a beautiful lyre. It glowed softly, golden in the dim light. He shoved it at the innkeeper. "Then take that, pawn it, sell it, just bring me a drink!"

Calinth was shocked. The only time Gurns ever parted with an instrument…well, he'd never seen it happen. He'd heard that Gurns would sometimes pass one on to another bard. But never this casually! Calinth quickly brought out a small purse, tossed it to the innkeeper, and nodded. The innkeeper brought over two full mugs and a pitcher of ale, and retreated back behind the bar.

Gurns drank, sullenly and silently.

Eventually Calinth remarked, "You wanted to see me, I am here."

Gurns looked across the table, with bloodshot eyes. "I have discovered the answer," he said. And drank again.

Calinth waited. "What answer?" he asked, finally.

"Oh, Calinth." Gurns voice wavered. "Remember that day? Years ago now. We were alive and well, we had barely been touched. We laughed, joyously! We joked about what poor fighters they'd been, how quickly they'd fallen before us. And as we sailed the Spirit Raven back to Waterdeep, you said 'How can a pirate ship be this slow? This thing couldn't chase down a shipwreck to rob.' And we laughed again."

"We never thought." Gurns stopped.

Calinth asked, "Thought what?"

"We never thought, if they're such inept pirates, how did they get so rich? Their pockets were full of gold and platinum, and the holds full of valuable cargo."

Gurns drank again, deeply.

"Tell me," said Calinth, quietly.

Gurns took another drink, and caught his breath. He sat up a little straighter. "Aye, I will tell you the tale," he said in a stronger voice. A few people at nearby tables noticed, and their conversations died away.

"I will tell you the tale, Calinth, for it is you who set me on its track. Normally I would bless you for finding me a tale, but I curse you for finding me this tale. I do not want to know it, and I can never forget it. We laughed, Calinth, laughed with pure delight. But as I learned the tale, that laughter turned to stone in my throat, and that stone chokes me still."

-----------------------

"Curse you, Miplit!" The Waterdeep captain, still bleeding from half a dozen wounds, struggled against the bonds that held him tied to the mast. "Oh, curse you, you damned demon spawn, get of a diseased sow…" His voice rasped from a raw throat.

Miplit's hands clamped hard on the unconscious priestess' breasts, he thrust once more, and convulsed. The curses of the helpless captain only made the moment sweeter.

Miplit got up, buttoning his pants. He smirked as he looked down at the priestess. "Take her below," he said to his grinning crew, "and enjoy yourselves." As they hastened to comply, he shouted after them "And gag her before she wakes up, you scum, or she'll blast the lot of you!"

Miplit hobbled awkwardly toward the mainmast, peg leg clomping on the deck.

"Miplit," said the captain, weakly. "Why are you doing this? You can't do this!"

Miplit smashed the captain across the face with the back of his hand. He smiled at the blood that flowed, brightly, from the captain's nose.

Miplit almost purred, "Why, yes, I can." His twisted smile showed a few blackened, rotting teeth.

Then he snarled, "And I do it because nobody tells me what to do." Miplit shifted his weight to his good foot, and lashed out with his peg leg, smashing it into the captain's groin. The captain screamed hoarsely, then jerked forward and vomited.

"Why, captain," said Miplit, purring again. "What a mess you've made. You'll have to clean that up. I won't stand for a dirty ship." Miplit's voice rose, an edge to it. "The Raven must be clean, cared for, everything shipshape!"

Miplit took a breath, and resumed his previous, smooth tone.

"And Captain," said Miplit, as if struck by a new idea. "You'll have to clean yourself up as well. That priestess probably won't last long. Even if she does, some of my men will want to sample a different amusement."

Miplit stroked the captain's cheek, and leaned over to whisper in the captain's ear. "In fact," he said, "I might take a ride, myself."

The captain tried to pull away, but his bonds held him tight. He choked and sputtered on blood and bile. Miplit heard "But you…captain in Waterdeep…"

Miplit stood up. "Ah, you remember I once served Waterdeep. How Piergeiron has tried to hide that! As well as the fact that he's the one who drove me to this."

Miplit's peg leg lashed out again, much harder this time. The captain screamed, and this time kept on screaming. Miplit said, conversationally, "He, you, and all the 'good people' of Waterdeep. You gave me no chance, you gave me no choice."

Miplit kicked once more. The captain's screams cut off abruptly, and he hung unconscious in his bonds.

"I remember that day," said Miplit. "To Piergeiron, it seemed like little, so little. But it brought me here. I swear, someday I'll have Piergeiron where I have you. And then he'll remember that day as well as I."

-----------------------

Gurns paused, and took a drink. Some of the eavesdroppers followed suit.

Calinth waited, and when Gurns showed no signs of resuming, remarked "An evil man."

"Yes," agreed Gurns. "Very evil. Then."

-----------------------

Miplit strode into Lord Piergeiron's office with the rolling gait of a man who'd spent a life at sea. He smiled broadly, his teeth gleaming in his tanned and weathered face as he nodded at the guards, and bowed to Lord Piergeiron.

"You wanted to see me, Lord?" Miplit asked.

"Yes, Captain Miplit, I'm afraid so." Lord Piergeiron frowned, solemnly. "I'm sorry to tell you this, but I'm going to have to let you go."

Miplit nodded vigorously. "Aye, Lord Piergeiron, where do you want me to go?"

"Dash it, Miplit!" Piergeiron exclaimed. "Not 'go' anywhere! You're fired! Terminated! Given the old heave-ho! You are no longer in my employ!"

Miplit was stunned. "Bu-bu-but, Lord P!" Miplit stammered. "I've served you many long years. Why?"

"I am sorry, Miplit," said Lord Piergeiron, regretfully. "You have betimes served me well. And your contacts with, hrmm, certain people have provided me with valuable information in the past. But the truth is, you just don't have what it takes anymore. The last such service was how long ago? I can't afford to keep you on the payroll, under the circumstances."

"But Lord! I'm the best ship-handler you've got, and the Spirit Raven, the best ship! Surely there's something we can be doing for you!"

"Now, Miplit," said Lord Piergeiron, a bit condescendingly. "You're an excellent captain, among the best that have served me. And the Spirit Raven is a decent enough vessel. But she's slow! She was never the fastest thing afloat, and anything built in the last century can sail circles around her."

Miplit hands clenched and unclenched. "Speed isn't everything, Lord Piergeiron," he said. "She's a steady one, she is, and that be better'n...."

"Yes, yes, Miplit," Lord P interrupted distractedly, as he got a small purse from his desk. "Here's some coin, for yourself and your crew. Take it, with my blessing. I'm sure you'll be fine. After all, you've been following the Waterdeep to Havensport route for many a year, and not all shipments from there are illegal. No doubt you have all sorts of regular passengers and legitimate shipping contracts. Good luck to you."

Still in a daze, Miplit took the purse, and bowed. As he turned to go, he heard Lord Piergeiron say "Miplit. My supply master will welcome your bids on any public contracts. But my inspectors will no longer look the other way if some of your cargo is, hrmph, less than legal. A word to the wise, eh?"

Captain Miplit slowly made his way back to the docks, and his ship.

"Captain, what's wrong?" asked his first officer.

"We've been given the boot by Lord P." Miplit sighed. Then he scowled. "He's a hard man, that Lord P. No warning, no indication that he was displeased. And he tosses me out, without even a 'thank you'!"

The first officer looked worried. "That money usually pays half our expenses! How are we going to cover it?"

"We'll have to find more cargo to ship."

"Aye," said the First. "We've always carried the odd load or two. It's just been quite a while since we had to depend on it!"

Finding any cargo proved much more difficult than they imagined. Most merchants claimed not to have anything to ship, right then. A few merchants wouldn't even see them. One merchant had a bulky cargo, but only offered to pay them a pittance to carry it. When Miplit tried to bargain, the merchant chuckled.

"No bargainin'," the merchant said. "The Raven is slow. Take it or leave it."

As Miplit started to bluster, the merchant held up a hand. "Aye, I know, she's steady, a taut ship. That's worth somethin', that is. But if I had somethin' valuable, I couldn't send it with you. I can't afford to keep m' money tied up for as long as it would take you to get there and back."

The merchant looked at them with some sympathy. "You take a look-see around. Mebbe you can find somethin' else, but I'd be bettin' you can't. I've got this load of iron rations you can carry. They're so old and tough, none of the surface races will buy 'em. If I can get 'em to Havensport or Baldur's Gate, then maybe the ogres and trolls will still want 'em. But they ain't worth much, so I ain't gonna pay you much."

The merchant proved to be correct. Miplit and his First couldn't find anyone who wanted to ship with them. Even merchants who had shipped goods with them recently wouldn't hire them.

One of the latter finally explained. "You see, Captain Miplit, it was well known, at least among those in the know, that you were in the employ of the Lord Piergeiron of Waterdeep, may the good gods protect him. It is known that he frowns on those who seek, all too obviously, to do him favors, or who, all too obviously, seek to receive favors of him, but if we could, oh so indirectly, do him a favor by favoring you, then he might favor us, oh so indirectly."

Miplit was taken aback. He'd thought his arrangement with Lord Piergeiron was a carefully kept secret.

"So all my cargos..." he pondered.

"To say 'all' might be to overstate the matter," said the merchant, "rather think of your previous employment as a special incentive or bonus for a careful merchant to consider, to 'mix in', as it were, with other special qualities that do not show clearly on the balance sheet, but are all too real, nonetheless. There can be no doubt that a fine fellow like yourself deserved such special treatment in your own right, but, alas, that has now vanished and the wise merchant must evaluate solely those qualities that you can currently provide."

Miplit had been getting angrier all afternoon. "I'm a good captain, I've a good ship, and a good crew! What's wrong with giving me a cargo?"

The merchant retreated slightly. "Your record for completed and undamaged delivery is indeed excellent, Captain Miplit, most excellent, and few there are who can compete with you in that regard. This indicates a great mastery of ship handling on your part, and should also induce great compliments for your First Officer and for your crew. Yet you may have heard the succinct saying 'Time is money' and this is most unfortunately true in the mercantile trades, and because there is no one who will exceed or even equal you in the overall length of time a sailing voyage takes, then this becomes a more critical negative factor in…"

"All right!" Miplit interrupted, brusquely. "I've heard that before."

"If it is not out of the realms of possibility, Captain Miplit, perhaps you should seek to find yourself another vessel, a speedier contrivance would…"

"NO!" Miplit shouted, slamming his hand on the counter. "I'm captain of the Raven!" He glared at the merchant, who backed further away. Then he recovered himself, and forced a weak laugh. "My apologies, good merchant. Here you are trying to be helpful and I'm shouting at you. What I mean is, uh, another ship would cost me tens of thousands of platinum, maybe more. Who could afford that?"

Miplit and the First left the merchant's office. As quickly as they could, they rounded up the crew, got their one cargo loaded, and set sail.

Miplit stood at the railing, absent-mindedly stroking it with his fingertips, staring out to sea. The First approached and saluted. "As you requested, sir, I've gone over the books. Your calculations are correct."

"Damn," said Miplit. "I was hoping I'd made a mistake."

"Aye, sir."

"Once all the Raven's needs were met, there was barely enough for supplies for the officers and crew?"

"Aye, sir."

"Lord P's last little gift will take care of the crew's wages for this trip, but then it'll be gone."

"Aye, sir."

"Ah. Well, we'll have to think of something," said Miplit. Then he frowned and, in a low voice, added, "And I'm afraid our other employer isn't going to be too happy."

-----------------------

Gurns poured himself another mugful. The customers at the neighboring tables had all moved closer, listening to the story. Some of the tavern's patrons across the room had noticed something going on, and were beginning to drift over.

Calinth remarked, "Miplit seems…not evil."

"Correct," said Gurns. "He was not, then. He could not be, and be working for Lord Piergeiron."

Gurns took another swig.

"But not good, either," said Calinth.

"No," answered Gurns, "A little spying, a little smuggling, no one was quite sure what else. Miplit was never good. Neutral. Like many in the crowd here tonight." He waved a hand, vaguely.

Calinth grinned to himself. He wouldn't have bet that Gurns could stand up, but trust the bard to notice an audience.

-----------------------

They sold the cargo in Baldur's Gate. I hear that not even the trolls would buy those rations. The merchant finally got rid of them by spreading the word that he had special ogre rations on sale. Ogres are so stupid, tell them something is special or on sale…

And they managed to pick up some cargo in Baldur's Gate for Havensport. You know how close together those cities are, and I guess it's close enough that the speed of the Raven barely mattered to the Baldur's Gate merchants. But because they're so close, the fee Miplit received was very small.

When they got to Havensport, Miplit went to see Lord Entropis.

"Captain Miplit of the Spirit Raven," the secretary announced.

"Thank you," said Lord Entropis. "Come in, Miplit. Sit down. What do you have for me?"

"Well, sir," said Miplit, "ah, I have been fired by Lord Piergeiron."

Lord Entropis bared his teeth, briefly. Few would have called it a smile.

"How wise of you to tell me, Miplit," said Entropis. "I had already heard that news, and was wondering if you would tell me the truth."

Miplit shuddered slightly, and glanced about the office. Miplit never felt quite comfortable here, even though Lord E always did him the courtesy of meeting with him alone.

"I can still pass on the news I hear," Miplit said hurriedly. "Carry a bit of special cargo, if you know what I mean. I can still do that."

Lord E frowned. "You do realize that the most important news you brought me was of Lord Piergeiron's plans and activities?"

"I know that," said Miplit, "but that wasn't the only thing I did for you!"

Lord Entropis ignored Miplit and continued. "Your access to him was not great," he stated, "but it was a supplement to my other sources. Since he has cut that off, most of your value to me is gone. What am I supposed to do with you now?"

Miplit was getting angry again. "I'm a ship's captain, damn it, a good captain with the best ship around! There's plenty I can do! Do you mean that you only hired me because I worked for Lord P?" He stood up, clenching his fists.

Lord E stared at him, hard. "Do sit down, Miplit," he said flatly.

Miplit stared back. Then a slight breeze touched the back of his neck, he shivered, and sat down.

Lord Entropis considered Captain Miplit. Miplit could be a problem. It would be easy enough to make the problem go away. But Miplit might still be of some use. Lord Entropis preferred not to discard a tool unless it was necessary.

"As I said, most of your value to me is gone. Not all. I will still employ you, though at a much reduced rate. If you bring news, I will pay extra. If I have an appropriate cargo, I will ship it with you, and pay extra. There are other cargos you can pick up here, and I suggest you look into those. I will let it be known that, even though you are here under changed circumstances, you are still welcome in Havensport."

Miplit was relieved. It didn't sound like much, but it was something. "Thank you, Lord E," said Miplit. "You won't regret it, I promise you!"

And now, mused Lord Entropis, what was the best use for this tool? Well, he had best make sure of one thing, first. Though if he had read Miplit correctly, this could get interesting. Lord Entropis casually slid his hand closer to one of his hidden weapons. His bodyguards were always alert – they'd damn well better be! – but a little extra security was never amiss.

"You know, Miplit," Lord E said casually. "One of my special ships is in the harbor. Almost new, good condition, fully supplied. She carries a decent load of cargo, she might have a hidden hold or two, and she's a good deal faster than she looks. I could have you read aboard as captain, you could even bring your officers and crew."

Miplit's face turned red, and then very pale. His hands clenched on the arms of the chair.

Lord Entropis continued carefully. "I would accept the Raven from you, in lieu of the usual fee I charge for giving someone this kind of opportunity."

Miplit jerked his feet underneath him, and almost, almost sprang out of the chair. Had he done so, perhaps my story would be over. But, no, he didn't get up.

"No," Miplit said hoarsely, breathing rapidly. "I'm captain of the Raven, and she's my ship. I will not be captain on someone else's ship."

"Come, come, Miplit," said Lord E. "Your own ship, someone else's ship. Does it matter? You would be captain, and your word would be law. On the sea and in every port but one, your word would be supreme. Even in Havensport, your word would govern the ship, aside from a few rights I would have as owner."

"That's right, Lord E." Miplit was turning red again, and the heavy oaken arms of his chair looked as if they might snap. "Legal ownership matters a little, but only a little. A matter of pride, and I could swallow that. But I'll not have your ship. I'm the Raven's and the Raven is mine! I'll not leave her to command another ship, and I'll not sell her -- sell her! – and see her under another commander!"

Under the circumstances, Lord Entropis saw no need to mention that he probably would have had the Raven broken up for parts and scrap.

"Very well, Miplit," said Lord Entropis carefully. "Certainly if that is your decision, I respect it. I made the offer only to show how much I value you. I'll not mention it again."

Miplit's breathing and color began to return to normal. Lord Entropis continued. "I should have a job for you soon. Yes, something that will allow you to pay your crew and buy any gear and supplies you need. So prepare your ship, and hold yourself in readiness."

The secretary showed Miplit out, then returned to Lord E's office.

Lord E asked "What are the cheapest goods we have that are illegal in Waterdeep?"

The secretary thought briefly. "We still have six barrels of the white lightning. That distiller's goods are banned in Waterdeep. And it's worthless in Havensport, because all the tavern owners know the last barrel poisoned three people."

"Excellent," said Lord E. "Have those barrels delivered to Miplit's ship, and tell him they must be smuggled into Waterdeep. Pay him as if they were barrels of the finest wine. Then select a triple load of our most valuable cargo, give it to one of our better smugglers, and tell that captain to follow Miplit to Waterdeep, no matter how slow he has to go. And send an anonymous tip to the Waterdeep port inspectors about Miplit."

After the usual slow trip, the Spirit Raven tied up at the Waterdeep dock. Miplit was unconcerned as the port inspectors boarded his ship. After all, they'd never caught him before. But when a second party of inspectors followed, and then a full troop of guards, he started to worry.

The inspectors didn't take long to find the illegal barrels. The guards quickly hustled Miplit away, along with his first officer. The inspectors dismissed the crew, and posted guards upon the ship.

The port inspectors and guards took one barrel to the harbormaster, for evidence when the matter came to court. Somehow, the other barrels didn't make it to her office. Everyone hurried through the rest of their inspections: If they wanted any free booze, they had better get there before the other guys drank it all!

-----------------------

"He was set up by Lord E?" queried Calinth, as Gurns took another drink.

"He was set up," answered Gurns. He looked into his mug, found it empty, and set the mug down. Pushing the mug toward Calinth, he added, "It seems most likely it was Lord E, but I don't know for sure."

Calinth filled the mug, and slid it back to Gurns. "It's not like he would tell you."

Gurns took a long swallow. "No," he agreed, "he wouldn't tell me."

The way Gurns said that made Calinth stare. "You didn't!" he said.

"Eh? Didn't what?" Gurns looked at Calinth quizzically.

"You asked Lord E if he set Miplit up!" accused Calinth.

"Oh, yes," answered Gurns.

"And you're still alive?"

"Oh, yes," answered Gurns, "he wouldn't kill me over that. He just said 'I don't care to discuss it', and bared his teeth at me. I swallowed hard, to show him I understood what he meant, and we continued our chat."

Gurns looked at Calinth. "You, he might kill for that question. Because you would be rude about it."

Calinth stared at the bard. "You had a 'chat' with Lord E? About Miplit? And smuggling? And setting Miplit up?" He'd known Gurns to do some foolhardy things, especially in pursuit of a story, but this seemed excessive even for the bard.

"Now, Calinth, Lord E is intelligent and insightful. We had a nice talk about Miplit and his career, and branched off into an extended discussion of obsession and history and circumstance."

Gurns took another swig. "He does like to play the 'noble lord', once in a while, given a suitable audience. So a bard is generally safe. You just have to watch out for a few things. Always be polite and respectful. Never make any sudden moves. And if he draws a line, make damn sure you see it and don't cross it."

Gurns sneered. "It's just like visiting dear old Leuthilspar, except Lord E is the more courteous host."

"And you're not concerned that he'll object to you telling a story, saying that he set someone up?"

"Not at all. He wants it heard, and these fine folk will surely spread it." Gurns again waved a hand vaguely at his audience. Unfortunately, this time he waved the hand holding his mug, and half the ale slopped out. Gurns looked mournfully into the mug, then held it out for Calinth to top off.

"Stop thinking like a goodie, Cal. He rules over a bunch of smugglers, cut-throats, thieves, and pirates. They don't obey him because they're loyal to him, or because they like him, or because he's their 'rightful lord'. They obey him because they're all afraid of him. If I tell a story about how he set up Miplit, and how Miplit suffered and Lord E prospered, they'll only be more afraid of him. He knows that, and I know that, and he knows I know, and I know he knows I know he...."

Gurns look confused, and stopped. Then he took another drink.

-----------------------

The judge intoned the sentence. "For the smuggling of large quantities of untaxed alcohol, you, Miplit, must pay a fine of 400 platinum coins. Your first officer, a part of your conspiracy, must pay a fine of 100 platinum coins. Because this drink was vile poison, and caused grave sickness in the city, you, Miplit must pay an additional fine of 800 platinum coins, and your first officer must pay an additional fine of 200 platinum coins."

"Until the full fine of 1500 platinum coins is paid, the Spirit Raven will be impounded. You may remove anything you wish from it, but the ship does not leave the harbor. If you do not pay this fine within the month, the ship will be confiscated, and we will post your names for the bounty hunters."

The judge leaned forward, and fixed them with a harsh eye. "It is clear that you were not aware that the drink was vile, unfit for human consumption. Had you been aware of that, your penalty would have been much, much greater. And if you come before this court again, your penalty will be much, much greater. Be glad the court is feeling lenient today. Now begone!"

Between the two of them, Miplit and the First managed to scrape up enough money to pay their fines. They only succeeded by withdrawing all their savings, and selling most of their clothes and personal gear. Their ship released, they rounded up the crew. Or at least, some of it. Some of the crew declared they would not work for a smuggler. Others declared they would not work for a smuggler who got caught. While the First looked for replacements, Miplit went looking for cargos.

If Miplit thought he had difficulty getting a cargo last time, it was nothing compared to this time. Only two of the merchants would even see him. One said he had nothing now, but added, with a surreptitious wink, that if Miplit ever did arrive with a cargo that needed special handling, to come to him.

As for the other, he saw Miplit, but not because he wanted to hire him.

"You bastard!" As Miplit walked into the room, the merchant punched him in the mouth. "Grab him, boys!"

Two well-muscled men each took an arm, and held Miplit in place. The merchant hit Miplit in the stomach hard, then again.

"My brother drank some of that swill, and went blind! We had to pay the healer I don't know how many coins to cure him! That judge let you off so damn easy, but we're here to give you what you deserve."

The merchant slapped Miplit across the face, hard.

Miplit roared! He twisted, and managed to jerk one arm free. He clouted the man still holding onto him, who staggered. Miplit was tugging his other arm free when a club came from somewhere, and knocked him almost unconscious. After that, he was repeatedly kicked and clubbed.

Finally, he was tossed out the door into the street. There had been a few folks out and about earlier, but the street was deserted now.

When the street stopped spinning, Miplit got his hands under himself, and sat up. He tried to wipe the blood off his face. A pounding ache in his jaw, and a probe with his tongue discovered quite a few wobbly teeth. The stabbing pain when he took a breath was likely a cracked rib.

Miplit got up, and staggered down the street. Eventually, he found a city guard on patrol. "Miplit." said the guard. "In trouble again, I see. "

"I've been beaten! Set upon by a merchant, and his two thugs, for no reason!"

Miplit led the guard back to the building. The merchant was sitting behind his desk, the other two men behind him.

"Hello, Willir," said the merchant, nodding to the guard. "What's going on?"

"Hello, Sanos. This gentleman has accused you of beating him. What do you say?" answered the guard.

"Why, I don't know what he's talking about," said the merchant. "I've been here all day, with some of my caravanners, and no one else has been in here. Certainly we haven't attacked anyone. I'll swear to that, and so will they."

"You stinkin' liar!" growled Miplit. "Those two held me down, while you pounded me! I got in a good one or two, though. Look at the bruise on that one's face!"

"He's right, Henon, you've got a bruise on your face," the guard said. "How do you account for it?"

Henon sniggered, "I walked into a door, just clumsy me."

"And you'll swear to that?" asked the guard.

"Yup, me, the boss, and two or three others, why, they'll all tell you I walked into a door."

"Thank you, gentlemen. Miplit, come with me." The guard left the building, and Miplit followed him.

"Aren't you going to arrest them?" Miplit exclaimed when they got outside.

"No," said the guard. "There's no point."

"What? But they beat me!" Miplit yelled.

The guard stared at him. He wasn't as good a starer as Lord E, but Miplit wasn't in very good condition right now. Miplit settled down.

"Maybe they did," the guard said. "Or maybe you got into a fight with him because he wouldn't fence your smuggled goods. Or maybe something else happened. But if I bring them in, they'll swear they didn't beat you. There are three of them, and they're mostly respected around town. There's one of you, and you're a convicted smuggler. Who do you think the judge will believe?"

The guard waited while that set in. "Now come along," he said. "I don't care what happened, I'm taking you back to your ship and I want you out of town. You're nothing but trouble."

-----------------------

"That was ill-done," remarked Calinth, as Gurns paused for another drink. By now, most of the tavern crowd had gathered around the table. The last other party, off in a corner, was breaking up.

"Oh, really?" asked Gurns sarcastically, sitting up abruptly. "What part? The smuggling? Or that Miplit didn't care what he was smuggling? The port guards 'liberating' and drinking the stuff? Blaming Miplit because they drank it? Or maybe the part where the judge fined them 1500 platinum for smuggling half a dozen lousy barrels of lousy booze?" Gurns glared at the ranger.

"All of it," said Calinth calmly.

Gurns collapsed back into his seat. "Yes. All of it."

-----------------------

The Spirit Raven sailed, slowly, back to Havensport. Miplit healed, mostly. A few of his teeth never tightened up, and had to be pulled. His nose would never be quite straight again. But his bruises and scrapes disappeared, and his ribs started to knit.

He worried about his upcoming interview with Lord E. Miplit expected Lord E would be annoyed at him for losing the cargo.

Lord E stared at Miplit. "Miplit," he said ominously, "I counted on you. You let me down."

"Yes, sir," replied Miplit.

"I paid you to deliver that cargo, and you didn't. You owe me that money, and the cost of the cargo itself!"

"Yes, sir," said Miplit.

"Have you the money?" demanded Lord E.

"No, sir," said Miplit. Everything had gone to pay the fine.

"When are you going to get it to me?" demanded Lord E.

"I don't know, sir," said Miplit.

"Yes, sir; no, sir; I don't know, sir," sneered Lord E. "Don't you have anything intelligent to say?" As Miplit opened his mouth, Entropis added "You don't." Miplit closed his mouth.

Lord E pretended to think. His plan had worked well. The cargo successfully smuggled by the second ship had brought great profits. All of Waterdeep was talking about Miplit and paying less attention to his other smugglers. On the one hand, it was too bad the Waterdeep judge hadn't solved his Miplit problem for him – that old bastard must be getting soft. On the other hand, there might still be another use for Miplit some day.

But a convicted smuggler wasn't going to be a lot of use to him now. He'd have to ease him away. Not too far away, that might make him suspicious. Miplit might be a bit slow, but he wasn't stupid.

Lord E laughed to himself. Miplit wasn't stupid, but he could be led. Yes, with all that had happened, this could work out quite nicely.

"Until you pay me back, with interest, I can't use you. I can't keep you on salary. I can't hire you to do any special jobs." Lord E stated. "That's always been my policy – nobody gets away with owing me money. I can't make an exception for you."

Miplit nodded. Everyone knew that.

"I like you, Miplit, so you're still welcome in Havensport. Not like some of the other people who owed me money."

Miplit shuddered. They still told stories about the corpse that had been discovered last year. Most people were pretty sure it had been someone who owed Lord E money. Most people were pretty sure it had been a half-elf.

"I think you should avoid Waterdeep for a while. Eventually this will blow over, but it will take time. It's too bad that cargo was confiscated. And then they drank it! Those Waterdhavians! They're as bad as dwarves!"

"It wasn't for drinking?" Miplit was surprised.

"Well, not by humans!" answered Lord E. "You know what it did to them. No, no, it was for… Well, if I told you, I'd have to kill you."

Miplit relaxed slightly. It had bothered him that that cargo was so obviously unfit for human consumption. Something had felt wrong about that. But evidently Waterdeep was only a transition point on the way to somewhere else. He didn't really want to know where.

"It's odd," mused Lord E. "All those inspectors, as if they were waiting for you. And that judge! That's quite a fine for a little smuggling. Why, every captain has done a little smuggling at one time or another!"

Lord E was the one to know, thought Miplit.

"And the city guard that barely talked to that merchant and his bullies, and hustled you out of town! It could all be a coincidence, of course…" Lord E's voice trailed off.

"What do you mean?" asked Miplit.

"It may be some attempt by my enemies. It is not entirely secret that you have worked for me. I will have to ask a few people some questions."

Miplit shuddered. Lord E always got answers to his questions.

"Or perhaps, Miplit," Lord E said in a hard, flat tone, "you have an enemy. Is there something you haven't told me?"

"No, no, Lord E, no enemies," Miplit answered hastily.

"Perhaps no enemy of whom you are aware," mused Lord E. "You might want to think about that. The inspectors, the judge, the guard… Of course, it could all be a coincidence."

"I think it best if you do not come to my office for a while, Miplit. Whatever is going on, there may be some danger in our association. I would not want my enemies to endanger you." In his most sinister voice, Lord E added, "And understand this, Miplit: I would be most displeased if your enemies became my enemies."

"Yes, Lord E, no, Lord E, I'll stay away for a time." Miplit babbled. He got up, bowed, and left.

-----------------------

Gurns stared into his drink.

"And was it all just a coincidence?" asked Calinth. "Or was someone out to get Lord E?"

Gurns snorted. "There's always someone out to get Lord E. But no, not this time." He took a swig.

"So it's a conspiracy against Miplit?" prodded Calinth.

"Against Miplit? No, no," answered Gurns. "Not as you think of it, not as most people see such things. Though poetically, one could say…" Gurns' voice trailed off, and he paused, thinking.

"Can you explain that, or are you just being obscure because you're drunk?"

"Eh? Oh." Gurns peered owlishly at Calinth. "I am not being obscure. It's perfectly obvious. You'd understand it if you stopped hiding in the woods and lived in town.
There was no secret enemy, no conspiracy. There doesn't have to be. Everyone acted like everyone always acts, and some poor bastard gets crapped on."

Gurns took a long drink, set down his mug, and pointed at Calinth. "One," he said. "The inspectors were told, yes, someone set Miplit up. But only one person planned it, set it in motion, and one person is not a conspiracy, not by the usual definition of the term."

"Two," Gurns said, sticking out another finger. "People think that stealing from criminals, or stealing from enemies, isn't stealing. Even you goodies, you go off and battle some opponent. If you win, you collect all the loot you can find. Is it yours? Because you killed the previous owner? Might makes theft all right, eh? The folks working in the port of Waterdeep aren't even all good, plenty are neutral. So of course the booze they find is 'theirs' and of course they're going to drink it before some higher authority comes along and claims it for themselves." Gurns grimaced.

"Three. That judge is just mean. He'll fine you lots of platinum for even the littlest thing." Gurns had had a few encounters with the judge, himself.

"Four." Gurns wiggled his fingers at Calinth. "People want revenge. You hurt me, I gotta hurt you. More than you hurt me! Not all people, but enough. How many people were poisoned? There must be a dozen or more harbor guards, and some inspectors, and some of their friends, and some of their friends' friends... Five barrels goes a long way. At least one of them, or their relatives, would make sure Miplit suffered. A fine? A fine isn't suffering, he's gotta feel it, make him bleed!!"

"Five." Gurns held out his hand, open wide, then grabbed his mug, and took another swig. "The guard. Two things, really. He wouldn't arrest the merchant. Why would he? He was right: Under those circumstances, the judge would never convict the merchant. So there's a big fuss, a trial, nothing happens, the guard has wasted his time, the judge is annoyed at the guard because the guard wasted his time, the merchant is annoyed at getting taken to court, and Miplit is still annoyed."

"And then the guard hustles Miplit out of town. Well of course he does. If Miplit is out of town, it's quieter. The guard is supposed to keep the peace, and Miplit in town means more trouble."

Gurns pondered. "I could never quite tell if the guard was feeling sorry for Miplit. After Miplit turned pirate, the guard wasn't about to admit anything of the sort."

"You talked to Willir?" asked Calinth.

"Willir? Oh, that's not his real name, of course," answered Gurns. "I think the guard did want to avoid fuss and did want to prevent trouble. That's part of his job. But I also think he didn't want Miplit to get beat up again. Miplit might have run into someone else with a grudge. Or might have gone back and tried to beat up the merchant, who could kill him, and claim self-defense. So getting Miplit out of town meant Miplit was safe, too."

"So Lord E, with his hints of enemies…" Calinth raised an eyebrow.

"Trying to mislead Miplit. The one thing Lord E had to explain away was why there were so many inspectors boarding Miplit's ship. There are only a couple of possible reasons for that, and 'Lord E set me up' is one of them. Miplit would have thought of that, in time."

"But a hint of some hidden conspiracy…" Gurns hunched his shoulders, and peered around, furtively. "Powerful forces moving in subtle ways, all directed against Miplit. Then the one odd event becomes one of many related events, and you have a vast mystery. And the suggestion that it might be directed against Lord E, rather than against Miplit! Ah, that deepens the mystery and broadens the possibilities even more."

Gurns exhaled, harshly, and sat up straighter. "But no. Conspiracies are hard. A lot of other things are easy. Greed. Revenge. Stupidity. Even habit." He peered vaguely at Calinth. "All you've got is people acting like people, not a conspiracy against Miplit."

The bard blinked and rubbed his eyes. Then he took a long drink, and set down his mug. "Where was I?"

Calinth answered, "Miplit had just left Lord E's office, no money, no job."

-----------------------

I only have fragments of the story, here. The Raven made a number of trips between Havensport and Baldur's Gate. They could still get hired to ship such cargos, or carry any passengers who preferred a boat ride to walking or horseback. After a few months, the Raven made at least one trip back to Waterdeep. The ship was searched extensively, and there were a few rude comments, but there wasn't any real trouble in town. There'd been a recent invasion of orcs, and "Miplit the smuggler of poisonous booze" had been mostly forgotten in the latest excitement.

But Havensport and Baldur's Gate were no further apart, so shipping fees were low. And the Raven hadn't gotten any faster, so cargos to and from Waterdeep were rare.

Without much money coming in, and most of that going to pay interest on the money Miplit owed to Lord E, Miplit couldn't pay the crew their usual wages. The better sailors started leaving to find berths on other ships. Miplit was left with the dregs of his original crew, and with newly hired scum no other captain would have on board.

That might not have been so bad, in itself. Except he still didn't have enough money to pay all his expenses. So how did he make ends meet?

Another captain might have skimped on repairs or maintenance of the ship. Not Miplit, not for the Raven. I found some old chandlery records, and the supplies of canvas and rope and brass polish and whatever else ships need...those hardly changed over the years. And crews always get paid off at the end of every voyage, so there was no way to save that money, or put it to use. The only thing he could do in that regard was to hire crew who were even cheaper, and thus even worse. Crew that no other captain would hire, crew that couldn't find a job on land, either.

But there was one economy he did make, one savings. Every trip, Miplit bought fewer and cheaper supplies for himself, the officers, the crew. Less food. Old or rotten food. Fewer medical supplies. Water is cheap or free, but barrels break, now and again, and he stopped replacing them. He was cutting back on daily allotments of food and water, cutting the margin ever thinner. And this went on for weeks. Then months. They weren't at sea all that long, not on any one trip. But they might as well have been on a long voyage, out of sight of land. The crew wasn't getting proper food and care on the ship, and not getting paid enough to get proper food and care when they reached port. Less food, bad food, less water, on and on and on…

I can see them, Calinth, can't you? The Spirit Raven, sails gleaming white in the bright sun, the rigging tight, the wooden deck polished smooth, the metalwork gleaming, ropes coiled neatly. Crewed by a bunch of ragged, malnourished, starving bastards who are getting weaker day by day, getting bruises and broken bones because they're too weak, or because they're too slow to avoid accidents. Their teeth loosening and rotting because of scurvy. Miplit and the officers among them, as bad off as the rest. Praying to Valkur for a wind to get them to port before the supplies run out, cursing the gods and each other when the wind fails. Too hungry to sleep, too tired to think, mind numb, vision blurred, open sores oozing, fingernails splitting and bleeding…

-----------------------

Gurns choked, and took a long swallow from his mug. Everyone in the tavern had clustered near the table. A few folks murmured quiet comments to each other. The innkeeper walked over with another full pitcher, refilled Gurns' mug, set the pitcher down, and retreated.

"You feel sorry for Miplit," Calinth observed.

"Mostly for the crew, but yes, I feel sorry for that Miplit," said Gurns.

"Despite all the evil he did," said Calinth.

"That was later," said Gurns. "I don't always agree with you about good and evil, Cal. But the later Miplit, and the things he did…" Gurns shook his head, and his eyes glistened.

"But the Miplit of then. Starving. Desperate. Injuries dragging at him, never quite healing. Always in pain. His life dwindling away. Day after day of continuing on, because it's all you can do. Nothing to hope for. Where you can't even remember what it was, to hope." Something moved, deep in Gurns' eyes, as he looked at Calinth, then looked down. "Him, I feel sorry for."

Gurns lifted his mug, then put it down without drinking. "Even as I wish he had died then."

-----------------------

The mutiny was inevitable. Half the crew supported the officers, otherwise Miplit wouldn't have survived. Even so, it was a close thing, with fierce, desperate fighting, many injuries, a number of deaths on both sides. Ever after, Miplit and the First Officer bore scars from the battle.

A captain's authority at sea cannot be questioned. Miplit had the remaining mutineers flogged until their blood flowed freely, and threw them into the sea. In the cases where he was feeling merciful, he tied weights to their feet: Drowning is thought to be less painful than sharks. He didn't feel merciful very often.

The First objected, on practical grounds. How were they going to get back to port without much of the crew? Miplit didn't listen.

And somehow Miplit managed. He was, indeed, an excellent ship handler and Captain. With a weak, sick, less than half-sized crew, most of them bandaged, some of them crippled from the mutiny, he brought the Raven safely into harbor. Sails and brightwork gleaming, the decks smooth, scoured clean of blood. It was his greatest triumph.

For a while after that, Miplit got more cargos and even some valuable cargos. The Raven might be slow, but by the gods! There's a captain that would get your goods to port, no matter what! At least, that's what they said when he was the celebrity of the day. After a few months, the cargos started slacking off again.

Miplit saw it coming, this time. He'd gotten harder. Getting fired, getting arrested, that had shocked him. The vague conspiracy alluded to by Lord E had worried and confused him. But the immediate threat of a mutiny, ah, that he understood. Now he knew there was no one you could trust, not even your own crew. So it was no surprise to him that the merchants would turn on him, as he thought of it. First they praise you and pay you, then they stop doing business with you. No, you couldn't trust anyone.

Except his First Officer. Throughout everything, the First stayed loyal to Miplit. I don't know why, but he did, and it's clear that Miplit knew it. Some have suggested they were lovers, but I doubt it. I don't think Miplit ever loved anyone. Of course, it could be that the First loved Miplit. No one knows much about him. Or maybe the First owed Miplit his life, some folks think they have to become the other's slave, if that happens. Or maybe… But no one knows.

Anyway, Miplit knew that, if he didn't do something, things were going to get worse again, and eventually he'd have another mutiny. He couldn't trust a crew not to mutiny, and he couldn't trust the merchants to give him valuable cargos. At least, not regular cargos. So he started letting it be known that he might be interested in some "special" cargos again. People still remembered "Miplit the smuggler who got caught." But their more recent memory was of "Miplit who put down a mutiny, executed two-thirds of his crew", the number grew with each re-telling, "and still brought his ship home."

Maybe somebody had been watching him all along, and noticed he'd gotten tougher. Or maybe they figured anyone who could throw his crew to the sharks was their kind of guy. But someone made contact.

-----------------------

Gurns stood up, unsteadily. "I'll be right back," he said, and, weaving slightly, left the room.

The innkeeper went around, snuffing a few candles, and closed the front door. It was late, and he usually called "Last round!" about now. But all he did was make sure the door was barred, and hung his apron behind the bar. He re-filled Gurns' mug, and a few others. Then he grabbed a mug for himself, pulled up a chair next to Calinth, and sat down.

Gurns returned. "Ah, now that there's room..." he said. Quickly he drained his mug, re-filled it without spilling much, and took another swig.

-----------------------

The small, private, back room of the tavern in Baldur's Gate was so dimly lit that Miplit could barely make out the two hooded and cloaked figures across the table from him. The nearer, slightly larger figure spoke.

"We represent a consortium who wish to ship certain items to Waterdeep. The utmost secrecy is necessary, for should our rivals get word of this, it would be unfortunate."

"I understand," said Miplit.

"I think you do not," remarked the figure. "Our rivals include Lord Piergeiron and his cronies. Their interest in our business knows no bounds, and they will do anything to get word of it."

"Lord Piergeiron?" said Miplit, taken aback.

"Yes."

"That could be big trouble," responded Miplit.

"You will be well paid for your efforts," said the figure, reaching out a gloved hand and dropping several platinum coins on the table. "This is but an earnest of our intent. There will be more when you load the cargo, and more after it is delivered."

Miplit considered the coins. If that was only an earnest, then this cargo was worth much more than his usual cargos. It wouldn't be as much as he'd made working for both Lord P and Lord E, but it was a lot more than shipping stale iron rations! He was tempted. After all, he didn't owe Lord P anything. But it would be odd to be working directly for Lord P's competitors. And crossing Lord P in his own city was not something done casually.

"You hesitate?" queried the figure? "We expected you would be happy to work against your enemy."

"My enemy?" The word startled Miplit.

"Did he not fire you from your job?" asked the figure.

"Fire… Yes, he did." Miplit said.

The figure shrugged.

Miplit thought briefly. Lord P, his enemy? That could explain a lot. He'd have to think more about it.

"I might be interested. Just how much money are we talking about?" asked Miplit. Miplit and the figure started bargaining. The cargo would be relatively small, somewhat fragile, and evidently very, very valuable. Miplit's new client made little effort to hold down the price, as Miplit added fees for careful handling, the "extra difficulty" of dealing with the "undersized" crate involved, and whatever else he could think of.

Miplit started to worry. This was too much money, too easily, and that meant big trouble. "Just what is this cargo, anyway?"

With a quick snatch, the figure grabbed Miplit's arm, and almost effortlessly pulled Miplit closer. With barely a twitch of his other arm, the figure was holding a dagger in front of Miplit's eyes.

"Do you recognize this?" hissed the figure. "And the emblem?"

"It's, ah, an assassin's dagger. From the Waterdeep Guild! You're Kang's men!"

"Very good. Listen carefully. Just what we are shipping is none of your business. You are being very well paid, so you pick it up, and you deliver it, and that is all. Do not try to find out what it is. Do not tell anyone about this little discussion. Is that clear?"

Miplit struggled to pull himself back, and when the figure let him go, stood up. "Or else?" he asked.

"Exactly," said the figure. " 'Or else.' " With another barely visible twitch of his arm, the dagger disappeared. "You could choose to talk about it, or break open the crates. We would find out if you did. Then we would make sure you did not do it again."

Oddly, Miplit was comforted by this. It made perfect sense that they didn't trust him, because he didn't trust them, either. Not that there was anything he could do about it, not now. Though if he could buy himself some time, maybe he could think of something.

"OK," he said. "I've got a cargo for Havensport. I'll load your cargo, drop the other off at Havensport, and then head to Waterdeep."

"You will not," said the figure. He dropped a few gold coins on the table. "That will cover the cost of finding another shipper to take your current cargo. You will not go to Havensport now. Lord Entropis is not a part of our consortium, and he is uncommonly good at finding out what is happening in his city. We do not wish him to find out about this."

"If he were to find out," continued the figure, "perhaps through same careless remark of yours, it would be difficult to do something about him. Even Kang would have a hard time getting to Lord Entropis in Havensport, and Lord Entropis rarely leaves Havensport. But getting to you would not be a problem."

Miplit grimaced. He hadn't been planning on telling Lord E, because if he did, Lord E would want a share, and Miplit already owed him too much money.

"I'm not going to tell him," objected Miplit, "but I owe him money and if I don't make a payment soon, I'm dead."

"Lord Entropis will wait," pointed out the figure. "He will wait indefinitely, so long as you pay the additional interest on any delayed payment. The money for this shipment will allow you to do that." The figure leaned forward slightly. "But we can get tired of waiting. Will you make any further objections?"

Miplit recognized that the bargaining was over. "I don't have a choice anymore, do I?" he said. "I'm taking your cargo to Waterdeep, immediately."

The figure leaned back again. "You always have a choice, Captain Miplit," he said. "You can be alive or dead. It is up to you."

-----------------------

Calinth looked accusingly at Gurns. "Mysterious, hooded and cloaked assassins, and you say there's no conspiracy?"

Gurns rubbed his forehead wearily. "Oh, there's a conspiracy. But it's not a conspiracy against Miplit, and that's what I said. And it's not exactly a conspiracy as such, but more of a plot or a plan. See, the word 'conspiracy' implies…"

Calinth interrupted. "Their mention of an 'enemy'. Was that coincidence, or conspiracy? However you define it."

"Why, Calinth, you noticed that. Yes, indeed, pure coincidence, however I define it. The assassin had no idea that Lord E had hinted that Miplit might have some mysterious enemy or enemies. Those hypothetical beings central to that vast hypothetical conspiracy."

Gurns sipped from his mug.

"It's a natural assumption from his perspective, I guess. The assassin's, I mean. For an assassin, I imagine it's one and the same. Suppose you're an assassin, and you've been working for one person for a long time, like Miplit was working for Lord P. Even if he doesn't want to employ you anymore, he can't very well let you leave, you know too much. So if he says 'You're fired', you have to know what's coming next. And when someone is trying to kill you, you have to figure he's your enemy."

Gurns mused, "Actually, I don't suppose they say that a lot. Too much warning. Maybe the employer has the assassin killed first and says 'You're fired' afterwards. Which would be unnecessary, because if you're dead, you don't need to be fired. So maybe assassins never get fired, they just..."

Gurns stared into the air for a moment. "There's a joke in there, I know it. Let's see, old assassins never get fired… no, no, the line is always 'never die', old assassins never die… They never die, they… Ah ha! Old assassins never die, they just lose their point."

Gurns chuckled. "Get it? Point, as in purpose? Point, as on a dagger? Never die, they lose their point. You're not laughing, Calinth."

"I only laugh when it's funny, Gurns. That's why I never laugh at your jokes."

"Oh, ha, ha. The ranger is trying to be witty. Tell me, Calinth, how many rangers does it take...."

"The conspiracy against Miplit, Gurns."

"The hypothetical conspiracy against Miplit, Calinth. Well, even a ranger can see how Miplit put it all together. And look how well it seems to fit! He's got two different sources, entirely independent. One source suggests that he's got some enemy, and that enemy caused all Miplit's problems in Waterdeep, and the other source thinks Lord P is Miplit's enemy."

"First, Miplit was fired by Lord P. Then he's caught smuggling by the port inspectors and harbor guards. They're part of the city forces, ultimately under the direction of Lord P. And they're directly under the supervision of Kalara, who…well, let's just say that everyone knows Lord P visits her every single day. The judge who fined Miplit would have been appointed by Lord P. And it was one of the city guards, ultimately responsible to Lord P, who wouldn't arrest the merchant who beat Miplit up. And the guard who threw Miplit out of town."

"And the merchant?" asked Calinth.

"The lovely thing about conspiracy theories is that everything fits, whether it does or not. So maybe the merchant was acting independently which only proves that everything else was a conspiracy. Or maybe someone got to the merchant and told him that he wouldn't be arrested for beating up Miplit if he had any alibi, so that makes his actions a part of the conspiracy. Or maybe the merchant was just one of Lord P's goons, I mean, we don't even know that the merchant had a brother, really!"

"At least three possibilities, each one proving it's a conspiracy!" Gurns took a triumphant swallow.

"How does the merchant acting independently prove everything else was a part of the conspiracy?" Calinth wanted to know.

"I had it figured out, once, now how does it go…" Gurns grimaced and whimpered, "My head hurts. Thinking this twisty always makes my head hurt."

Gurns fortified himself with another long swallow of ale, as he tried to remember.

"OK," the bard said. "If we thought EVERYthing was a part of a conspiracy against us, we'd be nuts, right?"

"Right."

"But we're not nuts, we only believe things are part of the conspiracy if we can prove they're part of the conspiracy, right?"

"Riiight."

"And we can prove Lord P has organized this conspiracy against Miplit. There's the inspectors and guards and Kalara and getting fired, and it all fits together too well, right?"

"If you say so."

Gurns gave Calinth a disapproving look.

"I mean, right!"

"But we can't prove the merchant was a part of this and since we can't prove it, he could have been acting independently. So look! We've just shown that we don't automatically assume everything is part of the conspiracy so that proves we're not nuts, which means everything else really is a part of the conspiracy!"

Calinth looked at Gurns. "No wonder your head hurts."

A number of the listeners chuckled.

Gurns looked around, a hurt look on his face. "He gets a laugh for that, and my 'old assassins' joke gets nothing? You laugh for the ranger, but not the bard?"

There was silence. Gurns exclaimed, "You're all in this together, it's a conspiracy!" Then he grimaced extravagantly, and whimpered "Ow."

Most of the listeners chuckled.

Gurns flashed a satisfied smirk at Calinth, and took a drink.

"Wait a minute," said Calinth. "If Miplit thinks almost everyone is part of Lord Piergeiron's conspiracy against him, why doesn't he think these mysterious figures are part of it, too?"

"Ah, you're beginning to think in a properly conspiratorial manner, Cal, very good. But there are a couple of things. Miplit is just now beginning to believe there's a conspiracy against him, so he's not thinking along those lines yet. Plus, these figures were the ones who told Miplit that Lord P was against him. Not something that leads you to think they're a member of Lord P's conspiracy. At least, not until you get twisty enough to think that people who tell you things like that must be trying to trick you."

"There's a few other things," said Gurns. "But it probably was the dagger that really convinced Miplit. Everyone knows Lord P would never employ, or conspire with, the Waterdeep Assassins Guild."

"The dagger? But anyone could make a dagger with the emblem of the Guild on it."

"I think you'd have more difficulty than you imagine, finding a blacksmith willing to do that. That's not the way to live to a ripe old age. But that's not the main thing. Kang has a few special daggers. They can't be counterfeited by just sticking an emblem on an ordinary dagger, there's some magic involved. I'm no mage, but it sounds something like the spell that lets a guardian golem recognize guild members, only in reverse. When you see one of these daggers, you are certain that the person wielding it is a member of the Waterdeep Assassins Guild."

"There are only a few of these daggers," Gurns continued. "One for Kang. Two, maybe three others. But he needs them. He has to send one with his trusted lieutenants, when they're on a secret mission for him, and will need to identify themselves. When they take a message to a guild leader in another city. When they're negotiating with someone who needs a special job taken care of. Or when they need to identify themselves, while in disguise."

Gurns took a drink of his ale.

"Any other questions? Or am I allowed to get on with the story?" Gurns sniffed disdainfully at Calinth. Calinth spread his hands, and nodded at Gurns.

"So now Miplit is convinced that Lord P has conspired against him, to deprive him of job and money and more. And what does he do with this newfound knowledge? He does…nothing."

"Nothing?" asked the innkeeper.

"Nothing. There's nothing he can do, and he knows it. Lord P is too well protected for Miplit to tackle. He's always got those two bodyguards right with him. And there are always plenty of other guards within call."

"All Miplit could do was brood about it. And he did."

-----------------------

Miplit delivered the smuggled cargo. Not to the docks in Waterdeep, but to a certain, little-known smugglers cove just north of the city. At least, it used to be little-known, now I think half of Waterdeep goes there for picnics.
Last edited by Gurns on Sun Feb 09, 2003 11:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Gurns
Sojourner
Posts: 554
Joined: Fri Aug 10, 2001 5:01 am

Postby Gurns » Sun Feb 09, 2003 11:54 pm

Miplit didn't actually dock in the port of Waterdeep on that trip, or ever again. If you've got a conspiracy against you, headed by the ultimate lord of the port, supported by all his minions…well, you'd have to be a fool to put yourself into his hands. But that just reinforced Miplit's anger. A sailing captain, shut out of the greatest port in the world!

It's too bad he never docked in Waterdeep again. Miplit might have seen Lord P on his morning visit to Kalara. He might have gotten so angry that he attacked Lord P, bodyguards or not. Again, my story would be over. Lord P is a mighty fighter, add his guards…

Miplit sailed back to Baldur's Gate, where the two mysterious, hooded and cloaked assassins contacted him again, and paid him the rest of his fee. They didn't have anything else for him to smuggle just then, so Miplit made a few legitimate cargo runs back and forth from Havensport to Baldur's Gate. I guess mysterious, hooded and cloaked figures can't object to your going to Havensport unless you're in the middle of doing a job for them. Actually, my guess is that they weren't really all that worried about the possibility of Lord E finding out, that was just what they told Miplit. I think they were worried about the possibility of Lord E finding out and appropriating their cargo for himself.

After a month or two, the mysterious, hooded and cloaked figures contacted Miplit again. The second cargo was a passenger – mysterious, hooded and cloaked, of course. For the entire voyage – whoever it was must have been an expert at hooding and cloaking, no one could even tell if it was a him or a her. Miplit delivered the passenger, sailed back to Baldur's Gate, and was again well paid.

Another month or so later, and there was another cargo smuggling run, another small crate. And again, a few months after that.

By the fourth or fifth trip, Miplit had learned the cove so well he could sail in or out at any time, day or night. And slow as the Raven was, Miplit could sail into the cove, quietly, secretly, and get back out to sea, in a matter of but a few hours.

-----------------------

"It all sounds fairly harmless, doesn't it, Cal? A few small crates, a person or two. Trivial, really."

Calinth frowned. "Not really. He is smuggling, an evil act."

Gurns snorted. "Trust a ranger to think of any smuggling as evil."

"Isn't it?"

"Oh, it's unlawful," answered Gurns. "But mostly, smuggling is about avoiding customs and fees. That's why it's impossible to stop." Gurns scowled at Calinth. "You goodies! Smuggling is evil, but who buys all those smuggled goods, tell me that? It's not only the evils and neutrals of the city! And don't try to tell me that the goodies are so innocent that they don't understand what's going on. The smuggler is evil, but, oh, the person who buys the goods is just shopping. The thief is evil, the fence is evil, but just look at this wonderful whatever-it-is I bought, and at such a reasonable price. What a…"

Gurns stopped abruptly, and carefully avoided looking at the gathered crowd.

Calinth took a drink from his mug to hide his grin. He'd noticed a few in the audience looking uncomfortable. He'd have to tease Gurns about this later – what was that saying about a true bard never insulting anyone accidentally? – but now was not the time.

Calinth put his mug down and remarked, "You said 'sounds harmless', Gurns."

Gurns took a drink, and gave a quick nod of his head in thanks for the rescue. "I did, yes."

-----------------------

The smuggling was… well, I'll leave that a mystery for now. What was not harmless were the voyages.

The smuggling paid well, but even so, with only one trip every month or two, Miplit had hardly more money than before. He didn't have to cut back on food and water, much, but he still had to hire scum. By the end of a trip, well, they weren't starving and desperate scum. But they were still hungry and irritated scum. Miplit knew their type now, and had good reason to distrust them.

But he'd learned to handle them. Force had put down the mutiny, and force would keep the crew in line. Floggings became more common, for smaller and smaller offenses. Minor errors were punished by beatings, often administered by Miplit himself. Fighting back, and some did fight back – well, that would be mutiny, a capital offense, of course. Miplit picked up a few more scars, and lost a few more teeth. But it worked. He never had to face another mutiny.

Those crewmen that were punished and not hung… Well, usually they recovered within a few days, at least recovered enough to work. Though some of those never recovered entirely. There are a few of them left, in the poorest sections of Baldur's Gate. One has scar tissue covering his back, so deep that he can't straighten, so deep that not even the best healer can get rid of it without killing him. A couple of bottles, and he'll start talking, and talk until he collapses. His stories are almost coherent. Another has a twisted leg, because it was broken and he worked the ship while it was still healing. A good healer might be able to cure it entirely, and certainly could improve it. But whatever happened also twisted his mind. He's almost impossible to talk to, and will hobble away, surprisingly quickly, when anyone comes too near.

Those that didn't recover, those that couldn't work within a few days? Well, they were useless to Miplit, and the ocean is large. Miplit may have had some initial qualms about tossing them overboard. If so, after a few of these, he got over them. At the end of a trip, he might have one or two fewer crewmen than when he started. He'd pick up a couple more crew to replace them, a few more to replace the crewmen who'd decided that anything, even starving to death, was better than sailing with Miplit. Then he'd sail out again. Baldur's Gate to Havensport, back to Baldur's Gate. An occasional trip up to Waterdeep to smuggle something. A few crew here, a few crew there. The trips, the deaths, the replacements. All became simply…routine.

-----------------------

Gurns sat, staring deep into his mug.

Calinth sat for a moment, too, looking somber. Then he remarked "A bad death, even for such scum."

Gurns looked up, and glared at Calinth. "Yes, 'even for such scum'!"

Calinth looked back patiently. "Several times, you emphasized that these were, what? The dregs of the earth? Am I supposed to be sad they're dead?"

Gurns sighed. "No…no…I don't think anyone is. And isn't that fact alone, enough for sorrow? They are gone. No one knows who they were. What they did. What they could have been. They were here, then not here, and no one took note."

Gurns stared into his mug again, and sighed.

"How did Miplit ever get a crew, any crew, after he started killing them?" asked the innkeeper.

"Ah," answered Gurns. "People are strange." He took a sip.

"See, people always think 'it can't happen to me'. So they live next to a river and think they'll never get flooded. They live next to a volcano and think it will never erupt."

"They go have chats with Lord E," said Calinth, innocently.

"Exactly!" Gurns flashed a quick grin at the ranger, and then sighed and looked sad.

"And some people have few choices. If you're cold and starving and all you know is the sea, and no one else will hire you, what do you do? If no one will hire you because you're a troublemaker, because you fight with your shipmates, because you can't be trusted, what do you do? Ship with Miplit, with some risk of death? Or stay in port, with a more certain death through starvation, cold, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time?"

Gurns looked glum. "And besides, some people enjoy seeing others hurt. So if you're in the crew, and can avoid the floggings and beatings yourself, think of the … 'entertainment' available." Gurns' face was sour.

"A crew of the desperate, desperate fools and bullies," said the innkeeper, and frowned.

"With a tyrannical brute for a Captain," added Calinth.

"Aye," Gurns agreed. He took a long swallow from his mug, and then a deep breath. Looking grim, he added, "Except it became worse than that."

-----------------------

Miplit could get some cargos from Baldur's Gate to Havensport and back. He was also still carrying passengers. Cash in advance. These were poor passengers, because anyone with money could take a faster ship, a ship that would actually get them there sooner than if they had walked it.

Baldur's Gate to Havensport is a short enough trip, even for the Raven. It might be that some of the passengers never saw Miplit disciplining his crew. If the passengers did see anything, most of them would mind their own business. He was the Captain, it was his ship and his crew, it wasn't their problem. And the residents of Baldur's Gate and Havensport aren't particularly noted for their compassion.

But eventually one of them did notice. And made some protest.

Miplit didn't care for it. A passenger, questioning him on his ship? What would be next? So he beat the passenger, that shut him up.

The next time a passenger questioned him, he had the crew beat up the passenger. And he noticed that the crew gave him less trouble than usual, the rest of the trip. So after that, whenever a passenger got out of line, the crew got to beat him or her.

He got fewer passengers over time, of course. Some folks had heard what was going on, and folks were getting cautious about booking passage with Miplit. But not everyone was in the know, so he'd get a passenger now and again. You have to figure these folks were mostly strangers to Baldur's Gate or Havensport, without any friends in town to give them a warning.

For a while, Miplit always stopped the crew before they killed the passenger. "Cargo, passengers, if it's shipped with me, I deliver it," he would tell them. And you couldn't very well deliver a dead passenger. Well, I suppose you could, but it's not the same.

So when the first passengers died, it was inevitable that it was Miplit who killed them. The crew would have been too scared of Miplit to do it themselves.

It was a couple, Calinth. Not that young anymore, and looking even older. They'd had a hard life. Evidently they'd had a small farm near Baldur's Gate, but they were driven from it.

I don't know why they were going to Havensport, maybe they had relatives near there. I guess they didn't want to walk anywhere near their former farm, or maybe they just wanted something different, to be someplace where they could forget their farm, their land, their loss for a while. They bought the cheapest ticket they could find. Passage on the Raven.

One of them objected to Miplit flogging a crewman who hadn't coiled a line properly. I don't know if it was the man or the woman who objected, the fellow who told me this part of the story didn't say and wouldn't answer any questions. Anyway, this passenger grabbed Miplit's arm, to stop the flogging. Miplit was startled. Instead of calling the crew to beat the passenger, Miplit's reaction was to turn and knock him or her to the deck. Then the other passenger jumped him, defending their spouse. And of course the first one re-joined the fight.

They weren't trained fighters, but they were strong. And it was two to one. So Miplit was having some difficulty. The crew didn't join in, probably because they were afraid to do so without orders. And probably because they couldn't figure out whose side they were on. And Miplit didn't order the crew to fight, probably because he wouldn't trust them to take his side.

The First… From what I was told, the First Officer didn't jump into the fight. Maybe he was confident Miplit could handle it. Maybe he decided he'd better keep an eye on the crew. Or maybe the fight didn't actually last all that long.

Because Miplit got lucky. He managed to throw one of the passengers off him, and into a mast. The passenger hit their head, and lay there, stunned. One on one, Miplit was more than a match for the other, he got on top of them, and smashed their head into the deck a few times. And then smashed their head into the deck a few more times.

Miplit got up, glaring. "Throw them overboard," he ordered the crew. "And clean that mess off the deck!"

Miplit walked back to the quarterdeck, where he was joined by the First.

"They attacked me," said Miplit, with some astonishment.

"They tried to kill you," said the First, with some disregard for the truth. "It was self-defense."

"Passengers don't try to kill captains," said Miplit. "Interfere…these damn passengers have been interfering. But kill?"

Miplit thought about it for a while. He found a loose tooth in his mouth and wiggled it with his tongue. He hoped it wouldn't fall out, he was already missing too many.

Then Miplit figured it out, at least he thought he did. "Unless they weren't real passengers," he growled.

"Sir?" asked the First.

"Real passengers don't attack captains." Miplit cursed. "Real passengers wouldn't interfere! But these! Damn Piergeiron! Plotting against me, sending spies and assassins on my ship. Probably encouraging the crew to mutiny! Keep a weather eye out, First, there'll be more!"

"Aye, sir!" answered the First.

And of course, there were more. Anyone who questioned Miplit's handling of the ship, anyone who objected to his discipline… Miplit knew them now. They were agents of Piergeiron, out to destroy him. Miplit would beat them, or let the crew beat them, and then would have them thrown overboard.

Most of them fought back, of course. To Miplit, that only proved they were agents, although the ones that didn't fight were treated exactly the same. The crew enjoyed the passengers' struggles, most of the time. More excitement, more entertainment. Though it wasn't always fun for every member of the crew. A trained fighter could wound or maim. Or even someone untrained, if they were lucky. One of the crew lost an eye. He recovered. Another had his ribs broken, puncturing a lung. Miplit decided he wouldn't recover, and had him tossed overboard.

After a while, Miplit didn't always wait for passengers to 'interfere'. Less dangerous to take them by surprise. Did this passenger look suspicious? Let them board, then sail out of port, get far out to sea, and when no other ship is around… And he had the crew take them down. That way, if someone besides the passenger was seriously hurt, well, they could be easily discarded, too.

-----------------------

Gurns took another long swallow from his mug, and set it on the table. Outside, it was the deepest part of the night. All ordinary citizens were long abed, except the ones in the tavern.

Calinth looked troubled. "You make it all sound so casual."

Gurns considered. "Aye, it was. Well, some of it was. No one can say what was in Miplit's mind, but I think…I think…" His voice trailed off.

Gurns lifted his mug to take another drink, but his hand was trembling. He set the mug down on the table, resting his hand next to it. "A lot of it wasn't casual. Miplit would have been angry, angry at anything that might harm him or his ship. So punishing a crewman, or thwarting an agent of Lord P, as he would see it, that wouldn't be casual at all. I envision Miplit, raging, cursing. Beating the crew when they made a mistake, wielding the whip to flog them. Beating some of the passengers himself. And all of that would be in a tremendous rage and hate and fear, and anything but casual."

"For the crew, none of this would be causal either. Afraid they might set Miplit off, and get a beating or a flogging. Angry that they didn't dare do anything about it. And then getting a chance to take out their fear and anger on someone else? Not casual."

Gurns was pale now. "But the deaths? Aye, those were casual. Among the crew? Why would Miplit care if a crewman lived or died? They're scum, and they're always a threat to him. Did he care if his punishments killed them, or if a passenger killed them? Why would he? So long as there were enough crew to man the ship, what did it matter if there were a few less?"

"And these 'agents of Piergeiron'? Piergeiron he hated, certainly. And he hated the 'agents' for what he thought they were trying to do. But I doubt he saw those people as people. Just tools of Piergeiron. So of course he had to get rid of those tools, to be safe. He was just…just… Killing rats. Ridding his ship of vermin."

"There's your evil, Calinth. Killing without seeing a person…" Gurns seemed to shrink a little, and looked even paler.

"And no one noticed these missing crewmen? The missing passengers?" Calinth asked.

Gurns' hand, resting on the table, was trembling again. "Who would notice? The port authorities care if a ship carries smuggled goods, or violates the shipping lanes, or doesn't pay the port fees. They don't check on the crew, that's the captain's problem. They don't know if a ship picked up any passengers at an earlier port, they only know if passengers get dropped off."

"If some crewman complains about the Captain…well, if it didn't happen in the port, what are the authorities supposed to do? All they would do is tell the crewman 'Don't ship with that Captain, then.' Probably with a shrug and a sneer at the crewman's ignorance. The same is true for the city guard. A little petty theft in town is a crisis, but sailors getting killed outside of town? That's not their problem. And besides, guards are in favor of discipline and order, tell them it was necessary for discipline, tell them you had to keep order, and some would even approve of the deaths."

Gurns' voice continued to be steady, but the tremors in his hand increased. "As for passengers, I figure the same thing happened with those earlier passengers, the ones that were only beaten. If they complained, they were probably ignored. It didn't happen in port, it's not in the guards' jurisdiction. And if someone did ask Miplit about it, he could have said that the passengers had been interfering with his handling of the crew, endangering the ship. That justifies anything."

"And after they started killing? The officers and the crew aren't going to tell anyone they were murdering passengers. On the one hand, they'd be afraid someone might come after them. Some relative wanting revenge. On the other hand, it's their own dirty little secret, all the more enjoyable for being a secret. 'We're getting away with murder!' "

"Rumors eventually leaked out, but, well, it still hadn't happened in port, but at sea. So it's still not the problem of the guard or the port authorities. This is Havensport and Baldur's Gate we're talking about, but I doubt things would be any different here in Waterdeep."

Gurns' hand was shaking continually, and his voice was harsh. "And only the poor took passage with Miplit. Who's going to notice if they're dead? Who's going to notice if they made it safely to the next town? Outside of their kin, who cares what happens to the poor? It's not like they're important. It's not like they know anybody important. One supposes that a mighty paladin or an avenging ranger might have tried to stop it. Or that the relatives of one of the dead, if they found out, might beggar themselves to hire an assassin. But absent that… Anyway, none of that happened. No one took an interest. No one intervened. No one cared."

Gurns paused and looked down. After a while, he seemed to notice his hand, still shaking. "Why, look, Calinth, what a nice vibrato. Hmm, just the right speed for a slow air." And sat there, staring at his hand.

After a few moments of this, Calinth started to worry. A gentle nudge might help.

"A nice vibrato, maybe," he remarked casually, "but won't that make it hard to drink? And what's more important, after all?"

Gurns looked at Calinth blankly. "But I have my other hand for that," he explained. He reached out with his other hand to demonstrate, picked up the mug, took a long swallow, set it down, and looked back at the table. The hand on the table continued to shake. "See?" he said.

That hadn't worked. Calinth figured it was time for something stronger.

"An interesting story so far, but don't think I haven't noticed your use of that timeworn symbolism," he sneered, pointing at Gurns. "How dull. How trite."

"What?" Gurns sat up abruptly.

Calinth continued, "What were you thinking of, putting that into your tale? Oh, wait, I forgot, that sort of obvious, hackneyed story device is typical for you."

Gurns glared at Calinth, and his hand stopped shaking as he pointed at the ranger. "You're trying to tell me how to tell a story? Someone who tells his stories to squirrels and birds? Such a sophisticated audience! They must really help you hone your tales. If you think that… that…"

Gurns' voice trailed off, and he looked confused. "What timeworn symbolism?" he asked.

"You know," answered Calinth. "The scars, the teeth, the moral decay."

"Heh," said Gurns. "You're right. Well, no, you're wrong, of course, but how literary of you to notice. Yes, over time, Miplit did go from neutral to evil, that's true. And over time, he collected a lot of scars and most of his teeth got knocked out or turned rotten and fell out. But his physical flaws aren't a symbol of his moral degeneration. They both actually happened, at the same time."

"In short," Gurns stared hard at Calinth, "it's a coincidence! Not a conspiracy, not a literary device. Nice try." He still looked pale, but picked up his mug with an almost steady hand, and took a long swallow.

Gurns added musingly, "Well, not entirely a coincidence. Him becoming evil, and the poor food, and the lack of food, and the fighting, that's all related, and without all that, there wouldn't be as much chance for him to get scars or lose teeth. But those things are actually related, not symbolically related, so unless the gods were intervening to make reality match the symbolic…"

Gurns sniffed haughtily at Calinth. "That's it, go tell the gods they're using timeworn symbolism."

Gurns took another drink, and set his mug on the table. "Of course, it was even worse," he added. He took a deep breath, and looked at the innkeeper. "Could I have something stronger, please?"

The innkeeper went over to the bar, and brought out a small keg of brandy and a few glasses. He set the keg on the table and poured a small glass for Gurns. Gurns downed it in a gulp.

"Thank you." Gurns poured himself another glass, and took a sip. He set the glass and his hands carefully on the table, looked at them, then looked at Calinth.

Gurns said, in a professionally conversational voice, "The crew didn't just kill them, of course. The crew would rape them, too. After all, this went on for many months, even years. Months, maybe years, where they'd just beat the passengers. Months, maybe a year, where they'd beat and kill the passengers who objected. After a little of that, after the crew has beaten and drowned some folks, well where's the fun, anymore? The crew would want something more exciting, more stimulating. And since all of this meant the crew would be less likely to threaten Miplit, he encouraged them to have their fun."

"And Miplit would join in. Maybe he wanted to abuse those 'agents of Piergeiron'. Maybe he thought he had to join in, to show the crew who was in charge -- he would always go first, of course. Or maybe by this time, he wanted others to suffer. Gotta make 'em hurt, you know. Or maybe by this time, he got excited by making folks suffer. I don't know."

Calinth looked shaken. "Those poor women," he said.

"And men," said Gurns. Calinth nodded grimly. Gurns added, "And some children." Calinth's face froze into a hard mask.

"That cabin boy we saw." Gurns voice rose. "Too young to be crew. Too over-dressed to have been a regular member of the crew." Gurns' eyes narrowed. "And no one in the crew would have bought him as a trained slave, such slaves are far too expensive."

Gurns stopped, and looked worn and tired. His voice carefully neutral again, he continued. "Few people travel with children of any age, but some do. The parents annoy Miplit? They get dealt with, beaten, raped, tossed overboard. Older adolescents, almost adults? Too dangerous, they get treated like the parents. Any babies? No place for them on the ship, overboard they go.

"But a child of a certain age. An adolescent, or almost. Male or female. Old enough to be entertaining. Old enough to survive. Young enough to be obedient. Young enough to be no threat."

"They'd keep one around. When times were boring, when there were no passengers to kill, no passengers to rape, there was always the cabin boy or girl."

Calinth looked ill. "I never thought… I thought he was one of the crew. Well, with the crew. He was evil. But he didn't threaten us, so we didn't kill him. I didn't even think of him, later."

"Nor I," said Gurns. "We sailed the Raven into Waterdeep, he was on it when we disembarked, and I forgot about him. Until I started piecing together this story."

Gurns turned his glass on the table, a quarter turn. Then another. "I could never have found him. He looks and acts quite differently these days. He found me. He'd heard I was searching for information about Miplit, and found me. He wouldn't tell me his name, or what he was doing now. But he needed to tell someone his story, someone who wouldn't pity him, or try to mend him. Someone he could curse at, and cry in front of, and threaten. Someone he could openly despise for their easy life. Someone he wouldn't have to see, ever again."

"It was too late for him, Calinth," Gurns said, and turned his glass another quarter turn. "I don't know how long he'd been on the ship, but for him it was an eternity. He survived because he's tough and he's smart. But he's…he plays the part of a civilized human, in civilized society, and he plays it well. But he showed me some of what's behind that, and I don't know what he is, inside."

"As it turns out, he wasn't a child of passengers. But he'd had predecessors. And the crew would tell him about the others. Sometimes as a threat -- the others all died. But sometimes they'd recount fond, almost romantic, memories of their 'dates'." Gurns shuddered. "As you or I might recount the rosy-hued memory of a young, innocent, childhood crush. Or a first, fleeting, embarrassing kiss."

"Those predecessors. Their deaths… Some were killed, when they tried to escape, or tried to warn others. Others died by suicide, a quick jump overboard, or a slow, wasting away."

Gurns picked up his glass, and drained it. A few of his listeners followed suit. Gurns gently cradled his glass in his fingers, and stared at it. "None of them were young children, thanks be. Terrible enough, horror enough that they were children, but at least not that. Did Miplit and the crew have a few remaining scruples? Maybe they just never had the opportunity."

Gurns set his glass down delicately on the table, and stared at it blankly. No one spoke. Finally, Gurns blinked a few times, then looked at Calinth.

"If you like coincidences, here's another. Serendipity, as far as Miplit is concerned. See how all the deaths, and everything else, add to his profits? Add to the money he can pay to Lord E? I'm sure Miplit figured it out, sooner or later. At the end of a trip, when he could pocket the wages of the crewmen who weren't there to be paid off. Or during a trip, sorting through a passenger's belongings, when he found their stash of a gold coin or two, hidden away, oh so safely. He didn't plan on this, that's not his main reason to do these things. But it's such a nice bonus for Miplit."

"So now, now he's figured out it's all profitable." Gurns voice rose, scornfully. "He's got good reasons already, so he thinks, but here's another. He can make money at it. It can be part of his job. He needs that money, and if other people get hurt, well, everyone's got to look out for themselves, don't they?"

"So let's drink to Miplit and his new career. Theft. Rape. Murder. Abuse of children. All hail the captain." Gurns mouth twisted sourly, and he crossed his arms.

"He's a lot of things, now, that Miplit. But there's still one thing he's not. Miplit isn't a pirate. Not yet."

Gurns looked at the ranger. "You know, Calinth, you were wrong, years ago. The Spirit Raven could chase down a shipwreck to rob. That's exactly what happened."

-----------------------

There had been a storm at sea, a mighty storm. Imagine tremendously strong winds, gusting and swirling. A day and a night and a day, with the days almost as dark as night, sunlight blocked by the low, thick, black clouds overhead. Waves higher than the mast of any ship. Rain and spray mixed, flying through the air sideways, lashing at unexposed skin. Feel free to imagine anything else you want to. I have to, because any time that happens when I'm on a ship, I spend my time below, out of the way of the crew.

The Raven came though without much damage. Miplit's skill again. And some luck. And because Miplit and the First had, over the previous year or so, been able to train the crew. After they'd started raping and murdering passengers, no one was going to let anyone retire or resign. So most of the crew had been aboard for a while, and learned to be better sailors. Those that couldn't learn? Well, they make enough mistakes, they get punished until they die: They'd been replaced.

A lot of ships weren't as lucky as the Raven, or their captains not so skilled. Some vanished without a trace. Some broke up, and pieces washed ashore. But at least one didn't sink but, uh, tipped over, what's the seafaring term for that? It was one of Lord Piergeiron's ships, out of Waterdeep.

So there it was, barely afloat, the bottom of the hull sticking out of the water. Most of its crew had died, swept overboard in the storm, or drowned when the ship…capsized, that's it. The captain had survived, and was guiding the remainder of the crew in their efforts to recover food and water, to repair the lifeboats, to provide a proper burial at sea for the bodies they found. A priestess of Selune was on board, and was tending to the injured.

When the Raven sailed into view, they must have thought they were safe. Sea folk always offer aid to distressed mariners at sea, always. You never know when it'll be your turn to need help. I can see the Waterdeep captain relaxing just a bit, ordering the crew to cease their efforts and get some rest.

And the Raven sailed in their direction. Was Miplit going to follow the common law of the sea, and help them? Was he already thinking of robbing and murdering them? No one knows. But when the Raven was close enough, Miplit saw the uniforms. There they were, Piergeiron's men. If he'd been thinking of helping before, he wasn't thinking of it now.

The Waterdeep ship wasn't entirely taken by surprise, when the crew of the Raven boarded them and attacked. Miplit made little effort to hide his preparations. But after all the deaths from the storm, the Waterdeep crew was out-numbered at least three to one. With the ship upside-down, they couldn't get to the weapons locker. The priestess' holy word was their only weapon besides belt knives and fists, and she was weak from caring for the wounded sailors.

It wasn't a fight, but a massacre. Sailors who fought back were killed. Sailors who tried to surrender were killed. The only people taken captive were the captain and the priestess, and that's because Miplit wanted them alive.

Miplit barely looted the damaged ship. A barrel of this, a crate of that, some ship supplies, things that the Waterdeep crew had already recovered. Then he made sure the ship would sink, and sailed off.

-----------------------

Gurns refilled his glass, and took a sip of brandy.

"And before you ask, Calinth, no, Miplit didn't get any more scars or lose any more teeth with that act of piracy. I think it's because his crew so out-numbered the other, but if you want to read something symbolic into it, go ahead."

Gurns sipped again.

"We think of 'Miplit the pirate', but that was the only ship he ever pirated. There were some small boats, later on, and fishing craft. But never a sea-going merchant vessel, or a warship, or the like. Nothing that was built with any thought of speed. Outside of your almost poetic exaggeration, Cal, you were right. There wasn't anything he could chase down. I suppose he might have tried to take ships by surprise, but Miplit wasn't a subtle man. And where other pirates might try that old ploy of sending up a distress signal, luring their victim to them? Well, to make that work, they'd have had to make the Raven look badly damaged. Miplit would never do that."

Gurns sipped yet again.

"This is an excellent brandy, thank you." He nodded his head at the innkeeper.

"You know, 'pirate' is an odd word, really. It almost always means 'robbers of boats', but it can also merely mean 'robbers with boats'. So a pirate can be a pirate without being a pirate."

Gurns started to sip again, but then stopped and gave Calinth a hard look. "And if I hear some future comment about a bard who is a bard without being a bard, I'll remember from whom you stole the line."

"How about a bard who is a bard who gets on with his story?" hinted Calinth.

-----------------------

Throughout all of this, Miplit has been making regular shipping trips between Havensport and Baldur's Gate, and the irregular smuggling trips for the assassins up to Waterdeep. Throughout all of this, the assassins handled Miplit with consummate skill. After half a dozen successful smuggling trips, they increased his fees slightly. After another half dozen or so, they increased his fees again. Miplit might not trust them, but they made sure he'd have some reason to want to do business with them. Some reason other than being afraid to stop.

Most times, when Miplit docked in Havensport, he'd find a messenger and send some money to Lord E's office. Miplit figured it was better to send the money, since if he went himself, Lord E might ask questions. Miplit figured that the mysterious, hooded and cloaked figures wouldn't be pleased if he answered any questions about where the money came from. And he knew that Lord E wouldn't be pleased if he didn't answer the questions. Miplit was taking a chance by even docking in Havensport – if Lord E really wanted to ask questions, Miplit would find himself in Lord E's office. It was a risk, but not as much of a risk as not paying back Lord E's money!

What? Oh, no, the money was perfectly safe going by messenger. The only crime in Havensport is what Lord E allows. You haven't noticed that? They never steal from each other, they never assault each other, it's only strangers who aren't safe. And besides, Miplit would be telling the messenger "Take this to Lord E". What Havensport messenger is going to steal that package, or let it get stolen?

After several years, after the smugglers had given him a few raises, Miplit managed to pay off the entire debt. Most of this had been payment on the interest, of course: Once again, Lord E had turned a few dozen platinum into hundreds, possibly thousands. I wasn't about to ask him exactly how much.

Lord E was content to let Miplit pay off the debt. He still had no other use for Miplit, so he didn't need the debt to keep Miplit under his thumb. Lord E was slightly intrigued, because he didn't know what Miplit was doing. He knew Miplit was being paid by someone, he knew Miplit would sail north of Baldur's Gate, but none of his sources ever reported Miplit docking in any port. And no one knew anything about who was hiring Miplit or why.

But Lord E was only slightly intrigued. Whatever Miplit was doing, it wasn't cutting into Lord E's profits, he always keeps a careful eye on those. And Lord E knew that Miplit wasn't doing anything inside Havensport, he also keeps a careful eye on that. The only activity Lord E had detected was in Baldur's Gate, and that was outside his territory. Lord E recognized Miplit was avoiding him, but only found that amusing. See, he knew that if he really wanted to see Miplit, Miplit would be brought to his office. And he knew Miplit knew it, too.

So when Miplit finally paid off the debt, Lord E sent Miplit a note, congratulating him. Lord E also said that he might have some special jobs for Miplit, and that if Miplit was ever interested, he should stop by to "discuss things". That Lord E, what a sense of humor.

Miplit was glad to be out of debt, but wasn't ready to discuss things with Lord E. Not when the assassins might object, and not as long as they were still hiring him to smuggle things up to Waterdeep. So he continued on, in what was his now-usual routine.

-----------------------

Calinth frowned. "Miplit has become evil, and has prospered. He is about to become rich."

Gurns nodded. "Not rich, but he's no longer poor. He can buy himself some luxuries. He can pay his officers and crew a bit more. He can buy fresh food, and enough of it. All of this makes his life easier. His wealth built on smuggling small crates and mysterious people into Waterdeep. And not even 'into', really, only 'nearby'. Easy money."

Gurns added, in a falsely airy fashion, "Of course, he's murdered quite a few dozen people, too. Plus a few other crimes, hardly worth mentioning."

"Still, my tale is not done. What could be next?"

Gurns looked at his glass. "A shame, not to savor it, but…" He tossed the drink back, blinked a few times, and refilled the glass.

-----------------------

Since paying off Lord E, Miplit had made a number of trips between Havensport and Baldur's Gate. He'd made a couple of smuggling trips to Waterdeep, as well. He was in Havensport again, and looking around the port for passengers or cargo. He still had a ship to support. And even though the assassins had been regular clients for years, he wasn't going to assume he'd ever get another smuggling job. That would require trusting somebody, and he didn't trust anybody, much less mysterious, hooded and cloaked assassins.

Someone else found him, and that someone had a plan. It was a Chultean slaver.

"I have a business proposition for you," said the slaver.

"What is it?" asked Miplit.

"I know a small town, just a few big farms plus a shop or two, really. Near the sea. Someone with a ship, say, something like the Spirit Raven, could sail in close to shore. Send in a landing party. Grab some merchandise, and be off. Sail down to Calimport and sell the merchandise for a nice profit."

"I don't know that I'm interested," said Miplit.

"What's this, moral qualms?" sneered the slaver. "From the man who killed three-quarters of his crew because they mutinied, then three-quarters of the rest, driving them with whip and knife to get the ship back to the harbor?"

"Whether I've got qualms or not is my business," said Miplit. He clenched a fist. "Want to make something of it?"

Since Miplit was larger than the slaver, and the First was nearby, the slaver did not.

"My apologies, Captain," he said. "No insult intended. I'm just trying to figure out why you're passing up an easy profit."

"For all I know, this is a trap," said Miplit. "I've got an enemy. Tell me more about it."

"I figure we can get maybe two dozen prime stock," said the slaver. "Young men and women, boys and girls. After we weed out the older ones, they're not worth transporting. And weed out the trained fighters and casters and the like, they're valuable but too dangerous. That's not a problem. We'd have to be quick, though, since the Waterdeep guards are near enough…"

"Waterdeep?" asked Miplit.

"Yeah," said the slaver. "These folks are under the protection of Waterdeep and Lord Piergeiron. Are you, uh, bothered by that?"

"Not at all." Miplit grinned evilly. "That makes me much more interested. In fact, when do we start?"

"We haven't discussed shares yet," said the slaver.

"Suggest a number," said Miplit, "keeping in mind that it's my ship, my crew for the landing party, and you're going to be all alone after we finish selling the, uh, merchandise."

"OK, I get a half, you get a half for you and your crew, but I'll pay all of the necessary fees and bribes from my half, both here in Havensport and in Calimport. And you keep in mind that I know several other small towns, all under the protection of Waterdeep, that could keep us busy for a number of trips. And I'll be paying off the necessary folks, so they might get a bit unhappy if I disappear."

Miplit chuckled. "I like the way you think. I don't trust you, either. You get a third, I get two-thirds."

The slaver shook his head. "The bribes alone will take...well, too much. With that split, it's not worth it. I need two parts in five. Not a copper less."

"All right, you get two in five. But my men and I get to entertain ourselves with the captives. I had to kill one of the crew last trip. They're getting restless, and I figure if they're distracted, I'll -- I mean, we'll have a safer trip."

"Your men get one captive. I get to pick her. It would be a 'her', right?"

"You and I, we'll pick together. And yeah, probably a woman, but we get one, even if there aren't any women."

"Not a virgin. Not a pretty one. They're too valuable to both of us. And if she dies, you don't get another one that trip!"

Miplit grinned evilly. "It's a deal."

-----------------------

Gurns drank deeply from his glass. His eyes glistened. "They made four trips, Calinth. On the first trip, they killed 17 people. Nine old men and women, six babies, the local cleric, and one warrior who was home visiting her family. They also captured four men, six women, and exactly a dozen children. I can tell you the names of all 39 people, would you like to hear them?"

Tears started to flow down Gurns' face as he continued in an all-too-steady voice. "On the second trip, they killed 28 people. The villagers must have heard them coming, and organized a meager resistance. That must have made the crewmen mad, or scared, or both. They killed all of the men and women. A few evidently tried to surrender, at the end. They were raped and tortured and left to die. One recovered. Physically. I hear he still won't feed himself. Seven children were captured. One toddler survived, left behind, but now has no kin, anywhere. I can tell you all of their names, too."

"The third trip..." Gurns voice broke. "No one is quite sure what happened the third trip. Maybe they had a mage, who made the crew invisible. Or someone who could put everyone in the village to sleep. They took them all, Calinth. Six families. 46 men and women, boys and girls, toddlers and infants. Everyone just disappeared. I only know the names of 45 of these people. One baby had been born a few days earlier. The family was going to hold the naming day soon. Invite all the relatives, nearby friends. But nobody outside the village knew what they were going to name the child. That bothers me, Calinth. I don't know that name."

"The fourth trip wasn't successful for Miplit. Lord Piergeiron had posted scouts all around Waterdeep, had mounted troops ready to move at a moment's notice, with extra precautions in case the pirates were using magic. The townsfolk fled at the first sign of trouble, and the guards were able to chase away the pirates. No one was seriously injured. Some of the crops were destroyed and some of the buildings were damaged by a fire they started."

Gurns stopped, and closed his eyes. Then he muttered something under his breath, and wiped his eyes on his sleeve. "Excuse me," he said hoarsely, "I keep hearing their names. And that one silent moment."

"Miplit isn't the first to do that, of course," continued Gurns. "Legends tell of ship raids on villages as long ago as… but that's a different story. Anyway, there are ways to defend against such raids, Lord P put them in place, and notified every other lord, up and down the coast, and those lords put them in place. Even the worst lord doesn't want anyone exploiting his people but himself. Such preparations can't be kept secret, so Miplit learned of them. That stopped his raids on villages."

"He still collected slaves when he could. By now, he was getting hardly any passengers, but, what a surprise, all of them turned out to be 'agents of Piergeiron'. He didn't have them killed, anymore, but sold them as slaves. And he'd capture the occasional traveler on a coastal road, or the crew of a fishing boat. Fishing boats are even slower than the Raven. And there are farms, remote, isolated, rarely visited."

Gurns pulled out a handkerchief and blew his nose. "There's no way to know who these folks were. There are lots of disappearances. It's dangerous out there. You can get killed walking from Waterdeep to Baldur's Gate, and your bones will be scattered by scavengers before anyone misses you. Storms and squalls come up at sea, and small boats vanish without a trace. A farm, even a large farm with a dozen hired hands…everyone dies or disappears. Maybe it was trolls, or wolves. Maybe it was Miplit. Maybe it was some other slaver. Which of these vanished travelers and fishermen are dead, which of these are slaves, no one can say."

"Only if they escape, only if they come back, do we know their fate," Gurns added, his face pale, his eyes red. "And those are few, so few. Only the greatest fighters or mages, the most devout clerics, the sneakiest rogues, can manage that. Not the farmers, not the fishermen. Not the young dreamers, leaving their homes, heading to the big city to find fame and fortune."

Gurns raised his glass. "May their gods protect them," he said, and took a drink.

"Miplit continued to take slaves for the rest of his life. You recall, Calinth, we found some folks chained in the hold. 'Merchandise' he hadn't gotten to market yet. Not that he needed to, not by then. Because his smuggling business is about to expand, dramatically."

-----------------------

Miplit was meeting with the mysterious, hooded and cloaked figures again. But instead of the usual small crate or mysterious passenger, they were talking about a rather different cargo.

"Three large crates, Captain Miplit," said the nearer figure. "They will encompass approximately ten times the volume of the usual small crate. We will pay you ten times the usual fee."

Miplit eyes widened, then narrowed. "That's quite a sum. But this is getting more dangerous. There are more patrol ships out, up and down the coast. They hardly ever stop anyone at sea. But if they spot me heading in to land, we'd have trouble."

"We will not pay you more, Captain," warned the figure. "This is already far more than sufficient."

Miplit shook his head. "That depends on what I'm carrying. You're not paying me that much for something minor, something small. And you're not paying me that much because you like me. I don't know what's in those crates, so it might be even more valuable than you're letting on."

"You do not need to know what is in these larger crates, Captain," said the figure. "It is a secret known to few. Even my apprentice here does not know the contents of this shipment."

"I think I do need to know," said Miplit stubbornly.

"Have you forgotten who we are?" the figure asked, ominously.

"No," said Miplit. "But I think you need me to carry your cargo, so you're not going to assassinate me. And I'm betting Kang wouldn't be pleased with you, not if he didn't get this cargo, so much bigger than all the others. And if you want me to carry it, you're going to have to tell me what it is. And then we can figure out how much you're going to pay me."

The figure thought for a moment.

"Very well," the figure said. "We do not really need you to carry the cargo, but it would be inconvenient to have to find another shipper at this time. So I will tell you what the cargo is. I need to clarify a few other things, too, but as to the cargo…"

The figure flipped back his hood. "It is poison."

Miplit choked out a "Gaaaah!", and jumped to his feet, knocking his chair over. Lost in the noise, the second figure took a quick breath, and was still again.

Miplit sputtered, "You, you're drow!"

-----------------------

"Drow!" Calinth sat up abruptly.

The tavern's patrons gasped and murmured.

Gurns took a sip of brandy. He peered at Calinth. "Was that an effective surprise?" he asked smugly. "O expert storyteller?"

Calinth ignored him. "You said these were Waterdeep assassins!" he accused.

"I most certainly did not," said Gurns, insulted. "I said Miplit said these were Waterdeep assassins. Which is what he thought they were. But I only referred to them as figures or assassins. Which they are."

Calinth muttered something, under his breath. Then, "Wait a minute, what about the magic dagger?" Calinth asked. "Proving they were Waterdeep assassins."

"Not quite," said Gurns. He sipped his brandy, and looked at Calinth. And waited.

"All right," grumbled Calinth, "what did you say? Exactly."

"I said, 'When you see one of these daggers, you are certain that the person wielding it is a member of the Waterdeep Assassins Guild.' "

Calinth thought briefly. "Ah," he said. "People think you're a guild member, whether you are or not."

Gurns nodded.

"Sneaky bard," commented Calinth.

"Not my fault," said Gurns. "That's what the daggers do."

"Why would an Assassins Guild want something like that?" asked the innkeeper.

"Oh, they wouldn't. You know the saying, 'Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.' That's probably what happened here. I can imagine the Waterdeep Assassins Guild, centuries ago, wanting a foolproof way of identifying themselves, for just the situations I described. So they go to a great mage. They ask him to devise a new spell, he asks them what they want. They must have said something like 'Cast a spell on these daggers, so the wielder is known to be a member of our guild.' What they meant, of course, was that a member of the guild wielding the daggers would be known. But that's not what they said. And the mage gave them what they asked for."

Gurns sipped his drink. He was still pale, though all the brandy he'd drunk was bringing a flush to his cheeks.

"Language is important, Calinth. I keep telling you that. And mages? They have to be even more careful with language than bards. Assassins, not so much so. So it's easy to imagine them speaking casually when they needed to speak precisely."

"They didn't ask the mage to change the spell?"

Gurns shrugged. "I'm not sure when they figured it out. Probably not for quite a while. It's not like they're going to be handing those daggers to people on the street. I imagine they tested the daggers with a few of their guild members, discovered the daggers 'worked' -- all of the guild members were convincingly guild members -- and stopped there. Then the daggers were put away, safe, for the Guild Master to loan to only his most trusted lieutenants."

Gurns shrugged again. "For all I know, the Guild may not have figured it out, even yet."

Calinth remarked, "If they don't know, they'd probably like to know. And either way, they're going to be annoyed at you for spreading the secret."

"Annoyed at first," Gurns agreed. "But then they'll realize I'm doing them a favor. The drow have one of these daggers, and are using it to pretend to be Waterdeep assassins. And it's been working. So the sooner the Waterdeep Guild stops using the daggers, the sooner everyone knows the daggers do not identify guild members, the better for the Guild. Before the Guild is blamed for something the drow do. I just have to avoid them until they understand that."

Gurns looked around the room. "I'd be most appreciative if you'd pass that along to everyone you know. Especially the part about how I'm really doing the Assassins Guild a favor."

Gurns took another sip of his drink.

"If the Guild is so careful with these daggers, how did the drow get one?" asked Calinth.

The innkeeper interjected, "Carefully."

The patrons chuckled, and Gurns shot a hard look at the innkeeper. Coldly, Gurns asked, "Who's telling this story?"

"Nah, Gurns, you are, of course," said the innkeeper. "But here I've been silent for quite a few hours, quite a few, and that be as hard for me as it would be for you."

That got another round of chuckles. "Fine!" snapped Gurns. "You want to talk, you tell them how it was done."

The innkeeper didn't wait for another invitation, and the words rushed out. "Ah, this would have been quite a plan, quite a plan. Many must have been involved. For the last part of the plan, see, you would need a small party, to kill the assassin and get the dagger. To be sure of the kill, for this is a master assassin you're hunting, you might want a warrior, a cleric, perhaps another assassin, and a mage to hide them all. And this would have to be done far from Waterdeep, far, so they could be sure the assassin was alone, alone where there's no help."

The innkeeper warmed to his exposition. "Now, they couldn't be tracking the dagger, no, for it's sure to be carried hidden, so none can see. And surely not locatable by magic methods, neither. So that means following the man, not the dagger, and that would take a team of mages. Even mages sleep, they cannot scry all the day long, so a team of mages to follow a man. And to be sure, you'd need two, even three teams, two, even three mages at any time, following the fellow, to see when he'd get the dagger and leave town. In case one mage's scrying failed, see?"

The innkeeper ran his fingers through his thinning hair, and talked faster. "But how to identify this fellow in the first place, this trusted assassin? Why, you'd have to follow many you suspected of being assassins, follow them with mages from afar. For to try to follow an assassin on foot, well, he's far too likely to know he's being followed, far too likely. And when any revealed themselves assassins, you must continue to follow them, and those they come in contact with. Finally your observations would join, would merge, you'd identify a few key assassins, those who might carry the dagger."

The innkeeper ran out of steam, and stopped.

Calinth looked at the innkeeper with surprise. "That would work. A great deal of effort, but it would work. Are you some retired strategist?"

The innkeeper looked down, shyly. "My thanks, but no. Though I've often thought I might fare well as such, yes, quite well indeed. See, when you've been the staging ground for as many adventuring parties as I, heard as many planning sessions as I, you learn about such things. It's nice that you think I have a flair for such, and I would ask…"

Gurns interrupted, "Yes, yes, it's a plan. But it's far more work and effort than the drow used. What they did was simple."

"Simple?" exclaimed the innkeeper. "How can this be simple? To determine who's highly-ranked in the assassin's guild, very highly-ranked? To determine who's on a highly secret mission for Kang, and a mission that will require identification? Then to intercept and kill a master assassin, most surely, most carefully, without the guild finding out?"

"Yes, simple." Gurns said. He sipped his drink, and waited a moment. Then waited a little more.

"No ideas?" the bard finally said, with mock astonishment. "A hint: They didn't use dozens of people, just one. So you're asking the wrong question. Think back, years back, and don't ask 'how'. The right question is 'who'."

Calinth got it first. "Waterdeep Assassins Guild, drow assassins. Or rather, one particular drow assassin. I know who."

"See?" said Gurns. "Dangerous, quite dangerous. But not more dangerous than being there in the first place. And from the inside, getting a dagger would be… well, not simple. But relatively simple."

"So that's why he was in Waterdeep."

Gurns shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not. I'm sure Nilan was here for a number of reasons. That might have been one. Or maybe it was just serendipity, discovering the daggers, discovering the flaw in the spell. Even if he didn't know about all that before, he'd recognize their value immediately."

"He used to spend a lot of time with you bards, didn't he?" asked Calinth.

"Uh huh, he has good taste," said Gurns lightly. "I like him."

Calinth muttered, "Fool bard." And somewhat louder, "He'll kill you, you know."

"Oh, yes," Gurns said. He glanced quickly at his hands, then airily waved the one not holding the brandy. "If and when he has to. If and when he finds me in his way. Not until then." Gurns stared hard at Calinth. "There are more than a few goodies who will do the same, and you know it."

Gurns added, "Present company excepted, of course. Unless there's something you're not telling me?" He peered inquisitively at Calinth.

"I'm only tempted when you sing, Gurns."

Gurns smiled contentedly, and took another sip.

"So Miplit has just found out these are drow he's been smuggling for," the bard said.

-----------------------

The drow looked at Miplit. "You are thinking of running, Captain. Do not do so. You would be dead before you could open the door."

The drow gave Miplit a moment to realize the truth of that, then added, "Now sit down in your chair."

Miplit picked up the chair, and complied.

"You are wondering a great many things, Captain. Have you any questions for me?"

Miplit gulped, and found voice enough for a word, "K…Kang."

"We are not working with Kang. One of our operatives acquired the dagger, its previous owner no longer having need of it. A useful trinket. It intimidates while understating our abilities. Do you have another question?"

Miplit was recovering, slowly. "The shipments?" he asked.

"Some of the previous crates have contained poisons," answered the drow. "We were shipping small amounts, once in a while, along with other things. Now we will be shipping large amounts of poisons. It is difficult to get them into Waterdeep, but this method is working. It is working well enough so that you can expect quite a few shipments of this larger size in the future."

"That's an awful lot of poison," said Miplit, "Why…"

The drow interrupted. "I will not tell you why we are doing it."

Miplit nodded. As he thought about it, he felt a little better. The drow hadn't killed him, and was even answering some of his questions.

The drow quashed that feeling quickly. "I tell you all this, Captain Miplit, so you clearly understand your position. If you cross us, if you even annoy us too much, we will kill you. You are quite dispensable. Now that our system is working, many smugglers would be equally effective. Continuing to deal with you is merely a convenience for us."

The drow continued. "Perhaps you think you can get away from us, since we are not entirely free to move around on the surface world. We can move around more easily than you imagine, but suppose you did manage to avoid us? A message could reach Kang. What do you suppose his reaction would be, if he knew you had conspired with drow assassins to smuggle poison into his city, large quantities of poison, poison that was not going to him and his men? He is not fond of drow."

"If he does not personally send someone after you," the drow added implacably, "I imagine he would put a bounty on your head. We might do the same, but it would amuse us to have Kang pay for a death we desired. Especially since, if he has you killed, and word of the smuggled poisons were to leak out, everyone would think he had been doing the smuggling."

"That is the end of your questions," continued the drow. "You will take these crates to Waterdeep for the fee I specified. Less one part in four. Think of it as, what is your human phrase? Ah, 'a slap on the wrist'."

Miplit was trapped, and he knew it. There was no way he could escape both the drow and Kang, and he still had Lord Piergeiron after him. "I don't have a choice, do I?" he said.

The drow grinned, a terrible grin, and Miplit shuddered. "We have had this discussion before, Captain Miplit. Your choice is still the same. Alive or dead."

When Miplit didn't answer, the drow said. "The cargo will be delivered to your ship tomorrow. And Miplit? We do not really care if you are successful in smuggling these poisons, or if you get caught, or if you run from us, or if you turn yourself in. Any of those will serve our purpose. But the only way you remain alive is if you are successful."

-----------------------

Gurns stopped for another drink. Outside, the night was no longer quite so dark. Morning was still some way off, but false dawn had lifted the shadows slightly.

Calinth realized something. "Miplit's dead. The only two other beings in that room are drow?" Gurns nodded. "No one peeking in, no hidden observer to tell you about this?" Gurns shook his head. "So the drow told you about their conversations with Miplit? And their smuggling? You just went and had a 'chat' with them?" Calinth was aghast.

"No, they came to me." Gurns shrugged. "One of them. He woke me up in the middle of the night, said something like 'Be quiet. I have something to tell you. Do not make a commotion, or you will not hear it.' Then, yes, we had a nice chat."

Calinth jaw dropped. "A drow, probably an assassin, sneaks into your room at night and threatens you with 'Quiet, or I won't tell you a story'?"

"Yes, a terrible threat! If you're a bard."

"Or a child," growled Calinth, and took a sip of his own drink. Then he asked, "Was it Nilan?"

"Telling me the story? I doubt it. My visitor didn't name himself. But I can usually recognize Nilan. I know he can disguise his face and voice and fool me, but he rarely has reason to do so, these days."

"And was it Nilan in the back room of the tavern, dealing with Miplit?"

"The second drow, the apprentice, he was too young. The leader? He could have been, but it's most unlikely. Think about it. Our good host was wrong about the way the drow got the dagger, but he was right about one thing." Gurns lifted his glass to the innkeeper, and took a large swallow. "The smuggling, look at the length of time it all took, the cost, the effort. Look at how carefully, how expertly it was done. I don't think it involved many individuals, not directly. But something that big, behind it all, there had to be a drow House."

Gurns moistened his lips. "And that one drow, in Baldur's Gate. His position is key to it all. Moving the poisons into Baldur's Gate. Finding and dealing with a smuggler to get the goods to Waterdeep. All of this without anyone finding out who he was, or what he was doing, in what was the most exposed and delicate position of the operation. No, that was someone highly ranked in the House. One of their own top assassins and field commanders. Nilan has served a House, possibly Houses, but as far as I know, he has never belonged to a House. He wouldn't have been trusted enough to run the operation."
Last edited by Gurns on Mon Feb 10, 2003 12:08 am, edited 2 times in total.
Gurns
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Joined: Fri Aug 10, 2001 5:01 am

Postby Gurns » Sun Feb 09, 2003 11:54 pm

"It might not even have been the same House that Nilan was serving." Gurns shrugged. "Nilan got the dagger, but the House Nilan served could have traded it to another House. It would have been a very valuable item. Or that House may have owed another House some large debt, and the dagger could have been payment."
Last edited by Gurns on Mon Feb 10, 2003 12:07 am, edited 2 times in total.
Gurns
Sojourner
Posts: 554
Joined: Fri Aug 10, 2001 5:01 am

Postby Gurns » Sun Feb 09, 2003 11:57 pm

"You didn't find out, from your midnight visitor?"

"He wouldn't tell me." Gurns pouted slightly. "He told me a story, I asked some questions, he answered a few, ignored a few. Then he left."

Gurns filled his glass once more from the keg of brandy.

"Do you know how peculiar that sounds? A visit from an unknown story-telling drow assassin? Who answers any questions?" asked Calinth.

"Oh, yes," said Gurns. "There's only one thing that could explain it."

"What's that?" asked the innkeeper.

"He was under precise orders. Something like 'Find a bard. Don't be seen. Tell him this. Don't tell him that. You may answer this question and that question. Don't answer any other questions. Leave without harming him.' "

"Orders?" exclaimed the innkeeper.

"From his House. They wanted me to know the tale. And by extension, they want me to tell it."

"Huh?" The innkeeper looked puzzled. Calinth had frozen, completely still.

"I'm a bard. I might be able to keep some things a secret. But a story? A good story? Impossible! So that's why they sought me. So it would be told."

"Because just look at the story we have here. Miplit's transformation from neutral to evil. From Waterdeep captain, to murderer and slaver and pirate. From more or less honest shipper to smuggler. That part I knew, and it's a good story, good enough. But add in the drow! How can I not tell this story? A House of drow, obtaining a secret dagger, finding the right smuggler, getting him to work for them. Smuggling poisons, smuggling [I[drow[/I] into Waterdeep. All the while, keeping everything successfully hidden, kept secret from everyone. In short, it's…"

"A conspiracy." Calinth's hiss wasn't loud, but cut Gurns' sentence off cleanly.

"Exactly." Gurns nodded at Calinth. Then he added, "Well, 'plot' or 'plan' might be a better choice of words. Conspiracy suggests betrayal, and the drow have never been allies of Waterdeep."

Calinth's voice was low. "And they want you to tell their story. Aren't you helping the drow, helping their plot, by telling the tale they want you to tell?"

Gurns looked enigmatically at Calinth. "Am I?"

Gurns took a slow, lingering sip from his drink. "I'm doing a favor for the Assassin's Guild, by spreading a tale you'd think they'd not want spread. Perhaps I'm doing no favors for the drow by spreading a tale they want spread."

Calinth asked intently, "Can you be sure? What makes you think they don't know what they're doing, getting you to tell their story?"

Gurns was annoyed. "Calinth. I'm a professional story-teller. It's what I do. I know stories. I know what they do. I know my audience, how they react. The drow are not story-tellers, they don't have story-tellers, not like bards, and they don't know my audience. I don't know exactly what the drow think this story will do, but I know it will do more good than harm."

The innkeeper looked worried. "The drow know you well enough to tell you their story and know you'll tell it, yes, tell it. They're right in that, and in my inn, too!" A few beads of sweat formed on the innkeeper's brow. "If they think it furthers their plot, Lord P won't like that, no, he won't."

Gurns looked at the innkeeper disgustedly. "Bah. I trust you to serve drinkable ales, and to keep most of the bugs out of your beds. And Calinth," he turned to frown at the ranger, "I trust you to get us through the woods alive, without getting too lost. You people could trust me to tell a story. You could trust me, when I say that Waterdeep should, even needs to hear this story."

Gurns lifted his glass to drink, but then grimaced sourly and set it on the table with a thump. "Of course, that's really the end of Miplit's story," he said. "Miplit kept smuggling for the drow. I don't know how many large shipments of poison he smuggled in. Quite a few. He was well paid for all this, even after the 'slap on the wrist', so he got rich. That meant he didn't have to get cargos from merchants, but could buy cargo and ship it himself. He still took slaves whenever the opportunity presented itself. He didn't need the money, not really, but he needed the entertainment for his crew."

"This went on for some time. Then we killed him and most of his crew. The End."

Gurns sat back, no expression on his face.

"What about the drow?" asked the innkeeper, nervously.

"What about them?" asked Gurns, eyes wide with overdone innocence. "Oh, there's more about them, but that's really part of another story. It's not about Miplit. It's part of the drow's story. I can't tell that. I wouldn't want anyone here," Gurns looked about the room, peevishly, "thinking I might be aiding the drow."

Calinth gritted his teeth. Miplit was dead, an abrupt end to his story didn't matter. But the drow were very much alive, and if Gurns was right, they should hear the rest of the story. Calinth knew the bard was aching to tell it. But he was quite familiar with this mood. Gurns was sulking.

Calinth took a deep breath and exhaled, slowly. "I would like to hear more about the drow," he said, as politely as he could. "I'm sorry if you thought I mistrusted you. Please continue."

"No, no, I couldn't," said Gurns, oh-so-graciously. "If I might be aiding the drow by telling it, you might be aiding them by listening to it. I couldn't, in good conscience, continue."

Calinth promised himself that someday he'd get Gurns for this.

Calinth took another deep breath, and let it out. "I think you need something more to drink," said the ranger. "Here, let me fill your glass. You did say this was an excellent brandy. Provided, free of charge, by our good host, here." Calinth picked up Gurns' glass, filled it, and gently placed it in the bard's hand.

"I would like to hear the rest of your story," continued Calinth. "You've hinted at so many interesting things. What the drow want us to know, their plan. And you, you're the only one who can tell us. And you'll have to explain how telling us what the drow want you to tell us can be bad for the drow. We don't understand that, and I know you see it clearly."

Calinth added, "I'm sure our good host wants to hear the rest of the tale, too."

"I do? Ouch!" said the innkeeper. Calinth had kicked him, hard, under the table. The innkeeper looked at Calinth in surprise. Calinth gave a quick nod of his head. and, when the innkeeper hesitated, glowered at him.

"Er, yes," said the innkeeper. "Finish the tale. Please."

"Besides," added Calinth, "you're a bard. You learn and tell stories. You're the one that taught me that. Bards find stories, and tell them. It's what you do, it's who you are."

Gurns gave a quick shiver. "Yes. It's what I do." He took a sip from the glass, and started talking again.

-----------------------

The two drow left the tavern, and wandered, seemingly casually, through the city. Having determined they were not being followed, they made their way to a small, inconspicuous building. From the outside, no one could tell that there were several levels below the ground, and tunnels leading even deeper.

The first drow led the way to the lowest level. From an ornate rack on the wall, he reverently removed a leather whip studded with shards of obsidian. He raised an eyebrow at the second drow, who removed his robe, and stood patiently.

The first drow asked "How did you fail?"

The apprentice answered "Master, at one point during the meeting I was surprised, and my control failed. I caught my breath. Such an action could have provided information to others."

The Master Assassin asked "Continue."

The younger drow responded, "It is my estimation that Miplit himself was too surprised to notice my lapse. It is my estimation that you concur, else I would be facing your knife rather than the whip."

"Correct," said the Master, and gave the whip to his apprentice. "Turn around."

"You were surprised by something at the meeting because you do not fully understand our plan. We will work together to clear your mind. You may ask me any question. At the end of each question, you will strike your back with the whip, and draw blood. I will provide some answer. At various times, I may ask you questions that you will answer to my satisfaction. When I think you have sufficient information, you will explain the plan to me. If your explanation is adequate, if you draw blood with each stroke, if you remain standing throughout, you will pass."

The Master didn't need to mention the penalty for failure.

"Begin."

"Master, I was surprised that we will be sending such great quantities of poison to Waterdeep. Small quantities I understood, since that would disrupt the city for a time, but would soon be used up. But our ultimate goal is to destroy the city. By providing such large stocks of poison, we are providing them with an additional means of defense, a weapon that can be turned on any who attack them, including us. How does this further our plans?"

Crack! The whip snapped against the apprentice's back, with three of the shards gouging into flesh.

As there were none who could see him, the Master smiled grimly. Truly, a bold apprentice, to try to gain the entire answer with one stroke. However, the Master chose not to be so generous.

"It furthers our plans because it harms Waterdeep more than it will help them in the future."

"Master, how does it harm Waterdeep so greatly?"

Crack! Two more cuts appeared.

The Master considered his answer. "Tell me, apprentice, how difficult a weapon is the knife?"

"Master, the knife is an easy and a difficult weapon. Anyone not an infant can pick up a knife. Anyone not a child can grasp and cut with a knife. But to wield it well and carefully, to strike precisely, requires much training and skill. To wound where one wishes to wound, to kill when one wishes to kill, this requires a level of expertise few can reach."

"And tell me, in Waterdeep, how many people carry knives?"

"Master, few people in Waterdeep carry knives."

The Master frowned. "Incorrect. Strike, and answer again, more carefully this time."

Crack! The strike of the whip was immediate. The answer came more slowly.

"Master, some warriors carry knives, though most carry swords or axes. The thieves and assassins generally carry knives, but there are not many in Waterdeep who follow such trades. Mages often carry knives, though these are mostly for show." The apprentice suddenly realized the intent of the question, and hurried his answer. "Master, almost all adults in Waterdeep carry knives of some sort, if only for eating, though few carry knives as serious weapons."

"And if everyone could poison their knives?"

"Master, then all these knives would be weapons. A scratch from an eating knife could blind or paralyze."

"Continue your questions, apprentice."

"Master, we have provided Waterdeep with much poison, and evidently will provide much more. This means that in an attack, not only the warriors and guards, but all citizens can protect and defend the city, any citizens might seriously injure an attacking enemy by poisoning a blade. If we wish to destroy Waterdeep, have we not made this much more difficult?"

The apprentice thought about the fate of traitors to the drow, even unwitting traitors, and shuddered. But he quickly remembered the price of failure here, and applied the whip.

Crack!

The Master watched the blood trickle down his apprentice's back, and nodded to himself. Even he had not seen it, when the Matron had first told him the plan.

"Tell me, apprentice, are there arguments and fights in Waterdeep?"

"Master, as with humans everywhere, there are."

"And the outcome of such things?"

"Little of note, Master. Most are over quickly. Some fights end with minor injury. A few end in serious injury. A very few end in death."

"Apprentice, you have sufficient information. Explain the plan."

The apprentice thought furiously, then gasped aloud. The Master did not reprove him.

"Master! By providing Waterdeep with that much poison, anyone and everyone will be able to poison their knife. And most of them have knives! Many will fail to apply it properly, but many will succeed. All the little fights, the bar brawls, the posturing of young nobles, the battles of the gangs to settle their territories, the husbands who stab their wives and the wives who stab their husbands... Where there are little injuries and minor wounds now, when they have poison, there will be crippling injury and death!"

The apprentice's eyes glowed as he continued. "And the city guards will die and die and die. A thief who might otherwise try to flee will now turn and stab with poisoned blade. A noisy drunk will take exception to arrest. And the guards will get caught in the brawls, the gang wars, the fights of couples! Soon, there will fewer guardsmen and fewer trained guardsmen, trying to protect a less populated city! Destroying Waterdeep will be easy! Or at least, less difficult."

The Master considered. "An adequate answer, apprentice."

The apprentice stood a moment, shivering slightly. "Master?" he asked.

"Speak."

"There must be more."

"Have you another question? If so, ask as before."

"Master, there will be many deaths, many cripples. Yet the citizens will still be armed, able to defend the city, each individually better than before. If death and injury were our only goals, then a handful of assassins could do the same, and with more purpose, killing the leaders and the strongest warriors and mages. There must be some other goal, some other reason. What else will be accomplished by providing such great quantities of poison to Waterdeep?"

Crack! The whip stroke was the hardest yet, an emphasis of the apprentice's desire to understand. Blood began to puddle on the floor.

The Master was pleased. The boy was, indeed, as promising as they had told him. He would be rewarded with the explanation he desired.

"Think of the humans' reactions. The families and friends of those killed and injured will wish revenge. Every citizen will be afraid, since a brief flare of temper or even unlucky chance might lead to their own encounter with a poisoned blade. Every citizen will be less trusting, since any neighbor, any stranger, could be deadly. They will walk wary, eyeing each other nervously. And they will be less trusting of Lord Piergeiron and the guard, who are unable to prevent these deaths and injuries by citizen against citizen."

"Revenge, suspicion, fear, mistrust. These will spread throughout the population. And all they think of as 'good', their trust, friendship, compassion… they will see that these are temporary illusions, an artificial veneer they have imposed on the world."

"Pain and suffering will increase. And continue to increase, to dominate the humans' lives. And the humans will finally come to realize that those are the eternal truths, the only truths."

"That is the real plan. To show humans what is true. Once they understand, what follows is inevitable. In this plan, then, we are not assassins. We are not smugglers. We are missionaries."

The apprentice turned, a look of awe on his face. "Master, if the humans in Waterdeep… The other surface races will reject them! The alliance of the surface races will be broken!"

"That is so, apprentice. Now clean the whip, bandage your back, and clean the floor. Then report to me, we have much work to do."

-----------------------

Calinth cursed. Then, "How long ago was this?"

Gurns sighed. "Years ago. We killed Miplit years ago, and this happened months, maybe years, before that.

"You said Miplit smuggled in a number of large cargos of poison?"

Gurns nodded. He took a large swallow of brandy.

Calinth relaxed slightly, and looked around, pointedly. "Waterdeep is still here. So the plan failed?"

"Yes and no," answered Gurns.

"You're being obscure again."

Gurns face was strained. "Waterdeep hasn't seen the number of deaths, injuries, that the drow expected. But there are more than there were. Fights, where someone pulls a dripping knife. Accidents, because people don't know how to handle poisons right. Or children who find them, play with them, finger painting or a tea party." Gurns' lips tightened.

"And the guards. I don't know that they die more often, these days. It's always been a risky job. But with all the poisons, it's changed. It's gotten nastier. Before, you might hear of a gang attacking a guard, in some out of the way spot. These days, you can see individuals, deliberately taunting the guards, luring them someplace, then killing them. Just because they can."

"And the drow were right, people are less trustful. More fearful. Less open. And they should be. Waterdeep is a more dangerous place, now."

"The plan didn't work well, Calinth. Not as well as the drow expected. But it didn't fail, either. And the poisons are still coming in, the deaths are still happening."

Gurns stopped and gulped his brandy. Outside, dawn was breaking. A few early risers were heading to the Bazaar, to look for the early bargains. Gurns noticed the sun starting to come in through the window. "Eww, light."

Calinth prodded, "So the drow told you their whole plot? So you would tell us? Why?"

"Oh, I'm sure they've recognized the plan wasn't a big success. Not enough bodies in the streets, not enough people hugging the shadows or looking distrustfully at their neighbors. They're trying to get some further benefit from it. Maybe they think that by telling us, we'll panic. Or we'll be distracted and worry about this, while they're doing something else."

"There may be other reasons, Calinth, but my head hurts already, I'm not about to try to think as twisty as a drow. And these are drow, so there's probably a dozen different reasons why they want this story told."

"And knowing that, you've told the story the drow told you to tell us," said Calinth, coldly.

Gurns rubbed his eyes wearily. "You're trying to be offensive. Besides, I said 'more good than harm'. You never listen to me."

"I listen when you say something worth saying. What good?"

"What, you haven't figured it out, yet? You really do need to come into town more, and talk to the people here." Gurns paused, and took a slow, deliberate sip from his glass. "It's a reminder, Calinth. For the humans. That they're at war. And that war isn't only about armies."

"But Gurns! We know we're at war with the drow, of course we know!" exclaimed the innkeeper. "Why, it's been that way forever."

Gurns shook his head. "You humans, you forget." Gurns glanced at the innkeeper. "You, you've lived your whole life in Waterdeep. I doubt you've even seen a drow, not one you recognized as such. There hasn't been a drow raid, not even a nearby skirmish, in… I don't know how long. Drow? How can they be real to you?"

Gurns gulped down the rest of his drink, and shakily re-filled his glass.

He sighed. "I forget, too," he admitted. "With less excuse."

"Maybe you're right, though I'm not saying you are, no, I'm not," said the innkeeper. "But even so, the drow must know that this story will remind us! Their twisty plots, they're sure to have figured that in."

Gurns tilted his head, and raised a challenging eyebrow at Calinth. Calinth nodded at the bard, "You might be right, Gurns. For once. The reminder is important." Then he responded to the innkeeper. "They know, but they don't count it enough. Because the drow never forget."

Gurns, head still tipped to one side, nodded a few times. "Exactly. The drow never forget they are at war. Ever. They know that humans forget, but deep down, they don't understand that. Can't understand that. They can't really conceive that they could be…um…" He paused, closed his eyes a moment, then opened them. "Disregarded."

Gurns carefully straightened his head, lifted his glass to his lips, and took a sip or two. Carefully, he set the glass down on the table. He stared out the window, blurrily. "I'd hate to see Waterdeep destroyed. It's my home, as much as any place is. You goodies can be annoying, but I'd rather live in a city with plenty of goodies. It's a lot easier. More comfortable." He nodded to himself.

Calinth had been thinking. "It still doesn't add up," he stated flatly. "The plan, the smuggling, it's been successful. Not as much as they expected, maybe, but successful. Now that we know, they'll have to shut it down."

"Eh?" Gurns peered at Calinth. "But the drow stopped their shmuggling. Smug-gul-ling. Long ago. Didn't I say that?"

Calinth gave an exasperated growl. "No. You said the poisons were still coming in."

"Yes, yes, I did. How nice, you remembered."

Gurns reached for his glass, but Calinth quickly grabbed it. "You've had enough, Gurns. What makes you think the drow have stopped smuggling?"

Gurns pouted at the ranger. "That's what my story-telling visitor told me." Calinth opened his mouth, Gurns held up a hand. "Stop. Of course I didn't believe him. But I, um, looked around Waterdeep. Kept my ears open. And I know a few folks who'll sometimes give me hypothetical answers to hypothetical questions. The drow stopped smuggling even before we killed Miplit."

"That was years ago, and people are still dying! They smuggled in that much poison?"

"Oh, no," Gurns said, eyeing his glass. Calinth placed it well out of the bard's reach. "They didn't need to. There are other folks smuggling it in now."

"Who?"

"Who?" Gurns looked pointedly about the room. "The good people of Waterdeep, of course."

Gurns slumped back in his chair. "People want their poison, Calinth. There are plenty of people in Waterdeep willing to pay a lot for poison. That means somebody is going to bring it in. Remember what I said about smuggling? Even goodies don't care if what they buy has been smuggled in. Or who has smuggled it in. As long as they want it. As long as they can get it. As long as they can get a 'good deal' on it. There are plenty of folks involved, even plenty with gold auras."

Gurns sat up suddenly. "Oh, my."

"What?" asked the innkeeper.

"I hope that wasn't part of the drow's plan. If the drow expected the smuggling to continue after they stopped, if they knew that Waterdhavians would continue it themselves… If they know you that well, then you're losing. Badly."

Gurns sighed. Then he looked around grumpily. "Why am I still talking? The story was over a while ago. Oh. The End. Now give me back my glass, I need a drink."

Gurns slumped back in his chair and closed his eyes. There was a moment of silence, then the innkeeper stood up. "That's quite a story, Master Gurns, quite a story." He looked around the room. "And here it is, morning already. I'll be making a pot of coffee, a few pots. If any of you've a mind for breakfast, I expect there'll be some bread, jam, and I remember a side of bacon. On the house." He walked over, unbarred and opened the door, and headed back to the kitchen.

A murmur of conversation arose as he left, a scrape of chairs as people moved back to their tables around the room. Nobody left.

Gurns opened his eyes, and sat up. Carefully, he got to his feet.

Calinth looked closely at the bard. "Now what?" he asked.

"Now, I'm going to get drunk." Gurns wavered slightly as he picked up his bag and the keg of brandy. "Drunker," he corrected. "Then, I try to forget this tale."

Calinth was sure he had misheard. "You want to forget one of your own stories?"

Gurns ignored the ranger. "And then, what else? I'll go find another story." Gurns wandered out the door and into the bright morning.
Gurns
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Postby Gurns » Mon Feb 10, 2003 12:11 am

OOC: FYI, the splits between the 4 posts making up the story are coincidental, happening approximately where the BBS wouldn't let me post a longer message, plus once when I didn't get the copy and paste right.
Nilan
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Postby Nilan » Mon Feb 10, 2003 6:39 am

Gurns, that story was awesome:)

You write so good.

Enjoyed it tons

Nilan
Ssikin
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Location: Portland Or

Postby Ssikin » Mon Feb 10, 2003 9:16 am

really great story... i could stop reading it :)
Kasula OOC: 'the butt tells all... if your any bit fat... your butt will tell'
Kasula OOC: 'kinda like the crystal ball of the human body'
Zarel group-says 'I still need help thinking of what to restring my badge as.... and if you say a word ssikin I'll fucking firebomb your house.'
Nilan says 'consent me kazad'
Nilan says 'and dont revoke it or i come back and kill you'
Guest

*hi5*

Postby Guest » Mon Feb 10, 2003 2:28 pm

Gurns, once again you prove you can spin a tale. Excellent work!
Clan Blindhammer
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Postby Clan Blindhammer » Tue Feb 11, 2003 1:24 am

I'm not impressed. -shove Malar-


I thought it was horribly written, biased and




Geez. Man, I can't even bullshit a bad response to this. That was one of the best stories I've ever read man. Congrats and kudos, and I do hope to hear much more of your work in the near, near future.
King Artikerus Blindhammer
---------------
Kiaransalee responds to your petition with 'I have no opinion, keeps me out of trouble.'
Malar responds to your petition with 'you die more than a morigroup'
Kossuth responds to your petition with 'please go away :P'
Rillifane responds to your petition with 'be the nance.... you are the nance... you are one with the nance...'
Evika
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Postby Evika » Tue Feb 11, 2003 2:09 am

My gawd that was fun to read! Wonderful Wonderful job. Please post some more!
Ashiwi
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Postby Ashiwi » Tue Feb 11, 2003 3:07 am

I just love the way you write Gurns. Well done!
Calinth
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Postby Calinth » Tue Feb 11, 2003 4:56 am

And yet again, absolutely no recognition for the wildly talented ranger who inspired the tale. Jeez, I get no respect. And I should sue you, portraying me in such a way. I mean, come on, that was so totally not me.

Seriously though, incredible. Even knowing how you write, I was surprised how drawn into the story I was. Of course, the aforementioned ranger definitely helped in that regard ;) Though I have to wonder what in the world would give you the idea that I'd _ever_ pay for your drinking habit?
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Shevarash
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Postby Shevarash » Tue Feb 11, 2003 8:21 am

Gurns,

I can't possibly express my joy at seeing my old characters come to life through your wonderful prose so I'll just say: thank you.


P.S. The mangy donkey asked me to express his deep indignation at being omitted in the story, but personally I don't blame you. After all, he's just a stupid ass. :)
Shevarash -- Code Forger of TorilMUD
thanuk
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Postby thanuk » Tue Feb 11, 2003 3:07 pm

Holy crap, shev was the cabin boy!?!

Great story Gurns! Captivating! I couldn't put it dow- err, minimize it!
Mysrel tells you 'have my babies'
You tell Mysrel 'u want me to be ur baby daddy?'
Mysrel tells you 'daddy? No, I think you have the terminology wrong'
You tell Mysrel 'comeon now we both know i would be the top'
Mysrel tells you 'can be where ever you want to be, yer still getting ****** like a drunken cheerleader'
kanenan
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Postby kanenan » Thu Feb 13, 2003 11:20 am

wowz.
i read from 3am to 7am off an on... great timing fer morning to come, and, as a person with a score of my own to settle with miplit, i thank ye for your curious tale.

kik assxor!
stuff.
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Postby Sundara » Mon Mar 03, 2003 10:27 pm

8) Gurns, you truely are a minstrel!! the bardic profession is quite appropriately suited for one such as yourself! You weren't kidding about the lengthy story and it took hours to read, off and on, but it kept pulling me back to read because I just had to find out what happend next! Altho, now Sunny will cringe everytime she boards that ship and prolly wear a chastity belt! :shock: Excellent story, Gurns and very well written!! Wow...
When poverty comes knocking on your door, love escapes through the window.

-German Proverb-
moritheil
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whoa.

Postby moritheil » Fri Apr 04, 2003 3:21 am

Spellbound.
Yotus group-says 'special quest if you type hi dragon'
Shevarash OOC: 'I feature only the finest mammary glands.'
Silena group-says 'he was so fat and juicy..couldnt resist'

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