The intermittent drip-drip-drip of heavy raindrops through the canopy of leaves overhead provided a soothing background noise, an unfocused but noticeable cadence by which Vandic timed the strokes of the sharpening stone against his axe blade. Short bursts of blue-white sparks occasionally flew from the mithril blade as he drew the stone down its length, ephemeral stars streaking through the overcast, moonless night.
Vandic had decided to set up camp in the northern reaches of the Neverwinter Wood, as he had no desire to walk through the night to reach Luskan, and none of the innkeepers in Neverwinter would ever let him set foot in their establishments again, not after the incident of the keg-swapping which shall be reserved for another time. After managing to gather enough dry scrub from the forest floor for a meager fire, Vandic had helped himself to a leg of roast boar and a healthy swig – a healthy dwarven swig, mind you – of a mean-tempered whiskey. The inner warmth of the alcohol helped him fight away the damp, listless breeze that blew softly through the heavy forest.
As he returned the sharpening stone to its pouch in his bag, Vandic heard a noise out of rhythm with the rain – the faint but recognizable sound of foosteps rustling through leaves. Knowing that there were aggressive animals on the prowl at night – wolverines and other, far more unnatural creatures – he quickly moved away from his campsite and took shelter behind a nearby stand of thick bushes. The sound of rustling leaves grew and ebbed as the wind shifted, but Vandic was certain the owner of the unknown feet was heading towards his fire.
Damned cheap whiskey! Vandic thought, wondering whether or not he’d given away his hiding place. I’ll have to chew Luna’s ear fer sellin’ me this crap!
“You know, even if I hadn’t heard you in there, your breath smells so strongly of whiskey that a congested gnome could find you.”
Yep. He’d given it away. At least he’d given it away to something that probably wasn’t going to eat him, judging by the voice. When he turned around, he could make out the shadowy features of a grey elf, dressed in warrior-style armor that seemed to blend into the surrounding forest.
“Bah! (hic) I didn’a have but more’n one good swig!”
“A swig by your standards, dwarf, could kill those bushes you were hiding in,” the elf replied, followed by a slight chuckle. “Llandrien Brightwater’s the name. I take it that’s your campfire a few yards over there?” he said, nodding towards the light.
“Vandic Hammerfist, and (hic) aye, that be me fire. Yer welcome te join me fer a belt, I don’t often git company on these trips an’ I think ye’d be keen on me brew.”
Llandrien chuckled again and replied, “Thank you, friend, but I’ve got my own stock of beverage. I just need the fire to warm up my coffee.”
“Kahfee?” Vandic said, puzzled. “That some sorta weird (hic) elven liquor?”
“No, no...nothing quite that strong...you’ll see.”
The two huddled close to the fire, the dwindling flame barely reaching far enough into the darkness to illuminate their faces. The light rain had tapered to a drizzle, chilling their already damp skin. The thin fog seemed to cascade through the trees, blurring the faint silhouettes of the forest into a singular, encompassing darkness.
Vandic sat back against the thick trunk of an elm tree and pulled out his tankard, taking another hearty drink. “Ye sure ye won’t have a wee bit?” he asked Llandrien, offering the pewter container over the fire to him. “Helps put ye to sleep better, ‘specially out here’n the elements.”
“I’ll be fine with my coffee, thanks,” Llandrien replied, taking another short sip of the steaming black liquid in his tin cup. “Helps keep me alert, unlike whatever inebriant you might be sporting in that massive vessel. If the scouting the Twilight Raven conducted is correct, we need to be alert in these woods.”
“Twilight (hic) Raven?” queried Vandic. “Sounds vaguely familiar. I’m sure I’ve seen one or two of ‘em around Waterdeep. Ye associated with ‘em somehow?”
“You could say that.”
Vandic shrugged and returned the tankard’s mouth to his own, taking a few smaller but still sizeable drinks as he listened to Llandrien relate some of his history, as well as that of Twilight Raven. He recognized immediately the name Aedarton, a holy knight with whom he’d gone adventuring on more than one occasion.
Vandic chuckle-hiccuped when Llandrien had finished his story. “So yer a ranger, eh? I thought you (hic) fellers were known fer sneakin’ quiet-like out in the wild.”
“What do you mean?”
“Why’d ye think I was hidin’ when ye found me? I heard ye rustlin’ through the dead leaves.”
“I know better than to make noise out here,” Llandrien replied, sounding somewhat offended. “Whatever you heard must’ve been DUCK!”
“Duck?” asked Vandic, puzzled.
“No, DUCK!” Lllandrien shouted, motioning for Vandic to drop down with one hand as he unsheathed a sword with his other.
As Vandic dove to his right, he caught a brief glimpse of Llandrien leaping over the fire, the glint of glittering steel flashing through the darkness behind him. When he rolled over, he saw the two halves of a shambling mound lying next to the tree against which he’d been resting. Lllandrien remained standing in his post-attack posture, the blade of his sword embedded a full inch into the trunk of the elm tree.
“Blast!” Vandic grunted as he pulled himself to his feet.
“What, put off that you didn’t hear this thing coming for you?” Lllandrien asked as he gave the hilt of his sword a quick jerk, releasing it from the tree.
“Put off that it made me spill me whiskey is what I am!” replied the stodgy dwarf, picking up his empty tankard and mourning its contents that now lay soaking into the forest floor.
Llandrien just shook his head and sighed. “You’re certainly all dwarf. Inebriate to the last. I’ve got some business in Neverwinter in the morning before I head north, perhaps we could stop by one of the taverns and get you a refill.”
“Nay, I fear I couldn’a join ye there, what with the local brewers knowin’ me reputation after the keg-swappin’ mess.”
Vandic guffawed and replied, “If ye don’t mind the travelin’ company on yer (hic) way north, I’ll tell ye about it.”
Llandrien smiled wryly. “Don’t mind in the least. We can work out the details in the morning. In the meantime, I’d suggest we try to get the fire a bit more substantial to ward off any other unwanted visitors over the rest of the night.”
The evening air began to grow thin and dry, and an occasional star peeked through the waning clouds. The rhythmic patter of spent raindrops in the leaves gave way to the nocturnal voices of crickets and owls. An hour later, with a well-stoked fire burning in front of them, the two adventurers drifted slowly into dreams.
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