“Hold.” Vhindr called, something catching his eye just as his companions had reached the gang plank to the dock. “Rhalin, do you see this?”
Vhindr waved the woman over as he knelt down beside one of the fallen alpha grinlocks.
“What’s wrong Vhindr?” Legin asked as he too came over. “It’s just some dead, crazy, grinlock.”
“Exactly, crazy.” Vhindr nodded seriously, “Grinlocks are intelligent creatures, practically civilized. Yet this lot were acting like rabid beasts. The reason being, if I am not mistaken, the branding on its neck there.”
Vhindr pointed to the bare patch of skin behind the creature’s large ear and to where a red and scabbed symbol had been burned into its flesh.
“Some kind of rune?” Rhalin wondered aloud as she looked closer.
“I cannot say,” replied Vhindr, “But look at the grinlock’s eyes as well.”
“They’re all black.” Legin said with surprise, “Is that normal?”
Both Rhalin and Vhindr shook their heads and continued to study the wound on the grinlock’s neck.
“So what?” Legin asked, “The beast had Fog gushing into its head through this rune, and that’s why it went mad?”
Vhindr looked to Rhalin, but he could see that she did not have an answer either.
“That’s no rune.” Drizzen stated as he joined them beside the corpse, “It is a hex, one of possession. I have seen the like before, though not on a grinlock.”
“She can hex-possess a dozen alpha grinlocks?” Rhalin exclaimed in shock.
“She’d have to get pretty close to brand them like this though,” Legin added and he poked the scabbed wound.
Vhindr scratched the stubble on his cheek as he looked to the many corpses scattered across the deck of the ship, their blood seeping into the wood and dribbling over the sides.
“Damn dwarf.” The yell from one the remaining sailors caught Vhindr’s attention, “It’s yer fault this ‘appened. We told ye not ta’ open that damn door. Now look what ‘appened. The whole crews dead.”
The several sailors who were still alive had rushed over to where Kōrrin and the others were, their faces marked with anger and grief.
“An’ if it twernt for me them beasties woulda’ killed ya all,” Kōrrin snorted back.
“Good job ya did,” a burly sailor growled back, “Lowel here will lose his arm like as not.”
“Be glad he did not lose his head.” Bel’eak replied calmly, as he stood beside the dwarf.
“Who asked you Nevārancien dog?” a sailor at the back shouted, “You’re the reason me brother died. He fought you lot when yous crashed down in that ship o’ yours out in front o’ Issia. Bunch o’ thieving an’ murdering mongrels you lot are.”
Bel’eak narrowed his blue-grey eyes at the man.
“I did not kill your brother,” the Nevārancien stated, “But if you wish to see him again I can help you with that.”
Bel’eak rested his hand on the hilt of his deadly saber and the group of sailors seemed to become hesitant.
“Enough.” Drizzen said loudly as he moved over to the group, with Vhindr and the others close behind. “There has been too much blood spilt already.”
“Shut it freak, no one asked you.” A sailor snapped angrily, “Our beef is with the dwarf for opening the damn door. Bloody Elder Races, think they’re so high an’ mighty.”
“Well come on then,” Kōrrin roared and readied his axe and shield, “Let’s see what ya beef tastes like.”
The several tough looking sailors lunged for their weapons in response but before anything could happen the group tumbled backwards to the deck and a wave of magicks rolled over them.
“What the?” Kōrrin exclaimed as he quickly spun around to see Valianna standing with a smile on her face and her hand outstretched towards the sailors.
“Nicely done sister,” Vhindr congratulated with a smile, “I trust they are not dead though?”
“Of course not,” Valianna replied confidently, “They will sleep until midday most likely.”
“Good let us go,” Rhalin said and moved for the plank leading from the ship.
“Who ask ya to ruin me fight?” Kōrrin growled unhappily.
“Don’t worry Kōrrin,” Legin laughed and slapped his friend on the shoulder, “I’ll see if I can start a bar fight or something. Will that make you happy?”
“Only if I can take ‘em all.” Kōrrin was quick to say with a grin.
“Of course,” Legin replied.
“That doesn’t seem fair,” Bel’eak replied unhappily.
Back on the docks Vhindr trailed behind his companions, his thoughts still turning, and followed them to their horses.
“I think we should head out of The Dale,” Rhalin remarked to Vhindr as she climbed into her saddle. “To put some distance between us and what happened here.”
Vhindr nodded in reply as he looked to the brightening morning over the roof tops.
“The town of Cairn is not far, and on the road to Issia,” Rhalin continued and urged her horse onward with Vhindr beside her.
The rest of their group did not question the choice in direction and followed as they talked among themselves.
“A shame we cannot sit and talk,” Drizzen remarked as he came along side Vhindr and Rhalin atop his own steed.
“I do apologise Drizzen,” Rhalin replied, “If not for those foolish sailors I am sure we all would have been happy rest and talk. But you are welcome to join us to Cairn.”
“I understand,” the Helwyr said with a smile, “And no I cannot, I have a contract in Lone Peak to the north so I must bid you both farewell. But Vhindr, please accept my condolences, I was truly saddened to hear of Arell Starak’s fate.”
Vhindr looked to the Helwyr and strained a smile, “Thank you,” he replied stiffly before looking away.
“I believe she loved you,” Drizzen stated sadly, drawing Vhindr’s eyes back to his, “Farewell to you, and to you Rhalin. But careful on the road.”
With that the Helwry reined his horse away and trotted off along the road heading northwards through the town.
Vhindr sighed and turned his attention back to the path ahead of them. He could feel Rhalin’s curious gaze upon him, but he refused to look her way, instead he looked about the waking city and its inhabitants beginning their daily chores and activities.
As the day wore on the clouds overhead cleared and it seemed as if it would be a glorious day. But as they rode out from the protection of The Dale a freezing wind sliced through their protective and warm clothing, causing each to huddle in their saddles and pull their cloaks tighter around their shoulders.
“How are you two not cold?” Valianna wondered of Legin and Bel’eak as they stopped at the side of the road for a break.
“We run,” Legin replied with a coy smile as he stretched his bare arms above his head.
“Running keeps you warm,” Bel’eak agreed, his tight grey vest with silver clasped fasteners also made without sleeves.
“Tell me the truth,” Valianna pouted, “I know that neither of you can cast spells of warming.”
“Alright,” Legin laughed and pulled a silver chain from under his top, “This is why.”
At the end of the neat chain hung a circular gold pendant with a single ruby at the center. Etched around the gem were runes filled with emerald dust.
“Bel’eak has one too,” Legin said as he tucked the magickal pendant back under his top.
“Who’d ya steal them from?” Kōrrin asked curiously.
“Steal?” exclaimed Legin, “I didn’t steal them, just borrowed. I’ll give them back as soon as I find something more useful.”
Kōrrin snorted loudly and shook his head.
“Do you have one too Kōrrin?” Valianna asked, “You are not wearing a fur cloak like me either.”
“No, I’m a dwarf girly. Don’t need no magicks.” Kōrrin replied sternly as he moved over to this pony, “Let’s get outta ‘ere before me nose falls off.”
“At least it will be smaller then.” Legin laughed.
Luck was with them this day and the weather remained clear and if not a bit warmer than would be expected. Gentle clouds drifted high in the skies and the flat tundra around them became a whitish haze.
Riding in the lead with Rhalin beside him, Vhindr saw the town of Cairn long before they were close. The town was built among the rocks and ledges of a tall mountain that appeared as a pile of large boulders, hence the town’s name. Vhindr had never actually been to Cairn, but it was said that most of the settlement was built inside the mountain in a large cavern at the center of rocky hill. The heat of the earth keeping its inhabitants warm and protecting them from the bitter Winters in the north.
From what Vhindr had heard, it was also an extremely good defensive entrenchment, an idea no doubt borrowed from the Dwarves.
The road was straight and flat to Cairn, and on their journey they came across no trouble. So by late afternoon Vhindr was riding through the outlying houses and up a wide path to a large cave entrance. The two large doors that framed the entrance stood wide open and with a word from Rhalin the guards allowed them passage.
“Why are we going underground again?” Legin groaned from the back of the line.
“Are you alight?” Bel’eak asked with concern, “Would you like me to hold your hand?”
“What? No.” Legin snapped back.
“There now, I’ll get ye a blanket and pillow,” Kōrrin said sweetly, “Will that make ye feel better?”
“You’re not funny,” Legin grumbled back.
“I agree,” Valianna said seriously, “It is not nice to make fun of someone’s disability, it is not his fault he is a wuss.”
With that the others burst out laughing causing Legin to grumble at them under his breath. Vhindr and Rhalin ignored the jesting and kept to their thoughts.
The path before them was a wide road and headed straight and flat for several hundred feet before the tunnel opened up where a wide cavern greeted them.
In truth it was not what Vhindr had expected and he glanced around the brightly lit cave curiously. It was as if this regular township had been built in a very large cave. There were no grand workings of stone, no huge buildings carved out of the rock that would make any who looked upon them gape in awe. It was just a regular, large town, with thatch roofed houses spread throughout the stone streets and a standard brick and mortar castle situated at the far end of the cave.
“We dwarves woulda’ done it differently,” Kōrrin remarked as Vhindr led the way along the streets of Cairn. “But there ain’t much ta’ work with to be honest.”
“Lord Caverdash is a subtle man,” Rhalin remarked over her shoulder.
“Is that a nice way of saying dull?” Legin quipped, causing the others to laugh and Rhalin to even crack a smile.
“All he ‘ad to do was pay the Dwarves ‘o Gaia Vale,” Kōrrin said, “They woulda’ made this place a worthy hall to gaze upon. Instead o’ this cave with some buildin’ inside, it’s like havin’ a roof over a roof.”
“More than some buildings,” Rhalin replied, “Cairn is one of the biggest cities in Gaianaus.”
“What do they mine?” Kōrrin asked curiously.
“They do not.” Rhalin said, glancing over her shoulder.
“What?” Kōrrin exclaimed in shock, “By Dhror’s left testicle that’d be a crime if ever I saw one. What in the Abyss do they do ‘ere than?”
“Just trade,” Rhalin said with a shrug, “Cairn is the largest producer of Chimpin Mushrooms. There are several large caverns within the mountain where they grow and harvest the mushrooms.”
“What?” Legin wondered aloud, “Why would they grow mushrooms?”
“I love Chimpin Mushrooms,” Valianna said with a smile, “They are so tasty, quite expensive though.”
“I see,” Bel’eak nodded, “Cairn must be one of the only producers of the fungi.”
“And the largest,” Rhalin added.
“So where is the best place to stay Rhalin?” Vhindr spoke up as he pulled his horse to a halt and turned it around so he could speak with the entire group.
“Can we stay some place nice this time?” Valianna asked as the group stopped, “I am sick of sleeping on rocks and mattresses filled with stones.”
“Well, if you want to spend the coin ‘The Stone Giants’ Inn’ is the best place in Cairn,” Rhalin remarked.
“Can we go there Vhindr? Please?” Valianna was quick to beg of her older brother, “I long for a hot soapy bath and soft sheets.”
“Not all of us are as wealthy as yerself,” Kōrrin grunted, “Just tell me where I can find the best ale.”
“I’ll shout you to The Stone Giants’ Inn Kōrrin,” Legin said with a smile.
“Like ye got any money,” the dwarf scoffed.
“Sure I do,” Legin smile back, “I borrowed this purse off the rich guy we passed a ways back.”
With a laugh Legin tossed a large purse into the air before his friends then catching it again.
“You do realise you are in company with the realms two greatest investigators?” Bel’eak sated dryly, causing Legin to laugh again.
“Can we stay at this place Vhindr, please?” Valianna asked again, her expression pleading.
“Alright,” Vhindr said and sighed, “But you will pay your own way Valianna, understand?”
“Fine.” Vhindr’s sister huffed.
“Lead the way Rhalin,” Vhindr motioned to the black-haired woman.
Rhalin did not reply and turned her horse down the road and towards the castle keep at the far end of the cavern.
“I shall pay for you of course, Rhalin,” Vhindr said so only she could hear, “I know my sister can be overbearing at times.”
“You assume I need monetary assistance,” Rhalin remarked casually, “I assure you I can afford a night’s stay at The Stone Giants’ Inn.”
“I meant no offence,” Vhindr was quick to reply.
“No offence taken,” Rhalin assured him.
“May I buy you a drink then?”
“So long as it does not contain alcohol,” Rhalin replied as she glanced to him, her blue eyes smiling.
The thatched roofed houses became less as they moved closer to the castle and were replaced with rich red brick buildings with slate roofs. Different types of mushrooms grew in cultivated garden boxes under windows and other pale plants with bright flowers sat alongside them.
Moving into the area of the city known as Giant’s Corner Rhalin led the way to a large building of red brick. There they left their horses with a valet and meandered inside the beautiful establishment. Legin and Kōrrin gazed about the foyer with wide eyes and gaping mouths as Vhindr moved to the serving desk.
“Party of six is it sir?” the man at the reception said with a droll voice, “We are nearly booked out this evening, but you are in luck. Our best rooms are available for each of you.”
“My thanks,” Vhindr replied as he paid a deposit and took the keys to the rooms off the man.
“You will find your rooms up the stairs and to the left,” the man pointed to the grand stair case opposite, “Our dining room is through that door there, but no doubt you would each like a bath first.”
“Yes indeed,” Valianna was quick to say.
“I shall have it organised immediately,” the man gave a dull smile, “If you head to your rooms to refresh a maid will be up momentarily. Enjoy your stay.”
Vhindr gave the man a curt nod and turned to his companions.
“Close your mouth Legin, you look like a fish,” Vhindr remarked drawing a laugh from the others, “Now, here are the keys to your rooms. Shall we all meet for dinner later?”
“See you then,” Legin laughed as he grabbed the key and raced for the stairs.
Valianna squealed in delight and followed Legin, though the others were more dignified in their delight. But Vhindr was no less excited to sleep in a comfortable bed for a night. He was used to sleeping rough on the road and did not mind it all that much, but nothing compared to relaxing in the realm of luxury.
A wide smile came to Vhindr’s face as he moved through the door and looked about the lavish studio apartment. Rich rugs sat on the dark floorboards, a large four-post bed was positioned to the left, opposite the entrance were glass doors leading onto a private balcony and in the right-hand corner sat a large brass tub.
“Hedonism does have its place.” Vhindr laughed to himself as he moved to the bed and took off his coat and boots.
He was unbuttoning his vest when a light tap came at the door and a pretty maid entered.
“A bath m’Lord?” the girl asked as she brushed back her light brown hair to reveal her slightly pointed ears of a half-elf.
“Yes thank you,” Vhindr smiled and he removed his top, eyeing the half-elf maid curiously for she did not seem to be the average house cleaner and servant.
As the young woman pumped the water into the tub steam rose from the water fogging up the glass and warming the room. Bubbles joined the steam as she poured some purple syrup into the hot water before turning to Vhindr.
“Care for some company as well?” the half-elf asked alluringly and moved her stance to allow him a good view to the ample bust and athletic frame. “A deep body massage perhaps?”
“I did not realise this was that kind of establishment,” Vhindr remarked as he walked over to the tub.
“It can be anything you want,” the girl smiled back, “As can I.”
Vhindr raised an eyebrow, “Paid for separately of course.”
“Naturally,” replied the half- elf as she brushed the skin of the neck and collar-bone gently.
“I have always enjoyed a good massage,” Vhindr replied with a smile and the elf let her loose dress fall from her shoulders.
* * *
Vhindr whistled a tune to himself as he skipped down the stairs of The Stone Giants’ Inn. Through the foyer he moved and into the dining room where many tables were positioned about the large room. At one end was a small stage for performances and along the wall opposite him many glass doors led out into a private garden.
It was near on time for food to be served and Vhindr sniffed the tasty smells coming from the kitchens behind the bar. Waitresses and barmen were busy serving drinks and delivering food to the occupied tables and Vhindr carefully avoided them as he made his way to where his friends were sitting.
“Look like ye are goin’ to a ball Vhindr,” Kōrrin chuckled as Vhindr took a seat at the table.
“This is high society Master Dwarf,” Vhindr replied calmly, “One must look their best. Did you even have a bath?”
“’Course,” Kōrrin replied, “I wiped meself over with a wet cloth.”
“And put your dirty road-worn cloths back on again,” Bel’eak laughed and scratched his cleanly shaven jawline.
“Nah, this is me cleanest jerkin,” the dwarf replied and straightened his top.
“So you did put in an effort?” Legin remarked, “Haven’t seen this side of you before Kōrrin.”
“An’ ye won’t see it again.” snapped the dwarf. “Let’s get some damn food already.”
“We must wait for the girls,” Vhindr was quick to say, “Proper etiquette please.”
“But I’m starving,” Legin groaned.
“You won’t have to wait long,” Bel’eak remarked and indicated to the door. “They have finally arrived, and with quite the entrance too. Never thought I’d see Rhalin in a dress.”
“Neither did I,” Vhindr remarked absently as he looked to the entrance.
The investigator from Gaianaus wore a royal purple dress that hugged her shapely figure and was cut low at the bust. Her raven black hair fell about her shoulders and shimmered in the light as she and Valianna walked over to the table.
Vhindr shook his head slightly when he tore his eyes away from Rhalin and looked to his sister. As to be expected of a Varrintine she wore a beautiful pale pink gown with her hair done up in coiled bun. Small ringlets fell about her ears and framed her pretty face. Vhindr could see that his young sister was no longer a girl and he frowned slightly as he noticed the looks on his companion’s faces.
As Rhalin approached Vhindr was quick to his feet to get her seat for her. Legin awkwardly mimicked his movements to assist Valianna to her seat, but in doing so nearly tripped over his own feet.
“Nice dress Rhalin,” Bel’eak remarked with a grin once Vhindr and Legin had sat back down. “I find it hard to believe you had it stowed away in your saddle bags.”
“I did not,” Rhalin replied with a smile, “Valianna and I had them tailored by the Inn’s seamstress.”
“What?” Vhindr said with a laugh in his voice.
“Yes, the girl who gave me a massage in the bath was also a tailor,” Valianna said with a wide grin, her dark eyes sparkling.
“You paid for a massage as well?” Legin asked curiously and caused Kōrrin to chuckle to himself.
“Well, yes,” Valianna replied innocently, “I was so sore from all the hard riding. I just needed some relaxation.”
Kōrrin chuckled to himself again.
“With a girl massager?” Legin asked slowly.
“Masseuse,” Valianna corrected, “She was brilliant I feel like I am floating on a cloud right now.”
Kōrrin cackled louder and shook his head, drawing perplexed looks from both Legin and Valianna.
“What’s the jest?” asked Valianna curiously.
“How about we order food?” Vhindr cut in and shot Kōrrin a stern look, which only caused the dwarf to laugh harder.
A waitress came by their table and they ordered an entrée, main dish and desert each with drinks to go around.
“Give me the best steak ye got,” Kōrrin explained seriously to the waitress, “An’ make sure it’s perfectly rare. Ye know that point when there’s only a little bit o’ blood dribbling out yet the outside is nice an’ brown. Ye think ye chef can do that?”
“Of course,” the waitress smiled back.
“An’ hold off on the green stuff an’ herbs,” Kōrrin was quick to say, “Ruins the meat.”
“Yes sir,” the waitress smiled again, “Call me if you want anything else.”
The young woman gave them a slight bow and headed for the kitchens with their order.
“I didn’t know you knew how to cook, Kōrrin.” Bel’eak remarked offhandedly.
“All dwarves know how to cook a good steak,” Kōrrin dismissed the topic. “Jus’ like we know how to make the best ale.”
“Shame about the manners,” Vhindr quipped softly, drawing a chuckle from his sister and Rhalin.
The entrée soon came and they all enjoyed their servings of oysters from White Loch, delicious salads, and of course Cairns famous Chimpin Mushrooms.
Conversation flowed easily among them and they each drank liberally, although neither Vhindr nor Rhalin chose to partake.
Next came the main course and Kōrrin was more than satisfied with his steak, so much so that he ordered a second one. Vhindr enjoyed his dish of slow cooked venison with a red wine sauce, and not to mention a healthy serving of mushrooms.
As they ate their main meal a trio of mummers came to the stage and performed an excellent rendition of ‘Arfel and Illniet’, a brilliant tale of two star-crossed lovers from rival families, who, in the end, took their own lives and drove their families into a bloody war with each other.
But their deaths had been a ruse for Illniet was in fact a vampire and she had turned Arfel just before he took his life so that they may be together for all eternity. Upon awakening Arfel descended into madness and turned himself over to a vampire hunter who properly killed him. Illniet tried to stop it but she was too late and upon seeing her true love’s dead body she was driven into a rage and slaughtered the hunter before vanishing into the wilderness where she haunts graveyards to this day.
“That was so beautiful,” Valianna applauded the performers once they had finished, “I really feel for Illniet, all she wanted was to be with her true love until the end of time.”
“Vampires aren’t even real,” Legin remarked and Valianna glared at him.
“You missed the point of the story I think Legin,” Bel’eak remarked as he took a sip of his drink.
“Yes, thank you Bel’eak,” Valianna said emphatically, “It was about love, loss and sorrow. So beautiful.”
“Whatever,” Legin shrugged and continued to eat his second serving.
Desert came then and plates of sugary and creamy sweetness covered the table, and all eagerly dug in. Legin had even decided to try the desert made from Cairn’s famous mushrooms called ‘Chimpin Mossue’. Though after tasting it he recommended the others not to try it and pushed the dish away unfinished.
At this point the mummers were showcasing their individual talents and a young woman was playing the lute as she sung a beautiful melody.
All through the meal Vhindr’s eye had caught an interest in another group of people at a table by the stage. He recognised one of the men as a banker from Sesserrech and was curious as to why the man would be here of all places. As to the beautiful woman with dark brown hair and mesmerizing eyes who sat next to him, Vhindr had no clue.
“Don’t look to the door,” Legin suddenly said and seemed to shrink into his seat.
Of course all at the table looked to the entrance in time to see a young man with dirty blonde hair a carefully designed beard walk into the room.
“Regional Commander Liuden DeVaan,” Rhalin remarked as Vhindr watched the man move through the crowd and to the banker from Sesserrech’s table.
“Who wants to go for a walk in the garden?” Legin asked as he slid to his feet.
“I shall join you,” Valianna announced and finished her wine before uneasily getting to her feet.
“Nah,” Kōrrin grumbled, “I’m headin’ outta this place full o’ toffs, need ta’ find a place that serves proper ale not this watered down vomit.”
“We leave early tomorrow,” Vhindr said seriously as the dwarf got to his feet.
“We’ll be ready,” Bel’eak replied, “I’ll join you Kōrrin.”
With that the Nevārancien and the dwarf departed the room leaving Vhindr and Rhalin at the table alone.
“Noticed that group by the stage?” Vhindr asked as he looked to where the Regional Commander of Gaianaus had joined the banker.
“Since we arrived,” Rhalin assured him, “Think I would miss it?”
“Of course not,” smiled Vhindr, “The richly dressed man’s name is Jynth Hazeldin, he is an investment banker from Port Na’brath. I do not know who the woman is though.”
“Captain Idunn,” Rhalin said, “She was to be the next Regional Commander until that man Liuden DeVaan came onto the scene. Now she works for Lord Roht Ellengar if the rumors are true. So why is she with Hazeldin?”
“And what is Hazeldin doing in Gaianaus?” Vhindr mused as he turned his gaze back to the table which was being cleared by one of the waiters.
“He is an investor, maybe he is invested in seeing Gaianaus win the war,” Rhalin replied thoughtfully.
“There is no war, yet,” Vhindr said, “And how would he know if one were about to start? Even so he must have come on the Fluyt from The Port.”
“The same one the assassin was on,” Rhalin nodded and looked back to the group just in time to see some heated words exchanged between Idunn and Liuden. “Perhaps we should talk with them and see what we might learn.”
“Perhaps,” Vhindr nodded, “Though I do not think the assassin is anywhere in Cairn.”
“Maybe she teleported directly on to Issia to lay in wait for us there?” Rhalin suggested.
“You said she was from Frostback, correct?” Vhindr asked, drawing Rhalin’s beautiful blue eyes to his.
“I said there were snow elves in the Frostback,” she corrected, “Whether the assassin is one of them I cannot say, but that clan does have a similar blue tint to their white hair as the assassin did.”
“The odds are that she is then,” Vhindr stated and Rhalin nodded her head slightly, “I think we should head straight for Frostback once we reach Iceguard. Even if the assassin is not one of the elves there, it is likely they will know about her. Do you not agree?”
“It will be a hard trek,” Rhalin remarked, “Might be safer to follow the mountain ranges past Issia and Hornberg before heading north.”
“Do you want that delay?” Vhindr asked seriously and Rhalin shook her head slowly.
“No, I think you are right,” the woman said as she brushed her hair back from her beautiful face. “In fact I had been thinking the same of late. Perhaps we might talk to this banker and his entourage first though.”
Rhalin looked back to the group as she absently played with a delicate chain that dangled just above her cleavage. Tearing his eyes from her neckline Vhindr too looked to the wealthy banker just as Idunn shook her head in exasperation and walked over to the bar.
“Think you can handle Hazeldin and Liuden both?” Vhindr asked and shot Rhalin a coy glance.
“More so than you can handle Captain Idunn,” Rhalin smiled back playfully.
“Shall we,” Vhindr smiled as he got to his feet and offered his companion a hand.
Rhalin graciously accepted his hand and they moved through the tables before splitting up.
Straightening his shoulders Vhindr moved to the bar where Idunn had just rebutted the advances of a young man.
“Another drink,” Idunn demanded of the barman, “Same as before.”
“Make that two,” Vhindr added as he came alongside the woman and without looking at her he handed enough coin to the barman for several drinks.
“I didn’t ask for company,” Idunn said harshly, “And buying me a drink is not going to get you anywhere.”
“I never imagined it would Captain,” Vhindr smiled slightly before raising his drink to her.
Idunn narrowed her stunning eyes slightly as she took full measure of him.
“Do I know you?” she asked harshly as she grabbed her drink.
“No,” Vhindr shook his head, “But I know of you.”
“Sure you do,” the woman scoffed and looked away.
“I tell the truth my Lady,” Vhindr replied seriously, “Indeed I had hoped you would be the next Regional Commander of Gaianaus instead of some arrogant upstart who cannot discern a Brig from a Frigate even if it were to slap him in the face.”
Idunn regarded Vhindr curiously for several seconds before shrugging and looking away.
“He was with Rathgard before he was killed and knew the workings of the most recent operations of the High Commission,” Idunn stated bitterly.
“That is what they say,” Vhindr agreed, drawing her deep brown eyes back to his, “It is obvious that the High Commission chose someone they could manipulate to their designs. Care to dance?”
Idunn seemed taken aback by Vhindr sudden request and a charming smile came to his face as she continued to try and understand him.
“One dance,” Idunn decided and Vhindr offered his hand.
Captain Idunn gently took his hand and held firmly as he led her through the tables to the space cleared for dancing. Several other couples had already taken to the floor, but there was plenty of room for them. Firmly Vhindr placed his hand in the crook of Idunn’s back, feeling the warmth of her skin. As Vhindr took the lead and the music filled their ears he looked to Rhalin to see how she fared but his eyes caught sight of a jealous look from the young Regional Commander.
“I believe Liuden likes you even though you dislike him,” Vhindr remarked as they danced.
Idunn scoffed at the comment and did not reply.
“I wonder if he knows why you dislike him so,” Vhindr continued and sent Idunn into a spin.
“It doesn’t matter,” Idunn dismissed the topic. “Perhaps you can tell me who you are though. You are not from Gaianaus.”
Vhindr smiled, “No I am not.”
“Port Na’brath, am I right?” Idunn stated more than asked.
“You are,” nodded Vhindr.
“A spy perhaps?” Idunn looked at him seriously.
“That is it, you caught me,” Vhindr laughed slightly, “Be gentle with the handcuffs.”
“No promises,” Idunn smiled mischievously, catching Vhindr off guard.
“Very well you caught me,” Vhindr stated as he paused, holding Idunn amid a dip. “What now?”
“Perhaps I shall hand you over to the guards,” Idunn mused.
“Is that what you plan to do with your friend Hazeldin?” Vhindr asked back, this time catching Idunn off guard.
“You know him?”
“Many of the lords of Gaianaus are his clients,” Idunn said defensively, “He sees them personally to promote confidence.”
“You seem to know a lot about him,” Vhindr remarked offhandedly.
“He comes to Issia often,” Idunn shrugged.
“And you see him every time?”
Idunn did not reply and as the music stopped they paused their dance, their faces barely inches apart. Vhindr could feel Idunn’s warm breath on his lips and smell her perfume of blueberries and snowdrops filled his senses.
Many seconds seemed to slip by as they stood together and as the next song started they began to dance again. The music was slower this time and Vhindr pulled Idunn closer to him.
“Nice vest,” Idunn remarked as she brushed aside Vhindr’s leather coat to reveal his gold and black vest, a symbol of his family. “Which Varrintine son are you?”
A smile crept to Vhindr’s face, “The most handsome and charming one. Vhindr Varrintine at your service my Lady.”
“Vhindr,” Idunn’s eyes widened slightly, “I have heard of you, and that you were tracking the assassin who killed Baron Ellengar. What brings you this way?”
“Tracking the assassin who killed Baron Ellengar,” Vhindr replied simply, “You see the assassin took a ship out of The Port, the same one your friend Hazeldin was travelling on.”
“He is not my friend,” Idunn snapped as she continued to ponder what he was saying.
“Was there anyone else on Hazeldin’s ship?” Vhindr asked seriously, “Anyone not part of his convoy?”
Idunn nodded slightly, “An elf. From the Frostback most likely. Her name was Dun Hyic. Hazeldin did not want to speak about her.”
“Who is Hazeldin here to see?”
“No one in particular,” Idunn shook her head, “He is fleeing the war.”
“With all the monies he invested.” Vhindr stated understandingly. “But how does he know that the war will start?”
Idunn stopped dancing then and turned from him, “I need a drink.”
Vhindr watched suspiciously as Idunn moved through the tables, her backless black satin dress falling spectacularly around her perfectly formed backside.
With a glance to Rhalin to see that she was still talking amicably with Hazeldin, Vhindr moved to the bar beside Idunn.
“Two glasses of your best wine,” Vhindr told the barman as he took up the stool beside the Captain.
“You will get no more information out of me Vhindr,” Idunn said seriously and rubbed her forehead.
“I would not dream of trying,” Vhindr smiled, “But feel free to interrogate me, my Lady.”
Idunn turned a perplexed look towards him, the hints of a smile at the corner of her lips.
“You have arrested me for espionage, if I recall correctly,” a confident smile came to Vhindr’s face and he took a sip of the expensive wine.
Idunn smiled beautifully and a light laugh escaped her lips as she too tried the wine.
“Let’s go somewhere more private then,” Idunn said and she swallowed the remaining cherry red liquid in one gulp.
Vhindr placed his half-finished glass in the bar top and moved with the Captain from the dining room. Up the stairs and to Idunn’s private room they went, locking the door behind them Idunn guided Vhindr over to the bed where she pushed him backwards onto the sheets.
A coy smile came to her face as she reached into the draw of the bedside table and produced a pair of handcuffs.