The Dragon Arrows
This is a short series looking into the adventures of a younger Silver. Set well before the discovery of his stolen inheritance, and the arrival in Phandalin.
Part 1 – An Unexpected Vacancy
The young man stared intently at the impressive painting before him. A mesmerizing golden hued woman looked back intensely, smiling and beckoning him into the canvas. Was she actually breathing? Such was the realism of the piece, even the paint appeared to give off an otherworldly shimmer. He adjusted his view to the left, and for the briefest moment he swore the woman’s expression flashed into a wicked snarl. Maybe the color even changed, or was it just the light playing tricks. Either way he found it impossible to stop staring.
“Yes, she does that. I personally can’t stand the harlot, but the Master holds a particular spot for it. Or rather ‘her’. Well, time is money – do hand it over. "
The young man broke away from the paintings hypnotic pull, turning to face the voice. A slender elven female, in her later years and impeccably dressed, clicked her fingers impatiently. Her features a brutal elegance, that sat beneath a severe knot of frosty white. Eyes narrow, and swirling with mistrust, evaluated the man without mercy.
The man, a somewhat disheveled mess, ran his hand through scruffy raven hair. Covering elven ears out of habit, despite being in the company of his kin. Well, half kin. The rest of his features handsome, with elven lines being marginally rounded out by human ancestry. Eyes, a steely silver mix, showed signs of nerves, while an uneasy smile did nothing to thaw the disposition of the woman. He nodded, and quickly handed over a weathered box. Almost dropping it in shaky hands.
“Careful, it would be most unfortunate to drop that after traveling so far. You are Enna Meriele’s boy, are you not?” She quizzed, while opening the box to check it’s contents remained intact.
“Yes, I am Mithrildir. She sends her greetings, and regrets she couldn’t be here in person. But rest assured I – "
“I’ll be the judge of that. Well it appears all is in order. You are to tell your mother the Tiefling will no longer be in operation. She will know why, give her the instructions. Avoid the west road on your way back, there will be…activity. " With that she handed him a heavy coin purse and sealed note. Before swiftly tuning to head back up the opulent double stair case. Mithrildir stood for a few awkward moments, stole one last glance at the golden painting, and departed the house.
Vasana glided on the plush carpet with effortless grace. Holding the box neatly, but tightly, in both hands as she made her way along the upper levels. Passing through several grand rooms, each embellished with rare art and exotic wares. The fading sunlight showcased extravagant stained glass windows, depicting nobles traveling to far off lands, or making fantastic discoveries. The elf stopped at a simple looking door, that could almost be mistaken for a closet. Standing in a particular spot she depressed a heel, then waited for the door to obey. A few clicks later and it swung open into a corridor lit by flickering lanterns. The light dancing about her serious features as she made way forward.
The corridor opened up into an expansive circular room, with a cavernous ceiling. Frescos covered it from all angles, age robbing them of meaning but not spectacle. A generous desk nestled in it’s center, orbited by what seemed like numberless cabinets. At the desk a man was seemingly being overwhelmed by towering stacks of papers and scrolls. Diagrams, maps, paintings, and ancient texts swarmed over them. He switched from one to another, cross referencing and orchestrating some lofty scheme. Vasana stood silent. Waiting.
“Ah, Vasana. Good. On the table please. " He didn’t look up. The voice commanding, yet smooth as halfling honey. The man appeared classical and refined, with exquisite fabrics making up his evening attire. Dark hair with wisps of grey indicated the winter of his 40s, but youth clung to his enthusiasm and energy. The few wrinkles present only adding to a charming aura. Quentin Blackwood, to a very select few that actually knew his name. If that was even his real name at all.
Vasana placed the box down, taking the liberty of opening it. In its velvet interior sat a delicate silver pendent, bearing a crest depicting ravens in flight. Blackwood looked up briefly. " It’s genuine. Have it delivered to the new owner at first light. Double the cost. Will the Tiefling be of further bother?"
“I would think not, but Nark is yet to return.” Vasana clenched her jaw out of irritation.
Blackwood chuckled. “Well i’m sure it’s nothing he can’t handle. That does leave an unexpected vacancy however. WIth time to spare yes, but a vacancy and annoyance none the less. I’ll not fund the release of the Easterner, and I fear the Dwarf has lost his edge. What is your assessment of the Moonrunner boy?”
The elf raised an eyebrow. “His mother speaks highly of a developing talent. But mothers can inflate the reality. A small test? Enna Meriele has been loyal so far, the same loyalty resides in his blood perhaps. I fear he is rough around the edges. Distracted, as all young men are.”
“Well the boys father did abandon them and disappear into the woods. He just needs a purpose. Give him one. " Blackwood winked, and drank deeply from an antique goblet.
Vasana, smiled, nodded, then left the Master to his business for the evening.
A week later Mithrildir found himself in the very same spot staring at the very same painting. But this time the woman had a distinct melancholy expression, and the tones occupied the cooler end of the spectrum. Even the brush strokes appeared slower and less spirited. Again, he failed to notice anyone around him.
“Her name.” Mithrildir spun around, the voice not one of familiarity. Quentin Blackwood stood behind him, leaning casually on the stair rail. “You want to know her name, don’t you. It gnaws at you. I’d wager she stalks the sea of your dreams, the siren that she is.”
“Yes. Every night.” The half-elf said quietly, then remembering he had just been quite rude. "Sorry sir, I am – "
“Yes -yes. Pleasantries. So boring. Have you really looked at her? She has a secret. Look again and tell me what you truly see.” Blackwood politely edged him closer to the painting.
Mithrildir looked intently. Narrowed his eyes, scratched his head, and shifted positions several times. For the briefest blinks of an eye, the woman’s gaze was directed to a specific point in the scene. He moved to within a hairs width of the canvas, scrutinizing the spot. Slowly he moved his finger up, and ran it across the surface. On contact, a banshee like wail exploded in his mind, sending him sprawling backwards onto the finely polished floor. Blackwood erupted in laughter, pulling the wild eyed half elf back to his feet.
“Good! Good! Very few have heard that. I even had one colleague go completely insane. Looks like you brightened her day though.” The woman now had a dark smirk, and the tones swirled with malicious fiery tones, the brush strikes angrier. Blackwood looked directly at her, a sternness in his hushed tone only she could hear. “One of these days you’ll give it up, or you’ll be kindling.” A flicker of blue rippled across the painting and was gone.
“I don’t understand, it’s a painting, how can it do that? It shouldn’t do that?!” Mithrildir regained some kind of composure, as Blackwood escorted him along another of the houses long corridors. Towards the workshops at the back, tucked away. Hidden.
“Its a riddle for another day. Your mothers elven genes no doubt playing a part, very few see the painting as we do. The old bastard who created her was as cunning and ruthless as a drow. Genius, but unquestionably disturbed. She is a true enigma, well one of them. Alas – we have work to do.” The pair arrived in a small but functional room, with exceptional lighting and an array of fine painters tools. An easel with a blank canvas sat alongside one with a small painting on it. The art depicted two nobles dueling in a courtyard by moonlight.
“An opportunity has opened up that a young man like yourself should take advantage of. Replicate Moonlit Duel to perfection and that golden opportunity will be closer. Fail, and well…you still have good shoes for a runner I suppose. Begin.”
“I had some questions if I may – "
“Of course you do. Questions often lead to more questions. Which will most likely result in your paint drying out. You may refer to me as Sir. " And with that he was gone. Mithrildir scratched his chin, and got comfortable in the small stool for what would be a long day.
He was on his third painting in as many weeks. Vasana no longer escorted him to the workshop, and she even prepared comfortable quarters to ease the long hours in front of the canvas. Occasionally he would steal a few moments standing in front of the golden hued painting, or peruse musty books in one of the libraries. The Master had a flawless collection, and Mithrildir was allowed to borrow them for study and research. The golden hued woman didn’t appear in any of them, but he kept looking when time allowed it.
The job was hard work and didn’t pay a lot. But it beat being a runner, dodging bandit territory and suffering the abysmal weather. The rain soaked clothes and sore feet were not missed, although his mother was. A few cryptic notes indicated she was away and working herself. From an early age he was taught not to inquire after details. But he knew exactly what she did, and had secretly followed her several times to drop off points or short treks up the sword coast. They had moved too many times to count, dodging city officials or hiding in shady taverns. Around his early teens he stopped asking, and knew his mother was just trying to protect him. Mithrildir was always curious though, a product of his childhood. Which was built on unanswered questions and paper thin lies about his human father. He often disobeyed instructions, not out of malicious intent or to prove a point. But because the the answers always seemed to be behind locked doors, lies, or hidden agendas. And this job was starting to scratch at his curiosity more each day.
He rarely saw the Master again. Vasana always an ice cold wall, gave only the briefest instruction and interaction. Delivering new art to replicate, as the completed forgery was whisked away. The cycle was beginning to grate on him. Where was the work going? Contemplating his options he took a break to survey the golden hued painting again. The woman was joyful today with a distinct sparkle to her enticing features. Tantalizing autumn hues resonated brightly across the surface. Such a painting must be worth a kings treasure, enough to set the half elf up for life. But then his mother worked for the Master too, it would be selfish to endanger her. Still, the woman was intoxicating. Was she really hiding some grand secret? Ah, secrets. Like a drug.
Just over a month in, and the cycle did break. Vasana instructed him to follow her one morning, and they ventured into an unfamiliar wing of the grandiose house. A cracked door as they past briefly revealed a messy living quarter, an unmade bed and half eaten meal. There were others here. I mean, of course there were. But he had never crossed paths with them.
“In here. You are to work alongside another member of the house. The Master will require field work of you. Good day. " Vasana turned crisply, and glided away in that irritatingly up tight manor.
“There is no one here”
“She is in front of you. Look. " The elf replied.
The room didn’t have great light, and was busy with what looked like old shipping boxes. Empty frames, broken statues, and a general eclectic mess chocked the room.
“You’re the new one then. Shame. I liked the Teifling, he had interesting teeth.” Came a voice from apparently nowhere. Mithrildir jumped and looked around frantically for the source. Seeing nothing but the rooms debris.
From the ceiling a lithe female dropped effortlessly behind him, making not a single sound. Human, average height, with fair skin and white blonde hair cropped short and messy. Eyes of a deep sea blue brimmed with mischief, a wry smile creeping up her pretty face. A simple but fitted leather outfit covered most of her body, yet burn marks could be seen on her left hand, and creeping up her neck. With a single undetectable motion she snatched a sliver of paper from his pocket.
“My dearest ‘Silver’, do at least try to stay out of trouble – Oh, missing the bosom of mother are we? Silver.” The young woman failing to hold back a giggle.
Mithrildirs startled form spun around to face her, and failed miserably to grab the note back. " Who are you? And don’t call me that! Give it back!" The half elf at once going a warm shade of red, and instinctively covering his ears with his hair.
The young woman folded the note with a precise and theatrical motion, then handed it back. “People. They don’t care to tell the truth, but they always carry it on them I find. What shall we call you?”
“Mithrildir will suffice. " He said, quickly taking back the note and returning to a safer pocket.
“No, no. Why are you giving it up so easy? See, when they know your name, they own you. When they own you they get to you. Then you are nothing at all. Wear a new name, like a hat. " The young woman plucked a musty old hat with a purple feather from a box, pulling it tight on her head. “See? Now i’m Lady has-it-all. Welcome to my ball.” The half-elf couldn’t hold back a laugh, and shook his head. Pulling up a semi sturdy box he sat down and glared at the young woman, trying to size her up. But failed.
“Very well. I will be guarded. What is the field work I am to learn here? And what do I call you lady of many hats?”
“They call me Whisper. I teach them how to be less loud and not there. Although obviously the Teifling failed at both. Shame. Honestly, really great teeth. Keep up, kay?” With that she bounded to her feet in an acrobatic flourish, then vanished with a blur into the labyrinth of boxes.
For most of the day Mithrildir humored her, participating in the bizarre game of hide and seek. Each time she would ambush and relive him of some personal possession, or just completely floor him. The fact she was a fascinating creature kept him playing, despite feeling mentally and physically drained. The young woman was adept at disappearing, only to reappear several feet away, without so much as a breath being detectable. After yet another rapid attack he noticed that all was quiet for what felt like an age. Maybe she fell, he pondered, one acrobatic leap too far. Just outside the room he caught the faintest sound, and cautiously side stepped towards it. The noise a bit louder now, was that someone eating?
“The last cook, he was abysmal. But this halfling? She’s a find. Oh, we are done by the way. Tomorrow be faster and less loud.” The last few words barely recognizable through oversized mouthfuls of bread. The half-elf gave a fake smile, a painful bow, and wearily made his way back to a welcoming bed. Yet more questions were added to the already long list.
Mithrildir spent his time split between training with Whisper, and working on increasingly difficult forgeries. The young woman was a captivating enigma. Some times he would arrive to find her dressed up in outlandish outfits, others refusing to appear at all. Then there were the elaborate stories, fantastical tales about thefts, treasures and dark secrets. For a woman in her early 20s, she painted the impression of a marvelous and lavish life well lived. She delighted in seeing his reaction to disinformation, and distorted the truth as easily as her agile body. She did so always with a magnetic smile, and in a round about way he was actually absorbing some of her teachings. Despite veiled questioning, she gave nothing away about her true self. The burn scars had been explained countless times, his favorite was the tale of stealing a dragons tooth while it slept. But Whisper was at least friendly, in her own chaotic way, and she had been here longer than he. While she deflected questions about herself, she might be more forthcoming about the house and its operations.
“The Master, do you see him? I mean, i’m sure he is preoccupied with what ever it is he does. But you don’t find it peculiar that he’s never around? Then there is that painting in the main lobby, that woman, she is…strange. "
Whisper, perched above him in the rafters, paused in the middle of her meal. Annoyed she had to stop and talk. “Questions can be bad for your health around here. We know we operate in the grey areas of proper business. But how much worse are we than those back stabbing nobles with their inherited fortunes? It’s gold in your pocket, and a semi warm bed at night. With that comes an understanding of knowing your place. The Tiefling, and his devilish mistrust sealed his fate. Ambition is all good and well, until you take a piece of the pie that belongs to the boss.”
The half-elf slowly nodded. Although he completely disagreed. Whisper clearly had no real desire to tinker with the status quo, or know more of the house and its shady business. She had however taught him very well, much to her annoyance as more than once he had outfoxed the teacher. Elven poise and cunning coming in handy. The confidence was there to infiltrate the more intriguing parts of the house, and perhaps the night time hours would provide an opportunity. The risks and consequences were very real, for himself and his family. But the rewards? Even a fragment of knowledge on the golden hued painting was worth it. Vasana was key. She moved freely about the house, and surely her aging senses would give him an edge in trailing her. What hidden paths did she take? he pondered.
The house appeared to be quiet. Vasana was right on time. The stiff form of the elf glided to the front door, locking it with practiced speed before blowing out all but a few candles. Scowling at the golden painting she proceeded up the stairs as usual. Mithrildir had noted this pattern since his early days in the house, observation was a pastime he quite enjoyed. Vasana was like clockwork, never deviating from the routine. WIth the techniques Whisper taught him about weight shifting, he proceeded to tail the housekeeper. Using every movement efficiently and keeping to the shadows, he maintained a healthy distance. Elven eyes were a boon, as even Whisper had discovered on occasion. The dark of the house proved no hindrance, but then Vasana had the same advantage so it was imperative he avoid her gaze.
Through the upper levels she went, her stalker moving with confidence and guile just a few steps behind. The half elf had never ventured to this part of the house, so drew extra caution and observed the surroundings with greater intent. An excitement rush threatened to tighten his muscles, the risk of imminent discovery providing quite the high. Dashing to crouch behind the bust of a forgotten king, he paused as she did. Holding his breath as she glanced over each shoulder. What was she doing? A small inconspicuous door opened up to allow her passage, then began to shut behind her. Without really thinking he sprinted as quietly as he could, leaping the last few feet through the ever shrinking gap. Rolling into the landing he somehow managed to keep the noise to a minimum. Flickering lanterns thankfully not providing much light in the corridor he found himself in. Slowly he exhaled, and noted Whisper would be proud, in a way.
Vasana was unfortunately now out of sight, but the corridor was simple enough to follow. A warm glow indicated an opening not far ahead. Haste partnered with vigilance as the silent figure slinked upto the doorway, surveying the round room in all its assorted splendor. The housekeeper stood talking with the Master, who Mithrildir had not seen for months. The man leaned on his desk in a dominating fashion, examining a few select scrolls intently. A better location was needed to hear anything of value, and the cabinet just a few feet away proved tempting. The moment presented itself as Blackwood turned to a diagram on the wall behind him. Mithrildir leapt, landing as Whisper taught him, distributing all sound into nothing. Clinging to the cabinet he shifted closer, hungry to pick up on the conversation.
" – an unexpected turn of events, i’d hoped for more time. This means the guild will require results sooner than anticipated. I think – " Blackwood paused and began thumbing through the pages of an aged book.
Mithrildir kept low and hugged the cabinet, all his attention devoted to eavesdropping. At first he didn’t notice the rat, shuffling towards him, stopping occasionally to sniff the air. The inquisitive rodent edged up towards his boot, taking a sudden interest in the half-elf. Finally he looked down to find a ghost white rat looking right back at him, almost tilting its little head. “Skit! Go!” He hushed, trying in vain to hurry the animal on without making much sound.
" – that part of the city is still under their domain according to this, but I believe it is the best path – "
The rat refused to leave, despite Mithrildirs best efforts to send it on its merry way. He noticed the creatures eyes, which appeared normal until the candles flickered. There was an unusual light behind them, and the way the creature looked at him felt unnatural almost. He’d shared enough time in squalid establishments to know the furry vermin. This one was persistent as well as odd.
The conversation had gone silent he realized, and panic rushed him. Could he risk a peek around the corner? Maybe they were just quietly contemplating something, and would resume at any moment. He longed to know more. The stillness felt like an age, and the damned rat still stubbornly refused to leave him alone. What if they had moved to another room behind another secret door? What if he was now trapped, and how did the door open? This was foolish, Whisper was right. But then he had to know. Why aren’t they talking! Then he got his answer.
Vasana rounded the corner of the cabinet where he was skulking. Followed by Quentin Blackwood. Both looked down at him in silence for an agonizingly long time.
“Good evening Mithrildir…”