Campaign of the Month: February 2009

Silent Winter

Pretty Things, Part 1

Posted by ellanutella

With the evening came all the unsavory people of the tavern next door.

It could not be helped; cheap rent for elves from an alienage was not going to be found in decent areas. Not if they wanted to keep their lives, anyway. It was technically illegal, but one less elf in the world – who would care? It was more effort for humans to stop such crimes than to pretend they weren’t there and feel good about themselves for being the most dominant race in the land. And then they had the balls to enact righteous fury when elves defended themselves.

It was still a little too early for the drunk dancing, but the rounds of bawdy songs and the grabbing of wench assets were definitely quite loud.

Of course, the worst people were not the humans, but the elves that lived among them and did nothing while their families and friends suffered. They lived in disgusting conditions, packed too close together and forced to endure humiliation at every corner.

Perhaps that was the most delicious irony of it all. The corner of Gheris’ mouth twitched as she watched some of the men sitting outside break into the chorus of A Lady’s Cheeks, a discussion between two men about the merits of a noblewoman’s facial cheeks and….other cheeks. No questions as to which ones they ultimately agreed were better. Disgusting. Slaves and traitors with their masters and abusers in one area, living “peacefully”.

Gheris pushed away and shrugged her shoulders, rolling them easily and turned to smile at the three men – boys, really – sitting at a table behind her. They drew their eyes up to her face immediately.

“Are we ready?” she asked quietly, sounding sweet. The two humans looked vaguely uncomfortable, but complacent. The elf pursed his lips.

“Let’s get this over with,” Finnian said, sounding bored. She liked that one – sure and confident without cockiness (as men were typically bound to have), and viewed their human compatriots with mild scorn. He also didn’t waste time and didn’t speak useless things. And he was easy on the eyes, slim and nimble, with pointed ears and sharp green eyes. And his name was easy on the tongue. Not that she would ever admit it.

Gheris smiled a little more widely and pulled a large, rolled up piece of parchment from a drawer of her dresser. They took care to keep the lights few and close and leaned over, heads (and ears, where applicable) brushing slightly, and stared down.

“Wow,” breathed Kent, the shorter, heavier of the humans.

“Wow,” agreed Branden. He was taller than all of them, and pretty, even for a human, but easily the slowest thinker. A moment passed by in silence. “What is it?”

Gheris resisted the urge to hit her forehead in frustration, as she had resisted most of her life, and glanced down at her painstaking work of mapping out their target area and the target household. It was difficult and a lot had been based on careful watching and even a little bit of educated guessing, but she was certain it was complete.

“It’s a very well-made map, Branden,” Finnian provided before Gheris could speak. “I can’t read it, but there are notations – what do they say, Gheris?”

She glanced up at him, meeting his eyes and she was sure they both understood the necessity of having the two there. “They are just reminders of the defenses. Now; let us begin.” She pointed to the general area map. “I have tracked those who frequently move at night, whether for private reasons or for work. I have selected the time, as well, just past midnight.”

“Midnight?” Finnian demanded, glancing at her. “Everyone will be in the house, won’t they?”

Kent and Branden stared between the two of them. Kent’s eye showed some comprehension, though it took him some time to piece things together. Stupid, stupid humans.

Gheris nodded. “That is so. But we run less of a risk of someone barging than if we were to do it during daylight hours. After all, our objective lies in a study they use often. It is their pride and joy, a showcase item.” Finnian nodded, once. She looked back down. “The defenses are tight. Good guards at every entrance, walls, doors, and windows spelled to not let anything in or out unless the right keys are used.”

“Did we get the keys?” Kent asked eagerly.

Gheris shook her head. “No, they are very well-guarded. Unfortunately. That would make life so much easier.” She pursed her lips. “But I have found something interesting – the west chimney, here – ” She pointed to the western end of the household. “This one leads to the room we want. The necklace is right near the fireplace, meant to have the fire make it shine in a special way, and – ”

Gheris broke off suddenly, realizing she was no longer looking at the map or at the men, but out the window where soft, warm glows reflected on the glass. She glanced back. Finnian was suppressing a smile, almost successfully. Kent and Branden were chuckling. She allowed herself a smile.

“I think our leader likes pretty things,” teased Branden.

Pretty things, indeed. Gheris never had the chance – and even if she did, she’d be last on the list – to own nice objects, things that humans decorated their homes with. The Dalish moved around a lot; excess nonsense that had no use could not be had. Even the city elves had a few nice things that they could put up over a fireplace. Gheris couldn’t remember any nice gifts she’d been given that hadn’t been nice boots or shin guards or a useful weapon. Practicality was great and had saved her clan’s life often, but she had the chance to pawn off the necklace and get something nicer and there was something lovely in that. Jealousy wormed its way into her stomach, making her grin fade. Humans were not hunted, humans had their culture intact. They did not need to flee. They had parties and dances and routines that did not require them to travel up and down Ferelden.

She told them seriously, “We all need the money,” and their laughter dropped abruptly. She met their eyes a little longer, more to assert her authority than anything they had done, and looked back down at the map. “The chimney releases smoke. Therefore, it is not spelled to keep things in and out.”

Finnian snorted. “Surely others have tried the roof.”

Once again, Gheris appreciated his thoughtfulness. “Yes. But the building to the right, this four-story building here, this is the scholar’s guild hall. It’s taller than the Kaern house, and so we can drop a line and land directly on the chimney.”

Outside, someone screamed. There was another more masculine shout. The boys cast a nervous glance at the window. Gheris examined a note on the margin of the parchment. There had been three murders in the streets nearby in the last few weeks, but Gheris could hold her own against the average thief and…other criminals.

“I have roles for you all,” she continued. “I need someone to watch the streets and someone else to distract the guards on the south end if they start looking up at us, near where the chimney is. Someone else needs to cross the rope with me and keep an eye out, just in case.” She gestured to Brenden. “You are tall enough. You will stand guard.” To Kent, she said, “You have good strength, you can hold your own against the guards until we can get out. Finnian will come with me, since the two that cross the line need to be light and quick.”

She didn’t look at Finnian as she spoke. There was no reason to. He understood. If she got caught or somehow couldn’t complete the job, he would drop in, steal the necklace, and escape with the other two. Or whoever else remained.

“Alright,” Kent nodded, “this sounds like it could work.”

“There is…one problem,” Gheris admitted. “Matthias Kaern, one of the elder ones, has recently had problems sleeping. He stays there late into the night, trying to lull himself to sleep. We may have to wait until he leaves to – ”

“I’ll take care of it,” Finnian said, sitting up straight.

Gheris blinked slowly at him. “Are you sure?” He nodded wordlessly.

“Alright. Have it done for two days from now.” She glanced between the three of them “This gets done as soon as possible. We pawn it off to Rickety that night – no waiting. Then we split the money and we never see each other again.” She met each of their eyes, one by one, slowly. “If you are planning on betraying us, do not even bother coming. It will do you more harm than good.”

“You don’t trust us?” Branden asked, sounding hurt. His large eyes looked worried. She frowned thoughtfully.

“I do,” she said kindly, “but sometimes circumstances change. People can break under pressure.”

Branden jumped up and spread his feet, thumping a hand on his chest. “I won’t break! I’ll do my job, we’ll get out fine! I’ll help, I swear.”

Gheris blinked at him, surprised. She then smiled, genuinely amused. “I don’t doubt you.” Finnian rolled his eyes and leaned back against his chair.

Kent hopped up a little more unsteadily and, following his friend’s example, saluted and cried, “Me too. I’ll do my best.”

“Good. We’ll meet and wait at sundown by the guild hall.” Gheris leaned back, examining the three of them.

Perhaps she wasn’t that bad at putting together teams, after all.



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