An hour south of Tashluta, the Hazur river had begun to narrow somewhat to no more than 30 yards at its widest point. Indo Skulldark sat at the rear of the small fishing boat warily eyeing the ragged banks that rose steeply on either side making them easy prey for bandit archers or griffons looking to feast on a horse or two. Shann stood near the front of the boat talking with the captain who was expertly directing his small crew down the unusually choppy river, while Corin and Krell sat at the middle, both seemingly lost in thought, and Aladren paced to and fro.
Indo’s cowl was pulled down over his eyes to shield him from the bright midday sun. He’d been on the surface for less than a year and was still extremely sensitive to daylight. He blinked as someone crossed in front of him, blocking the sun, and looked up to see Aladren, the jovial little hin, staring at him.
“There must be quite a story that goes with one such as yourself,” Aladren smiled. “Not many Duergar in these parts. Not on the surface, at least.”
“What do you know of the Duergar, little one?”
Indo was tall for a dwarf, nearly a foot taller than Aladren when standing. Seated, they were face to face. Aladren smirked at the response.
“I know evil rests in yer hearts, for one thing!”
Both men turned to Krell, the brown-skinned dwarf, both hands gripping the bench he rested on hard enough to turn his fingertips white. He’d barely spoken a word since Lord Belgeon had gathered the quintet together hours earlier and his outburst caught them all by surprise.
“You’d do well to keep your opinions to yourself, cousin,” Indo snarled. “Especially ignorant ones born from myth and stereotype. You know nothing about my people.”
Krell’s nostrils flared but his grip on the bench never lessened. A man of the mountains, he could climb the most treacherous of inclines without a second thought. Traveling by water, however, had his ample stomach twisted in knots and his brain floating queasily in his head.
“Well,” Aladren cut in between the two, “I know some interesting myths about the dwarves of the Great Rift, too, my seasick friend, but I’ve chosen not to judge you on them. I prefer more specific tales, individual stories. Especially of those who attempt to overcome the stereotypes that dog their every step. The story of a certain dark elf comes to mind…”
He winked at Indo who couldn’t help but smile in return. He’d heard often of the notorious drow, Drizzt Do’Urden, whose infamous exploits in the northlands were legend throughout Faerûn.
“Bah,” scoffed Krell. “Ye are what ye are and ye cannot escape it. I’ll not be turning my back on ye, that’s fer sure.”
“Then perhaps it is true what else they say?” Aladren laughed. Taking the kithara from his back, he strummed a couple of cheerful chords and broke out in song:
Steadfast and strong
Rift Dwarves get along
With no one but themselves.
Prideful and haughty
They think it naughty
Consorting with hin and elves.
But there are some
Whose craving for fun
Leads them far astray.
The company they keep
Would make their mothers weep
And so they—
Krell lept from his seat, eyes aflame, stubby fingers splayed as he went for the hin’s neck but Aladren was much too fast, easily sidestepping the attack as Krell tumbled to the end of the boat, coming to rest at Indo’s feet who looked down at him with a bemused smirk.
Aladren loudly strummed a few more chords in conclusion before returning the kithara to his back, yelling, “Thank you! I’ll be here all week.”
Shann stepped between the trio, struggling to keep a smirk off of her own face and offered a hand to Krell who ignored it, pulling himself up and returning to his bench, grip re-tightened and the sourest of looks on his face. She shrugged it off and turned to Aladren.
“Your talents are…quite provocative,” she smiled. “Do tell, what brings you to these parts? What is your story?”
Aladren returned the smile. “Milady, there are many tales I could tell, and many of them I shall as I suspect our journey, Waukeen willing, may be a long one. As for my own, well, it is a simple one of high adventure, lost love and beautiful women such as yourself, and is still being written as I breathe these very words!”
With a wink and a hop, he moved to the front of the boat, leaving Shann and Indo with a smirk and a question mark on their faces and a glaring scowl on Krell’s.
“This will be a most interesting trip, indeed,” Shann laughed. Corin noticed a hint of music in her laughter and, without fully realizing, let a smile quietly spread across his stoic face.