Witch Queen of Perrenland

Kirk and Aaron were just two travelers hoping to find adventure in Greyhawk’s most notorious drinking establishment. Little could they have known that adventure would find them just a few feet from the Green Dragon. Joined by the mysterious and tight-lipped merchant Rarsirrien, a female thief, and a disgraced Paladin, they become caught up in a plot to thwart the infamous and evil Iggwilv from obtaining the secret to immortality. To do so, they must breach the magically protected borders of the secretive Valley of the Mage. If they succeed, they will have to find Iggwilv’s agents while avoiding detection by the most powerful spell caster on the continent. Discovery will mean capture and death, and failure will mean the loss of countless lives to Iggwilv’s cruel experiments. But in the Valley of the Mage, not everything, nor everyone, is as it appears. Along the way, our heroes will have to confront the demons of their past and a few in the present. If they succeed, their reward will be freedom, fame, and the riches that come from it.

The Green Dragon Inn

The Green Dragon

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Aaron glanced around the crowded room, trying to see through the smoke to the bar where Kirk was supposed to be getting their drinks. They had been trying to get into the Green Dragon for several days and had finally managed. The Dragon had a reputation for being a source of information and gossip for adventurers and, as a result, was immensely popular. Though it wasn’t every day you could find out something that would lead to the next great adventure and fame, several notable heroes had gotten their start here. There were several drawings and paintings behind the bar (they were probably safer there) of Gord the Rogue, Zagig Yragerne, and the now infamous Tasha of the Company of Seven, even Otto of the Circle of Eight - who still lived in the city.

They were sitting at a small table next to the stairs that led up to the rooms above. He finally spotted Kirk, who was at the far end of the bar speaking with the barkeep. Presumably, ordering their drinks. He glanced around the room at the other patrons being careful not to meet anyone’s gaze for too long lest they think it a challenge. Their main reason for being here tonight was to relax and drink, and if they picked up on anything, that was just a bonus and good fortune. Then he spotted a large man with dark hair with a tinge of silver and a steel-gray beard seated across the taproom at a table next to what must be used as a stage. His eyes met the stranger’s, and they stared at each other for a moment before Aaron lowered his own gaze back to the table and his now empty flagon. As a half-elf, he was used to being stared at by other humans. He dared not look back in the stranger’s direction too soon, but he could still feel the man’s eyes upon him. From what he could see through the smoke, the man was over six feet tall and, judging from the grayness of his hair and beard, was likely in his middle age. He was leaning his chair back, resting it against the wall, while taking long draws on his pipe. A full flagon of beer being set under his nose brought his attention back to his own table.

“Here you go. Sorry about the wait,” Kirk said.

“I knew I should have gone instead,” Aaron replied. “You can’t just go and simply order, can you? You have to strike up a conversation with everyone. I would have been back in a quarter of the time it took you.”

“It’s called ‘showing an interest,’ and it’s a good way to earn trust and get information.”

“And did you?” Aaron asked.

“Did I what?”

“Get any useful information?” Aaron said that with a touch more sarcasm than he had intended.

“As a matter of fact, yes.” Kirk paused for effect. “He said the blonde ale is particularly good this season.”

With that, Kirk raised his mug in a mock toast. Aaron raised his, tried to resist the urge to smile, then took a long drink. Kirk watched his friend for a reaction either way and when he saw none asked, “And?” “He’s right. It’s not bad.”

Kirk grinned.

“I’ll make an ale drinker out of you yet. You’ll be the most knowledgeable half-elf in the Flanaess on the subject of ales and beers,” Kirk boasted.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now, I think I’ll just focus on the blonde ale.” He lowered his voice and leaned forward. “Speaking of focusing on things, have you noticed the gray-bearded man sitting across the room next to the stage? He seems to be paying us more attention than anyone else in here.”

Kirk turned completely around in his seat and looked over in the direction of the stage. Aaron grabbed him, “Don’t turn around and look. Could you be any more obvious,” he asked urgently.

Kirk turned back around and smiled. “I think you take things too seriously. Relax. Enjoy yourself a little. After what we’ve been through the past few months, we’ve earned this and should enjoy the break.” He turned his attention back to his ale and drank deeply.

He was right. The past few months traveling from Oldred to Greyhawk City had been bad luck, followed by worse luck. Aaron’s father had been killed in Oldred by two hired assassins. The investigation by the town guard determined it was due to a case of mistaken identity. Aaron placed his hand on the hilt of the sword at his waist. It had been his father’s, and it was all that he had left of him now. Then, after losing their horses and having to walk a quarter of the way, they were both lighter than when they had started out. Both in actual weight and in coin. They needed to find adventure or employment soon, or they would exhaust their funds within a month.

The inn was filling up now as more and more people came in. It was quite a mix. A group of halflings had taken over a large table near the center of the room, and the smoke from their pipes hung in the air like a low, thick fog. By the time they finished their current round, you couldn’t see from one side to the other.

Kirk took a deep drink and then nodded in the direction of the bar. “I’m going to be up there one day,” he said matter-of-factly.

“What? Stuffed and mounted, you mean.” Aaron smiled at his friend’s modesty.

“No. Remembered in song and story. Mark my words.”

Aaron took another drink and then replied, “Consider them marked. My money is on stuffed and mounted.”

Kirk set his half-empty tankard down. “I believe the next round is yours. Might want to get an early start.”

“Now I know why you offered to buy the last round. With all these people, it’s going to take forever just to make it through to the bar, much less order.” Aaron looked about the room and began trying to strategize a path from his seat to an empty space at the bar.

“Good thing your kind lives long then. Better get a move on since I don’t have your longevity.”

Aaron stood and started winding his way through the crowd and almost tripped over a pair of gnomes who were having a contest to see who could balance their drink on the end of their nose the longest. It took him several minutes and a half-dozen pardons and excuses to finally make it. While he waited for the barman to make his way over, he happened to glance back over at the table next to the stage. The large man was no longer seated there. Instead, what appeared to be a rather fat merchant and several dwarves were having a discussion and trying to discreetly sell some gems. Aaron was relieved. There was something in the man's gaze that caused the hair on the back of his neck to stand on end, but he supposed he was reading more into the situation than there was.

“What can I get for you?” The rough voice brought his attention back to the bar.

“Four of those blonde ales.” Aaron flipped a gold crown to the man who caught it and, with one massive hand, grabbed four tankards and filled them one by one under a stream of honey-colored beer from a large barrel. He set them down in front of Aaron, who took them and started picking and winding his way through the crowd back to his table.

“Perfect timing,” said Kirk setting his just-emptied tankard down. He caught sight of the four beers in Aaron’s grasp. “Oh, and I see we’ve learned to plan ahead.”

“No, I just didn’t want to risk dying of thirst if I had to wait on you to make your way there and back for the next round.”

Kirk smiled. “Good man.”

“Elf,” Aaron replied.

“Half-elf.” Kirk corrected.

They took their time finishing their drinks. For most of the evening, they were silent, choosing instead to listen in to the other conversations and stories being told. Considering the diverse group of races, everyone was getting along remarkably well. No fights. No arguments. A few outlandish boasts were made, which were immediately challenged by the crowd, but beyond that, it seemed everyone was intent on having a good time.

Kirk looked at Aaron. “This could never have happened in Oldred,” he said.

He ought to know. He had been a captain of the guard in Oldred until Aaron and his father arrived. Valandil and Aaron had been on their way to Greyhawk City when they were attacked. During the skirmish, Valandil was killed while saving one of the city guards who wandered into the middle of the fight. Kirk decided to help make sure Aaron at least made it this far. The half-elf didn’t have anywhere near his father’s experience.

And Kirk also knew what it was like to lose a parent. He had grown up an orphan; his own parents were killed when he was only a few years old. He was passed around until someone in Greyhawk tracked down an uncle, and he was sent away to Oldred. Kirk told himself that he wanted to make sure Aaron made it because of his experience after his parent’s death. But the truth was, he was curious. From the moment the two showed up, there was something that didn’t quite add up. It also provided an excuse to return to the city of his birth.

Kirk was observant and a good judge of character. He often noticed things others missed, and that enabled him to make it quickly through the ranks of the city watch. When Aaron and Valandil arrived in Oldred, they said they were from Sunndi, but Valandil still had traces of an accent Kirk recognized from Rangers of the Gnarley Forrest. And Aaron, being a half-elf, was not half an elf from the forest of Sunndi. He didn’t have a lot of experience with elves in general, but there was something about Aaron that just didn’t seem quite right. One thing was for certain, Aaron definitely could handle the sword and bow. Kirk’s curiosity to see what would happen once they arrived in Greyhawk was also a motivating factor. It was his first time back in the city since being sent away. He was surprised by how much he still remembered and how little the area around the Green Dragon, where he learned to survive by picking the pockets of drunk patrons as they stumbled home, had changed.

It was getting late, and Kirk could see the drink was beginning to take effect on his companion. He reached over and grabbed Aaron’s forearm to get his attention.

“Best we keep our wits about us. Probably time to head back and get some rest. Doesn’t look like much is going to happen here tonight, but it has been interesting.”

He was looking in the direction of the table of halflings, where one of them had gotten on the table and was dancing along to the other’s singing while spilling most of the contents of his half-pint.

“I suppose,” said Aaron trying to suppress a yawn. He stood up and drew his cloak about him. They squeezed their way through the crowd and made it out the double doors and onto Cargo Street. It was late and but there were still quite a few folks in the lane coming and going from an evening’s entertainment. There were a few half-orcs hanging around the doors of the Dragon, probably waiting for space to open up so they could get a table. Aaron shuddered involuntarily at the sight of them. They weren’t the most attractive race, though still better than full orc, he thought.

It was cool but pleasant in the River Quarter of the city. There was a light fog rolling in from the river, which was not far. They had secured lodging a few streets over at a hostel on Horseshoe Road. The Dragon was nearly in the middle of Cargo street, so it didn’t matter if they went left or right, but if they went left, they could cut through Reef Alley and avoid The Strip and shorten the walk.

They started off left, walking past the closed shops and import-export merchants who handled cargo from the river and across the Nyr Dyv. There were several other inns along the street which benefited from the Dragon’s popularity, as the customers who couldn’t get into the Dragon would settle for a drink at one of the other establishments. The fog became thicker as they got closer to the river, and they nearly missed the turn into Reef Alley. Aaron caught Kirk’s arm and guided him left into the way. The road was fairly deserted as most people preferred to stick to the main streets this time of night, but the alley connected to Horseshoe Road right next to where they were staying and so was the shortest route.

Reef Alley continued straight for a short distance and then made a sharp left turn. The fog was thicker in the alley than it had been on Cargo Street. As Kirk and Aaron rounded the corner, three large, armed men stepped out of the shadows and blocked their way. Kirk recognized one of them from the Green Dragon. He had been standing next to him when he was speaking with the barman about the different types of ale and which region made the best.

“Pardon us. We didn’t mean to block your way. By all means, we’ll step to the side and allow you to pass,” said Kirk with light-hearted sincerity and more than a hint of sarcasm. He was trying not to escalate the situation unnecessarily, but at the same time, he moved his right arm and, with his hand, released the strap securing his sword in its scabbard.

The three brigands looked at each other. This was not the reaction they had anticipated. The one from the Green Dragon stepped forward.

“Pardon us, but we did. We’re humble protectors of the way. Guarantor’s of folks’ safe passage through. If you take my meaning,” said the small man with an equal measure of sarcasm.

“Ah.” Kirk glanced at Aaron and winked. That was the pre-arranged signal that he should be prepared for a fight. “And just what does such a guaranty cost in Greyhawk these days?”

“Well, there are two of you. Your elf friend….”

“Half-elf.” Kirk corrected him.

“Sorry. You and your half-elf friend could be safely escorted anywhere in the city you choose for, oh, let’s say, your half-elf friend’s fancy sword there. After all, with the three of us around you, he wouldn’t be needin’ it.”

“I’m afraid I’m rather attached to it. Sentimental value.” Aaron replied, matching the small man's sarcastic tone.

The small one stared at Aaron. “That’s most unfortunate. For you.” He drew his dagger, and the two larger men readied their short swords.

Kirk’s sword was out in an instant, and Aaron stepped back to have room to draw his own. Suddenly, the two larger brigands grunted and fell unconscious to the ground. Another large figure had moved in behind the would-be-robbers. At the sudden change of circumstances, the small man with the dagger decided on a change of plan and darted past Kirk and fled down and around the bend toward Cargo Street.

Kirk glanced at Aaron, “That was unexpected.”

Kirk and Aaron watched the small thief until he could no longer be seen through the fog, then turned their attention to the towering figure partially hidden by the mist. Both had their swords drawn and at a low, ready position. “Be you friend or foe?” Kirk called out.

“That remains to be seen,” the shape replied in a deep voice, thick with a Greyhawk accent.

The figure stepped out of the mist, and they both recognized him as the tall man who had been smoking his pipe by the stage in the Green Dragon.

“But for now, call me Rarsirrien.”

D A STEMPNAKOWSKI

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