ull quiet, you oafs," Gayselle softly scolded as the small skiff approached the imposing lights of Waterdeep Harbor. "I hope to make shore without any notice at all."
The three oarsmen, half-ogres with burly muscles that lacked a gentle touch, grumbled amongst themselves but did try, with no success, to quiet the splash of the oars. Gayselle suffered through it, knowing they were doing the best they could. She would be glad when this business was ended, when she could be away from her present companions, whose names she did not know but who she'd nicknamed Lumpy, Grumpy, and Dumb-bunny.
She stayed up front of the skiff, trying to make out some markers along the shoreline that would guide her in. She had put into Waterdeep many, many times over the last few years and knew place well. Most of all now, she wanted to avoid the long wharves and larger ships, wanted to get into the smaller, less observed and regulated docks, where a temporary berth could be bought for a few coins.
To her relief she noted that few of the guards were moving about the pier this dark evening. The skiff, even with the half-ogres splashing, had little trouble gliding into the collection of small docks to the south of the long wharves.
Gayselle shifted back and reached to the nearest brute, Grumpy, holding out a satchel that held three small vials. "Drink and shift to human form," she explained. When Grumpy gave her a lewd smile as he took the satchel, she added, "A male human form. Sheila Kree would not suffer one of you to even briefly assume the form of a woman."
That brought some more grumbling from the brutes, but they each took a bottle and quaffed the liquid contents. One after another they transformed their physical features into those of human men.
Gayselle nodded with satisfaction and took a few long and steady breaths, considering the course before her. She knew the location of the target's house, of course. It was not far from the docks, set up on a hill above a rocky cove. They had to be done with this dark business quickly, she knew, for the polymorph potions would not last for very long, and the last thing Gayselle wanted was to be walking along Waterdeep's streets accompanied by a trio of half-ogres.
The woman made up her mind then and there that if the potions wore off and her companions became obvious as intruders, she would abandon them and go off on her own, deeper into the city, where she had friends who could get her back to Sheila Kree.
They set up the boat against one of the smaller docks, tying it off beside a dozen other similar boats quietly bumping the pier with the gentle ebb and flow of the tide. With no one about, Gayselle and her three "human" escorts moved with all speed to the north, off the docks and onto the winding avenues that would take them to Captain Deudermont's house.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Not so far away, Drizzt and Catti-brie walked through Water-deep's northern gate, the drow easily brushing away the hard stares that came at him from nearly every sentry. One or two recognized him for who he was and said as much to their nervous companions, but it would take more than a few reassuring words to alleviate the average surface dweller's trepidation toward a drow elf.
It didn't bother Drizzt, for he had played through this scenario hundred times before.
"They know ye, don't ye worry," Catti-brie whispered to him.
"Some," he agreed.
"Enough," the woman said flatly. "Ye canno' be expecting all the world to know yer name."
Drizzt gave a chuckle at that and shook his head in agreement. "And I know well enough that no matter what I may accomplish in my life, I will suffer their stares." He gave a sincere smile and a shrug. "Suffer is not the right word," he assured her. "Not any more."
Catti-brie started to respond but stopped short, her defiant words defeated by Drizzt's disarming smile. She had fought this battle for acceptance beside her friend for all these years, in Icewind Dale, in Mithral Hall and Silverymoon, and even here in Waterdeep, and in every city and town along the Sword Coast during the years they sailed with Deudermont. In many ways, Catti-brie understood at that telling moment, she was more bothered by the stares than was Drizzt. She forced herself to take his lead this time, to let the looks slide off her shoulders, for surely Drizzt was doing just that. She could tell from the sincerity of his smile.
Drizzt stopped and spun about to face the guards, and the nearest couple jumped back in surprise.
"Is Sea Sprite in?" the drow asked.
"S-Sea Sprite?" one stammered in reply. "In where? What?"
An older soldier stepped by the flustered pair. "Captain Deudermont is not yet in," he explained. "Though he's expected for a last stop at least before the winter sets in."
Drizzt touched his hand to his forehead in a salute of thanks, then spun back and walked off with Catti-brie.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Delly Curtie was in fine spirits this evening. She had this feeling that Wulfgar would soon return with Aegis-fang and that she and her husband could finally get on with their lives.
Delly wasn't quite sure what that meant. Would they return to Luskan and life at the Cutlass with Arumn Gardpeck? She didn't think so. No, Delly understood that this hunt for Aegis-fang was about more than the retrieval of a warhammer - had it been just that, Delly would have discouraged Wulfgar from ever going out in search of the weapon.
This hunt was about Wulfgar finding himself, his past and his heart, and when that happened, Delly believed, he would also find his way back home - his true home, in Icewind Dale.
"And we will go there with him," she said to Colson, as she held the baby girl out at arms length.
The thought of Icewind Dale appealed to Delly. She knew the hardships of the region, knew all about the tremendous snows and powerful winds, of the goblins and the yetis and other perils. But to Delly, who had grown up on the dirty streets of Luskan, there seemed something clean about Icewind Dale, something honest and pure, and in any case, she would be beside the man she loved, the man she loved more every day. She knew that when Wulfgar found himself, their relationship would only grow stronger.
She began to sing, then, dancing gracefully around the room, swinging Colson about as she turned and skittered, this way and that.
"Daddy will be home soon," she promised their daughter, and, as if understanding, Colson laughed.
And Delly danced.
And all the world seemed beautiful and full of possibilities.
* * * * * * * * *
Captain Deudermont's house was indeed palatial, even by Waterdhavian standards. It was two stories tall, with more than a dozen rooms. A great sweeping stairway dominated the foyer, which also sported a domed alcove that held two grand wooden double doors, each decorated with the carving of one half of a three-masted schooner. When the doors were closed, the image of Sea Sprite was clear to see. A second staircase in back led to the drawing room that overlooked the rocky cove and the sea.
This was Waterdeep, the City of Splendors, a city of laws. But despite the many patrols of the fabled Waterdhavian Watch and the general civility of the populace, most of the larger houses, Deudermont's included, also employed personal guards.
Deudermont had hired two, former soldiers, former sailors, both of whom had actually served on Sea Sprite many years before. They were friends as much as hired hands, house guests as much as sentries. Though they took their job seriously, they couldn't help but be lax about their work. Every day was inevitably uneventful. Thus, the pair helped out with chores, working with Delly at repairing the shingles blown away by a sea wind, or with the nearly constant painting of the clapboards. They cooked and they cleaned. Sometimes they carried their weapons, and sometimes they did not, for they understood, and so did Deudermont, that they were there more as a preventative measure than anything else. The thieves of Waterdeep avoided homes known to house guards.
Thus the pair were perfectly unprepared for what befell the House of Deudermont that dark night.
Gayselle was the first to Deudermont's front door, accompanied by one of the brutes who, using the polymorph potion, was doing a pretty fair imitation of the physical traits of Captain Deudermont. So good, in fact, that Gayselle found herself wondering if she had misnamed the brute Dumb-bunny. With a look around to see that the streets were quiet, Gayselle nodded to Lumpy, who was standing at the end of the walk, between the two hedgerows. Immediately, the brute began rubbing its feet on the stones, gaining traction and grinning wickedly.
One of the double doors opened to the knock, just three or four inches, for it was, as expected, secured with a chain. A cleanshaven, large man with short black hair and a brow so furrowed it seemed as if it could shield his eyes from a noonday sun, answered.
"Can I help you ... ?"
His voice trailed off, though, as he scanned the man standing behind the woman, a man who surely resembled Captain Deudermont.
"I have brought the brother of Captain Deudermont," Gayselle answered. "Come to speak with his long-lost sibling."
The guard's eyes widened for just a moment, then he resumed his steely, professional demeanor. "Well met," he offered, "but I fear that your brother is not in Waterdeep at this time. Tell me where you will be staying and I will inform him as soon as he returns."
"Our funds are low," Gayselle answered quickly. "We have been on the road for a long time. We were hoping to find shelter here."
The guard thought it over for just a moment but then shook his head. His orders concerning such matters were uncompromising, despite this surprising twist, and especially so with a woman and her child as guests in the house. He started to explain, to tell them he was sorry, but that they could find shelter at one of several inns for a reasonable price.
Gayselle was hardly listening. She casually looked back down the walk, to the eager half-ogre. The pirate gave a slight nod, setting Lumpy into a charge.
"Perhaps you will then open your door for the third of my group," the woman said sweetly.
Again the guard shook his head. "I doubt - " he started to say, but then his words and his breath were stolen away as the half-ogre hit the doors in a dead run, splintering wood and tearing free the chain anchors. The guard was thrown back and to the floor, and the half-ogre stumbled in to land atop him.
In went Gayselle and the Deudermont impersonator, drawing weapons. The half-ogre willed away the illusionary image, dropping the human facade.
The guard on the floor started to call out, as he tried to scramble away from the half-ogre, but Gayselle was there, dagger in hand. With a swift and sure movement, she slashed open his throat.
The second guard came through the door at the side of the foyer. Then, his expression one of the purest horror, he sprinted for the stands.
Gayselle's dagger caught him in the back of the leg, hamstringing him. He continued on stubbornly, limping up the stairs and calling out. Dumb-bunny caught up to him and with fearful strength yanked him off the stairs and sent him flying back down to the bottom. The other half-ogre waited there.
Grumpy, still in human form, entered. He calmly closed the doors, though one no longer sat straight on its bent hinges.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Delly heard clearly the sour note from below that ended her song. Having grown up around ruffians, having seen and been involved in many, many brawls, the woman understood the gist of what was happening below.
"By the gods," she muttered, biting off a wail before it could give her and Colson away.
She hugged the child close to her and rushed to the door. She cracked it, peeked out, then swung it wide. She paused only long enough to kick off her hard shoes, knowing they would give her away, then padded quietly along the corridor between the wall and the banister. She hugged the wall, not wanting to be spotted from the foyer below, and that, she could tell from the noises - grunting and heavy punches - was where the intruders were. Had she been alone, she would have rushed down the stairs and joined in the fight, but with Colson in her arms, the woman's only thoughts were for the safety of her child.
Past the front stairs, Delly turned down a side passage and ran full out, cutting through Deudermont's personal suite to the back staircase. Down she went, holding her breath with every step, for she had no way of knowing if others might be in the house, perhaps even in the room below.
She heard a noise above her and understood that she had few options, so she pushed right through the door into the elaborate drawing room. One of the windows was open across the wide room. A chill breeze was blowing in, just catching the edge of one opened drape, fluttering it below the sash tie.
Delly considered the route. Those large windows overlooked a rocky drop to the cove. She cursed herself then for having discarded her shoes, but she knew in her heart that it made little difference. The climb was too steep and too treacherous - she doubted the intruders had gained access from that direction - and she didn't dare attempt it with Colson in her arms.
But where to go?
She turned for the room's main doors, leading to a corridor to the foyer. There were side rooms off that corridor, including the kitchen, which held a garbage chute. Thinking she and Colson could hide in there, she rushed to the doors and cracked them open - but slammed them immediately and dropped the locking bar across them when she saw the approach of hulking figures. She heard running steps on the other side, followed by a tremendous crash as someone hurled himself against the locked doors.
Delly glanced all around, to the stairs and the open window, not knowing where she should run. So flustered was she that she didn't even see another form slip into the room.
The doors got hit again and started to crack. Delly heard one powerful man pounding hard against the wood. The woman retreated.
Then came some running footsteps, and another threw himself against the doors. They burst open, a large hulking form going down atop the pile of kindling. A woman entered, flanked by one, and the second as the door-breaker stood up. They were two of the ugliest, most imposing brutes Delly Curtie had ever seen. She didn't know what they were, having had few experiences outside of Luskan, but from their splotchy greenish skin and sheer size she understood that they had to be some kind of giantkin.
"Well, well, pretty one," said the strange woman with a wicked smile. "You're not thinking of leaving before the party is over, are you?"
Delly turned for the stairs but didn't even start that way, seeing yet another of the brutes slowly descending, eyeing her lewdly with every step.
Delly considered the window behind her, the one that she and Wulfgar used to spend so many hours at, watching the setting sun or the reflection of the stars on the dark waters. She couldn't possibly get out and away without being caught, but she honestly considered that route anyway, thought of running full speed and throwing herself and Colson down onto the rocks, ending it quickly and mercifully.
Delly Curtie knew this type of ruffian and understood that she was surely doomed.
The woman and her two companions took a step toward her.
The window, Delly decided. She turned and fled, determined to leap far and wide to ensure a quick and painless end.
But the third giantkin had come down from the stairs by then, Delly's hesitation costing her the suicidal escape. The brute caught her easily with one huge arm, pinning her tightly to its massive chest.
It turned back, laughing, and was joined by the howls of its two ogre companions. The woman, though, seemed hardly amused. She stalked up to Delly, eyeing her every inch.