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Disclaimer: I do not own Forgotten Realms or any canonical characters or locations that may be mentioned. They are the property of Wizards of the Coast. All OCs are mine.

Author's notes: Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] lady_rilwen and [livejournal.com profile] lycaenion as ever, for their encouragement and help.

The previous chapter may be found here: Prologue



Chapter One

It was a beautiful spring day in Everlund. As usual, it was also a busy day, and the streets were lively, especially at noon. Visiting merchants, tradesmen and craftsmen of every description, scholars, warriors, local rangers and adventurers from across Faerun went about their business with a decent level of goodwill.

Amongst the crowd was a young man of maybe sixteen years, who had just slipped out of a cooper's by the back door and was now heading towards the nearby Silver Moon Gate, the north-western gate of the city. Nothing about him particularly stood out, except perhaps his bright red hair, his relaxed smile, and the way he seemed to be trying a bit too hard to look nonchalant. His name was Rydel, and he was headed for the Stag at Bay, one of the more popular taverns in Everlund, for his midday meal.

The Stag at Bay, a favoured place for hunters and adventurers to gather, always had a full, noisy taproom at this time of day. Rydel slipped in and, after negotiating around a particularly riotous table, caught the eye of the owner, who was comfortably settled behind the bar. Belstram, an old ex-adventurer running slightly to seed, gave him a grin of recognition. "Back for more tales, lad? Your da'll be none too pleased if you're here till sundown again."

This evoked a wince - the young man clearly remembered all too well the tongue-lashing he'd received not a tenday ago for missing an entire afternoon's work - and a brief grin in return. "I'll be more careful this time," he replied, rummaging for a couple of coins. "A bit of bread and cheese, and some ale?"

"Coming right up. Find y'self a seat - if you're looking for something interesting to hear, bunch over by the window just came in from up near Silverymoon." Belstram nodded at the group in question, a somewhat rowdy but cheerful cluster of about a dozen humans and dwarves.

Rydel's face lit up, and he headed over towards them, finding a seat in a corner nearby. He'd long since learned that the best way to hear stories from strangers was to make himself unobtrusive; nobody paid attention to a boy barely of age who was just looking for an exciting story.

As he found an unoccupied stool, however, he was spotted by one of the adventurers in question. "Well, if it isn't young Rydel! Why don't you join us, lad? We've a few tales you might care to hear."

It was Tastan, one of the local rangers who had a bit of a reputation for signing up with adventurers as a guide and winding up in somewhat madcap adventures. Rydel had known him for several years now, being one of the most enthusiastic audiences for any tales he cared to share. If he was involved with this group, it would likely be an interesting account.

Needing no further bidding, Rydel tugged his seat over and made himself comfortable at the table. Tastan proceeded to whisk him through the introductions with a speed that left the young man a bit dazed. He only picked up a couple of names - Leumas, a dark-haired, laid-back fighter who was apparently the leader of the little band, and Domnar, who looked to be the oldest dwarf there and seemed rather reserved, at least compared to the rest of his rowdy companions.

With only a little encouragement from the rest of the group, who all seemed rather pleased with themselves, Tastan quickly launched into a thrilling tale of the trip they'd had from Silverymoon. While such a journey was not usually fraught with dire peril - it was a trip that could generally be made in a few days without any major hindrances - a fight with an unusually stubborn band of bugbears had forced them up into the Nether Mountains.

Rydel listened in awed silence, barely paying attention to his meal due to his absorption in the narrative. They had spent a tenday or so navigating the inhospitable terrain, hindered by trying to avoid orc hunting bands. The savage tribes had been growing in number, and after the harsh winter were clearly in need of food. It had mostly been Tastan's extensive knowledge of the area that had enabled their survival, at least to hear him tell it - and he did so with more than a little swagger, although the occasional snort from Domnar served to make it clear there was a fair bit of embellishment going on.

They hadn't been able to avoid one encounter, however; coming down into the foothills, a band of maybe thirteen orcs had crossed their trail, and decided to track them. Luckily for Tastan and Domnar's band, they became aware of the pursuit just in time. "Thanks to Obryn here for that; we'd have been far worse off if he hadn't spotted them coming," the ranger said cheerily, clapping the youngest dwarf on the shoulder. Obryn just grinned and took another gulp of ale, basking in the praise.

A lengthy description of the battle was clearly forthcoming, but at that juncture Rydel, having just noted the sun's position, started up from his seat hastily. "I'm sorry to leave you like this, but Father'll be after my hide if I stay any longer," he said, a little mournfully.

Tastan chuckled and gave him an understanding nod. "Go on with you then," he replied. "Come and find me this evening, or tomorrow maybe; I hate leaving a tale unfinished."

"Don't we know it," Domnar muttered, though without any real rancour. "Ye've only been tellin' 'em since we got out o' Silverymoon."

Rydel gave them both an endearing grin. "I'll look forward to it," he said brightly, grabbing the last of his cheese off his plate and heading out of the tavern hurriedly.

It wasn't quite as late as he had thought, he realised once he got out onto the street, but all the same it was probably for the best if he got back to the workshop soon. Munching on his cheese, he made his way back at a quick walk, trying to think up a good explanation for disappearing this long when he knew perfectly well he was supposed to be working. It wasn't his fault the idea of wandering the wilds was more interesting than barrels, though.

He ducked back into the building, intending to get right back to planing barrel staves, but his attempt at stealth was not enough to hide him from his father's eye, and he froze as a stern voice rang out. "And just where've you been, hm?"

"I, ah..." Rydel turned to face the burly man with a sheepish smile that quickly faded at the look he received. It was clear excuses would not be of much help this time. Fiskal's expression was one of thorough disapproval beneath his untidy, wood-shaving-decorated blond hair as he regarded his son. "Well?"

"Just up to the Stag to get something to eat, I didn't even finish before I started back, I -"

"It can't take that long just to get a bite, lad. We have customers to satisfy, and if you're not pulling your weight, we don't get paid. You spend more time round those rangers and other mad folk than you do at your work. You're going to be the ruin of me, slipping off to hear stories." Fiskal shook his head a little, dislodging a few of the wood shavings. "Who was it today?"

Rydel fidgeted a bit guiltily. "Tastan just got in with a company from Silverymoon. But I really did hurry back as soon as I got him to stop talking," the young man protested feebly.

There was an exasperated groan, and Fiskal shook his head again. "Get on back to work, then, and don't let me catch you slipping in like this again."

Rydel meekly nodded and entered the workshop without another word. His father watched him go with an expression that seemed to combine exasperation, affection and, strangely enough, a little sympathy. As the rasp of plane against wood reached him, Fiskal sighed quietly and headed back into the main shop.

"I guess it's in the blood, lad," he murmured as he picked up the account book. "Just wish your head'd stop listening to it so much."
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