Angel of Death, Chapter 30
Waterdeep: Journey's End
The Tidestorm made its painfully slow way towards Waterdeep, and within two days the city came into sight.
The weather had been changing the farther north they traveled, but it had been such a gradual change that they had not noticed. Now, as if they had crosed some invisible boundary, they began to feel the bitter chill of the north.
The wind was stiff and the water was cold here, even in the summer.
They approached the port walls, which were broken apart in one place so ships could pass into the harbor. The walls were manned, and at each side of the gate stood two small fortresses. Beyond the port walls, little could be seen of the city except for the mountain which loomed over the left side of the city. Mount Waterdeep, no doubt.
The one on the right is the Outer Fort. The one on the left is Smuggler's Bane Tower," remarked the first mate, following Athos' gaze.
"A tower? Why is it called a tower? It looks more like a fortress."
"It is a fortress, but it's called Smuggler's Bane Tower," the man replied, shrugging. "Don't know why."
Athos looked harder at the mountain. "There's a small stronghold at the peak."
"Yeah, that's where they keep the gryphons. They call it Peaktop Eyrie."
The man glanced at him. "You never heard of them? They've got trained gryphons that the Waterdeep guardsmen can ride into battle. Sort of an aerial attack force."
They passed through the gates slowly, the men at the ramparts on either side cocking casual glances at them, but not saying anything.
The first thing Athos noted was that the port was by far the largest he had ever seen. It fairly bustled with ships, both docking and departing. From within, he could see that there were two other gates such as the one the Tidestorm had entered, and a naval mini-port to his left, where sleek warships waited should Waterdeep ever be attacked by sea.
It was then that Athos caught sight of the city. He gave a low whistle.
It was big, much larger than he had thought, and it stretched over a low hill and around Mount Waterdeep farther than he could see. He had assumed hat Waterdeep was just another small northern city. He had heard, of course, that it was one of the biggest cities on the entire coast, maybe even the entire continent, but had discounted such stories as the bragging of northern barbarians and traders. Now he had to admit that it was the largest city he had ever seen, certainly larger than Zazesspur, and perhaps even larger than Calimport.
A moments later the Tidestorm docked, and a large muscular man clad in the uniform of one of the city guardsmen came aboard.
"Name of ship?" he barked, pulling a small notepad out, preparing to jot down the information he needed.
"The Tidestorm," said Athos.
"Name of captain?"
There was a pause as Athos considered what to answer.
"Athos," he said at last, a little hesitantly.
The man looked up. "Full name?"
The man cocked an eyebrow but returned his gaze to his pad.
"Length of stay?"
"We have none."
The man looked up again. "I'll have to check that."
Athos shrugged. "Fine by me," he said, nodding assent, and a few moments later the man had completed his search belowdecks.
"You have no cargo, but
quite a bit of treasure," the man says. "I see bales of silk, jewelry, fine clothing, coins from half a dozen lands. This is a pirate ship, isn't it?"
"It was," corrected Athos. "Until they attacked the ship I was traveling aboard. Now it's my ship."
The man rubbed his chin. "I see. The docking fee is five golds."
Athos paid it.
The man smiled. "I'm afraid we also have a harbor tax. We're doing extensive repairs on the port walls, as you can see."
Athos looked but saw nothing to indicate stonework of any kind. "Of course," he said. "Exactly how much is the harbor fee?"
"Five hundred gold pieces."
"What?" exclaimed the first mate. "That's robbery!"
"You can pay it," said the man. "I've seen your holds. If you don't want to pay the tax you can leave. Waterdeep would be well rid of a pirate ship, 'former' or not."
Athos shrugged. He had little use for money in any case, and he wasn't going to let a petty bribe stop him from his goal. "Go below," he instructed the mate, "and fetch the required sum."
The guardsman's eyes narrowed as he scrutinized Athos' face. "You really mean to pay it?"
"Then you must have important business here. Keep in mind that the city watch will be keeping a sharp eye on your activities."
Athos shrugged. "I don't plan on doing anything illegal during my stay here. In fact, you can help me. I need directions to The Shining Cradle. It's an inn, or a tavern.
"Jitinder, you will remain aboard with Artemis, while I go to The Shining Cradle. I don't think that word has traveled this far north, so I should be able to slip in and out of the city with relatively little trouble."
"If word hasn't traveled this far yet, than why should I stay with Artemis?" argued Jitinder.
Athos sighed. Because I don't want you to killed, he thought silently. "I didn't mean that word hasn't reached the guilds here. I just meant that the average ne'er-do-well on the street probably knows nothing of the amulet or its value. The thieves guild here will almost definitely be aware of it, and probably will know of your presence as well."
"There ain't no thieves' guild in Waterdeep," piped up the third mate helpfully.
"What?" asked Jitinder, amazed.
"Ain't had one here in years. That's not to say there's no crime element, mind, but there ain't no thieves' guild."
Wonderful, thought Athos. "The crime element is what I'm worried about," he said aloud.
"I don't see why," said Jitinder. "You just said you thought the average man on the street would know nothing of the amulet."
Athos sighed in frustration. This was getting difficult. "Jitinder, all I'm saying is that we have no idea who knows about us here, and I don't want to take chances. When we arrived in Baldur's Gate, we assumed there would be trouble, even though we didn't know for certain that there would be. Because of that, we're alive. Why take chances in Waterdeep?"
Jitinder shook his head, unconvinced, but said nothing more.
Athos sighed. "All right then. If I don't return in two days assume I'm dead, and leave Waterdeep immediately. There will still be people after both of you, hoping to use you to get to me, but if you lay low for a month or so it should blow over. Jitinder, I know you can hide. Protect Artemis for me."
"But how will we know for sure?" asked Artemis, concerned. "Whether your dead or alive?"
"Because I would return if I could."
* * *
Athos left them standing on the deck of the Tidestorm, gazing after him as he melted into the morning crowds of merchants, sailors, fishermen, and dock workers that bustled around the docks.
Athos left Dock Street, the street that ran almost completely around the perimeter of the harbor, and turned left onto Ship Street, passing two taverns and continuing around a curve the left, passing The Hanging Lantern, an escort service.
He turned right onto Presper Street, and continued down its entire length, emerging onto Snail Street, one of the major thoroughfares of Waterdeep.
As he made his way up Snail Street and left the Dock Ward behind him, he began to get a feel for this city. There was a magical feeling in the air, as if anything could happen here. Calimport had seemed decadent, but Waterdeep was energetic, fresh, alive. There was a power here, an almost tangible force that drove these people, and Athos exhulted in the feel of it.
Occasionally someone would pass a disinterested gaze over the amulet that hung at his neck, but it was one of appraisal, not of recognition. No-one seemed to take special notice of him or the amulet, and he concluded that word of it had not yet reached this far north.
Waterdeep Way crossed Snail Street in a broad intersection filled with throngs of people of all walks of life. Beyond, Snail Street opened onto the High Road, Waterdeep's largest and most frequented thoroughfare. From here he could see clearly Castle Waterdeep to the left, standing high on the slopes of Mount Waterdeep and towering over the various inns, businesses, and towers of the city. Farther ahead and to his left stood the shining white walls of Percival's Palace, nestled in a curve of Mount Waterdeep.
He continued up High Road, leaving Mount Waterdeep behind him. After passing the huge market of Waterdeep he started looking for Sulmoor Street.
A few minutes of walking later he turned right onto Sulmoor Street and continued down it. From here, he could make out the city walls, and one of the watch towers that stood along them.
He continued down Sulmoor Street, turning left on Bronder's Way.
There, not thirty yards from him on his left, stood The Shining Cradle.
And standing before him were thirty guardsmen, armed and waiting.
"You will come with us, please," said the captain.
* * *
Jitinder paced the deck of the Tidestorm restlessly.
"He'll be back," Artemis assured him.
"Or he won't," replied Jitinder. "And either way I'll have missed my chance."
He resumed his pacing,
then turned and fixed on Artemis, lashing out at her as if it were her fault. "And why will I have missed my chance? Because I'm sitting here protecting someone who doesn't need any protection, that's why!"
"Calm down Jitinder," said Artemis. "Show some self control. You can't live your life on hate alone."
The first mate smoked a pipe impassively a few feet away, surveying the scene with interest.
Jitinder whirled away, still angry. "You're so frightened I'll get hurt! Why? I’m not some weakling to be coddled. I can take care of myself!"
“No-one’s saying you’re weak, Jitinder-”
He snorted. “Don’t patronize me.”
“Then don’t patronize me,” she rejoined angrily. “You want to run off and get yourself killed, fine. But don’t ask me to say it’s a good idea.”
He turned away from her and was silent for a long moment. He took one step towards the gangplank, then another, and another. "I'm leaving now,” he said coldly.
“Wait,” said Artemis, suddenly contrite, “I didn’t mean to be curt-”
“I’m leaving now,” repeated Jitinder, not looking back. He stepped off the gangplank and onto the dock. A few minutes later he had melted into the crowds.
Artemis turned and paced twice across the deck, then turned and followed Jitinder's path, walking off the gangplank and down the dock.
* * *
"Where exactly are we going?" asked Athos He walked beside the guardcaptain, with two rows of city guardsmen in front and behind, surrounding him on all sides.
"That is priviliged information, sir," the man responded impassively, "that I cannot divulge. Need to know basis only."
"I need to know."
"I'm afraid that is the last thing you need to know, sir."'
They continued on in silence for some time, making their way through a maze of back streets and alleyways. Athos noted the twisting path they followed, and toyed with the idea that the guardsmen were trying to get him lost. If this was the case they failed, for Athos was mentally taking down notes so he would later be able to accurately retrace his steps.
After a time he spoke again. "Am I under arrest?"
"No, sir. We would have taken your weapons and restrained you if that was the case."
"So I am free to go as I please?"
"No, you are not free either, sir. Consider yourself a guest."
"An unwilling guest is a prisoner."
"Then consider yourself a prisoner, sir. You are not under arrest and you are not free to leave our company."
They marched on for some time, then halted before a square tower of average height and dimension. Two other guardsmen waited beside the open portal, and they ushered Athos in, closing the door behind him.
The light within was dim, as if the room had purposely been built to make it difficult for people entering to see what was within so they would be cowed. Athos' keen eyes noted everything, though. A large stocky man possessing bushy black hair with a stripe of pure white through it and a matching beard sat behind a rather large desk, eyeing Athos curiously.
"Who are you and what do you want with me?" Athos asked him levelly.
If the man was surprised that Athos' vision had adjusted to the gloom he did not show it. "I am Khelben Arunsun. Please sit down."
Athos was still a moment. Then he moved to the proffered chair and sat. "I've heard of you, Blackstaff. You're a mage. A powerful one."
A chuckle came from deep within Khelben's chest. "Blackstaff? Is my nickname so popular then? Would be interested in learning how I acquired it?"
Athos shrugged. "It is, I would not, and you haven't answered my first question."
Khelben's smile turned hard, and a steely look came into his eyes. "Short and to the point. I had heard that about you. But I suppose I should have expected it. You are Entreri trained."
Athos said nothing, but his head cocked in curiosity. Entreri trained? What was that supposed to mean?
Khelben misread Athos' look. "Yes, I know who you are and who your master is. I know what you are here for."
"I confess that I do not," said Athos pointedly, glancing at the room around him.
"I wasn't referring to your presence here. I meant the reason why you are in Waterdeep."
"You know what I am here for?"
The mage nodded. "All the Lords of the city are aware of you."
The Lords of Waterdeep knew of him? But then they would. They were aware of many things. Athos found himself wondering if the rumors were true that Khelben was one of the mysterious 'lords', the rulers of the city.
"Why do you delay me, then? Nothing I am here to do is illegal, and I wish to conclude my business as soon as possible."
A hard light came into Khelben's eyes. "Are you so certain that bloodshed is acceptable under Waterdeep law?"
Athos was honestly taken aback. "I didn't come here to shed anyone's blood, though I admit I will take the life of anyone who tries to take mine."
Khelben ignored his statement. "When they first learned you were coming, the Lords wanted to execute you as soon as you arrived. They wanted you dead. Several of them still do. Percival, for one."
Percival, the lord paladin, was the only Lord of Waterdeep whose identity was not wreathed in secrecy. He was first, last, and all the way through a paladin, utterly devoted to the tenets of law and goodness, and completely committed to eliminating all evil from the face of the world.
Khelben continued. "It was I who argued against the idea, I who talked them out of it."
"Why?" asked Athos dryly.
"For one, I suspect that any attempt at eliminating you would mean losing a good many of our city guardsmen before they brought you down."
"If they brought me down."
Khelben stared at him. "They would have brought you down, boy. You're good but you aren't that good."
Athos said nothing.
"In the second place, I saw a chance - however slim - to use the situation to our direct advantage. You might - just might - be able to end the Entreri's reign of terror."
Khelben's second mention of the mysterious name peaked Athos' interest. "Entreri?" he asked. "If you're talking about the Entreri troop, they've been disposed of. If you're talking about the original Entreri, he's been dead for centuries. Either way I don't see what it has to do with me."
Khelben stared at him for a long moment, then shook his head in disbelief. "You really don't know. It's his name. His name. He didn't die centuries ago, though by every natural law he should have."
Athos was silent. "The Viper," he said at last. "You're saying... you're saying that the Viper and this 'Entreri' are one and the same."
"The Entreri. There is only one."
Athos shook his head. "Impossible."
There was a moment of silence. "Even if I believed you," said Athos, "and I don't, what makes you think I can kill him when even you cannot?"
"I would never be able to find him. You can."
Athos gave a thin-lipped smile. "Go to The Shining Cradle. He'll be waiting to meet me there. You want him? Go get him. He's there, all the Viper you can handle."
Khelben chuckled. "You think I haven't tried? You think others haven't? The man cannot be found unless he wishes to be found. If I went to this... tavern you speak of, I would not find him. He would be disguised, he would vanish, he would be gone like smoke through fingers. Only you can find him. Only you."
"Little good that does you," said Athos. "I can't kill him. He would kill me. He taught me, after all, and I am enough of a student to know that the master's skills far surpass my own."
Khelben nodded sagely. "Which is exactly why I had you escorted here." He stood and took two steps to the side, stepping to a dark wooden cabinet standing behind him.
He opened it, his back to Athos, and rummaged around within for a moment. Athos kept his seat, but watched the mage's broad back. It crossed his mind that it made a very inviting target, that Khelben was a fool for trusting his back to a stranger.
When Khelben turned back he was holding a sheathed shortsword in one hand and a black cloth in the other.
He placed the shortsword on the table between them and slowly unwound the inky black cloth, revealing a dagger and a ring within. Athos thought that the cloth must be some sort of protective padding, but Khelben handled it as delicately and carefully as the items it had been wound around, and when he let it fall to its full length Athos saw that it was a cloak.
"It is true," said the big mage, "that if you faced Entreri-"
"The Viper," Athos corrected.
Khelben nodded. "The Viper, then, if it you prefer it. Should you face him armed as you now are, the chances of your successfully defeating him are... not good. With that thought in mind, I took the liberty of perusing some of the items in the Waterdeep Magical Treasury."
He handed Athos the shortsword. "This is an elven blade, enchanted with sorceries to make it seek enemy flesh and wound deeply." Athos lifted it, unsheathed it in one smooth motion, and felt the heft of it. It was superb in weight and form.
"The dagger is also heavily enchanted," Khelben continued. "Not only is it a useful weapon in combat - note the light weight - but it bestows magical protection upon the bearer."
Athos fingered the dagger. It was a poinard of excellent make. "And the cloak and ring?"
"Both are enchanted, the cloak the more powerful of the two. The ring affords magical agility and some measure of protection against enemy weapons. The cloak... does many things. The only thing you need to know about it is that when you wear it, you are more difficult to hit. Coupled with the dagger and the ring, it should make you a very difficult target."
Athos lifted the ring, examining it. It was golden and completely smooth both inside and out. "Why is it unmarked?" he asked.
"It must attune to you before its magics engage. Only you can mark it, and when you do it will be attuned to you alone."
Athos glanced up from his examination of the weapons with an amused expression on his face. "Very nice. Magical weapons and shielding... Very nice. But I'm afraid you haven't considered one thing. Why do you think I'm going to kill the Viper?"
Khelben said nothing, just sat staring flatly at him.
"You seem certain that I will," said Athos, shaking his head, "but I assure you, I have no intention of engaging in such a fool's errand, magical toys or not."
"Only time will tell," said Khelben enigmatically.
"I see. Then these weapons... they are mine to keep?"
Khelben nodded. "Until you have slain the Viper. Then of course we'll want them back."
"And I am free to go?"
Again the mage nodded.
Athos stood, gathered up the items laid out across the table, gave a quick bow, and left.