Raven's Child

Congratulations, YOU HAVE FOUND A HIDDEN FILE. Go ahead and read if you like, but please keep in mind that I have hidden these for a reason. These are bad or controversial works that I am more ashamed of than my other work ... or in the words of Shakespeare
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended—
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend.
If you pardon, we will mend.

Disclaimer 1: Most of this is fanfic. That means I do not own any of it. I just borrow it to play with for a little while and let people see the pathetic results if they really want to.

Disclaimer 2: I'm not making any money from it. It's just for fun.

Disclaimer 3: What isn't borrowed is all made up. None of this is real or most likely at all realistic. Please don't trust any of the information in here. Most likely you know more about whatever I'm writing about than I do.

Disclaimer 4: Attitudes, views and opinions expressed by the characters or in the story are not necessarily those of the author. Even when writing Science Fiction or Fantasy I do not tend to attempt to create perfect/better worlds in which everybody gets a happy end ... or whatever is best for them. Please accept that some characters will have a bad ending or be unhappy.

Disclaimer 5: I intend no insult to anyone. If I offend anyone I'm very sorry. Please understand that it was an accident as I tend to be very clumsy in these things.

Disclaimer 6: If my characters' conversations seem odd or they appear to be talking past each other the latter might occasionally be intentional, but most likely it is an accident and I'm not aware that they are. It's just my bad communication skills.

So there was this site with the writing challenge 'role reversal'. The more I thought about it the less it sounded like something I could do. So I decided to try. Just for myself, with no intention to ever show it to anyone. Accordingly this is sloppy in many ways, I didn't do all the research I should have - heck, I never even named the drug! - I haven't proofread it and pretty much everybody's OOC. As for what Mirt's doing in here: I was still working on this when the site posted its next challenge: old friends - and Mirt just happened (when I really have no idea what interactions those two have had in the past ...) The title's take from a John Denver song by the way. It makes sense to me at least ...

Raven's Child

Well, they might as well make themselves comfortable. Elaith gave the bunk a quick prod and since it appeared to be stable enough stretched out on it. The ceiling looked grey, bare and barren. That at least hadn't changed since his last stay. He already missed the sky.

He decided to look elsewhere instead. Danilo however was still staring at the ground. The lack of inane comments was somehow even more troubling than the lack of sky.

"I know this isn't exactly what you're used to, Lord Thann," he attempted. "But since we are going to be here a while you might as well sit down, you know."

Nothing. He'd never been good at this.

"Oh, come on Danilo! Standing around looking miserable isn't going to help." Still nothing. "Danilo? ... Dan?"

"I ... I'm sorry," Danillo all but sobbed.

Well, at least he was talking.

"So am I," Elaith admitted lightly. "This isn't exactly what either of us meant to achieve. Care to enlighten me why I confessed to the crimes of an unknown business rival I heartily wish to one of the less pleasant nether planes?"

Danilo glanced at him, eyes glistening. Oh damnit!

"I don't ... I'm just ... I'm so, so sorry! I shouldn't have made you ..."

"Piergieron never believed one word of it anyway." Well, maybe at first. Elaith was pretty sure that one of the other two Lords at his trial had been Mirt, though. And Mirt certainly knew both Undermountain and the Waterdeep business world too well not to see through Elaith's hastily concocted reasoning, but then what sensible reason could there be not to smuggle drugs through Skullport? Elaith was almost sure his mysterious rival simply didn't know how to get there, and even Piergieron would probably have burst out laughing, if he'd tried to claim that he didn't.

"I shouldn't have tried to blame it on you in the first place," Danilo admitted. "I panicked."

"It could have worked," Elaith pointed out. "It's not like they don't know that I've smuggled drugs before, even if they've never caught me. It was just your bad luck that they've traced the stuff far enough to know that it can't be any of the established players behind that particular drug."

"That's not the point," Danilo snapped. "I should not have tried to cover up my crime by implicating you. If they hadn't seen through it you'd have been in a lot more trouble than I am. I might have gotten off with just a fine if I'd just confessed. First offence and pretty small at that."

"No, you wouldn't," Elaith corrected him. "Piergieron wants you in here until he's taken this gang out. For your own safety. And he is right, much as I wanted to spare you. You don't know what drug gangs do to disobedient mules. I do. I've seen it. I've done it. It isn't pretty. You're safer here and I think you'll find that the place isn't nearly as bad as you fear of it."

Danilo finally sat down.

"It's not prison I'm afraid of," he admitted. "Do you have any idea how hard it was to look Piergieron in the eyes? I've ... I ... He's a friend of the family you might say, and he's always been kind to me. And ... and now ... He'll tell my uncle, or maybe he already has. Oh Lady Mystra, what if it actually was Khelben and Leral behind those masks?"

And Leral? That possibility had never occurred to Elaith. He tucked the information away for future reference.

"It wasn't," he said. "I'm pretty sure one of them was Mirt."

Danilo groaned. "Another old friend of the family."

"Are there actually any Lords that aren't?" Elaith asked pointedly.

"Well, if Piergieron doesn't tell Uncle Khelben, you can be sure Mirt will," Danilo sobbed. Actually sobbed! "I can't face Uncle Khelben, Elaith. He's ... he's ... the only real father I've ever had. I mean, he was always there, he taught me ... and you know how he can get."

Elaith was beginning to be seriously concerned. Danilo had gone deathly pale, his hands were shaking, sweat beading on his forehead. Sure, he understood how hard it was to face a much admired parental figure after you'd so utterly failed their expectations. He still found it hard to look Queen Amlaruil in the eyes, even through a mirror of communication, but Danilo had disappointed and exasperated Khelben Arunsun before - only too often deliberately - and never lost his sense of humour over it. This physical reaction was completely incongruous. It looked almost like ...

"Danilo, you didn't actually take that stuff yourself!"

"Oh, please don't let them know! If Uncle Khelben finds out that ..." Danilo whimpered.

By the time Khelben Arunsun did show up Danilo was shaking like a leaf and since obviously the Archmage of Waterdeep didn't have to bother with normal visiting hours or procedures he found his nephew huddling against the wall with both his and Elaith's blankets wrapped tightly around him and unmistakable tear-tracks running down his much too pale cheeks and Elaith sitting beside him one gently comforting hand on his shoulder.

At the sound of the Archmage's footsteps stopping at the door of the cell the elf turned towards him, through, and looked into the stern dark eyes.

"Please," he said. "Don't shout."

Khelben looked at the shivering bundle of misery and nodded once before stepping aside to allow the warden access to the keyhole. Elaith stood up to face the back wall, hands flat against the cold stone where the warden could clearly see them without being told. He'd been in prison before and right now he wasn't ashamed to show it. He felt relieved when nobody bothered with an attempt to make Danilo do the same.

From this position he could no longer see Khelben or the warden, but he heard the key turn in the lock, the door squeak open and the footsteps approaching from behind. It took some self-control not to whirl around and face the threat.

Another squeak, the clang of metal on metal and again the sound of the key. What in the world? Slowly, so it wouldn't be perceived as an attack, and careful to leave his hands in their proper position as long as possible Elaith turned around.

The archmage stood next to the bunk silently looking down at Danilo. The warden had indeed remained outside and even stepped back from the door to allow the mage some semblance of privacy, but he was still watching them. Elaith remained where he was. The last thing he needed was to be perceived as threatening the Archmage of Waterdeep in any way.

Suddenly Khelben turned his head slightly and glanced at him. Unsure what was expected of him Elaith backed straight into the wall.

The archmage's mouth twitched in a rare hint of amusement. Then he sat in exactly the place Elaith had vacated at his arrival.


"I'm sorry," Danilo whispered. "So sorry."

Khelben once again looked at Elaith. "Has a healer seen ... this?"

Elaith shook his head. "It only started after they left us here. And it hasn't been long."

"How long?"

"An hour or two maybe."

Danilo whimpered. He probably realised it'd be two or three days before he could hope to start feeling a little better again.

"I'll see whether I can get them to send one," Khelben promised. "This might require medication."

Elaith nodded his thanks. If Khelben wanted to fool himself. Elaith knew that there was no medicine that could help Danilo now. He had to go through this. Anything else would only make things worse for him later.

"You young fool," Khelben told Danilo affectionately.

Then he got up again and stood facing Elaith.

"Can't you just tell Piergieron what you know, Craulnober?" he suggested. "It can't do Danilo any more harm, but it would help of course, and if we can recover the source, well, surely that is in your interest as well as in Danilo's and Piergieron's?"

Elaith lowered his eyes. He didn't want Danilo to know this, but ... Khelben would be a powerful enemy and there was no need to anger him by being obstinate when he surely would approve his motivation.

"If I do," he whispered so softly only elves ears could hear. "I'll go free, and Danilo will be left to go through this alone."

"Perhaps you might reconsider in a day or two then?"

Elaith smiled. Another piece of information gained, though this one he had long suspected. "Perhaps."

Khelben nodded, bent down to whisper something into Danilo's ear and turned to the door. Elaith resumed his position against the wall until he heard the door close and the key turn once again.

Danilo was still shaking, but no longer crying when he sat back down.

"Well, that wasn't so bad," Elaith remarked. "I think you might just survive this."

There were no further disturbances that night, neither Arilyn nor any members of the Thann family having that much influence, but Elaith got very little chance to reverie anyway. Danilo was in too much pain to sleep and required comfort. There were some moments when Elaith wished there were somebody else around to give it.

The new warden that arrived in the morning took one long look at Danilo, then shrugged and handed Elaith their breakfast through the bars.

"I expect he won't want any, but do try to get him to drink something," he remarked.

Elaith nodded and went to try to coax Danilo to eat anyway. Not that the food looked like it was quite the thing to feed sick humans, but he doubted that they'd receive anything more suitable for lunch and sooner or later Danilo would have to eat something.

Right now Danilo wasn't interested in food or drink, or in fact anything at all.

"Just kill me now," he whimpered when Elaith sat down beside him with the bowl of food in his hand.

"Why, what's the matter now?" Elaith asked warily.

In response Danilo just stared at the sore spots that had appeared on the backs of his hands during the night. "Going to scar."

Elaith put his arm around the shivering human and squeezed him comfortingly. "Come on, have some breakfast."

What else could he say? 'Yes, I know. You've got some in your face, too, by the way.'? It was a pity, because Danilo had been quite handsome for a human, but there was nothing that could be done about it and Elaith doubted that Arilyn would be bothered about something as superficial as her boyfriend's looks. Surely, if she did, she'd have chosen himself over Danilo in the first place.

Danilo ignored the offer of food. "Everybody will see," he sobbed.

"And how many will know what they're seeing?" He felt a little more comfortable with this aspect of the problem at least. "Once they dry out, they'll probably look close enough to smallpox scars not to attract attention."

Danilo cried some more and Elaith held him, because he didn't know what else to do. If he was so worried about others finding out, why had he taken a drug known to leave tell-tale withdrawal scars in the first place?

He patted Danilo's arm gently, and once again tried to put together the puzzle. He couldn't answer the question why Danilo had even tried such a dangerous substance, but it wasn't hard to imagine where he'd been introduced to it. One of those silly noble parties, or a night out with his inane highborn friends. Too many of Waterdeep's idle young nobles were too stupid to see the danger of such things and had sufficient money to waste on them. One of them had brought the drugs and offered to share.

Danilo wasn't stupid, though, even though he liked to pretend that he was. He must have realised the danger. Why had he accepted? Elaith wished he dared just ask him, demand an explanation, but it would sound too much like blame and Danilo was miserable enough as it was.

Had one try been enough to get addicted? Elaith didn't know enough about this particular drug to discard the possibility entirely, but it wasn't the case with any of the stuff he currently dealt in. Why couldn't Danilo have gotten into some of that instead? Then at least he'd know what he was dealing with ... No! no, no, no no no. He couldn't possibly bear the thought that he himself might have profited from Danilo's misery. It was better this way.

So most likely Danilo had enjoyed the experience, suffered no ill effects and foolishly come back for more until he really did get addicted. But why hadn't he seen the danger? He wasn't as foolish as his idiotic friends. He must have known what he was risking.

And then? Danilo was rich enough to afford his addiction. He shouldn't have needed to turn to crime. Why had he started selling or at least transporting the stuff himself?

Elaith knew the business of course, he knew how to find mules and how to ensure their loyalty. Danilo didn't have to do it for money, but he would have been dependent on his dealer to get the drug - though he could always have come to Elaith for an alternative. Had he known Elaith wouldn't be able to supply him with this particular drug? Elaith didn't think it likely, and even if he had, he must have known that Elaith could get him a substitute.

He'd have given him something mild, though, Elaith thought, something a lot less likely to kill him, if he overdosed and with lesser side-effects. Get him used to that first and then off drugs entirely, keep him safe.

Well, it was too late for that now. Danilo hadn't come to him.

"You know, you could have told me, don't you," he hadn't meant to ask, but it just slipped out.

Danilo looked at him with his tear-stained face.

"It's just, if you'd come to me early enough, I'd have got you something that doesn't leave scars. It'd still be hell to get off of, but ... no scars and no ..."

"You'd have known to get us out of that raid, too, wouldn't you?" Danilo asked dully. "If you'd known they'd actually find something."

"You wouldn't have been carrying anything to find. You bet I'd have made sure you weren't running around the whole city carrying that stuff."

Another sob. He squeezed some more.

"Well," he declared. "No use crying over spilled milk. We'll survive."

Not money, or the threat of losing his drug supply, no, but it was obvious how terrified Danilo was that others might find out he was addicted. Simple blackmail then, and Danilo had slipped from merely endangering himself into actual crime.

Perhaps it was for the best, though. In here there was no way to get any more drugs, no giving up, no risk of relapse. At least Danilo would be clean when he got out.

The warden came to fetch Danilo about two hours later. Ah yes, visiting hours ought to have started about now. Elaith stretched out on his blanket-less bunk and got some reverie while his patient was away. He knew no visitors would come for him. Tincheron was terrified of the place, even if he never would admit it. He'd come, if Elaith called, of course, but never of his own choice. Elaith saw no reason to make him. Maybe he'd write him a letter, if he got bored, though. Not a summons, of course, just a hi, how you're doing, I'm bored out of my mind.

He didn't get much rest before Danilo returned in an even worse emotional state than before, and no better physically. The lovely Lady Cassandra was not pleased with her youngest son's latest escapade.

Danilo had besmirched the family's reputation? A pity Elaith knew what might or might not be the full list of the Lady's own criminal activities. The complaint merely amused him.

That Danilo had gotten one of her most important business-partners arrested sounded a lot more honest, but she didn't actually need Elaith personally the keep the Skullport trade running. Tincheron was quite capable of handling that. It meant that she had to overcome her fear or revulsion or whatever else caused her to always retreat to the opposite end of the room whenever the half-dragon entered, though. Elaith didn't feel inclined to pity her over that either.

To be completely honest he disliked Cassandra almost as much as she did him. She was useful as a business-partner, and she was Danilo's mother, which, in Elaith's opinion, entitled her to a certain measure of preferential treatment, but that was all that he'd grant her.

"And Rhammas?" he asked. "What does he think?"

"Rhammas?" Danilo asked actually stopping to cry in his surprise. "He wasn't here and she didn't say."

Sometimes Elaith wondered whether he himself, the queen's useless fosterling, might have gotten more attention from the ever-busy King Zaor than Danilo got from his idle male progenitor. Well, that was what Khelben was there for after all. The archmage certainly was a better role model for a playful and active mind like Danilo's anyway. Elaith didn't bother to waste any pity on Danilo's less talented siblings.

"Well, never mind Cassandra," he told his friend. "You can quote it all back to her when she ends up in here."

"That's likely to happen," Danilo said with a futile attempt as a laugh.

"Oh, isn't it? I certainly have been here before, and expect to return and I have a lot more experience avoiding it than she ever will."

"You seemed very eager to talk yourself in here when we were arrested," Danilo pointed out.

"Talk you out of here, you mean. You're the one that tried to blame the stuff on me. You'd have been in a lot of trouble, if I'd added a false accusation to the charges against you."

"I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking. I never should have. You wouldn't be in here at all, if I hadn't accused you and you hadn't tried to help me."

"Well, you seemed scared of this place, I'm not. And you did get me out of jail once."

"Yes, but you were innocent," Danilo said and snuggled up to him like a kitten. Clearly more hugging was in order.

The healer Khelben had promised came in the afternoon accompanied by no less than Piergieron himself.

Elaith stood against the wall to let them in again, then turned as he had for Khelben. Unlike the archmage the healer did protest, but Piergieron interceded before the warden could.

"Never mind the elf," he said. "He won't bother you. Just get on with your work."

Then he sat down on Elaith's bunk and patted the space beside him invitingly.

Elaith cast a concerned glance at Danilo before obeying. He'd be able to see him just as well from the bunk, though.

"So, got anything to tell me yet?" Piergieron asked conversationally.

Elaith cast another pointed glance at Danilo and the healer.

"We're running in circles, Craulnober," Piergieron pushed. There was a frightened squeak from the healer and Piergieron rolled his eyes. "He isn't armed, nor is he at all interested in you."

That last bit wasn't exactly true. Elaith couldn't help hoping that the healer could do Danilo some good after all. That was no motivation to harm the nervous human however.

"You might want to keep a less jumpy healer on staff here," he suggested to Piergieron.

"He is good at his profession," the Open Lord explained. "But never mind him. You knew that we know that the stuff isn't coming in via Skullport which makes no sense."

"Unless the importer has no idea how to get it to Skullport, or can't find his way to Waterdeep from there. Or both." The second was a lot harder to learn than the first, though. "You might be surprised if I were to tell you the full list of people I know definitely do know both, but I cannot give you a list of people who definitely don't. It isn't that hard to learn." Heck, Mirt could teach Piergieron, if he wanted to. Danilo would be able to figure it out without asking either Mirt or Elaith. He'd already been to Skullport at least once.

"Right, so we're dealing with someone who has no experience with illegal trade," Piergieron confirmed. "Now, according to my agents, the stuff isn't coming from the dock ward either, but there has to be a warehouse somewhere in the city."

Elaith nodded his agreement.

"You gave us the address of one in your trial," Piergieron continued. "One that contrary to your statement definitely does not belong to you."

In fact, Elaith hadn't even been sure that the address existed, much less that it actually was a warehouse, it had merely sounded like a likely address for one. Apparently he'd guessed right even though he hardly knew the east ward. It was a rather out of the way and uninteresting part of town, even for immobilia trade. Being so very out of the way made it too cheap to bother with. Nobody was actually interested in storing his goods that far from the markets and harbour, hardly anybody lived there, and since they didn't nobody was interested in opening a business there either.

"So, did you just make that up, because you knew it wasn't the dock ward, or is the place actually worth raiding?"

"If I tell you, you'll let me go?"

"If I'm satisfied with your answer, yes," Piergieron promised.

Elaith looked over at Danilo. He was crying again, so the healer couldn't be doing much to help.

"The man is your business rival," Piergieron coaxed. "And responsible for Danilo's condition. "Surely you don't owe him any consideration."

"Will you let Danilo go as well?"

"You know I can't. For his own good."

"I know, but I can't lea... I can't help you."

"Give me something?"

"I don't know where the stuff originates, but unless it is somehow produced right in the city, it must enter it either via the harbour or one of the city gates. You don't want to transport illegal goods any further than you have to and definitely not where such activities are unusual enough to attract attention, yet the drug isn't stored in the dock ward or near a gate. What does that tell you?"

"You think that it's produced here?"

"I don't know for sure, but it is unlikely. Remember what you've already told me of our enemy."

Piergieron looked surprised at the wording, but took his time to reply. "He has no experience smuggling illegal goods into the city. He has no connections in Skullport, nor does he know whom to approach to gain them ... Any merchant in the city that deals in anything more interesting than turnips would know at least two or three names. As does every little crook on the streets. This guy might be not so much new to illegal trade as new to Waterdeep itself."

"And he isn't storing his goods in the most convenient place, simply because he couldn't get his hands on a warehouse in such a good location. Those are all in the hands of the established players, who tend to sell them to each other before outsiders learn of the opportunity."

He still remembered how hard it had been to get a foot in the door when he'd started out, but of course that had been a long time ago. By now not only did most Waterdavian's know that Elaith Craulnober was a likely purchaser of well located property of all kinds, selling to him was even becoming a perfectly unobjectionable thing to do.

"Anything else you can give me?" Piergieron asked when the healer stepped away from Danilo and looked at him expectantly.

Elaith once again looked at Danilo. It was thanks to him that even the most exclusive circles were beginning to open up to him despite his race.

"No, not yet."

Piergeron got up and walked to the door. "See if you can't find the elf a blanket to lie on," he ordered the warden who hurried towards him with the key.

Elaith got up to stand against the wall again, but Piergieron shook his head. "Don't bother. We already know you won't try to escape."

Elaith shrugged and sat down next to Danilo again.

"So what did the healer say?"

"It will scar," Danilo reported morosely.

"Well, we already knew that," Elaith stated. "Anything more helpful?"

"Keep the sores clean and they will hurt less."

That wasn't all that helpful either. Their hygienic opportunities were rather limited at the moment. A nice proper bath, such as the healer had probably had in mind, certainly wasn't on the horizon anytime soon.

At least not for Danilo. He himself could go home and have one whenever he began to want it more than to stay with Danilo.

"Well, we can ask for a bowl of fresh water whenever the warden returns with my blanket," he suggested.

Danilo looked at his two blankets a little guiltily.

Elaith shrugged it off. "I don't actually need one, but it was a nice gesture."

Arilyn, though she arrived a day late, proved to be the most practical and least traumatising of Danilo's visitors, supplying him with such luxuries as a razor and hairbrush, parchment, ink and even a lute to play on, dealing with the situation rather than berating him for getting himself into it.

Apparently her only reaction to the sores had been to inquire whether they hurt. Danilo didn't say what his answer had been and Elaith didn't press.

He seemed to have grown somewhat resigned and accustomed to his condition now and wasn't quite as apt to burst into tears, though he still huddled against the wall a lot, or cuddled up to Elaith, but he was happy enough to avail himself of Arilyn's supplies to clean up and claimed to feel better afterwards.

He also didn't protest when Elaith borrowed the hairbrush, though it wasn't quite ideal for his short silver hair, but watched him with a lot more attention than he'd given anything other than his own misery since their arrival.

"Don't you ..." he started then stopped suddenly and looked away.

"Don't what?"

"Don't your people wonder where you are?" It wasn't exactly what he'd started to say before, but probably close enough.

"I expect they probably know by now. These sort of news tend to travel fast."

"So where are they?"

Ah yes. "Well, Tincheron, I hope, is down in Skullport right now making sure that a certain business-partner of mine has nothing to complain of. The rest ..." he shrugged them off.

"But ... won't anyone come to see you?"

"Not unless I invite them," he glanced at Danilo's untouched writing supplies. "I could write them, if I really needed something." Danilo immediately moved to push the stack towards him, but he shook his head. "None of them like to be noticed by the watch and I have no good reason to force it on them."

As if to prove him wrong Tincheron did visit the next morning. Luckily Danilo did have a visitor as well and was beginning to look a little better, so Elaith didn't have to worry about leaving him alone.

The special cell they took him to was small enough to make him nervous despite the centuries of experience he had navigating underground tunnels. He was by now definitely feeling the lack of sky and living things around and this wasn't helping matters.

Nor were the thick iron bars that separated him from Tincheron whose breathing was definitely too fast. To say nothing of the small tendrils of cold steam trailing from his nostrils.

The warden retreated rather hastily and Elaith wondered whether he expected Tincheron to lose control of his other breath-weapon as well. Elaith himself had known the half-dragon too long to worry about that. The fact that Tincheron had come in the first place was much more alarming.

And so his first words were: "What's wrong?"

"Wrong? Well, you're here to start with. And I don't like this place. It is no good for elves."

"It isn't," Elaith agreed. "But I can take it for a lot longer than I have to this time."

Tincheron took a deep, smoky-cold breath. "There are a lot of rumours why you're here. None of them make any sense."

Elaith sighed. "What it comes down to is that Piergieron is holding me for information - which I don't mind him having."

"Then tell him!" Tincheron snapped exasperatedly.

"When I'm good and ready. I have my reasons for staying here a day or two longer. I'll be fine and I doubt there's anything going on out there right now that you can't handle. Or has something come up?"

"What about your pet human?"

"Danilo's here with me. I'm watching over him, no need to be concerned." He knew Tincheron wasn't. He'd never introduced his two dearest friends to each other and for once it wasn't because he feared a negative reaction to meeting a half-dragon. Danilo would be curious, but unlikely to be scared. Tactless quips were a risk from that side, but he doubted Danilo would take his games far enough to actually be insulting.

In fact, Tincheron might come to enjoy being teased rather than feared, but Elaith was well aware of the possessive feelings Tincheron had for him. His draconic nature might not be willing to share his only friend.

"His mother is being annoying," Tincheron explained.

"Well, you tell her just that. I am staying here to watch over her son until he is recovered enough to be left on his own. You can tell her that he is already much improved, so she needn't worry. He'll be alright and I'll be home soon."

"She wants to see you now."

"She had no problems finding this place to see her son. But don't tell her that. I don't want to see her. She can wait a few days. Have you heard anything new on our new rival in the east ward? Anything useful, if I want to track him down?"

"I didn't give the matter much attention with you here. There were a lot of more urgent matters to attend to. Surely he can wait?"

"No, he can't. I want him dead. Now."

"That might not be wise. If you want a cut ..."

"I want nothing to do with his filthy business, you hear, nothing! I want to see it destroyed."

"It's not actually any different from what we're doing in Skullport."

"Yes, it is!"

Tincheron gave him a look that stated very clearly that he didn't see how, but said nothing more.

Elaith knew that he was right, though. The simple coincidence that Danilo had fallen prey to that particular drug didn't make the others any better, or safer to keep around. The risk of relapse wouldn't be significantly reduced by removing one drug when the others were still available.

But Elaith knew he couldn't remove all illegal drugs from the Waterdeep market. He was the biggest single importer, but not the only one.

Back in his cell he put his head in his hands and groaned.

"Troubled?" Piergieron's look seemed only too knowing.

"We elves don't deal with being shut away from nature very well," he allowed with a self-mocking smile. "I can cope with it, though. I've been underground much longer than this. I just don't like it."

"You don't have to stay," the open Lord reminded him. "Just tell me the truth. Danilo will be alright. We'll take good care of him and he should be over the worst of the withdrawal symptoms soon."

"Soon," Elaith promised. "Not just yet, though."

"I have a list of suspects," Piergieron taunted. "But if you won't share, why should I?"

Elaith shook his head and Piergieron went on past his cell.

When Danilo returned a few minutes later he had himself back under control - outwardly at least.

"So who was it this time?" he asked.

"Laeral, if you'll believe it. She cut out all my sisters risking their eternal enmity - or so she says - just to reassure me that my uncle still loves me even if he may be a little grumpy about the business. Too bad he already made that clear enough himself. She didn't say anything about my mother. Who was yours?"

"Tincheron," Elaith admitted. "He said a lot about your mother, but she wouldn't tell him how she feels about her children. She's just making a nuisance of herself. Says she wants to see me, but perhaps she's just trying to distract herself from worrying over you."

Danilo shrugged. "I'm not even sure what I want her to feel anymore. I thought I knew her, but after Lily ... It's most important to know that I still have Uncle Khelben. Perhaps it is best if he is enough."

"There's Laeral, too, and Arilyn," Elaith pointed out. If only he had that big a family! "You won't be alone in any case, but they tell me a mother is special."

"Do you still miss yours?"

"Can one miss what one's never known? I miss the sky, though, trees, flowers." Danilo cast his eyes down. "Oh, don't worry now. I can cope with this a good while longer than this - and you seem to feel better at least."

"Oh yes, much better. Even the sores are beginning to close, see? I'll be fine now, except for the scars. I'm sorry you had to ... I must have been quite troublesome."

"Will you still be fine, if I leave you?"


"Piergieron doesn't want me, Danilo. He wants what information I have on that drug ring and I have no reason to protect whoever's behind it. If I tell him what I know, I can go, but I can't take you with me."

"Will you still come to see me? I know I have Khelben and Arilyn and all my sisters fighting for their turn, but I'll be here for a long time."

Elaith smiled. "Of course. As long as I don't get into a situation where I have to fear being arrested again."

"If you mean to come back, do it while your bunk's still available."

"I don't actually intend to, much as I enjoy your company."

"Well then, I don't know much, but I can give you a description of my contact, the location I ... received the goods and the warehouse I took them to. Do you think that'll be enough to satisfy Piergieron?"

Elaith suddenly felt very stupid. Of course Danilo would have to know part of the route! Why hadn't he or the Lords ever thought to ask him?

"You didn't tell Piergieron all that at your trial?"

Danilo blushed and shook his head. "Denied everything to the last. I just couldn't admit it to him, you see. Maybe that was stupid, but I'm glad we still have that bargaining chip now."

"Alright, tell me and I'll tell Piergieron that you're more cooperative now that you're feeling better. I don't think you've completely lost his friendship, yet."

"But definitely trust and respect. It'll still be hard to look him in the eyes, but I guess I'm well enough to try now - or maybe forgiven enough."

The stuff arrived in the harbour after all, though Danilo didn't know on which ships or from what direction. His contact was an old dock-worker who helped with the loading and unloading of many ships every day. Danilo met him on land where he received his package, as did many other mules, he assumed. He was strictly forbidden to go straight to the east ward from there. Of course the many people going the same route were likely to attract attention. If they all came and went from different parts of the city, though ... beside not everything went to the warehouse at all. Some of it was consumed or sold be the mules themselves. The rest was stored for later sale.

The warehouse wasn't the one Elaith had named to Piergieron, of course, but he had gotten the neighbourhood right.

"So why didn't you give me the right address in the first place?" Piergieron asked with a laugh when he told him.

"Because I didn't know it then. Danilo told me. Said he was too ashamed to confess at his trial. You might want to try talking with him in a more unofficial manner, if you want to hear the whole story. I think he's ready to tell it now."

Two hours later he was free. It felt wonderful just to feel the wind on his skin again, but he didn't waste much time enjoying it, before he headed off towards the harbour. There was a dock-worker that needed killing. From the description the dock-worker was nothing more than an addicted mule himself, but he was the one that had blackmailed Danilo. For that he would die. Slowly.

Elaith tried not to slice his victims up in the cruel manner his princess disapproved of so much, but every once in a while he did find someone that he thought deserved it. He meant to enjoy this kill.

"We found the dock worker, or what we think used to be him at any rate. Cut up into bite sized pieces for the fish, but apparently whoever did it forgot to throw them to them."

"Craulnober," Piergieron sighed. "Just when I thought I might learn to like him after all."

Mirt shook his head. "You have to cut him some slack here. It's an ingrained habit, and he's been under a lot of pressure lately. He had to blow off some steam somehow."

Piergeron grimaced. "Some way to do it. But I suppose it confirms that he told us the truth. He doesn't know who's behind it, or he'd have gone straight for the boss."

"I'd raid that warehouse soon, if I were you," Mirt advised getting up. "Unless you want him to get to that before you as well."

"Leaving already?"

Mirt nodded. "I need to have a few words with a certain elf."

Elaith was lying on his back in the grass in the pleasant little park next to the Pantheon temple. It wasn't quite proper, but after his imprisonment he felt boxed in inside buildings and surrounded by death out in the hard stone streets and so far nobody had bothered him about it.

He assumed that eventually a concerned priest would arrive to inquire nervously what was the matter, but until then he was determined to enjoy the pretence of being surrounded by peaceful wilderness.

He'd avenged Danilo on his tormentor and traced the warehouse to its owner, a halfling recently arrived from Calimport, but not currently to be found at his lodgings. Elaith had resisted the urge to leave a nasty surprise. If it failed to kill the halfling he would be warned and might escape, and he wasn't yet sure whether he truly was the head of the enterprise or just a local agent.

The question of what would happen after he rid Waterdeep of that particular importer still troubled him. The drug would continue to exist, as would the addicts who craved it. Wherever there existed both a product and a demand someone would always be found to ensure the supply of the first to the second, Elaith knew. He'd been that someone often enough.

Not this time, though. This drug disgusted him. Ensnaring and entrapping Danilo, leading him to crime and shame, leaving him miserable and helpless in prison ...

But there would be somebody and he would provide temptation for Danilo, as would all the other drugs out there on the streets of the city that were ensnaring and entrapping others everyday. There was no difference. Tincheron had been perfectly right about that. They were all the same, all equally disgusting and he himself was ... well, not really up to his neck, but certainly knee deep in several of them.

How many humans that might have been just as kind-hearted and playful and gifted as Danilo had his own drugs ruined over the centuries? What if Danilo couldn't resist temptation and got tangled up in one of Elaith's own nets next?

His fingers curled around a handful of grass. He realised just in time. It would feel good to tear it out, but it wouldn't help any and the temple elves would frown on such wanton destruction. Not that they'd expect much better from him. And why should he care?

His fist closed suddenly, deliberately. A quick jerk and then he flung the grass away, the blades scattering in the wind blowing in from the sea.

"Feel better?"

How had Mirt managed to sneak up on him? Elaith propped himself up on his elbows trying to hide his surprise.

"As a matter of fact, yes." Somewhat.

"Frankly, I don't see how murdering the lawn is supposed to help matters, but if you say so."

"I could go murder some people, if you think it'll be more effective," Elaith suggested sweetly.

"They tell me you already did."

"Only one. And that in the course of investigating our new drug lord," Elaith corrected. "I'm not taking out my nature deprivation on the innocent population of your precious city."

"Nature deprivation?"

"Yes, that's what elves get when you lock them in bare prison cells."

"Because those are so very different from Undermountain tunnels."

"Granted, not very different. Actually they are very much alike until you start thinking about whether or not you can get out when it gets too much. It's why a lot of elves refuse to go underground, though."

"So you come here to tear up the grass after every trip to Undermountain?"

Elaith shrugged. "There are lots of places to go and things to do. This was the most convenient today."

"Alright, nature deprivation. You're not worried about the Thann boy at all." Mirt sat down beside Elaith, apparently planning to make himself at home.

Elaith snorted. "Boy? The child's all grown up and able to take care of himself. He'll be fine."

"Right, that's why you're investigating and why you were so eager to get an extra dose of nature deprivation spending half a week in that cell with him."

"Piergieron was eager to learn more about that gang, and he let me out early. I thought I'd see what I could do for him in return."

"Not to mention that you expect a large piece of the pie for yourself once the new guy is out of the picture and you know where the drug's coming from."

"No! Never! I want nothing to do with that stuff." Too fast, too vehement, too honest. Mirt knew him too well not to pick up on that. Damn!

"It's no different from any of the other drugs out there. Don't tell me you don't have a hand in them all."

"You overestimate me. Or would that be underestimate? I'm only involved with some of them," he told Mirt honestly. "And I don't exactly like it."

"Then why do you do it?" Mirt asked lightly.

"There's a lot of money in it, and it is hardly any additional effort combined with some of my other business."

"As if you needed the money. Seems to me like you could live more than just comfortably on rents alone. And perfectly legally, too, which would spare you a lot of nature deprivation. Not to mention your legal trade ventures, pubs and shops ..."

"It wasn't always so easy. Do you have any idea how hard it is to convince the nobility of this city to tolerate an elven business at all? Not to mention once it reaches a size to be an actual rival ..."

"Oh, so just because I'm human, you think they like me any better? But I'm not talking about back then. I'm talking about now. I bet you could stop all drug related activities without feeling the difference in your income. So why don't you?"

"Would you believe I don't know what to do with all the money that would free up? Not the amount I'd have if I took it all out of those ventures at once. Maybe ... yes, I think I might reduce them. There's a partner that might be interested in taking over some of ... or no, probably not, but I think I could find somebody else that'd want that venture." If Lady Cassandra didn't decide she wanted out of the business herself after what had happened to her baby boy.

Mirt gave him an odd look, opened his mouth, closed it again, eyed him speculatively.

"What?" Had he really surprised him that much by thinking out loud?

"I ... well ... Could you give me some sort of guarantee, that, if I were to offer you a business opportunity, you'd keep it completely honest and legal? At least between the two of us? No shady deals or methods unless you have my explicit permission?"

"Your permission?" Elaith snapped.

"Yes, and that condition is not negotiable. I half think I'm mad to consider doing business with you at all, but I've had this idea for a long time and it's too big to do it on my own."

Elaith sat up. "What," he said slowly. "Exactly is this idea?"

Mirt looked around at the people surrounding them. Nobody looked interested in their conversation, but this was Waterdeep and most of those strolling about had elven ears.

"Know a place with good privacy charms around here?"

Elaith grinned like a shark. "In fact, I happen to own one."

Mirt rolled his eyes. "You get to explain it to my girl, if she finds out."

As brothels went the Silk Shoe was actually rather pleasant. A smaller business that catered to the lower middle class it was neither too dangerous to enter without sharp steel ready in your hand, nor infamous enough to have to worry about being seen by anyone they knew. Not that anyone would have thought twice about seeing Elaith Craulnober enter a brothel even if he didn't happen to own it. They'd probably assume he'd come to buy the place, collect on a debt or threaten the owner. And even if they'd entertained more filthy thoughts, why shouldn't he? He was a free elf after all.

Mirt expected the women to be a problem, but as it turned out Elaith had no intention to remain in the public area. He led Mirt straight through into an office in the back where the moneylender, now almost convinced that he had gone mad, explained the details of his pet scheme while Elaith stared at the wall and played with his dagger. Well, maybe it was for the best that he wasn't interested.

But when he stopped talking the elf surprised him.

"If," he said. "We are going to tear up such a large part of the city, we should go even further and make a complete job of it."

"You mean?" Mirt asked alarmed.

"Get down underground and renovate the tunnels, make sure it's all statically sound. That mightn't concern you much at your age, but I'm not looking forward to the city collapsing under my feet in a century or two."

He had a point there, but ... "That will get expensive."

"I told you I had a lot of money I didn't know what to do with."

And no big return to be expected from this move. The repair of the tunnels was a measure Piergieron knew very well was necessary, but kept pushing off because of the horrendous costs. Mirt wondered what the open Lord would say, if he told him that Elaith had volunteered to bear part of the expense.

"Alright, you find a buyer for your business and I'll look into this and draw up a contract I'm willing to risk entering into with you." Yes, he definitely had to be completely mad.

It felt strange to be free again. Almost uncomfortable. Of course Danilo didn't want to go back into his cell, but at the same time ... well, he had those tell-tale scars now, and he didn't know how people would react. Never before had he been worried what others might think about him, never had it bothered him to play the fool and be laughed at, but this, this shame ...

He kept his head down, hoped to go unnoticed and hurried along the shortest path home.

Or at least what had been the shortest path before he'd been arrested. When it first occurred to him that there were a lot fewer people on the street than he'd expected he only felt relieved that it'd make it less likely to be recognised. But then he turned a corner and found the street fenced off and a deep and wide hole gaping behind the fence.

"What in the ..."

"We're making excellent progress, don't you think?"

Danilo flinched as he recognised the voice. Mirt.

"Why," he asked in an unusually soft voice. "What are you doing here?"

Mirt's eyes narrowed.

"I believe the question should be what are You doing here."

"I've been released," Danilo explained defensively. On probation, only, but Mirt didn't have to know that. "And am eager to get home, so if you'll excuse me, it looks like I'll have to take a detour."

He turned and rushed away.

"Well, actually, if you want to ... Danilo? Hey Danilo!" but Danilo didn't even glance back.

Mirt shook his head worriedly. He'd have to talk with Khelben. Or Elaith, who, though he remained second choice, happened to be closer at hand.

"You should go out."

Danilo lifted his head from his arms and stared at Elaith, who apparently had let himself into the house through the bedroom window.

"And I don't mean a tour of the most infamous taverns. Get some real air, out in a park - or try your garden in fact. That'll make you forget prison soon enough. Or," he added when Danilo didn't look thrilled at either idea. "We could go for a walk and I can show you some of my favourite places ..."

"I'm on probation," Danilo informed him and let his head drop back down.

"That doesn't mean you can't leave the house, does it?"

"It means that I mustn't be seen associating with anyone involved in the drug trade."

"Oh, that won't be a problem then," Elaith assured him with a grin that Danilo unfortunately couldn't see. "That is, it won't be a problem if we go for a walk, but it will be, if you intend to visit your family."

That got Danilo to look up again. "What?"

"I've sold all my shares in all ventures that had anything to do with that business."

"Oh that's ... wait. For my sake?"

"I ... Well, ... I also had a more desirable business opportunity that required a large investment and I've never particularly liked the drug trade. The problematic part for you, is that ... You do remember that we arranged for your mother to have the right of first refusal, if I sell any of my Skullport business? Mind you what with you in prison and her having seen you at your worst I really didn't expect her to take an interest, but I had to offer. Apparently the lady has a much stronger stomach than I thought."

"Wait, I can't see my mother?"

"Well, only if the Lords find out that she was the buyer, which they certainly won't learn from me or her, but Mirt knows that I sold out to my Skullport partner. How much of an idea he has who that might be I don't dare to guess at." Elaith shrugged. "So how about that walk? We could visit Elder Duirsar. In fact, we really should do that. I assure you he has nothing at all to do with drugs and he's been very worried about you."

Danilo glanced at his scarred hand.

"Are you sure he wants a human, ex-convict, junkie in his temple?"

Elaith smiled again - almost tenderly - and this time Danilo saw it, too. "Quite sure."

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