Happy Thursday, readers!
Just like with The Adversary, i’m pleased to present to you a series of excerpts to get you ready for the big show. This time, instead of introducing you to the characters, I’m going to introduce you to what’s happening. (If you missed the last two, find them here and here.)
This time you get a glimpse of the Harpers! Yep, they’re in here too. I wanted to give you a scene where you got to find out all the reasons Dahl and Vescaras are heading to Cormyr, but it turned out to be terribly long. Suffice it to say, Brin’s current entanglements are the least of their worries.
“I cannot believe you told them I was your equerry,” Dahl Peredur muttered as the coster caravan crossed into the city of Suzail.
“What was I supposed to say?” Lord Vescaras Ammakyl replied. He nodded politely at the Purple Dragons who stood at the gates, already satisfied by the caravan master’s writs and permissions. “Your cover story was ridiculous.”
“I could be your business associate,” Dahl said irritably.
“Are you an expert on wine?”
“I know things about wine.”
The dark-skinned half-elf looked over at his colleague, one eyebrow raised.
“What’s the going price for a cask of aged Arrhenish? Why are the prices on last year’s Murlkan so high this year? Can we bring the cost of the Laumark down by ten tradebars? What’s the rain doing to grape yields for next year? When will we see more bottles of Zanzel? Shall I stop, or can you answer a one of those?”
Dahl scowled at the other Harper. “I could have learned all that on the road.”
“But you didn’t,” Vescaras pointed out. “So you’re an equerry.”
Dahl shut his eyes and told himself it wasn’t worth arguing with Vescaras over this. It would inevitably make this mission to Cormyr a nightmare— and it was already going to be rough. And then there was the side issue of Brin—none of the High Harpers of the Waterdhavian network had been pleased to find their Cormyrean handler was in the middle of a very high-profile political maelstrom that threatened to destroy everything he had built. Especially over something as selfish as which lovers he kept.
“No one wants to force him,” Tam Zawad, the High Harper of Waterdeep, had said. “But, Watching Gods, at least find out what he intends to do and get him to do it a little faster. If we’re going to lose all our high-level Cormyrean contacts in the middle of a war, alongside the low-levels, I want to know soon enough to tell the other network they’re on their own.”
Dahl rubbed his smooth-shaven chin—servants needed to look presentable, according to Lord Ammakyl—and sighed. He knew Brin well enough to be sure he didn’t have an answer. Too many pieces, too many people to let down, too many decisions he couldn’t unmake—and Havilar.
“How are you trading so well in the midst of a war?” Dahl asked. “Half of Cormyr is being pillaged as we speak, and you’re raking in coin.”
“People like to drink when the world’s on fire,” Vescaras said. “What else can they do?” A question for which Dahl didn’t have an answer.
“Lot of gossip last night,” Dahl said. “They say that Shade’s mad general has taken Arabel.”
“I heard it’s not fallen. Still just harried, maybe sieged. Lady Marsheena’s stirred up the Stonelands, make no mistake, and the surrounding villages are done for. If you still have it in your head to make for Harrowdale when we’re done here, I hope you’re ready to disguise yourself as a bugbear.”
Dahl blew out a nervous breath. His mother lived on a farm outside New Velar in Harrowdale, some six hundred miles north of Suzail. All of the intelligence he could set hands on said that Harrowdale was safe, an island in a storm of violence, protected by the elves of Myth Drannor. But Dahl wanted to be sure. Had to be sure.
“I’ll find a way,” Dahl said. There was enough to do in Suzail—things had time to change and he had time to worry about how he’d manage.
“A fair part of the gossip I heard had nothing to do with the war,” Vescaras said, as the carriage pulled away from the caravan and through the streets of Cormyr, heading toward Brin’s tallhouse. “If Brin’s managed nothing else, he’s given folks something to talk about.”
“How bad is it?”
Vescaras shrugged. “What you’d expect. Details about his bedroom activities no one would know. Speculation that he doesn’t have a mistress so much as he and the princess have a mistress. Lots of bizarre notions about bedding tieflings.”
“Apparently, several gentlemen had it on good authority that it’s not only turned sideways, but also has teeth.”
Dahl looked pointedly out the window. “Ah.” He fidgeted with the collar of the shirt Vescaras had loaned him. “When will you get more bottles of . . . Zanzel, was it?”
“The way the rains are coming, all the grapes will mold, and we’ll be drowning in it next year,” Vescaras said as the carriage rolled to a stop. “Pity it tastes like bad cheese.”