A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Artemus, Prelude, part I

Sleeping Dogs…

It had been a quiet night at the Inn of the Lazy Dragon—one of Ninevah’s frequent torrential thunder storms had washed over the area, and many people had chosen the warmth of their own hearths to the cheery fires of the Dragon’s many rooms. Still, as always, many regulars, and still more passers-through, had stopped for the best ale in Ninevah. Or perhaps they had come for the nightly tales of heroic deeds and dark magics that make the Lazy Dragon one of the most popular night spots not only in Ninevah, but in all of the eight nations as well. Now, however, it was almost an hour past last call. It was time to prod anyone not staying at the Inn for the night to head for the door, and to get the tenants up the stairs. I was hoping nobody needed to be carried, or thrown, out, but as usual I took Grog, my troll assistant, with me to help finish the sometimes unsavory job of cleaning up after the night’s festivities.

We left the Brawling Titan room for last, as the bawdy nature of its tales generally lead to more revelry, and consequently more mess, then did the more serious Dragon’s Bookshelf room, or the lyrically inspired Minstrel’s Lute room. The serving sprites, Melinda and Norcinda, had done a pretty good job of clearing the tables at least, so Grog and I were mostly just wiping down the woodwork, sweeping up the food, and generally neatening the spacious room. As we worked our way towards the back, where the large windows overlook the sprawling maze of streets below, I realized that Grog and I weren’t alone—a solitary patron appeared to be asleep at the table in the farthest corner. Signalling Grog, I cautiously approached the sleeping gentleman, for indeed he appeared to be dressed in the fashion of a rich merchant, or possibly even a minor noble.

I should mention here that my caution is born of long experience. Though I have many an adventure under my belt, with men and monsters much fiercer seeming than this peacefully sleeping young man, I have encountered too many strange things in my time to take anything for granted. I did not believe that I was in any danger from my sleeping guest, not with my own fighting skills and those of my troll friend’s at my disposal, but as I say—experience has taught me caution when dealing with the unknown.

As I drew nearer, I could see that a vast feast had been spread before the sleeping man—leftovers from enough food to feed at least three men littered the table. Scant leftovers—if the man had eaten all of the food on his own, it was no wonder he was sleeping. Even Grog would have to sleep for half a day after consuming so much.

I gently reached forward and shook the man. “Sir? It’s past closing time, sir.” His body was dead weight beneath my hand. This close to him I could hear a faint snore escaping from his lips. Somewhat more vigorously, I tried again. “Sir. Sir, you must wake up! It is time for you to go home.”

Now as I say, I’ve adventured quite a bit in my life, and seen many a strange thing, but I have to tell you, I have rarely seen anyone or anything move as fast as that man did as I shook him awake that night. With a blur of motion that my eyes could barely follow, much less make sense of, the man was out of his chair with back against the far wall of the room. His hands were up, with the fingers flexed into what could only be called claws. The table he had been sitting at was half-way across the room, and my left hand HURT. I assume, that he had knocked that hand away in his flurry of movement, but I never will know for sure because I never saw him touch me.

Still, I’m a trained fighter, so it didn’t take MY reflexes long to kick in, and now we were both crouched in a fighter’s stance, about two feet from one another. Though I had my dagger out, while he had nothing but his bare hands, I found myself very glad that the hulking shape of Grog was next to me. The man’s eyes were wild, feral, and his lips were drawn back in what could only be characterized as a snarl. And then, fast as he had moved, all of the fight seemed to wash out of him even faster. He sagged against the wall, and slid down it into a crouch—the savage glint in his eyes gone, replaced by a look of confusion… and sadness.

Myself, I was still ready to spring into action—adrenaline was pumping and if I had been a little sleepy after a long night bartending before, I was wide awake now. My dagger stayed poised as I studied the man, and I knew Grog was ready to bring his massive club to bear if the situation required it.

The man just stared back, and the look of confusion and loss in his eyes was so strong it stabbed to my heart despite the sore left hand and the violence of his earlier movements. He was dressed in deep crimson, with pale blue highlights, the fabric of the tunic clearly silk and of a very fine weave. There were no weapons visible on his body—not surprising, given the Lazy Dragon’s strict ‘Check your weapon at the door’ policy—and his expensive boots showed an extensive amount of wear. His hair was fair, with a hint of red, and he wore it very long. His full beard and mustache were also long, and somewhat unkempt, but his face was strong, and attractive. Yet at the moment it sagged, and to my surprise, a small track of tears was coursing down his cheeks.

“Where…” he croaked, then stopped. Visibly gathering himself, he leveraged himself back up the wall until he was once again standing. Both Grog and I took a step back. “Where am I?” he asked.

His hands were at his side now, and I lowered my guard a little—but only a little. “You’re in the Brawling Titan room of the Inn of the Lazy Dragon. Don’t you remember eating here? Maybe listening to one of our story-tellers?”

His eyes seemed to focus on me—they were deep-set and very, very brown. I’m not a flighty woman, indeed consider myself to be a practical down-to-earth sort, but looking into those eyes made me want to trace the whole length of his body with my hands. They seemed to bring out an animal-like lust in me I have rarely experienced in my life.

“I remember eating,” he said, his voice a deep, rumbling bass, “but not how I got here. Not where I am.” And then, his voice broke, a little. “Not WHO I am.” His head sagged to his chest and he suddenly looked tired. So tired, it seemed he could hardly stand against the weariness.

I lowered my dagger, and gestured for Grog to relax—though I didn’t completely let my guard down, and I knew from experience, Grog was ready to charge into a melee at a moment’s notice. The man seemed so tired, so lost, sagging there against my wall, that I felt pretty ridiculous in a full defensive stance with my dagger out. “You remember nothing? Not even your name?” I tried to keep incredulity and pity out of my voice, but I’m not sure I was successful.

“Artemus,” he mumbled, head still down on his chest.


“My name.” He raised his eyes now, and I was struck again by the sorrow and confusion that seemed to burn in them. And by the heat they seemed to raise in me. “Artemus—that’s all I really know. The rest is…” and he gestured feebly with his arms, “missing. Void. I am sorry about your table, my lady. You startled me.”

I had to laugh. The statement was so incongruous—here he was confessing that his memory was a blank page to even himself, and he chose to apologize to me for a table. I sheathed my dagger as I chuckled. “That’s ok, we have plenty—and I’m sorry I startled you.” He seemed uncertain how to respond to my laughter, so I took a chance and stuck out my now empty right hand, “Antionette, proprietor of the Inn of the Lazy Dragon at your service, Artemus.”

He seemed taken aback, and just stared at my extended arm for a second. Then he shyly extended his own right hand—I could sense Grog tensing as he did so—and gently, almost shyly, shook my hand. A slight smile touched his lips as he said, “A pleasure to meet you, Antionette,” and he drew my hand up as he brought his face down to gently kiss my knuckles. “And may I say that you are a most lovely proprietor.”

And I blushed! I actually blushed when he said that. Now you have to realize, I’m the female co-owner and chief bartender of one of the most popular taverns in Ninevah—the largest city in the Eight Nations. I don’t mean to sound vain, but I keep myself fit, so I get propositioned on a fairly regular basis—I take them in stride, mostly let them die with a brief pleasantry, sometimes sick Grog, or one of the other bouncers, on the perpetrator, and very occasionally, I actually accept. But I NEVER blush. I did when that strange man, with no memory, said I was lovely. Fortunately, the blue tinge of my skin covers a blush pretty well, and I retained enough composure to reply without stammering. “Why, thank you Artemus. That’s very kind of you.” And before I knew it, without any conscious thought on my part, the following just popped out of my mouth. “Do you have anywhere to stay tonight?” His hand still grasped mine, and though he held it gently, I could feel tremendous strength in him. I remembered how fast he had moved, only minutes before, and a shiver made its way down my spine.

He stared, deep into me and for what seemed like hours, but was probably only a few seconds. Then he let my hand go as gently as he had taken it. I could hear Grog’s relieved sigh as Artemus’ hand dropped to his side. “If I do, I have no recollection of where it might be.” Again he smiled, albeit somewhat sadly.

“Well, um…” and what I wanted to say was that he could stay with me tonight—a fact which astounded me to my very core. But, instead, my common sense asserted itself, and I said, “We have several rooms open in the Inn, tonight. Would you care to make use of one? You’ll be quite safe here.” I don’t know why I said that last—but from his earlier reaction to my “startling” him, and perhaps some female intuition, I had a feeling he needed someplace safe. He had certainly come to the right place—the Inn of the Lazy Dragon is deservedly renowned throughout Ninevah and beyond as being neutral, safe, and protected ground. We have the best magical wards available, our no weapons policy is the strictest I know of, our doormen tolerate no shenanigans, and above and beyond that, of course, we have Melian.

The smile was still there as he watched me stumble and stammer out my invitation, and part of me wanted to rip that little smirk off his face with my bare hands—while another part wanted to run my hands through his wild mane of hair. “Yes,” he said simply. “A room would be good.”

And that’s where we left it, at least for that night. I escorted Artemus to one of our empty rooms—Grog dutifully shadowing us the entire way—and then I returned with my loyal troll companion to finish cleaning the Inn of the Lazy Dragon. I double checked that all of the Inn’s wards were in place and that the night watch was attentive to their duties. An hour later I was safely tucked away in my own room. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t prevent myself from being somewhat disappointed that I had the entire bed to myself. As I drifted off to sleep, I promised myself that I would uncover more about this mysterious man in the morning—with or without his help.

* * * * * * *

[Continue to part II]


Howdy again. I guess I'm the sole ghost haunting this nook of cyberspace. But, wow, a new tale from the Lazy Dragon Inn! How great is that!

Please, don't led this story be unfinished (yeah, I'm one to talk). The old magic of that place comes seeping right through.

Hey John,

Thanks for stopping by. Hopefully you aren't the only person stopping by, just the only one commenting. And just so you know-- this isn't a new story. In fact, it's an old one that was started way back in the LDI days. Only this time I hope to keep going with it.
Not the only one; I managed to stumble across this little nook myself. Howdy, folks.

Raolin Darksbane.
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