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

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Artemus, Prelude, part II

[Prelude, part I]

The next morning I arose somewhat later than usual, more than an hour past daybreak. Despite the extra sleep, I felt groggy, and a little cranky. I suspected my dreams had not been good, but I did not recall a single one of them.

As usual, the delicious aroma of fresh pastries and brewing coffee greeted me as I slid into fresh clothes. The indomitable Ladarthos, a giant of a man who took as much pleasure in consuming food as he did in preparing it—and he prepared it as well or better than any chef in Ninevah—had the morning crew busy at work in the Lazy Dragon’s massive kitchen. There would be plenty of food for all of the overnight visitors, and for many of the locals. I brushed my wings, seventy-five strokes on each side—my normal morning routine—and considered the Inn’s newest overnight guest.

In the clear light of morning, Artemus’ peculiar attraction had faded, and I was left to wonder if the effect had been some type of spell. I quickly dismissed the possibility. Love spells were notoriously unreliable, and I was—thanks to an appreciative wizard from my younger days—fairly resistant to most mind affecting magics. Additionally, the Inn is graced by a general magic immunity from its long association with the Lazy Dragon herself, a chaotic red dragon who has resided below the Inn since the time when it was little more than a one-room building that served only ale.

So, a spell was almost certainly not to blame, yet in some ways, this conclusion was more disturbing than the possibility of enchantment—for I hadn’t been affected in that manner by a man in quite some time. And yet part of me was curious to see if my unbidden desires would return when I was once again confronted by Artemus, or if it had perhaps only been the strange circumstances of our “introduction.”

After finishing my wings, I headed downstairs to the Inn’s main dining room, the delicious scent of Ladarthos’ creations getting stronger as I went. The Inn of the Lazy Dragon is a large structure, built over time, and with no definite layout in mind—rooms were added or expanded as circumstances warranted, but there are two rooms from which most of the other areas of the Inn diverge: the main tavern room and the main dining room.

The main tavern room is a huge, high-timbered room, with many a table for our patrons to relax at, and a few booths for those that want privacy. Our front door is located here, so the tavern room is also the home away from home for our doormen (some people refer to them as bouncers—we do not) who enforce the Lazy Dragon’s no weapons policy, and intercede in the occasional drunken brawl. Over the years, we have attracted more than a few entrepreneurs who wished to pursue their business in the safety of the Inn’s warded walls, and we permit them, provided they cause no trouble. What happens to them once they leave our hospitality is their own look out, but while they are here they attract mercenaries and adventurers—looking for work and excitement—as well as cartographers, speculators, and other assorted ‘businessmen’, so they are good for sales. We get, and tolerate, all types at the Lazy Dragon, good and evil, rich and poor, beautiful and ugly. All races are welcome, but violence is strictly prohibited.

Since it is the tavern room, it is of course graced by the Inn’s bar, where I am usually to be found once the sun has slid past the horizon. The bar is a beautiful mahogany creation that houses not only a magical mug and plate washer but also the Inn’s pride and joy—the Everflowing Keg of Spirits. This wondrous magical creation dispenses any and all known potables desired by man, elf, minotaur, or any other race of creature, and the resulting concoction is always of the highest quality. I have often wondered if the popularity of the Lazy Dragon was due more to the Everflowing Keg or to our fabulous storytellers. Most likely it is a combination of both.

From the main tavern room, hallways branch off to the Brawling Titan room, for those seeking lighter tales often with a humorous bent, the Dragon’s Bookshelf, for the more serious minded of our patrons, and the main dining room. The dining room is larger even than the tavern room, a cavernous area that still manages to feel cozy and home-like. Perhaps it’s the bright, cheery nature of the room, or Ladarthos’ small touches—such as fresh linens and immaculately clean floors—or perhaps this feeling too, is due to the Inn’s being located atop the lair of a beneficent dragon. At any rate, from this huge central room you can reach most of the other areas of the Inn—the kitchen and pantry area, the main stairs leading to the guests’ rooms, the Minstrel’s Lute room, dedicated to poetry and song, several smaller ‘party rooms’ and the Inn’s backdoor. The backdoor is really only used by the staff, although on a few occasions, it has served as an alternate means of exit for a few of our patrons.

As I came down the stairs into the dining room that morning, I noted that it was sparsely populated at this hour—likely most of our guests had already broken their fast and either returned to their rooms or begun the day’s duties. One of the exceptions was Artemus, currently engrossed in devouring the largest omelet I had ever seen at one of the more secluded tables in the dining room. An entire loaf of bread, several of Ladarthos’ famous muffins, and what looked like three or four pounds of bacon were spread around him on the table. He also had a huge glass of our fresh squeezed orange juice and what looked to have been a full pitcher of milk.

I noted with a small smirk that several of our other late diners seemed to have forgotten their own meals, and were openly staring as the handsome young gentleman tore into his food. Artemus was oblivious to their attention, and indeed did not even notice my approach to his table until I was standing directly across from him.

He glanced up, then, and stopped in mid-chew. It was like he was coming out of a trance, and only now realizing how he must look to others. With a look of chagrin, he swallowed quickly, took a quick sip of his juice, and then hurriedly wiped his hands with one of several napkins folded neatly on the table. Then he abruptly stood up and smiled a dazzling smile while gesturing at a chair next to his. “I apologize for my unseemly manner, both last night and this morning. Would the Lady care to join my repast?” His voice was the same rumbling bass from the night before, but it had a cultured quality to it that had been completely absent the previous evening.

Somewhat taken aback by the polite nature of the request, I none-the-less managed to say, “Thank you” without stammering or laughing out loud—he looked so incongruous standing there in his rumpled clothing with a bit of egg on his chin, asking me to dine with him for the all the world like a genteel young lord. Which, for all I knew, he was—albeit one with a huge appetite. I gracefully folded myself into the chair he had graciously pulled out for me, then waited, a slight smile on my face, while he returned to his own seat. “Do you think we have enough food?” I asked jokingly.

Artemus, however, seemed to take the question very seriously. He eyed the remaining edibles, enough to feed two or three normal men, somewhat skeptically before replying, “Well, if not, we can always order more—your chef is excellent and he does not seem to mind special orders.”

“I will pass along your compliments the next time I see him.”

“Please do.” And with that, it was almost as if he couldn’t contain himself any longer. He once again attacked his omelet and also tore into the loaf of bread. His eating was less aggressive then before, and I could tell he was trying not to be too gluttonous, but it was as if his appetite drove his hands. In an effort to somewhat put him at ease, I too began eating, leaving the bacon to my guest and satisfying myself with the muffins and what was left of the loaf of bread.

We ate quietly for a few moments, when I suddenly realized I was admiring the movements of his hands and arms, the strength I could sense in them. With that realization came another—the attraction from the night before had returned. It was weaker, but it was definitely there. Artemus seemed unaware of his effect on me, indeed, now that he had returned to eating, he again seemed nearly oblivious to his surroundings. While we ate I attempted to discover the source of my attraction to this strange man.

He was attractive, certainly, but not gorgeous. Ruggedly handsome, might be a better description, and despite his clothes and cultured accent, I couldn’t help thinking of him as an outdoorsman—a lumberjack or a tracker. Still I had seen and met hundreds of ruggedly handsome, gorgeous even, men in my life and appearance had never been enough, on its own, to make me desire someone. He was strong—my arm still hurt where he had knocked it aside the night before—but I knew that wasn’t it either.

As I finished my meal, and he finally began to slow down in his consumption, I decided I didn’t know why I was attracted to Artemus. It had something to do with the air of sadness which hung over him, and with the sense of mystery I associated with him, but it was more than that. Just exactly what it was, I could not say.

I broke the silence first. “Did you enjoy your stay? Get a good night’s sleep?”

Again, it was as if I broke him out of trance. He visibly started at my voice, and once more had to finish chewing before he could reply. “Yes. Very nice, thank you. I slept as well as I have in many a day—this Inn makes me feel very safe. Protected even.” He smiled again, and I decided I would like that smile even if I didn’t have these strange desires for him.

“Ah. Well, that sense of security and well-being would be Melian’s doing. Her aura suffuses this place.”

He stared at me blankly for a moment. “Melian’s aura? Who is Melian?”

And it was my turn to stare blankly for a moment—I am unaccustomed to people NOT knowing who the Lazy Dragon is. Even those who travel to Ninevah from the remote reaches of Eeko-Yah-Ap or the hinterlands of The Isle of the Kings have at least heard of the Lazy Dragon—or if they haven’t they get an earful of her history from the Inn’s regulars within five minutes of passing through our door.

“Melian is the Lazy Dragon—for whom this place is named. You’ve never heard of her? At all?”

And his smile disappeared. The sense of sadness in him seemed to bear down on both of us, perhaps the entire Inn. “If I have, I do not recall it. But then, I recall very little I am afraid. Far too little.” He tried to smile, but just couldn’t maintain the facade.

I had forgotten he had amnesia. With all the flurry of last night’s activity, his appetite, and my own peculiar reactions to him, I had completely forgotten that Artemus claimed to have no memory of his past. The look of misery in his eyes, certainly lead me to believe him.

“I’m sorry, Artemus. I didn’t mean…. That is, I…. I’m sorry.” It was the best I could do. Not very good, I admit, but I just did not know what to say to comfort him.

“It is all right,” he said quietly. “Not your fault—it is just that I have this huge hole in my memory. I know I grew up far from here, but I have no memory of my life prior to two weeks ago, nor of any place other than Ninevah.”

I was saved comment then, by the appearance of Melian herself in the kitchen doorway. She was in her human form, a graceful woman of indeterminate age and wise, wise eyes. Dark brown hair, with one lock of a deep auburn color near the front, framed a round face with full lips. Curvaceous in a dark red dress, she carried a sense of dignity and strength that drew the eye to her.

Artemus and I just stared at her as she walked over to our table—almost glided really. I assume Artemus stared because Melian has that effect on people the first time they meet her. I was staring because the Lazy Dragon hadn’t left her lair beneath the Inn before noon in many, many years.

I was so surprised, I forgot to introduce Melian when she reached the table, but she covered my lapse easily, reaching out her hand and seemingly drawing Artemus up and out of his chair. “Melian, co-owner and protector of this establishment at your service, young sir,” she said in her smoky, contralto voice.

He took her hand and kissed it gently before releasing it. “Artemus, owner of scant memories and protector of a voracious appetite at yours, my Lady Melian,” he said. They both laughed then, his a deep rumble, hers a rich silver ripple of amusement.

And just like that, they were friends. Melian joined us at our table, and with a quick glance around I realized enough time had passed that ours was now the only occupied table remaining in the dining room. I tried to keep up with all of the oddities being thrown at me, “Mellie, what are you doing up and about this early in the day? I thought you were going to relax and enjoy the storytelling for a few weeks?” That was Melian’s typical routine—mingle with the patrons for a few nights in a row, then retire for a week or two and allow the tales and songs of our bards and minstrels to wash over her in her subterranean lair. She had last entertained in the Inn (for her appearances were always entertaining) only three nights before, so her appearance now, before noon, was unprecedented.

“Well, I was, my dear,” she replied while nibbling on one of the few remaining muffins. “But why lie down there and listen to tales of mystery and intrigue, when I can come up here and be a part of one?” Her tone was mild, but her next comment to Artemus sent a thrill of panic through me, “You’ll need to go soon, you know—it is dangerous for you to stay here much longer.” Melian and I have shared many adventures together in our younger days, and I know the kinds of things she considers dangerous. When she said that to Artemus, I instinctively felt to make sure my dagger was in its concealed sheath.

But Artemus just nodded, as if she had commented on the weather rather than intimating that something an ancient red dragon considered dangerous was heading his way. “Yes, I know that I have stayed longer than I should have, and I apologize,” he said as he rose from his chair. “But as I was mentioning to the lovely Antionette, I have not felt this comfortable or secure in any place I’ve stayed for as long as I can remember. Of course,” he said with a wry chuckle, “that is not that terribly long, but it has still been a welcome respite for me. Thank you, kind ladies.”

And he bowed. Very deeply.

His politeness saved his life, for as he bowed an arrow soared through the spot where his chest had been only moments before. The arrow embedded itself in the hewn timbers of the dining room’s wall, quivering like a trapped animal.

Then it was as if the dogs of hell had broken loose.

I leapt from my chair and spun to face the direction the arrow had come from. Simultaneously, Melian and Artemus also leaped backwards sending several chairs and tables flying as a result.

From out of the woodwork it seemed, crawled black robed figures, dozens of them with their eyes hidden behind veils and wicked looking serpentine-like daggers in their hands. They charged en masse, from all directions, but they never made a sound—not a single noise as they rushed towards us, a black curtain of death.

The assassin closest to me leapt for my heart with his dagger, and I barely managed to drop and roll with his attack, throwing him back and over my head with my feet. Even as he went sailing through the air behind me, another jumped on top of me and I barely had time to grab his dagger hand with mine before his blade pierced my breast. One of my wings was crushed beneath me and the pain was sheer agony, but it helped me focus my strength on preventing my heavier attacker from driving the point of his dagger home in my heart.

Around me I could hear crashes of bodies flying and wood breaking. Roars from Artemus and screams of anger from Melian, but still no noise from any of the attackers. And the blade was moving down—hard as I pushed upward, the attacker had gravity and mass on his side and slowly the blade crept toward my skin. I tried to wiggle, but my mangled wing and the mass of the assassin made it impossible for me to work my way out from under the slowly descending blade.

I was in shock as the blade’s point touched the fabric of my tunic—‘This can’t be happening’ I kept thinking to myself. The Inn had guards and wards and a red dragon protector. Nobody dared attack the Inn or its patrons. It was neutral ground.

This can’t be HAPPENING!

But the pain of the blade piercing the skin above my heart was no illusion.

And then suddenly, the blade, and the weight, was gone.

Looming over me was Artemus, face twisted into a mask of anger and hatred. In his large hands he held my opponent, who tried to twist, tried to bring his dagger to bear on his new enemy. Almost contemptuously Artemus threw the man across the room—he slammed into the far wall of the Inn so hard he left a bloody dent in it as he slid down to the floor, his head at an impossible angle.

In a blur of movement, Artemus was gone, and as I tried to regain my feet without further damaging my injured wing I heard one last snap of breaking bones and then silence except for my own harsh breathing and deep ragged breaths, almost a pant, from Artemus.

Looking around through the pain that blurred my vision, I could see dead men in black all around me. Most had been smashed as my attacker had been, but a few had bleeding, gaping holes where their throats had once been. More than a few were no more than the blackened, smoking remains of one of Melian’s devastating Inferno spells. Chairs and tables were everywhere, many of them broken or charred beyond repair, and one assassin still swung from the room’s massive wooden chandelier—a large timber beam protruding from his chest. I shuddered at the strength that could throw a man that high, that hard.

Across the room, Artemus was crouching, his head down and his hands on his knees. I could still hear his deep, gasping breaths, and I started to move toward him, but Melian interceded. “He’s fine dear, just give him a few minutes to recover his composure.” She turned me gently and ‘Tsk’ed’ at my broken wing. “You, on the other hand are not fine. Hold still,” and I felt the warmth and comfort of a cure spell wash over me. “You’ll have to see a real healer to make sure it sets right—healing’s not my strongest skill you know—but that should make you more comfortable at least.”

I flexed my wing a little, with only minor discomfort. “Thank you, Mellie. Yes, it’s much better.” We smiled at each other for a moment then, old combat buddies who have shared many an adventure and many a fight together. “Been a while, hasn’t it?”

The old dragon, still in her human form, chuckled. “Yes, it has—but as I told you, why just listen to tales of mystery and intrigue when you can actually participate in them?” Looking around at the mess left by the brief but violent battle with the assassins, Melian ‘Tsk’ed’ once more. “Still, I think this has been quite enough mystery and intrigue for one day.” The look in her eyes was hard now, and I knew she was angry that such violence had occurred in her Inn. When she discovered the source of this attack, I knew that the perpetrator would regret violating the Inn’s neutrality.

But for now, she turned and headed for Artemus, who was no longer crouched, but rather standing and looking extremely sheepish and crestfallen. Stepping over the still smoking remains of one of our assailants, I followed her as quickly as my tender wing would allow.

They stared at each other for a moment, and it seemed that something passed between the two of them without any words needing to be spoken. Then Melian did speak.

“You must go now.”

Artemus merely nodded, his eyes downcast.

“You must go now and leave the city—do not return for at least a week. Do you understand?”

Again, Artemus nodded, though his body slumped when he heard Melian’s words. “Good. After a week, you can return to the city. Go to the University and visit this man,” she handed Artemus a small slip of paper that seemed to magically appear in her hand. “He may be able to help you, or at least direct you to someone who can. But be very careful, my new young friend, for powerful forces pursue you. Do you understand?”

One final time Artemus nodded, then he raised his head. A deep, searing fire was burning in his eyes. He took Melian’s hand, and once more brought it to his lips. Then he released her fingers and turned to me.

I was at a loss for words, could only mumble “Artemus, I….” but I didn’t know what. Didn’t know how to understand my thoughts, much less express them to this strange man. He had saved my life, had stoked fires in me that I hadn’t expected to be burning for a nearly complete stranger. I knew nearly nothing about him. HE knew nearly nothing about him.

He held his fingers to my lips, then gently traced the line of my cheek. “I am sorry, my Lady. I did not wish to bring any of this into your home.” And then he turned, and in a blur of movement, was gone. Only after he had left did I realize that his fingers had left a trace of blood—assassin’s blood—on my cheek. I stared after him until Melian’s quiet voice brought me back.

“Antionette, darling, could you give me a hand with these tables and all these dead men?”

I had to chuckle then, and turned back to help my friend straighten and clean our home—the Inn of the Lazy Dragon, finest Inn in the land and home of the best stories to be heard in all the Nations.

[The next bit]


Howdy again. Once you reminded me that Artemus was from the old web page, I went and looked it up. So I'm now one chapter ahead, but that's the end of the story. So, old chum, I hope you quickly post the next two chapters!

I find myself wondering if Artie is the werewolf, or if you're dangling out those clues just to fool the reader. Ah, and the old magic of Ninevah still comes through. It's a real pleasure reading your story.
Hi Nick,

I haven't a clue who Ward Churchill is.
And you've just made me realise that I don't know the details of Kyoto.

But Artemus is shaping up to be a fine tale, I know that much :)

You asked about using the LDI characters - feel free to add Kilfire if you wish.

BTW, did you know that the LDI has been gone for so long
that we've been mummified? :) www.google.com/q=hommfiction

--MarkN aka Kilfire
Hi Mark,

Welcome aboard! I had not realized we'd been mummified. Is that good or bad? Hmm... hard to say. Artie was a good start-- I'm hopeful that in this format, it will finally get to be more than that. We'll see.
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Blogger - Not exactly what I was looking for, was looking for love spells for marriage. But good reads here. Will stop back to check in and see what's new.
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