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03 June 2008 @ 08:57 pm
22 Flamerule 1372 / late spring ca. 1340 (part 2)  
Rizzen was in my room, lounging in my bed, when I entered. I glared at him. He got up as I started to put my things away. At least he was wearing pants.

“And what were we doing tonight, Len? Do you really think you can win this one by sneaking around ahead of time? Just because you know the woods doesn’t mean you’ll know how to find your quarry on the chase.”

I merely smiled.

“Oh, yes, not speaking. Right. Why do you care so much, anyway? You’re not good at this. You don’t even like it. Even if you do manage to succeed in this contest, you’ll just fail again next time. You’re only putting off the inevitable. Why not move on to something else and let the training master save his time and energy for those of us who know what we’re doing?”

It was an honest question, if a petulant one, and he was right. I much preferred finding ways to merely take what I wanted over actually working for it. Still do. I should have bowed out, and I knew it, and I might have, if it hadn’t been for that damn pendant. That was what I really wanted, but pride wouldn't let me admit that. Not having a good answer even if I had been on speaking terms with Rizzen, I opted for just looking away as I pulled off my cloak.

Of course, Rizzen knew me entirely too well. He grabbed my arm and pulled me close to him.

“Of course, it isn’t just the test this time, is it?” Rizzen put a hand on my hip. “I saw you looking at that jewel your father put on display. A sapphire, was it? You've always liked sparkly things. That’s what you really want.” He ran a finger down my jaw. He was teasing me, and I wasn’t sure what to do about it. It’s never good when someone you’ve been taking advantage of realizes they’re not below you anymore.

“You could still have it,” he continued, “and much more easily than by tromping about the woods for two days, scheming and cheating. I could make it a gift to you, when I win it.”

He leaned close to me, and I let him kiss me, while I thought about my options. What can I say? Rizzen was a damn good kisser.

It would have been so very easy to just bed Rizzen to get the pendant. And much more pleasant than my original plan. But I feared it would give him power over me, for more than just a romp or two. This was different from him begging for my attention and giving me something I wanted to get it. As I pondered, his lips slid down to my neck.

Oh, yes, that’s why I kept him around for so long. Sune help me, I can almost remember how it felt even now.

“I think I like you not speaking to me,” he said, as he worked my shirt out from my waistband. I was so close to submitting to him. I pushed him backward onto my bed. Then he made his mistake.

“I definitely like having something you want, for a change.” Of course, I knew he didn’t actually have the pendant yet, but it took him gloating over it to snap me into a decision.

“Well, actually, you don’t,” I said.

“Oh, found your tongue--wait, what?”

“I said, you don’t actually have the pendant yet,” I replied sweetly. I straddled him. This was more like it. “If you win it, then we’ll . . . negotiate. Or I’ll negotiate with whoever does win it.” Rizzen almost looked hurt.

“You—you would . . .”

I ran my hand down his chest. “What, did you think you’re the only man I’ve ever had?” Apparently, he did. “Please, Rizzen. I’ve bedded most of the men here under the age of 150 at least once.” A good many of them, at any rate. “I’ve even bedded some of them without asking anything in return.” I lied, just to get his goat. I bedded many men for gain, but I only slept with Rizzen strictly for pleasure. Not that I ever let him know that. There was always a carrot.

“But I thought . . .”

“That we had something special?” I threw my head back and laughed. “I thought you realized I was only using you. Hells, I assumed you were using me just the same.” I leaned in toward his face and ran a hand through his hair. “Of course, that doesn’t mean we have to stop now. Perhaps it will give you extra motivation to win that pendant for me.” I kissed him. Angry as he was now, he still wanted me, and his arms slid around me again.

But I stopped.

“On second thought, I think I want to get the pendant for myself.” I swung myself off of him and shoved him off the bed. Of course, the only reason I succeeded was that he wasn’t expecting it.

Well, that really made him angry. “I can’t believe you still think you can win this! How can you? You’re up against the very best in our class. We’ll be back with the damned quarry before you’ve so much as found the trail. You're weak and useless! You’re wasting Tebvyr’s time, not to mention everyone else’s. I can’t believe they’ve allowed you to train with us for so long to begin with.”

“I don’t care about the training anymore, but I will get the pendant.”

“Maybe, but you won’t earn it!” Silly boy, who said anything about earning?

“Right, because none of you real rangers ever do anything dishonest to get ahead. You’ve never attacked one of your fellow students and taken the quarry from them, or anything like that.”

From the door, Rizzen looked at me blankly. “Of course not!”

“Gods, I think you’re telling the truth.” Was he really that innocent? “I hate to break it to you, but if you’re honestly making your way by merit alone, you’re the only one doing so. Everybody here cheats to get ahead. I just do it more than most. I can’t believe it’s taken so long for you to figure that out.”

Rizzen gave me one more look of disbelief, and left without another word.

I sighed. The sex would’ve been really good. And for the first time, I wasn’t sure he’d be back. It was a ballsy move on my part, because if my schemes fell flat, and he did win the pendant, I’d be sunk. But I couldn’t let him think he had any sway over me. True, I’d already reaffirmed my power over him, and if I’d just had a nice romp and gone my merry way in the morning, I’d still be able to get the pendant from him later if I failed. I’d made my decision, though, and there was nothing left but to move forward with my plans.

The following morning, I told everyone I was going to do some extra training on my own, which was plausible enough, and set out right away. I couldn’t help but notice that the pendant, which my father had put on display using some sort of enchantment, was missing. He had probably taken it down and had hidden away somewhere safe.

The caves to the southwest were farther away, and I’d need the extra time. I perhaps took too much time scouting out the quickest route, as it was already growing dark when I reached the caves. But I didn’t get quite to the cave mouth when I detected the unmistakable odor of goblins. Jackpot. The goblin would come straight here to its fellows when it was released. Goblins aren’t smart enough not to. My work was not yet done, however. I still had to explore the caves themselves. There were too many goblins around the main cave to get in without being seen, so I scouted around and found a smaller cave entrance that was mostly deserted. Once in the caves, I knew that we’d all have our work cut out for us the next day. The main tunnels were fair crawling with goblins. Rizzen and our other two competitors would waste a lot of time in fighting. Good thing they enjoyed that sort of nonsense. Better to slip in quiet-like and let as few know you’re there as possible.

This was also a larger cave system than what I’d found the previous night. I tried to keep to the less populated tunnels, but I couldn’t evade every goblin. Remarkably, most of them didn’t try to attack me. They seemed afraid. Near the end of one tunnel, far into the caves, I found out why.

As I crept down the tunnel, I heard the sound of metal clanging against rock. Much to my surprise, as I came closer to the mouth of a tunnel, I heard the crack of a whip, followed by a drow voice. Just inside the tunnel, I realized there was a small vein of ore here, and my clan had wasted no time putting the goblins to work mining it for us. Perhaps they had even already set up there, and this was why we chose the location for our new encampment. At any moment, though, it was simply one more thing to avoid.

I backtracked to one small side tunnel I hadn’t explored yet. I knew I had been in the caves for a long time, now, and would need to head back soon if I wanted to get any rest before the test began, but I was getting worried that there were so many goblins, that despite all of my pre-scouting, I wouldn’t be able to find the right one even if I did get here faster than the rest. If this last tunnel could help me at all, it was worth taking the extra time. To my disappointment, though, the tunnel was a dead end. Or so I thought, until a strange crack caught my eye, just as I turned to leave. It was entirely too regular. And long. There was a door here. I couldn’t not investigate it further.

Upon examination, I found a small stone protrusion that didn’t quite seem natural. I was worried, though, that the door might be trapped. I had come across more than few traps in my travels, but I couldn’t disable more than the very simplest ones. And even those, I sometimes fumbled. I didn’t see any of the signs I’d come to associate with traps, so I held my breath and put my hand on the stone. It was loose. I pushed, and it went inward. With a grating sound, the hidden door opened inward.

The door opened on a small chamber. Inside was a goblin, tied up. It was branded with Master Kenth’s mark.

By the Nine Hells. I hadn’t been set up to lose; I was being tested on a different set of skills. Pity the ranger students hadn’t a clue. They still thought the odds were stacked in their favor.

But once I got over the shock, there was a brand new one. I looked up from the goblin to see the sapphire pendant, on a slender, silver chain. This was way too good to be true. I moved the goblin out of my way (okay, please don’t tell Seledra that I kicked him) to take a closer look. Oh, yeah, now this was a trap. A fairly simple one, but still more challenging than the ones I’d managed to disable on my own. The necklace hung on a peg, and a change in the pressure on the peg would trigger the trap.

I got my makeshift tools out of my pack, and settled in to work on it. I considered trying to hang something else there, and then removing the necklace, but I wasn’t sure that adding more weight wouldn’t trigger the trap mechanism as much as removing weight. It was delicate work, and at one point I came very close to setting it off, but finally, with a click, the mechanism released. I removed the necklace, only to have it transform into a cheap, glass bauble on a pewter chain as soon as I touched it. Well played, father.

The goblin already had a lead attached to it, so I grabbed it and made my way out of the caves. It was only a few hours before dawn, and I had just enough time to get the starting point for the test. In fact, I was late, and the training master was already explaining the goal of the test when I arrived, quietly, of course. My father was standing nearby, speaking quietly with another man and a woman, both of whom I vaguely recognized, but didn’t know by name.

“A goblin we captured earlier this week was released yesterday evening into the woods,” Master Kenth said. “Your goal is to successfully track it, find it, and bring it back. And please don’t bring back another goblin and think you can fool me; it has been branded with my personal mark.”

“You mean like this goblin?” I said, as I stepped out from behind a tree.

Rizzen and the other two ranger students were appalled. “That’s not fair! How . . .”

Their indignant cries were interrupted by my father’s laughter. For once, he didn’t look at me with utter disdain. “When you didn’t show up this morning, I thought you had finally given up. In fact, I was rather pleased that I wouldn’t have to give this up,” he said, producing my precious pendant from a pouch under his cloak. “Indeed, you have exceeded our expectations.”

“You don’t know how happy I am to be finally rid of you, girl,” Master Kenth said. I raised an eyebrow.

My father explained. “As I’m sure you’ve guessed, this test wasn’t exactly what it seemed. Your perseverance, however misguided, has not gone unnoticed, and the . . . ingenious . . . methods you’ve come up with to compensate for your utter lack of ability made me wonder what hidden talents you might have, and so with Master Kenth’s cooperation, your new teachers,” he indicated the man and woman standing nearby, “came up with this little test to see if you could handle the work the clan leaders have in mind for you.”

“Perhaps you might introduce me to my new teachers, then,” I said.

“Of course,” said the woman. “I am Olorue Hlat'tar, and this is Qualnar Kenurden.” We, along with some others, generally work with raiding parties, and parties exploring in Myth Drannor.” Myth Drannor? Oh, this was way better than hunting.

Qualnar continued. “Our job is to . . . smooth the way for our companions; find out the best time to strike, open doors, find artifacts that might help the clan, and the like.”

“You might have to spend extended periods of time away from the encampment for your new training,” my father said, “but perhaps that will serve to keep your fingers out of my own coffers.”

“Well,” said Olorue, “we weren’t planning on beginning your training until tomorrow, and it looks like you’ve had quite a night, so you may as well get some rest.” She nodded a farewell, and she and Qualnar turned to leave.

My father said, “go on, hand that goblin over to Master Kenth. Perhaps his other students will have a chance to track it, yet.”

He thought I wouldn’t notice that he moved to leave as I handed the lead to Kenth. “Aren’t you forgetting something, father?” I asked.

He laughed again, and handed me the necklace he had once again put away in his pouch. “You are very much like your mother sometimes, girl. I only hope you prove more loyal than she did.”

I mumbled my thanks as he walked away, eager to examine my prize (and make sure it was the real thing, this time). As I turned to leave, I couldn’t help tossing a smirk back toward Rizzen, who was practically foaming at the mouth.

***

Fingering the now tarnished silver, I smiled in remembrance. I was so very proud of myself that day. Proud and smug. I had what I wanted, and for once, my father wasn’t threatening to throw me out into the woods and let me fend for myself.

“And what do you know,” I said to myself, as I wandered out in search of someone to help me clean the pendant, “I did earn it, didn’t I?”
 
 
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