We clicked a strange link for a D&D character, for use in this week’s Chuck Wendig challenge. I got “courageous Half-orc Monk from the grave diggers union who was raised by ghosts”. I know nothing about Dungeons & Dragons, but I thought there must be special things an orc or monk does in D&D so I looked it up in Wikipedia. It says: martial arts specialist – hand-to-hand combat, also clerical spellcasting, priestly spells, possibly psionic powers, ability to evade damage from non-magic attacks – later also resistant to poison, disease and certain spells, and able to move more swiftly. Then I thought I’d better look up Half-orcs – grotesque carnivorous humanoids, typically assassins.
So I came up with this one for you, and cut it down to 1057 words and didn’t want to take out any more 🙂 I hope you enjoy it.
What’s your poison?
Cameron’s table was close enough to the fire to get warm, but not so close for the gleam to penetrate the darkness under his hood. He didn’t mind being recognised, but his face got in the way of casual conversation.
He lifted the jug of ale the waiter placed before him and savoured the smell. Fine hops, grown locally last year. Brewed just right, justifying the fame of the area. Shame about the overtones of hemlock and essence of dittany. Now, was someone trying to poison him, or just testing to see if what they said about him was true?
He studied the colour of the brew while he considered his options. Not drink, but be recognised for smelling a rat. Drink, and be recognised for the non-effect of the poisons. Drink, and act ill?
He took a small sip, just half a pint.
He put the glass down. Keeping the angle of his hood towards the glass, he looked around at the throng. Five people were looking his way. There was nothing behind him, so they were watching him.
One was his mark. Good that your mark knew of the price on his head. Not good if he knew Cameron had the job. On the other hand, he had no time to set this up. Cameron dismissed him as the poisoner.
Two were old friends. Cameron used the term friends differently from most. They might want to poison him. However, they both knew it wouldn’t work, not something as simple as hemlock and dittany. Then again, it could be a friendly greeting – here, we’ve spiked your drink because we know it won’t harm you. What a laugh, eh?
The fourth was familiar. Or rather, a familiar. The cat licked its paw and wiped its ear nonchalantly, pretending not to look at Cameron at all. Cameron wasn’t fooled. Its eyes were on Cameron, all right. But unless Barbitura had given instructions to the barman and then left the cat on guard, it wasn’t the cat. How was a cat, even a familiar, to poison his drink without assistance?
The fifth was watching him from the inn’s barn. Probably had an agreement with the barman not to scare the customers. Cameron could see him watching, because Cameron was not fooled by ghosts. He had a lifetime’s experience of them. Ghosts did not tend to poison people. Although it was a neat double bluff – ghosts don’t poison people and this stuff in your drink won’t poison you. Quits.
Cameron yawned and stretched, keeping the shadow over his face, then lifted the jar and drained it. He wiped his mouth with the back of sleeve and waved to the barman, signalling for another. He watched the watchers for a reaction.
Had he missed someone?
The second jar came, with the same special additives, only stronger. The barman had to be involved. Nobody else had access to that drink, he’d watched from cask to table.
Jar already laced? No, it had been upside down on the shelf above the barman’s head.
Sleight of hand by the barman or waiter? He thought carefully. No opportunity. The waiter had a clear run from picking up the tray to putting it on the table. He had never made a move to the jar, and had picked it up by the handle. If the barman had done it, he’d done it with the hand holding the jar under the spigot. Surely not.
Was the cask spiked? No, this was stronger smelling than the last one. Although… did either hemlock or dittany enhance the senses?
Cameron sipped the drink a few times. Nobody in the bar was showing any signs of poisoning, and a few other glasses had been filled from the same cask by now.
Under his hood, Cameron scowled.
His friends were laughing and joking as if he wasn’t there. The cat was washing its backside, glancing at him regularly. The mark was still looking his way. The mark hadn’t moved at all. The mark was rigid.
Cameron got up, swayed over to his table and picked him up. It was easy enough to pick up a rigid man, the trouble was making it look natural. He staggered out of the back door of the inn, bumping into a few walls as he went, just for effect, and to disguise the total lack of motion, not even a little bit of slumping, from his burden. He backed into the barn, pushing the door open with his weight and kicking it shut behind him. He let his mark drop to the floor and put the plank across the barn door to prevent others disturbing him.
“OK, what d’ye think yer doin’ with my mark?”
The ghost laughed, making a black O with its spectral mouth.
“Ye want me ter lose me fee? Yer rumbling, rusting, parsimonious scramble of a scrather.”
The ghost made some sweeping movements with its arms.
“Rubbish!” replied Cameron. “I ‘ad it all in ‘and. And what’s with spiking mine too?”
The ghost held its ribs and mimed laughing again.
“T’aint funny at all.”
The ghost stopped and eyed him. Well, eyesocketed him.
Cameron sighed. “Well, the least yer can do is ‘elp me straighten ‘im out. ‘e’ll be the devil to transport in that shape.
The ghost entered the mark’s body and gently unwound him till he lay flat. Cameron found a couple of sacks and put one over each end, binding him tight in the middle and adding a neat carrying loop.
“Right. Ta. I’ll be off then. Next time, leave it ter me, right?”
If a ghost could look glum, this one did.
“And don’t try poisoning me next time, it wastes a good brew.”
Cameron slung the body across his back, much like carrying a bow, and opened the door. A blast of icy air shot him onto his back. A black-veiled figure stood over him.
“Oh, hi, Barbitura. How are you, darlin’?”
“Don’t you ‘darling’ me, you great oaf. Give me the mark, I need the money.”
“Don’t we all, dear, don’t we all. Go get her, Sparky.”
Sparky the ghost looked at him with mournful eyesockets.
“Sorry, dearie. Sparky’s working for me these days. He’s good, isn’t he?”
Cameron lay back on the hay with a resigned sigh. You couldn’t trust anyone, these days.
(c) J M Pett 2015