RSV Shadowborn

The Slothjemian spelljamming ship called the Shadowborn was a clean, fast, and dangerous vessel. She had served in combat against a number of opponents, most recently during the illithid incursions, somewhat ironic because the Shadowborn itself was originally an illithid warship. In recent years the Shadowborn was increasingly used to serve as a sort of heavily armed transport ship for members of the Slothjemian Royal family. Like other navy vessels that had been pressed into this sort of service before, the Shadowborn prided herself on being ready for a fight if one broke out.

Now to be clear, the fights that the crew of the Shadowborn were expecting were those of hostile forces outside of the ship, not among the passengers being transported from one place to another. Not that a fight among the passengers should have come as much of a surprise seeing as many of those that were passengers were members of the royal family or were retainers to those notable individuals. Slothjemians prided themselves on being somewhat savage, unpredictable, and even violent. Rare indeed were the occasions when there wasn’t some sort of brouhaha among their delegations. Even the Queen had been known to throw a punch now and again, and more than one unlucky recipient had the broken jaw to prove it.

This time around, however, the crew of the Shadowborn should have known to be even more on their guard. Their passenger of note was the Queen’s youngest offspring, Prince Bortimer, and his small retinue of companions. There was of course his bodyguard and perpetual foil to his schemes, Shr Grogdahl. With them was also a young halfling woman with curly bright red, almost orange hair and an infectious smile that made one wonder what on earth she was doing with these two scoundrels. She was introduced to the crew as Hiltrude Kestrel, but she happily told them all to refer to her as Hilly. There were also two human men that looked as though they might have been related not too distantly to ogres and were probably about that smart. They were named Delfor and Merakor, and had been brought along to do the heavy lifting of Prince Bortimer’s luggage. And there was a lot of luggage. All available space in the cargo hold of the Shadowborn was completely stuffed with wooden crates, leather satchels, iron strongboxes, and canvas sacks stuffed to overflowing with who knows what. Virtually all of it belonged to Bortimer himself. Grogdahl had with him a large backpack and that was all. Hilly had a suitcase and a small satchel. It wasn’t clear if Delfor and Merakor had brought any luggage of note but they certainly were kept busy hauling Bortimer’s stuff into the ship and stacking it so that it wouldn’t shift during the voyage.

It was no secret among anyone that knew the two of them that Bortimer and Grogdahl enjoyed a truly baffling friendship. Bortimer was outgoing and sociable almost to the point of being obnoxious. Grogdahl valued his quiet time and in large groups rarely spoke or showed any emotion other than annoyance. Bortimer was always scheming and plotting a variety of escapades both lawful and criminal. Grogdahl frequently played a part in these endeavors but almost never had any idea he was playing a part in them until it was too late to back out. Bortimer loved music, and never turned down a chance to attend a party, festival, or celebration. Grogdahl had a well-earned reputation for punching bards or beating them half to death with their instruments. But one of the things that both men agreed wholeheartedly on was that eating good food and avoiding real work was preferable to almost everything else. While they ate and relaxed Bortimer would do what Bortimer did best and Grogdahl would roll his eyes and insult him almost without ceasing for his idiocy. The half-human prince and his swamp orc bodyguard had a good thing going, and despite the fact that Grogdahl almost always seemed miserable for their association it had always been clear that the two men were nigh unto inseparable.

Hilly was unaccustomed to this dynamic and while it wasn’t clear what her role was even supposed to be in this venture, she refused to shirk away from the challenge of sorting it all out. Almost immediately Grogdahl regretted her being along for the trip. It was evident from the get go that she was every bit as effervescent as Bortimer was, happy all the time and filled with a joy for living that caused Grogdahl to have an almost irresistible urge to punch them both in the throat. To add to his misery the two happy idiots were going to try and speak only in Fanolanian in order to hone their language skills. Not only was Grogdahl firmly dead set against learning another language, it was frequently joked that he struggled with basic Slothjemian. Merakor and Delfor had tried to take advantage of this by spending more time with the swamp orc in order to try and befriend him, but Grogdahl quickly put an end to that nonsense merely by glaring at them. Grogdahl was not any regular run of the mill swamp orc. He was a highly decorated member of the Phantom Legion and one of the most notorious huntsmen that the Coreland had ever produced. He had killed enough people to fill a fair sized town and tales of his exploits had circulated for over a decade among the more shadowy and dangerous elements of Slothjemian society. The two men would have loved to have been able to boast that they knew Grogdahl and considered him a buddy, but it was also acceptable to declare as a boast that they had avoided being killed by Grogdahl, so that is the route they chose to take.

It took longer to load the RSV Shadowborn with all of Bortimer’s crap than the voyage itself would take. Under a capable helmsman the trip from Slothjemia’s Coreland to the Archduchy of Renatus wasn’t even a full day of travel. Once there the cargo would all have to be unloaded, and that would take another chunk of time. But the trip itself was going to be brief, and this was what made spelljamming so appealing to Bortimer. He was not fond of waiting. He had always opted for the quicker solution of those available, even if it was more dangerous. During this brief voyage through the skies over Partum the prince would work on his correspondences. He knew a few languages, but he had an agreement with Hilly to speak in Fanolanian as much as possible so he had to balance that with his writing which wasn’t in Fanolanian. A vexation that caused him to have to focus more on what the hell he was doing meant that he was occupied fully.

Initially this pleased Grogdahl immensely because he neither cared for chatting in foreign languages nor hearing about what Bortimer was writing. He sat down in the central room of the ship that now served as a kind of lounge and took out a wicked jorish short sword. He hummed a tune softly in his deep baritone voice as he carefully and methodically wiped the blade with an oiled rag he kept in a pocket inside his vest. Hilly sat down opposite of him and smiled, her feet dangling above the floor and she sat with her hands folded in her lap. Grogdahl could feel her gaze, and he stopped humming. Looking at her with what he thought might be a suitable terrifying scowl, he grunted at her as dismissively as he could muster.

Hilly wasn’t dissuaded in the least. In a cheerful voice she asked, “Whatcha doin?”

Grogdahl sighed and stopped his work briefly as he looked at the halfling across from him. “I thought you were only speaking Fanolanian.”

Hilly grinned and asked, “Do you know Fanolanian, Shr Grogdahl?”

“No.” grunted the swamp orc.

“Then speaking only that would be quite rude, given these circumstances. No point in practicing a language if the person you are talking to doesn’t know it.” Hilly kicked her legs lazily as a child would do. “So whatcha doin?”

The swamp orc gritted his teeth, realizing she wasn’t going to leave him alone. His answer was a little rougher than it needed to be, but then Grogdahl was rougher than he needed to be. “I am removing yesterday’s poison. It wasn’t used, so it needs to be reapplied.” The huntsman continued wiping the blade of the short sword, almost reverently.

Hilly nodded her head. “Isn’t that expensive? Having to apply poison every day? Why not just apply it when you are going to use it?” she asked in an almost singsong tone.

Grogdahl could feel his ire rising, but he fought it back and said through clenched teeth, “You never know when you will need to use it. Combat isn’t scheduled, it just happens. A huntsman needs to be ready.”

“Oh.” said Hilly thoughtfully. “So you’re like a huge squire, then. Always ready for whatever your lord needs to have done.”

Grogdahl put the rag back in his pocket and pulled a metal flask out of another pocket. Uncorking it, he lovingly poured a thin line of somewhat viscous liquid on the blade. He recorked the flask, and returned it to his pocket. With another cloth that he pullled from his trouser pocket, he began to rub the liquid on the sharpened edges of the short sword. He said somewhat quietly, “I am not a squire. I am a huntsman. I need to be ready to kill at a moment’s notice, not make breakfast or do the bookkeeping.”

Hilly looked skeptical, and said, “You must know your accounts though to afford that much poison every week.”

Grogdahl paused his task and glared again at the halfling. “Huntsmen make their own toxins. If you know where to look for the reagents, the job itself costs nothing.” The swamp orc went back to his work.

“That is very practical of you! Do you only carry the one poisoned sword?” Asked Hilly happily.

Grogdahl finished his work and replied, “Usually. But now I need to recoat my arrows as well.” He slid the sword back into its leather sheath and pulled the quiver of arrows from next to his backpack.

Hilly smiled and waited as the huntsman lined the arrows out next to him, and one by one began to remove the previous days toxin off of the cruel looking arrowheads. The metal was nearly black, and the fletching was done in a jet black feather. “Do you have a favorite arrow?” Hilly asked as Grogdahl went about his work.

Taken by surprise, the swamp orc looked at Hilly and he replied, “What?”

“Is one of them more accurate than the others? You must know them well, know which will fly straight and true, which will do better in a windy day or which will hit harder than the others.” said Hilly with a smile.

Grogdahl looked at his arrows, and at the arrow he held in his hand. He had never given it much thought. As he pondered the halfling’s inquiry, he realized that he did instinctively know when he drew one of them from the quiver how it would behave. He had even substituted them for different purposes. He turned the arrow over in his hand, and rolled it thoughtfully between his fingers. “I suppose this one is my most reliable.” he said quietly.

“What is its name?” asked Hilly.

Again Grogdahl looked in surprise at Hilly. “What? Who names arrows? That isn’t a thing people do.”

Hilly giggled and said, “Sure they do! They name famous weapons all the time. The Queen’s sword has a name. So does the Herzgraf’s sword. You have surely killed more people with that arrow than the Queen has killed with her sword. Shouldn’t it have a name too?”

Grogdahl looked again at the arrow in his hands. He looked back at Hilly and said with a sneer, “That’s ridiculous.”

Hilly shrugged and said, “All of your friends have names. I bet your weapons mean more to you than they do.”

The huntsman went back to his work, cleaning off the arrowheads and gently reapplying the poison from the metal flask. One by one the arrows were returned to the quiver, carefully, which was then set back down next to the backpack. Hilly turned her attention to looking out of the window and began humming a happy little tune.

Bortimer looked over at his bodyguard and whispered loudly, “So what did you name that arrow?”

Grogdahl grunted and replied, “Geoff.”