Mordrock hastens home through the narrow, dusky streets. Give it an eighth bell and the lamp lighters would be out and about. The cobbles he walks on aren’t slippery yet, but soon they would be, and it would be hospitable to put some sand on the steps for this visitor he was supposed to receive. Veras, one of the senior priests in Kelemvor’s temple at The Plinth, had mentioned that the man, though no noble himself, was associated with a fine estate in Castle Ward, and that there had been a request for a consultation.
Halfway between annoyance at having his routine interrupted and curiosity about the nature of the request, he had left his duties in the City of the Dead earlier than normal to make sure he could receive company. Not the best of times. So close to midwinter it was important to keep an eye on things.
Trudging up the steep alley that leads to his rooms, he keeps an eye out for his furry friends. Nosey he had already spotted near the now-empty spot for the fishmonger’s cart. Sashay would be ensconced near the row of boarding houses – the crowd that occupied those louse dens was usually drunk enough to drop food or even vomit up what they’d just eaten. Mouser and Whisky would be strutting up and down between Goosey’s Kittle Housie and his front door. Skeeter would normally have hidden high up, between the crooked chimneys and laundry lines but not anymore. She stayed indoors now.
He eyes the worn stone steps that rose off the alley, then grabs the shovel out of the communal sand bin. Once the steps are well covered, he climbs them, feeling for his key. Light shines behind the windows to the right and left of his front door. Must have been a quiet day at the quayside if both neighbors were home already.
His rooms are up two flights of stairs, right under the eaves of the tenement. Some might not like the amount of climbing it takes to get there, but he enjoys the extra light that the elevation brings him, as well as the privacy of not sharing a front door. Plus, his neighbors are not the kind of folk to call the city guard for unusual noises or the odd experiment that got a little lively.
Once inside, he hangs his bearskin mantle on a hook and puts his boots on a reed mat to catch the mud. He pokes at the fire and adds a log, then uses a thin splinter of kindling to carry a flame over to the brace of candles on his table. Before he can light the last one, he is interrupted by a knock on the door downstairs.
Mordrock goes over to where he hung his mantle and pulls on a thin cord until he hears the latch lift. That would be Dewen, the ale boy from Kishfettle’s. “Bring it up here, lad. You can set it on the table, as you please. Light footsteps come up the stairs. “Was it four quarts tonight, ser Ironpost?” “No serring me, Dewie, but yes. Four quarts. Seems I might have company.” Dewen, a scrawny human boy of maybe twelve years old, appears in view with a wicker basket and an earthenware pitcher which he places on the table. Before the boy darts out again, Mordrock tosses him a copper piece.
The smell of roasted meat begins to fill the air. Mordrock swallows. As he rummages through a low cupboard for a second trencher and cup, he hopes his guest will not be late.
Sur Hennerly is never late. Just as the temple bells strike Evenwatch, another knock falls on Mordrock’s door. This time, he makes his way downstairs to open the door in person. He looks up at a young, red-haired human male, clean-shaven and in simple garb.
As calloused hand meets calloused hand, the men take each other’s measure. “Sur. Of Catchbreeze. Pleased.” “Mordrock Ironpost. Come in. I was to sit down for supper. You can join me and talk while we eat.” The human nods, steps inside and begins to unbutton his wool coat.
Soon, the men sit opposite each other at the table. Mordrock serves out the food and ale. Sur reaches into a leather satchel and pulls out a bottle of wine. “Gift from the house.” Courtesies thus fulfilled, there is a quiet moment as the men devote themselves to the food. After a while Mordrock – mouth full – gestures for Sur to state his business. He does so, between bites. “Catchbreeze. It has been empty some time. Only recently staffed in preparation for a re-deeding. You familiar with the place?” Mordrock shakes his head and swallows. “Back when I lived in Castle Ward with my old lot it was already empty. Never saw much but the fence.” Sur looks at the dwarf with a bit of surprise. “You lived there? When was that? “Och, some twenty years ago, I think? Eventually most of them had… other business that took them away from town. I decided the place was too big for me. Downsized a bit.” He gestures to the rooms around him, which, though clean and in decent repair, do not compare to even the most modest house in Castle Ward.
“Well, the place is set to no longer be empty.” Sur says “A staff has been assembled to prepare it for this group called Drow’s Bane. Heroes who did something in the Underdark against the demon lords. Haven’t heard the details. They’re still in Gauntlgrym at the moment.” Mordrock nods with a half smile. “Familiar story. I’d heard something was going on down there. Some of Kelemvor’s order had their fair share of visions about it. So it’s a bunch of rat catchers that gets to live above their station, eh? And you to clean the place up for them?” Sur chuckles. “Like that, yes. Heard they’re alright folk, though. One of them is actually a proper North Ward kid. One of those old elven families.” Mordrock grimaces. “Those starchcollars need to unlace their corsets every now and then. It must’ve sent them all in a tizzy to have one of their own run off and do something other than sip cordial and compose poetry.” He takes a swig of ale. “Be that as it may, what do you need my counsel on?” “Catchbreeze has an old plot. All family graves of a century or two. The land has shifted over the years, more than I’d expect. I want advice on how to determine the cause and how to restore…” Sur pauses “… proper order.” “Rehallowing is your best bet. Can do that for you in a jiffy. Regular order’s rates, too. But that’s only if nothing is already rumbling there. Noticed any unusual mounds or small depressions? Animals avoiding the area? I take it there are no walkers yet?” Sur shakes his head. “Nothing yet. Just want to make sure.”
“I’ll be happy to come by. After midwinter, though. There’s much for me to do this time of year.” “Understood.” Sur says. “Leave a note for me at the carpenter’s guild two days before you want to come. List of supplies too, so I can get those, and your fee slip. No order prices though, I want your own rate. The high one. City foots the bill. Oh, and sup with us that night. We’re on the grounds already and Jero knows his way around a stove.”
Sur gets up, preparing to take his leave. As he glances about the room, he sees light reflect off of a row of dragon scales set on a shelf. His eyebrows raise a bit. As he puts his coat back on, Mordrock gets up as well. The day’s digging made him a little stiff. He walks his guest downstairs. Sur steps through the door into the freezing night, then turns back and extends his hand once more. “Glad you’ll be helping out.” He pauses. “And thank you for your service. My father used to tell stories of you and your companions to my sister and me.”
Mordrock shakes his head after he closes the door. Nice to know someone remembers. Guy seemed decent. The money would come in handy too.
Once he is back upstairs, he sees a sleek grey bundle of fur on the table, sniffing at the remains of the roast chicken. “Clever lass to stay up in the rafters while that fellow was over, Skeet.” In response to his voice, the small cat crouches and looks back, prepared to jump off the table if he moves too fast. Other than her eyes, which are clouded over, she looks completely ordinary. Mordrock moves very slowly, keeping up a low-voiced stream of soothing talk. “Wouldn’t want to startle him. How about I get you a wing of that nice bird, eh? Maybe we’ll give the rest to your outside friends. They need it more than you now.” Still suspicious, the milky-eyed cat backs away from the platter but stays on the table. Mordrock is able to reach the chicken now, and breaks off the wing, which still has some meat clinging to it. He pushes it a little into the direction of Skeeter, then picks up the platter with his other hand. He would keep the remaining leg for breakfast. The rest could go to the outside cats.
As he goes downstairs for the third time that night, he thinks about Skeet. She wasn’t really supposed to have been an experiment. She was just the most friendly of the little colony of Corkscrew Alley cats. Had been for years. When he’d found her struggling a year ago, trying to give birth to an oversized, two-headed kitten, it had seemed kindest to just give her a grain of his most powerful sedative and let her pass without any more pain. But then, after he’d carefully removed the kitten from her limp body, the idea of not having her around had been unbearable. First his mother’s letter about the debtors still hounding her years after the closing of the family foundry, then the last of his old friends moving away. Not getting the warden job at the City of the Dead. A man needs a friend in times like those, and if a little grey cat was all he had, then that’s what he would pray to Kelemvor to keep.