Notes: Written for /tg/ regarding trade from the surface to the Underdark in Forgotten Realms – which belongs to WotC

, as this present disclaimer notes. Concepts from Wizards of the Coast, characters from me, inspiration from discussion on /tg/. *** The Underdark Traders: Jarid’s Story By Farseer Miriel "Wake up, kid." The voice was gruff, the hand shaking his shoulder ungentle. Jarid stirred. "Mm... Five more minutes..." "Up." He opened his eyes, and went still. The man standing over him, a grizzled human who looked to be in his fifties, had a distinct scowl on his face. "Stowaways," the man muttered. "Always thinking a covered cart is a route to adventure." "Who... who are you?" Jarid asked, feeling rather intimidated. "I... am Vengad Borlahan, boldest trader in the region. And you? You are in my trade goods." Jarid sat up, and looked around. It seemed strangely dark, and he could hear faint echoes of their voices. "Where am I?" "The Underdark, boy. And if you want to survive, best make yourself useful." Jarid Fielden had been an ordinary boy, his only destiny to one day inherit the family farm. All this had changed, however, in Vengad's trade caravan. He'd been handed some chainmail and a shortsword, and had been informed that he was now a guard. The sixteen-year-old hadn't dared protest - Slyssin, a tiefling member of the group, had taken great pleasure in telling him how many predators there were that he'd possibly encounter if he wandered off alone, and the sharp-toothed grin accompanying this was a deterrent in itself. At least Slyssin had begun to show him how to use the sword - Vengad ignored him wherever possible. He was still slightly unsure what they were doing down here. Why trade with monsters? Slyssin just laughed when Jarid broached the subject. "They pay damn good, kid. Best reason for anything." He had lost track of the days. There didn't seem to be any reason behind their divisions of time without sun or moon as guides - he ate, trained, marched and slept when he was told, no external cycles governing his time. After yet another long march, gnawing on a chunk of dry bread, he asked Slyssin, "So what

could the people here even want?" Slyssin just smirked. He gestured to where the half-orc, Urtin Bladetusk, poked food into the cages of several small animals. "Beasties, lumber, drinks... you saw the crate Jenna smacked you away from - got fruit in it, all spelled for freshness." Jarid nodded ruefully. Jenna, pale-haired, skin oddly grey-tinged, and slender, seemed a perpetual fountain of irritability. She'd slapped him upside the head five times already for trivial mistakes, and he suspected only a timely summons from Vengad had kept her from punching him on one or two other occasions. "She does seem to know a lot about what's going on..." Slyssin laughed raucously. "Jenna? Know what's going on? Kid, you don't know the half of it. She's the only reason we get through these tunnels without losing more than one or two guards a trip." The garrulous tiefling continued, lowering his voice, "Boy, I tell you, she's half-drow. She knows the Underdark right proper." Jenna walked past at that moment, and the conversation ended. Jarid sighed, finished his meal, and turned in. He had watch duties later; best to get sleep while he could. Everything seemed to be going so smoothly. Then, however, they met their first drow patrol. The woman at its head... Jarid stared. She was wearing even less than that priestess of Sune who'd passed through the village when he was fourteen, the one who'd been fodder for such interesting dreams. The others... he couldn't tell, at first, in the dim light, but suspected they were male. He stifled a snort. Even the males had prettier faces than Delia Millsworth, and she'd called herself the prettiest girl in the village. The woman, on the other hand... with the faint shred of knowledge about women Jarid had picked up from having three older sisters, he suspected that the drow woman would have sent Delia running off to fume in private and throw plates at walls in fits of jealousy. And looking at the drow woman, Jarid suspected she'd find that hilarious if it happened. Jenna was speaking to the patrol in an odd language Jarid understood none of, but they seemed to be following all right, even if they didn't look entirely pleased about what they were hearing. It wasn't until later that he would learn that was just their natural expression. "Don't stare," Slyssin whispered. "They don't like it when - Oh, gods..." The drow woman was approaching them. Jarid's face acquired an expression more suited to a mouse confronted with an owl. He'd heard about the drow, how they stole and ate disobedient children... Even, from a whispered conversation with his friends, how they tied boys to the floor, buried them in dirt except their faces and groins, and then called giant spiders to eat what remained. He shivered. But... this one... he could hardly keep from staring at her. His gaze kept slipping toward the sheer amount of gleaming jet-black skin on display. Hormones warred with stark terror,

coming to an indecisive draw that served to keep him fixed in place, not moving. She came closer, closer... and then moved past him, draping herself over Slyssin, tracing the curve of his horns with her fingers. Jarid wasn't sure whether to be relieved or disappointed. Getting no reaction from the tiefling, whose expression was masterfully deadpan, the drow woman shifted her attention to Jarid, wrapping an arm around his waist in a possessive manner. "Ngk," he managed. He heard her laugh, soft and musical, and tentatively moved to return her gesture. She slapped him, hard, and then grabbed him, twisting his arm and forcing him to the ground. He yelped in pain as she kicked him in the belly. And then Jenna stepped in, offering a hasty explanation. The drow woman listened, expression haughty, and then shrugged and turned away. Jarid didn't move until the drow were gone. Slyssin hauled him to his feet, laughing to himself. "Well, kid, you've survived your first encounter with the drow. Lucky you." Jarid groaned quietly and rubbed his face where he'd been slapped. Just now, he didn't feel so lucky. "Cheer up! She didn't kill you, and she could have done. We've lost a few guards that way. Drow like their little games." "And we really have to go to where more of them live?" "Oh, yes." Slyssin grinned. "Maybe you'll even be alive to enjoy the return to the surface, if you're more careful." The city of the drow was unlike anything Jarid could have imagined. It was beautiful in an eerie way, and the people were stunning, but here and there he saw signs of terrible misery; a group of slaves being led toward an auction; a drow priestess whipping a kobold to death; a pair of drow warriors jeering as they toyed with a rebellious orc slave, their blades leaving many thin cuts, bleeding him out strike by strike. There was one sight, however, that distracted him. More money than he'd seen in his life was changing hands around him - he even had some of it now, courtesy of guards' pay from Vengad. The sight of a Matron Mother floating by on a driftdisc or a drow wizard casting some unknown spell captivated him at first, and then became merely part of the tapestry of new experiences that was the city of the drow.

He was not, however, expecting to meet the priestess from the patrol again, which was why it was such a surprise to see her walk over beside Slyssin, smiling sweetly. He blinked and tilted his head. Was she here to kick him again? Slyssin snickered. "Told her a bit more about you. You've something she wants." The tiefling made a brief, obscene gesture. Jarid went scarlet. "B-but I've... I've never..." "Figured that out fast enough," his fellow guard snorted. The drow priestess took hold of Jarid's arm, imperiously tugging on it and directing him to follow. A little dazed, a touch confused, and a lot embarrassed, Jarid obeyed. He was very nearly late for the caravan's departure, and despite a few aches and pains here and there from the priestess's enthusiasm, couldn't seem to erase the foolish smile on his face. Slyssin, for his part, practically howled with laughter at the mere sight of him. "Man, looks like you got thrown through a thornbush and liked it." "That's enough," Jenna put in. "Time to go." They set off, Jarid mentally comparing his recent experiences with his life before the journey. Could he really go back to farming? Settle down with a farmwife who'd raise children and chickens both? *** Jarid sat upon the old bench, thinking back on that journey. It had been ten years since he'd returned home, and the memories were still vivid. He saw Delia hurry past, chasing a toddler who seemed determined to play in the mud in spite of a recent bath. Her youthful good looks had hardened somewhat, the sun browning and roughening her skin. A farmer's life was hard on everyone. Every time the trade caravan came through the village he was reminded of what his life might have been. Upon reflection, however, he was just fine as he was. Jarid blinked. He could smell smoke. There was a thundering of hooves, and a band of roughlooking men rode into the village. One of them pointed a sword at Delia and grinned, showing rotten teeth. "We'll have everything of value you peasant scum own," their leader shouted. "Or we'll burn down this mudpit you call a village, and kill anyone not running faster than these horses." Jarid stood slowly. "You want to be leaving now," he told them evenly, brushing the dust from his clothing. "And why's that?" The leader nudged his horse closer.

Jarid whistled shrilly. He reached out, and grabbed the man's leg, yanking him from the saddle violently. In moments, he had his blade at the raider's throat. The rest of the caravan were quick to respond, surrounding the motley band. The first raider to try to get away toppled from the saddle, Jenna's crossbow bolt through one eye. Jarid nodded in thanks to the half-drow, and she grinned back, quite fiercely. She did love these chances for a fight, whenever they came about. The head of the trade caravan, inheritor following Vengad's retirement, gazed down at the raider coolly. "I trade in the Underdark. I fear nothing that walks the surface, and I'm more than a match for you." It was enough. With the raiders taken care of, it was time to move on. Jarid hummed a tune to himself as they departed. Another day was another chance at adventure and profit. His lean face shifted into a confident smile. He couldn't wait to be back in the caverns; they reminded him of the excitement of being alive. ~fin~

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