CWT -- The Chalice in the Palace (Ashoken)

OOC - My writing is full of starts and very few finishes. These two posts from the Crosswinds Tavern (link directs to CWT message boards) feature one of my mainstay characters throughout all the venues I have played in. Ashoken d'Allesair started out as a villain for the group I hung out with in the early days of the Red Dragon Inn, when there were guilds and stuff. Ashoken stuck with me wherever I went. I adapted her to many different settings. In Crosswinds, she was as she always is, a badass mercenary with the standard rape and revenge back story. Except she never got revenge. She never sought it out. Revenge was a waste of time and there was no profit in it. Shit happens. You deal with it. You move on. You get sucked into the plots of every evil badass in the setting. That was Ashoken in Crosswinds. She kicked ass and stood toe-to-toe with mages and kings, all of whom had far greater power than she. She always survived.

The story -- This is the beginning of an SL that ended up with a great reveal for one of the setting's great baddies. I never finished the posts, but the SL went on to great success.

From: (Ashoken xx)
Board Name: Shadokhan
Subject: The Chalice in the Palace
Date: 26 Oct 2001 15:34:37 EDT

The Chalice in the Palace
Part 1

Dreven Town

Rain soaked the cobbles of Washer Lane and became the source of a thousand busy rivers that sluiced along the mortared cracks. The grime from months of neglect tumbled in the rapids and frenetic paths that joined with wider canals fed by the mouths of stone gargoyles. The grotesqueries vomited orange tile chips and speckled pigeon feathers from the roofs of the stone and brick, wood and daubed flats and shops that lined the Lane. Washer Lane was typical of many streets whether raindrops fell or not. It was empty and desolate.

Score marks, sooty lines written indelible by fire that fell like rain and scorched where water soothed, ruined the facades and faces of the buildings that remained. Both cleansed said the grandfathers that remained on other streets in the capitol of Shadokhan, of fire and water. Water and fire, they washed the soul clean. The destruction was far enough away - mere streets! -- that gossipy old men and women could speculate and rationalize and pray such burdens they would never bear. They could pray with easy hearts for the health and long life of good Emperor Tumian Dreven, prosperity to Shadokhan and glue to the Silver Moon Empire. Washer Lane was typical of many streets that bordered the ruined Riverfront. No one prayed there.

Washer Lane was empty except for mice and birds. Few of those observed Ashoken dodge the rain-fueled streams whose water weighed down the hems of her gaudy skirt. Intricate mosaic patterns woven into the fabric adorned waist and hip and hung down in a menagerie of Wadi Mendani color to hide her warrior's legs and other things not easily discernible by passing glance. The shawl she wore over head and shoulders kept the rain from her eyes and allowed her warmth. She kept her head down and shoulders hunched against the weight of the sack she carried slung over one shoulder. It was a weight she carried easily enough, but needed to hide. Appearances, even on empty streets, meant success, so Ashoken kept her eyes on the slick cobbles ahead, as any other townswoman would do.

Ashoken remembered the street not at all as it was these days. In past years she lived in one of the flats crammed against many others on Washer Lane. Each successive story leaned farther over the street till one could almost walk the entire length from well to river without a raindrop pecking. Hard living for a mercenary and with a son to care for. Her responsibility to her son, her only love, drove her to Dreven and finally drove her away, farther and farther to the waters of Oceanuus and beyond. Those upper story flats were now charred timber or simply gone.
Wind shifted the rain so that it slanted into her path. The sack was oiled canvas to ensure the contents would keep dry. Most fragile of all was the tea, wrapped in linen and stored in their own protective pouch. Surrounded by cotton wadding and encased in a box of teak, the leaves stood their best chance of surviving the downpour. To arrive with bruised andsoggy leaves would mean a total revision of her plans. Remember to bend when necessary and stand firm as needed. The vague advice of her long-term employer made her frown. It stirred up thoughts of failure and fear - the familiar thoughts that plagued Ashoken all her adult life. Her toe dug up a cobble that skittered before her and bounced to a stop before a very blue door that even in the months of neglect remained bright, a herald of her arrival.

Water dripped off her nose as she knocked and knocked again. Though she shivered, conscious awareness of the chill remained distant. Instead, Ashoken felt the first thrill a dangerous job gave her - a turning of her stomach and a clearness of vision and purpose. She was right to take this job, though it promised peril at any number of missteps. The commotion of the Crosswinds Tavern washed over her the night the elf - what else could he be with such tips to his ears? - Approached her with Sangiovese and two glasses. He impressed her when instead they drank brew out of the Badlands. A first test, to see how he would cover the wince the rotgut elicited as it burned down the gullet. He winced not trying to hide at all.

"You are a sell sword, are you not?" He asked her with an arrogant up-turn of his pretty elfin lips. He knew what Ashoken was. Knew her name. Knew she would take the job. A chalice of his now resided in the Taysáyad.


He wanted it back. A half-truth. For sure he wanted the chalice that she would know for the fox that was engraved on the bowl. The elf paid her 100 pieces of gold with the promise of 100 more should she complete the job with-in the span of a fortnight. It was a fortune the commoners of Dreven, so lately devastated, might never see in a lifetime, or even dream of having. Gold was the province of the rich and influential and it would elevate her in other dealings.

A fortnight to get into the Taysáyad and out alive. The thought kept her frowning. Thrill and fear mingled. She knocked again with more force until the door opened.

to be continued...

© 2001
By Jax!


From: (Ashoken xx)
Board Name: Shadokhan
Subject: Re: The Chalice in the Palace
Date: 23 Nov 2001 19:31:52 EST

The Chalice in the Palace
Part 2

Washer Lane, Dreven Town

The wind blew and blustered through the cracks in the walls. The angry air goaded the candles to sputter and raised a shower of sparks from the fire. Glowing ash landed gently on Ashoken's hand, a lover's touch that burned, as she reached for the kettle. The kettle shrieked for her attention added to wind's tortured moans. The kettle was made to wait while Ashoken, forgetting her companion's ears and sensibilities, added a curse to the cacophony and a rude brush away of the offending ember with calloused fingers.

"You'll never catch a man with a mouth like that, clumsy girl," came her hostess's gravelly voice. Ashoken sneered at the fire. For such caresses the flames deserved her spite, yet had none of it. The sneer, hidden and discreet, was for her hostess, who was no hostess at all. Ashoken was doing all the work, but for good reason.

"Clumsy fingers make poor soup. Who would want you like this? You are hopeless," her hostess, Daras Duchamps, one-time dressmaker to nobility - and never forget that if you please - chided. Ashoken refused to look at the elder woman who sat huddled on the other side of the fireplace with a plate of honey cakes, provided by Ashoken, in her lap. Fire not only changed the character of Washer Lane - bustling working-class shops and tenements one day, cinders the next - but also Daras' outlook on life, her own and Ashoken's.

"I am not looking for a man, nor am I a girl. This you know well, old crone," Ashoken answered, grasping the kettle with hands protected now by rough cloth, and unable to keep the ire out of her tone. Ashoken freed the kettle from the cast-iron hook and was rewarded immediately with the cessation of the kettle's cry. Disappointment lay in the unceasing howl of the wind, which picked up once Daras opened the bright blue door to allow Ashoken welcome respite from the early autumn rain.

"Girl enough at your age and unmarried. Where is your son, Ashoken?" Daras, it seemed, remained ungrateful of Ashoken's intrusion into the dressmaker's solitude. Daras, Ashoken noted, had aged in the two years of Ashoken's absence. The intricate leathered seams to her face deepened into chasms. Daras' shoulders were stooped and bony. One side of her face drooped so that an eyelid threatened the sight in Daras' blue and rheumy left eye. Despite such frailties, Daras remained sharp tongued and still had a penchant for wearing her creations, despite the age of the fabric and the wearer.

"My son is safe," Ashoken spoke soft and deadly. Though she could have shouted and her words would be safe from her companion's ears -- so loud the wind howled just then -- she added a silent and heartfelt, I hope so. That Daras asked the question, Ashoken conceded, again silently, showed a measure of commitment to her son. Daras once watched the boy while Ashoken worked in Dreven. Ashoken knew her son was fond of Daras.

Daras pulled the frayed coverlet, a gift she was fond of telling everyone from the le Mauvoisin family for services rendered - ball gowns beaded in sapphires and diamonds for the blushing and unmarried daughters of Étienne Mauvoisin for some celebration or another some 40 years ago. Her knotted fingers splayed over the intricate stitching in indigo and green. Ashoken knew not one family from the other and so took the dressmaker's word, over and over again. That Daras had been ill and remained so, Ashoken determined by the palsy in those hands. They would never hold a needle again, she thought as she poured the steaming kettle water into the teapot over the expensive and fragrant Pai'tan leaves.

"Crone soon you will be." Daras said with a waspish smile. When Daras smiled, she lost her face to the seams and cracks her skin had become. Each wrinkle, Ashoken thought as she brought the pot and set it on a trivet to protect the fringed tablecloth, a stroke of ink that told the story of this woman's life. Thus, Ashoken's own mother was drawn. She is bone now, Ashoken thought. So shall I be one day.

"Why are you here, Ashoken?" Daras demanded with look and tone stern despite the clattering of cup and saucer her palsied hands caused. Ashoken shoved a cake toward the old woman, thinking furiously.

"My son," Ashoken began, revisiting the forbidden subject. Ashoken considered which lies to tell and which truths this woman, who was ill and yet still in control of her wits, would believe - the best words to aid her cause.

"Your son is a lovely lad, I remember. Your eyes, he has, only softer. I suppose innocent is the proper word. I was glad for him, and you, Ashoken, to be far away when the fires came." Ashoken nodded and judged the tea ready to pour. Daras touched her hand with fingers covered in sugar. Ashoken flinched away from the grit and spilled tea into the saucer.
"Clumsy, clumsy girl." Daras chided and took the tea. She cupped her hands around the steam and breathed in the white tea's scent. Never once did Ashoken escape her acute gaze.
"My son is hostage," Ashoken plowed ahead like an honest ox diligent in its trade and ignoring the stings of horse and deer flies alike. "Hostage to an outlander past southern Oceanuus for my good behavior. When I pay the proper ransom, he will be mine once more."

Daras touched the swordswoman's hand and felt the sinew beneath the dusky skin. Ashoken's hand remained steady, ready against the new assault; this old woman's touch. She poured the tea into the second cup. Of the many things Ashoken hated, the sun of the Quintak and the waters of Oceanuus were high upon the list. This Daras knew well. The dressmaker clucked her tongue, but did not question.

"And you, not knowing how to swim," Daras said.

"I learned," Ashoken said, dropping one lump of sugar and then two into her tea. She stirred. The clink of spoon to cup punctuated each word. Ashoken looked up. It was her turn to attack with a burning gaze that spoke of desperation and exhilaration.

"I need to get into the Taysáyad. Why is no concern of yours, save it is my wish not to shed blood. I need to get into the Taysáyad unknown to its guards and I need your help, dressmaker, to do it."

© 2001
By Jax!
(Found this next installment will rummaging around my dead Live Journal. It's very very rough. But it was meant as the next installment.)

I'm up to my elbows in flour, kneading dough till it seems that's all I've ever done. Around me the kitchen blooms into life. The scent of baking bread and other confections fill the large stone chamber. Added to the olfactory mix was porridge, stirred by a pimply-faced boy who had burn marks on his back. The place is shadowy, fueled by lamps who's flames never go out. A perk of being part o Taysayad keep. Magic is infused into its very stones.

The day begins with the blaring of trumpets. Some brand-spanking new Moonie gets the job, mostly because he's been up all night. Seniority has its assets and one of them is no more night duty. The trumpets herald the changing of the guard and usually wake all the lazy nobles filching off the Emperor's kindness. For the kitchen staff, the trumpets mean we've been up for hours preparing for the simple fare that serves for breakfast here.

In Arboria they have these robust affairs. Fresh hegs and bacon right off the pig accompany potatoes and whatever other vegetables are in season. Tea and water and milk and cheese all have a place at an Arborian breakfast table. Those farm boys need it. They've been up earlier than the Taysayad kitchen staff.

In Shadokhan it's different. Breakfast consist of simpler fare. Bread and tea are the main staples, though several guests and occupants request different things. There's a moonie up there that likes porridge. Actually asks for porridge. Leave it to a moonie to enjoy the blandest rations around. Travel fare.

The trumpets haven't sounded yet and it's still dark outside. The nights are still warm as Autumn has just began. Kneading dough is monotonous work and it makes me think on all I need to accomplish. I'm closer to my goal but farther away than I hoped. I asked the dressmaker to get me into the keep in hopes they would need a chambermaid. But Daras did not know anyone on the butlery staff. She did know the head cook - foul woman with poc marks on her cheeks. She keeps the staff on its toes.

Then there's the Master of the Scullery. What a thing to aspire to. King of Dishwashing. Champeon of the Crusty Trencher, Defender of all cutlery. Sometimes there isn't enough staff to do all the dishes and they pile up a person high. That's when I get drafted. I'm new girl, bottom of the well. I drown in their petty chores. And still I keep my goal in site.

What is my goal? A chalice with a fox engraved in the silver. I'm not stupid. I know who I'm working for. La Volpe. He calls himself Miles and says the chalice is his. I've got a 100 gold riding on this venture. I've only got one more week and I doubt they're going to pass the chalice on to me to wash. Maybe I can cause an accident. Weedle my way into a chambermaid spot.

I don't even look like myself. I've been careful to show only my martial side to the world. All people know of me, Ashoken d'Allessair is the mercenary, wrapped in brigantine and holding a blade between herself and the rest of the world. The real me isn't so far off, but people don't know half of what they think they know of me. What few people there are. I go pretty much unnoticed in this city of heroes. Unless I take the back alleys and lesser known routes. The common folk remember the mercenary, not the woman dressed in skirts and shawl hurrying along to her job at Taysayad Keep.
Forgot your password?