The Ballad of Madame Irina

A D&D Tale

By

Accipiter G. Goshawk

“Madame Irina? Of course I know her! Who doesn’t? I’ll bet you that that crazy coot couldn’t walk more than five miles before someone offered her tea and a biscuit. Or a shot of dwarven Krâz…she’s been around, she has. Funny story, I knew her before she ever came to the Halls, back at the beginning of Shattershield’s reign. And let me tell you, she hasn’t changed much.”

Shardorr D’zann, Bard

The small cart trundled laboriously up the muddy slope. The two mules strained, digging their hooves into the slimy sleet, fighting against the snow and a cruel north-eastern wind. Fifteen minutes later, and the covered vehicle crested the lip of the small hill. The two beasts were panting, and great clouds of vapour were rising from their brown hides, mingling with the falling snow. The driver tugged gently on the reins, causing the cart to slow and finally come to a halt. Below them, the Glassfens stretched north as far as the sea, and farther still east. To the south, the great Steelspine Mountains cast their shadows on the village of Gibbet and the dwarven road that wound its way up the side of a foreboding peak, all the way to the Gates of the Halls of Argathod.

“Well done! Good boys, very good! That was positively heroic; here dears, have a carrot.”

The small portly driver hopped down from the cart and gently stroked the sides of the mules. She extracted two large carrots from a pouch hanging by her side and offered them to the two animals, which gratefully accepted.

Then, she looked south, her blue eyes sparkling merrily behind her dragon-bone spectacles. A mess of brown locks cascaded from within her hood. They swung backwards revealing a pair of pointy ears, as a particularly violent gust of wind whipped the top of the hills. The woman grinned, and put her hands on her hips. Instinctively, one hand grasped at the small leather pouch hanging from her belt, hidden beneath her cloak.

“There it is boys: the road to the dwarven realm! We’re almost there, isn’t that lovely? And with almost all our stock intact.”

One of the mules grumbled softly as it munched on its carrot.

“Yes, almost, Gunther. It wasn’t my fault that the princess of Port Gero absolutely needed velvet for her coming of age ball, and that she wasn’t polite enough to pay for it…”

The other mule lifted its head against the wind and eyed her severely.

“None of that, Futterbatch! You know perfectly well that I wasn’t at all responsible for the horrid wart she just happened to develop mere hours before the ball…well maybe a little responsible.”

Bothe mules were now staring at her balefully.

“Oh, very well!” she growled stamping her foot on the frozen ground. “I hexed the little terror, all right? But it wasn’t permanent and I did entirely for educational purposes; next time she’ll think twice before taking what isn’t hers. Now if you are both quite finished judging me, we can be off; I’d like to reach Gibbet before nightfall. If I don’t sleep in a proper bed this evening I’m going to get…unreasonable.

The rest of the day went by in a flurry of snow and wet leaves, as the small cart struggled to cross the small oak forest surrounding the mining village. Two hours after sunset, they finally rolled on to the muddy main street of the small ten-family settlement. The driver twitched her rains and directed the cart towards the only building that resembled an Inn.

“Oh balderdash,” she grumbled as she squinted at the swinging sign above the door, “my dwarvish isn’t as good as it used to be…what does it say, Gunther?”

The mule peered at the sign for a moment, then brayed twice.

“Humph, indeed. The Dryad’s Sigh. How…rustic,” she said, forcing the last words from between pursed lips. Futterbatch nodded in agreement, then stuck his head into the fresh bale of hay that his mistress had unloaded from the cart.

“Right boys, you stay put and take care of the cart. Remember, call me if anyone tries anything unpleasant. I haven’t carted some of the best fabrics in all of Dersorrah half-way across the continent just to lose them mere miles from our destination. Sleep tight!”

And with that she shouldered her pack and entered the Inn.

Noise assailed her, then the unpleasant smell of stale beer and urine. Around her there was chaos; it seemed that the whole village was unwinding after a long day, drinking, playing dice and cards, and…canoodling on every free space available. The woman sniffed, and quickly made her way to the bar.

“Barkeep!”

A large half-orc turned a red-rimmed eye towards her and grinned in a positively unfriendly manner.

“Am I addressing the manager of this very fine establishment?” she asked, smiling widely and holding his eyes in her glittering blue irises.

His grin grew confused, and then melted to kindness. He unconsciously straightened out his dirty apron and then fumbled, looking for something clever to say.

She waited patiently.

“Ah, I uh, yes…I mean, of course. I am Kolo, owner of this esta- estab- of this here Inn. How may I be of service to your ladyship?”

She smiled warmly, flicking her hair a little with her left hand, while her right rested lightly on her leather pouch.

“It is truly a delight to meet you Kolo. I am Madame Irina, seamstress and couturière extraordinaire. I’m sorry to trouble you at such a late hour, but I was wondering: do you still have any rooms available?”

The half-orc scratched his head absentmindedly as he tried to decipher the outlandish words that had spilled out of the chubby half-elven woman’s mouth. When she mentioned a room however, his mind cleared.

“A room! Of course your ladyship, right this way. Do need anything unloaded?” He asked, peering at the cart through one of the large dirty windows.

“No, nothing at all. My merchandise is quite safe with my two boys. Now, that room? Oh, and could I possibly trouble you for a bath? I am quite weary, and a little…pungent, if you take my meaning sir.”

The innkeeper most definitely did not take her meaning, but he had a scullery maid bring up some warm water nonetheless, and an hour later, Madame Irina emerged from her room, clean and radiant.

She waltzed happily down the grimy wooden staircase to the Inn’s bar, utterly oblivious to the group of miners now openly staring at her. She had chosen to wear one of her own creations: a fetching ensemble comprised of a blue taffeta dress and manticore-hide jacket, trimmed with raven feathers.

“It’s maybe a touch outlandish, but it will do for this sort of country excursion,” she thought to herself, as she sat down and ordered dinner.

She’d happily tucked away half of her goat stew before Sunk arrogantly strode forward and dropped his heavy body in the chair opposite hers. He leered at her openly, his beady eyes travelling over her figure and pausing on her bulging coin purse. Irina took a ladylike sip from her tankard, and cast a quick glance at the overweight blue dragonborn. Then she returned to her meal.

“Just come into town?” he grated, winking at his companions a few tables away.

“Why yes, how perceptive of you,” she answered kindly, as she savoured another spoonful of the stew, and let her hand drop to her leather pouch.

“I’m Sunk, and I’m the head of security here.” He chuckled at his own joke, but Irina didn’t seem to notice. He continued, unperturbed. “It’s my job to make sure that travellers like yourself are taken care of and reach their destination unharmed.” The inflection on the last word was so obvious that even a deaf man would have decoded its intended meaning.

Irina however, ignored it completely.

“Well how nice. I imagine that it’s a very rewarding job. You must be very proud mister Sunk; I’m sure I feel much safer with a gentleman such as yourself around.”

The fat dragonborn frowned, and quickly decided that the half-elf was an idiot. He tried a different angle of attack.

“And where might you be off to, your ladyship?”

She gulped down her last helping of stew and the washed it down with another dainty sip of beer. “I’m on my way to the Halls of Argathod, to open a fine clothes shop,” she said without hesitation, as she dabbed the corners of her mouth with a beautiful handkerchief.

“Is that so,” growled Sunk, turning to look at the cart parked outside. “I imagine that you’ve brought a lot of expensive merchandise along with you…you should be careful: the mountain pass isn’t as safe as it used to be. Maybe you should hire someone to look after you. Me and my men, for example.”

The meaning was clear, but once again, she ignored it.

“Oh, I don’t think that will be necessary my good sir. I wouldn’t want to inconvenience anyone. No, no; I doubt any bandits would be interested in my wares. Well, have a pleasant evening Mr. Sunk. A pleasure to make your acquaintance.” She smiled warmly and then marched upstairs.

The blue-scaled dragonborn stared at her retreating back and then motioned to his men. Shortly afterwards, they left the Inn, disappearing into the cold night.

*           *           *

The small cart had made it half-way up the mountain before it was ambushed. The bandits emerged from a small copse of pine trees and quickly rushed to box in the mule-driven wagon. There were five of them: two elves with bows at the ready, a stocky mange-eaten dwarf, a knife-wielding kobold and Sunk.

“I told you it was a dangerous road, milady,” he laughed evilly, as Madame Irina jumped off the cart to calm Gunther and Futterbatch, who were eyeing the bandits nervously. “You should have taken our protection; now, I’m afraid you’ll have to pay the toll.”

“This is most inappropriate,” said Madame Irina haughtily. “I must ask you to kindly move aside. At once. I have no intention of spending another day in this wretched weather. I intend to be comfortably resting in The Surthonian Prince tonight, and I’m afraid that if you don’t clear the road, I shall be very late.”

A raucous peal of laughter went up as the assembled ruffians lost themselves to the hilarity of the small half-elven woman’s complete misunderstanding of the situation.

“I’m afraid you haven’t quite grasped the…difficulty, of your position, pointy-ears. Give us your wares, give us the gold and we may let you go unharmed and…untouched,” growled Sunk, licking his scaly lips in anticipation. “Resist, or do anything to piss me off, and you will regret it. Bolger hasn’t touched a woman in weeks,” –he motioned to the dwarf, who was making obscene gestures with his free hand- “and he might not be the most delicate of lovers. So hand it over, half-breed,” he snarled menacingly.

Irina, however didn’t move, but only glared at him with a ferocity that would have put Thelas herself to shame.

“Am I to understand that you are threatening me, Mr. Sunk?” she asked in a light, cheery voice as her hands feel to her sides, hidden within the folds of her cloak.

“You finally got it! Now empty your pockets, you dumb bi-”

Something flared in Irina’s hand and the tarp covering the cart flew upwards, as streams of multi-coloured cloth erupted from the back like a kraken’s tentacles. The bandits screamed and tried to scramble backwards, only to find themselves teetering at the edge of the cliff-face that bordered the winding uphill road.

Bolger squealed as a length of dark velvet whirled around him and wrapped around his arms and mouth, slowly twisting around his neck. The elves let loose a volley of arrows, which were quickly caught by twisting spires of silk that immediately zipped to tie the missiles against the necks of the two archers. They moaned piteously, but immediately grew silent as the points dug into their delicate skins.

The kobold had tried to run for it, but had been quickly caught by a series of ribbons that now had him tied spread-eagled to a small branch overlooking the cliff. He jabbered in terror, as the ribbons swung in the light breeze, causing him to drop his daggers and watch them plummet to the valley floor.

As soon as the magic had started, Sunk had made a dash for Irina, drawing a wicked bastard sword and thrusting it towards her glowing hand. However, he hadn’t counted on the timely intervention of Gunther who, with a well-aimed kick, had sent him flying into the waiting spires of a white leather corset.

Now he was gasping for breath, as with every step Irina took towards him, the laces tightened.

She glared at him disapprovingly.

“If I had the time,” she said peering down at a silver pocket watch, “I would gladly make the effort to teach you poor miscreants the basics of manners and proper etiquette. Unfortunately, I have no such luxury. So, I will leave it at this: I will assume, that you are no more than a small band of friends who –due to the hardships of life- has made the one-time mistake of threatening a traveller. I will also assume that you have learned from this mistake, and that you shan’t repeat it again. So, I will let you go. However,” she continued, letting a bit of magic flare through in her eyes, “if I should ever find out that you five gentleman have been inappropriate again, I shall take a small holiday, come down from the Halls, and rectify your gross inadequacies. Do those seem like agreeable terms to you, Mr. Sunk?”

The dragonborn, who was now a much paler blue than usual, nodded vigorously.

Irina sighed, and waving her hands with a flourish, dumped the quintet unceremoniously on the dirt road. They got up and ran back towards Gibbet, not even bothering to pick up their weapons, the kobold trailing ribbons behind him.

“And do try to update your wardrobes!” she cried towards their retreating backs. “That raw leather look is so 1042…,” she grumbled as she got back on to the cart.-

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