Dreezil Pockitdip Vindicated


Carson moved up to the witness area and stood quietly. The judge nodded at him and said, “You know tha’ you mus’ speak th’ truth, ‘ere, an’ nothin’ else, righ’?” Carson frowned up at the judge, but only nodded his compliance. Judge Wiggins smiled blearily and ducked down under his desk for a moment. Carson’s frown made an upside-down “V” in the skin over his nose.

Firiona stepped in front of Carson, distracting him. “Carson McCabe, do you recall the occasion on which you first saw the defendant?”

Carson nodded, “Yes, milady, the defendant was brought before me by Guards Heptal and Nonet, along with the contraband stout. They brought him before me and showed me the evidence, at which time I sent him to be locked up in a cell.”

“And did he make no protest?”

“Well, certainly, Firiona, what criminal doesn’t protest his own innocence?” McCabe chuckled at this observation. “Naturally, he said he was innocent. But, the evidence was right there in front of us. He’d been caught red-handed, as it were.”

“What did he say in his own defense, milord?”

“Why… er… I don’t quite recall…” McCabe floundered for a moment. “I believe it was merely a protestation of innocence, no real details.”

“Isn’t it true that you didn’t stop to listen to his story at all?” Firiona smiled sweetly at Carson McCabe. “That you had him sent to the dungeon without hearing his story?”

McCabe sputtered, his face growing red. “Why, I don’t know how you feel you can stand there and accuse me of such injustice, Firiona! You know me better than that!”

“And yet, Dreezil Pocketdip, an acknowledged member of the Deeppockets guild, was sent to the dungeons and you are unable to recount for us the defendant’s explanation. Is that a fair assessment?”

“Well, er… yes. But after all, what more would I need beyond seeing the evidence? I mean, he is a rogue, after all. Why should I lend credence to his tale?”

The judge hiccuped loudly and disappeared under his bench, this time for almost three minutes. Firiona paced in front of Carson while she waited for the judge to sit up straight again. She looked up at him and noted with some satisfaction that his nose was beginning to look very red.

“Now then, milord,” Firiona turned back to Carson McCabe, “what sentence did you impose on the defendant?”

Carson blinked, several times. “Sentence? I had actually not pronounced any particular…er… period of time… that is to say… well… I just had him thrown into the dungeons. I hadn’t considered letting him go just yet.”

“Then what happened was that you put Dreezil into a cell without giving him an opportunity to defend himself, and without knowing when, if ever, he might be released?”

Carson’s face was, by this time, nearly as red as Judge Wiggins’, though not for the same reasons. The judge, by this time, was weaving slightly from side to side as he sat on the bench. His round face was frozen in a beatific smile and his eyes watered slightly as he beamed down on the courtroom.

Carson jumped up, stamped his foot angrily and shouted at Firiona, “How can you accuse me this way, milady? I will not sit here and be insulted so! Why, this…”

Judge Wiggins interrupted with an even louder, if somewhat slurred, voice, “Sharrup! Orr’er in th’ Court! Siddown an’ sharrup, McCabe! Lissen t’ th’ lady talk, why doncha…? The judge’s voice trailed off as a smile once more settled over his features and he folded his arms comfortably on the bench before him. Carson sat down as if his legs suddenly refused to hold him up. He sat, stunned, staring at the judge, who disappeared again behind the bench for a moment.

Firiona grinned to herself. She looked over at Dreezil encouragingly. Dreezil was stunned and amused. He could see the rosy glow on the judge’s face as clearly as anyone in the courtroom could. He stifled a snicker, thinking how Carson had agreed to abide by Wiggins’ decision. Not wishing to anger McCabe, however, he straightened himself and composed his features.

“Thank you, your Honor,” smiled Firiona. The judge grinned back and lowered his chin to rest on his wrists, his eyelids drooping just slightly. He winked at Firiona once and settled in to listen.

“Carson McCabe, is it normally your practice to assume the guilt of a person before even examining the evidence?”

Carson sputtered angrily, not even noticing when Judge Wiggins slipped down behind the desk. “Firiona! How could you? You know me much better than that.”

“Yes, Carson, and I have always known you to be fair. I have never known you to take anything at face value. Perhaps the case you saw was not a case of Blackburrow Stout, though, could that be possible?”

“Why… “Carson’s brow furrowed. “It had the distinctive markings, and was filled with the very bottles the Blackburrow gnolls are famed for using. I don’t know how it could be anything else!”

“Did you examine the contents of those bottles, McCabe?”

“I did not…” Carson’s brow smoothed out and he looked just a bit resigned. “No, Firiona, I’m afraid I neglected to even determine if they were full or empty.” Carson raised both hands in a conciliatory gesture. He smiled weakly.

“Then you don’t truly know what was in the case, is that correct?”

“Yes, Firiona, that is correct.” Carson’s sheepish expression fitted him oddly.

Firiona smiled at her friend. “Perhaps we should take a look at the evidence at this time. Your Honor…” Firiona looked up at the empty bench. “Your Honor?” Firiona approached the bench and walked around it to the side where the case of stout had been resting. The judge suddenly appeared above the desk, red-faced and grinning widely.

“Yesh, what izh it?” The judge slurred amiably. “Oh… yesh.. edivence. Yesh… here you go, Finiroa… Rinifoa… er… Faryena, whatever yer name is.” He reached down and lifted up the wooden box, which rattled loudly. Firiona quickly grabbed it, fearing it would fall. She placed it atop the desk and looked it over. Only three of the bottles remained intact. All the others had been opened and emptied. She peered up at the judge, her expression bland. She picked up the heavy wooden case again and carried it over to Carson.

“Is this the case you saw the defendant carrying?”

“Well, no, I didn’t see him with it myself, but the guards who arrested it brought it to me directly.”

“Oh? So they saw him carrying it, did they?”

“So they indicated to me, yes.”

Firiona carried the box over to Dreezil and laid it on the ground near him. It was easy to see that the halfling would have had a difficult time carrying even a few full ceramic bottles of the potent brew in a heavy wooden box like this one.

“Your Honor, may I request that the defendant be unshackled, please?” Arvelion frowned unhappily and began to whisper noisily.”

“Sharrup, you!” The judge yelled at the chamberlain. “Yes, Feery-owna,” he pronounced carefully, “you may. Guard! Unlock th’ pris’ner.”

“Thank you, your Honor. Now then, Dreezil,” Firiona said to the halfling as he rubbed his wrists gingerly, “please pick up the crate for me, if you would?”

Dreezil bent his knees and tried to reach the sides of the box lengthwise, but his short arms just didn’t reach. He turned the box sideways and tried to grab it from one end. His arms didn’t quite reach to its middle, but he managed to stand with the box in front of him. Firiona took one of the three full bottles from the end nearest Dreezil and replaced it in the other end. The wooden case tipped forward and Dreezil almost dropped it. He leaned back precariously to balance.

“Your Honor, I think it’s clear that Dreezil didn’t carry this box filled with full bottles of Blackburrow stout. As you can see, with less than half the weight of the box on the far end, Dreezil is barely able to balance it. The weight of this box is obviously too much for him to have carried any distance.” Firiona turned to the jury and pointed at Dreezil, red-faced and puffing a bit at the weight he was holding.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m certain you can see that this halfling could not very well have carried this box full of the distinctive ceramic bottles of Blackburrow stout. And I am about to show you something I have learned that may surprise you. Sionachie, if you would, please bring me the additional evidence.” Firiona turned to her friend, who stood calmly near the doors.

Sionachie hitched up a leather sack, the sight of which brought a look of horror to the face of both Heptal and Nonet, sitting there in the front of the courtroom. The half-elf bard carried the bag to Firiona and returned to her place near the doors. Firiona lifted the bag, clinking with bottles, and rested it on the table in front of her. She spoke clearly in the room.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this bag was found in the quarters of the two guards seated behind the chamberlain.” She turned and pointed at both Heptal and Nonet. “It was found there just this morning, by my friend, Sionachie Heartsinger, after the guards had left for the courtroom. I’d like you to take a look at what is inside.”

Firiona opened the bag and held it out so that the jurors could see the ceramic bottles of Blackburrow stout inside. The jurors gasped and muttered among themselves as they considered the meaning of this development. Twelve pairs of eyes turned to the two guards, who sat there fidgeting as the paladin continued.

“You will notice that these bottles appear to be of exactly the same type as the ones in the wooden case that Dreezil is holding. They bear the stamp, in the gnollish script, of Blackburrow, as do the others. As to what is inside them, I invite you to determine that for yourselves.” Firiona held out the bag to the jurors and offered each a bottle of the creamy brown brew. She smiled softly as she watched them helping each other open the bottles and taste the contents. With twelve of the remaining bottles gone, the sack was considerably lighter. She offered the last few to the judge, Carson and Arvelion. When the latter refused, she drank the last bottle herself.

“Well, now that you’ve tried the drink, what would you say it was?” Firiona turned to the first juror, who answered, “Blackburrow stout!” Firiona smiled.

“And you?” Firiona asked the next. He answered likewise.

“Carson, what is your assessment?”

He turned to her and replied, “Why, the jurors have already told you, Blackburrow stout.”

“I find it extremely interesting, your Honor, that so many of these jurors and Carson McCabe himself have tasted enough of a contraband brew that they are able to identify it so easily.” Firiona allowed herself the ghost of a smirk as the judge chortled.

Carson’s face darkened slightly, but Firiona smiled at him. “Don’t worry, Carson, I understand that you’ve traveled extensively, and to be honest, this is a very distinctive flavor. Having tasted it once, you’d recognize it easily again, I’m sure.” Carson relaxed slightly and Firiona went on.

“The thing is here, your Honor, that there were many more bottles originally taken than the ones produced here as evidence. Apparently Guards Heptal and Nonet had the rest stashed in their quarters. I think we’re pretty much agreed that the brew within them is, in fact, Blackburrow Stout. Perhaps we should turn to the defendant to learn from him exactly what happened?

“Dreezil, you may put the box down,” Firiona smiled at the halfling lad. “Now then, Dreezil, on your oath to the Deeppockets, please tell us how you came by the stout?”

Judge Wiggins burped loudly as Dreezil began his testimony, having finished off his bottle of stout, wiped his mouth on the back of one forearm and settled himself comfortably to listen.

“I’d seen those two in th’ woods, Firiona, er… milady. They were drinkin’ th’ stout, ye know. Gunrich, a goblin I know in the Misty Thicket, he told me they’d beaten him for it. Robb’d him, they did. I track’d them back t’ where they were campin’, milady, an’ watch’d ’em drink ’emselves silly. They went t’ sleep an’ I took what was left in that sack. Brought it back ‘ere, thinkin’ I was gonna get meself a reward f’r it, ye know. But b’fore I could turn it in, they caught up t’ me an’ grabb’d me. They made t’ bring me t’ Carson, but stopp’d on th’ way an’ pulled out one o’ their cases, fillin’ it from me sack. They left th’ rest in their quarters, ye know. I tried t’ tell ‘im, milady, but ‘e wouldnae listen t’ me.” Dreezil ran out of breath near the end of his declaration and stood there panting softly.

Carson looked over at his two guards, who recognized the look of accusation in his eyes and bolted for the doors. They shoved Sionachie harshly out of the way and burst through the doors to escape.

“After them!” shouted Carson McCabe. “Guards! Go to their quarters and don’t let anyone enter them until I’ve had them searched!” Several guards and onlookers chased out of the courtroom after the two guards. The judge stood and shouted for the jury to remain seated, and then promptly lost his balance and sat down, hard.

Firiona stepped up to the jury and addressed them. “You see, ladies and gentlemen, the guards Nonet and Heptal have been heavily involved in the smuggling for quite some time. Other bags found in their rooms,” she said as she gestured Sionachie forward, carrying several small bags, “contained large amounts of gold. It seems that they were making a fairly good sideline out of smuggling, too. I don’t think it would be out of line for me to offer you this gold as recompense for your work here today, ladies and gentlemen. To make up for what you have lost in wages, having left your own trades to come here and assist us in learning the truth.” Firiona handed a small bag of gold to each juror and then turned back to the judge.

Furley was weaving back and forth and smiling happily on the bench as he looked down at Firiona. He put his chin on one palm, resting the elbow on the desk, so he could focus on her. “S’ank you, Feeny… Feery-owna,” he slurred, “you did a jate grob… er… jood gob… um… Nice work!” He looked around at the courtroom and once again banged his knife hilt on the desktop, declaring, “Releash the pris’ner! He’s issonent, er… innocent! Let ‘im go. Thish court is adjourn’d!” He climbed down from his bench and weaved across the room, where the onlookers, Firiona, and Carson were milling around.

“Carshon,” the judge eyed him blearily, “you make sure to put thozhe guardsh of yourzh in that shame shell that Dreezhil was in, you hear?” He nodded as if he knew something very important, then smiled at Firiona. “Me lady, you come to Rivervale any time you want. I’ll zhow you aroun’, don’chyou worry.” Firiona chuckled softly and shook the judge’s hand.

“Milady Firiona, my apologies,” said Carson McCabe to the paladin as the judge ambled away. “I will be more careful whom I trust without examining evidence for myself in future, of that you can be sure.”

“Thank you, Carson, that is all anyone can ask of you.” She smiled at him warmly. “And I hope you will handsomely reward those who return the guards to you as well.”

“You can rest assured, Milady, it is worth a great deal to me to have such criminals apprehended. To think how long this may have been going on. I’m shocked, but very glad you’ve helped to root out this evil. You have my gratitude.” He took Firiona’s hand and bowed low over it. She smiled and headed off to her rooms with Sionachie.

Hours later, McCabe offered additional bags of gold and a jewel apiece to those who had accompanied his guards to apprehend the smugglers. Arvelion grumbled, but brought out huge pitchers of ale for all and they drank merrily long into the night.

Dreezil Pockitdip on Trial

Three days later, Firiona had managed to assemble twelve jurors from the surrounding countryside and the visiting judge, retired soldier Furley Wiggins, in the great hall of High Keep Castle. Arvelion had been appointed to represent the prosecution and Firiona was prepared with her defense. Furley, a grizzled veteran of many battles, was comfortably ensconced in a velvet-cushioned chair behind a large table. Two guards walked in with Dreezil between them, his wrists manacled to a length of wood he bore on his shoulders. They simply did not trust rogues with locks, it seemed. Dreezil bore a somewhat pained and dejected expression on his normally impish face. The guards led him to a seat in front of and to the left of the high table where he could be seen by all.

Judge Wiggins pulled a dagger from his belt and rapped the table with the base of its hilt.

“Settle down, now, settle down!” He tried to get the attention of the assembly. The jurors murmured as they settled in their seats. Firiona stood quietly and watched while the room grew quiet and then stepped forward.

“Your Honor, I want to thank you for allowing us to present this case before you, and for taking the time to travel here from Rivervale for this purpose. If you will permit me, I would like to explain the nature of the case before us today.

“Dreezil Pocketdip here, who is a resident of Rivervale, and is an acknowledged member of the Deeppockets Guild there, has been accused of smuggling. To be more precise, he is accused of smuggling one case of Blackburrow Stout. His accusers are present in the courtroom, as is Dreezil himself.

“Your Honor, I believe that what has happened here is that the defendant has been accused strictly on the basis of circumstantial evidence – evidence which, in and of itself, is not sufficient to demonstrate the commission of any crime. ”

“As the defendant’s counsel, Your Honor, I will be attempting to show how the events occurred which led to Dreezil’s arrest and incarceration. I believe the jury will see that Dreezil was not involved in smuggling, but rather, was attempting to assist the authorities here in High Hold Pass in their efforts to end the smuggling. Furthermore, I will try to demonstrate that there are, in fact, other parties involved in nefarious and illegal activities right here in Highkeep.”

The onlookers murmured amongst themselves at this declaration. Firiona looked over at Carson and noted with satisfaction the look of mild surprise on his face. She turned back to the judge and summed up her statement.

“As I said, Your Honor, I thank you for allowing us to appear before you today. ” The high elf sat down and folded her hands in her lap, looking over at Arvelion.

The chamberlain stood up and faced the jury. “It’s very simple, ladies and gentlemen. This halfling rogue,” he said with obvious distaste, “was caught with the evidence in his hands just outside the keep. When I have produced my witnesses, there will be no question in your minds that he is indeed guilty of smuggling Blackburrow stout. I’m certain you will see that this rogue deserves to be punished for his nefarious activities and that you will see your way clear to finding him guilty as charged. I thank you, ladies and gentlemen, and you, too, Your Honor, for taking the time to hear this case today.” He turned back toward Firiona, smiling smugly in anticipation of his easy victory.

“First, Your Honor, I would like to present evidence in this case. There is a certain case of Blackburrow Stout in the possession of the defendant’s counsel, which I would like to ask that she produce at this time.” Arvelion sneered haughtily at Firiona. She returned his glance blandly and stood, easily lifting the heavy wooden case and carrying it over to the judge’s bench.

“Your Honor, at the prosecution’s request, I would like to enter this case of Blackburrow Stout into evidence at this time.”

The judge looked down, one eyebrow twitching slightly. He motioned to Firiona to place the case on the floor near his seat, behind the bench.

“Very well,” said Judge Wiggins, “it can remain right there until it has been properly identified by witnesses.” He peered down at his side, where the case lay, just out of sight behind his bench. Firiona returned to her seat and allowed herself a tiny smile.

“Now then,” said Arvelion, “I would like to call one Guard Heptal to the stand, if you please?”

A tall guardsman moved to the front of the courtroom and took his place in front of the jury. Judge Wiggins glared down at him from under beetled brows and challenged him, “Guard Heptal, you must speak only the truth, by your oath of fealty and your honor as a guardsman, do you understand?”

Heptal nodded quickly. Arvelion faced him and cleared his throat delicately before beginning. “Heptal, please tell us under what circumstances you first met the accused, if you would?”

The tall guard’s face reddened slightly, unaccustomed as he was to public speaking. “Well, sor, y’see, I was comin’ out of the gate, to take m’ place on duty, y’know. An’, y’see, here was this halflin’ just walkin’ up t’ me, with this big ol’ case in his arms. Just as brazen as can be, y’know, walkin’ up to th’ gates an’ grinnin’. So I says to m’self, I says, hmmm… somethin’s funny about that one, I just know it. So I walks up to him and I says, HOLD! That’s what we says to strangers, y’know. So he stops and I looks and sure enough, there he is, big as day, holdin’ a case o’ Blackburrow Stout, he was! I know that’s got to be smuggled, since it isn’t legal here in Highkeep or parts hereabouts, so I takes it and I arrests him, Your Lordship, sir. And there he sits, plain as day, he does. Right over there.” He pointed at Dreezil.

Dreezil frowned unhappily. The judge ducked down behind his bench, momentarily out of sight of all onlookers. A tiny pop and hiss could be heard if you were close enough, though no one but Dreezil actually was. He tilted his head to the side slightly and looked over, puzzled. The judge popped back up and Dreezil could see a slight flush on his face from this close distance.

Arvelion continued, “How did he say he had come by the contraband, Heptal? Would you please tell the Court?”

“Well, um…” Heptal hesitated, “I didn’t exactly… er… well, y’see, I didn’t question him m’self, y’know. I took him t’ Carson McCabe, y’see, an’ he told me t’ put th’ rogue in a cell, is what happened, y’know. But the only place he could’ve got it is from some gnoll from Blackburrow o’course. Everybody knows that’s where it comes from, y’see, an’ so that’s where he must’ve got it.”

“Have you ever seen this kind of contraband before, Heptal?”

“Yup, I sure have, yer chamberlainship, I sure have. They’s always runnin’ it through the pass, those gnolls. That Gunrich o’er in Misty Thicket, he’s part o’ this, y’can count on it, y’can.”

“So you are something of an expert on this smuggling ring, then, eh, Heptal?”

The guard preened visibly. “I am at that, y’know. Yes, I am.”

Arvelion smiled and turned to Firiona. “You may cross-examine, if you like, milady.” He bowed obsequiously.

Firiona stood up and walked over to Guard Heptal. “Thank you, Arvelion,” she smiled, “and thank you, too, Guard Heptal, for your expert witness here today. I see you have had a lot of experience uncovering and breaking smuggling rings, eh?”

Heptal grinned back, openly admiring Firiona. “Yes, milady, if I do say so m’self, I’ve probably done more than any other guard in Highkeep t’ keep things safe that way. Yep. That’s what I’d say.”

“You said that you saw the defendant heading toward the gates when you first saw him, is that correct?”

Heptal nodded enthusiastically. “Yep. That’s what he was doin’. Headin’ right toward th’ gate. Funniest thing I ever saw. Him smugglin’ an’ headin’ right toward a guard,” he chuckled.

“Do you often notice smugglers walking right up to the gates with incriminating evidence for you to seize?”

Heptal looked a little confused. “Well, no, o’course not, milady. That’s what’s so funny about it. He just walked right up and let me arrest him. Oddest thing I ever seen, it was.” As he spoke, the judge chortled to himself softly. He ducked his head under his desk again for a moment or two while all eyes were on Firiona and the witness.

Firiona continued, “Did it occur to you that perhaps there might be something more to the defendant’s presence than met the eye? That perhaps he was not, in fact, a smuggler, but rather that he might have been attempting to produce evidence against some other perpetrator?”

The guard stammered and then coughed a little, “Well, no, milady Firiona, o’course it didn’t. He is a rogue, after all. I mean, you can see he wears the guild emblem. Rogues don’t help the guards, y’know,” he laughed in wonder, trying to imagine anyone not knowing that.

“So, then, the fact that Dreezil is a rogue is what made you believe he was a smuggler, is that it?”

“Of course it is!” Heptal looked at Firiona in surprised confusion.

Judge Wiggins leaned down behind his bench for a bit and came back up with his face flushed red. He put his hand over his mouth to muffle a belch. Firiona looked over and grinned slightly. She nodded to herself and turned back to Arvelion. “Would you care to cross-examine, Lord Chamberlain?”

“Why, Firiona, I believe the prosecution has made its case rather well already, thank you.” The chamberlain smiled down his nose at Firiona.

“That will be all, you may step down.” Firiona watched Guard Heptal march back to a seat in front of the courtroom. She then turned back to the judge and looking him in the eye said, “At this time, I’d like to call Carson McCabe to the stand, Your Honor.”

Dreezil Pockitdip Framed

Dreezil accompanied Firiona during many subsequent adventures, right up to her fateful visit to the Ring of Scale. When the memories of the party were stolen by the dragons, he was transported magically back to his hometown of Rivervale with no recollection of the events. He spent the next few years dabbling in various trade skills, becoming rather adept at the chemistries of poison along the way.

In his own later travels, Dreezil had many opportunities to visit with Gunrich, the goblin who lived out on Skeleton Hill in Misty Thicket. Gunrich had been aiding the Deeppockets in their smuggling activities for longer than Dreezil could remember. In one of their conversations, Gunrich let it slip that he’d been caught with a case of Blackburrow Stout while in High Pass and though he expected to be treated badly, the guard who accosted him asked for a bribe instead. Gunrich chuckled to himself as though he’d made a wise choice in giving the guard his case of stout. Dreezil fingered his chin thoughtfully as he pondered this development. Why would one of the Highpass guards be so easily swayed, he wondered? Perhaps there was some mystery there that he could root out.

The halfling lad headed back through Rivervale and the forest of Kithicor on his way to the castle area. As he reached the High Pass, he slowed his pace and watched carefully. His instincts for caution were aroused and he trod cautiously. Sneaking up behind a large rock near moonrise one late evening, he eavesdropped on two guards who seemed to be somewhat tipsy. Every so often, they would pull something from a large skin pack that clinked when it was moved. Dreezil recognized the sound of ceramic jugs. Blackburrow Stout was his guess.

Dreezil stood quietly, breathing evenly so that nothing would draw the attention of the guards. Of course, they were fairly well intoxicated by this point so his caution may have been unnecessary, but Dreezil never became complacent. That was one of his strongest qualities. He was not one to be lazy about things. He watched as one and then the other of the guards began to nod and drifted into a deep sleep. Only their snores punctuated the night air.

The little rogue waited yet a bit longer, and then, when he felt the time was right, moved in slowly and picked up the skin sack. He looked around carefully and picked up all the still-full bottles he could find. He would need those as evidence, he thought. These guards were corrupt and the authorities must know of it. Dreezil salivated just a bit at the thought of the reward they would no doubt force upon him. He smiled to himself.

He headed toward the castle keep, still smiling smugly and headed for the castle gates. Looking up at the first tall human he encountered, Dreezil opened his mouth to speak, but got no further than a startled squawk as he recognized the very guard from whom he’d stolen the sack! The guard grabbed him by the arms, picking him up and throwing him, sack and all, over his shoulder.

“AHA! Now I’ve found you, you smuggling thief! Carson McCabe will be pleased to hear that you were so considerate as to walk right into the castle and give yourself up!” The second guard took the skin bag and hefted it. It clinked as he did so and the first guard smiled knowingly. “We’ll just show him this bag as evidence, sure enough!” The two guards headed into the castle, with Dreezil struggling and protesting all the way.

When they took him before Carson McCabe, they had transferred eight bottles of the stout to a wooden case, leaving the rest in the sack and hiding it in their chambers on the way to the council room. When they arrived, Carson looked closely at Dreezil and recognized the guild symbol on his collar. Having the sign of the Deeppockets on him, Dreezil was clearly identified as a rogue and therefore, to McCabe, a scoundrel as well. He ignored the halfling’s protests of innocence and viewed the contents of the wooden case as proof of the halfling’s crime. He sent the guards to confine him in the dungeon.

The first guard took great pleasure in escorting him down to the dank cells in the lower levels of the keep. Worse yet, they chained his hands far apart on the wall beside him – standard practice for those with acknowledged lockpicking skills. Dreezil looked confused and forlorn as the great iron cell doors clanged shut. The other prisoners stared hopelessly and took no notice of him. By the looks of them, they’d been all but forgotten down here. Dreezil stood there, shocked and amazed at this turn of events. It wasn’t until the sun went down outside the tiny cell window and the darkness descended on him that he realized his predicament. It hadn’t seemed possible that this could happen, but there he was and he had no idea what he would do next.

Languishing away in his cell, the days and weeks all seemed to meld together into one long, endless, boring, miserable nightmare of an existence. He heard whispers and caught pieces of conversation echoing through the dungeon that told him that something terrible was happening in the world. He heard rumors that High Hold was under attack and that his hometown of Rivervale was taken over briefly. He assumed from the sounds of revelry some unknown days later, that the situation had resolved itself in of favor Carson McCabe and High Hold. The same guards brought his lukewarm gruel after all so it didn’t seem like the place was under new management. He missed his family and feared for what may have become of them, only adding to his ceaseless misery.

Firiona and Sionachie traveled through Antonica for many weeks, finally coming into Rivervale in their search for Dreezil. They came upon Wurrin and Teezil in a burrow not far from the local inn, known as the Fool’s Gold. A fitting name, Firiona thought, for an establishment that encouraged gambling and housed the local rogue’s guild. Wurrin and Teezil welcomed the paladin warmly.

“Welcome t’ our home, me lady!” The diminutive halfling woman smiled up at Firiona and scurried to find the largest chair to offer. “Me ‘husband an’ me, we’ve heard a great deal about ye lately! ‘Tis said ye defeated th’ Child o’ Hate in Kithicor, it is! My, my, ye must be a powerful swordmaiden indeed!”

Wurrin coughed behind one hand as he nodded. A gent of few words, was Wurrin. He pulled out a briar pipe and began to pack it with tobacco. He listened to his wife ramble on and watched the high elf lady from under his beetled brow. He sat in the corner, missing nothing.

“Thank you, Teezil, your hospitality is second to none, to be sure,” Firiona smiled, “but I was hoping you could help us with a bit of information as well…?”

At this remark, Wurrin looked up sharply and puffed on his pipe, slowly blowing out the blue-white smoke in tiny rings.

“Really, me lady? What kind o’ information might sech as we have f’r ye?” Teezil folded her hands across her apron as she stared, puzzled, at the high elf lady.

“It concerns your son, Dreezil…” Firiona began. Teezil’s eyes grew wide, and Wurrin blew another set of rings into the dim air of the burrow.

“Dreezil has been a companion of mine in the past, as you know, and I would find him again. I’ve missed his ready wit and his skills with locks are second to none. In my travels, it would be useful to have one with his abilities nearby, and the Lady Tunare has charged me with gathering up my companions. I have not been able to find Dreezil’s whereabouts, which is not unusual for a rogue of his inestimable skills, so I thought I would pay you a visit and see if you could direct me.”

Teezil’s eyes clouded up a bit and she blinked, twice. “He was arrested in Highkeep, they tell me, me lady. For smugglin’. I KNOW my Dreezil wouldnae do sech a thin’, ’tis nae possible. I jus’ know it. He’s a good boy, ‘e is.” Teezil wrung her hands together as she rambled on.

“Now, now, goodwife, I will see what I can do for your Dreezil. I know him to be an honest young man and I will find him and rectify this situation if I can. I promise you I will find out the truth and do all I can for him.” The tall half elf woman stood and smiled down at Teezil and Wurrin. “I will not trouble you further this day, my friends. My Lady has bidden me hurry in my tasks, and I must find Dreezil as soon as I may. Fare ye well.”

Firiona nodded at Sionachie and the two left, bending one blonde head and one red one to exit the door in the earthen burrow. The two stretched unconsciously after having been inside, and set out through the forest or Kithicor on their way to Highpass.

Carson McCabe stood in the throne room of the High Keep. He looked around at his chamberlain and advisors, listening to them recount the myriad problems that were his to resolve during his afternoon session. A muffled disturbance from outside caught his ear and he looked up curiously. Two guards opened the door and ushered in a familiar elf woman and her half-elf friend. Carson smiled.

“Firiona! How good to see you! And this must be Sionachie. I’ve heard of your ability with the mandolin, my dear, and your excellent singing voice. I certainly hope Firiona plans to stay here with us for a spell, so that you might favor us with a song or two?”

Sionachie blushed slightly and smiled. “Thank you, sir, for your kind words. But I believe Firiona has business to attend to.” She looked over at the paladin expectantly. Firiona nodded back.

“Yes, Carson, that is true. You see, I have been looking for a certain halfling lad, by the name of Dreezil. I understand he was here in Highpass Hold? Do you know anything about it?”

Carson looked over at Arvelion, the chamberlain. The man’s bald head gleamed with sweat as he stepped up to answer. The gold chain around his neck jingled with its burden of keys. “Yes, sire, I believe that is the name of the smuggler we apprehended and have incarcerated in our dungeon.” He looked at the two women, his eyes slightly narrowed. “Caught him red-handed, we did,” he said.

Firiona raised both eyebrows and stared at the man, whose narrow mustache and sparse beard appeared very black against his pale face. She waited for him to continue.

“Er… he was carrying the contraband when he was caught!” He said earnestly. “In fact, I locked it up in the stores myself!” Sweat began to trickle down his forehead. Firiona continued to stare.

Carson stepped up to his chamberlain and touched him lightly on the shoulder. “Go, Arvelion, bring it here. I would like to see it myself.” He very gently pushed on Arvelion’s shoulder, just enough to get him started. The skinny chamberlain glided away with the faint sound of jingling keys. Several minutes later, he returned with a wooden crate in his arms. Bottles tinked softly against one another as he walked.

“There, you see? We caught him with it, red-handed!” The chamberlain’s face was more than a little flushed by the exertion and his earnest assertions. Firiona peered into the case and pulled out one brown bottle by its neck. She held it up to the light and examined the thick dark stout through the glass.

“Yes, it does indeed appear to be Blackburrow Stout,” said Firiona as she lowered the bottle back into the case. “You say my little friend smuggled this? How long is his jail sentence?”

Carson’s brow furrowed. “Sentence? He’ll sit down there till he rots as far as I’m concerned. Rogues like that are not to be trusted. Particularly the halflings. They’re a scurrilous lot.”

Firiona’s expression grew bland and she tilted her head slightly to one side. “Then he hasn’t had a trial yet?”

“TRIAL?!” Carson laughed loud enough to rattle the bottles in the crate. “For a halfling smuggler? I wouldn’t waste my time!”

Firiona’s eyelids lowered just slightly and her voice was very soft as she spoke, “Then perhaps I can arrange for a judge to come here and hear his case. I will represent him myself. He can have a jury as well. I know you are a fair and honorable man, McCabe. And I know you to be just, as well. It will be no trouble to you at all. I’ll see to everything personally.”

Carson sputtered and his face flushed red. “Oh, dear. If you must, Firiona, then you must. I will agree to abide by whatever decision is made.”

“Nonsense, Carson! I’d be happy to do it. In the interests of justice, of course.” Firiona smiled sweetly and gestured toward the case of stout. “May I take this for safekeeping?”

Carson McCabe’s puzzled frown disappeared in a resigned smile when he could think of no reason to deny her and he nodded. “Certainly, my dear. Why not? Don’t drink it all in one sitting now!” He chuckled at his own joke. “Make yourselves comfortable. Arvelion will show you to your chambers and see that you have everything you require. I must finish my work, now. Welcome, Firiona, and you too, Sionachie.”” He smiled again and turned back to his advisors as the women followed Arvelion out of the hall.

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