A Caged Bird

A Short Story by Kyle Viveiros

“For gods sake. Will you at least put my glasses on me so I can see my death coming?”

James hung upside down, chained to the ceiling of the musty drow dungeon.  His captor, a dark elf with long white hair, turned around and stared at him with piercing, red eyes.

“Silence half-breed. It won’t be long before you will be sacrificially executed before the very eyes of Lolth,” the drow spat the words to James in elvish. He approached the inverted half elf and ran the edge of his dagger across his cheek. “You will be made an example. We will show that the kingdom of Menzoberranzan doesn’t take kindly to interlopers.”

“That’s all fine and good, but could I at least be put into a cell like a regular prisoner?” James retorted, gently swinging to and fro. “I can feel all of the blood rushing into the tip of my nose!”

The dark elf dug the blade into James’ cheek, drawing blood. “Cells are reserved for pureblood prisoners. You barely deserve to live in the first place.” The guard brought his face closer to James.

“Well, I’m sure glad that worked.” James said, as he reared his head back and slammed it into the nose of his dark elf captor. With a sickening crack, the guard reared back clutching his face, blood gushing from the now broken nose. James wore a pained look as his forehead began to bruise. “Gods dammit. Vutu always made that move look a lot cooler and less painful.” He unclenched his eyes to find, much to his dismay, that the drow was still standing. “Shit. You were supposed to be unconscious after that.” 

The dark elf cried out in anguish, turning his dagger back on James. “You’ll pay for that, you son of a whore!

James slammed his eyes shut, expecting the worst. This was it. This was how The Great Owl of The Kingdom, James O’Byrne, goes out. Not in glorious combat, or untraceable poison, but with the slightest miscalculation and a dagger to the throat.

But the life-ending incision never came. James slowly peaked one eye open, and attempted to make sense of the scene that was playing out before him.

His rage-filled drow captor was in mid-swing with his dagger toward James, the tip of which was less than an inch away from his throat. However, he was remarkably still. If he didn’t know better, he would have thought the guard to be an extremely lifelike statue or model. The surface of his skin reflected the light of the nearby torches, and his skin had forsaken its pale color and adopted a light blue. The information processed all at once, and James realized what had happened: the guard had been frozen.

James began to swing his body, trying to find the source of the new found ice. And then he saw her. An elven woman he had not seen in years: Gwendolyn Vandorin.

Gwendolyn stood only a couple of inches shorter than James, and was dressed in ornate burgundy and honey colored robes that looked as if they were made of leaves. Her skin was a golden tan that seemed to radiate warmth, and her hair was a dark auburn that was cut short, just above her shoulders, that bounced and swayed as she moved. James saw her familiar gold bangle bracelets on her wrist as she went to tuck a few stray red hairs back behind her pointed ears as she concentrated on her ray of frost cantrip. She finished her frost-based incantation, and then turned her attention to the half-elf hanging from the ceiling, and her hazel eyes grew wide.

“James? James O’Byrne? Is it really you?”

A wave of memories crashed into James all at once hearing her cherry blossom-like voice. Memories of playing chess together in his father’s parlor. Memories of studying various histories of peoples in her father’s study. Late night walks with philosophical discussions. Hands being held. First kisses being shared…

The blood in the tip of James’ nose swiftly flowed to his cheeks as he turned a bright shade of pink. 

“Ah. Uh…hey there Gwen. Long time, no see! How are you doing?”

Gwen cocked one of her eyebrows and gave a slight smirk.

“Oh Jimmy. Don’t you mean ‘how’s it hanging?’” She gave a giggle as she watched him swing like a pendulum by the chains holding him aloft.

“Oh hardy har har. You’re so funny, Gwen.” James snarkily said in the most monotone voice he could muster. “And please don’t call me Jimmy. You know I hated that even when we were kids. You don’t see me calling you Gwendolyn!”

She crossed her arms and shifted her weight onto her back foot as she stared at her childhood friend. She gave a small smile.

“Looks like you’ve gotten yourself into a precarious situation. Captured by some dark elves and soon to be sacrificially executed to their goddess?” She tsked her tongue at him disappointedly. “I expect more from you! Are you losing your touch in your old age?”

“Gwen, we’re literally the same age.” James rolled his eyes at her. “And besides, even the best slip up every now and then. Now will you please let me down from here?”

Gwen walked over behind James and began working on his bindings.

“Yes, yes. The best slip up every now and then. However, that would imply that you are one of the best. And I believe I’ve saved your ass far too many times over the years for you to even be in the running for that commendation.”

As she finished that remark, James’ bindings came undone and he toppled to the ground. The half-elf quickly jumped to his feet, getting a head rush in the process as he dusted off his coat. James opened his mouth to reply with another witty remark, yet he found himself tongue tied. She was more magnificent than he ever remembered. Her eyes locked with his and he watched as they changed color to a bright green. She quickly averted her gaze, her cheeks and ears turning the same shade of red as her robes.

“In all sincerity, thank you for the assistance.” James said quietly. “I actually do believe I was a goner there. What are you even doing here in the first place, Gwen?”

Gwendolyn walked over to the frozen dark elf, digging through his pockets for anything of use.

“Well, while you’ve been off pulling heists with elven women with panthers and tabaxi monks, and other ‘covert’ operations with Belbor, I’ve been doing a little espionage myself.” She pulled a small medallion with the symbol of a spider on a web etched into it out of the drow’s pocket, and showed it to James. “We had intercepted a letter coming from Menzoberranzan about the ritualistic sacrifice of a half-elf in an effort to summon Lolth or appease her in some way. I volunteered to go on the rescue mission to save the sacrifice in question, and that’s how I found you.”

James crossed his arms as he listened to Gwen speak. “That heist was a one time thing. Besides! We got away from there relatively unnoticed.” James found his glasses on a nearby table and donned them, the world finally clarifying. “Belbor and I do great work with The Kingdom, too. How do you think I ended up here? We had heard similar rumors of an increased drider population in the city, so I was sent for confirmation.” James pushed his glasses up. They had been bent in his capture by the drow. Kudol would have to fix that for him when he returned to Neverwinter.

She stood up from her crouched position and turned back to James. “I was supposed to escort you to safety, but I think you’re more than capable of getting out of here yourself.” She walked over to James and stopped only an inch away from him.

“If you really are one of the best. You should be able to handle this no problem. Consider me your ‘do-over.’” She slipped a small, smooth stone into his hand. He looked down to find she had handed him a sending stone. Gwen held an identical stone in her hand and said, “Why don’t you give me a call sometime, Jimmy?”

She gave him a quick kiss on his bright red cheek, and vanished before him. The only things remaining where she stood were a couple red and yellow leaves that floated silently to the ground.

James stood there in absolutely silence, thinking about the events that played out before him. He waited for his heartbeat to slow back down before he whispered aloud to himself,

 

“Please don’t call me Jimmy…

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