Elaine Cunningham, Dave Gross, Monte Cook, James Lowder, Mary H. Herbert, Steven 'Stan!' Brown, Jeff Grubb, Richard Lee Byers, Keith Francis Strohm, J. Robert King, Brian M. Thomsen, Peter Archer, Thomas M. Reid, Ed Greenwood

Realms of Mystery


Elaine Cunningham… Speaking with the Dead

Dave Gross… A Walk in the Snow

Monte Cook… The Rose Window

James Lowder… The Club Rules

Mary H. Herbert… Thieves' Justice

Steven 'Stan!' Brown… Ekhar Lorrent: Gnome Detective

Jeff Grubb… The Devil and Tertius Wands

Richard Lee Byers… H

Keith Francis Strohm… Strange Bedfellows

J. Robert King… Whence the Song of Steel

Brian M. Thomsen… An Unusual Suspect

Peter Archer… Darkly, Through A Glass Of Ale

Thomas M. Reid… Lynaelle

Ed Greenwood… The Grinning Ghost of Taverton Hall

Speaking with the Dead

Elaine Cunningham

The sun began to disappear behind the tall, dense pines of the Cloak Wood, and the colors of an autumn sunset-deep, smoky purples and rose-tinted gold- stained the sky over the Coast Way.

Tired though they were from a long day’s travel, every member of the south-bound caravan quickened his pace. While splendidly mounted merchants urged their steeds on and drovers cracked whips over the backs of the stolid dray horses hitched to the wagons, the mercenary guards loosened their weapons and peered intently into the lengthening shadows. The trade route was dangerous at any time, but doubly so at night. Truth be told, however, most of the caravan members lived in greater fear of their own captain than of any chance-met monster or band of brigands. Elaith Craulnober was not an elf to be trifled with, and he had bid them make the fortress by nightfall.

“Last hill! Fortress straight ahead!” shouted one of the scouts. The news rippled through the company in a murmur of relief.

From his position near the rear of the caravan, Danilo Thann leaned forward to whisper words of encouragement into his tired horse’s back-turned ears. The ears were a bad sign, for the horse could be as balky as a cart mule. Once they crested the last hill, all would be well. The sight of a potential stable would spur the horse on as little else could, for he was a comfort-loving beast. He was also a beauty, with a sleek, glossy coat the color of ripe wheat. Danilo had turned down several offers from merchants who coveted the showy beast, and had shrugged off a good deal of jesting from the other guards. Dan felt a special affinity for this horse. The “pretty pony,” as the sneering mercenaries called him, had more going for him than met the eye. He was beyond doubt the most intelligent steed Danilo had ever encountered, and utterly fearless in battle. His mincing gait could change in a heartbeat to a fearsome battle charge. In Dan’s opinion, the horse would have been a worthy paladin’s mount, if not for its pleasure-loving nature and its implacable stubborn streak-both traits that Dan understood well.

He patted his horse’s neck and turned to his companion of nearly four years, a tall, rangy figure who was wrapped in a dark cloak such as a peasant might wear, and riding a raw-boned, gray-dappled mare. The rider’s height and seat and well-worn boots suggested a young man of humble means, well accustomed to the road. This, Dan knew, was a carefully cultivated illusion. This illusion was a needed thing, perhaps, but he was growing tired of it.

Danilo reached out and tugged back the hood of his partner’s cloak. The dying light fell upon a delicate elven face, framed by a chin-length tumble of black curls and dominated by large blue eyes, almond-shaped and flecked with gold. These marvelous eyes narrowed dangerously as they settled on him. Arilyn was half-elven and all his-or so Danilo liked to think. She was also furious with his latest foolishness. Danilo, well accustomed to such response, smiled fondly.

Arilyn jerked her hood back up into place. “What in the Nine bloody Hells was that about?” she demanded, her voice low and musical despite her irritation.

“It seems like days since I’ve had a good look at you. We’ re almost at the Friendly Arm,” Danilo said. His smile broadened suggestively. “The name suggests possibilities, does it not?”

The half-elf sniffed. “You keep forgetting the differences between us. A bard from a noble merchant clan can travel wherever he pleases, drawing attention but not suspicion. But I am known in these parts for what I am!”

He dismissed this with a quick, casual flip of one bejeweled hand. “In Baldur’s Gate, certain precautions were in order. But I hear the gnomes who hold this fortress are admirable little fellows-easygoing folk who set a fine table and mind their own affairs. And the Friendly Arm is perhaps the only truly neutral spot within a tenday’s ride. Nothing much ever happens within the fortress walls, so why should we not relax and enjoy ourselves?”

“We have business to attend,” she reminded him.

“I’ m honored that you take your responsibilities to the caravan so seriously,” said a new voice, one slightly lower and even more musical than Arilyn’s and rich with dark, wry humor. The companions turned to face a silver haired elf, just as he reined his cantering horse into step with Arilyn’s mare. Neither of them had heard his approach.

Enchanted horseshoes, no doubt, Danilo mused. Elaith Craulnober was known to have a fondness for magical items, and a wicked delight in keeping those around him off guard. The elf also valued information. Though Elaith would probably have given Arilyn anything she asked of him, Danilo suspected that the elf had another motive for allowing a representative of the Thann merchant clan to ride along with his caravan. Elaith knew that both Danilo and Arilyn were Harpers, and that members of this secret organization usually had duties far more pressing than acting as caravan guards.

Arilyn mirrored the elf’s faint smile and bantering tone. “I take all my responsibilities seriously,” she said. “Too seriously, if Danilo is to be believed.”

In response to that, Elaith lifted one brow and murmured an Elvish phrase, a highly uncomplimentary remark that defied precise translation into the Common trade tongue. His jaw dropped in astonishment when both Arilyn and Danilo burst into laughter. After a moment, he smiled ruefully and shrugged. “So, bard, you understand High Elvish. I suppose that shouldn’t have surprised me.”

“And had you known, would you have chosen your words with more tact?” Danilo asked, grinning.

Elaith shrugged again. “Probably not.”

The three of them rode in silence for several minutes. Something that for lack of a better term could be called friendship had grown between the elf and the Harpers, but Danilo never lost sight of the fact that theirs was a tenuous friendship. They were too different for it to be otherwise. Elaith Craulnober was a Moon elf adventurer, landowner, and merchant. He had far-flung interests, few of which were entirely legal, and a well-earned reputation for cruelty, treachery, and deadly prowess in battle. Arilyn was half-elven, the daughter of Elaith’s lost elven love. She was as focused upon duty as a paladin, and Danilo suspected that she would not allow a shared history and a common heritage to stay her hand should Elaith step beyond the bounds of law and honor. Danilo was, on the

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