Sunrise in Neverwinter is a beautiful time, lasting for two hours or more at the height of summer as the sun’s harsh stare, blocked by the Sword Mountains to the east, transforms into a soft, sidelong glance, a pink rose half-smile to turn even the hardest heart to thoughts of romance. The present company is equally conducive to such dalliances; the half-elf cleric of Sune, he the poet and ardent lover, the young human woman, a cleric of Kelemvor, she of the pin-straight dark blonde hair and eyes of such pale brown as to be almost gold, melancholy of nature but given to passionate affirmations of her love of life; both with a history of saving each other in so many ways…but the specifics of the setting put such things as far away from both minds as imaginable.
“Who was he?” Myles looks up with pursed lips as he asks. The object of his scrutiny hangs by a rough hemp rope by its neck from an infamous tree. Its feet, moving the tiniest bit in the nearly nonexistent breeze, dangle five feet off of the ground. Once, not so long ago, this slab of cold meat was a male human of early middle age, probably a fighting man by his build and the plethora of old scars visible on his naked body.
“No one knew his name, but many knew of him.” Acolyte Palth Neyman, cleric of Kelemvor, glances around herself and shivers a little as she answers. “He spoke Common with the voice of the east-lands, perhaps the Great Dale or even Rashemen, but after establishing himself three years ago he rarely ventured into the city from his camp outside the Coriol Street Gate.” She pauses, and shivers again, and this time Myles can plainly see magical energy of a divinatory nature swirl around her for an instant before dissipating. “We can speak safely here for another ten minutes or so: The dark energies of the tree have their uses.” She looks up at the corpse again, shaking her head. “He controlled the largest private army in the Sword Coast North. Some six thousand or more footmen, with no banner or insignia, mixed in with the Mintarn and a dozen other mercenary companies, did his bidding.”
“We had all heard rumors of him, but…” Myles stares with slightly wider eyes at the corpse. “So this is the Whale, eh? Or, rather ‘was’ the Whale?”
“Yes. I might be the only person in Neverwinter aside from his killers who knows this for sure. My connection with the Lynching Tree…well, we both know that being the custodian of this place comes with a mixed bag of blessings and curses, and I know the name and crime of every person brought here and killed.” The Kelemvorite smiles ironically. “Whether they were guilty or innocent, I have no idea.”
“Aside from becoming insanely wealthy and powerful, driving the inflation of prices to the point where the poor could barely afford two-day-old bread, and inspiring apparently deadly jealousy, what were his crimes? Historically the mob branded the target of their ire with any number of charges using a sign or a hot poker or some such cruelty, but there is nothing here. I am almost afraid to ask.” Myles speaks the first sentences; his last appears silently in Acolyte Neyman’s mind, an invitation to answer in the confidentiality of wordless mental contact.
“There are words I dare not speak, crimes that cannot be tried in any court, offenses for which the penalty is exclusion from reality by death and worse, a permanence of the banishment of the soul that puts Kelemvor’s mercy to shame. All the gods stand united in this penalty, even if some abuse it for their own gain. This was his crime, and by hanging him from this tree, their punishment is accomplished. None can return from such final death.” Neyman thinks the first sentences and she speaks the last; she draws close to Myles, who puts his arms around her and draws her close in a kindly, gentle, and completely useless gesture of support.
After a pause Myles whispers, his lips barely moving against Neyman’s cheek. “I understand, and I'm not surprised. Those many adventurers with private armies of their own knew that the Whale was a target, and when Neverember cut off the supply of astral diamonds as rewards for aiding in the rebuilding of the city, many saw this as the first step towards confiscation. The entertainers in the employ of my Deacons are now forced to accept gems and magical items in place of astral diamonds for services rendered.”
Neyman whispers back, her hands clutching Myles close to her, her breath warm and quite distracting on his ear. “But why? Is there no value to the city, to Neverember, for so many bandits captured, enemy camps destroyed, or cultists slain? Is not ‘adventure’ what we expect adventurers to do, and the wealth of the few who prosper a general benefit to the region?”
“There are many theories, my love. Some speculate that Neverember’s investors, masked and hidden beings of this and many other worlds, the ones who financed Neverwinter’s recovery, demanded repayment earlier than anticipated. Others murmur that Neverember had grown fearful of the power of the Whale and persons like him, with unassailable strongholds and armies large enough to threaten his Mintarn mercenaries and the peace of the entire Sword Coast.” The Sunite moves his head back and speaks with a smile. “There have been ragged preachers on the corners screeching about the ‘unfair distribution of wealth’ lately; perhaps they are right, and perhaps they are shills for forces beyond our knowledge. No one knows for sure, and our so-called Lord Protector isn’t telling."
The Kelemvorite's face brightens a bit as she responds to Myles' confidence. "And you, my lord...are you safe? Is it safe for your Deacons, for what you all do?"
The use of the familiar "My Lord", a loving honorific common in Cormyr, tells Myles worlds about his companion's mood, and he feels the love of Sune once again push back the darkness. He steps back, taking her left hand in his right and squeezing. "We are bit players in a great drama, and may be written out of the script at any moment. All we can do is the best for each other until then, be it a day or a thousand years from now. And speaking of the best: An aged Moonshae Mist would be perfect right about now. Acolyte Neyman, are you free for the day?”
Acolyte Neyman smiles without a trace of irony. “I will be in a moment.” She gestures with her right hand up towards the pendulous body without so much as a glance in its direction, and it glows from within and bursts into radiant fire and disintegrates into a shower of ash, rope and all, in the space of three heartbeats, with no visible damage to the cursed Lynching Tree. “There. Shall we make for the gate?”
Myles smile becomes a grin as a signpost floating a few inches off of the ground appears next to them. “Walking takes so much time...”