Stripped of his gear and dangling from the ceiling, Ichabod Brooks patiently waits for his captors to return. There are no furnishings in the cell, so he hopes that he will be visited soon or the guards will listen when he has to yell for the bathroom. The adventurer is not as worried as he was when the locals swarmed him at the port and dragged him to the hilltop manor. Only a few cuts and bruises on his legs remain from the attack, which he put up little resistance against due to being severely outnumbered. Ichabod has spent the last hour wondering what is going on and doing what he can to stop his muscles from aching. With his own muscular weight pulling on his shoulders, he can feel the joints locking up and repeatedly swings to wrap his legs around the window bars. The awkward stretch is enough to take the pressure off his arms, but his lower back will not take much more. Even with the rising pain, the adventurer remains calm and passes the time thinking of what kind of mess he wandered into.
With a click, the door opens and three muscular men enter the room with a cart that has a bowl of soup on it. The one with a sword lowers the prisoner to the floor, but remains with his hand on the chain in case Ichabod tries anything. A single yank on the tether is all that the barely clothed guard needs to send the dark-skinned man to the ceiling. The other two silently go about feeding the adventurer and removing his clothes. Due to the chains, his shirt and pants are carefully cut apart with scissors and the strips are thrown into the hallway. Once the food is gone, two more guards and three young women enter. Ichabod tenses when they wipe him down with warm sponges that have a familiar perfume on them. He is busy trying to place the smell when a fresh set of clothes are placed on the floor and everyone leaves. A loud snap from the ceiling is enough of a warning that the adventurer can leap away from the severed chain, which lands with a thud.
“That could have killed me,” Ichabod mentions while he frees himself. Squinting at the door, he can barely make out the shadow of someone moving on the other side. “Do you mind telling me why I’m in jail? I came here on a job. Something about a garden that needed magical care that only I could provide. My employer, who I assume owns this estate, even gave me a list of equipment to bring. That should have been a sign that this was a trap. My wife isn’t going to let me live this one down.”
“It is an honor to meet and serve you, Lord Brooks,” the guard says with an odd click of his heels. The man’s voice is devoid of emotion, but its power helps it to be clearly heard through the door. “We have been asked to prepare you for an introduction to our Empress. I apologize on behalf of Errenshar for any confusion you are suffering from. It was our orders to bring you here and hold you until our Empress was ready. She has stated that you have a habit of overreacting and causing trouble, so she thought it best to prepare you in the dungeon.”
“This is a dungeon?” the adventurer asks while he gets dressed. The clean floor and white walls remind him more of an unfurnished bedroom than a place where one would normally place criminals. “Well, your Empress might not want to listen to those bard tales too much. I don’t go out of my way to cause trouble. Just seems to happen. These are pretty fancy clothes. Makes me think there’s something you’re not telling me.”
“My only job is to escort you to lunch when you are ready.”
“Do I get my gear back?”
“All of your equipment has been given to the Empress.”
“Of course it has.”
“Would you like to know today’s menu?”
“We’ll save that for the walk.”
Unnerved by the guard, Ichabod sits on the floor to put on a pair of leather boots that fit perfectly. Putting his arms over his head and stretching, he is surprised that the clothes feel like they were custom made for him. The shirt is his favorite shade of light brown and the buttons are shaped like tiny dread boars. His new pants are comfortable no matter what position he is in and the fabric allows just enough air through to keep his legs cool. Ichabod chuckles when he notices that the belt buckle is an arrow that clicks into a longbow. He cannot stop himself from smiling at the thought of what he has walked into.
“Been a long time since we played games like this,” the adventurer whispers with a gentle sigh. Picking up a dark red cape, he clips it to the latches that are blended into the shoulders of his shirt. “Although, I don’t remember her ever using that kind of perfume. Did I buy that for her during an anniversary or a birthday? Been so many presents from one to the other that we’ve both lost track. Wish she didn’t go to this much trouble though. These actors are very wooden, which gave everything away. Unless that’s part of the trick and she has something else planned that I’ll be distracted from.”
“Are you ready to go, Lord Brooks?” the guard asks, the door shaking as he grips the handle. There is the loud clang of a sword falling to the floor, but there is no scrambling or cursing in response to the accident. “I apologize for the noise. The Empress does not wish for you to be disturbed until you are ready. Please tell me when it is time to go. I must send word of our departure to the cooks, so that the food will be warm. If you would like me to tell you the menu, I will do so to help pass the time while you finish getting dressed. I know that at your age, it is more difficult to move quickly.
The adventurer cracks his knuckles and bites his lower lip to stop himself from shouting at the young man. “I finished a few minutes ago. Just wanted to make sure everything was in the right place. No sense rushing such an important and intimate meeting. Feel free to let me out whenever you’re ready. Be nice to get some romantic time with the wife, especially if she’s going all out with the fun. Really have to make this up to her soon. There’s that enchanted sword she’s been wanting for a while, so maybe we can do a couple’s adventure like the old days. Been a while since we did that together.”
“Excuse me, but we must go quickly,” the young man states as he opens the door. He turns on his heels and marches down the hallway, forcing Ichabod to jog up to him. “Before I tell you what we are having, I have been asked to tell you the one rule. The Empress does not wish for you to talk about your wife. She says that would ruin the fun.”
“Okay . . . Not even-”
“There are no exceptions to this rule.”
A pang of worry and caution seeps into Ichabod’s heart, but he ignores it since his wife may want to play a game. Although he does not remember her ever being this type of playful, he has heard of such couple retreats. One of his employers raved about one that allowed him and his wife to be pirates for a few days. The getaway included gnomish illusions and working with various governments to avoid messy misunderstandings, but the man swore that it was well worth the cost and early hassle. Clinging to the idea that his wife is surprising him with such an exciting adventure, Ichabod fixes his collar and uses one of the many mirrors in the hallway to make sure his hair is neat.