Rush Of Blood To The Head, part 6.1.
The midst of the Amnian summer is particularly hot this year. As a result, Esmeltaran, the small resort city on the shore of the lovely Lake Esmel sees much more tourists than other years – nearly every self-respecting Athkatlan noble and merchant considers spending at least some time in Esmeltaran, to be a question of honor. The air here is much more cooler and sprightly than in dusty Athkatla, the closeness of the lake with the sulphuric mineral springs makes it the most famous area of recreation in the whole Amn. Almost every powerful and influential Amnian family has at least one summer estate in Esmeltaran for the lack of it would be a major dent in reputation…
However, the middle-aged man who is lying idly in the hammock, gazing in the afternoon’s sun, is not concerned about the rash that is common in Amn’s political and mercantile world. He inherited his lovely two-storied villa from his father and nearly every summer he, together with his wife and two children have been spending a couple of tendays in peace and relaxation from the hustle that is permanent in Athkatla.
This year, however, they have not come here only to recuperate and relax – they have moved permanently from Athkatla and he hopes to finally enjoy the pleasures of retirement and the rewarding feeling of being a good father to his two daughters and a loving husband to his wife…
“Husband? Did I wake you up? I apologize, but the dinner is ready…” the soft tones of his wife’s voice brings him out of the daydreaming and he turns to fondly regard her, a lovely brown-eyed woman in her early forties, her long, blond hair tied together in a braid, she is wearing a simple gown with a cut that he always had thought slightly too provocative for a well-mannered middle-aged lady of the highest society.
“Ah… Maria, I did not hear you approaching,” he replies with a smile before getting out of the hammock and following her into the house, “where are the children?”
“Peony took them to the lake,” Maria replies, as they both sit down to the heavily laden dinner table, “you know that I don’t want to let Leona alone with so many young, dazzling sons of the merchants around – I hear that some of the local girls have complained that they sometimes have trouble understanding a rejection… if you know what I mean.”
“I see,” Keldorn speaks with a frown, “I doubt that the local authorities would lift a finger, however… Leona has a bright head on her shoulders, but some of these young gentlemen I have come a across are… less than pleasant.”
“Maria?” Keldorn resumes conversation after a couple of minutes of busy chewing, “that young woman in the neighbor estate was once again trying to get my attention… she has been trying that since the first day that we moved in. I doubt that I am that attractive that she plans to seduce me, despite what you think, wife of mine…”
“Well, I did try to speak with her, but she refused to open her window and the door guard said that the lady wishes to be left alone,” Maria explains, “one odd thing, Keldorn – a woman I met in the marketplace explained me that the Tanisloves sold the estate last winter, but to whom – that is a mystery.”
“Is that so?” Keldorn looks puzzled, “Well, that young lady certainly looked agitated… she made quite frantic hand movements, as if trying to tell me something. But I do not know what – how about I go and try to talk to her?”
“As you wish, Keldorn… but let us resume and finish eating the dinner first, shall we?” Maria grins.
The look on Keldorn’s face, as he returns from the little expedition, is one of deep concern and Maria knows all too well that something is wrong. “What is it, husband? What is wrong?” she asks.
“Maria, there is something horribly wrong in that house. By Torm, I swear I will correct this injustice – it does seem that the young lady is held there against her own will!” the outrage in Keldorn’s face is clearly visible.
“Tell me everything you found out, Keldorn,” Maria presses him down into a chair.
“Well, this time I insisted on seeing the young lady and… I tried to push the door guard away and enter,” Keldorn explains, “in the lobby, I saw two heavily armed mercenaries – and they were quick to threaten me to forget everything I saw unless I risk getting my family murdered. I swear, if they lay a finger on Vesper or Leona’s heads…”
“What should we do, Keldorn?” Maria asks, concerned, “we could ask the city guards to deal with this, but I don’t trust them one bit… money is the only thing they are loyal to…”
“There is only one thing to do, Maria… I will have to step out of retirement, just for this one evening,” Keldorn is resolute, “Hallowed Redeemer has not seen action for quite some time, but this night it will once again help me to right the wrongs and liberate the land from evil.”
The former estate of the Tanisloves is completely sunken in the darkness, except for the weak candlelight coming from a room on the first floor. Dressed in his ancestral full plate and carrying his holy sword, Keldorn moves towards the entrance of the house. He does not expect to be unnoticed, the ridiculousness of his armor’s color will not allow that, even though he feels that thinking such thoughts about his family armor are sacrilege. He has chosen to approach in the cover of night simply for one reason – in order not to attract attention from the streets, should the encounter prove to be messy.
The door is half-opened following his knock, but that is enough for his gauntleted fist to pass through the spread and connect with the jaw of the guard. The man drops on the floor with a quiet thud and Keldorn enters the estate, trying to be as quiet as possible – his hands are gripping the hilt of the sword, knowing that at least two armed men await him inside.
Keldorn sees the stairs leading to the second floor, but he also sees the men crossing his path, two half-orcs are laughing loudly at Keldorn’s approach.
“Would you look at that – the old man can barely walk or carry the sword, yet he wants to play hero,” one of them laughs, “well, a heroes death we can arrange for you, senile twerp.”
“And after that has been done, we can have fun with his women – that older daughter of his, she’s a cute one…” the other concurs, “and Kurdal – you have a thing for elder women, his wife is still pretty sparkly…”
“Never underestimate a paladin, even a retired one,” Keldorn addresses the two corpses a minute later, “and most definitely do not taunt him the way you did, wretched scum…” Keldorn slowly moves upstairs, the full plate is not exactly helping him in getting there quickly. Once there, he is pleased that there is no other guard in sight, thus without hesitation he proceeds onwards through the hallway, knocking on every door along the way.
“Young lady! Do not fear, I have disposed of your capturers,” he speaks aloud, knowing well enough that the girl has perhaps already retired for the night. Loud banging on the door he has just passed by, dissuades him from that notion and a melodic voice addresses him.
“In here! You will have to break the door, please hurry!” the voice is pleading and Keldorn gladly complies, whacking the door with his shoulder but the heavy oak does not want to give in easily.
“Who are you, kind sir? Are you the gentlemen who lives next doors?” the woman inquires while Keldorn is wiping sweat off his forehead.
“That would be me – Keldorn Firecam, a retired paladin from the Order of The Radiant Heart,” Keldorn replies before resuming his work on knocking down the door.
“Jeez, how classic! The damsel in distress and the paladin saving her… though the saviors sure took their time,” the girl mumbles and finally the door gives in and Keldorn stumbles in the room. He looks up and sees a fairly young woman, dressed in a white night-gown… her red hair are slightly disheveled, likely she has been sleeping already, but the green eyes are glittering with gratitude. For the moment they look at each other as if unsure of how to proceed…
“May I propose the lady to dress herself properly and then I would accompany her over to my estate,” Keldorn reacts as the first, “we could talk about your predicament in a much more friendly atmosphere than here…”
“Huh? Oh… I get it – your lady would not appreciate you bringing home young women dressed only in their nightgown,” her innocent comment makes Keldorn blush as he leaves her to her privacy.
“May I inquire of your name, young lady?” Keldorn speaks from the other side of the door.
“Err… yes… Nalia. Nalia… De’Arnise,” the young woman replies.
“Well, Lady Nalia, I believe we will have a lot to talk about…” Keldorn adds, “for example why have you been locked here and why nobody else tried to rescue you…”
“Indeed… I shall ask that question to Theodur, when I see him the next time,” Nalia sighs.
“Theodur? Surely you don’t mean Theodur the Bhaalspawn?” Keldorn asks, perplexed.
“Why, yes I do! What is the matter, Sir Keldorn?” Nalia finishes pulling on her boots and rises to pick up her other belongings from the table.
“Oh… in that case we will have even more to talk about, Lady Nalia…” Keldorn sighs, “let us go, Maria probably awaits us with a hot camomile tea… and we will need lots and lots of it.”
Rush Of Blood To The Head, part 6.1.
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