Rush Of Blood To The Head, part 6.4.
We do not dawdle around in the zone of warfare and hastily march in the northern direction, battling our way through the thick woods. None of us have any real knowledge of where and how far we are from Athkatla. Jaheira thinks that the forest reminds her of the Small Teeth, which would be good news as there are at least a few Amnian cities in the near proximity.
The night has passed and finally the long awaited sun has arrived and put the smiles on our faces… well, Edwin is still rather cranky and Viconia has never been a friend of the sunlight. But the rest of us are enjoying it greatly and for a while I almost forget about our dire situation – of course walking hand in hand with Jaheira helps to forget everything else that surrounds me.
Imoen is the first who complains about the fatigue and even though it is high noon, I make no protests about setting up a camp in a clearing to rest. A little side-trip into the woods nets us a young deer to fry, courtesy of my archery skills and Edwin gladly assigns himself to the position of the cook. Couple of hours later, everyone is happily snoozing in their tents, save for Jaheira and I – the first watch as always falls to me, but Jaheira who has the second stint is reluctant to return to the bedroll alone…
For a long while we sit in silence, simply enjoying the closeness of each other and the calm and relaxing feelings of contentment that it brings. The soothing peacefulness of the forest slowly overwhelms us and I feel my body refreshing without even having to sleep and Jaheira, being a druid, has less need for sleep than the rest of us.
“Are you still awake, oh omnipresent guardian figure?” Jaheira suddenly interrupts my reverie.
“Wha- oh, yes…I was just thinking…” I reply absentmindedly.
“How about sharing your thoughts, dear one?” she snickers.
“Eh… nothing important… I was just feeling that much more relieved now that we have a clear goal – at least, I hope that Bodhi still resides in her old apartments and it won’t be hard to find her. And after that our path is set – Elhan will take us to Irenicus,” I finish my summary.
“Yes, compared to all this blind stumbling around the Underdark, now at least we have some clarity,” Jaheira agrees, “the odds are not in our favor, but we have prevailed against even worse in the past.”
“Are you concerned about the fight with Bodhi?” I ask her, “Irenicus scares me a lot more than his demented sister.”
“We have beaten her before and we shall do so again,” Jaheira states proudly, “there can not be any other outcome… and there won’t.”
“Have you… have you talked with Imoen, as I asked you to?” she asks me a moment later.
“Yes, I did. I think that with Viconia, she is in good hands,” I reply without realizing the implication of my words.
“I gathered as much. I am not stupid, you know,” she speaks in a flat voice, “will you allow it to unfold? Viconia could hurt her, surely you know that.”
“Seriously, Jaheira… what do you expect me to do? If they both feel that way about each other, what rights do I have to put obstacles in their path? I want my sister to be happy… and it looks like this relationship is the key to her happiness. Should I deprive her of that?”
“No… I want the same as you do, but… you have to consider that Viconia is… Well, suffice to say that she comes from a cruel society which knows nothing of love, compassion and caring about the other,” Jaheira argues, “while I admit that Viconia has learned a lot during her stay with us, this is taking a step in the direction where I am uncomfortable with it.”
“Perhaps she wants to learn what love is… especially after witnessing how beautiful it can be between us…” I pull her closer and leniently she allows herself to be kissed, “Love can’t be wrong in itself, Jaheira… and we both should know that.”
“Perhaps you are right. I shall reserve my judgment for later and pray that Imoen does not get hurt while pursuing such… dangerous company,” she admits grudgingly and gently pushes me away, “you are forgetting your guard duty, dearest. Save your efforts for later, for I will need you once my turn is over…”
We pack our belongings and leave the clearing a couple of hours after the midnight – the full moon shining over our heads and lighting our path, although it does not help much considering the thickness of the forest. Jaheira is now fully convinced that we are traveling through the Small Teeth forest, but hearing her repeat this fact every half-an-hour is rather irritating and makes me wonder how convinced of our whereabouts she actually is.
The dawn greets us as we are still battling our way through the forest, but as we move onwards and the sun rises higher in the sky, the forest becomes more and more sparse. As we climb on top of a small hillock, the most unexpected view opens to our view – a hundred or so yards in front of us the forest comes to an abrupt halt, stopped by a lake of huge proportions, its deep blue waters alluring and tempting.
Imoen is not to be stopped as she immediately charges towards the lake in a childish exuberance. I turn to my friends to motion to follow her, but something in Jaheira’s face freezes me on the spot… I can swear that there are tears forming in the corner of her eyes and she is fighting hard to keep her face from twitching. I open my mouth to ask her what it is all about, but I don’t get the chance as she storms by me and down the hillock to head after Imoen who has already taken of her boots and is happily paddling in the water…
“Oh, the water is so warm… well, warmish, to be more precise… I thought in such heat the water should be a lot warmer…” Imoen rambles incoherently.
“It is always somewhat cold here, simply because the lake is very deep,” Jaheira explains, “That also explains the odd, deep blue color of the waters.”
“Have you been here? Do you know where we are?” I press on with questions, recalling her strange reaction just moments ago.
“Lake Esmel,” she replies, “and the city on the other side of this lake is called Esmeltaran. We are a three days trip away from Athkatla.”
“Come, let’s go for a swim! Pretty please! I… uh… still carry that awful stench of the Underdark with me… waddya say?” Imoen begs.
“Pah! I will not lower myself to such animalistic urges and wallow in a dirty puddle of filth. There is a city a few miles ahead of us, hopefully with an adequate inn and a bathroom (as if these barbarians would understand the comforts that a civilized individual of a highly cultured environment requires),” Edwin’s disagreement cannot be mistaken.
“Good for you, Thaywian, we will need someone to watch after our belongings,” Viconia remarks before addressing us, “I trust you two are coming?”
“I am. He is not,” Jaheira replies, “he is not interested in gazing at your nudity, drow.”
“Heh, I can speak for myself, dear,” I add, slightly annoyed, “but if you go with them, I will be left alone and that is unfair. Why don’t we wait until Vic and Immy are done and then take our turn afterwards?”
“Yep! We don’t need you keeping an eye on us, Jaheira… I mean, we both can swim, right Vic?” Imoen shouts cheerfully.
“Ah, in all fairness, that is not such a bad plan. Thank you, Imoen,” Jaheira smiles before leading both Edwin and me some distance away from the two. Soon afterwards we hear Imoen’s frantic giggling and a couple of loud splashes as two bodies submerge in the cold water.
Having warned Eddie not to peep at Viconia and Imoen – a promise that he is unlikely to hold, I lead Jaheira away to interrogate her about her strange reaction to this place and she reluctantly follows me.
“You have been here, haven’t you?” I ask her, looking into her eyes, “Harper business? Tell me…”
“I… you are almost correct…” she turns away, unable to withstand my gaze and slumps heavily against a tree trunk, “Harper – yes, business – no…”
“What do you mean… I don’t understand…” but actually I understand quite well.
“Seven whole years… we came here right after the wedding,” she speaks quietly, “Esmeltaran is the most famous resort city in Amn… our superiors thought that we deserved a little time for ourselves. It brings back… some memories…”
Somehow this all stabs at my heart much more painfully than I would have liked… I confess, due to all the recent troubles, I have almost forgotten about Khalid, as if he had never been a part of her life, but now I know that it will never be the case. Perhaps… perhaps he held her in his arms lying on the shore of the lake and… the images of what exactly a newly wed couple could be doing in their honeymoon are so vivid and painful to witness that I slowly sag down in the white sand, unable to look at her.
There are memories that will always be reserved for her… her and Khalid. I will never be able to touch them, to intrude into that part of her… but, perhaps it is for the better. She needs fond memories of those years they have spent together, otherwise they could be considered as wasted. And I am sure that they were not… nor would I wish them to have been.
“It is our turn,” she speaks quietly before bending down and pulling me upright by my shoulders, “Viconia and Imoen are out of the water… if you still want to join me then let us go.”
“Yes… yes, let’s go,” I take her outstretched hand and we head over to the shore to ready ourselves for the pleasurable experience of a swim. And I hope that it would wash away my abnormal glimmer of jealousy – jealousy towards a dead man. He owns her past and I cannot conquer that and I shouldn’t try. But the future belongs to us and we are building our past with every day we spend together. I just hope that the time won’t run out on us…
Rush Of Blood To The Head, part 6.4.
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