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Part I: Called Shot

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#1 Guest_Beyshaliban_*

Posted 13 February 2004 - 12:35 AM

 Part I: Called Shot 
Longbow drawn with black eyes steady on him, the arrow aims at his heart. He can neither move nor breathe. Paralyzed, all he can do is stare at this angel of death.

He checks his options. He jumps out of sight. He has not moved.

The arrow is released; it hits him; it goes right through him. With a violent twitch, he awakes.
 Moon Dog

As the sun was about to set the long shadow of the cabin already touched the rim of the woods. The special light of late afternoon defined the leaves and needles. The huge willow at the bank of the little river that flowed nearby scraped at the roof.

Only a few hours after they had reported to Mayor Lloyd that Umar’s threat had ended, that Imnesvale and Umar Hills were safe, the people from Imnesvale had brought them overloaded baskets with delicacies, wine and flowers. Others had brought blankets, fur, and hides, to make her bed more comfortable and to build beds for the companions of their new and honoured ranger-protector. Though these beds were smaller than the generous place where the ranger resided at night, it would be luxurious compared to sleeping on the rough wooden floor.

Rhuan smiled and thanked them. She was beaming. The moment she had reached the Umar Hills, she had fallen in love with the surging hills, the ragged rocks and their daring formations. The inhabitants of this region were kind friendly people, who, without knowing her, had trusted her to bring them back peace.

Looking through the gifts, they decided to feast that evening as most of the food would not keep for long and others could not be transported in their backpacks without taking considerable damage.

Rhuan went outside, several feet away from the cabin and stayed there. Her presence slowly drew the visitors from the crowded main room of the cabin. She smiled and chatted idly. She shook hands, many of those patted her shoulders, women embraced her, old men pinched her cheeks and children kissed her.

When the last of her visitors finally left, Rhuan fell on the first of the steps that led from the cabin’s porch to the beaten track. With a sigh of relief she released her gift from its cage in her pocket and began her examination.

A few minutes later, she sat flanked by the two men of the group. Each man sat opposite of the other, two of the three women of her party took their place at her feet. The third climbed the railing, her feet dangling and swinging.

"Look! Isn’t he beautiful?" The little figurine, Mielikki’s gift, consumed Rhuan’s attention completely. She had placed it in the palm of her hand and was now carefully and with awe tracing the dog’s outlines with her fingers.

Anomen, warrior priest of Helm, cast a little smile from her right. He could not muster the same enthusiasm she showed for the representation, which in Anomen’s eyes bore more resemblance to a gargoyle than a dog. He did not dare to say so as she was entranced and he did not want to spoil her joy. Rhuan was indeed someone very special. That she had received a gift from her goddess proved that fact.

Jaheira, Rhuan’s half-elf friend, and mother in spirit, only showed interest in Rhuan’s changed expression. For the first time since they had been ambushed outside from Baldur’s Gate Rhuan had succeeded in putting aside all heavy thoughts and doubts. Jaheira knew this feeling would not last, but she prayed silently for just a few hours of inner peace for her child.

Mazzy, the honourable halfling knight, was proud to be part of a group like this. Rhuan truly showed promise. She still had doubts that someone this young could properly lead and guide people who were older and more experienced than her but then Rhuan was no ordinary woman.

Nalia, the young and homeless mage, was bored. She had joined this group with the hope for adventure. That adventure contained mostly walking on dusty roads in blazing sunshine or chilling rain, sleeping on open ground with insects invading every fold and days without proper meals was an unbearable downfall. The books about heroes she had read did not tell how to deal with itches caused by sweat and dirt. At least today there had been time to take a prolonged bath and get fresh underwear.

Valygar, ranger himself and former neighbour, had the same ambiguous feelings about the artwork as Anomen. While watching Rhuan’s rapt expression, he could imagine how she might be, when she was happy. When her life was in order and no dangerous tasks were at hand. Infected by her joy, he felt like being drawn into bright sunshine. His angel of death turned into the angel of light and joy.

"What clever eyes he has!" Rhuan was completely beside herself.

"His smile is almost roguish, don’t you think?" She held the small golden dog up.

Their heads gathered, their breaths dampening the shine of the little figurine. They agreed wordlessly. It was an ugly little dog with his eyes closed and his snout pursed to indicate a howling. What did they know? A goddess had presented a demigoddess with it -- maybe she saw something they could not.

They withdrew and looked at each other in understanding. They signalled and gestured each other to get up. Rhuan was lost to them. She did not even notice when they entered the cabin to start a fire and prepare the dinner.

Though she had not intended to do so Rhuan whispered, "Cerebus." Long moments passed and nothing happened. Not surprised but still disappointed she sighed in resignation. When the light spot at her feet intensified its shine, she thought it to be a trick of the fading daylight. Rhuan gasped and held her breath when the shine started to grow, forming at first a cloud of pale fog composed of moonlight and finally solidified into a huge white wolf. She dared not to breathe when the gaze of ancient white eyes locked with hers. Only when Cerebus laid his heavy head on her shoulder, his big soft ears tickling hers, did she risk touching him. She buried her fingers in the thick, silken fur and started breathing again.

His left shoulder propped at the window frame with his hands buried in his pockets, Valygar watched her from inside the cabin, a concentrated frown on his face. Rhuan was kneeling on the grass, ruffling the Moon Dog’s neck and talking to him silently. She had shed the Night’s Gift, the leather armour Mayor Lloyd had presented her with for a service prior to his joining of this group. The Dog’s glow let her shirt shine white in the growing darkness.

It was quite a sight seeing her romp around with that mysterious animal. On their way back from the Shadow Temple Rhuan had briefed them about the secrets of the Moon Dog. He could be called but would only appear if he chose to do so, if he thought the cause right and just. Valygar was comforted in a way that the Moon Dog was not bound magically to the little statue, and he did not doubt that Rhuan’s call would ever be in vain.

When Cerebus finally dissolved as quickly as he had appeared, Valygar continued to watch her. Rhuan had fallen back in the grass and was lying there motionless, the hand that held the figurine clamped close to her heart.

That young woman who had invaded his hideout without a sound and without mercy intrigued him. The angel of death had lowered her bow and heard him out. She asked. She listened. She smiled. It stayed a mystery to him why he still had nightmares. The first and second one he had just shrugged off. Her stern expression behind that longbow must have had a greater impact than he was willing to accept.

Only a week ago, he would just have gone outside to talk to her about this experience. Today he deliberately did not. With an annoyed grunt, he pushed himself from the window and turned away.

Finding himself a purpose, he leaned on the table and snatched the knife from Nalia’s hands. With his foot he moved a chair into position and sat down opposite her. He retaliated her protest by pointing the knife to the meagre outcome of her efforts and started to peel and slice potatoes. Nalia might have slipped out of the keep every now and then to help those in need, but she had certainly never helped in the kitchen.

Comforting fires crackled in the fireplace and the oven. The scent and sound of juicy meat and vegetables simmering in copper pots filled the room and made their mouths water. They had laid out the table for a dinner worthy to celebrate a queen. A sheet provided the proper tablecloth, the rough dishes were polished, colourful flowers arranged in kegs. They had even lit candles, their flickering lights forcing the shadows to dance on the walls.

No one questioned when Jaheira proposed to fetch Rhuan so that the festivities could begin. She looked around the table and with a satisfied smile went outside to recapture Rhuan as a member of this group.

Jaheira crouched beside her, gently placing a hand on Rhuan’s shoulder. "Come, you must eat."

Rhuan looked at her with dreamy eyes, and a faint smile on her lips. She was still somewhere else, reluctant to return. "I’m not hungry."

Jaheira looked at Rhuan and seriously implored. "They have prepared a wonderful meal just to celebrate you. You will get up and show yourself. You will be nice and charming, you will laugh at their jokes and you will eat, child!" That finally broke the spell. Rhuan smiled broadly. On an impulse, she sat up and threw her arms around Jaheira.

"Everything will be alright, everything will work out fine, won’t it?"

No, not everything would be all right and some things would never work out fine, Jaheira thought. She took Rhuan’s face in her hands and with a heavy heart prepared to destroy Rhuan’s expectations.

Jaheira’s eyes took advantage of the faint light that shone out of the cabin, so she was able to see the unspoken pledge in Rhuan’s dark eyes. Rhuan knew that life was no fairy tale that demanded a happy ending whatever the cost. She knew that not everything could be made undone. Rhuan just asked for a few hours of pretending.

Jaheira looked at her with love and pride. This child had really come out fine. She remembered well the pale and silent girl she had met at the Friendly Arm’s Inn. To her own surprise Jaheira decided to grant Rhuan the extension. They enclosed in an embrace for a moment, then they let go of each other in the mutual confidence that a bond had just been renewed, which had been tied so many months ago on the roads of the Swords Coast.

Jaheira stood up and reached out her hand to Rhuan. Rhuan grabbed it and let herself be helped to her feet by Jaheira. Rhuan being a head taller, Jaheira had to look up to catch a glimpse of Rhuan’s expression. She still had an entranced air about her, but the thoughts were returning.

‘Too soon.’ Jaheira thought when she followed Rhuan back into the cabin.

#2 Guest_Beyshaliban_*

Posted 13 February 2004 - 12:44 AM


“Well, don’t just stand about then. Please do, as I have asked.” Mazzy Fentan emphasized her directions by holding her backpack at Valygar’s chest. Her expression left no doubt that she would not allow her order to be seen as questionable.

Valygar squeezed the bridge of his nose. His surprise about the unexpected promotion had turned into mild annoyance over the past few days.

Any attempts to make it clear that he did not intend to be her, or anyone’s, personal servant had been in vain so far. He had to find a way out of this without having to be rude. He looked up, right into Rhuan’s eyes that were watching the little scene.

With her eyes, a slight tilt of her head and raised eyebrows, she asked him if she should intervene. Valygar slightly shook his head. Rhuan smiled and gave a little shrug. He smiled back and rolled his eyes. Rhuan replied with a wink and turned to her chores.

This little game had started right after Mazzy had promoted him. It was obvious to everyone that he did not see it as the honour Lady Fentan had it declared to be -- to everyone except Mazzy. Rhuan had proposed she would talk to Mazzy, but Valygar had asked her not to do so.

The hope that Mazzy would eventually give up setting him up on squire tasks, if only he showed the proper reluctance, faded. She was an impressive little person and very skilled, and very demanding. He sat down to mend the loose seam on the backpack that Mazzy was complaining about. He felt as if he were in the Military once again.

He did not like that feeling. Not at all. He quit because those endless days of marching, standing, guarding, scouting, fighting, killing had only been a distraction for a short period, and he had carried his thoughts and memories with him all the time. His father... is smiling at him. His mother... rocking him on her lap... singing children songs. A ghoulish existence... out to kill him. His father twisted on the floor, bleeding from deep slashes across his chest, his blood mixing with that which flows from his mothers opened throat... the pain... the emptiness... the loneliness.

From the other side of the fire she had seen to, Rhuan watched Valygar doing the leatherwork for Lady Fentan. Valygar mostly appeared distant and mysterious. There was a deep sadness in him that seemed to emanate, and he wore it like a cloak. Growing up conscious of being the potential prey for a mad necromancer surely was not beneficial to building up a sense of humour.

The thought that Valygar would be dead now, had there not been this second of hesitation when she first saw him, weighed heavy on Rhuan’s conscience.

How could it be that everyone she met had demons on their heels? Did she draw them to her like light draws the moth? Was it simply a coincidence as people who had no worries would not be on the road, would not have to join a questionable character like herself?

She witnessed Valygar’s expression becoming gloomy, then grim. She had only seen him smile once today. That had to be changed she decided.

Valygar stared at the hard cash on the backpack on his lap for a few seconds before the images faded and his mind focused on it.

Rhuan smirked down at him. “I lost a bet.” Valygar’s eyebrows rose in question.

“Yes, I did.” Rhuan dropped on her knees slowly.

Leaning forward she explained. “Recently, when we encountered Edwin, I said to myself, I bet he cannot possibly come up with a worse frown.”

The smirk deepened when she added. “But you just proved you can.”

Valygar shook his head in a helpless attempt to stay serious.

Rhuan would not leave the matter be. “I would ask you for your thoughts, but I am not sure I want to know.”

“I wouldn’t tell you anyway.” Valygar mumbled, picking up the coins and handing them back to her. Rhuan closed his hands around the coins.

She leaned over and beseeched him with a smile. Her expression left no doubt. “You will. I demand to know why a man, who has such a warm smile can come up with an expression that scares away children.”

Valygar cast her a look from below, and again he looked straight into her eyes, those eyes of darkest brown that had invaded his dreams. She looked so much younger when she was wearing her hair only loosely braided, the loose braid tangling from her shoulder. She had worn a strict plait when they met. The strong pull letting her look older, strict, merciless.

‘Her smile is like sunshine.’

He could give up right away. “Who am I to resist an order spoken by our fearless leader?”

Rhuan felt rewarded by his beaming smile and wondered how it could be that he looked so impossibly attractive when he was smiling.

Valygar started with his ancestor Lavok -- he being the most recent event. He told how he became aware of the curse. Telling her the details, he had left out when they met. He told her about the panic he had felt when as a 10 year old he had learned that eventually one day a mad and undead necromancer would appear and claim his life. He told of the images that robbed a boy’s sleep for months to come, when some unthinking servant mused how Lavok would drain the life from him. He would invade his body and force Valygar to take the rotten shell, to slowly and painfully die.

He told how his mother would sit at his bed for nights, telling him stories and how she would hold him, singing and rocking him to chase away the bad dreams. He remembered that had been the last time his mother fully and lovingly cared for him, and that soon afterwards her corruption by magic started to show. He left out the gruesome parts, when his mother became undead herself, when his parents turned against him to make him one of their own. He told her about the pain, about the emptiness, but he left out the loneliness.

Their smiles faded during Valygar’s tales. When he ended, Rhuan wished she could say something, anything. She laid her hand on his, quickly gripping it.

She breathed and opened her mouth and closed it again. There was nothing she could say.

#3 Guest_Beyshaliban_*

Posted 13 February 2004 - 12:47 AM

 The Last Keg

Mazzy felt sick. Her stomach was filled with stones and she pressed her small hands at belt level, groaning silently. No reaction.

For an hour she had watched Rhuan and Valygar sitting side by side at the table in Rhuan’s cabin, consumed by the task they had gotten themselves into. Rhuan had asked Valygar if he would tell her all he knew about Umar Hills and the surroundings, the inhabitants he knew, and Valygar had obliged immediately, of course. He had drawn a rough map where Rhuan now jotted down notes to the details that he supplied.

They were talking silently, so not to disturb the others. Their professional expressions interrupted by an outburst of laughter from Rhuan when Valygar briefed her on some incident involving Mayor Lloyd’s wife, a delivery of wine for Vincento’s Inn and a couple of chickens.

‘He is grinning like an idiot!’ Mazzy felt deep embarrassment. The stones turned forcing her to groan again.

Mazzy felt guilty because of Rhuan. She was young, but experienced by any means. There was natural authority in her that made the others do her bidding without much questioning. Rhuan listened to their opinions, even asked for them. Mazzy could not understand why it was that she could not bring herself to like Rhuan that way she deserved to. Rhuan was a fine person. Rhuan had saved her life. Mazzy stubbornly and reluctantly acknowledged that she only felt resentments against Rhuan when the young woman was within a seven-foot diameter of Valygar.

“There is a chasm. It is not very deep but dangerous and hard to...” it was spoken low but it carried to Mazzy’s keen ears. If she had asked for details about the land he knew so well would he have jumped to tell her? He certainly would have told her but he definitely would not have jumped. It annoyed her immensely that she would still have to ask three or four times before Valygar did what she bid him. His education and his background considered he should know how a proper squire was to behave. She was a knight after all; it was an honour to serve her!

For the last ten minutes, while Rhuan was writing highly concentrated notes, he had not once averted his eyes from her face. Mazzy knew, because she had watched and counted the seconds.

Mazzy felt sick again. She rested her forehead on the table and groaned.

A hand touched her shoulder and she looked up.

“Are you feeling ill?” All she could see in those charcoal eyes was true concern for her well being.

Mazzy shook her head and tried a smile. “No, it’s only that last keg that gets me always.”

Rhuan raised an eyebrow in surprise. She did not recall that Mazzy had drunk too much. She was even more puzzled when her inner eye saw the table again as it had been only two hours ago. There had been water and tea but no wine or mead. Gently rubbing Mazzy’s shoulder she turned away and waved Jaheira to join them. “Let’s see what Jaheira has got in her bag. I am sure she has something that will help.”

Rhuan knew Mazzy’s pain and she knew only too well that there was no herb to cure it. The halfling had lost her companions. One of them seemed to have been of special importance to her. “I will leave you to the hands of Jaheira.” Rhuan spoke lowly gripping Mazzy’s shoulder one last time when the druid joined them. Whatever Jaheira would brew up would not help to ease Mazzy’s pain but it would provide her with a good night’s rest. ‘Something I would need as well.’ Rhuan thought when she sat down again and cast Mazzy an encouraging smile.

Mazzy’s head sank back on the table. She sighed in deep distress. Why could she not like Rhuan the way she deserved to?

#4 Guest_Beyshaliban_*

Posted 13 February 2004 - 12:50 AM


Rhuan prowled the surroundings of the camp her companions were building to gather wood for the fire. Jaheira could not help smirking. Rhuan’s habit to sing and hum oblivious to the world had been a reason for amusement since she first knew the young woman. Even before that, Jaheira had known about it as Gorion had mentioned it in some of his letters. Rhuan was a good ranger with great care and understanding for nature and people, but she was no bard. She had a nice voice but sang out of tune enough to be noticed. Jaheira remembered countless banters when Imoen would tease Rhuan about her singing abilities and Rhuan would simply sing louder and more out of tune until both of them burst out laughing.

Rhuan had only recently started to sing again. Since Imoen had been dragged away by the Cowled Wizards, Rhuan would suddenly stop singing as a look of guilt showed in her expression. The druid also noticed that Valygar was listening with a frown and assumed the man felt disturbed. “She knows she cannot sing. Simply tell her to be quiet. She will stop. But it won’t be for long.” She explained.

Jaheira was not sure if Valygar had heard as he did not react at first. She was about to repeat her suggestion when he shook his head. “I’m not bothered.” He just watched Rhuan and waited for the moment when she would grab her load and flip her braid back only to slip back and tangle in front of her face when she bent to pick up another branch. Jaheira did not press on the matter. She had realized soon enough that Valygar would not talk if he did not want to, but she registered his eyes were following Rhuan on her quest for firewood and stored it in her memory.

The singing grew louder when Rhuan returned to the camp. Jaheira also registered Rhuan’s self-conscious smile when she realized Valygar watched her.

Rhuan rolled her eyes to him. “I know... I’m no bard. Gorion used to say...

“Ouch!” Rhuan suddenly yelped as she felt the entry of a sliver of wood into her right index finger. She instinctively winced then popped the mutilated finger in her mouth. The wood she had gathered formed a neat pile at her feet. She had caught countless splinters in her life, but every time was like the first time -- a pain, shock and reflexively dropping her possible load. Rhuan started to giggle when she realized what an impression this might give. Please meet: The ferocious Bhaalspawn... whining because of a tiny piece of wood!

Valygar stood up and reached out for Rhuan in one motion. She chuckled still when Valygar gently removed her hand from her sucking lips and examined the damage. “I think I can help you with that.” Valygar reassured. He did not let go of her hand, so she had to bend over him while he crouched to rummage in his backpack, her free hand resting on his shoulder. He smelled of a day in the sun and of the woods and as usual, some of his braids were entangled.

Rhuan could not resist. “You don’t mind, do you?” she asked the rhetorical question before she straightened the braids with her fingers, picking those more reluctant ones and arranging them. She noticed that he tensed when her fingers touched the skin at the back of his neck. She did not see that he had already found the tool he was looking for, even before she had started her work.

“Thank you... I think.” He slightly bowed his head. “You are aware that your efforts were futile.”

Rhuan shrugged. “Not for the moment.”

Her chuckling ended as she disgustingly eyed the needle that reflected the light in a short flash. Valygar saw her distress and despite himself and her suspicious frown, he had to smile. She had fought countless battles. She had looked into death’s eyes many times, but she looked at him as if he was her final executioner.

He wished he could just kiss her finger to ease her tension. “Don’t be afraid! You should survive this process.”

Rhuan jerked back violently breaking loose from his grip. The needle flew in a high arc to land somewhere unnoticed as Rhuan stumbled over the scattered logs and landed on her back. With a horrified glance in her eyes, she crawled a few feet backwards on all fours before she thought about standing up again.

Valygar stood aghast, as did the others. No one could explain the strange reaction the leader had shown. They all had smiled or laughed when Rhuan had sucked at her finger and giggled heartily. They all had thought it would become one of those events friends talk about when they meet at reunions. ‘Do you remember that evening when you caught that splinter?’

The first to regain his composure was Anomen. He jolted forward to help Rhuan stand up. When she waved her hand at him and shook her head to indicate that she was all right, he dashed over and grabbed Valygar’s collar.

Drawing him close, he demanded to know, “What have you done to her?” Anomen’s attack pulled Valygar out of his paralysis.

“Nothing!” What was that priest implying? Angry he tried to brush off Anomen’s hands but the squire had a tight grip and would not let go this easily.

“I assure you, good Anomen, my squire has done nothing wrong.” Mazzy immediately jumped to Valygar’s rescue.

“I have witnessed everything. He was being noble, as well as being helpful and polite and should not be accused this carelessly. Rhuan’s reaction is strange, but maybe someone this young has certain …”

“You are not helping, Mazzy!” Jaheira snapped at Mazzy. She herself had needed some moments to comprehend what had happened. They all felt irritated that for a moment Rhuan had lost her composure entirely.

Rhuan was upright again realizing the two men, and the halfling’s speech only put fuel into the fire. Valygar had meanwhile taken hold of Anomen’s wrists. The two men were going to bash each other’s heads in at a moment’s notice.

‘Cockfight,’ she was thinking. She swallowed the hysterical giggle that was building up.

Resolutely she squeezed herself between the two men, forcing them to back off and let go of each other lest they were willing to draw her into the fight.

“Stop! All of you!” Mazzy was not to give up easily. Her squire had been blamelessly accused and insulted.

“Shut up, Mazzy!” Rhuan’s patience was wearing thin. The men had stepped back, but neither Anomen nor Valygar had released their grasps.

“Let go!” Was it her high-pitched scream, or the violent shove? Their hands dropped as they looked at her puzzled.

“Anomen, please, sit down.” Rhuan said curtly. Anomen pointed a finger accusingly at Valygar.

Rhuan cut him short before he could begin. “I am fine, please?” Her hand on his chest, her smile, Anomen could do nothing but obey. He bowed and with a suspicious glance at Valygar, he retreated.

Rhuan turned to Valygar. His anger about Anomen’s assault still showed in a deep frown. A deep frown that smoothed when Rhuan took his hand in both of her hands.

Looking up to him, she apologized, “I am sorry, for this.” Valygar thought he saw genuine concern in her eyes, and there was something else. A horrified twinkle he had never noticed before.

“I hardly remember anything from the time in Irenicus’ dungeon. Most memories consist of pain and screams... mostly mine.” He saw her swallow hard.

“Don’t!” he mumbled. She should not be forced to remember, he thought.

Rhuan continued, a few tears running down her cheek, but she did not seem to notice. “What you said... Irenicus almost... used the same words. I just remembered. I am sorry.” She even smiled at him. Valygar raised his hand and brushed the tear away with his thumb.

“No... I am sorry. I wanted to be funny. I shouldn’t have,” he said, stroking her cheek with the back of his hand.

Anomen raised his eyebrows. Was there more than friendship as he had assumed up to now? There had been no indication to a more... intimate relationship between the rangers so far. This gesture was far more than being simply supportive.

Lady Fentan had also seen the close and intimate gesture, which in her opinion was more than inappropriate. She knew there was nothing going on between them. Mazzy had observed them thoroughly as she was convinced it was Rhuan’s fault alone that her squire was distracted from his duties. She had half hoped to find anything she could to hold against Rhuan and Valygar, but their behaviour was irreproachable.

Jaheira only saw that the struck rangers handled each other with care as usual. No reason to interfere, no reason to worry. If only they would make up their minds.

Nalia was still fighting hard to hold back the nervous, almost hysterical giggles people sometime come up with when they are feeling helpless. She had no idea what was going on, but she was convinced that Anomen could have beaten the living daylights out of Valygar.

Valygar gazed into Rhuan’s eyes. The terror had gone but the twinkle remained. His hand in hers tightened its grip and he mustered a smile, despite the thoughts he was not supposed to have, thoughts he did not want to have. Like how her skin would feel to his lips, to his fingertips, how it would taste, or how her hair would feel when he loosened the braid with his fingers. Not like silk, more like the soft grass you could find deep in the woods. How her arms, trained by years of archery, matched his strength. How her smile would be only for him. How her eyes closed, and opened again. He imagined a new spark in those eyes, one he would fire. One that would glow only for him.

He abruptly let go of her. This one was not for him. This one deserved better. He would not hurt this one.

“What about my finger?” Rhuan asked.

Valygar did not even look at her. “The needle is gone.” He turned away from her and started to pick up the branches she had dropped.

Rhuan just stood and stared at his back. When she realized she was still holding that finger up, she felt like a child. She must have insulted him more than she imagined. A single sorry would not do. Her mind was starting to work on how to make up for her overreaction.

‘It’s not my fault,’ Rhuan frowned.

Her inner voice continued with deeper impact the second time, ‘It is not my fault.’

She raised her finger again. “Any volunteers?”

“If you would allow me, my Lady.” Delryn had the needle unpacked before Rhuan had even asked.

Rhuan nodded and held out her hand to him. Anomen took her hand in his and competently removed the splinter with one... actually two quick pokes. “I can heal it if you want.” He offered when he was done, and could have released her hand but did not.

Rhuan shook her head and was about tell him that there was no need when she saw his smile. Rhuan was surprised and somewhat touched at Anomen’s attempt at humour. She cast him a beaming smile and shook her head again. The young priest felt rewarded by her genuine attention. He let go of her hand reluctantly. “What was it you were singing, my Lady?” Anomen was determined to use the opportunity for a private chat.

Rhuan sat down by the fire that Valygar had started and invited Anomen to join her before she told him about the old song that she had learned as a child. It was a drinking song of questionable content that the guards used to sing. She confessed that Gorion was not pleased when she sang it. He thought it highly inappropriate for young ladies. “But I think he minded my singing more than the actual song.” Rhuan smirked as she remembered the old man shaking his head side to side.

“Well...” Anomen searched for words, “your interpretation is certainly unusual.”

Rhuan looked surprised and started to laugh heartily. “Oh Anomen, I am sure no one has ever told me my singing was out of tune in a more charming way.” She laid her hand on his, momentarily squeezing it.

Neither Rhuan nor Anomen realized they were being thoroughly watched and eavesdropped on when Anomen asked her about her childhood in Candlekeep and Rhuan gladly and with sparkling eyes told about the secluded place where she grew up.

Mazzy had not forgiven Anomen for attacking Valygar and she did not understand why Rhuan had said nothing about it but she felt relief nonetheless. She preferred by far that Rhuan was chatting with Anomen. Her relief was diminished when she found Valygar’s poking the fire just a little too hefty and his concentration when he polished her boots a little too obvious.

“Learn your spells, young lady.” Jaheira ordered Nalia when the young mage poked her with her elbow and waggled her eyebrows at Rhuan and Anomen.

The druid’s eyes saw everything. She saw Rhuan’s joy while talking about her childhood and Anomen’s who soaked up every word the young ranger said. She also saw Valygar’s frown that became deeper and intensified with every laugh from either Rhuan or Anomen.

#5 Guest_Beyshaliban_*

Posted 13 February 2004 - 12:54 AM

 From Dusk...

The sun conjured blurred stars before Jaheira’s eyes as she squinted and buried her face into a spray of herbs she had bundled. Inhaling deeply and allowing the grassy and spicy scent to further sooth her mind, she listened to the sounds of a sunny and lazy late afternoon. All around her insects buzzed. Even they sounded lulled. From the cabin’s porch an occasional scraping and the rhythmic melody of leather that was brushed sounded to her ears. She turned her head a little to catch the splashing of the river and the life signs in and around it. Every now and then a crack or a muffled snap drifted over from the woods. ‘A perfect moment.’ She thought.

Hearing a low indignant grunt from her left Jaheira turned her head and cast a quick glance at Nalia who had joined her on the grass a little earlier. The young mage was busy with mending a long rip in one of her robes. The deep frown and the look of almost breathless concentration on the mage’s face were too much for Jaheira. She buried the face even deeper into the bunch. Not to inhale this time but to hide the grin on her face.

Nalia pressed her tongue against her upper lip as if this would help to set the stitches proper. There were so many things she had no idea about. Sewing was only one of them. Life on the road had shown her how privileged she had been. But she had become determined to learn when she had seen that all her companions looked after their own gear. Nalia had felt terribly embarrassed when she had admitted that she would be able to decorate the seams of her robe with excellent embroidery but that she did not know how to mend the tears. So she was being passed from one to the other to be taught some of the tasks adventurers had to do, and that were not celebrated in the songs of bards.

“Double… triple… cursed… damn!” Nalia uttered under her breath when the thread with which she mended her robe tore for the third time. The mage was visibly upset as she tossed her robes to the ground and stomped on them.

“Cursing won’t help.” Jaheira mumbled to the herbs.

Nalia dropped her hands. “Yes, I know.” She sighed. “The thread must not be too long lest it loops and builds knots and will eventually tear.” She repeated the lesson she had heard several times and had chosen to ignore. It was not as if she did not know that. She had embroidered countless times and knew exactly that shorter threads were better in the long run. Nalia sighed again. She would remember the next time. She took a deep breath and started anew.

Valygar had made himself comfortable on the steps of the porch and looked after his own gear for a change. “Don’t you have a spell for that?” He did not bother to look up.

“No! I do NOT have a spell for this.” Nalia snapped at him. “I knew one day you would say something like that.”

“Yes.” Valygar continued to polish his boots with painstaking care. “I do have a reputation.”

“Very funny!” Nalia pulled a face. “Isn’t there a halfling boot around to be polished by you?”

Valygar just shook his head and grinned. Valygar Corthala, impoverished noble, soldier and scout, now halfling’s squire. It did bear some humour and from time to time he saw it.

Rhuan’s chuckle just widened his grin. He did not know if it was because of his exchange with Nalia or the reference to his squire duties and he did not really care anyway. In a way he even welcomed the ability to tease Nalia about her magic. Not that he was completely comfortable around her. The young mage showed far too much energy in her studies to let him be at ease and he absolutely detested her eagerness when she scribbled another spell in her book. But so far she had shown no sign of the corruption he was always looking for, and he was certain any magic user showed sooner or later.

He had noticed Mazzy’s indignant grunt and half expected her to speak up but obviously Mazzy thought better of it and instead most probably wrote a lengthy comment about it in her diary. She would never simply give up and release him from his duties, no matter how far the teases went. He did not mind being the target of amused grins or hidden, or even unconcealed, jokes when it came to his assignment by Lady Fentan. Maybe if he had refused outright he would not carry this title now. But somehow Valygar was certain that even then Mazzy would have found a way to set him to her tasks, stubborn as she was. She was a strenuous little person, ‘high maintenance’ an old friend of his used to call women like her, but she was honourable and serious in her attempts. Valygar knew he could make life much easier for himself and Mazzy if he simply did what she bid him and stopped being deaf when she wanted her boots or armour polished, her straps adjusted or stones removed from where she planned to place her bedroll. But a well hidden and wicked little part of him simply forbade it.

He leaned back a little to catch a glance at Rhuan who had propped her bare feet on the railing of the porch and was bobbing her knees to the rhythm of some inner melody seesawing her chair. She, too, was writing in her diary. She had spent a great part of the day at the mayor’s house to catch up on what had happened since they last were in Imnesvale. She did not look at him but she grinned and he liked the possibility that it was because of him.

Rhuan’s grin vanished soon though when her mind wandered ahead to the next morning. Their planned destination was the Windspear Hills to earn 10.000 gold. She had a bad feeling about Lord Jierdan Firkraag and her alarms shrilled as loud as they were when Tolgerias had lured her into accepting the assignment to hunt down Valygar if not louder. Rhuan sighed and stopped bobbing. She chewed on her pen and tried to identify what exactly made her so uncomfortable. Not only had he known who she was but also Nalia had told her that the man was a brute and Nalia was surprised to see him protective of his people. But still Lord Jierdan’s offer was too generous to be declined without even looking what was really going on there. And she would be able to finally deliver the dryads’ acorns.

Rhuan stood up and climbed over the railing. She softly landed on the grass beside Anomen who had taken position there to mend some straps on his armour. “Do you have a moment for me, Anomen?” Rhuan asked him.

Anomen saw at once that she was worried but even if she simply had wanted to chat he would have put aside his gear. “What is troubling you, my lady?”

Rhuan settled beside him. “Can you tell me anything about the Windspear Hills, Anomen?” She asked him. “Or even of Lord Jierdan Firkraag?”

Anomen shook his head. “I have never heard about a Lord Jierdan and I am not overly familiar with the Windspear Hills either but I think one of the paladins of the Order, Sir Ajantis Ilvastarr, was knighted recently and assigned to go there. If we are lucky we might even…”

“Ajantis? Sir Ajantis?” Rhuan cut him short and raised her eyebrows. “Why of course he mentioned the Radiant Heart and his application to become a full member.” Rhuan smacked her head. She had completely forgotten that the young squire-paladin had been of the Radiant Hearts.

Anomen was strangely bewildered. “You know Sir Ajantis, my lady?” Rhuan had never mentioned that she knew other members of the Order.

“Yes,” Rhuan smiled now that she remembered. “We met a while back close to Baldur’s Gate. He travelled with us for a time.”

Anomen’s bewilderment grew. He had noticed, as everyone else, that Valygar and Rhuan spent the mornings together. Each morning when he arose, the rangers would already be sitting together chatting. That was the one reason why he had begun to meticulously observe them in the first place. But there were no secretive touches or conversations whispered into each other’s ears. Usually they walked ahead of the others but Rhuan would fall back several times a day to divide her attention to the other members of the group. He really did not have any reason to complain that she would pay more attention to Valygar than to anyone else, him included. He had to admit that their behaviour was not speaking of anything more bonding than friendship.

Anomen was struck. It had never occurred to him that there might be someone in Rhuan’s past who knew her better. Who might know all about her. Of course there could be someone in her past she did not talk about. Someone who travelled with her before he had had joined her company. Someone whose memory she held dear and secret.

“You know him… well, my lady?” Anomen’s throat was very tight when he forced out the words.

Rhuan dropped her eyes and grinned. “We didn’t travel together for long. His obligations called him elsewhere.” She could not possibly tell Anomen that she had found Ajantis’s constant lectures and recitations extremely tiring at that time and relieved him of her company. She could not possibly risk giving away that Ajantis had been the reason why she had not accepted Anomen in her company when they first met because he had reminded her of the zealous self-righteousness and simply did not want the company of another Ajantis. Rhuan smiled in remembrance of her initial irritation by the warrior priest of Helm.

Rhuan’s smile widened when she realized that she was very content that she had overcome her reluctance and returned to the Copper Coronet to fill the clerical void after Aerie and Minsc had left the group. She respected Ajantis but she had come to genuinely like Anomen.

Anomen mistook her smile as mysterious and concluded she did indeed know Ajantis very well. He felt his heart beating in his throat and his face starting to burn. And he had been worried about her relationship with Valygar when all the time she had been thinking of a fellow member of the Radiant Heart! Sir Ajantis! Knighted recently! For plucking the innocence from unsuspecting maidens, no doubt ! So much for the highly praised virtue of paladins! His head swirled and a remarkable fit of jealousy took his breath away when he saw Rhuan speak and smile but her words did not reach his ears.

“... and we parted company when we reached Baldur’s Gate. So I hardly know him. Honestly, I doubt he even remembers me.

“Anomen? Are you all right?” Rhuan’s voice only slowly reached the struck squire. She shook his shoulder. “Anomen?” Finally his eyes focused on her and Rhuan smirked. “You haven’t heard a word I was saying, right?”

Anomen felt deeply embarrassed for his inattentiveness. But he had learned something that hit him and shook his world to an extent that was frightening.

“Why, yes... of course...” Anomen mildly protested and cleared his throat. “You were saying, my lady?”

Rhuan was amused but also a little worried. Anomen’s expression had spoken of great anger and irritation. Maybe there were some unsolved issues between the two Radiant Hearts? They probably had a contest in righteousness going, Rhuan suspected. She felt sorry for Anomen and her stupid joke even if she had not spoken it aloud. She did not want to make silly jokes at Anomen’s expense.

“Nothing of importance, Anomen.” Rhuan was about to repeat her tale when she was cut short by an outcry of pride and joy.

“I did it! I did it! Look!” Nalia jumped up and dashed over to hold the results of her efforts under Rhuan’s nose. Rhuan smiled apologetically at Anomen before she turned her attention to the mage. She inspected the work and smiled. The stitches were irregular and the mended seam would pucker once Nalia put her robes back on. Jaheira would probably tell her to do it again but Rhuan could not bring herself to destroy Nalia’s joy. “Very nice!” She handed the robes back.

Nalia’s glee diminished a little now that she looked at the seam again. “It isn’t perfect but at least I tried and I did it all by myself.”

Rhuan momentarily hugged the mage. “It’s really nicely done. And you will get better, you’ll see.” Nalia looked still doubtful but she also felt acknowledged. Adventuring was not so bad after all.

Anomen had to grudgingly accept that Rhuan’s attention had turned to other matters now. Unfortunately for him the gathering was transferred into the cabin soon afterwards and between preparing dinner and eating he was unable to catch Rhuan privately.

More so as Rhuan retired early to finally finish her transcription of the notes she had made earlier that day when she had spent hours with Mayor Lloyd and Nelleck.

Rhuan put her hand on Anomen’s arm. “We will talk tomorrow on the way. Maybe you can try and remember everything that you have heard about the Windspear Hills?”

Anomen nodded and his heart skipped a little at this prospect. “As I said, I’m afraid I don’t know that much.” He frowned and doubted his sanity. Why had he reminded Rhuan that his knowledge about the Windspear Hills was scarce? He risked the opportunity for a private chat, maybe even a prolonged private, and the chance to find out whether or not there was a secret bond between her and Ajantis.

Rhuan cast him one last smile before she headed for her room. “Anything you can tell me will be useful, I am sure.”

Before closing the door she turned around once more. “I will wake you early, so don’t stay up too late.” She said it with a wink for Mazzy, Jaheira and Valygar who prepared the table for a game of cards. Usually Rhuan would have joined them but she really had to keep her diary up to date.

She slightly raised her eyebrows to Valygar. ‘See you in the morning?’ She asked wordlessly.

He answered with a faint smile as he lifted his eyebrows just as slightly. ‘Sure.’

Rhuan’s smile widened as she closed the door. She was grinning when she started scribing.

It was not Anomen’s night of cards. The squire was too distracted by the disturbing news about Rhuan and Ajantis and he had to wait still hours before he could ask Rhuan about it again. So he did not pay attention and Mazzy and Valygar won four times in a row. “I am very sorry, Lady Jaheira.” Anomen tried to apologize to his partner in this game but Jaheira just shook her head. She did not care much if she won or lost she liked the talks that went along with the games. These little stories and anecdotes people tended to blab out.

Anomen turned to Nalia who had joined to watch the game after she had memorized her spells. “Have you finished studying, Lady Nalia? Would you like to take my place in this game?”

“Yes!” Nalia’s eyes lit up. “Jaheira? Shall we strip them?”

Nalia was a gifted card player. Her ability to memorize which cards had been dropped when, and estimating which card was likely in whose hands made her a valuable partner. So Mazzy’s and Valygar’s luck changed to the worse once Nalia took over Anomen’s place at the table and Lady Fentan and her squire had to struggle quite hard. That they did not loose constantly was thanks to Valygar who was able to keep a straight face no matter how good or bad his hand looked and the fact that Jaheira chose to ignore the hints and tips Nalia was trying to secretly communicate to her.

When Anomen finally withdrew to his bedroll the doubt whether there had been an attachment between Rhuan and Ajantis had turned to certainty. There had been, no, there still was. And whenever he finally drifted to sleep his subconscious mind painted ugly pictures of Rhuan and her paladin, which tore him out of sleep again.

#6 Guest_Beyshaliban_*

Posted 02 March 2004 - 11:02 AM

 ...Till Dawn

Rhuan’s jaws ached, probably from clenching her teeth while sleeping. It was not exactly what she would call waking up after a peaceful sleep but it scored as undisturbed.

She opened her eyes and stared at the wooden ceiling for some moments. Her room was still shrouded in early morning shadows and she could not yet make out the long crack in the joist above her bed but she knew it was there. For a moment she was tempted to coil up and close her eyes for another hour but she would not fall asleep again anyway. With a sigh of resignation she pedalled her blanket away and stood up with a swing. Stretching, scratching and yawning she waddled to the window and pushed it wide-open to lean out and greet the new day.

With closed eyes she breathed the fresh air of very early morning, tasting the musty scent that came from the woods and the water that flowed by the cabin. She could taste mushrooms that grew on beds of needles and grass that slowly decayed at the river’s bank. She opened her eyes and took in the view from her bedroom window like she did the first time she had stayed there. The sight of the small weedy patch, that was overgrown with bushes where birds already stirred, to the brim of the woods behind it, that was still dark and mysterious, lifted her spirits as it always did. Propping herself on the windowsill Rhuan leaned out farther to survey the flowing stream. She knew there was a large boulder close to the bank that caused the waters to rush and dance around it. But in the early morning shadows it was still not totally visible. Maybe one day she would sleep in and look out when the sun was already shining and maybe the spray of water would conjure a small rainbow. The cool damp air stroked her skin and Rhuan shivered as the warmth she carried from sleep began to wear off.

She tossed her day’s clothing outside the window and tucking her brush between her teeth, she climbed over the sill after them. A somewhat acrobatic feat she accomplished every morning when they stayed at the ranger’s cabin. The first time she had awakened in her own bed, she had carefully opened the bedroom door and tried to quietly sneak past her sleeping companions. But she had forgotten to take into account Aerie’s and Jaheira’s keen ears. Both of them had awakened and after a half-whispered short argument with both elves insisting that she should try and sleep for another hour, the other companions awoke as well. No one was very pleased with the prospect of having to adapt to their leader’s habit of early rising when there was no need to. The peaceful, solitary morning Rhuan had looked forward to had been foiled because companions, and leader as well, were in a bad mood. Having learned her lesson, she now used the window as an escape to her peaceful mornings, allowing her friends their well-deserved rest. However, her early morning times were no longer spent alone.

Once outside, she grabbed her bundled garments and headed for the fountain to pump the icy cold water that she carefully drank before she splashed her face and body. She consciously suppressed a shocked squeal from the cold and cruel treatment on her bare skin. She dressed quickly and finally climbed the flat roof of the porch. A glance up to the sky, that already had the milky appearance that preceded dawn, told her it was going to be a sunny one. Rhuan made herself comfortable and began to wait for Valygar and the sun to rise.

Not too long and a creaking board in the porch announced him. Rhuan tilted her head and waited for the second creak when he would walk down the steps. She straightened her back and leaned forward a little as if she could not wait that fraction of a moment to see him. Even before he came to sight her face was all smiles.

Already on the stairs Valygar turned and took the two steps he needed to catch a glimpse on the roof backwards as if he could not wait the time it would take to find out if she was sitting up there as he had come to expect it. She had already fanned her mane and it framed her face and shoulders like a grey veil in the early morning light. Her smile shone down at him as she waved her fingers at him. Valygar waved back and experienced that pull of muscles that allowed him to smile back at her and that he could not control and actually did not want to. He pointed to the river and turned again to disappear around the corner of the cabin to take a dive. Just before she was out of sight he shot one last glance back. She had resumed to brush her hair with great vigour but she was also looking after him. He would have to hurry if he wanted to catch the rustle. He pulled his shirt over his head while still walking. No time to be wasted.

As Rhuan heard the splash her eyes involuntarily estimated the steeper roof she would have to climb to take a peek. She did not know why the view of a bathing ranger was so interesting, but with every morning she heard the splashing it became louder, more tempting and harder to resist. She closed her eyes grinning at her thoughts as she led her concentration back to brushing.

Valygar’s steps were lighter when he returned to finally join Rhuan. He climbed the roof effortlessly in the same manner as Rhuan, using the railings as step and hoisting himself up. As he settled at her left side a few residues of water dropped from his braids and landed on her hand.

Before Rhuan could wipe her hand at her trousers Valygar took her hand and brushed the drops away with his other hand as he apologetically smiled at her. His cooled skin felt strange on her hand that had warmed again. “Aren’t you freezing?” She asked him astounded. “The water must be icy.”

Valygar nodded. “Quite cold, yes.” He added with a slight and mysterious smile.

“I envy you. I can’t just dive into the river.” Rhuan sighed.

Valygar was curious. “No?”

“There are not enough hairpins on Faerun to keep my hair from getting wet.” Rhuan explained. “I’ll just have to remain true to the fountain I guess.” She smiled.

“I see.” Valygar nodded slightly. “The water from the fountain cannot be much warmer, though.” He guessed.

“Indeed!” Rhuan shuddered. “But growing up in Candlekeep… you get used to cold water. The monks were awfully fond of it. If they could have they would have brewed tea with cold water.” She giggled at her own joke as she searched for a sign of amusement in Valygar’s face.

“I see.” The ranger looked at her with a slightly deepened but not less mysterious smile.

For a few moments they gazed at each other. Rhuan’s smile full of innocence and Valygar’s knowingly and full of understanding.

“Oh.” Rhuan felt her cheeks heat up as a flood of speculative talks accompanied with hysterical giggling she had shared with Imoen concerning the celibate monks of Candlekeep and their high consumption of cold water suddenly welled up in her mind.

“Ooh.” The heat in her cheeks spread to her ears as she recalled her verbal exchange with Valygar only moments ago.

She looked away and groaned soundlessly when she finally remembered her proneness to voyeurism.

With shaking hands she started brushing her hair again and wished the roof would open and swallow her.

Valygar watched her hiding behind her hair as Rhuan dropped her head and brushed it over her shoulder, building an impenetrable barrier to his eyes. Her embarrassment was obvious. Valygar could tell from her breathing and stiff straightness of her back.

They often sat in silence but it was mutual sharing of something both loved. This time silence stretched and grew heavier and unbridgeable. Rhuan hated herself and Valygar was about to fall in love with her. He did not concede, not even grasp. He was untouchable and would always be. Still, the way her cheeks flushed was charming. Did she flush all over?

Behind her shelter Rhuan’s sense of humour slowly subdued her embarrassment and her anger about her denseness. She smiled. Her smile became a grin and then she giggled. She held her breath that it would not turn into a howl of laughter that would wake up everybody in earshot. Rhuan pressed her hand on her mouth to muffle herself.

Valygar did not see the change in her expression but he realized her shaking shoulders and the muffled groans. He felt miserable at first as he thought she was crying. He felt helpless, as he did not know what to do or how to comfort her. Then he heard the difference. Those were not sobs but snickers. Overwhelming relief eased his tension. Everything was perfect when she was laughing.

He leaned forward to catch sight of her face. Rhuan tried to breath steady. She pressed the hand than held the brush against her chest and her other hand cramped a fistful of the fabric of her trousers. She bit her lower lip and emitted low whimpering sounds. Rhuan realized his movement and glanced in his direction. A big mistake when she saw his raised eyebrows and his half-grin.

She slapped her hands to cover her face and fell back with a muffled squeal. The situation was about to resolve in laughter when Valygar started to chuckle.

“Shhh. Shhh.” Rhuan managed as she smacked her brush at him. Valygar nodded and shook his head chuckling helplessly at the silliness of this situation. For the next minute the silence was broken by Rhuan’s whimpering attempts to regain self-control and Valygar’s almost soundless chuckling that was not a great help in her efforts.

Finally, Valygar took a deep breath. Time to change subject. “Sleep… well?” He asked almost recovered but his voice sounded a little cracked. Rhuan sat up again. She, too, took a deep breath and nodded slightly. She did not trust her voice yet.

Rhuan’s hands were still shaking when she resumed brushing to repair the damage her giggling fit had caused and Valygar tried to find a name for the colour of her hair other than ashen. Pewter? Both relaxed and enjoyed the once again shared silence. As she put away her brush Valygar got ready for the moment he had waited for when Rhuan would lay back her head to shake it into submission. Another year, maybe two, and her loose hair would touch the roof.

He watched her intently as her rustling mane dared him to reach out and let it brush over his hand. With every morning he watched this little ritual the rustle became louder, more tempting and harder to resist.

It might have been the relaxing effect of laughing or the rustle had finally bounced his inhibition threshold, but this morning Valygar’s hand reached out with a will of its own. He relished the feel as her hair brushed over his palm. Strong and soft, like he had imagined it, but far better than anything his mind had ever guessed because it was real. He thought of burying his face in it and taking a deep breath. He almost grabbed a strand when he realized Rhuan watched him somewhat surprised. He felt caught and cursing himself he pulled back his hand. His mind started working to explain his strange behaviour but Rhuan saved him the embarrassment.

“It’s like stuffing material for mattresses, isn’t it?” She asked understandingly.

“No.” Valygar sounded almost indignant. “Not at all.”

Rhuan was puzzled. Sometime ago an obtrusive young guard of Candlekeep had asked her if she would cut her hair so he could stuff his mattress with it. She could not have been much older than 16 back then and her hair was far shorter but the image of mattresses stuffed with the grey material of her hair had stuck with her ever since. She grabbed a strand and held it in front of her face to examine it. She ran her fingers through her hair and realized it was indeed not like horsehair at all. It was not like silk either, but most important, it was not like horsehair.

Rhuan beamed happily. “You are right.” She told Valygar of her encounter with the guard and that she had never bothered to examine the content of truth behind that statement. Valygar shook his head. It was obvious to him that the guard had had a crush on Rhuan and had tried and failed miserably to compliment her. That she had not realized it herself was likely due to her education. Growing up in a place that was crowded with men, most of them monks, Gorion would very probably not have encouraged her to explore her charms. He resisted the wish to describe her the true consistency of her hair or enlighten her about the guard’s real intentions, but let her joy over her discovery warm his heart instead.

He was treated with another rustle as Rhuan shook her hair once again before she closed her eyes in concentration as she parted her hair into three even strands. The first weaves she always did blind at the back of her head. Valygar still had not figured out how to say if she was going to braid the loose or the strict version of her unavoidable braid. But he had counted more loose ones than strict ones. Today it was going to be a loose one again. He knew he could simply ask her but in a way he wanted to find it out for himself. He noted, she had slept well, they were at the cabin, and the weather was going to be fine. All three factors were certain to produce a loose braid. But he had seen loose braids on the road as well and he had seen loose braids when it was raining. But he had never seen a loose braid when she had not rested well.

Rhuan lowered her arms and continued the braiding over her left shoulder. “I wonder,” Rhuan mused as she flung the strands, “do you ever re-braid your hair?”

Valygar shot her an amused look. “Rarely. Takes too much time.”

Rhuan’s eyes followed her fingers as she weaved the strands. “I bet I could do it in no time.” She cast him a sidelong glance. “I could help you.”

Temptation, resistance and reluctance battled hard inside of him. Resistance almost won when temptation played its card and showed him an image of Rhuan leaning over him with a look of utter concentration on her face as she had to work hours and hours to braid his hair. Resistance made an attempt to turn the tides as it shouted that this would cause disastrous and hardly repairable damages to all his defences. Temptation countered with the prospect to have her all to himself while he could listen to her idle chatter and feel her fingers in his hair. Resistance reminded him cruelly that he was an old fool and should behave accordingly.

Finally, reluctance forced truce when Valygar promised, “I’ll consider it.”

Rhuan had wished for a simple ‘yes’ but she suspected that Valygar was not used to letting anyone help him in anything. She decided not to bug him and changed the subject instead. “Who won?” She wanted to know about the game of cards the previous night.

Surprisingly Valygar felt mild disappointment that Rhuan would so easily accept his ambiguous answer. He watched her twining fingers as he recalled the previous evening. “It was tied after Nalia jumped in for Anomen.” He told her. “It wasn’t his evening.” He added when Rhuan looked at him questioningly.

Rhuan sighed. Anomen was not the best of card players and Rhuan sometimes shuddered at the thought what Imoen would do to his purse should they ever get into a game but he tried not to let his partners down and sometimes even had luck and could win a game. “I suppose the prospect of meeting Ajantis doesn’t sit too well with him. I do hope we won’t run into him.” Rhuan shook her head as she remembered Anomen’s irritation over the young paladin. “I really wish I could understand what makes him so upset sometimes.” She added ardently.

Valygar rolled his eyes at her concerned words. Watching the growing friendship between Rhuan and Anomen and the increasing fondness for each other Valygar had come to expect that Anomen as subject would invade their talks sooner or later. He felt betrayed and angry that it would happen on a morning like this, any morning, when she was his alone.

Rhuan was oblivious to Valygar’s black look when she theorized why Anomen, who was usually polite and compassionate, sometimes lashed out in a way that she did not know which she would rather do, throttle him or hide. “He has so improved and I am really glad to have him around but he is so full of issues.” Rhuan ended her musing with another sigh as she wound the ribbon that held the end of her braid.

Valygar’s expression became stony. Rhuan was not the only one who had to endure Anomen’s sudden outbursts of temper though she certainly received the main part. Mazzy had heard more than once that she was beyond Anomen’s notice or worse. Valygar was not overly happy to be squired but his sense of justice and comradeship had almost led to a very heated argument had Rhuan not interfered and ordered Anomen to accept that she, Rhuan, decided who was part of the companionship. She had also told him to stifle his comments about Mazzy’s, or anyone’s, worth to the group once and for all. This had helped to shut up him up ever since.

‘Full of issues, indeed.’ Valygar grunted. “Like his irrational loathing of halflings?” He asked acidly.

Rhuan heard Valygar’s annoyance and she understood, or at least thought to understand. She had watched with relief that Valygar and Mazzy were coming to terms with each other. Even if Valygar still riled the knight with his reluctance, she could see that they were becoming friends.

“Exactly!” She agreed. Rhuan herself had a hard time to stay calm when Anomen’s face showed his condescension whenever he had to deal with Mazzy. She appreciated that he at least tried to behave but sometimes she wished she could beat some sense into his arrogant attitude. She did not understand it at all, especially since she suspected it had nothing to do with a former encounter that would have caused his irritation. It was as Valygar had said, irrational loathing. Rhuan looked back at Valygar and his frown dampened her good mood.

No! She was not going to allow this beautiful morning to turn into a debate over anything that would destroy this wonderful feeling of attachment she felt since they had laughed together.

“So!” She grinned, flipped her braid back before she got to her knees, and leaned over to Valygar to pick one of his braids. “Back to the tasks at hand.”

“What…” Valygar tried to move away his head. As he found he could not because she did not release the braid he grabbed her hand. “…are you doing?” He asked alarmed.

His sudden movement almost threw Rhuan out of balance and she had to grip his shoulder and tore at his braids to steady herself. “Don’t be such a baby!” She scolded him when he protested with a painful groan. “I only want to have a look at how the ends are done.” She smirked at him until he released her hand and resigned with an indignant grunt.

Rhuan leaned on his shoulder and brought her face closer to the small metal ring that not only held the end of Valygar’s braids but also provided proper weight to keep them straight, or at least were supposed to do so. From time to time Rhuan simply could not resist to re- arrange his braids when the degree of entanglement went far beyond her tolerance of chaos. Valygar always protested and told her she was putting up to a Sisyphean task but in the end he held still until she was done.

She comprehended that his life had not treated him nicely and the self-imposed solitude had not helped to hone his social skills but since she knew him, she had learned that there was indeed a person hidden inside of him who wanted to talk and share his thoughts. A person with a dry sense of humour that only rarely showed as if he believed he was not entitled to have fun or feel blithely. It filled her with joy and pride that Valygar was becoming more accessible especially when she was alone with him.

Rhuan was consumed for some minutes as she picked strand upon strand and studied the way Valygar’s braids were more twirled than actually braided and the way the metal rings where worked into them. She sat back on her heels but moved closer, to have an easier observing position. He could feel her one thigh just slightly at his back. Rhuan propped on her other foot and he felt her shinbone only inches from his thigh. He threw furtive glances at her to estimate what she was up to.

All he saw was her concentrated frown as she turned his braids over and compared their endings with each other. She looked as if she had completely forgotten that a living and breathing man was attached to them. Her proximity made him uncomfortable as it began to excavate forgotten and buried memories, wishes and needs. He did not envy the monks of Candlekeep who had to watch her grow and undoubtedly become more charming and enticing with every passing day.

Flight was the only thing that could save him. Resistance saw its chance and reared its head. ‘Run!’ He steeled himself for the unavoidable. She would be hurt, she would not understand but he would be safe. He cast her one last glance.

Rhuan looked up, straight into his eyes and smiled broadly. “It won’t be easy.” She said as she dropped his braids and leaned back a little. “But it will take a lot of time, and I can’t promise that we will have that amount of time soon.” She frowned doubtfully.

Valygar cleared his throat and shook his head.

“But you will let me do it?” Rhuan asked hopefully. She waited for his answer as she begged him with her smile and did not know of the battle that flared up again in Valygar’s soul.

Resistance fought hard and foul, throwing everything into the front lines that had helped him to refrain from searching or keeping company for the better part of his life. But temptation was cunning. It did not allow him to avert his eyes from her begging dark orbs. It recalled her scent as she had leaned close to him. The smell that used to drift into his cabin on hot summer days and carried the scent of wild roses that grew around his house. The smell that let him think of home.

He nodded. Resistance groaned. He gave up. “Yes.” Resistance screamed. ‘You will regret!’

“Great!” Rhuan laughed once. “Great!” She repeated and flung her arms around his neck and smacked him a kiss on his cheek.

‘YOU WILL REGRET! FOOL! FOOL! FOOL!’ Resistance promised.

She withdrew before he could start to ward her off. Again her cheeks flushed as she apologized. “Sorry. But I actually thought it would take weeks to convince you.” Rhuan smiled happily as if he had presented her with something she always wanted.

He looked at her beaming face and saw pure joie de vivre sparkle in her eyes. Had he ever been this young? He tried to recall if he had ever felt that way and vaguely remembered that far back in his past, before he became aware what it meant to be born a Corthala, there had been moments like that for him as well. He experienced the faint recollection of a little boy who squealed in delight as he slid over polished marble floors.

‘What are you doing?’ Resistance demanded to know when he smiled back at her the smile of a man who looked at what he wanted.

Rhuan’s smile faded a little when she saw his expression change. Suddenly her chest felt tighter and a painful twist inside of her made it almost impossible to breathe. She could not have a heart attack because she felt her heart beating in her throat and heard the muffled thuds in her ears.

Valygar witnessed her eyes widen just a little as they grew darker while she was staring at him. She was so close. All he had to do was lean over. ‘Don’t! Don’t! Don’t!’ Resistance raged in his mind while temptation secretly triggered the reflexes to get him into motion.

Rhuan waited breathlessly. Unaware of the Eastern horizon but instead wondering of what was happening to her and to him. Just as her mind was about to draw its conclusions a bright flare of light blinded her and forced her to close her eyes. Rhuan gasped as she shielded her eyes and drew her attention to the Eastern sky. “We missed the sun rise.” She whispered in sheer surprise.

The sun still held the greater attraction for Rhuan and both, Valygar and resistance, breathed in relief as temptation silently surrendered to wait for the moment of its next assault.

Valygar did not have eyes for the display of colours this morning. The display of joy and delight on Rhuan’s face as she watched the sky had the stronger appeal.

“It’s going to be a beautiful day.” She declared happily. Valygar was about to agree as she shielded her eyes again and pointed her finger to the distance. “Look! I think we have a visitor.”

A man had appeared at the edge of the woods and was walking towards the cabin. “Shall we raise alarm?” Rhuan asked.

Valygar measured the distant shape and shook his head. “He walks slowly. Looks like a messenger. I don’t think he’s a threat.”

They looked at each other and wordlessly agreed that it was better to await the visitor below. Almost simultaneously they jumped from the roof and landed on the soft grass below.

As the man came closer and the worried expression on his face became visible a funny feeling began to subdue the feel of joy Rhuan had felt only moments ago. Both, Rhuan and Valygar, slowly went towards the messenger.

“Excuse me, my lady.” The man asked politely when he came into earshot. “Are you by any chance the ranger-protector Lady Rhuan?”

Rhuan answered with a polite but watchful smile. “Yes, I am she.”

“I have heard that a squire Anomen Delryn used to travel with you. Is he still in your company?” The stranger looked tired as if he had not slept much the last night.

Rhuan nodded alerted. “Yes, but he is still asleep. What business do you have with him?” Rhuan did not want to see his expression of worried tiredness that spoke of bad news. “Are you coming because of his test?”

The man shook his head with regret. “No, I am afraid I am a messenger with most dire news. I would ask that you wake him immediately. My name is Terl, I bring news from his father.”

#7 Guest_Beyshaliban_*

Posted 28 March 2004 - 04:30 PM

 Dryad’s Gift

Rhuan let her eyes graze over the almost perfect circular form of the dryad’s pond. The water was absolutely clear and allowed her to look into the depths making out every detail of the stones and rocks that built its ground. The water’s consistency added a gradually intensifying touch of icy blue that blurred into a mesmerizing clear blue veil at the pond’s deepest point. Even the winds were soothed in this little corner of mystical energy, just slightly stirring the water that the sun could conjure tiny blinding sparkles on its surface.

A short rest here at this idyllic spot in otherwise rough surroundings would do them good. Rhuan had hoped that they could have a day of peace and recuperation back at her cabin after their encounter with Firkraag, but when they returned to Garren Windspear’s house a messenger from Trademeet awaited them. It seemed that Mazzy’s sister Pala was severely ill. So instead of heading back to the Umar Hills the companions had rested one night at Garren Windpear’s house and in the morning made their way to the dryad’s pond to deliver the acorns and then to Trademeet.

Rhuan circled the pond until she found the perfect place to sit down. She looked for her friends and when she saw that they, too, had found their perfect spots to lean back she took off her boots and socks and rolled up her trouser legs. She sat down and carefully dipped one toe into the water. The colour led her to believe that the water would be ice cold, but in truth it was the perfect temperature to make her tired and aching feet sigh with happiness. Soon Rhuan splashed both her feet in the water. It was perfect as it caressed her feet in a most relaxing way. The big flat stone she sat upon looked hard and edgy but it was not uncomfortable. Not like the boulders and stones anywhere else in the area. She leaned back on her elbows and closed her eyes. Her face adjusted to the sun to catch its warmth and gentle touch.

She heard her companions talking but she did not understand what they were saying. They sounded tired but friendly with each other and ready to relax, so there was no serious discussion going on. Slowly her elbows melted under her until she was lying on her back. Lazily she pulled her feet out of the water and propped them on the warmed stone. There was only nature’s silence. The water’s idle splashing and the birds’ chirping and singing in the trees and bushes around the pond. Leaves rustled in the gentle breeze and deep and far at the back of her mind she thought she heard the dryads singing.

Rhuan smiled faintly and drifted into a state of half-sleep as she recalled the reunion of Vaelasa and the Dryad’s she had saved from Irenicus’s dungeon. Rhuan tried to memorize every detail of their joy to be home again so that she might tell Imoen about it. Ulene, Cania and Elyme had fascinated Imoen and she would have loved to witness their reunion.

“Imoen.” Rhuan whispered and she saw her friend as she had been before the madness had begun again. They were about to leave Baldur’s Gate and Rhuan had halted at the bridge as a feeling of foreboding struck her. Imoen was already a few steps ahead but had turned around and looked at Rhuan when she found her friend missing at her side. She had stopped, tilted her head and propped her hands on her hips. “Come on, fearless leader!” Imoen had demanded. “The world awaits us.” She had come back and had taken Rhuan’s arm. “Let’s go!” And they had wandered out of Baldur’s Gate in step, a little worried, but full of confidence that nothing bad would ever happen to them as long as they were together. Rhuan floated into a deep sleep full of joyous memories. The Dryad’s magic would not allow for troublesome thoughts or dreams.

Rhuan was not the only one who fell under the Dryad’s spell.

Mazzy’s nervousness and worry dissipated as the halfling leaned on a boulder and her eyes slowly closed. She found herself in the backyard of her parent’s house watching her sister Pala putter around with some ceramic cups containing colours she had mixed and paint on a piece of bleached linen. Her beautiful sister with her mop of copper hair that was at least as wild as her own. Only Pala tamed it with hair-bands she used to dye herself. Mazzy grinned at the recollection of Pala’s tries to get rid of her own ‘stupid hairdo’.

“Look, Mazzy!” Pala’s clear voice drifted over to Mazzy. “These blues and greens… don’t they just look beautiful together?” Pala held up the piece of fabric she had painted with fragile images of bluebells. Mazzy smiled in her dream as she nodded and took comfort of her sister’s joy. Her subconscious did not doubt that they would come in time to save Pala.

Nalia had found a spot of soft grass under a shady tree. For a while she had plucked at a puckering seam in her robe and smiled as she compared it to another seam she had mended the evening before. She was becoming better. Nalia’s young heart slowly filled with healthy pride as the mage fell asleep and woke up in her father’s study on a chilly and stormy winter night.

A fire was blazing in the fireplace and her father sat at his desk reading and answering letters. Nalia bent over her tambour and looked up as her father began to laugh heartily and his eyes looked for his daughter. “That rascal Hurgan! His greed will him cost his hairy head one day!” Lord De’Arnise chuckled and grabbed his glass of dark wine to drink a sip before he began to read excerpts of Hurgan Stoneblade’s letter to his daughter. A letter that told about a small chest that was supposed to have belonged to a famously rich merchant who died without heirs. The dwarf had acquired the chest at an auction expecting it to be full of valuables only to find it stuffed with a collection of cork.” Nalia giggled in her sleep and curled up like the cocker spaniel that had been her companion in childhood days.

Valygar, too, had found a boulder to lean on that also provided an inconspicuous vantage point to watch Rhuan waggle her toes in the water of the dryads’ pond. It was a perfect opportunity to go over to her and have her all to himself again for a change. The last weeks had been tough on Rhuan. And on him. On all of them.

Since they had learned about the murder of Anomen’s sister Rhuan had almost constantly been around the priest to comfort and console him. The priest’s mood had rubbed off on her and she had run around with red brimmed eyes and the dark shadows around her eyes had become almost as black as they were when he first saw her. She hardly ever smiled and laughed and for weeks her braids were strict.

She had neglected everyone else, including him, and even his and her mornings had been affected. Rhuan was sad and she did not get enough sleep because she kept Anomen company until late in the night. She woke up early anyway and talked about how Anomen suffered and how she wanted to help him.

Valygar felt sorry for Anomen’s loss but he could not bear it that he would intrude upon the only time he still had alone with Rhuan.

It had taken Valygar days to realize that she was also reliving her loss of Gorion and almost everyone she had known in Candlekeep and he had cursed himself for his denseness and selfishness. He had gently asked her about the time she had to leave Candlekeep. Rhuan had hesitated and he was about to drop the subject when she buried her face in her hands and started to cry.

As he had watched her silently sobbing into her hands the wish to take her in his arms and console her had overwhelmed him. Instead, he had put his arm around her and she had accepted his shoulder to cry on and slowly started to share her story with him.

It had almost seemed that she could not stop telling him once she began. He learned about the night her brother Sarevok had tried to kill her, though she had not known who he was at that time. She choked when she told about how she had fled and left Gorion to die alone. She had not wanted to, but it had been like a spell. She knew there was nothing she could have done but still it haunted her. She told about the time when she learned who she really was and how it had terrified and frightened her and still did.

Finally, after telling him and relaxing her shoulders somewhat, she had looked at him, smiling sadly through her tears. He had tried to smile back encouragingly and said some platitudes of comfort when all he wanted was to kiss away her tears. Kiss away her sorrow and grief. Kiss back her wonderful smile onto her lips.

Valygar watched Rhuan spreading out on the sunlit stones. Her relaxed smile crawled under his skin and spread there just like she did. Valygar’s mind wandered to sleep with the feel of Rhuan’s head on his shoulder. She smiled at him and as the dryad’s spell wiped away his fear he kissed her softly. Her lips were like silk and she tasted of the blueberries she liked to eat whenever she found some.

The Dryad’s magic did not work on all of the companions, though. Anomen was too wound up and excited so the narcotic effect of the Dryad’s song did not have an immediate impact on the young priest’s mind. He, too, watched Rhuan smile and drift away. He, too, felt lifted when she smiled. He, too, felt drawn to her and wished he could just go over and sit by her side and watch her while she was sleeping.

He cringed as he remembered the terrible things he had said to her. At times he did not understand why Rhuan would still talk to him.

Anomen remembered how she had held his hand that night when he could not sleep after they had learned the news. He had taken first watch, because he had known that he would not be able to sleep anyway. Anomen’s heart ached as the pain of loss welled up again. He had waited for the moment when finally all of the companions were asleep so he could cry. And it was not even hard to do so. He remembered Moira when she was still almost a baby and waddled behind his mother when she would come and wake him in the morning. “Rise and shine, my knight!” His mother would say and Moira would try to repeat it, but could not because she could not say ‘rise’ and ‘shine’ in one sentence. Moira always would giggle happily until she learned that her laughs awakened their father.

Anomen had cried bitter tears for lost supposed opportunities where he could have lured Moira away from home. He should have insisted that she leave their father. There would have been a way to support her. He should have talked to Rhuan about it. Rhuan would have found a way.

So Anomen had sat and suffered and blamed himself while his heart, his body, his whole being was aching and he was being torn apart.

Then Rhuan had come and put her hand on his shoulder. He was not able to look up at her. He did not want her to see his state of desperation. “You don’t have to go alone through this.” She had said and sat down beside of him. “No friend of mine suffers alone.” He could not speak, could not answer but her words had both lifted and crushed him at the same moment.

Rhuan had put her arm around his shoulder and quietly told him about the night Gorion died. How those first days went by in a daze and she had hardly any recollections of how she actually found her way to the Friendly Arm Inn. For a moment he was afraid she was about to tell him that the pain would stop one day, but she did not.

Later she had taken his hand and asked him if he wanted to talk but he could not. He had just shaken his head and finally dared to look at her. Her eyes were swimming in tears and he had known it was not only because of her own memories but because of his agony as well. Rhuan had stayed at his side that night for hours, holding his hand and trying to share his grief.

Once they had met his father and spoken to the magistrate he had lost the last ounce of self-control he had had. All his days and nights had been in turmoil. He had blamed himself for not insisting that Moira leave their father. Blamed himself for not taking revenge for her death. Blamed Rhuan for roaming around in the countryside instead of visiting Athkatla so he could have spoken to Moira one last time. Blamed Rhuan for talking him out of taking revenge as his father had ordered and so doing Moira one last favour.

Rhuan had let him rage and said nothing at first. Only after a while she had leaned over to him and asked him, “Is this what you really think, Anomen?” No! It was not what he had been thinking, but he felt helpless and he wanted to do something, anything! He wanted to be able to blame someone.

Rhuan understood but she left him standing whenever he started to rage irrationally from then on. Not without casting him a look that tore his heart out. He forced himself to rational thinking and to his surprise it helped. It did not subdue the pain of loss he felt but he could live his days again without that utter desperation and lay to rest at night and sleep.

And his days promised to become brighter now that he had learned that Rhuan’s heart was free. Having helped to kill Ajantis put an additional heavy strain on his already troubled heart. Rhuan did not show special grief other than that she was deeply concerned about the trick that had been played on them. Still Anomen’s guilt grew with every passing day.

When they had left Lord Windspear’s house to head for the dryad’s pond Anomen had finally plucked up some courage and offered her his sympathy for Ajantis’s death. Rhuan had looked at him as if she did not understand. “I understand Ajantis was your beloved, my lady, was he not?” He had stated.

Rhuan’s eyes had become big. “My beloved?” She had asked him utterly surprised.

Anomen’s surprise was not diminished, seeing her confusion.

“No!” Rhuan’s protest had sounded insulted. “What for the love of gods gave you this idea?” She had demanded to know.

Anomen had hemmed and hawed until he finally admitted that his suspicion was grounded in the conclusions he had made. Rhuan had shaken her head repeatedly. “No... No...” Finally, she had smacked at him once and started to laugh. “Ajantis! I’m sorry, Anomen, but that’s just so... too... funny!” Anomen had been terribly embarrassed but relief had soon taken over and now he almost felt he was reborn.

Rhuan had walked at his side on their way to the dryad’s pond and giggled and waved the others off, as they demanded to know what had brought their leader’s humour back. Anomen’s eyelids became heavier and he surreptitiously slipped his arm around her waist. Rhuan shifted an inch closer and looked up at him with a slightly surprised but also encouraging smile. The others were already far ahead. His heart started beating faster as Anomen slowed his paces and Rhuan fell into step.

The healer was roused by a stifled outcry of agony. His eyes opened halfway and he saw a shadow flee by. The healer wanted to wake up. Someone was in pain and he could not allow it. The man protested. The man wanted to slip his other arm around Rhuan’s waist. The man wanted to find out if her lips were as soft as they looked. The healer opened his eyes. Someone was in pain and he would not allow it.

Anomen shook the dizziness of his mind as he looked around the pond. All were sleeping. One was missing. His eyes searched the surroundings and finally he spotted her. She had run far. She was leaning on a rock, shaking, one hand pressed on her mouth to gag the sobs that dared to overwhelm her. Her other arm hugged her waist and she was breathing heavily.

Anomen dashed over. “Lady Jaheira?” He asked concerned but Jaheira did not seem to hear him. “Lady Jaheira?” He asked again and carefully touched her shoulder to announce his presence. The druid turned away from him and shook her head. Anomen’s concern grew. Never before had Jaheira shown such a display of raw emotion. She had been collected and strict. Even in anger or joy she had always shown self-control.

He could see that she had no injuries. “Lady Jaheira, what is with you?” He inquired.

Again Jaheira shook her head. “I’m fine.” Her voice was shaken, as was her body. “I’m fine,” she repeated as if she knew she needed to emphasize her lie.

Anomen looked at her bowed head for some moments. She was not visibly hurt and his healing spells were of no use here. “I will go and get Rhuan.” He said lowly and turned away.

“No!” Jaheira’s voice was full of panic and pain as she leaped after him and grabbed Anomen’s sleeve. “No! Don’t!”

Anomen looked at her surprised. Her eyes were glistening with tears and her face showed her inner turmoil unconcealed as she passionately shook her head. She threw the priest into a heavy conflict of interest. As companion he wanted to grant her this wish but as priest and healer he could see that she needed a friend and Rhuan seemed to be the logical choice. In fact, Anomen realized, Rhuan was the only one Jaheira seemed to feel bonded to in friendship.

Her authority that showed even in a moment of weakness almost convinced the young priest to bow and retreat. But her tears and her shaking hands told of great sorrow and Anomen realized that he could not simply leave her standing and not at least try to help. “Were you having one of your nightmares?” Anomen heard himself ask and was momentarily surprised by his own courage.

Jaheira’s tears seemed to dry instantly and her grip on his sleeve tightened. “What do you know of my nightmares, Anomen?” She demanded to know warily.

Anomen’s eyes dashed back to the pond for a moment where all the others were sleeping and dreaming of what they wished would happen or reliving happy moments, wrapped in Vaelasa’s gift of gratitude for them.

Anomen smiled faintly as he looked back at the druid. “I am not deaf, Lady Jaheira. We all have our demons that haunt us at night. I know you dream of your dead husband. And I know you cry in your sleep from time to time.”

Jaheira stared at him for a second before she dropped her hand thus releasing Anomen from her grip. She did not dream often and she always dreamed deep in the night. She had hoped no one had noticed. Jaheira closed her eyes and shook her head slightly in mild resignation. How often had she heard the others mumble or talk or even cry in their sleep? How often had she turned her head at night watch when one of her companions turned around in agony? How could she have been so foolish to hope that her own dreams would go unnoticed? Her shoulders slacked and she sighed. She took a breath several times but the words she wanted to say did not come.

Anomen’s nature wanted to inquire but he intuitively knew that urging would not be of help in this case. He was about to apologize for his intrusion when Jaheira, finally, lifted her head again and her shoulders straightened. “I do dream of Khalid more often than I would like to and it tears me apart to see him dead over and over again. But this is alright.” Jaheira smiled faintly as she saw Anomen’s puzzlement. She took a step back and leaned on the rock again, her arms almost hugging herself as she crossed them. Again she took her breath a few times, carefully considering what she wanted to tell him. “What do you know already of my husband? What did Rhuan tell you?”

Anomen stepped forward to lean beside Jaheira. He propped his hands on the stone and dropped his head as he recalled what Rhuan had told about her past. “I know that your husband was tortured and killed in that ghastly place you were captured in. I know that you found him and that there was nothing that could be done. You had to leave him there and could not properly bury him.” Anomen stopped and waited for Jaheira’s response. She did not look at him but had dropped her head again and was listening intently and with closed eyes.

Each word the young priest spoke felt like a knife turning in her heart. Jaheira bit her lower lip. Would this pain ever end? “Yes,” she said quietly. “Yes, there was nothing we could do. And yes, I keep dreaming about this moment and what might have happened to him. I know this is necessary so that I can one day let go of him. But these are not the dreams that haunt me.” She cast Anomen a sidelong glance. The priest was listening attentively. “Not the dreams that tell me he is dead are the worst. It’s the dreams that delude me that he is still alive.”

Jaheira rubbed her face with both hands as she remembered this dream she had over and over again. She began to softly tell and the words slipped from her tongue as if they had waited desperately to finally be heard by someone. “Sometimes when I awake I feel Khalid’s arm around my waist, like he used to hold me. I know that I must still be sleeping and dreaming, because I am certain he is dead.

“Then I hear him whisper my name and cannot but open my eyes and look at him. And he lies beside me, and smiles at me. His smile that melted my heart.” Jaheira stopped for a moment as the memory overwhelmed her. She felt the pain deep inside her like a cruel fist that clenched and tore at her very being.

She pressed her hands at her mouth and sobbed once. A choked sound of helpless desperation. “I... reach out and touch his face. And I feel his cheeks at my fingers and how they tense as his smile spreads.” Jaheira spread her fingers in front of her face. “I feel it, Anomen.” She held out her hand to him as if she wanted to emphasize the utter impossibility of this sensation and looked at Anomen. “I can feel him.”

Her hand that touched the dream recollection of her husband now touched her throat as if she wanted to stop the words. But she could not stop now. “I think, he’s dead! I know it. He is dead! But my soul always starts to believe and I smile back and relief overwhelms me.” A deeply grieved sigh interrupted and her eyes squinted. “I awake to full consciousness in these moments only to find that I am alone and he is dead and will never hold me again.” Jaheira covered her mouth with her trembling fingers and swallowed. “He will never smile at me again.” Big tears of sorrow squeezed from under her lashes and rolled down her cheeks. She did not wipe them away but let them flow.

As Anomen saw the deep hurting in her face a faint idea of her true pain dawned in his soul. He did not comprehend but he had just learned that love could hurt deeper than any weapon, any disease, or any cruel word spoken. He wanted to run away. He did not want to learn this. He knew all about pain and loss. Love was wonderful and pure and would cleanse his soul once he found it. Love was not supposed to hurt and leave you behind lost and desperate. Anomen did not run. He stood rooted as Jaheira’s tale seeped into his memory and began to slightly and unnoticed blur the borders of his focused world order.

“I know a little of what you mean.” Anomen confessed softly. Only when Jaheira looked at him in question he continued. “When my mother died I often woke up to the knock on the door and she came in to wake me up. But it was only a dream. And,” Anomen sighed sadly, “I fear the time when I will start to dream that Moira is still alive.” He finally added. But it was not the moment to share his memories. And as much as they hurt him and had cost his sleep Anomen could feel but not explain or name the difference between his dreams and Jaheira’s.

Anomen grasped that Jaheira had never told anyone, least of all Rhuan, about her dreams. He did not quite understand but comprehended that he had witnessed a most rare sharing of Jaheira’s most secret thoughts. He remembered that sound of agony that had awakened him. “And when you fled from the pond, you had this dream?” He asked her.

“No.” Jaheira shook her head. “Not this one. It was the beginning of a memory of the night before we met Rhuan for the first time. Khalid was so curious to finally meet her. We both were. It was the last time we were together without worrying or guessing what was about to happen to her or to us.” Jaheira shivered slightly. “I was not fully asleep yet, and I realized I could not bear such a realistic dream. It... it frightened me.” Jaheira did not believe her own ears.

Anomen’s heartbeat quickened a few paces when he recalled his own beginning dream and how real it had felt.

Again some moments passed as Jaheira breathed deeply and a sudden tiredness engulfed her as her mind breathed with her in relief. She squinted her eyes, as she suddenly comprehended the secret behind the memory that had caused her to flee. “The dryad’s must have woven a spell on us so that we could live a special moment in our lives. I am sure they meant well, they wouldn’t know that not all of us could bear that.”

Anomen nodded but did not answer. Jaheira’s sorrow had touched him deeply and for the first time in his position as priest and healer he clearly felt the difference between dutiful concern and sympathy in itself. He understood now that there was more to healing than just closing wounds or mending bones or restoration spells. There were wounds that could hurt the soul and he knew of no spell, no magic formula that could heal these kind of hurtings.

The idea that love can hurt, which she had planted into his mind, was bewildering. He did not remember that his parents had ever treated each other lovingly. He only remembered pain, insults and hate. He had never before considered that there might have been a time when they had loved each other. A thought he was not willing to explore just yet. All he knew about love between a man and a woman he knew from books he had read. Marriage was duty to each other -- that much he had learned in his studies. In the best of cases marriage was founded on love. If it was, everything was supposed to work out perfectly.

The healers stood for some moments in silence. Jaheira’s sigh stirred Anomen from his contemplations. His thoughts were uncomfortable and disturbing and he gratefully concentrated back on her. Anomen could almost feel that there was more. That something important still remained unsaid. He waited, curious but subconsciously uneasy what else the druid might add to shake his core.

Jaheira laced her fingers into her hair and rested her forehead in her palm. “What troubles me most, is that I am forcing these dreams myself.” She silently admitted.

Anomen was startled. “What do you mean, Lady Jaheira?”

The druid crossed her arms again and looked at the sky. Her thoughts trailed away for a second as she watched two layers of clouds drifting through the skies in opposite directions, spurred by lashing, shearing winds. She looked at the ground before her feet when she forced herself to concentrate. It would not stop hurting if she continued to refuse the inevitable.

She took a deep breath. “I have nothing to remember him by, Anomen. I believe I continue to dream about Khalid still being alive so that I don’t forget what he looked like.” This confession did not come easily over Jaheira’s lips as she was always striving to keep her mind free so that nothing could haunt her. She was convinced that pain belonged to life as much as joy and only if she accepted all aspects of life she could find inner balance and peace.

Khalid was dead and she knew that she would have to let go of him. She had loved him dearly and she would always remember him. That something like a missing material reminder would force her subconscious mind to act did not sit well with her. She almost felt as though she had been caught doing something ‘forbidden’.

Jaheira was aware that Anomen’s life had not treated him nicely, still his outlook on life was focused on a narrow part of what the world could truly offer and she felt slightly uneasy having bared her soul to this young man.

“Again I know a little of what you mean.” Anomen surprised her. “You have seen my father’s house. All things of my mother have been removed long ago. I never had the chance to save anything that belonged to her.” Momentarily Anomen pressed his hand against his chest as if he wanted to assure that his heart was still beating. He could feel the solid form of a golden ring that hung around his neck on a thin leather band. It was his sister’s ring that he had found beside her urn and taken with him unnoticed by anyone when they were at his father’s house. He felt a blessed second of relief when the solid circle under his shirt pressed against his palm. For a moment he was tempted to show it to Jaheira but the pain that he had no reminder for his mother set him right. He would not add to Jaheira’s grief that she had nothing.

Jaheira watched the young man, as he was lost in his thoughts. He had suffered a great loss as well. She saw that despite all his brashness and his somewhat erratic temper he was a sincere man. He was willing to learn and willing to reflect upon what was told him. That much was obvious. She had watched it but suspected it was because he wanted to please Rhuan. She realized now that his striving to truly improve himself was grounded in his being and only spurred by his fondness for her young charge.

She was not sure if he really understood the difference between losing his relatives or someone he loved and who was not blood related to him. For a moment she wished desperately and unrealistically that he never would have to learn it. “Have you ever loved someone, Anomen?” she asked. “I am not talking about your mother or sister,” she added as he looked at her with raised eyebrows at her strange question, “I want to know, have you ever been in love?”

Jaheira smiled as Anomen’s eyes involuntarily searched for the dryad’s ponds. “No, I have not,” he confessed. “Though I have felt an attachment to one of the female paladins of the Order. A woman of great honour and virtue, but I do not think that is what you meant, is it?” he volunteered.

Jaheira shook her head. “No, that was not what I meant.” She still felt slight concern about having shared her secret with him but she also felt relief. She knew she would not stop dreaming just because she had told it and even if Anomen could not fully understand what was going on inside of her he had listened. And in fact, even if he knew, each pain was individual and even if he had ever been in love and lost this love he would still not have been able to do more but listen. And that was a lot more than she would have credited him before. Come to think of it, she would have rather expected him to spout some platitudes he undoubtedly had learned in his duty for Helm. Or grace her with some of his own personal perceptions grounded in a narrow mind and inexperience.

Jaheira held her breath for a moment as she suddenly realized how her approach to people was always tainted by impatience. If they showed any sign of what she considered flaws or weaknesses, she was quick to judge and say so. She did not hold on to that rigid thinking if the person in question showed improvement or the will to improve, and Anomen was a living example to that. But she would never have granted him initial trust like Rhuan had done before Anomen had even begun to show noteworthy improvement.

Rhuan had grown exceptionally since she met her and Jaheira knew she had her part in it. But Khalid who had shown the Bhaalspawn the patience she was accustomed to from Gorion had started the process. So a sheltered, confused and intimidated girl could begin a new life. So she could grow into a self-confident young woman who was now able to draw on her innate inner strength and could take her sometimes impatient scolding as advice.

Jaheira suddenly recalled one of her mentors that showed her the ways of the druid. Once, when she had again demanded that someone had to see reason, he had asked her if she would camber a staff with dry force. “Certainly not!” Jaheira had been deeply insulted but she had never felt so clearly the message she had received back then. She was convinced that flaws were to be pointed out but she understood now that brusque reprimanding was not the only way to seed the wish for improvement and it certainly was not suited for everyone.

“Has Rhuan ever been in love?” Anomen’s almost casual question tore her out of her contemplation and Jaheira needed a second to relate it to her latest question at him. She was certain that Anomen had no idea that he had just given away something he thought was not obvious. He had built a deep affection for Rhuan and it was becoming more than friendship rapidly. She momentarily grinned and dropped her head to hide it.

“I do not know everything about her.” She finally told him smiling slightly. “You will have to ask her yourself.”

Jaheira was certain that Rhuan deeply cared for Anomen but she was sure that Rhuan had no idea where Anomen’s intentions trailed. The druid sighed as she foresaw the complications that were bound to happen once Rhuan opened her eyes and would begin to understand because Jaheira also saw the attachment Valygar felt for Rhuan that he tried to hide desperately. The possibility that Anomen might learn what it meant to be in love and suffer because of it momentarily became a probability. Jaheira shook her head. She did not want to think about that now. The trouble would come to be dealt with soon enough.

She pushed herself from the stone she was still leaning on. “Come, Anomen. Let’s go and see if we can bring the others back to our realm. We should be going if we want to reach Trademeet in time.”

Jaheira started walking back to the pond at a moderate pace. When she noticed he was not following she stopped and turned to see him still leaning at the stone, absorbed in his thoughts. “Anomen?” She called him.

“Anomen?” Jaheira asked again and now he looked up. His eyes focused on her and she saw questions burning in them. For a moment she hoped she had not made a mistake in baring her soul but there was no sense in regretting. She had done it and all she could do now was to watch that he did not draw the wrong conclusions. “You have something on your mind?” She asked cautiously.

Anomen nodded slowly but took his time. The thought of Rhuan had stirred his greatest regret about his greatest flaw. Something he did not want to have, something he had wanted to get rid off since he could remember. Now it was Anomen’s turn to draw his breath several times before he could bring himself to word his feelings. “Lady Jaheira you find me completely bewildered. I cannot even begin to fathom what these last months must have been for you. I know about Rhuan’s past and her origin and now I know what you are going through and I find myself wondering how you two can live your days and not break down.” Anomen shifted uncomfortably. “Both, you and Rhuan, have passion and temper and you both have lived, and still live, through hard times and yet you never lash out at others in irrational anger like I do.” Anomen stopped and shook his head. Resignation showed in his voice when he continued, “I know it is because I have a vile temper. I do not want to, but I never found a way to purify my soul. I have always regretted this and I do it even more so now as I have found a friend in Rhuan and as you have honoured me with your confidence.” He dropped his head and sighed. “I always wanted to get rid of my vile temper my entire life but I never found a way.”

Jaheira heard the sincerity in his words and she saw the flaw in his logic. “Anomen look at me.” Jaheira stepped back to him. “Did it ever occur to you that you might make a mistake in your reasoning?” She asked when his confused eyes met hers. “Temper is not vile in itself. Temper, passion and dedication are parts of your being -- you cannot get rid of them.” Anomen was about to contradict her, and Jaheira just knew he would let loose a tirade of what he believed was his problem. “Did you ever try to accept your temper, your passion? And instead, try to evaluate your beliefs? Did you ever try to find out what raises your anger and reflect upon the cause and not the event?” Jaheira nodded slightly as Anomen shook his head. “If you can accept your temper as part of you and reassess your beliefs in yourself what you call bad temper will eventually change into passionate expression of your being.”

Anomen was struck. Never before had someone told him that his temper was not bad. It had never occurred to him to see it the way Jaheira did. He could not answer but Jaheira did not expect him to anyway. “Come now, Anomen.” She said and laid her hand on his arm. “You will not solve this in the next five minutes. We really should be going.” And again she started walking back. Her shoulders straightened as she felt a string of her soul had loosened and she deeply inhaled the crisp air and enjoyed the sting it caused down on its way into her lungs.

She had always stated her opinions or beliefs, but she had hardly ever shared her inner thoughts with anyone. Even Khalid had more often than not been forced to wait while she contemplated a problem or a thought before she presented him with her conclusions. ‘You are never too old to learn something.’ She thought and smiled faintly. She did not know if her encounter with the priest would bring forth friendship but for now it had bonded them in respect.

Anomen trotted behind her. Deeply moved and bewildered he tried to sort out what he had heard. Some of it his subconscious stored away for secret contemplation later when his heart and mind would be ready for it.

The dryad’s spell had worked for the sleeping companions. They woke up refreshed and their spirits were lifted. Quickly they had gathered their things and gotten ready to return on the road. Valygar was the first to go as usual. Rhuan looked after him and missed the times when she would simply catch up with him and lead the others to their aimed destination. But there was a companion who needed her now.

She watched Anomen shouldering his backpack. He looked relaxed and the bitter frown he had worn for the last weeks was gone. He was about to go over to her when Jaheira required she needed a word with him. Anomen cast Rhuan a smile that sent a wave of relief for him through her. He was feeling better and she could see it. She waved at him and turned to catch up with Mazzy and Nalia who were about to trade their dreams. Anomen sighed absentmindedly but then he turned his attention to Jaheira.

The druid looked at him “Anomen, I must ask you not to mention anything I told you to Rhuan.”

Anomen did not feel comfortable to give this promise. “Lady Jaheira, I know Rhuan is worried about you. I am certain she would want to know what is troubling you.” He hesitated for a moment. He had learned things about Jaheira that not even Rhuan knew. But Rhuan should know. “I would strongly suggest that that you talk with her. I know she loves you and she cared very much for your husband.” If he could convince Jaheira to talk to Rhuan he would not feel uncomfortable to keep a secret he thought she should share. Anomen simply knew that Rhuan would help her.

Anomen was right and Jaheira knew it. She would talk to Rhuan. She looked ahead and saw her walking between Nalia and Mazzy. They were too far ahead so she could not hear but their vivid gestures and almost bouncing steps revealed that they were sharing their dreams.

“I will.” Jaheira informed him. “As soon as there is time.” She smiled as she saw Anomen’s doubtful frown. “I will talk to her. I promise.”

“Then I will not, Lady Jaheira.” Anomen finally agreed much to Jaheira’s relief. He kept pace with her as their talk turned to Trademeet that both knew but had not seen in a long time.

Rhuan’s attention span was severely tested as the talk about the dreams they had had turned to Nalia’s progress in sewing. She gave some words of praise when Nalia showed her an undoubtedly finely stitched seam and felt a slight twist of guilt when the mage proudly smiled at her. Rhuan’s eyes and mind had hurried ahead to the dark figure that was walking in a constant untiring pace, slowly increasing the distance between him and the ones that followed. From time to time he would turn and see if he had gained too much lead. Then he would slow his steps to soon fall into his natural pace of walking again. When he turned the third time he was looking directly at her. He was too far ahead to be certain but Rhuan just knew it. She excused herself to Mazzy and Nalia and sprinted to finally catch up and fall in step with Valygar again.

Valygar’s heart quickened a beat when he heard the pace of Rhuan’s footsteps. When she braked beside him she kicked some rocks with the tip of her boot and they sprayed away and landed clicking a few feet ahead of them.

“Missed me?” She tilted her head in question. Valygar found this question extremely unfair. He had missed her but he did not admit.

Rhuan had not expected an answer anyway. There was something that interested her more. “Did you dream as well?” She startled him with her question.

“Dream?” He asked with caution. “What?”

“That’s what I’m asking you.” Rhuan laughed. “It seems we all dreamed wonderful things. Nalia thinks that the dryads might have put some kind of sleep spell on us. Mazzy dreamed of her sister, Nalia of her father, I dreamed of Imoen, and now I would like to hear what your dream was about.”

Valygar shook his head. ‘A dryad’s spell‘ Valygar thought perplexed. That explained why it had been so realistic. The feel of the dreamed kiss that still lingered in his memory rushed in a hot wave through him and a sudden craving for blueberries attacked him. “Nothing.” He shook his head again.

“I don’t believe you!” Rhuan was convinced Valygar was lying. “Tell me.” She ordered.

“No.” Valygar informed her for good. He would not tell her. Never.

“Maybe one day.” He mitigated when he saw her disenchanted expression. He shook his head helplessly as a beaming smile spread across her lips. ‘I must still be under the dryads’ spell.’ He thought alarmed. Because he knew he would never tell her. Never.

#8 Guest_Beyshaliban_*

Posted 22 April 2004 - 07:12 PM


They knew the clearing. They had already built their camp there twice. Birches edged the western side and the afternoon sun bathed the small patch into soft green light. This light had magnetically drawn them there the first time they passed it on a very late afternoon. It was earlier today and they could still have made a few good miles but for once they were not in a hurry. The leader had decided to fatten their rations when they had spotted a neglected field where rabbits and maybe even partridges were most likely to hide. She had sent the others ahead to look for this special place to build their camp and had stayed behind to set the snares.

It was an unexpected break -- almost as relaxing as spending a day at Rhuan’s cabin. Their minds at ease they waited for Rhuan to return.

With the exception of five female halfling fingers that tapped impatiently at their owner’s boots, which, according to Lady Fentan, were in dire need of thorough polishing. The task was delayed for her once again as her reluctant squire had simply refused to see to his duty just yet. Mazzy’s lips formed a thin line as she stared gloomily at Valygar’s back who was about to build the campfire.

Mazzy’s frown deepened. Her steadiness and straightforwardness found no explanation for the sudden relapse in her squire’s behaviour. He by far had never been a shining example of discharging his duties, but he had improved since she had conscripted him and she had even begun to believe they were becoming friends.

When she had learned about Pala’s sickness she had not paid much attention to anything else but to find a way to help her sister. They had quickly found the cause for Pala’s illness and dispatched Barl, the false cleric at Waukeen’s temple, who in truth served Talona and sold poisons under the label of love potions. Fortunately he had also brewed an antidote that had helped to cure Pala.

Everything had worked out perfectly and Rhuan had granted her the time to wait for Pala to regain consciousness while the group saw to some problems at the Druid Grove in the meantime. So Mazzy had stayed at her parent’s house and sat up with Pala for three days.

Deep down in her heart, Mazzy had not expected Rhuan to return. Deep down in her heart, Mazzy had been convinced that Rhuan would grab the opportunity to get rid of her with both hands. But she had returned and after asking about Pala’s condition she had smiled at her and asked, ‘Ready to go, Lady Fentan?’ Despite herself Mazzy had been overjoyed. She had not expected it.

Now she was amongst the heroes of Trademeet. Everything had promised to work out wonderfully. High Merchant Logan Coprith was about to have statues made of them and in only three weeks they would be standing in stone at the great fountain in Trademeet and she was amongst them. The High merchant promised festivities Amn would be speaking of for years. Mazzy’s face flushed for a second. She would be immortalized in stone in her hometown.

Since Mazzy had rejoined the group she had sensed a lot had changed. Everything was about Anomen now. Sure it had been horrible for him when his sister died and Mazzy still shuddered when she thought of Lord Cor. When the old drunk had cast them from his house and vilely and rudely dishonoured Anomen because he was behaving like a knight should, Mazzy actually felt sorry for the young squire. Even more when she thought about how close Pala had stood on death’s threshold.

Mazzy was not blind and too bright to not notice what was going on. Anomen was deeply infatuated with Rhuan and the young ranger allowed him to cheer her up and compliment her. In return she tolerated his fits of doubts and dispelled them effortlessly. Mazzy saw Valygar’s frowns deepen with every smile Rhuan gifted Anomen, and every moment she spent with the squire her own squire’s mood became worse. They only improved when Rhuan concentrated her efforts on him. Mazzy suffered, too, but she was grounded enough to accept that she had never had a chance to gain Valygar’s affection anyway. Even if Rhuan had not completely ensnared him Mazzy knew that she would never become more than a friend to him.

It hurt and Mazzy did not delude herself about it, but she liked him and she did not want to see him suffer. She had tried to talk to him, but either he did not want to get her hints or she simply could not find the right words that would loosen his tongue. That was no reason to neglect his duties but at least it was an explanation.

It irked Mazzy immensely, but she had to talk to Rhuan. Mazzy sighed. She did not have much hope. It was not that she and Rhuan did not get along but their conversations were always somewhat strained and stiff. She was not sure if Rhuan even realized how Valygar felt, and it should not be her concern, but something had to be done. Rhuan simply had to see that she could not go about and, unknowingly or not, turn the heads of male companions. That was not the proper behaviour of a leader. Mazzy straightened her back when she finally caught sight of said leader again.

Valygar looked up when he heard Rhuan’s happy singing. He saw her every day but sometimes, like now, a single look at her struck him. In moments like these, when she sauntered towards him, grinning and rolling her eyes because he caught her singing, he wished all the others away. He wished he would be on the road with her alone so that she would not get up again after she sat down beside him.

Rhuan crouched beside him and dropped the rabbits she had snared and already flayed and gutted at his feet. “Do me a favour…” she smiled at him, “don’t let Jaheira use those herbs again, will you?” She winked. Valygar chuckled and shook his head. Jaheira’s creativity in inventing and providing new herb varieties was astounding. Most of them were a treat on the road when they had to live on roots, mushrooms and the occasional game, or at the cabin when Jaheira sprinkled almost anything with her mysterious collections. Her latest combination though, had had an almost intoxicating effect on Rhuan. She had grinned and giggled and been extremely silly, and this morning she had awakened with a headache. When Rhuan complained to Jaheira about it and accused the herbs for her state, the druid had raised her eyebrows and told Rhuan, that her silliness was not likely to be caused by any herbs and a headache could have many reasons.

Valygar smiled as he recalled Rhuan’s boisterous mood the evening before. He thought about asking Jaheira if it really had not been the herbs. Rhuan could benefit from another evening of silliness. Her general mood had improved since they had left the Windspear Hills, but there was a slight restlessness in her that seemed to increase daily.

“Have you been a bad squire again?” Rhuan whispered when she became aware of Mazzy who was eagerly waving her hands, both of them, indicating she wished to talk to her.

Valygar shot her a look that showed clearly he did not think that was particularly funny and Rhuan shrugged apologetically. Valygar continued to pile wood for the campfire shaking his head at Rhuan’s strange sense of humour and Rhuan stood up looking around if there was not someone or something else she had to see to before she was to be engaged by Mazzy.

Nalia was studying, so she could not stroll over for a little chat. She could, but the spells that Nalia was trying to scribe and memorize that evening where of greater concern for the group than her reluctance to encounter Lady Fentan.

She did not even think about going over to Jaheira, who was making herself comfortable under a tree to catch up on some reading before the sun would set. Jaheira would simply look at her with a raised eyebrow and Rhuan could hear the druid’s words in her mind, that she was only delaying the inevitable, and she would have to talk to Mazzy anyway.

There was always Anomen, who would gladly put aside his evening task for her. He was consumed in the preparations to polish his breastplate. A warm feeling of friendship engulfed Rhuan while she watched him. She had learned so much about Anomen during the last weeks. She took a great interest in his test and had no doubt that he would pass his trial.

The first time after they had learned about the murder of Moira she had sometimes feared he would lose his mind. She understood, only too well, and had put all her efforts in the task to help him through this hard first time. She felt thrown back into the time when Gorion died and remembered that she very probably would not have made it through without Imoen, Jaheira and Khalid who had each in their own way helped her and brought her back on solid ground.

Rhuan cast a quick glance at Jaheira. The druid was concentrating on her reading. Rhuan wished desperately she could give back what she had received, but her friend refused to talk about the grief she undoubtedly felt every time Rhuan made a try. “We will talk, when there is time.” Jaheira always said and there was no way to convince her that any time was as good as the other. Jaheira seemed calmer now -- just slightly but still. Rhuan sent a quick prayer that she would finally talk to her.

Her eyes wandered back to Anomen. Since he had confessed that he had concluded Ajantis had been her ‘beloved’ the term clung to her memory and welled up incessantly. ‘Beloved, really!’ Rhuan thought. ‘Beloved.’ She looked down at Valygar again. Her gaze fell on his hands that skewered their evening meal. She had seen and done it countless times, but could not avert her eyes from his dark long fingers that squeezed and pulled the pink flesh of the skinned rabbits into submission. She had the feeling as if he would squeeze and pull at her innards at the same time. Sighing, Rhuan tore her eyes away.

She did not know what Mazzy’s concerns were this time. Mazzy usually had her say about Rhuan’s decisions. Lady Fentan always accepted them in the end but seldom without laying out her insights in detail before her. Quickly she tried to assess what flaws could be found in the decision to return to Athkatla to await Anomen’s trial but did not find any. Straightening her back in an attempt to steel herself she strolled over to Mazzy and crouched beside her. Even before her knees were fully bent Mazzy took a deep breath and started. “Rhuan, I have to talk with you about Valygar.”

Rhuan dropped her head and groaned inwardly as her expression turned to stone. They had had this discussion over, and over again after Mazzy had squired him. Almost every time Mazzy had put Valygar to some task and the ranger had reluctantly, late, but competently done the biddings. ‘One should think a man of his background and education would appreciate a rank like this!’ Mazzy Fentan had bitterly complained of the obvious lack of dedication in her squire. Rhuan had sometimes felt as if Mazzy was holding her responsible for Valygar’s reluctance. After a while Mazzy had stopped complaining and much to Rhuan’s surprise it had looked as if they were getting along. Not that she minded but in a strange way she did.

Rhuan was aware that Valygar’s dedication had somewhat diminished again lately but she was not willing to go through the endless discussions with Mazzy again. “Oh, give that man a rest. He did not even ask to be squired!” she snapped and Mazzy’s surprised gasp only spurred her. “You are a loyal companion, I admire your skills, and I appreciate your sense of humour -- so it shows -- but I will definitely not listen to one more Valygar-did-not-Valygar-has-not-story!” Rhuan snarled at Mazzy and immediately regretted it, but she did not apologize.

Mazzy found this outburst deeply irritating. It was not what she had wanted to talk about, but Mazzy’s trained patience could only take a finite amount of jokes and teases. And the dark ranger’s assignment had been the source of many jokes and lots of teases during the past months. Rhuan had just shown a most rude side and Mazzy was hurt by the lack of understanding in her -- even if skilled, still too young -- leader. Weeks of chuckling and snickering behind her back and days full of worry for Pala wiped away the prepared speech and Mazzy found herself defending something she thought she was so convinced about that it was beyond consideration. “A knight of my skill and rank does have a squire!” An uncommon undertone of whining showed in Mazzy’s voice as she pointed her chin accusingly in the direction where Anomen was polishing and mending his gear highly concentrated. “You are just a ranger and still you have a squire!”

Now it was Rhuan’s turn to gasp. “He is not my squire!” she hissed at Mazzy. Her impatience was undisguised now.

Mazzy raised one eyebrow. Studying Anomen for a moment, she was thinking. Her voice sounded very serious. “Does he know that?” Mazzy was too upset and her pent-up frustration too present to not enjoy Rhuan’s embarrassment as the young woman obviously thought of a suitable response but could not find one.

Rhuan’s cheeks burned and she felt caught though by what she did not know. This only deepened her anger.

“Not before our fearless leader explains it to him.” Both women turned their heads. Valygar had silently approached and was now crouching behind them. He regretted his remark when it brought him a snappish retort and a violent shove that tipped him over.

“Leave me alone!” huffed Rhuan, whose face had a reddish hue when she stormed off without looking left or right and only a vast reserve of self-control hindered her to kick at Valygar’s backpack as she almost stumbled over it.

“Wait!” Anomen jumped up when she dashed by him, ready to protectively accompany her. “You should not wander off alone!”

“But that is exactly what I intend to do!” Rhuan did not even stop to inform him that she did not wish his company. She had not even looked his way, and she was angry! Very angry! Anomen stared at her back, as she marched away. Her long plait brandishing in the rhythm of her raged paces, like a pendulum to his doom. Deeply bewildered Anomen sat down again. His concentration was broken. Automatically he tried to remember what he may have done or said to offend her. He could not think of anything. Whatever had caused Rhuan’s mood-swing he was not responsible for it. Anomen shook his head. Oh well! And if it had been his fault, she would not let him get away with it. He relaxed if only slightly and grabbed his breastplate again.

Valygar deeply regretted his remark. The spark in Rhuan’s eyes he kept fantasizing about was not the spark of rage. Then again, that angry spark was not for him alone. He had seen Rhuan cast Anomen looks that made the warrior priest cringe. He shook his head. He could not get these pictures of Rhuan out of his head. They remained even when Mazzy started a dubious lecture about a leader’s behaviour, distraction and squire duties. He stared at Rhuan’s backside and realized that he hardly ever saw her from behind.

She disappeared between the trees but he still saw her.

Jaheira watched the scenes with untamed amusement. She was not alarmed at Rhuan’s disappearance. Much had assailed Rhuan’s life and thoughts lately. She knew Rhuan well enough to know that the young ranger would probably run around until a view, a plant, a rock, or anything similar caught her eye. Then she would sit and soon be soothed. She would return and her anger would have vanished as quickly as it had shown itself. Other thoughts concerned her more.

Rhuan’s view and behaviour against Anomen had changed so obviously since they had met his father. Rhuan had grown up loved by Gorion and had been surrounded by people who meant her well. The scenes at the Delryn Estate had deeply disturbed her. Anomen had told her about his family before, but it was obvious to Jaheira that Rhuan’s sympathy was somewhat theoretical, as she could not imagine what growing up like this really meant. After the Delryn incident the stories had begun their work in the mind of the young woman and she had started to comprehend his past. That and his grief had mixed with her general fondness for him and turned it into affection.

Rhuan usually made a point at dividing her attention between her friends and companions, so that none of them should feel neglected. A habit she broke for Anomen when doubts and self abuse threatened to crush him. It had seemed at first that Anomen did not even perceive Rhuan at his side but Jaheira had soon realized that was not the case. Anomen’s wonder about her attention was lulled due to his pain, but her constant presence showed its effect. Anomen allowed being consoled and comforted and as the immediate grief passed, he assimilated Rhuan’s nearness and was not shy to show and word his gratitude and deep appreciation for her time and concern.

Mazzy was a skilled fighter and surely a loyal friend, but she was also a leader herself and Jaheira could see that Mazzy would have liked very much to direct the steps of the group. She tended to become intrusive whenever Rhuan was musing about a problem or when Rhuan was planning the next moves of the group. Jaheira rolled her eyes in self-knowledge at her thoughts, and she could not help smiling.

Rhuan handled Mazzy quite nicely most of the time, but she could see that confusion was growing in Rhuan, rendering her more impatient and prone to anger than usual. Jaheira suspected and hoped that sooner or later this confusion would drive Rhuan to come and talk to her.

Jaheira also noticed that Valygar was still staring where Rhuan had disappeared. She knew enough of life and love to see.

Rhuan had cracked two tight shells, without even intending to do it. Anomen, the angry one, who had waited all his life for someone to accept him and allow him to be who he was, did not mind at all. His true self already showed through. While he was helping from inside to shed the skin, Valygar did all he could to hold it just to the crack.

Jaheira could see his struggling and his efforts that became harder and almost desperate with every passing day. Sometimes when she awakened she watched them sitting together and silently talking with each other. She could see that something special was building between them and neither one of them realized it. Rhuan, because she did not know, and Valygar, because he did not want to know. He hid behind the armour he had forged over the years and still thought and hoped it would protect him. He would either shed it eventually or close it up even tighter than before. Judging by the progress the knight-to-be had made, this could end disastrously, should it burst.

‘Still waters,’ Jaheira was thinking.

Already Anomen was courting Rhuan openly. Neither he nor Rhuan were yet aware of the full amount of his feelings, but Jaheira trusted it would not be for long before Anomen realized. And he would, as was his nature, pursue the challenge for Rhuan’s heart in an outright and straightforward manner. Rhuan seemed to still walk on the edge of decision but Jaheira was not totally convinced. In truth she did not know for certain.

Jaheira did not want to interfere. It contradicted what she believed. As long as Rhuan did not come to her and word her feelings she could not talk to her. But she noticed Rhuan’s growing insecurity when the young woman was subjected to Valygar’s brooding moods. The sudden shyness she had to overcome nowadays before she tried to cheer him up. Her shining eyes when he smiled at her. Her boisterous behaviour after she spent some hours walking at his side. The immediacy with which she had recaptured her place at Valygar’s side as soon as Anomen had started to feel better. Her surreptitious glances as she watched him doing his chores and her nervous gestures of embarrassment when he looked up and caught her observing him. Rhuan was genuinely fond of both men but Valygar additionally stirred her.

Rhuan had grown up since she first met her but emotionally she still had to catch up. Rhuan had solid instincts she could rely upon and usually did, but Jaheira was aware that Rhuan was about to face an emotion she did not know and that was about to hit her with vehemence. She remembered how Rhuan had been rendered helpless to grief the first time she encountered it when Gorion died and she shuddered what would happen if Rhuan realized that she was in love. Not knowing that feeling, she would have to face a decision that could drive any experienced woman into madness.

Jaheira stared at Valygar, trusting that he would respond. When he looked at her, she waved him to join her. Valygar obliged gladly, excusing with a bow to Mazzy. With a few long strides he crossed the camp and sat down, folded his legs and looked at the druid expectantly.

She did not want to interfere but Rhuan had a right to know. “If you would speak up, he would not have a chance,” Jaheira informed him quite briefly.

Searching for tease in her expression, Valygar answered sternly, “I have no idea, what you are talking about.”

“Oh yes you do.” Jaheira locked her gaze on his face for a moment. “Do not play this game with me, Valygar! I will not interfere, but should Rhuan come to me for counsel, I will say what I know.”

Feeling somewhat uncomfortable at the greenish fire in her eyes, he looked away. He knew it would make no sense pretending in front of Jaheira. She knew Rhuan better than anyone except maybe Imoen, who still was not more than an avoided subject for him or anyone else in this group. It was clear that all the money they saved was to help free this Imoen but Rhuan avoided talking about her too much. Sometimes, when Rhuan’s worries became too heavy, she would tell him about Imoen. But instead of soothing or helping her these talks only made her sad and angry. An anger that grew from helplessness.

There was no sense in pretending in front of Jaheira. He knew she observed and watched constantly much like he did. It was slightly disturbing that she should be able to so accurately pin down his feelings but it did not really surprise him. Even Mazzy had started to suspect something. But Mazzy was too concerned to overstep borders of conduct so that it was easy to simply ignore her suggestive questions.

Loud and clear he heard his inner voice chid him. ‘You should have left. You still can.’ But he also heard another part of him that kept him from running. Deep down inside of him, there was this part of him that longed to love. That craved to be loved. He had stashed it away behind presumptions and prejudice. Over the years, whenever this part opened its mouth to cry out to him, he had stuffed another presumption into its big mouth, gagging it with constructed obstacles.

He had felt safe and sound until he had met Rhuan. Even after he met her. She was just too young, too occupied, and too strange. And she was open-minded, and openhearted. She was not likely to be driven away by his brooding moods. She courageously tried to cheer him up and, much to his own surprise, succeeded most of the time. And if he withstood, and her efforts bounced off him, she just waited patiently until her next try would be successful.

There had been women in his life, even one that had not been irritated at all by his attitudes and had come dangerously close. In the end he had left them. Heartbroken and cursing himself but certain that in the end it was better for them. He was not meant to be happy. There was no room in his life for company. No room for closeness, or for love. Over all these years he had built wall upon wall around his life and kept everyone at distance. Until Rhuan appeared and breached through his defences with a single smile.

He had to now sit by and watch his citadel crumble. Whenever he repaired damage, another piece just dissolved. Every time she smiled at him he wanted to kiss her. Every time he wanted to kiss her he wanted to run away. Every time he got ready to run he found he could not, did not want to.

He wanted to turn around after they defeated a powerful enemy and find her eyes looking for him. He wanted to walk at her side or she at his. He could never say which for their paces matched so perfectly. He wanted to wake up in the morning and find Rhuan already waiting for him. He wanted to make her dark eyes glow for him.

He tried reason, “She deserves better.”

“She deserves to be loved,” Jaheira retorted. “She deserves to love.”

Jaheira watched Valygar’s mind work. She did not press him; she just waited, if he would dare to make the step in his mind. She knew this was the crucial step. She was certain he had already made it in his heart but he would have to make it in his mind as well. Valygar picked up a flat stone and started to scratch lines into the ground before him.

He brushed the lines he had drawn away before he started to speak, “She has a beautiful soul. She cares for her friends. She is full of love and humour despite her heritage and an uncertain fate. She is always there to offer kind words of help and understanding. Everyone feels lifted and better just because she is around.”

‘I feel lifted and better just because she is around,’ he thought. ‘I should be miles away, but I stay just to hear her laugh.’ He saw Rhuan’s face when she laughed with him.

‘I am here just to see her smile.’ He saw Rhuan’s smile shining when she looked up to him as she walked by his side.

“At one point I started to wonder who is lifting her? Is there someone who has her heart who gives her strength to carry on?” He felt Rhuan’s head leaning on his shoulder when she had cried over her dead father, her fallen friends and her fate.

Jaheira lowered her voice. “Her heart is still her own. But it calls out to her, and it won’t be before long and she will hear and understand. Already she is listening.”

Valygar’s eyes rested on Anomen, who had recaptured his concentration again. “Anomen surely was taken with her the moment he laid eyes on her.”

“As were you!” Jaheira gave an indignant snort.

Valygar laughed self-consciously, “I guess all girls dream of a knight in shining armour.”

Jaheira leaned over, forcing him to look at her. “Do as you see fit. Make up your mind and act accordingly. It is unavoidable that all of you will get hurt before this is over. But you will not hurt her on purpose. Or you will regret the day we met.”

Valygar was certain that Jaheira would not hesitate to make his life a living hell if he did anything to hurt Rhuan. Like making her fall in love with him and backing off when his own feelings started to root in his being, threatening to become overwhelmingly true and resistant. He closed his eyes and shook his head slightly. “Did Anomen get a lecture too?” Valygar asked indifferently.

Jaheira snorted, inclined to let that pass without commenting, but a short glance at Valygar and his conspicuously inconspicuous stare at Anomen conjured a sly grin on her face. She leaned closer and informed him with the same indifference Valygar had asked, “Our virginal priest doesn’t need advice. He is falling in love and not afraid to admit it.” Jaheira noted Valygar’s frown with almost fiendish joy and gave another mite. “Rhuan is ready to be swept away and Anomen might just be the one to do it and you will watch and maybe even breathe in relief but I dare to doubt that.” She leaned back and turned her attention back to her book.

Valygar stared alternately at Anomen and the ground before him. Casting him an occasional glance Jaheira could see his mind working.

“Just one other thing.” Jaheira added without looking up, “When did all this stoic pragmatism of yours turn into rude and blind stubbornness?” She did not bother to wait for an answer.

Valygar looked at the druid’s stern expression and had to smile. “You know… if it wasn’t for Rhuan…” He did not finish the sentence.

Now Jaheira looked at him and his slight smile. Yes, she could understand Rhuan’s preference to stay close at Valygar’s side. “Oh you. Get lost.” She smacked the book at him, but she smiled as well.

Rhuan had found herself a nice lookout and tried to enjoy the view of the surging hills. She crouched and looked but she only saw Mazzy’s slight frown. Why was Mazzy always picking on her? Why was she so stubborn? Why could she not just leave Valygar alone?

Mazzy’s frown was replaced by Valygar’s and Rhuan’s innards churned painfully. The sun shone on her back but still she shivered. Her skin tingled like it did when a thunderstorm was brewing. It was both exciting and frightening.

She felt caged. She felt bound and tied. She felt trapped in a tough skin that almost choked her. A skin that was only partly translucent and both protected her and hindered her to see clearly and to understand. Subconsciously she knew that she would suffer if she shed it but she suffered already and did not even know why. Hot tears filled her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. Angrily she wiped them away only to feel them welling up again. Anger turned into desperation and she fell back on the ground to burry her face in her arm and cry bitterly for a minute or two. Sighing she felt for the small pouch between her breasts and tugged it forward. Sobbing she sat up and freed its content.

She wished she could just call her Moon Dog and bury her face in his silken fur but she did not dare to whisper his name only because she was confused and sad. So she stared at the little figurine and tried to take comfort from its golden firmness. But her thoughts must have sounded loud and clear on the Outer Planes for Cerebus heard her and decided that she needed a friend right now.

Rhuan held her breath when she recognized the faint white cloud of moonlight. “You came?” She whispered as the mystical wolf took on material form before her and nudged her gently. Cerebus tilted his head to state his puzzlement at this strange question. She called. He came. He had no reason to refuse.

Rhuan hugged her wolf and silently cried relief and sadness into his fur. For a second she was surprised as usual that he did not smell like a dog at all but carried the scent of moonlit summer nights after a clearing rain. She combed her fingers through the thick hair at his sides and felt his heavy head on her shoulder. “I don’t know what to do. I should think of Imoen constantly and all I can do is think about him.” She confessed to Cerebus who endured her strange behaviour stoically. She was material and he knew their behaviour was different.

Cerebus freed from her embrace and quicker than a blink he licked her face once. Rhuan’s surprised little squeal turned into a giggle and her soul cheered up immediately. She smiled at her mystical friend and momentarily grabbed his cheeks and planted a resounding kiss on his head that was answered with a deep bark. Their eyes locked before Cerebus dissolved again to moonlight.

Rhuan sat back on her heels and her hands relaxed. Her head and her heart felt lighter. The skin was still around her but it had thinned and she had chapped it. She stared into the void of lost thoughts and felt exhausted. The roaring song of the trees caused by a constant breeze slowly reached her ears. The rhythm of rising and falling hills, the variety of colours began to draw her attention. The touch of the wind, the sights and sounds of nature worked their usual magic on the young woman’s mind and after a while she was herself again. She stared into the distance and tried to memorize the view.

Anomen looked up when Rhuan returned from her walk, calm and collected, her usual self. She ruffled his hair and knelt down beside him. She bent over to whisper, “I am sorry!” into his ear. Anomen shook his head, whether of acceptance or of her breath only he knew, and he brightly smiled back at her.

“I shouldn’t add to your worry. Though we both know you don’t have any reason to worry, don’t we Anomen?” Rhuan asked him with a wink that made his heart skip and melt.

Anomen’s smile spread even wider. “If you say so, my lady.”

At the other side of the camp Jaheira went over to the campfire where Valygar was taking care for their evening meal and thoroughly watching Rhuan and Anomen. She bent down and handed him a small pouch with herbs. “You can barely watch them talk. What will you do once she starts glowing from love? Leave?” She did not wait for a response but she did not need any because she saw at the force with which he grabbed the pouch that she had hit the bull’s eye.

Rhuan smiled at Anomen one more time before she stood up and went to apologize to Valygar. It was not so easy to say she was sorry to his almost constant frown. The tightness in her chest returned but it was less painful, less frightening.

She dropped on her knees slowly and stared at him until he stared back and held her gaze. She leaned over to him. Her breath brushed his cheek before she whispered, “I am sorry,” close to his ear. She heard him draw his breath silently and it filled her with a feeling of unknown mischief. She withdrew and Valygar just slightly turned his head so his cheek brushed against hers. Now it was Rhuan’s turn to hold her breath and involuntarily her eyes closed for a moment. When she looked at him again he saw that her eyes had changed. They were still her beautiful dark and warm eyes but with a glint of what he dreamed about in them.

He shook his head. “I am sorry.”

Rhuan smiled at him. Her smile had changed too. It was only for him and it gripped at his heart with a sudden and true aim that only an archer could master.

#9 Guest_Beyshaliban_*

Posted 28 June 2004 - 07:37 PM

Fortune Teller

The waters were quiet but their sedated movements still caused the ships that were tied to the docks to lazily follow their rhythm. The occasional ring of the ships’ bells sounded through the open window and reminded Valygar of his childhood. Since there were only a few ships docked in the Bridge district, their ringing was not as pervasive as it used to be down at the main docks. The smell of decaying seaweed and rotting goods that spilled while crates were loaded and unloaded was not as omnipresent either. It was quiet compared to the ever-busy Docks with their accumulation of ships and sailors from all four corners of the world.

Reflected sunlight made Valygar blink. The sun had moved on and a glistening patch now danced where he was staring. He shook his head and concentrated back to the task at hand. Precisely and carefully he turned the leather inside and out and examined each square inch of his armour. But he could not find any more seams that needed repair. Again, his eyes wandered outside the window of his room in the Five Flagons Inn.

He cursed himself for following Jaheira’s logic. She had made sense stating that they would return soon and would only have to wait for him if he went out. But, hours had passed and still there was no sign of Rhuan and Anomen. Mazzy had retired to her room with a happy look on her face and two letters from home clutched to her heart. Valygar had also excused himself to take advantage of the opportunity and see to his equipment. For a while the mending had helped to focus his concentration and dampen his rising nervousness. He wished Mazzy had loaded him with tasks he could see to and that would distract him, but Lady Fentan was generous today and had granted him a day off.

He thought about going downstairs to again join Jaheira and Nalia but they would realize his nervous condition. Valygar found himself at the door ready to open it. He dropped his hands again and after banging his head slightly against the doorframe he returned to his observing position at the window. At least he could see the water from here.

Where were they? Valygar did not delude himself, he was no man of faith, but how long could a prayer take for a man who was?


“...then you add peeled potatoes and let it simmer for at least an hour. You don’t have to peel the potatoes, if they are new but thoroughly brush them instead. It tastes even better with new ones, at least that’s my opinion.” Jaheira ended her instructions that Nalia wrote down eagerly.

“My aunt would faint if she knew that I’m learning to cook peasant’s food.” Nalia giggled. Jaheira could not tell if the thought that she was learning how to cook or what to cook amused Nalia.

“I suppose your aunt isn’t aware that a lot of peasants don’t have the means to acquire these ingredients?” Jaheira asked slightly annoyed. She remembered Nalia’s aunt only too well. Delcia De’Arnise was the perfect example of what she grossly disliked in many nobles. Born noble and privileged meant responsibility but Delcia De’Arnise only saw her privileges and comfort. Poverty was a concept that was only invented to ire her.

Nalia sighed and shook her head in regret. “No. It’s her firm belief that everyone who doesn’t have enough to eat is simply too lazy to work.” Nalia’s forehead wrinkled in distress. On their return to Athkatla they had run into Lady Delcia. The Lady De’Arnise had more or less ignored the others and flooded Nalia with a tirade of all the troubles she had to endure, now that Nalia had chosen to abandon her. She lived with a friend, but Lady Delcia had made her implications that she expected Nalia to take care of her quite clear. Nalia had not been less clear that she intended to stay with Rhuan. That Nalia had been brainwashed was one of the weaker accusations Rhuan had do face before Lady Delcia stalked off to her doomed existence promising Nalia that her ungrateful niece had just contributed to her, the Lady De’Arnise’s early grave. Jaheira had praised Silvanus that Rhuan was not easily offended. On the contrary, Lady Delcia’s entrance and exit had amused Rhuan. Only Nalia’s worried expression had prevented a laughing fit.

Jaheira watched the change of expressions in the young mage’s face. She understood how hard it must still weigh on Nalia to have lost everything in only a short time. Her father, her home, and her freedom. Nalia had greatly profited from the time on the road, but Lady Delcia knew Nalia and how to rake guilt within her. She had planted its poisonous seed that now stirred in the young woman’s heart and mind.

“I am certain that Rhuan would understand if you decide to return to your aunt. The party share won’t be too much, but your equipment might support you both for a while,” Jaheira promised with an encouraging smile.

Nalia looked a little surprised and shocked. “You know... sometimes you scare me. I don’t know if I like the idea that you can read my mind.”

“I was not reading your mind,” Jaheira laughed, “just your expression.”

Nalia nodded slightly. She did not think much about her aunt, but whenever she did she felt guilt rising. Each time a little more. She loved being a part of Rhuan’s group. She loved the opportunity to learn and improve her skills. She got along with all of them even Valygar whom she loved to tease. He was such an easy target with his loath for magic.

But Lady Delcia was her father’s sister, the only family she had. And her aunt had, after all, looked after her and helped to raise her. Nalia found herself in a dilemma. With distress she looked at Jaheira. “I don’t know what to think,” she sighed. “I don’t feel very content with abandoning her like that. And I want to help you after all you have done for me.”

Jaheira nodded. “I understand. Just don’t make any hasty decisions. Give yourself time to find out what you want to do,” she advised Nalia.

Time. Jaheira’s slight concern slowly changed to worry. She leaned back in her chair to catch a look outside. Where were they? One prayer. How long did clerics pray? How long did one prayer take for them?


In fact, that one prayer to Helm Sir Anomen Delryn had wanted to do at the Temple had not taken that long. It was a task for the church that had kept him and Rhuan occupied for the last hours and that led them all over town. The first dizzying enthusiastic rush he had experienced after he was dubbed a knight had slowly changed into deep contentment and happiness while they walked from one corner of the city to the other.

He had hesitated for a moment when they passed his family’s estate on their way to Sir Sarles, whose artistic gift the Church of Helm wanted to acquire. For an instant the life long wish his father might approve of him one day returned. Anomen had worked and struggled his entire life to make his dream come true. But all his striving and struggling was also for one, just one, ‘Well done, my son.’

Rhuan had sensed his hesitation and looked at him questioningly. In that moment he had realized that his father’s approval and appreciation still had importance, but that Rhuan’s beaming joy after the ceremony or his companions congratulations meant by far more to him. With time, he was certain he would overcome his senseless and pointless wish to gain his father’s approval or appreciation.

Rhuan had not even asked just smiled and taken his arm and gently dragged him past the Delryn Estate to the impressive mansion of the Jysstev’s.

All the way to Waukeen’s Promenade they had barely spoken. Anomen’s new perspective demanded his full attention. The world seemed brighter, and bigger. Alive. He felt he could see more than what just met the eye. He felt freed of a load he had dragged for so long that he had almost forgotten he even carried it. Only now, that it was gone, he realized how heavy it had been.

After they had conversed with Jerlia, the ore merchant, he had convinced Rhuan that it was high time for lunch and she had agreed. He felt like a king when they sat down on the sunlit stairs of Waukeen’s promenade to share a light snack they had acquired in one of the inns.

He had revelled in the memory of his prayer to Helm. He could not remember to ever have felt the Watcher closer or more intense. Not even when he was first initiated as Helm’s Cleric. While he had spoken to his god he had also prayed for his mother and sister and for an instance he had felt the certainty that they knew. That they were well and approved. Rhuan had listened with sparkling eyes. She had grabbed his hand and squeezed it. She knew how he felt. She hardly cried for Gorion anymore but she still missed him. And every now and then she felt his presence as if he wanted to let her know that he would always watch over her. They had finished their meal in silence, both lost in thoughts about people they loved and lost.


Anomen held the door to the Copper Coronet open for Rhuan and turned back to take one more look around to the crowded room before he followed her outside. It was still an establishment of questionable reputation but it had begun to change since Hendak had taken over. Drunkards and troublemakers were usually complimented outside and ruffians had learned that brawls were no longer tolerated. The change had begun and was noticeable long before Anomen had passed his test but today he saw it clearly.

His eyes searched the table where he used to sit. It was empty but for a moment Anomen could see himself sitting and waiting. The recollection of that morning when Rhuan and her company had stumbled into the inn was vivid and real as if it had just happened. She had looked at him but hardly perceived him. She had frowned and waved him off, declining his offer to help with whatever she needed help. He remembered that he had felt rejected, and angry. He had looked after them as they conversed with Bernard for a moment and then disappeared upstairs. A tall and strong bald man, Minsc as he had learned later, shoving two tired and worn out women up the stairs. Rhuan had looked as if she had not slept for weeks and Jaheira... stony-faced, he had thought.

Anomen shook his head slightly while recalling his initial thoughts. He had seen their state, but he had not noticed. Again, he felt the sensation as if his sight and view had multiplied. The feelings and emotions that went underneath the surface, things that remained unsaid with words but spoken loud and clear with body language -- he did not fully understand yet but he knew he would learn it.

“Anything wrong, Sir Anomen?” Rhuan’s voice tore him out of his contemplations. He cast one last glance to his table and said goodbye to the angry young man he once was. His new feeling of self-awareness whispered that it most probably was not a goodbye forever but for now he was content to leave him behind for at least a little while. A little distance between him and himself was already more than he had hoped to accomplish.

“No. Everything is fine, my lady.” Anomen closed the door and turned to Rhuan.

As he stepped out of the shadow of the house and the afternoon sun caught in a cascade of red light on the perfectly forged scales of Anomen’s new armour, Rhuan involuntarily held her breath like she had done that day several times whenever she looked at him.

Anomen’s appearance hardly ever left anything to criticize but today it was spotless. The days before his test Anomen had kept himself occupied to bring his armour, weapons and himself to the shine. The hammer of Thunderbolts looked like newly forged, his hair and beard were neatly trimmed, and his boots were shining. The Delryn family shield that he had strapped to his back had never looked better. But most impressive was the new plate mail forged from Firkraag’s scales. Together with the Dragon Helm he had tucked under his arm, he looked cunning and handsome.

‘A radiant knight of the Radiant Heart.’ Rhuan thought and suddenly felt shabby in her Night’s Gift that looked as if it would absorb the light. Absentmindedly she tugged at it to straighten it and reminded herself that it was a wonderful piece of armour that almost made her invisible in twilights and shadows and had increased her success when hunting, stalking and prowling. Aside that it was the best armour she could possibly have and it fitted like a glove.

Rhuan’s cheeks began to burn as Anomen smiled at her. He had smiled almost all day but right now it seemed to be more than just a sign of contentment. “What?” She asked cautiously.

Anomen slightly touched her back to lead her on the way and his smile spread wider. “I was remembering our first encounter, my lady.” He confessed.

“Oh.” Rhuan flushed a little. “I... wasn’t very friendly, was I?”

“No, you were not.” Anomen agreed. “But considered what you had gone through and what your outlook was you were more than forthcoming.”

Rhuan nodded. “Yes, it’s true the prospects quite crushed me. And,” she added with a sidelong glance at his face, “I wasn’t feeling quite fair either.”

Now it was Anomen’s turn to flush. The following days, after Rhuan had rejected his offer, he had contemplated if he should have approached her in a different manner whenever he caught a glance of her in the Coronet. But the truth was that her obvious desperation had touched him and her strength and will that shone even through her exhaustion had impressed him. “Quite the contrary, my lady,” Anomen objected, “in sorrow or joy you are certainly the fairest of them all.”

Rhuan grinned self-consciously. Anomen’s compliments had changed as of late. Had he admired her skills and talents, her strength and prowess earlier he had begun to compliment the way she looked. She was used to being complimented on skills or talents but not many had mentioned her look. Or maybe they had and she had just not paid attention to it. She had caught herself studying her face in mirrors and other reflecting surfaces more than once recently. Something she had never done before. She usually looked into a mirror only to check if her face showed any signs of battles or if she had thoroughly removed any traces of her life on the road after she had taken a bath.

She never found any resemblances to the great heroines Gorion had told her about. Those were always stunningly beautiful beings, elflike, with silken hair and porcelain skins, whereas she was just a pale young human female with unusual dark eyes and greyish hair.

“Rare shine,” Anomen had called it the other day Rhuan recalled as she subconsciously ran her fingers along her hairline to tuck it behind one ear.

“I am glad we are trying to acquire the real ore, my lady.” Anomen tore her out of her contemplations. “I do not like the thought of betraying the Watcher, though I would not mind to witness the vain artist making a fool out of himself.” Anomen understood and approved the thought of honouring Helm with a sculpture of exceptionable beauty and elegance but he also wondered if serving a capricious artist’s pride might be too high a price.

Rhuan laughed. “To be honest, I’m not sure if I would try to secure the real ore without you. But aside the fact that I wouldn’t want to test the patience of Helm, I don’t think it would be the proper thing to do on your first day as knight, would it?”

He cast her a glance as she literally bounced beside him. Never had anyone but his mother or sister taken so much interest in his life. He could not imagine that his mother or sister could have been more overjoyed than Rhuan.

“Goodness! It’s late!” Rhuan burst out. Time had fled without notice for her that day. “I say we try to find the ore thief tomorrow. If what the Duergar said is true we’d be better off all together anyway,” she decided as they passed the block of houses where the wrongful owner of Unger Hilldark’s illithium ore was supposed to live.

“I agree, my lady. I would rather end this day peacefully anyway.” Anomen nodded assent.

Rhuan leaned over to look at his face while walking and touched his arm. “This must be the happiest day of your life.” She grinned at him.

Anomen did not answer right away. He was happy, and content and he felt glorious and bold. “Truly, ‘tis, my lady.” He smiled back at her. But truly this day could even be more perfect and he could feel even happier and more glorious he was certain.

The Five Flagons was only a few paces away. Now or never, Anomen decided. He stopped and grabbed for Rhuan’s hand. “It is a day I will never forget. Like many others I have spent in your company, my lady.” Anomen mustered his courage. “I truly passed and fulfilled my dream. And I am the luckiest knight since a beautiful woman witnessed my success.”

“Jaheira?” Rhuan asked puzzled.

Anomen looked perplexed for a second then he laughed and shook his head. “I am talking about you, my lady.”

“Beautiful? I?” Rhuan felt embarrassed and strangely flattered at this compliment.

Anomen looked around and put his helmet on a crate that stood nearby. He carefully took her face in his hands and smiled. Rhuan’s heart began a race that almost left her breathless.

“The fairest of them all,” Anomen repeated softly, and this time she believed him. These shining eyes could not lie, would not lie to her.

For endless seconds they gazed into each other’s face. Her eyes widened a little as Anomen slowly bent his head. At the back of her mind a tiny voice sounded an alarm. Told her that she should not allow it -- whatever was going on, she should stop it. But his unexpected actions and her unexpected reactions made rational thought impossible. She was filled with the joy of his success and the pleasure of having been a witness. That and simple affection, excitement and curiosity overshadowed her common sense.

“My lady, I…” Another moment of hesitation for Anomen before he finally accomplished a goal he had aimed for a long time. He stole a kiss from Rhuan’s lips. His heart was beating and his mind somersaulting as he gently pressed his lips to hers. His life was perfect the moment their lips finally met.

Rhuan’s blood rushed as she felt his fingertips caressing her ear, his beard slightly scraping her skin and her lips coming to a new life. She felt the sun on her head and the wind brushing over their faces like a veil of thin silken fabric. Emotions she had only had an idea about overwhelmed her and rendered her unstable and weak-kneed. She grabbed hold at the unbelievably hard and smoothly polished scales that covered Anomen’s chest.


Jaheira caught another look outside by leaning back in her chair and pushing its front legs from the floor. What she saw almost tipped her over.

“Ah...” with a tiny outcry she regained balance as she grabbed the edge of the table. She stood up and carefully took a step closer to the window to peek outside. She was not sure if she liked what she saw or not. On first sight, one would guess that the bonds had unravelled but most probably the true complications had only just begun.

“What? What?” Nalia dashed at her side to find out what was so interesting that Jaheira had almost fallen out of her chair. Her mouth gaped open and she blinked a few times as if to make sure that the image of the kissing couple was not just an illusion.

“Steady, girl.” Jaheira grabbed Nalia’s arm. “Come.” She dragged the young mage whose neck craned to prolong her peek at the unusual performance back to their table.

Nalia grinned broadly. “At least he seems to be an acceptable kisser.”

“So?” Jaheira tilted her head. “And how do you know to tell an acceptable kisser from an unacceptable one? If I may ask?” She added with raised eyebrows.

“Because,” Nalia, too, raised her eyebrows, “I know.” She slumped a little and her mock arrogance dissolved in a self-conscious smile. “Isaea.” She confessed and blushed.

“I thought you loathed him.” Jaheira was genuinely surprised.

“Oh, I do! Now.” Nalia nodded. “He seemed to be a nice man a few years ago.” The redness in her cheeks intensified. “There used to be a time when the prospect of becoming Lady Roenall wasn’t that dreadful.” She tried to sound casual. “I was young and naïve back then.”

Jaheira bit her lip to hide her smile. Any other time she would have asked and tried to find out more about it, but what she just saw made her uneasy. Her senses shrilled and she could not fight back the feeling of foreboding.


Enough, Valygar decided. Even Jaheira could not remain calm considering that they still had not returned. Firmly he stood up and left his room. In passing the staircase window he cast a bored look outside. He almost stumbled as his feet wanted go to on but his eyes had locked on a most disturbing sight.

Valygar grabbed hold onto the window’s frame and glared down as if incessant staring alone would make them stop.

All his dreams and wishes that he had denied, suppressed and stifled welled up and threatened to choke him. Breathing hard, as if he had been running, anger and jealousy took turns in his being. Anger at Anomen, who dared what he did not, anger at Rhuan who allowed what she should not and anger at himself for being angry and for being jealous. Jealousy, he was not even supposed to feel, almost strangled him when he desperately waited for the relief he should feel but did not.

And deep inside of him he glowingly envied Anomen for his courage to venture what he had not.


Rhuan stepped back and gasped for air. Her cheeks burned, her ears were ringing and her lips tingling as she still held on to Anomen’s chest. He let go of her face and grabbed for her hands. “Have I insulted you, my lady?” He asked overwhelmed by his own courage. For a moment, the thought to have ruined everything terrified his existence.

Rhuan shook her head.

“I should have asked first,” Anomen admitted with a worried frown. “It would have been the proper thing to do.”

Again Rhuan shook her head. “No.” Slowly the ability of speech returned to her. “No,” she smiled. “It’s just...” She searched for words that would describe. “...too much.” Her smile widened. “For the first time,” she added as she saw Anomen’s questioning expression.

Anomen’s mouth gaped open just a little as her words seeped into his mind. True, her response had been shy and uncertain. But, it was not as if he had kissed that often, just once -- or one woman to be precise. And, he had never thought that Rhuan had never kissed before. He gently squeezed her hands. Her first kiss! A broad smile illuminated his face. He had kissed her for the first time. His life was perfect.


Mazzy’s day had been wonderful. She had felt genuinely glad for Anomen when the superiors dubbed him a full knight, remembering her own ceremony and how proud and complete she had felt that day.

On their return to the Five Flagons a big surprise had been waiting for her. Two friends from home had just arrived with news about her family and long letters from her sister Pala in their luggage. Although she could hardly wait to read them she had shared lunch and stories with her friends before she retired to her room to finally relish the letters that rustled in her pocket.

Mazzy was feeling almost silly this late afternoon. Since she had begun to read Pala’s letters she had smiled broadly competing with the sun’s shine. She felt a little impish, she giggled, because it had been such a long time since her heart was singing with happiness. Her beloved little sister was well again. Not only was she fully recovered but she had also agreed to marry Danno Fairfoot, her long time admirer and suitor. The most wonderful thing was that they had set the date one day prior to the festivities that would honour the band of adventurers -- the heroes of Trademeet -- and Rhuan had already promised she would see that they could witness the unveiling of Trademeet’s new fountain if possible. Mazzy pressed the letters to her heart and sighed happily. She was sure that it would not be long before she would become ‘Auntie Mazzy’. She saw herself in the future, rocking babies and telling them of glorious deeds.

The letters still in her hand she left her room to break the news to her comrades. She was surprised to see Valygar at the window, staring down on the street the below. Silently she sauntered over to him. It suited her well that he should be the first to hear about the wonderful development. He still was much too reluctant, but at least he respected her and her skills. Sometimes he smiled at her and Mazzy felt that she had found a good friend. She followed his stare when she reached him and raised her eyebrows. She was not too much surprised to see what she saw, but still it was a most unusual sight.

“What is he doing? Did they make him a fortune teller as well?” Mazzy’s sense of humour showed rarely.

Valygar twitched involuntarily. He had not heard her coming. His first instinct was to flee back into his room. He was in no mood for a discussion about whatever with whomever.

However, his manly pride forbade him to show any sign that what was going on outside did hurt or disturb him in any way. He breathed deeply a few times before he answered. “I think he has just discovered the scar,” Valygar finally responded, without looking at Mazzy.

“What scar?” Mazzy had never noticed a scar. She was slightly irritated that Valygar would know about it, and she did not.

Again Valygar waited a second before he answered. “She had an accident with a bowstring once, when she still lived in Candlekeep. Imoen snatched a bow from her, she gripped it at the string, and before she released it Imoen had towed it through her palm.” Mazzy made a hissing sound when she drew breath through her teeth. She could well imagine the seething pain when the bowstring burned its way through her soft flesh.

Mazzy’s eyes wandered between Valygar’s stoic stare at Rhuan and Anomen as the couple still stood opposite each other in straight view. There was no opportunity to hear what they spoke as the window was closed and they were too far away anyway. Mazzy watched Rhuan’s hand resting in Anomen’s. The freshly dubbed knight was listening intensely to the story Rhuan told him, staring at her palm and tracing a line with the fingers of his other hand.

While Mazzy watched she realized that Valygar was tense as a bowstring. She risked a more thorough glance at her squire. What she had first perceived as a stoic frown was more a stony expression of forced restraint. Valygar never looked happy when Rhuan and Anomen were close to each other or chatting privately, but right now, he was furious.

Mazzy turned her attention back to the couple outside. Anomen was stroking Rhuan’s palm. He shook his head slightly. For a moment he stopped, lifted her hand and bent his head to kiss Rhuan’s palm. He looked up, leaned forward and kissed her gently. Rhuan closed her eyes, one hand in Anomen’s hand, her other hand resting on Anomen’s arm.

Mazzy heard Valygar grunt indignantly beside her. Anomen said something that made Rhuan smile and Mazzy could swear also blush and finally she understood. It was not just male territorial thinking, a crush or infatuation. Her squire was in love. She watched the couple and hardly perceptible she shook her head. So, he could love. Mazzy’s mood suddenly was dampened.

She looked at her unwilling squire and while watching his intense staring she came to a decision.

Valygar heard Mazzy talking but he was not listening. He hardly blinked while Anomen held both of Rhuan’s hands. Anomen was stroking her palms with his thumbs and their eyes locked. In an instant they shifted to that level of communication where no words were needed. Inner heat made his scalp tingle. For the nth time he wondered why he kept watching them. He desperately hoped that the sight would burn away his own feelings but every time he believed they were finally gone they welled up again and stung.

“... see to the Sphere for ourselves.” Valygar’s attention was captured by that watchword. He tore his eyes from the scene outside and looked at Mazzy. Seeing his questioning expression she sighed and started her proposal anew.

Valygar felt a tiny amount of guilt because of Mazzy. She still irritated him with her persistence, but she was a fine person and did not deserve his bad mood. He granted her his full concentration. She knew other reliable adventurers. Valygar and she could meet with them and take care of Valygar’s ancestor.

Valygar’s stare returned to Rhuan and Anomen. “I am tempted to accept your offer, Mazzy,” he finally mumbled. “I will talk to Rhuan.”


For a second Valygar wanted to leave the clear audible knocking unanswered. “Come in,” he ordered.

His hope and fear that it might be Rhuan was confirmed as his heart’s traitor entered his room and carefully closed the door behind her. She had taken off her armour and was obviously ready to spend an evening in peace and harmony with her friends.

“Mazzy said you aren’t coming down.” Concern showed in her voice. “Aren’t you feeling well?”

“I’m fine.” Valygar cast her a cool look.

“But we want to celebrate.” Rhuan felt uncomfortable. “Don’t you want to join us?”

“No.” He did not even blink.

“Look. I know you aren’t overly fond of Anomen, and this is a good opportunity to show it, but... even Mazzy is joining us and she has more reason to be angry at him than you.” Rhuan tried to reason with him. She did not understand why Valygar, who was thoughtful and polite was willing to ruin the greatest day of a comrade in arms.

Valygar shrugged. “I’m tired. I will take a nap.”

“A nap?” Rhuan was stunned. She tried to comprehend what had happened to cause this unusual condescending attitude. It was more than his sometimes withdrawn and elusive behaviour. He was cold. Cold and unfriendly. But she could not believe it quite yet.

Anomen had irritated and angered everyone, including herself, several times since he had joined her little group of adventurers. Rhuan understood that everyone’s patience had been severely tested but she failed to see why Valygar would loose his patience on this special day of all days.

She tried again. “Anomen was supposed to stay at the Order, now that he is a full knight, and he could have taken on assignments that would better serve his career, but he decided to stay with us to help. Help you, too.”

“Yes,” Valygar leaned on the table and crossed his arms, “a true philanthropist.”

Rhuan’s face flushed. “Why are you so angry? I know you don’t particularly like Anomen, but he’s working hard to better himself.”

Valygar squinted his eyes. “For Helm’s sake, no doubt.”

“Yes.” Rhuan was deeply irritated.

Valygar shot her a look that clearly showed his annoyance.

Rhuan’s face became crimson under Valygar’s condescending stare. She started to shift uncomfortably as she was well aware of Anomen’s motives to stay with her group. He wanted to help Rhuan had no doubt about that. It was his nature and he had promised to help her long before he became a knight. But since he kissed her she could not put aside that Anomen’s wish to help was more than just keeping a promise.

All of a sudden her good mood and excitement drowned in a wave of guilt. Did Valygar know what had happened? Subconsciously her look dashed passed him out the window. He could not have seen them from his window. Jaheira had said he was in his room all afternoon. Maybe someone had told him. Not Jaheira. Mazzy? Nalia?

Why was she even wondering? She did not owe him an explanation.

“Anomen has a crush on me.” It burst out of her.

“Ha!” Valygar hissed more than he laughed. A crush! He shook and hung his head. Rhuan’s supposedly artificial coyness hurt him.

Rhuan felt physically slapped by Valygar’s amusement. She knew that Anomen liked her, but until he kissed her she had not even thought that there might be more to his attention than gratitude and friendship. Valygar’s laugh had cut like a knife into her confused heart and caused a pain she had never felt before and she had no name for yet. Unknowingly and inadvertently Valygar had shoved her female pride from childhood to adulthood. Between guilt and pain anger rose, hot and scorching.

“You think that’s funny?” She asked. Anger slowly won over guilt and pain but Valygar was too consumed by his shattered dreams to hear or understand the dangerously low undertone in Rhuan’s voice.

“Hilarious,” Valygar emphasised with a disdainful nod.

“And what exactly do you find...” Rhuan paused for effect, “hilarious?” She stepped closer to the table and stared at Valygar with squinted eyes and tightly pursed lips. “Is it hilarious that a man might take an interest in a plain country girl like myself -- or that Anomen has taken interest in me?”

This time the sharp edge in Rhuan’s voice did reach him. “What?” He looked up to find Rhuan standing before him with her arms propped at her hips and all the warmth and affection in her eyes he had come to treasure was gone. He knew that look. He had caused it several times in other women. But he had never seen it on Rhuan. He did not even have to get involved anymore. Nevertheless he could still make them mad at him.

Rhuan snorted as she realized she would not get an answer from him. “Right, I forgot. You, the infamous cursed one, are certainly the wrong man to be asked such a question, aren’t you?” Rhuan’s voice had considerably won on volume. “You are above all that!” There was so much she wanted to shout at him but she could not find the words.

Finally she dropped her hands. “We will celebrate Anomen tonight. You may come or stay here and mope! I couldn’t care less!” She turned and stomped to the door. “Oh,” she hardly looked back over her shoulder, “I’m sure it will be a long night. Don’t bother to join me tomorrow morning. I will certainly sleep in.”

Valygar twitched when the door slam shut.

With a stifled groan he pushed the massive table away from him. It skidded at the wall leaving a visible edge at the paintwork as a sign of his frustration.

He rubbed his forehead with his fingers. “Getting better with every year, Corthala.” He certified himself. It was over before it had even begun. The relief. Where was the relief?


Rhuan propped her hand up the wall as her other hand clutched her shirt where her heart was. Hurt and anger overwhelmed her and she struggled for self-control. Her first thought was to flee to her room and give in to the pain and cry. But she could hear the voices from below. Anomen was telling them about Sarles and the quest for ore that had seemed like a smooth errand that could be done in passing at first.

She concentrated and fought back tears and anger, but pain and desperation anchored in her heart. It had been such a wonderful day. She breathed deeply and slowly regained composure again. Valygar had ruined her day, but she would not allow that he would destroy Anomen’s day as well. Slowly she walked down the stairs mustering a smile. She would try to make up for Valygar’s absence and be especially nice to Anomen. He deserved it. It was the day of his life.

#10 Guest_Beyshaliban_*

Posted 25 March 2005 - 10:40 AM

Fools In Love

The countless customers talking melted to a deafening buzz. The jangle of glasses and steins, the clashing of plates, and shouted orders were adding some disharmonic accents; the crackling of the fire and the sizzle of food provided a constant undertone.

Mazzy and Valygar had captured a table in the crowded main room of the Copper Coronet. They had occupied it by arranging their orders between the empty and half-empty kegs and by placing some belongings on the spare chairs.

Valygar raised his arm and waved for Jaheira’s attention. The druid nodded and waved back to indicate she had seen him and they would soon join them. His eyes lingered for a moment on the small group that was exchanging words with Hendak and Bernard.

Hendak was explaining something with big gestures, pointing at the stairs and waving over the audience. Valygar had only met him briefly. He had not been part of the companionship yet when Rhuan’s group had freed him and the other slaves.

Valygar shifted his chair a little so that he could watch the others at the far end of the inn without having to turn his head. Hendak was hugging Rhuan’s shoulders in a “that’s my girl” manner. She shook her head and giggled.

The whole day Rhuan had not spoken a word to him, except for the orders she gave, but she had not once addressed him personally.

After they had rounded up the child killer Neb she had ordered Jaheira to look at his injuries. He had never consciously realized until that day, but it had always been Rhuan who first looked after him when they had survived yet another battle.

He had tossed and turned half the night trying to come to a decision. Mazzy’s offer seemed like the perfect and easy way out and he was severely tempted to accept it as a sign of fate. But the only argument for leaving was serving his comfort and not his need. He would not have to watch the newly formed couple getting more and more acquainted if he left. But, he would cause severe damage to a group that worked well together. Despite the wrangling amongst them they made a good team and Rhuan would loose two capable fighters at once. If it was true that Nalia was indeed thinking about returning to her aunt, it would further prove disastrous for the group.

Valygar took a deep breath. It would be hard and painful to watch them, but he could not leave. After all he and Rhuan were friends, or at least were until the evening before. He wanted to stay and he wanted to help her. He wanted to be her friend again. After all, Anomen never woke up that early. Valygar did not contemplate the thought that in the near future Rhuan might begin to sleep in as well and might forego their morning talks. He shoved the thought away before it fully formed in his mind.

He wished for a way to avoid this talk. He did not look forward to it, but Mazzy should not be kept on hold any longer. Thinking of a way to start, he decided on idle chatter.

With a short laugh, he started the conversation. “I cannot believe I am really saying this, but I, Valygar Corthala, infamous mage hater, would miss Nalia if she left.” He pointed his glass to the table where Nalia sat and chatted with some people she had come to know during her time in the Coronet. From time to time her clear laughter could be heard above the constant murmur of people talking.

Mazzy joined his laughter. “Yes, she is a nice girl. I do not think she will leave right away. Though, Rhuan has, more or less, prepared herself that Nalia will go. She asked me this morning if I knew a roguish mage...” Mazzy did not finish the sentence.

“I see...” Valygar answered. He poked the bottom of his glass in the little puddle on the table and started to draw circles.

Mazzy chatted about the conversation she had this morning with Rhuan and that she had almost told her about their, Valygar’s and Mazzy’s, agreement to leave as well. “But since you said you would talk to her I refrained.”

Valygar did not answer and Mazzy noticed that her squire was uncomfortably shifting his thoughts. Her instincts told her not to ask, to let him struggle, but she could not help it and had to ask. “You look like you have something to say. What is wrong?”

Valygar drew the glass through the puddle once again. Without looking up he quietly told her. “I want to stay part of this group.”

“But... you said...” Mazzy cleared her throat and paused. “What has changed your mind? I thought it was a deal?” Mazzy hated the desperate touch that showed in her voice.

Valygar explored the glass in his hands, surprisingly clean it was. “She needs us. If we leave now, they will be delayed because she will have to find someone to replace us and maybe even Nalia.” It sounded reasonable and logical.

He finally found a spot and reached into the glass with his finger to remove the stain. “She has helped you. She has betrayed the Cowled Wizards for me. If I now leave and let her handle the Wizards alone, I am no better than they are.” It rang of integrity, and what she had grown to expect of him.

Mazzy swallowed. She had had these thoughts herself. Leaving someone in need did not sit well with her paladin’s soul and she had only made this offer for Valygar’s sake anyway, in the belief that he wanted to go. She had witnessed his stunned surprise at the progress that Anomen had made. And, she had concluded that he would rather go than take the burden of competition upon himself.

“Excuse me, my friend. But this stinks.” Mazzy could not believe she really said that. Valygar looked at her in surprise and Mazzy waved impatiently to cut him short. “I will admit, it would be the worst timing, if we left now. She needs help.

“I admit I am inclined to stay, just for the fact, that she is, who she is.

“But please, do not insult my intelligence.”

Mazzy closed her eyes and swallowed the lump that was stuck in her throat. “You, of course, can continue and lie to yourself, if you choose to do so. The simple fact is you want to stay near her.” Mazzy waved him off, as he began to mouth a protest. “No. Don’t even try and deny it.

“Do you think me blind?” She dropped her voice. “All those surreptitious glances at her when she is not looking.

“I know you are always awake early. I know you watch her, while she is braiding her hair. I know how you cherish this private hour with her before we others get up.

“I saw you yesterday and I know your heart bleeds when Anomen touches her. And I know you only agreed to leave because you think he has won her heart.

“No,” she added when Valygar’s look jolted her. “They are not lovers. Yet. But they will be. If you do not act soon... our favourite knight will claim the prize.” Mazzy pointed her chin to the group that stood and chatted with the proprietor.

Mazzy felt a strange joy when she saw Valygar squirming with her words. He was so obviously trying to think of something -- anything -- to say in response.

Mazzy did not wait but landed the final blow. “When is your birthday? I will present you a locket for the hair.”

Valygar’s jaw dropped. The other day he had found one long silver hair on his sleeve. He had twirled it to a ring and pocketed it. He did not know what disturbed him more. The fact that someone had noticed this strange behaviour, or that someone correctly concluded the reason why he had done so.

“You... you noticed?” He was dumbstruck.

Mazzy stood up and turned to leave. Instead of going, she rounded the table and stopped by his side. With a conspiratorial air she leaned over to him. “Yes, I noticed. And do not even try to explain. You can tell yourself it is friendship time and again. We both know better.

“And allow me to enlighten you on one fact that you seem to forget. Rhuan is very young. In many ways. Do you really expect her to read a man like you?

“Anomen is a dashing knight now. He will tell her what he wants. Maybe it is also what she wants, or thinks she wants.

“But what if it is not and she finds out when it is too late?” Mazzy’s voice became hard and she swallowed. “You are not the only one who is secretly in love, you know.”

She straightened her back and her voice returned to normal. “And now…if you would please excuse me…I am going to teach Nalia the art of becoming inebriated like a lady.” She grabbed the full keg from the table and left, every inch a valiant lady, to join Nalia and her friends who greeted her with cheers.

Valygar was shaken, inside and out. Anomen’s feelings for Rhuan were no secret to anyone. She could not possibly mean Rhuan, or could she?

His eyes searched for the little group again. ‘You are not the only one…’ His mind echoed as he watched Rhuan leaning on the counter, all alone. Jaheira was absorbed in a conversation with Bernard. Anomen and Hendak where obviously discussing the finer details of Anomen’s Hammer of Thunderbolts and Rhuan looked lost and absent. She lifted her head and looked up, straight at him. When their eyes met she held his gaze for a few moments then shifted and looked away again.

In a dizzying speed all the little things that went on between them came to his mind. The way she watched out for him in the morning and how her face lit up when she saw him. Her speeding footsteps when she caught up with him on the road. The intense way she had watched him recently and how her face sometimes flushed when he caught her. What was she thinking in these moments? She was totally unaware of her own charms, he was sure of it despite his irritation the evening before.

She was so very young. Would she even know what love felt like? Would she even realize if she were in love? And with whom?

Mazzy had to be wrong. She could not have meant Rhuan.

Again he glanced up at the group, and this time Rhuan was watching him. It seemed as if the distance between them would collapse in a blink and all the others around them would dissolve in the smoke and noise of the Copper Coronet. She smiled shyly and again it gripped his heart. He did not know if he smiled back or not. All he felt was the heat of the open fires and the suddenly deafening noise and it robbed him of the ability to breathe.

Instantly the weight of his life and fate crushed down on him.

Mazzy could be right. She could mean Rhuan but it was pointless. He looked away as the heat became unbearable and grabbed his glass to press it against his forehead. The noise was overwhelming and he could not think straight. He felt and heard his blood rushing through his veins until it drowned the chatter and talking around him and filled his ears and head with pounding pain. The glass fell from his hand as he grasped the edge of the table. His heart realized before he did that the pounding was not its natural rhythm as it painfully skipped and jumped to adapt to the merciless hammerings in his head and ears.

He gasped for air that would not come, and in his sudden panic, the only clear thought was to get out. Just out on the street to fill his lungs with fresh sweet air. Unsteadily he stood then staggered between the gathered tables to stumble outside. The rush of a cool breeze met him.

Rhuan hung her head when Valygar looked away. She had been mad at him all day and now she felt guilty. She wanted to make up again but did not know how, or where, to start. They had never had an argument before. As easy as it was to talk and be with Valygar most of the time, it now seemed so very difficult. She hated the feeling of being angry at him. And, more so, she hated the suspicion that he might be mad at her. She had tossed and turned half the night thinking why their talk had gone so wrong. She could have said this, and should not have said that, but it was pointless. She had waited for him in vain this morning but he had not joined her for their morning chat. It was the first time since they had taken up this habit, which neither of them perceived as such, that the new day had not been properly greeted by their sunrise vigil.

She had hoped the evening in the Coronet would offer an opportunity to talk to him, to set things aright. Now was good. He was alone at the table and he had smiled at her. Just a little smile, but a smile. Now was a good time.

Rhuan mustered her courage and looked up again to find Valygar’s table empty. She straightened her back. Weird feelings of worry made her scan the room. She saw Nalia and Mazzy at a table chatting with two young men and another woman. Valygar was not with them. She looked for the stairs. He could not have gone upstairs. They did not have rooms yet. Rhuan’s heart starting beating rapidly and she felt tense and alerted. Her mind browsed through the possibilities and suddenly she caught her breath.

She turned and headed for the door closest to her.

“Rhuan! My lady, we are you going?” Anomen felt her dashing by and she was almost out the door when she turned to him.

“I’m just checking something. I’ll explain later.” Rhuan’s hasty explanation only alerted him and did not calm him. A lady alone in the Slums was not recommendable. Anyone alone in the Slums was not recommendable.

“Please, Anomen. Stay here. I’ll explain later. I promise.” Rhuan did not wait for his answer but slipped through the door and was gone.

Anomen and Jaheira exchanged a look. “What is going on?” Jaheira wanted to know.

Anomen shook his head. “I have no idea.”

Outside Rhuan’s heels clicked on the battered pavement as she followed the way she was convinced Valygar had taken. Every now and then she jumped to catch a look if she saw him.

Her instinct had not betrayed her. By the time she caught up to him he was talking, or more like arguing with a dubious man. It almost looked as if they would begin a fight but Valygar’s grip at the hilt of his Katana sent the stranger to retreat. The man stopped to drop some snide remarks at Valygar who made a step in his direction, but the man sped up and quickly disappeared around a corner.

Rhuan’s heart was racing as she watched her silent companion. Now that the man was gone, Valygar stood and stared at the huge, perfectly shaped Sphere that towered over him. It was a frightening and impressive sight. Its surface seemed to quiver ever so slightly, like still waters, but it was obvious that it was made of a solid, impenetrable material. The late afternoon sun enhanced its bronze shine to a sinister baneful glow. It took the place of three blocks of houses and Rhuan could not help wondering what happened to those houses and their inhabitants when the Sphere phased into existence.

Valygar just stood and stared up at the glimmering object, his hand still on the hilt.

The initial relief that she had found him was subdued by her sudden anger about his sheer carelessness in coming here alone, without telling anyone. Instinctively Rhuan looked around for the familiar cowls. But only beggars and other unfortunate denizens of the Slums were about.

Quickly she covered the remaining distance. “What were you thinking?” She snapped at him. “Leaving without a word and coming here? Of all places? Are. You. Crazy?” She smacked him to emphasize his foolishness and her concern.

Valygar appeared to be in a trance as he slowly looked at her and lazily rubbed his arm where she had hit him.

It seemed to take an eternity before his eyes focused on her. “I had to come here. I had to see it.” He looked back up to this beacon that had determined his life since he could remember.

Rhuan’s worry was not soothed at all. “You’ve seen it. Now let’s go back. We won’t do anything on our own anyway.” She turned to go back and grabbed Valygar’s arm to drag him, as he did not follow.

“It calls me.” He said softly. “He calls me.”

Rhuan did not like this at all. “Who? Lavok?”

Valygar nodded slightly. “Yes, I am sure he knows I am here.”

Rhuan’s heart sped up again. “Then let’s go. Please. We had our share of fighting for today. It’s too late, anyway.” She attempted reason but she was not certain if Valygar was even listening to her. “Look. Hendak has turned the former brothel into luxurious guest rooms, and we are supposed to be his first guests. Let’s go and share a nice evening with our friends. Tomorrow we will make plans. Please. Please, come back with me.” She begged him fervently.

Still, Valygar made no indication he heard her. He just stood and stared at the Sphere. Its colour had changed now that the sun was lower and the bronze had turned into a fiery golden glow. It seemed even larger than before though Rhuan knew that could not be.

They stood for long minutes. Valygar staring at the Sphere and Rhuan gripping his arm and waiting. It was an ominous silence that shifted Valygar out of reach into a realm Rhuan had no entrance to. “Valygar?” She finally broke the silence. “Say something, please. You scare me.”

Slowly he grabbed for her hand that held his arm and turned to look at her. Again he needed time to focus. “You should be scared.” He finally answered her. “This,” he waved at the Sphere without looking at it, “is the symbol of my fate.

“It is my fate.

“No matter what plans I might have had, or have, everything ends here as long as I do not face it.” He pulled her before him and directed her shoulders so she had to face the Sphere as well. “This has made me who I am and this tells me that I cannot have what I want. That I cannot do what I want. That I cannot be what I want.”

He bent his head closer to hers. “Do you understand, Rhuan?” He almost whispered into her ear.

Rhuan felt his breath brushing over her ear and cheek. His hands gripped her shoulders tightly, almost painfully. She tried to understand. “When it’s gone, when Lavok is dead, then you can make plans and can have what you want?” She asked softly, not certain why his question made her heart race and insides churn.

Valygar took a deep breath. “I don’t know, Rhuan. I honestly don’t know.” He slowly released her shoulders. “But I hope so.” He added, hardly audible.

Rhuan turned around and took his hand. “Then let’s go back to the Coronet. Let’s rest and come back tomorrow.” She saw that he was back again. She did not know if he had been under a spell or in a trance, but he was himself again.

A rush of guilt overtook her. It was all her fault. “I’m sorry for taking so long. I know we should have come here right away, but there was always something that was, or at least seemed, more pressing.” She hung her head. “And you never urged and all the things you told me... I was scared.” She confessed.

Valygar smiled sadly. He had thought of insisting more than once. After all, he had waited for this opportunity almost his entire life and when it suddenly presented itself, he found himself hesitating. He could not explain it to his full satisfaction. Maybe he just had not fully believed that it had happened. That Lavok had arrived after all. That the necromancer was now waiting, waiting to take him, waiting to claim his life. But the most unbelievable was that he, Valygar, finally had the chance to change his future and rid the world of his nemesis once and for all.

He lifted her chin to look at him. “I’m scared, too.” He wrapped his arms around her and squeezed her reassuringly. He did not blame her. He had no satisfying explanation. He did not know if he would ever find one.

“Wake up! Wake up! He’s here!” Saralind rattled Tolgerias’s shoulder, tearing the Cowled Wizard from his sleep.

Lazily the mage squinted his eyes. “Hm... what?” He hated to be disturbed when he was napping.

“He’s here. Valygar Corthala. He’s here! Down on the street!” Her voice cracked of excitement.

Tolgerias jumped up and groaned. Being successful had spoiled him. For an instant he thought back to the days when sleeping on a small hard bed did not cause his bones to protest so angrily. He sighed and wished he could sleep in his comfortable suite covered in duvets. This Corthala should pay for this inconvenience alone, he swore as his companion led him to the small window that overlooked the Sphere, its locked entrance and part of the road below it.

“They are alone. They are no match for us.” Saralind urged him. “We can take them now.”

Tolgerias studied the little scene that enfolded below. It was Valygar Corthala, no doubt. And that Bhaalspawn, Rhuan, who should have delivered him. He revelled in his own brilliance. He had known it was only a matter of time before this infamous last offspring would show up. Tolgerias had been convinced that the ancient necromancer would have some means of calling him. Sooner or later Valygar would have been unable to deny that irresistible siren forcing him to meet his destiny.

And that Rhuan was with him only served Tolgerias even better. She had betrayed him and such disloyalty would not go unpunished. Sneering, he rubbed his hands. He was anxious, but he knew caution was called for. Rhuan and her bandits were well known in the City by now and she had managed to win important and powerful friends and allies.

Above all, his plot to secure the Sphere for himself was his little secret. Once it was in his hands, he had the cards shuffled and stacked to his advantage and he would not have to take care any longer. He craned his neck to catch a better view of the surroundings.

“She is never alone. The others might be with her. We should not jeopardize our success by progressing hastily.” Tolgerias dampened the other mage’s enthusiasm.

She knew Tolgerias and his preference for cunning plans. Saralind clenched her fists in an attempt to stay patient. “No. I tell you. They are alone. He showed up and got into an argument with that silly twerp who always tries to sell the Sphere. Then she came running after him. Didn’t you tell me she was an archer? She doesn’t even have her bow with her. The longer we wait the sooner they will leave or the others will show up. Let’s get them now.” She implored.

Tolgerias nodded slowly. “Yes, it sounds logical.” But he was not readily convinced. “On the other hand, we have no idea what we might face once we’re in the Sphere. Since we have the opportunity, we could let them handle everything. Let them do all of the work and then dispose of them.” It was not as if Tolgerias would shy away from battles or fighting, but why get his robes soiled when there was no need to?

Saralind groaned soundlessly and rolled her eyes. Her expression turned back to eager determination in that instant Tolgerias turned around to look at her. Sometimes, she could swear, he was psychic.

Momentarily Valygar brushed Rhuan’s cheek. “So. We are talking again, are we?” He decided to change the subject and was rewarded by sudden flush of her cheeks and a grin.

Rhuan shook her head. “I was so angry yesterday. I wanted to talk to you this morning, but you didn’t show up. And I became angry again.” She rolled her eyes.

“You told me not to come.” Valygar reminded her.

“I also gave orders that no one was to roam the streets alone, but did you listen?” She retorted with a half grin.

Valygar shook his head. What a waste of time. He had stared at the ceiling and waited for breakfast when he could have sat with Rhuan instead.

“Come.” She shoved him gently. “Let’s go back. Hendak wants to show us the new rooms.” Smiling at each other they re-established their friendship.

“Ah... no! Are you leaving already?” An arrogant voice cut through the air. “Now, that we finally have met.” Tolgerias greeted them with an overbearing grin as they jerked around.

The wizard raised one eyebrow and lowered one corner of his mouth. Oh yes, he would enjoy killing them. Saralind had already raised her hands, ready to cast. She was only waiting for her master’s sign. Her impatient eagerness would one day be her doom, Tolgerias just knew.

“You did not think you could betray me and walk away unrewarded, did you, foolish girl?” He would enjoy toying with them.

In a reflexive movement Rhuan grabbed for her bow and the same instant remembered it leaned at the counter in the Coronet. For the first time she desperately wished she had more offensive magic at her disposal. But healing and defensive was what she called for.

“Run.” Valygar growled to Rhuan as he gripped at his Katana and stared coldly at the mage. “You will not get me into that thing alive. This I swear.”

“I do not need you alive.” Tolgerias snarled. He laughed as Valygar charged at him and was instantly delayed by the row of defences that rose to protect him.

Valygar had not expected to be able to land a blow this quickly. He turned to attack the female who finished her spell the moment he reached her. “Charms don’t work on me.” He muttered as she stared surprised and unbelieving. Her rough stony skin protected her yet she stepped back. It only took her a blink to re-gather her concentration and already her hands worked again and her mouth formed arcane commands to summon creatures to distract and aid.

Rhuan had no intention to run and leave Valygar alone with the Cowled Wizards. Desperately she drew Daystar. If only she could distract Tolgerias long enough. Knowing her attack would be in vain she still hacked at the wizard, praying for some kind of miracle, as she felt the aggressive liquid run down her neck. She tried not to, but still she yelled as it began to burn away her skin. It would not kill her, but it would weaken her, making each move painful. She saw Tolgerias’s grin and knew he was toying with them.

She refused to believe that this should be the end yet she saw no other outcome.

Despite the burning on her chest she raised Daystar once again when she heard a whiz passing by her ear. Tolgerias’s expression changed from smug arrogance to annoyance, and finally disbelief in only a second. Before he disappeared through a shadowy portal another arrow hissed through the air, dispelling yet another defence.

“Hendak,” Jaheira turned around. “Can you help us dispose of the bodies?” There was no way the death of two of the Cowled Wizards would stay unknown, but maybe it could be at least delayed.

Hendak nodded, “You go back with your friends and let Bernard show you the rooms. I will take care of them.” His scornful gesture showed clearly what he thought of the dead wizards. He had never seen them in their official garments, but it had been common knowledge that many of them quite enjoyed the death matches in the former Coronet.

“Quickly. Back to the Coronet.” Jaheira ordered. They could discuss what had happened in the safety of their rooms. The group limped and crawled back in silence. Each one contemplated the negligence with which Rhuan and Valygar had manoeuvred them into this dangerous situation. On a day when all of them had already used most of their useful and valuable spells. When all of them had already began to relax, already had had a drink or two, and were not up to the peak of their individual fighting skills.

Valygar cursed himself. He could not even remember why he had come to the Sphere. All he had wanted was to take a deep breath outside of the Coronet. He could not even recall his way down the road. All he remembered was the heat and the suffocating feeling in the Coronet. The next thing he knew he was staring at the Sphere, and someone had tried to sell it to him. If he did not hurt all over and if the others were not injured he would swear it was a bizarre dream.

Anomen did not understand. Rhuan was always a considerate leader. That she would risk her life this carelessly disturbed him deeply. He would have to talk with her about that, but later, or tomorrow, right now she was severely injured and she could barely walk. “My lady?” He offered her his arm.

Rhuan shook her head hardly perceptible. She felt guilty and stupid. What had she done? She had risked her life, that was bad enough as long as Imoen’s fate was uncertain, but she had put the life of her friends at stake as well. The pain on and in her chest was hardly bearable but she greeted it as just punishment.

Jaheira grabbed Valygar’s arm and felt a moment of mean amusement as he winced in pain. “You wait.” She ordered strictly. She had received her share of injuries, but they were less grave than Valygar’s or Rhuan’s.

Valygar braced himself. He knew what was about to come.

“What were you thinking?” Jaheira began rhetorically but with passionate anger. “Rhuan is not herself at the moment. She is confused and you are largely to be blamed for that. To run away and come here! And she runs after you without telling anyone.

“You owe Mazzy and Nalia your life. Mazzy had the idea that you might be here and Nalia was level headed enough to ask Bernard for scrolls and healing potions. I will not mention the damage to the party’s fund that this stunt has done.

“And if Hendak had not come along with us, you can thank Anomen for that, we would not have been able to dispose of them,” she pointed her chin back to the Sphere where Hendak and two other men wrapped the corpses in rags and removed the traces of the battle, “this quickly.” She stopped to take a deep breath and to inflict one of her stares.

Valygar squirmed. What else could he do? Except clarify one fact. “Jaheira, I did not come here on purpose. I…found myself here. I cannot explain. Lavok’s magic, no doubt.” He shuddered in loathing and hatred.

Jaheira raised one eyebrow. “I thought so. But I was lecturing you more on your behaviour towards Rhuan, anyway. She may not consciously realize what you are doing, and do not dare to deny it, but still it has impact.

“I warned you to make up your mind and act according to it. I was not joking.” She crossed her arms and now she winced as she was painfully reminded that one of the bears the female mage had summoned had landed a blow at her.

With a hot wave of memory, the image of Anomen and Rhuan engaged in a kiss returned to him. “It is pointless now, Jaheira. It’s over.” Valygar mumbled.

The druid looked at him questioningly for a moment, then she understood. “I take it you witnessed the little encounter yesterday?” She raised her eyebrows. “Well…I say it has a point as long as Rhuan has not made up her mind. Wouldn’t you agree?” She turned and started to walk back.

Once again she turned and Valygar, who walked behind her almost ran into her. “I swear! I am this close,” she held forefinger and thumb an inch apart before his face, “to handing you over to Lavok myself!” It was an empty threat, they both knew it, but it emphasized her worry, her concern, and her anger about foolish humans who toyed with each other’s feelings.

Back at the Coronet she stormed into Rhuan’s room, ready to lecture her, but the young archer was too severely wounded to pay attention. Rhuan was well aware of her foolish behaviour and deeply disturbed about it. As soon as healing potions had closed and mended the open flesh on her neck and chest she fell asleep. Jaheira postponed her lesson, but Rhuan had not heard the last of it.

The ranger-protector of Umar Hills did not rest well that night. Her dreams were haunted with images of her friends who died by her hand. They fell to her blows she lashed out at them with huge claw-like fingers.

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