Rush Of Blood To The Head, part 6.16.
There are a lot of things to ponder about for me, while we are on our way to Esmeltaran. For once, my companions are not bickering any more as Keldorn stays mostly to himself and Nalia for some reason has decided to walk together with Jaheira and me, I suppose she has grown slightly bored in the company of the paladin. Edwin is entertaining Viconia and Imoen by telling very rude anecdotes about Elminster and his seven concubines… I am not sure if they are very appropriate, as they make even my ears burn, but Imoen and Viconia both end up coughing from the heavy laughter and even Nalia and Jaheira chuckle occasionally. I can see that Keldorn isn’t terribly pleased about all of this, but he wisely decides to keep quiet.
Jaheira has been in an awkward mood since her return from that talk with Imoen… I was unable to extract any details from her or Imoen, for that matter. Nevertheless, she had stated that she approves of Imoen’s relationship with Viconia and her words, while slightly surprising, were also very pleasant to hear. I was worried that their relationship might cause a rift in the party, but Jaheira’s approval has cleared all my doubts and worries.
True, I still feel there was something else, something that she didn’t tell me… and she certainly was very emotional for some reason. Not unhappy or worried… but somehow excited or… relieved, as if a huge burden had been lifted from her shoulders. And it showed in our lovemaking as well… she had been more relaxed and comfortable in my arms than ever before… I know that whatever had happened between her and Imoen, must have been for the good.
We arrive in Esmeltaran with the sunset, the traveling has been quite enjoyable and the three unsuccessful attempts of the bandits to rob us and get their greedy hands on the fortunes that we are carrying around have actually served for a welcome distraction… at least according to Edwin, as he used the hapless victims to demonstrate the effects of some underused spells – for example one that makes the afflicted to become so weak that he can no longer carry his weapon or another spell that inflicts the victim with a rather nasty disease that appears in form of countless boils and blotches, making the afflicted person incapable to fight.
I am not sure that Keldorn was impressed and I heard him quietly muttering something about gloating over the victims, though I have no idea how that would be connected to this case. True, Edwin has a rather… peculiar, emotionless attitude when he refers to our enemies as ‘test specimens’, but after all, both Imoen and Nalia have a lot to learn from him and there is nothing better than a practical demonstration to make the learning process much more effective… besides except Keldorn, no one else had a problem with that.
The paladin accompanies us until we find a suitable inn, then he leaves to spend the night home with his wife and family… Nalia leaves with him, wishing to spend some time together with Keldorn’s oldest daughter, Leona. We agree to meet again in the early morning, before resuming our travels to the Elven temple ruins. I have to admit that the thought of getting on without Keldorn and Nalia crosses my mind as I see them both leaving… while I generally find Keldorn a likeable fellow, somehow the presence of Edwin and Viconia does bring out the worst in him. I would miss Nalia a bit, but I would rather see her settling down for a more peaceful life, like Keldorn suggested.
On the other hand, I think that we will need all the help we can get… the more of us, the greater the chance for all of us to survive. And Irenicus is powerful. Extremely powerful… and now that he has the Bhaal taint circulating in his veins… I know that there is a very good chance that I might not live through all of this, yet the conflict is unavoidable. Better to get done with it quickly, before Irenicus has mastered all the powers that the taint can give…
Thoughts like these and similar, circle through my mind as we all sit at the table in ‘The Golden Sands Inn’ in Esmeltaran, nursing our drinks and sleepily trying to keep the conversation alive, but without much luck. Somehow, the talk has now taken a course in discussing the situation with Nalia and Keldorn…
“I don’t mind the girl much,” Viconia says, “but the old fool had better watch himself. I have not forgotten some of the names he called me, the wael… I would appreciate if you would get rid of him, Theodur. Surely, we have little need of his meager skills.”
“Listen to the drow, Theodur, for once she speaks some reason – our skills are superior to that of the old coot!” Edwin agrees, “And besides that, he lacks any sense of humor… only a uncultured moron would not find my tales of Elminster enjoyable… especially that one where Elminster uses his pointy hat instead of-”
“Please, Edwin… not that one… not again,” Jaheira groans and shakes her head in exasperation.
“I hate to disappoint the two of you, but Keldorn stays,” I add, “I know you dislike him, but look at this from another perspective – we only have to endure him for a short while, until we finish off Irenicus, correct? And… and you can think of him as a… a meat shield, an additional target that improves your chances of survival… you would love to get through this alive and see the lights of Baldur’s Gate again, would you not, Edwin? And Viconia… if enduring Keldorn means that you have a better chance of survival, which would mean spending more time with Imoen… doesn’t that change the outlook, at least somewhat?”
My explanation is met with a silence, but in this case I hope that means that they both have seen at least some reason to endure the paladin’s presence. After a short while, Imoen and Viconia leave to their room as first, not before exchanging some very fond looks… Edwin is busying himself by trying to flirt with a lovely elven maid, but he isn’t having much success this time. A few meaningful glances from Jaheira, urge me to abandon my drink in order to retire to our apartments with all haste…
Having picked up Keldorn and Nalia, we set out on our way through the forestlands in hopes to reach the Elven Temple Ruins, before the Drow have managed to slaughter every last one of the elves. Keldorn doesn’t look particularly happy, likely that Lady Maria has not been exactly approving of his decision to accompany me further… though he refuses to elaborate on the subject. Nalia’s whispers confirm my suspicions that there has been a row, but I don’t feel guilty about that, after all, it is his choice to come, I have not asked this service from him.
Jaheira proves that her druidic learnings and knowledge of forests are of a great use as she picks our way through the woods with ease and confidence, the rest of us have a difficult time to keep up and match the furious pace she is setting. After all, she is still the better pathfinder from the two of us, due to her experience… and it saves us a great deal of time as we arrive at the Elven war camp, next to the old ruins, in an early evening. It looks relatively peaceful and much to my relief there are still plenty of elves present, even if their numbers seem to have been reduced somewhat.
One of the guards recognizes us and without a long delay, he takes us to the tent of the arrogant Elhan… and I can’t say that I am looking forward to see his haughty face again. Much to my surprise, the elven commandeer that comes out of the tent is not Elhan, but a man that I do not recognize.
“Ah, you are the ones entrusted with the recovery of Rhynn Lanthorn,” the man speaks at us, “Have you succeeded in your mission?”
“We have the Lanthorn, yes,” I reply, “Where is Elhan?”
“Elhan… Elhan fought bravely…” he says grimly and I understand what he means, “I suppose, I might offer you some explanation of what transpired here… my name is General Sovalidaas and I was Elhan’s right hand. The Drow… they attacked with an unseen fervency and we were about to be routed, Elhan had fallen and our forces depleted, yet the drow kept coming, until… suddenly, out of nowhere the defender of the Temple Ruins appeared, the venerable wyrm by the name of Adalon… her presence shocked the Drow and many of them fell under her might and wrath as she stalked them with righteous fury…”
“Umm… she isn’t anywhere nearby, is she?” Imoen pipes up, looking around worriedly.
“No, she left without revealing her plans, though one thing is certain – she did not return to the Underdark… she had been most cruelly and devilishly tricked into losing her eggs by a band of adventurers that had promised to recover them from the Drow, yet in the end they abandoned Adalon and dishonored their promise. Then she took the decision to come to our aid, even if it meant the destruction of her most precious eggs…” the general explains.
“I believe she mentioned something about looking for the traitors and administering her vengeance upon them…” he adds and I see that Imoen has gone pretty white in the face and this fact does not escape the elf’s notice, “wait a moment… I think she must have meant you!”
“Err, now let’s not jump to hasty conclusions, general,” I reply, trying hard not to give myself away and hoping that Immy can hold a straight face, “remember, we helped you with the Lanthorn… we are on your and Adalon’s side.”
“Indeed, Theodur is an honorable man, he would never commit such atrocities like you describe,” Keldorn adds his words of support, “you have the word of this old paladin, I can confirm that the lad, here, can be trusted.”
Nice going, Keldy… suddenly I feel much more better about taking Keldorn along, the old man has already proven his worth…
“Perhaps I might have erred myself… yes, I think the numbers do not add up,” the general concludes and thinks for a while before continuing, “in any case, our plan remains the same. We must get into Suldanessellar and protect our people.”
“How do you plan to get us to Suldanessellar, General Sovalidaas?” Jaheira raises another crucial issue.
“I was just about to explain that… our mages have constructed a portal that will transport us from here to the Forest Of Tethir, close to where the city of Suldanessellar lies… we will be the first to go through, but the portal can only transport a limited number of people, so the core of the army will have to head to the city by non-magical means. That means that we will be undermanned in our efforts to win back the city and as such your help will be crucial…”
“Well, we did expect some fighting, so…” I interject.
“Yes… well, once there I will require the Rhynn Lanthorn to lead us through the illusions of Irenicus that cover the city. I believe that you and your companions require rest after the long travels…” having received nods of confirmation from us, he continues, “in that case we shall enter the portal once you have had your respite. You can use some of our tents… many of them are… empty…”
The elf’s face turns grim and resolute as he turns around and disappears into his tent, leaving us standing in the company of the few guards. Nobody intervenes as we search the elven camp for a place to rest and soon enough we have managed to find enough empty tents, so that all of us can enjoy their little privacy. Somehow, knowing that tomorrow we will have to face Irenicus, hampers the sleep that I badly need before such an important battle… luckily, Jaheira’s presence is calming and pacifying and after briefly exchanged words of love and encouragement, we both sink into the world of dreams.
Rush Of Blood To The Head, part 6.16.
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