Kivan watched Arien over the rim of his glass, barely aware of the sweet fire that flowed over his tongue. It was late, and the lamps in the Nashkel Inn had sent the dancing shadows into the corners, bathing everything else in the warm glow of their golden light. There had not been many travelers this evening, and those who had found their way to the inn had turned to their beds early, leaving the great room almost empty and relatively quiet.
There were a few locals at the bar, telling each other tales of bandits and goblins. With each telling, the enemy had grown until the bandits were nine feet tall and the goblins had eyes of crimson flame to match their fiery swords. Kivan may have found the stories amusing, had he listened with more interest. As it was, the ranger had found a table in the corner, far from the stories and several feet away from his companions, where he could hide himself in the shadows and be alone with his thoughts.
Arien had brought him the wine. He had protested, pleading tiredly for solitude, but she had gently insisted, the quiet smile in her eyes chipping away at his defenses until at last he could resist no more and took the glass from her fingers with a smile of defeat. For the briefest moment, the very tips of their fingers and met, and he had shivered slightly at the warmth of her touch against his hand.
He felt it still, even through the dim shadows of memory. He remembered perfectly every touch of her hand, every brush of her shoulder. The way her fingers curled around his as he pulled her from the ground after a sword lesson. How her shoulder moved against his chest as she drew her bowstring under his watchful eye. Her arm brushing faintly against his as they sat under the trees, practicing the elven tongue in low voices that no one else could hear. The way she would nudge his shoulder when he chuckled at her pronunciation, flashing him a petulant frown while the laughter yet danced in her eyes….
It had been more than a week, and he remembered them all.
The cry startled him from his thoughts. Kivan took another drink, then lowered the glass and set it on the table without a sound, letting the barest hint of a smile play at his lips at Imoen’s girlish shout of triumph and the laughing string of curses that followed.
"Oh, auta miqula orqu…." (1)
Elven curses. Arien had lost again.
The girls had been playing at darts for the better part of an hour. The challenge had been Imoen’s, born of youthful confidence and raised under the watchful eye of a quickly emptying bottle. The little thief’s nimble fingers tossed the darts toward the ancient board seemingly without thought, until the missiles clustered near the center like some sort of feathered flower. Arien’s darts, on the other hand, took more time to make their flight, and hovered around Imoen’s like a swarm of bees. Staggering, clumsy bees. Arien was beautiful. She was graceful. But darts….
They would definitely have to work on darts.
Imoen took an unsteady bow and all but fell into a nearby chair, giggling and tossing her deep brown hair out of her eyes as she looked up her almost-sister. Arien laughed softly and shook her head, then picked up her drink.
As she raised her glass to her lips, she glanced over at where Kivan sat in the shadows. The smile faded slightly from her face, and she let the glass fall slowly from her lips, her fingers playing over the smooth glass thoughtfully. Their eyes stayed locked for a long moment, until at last Arien sighed softly and broke the gaze, making her way slowly toward his table. The ranger lifted his own drink to his lips again, watching with smoky eyes as Arien slid gracefully into the chair across from him.
She glanced at him for a moment, then looked down at the glass she held in both hands on the table, moving the amber liquid in slow swirls against the glass. Neither of them spoke a word.
Kivan continued to watch her silently, holding the fragrant wine on his tongue thoughtfully for a moment before letting it slide down his throat with a warm softness. The light of the lamps coaxed gold from her honeyed hair, newly washed and brushed until it shone like silk. He let out a deep sigh, settling back in his chair. There was a blush to her cheek. The room was warm, but not uncomfortably so, and he wondered lazily at the deepening color of her skin. He could not see her eyes. It was probably best that way. He could think more clearly when they were elsewhere, and yet….
She said nothing, and at last he set his glass down on the table with more force than was needed. It made a loud thump on the weathered surface of the table and rattled the half-empty bottle of wine before him. Arien looked up quickly with a startled expression, then laughed and shook her head as a slow smile crept to his lips.
She traced a delicate finger along the edge of her glass, wiping a bit of moisture from the surface. "I’m sorry."
Kivan arched a dark eyebrow, the smile still playing on his lips. It was his only response, and after a moment Arien looked up, shaking her head with a wry grin.
"You’re going to make me say it in elven, aren’t you?"
Kivan said nothing, his smile widening slightly as he lifted his glass again to take another drink.
Arien sighed and thought for a moment, then looked back down at her own drink thoughtfully. "Amin hiraetha…." (2) She looked up hopefully. "That’s right, isn’t it?"
"It is close enough." Kivan set his glass down again and leaned back in his chair, lacing his fingers behind his head. He had banished the smile from his face, but he could feel it still in his eyes, and Arien smiled as well, letting her eyes linger on his. He watched her for only a moment longer, then closed his eyes and let out a deep breath. He dared not meet her gaze. There was something there that troubled him. Troubled him… interested him… thrilled him….
Damn it. This was ridiculous.
"You’re tired. I should go." He could hear the legs of her chair scraping across the floor and he opened his eyes quickly, lowering his hands from behind his head.
She stopped, poised a few inches above her seat. Her hands still gripped the edge of the table, the slender fingers curled over the surface. Kivan sighed softly and nodded back to the chair, running a hand through his hair. "I’m sorry. I… just have a lot on my mind."
Arien hesitated a moment, then sat down again, nodding slightly as she looked down at her hands. "I thought you might. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about."
Kivan looked at her quickly. She was avoiding his eyes. Surely she had not guessed at the direction his thoughts were taking. She could not. He felt his heart begin to pound against his ribs, heard the rush of blood in his ears. No. She could not know. He opened his mouth to say something, anything, but Arien spoke before he could form a single word.
She was tracing her fingertip lightly over the faded wood grain. "Jaheira told me this afternoon that we should be able to find the bandit camp within a tenday. Less, if we move directly to the northeast and avoid the road. Tazok will be there, I’m sure. After Nashkel, he’ll be waiting for us, and he will have heard by now that you travel with…."
Her voice trailed off as she looked up. A curious smile tugged at her lips, and she shook her head faintly. "Kivan, are you all right?"
Kivan closed his mouth quickly. That was not what he had expected. He had not been thinking of the camp at all. And yet, she thought that was what troubled him. He nodded slowly, letting out a breath of relief. Or disappointment. He was not exactly sure which.
Damn it all.
Arien’s brow furrowed slightly. "Kivan, what is it?"
His voice held a note of sharpness. "Arien, it is nothing." He looked up, his stomach knotting at the hurt look in her eyes. His voice softened slightly. "You… are right, of course." He let out a deep breath and took up the bottle on the table, refilling his glass with the pale rose-colored wine.
"We will reach the bandit camp before another tenday, and then… Tazok will lay dead at my hands." His fingers trembled slightly on the glass. "It will be over."
Arien looked down at her hands again. "Actually, that’s… what I wanted to talk to you about." She laced her fingers, unlaced them, lay them spread out on the table, never meeting his eyes. "It’s… not over for me."
Kivan took a deep breath and let it out slowly, sitting forward slightly in his chair. "It’s not…?"
Arien shook her head, not raising her eyes. "The chances are that I still won’t know who killed Gorion. I won’t know why. I won’t know why… any of this is happening. And why it’s…" She smiled sadly, shrugging her slender shoulder. "Why it’s happening to me."
Kivan watched her face, pale under the shining curtain of hair. Of course. What else could she have meant. He let out another deep breath, pulling his eyes away to look out the window beside the table. The moon was high, the stars scattered over the sky like diamonds. Chrysoberyl. Her eyes….
He shook his head, frowning as he pushed the thought away.
Arien looked up, hesitating for a moment before she spoke. "Kivan, what will you do after… after Tazok?"
The question surprised him. He had not thought about that. After Tazok was dead, his oath for vengeance would be fulfilled. There would be no more reason to travel with Arien’s group. No reason to be near her laughter, to sit with her under the trees until the stars began to fade. Kivan shook his head slowly, turning his glass in his hands. "I don’t know."
There was a long, heavy silence. Arien looked back down at her hands almost shyly. "Would you consider coming to Baldur’s Gate with me?" She paused for only a moment, then went on quickly, the words tumbling over each other in her haste. "I could… really use your help. You’ve taught me so much already, and…."
He made no reply, only closed his eyes and let out a slow breath, his hand tightening slightly around his glass. He could hear the musical tones her voice as she went on, but only caught bits and pieces of the words.
He should refuse. Go his own way. Leave her and the others behind and disappear into the shadows, as he had planned. Leave her smile, her laughter, her eyes. His… fondness for her grew with every passing day. Every hour. Her face filled his thoughts and haunted his dreams. He could not afford such a distraction. Not when his vengeance was so close.
It was simple. It was the only way. In time, she would forget, and… so would he. He would make his excuses now, and….
He opened his eyes at the sound of her voice and looked up, into her large green eyes. He knew immediately that it was a mistake.
He sighed deeply, unable to hold back the words and cursing himself even as he uttered them.
"I will… consider it, Arien. That is all I can promise."
(1) Go kiss an orc
(2) I'm sorry
No replies to this topic
0 user(s) are reading this topic
0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users