The breeze wafted lazily through the open window, bringing with it a crisp bite that spoke of morning. Kivan stretched his long legs languidly beneath the thick blankets as the warm mist of sleep gradually cleared from his mind.
He could feel the gentle pressure of bandages wrapped around his shoulder and midsection. Slowly, gingerly, he flexed the muscles of his shoulder. There was neither the pain of the arrow wound, nor the icy chill of the poison that had accompanied it. He arched his back slightly. Gratefully, the pain and poison were absent there, as well, though his body trembled in protest at the movement.
He seemed to be whole. Healed, though fatigue still tugged at the corners of his thoughts and his stomach seemed to be tied in knots. He was alive. Weak, but alive. With a deep sigh of satisfaction, Kivan rolled his face toward the window and opened his eyes.
It was midmorning. The sunlight streaming through the open window was warm and golden. The room in which he lay was well furnished, but far from extravagant. He was back at the Friendly Arm Inn. The elf smiled slightly. His friend had served him well. And someone else….
His eyes moved quickly over the comfortable simplicity of the furnishings, the spotless plaster walls that shone cream-colored in the sun. The clean fragrance of herbs hung faintly in the air, most strongly around the simple stoneware bowl perched on a chair beside his bed, the water inside long since gone cool. A rag lay draped over the side, dried and stiff, and colored in places with scarlet and the darker stain of foul poisons.
His eyes lingered on the neatly folded cloth and the blood that stained the otherwise pristine linen. He remembered vaguely the sound of voices in his dreams, and the soft touch of a cool cloth upon his forehead. His heart ached vaguely at the shadowy memories. One of the voices had been Imoen’s, he thought, and the other….
The knot in his stomach tightened until it began to ache.
He had found her. Or rather, had been found by her. However the fates had deigned to smile down upon them, Arien was near. He had felt her touch, heard her voice. He could help her. He could save her. He could warn her.
He could tell her.
His heart began to pound against his ribs. He had to tell her. He had to warn her about the trap waiting for her in the city, but more than anything, he had to tell her the truth. She had to know.
He loved her.
But would she believe him? And would she want to hear it after what had happened between them? Doubts began to creep again into his mind. She had called him "friend" as she tended his wounds. Mellonamin. "My friend." Could he ever be more than that now?
Kivan frowned slightly. He had to see her. He would decide then what to say. But… she must be warned of the danger, whatever other words were spoken.
Kivan pushed himself to his elbows and started to rise, but fell back against the cushions as a sudden wave of dizziness washed over him. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to drive away the shaky feeling in his limbs. Apparently, there was healing to be done yet. He closed his eyes and let himself sink further into the pillows.
A moment only, and then he would go….
The conversation he had heard in the bandit camp lingered in the corners of his mind. The trap has been set…. Baldur’s Gate…. We wait…. That pleasure is to be reserved for another…. Sarevok….
She’ll be dead.
A chill crept into the pit of his stomach. No, he had to go now. Before it was too late.
Kivan pushed himself into a sitting position, swallowing down the feeling of nausea that nearly overcame his weakened limbs. He pushed back the blankets, looking down at the spotless bandages wrapped around his chest and stomach. After a moment’s hesitation, he lifted the edge of the one around his stomach and peered under it. The wound was completely healed, though it still bore the shiny pink smoothness of new skin.
Quickly, he pulled the bandage away with one hand, the other tearing at the similar wrappings around his chest. Soon his skin lay bare to the soft breeze coming through the window. He slipped his feet to the floor, grasping the edge of the mattress to steady himself as another spell of weakness threatened to throw him once more against the pillows. Kivan took another steadying breath, then lifted his head and looked around.
His clothes lay neatly folded on a chair against the wall, his weapons leaned carefully against the pale plaster. His bow was there, but his quiver was empty and his long sword shone in the sunlight, bare of its scabbard. His dagger was gone.
He cursed in a breathless whisper, pushing himself from the bed. He stood for a moment to gain his balance as the room danced around him. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then opened his eyes and walked slowly toward his belongings.
The door latch clicked softly. Kivan’s dark eyes flew toward the sound, placing a slender hand on the wall to steady himself as his heart began to dance in his chest.
The journey of the door was agonizingly slow, and Kivan looked quickly away, suddenly conscious of the flush on his cheeks and the look of longing that even he could sense in his eyes.
Instead, he lifted his tunic from its resting place. It was torn in several places and stained dark with his blood and the poison. He frowned slightly, but tossed it easily into the air and thrust one arm into its proper sleeve. Behind him, the door had gone silent, and he could hear light feet stepping around it.
He tried to steady his breathing, then lifted his head and turned it toward…
The druid had arched a single dark eyebrow at seeing Kivan.
"So the dead man rises. Not only rises, but feels the sudden need for modesty…."
Kivan let out his breath in a rush of frustration. He turned his eyes quickly away, ignoring the knot of disappointment growing in the pit of his stomach. He said nothing, but changed his hands and finished slipping into his shirt, pulling it over his head with his free hand. He was suddenly very grateful to whomever had chosen to leave him his undergarments.
A wry smile played at Jaheira’s lips.
"Curious… Khalid always chooses to put on his pants first. I suppose he thinks that a bare chest would be less disturbing to a companion than the sight of his… legs."
Kivan flushed brilliantly, but remained silent and reached angrily for his pants. Jaheira stepped more fully into the room, laughing softly at Kivan’s reaction to her words. In her hands she carried a large, neatly folded bundle of cloth, which she dropped onto the chair under Kivan’s hand. He stayed his hand for a moment, glancing curiously at Jaheira.
The druid stepped over to the window and leaned against the frame, crossing her arms over her chest. She said nothing as Kivan lifted the top layer of the bundle from the chair in both hands and shook it lightly, unfolding it.
It was a tunic of deep green. It was of a simple cut, decorated at the hem and neck with a delicate geometric pattern worked over the cloth in a thread only a few shades darker than that of the shirt itself. He stared at the garment for a long moment, then looked again at Jaheira, who watched him with an unreadable expression somewhere between amusement and annoyance.
She nodded toward the pile of clothing on the chair. "A gift from our young authority figure."
Kivan stopped in the process of pulling off the torn shirt, looking quickly at Jaheira. "Arien?"
Jaheira nodded. "Though she asked me not to tell you."
After a moment, he frowned slightly. "Then why do you tell me?" he growled softly as he threw the tattered shirt away.
Jaheira’s voice was sharp. "Because you need to know." She pushed herself from the window and walked toward him, her arms still folded over her chest. "You owe your life to her, fool of a ranger. It was she who sent Khalid and Minsc to follow you when you disappeared into the night. It was she who brought you to her own room to nurse your stubborn carcass back to life. Her spells that stopped the poison, her hand that administered the herbs that healed your skin."
Kivan looked away again quickly, feeling a stinging moisture in his eyes. He gazed down at the new shirt in his hands.
Jaheira went on, her eyes flashing angrily at his silence. "It was her tears that wet your bandages as she sat with you night after night, waiting for some sign that the wounds had not taken you from her."
Kivan swallowed the knot in his throat, curling his hands into fists around the fabric. "How many nights?"
"Seven. Eight, perhaps." Jaheira sighed softly, the edge fading from her voice. "To be honest, it amazed us all that you lived. The poison had done tremendous damage to your body already by the time you were found. It would have helped if you would have told us where you had gone."
Kivan draped the shirt over the back of the chair and reached for the second part of the gift, a pair of soft leather breeches the same color as his eyes. He took a step toward the wall and leaned against it, bending to slip the pants over his legs. Jaheira watched him like a hawk, the sharpness returning to her voice.
"Arien knew you were gone. And where you had gone."
Kivan said nothing, fastening the trousers and reaching again for the shirt.
"Is it a habit of yours to begin journeys of vengeance in the dead of the night?"
Kivan flashed an angry look at Jaheira. She raised her eyebrows in further question, but said nothing. At last Kivan looked away with a sigh, pulling the shirt over his head. He slipped his arms into the sleeves and tied the laces over the smooth muscles of his chest. He let his hands drop and closed his eyes against the memories of Arien crying in the darkness.
"It was time to go." He was not about to tell Jaheira what had happened that night. Or why.
There was a long silence.
"I see." Jaheira took another step forward, tapping her fingertips against her arms impatiently. "Tell me, Kivan… How did one so blind ever find success as a ranger?"
Kivan opened his eyes, his jaw clenching slightly. He lifted a pair of soft leather boots from the chair and looked at them. They shimmered faintly at the edges, as with an enchantment. He turned them over in his hands, frowning slightly as he felt the magic bite at his fingertips. His voice was distracted as he turned them over again.
"Your meaning, Telcoer?" (1)
Jaheira pulled the boots sharply from his hands, and Kivan looked at her in surprise. Her eyes were blazing angrily, her mouth set in a hard line.
She held the boots in front of his eyes. "These are Boots of Speed, Kivan. Arien’s Boots of Speed. And yours now. Another gift. Put them on your feet if you do not wish to go barefoot, but you will listen." She threw them to the floor.
Kivan’s eyes followed their path, but he made no move to retrieve them. He wanted to argue, to walk from the room and leave the haughty half-elf standing alone. But his legs trembled slightly underneath him, and it took all of the will that he could muster to hold his hands steady.
He squared his shoulders, stubbornly fighting the fatigue that pulled them downward, and widened his stance, crossing his arms over his chest. He was several inches taller than Jaheira, and looked down at her with hard eyes, his jaw tight. He said nothing. She had no need, no right to know….
Jaheira at first met his gaze evenly, but after a long moment, she let out a tired sigh and turned away, running a hand through her dark hair.
"I do not know what happened between you the night you left, ranger. And I will not ask. Arien refuses to speak about it, and I will not press the issue. She has not even told Imoen, and that in itself is something." She looked back at Kivan, folding her arms again over her chest.
"Did she ask you to go?"
Kivan took a deep breath, forcing it past the tightness in his throat. "No."
Jaheira nodded slowly. "But you decided that it was time to set out on your own."
Kivan pressed his teeth together. "Yes."
There was a pause. Jaheira considered him for a long moment, tapping the tip of her index finger against her arm. At last she sighed noisily, dropped her arms and crossed to where the boots lay on the floor. She bent easily to retrieve them, then thrust them sharply against Kivan’s folded arms. She nodded curtly to the bed.
"Sit down and put them on before you collapse."
Kivan took the boots without a word, but made no move toward the bed. Instead, he looked at the boots in his hands. He could feel their magic, could imagine how precious the enchantment would become in a battle. Arien needed them herself. What she would be facing….
The chill in his stomach spread to his heart. He turned the boots over in his hands. He had to return them.
"I… cannot accept such a gift. She has need of them, more need than I…."
"Yes, she does." Jaheira cut him off sharply. "But she insisted that I give them to you when you woke. She knows the path that you choose to follow, Kivan and fears for you as you pursue it. And so she gave the only advantage that she could offer, though it be from off her own feet."
Kivan said nothing, and after a moment Jaheira sighed and walked to stand in front of him, looking up into his eyes. Her voice was soft, softer than he had ever heard it.
"Such is her love for you, Kivan. As I suspect yours is for her."
Kivan looked at her quickly, his eyes widening in a protest that had no chance to leave his lips. Jaheira laughed quietly and shook her head.
"I have been watching the two of you for nearly a month, ranger. You should be grateful that your feet are more silent than your eyes."
Kivan lowered his head and closed his eyes, tightening his hands around the soft leather as the tears burned behind his eyelids. He heard a harsh whisper, only realizing when he heard the words on the air that it was his own.
"I am such a fool."
Jaheira gave a short, throaty chuckle and folded her arms. "Yes, you are."
Kivan frowned and opened his eyes, but Jaheira just laughed again and took the boots from him. She held them both in one hand, pushing him sternly toward the bed with the other. "And just what are you going to do about that?"
Kivan sighed wearily and collapsed onto the edge of the bed, putting his head in his hands and letting his dark hair spill over his fingers. "I… need to speak with her. She must know the truth, though she may no longer wish to hear it. But there is so much to say. That night… She had a nightmare. I… tried to calm her. I held her. I… We…."
He sighed miserably. "She thought I held Deheriana in my arms. She pushed me away… And I… I could not tell her the truth…." His voice trailed off and he shook his head tiredly, his shoulders slumping even more.
Jaheira nodded slowly as she began to understand. Then she turned and sat down on the bed beside Kivan. She looked thoughtfully at the boots in her hands, then over at the ranger, still sitting motionless with his face hidden under a curtain of tousled hair.
"It would seem there is much to say, Kivan. But perhaps you should begin with something simple."
Kivan lifted his head slightly, but did not meet Jaheira’s gaze.
"I love her."
Jaheira smiled. "I know that, Kivan. Perhaps it is time that you told her."
There was a long moment of silence. Finally, Jaheira patted Kivan’s knee in almost a motherly fashion, then rose from the bed and dropped the boots near his feet as noisily as possible. Her voice regained some of its curtness.
"Finish getting dressed. Then we will find you something suitable to eat in this place and be on our way."
Kivan pulled the boots toward him with one hand, brushing his hair out of his eyes with the other. "Where is Arien? I would like to speak with her as soon as possible...."
Jaheira stopped in front of the door, her hand on the door handle as she looked over her shoulder at Kivan. "Your tardy declaration of love has waited this long, Kivan. It can certainly wait until you’ve had a suitable meal, and then it is a long ride to Baldur’s Gate. I won’t have you arriving half-dead to tell Arien that…."
Kivan looked up quickly, the boots forgotten. "What?"
Jaheira looked a little startled at the harshness in his voice. She turned to face him, her hand still on the door. She put her other hand on her hip in an attitude of frustration. "We eat, then we ride to Baldur’s Gate to meet Arien and the others. What do you not understand?"
Kivan nearly threw himself from the bed. "Baldur’s Gate?"
Jaheira nodded slowly, a frown creasing her features. "Yes. While she sat beside what she thought to be your deathbed, the rest of the party traveled to Cloakwood. There were some rumors about strange things happening there, and…."
"Yes, but you said Baldur’s Gate…."
Jaheira stepped forward, cutting him off irritably. "Yes, Kivan. I did. Everything that we found in the mines pointed us toward the Iron Throne headquarters in the city. When we came back to tell her, your fever had broken and she knew that you would live. She left you to my care, though somewhat reluctantly, and rode with the others to Baldur’s Gate to investigate…."
"When did they leave?"
Jaheira arched an eyebrow. "Three, four mornings past. Why…?"
Kivan swore under his breath, running a hand through his hair as he turned to pace the room. First one way, then the other. He was too late. Arien…. His heart felt as though it had been caught in the grip of an icy hand. Too late….
He clenched his hands into trembling fists at his sides. No. Not this time….
Jaheira’s voice trailed off as she watched his strange reaction to the news. She shook her head slowly. "What…?
Kivan turned to face her quickly, his eyes dark with anger. "There is a trap set for Arien in Baldur’s Gate. I overheard a conversation in the bandits’ camp. Tazok was not there, but there were others. In his tent. Two are dead." His stomach lurched as he remembered the black-eyed man in Tazok’s tent. He turned and resumed his pacing again, moving up and down the room like a caged animal.
"Two live, and one…" Kivan’s steps slowed, then stopped. He would say nothing of the black-eyed man. Not now. Not until he was sure….
Right now it did not matter.
Jaheira said nothing, waiting for him to continue. Kivan ran both hands through his dark hair, leaving them tangled there for a moment before dropping them heavily to his sides and turning to face Jaheira.
"He means to kill her. Sarevok waits for Arien in Baldur’s Gate."
Jaheira nodded slowly, looking toward the window. "And it would seem that she has walked right into his snare."
There was a long pause.
"I have to find her, Jaheira. Before it truly is too late."
Jaheira watched the window a moment longer, then looked away and met Kivan’s eyes. After another pause, she nodded slightly, then nodded to where a few items still lay on the chair where she had placed his new clothes.
"There is a cloak of protection and a shirt of elven mail. In the next room, a new scabbard for your sword, and a dagger to replace that which you lost. Anything else will have to wait until we reach the city. Dress quickly, and I will go and see if there are any horses to be had in this place."
Kivan nodded without a word, sitting down once more to pull on the boots. His hands trembled slightly as he fastened them, though not so strongly as before. Jaheira frowned, however, and took a step toward Kivan, crouching down until he could not avoid looking into her eyes. She narrowed her eyes thoughtfully, then shook her head.
"You will go to the temple for any final healing before we leave. Do I make myself clear, ranger?"
Kivan glanced up as he secured the final fastenings on his boots. He could feel a faint smile tugging at his lips and could not resist.
"Uma, Atara." (2)
Jaheira blinked and sat back on her heels, then let out a noise somewhere between a chuckle and a groan and stood up, turning toward the door. She stopped with her hand on the doorknob, looked back at Kivan and shook her head again, a wry smile on her delicate features.
"I think, perhaps, that you have spent a little too much time with Arien."
Kivan smiled to himself and looked back to the boots without a word. Perhaps, but it was never enough. And now, it could not be too soon.
Jaheira let out a whispered chuckle and turned the door handle. In a moment, she was gone, and Kivan sat up, looking around.
His eyes fell upon the shimmering cloak and the glittering mail shirt that peeked out from under it. Slowly he stood and walked toward the chair, pulling out the armor and letting it lie for a moment in his hands.
The links were perfect, glittering like dancing water in his hands and just as smooth. The palest green. He turned it slightly in his hands, letting the sunlight play over the delicate links. They sparkled brilliantly. Like her eyes.
Kivan took a deep breath, looking toward the open window.
Rato, a’maelamin. Rato. (3)
(1) Stern One
(2) Yes, Mother
(3) Soon, Beloved. Soon.
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