Kaelis’ horse began to pull at the reins impatiently, tossing its proud head with a disgruntled snort. It was that hour just before dawn, when the air is clear and crisp and smells of newly-washed earth, and the last thing the horse wanted to do was sit still and wait.
Kaelis began to murmur gently to the fretful animal, releasing the reins with one hand to stroke and pat the animal’s neck soothingly. She was as restless as her mount, but there was value in patience, and she forced herself into an reluctant calm. Her eyes did not leave the immense eastern gate of city, even as she heard another horse approaching quietly from somewhere behind her.
Jaheira’s eyes, too, were fixed on the city gates as she pulled her horse forward. They had been waiting nearly an hour, checking and rechecking each pack and each weapon as they watched expectantly for the sun to rise and announce the start of their journey.
"He is late."
Kaelis shook her head an smiled faintly, taking a deep breath of the clean morning air. "He said that we ride at dawn." She relaxed into a deeper smile and turned her eyes to Jaheira. "The sun has yet to rise."
Jaheira laughed under her breath, her eyes remaining fixed on the gate. "So Imoen has told me. Several times." She, too, took a deep breath of the fresh air and let it out in a barely perceptible sigh. It was a few minutes before she spoke again.
"This was Khalid’s favorite time of day."
Kaelis dropped her eyes at the mention of Jaheira’s dead husband, but Jaheira did not seem to notice, and she continued quietly. "Nature is quiet, the air clean…." Her voice trailed off, and she smiled as her eyes took on a faraway look. "He would rise before the sun to watch it climb over the mountains. No matter where we traveled, he would always wake to greet the sun."
The druid broke off abruptly and looked down, as though suddenly ashamed of her emotional ramblings. She cleared her throat quickly and resumed watching the gate, saying nothing more.
Kaelis began gently, "Jaheira, I…."
"I have seen the pain in your eyes, child. You have hidden it well from those who do not know you, but you cannot hide it from me." Jaheira’s eyes remained steadfastly on the gate. Kaelis dropped her eyes momentarily, then followed Jaheira’s gaze, saying nothing. After what seemed an eternity, Jaheira finally turned to look at her companion, her voice unusually soft. "We will find him, Kaelis."
Kaelis’ eyes did not move, but she smiled faintly. "I know."
Jaheira’s eyes returned to the gate as she heard the sound of approaching hoofbeats. "He comes." Without another word, she turned her horse and walked away, toward the dim figures of Minsc and Imoen, who had been waiting with less patience several feet away.
Imoen’s horse was nearly as restless as the girl herself, but not quite. It pulled at the reins and pawed at the ground, but Imoen seemed nearly ready to jump from the saddle and run toward the mountains on foot, Order or no Order. As Jaheira approached, she moved her horse forward a few steps and asked quickly, "He’s here, isn’t he?"
Jaheira nodded silently, repressing a smile. Imoen’s eyes lit up and a smile spread across her impish features. "It’s about time. We’ve got places to go. We’ve got people to see. We’ve got…."
"Butts to kick!" A deep rumbling bass finished her thought perhaps less elegantly than Imoen would have done herself.
Jaheira and Imoen both turned quickly to face Minsc, Imoen unsuccessfully trying not to laugh and Jaheira only just being able to do so. Minsc sat tall in his saddle, his enormous frame nearly blocking out the light of the city lamps from Imoen’s much smaller vantage point, but there was still enough light that she could see the look of sheer joy on the ranger’s face at the prospect of a new evil in need of a good, solid thrashing.
Kaelis heard the conversation in the back of her mind, but the majority of her attention was focused on the small group of soldiers that had just come through the city gates. She recognized Sir Ryan at the head, but the others were knights whose faces she could barely recall, and whose names she could not remember. Sir Ryan held up a hand as the modest group drew near, and the others slowed and stopped behind him. He continued, however, and in a few minutes had pulled his horse up beside Kaelis’, bowing over his saddle in greeting. She smiled and nodded in response.
"Good morning, my Lady."
Kaelis flashed the paladin a mischievous grin, steadying her horse as it tried to take another step forward. "We were beginning to wonder if you were coming, after all, or if we would be saving the world alone."
Sir Ryan laughed, the sound echoing pleasantly in the morning air. "Again, you mean?" He looked beyond Kaelis to the mountains in the east, noting the light that had begun to grow on their sharp horizon. He nodded toward it, and Kaelis followed his gaze with a smile. "The sun rises, the dawn has come, and we are ready to ride." He met her eyes and smiled into them. "As promised."
He looked past her again toward the others, who nodded in greeting. All but Minsc, who had no use for formality, and instead beamed joyously at the paladin, ready to go at a glance.
Sir Ryan smiled and bowed slightly, then looked back at Kaelis. "I supposed that inquiring after your readiness is unnecessary?"
She simply arched an eyebrow.
He chuckled softly, having received his answer. "Then we go." He raised a gloved hand and motioned toward the men behind him, four of which approached on large war-horses, lining up precisely beside Sir Ryan, two on each side. He was able to introduce each without looking at them, and Kaelis smiled as she nodded to each man’s graceful bow. He then said simply, "The Lady Kaelis."
This was followed immediately by a jumbled chorus of "My Lady"s from the knights, and she flushed a little at the honorific. I will never get used to this. She bowed slightly over her saddle and looked back at Sir Ryan, who now looked at her earnestly, taking a deep breath as one preparing to plunge into an icy river. He let it out in a blast.
"We travel northeast through the Cloudpeak mountains to Nashkel, then north on the coast road until we reach the Friendly Arm Inn south of Baldur’s Gate." He shifted in his saddle, saying quietly, "We would prefer, of course, to avoid the city of Baldur’s Gate, if at all possible. Relations are of yet…" he considered for a moment. "Strained."
Kaelis smiled in understanding and nodded, and Sir Ryan continued. "All of this is subject to change, of course, and as you are certainly more familiar with the northern part of the Sword Coast than are we, we would greatly value any suggestions you may have."
Kaelis thought for a moment, then nodded. "It sound like a reasonable plan. A tenday’s ride, perhaps, a fortnight if we run into bad weather. Jaheira is more familiar with all areas to the north, and could perhaps find a quicker route through the forests, but that will not need to be decided until we reach Nashkel."
Sir Ryan nodded in agreement, surveying the small group as the sun began to show itself for the first time over the mountains. "Then we are indeed ready, my Lady. The Order’s forces wait on the northern edge of the city, waiting only for the call."
"Give it, Sir Ryan."
There was a determined fire in Kaelis’ eyes as spoke, and without another word, she turned her horse, kicking its sides. It gratefully leapt into motion, and her companions quickly turned their own horses to follow as she flew past, raising a collective shout. It was drowned out quickly as the rumble of hooves grew into a thunder, and their journey began.
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