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A Blessing and a Curse

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#1 Guest_Rose of Jericho_*

Posted 04 February 2003 - 03:06 AM

An old familiar tension began to prick at Anomen's nerves the moment he crossed the threshold into Sir Keldorn's home. As he and Renai followed the servant into the greatroom, Anomen had to fight the urge to run away from this house and find an anonymous and neutral place that would stir in him no hurtful memories, no harsh emotions, no pain.

Except he did not know where in Amn he could find such a place. If such a place existed anywhere in the world.

The amber-colored walls of the Firecam estate held as many memories for Anomen as his own, which was why he had not come here in so many years. Not since his mother's death seven years past. Anomen's mother, Moriala, and Lady Maria had been as close as sisters, and few days passed between their meetings, which always were at the Firecam estate. Never at the Delryn home, where Cor could be counted on to arrive at any hour, reeking of alcohol and failure, to hurl abuse at any and all within the household.

Anomen recalled whole days spent here, playing with Moira in Sir Keldorn's lush gardens or admiring the elder knight's displays of armor and weaponry. It had been here where Anomen's dreams of becoming a knight of the Radiant Heart had been born. Just like Sir Keldorn, he thought regretfully. Though I would never tell him that.

But with that dream came his first feelings of adult anxiety, for on these visits his mother and Lady Maria would closet themselves within the parlor, their hushed voices only rising with their sobs. Anomen knew that Lady Maria understood all too well what occurred in the Delryn home. And Anomen, who often crouched outside the door, straining to hear the secrets that spilled from his mother's lips, had learned more than he should have at a very young age.

Coming here was always a blessing and a curse. Despite his unease, Anomen felt nostalgia for those afternoon hours welling up within him. For a moment, he wanted to run into the garden for an impromptu game of tag. While we were here, we were free from Cor, for a little while. But we always had to go home to him. These small hours of freedom somehow made home so much worse.

"Hey!" Renai's exclamation broke Anomen from his reverie, and he looked up to see her grinning at a small girl who was peeking around the corner at them. "What's your name?"

The girl, whose tow-headed curls were sadly in need of a brush, looked at them with huge blue eyes. "I'm not s'posed to talk to strangers," she whispered.

"I know," Renai said. When she inched forward, the girl ducked around the wall only to return after a moment to peek around the corner again. "But you can talk to me. I'm not a stranger, I'm a friend of your daddy's."

"My daddy's a stranger," the girl said matter-of-factly as she emerged slowly from behind the wall. Dressed in a pink, fuzzy, one-piece romper suit with feet, the toddler held a raggedy stuffed bear by its leg and sucked the little finger of her left hand as she alternated her stare between Renai and Anomen.

"Vesper?" A voice from the hallway behind her swung the child's gaze away from them. A tall, willowy teen-aged girl entered the room, her neatly combed blonde hair contrasting with her baggy green tunic and worn beige leggings. She scooped the child into her arms. "C'mon, sweetie, it's time to get dressed," she said. "We're going to the circus again today, remember?" When she turned and saw Anomen, her mouth dropped open. "Oh," she said a little breathlessly, "wow, hi. I mean, um, well met."

She is the very picture of Lady Maria, Anomen thought, then he realized who she must be. He stepped forward to greet her so quickly her eyes widened. "Leona? Helm's beard, look at you! You were as small as she when I last saw you!" He nodded at Vesper, smiling at them both. "Do you remember me?"

"No, but I sure wish I did!" Leona said, a pretty rosy blush lighting her cheeks.

Anomen turned to Renai, who wore an odd delighted smirk. "Renai, this Leona. My sister used to watch her when she was a toddler." He laughed. "Moira would dress Leona up like a doll and take her out to show her off. Bows and ribbons in her hair, lace at her chin and on her diaper; it was quite adorable." He looked again at Leona and saw that her blush had deepened. "Do you remember that?"

"No!" Leona looked down at her feet a sulky tone pitching her voice low. "That was probably ages ago."

Beside him, he heard Renai chuckle as she came forward, rapping the back of her hand against the breastplate of his armor before she offered it to Leona. "Well met," she said. "So are you the one who's studying arcane languages?"

Leona took Renai's hand but gave her a suspicious glare. "Who told you that?"

"Your father mentioned it once."

"He did? Figures." Leona rolled her eyes and shifted Vesper to a more comfortable spot in her arms. The little girl now hid her face in Leona's neck, occasionally looking up to smile shyly at Renai. "That was so two years ago. Three tutors ago. My father's so clueless. He doesn't know anything that's going on."

"Most fathers don't, really," Renai said, her smile faltering a bit. "I didn't think that mine did, either. And I guess Sir Keldorn's gone a lot, so ... "

"You don't know the half of it," Leona muttered. She turned to Anomen and told him, "I don't have tutors any more. I'm too old for tutors. I'm in school now. In fact, I'm almost finished with school."

Anomen nodded, relieved to be back to a familiar topic. "At the temple? I remember going there when I was a lad. Although I didn't realize that they allowed children in their novice classes. Times do change, I suppose."

Beside him, Renai groaned softly, one hand covering her eyes as she shook her head. Leona bit her lip and took a step back. "Yeah," she muttered, "well, I gotta go. Nice to meet you. I guess." Blushes colored her face from nose to hair as she hastily retreated from the room.

"All right." Renai smiled and waved at the little girl. "Bye-bye, Vesper!"

The little girl lifted her face from her sister's neck. "Bye!" Vesper cried before hiding her eyes again in Leona's blonde tresses.

Anomen watched them retreat. "She seemed very shy," he remarked.

"Oh man," Renai moaned. "A word of advice, wonder boy: When a young girl looks at you like you're the most handsome thing that's ever graced her foyer, don't remind her that you knew her when she was still in diapers. At that age, it's humiliating."

Anomen winced at the nickname, but not much. He was starting to realize that she used it affectionately, not cruelly. And he was starting to like it. "She didn't ... that wasn't ...." he protested. "She's but a child."

"I'm sure she doesn't think so." Renai laughed, a kind-hearted trill that sang in Anomen's ears. "How old is she? Thirteen? Fourteen"

"Fourteen, I believe." Anomen tried to recall during what year of his life the girl had been born. Their visits to the Firecam household lessened a bit with her birth, which was just as well. It had been just before he began schooling in earnest. "Perhaps fifteen."

"Gods, fifteen." Renai sighed. "I remember fifteen. That is the worst time of your life. You're not a girl, you're not a woman. You don't know what you're doing, but you think you do. And men, gods. You get these all-encompassing crushes on the most unlikely men." She wandered over to the window and looked out onto the gardens, a misty note in her voice. "Imoen and me, we had it bad for Drizzt Do'Urden."

Sure he had not heard her correctly, Anomen rubbed his ear and moved closer to her. "Did you say Drizzt Do'Urden?" Renai nodded. "The drow ranger?" he asked in disbelief.

"Well yeah," Renai said, a faint blush creeping across her cheeks. "We were fifteen, you know. And all we knew about him was stories. Besides, it was more Imoen than me. She wanted to marry him. Anyway, that poor girl was looking at you the way Imoen used to look at pictures of Drizz't. She thought you were hot."

"Really?" Anomen shook his head again, wanting to protest, because what Renai said could not possibly be true. Except her words stroked his vanity, and he dared to wonder whether Renai held the same opinion as Sir Keldorn's daughter. "I'm ... 'hot'?"

"Well, she thinks so at least," Renai said with such a straight face that Anomen's fledgling hopes were instantly dashed. "Kids today. There's no accounting for their tastes."

Voices carried from beyond the heavy oaken door that lead to the parlor, saving Anomen from asking more questions that surely would lead to embarassment. Or course she does not hold such feelings for me, he thought, turning away from Renai to look at the door. She is so lovely and perfect. And I am ... not perfect. Never perfect.

Although he could not here the words, Anomen recognized the voices and the emotions within them. Anger, frustration, desperation. How often as a child had he heard Lady Maria's voice beyond that very door raised with such passions? But the voice in concert with hers, that of Sir Keldorn, was so opposite to the calm, doctrinaire tones the paladin usually employed.

"I don't guess we came at a good time," Renai murmured, her voice so near that Anomen almost jumped. He had not heard her footfall as she left the window to stand at his side. In her black eyes shone an unfamiliar anxiety that added to his own uncertainty. "Are they usually like this?"

"They—" Anomen began, but stopped. In all the years that he had come here with his mother and sister, he had never seen Sir Keldorn here. It was as Leona and Vesper had intimated: Their father truly never was home. Anomen felt a small sting of jealousy, for he surely would have traded an absent father for a depraved one. "I do not know," he finally answered.

"Maybe we should go and just meet him at the guild then. C'mon." Renai walked carefully across the polished marble floor, trying not to make a sound as she passed the parlor door. But the door crashed open and out stalked Lady Maria, who caught sight of Renai and looked at her as if she were an odd specimen of insect.

"And who is this," she spat, turning to face her husband. Sir Keldorn stood in the parlor doorway, looking older and grayer than Anomen had ever seen. "A heathen you converted in Calimport? A traveling pilgrim you stumbled across in Saradush?"

Sir Keldorn's weary gaze traveled from Anomen to Renai before returning to his wife. "Maria, this is Renai," he said slowly, edging past Maria to enter the greatroom. "She is the one of whom I spoke, whose childhood companion--"

"And she is here to take you away, no doubt!" Lady Maria cried, her blue eyes flashing with anger. Anomen stared, amazed at the sight of her. This was not the kind, gentle woman who had provided Anomen a calm, nurturing haven in his childhood. Her fury, coupled with the changes of age, made her face so strange to him. "Enough, Keldorn! It has been two months since you were here last, and then it was barely for a day! Not even enough to leave your scent about this place! And you would leave again--"

"Maria," Sir Keldorn's voice sounded gentle, but there was a dangerous edge to his tone. "The work of the Order must be done. You know if I had my choice I would be here."

"Would you really?" As Lady Maria advanced on her husband, Renai took the opportunity to steal away from her to come to Anomen's side. Her eyes were as wide as Vesper's had been, and when they looked to Anomen for answers, he found he had none to offer her. I never realized before, he thought, this is only the fourth time in my life I've ever seen them together! "The guildhouse is right here in the city, but even then I never see you," Lady Maria said. "It's always Radiant Heart this, Radiant Heart that! What about me? What about ... my heart, Keldorn?"

The discomfort on Sir Keldorn's face suddenly turned to pain, making Anomen very conscious that he and Renai were intruding on something very private. "If ... if we may, Lady Maria ... perhaps we should take our leave," he said quickly, taking Renai's hand to lead her away.

"That is probably for the best," Sir Keldorn said just as Lady Maria shook her head.

"Why should you go?" Her bitter laugh sounded like daggers on flint. "You are my husband's whole life after all, above my children and I. Why shouldn't you be privy to what you cause?" She looked at Sir Keldorn, tears welling in her eyes as she said, "What if I don't love you anymore? What if the girls can't live without a father anymore? What if I can't live without a husband?"

More than ever, Anomen wanted to run from this house and never return, but the awkwardness of watching the Firecam's marriage fall to pieces before him welded his feet to the floor. Renai also was staring at the ground, biting her lip so hard it was white. But in their passion, the couple seemed to have forgotten their unwilling spectators.

"You do not love me anymore?" Anguish that was so raw, so fresh in Sir Keldorn's voice and eyes tore at Anomen's sensibilities. "I ... I have always loved you and I always shall. However well I hide it, every day I spend without you is a day that's lost forever." He reached up and tenderly brushed an errant silver-blonde curl from Lady Maria's face, but she turned away, tears streaming from her eyes. "I love you like I love the church, but the church is the harsher taskmaster. We knew that when we married."

"I know, I know," Lady Maria sighed, her eyes closed. "And I love you in the same fashion, with all my heart."

"Then if we have love, Maria, what could ever come between us?" Sir Keldorn asked plaintively. Surely if they love one another then nothing can come between them, Anomen thought, desperately hoping for a turn in the discussion. Surely this is nothing more than a spat between a long-married couple. Only that and nothing else. All is well.

"I ... I've been seeing another man," Lady Maria said, finally opening her eyes to look frankly at her husband. Her words, so unexpected, took the breath from Anomen's lungs. And if he was shocked, then Sir Keldorn, whose face was now the same color as his armor, had to be devestated. "The children and the servants already know. He -- he took the girls out to the circus once. Oh, Keldorn." When she spoke his name, the anger melted from her eyes, and for a moment she looked sorry. Anomen shuddered; it was the same pitiful look she used to give Moriala at the end of every visit.

In a voice as quiet and deathly as an old grave, Sir Keldorn said, "What is his name?"

"William. Sir William of Thorpe," Lady Maria whispered. Hands together, she took a step toward him and beseeched him, "I beg of you, don't hurt him, Keldorn. If I can't have you, at least let me have something!"

Instead of taking her into his arms, as Anomen silently begged him to do, Sir Keldorn turned his back. "Go," he moaned, his voice thick with unshed tears. "Go to your daughters. Please. To look at you right now, Maria ... to look at you is to go mad."

Lady Maria stared at her husband for a moment that lasted a thousand lifetimes, then turned her head and saw that Renai and Anomen were still in the room. A small choking sob escaped her throat, and she fled to the hallway her daughters had disappeared down earlier.

"Sir Keldorn?" Renai's voice was small and frightened. She took a hesitant toward him, her hand shaking as she reached for his shoulder.

Without saying a word, without turning to face them, Sir Keldorn hurried into the parlor, the door behind him slamming shut with a deafening crash. In the silence that followed, Renai and Anomen could do nothing except regard one another with wide eyes and dropped jaws.

Finally, Renai closed her mouth and shook her head. "No way did we watch that happen," she said. "No way did we see that. That was so wrong."

"This ... this is bad, Renai." Anomen immediately wanted to take back his words. Very bad? This is a catastrophe! "For Maria to have relations with another man is punishable by imprisonment. Keldorn must be tearing himself up inside."

"Imprisonment? For this? That's insane, why ..." Renai began, but she stopped herself, her irritation plain on her face. "Never mind. Somehow I bet that's the least of their worries right now. Listen." She took a step toward the hallway, to follow Lady Maria's path. "You go in there and talk to him. I'll go ..." she sighed. "I'll go talk to her."

"Talk?" Anomen stared at the parlor door, wishing very hard that behind it lay an angry dragon rather than his bereaved mentor. "About what?"

"I don't know!" Renai threw her hands up in the air. "Wing it. That's what I'm going to do."

"But why?"

The look Renai gave him made Anomen feel like again like a bumbling child. "Because he's your friend, and he needs you. Just calm him down so he can do the right thing." She glanced at the parlor door. "Good luck," she remarked, then turned and left the room.

He does not want to talk about this. I know I would not want to talk, if it were me. With dread in his heart, Anomen slowly walked to the parlor door and put his hand on the knob. Helm help me, he prayed as he opened the door and entered the parlor.

#2 ankita21

Posted 29 May 2015 - 05:28 AM

NIce story.. Really enjoying reading it !

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