Anomen walked into the temple archives and looked around for assistance. The shelves were stuffed with books and scrolls, and he had no idea where to find what he needed.
He crossed to a desk occupied by a familiar, if not particularly welcoming, priest. “Good day, Watchknight Hinslow.”
Hinslow looked up and said coldly, “Yes? What is it?”
“I would like some information about a priest from the past. Unfortunately, I only have a description and not a name.”
“And that description would be?”
“He was born with a twisted body, so badly that he could hardly walk. He was in poor health, and it was necessary to craft special armor so that he could have proper vestments.”
“You truly expect me to believe that such a priest existed?” Hinslow leaned back in his chair. “I refuse to be tricked into wasting my time.”
“Is it so difficult to believe that a person could have great strength of faith though their body was weak?”
“And where did you hear of this amazing priest?”
“Our Lord Helm described him to me during my Vigil. Will you take the word of the Great Guardian that he lived?”
Hinslow’s arrogance wilted. “Books about former priests are in that area.” He waved his arm towards a distant corner. “I believe Viona is working in that part of the archive. She will help you.”
“My thanks,” Anomen said, barely managing to keep from gritting his teeth.
On his way to the section Hinslow indicated, he saw several of his students. They were passing books between them, so he assumed that they were working on an assignment from another teacher. Anomen gave them a nod in greeting.
It only took him a minute or two to find Viona returning books to the shelves. “Watcher Anomen,” she said with a smile. “I heard you were back in Athkatla, but I never seem to have the time to stop and say hello.”
“It is good to see you, though I confess I am a bit surprised to find you assigned to the archive. I would have expected your friend to have this post. I am afraid I have forgotten his name.”
“Erandimas? He is too smart for this sort of work. He is part of a group sent up to Candlekeep to do some research and to obtain copies of several books they have there. Oh, that reminds me. Is it really true that you are teaching a class with one of the Bhaal children who were raised in Candlekeep?”
“Yes, it is indeed so.”
“Do... do you think she would mind if I spoke to her? I’ve always been fascinated by what I’ve heard about their library.”
“I am certain she would enjoy chatting with you.”
She rolled her eyes and said, “Look at me, babbling away. I know you didn’t come in here to listen to me ramble. What can I help you with?”
“I need information about a priest.” He repeated his description.
“Hmm. I’ll have to do some research. He sounds familiar, but I don’t remember enough to lay my hands on any books right now. Do you need it by a certain time?”
“No. Take whatever time you need. I do not want to interfere with your regular duties.”
“Oh, it will be a treat. Watchknight Hinslow doesn’t seem to trust me for more than drudge work, so some research will be fun.”
“That surprises me. You certainly seem capable to me.”
“Thank you.” She leaned forward and whispered, “When Watchknight Gorsen left, he expected to step into his shoes. But I heard that when the High Watcher proposed his idea of dividing the novice training among several teachers rather than have just one, Watchknight Hinslow had a fit. He told the High Watcher to his face that it was silly to waste so much of senior priests’ time on mere novices.”
“Oisig would have been very angry at such conceit. He has always treated every priest as important to the temple.”
“The younger priests were wondering what would happen when it was announced that Watchknight Aabir would be leading the group teaching the novices.”
“So Hinslow was assigned to the archives rather than a teaching position?”
“Yes. There was a rumor... well.” Viona’s cheeks reddened slightly.
“I can’t say if it is true. But everyone was saying that Sir Donalus hit Hinslow and Gorsen in that meeting, the one before you left for Yeniton, because of something they said about you. And whatever it was, it made the High Watcher so furious that he didn’t want them teaching anyone. Ever since then, Hinslow has been nasty to anyone who was friendly to you. Since I was part of the group that first approached you, his opinion of me is very low.”
Before he could reply, Anomen noticed Bardola at the end of the shelf row, watching them. “Yes, Bardola? Did you need something?”
“I would like some help finding a book.”
“Then I will stop taking up Viona’s valuable time.” He turned back to the younger priest. “Thank you for your help. When you locate the information I asked about, just leave it in my office if you pass that way. Or I can drop by the archives, whichever suits you best.”
Anomen heard a faint knock at his door. He looked up and smiled at Kirian. “Right on time for our meeting. Please, sit.”
She looked around nervously, then partially closed the door before taking a seat.
He sighed and said, “Kirian, I have told you before that you should shut the door. The point of these sessions is for you to be able to speak freely. If you leave the door open, others might hear what you tell me.”
“I just like it better that way.”
“Every meeting, you come up with an excuse to leave the door ajar and then barely speak to me, or speak of trifling matters. Please, be honest with me. Do you fear me?”
She looked at her hands in her lap. “No, Watcher Anomen.”
“Your entire manner gives the lie to your words. Are you afraid I will harm you in some way? That I will strike you?”
Kirian’s gaze flicked up to his face then back down. “There are lots of ways to do harm.”
Anomen stared at her for a long moment. “I have never hidden my sins. I have confessed to any who wish to know the crimes I have committed.” He lowered his voice. “I swear to you in Helm’s name that I have never forced myself on a woman or taken advantage of a girl. Some misunderstand the circumstances of my marriage and do not realize that she was chaperoned before we wed, and the wedding took place when she was of age. Is that what you fear?”
When she did not speak and would still not meet his eyes, he said, “I give you my word that I will never do anything to make you uncomfortable or afraid. Do you believe me?”
“It’s just...” Kirian struggled to come to a decision. Then she stood, shut the door and burst into tears.
Anomen started to rise to comfort her, but hesitated since he was not sure his gesture would be taken as it was intended. Instead he motioned her to the chair. When she sat, he leaned across the desk to hand her a cloth to wipe her face.
“It’s just I’ve had to be so careful lately. People are saying... saying that I’m pregnant!”
Keeping his face blank, Anomen said, “And are you?”
“No! I’ve never even... done that. But ever since Clahn and I started spending time together, the most horrible things have been said about us.”
“I am surprised. No place is free of rumor and gossip, but to spread lies is spiteful, and unbecoming those who follow Helm.”
“Since the fight in class, I’ve been so unhappy. It has given people even more things to tease me about.”
“And who precisely are these ‘people’ you speak of?”
“Well... mostly Bardola and Trace. They tease everyone, but it has gotten even worse. Why are they so mean?” Kirian gasped, and covered her mouth with her hands. “Oh, I shouldn’t have said that.”
“Why not, if it was the truth?”
“I can’t complain about other people saying things if I say things right back.”
“I cannot fault your logic. However, you are not required to suffer ill treatment without complaint.”
“All... all right.”
“I wish to address another issue. As I said in the last group combat class, I noticed you were far more aggressive in that sort of situation. Yet as you have rightly pointed out, you are not an especially strong fighter, at least with hand weapons. Have you considered specializing in combat spells?”
Kirian looked surprised. “Everyone keeps pushing me towards healing. I don’t really mind healing, but everyone is staring at me when I do. Trusty Jorilin looks at me like I’m making decisions too slowly, and that makes me doubt myself even more.”
“I know that as a junior novice, your training in combat spells is only rudimentary, but I think you should give Watchknight Aabir’s class special attention.”
“I’ll think about your advice, Watcher.”
“It is good to see you, Jules. Please, have a seat.”
Jules flopped into the chair, his armor making the wood creak. He crossed his arms and did not speak.
“Today, would you like to talk about what we discussed in the group class?”
“Then is there some other matter you wish to speak to me about?”
“Jules, the point of these meetings is to help you. That is difficult to do when you keep silent for much of the session.”
“I do not need counseling. I do fine on my own.”
“You and I both know that is not true. Why not tell me how I can help?”
“If you insist on this behavior, I will have to take measures.”
“Go ahead and report me to Aabir or Oisig. I do not care.”
“Oh, I would not do such a thing. I was thinking more of reading aloud to you.”
Jules looked baffled. “Reading to me? Reading what?”
“I will have to think on that. A friend of mine has an excellent volume of erotic drow poetry.”
The novice snickered, then stifled it down. Jules pretended to be bored and said, “Whatever you like.”
Anomen smiled. He had made his surly student laugh, and that was progress of a sort.
As Anomen counseled Clahn on improving his shield work, out of the corner of his eye he saw Surayah slip into the training room. He gave her a warm smile and motioned that he would be with her in a moment. Clahn followed his gaze, and the young man’s eyes widened.
Several of the other students saw her as well, and seemed distracted. Imoen’s illusionary ogre bashed Trace’s arm, and he howled in surprise and pain.
Imoen frowned and snapped her fingers, and the ogre vanished. “Gee, this shouldn’t be that hard for you by now.” As Trace healed himself, his face reddening with embarrassment, Imoen spotted Surayah and gave her a cheery wave.
As Anomen crossed the room to his wife, he could not help but notice that his class was acting a bit strangely. Bardola’s gaze shifted back and forth between Surayah and Imoen, curiosity and puzzlement in her face. Trace looked eager, as if he expected some great spectacle to appear. Jules looked oddly disappointed, and the others were simply wide-eyed and staring.
Imoen was closer to Surayah than he, and she bounded over to her. “Oh, it’s so good to see you! I’ve been meaning to invite you to dinner since Sarevok isn’t in the city. It gets lonely in that house by myself.”
“I would welcome the distraction,” Surayah said with a smile. “I have been studying so hard these recent days I have nearly forgotten what normal life is like.”
“Aw, but you look too happy to be really complaining. You’re like me when I’m learning a new spell. It’s hard work, but fun!”
“I am enjoying myself, that is true.”
Anomen came to Surayah’s side and gave her hand a fond squeeze. “And what brings you here, dearest?”
“I decided to spend some time in the archive, and thought I might wait and leave with you.”
“That sounds like an excellent excuse to end training early.”
“Oh, I did not want to disrupt your class.”
“Think nothing of it. In truth, I think I would have difficulty regaining their attention. They seem to be most fascinated by you.”
Imoen grinned. “I should be jealous. They should be fascinated by me and my dazzling magic.”
“I once told Anomen that I was considering asking you for lessons in magic. He did not seem to approve,” Surayah said, giving her husband in impish smile.
He gave a mock shiver. “I do not disapprove of magic. But fireballs in the home do not make for a quiet domestic life.”
“So true,” Imoen said with an exaggerated sigh. “And being a former Bhaalspawn doesn’t have men beating a path to my door. Especially since Sarevok might open it.”
“Would you like to come and have dinner at our home? You said you were lonely,” Surayah asked.
“Oh, I would hate to make it hard on your cook. What if she fixed two of something and now had three to feed?”
“Then we will divide the two to go around,” Anomen said with a smile. “But first I should release the class.”
He turned to his students. “I have decided to end the class now. Your time is your own.”
They looked at each other nervously. Nordale said hesitantly, “If anyone asks why we are not here, what should we say?”
“Ah, I see I have neglected to make a proper introduction. This is my wife, Surayah Delryn. We have invited Imoen to our home for dinner.”
There was total silence for several seconds. Then Anomen was startled to hear Jules’ laughter boom out. The novice was laughing as though he had heard the best joke in his life. But his delight was aimed at Bardola, not Anomen or Surayah.
Anomen frowned, puzzled at his students’ behavior. Trace looked bewildered. Bardola was turning bright red, and seemed nearly furious. Kirian was also staring at Bardola, her expression a mix of anger and triumph. Clahn and Nordale were doing their best not to join Jules in his laughter.
“This is ill-mannered,” he snapped. “Explain this at once.”
Jules brought himself under control. “I apologize, Watcher. I meant no disrespect to your wife.” He bowed politely to Surayah.
“Then what brought this on?”
“I... I would prefer not to say. It would be embarrassing to another student.”
“Very well, I will ignore it this once. But I will expect better behavior from all of you in the future.”
As he turned to escort Surayah out of the room, he noticed that Imoen had slipped to Nordale’s side, where they were having a whispered conversation. She hurried over to join them.
When they had left the temple, Anomen said, “And what did you learn from Nordale?”
Imoen’s face split into a broad grin. “You will never believe it.”
“I think you underestimate my ability to imagine what gossip may contain.”
“Someone has seen you being cozy with Surayah and thought you were having an affair with a student.”
He snorted with amusement. “Dallying with my own wife. Well, they were not far wrong.”
“Don’t laugh too hard. They have also been trying to get rumors started that you are sleeping with almost any female you’ve talked to. That includes me, some girl in the archive, and Kirian.”
“Hmm. It is not difficult to see a pattern, nor to know where these rumors are most likely coming from. I will decide what to do about this later. For now, let us go see what Rachle has prepared for dinner.”