Elideira, priestess of Eilistraee and a ranger as well, hummed a happy tune to herself. The sun was shining, there was hardly a cloud in the sky and tonight there would be a full moon. Her fellow priestesses had promised her that she could lead the High Hunt tonight, and the half elf vowed that she would not disappoint the Dark Maiden.
The half elf smiled as she sat cross-legged on a cushion in front of her tent. Her hand carved wooden flute, a gift from a Harper friend of hers sat in her hands. The half elf with the long, sandy blonde hair inspected the instrument with loving care. As a priestess she had her choice of three musical instruments to master. She had chosen the flute after hearing an aged human woman playing the instrument. Elideira had been totally enraptured when hearing the woman play song after song on the slender piece of wood. After the old woman had finished her playing the half elf had begged her to teach her how to play the flute.
It had taken time to learn how to place her fingers over the holes of the instrument properly, and to learn how to breathe correctly, and more than once the half elf had felt like giving up. However Elideira eventually became quite a competent player under the tutelage of Wynne, the aged woman who the young half elf had first observed playing the small musical instrument. Wynne had been so impressed with the young priestess's playing that she had given Elideira her own flute as a gift. Elideira had protested, saying that she was not worthy of such attention. Surely there was another follower of Eilistraee who deserved it more? Wynne had insisted that her young charge accept the gift, that Elideira herself could not deny that she had a talent for playing.
The half elf smiled wistfully at this memory for old Wynne had died soon after the transfer of her flute to younger hands. As always, whenever Elideira thought of her former teacher she lifted her instrument up to her delicate set of lips and played Wynne's favorite song. The blonde half elf closed her eyes as she played the tune, the flute's soulful sound drifting across the campsite and causing everyone to pause momentarily in their tasks.
A warrior dressed in exquisitely tooled leather armor stopped when he heard the fair-haired woman playing her flute. He stood in a spot where he could both hear and watch the cleric of Eilistraee play. The man smiled with pleasure as he watched her slender fingers deftly tap on her flute. He had been doing this observing of Elideira for a long time now, ever since the first day when his superiors among the Harpers had told him that he would be traveling to the area near Suldanessellar with a priestess of Eilistraee.
The well-built human male with the shoulder length black hair let his mind drift back to his first meeting with the pretty blonde half elf. The Herald in Waterdeep had told him that he would be going to Suldanessellar to help a follower of Eilistraee to lead some former slaves back to their homes. The refugees were not actually in the elfin city as none of them were fully elfin, but the priestess had wanted to speak with the queen of the elves about a nearby Drow settlement. Furthermore, since there was a problem with a vicious group of bandits in the area he was going there to serve as an extra sword arm.
And he had not been too happy when he found out that a woman would be one of the leaders of the expedition. His people did not allow women to occupy such an important position as an agent of a god or goddess. The Harper warrior had arrived at the meeting place early when the time had come to find horses stout enough for the journey. Naturally the priestess of Eilistraee had been late, and he recalled with a smile the first time that he met Elideira, though at the time he had been irritated with the woman.
"Merand, have some patience already!" a gray haired monk named Adnizar admonished the young fighter. "Our cleric is a little late, and so what? She'll get here for she won't abandon her mission."
With his arms crossed in defiance as he leaned against a tar smeared post Merand replied, "For the love of the gods, we have been waiting here all morning! I have no time to spend waiting for some doddering old woman to hobble her way here."
"She is young and not that decrepit Merand. I think you will be pleasantly surprised when you meet her." Adnizar smirked as he said his piece, almost as if he knew something that his younger companion didn't.
Merand looked at his companion, his gray eyes flashing with ire. "Huh, a young woman you say? That's even worse than her being old. She's probably running around the village trying to decide which dress to buy or what pretty little and thoroughly useless shoes would go with that dress. I swear women can be way too silly at times. What she really needs is a husband who will use a firm hand to guide her to her proper place. Why she probably can't do anything if, heaven forbid she should break a nail!"
"I have broken many a nail warrior, and more than that in my time, and I assure you that I am sure of my skills which I have worked hard to achieve," a feminine, melodious voice had said from the path leading up to the place where the men had gathered.
The battle hardened fighter, considered handsome by many women had readied himself to give the impudent female a tongue lashing when he found that his tongue had stopped working. The priestess of Eilistraee that he and the monk had been waiting for stood on the dirt path with a smile playing on her face. She was a beautiful half elf with a wealth of sandy blonde hair, which was held back from her face by a thin circlet of silver. Merand had stared openly at the woman while Adnizar smirked in the background.
Merand remembered thinking how utterly captivating the cleric had seemed to him. Her face was exquisite in its beauty, her hazel eyes danced with amusement, and the delicate curves of her body could not be hidden under her traveling robe. "What is your name woman?" he demanded, finding his voice at last.
The cleric let out a silvery peal of laughter and told him, "My name is Elideira, and I am a priestess in the service of Eilistraee Silverhair. And you are?"
"Merand. My name is Merand and it is my duty to protect you."
Elideira had put her hand on his arm and told him, "I'm sure that you will find that I can take care of myself Merand. I am skilled with a sword, as you soon shall see." Then the blonde had taken the reins of a horse and flung herself in the saddle in one smooth motion. "It is quite the distance to Tethyr. Don't you want to start the journey already?
That meeting had taken place many moths ago. Elideira had proven herself as skilled as she had promised that she would be, and the refugees had been safely escorted out of Tethyr. The cleric even spoke to the queen of the elves although neither he nor Adnizar were allowed to see the treed city of Suldanessellar. To his amazement he had enjoyed his assignment, and by the end of that mission Merand had found every excuse that he could to remain in the half elf Elideira's company. He had fancied himself to be in love with the woman from the moment that he met her. He had asked her to be his wife on more than one occasion, and Elideira had so far turned him down. But he was persistent and felt that it would only be a matter of time before she would accept his proposal.
Elideira looked up from her playing and saw the warrior Merand was watching her again. He had adapted rather quickly to the unusually hot summer they were experiencing this year, and his skin had darkened under the strength of the sun. One of her fellow priestesses, a human girl named Selona had remarked that it made him even better looking than before. Elideira suspected, no she knew, that the girl had developed a crush on the man. Personally the half elf wanted to encourage the relationship, but so far Merand's affections seemed to be permanently fixed upon herself and not Selona.
She finished her song and put her cherished flute away in a case she had made especially to hold the instrument. The half elf sighed and waited in her spot for she knew that Merand would come over to talk to her. I hope he is not going to give me another proposal. He's nice and I like him, but not in that way. I need someone who is a little more, I don't know, tolerant of my religious practices. He would most likely faint in shock if he ever witnessed a High Hunt, and as a Harper he should be more understanding of others.
"That was beautiful playing as usual," Merand congratulated her one he got close enough to the half elf so that he wouldn't have to shout. "You are a talented woman, Elideira."
"Why thank you Merand. Your words are welcome to the ears of this cleric," Elideira responded politely. "We will be leaving for our journey north soon, perhaps within the next couple of days. Unless something drastic happens to alter our travel plans we shall meet up with some of your fellow Harpers in the nearest town."
The warrior nodded his assent, though the half elf got the feeling that he would rather be the one in charge of the travel arrangements. For some reason Merand was blind to the fact that he was in the middle of a group of women perfectly capable of fighting and hunting on their own.
Merand cleared his throat, startling Elideira who had not realized that she had drifted off. "If we are to be taking a long trip, then perhaps latter on tonight we can discuss the details of the journey over dinner."
And after the meal is over he will suggest that I settle down and start a family. If he knew how distant I am from my own family then he might not be so eager to start one with me. At least I have a good excuse to turn down his company for tonight. However Elideira had plans for this evening, and she couldn't resist the temptation to give Merand all the details. "Sorry Merand, but I do have a duty to my goddess that must be fulfilled today."
"Oh?" the dark haired fighter asked, his interest piqued. "What duty do you speak of?"
Elideira smiled and told him, "I will lead the High Hunt for tonight. Are you sure that you want to know the rest?"
"Good," she added, a wicked smile hovering on her lips. "I am pleased that you are willing to hear the details of the rituals of the Dark Maiden. The High Hunt takes place four times a year. If you listened to my sisters of worship, than this is not news to you. What you may not know is that during the hunt we track and attack a dangerous beast, which in the case for this evening is a mage's twisted experiment that has escaped its lab and is now terrorizing the countryside. It has been reported that the monster comes equipped with claws, though some witnesses swear the creature has tentacles. Now since this is a High Hunt, only the priestesses of Eilistraee will be hunting the creature, and all we will be armed with is a single sword each."
"That sounds dangerous, though if you women are properly armored it should not be too dangerous of a task," Merand commented carefully. 'There are a fair number of you here."
Including me it will be seventeen priestesses in all. Now here comes the part where poor Merand is likely to faint. "But none of us will be wearing armor. It is not permitted during this rite."
"What will you be wearing? Specially enchanted robes perhaps?"
Watching his face very carefully Elideira replied, "We won't be wearing anything at all Merand."
"You mean that… " Merand said in a voice that got fainter when he realized what the half elf was telling him. "You women won't be going on a hunt nude, will you?"
"Yes, you are correct my warrior," Elideira confirmed, secretly pleased over the look of shock present on his face. "Clerics of Eilistraee always go on a High Hunt completely unclothed. We don't even have shoes on our feet."
Merand was unable to think of a reply.
Dreams and Sacrifices: Part 1
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