By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff
Chapter 42 - A Rainy Day
Berdusk, 1371 DR, Eleint, 10th day, breakfast
Marc opens his eyes and sees the dark wall of his room in the Running Stag. “Hmm, nearly dawn.“ He says to himself as he sees that the sky has lost the darkest black, “Time to raise and shine again.“ His waist is stiff, must be because of the bruising. He raises himself in sitting position, yawns and stretches his arms above his head. He rethinks of the events that brought him here. The men at the back of the inn, the encounter at the docks, the horseback-ride with Druth, the rich welcome at the Running Stag, the sudden departure of Telsom and the lady, his outburst, the long talk with Druth and his first night in a bed since he left Dryham.
Then this morning another horse-ride, his secret journey through the woods, his wounds and his healing, the lady beaming fire, Immerine’s departure and the sudden scream, the walk into the woods. From then on things seemed to turn for the wrong. First his lady collapsed. She was taken away and he hasn’t seen her since. The halfling, Matteo and himself had a weird encounter with walking dead bodies and flying skulls, while during their return snow started to fall. Not much later they heard Portia had gone missing.
Questions wander about in his mind.
What could be the reason she came beyond their reach? What about Ditalidas? The friendly lady with all this sadness behind her eyes. Was she been brought to that palace indeed? Is she alright? Is she? He’ll have to find out soon! And where was Telsom? He was said to be in the Inn as well, but Marc hasn’t seen him since their quarrel in the forest. Why did Telsom act so angrily and threatening at him? Marc doesn’t like the thought to be separated after such a situation for too long, and now with Telsom it happened a second time. Why?
And Portia might be missing, but there was even less sign of Grim and Druth altogether, what happened to them? Were they all right or what? And if they were sound, then why didn’t they show up as they promised? What was wrong with Nik that made him this drunk and irrational? Why was Emlyn so silent? Or is she less talkative than… others? What were the things Matteo had to tend to and how did he proceed? Why had the weird but friendly Kalil left them? What has become of the ever-disappearing Immerine? Was it her screaming back then? Who is this Jez and is it coincidental he appeared so sudden? Why was this stranger curious about their adventures?
Friend sensed his master is awake and peeks at him from the wooden floor. Then she partly stands up and stretches herself, making a squeaky noise. Holding her head low and wagging like mad she approaches him, showing her teeth with this special smile of hers.
He pats next to him on the bed and Friend jumps there. He cuddles her a little while and then he throws the blankets aside and his knees outboard. He sits nakedly on the side of the bed, yawns again and looks at his bruised side. “Hmm, should try to give it some ease.“ When he sees the blood on the pillow he feels his ear, but it seems to be healing quite well. He stands up and walks – stretching his arms a second time – to the water-jug and washes himself thoroughly. The coldness of the water helps him to get wide-awake.
Marc gazes through the skylight and sees the stars. All kind of memories push themselves to mind, but Marc clears his mind by singing a couple of songs. He gets dressed and gets his weapons in order before leaving the room. He walks downstairs towards the kitchen, to see if he can pinch a byte before breakfast, but Javroun is busy there, so Marc wishes him a good morning and the two chit-chat a bit. Marc tells him he will be back pretty soon and then leaves the Inn.
Stars are fading and the sky is painted red in the east, promising rain or even more snow to the ones who want to know such things. Marc and Friend are walking towards the large palace Matteo pointed out as the dwelling of the noble lady Ditalidas. When they get closer they see there are still guards at the gate, but Marc decides he just has to know and walks up to one of the fierce looking men. Walking towards the ‘castle’ he sings:
“Good day to you, saer“ Marc says, clearly better prepared than yesterday, “You might find it hard to believe, with these clothes and all.“ Marc looks the man in the eye with big, trustworthy brown eyes and smiles disarmingly, “But, well, I’m a friend of the lady Ditalidas – We fought together, to mention one thing – and I think she will be glad to see me.“ He bows gracefully and adds, “I’m Marc and I know the lady would appreciate it if you announced my appearance to her.“ He smiles at the other watch and turns to the first again to add, “And I’m sure she wouldn’t if you didn’t.“
“Well, Marc.“ The guard’s pose relaxes visibly. “I would love to announce your presence, but she is unavailable at the moment.“ The man, somewhere in his late thirties or so, looks apologetically at Marc. “You could leave a message though.“ Through the gate, Marc sees a two-man patrol rounding the corner of the mansion. One of the men, an older looking man with a large mustache frowns at the scene near the gate. “Targyl, what are you doing?“ Marc sees that the man is holding a slender wand. The tip of the wand is glowing in a thin blue light, that seems to get stronger the closer the two men draw nearer to the gate.
Marc is opening his mouth to answer the guard and about to think what to say to the man when he sees the other men approach. “Ehm…“ He entrusts the guard. Then he turns to the patrol and sings:
The guard doesn’t seem to approve of Marc’s singing though. The blue light on the tip of the wand intensifies the moment Marc starts singing. “Stop your Magic boy.“ The Mustached guard says in a stern voice, his hand on another wand in a holster at his hip. On cue, his companion draws a short sword from its scabbard. “No casting of magic around here kid. Beat it! Before I have you arrested.“ The first guard looks a little befuddled at what’s going on. “But wh…“ He starts saying looking back and forth between his colleagues and Marc. “But… but…“ He stammers again before a look from the mustached guard shuts him up. Looking back at Marc he shrugs his shoulders and looks a bit apologetically. “Sorry.“
Marc looks at the mustached guard with surprise. “Magic?“ He stammers, “casting magic…? is that what… Gee, sorry! Didn’t know tha…“ Marc scratches his head, thinking. Then he nods and mumbles to himself, “Hmm, could explain something.“ Then he says on a pleading tone to the approaching guards: “Sorry, saers… ehm… I didn’t mean to… ehm… well… honestly!“ The look in the sad brown eyes of the lad emphasizes his words. There’s emotion – possibly regret – in his eyes when he turns to the first guard. “All I said was true, saer… Really. The truth… And yes, I would like to leave a message.“ When the guard doesn’t respond soon enough he’ll add a humble “Please?“
The mustached guard walks up to the gate, his pose menacing. “The only message here boy! Is that you leave right away!“ The brows of the man contract and he gives a stern look at Marc, eyes narrowing, while holding his right hand on the slender wand on his hip. “If you don’t walk away within ten heartbeats, I’ll call down the guard.“
Marc spreads his hands in an innocent gesture. There’s a sincere look in his brown eyes when he says in a pitiful tone, slowly taking a step backward, “Honestly, I’m a friend of hers.“ He looks in the fierce looking eyes of the four guards, who nearly surround him and takes another step back. “All I did want was leave her a message… What’s wrong with that??“ With the guards still approaching threatening Marc retreats further, “I *am* her servant.“ And while he turns he adds, nearly crying, “She won’t like this!“ Marc slinks off, assured that he will return and eventually speak to his mistress. Slowly he walks back to the Running Stag, not at all satisfied. “I just have to know how she’s doing! And what to do myself“ he says to himself. He stops and glances over his shoulder, frowning. “There must be a way… and I will find it!“ His breath catches. Then he addresses his dog more angrily than she deserves, “Come on, let’s have a bite first“ And continues his walk into the Inn.
With a pounding headache, reminding him of a dwarven forge, Nik wakes up as the first light of day penetrates. Groaning the tall bard swings his leg over the edge of the bed and puts his head in his hands. In self-lament he starts contemplating the recent events.
Drank too much last night. Again. Made an ass out of myself. Again. Hung over. Again. When will I learn? Thank whatever gods look out for idiots like me that the whole group wasn’t around to see that old woman dunk me in the fountain and then make me cower like a whipped hound. Gods, I’m pathetic some times. And I wonder if I’ll be able to look Emlyn and Marc in the eye at breakfast, since they saw me nearly start a fight I could never have hoped to win. Gods, I hope that messenger lad, Jez I think his name is, doesn’t want to continue where we left off. I can’t believe I nearly came to blows with him. How much did I drink? I hope he’s not the type to hold a grudge, or I may be in serious trouble. Perhaps I should just sneak away… What am I thinking? If I leave now I’ll never know what’s in that Amnian lad’s little box. Wait, maybe that’s a good thing. No, Nik, you idiot. If you leave now you’ll never know why that dear Lady Jalarghar is in so much trouble that her father would pay for the upkeep and services of these folk.
Speaking of these folk, what in all the hells am I to do about the Torentshed lad? I know he knows who I am, or at least suspects. And that old woman, she DOES know who I am, and isn’t shy about using my name. I truly hope she doesn’t mean me harm, she scares the hells out of me as it is. I actually like these people, that dear Emlyn and that fine lad Marc in particular – although, I can do without the dog. Somehow I doubt Matteo and that Kalil lad will be as accepting of me once they know what I’ve done. And I’m not sure I can take the disappointment in Marc’s trusting eyes when he knows I’m even less a paragon of virtue than I appear. The gods must hate me. No other way around it. So what do I do? Sneak off, or hope that the old woman doesn’t come back and that the Torentshed lad keeps his knowledge to himself? I don’t know what to do. The worst part is that I actually like the! se folks, well, most of them. The Torentshed lad is a rake and a wastrel, at least he was at home, and he can make my life very uncomfortable with five little words – convicted thief banished from Silverymoon. I also think I could do without that Jez lad needling at me, although in fairness to him I was awfully easy prey yesterday.
Ah Yesterday. If ever there was a day I wanted to forget… Between the rain, that fey creature and his portal – summoning friend, the troll, the horses and that dog… I must have seemed madder than a hatter to these nice folks. Yet rather than shunning me – which I truly did deserve, gods, I’m balanced as a one-legged table sometimes – they actually sent me to the inn where they were staying! That Matteo, I wonder if he’s just one of those rare fellows who helps those in need, regardless of their seeming insanity. Speaking of Matteo, I wonder what it is between him and Immerine. I’m not sure what to think of her, she’s obviously formidable in battle, but as she spent her time with the horses, I’ll just have to wait and see what she’s like. From the way Matteo spoke of her, there is little love lost between them, but his actions and his eyes say differently.
I truly like the hin, Emlyn. I’ve always liked her race, and she’s cheerful and kind as they come. From Calimshan, she said. Ah, the stories she can tell me, I’m sure. And Marc, now there’s a fine lad. Brave beyond his years, far braver than me. Of course, Inez was right to call me coward, I’ve less courage in my whole body than in the littlest finger of that lad who’s two-thirds my height and less than half my age. Oh, well, we are what we are, and I’m a drunkard, a coward and a poor excuse for a bard of illustrious Foclucan. I’m also wallowing in self-pity again.
On that note, I think I should go downstairs and face my fate. Perhaps the Torentshed lad will keep quiet, and perhaps my head won’t explode before I can make myself yet another hang over remedy. At least I managed not to spew on my new clothes, even if I did sleep in them. Gods, I hate myself when I drink like this. When I need a clear head to deal with the old woman and the Torentshed lad, I’m barely able to make two thoughts follow the same line. That and I can never keep my mouth shut when I’m hung over. Thoughts just tumble out whether I want them too or no. Oh, well. Whatever happens, happens. My wishing it were different will change nothing. It won’t be the first time I’ve had to run from my past.
When the light of the new day penetrates the small windowpanes of the rooms at the Stag, it is the light of a gray and dreary day. A slow drizzle falls steadily from the skies. All the snow from the previous day has been turned into a dark sludge that seems to hamper most travel through the streets. A few muttered curses drift upward as passersby try to make their way across the slick cobblestones. From down below the first sounds of the Inn awakening penetrate the wooden floors. The first guests are arriving, and turning the place into a lively racket, despite the weather.
Using the cold water in the basins helps the process of further waking up and after getting dressed, one by one the companions make their way down into the common room. Amazed by the amount of sound only a few people can make, the almost customary table is soon filled.
Deciding to stay at the Running Stag was a good choice for Jez. The bed was comfortable and the blankets were warm and thick against the evening’s awful weather. Last night’s gossip and rumors had given him much to think about, especially information regarding Darkhold. The youthful half-elf dresses and slides his slender feet into his thick boots. He grabs his rapier scabbard and dagger and belts them comfortably to his body. He drapes his cloak and exits his bedroom.
Elisa walks up to the table, carrying a basket of various breads and a platter of cheese. “Good morning.“ She says cheerily as she puts the basket and platter down on the table. Smiling at everyone, she says, “I’ll get you your drinks in a moment.“ She ruffles Marc’s hair and gives a playful wink at the sore looking Nik. Then she turns to Telsom. “Saer Ashgale left you something yestereve. I believe it is a suit of armor.“
A quizzical look crosses the handsome paladin’s face but then returns to his normal good-natured, smiling expression. Nodding his thanks to Elisa he shakes his head in amusement as she ruffles the lad’s hair.
When Elisa ruffles Marc’s hair he teasingly cocks his head away a little. Then he looks up to her with a broad smile and winks. When she turns and talks to Telsom, Marc slowly raises a hand and moves it in her direction. But Elisa seems to expect something similar to happen and maneuvers quickly out of his reach. With an exaggerated innocent look, Marc reaches for the food instead.
Then he starts eating. He eats as if it’s a duty to be fulfilled, sitting close to the table with both elbows on it. He bites and chews, chews and bites. This action is only interrupted from time to time when Marc, his mouth visibly filled, stretches to pick up another lump of food.
Meanwhile his friendly big brown eyes constantly look at his friends around him and the interaction between them. He mumbles unintelligible syllables to greet every entering friend. From time to time he breaks off a piece of what he’s eating and drops it on the floor, where Friend thankfully accepts these gifts from above.
Marc’s hair is soaking wet. There’s a fresh vertical cut visible in Marc’s left ear, but it appears to have stopped bleeding some time ago. From the rope he uses as belt hangs the longsword he obtained in the forest yesterday.
The tall bard’s face is even more haggard today than it was yesterday, pale under the tan and lined with pain. His shadowed eyes are bruised-looking and bloodshot, and his eyes screwed shut as if the dim light of the tavern were unbearably bright. He looks as if he slept in his clothes, and in fact given the state he was in yesterday, it is very likely that he did. Nik doesn’t acknowledge the others, his gaunt frame hunched over, both elbows planted on the tabletop and his aching head resting in his hands. He winces at Elisa’s cheerful voice, and looks more than slightly ill at the scent of the food she brought.
Once again leaning against the table next to him, Nik’s Yarting is carefully wrapped in its leather cover. Why the bard brought it from his room is a mystery, since he seems too hung-over to contemplate playing it.
Before Elisa leaves, he says in a hoarse whisper “Do me a favor, dear. Bring me a glass of gin, some pepper and a raw egg, if you will.“ He forces himself to look up at her, eyes squinted nearly shut and misery etched on his craggy face. “It’s an old hangover remedy.“ Nik explains, his voice soft and slow, as if the every act of speaking might cause his head to explode. “It works, I suppose, by making my stomach so upset I forget about my head.“ He offers her a faint smile before closing his eyes and resting his forehead in his hands. Without opening his eyes or raising his head Nik says softly “Water is for bathing, not drinking.“ His lips twist in a rueful smile, and he adds “But should my old remedy fail me, I will give yours a try. At this very moment, I’d be willing to drink cold poison if it would ease my pain.“
Telsom sits at the table his arms crossed over his chest as he watches the activity around him. From time to time the man reaches to his plate to snatch up a piece of food and eat it. Far cleaner and less moody than the day before the corners of the man’s lips are upturned in a partial smile. Instead of the filthy armor from the day before the man wears a pair of leather breeches and a fine silk shirt. Telsom turns his nose up at the concoction the bard has ordered. “If you vomit good minstrel please refrain from doing so on my boots.“ Smiling as Emlyn enters the room he nods his approval at her less grimy appearance. “Trust me, lad.“ The bard mutters. “There’s naught remaining to be spewed. I do believe I’ve already thrown up everything I’ve eaten in the last month.“
“Well. From the looks of you yesterday it seemed as if you hadn’t eaten in a month.“ The smile that springs to Telsom’s face is genuine but not hidden in his eyes is no small amount of fear. The bath Emlyn took the night before seems to have done a world of good to her. What walks into the Stag common room now is a clean, cheerful halfling woman who has just reached maturity and once again walks as such – instead of like having been frozen to a horse. With the layers of dirt gone, her skin has a healthy, sun-tanned color and curly brown hair surrounds her refreshed face.
Her dark brown eyes scan the room and Emlyn shakes her head a little when she spots Nik. “Told you he needed the water.“ She says to Elisa with a bit of a chuckle. Then again, she doesn’t look like she thinks the bard only gets what he deserves – even though it may be so. As she walks past his table, she nods at him with some sympathy, then quickly refrains from movement in case he might repeat after her. “Don’t know about the um, egg thing.“ She says, “but maybe you should have some water and fruit juice… keeps the brain from bouncing, and at least provides some nourishment. Always did well for the boys back home…“
Without opening his eyes or raising his head Nik says softly “Water is for bathing, not drinking.“ His lips twist in a rueful smile, and he adds “But should my old remedy fail me, I will give yours a try. At this very moment, I’d be willing to drink cold poison if it would ease my pain.“
Emlyn walks along until she finds a place next to Telsom. “It’s good to see you again.“ He says with mischief twinkling in his eyes, a small smile on his face. “You clean up rather nicely Lady Emlyn. My apologies for not being here to give welcome when you arrived last evening. Like the good bard, I managed to find myself in a state of being quite distant from sobriety. I’m glad to see you’ve made it back safely.“ Telsom’s head pivots to take in the picture of the bard in agony. Eyebrows knotting together, Telsom bites his lower lip and then shakes his head as if his train of thought lead to a dead end. Turning back to Emlyn he smiles once more, this time the smile holds no small amount of sadness. “Lady, I mentioned yesterday that I would help you find a new steed. I know the loss of your pet probably weighs heavily on your heart at this time, perhaps getting out and finding a new friend will help raise your spirits. Perhaps after breakfast we could go see to the Lady Jalarghar and then move on to find you a new steed.“
Emlyn smirks at Telsom’s first comments, but when he mentions his distance from sobriety her brown eyes look a little more serious, and show some compassion. “You have talked to lady Ditalidas…? And how is she?“
Descending the stairs, the half-elf walks towards the table and reaches for a bun, then with a cheese dagger, slices several thick slabs of cheese from the block. Noticing the bard he says, “Good thing we didn’t start a fight last night. You look like you slept with Lord Bane’s chosen harlot after an all-night Lliiran drinking bash. Anyway, I’m glad Elisa stopped anything from happening. You were way too deep in your chalice to be reasonable. Maybe with a new day, we can get things in the right frame of mind.“ Jez finishes by loading his plate with all the food his hand can reach. He places his plate on the table next to the table Emlyn and says, “Good Morning, My name is Jezbodiah Wisp, Son of Marthou and Evaleen Wisp of Berdusk. My apologies, good halfling and good saer for any late introductions, but neither of you where available for conversations yesterday.“ With that he takes his seat next to Emlyn.
The badly hung-over bard slowly looks up as Jez speaks, a spark of anger in his bloodshot eyes. He says nothing, however, simply watching Jez warily as he gathers food and sits down by Emlyn. As Jez, Telsom and Emlyn converse among themselves, Nik hangs his head again, the very picture of misery with his hands on his forehead and his elbows on the table. Telsom nods to the half elf but no smile remains on his face, turning to Nik the paladin raises an eyebrow. “Jezbodiah Wisp.“ Emlyn repeats, “a funny name… but a good one.“ She hastily adds. “No, truly.“ She extends her small hand. “Emlyn Ashenleaf, of… of Ilmater.“
“I never though of my name as funny“ Jez replies with some mirth. He takes her hand and kisses it. “But I accept it as a compliment. It’s a mixture of human and elven. Please call me Jez.“ Emlyn’s first reaction when Jez reaches for her hand and kisses it, is to pull it back. Obviously she is in no way used to being treated as a lady. Still, she relaxes a little when her limbs get the message that it is all right. “Okay, let’s go then.“
“The Lady was still unconscious when I left her in the care of her father. The good man has taken it upon himself to finance the investigation regarding the Velsharans. I have left a note with Ditalidas but I would prefer to stop in if only briefly.“ After Telsom answers, a sad little smile crosses Emlyn’s face, “As for my pet, I didn’t get the chance to know him very well… he was a gift from friends I met along the road. I cannot help but feel partly responsible for not getting the poor animal out of the way in time…“
Her eyes show signs of a few welling tears, but she determinedly blinks them away. Quickly enough her face brightens a little when she speaks her next thoughts. “But I did get the chance to help you, and assist the others in bringing the monster down. Finding new friends does help, you are right about that.“ She picks up a small slice of bread and some cheese, not as much eating from it as nibbling, and for a moment she looks like a somewhat larger squirrel. “I would gladly come along to the Jalarghar home, but I had a message from Matteo to tell you in the morning.“ She glances sideways at Jez, not sure whether Matteo would want her to trust him too or not.
“The canine’s unfortunate fate was not of your doing, the beast held remarkable strength, as well as a great speed for a creature its size.“ Reaching down Telsom squeezes Emlyn’s hand reassuringly. Catching Emlyn’s sideways glance he stands still holding the halfling woman’s hand. Addressing the table he looks first to Nik, Marc and finally Jez. “Please excuse us for a moment we shouldn’t be long.“ Turning back to Emlyn, Telsom bends in kissing the woman’s hand. “Milady would you mind accompanying me to a more secluded area of the establishment for a moment?“ He asks.
“Mind yourself, lass.“ Nik mutters from behind his hands. “He’s quite the rake.“ Telsom looks to Nik, his mouth slightly agape as if he was going to say something, but instead turns to Emlyn. “I would object but I’m afraid the bard is correct. Best watch yourself less I wear through your defenses.“ With a wink and a small squeeze to the halfling’s hand he waits for her to rise before moving off.
Emlyn starts to rise when Nik’s voice warns her, though she cannot see his face – which, in this case, might not be a bad thing. She smiles heartily and grins at the poor hung-over bard before saying: “Well, I surely can watch myself… and I can think up more unpleasant things that can wear through my defenses.“ She adds in a polite yet well-meant way. She follows the paladin; looking over her shoulder towards their private alcoholic, she throws him one last piece of advice. “Water is very suitable for bathing a dry mind… be careful, lest your inspiration might dry up too.“ With that, she walks after Telsom.
Leading Emlyn a short distance out of earshot, the paladin stops moving and squats down. “I understand you reluctance to pass along information in front of the half elf. More and more lately I find myself being distrustful of others.“ The paladin frowns for a second before giving Emlyn a small smile. “Of course when I met you I trusted you immediately, that might have had something to do with the crack to the head I took though.“ Chuckling he stares into Emlyn’s eyes and speaks softly. “What message was it that you didn’t wish the newcomer to hear my dear?“
Emlyn shrugs apologetically. “Well, saer Matteo apparently didn’t want others to hear… so I do the same in passing his message. It is not my wish to seem paranoid. And as for my trustworthiness… my faith does not allow false servants.“ She sighs, and then gets to the point. “Master Wisp’s message held worrying news. Matteo told me to speak to you and tell you that the Zhentarim have taken his friend Portia. He himself has probably gone to check with her superior – if that is the Lord Sillisten he mentioned.“ She stops for a moment; worry plain visible in her big brown eyes. “I do not know anything of what has happened here before my arrival, but I can put one and one together. Walking dead, and the disappearance of a friendly Kelemvorite does not bode well.“
Telsom’s handsome face contorts into a mask of rage; the paladin reaches for his beloved rapier to only find it missing. Looking to the empty scabbard the paladin lets out a small sigh and regains some of his composure. “They will all die…“ Emlyn is startled by his sudden grasp for a weapon, and for a moment her training takes over as she takes up a defensive stance. Then, just like Telsom, she lowers her hands and calms down. “I’ve never heard of the Zhentarim following Velsharoon, of course this doesn’t mean that’s it’s not possible. Still, we may be facing two powers, the followers of Bane and the followers of Velsharoon. As much as I dislike accepting help I believe I will take Lord Jalarghar up on his offer to outfit us for this. Will Matteo be back soon? And what is this of a suit of armor?“ Telsom’s face continues to regain its composure but anger still burns heatedly in the young man’s eyes.
Emlyn still looks more composed than Telsom, but also still worried – and confused. “I am not from around here.“ She says softly. “I do not know much about Zhents and Zhentarim – only that they are bad news. As for Bane the tyrant.“ She almost spits the word, “that’s a blight I am more familiar with. I sincerely hope there is no sanctuary for his followers in this city.“ She adds a few words in Alzhedo that might be a curse of Bane’s name. Then she breathes deeply and continues with the rest of her story.
“Matteo said he’d probably be back in the morning. I think he’s at the estate of this mysterious lady in whose service he is… As for the armor, we found it on our expedition yesterday. It is from a fallen Janessar – whether you’d want the armor or not, he wouldn’t have minded. We Ilmatari are quite practical in those things.“ She frowns, now with the gleam of anger in her own eyes. “The murdered farmers were a different thing. The evil presence was gone but it left behind the undead bodies of a family… as well as the dead body of a man Matteo seemed to know, a man named Tharkas.“
“From what the others said, Tharkas was killed and taken from the city, why take him just to leave his corpse lying around to be found?“ Reaching out Telsom touches the halflings upper arm lightly. “I will go see this armor, my thanks to you and the others for bringing it for me, it is most generous. If the armor fits I will give up my prayers to the fallen Janessar thanking him and letting him know that even though he has passed on his armor will be used well so that evil can be struck down.“ Standing, Telsom gives Emlyn a small bow before leaving to check on the armor mentioned.
Immerine moves out of the room, leaving Matteo behind. In the hall and starts shouting for Rohr as she heads down the long stairs to the front of the manse. “Rohr! Rohr! I want my things. I am leaving now! Rohr!?“ A door opens and the elderly servant steps into the hallway. “Milady is leaving for the day? I will have your gear returned. Do you wish a carriage to take you about the city perhaps?“ With a quick movement of his hands he signals to Jastra who had peered around a corner to see what the commotion was about. Focusing his attention on Immerine again, Rohr gives her a gentle and polite smile. “While you’re clothes and armor are being retrieved, would Milady want something to drink?“
Immerine heads straight for the older man. “No thank – you. And, I am not a lady I am me – Immerine. I just want my things and I don’t think I will be coming back – ever.“ Her voice clamps down and she almost chokes. “He is impossible and he will need your carriage to take him where he is going. I will walk.“ Immerine does not look Rohr in the eye. “As you wish mi… Immerine.“ The friendly expression doesn’t change, though a flicker of genuine worry lights his eyes. “Ah, here is your equipment.“ Rohr walks up to Jastra who is carrying Immerine’s armor and other belongings. Taking the equipment from the maid, he offers it to Immerine.
Immerine collects her things, “I will have these clothes cleaned and returned to you.“ She plucks at the clothing she wears. “Thank – you both for your kindness and patience.“ She lifts her mask to kiss Rohr on the cheek, then hugs Jastra. Once finished she leaves the estate and heads slowly to the Tor. When Immerine leaves the Angruatil mansion, she walks through the cold drizzle up the street towards Clearspring Tor. A handful of passersby ignore the woman as they hurry by wrapped deeply in their cloaks or sheltering under wide brimmed hats. Upon the Tor, Immerine finds a stone bench under large beech. The tree still has most of its dark-red leaves, providing some amount of shelter from the elements.
Sighing in tranquility Immerine sits on the bench and leans back into the tree. She lets her mind wander and succumb to what natural surroundings the Tor offers. The morning’s events pile up on her: finding Matteo, learning that her dream may not have been a dream, blurting out that she loved the insufferable man, learning to be kissed and pledging herself to the same insufferable man. She doesn’t even think he knows what she did, not that the selfish Sembian would care.
Immerine’s head is awhirl with possibilities and worries. Why didn’t Khelliara’s healing grace come to her? It had never failed before. What had she done to anger her goddess? What if the Sisterhood learned of Matteo, not that she had pledged herself… that could be overlooked – but, pledging herself to a formerly avowed enemy of what the Sisterhood stood against… what her mother had died defending against. Matteo would be a strong ally, whether willing or not, against the Cult.
People can change – can’t they? Immerine touches her facemask, maybe not all changes came quickly. She remembers holding him in her arms as he cried over his wife’s death, surely that was not faked. Even now she can remember his scent and feel against her skin and she shivers. Immerine touches the symbol around her neck, her first love… her goddess and until today the only true feelings of warmth and happiness she had known. What had she done? Tears gather in the corners of her eyes. She had failed but how. Was it because she had fled? Because she did not stay to teach Kalil? Was it her? Did she trust in the power too much?
Immerine groans as her headache returns and spots appear again. The walk to the Tor was soothing, relaxing but taxing. She looks up into the branches of the tree above her, then closes her eyes and touches her holy symbol. “Forgive me, guardian and lady of the forest. I demand too much of you and not of myself. I have been selfish today and chose not to serve your needs, but my own. Please help me to understand my path in this forest of human creation. Guide me as a tool for your use.“ Immerine falls silent and simply keeps her eyes closed and listens to the voices of the spirits in this strange, yet fascinating, place.
The strange, yet familiar spirits have a soothing effect on Immerine, she feels their peace with the man-made forest of stone, they seem to have adapted over the years from the once pristine wilderness to the current state of the country. And though there is a small feeling of loss over what once was, it is a feeling of a fond memory, something to look back to. Yet there are more pronounced feelings of later ages, ages when elves, dwarves and finally men shaped the surroundings. Nature looked and took no action, only in time it adapted to the new environment. Curiosity washes over Immerine, a strong emotion within the local spirits. It seems this curiosity enabled them to learn and to adapt.
At first it was easy, the elves did not change much, rather they worked with the flow of nature to shape their own environment. Yet it was change. In later ages dwarves came, the industrious folk changed more of the landscape, laying the foundations of what once would become the fair city of Berdusk. Though the spirits at first were appalled by the work of the dwarves, the destruction of the wild, soon the curious feeling overtook the other emotions and the spirits learned, and worked their way within the new environment, sharing it with the unwitting stout folk.
Seasons flowed past and the spirits were contend with their new homes, but then something happened. Waves of goblinoids descended down from the North and ravaged and pillaged the land. The dwarves were bested at their stronghold on the Tor and for a short while the vile creatures took over. Their despoiling rule over the surroundings did not last long. Their depredations had upset man, elf and dwarf, and in an alliance they fought back, banishing the goblinoids. Yet the dwarves did not return to the two hills. It was man that made the Tor and the dwarven stronghold their own. Their rule was vastly different from the elves and the dwarves.
Man did not delve into the two hills, instead the built on the slopes, first the largest hill. A castle was constructed on the old foundations of the Dwarfhold, then the newer constructions radiated down the slope towards the natural harbor the Clearspring had created. It was due to a union between elf an man that the second hill, Clearspring Tor was kept in a more pristine state. The child born of that union did not live a long life, but uttered a prophecy:
The prophecy has been forgotten by most, but not by those who have followed the human god of scripture. A temple to this god, Denier, was created and they would guard against the prophecy. Yet over time, man had no more aspiration of building on the Tor. The green heart had become part of their own heart, and they flowed with the seasons. The spirits were relieved and happy, though their surroundings had changed, and elves, dwarves and goblins had come like the seasons, it was now springtime again. The exuberant energy of man thrilled the spirits and still does to this day.
A little twittering noise invades Immerine’s meditation and she opens her eyes. In front of her, on a small brush sits a bluebird. The bird turns a small black gleaming eye toward the woman and flies toward her, landing on the hand that Immerine stretches out. At the moment it lands, the bird becomes translucent, and turns into a blue glowing haze that flows through the pores of her skin into Immerine. Startled at first, Immerine pulls back her hand in a reflex, but then relaxes as a feeling of calm flows from her arm up toward her chest. Closing her eyes and inhaling a deep breath of fresh air, Immerine feels rejuvenated. The headache and the spots have gone, and so has the pain in her back. A smile plays about Immerine’s lips as she sighs in relief and leans back into the tree. She closes her eyes and allows herself to drift away with the sounds of raindrops and wind. She is asleep within moments.
After what feels like a long sleep, the sounds of a horse approaching slowly penetrates Immerine’s mind, followed by a familiar male voice. “Milady, are you alright? Though you seem to have great affinity with the elements, it doesn’t seem to be the most comfortable place to sleep.“
“You would be surprised how comfortable it is for me, Barim.“ Immerine stands up, “I hope I did not get you into too much trouble for keeping you out last night.“ She looks up at the man on horseback, concern reflected in her eyes. “The mules we found were Lord Ashgale’s. Seems he had a bit of a night as well. He would recover if he would stay in bed, but it seems he has other plans. As for me I was going to the Running Stag by way of this place. It is peaceful here and very relaxing. Are you on your way home now?“
“Indeed I was on my way home, to get some more rest before I return to duty this afternoon. I thought I recognized you from the ramparts…“ Barim gestures towards the castle on the other hilltop, “… and I was worried. Can I offer you a ride to the Stag? For me it is but a slight detour, and on horseback it doesn’t matter.“
“You are doubly kind; First for coming to see if I was okay and second for offering a ride. I will take your ride. Do you want me to mount before or behind you?“ Immerine looks at the horse and gauges whether she will be a burdensome load. A smile crosses Barim’s face. “That depends, if you want to ride like a lady or as the woman I got to know a little?“ Immerine looks at Barim, her head cocked a little, “That depends, does our journey last night mean you know me?“ Barim let’s out a hearty laugh, “No, only a little bit.“ He winks at her, “Hop on behind me and hold on.“ Barim says jovially and extends his hand to help Immerine up. “I’ll promise not to ride too fast.“
Immerine takes his hand and swings up behind him. She laces her fingers together around his middle and leans into him. Adjusting himself a little in the saddle to make it more comfortable for Immerine to sit, Barim guides his horse around and downhill. “You look better than you did earlier this morning milady. I trust all is well?“ From behind Barim’s back Immerine answers. “I am much better now than I was this morning. Thank – you Barim. I hope you get the rest you deserve as well. I am sorry to seem to be such a bother to you.“
The horse has taken them almost completely downhill. Barim has avoided the main trail leading up to the Tor, instead he just rides across the lawn and between the bushes that grow abundantly on the hill, although nature has readied itself for winter. Most leaves are brown or have fallen of completely; the bare branches and twigs gleaming in the soft downpour. “I have had worse bothers then you milady. The only thing I would have done differently is pay better heed to where I lead my horse. It was my own fault that she broke her leg and threw me off.“
“I treated her first, you silly man. T’was your own fault and I agree. I did get her to drink a potion of healing as well though. She needed it.“ Immerine lays her head against Barim’s back. “Do you know how to kiss, Barim?“ Immerine asks suddenly. Immerine feels Barim stiffen in surprise, his back goes taut for a moment before he almost stumbles over his next words. “Ehm… excuse me. How to kiss? Ehm… yeah… I guess so?“
“What if you love someone and they say they love you but act in strange fashions? What do you do and how do you react? Especially after they pledge to you and you to them?“ Immerine whispers into his ear. Barim relaxes a little bit as Immerine’s words sink in. “Act in strange ways after pledging to one another? Well, that sounds like being in love.“ He lets out a laugh. “Some people would call it being moonstruck, or behaving like calves.“ He shakes his head in mild amusement. “Yes, sounds like love alright.“
“You did not get mad at me for being naked. My body does not bother you, right? Or are you offended by it? I know the scars are terrible and they are ugly, but they are badges of honor. Tell me do you swell too? Matteo even leaks.“ Immerine grabs him in the crotch but lets go almost immediately. “I do not understand him. And then he was so cold and I got mad again.“ She tightens her arms around Barim. “I even let him see my face, but now I wish I hadn’t.“
“Woa!“ Barim exclaims as he feels Immerine’s hand suddenly grope his crotch. He sputters and swallows for a moment, and red spots appear in his neck. His reaction almost spooking the horse. “Ehm…“ He coughs, “I ehm…“ And coughs again, “Well… that’s normal, I mean swelling is… and… well not like here… Like you… ehm.“ Barim seems to lose himself momentarily in stammering and stuttering as he tries to regain his composure. He coughs once more in his hand and breathes deeply. “I have seen naked women before. If that’s what you mean. No reason to get mad about?“ He shakes is head once more, the red spots slowly fading. “And as to swelling, ehm… that’s normal when a man becomes aroused. I don’t know who you mean, but I’m… I can understand his reaction if you groped about in his crotch like you just did.“
“No Barim. Lord Ashgale, Matteo, is whom I am speaking of. He got mad at me for being naked and kept telling me to put on clothing. When I did, he got angry at that too. Then I saw his swelling and I was going to call for help.“ She breathes deeper, “Then he told me to touch it and I did and it leaked. This piece of man is used for procreation and sex, correct? So why do you need kissing and why should the female suckle this organ if it is used for procreation?“
The initial shock of this unsuspected conversation seems to be over. Barim now seems to try and control his mirth. He coughs lightly a few times to regain his composure before replying. “I would think Lord Ashgale was somewhat confused by his feelings for you. On the one hand he wants you, but it seems on the other hand he doesn’t want to move to quick. Though…“ A grin crosses Barim’s face. “As for a man’s… ehm… organ… yes you are correct in describing its use I suppose. It is that other then procreation, mankind, and I suspect dwarves, elves, halflings and probably most two-legged beings enjoy the feelings of having sex. So much that they have sex without actual procreation.“ Barim turns a little in the saddle to look at Immerine. “Does that answer your questions a bit more perhaps?“
“No, but I will not bother you with more of my concerns on this aspect. Lord Ashgale has pledged himself to me as mate yet I do not believe he truly means it.“ Immerine falls silent as she thinks about what happened since returning to Berdusk. Barim rides on, leaving Immerine to contemplate on things. After only a brief ride, he interrupts the silence. “The Running Stag milady.“ And he offers Immerine a hand in dismounting.
Immerine jolts back to current time. She takes Barim’s hand and lowers herself to the ground. “Thank – You Barim. I hope I caused you no problems.“ She nods her head to him in thanks and heads directly to the stables to find Qwenta. “No problems at all milady.“ Barim gives her a smile and salutes her before riding of. As Immerine enters the stables, she is greeted by the whinny of Qwenta who recognizes his mistress upon entering.
Immerine rushes to the stallion’s head and caresses him tenderly. She whispers words into his ear that only have meaning between the two of them and are nonsense to anyone else. By the time she is finished her eyes are moist and she hugs Qwenta again. “My beauty I have so much to tell you, but I need to eat something first. I will be back as soon as possible.“
Immerine leaves the stables, and hurries across the courtyard to the Stag’s entrance. Entering the establishment, she sees only a few patrons about. At the long table near the fireplace, she sees some familiar faces: Marc dressed in some oversized clothes, eating happily away, and Nik in a new attire though the bard looks troubled, and a new face, a young half-elven man. A little away from the table Emlyn and Telsom are engaged in a conversation, both of them seem refreshed and much better looking then when Immerine left them yesterday. The others haven’t noticed her entering the establishment yet, engaged as they are in their activities.
Immerine, looking a bit worse for wear than the day before, walks across the room towards the table. She circles around towards Marc and pauses to kneel and scratch Friend’s head heartily. Then she sits down, picks up a plate and starts grabbing for the remaining morsels of food. More surprising is when the masked lady leans back before starting her meal and takes the mask off. Her black hair is damp and a few strands are plastered across her forehead. Her clothes, while clean, are also wet.
She cocks her head towards Marc, “Morning to you. I trust your evening was less eventful than my own.“ She smiles brightly, her perfect lips turning up at the edges. She nods to Nik, “Master Minstrel, nice to see you survived the trip to the city. I trust no horses devoured any portion of your being along the way.“ While teasing, her eyes show compassion for the man’s fear.
When he sees Immerine closing in Marc’s eyes grow. While Immerine steps closer to scratch Friend he rises and says enthusiastically, “Hmmm, Immmmmimmm!“ His mouth is still awkwardly filled and his words are incomprehensible. So Marc swallows, but after that his cheeks are still bulging. He swallows again, with difficulty, and a third time. Then he coughs loudly and long; he has choked on a lump of bread apparently. I’ll spare you the details, but Friend shoots forward to take opportunity of the new arrived food.
Nik’s head snaps up at Immerine’s comment, offended anger bright in his bloodshot eyes. Immediately the anger is replaced by pain, and he grimaces, closing his eyes, putting a hand to his forehead and groaning. When the pounding in his head subsides to a manageable level, he cautiously opens his eyes, and sees the compassion in Immerine’s eyes. He also sees her beautiful face for the first time, and for a brief moment the pain is overridden by surprise. He offers her a faint shadow of a gallant smile, and is about to speak when Jez beats him to it.
Biting into a puffy roll, Jez looks at Nik. Once he finishes devouring the roll he says snickering, “Eaten by horses? No but he did receive a well-deserved dunking last night.“ Then he stops and rambles in embarrassment. He places his food on the table and wipes his hands quickly with a clean napkin. “Please forgive me my lady. I was raised with better manners.“ Gesturing for the lady’s hand, he says, “My name is Jezbodiah Wisp, Son of Marthou and Evaleen Wisp, all native of Berdusk. And your name is…“ He waits for her to answer.
A few tears of oppression still roll down the cheeks of the poor lad, but he’s breathing normally again and, after a last, light, cough he’s capable of saying something, “Ehm… sorry for that.“ He hits his chest with the palm of his hand. “But, hey, Immerine, you’re back!“ He looks investigating at the woman, saying “and in one piece too.“ Marc sighs slightly, “Good… I was a bit worried you know.“ He blinks his eyes a few times and looks at Immerine. “Your evening…? Eventful… ehm… no, I gather not, but… what happened?“ Slowly he seats himself again.
Immerine raises a delicate eyebrow at the forwardness of the man for speaking when not spoken too. Then she shakes her head and whispers softly, “You are not in Rashemar…“ Finally she raises emerald eyes to Jezbodiah’s face. “I am not from Berdusk.“ She says softly in common. Her accent is odd and she seems to annunciate her words carefully. “And, my name is Immerine.“ She holds his gaze for a moment then turns back to Nik.
The obviously badly hung-over bard shoots Jez a furious glare. He visibly restrains himself for speaking whatever is on his mind, although whether it is because his head hurts too much to argue or he is struggling to be polite is anyone’s guess. Nik sighs and scratches at a small patch of beard-stubble that he missed while shaving. Given the pain on his face and the bruised look around his bloodshot eyes, it seems a miracle that he didn’t cut his own throat shaving.
Giving Immerine a slightly chagrined smile, the bard says “Yes, and I see you made it back safely as well.“ Nik’s deep voice is soft and subdued, as if to speak with his normal expressiveness might make his head shatter like struck glass. He winks at her suddenly, a spark of roguish humor showing through the pain. “The horses, I had no trouble with. I went ten rounds with a bottle last night, however, and came out the loser.“ His half-smile is rueful and slightly bitter, but concern quickly replaces the self-mockery as he adds gently “I am truly glad to see you well, milady. We were quite worried by your hasty departure.“
Immerine’s pale face grows even paler when Nik brings up her departure. “All would have gone well enough if Lieutenant Aluar had not followed. I did not return to Berdusk until dawn and would not have returned at all if not for the Lieutenant and Saer Ashgale.“ Matteo’s honorific sounds insulting when spoken by the dark-haired lady. Immerine reaches out and places a cool hand against Nik’s cheek. “I would cast a simple spell to help alleviate you of some of your self-inflicted agony, but I fear I would only make things worse. Nor would I choose to interfere with this odd ritual men seem to enjoy when going on bouts with their liquor.“
A mischievous look settles on her face, “I could offer you a drink of jihuld, I know it would snap you from this state you are in, but it just may eat through your stomach too.“ Looking towards Telsom and Emlyn she smiles softly, “I see Telsom is also much better this morning.“ Once satisfied she has fulfilled the requirements of society, Immerine begins eating heartily.
As Immerine reaches for him, the concern in Nik’s eyes changes suddenly to fear. He flinches slightly away from her, but again that tiny movement is enough to make him grimace in pain. When his eyes open again there is nothing but misery and embarrassment in them, and he holds still as stone as Immerine touches him.
“Sorry, milady.“ He mumbles bitterly, unable to meet her eyes for a brief moment. Under her hand she can feel the moment of tension drain from him, and when he looks back at her his bloodshot muddy-green eyes are full of self-mockery, and the rueful half-smile is back on his haggard face. His smile broadens at her gentle teasing, and he says quietly “You are wise as well as beautiful. Sometimes we drink so that we may pay for it in the morning. I have a concoction of my own in the making. It doesn’t eat through my stomach, but occasionally I wish it did.“ Nik refrains from commenting on her obvious issue with Matteo, but there is a spark of curiosity lurking behind the self-mockery in his eyes.
When Immerine returns to her breakfast, Nik leans his chin on one hand, watching for Elisa to return with the ingredients of his hangover remedy. Occasionally he sneaks glances at Immerine, and when he does his expression is pensive, his eyes full of curiosity, wonder and a touch of awe.
When Jez begins speaking to Immerine in a foreign tongue, Nik’s brow furrows in surprise. He straightens up, but once again pays for his hasty action with the resurgence of his blinding headache. A pained moan slipping between his clenched teeth, he leans over the table again, his aching head in his hands once more.
Smiling, the young half-elf leans back in his chair and waits for Immerine to fill her mouth with breakfast. After she is through with a few healthy bites, Jez says to her in Rashemi, “I know I’m not in Rashemen and it appears neither are you. I can tell by your accent. Tell me if I may ask, why have you removed your veil? I believe it is customary for woman of Rashemen to remain veiled at all times, or at least that’s what I have heard from my mother.“ Jez speaks with concern sprinkled with a bit of curiosity. But then again curiosity killed the proverbial cat. “Forgive me for my manners and my misplaced curiosity.“ Jez says in Rashemi. “I heard from an associate that there was a mugging in Clearspring Tor. Apparently a woman was victim. You didn’t happen to pass through the Clearspring Tor with the last evening did you?“
Immerine finishes a few more bites before turning fully towards Jezbodiah and responds to him in Common, “You will refrain from using the language of my home while in my presence, do you understand Outlander?“ Her face is stormy and a blaze lights behind glittering green eyes. The young woman transforms into a haughty, arrogant matron used to being obeyed as she speaks to Jezbodiah, “I will answer your queries only because you need to be taught truth and manners. Your beliefs on the customs of my people fall quite short of the reality of the situation. However, you cannot be faulted for the sins of your parents and thus I forgive your misuse of my native tongue.“
“Sins of my parents?“ Jez says in Rashemen. “Not really, they have quite a reputation in Rashemen as art collectors and appraisers. And I wouldn’t judge someone’s parents until I met them.“
Immerine pauses and then continues in a ringing voice still speaking common, “I removed my mask because it suits me. And, to teach you, know that not all women in my home wear masks. Only the ruling class, the wychlaran, wear them. The mask is to remind us the individual is not as important as the group. When orders are given by a Masked One to her subordinates it is to be obeyed without question and upon pain of death. As you have also said, neither of us is in Rashemen.“ She pauses and takes another bite of food before turning her burning gaze again upon the half-elf. “Therefore I can be an individual, while being a member of a group. No mask is needed outside my homeland, because no one here is Rashemi and I am faceless.“
Silent and still faced, Jez allows Immerine to educate him on points of her culture. Showing no emotion throughout her lecture, Jez merely smiles and soaks up the information like a sponge in a dish of water. “All spoken in good faith.“ He says in common, “But there are times when an individual can do more than the group and in ways the group can not act.“
Immerine’s anger seems to disappear immediately as she turns to the rest of the group. “I was not at Clearspring Tor until this morning, where I meditated before coming here. I spent the night outside the city in the forest. It was rather – eventful.“
She looks at Jezbodiah no trace of hauteur or anger left in her eyes, “Would you know where I can get leather armor repaired? I seem to have ruined my set last evening.“
“Ah yes, repaired mayhaps.“ Jez sys, “A new suit of armor, now that would possible. The name of the place is called Thunderwood Forays. It a good shop really. My father sold some of his equipment and hardware through his store. The owner is a ranger named Olbrimsur. If you wish, I will escort you to his shop. I have business with the gentlemen today. I need to see if he has heard any gossip.“
“That would be appreciated.“ She turns away from Jez and smiles openly at Marc. Marc observed the conversations closely. And at the time Jez started to talk incomprehensible he kept looking at the speakers, and took another bite. When he hears Immerine’s remark about her night in the forest he swallows again. – Fortunately he learned and had taken a smaller byte – He nods curiously, “Eventful… Yes?“
“Very eventful. I did not get much sleep and almost died twice while saving two people. But that is over and I am here now, in the sunshine, where I met you two days ago. ‘Lord’ Ashgale will be here shortly. He was hobbling around his room half-clothed when I left his side. Do not be surprised by his appearance, it seems he had an eventful evening as well.“ Immerine’s stomach gently rumbles and reminds her to continue stuffing it.
While Immerine tells this Marc’s head shifts an inch backward. He squeezes one eye, then he nods, “Almost died twice… Hmm, I had the impression life out here was… well… more safe than that.“ Marc smiles at the lady while he studies her intensely. “And… nearly dying seems to be… common for you…? As well as saving folk?“ There’s a brief silence while Marc beholds her face. Then his smile broadens, “Anyway.“ He gently pats her hand, “I’m glad you’re here… Here!“ He picks up a chump of sausage and hands it to her. “Like our blacksmith used to say: ‘In – or around – threatened situations, always make sure to sleep and eat enough.’“ Marc sits back, “And indeed my evening was less… ehm… eventful… Hmmm… Nearly boring it was…“ Marc throws a sad glance at the food, “… and less useful for sure.“ Then he reaches and picks another bit of nourishment, to make it disappear somewhere under his nose.
Elisa returns to the table with Nik’s requested recipe. She puts her hand on his shoulder and squeezes it affectionately. “Hope this helps getting you cleared up.“ She smiles and gives Marc a wink before going about her business. Several other patrons have arrived and want to order their drinks.
A warm smile appears on Marc’s face as a reaction on Elisa’s wink. He looks at her back while she walks away before his smile transforms in a more amused one when he throws a glance at Nik. Just before he’d retreated his look – not to be too impolite – he looks again. Compassion and humor are having a little fight on his face, but he bites his lip and returns his attention to Immerine.
Immerine swallows and takes a drink of water, “No. Dying, or almost so, has only been commonplace since I decided to leave home.“ She eyes Marc with a healer’s eye and clucks her tongue. “After breakfast I am going to tend your wounds. I have already used the gifts granted me from Khelliara on Matteo, a waste actually. However, I still have skill in my hands and the knowledge to use it.“
Marc’s head rises in surprise. “Wounds?“ He frowns thoughtfully, then he seems to understand what she was talking about. “Oh, yes…“ He lifts his left hand and feels at his ear. After that he looks at the palm of his hand and says, “Ah, nothing much, it’s healing quite well.“ Embarrassed he looks at the shoulder of his tunic, where a bloodstain, about the size of two hands, colors the left shoulder brown. He looks at Immerine again, still surprised the veil didn’t conceal some ugliness but a friendly face instead, and adds, “But if you don’t mind… I would appreciate if you could take a look at my bruises.“ He twitches the corner of his mouth, “Some… ehm… pony hit me…“ Marc sighs and holds his back with his right hand for the time of a breath. “And, well, doesn’t feel…“ Marc shrugs, “Ehm… too good, if you know what I mean.“ Having said that he bites off another piece of food, bearing in mind not filling his mouth too much again, while looking at Immerine awaiting her response. “It would be my pleasure.“ She winks at Marc and continues with her breakfast.
The tall bard has been hunched over the table while the others converse, sunk deep in his private well of misery. He flinches slightly at Elisa’s touch, but it is just the barest suggestion of movement. He looks up at her with the rueful half-smile firmly in place. “Thank you, my dear.“ Nik tells her, looking at the items before him with a mix of relief and resignation. “I’ll need something sweet after this horror, perhaps honeyed tea?“
Marc nods thankfully and mumbles something that sounds like ‘Thank you’. After a brief look at Telsom and Emlyn he throws another glance at Nik, shakes his head and smiles encouraging at the man. He softly pats Nik’s lower arm twice. The tall bard jerks back at Marc’s touch, wincing at the reciprocal increase in his headache. He gives Marc an apologetic smile, and says “Sorry, lad. I’m a bit… jumpy… today.“ His grin turns bitter, and he adds under his breath “Today and every day, for that matter.“
Marc reacts a bit startled when Nik jerks back, “Ehm…“ Then – concluding he mistreated the poor fellow – he humbly states “Sorry I… ehm“. By coincidence Nik’s and Marc’s ‘sorry’ sound together. Sadness is still apparent in Marc’s eyes while he looks at the jumpy man, but – while he slowly shakes his head – a tender smile emerges on his frowned face.
The bitterness harsh on his craggy face, Nik says quietly “Mind yourself, that you don’t end up like me, lad.“ His voice is soft, his shadowed, bloodshot eyes vague and melancholy. He looks at Telsom and Emlyn, but he doesn’t really seem to be seeing them, something empty and wistful in his face “Alone, with nothing but a hangover and memories…“
Suddenly the bard’s expression becomes guarded, as if he didn’t mean to say what came out of his mouth. His eyes lose their hazy look, focusing back on the present. “Don’t mind me.“ He says with a forced grin. “It’s the lack of alcohol speaking.“ With a sigh he carefully cracks his egg, delicately splitting it in half, and pouring the white into one half-shell and keeping the yolk in the other. When he’s done, he pours the yolk into the gin. Then he sprinkles a judicious handful of pepper on top of the yolk. The ease with which he prepares his disgusting mixture speaks volumes about the bard’s drinking habits.
Jez acknowledges Immerine’s last words then he turns to Nik who begins brewing his hangover remedy. The young half-elf blurts, “You’re going to drink that! This I have to see!“ Jez waits patiently for the older bard to chug his concoction. Nik pauses for a moment, visibly preparing himself. Then he closes his eyes and drinks his concoction in two huge gulps; first the egg white, then the gin mixture. “Ugh!“ He gasps, grimacing at the taste and slamming the empty cup back on the table. “That stuff gets nastier every time I make it.“
As Telsom takes his leave of Emlyn, he moves over to the bar where he sees Mumadar busy pouring a couple of drinks. When the man is finished he puts the drinks on a tray ready for Elisa to pick up. Noticing Telsom he smiles. “Ah rafayam. Your friends left you a nice surprise. I had it cleaned up and repaired.“ He looks about in the common room to see how busy the place is. He smiles again and comes from behind the bar. Sketching a little bow he says, “Follow me please.“ And he walks to the concealed door into the corridor. Nodding at Mumadar’s bow, Telsom follows the bartender through the concealed door.
Mumadar leads Telsom through the maze of the Stag, but not as far as the previous time. Close to the stables, the innkeep opens a door to a room that looks like a small smithy. A small furnace with bellows stands in one end of the room, and a large door provides access to the stable area. On a workbench that has been cleared of most of its normal clutter of tools and smithy – implements rests a gleaming suit of mail. The mail is clearly of southern origin, designed for protection as well as comfort in warm climes.
“What I understood from one of the castle’s armorer’s apprentices that helped me clean this suit, the armor is of Calishite origin and of very high quality.“ Mumadar says, left hand on his hip while flipping his customary coin with the other. Seeing Telsom stand gawking a little in the door opening, the innkeep pulls him in the room, “Please, rafayam. Try it on. I’ll help you.“
“I grieve for the warrior that must have worn this armor proudly. May Sune allow me to make up for the man’s death and wear this in his memory.“ Moving up to the armor, Telsom gives a small whistle. Eagerly accepting Mumadar’s assistance, the paladin dons the armor. Giving a light chuckle, Telsom turns to Mumadar. “I’m afraid my rapier will look slightly out of place as I use it to battle evil while in this glorious armor. I shall have to look for a broad sword or a hand and a half blade a little later on this day.“
After her conversation with Telsom, Emlyn remains standing for a moment, seemingly lost in thought before she returns to the table and watches the suffering bard. While Marc looks at and listens to the tall man with this visual hangover, gradually a gleam of glee starts twinkling in his sad eyes. From a corner of those twinkling eyes he sees Telsom enter the common room again, the young paladin walking back to the table.
Breakfast seems to have finished, most of the food gone, and only almost empty cups are left on the table. As the outer door opens, Immerine turns her head towards it. Only a stranger walks in.
Emlyn shakes her head at the leftovers from Nik’s hangover remedy. “By Beshaba’s black underwear, you could just as well have taken some “ Just in time she realizes that the cure is possibly not as good for the stomach as for the head, so she wisely decides not to finish her sentence.
Looking over the others at the table, her gaze stops with Immerine. “So you’re Immerine… I almost didn’t recognize you without the veil.“ She hasn’t followed the conversation between her and Jez, only looking up when it became quite heated and turned back to Telsom when it calmed down again.
“That is alright. I barely recognize myself today.“ She says cryptically. Her gaze follows many people as they mill about. She finishes the last bits on her plate and drinks the last of her water. She smiles at the memory of a couple nights ago when she told the tale of Bhalla’s Blood. “Has anyone seen Kalil? I promised to speak to him when I returned.“ She looks around almost expecting to see the young man.
The moment of imminent sickness passes for Nik, and his tall frame slumps over the table again, chin in his hands once more. Sighing with relief, he finally opens his eyes. Much of the pain is gone from his face now, but he still moves with the slow care of the seriously hung-over.
While chewing away a last chunk of bread, assisted on its way down by some beer, Marc looks at Immerine and nods. “Exactly!“ Marc takes another sip to clear his throat, “Where is he?“ Marc swallows again, “Not to mention the others. I don’t know, but it smells shady… ehm, I mean… it looks fishy.“ Marc counts on the fingers of his left hand while he continues, “Portia is missing, Druth is elsewhere, Grim disappeared, and Kalil became invisible, while Matteo seems to be everywhere, except with us… Ehm…“ Marc stops his enumeration and looks at his left hand, which has all fingers stretched by now. “Ehm…“ After a breath or so he continues counting on his right hand. “And all we know of our lady is that she was unconscious when she was brought beyond reach. But… Well, you are back.“ Marc nods a smile at Immerine, “and you’ve met Matteo and at least Telsom showed up at last too.“ Marc sighs. “Still, it’s… well… weird is a word.“
“Grim?“ replies Jez, as he arcs his head towards Marc. “I met a gentleman named Grim yesterday. He wanted directions to, ehm…“ Trying to remember, Jez snaps his fingers several times in hopes it would aid him. “ah yes, Hullybuck’s Gamble. I doubt he’ll get a room from Hullybuck. The owner is fond of halflings and nothing else. Nothing else but someone else’s gold pouch.“ Marc looks pleased at Jez’s assertion.
Smiling at Emlyn, Nik says, “I see you returned safely yet again.“ The bard’s voice is soft and he still lacks most of his old exuberance, but his vile concoction seems to have helped him quite a bit. A large portion of his old manic humor is bright in his eyes as he adds, “You’ve escaped the clutches of trolls and Torentsheds. You’re a brave lass indeed.“
He turns his gaze on Immerine, brow furrowing with thought. He brightens almost immediately, and says “Oh, yes! I saw Kalil last evening. He said he wished to see the priests of Azuth for something. He took his little box with him.“ There is a flicker of something in the bard’s greenish-brown eyes – regret, perhaps? But it is gone as quickly as it appears, leaving behind nothing but the oddly feckless good humor.
“Ehm… Is he?“ Marc looks at his spread left hand and then looks at Nik, “Ah! Then…“
Nik notices Telsom approaching, and for a quick moment his grin becomes a bit fixed, his eyes suddenly wary and a bit frightened. He looks at Marc, the cheerfulness back in his eyes, and says, “Well, lad, I seem to think Julia and I still owe you that tune, don’t we?“ With a wink at Marc he starts to pull the cover from he magnificent yarting. “Or did you want to give her a try yourself?“ Marc shakes his head fiercely, “No saer, I wouldn’t dare… but please, play us something.“ Marc glances at Immerine, then returns to Nik, “Sorry, but I can’t play it… I can tune it though.“
With so many companions disappearing out of sight, Marc bends sideways to look under the table, but fortunately he finds Friend still there.
When Marc tries to sit straight again his face is set and a short groan sounds from his closed mouth. Holding his breath he brings his left hand to his left hip. Slowly he continues straightening in his seat. With his eyes wide open he bows his head and seems to look investigating at the crumbs on the table in front of him. After a moment he releases his breath again, smiles awkwardly at Immerine and adds with a small voice, “I… uh! Really would like you to look at my… uh! Bruises.“ He takes another slow breath or two, then he lets go of his hip, takes another sip, wipes his eyes, looks up at the others and says, smiling embarrassed, “Dripping Droughts, that pony really hit me!“ Then he returns his attention to the nice work of craftsmanship the tall bard is revealing.
Immerine stands and nods her head to Marc. “I will tend you in my room. You will be more comfortable there, I believe.“ Immerine waits for Marc to stand so she can lead the way to her room.
Moving to the table, Telsom looks quite different than he had before; above his suit of fine clothing the warrior wears a gleaming suit of banded armor. Staring at the empty container, which had held the bard’s remedy, Telsom’s face goes pail for a moment. “You actually drank that?“ He asks as he claims a seat next to Emlyn once more. “My thanks for the gift of this fine Calishite steel.“ He says with first a nod to Emlyn and then one for Marc. “I hope that I might wear it as well as did the man before I.“
Marc frowns as he turns his head towards Telsom as reaction to his thanks, then he raises his eyebrows and spreads his hands. “Saer.“ He says, smiling humbly, “I don’t know what you thank me for, but… ehm… I do hope this armor will bring you… well… more prosperity than it brought its previous owner.“ Although Marc’s face is looking friendly there seems to be a teasing luster in his eyes.
“Marc is right.“ Emlyn says, looking approvingly at the knights new… well, shining armor. “You don’t have us to thank for it…“ She becomes silent for a moment. “I have said my prayers that I may find out how the other man got there…“ Then her smile returns, “Still, if you want to thank somebody, I suggest you try Matteo, he was the one who got the measure right.“ Emlyn picks up a piece of cheese and another small chunk of bread and nibbles at it—again looking much like a squirrel. “I have not seen the other men.“ She manages in between bites. “Druth, you said… ? And Grim. No, not yet.“ She pauses for a moment. “I can however see how Kalil wanted to go to Azuth’s temple.“
Marc looks up at Immerine, nods, pushes his chair back and starts rising. Halfway up he stops this movement. With two hands on the table and his behind floating an inch or two above the chair he gazes at Immerine for a heartbeat or so and then he turns his head and gazes at Nik and his fine instrument for about the same period of time. After that he throws a glance at the standing and apparently waiting lady and nods again. Then he continues the move he interrupted and stands up straight. He looks down at the bard. “Saer…“ He says apologizing, “I certainly want to hear you perform.“ Marc smiles at the thought and adds, interrupting himself, “Could do with a little cheering up… but I don’t want to keep this lady waiting.“ Marc sighs lightly and shrugs, “I will return before long to listen.“ Then he nods smiling at the tall man and follows Immerine to the stairs.
Immerine watches Marc and as he moves towards the stairs she says, “You do not have to follow just because I ask it. You could stay and listen to Nik. When you are finished you could come upstairs. I am in the second room on the left down the right passage.“ She smiles gently and goes to her room.
Marc looks at the unveiled woman as she speaks, a tilt smile slowly growing on his face. Squeezing one eye and shaking his head once, he answers: “Nah“ Then he says, over his shoulder, “Don’t worry, I’ll return.“ And follows Immerine to her room.
The tall bard had been fussing with the cover on his fine instrument, seemingly oblivious to Marc and Immerine. But as Marc leaves, Nik looks up and smiles warmly. “Let the Lady Immerine take care of you. There’s plenty of time for music.“
His yarting finally unwrapped and the cover folded to his satisfaction, Nik turns his smile on Emlyn and Telsom. “Of course I drank that nasty swill.“ Nik tells the paladin, showing that he was actually paying attention to the others. “Best hang-over cure I know.“ Nik winks at Emlyn and adds “The man who taught me the recipe also recommended eating a live frog every morning, on the idea that then nothing worse could happen to you all day.“ The merry gleam in his eyes suggests he’s only joking, but then again, this IS coming from a man who just drank a raw egg and gin.
Emlyn quirks an eyebrow and grins back. “I have to feel sorry for the frog then.“ She chuckles. “Wouldn’t do much good to your voice either.“ She sits back, quietly eating her food and waiting for a little music, and Immerine and Marc to return.
Grinning back at her, Nik says “Well, you don’t see ME eating frog for breakfast, now, do you?“ He leans back slightly, checking the tune on his instrument, acknowledging the babble of requests with an absent-minded nod of his head.
Immerine holds the foliage-covered curtain aside to let Marc pass and follows him into the corridor leading to the steps. They greet Javroun as he exits on of the many rooms in the Stag. He nods politely back and proceeds to the common room. Judging by his attire, Javroun is on bar-duty today. Leading the way upstairs, Marc waits at the top for Immerine.
Immerine quietly passes the young man and heads for her room. She unlocks the door and steps inside waiting for Marc. Once he enters she shuts the door behind him. “Okay Marc, first you will need to remove your cloak and tunic so I can see what has been done to your torso. You will also want to remove your trousers.“ The young woman begins unpacking her saddlebags and backpack. She sets her tattered armor off to one side. Finally she comes up with her healer’s kit. Once she is finished setting up she turns to look at Marc.
Marc follows Immerine into her room a bit shyly and walks past her. At her suggestion to undress he nods and seats himself on the bed to undo his shoes first. He peeks around at the room, discovering nothing special. He puts his bow on the bed and his cloak near the shoes on the floor. After that he pulls out his oversized smock, revealing some scars on his left shoulder, folds it neatly and puts it on the cloak.
Then he stands up and unties the rope holding his sword and trousers, putting the sheathed sword standing against the bed. Then he bends and untidy folds his trousers and puts them on the cloak and smock. He erects and a large bruise is visible, starting at his left floating ribs down till the top of his left hip, some 10 by 10 inch large, mainly blue, but yellow and greenish near his navel. Marc looks at Immerine, “Well… ehm…“, he points at his ribs, “it’s here that hurts most, especially when I bend.“
Then Marc turns his back to her. On his shoulder is another set of scars, looking as if a larger animal scratched him severely some time ago. Strange enough the scar is interrupted by a 2-inch wide strip of baby-pink skin, reaching from the top of his right shoulder down to his left hip. On his right hip is a smaller bruise, as big as a man’s hand. Marc points at the bruise and adds, “Down here it’s a bit tender too.“ Then he states, “Hmm… Ehm… I’m not too sure of my buttocks either.“ A look at his bottom will reveal nothing too special, perhaps the skin is irritated and it might feel a bit sore, but certainly not more than that.
Suddenly – with a loud ‘bang’ – his sword falls from its standing position to the floor. Marc startles and looks over his shoulder at where the sound came from. When he sees the fallen sword he says, “Sorry“ and bends in order to pick it up, but apparently reconsiders, mumbles something and stands up straight.
Immerine watches Marc with a healer’s gaze. When he is finished undressing she approaches and gently probes his wounds. “Deep bruises, Marc. If you weren’t so good with animals I would say one of the horses tried to trample you.“ She picks up an ointment and a soft cloth. “This is going to hurt at first. The ointment has anesthetic properties but it will take a moment or two for it to work. I will be as gentle as I can.“
At the suggestion a horse tried to trample him Marc nods and smiles, “Still, it’s quite true you know… some bewitched dead pony tried to do just that.“ When Immerine warns Marc it will hurt he swallows, but at her explanation she’ll be gentle he smilingly puts his trust in her.
After warning the young man, she begins gently massaging the ointment into his wounds using the soft towel. The pain quickly gives way to a numbing sensation. Once all his wounds are numbed, Immerine probes deeper to make sure no lasting harm has been done.
Marc watches the healer while she does her job and says, “My mother used to do these things… things with ointments and herbs… healing.“ And when she’s nearly finished he adds, “Yes, I can feel it working… Thank you.“ For a few breaths he twitches his mouth from left to right, before continuing, hesitantly, “Ehm… Immerine… now we’re talking… well I… you seem a wise person… and… well, can I ask you something?“
As Immerine works, she nods. “My advice has not been fruitful of late, but I will give it – if you ask.“ She steps back and indicates with her hand that she is finished. “Once I have rested I will cast a minor curative to help the healing on its way, else it will be weeks before you are able to easily bend. There does not seem to be any lasting harm.“ She bends over and plucks his sword from the floor and places it by his side.
“Well, it’s about magic.“ Marc pushes off, “The other night you…“ Marc’s line of thinking is interrupted when Immerine places the sword near to him. “Thanks.“
Immerine goes over to the pitcher on the small table and pours herself a glass of water and sips it while listening to what Marc has to ask.
Eased by the lady’s restful behavior Marc recommences, “I have been wondering about magic some time now… and it seems that what you told Kalil the other night, about learning magic, being dangerous and all… well… it seemed right to me. y’know, wise and true.“ Marc frowns briefly, “well, it fits.“ He bites his lip, trying to find a way to explain his puzzle to this special woman. “You see… I already decided to be cautious some time ago… Until I could be very sure what was the right thing to do… didn’t want to end up being chained to evil or something… and then this morning…“
Marc sits down on the bed and shakes his head. His talking slows down to a more narrating tone, “I was near the door of Ditalidas’… ehm… dwelling and a couple of guards came in… and well… they looked unkind for some reason… So I tried to be as charming as I could… You know, smile, look them in the eyes… even started a friendly song… and then… for no reason… he got mad at me! Proclaimed I used magic!“ The sound of Marc’s voice rises, expressing his amazement and indignation. “Honestly… I never intended to… Just wanted to be my shining self… but he said I should stop casting magic!“ Marc looks sad and bewildered. Spreading his hands to express impotence he adds, “I don’t WANT to be magical… I just want to do… ehm… what’s right!“
Then he aims his big sad looking eyes expressly at Immerine and asks her, “What is wrong…? Is he right…? Was I casting magic?…? Did I for some reason loose contact with Chauntea? Can’t she work in the city or something? Have I unknowingly been praying to another deity instead…? What did I do wrong?“ The young man looks a bit out of the ordinary, sitting nakedly on her bed, next to the long sword and the spruce tile of clothes at his feet. But he doesn’t seem to notice or mind and is eagerly waiting for a response.
Immerine is still for some time as she watches Marc carefully. She finally breaks her silence, “Not all magic is evil, Marc. Most is inherently neutral and some is inherently good. Just because you cast a spell does not mean you are evil or that you have lost touch with Bha… I mean Chauntea. Magic can be a gift and a blessing when used properly. But it can also be a bane if used wrongly. I have not lost contact with the three I revere, so I do not believe you have lost contact by being in a city either.“ She looks at the worried young man for a moment.
Marc listens intensely at the words of the woman, watching the expression on her face, studying her eyes and weighing her voice and tone. Gradually his tension is unwinding.
“I do not know if you can cast spells with your voice or not. I know it can be done by those with a gift of music who are blessed by the Hidden One – I think you call her Mystra. If you did cast a magical spell do not consider it a bad thing, as the gift is not evil. I believe Nik could tell you more of this. He is one of those blessed with the gift of music and magic. Perhaps we can speak to him together, if you like. But, I did not see you cast – and I cannot answer if you did. Why would this man have thought you were casting a spell?“
Her eyes darken as she thinks of anyone being mean to the young man seated before her. “And, what did he say to you? Were you threatened? Do you still wish to see your mistress?“ Immerine sets her glass down and walks to her staff, caressing the worn surface.
Thoughtfully Marc continued listening, attempting to grasp what she’s saying, as well as trying to figure out what that might have to say about himself. He softly whispers to himself, nodding. “Like Chauntea’s bliss…? My mother…“ But he falls silent again, entangled in thoughts and questions. When Immerine mentions Nik he smiles and thoughtfully nods. “Yes, Nik! He is…“ – Marc pauses – “On the other hand…“ – Marc pauses again and then nods thankfully – “Yes, perhaps that’s a good idea.“ He looks down at the floor. Thoughtlessly he grabs his bow and toys with it a bit. Then he nods again, “Yes, I think we should.“
He humbly looks up at her, “And for why he thought I was using magic… I wish I knew!“ Marc spreads his hands, leaving his bow on his lap, “He had a kind of magic stick himself.“ Marc frowns as he thinks back of the awkward situation early this morning. “It had a blue glow, like northern lights… It was scary!“ Marc squeezes his mouth in a grim and starts toying his bow again, talking more rapidly, “Then he pointed that thing at me and made it glow even brighter.“ Marc clamps to his bow with both hands, “ ‘Stop your Magic boy’ He shouted and then the other pulled a sword and they…“
Marc shakes his head and shrugs his shoulders lightly, “Well, anyway… I was chased away.“ He looks unhappily at Immerine again. Then he sighs and looks down again. He sits there a while and his knuckles turn pale. Then he sadly looks in her green eyes again, touched by the woman’s compassion, and sniffs before stammering: “Yes! O – of course! She… she can be d – d – dead by now!“ Marc’s breathing intensifies while he silently shakes his bowed head, his big sad eyes constantly looking up to hers. Then he shivers, looks down at the proud but useless longsword and whispers, hardly audible, “But HOW?“
“By using their own society against them, Marc.“ Immerine smiles coldly. “In my lands I am a leader, here I am a stranger. However, I have learned many things from Matteo over the past couple of days. It is in the best interest of many people in this group to check on Ditalidas and make sure she is well.“ Immerine draws herself to her full height and an implacable mask falls over her features.
Marc’s eyes follow the woman as she talks and moves. He tries to make sense of what she’s aiming at when she talks about leadership, strangeness and society, and nods shyly when she mentions the importance of knowing whether his newfound leader is all right. When she erects herself he follows her move and shivers again.
“Marc, you are shivering, get dressed. Once you are clothed, we will return to Nik and the others. Then you and I will go check on your mistress. We will not be turned away.“ She says matter-of-factly.
Marc mumbles something, puts his bow aside, picks up his smock and starts dressing. The certainty in Immerine’s words must have struck him and hope emerges in his eyes.
Immerine bends to her pack again and pulls out a brush and hairpin. She arrangers her hair in an elegant fashion atop her head and trailing a single lock over one shoulder. She adjusts the garment given her this morning and looks at the effect in the mirror. She snorts at her reflection, “Pompous arrogance. Looks like I will need to ask Matteo about dresses for things like this.“
While putting on his trousers Marc looks approvingly at the arrangements she makes with her hair and clothing. He pulls his rope through the sheath of the sword and ties it around his waist. He looks up when she snorts and smiles assuring, “Well, I think you look beautiful.“ The understanding and explanations have done the lad well and he gradually seems to come to himself. He sits down again and adds, “really.“
He puts a shoe on and meanwhile resumes talking: “Hmm, so… you think it possible I did unwittingly use some kind of magic.“ His turns his attention to the other shoe, “Then again… if I did, this magic can be a gift from Chauntea to…“ – he mumbles something inaudible when his shoe doesn’t co-operate – “… to me. A gift to be grateful for… like my… my… darned…“ Marc is still violently trying to get his foot in the opposing shoe; then suddenly the shoe gives up resistance and Marc’s foot slips in – “Ah! Like my mother’s divine gift.“ Marc stands up and rearranges his belt and the position of his trophy of yesterday’s adventure. He picks up his quiver and attaches that to his belt as well. Then he looks up at her and nearly cheerfully says, “And you’ll take me to Ditalidas’ home soon.“
He picks up the bow and shoves it over his shoulder. The way he stands there, straight and assured, dressed and armed, seems in great contrast with how he sat on the bed just a short time ago. Marc takes a deep breath and takes a step in Immerine’s direction. He takes her hand, holds it in both hands and says solemnly, “Thank you… Ehm… I already rated you high… but…“ Marc looks away for a heartbeat or two. Then he looks her in the eyes again, his whole face emphasizing his words, “Thank you.“
He lets go of her hand and keeps looking at her, calmly breathing. He looks at the strands on her forehead a moment, but says nothing, very briefly touches her shoulder and steps backward to his previous position next to the bed.
Immerine raised a slender eyebrow when Marc called her beautiful. When he grasps her hands she is surprised and when he touches her shoulder she almost jumps. “You are far too kind to call me these things. It is you to whom these men owe an apology for mistreating. You are very sweet. You have an innocent quality – I hope you never lose it.“ She trails off and her eyes grow misty before she smiles again. “I will go downstairs now. Shut the door behind you as you leave, it will lock. I will wait for you near the others.“ Immerine turns around and heads to the door.
At Immerine’s jumpy reaction on his touch Marc looks at the palm of his hand for a heartbeat, before uttering astonished, “Oh no! Ehm… I didn’t… ?“ but then he sees movement in her eyes and hears her kind words. While Immerine is talking, a warm and happy smile surfaces on the lad’s face. About the time he sees her smile dawning he shakes his head and compassionately says, “I wasn’t being kind!“ An understanding smile follows, and he shrugs, “I really think so.“ He throws her a two-eyed wink. “More important is your large heart.“ When Immerine walks off Marc runs to catch up with her. As they leave the room he jokingly sighs, “not so fast… didn’t thank you for your treatment yet.“ While they walk towards the stairs he adds, “The pain is lessening already“
Immerine closes her door quietly, “That is good.“ She walks as silently as she can towards the stairs and returns to the common room.
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