|The Good Star
Author: Kateling PM
You can outrun neither past nor prophecy. It's a hard lesson, one both Isabel and Angelo just seem to keep learning over and over again. A BG2 novelization.Rated: Fiction T - English - Fantasy/Romance - Chapters: 16 - Words: 96,125 - Reviews: 33 - Favs: 8 - Follows: 8 - Updated: 01-15-13 - Published: 05-06-10 - id: 5951353
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
15 – Upon a Throne of Thorns
Although he knew his body sat alone in a dark cellar, in his mind, Cernd was running. Not the giddy, uneven gait of the deer that has newly discovered its legs or the focused march of the bear. His run belonged to the wolf. He bounded across the moonlit western plains, raw and powerful and bold as befits the hunter, and above all else – free.
Above, a full white moon smiled down upon him, its light translating the endless landscape into rich shades of silver and blue. Stars pricked the midnight sky like diamonds.
You will see the sky again soon, I promise it.
He sighed, the memory drawing him from his reverie and back to the dark, musty basement beneath Trademeet. He did not doubt the girl's sincerity, but why then could he not rid himself of this awful dread? It was almost as if the closer he clung to her promise, the more terrified he became that it would all come to nothing.
It was merely nerves, he thought, trying to calm himself. Nerves rubbed raw by his captivity, by the uncertainty of his situation. Be as the still waters of the lake. A pebble may upset the surface, but the lake remains unchanged.
Two days had passed since Coprith had sent Isabel and her company on their way and he hoped it would not be much longer. Still, he knew better than most how difficult their task was. The forest had ways of protecting itself against intruders for all that a druid travelled with them. Jaheira was a sister, but she was not bound by blood to this land.
Not like him. Long years had passed but, even twisted and tortured as it was, the earth was as familiar to him as his own heartbeat.
Guilt tugged uncomfortably at his conscience, and he knew he should have told them more. He ought to have told them about the grove, warned them of the poison he was sure was at its heart; Faldorn. But he couldn't bring himself to. Such knowledge would have brought with it demands for not just the truth but the whole truth. Even if he could bear telling the shame of his exile, it would spell certain death for him at the hands of his captors. Logan Coprith was a reasonable man, a good man. But even good men had their limits, and Cernd still was not even sure it was not exactly what he deserved.
His return was meant to be his penance. He would correct the wrong he had wrought; he could atone and finally be able to come home.
He should have paid more attention to the sages, he thought bitterly. After all, hadn't they been saying all along you can never go home again?
Cernd closed his eyes, leaned back against the wall and searched his heart once more for the peace of those rolling, moonlit plains and an endless sky. So preoccupied was he that he did not hear the footsteps on the stairs until the cellar door slammed wide open.
"Isn't this cosy?" The man in the door stared at him with cold eyes. He was flanked by three other men and every face echoed their leader's contempt. It was a contempt Cernd understood intimately.
"Where is Lord Coprith?" he asked, all his effort dedicated to keeping his voice steady and polite. The wolf within stirred, but he schooled his spirit to calm.
"Not your concern anymore, druid. Boys, get him!"
They followed the stream north through the night. Jaheira kept their pace slow so as not to draw any unwanted attention, but by morning they had found the druid's grove and the source of Trademeet's woes.
Isabel and Jaheira lay flat on their bellies, observing from high above on a rocky outcrop that overlooked the heart of the grove itself. Below, some dozen druids wandered about their business in the grassy glade. The brook that had guided them wound its way through the white birches and disappeared into the overgrown ruins that the druids had claimed as home. Isabel wondered idly at that. In some age long past, civilization had conquered nature in this place, only to have the favour repaid in kind.
"What do you think?" she asked her companion. Jaheira's expression was difficult to read. The cool dawn light seemed to leech the green from her slanting eyes, leaving them an inscrutable gunmetal grey.
"Nothing good," she murmured in reply. "Any form of assault would be suicidal and Shadow Druids will patrol the south and western approaches. We will not elude them."
"Shadow Druids? You know what they are?"
Jaheira nodded grimly. "The attacks bore all the hallmarks of Shadow Druidism, and now that I can see it with my own eyes, I am certain. They are fiercely territorial and militant in nature, Isabel. Bloodthirsty even. And we are in their den. This is not a foe we can defeat conventionally."
Isabel chewed her lip. "I don't see that druid – Pauden – down there anywhere," she said uneasily. Jaheira turned slightly to look at her closely.
"You suspect a trap?"
"Maybe," she said, returning her gaze back down to the grove below. "He knowingly led us here, but we don't actually know why. And he knew Cernd. They all did." She glanced sideways at Jaheira. "Cernd hasn't been entirely truthful with us."
Now it was Jaheira who looked away. "I am sure he had his reasons. And even if it is a trap, our path remains unchanged."
That much at least was true. "Well, if we can't sneak in and we can't barge through the front door, what are we supposed to do?
"Fine, so we... hold on, we what?" Isabel sent her a bewildered look as Jaheira rose and began walking back down the hill where their party waited. Hurriedly, she scrambled down after her. "What do you mean, 'we knock'?" she demanded.
"We announce ourselves and ask to be permitted entry."
"That is the plan?" Yoshimo said pleasantly. He was leaning against a nearby tree, absently cleaning one of his knives. "How unusually civilized of us."
"What makes you believe they won't just, I don't know, kill us?" Isabel protested.
"It is the only course of action open to us, lest we wish to turn around and forget the entire venture," Jaheira replied tersely as she slung her pack over her shoulder. "There are yet some laws that even Shadow Druids dare not break. Come, it will not do for them to happen across us first."
The others exchanged uncertain looks. Isabel felt sure everyone had heard the unspoken words 'I hope' underneath Jaheira's plan.
Still, they followed her back down toward the grove. Isabel could feel the others' tension; as far as gambles went, this one felt pretty damn big. She glanced over at Keto.
The bard noticed her looking and threw her a wan smile. "Are you as nervous as I am?"
"Yes," she confessed. "Not to lay it on, but you know it's a crazy plan when even I think it's nuts."
Keto couldn't help but chuckle at that. "True, but think. How many times have you asked Jaheira to follow you on some high-risk, lunatic scheme you cobbled together in a handful of minutes?"
"That's – that's not the point!"
"It is harder to trust than to lead, but good leaders learn to do both," she said shrewdly. "Trust her, Isabel. Jaheira knows what she's doing."
Isabel bit her lip and stayed silent, thinking. Keto was right and Angelo's words the night before about her need to always be in control echoed in her mind.
A few minutes later, Angelo fell into step with Jaheira. "We are being watched," he said quietly.
Jaheira's mouth was set in a grim line. "I am aware. Be ready, but follow my lead and for the Gods' own sakes, don't do anything rash," she told everyone, although Isabel noted darkly it seemed she had added the last part mostly for her benefit. Jaheira turned back to the forest and lifted her voice.
"This child of the woodlands bids you welcome, and asks that you show yourselves!" she called out. No one answered, and Isabel shifted instinctively into a fighting stance. Her fingers flexed around the hilt of her sword.
Then she saw them. The druids seemed to just materialize out of the forest. They were many too; she swallowed hard as they surrounded their party. There was something sinister about the way they blended so easily with the wilderness – not just inhabitants of the wood, but part of it.
"Hail, friend." The druid who spoke approached Jaheira suspiciously. "You trespass upon our Lady Faldorn's earth. I would know your name and your purpose."
Jaheira met his glare evenly. "I am Jaheira, of the Tethyran grove of Avelene." Isabel noted that Jaheira made the same gesture that she had made when she first met Cernd. So it was some sort of secret druid code, then, she figured, watching the other druids trade their surprise in raised eyebrows and stolen glances. Clearly they had not expected to find a sister amidst the intruders.
The first druid was less impressed, but responded in kind. "Well met, sister," he replied without warmth. "I am Kyland Lind." With a start, Isabel recognized the name and now the face of one of the druids from the night before. A shared look with Angelo confirmed he too had remembered.
"You are far from home, Tethyr," he continued. "And you have yet to reveal the nature of your purpose in our lands."
"Not all brothers and sisters of Nature are bound to their groves. Some of us are not so fortunate to find true... acceptance in our lands," she answered, choosing her words carefully. She was a Harper. She could play this game better than they could dream. "I have heard a great many things about this grove. I wished to sate my curiosity."
Kyland raised an eyebrow. "And what have you heard?"
"That the druids here have turned to shadow." She looked him in the eye and lowered her voice. "That they do not flail impotently as the city vermin encroach upon their lands. That they do not surrender Nature's gifts to the blight of their so-called 'civilization'."
"I see. Perhaps we share a kinship, you and I. But," and he gestured toward the rest of their party, "it is obvious your companions do not."
"They are not Nature's children, but they fight alongside her as true friends of the forests."
"Only Nature's children are recognized here, Tethyr. Your companions are not welcome."
"Hold a moment, Kyland." Pauden stepped out from the wood. Isabel's heart beat wildly against her chest as the older druid's pale eyes fixed on hers. "I think the Lady would be very interested to meet these ones. Perhaps we ought to let her determine their worthiness."
Kyland appeared to consider his words. "Your words speak wisdom, Pauden," he replied at length. "We shall let the Lady Faldorn decide their fates. I bid thee welcome, sister of the south."
"Yes," Pauden added, his grim smile sending Isabel's nerves jittering. "Come into the garden."
Pauden and Kyland led them through the open-air ruins and it was nothing short of sheer determination that kept Isabel's face blank and impassive. Inside, her nerves were twitching beneath her skin. No matter Jaheira's faith in their plan, Isabel felt more and more like the mouse in this game they were playing. But just which one is the cat? She wondered uneasily as she saw Pauden nod slightly to a man beside an odd, bramble chair and the raven-haired woman – the Lady Faldorn, she guessed – who sat upon it.
Faldorn was an imposing figure. Even from across the ruin, Isabel could see she was in formidable physical form. Long, lean and sleekly muscled, Faldorn lounged on her self-styled throne of thorns and exuded all the casual, arrogant confidence of a predator. Small black eyes examined their group with amused indulgence.
"Kyland, Pauden," and both men bowed – although Kyland bowed noticeably deeper, Isabel observed. His reverence seemed to her more appropriate in a throne room than in a forest. "What exactly are these you have brought me? Some fools come to stop the righteous force of Nature?"
"My lady," Kyland replied in a voice that dripped with deference. "These people claim kinship with our cause. They are led by a sister from Tethyr, Jaheira." Jaheira stepped forward and inclined her head slightly. Faldorn's gaze lingered on her for a moment before returning her attention to Kyland. She rose and stepped down from her throne to stand before Kyland. He respectfully dropped his gaze to her feet but the Lady gripped his chin and forced him to look her in eye.
"Do you take me fool?" she hissed.
"N-no, my lady!" he stammered.
"Did you think I would not recognize an imposter in my own court? Did you think I would fall for such an inept disguise? What did this druid bitch tell you? Some pretty words about how her fellows 'did not understand', how 'it was time civilization received their due'? I am bound to this grove! Do you understand what that means – or like your own idiocy, is it too beyond your comprehension?"
"My lady, I swear I didn't –"
Faldorn's expression softened and she framed his face with both hands. "Your mewlings mean nothing to me, Kyland. You are either a traitor or a fool and I have no patience for either," she said smiling, and snapped his neck.
Isabel heard Keto stifle a horrified gasp beside her and she quickly found the girl's hand and squeezed it tightly.
Faldorn turned to Pauden and her expression actually appeared genuinely puzzled. "I must say, you surprise me, Pauden. Many things I have thought you in the past, but a fool was never one of them."
Pauden shrugged laconically. "I knew them for what they were. They have the stink of the city and the pup on them. I thought you might like to handle this personally."
Faldorn raised an eyebrow. "The pup?" she spat and spun around to glare at Jaheira. "So Cernd was the one who sent you? The pup has more viper in him than wolf it seems."
Jaheira returned Faldorn's hateful glare evenly. "Whatever is the matter, sister? Scared?" There was just the barest hint of a mocking smile playing on Jaheira's lips, but it was enough to set the lady of the grove well and truly off.
"Scared? I am bound to this earth, bitch! Your fellows shun such practices, but the Mother feeds me so that I might fight for her! No harm can come to me in this place – your betrayal of our cause has been for naught, Tethyr."
"Betrayal?" Jaheira replied archly. "Nay, Faldorn, it is you, not I, who is the true traitor amongst us. Your vile Shadow Druidism is a perversion of everything our society stands for. This is not our way, but its end will be my doing."
Faldorn grinned. "You dare to challenge me, Jaheira of Tethyr? It shall be your death."
"No, it shall be yours."
"Are you crazy?" Isabel demanded as Jaheira stripped off her armour. She clenched her fists at her sides as she watched Jaheira make her preparations for the battle. Everyone had gathered around the challenge ring, a pit dug deep into the ground outside the ruins. The dirt was an ugly rusted red colour that reminded her uneasily of the colour of dried blood.
Opposite them, Faldorn similarly prepared and the other druids clamoured around to watch the duel. Isabel couldn't have cared less for their stares however. Her concern was solely for this fool of a half-elf beside her.
"This was the only way, Isabel," Jaheira replied steadily. "You heard her; she has bound herself to the spirit of the grove. That makes her all but invincible outside the challenge ring."
"Sune's tits, Jaheira, did you not see what she did to Kyland?"
"Isabel, you need to calm down." Yoshimo laid a hand on her shoulder, but Isabel shook the thief off angrily.
"The hell I do!" she snapped. "Jaheira, this is stupid. You could die!"
Jaheira straightened and gave her a hard look. "So you mean to tell me it is only acceptable when you take all the risks?" she returned and Isabel flushed. "Any one of us could die, and at a moment's notice at that. That is the life I chose, Isabel, and I make no apologies for it. And if Khalid were here, he would tell you the same thing."
Isabel turned away, biting her lip to keep the tears that stung her eyes from flowing. Suddenly, she crushed her friend in a fierce hug.
"You damn well better not let that bitch kill you," she whispered. "I'll be damned if I have to find another prickly druid guardian to beat some sense into me."
Jaheira smiled tightly into Isabel's hair. "Understood."
"If you two are finished being sentimental...?" Faldorn called. The druid leapt down into the challenge pit with catlike grace and smiled up at them tauntingly. Jaheira turned back one last time to her companions.
"Gods go with you, Jaheira," Keto wished her, grasping her hand briefly.
"I would wish you luck, my friend," Yoshimo told her quietly as he handed her her staff. "But it would be an insult. You do not need luck to take this sorry excuse for a woman down." He winked encouragingly.
"She's not worth twenty of you," Angelo added. "Put her down, Jaheira."
She smiled at them in turn, unexpectedly warmed by their faith in her and she realised how much they all had come to mean to her over the past months. There was an old adage that said you drew strength from one's friends. It was trite, she thought as she dropped down into the pit. And just maybe a little bit true.
She didn't hesitate. As soon as her feet hit the red earth, she whipped her staff around to meet Faldorn's. Crack! She blocked a strike that would have crushed her skull had it connected, ducked and then feinted to the side. Her opponent's grin was predatory and before long the pair of them were locked in a brutal exchange of blows and parries. Jaheira smiled grimly. It had been a long time since she had faced so superior an adversary and the warrior in her enjoyed the challenge. Faldorn's style was brutish and lacked discipline, but she fought hard and fast and showed no signs of slowing down.
Isabel watched from above as they fought, trying not to let the fear in her throat get the better of her. She didn't realise she was trembling until Keto put an arm around her shoulders.
Jaheira and Faldorn circled each other, both panting. Isabel recognized this part of the battle, that final act between two opponents who were just too well matched. Now fatigue was the real danger. This was the time when mistakes most often occurred, a time when one's body could – and if dragged out much longer, ultimately would – betray them.
Suddenly, a feral grin spread across Faldorn's face. Without warning, she tossed her staff aside and shifted. Isabel had wrangled with doppelgangers before, but she had never witnessed anything quite like what she saw now. The druid's body twitched and blurred, her skin rippling, her limbs elongated and she leapt toward Jaheira with an inhuman snarl. Jaheira's eyes widened and she cursed as she dropped and rolled away as a sleek, black panther lunged for her.
"Oh, come on!" Isabel shouted desperately. "No way is that fair!"
An iron fist clamped about her wrist, preventing her from drawing her sword. She glared up at Pauden.
"You must not interfere," he told her firmly.
"She's my friend," Isabel replied hotly. "How can I not?"
"You mustn't. This is the only way it can end."
"End?" she mouthed as she turned, petrified, back to the fight. Woman and panther wrestled in a flurry of black and brown, flesh and fur. Jaheira screamed as the panther caught her leg in its jaws and flung her across the pit. Her head hit the ground with an excruciating crack. Lying face down where she landed, Jaheira felt tears of pain and exhaustion roll down her cheeks. Looking up she could see Isabel amidst the sea of faces, her face white with horror before the panther advanced toward her and blocked the girl from view. The beast stared at her with cold, amber eyes and Jaheira closed hers. One last trick. Her fingers dug into the red earth.
The ground began to tremble beneath them. The panther hesitated, and pawed at the earth in confusion. Suddenly brambles and vines sprung from the earth and entwined around the beasts legs. It howled in pain, fighting in vain to escape the thorny vice Jaheira's spell had summoned. Agonizingly slowly, Jaheira struggled to her feet and limped towards it. She stopped only to retrieve Faldorn's abandoned weapon.
"Silvanus show mercy on your black heart, Faldorn," she spat. "The Mother as my witness knows I won't." And she buried her staff through the beast's throat.
A shocked silence fell over the grove and then suddenly broke as Keto let out a great whoop, and Isabel shook off the arms that restrained her, leapt down and caught Jaheira as she was about to stumble. She could hear the others cheering above as she buried Jaheira in a massive hug. Relief and joy coursed through her and their embrace tightened. Isabel discovered that she was both laughing and crying and she didn't give a damn.
"Nicely done, Jaheira of Tethyr," Pauden extended his hand as they gathered around just outside the challenge ring. Jaheira herself slumped against a stone pillar long overgrown as one of the other druids tended to her injured leg. She met the old druid's pale eyes shrewdly.
"I was not entirely sure of your intentions earlier when we met," she said lightly.
"Nor I of yours," he replied with a small smile. "Your ruse was quite convincing."
"You planned this?" Isabel demanded.
"Indeed," Pauden replied. "Although gambled might be the more apt description. When I saw you two," he nodded at Angelo, "in the woods last night I saw my opportunity. You could not have come so far into the forest without a druid in your company – and I needed a druid."
"A clever game," Yoshimo nodded, almost approvingly. "Lead us here, close enough to Faldorn that Jaheira might challenge her. You have used us well, druid."
"I will not apologise for my deception. It was necessary. Faldorn has wrought a terrible punishment upon this land. Her only vulnerability lay in her submission to the old ways."
"Why could you not have fought her as Jaheira did?" Angelo challenged, before waving away Pauden's imminent answer. "Nay, do not bother; I know the answer well enough. Why risk your own life when others might do it in your stead, aye?"
Pauden shrugged. "I doubt I could have defeated her in any case. You saw her strength."
"I have a question, if I may," Keto began. "You and Faldorn both talked about 'the pup'. What did that mean?"
A slow smile split his careworn face. "Why, you've already met him, child. I speak of Cernd, of course."
"How is it you know Cernd?" Isabel asked sharply.
The druid sighed deeply. "Cernd was once one of our number. Years ago he found his home in our grove, before... well, certain events made it impossible for him to stay. When this business with Trademeet and Faldorn began, I had hoped the Grand Druid in the North would send Cernd back to us. He would have been the natural choice."
"He was sent to investigate," Jaheira answered carefully. "But he ran afoul of some of the townspeople. He is being held in custody in Trademeet."
Pauden frowned. "Custody? Impossible."
"It was for his own protection," Yoshimo offered. "The mayor is all that is keeping him from the mercy of the mob."
Comprehension dawned slowly in Pauden's eyes. "Ah. I think I understand now."
"It was my decision to leave him with the mayor," Isabel added, bristling. Jaheira squeezed her arm gently but Pauden simply shook his head.
"No child, it was not your decision, but his." He glanced at the druid tending Jaheira. "Are you finished, Emric?" The young man nodded an affirmative and silently left them in privacy. "I feel I must explain some things to you about Cernd." Pauden turned first to Isabel. "I sense a troubled conscience in you, child. You feel responsible for his fate. You shouldn't. Cernd is a werewolf."
"He's a what?" Keto all but choked. Her surprise was mirrored on everyone else's faces, save Jaheira's.
"You're kidding," Isabel replied, bemused. "Our acquaintance was not long, but a more placid, even-tempered fellow I've yet to meet!"
"Years spent learning to control his condition will render that effect, I am sure," Pauden said with a ghost of a smile. "But, be assured, he is a lycanthrope. So you might now understand my confusion earlier when you told me he was being held. No cage could hold a werewolf if he truly wished to escape it."
"I feel there is more to this story," Yoshimo said. The thief stared intelligently at Pauden. "Why did Cernd leave your grove all those years ago?"
"Ah, you have gone to the heart of the matter. It is a long story, and not all of it mine to tell, but I will speak plainly. Cernd was not always as you know him. When he was young he was very troubled. He feared the excesses of Trademeet's expansion, and he among others, advocated a harder line be taken with the town's leadership. One of those others was Faldorn."
"Seriously?" Keto breathed. "Talk about your chickens coming home to roost!"
"They were very close back then. Gragus was our leader and he curbed them for the most part. Around the same time, Cernd became afflicted with lycanthropy. It was an accident, completely unintended, but the curse claimed him nonetheless. You must understand, even among druidic circles, lycanthropy is looked upon with the highest suspicion. It is difficult enough for a young man to find his place in Nature without bearing so unnatural a taint."
"I understand," Isabel replied a little bleakly. Pauden continued.
"A month after the accident, Cernd and Faldorn happened across two trappers trespassing on our lands. They hailed from Trademeet, and knew the law. Cernd allowed his curse to get the better of him. He killed them both."
"You cast him out," Keto guessed, but Pauden shook his head.
"Not at first. Cernd was horrified at what he had done; his remorse was sincere. He and Faldorn had a bitter row over it. Unlike him, she was... inspired. But Cernd spoke out against her and cautioned the others against taking to violence. Even so, the incident proved he could not control his condition and Gragus sent him to the North. He has not been home in years."
Yoshimo frowned. "Foolish man," he murmured more to himself than to the others. "Why he did not tell us this himself?"
"He was ashamed, Yoshimo," Isabel answered softly. Her brown eyes were unusually sad.
"Yes," Pauden sighed, weary from the retelling. "He has carried that shame for a long time. I fear that is why he yet remains in Trademeet. He would not dare risk another's life by shifting, even if that life belonged to his captor."
"Foolish," Yoshimo muttered again.
"Even so," Isabel sighed. Perhaps Yoshimo was correct and Cernd's behaviour was ultimately foolish... but she couldn't help but empathise with his plight. Thanks to Bhaal, she knew something of unasked for curses too. "We should make our way back soon. Are you well enough to travel?" she asked Jaheira. The druid grunted.
"I will accompany you," Pauden announced. "The mayor and I will have much to discuss, and the sooner peace is formally re-established between us, the better. All things must find their balance."
Isabel nodded, and helped Jaheira to her feet as their party prepared to leave the grove. She kept a steadying hand on her arm, but wondered if it was less for Jaheira's benefit than for her own. She didn't feel quite ready to let her friend go, just then. Unnoticed, Jaheira's grey eyes crinkled slightly and she leaned against Isabel's shoulder.
She didn't feel quite ready either.
The sun hung low in the sky as their party passed through the gates of Trademeet late that afternoon. The town appeared battered, it was true, but Isabel could already see the first signs of relief were evident. One of the guardsmen let out a great whoop when he saw them approach, and jumped down from his post to greet them.
"Milady Wren!" he gasped, seizing her hand in both of his. "The animal attacks have stopped! I know not what you fellas did out there in the wilds, but I'll be thanking you all 'til the end of my days, I surely will!"
She smiled inwardly, glad that after all this grief, some good had finally come from it. She asked for the mayor's whereabouts and was informed she might find him in the town square. She let the others go and find rooms for them at the local inn, leaving herself, Jaheira and Pauden to find Coprith and make their report. They had nearly reached the square when Isabel found herself stopping suddenly in surprise.
"Goodness, Lewis, what happened to you?" she said, astounded. Lewis glared at her and spat on the ground at her feet. The captain's hands and feet were clamped in irons, and he along with three others in chains, were being escorted by the mayor's personal guard out of the square.
"Bitch," he muttered as he passed.
"Charming fellow, isn't he?" Isabel remarked to nobody in particular as she watched the guards take them away, wondering just what he had done to earn such a deserving fate.
Coprith met them at the gates. He was dressed in full armour, which she found a little odd, but she smiled a greeting anyway. They shook hands and he thanked her for their efforts and asked that they all stop by his manor that evening to discuss the matter more fully. Isabel frowned slightly at his distractedness.
"Is something the matter?" she asked. Coprith's expression was very strange. Almost like... guilt?
"There was an... incident in the square earlier today," he said evasively. Isabel's frown deepened. The mayor was hedging. Why?
"Did it have something to do with the captain being escorted in chains just now?" Jaheira queried. Coprith nodded uncomfortably.
"Yes, it does. Miss Wren – Isabel – I want you to know how sorry I am. I was lured away from the town under false pretences, and by the time I had uncovered the deception it was too late. I could not get to him in time to stop Lewis and his fellows."
A chill shivered down her spine and Isabel swallowed the sudden lump in her throat. "Stop them from doing what, exactly?"
Coprith would not look her in the eye, but she heard Pauden's soft, "oh," beside her and she felt Jaheira's fingers dig into her arm. With a sinking heart she followed their stares, through the arches and into the shadowed square, where Cernd's body hung limply from the hangman's noose beneath the orange-stained sky.