Disclaimer: I do not own 'Baldur's Gate', the 'Forgotten Realms' or any characters therein.
Wizards of the Coast do, at my last check. Lucky them.
I do, however, own Fritha and certain other characters and plot points. Basically, if you don't recognise it from the game, it's probably mine.
– Blackcross & Taylor
Fritha sat on the roof of one of Candlekeep's many towers and watched the sun slowly sinking over the sea. The whole world seemed laid out before her, on her left, the great ocean of the Sword Coast, calm and shimmering like an endless expanse of blue glass. To her right, the plains of the Western Heartlands stretched off in to the distance, a patchwork of fields, grasslands and forests. It was times like this she hardly felt her nineteen years, as though some great knowledge, as old as the mountains, flowed within her just out of reach. It was late Eleint and the surrounding forests were already dressed in their warm golds and browns. She smiled, watching the trees sway gently, whispering in an ancient language of their own.
She had always loved autumn. Imoen joked it was because the autumnal colours provided her with a natural camouflage. Fritha grinned at the memory of it and, brushing a few strands of pale copper hair from her face, she lay back down on the warm tiles and continued to sun herself.
The sound of someone calling her started Fritha from her dozing. She stretched lazily and gave a contented yawn before shifting down to the edge of the roof and peering over to confirm her suspicions. A girl with pretty green eyes and hair the colour of rosehips, smiled up at her from one of the tower's higher windows.
Fritha reached her hand down to help her friend and soon they were both comfortably atop the roof, Fritha lying back down to continue her sunbathing. Imoen laughed at the sight of her friend laid there. Barefoot, her breeches and sleeves rolled up as high as they would go, shirt parted to expose her pale stomach and hair loose; Fritha was a picture of contentment.
'I don't know why you bother with that,' Imoen said, smiling, 'it's not as though you ever tan.'
'The sun feels nice on my skin,' Fritha replied lazily, not even opening her eyes.
'Don't you get bored? How long have you been up here?'
'Hmm… since just after lunch.'
'Since noon!' Imoen cried incredulously, 'I've been doing chores for Puffguts all day!'
Fritha snorted at Imoen's nickname for the corpulent old innkeeper, turning on to her side to watch her friend rant.
'How d'you finish yours so quickly?'
'I didn't,' replied Fritha, amused by her friend's reaction.
'But didn't Gorion say you had to clean out the archives in one of the basements? He's wanted it done since first-day.'
Fritha remained unconcerned. Her foster father was always providing her with chores to do, if she'd finished this one he'd just have found something else to occupy her.
'So? It's a waste of all this sunshine; I can do it tonight. Besides, what's the rush? No ones been in those archives for years,' she answered, giving her friend a grin before lying back down.
'Yeah, well, I thought Puffguts Winthrope was going to keep me at the inn forever,' Imoen continued, tying back her short hair in an effort to keep it out of her face on the blustery rooftop, 'he even made me late for Steen's errands.'
Fritha smiled, wondering if anyone in Candlekeep still believed that Imoen was just "running errands" for one of it's most infamous residents. A notorious thief and guild master in his day, Steen Quickhand had obviously believed in the saying, "You never meet an old thief" and retired gracefully to the seclusion of Candlekeep. However, he seemed to have taken a shine to Imoen and since last year they had been meeting, and if Imoen's 'acquisitions' from the inn were anything to go by he was a very good teacher.
'You given any more thought to your training?' Imoen continued, obviously trying to keep the emphasis off 'your'.
Training thought Fritha with a scowl. At the beginning of the month Gorion, had told her, since she was now of age, she would soon have to decide what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.
'Ugh, training,' Fritha grumbled, utterly unenthused with the idea, 'what was it Gorion said? I have to decide what field I want to study in to become...'
'a useful member of society,' they chorused, Imoen giggling.
Fritha sighed; the deadline was drawing closer and she was struck with a pang of jealously at how unrestricted Imoen's life was allowed to be. No lessons for her! Well, not officially anyway…
'Are you still undecided?' Imoen questioned, bringing Fritha's mind back to the present, 'I'd probably find it difficult too, if I could be anything I wanted,' she teased, playfully poking her friend in the ribs. It was true, Fritha was nimble and strong with a keen mind; she had her pick of careers.
'Yeah, I suppose. Anything but a cleric, that is.' Fritha replied with a laugh that Imoen shared. It was a well-reported fact that Fritha had very little respect for anyone in authority and that extended to gods as well.
'Well, I doubt I could even if I wanted too,' Fritha continued, smirking, 'I can't understand it but I sometimes get the impression that Father Whelan doesn't like me.'
An understatement that brought yet more laughter from the girls.
It had been a hot summer's day, more than ten years ago, when the Order of the Radiant Heart had arrived in Candlekeep. Imoen had spent the morning 'spying' on the knights gathered in the gardens outside the main keep, as she helped Winthrope serve drinks, and had reported back to Fritha that afternoon. Apparently they had brought an evil book to be stored there. Fritha had wondered how a book could be evil and if so, why not just destroy it?
Their chores completed, the girls decided to sit outside and see if they could learn anything more. No one paid any heed to the two children as they sat on the lawns, watching the knights tend to their kit, laughing and drinking. One of the older knights was moving round the few wounded. He came to a knight with a bandaged arm who was settled nearer the girls and began to perform a ritual on him.
'What's he doing?' asked Imoen
'He's a cleric of Helm,' replied Fritha, recognising the eye-shaped symbol being held over the knight, 'he must be healing him.'
'Can you imagine being a priest of Helm?' Imoen giggled, 'it must be so boring. Blah blah duty, blah blah honour.'
Fritha started to giggle too and, unaware of the approaching danger, joined in. Her voice deep and serious, her face and hands turned skywards, she began.
'Oh Helm, mighty God of Boredom, let your all-seeing eye help me seek out and prevent the fun of others.'
Laughter held the girls, neither noticing the tall figure of Father Whelan, Candlekeep's resident Helmite, looming behind them.
'Be a goody-goody follower of Helm!' she continued with enthusiasm, 'I'd rather be sacrificed to Lolth the Spider Queen!'
Giggling erupted again but it didn't last long.
Both girls jumped, whirling round to find Whelan glowering down at them, enraged.
'Blasphemous child! Heathen!' he shrieked, 'Gorion shall know of this outrage!'
And before Fritha had chance to react, she'd been dragged to her feet and was being marched towards the keep by the furious priest, leaving Imoen behind on the grass, bent double with laughter.
Fritha smiled at the memory of it. Gorion hadn't been that bothered and as for Whelan, well that day had been the start of a relationship that provided her with many opportunities for tormenting, and him, just as many for ranting, so she concluded he was as happy they'd met as she was.
'So you've still no ideas yet?' Imoen questioned again, and Fritha suspected her stalling was wearing thin.
'Ah…no, not really…' she answered, avoiding her friend's eyes.
In truth, Fritha had decided long ago what she wanted to do with the rest of her life and was pretty sure that Gorion would not approve.
She wanted to become a bard.
Not that she had any inclination towards singing or acting. In fact, she'd never even met a bard. However, she'd done a little research on the subject and using this knowledge drawn some logical conclusions on what it would entail.
Bards travelled. Bards performed songs or plays. Bards performed for people and, since most towns didn't have a theatre, this would take place in pubs and inns. Ergo, being a bard would involve a lot of hanging around in bars, picking the occasional pocket to cover the bar tab.
A cheap way to see the world and an excellent way to live your life.
'Well, I don't know why-'
A familiar shout cut Imoen off.
'Ooo, sounds like someone's going to catch it now,' Imoen announced gleefully, as she watched Fritha scramble to the edge of the rooftop, trying to simultaneously tuck her shirt in and pull her boots on. After a few moments of frantic struggling, she finally sorted herself out, pinning her hair back and, with practised ease, dropped of the roof.
Gorion's office was just as it has always been. Lighter and more airy than the other rooms in Candlekeep, Fritha had always suspected that Gorion, once an adventurer, gave up his life in the outdoors for one of seclusion and tomes with rather more reluctance than the other sages. The wall opposite the door housed two large windows, and was the only one not lined in books, but Fritha had been in the room many times before and couldn't pretend to be fascinated by the view for too long before Gorion realised she was just trying to avoid his eye.
Fritha turned round, and, still keeping her head bowed, slumped into the chair in front of Gorion's desk to await her lecture.
'How many times are we to have this conversation before you actually take any notice?'
Fritha said nothing, there was no reply to make, but this only seemed to incense him further. His eyes were dark beneath his woolly eyebrows, his lined face pale with anger.
'I've wanted those archives cleaned since the last ten-day, and if you had done them when you were supposed to then, the delegation from the Order of the Black Key would have the maps they need, the First Reader would not be livid at the prospect of Candlekeep's reputation being tainted and I would not be the laughing stock of the entire library for not being able to control my own ward!'
Fritha opened her mouth to defend herself but Gorion seemed to be in full swing now.
'You used to be able to get away with such reckless behaviour when you were younger but as the years have passed I see no change in your attitude. You are not a child anymore; you must act more responsibly but if anything you seem to be regressing! You have still to make a decision concer-'
A sharp rap at the door cut Gorion off mid-flow and a moment later a robed man glanced round tentatively.
'A-are you busy, Gorion?'
Gorion seemed torn for a moment, unwilling to calm down so soon, but finally gave a long sigh, sinking into his chair as he did so, as though physically deflating as his anger left him.
'No, no, do come in. Fritha, please give us a moment.'
Fritha rose from her chair and wandered over to the furthest window. She leant her face against the cool glass, staring out at the sky, a blaze of orange and pink as the sun set. She never meant to anger Gorion, if she'd known why he'd wanted the archives cleared, instead of thinking it was just another random task that was designed to "keep her out of trouble", she would have done it straight away, but Gorion never seemed to tell her anything.
He expected her to be more responsible but how could she when no one trusted her? He wouldn't even tell her about her parents!
When she'd been younger she could do no wrong. She had liked her studies, would help out in the temples, fetch and carry for the sages. But now… She still loved Gorion but they seemed to have grown apart, he just didn't understand who she was anymore.
A polite cough jerked her from her thoughts. The other monk had left and Gorion was stood behind his desk watching her with a mixture of weariness and, strangely, sorrow. Fritha shrugged inwardly. She may as well tell him now and get it all over and done with.
'I want to be a bard.'
She winced, waiting for the tirade to begin but nothing came. She risked a glance at Gorion, checking that he wasn't so angry that words had finally failed him, but he was stood, looking as calm as ever and -was that amused?
Gorion sank slowly back into his chair.
Fritha nodded nervously, her mind racing. She'd been through quite a few possible scenarios for telling Gorion about her plans but none of them had involved 'Calm Gorion' and Fritha found herself at a complete loss.
'A bard,' confirmed Gorion with a smile, 'may I inquire as to why?'
Right, this was the part where she had to really sell it.
'Well, because…er…they play music.'
'I never knew you were interested in music.'
'Really?' she answered, trying to sound surprised.
'Indeed… Any other reasons?' Gorion continued, his beard twitching.
'Well, I'd like to study magic', here she glanced at Gorion who confirmed this with a nod, 'and I've always been interested in the lore of Faerûn and…er…stuff.'
Gorion smiled widely and Fritha was put in mind of one of the cats when it had cornered a particularly fat mouse.
'Well, that all seems fine.'
'Yes. Barding is a honourable profession and one that I believe will utilise your many, ah… 'talents'. Meet me here tomorrow morning and we can discuss it further.
Fritha sat before Gorion's desk, dismay rising within her as Gorion read from his parchment.
This was not happening.
'You'll have weapons training with Hull and the other guards every morning, with your afternoon studies being divided between the arts of magic with Archmage Jesseth, and general reading in the library. Once every tenday,' here he paused to make note of something on the parchment, 'probably third-days, you will join Imoen in chores for Master Steen.'
Gorion returned the parchment to the desk, taking a moment to observe Fritha's look of unreserved despair before continuing, trying all the while to hide his amusement.
'Now, I've made some inquires and the only person here with any musical inclination is Beth-'
'The cook?' Fritha cried incredulously, finally finding her voice.
'Yes. She says she will supervise your efforts in singing though she has no experience in the actual playing of music so you will have to study your chosen instrument without help, though I believe there are some volumes in the archives you may find useful.'
'Perhaps you can dig them out while you're cleaning up down there,' he suggested, a hint of reproach creeping in to his voice.
Gorion made a final cursory glance over the parchment and nodded to himself.
'I believe that's everything.'
Fritha felt physically shaken. She couldn't have been more horrified by the way things had turned out than if, halfway through the meeting, Whelan had turned up and convinced Gorion to send her to 'Helm's Boot Camp for Little Heathens' in the icy wastes of Vaasa.
'There's so much…work,' she cried with disbelief, hoping that she would awake any second to find it was had all been some terrible dream.
'Yes, indeed,' Gorion agreed, nodding enthusiastically, 'but don't worry, I think we will mange to fit it all in.'
He rose slowly, both him and the chair creaking slightly as he did so before crossing the room to open the door for her.
'But I thought that bards just sort of learnt things as they went along, with, you know, minimum training,' Fritha continued, ignoring Gorion's subtle indication that she was to leave and clinging desperately to the chance that this still could be some horrible mistake.
'Goodness, child,' Gorion chuckled whilst ushering her through the door, 'whatever gave you that impression? Now, off you go and finish your errands.'
Fritha whirled round but had no chance to reply before the door was shut smartly in her face. She stood a moment, glaring at the dark wood before slinking dejectedly off down the corridor.
Fritha was stood on a stool to reach the higher shelves, sorting through the old tomes and rolls of parchment that had found their way down into the archives over the years. On the floor, piles were growing; old volumes that needed re-binding, books and scrolls for shelving and a pile of miscellaneous items, so worn with age that Fritha could no longer tell where they belonged. Every now and then, she would take down a tome only to have to duck, covering her head with her arms as half a dozen or so books and scrolls were dislodged and cascaded over her. Or grab a book only to have all the pages drop smartly out the cover and if anyone had stumbled onto the scene they would not have been blamed for thinking that Fritha was trying to demolish the place rather than actually cleaning the archives.
'Bloody Gorion!' Fritha coughed, as she pulled down one of the older scrolls only for it to unroll and engulf her in a cloud of dust, 'this is his way of punishing me! Lessons every day and some of them with sodding Jesseth! He hates me!'
Fritha threw the scroll on to the pile by the door before turning back to clear the rest of the shelf, punctuating each word by savagely hurling a book to the floor.
'Stupid - bloody - barding!'
'Why'd you choose it then?'
Fritha jumped so high she almost toppled off her stool.
'By Lolth, Imoen!' she gasped, clutching her chest and glowering at her friend, 'how long have you been there?'
'Long enough to know that the rumours going round the Library are true and that the sages aren't the only ones not happy about the fact you're going to become a bard. So why did you choose it? You never mentioned anything about this before.'
Fritha sighed, stepping down from her stool and sinking on to it while Imoen mirrored her movements, perching on a pile of books opposite her.
'Because I thought it would be a complete skive and lead to a career in wassailing! My life was going to be one long pub-crawl around Faerûn, that's why!'
Fritha shook her head and suddenly there were tears in her eyes.
'And now everything's gone horribly wrong and -and I don't know what to do!' She finished with a wail before dissolving into indelicate sobs.
'Oh, Fritha,' Imoen said with a sympathetic smile, putting a comforting arm round her friend, 'don't worry, I know it seems like a lot to take on but I'm sure Gorion wouldn't make you do anything that made you completely miserable.'
Fritha's only reply to this seemed to be an incredulous snort but she could have been mistaken, it was hard to tell through all the sobbing.
'There now, and even though you've got lots of work planned, there's no reason you can't waste all that training lazing around in taverns once you leave.'
This seemed to bring Fritha round slightly.
'You're right,' she finally answered, blinking away her tears and wiping her nose on her sleeve 'some things are worth working for. Hey,' she continued, suddenly brightening, 'let's go and try to break in to Winthrop's cellar again.'
'Okay, but what about all this?' Imoen said, gesturing to the bibliographic carnage all around them.
'Ah, I'll finish it tomorrow.'