This new story requires a bit of introduction. It was inspired by a writing challenge on the fanfiction board of pocketplane (dot) net called "Bad Kelsey". In it, one of the forum's fanfiction writers wrote a post-TOB story where the PC, Merena, has married Kelsey Coltrane from Jason Compton's Kelsey the Sorcerer mod, and they have a child together. As the name implies, contrary to Kelsey's usual depiction as the nice, normal guy, in this story he turns out to be not such a nice guy, and definitely not a good husband. The challenge was for other writers to write the ending to the story — how Kelsey would react to be being caught and how Merena would respond to her husband's misdeeds.
The story that set up the challenge and the endings supplied by the other writers are all very entertaining, and I hope anyone interested will mosey on over to the pocketplane forums and give them a read. However, one ending in particular caught my attention. In it, Merena and Kelsey decide to separate, and Merena returns home alone to raise their daughter. A few months later, when her heart is just beginning to mend after Kelsey's betrayal, who should show up on her doorstep but Anomen Delryn.
There, that story ends, and mine begins.
It had been a long time.
Anomen. Merena closed her eyes to ward off an incipient headache. It was unlikely that his appearance at this time was a coincidence — the only other occasion he had visited was a brief stop to congratulate them on Kylia's birth. That was also the last time she had seen him, though their mutual friends and traveling companions kept her fairly up-to-date on his activities.
He was a good friend, and under normal circumstances she would have been happy to see him. But he was also someone who had once been in love with her — or so he thought — and she prayed he wasn't here with some misguided notion of saving her from her husbandless fate. If he tells me that he loves me, I swear I will throttle him.
At that moment, Anomen himself appeared, towed by an excited Kylia.
"Momma, Momma! He says he's a friend of yours, and he has a really big horse, and he said I could ride it!"
Anomen protested, "My lady Kylia, I said I would take you on a short, gentle ride, but only if your lady mother gives her permission." He gave Merena a beleaguered look. "She was most insistent."
Merena's lips twitched in amusement. "I'll just bet."
"Kylia, I will decide about your ride after dinner, but the answer will be 'no' if you continue to pester us about it." Kylia was about to protest, but Merena gave her a warning glance. "Is that clear?"
"Yes, Momma." Kylia replied, as Anomen gave Merena an admiring look in response to this neat display of child management.
"Now Kylia, have you introduced yourself to my friend?"
"He already knew my name, Momma! He says he's known you a long time and that he's a real knight." She regarded Anomen warily, as if unsure whether to trust his word.
Merena smiled. "Both of those things are quite true, dear. This is Sir Anomen Delryn, Priest of Helm and Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Radiant Heart."
Kylia's eyes widened. Anomen reddened and said hurriedly, "Please call me Anomen, my lady Kylia."
Kylia reached up to touch the Holy Symbol of Helm that Anomen wore on his chest. "This is like Watcher Emond's, but yours is a lot shinier."
"My friend Anomen has always taken good care of his equipment, Kylia." Then, in a aside to Anomen, she explained, "Watcher Emond is the High Watcher of the local temple of Helm. Kylia and I have met him on several occasions."
"So what brings you here, Anomen?" Merena asked casually.
"There is some unpleasantness brewing in Scornebel, and the Order has requested my presence along with a number of other knights. Since I had not seen you in several years, I thought I'd take the opportunity to drop by. You and Kylia are well, I trust?"
"Quite well, Anomen, thank you. Do you need a place to stay tonight?"
"No, thank you, my lady. I stopped in Berdusk on the way here and secured a room for the night. But I'm afraid I left my horse in front of the house, and I didn't have a chance to tend to it as I should."
"That can be taken care of easily enough. Kylia, please run and tell Arthia to make sure Dougal sees to Sir Anomen's horse, and that we will be having a guest for dinner."
"That is not necessary, Merena," Anomen protested. "I don't want to impose…"
"I insist, Anomen. I haven't seen you in over two years and it's almost dinnertime. The least I can do is feed you." Merena quirked a smile at Anomen. "Besides, Arthia would never forgive me if I denied her the opportunity to cook for a real knight. Go on, Kylia."
As soon as Kylia left the room, Merena turned to Anomen, all formality gone. "All right, Anomen, who told you about Kelsey?"
Anomen flushed. He was obviously considering claiming ignorance, but daunted by the look on Merena's face, he admitted, "It was Imoen, my lady. I met her by chance in Athkatla a ten-day or so ago. But I hope you will not be angry with her, Merena; she honestly seemed to think I knew already and prattled on at length about your distress before I could get more than a few words in."
Merena snorted. "That sounds like Imoen."
Anomen continued. "When Imoen realized her mistake, she tried to pass it off as inconsequential, but I must confess that I was so alarmed by what I had heard that I pressed her for the whole story." He looked at her anxiously. "I hope you can forgive my inquisitiveness."
Merena sighed. "Don't worry, Anomen, I forgive you. You would have found out eventually and there's nothing more awkward than running into old friends who don't know and having them ask after Kelsey."
"Thank you, my lady, you are too kind." He gave her a wry smile. "If I might ask, what gave me away? I had hoped I was being subtle."
She returned the smile. "Not especially. It was several things, actually. For one, you haven't visited in over two years, and it seemed too much of a coincidence that you would suddenly decide to visit now. After all, Berdusk is at least a half-day off the road to Scornebel, so you were hardly dropping by. Also, you asked how Kylia and I were, but you never mentioned Kelsey. I know you were never really a friend of his, but you would never be so discourteous to not even ask about him; unless of course, you'd heard about Kelsey's little…adventure."
Merena caught Anomen's eyes and held them. "I need you to be honest with me, Anomen. Why exactly did you come? I hope you didn't think I needed to be protected or rescued with Kelsey gone…"
Anomen looked genuinely startled. "Rescued? By Helm, no, my lady! Of all people, I certainly know that you are strong and resourceful enough to be proof against all but the most dire of perils."
"As for why I came, well, after I suppressed my initial urge to track Kelsey down and beat him bloody for treating you so infamously…" Anomen glanced up to meet Merena's eyes and gave her an apologetic shrug.
"I'm familiar with that urge. Go on." Merena responded dryly.
"My lady, I felt I should do something." Anomen said plaintively. "But I debated for some time about whether I should come here, for I was concerned that you would resent my intrusion into your private matters. Finally, however, I decided that as a friend I must come to at least offer my aid — it is the least I can do for one who has been such a good friend to me. I don't know what kind of assistance you may need, but if there is anything I can do to help, you have but to name it, Merena." Anomen caught her hand and his blue eyes met her green ones.
Merena smiled at Anomen fondly and squeezed his hand. "Thank you Anomen. I..."
At that moment, Kylia reappeared to announce that dinner was ready and they adjourned to the dining room with Merena's reply unspoken.
Merena studied Anomen covertly during most of the meal, only occasionally joining in the conversation. Kylia more than made up for her silence, chatting animatedly with their guest. Kylia was particularly delighted to learn that Anomen also knew most of her favorite grown-up friends and gave him a detailed account of Auntie Imoen's most recent visit.
Anomen listened patiently to Kylia's stories, occasionally offering an anecdote from his travels in Merena's company or at the behest of the Order. They were, not surprisingly, highly edited versions of the actual events, including — more surprisingly — any but the most cursory mention of his own heroics.
Anomen looked very much the same as he had when she had seen him last, though she thought she detected a few more lines around the eyes. He was as handsome and fit as ever, causing her to wonder yet again why some aristocratic beauty hadn't laid claim to him by now. His armor and weapons were the same as when they were traveling together, not unexpected since it would be hard to find better in all of Faerun than the Flail of Ages and Armor of the Hart that they had acquired in their travels.
In contrast, his holy symbol of Helm was new, and now that she had a better look at it, she could see why it had caught Kylia's eye. Significantly larger than the symbol he had worn in her company, and far more ornate; the blue eye of Helm was actually composed of very fine sapphires. Although it was beautiful and exquisitely made, it seemed very out of character for Anomen to own such an object. He had always taken pride in maintaining a neat and orderly appearance, but elaborate or expensive ornamentation had never been a priority for him.
Most likely a gift. Merena told herself, before her thoughts turned again to what had been nagging at her all evening. Something about Anomen had changed, something subtle, but she couldn't put her finger on what it was. As she watched, his head bent near Kylia's listening to one of her tales, Anomen glanced up at her and smiled.
In that moment, Merena knew what was different. Always before, realizing that he was being observed would cause him to start guiltily, fearful he would be found wanting in some way, or to react with the arrogance that he was known for when they first met. Now that twitch of anxiety and reflexive self-defense was gone, replaced by a calm self-confidence that she had never seen in him before. One puzzle solved, Merena was left to wonder whether it was simply maturity or something else in his life that had caused this change.
After dinner, Kylia predictably renewed her pleas for a ride on Anomen's horse.
"Momma, please, I know you won't let me ride alone, but Anomen says that Challenger is strong enough to hold both of us."
"I don't know why this is so important to you, dear. You've ridden on your pony and on my horse with me often enough." Merena replied.
"Oh, but Momma, Challenger is so much bigger and prettier than your horse. Pleeease, mama?"
Merena gave Anomen a questioning look that he had no trouble deciphering.
"Merena, it is, of course, your decision, but Challenger is very well trained and I will do my utmost to assure her safety." He interjected.
This earned Anomen an adoring look from Kylia and an amused smile from Merena.
"All right, Kylia, one ride. You can go up to the road and back, and after that, it's straight to bed. Is that clear?"
They moved into the courtyard where Dougal had prepared Anomen's horse for his departure. Merena stopped short in the doorway in surprise when she finally caught sight of the horse. Now she understood her daughter's fascination; Challenger was a Sembian warhorse, and a particularly fine one at that. Merena glanced at Anomen and raised an eyebrow in inquiry, but he was too busy helping Kylia feed Challenger a carrot to notice. Once the horse had had his treat, Anomen mounted with practiced ease. Then, between them, Anomen and Dougal were able to seat Kylia securely in front of the knight.
"Let's go! Fast!" Kylia cried in excitement.
Anomen gave Merena a reassuring smile. "I do believe your lady mother would prefer a more sedate pace."
Merena firmly suppressed a maternal stab of panic at the thought of her little girl atop such a very large horse. Irrational fears aside, she knew that Sembian warhorses were superbly trained and renowned for their intelligence and unflappable temperament, as well as their size and strength. Challenger would certainly not have the stamina or surefootedness over rugged terrain of the mountain-bred horses she favored, but they were ideal for carrying a heavily armored man into battle.
Merena pondered this new mystery. Challenger was the perfect mount for Anomen, but horses of that breed were rare and incredibly valuable, especially outside Sembia. All of her companions were fairly wealthy at the end of their travels, but buying this horse would have taken most, if not all, of Anomen's nest egg. And like his jeweled holy symbol, it seemed out of character for him to possess such an ostentatious symbol of wealth — for this new, self-confident Anomen even more so than the young knight she had known.
Kylia's laughter floated toward Merena on the night breeze as Challenger and his riders came into view around the bend in the road, traveling at a respectable canter. Kylia was obviously thoroughly enjoying herself, and Merena felt a pang of regret seeing Kylia and Anomen together. It should be Kelsey here enjoying his daughter's company, not a man Kylia barely knew. Merena's lips thinned. It was Kelsey's choice, and Kelsey's loss that Anomen was here instead of him.
Dougal assisted an excitedly chattering Kylia down from the horse, followed by a slightly bemused Anomen. "Oh Momma, Momma, it was wonderful! I was up so high, I could see everything and we got going so fast on the way back! Anomen says that Challenger really likes me too."
Merena hugged Kylia. "I'm glad you enjoyed your ride so much, dear. Now it's time for you to thank Anomen and go to bed."
After giving what was obviously a sincere and heartfelt 'thank you' to Anomen, Kylia was led into the house by Arthia, once again happily recounting the details of her ride.
Merena chuckled. "She's so excited, she probably won't sleep for hours."
Anomen looked alarmed. "Merena, I am sorry, if I had but known…"
She waved away his protest. "It's a small price to pay for seeing her enjoy herself so much. Thank you, Anomen, it was very thoughtful of you to do this for her."
"Nay, my lady, it was no trouble. Kylia is a delight, and it has been a long time since I have seen someone take such enjoyment from so small a thing. Think no more of it."
He took her hand and kissed it. "I regret that I must thank you for your kind hospitality and take my leave. I must be on the road before dawn tomorrow if I am to meet the other knights at the appointed time." He moved to mount his horse.
"I can't tell you how happy I am to see you and Kylia in such good spirits. I should have known that you wouldn't need any aid after the…unpleasantness with Kelsey."
Impulsively, Merena stepped up to the horse and put her hand over his. "Actually Anomen, there is something you can do for me."
He looked at her questioningly. Merena smiled and said, "Come back and see us again soon."
Anomen was startled speechless for a moment, and then a delighted smile crossed his face. "Nothing would make me happier, my lady. I will come again as soon as my duties permit."
"We'll be looking forward to it. Take care of yourself, my friend."
Anomen's eyes danced. "For you, dear lady, anything." He squeezed her hand. "Farewell."
Merena stood leaning against the garden gate and watched him until he rode out of sight.