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.
Author's note: Well, there isn't really much to say now, is there? Sincere thanks to everyone who left any comments over the course of the story, and to my Betas for sticking with me for so long and providing such invaluable help and feedback.
– Blackcross & Taylor
And the dance goes on…
Three days. That was apparently how long they had lain there in the temple, their bodies sustained by prayers and spells until, at last, they had awoken.
A tenday had passed since then, and they had shared the tale many times, describing to the elves what had occurred in the dreamscape, while they were told how the city, once freed from Irenicus's magics, was finally purged of its invaders.
How the Queen had used what little power she had left to transport herself to the temple, enacting a ritual to beseech the Seladrine for aid. How her own father, Rillifane, had sent an avatar to turn the battle outside the temple, Elhan and his army bolstered by this ally to finally overcome their enemies and send the remaining drow forces screaming to the Abyss.
Then had come the time for mourning, and but a day after they had left the temple, Anomen was standing with the others on the great platform before the building once more, breathing in the incense choked air, the sky black from the many pyres as the funeral for all those whose lives had been lost was held. The whole city was silent in remembrance and the very leaves of that great tree seemed out numbered by the scores of black ribbons that had been tied upon the branches.
The days for grief were over now though, the tree an unmarred field of green once more as the ribbons were removed and reconstruction of the city was, at last, begun. And the Queen was leading by example, it seemed. There was to be a celebration held at the palace tonight, this gathering mirrored by small ones about the city, all to rejoice in the city's survival and continuation of the Tree of Life.
Anomen moved along the corridor, his feet seeming impossibly loud on the polished wooden floor, a gaggle of young maids only heightening the sensation as they glided past him with noiseless, mincing steps. Suldanessellar was beautiful and the elves were generous hosts, but he could not shake the feeling he did not belong there -everything and everyone in that place seeming to serve to remind him so, and he felt large and clumsy when compared to his surroundings. They had been staying at the palace since they had awoken, the Queen giving them quarters in the southern wing which included their own garden and, barring the servants, they had been left to their own devices –the woman clearly occupied with the restoration of her city.
Anomen felt a sudden weight upon his heart. If only other things were so easily rebuilt. He had not seen Fritha for the last two days –not so unusual, at least, not of late, but he could not help but worry for her. He had promised himself that he would just be patient- with the celebrations tonight, she would be bound to make an appearance, but noon had come and another meal sat about the table with the others, her chair so painfully vacant, had broken his resolve. Two hours pacing in his room and he had finally given in.
It was warm outside, the early spring bringing the usual squally mix of sunshine and rains as Ches approached. The gardens were still wet from the last shower, the raised beds of yet-to-bloom flowers sparkling with the droplets in the watery sunshine and in this brilliance they were sitting upon the carved wooden benches, Imoen cloaked in a faded towel, a dish resting in her lap and shoes off, while Aerie stood behind, a paint brush in hand as she applied the thick fuchsia paste to the good inch or so of Imoen's mousey roots. Haer'Dalis was upon the bench next to them, laid out and idly strumming the lyre resting on his chest, the three watched by a pair of curious maids who were finding their company far more interesting than the plants they had likely been sent out to prune, the girls nudging each other as they silently fought about who would come over first.
'Hey Anomen,' called Imoen brightly as she noticed him, the girl sending him a friendly wave and nearly upsetting the bowl in the process, 'you've come to join us?'
'No, my lady, I was actually looking for Fritha.'
The smile faded for but an instant.
'Ah, sorry, mate, haven't seen her all day, but I imagine she'll be about later-Ooo, I'm so excited,' Imoen squealed, squirming where she sat and flecking the towel at her shoulders with pink, Aerie hurrying back a step.
'Imoen, sit still, you're getting dye everywhere.'
On the other bench, Haer'Dalis had heaved himself upright, patting the space next to him with a friendly smile.
'Come and join us, Anomen, we were just speaking of the distant wonders of Sigil.'
'You plan to return there soon?' Anomen asked, making no move toward the proffered seat. Haer'Dalis shook his head.
'No, not so soon. We have no plans, we will merely leave when the time is right, and it is pleasant here –there is no need to hasten from it.'
He glanced back to send the two maids a wink, the pair giggling shrilly, Anomen unable to help a smile as Aerie just rolled her eyes at him and continued with her painting, Imoen drawing a dull sigh.
'Wish I could go to Sigil.'
'Well then, come with us, my robin -the Cage is a place above any you have visited before.'
But Imoen could not be tempted. 'Nah, I'll find my way there one day, but now I'm just going to stay here for a bit and find my feet again –it seems like I haven't stopped since last spring. Anyway,' the girl continued, physically shaking herself and freckling the towel with more pink as she returned her attention to him, 'I haven't seen Fritha today, Anomen, but she's usually up before the dawn and the only other two mad enough to join her in that are Valygar and Jaheira -perhaps they saw her.' A pause, the girl's fine green eyes softening, perhaps giving a glimpse at some of her own sorrows at this distance as she offered quietly, 'She is getting better, you know… she just needs some time.'
Anomen could make no comment, merely dipped his head in a quick bow.
'Thank you, my lady.'
Valygar nodded in thanks as he received the flask from Minsc, wiping the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand to tip the canteen back for a long, cool draft. They had been practising since just after high sun, sometimes sparring, greatsword against katana, other times just moving through the various routines they had both learnt long ago by heart on the wide platform they had found a few days before, the place rarely visited by any other and high enough in the tree to lend a cool breeze, though even then the heat was intense and breaks were frequent.
He watched as Minsc returned to his sword, hefting it into a hanging guard to continue his practise. It was good to be training again, to feel the tension in his muscles, ready to respond to his slightest thought, the man losing himself in the rhythm of his exertions, at least for a while.
Pleasant as the elven city was, his place was not there and his thoughts dwelled more often than not upon the city he had left. He would return to Athkatla soon, ensure his estate was in order, and then… he did not know. The life he had known was dead, something he had realised ever since the massacre in the Troll Mountains, though with the few months afterwards spent searching for Lavok and then hiding from the Wizards, he had only just come to face the truth that without his old company, his life was rather empty.
Valygar had decided after Lavok's death that his family was to end with him, but the idea he was to be last of the Corthalas had finally sunk in. He had once believe he owed it to the world to put an end to the curse of his blood, but lately he had come to wonder that perhaps he owed his family as well. That if he was to be the last of that line, he should leave the name of Corthala such a heritage in deeds that could at least sustain them as well as any heir. As an idea it was a disturbing one, but he was understanding more and more that it was the thoughts you did not want to dwell on that you likely should. And for a man who killed his own mother and ended any hopes of continuing the line, perhaps this would be the only worthy penance.
The booming voice at his side broke through his reverie.
'Ho, young Anomen, you come to join us in practise, yes?'
Valygar turned in time to see Anomen dip his head in apologetic refusal, the man waiting until he had closed to them to make his excuses.
'Perhaps later, Minsc, I was looking for Fritha – Imoen said you might have spoken to her this morning.'
Valygar shook his head. 'I am sorry, I did not. I slept later than I had wished to this morning. But perhaps Jaheira did –she often rises early.'
But Minsc was frowning at this, greatsword resting casually over one shoulder, his tone stern though not unkind as he eyed the knight.
'Young Fritha spends much time alone, and we are all worried, but she is strong and wise in herself. Like the great warriors who return from mighty battles having lost themselves in the bloodshed and much more besides, they must go on Hevdavk and walk alone in the icelands to find again their peace. She will return to us, Anomen, until then, she must be left in solitude.'
Anomen said nothing, Valygar letting the silence hang upon them a moment before passing the flask to Minsc with a sigh.
'Minsc was telling me he plans to leave for Rashemen soon.'
'It is so,' confirmed Minsc gravely, 'My witch is avenged and my judgement must be faced.'
Valygar joined the man in a nod, turning to Anomen to add, 'I, too, must make plans to return to Athkatla. What of you, Anomen -will not the Order be expecting your arrival?'
The knight did not flush, though he could not seem to meet his eye as he answered mildly, 'I sent a letter informing them of my whereabouts- they will no doubt send word if they have need of me.'
'No doubt,' nodded Valygar. He could tell the man did not want to leave there, at least not without certain things being settled.
'Well,' Anomen continued briskly, the conversation clearly raising for him matters he would have rather forgotten, 'I will leave you both to your practise.'
Jaheira leaned back against the smooth curve of the bough, the branch matching the contours of her back as though they had been made to fit. The air was cooler up there, the breeze stirring the leaves about her as she sat in her favourite fork between two slender branches, right in the crown of the tree, the platform where she had climbed up from, but a small disk of green-stained wood below her.
In the west, the sun was sinking –she would have to leave for that celebration of Ellesime's soon, but she herself had little to do, perhaps another half hour there would make no difference.
The spring was coming, the surrounding forests bursting in to life, her long walks taking her under budding trees and through carpets of crocuses. It was a time of new beginnings and in that atmosphere is was natural to think on where her life was to take her now. Perhaps she could go and visit Cernd, if only to see how he was managing. And Trademeet was a hub of roads and rivers both –a place where the Harpers would be sure to have a foothold. The scenes in Athkatla had left a bitter taste in her mouth, but there were other places and other people, and perhaps her work within the Harpers was not over yet. After all, there was still a life to be lived and good to be done.
'My lady?' came a voice below, the woman glancing down to a familiar brown head, 'Ah, forgive me for disturbing you.'
'No matter, Anomen,' she sighed and meant it too –pleasant though her mediations were, company could be a welcome diversion, too, the man taking a step back as she clambered down from her lofty seat to drop neatly before him.
'Do the others want me back at the palace?' she asked –she had visions of Aerie and Imoen already running about in their underwear as they made to change. But Anomen just shook his head.
'Ah, I could not say, my lady, I was actually looking for Fritha. Imoen thought you may have spoken to her this morning -I have not seen her in a while.'
Jaheira bit back a sigh. Anomen was being very good considering how worried he likely was for the girl. Ever since their return, her manner had been distant to say the least and though she did seem to be getting better, the improvements were slow and the feeling that it was mostly for their benefit always lingered behind them.
'Do not fret, Anomen. I saw her at the main gates with Solaufein this morning when I returned from my prayers, but I am afraid we did not speak.'
'They were leaving the city?' he pressed.
'Well, I could not say,' Jaheira shrugged, taking the moment to add, 'they are merely friends, you understand?'
Anomen looked little convinced. 'Yes, my lady.'
A pause between them, Jaheira taking a moment to enjoy the breeze and mend her now fractured inner peace before she deftly changed the subject, a smile softening the words, even as she bemoaned her fate.
'Ah, and there is this celebration tonight. You should have heard the commotion this morning when the dresses arrived -I am surprised you could not hear Imoen's shriek from down the hall.'
Anomen nodded, the slightest quirk to his lips. 'And will my lady be wearing a gown?'
Jaheira sent him a wry smile. 'Thankfully, Ellesime predicted my tastes and arranged alternative attire. And for you, Anomen?'
'I have a tunic –it will serve.'
Jaheira nodded, glancing back to the ever-sinking sun.
'Ah, the day is creeping by. I had better return to the palace -such preparations inevitably take longer than you imagine. Are you coming, Anomen?'
She watched as he, too, gazed up at the sun, though perhaps his eyes saw something else, for he sighed and gave up his search with a final nod.
Solaufein walked onward, his pace steady and head dipped against the glare of day and people both, his eyes and face inscrutable in the gloom of his hat, the man ignoring the glances and the muttered comments as he made his way through the city. His part in Suldanessellar's liberation was well-known by now, as was his desire to leave the dark ways of his people behind him, and he was not treated badly. But he was an outsider there and the old hatreds ran deep.
The fight had been chaotic, watching half the elves along with Minsc and then Jaheira fall about him, his own life only spared by his intimate knowledge of his people's fighting style. They had survived though, the general leading he and the remaining elves to the battle at the temple where they managed to hold out until the elves' gods were invoked and the drow were, at last, driven back.
And then afterwards, watching as, one by one, the bodies of his, albeit brief, companions were brought to the temple, the priests there bewildered as they informed the Queen nothing could be done, that their spirits could not be called back, for indeed, they had yet to pass over. And there in the temple they had remained for those three long days. He had gone to visit them at least once each day, that group of unfamiliar figures to whom he felt he owed so much, the man lingering at Fritha's side, her face white in death and no more readable than when she had lived.
He had not been so happy in years when he finally received the news that they had awakened. He held quarters in the palace with them now, and though they were far friendlier than the elves, indeed some of them treated him as though they had known him all his life -such open trust as alien as the sun that hung above him- he found himself spending most of his time alone, returning to his old haunts in the forests below, or reading at the temple.
The High Priestess Demin was a knowledgeable woman who knew much of the Seladrine and his own Eilistraee. She had even heard rumours of some colonies of drow such as he to the south, though she could do little more than tell him they were reported to exist –they apparently liked their solitude as much as the elves there did.
He turned at the voice, eyes making out the blurred form of the knight and the druid stood together just before the palace gates.
'Jaheira and Anomen, greetings.'
He could hear rather than see the woman's friendly smile, her common tinged with an accent he was just beginning to hear.
'And to you, Solaufein. Has Fritha returned to the city, also?'
'Fritha?' he repeated, surprised they were asking him, for the girl favoured no company of late. She was another one in exile, although it was more of her own doing. He had spoken with her a few times over the last tenday, and though the moments had been brief, they had eased his time there nonetheless.
'I did not realise she had left,' he offered honestly. 'I saw her at the city gates this morning on my way to the temple –she had been out in the forests on her own business and we stopped to talk a while. She said she was going to return here.'
Jaheira glanced to the man at her side. 'I assume you tried her room.'
Anomen nodded, looking suddenly defeated as he confessed heavily,
'The door was locked. I knocked, but there was no answer.'
Fritha stood before the mirror, the sounds of talk and laughter drifting up from the garden outside. Her window faced westwards and her room was cast somnolent gold in the sinking sun, the warm light falling across the silken scarlet folds of the dress she now wore.
It had been a tenday since she had risen again in the temple, alive and as whole as she had even been, and the cruel, pitiless joke of it all was, Fritha did not feel better for this miracle –she felt much, much worse.
And so lonely now without the voice, and so empty without the reassuring stir of the essence in her stomach. Her soul was returned and with it had come the emotions she had lost, and the memories of all she had done and said were suddenly pressing themselves upon her heart, hungry for their share of the sickening guilt that now hung inside, the only thing to fill the void that persisted within her.
She knew the others had forgiven her, did not even blame her, but awful as it felt, she hardly even cared what they thought. It was she who had murdered and deceived and revel in spite. How very easy it would have been to blame it on the essence, but she knew in her heart that at least a part of it had just been her and her utter hatred of that life, which seemingly gave joys only to accentuate the miseries, and it was a feeling now not so easily shaken just because she had been given this reprieve.
Fritha shifted back, the gentle susurrus of her skirts warning of the creases it would leave as she slumped down on to the bed behind. She had heard the knock earlier, Anomen's gentle call through the wood, but she had ignored it. She found it so hard to be around them now, to summon that smile and join that talk, all the while remembering the things she had said to them –worst still, the things she had felt.
Company of any sort was just another torture and she spent the majority of her time alone, walking about the city or forests, or just shut up in her room, dozing the days away. She would cry sometimes too, but even that had lost its ability to heal; the once cathartic release now just felt endless, and she found she would only stop weeping when she was too tired even for that.
Fritha sighed. She would be at this gathering soon, a whole evening of music and laughter stretching before her. Ellesime had told them all they would always have a place at the city, but life at the palace was more torment than respite, with its stifling press of people who all want to talk and smile and pull at her with their eyes. Perhaps she could ask the Queen for somewhere else, far on the other side of the city where she could make her home. And then what? Live out the rest of her days there? Return to Athkatla or the Gate? She just did not know anymore…
Fritha gazed at the girl opposite, sallow in the fading sunlight, her hair a fiery mess of curls that had not seen a comb in days. The clinging silk was almost glowing in the light, the vivid red of fresh blood.
Perhaps that was why Ellesime had chosen it…
A knock at the door behind her. Fritha drew a deep breath and steeled herself for the long evening ahead.
She thought the celebrations Ellesime had planned would be impressive, but she had no idea. Fritha halted on the steps looking down in to the palace's great hall with a growing sense of reluctance. Scores of guests were already milling about that large room, some engaged in friendly talk, while others were dancing to the light, lilting music which was thrumming from the small band of flutes and violins. The room was a beautiful enough space in itself with its smooth, wooden columns that meandered up like polished branches to the high, vaulted ceiling, half the roof open to the canopy above, the boughs strung with lights that glowed softly in the dusk, while opposite, the large doors were propped open on the garden beyond.
A gasp behind her, and Fritha turned to see Aerie and Imoen enter as well, the former all in yellow while the latter was dressed in a gown of green that matched her eyes, the girl's lamentations that it was not pink finally silenced when they first met with the men and Valygar had grudgingly mentioned that she looked 'nice'.
'Fritha, it's…' Imoen breathed, momentarily lost for words until her excitement got the better of her. 'Come on!' she cried, grabbing her hand to lead both she and Aerie into the throng. Fritha resisted a moment, suddenly wishing she were back in her room, but a glance from Jaheira, and she remembered herself, following Imoen into the crowds, the others trailing behind them.
Ellesime spotted their group almost immediately, the woman resplendent in pale blue, crowned only by the glory of that rich gold mane as she glided over to bid them welcome.
'Friends, I am so glad you are here, sharing our happiness and our gratitude.'
Fritha said nothing -she let others do the talking nowadays, a task made all the easier with certain people in her company, Imoen chattering ten to the dozen about the room and dresses and music before she and Aerie went off to dance, Haer'Dalis collaring a disinclined Solaufein to serve her friend as partner.
'So,' continued the Queen politely to the company that was left, 'you have been comfortable in your residence at the palace? I fear with the restoration of the city underway, I have not been the best of hostesses.'
'Quite comfortable, your Majesty,' Jaheira answered for them, 'your city is very beautiful, as are its surroundings.'
'Yes, I had heard from the servants you are often out in the forests; I am glad you share our pleasure in them. And your friends?'
'Your city is very beautiful,' echoed Fritha. She and Ellesime had not again spoken of what had passed between them in the Tree. There had been no need; each knew how the other felt.
'I am glad you find it so. And,' the Queen continued, turning to the three men behind her, 'I hear the more martial of your company have been finding their diversions elsewhere about the city- I will speak with my brother, Elhan, if you wish it –Many patrols leave the city each day, on the watch against further drow attacks, and I would not have you bored during your stay here. Ah, there is my brother now- Elhan.'
The prince approached at his sister's call, General Sovalidaas and a few other courtiers with him, the queen making the introductions and Fritha let her attention drift as the conversation continued on, trying to enjoy the surroundings though she never quite managed it before an introduction to some new courtier or sage would pull her back, and she would have to smile and nod, making the expected conversation, her insides squirming with the deceit of it.
She started from another dream, turning back at the voice to see Imoen tripping towards them, the fluid, green gown swirling about her feet pleasantly as she moved.
'Oh, hello, is it?' the girl laughed, 'Gods, you're so proper nowadays. Fritha, this is Leidril.' A young man with long dark red hair that put her in mind of Khalid stepped from behind the girl, Fritha letting him take her hand as he dipped his head in a bow.
'It is a pleasure to finally meet the one of whom I have heard so much.'
Imoen was grinning, barely letting him finish to cheerfully offer, 'Leidril was one of the elves who kept Solaufein company while we were off in Athkatla.'
Was that kept company or kept an eye on? Fritha glanced over to the group Imoen had just left, the drow looking no more relaxed in that band of smiling men than he did anywhere else, though perhaps that said little.
'Why not come and talk with us for a bit,' Imoen continued, the gentle tug at her wide, scarlet sleeve putting an affectionate insistence behind the offer. Fritha swallowed and summoned a smile.
'So, Fritha,' began Aust, now the introductions were out of the way, the young elf looking rather arrogant as he arched a pale blond eyebrow to her, 'Imoen was telling us you are both from the library fortress of Candlekeep.'
'Yes,' answered Fritha, Imoen waiting a beat for anything more, before plunging on with her own expansion.
'Yes, that's us, the Belles of Candlekeep -not that anyone there would have noticed it. Half the monks were so caught up in their precious tomes, I doubt they even noticed we were girls.'
Laughter all around, Imoen basking in its warmth, Fritha wincing in the glare.
'Your friend is very quiet,' offered a tall elf of who's name Fritha had not quite caught.
Leidril sent her friend a grin. 'Perhaps she feels Imoen talks enough for them both.'
Imoen just snorted. 'Nah, Fritha's just given up trying to get a word in.'
More laughter. Fritha caught Solaufein's eye and tried a smile, the pair of them adrift in such merriment.
'Ah, the human girls are always such fun,' sighed the dark-haired Evarren, glancing to her to hastily add, 'oh, and the half-humans, too.'
'And so exotic to look upon,' agreed Aust, and Fritha wondered if he regarded his own reflection so critically, 'though you likely think the same of us, yes?'
Imoen gave a rather insulting snort of laughter. 'Oh, you're not so rare! There are plenty of elves in the Gate, and Athkatla, too, from what I could see –though perhaps you would not be allowed that far from the city without your mother's permission.'
Everyone laughed then, even Solaufein, though Aust's looked a little more grudgingly given, Imoen whipping round as the familiar strains of a bransle filled the room.
'Oh, I love this song. Do you remember, Fritha? It was so popular in the Gate when we were there.'
'Would you like to dance?' asked Evarren promptly, Fritha drawing back from the hand he proffered.
'Course we would,' laughed Imoen, an arm already linked through Leidril's, 'Come on, Fritha.'
The elves were light on their feet, even through the most complicated series of steps, which unfortunately left many chances for conversation, the three men she danced with all talking at her and asking her questions, while she would smile and demur and wonder when everything had had to become an act. She felt very self-conscious, too, in a way she did not ever recall feeling before, at least not dancing, as though all eyes in that grand room were fixed upon her, silently judging: Fritha the saviour; Fritha the godchild; Fritha the Bhaalspawn.
She finished the dance in the customary curtsey, Leidril still holding her hand as the band began their next, one pointed ear cocked to the music.
'Ah, I believe this is another popular one from the northern lands; would you like to stay for another round?'
'Ah, no thank you, I'm a little tired.'
It was not so much of a lie –she felt exhausted just drawing breath some days. He conceded with good grace, leading her to where the doors opened on to the gardens before he was distracted by a group of friends on the other side of the hall –leaving her with a promise he would soon return after her refusal to join him.
Fritha let her eyes scan about her. Minsc and Jaheira were nearby, chatting with Aerie and Haer'Dalis -Solaufein, Valygar and Anomen being similarly engaged with Elhan and Sovalidaas, and she could not see Imoen, though the girl was likely on the floor. A gentle breeze stirred her hair, cool with the promise of rain.
Perhaps she could just go outside, just for a moment…
The evening air was fresh and pleasant, the celebration behind her becoming an ever-fainter murmur as she moved through the gardens, pushing through the foliage to finally find the platform's edge and sitting down, her legs under the balustrade and dangling leagues above the forest floor. Fritha leant her face against the railings and breathed a deep sigh, the lush scent of the surrounding gardens filling her as she watched the trees sway in the half-light. There was a time, long past now, when she would sit high up and just watch the trees: Candlekeep.
Back then, it had felt like it would be her home forever, but then Gorion had died… Perhaps he had been her home, if such a thing were possible. It was certainly true that she hadn't felt the same in Candlekeep or anywhere else after he'd gone.
She did not know how long she sat there, but her skin was cold when a rustle behind stirred her from her thoughts. She already knew who it would be, the girl straightening to greet him.
He coughed self-consciously, pushing through the ferns to sit down as she had, staring out into the trees.
'So you are here.'
'Yes,' she answered, nothing more to say on the matter.
'I was looking for you today,' he continued with a deliberate nonchalance, 'I knocked on your door after noon, but there was no answer.'
'I must have been sleeping.'
A long pause between them -they both knew she was lying, but perhaps that told Anomen enough in itself, the man finally turning to her to ask, 'Fritha, why did you leave tonight?'
Fritha shrugged, something about the open intensity of his face forcing the honesty from her, the words bobbing painfully against the sudden lump in her throat.
'I don't know… I used to find it so effortless, but now- These people, all talking and laughing, expecting a reply, trying to draw it from me with their insistent smiles- it is just so hard…' Fritha's voice faltered, the girl fighting against the rising emotions and, in that moment, her heart ached and she just wished that Anomen would go and leave her alone once more.
She could not let him finish the reassurance –one person in that city had to understand!
'You don't- When my soul was first taken, I felt empty, as though a great void had opened inside my heart -like I was just…just a shell. I thought it was just the space left by my soul, but now it's back and nothing has changed. There is… nothing.'
Anomen sighed. His face seemed older in the twilight, every line heavy with shadow. 'Fritha, I know it seems difficult now, but it will get easier in time.'
'But it will never be as it was, will it?'
He had no reply to that and she turned from him, staring out into the dark forest as though some answer lay hidden within it.
'Here you are, Fritha!'
The pair whipped back at the voice, Imoen stood there with Valygar and looking as though he had not just offered his arm for politeness's sake, girl leaning into him, bright-eyed and grinning with wine.
'Fritha, why d'you leave? There are still loads of boys who want to dance with you. And Haer'Dalis's even managed to get Jaheira on the floor!'
Fritha forced a smile, using the railings above to heave herself to her feet. 'Ah, well, I can't miss that, then.'
'You coming, Anomen?' prompted Imoen, when he made no move to rise as well. He shook his head.
'No, thank you, my lady, I think I shall stay here a little longer.'
And Anomen watched her friend lead her away, before turning back to the forest, looking for answers of his own.