Chapter Five: "The things we can't keep"
Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. M. Kathleen Casey
"You robbed him blind." Kivan voiced neutrally.
"He was a bad man!" Imoen said childishly. "He yelled at Saturniah and sent her running!"
"She robbed him blind also." he added thoughtfully.
"He deserved it!" she said enthusiastically.
Truthfully, Kivan wasn't sure of it. If Saturniah had just the barest bit of backbone, she wouldn't have been hurt or have run. On the other hand, she had been in the process of stealing from him and had gotten distracted by the large display the mage had running. Her hand went the wrong way, and she'd sent his merchandise flying. He'd blown up at her, she'd fled like a deer with wild eyes and as pale as ice, and Imoen had similarly yelled at him. There had been a bit of argument, and Kivan had been forced to step in as mediator. Eventually, he got both thief and mage calm, and then watched in a startled manner as Imoen proceeded to rob the man of everything but the robes off his back.
"Let us just find Saturniah." he said quietly.
Imoen hummed her agreement. "She still owes me that armor!"
They weren't sure where she could have gone, so they started back on their way to Beregost. After a bit of asking around, they had an approximation of where she might be, only to find her crooning softly to a man in Feldepost's Inn. He was sobbing and had several mugs of questionable liquid around him, and some ways away, another man was standing and watching uneasily. He quickly spotted their interest.
"Your bardy friend has got some charm," he said, somewhere between wonder and suspicion. "Marl got mouthy. I didn't think it was serious, but he tried to attack her. She fled like a kicked dog outside, and he followed. I was worried, so I followed, but by that time Marl had calmed down and was all in pieces. She's got him calmer than he's been in weeks!" he marveled. Kivan's ears picked up the sound of the elf, and he wasn't as surprised -- she'd managed to get some alcohol, and her voice was a pleasant and constant murmur. She was saying nonsense words, but they worked their skill on the distraught man. The elf wasn't surprised -- bards had a way with words, unsteady voice and liquor or not.
Kivan waited to pry her away until he had done his best to buy whatever he could from the man behind the bar. "Come," he said. "We must go to Nashkel now."
With wide eyes, she agreed, and they left the town.
Saturniah was extremely pleased with the proceedings. They were all becoming weighted by all the things the two had stolen, but were better protected for it. The elf had donned the Robe of the Archmagi, and handed over the shadow armor as promised. Kivan silently likened them to peacocks, both strutting proudly and showing off their new gear. Foolish, really. All the best equipment in the world would not save one's life if skill and discretion was lacking.
It was only proven when a small group of ogres attacked.
Saturniah started like a deer, but before she could flee, she was clipped by a morningstar and sent tumbling. Imoen was gone in a flash, though Kivan spotted her lurking in the meager shadows of the forest. He quickly pulled his bow and began shooting, hoping to distract the creatures so that they would ignore Saturniah and Imoen.
He needn't have worried.
Saturniah rose from her tumble, one leg clearly injured. She gave no sign of recognition, though, and with a snarl leapt upon the closest ogre, an enchanted dagger in hand. Kivan was distracted with horror as he saw that the timid elf had suddenly changed into a rabid wounded animal, furious and senseless. She was torn and tossed around a bit, but it didn't slow her -- she still came back just as fast, just a furious, baring her teeth and snarling.
Bland grey eyes were golden.
Kivan forced himself from the trance it had put him in and quickly aided her with his bow before she could get herself killed. When the last one fell, so did Saturniah. She lay gasping, and as soon as Imoen made a sound, she was up and panicking. There was a frantic lost look in her eyes.
"Saturniah," Kivan said quietly, hoping that his lack of visible fear would sooth her. "The fight is over, and we must continue."
Shortly, she returned to herself, and allowed Imoen to force a healing potion on her. They found a letter on a nearby corpse, and Saturniah tucked it away after reading it. "Message for someone." she said shortly, and would not say further, though by her face it was not a grim letter.
They continued on their way, dodging battle with the local monsters when they could. Fate had no such easy plans for them, though.
"You! Stop!" a sneering voice erupted. Saturniah almost fled but for the sword that appeared under her chin from the darkness. "I know you are bandits, preying on the caravans!"
"But we are n--"
"Silence!" he roared.
"Two elves and a human girl -- some bandits!" Imoen mocked.
"Surely, sir," Saturniah said, beaming up at the young man disarmingly. "My friend may be a little brash and a lot reckless, but she makes a point. We aren't bandits."
The Flaming Fist soldier glared suspiciously, and pushed his sword forward a bit, but Saturniah easily leaned back with it. "Oh? You are armed rather dangerously." he growled.
Saturniah performed a twist of body that only an elf or a similarly limber and quick creature could do, which caused her lute to slide around in front of her. "I carry a musical instrument, and am a bard of sorts. What bandit has need of a bard?"
Kivan had to somewhat congratulate her on her thinking -- himself an archer, and Imoen a thief did not help their case, so she would typically be considered the lest offensive of them. However, everyone always had use for a bard, and bandits rarely killed them, usually either kidnapping them or letting them go after a show.
The soldier frowned a moment, then grinned in a particularly nasty way. "How do I know you don't just carry that thing around to make it look like you're a bard?"
Saturniah was quiet a moment, then smiled in an equally nasty way. "Why, I could give you a song, I suppose. I know a lot, but not all of them. Name one, and I'll play it."
"Alright." he said, but there was still a gleam to his eye. He pulled his sword back and gestured to her. Saturniah smiled again at him, then turned over her should to look at Imoen and Kivan. There was a wink, and she mouthed, 'Plug your ears'.
Which confused Kivan somewhat, but when Imoen giggled in a decidedly evil manner, and did so, he figured he should probably do the same, and was stuck deaf, simply watching.
Saturniah began to pluck at the strings, her hands dancing over the instrument as she tried to get it tuned. Then she nodded and gave the soldier a questioning look, to which he answered. She smiled a little sardonically, and bent her head over the lute, almost cradling it and shielding it with her body as she began to play.
There was something wrong with the soldier almost immediately. He was twitching. All Kivan could hear was a vague undercurrent of noise that set his nerves on edge and made him uneasy. Suddenly, the man began to scratch and tug at his hair. Then, to Kivan's surprise and unease, he began to strip of his armor.
In no time at all, a rather naked Flaming Fist soldier ran off down the road. Kivan wasn't sure how far he went -- he didn't really care or want to know. As soon as Saturniah stopped playing, and he uncovered his own, the sound of Imoen's ecstatic laughter filled the air.
"Oh, Niah! That was wonderful! I never thought you could get another one to strip like that Teacher did!" she cried, and then began going through the mess of armor and clothing the man left behind.
"I have heard of bards that specialize in different spellsinging." Kivan muttered, giving Saturniah a look. "I was not aware that elves carried the gift of it, however."
Saturniah, who had been in the process of looking over at him, jerked to a halt and ungracefully unwound from around her lute and tossed it carelessly around where it bounced in a clearly painful manner against her back. "I've said as much. It gives me unsettled thoughts on my true heritage. I have no one to ask, though, and allow people to guess my heritage as they will." She paused for a moment, then turned back around to face him half-way. "I ... do not think that I am an elf, after all," she said quietly. "I can't tell why I appear to be one. Perhaps there is human blood in me -- not enough to keep me from looking like an elf, but enough for this 'gift'. Perhaps ... I have no elf-blood at all."
"It is a dark matter not to know for sure one's roots." Kivan said thoughtfully. "It is no wonder you do not rest well at night."
Saturniah flinched, and it was only then that he thought that perhaps Imoen did not know about this. Much to the girl's relief, however, Imoen had picked through the amour already, and was coming back their way from scouting ahead.
"Heya, I think it's plenty clear enough from now on." she said, grinning. "Hurry, this way!" She spun about on her heel and was bounding off before either of her companions had a chance to really react.
As they hurried after Imoen, Saturniah cut one last look his way. "I will talk if you are curious, Kivan, but not around Imoen. She doesn't need to know -- she thinks I am an elf, a bard, and as happy as she. I don't want to ruin that for her."
"You may not have a choice."
She was quiet for a moment. "True enough. Something changed. There is something within me that I do not know, and it isn't quiet any longer."
Kivan involuntarily shivered at that.
They made it to Nashkel without much more trouble. A horde of hobgoblins here or there, or acting much like hobgoblins shouldn't be was all that stood in their way, and Saturniah was looking eagerly for rest. The patrolling man that assaulted them once they were within the town's parameters was a little off putting, and Saturniah had hidden behind her two companions in the meantime. Once they assured him that they meant no harm and he went on his way, Saturniah quickly urged them toward the inn. And then?
"It might be a touch unladylike," a cleric said as soon as Saturniah entered. "But I'm going to slit your throat, I am!"
The patrons all shrieked, eyes fixed on the situation. Saturniah panicked, leaping backwards. It was too late, though, for vines burst through the wood floor and wrapped around her, drawing her down so quickly that she hit the floor with an audible thud. She let out a whimpering noise of fear, looking up at the approaching woman. An arrow caught the woman in her shoulder, but then Kivan gave a sharp cry as he too was caught up. A burst of magic from Imoen's wand and she too was caught.
"Don't!" Saturniah cried. "What is this for?"
"It matters little." the cleric said, smiling grimly as she lifted her mace.
In the next instant, there was a flash of a staff, and the woman tumbled forward.
"Child! You are the most insufferable brat I have ever known." Jaheira said, gritting her teeth as she bent down and began to coax the vines off Saturniah.
"I didn't do it!" she cried, a touch of fright, but mostly anger coming through her words. "I didn't do it, I didn't start it! What have I done?" The last part comes out in a harsh whisper, a demand. What had she done that had her deserving of the life she current had to lead?
"I-it's okay, S-Saturniah." Khalid said, bending down next to her and laying a hand on her shoulder. "W-we understand wh-what has come to pass."
"Indeed, though it has been much trouble to learn it the way we did. Hold still, and I shall have you free -- you have nothing to fear from me as long as you do not attack myself or Khalid." Jaheira added.
Saturniah felt a larger sense of ease slip around her. Imoen had soothed much of her unrest and fear, and now with Khalid here, she felt very welcomed. "Thank you for your help, Jaheira, Khalid. I am sorry that you had to take the long way to find out what has happened, but I was a but delirious from the road and loss." She stood, and was pleased to see that Kivan had freed both himself and Imoen. "These are my companions so far -- Kivan the archer, and Imoen the thief and childhood friend. It was Kivan's idea to come to Nashkel, though I know not why. It was direction to aimless wandering."
"All the same, it is a good thing." Jaheira said, giving Kivan a measuring look. "There is an iron crisis, and we are here ourselves to look into the mines. If you are willing, it would be wise to join forces."
Saturniah unobtrusively step back. It was not her place to decide as she was no leader. Instead, she made her way to the Inn keeper and requested the two rooms they would need. She was pleased to learn on her return that the two half-elves would accompany her. They knew Gorion. They had that same reserved and kind, but distraught air about them. Perhaps they had answers that Gorion did not have the time to give.
That night she slept uneasy, and the nightmares came to tell her what she had already guessed : there was no where to go but forward. The presence awakening under her own watched, waiting. It was only a matter of time ...
Saturniah was up before the others, as she had a certain amount unrest that would never leave her and made her sleeping periods short. She was lurking along the buildings, passing the patrolling guards. At one point, she almost ran into a hulking man, but managed to avoid him. The second man she did not, though it was as much an accident as anything.
"Are yuuuuu gonna throw rocks at meeeee?" Noober wailed after her as she took off at a run, keeping a leery eye on him. It was stupid to run and not watch were she was going. She learned better in the walls of Candlekeep, but it seemed that desperation had lead to her forgetting such.
"(-- just my luck ... hey, what?) He -- Oomph!"
Saturniah cried out in shock as she ran straight into someone. They tumbled over the ground from the sheer force of her impact, and she leapt free, drawing dagger and hand on fire, wild-eyed and panicked. The man in the red robes grumbled unhappily as he rose with an air of bruised dignity and raging fury, focusing disdainful black eyes on her.
"Watch where you are going, wench." he snarled. "You would do better not to run about helter-skelter, brainless as a chicken. (Hmm, one of those all-trade elves. Squeals like a kicked dog, though ... )"
Saturniah flinched back, the spell lost and her dagger drooping in her lax grasp. She was not without her own eyes however, and she quickly saw the fretful way he was standing, hidden as best as he could with arrogance. There was also a slight quiver in his shoulders -- he was cold, and the bitter twist of his lips betrayed just how miserable he was. Though she wasn't aware of it, there was a hidden thought -- he was in red like her, he might be an outcast like her. Still on something of a rush from the presence of two people that understood her and would not mock her, and encouraged by the slight displays of how wretched he was feeling and trying to hide it, she reacted. "Better like a chicken than in a self-absorbed fog!" she blurted out, caught in a moment of bewilderment. "Chickens know to run when they see danger and you'll just stumble right into it!"
To late, she remembered her strange voice, but to her surprise he had no reaction to it. There, in his eyes, behind that preoccupied busy part, a spark lit -- one of faint recognition and interest. "You would be proud of your chickenhood, simpleton elf. I pay more attention than an idiot like you would notice!"
"Those colors look pretty stuuuupid on you."
Saturniah winced, watching Noober pick at the mage's robes. She could see herself that this was not the wisest course of actions and would likely end in the poor idiot dead. While unconcerned about the repercussions of either one of them killing the fool, she did have a weak streak for the underdog, and Noober had been telling her about how the others threw rocks at him. Her mind raced, trying to think of a way out of saving Noober. How ...? Suddenly it occurred to her -- the robes she wore were the exact same color as the mage's, as she not been allowed to keep the blue robes she came to Candlekeep in. She had to act quick.
"Yes, you silly man. Red of that color should only grace th-the most deserving -- it is too powerful for one such as yourself." she rattled off quickly, stepping toward the mage as she twisted her fingers in a spell; she stuttered slightly when his furious gaze had turned to her. At the completion of the spell, Noober fell to the ground, asleep, and the mage's eyes were on her.
"Listen, you idiotic fool!" he snarled, his hands raising to cast. "I am more powerful than you by far!"
Saturniah leapt back, ignoring the hollow thump of the lute on her ribs, squeaking and almost making ready to run; it was Noober's body that kept her feet still. "Now, now, mage." she said, holding her hands up and swallowing nervously. "Let us not get your feathers ruffled."
"Feathers?" he demanded, effectively distracted. "I am not the chicken here! Are you so low on the evolutionary ladder as to fail to remember the insults correctly? (I would not be surprised, after all. She looks to have little going on between those pointy ears.)"
"Actually I was -- eep!" she jerked back a few more steps, eyes wide as he began toward her. The sky rumbled unhappily, and she absently noted that it was about to rain, though nothing heavy. "I was ... erm, thinking more of a -- a uh ... peacock." It was a poor comparison in her eyes, as he strutted like one but his accent lent his voice an appealing pattern and sound.
The sky let loose.
Saturniah jumped a bit as she was immediately soaked, and the cold winds caught her and chilled her to the bone. The two were both momentarily distracted, both trying to stuff delicate possessions somewhere to be undamaged by the rain, and she felt free a moment to react to it. It was a soothing feeling running down her face and neck, even though it was cold. In the rain, she would go unmolested in the walls of Candlekeep, and when the pitter-patter sounded, she could always be found outside, enjoying the freedom. She gasped in the air, filling her lungs and feeling a little better, and a little less intimidated by the mage. Locks of her dark hair stuck to her face, but she ignored them, eyeing the miserable sight of the red mage. He was shivering violently and muttering venomously to himself, tugging his hood so far forward that it concealed all of his face but his mouth.
"You look perfectly miserable," she commented quietly. "Like a wet cat."
"What are you blathering about?" he huffed, his head tilting just enough to allow a flicker of black eyes under the hood. "Stupid prissy elves talking nonsense. (I never expected to run into one around here, but should have known my luck better...)"
"The inn is not far." she murmured. "I myself am holed up there, but shall soon be vacating it -- there will be rooms."
He suddenly looked at her very sharply, and she yelped, taking a few steps back. He seemed ready enough to ignore this as he had her voice, though. "I do not recognize you. You came in with some large group, did you not? (Bah, probably not. Stupid elf. She seems to lack any sense at all...)"
Saturniah momentarily thought about it, the part of her that had watched Winthrop and travelers bid for their services stirring and come to the surface. "You're not trying to hire me, are you? I work not for money, my skills assure me less need of it than most. It would have to be a suitable reward. And I do come with a group -- a archer, a druid, a fighter, and a thief. I myself am useful, despite my obvious temperament -- I know something about fighting, thieving, and mage-works, not to mention the small skill I have with spellsinging. I expect any payment to be of equal value."
The mage looked impressed despite himself. "(Undoubtedly, it was an accident that found such a group together. Never mind, they will serve.) Very well, you shall be rewarded for this mission, but only on completion. I am Edwin Odessiron, a Red Wizard of Thay."
She thought it best not to get on this man's bad side, and cowered a bit; it seemed to please him, and even though she didn't know the meaning of that last bit, she was leery of him anyway. "Saturniah, and if that's displeasing, Niah. Come, I shall show you to my companions."
She was a little mean, she'd admit later. She took the pompous mage to her companions and at once ended up terrified. After giving a bare explanation of herself and him, she fled.
Curiosity led her to the store next door. She entered it, and wandered around the place, looking at the shelves full of food and weapons while talking to the owner.
"Might I interest you in a bit of side business?"
Saturniah perked at this, turning to regard him with curious eyes. "You might."
"Well, recently the woods have been full of winter wolves. Normal wolves are no problem, but winter wolves are large creatures with powers of ice. I'll pay you five hundred coins for every pelt you bring in."
The elf paused, chewing lightly on her bottom lip. "Indeed ... " she thought about the miserable mage back at the inn. "Suppose I brought in some cloth and pelts. Do you think you could fashion a cloak of them to my specifications? I will, of course, pay for each pelt put into the cloak, and the same again for the completed thing."
The man's eyes were wide, and he let out a whistle. "That is a high price. Of course, with the pelts to keep warmth, and the magical protections they will offer ... then again, you'll be providing your own materials..."
"I am willing to pay, one way or another. I need it quickly, for I am working on the sly, and will probably have to be here to make sure that my specifications are met."
"Of course, of course ..." the old man muttered, still looking a bit shocked and chewing his lip. Saturniah decided that this was agreement enough. She made her way outside, taking this chance to explore the town more thoroughly. She found it depressing to a large extent, and was thus pleased when her companions finally took it upon themselves to show up. She put herself conveniently in their path as to make less work for herself.
"Oh, Niah, you played a mean joke!" Imoen cried out in greeting. "Eddie thought that you were the leader!"
Saturniah stifled her instinctive response that it was no trick, that she was, but instead kept quiet, and shifted uncomfortably under the group's stares. "Well, you must agree that it is complicated. We are all the leader when it comes to our areas of expertise. Kivan for stealth, and you for charm and guile. Jaheira to keep the group under an objective eye, and Khalid is probably the tactician." He looked pleased about that, she was gratified to note. "When it comes turn, Edwin will lead in manners of magic as he no doubt knows more than I."
"And you, child?" Jaheira said humorlessly. "What are you leader in?"
"Unrest, or something, I don't know." she said, shying away from them. "Trouble magnet? I shall make rash and impulsive decisions as trouble comes screaming for my blood."
"Lovely thoughts. Now, just hold still, I am sure trouble will appreciate it. (The elf must be either dumber or smarter than she appears to do what she did.)" Edwin muttered unhappily.
"You'll get your job done. We'll do it." Saturniah assured him. "Now, quietly, tell which way we go and for what."
"Humph. Very well. Our quarry lies in the southwest, in an old fort taken over by Gnolls. They have captured a woman -- a witch. It is my intention to see her dead. (Hopefully that was simple enough for these bundling simians to understand.)"
The group stared at him for a bit. Just as he started to show that he noticed, they switched their stare to Saturniah. She squeaked.
"You bring a murderer among our ranks?" Jaheira demanded incredulously.
"I didn't know!" she whined defensively.
"Niah, why would you accept him at all?" Imoen said. "He's nasty and mean!"
"Personal bias?" she offered weakly.
"Of course." Edwin sneered superiorly. "None can resist Edwin Odessiron! (Ha! Even though I insult her she finds me irresistible. I am better than I thought.)" Saturniah cut a glance at him. Peacock indeed. She found him amusing, rather like one would a bard.
"S-Saturniah, are you sure this is a wise course?" Khalid asked.
It was him that she found herself unable to cast a weak comment at and leave it at that. "No, but that's never stopped me. He claims to be a mage of some power, and I am curious just how great it is. If he's got enough power, is it not wise to get it at the cost of this witch's life, who may be dead already, or about to be? It's like putting her out of her misery."
"Your logic is strange and alarming, Saturniah." Jaheira said.
"Please, call me Niah if you can bring yourself to it. It saves time." she interrupted quietly. "Indulge me in this bit, would you? If you find Edwin displeasing, and his reward for this task unfit, then you can kill him, okay?"
"That doesn't help." the druid muttered.
"What is this?" Edwin demanded. "I did not agree to this! (Damned crazy elf! Did she forget she finds me irresistible?)"
"Calm down." Saturniah said, looking at him. "I'll see if I can't talk them into letting you get a head start."
"Some good that would do." he muttered unhappily, eyeing Kivan's bow. Said elf favored him with a mild look of displeasure.
It was a short walk from there to find the mayor. Berrun Ghastkill seemed agitated, though it was clear the reason did not lay with them.
"Do not worry, Ghastkill." Jaheira murmured. "We shall look into the mines as soon as possible. It is just that we have other concerns to look into first so that we can have the strongest party possible."
"I do not like this. Other adventurers have not come back yet, and some have not even responded to the call." he said, frowning heavily.
"Either way, it is the course we shall take." Jaheira insisted. It was thus that they found themselves heading off into the wilderness.
With Jaheira and Khalid in control, the way they traveled was much different. Jaheira went first with Khalid and Kivan paired behind her. Imoen came in single behind them, bow out and arrow tucked into fist, but not too excited. Behind them came Saturniah and Edwin. It was both a punishment upon Saturniah and a way to keep the rest of the group away from Edwin.
Saturniah squeaked and shied away from him a bit as he gave her another glare, gripping her lute like a security blanket. He seemed to have formed a grudge against her, and she wish he hadn't, or at least would keep it to himself. She cast nervous looks around, dividing them between her partner and the surrounding forest. She'd hate to get caught off-guard by either, and wished desperately that she could play some tune or chord, but Jaheira had explained to her that it wasn't the best idea to make more noise in the forest than need be.
He's just a bully! she told herself fiercely. Why are you giving into him? He hasn't beat you yet!
But he could. He has the manner of one that would. He has those hateful eyes. He has the hateful words!
Saturniah shuddered violently, reaching about for her Archmagi hood and drawing it low over her face, attempting to both hide and keep from hindering her view, an impossible objective, though one that did keep her sufficiently distracted. They managed to remain mostly unmolested, for which they were all grateful, when they found the keep.
Saturniah was hopping from one foot to the other, chewing on her bottom lip as she stared at the ruins with morbid fascination. She knew that beyond those walls was an army of massive gnolls. She hated them, personally, especially after having spied them passing by the High Henge. She hated the way they looked, and the way they acted. The way they smelled was the worst offense to her, though. One-tracked mind and everything.
"Oh, do quit your dancing!" Edwin snarled, glaring at her. "You are one of the most ridiculous and cowardly elf I have had the misfortune to run across. (Granted, one of the only -- I hardly think that Averial counted...)"
Saturniah pouted at him, and paused her nervous movement long enough to remove her pack and instrument, as they were weighing her down and her ribs were already bruised enough as was. "You're just mad because you're being made to come with us." she said quickly but still quietly. Her teeth dug harder at the tender flesh of her lip.
"This will be fun! Promise!" Imoen bubbled happily.
It had been shortly decided that the two rogues would scout out the fortress under the cloak of night and shadow, and Edwin would join them in case it would be that simple to complete the mission. Jaheira had handed her Invisibility Potion to the wizard, though very reluctantly and demanding retribution from Saturniah. All three had gotten the hasting oil in case they had to make a break for it. Saturniah had been hopping about anxiously since she heard the verdict.
Chance -- chance and murder. There could be death so easily. Her or them? Them or her? Who knows? It had yet to come.
She bit her lip so hard it bled.
,;;, To be Continued ,;;,