Artemis Entreri had a new definition of helplessness. Worse than being unable to help himself was being unable to help Dwahvel.
He paced the floor of the room. Over the past few hours, she'd only gotten worse. And there was nothing he could do for her.
She didn't wake, but she didn't rest either. When he tried to talk to her, to touch her, sometimes she'd cling to him, sometimes she fight him.
Sometimes she'd cry--awful, heartbroken sobs that he couldn't bear, especially when she begged him through her tears not to leave her.
He walked back to the bed where she tossed again fitfully in her sleep, in the grip of some unseen terror. She mumbled under her breath, some of it unintelligible, some recognizable. He heard her begging him to catch her, then to let her go.
He didn't know what to do.
He sat next to her and took her hand in his. She was so pale, her eyelashes startlingly dark against the translucence of her skin.
At last she grew quiet, but he had no idea how long it would last. He had no idea when the stillness of sleep would give way again to unrest, to terror. And with each bout of restlessness, the sleep that followed seemed deeper, less like rest and more like death.
All he knew was that he had to do something. He'd already trapped the windows--no neighborhood was nice enough for him to feel safe without them—so he only needed to trap the door before he went down the hall to seek the nearest apothecary or healer.
The clerk offered to send the housekeeper up to sit with his daughter while he went after assistance.
"My wife," Entreri corrected without thought.
"My apologies," the clerk returned smoothly and went to call the housekeeper. Entreri went back to the room and waited, anxiously watching Dwahvel sleep.
A knock at the door signaled the housekeeper's arrival and Entreri opened the door to admit a talkative middle-aged woman who immediately began to ask a lot of impertinent and annoying questions such as his name and what was wrong with his wife.
"Oh," the woman sighed as she went to the bed, "she's a little halfling lady. I thought she was your daughter when you brought her in. And lovely, isn't she? I do hope she's not very ill."
Entreri fought back the urge to strangle the woman and made her promise not to leave Dwahvel's side until he returned. He buckled on his sword belt, taking a malicious satisfaction in the widening of the housekeeper's eyes as she got a good look at Charon's Claw with its bone hilt and startlingly red coloration.
"Artemis?" he heard Dwahvel call. Ignoring the woman, he went to her side and knelt down to take her hand in his.
"Yes, I'm right here."
"Don't leave me." Her voice was tired and pale, and she didn't open her eyes.
"I'm going to get help. I'll be back soon."
"Don't let it take me, Artemis," she whispered.
"Never, love. I won't let you go," he replied softly, bringing her fingers to his lips for a kiss.
Then he rose from the bedside and addressed the woman standing there, her mouth slightly agape. "I need to find a healer. Now." His tone was as hard with her as it had been soft with the halfling lady. She was dumbstruck by the mercilessness in his eyes and pointed out the window at a little park just down the street.
A small amphitheater was set in the mountainside with semicircular rows of benches and a shell of sorts behind it. A silver haired man in a rosy pink and purple robe sat on one of the benches. "Him," the woman stammered. "Go see him."
Entreri figured that was close enough and went to the window. "Don't try to open the door," he warned on the way out. Then after opening the window and slipping down the few feet to the walk below, he closed it again, fiddled at the outside, and warned through the glass, "Don't try to open the window either."
Entreri walked swiftly to the amphitheater, moving quickly to intercept the man who had risen and was walking away.
"Are you a healer?" Entreri asked him abruptly, cutting off his escape with an outstretched hand.
"At times," the man replied evenly. "Who needs healing?"
"My wife," Entreri said, growing a little concerned by the ease with which the word was slipping to his lips. Dwahvel was not his wife. "My wife," he heard himself repeat, unable to stop himself that time either.
"Then let us see to her, Mister--"
A thousand aliases sprang to mind—he even thought of using Jarlaxle Baenre. But instead he answered, "Artemis Entreri. Of Calimport."
"Mr. Entreri, my name is Brother Ansel. Let us see if we can't help your wife," the man said with an unassuming smile and gesture for Entreri to lead the way.
They walked back to the inn, Entreri pausing at the door to disable the traps he'd set. He sincerely hoped the housekeeper had heeded his instructions. Her dead body would not make a good first impression.
To his relief, the old busybody was wiser than she looked. She sat in a side chair and looked up at them as they entered. "She's been sleeping, sir," the woman stated without meeting Entreri's eyes, then gave him a quick bouncy curtsy and left the room, careful not to touch the door on her way out.
Brother Ansel pulled the side chair over to the bed, sat down, and took Dwahvel's hand. He closed his eyes for a moment, then looked up at Entreri. "What thing did this to her?" he asked sadly.
"This." Entreri held the dagger out to the healer, an obstinate part of him almost daring the priest to take it.
Brother Ansel reached for it without hesitation and sat for a moment with the dagger's jeweled length resting on his palms. "This weapon is is a terrible thing," he stated after a moment, looking Entreri squarely in the eyes.
"And I have done terrible things with it," Entreri stated without prevarication. "But all she has done is save my life. Now you save hers."
The healer passed the dagger back to Entreri, who took it and slipped it back into its sheath. Then Entreri unbuckled the swordbelt and placed sword and dagger on a table on the opposite side of the room before returning to Dwahvel's bedside.
Meanwhile Brother Ansel had taken Dwahvel's hands in his and closed his eyes again. Entreri had not been privy to many clerical healings. He tended to avoid clerics like the plague. So he was not certain what he would see.
He was more than a bit surprised to see nothing. No bright lights, no strange chanting. Just a silver-haired man sitting quietly.
Just as he'd come to the conclusion that he was going to see nothing—including no improvement in Dwahvel's condition—her eyes flickered open and she looked at him. By the light of day, he could see that her eyes were green.
The priest rose and took a step back as Entreri stepped forward. He couldn't hold back the relief as he gathered her into his arms. "I am so sorry," was all he could say to her as he held her close.
She spoke to him quietly, her words comforting him, as he held her and breathed.
Then he looked up for the priest. He needed to pay him.
But Brother Ansel was gone, the door closed behind him.
That night, they didn't make love. They talked instead, holding each other close. He wanted to know everything about her, so she told him.
She told him about her childhood and about the strange and tragic series of events that had led her to Calimport. She told him tales of her years as the guildmistress of The Copper Ante, and his respect for her went up a few more notches as he began to appreciate the skill it took to negotiate the delicate halfling balance between nonthreatening and indispensable.
He thought he knew her. He thought he understood her. But he'd barely scratched the surface in knowing and appreciating everything that was Dwahvel Tiggerwillies. Everything about her was fascinating. He'd never realized that he could be so interested in another person, in her life, in what she'd done, in what she wanted to do.
But in appreciating what she was, he came to realize what he'd done to her by making her leave it all behind.
"Do you want to go back to Calimport?" he asked at last, taking comfort that in the dark she couldn't see his face.
"Right now? Not really," she answered casually. "I've never been to Waterdeep."
"Then you'll stay with me for a while?"
Dwahvel heard the anxiety in his voice. He was stronger. He wasn't the emotional wreck that had burst through her door in Calimport. But she knew she could still break his heart.
And the last thing she wanted to do was break his heart. Holding the heart of a man like Artemis Entreri was an awesome responsibility. To see that he had one was a wonder. To actually hold it was a miracle. She didn't play around with miracles.
"I'll stay with you, Artemis," she replied, snuggling closer against him. Then she felt his fingers twisting around the curls of her hair and declared she was tired of talking. So they made love instead.
The next morning before dawn, Entreri awoke to a feeling of peace—and happiness. Dwahvel lay curled up beside him, her fingers intertwined in his, her body warm and soft against him.
To the best of his knowledge, no one within at least one square mile of his current position wanted to kill him.
To the best of his knowledge, no one within at least one square mile of his current position even knew who he was.
He kissed her forehead and slipped out of bed to dress. Out of habit, he reached for his swordbelt, but instead he pulled the plain dagger from his pack and wore it alone.
With a few touches to the traps at the window, he slipped outside.
The sky was still dark and the air was cool as he walked down the street. Soon he found himself standing in the amphitheater where he'd met the priest.
The semicircular benches were wet with dew, but he swept one dry and took a seat. Interestingly enough, the shell that should have been before the benches was behind it. Instead of facing in, all the benches curved out into the open air of the mountainside.
Within moments he knew why.
The theater was positioned perfectly to frame dawn breaking over the city.
Entreri watched as the sun began to rise before him, slipping rosy pink fingers into the purplish gray of the sky. He watched as the horizon went from dusty red to pink to gold. He watched as the darkness around him faded into violet, then blue.
Then he heard a voice a little distance behind him.
"It's beautiful, isn't it, Mr. Entreri," Brother Ansel said. "Every dawn brings a new day."
"Yes," Entreri heard himself reply, but for some reason he was unable to tear his eyes from the light of the dawn to look back at the priest.
"I hope your wife is well this morning."
"She's not my wife."
Brother Ansel laughed a little at that and began to walk away. "Are you certain of that, Artemis?"
Entreri finally managed to turn to speak to him, but the priest was already well down the street. He looked back at the dawn for a moment, then rose to go back to Dwahvel.
And he wondered if he was certain.
(AN: That's it. For this installment. It has been suggested that I let folks know there is a sequel. It's called Dawn.
Meanwhile, thank you so much for reading and reviewing. I really, really appreciate your letting me know you're out there.)