When We Whisper Together
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters I'm using, the poetry I'm quoting (yes - I am still abusing T.S. Eliot and maintaining the same, high level of pretentiousness some of you know ;) ) or the setting this story takes place in. Come to think of it, I do not own anything. Have any change? Please? C'mon bro, one more quarter and I can git me a pair of shoes!
Ever got your arm really battered? I am not talking about getting it sliced with a knife during a tavern brawl. I am not talking about some bruises after a kick from an angry ogre wearing heavy boots. I am not talking about a strong blow delivered by a druid's thick staff. What I am talking about is a half - orcish Bhaalspawn's flail hitting your elbow, shattering it along with the rest of the nearby bones and causing you to lose consciousness just before you would vomit from all the pain. When you finally come to your senses... let it just be said that seeing how you managed to shove the sword from your left hand right into his throat mere moments before realizing what this son of a whore did to your arm is little, if none consolation. And after they patch you up, with two spells and one potion, it still hurts so bloody much that you wonder wether the place you found yourself in is still Saradush, or maybe the Nine Hells. Have you ever felt your tissues re - growing at a pace hundreds of times faster than normal? Ever felt your bones moving inside of the flesh, tearing it apart to reach their right locations?
You had? Then you will probably understand why I could not sleep after defeating Gromnir Il - Khan.
The pocket plane's appearance improved, at least by comparison to what it was during our last visit. Of course, my own private piece of hell was still nowhere near this marble palace of the manipulative bastard called Jarlaxle, but apparently it was getting there - at a slow pace, yet with an admirable determination. Cespenar kept himself busy, showering the place with both useful and useless items taken from the Planes. His findings included a blue, ten - feet diameter round carpet, four bath tubs so huge that even the late Centeol would feel comfortable and a hideously weaved drapery said to be a commemoration of some battle. Why would the imp drag that thing here was a mystery to me: the arras could be called many things, but 'shiny one' was not among them. The curiosum ended up adorning Sarevok's chamber. If not for the marble sculptures depicting the fiery - haired Sune in the strong embrace of Kelemvor, my brother's living quarters would resemble a blind gnome's loom. The huge warrior mentioned expecting a shipment of batallistic paintings by Regnier Alviss... perhaps he needed something to cover the tapestry with.
Although the imp had not yet managed to re - arrange everything, the good and merciful Gods inspired him to organize something that could be called a hellish equivalent of an ale house. Our demonic bulter found some chairs, two tables, few goblets and many a barrel of liquor, from the well - known and loved Elminster's Special, through the dark and bitter Streea, to brewages that only Korgan dared to taste. Mine own order, a set of books, was the most challenging. Cespenar forewarned me of possible mistakes: after all, in many worlds many books were given the same titles, and it was hard to predict wether he gets the exact one I am after or not. So far only two of the grimoires were written in Common. One of them was a lenghty collection of essays concerning elvish wars. Viconia had browsed through it, informed me it was all "rothe iblith", and went about her day. The other book included poetry. I recognized the author after the very first verse. Eldoth quoted many a poet, but favoured only two. The first one was a vagabond and a rogue, and his creations differed as much as one day on the road could differ from another - he wrote drinking songs, pious hymns and even rhymes in thieves cant. The black - haired bard, however, was particulary fond of those in which the thin veil of happiness and pleasure failed to hide the ever present despair, corruption and the melancholy of an animal satisfied, yet not fulfilled.
Cespenar provided me with the second of Kron's most prized authors. While the vagabond poet viewed the world as his dancing partner, the other one preferred to dissect it, diagnosing it's diseases, reading the patterns of cancerous growths and basing his portraits of humans on them. The other books were mostly elvish: written in a language I spoke fluently, yet was not as skilled when it came to reading or writing it. There were also three written by dwarves - the runes, on the contrary, I knew, yet, the words they formed I could not understand. Whatever you do, it still ain't better, as Reevor used to say.
Still, the liquors and the books could keep me company during the hard times of insomnia. In a way, it reminded me of Candlekeep. There were moments when my uneasiness, my urge to leave, my impatience grew so strong that they kept me awake during the long hours of night watch: a lone, involuntary guardian. Unless, of course, Hull wasn't on duty and Imoen was not, in her own words, "grounded". Imoen... a shame, all in all. It was mine own fault, and mine alone, for not arriving soon enough to prevent her from descending into an irrecupperable madness, far beyond any hopes of improvement or healing. I reached for the bottle and filled one of the cups with a golden liquor bearing a heavy scent of herbs and drank. Deeply, fast, almost downing it. I grimaced, yet again gazing upon the tome of poetry. "The Hollow Men"... sometimes I thought the author was a greater prophet than Alaundo himself.
'A lone night, Ravenika?'
Sarevok's deep, mocking voice sounded behind me. Were I not busy with the brewage and memories, I would have heard his approach. Deciding to hide the moment of weakness, I never turned around. Letting the warrior know he managed to catch me unaware would be unwise... Truly, all these games, these little wars, the word fights... and the fact that the only useful allies also could turn against you in a time shorter than the blink of an eye appeared to be yet another of the many sick jokes that Gods made.
'Not as long as the night of your coronation. Sometimes I regret the... interruption.'
I could not see wether Sarevok smiled at the joke or not. When he approached the table to sit next to me, clad in a simple, dark tunic - all strength, dignity and a most curious, rigid kind of grace, his features yet again formed the well - known mask of indifference. My brother's mastery of controlling both the movements of his body and the expressions on his face resembled the skill Eldoth posessed, yet the bard could not match Sarevok's perfection. The trubadour's mask failed him when exposed to fear, pain or too many glasses of wine. Sarevok's: only within rare moments in battle. Each and every time I managed to see it, I was amazed with the similarity of what lay behind our eyes: the raw, sheer joy of fighting and cruelty... yet, not lacking a touch of humour.
'Interruption', he spoke after pouring a cup for himself, 'does not mean cancellation.'
It took me a moment to realize the huge warrior was not jesting.
'You are planning to come back, then.'
The deathbringer gave me a slow nod. My gaze followed the simple lines of the tattoo adorning this skull. I never asked about it, just as I never asked about many things concerning him. It was, may well be, a mistake. The stories he could share... Would it not be an interesting expierience to hear the tales behind the scars that I had not given him? To... look upon them, even?
'I shall. In your company.'
I re - filled my goblet and drunk. No. Even now the plan had not sounded logical nor reasonable.
'I appericate the sentiment, brother, but I have no desire to rule a city.'
'We shall not rule, sister. We shall... conquer.'
He leaned towards me. His speech became silent and fast, as that of a man sharing his greatest dreams with someone he trusted.
'Sword Coast Protectorate. Beregost, Friendly Arm, even your Candlekeep. All towns, villeages and estates united under the rule of Baldur's Gate. After that, the long - awaited annexation of Nashkel.'
'It appears that the war with Amn is your childhood dream, brother.'
And yet, the war - game fascinated me as well. Gazing at the table, I started speaking as I drew the non - existent lines of the remembered map with my finger.
'Amn will react, yet the military is weakened by the on - going campaign in Matzica. A true circus, mind you. They shall send every ship to Baldur's Gate, and whatever is left of their infantry will march to re - claim the town. And the mines...'
'It is a long way', he added, 'expecially for one accustomed to the southern warmth.'
'As for their army... I saw many things there, none of them intimidating. The Council of Six seems to be unable to decide wether they need professional soldiers or knight - errants. As it is, both groups are dying in the jungles, patrolling the streets or looking for damsels in distress.'
He smirked. It was a knowing smile, the smile of a man who had just proven his opponent wrong. And indeed, for a woman who had no desire to rule, I had very elaborate plans of claiming power.
'The golden city will be ours within two years. At longest. Do not worry, sweet sister - you will have an occasion to pick up both your sword and your lute.'
'Too long, still', I disagreed, 'and too expensive.'
'What is your proposal, then?'
'Leave Nashkel in peace. Sabotaging the shipments of iron should prove just as effective as taking the city, not to mention that we will not have to re - build the town later.'
'I think I have heard that one before. Though not from you.'
'I do not mean poisoning it. I mean attacking any caravan...'
'I cannot help but wonder how the Nine Hells did you manage to shapeshift into my sister, Tazok.'
I sighed in frustration. Parda once said that no idea could be called a new one, considering how old Faerun was. The old guy would be delighted if he could hear us now.
'Since I am not an ogre, I have a little... distraction in store for them.'
He understood. I knew he would.
'Sending the fleet to Athkatala, then?'
'Yes. Without bothering about declaring a war, of course.'
It was only then that I became aware that our hands were almost touching, faces only inches away. The feeling was not unpleasant nor unknown. In a way, the closeness of his body was familiar, just as the hilt of one's trusted sword, an instinct that gives one the right to call something their own.
'The Nashkel garrison will march towards Beregost as soon as the news will reach them. Considering the talents of a certain amazing spy network we both had the pleasure to meet, it could happen right now.'
I had to laugh at the image of a Shadow Thief hiding behind one of the twisted sculptures of the pocket plane.
'Strong city defenses can be established. Besides... we always had the ability of manintaining control over various situations, had we not?'
Sarevok noded. The amusement on his face changed into a most caucious calculation.
'It is you who posseses this skill - he corrected - Which is the exact reason why I planned the journey. For... us.'
'And what is in it for you? An experienced general? A bard by your side?'
'You do not understand. It is not me who will gain a general.'
He inclined his head. This minor gesture, this slight bow could not be surpassed by thousands of warriors taking an oath to give me their life and death nor legions of slaves calling me their mistress. My oldest enemy showing respect out of his own free will. I averted my gaze in an attempt to hide the effect his words and conduct had on me.
'No Geas binds you.'
'No. Only reason.'
I defeated him, I thought then. For the last time. There is nothing more to gain, nothing more to take. Even in death, he was filled with hatred towards me, still positive that the power I had was stolen from him, the rightful owner. It took a great humiliation, a cruel death and many a month in hell to finally break him. And yet, while a broken sword was useless, a re - forged one could become thrice as strong as it was before.
'What will you become, Sarevok?', I asked, smiling, 'A tyrant? A ruler? A butcher?'
'I shall become... what you will.'
His eyes were still as empty as before. It appeared that no emotions were hidden beneath his mask, no double meanings. "What you will". Shall you be the same as me, then, or will you become what I wish you to? Something in his voice reminded me of a certain talk the Deathbringer shared with Viconia, a few days back. Something in his voice made me think of bounds and shackles, of the owerwhelming sense of power one feels when administering pain, of the dark desires I discovered in Ust Natha. Another thought, another mental image. Another idea to toy with, along with the imperium we had just planned to create. Another idea to pay for, should I choose to let the imaginations become reality.
What might his price be? A few drops of blood? A handful of countries? A circle of metal around his head? I smirked, yet again, realizing how willing I was to pay.
'Very well then. I accept.'
Sarevok laughed, causing me to wonder wether he took his mask off or just put on a new one. He lifted his cup, and I followed.
'For Sune and Kelemvor?', I asked, arching an eyebrow.
'For Death', he agreed 'and... the Lady of Murder.'
We drank. Once more, my sight rested on the leather - bound poetry book. The whispers of the hollow men could be silent and meaningless. Not even the most skilled wordsmith or the greatest prophet, however, could tell what shall happen if the hollowness will be filled with power - and power alone.