Chapter 9: A Highwayman Comes Riding
The first thing Jarlaxle noticed was the light filtering in around a blue-and-white checkered curtain that fluttered in a slight breeze at the window. He squinted against the brightness and turned his head away. It seemed to take a great deal of effort to accomplish this movement. The second thing he noticed was that he lay on a hard and uncomfortable bed, with only one flat pillow beneath him. The third thing he noticed was the scowling assassin in the doorway of the small room.
"Artemis." His voice cracked on the word, after long disuse.
"So, you're finally awake." Entreri closed the door and strode forward, depositing a bowl of chicken broth and a spoon on the nightstand. "Then I expect you can feed yourself as well."
"How-" Jarlaxle winced as his voice cracked again. "How long?"
"Five days." Entreri sat down on a creaky wooden chair beside the bed. "I was about to call a cleric." He looked at the blue-and-white curtain as he said it, not meeting Jarlaxle's eyes. His mouth curled almost into a snarl on the word 'cleric'.
Jarlaxle tentatively stretched his arms and sat up, groaning only slightly. A wide swath of bandages was wrapped around his midsection, and he reached a hand to the bullet wound curiously.
Entreri smacked his hand away before he could complete the motion. "Don't. Touch."
Jarlaxle drew his hand back in surprise. "So, not-so-very healed, then?"
"You have no idea how many times you almost died on me. Or how much I spent on healing potions."
"Artemis, I'm touched! I had no idea I meant so much to you." The drow grinned broadly.
"It would have been a waste of resources to merely let a valuable ally die."
"A valuable ally?" The mercenary's voice held only the faintest hint of teasing.
"Yes." The clipped answer sounded distinctly annoyed.
"Well, I suppose I should consider myself lucky that you still consider me valuable then."
Entreri merely grunted and looked away.
Pleased with himself, Jarlaxle reached for the soup with an unsteady hand, and proceeded to eat it without spilling too much.
"The militia all believe you to be dead. I waited until they were out of sight before teleporting away."
"Well, that's all fine and..." the spoon slipped from Jarlaxle's fingers as he remembered. "Bess."
Entreri's cold gray eyes met the drow's crimson ones. "She had a proper burial, at least. The grave is out behind the old inn."
Jarlaxle carefully set the soup bowl down on the nightstand and said nothing, not trusting himself to speak.
"I went to kill the hostler for you."
"He'd hung himself, from the rafters of the old barn."
"Apparently he fancied Bess as well."
"You know nothing of her!" a sudden, cold fury filled Jarlaxle, to hear anyone speak so casually of his lost love.
"No. I don't," Entreri admitted, then dared to ask, "How could you let her affect you so much?"
Jarlaxle wanted to hit him, but he really didn't have the strength. The assassin's question also seemed prompted by genuine curiosity, as opposed to just mocking his pain. The drow looked away. "I hadn't intended to, as you humans say, 'fall in love'. It just happened."
Entreri shook his head. "I never let it happen. If you let someone get that close, it always brings you pain in the end. Always. Better to just keep them away."
"No?" Entreri's tone was incredulous. "Look at what happened to you, and I don't just mean being shot through the side...you should have heard your delirious, fevered ramblings the last few nights, as though the pain of losing Bess was worse than the pain of your wounds..." He stopped, embarrassed at the awkwardness of admitting that he had heard Jarlaxle's most personal thoughts, brought out by the delirium of fever.
The drow closed his eyes for several moments as he digested this new piece of information. Finally he opened them. What had happened, had happened. Llolth knew what he had muttered in the ravages of fever, but he couldn't take it back now. "It was..." The mercenary tried to find words. "I feel as though something inside of me is missing, and will never be the same again, but it was worth it."
"Worth it?" the assassin shook his head. "I don't understand."
"When we were together it was...wonderful. Carefree. Perfect and beautiful. And I wouldn't give that up just to escape this emptiness and loss that I feel now. I wouldn't trade that, that, love," he uttered the strange surface word slowly, "just to avoid this pain."
Entreri fixed him with a silent stare for a long moment. Then he got up without a word and left the room, closing the door soundlessly behind him.
One moon had passed, and the night was cold and dark. Wind howled through the trees, and strips of cloud covered the face of the moon. It was like the night he had first met her. Jarlaxle dressed carefully in the costume of the Highwayman, freshly laundered but still stained with dark splotches of his own blood. He placed the mask over his face. A spell of ghostly visage had cost him a heavy purse of gold, but he admired the affect as his features turned ethereal and somewhat transparent.
Descending his inn room via the window caused him to catch his breath sharply as his side twinged where the bullet had gone through him. Princess Moonbeam awaited him behind the inn. Jarlaxle mounted, and with a word, they began their ride. The main street of the small town was by no means deserted, despite the harsh weather, and lights burned in most windows. He rode slowly, sedately, and heard the many gasps and whispers behind him. The road was a ribbon of moonlight, looping the purple moor, and now Jarlaxle urged Princess Moonbeam to a run. He saw the silhouetted buildings of the inn in the distance, and felt a tightness in his chest.
Jarlaxle knew he was observed as he knelt by her grave, but he didn't care. He reached out with one ghostly finger and traced the two words there: "Bess. Beloved." He knelt a moment longer, lips moving as he spoke to her silently, and then placed a single red rose on the stone.
The ghostly Highwayman mounted again, wheeled on his fine black mare, and rode off into the night. And they say as he crested the top of the hill, he disappeared.
A/N: Complete. Reviews welcome.