Summary: Ten years after Throne of Bhaal, a party comes to Rashemen bearing Minsc's bones. One shot.

"I remember grassed plains of fresh air," his wife said. "Forests so giant and unspoiled that thou could lose thyself for a year to wander to the other side. Full lakes of blue glass, the lapping of their waves harpsong with the shore as a lyre. Grey crags and purple flowers growing amidst moss, and the soft whispers of the spirits of the land in their depths. I remember scraping my shins against black trees so tall I thought their height was the skies themselves, and looking across the crags and river swells and the wind whistling through the tall grass below... And I remember Minsc."

The cart made long, thick tracks behind them on the rolling dirt roads, and their carthorses Fennel and Rosemary lumbered along, fat and satisfied. None of their equipage would be desirable to bandits: an old wooden cart, stained and scratched from the miles of weary road; mismatched, aged horses; two men and two women in well-used cloaks, grey and dusty as the cart; a small number of bags and possessions wrapped in old sacking laid at the passengers' feet. And a wooden coffin also lay in the centre of the cart, built as if to enclose a giant. That was not far from the truth.

"He loved the hunting around Lake Elsarch, not far from the lodge of the Ice Dragons. There may his spirit find peace in the stars with Khelliara..."

Feyvel slipped an arm around her waist. The mighty ranger was gone for long years; near as long as the wizard who had murdered him. They'd wished to settle his bones in the months after escaping, but had only been able to bury them in a plot of land lent by Nalia's estate; had gone to slay his murderer and stop the slaying of others; and from then on had warred for Bhaal's throne and defied fates at each other's side. And since then...his mind rebelled at the thought that it had been ten years when evildoers hadn't seen fit to let them rest up for more than days at a time. It couldn't be that long; it didn't feel that long; perhaps time itself was an illusion!

"We must near the Dales border by now. We cross over into the western plains of Rashemen..." Dynaheir leaned forward in her driver's seat, the reins slack in her hands, unconsciously loosing her husband's arm from her. "I remember the day Minsc and I departed as if it was yesterday. I had been inducted as full-trained hathran, oh...all of three tendays previously, which of course rendered me full-educated and expert beyond any other!" She shook her head, smiling ruefully. "And Minsc, of course, he did not just yet have the hamster purchased from that old man, delighted at his chance to travel on dajemma for his lodge. Rashemi tradition is to travel and learn of other nations, for we value the wanderer's freedom. For Minsc, it was the desire to kick the butts of evil, as he would say... And he did so, indeed, even if he would not now have recognised thy brother as evil."

"We'd best catch up with him later in the year," Feyvel said, "in Luskan with pirates, last I heard..."

"It was early in—no, middle in—the autumn season," Dynaheir said, "the trees bright as flame, the frost biting underfoot in the morning. I will show thee such colours; the season only begins. The gretsolamir blooms turned fire-orange, the dubescha leaves a radiant gold, klenavisk scarlet-branched, and tall ivasse trees all colours of the flame, as if the spirits of the land weave bright coats for their winters, fireflies dancing in the air, dried needles crunching underfoot in the forests. Minsc had hunted a great stag the day before, and I had helped half the night to preserve the meat for our journey. My witch-sister Skada gave me a new-carved staff to rest on, and Minsc wore the amulet of the Ice Dragon Berserker Lodge at his neck, a tuft of stag's fur and scalebird's bone, and a disc of white berstone. We crossed out through the western borders over the wastes of Narfell; and then northwards we travelled—"

"I remember when Im and I set out from Candlekeep," Feyvel said, "the first day of spring; we shivered through the nights in summer robes, and then we came to Nashkel and met Minsc. And then I saw you."

"Rescued me," Dynaheir said, "in tatters most disgraceful. I should not have ventured so far west—"

"No, you brought the old spell scrolls out of the pit with you. I thought you must have been a foreign princess, you held your head so high and wouldn't give in to even my scariest gnoll chieftain of all—"

"I wouldst not tell thee at the time, for fear of spoiling thy self-assurance, but thy illusion was inconsistent in the number of ogre skulls affixed to its bandolier— And still, the caster was far pleasanter a visage to look upon." She gave his cheek a gentle pat with her right hand; Fennel and Rosemary scarcely noticed the brief loosening of their reins.

"My face is pleasanter than a gnoll?" Feyvel said innocently. "But you, lady of my heart, are more arresting than the full body of the Flaming Fist in a thieves' guild raid—"

He saw laughter rise to his wife's brown eyes, and bent over her ear to whisper some words only she could hear. Then to her sight alone he brought shimmering butterflies to life in the air, fantastical colours flying and floating and trailing firework-sparks behind them. They shifted to angels, pigeons, pegasi; then to blossoms flowing through the air in loops that turned to a true lover's knot, and at last gathered to an illusionist's bouquet of roses and lilies for her.

"I c-can feel that on the Weave, even if you're not showing it to the rest of us." The wind loosed the other woman's cowl from her head, her cloud of fair hair tossed around her heart-shaped face by the breeze. Aerie, terror of slavers from the Silver Marshes to Lantan, laughed; "This is splendid, isn't it? Your homeland is—is beautiful, Dynaheir."

"Thou hast barely seen it!" the wychlaran answered proudly. "There is far more to it; these plains thou see cross countless miles of land. Rashemen is wide and open to Khelliara's ways; thou can walk days and see no human-built settlement. Upon the crags of Beldensturm, thou will see far into sky and land alike... Friend Valygar, how does the land seem to thee? For we must surely breathe the air of Rashemen now."

The ranger companion moved an arm protectively around the elf, who sat on a thin cushion, her stomach rounded below her heavy robes. "The air seems very little different from the air an hour ago to my nose," Valygar said. "Except for the poppies." He pointed toward a red spot in the field; and Feyvel saw the profusion of scarlet blooms through the attention drawn them by the man who had single-handedly tracked down Baron Balafell's murderers' ring, slain twenty giants alone in the battle of Ragefell Valley, and climbed the outside of the hail-sheeted glass tower of the tyrant of Camberwell to its full height. Valygar and Dynaheir would both counsel that beauty was best left to grow where it lived.

"I do feel the change in the air," Dynaheir said, "the spirits of the land—we hathran are bound to the soil and sky and water of the land of our birth; our magic is linked and rooted in Rashemen itself. I have been too long absent—" She shook her head, half-laughing in joy; and reached out a hand to touch the air, her sleeves falling down to her elbows and her brown skin reached by the sun. "Could we stop the cart for some time? I may be brief, I swear; Valygar, Aerie, would the two of thee object to a pause?"

"Not at all," Aerie said, Valygar reaching forward to take over the reins. Feyvel helped his wife down from unnecessary courtesy, and walked with her; the grass was tall and brown and scratched his calves above his boots. Dynaheir pulled up her robes for more freedom, walking quickly through the fields of her homeland.

"There must be—an altar nearby, a svyatyni, small shrine, spirit of the locus; come with me, Feyvel, this is my home and thou must meet what is dear to me—"

He ran behind her as if they were two children in a game of chase, two farmer's youths rushing through the fields at midsummer in Chauntea's revels. They passed the hollow of poppies and their heavy scent; a small lea where a stream rushed in clear water; in the distance where a forest began to grow they saw a deer, briefly, running past with legs that didn't seem to flash any more quickly than Dynaheir's swiftness. Feyvel heard the cries of birds far in the sky, small creatures that ran through the depths of the long grass and beyond in the forest. He tried to see the land as his wife could: wide open spaces as in a hundred lore-stories she'd told them by firesides in long cold nights on the road, forests and misty blue clouds that curled smokelike above the cold land, and the thousand and one things that lived in the hollows and spaces, bound with the land as soul linked to body.

And at last she stopped, panting, before a small willowy tree rooted in a hollow in the ground; Feyvel caught up to her and took her arm, half leaning on her.

"Not a telthor," Dynaheir said softly, pausing before it; "a dimmithor, a small spirit of this shrine—"

The lower branches of the tree were decorated, Feyvel saw; a tuft of fur hung here, a feather there, a round stone swinging from a leather thong. He couldn't feel all of it, but he could feel something changing in his wife, the Weave in her growing and changing like a tapestry unfolding in purple and green. It was her homeland...

And what if she wishes to stay forever? But that was rushing ahead; let them have this moment alone.

"I greet thee, dimmithor," Dynaheir said, raising her hands to the small plant; "I thank thee for thy welcome..." Then she slipped into words of Rashemi, looking surprised as if she hadn't meant to speak in Common. "I must make a ritual gift to them," she explained to him, drawing the knife she used to cut her herbs; she cut off one of the thick braids of her hair. "Feyvel, four years ago we were wed in the eyes of the Hidden One; thou have a tie to Rashemen through me; from you—"

"Anything you wish," he promised her; she reached quickly for him, then seemed to change her mind.

"No; take time to think on it. To bond yourself to the land in your body is significant; I cannot ask an o'erhasty choice from you." Dynaheir stepped aside to pluck a stone from the ground, and spoke a few words over it; it glowed with the white-hot fire that she could call at her will, charged by her magic, and then she returned to the tree and laid her rough amulet across its branches.

"Little sister," his wife said to the tree, "dimmisorenka, after all this time you welcome me. 'Tis true: I spent too long a time away from thee—"

She turned her eyes to Feyvel, and for a moment he wondered if he truly knew the woman he'd wed. Her eyes brimmed wide with the beginning of tears and the threads of magic around her were unlike anything he had ever seen before: focused and gathered and vivid as a forest, unreachable and deep as an endless lake. Then she changed again to the Dynaheir he knew, upright and thoughtful and strong. There was a grey-feathered bird in the sky, and Feyvel saw a feather fall from its wings, spiralling down to nest in her hair.

"I am hathran," she said, "and I am home at last."

Rosemary and Fennel continued through the rough paths, goat tracks Dynaheir said, caused by herdsmen who roamed plains and forests with their flocks.

"Minsc, we are home," she said quietly to the coffin.

"They say...homecomings are bittersweet," Aerie said. "That which you miss; that which you have changed beyond..."

"We all change, Aerie," Dynaheir said. The cart travelled roughly through the edge of the forest; Feyvel recognised pine and ash and spruce, high and tall and ripening into autumn along their winding road. Pinecones were dark as the needles crunched below the horses' hooves; shapes and shadows moved within like a thousand stories of the things that lived in the woods, and yet he felt no fear of them. It was like opening a new book of magic for the first time: there were mysteries of the Lady, but you would be drawn and welcomed into their heart if you approached with understanding. The sky began to turn a pale yellow below deep blue; the coming of sunset. Feyvel yawned for a moment, and then in masks they came.

Their masks were silver and purple and gold, covering their faces, feathered and some beaked like the faces of strange birds. They wore flowing, practical robes that covered their bodies, their long hair braided and bound by beads and stones that glimmered in the faint light. They carried staves, some glowing with dweomer's power; and they stepped silently across the ground, slowly coming to them.

"Alathrinne! Chamenya!" Dynaheir called to the Witches of Rashemen, and made her way down from the cart to greet her sisters. "Semander, Rhabizon—thou hast an apprentice now? Olamina her name? Then she must be cautioned against the juvenile immaturities and pranks of her mistress—yes, Rhabizon, dost not thou remember the great porridge-fight of 1362? Or the staff mix-up thou instigated? Oh—'tis true enough I may or may not have had a little to do with such— Alathrinne, how is thy sister Varyam? And thy transmutations of the weather—thy field of expertise?"

"Varyam has been dead these eight months," Alathrinne said. She was a tall, slim wychlaran, silver-masked, her hair dark brown and curly as Dynaheir's. She spoke cold as ice. "She fought bravely and her soul was commended to the Hidden One. I cast lightning bolts each battle for Rashemen. Who are thy companions?"

"Archmage Dynaheir," the witch called Rhabizon said, "we have heard of thy quests. Hathran Dynaheir, old friend, sister..."

"I am sorry to hear of her death, Alathrinne. Thy sister was brave even as a child, studious and diligent— Valygar Corthala of Amn; Aerie of Faenya-Dail; and my husband Feyvel Greymantle."

"Feyvel the Bhaalspawn," Alathrinne said in that cold voice. Never would he be free of it, Feyvel thought; he wished to justify himself to his wife's kin. Dynaheir moved closer and protectively to him.

"Former Bhaalspawn, you see," Feyvel said as cheerfully as he could, "ten years now and I can say honestly that I'm no longer a Child of Bhaal. Just an illusionist archmage, humble as that is."

"Come to our lodge," Alathrinne said, still as if she meant no warm welcome to them.

"We must be cautious of strangers," the one called Chamenya said, her gold mask adorned with black feathers of such a texture that where light fell on them colours like a peacock could be seen in the dark reflection. "Dynaheir, welcome home, my sister."

The wycharans' lodge was built long and low to the ground, stone walls hung by bear hides for warmth, mage's scrolls stored on shelves and components for casting carefully laid in wooden chests. They kept nothing for alchemy or for the transmutation of artefacts; Feyvel knew that was men's magic in the country, the division of spellcasters by gender. A meal was laid out on two huge trestle tables, served by witch apprentices in feathered hair and robes: plain fare though plenty of it, brown bread and fresh cheese and meat well seasoned by mushrooms and onions and herbs, to drink a clear ale that seemed to go straight to Feyvel's head. Aerie took a single sip of it, and promptly asked for water, giggling.

"The faces have changed," Dynaheir said. "I knew my hathran-sisters Thanlane and Petrovissa were dead by correspondence; but I know none of these new apprentices..." She stared into the roaring fire lit in a corner of the room, the blaze purple- and blue-tinged by some magery between its orange and golden flare. "Alathrinne is of the Othlor now, the true ones; the witches who command others in battle. She was older than I when I trained; a sister-mentor to me..."

"—Baervan Wildwanderer; he is a god of the gnomes, for my uncle Quayle is a gnome—" Aerie explained to a wychlaran apprentice approaching her, comparing holy symbols; the wychlaran carried a symbol of a starred horn, Aerie's the plain amulet with the grey face of a raccoon hidden among trees. "The Masked Leaf; he believes in travel and the defence of others... Valygar, she serves Khelliara, Mielikki—"

"She doesn't seem to approve much of me," Feyvel said, feeling a touch like an outsider. Enough of them spoke Common that he could follow some of the threads of conversation, but many of Dynaheir's old friends were deep engaged in their Rashemi tongue.

His wife hesitated. "The customs of lands are different. The dajemma is supposed to teach all to accept this; but our land changes spellcasting such that fewer males are born to magic, and those with the gift are by tradition crafters. Each are divided, experts in their own right."

"I'm not a bad transmuter, when I have to be," Feyvel said; now a bowl of venison cooked with cream was being passed around, and he lifted a strip with his fingers from the wooden vessel.

"Vremyonni are researchers; some of them help to instruct all young casters in their caves, in the first ways of magic. They discover new spells for their crafting and live long," Dynaheir said. "It is not similar to our travels..."

"It sounds like what I wanted in Candlekeep," Feyvel said. "Reading and researching and learning quietly; and meeting a nice girl who wanted a quiet life with me. I thought perhaps she'd be a peaceful Eldathyn priestess, someone to heal my wounds every time I tripped over my own feet..." He hadn't wanted to follow in Gorion's footsteps as an adventurer, especially since he'd all the manual dexterity of a clodhopping carthorse and the propensity to drop anything it was possible to drop. Winthrop had permanently banned him from washing dishes, and choosing the school of illusion had been on the grounds that he'd do the least amount of property damage. "Then I met this invoker whose favourite thing to do was set fireballs and blow things up, and she dragged me into all these adventures—maybe you know her—" It was more true that he'd dragged Dynaheir for his nature as a Bhaalspawn, but she never had the ability to stand aside when she saw injustice.

"Hathran Dynaheir, you set afire an array of giants in the Forest of Mir, didn't you?" asked a young witch, her light brown cheeks pink with a blush. "And you blew up the castle of Feldnspar—"

"Not quite, little one; rumours spread far and not always accurately," Dynaheir said. "Tell me of thy work; do the hathran still instruct apprentices in ice spells by the cold pool of Prustah?"

"Before sunrise," said the girl ruefully. "We can make the ice pyramid from water now."

"I see," said Dynaheir gaily. "And how doth thou then shape it? Kon'neme akavornov nil faceii—" She set the girl at her ease; then a flock of twittering apprentices crowded them, and so they shared spells in the universal language of magic. The fire burned brighter and warmer, and everywhere they talked of spells. Battle-spells, Feyvel noticed; one or two household cantrips in sight as the apprentices cleared the table, but that aside all their talk was offensive invocations and conjurations, defensive abjurations, deceptive illusions and warrior's transmutations. He tried one of his prettier illusions on a red-haired girl who couldn't have been above eleven, reminding him of Imoen's face; from behind her ear an egg, and from out of the egg three birds at once; then from the birds golden keys strung into the child's hair. And she looked at him as if it was a foolish trick from an archmage who should have known better, and then asked shyly of his combat incantations! Valygar spoke to the young woman with Mielikki's symbol; then Aerie rescued him from the flood of magic pressed around him, quietly taking him to fresh air. The fire bloomed warm and bright and mildly scented with a spice that seemed to bring alertness, standing against the strong drink. Nonetheless he grew tired.

Dynaheir pleaded tiredness for him, making their farewells amidst the warmth; and then to a bed for the night with thick bearskin across ashwood, strong and plain and well-crafted. Then she opened a window into the sky above them, and instead of rooftop she showed him the stars.

"The Rashemi sky is brighter than any city," Dynaheir said in wonderment, "human lights do not take the stars from man's view. And here the constellations I grew with: the Great Bear to the west, the Warrior there, with his sword raised in the red star Rusiya; then the coronal of the Hidden One, the distant galaxy we see as golden milk spilled in the stars. The rose of Bhalla is the same as thee call the wheat of Chauntea, in this season visible far to the south—do you see it? And the five sparkling stars of Khelliara, the ranger's guide to infallible north." If hamsters and rangers roamed the skies forever with the memory of their brave deeds, for the sake of their friends— Feyvel thought, stargazing with her. The night was dark and purple and clear, the heavens thick inlaid with vessels of bright gold.

They laid Minsc to rest in the north of the Ice Dragon lodge, by the graves of other heroes of Rashemen.

"With his mighty beserker wrath he guarded me with all his might," Dynaheir said. The air of the morning was cold; the Ice Dragon lodge was by a half-frozen lake, and by its white shores she spoke over the grave. "With heart still mightier he was kind, not only to his friends but to all. From the time he left Rashemen he fought with strength and will unfailing. He slew monsters, but also he stopped to rescue lost cats; he fought and slew a Bhaalspawn to stop a war 'twixt the city of Baldur's Gate and the nation of Amn, and he carried a small boy to his father's arms to be redeemed from the captivity of Umberlants; he led others to a quest to save me from gnolls, and on the way he made peace with a village of xvarts.

"Those who choose to fight as witches or warriors or priests know of the costs that come to us all. Minsc was murdered by a wizard who attacked by night, after having earned his dajemma and beyond. Minsc gave heart and arms without casting his eyes behind; he was friend and partner, companion and shieldbrother. As long as all who knew him remember, he lives on..."

Feyvel stepped to her side while her voice broke. They gave this speech less often now; but in adventures there were always too many who died. "I knew Minsc. Stronger and taller than any other man, and the gentlest man I knew. And with the mighty space hamster Boo, they strode across the Sword Coast, for adventure and goodness—"

And then his brothers of the lodge spoke of his old hunting, his wrestling and running through Khelliara's forests. It was dawn, and in the pale blue sky the five golden stars of the ranger's north still shone down.

"I am an archmage and a priestess of Baervan—and Feyvel is a better mage than I!" Aerie was tiny next to Othlor Alathrinne, delicate and slim bar where her pregnancy showed. But one of her hobbies was learning as many spells as she could; and the other was combining them with her priest's magic in deadly torrents that almost equalled Dynaheir's explosions. Feyvel knew illusions, mostly. He just knew them well enough to win deities' thrones and lose them, chase liches and pirates and tyrants, and to support his friends in any battle that they came across.

"Thou know the custom, Dynaheir." That was the trouble with the silver masks: they made the people behind them unreadable and unyielding as metal. Alathrinne seemed to glare fiercely down at Aerie, and then to Dynaheir the silver hawklike mask turned. "Rashemi law ends where the shrines of the telthors end: but until then it is unbreakable as iron. How do you imagine we have lived near a hundred years of invasion, archmage?"

"I regret that I was so long away. There were other tasks from which I could not look away in any conscience," Dynaheir said, her lips thinning as if she was overcome by tension. "I return to aid you; the both of us mean none but good! Surely thou must see. Old friend—sister."

"How have thou changed, when once thee knew how to uphold law," Alathrinne sighed. "Lady Aerie is welcome as a witch; Lord Corthala a defender of the forests. But thy husband is not welcome to stand against custom—and natural role."

But there were noises and sounds and alarums. Witches raced through the forest clearings in haste spells, doors opening and closing into air and through treetrunks. The message: Red Wizards raid through the Great Dales, Thayvians marching through the Khazrith Pass.

"Speak why it is wrong for one who has fought ten thousand battles to stand here to fight!" Dynaheir said.

"If thou feign not to know the reasons, thou art a deceiver and not Dynaheir of Rashemen; and if thou know not the reasons, thou art no longer Dynaheir of Rashemen."

For all the cold words, Dynaheir gave soft response instead. "O'er harsh words, Alathrinne, in particular near battle. We preach that the Old Ones are called, for we need artifacts; and we preach that the wychlaran are called, for we need soldiers of the land; and we are taught that those of the two shall usurp the roles of neither, for such would be imbalance and fail. This has none to do with Feyvel of Candlekeep."

"So the reason is...I'd set a bad example?" Feyvel said. "My, that takes me back. The last time I've been called a bad example was when I tripped the Keeper of the Tomes on an illusion of a banana-peel in the refectory... Hellspawn abomination, sometimes, sure, but not any more—"

Chamenya of the black feathers stepped out from a mercury door in the air, and whispered words into Alathrinne's ear in the Rashemi tongue. One stood out in particular: zulkir.

"Thou art correct: there is no time!" Alathrinne ordered. She raised her hands into the air, and chanted a few words. To her will storm-clouds began to gather. "To stations of battle, each wychlaran! Rathalorne-group, to Allamere path to shake their way. Eirenza-group, flank to the west with Gnineih's fang. Chamenya, gather thy sisters to cover Rathalorne's path. Vadire-group...

"Dynaheir, we have done this many a time, and I assure thee—no, thou know—that we are more than well-practised at battle with Thay's invasions," Alathrinne told her frostily.

Truly they were. Leather-clad men and women riding thick barrel-like horses assembled, barbarian warriors built like Minsc, witches marching down their lines for efficient enchantments for strength and blessings; easy, regimented communication and each following to a plan—

"A—a zulkir," Aerie said, for the moment sounding as nervous as the young circus-girl of old days; but it was not fear of the wizards themselves that gave her concern. "Have we—have we brought this trouble to you? We wished to travel quietly but... There was the time I turned Edwin into a chicken until he learned his lesson—"

"And there was the time I killed three of Szass Tam's liches and their minions who sought to abuse the Planar Sphere," Valygar said.

"And the time we destroyed the enclave of Red Wizards on the Sword Coast, though the first time 'twas but four," Dynaheir said.

"And the time we were ambushed by an army of them through Milos Valley," Feyvel said. "Or would it be more proper to say that we ambushed them?"

"Othlor, an update of their numbers: four thousand-fold—" said a younger wychlaran.

They would outnumber the Rashemis here like the contents of an anthill swarming a lone caterpillar. He'd read the histories briefly in the Candlekeep days, Gorion's dusty lectures on the history of the witch-ruled land; where the borders lay, and where ambitious Red Wizards sought to gain favour. Rashemen was larger on a map, but sparsely populated; Thay bulged with cities and smoke. Every so often red trails tried to pierce; dark blue fought back, but only chased the foe's armies to the edge of where the spirits of their land lay. Dynaheir had told him of a life of preparing for wychlaran's battle; he should not have failed to understand most of her life. He looked across to her, and saw that a grey man had joined the efforts.

He was not, quite, an old man: grey-haired, grey-bearded, grey-robed, pallid-featured as if all his life was spent inside stone walls and the dust of it had settled permanently to his skin. Behind him waited a large carthorse, and in the cart wooden crates watched over by two male youths seated across them. "Potions, Alathrinne!" he called, in a voice curiously mellow for his grey form. "Fourth distribution pattern today?"

"Correct," the Othlor returned, brusquely; she stalked through the woods.

"You're a male spellcaster," Feyvel said. The wizard yelled at the boys—what do I tutor apprentices for? Pass them around, Giblet, Gander, no time to spare—

"You're an outsider," the grey man said.

"I—offered to fight," Feyvel said lamely, "It is hardly fair that we men—"

"What would happen if you combined ammonic acid with a solution of sweetgreen methylane air, lad?" Potions flicked and clinked together behind him.

"Probably I'd trip over the desk and spill it over the sodium hypochlorite cleaning solution," Feyvel said, "but if I didn't it'd turn into the stuff you use to dissolve organic summoned bonds."

"Good answer. Candlekeep as marvellous a library as they boast?" He met the vremyonni's sharp grey eyes.

"It was last time I was there. And you're...?" the former Bhaalspawn said.

"Illarion: master transmuter and alchemist," the grey man said. "Off you go, illusionist. Ala's—ah—cranky at times—yet withal we all carry on. For all our traditions." He reached into his cart and muttered a few words over a staff; Feyvel saw the transmutation on the Weave. Masterly, and with that trace he'd seen in the wychlaran of the magics that must be unique to this land. Alathrinne paused to turn her mask to Illarion; he swept a courteous, overelaborate bow and winked at the wychlaran as if they were old friends. And to that the body language looked almost humoured for a moment, below intimidating regalia of robes and feathers and silver mask; then once more the Othlor turned to her soldiers, trusting Illarion to carry his part.

Feyvel heard Dynaheir's surprised gasp, and turned to his wife.

"There is more than one tradition," Dynaheir said. "Master Illarion, we thank thee for the reminder. Feyvel!"

She crafted and called a length of silken cord from the air, flinging one end to his hands; its colours were the royal purple of her callings on the Weave, the silver subtlety of his own illusions, and running blue and green and brown and crimson of the world and of magic itself.

"In the land of Rashemen in great need, rise male and female alike; they are bound to each other as they are bound to the land. While the threads between them remain unbroken—" And Dynaheir smiled as she said the line, for this was part of the marriage ceremony of Mystra, where in the same way their hands had been bound together with a simple strip of cord, alone in the temple— "by Rashemi law they fight at each other's side." The shimmering string wrapped itself around his left hand; as he pulled it, it lengthened of itself, merging with his magic while he seized it.

Fyvel reached for his archmage's illusions. "We'll start with the usual, of course— Valygar rides with Aerie, preparing area-effects and healing; and you blow things up, partner o' mine—"

"Always," Dynaheir said, a multitude of fireballs already dancing behind her eyes. And ahead, battle was joined. To Dynaheir her flares were answered by air and deep fires far in the ground, her explosions part of the land itself; and to the Othlor's weather magic clouds opened and rained water and fierce lightning at her will, crafting thick mud against the invaders' path; and even in Aerie there was sign that once she was a daughter of the goddess of the air, telthor-spirits finding her connection. Feyvel had none of their belonging to this wild land.

But the cord remained unbroken. He reached into the Weave to craft four armies of their one, the last invisible to enemy sight. It never ends; and always by each other's side— Red robes moved below.

It began.