This is inspired by a particular scene in Domi's BG1 NPC project mod. Kivan's vow is taken directly from that encounter, with some minor differences in wording in my version. As usual, the disclaimers apply, and I own none of the characters save Rain.
RIBBONS – PART I
In their warm, humid tent, Rain sat on Kivan's bedroll in her thin, light shift, her knees bent and her arms clasped around her legs. She sighed with languid pleasure as he combed out her damp hair with an ivory-handled brush. His strokes were sure, soothing and rhythmic; his calloused fingers deft and gentle as he untangled a wet snarl and carefully set it to rights.
She smiled drowsily and let her head lower a little. Kivan's legs were stretched either side of her, his boots thrown off, and like her, he was seeking a reprieve from the sultry Tethyrian heat in the forest outside, clad in only his dusty brown breeches. Though they had just returned from bathing in a thankfully cool stream nearby, the hot, moist air was already sinking into Rain's skin, making her long for the cool of evening.
It was not too far off, now. The daylight was waning, the shadows moving across the canvas as the sun lowered in the west. The insects were buzzing noisily in the thick lazy air beneath the trees. Rain listened to their humming chorus as she rested her brow on her knees, feeling Kivan's slow, unhurried caresses as he ran the brush through her russet locks.
Her tired thoughts began to wander.
They wandered back to Saradush, and the throngs of her half-sisters and brothers still trapped within.
They wandered to the temple they must find tomorrow, the one hidden deep in this forest, the Forest of Mir.
Rain's brow creased in worry. She couldn't shake off her strange, unsettling misgivings, her fear that she was making a terrible mistake. Rain's instinct for survival had always been strong; it had seen her twist away from the hidden dagger aimed for her back, again and again. She had no liking for Melissan. None at all. Neither she nor Kivan trusted the human mage. The woman was more than a little…off. Rain felt as though she was not stepping carefully enough, misplaying her hand. But short of stripping Yaga-Shura of his apparent invincibility, and ending the siege, Rain had no idea how to unravel the agenda that Melissan clearly had.
She sighed again, wearily this time, and tried to push away her useless thoughts.
Kivan drew the soft bristles the full length of her hair, making her stretch out her arced spine in sheer, simple luxury. "What are you thinking about, amael?" he asked her gently.
"Saradush. Melissan." Her voice was muffled in her knees. "I'm worried, Kivan. We need to free the city soon."
"I know." He said it just as gently as before. They had already talked about it at length during the day, and he knew her fears intimately. So to distract her, he set aside the brush and took up her long hair in both hands, running his fingers through the smooth locks, down to her shoulders. "Think about this instead," he whispered. He began to massage her warm skin through the sleeveless linen, his strong fingers probing the knotted muscles in her shoulders.
"Mmm." She made a small sound of contentment and relaxed under his touch, letting him do as he would.
Kivan laughed, low and husky. "Are you enjoying that, my love?"
"Oh, yes," she agreed, smiling lazily. "Very much so." Lifting her head, she shifted back into his embrace, feeling the heat of his hard, scarred chest against her back. The falcon pendant he wore around his neck dug into her skin, but Rain didn't mind. She laid a hand possessively on his firm, muscled flank, and caressed his leg familiarly through the rich leather of his breeches. "This is nice too," she murmured.
He inhaled a short, sharp breath and slid his hands from her shoulders, locking one arm tightly around her middle. "It is." Gently, he tucked a damp lock of hair behind her ear and crooked one finger, smoothing it in a long, sensuous line down her soft throat, along her collarbone. She shivered with pleasure and leaned back into him.
"I love your hair," he said softly. "So beautiful." His warm breath tickled her skin as he pressed a lingering kiss to her neck. Rain shuddered in delight.
Kivan paused and took another strand of hair between his fingers. He rubbed it slowly between the pads of his thumb and forefinger, as though savouring the texture, and considered her thoughtfully.
"I never did ask," he began, cautious and tentative. "What happened…?" He swallowed thickly and tried again. "What happened to the ribbons I gave you," he asked her softly, "the ones I gave you in Baldur's Gate?"
Rain stiffened in memory. Irenicus' tortures were too recent, her mind and body still raw, and she tensed before she could stop herself. She consciously made her muscles relax. "Irenicus took them," she said, lowering her eyes to his arm around her stomach.
"I thought so," he said quietly, and she heard the tender sorrow in the hoarseness of his voice. "I am sorry, Rosa."
"Don't be." She smiled, softly, and reached up to lay her hand along the sharp plane of his cheek. He moved his head into her touch and kissed her palm. "I treasured them while I had them."
"I am glad," he said gently. Kivan was silent a long moment, simply holding her, but then he slipped his other arm around her and tightened his embrace. "Do you –" He broke off, struggling, but then framed it again. "Do you remember when I gave them to you?"
Rain tilted her head back so she could see his expression. His jaw was taut, and there was pain in the set of his mouth, but his dark, dark eyes were fixed on her with an intense, poignant love. She swallowed tightly. "Of course, beloved," she whispered. "I will never forget."
Then her thoughts whirled back to the grey, cobblestoned road outside the mighty gates of Baldur's Gate, and Rain's gaze went distant in vivid memory.
"Rain, you can't let her do this, you cannot!"
Stunned, not by Kivan's angry outburst, but by the sheer spite in what this bitch, this Imanel Silversword, was doing to him, Rain stared at the ranger, numb with sick horror. He glared right back. There was a wild light in his too-bright eyes, verging on madness, and beneath the thick war paint smeared over his chin and brow, his rugged face was a mask of vengeful fury.
But there was something else there, too.
Beyond the rage, beyond the bitterness and loathing that were notdirected at her, Kivan was pleading with her, begging for help. Rain saw his grief, saw his unbearable anguish, and felt something wrench open inside her. She held his eyes a long moment. Silently, she sent him an unspoken message, hoping he would understand it through his tormented blood-haze.
I will never betray you.
In calm, deadly control, Rain turned back to the vindictive woman who had dared to taunt Kivan with the bow once gifted to him by his dead wife, flaunting the beautiful weapon in her knowing, cruel hands. Rain eyed Imanel steadily. Without dropping her gaze, she sized up the length of road between her opponent and herself, knowing she could have her twin longswords drawn and the steel slicing into Imanel's fine elven chain in an instant. The woman stared back at her arrogantly. There was a contemptuous tilt to Imanel's chin, her hip cocked in supreme confidence, and Rain recognised the fallen ranger for the cold killer she was.
But Rain was a killer too. An efficient one now. She'd had to learn quickly, after Gorion's murder.
The bounty hunter didn't worry her, despite her brash confidence. It was her wolves. The pack gathered about their mistress, growling low in their throats at the small band arrayed on the road before them. Rain glimpsed movement to her right, and then the tiny wink of a small throwing knife Coran had slipped into his hand. On her other side, Kivan was tense and ready, his longbow clenched in his white-knuckled fingers.
"Well?" Imanel demanded. There was a sneer on her lips, and her tilted elven eyes were narrowed on Rain. "Are you going to join me or not? Hand him over, and let me cut his throat."
At that, all of Rain's pure, black hatred poured through her. It swept her up, savage and strong. With sudden violence, she wanted to rip Imanel apart, to plunge a dagger into her foul, black heart.
"If I were you," she said with silky, deceptive mildness, "I would return Kivan's bow, and then get down on my knees and beg his forgiveness. For I warn you, Imanel Silversword, that you are this close to me cutting your throat instead."
For emphasis, Rain took a single step forward. Just one. And though her hands were by her sides, not yet resting on her blade-hilts, her body was poised and lethal, promising aggression. Her eyes glittered with a feral light.
Imanel hissed a warning at her. She raised Kivan's bow, and reached for an arrow in her quiver. The snarling wolves strained around her. "You are young and stupid, I see," she said scornfully, trying to bait her. "As pathetic as he is."
Rain was unmoved. "Young I might be, but I am not stupid. I will not turn my back on a friend."
Her words rang in the tense silence that abruptly descended over the road. The slate clouds raced overhead, driven by a stiff breeze, and there was a flurry of rain on the cobblestones, striking Rain's bare head. She ignored it. She stared at Imanel coldly, daring her to draw first, and the wind keened in her ears.
Suddenly, Kivan was right beside her, so quick and close that she nearly took a startled step backwards. Surprised, she looked up into his fierce face as he snatched at her hand, taking her fingers in a tight, painful grip. His sable curls were tossed about his face in wild disarray, and his ragged cloak whipped about him with ferocious violence, but the jet eyes that bored into hers were not mad or fevered, not insane.
"Rain," he rasped again. His fingers squeezed tighter. "Mellonamin. Foe of my foe, and friend of my friend, this I vow to you – by the first sapling that rose where Shilmista now stands, and by the last shadow it will cast before all things end, I swear to give my blood for you."
His heated declaration caught her completely off guard. She stared up at him, dazed, feeling as though the world was suddenly reeling around her. She felt the sharp throb in her hand from somewhere far away. Taking a deep breath, she tried to find the right words to honour his vow, but then Imanel's mocking laughter grated in her ears, and Kivan dropped her hand as though burned.
"My, my," Imanel said, her eyes gleaming with cruel amusement. "How touching. That was a fine display, Kivan. And yes, you will be spilling your blood for her very, very soon." Her malicious smile slipped from her lips. She pointed at the wet road in front of her, gesturing with her arrow, and now she was all-business. "Come here, Kivan, and kneel. Kneel, and die."
Rain had heard enough. With a furious cry, she pulled her longswords from her scabbards and took a fluid, dancing step forward, but there was no time to engage Imanel, for one of the wolves leaped at Rain, snapping for her throat. She twisted sideways and managed to flank it in a quick turn, beginning her kensai dance with death. Her blades sliced through the air and opened up a long gash in the wolf's side. It howled, a high blood-curdling sound, and launched for her again, its bared teeth snapping at her face.
Though Rain brought her swords up and crossed them, shielding her throat from the beast's attack, its fangs sank deep into her forearm. She screamed in agony. The wolf shook its head in a blood-frenzy, trying to rip her arm off. Her fingers, suddenly nerveless, opened uselessly, and her sword clattered to the stone road.
Somehow, Rain kept hold of her other blade. Through the red haze of the terrible fire in her mangled arm, she hacked at the wolf's throat, trying to slice her steel through its thick ruff. Then Khalid was beside her, burying the point of his sword in the wolf's neck. It shuddered in its death throes, mercifully releasing her bloodied flesh.
She registered Coran's shout just in time. Another wolf hurled itself at her, and she tried to leap away, but her shock from the wolf's mauling made her stiff and awkward. Her foot slipped on the wet road. Stumbling, she raised her remaining blade as the beast fell upon her, but two arrows whirred through the air from close range, from opposite directions. One embedded itself in the wolf's chest, the other pierced the snarling head. It dropped to the road and lay still.
There were still four more, swarming over Ajantis and Khalid, but their plate armour was sturdy, and the men were holding the wolves at bay. Rain blinked past the driving rain soaking her hair and skin and righted herself. Clutching her torn arm protectively to her chest, blood dripping in scarlet runnels down to her elbow, she gripped her longsword in her good hand and circled behind one of the frenzied wolves, using her adrenaline to push through her agony to finish the beast. She drove the steel tip deep into its spine, at the base of its neck. The wolf spun, yellow eyes blazing up at her, but Rain gritted her teeth and bore down with all her weight, pushing through bone. The wolf sank to its knees and collapsed onto its side.
Racked by pain, Rain braced her boot on the dead animal and freed her sword with a trembling arm. She glanced around through the curtain of rain, and was surprised to see that the battle was finished. The rent corpses of wolves lay strewn over the road. Turning, Rain hunted with pain-glazed eyes for Imanel.
The bounty hunter, too, was already dead. She lay on her back on the cold, uncaring road, her body twisted at an awkward angle. Blood soaked into her wet golden hair. The hilt of Coran's slender knife protruded from her throat, but Rain didn't think his blade was what killed her. It was the three arrows sprouting from her chest. They were each perfectly aimed, a show of superb marksmanship. The barbed heads had punctured straight through her chainmail to pierce her heart. Rain knew the arrows were Kivan's; it was his fletching that glistened in the falling rain, the short feathers too white, too pure, for their ultimate dire purpose. There was something unspeakably sad about the way Deheriana's bow had fallen from her dead fingers, lying crushed on the road beneath Imanel's body.
There was a rustle of wet wool beside Rain. She turned her head, still holding her gashed arm to her blood-streaked tunic, but forgot about her own excruciating pain as Kivan took another slow, dazed step forward, moving beyond her. He looked like a man walking to the gallows. His black curls lay plastered to his head and neck, and the rain smeared his war paint down his cheeks and nose, but he made no move to raise his green hood. Instead, he took slow steps towards his wife's bow as though moving in a dream, through a surreal, watery reality.
Rain's breath caught in her throat. Painfully, she watched as he reached Imanel and nudged her corpse aside with the toe of his boot, indifferent. Then he leaned over and pulled out his longbow from beneath her. He made a sharp sound, high and keening, as his scarred fingers stroked along the lovely wood, relearning it, and Rain felt a terrible, knifing twist in her breast. Kivan staggered to his feet then, his dark head bowed over his bow, and began to walk away. Rain stared after him, anguished.
But he didn't go far. He couldn't seem to. His legs buckled beneath him, and he sprawled on his knees in the saturated grass of the roadside, looking like a wretched, broken thing in his tattered, patchwork cloak. And there, in the sheeting rain, he cradled Deheriana's bow tightly to his chest and began to shake, his grief pouring free at last.
Rain swallowed past the sudden knot in her throat. She swallowed again, trying to keep her composure. Then it was a lost cause as her hot tears spilled over, misting in her rain-slick vision, and she choked back a sharp, miserable sob as she grieved for the ranger.
His stumbling to his knees seemed to break the awful, stunned paralysis that had come over the party. People began to move, to clean their weapons and put them away. Rain nursed her savaged arm and pulled up her cloakhood with her uninjured hand. She tried to wipe the water from her eyes.
"Rain? Sweetling?" Coran appeared by her side, looking concerned. He took one look at her torn sleeve and winced in sympathy. "Ouch, that looks nasty. Come my dear. Let's have our lady druid tend to your wounds, and restore your pretty flesh."
Jaheira was less sympathetic. "You will insist on running around without armour," she admonished as she examined the deep punctures in Rain's arm. Her lacerated skin was a mess of blood and torn muscle. "Now will you heed sensible advice?"
With the throbbing pain she was in, and her heartache for Kivan, Rain was in no mood for being lectured. "Next time," she forced out through clenched teeth, "I will be quicker."
The druid sighed. "Stubborn child," she muttered under her breath, but she didn't seem to have any true desire for an argument either. She flickered her green eyes towards the lonely, bedraggled form of Kivan. "This needs bandaging," she said instead. "Hold still while I clean it."
Rain suffered her ministrations mutely. Sitting on the sodden road, huddled in her wet cloak, she flinched as Jaheira did her best to heal her, winding a gauze tightly around her arm. Imoen sat across from her in an uncharacteristic silence. Rain glanced up as Khalid joined them, laying a friendly, almost fatherly hand on her good shoulder. "You…you did a g..good thing for him, I think," he said gently. "He may n..not thank you now, but one day, h..he will."
Khalid's mild, thoughtful wisdom made Rain gaze at him gravely. "It doesn't feel like a victory," she said softly, Kivan's anguish piercing her to the core.
"P..perhaps not. But a vic...victory it still is."
Rain tried to hold onto that as the sombre group gathered, preparing to leave. But as she alone approached Kivan, her footfalls quiet in the grass, she had a hard time believing it.
"Kivan?" she called softly. He gave no sign that he had heard her. She knelt down in front of him, carefully, and looked into his downturned face. His eyes were closed and he rested his paint-smeared brow on the smooth curve of the bent bow.
"Come, mellonamin," she said very gently. "Come with me now. We will go to the city and find an inn, and then you can be on your own. But come, now. Come with me."
For a moment, she wondered if he heard her at all. He didn't move a muscle.
Then, with terrible, painful slowness, Kivan raised his head and looked at her.
No, not at her, Rain realised. Through her. His black eyes were glassy, seeing a nightmare through the distant span of years as though it was happening right now. Rain's sorrow choked her throat. The rain spattered between them, drumming on the ground.
"Come, my friend," she whispered again, her voice breaking, and this time, Kivan obeyed. He struggled to his feet, mud on his cloak and breeches, and stood woodenly as Rain rose to lay a light, guiding hand on his shoulder. He suffered himself to be led, saying absolutely nothing.
Rain had been wrong to think he was a man going to the gallows.
Kivan walked as a man already dead.