This is a little glimpse into the lives of Rain and Kivan after the fall of Melissan. The usual disclaimers apply, and I own none of the characters save Rain.
CANDLEKEEP – PART I
Rain stood on a small, low promontory staring out over the ocean, gazing across a wide, deep cove to where the rising cliffs of a rugged headland loomed, tapering up from the rocky beach. The sea swelled into the cove in an eager rush, the surging waves dashing against the cliffs. Great spumes of water were thrown up over the rocks. There was a steady breeze, blowing in off the water, and it cooled the otherwise-mild summer day, rustling the long, flaxen tufts of coastal grass that sprouted at Rain's feet. The air was thick with the familiar, tangy scent of brine.
On the headland, perched above the whitecapped water, was Candlekeep. Its massive walls, formed of great blocks of dark-grey stone, were formidable, holding the rest of the world at bay. The iron gates were firmly barred. No pennants flew from the turrets, and the fortress had a sense of desolation, as though it somehow stood out of time.
Rain, though, knew better. It had not been so long in either human or elven years since Sarevok's dopplegangers had overrun the keep, murdering most of the library's residents, but where there was knowledge, there would always be scholars and historians. A new order of monks had custody of the keep now, so Rain had been told.
She frowned faintly, not sure how she was supposed to feel about this homecoming. Though it was not so much a homecoming as a reconciliation of sorts. A retracing of her steps, back to her childhood home before she had learned who and what she was, and stepped up to become the victorious Child of Bhaal that toppled Amelyssan from her stolen throne.
An old pain lanced through Rain now as she looked at the austere keep, and her sorrow flared anew. Gorion no longer walked those halls. Neither did Imoen. Rain's sister had not made this journey, not this time, for she was not ready for this yet. When she did, Imoen would face the denizens of her former home with the fearsome power of an archmage at her fingertips, not as a wayward, impulsive child.
Rain, too, had her own power. Her own might. She was not an unknowing child either. If she had wished it, if she had seized her father's throne, she could have brought the entire world to its knees.
But she had not.
She needed nothing but the man who watched her even now from a short distance away, his gaze intense on her back, spilling love through her heart. She smiled, filled with joy. Through the shared elven Spirit between them, Rain sensed his pleasure in her, his fierce pride and quiet awe. His tender love.
Warmed, Rain turned towards him, her feet barely disturbing the tussocks of grass. Her smile broke beautifully across her lips. She lifted her chin, meeting his black, avid gaze with shining eyes of her own, and looked long at him, holding him in her heart. The dark, magnificent beauty of him made her breath catch in her throat, her pulse quickening.
Kivan was perfect. As perfect as he had ever been. Or perhaps more so, Rain thought, seeing him as she did through bright, adoring eyes. He had more scars now – they both did, since their battle for the Throne of Blood – but Rain had only admiration for the new, faded white lines that glanced across his high brow and down one slanting cheek, cutting through the ink of his old Shilmistan markings, his woodsman's tattoos. He bore these newest scars with the quiet, assured confidence of a man who has faced more desperate trials than most people could ever imagine in their lifetimes, and emerged not only alive, but free.
To Kivan, his scars were a source of pride, for he had won them in battling for her. There were other terrible marks on his body; long-healed gashes from the vicious wounds that Melissan had dealt him in her savage attempt to utterly destroy him, to destroy Rain. She could just glimpse one of them near the indent of his throat. A thin, puckered welt that slashed from the base of his neck across his collarbone, disappearing beneath the green folds of his forest cloak where he had it pinned back from his shoulders.
Seeing that scar still made the blood freeze in Rain's veins, knowing just how close she had come to losing him.
The painful direction of her thoughts must have shown in her expression. Kivan's eyes softened on her, his own smile gentle and warm. "What are you thinking about, amael?" he asked her huskily, his lilting voice caressing her ears.
She smiled at him again. "You. About how dear to me you are." She cocked her head slightly to one side, turning playful. "And how much I admire the view."
There was, indeed, much to appreciate. Kivan's long sable curls were loose, falling about his shoulders, save for a single, striking braid that kept his hair neatly away from one side of his neck. A new tattoo scrolled down the line of his throat, inked in onyx and spring-green. It was a beautiful, coiling vine, bearing fresh, unfurled leaves. The artwork was unmistakably elvish; the vision was Ellesime's. The queen had chosen the design herself. It evoked lush summer forests and bursts of bright, joyous green; a magnificent honouring of life. Kivan had taken that tattoo to honour Rain, to honour all that she meant to him.
Rain's heart swelled with a pure, fierce love. She bore a matching design on her own skin, inked very delicately, exquisitely, from high on one temple, across her brow, and down the side of her face to the sharp slant of her cheekbone. It was a bold move, marking her face, but Ellesime had deemed it an important one. Now Rain was forever branded with spring. Kivan adored it. This tattoo was Rain's first, proudly displaying her elven heritage, and she wore it gracefully, bestowed on her as it had been by Suldanessellar's queen.
Kivan snorted in amusement, interrupting her thoughts, and his dark eyes gleamed at her. "Is that so," he drawled. He folded his arms lazily across his chest and gave her a slow, smouldering glance, blatantly appraising her from head to toe. Rain laughed, her eyes sparkling. A very intense, sweet heat fired in her. "A strange coincidence," he told her in a smooth, smoky tone. "I was just thinking the same thing."
She grinned at him. She shifted her balance from one booted foot to the other, knowing it would emphasise her lean hips in her glossy black leathers, and Rain laughed softly under her breath as Kivan's eyes flared, sparking with desire. She stood there, framed against the sea, and let the salt breeze tug at her hair, blowing the long russet strands against her ebony leathers. "Were you admiring me or Candlekeep?" she asked innocently.
"Hmm?" Distracted, he lifted his eyes to her face again. He arched a jet brow. "Well, let me see," he mused, pretending to think about it. "Would I rather look at that miserable fortress, all man-made stone, or would I rather look at you, the most beautiful, captivating woman in all the world?"
Her smile widened, dancing on her lips. "Me?" she asked hopefully.
Kivan threw back his head and laughed. "Yes, you," he agreed, delighted. He uncrossed his arms and invited her to him with outstretched hands, an infectious smile lifting the corners of his firm mouth. "Come here, storm wind," he ordered her.
She was hardly going to refuse him. Smiling at him brightly, Rain took light, glad steps across the sere grass between them, avoiding their heavy packs on the ground, and came into his arms, sighing contentedly as he embraced her fiercely. Rain leaned into him, taking comfort in his familiar wiry strength. She tucked her head beneath his chin. Turning her face into his neck, she pressed her lips to his sun-warmed skin, breathing in the faint scent of his musk. His dark hair brushed against her face, softly.
Kivan went rigid. His breathing quickened, rapid and erratic, and he slowly bent his head to her graceful ear. He nipped at it lightly. "Kiss me, Rosa," he whispered, compelling her.
Tilting her head back, Rain looked deeply into his hungry eyes, and cupped the angular planes of his beloved face, lifting her mouth to his. Their lips met; his mouth burned on hers. She felt the eager heat in his lips and tongue. She kissed him thoroughly, tasting him at leisure, and Kivan murmured his satisfaction into her mouth. His calloused fingers stroked her hair, jerky with want. Finally, he eased back from her a little, rueful apology in the light kiss he pressed to her brow.
"Forgive me, amael," he murmured regretfully. "I am distracting you from our true purpose here."
Rain smiled up at him, not at all displeased. She reached up and gently toyed with the sprig of red summer berries that she had tucked into the end of his dark braid only this morning, through the thin, leather thong that tied off his hair. In her opinion, the berries went rather nicely with his stunning green-and-black tattoo.
"I like your distractions," she whispered, kissing the angle of his jaw.
Kivan swallowed tightly and planted a fond kiss on the tip of her nose. "And I like yours," he assured her.
Together, they turned once more to regard the library stronghold on the headland, assessing its fortifications, its strengths. Kivan lifted an arm and wrapped it securely around her shoulders, drawing her into his steady embrace.
Rain sobered again, her earlier gravity settling upon her. She looked long at Candlekeep. The place was now a tomb, a mausoleum for all those poor, murdered souls who had fallen within its walls. Within and without, she amended, thinking sadly of Gorion. She wondered how these new monks would react to her powerful, chaotic presence. How they would see her: Rain, once of Candlekeep.
She frowned thoughtfully. "What if they try to bar my way?" she finally asked, voicing her thoughts aloud. "What then?"
Kivan looked at her calmly. "Then you will do as you please, my fearsome tempest, and the foolish monks will bow before your wrath." He let out a low, unamused laugh. "They owe you, Rain," he said in a hard, implacable tone. "They owe you. Were it not for you, Melissan would have won and this land would be a bloody, smoking ruin." His lip curled. "The great library would be laid to waste. Just like Saradush," he added more softly. "They owe you," he said again, and now his voice was tender. "Hold your head high and remember just what the Solar offered you, and how close you came to rising to the very stars above." He smiled at her, gently, and it reflected his pride.
Rain heard the truth in his words, and nodded soberly. "I knew there was a reason why I love you so much," she said softly, thanking him. She lifted a hand to lightly caress his face with her fingertips.
He squeezed her shoulder affectionately through her leathers. "And I love you, Rain," he said very seriously, heartfelt.
They prepared to leave, hefting their packs. Rain watched as Kivan pulled his mighty longbow – the famed Taralash – over his head, and settled it on his shoulder. He reached for her hand then, but suddenly paused, his fingers stilling where they laced with hers.
A strange expression flitted across his face. Shadows rose, flickering behind his unfocused eyes, and Rain looked at him sharply in concern. Then Kivan gave his head a short, abrupt shake, tossing about his curls, and forcibly dispelled his ghosts.
"The last time I was here," he said quietly, "I was still married to death." His eyes found hers, locking with them. "But no longer," he said softly. "No longer." Gripping her hand tightly, he pulled her closer to him, into the heat of his body. "Now I have you, my heart, and all is well with me once again."
Purposefully, her face set in solemn, resolute lines, Rain strode up the wide road of crushed white stone that led across the headland to the keep's great gates, her boots crunching softly on the rock. So many times she had looked down upon this path from the gatehouse roof or the turrets, with the wistful eyes of a young elf wishing to escape the cloistered library, and now here she was returning, changed and grown. She would not be dissuaded from her goal. By her side, matching his longer strides to hers, Kivan was as single-minded in his intentions as Rain was, his step firm, determined and proud. He carried himself with that deadly grace he had, his hunter's litheness.
Atop the gatehouse, a guardsman in a steel helm and chainmail shifted position, leaning over the battlements between the crenellations to take a long, hard look at them, doubtlessly wondering why a pair of very-well armed elves were approaching the library. Neither Rain nor Kivan looked like they would have any business with the monks. Rain was quite sure that no female scholars or historians within the keep would be wearing her striking ensemble of ebony leathers, her fearsome swords. She wielded Foebane and the blazing Angurvadal now, the blade shimmering with the liquid mercury that had been poured into its steel heart. Rain still had a special fondness for the Equalizer and Celestial Fury, but both blades were in Suldanessellar, where she had left them to make this journey.
Kivan, too, was an arresting sight, with his longbow and quiver, bristling with arrows, and his dagger and hunting knife. He would hardly blend in amongst the hundreds of scrolls, parchments and tomes filling the library's shelves. He bore Gram, the Sword of Grief now, which he found ironic, and it was buckled in place at his narrow waist. His ragged cloak gave him a wild and uncivilised look – it was the same threadbare, tattered thing that he had worn ever since Rain had met him, making a game of trying to wear it until it fell from his shoulders in unravelling, frayed pieces. Her needle and thread could barely keep up with the patchwork. His sylvan markings and the red berries in his braid only added to his feyness, to his strangeness.
Though he was not at all strange to her. He was beautiful.
Rain suppressed a grim smile as the sentry called out a challenge. "You there!" he cried in a ringing voice. "Halt and state your business. Who are you?" Two other guards, a man and woman, appeared behind him, holding loaded crossbows.
She calmly stopped in the middle of the road, inside the long shadow cast by the walls, and met the soldier's stern eyes with a formidable look of her own. "I am Rain of Candlekeep," she said in a clear, uncompromising tone. "This is Kivan of Shilmista. You will have heard of us, I am sure. We are here to take one last look at the library where I was raised by my foster-father, Gorion. He was a revered sage, and he contributed much to the keep. I intend only to walk the halls of my childhood home, and say my farewells. Then we will go."
The sentry started in surprise. "You are Rain? That Rain? The Bhaalspawn?"
Beside her, Kivan tensed, his eyes narrowing dangerously on the guardsman. Rain let out a short, ironic laugh, not quite bitter. "I am one of two living daughters of Bhaal," she corrected him mildly. "But yes, I am that Rain."
"I see." The guard frowned at her, clearly not sure what to make of her. He shifted his uncertain glance to Kivan. "Wait where you are," he ordered, and withdrew from the battlements. Rain heard the soft clinking of his chainmail as he crossed the roof to the stairs, the ones that ran down the wall of the gatehouse into the outer bailey.
Kivan looked down at her and stepped closer to her, brushing his shoulder against hers. "Well done, amael," he said very softly.
They did not have long to wait. The side door to the gatehouse opened, swinging out into the enclosed space in the fortress' entry between the guard-house and the crenellated tower on the far side of the gate. The sentry reappeared with his captain, an older man with lines of care worn into his brow. The new Keeper of the Portal strode up to the gates and examined Rain and Kivan intently through the bars.
Interestingly, Rain sensed no hostility from him. Just a simple curiosity as he regarded her closely.
He gestured to them to step closer to the gates. "So you are Rain," he remarked neutrally as she and Kivan drew up before the bars. "I wondered if you would ever turn up. You are a long way from Tethyr, where the Bhaalspawn wars supposedly ended." He glanced at the beautiful inkings on her brow and cheek, and shifted his eyes to Kivan, eyeing his matching tattoo. "The rumours are that you are wanted in Tethyr for murder," he noted, switching his keen gaze back to Rain. "The rumours are that you caused the fall of Saradush."
Kivan bristled angrily, his jet eyes taking on a fierce gleam. "The rumours are false," he growled. "Rain tried to save Saradush, not cause its downfall. That should be known even here, by now."
The Keeper regarded him steadily, then looked at Rain again. "Do you have a tome of value to offer the library?"
"No." Rain lifted her chin pointedly, her gaze level but hard. "Nor do I need one. I am not here to study the knowledge contained in the library's scrolls. I am only here for a short visit, an hour or two at most. That is all."
"As you say." The man gazed at her a moment longer, trying to read her intentions, and made his decision. "I will take your request to the head of the order." He departed with a brisk stride, leaving the guardsman behind to keep an eye on them through the bars.
Kivan sighed, more than a little wearily, and took Rain's hand again. He led her to the keep's outer walls, beneath the battlements, and settled his pack and longbow back against the shadowed stone, leaning his body on the wall. He braced his feet slightly apart and slipped his arms around Rain's neck, holding her close. "I am growing very tired of hearing your name linked with Saradush," he murmured against her brow, his lips moving gently on her skin.
"So am I," she agreed, and there was resignation in her tone. "At least you know the truth, beloved."
"That I do." He was quiet a moment, musing over something, and he absently feathered soft, sweet kisses over her temples. Rain closed her eyes and rested against him. "If the monks try to refuse us entry," he said at last, thoughtfully, "I will simply find the hidden entrance to the catacombs, the one that emerges on the cliffs. You will have your time inside the keep, my love, even if we have to slip past the monks."
Rain smiled, her heart warming. "My dear ranger," she said fondly, and lifted her mouth for his hard, demanding kiss.
This time, they were forced to wait much longer for the captain's return, and Kivan found a very teasing, inventive way to pass the long minutes, brushing kisses over Rain's lips and cheeks, down her throat. He was not at all concerned about the two guards with the crossbows standing high on the roof above them.
"Let them have something to talk about," he said wickedly into her ear, making Rain grin back at him. They shared an amused, conspiratorial glance. In her younger years, Rain had never imagined that one day, she would be kissing her man so passionately right in the shadow of Candlekeep, openly displaying her affection to the rapt gawking of the guards. She smiled impishly; the thought gave her a certain rebellious satisfaction.
Imoen would approve, she knew.
What Gorion would think was another matter entirely. Rain knew the aged sage who had raised her would be overjoyed for her and Kivan, but she doubted her foster-father would be comfortable seeing them embracing so heatedly, so intensely. Still, Rain drank in Kivan's playful kisses, unfazed, enjoying his game.
Finally, Rain heard the captain's march on the crushed rock in the bailey. She and Kivan untangled themselves, breaking apart, and he steadied her with a warm, reassuring smile. They turned back to the fortress gates, alert.
The Keeper of the Portal commanded his guardsman to drop the heavy bar that sat in its brackets behind the paired gates. He watched as the sentry slid out the bar, grunting a little from the effort, and pulled a large copper ring of keys from his belt. The captain fitted a long saw-toothed key to the gate's massive iron lock, and turned it.
"You have been granted admittance," he told them both, pushing open one side of the mighty gate. "The prelate wishes to see you."
Rain inclined her head to him gracefully, intrigued. "Thank you."