By Heath Harper
The text content of the following pages containing Debts Repaid are the property of the author, Heath Harper and are used with permission by Candlekeep. Email the author with any comments and feedback on this work .
Four adventurers stood in a circle, breathing heavily, their clothing and armor clinging to them with sweat and blood. They leaned against one another for support, their brimming gazes trained downward onto the heaving, broken form of a warrior, his armor still smoking and sparking with terrible energy.
A dagger’s toss away, the company’s bard stood apart, staring down at another broken figure, but there was no wetness in his eyes.
Arion Elenim, his long silvery hair tangled with dirt and blood, held his shortblade slack at his side, glaring sharp, elven eyes down at the mass of bloody twisted robes and torn flesh that had been a powerful spell caster,. He hissed slowly through his teeth as he watched the man’s dying breaths, the image of the wizard’s final spell as it had slammed into his friend’s chest still burning in his mind. His lips curled with hate, and Arion touched the man’s face with the toe of his boot, turning the head over. A thin line of blood was caked over the cheekbones. Apparently, in the final seconds, Cyran had nearly taken out the wizard’s eye.
“Murderer!” someone cried.
Arion blinked slowly and turned his head. From behind a patch of high grass the mage’s apprentice, a young man of barely twenty summers finally peeked his head. He emerged with a stumble then took a few tentative steps forward.
“Murderer.” the young man said again, his voice quivering as he clutched a small dagger. “Touch him again and I swear-”
Arion raised his palm, and a crackle of blue flames lashed out at the apprentice like a whip. The young man froze, and then visibly quaked as he watched his master’s blood pool down the bard’s shortblade, down the jeweled pommel and onto the ground. The elf spared him a glance.
“Not a drop of spellwork in your arsenal, child. Run away before I’m brooding over two corpses.”
Arion did not watch as the boy pelted for the woods.
Aleria, one of the company’s own wizards, beckoned. “Arion. I think he wants you.” The elf pulled his gaze from Davernally’s corpse and stalked across the plain, breaking through the circle of on-lookers.
Cyran lay in the long, waving grass and heaved deep, labored breaths, his limbs occasionally twitching as the last sparks of energy that had wracked his body finally grounded out. He had deep, open cuts covering his arms and face, and in a sort of sick retribution, one eye was closed, a deep black liquid seeping from the corner. The scorch marks were the worst if it – his skin looked like doused firewood.
The battle with Davernally had cost the group too much. They had survived his every encantation and finally gotten close enough to deliver a killing blow just as the mage’s bizarre magics sliced across the plain and smashed into Cyran’s body. The fight had gone on for nearly an hour. And now they were out of spells, out of healing potions. There was little they could do but watch him die.
Somehow, Cyran’s twitching fists held tight to Elenar, his coveted holy blade. Slowly, he offered the weapon’s handle to Arion. Between coughs, he whispered one word:
Arion took a slow breath and eyed the weapon sidelong, but could not bring himself to reach for it. He thought of the enormous faith that Cyran had put into that blade, swearing that it was a gift from the Morninglord. More than once Arion had caught him whispering to it, and when asked, Cyran’s answers had left the bard wondering exactly who was wielding who.
The absurdity of the situation finally struck him. No one would ever write a song about this, he thought. Dracos Wyndemere, the mighty adventurers marching out into the wilderness only to watch a young man die in the weeds before his time…the only man who had really believed in Arion’s ridiculous quest for love in the first place. Absurd!
But not quite as absurd as the thought of anyone but Cyran Donelid wielding that sword.
The elf thought he could feel the hands of fate crushing down around his friend, and he meant to give them a splinter. Instead of taking the sword, he drew up his own weapon in a salute, and motes of silvery energy started to cascade from the blade. The sapphires along its hilt flared brightly, and a blue-green glow began to seep from the pores in its steel, enveloping Cyran’s form. Blueish light flared, and a powerful wind whipped around them in a whirlwind of waving grass. At last, the torrent abated, and the hilt stones in Arion’s shortblade fell to the grass, their power spent.
After a too-long silence, Cyran’s eyes fluttered, and he sat up.
Bard, called out a feminine voice.
* * * * *
The dream faded, and Arion was ripped from the past as a sudden pain in his jaw awoke him from the first Reverie he had achieved in days. From around the leather gag in his mouth, he could taste blood.
The elf shook his head. ‘Twenty years later,’ he thought. ‘And still Davernally’s spells get me in my sleep.’
Arion raised an eyebrow but closed his eyes and started to stretch the multitude of aches from his back as he heard the sound of clanking chains and thumping boots.
“Up,” they called.
He opened one eye and saw the jailor he had head-butted two nights prior during his second escape attempt fumbling with the cell keys. Three others had come along this time.
The door swung open, and despite the ache, the elf planted his feet, a passive, quiet stare in his deep blue, pupilless eyes. The effect was impressive, and the jailor hesitated, one hand dropping to the cattail at his belt.
“You gonna start something again?”
Arion smiled widely around the gag and pointed to his forehead, indicating the massive bruise over the man’s left eye.
The jailor grinned and nodded. “Yeah, you, one of those damned Moonstars, caught me on the turnaround. Cyric’s left asscheek it happens again.” He took a careful step forward and drew the whip from his belt. Arion nearly winced, anticipating a lashing, but instead, the jailor pulled out a small flask.
For years Arion had been living a quiet life, more or less putting schemes and adventuring and dangerous days behind him. Forsaking his Harper pin and joining the Moonstars had done much to scratch whatever wild itch he had left, and he was enjoying his life as a roustabout and a family man. Waterdeep needed both, he believed.
But adventuring, he thought as he took a look at the offered flask, then another look at what he was now sure was an escape-proof prison cell, replete with thick stone masonry, floors and windowless adjoining side panels, somehow found him.
“On your way, dogs,” the jailor barked. “Need a moment with the quarry here.” The other men did not argue, but saluted begrudgingly. Arion took note of their plate mail and tabards, excellent equipment to say the least. With a glare at the elf, they clattered back down the hall.
He smiled a few broken teeth at the elf, then popped the ball out of the gag with a deft flick of his fingers. Though Arion still could not speak properly, he was able to open his mouth a little.
“You need something to warm your bones. I can’t have you dying on me. They dock you if one of your prigs dies, see?”
He handed the flask to Arion, who could only blink incredulously. The flask was opened, and so he held it tentatively to his nose.
The jailor rolled his eyes. “It’s clean. Drink it or give it back. I’m cold most of the day.”
The elf shook his head and tried to ask the man his name. He settled for pointing at the jailor’s chest.
The man leaned in close, the same sickly sweet smell on his breath. “Granet,” the jailor whispered. “Now drink.”
Arion didn’t know much about poisons, it was never his game. But something about Granet’s look sold him as genuine, and people, Arion knew. He tipped the flask and shivered as the potent, syrupy drink slid down his throat.
Sensing an opportunity, he took a shot at mumbling a question. He had been wondering at the identities of two other prisoners that had come in two nights prior. One was tall, the other he thought might have been a small girl child. He did his best from around the gag, gesturing with two fingers.
Granet squinted his eyes, then nodded, sighing deeply. “Yeah. They brought two more in a couple nights ago. After they arrested you on the road.”
The elf shrugged.
“I can’t tell you who they are, though. So don’t ask.”
Granet took the flask back and took a pull of his own. “I heard of you, you know. Waterdeep’s favorite string-plucker. You ever been to the Groaning Grackle? One of my favorite holes.”
The elf smiled around his gag then nodded playfully, miming a grope in the air. Granet laughed deeply. “Yeah, they got the best lookin’ barmaids there. Good place to get into trouble.”
The jailor shrugged. “Let’s get on with this, elf. No time like the now.”
He called the other guards back in, and after securing his bonds they led Arion from his cell and marched him down a series of corridors. It felt as if they were sloping upward as they walked. Arion thought he heard the whimpering of a child, but tried to push it from his mind.
“Not right,” Granet murmured.
They trudged him up a long flight of bending stairs until they came to a single door with a wide oval lock in the center. Granet rapped on it once, then swung it wide.
Inside was a large semicircular chamber, stone masonry lit by a series of tall torches. The room was filled with soldiers dressed much the same as the jailors – dusky gray platemail over greenish chain. Arion thought they were too at-ease, jockeying for a better view like spectators at a match more than like soldiers.
A man with a severe moustache and a heavy cloak sat at a desk, a cloth runner on top. The jailors dropped Arion onto a stool as the man at the desk scribbled something on a piece of parchment.
“The accused is accounted for,” he said with an oddly brisk smile. “Bring in the barrister.”
Arion stared ahead at the symbol on the desk runner, a green field with a downward-pointing mace head surrounded by what looked like coins. It looked somehow familiar, but his attention was suddenly drawn elsewhere. His jaw fell open when said ‘barrister’ finally entered.
Sir Cyran Donelid was dressed in a simple white tunic and breeches, his eyes confident but slowly roving over the chamber as if an attack could come from any side. He made his way to the center of the chamber and laid a hand on the elf’s shoulder.
Eyes narrowed with confusion, Arion looked his old captain up and down. Though Cyran was fast approaching middle age, he had retained his boyish appearance. Normally immaculate, now he was unshaven, his normally flawless blonde hair was streaked with dirt, and the lines around his eyes and mouth looked darker than Arion remembered. The dream still fresh in his mind, Arion wondered if Davernally’s spell had left a scar anywhere on the paladin’s body. Clearly though, there was a fire in the paladin’s eyes, and Arion had learned many years ago through war and roughshod, to trust in that fire.
Arion also noticed that for some reason, their captors had allowed Cyran to keep Elenar belted to his side, though the hilt had been lashed to the sheath so he could not draw it.
“They have had me here for about two days,” the knight whispered, “play along for now.” He cleared his throat. “Lord Justicar, it is my pleasure to be at these proceedings. Being so, Mister Elenim requests his gag be removed for these proceedings under the strict understanding he will not invoke a spell or speak except to verbally defend himself during the trial.”
The man at the desk paused, blinking with surprise. He pointed his quill at Arion, a surprisingly elegant smile on his face. “Removing the gag could pose a threat to this court.”
Cyran stood straight. “Then I will vouch for him.”
The Justicar seemed to relax. “Let it be so.” Cyran turned and released the latch behind Arion’s neck, freeing the gag from his mouth and letting it drop to the floor. The elf coughed and gently opened and closed his aching jaw.
The older man beckoned one of the soldiers to him and began whispering low.
The elf leaned toward Cyran. “Any clue what this is about?
Cyran licked his lips. “I believe so. They’ve brought me to defend you in some sort of trial.”
“Where are we?”
“Somewhere underground. Near the Spine foothills. They have set up an enclave in an old military outpost. From what I have gleaned they have been living here for about three years.”
Again Arion eyed the symbol on the desk. “I’ve seen that before, I think. Baldur’s Gate Merchants Consortium – those strongarms that intimidate new competitors in the Gate.”
Cyran nodded. “They represent a schism offset from the main garrison. Something about ‘freedom from the gods’. The one at the desk calls himself a High Justicar, and I believe he may actually be one. Just keep sharp.”
Cyran smiled and cleared his throat. “Lord Elenim is honored to stand trial, High Lord Justicar. In the name of Lathander let-”
The Justicar smiled slowly. “Do not speak of the gods here, Barrister Donelid. This is about justice. Simply.”
He stood and rapped his knuckles three times on the desk.
“The charge against you is sedition against Baldur’s Gate, Mister Elenim. I will stand and deliver for the state, then make my decision.”
The Justicar’s suddenly assertive tone revived Arion’s memory. On the road just before being ambushed, Arion had replayed the meeting in Silverymoon in his mind, and had marked that a strange man had stood stood against the wall with that same self-satisfied grin as Alustriel had called her own court to order.
“Absis,” Arion spat, finally recalling the name given at the meeting. “You actually had the stones to stand up in court, claim to represent Baldur’s Gate and then move that they eliminate the Moonstars from-”
The man’s nostrils flared, but his smile did not falter. “From their wrongful place as representatives of the Silver Marches, correct. But this is your opportunity to defend yourself in a proper venue. This court welcomes you.”
“Balls to that,” Arion said, wringing his wrists. “And don’t play the just host. The Marches don’t recognize kangaroo courts, and your people attacked me on the road and have had locked me in a cell for days. That hardly gives me a fair shake at ‘defending myself’.”
Absis cast a fatherly grin at the elf as he took a mug of water from the desk and sipped. “We have given you more of a ‘fair shake’ than you deserve. And I suggest you keep your tongue in your head, Outlaw Elenim.”
"Forgive me, Lord Justicar," Cyran interrupted. "But I must apologize to the Court at this time."
"Apologize, Sir Cyran?"
"Yes. His Lordship must be apologized to for my church's lack of propriety, as I have failed to have done as much research on this case as the court," Cyran said. "You see, sir, I fail to recall any documentation on the laws that Arion Elenim, a registered bard of Waterdeep, and Member in Good Standing of the Court of Alustriel, has broken."
The Justicar nodded, accepting the challenge. He ticked off a point on his fingers. “First of all, the Elenims are a line of outlaws, Sir Donelid.”
Arion interrupted with a bark of laughter. Cyran snapped a scowl on him.
“What?” the bard said deliriously. “It’s the first true thing he’s said since we got here.”
“This man’s father spent much of his time bending the laws of Waterdeep to better his own lot. Before the accused left his home on a youthful crusade Darius Elenim was well on his way to becoming one of Waterdeep’s most wanted thieves. The rumors speak for themselves.”
Arion twirled his hand in the air.
"You see? Impudent,” the Justicar sighed. “Secondly, Elenim and the Moonstars he represents subvert long-held contracts and treaties. As such, fewer and fewer merchants are willing to make the ride from Sembia because the Harpers no longer protect the route.”
“E’sum itee,” Arion swore. “The ‘Stars have the same hired patrols on those routes weekly, and we actually back them up with agents, with as much fervor as the damned Harpers ever did. No one worth the effort would call the protection we offer sub par, even if it is a little less obvious.”
Absis leaned forward over his desk. “The merchants do. That is enough. Even the accused’s family understood that.” He pointed a glance at Arion. “Or did your father not discuss his stint in a Sembian prison with you? He knew well the price of betraying the merchant class.”
Cyran bristled in anticipation of one of Arion’s trademark blowups, and laid a warning hand on the elf’s shoulder. But Arion did not flinch. He was elsewhere.
As the silence abated and Cyran retorted about more looming civil wars in Sembia and a number of other recent events, Arion let his thoughts fade away from the proceedings - Absis’ repeated comments about Arion’s shady lineage were beginning to sink in.
It was no secret that Arion’s father had been a smuggler and one of Waterdeep’s most notorious vagabonds. Since the former Elenim patron’s death, he’d become a legend to many of the city’s wastrels, but few people knew the details about the Elenim ‘line’.
Absis had somehow gotten close. With a sudden jolt of fear, it occurred to him how close.
“Who was the girl you brought in?” Arion said, interrupting Cyran mid-sentence.
Cyran’s eyes narrowed. “What girl?”
Absis shook his head and smiled pleasantly, smoothing one side of his moustache.
“Let the accused give witness,” he said, beckoning Arion forward.
Granet came forward and pulled aside a small piece of carpet near the desk, revealing a steel trapdoor. He applied a series of keys to it, opening several heavy locks, then heaved it open, revealing a deep well-like hole in the floor that led back down to the block level and into one specific cell. The jailor did not meet his eyes as Arion took a few steps forward.
The elf peered down, and through the deep darkness, as his throat closed and his pulse quickened, he saw a tiny elven female, her eyes gleaming upward. One green and one blue.
“Dawnrose,” he said and closed his eyes.
They had his daughter.
The telltale tingles of a lightning spell raced down Arion’s fingertips. He could taste iron in his mouth, could feel the pent up energy within his hands. Luckily, his mind, for one of the few times in his life, conquered his heart.
Killing Absis would do nothing for his daughter, nothing for him. And no matter what he thought of them, The Consortium would most likely have killed him by now if something in Absis’ nature had not prevented them from slaying him in his sleep.
Absis provided an answer, speaking in low, venomous tones.
“There is a debt between us that must be rectified,” he said.
The elf kept his voice even, without emotion. “After this, I owe you blood, that’s certain.”
“Duel me, Elenim. And you, the knight, and your daughter go free.”
Arion did not open his eyes as he spoke. “What are the terms?”
“Ridiculous,” Cyran spat. “What would that-”
Arion held up a hand to him.
“It will be done by propriety,” Absis said.
“You planned for this all along,” Cyran said. “This is insanity.” He grabbed at Arion’s arm, but the bard shook him off. He opened his eyes.
“Done. I choose the weapons. Your sense of justice demands propriety? Grant me that much or call your whole court a farce.”
Absis frowned and ran a thumb down the lines of his beard. He looked like a moneychanger mulling over a transaction. Another strange smile poked the corners of his mouth.
“I offer you the Order of Can and Must. Any weapon you choose that I am capable of wielding, I must wield. But that precludes you from choosing magic, bard. Steel on steel or nothing.”
Cyran pointed a finger at Absis. “If Elenim wins the duel, this court forgoes all right to prosecute him. His daughter will be present at the duel, unharmed. When he wins, we walk out of here.”
The Justicar scribbled on the parchment, then pricked his finger with the quill. “We both sign in blood, Arion. If you beat me, you all go. If not, I will slay you without legal repercussion as a warning to the Moonstars as a whole. We will meet in three hours, during which time I suggest you prepare yourself. I will offer you no quarter.”
* * * * *
Arion sat on a cot in a new cell, rubbing his temples. Cyran had demanded they lock him in as well, and they were all too happy to oblige. The Consortium had untied Arion’s hands so he could stretch his sore muscles before the duel, and had even provided them once more with their weapons, but Arion had trouble being grateful.
“What in the bloody pit of the hells have I gotten myself into, Cyran?”
The knight opened his eyes for a moment as he prayed quietly on the floor. “Nothing enough faith cannot handle.”
“I don’t have much of that,” the elf said. “Maybe we can turn this into a drinking contest.”
Cyran stood and lifted Elenar from the cot. He untied the cord around its hilt and drew it from the sheath. Arion thought the air in the cell became a little warmer.
“They said you could remove the peace tie?”
The paladin shook his head. “No. They did not.
“It’s not like you to crab.”
The knight looked at the reflection in the blade. “I agreed to let them tie Elenar to her sheath under the grounds that I would be more of a threat if I had access to her abilities. Now with my oath that all they have to fear is you, I count any agreements I made with them in order to defend you null and void.”
Arion scoffed. “Does that include us agreeing to walk out of here peacefully? I don’t plan on leaving my lute behind.”
Cyran frowned. “Why not?”
“They’ll leave it all out of tune. Can’t have that.”
The two friends shared a sad laugh, and Arion worried at his back, pressing in with his thumbs.
“They came to me by summons,” Cyran explained, crouching on the color once more. “They were showing Sembian papers. They convinced the abbot that I was needed for business concerning their war involving the Enclave and off I went with them,” Cyran began, his voice businesslike. “They kept the details until we were well away from the abbey.”
Arion smiled. He could guess the rest. They told him who the defendant would be and Cyran immediately agreed to be blindfolded, stripped of his weapons and led off into the darkness to defend him. Arion made a mental note to buy him a beer.
“I spoke with Absis for several hours before the trial,” he continued. “They have a strange philosophy about economic affairs and church life. They believe that the gods have too much of a stranglehold on humanity’s mercantile interests. And they are doing rather well, as you saw. Absis left the original Consortium with only a handful of men.”
Arion nodded and ran a hand through his long silvery stream of tangled hair. “Does he have some sort of specific grudge against the pantheons…or was this just a way to get a following?”
The paladin pulled at his index finger until it cracked. “I have not figured that yet. But I suppose it does not matter if he believes his own sermons.”
Arion rolled his eyes. “And somewhere along the line he decided that the Moonstars are a threat, and me specifically. I can’t imagine why he’s not going after you, though. You’re the respectable gods-fearing sort.”
Cyran frowned. “Perhaps he just wants the men to see a paladin beaten in court and a bard put down with steel. Music and religion are bound always, you know.”
The elf groaned. “Hell of a risk he’s taking. You have to admire a game plan like that.”
“Well, we will show them a different path. You are going to beat them at a game where they make the rules, Arion,” Cyran said, taking a cloth concealed in the sheath and wiping the blade face down. “Absis is stronger, he is probably faster, but you are definitely smarter. And with a little faith you should-”
Arion hissed and rubbed his shoulder. “After all that’s due, Absis was right about one thing. We should leave the gods out of this. There’s nothing godly about what my daughter has gone through or what she is going to have to see up there when this duel happens.”
The knight shrugged. “You never know.”
The elf coughed. “Fine, Cyran. Let’s say I am capable of sticking a pointy edge into Absis and my daughter will watch and think it a grand thing that her da did it. But it won’t be faith that makes it happen.” He stood and kicked at some rubble beneath the cot.
Cyran frowned again and rested the broadsword on his shoulder. “Are you sure we were completely alone up there? We came out better than we might have.”
“Right. And it’s clear that Lathander and Tyr and Ilmater were right there pouring honey in Absis’ ear, dancing and drinking tea on the side.”
“I never said it was clear that-”
Arion scooped up a few pebbles and gripped them tightly. “You see Cyran? That’s it right there. Religion always prays and proselytizes about clarity. Even the ass-ended ones’ll tell you that murder and chaos gives you clarity.”
“I never meant-”
Something bubbled over in Arion’s mind. The paladin could see as he paced wildly, unwilling to listen, that the bard was near a snapping point.
“I promise you this, Cyran, nobody’s going to break us out of here that isn’t right here in the flesh!” he shouted, flinging a few of the pebbles against the wall. He turned desperate eyes on his friend, then pointed an accusatory finger into the paladin’s chest. “The gods are after their own aims, my friend, and not even Lathander could be bothered to get off his own ass and help-”
“He sent me to help, did he not,” Cyran said, his tone warning the bard.
“Are you really going to thank Lathander for everything you do? Because if that’s the plan why don’t we just offer up our necks to those maniacs up there and see if Lathander gives a-”
With that, Elenar’s pommel connected with his forehead, and Arion crumbled to the floor.
* * * *
He awoke in a wide audience chamber with hard wood benches surrounding him in a circle. A raised dais sprawled before him, and a massive tapestry with the Tyrann scales emblazoned was hung imperiously behind it.
. A young, dazzling woman stood over him, dressed in brilliant, white plate mail. She was tall and thin, with soft dark skin and impressive muscles showing on her bare arms. Gleaming armor contrasted sharply with black, cordlike hair pleated in neat rows that cascaded down her back and spilled over her shoulders.
She offered him a gauntleted hand. He stood, and after his eyes made a few detours, the elf found himself staring at her face. Light-colored scars coalesced underneath an eye patch that covered her left eye. Her right, however, had a deep warmth as she fixed a matronly stare on him. The elf felt suddenly emboldened by her presence, the same feeling of resolve he had around Cyran.
“You have the advantage here, love,” he said, finally finding his voice.
She nodded. “We have spoken before, however briefly”, she said, her voice even, her perfect diction brushed with a deep, throaty accent. “I do not begrudge your lack of recognition, however. I was quite different the first time you heard my voice. And at the time you were…occupied. Saving Cyran’s life.”
Arion shot her a skeptical look. “Which time?”
“When you sacrificed the powerful energies in a weapon you carried and brought Cyran back to life so that he may do his duty to Lathander.”
“That-that’s not why I did it.”
“Just as well.”
He turned his head to the side a little, the clues dawning. “So…you’re the one I see him talking to from time to time?”
“An aspect of it, yes. The consciousness that resides within his holy blade. A reflection of Cyran’s faith.”
She smiled and inclined her head a second time.
Arion’s confusion broke in a wide smile. “Assuming I believe you…you’re not how I would have imagined. You’re-”
She nodded. “Beautiful. Fierce. Loyal.” Elenar traced a finger down the eye patch covering her face. “Scarred. All reflections of how Cyran Donelid views his service to Lathander.”
The elf put his hands on his hips and paced the chamber, his boots echoing heavily from wall to wall. “And this is your audience hall? I would figure there’d be fewer Tyr motifs and more sunbeams.”
Again, she shook her head, her thick dreadlocks rustling against her armor. “No. This is an image of a Tyrann courtroom in Baldur’s Gate. In your unconscious state I was able to break down your barriers and come to you here, in your mind.” She turned and glanced warily at the scales on the tapestry. “This seemed as good a place as any for us to meet. Significant.”
“Was knocking me unconscious your idea as well?”
She smiled sheepishly. “Sometimes my desires get the better of me.”
Arion finally understood. He was in a meditative state that reflected his imagination…but how Cyran’s holy blade was manipulating it to create the image of a courtroom was beyond his understanding. Regardless, he found himself admiring the heavy wood paneling on the walls, the moldings and the nearly seamless hardwood floors. Apparently, he knew more about building a house than his wife had ever given him credit for.
Elenar allowed him to complete a full circuit, then beckoned him to stand behind one of the podiums that faced the long wall.
“I am here to make you an offer,” she said warmly. “Or just as well, play adviser. For I know that the odds are stacked against you. I must remind you this.”
“Remind me?” Arion replied incredulously. “My daughter is trapped in a pit and there’s a madman aching to put an arm’s length of blade down my throat. I’m fairly sure I know who’s playing what game.”
Her chin rose even higher, and she peered down at the elf. “More is at stake than your neck, or even that of Ambrosia Dawnrose Elenim, if that is not so hard for you to believe.”
The corners of her mouth curled spitefully. She stepped onto the dais and nodded toward the tapestry. “This court of Absis’ is subjecting the world to a horrid affront to so very much that the gods intend,” she said, and held up a hand to prevent Arion’s retort. “And your case is indicative. If you cannot take a successful stand against these brigands, I fear the what they may accomplish.”
Arion adjusted his collar. “Any idea what’s behind his grudge?” he asked.
“I suppose one could go mad themselves trying to second-guess the insane, Mister Elenim. We must have faith,” Elenar said.
Arion tsked through his teeth. “That’s a blade I don’t draw, love.”
“But not one you don’t have.”
He grinned lopsidedly. “What does it matter to you anyway? You don’t have a stake in this.”
Arion’s smile faded, and he slid his hands over the smooth podium’s surface. The multitude of scars on his own hands was much like those on the face of the woman next to him. “Then take him far away from this and let us faithless heathens pick up the pieces. You aren’t my weapon.”
Elenar slid a gauntlet over Arion’s hand, suddenly close. “I nearly was.”
“That happened because Cyran thought he was dying,” Arion finally whispered. “I wasn’t the logical choice.”
“He was dying,” she replied. “And he knew what I know: that you have a spark of the divine within you.”
Arion cleared his throat and wiped his hands on his jacket. “I’m no paladin.”
“You could have been.” Elenar sighed sadly.
The elf shook his head. “I don’t think you understand what I am, Lady.”
“Truly?” she said, the slightest agitation creeping into her voice. “Twenty years ago you and your compatriots slew a man who had done great evils, who nearly took Cyran’s life. But you had an understanding, a calm place of forgiveness in your heart, and so you knew that his sins were not the apprentice’s. And thus, you did not slay his student. That is divine.”
He thought hard, but could not recall feeling particularly forgiving that day.
“Absis,” Elenar said, a small shudder rippling through her tall frame, “has the touch of a man who wields terrible weapons. And not just the physical. He has the smell of Mystra on him as well, as if he is touched by magic, however weakly, beneath a veneer of hatred...and something else I cannot see.”
Arion shifted his balance while leaning against the podium, leaning forward over steepled fingers. “Keep talking.”
Elenar matched his posture, facing him. “Keep working,” she said. “You have a fine memory, bard.”
She smiled widely at him, admiration twinkling in her eyes. “He ran from you like a startled hare, Arion. The very day we spoke of.”
His jaw went slack. “The apprentice?”
Elenar nodded. “You did not fear Davernally’s apprentice when he threatened you with vengeance. Your bravery and forgiving nature, however hidden beneath, stayed your hand.”
It was the final piece. Arion knocked his knuckles against the lectern.
“Absis, that little bastard.” The elf’s mind flooded with possibilities. It had been there all along, on the edge of his dreams, and now, clear enough. Absis had been Davernally’s apprentice, had seen him slain on a battlefield of his own design. It must have been the turning point in his life, when great decisions were made. Out of rage. The irony was not lost on the elf.
But Arion was not the only one responsible for Davernally’s demise. If the Justicar thought that there was unpaid blood on Arion’s hands, then it drew him to yet another conclusion.
“Shinath,” he swore. “He’s coming after us.”
Elenar sighed. “Just so. I always perceive life through religious eyes, which is as often a crutch as it is a blessing.” Agitated, she adjusted the gauntlet on her right hand and ran a hand down one of her dreadlocks. “But if one thing is clear, it is that his wounds…are very old.”
Arion continued as if he had not heard her, his eyes darting. “My wife was a Wyndemere, Lady.”
Elenar’s boots clacked hard, and Arion gave a start as she marched to his side. She stared hard at him, appraising his face. Finally, something there satisfied her, and she nodded.
“This is as far as I can go for you, Mister Elenim. Cyran’s word on good faith to them prevents us interfering much further. I feel that your options are limited. But if there is something you can do, then you must do.”
The elf’s eyes narrowed, and he laid one hand on the hilt of his rapier.
The beautiful woman cocked her head, a very mechanical motion. “Scheming, Mister Elenim?” she asked him, childlike curiosity in her voice.
Arion wondered if he and Cyran had not been the only ones affected the day that Elenar nearly changed hands.
“Be stalwart,” she said.
Arion smiled back at her, a new admiration in his eyes, then winced as his mouth filled with bile from a sharp, pungent scent wafting through the courtroom.
* * * * *
Cyran and Granet stood over him, the latter waving a vial of smoky colored sand beneath Arion’s nose.
“You cheap-shotted me,” the bard croaked as he sat up, rubbing the wound. Cyran put a hand on Arion’s back and helped him to a wobbly stand.
“I know,” Cyran said. “I just don’t know how. It seemed like all of a sudden you were on the floor.”
The bard stood, a little wobbly, but smiling. “Looks like I got what was coming to me, eh?” Granet laughed and clapped a beefy hand on the elf’s shoulder.
“Told ya,” he barked.
Arion turned a sympathetic eye on him.
“Absis doesn’t deserve your loyalty, stranger. If we get out of here, meet back with me in Waterdeep. I’ve always wanted to open a tavern. And a tavern needs a bouncer.”
Granet took a gulp from his flask and passed it to Arion, who took a single quaff. He then left the cell and locked the door behind him. “Deal,” he shouted from down the hall.
The confusion writ on Cyran’s face was almost comical. “That looked an awful lot like forgiveness, Arion.”
The elf nodded. “I know.” He grinned.
Cyran’s eyes narrowed. “You have a plan.”
Arion nodded and leaned against the wall, wondering if his friend was becoming more perceptive or if Waterdeep’s most prolific bard was just becoming more transparent.
* * * * *
Soon after, more jailors arrived, and they were marched blindfolded one last time through the complex. Finally the air suddenly became fresh and cool. Arion was sure of two things – they were outside, and night had long fallen.
When their blindfolds were removed, they found themselves under a cloudless, starless sky. The gibbous moon was already beginning to wane, so late was the night. Arion took the deepest breath he had in days, drinking in the natural air.
Military calls suddenly split the quiet night, and the full retinue of the Consortium arrived within moments. At pace, they were encircled by Absis’ men, about thirty of them in whole.
There was yet another pregnant silence. Arion knew that Absis was putting a pause in the progress of the play. Delaying his entrance. Arion also noticed that though their leader had yet to make an appearance, neither had Granet, and that made him smile. He hoped the jailor was far away by now.
“Leaving us out here this long is a mistake on his part,” Cyran said. “This gives you an opportunity to survey the ground, find an advantage.”
Arion appraised his friend. Though he had spoken, Cyran stood statue still. The bard had not been surprised that his friend had demanded Absis return their equipment on the grounds it had been illegally confiscated, but could only shake his head as he looked down at the panoply of weapons and magical items now hanging from his person. Cyran of course, wore only underclothes, armor, his orange and yellow paladin’s sash, and of course, his broadsword.
“They actually gave us everything back,” the bard said, relishing the weight of the lute strapped to his back. “I won’t ask how you pulled that job.”
Finally, a cacophonous marching sound came echoing from within the cave and Justicar Absis stepped from the cave. He held no weapon, but in his right gauntlet he gently held the hand of Arion’s daughter, whom he led blindfolded, but as delicately as if he were escorting her to a Shieldmeet ball. The tiny girl betrayed no ounce of emotion, and pride swelled in Arion’s chest. Ambrosia Dawnrose Elenim, daughter of Arion Elenim of clan Endymion was not intimidated.
Arion fought his instincts to call out to her. He knew that if he did, she might rush to his side, and the edgy soldiers around them might let loose. He could not afford to have the plan go awry. He literally bit down on his lip, and waited.
The Justicar did not even so much as regard the other soldiers but beckoned two of them over, who laid a blanked in the long waving grass. Ambrosia plopped her self down curtly and sat cross-legged, her back flawlessly straight.
“Lady Elenim,” Absis said sharply. “You have agreed to stay seated throughout the following proceedings.”
The girl’s head snapped to the speaker. “You have yet to tell me precisely what these proceedings will entail, but I remember exactly what I agreed to, sir.”
Although the child was blindfolded, the Justicar inclined his head respectfully. “Then you may bear witness,” he said, as cheerfully as though he were presenting her with a birthday present.
Ambrosia imperiously removed the blindfold, carefully setting it aside beside her and blinked as if she hadn’t seen light in days. When she finally found her focus, she raised her chin in Absis’ direction and narrowed her color-mismatched eyes. Had she been human, she would have appeared barely ten years old, but her air bespoke decades of upbringing.
“Begin, then soldier,” she spat. “Pray these proceedings be sho-”
Her eyes found Arion.
She began to shiver, her lip trembling.
She pointed, her tiny finger shaking.
“Da? Da is that y-”
Arion smiled back the choke in his throat as best as he could and held up a hand. His eyes swimming, he mastered his emotions at the last possible second and then tapered his gaze authoritatively. He pointed to his nose.
With a final gasp, she matched him and regained her composure, painting on a visage of cold indifference.
Absis seemed unfazed by the display and merely held an outstretched hand toward Arion. “I have lived up to my side of our contract.”
Arion stared his enemy down. The Justicar’s plate had been polished to a sharp gray sheen, his moustache was curled tightly with wax, his gauntlets wrapped with thick grip gauze.
But as the Justicar finally faced Arion in full, spinning on his heel uncomfortably close, the elf thought he recognized the terrified apprentice behind the façade.
Arion cracked a smile. “Don’t be frightened, Absis. I’ve agreed to keep the magic in my pocket.”
The Justicar laughed companionably. “I don’t fear magic, elf. There’s no amount of magic that can turn a blade.”
The bard tilted his head as if to acquiesce, then shook it. “M-no, I think you’re misinformed about that, but of course, I’m arguing from a very dangerous place. There won’t be any blue flashes of light to run you off this time.”
Absis grinned widely, seemingly undeterred that the elf had figured his identity, his flawless teeth contrasting against his steel gray armor. “You know, then?”
Arion touched Cyran’s forearm, who had remained as statuesque as before. “Allow me to introduce you properly, Cyran. This is Absis, former apprentice to Davernally the Slain, Justicar of our hosts as of late.”
“On with this then,” Absis barked. “Let us no longer speak of the dead. Justice awaits us. At arms.”
The men formed up and crossed their halberds, forming a wide circle around Arion, Cyran, and Absis, excluding the elfling on her blanket, who moved to keep an eye on her father. The Justicar took a sheathed blade from one of the men and drew a long dark broadsword.
“Obviously, the only weapon we share, elf, is steel. So protocol demands-”
The elf barked with laughter. “Protocol demands I announce our choice of weapons anyway, Justicar.” He unsheathed his rapier. “So in order to stop any of us from saying we didn’t know a suicide king from a block headed sava bishop, please give us the rundown, give us the letter of the law.”
The Justicar frowned. “I warn you to present no loopholes here, elf.”
Arion held up his hands in a shrug. “To the contrary, I mean only to follow propriety. We Elenims are known for it.” A few of the men betrayed a snigger.
Absis clapped a questioning stare on Cyran, who betrayed nothing. “As you wish, Elenim.” The Justicar twirled the weapon effortlessly, then, satisfied, pointed the end to the ground. “The rule of Can and Must, which you and I both committed blood signatures to, states that any weapon that you choose, must be used if it can be used.”
The elf nodded as if he were hearing this for the first time.
Absis cracked the bones in his right hand. “Satisfied? You’re delaying the inevitable.”
Arion turned his back on Absis, directing his gaze at the soldiers around them. “And the terms here that I have agreed to forego legal proceedings in favor of a duel, utilizing Can and Must to keep the time. Do I have that right?”
Absis continued up his body, and cracked the bones in his neck. “Precisely.”
“And if I best you then my daughter, my friend, and I go freely from this place never to fear you or your men again.”
“It is only just.”
Arion sighed and put his hands on his knees, crouching over slightly. He brushed the dirt at his feet with one hand, then sighed again defeatedly.
“Then if all is settled, I will choose holy blades.”
Absis paused, then took a few tentative steps toward them, his face cracking into a sneer, his smiling visage melting like winter slush. “Tradition dictates we choose steel, magic or-”
“Tradition is not outlined in our contract, sir.” Arion reasoned. “I have been afforded the right to choose as I wish and holy blades it is.”
Insects squeaked a lament of chirps, and woodcrowes cawed in the distance awaiting carrion it would seem, but no one spoke.
Finally, Arion winked. “Present whatever weapon you consider holy or leave the battleground.” Again Arion turned toward the soldiers. “I ask permission to cast but one single spell, one that will illuminate these proceedings even further. I will place an enchantment of the Petitioner that will cause any weapons of a level of magical proclivity beyond the norm to glow, that we might compare the Petitioner’s weapons with the holy blade Elenar of Lathander. They will appear to be similar in the light of mere, neutral magic.”
One of the soldiers nodded.
“You heard the Justicar, elf. On with it.”
“Aye. Or forfeit.”
“Move it on. We’ve nothing to hide!”
The Justicar’s chest heaved. Arion knew he had played a card they had not foreseen, albeit a risky one. But if Granet was any example of how things really were in the Justicar’s ranks, Arion supposed that their loyalties were on a knife’s edge, and the majority of the men in Absis’ company would want to know exactly how much might their leader possessed.
Arion flexed his fingers, and a familiar blue lick of flame danced on his fingertips. “Balls if I’m not casting this spell, Absis. If it’s my last, at least I can die happy knowing.”
The Justicar growled and held up his arm, and with a dark flash, in his gauntlet he suddenly held a spear, with an impossibly long haft and a blade that was more akin to the shape of a shortsword than a traditional spearhead. Arion thought the weapon must have weighed half what he did. Reddish energy occasionally crackled up and down the shaft. He stared surprised for a moment, then began to hum a loud cadence, slinging his lute forward, plucking several notes in succession before suddenly thrusting his arms out wide. The blue flame in his palms flickered out in all directions, touching the weapons of everyone in attendance briefly. When the flash ended, dots swam before their eyes and Elenar glowed a potent yellow. The spear in Absis’ hands did the same.
Arion did not blink, suddenly inspired. “You’ve taught these men much, Justicar. Tell them now which god is it that gives you such insight, Absis?”
But it was Cyran, who moved Arion aside that he might eye the spear sidelong, who spoke. “I’ve seen weapons like that before. It’s Hoar,” he said. “Justicar Absis is beholden to Hoar.”
A murmur ran through the guards. Several of them let their halberds droop from formation.
One of them finally addressed him. “Our tenets defy the gods, Justicar Absis. You led us from the darkness away from them. Justice is the only god worthy of humanity.”
Absis barely looked in his direction. “The means to an end.”
“Who is Hoar?” someone asked.
Cyran drew Elenar, who flared to life. The circle was suddenly bathed in the light of midday. “Hoar is vengeance,” he said. “Vengeance begat by blood spurned.”
Absis gnashed his teeth and whispered under his breath. The weapon in his hand somehow made him appear even taller, his muscles more corded. “Choose your weapon, elf. I must do my duty. Now do yours!”
Arion sheathed his rapier. “I choose Elenar of Lathander.”
Absis began to pace like a caged tiger. “That weapon is not dedicated to you.”
Arion looked over at Elenar’s shining hilt. “I can choose as I wish and Elenar of Lathander will be used. She can be. And so she must.”
“What say you, men of the Merchant’s Consortium?” he continued, turning to the bewildered soldiers once more. “This Justicar has told you that there is no faith worth having, but he possesses a holy weapon given him by a god. His same logic tells us that if he can respond to my chosen weapon with similar type of force, he is bound to and the broadsword I choose can only be wielded by this man, the Knight Sir Cyran Donelid.”
He smiled sadly at his friend. “If he will be my proxy, all debts will be repaid.”
Cyran did not hesitate, but rather nodded and smiled fiercely.
Absis began to laugh, an angry, sarcastic sound. He raised his head upward and laughed at the moon. “Elenim escapes justice again, then? You will all stand here and let Elenim walk the streets unhindered, a swagger in his step and blood on his hands?”
“He has broken no law,” Cyran barked. “If justice is to be done it will be by your defeat.”
“It doesn’t make a difference, Donelid,” Absis spat, twirling the weapon over his head and then slamming it down onto the street butt first. “I’ll sate my desire for justice with your blood if need be. The thugs of Dracos Wyndemere are just as culpable as the filth they defend.” He closed his eyes and flexed his hands.
“You knew all along you could never best me, elf. Hide behind Donelid if you must.”
Arion did not waver. “I am besting you, Absis. The best way a bard knows.” He looked to the men around him, several of them with bloodlust in their eyes, many of them shaking their heads at their leader’s betrayal. “My court,” the elf whispered, and tossed a wink to his bewildered daughter, who could only smile meekly.
Arion stepped from between the two men, and Cyran inclined his head, praying softly.
Absis came on like a whirlwind, the haft of the spear a dark grey blur as he spun it sharply over his head, then twirled his body with the weapon and sidestepped, bringing it to bear against Cyran, who only barely managed to set his feet and catch the haft on Elenar’s flat.
Cyran turned with the blade and lifted Elenar high, taking the spear along with it and pinning it to the ground. Absis countered by backing up a step and swinging the butt end of the spear over Elenar’s side, scoring a wild but solid blow to Cyran’s forehead. Absis cried yet another word of power and the blood from Cyran’s face began to burn his skin.
“He’s – he’s a priest,” someone said.
The Lathanderite responded with a quick prayer of his own, countering Absis’s spell before it could do much damage. He whipped the broadsword around his back and turned a complete circuit, then struck hard against the haft of the spear and shouted Lathander’s name. There was a shriek of steel and a bright flash, and the resulting vibrations nearly wrenched the weapon from the Justicar’s grip. Absis reached out and took hold of the spear with one hand, leaving his chest exposed. Cyran took the advantage and swung hard, cutting deeply into the exposed chainmail beneath Absis’s shoulder plate and drawing a thin line of blood which disappeared in the black cloth of the Justicar’s sash.
Absis recovered immediately, and managed to flail another gauntlet out as Cyran stepped back from striking position, clipping hard against his chin and nearly swooning to a crouch. From his boot Absis drew a small dagger and launched it, and caught Cyran mid-thigh, making him back pedal. On sheer reflex, both men hummed healing prayers that would stem their blood flow.
A bluish green poison seeped from the wound in Cyran’s leg before closing.
The Lathanderite sneered and stood, his weapon in guard position. Absis laughed and took the opportunity to regain his balance, pointing the spear’s head straight out, putting Cyran back out at a distance. He set his feet behind him and quick-stepped, thrusting three lightning-fast jabs.
They exchanged strikes furiously. Cyran knew that Absis held the advantage of reach, and so did his best to stay within a zone of relative safety, but Absis was willing to take the occasional blow from Elenar in order to dance free of Cyran’s instep. Eventually, Cyran found himself in a dangerous position, well out of striking distance with his weapon, well within for the Justicar’s.
Absis shouted an archaic phrase and a strange angry glow infused the spear with preternatural strength. Cyran saw the spell for what it was, and as Absis thrust the spear forward, he just managed to clear Elenar out of the way, sidestepping a blow that would have skewered him clean.
Absis spun the weapon out once more just as Cyran tried to close the distance, but he somehow got his feet underneath him faster than the Lathanderite could reach him, and whipped the spear across his torso, scoring several hits against Cyran’s breastplate. But Cyran’s footwork kept the spear from finding purchase, the heavy enchantments on his breastplate turning the weapon every time it struck, leaving only multicolored sparks of sunlight in its wake.
The spear dove in a low strike between Cyran’s feet as Absis tried to hook the tip of the spearhead under an ankle, but the unwieldy strike cost him. Cyran managed to slide his feet backward, one, then the other, and dove in with the blade, finding a seam in the neckplate, and scored Elenar’s edge against Absis’s exposed neck, drawing a deep line of dark blood.
Absis grunted loudly and slid to one knee, covering the wound with his right hand but continuing to brandish the spear with his left. The arterial wound soon coated his breastplate in blood, staining the green tabard beneath. Absis began to choke.
Cyran saw the conflict in the Justicar’s eyes. If Absis wanted to continue the fight, we would have to cast a healing spell, and Cyran was still on his feet. Saving his neck would create an opening that would end the fight.
Cyran decided for him. He raised his blade high. The light from Elenar’s surface glanced dazzlingly off of Absis’s armor.
Finally, Cyran struck. He clipped the flat of his blade hard against the spear’s haft, knocking it to the ground, then reversed his grip and cut down and across, going to one knee as Elenar fell and neatly severed three fingers and the thumb from Absis’s right hand. The Justicar let loose a pained wail of anguish.
Cyran stood slowly and sheathed the holy weapon, then flung the gauntlets from both hands. With a whispered song he grabbed onto either side of Absis’s face. The Justicar resisted, but could only hold himself up with his wounded right hand, and so began to give ground, Cyran’s arm pushing him flat onto the ground. Absis took his hand from his wounded neck and thrust his arm out to his side like an eagle’s claw. He snarled and began to chant.
Arion’s nose twitched. He tasted iron.
“Cyran,” he cried. “Spellwork!”
Absis growled, and a blaze of red energy roared to life around his fingers. He grabbed Cyran’s wrist, and a loud shriek sand out like scraping steel as the only spell Absis had ever learned from his master was sent reeling into the paladin’s body. Cyran’s torso craned backward against the energy pouring from the Justicar’s hand. But the paladin held on.
“Let go!” Ambrosia cried, her shriek carrying over the tumult.
Cyran cried out the Morninglord’s name and at once, Absis’s entire face was obscured by an angry yellow nimbus of light. Arion squinted against the glare and could see that while red lightning raced up Cyran’s arms, the wounds on Absis’ body were closing from the halo of light that surrounded them.
The paladin bit through his lower lip, and it bled furiously. But he did not relent. His muscles snapped taught, and Absis sat down on the ground. He shoved again, and slammed the fallen Justicar’s head against the ground. Abruptly, Absis’ lightning spell ended, and the holy light of Lathander ebbed into his body. Arion could hardly believe what he was seeing. Cyran was healing his enemy’s wounds as he vanquished him at the same time.
Unconscious, Absis lay unmoving.
Cyran’s chest heaved, and smoke curled from his armor, but otherwise he appeared unhurt as he stood straight and stared upward into the night sky. No one moved.
Suddenly, Ambrosia broke through the circle and threw her arms around Arion’s waist. He knelt, and held her close.
* * * * *
An hour later, the crowd had finally dispersed, dragging Absis back down into the cave. Later, one by one, the men came back up from the enclave, leaving the Justicar behind.
“Is he dead?” Ambrosia asked. “He wasn’t moving.”
Cyran shook his head. “He could not move. This was a holy quest for him. He failed, and I believe, broke a promise to his god.”
As the last of the Consortium departed, cool spring rain began to fall. Ambrosia beckoned Arion to lean over, and she wiped away the drops from her father’s face and laughed.
“You’re crying da,” she teased.
Cyran breathed a long sigh of relief, and noticed a particularly hard look in Arion’s eyes. “How did you know about the spear, elf?”
“I didn’t. The plan was just to prove that I could use a holy weapon via you and Elenar. I was hoping that he’d be disqualified because he couldn’t reciprocate. Lucky.”
The paladin smiled and did not bother to disagree. One leap of faith was more than he had expected from his friend.
Arion flexed his fingers and checked his rapier. He turned to face Cyran. The knight’s lip was already completely healed over. No scar would mar his face.
“He can’t move?” the bard said.
The paladin nodded. “He swore to kill you. Failing was blasphemy and I believe the paralysis we saw was his punishment. However long it lasts, I could not say.”
“Cyran,” Arion whispered. “I can’t let Absis go. This isn’t enough.”
“Of course not. We’ll turn him in to the authorities in Baldur’s Gate.”
Arion shook his head and watched the rain fall on the dark rusty stains at their feet. “He’ll circumvent. He means to undo Wyndemere entirely, old friend. That means everyone.” As his daughter buried her face in his leg, he mouthed two words:
Cyran ran his tongue across his teeth. “I took his fingers from him. He cannot even hold a weapon.”
Arion’s crystalline eyes hardened. “I have work to do, old friend. A bard’s work.” He slipped off his pack and cast a spell of blinking lights over his daughter. She giggled. “Take Ambrosia to the woods and let her play. It’s been a rough week for her.”
His daughter began to whimper. “But da-”
“Go with Cyran, Dawnrose.” He put his palm against her nose, the way he had when she was a baby. She sniffled and nodded.
“I don’t approve of this Arion,” the paladin said, he voice pleading. “He’s beaten.”
Arion did not look at his friend. “We made it out, he didn’t, and I want the spoils.”
The knight had heard enough. He put a hand on Ambrosia’s shoulder.
“I want to go home,” the elfling said as Cyran led her away.
Arion stared at the cave mouth, the place where his daughter had been held, blindfolded for days.
* * * * *
It wasn’t difficult to track them down a while later in a small clearing near a clump of white ash trees. Ambrosia sat on the huge man’s shoulders tossing leaves in the air as he spun her around. Arion watched them for a moment, playing in the early morning sun, and tried to put the dark business behind him.
He produced a small curved mirror from his pack. He checked, worried that there might be a remaining stain, but there was no blood on his face. He gave his rapier a final examination and found none there either. His clothes, his fingernails, his hair. Satisfied, he secured his lute, and then charged into the clearing, grunting like an orc.
“Where is dtha little elf goorl?” he growled.
His daughter squealed even louder, then slid from the paladin’s shoulders.
He popped out from behind a tree, snarling. Ambrosia snarled right back and threw herself at his legs, tackling him flat to the forest floor.
With a grunt he pushed her to arm’s length. “How long have you been big enough to do that?”
She rolled her eyes. “You don’t know anything, da.”
Cyran shook his head, his hands on his hips, the sun rising behind him. “I believe it is time we were off while the morning is new.”
“Which way?” Ambrosia asked, her eyes alight with adventure.
Arion pried her from him and then stretched his arms up toward the sky, the weariness finally gone from his muscles.
“Home to your mother. So she can yell at us.”
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