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These stories are based on Coran's character, created and developped by BioWARE and added to by BG1NPC mod.


The Whisperer



Drizzt’s wine cup steamed and smelled of spices from the lands Cattie-Brie never heard of before coming to Waterdeep. The small, red beans dried under the hot sun and ground to thin powder born within wild spirits of Chult, which danced on the lips long after drinking. She eyed her own strong ale with boring yet comforting aroma. It reminded her of Bruenor. She smiled remembering her dwarven adopted father, but almost immediately furrowed her brow. If ale reminded her of Bruenor, what or whom did Drizzt thought about sipping slowly his fiery drink?


“What is it, my friend?†Drizzt asked softly. Cattie-Brie lifted her dark-blue eyes on Drizzt.


“What are ye thinking of?†she blurted out and watched him intently. The drow’s lips curled into a small smile, and Cattie-Brie half-expected to hear her own name, but instead Drizzt said thoughtfully:


“Robillard...I was thinking of Robillard. It’s probably time for me to find him. Otherwise the man is like to miss the sailing,†the drow glared in disapproval of the tight-lipped, grim wizard.


Indeed, Robillard should not have disappeared so completely after the last voyage of the “Sea Spriteâ€Â, no matter who was right and who was wrong in his last quarrel with the Captain. Most often the sailors forgot what was said during the weeks at sea, but not Robillard. That man knew well how to hold a grudge.


“Will you come with me?†Drizzt asked hopefully, but Cattie-Brie shook her head negatively. Let him deal with the angry wizard alone. Drizzt raised lightly off his chair and pinned the vair-lined cloak under his chin. And then he asked if she will be alright on her own.


“Go,†she replied, “I am quite capable of taking care of myself.â€Â


It sounded...brusque. Cattie-Brie felt a small pang of guilt, but it dissolved in a grayer and stickier feeling. A very unpleasant feeling. She knew that she was sulking because it was Robillard who was on Drizzt’s mind when he drunk the spiced wine. She did not like it a single bit.


Gently, the woman touched a small locket that hanged around her neck. It was warm to her touch with magic, but cooling down with each step Drizzt took away from her. She smiled at her ale mug, and sighed when someone took the seat, that Drizzt just vacated. Alas, the tavern was crowded and she could not have kept the place for her companion. No matter. She will find an empty bench once the locket is warm again.


The man, who seated himself by her side, was a stranger to her and an elf, both rare occurrences in this particular tavern. Cattie-Brie gave him a sidelong glance and scowled. Just in case. In the deeps of Underdark only did she find respite from men with bold eyes and flapping tongues. As they said, it took all sorts to make Waterdeep.


Well, handling them was not difficult at least, just annoying. Luckily for him, the elf did not peer at her breasts. He was rather looking at her bow with a quizzical weighing expression. Now, that was insulting. She crossed her hands under her breasts and stared at the bow shaft, the elf held in his hands. Dark yew, she figured, a rare kind, and crafted with skill. Still, no match to Taulmaril with its singing silver string and the magic arrows appearing from nowhere.


The elf tapped his lips thoughtfully with his long fingers and mumbled something disproving to himself. And he was still ogling Taulmaril! Before checking herself, Cattie-Brie lashed out at the offender: “What da ye have against me bow, elf?â€Â


The elf rose a brow, as if he did not provoke her. “Oh, nothing, absolutely nothing. Forgive me for upsetting you so, m’lady. Perhaps I can buy you a drink for your distress.â€Â


So, maybe he was of the sleazy ilk. She gruffly refused the offer and would have turned away, except for the fact that the elf again was not paying her any attention. He was fully consumed by comparing the two bows!


“I bet, you can outshoot this snooty thing, Whisperer,†he murmured softly and Cattie-Brie shifted on her stool. Elves can be crazy too. And possibly pitiful. Or maybe it was just that his eyes were brown and liquid?


“Listen,†Cattie-Brie said soothingly, “ye do have a nice bow.â€Â


The elf smiled widely and nodded eagerly, as if he was used to others talking him down. “Yes, yes, Coran has a wonderful bow.†Leaning towards her, he whispered into her ear, as if revealing her some sort of a secret: “ It’s a long bow, ma’am, I call it Whisperer.â€Â


“It’s a good name,†Cattie-Brie smiled, thinking that the quaint madman was somehow endearing.


“I can shoot very well,†Coran grinned. “I bet, I can hit the mark better than you with your fancy bow.â€Â


“No ye can’t!†Cattie-Brie shook her head, surprised at that boyish outburst, but the elf was already chanting:


“Yes I do, I so do!â€Â










“How did I let him to drag me into it?†Cattie-Brie pondered, following the humming elf out of the inn’s doors and stringing Taulmaril. She decided to let the elf win or at least not to lose too badly.


There was an empty strip of beach by the docks, and to Cattie-Brie’s surprise, the empty-minded Coran managed to get a broken harpoon whilst they crossed the docks, which was a poor substitute for an archer’s butte. On the other hand, she foresaw Coran’s surprise when she would obliterate what’s left of the shaft with one of her lightning arrows. Maybe he, with his childish disposition, will grow excited enough to stop the silly competition?


“Fifty paces,†the elf announced happily, dancing with impatience and looking at her for confirmation. Cattie-Brie simply nodded. With that wind...he was a madman indeed. The elf started counting paces after bidding Cattie-Brie to stay firmly in place, lest he loses the count. She sat herself down and waited.


Coran came back running and started pulling the string on the Whisperer. The string was taut, and man’s hands were sure. Perhaps, he was an archer in the past, Cattie-Brie reasoned. The elf made an inviting gesture, and Catie-Brie drawn the string and let fly. The silver arrow plunged through the air, leaving the gleaming trail behind and cut clean the last inch of the harpoon, setting it on fire, like a candle. Coran chuckled approvingly and stood right by her, and lifted his bow. Yes, Cattie-Brie saw, he was an archer once. The arrow fetched with gray feathers flew and struck the end of the harpoon and throwing the burning splinters around.


She did not say anything, just stared at the elf. The string of his bow indeed whispered when he let the arrow loose.


“Hundred paces,†Coran yelled excitedly, and Cattie-Brie this time stood waiting for his return, tapping her foot impatiently.


Again, Taulmaril sang, and Wishperer after it. Another arrow fetched with gray feathers burned.


“Two hundred paces?†Coran asked.


“Yes, but-“ Cattie-Brie started saying, thinking to offer him a tie, before the matter become ridiculous, but Coran interrupted her. “We can change the butte! That shaft is too big. I can shoot a golden coin at three hundred paces!â€Â


“It takes an elf to see a golden coin at three hundred paces,†Cattie-Brie mumbled, and Coran laughed happily. “We will walk closer after I shoot and you shall see if I got it! Now, where did I put my money pouch?â€Â


It was impossible, but the elf looked even more sheepish, turning all five pockets of his jacket upside-down. “I...I lost it...again...†he bleated.


Cattie-Brie dropped her hand onto her belt and felt the cut strings of her own purse. She muttered an oath. Thieves were prominent in the Docks and apparently quite shrewd.


“Well,†she started, trying to offer the flaming tie again, but Coran apparently had another idea on the subject. Unfortunately, the idea was rivaling the coin-at-three-hundred paces one in stupidity.


“No!†Cattie-Brie shrieked, when the man put his hands on his belt with obvious intent to use the belt buckle for the butte. Cattie-Brie’s own hand slapped across her own mouth, but then slipped down to her throat.


After all if the silly elf wants to walk around without breaches it was his prerogative. Elves were not at all prickly about properties. This one, at least, gazed at her in obvious surprise. Cattie-Brie swallowed and clutched the locket hanging from its thin chain. Why should she be panicking because of an elf shooting a mark half-naked? Happens every day in Cormanthyr, no doubt. Except that she was not from Cormanthyr.


Coran beamed.


“Oh, yes! This would do even better! Thank you!â€Â


There was nothing for her to do than to give the locket to Coran, and burrow a heavy gaze into his back, as he went counting the three hundred paces. “If that idiot would lose it,†she thought grudgingly, “I’ll skin him, be he a madman or no.â€Â


Coran walked lightly on the sand, littered with the debris and flotsam. When he passed the harpoon, he turned and smiled to Cattie-Brie. She waved at him. Two hundred paces. Cattie-Brie chewed on her lip. Even if Coran hits the medallion, it will not be destroyed, she was sure of that. It was Alustriel, the great wizard and the chosen of Mystra, who had enchanted it after all. Such things have a tendency to last.


And then she saw Coran breaking into a run.


Such things have a tendency to cost a fortune. Brusquely, she lifted Taulmaril, let the arrow fly and cursed under her breath, as it fell behind the thieve’s heels. Only just out of range.




“Allana!†Coran shouted, entering the antechamber. The wizard’s apprentice appeared in the doorway, gorgeous as ever in the red robes cut low and embroidered by golden thread. By the golden rose, he loved when women wore robes cut low.


“Oh! You...you got it, did not you?†Allana exclaimed.


“Yes, of course. I told you, my sweet, that I can get anything for you, even if it is not sold, did not I? Now, come, kiss me.†Coran grinned proudly.


Allana snatched the locket from his hands and stared at it in disbelieve.


“Yes, it must be it! And it is warm!†Without giving Coran another glance Allana rushed back into the bedroom.


“You are not going to study it right away, do you? Before thanking me?†Coran asked of his determined lover, half-hoping that retreating to the bedroom was an invitation of sorts.


But all his designs evaporated once he saw that the woman was wrapping herself into her cloak. Allana's cheeks were red-hot and her eyes shined with expectations.


“It works!†she babbled, “It works! I can feel the warmth of the locket. Now Drizzt will not be able to hide from me!†and she brushed past Coran and out of the doors.


Coran sighed: “Silly girl.†He knew he should have stolen Taulmaril.

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To Lady Caetlyn. Thank you for the inspiration, my friend


The Three Sighing Elves


I gazed after the slight figure, who went into the night. By the Golden Heart, she is a pretty one!


Kivan sighed. Xan sighed in return, unable to pass up the challenge. Now, if I was told a month before that three male elves sitting at a campfire on a gorgeous summer night like this would spend their time trying to outsigh each-other... But hey, whatever keeps them going. I took a sip of rather cheap and sour wine from my flask, and gave a try to bonding with my comrades.


Alas, I lost the competition hands down both on the length and emotionality of the sigh. I am a pathetic sigher. I cannot compete on the professional level.


Kivan’s sighs were delicate and heart-breaking, while Xan’s would have made a dancing xvart appear a tragic hero in the doomed world, should it managed to imitate one exactly.


You would not believe how many woman appreciate a good sigh in the right moment. Alas. Whenever I see a beautiful maiden I cannot help myself, but smile, and if she is not exactly a maiden, I grin. Since our jolly party was headed by the maiden with golden curls and lips that would make a white rose turn red, the smile rarely left my lips. Just thinking about her, walking the perimeter of the camp alone in the moonlight, gracious and...


A sudden idea came into my head. If I am stuck with the two best sighers on Faerun, and the source of my smiles has continently departed, I might as well gain some experience.


Kivan started the second round, and I studied his features carefully, putting particular attention at the way he managed to appear both present and far away. I knew a girl in Waterdeep, who would run away from her palace and would follow him forever if he let her, just for that expression. Well, I saw her do that for a much worst performance in the same style. As I expected, immediately thereafter Xan produced a masterful trailing off sigh, guaranteed to put anyone in the “we are going to die tomorrow anyway...†mood. Very useful with virgins.


I closed my eyes, let my eyelashes tremble until the tears glistened in my eyes and slowly let the air out at the same speed Kivan did.


“Coran , I would not want to intervene, but do not you think that Minuwiel is...Would not you think that you should not attempt to seduce a poor orphan, barely out of swaddling clothes, who is chased by a monstrous foe by a reason unknown? She is such a sweet, innocent...â€Â


I choked on the reserved air stored in my throat and opened my eyes. â€ÂWhat?â€Â


Kivan sighed impatiently (good one...for widows). “You were looking at Minuwiel when she left to guard our camp...and now you are sitting there, sighing like your breast is about to burst. My heart goes out to you if that is true love you finally encountered... If you indeed do love her... â€Â


The tear I conjured during my exercise finally loosened its grip on my eyelashes and ran down my cheek.


“Coran?†Kivan sounded troubled. “ I understand that you are hurting, but do not you have enough noblesse in you to love her from afar for a while? At least until the troubles she is going through are settled?†From any other man this sort of nonsense would have meant that he is training his eyes on the girl himself and wants to remove a competitor. But Kivan...Kivan meant every word of it. Besides, he is Sylvan, and they are seriously into the dark-heads.


“Leave him,†Xan said in a voice which would make a zombie’s wail seem lively, “maybe he had finally recognized the futility of love in the face of mortality.â€Â


“Love,†Kivan replied gently, “is not futile.†Right. His own example proved the opposite.


Xan tilted his head to his shoulder and looked at Kivan sadly. “We are all doomed...â€Âhe said and I realized that I whispered the words with him.. Well, he was saying the same thing over and over...so I took to chorusing him, since hearing his voice was the worst part of it. From my mouth it almost sounded as a joke.


Kivan opened the third round, Xan caught up before he even finished, and I did my best not to fall too far behind.


Kivan shook his head. “My friends, I do not understand why do you surrender to gloom with such ease.â€Â


My hand went for the flask.


“It must be my forbidden love...†I said, meaning to be sarcastic, but the seeds of doubts were planted in my mind. I started thinking of Minuwiel, and indeed her life in the past few months did not seem like a walk in the park. She was a fugitive, just lost her father and did her very first steps outside some stuffy library she grew in...that’s aside form the bounty placed on her head for Seldarine knows what. And she was gorgeous.


To my surprise a sigh escaped my lips. Was that a regret or true love, I could not say, but at least my reliable fellows followed me with the sighs of their own.


“I took the first watch not to guard the three sighing elves! Either you all go and reverie immediately, or we will march. NOW!â€ÂMinuwiel stepped into the circle of light made by the fire from the darkness and now stood, hands on her hips, and a no-nonsense expression on her face. I would not have been all together surprised if she whistled at us or gave us a countdown. Unfortunate orphan or not, Minuwiel was good at giving orders. I was half-way into my bed-roll, when she announced to the night: “But if one of you aren’t sleepy, I would not mind some help.â€Â


“Are the hordes of goblins and orcs closing on us?†Xan asked melancholically, jumped up and slid Moonblade from its sheath.


Kivan appeared by Minuwiel’s side, seemingly out of the thin air like a summoned creature. “I would gladly assist you, My Ladyâ€Â.


Minuwiel probed me with the toe of her boot.


“Oh, yes...†I exclaimed, “I am very much awake and will gladly...â€Â


“Good,†Minuwiel replied, and I noticed two charming dimples on her cheeks. She definitely knew how to put on a brave face, our little Minuwiel.


Kivan shrugged and sighed. “Good night, my friend,†she told softly and gave him a light kiss on his cheek. It screamed “brotherâ€Â. “There are no orcs around, Xan,†she continued, watching him intently until he crawled back into his bedroll. Xan sighed doubtfully.


“I found a bird entangled in the torn-bush, and I need someone of a nimble-fingered sort to help it without hurting it.†I nodded. I could do it, I supposed, though it would have never crossed my mind to try it before. I followed Minuwiel thinking that she retained gentle heart, despite all the sufferings she went through recently. I wondered if I ever robbed a girl of just the sort of innocence and sweetness Minuwiel displayed. Forbidden love. Love from afar. That might be an interesting experience, after all. I sighed, amazed at the ease with which the sigh came to my lips.


Minuwiel turned, her face silvery in the moonlight, and smiled widely.


“Coran, no! Not you too! Kivan and Xan make me feel terribly shallow. I can never do anything but smile when I see a handsome man. And with you around that means...â€Â


“...that you smile continuously...†I finished astounded. “Just like me, my dear Minuwierl, exactly like me.â€Â


“Oh, I am SO glad that at least someone understands me!†Minuwiel exclaimed. “I hoped from the very moment I laid my eyes on you that you are not the sort who walks in circles for years, mumbling about adoring from afar... Sometimes I think that I am the only person in the world who where NOT tutored on the ways of love by the monks of Candlekeep.â€Â


I could not help, but grin and kiss her laughing mouth with all passion it asked for.

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*******THE GAME OF NO's and MAYBE's*************


The dark strand of run-away hair looked blacker than a raven's wing on Coran's pale skin. Minuwiel bit her lip and twisted her slender fingers into a semblance of a braid.


Coran chuckled: "Darling, do not fight it. No woman was born yet who could resist brushing away hair from a man's eyes. Please, do it, sweetling. Minu?"


Minuwiel's own eyes sparkled brightly in the starlight, as she lifted her head up. "That's only maternal instinct, Coran. Do you like to be mothered?"


Coran squinted at her from under the black fringe of still misplaced hair. "You, my Lady mother?" He sighed: "Alas, despite all the advantages, I must refuse. You see, then it would be entirely inappropriate for me to daydream of you, standing bare in the pool of moonlight."


Minuwiel raised gracefully from the log she was occupying and started unrolling her blankets. They did not light up the fire, for the night was sufficiently warm, and the fire will serve no purpose, but to be a beacon for the monsters. Coran liked how the maiden looked on the nights like that, when nothing in the whole forest shined hotter to his heat-sensitive elven eyes. In the whole world.


"Keep daydreaming," Minuwiel replied finally, gracing Coran with a quick glance over her narrow shoulder.


"She is determined to have you whole," Kivan murmured, watching Coran brush back the strand of hair irritably.


"She is playing the game of no's and maybe's," Coran said in his usual light tone, but he took care to elevate his voice. "A lovely game."


Kivan chuckled, nodding his agreement, and Coran wondered yet another time if the widower was truly as innocent of the knowledge of women, as his tales suggested. To listen to Kivan, he had met Deheriana on the battlefield, fell under her spell immediately, and had never recovered, even though that was a healing spell she casted. Thereafter, it seemed, that should Deheriana wished for a star, Kivan would have asked which one she wanted. How would he know of the game then?


"I shall go look for Xan," Kivan announced to no one in particular. "This one ever treats the forests like Evereska's gardens, striking wildly at every bush and stalking hedgehogs, because he thinks they make noises just like orcs. You will guard the lady Minuwiel, whom I have sworn to protect."


"With my blood shall I guard the woman you left in my care," Coran replied formally.


After Kivan dissolved into the dancing shadows, Coran took a sip from his wineskin and sighed. The woman's form was bright on the forest floor, even under the woolen coverlets. Kivan offered him a gift of privacy, but he also left Minuwiel under his protection. Tricky widower. Tricky customs etched into his bones.


"Minuwiel, " Coran called, and thought that if she would not look out from her blankets, then the game was over for tonight. She mumbled and sat up: "Coran?" That gentle voice must have had the command of his feet, because before he knew it, they carried him across the campsite and settled him on the ground by Minuwiel.


"What kind of an incompetent acolyte left you with that?" Minuwiel asked and her cool fingers touched his forehead and moved through his hair.


Coran felt dizzy and his thoughts floundered: "Two rose petals... How soft and fragrant her lips should be... the lady-rose bud."


"Or was it a kobold witch-doctor?" Minuwiel inquired mockingly, oblivious to the blizzard her touch had created in Coran's mind. "I do not think I can do anything for it now, but if it was I doing the healing, you would have never known yourself that you had it."


Coran took in a breath. A tiny one. Minuwiel must have watched him when he brushed his hair away from his face. Otherwise, she'd never noticed that old scar.


"I...I asked for it to be left unhealed. It is a reminder," he replied carefully. Keeping his voice steady was important. Minuwiel arched her brow impatiently: "A reminder of what?"


"I was then in my nineties..." Coran started, and almost chuckled at Minuwiel's condescending smile. He liked when Minu tried to play a lady wise in her years, when she was barely one hundred and twenty. "I left the elven lands in the Forest of Tethir and set out to see the world before my loving family decided that they spent enough centuries talking about going into Retreat and acted upon their decision."


"It turned out that I picked a bad moment to cross the Tethyr. The Human King Errilam managed to get himself into an accident during a hunting trip. Alas, he died as a result. Since he was accompanied by his friends of elven descent, and when the king dies someone ought to take the blame, his heir launched harsh repressions against elves. I tried to make it back to the Forest of Tethir, where my kin fought against the king's soldiers and their axes, but it proved impossible."


"Besides, any of your kin with a grain of sense, would have shipped you back to your parents on sight and you'd have been stuck in the backwater province for a few more decades," Minuwiel murmured, leaning against Coran's shoulder. Coran did not argue.


"So, sweetling, I ended up taking to the shadows. In the underworld they do not ask you to put down your hood before dealing with you, which suited me just fine."


Minuwiel sighed, but said nothing, for which Coran was quite grateful. Whether she welcomed his choice or regretted it, it was much too late to voice either.


"One night, when I deemed myself near best thief in Tethyr, I broke a lock on a window of a large merchant house in Darromar and made my way into the strong room. A couple of large chests attracted my attention immediately, and to my delight, the locks did not look formidable at all. Despite all awkwardness of youth, even then I was nimble-fingered, so the latch clicked, and I opened up the lid.


Something...some sort of a whip lashed out at me from the opened chest, a living whip with a sting at its end. I fell back, but the second whip got me, and I lost control of my body, twitching violently and trashing about the room. I could hear voices in the house and I saw the light approaching through the crack under the door, but I could do nothing but convulsing and trying not to think that I stand to lose my head, rather than my hand, as soon as the guards will be brought in.


Two women entered the room, one armed with a dagger and a candle, and the second - with a heavy pestle they use to grind spices in the kitchens.


Despite my attempts to be civil, just at that moment I was bended near in half, and started frothing in my mouth.


"Hells fire!" the woman with a candle exclaimed, "I knew that Danor is going to kill someone! Locking whipstings* in chests! What a barbaric custom! Katrina, stop staring at the poor boy and help me lock the beast away!" The maid yelled and waved her hands at the whips and after some hesitation and twitching they withdrew back into the chest. It even hissed, disappointed at the lack of praise. Katrina aptly dropped the lid down and then, with the help of her mistress, piled a bigger chest on top of the unlocked one.


By that time the effects of the poison started to weaken and I crawled towards the window, in, as I hoped, an inconspicious manner. But a heavy hand, I recognized as Katrina's, caught me by my shoulder. "M'lady Belena, it's an elf! I say Master Danor did a good thing there, leaving the whipsting. If you forgive me for saying so, Helm knows what would have befallen us, if that murderous bastard was not paralyzed -"


"He is but a boy," Belena said studying me, and I blurted out that I am more than hundred years of age, which made her laugh, and me - cough out all the fluids the accursed poison lifted from my stomach.


"Shh," she immediately commanded, "do not you be talking now. Katrina, we will carry him upstairs. He needs to be washed and..." she squeezed my chin firmly between her fingers and turned my head from side to side - "and fed."


Minuwiel burst out into her merry laughter, like a chime of silver bells: "I never thought that you were scrawny as a youth, but now I can imagine it quite vividly."


"I was not scrawny," Coran objected with dignity, "Mistress Belena had never seen an elf before, her husband was a stout man and her sons were taking after him. Herself, she was a shade more slender than a gazelle."

This time Minuwiel frowned a little: "I take it that even in that tender age you were not impartial to the beauty of Mistress Belena? Is that what the scar about? Your first lover?"


"No, sweetling," Coran replied quickly, hoping that he will be spared the question of his first love, "She had never gave in to my passionate advances. Despite her husband being a rude and loud man, by all accounts, and absent for the most part of the year, despite the fact that her eyes clouded and grew hot by turns, when she looked at me, she remained faithful. And that is why I left this scar - to remind me that there are some things that women treasure above passion."


After a pause, Minuwiel whispered into his ear: "Perhaps men do too."


"Perhaps," Coran replied, watching her profile in the moonlight. He was glad that he had caught his tongue in time.


They were, after all, playing the game of no's and maybe's.




* - whipsting - a poisonous beast, which is often locked in chests by the merchants of Amn and Tethyr to ward off thieves

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A fresh shirt clung pleasantly to Minuwiel’s scrubbed skin. She leaned back on her chair smiling happily at the serving maid, who was loading the table with a bowl of steaming meat in rich sauce and a tray of bread. The steam raising from the mugs of mulled wine was full of the summer fragrances. All and all, she had almost forgotten a day and a half they spent in the frozen caves of an island in the middle of the nowhere. A cloak, it seemed to her, was a small compensation for three lives, but the wizard who sent them on the quest, had absolved them from the blood debt for his daughters. Minuwiel suspected that he had resurrected his children long before demanding this ridiculous compensation, but be that as it may, the re-payment seemed to settle Kivan’s conscience somewhat, and, she had to concede, hers as well. She loaded a bread trencher with meat and bit into it. It was hot, spicy and so good, that she closed her eyes in delight.


Xan coughed and muttered: “Grim will be the last days of elven race if our women will start taking such feral delight in the rough foods of humans.†Minuwiel whipped off gravy from her chin and chewed the meat.


“It’s not that rough, Xan. Want a bite?†she offered, waving her meat-loaded bread in Xan‘s general direction. The sorcerer flinched as if it were a sword or a Wand of Fire. “Thank you,†he said dryly and sunk his teeth into a pale cabbage leaf.


“Xan,†Coran said thoughtfully, “can I dare you to try the red cabbage? I understand how dangerous it looks with all those bring purple colors, but in truth - “


Minuwiel was not destined to learn the truth about the red cabbage.


A minstrel, who was looking for a best possible corner to give his performance, decided that the one where the elven company settled itself was just what he needed. He was a tall, wide shouldered fellow, who seemed build for the sword-play rather than music, but he was tuning his harp quite aptly, and his voice that interrupted Coran’s musings was clear, low and of a sort that makes a woman’s heart tremble. When he turned to face them, Minuwiel suddenly knew him. “Garrick,†she gasped.


“I see that the Elven Four company honored the “Elfsong†tonight,†the scald announced to the tavern goers, “so it seems to me that a song about brave Elves that destroyed the bandits who plagued the roads and returned the iron to our smithies will be the most fitting tonight. Let us drink for this brave, if small company, friends!â€Â


The audience indicated its agreement with Garrick, by shouting for the song and pounding at the table tops with their mugs. “Great,†Minuwiel whimpered, smiling sheepishly, as all gazes turned to them “Just great.†Perhaps, she should have taken Garrick along that day she’d met him in Beregost. Then, at least she could have commanded him to shut up.


Kivan raised, both his food and wine untouched and slipped away from the table and out of the tavern. Minuwiel helplessly stared after the man, saying a small prayer to Corellion, for the ranger to find food and shelter tonight, instead of returning in the small hours of the morning, with dark shadows around his eyes.


Garrick started the dreaded song.


The golden haired Minuwiel,

A human’s name is her father’s name

And the ranger all alone

His heart turned from fire to stone



Minuwiel wondered if Kivan knew that particular verse and fled because of it. She twisted a lock of her pale-yellow hair about her finger and raised to leave. Coran took her hand and made her look down at him: “What’s the matter, melamin?†Furious, Minuwiel plumped down on her chair. Some of them might know Elven and she had no desire to hear a Ballad of Coran and Minuwiel in the next inn she stopped. So, she deliberately ignored the gentle squeeze Coran gave to her fingers, turned to Xan and gulped her wine. The sorcerer’s sour face almost turned the fragrant sweet liquid from Cormyr into vinegar of local descent.


A rogue with wit as quick

As steps, shooting an arrow or a quip

And a wizard whose smiles

Take enemies down by surprise.


She heard Coran pushing his chair back and standing up. Alarmed, Minuwiel turned to her troublesome lover. The rueful grin she loved so much appeared on his lips.


“Bard, have you taken a look outside?†Coran asked loudly interrupting the song and catching Garrick’s arm. People’s eyes went wide with astonishment. It was considered a bad fortune to interrupt a minstrel.


“What?†Garrick asked faintly.


“The stars are out, and the night is clear. The roses are in full bloom. And you sing us of slaughtering yapping khobolds in the dirty mines. Trust me, minstrel, I have scoured the mines in Nashkel and Cloakwood and found nothing worth singing about there. Give me a love song, bard...â€Â


Garrick squinted at the tall elf funnily. “Hey you, nobody tells minstrel what to sing. Besides, the ballads of the heroic deeds are much more bestirring than some love song...â€Â


Coran took a money pouch out of his pocket. Minuwiel could have swore that she had never seen that particular pouch before.


“If you won’t be persuaded to sing for these coins, mayhap you can surrender your harp for a few minutes and let someone else to sing what you consider below your...erm talent.â€Â


Garrick’s eyes flipped from the pouch to Coran’s face.


“You will sing?†he asked incredulously.


Coran’s shrug was non-committal. “You may yet regret it. Mine voice is not the best in Tethyr.â€Â


The crowd grew thicker. A singing elf was a rare attraction. They seemed to forget completely of Minuwiel and Xan.


Garrick licked his lips. “How about a duet?†He suggested.


“Deal!†Coran exclaimed, “Do you know the “Lady Across the Sea�†Without expecting an answer, Coran picked up a lute that laid on the bench by Garrick and quickly run his finger across the strings, listening to the sound. His concentration made the common room go quiet. He started playing the tune, waiting for Garrick to join in. They played a verse wordlessly, adjusting to each other and correcting the instruments, and then Coran started:


“I crossed the sea because I knew

A maiden from another shore

Her eyes were green and blue

She taught me laugh and sing and mo-ore...â€Â


Garrick joined in, and the song reached the farthest corners of the room.



“I walked the beach and I saw naught

but flotsam and rotting kelp

I fancied that the shore was wrong

And so further and further I went...


“An elf singing for the humans...†Xan grumbled and snorted down his wine cup.


Minuwiel shook her head negatively and replied quietly: “Take heart, Xan. Coran sings for an Elf.â€Â


Xan sighed deeply, and turn his gaze from Coran to Minuwiel and back to Coran. Then he asked of Minuwiel: “Why does everyone fancy so much the songs of hopeless ventures?â€Â


“You can slip away if you want now, Xan,†Minuwiel suggested. “Everyone’s eyes are on Coran.â€Â


But Xan continued his musings: “ Even better, why do they think that happiness is in participating in the doomed enterprises?â€Â


“All causes are doomed to fail...sooner or later, Xan...†Minuwiel said and smiled at seeing Xan’s eyes open wide with surprise. He did not expect such an easy victory in the endless argument he had with the whole world. “But one can find happiness in selecting those, that bring joy to one’s heart and ignoring fear of the end.â€Â


“Until the wind would fill the sails

I will raise to fight the waves anew

My life is naught until I regain

My maiden with eyes of green and blue.


The last notes still lingered under the ceiling, when Minuwiel shouldered her way toward Coran and planted a kiss on his lips. “Melamin,†he said and smiled.

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“Let us go,†Coran said, touching the hood of Minuwiel’s cloak. No, he was dragging her upright actually. How long was she crouching, her fingers wedged into the cold stone? Minuwiel licked her dried lips laboriously and looked up at the sky. The sun was low and taking on an orange tint...last time she saw it at the high noon. The priestess allowed Coran to make her stand and even managed a weak smile as he kissed her ear lightly. Then her gaze fell back at the white statue of a running girl. The movement of short, pumping legs was perfectly preserved in marble, those plump lips were stretched in a terrified cry for all eternity and her eyes were opened wide...so wide...


Minuwiel knew exactly what was the last thing the girl saw. It was a slow lizard, thrice bigger than herself, the heavy footfalls of its clawed feet, the wag of its spiked tail, the raising skin on its spine and finally - the green glow of its multifaceted eyes. Perhaps, they just killed the very basilisk, whose gaze turned the girl to stone. That was not enough for Minuwiel, but her delving failed to find a single spark of life in the marble child.


She sighed and stepped away from the comforting ring of Coran’s hands...and had to prop herself against the statue.


“We will set the camp now,†Kivan suggested matter-of-factly to Coran, and shouted: “Xan!†at the sorcerer who sat on the ground, turning his head wildly from one of basilisk’s victims to the next. He obviously found the doom he would fear the most for the next fortnight. “Xan, there is a stream nearby. Can you hear it? Let us carry the packs there and make a fire, while Coran takes care of Minuwiel.â€Â


Minuwiel did not protest, when Coran gladly dropped his pack on the ground and lightly lifted her up. On the opposite, she sighed and let her head drop sleepily on Coran’s shoulder, cuddling herself against his chest. “Kivan,†Coran started quietly, but the ranger was already flanking them, a bared sword in hand and one eye on Xan who tried clumsily to unstring the Wishperer. At the sight of it, Coran cringed as in great pain and gave Kivan a pleading look. The ranger shrugged, but did nothing else. The rogue’s arms wrapped tighter around his precious cargo, and he whimpered.


“Oh, what’s the point?†Xan muttered under his nose, “we will no doubt have to fight thrice more today, that if we won’t get killed the very first time.†Suddenly, the string snapped through the air, and the mighty bow straightened in his hands with the sound that gave it the namesake. Xan’s hands flew to the Moonblade’s hilt, dropping the staff. Coran growled. Very quietly. Minuwiel’s breath was touching his cheek at even intervals, and her eyes were closed. He would not let Xan’s antiques to wake her up. Xan searched the ground for a while, before finally retrieving the string from the basilisk corps. It must have got entangle on one of the creature’s horns, because the sorcerer spent an ungainly amount of time kneeling by the lizard's dead body.


“Defender of Elvendom, by the Golden Rose!†Coran thought irritably, but Kivan stood silent, as if he was one of the statues himself, until Xan finally got up, and strapped both the shaft and the string to his pack.


The ranger finally started moving, with encumbered Coran and silent Xan in tow. The forest was all pines and fir-trees, so Coran moved slowly, pushing at the branches before they’d claw at Minuwiel with its needles. He was so engrossed in his task, that he payed little mind to the patch of white in the dark greenery. Surprisingly, so did Kivan.


It was Xan who attracted their attention by gasping:


“By Seldarine, it’s a white doe!â€Â


Indeed, she was white, and she stepped on the trail right in front of them, watching the four elves with its moist red eyes.


Coran touched Minuwiel’s shoulder, waking up the maiden. It was a rare sight even for a wood elf, and Minuwiel had grown among the humans, whose best efforts at raising her true to her heritage resulted in the girl’s capability of reciting the historical manuscripts of the events no Elf cared any longer by heart, while worshiping a human god. Minuwiel slid out from his hands without a murmur of displeasure. She was born an elf after all, even if a snooty Golden. Though, he did hope for at least a tiny sigh.


The doe turned around, wiggled its short tail at them and started walking away. “Charming...†Coran commented, and then the doe stopped and turned its head back toward them.


“We...we should follow her,†Xan suddenly suggested in a strained voice.


“We need to camp,†Kivan replied, “Minuwiel needs rest. I can stalk it for you till morning.â€Â


Xan shook his head negatively: “We should follow her.†And to Coran’s surprise, the sorcerer put two fingers on the hilt of the Moonblade, touching the pale blue stone with his long fingernails.


Kivan bowed his head and acknowledge the command with a formal: “You lead and I will follow, my Lord.â€Â


Coran threw a doubtful look at exhausted Minuwiel, and for a split moment he wanted to ask Xan if he was sure that following the doe right now was really necessary, but when a Moonblade wielder calls upon you, you do not second-guess his decisions. You obey. So the rogue echoed the ranger, and after him - Minuwiel, who was watching them with shiny, excited eyes. It was turning into a much more profound lesson in elvenhood, than Coran initially thought.


As on a cue, the doe walked again, not pausing for another look. She led them directly to a clearing in the forest - a flood plane of the stream that Kivan heard earlier. Coran was about to comment on the redundancy of the white doe, when Kivan froze in his tracks. A few voices could now be heard from the distance and air smelled of smoke and cooking meat. “A hunting company?†the rogue suggested. The doe looked at him, with almost hurt expression and decisively walked into the underbrush away from the trail. “I am sorry...†Coran said sheepishly to the wiggling branches and doe’s behind, “did not mean... uhm... to scare you.â€Â


Minuwiel giggled: “Stop courting wildlife!†and then added seriously: “Let us see who our neighbors are.â€Â


Quietly (or as quietly as Xan’s flowing robes tangling on every branch would allow them), the four elves started for the camp. Through th e overhanging branches they saw three conical tents and a few makeshift covers done from blankets tied to the bushes and rocks, a couple of cooking fires... But Minuwiel barely saw it, her eyes drawn to the tall bulky figures pacing the camp or sitting around fires. Greenish skin, tusks and flat noses on human-like faces gave them out as half-orcs. Right by the fire, back to back sat five elven women, hands tied behind their backs and faces grey with fear, exhaustion and sorrow.


Kivan went pale. Minuwiel half-expected him to rush forward. She, herself, had to slap a hand against her own mouth to suppress an angry yell. But Kivan backpedaled, gave Coran a quick glance and notched an arrow. Coran followed his example and a split moment later two half-orcs fell to the ground, screaming and breaking off the long shafts. Dark blood splattered the ground.


The camp became a bee-hive, full of angry and ready to sting half-orcs. They jumped up and would have rushed to the archers and into the forest. “I will lead them on the chase,†Kivan started, “and you - “


“Stop ye, scatter-brained idiots!†roared a voice and a huge horned figure emerged from the biggest tent. “Get behind the bloody wenches!†However fast the archers were, they only had time to loose two more arrows, before the orcs obeyed the command.


“What now?†Coran asked.


Kivan unsheathed his sword.


“Get outta there,†the horned figure commanded. “Or I will kill one of the whores.â€Â


“Try it, and I will be on your heels until I kill you,†Kivan replied calmly. “Let the women go and you will keep your measly life.â€Â


The half-orc guffawed: “Now, now, you think me stupid? You squawk like all them, heroes, and that means you’d eat your guts out yerself if I finish off the wench.â€Â


“Darn,†Minuwiel thought, “why did we have to run into the only intelligent orc on Faerun?â€Â


“But,†the commander continued, “if you really want to free the stupid cows, I have a proposal. I figure by know you know that we are not some stupid mountain orcs. We fought with humans against Tunigians, and trust me, I have a full command of my unit. So you will not be able to sneak upon us, or cause panic or what else you hoped to do. So - let us do business.â€Â


“Ye see, I am driving them wenches to Calimport, but so do many others. Was a good business once, but now the prices are collapsing... for women. But elven males, that’s another story -they grew in price recently and are a rare find unspoiled and unharmed. So, let me take a look at you and I see if I’d agree to trade the women for you, my brave fellows.“


“You hold five women,†Xan interfered calmly. “We are three men and a woman. Will you let six women go free if you get three men?†Minuwiel, Kivan and Coran turned toward Xan and stared. The sorcerer shrugged: “Have better ideas?â€Â


“First I need to take a good look at ya, “ the half-orc said. “One wrong move, and that one -“ he pointed at a dark-haired girl, “gets it.†He motioned to one of his soldiers and he lifted the woman roughly on her feet, grabbed her by the hair and pulled her head down, exposing a throbbing throat. A long curvy dagger made a cruel teasing move across it leaving a dark line. “Just give me a shout, Urk,†the soldier said grinning. The woman shivered.


Urk walked slowly towards the forest edge, his bulky figure teasing the marksmen. Minuwiel saw Kivan lifting a bow and lowering it again, mouthing a curse.


“Steady, Kivan,†Xan said quietly, “she is not Deheriana.†Surprisingly, his wife’s name sobered the ranger up, instead of throwing him into a frenzy. He nodded to the sorcerer. Minuwiel noticed Coran fingering knives tacked into his sleeves.


Urk stopped a few paces away from them and commanded to exit from the forest. One by one, with their hands up...


They obeyed.


Xan was first to come out. He was a rather pitiful sight, Minuwiel thought, slender, bejeweled arms up in the air, wide sleeves covering his shoulders in puffy layers of fabric, his face pensive and gloomy. Urk rolled his eyes at the sight of him, but he watched Coran and Kivan wearily; he had a good eye for fighters, that half-orc. “Weapons,†he barked out shortly. Meekly Coran and Kivan placed their longbows on the ground, the two-handed sword from Coran’s back followed, and finally Kivan’s spear.


“Urk,†Xan said, “It is not that I mistrust you, but I wish to see that we are getting a fare deal. I am a mage and not a man of battle. If I start casting the spell, your men will cut me asunder before I get half-way through the enchantment. Allow me to walk towards women, untie them and they will walk here , where they will be under Minuwiel’s protection, while you walk Kivan and Coran to your camp.â€Â


“A great warrior, your Minuwiel, ei?†Urk snorted giving her a condescending look. “But no tricks from you two,†he addressed Kivan and Coran thoughtfully. “Undress,†he commanded to the fighters briefly.


A grin went off Coran’s face... Kivan licked his upper lip. “Undress,†Xan repeated softly.


“Oh, undress?†in a flash the good mood returned to Coran, “for you - any time, ei, Kivan?â€Â


“Yes... “ Kivan managed what a half-orc could take for a smile, “any time at all, “ and to Minuwiel’s horror made a enticing move with his hip. Coran started pulling a boot off, smiling from ear to ear, and ogling Kivan, who undid a fistula with a silver eagle and dropped his cloak onto the ground with a showy gesture.


“Imagine, Kivan,†Coran spoke up, “we are going to be bed-slaves. It’s like a dream come true for me... “ Knives spilled from his sleeves on the ground. Kivan pulled his shirt over his head, his voice muted somewhat by the leather, and agreed: “Yes, a good deed and the life-changing experience to boot. How grand.â€Â


Minuwiel for a second forgot about everything else, but Urk’s voice broke her reverie.


“My clients are women mostly,†Urk said, “ye won’t be per chance spoiled goods?â€Â


“Oh,†Coran laughed, jumping on one foot, to pull the second of his high boots off, “No-no. Women, men, oak trees... Anything that moves. We are elves, you know, the prancy pointy-eared sort.â€Â


Kivan emerged from his shirt and nodded his full agreement: “Absolutely.â€Â


Urk frowned at the wide scars covering Kivan’s torso, but Coran’s far smoother body put him at ease. Urk’s beady eyes lightened as he glanced from Kivan to Coran and back. “Counting coins,†Minuwiel thought with disgust and anger, at the same time relieved that the half-orc barely noticed her. Female beauty was cheap. As the fighters got rid off their breeches, Minuwiel took a sip of water out of her waterskin, watching the slavers intently from under her golden tresses. All twenty of them.


And Xan waddling his way towards the tied up women, like a huge purple and grey butterfly. The half-orcs towered over him, like column of some wicked temple, making no effort to move out of his way, watching the two undressing elves. One of them however found time to trip Xan over his boot. Xan’s blade showed from under his clothes... Minuwiel stopped breathing. “This one has a sword!†One of the orcs cried out, “Good thing that Urk made a bargain! I am so scared!†The comment prompted even more mirth than the sight of Xan lifting himself off the ground, his cheeks red with embarrassment. But seeing the Moonblade made the women lift their head up and their eyes glued to Xan.


He remained silent and pulled out a small dagger - creating a new wave of rude comments regarding his supposed low value as a slave if his masculinity was to be judged from the size of his weapons. The sorcerer ignored it all, cutting the ropes. One by one, women ran toward Minuwiel.


Never she had seen an elf more lonely and clumsy than Xan standing amidst half-orcs in his bright robes.


“Nuut eleelle!†Xan cried out frantically, throwing his hands up. Minuwiel shut her eyes, following the command, unsure of what folly came over Xan. She knew that he had not a single spell left to cast at the moment.


Heavy thumps followed Xan’s announcement and curses and then the sound of fighting.


“Ele!†Xan muttered, and Minuwiel opened her eyes to see a dozen of stone orcs and a half-dozen of living orcs. Naked Kivan dived under Urk’s huge hands and caught the Moonblade. A huge fist connected on Xan’s face, throwing him back... caving his face in. He fell, his palms opening and dropping something glistening into the tall grass. Coran rolled and managed to get hold of one of his knives. A huge blade crashed down onto him. It ought to have separated his head from his body...


Minuwiel opened herself to gods... Not to Lathander, but to any god that would listen. She never knew who answered her call, but she thought it was Corellion himself. Warm waves of magic flooded her, but she pushed it aside, towards her three companions.


There was no time for a proper prayer. “Give us victory,†she cried to the far away heavens, “give us victory!â€Â


“Did you know that Xan had basilisk’s eyes?†Minuwiel asked Coran the next morning examining the healing gash on his neck critically.


Coran shook his head weakly and moaned out of pain. She felt guilty for having slept this night, and hurriedly placed her hands on the wound, soothing the pain, and channeling the healing flows. The red angry colors receded and a thin layer of pale skin grew under her fingers, contrasting oddly with the tanned and bruised skin around it. Bruises could wait. She checked the lump on his head... no worst than Xan’s really. But he was taken care of by all five saved ladies. A very tender care.


“So you just rushed ahead at the four to one odds?†she asked Coran finally satisfied with the wound’s condition.


“They are just like basilisks,†Coran replied lightly, “they look at you and see but a stone.†He hugged Minuwiel tightly by the waist and pulled the kneeling maid onto his cloak. “I really liked the set-up last night, my sweet healer.â€Â


Minuwiel sighed and stretched carefully by Coran’s side. There was no escaping his arms, and frankly, she was a willing captive. “Life is adventure, or nothing, “ she thought, smiling and ran her fingers through the ringlets of Coran’s hair, gently breaking apart the tangles, dried blood crumbling under her touch. She puzzled over the fact that the deep peaceful breaths and the bravura escaped the same soft lips. She kissed his brow then and he smiled in his sleep.


Kivan wrapped himself tighter into his cloak and pulled the hood lower. Not a scratch on that one, who knows how.


“You should undress for us more often, Kivan†Minuwiel grinned. Kivan rolled his eyes and looked at the marble statues scattered throughout the camp. Very life-like statues.

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The Virga


Minsc - human ranger who carries a hamster called Boo and serves a witch, Dynaheir, who is imprisoned in Gnoll’s Stronghold

Coran - an elven rogue of happy disposition

Xan - an elven sorcerer of pessimistic disposition

Kivan - an elven range, whose true love is dead

Minuwiel - an elven cleric, who due to her upbringing venerates a human god, Lathander.


The clouds lingered above, gray and wispy; the warm and soggy air clung to Minuwiel’s bare skin. By all rights it should have rained, but it did not. Minuwiel pushed the clammy blanket off her with a sigh and cringed at curly smoke blackened on its edges that feeble wind was blowing her way from the campfire. Coran tried to prove to the miserable flames that life was worth living. Sleepily, Minuwiel picked up the discarded coverlet and wrapped the gray wool around her shoulders again in a vain attempt to retain comfort. Then she crouched by Coran. The rogue did not miss the opportunity to touch her hand, which was sticking at an awkward angle from under the thick fabric.


“Do you know how we call rain that starts high above, but never reaches the ground?†he asked quietly, and his sensual voice thickened by the tepid fog turned the simple question into a veiled caress. It was so vague, that Minuwiel might have imagined it.


The human ranger who came among them a few days ago, and who was leading the elven group to save his countrywoman from gnolls, had a strange effect on all of them. They were all speaking Common now, laughing uncomfortably when a Quenya word slipped from their lips. Coran never teased Xan any more and did not court her with single-minded bravura. Xan never complained any more, and to think on that he rarely even spoke, perhaps at a loss of what he can talk about to a robust and loud man with a heavy and plain sword. Kivan on the opposite was as long-winded as Minuwiel ever heard him, thinking perhaps that his custom brevity would offend their human companion. Or, maybe since human were generally regarded as an outspoken nation he tried to be the same with Minsc? Be it as it may, the cleric learned more about Kivan in these three days than in the past three months, listening to his exchanges with Minsc.


Minuwiel pulled her blanket tighter. “No, I do not know, Coran. What is the name?â€Â


“Virga,†Coran replied softly.


Minuwiel nodded. Coran had a childish like for beautiful things, even if they were mere words. “I wish,†Minuwiel looked up at the sky, “I wish for a downpour. I cannot stand this feeling of being on an eve of something... “ “You are not alone in that, sweetling.†Coran never made his desires a secret, but it surprised Minuwiel, that he would want her so intently. If that what was he meant. She noticed that the rogue still eyed women in taverns, but her pride did not allow her to find out if that was all that happened when they turned in for the night. Indeed, she did not even know what she was waiting for. Refusing Coran’s advances simply became a part of her nature, and she did it as automatically as she lifted a shield when a weapon was swung at her in combat. It made her sad to think about it. On such a morning one pushed herself to do the simplest things. Minuwiel yawned. She was not in the mood for fighting and rescuing witches.


But an adventurer who stops his quest when uneasiness descents upon him is bound to end up a drunk in a tavern’s corner telling an incoherent and endless story of forgotten or unaccomplished deeds. The large Rashemi’s witch had to be delivered, despite Minuwiel’s heartaches and the rain that had never fallen.




They packed the camp and walked across a flimsy bridge, which swung lazily in resonance with their steps. In the ravine underneath them, once a small creek was now raging swelled with recent rains. It tore into the shores, undercutting roots of dark fir-trees and washing away sands and pebbles from the red stone of the valley bottom. Minuwiel could see layering in the glistening rock with narrow strips of grey or brown, angled oddly just like the gnarled trees on the slopes. The opposite shore was higher than the one they started at; a well-trodden road curved upward from the bluff climbing to a fortress made of the native red stone, its low turrets and wall cut out and shaped in the hill itself. It was a primitive keep, with no bulwark, ramparts, crenellations or other adornments, military or eye-pleasing. But Minuwiel doubted that it was made by yapping, quarrelsome gnolls. Someone who had patience and persistence far greater than the present occupants must have created the fortress... and they had done it in the centuries long past. Minuwiel could not say why she was so sure that the fortress was ancient; she just knew it.


Minuwiel, Kivan and Xan grew somber, while they stood by the bridge, waiting for Minsc to cross, peering at the fort that towered above them. Coran was the last to cross, after the large human; the rogue let Minsc to overtake him, and tarried in the middle of the flimsy structure, jumping and throwing himself at the sides, to produce the most quivering. If his purpose was to see the human loose his nerve, he chose the wrong means of achieving it. The rogue’s antiques did not dishearten the human ranger, who advanced steadily, clutching to the hemp ropes and rusted chains of the side railing. As he walked, Minsc squinted at the hold on the hill with his untroubled blue eyes.


Minuwiel guessed that had it been Castle Neverwinter in front of them or elegant towers of Evereska, Minsc’s mind would not have wandered from his purpose, from his witch. In fact, she saw a strange similarity between him and the hold that he was about to assail. Both were sturdy, single-minded and radiated a dignified strength. Either Coran finally saw the futility of his attempts, or he simply got bored, but he ran after Minsc and the whole company now was assembled. Kivan strung his bow, and Xan shuffled his bundle from his left shoulder to his right. Minuwiel tightened the laces of her tall boots.


“Boo wants to know what little Minuwiel is waiting for?†Minsc asked, puzzled by the passivity of his elven companions.


A first heavy drop of rain fell on Minuwiel’s cheek. The elf smiled at Minsc: “The rain. Now we are ready to go.†She started walking uphill, confident that the rest would follow.


The elves made a slow circle around the fortress, and offended Minsc by a refusal to storm the front gate. Instead, Coran found a spot where the wall’s top crumbled from disrepair and prepared to scale it, carrying a coil of rope on his back. His ascent looked almost effortless off the ground, but Minuwiel’s keen eyes saw whiteness where skin tightened against his finger and toe bones, when he gripped to near invisible cavities left by the wind on the slick red stone.


Coran was almost half-way, when he fell for the first time. Stubbornly, he shook his head and almost run up the wall... only to loose his hold once again, no more than two meters above the ground. The rogue cursed before he landed on his hands and knees and then sat in silence for long minutes, his eyes closed. When he restarted, his lips where one straight line. It felt like hours to Minuwiel before Coran’s open palm gripped at the cracked top of the wall; and he pulled himself up and sat there for a moment pretending that he enjoyed the view. But his feet and hands trembled from the relieved strain.


It took the joint effort of all four elves to pull the huge human up, without creating too much noise. So far the gnolls have not noticed tthe intruders, but it all changed in a blink of an eye. Apparently, Minsc did not give up on the idea of a showy rescue with slaughtering as many gnolls as possible. Minuwiel have never seen anyone who hated gnolls quite so hotly. As soon as Minsc caught a whiff of the monster's smell, he dove off the wall into the fort's courtyard and engaged the closest opponent. The yells, the bunging of weapons and the sound of warhorns filled the air. Coran and Kivan loosed arrows from their vantage point on the wall, keeping the ravaging gnolls at bay to allow Xan and Minuwiel to descend in a less dramatic manner than Minsc.


Cursing his luck, Xan wriggled free of his cloak, which had already soaked through and was now so heavy that it was obstructing the movements of his slender arms. In his silken robe alone and a score of amulets the wet mage leaned against the wall and prepared to chant.


“Do not sneeze!†Coran cried sliding down the rope. Xan sighed and closed his eyes.


“Oh, Nine Hells!†Minuwiel parried a halberd’s blow and called for Coran desperately. She could not hold her own against three tall muscular creatures with canine heads, and her mace had too short of a reach. Coran popped up by her side and thrust his long blade into a gnoll’s gut. It took him a significant effort to pull it back, now that he was not aided by the momentum. He jerked his head to get rid off the wet hood, echoing Xan’s curses, moved his palms on the handle of his sword, to get a better grip and swung dangerously again. Xan's queit chant ended and a thin purplish streak glowered in the air, connecting Xan and one of the attackers surrounding Minsc; the gnoll wailed stupidly, turned around and thrust his halberd into his kinsman.


All the while Kivan’s arrows were falling from above as persistent as the raindrops and near as thick.


Then arrows stopped and a bulky form slummed into the muddy puddle on the ground, showering the elves with red water. Minuwiel looked upward and yelled on top of her lungs: “Jump, Kivan! JUMP!â€Â


Despite the lack of discipline, the gnolls apparently did patrol the outer wall. Now they came upon the lone archer five strong and he was hacking at the cruel half-moon blades of halberds with his sword frantically. Couple more corpses landed in the mud before Minuwiel finally saw Kivan.


“He did not jump,†Coran muttered through clenched teeth. “Too proud.†And then shouted: “Xan! There is no time for spells. Min needs cover!â€Â


Minuwiel slipped in the mud, half-falling half-jumping the distance that separated her from Kivan. She stayed kneeled, while Coran and Xan shielded her and their fallen companion. “Get up if he is dead,†Coran commanded curtly.


“I will. Give me a minute.â€Â


The halberd that ripped the archer’s boiled leather jacket and wrecked his abdomen fell with him, and the rain was washing the blood off it making the mud to take a richer red shade. In contrast, the color went out of Kivan’s tanned face; only his hair was still as black as Minuwiel remembered it. The wound was mortal. It was beyond Minuwiel's power to recall the dead to the Material plane, so the cleric had to keep him alive and bring him back one breath at a time. Minuwiel slipped into a trance as hastily as she dared and the world seized to exist.


When the bloodless, pale face came into her view again, Minuwiel had expanded the grace bestowed on her by Lathander. She trembled, and leaned over Kivan, expecting her cheek to be more sensitive than her blood covered palms. Warm air touched her skin coming from the fallen. Relieved, Minuwiel allowed herself another moment looking at the man whose spirit was turning back... and for a brief moment, just before it realized that it was bound to the Material Plane, just after it settled again in the unyielding sorrow for the lost love, the man’s lips curved in an unshaded smile.


“At least his dreams were good,†Minuwiel got up from her aching knees and extended her hand to the now fully aware grim man. He gripped to it and got up. He swayed, and put one hand on the cleric’s shoulder; and in another second he was walking on his own, with uneven steps of a dizzy man. Not trusting himself with the weight of a spear, he took a short sword of his hip and went to relieve Minsc. Minuwiel joined Coran and a couple of other gnolls that Xan managed to put under his spell and turn against their own kind.




The world was wet after the rain, but cleansed and glad as well. The humans set their fire few meters apart from the four elves'. Tomorrow Minsc and Dynaheir would say their farewells and be on their way. Tomorrow Minuwiel will again speak Quenya to Kivan, Coran and Xan. Coran will court her and tease Xan, the sorcerer will complain at every turn of the road, and Kivan will be quiet. Minuwiel wondered if there was something that her companions would think she’d resume doing after they will be alone again. She sighed and for a moment she did not want the humans to leave. Who knows, maybe their openness would have rubbed off on the elves after a while?


“Do you know how we call love that is born in one’s heart but never reaches another?†Minuwiel asked thoughtfully of Coran. “We call it love, sweetling,†Coran responded with certainty.

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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Hell Hath no Fury~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


“Look how cut brings out the color… “ Coran drawled in imitation of Xan’s ever-exasperated voice. Minuwiel grinned. They could not hear a word Xan was saying over the noise of the busy market square and the lovesick doves cooing, showcasing iridescent breasts to their dreamy mates in the dust by the fountain. Yet, Minuwiel did not doubt that it was exactly what the sorcerer was saying to the jeweler.


She heard it thrice before, and then rebelled against being dragged around from stall to stall and sited herself on the cracked stones bordering the basin full of dark water with a faint stench of brine to it. When Kivan poured an armful of it over his dark hair it evaporated almost immediately leaving a thin white dusting on his ringlets. The blazing heat of the noontide city was getting to the wood elf. Frankly, it was getting to Minuwiel as well; Coran alone moved in the haze of hot air and fine dust with the ease of a fish moving through the ocean depths.


“O…†he said lifting a finger “a false note…†as the toll of the bells on the Hall of Wonders touched his ears and completely ignoring the returning sorcerer.


"I suppose..." Xan sighed, ignoring Coran in his turn, "I suppose I can try again, but it is pointless. We will never get more than two hundred for these gems..."


"And I suppose that Minu can get us at least four!" Coran replied evenly. Xan looked at the rogue with badly disguised ire.


"Coran, Minuwiel is a priestess, not a goddess to whose desires all bend..." Xan paled, realizing that he was talking risqué in a lady’s company and seeing a wide grin spread on Coran’s face. The rogue sang out: "O, you would be surprised!"


Then he turned to Minuwiel: "My love?" Minuwiel had already unlaced the top of her suede shirt to the point when it was still decent but a whole half-inch lower than a girl with respectable marriage prospects would do. She winked at stunned Xan who was now turning dark-red and scooped the gem bag from his right hand that fell helplessly to his side.


"A moment, love..." Smoothly, Coran took off a wide-brimmed straw hat off Minuwiel’s head, unpinned her hair and run his fingers through it undoing her braids. Minuwiel giggled with pleasure at his gentle touch.

"Wonderful," Xan grumbled, "as if the doves were not enough..." Kivan landed a hand on the sorcerer’s shoulder and rotated him away from Minuwiel and Coran: "Shall I cover your ears as well, mellonamin?" he asked quietly. Xan rolled his eyes and moved away from Kivan just in case.


"Wait, Minu," Coran was saying meanwhile, giving one last critical appraise to the priestess. He touched two fingers to her cheek and made her turn her head right and left, and then, unexpectedly gave her a kiss, that brought a wave of color to the maiden’s cheeks and left her lips puffy. "Now, that’s great..." Coran attested both Minuwiel’s looks and the quality of the kiss itself. Then he hugged Minuwiel’s shoulders and discretely made her look the same way he did: "Do you see the man in a dark-green cape? Five hundred or I eat the hat. Now, go."


As Minuwiel waddled her way through the crowd, getting to the jeweler in the green cap, Xan murmured something about lending Coran some salt out of the goodness of his heart to facilitate the hat-eating. Coran grinned and said lightly: “ I have seen this poor fool wife to bring him lunch.†Then the rogue fanned himself nonchalantly with the article in question, but his eyes stayed on his student who was now holding a lively conversation with the merchant, sometimes inclining herself onto the stand, sometimes straightening up and placing her hands on the hips. "Perfect, " he mouthed, "just perfect."


Minuwiel came dancing back and triumphantly shook the bulky pouch in her hand: "Gorion would have been proud of my actions, as if Khalid would have said... " she smiled. In truth, Khalid would have had a stroke if there were any chance of Jaheira’s noticing Minuwiel’s cleavage or Coran kissing her in the plain view of the whole City of Baldur’s Gate.


"How much?" Coran asked trying not to appear anxious.

"Five hundred and a dinner..." Minuwiel announced proudly.

"O?" Coran said.


"A dinner is just for me, boys..." Minuwiel started, but whatever barb was there was lost in the wailing, which came from a small, white-haired man in overlarge robes of a wizard. He was shaking is head so vigorously that Minuwiel became concerned that it would fall off his shoulders. The mage had a long, thin beard pointed and curled up at the end, which gave him a remarkable resemblance to a goat.


"OOOOO...." the mage bleated pointing at Coran, "OOOOO..."


"Let me help you," Minuwiel suggested grimly, "he seduced your maiden daughter..."


The mage stopped wailing and stared at Minuwiel in surprise.


"I did not?" Coran inquired hopefully.

"I would not be so optimistic..." Xan put in.


"Maybe a sip of wine will help you to gather your thoughts?" Kivan asked softly extending his flask to the mysterious old man. The stranger groped for the neck and emptied the contents down his throat.

"Here goes the last of our Everquist," Xan commented gloomily.


Minuwiel did not get her chance to lament with him, for the old man finally have regained the use of his faculties. “My daughters…†he bleated out, “he killed my daughters…â€Â


Minuwiel felt as if a stone golem rammed into her belly. “It cannot be true…†she thought helplessly, and then “Lathander, let it be a lie…â€Â


The accusations flowed freely from the old wizards lips now, compensating for the loss of his speech earlier.

“They were staying at my colleague Oberon’s house, and this… thief he killed all three of them! And do you know how much resurrections cost nowadays? The priests charge a fortune for each! I almost opted out for making zombies out of at least two of them, but alive they are more useful… but still I am near ruined for the deeds of this… this… “


“I..†Coran started weakly, “I…â€Â


“You,†the wizard rejoined forcefully, “and your stupid friends are going to compensate me my expenses. There is a cloak I want you to bring from a particular location. Now, go! And do not return without the cloak, thieves!â€Â


“I suppose it will be absolutely useless to remind you that firstly the three of us were not involved into the alleged murder…†Xan started, but before he or anybody else could voice their indignation or protests, the world swirled around Minuwiel and strong hot wind lifted her off the ground… the light of many suns blinded the elf… and a moment longer she found herself lying down half buried in a snow bank, her mouth full of crusty cold ice. She spit it off and lifted herself on her hands and knees.


“Coran, “ Minuwiel called, “you have some explaining to do!†She managed to get herself upright and saw all of her companions nearby, covered with snow and slightly dazed. Right in front of her a block of bluish ice raised from the white powder, so she sat on it determinedly and announced: “I am not moving from here until I know if and why you killed three women…â€Â


“Yes, Coran, “ Kivan said gravely, “I want to hear it as well.â€Â


“Am I the only one who thinks that freezing solid in the snow for the sake of learning nothing new about Coran is a waste of time? Why won’t we delay this saga till the time when we at least have found the cloak? It might keep one of us from getting an influenza… for a time.†Xan muttered.


Coran looked into Minuwiel’s blue eyes, which at this moment reminded him of the ice she was sitting at, and sighed: “Xan has a point. Besides, all the girls are alive and –“


“You are going to tell it to me in every detail,†Minuwiel cut him off.


“Very well,†Coran sighed again. “This man, Alatos, commissioned me to… borrow some items from Oberon’s estate. The work sounded easy, and the reward was high enough to get me interested. So, I scouted the estate, and it was quiet enough for long enough to convince me that nobody was at home. So I trusted my luck and –“


Xan snorted.


“I thought you wanted to get out of the snow?!†Coran snapped at him.


Xan motioned for him to continue.


“Thank you kindly, mellonamin,†Coran replied and went on: “So I trusted my luck, Xan, which rarely fails me, and got inside. “It was a rich house with an enfilade of rooms on the ground floor; my prize was not there. Encouraged by the silence on the premises I took the stairs to the second floor… but as I started walking, I saw a young maiden standing on the landing and looking at me in a very unfriendly matter. Then she raised her hands and started a chant. Desperatly I did the only thing a man can do in such a situation…â€Â


“My Lady!†I exclaimed, “finally I have found you! Ever since I caught a glimpse of you on the street I have been overtaken by the desire to tell you in person how exquisitely beautiful you are and what turmoil you have created in my heart!â€Â


“She stopped casting and looked at me in surprise. So I flew up the stairs and seized the opportunity to kiss Delorna…â€Â


Minuwiel shifted on her icy seat. “You can skip that part, Coran…â€Â


“It was you who asked for details, “ Coran pouted.


“You have my permission to be perfunctory, “ Minuwiel rejoined, and some of that ice leached into her voice.


“Right,†Coran said and blew on his freezing fingers, “word for word and finally I left the lady sufficiently exhausted in a small boudoir on the second floor. But I still did not have that what I came for. So I continued looking around, and finally I saw it… but I must have touched one of the wizard’s toys, as I was getting to it, because out of nowhere came the second guardian – at first I thought that it was my very first acquaintance, but there were subtle.. er.. differences, But, luckily Ithmeera was just as lonely in her vigil over the old men’s scrolls and constructs. “


Coran gave Minuwiel a cautious look.


“Well… er… the first sister did walk in on us… As it happens among siblings, her anger turned not on me, but on Delorna. As they singed lightening balls at each other, I grabbed the artifact and went for the doors, passing the third girl on my way. She, as well, was much more interested in the conflict between the two others than in me… As I ran I heard the shouts and screams and chants and blasts… like the world was ending.â€Â


“Minuwiel lifted herself on her feet and shivered. “Well,†she intoned in a deceptively cool voice, “They killed each-other over a charming bastard of a man. Xan, you were right, we have learned nothing new about Coran. Let us go find the cloak…â€Â


Yes…†he said quietly, “Hell hath no fury…â€Â


In the icy silence Minuwiel moved towards the entrance to a cave – a dark hole in the world of white snow. The chilling breeze blew the straw hat off her head and it rolled awkwardly on the iced crust. The three men looked at each other, none of them willing to make the first move after Minuwiel. She turned her head and threw over her shoulder: “Hurry up, I do not want to be late for dinner.â€Â


“You must be joking!†Coran exclaimed and raced after her.

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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~The Lyrics~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


The Firewine bridge was a ruin, but luckily, so was the riverbed that the massive structure once crossed. Against the backdrop of the purple skies at the sunset both looked quite impressive. Minwiel was glad that they saw it for the first time like that - mysterious and ancient. The poet Poe’s song made her almost delirious with the anticipation, with its unhurried pace and its sad finale... the ghostly knights bound to stay forever in the destroyed because of an oathbreaker... She sighed. Firewine was destined to become a destination of pilligrimages to every lyric heart on Toril. Once they smoke out the foul monsters from the ruins that is. As if in answer to her thoughts, Coran, the self-proclaimed romatic, bestirred himself and spoke to the bard:


“Your song, poet Poe, reminded me an old tale of the Elf-King Echtellion and the Songstress Inga Highwing.â€Â


Minuwiel watched curiosity and vanity struggle on the poet’s face. Finally, the curiosity won.


“I would very much like to hear the tale,†Poe offered graciously.


Coran nodded and started dreamily in his throaty voice:


“There is a small settlement of Belgarden in Cormyr, on the lands that now are claimed by humans but of old they were Elven. One cruel battle was fought there thousands of years ago, ere the Crown Wars. And in it the fairest and mightiest Elf King Echtellion was slain in some noble fashion, of course.


To commemorate him, Alaundalion, the artist carved a statue to put on his grave. He was said to be in love with Echtellion’s sister and therefore to please her, he did her bidding and made the statue very lifelike, against the Elven tradition - for we all know that Elves have little talent for the exact depicting of the features, as they ever try to capture the spirit.


The sister of the King, wise Ogneda, was enamoured with Alaundalion's work, and she quite often came to honor her brother and lay flowers by the statue’s feet. It is believed that Ogneda later became mad, convincing herself, that the dead stone was her brother. The magic was strong in her, and added by her insanity, she turned into a banshee.


The centuries had passed, and even the Elves with their long memories now have little recall of King Echtellion and his deeds. Yet the statue stood, as whole as it was on the day of its carving. Many a person came throughout the years to see the monument and went away in wonder.


Inga the Highwing stayed.


The image of the long-dead King captivated her so much, that she wanted to know all there is about him. She pieced together, what shreds of lore she could find, but that was an unsatisfactory harvest. In her love for the King, Inga wrote her own songs about him, and came every day at the sunrise to his statue to sing to his stone image.

One night, when she was in the middle of a particularly moving ballad, o, wonder! The statue had stepped down from the column at which it stood and walked over to Inga. Echtellion lived again!


The small crowd that gathered round went so quiet that a snowflake’s fall would have broken that silence. Echtellion’s voice seemed not to go hoarse with disuse and the whole gathering had hearkened to the words he said to Inga Highwing:


“Seldarine have mercy on me! You wail worst than my sister!â€Â


Too late had Minuwiel noticed the twinkle in Coran’s eyes... and she was too late in suppressing her laughter...


“You... you mock my poetry!†cried out the disgruntled poet.


Coran’s palm landed condescendingly on Poe’s shoulder: “Do not despair, bard. Bad poetry has the power to turn the stone to flesh and raise dead... “

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~~~~~~~~~~The Moon, The Stars and Cold Water.~~~~~~~~


Coran did not notice how persistent and irritating the dripping water was until now. In the days of his youth he often sat by a waterfall formed by a small rivulet that would not be diverted by a long ridge of a resilient grey rock on its way to join Suldaness River. He learned to reverie there - the gentle gurgling of water was necessary. It represented the complex and noisy world of the Prime Material Plane. You had to feel it first, to learn how to let go off it. Then you could slip away from the present and delve into the past to see the vivid dreams of the Elvenkind. When he was young they were all memories of merriment and hunt, of his kin and of the creatures inhabiting the great Forest of Tethir. He still saw these fleeting moments of his childhood now and then, crowded by more recent memories of women and adventures. The voice of that shining stream at its ease was like the loveliest of the old recitals, like the Tales of Dragonslayer.


This drip of water was like desolate tears. Perhaps it even was, in a place like this. The rough stone ceiling crowded his head and to the right, a window was more like a shaft in the wall of solid rock, than a window. It barred everything - or at least everything that mattered to him: freedom, air and light - save for the most stubborn of the sun rays. He was jailed before, but he was always locked up in the cells reserved for petty thieves, made, as far as he was concerned, for dashing escapes. This... this was different. The City of Baldur’s Gate did not treat those sentenced to be hanged lightly. The elf wore heavy manacles on his wrists and ankles, and he was grateful for his sender limbs. Heavy as they were, at least the irons did not dig into his flesh, as the rope would on the morrow. He shivered and for the hundredth time surveyed the grim chamber, the barred window and pulled on his chain. There was no escape.


Or, rather, there was one, but he did not consider it as such. All of his three companions took it, however.


Xan lay on rotten straw, curled up as much as the chains allowed. His eyes were wide-opened, but unseeing and his nose was twitching in disapproval of something. His lips trembled from breath to breath and his nervous fingers were twining and untwining. He looked so much like a tomcat, who fell asleep in his master’s chair knowing that it would be awoken by a curse and a shove, but could not resist the temptation, that Coran smiled. Kivan looked like a feline as well, but of a different kind. He sat with his back pressed into the corner, his knees tight against his chest and hands crossed atop them. Every muscle in his body was as taught as a bow string, even if his eyes were closed. Give him half... no, a quarter or a thousandth part of a chance and he will fight - a dangerous man by all appearances, even more dangerous when chained, than when at large. Yet the chains held him as tightly as they did Coran and he did the only thing he could - gathered his strength for the last, desperate spring even if it would never come.


Finally there was Minuwiel. She was so impossibly far away, chained to the wall three paces out of his reach. The woman’s head dropped to her shoulder. Every inch of skin that Coran could see was either bruised, or dirty with blood and mud. Angelo Dosan hit her in the face... and again...and so did his men... Chained like that she cannot call for healing... The expression on Minuwiel’s face was vacant and she did not reply when he called to her last time. Too deep in her reverie... those new to it do it sometimes. Or maybe she does not want to talk to me... Considering the last possibility was too unpleasant; he preferred to die thinking that a woman would cry for him, even if that woman would to be hanged by her neck alongside. He decided not to shout for Minuwiel again, not even look at her. How long could one stare at Kivan and Xan? Despite his best efforts his eyes turned to see her mated hair, that used to be shiny and golden, like a wheat field under the noon sun... She did reverie before meeting us, just not often enough, so... Is she angry with me?


Coran gave up. For him reveries were always but a short break he took between the exciting events of his day life. Past, as far as he was concerned was never a match to the present and especially to the future. Now he would use it just like his three companions. To escape the present, to forget about what future holds in store and to delve into the past, seeking solace. Solace. If he left behind a maiden whom he still loved, he consoled himself that there will be another one in the next town. When he lost every penny he owned, he grinned thinking that he should not disappoint all fat merchants that hoarded money in expectation of his coming. Now, for the first time in his life, future offered no promises. He sighed and closed his eyes. There is no world but my body. There is no time but my spirit. There is no people but the ones in my heart...




The fire crackled merrily. It made her hair look like copper, not gold, but not cheaper by a penny. And she moved away when he put his hand on her hip. He hooked Minuwiel under her chin with his finger and made her look into his eyes. The girl smiled faintly. The way her eyes glistened it was not for the lack of wanting that she moved away. Damnation, I should have held my tongue, but who knew that this particular one will become such a splinter in my heart? It is a proof she wants. Ridiculously, he was bad at outright lying. He could not promise her much, and she still took promises for love. If only he could teach her the distinction...


“Let us play a game of wishes, melamin. I will give you a wish, and then you give me mine...†he said.


“And I can wish for anything at all?†Minuwiel smiled.


“Anything I could do before the night is out,†he grinned. That nicely excluded the big three. To return after parting. To love no other woman. To settle.


Her eyes narrowed dangerously.


“The next best thing then.†And she pointed to the moon. Xan chuckled softly. Coran turned his back on Minuwiel and went to stand by the fire, giving Xan’s bedroll a small push with a toe of his boots. The toe was soft and the push was the slightest, but to listen to Xan’s moans he’d broken a couple of ribs. Minuwiel sniffed at Coran and kneeled by the sorcerer, asking gently where he was hurt. Diving into fire would serve to cool me off right now... but water would be better...


He went out into the night to a small lake. The surface was somehow a deeper shade of violet than the skies above and very still. Kivan sat on the brink, his chin resting on his palm. “Coran?†the ranger said without turning, “what is your need here?â€Â


“Just because I like cities -“ Coran started hotly, and Kivan barked out a laughter. It sounded surprisingly unlike the silver bells chiming - a proper elven voice. The rogue sat down side by side with the ranger. “She wants the bloody moon!†he grumbled. There was no need to tell Kivan whom he meant. For all his aloofness, the ranger had a keen eye and one of the strongest connections to the Spirit that Coran have seen in his kinsmen. Perhaps it’s because of the broken bond - he ever reaches for Deheriana, never believing that she is beyond reach - and his sense is honed with this endless if futile exercise.


“This moon?†Kivan pointed at the reflection on the lake waters and smiled. Coran suppressed an excited “Oh!†and grabbed the half-helm that Kivan proffered to him.


Minuwiel was still sitting by the fire. “There.. There are few stars in it too...†she said looking into Kivan’s helmet filled with water. “Well,†Coran grinned, “you said nothing about not wanting stars in the bargain.†Minuwiel laughed and sprang to her feet. He chased her through the moonlit forest to a glade where grasses where as fragrant as flowers and flowers cried with the evening dew...


The tapestry of the reverie broke, cut asunder by the memory that was too intense to be the thing of the past.


In front of him loomed a face. Not Minuwiel’s, with her eyes closed and her lips soundlessly saying his name, but an uglier one. It was mostly all nose, adorned with a couple of purple boils. The two glinting eyes set so close to the dominating appendage, that they almost crowned it. No bigger than the boils, they seemed somehow uglier... Coran had never seen such malice in a gnome’s eyes before.


“I know how to get out of this place...†the gnome said, “but you must answer my riddles!â€Â


“Unlike you, we are chained to the wall,†Coran replied tiredly. The gnome giggled: “And so I was, before a nice, sweet child gave me this...†and showed him a rusty key. Or maybe it was blood, not rust. Coran hoped that it was Angelo Dosan’s blood. But just in case he decided not to wake his companions. They all had moral standards that he lacked.


“Ask away,†the rogue commanded, “I’m good with riddles.â€Â

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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Snow in the Summer.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Minuwiel had to stop for a moment, lest her chest burst. She was not short of breath because she was running for the good part of an hour or because the mountain air was so much thinner than the salty breezes of her native Candlekeep. It was because there was nothing more beautiful than being in love and being so close to the sky and the earth. Tingling with exhilaration, Minuwiel stood half way up the Summersnow Mountain, ready to embrace each and every of the surrounding peaks, the yellow sun, the pines, the grass blades and the sparkling white spires of the Summersnow’s roofs below. The spring was late in coming to Cloudpeaks, but when it came there was no stopping it: the trees below were a mist of gentle green and gold; the new grass pushed through the thick brown layer of the old one; the melting snows fed myriads of rills and streams; flowers were dotting every sunny spot: fluffy purple dream-flowers, pink Suna’s slippers, yellow mutton-heads, white snow-in-the-summer blooms – a colorful bounty of sun, water and earth.


“Minuwiel? Don’t hug air, hug me.â€Â


She turned at the sound of Coran’s voice and smiled at him. “You sneaked upon me, dishonorable rogue.†A dear daredevil grin curved his lips: “Were I honorable, who would have stolen the Hero of Baldur’s Gate, sweetling?†Minuwiel looked behind her shoulder wearily, as if the ancient rocks could hear his words and the free wind could carry them to unfriendly ears. I should stop doing that. We are safe here. Safe and hidden.


The last music of the ball was fading away and the lights were going out. The Ducal Palace of Baldur’s Gate was falling silent and sleepy. Coran came to her apartments, a white-toothed grin on his lips and sent the tired but agitated maids away. The heavy dress she was wearing came off easily enough… O, those deft sure hands of his!


He was unpinning the jeweled net from her hair when she started to cry. “What is it sweetling?†“I want to get away,†she managed between the hoarse sobs, “O, Seldarine, I want to go away!†He tickled her chin: “But you look so pretty in these queenly frocks.†She angrily pushed at the hand that she admired a few moments ago. “O…†was all he said and rubbed his wrist as if she had bruised it. Then, after a brief pause: “Pack up and dress for the road, sweetling. I will be back within two hours.†She did not hear a single footfall as Coran left her boudoir.


Listlessly Minuwiel laid out the heavy velvet dress for the maids to take away on the morrow and pulled on pants and a buggy shirt that some nameless but kindly woman had washed, mended and hanged neatly between silks, satins and other finery bestowed by the Realm of Baldur’s Gate upon its favorite daughter.


Gilded chain mail, padding, bracers and winged helmet were carefully arranged behind a screen in her dressing room – as if they were exhibits in the Hall of Wonders. “Armor?†she thought, and nodded to herself: “Of course.†She pit it onto a cloak laid out on the floor – there was no time to find the saddlebags - and frowned. “Too heavy to carry as a dead weight; it will be much less of a burden if I put it on.†She put on padding and amour meticulously, then rolled a pair of tunics and pants into the cloak. It made a sorry bundle. Just in case someone came calling in the small hours of the morning, she left it behind the screen and sneaked out into the hall to find her way into Coran’s chambers. Such a familiar rout…Such a familiar room. Yet her hands trembled as she went through his things: never before she had been entrusted with picking her lover’s clothes for a long road. A long road together.


There was plenty of furniture in Minuwiel’s luxurious suite, including an enormous bed under layered canopies and at least dozen of sofas, armchairs and loveseats, but Coran found her sitting on one bundle, her booted legs propped on another. “Let us go,†he shouldered his bundle without bothering to check the contents and took Whisperer’s bow-staff in hand.


He smuggled her past the tired servant folk who had chores even at that time of the night, erasing the now poorly-looking traces of the festivities: confetti and dirty plates, lost gloves, dried flowers. “Does yesterday’s abundance and triumph always turn into muck, come the next day?†she thought, as she glided after her nimble guide past the tapestries on the walls, past the cool mirrors and marble columns an, finally, past the palace’s gates.


Two blocks away from the palace in a dark alley two bulky shades shuffled uneasily. Horses.


“Where did you find the horses?†Minuwiel inquired. “Nothing but the finest for my lady,†Coran replied and bowed with a flourish: “These two beauties come from the Silvershields’ stablesâ€Â. “You…you have stolen from Duke Eltan? From the kindly and hospitable Duke Eltan?†Coran shrugged unperturbed by the scold in her voice: “Don’t you think that he owes us more than that for saving his niece’s honor?†Minuwiel suddenly regretted that she did not take more money along, leaving most of what they had for Kivan, Xan and Imoen – it would have been good to pay Silvershields for the mounts.


“I do not know how to ride, Coran…†she said. “You are an elf,†he replied airily, “You will be fine.†He put spurs to his own mount and galloped towards the city’s gates. Minuwiel set her foot into a stirrup and suddenly she was without a care in the world – like a dog that shook off water from its coat.


Since then, too busy with fleeing and hiding, Minuwiel rarely had time to fear being unmasked. They were doing something about it: they were on the run. But then they stopped in a quaint village of Summersnow, and settled and a season had passed. Coran was a shepherd here, and she was an acolyte; she should have found her peace. Yet her dreams were growing grimmer. Minuwiel peered down on their abode: the small white houses with conical roofs. From up here, from above, one could see the Summersnow’s secret: it grew over a ruin of a forgotten Netherilian or elven stronghold. By all rights, it should have buried the memory of the earlier settlement, but instead it inherited its layout and its foundations, making it easier to see where the ancient streets ran and the proud walls stood. “How I long to be forgotten…â€Â


Feeling her unease, Coran put his arm around her shoulders. “Let us go, I have a fire started.†It was a good, warm fire set in a round pit dug in the stony soil under the pines. While Coran crumbled some herb with flat pale green leaves and knobby florets covered with white fizz into the steaming kettle to brew up tea, Minuwiel unwrapped cheese and bread that she brought up and shared it out. In the distance, one of Coran’s charges bleated. He lifted his head and listened carefully: “Just gossiping about you, sweetling.â€Â


Minuwiel smiled and stretched, chasing away her worries. She had been up since before the first light tending the shrine for Velemein, the kindly priest of Lathander. There was hardly any work for her in the temple, apart from scrubbing floor plates to glow in the bright sunlight and tending the temple’s tiny garden, which from here, from up high, looked no larger than a handkerchief. She loved Velemein’s scrolls. It was as if she met her childhood friends, she, Minuwiel, all grown up and they still playing the King of the Castle. She had known many of these scrolls by heart back in her Candlekeep days, and now it took only a cursory glance to be able to recite them to Velemein in the chilly evenings by the dying fire. Most of her efforts were directed toward concealing how much she really knew and what grace Lathander bestowed on her. She learned nothing new, and it did not bother her. No, I did learn something. I learned to sneak away in the early afternoons and run to the high pastures to meet a tanned shepherd under the wide skies.


She took a bowl of tea from Coran and her eyes lingered on the man in a drab tunic and leather west. Purple still stubbornly clung to his bandana, but that was the only splotch of color that remained on his garments. The sun and lime-reach waters washed away the rest. The flashy golden jewelry was long sold for food and shelter. But his skin took on darker richer color away from the cities, and there was no mistaking him for a moon elf any more. His features sharpened and his eyes became brighter and clearer than she had ever seen. He is becoming Kivan, she reflected. No, not Kivan, for the joy of life still shone in every plane of Coran’s face. For once she was very proud of her lover.


“It is a good life,†she thought, curled by his side on the mountain slope, tracing patterns on his face with lazy fingers, “we deserved it.†Coran caught her hand and kissed her palm; she entwined her fingers through his and pulled gently; unresisting, the rogue rolled to his side, looming over her, a handsome face in a nimbus of dark ringlets. “That you were always good at…†she smiled as he set to unlacing her shirt. He mumbled agreeably in return.


Her body still lax from lovemaking, Minuwiel descended, wondering if her face was just as dreamy as Coran’s had been in his sleep when she left him. Something intruded into her revels. A cloud of dust was moving up the narrow road toward Summersnow. She did not have the gift of foresight, but a cold hand squeezed her heart. Pulling her skirts high, Minuwiel ran for the village. Seldarine, it could be that this is not a mounted party, it could be that they are not coming for me. O, Seldarine!


One look at Velemein’s stiff face told her all that she needed to know. They did come for her, they who rode the beautiful horses tethered in front of the temple. “I am sorry,†she mouthed through her suddenly parched lips and walked past him into the temple. Perhaps they would scruple to kill me in Lathander’s own home. O, Seldarine, at least Coran is safe.


“Ya troublemaker!†Imoen exclaimed, “I’ll never forget ya splittin’ away on *me*. And that’s after all the troubles I went into findin’ ya after ol’ Gorion died an’ all.†“I am sorry, Imoen,†Minuwiel echoed her earlier words to Velemein. In truth she was not. The N’Tel'Quess was more of a burden than an asset to her, but she did not have a heart to refuse taking the girl along after she came with Tethoril to free her from Candlekeep’s catacombs; after all she had already refused twice. As if feeling Minuwiel’s true disposition, Imoen mumbled: “But I still love ya!†Then she pouted and turned away to stare at the fresco on the wall, showing Lathander walking in the sunlight and blessing the earth and its dwellers. Minuwiel faced the other four. They were the dark-skinned witch, whose name Minuwiel had forgotten, her huge bodyguard Minsc and a pair of the slight half-elves: a male and a female. The female stopped tapping impatiently on the windowsill with her long fingers. Suddenly Minuwiel knew her: Jaheira, Gorion’s Harper friend. The male must be Khalid, her husband.


“What,†Minuwiel inquired hoarsely from the gathering, “what do you want?â€Â


To her surprise it was the witch Dynaheir, not the commanding Jaheira, who replied: “Strange things art afoot in the Realms. Thou hadst been hiding, but thou couldst do so no more. The next ones who wouldst find thee would likely behead thee.†Minuwiel turned away from the witch’s all-knowing gaze to stare at Jaheira, but the green eyes that met hers were colder than ice. In a need of respite she found Khalid’s sad glances and rested her eyes on him. He shuffled his feet under her scrutiny. Jaheira pursed her lips and thrust a scroll into her. “Read it out loudâ€Â


Minuwiel coughed and obeyed:


“Alasanna Sera, an orphan, parents unknown, born c.1346, found dead from strangulation in her house in Nashkel on Mithrul 23, 1369…â€Â

“Dorian, an orphan, parents unknown, born c.1348, found dead from a knife wound to his throat in Baldur’s Gate on Chess 19, 1369…â€Â

“Mika Estee, an orphan, parents unknown, born c.1336, found dead from a knife wound to his throat on Hammer 1, 1369…â€Â

“Daniil Gord, an orphan, parents unknown, born c.1340, hanged for murder in Calimport…â€Â


There was at a score of names on the grim list, all of them orphans, all of them killed in the past year around the Sword Coast. “What… what is this… book of the dead for?â€Â


Jaheira’s voice was even colder than her eyes if that was possible. “You know what it is. Someone is killing the Bhaalspawn. And, you might have not heard about it on this ice peak, but the armies are gathering in the South. Great armies, Minuwiel, led by the rumors by your siblings..â€Â


“They are not my siblings,†Minuwiel screamed, feeling cornered. “They are not!â€Â


Dynaheir replied with the calm sureness of an archivist: “They art.â€Â


“You have destroyed Sarevok,†Jaheira continued as if Minuwiel never spoke, “you will help those of the good will to stop this tide of foulness. The War of Sacrifice that Sarevok prophesized is upon us.â€Â


“So, I am the Harper’s tool against my own kind?†Minuwiel asked testily. “Is that why I was allowed to live that long?â€Â


“D-d-do not take it this way, Minuwiel, p-please,†Khalid broke in, “We… we p-promised to Gorion to p-protect you, and we will. Jaheira and I. Yes. We will.†Minuwiel felt as if a bucket of cold water was turned over her head. They will protect me while I am saving the world or close enough?


“I want to –“ Minuwiel started to say to send them all to the Nine Hells, but then she saw Velemein in the door frame. She looked into the old man's face. There will be no staying here. “I want to come,†she said defeated, and finished under her breath: “for you won’t leave me alone otherwise.â€Â


“Good,†Jaheira said and then in the afterthought inquired: “Do you need to send for that boy, what’s his name again?â€Â


Coran, my carefree Coran…We were so happy…


“No,†she said firmly and could not resist adding: “what I am, a five-year old to forget her favorite toy upstairs?†Jaheira only cringed.


Before she went out of the doors, Minuweil caught Velemein’s sleeve. The man shied away, but she held him tight. “Coran never knew,†she lied, “he never knew. Have mercy and kind words for him. He deserves peace.†Velemein looked at her with a mixture of pity and contempt: "He is not the sort to listen to old priests, but I will." Minuwiel nodded. That was as much consolation as anyone could give her. She put spurs into the mount that the visitors brought along for her and yelled: “Onward!â€Â


I left him sleeping on the mountain side. Perhaps he will live happily... Seldarine, at least he will live. The Summersnow towered over her back as she rode in its lengthening shadow.

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This is the last story in this cycle. I pillaged a couple of earlier unedited stories to finish it and despite my best efforts it ended up as a mixture of mush and angst. :) Sorry! I promise that it's the very last mushy story I did.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~The Fourth Hell~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


He has no right to demand of me to save his hussy!


Minuwiel glared from under the blond tresses at Coran’s grin. If only he had decency to look at least a little bit guilty! But he always lacked it, so he stared at Minuwiel appraisingly and, when he was done with it, he shifted his glance over her shoulder, and made a barely audible yet unmistakably disparaging snort under his breath at the sight of four humans and a drow that were accompanying her.


“Verily, my lady, if this man says that a woman is in peril it is our duty to rescue her,†Sir Anomen ventured, as ever the first one to fall into the trap of chivalry.


“Might I remind you that the whole of elven city is about to perish?†Minuwiel parried coldly, her eyes still on Coran. O, Seldarine, he is drunk…


“Ah,†Coran said, “It is indeed tragic that the drow attacked Suldanessellar. If you’d help me rescue poor Safana, I would join my efforts to yours. It is my own kin that is in peril after all.†Minuwiel could almost hear Anomen’s thoughts: an elf even a foppish one was better than a renegade drow weapon master. Strangely enough it was Valygar who interrupted the silence this time: “Min, we are not helping anyone by standing here.â€Â


“Right,†Minuwiel answered, “right.†Then to Coran: “Lead on. But,†she quickly added, “I have enough men along with me to handle Suldanessellar’s foes.†Coran opened his arms wide to his sides: “Are you mad because of Safana, sweetling? After all it was you who did all the leaving. You know I have always –“


Imoen started giggling and Minuwiel span about trying to silence both of the trespassers with one glare. Cernd, never comfortable with arguments all but disappeared in the gold-and-green foliage of the Tethir Forest underbrush. Solaufein’s eyes sparkled red with amusement. “For him it’s the stuff from surfacer’s songs coming to life. How I wish that we were in Ust-Natha now with its ways of silencing insolent males!†Minuwiel did not understand why she was so angry at Coran after all these months of feeling guilty and pitying herself. She should have forgiven him everything, but instead she stared at his leather clad back, at his soft soled boots stepping lightly on the moss covered tree branches, at his long fingers closed around the bowshaft and tried not to imagine Safana’s head pillowed on this shoulder, Safana’s small toes on Coran’s feet when she entwined herself around him, and those delicate fingers sliding through Safana’s dark mane.


Minuwiel almost chocked with jealousy, and was glad when Coran spoke again, throwing a half-glance over his shoulder: “So, how have you been, sweetling?†And his eyes moved quickly from man to man, dismissing Imoen. “Neither one,†Minuwiel rasped through her gritted teeth. “Oh, wonderful,†Coran said. “Then I am taking you back once we have Safana delivered safely.†“Fascinating!†Solaufein murmured, echoed by Imoen’s gasp. Anomen was probably shocked into silence as no comment came from the proper knight.


The thin restrain that Minuwiel mastered broke. “NO!†she yelled, “You are NOT taking me back and I do NOT wish to see you ever again after today. Now shut up.†Coran only rolled his eyes.


In grave silence they made their way through the woods, finally reaching a small log cabin, which was now occupied by a gang of mercenaries guarding a dark-haired woman, bound to a tree - Safana. She was dressed in white blouse and bright skirts, and her captivity seemed to distract little from her sensual beauty: her head was lolling to one side prettily and her lips pouted in the most attractive way. She made an ideal damsel in distress. By the contrast, the woman who sat by Safana’s feet was a wide shouldered, hard sort, but no less striking in her own way. Even sitting with her legs crossed she appeared to be very tall; her honey-colored hair was pulled back in a no-nonsense warrior’s braid. The tanned skin of her face seemed to know more about wind and cold waters of the forest streams than about soap and dyes. Against this stern, dark face a pair of brown eyes looked much lighter in hue and shone like amber when a stray sunray touched them.


“We have come to rescue the lady!†Anomen exclaimed, blushing, “Surrender her or die!â€Â


Safana looked at him hungrily and her martyrdom melted away. Alert and bright eyed, she exclaimed: “That’s her! Take her, Lanfear!†The tall woman rose to her feet, looked at Minuwiel passionlessly and said: “So I see. Your Coran did bring back Bhaal’s child.†The woman’s eyes took in Coran, then she nodded to her own unsaid thoughts and casually slit Safana’s throat.


Coran yelped in surprise, and jumped toward the bleeding and trashing corsair, while the rest of the party stood frozen in their tracks. He always had the quickest reflexes of them all. As quick as Lanfear’s it seemed, for the formidable woman caught Coran by his sleeve: “Do you remember me, Coran? I did hope that it were you that Safana talked about.†She was tall: they were of a height, Coran and Lanfear, standing there, their eyes level. As Safana’s body jerked one last time and the fountain of red, pumped by that measured heart out of the wide gash, had subsided, everything went still. They all looked at Coran, knowing that his answer meant… something. Coran was silent for a fraction of a moment too long before replying: “Yes.†Lanfear pulled him closer, gripping at his forearm. “I have laid with you, in this form, less than one waning of the moon ago.†Coran swallowed and threw a quick glance Minuwiel’s way. It was not the first time that Minuwiel’s face had betrayed her. She did not know what it was exactly that Lanfear had seen, but the bandit’s leader growled low and her knife flashed through the air. Agile like a cat, Coran twisted away but did not break loose. Lanfear pulled, and Coran came to his knees, his eyes wide opened in surprise. He got his own dagger out in time to parry Lanfear’s frantic strike, and even cut her shoulder. Wailing, Lanfear released his arm, and he grabbed at her ankles, trying to topple her, but the freakishly strong woman did not budge. Instead she slashed him across the face – a quick blow that Coran did not quite evade. Blinded by his own blood, the rogue lost his footing again; Lanfear dove after him, training the knife on the man’s throat.


The man and women rolled on the ground, him trying to slip from under her, but all Minuwiel had time for was one thought: “That’s bad.†In a split moment it became clear to her just how bad it was: The bandits, including Lanfear, were exploding as if torn from inside, becoming tall, muscular shaggy humanoids with wicked claws and horrid teeth. ‘Werewolves’. Then she had no time for thinking or watching Coran’s desperate struggle. He had little chances if she and her company did not cut her way through the tight ring of the werewolves who watched the battle with great interest. Lanfear was far heavier than the lithe elf and she pinned him to the ground with all of her bulk restricting his movements. While strong and quick, Coran would lose to the she-werewolf if they continued to wrestle. Minuwiel leaped onto the closest werewolf with a wild war cry.


The soft mosses, silky grasses and mud of the forest floor flew from under the combatants feet and got soaked with blood of men and werewolf alike. Her own blood pulsed into her temples: “Coran, Coran, Coran!â€Â


Her body still full of the excitement of the battle, Minuwiel kneeled by their prize. “He did it,†she though dully, rolling the huge limp shape off the elf. Coran’s dagger was wedged so deep into she-werewolf’s mouth, that only the pommel of the hilt remained visible. Alas, Coran himself was a trembling wreck: not a single inch of his body escaped claws and teeth. Minuwiel passed her hands over him to feel where she should start the healing, and stopped over the ripped abdomen. The prayer formed in her soul. Coran moaned weakly, clutching to her cloak. “My Lady Luck…†he whispered through the bloodied lips, “It is all well then. I… I was worried for a moment.†He tried to grin at her, but stopped in the middle of it. Her spell shimmered filling the air with the magic energies; it quenched the bleeding and mended the flesh. This body was now whole but empty of spirit.


Minuwiel leaned back slowly, the world spinning around her. As in a dream she looked into the faces of her companions: Imoen’s terrified, Anomen’s frowning, Valygar’s solicitous and Solaufein’s impassive. She let herself be held and wept inconsolably into the wide shoulder smelling of leaves and herbs. Cernd’s comforting voice still echoed in her head when the light, sounds and shades shifted so that she knew herself to be drifting in space and time. Coran’s death was a memory and she was moving away from it…


“Where am I?†she thought. “And when?†Minuwiel had never seen this place before. She stood on top of a hill. Above her were stars in the black skies of the night. Below her, the knee-high grass waved in the wind, loosing the beads of dew. Only where her feet stepped, the grass did not bend and her soles did not find the solid earth. Wind that sang in the trees of the forest surrounding the hill did not move her hair or robes. She was a watcher, no more.


Lights of the hundred of golden, blue and silver lanterns appeared on the side of the hill, and the singing of the elves filled the night. The procession flowed up the hill’s slope, toward the summit, toward Minuwiel. As they came closer, she saw the man who led then: a tall man, built like a warrior, straight and gracious even in the heavy ceremonial robes. Silver coronet gleamed in the starlight against the man’s stark black curls. Neither the elven prince, nor the other elves, appeared to notice her, as they formed a circle around a wooden structure that Minuwiel had not noticed before. Still unsure why she was summoned here from her bitter dream, Minuwiel resolved to find out. She walked closer to the tall elf, and he turned, as if sensing her ephemeral presence. Minuwiel saw his face clearly, and the silver eyes shining brighter than the precious metal above his brow. She knew the prince – the King – then. She knew the hill and the forest. Unseen, Minuwiel of Candlekeep bent her knee to King Elbereth of Shilmista on the sacred Hill of the Stars – Daoine Dun.


The song grew, as Elbereth walked the circle sprinkling each of his people with the stardust out of a golden bowl. The luminous substance hung in the air and stuck to the slender bodies of the gathered elves. They were now standing in the cloud of starlight. It was became so bright on the summit of Daoine Dun that Minuwiel saw what the central structure was: a pyre. A foreboding hit her. As if on a cue, a man stepped out from the crowd. Minuwiel was used to seeing him in boiled leather and woolen cloaks, his hair braided tight and held back by a leather band to ward away the mischief of wind, but she recognized him in the flowing white robes. Flowers and beads spilled from his lose hair as he walked from one to another, embracing some, shaking hands… Saying his farewells.


King Elbereth tried to upend his bowl over Kivan’s head, but it was awkward since the men where of a height. They both laughed and Kivan kneeled. The ritual complete, Elbereth prompted Kivan to rise and threw his arms around the ranger. Guessing that it was the end, Minuwiel cried shrilly, calling Kivan by his name, asking him to stay a while longer. It was no use. Kivan was of this world no more – he had finally come to his land and was departing like every elf before him who was weighted by the Prime Material Plane. Minuwiel pushed her way through the elves, some of them shivering as her ghostly hands touched them. Kivan was about to ascend the pyre when she reached him and brushed his cheek. Suddenly there were no words that she could tell him. A puzzled expression came to Kivan’s finally serene face and he looked around as if trying to remember something. “I’ll miss you,†Minuwiel finally managed, “I’ll miss you, Kivan.†He looked directly into her eyes and smiled. She did not know if it was she that he was smiling at or was it the final farewell to his kin.


The song quieted to a murmur as Kivan lied down on top of the stacked wood. Then there was a few moments of silence under the unblinking stars. Elbereth voice broke it with a final “Namarie…†A circle of fire appeared around the base of the pyre and climbed up the sides of the structure. Cheered on by the renewed chant, the flames leaped into the black sky, brighter than starlight, brighter than anything in the world bearing Kivan away. Most unelven-like Minuwiel turned her back on the happy sight, tears streaming down her cheeks. He is alive, he is in Arvanaith. And she only cried harder. She tried to forget the fire, but it was no in front of her again, and no matter which way she turned she saw it… Fire…


Fire… Xan…


Xan was looking into a small campfire. To the right of him a woman, Iadel, sat with her back straight, her legs crossed and her sword resting on her pointy knees. Iadels’ palms were set firmly on the opposing edges of the blade. One smooth move and the sword would come loose of its scabbard, in the woman’s hand. Minuwiel sensed Xan’s irritation: he spent the better part of the night convincing Iadel to at least sheath the sword. Still, she started at every sound coming in from the night, and her fingers trembled. Not out of fear, of course. Out of anticipation. When she thought that Xan could not see she stole glances at the Moonblade and sighed.


The woman wanted enemies to come at her from the night. She was like to involve them into some hopeless defense of innocents or similar. But Xan would not allow that, even if he had to wave the message that they had to deliver to the High Forest under her nose five times a day. With a sigh Xan pulled the rough woolen blanket over his head. All women were irritating, but the ones who deemed themselves Aranel the Whirlwind born again, were the worst sort. It was amazing that Iadel was cousin’s Erevain Blacksheaf’s daughter. Not even in appearance she resembled one of their family, let alone her attitude. Our quest is vain, Iadel.


“Xan…†he opened his eyes and squinted at the pale face against the dark sky –as if the moon had a twin. “What now?†he grumbled. Iadel slapped a cool palm across his lips – a little more eagerly then was necessary, he thought.




Xan hoped that his eyes were saying much clearer than his mumbling: “Fool girl…â€Â


He got up…and caught the unmistakable scent. Orcs were closing on Xan and Iadel, like rain clouds.


“What...are we going to do?†Iadel asked, but it seemed that she had already known the answer. The sword was in her hand, and her eyes were full of excitement.


Xan casted a minor divination spell and peered into the globe of light, counting dark shapes. â€ÂI suggest that we save our efforts and just lie down and die. There are at least fifty of them coming. At least.â€Â


“Then we shall die fighting!†her nostrils flared, and Xan thought that it was a pity that someone so young and beautiful should die tonight. Or worse than die…


She wants glorious death, like many other fools. She is like to get it soon enough.


So young...


Xan glanced to their horses. There was no chance to outrun Orcs…unless…




Iadel obeyed before questioning. She was well schooled as a soldier, at least. Xan pushed a few logs sitting idly by the fire into it, and the flames leaped up. He gave Iadel the letter. “Go,†he said sadly before she opened her mouth. “Ride fast and keep my horse in tow. You can switch them later. Mayhap this way you’d live a bit longer, Iadel.â€Â


“I am not leaving you,†the woman replied stubbornly and slipped down from the horse’s back.


“The message needs to be delivered,†Xan sighed. He did not believe for a minute that the message was of any importance at all, but the messenger…the messenger had to live through the night.


Iadel took the saddle again, duty etched in every line of her spirited face. At the slight movement of his light rider’s knees, the stallion started at a trot and Iadel leaned over to pick up the reins of Xan’s mare. “Wait,†Xan said, and hurriedly undid his swordbelt.


“Here, it should not fall to the Orc’s hands.â€Â


She turns away so quickly that Xan was unsure if he saw the tears in her eyes. Yet she noded and took the Moonblade with reverence. And extended to him her own sword.


“That was…†Xan stared after Iadel as the hooves beat the tune of the wanderer’s song, “…unnecessary.†He stick the sword into the ground, made the fire even larger and set about preparing the scull traps and other wicked enchantments. As the first Orc turned into a torch by a firball, Xan smiled at him almost gently: “We are all doomed…â€Â


Minuwiel struggled to come awake. A cool healing hand lay on her forehead.


“Good morning, Minuwiel,†Her Grace the Queen Ellesime said warmly, “I am glad to see you alive.†The Lady of the Suldanessellar wore grey, a rare color for the elves of Suldanesellar, embroidered so abundantly with the silver thread and pale moonstones, that the gown shimmered every time she moved. That reminded Minuwiel of Adalon. When she caught a glimpse of the Queen’s eyes under the misty veils, so delicate that they floated about her face, like a spider’s webs, the likeness became almost disconcerting. Adalon watched Minuwiel with that very expression of mistrust, despair and pity once: when the dragon ordered her, an elven child of Bhaal, to recover the lost eggs.


"The sun shines where you step, your Grace."


"Let the winds be gentle to you," Ellesime replied. It was not a protocol answer. That’s what elves said to those who set sail for Evermeet. The sun’s kind rays flooded the palace generously, filtered through the green leaves, but Minuwiel wrapped her hands about herself, as if she were cold. “They are all dead,†she whispered. The Queen shook her beautiful head: “Your companions are all alive and well. You alone lingered between death and life.â€Â


So that’s why she saw their deaths. “I had visions…†Minuwiel replied softly. “Of my very first companions, from before I had slain my brother. In my grief, I had abandoned them all to their fate. And they are all dead. Dead.â€Â


The Queen stroked her head, and Minuwiel realized that they have shaven off her hair while she was feverish. “Do not think of the old doings today and berate yourself, Minuwiel. Even when you take responsibility for all of your kin, their destiny is not entirely yours to control,†Ellesime smiled sadly. “Your brother’s Sarevok death paid for many lives.â€Â


"And so did Irenicus’.†Minuwiel answered cruelly. “Why is that giving death happened to be the right thing so often?â€Â


Ellesime lifted forcefully to her feet and glided across the room to the windows. The Queen wanted to be as far away from her as possible to be able to tell something important. The Queen turned, looking onto the palace gardens. She waved her hand in the air and a gentle wind raised. Minuwiel found herself envying the casual grace with which the Queen had communed with Rillifaine. Minuwiel’s own divine Sire would never send a present so lovely.


“The mythal, the magical Weave that protects Suldanessellar, is weakening," the Queen said at last.


"Is there an artifact or a spell you want my companions and me to find?" Minuwiel asked almost eagerly, clutching to the hope that the conversation was of trivial nature. Just a mission for the elves, that’s all. She had done it thousands of times before. Ellesime shook her head. "I am sorry to take this toy away from you, child, before you ever started to play with it. No, I do not need an artifact or a rare scroll and I do not need you to bring a helper from afar. Suldanessellar has all she needs to cope with the disaster... Her Queen. It is my sad duty… no, it is my last duty to my people to repair it before I shall be gone.â€Â


"You see, Minuwiel, I have done a thing that a Queen has no right to do," Ellisme’s voice carried a trace of smile in it, a small tired smile. "I was in love with Jonoleth, though I do not expect you to believe it, since you have seen him as he truly was - a man who has love for naught, but power. But I was infatuated enough to be blinded to that lust of his, that despoiled everything which was good in him."


"Jonoleth and me...we were bonded. That is why I could not kill him after he had betrayed me, trying to steal my bliss and my city. The only way to sever the bond was to take away his elvenhood...and I could not bring myself to kill him after that. Love makes fools, alas. I believed… I believed that he was sincere. At least in the beginning, or my heart believed it, while my mind long ago has come to the conclusion that I walked into a trap and closed it behind me. You finally freed me of whatever wards and binds he placed on me, but the bond... The bond got restored, when Jonoleth reconnected with the Tree and with the elven spirit."

"You destroyed me, Minuwiel of Candlekeep, when you killed Jonoleth," Ellesime waved impatiently, when Minuwiel tried to say something.


"I have no feud with you. You have done what had to be done. Long enough I lingered here, and long enough I ruled Suldanessellar. Once in two thousand years I allowed myself to forget about my station for a young upstart - and it is only fair that I should pay the price. I, alone, not my people. I need to see that the Tree lives, before I go, so I am transferring my bliss and my spirit into it. When the last drop of it is given, I will perish. There would be a new Queen or a new King, and Suldanessellar will stand strong for the centuries to come. I am waning."


Minuwiel could not imagine the Queen of Suldanessellar as anything but eternal, and anything but perfectly beautiful. The world would be scorched and burned thousands of years from now, yet Queen Ellesime should walk the blackened land among the charred remains of the trees and buildings surrounded by the golden glow, ever youthful. In one flying motion the Queen turned away from the windows and crossed the room again, stopping by the sickbed. She was looming over Minuwiel now, the tall, beautiful woman, unimaginable with cheeks wet with tears. Yet it was so.


"Why are you telling me this? Why now?"


"Suldanessellar is not ready for the necessity of my departure yet. They will not accept that I am departing willingly, too tired to live here, too broken-hearted. Unfortunately, I cannot hide the fact that I am weakening. And, unfortunately the seekers of causes found a wrong cause of my diminishing."


Minuwiel knew immediately. "Me," she said quietly. "They think that it’s mine fault."

Ellesime touched her hand consolingly: "I am sorry, Minuwiel. I never truly knew the burden which divine blood places on a person before I met you. Do not think that I would allow you to be chased away by those with no understanding. While I live, you are safe here. But there is more."


Minuwiel sighed. Troubles travel in flocks, and today they definitely sought to nest on her chest. "The other Children of Bhaal started their war, Minuwiel. These were rumors and tales before, but it is definite now. I have reports from the three lands about the armies marching under Bhaal’s banners."


Minuwiel placed the palm over her eyes tiredly. She wished that she could confront her mother on the subject of her taste in men. If Bhaal were not dead, she would have taken some solace in killing him. Why cannot they all just leave her be? It was not like they really were family.


"I am sorry to be the messenger of the bad news, Minuwiel," Ellesime pressed on, "But I believe it is my duty to advise you to see the Prophets. No, not my duty. My wish. It may...help you. Your heritage is unfortunate, but, besides the taint, there is a spark of divine in you. Your own quality now will decide your fate, not anything or anybody else."


Ellesime looked at Minuwiel attentively. "Take my advice, Minuwiel. No matter how great the burden is, never attempt to share it with someone else. It will kill or twist the helper beyond recognition, for they were not born to carry it. They are mortals. You alone are the bearer of divine essence. The responsibility is always yours."


Minuwiel bowed her head. The Elven Queen kissed her brow: "I am afraid that this awakening will leave you with quite a grim memory of me. Allow me to change it...at least a bit. There is someone who sleeps in the next room and I had given him my word that I should wake him once you are conscious in exchange for him agreeing to sleep at all. I shall go wake him.†As in a dream Minuwiel whispered: "Thank you, Your Grace. I shall go see the Prophets as soon as I am able.â€Â


The Queen in the cloth-of-silver dress glided out of the sickroom. Minuwiel remembered Ellesime like that: the elven face determined and stubborn under her veils and a sad smile on the carved lips. She was a general in the shiny silks, mortally wounded but leading her troops to victory. And she still was a woman of flesh and blood, after countless centuries of reign, for she turned at the threshold and said apologetically to Minuwiel: "I had to tell you, child. Please, forgive me."


When Valygar entered the room and sat a delicate elven chair, Minuwiel graced him with a cold glance. “Now, you are in a sour mood, lady,†he said unperturbed, “When they raised me, those elves, I had a hellish headache myself. Why, I have one starting every time I think of the Nine Hells.â€Â


“I do not need your pity, human,†Minuwiel said. It was not pity she meant. Valygar understood and stiffened in his chair. “As you wish.†Minuwiel nodded gravely.


All of her kin was dead. She stood alone.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~THEN END ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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