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Vesper's Earrings


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Uhm... mild Keldorn dislike might show through. Other than that it should not be too bad.




Vesper sat on a coverlet of the enormous, if little used, bed in her parents’ room. Her father, Sir Keldorn Firecam slept in the Order of the Radiant Heart Quarters last night as he did for weeks on end, despite the fact that the building was only a few blocks away from their Athkatlan house.


“Let it be his loss,†Vesper thought vehemently, “for abandoning all of us.â€Â


The bed had not been opened last night, as her mother preferred a couchette when Keldorn was absent. Still the maid had turned the blankets over at the first light and changed the sheets embroidered with Firecam’s own monogram. For property, her mother said, it had to be done for property. Vesper’s slight body have not yet made enough indents and folds to destroy the neat look of a freshly made bed. She could well pretend that it was a cosy little room, screened from the rest of the world by the baldachin’s curtains. At any time she could pull on the knotted rope and open them up. But she did not wish to. Filtered through the silks of the baldachin the sunlight was at its warmest, goldest and best ever. Vesper was very pleased with her morning abode.


Vesper’s lady mother moved around a boudoir, adjacent to the room, singing in a clear voice that would have enabled her to make a living as a minstrel, if she was not born Lady DeLucha and wed to Sir Keldorn Firecam. The tingling of bracelets, the whisper of pearl necklaces and the bouncy chime of dropped rings accompanied the song about roses, as Lady Maria tried the jewelry on and put the rejected pieces back into the tiny perfumed chests and lacquered boxes. Finally came pause of quiet concentration. Vesper knew what it meant. Lady Maria was critically examining herself in the mirror, ready to call the maid to re-curl a non-perfect ringlet, or to re-powder her lady’s shoulders.


The hissing of skirts and the intensified fragrance of jasmine announced Lady Maria’s presence in the bedroom, and Vesper threw the curtains of the baldachin open. She looked at her queenly mother and her mouth opened on its own. Mixed emotions flooded her. First there was an almost unbearable admiration for her mother’s beauty. Then came sharp envy. Why was she born with the dark mop of hair, like her father’s and his strong chin? Leona was the pretty one, taking after Lady Maria in every way. “I wish,†Vesper said impulsively, “I wish I had enough money to buy a scroll that would have changed my appearance to suit yours, mother...â€Â


Lady Maria hugged her daughter cautiously, enveloping the adolescent in the waves of her perfume and cool silks. First tickled Vesper’s nose and the second - her arms. A ruby and diamond pendant chilled her jaw. She was almost uncomfortable in her mother’s arms, but she’d not have traded it for anything else. “I’m afraid that your father would not approve, my dear,†Lady Maria said. Vesper sighed. When has he approved of anything?


“But,†Lady Maria’s face brightened, “a woman’s beauty is not like a man’s strength and valor. It can be... acquired. Why won’t we find you something pretty to wear instead of this?†And with an elegant disdain she picked up a small symbol of Helm on a thin silver chain that hang around Vesper’s neck. “It is long past the time for you to have real jewelry.†Vesper had almost forgotten the pendant. Sir Keldorn had given it to her on her fourteenth birthday, almost a year ago. She felt guilty taking the trinket off, but the guilt disappeared momentarily. She had seen her father since no more than a dozen of times. “Even if he notices, he would not care,†Vesper thought and followed her mother to the boudoir. Lady Maria was busy opening the chests and boxes again. She extracted a necklace with emerald drops, put it against Vesper’s narrow chest and turn her around to face the mirror. “It does not suit your eyes.†The necklace was hastily added to the jewelry scattered on the marble-topped table for the maid to put away. Fascinated, Vesper looked at the intricately worked gold and gems. They looked so much better all together, the most lavish decoration she had ever seen. It would take hours to try them all on!


“But Sir Ryan?†Vesper asked timidly. Lady Maria smiled with an air of superiority: “In love, one always leaves another waiting and wanting. Your father did it to me. Now it’s my turn. Do not you worry about Sit Ryan.â€Â


Vesper snorted. Her father was a fool.


“Now, let us try ambers.â€Â


The yellow jewels went well with Vesper’s eyes, but, according to Lady Maria had to be worn with black dresses, and that was not a color to set off a debutante’s freshness. The lady stared at her daughter as if she was some sort of a puzzle, and then clapped her hands. “I know! Garnets!†Lady Maria’s excitement transferred to Vesper and together the two women raided the carved boxes and found a tight collar set with tiny cabochons and a single, great jewel, as big as a grape, on a glistening chain that ran from the collar to the secretive indent right above the bodice of Vesper’s dress. Laying there, the gem seemed to hint tactfully to everyone who had missed it, that the maiden’s bosom was starting to take its shape. There was a bracelet as well to go with the collar. The garnets were almost black in color, matching Vesper’s eyes. Apart from when the sunlight fell on them and made them red... Vesper remembered that they called them bloodstones sometimes.


“All you need now, are the earrings...†Lady Maria said. “Here,†she took out a few golden coins from her money pouch, “find the ones you like... it should make your afternoon to go faster. I know how it feels to study the whole day on end...“ With a conspirator’s smile, Lady Maria slipped away from the room and from the house.


Apparently, leaving Sir Ryan waiting for too long was not a great strategy either. Vesper’s father made this mistake and now was paying for it. Vesper sighed - love looked to her like an awkward game with too many rules. Yet, she had more money in her belt than she had ever had and a garnet collar around her neck. Cold at first, the precious metal was quickly warming up from her skin. Still dreaming of the afternoon’s shopping, Vesper went to the classroom wishing that she had been taught a spell that would be the opposite of the famous ‘time stop’ that the wizards used to slow time to a halt.

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The bells at the high tower of the city’s magistrate rang. It was five o’clock, two hours later than Vesper’s classes usually lasted. The girl sprang off her chair, looking at the governor from under her bangs. He had already given her an extra hour of elven translation and an extra dictation for her jumpiness and inattentiveness. Mr. Delonier sighed. Rewarding this willful look was wrong; punishing the girl even further was worst however. ‘You may go,’ he said finally, collecting the papers off her desk. Curly Elven and pointy Common scripts intermingling on the paper looked like flower borders between the castle walls with crenellations. ‘We should discuss the poor quality of your translation tomorrow,’ he added coldly, glancing down and immediately seeing that his pupil choose to use ‘big’ where he’d preferred her to go for ‘unwieldy’; Elven was a tongue of minute differences. If the governor’s implied scolding upset Vesper, she did not show it. In fact her face shone as if he had praised her. No, it shone as if it did not matter if he had praised or berated her. Mr. Delonier pursed his thin lips, listening to the drumming of Vesper’s heals on the hardwood floors. So it was Vesper’s turn to stop regarding how good she did during their lessons as the most important measure of success or failure in her life. Every one of his pupils did that, and every time it came as a painful surprise to him. But he was getting old; too old and too experienced to go and complain to Vesper’s parents, as he would have done in the times when he had been tutoring Sir Keldorn Firecam himself.




No matter how much in a hurry she was, Vesper meddled by the doors, putting on her gray cloak. Should she wear her garnet collar outside? Would it attract a thief’s attention? Would she look ridiculous in her neat but simple dress and a gold-and-gem necklace? Finally she decided to keep the collar on, since the purpose of the expedition was to find a matching pair of earrings. But she pinned her cloak tight under her neck with a sensible silver brooch, hiding her treasure from greedy eyes. All these preparations and deliberations took time, and when she did not make it to the Promenade till the sixth hour after noon. The days were nigh halved by the approaching winter already, and dusk descended on the wide square, where it was not chased away by the lights of the torches and lamps.


Vesper breathed in and walked into a jewelry shop by the Mithriest Inn. Her mother mentioned buying a trinket or two there, which, in Vesper’s experience, meant that Lady Maria has been a regular customer. The chiming of a hidden bell announced her presence, and she was treated to a show of lights gradually increasing in brightness, and many new ones turning up suddenly.


It was a beautiful place. The magical glow intensified around the stands topped with black velvet cushions making a myriad of gems to sparkle even brighter; the rest of the showroom was artfully submerged in near darkness. The air of luxury felt almost prohibiting to Vesper, but her curiosity and knowledge that she have had enough to spend empowered her. One did not come here to look for lynx eye gems and anadars so loved by barmaids and their sailors. But she did not come in search of a lynx eye. The owner of the joint, Mistress Ruby Berk, navigated her way towards Vesper. She was just as exotic as the purple pearls that Vesper was trying not to stare at - a plump, smiley gnome, dressed in silken robes and pointy-tipped slippers. The testimony to Ruby’s success and an advertisement to her wares – the golden chains, pins, and rings - decorated her from her wide nostrils to, no doubt, her toes. Vesper counted at least three chains sliding out of her pockets, bulging with sizable watches hidden within. In all this finery Ruby still managed to look businesslike, with her neatly trimmed goatee, thinning hair half-hidden under a small beret, and a lens tied to a silk cord resting on her abundant belly.


‘How mawy I help yew, yewoung lady?’ Ruby drawled. Vesper got an impression that almost any word would sound like ‘jewel’ in this artisan’s mouth.


‘Garnets,’ she replied and blushed. ‘Garnet earrings to be precise. To match this…’ and she hurriedly opened her cloak.


The bell rang again announcing another customer. Vesper’s first desire was to leave, but she remembered that she was Lady Maria’s daughter and she could hardly imagine her mother shying away from anything.


‘One momewnt, Mr. Jistew, ‘ Ruby said to someone behind Vesper’s back. ‘Please feewl free to look about while I hewlp this yewoung lady here… Youw bracelet is ready.’


A pleasant male voice replied: ‘There is no need to rush the young lady for mine sake.’


Vesper suddenly knew the speaker. It was Gayan Jistev, Lord Gayan Jistev to be exact, a Waterdevian, and a far-removed relative of Jistevs of Amn. He was rumored as the most extravagant young man and the most eligible bachelor in town ever since he came for a visit. His father died recently, leaving him heir to a title and a fortune to make Dukes of Baldur’s Gate envious.


The gnomish merchant acknowledged the young man’s words with deepest courtesy she could manage, confirming Vesper’s guess. Then her attention returned to Vesper.


‘I rewcognize the collar. Yewuo would bew Lady Firecam’s dauwghter then?’


Vesper nodded happily, but then corrected herself: ‘My Lady mother made me a gift of it this morning and I wish to acquire earrings to have a full set for my debut…’ The debut was not entirely an invention, rather a sudden and poignant desire. She would be sixteen in a month after all, and nowadays, many maidens where presented to the society at this age.


‘Lawdy Maria has a fine ewye for jeeewlery. Thewy are gems wrought by mowther Earth to make youw prewtty,’ Ruby conceded, ‘Garnets are a brave choice for a debuewtante, but one doews tire of peawrls and peawrls and peawrls… ‘


‘If you excuse me listening to your conversation, I think I have discovered just what the lady needs,’ Lord Jistev suddenly called from the corner of the shop.


‘I… I will take a look,’ Vesper said nearly sweating with excitement and nervousness.


‘A, Lord Jistew knows garnets… He has… shall I say pawssion?’ Ruby smiled innocently and added after a pause: ‘For red jewels…’and led Vesper to the corner.


They laid in the middle, two large, tear-shaped jewels, caught in golden nets. Elven marksmanship was evident at every intricate nod of the wire, each shaped like a flower and set with a tiny garnet in the middle of it. Vesper did not know much of jewelry, but that looked a treasure even to her naïve eye. And she fell in love with it instantly. ‘How… how much could it cost?’ she wondered, afraid to ask the price.


‘If you have to ask,’ her mother used to say, ‘then you cannot afford it.’


Her head became lighter as if she was hungry, and Vesper turned her eyes away from the earrings. Looking at Lord Jistev did not calm her. If anything it made her even dizzier. He was a slender man, with a touch of elvish blood evident in his features. Elegance that some say is distilled in descendants of many generations of aristocrats permeated his whole being. It even suited him to go about hooded, Vesper decided. His eyes shone almost feverishly in the dark hollows left by the shadow of the cowl above his pale cheeks, making him seem ever more mysterious. She could now believe the whispers that he came to Amn because a lover he had rejected drowned herself causing a major scandal in Waterdeep.


This handsome man now smiled at her plucking the earrings from their velvet nest.


‘If you doubt my lady, let us put them on. I am dyeing to see if I guessed right.’


Vesper forgot to breathe as the long fingers took out small pearl studs out of her ears and put in the garnets. They were much heavier by comparison, but so warm that Lord Jistev’s hands felt icy-cold in comparison. Mistress Ruby would not have her customers to suffer the smallest discomfort, Vesper thought. Magical lights must have helped with keeping jewelry pleasant to wear as well as pleasant to look upon.


‘Stunning!’ Lord Jistev exclaimed. Together with Ruby, he whisked Vesper to the mirror. ‘You have a rare sort of beauty, Lady Vesper. Not the common, blonde, blue-eyed sort so readily available nowadays. The enigmatic sort.’


Vesper very much doubted that she represented any sort of enigma at that moment. In fact she was fearful that her desire to have these earrings, her doubts about their cost and her liking for Lord Jistev were all plainly written on her narrow face. She carefully looked into the mirror and saw nothing of the kind. Maybe because her emotions were all mixed up, or because Lord Jistev have had said so, she indeed looked almost as mysterious as the man himself. The jewelry made her plain white and black dress seem to be made plain on purpose. And by her side stood a man she suddenly wanted to be her husband. It was a scary thought. And a very adult thought.


‘I will take the earrings,’ she said with a newly found assuredness, praying that she have had enough money to offer as a deposit. It can be arranged later to return them, she thought. Or maybe her mother would love them so much that…


Lor Jistev smiled at Mistress Ruby. ‘I knew I have chosen well,’ he said softly. And then with a kind smile asked if Vesper would leave a dance for him at her debut so he could brag to everyone that he had discovered the most beautiful gem in Athkatla.


Mistress Ruby smiled at him, as if he had extended the invitation to her, not Vesper.


‘Youw are such a gallant man, Lord Jistew.’ The gnome looked back at Vesper and her eyes stopped at the girl’s purse. ‘Two hundrewed gold would be my price for the pair…’


Vesper started and praised her good fortune. That was exactly how much she has had on her. There was little to do, but to pay and leave the shop. With the last look at Lord Jistev now talking with Ruby over the counter in hush voices, Vesper left the jeweler’s. In exasperation, she leaned against the wall of the shop to catch her breath.


‘Vesper!’ her mother’s voice sounded puzzled, ‘what are you doing here?’


Vesper opened her eyes and saw Lady Maria accompanied by Sir Rayan and a half-dozen of his men.


‘I bought the earrings, Madam,’ Vesper answered when she found her tongue, and remembering her manners just in time, ‘and was returning home.’


Lady Maria smiled benevolently and graciously lifted one of the earrings. Her eyes opened wide. ‘It’s a beauty. I trust you have asked Mistress Ruby to expect the rest of the payment shortly?’


Vesper smiled proudly. ‘No, Madam. Mistress Ruby’s price was two hundred gold. I had paid in full.’


‘There must be a mistake,’ Lady Maria mused, ‘but…’ she looked over her shoulder at Sir Ryan, ‘but we have no time to discuss it now. We will sort it out tomorrow.’


Accompanied by Sir Ryan the ladies arrived to their estate in the Government district without any unpleasant encounters with thugs or thieves. There, Vesper related the full story to Lady Maria, making no secret of her great admiration for Lord Jistev. In fact she felt ready to tell the whole world about it.


The noblewoman gasped when Vesper finished: ‘You have Tymora’s own luck, dear Vesper! Lord Jistev had made you a present, silly girl. Now we just have to make sure that his intentions would end up in an honorable way, no matter if they were rooted in mischief.‘ Her face softened when she mussed up Vesper’s hair. ‘You have grown up so fast, my dear young Vesper. But I was younger than you are now when I was betrothed to wed Sir Keldorn… Leave it to me, dear.’

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The Prelate’s fingers closed around an alabaster Queen. He moved it without looking at the board; his pale eyes trained on Keldorn instead. Sir Firecam shifted in his seat and stroked his bearded chin. It was obvious that Prelate had weighed the situation on the checkered field with the thoroughness that the game, in Keldorn’s view, did not deserve.


Yet, Perlate seemed to derive infinite amount of satisfaction from these quiet tournaments. The rumor had it that it was a safe substitute for jostling that the Prelate used to enjoy in the days long past. Some snickered that he had done well by that change, since he excelled in chess, but not in jostling. Keldorn doubted that it made any difference to the old man. The Prelate stood out as a person of rare integrity, even among the senior Knights of the Order; for him being found deserving to participate meant more than winning – a treat that Keldorn much admired. ‘He would understand my haste, and would not take it as an affront,’ Sir Firecam thought and moved a jet piece in response to the Prelate’s Queen attack almost at random. The Prelate smiled: ‘So you forfeit yet another game, Sir? Very well, my son. Very well. I can see that you are eager to start the investigation into the Cult. Go then with my blessings –‘


Keldorn went on one knee and respectfully kissed the old man’s hand, while the Prelate whispered a prayer. ‘Sir, I promise that once I have exposed the Cult of the Eyeless as the false religion, I would give my best to this board and you would find me a worthy opponent.’ Just as the Prelate motioned for Keldorn to rise, someone knocked on the door. No matter how subdued the knock was, in the room where the only sounds prior to that were ticking of the tall clock and soft voices, it echoed as the Horn of Doom itself. To suit this analogy, the door burst open before the Prelate had a chance to acknowledge the visitor – an unheard of breach of the etiquette. Keldorn’s hand moved to his sword belt reflexively, but dropped to his side when he saw the perpetrator, who pushed her way in past the abashed squire. It was a sobbing young woman in a dark cloak covering her head to toe. Two hastily made braids spilled from under the cowl to her chest over trembling white fingers. The fingers of her left hand clutched and twisted a ring on her right one. A band of solid gold with an enameled Firecam’s insignia was all but invisible between these golden tresses and convulsive movements.


Maria…The Nine Hells it’s my Maria!


It was unsurprising that he did not know he at once, Keldorn reflected. He had not seen his wife in such disarray since the night of their wedding. The luck had it that he barely had had time to take his wife’s maiden gift when a bird brought summons he had been expecting for two months. Since then until now, not once did Maria allow herself to be caught dressed malapropos. The matter must have been grave indeed.


They woke me at dawn and I left her between the sheets with her braids undone.


The memory and the foreboding of something ill left him breathless. He forced himself to move and take his wife into his arms: ‘Maria, is something amiss?’ The woman gratefully pressed her cheek against his chest.


‘Vesper…’ she said and started weeping, the last of her restraint swept away, like a dam by a river in flood. For a few dragging scary minutes all she could do is to repeat ‘Vesper…’. When she regained some control, the words came as barely comprehensible, between hoarse moans: "Vesper… went missing. She was not in her room this morning… nowhere in… in the mansion… gardens…’


Keldorn looked at the clock. It was well past noon. ‘Vesper was missing since morning and you only now telling me about that?’ he scolded, but corrected himself: ‘I am sorry. I am sure you have had the City Guard looking into this already and searched the premises.’ Lady Maria looked at him with bleary eyes: ‘No… no City Guard… it’s our daughter… our daughter!’


The Prelate intervened then, taking Maria by her hand and sitting her down into his own vacated chair.


‘Have you received a ransom note?’ he asked, ‘There had been reports of two abducted nobles recently. ‘


Lady Maria shook her head in despair.


‘If it is indeed an abduction similar to the two cases we have spoken, a private investigation would yield more success,’ Sir Keldorn said trying to keep tremors out of his own voice. Both abducted nobles had been found dead and buried in the City’s Graveyard after the ransom had been paid in full. The inquisitor was grateful that the information was still kept under wraps and that he had not discussed the case with Lady Maria.


‘Sir Keldorn…’ the Prelate’s voice brought him back from the realm of fears and he eagerly turned toward his superior.


‘Sir Keldorn, the Order had relied on you for many years. Now that your family is endangered you can rely on our full support. Do not tarry. Squire Wincent would arrange for a proper escort for you and your Lady wife. Return to your Estate and conduct the search for Lady Vesper Firecam.’ the Prelate announced before Keldorn had made any requests. Keldorn bent his knee again, grateful. ‘Thank you, Sir.’ The Prelate leaned towards him and whispered: ‘I pray that your daughter’s abductor is guilty of nothing more than being young, foolish and in love.’ Keldorn’s eyes flashed: ‘Whomever it is, he’d pay dearly for my wife’s tears and for my daughter’s honor.’ The smooth hand smelling of myrrh descended on his forehead in another blessing: ‘I am glad that you had not said ‘life’, Sir. Luck first deserts those who lose the sight of hope. Now go, Sir, go.’

For many years, Keldorn had entered households struck by evildoers to collect the evidence. Standing on his own porch in an official capacity gave Keldorn an eerie feeling.


It cannot be happening.


‘Sir, would you be needing me further?’ squire Wincent asked. ‘No, lad, I will send a message to the Order once I have learned more,’ Keldorn replied, grateful for the boy’s interference. ‘I should do my duty, not stand here like a column.’ If this thought did not entirely chase away the inquisitor’s uneasiness, it enabled him to finally step over the threshold of the Firecam’s Estate and start on a routine investigation. The house settled into an uneasy silence interrupted by an inopportune lamentation or a sob, just like they usually do.


It took him three hours to ascertain that he had known as much as everyone else in the household. Vesper had received two gifts a day prior – a garnet necklace from Lady Maria and a set of garnet earrings from Lord Gayan Jistev. Lady Maria believed that the earrings were worth a fortune, however she did not take a closer look, too excited by the implications of such a present. Ruby Berk, the jeweler at Walkin’s Promenade might shed some light on the deal, for it was where Lord Jistev acquired the earrings. According to Lady Maria, Vesper acted as if she had not encountered Lord Jistev before and she, Lady Maria, had no reason to doubt it. Leona testified that Vesper was wearing the earrings all night, and maybe even went to bed wearing them. The infamous piece of jewelry vanquished into the night together with Veseper. Nothing else was apparently missing from the mansion.


‘So they came to steal the earrings and took Vesper as well, because she either was still wearing them, or awoke inopportunely. Unless Lord Jistev is playing some foul game…’ Keldorn mused. ‘Whatever is the case, it’s time for me to speak to Mistress Ruby Berk and then to pay a visit to the Lord, who ingratiated my family with his accursed attentions.’


Sir Keldorn did not tarry in front of Berk’s shop the way he did by his mansion’s gates. He walked inside purposely and stared hard at the gnome, using every inch of his height to his advantage. Mistress Berk was however unimpressed. In her trade Ruby dealt with the mighty and powerful buyers of all sorts, with the Thieves’ Guild to protect her wares from the robbers, with Cowled Wizards to sell as simple jewelry a ring or brooch that emanated magical power and with anyone and everyone in between. It took more than a lanky sour-faced human to intimidate the gnome. Ruby greeted the inquisitor however in the respectful, but not submissive manner, that she judged would work best with the likes of Keldorn. She did not ask questions. Let the man speak his business if he meant business.


‘Madam,’ Keldorn said, ‘you have sold a pair of earrings to my daughter yesterday for two hundred golden pieces. My wife, Lady Maria, however is convinced that they had been worth more than that and were acquired by someone, called Lord Jistev.’

Ruby cocked her head: ‘Sir, with all duew rewspect, it is my own business, and what I sell and for which priwece is nowbody’s concern, but mine –‘


Keldorn’s face stiffened: ‘Madam Berk, my daughter and the earrings had disappeared yesterday night.’


Ruby Berk sighed. ‘Such a spirited youwng girl. Very well, I will tell youw what I know, but it would not be much. Firstly, I cannot tell youw how much the garnets were worth, since I have not seen them closely. Thewy belowng to Lord Jistev’s mowther, and he came yesterday to privately inquire abouwt their cost, since a certain noble wanted to buy them from his mother. But when he saw youw lovely dauwghter, he decided that the earrings should belong to her… Lord Jistev is such a good client that I obliged his fancy and ‘sold’ the earrings to Vesper. Lowrd Jistev was vewry pleased.’


‘Are Jistevs in trouble financially that they have to sell their family jewelry?’ Keldorn asked sharply.


Ruby smiled: ‘Lady Jistev of Waterdeep never had head for money, so she is always on the look out for more. Not Lord Gayan Jistev though. When his father died, he inherited the title, businesses and lands, but the small estate and family jewelry left to his mowther. He could give ouwt earrings like that every night of the week to the likely lawdies. Small folk like us wouldn’t spent that much in a year or maywbe even in -’


‘Just how much did these damnable earrings cost?!’ Keldorn interrupted her impatiently.


‘Oh, I cannot be prewcise, as I told youw before. Elvish antiquities have to be examined very closely, Sir to know for truew, but I would guess… twenty thousand… no less. If it’s not magical and I think I sensed… something. But I cannot be sure.’


‘My daughter had received a pair of earrings worth twenty thousand gold?’ Keldorn exclaimed, horrified.


‘Not a pair, Sir,’ Ruby smiled at him, pityingly. ‘Each.’


Keldorn ran out of the shop. The long strides took him past the illuminated shops of the promenade and along the cobbled streets into the heart of the Government district to the grand mansion occupied by Jistevs. He took a moment to catch his breath before lifting the small mallet and knocking at the gates. He chewed on his lips – the habit that he though he had dropped long ago – until a man in an impeccable uniform and a powdered wig opened the gates. Keldorn introduced himself and demanded to see Lord Gayan. The gate warden summoned the majordomo.


Jistev’s majordomo, Simon, regretfully informed the inquisitor that the entire family had left last night for a hunting trip to the countryside and produced a silver tray with an inkwell and expensive paper marked with Jistev’s sigil. Would Sir Keldorn leave a message? Sir Keldorn reached for his purse instead of the quill. Simon became even more accommodating with the visiting paladin and in a friendly conversation recalled that the carriages left the estate at eight o’clock. ‘It was not unusual for Jistevs to leave in the evenings when the young Lord Gayan was visiting,’ he said amiably. ‘The waterdevian was not a morning bird, and my Lord and Lady were fond enough of their nephew to humor his little peculiarities.’ Jistevs had left while Vesper was still happily chatting with Lady Maria. It proved nothing, of course, as Lord Gayan could have employed all of the Athkatlan thugs if he wished and those of Baldur’s Gate besides.


A few more coins bought Keldorn the tour of the house. The inquisitor surveyed a wide bed with a baldachin and a collection of risqué paintings on the walls. The boudoir had five large mirrors and a small marble table. The vials filled with powders, perfumes and other substances crowded its polished top. A small book of poetry in leather binding was left forgotten between the vanities. Keldorn opened it on the page bookmarked by a piece of gold-gilded paper cut intricately to look like a pair of lovers in a passionate embrace. The poetry was of such a sensual quality, that Keldorn reddened and closed the book with an angry thud. There were no letters or any other papers for that matter on the desk by the window. Keldorn pulled on the thick golden cord to open heavy velvet curtains. The still warm, orangey light of the lowering sun reflected of the impeccable wooden surface. Keldorn stared at a jade paperweight with a mermaid carved on its side and a stack of unused quills. If Lord Gayan governed Jistev’s Waterdevian businesses, he did not do it behind this rosewood desk.


Lord Gayan’s apartments were no different from any other young noble’s. Except for the vibe of evil, unnoticeable to the less experienced eye than Keldorn’s.


Or the less subjective.


Bidding a farewell to Simon, Keldorn stepped back on to the street, left the Government district and headed for the poorest and ugliest area of Athkatla, known simply as Slums. The paladin had not had to go far into the narrow alleys to find the first thing that he had sought. An urchin was settled comfortably in a furry arc made by a belly and paws of a huge mongrel dog. Both looked equally dirty, grim and hungry. As soon as Keldorn flipped the coin into the air, the pair readily entered his employ as the messengers.


Keldorn was unsure if his perception had failed him in Lord Jistev’s apartments. He was unwilling to lose precious time chasing the Lord whom the rest of the world would see as guilty only of being rich and flirtatious (which was rather a virtue than a sin in the eyes of the commoners). So his request to the Order was cautious. He wanted for a capable man to be sent to locate Lord Gayan Jistev and keep an eye on him.


Keldorn however did not return home after the boy and his dog galloped towards the Temple District. Instead he continued pacing through the crookedest alleys and the smokiest taverns. He was looking for someone else to help him to untangle the thread from another end.

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A nagging foreboding woke Vesper. Not a shred of light penetrated her room this morning. ‘It must be foggy,’ Vesper thought sleepily and stretched on the featherbed, feeling as happy and content as she had ever been. An uneasiness was still there, but she pushed it to the back of her mind and slept some more. She dreamt of walking a white trail on a gently slopping mountainside. The skies above her were impeccably blue, and the trees along the trail heavy with ripe red fruit. The trees ended and to her delight she saw that the rest of the slope was a field of roses and there were far more flowers on these bushes than there were leaves. The red field stretched to the horizon, as far as she could see... A few maidens of her age were collecting rose petals in large sacks and then spilling their fragrant bounty into a cart. A scarlet mount grew reaching for the sky yet the field still looked red if not a single flower was plucked off the thorny branches. Vesper walked to the cart, passing by the two placid russet horses, whose tails whipped lazily against the summer flies, and dipped her hands into the petals. The rich, oily smell was overwhelming, but instead of resisting dizziness she fell readily into the velvety depth of the flower-mountain. Its top collapsed undercut by the weight of her body, and the petals spilled all over her... The maidens stopped their work and looked at her, laughing merrily; as their heads moved when they laughed, hundreds of petals fell from the roses woven into their hair to settle on their cheeks and bare bosoms and arms...


The pesky little thing, the annoyance that woke her for the first time refused to go away completely, however, and broke into her dream, making Vesper see blood where the petals were before and twisting girls’ smiling faces into the grimaces. They screamed, not laughed.


I am drowning in blood...


Frustrated and scared, Vesper set up in her bed, groping for the blankets... there were none. She started leaning over, to the floor but no matter how far she extended her hand all she could feel was the endless featherbed. She moved then and her hand finally touched to something warm soft and alive. ‘Another girl’ she thought immediately, still under the spell of her dream. Whoever the maiden was, she was not screaming. She breathed softly and evenly. Vesper could even hear laughter bubbling in her chance mate’s throat. As shy as Vesper was to wake up a stranger, there was no other way to get a myriad of questions swarming up in her mind like a locust of poisonous insects, answered. It was so dark, that Vesper’s eyes did not adjust like it usually happens. Blackness walled her. So she followed the sleeper’s body up to the shoulder, coated with thick, silky hair, with one palm. With a sudden jolt of shame Vesper realized that the sleeper was naked. Hastily she touched to her own body only to confirm her own nudity. All that the kidnappers left on her were the garnet earrings which weighed her ears heavily.


Vesper squealed in terror, remembering all the stories of virgins sold into the Pashas of Calimshan harems. She listened to her own body, trying to detect if it was dishonored by a man while she had her rose dreams. She did not feel... assaulted. She felt as if she has had a long and restful sleep. The happiness she experienced earlier was all spent however. It took her a few moments to swallow her own bile, that fear stirred in the pit of her stomach and pushed up her throat.


Cringing Vesper gripped at the girl’s shoulder and shook with all her might. The body rolled limply towards her, its breath as even as it was; her cell-mate was still soundly and happily asleep.... Vesper crawled around, finding another three or four bodies - in the dark she could not tell one from another for sure. None of them would come awake at her prodding and slapping. Their peaceful unconsciousness frightened Vesper more than she thought the moans and weeping would.


But the real horror awaited the paladin’s daughter when she finally reached a wall. She was not expecting it, and cried out loud when her hand found a wooden edge of a shelf. She crawled along, guiding herself with her hand, until she counted four corners. There was no door, as far as she could tell. Only endless shelves packed to the brims with the cold rounded shapes. Her trembling fingers found empty sockets, jagged edges of the bones and long wedges of teeth. There could be no mistake - those were skulls. Human skulls. Desperate, Vesper curled small on the featherbed that covered the crypt’s floor and started weeping with quiet, unconsolable sobs until she had exhausted her tears. Then she laid still, resolved to her destiny. There was nothing she could do.


Vesper could not hear a sound when they walked in. It was the smell of rose oil that announced their presence. She thought that her dreams were returning and was grateful, but she wished to fall asleep and to be unconscious of her coming doom so much, that this desire instead made her alert. Light - a feeble, unwholesome light of a dungeon drew an uneven square in the blackness and then permeated the space. Vesper saw what she had guessed at earlier - a small chamber lined with the shelves from the floor to the ceiling, full of skulls and three women on the padded floor. One of the newcomers carefully placed yet another one on the floor and shook off his cloak as if after the rain and the rose smell intensified. Droplets glistened dimly on the woman’s skin - they must have bathed her with the rose incenses...


‘That is truly a royal gift, Lord Gayan,’ the man said not bothering to lower his voice, gesturing into the crypt. For a mad moment Vesper thought that the object of her yesterday’s dreams had come to rescue her, until he answered: ‘Of course it is. I intended it for a Queen after all. I hope she would be pleased.’


Gayan lingered and then stepped over the threshold. Vesper closed her eyes hastily and tried to steady her breath. She sensed that there somehow was a worst danger if Gayan discovered that she was not submerged into delusional slumber. Cold emanated from the man as he kneeled by her and his fingers were icier than she remembered, when he moved her hair aside and caressed her neck.


‘I hope she would be pleased,’ he repeated softly. ‘I would have wanted this one for myself.’


His companion chuckled: ‘Do not even think about it after you went into all the troubles of breaking the wards on the paladin’s house. She is the Queen’s now.’


‘You do not have to remind me,’ Gayan said with disgust and lifted an earring. ‘She is a gift carrying a gift... If I cannot enjoy her, let her bring me Queen’s favor at least.’


‘Enjoy?’ the second man sounded amused. ‘My dear Gayan you have a rotten taste. A paladin’s daughter... Brr. Pray that she does not hurt your teeth.’


‘Rotten?’ Gayan snapped back. ‘Would you say that the Queen’s taste is rotten as well? No, my commoner friend, I wish you could understand the refine pleasure of draining a body birthed of goodness, steeped in righteousness, almost holy in its innocence... It would hurt, yes... but not your teeth. It would hurt your throat and then it would burn your chest almost as the sun would, I imagine. For a few moment you would feel as if you still have a heart... It’s the most exquisite pain, Eber.’


Vesper felt cold lips barely touching her throat, and then drawing lower to her naked bosom, and their pressure intensified. She was too scared to feel ashamed - and would a piece of meet be ashamed of a feasting man’s mouth? She imagined that she could feel the points of the vampire’s fangs closing around her nipple, when Lord Gayan was pushed away from her roughly.


‘You fool,’ Lord Gayan hissed, ‘I was nowhere near her throat!’


‘Does not hurt to be careful anyways. You would not want to scratch her, do you? The Queen would not drink your leavings,’ Eber said to the still growling Gayan.


‘You are right,’ Gayan replied hoarsely after a pause. ‘Take me away from her... and let us hunt. She makes me feel starved.’ With that the pair left, pulling one of the shelves tight behind them. Vesper slowly expelled her breath. Pasha’s harem suddenly felt appealing.


There should be light and music and other women there. And they say that some Pashas have so many concubines that some stay forever untouched...


But she was not going to a harem. She was going to die on a Vampire’s Queen plate.


‘Why can’t I just be asleep like these other maidens?’ Vesper thought gloomily turning the earring in her ear. As if someone lit up a torch in her mind she knew.


The garnets... the Elvish earrings...


Master Noirier used to make her memorize the healing properties of gems and the garnets were famed for warding the nightmares off. Unfortunately for her, the garnets did brought her mind back from the Dreamscape, where her unfortunate counterparts still lingered, under the vampire’s spell. Yet, they could do nothing it seems to help her with her waking nightmare. Hurriedly Vesper pulled the earrings from her ears and squeezed them in her palm. Maybe it will help her to think of something... She screwed up her face, trying to remember what else the garnets were good for.


‘Garnets protect one from the thieves...’ she heard her schoolmaster’s dry voice. Too late for that, she chuckled alive with her renewed hope. ‘To repel insect and drive away demons... to ensure that friends would meet at parting... and to prove love...’


She sighed, repeating it again and again after her imagined tutor. ‘And to prove love... that will have to do.’


Vesper opened her palm and whispered into the unseen stone the name of the man whose love she doubted and whom she needed by her side right here, right now. Keldorn Firecam.


Father... please...

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The murky waters pushed its way into the Sea of Swords so vigorously and with such an outrage, that it seemed that tonight was the night when the refuse dumped from Athkatlan sewers, windows and streets has finally outraged the nameless river gods. The Bridge district stank of dung, of rotten fish and of cooking. It was truly a miracle that the evening fog raising off the water was so white, so pristine. The dark sea roared angrily in the distance, waiting for its turn to enter the estuary and push the river back. The currents battled and changed its course daily with the tides for centuries uncounted. Against their might and persistence the stone embankment looked a sorry thing. It was forever crumbling and forever in the dire need of repair. But, Keldorn reminded himself while walking across the Bridge that gave the district its name, the repairs were being made. The bridge and the embankment stood. To carry on with the small reparations was all that the humans could do when faced with the eternal struggles. Be that the one between the sea and the river, or the one between the Good and the Evil. The inquisitor was too old to believe in the eventual triumph of one over another, but he deemed it cowardly to resign himself to observing. No, he was a working man tirelessly laboring with his small tools on replacing stones chipped away by the everlasting tide of the Evil.


This thought steadied Keldorn’s steps, and he dropped the fur-trimmed cowl of his cloak to his shoulders. Let the dire wind tore at his gray hair. Let it chill him to his very bones. Tonight the knight was ready to fight it all to whatever end. His cheeks showing filigree net of purplish blood vessels and his eyes tearing from the cold breeze, yet strangely refreshed, Keldorn entered the Five Flagons tavern. Against the dark and stormy night outside, the tavern offered smoky and charring-hot comfort. Music and loud cheers came from the downstairs playhouse as the commoners gawked at the ‘Jim and Brave Liz’. To Keldorn’s taste Liz was shameless rather than brave and Jim was a petty thug whom the knight would have gladly turned over to the City watch for checking into Athkatla’s jail for theft and irreverence. But commoners hailed the pair as if they were some sort of heroes. The inquisitor cringed as a particularly loud burst of merriment reached the common room .


‘The simpler the better on a night like this,’ Master Thunderburp said to Keldorn apologetically, and it took Keldorn a few moments to realize that the tavern’s owner was talking about the rowdy play. He nodded and ordered an obligatory mug of dark ale. ‘How is your nephew, Master Thunderburp?’ the paladin said matter-of-factly. Only a slightest urgency was evident in his voice, but he squared his shoulders and leaned over the counter, to tower over the halfling owner. ‘Which one, my Good Sir?’ Master Thunderburp asked in a high-pitched voice and shuffled his hairy feet. Despite being a head taller than Mistress Ruby Berk, the halfling had none of her talent for creating an impression of presence. As Keldorn well knew and used on occasion, any mention of Mr. Thunderburp’s nephew Hamish made the halfling especially vulnerable.


Halflings’ love for their kin, even after they had left their ancestral hins, was both their curse and blessing. Nowhere Sir Firecam saw more proof to that than in Master Thunderburp’s family. Hamish was a confused man, caught between genuine enough desire to live an honest life and being completely unfit for any sort of work. To compensate for the later, the gods gifted Hamish with a criminal genius of sorts and fertility that would have made Tethyr royal family go green with envy. However, when Hamish went onto his lawless sprees he, the best thief in Athkatla - the best petty thief - earned no more money than when he was washing dishes in Master Thunderburp’s kitchens (after his uncle subtracted the price of broken plates). Hamish’s amorous adventures involved every halfling lass in the City. He never argued when another curly-haired urchin called him ‘dad’ and never refused to spare a coin to help their moms through the week. Yet he had been known to propose a marriage to the same unwed maiden three times, and on all occasions his offers were rejected.


But if gods’ smiles were sardonic, when they looked at Hamish, Master Thunderburp’s was a sincere one. The Five Flagons owner loved his nephew through thick and thin. It made Keldorn uncomfortable to pressure this good-natured man whose only flaw was eluding taxes whenever he could.


‘I wish to see Hamish,’ Keldorn said after a pause and watched guiltily at Master Thunderburp as the halfling cower as if he had been hit into his groin.


Master Thunderburp hesitate for no more than three minutes, before pointing to the kitchens. Sir Keldorn was in luck - Hamish was enduring yet another short stretch of honest living. His broad face red and sweating profusely from the heat of the kitchens, elbow-deep in steaming water and soap bubbles, the repentant thief looked rather pitiful. A wide, once white, apron now stained with tomato sauce and pot grease barely contained his ample stomach; just as dirty a hairband held his once shiny mane in place. All resemblance to a lion’s cub that Keldorn remembered in the roguish Hamish was smothered away by the fat folds that grew about the honest Hamish’s cheeks and neck. Despite the busy bustle of the kitchens and the mountain of dirty dishes awaiting his attention Hamish looked utterly bored. It did not surprise Keldorn in the least that he jumped at the opportunity to surrender his duties for a short while, even if it was to talk to a grim paladin.


Master Thunderburp assured by the fact that Hamish was not immediately taken away to jail recovered his spirits enough to show them to a private dinning room and sent a serving maid to fetch some ale and meat pies.


‘Had you heard anything about a pair of garnet earrings?’ Keldorn asked after the food was served and they were left alone. Hamish shook his head negatively and sunk his teeth into a pie with an eagerness of a starved orc. That would have been the end of the conversation in the olden times, but the halfling was watching the paladin with an excited expression of a man who wants to talk.


Keldorn decided to risk it and quickly told the little man everything.


Hamish wiped his lips thoughtfully with plump fingers. ‘‘Tis a dare thing to break into your manor, m’lord. I have… er… heard that there are them magic wards that keep it safe from any crook.’ Keldorn nodded impatiently. He knew that. ‘Forty thousand is a hefty prize… but I doubt any self-respecting thief would risk being caught by the Order’s preachers. I mean no disrespect, Sir, only if those are City Watchers, that caught you, maybe they’d hit you in your teeth, but then they’d put you in a cell - fair’s fair - and they’d leave you alone. Your… er… comrades, they’d take a soul out of you with their boring gazes and grand words. And well… the sentence it’s like to be twice harsher if the Order takes interest in the case. Only Wizards are worse, what with them sending that poor Tiax fellow to Spellhold itself for stealing a scroll. And he was no mage even, Sir, just a silly sort. Er... anyway.... No thief in his right mind would go about stealing earrings from you and yours, SirY Unless… ‘ the halfling licked his fingers, unsure if he had just said too much.


‘My daughter is missing, Hamish,’ Keldorn prodded him along, and, seeing pity well in the halfling’s eyes, added: ‘I only have two.’


‘O,’ Hamish said, ‘o… but that’s not bad. How many sons?’


‘None,’ Keldorn acknowledged with sadness.


‘You sure? They sometimes pop up when you least…’ halfling ceased his amiable chatter under Keldorn’s hard stare. ‘Of course, Sir, of course not. You’d… er… know.’


‘That I would.’ Keldorn said gravely. ‘I have never touched another woman, but my lady wife. As every good man should.’ He was taken aback by the halfling’s assumption that every man dishonored himself. Torm would be pleased by him teaching the rogue a lesson.


A righteous word is like a poppy seed - it’s so tiny that it falls without notice, yet even in the meanest soil it tries to grow and blossom.


Assured that his words had sunk, Keldorn returned to the immediate business. ‘Do you have an idea whom it might have been?’


Chastised halfling pursed his lips. ‘Well, them new guild, they are not respectful of our custom here, Sir... They might have... Not that I know for sure, Sir. It’s only a guess, you understand?’

‘Yes,’ Keldorn said slowly, thinking that it was one time too many that he had heard in the past weeks about the Thieve’s Guild rival. ‘I understand...’ The paladin’s watchful eyes noticed that the thief was holding something else back. Some secret that and he was eager to tell. Keldorn cocked his head to one side and tried a blind shot: ‘And do you happen to know anyone in the new guild, Hamish?’ The expression of halfling’s face told him that he hit if not the middle of the butte, but at the very least right next to it.


‘Not... not necessarily, Sir. But I have received and invitation to join... and I hear that they have not sent it to everyone, if you know what I mean. Just the best... Well, I am decided to stay out of trouble and all, Sir, it’s must be that the word of my past... er... adventures had reached even their ears... ‘


Torm have mercy on me, but the wretch is proud of it!


‘So, Hamish, would you give me the name of your contact?’ Keldorn asked, jiggling golden coins in his purse.


‘I would Sir, I would, for of course I have no use for their filthy invitation, only there is no name. A place where someone would meet me at a certain hour should I decide to come... for three days in a row, they say. And that’s my only chance,’ Hamish spouted out hurriedly, ‘only with my uncle being so kind to me, how would I do such a thing. So I said to myself: ‘ Hamish, you are going to throw this invitation away and forget ‘bout it.’ And I did, Sir, by Tymora, I forgot all about it! Until you came asking after the new guild, that is,’ the halfling cast Keldorn a wry look out of the corner of his black eyes. The paladin took the hint:


‘I am sure that good Master Thunderburp would not mind if you go there to help me find my daughter. If the invitation is current still...’


‘Oh, Sir Knight, Tymora’s looking after your poor girl! Today is the very last day that I can come to the Graveyard... And the time is almost right - they’d wait till the midnight they said, and it’s only half past nine....’


Keldorn’s eyes opened wide: ‘At Graveyard at midnight? Are you sure these men mean business?’


‘A tad dramatic, eh, Sir? I thought myself that some pall of mine is joking, but that’s a true invitation, I am sure of it.’


‘Then let us not tarry.’ Keldorn ordered and started pushing his chair off the table, but stopped in mid-stride, seeing that his new ally hesitated. ‘What is it?’


‘Well, I can’t very well go garbed like this,’ Hamish pointed at his tunic decorated in front with a generous greasy spot from a pie and the roughspun breeches. Keldorn conceded that while they might look good on a farmer, the clothes were hardly suited for a famous thief. ‘What if I go change into something more appropriate, Sir, and you meanwhile can talk to my uncle... we’d not lose any time that way?’ Despite the gravity of the situation Keldorn smiled into his mustaches as he nodded his acquiescence. His job tonight was variable indeed.




The fog rising from the river found its way to the Graveyard. Hooded, Keldorn tried to stay on the halfling’s heals as they walked between the rows of the stone monuments, search the thick veil with his eyes for the sign of the new guild envoy and look like a thug. He failed on all three accounts.


A tall cloaked figure jumped out of the fog and loomed over Hamish. ‘Who is this?’ It asked the rogue in a hoarse whisper pointing at Keldorn who fell back for a moment to check what turned out to be a statue of a grieving maiden. ‘Uhm.. A friend.’ Hamish replied almost steadily ‘Very interested in joining.’ The figure turned to eye Keldorn: ‘Do not move!’ it ordered and Keldorn obeyed. Through the fog he could not discern the newcomer’s features, he could not even tell if that was a man or a woman. His only chance to seize the evildoer for questioning or at least discover his appearance was to make him approach. However, even from the distance that separated them, the unmistakable stench of evil emanating from the envoy was so strong that it made the paladin queasy. It was familiar somehow... It was...


‘Run!’ Keldorn screamed at Hamish at the very moment that the figure’s hood jerked back toward the halfling hissing: ‘Traitor!’ at him. Evidently, it recognized the paladin for what he was as well.


Hamish did not take long to access the situation. With a surprising agility the plump halfling ducked the arms that stretched toward his throat and dodged to the left. He would have escaped into the mist too, if he had not hit a gray stele, invisible in the haze. With nowhere to run the thief whirled about, his back to the stone and a dagger flashing in his hand. The clawed hands hang in the air, a hairbreadth away from where the halfling’s back had just been. He followed the hands and then the arms to the shoulders with his gaze and finally had enough bravery to look up into the face of the stilled creature. Then he screamed and plunged his dagger into one flashing red eye. The gelatinous liquid stained the blade, steaming in the cold air, but not a sound came from the snarling mouth of the monster.


‘Put it away. It’s of no use against his kind,’ Keldorn said calmly, walking over to them. Hamish dropped his dagger. ‘Well, I never... It’s a flaming vampire, Sir! Just look at his fangs!’


‘I know what he is,’ Keldorn’s voice sounded hollow and sweat was bidding on his brow from the effort of maintaining the holding spell on the undead. ‘Speak!’ he commanded the creature, ‘Have you heard anything of the girl taken by your kind last night?’ The monster hissed in response.


‘Is he... laughing?’ Hamish asked abashed.


‘I think so,’ Keldorn replied, sitting himself on the ground, cross-legged. ‘Let us see how happy he would sound in a few hours. I am in no hurry and I have always dreamed of seeing a sunrise over the Athkatlan Graveyard.’


‘You’re bluffing,’ the vampire retorted, ‘you’re too weak to maintain the spell for ten hours.’


‘Am I?’ Keldorn asked coldly. ‘Perhaps, for I am just one old man. But my good friend Hamish here would not want you to go reporting to your superiors about him bringing a paladin to this meeting. So he might as well run real fast and bring more. All together we would not need to wait till dawn to destroy you.’


Hamish made a move as if making ready to run for help.


‘And you would learn nothing if you kill me,’ the vampire mused. ‘How about a deal - I would tell you all I know about the girl, and you -’


Without finishing the phrase, the vampire came into motion throwing himself against Keldorn. The paladin scrambled to his feet just in time and the long claws hit the wide blade of the two-handed sword. The vampire lurched to the right, but Keldorn blocked its hit again, his hands rotating the sword comfortably. For a few moments the paladin and vampire danced in the mist. The paladin was light on his feet for a man of his age, but his adversary was even faster. Only a touch faster though, so Keldorn managed to match every strike with a parry. The vampire made a full circle around him, lunging repeatedly, but the old knight stood his ground. In fact, against all odds he slowly gained on his foe, raining a cascade of crashing blows. The vampire backed away and went into a low crouch, like a cat. Keldorn swung the great sword again, leaving his body unprotected; at that very moment the vampire lunched itself upward, claws aimed at the man’s face. The sword’s blow took vampire into its shoulder throwing him a few paces away, but Keldorn’s own cheek bled, torn asunder. The sight of blood invigorated the vampire and ignoring the sword crashing its ribs, it rushed in, growling and kicking.


Suddenly, the vampire stayed his vicious attack and stepped back. Kedorn’s eyes caught a glint of metal just above the pin that closed the cloak at vampire’s throat. In another moment an empty cloak fell to the ground and a bat crawled from under its folds and flew up into the night’s sky crying in a hopeless fashion of a newly widowed woman. Keldorn pressed a palm to his wounded face, a sword still at the ready in now one-handed grip. But his wariness was to no avail. The graveyard was empty.


‘Uhm... Sorry boss,’ Hamish said appearing from the mist and cleaning his dagger with the cloak that the vampire left behind. ‘He weren’t going to tell us anything, but at least we both got out of it alive. Maybe if we can now go to the Order and -’


Keldorn raised his hand, calling the halfling to silence. Blood streamed between his fingers. ‘She is calling me...’ he said rotating his head as if listening to a barely audible sound and trying to figure out where it was coming from. ‘I am coming, Vesper!’ With that the paladin started running deeper into the graveyard. Cursing, Hamish darted after the lanky human. ‘You’d better be right, boss,’ he breathed out, ‘I mean, I’m missing washing up after the play after all!’

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The fog grew thicker, as Keldorn and Hamish made their way through the cemetery. There were no boundaries, no up or down, no left or right. The scraping of wet gravel and the elastic feel of it under foot were the only real things. Even monuments, though made of solid stone looked wispy by the virtue of being cloaked in mist. They appeared on both sides of the trail so suddenly, that it felt as if the stones where jumping out of the shadows at the paladin and the rogue, not vice versa. Yet, through this eerie scenery Keldorn walked as if he was crossing the Government district to have a midday meal with the magistrate.


‘His daughter’s voice leads him,’ Hamish remembered the knight’s hasty explanation. He had no such guidance. However, the paladin, always big enough to follow without troubles, was made even larger by the wide cloak swinging slowly with every step Keldorn took. No, Hamish was not worried about losing the paladin in the haze. The thief was more concerned with where he was being led. His concern grew as they ventured deeper and deeper into the graveyard. Already poorer gravestones gave way to family mausoleums, grave chapels and pompous statues. The city of the dead was the exact reflection of the one build for the living – the luxury and grandeur were reserved for the center of it.


‘Now, that’s a good one,’ Hamish murmured as he saw a fully arrayed knight, kneeling in front of his sword, his head hanged to his chest, his helmet at the crook of his elbow. ‘Very realistic.’ At that very moment a sigh escaped the man’s chest and Hamish gasped and jumped up. Keldorn slowed and turned his head over his shoulder to see what scared the halfling. ‘My good Sir,’ he started and then squinted trying to make sure that the shadows did not fool him. ‘Sir Kamir…’


The man raised his head abruptly and said hoarsely: ‘Leave out the ‘Sir’, Keldorn. I cannot stand this pretence any more!’. Keldorn frowned. ‘I had no idea that you’ve been won over to De Chatillon’s heresy.’ Kamir shook his head: ‘Reynald wants to be new Trawl… I have no interest in their stupid games. I… I just want to be left alone.’ Keldorn put his hand on the younger knight’s mailed shoulder. ‘Sir Kamir, rise. I call thee to thy duty. I need thy help.’ Kamir shied away and finally lifted his face off his chest. Hamish thought that it were two dark holes where the knight’s eyes should have been; his face was bone-white and hollow…. ‘A skeleton! Tymora help me… ’ Hamish’s heart jumped almost as high as he had himself when they first encountered the man. And then, in the unsteady moonlight, he caught a glint of the man’s eyes and the dark growth of stubble on his jaw. Hamish sighed, relieved. He had had enough of undead for one night.


‘I just lost my son and my wife…’ Kamir said hollowly, ‘leave me be, Keldorn. Just leave me be.’ Keldorn said then: ‘In their memory, Kamir, come with me. My daughter is in danger, she needs your help and mine.’ Kamir’s face twisted in anger: ‘In their memory, Keldorn? Sir Keldorn, why should I go save your daughter when none of you came to my wife’s and my son’s help in their hour of need? Where were you when the bandits burned down my house? Where were you when my wife was raped, killed and hanged naked on the gates for no fault of hers, but for being a paladin’s wife? Where were you when my three-years son… They put a sword in his small hands and a plaque on his chest… it said ‘Where are you, daddy?’ And where was I? On a mission! On a stupid mission, chasing goblins, a village mayor thought he might have seen… we had never found even a trace!’


‘Uhm, Sir, maybe it’s for the best if we won’t tarry? And this lad, he is a skinny sort anyways…’ Hamish started, but Keldorn paid him no more attention than to the gravestones. He hunched over the still kneeling Kamir, grabbed the knight roughly by the chin and jerked his head upward, as far as it would go without snapping his backbone.


‘Stop it,’ Keldorn said quietly but firmly. ‘If Sir Ryan let you go moping about what is nobody’s fault but the bandits’, I will not. Rise and follow me. After we are done here, you will report to the Order’s Quarters and ask for a field reassignment. In the area where you house had been.’ Then Kedlorn let go off the man’s face, twisted around and started walking away.


When Kamir’s arms jerked for his sword, Hamish ducked his head. The halfling was sure that the young knight would attack the older, but instead he raised unsteadily, leaning on his sword. And jolted after Keldorn.


‘O, Tymora…what do they do to them in that Order?’


‘Hamish!’ Keldorn’s voice came muffled by the mist, but loud enough. Halfling found the two knights standing by a large family mausoleum. The pale marble had bronze tablets built into it with the names of the men and women buried inside. The light was too scarce to read, but the halfling traced one with his palm and the carved letters spelled Jisstev… Who would have guessed…


‘Well, boss, aren’t it a tad to early for that? Lord Gayan aren’t dead yet… or at least not completely dead-‘ the halfling tried to bid his time. He had no desire to enter the large tomb. Keldorn simply motioned him to the lock. ‘I’m no tomb raider!’ Hamish tried to protest, but the look Keldorn gave him decided him immediately. He started to understand Kamir’s obedience. Paladin or not, Keldorn’s gaze spelled murder to anyone who dared to cross him that night. The lock was so easy, that the halfling thought that a carrier in tomb raiding might have been a promising new start… if he was not set on earning an honest living, that is.


‘Go ahead,’ Keldorn ordered. ‘See what’s inside and report back to me.’ Hamish sighed, opened the door a crack and slipped inside. Pressing his back against the wall, the halfling made it down five very wide steps. You might have thought there were five thousand, the way he was struggling for breath and his blood pounded in his ears. There was unseen danger ahead. He could smell it. However, Hamish did not doubt that he would be able to see it in full glory as soon as he came upon it. Magical ever-lasting torches lit the tomb’s innards. It was dim there, and full of shadows, but still better than the outside. Hamish found doors to a few side chambers, but he kept to the main corridor, which went deeper and deeper judging by the slope of it. Then it turned abruptly. Hamish stick his head around the corner and was rewarded for his caution by the sight of nine animated skeletons, standing in the three columns of three, filling completely a small antechamber. All nine had hammers at the ready and small bucklers strapped to the bones of their right forearms. They peered right in front of them with malicious glowing eyes. Behind them was what seemed like a blind wall. Hamish carefully withdrew back and returned to the knights. Keldorn agreed that he had found what they were seeking. ‘Our deaths, most likely’ Hamish thought gloomily, but did not have time to share the notion with his two companions. The knights went in. He pushed his way between the plated hips and led the way.


They were no more than 10 spans away form the antechamber when halfling’s sensitive ears caught a sound of a bone scraping against bone. Maybe they can sense danger too…and for them it’s us. The knights, their nostrils flaring at the closeness of the foul magic, dismissed his warning sign and marched around the corner, their swords touching their foreheads. The warrens came alive with the sounds of battle. All Hamish had for weaponry was a dagger. Always a fair man, Hamish acknowledged that his favored weapon had one flaw – namely, it was as good as useless against the beings without flesh to sink it in. So he reasoned that his best deployment would be to guard the corridor’s corner from anyone who’d try to sneak in and join the fight. From time to time he pushed looked round the corner and caught a glimpse of a battle. One time he saw Keldorn cutting a neck bone cleanly in half; the reddish lights went out in the eye-sockets and the empty skull rolled only to be crashed under Kamir’s foot. The headless bone carcass continued swinging the hammer. Another time he saw Kamir closing his eyes and yelling out harsh words; immediately, five undead that besieged him were lifted up into the air and thrown against the wall, as if picked up by an invisible tidal wave. Yet another time he saw a hammer catching Keldorn on the side of his half-helm; Hamish shut his eyes out of fear and when he dared to take another peek, dark liquid was streaming into Keldorn’s from his broken brow. ‘His poor face…’ Hamish sighed, ‘I don’t envy his wife tonight…’


Almost every time Hamish looked in, the number of the skeletons standing up diminished, and amount of the shapeless piles of broken bones and dust on the floor increased. When there were only two left, Hamish darted into the chamber yelling bravely and made a show out of swinging his dagger. He brought it home, between the skeleton’s ribs, just as Kamir cut legs from under the monster. But the display was lost on the knights. After the skeleton had hit the ground, Kamir stood so listlessly, that he could have passed off for one of their adversaries. Kedlorn, on the other hand, was moving around quickly, listening. He cried out “Vesper’ a few times, but the girl did not appear. Keldorn hit the blind wall in irritation. ‘She is there!’ Than fear twisted his face. ‘By Torm, they’d better not have grouted her into the wall!’ And he threw himself against the stone and started beating at it with his fists, breaking his knuckles bloody… The sight of him was so frightening, that Hamish froze in place with his mouth open. On the opposite, Kamir came out of his stupor. ‘Keldorn,’ he said quietly, ‘The rogue here has something to say.’ Hamish swallowed. Now, that Kamir had mentioned it, he indeed had a suggestion.


‘Sir,’ he said, ‘allow me to take a look at the wall.’

Keldorn gave way grudgingly. Hamish closed his eyes and started tapping at the surface. ‘There is a secret chamber behind that wall,’ he said with certainty. Then, thinking that it was humans who did it, he lifted on tiptoes and swiped across with his wide-opened trembling fingers at the level where a human would look for a doorknob. Then higher… then lower… until he finally felt a secret seam. Following it he traced the door’s outline, and found no traps. Knowing now how they had hid the seam, he looked attentively for similar patterning. With a sigh, he finally pushed on a stone that had the same sort of seam running around it. Soundlessly, the wall lifted.


The light from the antechamber showed a naked girl standing right opposite to the door, clutching to something to her chest. ‘Father,’ the girl said looking at Keldorn and ignoring Hamish. ‘I knew you would come.’ As impossible as it may seem, but Kamir’s cheeks turned dark-red from deathly pale and he hastily turned away. Hamish noticed two other human girls in the chamber and one elven, nude and beautiful… or as beautiful as any nude woman would appear to a halfling who had spent his whole night fighting vampires and skeletons. ‘Now,’ he thought delightfully, ‘the honest labor brings some reward…’


Keldorn rudely turned him about and shoved him towards the exit. ‘Go to the Order. Tell them to send a priest and a few knights.’ Keldorn ripped his own cloak right off and draped his daughter in it. The girl swayed, and the knight steadied her with far more care than he just had shown the halfling. ‘We will stand guard until the reinforcements arrive.’ Hamish figured that it was not a good time to tell Keldorn that he, Hamish, was not entirely comfortable with crossing the cemetery on his own. ‘Do you think they would come to my help?’ he asked instead, hoping to stick around with one of the paladins. ‘I am but a thief…’ Keldorn pulled a ring off his little finger and pressed it into his palm. ‘You alone kept your presence of mind through all these, my friend. This signet ring will get you the Order’s help.’ After these words the only thing the halfling could do was to square his shoulders and start running for the darkness of the Graveyard.

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The minutes dragged and Sir Keldorn still sat on the padded floor, cradling limp Vesper to his chest. The girl’s awareness had slipped away, used up on resisting the spells and alien magic. She did not speak much while she was still conscious, but the knight doubted that she knew more of her ordeal than she had told. It was fear: a formless, ancient fear that she was mostly speaking of. He had hard time distinguishing between the visions induced by that fear and what had happened in truth. Truth or lie, it stung Keldorn that him being a paladin made his daughter an especially delicious piece for a vampire. Uneasily he thought of Kamir’s family targeted due to his service to the Order and pressed his cheek against Vesper’s forehead. Judging from even warm breaths touching his skin and her heart’s rhythm, evident in a pulsing artery on her throat, Vesper was peaceful now.


She is resting, thanks Torm.


Keldorn was growing tired himself, and finally he moved toward he wall and leaned against the shelves with a relieved, if resigned sigh. The chill breeze of the night did not penetrate so far into the crypt. The dead were best preserved in the stuffy atmosphere. It seemed that the undead were if not comforted, but at least not inconvenienced by it. The living however… Keldorn fought back a yawn, and his head started to swim. Even his stinging cheek was not enough to keep him alert. A sort of stupor ceased him. The old knight knew very well the danger of such condition so he forced himself to study the space of his confinement. From all sides skulls stared at him and the girls were but three lumps on the floor. Kamir’s stiff figure stood black and erect against the lit square of the opened door. Not a restful setting, yet despite it, the strain left Keldorn’s back, his excitement and worries evaporating. Danger became a dull shade on the edge of his mind.


‘I am growing old,’ Keldorn thought unhappily, ‘It is up to men Kamir’s age now…’ But Kamir was broken, and ironically it was up to him to fix it. Sir Firecam coughed, and the younger knight tensed visibly. He was expecting the conversation, perhaps even fearing it. All Keldorn would get now is the same stubborn elusiveness. So the inquisitor asked instead: ‘Can you hear anything?’ The young knight started to shake his head negatively, but then straightened even more, impossible as it seemed, and replied: ‘You have a great hearing, Sir. They are coming.’


Keldorn was so surprised to see Prelate Wessen in person, that it took him a moment to utter a greeting after he had lifted himself and stood on his aching legs. A half-dozen of knights that accompanied the Prelate, were immediately dispatched to search the crypt. Two priests, whom the Prelate also brought along, took Vesper from him and put her near other girls, crouching over them and speaking in low, concerned voices. Sir Keldorn tried to overhear, but Prelate took him by his elbow and Keldorn followed to the corner of the room.


‘Sir Keldorn,’ the Prelate said, ‘firstly, I am quite happy that your daughter had been found; Under the current circumstances I am delighted to grant you a week’s leave from service –‘


‘That would not be necessary,’ Keldorn interrupted as respectfully as he could manage. ‘I would like nothing more than to chase down Jistev.’


‘My old friend,’ the Prelate said comfortingly, placing a dry palm on Keldorn’s shoulder. ‘I am afraid that the Order does not know where Jistev is at the moment.’


Sir Keldorn stared at the Prelate unblinking: ‘The Order failed to locate him? He must have sensed the chase then and is laying low. I suspect that the miscreant has a layer around here and it is a matter of time…’


‘Sir Keldorn, I have never sent anyone after Jistev upon your request.’ The Prelate stopped Keldorn’s objections with a small motion of his frail hand. ‘Because I want to prevent the greater evil. Our position is precarious, my friend. De Chatillon and his men whisper at every corner that we are but usurpers of the Radiant Heart’s proud name. The smallfolk is scared of the foulness that the new Guild brought into this city and some ascribe its success to a conspiracy between to the nobles, the Order, the priests… everyone in power. O, and there are rumors of Bhaalspawn coming to Athkatla, Torm help us all. Will you have me sending a squadron of knights to hunt an affluent and respected nobleman or turn up graves, Sir Firecam?’


‘Yes,’ Sir Keldorn said without hesitation. ‘For it will yield the answers that will calm the commoners and clear the streets of Athkatla once again. Before they see in our inactivity the proof to De Chatillion’s accusations.’


‘And if those answers do not calm the commoners, but fuel their rage? Would you have me sent my knights to subdue the disorder we ourselves had started? Still…’ the Prelate cocked his head to one side, and Keldorn got an uneasy feeling that the man was watching a chessboard. ‘Your words do have merit… That is why I love you so, Sir Firecam. Your outlook is refreshing.’ He tapped at his lips lightly, considering what Sir Keldorn just have said. ‘Many would like me to sit tight, but there are times indeed, when sitting tight does not work.’ He finally came to a decision. ‘Come see me when you are able, we should discuss this matter at length. Unfortunately… unfortunately, much of it now hangs in balance, and only Vesper’s word can tip it. The other girls seem to be lowborn, so I doubt that their word will weigh much against Lord Jistev’s. As for Hamish, apart from him being a shadowy character…’


Keldorn jerked his head worriedly: ‘Where is he?’


The Prelate smiled: ‘After a short discussion I had come to a conclusion that the halfman has a talent of sorts… I offered him to be trained as a… scout and he gladly accepted. It seems that was dissatisfied with his current employment, and your investigation… shall we say… awoke an uncannily interest in secret missions?’


Sir Firecam expelled air with sudden relief. ‘But that makes you unwilling to present him as a witness for the Order, of course. That in truth leaves Vesper.’ He looked toward the priests who now stood upright, chanting, causing the fiery crown of magical energies to gather around them. The hollow incantation strengthened and echoed against the walls; the priest’s hands came aglow. They kneeled again and the healing palms made a few passes over every girl in turn. Vesper looked pale in the magical light. ‘I am going home,’ Sir Firecam said tiredly. The Prelate nodded majestically.




Lady Maria passed her fingers through Leona’s hair. Like wisps of golden silk…


She chased all other feelings away; she just sat there on her huge bed and watched her small daughter. Then the nanny walked into the room timidly and made a courtesy, asking if the Lady wishes Leona to be put to bed. It must have taken the maid a few hours of painful deliberations with herself to come into this room to talk to Lady Maria. The stubborn ‘’tis for ye own good’ was etched into her honest features. Lady Maria clutched her daughter’s body instinctively, and the girl awoke. She was immediately cranky and started weeping in a high-pitched inconsolable voice. ‘I have scared her,’ Lady Maria thought and with a colossal effort of will allowed the maid to take the child away. If the gods judged it fair to leave her with just one child, she was glad it was her youngest. She startled at the thought, an awful disloyal thought and hot tears started rolling down her cheeks again. She cried soundlessly for her lost Vesper.


Vesper, who had come unbidden, Vesper who had swelled her belly and gave her almost virginal body its first taste of childbirth and maternity. She was fifteen at the time, wedded and bedded by a man ten years her elder. He loved her not, despite her best efforts – he was absent for weeks at a time, and when he came back, his eyes looked past her, searching for the places where he had just been or planning his next departure. It was in his absence that Lady Maria had learned that he had left her heavy with child; it was in his absence that she stood for hours in front of the mirrors looking at her quickly growing body and weeping. For the first time she was afraid that he’d come back too soon and will see her that way, for that ugliness would surely close his heart to her forever.


He did come though. Vesper was the only child that the good wives put in Sir Keldorn’s hands after Lady Maria had birthed her. The only one he had named. What kind of a name is Vesper?


Lady Maria did not mind it back then, because she had seen a wonderful change in her husband. He was suddenly in love with her. She was starved for his attention for so long, and so relieved that there was no flaw in her. She did not heed the concerned frowns of the old women that attended her and whispered into her ear that the man should not be allowed to come to his wife until a year had passed after a child was born.


And so Lukian came, a year and two months after Vesper, before term and during the harshest days of winter. His hair was just like Leona’s – golden silk, but he was stubborn, like his father, and a fighter. He lived for more than a week, even when the kindly priest of Ilmaater told her that if she persists, the undeath would claim her baby. Sir Keldorn returned to kneel by a fresh gravestone and by her sickbed. Lady Maria was sick all spring, the spring she had waited for so much. And Sir Keldorn’s love became a distant memory. If not for Vesper, she would have long ago decided that she had dreamed it up. Leona was no proof of it, but rather a denial. From all Lady Maria Firecam’s children Leona was most like her in character and appearance. If that was possible, one could have thought that she had made this child herself, without any intervention from Sir Keldorn.


Lady Maria’s sad revelations were interrupted by the sound of the opened door and commotion downstairs. The happy shouts could mean only one thing. Hastily, whipping away her tears, Lady Maria ran for the hall, but when there was but a flight of stairs left, the strength had left her and she flung herself against the wall. Sir Keldorn stood surrounded by the servants, tall and gray-haired. In his hands he held Vesper wrapped in his own cloak. He looked up and saw Maria standing on the stairs. A familiar fondness lit his eyes as he smiled. ‘She is well,’ Lady maria thought, ‘o, gods, she is well!’ A familiar yet half-forgotten sensation flooded her, making her body came alive with longing while she saw to the maids that washed and dressed Vesper and put her to bed.


Then she picked up Keldorn’s cloak, hastily discarded and hurried back to the hall. Keldorn was slumped into a chair, sleeping. Lady Maria walked on her tiptoes out of the hall and ordered a majordomo to take a bottle of Cormyrian out and send a tray of food into her room. ‘Your Master will need something to eat.’ She stopped only for a moment in her bedroom to spray a perfume onto her hair and then hurried back to the hall. Lady Maria leaned over her husband touching gently a fresh scar… he came awake and covered her small hand with his. The light of the morning dawn colored the hall pink and golden. ‘Maria,’ Keldorn said hoarsely, ‘I am sorry it took so long, but Vesper is unhurt…’ ‘I know,’ Maria replied simply, ‘I have seen her… but you… you were hurt, my poor dear…’ Maria cooed, kissing him gently. He smiled. ‘A priest had started the healing, but you have just completed it.’


Feeling positively like a concubine, Lady Maria sat onto her husband’s lap. ‘I would like to drink with the great warrior I have married,’ she announced almost giggling, delighted by the young smile that appeared on her husband’s face. And she slipped away throwing him one longing look that almost made his heart jump out of his chest.


Sir Keldorn settled back in the chair, looking around, feeling happier than he had been in ages. How fortunate he was that his house stood, that his daughter was sleeping safely upstairs and that his Lady wife loved him. He felt invigorated, he felt young. The tiredness of the last night disappeared completely; Lady Maria was his guardian spirit and his best healer. If only every man would have a safe heaven to return to… Kamir’s gaunt face swam up in front of him, desperate eyes glaring accusingly. ‘Where were you?’ the man asked, ‘where were you when my house burned?’ Sir Keldorn picked up his cloak from the floor and draped it around his shoulders.


When Lady Maria returned, Sir Keldorn took the goblet from the silver tray and took a tiny swallow. ‘Excellent wine. Thank you, dear. You are the most beautiful woman on Faerun,’ and he leaned to kiss his wife. ‘You are a wizard, a veritable wizard – one look at you – and I feel ready to take on any foe! When I look at you I know that there are things worth fighting for!’


‘Where do you think you are going?’ Maria asked sharply staring at his hands that were now fastening a fistula under his chin. He is babbling, like a child excited about a new toy…


‘First to see the Prelate,’ Keldorn reported readily, ‘since the debriefing on Vesper’s abductors cannot wait. We have finally uncovered the nature of the Thieves’ Guild rival and there are political complications -‘


‘We?’ Maria asked listlessly, ‘was Vesper an undercover agent?’


‘No, of course not! I meant the Order, not Vesper. Though the girl deserves every praise for being so brave. Tell her that I am very proud of her once she wakes.’ He frowned worriedly. ‘She seemed drained, though the priest said that there were no physical harm done to her. I hope she will be able to testify tomorrow. I have to convince Prelate Wessen, that it is crucial that we move against the vampires.’


His face showed the signs of agitation.


‘Vampires, Maria, vampires in Athkatla! I’d rather have a viper’s nest on my dinner table! But now, that we know whom we stand against we have to smoke them out!’ He cut the air with his rigid palm so vigorously, that it made a whooshing sound, as if he swung a whip. Looking into the determined, merciless eyes of her husband, Lady Maria found pity stirring in her heart. Pity for those abominable, horrid, evil creatures that abducted and nearly killed her child. She suppressed it. They were already dead, she reminded herself, and they would continue murdering innocent children in their bloodlust if the Order will not put a stop to it. And Keldorn looked so strong and so young when he talked of defeating them.


‘Will you… will you be coming back after reporting to Prelate?’ she asked hopefully.


‘Wish that I could,’ Keldorn replied with sincere regret in his voice, ‘but I was assigned to investigate the Cult of the Eyeless, and looking for Vesper did not move this forward a single bit.’ He kissed her again and marched out of the house. Engrossed in his thoughts Sir Keldorn Firecam did not pay any attention to the poignant song of shattered glass and sonorous sound of metal hitting the terracotta tiles after Lady Maria Firecam had thrown the silver tray and all its contents on the floor.



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