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02 June 2008 @ 05:52 pm
22 Flamerule 1372 / late spring ca. 1340 (Flashback)  
I was laying out my things for the wedding the next day, trying to distract myself from thinking about the previous day's events. I realized that I’d brought the wrong jewelry box. I have two, one that contains new pieces I’ve . . . acquired since living in Silverymoon, and one that is one of the few belongings I took with me out of the Underdark. The box itself I stole from one of my marks in Menzoberranzan--I sometimes took something extra for myself when the job proved more challenging than the agreed-upon fee warranted--but inside were things from my childhood. Relics of another life. Found objects, stolen objects, small trinkets of the sort you give to children as bribes or rewards. I don’t even know why I keep them. It's not like my childhood is something I want to remember. But in my haste when I packed for the trip, I had grabbed that box instead of the newer one.

Drat.

There was a particular brooch I had in mind to go with my blue gown.

I pawed through the box, hoping to find something that might be appropriate. Among the stones and feathers and toys were some nice things; after all, I was over a hundred when I left. I found a silver chain with a sword-shaped pendant, a gift from one of the priestesses of Eilistraee back in Cormanthor. It wasn’t elegant, but it might do, with a cleaning. Then I saw it. A deep blue sparkle, buried at the bottom of the box. The sapphire. I can’t believe I’d forgotten about it, considering what I’d gone through to get it, and how it changed the course of my life.

It was elven work, beautifully cut. An oval sapphire, almost half an inch long, framed with silver filigree. The silver work was so delicate, it seemed as though it would snap with the merest touch, though it, too, was now tarnished. How I’d wanted it. I’ve since learned to school my features better, because my father saw it in my face, how much I wanted that pendant, and by the time I stole the gold to buy it (I didn’t dare steal the pendant itself, the merchant guarded it all too carefully), the traveling merchant told me that my father had already purchased it.

Oh, Cormanthor. Being in the High Forest, sometimes I can almost imagine I'm back there for a moment. It feels like a lifetime has passed since I left. I only wonder what I would have become if I hadn't done what I did to get this piece of jewelry.

Back then, I was still trying to prove myself to my father and to the clan leaders. Prove that I wasn’t just a drain on resources, that I was useful. I was training to serve as a ranger for the clan. Rangers received a lot of respect, as they were responsible for hunting and for the safety of the clan. And capturing slaves . . . remind me not to tell Seledra about that.

Training wasn’t going well, however. I wasn’t a strong fighter, and I was terrible at tracking. But I was nimble and good at sneaking about. I passed combat tests mostly by avoiding getting hit until I could get in a cheap shot, and, well, sometimes I was called out on those. I mostly didn’t pass tracking tests. But I often found myself in interesting places, and sometimes brought back items valuable enough to avoid excessive punishment.

It was a week before my “last chance” tracking test when my father bought the sapphire pendant out from under me. If I didn’t succeed, I was not to continue training. And just to taunt me, my father set up my coveted jewel as the prize. He knew I had no chance; I was set up to lose. There were four of us in the test, me and the three top students in the clan, including Rizzen, who was the closest thing I had to a friend. The few tests I did pass were usually because I would bribe him to catch my quarry for me, often with a night in my bed, until he wised up and realized that he had more to gain by claiming his own prizes. “Not this time,” he began telling me.

“Definitely not this time,” he had said when this contest was announced. I didn’t speak to him for several days.

This was going to require more creative cheating than what I used in the past. My Aunt Vasiira tried to encourage me, telling me that rangering wasn’t the only way to earn a place of respect in the clan, and that maybe this would be an opportunity to develop different talents. She invited me to come to dinner with her later that week, so we could talk more about my possibilities, but I declined, as I had too much plotting to do.

A few days before the day of the test, I spent some time spying on the training master and found out what the quarry would be. A goblin that had been captured and branded. He would be released into the forest, and whoever brought back the right goblin--still alive was optional--won the prize. I don’t remember what the penalty for the losers was (except my own, which was special). Probably lashes. Whipping was a popular punishment.

Knowing it was a goblin gave me an edge. Goblins love caves, and there were only two small cave systems nearby. I took the next couple of nights to explore. We were semi-nomadic, and my little section of the clan had recently moved to a new part of the forest, so I would need to find the best shortcuts and find out what was already in those caves, so I could figure out where the goblin was likely to head once released. The first night I went to the eastern caves. Much to my surprise, they were empty. I mean empty. No animal dens. No sentient creatures. Not even giant spiders. Every cave has spiders.

There were signs of humanoids, but not of occupation. It was as though the caves had been recently cleared. Nervous, I started to make my way back out of the caves, when I heard a strange music. I crept as close to the cave mouth as I dared, and saw an amazing sight: a group of drow, mostly women, singing and dancing. Many of them were from my clan, though there were also many that I didn’t recognize. I later learned that they traveled from the Underdark to take part.

I quickly surmised that it was an Eilistraee cult holding a ceremony. I already knew the Dark Maiden, of course; she had come to me in dream visions once or twice, as she does to most drow. And like most drow, I had ignored her, though I knew there were some that answered her call. The only wonder was that they dared meet so close to our encampment.

I couldn’t go anywhere until they finished and left, so I watched from the shadows of the cave, looking for people I recognized. Stupidly, I almost blew my cover when I saw my aunt. It was the same night that she had invited me to dinner, and I couldn’t help but wonder if she had really meant to bring me here. I watched in wonderment; these people were kind to one another. They cooperated in preparing food, and later in cleaning up the site. After the ceremony itself was over, they socialized. The priestesses didn’t watch imperiously and crack whips when someone stumbled. People smiled at their companions, without stabbing them in the back right after. Just in observing them, I felt more at peace, even safe, than at any time in my short life. Something seemed to tug at my very soul to join them. I didn’t, however; I merely watched and waited.

As I finally made my way home, the feelings that had swelled in me watching the Eilistraeens faded, and the familiar thoughts of cruelty and competition and status returned. I thought of my father, a priest of Vhaeraun. He’d want to know about this, want to rout them out. I wanted respect? It was at my fingertips. I need only find out when the next meeting would be, and quietly tell my father where to be. I could even bypass my father, and go to someone even higher than he. Wouldn’t he be surprised?

My father was deep in his trance when I snuck into our home. I considered waking him, or simply waiting in his chamber for him to wake, but I decided against it. This was my secret, my trump card, to be used only when the time was right. I wanted to hold on to my knowledge until the time it would benefit me most. In retrospect, I suppose that was the first step on the path I eventually found myself on.
 
 
Current Location: Amalith/Cormanthor
Current Mood: nostalgicnostalgic
Current Music: birds singing
 
 
 
Our Cultural Fear of Oompa Loompassarchasmic on June 3rd, 2008 05:26 am (UTC)
I like this one a lot. Love the comic timing of the Rizzen reference, which was just perfect. Like the setup and then payoff of the aunt. I wouldn't mind a hint as to the setting in the transition that occurs around Paragraph 5 and 6.

Although I realized that the setting occurred above-ground, it took me a moment, because of the reference to drow and caves and the previous mention of Menzo. Then again, I'm always forgetting that her background is from Cormanthyr. Still, some mention of that prior to the location tag at the end of the post wouldn't hurt.

Yay for the return of postings!
vaudyvaudy on June 3rd, 2008 02:41 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I did wonder if the transition to the flashback was clear enough. I'll work something in there; thanks. I might change or remove the location tag at the bottom, since it refers to R's present location, not the location of the flashback, and I was worried it might be confusing.

And there will be lots of Rizzen in part two. Actually, just to give you a heads up, I'll be looking to you to let me know how I'm handling his voice, since there will be more significant dialogue.
vaudyvaudy on June 3rd, 2008 02:50 pm (UTC)
Right then, I've added a transitional paragraph between paras 5 and 6. Please let me know how it works, or if it's a little clunky.
Our Cultural Fear of Oompa Loompassarchasmic on June 5th, 2008 02:19 am (UTC)
Looks good!