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12 June 2008 @ 05:58 pm
22 Flamerule 1372 -- Afternoon  
"There you two are! We were wondering when you were coming for lunch!"

We turned to see Seledra's Aunt Ariel smiling at us through the window, and we went outside to meet her. She had kindness and wisdom in her face; I could see why Seledra had so enjoyed her time with her aunt. She embraced Seledra, then took my hand in both her own.

"Mayurra, is it? You may call me Ariel, dear," she said. "I'm afraid your reputation precedes you. Both Issey and Tordrin told everyone of your treatment in Olostin's Hold. Young Methrammar was grieved to hear it and said something to Aarin about something called 'administrative leave' to make your trip back run more smoothly."

Seledra said, "Oh, I doubt we'll be making too many stops on the way back." Seledra and I had briefly talked about the return trip before our arrival in Amalith, and we had agreed that it would be best to travel straight through, stopping only long enough to water the horses when they needed it. Still, it was comforting to think someone might help things along for us. Seledra continued, "We're both kind of homesick for Silverymoon."

"Ah, Silverymoon," Ariel said. "I remember when Issey was just a child, all the stories she wrote home about about you two at Utramm's Conservatory. But that, that was all before." The word "before" had a . . . heaviness to it.

"Before what, Ariel?" I asked, before I realized what I was saying. I hoped the question hadn't been insensitive.

"Pan had an older brother once. He died." Sadness touched Ariel's kind face as she spoke.

I reached up and laid a hand on Ariel's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Ariel. I know how it hurts to lose family." My aunt, the only member of my family that had cared about me, the one who had converted me to Eilistraee's faith, had not survived the raid that precipitated my leaving home. She was, perhaps, the only member of my family I regretted losing.

Ariel took my hand and squeezed it. "Thank you, my dear."

She led us into the main house and to the dining room, where the rest of the family was waiting for us. The twins and Pandora, the bride, were indeed there, as Seledra has mentioned, as well as Pandora's fiancé, Aarin Gend, the former Spymaster of Neverwinter. Pandora was different from her siblings and her cousin. She was more reserved and solemn, even though her love for Aarin was evident on her face. For his part, Aarin was large and muscular, with a deep, rumbling voice. For all that, though, he moved with the grace of an acrobat. Like Pandora, he was reserved, but he had an air of watchfulness about him, and he carried himself as though ready to strike at a moment's notice. I sensed that he missed nothing that went on in his immediate surroundings. I would have to be careful around this one.

Also joining us were Methrammar, the young man that had so delayed Seledra in Everlund, and, much to my surprise, Tordrin. Pandora and Aarin took their seats at the head of the table, and the rest of the group found seats around them. Methrammar held his hand out to Seledra and seated her next to himself. He was quite charming, and his courtly upbringing was evident. As we were introduced, he assured me that he had already taken steps to ensure our safety and comfort on our return trip. I sat next to Seledra, and Tordrin appeared beside me just in time to hold my chair for me, and he sat next to me. Another charmer, there. He had been most solicitous toward me since yesterday. He hadn't needled me regarding my identity since the attack, but he could still just be trying to gain my trust.

After the initial introductions, the table became a flurry of conversation. I could hardly keep track of it all; it seemed as though twenty conversations were going on at once, despite the fact there were only nine of us in the room. Methrammar and Seledra made small talk. Tordrin mostly talked to Isendur about elven history or some such, something they apparently had a common interest in. He had explained to me when we first sat down that Isendur had invited him to lunch for that very reason. I sort of sat back and watched, at first.

As lunch was served, Ariel looked at me and said, "I hope you like chilled chicken salad with pine nuts, Mayurra."

I took a bite and replied, "It's delicious, thank you." It was; I loved pine nuts, and I hadn't had any since Cormanthor. It's a pity, actually, that I couldn't share that with my host.

Tordrin finished his discussion with Isendur and turned to me. "So, Beautiful, are you enjoying this little gathering?"

"It' s different. That much is certain." Indeed, while I had certainly shared meals like this with drow at various times and places, and we had mundane conversations not unlike the ones going on around this table, I was pretty sure Isioleth wasn't plotting her brother's untimely death as the twins chatted casually with their mother about the Harpers setting up camp down below the tree village, and Pandora wasn't thinking about the best ways to overthrow her mother as Archdruid while she and Aarin discussed some of their wedding guests, and Aarin Gend wasn't secretly orchestrating his takeover of Silverymoon while talking about his pirate days and how long his sentence was when he was captured. These people all liked each other, and it showed. I'm not used to this. True, with the Eilistraeens it was different, but when we had a chance to socialize, we did so quietly, in small groups of three or four, and we didn't really have personal conversations so much as we exchanged strategies for hiding our activities from our fellows. I distinctly remember having a conversation once about how to perform random acts of kindness without getting caught.

At some point, I noticed that Seledra was behaving oddly. Her voice was . . . higher than usual, and she was flushed and on edge. She seemed to have some trouble articulating when someone spoke to her. I glanced at Methrammar. He was very attentive to her, but he didn't look concerned. Amused, rather. Satisfied that I knew what was wrong, I turned back to Tordrin with a smile.

As Tordrin asked if I wanted to split a piece of flatbread with him, Seledra stood up suddenly.

"Um, Aunt Ariel...I'm afraid I am feeling...unwell and I...I...should go lie down. Now," she said.

Ariel suggested that Methrammar walk her back to her room, and Methrammar seemed only too happy to oblige. It was difficult not to grin at Seledra as she exited, but since no one else seemed to guess what was really going on, I faked concern. There was a bit of chatter around the table about what we had been through the day before and how little rest we'd gotten, and much to my dismay, I was asked to recount my side of the tale.

"Surely this isn't the first time you've encountered such racism on the surface?" Aarin Gend asked me when I finished.

"No, certainly not. When I stay at an inn, I typically pay twice what everyone else does for the privilege of receiving half the service, and I am regularly detained by guards in Silverymoon for no apparent reason. This was merely the first time I was caught so . . . helpless by someone who wanted to hurt me."

"Unjust though it was, I must say in their defense that Olostin's Hold probably finds itself the target of drow raids on a regular basis," Aarin said.

"No, you're right. I understand where the hatred comes from. I was part of more than one surface raid when I lived in the Underdark, though after my conversion, I mostly worked to sabotage such raids."

"I see. But why didn't you join one of the surface enclaves when you turned to Eilistraee? As I understand it, they never turn away a refugee from the Underdark when someone wants to join them." It seemed a man like Aarin Gend simply couldn't help but gather as much information as possible.

Tordrin butted in. "The Eilistraeens nearly always have followers who remain in the Underdark. Some simply can't bear to live on the surface, others fear repercussions against their families, and others, like our May here, act as agents to subvert the drow's goals and keep the surface groups apprised of any important plans the Underdark drow may have." He smiled warmly at me.

"You know a lot about the Eilistraee cult, then?" Aarin asked Tordrin.

"Oh, yes, I worked with them extensively as a member of the Silver Swords."

"Ah, then you are an associate of Mayurra's?"

"No, I left the Silver Swords for the Harpers before Mayurra joined the faith. But I still communicate with some of the groups I used to work with, and they know her." That was fast. Who had he contacted, and how? Maybe he just made it up to help me.

Gend seemed satisfied--for the moment--that I wasn't some secret drow assassin posing as an Eilistraee worshiper, and talked to Tordrin for a little while longer about his time with the Silver Swords. Isioleth took the opportunity to pepper me with questions about the Underdark and what it was like until we'd finished dessert. Nothing I couldn't answer honestly, fortunately.

As we all got up from the table, Tordrin offered me his arm. "It's a lovely day, perhaps you would do me the honor of joining me for a walk? Or do you feel you need a little more rest?'

"No, I had an opportunity to rest this morning, and maybe a walk would do me some good."

"Wonderful! I had thought to stroll the walkways, but if the height bothers you, we can go to the ground," he said as we headed out.

"Oh, the height is fine; I used to climb . . . buildings, when I was very young. I loved to walk rooftops." Eh-heh. I was about to say I climbed trees and explored abandoned elven villages. Stupid girl. Gods and demons, what was it about this beautiful man that made me drop my guard? Tordrin didn't seem to notice my slight flub, though.

It was indeed a lovely afternoon, all dappled sunlight, with brighter patches here and there where the forest canopy was thinner. As we walked through one of these, Tordrin asked me, "I hope the light doesn't bother you. It would have been a touch darker down below. I should have thought of that--I apologize."

"No need. I have . . . acclimated quite well to sunlight. Somewhat better than I would have expected."

"Indeed. The Talaviirs have told me it took them years to grow accustomed to it. They still get very uncomfortable in broad daylight. They prefer to remain in the shadows." Tordrin paused. "The only drow I've met who handle sunlight as well as you seem to were raised on the surface," he continued--not quite casually enough. I stiffened involuntarily. One of these days, I have to learn to control my reactions better.

We walked on in silence until we reached an isolated platform with no buildings on it. It must have been a sort of lookout. Tordrin stopped and turned to me, taking both of my hands in his. "This place seems reasonably secluded," he said. I looked away. "May, I know you don't trust me, and you don't want me digging around in your past. So I've decided that I should tell you exactly what my intentions are."

"Oh?" I turned back toward him.

He smiled. "I can't speak for Thralia's intentions, but as for my own . . ." He bent down and kissed me. Oh. Oh, no. Nonononononononono. I didn't want to let this happen. It was one thing when he was just a handsome man flirting with me that I didn't think I'd see again, but this went against all my better judgment. I couldn't let someone get this close to me who could watch my every movement without my knowing. Or someone who might discover information that would draw my family to me if it were to get out in the open.

But he kissed me like . . . like he wanted to share something with me, not take something from me. And I liked that feeling. And so I told my better judgment where to shove it and leaned into Tordrin's kiss. He put his arms around me and drew me closer to him. Oh, yes. I ran one hand up his chest and twined the other into his long, black hair. His own hands ranged across the expanse of my back. I felt for a moment like something out of those silly romance stories Seledra and I sometimes like to read to each other. The air grew warm around us and seemed to crackle, as though we were surrounded by sparks. Of course, I felt silly even thinking such a thing, but I chalked it up to the fact that I just wasn't thinking straight. But then I heard . . . was that bells? No, it couldn't be. I was imagining things. But if so, then Tordrin was imaging the same thing, since he suddenly pulled away from me when it started. Imagine my surprise to find we were surrounded by sparks.

Tordrin and I looked at each other, and he sighed. "Gnomes," he muttered, rolling his eyes, before he turned to lean over the railing. "Knock it off, you two!" he yelled to someone on the ground.

"But it was just getting really good!" a light, male voice yelled back. I joined Tordrin at the railing, and sure enough, way down on the ground, there was Meree, shooting fireworks from her hands, and Cosmo, um, serenading us with his Tocken. They both burst into helpless laughter, and Tordrin actually blushed.

"I promise you, I did not put them up to this," he said, shaking his head. Just then, another shout came from nearby.

"Hey, Thralia!" This time, it was a deep bass voice. I could just see Falco, the dwarf who played percussion, in the trees behind Meree and Cosmo. "Aren't we going to rehearse sometime this afternoon?"

"Yes," came Thralia's voice, "just as soon as Tordrin finishes his canoodling and gets his lazy ass down here!" She was trying her best to sound irritated, but I could hear the amusement in her voice. By this time, Meree and Cosmo were literally rolling on the ground laughing.

Tordrin dropped his head into his hands. "I swear by Solonor Thelandira, Eilestraee, and Ao himself that I did not have anything to do with this!" I laughed in spite of myself.

"Perhaps now would be a good time to walk me back to my room?"

"Yes, that's a good idea," Tordrin replied, succumbing to laughter himself. Thralia, Falco, and the Talaviirs had all come full into view, grinning like jesters. Falco waved. Thralia cat-called. Venye grabbed his sister and mimed dramatically leaning her back as though to kiss her, until she smacked him. Tordrin resolutely kept his gaze straight ahead of him through all of it, albeit with a embarrassed smile playing at his lips. But instead of offering his arm formally, as he had done earlier, he took my hand, lacing his fingers into mine. So linked, we made it back to my room and collapsed with mirth onto my bed.

"I am sorry," Tordrin said. "I thought we would be far enough away from the camp, but someone must have wandered off and seen us." He leaned up on his elbow and caressed my cheek.

"Well, there's nothing for it now," I said, wriggling up against his chest. "I suppose you'd better go down for rehearsal. If you delay much longer, you'll only give them more to tease you about."

"Oh, this is only the beginning of the teasing," he replied. "You should see what happens when Falco and Venye try to get some private time. I hope you have a thick skin, because I'm not going to let it stop me." He kissed me for emphasis. "Trust me, they mean it in good way. You get close, in a group like ours, especially considering how much we travel. We spend a lot of time together, and we're kind of like a family. Though now that I've said it, I suppose it may not be the best analogy for you."

"Not especially. I don't want to be around people who remind me of family, but it's okay."

"You're wrong, by the way."

"About what?"

"They'll tease me even more if I come down too soon. " Tordrin slid a hand up my skirt and kissed me again.

Altogether, he stayed in my room about half an hour. Nothing more happened, but he did promise to stop by again later. I eventually fell asleep, listening for his voice as the band rehearsed on the ground, and imagining he was singing just for me. I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into, but there would be time enough to think about the repercussions later.
Current Location: Amalith
Current Mood: mellowmellow
Current Music: band rehearsal
The Heretic Heartdandycat on June 13th, 2008 06:36 am (UTC)
Love this!

The inclusion of gnomish prankiness was hilarious and awesome. Oh, this is gold and win!
vaudyvaudy on June 13th, 2008 02:26 pm (UTC)
I take it, then, I chose the right characters to be in on it? Woot! It was actually tough to decide who to involve besides the gnomes; I almost asked for help on that one.
The Heretic Heartdandycat on June 13th, 2008 06:37 am (UTC)
Also, this is going to make the big emo post all the more heartbreaking when it comes.
Our Cultural Fear of Oompa Loompassarchasmic on June 13th, 2008 06:40 am (UTC)
What is it with that place? Everybody gets some around there.

Also, look out for tense shifts like these:

"I'll have to be careful around this one."

"It seems a man like Aarin Gend simply can't help but to gather as much information as possible."

Thought there was another one, but I can't find it at the moment.
Our Cultural Fear of Oompa Loompassarchasmic on June 13th, 2008 02:15 pm (UTC)
Also, as Sabrina noted, I forgot to mention whether I liked the piece or not.

I do. Good job!
vaudyvaudy on June 13th, 2008 02:33 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
vaudyvaudy on June 13th, 2008 02:32 pm (UTC)
No no, Ralenthra didn't actually get any. She just had a really good make-out session. I guess I didn't make that clear enough; I'll have to take a look at that.

Yeah, at some point I realized I had a few tense shifts in there, and decided to deal with it later. I'll do a proofread before canonizing it.
Our Cultural Fear of Oompa Loompassarchasmic on June 13th, 2008 02:55 pm (UTC)
No, I could tell she didn't get any.

But she's pretty much getting some.
ralenthraralenthra on June 13th, 2008 03:53 pm (UTC)
Well, yeah.

I think I caught most of the tense shifts. Let me know if you spot any I missed.
The Heretic Heartdandycat on June 13th, 2008 10:51 pm (UTC)
For to edit
He smiled. "I can't speak for Thralia's intentions, but as for my own . . ." He bent down and kissed me. Oh. Oh, no. Nonononononononono. I didn't want let this happen.

I didn't want to let this happen.
ralenthraralenthra on June 14th, 2008 12:48 am (UTC)
Re: For to edit
Fixed! See, this is what happens when I change not only the tense, but the whole verb construction. Making corrections only produces more mistakes. ;)