Fall of 1371, Year of the Unstrung Harp
The old man’s feet shuffled heavily, as he staggered along the narrow trail that lead up a small hill just outside the village, to the sturdily built edifice of the temple. The sun was already setting down behind him, and long gray shadows ran in his wake as he walked past the empty stalls of the market and along the low wall of red stone that separated the marketplace from the rest of the plaza. It had been a very long day, and he was considerably tired.
Amkethran was a small settlement, virtually free of any crime, apart from the smuggling operations (considered a legitimate, even honorable occupation), and the regular tavern brawls. The mercenary troops and the inflow of refugees from Tethyr had brought a flurry of violence into the sleepy desert settlement, and at one time there had even been a gossip that the old burial grounds bordering the Monastery were infested with undead. All that activity had ceased shortly after the end of the Bhaalspawn wars, and Chyil had personally inspected the burial caves, and re-consecrated the grounds – there was nothing there now but old bones and ubiquitous red dust. When a small village boy had not returned home one night, nobody had worried much, since it was decided that he had probably stayed over at his cousin’s house, as he had often done before. However, when he had not been found there on the next morning, a wave of anxiety hit Amkethran. There were hardly any strangers in the village these days, so if foul play was involved it was most likely the work of an insider. The rumor mill started grinding - everybody remembered the old drunkard who had not been seen for at least a week and a couple of black lotus dealers from the neighboring nomadic tribe, who had visited Farheed the other day. The boy’s mother was devastated – Dustan was her youngest child, and the apple of his parent’s eye, as it is often the case. He had been missing for the whole four days now, and Chyil’s heart was telling him that the poor woman would most likely never see her son again.
This morning Chyil had organized an extensive search for the missing child, and later led one of the search parties through the dark labyrinth of the abandoned smuggler caves, but in vain. He had also visited the Monastery and had had a long and unpleasant conversation with Farheed Aslami, urging the fat thief to assume some meager responsibility for the village and its inhabitants. Ever since both Esamon and the former abbot Balthazar had vanished without a trace and the mercenary troops had been dismissed from service, Amkethran had virtually been run by the smugglers. Chyil’s speech had not made much of an impression on Farheed, and now the old priest was muttering under his breath in anger. Chyil had known from the start that he had not had much of a chance with the dejected gang leader, but he had not expected any open hostility.
“And to think that I’ve known that piece of lard ever since he was a chubby kid, always chewing and always late for his classes! I wonder what did the elf really do to him, if Farheed still cannot mention his name without shaking and spitting like a serpent?” Chyil shook his head mournfully. “May the Merchant’s Friend in her turn spit on your filthy transactions and shifty deeds, fiend! If one cannot understand the importance of caring for his own folk, he does not deserve the Goddess’ patronage!”
According to rumors, Farheed’s health had suffered greatly after the confrontation with the young magician. Chyil was not sure about that, since when he had offered his services he had received an avid rejection. Some blabbermouths were even snickering behind the gang leader’s back that both of his wives were threatening to leave his house, as he was unable to perform his husbandly duties, and that Esamon’s bastard daughter (whom Farheed had planned to make his third wife) had run away with the culprit, rather than left in search of her father. They also said that Jon’s action had been a retribution for a nasty premeditated attack, and that Farheed and two of his personal bodyguards had been unable to deal with the elf, who beforehand had been considered sickly and unfit.
Whatever was the case, the village was now suffering from the effects of Farheed’s anger and wounded pride. The Esamon’s former lieutenant had never been particularly keen on donating for the poor or supporting the temple. It was odd behavior for a smuggler as they all worshipped Waukeen with utmost devotion; and Chyil had always nurtured a dark suspicion that Farheed was a secret devotee of Mask – the Goddess’ rival deity and open enemy. But today the gang leader had practically laughed in Chyil’s face when the old priest had tried to persuade him to send some of his men to help with the search for the child.
Esamon himself had never been that callous, Chyil remembered. Even in the worst days of the Bhaalspawn affair, when Balthazar’s mercenaries flooded Amkethran, brawling, pillaging, drinking and grabbing women right on the streets, the smuggler captain had always behaved like a gentleman, and not a day had passed without him leaving a coin or two on Chyil’s donation plate.
The situation had improved briefly after the Bhaalspawn had left him with a comatose patient and a sizeable donation. But Chyil was too enterprising and impatient, and the money never lasted long in the temple coffers - there was always another worthy charity case. Now times were rough again: the winter was almost upon them and the upcoming hurricane season was going to be bleak and lonely for the old priest. Chyil had never expected himself to miss his former patient so much. Over the six months of the elf’s stay in the temple, he had got used to Jon’s silent presence, and now the building felt too empty and too quiet.
“I wonder if the other two children found him before he got himself killed or worse?” The old man muttered again. He had great faith in Kessen’s tracking ability and Mirriam’s talent of persuasion but the sand storm that had hit the village two days after Jon’s sudden departure was one of the worst he could remember over the last ten years. “Everything is in Waukeen’s hands, and if the Protectress of the Caravans heard my prayers she must have showed them the way.”
Chyil sighed and continued his walk. Behind him, the sun was sinking below the dunes and now only a few scarce golden rays escaped from the thick cloud that was hanging between the distant outline of the sand and the quickly darkening sky. Tonight the celestial dome was a most unusual amethyst color – a clear sign of another sand storm brewing below the horizon. Chyil shivered as a chill ran down his spine; it felt almost like someone was watching him, calling his name softly from the darkness below the wall. But when he cautiously peered into the gloom and muttered a quick prayer the feeling passed, and he could not perceive anything but the play of shifting shadows. The priest made a sign to avert evil, and hurried on his way - the hour of his daily services was coming quickly and he needed to make it home before the sundown. But as he took a few steps further, the odd sensation returned and continued to haunt him all the way back to the temple.
Chyil’s heart was uneasy, even as he went through the joyful ritual of blessing the consecrated coin and submerging it in a cup of holy water - his hands trembled and he almost spilled the precious liquid over the altar, but caught himself just in time to prevent the disaster. Later that evening, after he had finished both his evening prayers and simple household chores and was ready to retire for the night, Chyil suddenly became aware of a thin hiccupping sound coming from outside. It was almost lost in the incessant wailing of the oncoming storm but somehow he made it out. His first thought was of course of the missing boy. Dustan was one of his pupils, and it was reasonable to believe that if he was still alive but for whatever reason hiding from his family and friends he would come to the temple. Chyil grabbed the lantern, praising himself for staying awake, and not putting out the light and rushed to the door, forgetting everything but the child that might immediately need his help.
The world outside was drowned in shadows, and the old man could not see the stars or the moon as the night sky was hidden under the swiftly running shroud of ragged clouds. Within an hour the sandstorm would be upon the village, he concluded swiftly, and shrugged the thought off as unimportant. His lantern bobbed up and down under the onslaught of the wind, throwing languid bursts of yellow light in all directions. Finally, he spotted a small figure cowering in a ditch just outside the temple. Chyil cried out in joy and hurried to the child who was crouched on the ground like a mouse paralyzed at the sight of a cat.
“Where have you been, little one? We looked everywhere! Oh, Dustan, your mother was so worried! Let’s get you inside quickly, so that I can send for her.”
But as soon as Chyil approached the boy and tried to hug him reassuringly, something strange came over the child. Dustan shuddered convulsively and sprang to his feet, running away from the priest and out of the circle of light with agility unusual even in a boy of his age.
“N...no! Please, don’t tell Momma, I beg you!” the boy cried out in panic. His voice sounded strangely hoarse as if he was speaking through a thick layer of cloth.
“What is it, little one? Are you hurt? I would not harm you, just let me see to your...”
“No! Keep your dirty hands off me, you old pervert!”
The old man recoiled in shock. This time the child’s voice was brittle and arrogant - almost unnaturally so. There was a mutter and a series of doglike whines from the deepest cluster of shadows, then after a long terrifying pause Dustan continued in the same thick voice, interrupted with sobs and hiccups.
“I am sorry, Chyil... I did not want to... But you should not touch me – it is important that you don’t! Will you promise?”
“If it is important to you, I promise not to touch you – but will you at least let me look at your wounds? You are wounded, are you not? Dustan, please come inside the temple and...”
“No! Don’t you understand that I can’t? It hurts, even being this close to you and the... that place burns like fire! It is worse than last year when I fell into the fire pit and Momma had to bring me here to heal my burns! Please, Chyil, don’t tell Momma that you saw me. Can you promise? She should not know about me – it will kill her if she knows!” Another mutter interrupted by a hiccup and hysterical explosion of sobs.
A weight heavier than a millstone suddenly settled on Chyil’s old chest. He froze, struggling with anger and disbelief as a terrible suspicion began to form in his mind. As a priest he had been taught about creatures of darkness that could not approach consecrated grounds...
“What has happened to you, boy?” The old priest asked carefully, praying in his heart that his doubt was a mere trick of a disconcerted imagination. “Where have you been all these days? Why are you hiding in the dark and not letting me help you? I can heal your wounds with Waukeen’s blessing but I need to see what is hurting you. Please calm down and tell me how I can help you.”
“I need you to come with me,” Dustan wailed from the shadow just outside Chyil’s circle of light, and the priest realized that the boy was moving away from the temple, even as he spoke. “Please Chyil! She will punish me if you won’t come!”
“Who is ‘she’, Dustan?” Chyil did not budge, even as he heard the boy’s voice fading into darkness. “Are you speaking of your mother? Come back here and talk to me. I am not going with you unless you explain yourself!”
His heart was racing now, and he could feel cold sweat dribble down his spine. He had noticed that the child’s neck was wrapped with keffiyeh, and when he had tried to hug the boy, Dustan’s hands felt cold despite the relatively warm evening.
“Please come to the burial grounds with me, Chyil,” the boy continued to plea from the darkness. “Mistress Bodhi said she needs to talk to you about Jon!”
15 - 25 of Marpenoth 1371, Year of the Unstrung Harp
It happened on the third day after our departure from Perch. The morning had been wet and gloomy from the start, and by late afternoon the entire mountainside was covered with an impenetrable blanket of fog that had been creeping up the hill from the river bed below for hours, until it finally flooded the almost invisible goat trail that our halfling guide had selected as our route. Gonk swiveled in his saddle and yelled something to Omwo, using an unintelligible local dialect of the hin-tongue, then trotted forward through the soft white curtain. His mount baaed loudly, shaking its long gray beard, but the effect was rather dampened by the layers of fog as both the halfling and his goat faded from sight into the swirling mist.
"What did he say?" I inclined my head to address the halfling bard, who had followed me around like a voluble shadow ever since the day I came back from the dragon cave.
"He said he is going to ride ahead and see how far the fog bank stretches. He also asked us to stay put and keep the pack animals from straying off the trail."
"That is if we can even see the accursed path," I grumbled looking down. "Or if we can find our feet to keep them on it," I added after some consideration. "As for keeping an eye on his goats..."
"You surely do not mean that something as trivial as finding a goat in a streak of fog can present a problem to a great magician like you, Jon?" Mirri asked from somewhere to my left. “Come on, infallible one, you’ve been talking to dragons and treading on clouds – how can locating a simple goat be any more difficult?” Her voice was dripping with sarcasm of the nastiest variety, but the mere fact that she was talking to me was a surprise - we had not exchanged a dozen words since our motley crew had left Perch.
When after a long and perilous climb down from Adalon's cave, I had walked into a hold populated only by half-starved domestic animals and birds, my first act had been to find Olphara’s scouts (not a hard task as they had been lurking on the outskirts of the abandoned village) and to deliver the message of the dragons’ demise. The second one had been to locate a sizeable bedroll in Sixthtoe’s spacious dwelling and go to sleep for what had felt like an eternity, but in reality had only lasted a day or so.
Once I woke up, Miamla had not been there anymore, and the house had been filled with boisterous noise of its returned inhabitants. My backpack and a change of clothes had been neatly arranged at my bedside; and all my party members had been absent, except Omwo. The halfling had always found my need for sleep fascinating in an elf, but as I refused to comment on the matter, he had to take it as given. After cheerful greetings and lots of questions that I had mostly left unanswered, he had finally taken it upon himself to inform me of all the events that had passed whilst I was enjoying my oblivion.
It had turned out that the Perch inhabitants had been happily reinstated in their homes; our departure was to be arranged speedily and with as much convenience as possible. The provisions and pack animals would be granted free of any charge, and a local guide would be assigned to lead us on our way. I had thought that the haste of all these arrangements was a bit inhospitable, but could not really blame Olphara for her desire to be rid of us. The halflings had had too much on their hands already, and our prolonged stay in the village could raise many awkward questions.
Both of the twins had been absent – they had wanted to have a look at the cave and the bodies of the slain dragons, and Olphara had granted her permission. I found out later that Kessen had managed to pilfer a minor artifact or two from Adalon’s hoard, but most of her treasure had been left to the hin tribe as a payment for their loyalty, and as funds for rearing the dragonette. I had no clue what they were going to do with the bodies, and honestly did not care much to find out.
As for Miamla herself – she had simply disappeared somewhere within Olphara’s personal quarters. The hold had still being housing a significant amount of guests of the ill-fated festival, and there were children who had been orphaned during the calamity. I doubted that even the venerable matriarch could have passed the silver-blond elf girl for a hin-child, but maybe Olphara had her own views on the problem at hand, and wanted to deal with the situation gradually, making sure that the hin-people were used to the dragonette’s presence in the hold before disclosing her true nature. In all the hustle and bustle of the resettlement, Miamla’s appearance had gone almost unnoticed. And when I had bluntly asked the halfling matron about the child in the single one to one conversation that we had had before our departure, Olphara had simply told me to mind my own business. I had caught a glimpse of a slender elven frame with a fair-haired head among the hin-children on the day of our leaving. Miamla had looked demure and content in her new rustic outfit of linen and wool. Her platinum locks had been plaited into long pigtails, halfling style, and secured with bright yellow ribbons. I had only shaken my head at this vagrant display of domesticity, and put her out of my mind.
As for my relationship with the female half of the twins - it seemed to be ruined for good. Perhaps my latest exercise of putting myself in mortal danger had been too much for her to bear… especially since I had done it without even telling her of my plans, and right after assuring her that I would never hurt her again. After the twins had returned from the cave we had exchanged a few meaningless remarks about my adventure, and I had been grateful that Kessen had done most of the talking, since he had broken the angry and awkward silence that had threatened to ruin the conversation. Later on, Omwo had joined the crew, and the two of them had had all the fun of discussing the positions of the dragon bodies and all the possible implications of Adalon’s return to her lair. Kessen had claimed that the most precious object in her collection of magic items was still hidden somewhere I the cave. I had only shrugged and refused to speculate. They had tried to pry from me the exact circumstances of my expedition, but I had lied that the dragons had been stone dead even on my arrival, and that after making that discovery I had simply gone back to Perch via the front exit. The fact that I had been absent for the entire day and night, had been easily explained by the difficulty of our original climb to the secret door. Mentally, I had praised Olphara for being discreet with releasing information.
My story, however, had had no effect on Mirriam’s sullen disposition. In effect, the visible absence of any real danger in my lonely adventure had probably made her feel worse, since it looked like I had neglected to inform her of my plans out of pure disregard for her feelings. But I had been too exhausted from my near brush with death to deal with her emotions, and had been grateful that her displeasure took the form of cold and remote disdain. When I had dared to look at her again – there had been not a trace of understanding in her huge dark eyes, only resentment and wounded pride. Well, perhaps it was for the better, I had decided hastily. After all the implications of Adalon’s scrying had sunk into my head properly, my childish scheming at retaining Mirri’s loyalty had seemed pathetic and unworthy of my time. The complexity of my personal situation and the peril of my upcoming struggle with the Seldarine had put all other considerations and petty emotional charades to the back of my mind. I had had no time for the girl and her unsolicited affection.
And so it had continued, throughout our short stay in Perch and later during our trip out of the Marching Mountains. Mirri barely said anything to me, unless it was absolutely necessary. She had also stopped calling me with the ridiculous moniker invented back in Amkethran – I was now demoted to simple ‘Jon’, and from her mouth, it sounded like a kind of name one would give to a dog. I did not complain – in my book it was better than tearful admissions of love and devotion.
“I did not say anything about the relative difficulty of finding a goat compared to finding a dragon, did I?” I asked rather loudly. There was no answer from Mirriam, but someone snickered loudly on my other side.
“You two remind me of a pair of wee kiddies after a great quarrel over a broken rattle,” Omwo stated from my knee region, “Neither one wants to play alone, but nobody wants to say ‘I am sorry’ first, so both continue to sit in the opposite corners of the nursery and sulk.”
I was ready to reply with a snide and cutting retort but at that moment, something rather unexpected interrupted this lively exchange. There was an explosion of frightened baas from the trail behind, followed by Kessen’s loud cussing. The next moment our entire flock of goats carrying all our provisions and extra blankets bounded out of the fog baaing and clanking their bells as if being pursued by an enraged dragon. The animals trampled over us, nearly knocking Omwo into the gorge below, and then disappeared on the other side of the trail. I could hear Kessen chastising Henna and the pony's frantic whinnying, Mirri inquiring about the health of her precious horse, and Omwo complaining loudly over his possible injuries, but could see little – in fact by this time the fog was so thick that if not for my elven vision I would not have been able to see my own hands. I should have stayed where I was and waited until things sorted themselves out but Mirri’s sarcastic remark doubting my abilities was still fresh in my ears, and as all my party members were preoccupied with their own problems, I chose to act on my own.
I quickly dismissed the idea of using magic – the only spell in my collection that might be remotely useful was detect life, but there were quite a few living creatures in the vicinity besides our pack animals, including Gonk and his mount and the twins with the pony. Thus, I decided to rely on my sharp vision and hearing, and ventured up the trail. I was sure that sooner or later I would either run into our guide who had earlier ridden in the same direction, or would see the goats (that had been tied in single file and thus would be forced to stay together even in their flight). What I did instead, (after making a few wild turns, climbing up a steep slope, sliding down and retracing my steps, and finally losing all sense of direction), was get lost in the fog not half a mile from my starting point. I stopped, cursed, and turned back deciding to continue moving out of sheer principle. On my next stop I realized that the fog was thinning in the direction in which I was going – I could now see some features of the landscape around me. I also noted that the area looked familiar. Ahead of me, the trail ran out of the scruffy overgrowth of fir and juniper, and through a patch of bare rock that formed a small terrace on the side of the mountain. A sizeable boulder barred the way, and the path split and looped around it on both sides. I remembered this place as it was a distinctive landmark that we had passed on our way before the fog had finally stopped our progress. Somehow, I had managed to double back on myself on the steep slope without ever passing my companions or running into our goats.
As I moved closer, the mists faded even more. A girl was sitting on the rock that loomed out of the swirling currents of fog like a sea cliff out of rushing tidal waters. She was still wearing her village garb, but the bright ribbons were gone from her hair, which once again spilled over her shoulders in wild disarray. Over her new clothes she wore the dwarven chain mail that I had procured for her after her elven transformation.
She startled me, and for a few minutes all I could do was stand there and blink like a complete simpleton. Seeing my confusion, Miamla nodded and jumped from her perch – landing in the middle of the milky-white mass of fog. But instead of dropping all the way to the ground and disappearing in the mist, she threaded across it, gliding over the churning vapors as if they were solid stone. I was severely tempted to pinch myself, just to make sure I was not dreaming, but the solemn expression on her face stopped me from openly expressing my astonishment.
“I... was... waiting,” she informed me in broken Elven after coming close enough to be heard, “you are... a liar, Joneleth.”
“Waiting for me?” I looked at the girl trying to figure out what was going on. I was not particularly angry at her escapade yet, only puzzled and slightly irritated. “But why?”
Miamla waved her hands, and the mists began to thin under her feet, lowering her slowly to the ground. Soon, the main body of fog melted away as quickly as it had come, and the mountain side was clearing of the last lingering threads of white.
“Was it all your doing?” I pointed at the fog. “And why did you call me a liar? What are you doing here anyway?”
“A liar,” the dragonette confirmed confidently. “You said,” she pointed at me to stress her meaning. “I go... with you. You left.”
“Your mother wanted you to stay at the halfling village!” I protested vigorously. “And this hazardous expedition is no place for children. What were you thinking? The whole of Perch is probably looking for you even as we speak!”
“Halflings busy,” Miamla said, stumbling over the words of Elven speech with some difficulty. “They speak funny,” she explained after a while. “Miamla cannot understand.”
“Well, if you cannot understand the hin-tongue, it is still no reason to run away!”
“Joneleth goes North, Miamla goes North,” the girl said firmly. “Grandmother lives North.”
“You mean - your grandmother’s family lives in the North?” The dragonette nodded. “But do you know exactly where?”
She shook her head vigorously.
“Why am I not surprised? You know, you are worse than your late mother in some respects. What am I supposed to do with you? We cannot just turn back now and take you back to Perch.”
“Miamla go with Joneleth.” She looked at me with huge slanted eyes the color of liquid mercury. “Miamla tell the elves what she knows.”
I stayed silent, looking at her with growing annoyance. But at that last statement a sudden grain of doubt entered my mind.
“What exactly do you think you ‘know’?” I asked carefully, trying not to disturb the odd sensation of being on the brink of a very important discovery. There was something in her words – a glimmer of hope, perhaps?
“Joneleth needs find Evereska,” Miamla answered without hesitation. “Elves in Evereska think he is bad. Miamla says if Mother believed he is good, elves believe too. Joneleth keep the silver moon-thing?” she asked suddenly.
“This is none of your business!” I snapped back, but then looking at her suddenly clouded face added. “Yes, yes – I kept the damned crescent. What is it exactly you are offering – to speak with the Evereskan council of elders on my behalf? So, you understand Common after all?” She nodded again. “But you cannot speak it well?” Another nod. “Trust Adalon to teach you Elven first; I bet she found it somewhat ‘romantic’! Although frankly, I am surprised she bothered at all – she moved as far away into the mountains as she could, but spoke Quenya with her daughter...” I shrugged. “May I ask why do you trust me? If you understood the story about the eggs... or did you?”
Miamla only stared at me without saying a word. Though I had previously noticed the reptilian quality of her gaze, there was something in her eyes now that made me feel deeply uncomfortable.
“Stay silent if you wish. I hope you are not nurturing any ideas of ‘revenge’?”
“Joneleth is weak now. Weak are afraid. Miamla is not afraid.”
“Does that mean you think you are not weak?”
I felt a sudden pang of embarrassment. She was offering me her genuine assistance, in exchange for my help in locating her family, and my first reaction was the display of my own insecurity. How many silver dragons populated the north reaches of Faerun? Probably dozens if not hundreds – but the elves of Evereska might have a better knowledge of such things. Still, traveling with a child through the endless wastelands, forests, and mountain ranges in the face of oncoming winter... I checked the girl over carefully. Miamla definitely looked healthy enough, but how long would she be able to withstand the harsh travels?
“I suppose you can live on human food, little one? We will not have the time or means to provide you with the dragon sustenance.”
“Miamla eat everything. Miamla can call fog if she wishes,” the girl added after some little consideration. “And scare away small enemies.”
“I suppose I should not ask what happened to our goats! Why did you bother with all that circus anyway? If you were following us all that time, all you had to do was talk to me.”
“Joneleth was not alone,” she said simply. “Others think Miamla is just a child – send her away. Miamla wanted talk.”
“Very clever of you - leaving me the trouble of explaining your presence... I suppose, I can make something up. Fine, I will take you with us but under one condition only.”
“Do not ever call me Joneleth.”
Afterwards, it took me exactly five minutes to find the rest of the company. Gonk was back with all of our pack goats - once the fog cleared away they had easily been located not far away from the site of the confusion. My party members were mildly annoyed at my absence, but Miamla’s appearance created an uproar that distracted everybody’s attention from me. She was instantly recognized as a girl from the halfling village (although luckily, no one including Gonk suspected her exact nature) and the amount of questions that were asked was equal only to the amount of Mirri’s fussing over the child. I was immediately accused of negligence and irresponsibility. Furthermore, from some of their odd remarks I got the impression that my companions might have acquired very strange ideas about Miamla’s parentage, and quickly assured them that she was an elven orphan raised in one of the hin settlements close to Perch and brought to the festival by her foster parents who had perished in the dragon attack. Since that was also Olphara’s ‘official’ version, I received some support from Gonk. (The old halfling looked puzzled enough but did not dare to contradict Dame Sixthtoes’ tale.) Necessity is the mother of invention, so, straining my imagination, I continued my tale of woe and intrigue, knowing that if I could make Mirriam feel sorry for the child my victory would be assured. I explained Miamla’s decision to follow us by her desire to travel in my company in search for her own People.
“And you have agreed?” Kessen asked incredulously. “Are you absolutely mad?”
Now, that was enough to push his sister over into my camp, at least on the matter of Miamla joining the company. For the next hour, as we continued our journey along the narrow path to the first suitable campsite, I had a rare opportunity to observe her verbally reducing her twin to a pile of smoking rubble. By the time we were setting our camp I felt somewhat smug and self-assured, that is until Omwo remarked that he had never seen an elven child with eyes of that particular color. That sure stirred my paranoia once again. Remarkably, Miamla did not blink an eye over all the commotion, but perhaps she simply did not know how to express her emotions on her face.
Minor inconsistencies and suspicions aside, the dragonette’s integration into the party went remarkably well. That night I sat by the campfire pretending to be absorbed in my spellbook and watching Miamla play with Myrat, whom Mirriam had summoned for her from the planar bag. The little dragon looked just like an ordinary child – perfectly delighted with a cuddly mischievous critter. Yet how long would it take them to discover the truth - I thought worriedly? There were plenty of half-truths and forbidden topics between me and my party members already, but this one was, perhaps, my first serious lie.
I was getting too dependent on their approval, I decided suddenly. Who were these people to me in the end? A pair of human youngsters with nothing to support themselves but a dubious parentage and an even more questionable set of skills; a half-crazed halfling actor with a venomous temper and a strange (to say the least) sense of humor, who had spent the last half a decade under a domination spell; and finally, an orphaned dragon polymorphed into an elf, with less understanding of this world and its perils than you could fit in a thimble. They all had their uses however... at least for the time being. At the moment my first priority was getting out of the mountains and crossing the river Agis.
After that, we would stop and replenish our supplies in Fort Qian, sending our halfling guide and his goats back into the mountains. Next, we would have to cross the planes of southern Tethyr – judging by Mirri’s map that distance was equal in length to the one we had already covered after starting from Amkethran. After reaching Darromar... but that was where my practical plans stopped. What I was going to do upon reaching the new capital of Tethyr was unclear even to myself.
“At least I will have all that time to think about it,” I thought vaguely, “that is if I even survive the journey.”
“A copper piece for your thoughts!”
I looked up. Omwo plopped down next to me with an empty cup in one hand and a tea kettle in another.
“Thank you. I think I had enough already.”
“Suit yourself, lad. It may do you some good to unwind, though. Ever since you found the elven child you've looked like a thousand cats were scratching at your conscience.”
“Drop it, Omwo. You are not going to get anywhere with this talk, as you well know.”
“That still remains to be seen, my boy. I have plenty of time to work on you – all the way to the border with Tethyr and so forth. In the mean time, do you wish to continue our discussion of differences between Tethyran customs and those of Calimshan? I have yet to tell you about the death of good king Errilam, and the Elven wars. And if we ever reach Ithmong – I will never get used to this practice of renaming the cities with every new dynasty – you will need to know why humans there will look at you with doubt and suspicion.”
I glanced at the halfling. In the deep evening shadows his eyes looked almost black, and the orange flames of the fire made them shift and sparkle with hidden mirth. But whatever his game was, I was determined to prove I was no stranger to deception and intrigue.