CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR
22 of Uktar 1371, Year of the Unstrung Harp
The musical score of that ‘notable’ production was a mix of mediocre festive tunes that were destined to become popular jingles, and a few slower ‘lyrical’ pieces that were supposed to represent the elven theme. At the time of the performance, I was utterly oblivious to the validity of the cultural connotation of the music, as my memory had been wiped blank of all the related knowledge: for all I knew, Eldoth and company might have adapted genuine elven love songs. But the very sound of those melodies made me cringe. And my dislike of the insipid crooning of the pretend elves was somewhat justified by the blank expressions on the faces of the real elven guards in the ambassadorial box. Duke Foxfire’s features were frozen in a grimace of polite interest (spoiled only by an occasional wince), but he was rumored to be Queen Zaranda’s personal friend and a champion of elven interests at the Queen’s court. So, I suspected that his stolid demeanor was a tribute to his political agenda, rather than a sign of genuine approval. I still could not make out the elven envoy’s face: Her Excellency seemed overly concerned with protecting her privacy and not a single lock of hair or a stray glance escaped her veils through the duration of the first half of the play. A heroic feat, considering the hot stifling atmosphere in the theater, infused with a ‘bouquet’ of human bodily odors, heavy perfume, and various cosmetics.
The lyrics were equally bland, although I noted a few amusing couplets that bore the mark of Omwo’s acerbic humor. The actress chosen to play the role of the beautiful elven princess in love with a human was a skinny human girl with a perpetual expression of stage fright lurking at the bottom of her pale-blue eyes, and an anxious smile that looked more like a scowl. She had a small stunted soprano and seemed terminally angry at her supposed on-stage beau played by Eldoth. For a fleeting second, I even felt sorry for the bard. He was a decent singer (even though all he was capable of as an actor was a narcissistic display of his own persona), yet his co-star managed to ruin even the minuscule amount of artistic quality that he contributed to the performance. I quickly lost track of the plot, (which was not surprising considering my predicament). But I suspected that even without the distraction of the envoy the show would have been a turn off.
The elves remained unmoved in their loggia throughout the first two acts of the play, which went without a break, and I began to scold myself for the pointless worrying – either they could not see me in the shadows, or my face was as alien to them as theirs were to me. I had met a few members of my own race on the streets and markets of Darromar before tonight, and even though those meetings had been limited to exchanges of polite nods and meaningless words of greeting, all such encounters had left me speechless and trembling like an over taut string. The thought of being recognized by someone who might have known me in my former life was frightening and electrifying at the same time, as I still nurtured a forlorn hope that both the oracle and the dragon might have been lying about my true identity, (an idiocy that was hardly conceivable but, alas, undeniable).
Yet there was another issue to consider – namely the fact that the features I now claimed as my own had been in all probability well forgotten by everybody. According to the oracle’s vision, after Joneleth’s failed attempt to seize the power of the mythal the renegade’s face and hands had been scarred for life with no hope of restoration. I sometimes wondered – what had he become in the later years of his life? Adalon had seemed greatly distressed by my looks, and she had known him both before and after his downfall. Of course, he had used her over-exalted reaction at his appearance to steal her eggs - that was why he had entered her lair wearing his original face. But however hard I tried to wrack my brain, I could not regain the sight of his ‘true’ visage – only brief glimpses of a bizarre leather mask from Adalon’s nightmare.
There was also a matter of the oddly fashioned leather harness in Chyil’s closet… The old man had alleged that it had originally belonged to me. Supposedly, the outfit had been wrapped around my unconscious body at the time of my arrival, when I had been delivered to Chyil’s doorstep rather like a parcel, oblivious of my surroundings and final destination. When I had seen the piece, it had appeared to be of entirely wrong shape to fit me properly, although its former owner had certainly been equally tall, and that was conspicuous, since I was a few inches taller than the average human. As for my supposed elven kin - I towered over them like a pine tree over a flowering shrub of dogwood. (A rather frivolous comparison that had sprang into my mind after visiting Queen Zaranda’s ornamental gardens, and meeting their elven caretaker.)
But perhaps Joneleth had done something to enhance his physique? Something that had been partially cancelled by his later transformation into me... My voracious and erratic reading over the last few weeks had convinced me that almost any physiological modification could be achieved with the proper use of magic… If only I knew how to break the block that the Seldarine had placed on my memory! Yes, I was now certain that if the oracle had been correct about my past, the memory loss as well as the geas was the new punishment of the elven gods, designed and implemented with one goal in mind - turning me into their obedient tool. So far, the divine meddlers had been successful in their scheme. I was in Darromar, dutifully looking for a way to complete their quest, and Corellon’s silver crescent was traveling with me in my belt pouch, regardless of my distaste. Nonetheless, magically changing my appearance to avoid recognition was something to ponder about in the future, I decided finally, and gave the diplomatic loggia across the auditorium another quick scan.
The elven visitors in the box were still impassive, but at least the horrendous performance seemed to be drawing to a halt - I noticed with some relief. The humans in the theater were all up on their feet, applauding loudly. The actors had stopped their bothersome singing, and a huge curtain of red velvet was slowly being drawn across the stage. But the human crowd was going wild with excitement, and the curtain was pulled back to allow the public to express their admiration with more ovations. I gnashed my teeth, and hid the palms of my hands in the wide sleeves of my robe, shutting my eyes in a vain attempt to stifle the rising wave of annoyance. After I opened them again, the first sight I caught was Miamla’s unhappy face looming in front of mine. When she wanted to, the dragon child could move as swiftly and stealthily as a desert gecko. There was something reptilian in her fluid motions, I thought with disapproval.
“Joneleth is angry.” She stated the obvious in our shared tongue.
“You are using that name again,” I responded equally curtly. “I am here at your demand, little brat, but you cannot make me enjoy this travesty.”
“What is brat?” she inquired innocently, and after some consideration added, “Travesty Miamla knows not.”
“It is not important,” I replied after a short hesitation. “You would not understand it anyway.”
Her unblinking silver eyes looked at me with an expression of mild displeasure. Somehow, that stare always managed to make me feel uncomfortable. Miamla was a hatchling silver dragon, polymorphed into a humanoid form, but among our party only the two of us knew her secret. Her mother had died less than a month ago, I remembered all of a sudden. I should be easy on the child; it was not her fault that I found the human music appalling, or that the elven ambassador had showed up at the premiere without prior notice. Besides, what was the point in alienating Miamla? If we ever reached Evereska, the dragon child would be an extremely useful ally against the prejudice of the elven council. I sighed as my eyes were involuntarily drawn to the ambassador’s box once again. The elven guards were now clustered around the small figure in green and gold, even as Duke Foxfire offered Her Excellency his hand ready to escort her outside.
“Joneleth take Miamla buy snacks now?” The dragonette asked abruptly, giving me a start.
“I would rather not.” I replied without thinking. “Firstly, you already have a full bag of sweets,” I nodded at her sack of candy. “And secondly, I hate crowds. They make me feel... unsettled. But you can ask Kessen if you want.”
I looked around, ready to call the twins to my aid. But alas, both of them were gone, obviously having used my momentary distraction to slip out of the loge at the first announcement of the intermission.
“Joneleth is afraid?” Miamla asked even as a sudden flash of understanding lit her bright eyes. “He wants not see the elven lady?”
“What gave you the idea?” I bristled angrily, but the expression on her face was once again unreadable.
“Miamla was afraid,” she said finally. “To go outside. Then she stopped being afraid. Because not going was worse. Much worse.”
“What can you possibly know about me and my plight!” I exploded angrily, and wavered. My hands were shaking violently and I had to cross them over one another, hiding the tightly clenched fists inside the sleeves of the robe once again. The blasted silk garment rubbed against my skin, producing tiny electrical sparks. It felt like every hair on my head was bristling with electricity of its own. “What can you possibly know,” I repeated sullenly, raising my eyes. And stopped, catching a glimpse of the golden fabric of her dress as it flashed in the torchlight streaming from the loge doorway.
“Joneleth should come,” her voice sung from the outside one last time, and then she was gone, leaving me alone with my fears in the dim and empty theater box - a fancy mousetrap, filled with shadows and the remote murmur of the crowds below.
What was I to do? Miamla’s show of empathy stung me deeper than any open contempt. Did the dragonette take me for a coward because I could not force myself to meet my past face to face, or was the situation even worse – did she actually pity me? The fact that she had guessed I was afraid was heinous per se, but the future implications of her deduction were simply unbearable. Miamla would certainly share her discovery with Mirriam, and the little thief would tell the rest of the group. I knew that human curiosity was an insatiable beast, thus when my party members finished discussing my alleged phobia of elves among themselves, they would inevitably leak the information to the outside world. Such a pooling of information about myself was something I was trying to avoid at all costs - they all knew parts of my story, some more than others, but none of them knew enough to figure out the whole truth, and that was the way I wanted it to remain.
Maybe Mirri would reveal my secret to her lover next... if her relationship with Kron had progressed that far already. I sucked in my breath and tasted the subtle tang of blood - my teeth had punctured the skin of my lower lip, and I had not even noticed the pain. If she did tell him... that would mean that within a few days the obnoxious bard would know that I had spent the entire evening of the premiere sweating with panic in the deepest, darkest corner of the theater box, all because I dared not come out and face the elven ambassador. My feet were carrying me to the door before that last thought had gained a definite form. I could endure any kind of physical discomfort, and even suffer through a few hours of badly written and horribly performed music, but an implication of cowardice was beyond the limits of my tolerance.
I exited the loggia with the momentum of a cork leaving a pressurized bottle of wine, and with about as much caution. After the dimness of the box the bright light of the many torches in the corridor blinded me, and my first act was to bump into a scrawny looking human in theater uniform, who was standing just outside the doors. I nearly sent him sprawling on the floor strewn with red carpet. Afterwards, it took me several minutes and a few copper pieces to stifle his endless stream of complaints (I was severely tempted to cast a silence spell on the bothersome fool, but that would have drawn even more attention from passersby, and I had already had enough publicity.)
As it turned out, he had been dispatched by Eldoth to take Miamla to her dressing room. The dragonette’s part was at the very end of the play, but they had decided it was better if she came now. Of course by that time Miamla was nowhere to be seen, and I had to explain to the human that my ‘daughter’ had stepped out, and that we would have to find her before he could escort her behind the stage. The conversation did not last long, but when I turned around determined to start looking for the pesky child, my eyes fell upon a slim figure in a green cloak and bright chain mail, standing at the end of the passage leading towards the main staircase...
The corridor was full of humans strolling back and forth on their various petty errands, but my gaze was drawn to the solitary form of the elven guard as a steel needle to a magnet. The elf was less than fifteen feet away from me, yet at first I could not make out his face... all of a sudden my head swam in a cloud of pink fog, and my ears were deafened by a tide of rushing blood. When it all cleared, he was still there, staring at me intently and dispassionately. The world froze. I drank in his face avidly, noting the intricate outlines of old tattoos on the high cheekbones, and the swirls of fresh paint marking his chin and forehead with patterns of tribal significance. His ears were sharp and pointy, his eyes dark as obsidian shards. And unlike the People I had met before, he had the confident yet aloof air of a man utterly in balance with his inner self, despite the unnatural, even alien nature of his surroundings.
I suppose, my more urban brethren had lost part of that special aura due to their more or less prolonged stay in the human city, whilst Her Excellency and her retinue had just arrived at Darromaran Court from the elven heartlands. After a few minutes of a silent staring contest, I lowered my head in a gesture of salute. The elf smiled, slowly, deliberately, as if listening to some quiet inner voice, and answered with a short incline of his chin. Then he turned around and disappeared into the throng of people, as if nothing more important than a casual exchange of nods had transpired between us.
Later, I tried to analyze why that seemingly uneventful meeting had triggered such a strong emotional reaction in me – and could not find any explanation. Perhaps my other self had known the consequences of that meeting all along, and had tried to alert me in advance?
Nonetheless, I was torn. I wanted to rush after him and demand answers. Had he recognized my face or had it been merely a display of idle curiosity? Had he been waiting for me at the door of the loggia only to part ways after a brief exchange of greetings? Did he know my true name and history? Was I really a condemned criminal, exiled by my own people and cursed by their gods, or was it all a devilishly sophisticated plot, designed by some unknown enemy? But my pride revolted at the thought of throwing all those chaotic and deeply personal questions at a virtual stranger. What if he had never known me before? Then such an outburst of emotions would likely elicit only amused curiosity and disgust at my obvious mental disorder.
The few books about the People and their ways that I had found in the Royal Library, and consumed in a spurt of gluttonous reading, had been written by humans. They had claimed that elves almost never suffered from mental sickness. A true denizen of the elven woodlands might feel utterly appalled by the idea of an elf who could not remember his name, even if he did not recognize my face. As for confessing my most dreadful secret - the fact that I had been severed from the Elven Spirit... I shuddered in deep shame at the very thought of it. No, running after him was out of the question. My only hope and deepest fear was that he would immediately report his discovery to the envoy, and that upon receiving that information she would take some sort of action.
I felt almost jubilant. Was that not exactly the resolution I was looking for by lingering in Darromar – to be recognized by one of my elven brethren, and relieved of the responsibility of making a conscious decision? Maybe the Tethyran elves had direct communication with the Evereskan council. Then I could deliver the oracle’s message to the envoy, and that would absolve me of the task of undertaking a long pilgrimage to Evereska as a sort of humiliating ‘atonement’ demanded by the Seldarine. Yet, even as a stream of these dizzy and hectic thoughts ran through my stunned mind, it was surpassed by a rising wave of panic. I had been a fool to allow Miamla to drag me into the theater tonight, and an even greater one for letting her provoke me into showing myself to the elven guard! What if they decided to execute me on the spot, without even giving me the chance to claim my ignorance of their enemy’s crimes?
I looked around, desperately hoping for a miracle that would allow me leave the theater before the situation could deteriorate even further. It felt as if an eon had passed since I had spoken with Eldoth’s footman, but in reality, the whole interlude between the nameless elf and me could not have lasted more than few minutes. The same people were strolling across the corridor, not paying any attention to the silent melodrama that had played out in front of them. That was not a moment I would proudly remember later in my life. In fact, I am still ashamed at the memory. My mood took another swing – now my only conscious desire was to find a dark and quiet corner away from the festive crowd and simply shut the door behind me, leaving all the problems to more energetic and decisive heroes, individuals with a better understanding of the world and their place in it. I went as far as to make a tentative step in the direction of the loggia.
“Do you really think this will save you from their retribution, fool?”
I moaned frozen in mid-step, and had to lean against the plastered and lavishly painted wall of the corridor. If Joneleth chose this moment to take over I was finished. I had no resources and no willpower to resist him and at the same time take care of my current predicament. Maybe it was for the better, I thought impassively. After all, I was merely an aspect of him, and not the strongest one at that.
“Stop acting like a spineless maggot, and take control of yourself!” He barked mentally and it worked – instantly, I was able to breathe again.
“Now, this is a little better. I loathe the thought that someone could actually mistake your pathetic whining shell for me, but it cannot be helped. I may as well resign myself to the fact, and aid you in getting out of this mess. Remember, whatever you do – do not let them find out I am still here! It is our only chance of survival.” With that, he was gone again, leaving me in a state of near collapse.
His brief and brutal intervention had reawakened the feeling of shame – the mental agony that I had first endured after the ridiculous spat with Miamla over my treatment of Mirriam, and that I had tasted once again after the dragonette discovered my reason for staying inside the theater box struck tenfold. The rising wave of embarrassment at my public display of weakness drowned all other emotions, and soon reached a level when I could not contain it any longer. Then it finally broke into a thousand stinging icy shards, leaving my head perfectly empty of any feelings but the cold, lucid disdain at myself.
I straightened, trying to look as if I just recovered from a short spell of dizziness then briskly dismissing offers of assistance from a few nosy spectators. My fingers were icy cold, but my thoughts, though despairing, were perfectly clear and rational once again. The elf was gone, and yet his comrades were not bursting into the corridor with swords at the ready. So I shrugged, and for the time being pretended to be busy with my urgent search for Miamla. Most amusingly, my momentary faint was taken for a show of parental affection. A few volunteers from the public immediately offered their help - a fact that I attributed to the human addiction to melodrama and their natural desire to extrapolate their racial traits onto others. Yet it worked surprisingly well, and within minutes the little brat was located, and I was notified of her whereabouts.
For all its gaudiness and laughable overindulgence in red plush and gilt, the building of the Magnificent Theater was well planned, and boasted several useful innovations, including a cloak room – a spacious depository adjacent to the entrance hall where for a small fee visitors could leave their heavy winter overcoats under the supervision of specially appointed servants, and an indoor tearoom – a brilliant solution that in one step garnered caretakers extra profits and got rid of the small crowd of peddlers which usually plagued the premises of every public playhouse. It was in that latter overcrowded hall that I finally located the fugitive dragonette. Surrounded by a small crowd of human fans, and flushed high pink from excitement, the dragon child was reaping the fruits of her sudden popularity.
Those included a small silver dish of a peculiar frozen delicacy overflowing with whipped cream, candied fruit, and nuts, and various other treats that her admirers had procured for her from a rather extravagant looking stall at the center of the room. I never figured out how the rumor of her participation in the play had leaked out, but she was clearly enjoying the attention, (most likely Eldoth had started them by his earlier visit, as most of the crowd around Miamla were his flunkies, who I had already seen in our loggia). Luckily for her, her mouth was so stuffed with sweets that certain delinquencies of her speech went unnoticed, although I had a feeling that Miamla’s fans (like most of their breed) were more thrilled by her pretty doll-like face and fancy clothes than by her supposed dramatic talent. I briefly pondered on how these fools would react to the appearance of an adult silver dragon in the room, but then decided that they were not worthy of my sarcasm.
The scene was amusing enough to slightly alleviate my anxiety, and after scolding Miamla (more for the benefit of my helpers than out of genuine feeling), I handed her into the care of Eldoth’s footman, and turned to aimless wandering around the theater. Now that I did not have a definite goal in mind, my route was chaotic. I traversed several small halls bustling with public, advanced up a lavishly decorated staircase, and after crossing a narrow passageway almost identical to the one in which our loggia was located, descended down another flight of stairs - this one dimly lit, and as a consequence less populated.
At some point through the course of my senseless drifting around the theater I had heard a distant sound of a gong declaring the beginning of the next act, but had ignored it, and continued my travels across the swiftly emptying halls and corridors. Of course, the main reason behind my wanderings was my strong desire to stay away from our box and the twins, as I dreaded another public scene with the elves, especially in Mirri’s presence. I half-hoped, half-feared stumbling upon the elven group in some remote hallway, so that the situation could be resolved swiftly and privately. But fate seemed to be mocking me that night, for I saw neither the Envoy nor her guardians during the intermission, and by the time I reached the softly illuminated staircase leading back to our floor, it was obviously too late for them to be strolling around the theater.
I was walking slowly down the stairs covered with ubiquitous red carpeting, when I heard two voices engaged in an animated argument. I blame my further indiscretion entirely on Queen Zaranda’s addiction to red plush - for if not for the carpet - I would never have had a chance to sneak up close to the twins so quietly. As they both had mentioned, not without irony, I was one of the most careless spies the world had ever seen, and today, on top of my usual inadequacy, I was wearing glittery voluminous robes that made me about as sneaky and maneuverable as a heavy Amnian freighter at full sail. At first, I wholly intended to let them know I was approaching - as I had already recognized their profound Calimshite accents and familiar intonations - but then the nature of their conversation made me stop and listen, and finally, abandon my original intention to declare myself.
“Give it to me!” Kessen was telling his sister angrily. “It is too dangerous for you to keep or to try to sell on your own. Every law-abiding merchant in this damnable city will recognize the trinket as belonging to the young Lady Llanistaph. You must be absolutely mad to steal from the Lord Chancellor’s daughter!”
“I bet you would have happily taken something else from her, if only she had let you.” Mirri’s voice responded in a mocking tone that left no doubt about her feelings regarding her brother’s reprimand. “It was great fun to see the young duchess make all that fuss over a missing pair of scissors. And in any case – what idiot makes nail clippers out of gold, puts five-carat emeralds on both handles, and wears them on her belt? She was asking for it, if you want my opinion!”
“Do you have the brains of a magpie that you cannot pass a shiny bauble without it sticking to your fingers?” Her brother hissed in irritation. “Mir, you are getting carried away. Half of my new friends have complained about pickpockets at the last carnival. If they ever catch you, all our lies will be revealed. Why would a heiress, who has just buried her extremely rich father, and who is wallowing in gold, want to steal pocket change?”
“Your lies are disgusting!” she snapped back. “You know perfectly well that Father is not dead. All those rumors about him and the Bhaalspawn were just that – rumors. We shall find him, eventually. As for why am I stealing - what am I supposed to do to pass the time in this asinine place? Watch you play cards and dice and flirt with harebrained noble daughters, or listen to Eldoth’s crooning?”
“I thought you liked him,” Kessen was obviously taken aback.
A thin smile played across my lips in the semi-darkness as I stifled an involuntary chuckle. Her last words were sufficient to lift my withered spirits. Maybe my situation was not as bad as I had imagined. At least Mirriam’s supposed affair with Eldoth now appeared fairly improbable.
“Why else would you flirt with Eldoth so outrageously?” Mirri’s twin continued sulkily. “Do you know that you’ve given him hopes for something serious?”
“More serious than shagging me a couple of times in his dressing room in between rehearsals? Don’t make me laugh, Kes! You know what Eldoth wants, and by Lady Luck – he is not getting it from me. I will save my first time for someone more deserving!”
“Why do you always use that kind of language when you want to make a point? It is unbecoming in a young woman of your stature. And if you want to know, Eldoth was speaking about marriage the other day…”
“Who is here to listen besides you?” The girl sounded genuinely amused now. “And - unbecoming? Phew, where did you pick up that kind of language? Don’t tell me your new ‘friend’ is teaching you refined manners amid binge drinking and gambling! Has he managed to take you to the cleaners already? Or is there something left in those bottomless holes you call your pockets?”
“This is not your damned business!” He bristled angrily. “Eldoth is my friend, and what is a small gambling debt between friends? He has already given me some money so I can try to regain my losses!”
“He has given you your own money back – so you can lose even more to him? You must be mad! Don’t you see that Eldoth is trying to rip you off completely? Moreover, that he has already succeeded in this? And he wants to marry me - by my ancient grandmother! Kessen, please remember that your imaginary ships and houses in Calimport are just that – phantoms. How are you going to pay him back, if you have already spent your portion of the treasure? Wait a minute – what about my share? Have you spent it as well or is there something left of it? And you dare to ask me why I have to practice my skills!”
“I shall win it all back – I only need time and some more resources.” Kessen returned fervently. “I have passed the stage when I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Now I have finally got the hang of the game!”
“And that was after our gold has ran out?” Mirri asked ironically. “Give me a break, Kes. You will never get your money back. Unlike you, Eldoth is very much aware of what he is doing. Here, take this.” I could hear the clinking of coins in the purse that she handed him. “And take the bloody scissors as well – if you manage to sell them to one of your shady contacts you will have enough to pay Eldoth back.”
“Thank you, sagira, you are the best sister one could ever wish for! I promise I will give it all back to you, in due time. When I win I will buy you a new dress… no – two new dresses and the sapphire coronet that you liked so much on Lady Nightshade the other day,” his voice quivered with intense passion as he blurted out that last tirade.
“I can get it for myself without playing cards,” was her mocking reply. “As for the dresses… I already have more than enough. Have you ever thought what are we going to do with all our stuff when we move on? It is not like I will be able to wear those dresses in the northern tundra. We will have to sell it all quick, and that is my only reason for buying all this junk – at least you cannot gamble away my wardrobe.”
“Ah, we will think of something,” Kessen replied vaguely. “Do you think I have to go back to the box and see the end of the play, or can you maybe go alone and apologize for me?”
“So you can sneak out and go play cards again? Don’t even think about it. Firstly, you will have to congratulate your ‘best friend’ Eldoth, and secondly, I am not staying in that loggia without you.”
“But if you don’t really like Eldoth, it means that you are still pining after…”
“Don’t you dare stick your long nose into my private affairs, Kessen Havarian!”
That was the first time ever that I heard her use that name. But although I had never heard it before, it brought an unpleasant tingling sensation of a memory hovering at the brink of recognition. Then it went away, as was always the case with my fits of near-remembrance. I was slightly puzzled, as I knew that the twins’ family name was Freyaddin – like their mother’s.
“But I simply don’t understand,” he insisted stubbornly, “Omwo must have fetched Miamla by now. If you are still in love with you-know-who, than staying in that box alone with him will give you the perfect opportunity to…”
“Will you ever learn to keep your big mouth shut when your advice is not needed? If you say another word I will take all that gold back!”
“Alright, alright – peace, you silly goose. If you want me to stick by your side through the rest of the flash – so be it. I will never be able to understand how the girls’ brains work,” he continued to complain even as their voices began to fade, while they moved downstairs. Soon I heard the noise of an opening and closing door, and the well of the stairway became silent once again.
I continued standing on the shadowed flight of steps, listening intently and smiling to myself for a while longer. Then I shrugged and followed them down the stairs, and out into the next corridor, quickly finding my way back to our shared box.