CHAPTER THIRTY NINE
One for sorrow, two for joy,
Three for a girl, four for a boy,
Five for silver, six for gold,
Seven for a secret never to be told.
31 of Uktar 1371, Year of the Unstrung Harp
Eldoth Kron looked testy and unloved. What was worse, he actually felt that way, albeit he preferred not to delve too deeply into the long list of his personal grudges against the fickle goddess of Good Luck. Alas, if the despondent bard uttered Tymora’s name in the days we are referring to, it was always followed by a string of very explicit epithets, better left out of these pages out of decorum, but mostly due to lack of space, (although it is perhaps worth mentioning that ‘freeloading slut’ was the mildest of them.)
After a few days of trying to drown his sorrows in peach brandy, Eldoth’s dark velvety eyes (that many of his more excitable female admirers found ‘deep’ and ’soulful’) were red-rimmed and slightly puffy, despite regular application of the special cosmetic salve with cucumber extract that he had procured from an apothecary who claimed to supply the Royal Court. Even the bard’s perfectly trimmed beard looked the worse for wear, and - oh horror - had sprouted a few silver hairs, forcing him to spend an extra half an hour before the mirror plucking them out. On top of this irritating string of small calamities, his hour of rising today had been unseemly early for a man of his refined tastes. But since Eldoth wanted to surprise his adversary, he had had no choice but to wake up at sunrise and rush to the Gilt Unicorn before ‘Master’ Demadan left his lavish accommodations. It would be also beneficial to point out that in addition to this purely pragmatic consideration, the bard nurtured hopes of impressing a certain maiden with his zealous pursuit.
Thus, on a gray and chilly morning that perfectly matched his gloomy mood, Eldoth strolled down the Darromaran main street – which had already been swept clean of the late autumnal foliage and last night’s garbage by industrious street-cleaners – heading towards the luxury inn that hosted the elf and his odd band of companions. The very thought of the approaching meeting stirred the actor’s gall, and he wrapped the fur-trimmed cape tighter around himself, trying to recall all the depressing events of the past few weeks. Poking at the fresh wounds dealt to his pride gave him perverse pleasure, and he kept doing it in part to keep his mind concentrated on his schemes of revenge.
It had all started innocently and sweetly, (although not without potential for a handsome profit), only to end in a rotten and undignified manner. The first stage of the bard’s acquaintance with the Freyaddin twins had proved to be extremely beneficial from both social and financial points of view. Eldoth had been able to gently siphon coin out of the brother, and at the same time enjoy a light-hearted fling with the sister, reaping all the fabulous rewards that came with introducing a rich and exotic ingénue into Darromaran high society. His popularity had increased, as well as his reputation of a charmer. The bard had always enjoyed the dramatic flair, and Mirriam possessed an infallible quality to draw lustful stares from the majority of noble gentlemen (and poisonous ones from their ladies) at every soiree they had attended together. She was young, pretty, and naive - a combination that never failed to stir Eldoth’s imagination.
In addition, she had appeared to be very rich, and lately, rather than staying content with frequent small donations from his many well-to-do inamoratas, the actor had begun to look into the possibility of radically improving his financial situation by appropriating a sizeable amount of cash in one go. His latest noble ‘sponsor’ had proven to be extremely jealous, despite her mature age and married status - and what could be a better contrast to the boring embraces of an aging coquette than a vibrantly young outlandish heiress whose hypothetical coffers were stuffed with bright Calimshite gold? Eldoth had always been drawn to a particular type of women - dark, slim, lively, and relatively inexperienced. Mirriam’s mischievous ways reminded him a little of his former lover from the north, although the late Duke’s daughter had never been quite so independent or quick with her tongue. Still, Eldoth had been sure that Mirri’s streak of stubbornness could be easily corrected with moderate application of disciplinary measures - and he had been willing to take that little task upon himself… after he gained full control of her property.
Of course, there had been the small matter of the girl’s twin brother, and her elven guardian... but the former had proved to be a naturally born gambler, and that vice had swiftly brought him under Eldoth’s sway. As for the latter - Mirri’s supposed caretaker had seemed perpetually preoccupied with a mysterious business of his own, and had paid no heed to the young heiress’ flirtations.
For some length of time it had worked to everybody’s satisfaction, so Master Kron had even hired a private informer to investigate the value of the supposed inheritance and the potential repercussions of the twins’ conflict with their Calimport relatives. The fellow had taken Eldoth’s gold and promised to start inquiries. Later on, after a spectacular ball-masquerade in Duchess Haresdown’s new town residence, Eldoth and Mirriam had become the talk of the city. Peculiarly, that same event had also been marked with one of the boldest thieveries in the history of Darromar: the Duchess’ favorite necklace of mauve opals had disappeared from her bodice sometime during the ball. One of the servant maids had claimed to have seen a small darkish animal slinking away with a string of bright stones clutched in its teeth, but, of course, nobody believed her story.
At about that same time Eldoth’s rich noblewoman had abandoned him, after a rather distasteful and unbecoming scene that had cost the bard his favorite wine cup, (the one carved from ruby-red Sembian crystal and filigreed with gold). But at that stage in the game, Eldoth had not been seriously upset. The prospect of appropriating a private fleet of galleons and several warehouses filled with rare spices, not to mention a marble palace in the richest quarter of Calimport and a few country villas, had been worth breaking up with an elderly hag.
Even if the rumors of the riches of the Calimshite pair had been exaggerated a bit, Eldoth had been looking forward to a lifetime of leisure and poetic inspiration after seducing, convincing, or coercing Mirriam into marriage. And at that time he had been confident that the rumors were correct - the amount of coin that Kessen had already thrown away on his gambling spree would have been enough to feed a small village for a whole year, yet the boy had not so much as cringed once, even after his most disparaging losses. In fact, Kessen’s addiction to wasteful spending, and his gluttonous thirst for a rougher kind of entertainment had been extravagant and unrestrained, although not unusual in a scion of a noble family. The fact that Eldoth had not been able to keep the youth from losing money to other gamblers had been upsetting, but to interfere would have been counterproductive and suspicious. Eldoth had cringed in annoyance and yet admired the young Calimshite’s piratical flair, as despite his own love of excesses, the bard retained the frugal streak of an upstart who never trusts in his ability to uphold his newly achieved higher status.
Master Kron’s matrimonial plans had received their first serious blow at the premiere of The Isle D’Amore - the silly Amnish operetta about a native Maztican maiden and a pirate that had been remade into a something more appropriate for the Royal taste after taking into account Queen Zaranda’s latest political campaign of ‘engaging the minorities’. Personally, Eldoth abhorred the Tethiran elves as much as he despised Mazticans, but one could never remain a success at Court if one disagreed with Royal politics, and that was the lesson the bard had learned well. He had been lucky enough that Omwo had taken the lion’s share of the rhyming work upon himself, but nobody could have absolved Eldoth from having to act on the same stage with the awful local prima donna, who lacked both talent and voice, but claimed a very rich and influential beau. Whatever other vices he possessed, Master Kron had always taken his acting career seriously. It was not only his primary source of income, but rather his way of living.
All the same, his first encounter with the twins’ elusive elven friend had happened on the fateful day of the premiere, and one look at the expression on Mirri’s face when she had first seen her ‘warden’ enter the loggia had been enough to trigger alarm bells in Eldoth’s mind - the girl had looked deeply and perhaps desperately in love, although her feelings had appeared unreciprocated. Overall, the play had been a moderate success, and Eldoth had greatly enjoyed putting the uppity elf down right in front of Mirriam. Unfortunately that had been Eldoth’s first and only victory over his rival - ever since that day Mirri had avoided the bard’s company refusing one invitation after another and finally making it clear that Eldoth was no longer welcome at her side.
The audacity of it! Eldoth began to seethe at the slightest memory of that last rebuff. A half-breed mongrel of a lass, (for Mirriam’s appearance pointed at the presence of at least two human bloodlines in her veins - her curls had a reddish tint, somewhat unusual in a pure-bred Calimshite), had dared to use him as a distraction, to capture the attentions of another! An ill-mannered minx with no sense of propriety and unclear origins!
That latest suspicion had finally begun to dawn on him. Mirriam’s speech had always appeared a bit vulgar for a noblewoman, although her Calimshite accent made it less pronounced. In addition, Eldoth had always been amused by her addiction to petty larceny, but had dismissed her kleptomania as one of the many extravagancies of a rich and spoiled girl. After all, his young duchess from the city of Baldur’s Gate had had similar habits. Then one night Mirri’s brother had lost his cheeky facade and admitted that he had gambled away all the money the twins had ever possessed. All the mythical riches of distant Calimport had turned out to be just that - a myth. The twins had not been the heirs of an immensely rich merchant but a pair of young adventurers looking for trouble. After that stunning discovery, Eldoth dearly hoped that one day he would find himself in the same room with the deceiving minx and a serviceable rattan cane.
Mirriam had surely earned an adequate punishment, for not only had she flirted with the actor to tease her elven beau, most likely she had laughed her head off after every successful cleaning of yet another noble lord’s pockets. And what could be shrugged off and forgiven as small eccentricity in a rich girl from a noble family, became a wicked sin in a nameless adventuress. If she was ever caught Eldoth would be considered an accomplice, since he had introduced the little vixen into the noble society and had provided her with cover. The loss of the rich sponsor troubled him little as finding another patroness was only a matter of time, but it had been expenditure nonetheless.
What worried him more though was the loss of face and reputation. He, Eldoth, had been fooled like a child, and that was humiliating! Although the bard had to admit to himself that he would have been much less infuriated with the twins’ nefarious scheme if he had had a chance to sample the vixen’s charms and to share in the profits. Surely his assistance was worthy of at least a one night stand? He did not ask for much, but some bills better be paid in full or else they would become enforceable.
Of course, the fact that he had lightened Kessen’s pockets by a significant sum had slipped his mind altogether.
The idea of a suitable revenge had been born in Eldoth’s head right after Kessen’s confession, and he had paid little heed to the rest of the young Calimshite’s ramblings about the fantastic origins of the twins’ riches. Admittedly, by that time in the discussion Kessen had been seriously drunk, and Eldoth himself in no mood to listen to the tales of wicked ancient ghosts and giant dragons fighting in the skies. So, when the bard had seen Kessen flaunt the little golden scissors, stolen from the Lord Chancellor’s daughter on the very night of the unlucky premiere, he had not been able to believe his luck. A few lines, scribbled on a scrap of paper and sent with a kitchen boy to the officer of the City Guard, had been sufficient, and the plan had worked exactly the way it should have. What had happened next however, had made Eldoth wish he had not been so hasty with his vengeance.
Lieutenant Ratcatcher had proven to be a grateful fellow, and on the morning after Kessen’s arrest the actor had received an invitation to the Guard House, which he had accepted with a wry smile and a shrug. Eldoth had known the guardsman before as their paths had crossed a few times in a certain expensive pleasure house and they had even shared a glass of Arabellan Dry, while waiting for their chosen butterflies. Eldoth had had no reason to trust the man, but neither had he worried about any repercussions of his friendly tip, as the guards had arrested Kessen before his very eyes, confiscating the evidence.
It had turned out the lieutenant simply wanted to share a few coins of the Chancellor’s more than generous reward, no doubt in the hope of securing Eldoth’s future cooperation as an informant. The meeting had gone reasonably well and by the end of it the guardsman had been in a good enough mood to show Eldoth the rest of the loot they had found in Kessen’s pockets and the boy’s belt pouch. The confiscated booty had consisted of a few curious weapons and various expensive junk, but among those trinkets there had been one item that had immediately caught Eldoth’s eye.
It had been a roughly oval silvery tablet the size of a woman’s palm; and at first Eldoth had idly wondered why the boy had bothered to carry it with him. Then he had noticed the texture and the shape of the plaque. Admittedly, through all his erratic and tumultuous life the bard had never seen a real noble dragon, although he had to run into a few basilisks whilst traveling along the Sword Coast in a company of a certain Bhaalspawn. Nevertheless, a good look at the object on the Lieutenant’s desk had been enough to make Eldoth’s eyes widen, and it had cost him an effort of will to keep the magnitude of his surprise from showing on his face. Luckily, the guardsman had had no clue as to the origins or the significance of his prize. They had parted ways politely, exchanging a few jokes about the case, but all the way back to his quarters Eldoth had not been able to stop thinking about the dragon’s scale in Kessen’s pouch and all of its implications.
If that part of the youngster’s drunken story had indeed been true... Damn it, it meant that a few hundred miles away from Darromar there was a dragon hoard lying on the floor of a deserted mountain cave, ready to be plucked by any passing stranger! It also explained why the boy had been so wasteful with his money. And by giving Kessen up to the guards he, Eldoth, had cut all the ties linking him to that fantastic treasure. No wonder Master Demadan had not been interested in the girl’s pitiful advances - he had probably been preoccupied with the arrangements for their second expedition to the site. Trust the elf to secure the site, throw a few scraps to his human thralls, and leave the rest of the treasure for his relatives to plunder later!
“Did they even bother to make a map of that place?” The bard had thought in agitation. He had vaguely remembered Mirriam’s expressing an interest in cartography. The girl possessed deft fingers and a good eye. And if he were to make a choice between her and her brother as his guide to the location of the treasure he would not hesitate a moment before picking her. If only he could regain a semblance of influence over the headstrong wench… he could still become rich with her help, but there would be no need to hinder himself with any matrimonial obligations. This certainly was the most desirable kind of revenge.
The twins and the dragon hoard had remained the main topics of Eldoth’s reminiscences for the next few days after Kessen’s arrest. The bard had decided to lie low and wait for an opportunity to present itself, dulling his impatience with the generous application of aged brandy. Still, he had sent Mirriam his commiserations on the news of her brother’s arrest, asking if he could be of assistance. As he had expected, there had been no reply, but two days later, he had received a letter written by a strong yet elegant male hand. The note had been short, but had dripped venom from every line. In a nutshell, Eldoth had been advised to collect all Kessen’s promissory notes and present them to the boy’s guardian before the end of the week.
There had been no seal or signature, but the actor had recognized the style - the elf had clearly been enjoying himself while concocting the epistle. Master Demadan certainly had to be dealt with… but that could be arranged later. A poisoned arrow from a roadside thicket? Or even better – a few droplets of a tasteless, colorless elixir added to his evening meal? Master Kron was very confident that with time he would find just the right way. Yet, even if the letter had been written as an insult, it had provided Eldoth with a solid reason for a visit.
Now it was all up to his diplomatic skills and charm, and as he approached the Unicorn Eldoth ran through the lines of his prepared speech in his head once again. For this first rendezvous after the break his objectives were rather moderate: to assure Mirriam of his innocence in Kessen’s arrest, and to gain insight into the twins’ future plans. Afterwards, he would analyze the conversation and make adjustments to his tactics. Both Eldoth’s pride and his greed demanded further compensation for the wrongs done to him, as the bard was not the type who easily forgot unsettled debts. But he was no fool to begin a frontal assault without a major reconnaissance.
But whatever Eldoth’s most daring and ambitious plans regarding the little Calimshite adventuress might have been beforehand, they were torn to shreds and unraveled by the capricious whim of fate faster than the silken threads of a spider web, woven to hold a measly fly, are ripped apart by an angry bumblebee. Perhaps Tymora was shamed into cooperation by his relentless cursing, or most likely, it was an ugly joke of the miffed goddess played out on all of the participants of that ambiguous charade. Who knows? It cannot be affirmed with certainty even now, if all of the involved deserved what happened next. Still, the divine millstones grind slowly but steadily, and in all probability the calamitous events of the next few days were as inexorable as the eventual cooling down and death of Toril’s puny sun.
Eldoth was less than a hundred steps away from the Unicorn’s front entrance when one side of the massive oaken door yielded a crack, and a slim figure clad in brown leathers and burdened with stuffed saddlebags slipped through the opening into the inhospitable chill of the early morning. The pale winter sun was lurking inside a heavy curtain of clouds, and the cobbled street was shrouded in grayness that blurred the facial features of the genderless youth. If there were any other people on the street, Eldoth might never have paid attention.
He had never seen Mirriam dressed in her assassin outfit, or for that matter, in anything but lavish evening gowns and silk dancing slippers. The girl’s posture was not her usual easy stride of a young and charming debutante gliding across the dance floor, as she was slouched and hampered by the bags. Her wealth of glossy dark hair had been rolled into a tight bun and hidden within a hood. Thus, when Master Kron suddenly clamped his hand on a shoulder of the strange youth who was trying to slink past him into the narrow alley between two buildings, it was more of an instinct than true recognition. Eldoth was a cautious man, and the youngster in brown leathers moved like he had something to hide, yet was not particularly dangerous, which made it safe enough to interfere in Eldoth’s books. Still, there was something in the youth’s bearing that made the bard curious – even though Eldoth was never interested in boys this one drew his interest on the subconscious level.
“Blood and bloody bones!” The youth dropped his saddlebags in surprise, and tried to hide his face in the shadow of the hood. “Let go of me this very instant, you damned moron!” The voice that uttered the angry words was shaking with indignation. Yet the soft Calimshite accent was impossible to hide, and the bard was instantly alerted to the true value of his prize.
“Mirriam?” He tightened his grip on the struggling girl, instantly taking hold of her other shoulder and spinning her around to get a better look at her face. “My dear child, what are you doing here on the streets, so early, and in such a strange costume?”
“I am not a child and most definitely not yours!” Was her heated retort. “I thought I told you to let me go, you idiot! Don’t make me call the guards!”
“Why do you snub an old friend who is trying to be of help?” The bard asked mournfully, still retaining his hold on the girl’s shoulder with one hand and using the other to gently flick away the veil of dark hair that was shading her cheeks. “I will let you go in a moment. But, Mirriam, please calm down and for Gods’ sake tell me that you are alright.”
At that last statement, her lips trembled, and she had to bite the lower one with her teeth to stop herself from crying. Eldoth studied her face eagerly, noting the forlorn look in her reddened eyes, and the slightly puffy cheeks bearing two wet and shiny rivulets.
“My dear, you are obviously very upset!” The bard exclaimed with his best imitation of deep concern. His voice rang with kindness and almost paternal affection, and he thought briefly that he should probably go easier on the reverberating consonants – they were counterproductive at such a short distance. Eldoth had never been the best in his class at dramatic declamation, but his training had been at least adequate. “I hope this has nothing to do with your brother’s ordeal,” he continued affectionately. “I was told that he had been released by the authorities.”
“Not thanks to you!” Mirriam cried out hotly. “If you are such a ‘dear’ friend, my lord Kron, where have you been all this time? And why did not you stop them from taking Kes away in the first place?”
“But my sweet girl, what could one man, even full of best intentions, do against a company of heavily armed guards?” Eldoth inquired gently, and tried to wipe away a stray tear that was making its precarious way down her tawny cheek. Mirri jerked her head away, but it was too late, and his index finger traced an inch or so of her skin. “And please… it will always be ‘Eldoth’ for you, not ‘lord Kron’... I know you do not reciprocate my feelings,” he made a short dramatic pause. “But do not insult me with excessive titles. Let me assure you – I have tried my best to pull Kessen out of prison. I have personal connections in the Guard and the first thing I did after his arrest was to rush to my acquaintance and try to talk him into letting your brother go. But the evidence was too strong. Do you know where he got those golden scissors? It was so very reckless of Kessen to carry them in his pocket!”
“I… I have no idea!” Mirri snapped at him, blushing like a rose. Her eyes, full of unshed tears, sparkled like diamonds on her suddenly crimson face. “And if you dare to repeat that my brother is a thief I will tell you it’s a lie!”
Another tear sparkled on the fringe of her thick dark lashes, and Eldoth felt a familiar stirring of his flesh. Mirriam was a scrumptious piece, and it was a shame she had such an insufferable temper. As well as a commoner bloodline, and a flaky upbringing, he reminded to himself. On the other hand, the little Calimshite minx had a spark that made her charmingly different from an average girl of her age, and her temper promised delectable rewards of the sweeter kind to a determined teacher. Perhaps, with the proper discipline and adequate training, she could be remade into something worthwhile?
Once again, Eldoth remembered his little duchess and her tantrums before their elopement from Baldur’s Gate, and smiled. The harder is the task at hand, the sweeter is the final prize. By the end of their journey together, Skie had become as meek and obedient as a lamb. Too bad he had been forced to get rid of her after they had run out of money and her relatives had withdrawn all financial support. He had tried to send the young noblewoman back to Baldur’s Gate, but she had become too clingy and would not leave him alone. Much to Eldoth’s regret, he had been obliged to present her with a bouquet of lilies sprinkled with poison… she had simply left him no other choice.
“I assure you it had never even entered my mind to suspect your brother of any wrongdoing,” Eldoth beamed at Mirriam, showing a neat row of recently whitened teeth. “And since he has been released, I assume this little unpleasantry is over?”
“Yes it is,” Mirri admitted with a sigh. “Kes is going to be alright for the time being. Now that I’ve answered all your questions, will you please let me go? We are going to attract a crowd.” She looked back at the Unicorn’s front door as if expecting it to open, but it remained solid and unyielding.
“But my darling,” Eldoth protested softly, relaxing his grip on her shoulder and quickly taking her limp palm into both of his hands. “You cannot dismiss me that easily, when you are obviously in some sort of trouble. You have been crying for a very long time, maybe even for the entire night? Don’t deny it - I have an eye for such things! I simply want to make you feel better before I let you go. Please tell me what troubles you so?”
“It is absolutely none of your business!” Mirriam hissed angrily, trying to pull her hand out of his grasp. “And I have absolutely no desire to speak with you today!”
“But why? What did I do to make you feel I am your enemy?” Eldoth exclaimed with almost genuine feeling. “Even a suspected criminal is always given a chance to defend himself before the Queen’s court. Yet you, the Queen of my heart, are merciless! Will you condemn this poor bard to a life of misery, without giving him a hearing? I love you deeply and perhaps, tragically, yet you are as cold and distant as a glacier on the steepest slopes of the Snowflakes!” (Eldoth was quite proud of this little speech – he had seen it work wonders even on the most doubtful of females, so he usually saved it for the most difficult cases, like this one.)
And indeed, something flickered in Mirri’s eyes after that last declaration, giving Eldoth the idea that he had finally hit the nerve. Without further hesitation, the actor brought her trembling hand to his bearded mouth, covering it with fervent kisses. Mirri’s palm quivered slightly within his grasp and at that same instant the bard’s lips found a sensitive spot on the trembling line of her pulse. As he kissed it deeply, giving it a tentative flick of his tongue, he suddenly felt a long tremor running through her entire arm. Something was amiss with the girl, he realized with surprise. If Mirriam was shaking like a leaf from such a meager physical caress, she must be either oversensitive, or in a very special kind of mood. Yet judging by her appearance she had recently been through a serious quarrel.
“Could it be her elven beau?” Eldoth hazarded a guess. “What did the boorish elf do to the girl that she is practically ready to shag any passing stranger? And what’s more important, how can I use this to my advantage? If I could convince her to go to a quiet place with me, to discuss her situation over a cup of spiced wine... Perhaps such a conversation could lead to much more interesting activities...”
“My precious jewel, you are shivering!” He exclaimed aloud. “Will you at least allow me to escort you to a tavern of your choice, and buy you a warming drink? Your dress is not adequate for such weather,” He continued to chide her. “Young lady, let me loan you my cloak – or would you rather go back to your rooms and change?” That last question was a risky one, but something made him sure she would not want to go there.
“No!” Mirriam replied sternly, suddenly pulling her hand away from his. “If you think I can easily forget how you lured my brother into losing all our money to you, think again! And by the way, I assume you are aware that I am no longer a ‘young lady of considerable wealth’? All I truly own can be easily fitted into these old saddlebags,” she kicked the packs on the ground with her leather-clad foot. “Now, will you finally stop calling me silly names, and let me go?”
But Eldoth only looked at her with a smile full of infinite kindness and sighed, shaking his head.
“I hoped it would never come to this,” was his final embarrassed reply. “That I would not be forced to disclose the intricacies of my foolish plan to you, but would simply settle the matter with your elven friend and guardian.”
“What do you want from Master Demadan?” She went all white and rigid at the mention of the elf, and Eldoth congratulated himself on the correct guess.
“Nothing at all. But he might want something from me – like all these promissory notes.” And with an expression of a circus mage pulling a rabbit out of a hat, Eldoth pulled out of the pocket of his cloak a brown envelope, stuffed with papers. “See, I was planning this little trick from the start. It was the only way to teach your brother a lesson on the value of frugality. Master Demadan can have these for free. I had never planned to collect on them, and honestly, Kessen borrowed back roughly the same amount that he lost to me. I am sorry, I cannot return what he has truly gambled away, but you can be assured that the notes in my possession would have never been presented to the Collector’s Office, regardless of our chance meeting today. Please take them now – they are all yours if you want them.”
She looked at him for few minutes, with an expression of complete bewilderment on her pretty face, then, under the pressure of his unwavering confidence her stern and tragic facade began to fall apart. To his great relief, Eldoth observed how the last remnants of the icy resolve melted away from her weary eyes, and how they became soft and warm pools of shy gratitude.
“I... I am sorry, Master Eldoth. I ... I judged you wrongly.” Was all that Mirri was able to say, before her face suddenly crumbled into a mask of complete despair.
She tried to restrain herself, but her control was slipping. And to his greatest satisfaction and amusement, in a few minutes time Eldoth was sitting on a bench in a nearby square, holding the quietly sobbing girl in his arms (with her cheek pressed firmly to his breast), and listening to the nonsensical string of her childish complaints. At first, he had been happy enough simply to get Mirriam away from the inn without causing a scandal or losing her trust. Now it was time to listen, and to gently steer the discussion in the right direction. From what little the bard could understand, she wanted to run away from both her brother and her guardian, at least temporarily, and that was the main purpose of her morning escapade.
As getting Mirriam away from her male companions was Eldoth’s wildest and most distant dream, at first he simply could not believe his luck. After a while, he was able to make a cautious suggestion or two, and before long Mirri agreed to let him rent her rooms in a small hotel on the other side of the city, kept by a Madame of solid repute. Eldoth wisely omitted to mention what ‘kind’ of reputation Madame Zyz could boast, since that was a tactless and boring detail, better left out of the conversation.
In half an hour’s time, the pair walked away from the Gilt Unicorn, and Eldoth gallantly carried both of his fair damsel’s saddlebags. Mirri draped herself into his ostentatious cloak of green and crimson silk trimmed with winter wolf fur, wishing silently that it was another, much plainer cape. The actor did not have to suffer from cold and physical exertion for long though, as two blocks away from their starting point he hired a sedan chair that accommodated both Mirriam and her bags.
In another two hours, he had settled her on the third floor of a cozy little inn in the Caravan Quarter, in an apartment that had a separate entrance from the street. Madame Zyz was an admirer of his art, and since Eldoth always sent her free tickets, he enjoyed a status of a favored customer. Indeed, she had learned his private tastes well. The rooms were full of frilly silk pillows, bronze statues of naked cupids, and vases with dry rose petals. But the pride and joy of the residence was its bedroom, dominated by a giant canopied bed draped in red velvet, embroidered with golden roses. The canopy was supported by four winding posts of sturdy gilded wood and, to Mirriam’s slight confusion, all the walls of the bedroom were decorated with equally impressive mirrors in gilded frames, bearing the same rose motif.