CHAPTER FORTY ONE
31 of Uktar – 1 of Nightal 1371, Year of the Unstrung Harp
I came awake slowly and laboriously, and it took me a while to remember all the disturbing events of the previous night. Assuredly, my mind was clear of the tactile sensations and superfluous emotions that had been the root of the trouble. Yet my heart felt as if while I had been floating in the murky river of my routine nightmares it had been poked with a tiny poisoned needle, and the subtle venom of discontent had spread through my entire bloodstream. The feeling was so profound that for a while I lay in bed with eyes shut and teeth clenched tight, trying to postpone the inevitable moment of facing the new day and all its miserable complications.
I knew that by rejecting the girl I had done the only right thing in those uneasy circumstances, yet I felt rotten and ashamed of myself. There had been something in her eyes, just before she had silently slipped back into the thick darkness of the corridor… perhaps an unspoken implication of my failure? As if I had made a promise, on which I had not been able to deliver, and so had taken the coward’s way out by refusing to admit that the promise had ever been made.
Who could blame me for shedding responsibility I could not accept, and rejecting the passion that I could neither truly share, nor pretend to reciprocate? Did not I have enough trouble of my own without being burdened with the immature feelings of a human maiden? Mirriam should have been grateful that I had sent her away innocent and untouched, so that she could later grace her true chosen with a pure heart and an imagination unsoiled by dallying with my cold and cynical self.
Still, the subtle humming of conscience that was zinging around in my head like an invisible yet annoying insect, would not go away. I listened to it for a while, then refused to be intimidated into delaying my important plans and coerced myself to rise. Next I dressed with the scrupulous accuracy and precision of a maniac suffering from an obsessive-compulsive disorder, and spent a few minutes before the mirror steadying my expression.
But once I finished my grooming and stepped outside to face the vital tasks of the day, I was confronted with three pairs of eyes, staring at me with various degrees of amused anticipation and puzzlement.
“Well, Master Jon,” Kessen deigned to ask after a few minutes of charged silence. “Will my wanton sister come out on her own, or should I go inside and wake her up?”
“Drop it, lad!” Was Omwo’s chuckling remark. “Leave the poor girl alone, and let her enjoy her sweet morning dreams a wee bit longer. It is not like you are in a hurry to hear her excuses for spending the night with a man. And you cannot blame poor Jon for finally succumbing to your sister’s wiles - she has been after him ever since we pulled them both out of that damned hole in the ground that my former mistress called her treasure room.”
“Oh, it has been much longer than that,” Kessen muttered softly, “I think Mir has had her eyes on him ever since she came back from the desert, babbling nonsense about saving a pretty elf-boy from a snake. Am I correct, elf-boy?” He nodded to himself, almost purring like a satiated cat which has caught a particularly juicy mouse, and I wondered about the nature of his long-term plans for his sister. “So, what are you planning to do now to appease, er, the family honor?”
Kessen winked at me, and I felt my face contract into a rigid mask of dismay, but then the implications of his nattering began to sink in.
“Are you trying to inform me that your sister has not slept in her room tonight?” I inquired sharply. “Because she has not spent the night with me either, if that is what you allege.”
“If that was meant as a joke, it was a rather clumsy one,” the boy shook his finger at me. “I expect you to...”
Instead of listening to the end of Kessen’s pompous speech I walked past him to the door of the girls’ bedroom and briefly rapped on it, then flung it open without waiting for a reply. The chamber was clean, tidy, and utterly empty. Miamla tugged at my sleeve and shook her silver-white head, pointing inside.
“Mirriam not here” – the dragonette managed her first sensible phrase in Common. And to make things clear finished in lisping elven: “Iire Miamla kaime, lle A’mael lembe.”
“She is not my...” I began in frustrated annoyance, and then snapped my mouth shut. The fact that Mirriam was not my beloved was certainly less important then the girl’s current whereabouts.
There was not a trace of the girl anywhere in the inn, and nobody had seen her leave. But one of the younger serving maids, whose tasks included starting fires in the Unicorn’s kitchen and laundry room, had spotted an errand boy loaded with heavy saddlebags entering the servants’ stairway from the level of the luxury suites on the second floor. The chambermaid had been a bit puzzled at the ungodly hour of his errand, but since nobody had complained, had decided to let the matter drop.
Of course, Mirriam’s saddlebags were missing, as well as her favorite assassin’s leathers and a few minor items. Remarkably, all her ostentatious evening dresses, expensive shoes, and jewelry had been left behind – as well as a considerable sum in gold. The sight of that moneybag drove me completely irate. So, the headstrong child had tried to make a statement, and this at the moment when the last thing I could afford was to waste more time!
“I have had enough of her pranks,” I declared grimly, dropping the sack of gold back into an empty drawer and shutting it closed. “If Mirriam is not here by tonight we are leaving without her.”
“Leaving? When? Where?! Effendi, are you absolutely mad? This is my twin sister we are talking about!” Kessen exploded angrily. “What did you do to her to drive her out of her mind?”
“I did absolutely nothing! If she nurtured some unfounded ideas about... about whatever, it was never my initiative. And I refuse to discuss my personal affairs with any third party.”
“Damn it!” Kessen yelled back at me with an expression of pure fury. “First you say there was ‘nothing’ between you two. Then all of a sudden I am a ‘third party’. I saw her eyes when she was looking at you last night! And don’t tell me you did not look back, because you did. And now you are talking like a child, who has missed his classes and is trying to lie his way out of trouble! What did you say to my sister to make her leave?”
“I feel no obligation to explain myself to my hired help,” I replied coolly, “and I would appreciate if you would behave in accordance with your current stature of a henchman.”
“I am not your servant!! You addled spawn of a djinn and a diseased camel!”
“Stop acting like a pair of idiots, both of you.” Omwo’s sharp reproach made me flinch. “Kessen, whatever they said to each other was between the two of them. But a fact is a fact: the girl has run away... without telling anybody. I hope you don’t suspect our elven friend here of kidnapping, do you? Now, what was that thing about leaving? Joneleth, my lad, we’ve been dawdling in Darromar for near a month. Why panic and leave now?”
“I have personal reasons!” I snapped back with ire. “And the move has been planned since long before her thoughtless escapade. This is an action befitting a foolish child, not a girl of Mirriam’s reasonable intelligence... Wait a minute... what did you call me just now?”
“Ah,” the halfling nodded in satisfaction. “The fact that you noticed it only after you’d answered me is an answer in itself. So, that is your true name, my dear renegade? It certainly sounds more appropriate for an elf than the shortened version you’ve been using all this time. I’ve heard Miamla calling you so, and decided it was time you shared it with the rest of the group.”
“Halfling, you presumptuousness is annoying! But I have no time to argue. Call me what you wish, Omwo Fredegar, just let me manage my own affairs! I have booked passage for the five of us with a caravan that leaves for Riatavin in two days time. It is up to you to decide if you will follow me or not. I have to reach the city of Evereska before the winter equinox.”
“Or what?” Omwo asked sharply. His small brown eyes bore into my skull like gimlets. “Joneleth, my lad, when will you finally drop the pretense and tell us your entire story? That’s what friends are for, didn’t you know?”
“I…I have no desire to endanger my plans by sharing them with fools! If you wish to follow me, you will start packing now. I will change my short-term arrangements and give the foolish girl another day. But make no mistake – we are leaving Darromar tomorrow at first light.”
“Joneleth not leave without his A’mael,” Miamla chimed in.
“And I am not going anywhere without my sister, you elven dimwit!”
“Then you can stay and deal with your creditors on your own. All of you can stay and enjoy each other’s company for all I care!” I yelled at them, and stalked back into my room, slamming the door behind me, turning the key in the keyhole, and effectively cutting off the rest of their angry conversation.
I went as far as casting a silence spell on the locked door, and settled back into my chair in utter disdain. The situation was hovering on the edge of chaos, with elements of heavy grotesque already present in the picture. I knew I had to leave Darromar that very afternoon or face the repercussions of my refusal to meet the elven envoy. Yet, how could I force my diverse crew of followers to obey my orders when I was not sure I was doing the right thing? Mirriam’s sudden disappearance placed me in a most ridiculous and dangerous position, and on top of being angry and upset I was beginning to feel slightly worried about the girl.
Where would she go – I asked myself in frustration. Whom would she turn to? And most importantly, for how long would she bother to play this charade? Surely, Mirriam must understand that eventually her companions would run out of patience and would be forced to leave her behind.
I recalled the soft lips whispering fervent nonsense as I covered her warm face with kisses, and shrugged in embarrassment. What kind of insanity had descended upon me last night? Clearly, I had been driven mad by the uncertainty of my quickly changing situation. Mirriam’s honest and unrestrained infatuation had finally coerced an adequate response from my confused flesh, and for the better part of the encounter, I had been lost in the blessed insanity of our first lovemaking. Clothes had been shed, and hands had played their delicate part across the silky skin, moist with tears and perspiration. Lips had been pressed to lips, and fervent kisses exchanged in preparation for the ultimate carnal pinnacle of the night.
It was by pure chance that the little thief had had a small rose stalk fastened to her hair, and that I had prickled my finger on its thorns while trying to dislodge it from her braid. The sharp tingle of pain in my injured digit combined with the sweet smell of the flower had caused the strangest reaction in my head, dizzy with passion.
As I had inhaled the rose scent, licking off a droplet of my own blood, a woman’s face, noble and radiant, had appeared in my inner vision, and this time it had not produced the usual sickening effect. On the contrary, I had been stunned by my stubborn refusal to acknowledge the simple truth – this ageless face had haunted my soul for as long as I could remember myself. Oh, I had learnt to recognize those features from the many past dreams: high elven cheekbones, slanted emerald eyes sparkling with the green fire of merriment, flawless skin the shade of deep amber, framed in a blazing sunset of reddish-gold curls…
A shock of bitter longing ran through my chest, traveling all the way to the tips of my treacherous fingers that had been recklessly caressing the body of another. Ellesime…I had been sworn to her once and had loved her with all the arrogant passion that my rational heart could ever yield, and she had loved me in return... had she not? As my living dream struck me, I froze in time and space, oblivious to the timid caresses of my confused lover.
The dazzling vision of the elven Queen tilted her head and a little smile of contempt appeared on her lips. “Joneleth, is this human child the one whom you have chosen to replace me with?”
I looked at the girl in my hands, Mirriam was quite lovely on her own, but even though she was slim and well-proportioned for a human, the soft curves of her breasts and thighs were a little too heavy by elven standards. Her lips looked like a pair of ripe cherries grown to satisfy man’s hunger, yet they were excessively plump and lacked perfection in cut and shape. Her hair was glossy and thick, but perhaps too coarse in texture and overly dark in shade. And of course, there was not a trace of divinity radiating from her pretty face, albeit it could easily drive men to excesses of a rather mundane nature.
Ellesime’s silver laughter filled the bedroom, echoing off the walls and the ceiling of the shadowed chamber. Instantly, I felt a suffocating wave of shame, which squeezed the breath out of my lungs, and sent my heart into a fit of frenzied palpitation. My cheeks flushed red under the merciful cover of darkness. Then another wave, this time of lucid disdain for my unrestrained behavior, filled my every pore, driving the blood away from my face, and leaving me as cold and rational as an ice construct. I disentangled myself from the girl’s frantic embrace, and gently pushed her away, swiftly collecting my robes from the pile on the floor.
“We should not be doing this, little one. This is not the proper time for taking such a drastic step.”
I shuddered, remembering the hurt that had rung in the girl’s voice after my rejection. Mirriam had been very upset - that had been clear enough, and my string of vague excuses had not sounded very plausible to her. But I could not have done it any other way. The brief glimpse of Ellesime and our lost love had flickered like a shadow of a passing butterfly on the shiny surface of a forest spring, and had gone, leaving nothing but stinging sorrow. But it had been the first bright spot on the otherwise dreadful landscape of my ruined memory. Before that moment, my every vision of the Suldanessellar’s fair Queen had either been interrupted by images of violence and death, or had caused me a severe fit of nausea.
Mirriam’s embraces had broken that block, and I was grateful for that. Admittedly, I had also been tempted to analyze my response and move forward with new discoveries. Yet using the girl as a tool to stir my erotic reactions – all for the sake of a few recaptured memories – seemed distasteful. There were limits, even to my insatiable hunger for more knowledge. And there was vanity, of course. My former beloved was no ordinary woman, but an image of divine perfection, radiating an aura of raw power; and the vision of her disdainful smile at the sight of a human girl in my arms was, perhaps, my reconstruction of Ellesime’s potential reaction to such a liaison.
Adalon had insisted I travel to Suldanessellar and ask for my Queen’s forgiveness. Yet in order to be penitent one should at least remember... Alas, much to my disappointment I recalled little of my former lover. In my earlier dreams, she had always been angry and teary-eyed, relentlessly accusing me of betraying her trust. I could not remember my feelings for her, yet I was curious... curious and enticed by both her beauty and my past relationship with her. If I could convince the elves to be lenient and let me back into their society, maybe my memories would return after the first look at their Queen’s face... Yet the very thought of meeting Ellesime in person filled my heart with panic, akin to the mindless horror of a deer pursued by a mountain lion.
Over the past few months, I had had many dreams and visions of my past. In fact, the intensity of the nightmares had almost driven me mad at one point, and only after the water weird’s intervention had I been able to close my eyes at night without dreading another influx of macabre visions. That was one reason behind my lukewarm reaction at this new tangle of conflicting emotions that came with the rediscovery of my lost love. Yes, she was beautiful beyond belief... But if Ellesime’s dream image gave me shivers of elated joy, than what would the presence of the real woman do to my already wavering control over my mind? And what would her final rejection or acceptance mean to my alter ego – would he finally rebel and claim this body as his own, dismissing me as a puppet, or would he retreat even further into the deeper recesses of my brain?
That absurd mix of feelings and my lack of enthusiasm to force a resolution might strike the reader as a pose, yet how could it have been otherwise? Even the greatest love of all time could not have survived the ravages of amnesia. Yes, I was dying with curiosity to meet Ellesime, and at the same time dreaded her more than death, just as I craved and feared the full return of my memories. I imagined there were plenty of other shameful surprises lurking in my past, and after having had a brief glimpse of the horrors hidden within my head, I felt shy of facing them all at once.
Following the dictate of the Seldarine and going to Evereska would be a capitulation of sorts, but it would buy me time, and it certainly felt less humiliating than trying to appease my aggravated kin in the Forest of Tethir. That rather pragmatic turn of thoughts roused me out of my torpor. Whether my impulsive companion decided to try my patience or stir my jealousy, I concluded that a final decision regarding Mirriam could wait until evening. Unlike Ellesime, Mirriam was not very important on the great scale of things; although, of course, I did not wish her any harm and her presence at my side had always made me feel better about myself.
In the meantime, I needed to visit the caravan masters and inform them of our change of plans, as by my original design we were supposed to meet them outside the city walls, in a small village situated exactly one day’s march away from Darromar.
When I entered the antechamber, firmly resigned to ignoring any additional verbal assaults from my angry companions, I realized that the suite was almost empty. Most likely both Omwo and Kessen had left while I had been mulling over my uncharacteristically active personal life. The only inhabitant of the rooms beside me was Miamla. The child was dallying in a huge armchair in front of the fireplace, with both feet tucked under her and a stuffed purple dragon toy under one elbow. As her huge silver-gray eyes tracked me across the room, the dragonette remained silent, but when I reached the front door and was ready to depart, she finally stooped to opening her mouth and speaking.
“Joneleth needs use magic to find his A’mael. There is no other way.”
“Oh please,” I replied scornfully. “It is not as if we can be sure Mirriam even wants to be found.”
“She left Myrat behind,” the child lifted her hands, and I noticed that she was holding a large black rat, which dangled in the air with an expression of resigned compliance on its face. “And Henna, the pony, is still in the Unicorn’s stable. Miamla checked.” The dragonette continued conversationally, dropping the beast back into her lap. “If Mirriam runs away forever she takes her friends with her.”
“Unlike me, you wanted to say,” I glowered at her, “who leaves them behind?”
“Miamla did not say that. Joneleth did.”
“That was a very foolish comparison, Miamla. Mirriam is not my pet.”
“Would you rather have a rat than a girl?” She made a motion as if to offer me the animal.
With all its outrageous ridicule, her question sounded innocent enough. But I had long abandoned the notion that Miamla was naive - the dragon child was as sharp as nails when it suited her needs. And I had to give it to the dragonette - this time her wordplay contained a grain of truth. Mirriam filled a certain vacuum in my chest, as the desire to be loved and admired unconditionally is always present in every intelligent being. Our souls need those positive vibes as much as our bodies need nutrition. The other side of the medal however, reflects the fact that such affection is always a trap for the receiving party, even if they apply their best efforts not to reciprocate – as once you get used to possessing something, you will suffer from its loss. Still, I wanted to conceal the degree of my concern over the young thief’s disappearance, and dismissed Miamla’s suggestion, swiftly leaving on my errand.
When I came back to the inn, the sun had long passed its zenith, and was swiftly sliding towards the jagged contour of the Darromaran skyline. I was happy enough with my new arrangements – the merchants did not care much when and where our group joined them so long as the main conditions of our contract were fulfilled. Yet my mood had been getting more irate with every passing hour, and my steps had quickened as I approached the Unicorn, even though I had made a conscious effort to restrain myself.
Mirriam had not returned home - that was quite obvious after a brief glance at the gloomy faces of her brother and the halfling, both of whom were once again dawdling in the main lounge. A small oval table by the fireplace was laid with food, but no one was touching it, not even Omwo. At the sight of me, Kessen downed half a cup of wine that he had been nurturing in his palms, and grabbed the silver pitcher for a refill. His fancy clothes were in disarray, and overall he looked more downcast than on the night of his return from the city jail. The heavy bruise on the left side of his face that he had tried to conceal with layers of makeup had turned a sickly yellow, and was even more pronounced under the partially smudged face powder.
“I gather no one in town has seen your errant sister?” I asked sarcastically.
Yet even as I uttered the words, I felt an unpleasant twinge in my chest, as deep inside I had hoped the girl would run out of steam and return, repentant; (a silly notion, knowing Mirriam’s temper but not entirely inconceivable in the circumstances).
“Oh, they have seen her alright,” Omwo replied from the other side of the room.
The halfling resided in the same deep armchair that Miamla had occupied in the morning, puffing at his long-stemmed pipe and humming unhappily under his nose. The room was already filled with fumes of tobacco, despite the strong upward draft in the fireplace and an opened window. Miamla was seated on a small bench at his feet, visibly intrigued by the complicated patterns that the smoke was making in the air. I remembered her ability to summon fog and shrugged, hoping she was not foolish enough to take up smoking.
“I was in the theater all day,” Omwo continued neutrally, letting go of his pipe for long enough to form a sentence, then inhaling a lungful of bluish-gray aromatic smoke. “My old friend Eldoth Kron has taken a tenday vacation. They were quite frustrated about it, especially on such a short notice.”
“What does that have to do with the girl?”
“They were spotted in the Lavender Sprig, together. Eldoth caused quite a commotion by inviting a crowd to his table and flaunting their reconciliation.”
“Ah,” I nodded affirmatively, steadying my face and making sure my voice did not show the slightest sign of displeasure. “To be honest, I expected as much. She has been showing an interest in him for long enough. See – you were quite mistaken about the object of her affections.”
“Damn it, effendi!” Kessen jumped from his seat, toppling the wine pitcher and paying no heed to the purplish-red stain that began to spread on the light blue carpet. “I don’t like it! In fact, the more I think about it, the more rotten I feel!”
“What?” My eyebrow jerked up. “Am I listening to the same character who tried to get his sister off his hands by almost selling her to a number of shady characters for a reasonable profit?”
“Stop picking at my wounds, you son of a vulture and a horned viper!” Kessen complained loudly. “I never wished her any harm! Farheed was practically family. Father always relied on him, and his brother is married to our aunt. And you... well, it was her idea, really, and I only wanted to capitalize… But this Kron fellow… he might be a slimier toad than I have ever thought!” The boy stopped for a moment, rubbing his forehead and temples. “I have a feeling Eldoth sold me to the city guards after I showed him the stupid scissors,” he finished reluctantly, “and I have been drunk enough to brag about the dragon trove to him.”
“A remarkable admission on your part,” I said quietly, looking him in the eye. “It would have been even more noteworthy if you had made this discovery before you forced Eldoth on your sister as a suitable choice of suitor. Well, you have nobody but yourself to blame for what might happen next. As for me, I wash my hands of the whole affair. We are leaving Darromar tomorrow, and I am not wasting another moment on speculations about the foolish girl’s fate.”
“You cannot do this to us, effendi! You have to help!”
“Jealousy and spite are never praised as counselors in matters of affection.” Omwo muttered from his corner. “You will regret this decision, Joneleth my boy, and my only hope is that you understand this before it is too late.”
I gazed into the hazy crystal ball until my eyes hurt. It was not a particularly good one – such items should be ordered in advance, and refined to perfection with the proper application of alteration magic. I had spent half the morning digging through various stalls of arcane components in my favorite corner of the Queen’s market, under the pretense of purchasing some last minute supplies. In reality, I had been looking for this – a slightly misshapen sphere of clear glass, with a few air bubbles trapped inside. I had cursed myself and my unbefitting curiosity a thousand times over, yet when I had finished my negotiations with the merchants and had headed back to the Unicorn, the finest divination device that could be found on such short notice had been added to my assets.
Before locking myself in my room again, I had collected a few trinkets that belonged to the girl. I was also in possession of a few strands of dark hair that were caught in the thorns of a squashed rosebud, which I had found on the floor under the bed. The first step of my investigation had been easy enough, and after completing the casting of a find person spell I had been somewhat reassured - Mirriam was alive and at the moment could be found less then ten miles to the southeast of the Unicorn. Having a lock of hair from the subject had been a tremendous help. Still, in order to get to the girl quickly I needed some details regarding her present dwelling, and the only way I could get those was by means of true scrying. Casting clairvoyance on an unknown location was unheard of, but somebody had whispered in my ear that if all the special conditions were met the spell could be subtly twisted. Knowing the probable source of this advice I had complied.
I had spent almost an hour on preparations, but soon after I had finished the incantation the inner portion of the sphere had gone milky white. Now the fog had cleared, but my eyes could not make out much of the detail. Maybe I was too tired, I decided finally, or perhaps the young runaway was asleep, as this variation of the spell required her conscious presence.
I walked away from the sphere and poured myself a drink of water, mostly to keep myself from succumbing to frustration and terminating the spell. Then I went to the dark window, and for some time observed the play of the moonlight on the pavement outside. At one point I was almost sure I saw a lean figure sliding in the shadow of the wall on the opposite side of the square. But it must have been my imagination, for after I blinked the street looked empty once again.
When I returned to the table to have a last look at my creation before ending its existence, my eyes immediately caught a subtle change in the condition of the sphere. The crystal was still swirling with subtle currents of smoke, but now it was also pulsing with a light emanating from its center. I lowered myself into the chair and with one wave of a finger extinguished the candles – a showy trick that I had discovered a few weeks back and found extremely useful. Then, somewhat apprehensive of the possibility of success, I placed my hands on the table and once again peered into the depths of the crystal ball.
It took me a moment to adjust my vision to the murky light streaming from the sphere, but when I finally saw the images within, my reaction was severe enough to make me jump to my feet and knock down the chair. I had not realized the view through Mirriam’s eyes would be so close and personal, and seeing the expression on Eldoth’s face as he fastened his lips onto hers was more than I could bear. I did not have any claim on the girl, and honestly, after the harsh treatment I had put her through, she was free to pick any man she wanted. But this was happening unbecomingly fast, and I felt a storm of jealous rage rising in my chest and tightening my throat. Only a few hours back I had held her in my embrace in this very room, and Mirriam had looked as if she was happy and in love. And now she lay in another man’s arms, and as far as I could see, Master Kron had already made quite a headway.
In the past, the slightest hint of Mirriam’s dalliance with Eldoth Kron had been enough to drive me insane with jealousy. I loathed the man with the cold rational passion of the obsessed. His very manner of introducing himself, sordid and self-absorbed, had made me cringe in distaste, and I had avoided shaking hands with the sleazeball, even at the expense of good manners. I suppose that seeing the girl with any other man would have been detrimental to my pride, but seeing her with Eldoth was a blow that near shattered my self-esteem.
I stalked a few paces towards the door then returned to the table. One glimpse at the further developments within the crystal ball was enough to make me pick it up and smash it on the mantelpiece of the cold and empty fireplace, with all the strength I could muster. Once the sphere hit the stone corner, it exploded into a million pieces that flew all over the room, and showered me with a multitude of biting shards. I was quick enough to shut my eyes and avoid any serious injury, although my cheeks and hands were sliced and bleeding from dozens of tiny cuts. But the biggest, coldest, and cruelest of them all pierced the flimsy barrier of cloth and flesh and found its target, firmly lodging itself inside my heart.
When I stormed out of the studio, I must have looked scary enough to avert all questioning stares and shut all blabbering mouths. My face was oozing blood, and my hands were in no better condition. I looked at my stunned companions, who looked quite shaken after hours of uneasy speculations followed by a sudden explosion.
“I need some fresh air,” was all I could manage to say without unclenching my teeth. “We shall talk later, after I have taken a short walk.”
“Silence boy! You have no idea what you are toying with!”
“Leave him alone, Kessen. Can’t you see he is not himself?”
I nodded in Omwo’s direction, in silent gratitude for his intervention, and noticed Miamla’s anxious silver stare following me from her now habitual spot at the halfling’s feet. As I exited the inn, I caught myself thinking – why did not Mirriam send the child to bed? Then I recalled the facts.
Assuredly, my recklessness could only be explained by my shaken emotional state, although even then I should have remembered the events of the earlier night. There can be no excuses for what proceeded next, but perhaps I was deliberately toying with danger, trying to cut the complicated knot of obligations and eliminate all my grievances in a single swipe.
I was not even a hundred steps away from the Unicorn, when a silent flash of what could be best described as animated darkness exploded from the narrow alley on my left side. In seconds I was enveloped in a thick cocoon of strands and vines, tightening around me like a living net. Even more impressive was the fact that I could not utter a word, as my lips were instantly sealed with a silence spell. “What took them so long?” Was my last coherent thought before darkness claimed all.
Iire Miamla kaime, lle A’mael lembe. - Your lady love left when Miamla was asleep. (elv.)