They were alone at last below the trees in the grove. Most would have thought it quiet and tranquil, but he had learned from her something of how to begin to listen to all the noises of the life within it: to hear the mating cries of distant owls, a rabbit's skittering within the undergrowth, the shifting of leaves and branches in the winds and the flight of pollen in the air, the soft croaking of frogs in the stream. Fireflies lit the grove with soft yellow light, and in that he could see his wife's beauty. The fierce planes of her face under infravision, the wild golden brown cloud of her hair, her bright grass-green eyes and the intense fire within them that had sealed his voice and his breath since the first moment he had seen her. Not that it was particularly difficult to seal his voice, he would have thought wryly; but this was not the season for such things...
"Khalid, come to me," Jaheira said, her voice heavy and low, the same words as the first time they had been together. It had been so long since they had a chance to be alone like this, so little privacy upon the winding roads and in their duties as Harpers; at first it was a hasty yielding to each other, garments shed like leaves on the grass, his back against the rough bark of an oak and their faces pressed together like ripe mushrooms yielding to the slightest force, wet and flowing like a stream. They found their way to the ground, though not to his cloak that he had draped down but instead fell into the cool sweet grass. His wife bit at his ear like a tigress, a bear; his arms tightened around the corded muscle of her back as if he would never, could never let go of her. He twisted as if they sparred, and then it was she who lay on the ground, the furnace of her heat wrapped around him and her hands clenching his shoulders like a panther's claws. Her voice was hoarse as an eagle; she nipped at his neck, her teeth slightly sharper than usual, her body shaped by her power. She pushed at him and they rolled on the ground together, thick strands of her hair falling into his face above him, against his mouth and inside it as he strove to find hers. Jaheira called out loudly above him, pressing his back into the ground, patterning the marks of grass and earth to it. Khalid held her, pushing back against her, hands travelling across her body and his legs wrapped tightly around her. She bent her head, her mouth laid over the most recent mark on his face. She gripped him with her teeth like a wolf gnawing ravenously on hunted prey, and like her he was relentless. Frantically they moved against each other, seeking everything they wanted; and then after that first reunion they fell into a more gentle pace, sliding over to his cloak. He sought to map each inch of her by his mouth, her splendour that had not changed but only grown more beautiful by the years. Tenderly she touched even the scars that marked the frame he thought of as awkward compared to her grace. In poems of his childhood he he had stuttered over but had learned by heart, her body like the golden first-born of the depths, her shining sharp-toothed mouth with a kiss sweet and pleasant of taste, adbin muqabbaluhu ladidi lmatami, no hur of Sharess more beautiful than his beloved, habibat, none in this world nor any other able to match her wisdom of Silvanus and undefeatable spirit.
Jaheira lay warm above him, both of them sated enough to slow and lie against each other for some short while, replenishing vigour for another cycle. Sometimes she spoke that he could keep her pace, match and even overmatch her in effort of filling her desire. "Oft have I said 'twould take a sailor to untie that tongue, Khalid," she said, her eyes languorous and lidded, her body lazily shifting on his sweat-soaked skin. "'Twould be insufferable for me if such a one ever did."
The night was warm enough for them to lie comfortably naked, the grove deserted such that they were alone. "Jaheira, d-dearest—ayuni, my eyes—your eyes, so green as g-grass..." They were darker and moss-like in the heat of passion, a black-eyed gazelle with a lioness's claws.
"More than my eyes you looked at, Khalid," she said, the muscles of her shoulders and the swell of her breasts moving idly against him.
"I s-sought to compliment," he said, and kissed her triumphantly, which lasted for some time;
"Your silver tongue," Jaheira said, breathlessly, draped over him. "Khalid-of-my-heart, I have missed you so."
Ever a Harper's duties kept them upon the road; and still it seemed more troubling times were to come. But as long as they were together, her strength and courage and nature's power coursing and crackling through her hair and frame, his guarding of her, surely... "D-dearest," Khalid said firmly, and there was yet another long silence of speech.
"If it serves the Balance," Jaheira said after a while, one of her hands toying with his chest, curls of her hair tangled in his mouth.
Khalid carefully moved his head. "The c-children...s-sometimes you worry too much, d-dear. Gorion did his best."
Jaheira snorted like a mare. "Such a pair of misguided, immature infants I have never seen! Nor indeed those they ask to share their travel."
His hands kneaded her back like he had learned to train his hands for the longbow, maintain his weapons, to move away the knots with skill and care. "P-present company..."
Jaheira sighed comfortably, her hand moving up from nipple to tease the skin just below his neck. "A single wise decision, of course."
"It m-must end at some time. I do not t-think that Della wishes the road for an eternity..."
"And do you, Khalid?" Suddenly she rose, still mounted over him, her chest and head above him. "Do you wish to settle ourselves from it all? To try a home of our own? You would be a good father, and I know you would want it."
His hands had slipped to her hips, tanned and curved above their steel-strong muscle. "What we d-do is important. If we must put...other things...aside... Then know that home to me is always where you are, my love."
A faint smile lingered on her lips, wide and puffed from what they had done, the expanse of her breasts and torso above him like the image of a goddess of nature. "I chose you for your speech, Khalid. Of late I have thought of—this, at last—"
"And yet...you r-remember stopping Ployer and all his foulness..."
"He received far less than he deserved," Jaheira said with force; in their years with the Harpers they had done much against slavery. In his childhood Khalid had grieved for his mother, and in the years since then had seen far worse evils and abuses. Together with Jaheira to give him courage they had changed the world, made it better insofar as two people could try.
"Y-yes. I was...worried for you..."
"No less than I for you," his wife said firmly.
"And yet m-more than that," Khalid said, the sweat between their bodies starting to cool, Jaheira bending down to embrace him tightly. "Wherever...wherever G-gorion's daughter next travels..."
"Suldanessellar? The Nine Hells themselves? Odd planar spheres?" Her mouth widened into a broad smile, and feather-light her mouth lingered along his clear chin. "After hell, Khalid, I think there is little that could surprise us."
"We could...s-settle down in a grove." The forests of Suldanessellar thick around them drew from the glories of the Tree of Life they had helped to save, almost unblemished as nature; but this place belonged to the full-blooded elves. "Gulthmere, perhaps," he said, remembering the time of their wedding, some of the fondest memories they shared within that place. "Or Tethyr." Jaheira had grown to adulthood in a druid grove there; not all of her recollections of her homeland were ill ones, and there were said to be many half-elves in the country, growing across generations, prejudices against them fewer. "We would have the children you have d-dreamed of...a girl, as spirited and beautiful as her mother."
"And a boy as kind and as brave as his father." Jaheira affectionately tweaked his nose. "I am a druid; we have knowledge of these things."
"Or...the other children n-need us," Khalid sighed, shifting slightly the elbow on which she leaned to avoid his arm falling to sleep. "After all they have..."
One night in Beregost Gorion's ward Delythabelle had simply left them in the middle of the night, eloping with young Garrick, taking her sister. At the time Jaheira and Khalid's meditations had been that they could not force Gorion's ward to remain with them, and it was their duty as Harpers to continue to Nashkel... In the end Della and Imoen had returned to face Sarevok; left again with the pleasure-seeking companions of their choice; and kidnapped one night, so that the Harpers had not been able to find them until after their ordeal had passed and several of their friends had perished. There was guilt in not looking after Gorion's daughter as he had asked of them, though since Athkatla they had endured the long road to Irenicus by the side of the girls.
"Young fools," Jaheira sniffed; "though your countrywoman is old enough to know better, I believe."
The young bard yet remained with his love, a boy proven to be more than he had first appeared; and Safana, far more subdued than upon their first meeting, remained also, scarred and fighting after the death of her lover. Once Delythabelle was a frivolous girl who thought herself in love with a bard she had known a day; once Imoen a young prankster and occasional pickpocket; Garrick as flighty and innocent a lutist who ever laid hand to string; Safana a boldly-dressed woman the centre of a glittering circle of admirers at the ball of the Grand Dukes, chatting to Khalid in their first language until Jaheira had rescued him. "She...g-grieves for that elf still," Khalid said. "As we know of all that we have l-lost. Reviane. Dermin." He did not wish to speak the names of the Harpers they had fought for the sake of Gorion's child; a young girl foolish and helpless but almost incapable of malice.
"And if to brood on them would return them to the natural cycle of life, I should do so," Jaheira said; "but 'twill not occur." She shook her head; it was best to banish such thought for the brief time they had here. More had lived than had died from their actions, at least; Harpers still. "For the balance, Khalid. We remain to serve it."
"As you wish, my l-love. Shall we not...s-spend more time on other matters?" They brought themselves slowly together again, gently wrapped around each other; and in the grove of Suldanessellar there was almost a restful silence in the midst of the life that teemed within.