30 Eleasias, 1369
Eldoth says if I’m going to write anything about him or my plans to get out of this giant golden cage, I should be doing it in code, and he’s probably right; anyway it’s good practice, and so far I’ve been able to fob off both my tutor and a couple servants with nonsense about a special secret Amnish code I’m learning when they’ve caught sight of Eldoth’s messages. I’m not completely sure how that comes across as a good thing, since a proper diplomat should have her own codebreakers (magical and mundane both, I imagine) and shouldn’t need to understand such things herself, but if it keeps anyone from asking inconvenient questions, I’m satisfied.
Practice run tonight. Not much else to fill my time, after all.
It’s nearing dawn by the time Skie returns to the Silvershield estate. Getting back in tends to be trickier than getting out, which she found strange the first time—she belongs there, does she not, so why should anyone try to stop her from coming in the front gate?—but didn’t after she spent a little more time thinking about it. Estate guards earn their keep by preventing vagrants and other unauthorized guests from entering the grounds, not by ensuring the proper occupants stay inside, so getting out has always been a fairly simple manner of using the back stairs from her room and a delivery door near the city walls. Getting back in...not so much. The first time, she really did march up to the front gate and demand entrance, which of course led to a shouting match with her father when it became clear that she’d spend most of the night roaming around Baldur’s Gate by herself. After that she got cleverer about it. One house with external stairs to its second story backed right up to the estate’s formidable wall, and she could make the jump easily from the building’s roof. That also meant letting herself down into the estate grounds with a rope, though, which also meant she needed good gloves: the first time she’d scraped up her palms so badly they hadn’t been the same for a tenday, and forget about her manicure. Gaining the top of the main city walls and getting down from there was half a possibility until she realized she’d have to climb up that with a rope too; she considered the sewers for about a second before remembering to her relief that the house had no sewer access from the cellar.
It was a good day when she managed to blend in with the shadows long enough to sneak right through the front gate. Much easier on her hands (and nails), and she didn’t even have to deal with aching muscles from scaling walls.
12 Eleint, 1369
Message from Eldoth: he’s met a party of adventurers willing to help me escape, and they’ll be here in a few days. I burned the note when I was done reading it, just like he said to, even though it was in code and no one could have read it. I don’t quite know what to do with myself now; I keep packing a bag, thinking better of everything I’ve chosen, and repacking it with entirely different tunics and boots. I can’t afford to stand out, of course, but I don’t think that’s any reason to take only shabby clothes—and I don’t have any of those anyway. Of course I’ll need a heavy cloak, I’m sure it gets cold in the wilderness, but adventurers often get rich enough to afford fur-lined velvet, don’t they? Surely it won’t stand out too much. Eldoth did say to bring as many of my valuables as I could, which only makes sense if we’re to start a new life together.
She resists the impulse to say goodbye to Dora, who is nobody’s fool and will know immediately that Skie is up to something, and scribbles a note for her instead. It’s not like she’s leaving forever—probably—but Dora, always much more than a servant, will worry, and so will Father, if he ever bothers to find time for coming home once in a while. Brilla, never a good substitute for a mother on her best days…well, it's hard to say if she’ll notice.
Eldoth came for me, just like I knew he would! His friends are all a bit scruffier than I expected—he keeps strange company sometimes, but he does care about his appearance, which can be refreshing after too much time out in the city—but I’m grateful enough for the chance to really, truly escape that I can’t really care.
I’m going to be an adventurer. A real adventurer! I’m too excited to think about much else. I mean, mostly.
Imoen gazes around the room in undisguised envy. “Why you leaving this amazing place, again?”
“What good is a gilded cage? I want out of here. I want adventure. You must understand—isn’t that what you’re doing?”
“Okay, yeah, but I grew up in Candlekeep, once you’ve pranked everyone a few times they all start getting wise to your tricks, and there’s only so much time you can spend in the library before you actually start dying of boredom—”
“Speak for yourself,” says Sheyra, the young white-haired woman who seems to be in charge. “Some of us actually valued all those books for something other than target practice.”
Imoen sticks her tongue out, then turns to the chest at the foot of Skie’s bed and starts fiddling with the lock. “Why’s your bedroom off the kitchen, anyway? I mean it’s nice, I get hungry at night too, but—”
“Hello, gilded cage? They don’t trust me. Dora basically lives in there and she's got eyes like a hawk.” Skie sits down on her bed next to Eldoth, who’s sprawled across it, smiling lazily up at the ceiling. “Um, shouldn’t we leave before someone hears?”
“Soon,” Sheyra says, glancing into the kitchen with an appraising look. “Minsc is guarding the stairs. Imoen?”
“Two seconds.” The lock clicks, the lid swings open, and Imoen’s eyes gleam as she takes in the contents. She scoops out a handful of jewelry and gold pieces, all of which disappears somewhere in the depths of her pack.
Skie bounds off her bed with a squawk. “You can’t steal from me, I’m in your party now, that’s not how it works!”
Imoen, clearing out another chest, ignores her; Sheyra turns to Skie with a Look that Dora would be proud of. “Honey. Being an adventurer means taking what you can get, whenever and wherever you can get it. That’s how you survive long enough to do any good and make enough money to keep yourself in healing potions and decent weapons.”
“Not that Miss Tightfists over here lets me get anything nice even when we can afford it,” Imoen says.
“You didn’t need a new pink tunic. The wool one will last a lot longer, anyway.”
“Or any nonmagical necklaces or rings, I don’t care how shiny they are.”
“Uh-huh.” Imoen sweeps a handful of gems from the cupboard into her pack, then grabs Skie’s Cloak of Protection off its hook and tosses it to her. “You’re gonna want that, if you don’t have a better.”
“Generous of you.” Skie doesn’t try to keep the sarcasm out of her voice.
“Look, my love,” Eldoth says from the bed, “they’re right, this is how things work. Besides, you are one of the party now, so what’s yours is ours and what’s ours is yours. Trust me, it’s better this way.”
“For instance…” Sheyra rummages through her pack (for a second Skie thinks she’s going to fall in, which is entirely possible, considering what she’s heard about some Bags of Holding) and emerges with an unimpressive amulet and an equally unimpressive pair of boots. “Here. Suit up, grab whatever else you absolutely need, and let’s get going.”
Oh. An Amulet of Protection and some Boots of Speed. Apparently they have these things just lying around, which brings Skie’s opinion of this ragtag little group up a bit. Of course, the fact that she might need these kinds of items is somewhat…concerning.
No it’s not. What is she thinking? Adventure means danger, and danger’s better than suffocation. Anything’s better than staying here.
First full day on the road. We left Baldur’s Gate right away, which was a relief; at least I can be gone for a few tendays before anyone finds me. The sky seems so big outside the city, and everything’s so…wild. I can’t stop looking at everything.
“How’d you convince the guard to let you in, anyway?”
Eldoth glances at her sidelong. “What, you don’t think my natural charms are sufficient to win over even the hardest of hearts?”
Skie giggles. “Of course they are. I just thought I heard you talking to Brilla, and she’ll yell for the guards—or me, for that matter—if even a fly manages to get into her room.”
“Oh, we found something she was interested in, that’s all. Just a little trinket from our travels.” Eldoth puts his arm around Skie’s shoulders, which is a little awkward when they’re both wearing packs. “Nothing to worry your pretty head about.”
Imoen says loudly, “Actually, I found—” Sheyra elbows her, or tries to, but Imoen’s dodge is a little too quick. “What? She’ll have to know eventually!”
“Know what?” Skie asks.
“You must be strong, child,” Dynaheir says gently. “The news we brought thy stepmother was hard for her, and it may strike thee more deeply still. But remember that thy friends are with thee.”
“I’m not a child anymore,” Skie says, “and I’m stronger than Brilla. Tell me.”
Sheyra stops and turns to look at her. “Skie...it’s your brother. We found a caravan destroyed by bandits on the Coast Way, and on one of the bodies was a pin marked with the Silvershield crest.”
Skie stares straight ahead and keeps walking for a moment, and then she tosses her hair back. “So who identified the body? Anyone who actually knew him?”
“Then it wasn’t him.” Her face says the discussion is closed, and no one brings it up again.
First real battle—set on by a pack of wolves. Nobody else seemed to think it was a big problem, so I started shooting too—I think I hit at least one of them, but everyone else cleared the wolves out so fast I could barely keep track of what was happening.
Then once it was over I realized I’d broken a nail when my hand slipped on my bow. It wouldn’t seem like quite such a big deal, except it turns out broken nails hurt. Nobody ever mentions that part of adventuring...actually, there’s a lot of stuff the books don’t seem to mention.
Minsc really isn’t sure what to think of Skie and Eldoth. Skie only fusses a little about Boo being smelly and unclean, not even enough to hurt a sensitive hamster’s feelings, and mostly she seems to focus on how cute he is, so she gets a pass for that, anyway. She only turns her nose up at campfire food the first time, and then just until it becomes really obvious there’s nothing else to be had—and she does complain about all the walking and wouldn’t let Minsc carry her more than a couple yards, but he remembers his early days as a ranger when his feet hurt more from walking than from kicking evil butts, and Skie’s new, after all.
Boo doesn’t like Eldoth much, though (this becomes obvious to everyone after the first time Boo uses the bard’s bedroll for his private business), and Minsc is inclined to agree with him. There’s something about Eldoth that makes Minsc feel the way Boo looks when his fur’s all bristled up in alarm, and then there are his intentions toward Skie, which don’t seem especially honorable. He’s even more certain about this after he sees Eldoth trying to convince Skie to join him in his bedroll, because Skie doesn’t want to (because it’s dirty outside and she thinks it would be gross to “do it” anywhere but a proper bed, but that’s reason enough) and Eldoth keeps after her. Any man who doesn’t listen to a woman saying “no” isn’t a good man.
Minsc does have fun watching Eldoth’s face turn different colors when he tells the bard what’ll happen to him if he keeps trying to sleep with Skie, though. (The best part? Eldoth doesn’t even need watching after that; Minsc’s threat has him behaving himself just as if he really were a gentleman.)
I’m really trying not to complain—seriously, I am—but we always seem to be tired and hungry and wet and constantly dirty and…there just doesn’t seem to be much adventure to make up for it. Gods know I tried to stay clean the first few days and I still do, and I’ve been able to get my clothes washed every time we stop at an inn, but in the meantime…my feet ache from walking, my hair’s a mess, I can’t keep the dust off anything, I’m all sticky with sweat, and I’m sore all over.
In retrospect, volunteering to scout ahead with Skie—a little bonding time between thieves was always a good thing, right?—instead of asking for someone who could do magic was probably not the smartest thing Imoen’s ever done.
“Run faster!” she shouts, risking a glance back to see how badly Skie’s doing at keeping up with her. Pretty badly, as it turns out. She’s stumbling away from the spiders, fumbling to get an arrow on the string, and Imoen can see in about a second that she’s not going to get away fast enough. Imoen fires off a handful of arrows at the closest spider and barely makes a dent, which is a bad thing considering there’s a whole swarm of them. She can run faster than a spider, anyway, and Skie probably can if she tries hard enough, but she’s got to get away, first—
Too late. Skie staggers and her whole body seizes up as she’s caught in a tangle of spiderweb. The nearest spider lunges and jabs her with its stinger, and now she’s really stuck. Imoen swears under her breath and digs through her quiver. Ordinary arrows, ordinary arrows, more ordinary arrows, not even an Arrow +1 or Acid Arrow in the bunch. There’s no way she can kill off all these spiders and save Skie without backup or magic, neither of which seems to be available at the moment. Well, maybe they can have her raised—if Imoen can get her body away from the spiders, which also assumes they don’t eat her first, and then it means Imoen will also have to carry her all the way back to the rest of the party and she really doesn’t think she can manage that—damn.
Oh. She does have one magical arrow: an Arrow of Dispelling, jammed into the side of her quiver. Without wasting another second to think better of it, she whips out the arrow, notches it to the string, and dashes a few yards closer. She’s only got one chance to make this shot, after all. The other spiders have nearly converged on Skie, who’s standing frozen, unable even to struggle or cry out, and with one last steadying breath Imoen aims, draws back the string—and sends the arrow directly into Skie’s shoulder.
The other thief yelps in a mix of pain and outrage, but the web’s dissolved and she’s moving. Imoen lets a few other arrows fly, gets close enough to grab Skie’s arm, and books it out of there. She’s never been more glad of the Boots of Speed Sheyra insisted on everyone wearing.
They’ve lost the spiders in the nearest clump of trees by the time Skie regains enough breath to speak. “You bitch,” she gasps, “you shot me!”
“Um, you’re welcome?” Imoen says. “I wasn’t even positive that would work, but you’re alive to complain about it, so—”
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed but I’ve still got a damned arrow in my shoulder!”
“Gods, okay, relax. Just yank it out, shouldn’t be that bad.” Imoen shrugs off her pack and crouches to dig through it. “Actually, if you can try not to wreck it that would be great, those are kind of expensive…”
Skie sputters for a moment as if she can’t even come up with an answer to that, and then Imoen locates her potion case and pulls it out, the bottles inside clinking together. She shakes out several healing potions and some antidote and shoves them into Skie’s hands. “Drink these, I saved your life, no harm done, now come on.”
“…um, the arrow?”
“Right.” Imoen braces one hand on Skie’s shoulder and pulls the arrow out with a single jerk. The shaft snaps away from the head just as she gets it out, and she sighs and lets it fall. Damn single-use magic items. “Seriously. Drink up.”
Skie gulps down two healing potions in a row before her glare softens and she says grudgingly, “I suppose that was quick thinking.”
“Imoen the Quick, that’s what I keep saying—”
“Except you were maybe a little too quick to shoot me.” She brushes off her clothes, straightens her hair, and turns an accusing look on Imoen. “You haven’t been planning this, have you?”
Imoen sighs. So much for bonding.
Every time I think it’s starting to get cooler, the breeze dies down and the mosquitoes come out again to eat us alive…and yet it’s still chilly at night. How does that even happen?
I have to say, though, I’d never been more glad to see something resembling civilization than when we got back into Beregost. It’s nothing compared to Baldur’s Gate, but it’s got more than one inn, which is saying a lot. Sheyra decided to spring for a big fancy room—she said with all the wolf pelts we’d brought back, we could afford it—and I didn’t even realize at first that it was barely bigger than my room at home, I was so glad to have a place to rest. The furnishings don’t compare to those at the estate, of course, and the food is unexceptional, but I’ve never appreciated a real bed so much before in my life.
Back on the road soon, of course…but Eldoth says he’ll try to convince the others to stay in town for at least a few days.
It’s one of those rare nights on the road when it’s not raining (or blisteringly hot) and they’ve found a place to camp that’s actually comfortable and the rabbits Skie took down for dinner are particularly tasty, and for once everyone’s too content to bicker with each other. The stars are bright, the air’s just cool enough to make the fire’s warmth a pleasant necessity, and when Skie whispers in Eldoth’s ear and the bard begins to play, it seems so natural Sheyra barely notices at first.
The song drifts above the crackle of the fire, Eldoth’s harp and smooth tenor painting images of home and safety, firelight on a cozy hearth. Sheyra doesn’t recognize it, which isn’t too surprising since few bards could afford to visit Candlekeep, but the music seems to wrap around her like a blanket, a promise of protection and rest. She’s vaguely surprised Eldoth has this kind of music in him, but he’s quite well-traveled, after all.
Skie leans to whisper again, smiling, and the tune changes, evoking streams and rivers and life on the road, heartbeats pounding in time to the thump of boots on a dusty trail; and Skie springs to her feet and begins to dance.
It’s the sort of natural, unselfconscious movement that can only be made by someone who’s grown up doing this, who dances as easily as she breathes. Skie closes her eyes and her hands and feet seem to move of their own accord—and maybe it’s just the flickering light from the campfire, but for the first time she looks comfortable in her own skin…and Eldoth’s smile, as he watches her, is a little wistful and not at all predatory.
Then Minsc pulls Dynaheir upright for a dance that’s apparently from Rashemen, even if Minsc’s particular interpretation of it is probably not quite standard, and Imoen’s tugging at Sheyra’s hands, wanting to dance too, and the evening passes in laughter and camaraderie.
Sheyra sleeps much more soundly than usual that night, and she doesn’t dream.