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What We Have Is Enough

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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.

 

15 Eleint

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.”

“Yeah, well—”

“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.

 

16 Eleint

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?”

“No, but—”

“Then it wasn’t him.” Her face says the discussion is closed, and no one brings it up again.

 

18 Eleint

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.)

 

20 Eleint

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.

 

22 Eleint

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.

Chapter Text

30 Eleint

Going back to Baldur’s Gate. According to Sheyra, the Iron Throne are behind the recent iron shortage and we need to investigate, although if that means blending in with people who actually live in the city, I can’t imagine how we’ll manage. I have enough decent clothes in my pack to still look the part of a lady if I want to, and Dynaheir somehow picks up less dirt than anyone else, but the others look...well, like what they are: a party of adventurers, more suited to killing things in the wilderness and kicking back at a village tavern than infiltrating the largest merchants’ guild in the biggest city on the Sword Coast.

Otherwise, not a good day. Dynaheir shouted at me for practicing my trap-setting, which wasn’t at all fair because only one went off when it wasn’t supposed to and no one got hurt anyway, or at least not really. Minsc is so tough I’m pretty sure he barely felt it, and he wasn’t even limping before Sheyra healed him. I don’t see what the fuss is about—if I can’t practice these things, how am I ever going to be good enough to contribute anything? Nobody yelled at Imoen for that trick with the arrow.

 

So, my love, how does it feel to be back in civilization?” Eldoth asks.

Weird. I don’t know. I’m still all dirty—”

He taps her nose with one finger (behind him, Imoen rolls her eyes). “You have nothing to worry about. You’re still the picture of loveliness. All that adventuring just put a healthy glow in your cheeks.”

Did it?” Skie asks, and she’s not sure why it seems to matter. She wants her time on the Sword Coast to have changed her. She wants to return to Baldur’s Gate a conquering hero. She wants everyone to know she’s killed monsters. She doesn’t want anyone to recognize her. She wants everyone to recognize her. She wants—oh, hell, she wants to be known as something more than just Duke Silvershield’s daughter.

She doesn’t want to be taken for a rich city girl or a country bumpkin who’s only suited for life as a dirty wanderer.

All right. She doesn’t know what she wants.

Eldoth looks at her a little curiously, but if he guesses at any of her thoughts, he doesn’t comment on them. “You outshine the stars, dearest love, no matter the circumstances—”

I’m gonna puke,” Imoen says, pushing past them into the shop, where Dynaheir’s already sifting through a pile of scrolls and Sheyra’s haggling over some healing potions. Eldoth shrugs at Skie and follows the younger thief through the door, but Skie hangs back, abruptly realizing she has no idea what she’ll say if someone does recognize her—which is likely enough, if only because she’s visited Sorcerous Sundries before.

So she parks herself on a nearby bench and waits, surprised by the simple pleasure of being at rest under the warm sun with Baldur’s Gate humming around her. The clank of armored tread on cobblestone, distant sounds of hammering and shouting from the docks, the babble of conversation in at least three different languages, the shrieking laughter of children apparently trying to cover each other with mud, even the funk of a nearby sewer grate—it’s all intensely familiar and strangely alien, all at once, and she supposes it’s hard to see the city for itself until you’ve experienced something else.

Or something. She doesn’t feel like philosophy at the moment. For once, just being is enough.

She’s almost returned to the point where just being is starting to get boring when Imoen bursts out of the shop, crowing about some new toy, the others not far behind her. She bounds up to Minsc, who’s just come back from his own errand, his pack considerably less bulky without its load of ankheg shells. Imoen’s showing him something and talking so fast Skie can only make out “it explodes!” and she can’t hear Minsc’s response at all, but from the way he smiles and puts his hand a bit protectively over Boo, she can guess—anything that explodes in the face or backside of evil is good by him, but even battle-hardened hamsters are nervous around such things so could she please be careful?

(Skie is surprised by a sudden rush of fondness for the big ranger. Where did all this sentimentality come from?)

But Imoen’s excitement is irrepressible (she had, Skie reminded herself, only seen Baldur’s Gate once before, after all, and then just for a short time) and she has to show someone, and her whole face lights up when she catches sight of Skie on the bench. She practically bounces over to the other thief, swinging her quiver off her shoulder to show off whatever’s inside, and draws out one arrow with a flourish. “Look what Sheyra bought me!”

Skie takes the arrow and examines it—a bit heavier than usual, which tells her nothing, especially since she rarely practiced with enchanted arrows at home and isn’t that familiar with most of them. “Is it new? What’s it for?”

Imoen’s eyes sparkle. “It explodes, hits the target and explodes, just like a Fireball spell but the range is better and I can’t wait to try it! Can you imagine taking down a bunch of trolls with a few of these?” She hugs the quiver to her chest. “Sheyra let me pick a bunch of special arrows but this was the best, I’ve never seen anything like it before—she bought me fifty of these babies, and that ain’t cheap!”

No kidding,” Skie says, impressed despite herself. She knows enough about Halbazzer Drin to be fairly confident the arrow won’t go off while she’s holding it, and Imoen’s right, this is a new and pretty fantastic piece of spellwork. “You could take out an entire patrol with these, from a distance, all by yourself—”

Isn’t it the greatest?” Imoen pulls out a handful of arrows and passes them to Skie. “We got you some too—wasn’t sure what you liked so I grabbed the basics, fire, acid, piercing, you know, and some of the Arrows of Detonation too.” Her voice drops to a conspiratorial whisper as she adds, “I might have snagged us a nice discount on some of those.”

Apparently the younger thief’s enthusiasm is contagious, because Skie laughs with her, which feels a little strange, and thanks her, which feels stranger still.

Okay, people,” Sheyra says when everyone’s gathered again. “Next stop, Iron Throne. It’s time we get to the bottom of this, and Imoen will you please keep those in the quiver until you’ve actually got enemies to shoot?”

Yes, boss,” Imoen says, rolling her eyes, but she’s still hiding a smile as she tucks the arrows away, and Skie wonders abruptly what it would be like to have a sister—but that reminds her of Eddard, and she isn’t thinking about him, so she grabs her pack and brushes herself off to leave.

 

1 Marpenoth

Candlekeep. And here I thought my house had a good library. They must have books on everything here—Sheyra claims to have read everything here at least once, which I find hard to believe, but I suppose there’s not much else to do when you grow up in a library. It’s so quiet here, though—a few monks chanting in the garden, some animals, and that’s about it. Pretty sure I’d go crazy. No wonder Imoen turned out a little weird.

 

So Sheyra is one of the prophesied Bhaalspawn. Skie’s fairly sure she should have some reaction to this, or at least something more coherent than What the hell, but she’s been pretty well distracted, what with unfair imprisonment and attempts to avoid death by super-creepy doppelgangers and all. Also ghasts. And spiders. And basilisks, good gods, what kind of library has this many mazes of catacombs and cave tunnels beneath it anyway?

She spends most of their underground journey hanging back and feeling useless while Imoen scouts ahead for traps and the others handle most of the monsters. Imoen’s better at this, she has to admit, and it rankles, but she can’t really argue with it either, not after she nearly backed onto a trap and the younger thief yanked her away just in time. (It’s funny, in a way—Imoen’s just a kid and usually acts like one, but does she ever focus when there’s a job to do. Probably explains the whole thing with the Arrow of Dispelling, actually.)

Because she’s in the back, though, it’s Skie who senses a trap just inside the doorway of a small chamber, half a second before Minsc triggers it—he’ll only brush it with the edge of one foot, but it’ll be enough. Skie darts forward and shoves him sideways, out of danger, or tries to: shoving Minsc has about as much effect as shoving a stone wall, but he notices the effort just in time and moves where she’s pushing. Skie crouches to disarm the trap and gets it after a couple tries, and Minsc is grinning at her when she straightens up. “That’s well done, little Skie, Boo could scarcely have done it better himself!”

She grins back, absurdly pleased.

They stop to rest the second time they find themselves going in circles in the catacombs and hunker down in a burial chamber that’s relatively free of decaying corpses. Skie makes herself comfortable against Eldoth’s shoulder, and he sighs a little but settles back against the wall so he won’t jostle her, and between that and Dynaheir’s smokeless little fire it’s really not too bad. (The witch even has a few herbs to burn that help with the general crypt smell.)

Minsc sits closest to the entrance, his big shadow casting a comforting barrier between the party and whatever might be outside, and aside from the movement of his fingers as he strokes Boo, he’s nearly motionless. Dynaheir begins meditating silently, eyes closed and firelight casting strange shadows on her face. Sheyra sits a little apart, barely inside the flickering circle of firelight, and after finally getting a trap set in the entranceway, Imoen joins her. They talk too quietly for Skie to hear for a few moments, and then Imoen lightly punches Sheyra’s shoulder and says, “Quit freaking out. You’ve always been, you know, the child of an evil god or whatever, doesn’t change anything now you know it. You’re still my bossy, overprotective big sister-friend.”

Sheyra raises her eyes from the fire, looks at Imoen for a moment, and finally smiles. “Bossy and overprotective, huh?”

Also you don’t know how to have fun.”

Please, my fun is just more intellectual than your fun.”

“’Swhat I’m saying. Except the word I’d use is ‘boring.’”

Sheyra’s laugh is quiet but real, and then she slings an arm over Imoen’s shoulder and kisses her forehead.

Imoen squawks an indignant protest, but considering she doesn’t pull away, she can’t be too bothered. “Hey now, what was that for? No mushy stuff!”

Just glad you were nosy enough to follow me is all,” Sheyra says, still smiling. “Even if you are a little pest.”

Hmph.” Imoen settles in next to her, sleepily adding, “Toldja you’d want looking after.” Sheyra smiles fondly down at her, running one finger through the thief’s pink hair, and something in Skie’s chest tightens. When’s the last time she’s felt that comfortable and relaxed with someone? Dora’s the closest thing she has to a mother, but with Eldoth it’s honestly hard to say, Father is so busy she hardly sees him anymore, Brilla doesn’t count, she hasn’t seen Eddard in a while—no, that leads to things she still isn’t thinking about, so she stuffs those thoughts away and focuses on the warmth of Eldoth beside her and the insides of her own eyelids until she finally sleeps.

 

Chapter Text

3 Marpenoth

Back to Baldur’s Gate, in a hurry this time, except now we’re holed up in the Blushing Mermaid waiting to meet with some drunk who claims to know some of what’s going on. Also we’re wanted all over the city and will be arrested on sight because of that whole mess at Candlekeep. I keep saying nobody’s going to arrest us once they know who I am—if I’m going to be recognized, at least it should be useful—but Sheyra says no, we have to get more information before we do anything. I’m tired of waiting. We half kill ourselves getting here before it’s too late to stop Sarevok, and now—

Never mind, Imoen spotted the contact, it’s finally time to do something.

 

The world doesn’t stop when Skie hears the assassins say they killed her father, and she wishes it would, because then she wouldn’t have to see the glee they’re taking in describing the murder and making her cry, how they enjoyed hurting the duke before they ended his life—

She has an arrow on the string before she’s consciously decided to reach for one, and when the fight begins it’s not so much that she’s ready for it but that she’s not aware anything else exists beyond letting fly the arrow on her bow and reaching for another. She doesn’t decide to use one of the Arrows of Detonation, either, it just happens as if it’s the next inevitable step, but the explosion—although it doesn’t kill the assassins outright—is all the distraction Minsc needs to finish off one of them, and after that it’s just a matter of a few spells and sword thrusts.

Sheyra and Imoen go to loot the corpses, and Skie takes several steps back from the pit until she bumps against a wall, which is good because her legs decide to stop holding her up at that point and she slides down to the Undercellars floor.

She still hasn’t returned to actual conscious thought, nothing so complicated as that, and she’s dimly aware that this means she can’t not think about what she’s kept so carefully packed away. Instead there is wordless, emotionless, unconscious clarity, too certain and dispassionate to be denied:

Eddard is dead.

Duke Silvershield is dead.

Eldoth does not love her.

She does not belong here, doing this, with these people.

The rest of the party sort of gathers around her, which would be nice if she had any ability to appreciate it at the moment, and Sheyra crouches to grip Skie’s shoulder. “Hey. Are you...going to be okay?”

Skie looks up slowly. They actually do all look concerned and very sorry. Nice of them. “I...don’t know.”

You can go home if you want to,” Sheyra says gently. “Or you can help us take down Sarevok, which...avenging your father won’t bring him back, but it might make you feel better. It’s up to you.”

It isn’t really, though, and Skie knows she’s simply stating the truth rather than making a choice when she says, “I need to go home, and this party doesn’t really need me to finish Sarevok.” Sheyra starts to object, but Skie cuts her off; if this unforgiving clarity won’t let her lie to herself, it certainly won’t let her offer untruths to others. “Imoen’s the better thief and you don’t need two of us. In battle I’ll only be in your way. At home I can try to spread the word about you and Sarevok, try to warn people and maybe get the Flaming Fist off your backs. That’s more than I can do if I stay.”

Sheyra nods slowly. “If that’s what you want, but...don’t sell yourself short.”

Skie smiles thinly and hauls herself upright. “I’m not. I’m being honest, finally.”

Well...” Sheyra stands too, seeming at a loss for words. “We’ll at least see you safely back to the estate—”

No,” Skie interrupts, and the sudden painful desire to be alone is too strong to argue with. “Thank you, but no. I know this city, I’ll be fine, and I need—I need to be alone.” She barely has the patience for a brief round of farewells (Imoen gives her a hug, quick and a little awkward, and Dynaheir clasps her hand and whispers, “I will pray for thee and thy family”) before she takes off into the dark of the Undercellars, ignoring the courtesans she passes. She doesn’t really pick a direction, just walks; she does know Baldur’s Gate, and this old friend will at least bring her home.

 

3 Marpenoth 4 Marpenoth

Back home, but

I keep trying to write, and

No. There’s nothing I want to say. At least not about myself.

 

The Silvershield estate feels big and alien and very empty, and this strikes her as a little odd, since she’s only been gone a couple months—but even Dora’s gone now, afraid for her life, and none of the house’s remaining occupants are the kind with which Skie would feel remotely comfortable breaking down in tears. Duke Silvershield’s body lies in state downstairs, where it will remain until there’s time for a proper funeral (highly unlikely, if Sarevok takes over), and for a while Skie deliberately avoids the room with the coffin and consequently the front door. She isn’t too bothered by the idea of climbing in and out of windows anymore, but it doesn’t really matter; there’s nowhere she wants to go.

Instead she sends messages and meets with as many important people as she can convince to visit her on very short notice, and she doesn’t know whether she did any good (advisers and other officials are very good at saying how sorry they are for her loss and dodging any actual commitment to provide real help), but eventually she hears of Duke Eltan’s near-miraculous recovery from the brink of death and the debacle at Sarevok’s truncated coronation. She thinks: well, maybe. Official reports will take a while to sort out, but the remaining council members are alive and Sarevok is unmasked. Maybe her influence made someone a little more willing to believe Sheyra’s evidence against the would-be ruler. It doesn’t much matter either way, because there’s nothing else Skie can do, and now she has way too much time to do nothing but think.

She really doesn’t want to think. Numbness was better.

She spends most of her first night home pacing, around her room and through the kitchen, up the drawing room and back. The sound of Brilla’s weeping manages to carry well enough to be impossible to ignore, and its persistence scrapes at Skie’s already frayed nerves. Finally she stomps downstairs, but the silence just means her own thoughts are even louder, and when her mind starts conjuring images of her father’s last moments, each more gruesome than the last, she can’t make it stop.

Finally she forces herself to the coffin and heaves open the lid. She’s not sure what she expects and doesn’t get it: he hasn’t been embalmed or prettied up much, just temporarily preserved, and he doesn’t so much look peaceful or seemingly asleep as really, really dead. The object doesn’t have much meaning without its animating spirit and his booming laugh, his habit of leaving books lying open all over the house because he’d go so quickly from total absorption to official business he’d forget to even close them, his way of calling Skie’s attention to the most trivial places and explaining their importance in the city’s history. His beard looks the same, but that doesn’t seem to matter since she won’t feel it scratch her cheek when he kisses her. Because he won’t be doing that either.

At least his dress robes cover the places where the assassins hurt him.

Skie closes the coffin, goes back upstairs, and doesn’t sleep. Too many thoughts are tumbling through her head. Duke Eltan won’t be fit to rule for at least a few tendays, and there’s really no one who can step into Entar Silvershield’s position. Eddard might have made a decent member of the Council, if he’d had time to work out his itch to travel—which of course he never will, now. Brilla has none of the skills or qualities a politician needs, and as for Skie herself—well, she knows she isn’t ready. The city’s already destabilized, with the iron shortage and tensions with Amn, and a scramble to find interim councilmembers of the right affiliations and sympathies to keep everyone happy wouldn’t help at the best of times.

Baldur’s Gate should survive without Duke Silvershield, but it won’t be pretty. Sarevok didn’t have to try very hard to stir up unrest, after all, and the city’s never been less ready to repel an invasion. Say Sarevok is stopped and what he set into motion continues without him. What then? The Flaming Fist is still divided, its leader is incapacitated, and the entire government is full of holes left by doppelgangers. And it’s not childish devotion that makes Skie believe her father was one of the strongest leaders of the Four; she’s not the only one who’s said so.

Skie wants her father back, but Baldur’s Gate might actually need him.

All the decent healers and clerics in the city have already been called in, of course; between the poisoned blades and mutilation, they couldn’t bring him back with any ordinary resurrection. Eddard is beyond saving, his remains almost certainly destroyed by animals not long after Sheyra’s party found them, but the duke...

Well. History is full of extraordinary things, isn’t it?

It’s a flimsy idea at best and Skie knows that, but it’s better than nothing, and at least it’s something to do—and even if it doesn’t work, it’ll buy time for Duke Eltan to recover.

She makes a quick scan of her bookshelves, pulls out anything remotely relevant, and hauls the whole stack to the drawing-room table, where it’s soon joined by other books from all over the house. Brilla’s room can wait; most of what’s on her shelves is purely decorative.

She divides the books into piles (she’s taking up most of the long table at this point, but no one needs it for meetings now anyway) and begins to read. Twice during the night she goes to the kitchen for food, which she eats but doesn’t taste, and both times she glances toward her bedroom and the bed her exhaustion renders so very tempting—but each time her head starts to nod over the books, she sees her father’s corpse, the assassins’ glee, the life bleeding out of him as he dies alone and in pain—

No. At this point, not sleeping is probably better for her sanity.

She’s still at the table, surrounded by heaps of books, when the sun rises; some hours later, when Brilla’s door opens a crack, Skie’s still reading, the only change the distribution of the books. She’s started copying useful passages into the blank pages of her diary, and several pages are already full with her tiny, precise script after having only made it through two of the smaller stacks.

Brilla sniffs rather loudly, and Skie glances up in startled irritation, too focused on research to have noticed her stepmother before. “Sleep well?” she asks, not bothering to keep all the sarcasm out of her voice.

“Not...not really.” Brilla sniffs again and wipes at her reddened eyes. “I couldn’t stop thinking about poor, dear Entar—what I’m going to do now—”

A long night without sleep probably has a lot to do with Skie’s temper giving way. She snaps, “I know for a fact he’s left you as well off as you were when he lived, so I don’t know what you’re mooning about. You’ve got nothing to worry you.”

Brilla blinks at her, handkerchief paused halfway up her face. Then she sighs and slumps against the doorframe: no affectation, just weariness. “Do you think I only married Entar for his money?”

“Well...” Yes, but now she’s not as sure, and she flounders for a moment before saying, “That is what I thought, yes.”

Brilla doesn’t look at her. “The money was attractive, it’s true, but I had everything I wanted. I...always admired Entar, long before I met him, and he was always kind to me.” She raises her head. “Your father was a good man, Skie. I’m not worried about money. I just don’t...the future seems...empty without him.”

“Yes,” Skie says, a little ashamed, and adds stiffly, “I’m sorry if I misjudged you.” Apologies don’t come naturally to her lips, but Brilla nods in acceptance and disappears back into the bedroom.

Skie pages through the books as the sunlight slants more and more sharply across the floor and then disappears altogether. Only when she copies down the last line of an ancient ballad and her hand hits the table as she reaches for the next book does she stop and look up.

Oh. She’s gone through everything. Her former diary’s half full now, she’s combed through every book in the house that could possibly be of any value, and night’s fallen again.

For now, she’s reached the end of what she can do.

She pushes back from the table with the diary, leaves the piles as they are, and stumbles to bed. The mattress and pillow feel almost unbelievably soft, but she doesn’t have much time to appreciate them; she plunges toward sleep as soon as she closes her eyes, exhaustion carrying her right past all the macabre images her mind wants to parade before her.

There are dreams, of course, plenty of those. She doesn’t remember specifics when she finally wakes up, just that she feels more wrung out than when she went to bed, but at least her head’s less fuzzy. The sun’s been up for a while, judging by the amount of light in the room. That’s all right, though; the sense of urgency that drove her through the night isn’t quite as strong now. No, that’s the wrong word—it’s just as strong, but...steadier. Not as frantic.

All things considered, this is probably a good thing.

Skie makes lists in her head as she bathes and dresses, so by the time she’s started on a late breakfast, she’s got a pretty solid checklist. Unfinished business first, though: she writes a letter to Brilla as she eats and another to Sheyra, then neatly seals them and leaves them on her nightstand. The chances of anyone coming in here before she’s left are slim, and she owes Brilla some kind of explanation, even if it’s just the barest outline of her plans...and she doesn’t want to give it in person.

Her pack’s still leaning against the wall where she left it two days ago, and she dumps the contents onto her bed for a quick triage. Most of the clothes hit the floor, along with a few useless trinkets she picked up on the road. From there it’s all lists and practicality, and soon her bed’s full again: a couple sturdy tunics, trousers, cloak, bracers, Boots of Speed, dagger, bow and entire quiver. Money, lots of it, in multiple pouches to hide in her pack and under her clothes so she won’t lose everything if one is stolen or lost. Gem bag with her remaining valuable pieces of jewelry, in case she needs to trade. Her diary. She clears out her father’s study of any protective rings, amulets, and stones he picked up back in his own adventuring days, decades ago now, and never bothered to sell. Potions...she’ll have to make a stop somewhere to pick up more. Also a potion case—no, the one her father used was repurposed a while ago, it’s still around here somewhere. Skie unearths it the kitchen where it’s being used to store spices and brushes it off as she heads back to her room.

Eldoth’s waiting for her, leaning against the stairway railing.

Skie pauses for a second, not sure how to react or what she feels about him, and then realizes she’s pretty well beyond surprise at this point and Eldoth is low on her priority list. She props the potion case open on her bed and starts slotting bottles into it.

“Going somewhere?” Eldoth finally asks.

“Candlekeep, first, and then probably Athkatla, probably further. Not sure.” A scroll case, that’s what she needs. Books and papers will get too heavy to haul around otherwise, and the volume she’s bringing for entrance to Candlekeep already weighs more than she’d like. For now the book and her diary go at the bottom of the pack, potion case neatly on top of them.

Eldoth blinks. “...why?”

“Because it’s the best library on the Sword Coast and I’ve got research to do.” She rolls up the gem bag into one of her tunics and stuffs it into the pack, then sits on the edge of the bed and looks up at him. “Because if there’s anything that can bring my father back, I’ll get on its trail there.”

He frowns. “Uh, Skie...”

“Look,” she says, “I’ve spent the last day and a half going through every book in this house, and there are a lot of stories—some really old and probably metaphorical, some new and possibly accurate—about people being raised who shouldn’t have been. None of the clerics here could do it, but so what? Faerûn’s a big place with a big history. If there are ways of resurrecting people who’ve been—mutilated—and I think there are, then I’ll find them. Might mean some kind of rare gem or ore, I don’t know, or a really complicated ritual, or some kind of spell component that’s only found in Tethyr or something. There’ve been...indications, in the stories, of things like that. There’s truth behind the stories, there’s a way, I just don’t know what it is yet.”

He shakes his head a little, as if to clear his thoughts. “You just got home, Skie, you’re going to run off chasing stories? Let someone else do that. Take a rest.”

“It doesn’t matter.” She turns back to the pile on her bed and rolls up another tunic. “I did some stupid things and I didn’t love my father enough when I had him. If I can do something to fix that—and help fix the city—I have to do it.”

“Sarevok’s dead, the city’s fine—”

“And everything he left behind is still here, including only two of the Four fit to rule. That’s not good enough. This way, someone will make an announcement about what I’m doing, and that should at least stave off civil unrest long enough for Duke Eltan to recover and unify the Flaming Fist again.”

“So you’re...what, buying time? Plenty of other ways to do that—”

“No, that’s what made up my mind. Even if this turns into a completely pointless quest, at least some good will come of it. That’s all I can be reasonably sure of.”

He watches her pack for a moment and says, “You’re pretty determined this time.”

“I figured out some things I should have known a long time ago.” Let him fill in the blanks however he wants. She adds with a thin smile, "Think I might actually be growing up this time.”

“You’ve always been a lady,” he says, but his tone is a little cautious now, not the easy, empty flattery she’s used to getting from him. “Now as much as ever. You can’t go off into the wilderness alone—”

“Only to Candlekeep and back. I can manage that. I’ll join a trading caravan at the Friendly Arm and reach Amn that way—slower but safer.” She eyes him. “I’m not stupid, you know.”

“No,” he agrees, his tone so carefully neutral she doesn’t even try to guess what he’s concealing. “You’re not, are you?”

Skie sighs and ducks into the kitchen for basic provisions and a little time to think. She’s done before she’s entirely figured out what to say—because the thing is, once he’d finished getting money from her family, Eldoth would probably have fed her some line about fate ruining their happiness, or how she belonged in Baldur’s Gate after all and he didn’t, or how he wasn’t good enough for her, or something similar. Part of her would still like to see him try, fumble through without the help of the illusions he’d encouraged her to cling to—but he’s standing in her room uncertainly, looking out of place for the first time, his face the utterly expressionless mask she’s rarely seen because it means he’s genuinely uneasy and can’t decide how best to react, and she doesn’t have the energy for more games.

So she skips several pointless layers of circuitous conversation and offers him an out. “Even if I find something that works, I’ll be gone a good while, and Brilla will have plenty of time to grieve her husband. She’ll need comforting. You seem to be good at that.”

He looks startled, which is kind of gratifying, and then the guarded expression returns. “I suppose one could say that...”

I don’t know if there will be a funeral yet—it depends on how much Brilla decides to believe I might accomplish something. No doubt lots of important visitors, though. Probably get invited to more ceremonies.” Skie closes the pack and gives it a shake to make everything settle; the potions rattle a bit but not too much, so at least the case’s enchantment is still good after so much time. “She’d probably let you stay here, even.”

He shifts uncomfortably. “Is that what you suggest I do?”

I’m not suggesting anything. I’m just telling you—look, I’m sure you’re here for a reason and I really doubt it’s to marry me, so I’m letting you know your options. What you do with that is your business.” It’s funny, she’d thought about heartbreak in the abstract (and, once or twice, in connection with Eldoth and the questions raised by other party members), and she had some idea what it was like to be hurt—and now that she’s come up against real heartbreak at her father’s murder, which may or may not still be permanent, any pain over Eldoth barely registers. Maybe that’ll come later, but she actually feels...confident, dealing with him. That’s new.

(So is his uncertainty, of course, whatever exactly it might mean.)

Skie straps on the pack, keeping bows and arrows within easy reach, and heads for the stairs. “Couple errands to run, then I’ll leave the city at dusk,” she says, not sure why she’s telling him. It occurs to her that she might be hanging onto certain hopes about Eldoth after all—he could make sure she’s found and brought back before ever leaving Baldur’s Gate, which would win him points with Brilla right off, since she’ll probably see this as a fool’s mission at first. Skie wouldn’t need to be gone for Eldoth to romance Brilla, anyway, as long as the awkwardness factor didn’t bother him.

Well. She’ll have to see what happens.

I have to go now,” she adds pointedly when he doesn’t move, and he straightens and pulls back from the top of the stairs. She’s halfway down when she hears him say quietly, “Go well, Lady Silvershield,” and she pauses for a second but doesn’t turn around or reply because what else is there to say?

No one sees her leave, which is a lot easier to pull off than it was a couple months ago. Outside the estate walls, she keeps to the shadows and takes off across the city. Sorcerous Sundries, Silence’s shop, and...that should about do it.

It’s twilight by the time she’s bought everything and packed away her purchases. No one’s recognized her and she hasn’t seen anything to indicate she’s picked up a tail or the Flaming Fist are after her, but she’s been cautious, so it’s hard to say if that means anything.

But she wants to know, so when she walks toward the main gate to leave the city, she cuts right across the street and doesn’t try to hide. She passes under the arch without being bothered, and then a patch of shadow detaches itself from the darkness of the gate and resolves into Eldoth.

When she doesn’t stop, he falls into step beside her. “Still determined to go haring off into the wild after legends?”

You know I don’t change my mind easily,” she says. Is he trying to stop her or not? This doesn’t fit what she’d thought might happen.

He’s silent for a moment. “Thing is, I’ve been to Amn and beyond. You haven’t. If you want to stay out of trouble, you should go with someone who knows the place.”

She knows she’s supposed to accept that and not try to pin him down any further, but frankly she’s enjoying her new bluntness, so she ignores what’s expected and asks, “Are you offering?”

Apparently.”

All right, Brilla would still be grateful if he accompanied Skie as some kind of escort, but he’d be gone long enough it wouldn’t benefit him any. Interesting. “All right. Why?”

He hesitates. “Because...I don’t want you to get into trouble.”

She studies him for a moment and he meets her gaze squarely, which tells her as much as the lack of flowery exaggeration that this, at least, is the truth. It’s little enough, but for someone who’s made a lifestyle and a living out of telling anything but, it is enough.

Skie nods and finds herself really smiling for the first time since before she entered the Undercellars. She holds out her hand, and he takes it, and together they set out across the bridge and into the dark.