Doubts of a Paladin
The trail was cold, but other than that it was an easy enough journey. There were a number of small villages along the way where they could stop and buy supplies; one or two even had small Inns.
Rowan reined Rose Thorn in as they came in site of Everlund's walls. "There is a certain danger here," she said, looking about.
"How so?" Misara asked. It had been nearly eight years since her path had last taken her to this part of the North; she tried to keep up with the news, but there was always so much happening.
"Giants have come into the Evermoors and can be a threat. The High Forest has also been growing and seems closer to the city every day."
"I see," Misara said, and looked around herself, wondering if giants did indeed think to travel so close to a city of Everlund's size.
She saw nothing and apparently neither did Rowan for she settled back into her saddle and started Rose Thorn forward. Misara remained where she was for a moment then reached down and patted Iron on the side. "A warm stable and a full belly for you tonight," she told her horse.
He nickered softly, and then set off after Rose Thorn. She leaned forward into his mane and closed her eyes, thinking about what Rowan had told her: Giants on one side and a growing forest on the other. Likely people in Everlund were starting to feel a little nervous. It was a place that might need some help. She would have to keep that in mind in her future plans.
Everlund was built on either side of the River Rauvin; a city encircled by high, thick, stone walls. While the area around the city had changed, the city itself was much like the last time she had passed that way. Moongleam tower, the keep of black stone, still rose up from a knoll near the centre of the city. They rode their horses towards the Mountain Gate, one of the fives gates.
It was still several hours until sunset, so the gate was still open, members of the city watch examining closely all those who entered. As the approached one of the guards moved forward, calling out, "Rowan, well met!"
"A friend of yours?" Misara asked as they rode closer.
"Amos Millerson, sergeant in the city watch," she said and smiled.
"I thought for certain that you would be gone longer," Amos said loudly as Rowan brought Rose Thorn to a stop near him.
"I managed to take care of things quicker than usual," Rowan told him. "Has anything of note happened recently?" She took several gold pieces from her belt pouch and handed them to Amos.
Amos shook his head. "Been quiet. A caravan coming over the snow had to run from some giants a few days ago. The High Captain sent a squad out to chase them back into the moors."
"Lot of caravans coming in before the melt makes the roads mud?"
"Some, more should be coming in soon."
"Think we can find a room in the city?"
"Depends on how much money you want to spend, doesn't it."
Rowan nodded, then shifted in her saddle. "Amos, this is Misara Anor'Esira, Paladin of Corellon Larethian."
"Lady Anor'Esira," he said, almost as well as Rowan-not surprising in a city where Elves made up a large portion of the population.
"Sergeant Millerson," she replied politely.
"I ask that you maintain the peace while in the city. Drawing a weapon within the city will result in your arrest, though as long as there was justified reason you will likely be released soon enough. I will not ask that you peacebond your weapon."
"Thank you sergeant. I understand."
He nodded, and then turned his attention back to Rowan. "Tomorrow night the Shaved Coin is holding a Talis tournament. There are a number of us who would like a chance to win some of our money back."
"Your money has already been donated to the Church of Sune where it will do more good than if I had left it in your pockets," she told him.
"You always have a lot of gold on you Rowan. We'll happily take someone else's money. And your luck at cards cannot hold you know."
She laughed. "Luck has nothing to do with it my friend, and if I am still in the city tomorrow night I will show you and the other gamblers that."
He nodded and smiled. "Then hopefully I'll see you tomorrow evening."
"Sune willing," Rowan said, and then set Rose Thorn into a walk.
Misara nodded politely to the watchman as she passed him by and entered into the city.
Everlund was quite beautiful, made of stone and timber, much of the architecture elven and dwarven in style. Wide, tree lined avenues ran from each of the five gates, to the centre of the city and Bell Market.
The street was busy, people of the city, humans, elves, dwarves, halflings and others, went about their business. The horses were kept to a slow walk. Misara looked about for a while, enjoying the cosmopolitan energy, before directing Iron closer to Rose Thorn.
"It sounds as if you are quite the gambler," she said to Rowan.
"I do not like to think of it as gambling since I usually win." She smiled at Misara. "And when I do lose, well, it is a good lesson to me. What about you?"
"I used to."
"Lost too many times?"
"Something like that."
"It is probably a good idea that you stopped then."
"I thought so."
"There is an inn nearby that I think you will like. It is quite unique."
"You'll see when we arrive."
"My interest is piqued."
Rowan seemed pleased by that.
They continued on, talking about things of minor importance, Misara sometimes mentioning a change in the city, Rowan pointing out new things of interest. They passed through Bell Market and turned onto the avenue that led towards the Silverymoon Gate and the almost immediately onto a side street that led to a small, tree covered knoll.
There was an inn there, the sign out front proclaiming it as The Maiden's Rest. It was a two-story building built of local stone and faced with white brick. There was a fenced garden behind it that looked, from what she could see of it, quite pleasant.
Rowan rode up to the front doors and swung off Rose Thorn. She began to remove her gear from him. Misara followed suite, removing her gear, pulling the saddlebags from around Iron's shoulders and throwing them over hers, being careful to balance the load of her heavy pack.
As they worked two girls, probably not much older than eleven or twelve, approached from the stables. Rowan handed her reigns to one of the girls. "Rub him down and if you have any winter apples around he'd dearly love them."
"Yes Lady," the girl said as she bowed.
Misara pulled a rope loop from one of the saddlebags and placed it around Iron's neck. The horse snorted and shook its head. She reached out and grabbed one of his ears to turn his head towards her. "No trouble, understand?"
Iron snorted again but settled down.
She handed the rope to the second girl. "If he gives you any trouble ignore him. If her gets sulky he'll do anything for attention."
"Yes Ma'am," the girl said, but her attention was on Iron, looking at him as if she had never seen such a thing.
"He's a horse," Misara offered.
"He doesn't look like any horse I have ever seen Ma'am."
"And you can thank the gods for that."
The girl nodded and led Iron off after Rose Thorn.
"Come on," Rowan said, starting up the steps towards the front doors.
The doors opened as they approached; a tall, middle-aged woman, wearing a well-tailored grey dress stepped forth to stand at the threshold. "Welcome back Rowan."
"Thank you Fiona. Do you have two rooms for some weary travellers?"
"Of course. Please, enter and be welcome."
The interior was made up of light coloured stone work and timber, brightly lit by lamps, some burning scented oils. Inside the front door was a tiled area, shelves by the door to hold footwear, shelves further in holding slippers.
Once they had removed their riding boots, and had a young maid take their cloaks and brush some dirt from their armour, they followed Fiona to a desk where another woman, wearing a dress almost the same as Fiona's, sat.
Rowan signed her name in a large, leather bound book, Misara did as well, noticing that the names that ran down the page were those of women. They paid for a night's stay, not the most expensive place that Misara had ever stayed, but not cheap by any means, and then they were given keys for their rooms.
Fiona led them up the stairs to the second level. Misara, looking around, said, "Everyone here is female."
"Yes," Fiona said. "All the guests, all the staff. The Maiden's Rest was established to offer women who are traveling a place to stay, away from men."
"And there is a lot of demand for that?"
"Of course. Many female adventures who travel with male companions enjoy the chance to socialise with other women, just as one example."
"I think many women feel safer in such a location," Rowan told her.
"That is true," Fiona said. "Here is your room." She stopped in front of a door. "There is a lady's maid, though you can dismiss her if you wish. The baths are always open, and you can arrange for various cosmetic services if you wish."
"Thank you," Misara said as she used the key to unlock the door.
Immediately she could see the room was well worth the price. She let her pack and the saddlebags fall to the floor and then walked across the room, past the large bed, to the window. The garden below was as beautiful as she thought it might be.
There was a nock at her door.
"Come," she called out.
The door opened and a young woman, dressed in grey dress, a white apron, and mobcap, entered. "Lady Anor'Esira, I am Millie.'" She curtsied. "Is there anything you want? Perhaps we could launder some of your clothing? We also patch holes and mend rips."
"Call me Misara, Lady Misara if you must. You can help me unpack first, then we'll see what needs attention. And I'll need an armour stand."
"Yes Misara," Millie said as she entered the room and closed the door behind her.
In short order Misara had separated her clothing into two piles. That which cold be cleaned and mended, and that which needed to be thrown out. Millie told her that there was store across from The Maiden's Rest where she might find new clothing. Misara dressed in a pair of breaches, a shirt, and leather doublet, and then she set off to do some shopping.
As Millie promised the store, Silk Threads, offered her everything she needed, from new underclothing, hose and stockings to a silk gown of a pale blue that went well with her eyes.
She returned to her room laden with her purchases, most of which were destined to be left behind in some small village or another, or perhaps lost or stolen on the trail. After packing everything away she went to bathe.
For a time she soaked in the hot water of a bath she could almost swim in. She then took advantage of the various cosmetic services that were offered. As she lay on a padded table, a tall, heavy woman, probably with some orc in her blood, massaged moisturizing oils into her skin as gnomish woman worked a thick cream into her hair. Misara decided that The Maiden's Rest would be the Inn she made her home any time she was in the city.
Rowan was sitting with a halfling woman when Misara came into the dining room. As she walked across the room she looked about at the other diners. There were several obvious merchants, a young woman with her maid, another young woman with and older woman who was probably her mother, and three women that Misara was not certain of, but guessed that they might be adventurers.
She took a seat beside Rowan, across form the halfling. "Good evening."
"Misara, this is Olpara Sweetharp."
"Call me Olpara," she said.
"Olpara, this is Misara Anor'Esira, also called Dawntide."
"You can call me Misara if you wish."
"Misara. Can I ask what the Dawntide means?"
"It's an old name, I'm not entirely certain of its origin. What about you? Where does Sweetharp come from"
"Most people assume that I had an ancestor who was an excellent harper."
"That is what I assumed," Rowan said. "Is that the case?"
"You would think that, but the truth was the ancestor in questions baked cakes shaped like harps."
Rowan laughed. "Is that true?"
"Olpara is a member of a giant and troll hunting party," Rowan told Misara.
"A dangerous profession?" Misara asked.
"No, and yes, it depends on how stupid one is," Olpara told her.
"That is true with most things in life I have found."
"If it were just killing trolls and giants, well, it would be a fairly consistent way of making a living, but there is more to it. Some people who are running this city have decided that they would rather have the giants as allies rather than enemies."
"I suppose that makes sense, if you can trust a giant."
"If you can trust a giant. But I'm not sure how you can trust anything that big. People that big tend to think they are better than anyone else. Does funny things to their heads."
"Present company excepted?" Rowan asked.
"Of course not," Olpara said in a good-natured tone that made Rowan frown and Misara laugh.
"To continue, this idea requires us to talk to any intelligent looking giants and see if they would be willing to cut a deal with the city. The city would offer them a bounty for dead trolls, and then work it from there.
"Tried to make the deal three times now, and all three times it was turned down. Not a happy position to be in, pitching an idea to a giant and then having the big thing decide to squash you. Keeps the dwarves happy though. They love chopping down giants."
Misara reached for a bottle of wine. "You must tell us of your adventures," she said to Olpara as she filled her own glass. "More wine?"
"Please," the halfling said, pushing her glass towards Misara.
Several hours later, after a large meal, and a few bottles of wine, Olpara excused herself, and set off with a cheerful whistle and steady walk that belied the wine she had consumed.
"Now that is an interesting woman," Rowan said.
"She certainly in pleasant dinner company."
"Do you have any ideas what we should do next?"
Misara looked at Rowan through the bell of her wine glass. "Do you?"
"Not really. There were no messages for me. I think we should travel North to Silverymoon and then to Green Stone Keep and Domas, but other than that..." She raised her shoulders.
Misara put her wine glass down and reached for the bottle. "Where does he strike usually?" She filled her glass.
"Usually, well, he seems to often appear on major roads. He's been as far south as Olostin's Hold, as far north as Quaevar. He attacked a Paladin of Torm on the Silverymoon Pass, halfway between Silverymoon and Sundabar."
"So we are in his hunting grounds, as it were."
"He's attacked people on important missions, but not always?"
Rowan shook her head. "It seems he targets whoever he can intercept."
"Is he alone? Does he have any sort of backup?"
She shook her head. "It is only him."
"You are certain?"
She nodded emphatically. "There have been auguries cast. He works by himself, that much is certain."
Misara lifted her wine glass and drank. "How do you get messages?"
"They are sent to the Keep of Vigilance, a temple of Helm."
"I believe so."
"We'll stay here tomorrow. You will go to that Talis game, but before that, stop off at the Keep of Vigilance. Leave the game early, and if anyone asks you why, tell them you have to be up with the sun the next day. Come dawn two days from now we'll will ride towards Silverymoon as if pursued by every dragon in Faerûn."
"And if we miss him?"
"We'll reach Silverymoon and then go on to the Keep of Green Stone. There we can seek the counsel of others on what to do next."
"It is a sound plan."
"I hope so." Misara put her half empty glass on the table and then stood. "If you'll excuse me, I think I will sit in the garden for a time."
"Good evening then, and sleep well."
"Thank you." She turned and walked away from the table.
The next day Rowan left early in the morning with Olpara, according to the note that Misara found pushed under her door. As she read the letter she wondered what the two women were up to. Rowan had not included that information.
She herself left not long after, stepping out of the Inn, wearing the silk gown she had picked up the day before and a new cloak that, while quite pretty, would never last a single day on the trail-not that she had bought it for that reason.
For a few hours she wandered around the city, stopping off in various stores, not buying anything, simply enjoying the experience. She ate breakfast in a small tavern with large windows that looked out onto the street. She had a cup of coffee, from Durpar beyond the Eastern Shaar, the proprietor assured her. It was a bitter and expensive drink. She turned down the offer of a second cup. Oddly enough, for sometime afterward, she felt on edge and seemed to be walking faster than usual.
A little after noon she entered the Starmeadow, a holy site dedicated to Corellon Larethian. She took a seat on a small bench, under a bare tree and simply listened to the sounds about her.
"May I join you?" she heard someone ask after some indeterminate time.
Misara looked up. Standing over her was an attractive elven woman with black hair and coppery skin, tinged with green.
"Of course High Priestess Amrallatha."
"Do you really wish to be so formal, Lady Anor'Esira, Lady Knight and Paladin."
"Point taken Yeshelné, please sit."
Yeshelné took a seat beside her and placed her hand on top of Misara's. "Tell me what concerns you."
Misara sighed and leaned back, staring up at the grey sky through the branches of the tree. "Do you ever doubt your calling?"
"Sometimes," Yeshelné said. "Not often, but I think anyone who serves their god as close as we do will have times of doubt."
Misara closed her eyes. She was not certain what to say.
"Tell me why you ask."
"What does it mean when your prayers go unanswered?"
"You mean what does it mean when the answer you receive is not the one you want." Her tone was hard.
Misara opened her eyes and turned her head to look at Yeshelné. "What?"
"It is childish to ask about unanswered prayers. You know that, or you should. Your true concern is that you have not always received what you wanted."
"There is no perhaps about this Misara. Tell me what has happened."
"There have been times, not recently, but they have happened, where prayers of healing have gone unanswered, or, I suppose when the answer was no."
"When you have tried to heal the N'Tel'Quess."
"Yes. It makes me think that I must be doing the wrong thing, that what he truly wants me to do is help only the Tel'Quessir." She crossed her arms over her knees, pulling her hand away from Yeshelné 's, and then placed her forehead on her arms. "I can't ignore the suffering of good creatures, whether they are of the People or not."
She felt the other woman place an arm across her shoulders and shift closer. "When you live so completely in the warmth and light of Corellon Larethian it always hurts when you feel as if it is no longer on you, even if for only a moment.
"I do not have an easy answer for you Misara. You enjoy, or perhaps suffer, a position that is unique."
"You know, but do you understand it?"
Misara thought about the question for a time. "What is there to understand?"
"You never asked me these questions before."
"I never needed to. I never had such doubts, at least they did not plague me so."
"So I ask you, do you understand who and what you are?"
"I'm a Paladin of Corellon Larethian."
"You are. And yet you should not be."
"I don't understand."
"You follow two paths. Corellon Larethian has been very kind in allowing you to walk them both. Perhaps it is time that you chose one or the other."
Misara did not know how to answer that. "Why? Why can't I walk them both? I have done so for almost a hundred years." She straightened and turned to look into Yeshelné eyes.
Yeshelné smiled sadly. "Misara, you have been like the spoiled daughter of a loving father. He has given you much more than he gave anyone else, but you are growing up. You can't be the darling little girl forever. And he knows that. You need to learn that."
Misara frowned. "Do you know that for the truth Yeshelné?"
"No. But it is what I believe. And you came to me for counsel."
"I was hoping for something that would ease my concerns, not make them worse," Misara said, and she knew her tone was harsher than Yeshelné deserved.
Yeshelné only continued to smile. "You can't be the little girl forever."
Misara leaned forward again, folding up on herself. "What should I do?"
"Only you can make that decision. I can only offer advice." She got to her feet and pulled Misara to her feet. "Come, let us walk about the Starmeadow for a time. I will tell you of the changes happening in the city and you will tell me of your adventures since we last spoke. When the times comes, you will make the decision that you have to."
Misara allowed Yeshelné to lead her away but her mind was on a thousand different things.