The Sage Vilis
Misara removed the last of her gear from Iron's back. She had found a tree stump, the tree likely blown over in some storm, and poured a large portion of grain into the bowl that had formed. There was some grass poking up through the thinning snow, and a stream close by. She had no doubt that the horse would be fine on its own.
Iron shook his body, as if to be certain the last Misara's possessions were off, and then he walked away, stopping to chomp at some dry grass.
After strapping everything to her pack, she lifted it onto her back and walked into the forest. Soon the trees soared above her and the canopy blocked out most of the sunlight. What remained was more than adequate for her eyes.
After an hour of walking she shifted her pack off her shoulders and then began to remove her armour. The deer path she had been following turned in a direction she had no interest in going. Her armour would just slow her down from that point.
From her pack she removed a large belt-pouch. Into the pouch she placed the armour, and then the saddlebags, and finally the pack itself. The magical bag was one of her prized possession for it made adventuring that much easier.
The only amour she wore was the elven chain shirt, with a cloak of shifting greens and greys over it. She checked her weapons to ensure they were secure, then jumped up to catch one of the lower branches of a younger tree. She climbed quickly, moving into the thick canopy to continue her journey.
For Misara, the next days were peaceful, almost relaxing. She was in an ancient forest, passing unnoticed by other dwellers, except the few times she put arrow to bow and removed some minor menace or another. The High Forest had been, and still was, her people's home. She felt very possessive of it.
It was warm under the canopy, most of the fading winter winds blocked by the huge trees. Sometime she found clearings, opened up by some force another, and she would walk among the broken trees, staring up at the blue sky, knowing that the forest would soon reclaim the land. She brushed her hand over the saplings that would soon block out the sky and smiled.
At night she rested in the branches above the forest, eyes half closed, drifting into the meditative sleep of her people. She found herself thinking of other forests across Faerûn, and of the time when they had covered the land.
During the day she moved quickly, sometimes passing old ruins and new settlements, hidden deep in the woods.
Once she sat in the upper branches of a Shadowtop, watching as two young green dragons battled below her. They ripped and tore into one another, their bodies twisting around each other as both sought to end the battle. Trees were broken in the fight, even the Shadowtop she sheltered in was hit and for a moment she thought it might fall as well.
Finally the smaller of the dragons lashed out with his tail, hitting the larger one on the bottom of its jaw. Its head snapped up and the smaller moved in, setting its teeth onto the neck of its foe.
Together they rolled, locked in a deadly embrace, claws racking at each other. The larger one's attacks began to fail, getting weaker and weaker until finally it stopped moving altogether. With a roar the victor tore the throat from its fallen enemy. Then it stumbled back, and collapsed.
Misara knelt on the branch, bow in hand, staring down at the exhausted green dragon. It was a magnificent creature, scales torn and stained with blood, one wing's gliding membranes tattered and ripped, and yet it was still a dragon, and one that had just battled for its life.
No doubt it would, in time, grow stronger, it would develop greater cunning, and be much more dangerous. For a moment she thought to let if live, but only a moment. It was a threat to those who lived in peace in the High Forest.
The arrow Misara fired pierced deeply into place where the earlier fight had torn loose a scale. It reared up, blood pumping from the wound, shifting about, trying to find its attacker, but it was weak, and getting weaker.
She fired again, an arrow piercing into its back. As its legs failed it and it collapsed to the forest floor it looked up at her, their eyes meeting across the distance. She saw no pleading in those eyes, just anger at its fate, and perhaps acceptance of it. She felt tears in her own eyes as she let another arrow loose. Like a bolt of lighting the arrow cut through the air and drove itself deep into the dragon's eye.
Slowly, as strength and life left it, the dragon collapsed, as if it were gently lowering itself to rest.
Misara remained in her perch, looking down at the dead dragons until night fell.
Misara slipped out of the trees and into a clearing. She could see the Star Mounts soaring high above, but knew she was still some distance from the mountains. About her was soft grass and well-tended flowers, and a bridge of stepping-stones crossed the stream that neatly bisected the clearing in half.
She stood there for a moment, breathing deeply, revelling in the scents of newly opened flowers. Spring had come early to this part of the High Forest. She would be happy to sit on the grass and just enjoy the sun while it was still overhead.
Instead she started forward, skipping across the stepping-stones, crossing the stream. Immediately she noticed the different feel of the forest, a sense of peace, the wildness of the forest still there, but controlled. She crossed the clearing and stepped under the trees once more, the feeling of peace increasing.
The path she followed wove between the trees, taking odd turns so as to avoid harming the natural beauty of the woods around her. Birds sang in the trees and small, harmless animals chattered from the canopy above. So relaxed was she that Misara almost missed the watchers.
She stopped and looked around, smiling. "Well," Misara said, looking directly at one of the trees, "Conkordia, you still can't hide from me you know." She shifted her attention up the tree trunk of another tree. "Serdeia, it appears that you are losing some of your talent."
From behind the first tree stepped a dark elf, Conkordia. She was a pretty woman, as tall as Misara; her white hair cut short, and her pale pink eyes showing a hint of red in the shadow under the trees. She was dressed in green and grey leather armour and carried a longbow.
"I think if anyone is losing their talent then it is you," Misara heard Serdeia say from behind her.
Laughing, Misara turned to face the second dark elf. Serdeia stood almost a head shorter than Misara. Her white hair was worn long, plaited into a single braid that, Misara knew, ended in a clip that held a small dagger. Her eyes were pale silver, but also showed the hint of red in the shadow. Not really attractive, she had a plain face, her best feature were her wide eyes. She was dressed in a manner similar to Conkordia, but a hand crossbow hung from her weapon belt, as well as a hand and a half sword that almost dragged on the ground.
Serdeia stepped forward and put her arms around Misara, hugging her tight, laughing as well. A moment later Conkordia joined them, the two dark elves holding her tight.
"Welcome home," Conkordia said. "Are you going to stay this time?" she asked playfully.
"It would be about time that you did so," Serdeia added.
Misara freed herself from the embrace of the two women. "You simply want another pair of hands to do your work," she told them, trying to sound cross.
"Well, you can't blame us for trying," Serdeia said.
"And maybe you need to do a little hard work," Conkordia scolded. "You go running off all over Faerûn, I'm certain just enjoying yourself."
Misara shook her head. "Well, you've caught me out. It took you long enough."
"We were giving you the benefit of the doubt," Serdeia said.
Conkordia laughed and reached out to take Misara's hand. "Come along. There is a great deal to see." She set off, leading Misara down the path. "Six years is not a long time but there have been a number of changes in Daetaure that are worth seeing."
Serdeia moved to walk beside Misara and asked, "Is this a social visit or is it important?"
"It is important, but I have a little time to see the changes."
"Did you come to speak to Vilis?" Conkordia asked, looking over her shoulder.
"Yes, there are some questions that I think she might be able to answer."
"Poor Conkordia," Serdeia said playfully, "she always hopes that you will come for her."
"Well, I am always glad to see dear Kordia," Misara answered.
"That's hardly enough," Conkordia told her. "But I am willing to wait until you realise the truth of these matters."
Serdeia laughed out loud. "Since when has patience ever been one of your virtues?"
"Since when did I have any virtues at all?" Conkordia countered.
The two dark elves traded barbs and counter barbs, a skilful verbal sparring that spoke of a long friendship. Misara, who had been on the edge of the friendship for many years, enjoyed the rhythm of it, as she might enjoy a skilfully composed ballad. So intent was she on the interplay between her two friends that she was not at first aware when they came into Daetaure proper.
Long ago, before the many of the elves had left the High Forest in the Retreat, what would become Daetaure had been just an outpost, a well-hidden forest fortress from where the events around the Star Mounts might be observed and action taken when necessary. After the Retreat it had been abandoned, until the Followers of Eilistraee had found it.
Almost two centuries had passed, and it had grown in that time, from outpost to town. The canopy had been encouraged to grow in such a way that clearings were opened, there people could stare up and see the sun, or the stars, or the moon; especially the moon. Around trees, high up on the trunks, were balconies; bridges of interwoven branches provided upper walkways that were nearly invisible from the ground. The trees themselves held the homes of many of Daetaure's residents.
On the ground were a number of buildings, built from local stone, with the deceptively delicate appearance that elves favoured. Visitors might not think much of them, but they dated back to the time of the fortress, and the structures would force any enemy into strategically unsound positions.
It was very beautiful, but she had seen it before. Other than a few new homes, both in the trees and on the ground, she could see nothing to explain Koncordia's earlier excitement. And then she noticed the elves. Not dark elves, which had, the last time she was there made up most of Daetarue's population, but wood elves, moon elves, even a wild elf. And what was more was that they did not seem to view their Dark elf neighbours with any suspicion.
"How?" Misara asked, turning to look at Conkordia.
Conkordia laughed, and waved towards a group of wood elf fletchers who were making arrows. "I suppose it is mostly luck, and the blessing of Eilistraee. Four years prior we helped deal with a large group of orcs that invaded the northern part of the forest. They had some powerful magic and, given the chance, might have caused a great deal of damage."
"There is nothing like fighting shoulder to shoulder with someone to make them realise that you might actually be a friend," Serdeia chuckled. "A number of our sister and brother elves realised that Daetarue's position was quite valuable and decided to join us."
"And quite a few of the new comers are from Evermeet, returning to Faerûn after all these years. I have no idea where they might have heard about us." Conkordia looked at Misara and gave her a knowing smile.
"Don't look at me. I haven't been back to Evermeet since I left," Misara protested.
"Stories of you travel farther than you think," Serdeia told her.
"I'm certain that the priests of Corellon Larethian have played their part," Misara said. "He looks favourably on his Daughter's followers."
"That is true, after all, you are proof of that," Serdeia said with a nod.
Misara smiled as she looked about, pleased to see that Daetarue and its inhabitants were doing well. She had had reason to be concerned in the past, but perhaps she would finally be able to put such worries to rest.
Conkordia ran ahead, to a large Shadowtop. She knelt down, putting her long fingers against the tree. A moment later a small, hidden door opened between the roots. She moved aside and looked back at Misara. "Vilis is in the library," she told her.
Misara nodded, stepping up to the tunnel entrance. "Not coming with me?"
Conkordia shook her head. "I have some other things to take care of."
"Myself as well," Serdeia said.
"I'll see you soon then." She stepped down into the tunnel, pulling the door closed behind her as she entered. The sunlight was abruptly cut off, and Misara blind for a moment, but her eyes adjusted and the tiny, magical lamps gave her more than enough light to see by.
The tunnels under the trees had been constructed by the dark elves, for comfort and added defence. Misara slid down the ladder into the corridor, looking about her. The walls were smooth, black stone, broken here and there by a root, passing through the unmarred stone on its way deeper into the soil. She supposed it reminded the dark elves, those who chose to spend more time in the tunnels, that they were closer to the surface then to the subterranean world that had been their home.
She walked along the corridor, taking turns, descending a spiral staircase at one point, until she reached the huge, open doorway that led into the library. Misara looked about the room, the long shelves, heavy with tomes and scrolls, stretched across the large room, giving indication of how much knowledge was kept there.
She walked through the open foyer, nodding to a number of readers she recognised, taking note some newcomers. At the far wall was a large desk, covered in books, almost obscuring the small, dark elven woman who sat behind. Vilis.
Vilis looked up as Misara approached, her milky white eyes staring to Misara's right for a moment before they shifted to meet Misara's gaze. She smiled and put aside the book she had been reading. "Welcome home Misara," she said, her voice soft and sweet.
Misara took a seat in front of the desk, reaching forward to slide a pile of books to the side. "I am glad to see you Vilis," she said.
Vilis was old, not by human standards by which any elf was old, but by the standards of her own people. Her age did not show in her face, it rarely did in any of the people. Some of if showed in her blind eyes, but most of all there was a sense of age about her, a knowledge that the woman had seen not centuries, but millennia.
"You need my help," Vilis said without preamble.
Vilis got to her feet. "Come along. Let me make you some tea and we can talk."
There was a small, private office in one of the corners of the library, near the vault that held the spell books and other dangerous knowledge. There were two couches, soft, and low to the floor, as well as a pile of cushions. It was not a place to work, but to relax.
Vilis quickly prepared the tea, a magical tea set speeding the process considerably. She handed Misara a porcelain cup, dark blue with a gold rim, filled with a bitter smelling, hot liquid. "A new mixture that Wersala is working on. It is something of an acquired taste." She took a seat beside Misara on the couch.
Misara drank from the cup. It tasted as bitter as it smelled, but there was a subtle aftertaste that was not unpleasant. "I see what you mean," she said. "I could come to enjoy this I think."
Vilis nodded, then took a drink from her own up. "So," she asked as she placed the cup on a side table, "what is it you wish to know?"
"The name Asharass."
"I know it."
Misara smiled. "I am not surprised."
Vilis laughed softly. "Unfortunately I think I will disappoint you. I do not know very much of the name. It was in a book that I read a long time ago, a rather uninspired little tome that provided reasons why the Ilythiir were destined to live separately from their kin. It was, for the most, a standard list of grievances that the drow would make against the elves of surface."
Vilis was silent for a moment, staring off into space. "The failure in the affair of Taumon and Asahrass," she said, her tone flat as she recited the passage from memory, "is yet another example of the failures that are destined to come about when the people of Ilythiir try to co-operate with other of the people."
She shook her head and then turned back to Misara. "Whoever wrote it assumed that the reader would know of the situations referred to, which tells me that it was written around the time of the Crown Wars."
"That long ago?"
"Yes," Vilis told her.
Misara shook her head. "The last thing that the Silver Marches needs right now is the uncovering of some ancient, elven magic."
"I believe it is all destined to be uncovered, eventually. The power of elven magic does not sleep lightly I fear."
"How do I find out more?"
"You could travel to the library where I first read of this," Vilis suggested, her tone making it a jest.
"I'm certain that the dark Elves of the Underdark would be happy to see me."
"No doubt. You could go to Evermeet," she continued in a more serious tone, "or Evereska. You may find the answers that you seek there, however such a path may not be as easy as you might hope."
"The information you seek likely concerns itself with something very old and powerful."
"I see. Those who hold these secrets would wish that they remain secrets."
Vilis nodded. "That is a very real possibility. Given time I have no doubt you could find out what you need."
"I'm not certain how much time I have. Do you have any other ideas?"
"Candlekeep. The records their stretch back in time; it is quite possible that they will have what you seek. And if they don't, the other path you might follow will start at Candlekeep."
"What is this other path?"
"There is a story of the Crown Wars that was told amongst the drow, one of the many stories of that time. This one spoke of a historian of the dark elf people, a man who had studied the past and learned to see the patterns in that that would allow him to predict what the future could bring.
"In the initial moves of the rebellion, when much of it was still talk, and most of the dark elves had yet to follow the dark path that Araushnée, who would become Lolth, had set for them, he spoke out, telling those who would listen what would likely occur. Whether he spoke for or against the rebellion, I do not know; however my people say that he spoke for it," Vilis' said in the tone of a storyteller, "for the glory and power that we would attain."
"There are other versions the tale that say he spoke of the loss and the pain we would have to endure, and even the fall and corruption of Araushnée.
"Whichever he spoke of, there came a time when his words might have had great power, a time when the events that would unfold were balanced on the cusp of history. And at that time he chose to say nothing.
"The drow who tell this story say that the other elves threatened him and his family, demanding his silence as they plotted against the dark elves. Others tell that he was given treasure by the dark elves for his silence. Some say that the evil spirits that Araushnée had dealt with waylaid him so he would not speak.
"Only he knows the truth I think. What happened afterwards were the events of the Crown Wars. Araushnée would be banished to the abyss for her actions, cursed to take the form of a spider demon. The dark elves were forced into the Underdark, forever to be away from the Sun, and the Stars and the Moon." Something caught in her voice, as if the thought of such a punishment overwhelmed her for a moment.
"The Historian," she continued a moment later, "did not go with his people, nor was he killed in the fighting. The gods of the Elves cursed him so that he would know neither death nor life, and that he would use his knowledge to help those who asked, until one day that he would atone for the evil caused when he remained silent.
"He was then sent to an outpost on the very southern edge of the Elven Empire, to stay there until his curse was lifted. The outpost was called Mith'hisie, Grey Mist Keep, and he remained there, even when the elves abandoned Mith'hisie, sealing it and hiding it with magic.
"No tale tells of him being freed from his curse, or leaving the Keep by other means. He remains there, knowing neither death nor life, waiting. He was a master of history in the time you wish to know more of. If you can find him, he will tell you what you need to know."
"You say I will find information about the path to Mith'hisie at Candlekeep?"
"Yes," Vilis told her. "When I visited Candlekeep, long ago, I found information about the keep. However it was not my reason for being there so I did not further research it at the time. I can only tell you the information is there."
"Do you think that if he were to help me that it would free him from his curse?"
For a few seconds Vilis was quiet, her eyes closed. "I hope that might be the case. For a time I have considered sending an expedition to search him out, but the time and circumstances have never presented themselves. I hope that you find your answers in Candlekeep, but if you do not, then there may be great good done in your search for him."
For a moment Misara wondered if Vilis' primary concern was to send her on the quest for the historian, but she immediately pushed that thought away. Vilis was giving her the best advice she knew. "I think I will travel to Candlekeep, as you suggest."
"You will need a book then, to gain entrance into the library."
"Do you have anything that they librarians would be interested in?" Misara suspected that Vilis did.
Vilis smiled. "I will give you the first book of my memoirs. I feel certain that the monks will find it worth including in their library. In fact," she smiled broadly, "you may want to mention when you present it to them that if they wish to see any of the later volumes that they had best give you all the help you need."
"Are they that good?"
"Well," Vilis said slyly, "I have no doubt that you will read the first on your way to Candlekeep. I am willing to bet that you will return here as quickly as you might afterwards to read the next."
"Something to look forward to then."
"And something to bring you back, which will make Lindra very happy."
Misara smiled and nodded. "I'm surprised that she is not here. Has her training sent her elsewhere?"
Vilis shook her head. "She is here, but I do not think she will charge into the library, at least not yet. She is trying to act more mature, as she thinks befits a priestess."
"She needs to meet more priestesses then."
Vilis laughed softly at that. "When they are young they always take things more seriously. It is always like that when children become adults."
Misara got to her feet and placed her teacup onto the service tray. "I think I will step outside before she is forced to do something that would cost her some of her valued dignity then. If you will excuse me?"
"Of course. I will see you outside."
Misara left the library and retraced her steps, soon exiting the tunnels and coming out onto the forest floor. The sun had moved farther to the west, and the shadows under the trees had grown deeper. She took a deep breath of the forest-scented air. The tunnels might be comfortable, but she was a child of the forests first and foremost.
"Mother!" she heard Lindra call.
Misara turned just in time to catch her daughter and then spun around to bleed off the momentum of the charge. Lindra was laughing out loud as she was swung around, sounding like a little girl.
Finally she placed Lindra back on the ground and Lindra moved close, hugging her tight.
Misara ran her hand across hair that was a faint, faint yellow, and then shifted Lindra back so she could tilt her face up towards her and look into her pale lilac eyes. Dipping her head slightly, she kissed her on the forehead. "I am so happy to see you," she told her.
Lindra might have blushed, but it was hard to be certain with her black skin. She smiled and moved back, releasing her hold on Misara. Misara was slower to let her daughter go, holding onto her until they stood at arms length, holding hands.
"You are so beautiful," Misara told her, and it was true. The years since they had last stood together had not really changed her daughter in any physical way, but there was a confidence there that had been absent when they had last said goodbye.
Lindra looked a little embarrassed, dropping her eyes, and saying, "Mother."
Misara knew that Lindra was pleased by the compliment and she simply smiled as she let go of her hands. "So, tell me, what have you been up to?"
Lindra laughed and moved close to Misara again, taking her arm in hers. "Let me show you Daetarue and I'll tell you what I have been doing."
"Lead the way LinLin."
"Mother," she said, sounding a little vexed, "must you call me that?"
Lindra frowned, but a smile appeared on her face a moment later and she laughed. She pulled Misara off towards the centre of Daetarue, telling her about the changes to the settlement, and what she had been doing.
Misara listened, happy to hear that her daughter's training was progressing well. She felt her heart speed up a little as Lindra spoke of battles fought in, and wounds received. There was a sadness in her voice when Lindra spoke of the next steps she was going to take. Her little LinLin was no longer a child, but a young woman, nearly an adult.
"Well, I see that Lindra has locked tight onto her mommy," Conkordia said in a teasing tone.
"Aunt Kordia!" Lindra said angrily, turning to face the woman.
Nearly an adult, but not quite, Misara thought as she watched Conkordia and Serdeia tease Lindra. It was a familiar scene, Misara thought, watching it unfold. The two dark elves had been Lindra's caretakers and friends for almost a hundred years; there was a closeness between them. She could not help but feel a little jealous of that, but only a little.
Serdeia was lecturing Lindra on the necessity of showing proper respect to a more senior priestess when Misara decided to save her daughter. "Should she show you the same respect that you show Vilis?" Misara asked.
Serdeia smiled and turned to look at Misara. "A little more than that I would hope."
Conkordia laughed, soon joined by Serdeia and Lindra. "I have brought you some things," Misara said to Lindra.
"Presents!" Conkordia shouted, causing more laughter. They four of them were creating quite a scene, but those who had lived in Daetarue for a long time had seen it played out before. The newcomers would likely be curious, and no doubt their more experienced neighbours would be happy to explain it to them.
Misara took Lindra's hand and led her to a nearby bench. She sat down and removed the magical pouch from her belt and opened it up. Part of the ceremony, such as it was, the cleaning out of the magical bag. As a child Lindra had stood at her mother's knee, watching all the things come out of the small bag, an impossibly large pile building up as the presents were discovered.
"Here we go," Misara said, producing a sheathed sword from the bag and handing it to Lindra. "A katana, from Kara-Tur."
Lindra took the blade, looking it over, turning the weapon carefully as she examined all the details of the hilt and sheath. Finally she drew the blade free, showing the live blade the respect it deserved.
Her daughter shared the same love of swordplay as Misara, but where Misara had always been happy to focus on the long sword, Lindra expanded her interests to all bladed weapons.
"Notice the curve of the blade," Conkordia said to Lindra in her lecture tone. "Made for slashing attacks, the curve increasing the effect of your cut."
"I know," Lindra said, sounding truly upset for the first time. "It is very much like the sabres used by the Tuigan. And look at the edge. You can tell it is more brittle than the rest of the blade. It will hold an excellent edge, but it is not a weapon to parry with."
"She's learned her lessons well," Serdeia told Conkordia.
"Yes I have," Lindra responded, slashing the sword through the air, getting a feel for it.
"I have to say that I preferred it when Misara brought all those wonderful toys." Serdeia took a seat beside Misara.
"I liked the stories she told of bullying the finest craftsmen into making those toys," Conkordia said as she took the katana from Lindra. "Especially the Dwarven ones."
"I liked that myself," Misara said as she produced another sword from her bag.
"What happened to the toys?" Serdeia asked.
"I kept a few," Lindra said. "Most I gave to other children when I no longer played with them."
"Generous to a fault," Conkordia quipped.
"That's my little girl," Misara said as she took another sword from the bag.
Misara was not really certain how many swords she had given to Lindra, and she suspected most of them had ended up in Daetarue's armoury. Picking up blades as she travelled was a habit she had fallen into, and her magic bag made it very simple. Of course swords were not the only things that went into the bag. A pile of items began to grow around her; sometimes she found things that she did not even recall having placed in there.
A small crowd began to gather, drawn by the entertainment provided by Lindra and Conkordia arguing over sword technique and of Misara's apparently bottomless bag. It was just a sign that she should do some house cleaning, as it were, and leave more than swords behind in Daetarue.
She was in the process of looking for a long sword, a beautiful weapon taken from a drow warrior in the Dalelands that she thought Lindra might be interested in-it was part of her heritage after all-when she heard a gasp of pleasure.
Looking up she expected to find Lindra looking at one of the many swords that were laid out in the ground, but instead she was holding up a dress. It was, Misara noted, one of the gowns she had had made while in Silverymoon.
"This is beautiful," Lindra said, holding the pale green dress up in front of her. Misara was taller than her daughter so the hem of the gown nearly brushed the forest floor.
"Would you like it?"
"May I?" Lindra asked, sounding excited.
"Of course. That colour will look good on you I think. In fact," she said, looking at a number of dresses on the bench beside her, why don't you have all these as well."
Lindra let out a small whoop of joy as she spun about, then grabbed another of the more formal dresses, one of a soft yellow silk that was close in shade to her hair. She spun about, as if dancing, the clothing flaring out from her body.
"I'm not sure," Conkordia said as she slid up beside Lindra, "perhaps they should go to someone with a figure closer to your mothers." She reached out for one of the gowns.
"Never!" Lindra said with a laugh as she ducked away from Conkordia and then dashed in to grab the rest of the dresses before running off.
"Share at least one!" Conkordia called as she ran after her.
"I have my eye on that black silk gown," Serdeia said as she got off the bench. She looked back towards Misara. "You'll have to tell me under which decadent circumstances you wore it." Then she ran off as well.
Misara watched as her daughter led the other two on a short chase before stopping in a patch of late afternoon sunshine where she pressed Conkordia and Serdeia into holding the clothing for her as she held each dress and gown in front of her. If there was a tailor in Daetarue then he or she was likely going to be busy with alterations.
"I never tire of their foolishness," Vilis said.
Misara looked over to see Vilis sitting beside her. She was surprised by the sudden appearance, but not by the fact that Vilis had once again appeared as if by magic (or perhaps by magic). She could likely teach shadows a thing or two.
"They do enjoy themselves," Misara said, smiling. "I wonder who Conkordia and Serdeia will play with when Lindra grows up."
Vilis chuckled at that. "As long as she remains friends with those two she will never grow up that much."
"They are a horrible influence on her, aren't they?"
"Oh yes," Vilis said sagely.
"In a very short time she won't be my little girl any longer," Misara said with a sigh.
"No, she won't."
"She's such a wonderful girl."
"Lindra will lead the way," Vilis said cryptically.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"In her I see one who might allow those dark elves who seek peaceful coexistence to live with the other people of Faerûn. Others have started the process, but she will be important in continuing it."
"Her shoulders are too slim, and she is not strong enough for you to place that burden on her back," Misara said, a hint of tears in her voice.
"You do not know your daughter as well as you should. Sadly, she is very much like you."
"Do you remember when you first came here?"
"Of course, but what..."
"You were so frightened, we could all see it," Vilis said, interrupting Misara. "Everyone else assumed that you were afraid of us, of the drow, but that was not it. You were wary of us of course, not surprising considering what had happened, and the thousands of years of hatred between our people, but you were not afraid of us. What you did fear was failure, that you would not accomplish the task that you had been sent to."
Vilis turned her blind eyes towards Lindra. "Your daughter is like you in that. She fears nothing but that she might fail. She is trying to be like you."
"That will not guarantee her a happy life," Misara said, and wiped at her eyes. "Quite the opposite really."
"She will have to fight for any happiness she has, like you. And yet you are as content in your lot."
"Do you really think that?" Misara asked.
Vilis was silent for a moment. "Something concerns you."
Misara nodded. "Yes. I am having doubts."
"There is nothing wrong with having doubts. We all have them at times. Tell me about them."
Misara watched Lindra and the others for a time, saying nothing, then she told Vilis about the dragon she had killed a few days before. Vilis listened, not saying anything until Misara finished.
"So, you feel bad about killing this dragon," Vilis said.
"Not bad," Misara paused, "perhaps forced might be the best way to describe it."
Vilis leaned back, turning her blind eyes towards the canopy above. "Have you ever asked yourself about the price of your calling?"
"Many times, especially as of late," Misara said, a little surprised that she admitted it.
"I have wondered about it myself. Tell me, why have you left here so often?"
"Because I had to," Misara told her. "There was evil that needed to be fought."
"There is plenty of evil to be found in this forest."
"You are more than capable of handling that," Misara said, and laughed.
Vilis turned to look at Misara. She did not smile. "Would you like me to tell you the price I have seen you pay?"
"Yes," Misara said, though part of her wanted to say 'no'.
"Your daughter. Your wanderings as a Knight Errant have cost you the chance to truly know Lindra, and to put any doubts that you might have about her behind you."
"That's not fair."
Vilis laughed. "Fair? Fair is a word children use. Even Lindra does not ask for things to be fair any longer. Things are the way they are Misara. Perhaps if you had not been off, playing Paladin, you might have learned that."
Misara felt as if she had been slapped.
"You are a good person. You are a strong warrior. You are even my friend. You have been a bad mother in so many ways, and that, in my opinion, is far more important than the others. If you are beginning to have doubts about your choices, well, all I can say about that is good, and that I wish you had had them seventy years earlier."
It was not the answer that Misara wanted to hear, and she was afraid to ask another questions of Vilis, but she did not let the fear stop her. "What should I do?"
Vilis got to her feet. "I don't know." She looked down at Misara and smiled sadly. "You have to make a choice. You know that."
"Remember Misara, this is your home, by your own choice. Start thinking of it that way."
Misara knelt on a cushion in her home, a clay cup, filled with cooling tea, by her side. Her thoughts were on what Vilis had told her. Of what Yeshelné had said to her. Of prayers unanswered. They were on Lindra.
She looked up, to where Lindra sat on a window bench, staring up at the darkening sky. The first stars of the evening would be appearing. Across her daughter's knees was the beginning of a longbow that she shaped with knife and file. The movement of Lindra's hands were deft and certain, though she did not look at what she did.
Misara got to her feet and walked over to where Lindra worked. Lindra turned towards her and smiled. "It is going to be a beautiful night," she said.
Misara sat down beside her and reached out to take the bow from her hands. "When did you learn to make bows?"
"It is something that Lavrasm has been teaching me. He is one of the wood elves that has come to live here." She laughed. "He says that if I'm willing to give it a century of practice that I might get good at it."
Misara smiled at that, and held the weapon at arms length, testing the balance. "I'm not sure if you need a full century. This looks as if it will be a fine bow."
"Fine but not extraordinary. Lavrasm says that fine is only the beginning for a serious craftsman."
"I suppose that is so." Misara handed the bow back to Lindra.
Lindra ran her fingers across the wood, as if searching the wood for something. She took the knife and carved a piece of wood away.
"Lindra," Misara paused, not at all certain how to say what she wanted, "did you ever wish that I was around more?"
Her hands on the bow stilled for a moment, and when she cut again the small knife went deep into the wood. Misara could not be certain, but she thought that Lindra had cut far deeper than she had intended, and that little action told her far more than anything else might.
"Well, of course, when I was younger," Lindra said lightly. "But I know that everything that you had to do was important. It would be selfish of me if I grudged you that."
Misara felt as if her heart had risen up in her throat, and she wondered if she might start crying.
"And you were always there when I needed you," Lindra said.
Misara nodded, but she no longer thought that was the truth.
"I'm proud of you. Every story I've heard of you, it makes me feel so proud to be your daughter." Lindra put the bow aside and then reached forward and grasped Misara's hands in hers. "Mother, I love you."
Misara could feel tears in her eyes. "I love you too Lindra. You have to believe that."
Lindra reached forward and lightly brushed the tears from Misara's eyes. "I know."
Misara wanted to tell her that she would stay, she wanted to say that Rowan would handle whatever Asharass was, or if not, then it was not her concern. Staying with Lindra, in their home, was far more important. And it was, but only to them.
"You know," Lindra said, and she smiled and laughed, "I suppose that I am a little jealous of all those people you helped."
Misara reached up and gently ran her hand over Lindra's hair. "Don't be."
"I'll try," she said, and laughed again, as if it were a joke.
Misara was careful to smile back, to keep her expression light.
Lindra did not hate her, was not angry with her, though Misara thought she should be. She directed her anger towards those that had made her leave. It was a small thing now, but it would grow, and who knew what would blossom from such a thing.
It would be so much easier to Lindra directed her anger at me, Misara thought. That I could deal with.
Later, after Lindra had left for a moonrise ceremony, Misara wandered around the house, looking at things. For a time she wandered about Lindra's room, touching things on shelves, wondering at some of the items she saw there. What part of Lindra's life did the small carving of a unicorn represent? Who had given her the silver-cloth cloak?
She left the room, wandered throughout the other rooms. It was far too big for only two people. How must it seem for one? There was a glass paned cabinet along one of the walls, displayed within a collection of small treasures that had come from various quests and adventures. Misara stopped in front of it and opened the doors. She reached in, shifting some things aside, and removed a silver ring.
It shone in the faint illumination of a mage-light; no tarnish marred it, though it had been many years since Misara had placed into the cabinet. On the top of the ring was carved the symbol of Tyr, inlaid with gold.
Seventy years ago she had been given it. She recalled the words of the priest who had presented it to her. 'You may follow a different god, but your actions would do honour to any Paladin of our church.'
At the time that had made Misara feel proud.
She slipped the ring onto her finger. The metal was cold.