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4th of Nightal - Eddick & Ashara - Impresk

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4th of Nightal - Eddick & Ashara - Impresk

Post  Penelope on Tue Oct 20, 2009 10:28 am

This takes place in the early afternoon on the 4th of Nightal, which is the day Eddick came back and was met by the Harper who told him all that info about the Rod.

-----------

It had come as a bit of a shock to her when Eddick and Gwilly had revealed they were in fact Harpers. Not that it didn't suit their characters, but that they had managed to keep it a secret all this time! Now that she thought of it though, Ashara vaguely remembered Gwilly making, what at the time seemed like a joke, about being a Harper...

They had gathered around the table in the Champions house in Impresk for Eddick to deliver the information shared by his contact. Most of the information dealt with the mysterious Rod that had been falling in and out of Harper, Cyracist, and Xvimlar hands for well over a year. An artifact from Mazteca with unknown powers. None of it was good news, but at least the Harpers knew something of it and would contact the pixie and druid if something more was learned. They talked for a bit about other business and projects that were being attended to, while they were on 'vacation', before going their separate ways again.

Ashara sat watching Eddick, with her chin resting on laced fingers, as the others left the table. She really knew so little about him. He spoke occasionally of his home, rarely about his family, and almost never specifics about them.

As the druid rose from his seat, her eyes followed him, and she stood to address him before he left. "Eddick, I know you have a thousand things to do right now, but do you mind if I walk with you for awhile? I haven't had a chance to speak with you alone in some time, and I'll be leaving for Waterdeep again in the morning."

------------------

Eddick stood up eagerly, glad the business of the meeting was done so he could get back to his grove. He almost sighed when Ashara asked him to spend some time with him, but caught himself and took a look at her in the eyes. Her pleading eyes. His heart and resolve melted, and he smiled. After all, she could be needing more advice, or maybe she wanted to know more about the Harpers.

"Of course Ashara. I would love to talk. I am eager to gain a new ally with these components you have graciously retrieved for me..." He raised the components in his hands "...but I am always ready to talk with you as much as you would like." Eddick got a gleam in his eye, and a little bit of an impish grin. He added the next phrase in almost a whisper. "Unless whisking you away to my secluded grove would make anyone jealous."

-----------------------

The priestess looked around the deserted table and turned back to Eddick with a slight smile playing at her lips. "Seems no one would mind a little whisking going on, and I've been wanting to see this grove you've been working at so diligently!" Grabbing the thick, scarlet cloak and gloves she bought from her previous trip to Waterdeep, Ashara bundled herself up and headed out into the frigid temperatures with the druid.

It wasn't that she didn't enjoy the winter time, but this was cold. Mind-numbing, teeth-chattering COLD! She couldn't remember a season of this like in her lifetime, and the way the other townspeople had been talking, not in their lifetimes either. She said a quick prayer to Lathander that evil would decide to hibernate until spring...

"So," she asked in a muffled voice from beneath her hood, "how shall we travel? Hoof, plant, or wind? It will be an early morning for me tomorrow, so I'll need to be back at a decent hour." Ashara chuckled with a wink to her friend. "If you would like to Wind Walk with me, I could return Via Plant. You'll have to show me the way though, I'm ashamed to say I've yet to visit your grove."

--------------------------

The old druid walked out bare-chested into the frigid air, his traveling leather armor being guarded by some straw men just east of town. He did wear a cloak though, but let it flap a bit as he enjoyed the exhilaration of the biting wind. Eddick enjoyed the cold weather. He did not grow up in it, but after spending two winters well north of the Moonsea, this weather still seemed quite tame. He marveled at his own breath as it came out his nostrils, collecting in small bits of frost on his mustache. It was still too cold for the area though, and it was something that Eddick would have to investigate further.

"Well, we could go via plant, but there are not any trees terribly near my grove. It is a very special place. Personally, I enjoy the ride, but I will walk with you and take you to the nearest suitable tree afterwords myself, that is if you don't mind going bareback..."

--------------------------

Large, hazel eyes blinked up at Eddick for a moment before the corners wrinkled, betraying the smile hidden behind the heavy hood. "Of course I don't mind! I didn't mind the first time you let me ride, though admittedly that was while we were fighting gnoll chieftains, and I had other things to worry about than falling off." Ashara reached into the folds of her cloak and pulled out a vial of holy water. "Actually, I have to admit after hearing all your talk about how fast you can run as a horse, I would very much like to experience it for myself. I'll just have to be sure to hold on tight!"

Smiling, the priestess whispered a few divine words and a small flame flickered to life in her palm. She popped the cork off the vial of holy water and carefully splashed the flame with two drops of the liquid before putting the vial away and continuing with the casting. When the spell was complete, she took Eddick's arm, and the vaporized holy water began to swirl around them and through them, until they became nothing more than mist themselves. With a magical wind at their backs, they floated along at a brisk pace toward the grove.

Ashara prattled on a bit as they drifted, about the goings on in Waterdeep and her meetings with the High Radiance. "As exciting as the city is though," she continued, "I'm really glad just to be back here for a time. No matter what insanity is going on in the world, Impresk seems to never change. No so long ago, I used to feel trapped here, but now I realize how comforting it is to have somewhere to come home to. I really have missed my parents terribly..." A flurry of emotion played across her face as she finished those words. Too many secrets she'd kept from them. One too many truths revealed by her little friend instead of herself. No conversations about what happened at the dinner were forthcoming. It seemed he was avoiding the conversation, and that concerned her, but there was no use fretting about it now when there was so much work left to be done.

"Eddick, have you thought of visiting your home while we're here? I'm sure your family would enjoy hearing of your adventures, and I'm guessing it's been some time now since you've seen them."

-----------------------------

Eddick enjoyed watching her cast the spell. She was so pleased to be able to use her god's power. It wasn't as if she was showing off, but it was still impressive and a joy to watch. She had become so powerful and sure of herself. It was like watching one of his daughters as she participated in equestrian jumping. She was poised, confident, strong, and beautiful. Elric better take good care of her, or he will wish that Cyric took his soul. Maybe that was why he seemed so nervous all the time now.

When she brought up his family, Eddick cringed just a little. He had not been back for almost seven years now. When he had mentioned his name at Ormath when they were looking for Ashara, he knew that it would get back to his family that someone was claiming to be Eddick the XIV. He did not hide, but no one was seeking him either.

"It has been within my power to return to Silverthorne Keep, pretty much since I left. But it has not been my destination since I left. I don't know if I can really explain it to you." He searched his thoughts as they were walking.

"The elves do not die of old age. They just decide one day that they have lived here enough, and they go somewhere else. I know how they feel. There is a feeling of completion about my home, and although I never told anyone I was leaving on the day I left, they all should have seen it coming. There were times where I would stand on the ramparts and study the horizon, I would mention that I would love to see far away places, like Suzail, or Silverymoon. When I handed the keep over to my son, Eddick the XV, I told him that we now both had reached our ambitions.

"They knew me well. When my youngest daughter got married, she cried for an hour, after she got drunk, and hugged me for about as long. We never said the words, but she was saying goodbye. I couldn't bear to say it again. I gave them everything I had, until they were ready to come into their own. Where it would have been convenient that I would be around, but not necessarily beneficial. Someday, I will return. But just as business may require a merchant to be gone from home for years, my business is not quite complete. There are a few things left to do. I am sure you understand this."

-----------------------------

Ashara nodded slowly. A few things left to do. She understood all too well. Though weightless, Dawnspeaker seemed to hang heavy at her side. A constant reminder of those few things that were left to do before its presence was no longer needed. It was a sacred trust, and a sacred burden.

"It seems the deeper the roots go, the farther out the branches may reach before you find yourself too far from home. You are richly blessed to have a home and family so firmly rooted." Forgetting their current vaporous forms, the priestess moved to hug the druid, but her arm drifted through his waist and back to her side. She chuckled at that a bit before continuing their conversation.

"One son is now the lord of Silverthorn Keep, and your youngest daughter has been married off to an honorable man no doubt, but what of the others? I believe you've mentioned that you had...two other sons and another daughter? Where have their paths led them?"

-----------------------------

Eddick smiled as she understood. While she was silent, contemplating his words, he noticed her attention drawn to her mace. How well she understood! Ever since the meeting with the Exalted Fallskeeper and the realization of his status amongst the druids, he felt it. It was a kind of duty he had never felt before, but he did understand it. It was the realization of a dream, and more.

When attaining one's goals, a person often finds himself with one of two things. Either far more than he ever planned for, or far less. Sometimes, both.

When asked about his children, Eddick smiled. "Eddick the XV is the second born of seven children of mine. Where I was always in the fields, checking the state of our crops, Eddick was born in the saddle. He so loved the horses and cared for them, that he revolutionized our stables by the age of 13. For the next ten years, our profits from selling horses to the Border Kingdoms was doubled, and then doubled again. Of course he points at the horse quality improving due to good nutrition, but I know better. I had to build him a new stables three years in a row due to his breeding program.

"He also had a knack for deciding matters of state. The people loved him immediately, and it was as though he was smiled on by Siamorphe every day of his life. The people were contented and happy, more so than I had ever seen them.

Eddick suddenly looked older. His brow furrowed and his light green eyes looked like grass wanting the rain. "My oldest was not so. He... I was an early father. My first born son was born to me when I was fifteen. With no father or mother to guide me, and immaturity in both hands, I raised him poorly, very poorly. He was a needy child, constantly wanting attention. His mother was bedridden with children in many of his formative years. I was unavailable, or I made myself so. The very thing that made me a good ruler, made me a poor father, at least to begin with. He continued in his selfish way, becoming a drunk, and.... You see, there is one major drawback to being of my line. We are not large people, nor are we quick as most smaller framed people tend to be. When robbed of his faculties by long periods of drink as well as darker and more dangerous liquids, he could not withstand a simple thug in a tavern brawl."

With that, and a tear in his eye, he paused. The pause lasted a fair bit longer than it probably should and lapsed into an impromptu silence.

------------------------------

Ashara tried to remember when she was fifteen... Though only five years ago, it felt as if she had lived a lifetime since she'd taken her vows and become a full fledged priestess. How could that have only been FIVE YEARS ago!?

She let the silence linger a while before breaking it. Her breath manifested as a swirling mist that curled around her lips as she exhaled slowly, feeling the pain from the druid's old wound. "At fifteen years old, I hadn't even looked at a boy amorously... I can't imagine being married and having children at that age! You certainly were shouldered with tremendous responsibilities while you were still so young."

She was glad that he was able to achieve his desires to travel so widely and experience the life he'd always longed for, but she wondered if, since the Battle of the Broken Eclipse, that familiar yoke of responsibility again rested on Eddick's shoulders. He would meet that challenge head on, as it seemed he had done with all of the challenges in his life. In spite of the druid's frequent mention of his stature, or lack thereof, in Ashara's mind he towered over her. He was so self-possessed and wise and experienced in the world...she respected and admired him more with every story he told.

Ashara knew her ravenous curiosity was getting the better of her, but she couldn't help but gently press him further with more questions.

"What of your other children? Did any of them hear the whispers of the natural world as you have?"

-------------------------------

Eddick smiled and broke from his reverie. "The closest one was my second born son. Eddick is a title as much as it is a name, and so he inherited it when the oldest died. His first name was Ettal, but he makes a much finer Eddick. They usually give us nicknames as well. I am Eddick the Steady, known for my ability to keep a cool head despite pressures that would crush lesser men, or so they say." The old druid bragged a little. "Other people call it courage, and still others call it a death wish." He winked at Ashara. "That one I did not expect from such a fine warrior, but enough about me, my son is Eddick the Golden. Although, he didn't let it go to his head too badly."

"But the rest of them did not hear the whispers like I did, but they followed their own paths, as children of the Silverthorne's are wont to do." He gripped the priestess' arm tighter as they continued their walk.

"Essa and Ellio were twins, and came to me on my nineteenth birthday. By the time I was your age, I was a father of four. They were very beautiful children, and smart, they both ended up adventuring for a while. Essa became enamored with the rapier, and its quickness. Although she never had the manual speed of other fencers, she became quite good with it due to her ability to gage other's abilities, teachers, and then would compensate for their attack patterns before they even were in arms reach of her. She was very good. She went out with an adventuring party called "The Brushfire Band" and their most notable deed was defeating a Night Hag in the forest of Amlar. She gave up her adventuring days and married the ranger in the group, and they are currently enjoying a barony in Dambrath. She will be 28 early next year."

"Ellio was born minutes after Essa, and he also loved quickness, but excelled in quickness of mind and tongue. He delighted in names and faces, and soon knew every bit of royalty between the border Kingdoms and Var the Golden. He started making substantial fees in advising and interpreting for visiting diplomats, and soon was on the social shortlist for the entire south. That was not to say that he was not accomplished, he also learned the rapier from his sister, and dabbled in magic as well. Last I heard, he was casting into the third circle and had begun adventuring with his youngest brother."

"Erran had a love for magic from a very early age. He got it from my mother I think. She had left all of these magic mouths all around the keep in very hard to reach places. They would sing little songs, or give proverbs to any who were able to touch them, but they were very quiet, so you had to be close. He would seek them out and play all of them, all the time, like musical instruments. Needless to say we got him an internship with a wizard from Halruaa, and he wrote often, once he learned a spell that let him send without a messenger. He was doing well, and learning a lot, and I wouldn't be surprised if he has apprentices of his own by now. He would be twenty six now, but a week after the twins he would be twenty seven.

"Sir Evatt Silverthorne was the first paladin of Lathander that came from our family in fourteen generations. He loved horses as much as his oldest living brother, and became such good friends with one named Icarus. They went everywhere together, even spelunking! Now, any child of Silverthorne Keep that leaves on an adventure is entitled to any treasure from our treasury, including Eddick the Great's legendary mace, and the first one he took was the winged barding. Evatt was also, first an acolyte of Lathander, but Hoisen, our priest noticed his abilities even before I got the privilege of knighting him. He set out on adventure to find the origins of the first horse that began the breeding at our humble keep, Silverthorne himself. If he found them, he would bring them back to Eddick the Golden to improve our stock even more. Since then, I have heard that he and his brother Ellio have slain a dragon together, just the three of them, since Evatt wills that Icarus be counted as well." Eddick smiled and shook his head.

"Ella, my youngest, was the most beautiful thing any of us had ever seen. The sad thing, is for a great majority of her life with us, she believed it. She was, I will admit, a fair bit spoiled. She loved pretty things as well, which suited her just fine. Eventually a wandering warrior stole her heart and her virginity, and then left without a word. She was so devastated. There is a price to be paid for vanity it seemed, and for the next year she paid it and nearly killed herself with grief.

"One day, a man came up to me and asked for her hand. I told him that he could have her, he just needed to make her smile again. He gladly agreed and we shook on the deal. He tried every day for three months to make her smile, with no avail, debasing himself and trying everything he could think of. Finally, he drew her portrait. I have never seen anything so horrendous in my life. The sad thing is that he slaved over it for a week, making her pose and everything. When he showed it to her proudly, she snickered. When he frowned, she laughed so hard she busted the laces on her corset. They were married within the week, and he whisked her away to a place near Shaarmid where he farms wheat, and buys her expensive things. She is very happy these days."

"After they were all busy with their own lives, and I saw that the Eddick name would reach a 16th generation, I left. I was followed by Gwilly and Rock though. Having known her Father since the Goblin wars, I knew he had entrusted her to my care, whether I cared or not. But Gwilly is almost completely self-sufficient now, and I am pretty sure that in the next five years or so, she will leave me behind and to myself. Rock has seen better days as well, and is content to hang out with our shrubber friend." Eddick paused for a moment.

"I suppose that's all of them. Oh, Sir Evatt would be just turned twenty five last month, and Ella is now twenty three. Its a good thing that Sir Evatt never met you yet, he would be unalterably smitten I am afraid. Not to mention that you have so much in common. But that is neither here nor there. Elric is a fine fellow, and you have loved him for a longer time than you know. It is good that it is out in the open now. Also, I have found that couples that differ greatly have a more difficult time, but in the end become stronger because of it. So you know that I give you and he my fullest blessing, and a wish of a happy life together."

------------------------------

Ashara listened intently as the old druid spoke, and with her focus diverted elsewhere, the magical wind that was pushing them along died down dramatically. She was quiet for a long while after he finished.

"You must be very proud of them...and they of you I would have to believe!" She smiled brightly up at the druid, "I would love to be there to hear you tell them the tales of the Champions of the Red Dawn someday."

"How is it possible though that I'm hearing about Sir Evatt just now after all this time!? You never thought to tell the Morninglord that your son is a paladin of Lathander? Seems to me that's the kind of thing that's mentioned upon introduction!", she smirked, teasing him. "Of course, when I was introduced to you I wasn't exactly myself..."

The priestess broke eye contact to scan the landscape before them. They had to be close. From their vantage in the air, she could see a good sized pond a few miles off in the distance, so she caused the wind to carry them back down to the ground and gradually they began to rematerialize. Crunching snow beneath their boots, and the gentle whisk of the tall grasses against their legs was the only sound that could be heard for miles. "We are not as different as it may appear. Elric and I, I mean." Her eyes were turned toward their destination, but they were unfocused, as if seeing something other than her surroundings. As the words escaped her lips, she wondered if they were indeed true or she was just getting defensive. They hadn't spoken alone since Zazesspur, and since she had returned from Waterdeep a few days ago, it seemed as if Elric was on edge, and seeing to it that someone was always there with them. Was there even anything to talk about? She felt that they were in some kind of limbo. Ashara sighed, and shivering, pulled her cloak around her body more tightly. It was painfully obvious that she had had no experience with relationships, but she trusted him, and had decided to give him as much space as he needed.

Pulling closer to Eddick for both warmth and support, she spoke again. "After you became Lord of Silverthorne Keep, you must have had many woman vying for the position of Lady of the Keep. I remember well our conversation in Dagadar about your wife and how she had told you at the worst possible time, how she felt about you. How though, did you decide? She must have been a truly remarkable woman."

-----------------------------------

Eddick smiled and pointed out at the landscape. "Right over there, that's it" The pond she was aiming at was exactly where they were going, and Eddick was getting excited. The pond was glittering in the middle, with ice stretching from between the reeds at the banks, reaching out a good ten to fifteen feet. The water level remained constant, and some light steam was coming out from the center where the spring was. It wasn't a hot spring, but it was coming out at a even 45 degrees, making it quite warm to the air. Grass stuck out of the snow all over, but the place radiated its earthly beauty.

The druid led her over to a path which was made by deer who used the spring as a watering hole, with a break in the ice near the western edge. Without warning Eddick released himself from her grip and jumped in, sinking up to his knees. He stood there, motionless except for his long white dreadlocks blowing in the wind. He faced away from her, staring at the rising steam from the pond.

"I see you have noticed that I don't talk much about her. I can also understand your interest."

Eddick let another moment pass. "It is p-- it is good that I talk about her. It has been a long time." He stood in the pond and exhaled deeply, his breath adding to the steam rising from the pond.

"M--" Eddick paused again for a moment. "Maira was her name. We played together as children. She was nineteen months older than me, and not only was she fully grown at the age of 12, she used to bully me a little. She was even taller than me until after we were married. I stopped growing after the twins were born."

He closed his eyes and went back in time. "She had dark chestnut hair and eyes like cut olives. She always smelled like freshly turned soil. She even slept out of doors when she had the choice. We would make our own paths through the grass around the castle. Exploring and finding hidden civilizations of strange new creatures. She would defeat their champion in single combat but spare his life, I would learn their language.

"I certainly had my pick of young virgins and widows alike the day I b-- started my rule. But there was none other. I had loved her as far back as I could remember, and I thought she loved my older brother Eammon and was waiting for him to return. She chose me. It wasn't a perfect solution for her though. The pressures she had being my wife, the loneliness of being in leadership with no friends that understand.

"Three months passed before my brothers arrived home, victorious, rich and full of great stories. With the news of our parents, it was as though they had died all over. The rules of the land had made me Eddick, and so my oldest brother was given my name. They gave me grand gifts, enriched the family treasury, and sought to make their own way. This is the risk that every firstborn son that adventures takes when he leaves, and he did not hate me for it. Eammon was not as cool headed. He called us names, out of the public view of course, and made his own love known to M-- to my wife.

"He stormed off, and she wept. She pleaded with me to let me go smooth things over. I let her go. After he left Silverthorne, still angry with me for stealing his love, she wept for days, and again when we learned of his death, as did I. He died from the poison of a Wyvern that attacked a small town after he slew it. I--"

Eddick was exhausted. He could run for days, far past the point where those around him would quit. He bore the burden of the hopes and dreams of hundreds of men for twenty six years before he handed it to another. But he had never spoken like this before. He sank to his knees in the frigid water, choking on his words.

"I-- raised" he inhaled sharply between his words. "his-- son. A-- as my own." The tears fell down his cheeks, dripping off of his beard, mingling with the chilly waters. "And I f--"

-------------------------

She stood momentarily in stunned silence. It was often hard for her to completely understand the way Eddick saw certain things. He had lived with pressures and responsibilities that Ashara could never dream of, and those experiences shaped his perception of life. "And I failed." That's what he was trying to say... She may not understand what it's like to be a ruler at 15 years old, to try to raise a family while being a leader of men, or to endure the pain of losing a child, but guilt...THAT she knew and she knew it well.

Without thought she shrugged off her heavy hooded cloak and waded out into the chill waters toward her friend. She joined the druid and dropped to her knees, wrapping her arms around him tightly and laying her head against his neck. Ashara wanted to tell him that it wasn't his fault, that a man becomes responsible for his own actions as he grows. Such words meant nothing to her though, when she startled awake in the dark after dreaming of poison and daggers and blood, and she knew there was nothing she could say now to take away his pain, as much as she wanted to.

The priestess played his tale through her mind again as she held him. He had raised his dead brother's son as his own. He could only be referring to the first son, the one that died, but he had said before that his wife had born him when he was just 15... The frosty air hissed through her teeth as she drew in a quick breath. His wife had born the child! He must have reason to believe she had been unfaithful to him when his brother had returned from adventure. He believed his wife had loved his brother, and knew that his brother loved her. She had gone to Eammon to try to 'smooth things over' before he left Silverthorne...

As the realization struck her, a shadow of his pain clutched her heart, and she winced against the force of it. To be so deeply betrayed by the one you loved, then to raise the product of that betrayal as your own flesh and blood, only to have him destroy himself with drink...that was a burden that dwarfed her own. Eddick had carried that burden for longer than she had been alive, and she hoped that sharing it now would help to lighten that load a bit.

Ashara pulled back a bit to look at him. The green of his eyes stood out sharply against the reddened, tear-stained face. "Eddick, I'm sorry...," she shook her head gently, still in evident shock, "So sorry..."

-------------------------

After a long while Eddick was able to to compose himself slightly. Then he was able to do it completely. He leaned into her hug and accepted it, allowing the warmth of her selfless act to dry out his soggy soul. He stood up and helped her to stand and they waded together back to shore, hand in hand. he took her through the grass to a special place that had been prepared, it was a mound of timber brought from a great distance due to the fact that no standing trees were in sight. Eddick mumbled a few words and instantly the whole pile was ablaze with curly red flames. Heat radiated from the kindling and the wood hissed as it caught fire even though the wood used to be covered in snow only moments before.

The huge flames along with the light of the sun that came out from behind the clouds to shine down on his cloak and letting the wetness evaporate away. Eddick whistled, and immediately six grass men stood to attention all around them. "Get more firewood, when you arrive, throw it on, but do not get close enough to catch fire yourselves." The doll like creatures immediately ran off in search of more firewood for the flames as if they knew exactly what their master desired.

"Ashara", the old man's voice wavered slightly, making him seem older than he actually was as opposed to the authoritative tone he had moments before. "For many years M-- Maira and I lived together in peace. She bore me my children, and I protected her from every threat to her well being, be it physical, social, or mental. She was my first love, and I treated her very well, but for years I had the idea that she had been unfaithful to me.

"She w-- died a few days before her 40th birthday, a month before Ella became heartbroken. We buried her underneath the apple tree in the courtyard, her favorite place to sit. When Ella was happy and married, I spent a lot of time there, and eventually I decided that I would leave. I left her there, telling her I would return when I was ready to stay.

The old druid released his grip on Ashara's arm and looked into her eyes. "After all these years of traveling, I have wondered a great deal about all of my past, and I wondered if what I remembered was true. This I do know. She loved me. She loved me with all of her heart for many years. Was it worth trading that for some jealousy I had as a young man? No, it never was."

Eddick stared back into the flames for a while. "I will love her until I die, Ashara. Nothing will ever change that. Our love grew into something phenomenal even though it had very shaky beginnings. I wanted you to hear that, because you have something going with Elric that is pure and good. A better beginning can produce a greater love. I will be around, and you can ask me anything you would like to know so that you may make a life together that can surpass my own in happiness and longevity. When I tell you I wish the best for you both, that is what I mean."

------------------------------

When she stepped out of the pond, it felt as if the winter air had frozen all the moisture still clinging to her, and created an icy shell around her body. Her lips were already an unhealthy blue by the time Eddick created the fire. Ashara huddled against the flames as near as she dared while the druid spoke, until her limbs stopped their violent quaking and she was able to think clearly once more.

It warmed her heart to think of the love Eddick and his wife had shared even through all the trials, and though he still grieved her after all these years, she saw that he didn't regret a day of it. The old addage, "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all," proved true in his case.

"Thank you for your blessing, my friend. It means a lot that you care enough to do more than just tease." The priestess winked at him in jest, before the smile slid slowly from her face, and she turned her eyes to the dancing flames. "I don't know what the future holds for us though, Eddick," she sighed, "I can't say if we'll even be alive tomorrow."

Ashara rung the water out of her hair out onto the ground as it thawed. "Lately it feels like I don't know much about anything that's going on. What I do know though, is that I only want the best for him. That's all I ever wanted. I just don't know if what's best for him, is me..."

Then she felt it again. That same fear she had while speaking with Elric before entering Dagadar. Fear of rejection. He was her closest friend when he left her in Impresk to search for his mother. She had never told him, but at seven years old she had packed her bag and was going to head out after him the next day, when her father caught her. Even at that age she had understood his need to find his family since she herself didn't know her true parents, but his departure was still difficult for her. That was then. Now, if he found someone else he wanted to be with, she would understand, but difficult did not begin to describe how she would handle his departure this time. He was worth that risk though. 'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

The priestess pulled her knees up as her feet began to scorch, and wrapped her arms around them. She smiled softly and turned to Eddick. "In Dagadar, you told me that Elric and I were both idiots, and you were right in doing so...at least in my case. All I would ask of you is that if you see me doing something extraordinarily stupid, that you continue to call me out on it! Gods know I have no idea what I'm doing in this particular area, and after hearing everything you have been through with your family, I can think of no one better suited to give advice."

------------------------------

The druid nodded pensively. "Well, since you asked..." Eddick paused for dramatic effect and winked at her. "It was probably a bad idea to run off to Waterdeep without him, whether or not you asked permission. Part of being in a relationship is being together. It is pretty tough to do it from a distance. Not to mention that he had to have dinner with your parents by himself. That was probably pretty tough. You need to apologize to him for doing that. Maybe take him along next time. I think he would like that quite a bit. I know I would if I were in his shoes.

Eddick turned around and warmed his backside. "Also, I thought I warned you before about making judgement on yourself." He shook his head "Not the best thing for him, my foot! You are the best thing that ever happened to him, and if he had a good sense about him, he would have told you that every day until you got it into your head and quit arguing with him about it. Just talk with him, and get him to speak his mind, and you will find that he thinks much better about you than you do. It is good to trust the judgement of those who love you who can see the parts of you that you cannot."


Eddick turned around again, letting the steam come off of his clothes and scorching his front again. "...and don't worry about death. Now that both of you are secure in your religion, you will both be fine. If you constantly worry about death, you pay more homage to the god of death than each day as it comes. You give power to that which is out to destroy you."

"You have done some spiritual preparations for the battles to come, and some physical. Prepare your heart as well. Don't hold back. I needed to tell you about my wife. You knew that. I thank you for that. I feel as though a great weight has been lifted off of me. Now you must spend time with your man. You need it. He needs it. The things that you have in your mind that pull you from him, must be pulled from you. A person who is singular in their thought and action accomplishes much, like two horses pulling a plow. If your mind is going one way and your heart another. The plow goes nowhere."

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Ashara blew out a long breath. How was it possible to make a mess of things so quickly?! Had she known that he would be completely alone for a week and a half, she would have asked him if he was interested in coming with her that last trip to Waterdeep. She assumed he had better things to do during that time, but she realized now that she had been wrong not to at least ask.

"I feel terrible about not coming back to be with him for the dinner with my parents. I had actually grabbed my cloak and pack and was heading out of the temple when I talked myself right out of it." The priestess shook her head at the idiocy of it. "You're right...I really do need to apologize..."

Standing abruptly, Ashara jogged over to the edge of the pond where she had dropped her winter cloak, and she slipped it on as she moved back to the fire and her companion. Flexing her fingers, she was happy to find that her usual dexterity was returning a bit, so at least the ride to the nearest tree wouldn't be a cold one. The sun was sinking slowly toward the horizon.

"I know you're eager to get to work on your new ally, and it seems there are some things I need to attend to before dawn. If you're ready, I think I'm prepared to accept your invitation of a ride!" She smiled brightly at the druid with a touch of excitement in her eyes.

--------------------------------

Eddick stretched his arms. "I suppose. I hope you liked my grove. It will be really great once I erect the standing stones. Someday soon nature will allow me to do it. She told me that much. I will have them circling the pond and even standing out in the pond. I am really excited about that. Anyway, yes, I suppose it is time to go."

The druid got down on all fours as his hair swooped down from his back covering his arms in white. He skin lightened all over and the hair on his arms grew thicker and more coarse. His arms and legs lengthened and his hands hardened and became hooves. He shook his head as his neck and face lengthened and his mane splayed out and was played with by the wind. The transformation was complete, looking seamless as if Eddick merely changed his clothes.

The beautiful white horse stomped around in the snow, showing off just a little before sauntering up to Ashara sideways for her to get on.

Eddick sure loved being a horse. He did spend quite a bit of his time out here as a horse when he was not busy giving orders to his men. They were starting to arrive with some fire wood and threw it on the fire, making it hiss, crackle and roar. Eddick snorted. He should have waited so as to not waste the firewood, but they could always go and get more. There was plenty in the copse of trees to last until he returned without the priestess. That and it would be nice to have a fire that night. It was only bound to get colder.

-------------------------

Though she had watched the entire transformation, it was still hard to believe that the magnificent creature that stood before her was her dear friend. She was fairly certain that she would never get used to that.

Ashara grasped a handful of mane at the base of his neck, then taking one running step toward his body, swung her right leg high over his back while pulling herself up with her left hand. With a divine word and a touch of her holy symbol, a shaft of warm sunlight encompassed both horse and rider, purging the chill from their bodies.

The priestess patted Eddick's neck and adjusted her seating, keeping her knees just behind his withers. She leaned over closer to his ear to whisper to him. "Be careful with me, it would be hard to explain how I broke my neck on my way home!" Ashara laughed out loud, gripped the handful of mane more tightly, and with palpable fervor, added, "Let's see what you've got, old man!"

Eddick snorted as he walked into a remarkably smooth trot, probably making sure she wouldn't lose her seat. Then tossing his head in the air, he broke into a hard gallop, chewing up the ground at speeds Ashara never thought possible without magical assistance. The assaulting blast of air forced her breath back down her throat and blew off her hood, causing her unfettered hair to stream out behind her. THIS was better than the bees! She leaned a bit over his neck to shield her eyes as the druid raced relentlessly onward, impossibly moving faster and faster with each stride. The priestess' laughter would have sounded a bit insane, had the wind not stolen it from her lips. Just when she believed she could hold on no longer, Eddick began to slow as they approached the line of trees.

He came to a stop and Ashara slid off his back, collapsing to the ground as her legs gave out from under her. "I give...," she chuckled weakly, "you win!" It took a moment for her to stand properly, but after doing so, she rested her forehead against his nose and rubbed his cheek. "Thank you Eddick. For the ride, the advice, but mostly for confiding in me. I'll see you in a few days I suppose... I'm looking forward to meeting your creation and seeing the progress on the grove when I return! Be safe, my friend!"

She smiled warmly at him before turning, running headlong into a maple tree and disappearing.

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